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

Monday, April 30, 2007

Shedding the Commodity Mindset

A while back I was prompted to think afresh about the meaning of "commodity" when a colleague referred to the Associated Press's reporting as "commodity news." Since I find browsing the AP articles that are headlined on my browser homepage a particularly reliable way of keeping up with news during the day, I wasn't inclined to think of the AP's work in "commodity" terms.

Is the word "commodity" thrown around too much? I'd venture to say yes. For me, the latest indication is "Even Commodities Have Customers," an article by François Jacques in the May issue of the Harvard Business Review. Jacques is the senior VP responsible for marketing at the cement division of Lafarge, the world's largest cement producer, with 122 plants in 46 countries (though its market share is only about 6%).

Jacques describes in accessible detail the steps he took, starting in 2002, to build marketing capabilities in the cement division. Managers in the division believed they were selling a commodity and acted accordingly: they had no aspirations to beat the competition except on price. Beginning with four pilot business units, Jacques introduced the basic marketing tools of customer segmentation and pricing strategy and immediately began moving Lafarge's cement profit margin up.

Key to the marketing function's success was uncovering opportunities to differentiate Lafarge's cement products. The general approach included capitalizing on superior supply chain execution (e.g., improving the ordering and delivery process), creating a specialized sales force for each channel, and introducing value propositions for newly defined customer segments.

In the area of employee development, Jacques worked with the HR and training departments to develop marketing and sales competency profiles and an assessment tool that became the basis for development planning.


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Sunday, April 29, 2007

Some Words to the Wise re Knowledge Management

Alton K. Chua, an assistant professor at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, has published an illuminating article concerning what can go wrong with knowledge management projects.

In the the April 28 edition of the Wall Street Journal, Chua describes three all-too-typical cases of knowledge management efforts that started off famously, but then went awry. There are clear lessons to learn from each, as Chua explains.

For example, in the second of the three cases, a provider of telecom equipment and mobile services discovered that building a database of some 150,000 solutions for customer problems, led to reduced problem-solving ability among most of its support engineers.

This happened because the vast majority of the engineers rarely made contributions to the solutions database, but rather largely confined themselves to consulting the database as they rushed to resolve a customer issue. These engineers would "locate and apply solutions directly from the system without first giving the problem some thought." And
engineers said they didn't know what to do when faced with problems that had no solution in the database. Such problems went unsolved and were passed along to research and development for further study.
Chua cites three key lessons learned for this type of knowledge management effort:
  • Make sure rewards for contributing solutions are commensurate with the time required to do so.

  • Regularly review "best practices" to ensure that they really do reflect the latest validated methods for handling given issues.

  • Include the assumptions and rationale that underlie each solution to help ensure that the solution is applied appropriately — and adapted, as needed.
The entire article is well worth reading if you are looking to avoid known pitfalls in knowledge management initiatives you are considering.



Saturday, April 28, 2007

Images of African Cities

As part of my own effort to be better informed about African economies and their development, I checked out some photos of African cities that came to my attention via Global Voices. The images are presented on the Saharan Vibe blog here.

Asmara, Eritrea

You can reach your own conclusions. For myself, I have to say I found the photos a welcome complement to the standard fare of safari images and pictures of civil strife.



Friday, April 27, 2007

Mstislav Rostropovich RIP

Rostropovich as a teacher:
If you asked him 'what fingering should I do here?' or 'how should I hold the bow here?', he'd say something like 'I don't care! Play with your feet if you want! Do what you want — but play the music.' So I guess with [Janos] Starker I learned the rules, then with Rostropovich I learned how to break them! When you make recordings it can be very difficult to bring something new to the music if it's been recorded many times before. What I learned from Rostropovich was to express what I thought, and not just to do something different for the sake of it.
                                                        – Maria Kliegel

(Source: www.naxos.com)


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Thursday, April 26, 2007

When Changing Performance Means Changing Minds

I've cited Jeffrey Pfeffer, Thomas D. Dee II Professor of Organizational Behavior at Stanford, in previous posts and will do so again today because he has published another useful column concerning people skills in the May issue of Business 2.0.

In his column, Pfeffer uses the sustained turnaround (ten years and counting) at Colorado Permanente Medical Group (CPMG) as an example of the necessity of truly changing employees' minds about their roles if an organization is to achieve lasting change.

Pfeffer reports:
The story of how CPMG pulled [its turnaround] off carries lessons for almost any struggling company. [President Jack] Cochran and associate medical director Patty Fahy focued on altering how people think about their roles through numerous training sessions. Many people in health care see the industry as a series of trade-offs: quality vs. cost, patient interests vs. physician interests. The CPMG leadership understood that physician and patient satisfaction and improved financial performance were compatible goals. ...

Second, Cochran and Fahy focused on changing how performance was perceived. As in most organizations, people in health care tend to focus on their own work and avoid those who are creating problems. And in most companies facing performance pressure, training and meetings get pushed aside in the drive for efficiency. Cochran and Fahy re-emphasized the role of physicians as leaders and, using a new evaluation process, began removing 10 t0 20 doctors a year, about 2 percent of the total. Fahy argue that the toxic behavior of some doctors — those who ducked responsibility or lacked anger management skills — infected the organization. ... Once workers saw how things could get better, they pushed to continue the process.
Needless to say, the point I'd emphasize here is that training is an essential part of the change process. Once barriers to achieving change — in this case recalcitrant MDs — are removed, people have reason to believe that clearly beneficial change is actually possible. This, in turn, promotes openness to training messages concerning how to contribute to bringing the change about by assuming updated roles.



Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Seeking Out and Responding to the Customer's POV

Getting employees to recognize and respond to the customer's point of view is a never-ending mandate for companies serious about achieving strong market share and sustained profitability.

One tack I would suggest is having groups of employees — e.g., intact teams — read "Finding the Right Job for Your Product," an article in the Spring 2007 issue of the MIT Sloan Management Review. The employees could then discuss how the article's analysis of sensible market segmentation applies to their own work, internal and external.

Authors Clayton M. Christensen (Harvard Business School), Scott D. Anthony (Innosight LLC), Gerald Berstell (customer case researcher), and Denise Nitterhouse (DePaul University's School of Accountancy and Management Information Systems) argue that a company should segment its market not in terms of such variables as customer demographics and product categories, but rather in terms of "the jobs that arise in customers' lives for which their products might be hired." A job in this context is "the fundamental problem the customer needs to resolve in a given situation."1 For example, as the authors suggest, car companies would do themselves a favor by producing models that fill the need of a growing number of customers for a mobile office.

As I was reading the article, I was reminded of how often a successful new product has been devised by someone who had a "job" he wanted to do, but for which he could not find any existing product to "hire." For instance, Owen Maclaren invented the umbrella-style baby stroller when he realized his daughter needed — for his granddaughter — a lightweight stroller that she could take on trips and store easily when it was not in use. (The story is recounted in brief here.)

1 The authors give due credit to Ted Levitt for introducing the idea of thinking in terms of what customers want to do with products. As early as 1960, Levitt pointed out that customers "don't want a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole!" See "Marketing Myopia" by Theodore Levitt, Harvard Business Review (July/August 1960; reprinted September/October 1975).


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Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Values Among Top Management: Perceptions vs. Reality

A team of five researchers — Andrew J. Ward, Melenie J. Lankau, and Allen C. Amason of the University of Georgia's business school; Jeffrey A. Sonnenfeld of Yale's business school; and Bradley R. Agle of the University of Pittsburgh's business school — report in the Spring 2007 issue of the MIT Sloan Management Review that conflicts among top management tend to be driven by perception rather than reality.

Since we are hearing all the time that perception is what matters most in determining people's behavior, including many of the decisions they make, it is heartening to have evidence-based recommendations concerning how to mold perceptions constructively. Specifically, in the case of perception-driven conflict among a company's top management, the authors suggest the team make a point of:
  • Establishing a good atmosphere for their work together. I.e., keep misperceptions to a minimum by, for example, ensuring "frequent interactions that help to increase people's familiarity with each other so they become more relaxed about voicing dissenting points of view."

  • Understanding and managing perceptions. Start by conducting an audit of organizational values to "determine areas in which actual differences exist and help clarify conflicts that have emerged over incorrect perceptions." Then manage perceptions so that everyone is able to act in accordance with a clear understanding of the company's key values.

  • Investigating the gaps between perceptions of the CEO's values and reality. The authors cite Enron as an egregious example of a company where perception and reality were starkly discordant.

  • Taking action to correct serious misperceptions. This is essential in order to protect the company from a marked deterioration in its ethical tone and public credibility.
The authors' overarching advice is for top management teams to recognize the benefits of hashing out disagreements over how to address issues and solve problems (task conflict), while also recognizing, and therefore minimizing, the damage that arises from disagreements over individual, personalized matters (relationship conflicts).


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Monday, April 23, 2007

Videos at TED.com

Technology, Entertainment, Design, aka TED, is a conference that has been held annually in Monterey CA since 1984. The TED website explains:
More than a thousand people now attend — indeed, the event sells out a year in advance — and the content has expanded to include science, business, the arts and all the big global issues facing our world. Over four days, 50 speakers each take an 18-minute slot, and there are many shorter pieces of content, including music, performance and comedy. There are no breakout groups. Everyone shares the same experience.
Just this month, TED has begun to make available online videos of what the organizers deem the best talks and performances that TED participants have given over the years. The videos are released under a Creative Commons license, so they can be freely shared and reposted. Here are some examples that might be of particular interest to trainers:Since I'm always on the lookout for compelling video that I can include in my training programs, TED is a welcome addition to my treasury of learning resources.



Sunday, April 22, 2007

Earth Day 2007

from the Portland OR City Repair Project



Saturday, April 21, 2007

Creativity that Embraces Analytics

Continuing a thought from yesterday's post, I'd like to second a point made by Howard Draft, chairman and chief executive of Draft FCB, at the just concluded management conference of the American Association of Advertising Agencies.

The thought from yesterday is that a company should train employees at all levels in how to analyze data relevant to their jobs. Howard Draft's point is that the "most damaging distance [in the advertising business] has always been the split between creativity and accountability," by which he means accountability for producing results for clients.1

In his conference speech, Draft
described how the 9,000 employees of his agency ... are being trained to incorporate customer data into the creative process, "to come up with big ideas that incite consumer behavior."
In other words, agency employees are learning how to use data about consumer shopping behavior to design sound strategies for building sales. With these strategies to guide them, employees can then focus their energy on producing creative that is unique, novel, and compelling.

1 Source: "Agencies Hear a Call for More Creativity, but Also More Accountability," by Stuart Elliott, (New York Times, April 20, 2007). Lest you think that Howard Draft, not universally admired in the advertising business, is alone in making the point about pushing simultaneously for more creativity and more accountability, note that the article cites several other speakers who sounded the same theme.


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Friday, April 20, 2007

Business Intelligence Software

In an earlier post describing how Eastern Mountain Sports is using Web 2.0 tools to facilitate collaboration among employees and with suppliers and customers, I touched on how such tools fit into a larger framework that includes corporate scorecards and dashboards.

Now I'd like to call attention to a relatively technical article by David Stodder in the April 2 issue of Network Computing that provides illuminating detail concerning the state of the art in business intelligence (BI) software, a type of application that facilitates pulling data from various sources and displaying it on a dashboard.

Stodder explains that
Enterprise BI platforms consolidate what was once a vast array of disparate tools for data access, analysis and reporting with data integration infrastructure technology, including administration, BI modeling, metadata management, portal integration and security. Operational BI pressures are pushing leading vendors to expand their technologies to support performance and [business] process management; activity monitoring; and faster, more real-time information delivery. Vendors also are trying to keep pace with changing Web 2.0 trends in the user community that will favor BI services inside component mash-up applications, search and collaborative networks.1
As is true at Eastern Mountain Sports, a big advantage of a company-level BI platform is that all departments have "a 'single version of the truth' about customers, products and other objects of interest." All departments are using the same tools to tap into the same data (which, needless to say, should be high-quality data). This facilitates cross-departmental planning, monitoring, and decision-making if ...

... employees are trained to use the tools. For instance, when the dashboard shows a change in inventories in a particular region, employees with inventory-related responsibilities need to be trained on how to drill down into the detailed data to uncover the cause of the change. With this type of analytical capability broadly developed in the ranks of employees, a company expands its ability to respond rapidly to changing circumstances and to pursue continuous improvement of its business processes.

1 A mash-up is an application created by combining content from two or more sources. For example, a retailer could combine a mapping application (e.g., Google Maps) with data from an online weather service in order to monitor how weather is affecting sales in various locations. (Source: Rod Smith, vice president of emerging technology at IBM, quoted here.)


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Thursday, April 19, 2007

A Credible Branding Story

The Loews Hotels Corp. impressed the editors of Training magazine enough to come in at #75 on the magazine's 2007 Top 125 (pdf) — a list of companies doing an especially effective job of employee training and development.

On Tuesday, Training provided further detail on Loews' approach in an online report. The report focuses on the training portion of a large-scale branding initiative, and I'm citing it here because it is among the most credible such efforts I've encountered.

Nan Stanley, Loews' corporate training manager, highlights three best practices for branding training:
  • Recognize "the value of professionalism, proper vocabulary, addressing people by name in correspondence and picking up a telephone."

  • Include all levels of employees. "If you are going to define yourself as a luxury hotel and are attempting to project that image, ... [a]bsolutely everyone in your organization has to understand what that means and interact with guests and clients accordingly. So, yes, we targeted our sales team heavily with this training, but the real value of the program came from the fact that everyone else was expected to go through the training, too, including senior leaders in our home office, managers at all levels, and other team members such as bell service, reservations, and front desk workers."

  • Help employees understand how to work in the particular environment you create for your customers. For instance, in Loews' luxury environment, employees must feel confident in presenting themselves (as opposed to being either diffident or pretentious).
As Stanley explains,
Brand awareness is especially important for us. The majority of luxury brands in our industry have more hotels than we do, and they tend to focus heavily on their names for brand recognition. In some cases, however, people don't necessarily know much about the Loews brand because there isn't a standard look to our properties — all of which are localized. We don't want a guest room in New Orleans, for example, to look like a guest room in Santa Monica. The standards and quality are the same across all of our properties, of course, but each hotel looks different, which makes brand awareness more challenging.

Another goal was differentiation. For us, the way to do that was through exemplary service and exemplary employees. So, we wanted the training to brand these competitive elements and strengthen the brand even further through our regular interactions with customers.
Loews has rolled out two training programs as part of the branding initiative: "Living Loews," whose topics include behavior, communication, presentation, salesmanship, hosting meetings, public speaking, dress, and etiquette; and "Loews Language," which focuses on communication skills and "word choices that reflect the Loews brand positioning."



Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Vexations of Performance Management

Continuing discussion with my colleague of the assessment surveys mentioned in a previous post has included how best to evaluate a manager's implementation of his or her company's performance management system.

Thus, Michael Hammers article, "The Seven Deadly Sins of Performance Measurement (and How to Avoid Them)," (pdf) in the Spring 2007 issue of the MIT Sloan Management Review is timely for me.

Hammer's seven sins, cast as you can see in provocative terms, are:
  • Vanity — setting the bar low, so just about everybody looks good.

  • Provincialism — using measures for different departments that exacerbate a tendency to work at cross purposes, as opposed to measuring all departments against objectives that have organization-wide relevance.

  • Narcissism — measuring from the organization's point of view, rather than from the customer's point of view.

  • Laziness — deciding on measures without thinking carefully about all the important implications of the various possibilities under consideration.

  • Pettiness — measuring only partial outcomes, rather than using measures that are broad enough to capture individuals' contributions to achieving desired outcomes at the organizational level.

  • Inanity — choosing measures that elicit counterproductive behavior.

  • Frivolity — letting performance measurement devolve into bickering, rather than using it, as intended, to monitor and improve performance.
To avoid (or overcome) the above sins, Hammer calls for choosing performance measures intelligently, assessing these measures accurately and precisely, avoiding overly complex measurement systems, and paying due attention to the results of the measurement.



Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Measuring Corporate Culture

In a working paper, Henrik Cronqvist (Ohio State University Fisher College of Business), Angie Low (OSU and the Nanyang Technological University business school), and Mattias Nilsson (Worcester Polytechnic Department of Management) ask, "Does Corporate Culure Matter for Firm Policies?"

Cronqvist, Low, and Nilsson conclude that the answer is Yes, which is none too surprising. More notable is the quantitative methodology behind their research. As the authors explain,
We construct a parent-spinoff firm panel dataset that allows us to identify culture effects in firm policies from behavior that is inherited by a spinoff firm from its parent after the firms split up. We find positive and significant relations between spinoff firms’ and their parents’ choices of investment [e.g., how much growth is from acquisition], financial [e.g., leverage], and operational policies [e.g., spending on R&D]. Consistent with predictions from economic theories of corporate culture, we find that the culture effects are long-term and stronger for internally grown business units and older firms. Our evidence also suggests that firms preserve their cultures by selecting managers who fit into their cultures. Finally, we find a strong relation between spinoff firms’ and their parents’ profitability, suggesting that corporate culture ultimately also affects economic performance.
The key here is to identify measurable variables that reflect corporate culture.



Monday, April 16, 2007

The MERLOT Portal for Learning Resources

The MERLOT (Multimedia Educational Resource for Learning and Online Teaching) portal, created under the auspices of the California State University, provides a searchable collection of online higher education materials, all of which are briefly annotated, and many of which are peer-reviewed.

The materials are primarily for faculty and students at colleges and universities, and thus their use is restricted to personal, non-commercial, and educational purposes. (Consult MERLOT's acceptable use policy for details.)

MERLOT has set up an editorial board to oversee each of its fifteen discipline communities — Business, IT, Statistics, Teaching and Technology, World Languages, etc. The members of the editorial boards are university faculty chosen for their:
  • Expertise in the scholarship of their field

  • Excellence in teaching

  • Experience in using technology in teaching and learning

  • Connections to professional organizations in their discipline

  • Experience in conducting peer reviews of online learning materials
Within its discipline, each editorial board is responsible for:
  • Expanding and managing the collection of online learning materials

  • Educating and reaching out to the community of educators

  • Implementing and managing the peer review process for materials

  • Recruiting and training peer reviewers
As just one example of what is available through MERLOT, you can have a look a "The Successful Media Interview." IMO this is a small gem of useful guidance on how to prepare for an interview with a reporter, how to conduct yourself during the interview, and how to follow up.



Sunday, April 15, 2007

The Disjunction Effect

For some time — ever since I first noticed him in the pages of the Washington Post about a year ago — Shankar Vedantam has been one of my favorite journalists.

I've written about Vedantam's articles on how partisans process information, and now I would like to call attention to the article of his that appeared on New Year's Day. In the article, Vedantam writes about the disjunction effect, a type of procrastination and, therefore, a prime topic for the day on which many people make resolutions for the coming year.

The disjunction effect is the odd phenomenon whereby people put off making a decision in order to allow time to get additional information, but the information in question is actually irrelevant to choosing wisely among the available options.

As an example, Vedantam cites an experiment conducted by Eldar Shafir at Stanford University. Shafir divided a group of students into three subgroups.
The students in one group were told they had just finished a difficult exam and had passed. In another group, all were told they had failed. Psychologists asked the students whether they wanted to go on a vacation. A little more than half the students in both groups said yes — for different reasons. The group that passed wanted to celebrate. The group that failed wanted to get away from it all.

Psychologists then painted an identical scenario to a third group, except that these students were told the results of their exam were not known. Fewer than one in three students said they were willing to buy the vacation tickets right away, even though a delay meant an increase in price and ultimately made no difference — equal numbers of students would go on the vacation whether they passed or failed.
Shafir's explanation for this irrational behavior:
People are uncomfortable focusing on just the act and outcome. They want a script and narrative of why they are doing something. It's different packing a suit whether you are going to a funeral or a wedding, even though it is the same suit and the same suitcase.
Vedantam notes:
The research underlines the importance of thinking about what information you need to make a decision, and not just seeking information in an open-ended manner. ... The alternative is not just paralysis but the risk of being misled and manipulated by information that does not matter.
As Shafir explains, the very act of waiting for information makes it seem that the information matters when it doesn't or, in less drastic cases, that the information is due more weight than a wise person would give it. As a result, the odds of making a biased decision go up.

The moral of the story for trainers: When helping people build their decision-making skills, include an exercise that illustrates the disjunction effect, and then talk about how to avoid it.



Saturday, April 14, 2007

The Streamline Blog's First Anniversary

The tag cloud for year one ...

Branding Business acumen Classroom training Coaching Collaboration Communication Competencies Conflict management Critical thinking Culture Decision-making Documentation eLearning Employee development Evaluation of training Expertise Hiring and getting hired Holiday note Humor Influencing up Innovation Journalism Knowledge management Leadership Learning organization Learning resources Literature Management practices Military training Motivation Negotiation Networking Notables Persuasion Prediction markets Productivity Professionalism Quality Respect Rewards and recognition Simulation Strategy Systems thinking Tagging Teaching Travel Usability Web 2.0



Friday, April 13, 2007

Research-Based Web Usability Guidelines

The US Department of Health and Human Services has posted online a comprehensive compilation of research-based design and usability guidelines.

For example, one of the guidelines in the chapter on optimizing the user experience is:
Optimize the credibility of information-oriented Web sites.
You are given specifics of how to meet this guideline:
  • Provide a useful set of frequently asked questions (FAQ) and answers

  • Ensure the Web site is arranged in a logical way

  • Provide articles containing citations and references

  • Show the author’s credentials

  • Ensure the site looks professionally designed

  • Provide an archive of past content (where appropriate)

  • Ensure the site is as up-to-date as possible

  • Provide links to outside sources and materials

  • Ensure the site is frequently linked to by other credible sites
The sources for the guideline are cited, and the strength of the evidence the sources provide is rated — in this case, 3 on a scale of 1 to 5 (high). There is also a rating for the relative importance of the guideline — in this case, 4 on a scale of 1 to 5.

Other chapters cover:
  • Design process and evaluation

  • Accessibility

  • Hardware and software

  • The homepage

  • Page layout

  • Navigation

  • Scrolling and paging

  • Headings, titles, and labels

  • Links

  • Text appearance

  • Lists

  • Screen-based controls (widgets)

  • Graphics, images, and multimedia

  • Writing Web content

  • Content organization

  • Search

  • Usability testing
You can download any or all of the material as pdf files (many quite large).


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Thursday, April 12, 2007

Taxonomy of Toxic Leaders

As a follow-on to yesterday's post, I'd call attention to the discussion of "toxic" leaders that has become more intense in recent years.

Among the various taxonomies on offer, I found Barbara Kellerman's enumeration of types of bad leaders particularly cogent:
  • Incompetent — the leader and at least some followers lack the will or skill (or both) to sustain effective action. With regard to at least one important leadership challenge, they do not create positive change.

  • Rigid — the leader and at least some followers are stiff and unyielding. Although they may be competent, they are unable or unwilling to adapt to new ideas, new information, or changing times.

  • Intemperate — the leader lacks self-control and is aided and abetted by followers who are unwilling or unable to effectively intervene.

  • Callous — the leader and at least some followers are uncaring or unkind. The needs, wants, and wishes of most members of the group or organization, especially subordinates, are ignored and discounted.

  • Corrupt — the leader and at least some followers lie, cheat, or steal. To a degree that exceeds the norm, they put self-interest ahead of the public interest.

  • Insular — the leader and at least some followers minimize or disregard the health and welfare of those outside the group or organization for which they are directly responsible.

  • Evil — the leader and at least some followers commit atrocities. They use pain as an instrument of power. The harm can be physical, psychological or both.
The details of Kellerman's analysis are in her 2004 book, Bad Leadership: What It Is, How It Happens, Why It Matters.


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Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Is narcissism treatable?

Is narcissism treatable? was the question I asked myself as I was thinking about a persistently self-centered person I encountered in the online forum I help moderate.

It occurred to me that I'd been seeing quite a few articles on dealing with difficult people recently. Many of these difficult types exhibit unhealthy narcissistic traits. (There is such a thing as healthy narcissism, but what I'm talking about here is an exaggerated self-love that is definitely not healthy.)

I turned to Google to see what might be available on the Web concerning the prospects for successful treatment of narcissism.

One of the first sites I came upon, wiki.answers.com, is populated almost entirely by amateurs, but that was still helpful. Reading laypeople's responses to the question, What is the treatment for narcissists? gave me a practical sense of how this personality disorder affects people who have to cope with narcissists (a fresh illustration of the value of Web-enabled conversation). There were even a couple of self-confessed narcissists who weighed in, one of whom said
... I'm not happy with being a narcissist, and have been working to be kind to people without receiving recognition, and I don't want my future wife to divorce me. So please be understanding and encourage narcissists to seek help instead of just crucifying them, even when they really deserve it.
Which brings us back to the question, what sort of help is possible?

Narcissism is hard to treat. As reported by Daniel Goleman back in 1988, when diagnoses of narcissism were rising markedly,
[Narcissists] find it difficult to form the warm bond with a therapist that naturally evolves with most other patients. Instead, they often become cold or even enraged when a therapist fails to play along with their inflated sense of themselves.


... at some point the therapist will have to deflate the narcissist's grandiosity, if only to help him or her find a firmer reality. It is at that point that the therapist risks becoming the target of the narcissist's rage.
Given the difficulty of treating narcissists, people in the business world often are best advised to adopt protective countermeasures, such as speaking as a group to the offending party's boss and laying out the case for insisting on behavior change (not personality change, since the latter is highly unlikely). It is also important to maintain one's focus on accomplishing the organization's mission and to recognize that the only person you can really control is yourself. Maintaining your own professional standards is in your long-run best interest.


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Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Krackhardt and Hanson on Informal Networks

An early and insightful article on organizational networks was published in the Harvard Business Review back in 1993. The article is still cited regularly and is well worth reading.

The authors, David Krackhardt of Carnegie Mellon's school of public policy and management, and Jeffrey R. Hanson, a management consultant, encourage managers to "identify, leverage and revamp [as needed]" three types of informal organizational networks:
  • The advice network — people linked by their reliance on one another for technical advice on how to get work done.

  • The trust network — people linked by their willingness to trust one another with sensitive information.

  • The communication network — people linked by regular contacts in which they talk about work-related matters.
Krackhardt and Hanson then describe some of the common problems that network analysis can uncover and help solve:
  • Weak interdepartmental communication — This is the well-known problem of silos, which can be alleviated through such measures as establishing cross-departmental teams and task forces, arranging cross-departmental social events, and having mentors introduce their protegés to colleagues in other departments.

  • Weak intradepartmental communication — Sometimes there's an absence of camaraderie that can be remedied through various team-building efforts. Sometimes the situation is more dire, with feuding factions that need to be brought together through appropriate conflict resolution.

  • Gaps in the network — Often best solved by creating assignments that bring people into contact so that they can produce valuable output while also forming ongoing working relationships.

  • "Bow tie" — A network in which many people are dependent on one particular employee, but not on each other. Managers need to both diffuse the central person's power (which may or may not be something the person welcomes) and to "guide employees to cultivate the right mix of relationships."

  • Heedless disruption of a network — Whenever organizational restructuring is under consideration, the likely impact on the organization's informal networks should get careful attention as part of the change planning process.
In sum, any effort to improve organizational effectiveness, whether small-scale or large-scale, must take informal networks into account in order to achieve intended goals while avoiding unintended consequences.



Monday, April 09, 2007

Deep Tagging

I imagine that all trainers are aware of the role video (and other visual media) should play in helping learners grasp concepts and skills. Now that so much video is available on the Web, having an efficient way of locating relevant material is of obvious importance.

Tagging has been a great boon, as it allows people to categorize video clips in ways that are meaningful in various contexts, including training.

But what about a video that relates to a number of topics? Yes, you can attach a group of tags that reflect the multiple topics, but this approach is relatively crude compared to deep tagging.

Deep tagging, enabled by special software, allows you to attach a tag to a segment of video and to link directly to the start of the segment in question.

For an example of how deep tagging can be used in training, you can have a look at this post by Doug Fox in which he talks about educating dance audiences. Since dance is a thoroughly visual art form, it has much in common with any business task or process that is learned most readily by watching and simultaneously having an expert talk about what's going on.

Fox provides a list of software options for deep tagging at the end of his post.1
1 Note that Google allows you to email "deep links," i.e., links to specific points within a video clip, as explained here. You provide a URL link that includes a timestamp, presumably accompanied by an explanation of the significance of the linked segment.



Sunday, April 08, 2007

Easter 2007

Here's a greeting I received from a friend in Finland. I pass it along with warm wishes for a Happy Easter.



Saturday, April 07, 2007

A Critical and Integrative Thinking Rubric

To help people improve their critical thinking skills, one can use a rubric such as that posted by Washington State University.

In the summary below (slightly edited to fit the business setting), seven objectives for exercising critical thinking are listed. For each objective, an emerging, developing, and mastery level of performance is described.

A manager helping an employee work toward mastery of critical thinking skills can use the descriptions of the three levels to clarify what changes the employee must make in order to fully achieve each of the objectives.

Washington State U Critical Thinking Rubric

Objective:Identifies and accurately summarizes the problem, question, or issue.

Emerging: Does not attempt to, or fails to, identify and summarize accurately.

Developing: Summarizes the issue, though some aspects are incorrect or confused. Nuances and key details are missing or glossed over.

Mastery: Clearly identifies the challenge and subsidiary, embedded, or implicit aspects of the issue. Identifies integral relationships essential to analyzing the issue.

Objective: Identifies and considers the influence of context and assumptions. [Contexts to consider: cultural/social (group, national, ethnic behaviors and attitudes), scientific, educational, economic, technological, ethical, political (organizational, governmental), personal experience.]

Emerging: Approach to the issue is in egocentric or sociocentric terms. Does not relate the issue to other contexts. Analysis is grounded in absolutes, with little acknowledgment of own biases. Does not recognize context or identify assumptions and underlying ethical implications, or does so superficially.

Developing: Presents and explores relevant contexts and assumptions regarding the issue, although in a limited way. Analysis includes some outside verification, but primarily relies on established authorities. Provides some recognition of context and consideration of assumptions and their implications.

Mastery: Analyzes the issue with a clear sense of scope and context, including an assessment of the audience. Considers other integral contexts. Analysis acknowledges complexity and bias of vantage and values, although may elect to hold to bias in context. Identifies influence of context and questions assumptions, addressing ethical dimensions underlying the issues.

Objective: Develops, presents, and communicates own perspective, hypothesis, or position.

Emerging: Position or hypothesis is clearly inherited or adopted with little original consideration. Addresses a single source or view of
the argument, failing to clarify the established position relative to own position. Fails to present and justify own opinion or hypothesis. Position or hypothesis is unclear or simplistic.

Developing: Position includes some original thinking that acknowledges, refutes, synthesizes, or extends other assertions, although some aspects may have been merely adopted. Presents own position or hypothesis, though inconsistently. Presents and justifies own position without addressing other views, or does so superficially. Position or hypothesis is generally clear, although gaps may exist.

Mastery: Position demonstrates ownership for constructing knowledge or framing original questions, integrating objective analysis and intuition. Appropriately identifies own position on the issue, drawing support from experience, and information derived from sources that go beyond those immediately available. Clearly presents and justifies own view or hypothesis while qualifying or integrating contrary views or interpretations. Position or hypothesis demonstrates sophisticated, integrative thought and is developed clearly throughout.

Objective:Presents, assesses, and analyzes appropriate supporting data and evidence.

Emerging: No evidence of search, selection, or source evaluation skills. Repeats information provided without question or dismisses evidence without adequate justification. Does not distinguish among fact, opinion, and value judgments. Conflates cause and correlation; presents evidence and ideas out of sequence. Data, evidence, and sources are simplistic, inappropriate, or not related to the topic.

Developing: Demonstrates adequate skill in searching, selecting, and evaluating sources to meet the information need. Use of evidence is qualified and selective. Discerns fact from opinion and may recognize bias in evidence, although attribution is inappropriate. Distinguishes causality from correlation, though presentation may be flawed. Appropriate data, evidence, and sources are provided, although exploration appears to have been routine.

Mastery: Evidence of search, selection, and source evaluation skills; notable identification of uniquely salient resources. Examines evidence and its source; questions its accuracy, relevance, and completeness. Demonstrates understanding of how facts shape but may not confirm opinion. Recognizes bias, including selection bias. Correlations are distinct from causal relationships between and among ideas. Sequence of presentation reflects clear organization of ideas, subordinating for importance and impact. Information need is clearly defined
and integrated to meet and exceed task requirements.

Objective: Integrates the issue using other perspectives and positions.

Emerging: Deals with a single perspective and fails to discuss others’ perspectives. Adopts a single idea or limited ideas with little question. If more than one idea is presented, alternatives are not integrated. Engages ideas that are obvious or agreeable. Avoids challenging or discomforting ideas. Treats other positions superficially or misrepresents them. Little integration of perspectives and
little or no evidence of attending to others’ views. No evidence of reflection or self-assessment.

Developing: Begins to relate alternative views to qualify analysis. Rough integration of multiple viewpoints and comparison of ideas or perspectives. Ideas are investigated and integrated, but in a limited way. Engages challenging ideas tentatively or in ways that overstate the conflict. May dismiss alternative views hastily. Analysis of other positions is thoughtful and mostly accurate. Acknowledges and integrates different ways of knowing. Some evidence of reflection and/or self-assessment.

Mastery: Addresses others’ perspectives and additional diverse perspectives drawn from outside information to qualify the analysis. Fully integrated perspectives from a variety of sources; any analogies are used effectively. Integrates own and others’ ideas in a complex process of judgment and justification. Clearly justifies own view while respecting views of others. Analysis of other positions is accurate, nuanced, and respectful. Integrates different disciplinary ways of knowing. Evidence of reflection and self-assessment.

Objective: Identifies and assesses conclusions, implications, and consequences.

Emerging: Fails to identify conclusions, implications, and consequences, or conclusion is a simplistic summary. Conclusions presented as absolute, and may attribute conclusion to external authority.

Developing: Conclusions consider or provide evidence of consequences extending beyond a single discipline or issue. Presents implications that may impact other people or issues. Presents conclusions as relative and
only loosely related to consequences. Implications may include vague reference to conclusions.

Mastery: Identifies, discusses, and extends conclusions, implications, and consequences. Considers context, assumptions, data, and evidence. Qualifies own assertions with balance. Conclusions are qualified as the best
available evidence within the context. Consequences are considered and integrated. Implications are clearly developed, and consider ambiguities.

Objective: Communicates effectively.

Emerging: In many places, language obscures meaning. Grammar, syntax, or other errors are distracting or repeated. Little evidence of proofreading. Style is inconsistent or inappropriate. Work is unfocused and poorly
organized; lacks logical connection of ideas. Format is absent, inconsistent or distracting. Few sources are cited or used correctly.

Developing: In general, language does not interfere with communication. Errors are not distracting or frequent, although there may be some problems with more difficult aspects of style and voice. Basic organization is apparent; transitions connect ideas, although they may be mechanical. Format is appropriate although at times inconsistent. Most sources are cited and used correctly.

Mastery: Language clearly and effectively communicates ideas. Errors are minimal. Style is appropriate for audience. Organization is clear; transitions between ideas enhance presentation. Consistent use of appropriate format. Few problems with other components of presentation. All sources are cited and used correctly, demonstrating understanding of economic, legal and social issues involved with the use of information.


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Friday, April 06, 2007

21st Century Journalism XIX: Strategic Training

Michele McLellan, director of Tomorrow’s Workforce, an R&D project funded by the Knight Foundation, and Tim Porter, associate director of Tomorrow’s Workforce, have just published News, Improved: How America's Newsrooms are Learning to Change.

In their book McLellan and Porter aim to show
how leadership, goal-setting and staff development improve the culture of the newsroom and the content of the news product—both key drivers of audience appeal. [www.newsimproved.org]
McLellan and Porter note that, in today's sour business climate for traditional media, many newsrooms have a defensive culture, which
inhibits innovation and professional growth - two things the news industry badly needs right now. Constructive cultures, by contrast, foster learning, creativity, retention of the best and brightest staff and have been linked in other industries with improved business results. [PressThink]
From extensive contacts with newsroom and other newspaper personnel, McLellan and Porter concluded that three steps are fundamental to promoting an adaptive newspaper culture:
  • Providing strategic training, i.e., training that supports continuous learning; company priorities, especially those directed at transformation to remain relevant in the world of digital media; and individual growth, including, notably, improvement of communication skills.

  • Using groups of employees to identify problems and recommend solutions.

  • Driving decision-making down in the organization, and allowing trial-and-error efforts to introduce new products and methods.
None of the above is astonishing. The fact that these three points need emphasis is an indicator of how much basic modernization many newspapers sorely need to commit themselves to.


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Thursday, April 05, 2007

Online Social Network Textbook

For an introduction to the methods used in social network analysis, you can look at Introduction to Social Network Methods, by Robert A. Hanneman (Department of Sociology, University of California-Riverside) and Mark Riddle (Department of Sociology, University of Northern Colorado), a 2005 textbook that has been posted online so that people can use it for free. (The authors do require that you give them credit if you incorporate content from the book in your own work.)

The table of contents:

  1. Social network data

  2. Why formal methods?

  3. Using graphs to represent social relations

  4. Working with Netdraw to visualize graphs

  5. Using matrices to represent social relations

  6. Working with network data

  7. Connection

  8. Embedding

  9. Ego networks

  10. Centrality and power

  11. Cliques and sub-groups

  12. Positions and roles: The idea of equivalence

  13. Measures of similarity and structural equivalence

  14. Automorphic equivalence

  15. Regular equivalence

  16. Multiplex networks

  17. Two-mode networks

  18. Some statistical tools
   After word



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Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Tuning in to What the Boss Likes

Several years ago, the Wall Street Journal published an article by Joann Lublin that introduced me to the idea of encouraging managers to spell out in writing their likes and dislikes for how they work with employees.

The aim was to make very clear for employees how best to communicate, how to build a good working relationship, and how to carry out their job responsibilities in a way that would maintain the boss's confidence.

I incorporated this recommendation1 in a workshop on leadership that I developed for a client, and got a strongly positive reaction from participants. Specifically, prior to the workshop session, I asked each participant to draw up a one-page memo for their direct reports. The guidelines for the memo were simple:
  • Do a self-assessment (strengths, weaknesses, personal style) and get feedback from your own manager and from employees who know you. Cover these issues:

    – What you like

    – How to work productively with you

    – What you don't like
        (perhaps due to shortcomings of your own)

  • Share a draft of your memo with colleagues, and improve it in light of any additional input they offer.

  • Once you have the final version, share it with your employees and refer to it regularly yourself.
More recently, I came upon the second edition of Jill Geisler's book (pdf), News Leadership at the Head of the Class: The Journalist’s Guide to Teaching Leadership and Management Skills and Values, which includes in its appendix a list of items employees should make sure they know about their bosses.2 If the boss does not provide a helpful memo, and observation does not cover all the needed insights, the employee should not be shy about inquiring in order to fill any gaps.

Slightly edited, Geisler's list calls for knowing the boss's:
  • preferred method of giving information to employees

  • preferred method of getting information from employees

  • biggest current pressure

  • primary values

  • biggest hot button

  • passion outside of work

  • areas of strong expertise

  • areas of limited expertise

  • vision for the organization
Also, employees should be able to complete the following statements. My boss:
  • would be really hurt if someone ...

  • thinks [name] was his/her best boss because ...

  • expects me to handle a small problem by ...

  • expects me to handle a big problem by ...

  • will not compromise when it comes to ...

  • considers a great day at work to be ...

  • handles pressure by ...

  • is respected by her/his bosses for ...

  • respects others for ...

  • has a blind spot about ...

  • thinks I’m great at...
Whether the boss takes the initiative, or it's the employee who seeks guidance, the outcome of learning the boss's values, goals, and preferences is a healthier and more productive working relationship.

1 As reported by Lublin, the recommendation comes from Laurence Stybel, Ed.D.

2 Jill Geisler is Group Leader for Leadership and Management Programs at the Poynter Institute.


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Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Learner-Centered Training

Early in his helpful compilation (pdf) of guidelines and tools for assessing learning, Eric Soulsby, special assistant to the vice-provost at the University of Connecticut, reproduces the contrasting paradigms for teacher-centered and learner-centered education published by Mary E. Huba and Jann E. Freed in 2000.1

Huba and Freed present eleven pairs of characteristics of the two paradigms. In the list below (slightly edited), the teacher-centered half of each pair is in italics, while the corresponding learner-centered half is in bold. Though Huba and Freed are thinking in terms of college students and professors, it does not take much effort to see how the characteristics of learner-centered education that they enumerate, apply with minor modifications to adult learning in the corporate setting.

Knowledge is transmitted from teacher to students.
Students construct knowledge through gathering and synthesizing information and integrating it with the general skills of inquiry, communication, critical thinking, problem solving, etc.

Students passively receive information.
Students are actively involved.

The emphasis is on acquisition of knowledge outside the context in which it will be used.
The emphasis is on using and communicating knowledge effectively to address enduring and emerging issues and problems in real-life contexts.

The teacher's role is to be the primary information giver and evaluator.
The teacher's role is to coach and facilitate. Teacher and students evaluate learning together.

Teaching and assessing are separate.
Teaching and assessing are intertwined.

Assessment is used to monitor learning.
Assessment is used to promote and diagnose learning. (The monitoring function of assessment does come into play when learners are preparing for certification in an area, such as technical support.)

The emphasis is on right answers.
The emphasis is on generating better questions and learning from errors.

Desired learning is assessed indirectly through the use of objectively scored tests.
Desired learning is assessed directly through demos, projects, day-to-day application, and the like.

The focus is on a single discipline.
An approach compatible with interdisciplinary work is used. For a business example, see this post about how the El Camino College Workplace Learning Resource Center is integrating basic skills instruction into mariners' training.

The learning culture is competitive and individualistic.
The learning culture is cooperative, collaborative, and supportive.

Only students are viewed as learners.
Teacher and students learn together. In the corporate setting, this is particularly apparent in training programs that involve learning through work on actual projects (action learning).

It is important to note how closely Huba and Freed's characteristics of learner-centered education align with what Ken Bain discovered in his research on the practices of highly effective college teachers.

1 "Learner-Centered Assessment on College Campuses: Shifting the Focus from Teaching to Learning," by Mary E. Huba and Jann E. Freed (Allyn & Bacon, 2000).


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Monday, April 02, 2007

Using Tags to Help You Browse

For a recent report on how art museums are using tagging, a subject I discussed in an earlier post, you can have a look at this March 28 New York Times article, by Pamela LiCalzi O'Connell.

O'Connell emphasizes the significance of the divergence between how professionals at museums categorize individual works of art, and how members of the public — the museum's largest clientele — categorize them. For example:
The Metropolitan Museum of Art ran a test in fall 2005 in which volunteers supplied keywords for 30 images of paintings, sculpture and other artwork. The tags were compared with the museum’s curatorial catalog, and more than 80 percent of the terms were not in the museum’s documentation. Joachim Friess’s ornate sculpture “Diana and the Stag,” for example, was tagged with the expected “antler,” “archery” and “huntress.” But it was also tagged “precious” and “luxury.”
One of the most appealing outcomes of getting the public involved in labeling the "content" of artworks is that it makes online museum collections easy to browse.

Looking beyond the museum world to the wider realm of Web content, it is not hard to see the value of tagging for making relevant content accessible to people searching for information and ideas in particular areas. For example, someone trolling for recent thinking on the topic of "exerting influence in business interactions" can go to del.icio.us, search for items that people have tagged with both "influence" and "business," and then browse through the resulting list to see what might be helpful.


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Sunday, April 01, 2007

Leadership In the Ranks

I've been talking with a colleague about updating assessment surveys that he has been using for many years. One of the changes we're planning is to jettison the old-fashioned habit of assessing leadership skills only when dealing with someone at the executive level.

In recent years, in conjunction with the trend towards getting work done through teams, there has been a pronounced move toward developing leadership skills at all levels of an organization.

On March 3, the Wall Street Journal published an article that reflects this trend.1 The article's authors, James Kelly, a director at ERM, and Scott Nadler, ERM's client services director, have concluded from seven years of research2 that
... at most companies, senior managers are increasingly hamstrung by the demand from investors and analysts for immediate results. If change is going to come about at these companies, it will be because managers below the CEO (and below the whole "C suite" of CEO, COO, CFO) take the initiative and risks to drive the company in a different direction. Change will have to come from those leading from below, rather than relying on leadership from the top.
Kelly and Nadler cite five principles that their research indicates should guide people below the executive level who are bent on expanding their influence in order to:
  • help their companies

  • improve the impact their companies have on the world

  • improve their own career prospects
The principles are:
  • Make the decision to be a leader. "In every case of successful leadership from below that we have studied, the manager made a conscious decision to move beyond the service and governance roles, without waiting to be told to do so."

  • Focus on influence, not control. "People simply react more enthusiastically to being enlisted in a common cause than they do to being ordered around. And getting people to act on their own to achieve the goals you have in mind is far more effective than having them only react to your direction."

  • Make your mental organizational chart horizontal. And think in terms of networking in order to maximize effectiveness.

  • Work on your "trusted advisor" skills. "You have to earn the right to influence people. People have to want to talk with you, and value what they hear from you. This requires more than being seen as a technical expert."

  • Don't wait for the perfect time, just find a good time. "There is never a perfect time to take the risks of leading from below. When times are good, everyone is too busy and no one seems bothered by the need to do things differently. When times are bad, everyone is too busy (or too scared) and there are too many other demands."
Kelly and Nadler also briefly discuss principles executives should follow in order to foster leadership in the ranks:
  • Integrate a broader range of risks and potential impacts into your business decisions. Ask subordinates to help in assessing a full range of possible short-term and long-term impacts of actions under consideration — financial impacts, environmental impacts, community impacts, impacts up and down the supply chain.

  • Expose yourself to a broader range of perspectives. Reach out to people inside and outside your organization in order to gather and explore new ideas and suggestions.

  • Create vacuums rather than imposing solutions. In other words, senior management can point to an issue that needs attention, but refrain from "dictating the source or nature of answers. ... Aspiring leaders can move more easily into such a vacuum. They still have to provide answers, but they don't have to sell or legitimize the question by themselves first."

  • Encourage questions without answers. This is the flip side of the previous item. In contrast to the common admonition that subordinates should not raise an issue with senior management until they have developed a proposed solution, Kelly and Nadler encourage putting a question on the table promptly in order to get discussion going.

  • Ask "what if" questions. When a subordinate proposes a solution to a problem, a senior manager can help the person refine his/her thinking by asking, "If we do what you suggest, how do you think the situation will play out?"

  • Openly discuss values as well as value. Encourage subordinates to think not only in terms of creating financial value, but also about "right and wrong, what we believe, what we should do." Set an example "by asking questions about value and values together, probing whether there are trade-offs beween them or whether they can be complementary."

  • Refresh your radar screen periodically. "Periodically review the range of risks and impacts that your company should consider, always looking outward and forward. What are the future requirements, expectations and demands coming at you from a wide range of stakeholders?"
The issues and principles Kelly and Nadler discuss are exactly the sort of validated content that my colleague and I will be capturing in the items in our updated assessment surveys.
1 The Kelly-Nadler article was also published online by the Sloan Management Review.

2 "We focused our studies on managers in two overlapping fields that usually aren't high on the agendas of top management and therefore serve as a laboratory for leadership from below: environment, health and safety; and corporate social responsibility. The clear majority of the managers we studied found themselves stuck in predominantly service and/or governance roles — performing tasks like setting and enforcing company standards, and providing the resources for people in the company to meet those standards. Many expressed a desire to take on more of a leadership role, but didn't see a clear way to do so."


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