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

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Coolidge's Thoughts on Newspapers

Did you know that Calvin Coolidge's famous assertion that "the chief business of the American people is business" came in a speech to the American Society of Newspaper Editors (ANSE)? I didn't until today.

Below are excerpts from the 1925 speech, as posted at the ASNE website. Note that Coolidge follows his statement about "the chief business of the American people" with the caveat that "Of course, the accumulation of wealth cannot be justified as the chief end of existence."

The relationship between governments and the press has always been recognized as a matter of large importance. Wherever despotism abounds, the sources of public information are the first to be brought under its control. Wherever the cause of liberty is making its way, one of its highest accomplishments is the guarantee of the freedom of the press. It has always been realized ... that truth and freedom are inseparable. ...

Our American newspapers serve a double purpose. They bring knowledge and information to their readers, and at the same time they play a most important part in connection with the business interests of the community, both through their news and advertising departments.

Probably there is no rule of your profession to which you gentlemen are more devoted than that which prescribes that the editorial and the business policies of the paper are to be conducted by strictly separate departments. Editorial policy and news policy must not be influenced by business consideration; business policies must not be affected by editorial programs. ...

When I have contemplated these adjustments of business and editorial policy, it has always seemed to me that American newspapers are peculiarly representative of the practical idealism of our country. ...

Some people feel concerned about the commercialism of the press. They note that great newspapers are great business enterprises earning large profits and controlled by men of wealth. So they fear that in such control the press may tend to support the private interests of those who own the papers, rather than the general interest of the whole people.

It seems to me, however, that the real test is not whether the newspapers are controlled by men of wealth, but whether they are sincerely trying to serve the public interests. There will be little occasion for worry about who owns a newspaper, so long as its attitudes on public questions are such as to promote the general welfare. A press which is actuated by the purpose of genuine usefulness to the public interest can never be too strong financially, so long as its strength is used for the support of popular government.

There does not seem to be cause for alarm in the dual relationship of the press to the public, whereby it is on one side a purveyor of information and opinion and on the other side a purely business enterprise.

Rather, it is probable that a press which maintains an intimate touch with the business currents of the nation, is likely to be more reliable than it would be if it were a stranger to these influences. After all, the chief business of the American people is business. They are profoundly concerned with producing, buying, selling, investing and prospering in the world. I am strongly of the opinion that the great majority of people will always find these the moving impulses of our life. ...

Of course, the accumulation of wealth cannot be justified as the chief end of existence. But we are compelled to recognize it as a means to well-nigh every desirable achievement. So long as wealth is made the means and not the end, we need not greatly fear it...

So I think there is little cause for the fear that our journalism, merely because it is prosperous, is likely to betray us. But it calls for additional effort to avoid even the appearance of the evil of selfishness. In every worthy profession, of course, there will always be a minority who will appeal to the baser instinct. There always have been, probably always will be, some who will feel that their own temporary interest may be furthered by betraying the interest of others. ...

The power of the spirit always prevails over the power of the flesh. These furnish us no justification for interfering with the freedom of the press, because all freedom, though it sometimes tends towards excesses, bears within it those remedies which will finally effect a cure for its own disorders.

American newspapers have seemed to me to be particularly representative of this practical idealism of our people. Therefore, I feel secure in saying that they are the best newspapers in he world. I believe that they print more real news and more reliable and characteristic news than any other newspapers. I believe their editorial opinions are less colored in influence by mere partisanship or selfish interest than are those of any other country. Moreover, I believe that our American press is more independent, more reliable and less partisan today than at any other time in its history. I believe this of our press, precisely as I believe it of those who manage our public affairs. Both are cleaner, finer, less influenced by improper considerations, than ever before. ...

It is only those who do not understand our people, who believe that our national life is entirely absorbed by material motives. We make no concealment of the fact that we want wealth, but there are many other things that we want much more. We want peace and honor, and that charity which is so strong an element of all civilization.

The chief ideal of the American people is idealism. I cannot repeat too often that America is a nation of idealists. That is the only motive to which they ever give any strong and lasting reaction. No newspaper can be a success which fails to appeal to that element of our national life. It is in this direction that the public press can lend its strongest support to our government. I could not truly criticize the vast importance of the counting room, but my ultimate faith I would place in the high idealism of the editorial room of the American newspaper.


Labels: ,

Friday, May 30, 2008

Robert Epstein on Creativity

In the June/July issue of Scientific American Mind, there is a panel discussion of how people can release their creativity. Executive Editor Mariette DiChristina talks with three experts, one of whom — psychologist Robert Epstein — offers particularly interesting remarks concerning the competencies that people need in order to be able to engage in creative expression.

From his research, Epstein has concluded that four competencies are essential:
  • Capturing — the most important competency. "Capturing" means "preserving new ideas as they occur to you and doing so without judging them."

  • Challenging — "giving ourselves tough problems to solve. In tough situations, multiple behaviors compete with one another, and their interconnections create new behaviors and ideas."

  • Broadening — "The more diverse your knowledge, the more interesting the interconnections — so you can boost your creativity simply by learning interesting new things."

  • Surrounding — "has to do with how you manage your physical and social environments. The more interesting and diverse the things and the people around you, the more interesting your own ideas become."
You can assess yourself on these competencies by taking the 28-item Epstein Creativity Competencies Inventory for Individuals.

For managers, teachers, and parents, Epstein has created a complementary 48-item inventory one can use to assess oneself on the the eight skills Epstein's research tells him a person needs in order to stimulate creativity in others:
  • Encouraging capturing of ideas

  • Challenging subordinates

  • Encouraging broadening

  • Managing surroundings (physical and social environment)

  • Managing teams to stimulate creativity

  • Managing resources to stimulate creativity

  • Providing feedback and recognition

  • Modeling appropriate creativity-management skills
(Be forewarned that on both of Epstein's inventories you need to fill in all blanks. If you don't, the inventory gets kicked back to you with all your input deleted, and you have to start over.)


Labels: ,

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Premiere of Alexei Ratmansky's "Concerto DSCH"

I made my way down to New York this afternoon. The 160-mile drive took five hours because traffic was only crawling for about ten miles as the Cross Bronx Expressway ("Expressway" being a cruel joke) approached the George Washington Bridge. I was due to attend the evening performance of the New York City Ballet, and was only about ten minutes late because I found a free parking space right behind the Lincoln Center on Amesterdam Avenue. (I had been counting on parking in the Lincoln Center garage, but it was full by the time I finally arrived.)

Once I was in the theater, I was treated to a program that, all in all, was quite enjoyable. The first piece was Christopher Wheeldon's "Rococo Variations" to music of Tschaikovsky, premiered in February. This is an engaging classical piece, my only qualm being that some of the choreography seemed unduly repetitive.

After the first intermission, we saw Mauro Bigonzetti's "Oltremare," set to a wonderful commissioned score of the same name by Bruno Moretti. ("Oltremare" means "overseas" in Italian.) This piece, an amalgam of modern expressive movement and old-fashioned dance forms, premiered in January. In terms of costumes, which have an unfussy nineteenth century look; props — immigrants' suitcases; and lighting, this is a beautiful stage work. The mix of choreogrphic styles struck me as awkward, but the overall impression the ballet made was appealing.

After the second intermission came one of the ballets by Peter Martins that are routinely criticized for being "cold." To my eye, "River of Light," set to commissioned music of Charles Wuorinen and first performed ten years ago, is an elegant study in symmetry and pure contemporary ballet movement. I like it, which I think puts me in a rather small group of City Ballet watchers.

Alexei Ratmansky
Source: New York City Ballet

The final piece was the reason I was attending this particular program. Alexei Ratmansky presented the world premiere of "Concerto DSCH," which he has set to the second piano concerto of Dmitri Shostakovich (1957). As explained in the program notes, "The ballet's title refers to a musical motif used by Shostakovich to represent himself; the motif consists of four notes that, when written in German notation, stand in for his initials in the German spelling (D. Sch.)"

I can't say that the costumes (described here) helped the ballet, but aside from that, I enjoyed the way in which Ratmansky responded to Shostakovich's upbeat score. He honored classical movement while making use of contemporary departures from the pure classical vocabulary. His frequent use of asymmetric stage patterns is something I want to reflect on when I get a chance for a second look at the dance. I especially liked Ratmansky's decision to have one couple (Wendy Whelan and Benjamin Millepied) and, instead of a second couple, a threesome (Ashley Bouder, Joaquin De Luz, and Gonzalo Garcia).



Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Natalie Holder-Winfield on Maintaining a Diverse Workforce

The May 25 edition of the New York Times contained a brief interview with Natalie Holder-Winfield, a member of the New York and Connecticut bars and a diversity consultant, that undoubtedly covers just a few highlights of her recently published book, Recruiting and Retaining a Diverse Workforce. Still, the points that come out in the interview are well worth emphasizing, most importantly the proposition that "the critical issues that affect retention and promotion opportunities [are] access to quality work assignments and people who are dedicated to your professional development."

You can watch Holder-Winfield talking here about her views on how employers should go about ensuring that all employees have the same opportunity to contribute and are supported in their career development. (The interview goes up to about the 4:15 mark.) A review of Holder-Winfield's book is here.



Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Laughter is the Best Medicine XX: A Nice Homey Cubicle



Monday, May 26, 2008

Memorial Day 2008

Source: chicks57 (flickr.com)



Sunday, May 25, 2008

A Case Study in Problematic Blogging

As a complement to earlier posts (such as here, here, and here) defending the value of blogging when done by experts and people with strong critical thinking skills, I'd cite this article by Emily Gould from today's edition of the New York Times Magazine. Gould's piece offers plenty of food for thought concerning what to avoid if you're drawn to expressive or journalistic writing and considering exercising your talents in a blog.



Saturday, May 24, 2008

Improving Your Strategy Execution

The lead article in the June 2008 issue of the Harvard Business Review details the results of research Booz & Company has conducted over a period of several years to elucidate what makes a difference in the effectiveness with which an organization executes its strategy.

Gary L. Neilson, Karla L. Martin, and Elizabeth Powers, all Booz employees, provide evidence that the most important factors in strategy execution generally relate to clarifying decision rights (who is responsible for what decisions) and designing appropriate information flows within an organization. Relatively less important are factors relating to aligning motivators and adjusting organizational structure.

As part of its research program, Booz created a survey for assessing organizational effectiveness in implementing strategy (available online here). The survey lists seventeen traits that Booz found have a significant impact — of varying intensity — on implementation effectiveness. There are also two items relating to implementation outcomes: Important strategic and operational decisions are quickly translated into action and Overall, this firm deals successfully with discontinuous change in the competitive environment.

Five of seventeen implementation effectiveness traits relate to decision rights, and another five to information flows. Four relate to aligning motivators, and three to organization structure. In the lists below, the number associated with an item is its place in the overall list of the seventeen traits, once those traits have been arranged in descending order of impact on implementation effectiveness.

The five traits relating to decision rights are:

#1 — Everyone has a good idea of the decisions and actions for which he or she is responsible.

#3 — Once made, decisions are rarely second-guessed.

#7 — Managers up the line get involved in operating decisions.

#11 — It is more accurate to describe the culture of this organization as "persuade and cajole" than "command and control."

#12 — The primary role of corporate staff here is to support the business units rather than to audit them.

The five traits relating to information flows are:

#2 — Important information about the compettiive environment gets to headquarters quickly.

#4 — Information flows freely across organizational boundaries.

#5 — Field and line employees usually have the information they need to understand the bottom-line impact of their day-to-day choices.

#6 — Line managers have access to the metrics they need to measure the key drivers of their business.

#8 — Conflicting messages are rarely sent to the market.

It is not until midway through the list of traits that the first item relating aligning motivators appears. The four traits relating to motivators are:

#9 — The individual performance-appraisal process differentiates among high, adequate, and low performers.

#10 — The ability to deliver on performance commitments strongly influences career advancement and compensation.

#16 — If the firm has a bad year, but a particular division has a good year, the division head would still get a bonus.

#17 — Besides pay, many other things motivate individuals to do a good job.

Even though many organizations rush to introduce structural changes when they find themselves having difficulty with strategy implementation, the Booz research indicates that such restructuring moves are best reserved for late in the process of improving implementation effectiveness — as can be seen in the low rankings of the three restructuring traits on the survey:

#13 — Promotions can be lateral moves (from one position to another on the same level in the hierarchy).

#14 — Fast-track employees here can expect promotions more frequently than every three years.

#15 — On average, middle managers have five or more direct reports.

Neilson, Martin, and Powers conclude their article with a concise summary:
As long as companies continue to attack their execution problems primarily or solely with structural or motivational initiatives, they will continue to fail. ... they may enjoy short-term results, but they will inevitably slip back into old habits because they won't have addressed the root causes of failure. Such failures can almost always be fixed by ensuring that people truly understand what they are responsible for and who makes which decisions — and then giving them the information they need to fulfill their responsibilities. With these two building blocks in place, structural and motivational elements will follow.
Booz has provided an online simulator that enables you to test a batch of five improvement actions in each of two years. (You select from a preset list of 28 actions related to the seventeen implementation effectiveness traits.) Note that you first have to diagnose which of seven types of organization — passive-aggressive, overmanaged, etc. — your organization is.

The simulator tells you how much your effectiveness score, measured on a scale of 100, would rise each year as a result of your chosen actions. Note, however, that the scoring is based on the assumption that your organization matches the "average" organization embodied in Booz's regression analysis of the impact of the seventeen traits on implementation effectiveness. In effect, you end up trying to guess what actions the regression analysis indicated would be best. Whether what's optimal for the "average" organization is optimal for your organization is a question that requires its own analysis.



Friday, May 23, 2008

The Moral Aspect of Markets

On March 24, the Sydney Morning Herald published an exemplary summary (pdf) of the thinking presented in Moral Markets: The Critical Role of Values in the Economy, an important collection of papers edited by Paul J. Zak and published by Princeton University Press in January.

As explained by Ross Gittins, the social and natural scientists who wrote the papers in Moral Markets argue that markets are moral in two senses:
Most economic exchange, whether with people you know or with strangers, relies on character values such as honesty, trust, reliability and fairness. And a set of shared values is essential to the functioning of modern economies.

That's the first sense in which markets are moral ... The other sense is that market exchange itself can lead to an understanding of what constitutes fair exchange, and in this way build social capital in the community. Research has shown that the values that create social capital are a potent stimulus for economic development.

"Exchange is inherently other-regarding," Zak says. "Both you and I must benefit if exchange is to occur. In this sense exchange in markets is virtuous: one must consider not only one's own needs but also the needs of another." [link added]
The full article is well worth reading. In just a couple of pages, Gittins provides an excellent précis of some of the key findings of the growing field of neuroeconomics.


Labels: ,

Thursday, May 22, 2008

The Personal Benefits of Blogging

Those who in dismiss bloggers en masse as more or less useless are already in an indefensible position since the material bloggers produce varies so widely in quality — from full of expertise to full of froth.

Now, as reported by Jessica Wapner in the June 2008 issue of Scientific American, there is a move afoot among neuroscientists to investigate why blogging can be positively therapeutic, i.e., why it can help people cope with serious conditions, such as a cancer diagnosis.

Wapner begins by noting that
Scientists (and writers) have long known about the therapeutic benefits of writing about personal experiences, thoughts and feelings. But besides serving as a stress-coping mechanism, expressive writing produces many physiological benefits. Research shows that it improves memory and sleep, boosts immune cell activity and reduces viral load in AIDS patients, and even speeds healing after surgery. A study in the February issue of the Oncologist reports that cancer patients who engaged in expressive writing just before treatment felt markedly better, mentally and physically, as compared with patients who did not. [link added]
Increasing numbers of hospitals, recognizing the potential therapeutic value of blogging, offer patients an easy way of creating a blog. The platform I've encountered most frequently is CarePages.

As with any online activity, an important aspect of blogging is that the writer — in this case, the patient — can make his/her posts accessible to others, so that a supportive community of family, old friends, and new friends is brought together.



Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The Efficacy of Teaching Financial Literacy Can Be Overstated

Lauren E. Willis, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, has published an illuminating research paper (pdf) that warns against exaggerating the usefulness of training in financial literacy for equipping consumers to make informed financial decisions.

The argument of Willis's paper is summarized in the abstract:

The dominant model of regulation in the United States for consumer credit, insurance, and investment products is disclosure and unfettered choice. As these products have become increasingly complex, consumers’ inability to understand them has become increasingly apparent, and the consequences of this inability more dire. In response, policymakers have embraced financial literacy education as a necessary corollary to the disclosure model of regulation. This education is widely believed to turn consumers into “responsible” and “empowered” market players, motivated and competent to make financial decisions that increase their own welfare. The vision is of educated consumers handling their own credit, insurance, and retirement planning matters by confidently navigating the bountiful unrestricted marketplace.

Although the vision is seductive, promising both a free market and increased consumer welfare, the predicate belief in the effectiveness of financial literacy education lacks empirical support. Moreover, the belief is implausible, given the velocity of change in the financial marketplace, the gulf between current consumer skills and those needed to understand today’s complex non-standardized financial products, the persistence of biases in financial decisionmaking, and the disparity between educators and financial services firms in resources with which to reach consumers.

Harboring this belief may be innocent, but it is not harmless; the pursuit of financial literacy poses costs that almost certainly swamp any benefits. For some consumers, financial education appears to increase confidence without improving ability, leading to worse decisions. When consumers find themselves in dire financial straits, the regulation through education model blames them for their plight, shaming them and deflecting calls for effective market regulation. Consumers generally do not serve as their own doctors and lawyers and for reasons of efficient division of labor alone, generally should not serve as their own financial experts. The search for effective financial literacy education should be replaced by a search for policies more conducive to good consumer financial outcomes.

In the concluding section of her paper, Willis offers a half dozen policy suggestions aimed at improving the interaction between consumers and sellers of financial services. In general, these suggestions involve "enhancing the resources with which consumers approach the market, changing the financial decision environment, [and] bringing seller incentives in line with consumer incentives" so that consumers' odds of making good decisions (decisions truly in their best interests) and achieving good outcomes are markedly improved.

It is important to note that Willis is not arguing against helping people build the basic sort of financial literacy referenced in previous posts. Rather, she is arguing that people should not be expected to develop the level of financial expertise required to make decisions concerning complicated financial products and services (with the definition of "complicated" encompassing any requirement for single-handed analysis of various financial scenarios, e.g., for retirement planning).


Labels: , , ,

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Making the Case for Studying the Liberal Arts

In an earlier post, I mentioned in passing my disagreement with Marc Andreessen's view that studying the liberal arts is a poor choice of how to spend one's time in college.

Earlier this month, Wellesley College, my alma mater, inaugurated Kim Bottomly as its thirteenth president. In her inauguration speech, Bottomly made the case for the liberal arts. In a central passage, she says:
What does Wellesley College have to do to continue its mission and to successfully educate these women of the 21st century? I believe that we must continue to offer the best possible liberal arts education, and we must figure out what it means to do this in the 21st century. The historian W.R. Connor has pointed out that the etymology of the word “liberal” in “liberal education” derives from a Greek word for free — a word the Athenians used specifically to distinguish free citizens from slaves. ...

Free citizens ... needed skills that enabled them to participate fully in society. Athens was an emergent democracy, and as such, needed citizens who could research a topic, develop a reasoned argument, analyze counter-arguments, assess the merits of specific proposals, and clearly articulate their views. Connor noted that, “These are not skills that emerge spontaneously or that can be taken for granted.” Liberal education was thus designed to impart the knowledge necesary to be effective in mass meetings deciding important issues. Liberal education was not private license; not the freedom to study whatever interested one, not an indulgent absence of pragmatic focus. It was instead constructed as a public good, and was designed to be the education truly necessary to ensure wise decisions and thus a good society.

Conner proposes we define liberal arts as “the skills of freedom.” I like this translation because it emphasizes that a liberal arts education began as a public good, and remains one today. It also points to the fact that a liberal education prepares students to manage their world and their lives, and not just their careers. I also like the fact that defining liberal education as “the skills of freedom” makes it clearer that the goal of liberal education is not the acquisition of content but the development of particular broad skills.
Though the overall tone of Bottomly's speech is a tad pedantic (she's a scientist, not a belle lettrist), her rationale for study of the liberal arts is presented well. Her argument is one that I wish everyone would at least consider when the question of what type of program most benefits college students is under discussion.


Labels: ,

Monday, May 19, 2008

Differentiation through Management Innovation

As one route to differentiating yourself from your competition, Gary Hamel recommends actively pursuing continuous management innovation. Hamel defines management innovation as
a marked departure from traditional management principles, processes, and practices or a departure from customary organizational forms that significantly alters the way the work of management is performed.
But how does one do this? In a February 2006 article in the Harvard Business Review, Hamel argues that a particular management innovation will create a sustained advantage if it meets at least one of the following conditions:
  • The innovation is based on a novel principle that challenges management orthodoxy.

  • The innovation is systemic, i.e., it encompasses a range of interconnected processes and methods.

  • The innovation is part of an ongoing program of invention, such that progress compounds over time.
As for the actual process used to generate unique ideas for management innovation, Hamel cites four important components:
  • Home in on a big problem whose solution requires fresh thinking. For example, you might decide that you need to do a better job in managing the trade-off between short-term earnings and long-term growth.

  • Use creative principles or paradigms that can generate new approaches. Hamel advises asking yourself two questions: What things exhibit the attributes or capabilities that we'd like to build into our organization? What is it that imbues those exemplars with their enviable qualities?

  • Analyze the current management orthodoxies that constrain thinking within your organization. Hamel suggests asking two questions about each piece of received wisdom: Is the belief toxic to the ultimate goal we're trying to achieve? Can we conceive of an alternative to the realtiy the belief reflects?

  • Examine examples and analogies that can help widen what people in the organization consider to be within the realm of possibility. Hamel makes a pitch for using prediction markets to aggregate people's expectations concerning the prospects for any given project.
Hamel summarizes by arguing that the key to positioning the organization for continuing management innovation is a "deep and systematic review of your firm's management processes [which] will reveal opportunities to reinvent them in ways that further your bold objectives." You can then experiment to see what is actually workable: "The goal is to build a portfolio of bold new management experiments that has the power to lift the performance of your company ever higher above its peers."

To get the full flavor of Hamel's argument, you should look through the entire article. You can decide for yourself which of the examples he cites are relevant to your own situation.


Labels: ,

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Jimmy Slyde 1927 - 2008

I was lucky enough to see James "Jimmy Slyde" Godbolt perform on a number of occasions, usually at Jacob's Pillow. You can get an idea of his elegant style of tap from the videos below.

Jimmy Slyde performing in Rio de Janeiro, acompanied by Bruce Henri on bass and José Carlos Ramos on sax, during the "Tap Encontro" Festival in 1998

Jimmy Slyde performing on the
Claude Nougaro Show in France (Part 1)

Original source: Offjazz Dance World

Jimmy Slyde performing on the
Claude Nougaro Show in France (Part 2)

Original source: Offjazz Dance World

Jimmy Slyde passed away on Friday. The New York Times obituary is here.


Labels: ,

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Dick Netzer 1928 - 2008

I had the pleasure of talking shop with Dick Netzer when our paths crossed from time to time at conferences of the Association for Cultural Economics International (ACEI), most memorably in Barcelona in 1998. That year Netzer was named a Distinguished Fellow of ACEI, in recognition both of his work in the field of cultural economics and of his contributions to the establishment of ACEI itself.

Netzer, who died on May 7, was a leading light not only in cultural economics (his 1978 book, The Subsidized Muse: Public Support for the Arts in the United States, is widely cited in cultural economics bibliographies), but also in urban public finance and urban economics. His work in public finance was both theoretical and practical. Of particular note on the practical side is his twenty years of service on the board of New York City's Municipal Assistance Corporation.

The New York Times published a brief obituary today, which you can read here.


Labels: ,

Friday, May 16, 2008

The Payoff from Diversity

Until omniscience becomes a common human trait, there is good reason to consciously build diversity into work groups in order to maximize the odds of reaching sound decisions about complex issues.

As Claudia Dreifus explains in her introduction to a January 8 New York Times interview with Scott E. Page, professor of political science at the University of Michigan, it has now been shown mathematically that, under plausible conditions, better decisions emerge from a diverse group of colleagues working a problem than from a same-size group of unusually smart people.

In the interview, Page explains that the reason diversity pays off is that
diverse groups of people bring to organizations more and different ways of seeing a problem and, thus, faster/bettter ways of solving it.

People from different backgrounds have varying ways of looking at problems, what I call "tools." The sum of these tools is far more powerful in organizations with diversity than in ones where everyone has gone to the same schools, been trained in the same mold and thinks in almost identical ways.

The problems we face in the world are very complicated. Any one of us can get stuck. If we're in an organization where everyone thinks in the same way, everyone will get stuck in the same place.

But if we have people with diverse tools, they'll get stuck in different places. One person can do their best, and then someone else can come in and improve on it.
Note that Page is referring specifically to diversity in ways of thinking. To the extent that such diversity is correlated with demographic diversity, the diversity payoff will be realized by forming work groups that cross racial, gender, ethnic, and age lines.

Note too that Page is not saying that ability is irrelevant. Rather, he and his colleague Lu Hong (professor at the School of Business Administration of Loyola University in Chicago) show that "when making predictions a group's errors depend in equal parts on the [average] ability of its members to predict and their diversity."

For a group's diversity to pay off, it is also necessary that the diversity be relevant to the problem at hand. As Page explains in the prologue to his 2007 book, The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools, and Societies, "we cannot expect that adding a poet to a medical research team would [better] enable them to find a cure for the common cold." A final point is that a diverse group of people who can't get along are not going to be very productive as collaborative problem solvers.

You can read the 2004 Hong/Page paper "Groups of Diverse Problem Solvers Can Outperform Groups of High-Ability Problem Solvers" here.


Labels: , , ,

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Thank you, Marc Brownstein

If it weren't for the pervasiveness of the problem, you'd think one would not have to point out that fiddling with your Blackberry or your laptop during a meeting is no more acceptable than sitting there reading your newspaper.

In a brief column posted at adage.com, Marc Brownstein, president of the Brownstein Group, a small marketing agency in Philadelphia, endorses the sentiment, hopefully growing, that laptops and wireless devices should be banned from meetings (except, perhaps, for a minute-taker's laptop).

Brownstein cites four benefits, though I'm sure you can think of more:
  • Your colleagues no longer will ask questions that have been already asked and answered, because they are paying attention.

  • Productivity will increase, because more ideas will be exchanged and problems resolved.

  • Rudeness levels will sink dramatically, and respect in the workplace will soar.

  • Face-to-face meetings will once again have relevance.
Bottom line: Let's reconfirm that everyone at a meeting is expected to listen and participate with undivided attention.


Labels: , , ,

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Project Globe IV: Business Leader Attribute Quiz

Back in 2006, I wrote a set of three posts on Project Globe, a study of the relationship between cultural expectations and effective leadership in 62 societal cultures.

As a way of familiarizing yourself with some of the learning produced by this research, you might want to try the interactive Business Leader Attribute Quiz developed by Grovewell LLC. The quiz consists of 12 items, each of which asks you to reflect on whether a specified attribute ("ambitious," "decisive," "class-conscious," etc.) is likely to be:
  • viewed in all cultures as contributing positively to effective leadership

  • viewed in all cultures as inhibiting effective leadership

  • culturally contingent, i.e., in some cultures viewed positively with respect to leadership effectiveness, and viewed negatively in others
Grovewell concludes the quiz with a reminder of the overall conclusion of the Project Globe researchers: "Leadership is in the 'eye of the beholder.' Leadership is a social label given to individuals if either (a) their personality, attributes, and behaviors sufficiently match the observer’s beliefs about leaders, or (b) the observer attributes group success or failure to the activities of perceived leaders."



Tuesday, May 13, 2008

A Tool the Helps in Localizing eLearning

In March, the London-based PHM consultancy was recognized for their Content Editing and Localization (CELT) tool by receipt of CeBIT's European eLearning Award 2008 for Best Practice in eLearning.

CeBIT is the Center for Office and Information Technology (Centrum der Büro- und Informationstechnik in German).

Since delivering training in multiple languages is increasingly a project requirement — I'm involved in such a project right now — the availability of tools that ease the editing and translation process is of real importance.

At the moment, CELT supports all European languages, including Russian, and PHM says they are in the process of adding five Asian languages to the repertoire. PHM estimates savings of 25% relative to the more time-consuming "previous method of preparing and dissseminating similar information" in multiple languages.

You can read the press release about CELT's CeBIT award here. Included is information concerning CELT's features, and the tool's availability to other companies.



Monday, May 12, 2008

Laughter is the Best Medicine XIX: Compliments of the New Yorker

You can click here to see an excellent cartoon from this week's New Yorker. I'd call it an instant classic.



Sunday, May 11, 2008

Mother's Day 2008

Photo by Jay Farbman
Source: Direct Relief International



Saturday, May 10, 2008

Computer-Assisted Rehabilitaton

Among the areas in which computers are contributing to improved training outcomes is rehabilitation of military personnel. For instance, last Fall the US Army opened a Military Advanced Training Center (MATC) at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington DC.

Computer-Assisted Rehabilitation Environment (CAREN), Military Advanced Training Center, Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Washington DC
(Source: American Forces Press Service)

One of the tools used to speed rehab is the computer-assisted rehabilitation environment (CAREN), one of only three in the world at the time the MATC opened. As described in an article in the February 2008 issue of the Proceedings of the US Naval Institute (not online),1 CAREN, using virtual reality,
immerses service members in real-world scenarios to help them heal, practice, and train. The patient, harnessed in a standing position on a multi-axis platform, faces images projected onto a curved screen for three-dimensional realistic effect. Movement of the platform is synchronized with the screen projection, while CAREN uses cameras to record the patient's movement. These data help with rehabilitation, patient feedback, and research.
Examples of the scenarios the Walter Reed CAREN uses are described in a September 13, 2007 release provided by the American Forces Press Service:
In one scenario, the patients stand as if in a boat as it moves through a course.In other scenarios, patients are required to raise their hands while moving to hit objects that appear to be flying by. This helps patients become more stable and confident using their prosthetic devices.
It should be emphasized that the MATC is for patients who are ready for the advanced stages of rehabilitation that will enable them to transition back to home or active duty.

1 "A Healing Virtual Reality World," by Capt. Joseph A. Miller, MSC, US Army Reserve, and Col. Charles Scoville, US Army (ret.), Proceedings, US Naval Institute, vol. 134, February 2008, pp. 62-65.


Labels: ,

Friday, May 09, 2008

Randy Pausch on Time Management

If you'd like to take in the well-received advisory talk on time management that Randy Pausch, a professor of computer science in Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Computer Science, delivered at the University of Virginia on November 27, 2007, you have a range of options.

The video version is below (76:22). The meat of the talk begins at 4:25.

A "close enough" transcript is here (pdf).

A podcast is here.

The PowerPoint slides in low-res are here (ppt). Full-res slides are here (ppt).

It would be mistake to pick any one point Pausch makes as the core of what he's saying, but I'd still call particular attention to his emphasis on always knowing why you're doing something, i.e., knowing the goal of your efforts. This is fundamental to getting important tasks accomplished in a way that achieves desired results.

A corollary of this principle is recognizing how to set priorities. Pausch adopts Stephen Covey's view that your priorities should look like this:
  1. Tasks that are important and due soon

  2. Tasks that are important and not due soon

  3. Tasks that are not important and due soon (may not need to be done at all!)

  4. Tasks that are not important and not due soon (may not need to be done at all!)


Thursday, May 08, 2008

Everybody Has a Name

While I was visiting the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality's website to gather the material for yesterday's post, I came upon a particularly compelling example of what a difference it makes when a person is recognized for contributing to a team effort.

It's a tale recounted in an interview by Jack Barker, CEO of Mach One Leadership, a company that specializes in helping healthcare organizations adopt useful safety processes that have been developed in the air travel industry. In talking about feedback concerning the impact of his company's training of healthcare teams, Barker says:
Probably the most encouraging thing we've heard was from a surgeon who adopted some of these behaviors and tools. He uses a team briefing, and he tells a story about how he actually puts the names of everybody involved in the operation on a white board, which even includes the woman who cleans up the OR after the surgery is done. He's had the same cleaning lady for probably the last 4 or 5 years but never knew her first name. The result of this little act was amazing — all of a sudden his OR was getting turned over faster than anyone else's! It was just a simple thing of including the person on the team. And that person truly is part of the team but was never recognized that way before. I think that's pretty powerful to show how a small change can really make a big difference.


Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Teamwork Training for Healthcare Settings

In March 2006 the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality of the US Department of Health and Human Services published an exchange concerning the relative merits of classroom training and high-fidelity simulation for teaching teamwork skills to healthcare professionals.

In this "point-counterpoint" pair of articles, Stephen D. Pratt of Harvard Medical School and Benjamin P. Sachs, now dean of the Tulane School of Medicine, take one side, arguing that
classroom-based team training with low-level simulation is the most effective way to implement [teamwork training] programs in today's environment, particularly given the high cost, both in money and manpower, of high-fidelity simulation.
Pratt and Sachs divide teamwork training into two phases, the teaching phase, and the phase of transfer to the clinical setting. They cite three advantages to using classroom training for the teaching phase:
  • No need for an expensive simulation set-up.

  • More staff can be trained at any one time.

  • Class-based training is easy to schedule as part of the staff orientation process.
As for the implementation phase, in which skills are transferred to actual delivery of patient care, Pratt and Sachs argue that
high-fidelity simulation is highly limited in its ability to effectively teach ... CRM [crew resource management]-based unit management, partly because it has overemphasized crisis management. ... In addition, it would simply be cost prohibitive to build simulated environments with multiple patients and many caregivers.
Instead of simulation, Pratt and Sachs advocate intensive coaching for the implementation phase.

The argument in favor of using high-fidelity simulation for healthcare teamwork training is presented by David M. Gaba, a Stanford professor of anesthesia and associate dean of the Stanford School of Medicine's Center for Immersive and Simulation-Based Learning. Gaba notes that
In many settings (such as in the OR, the ICU, or the ED [emergency department]), one has to simultaneously make clinical decisions, perform procedures,and interact with team members. Doing this is not easy, and integrating all these skills optimally takes practice.

I propose that only simulations of various sorts that involve the key dynamic of the environment can provide such practice in any credible fashion. Neither classroom work nor intensive coaching in real settings can fully probe the complexities of real interpersonal and patient care situations ...
The advantages Gaba cites for using simulation for teamwork training are that it:
  • Involves participants in clinically challenging situations that link directly to their previous work experience.

  • Provides scenarios of known and specific challenge to teamwork skills.

  • Provides opportunities for cross-role understanding and even cross-training and practice in the work of different roles.

  • Facilitates reflection on practice by the team through a shared review of what transpired in the simulation scenario.

  • Provides scheduled time for such exercises, with specially trained teaching faculty.
Gaba also argues that "team-oriented simulations do not necessarily require expensive simulation systems," though he also says that "in many settings a fully interactive patient simulator will be needed to provide credible and challenging clinical work for individuals and teams."

(You can see an example of a patient simulator here. An earlier post dealing with modeling healthcare teamwork processes on crew resource management is here.)


Labels: ,

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Tips for Training Evaluation

The Mine Safety and Health Administration of the US Department of Labor has a section of their website that provides practical tips for carrying out training evaluation.

There are five tips:
  1. Organizing your thinking about evaluation — reviews Kirkpatrick's four levels.

  2. Planning with a training evaluation worksheet — along with the worksheet itself, this tip provides straightforward instructions for using the worksheet.

  3. Ways to gather data — offers guidance for choosing the best evaluation method to fit your particular situation.

  4. Recognizing mistakes in survey questions — needs to be read in conjunction with Tip 5 (see below).

  5. Writing better survey questions — an excellent summary, with clear examples.
The credit for this succinct coverage of principles of training evaluation goes to Launa Mallett of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.



Monday, May 05, 2008

Self-Efficacy in Adults

As defined by Albert Bandura, the Stanford psychologist who originated the concept in the 1970s,
Perceived self-efficacy is concerned with people's beliefs in their capabilities to exercise control over their own functioning and over events that affect their lives.
In a similar vein, Robert Brooks, a psychologist at Harvard Medical School, has made a study of how people develop and take advantage of personal resilience, with particular emphasis on developing resilience in children.

Since 1999, Brooks has been publishing useful monthly articles on his website. Most of the articles deal with issues related to doing a good job of raising children, but back in October 2003, Brooks addressed adults with an article called "The Power to Change Your Life: Ten Keys to Resilient Living."

To get the benefit of Brooks's thinking, you need to read the whole article (six pages). To give you an sense of what Brooks is proposing, here are the ten keys in brief:
  1. Rewrite your negative scripts, i.e., the ineffective things you say and do that have never worked and never will work.

  2. Choose a path to become "stress hardy" rather than stressed out.

  3. View life through the eyes of others, i.e., cultivate empathy. A key question to ask yourself: "In anything I say or do, what do I hope to accomplish?" Make sure that what you actually do say or do is likely to achieve what you're aiming for.

  4. Communicate effectively, both verbally and nonverbally.

  5. Accept yourself and others.

  6. Make connections and display compassion.

  7. Learn to deal with mistakes, with the emphasis on extracting lessons that can be applied in the future.

  8. Learn to deal with success, and build islands of competence by identifying and building on your strengths.

  9. Continue developing self-discipline and self-control.

  10. Recognize that maintaining your resilient lifestyle takes work.
For a business-oriented treatment of self-efficacy, see the article by Melinda Beck in the April 29 edition of the Wall Street Journal that got me delving into the subject.


Labels: , ,

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Alan Mulally's "Best Advice I Ever Got"

In addition to the nineteen people quoted in the print edition of Fortune's Best Advice Issue (see yesterday's post), there are six more individuals quoted in the online version of the feature. Of these, the one I'd call attention to is Alan Mulally, CEO of Ford Motor Company.

In earlier posts, such as here and here, I've talked about Mulally's daunting task of restoring Ford's strength as an industry player. Recent results suggest that he is on a hopeful track.

Mulally says:
The best advice I ever received was to have a point of view about the future that focuses on the customer. This advice was why, at Boeing, we decided to move from big airplanes to smaller airplanes that can fly point-to-point, non-stop. We know people do not want to stop at big hubs on their way to a final destination and deregulation of the airline industry allowed a different solution.

Now at Ford, the same advice is guiding us. With issues of energy security and sustainability growing in importance, the strategies we need to implement become clear. An example? Ecoboost, our new turbo-charging direct-injection engine technology that significantly increases fuel economy and driving performance while reducing CO2, is being introduced across our product lineup beginning next year.

Have a point of view. Focus on the customer. Deliver value.
When you're trying to figure out how to develop and maintain strategic focus, you could do worse than following the advice Mulally shares.


Labels: , ,

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Start by Assuming People Have Good Intentions

Fortune has dubbed its May 12, 2008 edition "The Best Advice Issue." I looked through the contributions of some eighteen businesspeople + actress Tina Fey, and found myself most taken with what Indra Nooyi, CEO of Pepsico, had to say:
My father was an absolutely wonderful human being. From him I learned to always assume positive intent. Whatever anybody says or does, assume positive intent. You will be amazed at how your whole approach to a person or problem becomes very different. When you assume negative intent, you're angry. If you take away that anger and assume positive intent, you will be amazed. Your emotional quotient goes up because you are no longer almost random in your response. You don't get defensive. You don't scream. You are trying to understand and listen because at your basic core you are saying, "Maybe they are saying something to me that I'm not hearing." So "assume positive intent" has been a huge piece of advice for me.

In business, sometimes in the heat of the moment, people say things. You can either misconstrue what they're saying and assume they are trying to put you down, or you can say, "Wait a minute. Let me really get behind what they are saying to understand whether they're reacting because they're hurt, upset, confused, or they don't understand what it is I've asked them to do." If you react from a negative perspective — because you didn't like the way they reacted — then it just becomes two negatives fighting each other. But when you assume positive intent, I think often what happens is the other person says, "Hey, wait a minute, maybe I'm wrong in reacting the way I do because this person is really making an effort."
I would say these remarks are worth reading and rereading. If you're interested in an extended expression of Nooyi's thoughts on positive intent, you can read the commencement speech she delivered at the Columbia University Business School on May 15, 2005 here.


Labels: , , , ,

Friday, May 02, 2008

Resisting Influence

Twenty pointers from Philip Zimbardo, best known for the Stanford Prison Experiment he conducted in 1971, and Cindy X. Wang (somewhat edited):
  1. Do not maintain an illusion of “personal invulnerability.” If succumbing to malign influence can happen to somebody else, it can happen to you.

  2. Be modest in your self-estimates. It is better to perceive yourself as vulnerable and to take necessary precautions to protect yourself from unhealthy influence.

  3. Engage in life as fully as possible, yet be mindful and aware, attuned to the moment, and prepared to disengage and think critically when necessary. People are generally good and trustworthy, but some make their careers as “influence professionals” who try to get you to do what they want.

  4. Be aware of Cialdini’s contexts and principles of compliance; when you sense you are operating on one of the principles, look to the relevant context being manipulated on you and pull back; where the context is obvious, expect the principle to be activated.

  5. Be ready to say the three most difficult phrases in the world: “I was wrong”, “I made a mistake”, and “I’ve changed my mind.” ... Dissonance and consistency go limp in the face of such self-honesty.

  6. Separate your ego from your actions; maintain a sense of positive self-esteem that is independent from your occasional failures and stupid actions. Laugh at yourself once a day. (This is especially important for shy people.)

  7. Separate messenger from message in your mind. Process each systematically, not heuristically. Be aware of being tired, a “cognitive miser,” wanting simple short cuts, giving in to non-verbal tricks. There are no free lunches and no quick and dirty paths to anything worthwhile — sloth and greed breed gullibility.

  8. Insist on a second opinion, e.g., to obtain a delay in signing a contract so you can think about it away from the situation; never immediately sign on the dotted line.

  9. Develop "discrepancy detectors," i.e., alerting mental and intuition systems that stem from vague feelings of something wrong, something in the situation or the story you are being handed that does not stand up to analysis.

  10. Try playing devil’s advocate. Be the deviant in order to assess the reactions against you and your devil's advocate position, when the influence agent says s/he is only doing X for your good.

  11. Avoid "total situations" (e.g., cults) where you lose contact with your social support and informational networks. You do not want all your reinforcers to come from a new source.

  12. In all authority confrontations: be polite, individuate yourself and the other. Describe the problem objectively; do not get emotional. State clearly the remedy sought, and the positive consequences expected. Reserve threats and elaboration of the costs to the other person and/or their organization as a last resort.

  13. When you are being challenged in an encounter with authority, ask for identification, insistently, if necessary. Get the person’s name and write it down, along with all details concerning the encounter.

  14. Never allow yourself to be cut off emotionally from your familiar and trusted reference groups of family, friends, neighbors, co-workers. Do not accept putdowns against them.

  15. Remember that all ideologies are just words — abstractions used for particular political, social, and economic purposes. Be wary of taking actions proposed as necessary to sustain an ideology. Always question if the means justify the ends, and suggest alternatives.

  16. Think hard before putting abstract principles before real people when someone advises you to act in specific ways against what the people in question represent.

  17. Trust your intuition when you sense you are becoming a target of influence. Put up your counter-arguing mentality, and dig down for sources for resistance.

  18. Rules are abstractions for controlling behavior and eliciting compliance and conformity. Challenge them when necessary: Ask, Who made the rule? What purpose does it serve? Who maintains it? Does it make sense in this specific situation? What happens if you violate it? Insist that the rule be made explicit so it cannot be modified and altered over time to suit the influence agent.

  19. When developing causal attributions for unusual behavior — yours or that of others — never rush to the dispositional view ("this person is the type to do this kind of thing"). Always start by considering possible situational forces and variables that are likely the true causal agent, and seek to highlight them and to change them where possible.

  20. Having studied Dr. Zimbardo's principles for resisting undue influence, you can use him as an aid to your conscience, your personal Jiminy Cricket sitting on your shoulder and reminding you, Stay cool, confident, collected.

Labels: , ,

Thursday, May 01, 2008

May Day 2008

Source: www.wilsonsalmanac.com