!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Strict//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/xhtml1/DTD/xhtml1-strict.dtd"> Streamline Training & Documentation: April 2008

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

National Poetry Month Concludes

Richard Henry Dana, Jr., mentions "The Castaway" in Two Years Before the Mast, a book I finished reading a few days ago.

The Castaway

Obscurest night involv'd the sky,
           Th' Atlantic billows roar'd,
When such a destin'd wretch as I,
           Wash'd headlong from on board,
Of friends, of hope, of all bereft,
His floating home for ever left.

No braver chief could Albion boast
           Than he with whom he went,
Nor ever ship left Albion's coast,
           With warmer wishes sent.
He lov'd them both, but both in vain,
Nor him beheld, nor her again.

Not long beneath the whelming brine,
           Expert to swim, he lay;
Nor soon he felt his strength decline,
           Or courage die away;
But wag'd with death a lasting strife,
Supported by despair of life.

He shouted: nor his friends had fail'd
           To check the vessel's course,
But so the furious blast prevail'd,
           That, pitiless perforce,
They left their outcast mate behind,
And scudded still before the wind.

Some succour yet they could afford;
           And, such as storms allow,
The cask, the coop, the floated cord,
           Delay'd not to bestow.
But he (they knew) nor ship, nor shore,
Whate'er they gave, should visit more.

Nor, cruel as it seem'd, could he
           Their haste himself condemn,
Aware that flight, in such a sea,
           Alone could rescue them;
Yet bitter felt it still to die
Deserted, and his friends so nigh.

He long survives, who lives an hour
           In ocean, self-upheld;
And so long he, with unspent pow'r,
           His destiny repell'd;
And ever, as the minutes flew,
Entreated help, or cried—Adieu!

At length, his transient respite past,
           His comrades, who before
Had heard his voice in ev'ry blast,
           Could catch the sound no more.
For then, by toil subdued, he drank
The stifling wave, and then he sank.

No poet wept him: but the page
           Of narrative sincere,
That tells his name, his worth, his age,
           Is wet with Anson's tear.
And tears by bards or heroes shed
Alike immortalize the dead.

I therefore purpose not, or dream,
           Descanting on his fate,
To give the melancholy theme
           A more enduring date:
But misery still delights to trace
Its 'semblance in another's case.

No voice divine the storm allay'd,
           No light propitious shone;
When, snatch'd from all effectual aid,
           We perish'd, each alone:
But I beneath a rougher sea,
And whelm'd in deeper gulphs than he.

                       – William Cowper (1731 -1800)

[Written March 20, 1799, published 1803]

Source: The Complete Poetical Works of William Cowper, H. S. Milford, ed. (London: Henry Frowde, 1905, pp. 431-2), retrieved from Anniina Jokinen's website.


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Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Discovery-Driven Planning

If you're in the market for a practical, sophisticated guide to planning for a new venture, a good option is reading the enhanced version of an article from the July-August 1995 issue of the Harvard Business Review available here (pdf).

In "Discovery-Driven Planning," Rita Gunther McGrath (Columbia Business School) and Ian C. MacMillan (Wharton) lay out a five-step process for pursuing a new venture in a way that controls risk in what is an inherently uncertain situation.

The five steps are:
  1. Create a reverse income statement — "Determine the profit required to make the venture worthwhile ... Then calculate the revenues needed to deliver that profit."

  2. Calculate allowable costs — "Lay out all the activities required to produce, sell, service, and deliver the new product or service to customers. Together, these activities comprise the venture’s allowable costs. Ask, 'If we subtract allowable costs from required revenues, will the venture deliver significant returns?' If not, it may not be worth the risk."

  3. Identify your assumptions — "If you still think the venture is worth the risk ... list all the assumptions behind your profit, revenue, and allowable costs calculations. Use disagreement over assumptions to trigger discussion, and be open to adjusting your list."

  4. Determine if the venture still makes sense — "Check your assumptions against your reverse income statement ... Can you still make the required profit, given your latest estimates of revenues and allowable costs? If not, the venture should be scrapped."

  5. Test your assumptions at milestones — "If you’ve decided to move ahead with the venture, use milestone events to test — and, if necessary, further update — your assumptions. Postpone major commitments of resources until evidence from a previous milestone signals that taking the next step is justified."

    Note that it is at this step that learning from what has happened prior to a particular milestone is explicitly taken into account in deciding how/whether to proceed. The company is "transforming assumptions into knowledge."
As you can see from the above scheme, the central discipline in discovery-based planning is systematically uncovering "the dangerous implicit assumptions that would otherwise slip unnoticed and thus unchallenged into the plan." McGrath and MacMillan offer examples of such assumptions, e.g.:
  • Customers will buy our product because we think it's a good product.

  • Customers run no risk in buying from us instead of continuing to buy from their past suppliers.

  • We will have no trouble attracting the right staff.

  • The rest of our company will gladly support our strategy and provide help as needed.
In sum, "discovery-driven planning forces managers to articulate what they don't know, and it forces a discipline for learning. As a planning tool, it thus raises the visibility of the make-or-break uncertainties common to new ventures and helps managers address them at the lowest possible cost."


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Monday, April 28, 2008

A Testimonial to Blogging

There is a tendency of some people to overgeneralize concerning the value of blogs, with the direction of generalization being decidedly negative. (See, for instance, this earlier post.) In fact, I encountered such dismissive overgeneralization in a conversation with one of my brothers just a few days ago.

Because so many thousands of blogs are, at best, of no interest to a particular individual and, at worst, of no value to anyone beyond the blogger himself/herself, blogging as a whole gets written off.

This refusal to pay attention — selectively — to the blogosphere amounts to passing up valuable opportunities to learn about subjects of interest, and to see how experts evaluate new information and ideas as they emerge.

For example, Andrew McAfee, an associate professor of business administration at the Harvard business school, wrote a post for his blog earlier this month explaining how his blog has helped him reach a large audience with his knowledge, ideas, and views concerning Enterprise 2.0. There are comparable examples of influential blogs in just about any area you'd care to mention. There are worse ways to spend time than monitoring a few blogs dealing expertly with subjects you want to stay up-to-date on.


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Sunday, April 27, 2008

Orthodox Easter 2008


Source: www.cirota.ru



Saturday, April 26, 2008

Managing Intractable Problems

In an article in the May 2008 issue of the Harvard Business Review, John C. Camillus, a professor of strategic management at the University of Pittsburgh's Joseph M. Katz Graduate School of Business, offers a rich exploration of the nature of intractable problems (aka "wicked" problems), which are increasingly the type of strategic issues business people confront. Camillus also provides a detailed process for managing intractable problems.

I will not attempt to summarize Camillus' article; it is worth reading in its entirety. Let me just quote the portion of the article abstract that enumerates the five criteria that help in determining whether or not a problem you're facing is wicked:
If a problem involves many stakeholders with conflicting priorities; if its roots are tangled; if it changes with every attempt to address it; if you've never faced it before; and if there's no way to evaluate whether a remedy will work, chances are good that it's wicked.
To illustrate his recommended process for managing intractable problems, Camillus closes his article with a description of how PPG Industries changed its approach to strategic planning once it realized that major problems the company was confronting were in the wicked category.


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Friday, April 25, 2008

The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival

The 39th annual New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival opens today, continues tomorrow and Sunday, and then finishes out May 1-4.

Posters for the 2008 New Orleans Jazzfest
Source: www.nojazzfest.com

We here in Massachusetts have a local connection to Jazzfest in the person of Nan Parati, who is also the proprietor of Elmer's Store in Ashfield MA, mentioned in a previous post.

Nan Parati making signs
for the 2008 New Orleans Jazzfest

Source: WWOZ Street Talk

You can listen to an interview with Nan here.

Among the many highlights anticipated at this year's Jazzfest is the Neville Brothers' performance that will close the festival on May 4. One of the songs they are expected to perform — perhaps with updated lyrics — is Randy Newman's "Louisiana 1927," which commemorates the devastation New Orleans experienced during the great Mississippi flood of 1927, when the levees protecting the city were illegally breached.1 The video below is Aaron Neville's performance of the song during the Concert for Hurricane Relief aired on TV on September 2, 2005. Randy Newman's lyrics are below the video.

The river rose all day, the river rose all night.
Some people got lost in the flood,
some people got away alright.
The river has busted through clear down to Plaquemines.
Six feet of water in the streets of Evangeline.
Oh Louisiana, oh Louisiana,
they're trying to wash us away,
they're trying to wash us away.
Oh Louisiana, oh Louisiana,
they're trying to wash us away,
they're trying to wash us away.
President Coolidge come down, in a railroad train,
Little fat man with a note pad in his hand.
President say little fat man, oh isn't it a shame,
What the river has done to this poor people's land.
Oh Louisiana, oh Louisiana,
they're trying to wash us away,
you're trying to wash us away.
Oh Louisiana, Louisiana,
they're trying to wash us away,
they're trying to wash us away,
they're trying to wash us away,
they're trying to wash us away.

              – Randy Newman

An alternate performance of "Louisiana 1927" by John Boutté, with Paul Sanchez, John Thomas Griffith, and Sonia Tetlow, from July 24, 2006 is here.

a See "A Flood of Emotion in a Song," by Geoffrey Himes (New York Times, April 27, 2008, Arts & Leisure, p. 30).


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Thursday, April 24, 2008

Keeping a Cool Head

Carrying on with the theme of evidence-based management, most recently addressed in this post, I'd mention the thoughts on the subject offered by Deepak Malhotra (Harvard Business School), Gillian Ku (London Business School), and J. Keith Murnighan (Northwestern's Kellogg School of Management) in "When Winning Is Everything," published in the May 2008 issue of the Harvard Business Review.

Malhotra, Ku, and Murnighan (MKM) discuss the reasons decision makers sometimes make irrational bids in purchase situations, negotiate value-destroying deals, and otherwise undermine their organizations' best interests by pursuing what turn out to be Pyrrhic victories. The authors also present suggestions for minimizing this dysfunctional behavior, behavior they attribute to a psychological state they call "competitive arousal."

MKM identify three drivers of competitive arousal: rivalry, time pressure, and scrutiny by internal and/or external audiences (i.e., the decision maker's being in the "spotlight" as s/he is making a decision). The authors then go on to describe techniques for putting a brake on each of these drivers. MKM sum up by noting
... mental preparation can be an important defense. A simple and effective way to avoid unwise competitive behavior is to consider not simply prior mistakes but potential mistakes that may occur in competitive interactions. A number of our former students and clients role-play to prepare for major negotiations. By simulating upcoming deals, negotiators can anticipate the emotional reactions of competitive arousal and avoid behaviors that might derail otherwise sound strategy. Our research has shown that if managers do not have time to simulate an entire deal, they can still help avoid missteps by imagining future regrets about overpaying.
Bottom line: executives and managers should "focus their competitive energies toward efficiently winning contests in which they have a real advantage — and away from those in which winning comes at too high a cost."


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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Pharmaceutical Centers of Excellence

The practice of using tertiary hospitals to handle particulary complex medical and surgical cases is long-established. The idea is that best results and minimized risk are achieved by concentrating in a limited number of locations highly sophisticated resources for handling complicated cases.

The same general concept is spreading to other areas of healthcare. For instance, I recently worked on a case study for an education session set up for a conference of directors of molecular labs designated "centers of excellence" by a pharmaceutical company supplying equipment to them for diagnostic and therapeutic testing.

More recently, I had a look at "Rebuilding the R&D Engine in Big Pharma," an article by Jean-Pierre Garnier, CEO of GlaxoSmithKline, in the May 2008 issue of the Harvard Business Review. In the article, Garnier explains his recommended approach for restoring satisfactory productivity to pharmaceutical companies' R&D units. The fundamental change — already instituted at GlaxoSmithKline — is establishing R&D centers of excellence, each focused on a family of related diseases (e.g., Alzheimer's and other neurological diseases). The centers of excellence are "designed to improve transparency, increase the speed of decision making, and restore freedom of action to the scientists actually conducting the research."1

Garnier emphasizes that the centers of excellence must be headed by effective leaders — people who "love the science, show passion in their desire to win, have the resilience to soldier on in the face of multiple setbacks, and genuinely care about the members of their teams." They must also have good decision making ability, notably the ability to make sound decisions on which projects to continue and which to kill, which capabilities and resources to have in-house and which to contract for with partners.

Garnier notes that the approach he recommends, and that GlaxoSmithKline is pursuing, requires companies "to strengthen and expand their ability to evaluate opportunities, negotiate deals, and nurture external scientific bets on a large scale — in other words, to act like a venture capitalist with in-depth understanding of the science at stake."

Though Garnier's article begins with a predictable review of the problems with big pharma's traditional business model, you can skim these first few pages and move right on to the excellent analytical detail in the latter portion of the article.

1 Garnier notes that an earlier effort to ameliorate the inefficiencies associated with functional silos (chemistry, pharmacology, clinical development, etc.) by setting up matrix teams did not pan out.


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Tuesday, April 22, 2008

"How to Sell Services More Profitably"

As a follow-on to the post of a couple of days ago citing Jeff Bezos' views concerning building skills that enable meeting previously unmet customer needs, I'd call attention to an article in the May 2008 issue of the Harvard Business Review that makes a similar point.

Werner Reinartz, who teaches marketing at both the University of Cologne and Insead, and Wolfgang Ulaga, who teaches marketing at HEC School of Management in France, describe a four-stage process followed by companies that make a success of expanding their sales of services.

The initial stages are (1) beginning to charge in a strategically planned way for services already provided to customers (e.g., delivery), and (2) developing back office processes that provide "service platforms flexible enough to fit individual customer contexts" without being so customized that profit margins are depleted. Reinartz and Ulaga cite the example of Air Liquide, which "taught managers and frontline employees in operational units how to systematically take costs out of service production and delivery processes while making sure that customers still got what they expected."

Training also has a prominent role in the third stage, in which the sales force — existing or new — learns how to handle the relatively complex process of closing service sales. Key capabilities center on being able to document and explain the benefits of the company's services to senior people at customer accounts. Reinartz and Ulaga cite the example of Schneider Electric, which
switched the focus of its salespeople from cost-plus pricing to value-based pricing when promoting its services. This involved educating them about how their customers' managers justified decisions internally, so that the salespeople could help the managers they dealt with take more responsibility for shaping decisions.
It is in the fourth and final stage that the issue of building new capabilities for competing in service sales comes very much to the fore. In this stage, the company moves "toward addressing customers' problems and processes holistically. This means shifting focus from their own processes, incentives, and structures to those of the customer." The necessary expertise for solving customer problems to the customer's satisfaction is likely to include skills that the company does not already have, and that it therefore needs to build.


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Monday, April 21, 2008

Data Visualization at Many-Eyes.com

Since January 2007, IBM's Visual Communication Lab, which is part of the company's Collaborative User Experience research group, has offered public access to many-eyes.com, a site that makes it easy to convert data sets into meaningful visualizations. The visualization types currently offered include:

World map (example)
Country maps (example)

Line graph (example
Stack graph (example)
Stack graph for categories (example)

Bar chart (example)
Block histogram (example)
Bubble chart (example)
Matrix chart (example)

Scatterplot (example)
Network diagram (example)

Parts of a whole
Pie chart (example)
Treemap (example)
Change treemap (description)

High-frequency words in a text
Tag cloud (example)
Word tree (example)

Martin Wattenberg and Fernanda B. Viégas of the Collaborative User Experience research group, offer a helpful discussion of Many Eyes and of its usefulness in collaborative problem-solving in a short article in the May 2008 issue of the Harvard Business Review.


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Sunday, April 20, 2008

Rob Briner's Evidence-Based Management Quiz

In several previous posts, I've cited work of management experts, notably Jeffrey Pfeffer, aimed at persuading business decision-makers to base their decisions on reliable evidence.

Rob Briner, a professor of organizational psychology at Birkbeck College, University of London, has developed a quiz (pdf) you can use to assess how you're doing in evidence-based management of employees. The quiz asks you to consider how well each of the following statements fits your organization:
  1. We make decisions by looking at what other organizations and our competitors are doing.

  2. Before any decision is taken we carefully and systematically evaluate internal data and evidence to better understand the nature of the problem.

  3. Professional journals ... play a role in helping us identify solutions to our problems.

  4. We sometimes introduce new practices or policies without having first identified a particular problem we are trying to solve.

  5. We use consultants to help us make decisions about how to solve our problems.

  6. It is easy to get hold of good quality internal data and evidence about people management issues in our organization.

  7. Internal politics and power struggles influence the way we make decisions about introducing policies and practices.

  8. When making a decision about how to solve a problem we examine research evidence published in academic journals.

  9. We evaluate the effectiveness of the new policies and practices we introduce.

  10. We use academics to help us make decisions about how to solve our problems.

  11. We spend time identifying and exploring a wide range of possible solutions to the problems we face.

  12. We use benchmarking and best practice to help us decide what we should be doing.

  13. If we make mistakes in our decision-making we try to learn from them.
An answer key — brief commentary on each item — follows the quiz. You may very well disagree with some of Briner's advice, but in the process you will have clarified your own views concerning where your organization is doing well in practicing evidence-based management, and where there is room for improvement.


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Saturday, April 19, 2008

Jeff Bezos on Real Customer Focus

The April 28 issue of Business Week has an interview with Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon.com, that is worth reading in its entirety. A passage that especially caught my eye was Bezos' answer to the question, "Every company claims to be customer-focused. Why do you think so few are able to pull it off?" Bezos says:
Companies get skills-focused, instead of customer-needs focused. When [companies] think about extending their business into some new area, the first question is "why should we do that — we don't have any skills in that area." That approach puts a finite lifetime on a company, because the world changes, and what used to be cutting-edge skills have turned into something your customers may not need anymore. A much more stable strategy is to start with "what do my customers need?" Then do an inventory of the gaps in your skills. Kindle is a great example. If we set our strategy by what our skills happen to be rather than by what our customers need, we never would have done it. We had to go out and hire people who know how to build hardware devices and create a whole new competency for the company. [hyperlink added]
If you subscribe to Bezos' view, the implications for your company's approach to skills training are straightforward, namely, a big part of strategic planning is deciding how best to build needed new skills.


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Friday, April 18, 2008

The Spacing Effect

The spacing effect is a well-established learning principle stating that material a person studies (factual material, in particular) is more fully retained when study sessions are spaced over time rather than being crammed into a brief period.

For guidance on what determines optimal spacing of study sessions, you can turn to research reported by the Optimal Learning Lab of Carnegie Mellon University. Lab researchers have developed an algorithm that estimates optimal spacing by looking at:
  • When prior practice occurred

  • How many prior practices have occurred

  • What the spacing between prior practices was

  • Whether prior practice occurred as testing or passive study

  • Duration of prior practices

  • An individual's history of success or failure with tests

  • What type of practice occurs (e.g., phonological, orthographic, English to foreign language, or foreign language to English)
You can read a paper on the Optimal Learning Lab's FaCT (Fact and Concept Training) System here (pdf).

Note: This post is a follow-on to an earlier post on the learning curve concept.


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Thursday, April 17, 2008

The Nature of Expertise

A US Navy wiki (hosted by NASA) offers this take on what characterizes experts (somewhat edited):
  • They can recognize meaningful patterns in a sea of information or stimuli. ("I've seen this before.") Research on chess players, for example, showed that, after very brief exposure, experts could reconstruct middle-game patterns much faster and more accurately than novices.

  • Their more sophisticated, deep knowledge enables experts to observe finer distinctions. ("These sand particles are so small, they will clog engines" or "This particular shade of gray shadow in the x-ray indicates a cyst, not a malignancy.")

  • Experts can access mental models, (schemas that capture the essential features of concepts, situations, events, or categories) either from known principles or from their own constructed rules, to help them structure, organize and store knowledge. ("Newton's second law applies here" or "The sequence of actions is wrong here" or "If the traffic is bad on the main thoroughfare, take side streets A, B, C.)

  • Experts are more likely than novices to know what they don't know in a given knowledge domain ("I'm not sure the obvious explanation is the right one"), although not all experts are adaptive enough to challenge their own assumptions and knowledge.
This section of the wiki concludes with the note, "All of these abilities can be subsumed under the general one of highly sophisticated pattern recognition."



Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Learning Curve

An article by Gary Wolf in the May issue of Wired on "The Memory Master," Piotr Wozniak, has prompted me to delve a bit into where the concept of the learning curve came from.

Productivity changes due to learning
(click image to enlarge)
Source:Project Management for Construction
Carnegie Mellon University

The learning curve — showing the relationship between time spent learning and progress achieved — was first defined by Hermann Ebbinghaus (1850-1909), a German psychologist who made a study of memory and forgetting.

The halfvalue.com wiki has compiled a list (here somewhat edited) of the sources of movement along the learning curve for a particular body of knowledge or a particular skill set:
  • Labor efficiency — Workers become more dexterous and more confident, which reduces time lost to hesitating, learning, experimenting, and making mistakes. Over time they learn short-cuts and improvements.

  • Standardization, specialization, and methods improvements — As processes, parts, and products become more standardized, efficiency tends to increase. When employees specialize in a limited set of tasks, they gain more experience with these tasks and operate at a faster rate.

  • Technology-driven learning — Automated production technology and information technology can introduce efficiencies as they are implemented and people learn how to use them efficiently and effectively.

  • Better use of equipment — As total production increases, manufacturing equipment is more fully exploited, lowering unit costs. In addition, purchase of more productive equipment can be cost-effective.

  • Changes in the resource mix — As a company acquires experience, it can alter its mix of inputs and thereby become more efficient.

  • Product redesign — As manufacturers and consumers have more experience with the product, they can usually find improvements. This filters through to the manufacturing process.

  • Value chain effects — Suppliers and distributors also move along the learning curve, making the whole value chain more efficient.

  • Network-building and use-cost reductions — As a product enters more widespread use, consumers use it more efficiently because they're familiar with it. For example, the proliferation of fax machines established an increasingly efficient network of communications over time.

  • Shared experience effects — Learning curve effects are reinforced when two or more products share a common activity or resource. Any efficiency learned from one product can be applied to the other products.
When people talk about "accelerating learning," they are, in effect, talking about contriving to help people progress faster along the learning curve.


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Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Chris Warner Describes His 2007 Climb of K2

Yesterday evening I drove the 20 miles up to Greenfield to attend a presentation by Chris Warner describing his climb of K2 this past summer. K2 is my favorite mountain.

The summit of K2
(Source: sharedsummits.com)

Warner teamed with two other men, Bruce Normand and Don Bowie.

Bruce Normand, Don Bowie, and Chris Warner
on the summit of K2, July 20, 2007

(Source: sharedsummits.com)

Warner's well-attended presentation was sponsored by the Outdoor Leadership Program at Greenfield Community College.


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Monday, April 14, 2008

The Streamline Blog's Second Anniversary

The tag cloud for year two ...

Africa Arts Asia Branding Business acumen Classroom training Coaching Cognition Collaboration Communication Competencies Conflict management Cooking Critical thinking Decision-making Documentation eLearning Employee development Evaluation of training Expertise Hiring and getting hired Humor India Innovation Journalism Knowledge management Leadership Learning organization Learning resources Management practices Military training Motivation Negotiation Networking Notables Organizational culture Performance management Persuasion Prediction markets Productivity Professionalism Quality Respect Rewards and recognition Risk management Simulation South America Special occasion Strategy Systems thinking Tagging Teaching Travel Upward influence Usability Web 2.0

The tag cloud for year one (originally posted here) ...

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



Sunday, April 13, 2008

Learning the Practice of Management

As a follow-on to previous posts dealing with evidence-based management and adapting the medical experiential learning model for use in business, I'd call attention to a couple of email commentaries Ari Heller wrote Jeffrey Pfeffer, a leading proponent of evidence-based management, in May 2006.


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Saturday, April 12, 2008

The Shanghai Quartet at Smith College

This evening a friend and I went to a wonderful performance by the Shanghai Quartet in Sweeney Concert Hall at Smith College.

The quartet members are violinists Weigang Li and Yi-Wen Jiang, violist Honggang Li (brother of Weigang), and cellist Nicholas Tzavaras.

The program:

Joseph Haydn's Quartet in G Major, Op. 77, No. 1
You can read program notes, from a 2008 performance by the St. Lawrence String Quartet, here (pdf).

Zhou Long's "Song of the Ch'in"
Zhou Long provides some commentary on "Song of the Ch'in" here. The piece is based on "Old Fisherman", a poem by Liu Zongyuan (773-819):

The old fisherman moors at night by western cliffs;
At dawn, draws water from the clear Xiang,
lights a fire with southern bamboo.
Mists melt in the morning sun, and the man is gone;
Only the song reverberates in the green of the hills and waters.
Look back; the horizon seems to fall into the stream;
And clouds float aimlessly over the cliffs.

Ludwig van Beethoven's String Quartet in A Minor, Op. 132
You can read program notes from a 2005 performance by the Orion String Quartet here.

Music in Deerfield, the concert presenter, added to the pleasure of the evening by bringing interested audience members together with the quartet and host John Montanari for an informal "Concert Conversation" an hour before the start of the performance.



Friday, April 11, 2008

Models of Experiential Learning

I recently came upon a pair of articles touting experiential learning models from outside the world of business that the articles' authors argue have relevance for how companies can most effectively develop employees.

As it turns out, only one of the articles actually contributes some fresh food for thought.

In "Crucibles of Leadership Development," Robert J. Thomas explains how the Mormon Church and the Hells Angels handle leadership development,1 but these two organizations' practices, as described, don't seem to offer much new. Thomas concludes with four predictable lessons (partly paraphrased here):
  1. Use core activities of your organization as opportunities for rising leaders to practice application of leadership skills.

  2. Prepare learners carefully before they embark on field activities. "[The Mormons and the Hells Angels] teach technical skills, certainly, but also critical leadership intangibles such as a sense of the rules of the road, how to spot oncoming trouble and ways to preserve one's identity and sense of wholeness while engaging with others."

  3. Provide a supporting infrastructure. "Seasoned senior companions and supervisors are on the scene who know how to encourage and when to say no. Their role is not just a job: It's a statement of commitment to the individuals in need and to the organization's mission."

  4. Use experiential learning activities to develop new leaders, keep the organization's culture healthy, and attract new talent.
In "Hospitals Show How to Accelerate Learning," by contrast, Jared Bleak and Stephanie Scott, offer a stimulating review of how teaching hospital train medical students, interns, and residents, with suggestions for appropriate translation to the business setting of the principles and practices in question.2 (In fairness, I must note that Bleak and Scott do not go into detail about how to accomplish the translation.)

Bleak and Scott cite four core values that underlie how teaching hospitals handle their teaching mission:
  1. "Teaching and learning are cornerstone values of these organizations and are espoused and modeled by leaders at every level of the organizational hierarchy."

  2. "In America's best teaching hospitals, good teaching also is rewarded and established as an organizational and individual priority."

  3. "... assessment and feedback are ubiquitous and continuously employed through various means such as formal testing for medical certification, 30 seconds of real-time feedback after a medical procedure and in-depth portfolios created by medical students to show evidence of skills and knowledge. Even the quality of teaching is assessed and carefully monitored."

  4. "... teaching opportunities are created from certain near misses and outright errors. By exploring these situations during mandatory, routine conferences as well as through informal conversation, individuals glean personal and systemic lessons from medical errors."
Bleak and Scott then cite three fundamental principles teaching hospitals follow:
  • "Everybody in the teaching hospital has a role as teacher and is expected to be continually learning, all in the pursuit of providing the best possible patient care."

  • "Learning is measured through formal testing and credentialing, as well as through extensive real-time observation and feedback."

  • "[Individuals] ... learn as members of a medical team while addressing real-time patient problems. Not only does this problem-based and team-learning approach provide an excellent venue for learning, it also affords top-quality patient care.
Finally, Bleak and Scott cite three key practices that grow out of the aforementioned values and principles:
  1. Have the "point of the wedge" speak first. The "point of the wedge" is the resident on a medical team, "tasked with diagnosing and recommending a course of action for the patient." "The wedge — composed of attending physicians, fellow residents, medical students, nurses, physical therapists and other caregivers — provides continual and constructive support to the 'point'."

    "This practice of pushing responsibility to the most [sic] junior person accelerates and deepens learning and personal development. ... being the point of the wedge requires them to prepare rigorously and present confidently, thereby improving their planning and communication skills."

  2. Employ the Socratic method, i.e., ask thought-provoking questions, as opposed to simply telling the learner what to think and do, in order "to stimulate enlightening conversation and ultimately increase understanding of a patient's situation or condition."

  3. "Own" the patient, i.e., embrace responsibility for carefully diagnosing, treating, and monitoring the patient.
Bleak and Scott readily acknowledge that not all of what is standard practice at a teaching hospital is directly transferable to the corporate setting. On the other hand, versions of the three practices listed above — make the learner the point of the wedge, use the Socratic method (within reason), and own the client/issue — will speed learning and employee development, with attendant benefits in terms of productivity, knowledge sharing, and recruitment and retention.

1 "Crucibles of Leadership Development," Robert J. Thomas, MIT Sloan Management Review (v. 40, no. 3 (Spring 2008)), pp. 15-18.

2 "Hospitals Show How to Accelerate Learning," Jared Bleak and Stephanie Scott, Chief Learning Officer, April 2008. An interesting sidebar describes how Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago has complemented its traditional teaching model with the approach to providing constructive feedback that is viewed as best practice in the corporate world.


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Thursday, April 10, 2008

The World Wildlife Fund in Russia

This evening I went to the Center for Russian Culture at Amherst College to hear Laura Williams [bio in Russian] talk about her work for the World Wildlife Fund in Russia.

Williams arrived in Moscow in 1993, where she assisted in opening the first WWF office in Russia. Four years later she moved to a thoroughly rural area — the region of the Bryansk Forest Nature Reserve, about 300 miles southwest of Moscow. There she worked as a specialist in ecological education and met Igor Shpilenok, a nature photographer who spearheaded creation of the reserve in 1984. Williams and Shpilenok married in 1999 and now have two sons, Andrei and Makar.

Hay Making in Bryansk Forest Nature Reserve
photo by Igor Shpilenok
Source: www.allposters.com

In 2006 Williams, Shpilenok, and their children moved to the Kamchatka peninsula to open the WWF Kamchatka/Bering ecoregional office. With this mission accomplished, they intend in the next few months to move back to their house in the tiny village of Chukhrai, just outside the Bryansk Forest Reserve.

You can read more about Williams' experiences in her just-published book, The Storks' Nest: Life and Love in the Russian Countryside.


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Wednesday, April 09, 2008

National Poetry Month 2008

As I Walk These Broad Majestic Days

As I walk these broad majestic days of peace,

(For the war, the struggle of blood finish'd, wherein, O terrific Ideal,

Against vast odds erewhile having gloriously won,

Now thou stridest on, yet perhaps in time toward denser wars,

Perhaps to engage in time in still more dreadful contests, dangers,

Longer campaigns and crises, labors beyond all others,)

Around me I hear that eclat of the world, politics, produce,

The announcements of recognized things, science,

The approved growth of cities and the spread of inventions.

I see the ships, (they will last a few years,)

The vast factories with their foremen and workmen,

And hear the indorsement of all, and do not object to it.

But I too announce solid things,

Science, ships, politics, cities, factories, are not nothing,

Like a grand procession to music of distant bugles pouring,

triumphantly moving, and grander heaving in sight,

They stand for realities--all is as it should be.

Then my realities;

What else is so real as mine?

Libertad and the divine average, freedom to every slave on the face
of the earth,

The rapt promises and lumine of seers, the spiritual world, these
centuries-lasting songs,

And our visions, the visions of poets, the most solid announcements
of any.

                   — Walt Whitman (1819-1892)

[Additional "Poems for Your Pocket" are posted at poets.org, the website of the Academy of American Poets.]


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Tuesday, April 08, 2008

James Heilbrun 1925 - 2008

Source: Cambridge University Press

James Heilbrun, professor emeritus of economics at Fordham University, passed away today. He and I met many years ago due to our common interest in the economics of the arts, a subject on which he and co-author Charles M. Gray wrote a comprehensive text which is now in its second edition. He was always the kindest of colleagues, and he is much missed.



Monday, April 07, 2008

Five Principles of Evidence-Based Management

In earlier posts I've talked about Jeffrey Pfeffer's views concerning human resource management.

Since publishing Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths and Total Nonsense: Profiting from Evidence-Based Management in 2006, Pfeffer and his co-author Robert Sutton (both men teach at Stanford) have created a rich website devoted to the topic of the book — evidence-based management (EBM).

The website's homepage presents the current formulation of Five Principles of EBM. (Pfeffer and Sutton anticipate that the principles will be tuned and updated over time.) The five principles are:
  1. Face the hard facts, and build a culture in which people are encouraged to tell the truth, even if it is unpleasant.

  2. Be committed to "fact based" decision making — which means being committed to getting the best evidence and using it to guide actions.

  3. Treat your organization as an unfinished prototype — encourage experimentation and learning by doing.

  4. Look for the risks and drawbacks in what people recommend — even the best medicine has side effects.

  5. Avoid basing decisions on untested but strongly held beliefs, what you have done in the past, or on uncritical "benchmarking" of what winners do.
The EBM site serves as a portal, and Pfeffer and Sutton welcome contributions of "stories, ideas, articles, or course outlines" from interested parties.



Sunday, April 06, 2008

The Beeb Helps a Women's Soccer Team with PR

In 2004, one of BBC2's projects was documenting how Lou Panteli, the head of Women and Girl's Development for the Hendon Football Club in greater London, could be coached in the PR skills that would help her further the club's "efforts to raise funds to deliver Brazilian soccer sessions for girls in deprived areas." (A few more details of the project are here.) The video snippet below shows some of the media meetings in which Panteli put her recently polished skills to work.

The documentary from which the above video material is excerpted was broadcast on BBC2 in June 2004.


Saturday, April 05, 2008

How to Break a Negotiation Impasse

In a review of Martin Latz's 2004 book, Gain the Edge! Negotiating to Get What You Want, Cindy Fazzi recaps Latz's top 10 ways of seeking to break an impasse:
  • Get or share more information. Ask more questions and recognize the value in answering your counterpart's questions.

  • Switch objective criteria. For example, a home buyer may switch justification from focusing on a home's market value to the seller's profits.

  • Prioritize needs and interests. Make a list to stay focused.

  • Brainstorm options. Explore creative solutions.

  • Set deadlines. Agreeing to deadlines increases the likelihood parties will act and move.

  • Temporarily put the issue aside. Revisit it after gaining some momentum by agreeing on minor issues.

  • Take a break. Time away from the table can help parties regain composure and reassess issues.

  • Move up the chain. If your counterpart doesn't have the authority to concede anymore, ask to speak with the boss.

  • Pick a fair alternative process. For example, asking an independent third party to arbitrate or mediate can help.

  • Concede. While possibly your last choice, it may still be in your interest if making no deal leaves you worse off.
You can learn more about Martin Latz's ideas for successful negotiation at the Latz Negotiation Institute website.



Friday, April 04, 2008

Strategies for Overcoming Stereotype Threat

In the April/May issue of Scientific American Mind, S. Alexander Haslam (professor of social psychology at the University of Exeter, England). Jessica Salvatore (postdoc at Exeter), Thomas Kessler (professor of social psychology at Exeter), and Stephen D. Reicher (professor of social psychology at St. Andrews, Scotland) explain the phenomenon of "stereotype threat" and outline strategies for dealing with it.

Stereotype threat arises in situations in which a negative stereotype, such as the notion that blacks are inferior to whites, is applicable. In such a situation, a member of the low-status group is at risk of confirming the stereotype as a self-characterization, both to himself/herself and to others who know the stereotype. For example, if you're black and you know that blacks are considered weak in math, you are at risk of doing worse on math tests than your actual ability would dictate.

The authors explain that the anxiety, self-consciousness and self-doubt which arise "when the content of a salient social identity conflicts with a person's motivations to do well in a given domain (to be good at math, for instance)" can be alleviated by three strategies. Which strategy is applicable depends on:
  • Whether or not individuals in a particular low-status group can leave the group.

  • If individuals cannot leave the low-status group, whether or not the low status is firmly in place.
The three strategies are:

High ability to leave low-status group — Take advantage of opportunities for individual social mobility. This strategy is a workaround — the problem of the prevailing stereotype is not addressed.

Low ability to leave low-status group, and group's low status is firmly in place — Assert "I'm different," i.e., "I don't fit the stereotype." This strategy, like the first, is a workaround.

Low ability to leave low-status group, but group's low status is not firmly in place — Engage in group resistance, i.e., assert "We are not inferior." This strategy is not a workaround; rather, stereotype threat is diminished or, best case, eliminated. This tack is the one adopted by Martin Luther King, Jr., whose assassination 40 years ago we are marking today.

Haslam, Salvatore, Kessler, and Reicher close by highlighting the two lessons to be derived from the literature on stereotype threat:
  • "[B]eware of equating performance and ability, especially when dealing with differences between groups, and ... understand the power that the expectations of others [have] over what we do."

  • "[W]e are not doomed to be victims of oppressive stereotypes but can learn to use stereotypes as tools of our own liberation. In short, who we think we are determines both how we perform and what we are able to become."

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Thursday, April 03, 2008

Task Competencies

Long Beach City College offers a representative compilation of the task competencies a successful graduate of their culinary arts program will have acquired. This type of competency model is to be contrasted with other types of competency model:
  • result competencies

  • output competencies

  • knowledge, skills, and attitude competencies

  • superior-performer differentiators

  • attribute bundles
All of these types of competency model are described in an excellent overview article published in the May 1997 issue of Training and Development.

* * *

Long Beach City College's
Culinary Arts Competencies

Introduction to the Profession
  • Cite and describe the attributes of a culinary professional

  • Knowledgably discuss the chef’s role as a businessperson

  • Describe four areas in which chefs must be managers

  • List various types of foodservice establishments

  • Explain the background and importance of a kitchen and dining room brigade system

  • Name and describe a variety of culinary career opportunities
Food and Kitchen Safety
  • Explain what is meant by adulterated foods and the ways in which foods become adulterated

  • Name the type of pathogens responsible for food-borne illness, and describe how they affect foods as well as how they reproduce in foods

  • Name and explain the three conditions for pathogen growth in potentially hazardous foods

  • List and use several techniques to avoid cross contamination

  • Explain the importance of proper hand washing

  • Keep foods out of the danger zone

  • Hold, cool, reheat, and serve cooked or ready-to -serve foods safely

  • Thaw frozen foods safely

  • Explain what is meant by Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points (HACCP) and describe the use of a HACCP plan in a professional kitchen

  • Explain what is meant by kitchen safety and list several guidelines and techniques for maintaining safety in the kitchen and dining room

  • Identify the appropriate regulations, inspections, and certifications required of foodservice personnel
Equipment Identification
  • Use the rules for knife care, use, and storage to perform all cutting tasks safely and efficiently

  • Identify the basic parts of a knife

  • Identify a variety of knives and use them properly

  • List a number of sharpening and honing tools and explain how to use sharpening and honing techniques to keep knives functioning safely and efficiently

  • Name a variety of hand tools, describe their functions, and select and use these tools properly to complete a specific task

  • Name a variety of small equipment used to grind, slice, mix, and purée foods

  • List the guidelines for working safely with large equipment

  • Name and describe a variety of kettles, steamers, ranges, and ovens

  • Name and describe various types of refrigeration equipment
Salad Dressings and Salads
  • Use the basic ratios and methods to prepare vinaigrettes and mayonnaise

  • Describe how to rescue a broken mayonnaise

  • Evaluate the quality of salad dressings according to the correct quality standards

  • Name the purposes for a green salad

  • Select and combine salad greens and wash, dry, and store them properly

  • Prepare flavored oils and vinegars and store them properly

  • and prepare a variety of fresh fruits for salads

  • Select and prepare ingredients and dressings for warm, vegetable, potato, pasta, grain, legume and composed salads
  • Name the basic components of a sandwich and describe the function of each component in the finished sandwich

  • Describe some of the ways that sandwiches can be presented

  • Select sandwich shapes to maximize yield and lower food costs

  • Organize your work station to prepare and serve sandwiches for maximum productivity and efficiency
Hors d’Oeuvres and Appetizers
  • Describe the roles played by both hors d’oeuvre and appetizers in a meal

  • Select and prepare ingredients, preparations, and garnishes for hors d’oeuvre, appetizers, and cold savory mousses

  • Describe the qualities of foods to be served as appetizers

  • Present hors d’oeuvre properly

  • Name the basic guidelines for preparing an preserving appetizers

  • Work properly with gelatin in order to achieve specific effects
Charcuterie and Garde Manger
  • Define charcuterie and garde manger

  • Explain what a forcemeat is

  • Select and prepare ingredients, preparations, and equipment necessary to prepare a variety of forcemeats and forcemeat-based dishes

  • Sample a forcemeat by preparing a quenelle

  • Name and describe four forcemeats

  • Fill and mold for terrines and pâtés

  • Evaluate the quality of finished items prepared from forcemeats
Baking Mise en Place
  • Describe the different functions of ingredients in baked items, such as stability, tenderness, and leavening

  • Explain the importance of accurate measurements in baking

  • Scale dry and wet ingredients properly, using the appropriate measuring equipment

  • Sift dry ingredients properly

  • Select and prepare pans and ovens for a variety of baked goods

  • Cook sugar to various stages to make simple syrup or caramel

  • Whip egg whites to a range of peaks

  • Name the basic types of meringues and prepare meringues according to the proper method
Yeast Breads
  • Name and describe two basic categories of yeast doughs

  • Select and prepare ingredients used to prepare yeast dough

  • Prepare a yeast dough

  • Scale and shape prepared dough to produce loaves, rolls, and other shapes
Pastry Doughs and Batters
  • Name and describe the basic mixing methods for a variety of baked goods

  • Select and prepare ingredients and equipment for each of the following methods: rubbed-dough, blending, laminating, creaming, and foaming

  • Create a variety of baked goods using the basic methods discussed in the text
Custards, Creams, and Mousses
  • Make a baked custard and identify two methods of making its base

  • Describe and make a stirred custard and custard ice cream

  • Describe and make a number of mousses
Fillings, Frostings, and Dessert Sauces
  • Select ingredients for and prepare buttercream

  • Properly slice, fill, and ice a layer cake

  • Select and prepare ingredients and equipment for ganache

  • Identify several applications for ganache

  • Temper chocolate and discuss the reasons for this procedure

  • Glaze a variety of dessert items with fondant

  • Select ingredients for and prepare several types of pies and tarts

  • Prepare and finish truffles

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Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Present and Future Journalism Skills

In The State of the News Media 2008, the fifth annual report published by the Project for Excellence in Journalism, there is a summary of the findings of a survey concerning the shifts in relative importance of various journalism skills (25 skills in all). The survey was conducted last year by Shahira Fahmy, an assistant professor of journalism at Southern Illinois University.1

Start with traditional journalism skills. The top eight in terms of current importance (2007) are:

     #1 Ability to learn
     #2 Editing
     #3 Reporting
     #4 Spelling
     #5 Research
     #6 Writing
     #7 Teamwork
     #8 Interviewing

In terms of future importance (2012), only six of the above skills are still in the top eight, and rankings have changed:

     #1 Ability to learn
     #2 Research
     #3 Teamwork
     #4 Reporting (tied with Photography [#10 in 2007])
     #6 Editing
     #7 Interviewing

Writing has dropped to #11, and Spelling to #13.

The ranking of digital journalism skills in terms of current importance (2007) is:

       #9 Shooting photos
     #13 Imaging production
     #15 Graphics
     #16 Multimedia delivery
     #21 Multimedia editing/production
     #21 Capturing audio
     #23 Shooting video
     #24 Animation & Flash
     #25 Podcasting

In terms of future importance (2012), Shooting video is expected to rank second only to Shooting photos. Indeed, the emphasis on photos and video is expected to make Imaging production and Graphics relatively less important than today. Otherwise, the rankings of digital journalism skills relative to each other are not expected to change much over the next five years. However, relative to traditional skills, all multimedia skils are expected to increase in importance.

The report also shows expected shifts in the importance of Web-coding skills. Aside from accessibility — #11 in 2007 and expected to be #9 in 2012 — these coding skills are generally viewed as having secondary and declining importance for journalists (though, obviously, media technical staff will need to be adept at Web coding).

It is important to note that Fahmy's survey does not deal with quality issues, i.e., the effectiveness with which journalists' skills are deployed to deliver an accurate, credible and useful news product.

1 Shahira Fahmy's study, "Current Trends in Online News Operations and Importance of Present and Future Journalism Skills," is forthcoming in Newspaper Research Journal.


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Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Keynes on "The End of Laissez-Faire"

John Maynard Keynes
Detail of watercolor by Gwen Raverat, c. 1908

Source: E. Roy Weintraub, Duke University

I'm grateful to Mark Thoma of Economist's View for calling my attention to "The End of Laissez-Faire," a pamphlet published by the Hogarth Press in 1926, based on the Sidney Ball lecture that Keynes delivered at Oxford in 1924. Thoma, an economics professor at the University of Oregon, reproduces the entire text, which is well worth reading in its entirety. (There are a few typos.)