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

Monday, December 31, 2007

New Year's Eve 2007


Click to enlarge
(Source: http://www.web-helper.net)



Sunday, December 30, 2007

A Poem from Rainer Maria Rilke

O sage, Dichter, was du tust?
                                - Ich rühme.

Aber das Tödliche und Ungetüme,
wie haltst du's aus, wie nimmst du's hin?
                                - Ich rühme.

Aber das Namenlose, Anonyme,
wie rufst du's, Dichter, dennoch an?
                                - Ich rühme.

Woher dein Recht, in jeglichem Kostüme,
in jeder Maske wahr zu sein?
                                - Ich rühme.

Und dass das Stille und das Ungestüme
wie Stern und Sturm dich kennen?
                                - Weil ich rühme.

Translation by A.S. Kline

O tell me Poet what you do?
                                - I praise.

But the deathly and the monstrous,
How do you accept them, bear them?
                                - I praise.

But the nameless, the anonymous.
How, Poet, can you still invoke it?
                                - I praise.

Under every costume, every mask of us,
What right have you to be true?
                                - I praise.

Or that the calm and the impetuous
Should know you, as star and storm?
                                - Because I praise.



Saturday, December 29, 2007

Oscar Peterson, Montreal 1925 - Missasauga 2007

Oscar Peterson, along with double bassists Ray Brown and Niels Pedersen, performs "You Look Good To Me" at the 1977 Montreux Jazz Festival . . .

(Source: YouTube upload from the DVD, Norman Granz Jazz In Montreux Presents Oscar Peterson Trio '77)

Today The Canadian Press published an account of Peterson's funeral service. A warm, firsthand reminiscence of Peterson performances in the late '40s is here. The Globe and Mail obituary is here. An appreciation by J.D. Considine is here.



Friday, December 28, 2007

A Winter Poem from Emily Dickinson

The sky is low, the clouds are mean,
A travelling flake of snow
Across a barn or through a rut
Debates if it will go.

A narrow wind complains all day
How some one treated him;
Nature, like us, is sometimes caught
Without her diadem.

                         – Emily Dickinson



Thursday, December 27, 2007

A Winter Poem from Wallace Stevens

The Snow Man
Wallace Stevens

One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,

Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place

For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.



Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Boxing Day 2007

Junkanoo Cultural Festival
Nassau Bahamas
Boxing Day and New Year's Day



Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Christmas 2007

A Bach setting of "Dona Nobis Pacem" . . .

(Source: sonata1992 at YouTube)



Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas Eve 2007


Silent Night, Holy Night – Christmas Eve in Rockport
John F. Gould (1906 – 1996)

(from the 2006 auction of the Rockport (Mass.) Art Association)



Sunday, December 23, 2007

"O Holy Night"

Maureen Hegarty of Derry in Northern Ireland sings my favorite carol — "O Holy Night" ...

Ms. Hegarty's webpage is here.



Saturday, December 22, 2007

Sankta Lucia and the Winter Solstice

The feast of Santa Lucia is celebrated in the Nordic countries on December 13. Back in the time of the Julian calendar, as explained by The Local, an online Swedish news publication, December 13 coincided with the winter solstice, so watching the video below, a lovely performance of the song "Sankta Lucia," is a nice way to mark today's return to lengthening days.

Sankta Lucia

Natten går tunga fjät runt gård och stuva.
Kring jord som sol förlät, skuggorna ruva.
Då i vårt mörka hus, stiger med tända ljus,
Sankta Lucia, Sankta Lucia.

Natten var stor och stum. Nu hör det svingar,
i alla tysta rum, sus som av vingar.
Se på vår tröskel står vitkläd, med ljus i hår,
Sankta Lucia, Sankta Lucia.

"Mörkret skall flykta snart ur jordens dalar."
Så hon ett underbart ord till oss talar.
Dagen skall åter gry, stiga ur rosig sky,
Sankta Lucia, Sankta Lucia.

You can find the following English translation at www.mamalisa.com.

Santa Lucia

Night walks with a heavy step
Round yard and hearth,
As the sun departs from earth,
Shadows are brooding.
There in our dark house,
Walking with lit candles,
Santa Lucia, Santa Lucia!

Night walks grand, yet silent,
Now hear its gentle wings,
In every room so hushed,
Whispering like wings.
Look, at our threshold stands,
White-clad with light in her hair,
Santa Lucia, Santa Lucia!

Darkness shall take flight soon,
From earth's valleys.
So she speaks
Wonderful words to us:
A new day will rise again
From the rosy sky…
Santa Lucia, Santa Lucia!



Friday, December 21, 2007

Language Learning and Development of Intercultural Competence

An article by Meei-ling Liaw of National Taichung University in the September 2006 issue of the online journal Language Learning & Technology looks at how e-learning can help learners of English as a foreign language (EFL) to do so in a way that promotes intercultural competence.

Liaw works from the premise that "intercultural communicative competence must be developed to prepare learners to be both global and local speakers of English and to feel at home in both international and national cultures."

Liaw defines four types of intercultural competences in this context:
  1. Interest in knowing other people’s way of life and introducing one’s own culture to others

    I am interested in other people’s experience of daily life, particularly those things not usually presented to outsiders through the media.

    I am also interested in the daily experience of a variety of social groups within a society and not only the dominant culture.

  2. Ability to change perspective

    I have realized that I can understand other cultures by seeing things from a different point of view and by looking at my culture from their perspective.

  3. Knowledge about one’s own and others’ culture for intercultural communication

    I know some important facts about living in the other cultures and about the country, state and people.

    I know how to engage in conversation with people of the other culture and maintain a conversation.

  4. Knowledge about intercultural communication processes

    I know how to resolve misunderstandings which arise from people’s lack of awareness of the viewpoint of another culture.

    I know how to discover new information and new aspects of the other culture for myself.
Liaw found that the e-learning environment (see the article for details) seemed to contribute most to development of competencies A and C; the impact on competencies B and D was weak. She suggests this means that "this type of learning environment is conducive to the development of knowledge and attitudes of intercultural competence, but not necessarily to the development of empathy and (meta)intercultural skills."

In her summary Liaw notes
Byram and Fleming define "intercultural speakers" as people who can "establish a relationship between their own and the other cultures, to mediate and explain differences – and ultimately to accept that difference and see the common humanity beneath it" (1998, p. 8). Intercultural language teaching should recognize that language and culture are intertwined and that by adopting an inquiring and reflective approach to language learning, students can be "intercultural speakers." ... the EFL students in the present study did not learn the target culture as a checklist of knowledge. With the help of computer-mediated communication, the students took a journey of discovery and reflection where their understanding of the behaviors, beliefs, concepts, ways of interacting in their own and the other culture was exchanged, discussed, negotiated, and even refined.1
1 Language Learning in Intercultural Perspective, Michael Byram and Michael Fleming (eds.) (Cambridge University Press, 1998).


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Thursday, December 20, 2007

The Beeb Tells the Subprime Mortgage Story

For a lucid presentation of the situation in US credit markets, this BBC page posted on November 21 is a good spot to browse.

The story starts with a graphical comparison of the traditional approach to residential mortgage lending with the subprime/securitized approach. The BBC then goes on to showing the growth of the mortgage-backed securities market, a case study of the impact of subprime lending on Cleveland, the nationwide scope of the foreclosure crisis, the crash of home prices, the linkage of the residential real estate market to the larger US economy, the spread of credit ills to other types of lending, burgeoning bank losses, and the fallout for bondholders such as pension funds.



Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Negotiation Refresher

In a brief article in the December issue of CFO magazine, Alix Stuart provides a reminder of how to build trust in a negotiation and, failing that, how to handle a negotiation despite a lack of trust.

Most of the advice Stuart cites is based on conversation with Deepak Malhotra, a professor in the Negotiations, Organizations, and Markets Unit at the Harvard Business School. Malhotra is co-author with Max Bazerman, also a professor at HBS, of Negotiation Genius: How to Overcome Obstacles and Achieve Brilliant Results at the Bargaining Table and Beyond, published this year by the HBS Press.

The first piece of advice is something I've heard from more than one expert salesperson: You can facilitate arriving at a win-win outcome by being a bit of a chameleon. For instance, adjust your speaking style and body english to approximate those of the other party. If the other person crosses her legs, cross your own legs. If she uses a breezy speaking style, move in the direction of comparable informality.

Another recommendation is to take it easy when drawing up the contract. Malhotra's research indicates that "using overly detailed contracts to seal a deal can lead to a less secure relationship over time." Malhotra explains, "If we have a contract that's very binding, every time you do something good, I'm more likely to attribute it to the contract, not to you being a nice person or caring about me."

The better approach is to accept that some details can be left unspecified, and/or to make certain contract provisions non-binding, especially at the beginning of the relationship. This approach allows leeway for building trust as the parties work out details in light of circumstances that emerge as their joint efforts proceed.

If you find yourself negotiating with someone whom you don't entirely trust, Malhotra's advice is adopt the tack of "asking very focused questions and looking for answers that sidestep them."

If you think that the other party is too optimistic about what he'll be able to do — e.g., he projects a very aggressive rate of growth for his business — you can build a contingency into your contract that stipulates sharing of the risk that the projection may not pan out.

The final piece of advice from Malhotra is one I'm particularly partial to: "Don't let the numbers speak for themselves. [Instead] go the extra step and make sure you explain your intentions." By doing this, you clarify your interests for the other party, and you set a tone of openness and straight talk.


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Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The Video Generation and PowerPoint Presentations

Some food for thought from the December 24/31 issue of The New Yorker:
In a study published this year, experimenters varied the way that people took in a PowerPoint presentation about the country of Mali. Those who were allowed to read silently were more likely to agree with the statement "The presentation was interesting," and those who read along with an audiovisual commentary were more likely to agree with the statement "I did not learn anything from the presentation." The silent readers remembered more, too, a finding in line with a series of British studies in which people who read transcripts of television newscasts, political programs, advertisements, and science shows recalled more information than those who had watched the shows themselves.1
— Caleb Crain, "Twilight of the Books"

1 The study Crain references at the beginning of the quoted passage is "The Effect of the Modality of Presentation of Streaming Multimedia on Information Acquisition," by Steven C. Rockwell and Loy A. Singleton (Media Psychology, Vol. 9, No. 1, 2007). Abstract: "The proliferation of fast computer systems and high-speed Internet connections allows for the increasingly practical delivery of streaming audio and video in educational or informational presentations. Many proponents of this technology advocate its use citing that it is more media-rich, and therefore more engaging than less rich forms. This study sought to determine how different modalities of presentation (text-only, text-audio, and text-audio-video) impacted information acquisition from a PowerPoint presentation. One hundred thirty two participants were placed into one of three presentation modes. After viewing the presentation, their level of information acquisition was assessed. Results indicate that participants in the more media rich groups acquired less information from the presentation. These results challenge anecdotal reports regarding the effectiveness of media-rich presentations." Note that the subjects of the study would appear to have been people with a sufficiently high level of literacy to absorb the meaning of the text they were reading.


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Monday, December 17, 2007

The Joy of Budgeting

There's no joy in the annual slog that constitutes traditional budgeting. The traditional approach effectively treats budgeting as a great game of wishful prognostication, poker-faced dissembling, and semi-robotic extrapolation from last year.

There is joy — of a biz sort — in doing budgeting in a way that is focused on organizing use of your company's to optimally support the coming year's planned activities.

And, as pointed out in a short article by Kate O'Sullivan in the December issue of CFO magazine, such an updated view of budgeting involves placing the major emphasis on planning and forward-looking analysis.

The main departure from standard budgeting practice highlighted in O'Sullivan's article is using rolling forecasts that look farther into the future than the traditional four or five quarters.

Another salient point O'Sullivan covers is the ability many companies have developed to assess the status of their business in near real-time. This is different from skewing one's decisions in an effort to keep Wall Street happy by reporting steady quarter-to-quarter earnings growth. Rather, recognizing that the business environment is generally dynamic, modern business managers are using rolling forecasts as a way of remaining flexible in order to adjust intelligently to evolving circumstances in the market.



Sunday, December 16, 2007

"If you ain't cheatin', you ain't trying hard enough"

This lengthy report from today's Boston Globe scarcely requires comment:

"Army Knew of Cheating on Tests for Eight Years"

The title of my post comes from a paragraph near the end of the report:
Sergeant Daniel Meridieth said in an e-mail that his superior officer directed him to ShamSchool. "I got the Web address from my platoon sergeant, who suggested it as a 'study guide.' And my first sergeant has said many times that 'If you ain't cheatin', you ain't trying hard enough,' " a catchphrase that also appears frequently on the message boards of the cheating websites.
You can read ShamSchool's own version of its history here.

I believe it is fair to say that this Army situation is to good training practice what The Devil's Dictionary is to good lexicography.


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Saturday, December 15, 2007

Tips for Consensus

I'm working my way through a handy Six Sigma Pocket Guide published by Rath & Strong Management Consultants of Lexington MA. This is an excellent resource for anyone wanting a compact compendium of Six Sigma principles and tools (197 3.5" X 5.5" pages).

One nugget providing food for thought among the less technical parts of this handbook are the tips for reaching consensus (e.g., on a plan of action to correct a quality problem). Here is the list (from p. 154), along with some comments from me:
  • Use a facilitator. (Often a good team leader will do fine in this role.)

  • Take good notes. (Include issues discussed, main points pro and con, decisions reached.)

  • Balance power. (If this is apt to be ticklish, an outside facilitator may indeed be necessary.)

  • Make sure there is enough time. (If necessary, arrange a follow-up meeting, but with a clear idea of how the group will progress to a decision.)

  • Search for alternatives that meet the goals of all members. (This may involve discussing the interests behind goals in order to determine where there is flexibility.)

  • Encourage. (The atmosphere of the discussion must be one in which people can speak freely. Ground rules should make clear that civility is the order of the day.)

  • Listen carefully. Check for understanding. (Active listening 101.)

  • Be open to new ideas, but don't change your mind simply to avoid conflict or speed up the decision. (As far as possible, use concrete evidence to resolve disputes about likely outcomes of alternative proposed solutions.)

  • Don't just argue for your point of view. (Or, as I would put it, explain your rationale clearly, and refer to concrete evidence in support of your position. Participate in exploration of how to incorporate useful aspects of alternative plausible solutions into the final chosen solution.)

  • Seek out differences of opinion. Have people play devil's advocate. (Extremely important for avoiding groupthink.)
Bear in mind that consensus decision-making is only appropriate in certain situations. The Six Sigma Pocket Guide specifies seeking consensus for decisions that are high impact, high consequence (I assume this has more of a political flavor than "high impact," which presumably refers to technical aspects of the decision), emotionally charged, full of controversy (e.g., over who will be affected how by the decision reached), and characterized by a wide diversity of opinion (e.g., over decision criteria and the weights to assign them).


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Friday, December 14, 2007

Fortune's "101 Dumbest Moments in Business, 2007"

In its December 24 issue, Fortune publishes its 101 Dumbest Moments in Business, 2007. Yes, they're all dumb, some are funny, and several are truly appalling. My personal Top Ten:

10. "Diebold tightens security after it is revealed that a simple virus can hack its electronic voting machines. Months later a hacker uses a picture of a key from the company website to make a real key that can open the company's machines."

13. "Disneyland announces plans to close the 'It's a Small World' attraction to deepen its water channel after the ride's boats start getting stuck under loads of heavy passengers. Employees ask larger passengers to disembark — and compensate them with coupons for free food."

44. "A Bank of America branch in Ashland, Mass., is evalucated after it receives a fax with the image of a lit match being held to a bomb's fuse. The fax, sent by the company to alert employees to an upcoming promotion, somehow comes through without its text, which should read 'The Countdown Begins ... Small Business Commitment Week June 4 – 8.'"

45. "Just one week after unveiling the world's most expensive dessert — the $25,000 Frozen Haute Chocolate, 28 cocoas infused with edible 23-karat gold served in a goblet with a diamond bracelet at its base — New York restaurant Seredipity 3 is shut down for failing its second health inspection in a month. Inspectors find a live mouse, multiple piles of mouse droppings, fruit flies, houseflies, and more than 100 live cockroaches."

49. "A worker in a German screw factory smuggles out 2,000 to 7,000 screws per night, ultimately stealing more than a million units. He sells the screws below cost on the Internet, artificially depressing the entire screw market."

50. "Exploiting a flaw in a Defense Department purchasing system, South Carolina parts supplier C&D Distributors rakes in $20.5 million in shipping fees on just $68,000 in sales. The scheme is finally detected when a Pentagon clerk spots a $969,000 bill for shipping two 19-cent washers to an Army base in Texas."

57. "'The segment was intended as a lighthearted tribute to Mexico and its vibrant cultural heritage, which we all admire and enjoy.' — Australian TV production company Endemol Southern Star, in a statement apologizing to the Mexican government for a segment of its Big Brother reality program in which contestants wear sombreros and floppy mustaches and throw water balloons at a Mexican flag.

80. "After Hugo Chávez calls the former Prime Minister of Spain a 'fascist' at a summit in Chile, Spanish King Juan Carlos leaps to his countryman's defense. His retort to Chávez, 'Why don't you shut up?' ['¡¿Por qué no te callas?!'] becomes one of the nation's most popular cellphone ringtones, downloaded more than 500,000 times within ten days."

93. "On its British Airways flight from New Delhi to London, first-class passenger Paul Trinder wakes up from a nap to find the corpse of a woman who had died in the economy cabin being placed in the seat next to him. Upon complaining about the incident, Trinder — a gold-level frequent flier who logs 200,000 miles a year with the airline — says he is told he will not be compensated and should just 'get over it.'"

97. "Google's Blogger software misidentifies a company-written blog as spam and automatically disables it." (I know from personal experience that the Google spam detector is suspicious of blogs that have lots of links.)


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Thursday, December 13, 2007

Open Yale Courses

"We hope these courses will be a resource for critical thinking, creative imagination, and intellectual exploration."

Yale University has joined the open courseware movement with an initial batch of seven liberal arts courses that are presented via downloadable videos of the professors' lectures, along with ancillary material, such as syllabi, class schedules, searchable transcripts of the lectures, mp3 audio versions of the lectures, problem sets, and course evaluations.

The seven Open Yale courses are:The Open Yale courses can be downloaded for non-commercial redistribution, remixing, and incorporation into other course material under a Creative Commons license, so long as Yale and the respective professor are given credit. Over the next 3 years, Yale plans to add about 30 more courses (all at the introductory undergraduate level).

You can read an informative write-up about Yale's initiative in the December 12 issue of Inside Higher Ed.



Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Laughter is the Best Medicine XVII: Overly Prudent Warning Labels

Since 1997, Michigan Lawsuit Abuse Watch has been running a "Wacky Warning Label Contest." This year's winners are in and can be perused here.

Past winners include:
  • A popular scooter for children that warns: "This product moves when used."

  • A warning on an electric drill made for carpenters that cautions: “This product not intended for use as a dental drill.”

  • The label on a bottle of drain cleaner that warns: “If you do not understand, or cannot read, all directions, cautions and warnings, do not use this product.”

  • A massage chair that warns: “DO NOT use massage chair without clothing... and, Never force any body part into the backrest area while the rollers are moving.”

  • An “Aim-n-Flame” fireplace lighter that cautions, “Do not use near fire, flame or sparks.”

  • A 12-inch rack for storing compact disks that warns: “Do not use as a ladder.”

  • A cartridge for a laser printer that warns, “Do not eat toner.”

  • A 13-inch wheel on a wheelbarrow that warns: “Not intended for highway use.”

  • A dishwasher that carries this warning: “Do not allow children to play in the dishwasher.”
If you'd like more along the same lines, dumb.com obliges.



Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Story of MIT's Open Courseware in a Nutshell

The purpose and nature of MIT's OpenCourseWare (OCW) initiative, the subject of of an earlier post, is summed up in the video below.

The video was produced by Nick Barber for IDG News Service at an event in Cambridge on November 28 marking OCW's fifth anniversary.



Monday, December 10, 2007

A Practical Approach to Evaluating Training

My own experience in working with clients tells me that the approach to evaluation of new-hire training adopted by Washington State Employees Credit Union (WSECU) is worth considering.

You can read about the WSECU approach in an article posted on the managesmarter.com website last week. As reported by Sarah Boehle, the components of the WSECU assessment and evaluation program are:
  • Supervisor assessment of new employees' skills and knowledge that enables the training department to set up an appropriate training plan for each individual.

  • Après-class discussions with participants, whose comments are recorded by a facilitator and passed along to the training department to guide improvements to the training.

  • Post-training assessment of knowledge and skills, with the results sent to the employee's supervisor. The supervisor is thus informed of what, if any, tasks the employee will need extra with on-the-job. The supervisor also receives suggestions for ways of addressing skill and knowledge gaps.

  • One-on-one oral evaluation and discussion of the learning experience with each trainee to assess the individual's development needs and to collect further ideas for improvement of the training.

  • A one-on-one meeting between an educational specialist from the training department and the trainee's manager to discuss specifics of the individual's development needs.

  • Checking with alums of the program to find out what could have been done differently or better to prepare them for their work at WSECU branches.
As the head of WSECU's training department and one of her senior education specialists explained to Boehle, the training department makes a point of talking with managers about what they need employees to know and be able to do. These discussions both inform the design of the training and provide an opportunity to clue the managers in to what is and is not feasible for the training program to accomplish: "By simply talking to managers about their expectations and our own limitations, we were able to better align expectations with realistic training outcomes, which made managers much more satisfied with overall program results."

Another bit of useful information in Boehle's article is an annotated list of training activities that WSECU has found effective.



Sunday, December 09, 2007

You Don't Have to Be a Kid to Play Geospy

I've decided I need to get much better at knowing where the countries of the world are located (not to mention being able to locate major cities and natural features).

National Geographic Kids is on the case.

In the Geography Games section of this website, you can play Geospy. Your mission is to identify continents, countries, US states, Mexican states, and Canadian provinces on blank maps.

If you want to practice offline, National Geographic provides printer-friendly blank maps like the one of Africa below.



Saturday, December 08, 2007

Denmor Garment Manufacturers, Inc.

As a complement to yesterday's post concerning Kaieteur Falls in Guyana, I'd like to call attention to a noteworthy company in Guyana.

Source: Arthur Lok Jack Graduate School of Business (pdf)

Denmor Garment Manufacturers is notable because it has adopted a employees-are-our-greatest-asset business model that is enabling the company to compete successfully in selling clothing on the world market.

Dennis Morgan founded Denmor with a partner in 1997. Since then, the company has grown to the point that it was exporting over 15,000 dozen garments per week to North America as of 2005.

As explained in a case study (pdf) prepared by the Arthur Lok Jack Graduate School of Business in Trinidad,
Dennis Morgan was born and raised in poverty and never completed his secondary school education. Having also gone through a series of very low income jobs prior to establish[ing] Denmor, Morgan was motivated at the very outset to pull other people out of poverty and provide them with many of the opportunities he had been denied. He has had a particularly strong urge to help vulnerable women out of poverty and has actively provided training and jobs to women who are underprivileged, school dropouts, socially ostracised, single parents or otherwise disadvantaged.
Tough competition from the likes of China compelled Morgan to devise a strategy that would keep Denmor viable. He decided
to move into areas in which the company had a comparative advantage. Morgan found Denmor's advantage to be its capacity for the rapid delivery of relatively small orders of diverse high quality garments.
Morgan reports that he was convinced that his strategy would work only if he treated "employees as the most precious asset." One outgrowth of this view is that the company spends about USD 250,000 a year on training its 1,000 workers. Some of this training helps with basic literacy and numeracy; there is also considerable emphasis on cross-training.


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Friday, December 07, 2007

Kaieteur Falls, Guyana

Kudos to Global Voices Online (GV) for the wealth of news, information, and commentary this service of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society brings together from numerous private citizens around the world.

Today's post about Kaieteur Falls in Guyana from Peace Corps volunteer Mark Hejinian is an example of the education in geography one can easily get by subscribing to the daily digest Global Voices Online offers. You can also subscribe to notices of GV content updates.

Mark Hejinian with Peace Corps friends Adannaa and Malane at Kaieteur Falls in Guyana

You can see a map of Kaieteur National Park, where the Falls are located, here.


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Thursday, December 06, 2007

The Ghana Institute of Management and Public Administration

One of the most interesting tales of change management I've encountered involves the Ghana Institute of Management and Public Administration (GIMPA) in Accra.


GIMPA's rector, Stephen Adei, outlines the background, the steps taken to turn the institution around, and the learning to be derived from the experience in a presentation available here (pdf).

Unfortunately, Dr. Adei is currently in the midst of a legal wrangle over his use of the title "Professor" and over his management style at GIMPA, so we have to reserve judgment on just what type of a success story GIMPA actually is.

I will be watching further developments. Availability of high-quality business training in developing countries is important for enabling enterprises in these countries to compete effectively in world markets, so knowing what role GIMPA plays in Ghana is of considerable interest.


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Wednesday, December 05, 2007

How Collateralized Debt Obligations (CDOs) Work

Portfolio magazine published a graphic today that does an excellent job of explaining what has gone wrong with collateralized debt obligations (CDOs), a type of security at the center of the current credit market troubles.




Tuesday, December 04, 2007

The Open Training Platform (UNESCO)

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has created the Open Training Platform (OTP)
to facilitate access to training materials and resources developed by development stakeholders at a global level with an objective of having training and capacity-building resources openly available to local communities, development stakeholders at grassroots level ... (Source: FAQ.)
The topics encompassed in the platform include
  • Adult literacy

  • Agriculture

  • Community development

  • Computer science and information management

  • Culture

  • Development aid

  • Educational management and pedagogy

  • Employment

  • Engineering

  • Entrepreneurship, economy and sustainable development

  • Environment

  • Gender issues

  • Government policy

  • Health and sanitation


  • Languages

  • Legal issues

  • Life skills

  • Management

  • Media and communication

  • Social problems
The OTP is well-organized for browsing, so if you're interested in development-oriented training, you can use this UNESCO site to quickly get a sense of what type of material is currently available.



Monday, December 03, 2007

Brainstorming McKinsey Style

Recently, the wide-open style of brainstorming — encouraging people to range broadly in generating ideas, with no premature filtering — has been called into question (e.g., see these earlier posts).

An example of this rethinking can be found in the December issue of the Harvard Business Review, where Kevin P. Coyne, a McKinsey alum, and Patricia Gorman Clifford (pdf) and Renée Dye, current McKinsey consultants, describe the semi-structured approach to brainstorming that they find more productive than a wholly unstructured approach.

In the authors' experience, it turns out that
if you systematically constrain the scope of their thinking (but not too much), people are adept at fully exploring the possibilities, and they can regularly generate lots of good ideas — and occasionally some great ones. Setting the right constraints is a matter of asking the right kinds of questions: ones that create boxes that are useful, but different, from the boxes your people currently think in.
The authors argue that
The most fertile questions focus the mind on a subset of possibilities that differ markedly from those explored before, guiding people to valuable overlooked corners of the universe of possible improvements.
By way of example, the authors provide a list of "21 Questions for Developing New Products." The questions are sorted into six categories:

"De-average" buyers and users.
Which customers use or purchase our product in the most unusual way?

Do any customers need vastly more or less sales and service attention than most?

For which customers are the support costs (order entry, tracking, customer-specific design) either unusually high or unusually low?

Could we still meet the needs of a significant subset of customers if we stripped 25% of the hard or soft costs out of our product?

Who spends at least 50% of what our product costs to adapt it to their specific needs?

Explore unexpected successes.
Who uses our product in ways we never expected or intended?

Who uses our product in surprisingly large quantities?

Look beyond the boundaries of your business.
Who else is dealing with the same generic problem as we are, but for an entirely different reason? How have they addressed it?

What major breakthroughs in efficiency or effectiveness have we made in our business that could be applied in another industry?

What information about customers and product use is created as a by-product of our business that could be the key to radically improving the economics of another business?

Examine binding constraints.
What is the biggest hassle of purchasing or using our product?

What are some examples of ad hoc modifications that customers have made to our product?

For which current customers is our product least suited?

For what particular usage occasions is our product least suited?

Which customers does the industry prefer not to serve, and why?

Which customers could be major users, if only we could remove one specific barrier we've never previously considered?

Imagine perfection.
How would we do things differently if we had perfect information about our buyers, usage, distribution channels, and so on?

How would our product change if it were tailored for every customer?

Revisit the premises underlying your processes and products.
Which technologies embedded in our product have changed the most since the product was last redesigned?

Which technologies underlying our production processes have changed the most since we last rebuilt our manufacturing and distribution systems?

Which customers' needs are shifting most rapidly? What will they be in five years?

In addition to the sample questions cited above, the article also provides practical advice on how to run the brainstorming session:
  • Bound the range of acceptable ideas, then select and tailor the questions accordingly.

  • Select participants who can produce original insights (as opposed to selecting people simply on political grounds).

  • Ensure that everyone is fully engaged, e.g., by setting up a contest for the best idea or group of ideas.

  • Structure the meeting to ensure social norms work for you, not against you. Most importantly, this means using small groups for the initial discussion of your chosen questions to make it more natural for everyone to contribute actively. The authors also recommend putting the most pushy people in a single group so they do not inhibit contributions from the shyer participants (who are dispersed among the other groups).

  • Focus every discussion using your preselected questions. The authors explain that this typically results in a dynamic in which "[t]he first five minutes of each session sound like any other brainstorming meetings. But then the participants return to the better ideas and refine them. Thoughtful variants emerge. The interplay results in complex, multilayered notions that have a higher likelihood of growing into a true killer idea."

  • Do not rely solely on a single brainstorming session. A second session may be useful, there may be value in having participants do some prework, and/or it may be helpful to obtain information after the session from knowledgeable individuals who did not participate.

  • Narrow the list of ideas down right away to the ones you will seriously investigate. This is important to give participants confidence that their creative work will lead somewhere.
Since the article is informative and a model of clarity, I encourage reading it in its entirety.



Sunday, December 02, 2007

At the Nokia Theatre in New York City

I went to New York this evening to see a favorite band — HIM from Finland. You can get a taste of their work from this video — their artiest — directed by Stefan Lindfors:

The lead singer is Ville Valo. His bandmates are Mikko Lindström on guitar, Mikko Paananen on bass, Janne Puurtinen on keyboard, and Mika Karppinen on drums.



Saturday, December 01, 2007

Cultivating Sound Intuition

In the Fall issue of the MIT Sloan Management Review, Kurt Matzler (professor of international management at Johannes Kepler University in Linz, Austria), Franz Bailom (a consultant based in Innsbruck), and Todd A. Mooradian (associate professor of marketing at William and Mary's Mason School of Business) summarize what we know about developing reliable intuitive decision-making in business.

The key point is that intuition is not some kind of ESP. Rather it
is really one's ability to recognize patterns at lightning speed — a process that often happens unconsciously. This is an especially important trait for complex decisions. ... Complex decisions ... bring into play a process in which knowledge, experience and emotions are linked, and this process is what people commonly think of when they hear the word "intuition."
Matzler, Bailom, and Mooradian point to six requirements that enable someone to exercise reliable intuition:
  • Experience — produces the "facts, patterns, concepts, procedures and abstractions" that one draws on when making an intuitive decision in a complex situation.

  • Networks — allow one to share experiences and get constructive feedback on decisions.

  • Emotional intelligence — the ability to recognize and "read" one's emotional reactions.

  • Tolerance of mistakes — since well-rounded learning includes learning from mistakes.

  • Curiosity — the basis for discovering new opportunities.

  • Limits — rather than depending exclusively on intuition, effective managers "reflect on their intuitive decisions before they execute them."
It is important to emphasize that Matzler, Bailom, and Mooradian view intuition as a faculty to be honed, and one to be used in decision-making only in conjunction with checking of hunches and impulses against facts and observations. This concept of intuition is qualitatively different from the concept used by those, such as Daniel Kahneman, who caution against depending on intuition to make decisions.


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