!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Strict//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/xhtml1/DTD/xhtml1-strict.dtd"> Streamline Training & Documentation: February 2007

Wednesday, February 28, 2007


Since so much of business planning requires taking economic and market conditions into account, it's handy to know of a data portal like economagic.com that provides searchable access to tens of thousands of data sets from such sources from the US Census Bureau, Bureau of Labor Statistics, and Federal Reserve.

In addition to linking you to a wealth of data series, economagic.com enables you to work with the data in various ways, including:The chart below is a simple example.

To create the chart, I followed these steps:
  1. At the economagic.com home page, I clicked on "Turn Advanced Features On" at the top of the screen.

  2. Out of curiosity, I clicked on "Most Requested Series" at the top of the list of data collections.

  3. I clicked on Real Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

  4. In the orange horizontal menu above the data series, I clicked on "Save Series to Personal Workspace."

  5. I returned to the Most Requested Series page and clicked on Real Personal Consumption Expenditures.

  6. In the orange horizontal menu above the data series, I clicked on "Save Series to Personal Workspace."

  7. In the orange horizontal menu at the top of the screen, I clicked on "View Workspace."

  8. In the "Chart Multiple Series in a GIF/PDF Chart" section of the workspace page, I clicked on the "Click here to start" button.

  9. From the "Select Series #1" drop-down menu, I selected the real GDP item.

  10. From the "Select Series #2" drop-down menu, I selected the real Personal Consumption Expenditures item, and then clicked the "Continue" button.

  11. For both the GDP series and the Consumption Expenditures series, I chose "Left" in the "Scale" drop-down menu. This meant that the vertical axis of my chart would show dollar amounts for the two series, as opposed to being left completely unlabeled. (The horizontal axis is automatically labeled with the years that the data cover.)

  12. In the "Chart Title" field, I entered "GDP and Personal Consumption, real dollars." (You can give your chart whatever title you like.)

  13. I clicked on the radio button for "Show recessions." This caused my chart to mark periods of recession with vertical pink bars. (See the image above.)

  14. I clicked on the radio button for "Show grid." This caused my chart to show vertical and horizontal grid lines, making it easier to read the dollar amounts corresponding to any particular year.

  15. I left all other items (e.g., Gif height and Gif width) at their default values, and clicked on the "Make Chart" button.
Voilà! My chart appeared.

This is just one example of what you can do with economagic.com. You can see some other interesting examples in this recent entry in Berkeley economic professor Brad DeLong's blog. The key point is that the data and the charting tools are readily available and can be very helpful to you in analyzing economic trends that affect your business.



Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Yahoo's Pipes Service

In an earlier post, I described how I use Yahoo's news reader to aggregate news feeds that I want to check at least daily.

I am now beginning to investigate whether Pipes, a new service Yahoo is testing, can enhance how I use RSS feeds. As defined by Yahoo,
Pipes is a free online service that lets you remix popular feed types and create data mashups and share your own web services ...
You can see some examples here. One I particularly like, because I'm always looking for images related to news I read, was created by Daniel Raffel. It "takes the New York Times homepage, passes it thru Content Analysis [one of Pipes' pre-configured modules] and uses the keywords to find Photos at Flickr."



Monday, February 26, 2007

David Apgar on Risk Intelligence

Back in December, I read a review in the Wall Street Journal of a new book by David Apgar, managing director of the Corporate Executive Board. Risk Intelligence: Learning to Manage What We Don't Know addresses a subject — business risk — that I'm interested in both for its own sake and because I have found it neglected in the training that businesses provide to their employees.

Michael Kaplan's review of Apgar's book is basically positive. However, at the end he cites as the book's "most significant flaw" a failure to acknowledge that building risk intelligence is a demanding process, one that is beyond the capacity of many employees.

While I would agree that not everyone is able, or needs, to develop the expertise to follow the process for improving risk intelligence that Apgar presents (summarized in his final chapter), I do think it's vitally important for any business to cultivate practical fluency in the concepts Apgar discusses.

Those concepts center on what Apgar calls the four rules of risk intelligence (represented by the mnemonic, R.I.S.K.):
  1. Recognize which risks are learnable.

    For example, the risk that a new product will sell poorly is in the learnable category because a company can do market research to reduce its uncertainty. In contrast, the risk that a change in exchange rates will make producing in China more costly is not learnable; it's a random risk whose uncertainty cannot be reduced (though it can, and should, be managed).

  2. Identify the risks you can learn about fastest.

    This is where measuring risk intelligence comes in. Apgar presents a five-question tool for assessing the magnitude of the learnable risk involved in undertaking any particular initiative (or other decision). Each of the following questions is answered by considering your organization's situation relative to competitors:

    How often do you have experiences related to the risk? (This gets at the raw amount of information you are able to draw on.)

    How relevant are these experiences to what might influence the risk? (The more relevant the better.)

    How surprising are these experiences? (Improbable experiences can be especially informative about what influences the risk.)

    How diverse are these experiences as sources of information? (The less redundancy the better.)

    How methodically do you keep track of what you learn from the experiences? (Only data you can actually retrieve is useful, especially when others who have not personally gathered the experiences are involved in the risk assessment.)

  3. Sequence risky projects in a "learning pipeline."

    Building the pipeline involves conducting a risk strategy audit.

    First, you rate the principal risk for each project (or other type of decision) in terms of (1) how well you can assess the risk (a measure of your organization's learning advantage), (2) how much the risk is correlated with the other risks as a group (a measure of risk diversification), and (3) the risk's magnitude, measured in terms of value at risk, project size, revenue potential, or whatever other measure is feasible and meaningful.

    Then you check that the actual pattern of risks — the company's de facto risk strategy — is consistent with the company's growth strategy. For example, it would be unwise to be pursuing an aggressive growth strategy that entails a sizeable number of undiversified and hard-to-assess risks.

    Finally, look for any gaps and clumps in the pipeline. Does the company need more areas in which expertise makes it dominant? Are there too many learning challenges all at once, as opposed to having a reasonable degree of focus in the projects the company is tackling? Is there a lack of experimentation with new opportunities? Is the company's risk too concentrated?

  4. Keep networks of partners to manage all risks.

    As a tool, Apgar offers a matrix that distinguishes four risk roles that a company might take, depending on (1) the degree to which a risk under consideration helps in diversifying the company's overall risk picture, and (2) the degree to which the risk is correlated with movements in the stock market (i.e., the overall market). The risk role that is most appropriate in a particular situation determines how the company negotiates risk-sharing and pricing with customers, suppliers, and finance partners.
Just from reading the above summary, it is apparent that Michael Kaplan is right to emphasize the subtlety of risk intelligence. Still, having read Apgar's book, I believe it is fair to say that decision-makers at any level can learn the concepts well enough to participate effectively in the discussions necessary for assessing learnable risks and for devising a plan for improving the organization's risk assessment capability.


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Sunday, February 25, 2007

All Kinds of Minds

Back in 1995, Charles Schwab, of discount brokerage fame, and Mel Levine, a professor of pediatrics at the University of North Carolina Medical School in Chapel Hill, co-founded All Kinds of Minds, a non-profit organization with the mission of helping
students who struggle with learning measurably improve their success in school and life by providing programs that integrate educational, scientific, and clinical expertise.
Though All Kinds of Minds is concerned with individuals of school age and, specifically, with individuals coping with disabling learning differences, much of what they have to offer in the way of research-based expertise is useful to those working with adult learners of all varieties.

As explained at its website, All Kinds of Minds
has developed a variety of programs to help parents, educators, clinicians, and kids understand and manage learning issues. All are based on a neurodevelopmental approach to learning [explained here] and a search for recurring themes in a student’s learning and performance, themes upon which we can build an individualized management plan.
All Kinds of Minds takes the view that when a student is experiencing difficulty in learning,
it's important to pinpoint where that breakdown is occurring. To do that, we work with teachers, parents, clinicians, and students to create what we call a "neurodevelopmental profile" of a student who is falling behind. That is, we look carefully at each of the functions of the brain that can affect the ways a student learns and performs. Based on this profile, we develop a plan to help the child succeed in school. This provides an in-depth insight that traditional labels [such as Attention Deficit Disorder] lack.
All Kinds of Minds leverages individuals' strengths and affinities. Not only does research indicate that this approach is successful in promoting children's learning, but it also fits with how people function in adulthood, when "the strength of each person's strengths and not the weakness of her weaknesses will be what really counts." The underlying philosophy is that "[h]elping a kid get better at what she is good at can help her work through or around any weakness she may have. You can use her strengths to improve her weaknesses."

All Kinds of Minds' website offers a long list of articles and other resources you can browse for ideas. For example, The Critical Need for Kids to Think Critically includes an admirably clear example of a systematic ten-step critical thinking process.

There is also a comprehensive glossary of neurodevelopmental constructs (e.g., attention, memory) and functions. The glossary provides a definition of each item, along with examples of strong and weak command of the function in question. For instance, "political acumen" is defined as "[n]urturing positive relationships with important people, particularly adults." Examples of strong function are:
  • Makes adults feel good by showing an interest or appreciation for them

  • Is effective at relating positively with peer leaders
Examples of weak function are:
  • Behaves in ways that reflect indifference or rudeness towards adults

  • Neglects to develop positive relationships with influential peers
It does not require much effort to extrapolate the definitons and examples to adult contexts.



Saturday, February 24, 2007

Managing Human Resources -- Where to focus?

In human resource management, as in just about any other area of management, there are no formulas. There are, however, ways of approaching issues that are systematic and proven in practice.

For instance, in deciding where to invest time and money in enhancing human capital, an organization is well-advised to undertake careful assessment, as opposed to being satisfied with acting on instinct or undertaking casual analysis.

In "Maximinizing Your Return on People," published in the March issue of the Harvard Business Review, Laurie Bassi and Daniel McMurrer1 describe the approach to human capital management (HCM) that they have developed and tested with a wide array of clients. Their method has three steps:
  1. Assess your organization to identify strengths and weaknesses in how you currently manage human resources.

    Bassi and McMurrer provide a survey you can use to assess:

    • Leadership practices — in the areas of communication, openness to employee input, respecting employees, supervisory skills, executive skills, and systems for establishing smooth management transitions.

    • Employee engagement — an outgrowth of good job design, commitment to employees, appropriate use of employees' time, and systems for evaluating trends in employee engagement and for identifying drivers of productivity and customer satisfaction.

    • Knowledge accessibility — evidenced by availability of relevant knowledge, strong collaboration, unfettered sharing of information, and user-friendly systems for collecting and retrieving information.

    • Workforce optimization — meaning use of well-designed and continuously improved processes, maintenance of good working conditions, accountability for results, effective hiring, and an effective performance management system.

    • Learning capacity in the organization — achieved through encouragement of innovation, well-conceived and delivered training, effective employee development plans, management support for learning, and adoption of a well-designed automated system for managing and tracking learning activities.

  2. Determine the linkages between the profile of your HCM strengths and weaknesses, and the performance outcomes your organization is currently achieving.

  3. Identify the specific HCM factors (see list Step 1) that are driving organizational performance. Then identify which of these factors are relatively weak, so that you know where to focus your HCM development efforts.
Bassi and McMurrer emphasize that "the practices that have the greatest effect on organizational performance can vary within and across organizations and change with time." Therefore, the three-step process they describe is iterative not only to refine the understanding of linkages between HCM factors and organizational outcomes, but also to keep that understanding up-to-date as the linkages evolve.

1 CEO and VP of research, respectively, at McBassi & Company.


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Friday, February 23, 2007


Even if the members of the New York Police Department don't consistently live up to their motto of Courtesy Professionalism Respect, I'm glad they're reminded of it every time they look at one of their vehicles, as I noticed when I was down in New York yesterday and the day before. It's a mantra I personally believe has wide applicability.


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Thursday, February 22, 2007

Washington's Farewell Address, September 17, 1796


"Friends and Fellow-Citizens:

"The period for a new election of a citizen to administer the Executive Government of the United States being not far distant, and the time actually arrived when your thoughts must be employed in designating the person who is to be clothed with that important trust, it appears to me proper, especially as it may conduce to a more distinct expression of the public voice, that I should now apprise you of the resolution I have formed to decline being considered among the number of those out of whom a choice is to be made.

"I beg you at the same time to do me the justice to be assured that this resolution has not been taken without a strict regard to all the considerations appertaining to the relation which binds a dutiful citizen to his country; and that in withdrawing the tender of service, which silence in my situation might imply, I am influenced by no diminution of zeal for your future interest, no deficiency of grateful respect for your past kindness, but am supported by a full conviction that the step is compatible with both.

"The acceptance of, and continuance hitherto in, the office to which your suffrages have twice called me, have been a uniform sacrifice of inclination to the opinion of duty, and to a deference for what appeared to be your desire. I constantly hoped, that it would have been much earlier in my power, consistently with motives, which I was not at liberty to disregard, to return to that retirement, from which I had been reluctantly drawn. The strength of my inclination to do this, previous to the last election, had even led to the preparation of an address to declare it to you; but mature reflection on the then perplexed and critical posture of our affairs with foreign nations, and the unanimous advice of persons entitled to my confidence impelled me to abandon the idea.

"I rejoice, that the state of your concerns, external as well as internal, no longer renders the pursuit of inclination incompatible with the sentiment of duty, or propriety; and am persuaded, whatever partiality may be retained for my services, that, in the present circumstances of our country, you will not disapprove my determination to retire.

"The impressions with which I first undertook the arduous trust were explained on the proper occasion. In the discharge of this trust I will only say that I have, with good intentions, contributed toward the organization and administration of the Government the best exertions of which a very fallible judgment was capable. Not unconscious in the outset of the inferiority of my qualifications, experience in my own eyes, perhaps still more in the eyes of others, has strengthened the motives to diffidence of myself; and every day the increasing weight of years admonishes me more and more that the shade of retirement is as necessary to me as it will be welcome. Satisfied that if any circumstances have given peculiar value to my services they were temporary, I have the consolation to believe that, while choice and prudence invite me to quit the political scene, patriotism does not forbid it.

"In looking forward to the moment, which is intended to terminate the career of my public life, my feelings do not permit me to suspend the deep acknowledgment of that debt of gratitude, which I owe to my beloved country for the many honors it has conferred upon me; still more for the steadfast confidence with which it has supported me; and for the opportunities I have thence enjoyed of manifesting my inviolable attachment, by services faithful and persevering, though in usefulness unequal to my zeal. If benefits have resulted to our country from these services, let it always be remembered to your praise, and as an instructive example in our annals, that under circumstances in which the passions, agitated in every direction, were liable to mislead, amidst appearances sometimes dubious, vicissitudes of fortune often discouraging, in situations in which not unfrequently want of success has countenanced the spirit of criticism, the constancy of your support was the essential prop of the efforts, and a guarantee of the plans by which they were effected. Profoundly penetrated with this idea, I shall carry it with me to my grave, as a strong incitement to unceasing vows that Heaven may continue to you the choicest tokens of its beneficence; that your union and brotherly affection may be perpetual; that the free constitution, which is the work of your hands, may be sacredly maintained; that its administration in every department may be stamped with wisdom and virtue; than, in fine, the happiness of the people of these States, under the auspices of liberty, may be made complete, by so careful a preservation and so prudent a use of this blessing, as will acquire to them the glory of recommending it to the applause, the affection, and adoption of every nation, which is yet a stranger to it.

"Here, perhaps, I ought to stop. But a solicitude for your welfare which can not end with my life, and the apprehension of danger natural to that solicitude, urge me on an occasion like the present to offer to your solemn contemplation and to recommend to your frequent review some sentiments which are the result of much reflection, of no inconsiderable observation, and which appear to me all important to permanency of your felicity as a people. These will be offered to you with the more freedom, as you can only see in them the disinterested warnings of a parting friend, who can possibly have no personal motive to bias his counsel. Nor can I forget, as an encouragement to it, your indulgent reception of my sentiments on a former and not dissimilar occasion.

"Interwoven as is the love of liberty with every ligament of your hearts, no recommendation of mine is necessary to fortify or confirm the attachment.

"The unity of government which constitutes you one people is also now dear to you. It is justly so, for it is a main pillar in the edifice of your real independence, the support of your tranquility at home, your peace abroad, of your safety, of your prosperity, of that very liberty which you so highly prize. But as it is easy to foresee that from different causes and from different quarters much pains will be taken, many artifices employed, to weaken in your minds the conviction of this truth, as this is the point in your political fortress against which the batteries of internal and external enemies will be most constantly and actively (though often covertly and insidiously) directed, it is of infinite moment that you should properly estimate the immense value of your national union to your collective and individual happiness; that you should cherish a cordial, habitual, and immovable attachment to it; accustoming yourselves to think and speak of it as of the palladium of your political safety and prosperity; watching for its preservation with jealous anxiety; discountenancing whatever may suggest even a suspicion that it can in any event be abandoned, and indignantly frowning upon the first dawning of every attempt to alienate any portion of our country from the rest or to enfeeble the sacred ties which now link together the various parts.

"For this you have every inducement of sympathy and interest. Citizens by birth or choice of a common country, that country has a right to concentrate your affections. The name of American, which belongs to you in your national capacity, must always exalt the just pride of patriotism more than any appellation derived from local discriminations. With slight shades of difference, you have the same religion, manners, habits, and political principles. You have in a common cause fought and triumphed together. The independence and liberty you possess are the work of joint councils and joint efforts, of common dangers, sufferings, and successes.

"But these considerations, however powerfully they address themselves to your sensibility, are greatly outweighed by those which apply more immediately to your interest. Here every portion of our country finds the most commanding motives for carefully guarding and preserving the union of the whole.

"The North, in an unrestrained intercourse with the South, protected by the equal laws of a common government, finds in the productions of the latter great additional resources of maritime and commercial enterprise and precious materials of manufacturing industry. The South, in the same intercourse, benefiting by the same agency of the North, sees its agriculture grow and its commerce expand. Turning partly into its own channels the seamen of the North, it finds its particular navigation invigorated; and while it contributes in different ways to nourish and increase the general mass of the national navigation, it looks forward to the protection of a maritime strength to which itself is unequally adapted. The East, in a like intercourse with the West, already finds, and in the progressive improvement of interior communications by land and water will more and more find, a valuable vent for the commodities which it brings from abroad or manufactures at home. The West derives from the East supplies requisite to its growth and comfort, and what is perhaps of still greater consequence, it must of necessity owe the secure enjoyment of indispensable outlets for its own productions to the weight, influence, and the future maritime strength of the Atlantic side of the Union, directed by an indissoluble community of interest as one nation. Any other tenure by which the West can hold this essential advantage, whether derived from its own separate strength or from an apostate and unnatural connection with any foreign power, must be intrinsically precarious.

"While, then, every part of our country thus feels an immediate and particular interest in union, all the parts combined cannot fail to find in the united mass of means and efforts greater strength, greater resource, proportionably greater security from external danger, a less frequent interruption of their peace by foreign nations, and what is of inestimable value, they must derive from union an exemption from those broils and wars between themselves which so frequently afflict neighboring countries not tied together by the same governments, which their own rivalships alone would be sufficient to produce, but which opposite foreign alliances, attachments, and intrigues would stimulate and embitter. Hence, likewise, they will avoid the necessity of those overgrown military establishments which, under any form of government, are inauspicious to liberty, and which are to be regarded as particularly hostile to republican liberty. In this sense it is that your union ought to be considered as a main prop of your liberty, and that the love of the one ought to endear to you the preservation of the other.

"These considerations speak a persuasive language to every reflecting and virtuous mind, and exhibit the continuance of the union as a primary object of Patriotic desire. Is there a doubt whether a common government can embrace so large a sphere? Let experience solve it. To listen to mere speculation in such a case were criminal. It is well worth a fair and full experiment. With such powerful and obvious motives to union affecting all parts of our country, while experience shall not have demonstrated its impracticability, there will always be reason to distrust the patriotism of those who in any quarter may endeavor to weaken its bands.

"In contemplating the causes which may disturb our union it occurs as matter of serious concern that any ground should have been furnished for characterizing parties by geographical discriminations--Northern and Southern, Atlantic and Western -- whence designing men may endeavor to excite a belief that there is a real difference of local interests and views. One of the expedients of party to acquire influence within particular districts is to misrepresent the opinions and aims of other districts. You can not shield yourselves too much against the jealousies and heartburnings which spring from these misrepresentations; they tend to render alien to each other those who ought to be bound together by fraternal affection. The inhabitants of our western country have lately had a useful lesson on this head; they have seen, in the negotiation by the Executive, and in the unanimous ratification by the Senate, of the treaty with Spain, and in the universal satisfaction at that event, throughout the United States, a decisive proof how unfounded were the suspicions propagated among them of a policy in the General Government and in the Atlantic States unfriendly to their interests in regard to the Mississippi; they have been witnesses to the formation of two treaties, that with Great Britain, and that with Spain, which secure to them every thing they could desire, in respect to our foreign relations, towards confirming their prosperity. Will it not be their wisdom to rely for the preservation of these advantages on the union by which they were procured? Will they not henceforth be deaf to those advisers, if such there are, who would sever them from their brethren, and connect them with aliens?

"To the efficacy and permanency of your union a government for the whole is indispensable. No alliances, however strict, between the parts can be an adequate substitute. They must inevitably experience the infractions and interruptions which all alliances in all times have experienced. Sensible of this momentous truth, you have improved upon your first essay by the adoption of a Constitution of Government better calculated than your former for an intimate union and for the efficacious management of your common concerns. This Government, the offspring of our own choice, uninfluenced and unawed, adopted upon full investigation and mature deliberation, completely free in its principles, in the distribution of its powers, uniting security with energy, and containing within itself a provision for its own amendment, has a just claim to your confidence and your support. Respect for its authority, compliance with its laws, acquiescence in its measures, are duties enjoined by the fundamental maxims of true liberty. The basis of our political systems is the right of the people to make and to alter their constitutions of government. But the constitution which at any time exists till changed by an explicit and authentic act of the whole people is sacredly obligatory upon all. The very idea of the power and the right of the people to establish government presupposes the duty of every individual to obey the established government.

"All obstructions to the execution of the Laws, all combinations and associations, under whatever plausible character, with the real design to direct, control, counteract, or awe the regular deliberation and action of the constituted authorities, are destructive of this fundamental principle, and of fatal tendency. They serve to organize faction, to give it an artificial and extraordinary force; to put, in the place of the delegated will of the nation, the will of a party, often a small but artful and enterprising minority of the community; and, according to the alternate triumphs of different parties, to make the public administration the mirror of the ill-concerted and incongruous projects of faction, rather than the organ of consistent and wholesome plans digested by common counsels, and modified by mutual interests.

"However combinations or associations of the above description may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely, in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people, and to usurp for themselves the reins of government; destroying afterwards the very engines, which have lifted them to unjust dominion.

"Toward the preservation of your Government and the permanency of your present happy state, it is requisite not only that you steadily discountenance irregular oppositions to its acknowledged authority, but also that you resist with care the spirit of innovation upon its principles, however specious the pretexts. One method of assault may be to effect in the forms of the Constitution alterations which will impair the energy of the system, and thus to undermine what can not be directly overthrown. In all the changes to which you may be invited remember that time and habit are at least as necessary to fix the true character of governments as of other human institutions; that experience is the surest standard by which to test the real tendency of the existing constitution of a country; that facility in changes upon the credit of mere hypothesis and opinion exposes to perpetual change, from the endless variety of hypothesis and opinion; and remember especially that for the efficient management of your common interests in a country so extensive as ours a government of as much vigor as is consistent with the perfect security of liberty is indispensable. Liberty itself will find in such a government, with powers properly distributed and adjusted, its surest guardian. It is, indeed, little else than a name where the government is too feeble to withstand the enterprises of faction, to confine each member of the society within the limits prescribed by the laws, and to maintain all in the secure and tranquil enjoyment of the rights of person and property.

"I have already intimated to you the danger of parties in the State, with particular reference to the founding of them on geographical discriminations. Let me now take a more comprehensive view, and warn you in the most solemn manner against the baneful effects of the spirit of party generally.

"This spirit, unfortunately, is inseparable from our nature, having its root in the strongest passions of the human mind. It exists under different shapes in all governments, more or less stifled, controlled, or repressed; but in those of the popular form it is seen in its greatest rankness and is truly their worst enemy.

"The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries, which result, gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of Public Liberty.

"Without looking forward to an extremity of this kind, (which nevertheless ought not to be entirely out of sight,) the common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party are sufficient to make it the interest and duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it.

"It serves always to distract the public councils and enfeeble the public administration. It agitates the community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms; kindles the animosity of one part against another; foments occasionally riot and insurrection. It opens the door to foreign influence and corruption, which finds a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of party passion. Thus the policy and the will of one country are subjected to the policy and will of another.

"There is an opinion that parties in free countries are useful checks upon the administration of the government, and serve to keep alive the spirit of liberty. This within certain limits is probably true; and in governments of a monarchical cast patriotism may look with indulgence, if not with favor, upon the spirit of party. But in those of the popular character, in governments purely elective, it is a spirit not to be encouraged. From their natural tendency it is certain there will always be enough of that spirit for every salutary purpose; and there being constant danger of excess, the effort ought to be by force of public opinion to mitigate and assuage it. A fire not to be quenched, it demands a uniform vigilance to prevent its bursting into a flame, lest, instead of warming, it should consume.

"It is important, likewise, that the habits of thinking in a free country should inspire caution in those intrusted with its administration to confine themselves within their respective constitutional spheres, avoiding in the exercise of the powers of one department to encroach upon another. The spirit of encroachment tends to consolidate the powers of all the departments in one, and thus to create, whatever the form of government, a real despotism. A just estimate of that love of power, and proneness to abuse it, which predominates in the human heart, is sufficient to satisfy us of the truth of this position. The necessity of reciprocal checks in the exercise of political power, by dividing and distributing it into different depositories, and constituting each the Guardian of the Public Weal against invasions by the others, has been evinced by experiments ancient and modern; some of them in our country and under our own eyes. To preserve them must be as necessary as to institute them. If in the opinion of the people the distribution or modification of the constitutional powers be in any particular wrong, let it be corrected by an amendment in the way which the Constitution designates. But let there be no change by usurpation; for though this in one instance may be the instrument of good, it is the customary weapon by which free governments are destroyed. The precedent must always greatly overbalance in permanent evil any partial or transient benefit which the use can at any time yield.

"Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness — these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens. The mere politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them. A volume could not trace all their connections with private and public felicity. Let it simply be asked, Where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths which are the instruments of investigation in courts of justice? And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.

"It is substantially true that virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government. The rule indeed extends with more or less force to every species of free government. Who that is a sincere friend to it can look with indifference upon attempts to shake the foundation of the fabric?

"Promote, then, as an object of primary importance, institutions for the general diffusion of knowledge. In proportion as the structure of a government gives force to public opinion, it is essential that public opinion should be enlightened.

"As a very important source of strength and security, cherish public credit. One method of preserving it is to use it as sparingly as possible, avoiding occasions of expense by cultivating peace, but remembering also that timely disbursements to prepare for danger frequently prevent much greater disbursements to repel it; avoiding likewise the accumulation of debt, not only by shunning occasions of expense, but by vigorous exertions in time of peace to discharge the debts which unavoidable wars have occasioned, not ungenerously throwing upon posterity the burthen which we ourselves ought to bear. The execution of these maxims belongs to your representatives, but it is necessary that public opinion should cooperate. To facilitate to them the performance of their duty, it is essential that you should practically bear in mind, that towards the payment of debts there must be Revenue; that to have Revenue there must be taxes; that no taxes can be devised, which are not more or less inconvenient and unpleasant; that the intrinsic embarrassment, inseparable from the selection of the proper objects (which is always a choice of difficulties), ought to be a decisive motive for a candid construction of the conduct of the government in making it, and for a spirit of acquiescence in the measures for obtaining revenue, which the public exigencies may at any time dictate.

"Observe good faith and justice toward all nations. Cultivate peace and harmony with all. Religion and morality enjoin this conduct. And can it be that good policy does not equally enjoin it? It will be worthy of a free, enlightened, and at no distant period a great nation to give to mankind the magnanimous and too novel example of a people always guided by an exalted justice and benevolence. Who can doubt that in the course of time and things the fruits of such a plan would richly repay any temporary advantages which might be lost by a steady adherence to it? Can it be that Providence has not connected the permanent felicity of a nation with its virtue? The experiment, at least, is recommended by every sentiment which ennobles human nature. Alas! is it rendered impossible by its vices?

"In the execution of such a plan nothing is more essential than that permanent, inveterate antipathies against particular nations and passionate attachments for others should be excluded, and that in place of them just and amicable feelings toward all should be cultivated. The nation which indulges toward another an habitual hatred or an habitual fondness is in some degree a slave. It is a slave to its animosity or to its affection, either of which is sufficient to lead it astray from its duty and its interest. Antipathy in one nation against another disposes each more readily to offer insult and injury, to lay hold of slight causes of umbrage, and to be haughty and intractable when accidental or trifling occasions of dispute occur. Hence frequent collisions, obstinate, envenomed, and bloody contests. The Nation, prompted by ill-will and resentment, sometimes impels to war the Government, contrary to the best calculations of policy. The Government sometimes participates in the national propensity, and adopts through passion what reason would reject; at other times, it makes the animosity of the nation subservient to projects of hostility instigated by pride, ambition, and other sinister and pernicious motives. The peace often, sometimes perhaps the liberty, of Nations has been the victim.

"So, likewise, a passionate attachment of one nation for another produces a variety of evils. Sympathy for the favorite nation, facilitating the illusion of an imaginary common interest in cases where no real common interest exists, and infusing into one the enmities of the other, betrays the former into a participation in the quarrels and wars of the latter without adequate inducement or justification. It leads also to concessions to the favorite nation of privileges denied to others, which is apt doubly to injure the nation making the concessions by unnecessarily parting with what ought to have been retained, and by exciting jealousy, ill will, and a disposition to retaliate in the parties from whom equal privileges are withheld; and it gives to ambitious, corrupted, or deluded citizens (who devote themselves to the favorite nation) facility to betray or sacrifice the interests of their own country without odium, sometimes even with popularity, gilding with the appearances of a virtuous sense of obligation, a commendable deference for public opinion, or a laudable zeal for public good the base or foolish compliances of ambition, corruption, or infatuation.

"As avenues to foreign influence in innumerable ways, such attachments are particularly alarming to the truly enlightened and independent Patriot. How many opportunities do they afford to tamper with domestic factions, to practise the arts of seduction, to mislead public opinion, to influence or awe the Public Councils! Such an attachment of a small or weak, towards a great and powerful nation, dooms the former to be the satellite of the latter.

"Against the insidious wiles of foreign influence (I conjure you to believe me, fellow-citizens) the jealousy of a free people ought to be constantly awake, since history and experience prove that foreign influence is one of the most baneful foes of republican government. But that jealousy, to be useful, must be impartial, else it becomes the instrument of the very influence to be avoided, instead of a defense against it. Excessive partiality for one foreign nation and excessive dislike of another cause those whom they actuate to see danger only on one side, and serve to veil and even second the arts of influence on the other. Real patriots who may resist the intrigues of the favorite are liable to become suspected and odious, while its tools and dupes usurp the applause and confidence of the people to surrender their interests.

"The great rule of conduct for us in regard to foreign nations is, in extending our commercial relations to have with them as little political connection as possible. So far as we have already formed engagements let them be fulfilled with perfect good faith. Here let us stop.

"Europe has a set of primary interests which to us have none or a very remote relation. Hence she must be engaged in frequent controversies, the causes of which are essentially foreign to our concerns. Hence, therefore, it must be unwise in us to implicate ourselves by artificial ties in the ordinary vicissitudes of her politics or the ordinary combinations and collisions of her friendships or enmities.

"Our detached and distant situation invites and enables us to pursue a different course. If we remain one people, under an efficient government, the period is not far off when we may defy material injury from external annoyance; when we may take such an attitude as will cause the neutrality we may at any time resolve upon to be scrupulously respected; when belligerent nations, under the impossibility of making acquisitions upon us, will not lightly hazard the giving us provocation; when we may choose peace or war, as our interest, guided by justice, shall counsel.

"Why forego the advantages of so peculiar a situation? Why quit our own to stand upon foreign ground? Why, by interweaving our destiny with that of any part of Europe, entangle our peace and prosperity in the toils of European ambition, rivalship, interest, humor, or caprice?

"It is our true policy to steer clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world, so far, I mean, as we are now at liberty to do it, for let me not be understood as capable of patronizing infidelity to existing engagements. I hold the maxim no less applicable to public than to private affairs that honesty is always the best policy. I repeat, therefore, let those engagements be observed in their genuine sense. But in my opinion it is unnecessary and would be unwise to extend them.

"Taking care always to keep ourselves by suitable establishments on a respectable defensive posture, we may safely trust to temporary alliances for extraordinary emergencies.

"Harmony, liberal intercourse with all nations are recommended by policy, humanity, and interest. But even our commercial policy should hold an equal and impartial hand, neither seeking nor granting exclusive favors or preferences; consulting the natural course of things; diffusing and diversifying by gentle means the streams of commerce, but forcing nothing; establishing with powers so disposed, in order to give trade a stable course, to define the rights of our merchants, and to enable the Government to support them, conventional rules of intercourse, the best that present circumstances and mutual opinion will permit, but temporary and liable to be from time to time abandoned or varied as experience and circumstances shall dictate; constantly keeping in view that it is folly in one nation to look for disinterested favors from another; that it must pay with a portion of its independence for whatever it may accept under that character; that by such acceptance it may place itself in the condition of having given equivalents for nominal favors, and yet of being reproached with ingratitude for not giving more. There can be no greater error than to expect or calculate upon real favors from nation to nation. It is an illusion which experience must cure, which a just pride ought to discard.

"In offering to you, my countrymen, these counsels of an old and affectionate friend, I dare not hope they will make the strong and lasting impression I could wish; that they will control the usual current of the passions, or prevent our nation from running the course, which has hitherto marked the destiny of nations. But, if I may even flatter myself, that they may be productive of some partial benefit, some occasional good; that they may now and then recur to moderate the fury of party spirit, to warn against the mischiefs of foreign intrigue, to guard against the impostures of pretended patriotism; this hope will be a full recompense for the solicitude for your welfare, by which they have been dictated.

"How far in the discharge of my official duties, I have been guided by the principles which have been delineated, the public records and other evidences of my conduct must witness to you and to the world. To myself, the assurance of my own conscience is, that I have at least believed myself to be guided by them.

"In relation to the still subsisting war in Europe, my Proclamation of the 22d of April 1793, is the index to my Plan. Sanctioned by your approving voice, and by that of your Representatives in both Houses of Congress, the spirit of that measure has continually governed me, uninfluenced by any attempts to deter or divert me from it.

"After deliberate examination, with the aid of the best lights I could obtain, I was well satisfied that our country, under all the circumstances of the case, had a right to take, and was bound in duty and interest to take, a neutral position. Having taken it, I determined, as far as should depend upon me, to maintain it, with moderation, perseverance, and firmness.

"The considerations, which respect the right to hold this conduct, it is not necessary on this occasion to detail. I will only observe, that, according to my understanding of the matter, that right, so far from being denied by any of the Belligerent Powers, has been virtually admitted by all.

"The duty of holding a neutral conduct may be inferred, without any thing more, from the obligation which justice and humanity impose on every nation, in cases in which it is free to act, to maintain inviolate the relations of peace and amity towards other nations.

"The inducements of interest for observing that conduct will best be referred to your own reflections and experience. With me, a predominant motive has been to endeavour to gain time to our country to settle and mature its yet recent institutions, and to progress without interruption to that degree of strength and consistency, which is necessary to give it, humanly speaking, the command of its own fortunes.

"Though in reviewing the incidents of my Administration I am unconscious of intentional error, I am nevertheless too sensible of my defects not to think it probable that I may have committed many errors. Whatever they may be, I fervently beseech the Almighty to avert or mitigate the evils to which they may tend. I shall also carry with me the hope that my country will never cease to view them with indulgence, and that, after forty-five years of my life dedicated to its service with an upright zeal, the faults of incompetent abilities will be consigned to oblivion, as myself must soon be to the mansions of rest.

"Relying on its kindness in this as in other things, and actuated by that fervent love toward it which is so natural to a man who views in it the native soil of himself and his progenitors for several generations, I anticipate with pleasing expectation that retreat in which I promise myself to realize without alloy the sweet enjoyment of partaking in the midst of my fellow-citizens the benign influence of good laws under a free government -- the ever-favorite object of my heart, and the happy reward, as I trust, of our mutual cares, labors, and dangers."



Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Economic Value -- in India

About a week ago, a friend lent me Antoine van Agtmael's recently published book, The Emerging Markets Century: How A New Breed of World-Class Companies is Overtaking the World . There is considerable food for thought in this account of the rise of global businesses that are based in developing countries.

During four years working as an investment banker in Thailand, van Agtmael
observed the astonishing rapidity with which local firms absorbed international lessons, from raising chickens or producing textiles to assembling cars, and how they often managed to add their own local innovations to the mix.1
Upon finishing van Agtmael's book, I decided to look for additional examples of how emerging-market companies were incorporating practices of the developed-country firms in their own strategies and operations. I was particularly interested in anything I could discover relating to training.

The most interesting example I've come upon so far is adoption of economic value added (EVA) as a key performance indicator by the Tata Tea Group, headquartered in Kolkata (Calcutta) and with a presence in over 40 countries around the world. Sales in 2006 sales came in at $700 million, making the company #2 in the branded tea products industry. (Tata Tea has also owned tea plantations in India and Sri Lanka, but they are in the process of divesting these.)

Tata Tea's adoption of EVA was part of an initiative by its parent, the Tata Group, which is aimed at making all the Tata companies globally competitive. Himi Khusrokhan, Tata Tea's managing director, explained the rationale:
An organisation that measures business performance purely in accounting terms will fall into the trap of taking decisions on the basis of 'impact on profit', a myopic way of running a business, rather than 'impact on wealth', a measure that forces one to think of the long-term consequences of every decision made.2
It was in order to do a better job of creating wealth that Tata Tea decided to embrace EVA. By monitoring EVA, Tata Tea can gauge whether its current strategies are producing satisfactory growth. If not, the strategies are re-examined.

Tata Tea's experience is that implementing EVA was no cakewalk.
They needed to change mindsets and beliefs that were once held dear. For instance brands became "captive to plantations" and the choices open to the company were narrowed down. Dependencies were created between plantations and brands, and these became difficult to sever.
Training was the first-line tool used to move employees toward the habit of thinking in terms of value creation. In addition to the challenge of eliciting a new mindset, there was also the challenge of developing business management skills among employees, such as finance personnel, who had not previously been expected to contribute to the company's strategic decision-making.

However challenging, the training was essential for equipping the Tata Tea organization to continue growing in the face of intensifying global competition.

1 Source: An excerpt from Antoine van Agtmael's book that you can read here.

2 Source: A Tata Tea webpage describing their use of EVA. To project the impact of decisions on wealth, EVA takes into account projected changes in revenue, costs, and capital cost. The aim is to generate value for shareholders by ensuring that a company earns a return on capital greater than the cost of capital. Increases in EVA are achieved by a combination of revenue increases, and cost and capital cost reductions.


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Tuesday, February 20, 2007

21st-Century Journalism XVIII: The Profit Curve

The April issue of the Journal of Marketing is publishing a study presenting evidence that adequate investment in the newsroom is essential for the long-term health of a newspaper.

"Uphill or Downhill? Locating Your Firm on a Profit Function", by Murali K. Mantrala, Prasad A. Naik, Shrihari Sridhar, and Esther Thorson,1 investigates the impact on profit of three areas of newspaper operations:
  • news quality

  • circulation-distribution

  • advertising sales effort
The researchers used financial data for small- to medium-size newspapers — papers with circulation of 85,000 or less — to assess how well the newspapers were allocating investment funds among these three areas. Thorson explains that
The most important finding is that newspapers are under-spending in the newsroom and over-spending in circulation and advertising. If you invest more in the newsroom, do you make more money? The answer is yes. If you lower the amount of money spent in the newsroom, then pretty soon the news product becomes so bad that you begin to lose money.
In other words, newspapers are often "type U firms" — they are on the uphill (left) side of the Quality/Profit curve shown in the figure below.

Ideally, a company will be investing optimally in all three of the operational areas listed above. Such a company is "type N," i.e., its spending is "near-optimal," meaning the company falls in the relatively narrow area centered on the curve's peak. A company underinvesting in quality is on the uphill side of the curve; a company overinvesting in quality is on the downhill side.

The researchers developed a diagnostic tool to help companies in their decision-making. The five-step algorithm
extracts information contained in the market data — on the responsiveness of readers and advertisers, and their interrelated demands — and combines this information with the firm's knowledge of margins to not only recommend appropriate investments in quality, distribution and advertising, but also identify an individual firm's location on the profit function to mitigate under- or overspending errors. In addition, it offers guidance by tracing the optimal path that drives the company from its current location to the neighborhood of maximum profit ...
Details of the diagnostic tool are provided in the paper. Use of such sophisticated tools, and recognition of the importance of maintaining strong brand equity through consistent high quality, are certainly part of the solution to ailing newspapers' financial problems.2

1 Respectively, professor of marketing at the University of Missouri-Columbia, professor of marketing at the Graduate School of Business of the University of California-Davis, PhD student at the University of Missouri-Columbia, and professor of advertising at the Missouri School of Journalism. The online version of the paper cited in this post is from April 2006.

2 For another take on newspaper quality, see this earlier post.



Monday, February 19, 2007

The Dogmatism Scale

In an earlier post, I mentioned that Jürg Niehans, one of my favorite grad school professors, had a way of introducing comments with the disclaimer, "I don't want to be dogmatic, but ..." Clearly, Niehans was not in favor of dogmatism, and neither am I, at least when it comes to discussions outside of religion. The importance of open-mindedness for sound decision-making and innovative thinking is hard to exaggerate.

If you're interested in doing a bit of a self-assessment, you can run through the twenty items in the Dogmatism Scale developed by Robert Altemeyer, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Manitoba.1 Ask yourself how strongly you agree or disagree with each item. For the ten asterisked items, the dogmatic response is to disagree. For the other ten items, the dogmatic response is to agree.

The twenty items are:
  1. Anyone who is honestly and truly seeking the truth will end up believing what I believe.

  2. There are so many things we have not discovered yet, nobody should be absolutely certain his beliefs are right.*

  3. The things I believe in are so completely true, I could never doubt them.

  4. I have never discovered a system of beliefs that explains everything to my satisfaction.*

  5. It is best to be open to all possibilities, and ready to re-evaluate all your beliefs.*

  6. My opinions are right, and will stand the test of time.

  7. Flexibility is a real virtue in thinking, since you may well be wrong.*

  8. My opinions and beliefs fit together perfectly to make a crystal-clear “picture” of things.

  9. There are no discoveries or facts that could possibly make me change my mind about the things that matter most in life.

  10. I am a long way from reaching final conclusions about the central issues in life.*

  11. The person who is absolutely certain she has the truth will probably never find it.*

  12. I am absolutely certain that my ideas about the fundamental issues in life are correct.

  13. The people who disagree with me may well turn out to be right.*

  14. I am so sure I am right about the important things in life, there is no evidence that could convince me otherwise.

  15. If you are “open-minded” about the most important things in life, you will probably reach the wrong conclusions.

  16. Twenty years from now, some of my opinions about the important things in life will probably have changed.*

  17. “Flexibility in thinking” is another name for being “confused and indecisive.”

  18. No one knows all the essential truths about the central issues in life.*

  19. Someday I will probably realize my present ideas about the BIG issues are wrong.*

  20. People who disagree with me are just plain wrong, and often evil as well.
You can score yourself informally by noting whether or not you had a noticeable tendency to give dogmatic responses to the above items. If so, it could be worth your while to spend some time strengthening your critical thinking skills.

1 Robert H. Altemeyer, The Authoritarian Specter (Harvard University Press, 1996), Ch. 8.



Sunday, February 18, 2007

The Marshall Goldsmith Library

Marshall Goldsmith, a respected executive coach whose ideas on helping successful leaders change were the subject of an earlier post, has made many of his shorter writings available without restriction at the online Marshall Goldsmith Library.

The article that brought me to the library deals with influencing up, i.e., effectively presenting recommendations to people in your organization who are senior to you. Goldsmith offers these ten guidelines (slightly edited):
  • When presenting ideas to upper management, realize that it is your responsibility to sell, not their responsibility to buy.

    "The effective upward influencer needs to be a good teacher."

  • Focus on contributing to the larger good, not just on the achievement of your objectives.

    "Don't assume that executives can automatically 'make the connection' between the benefit to your unit and the benefit to the larger corporation."

  • Strive to win "big battles"; don't waste your energy on trivial points.

    "Don't waste time on issues that will only have a negligible impact on results. Focus on issues that will make a real difference."

  • Present a realistic cost-benefit analysis of your ideas; don't just sell benefits.

    "Acknowledge the fact that something else may have to be sacrificed in order to have your idea implemented."

  • "Challenge up" on issues involving ethics or integrity; never remain silent on ethics violations.

    "The best of corporations can be severely damaged by only one violation of corporate integrity."

  • Realize that upper managers are just as human as you are. Don't say, "I am amazed that someone at your level ..."

    "When your managers make mistakes, focus more on helping them than judging them."

  • Treat upper managers with the same courtesy you would accord to partners or customers; don't be disrespectful.

    "Before speaking it is generally good to ask four questions: 1. Will this comment help our company? 2. Will this comment help our customers? 3. Will this comment help the person that I am talking to? 4. Will this comment help the person that I am talking about?"

  • Support the final decision of the team; don't say to your direct reports, "They made me tell you this."

    "Managers who consistently say, 'they told me to tell you' to co-workers are seen as 'messengers' not leaders."

  • Make a positive difference; don't just try to win or be right.

    "The more other people can 'be right' or 'win' with your idea, the more likely your idea is to be successfully executed."

  • Focus on the future; let go of the past.

    "This future orientation may dramatically increase your odds on effectively influencing up. It will also help you build better long-term relationships with people at all levels of your organization."
Goldsmith is a regular contributor to businessweek.com, where a good deal of what he has to say involves how to help people get over the knowing-doing gap.


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Saturday, February 17, 2007

Learning a New Mental Model

As a follow-on to yesterday's post, I'd like to highlight another part of Ken Bain's conclusions concerning how the best teachers establish "a sustained, substantial, and positive influence on the way [students] think,act, and feel.".

Often, achieving sustained results requires that learners build new mental models of reality, something that people tend to resist. Bain found that the best teachers
generally believe that to accomplish this feat [building a new mental model of reality], learners must (1) face a situation in which their mental model will not work (that is, will not help them explain or do something); (2) care that it does not work strongly enough to stop and grapple with the issue at hand; and (3) be able to handle the emotional trauma that sometimes accompanies challenges to longstanding beliefs.
How do good teachers create circumstances that meet the above conditions?
They conduct class and craft assignments in a way that allows students to try their own thinking, come up short, receive feedback, and try again. They give students a safe space in which to construct ideas, and they often spend a great deal of time creating a kind of scaffolding to help students engage in that construction ... Because they attempt to place students in situations in which some of their mental models will not work, they try to understand those models and the emotional baggage attached to them. They listen to student conceptions before challenging them. Rather than telling students they are wrong and then providing the "correct" answers, they often ask questions to help students see their own mistakes.
For additional thoughts concerning how to approach improving learners' mental models, I recommend taking a look at this brief piece by Peter Senge — Mr. Learning Organization.



Friday, February 16, 2007

Ken Bain on Teaching

In 2004, after fifteen years of research, Ken Bain, now Vice Provost for Instruction at Montclair University in New Jersey, published What the Best College Teachers Do. Bain investigated what attitudes and practices distinguish excellent teachers.

Bain defines excellent teachers as those who
achieved remarkable success in helping their students learn in ways that made a sustained, substantial, and positive influence on how those students think, act, and feel.
Bain had two acid tests for including particular teachers in the "excellent" category:
  • Most of their students were highly satisfied with the teaching and inspired by it to continue to learn.

  • Colleagues in the field or in closely related fields would regard the [teachers'] learning objectives as worthy and substantial.
Though Bain was looking at college teachers, his criteria for excellent outcomes apply with little modification to employee development efforts for an increasingly large portion of the workforce of a country like the United States. In assessing the success of a teacher, Bain
looked for signs that students developed multiple perspectives and the ability to think about their own thinking; that they tried to understand ideas for themselves; that they attempted to reason with the concepts and information they encountered, to use the material widely, and to relate it to previous experience and learning. Did they think about assumptions, evidence, and conclusions?
Below, in somewhat edited form, is a summary (pdf) of Bain's major conclusions, as drawn up by the Faculty Innovation Center at the University of Texas at Austin. The summary is organized according to the six broad questions Bain investigated.
  1. What do the best teachers know and understand?

    • Know their subjects well

    • Study what others are doing in their field

    • Often read extensively in other fields

    • Take a strong interest in the broader issues of their disciplines

    • Develop techniques for grasping fundamental principles, and organizing concepts, that help others build their own understanding (i.e., the best teachers do not confine their job to "covering the material")

    • Know how to simplify

    • Cut to the heart of the matter with provocative insights

  2. How do they prepare to teach?

    • Treat teaching as a serious intellectual endeavor

    • Begin with questions about student learning objectives, rather than focusing first on the course content

  3. What do they expect of their students?

    • They expect strong performance, while offering assurance that the students can meet the learning objectives, i.e., the best teachers take full advantage of the Pygmalion effect

    • Their learning objectives embody the kind of thinking and acting expected for life, i.e., objectives are not mechanically tied to the course content

  4. What do they do when they teach?

    • Create a natural critical learning environment, i.e., an environment in which intriguing or important problems and authentic tasks challenge students to grapple with ideas, using critical thinking skills to examine assumptions and mental models of reality

  5. How do they treat students?

    • Manifest trust and seek commitment to learn

    • Believe that students want to learn

    • Are open with students and talk about their own intellectual journey and encourage students to be similarly reflective

    • Often discuss openly and enthusiastically their own sense of awe and curiosity about life

  6. How do they evaluate their students and themselves?
    • Use a systematic process to assess their own efforts and to make changes

    • By checking their own efforts when they evaluate students, they avoid judging students on arbitrary standards
A theme in Bain's work that I'd emphasize is the importance of fostering deep learning. I mention this because too many corporate trainers are convinced that all learning objectives must be "behavioral." I beg to differ. It is appropriate to make conceptual understanding a learning objective when such understanding is the foundation for applying knowledge correctly and for building further expertise.



Thursday, February 15, 2007

Utah State University Courses on eLearning

As part of the growing Open Courseware movement, Utah State University has uploaded to the Web quite useful materials for seven courses in the area of instructional technology, all dating from 2005 or 2006:
  • Producing Distance Education Resources — "Gain an understanding of Internet tools and technologies. Topics include the development of educational Web pages and sites; HTML and Dreamweaver; the role of online learning resources, digital libraries and associated tools; Internet-based conferencing and collaboration tools."

  • Learn and Apply HTML — "Learn how to create web pages using HTML. Learn FTP and how to publish web pages with it. Learn about accessibility and how to create accessible web sites. ... Learn how to insert graphics and multimedia elements. Get an overview of Java Script and learn how to include scripts in your web page. Create a form to gather information and have it submitted to you via a CGI script."

  • Blogs, Wikis, New Media for Learning — "This course is designed to help you understand and effectively use a variety of "web 2.0" technologies including blogs, RSS, wikis, social bookmarking tools, photo sharing tools, mapping tools, audio and video podcasts, and screencasts."

  • Computer Applications for Instruction and Training — "Introduction to basic computer applications on a Macintosh computer, with special emphasis on software that may be used in instruction and training. In this course, students will orient themselves to the Macintosh environment, get a brief overview of Macintosh-specific software, and learn the ... [instruction-oriented] basics of ... PowerPoint, Photoshop, GoLive, and iMovie."

  • Advanced Topics in Learning Object Design and Reuse — "[D]esigned to help you understand and apply advanced topics in the design, creation, and reuse of learning objects."

  • Understanding Online Interaction — [D]esigned to give you an introductory level of understanding of the manner in which individuals interact with one another via the network [sic] ... understanding [which] is absolutely critical to your ability to design effective learning environments on the network."

  • Instructional Games — "Gain exposure to the field of instructional games--the history, research, classification schemes and culture. Explore current research into instructional games and learning ... Become familiar with various design approaches for creating instructional games, with an emphasis on how to motivate the learner/game player."
Anyone can access these materials free of charge. I can attest that they are well worth browsing through to pick up ideas for effective elearning, specific knowledge about topics like HTML, and links to further resources.



Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Valentine's Day




Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Intercultural Competence

With European Community financing, a team of experts in Austria, the Czech Republic, Germany, and the UK have undertaken an extensive program for assessing and helping improve employees' intercultural competence, defined as the ability
to interact both effectively and in a way that is acceptable to others when you are working in a group whose members have different cultural backgrounds.

... "cultural" may denote all manner of features, including the values and beliefs you have grown up with, your national customs and, in particular, attitudes and practices that affect the way you work. (emphasis in original)1
The INCA (Intercultural Cultural Assessment) project identified six dimensions of intercultural competence:
  • Tolerance for ambiguity — willingness and ability to manage ambiguous situations.

  • Behavioral flexibility — readiness to apply and augment the full range of one's repertoire of behaviors; adapting one's behavior to specific requirements and situations.

  • Communicative awareness — negotiating appropriate communication conventions for intercultural communication, and coping with different foreign language skills.

  • Knowledge discovery — curiosity about other cultures, both for their own sake and in order to be able to interact better with other people.

  • Respect for otherness — readiness to suspend belief about the "naturalness" of one's own culture and to believe in the "naturalness" of other cultures.

  • Empathy — willingness to take another person's perspective; ability to relate and respond in appropriate ways to the feelings, preferences and ways of thinking of others.2
The above list is not intended to be exhaustive. Rather, it's "a snapshot, useful as an asessment tool, in order to provide a baseline which can inform training programmes."3 The INCA materials describe three levels of performance: Basic, Intermediate, and Full.

For assessing intercultural competence, INCA has developed a diagnostic tool that has three components:
  • Questionnaires — one to capture biographical information, including information about an assessee's work background and his/her past intercultural contacts and experiences; and an intercultural profile that uses Likert scale responses to 21 statements to help the assessee reflect on his/her intercultural experiences to date, thereby identifying strengths and weaknesses.

  • Scenarios — Several text-based intercultural encounters, and one video-based "Business Trip to China." The assessee answers multiple choice and open-ended questions.

  • Role playing — One role play in which the assessee explains a fairly complicated procedure to a foreigner who does not speak the assessee's language very well; and a second role play in which the assessee is a member of a multicultural team working on assembling a truck.
As is typical with European Community-sponsored projects, INCA is thoroughly documented, with all materials available online. Anyone in search of tested ideas for building employees' intercultural competence can find much worth consideration at the INCA website.
1 INCA Assesee Manual, p. 3.

2For a discussion of the importance of empathy for business leaders, see this earlier post.

3 www.incaproject.org/framework.htm.


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Monday, February 12, 2007

Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address

"At this second appearing to take the oath of the Presidential office there is less occasion for an extended address than there was at the first. Then a statement somewhat in detail of a course to be pursued seemed fitting and proper. Now, at the expiration of four years, during which public declarations have been constantly called forth on every point and phase of the great contest which still absorbs the attention and engrosses the energies of the nation, little that is new could be presented. The progress of our arms, upon which all else chiefly depends, is as well known to the public as to myself, and it is, I trust, reasonably satisfactory and encouraging to all. With high hope for the future, no prediction in regard to it is ventured.

"On the occasion corresponding to this four years ago all thoughts were anxiously directed to an impending civil war. All dreaded it, all sought to avert it. While the inaugural address was being delivered from this place, devoted altogether to saving the Union without war, insurgent agents were in the city seeking to destroy it without war--seeking to dissolve the Union and divide effects by negotiation. Both parties deprecated war, but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive, and the other would accept war rather than let it perish, and the war came.

"One-eighth of the whole population were colored slaves, not distributed generally over the Union, but localized in the southern part of it. These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was somehow the cause of the war. To strengthen, perpetuate, and extend this interest was the object for which the insurgents would rend the Union even by war, while the Government claimed no right to do more than to restrict the territorial enlargement of it. Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with or even before the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. "Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh." If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said "the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether."

"With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations."



Sunday, February 11, 2007

Edmund C. Arnold, 1913 - 2007

The late Edmund C. Arnold was known as the Father of Modern Newspaper Design because of his seminal influence on print design both as a practitioner and as an educator.

As recalled in the obituary published by typographer.org,
[Arnold] helped design or redesign hundreds of newspapers including the Chicago Tribune, the Christian Science Monitor, Newsday, the Boston Globe, the Louisville Courier-Journal, the National Observer, the Toronto Star, the Kansas City Star, El Vocero and El Mundo in San Juan. ...

In 1960 he joined the School of Journalism at Syracuse University, where he headed the graphic arts department. ... In 1975 he moved to Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond VA, where again he was a full professor and headed the graphic arts department. He retired from VCU in 1983 but continued his work as a consultant to publications.
Among Arnold's fundamental contributions to print practice is the Gutenberg Diagram:

Arnold's principle, empirically verified by Colin Wheildon in the study (pdf) from which the above image was taken, is that
... the eyes fall naturally to the top left corner [of a page], which he calls the Primary Optical Area (POA). Then, the eyes move across and down the page, obeying reading gravity, and returning after each left-to-right sweep to an Axis of Orientation.

Any design which forces the reader to work against reading gravity or fails to return him or her to a logical Axis of Orientation, tends to destroy reading rhythm ... (Wheildon, p. 8)
I'm sure we've all had the experience of trying to read an article in a magazine that has gone overboard with typographical and layout busyness. My own view is that free-wheeling design is fine if you're happy to shed the readers who are frustrated by the visual complexity. For newspapers and documents, Arnold's sober approach is essential for usability.

Edmund Arnold wrote 27 books, of which Arnold's Ancient Axioms: Typography for Publications Editors is especially frequently cited.


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Saturday, February 10, 2007

Coaching Pitfalls

William Hendricks, author of Coaching, Mentoring and Managing, offers this instructive list of pitfalls to avoid when coaching:
  • Talking at your employees, rather than with them. Often this approach is accompanied by frequent use of phrases like "I want" and "you should."

  • Giving more attention to attitudes than behaviors. Attitudes are often highly resistant to change and not sufficiently concrete to coach on.

  • Exaggerating situations or behavior. Generalizing with words like "always," "never," and "everybody" has a built-in sound of unfairness.

  • Assuming the employee is out to make you look bad. Employees usually want to succeed. Therefore, it's most likely that a problem is due to a mistake rather than a conspiracy. Use a mistake as an opportunity to teach.

  • Not following up on promises. Failure to follow up is not the sort of example to set for employees from whom you want commitment.

  • Not rewarding improved behavior. If you don't reward positive changes in behavior, the changes are unlikely to persist.
All of these advisories are well worth attention. I would particularly emphasize the fourth. Although, obviously, there are exceptions, employees generally do want to be successful. Making a habit of assuming this is true will increase your own odds of successfully guiding employees toward more effective performance.



Friday, February 09, 2007

Business Model Innovation

A while back I received a report on "Expanding the Innovation Horizon" put together by IBM. The report describes what executives in both the private and public sectors had to say when queried about the scope for business innovation in today's world.

Three types of innovation were considered:
  • Innovation in products, services, and go-to-market activities — The type of change that comes most quickly to mind when innovation is under discussion.

  • Operational innovation — Improvements in the effectiveness and efficiency of core processes and functions.

  • Business model innovation — Changes in the structure and/or financial model of the business.
In my experience, it's business model innovation — e.g., Kodak shifting from a business based on film and film-related sales to a business based on digital products and services — that is least understood conceptually.

IBM found that
Companies that have grown their operating margins faster than their competitors were putting twice as much emphasis on business model innovation as underperformers. (emphasis in original)
Specifically, the outperforming companies devote about 30% of their innovation efforts to business model innovation vs. about 15% for underperforming companies.

The need for business model innovation grows out of the need to establish new competitive differentiators. As one CEO said, "We must innovate in areas where our competition does not act — by developing new competencies and alliances." In this regard, the report notes that
Global connectivity (created through telecommunications, IT infrastructure and open standards) makes new skills and partners accessible and practical to employ and enables entirely new forms of collaboration, and, thus, new business models. Of course, the same global connectivity also exposes firms to new competitors with very different business models and cost bases, which, in turn, can force business model innovation.
Actions companies are taking that involve adjustments to their business models include:
  • Changes in organizational structure — For example, changes that establish collaboration across functions, across geographical locations, and/or across business units.

  • Strategic partnerships — As one CEO said, such partnerships can create value "not just for our company, but also for the industry as a whole. We cannot do everything in this era of specialization."

  • Shared services — to take advantage of dispersed expertise and scale economies.

  • Alternative financing and investment vehicles — Venture capital comes most immediately to mind.

  • Divestitures and spin-offs — To tighten focus on core activities.

  • Use of a third-party operating utility — E.g., an industry-wide utility to process and service life insurance policies at lower cost than when these functions are handled by individual companies.
The goal of reworking a business, using one or more of the above approaches, is "assembling a business model fashioned from groups of specialized capabilities — combining internal expertise and scale through shared services centers with the capabilities of specialized partners to create truly differentiating business designs."

Toward the end of its report, IBM recommends that an organization's strategists ask themselves these questions:
  • Has your innovation agenda expanded beyond products/services/markets innovation and operational improvement to encompass your business model — the emerging basis for competition?

  • How vulnerable is your business model? Are you playing in the right place in your networked industry value chain?

  • How would your business model be different if you started with a clean sheet of paper? What would you do if you were getting into your current business as a start-up located in Malaysia?

  • What capabilities do you have that might fundamentally change the value chain in another industry?
In sum: The organization should decide what elements or components of their business set them apart, and then acquire other needed capabilities from other organizations.

It is not enough to think in terms of basic shared services centers, outsourcing, and insourcing. As examples of more expansive exploration of business model innovation, IBM suggests "partnering with a competitor to gain a mutual advantage over the rest of the industry or participating in a common, industrywide utility that lowers everyone's costs."

The key is to "[l]ook for ways to transform your core value proposition. Pay particular attention to ignored areas of the value chain where no one is actively innovating. Search out third parties that could add value or technology that could introduce entirely new ways of doing business."

In other words, "Choose business model innovations that make you deeply different."