!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Strict//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/xhtml1/DTD/xhtml1-strict.dtd"> Streamline Training & Documentation: March 2009

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Implementing Electronic Health Records

My own experience, as a patient, with electronic health records (EHR) here in Massachusetts has been positive, which inclines me to think that the push to expand use of EHR is, generally speaking, well-advised. However, it is essential to understand that implementing EHR effectively is a multi-faceted proposition.

As Julia Adler-Milstein, a doctoral student at Harvard Business School, explains in a brief article in the April 2009 issue of the Harvard Business Review, introduction of an EHR system at a healthcare organization must be accompanied by organizational changes:
  • increased individual decision-making authority

  • comprehensive training

  • flattened hierarchy

  • more use of skilled workers

  • decentralized teams

  • incentives for team performance
Adler-Milstein argues, "Such changes present a huge challenge in health care, where workers are trained for and expected to fill specific roles." But she also points to the experience of Geisinger Health System in Pennsylvania as evidence that it is possible to meet the challenge. She explains:
After adopting an EHR system, Geisinger ... gave nurses additional authority to respond to medical issues they saw cropping up in the patients' records and made better use of their skills by automating mundane tasks. The organization also created financial incentives for team performance, particularly in areas such as diabetes care, and developed an extensive training curriculum that included close observation of physicians as they used the system.
For a fuller description of Geisinger's innovation strategy, you can look at an article published last year by Geisinger's chief technology and innovation officer, Geisinger's CEO, and the president of the Commonwealth Fund, which provided funding for the study: "Continuous Innovation in Health Care: Implications of the Geisinger Experience" (Health Affairs, Vol. 27, No. 5 (Sept-Oct 2008), pp. 1235-1245).1

1 If you have trouble accessing the Health Affairs article, you can read a summary at the Commonwealth Fund website.


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Monday, March 30, 2009

Regret is Not a Mistake

Since I've never bought into the "je ne regrette rien" attitude toward reflecting on my life, I naturally perked up when I came upon a brief piece endorsing regret in the April 2009 issue of the Harvard Business Review.

Written by Michael Craig Miller, MD, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, "Go Ahead, Have Regrets" offers several suggestions for handling regret as a helpful emotion that can be a means of personal growth.

Dr. Miller's suggestions are:
  • Don't be too hard on yourself. "What you should have done always seems clearer in retrospect than it was at the time." Dr. Miller calls this "hindsight bias."

  • Use regret to improve your decision making and clarify your values. This is something in the way of using the after action review technique, in which you reflect on what you were aiming for (or, in retrospect, what you now realize you should have been aiming for), and identify what has to change in order to do better in the future. Dr. Miller points particularly to revisiting your de facto priorities and adjusting them, as necessary, to get yourself headed to better outcomes.

  • Balance regret and risk. "Instead of choosing a less risky option that you are least likely to regret, choose the one that will maximize your chance of reaching realistic goals."

  • Turn to others for support. They can boost your resilience and confidence.
Dr. Miller closes with the caution that if regret leads to depression, you should seek professional help in returning to a healthy frame of mind in which you "can go back to striving toward your personal and career goals."


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Sunday, March 29, 2009

Practice Practice Practice, but Pick Your Parents Too

I continue to have an eye out for evidence that those who claim that virtually all top experts, in whatever field, have arrived at their advanced capabilities through deliberate practice are overstating the potential for any dedicated individual to achieve a comparable level of expertise.

An earlier post discussed how Williams syndrome provides some evidence of a significant role for inborn factors in development of musical expertise.

Now, a brief item in the April/May 2009 issue of Scientific American Mind talks about recent evidence of a genetic basis for acquisition of advanced motor skills, i.e., the sorts of skills top athletes require.

Janine Reis, a German researcher working at the National Institutes of Health, led a study whose results indicate that slight variations in the structure of a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) affect people's ability to learn new motor skills. The item's author, Roberta Friedman, reports that BDNF "is a key driver of synaptic plasti­city, the ability of the connections between brain cells to change in strength. This plasticity is an important factor in learning ..."

The study looked specifically at differences in the degree of success volunteers had in learning how to vary the tightness of their grip on a handle controlling a computer cursor as it moved through a sequence of targets. Volunteers who had one type of BDNF learned faster and performed better than those with an alternate form of BDNF, who "never reached the skill level acquired by the faster learners."

What this says to me is that those who never get as good at golf as Tiger Woods, despite dedicated deliberate practice, are probably coming up against a physical limit on their attainable skill level.



Saturday, March 28, 2009

Social Networking aka Collaboration Tools

The March 23 issue of Information Week has an excellent article by Andrew Conry-Murray discussing the question, "Can Enterprise Social Networking Pay Off?"

Strictly speaking, this is a rhetorical query because, at this stage of the game, a wealth of reports has accumulated of companies that have realized valuable results from adding tools like blogs and wikis to their intranets. The real questions Conry-Murray addresses are "Under what circumstances does enterprise social networking pay off?" and "How can you gauge the size of the payoff?"

The whole article, including its sidebars, is worth reading. As an overview, here are the five best practices Conry-Murray recommends for making the most of social networking:
  1. Start with a low-cost pilot to see what tools deliver useful results.

  2. Set modest expectations. "Don't promise executives that enterprise social networking will unleash, ignite, or synergize anything." Instead: "Describe one or two general business improvements you think are achievable. Set reasonable goals for user adoption, and salt your initial deployment with a few teams that are eager for these kinds of tools. And keep an eye out for ways to measure business value. You may not be expected to produce hard numbers from a pilot, but corporate management will want to know the payback down the line."

  3. Let employees use the tools with lightly controlled freedom. If you impose any but the most obvious restrictions (e.g., "No flaming."), you will inhibit participation and constrain dialogue.

  4. Resist exclusivity. When a business unit or team says they want their tools to be accessible only to themselves, press the argument that the full benefit of enterprise social networking comes from openness to broad participation.

  5. Include robust search capabilities. And: "Be sure the search engine allows for user-generated feedback such as tags and content-rating systems, because the point of social networking in business is to let people provide input into the relevancy of content and people."
As a final note, if you find the powers-that-be are leery of the term "social networking," shift to something more business-sounding, like "collaboration tools," until the "social networking" label becomes familiar to the people who have to authorize introduction and roll-out of the tools you believe will contribute to your organization's productivity and growth.


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Friday, March 27, 2009

Tony Hsieh at SXSWi

I've been following Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, for some time (though I don't yet haunt anyone on Twitter, including Hsieh), most recently here.

I've now had the chance to watch the two-part YouTube video of the talk Hsieh gave on March 14 at the SXSW Interactive Festival in Austin and it's another keeper. As one commenter at YouTube puts it,
"Culture drives the brand".
"Chase the vision".
What an excellent way to run a company! We can all learn a lot from the Zappos example.
Part I . . .

Part II . . .

Hsieh's slides are available here. An audio podcast is here.

(h/t Bob Lefsetz)


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Thursday, March 26, 2009

O*NET IV: Ways to Use Occupational Information

O*NET Online, the application for the general public that facilitates access to the O*NET database, provides an overview of specific ways in which employers, employees, and job seekers can use O*NET's rich compilation of occupational information.

Employers can use O*NET occupational information to:
  • Develop job descriptions

  • Expand the pool of qualified applicants for open positions

  • Define employee and job-specific success factors

  • Align organizational and employee development efforts with the organization's needs

  • Refine recruitment and training goals

  • Design effective compensation and promotion systems
Employees and job seekers — on their own, or with the help of vocational and career counselors — can use O*NET occupational information to:
  • Find out which jobs fit with their interests, skills, and experience

  • Explore growth career profiles using the latest available labor market data

  • Research a targeted job and related occupations to learn what is needed for success

  • Maximize earning potential and job satisfaction
O*NET offers several self-assessment tools for those exploring career possibilities:
  • O*NET Interest Profiler (paper-based and online) — see footnote 2 in yesterday's post.

  • O*NET Work Importance Locator (paper-based) and O*NET Work importance Profiler (computer-based) — measures six types of work values: Achievement, Independence, Recognition, Relationships, Support, and Working Conditions.

  • O*NET Ability Profiler — measures nine work-related abilities: Verbal Ability, Arithmetic Reasoning, Computation, Spatial Ability, Form Perception, Clerical Perception, Motor Coordination, Finger Dexterity, and Manual Dexterity.
People can use these tools "to make a seamless transition from assessing their interests, work values, and abilities to matching their job skills with the requirements of occupations in their local labor market."

I would mention that when I experimented with the O*NET Skills Search tool, I did not find it very helpful for homing in on occupations that were actually appealing to me. I ended up with long lists of often-unsuitable occupations.

The Tools and Technology Search seems more helpful. It lets you search for high-demand occupations that make use of tools (e.g., machine tools, MSExcel, CAD software, etc.) that you are already proficient in or intend to learn.


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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

O*NET III: Occupation Reports

Once you have identified occupations for which you want additional information (see yesterday's post), you have a choice of three types of report providing information about each occupation on your list. You can save the occupational information in the reports for easy use in word processing, spreadsheet, and database progarams.

The three types of reports are:

Summary Report — provides an overview of the selected occupation, focusing on the most important descriptors. At the end of the report, there is a list of related occupations, and a summary of trends in wages and employment at both the national and state levels.

As an example, you can look at the Summary Report for Training and Development Specialists here. It's about six pages long.

Details Report — displays all descriptors for the selected occupation. For certain descriptors (namely, Tasks,1 Knowledge, Skills, Abilities, Work Activities, Work Context, Interests,2 Work Values, and Work Styles) the report also shows a rating of how important each descriptor is to the occupation. As with the Summary Report, the Details Report includes a list of related occupations, and a summary of trends in wages and employment at the national and state levels.

As an example, you can look at the Details Report for Training and Development Specialists here. It's about seventeen pages long.

Custom Report — allows you to select from sixteen different content areas to generate a report with just the information you want for the selected occupation. For certain descriptors, you can also select the scale to display and minimum cutoff scores.3

The Custom Report also provides "crosswalks" (mappings) to other classification systems — Classification of Instructional Programs (CIP), Dictionary of Occupational Titles (DOT), Military Occupational Classification (MOC), Registered Apprenticeship Partners Information Data System (RAPIDS), and Standard Occupational Classification (SOC).

As an example, you can look at the Custom Report menu for Training and Development Specialists here.

1 There are two categories of tasks. Core tasks are critical to the occupation. Supplemental tasks are less relevant and/or important to the occupation.

2The O*NET Occupational Interest descriptor is based on J.L. Holland's R-I-A-S-E-C Interest Structure, which you can read about in Module 3 (pdf) of the O*NET Career Exploration Tools Facilitator's Guide. R-I-A-S-E-C stands for Realistic, Investigative, Artistic, Social, Enterprising, and Conventional occupational interests, as outlined below.

People with Realistic interests like work activities that include practical, hands-on problems and solutions; enjoy dealing with plants, animals, and real world materials like woods, tools, and machinery; enjoy outside work; and often do not like occupations that mainly involve doing paperwork.

People with Investigative interests like work activities that have to do with ideas and thinking more than with physical activity; and like to search for facts and figure out problems mentally rather than to persuade or lead people.

People with Artistic interests like work activities that deal with the artistic side of things, such as forms, designs, and patterns; like self-expression in their work; and prefer settings where work can be done without following a clear set of rules.

People with Social interests like work activities that assist others and promote learning and personal development; prefer to communicate more than to work with objects, machines, or data; and like to teach, give advice, help, or otherwise be of service to people.

People with Enterprising interests like work activities that have to do with starting up and carrying out projects, especially business ventures; like persuading and leading people and making decisions; like taking risks for profit; and have a bias for action (as opposed to ruminating).

People with Conventional interests like work activities that follow set procedures and routines; prefer working with data and detail rather than with ideas per se; prefer work in which there are precise standards rather than work in which you have to judge things yourself; and like working where the lines of authority are clear.

O*NET provides an Interest Profiler that people exploring career possibilities can use for self-assessment. The online version of the Interest Profiler is here.

3 Ratings and standardized scores are provided for Tasks, Knowledge, Skills, Abilities, Work Activities, Work Context, Occupational Interests, Work Values, Work Needs, and Work Styles.

An option to view scale anchors (verbal definitions of high, medium, and low numeric values on the O*NET scale for a particular descriptor) is available for four descriptors: Knowledge, Skills, Abilities, and Work Activities. It is a good idea to select "Show scale anchors" for each of these descriptors that you include in your Custom Report because this helps clarify the descriptor's needed level for the selected occupation. An example of a a set of scale anchors is here.


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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

O*NET II: Searching the Occupation Database

There are seven ways to search for particular occupations in the O*NET database:
  • Quick Search — Enter a word, phrase, or job title to search for a particular occupation, or enter a full or partial O*NET-SOC code. ("SOC" is the acronym for the Standard Occupational Classification maintained by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.)

  • Browse by Job Family — Displays groups of occupations that are similar in terms of the work performed and the skills, education, training, and credentials required. The specific families are:

    • Architecture and Engineering

    • Arts, Design, Entertainment, Sports, and Media

    • Building and Grounds Cleaning and Maintenance

    • Business and Financial Operations

    • Community and Social Services

    • Computer and Mathematical

    • Construction and Extraction

    • Education, Training, and Library

    • Farming, Fishing, and Forestry

    • Food Preparation and Serving Related

    • Healthcare Practitioners and Technical

    • Healthcare Support

    • Installation, Maintenance, and Repair

    • Legal

    • Life, Physical, and Social Science

    • Management

    • Military Specific

    • Office and Administrative Support

    • Personal Care and Service

    • Production

    • Protective Service

    • Sales and Related

    • Transportation and Material Moving

  • Browse by High-Growth Industry (In-Demand Industry Cluster) — Displays occupations in industries that are economically important, projected to add substantial numbers of new jobs, or are being transformed by technological change and innovation. The currently listed high-growth/in-demand clusters (some of which seem out-of-date) are:

    • Advanced Manufacturing

    • Aerospace

    • Automotive

    • Biotechnology

    • Construction

    • Education

    • Energy

    • Geospatial Technology

    • Health Care

    • Homeland Security

    • Hospitality

    • Information Technology

    • Nanotechnology

    • Retail

    • Transportation

    • Other

  • Browse by O*NET Descriptor — O*NET Descriptors are categories of occupational information — Knowledge, Skills, Abilities, Work Activities, Interests, and Work Values. Each descriptor contains more specific elements. For example, Knowledge includes such elements as Administration & Management, Chemistry, Production & Processing, etc.

  • Browse by Job Zone — Displays occupations in five categories based on ascending levels of education, experience, and training needed. the five Job Zones are:

    1. Little or no preparation needed

    2. Some preparation needed

    3. Medium preparation needed

    4. Considerable preparation needed

    5. Extensive preparation needed

  • Browse by STEM Discipline — Displays occupations that require education in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplines. The specific STEM disciplines O*NET breaks out are:

    • Chemistry

    • Computer Science

    • Engineering

    • Environmental Science

    • Geosciences

    • Life Sciences

    • Mathematics

    • Physics/Astronomy

  • Browse by Career Cluster Displays occupations in a particular cluster or field of work that require similar skills. The sixteen career clusters are:

    • Agriculture, Food & Natural Resources

    • Architecture & Construction

    • Arts, Audio/Video Technology & Communications

    • Business, Management & Administration

    • Education & Training

    • Finance

    • Government & Public Administration

    • Health Science

    • Hospitality & Tourism

    • Human Services

    • Information Technology

    • Law, Public Safety & Security

    • Manufacturing

    • Marketing, Sales & Service

    • Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics

    • Transportation, Distribution & Logistics
Once your search has led you to occupations of interest, you can generate reports for each occupation at differing levels of detail. The O*NET reports will be the subject of tomorrow's post.


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Monday, March 23, 2009

O*NET I: The Content Model for Occupations

The US Department of Labor has created an online site — the Occupational Information Network, or O*NET — which enables users to explore a full range of occupations to learn about the qualifications they require, the type of settings in which they are carried out, and other features that are significant for matching people to jobs they can fill successfully and reasonably happily.

I'll talk about various elements of O*NET in a series of posts this week, beginning today with the occupational Content Model, illustrated in the graphic below. O*NET uses the Content Model to collect and organize the information that goes into their occupation database.


As you can see in the graphic, the Content Model has six major domains:
  • Worker characteristics — "Worker characteristics comprise enduring qualities of individuals that may influence how they approach tasks and how they acquire work-relevant knowledges and skills. Traditionally, analyzing abilities has been the most common technique for comparing jobs in terms of these worker characteristics. However, recent research supports the inclusion of other types of worker characteristics. In particular, interests, values, and work styles have received support in the organizational literature. Interests and values reflect preferences for work environments and outcomes. Work style variables represent typical procedural differences in the way work is performed."

  • Worker requirements — "Worker requirements represent developed or acquired attributes of an individual that may be related to work performance such as work-related knowledge and skill. Knowledge represents the acquisition of facts and principles about a domain of information. Experience lays the foundation for establishing procedures to work with given knowledge. These procedures are more commonly known as skills. Skills may be further divided into basic skills and cross-functional skills. Basic skills, such as reading, facilitate the acquisition of new knowledge. Cross-functional skills, such as problem solving, extend across several domains of activities."

  • Experience requirements — "This domain includes information about the typical experiential backgrounds of workers in an occupation or group of occupations including certification, licensure, and training data. For example, information about the professional or organizational certifications required for entry and advancement in an occupation, preferred education or training, and required apprenticeships will be documented by this part of the model."

  • Occupation-specific information — "Occupation-specific information details a comprehensive set of elements that apply to a single occupation or a narrowly defined job family. This domain parallels other Content Model domains because it includes requirements such as work-related knowledge, skills, and tasks in addition to the machines, equipment, tools, software, and information technology workers may use in their workplace. Labor market information defined by the industry or occupation is also provided here. This domain is particularly important when developing specific applications of O*NET information. For example, it is necessary to refer to occupation-specific descriptive information to specify training, develop position descriptions, or redesign jobs."

  • Workforce characteristics — "Organizations ... must operate within a broader social and economic structure ... [so] an occupational classification system must incorporate global contextual characteristics. O*NET provides this information by linking descriptive occupational information to statistical labor market information. This includes compensation and wage data, employment outlook, and industry size information."

  • Occupational characteristics — "This domain includes information about typical activities required across occupations. Task information is often too specific to describe an occupation or occupational group. The O*NET approach is to identify generalized work activities (GWAs) and detailed work activities (DWAs) to summarize the broad and more specific types of job behaviors and tasks that may be performed within multiple occupations. Using this framework makes it possible to use a single set of descriptors to describe many occupations. Contextual variables such as the physical, social, or structural context of work that may impose specific demands on the worker or activities are also included in this section."
All of the data O*NET uses to populate the Content Model for particular occupations is derived from research into the character of occupations (whence the data on occupational requirements, workforce characteristics, and occupation-specific information) and the people working in each occupation (whence worker characteristics, worker requirements, and experience requirements).

With the Content Model supplying the framework, O*NET uses 277 descriptors to characterize over 800 occupations and to store that information in its searchable occupational database. Use of the database will be the subject of tomorrow's post.


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Sunday, March 22, 2009

Constructive Exercise of Power

An earlier post discussed the "paradox of power." When you look at the research on how people use power, it shows that "empathy and social intelligence are vastly more important to acquiring and exercising power than are force, deception, or terror." On the other hand,
... studies also show that once people assume positions of power, they're likely to act more selfishly, impulsively, and aggressively, and they have a harder time seeing the world from other people's points of view. This presents us with the paradox of power: The skills most important to obtaining power and leading effectively are the very skills that deteriorate once we have power.
For more on the dynamics of power, you can look at the materials John Carroll and Li Tao pulled together for their 2006 course in managerial psychology at MIT's Sloan School of Management. Particularly helpful is Lecture 17 (pdf), delivered by guest lecturer Maria Quijada, now a professor at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles.

At the beginning of her lecture, Quijada offers the definition of power that Jeffrey Pfeffer, one of my favorite thinkers on management issues, uses:
The potential ability to influence behavior, to change the course of events, to overcome resistance and to get people to do things that they would not otherwise do. Politics and influence are the processes, the actions, the behaviors through which this potential power is utilized and realized.
All of the lecture notes, which fit onto eleven PowerPoint slides, are worth thinking about. To give you an idea of where Quijada ends up, here is her summary of how someone, presumably wanting to avoid the unfortunate aspects of the paradox of power, can best manage his/her power:
  • Create resources, find new domains in which to operate

  • Build alliances by using reciprocity

  • Build your network — be a bridge, be central

  • Build your reputation, be careful of first impressions

  • Be in the right unit of the organization for exercising influence

  • Gather information, learn, know what is going on
An excellent complementary summary of strategies for leveraging power effectively was offered by the Center for Creative Leadership in their December 2008 online newsletter.


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Saturday, March 21, 2009

Amartya Sen on the Proper Scope of Markets

In its March 26 issue, the New York Review of Books published an article by Amartya Sen, winner of the 1998 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences, that presents his view of the current economic crisis and what to do about it, both for short-term recovery and for long-term economic growth and distributional equity.

Sen addresses three issues:
First, do we really need some kind of "new capitalism" rather than an economic system that is not monolithic, draws on a variety of institutions chosen pragmatically, and is based on social values that we can defend ethically? ...

The second question concerns the kind of economics that is needed today, especially in light of the present economic crisis. How do we assess what is taught and championed among academic economists as a guide to economic policy — including the revival of Keynesian thought in recent months as the crisis has grown fierce? More particularly, what does the present economic crisis tell us about the institutions and priorities to look for? Third, in addition to working our way toward a better assessment of what long-term changes are needed, we have to think — and think fast — about how to get out of the present crisis with as little damage as possible. [link added]
In addressing the first question, Sen makes clear that he is opposed to the notion that what we need is a "new capitalism" — some sort of modification of unfettered capitalism that would, supposedly, ensure greater economic stability than the current system exhibits. Rather Sen argues for
a clearheaded perception of how different institutions actually work, and of how a variety of organizations — from the market to the institutions of the state — can go beyond short-term solutions and contribute to producing a more decent economic world.
Sen goes back to the work of Adam Smith, often cited by devotees of laissez-faire economic policies. After reviewing Smith's views concerning what markets are good at, and what they tend to leave undone (e.g., assuring broad availability of education), Sen sums up his own thinking:
If we were to look for a new approach to the organization of economic activity that included a pragmatic choice of a variety of public services and well-considered regulations, we would be following rather than departing from the agenda of reform that Smith outlined as he both defended and criticized capitalism.
Sen goes on to argue that financial markets are currently under-regulated, saying that, in a world of complex financial instruments and transactions, "Accountability has been badly undermined, and the need for supervision and regulation has become much stronger."

Sen also wants policymakers to review the thinking of Arthur Cecil Pigou, who "was much more concerned than Keynes with economic psychology and the ways it could influence business cycles and sharpen and harden an economic recession that could take us toward a depression (as indeed we are seeing now)." Pigou argued that "undue pessimism" plays an important role in perpetuating an economic downturn, a point that Sen considers relevant to our current troubles:
One of the problems that the Obama administration has to deal with is that the real crisis, arising from financial mismanagement and other transgressions, has become many times magnified by a psychological collapse.
Sen also endorses Pigou's concern for designing policies that promote not only general economic growth, but also distributional equity. Sen says:
There is a critical need for paying special attention to the underdogs of society in planning a response to the current crisis, and in going beyond measures to produce general economic expansion. Families threatened with unemployment, with lack of medical care, and with social as well as economic deprivation have been hit particularly hard. The limitations of Keynesian economics to address their problems demand much greater recognition.
Sen is particularly concerned to make the case for establishing universal health care as part of the set of policy changes adopted in response to the current crisis. He also recommends attention to environmental conservation and improvements in public transportation.



Friday, March 20, 2009

Spring Equinox 2009

The image below actually dates to March 21, 2001, the day after that year's Spring equinox. The photographer, Joe Orman, wanted to capture the sun rising exactly due east, and had to wait until "Equinox + 1" to get his shot for the reason explained below the photo.

from NASA's Picture of the Day archive: "Twice a year, at the Spring and Fall equinox, the Sun rises due east. In an emphatic demonstration of this celestial alignment, photographer Joe Orman recorded this inspiring image of the Sun rising exactly along the east-west oriented Western Canal, in Tempe, Arizona, USA. But he waited until March 21st, one day after the northern Spring equinox in 2001, to photograph the striking view. Why was the rising Sun due east one day after the equinox? At Tempe's latitude the Sun rises at an angle, arcing southward as it climbs above the horizon. Because the distant mountains hide the true horizon, the Sun shifts slightly southward by the time it clears the mountain tops. Waiting 24 hours allowed the Sun to rise just north of east and arc back to an exactly eastern alignment for the photo."



Thursday, March 19, 2009

21st Century Journalism XXXIII: Media Cloud

The Berkman Center for Internet & Society has just launched its open-source Media Cloud system. As explained at the website,
Media Cloud is a system that lets you see the flow of the media. ... Media Cloud automatically builds an archive of news stories and blog posts from the Web, applies language processing, and gives you ways to analyze and visualize the data.
The idea is to answer such questions as:
  • What types of stories are covered by which media sources?

  • Where do particular news stories begin?

  • What areas of the world garner attention, and which do not?

  • How does the blogosphere's coverage of an issue compare to the mainstream media's?

  • What role do comments and other participatory channels on the Web play in setting the news or political agenda?
An alpha release of the Media Cloud code is available for download. The code sets up a web application that lets you manage a set of about 1500 media sources (including blogs) and their feeds. The system periodically crawls the feeds and downloads any new stories. Then, the system "[e]xtracts the substantive text from the downloaded story content (minus the ads, navigation, comments, etc) and associates a set of tags with each story based on that extracted text."

At the moment, only three types of visualization of a media source's news coverage are available. You can compare up to three sources at a time.

The three chart types are:
  • A bar chart showing the ten terms used most frequently in each of your chosen sources. The image below is an example.

  • (generated using the Media Cloud system)

  • A bar chart showing, for a prominent person, place, or event you select, the ten terms used most frequently in each of your chosen sources. The image below is an example. It shows the top 10 phrases used by the New York Times, the BBC, and Fox News in stories, from the past six months, that referenced "Katrina."

  • (Nieman Journalism Lab)

  • A world map for each media source in which countries are shaded according to how heavily the source covers them. The image below is an example.
(Media Cloud)


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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Entrepreneurship Corner at Stanford

The Stanford Technology Ventures Program has created a website they call the Entrepreneurship Corner (ECorner), designed "to support and encourage faculty around the world who teach entrepreneurship to future scientists and engineers, as well as those in management and other disciplines."

ECorner provides access to a collection of videos and podcasts relating to all aspects of entrepreneurship. (There are also few books listed, but to actually look at one of these books, you have to go elsewhere, e.g., to Amazon.) Anyone can access these resources after registering at the ECorner site.

There are four ways to browse the ECorner resources.

1. You can browse by topic:
  • Creativity and innovation

  • Opportunity recognition

  • Product development

  • Marketing and sales

  • Finance and venture capital

  • Leadership and adversity

  • Team and culture

  • Globalization

  • Social entrepreneurship

  • Career and life balance
2. You can browse via a list of 21 keywords (Innovations, Stages, Assumptions, etc.) randomly selected from those that have been used to tag the ECorner resources. By clicking on "View more keywords..." you can generate a fresh list of 21 keywords whenever you like.

3. There are four special collections of resources:
  • "Invention to Venture" — resources designed specifically for the participants in the National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance Invention 2 Venture program.

  • "Technology Ventures" — the videos that are on the DVD that accompanies the textbook Technology Ventures: From Idea to Enterprise, by Richard Dorf and Thomas Byers.

  • "The Stanford Challenge" — "... a five-year campaign aimed at seeking solutions to complex global problems and educating the next generation of leaders." Topics include: environmental sustainability, human health, international affairs, K-12 education, the arts, and graduate and undergraduate education.

  • "Social Edge Collection" — Social Edge is a "global online community where social entrepreneurs and other practitioners of the social benefit sector connect to network, learn, inspire and share resources."
4. You can browse by speaker. A clickable list of speakers is here.


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Tuesday, March 17, 2009

St. Patrick's Day 2009

The story published in today's New York Times of how Martin Wynne mentored Brian Conway in the details of authentic Sligo-style fiddling is a perfect choice to mark St. Patrick's Day. Highly recommended.

Martin Wynne
(New York Times)

Brian Conway



Monday, March 16, 2009

Farmer-to-Farmer Extension Services

Yesterday's post touted a model for rural economic development that includes peer learning as one of its basic principles.1

A prime example of what this principle looks like in action can be found at the training facility that Practical Action, a non-governmental organization headquartered in the UK, set up in the town of Sicuani in the Peruvian Andes about 90 miles south of Cusco.

A Kamayoq (agricultural extension agent) assisting with guinea pig husbandry
(Practical Action)

The basic concept is to train farmers to deliver agricultural extension services to fellow farmers back in their home villages. These peer extension agents are called "Kamayoqs," the Quechua (Incan) name of people in olden times who were skilled in reading the weather and using their forecasting and other agricultural expertise to advise farmers on such things as when to plant their crops.

In line with another of the principles of the "new development paradigm," the interchanges between Kamayoqs and their farming peers are intended to be two-way, i.e., there is a concerted effort to identify best practices in horticulture and animal husbandry, whether from existing standout performers or from experimenting to see what works best. Learning by doing is central to this Kamayoq-facilitated approach to raising poor farmers' standard of living.

The Kamayoqs live in Andean communities above 3500 meters (11,500 feet), communities barely served by the extension staff of Peru's Ministry of Agriculture. The initial Kamayoq training at the Sicuani school occupies one day a week over an eight-month period. The topics covered include irrigation, Andean crops, horticulture, livestock, forestry, and agro-industry and marketing. Continuing education is also provided.

As explained in a 2006 article (pdf) about the Kamayoq program,
Throughout their training, the Kamayoq establish contact with technical experts from the private and public sectors and with other farmers, a useful network which they can tap into when they need information and technical advice once they finish their training. This "social capital" is recognised by many as one of the greatest benefits of the whole course.
The success of the Kamayoq program is seen in the willingness of farmers to pay for the Kamayoqs' services; the addition of marketable crops (e.g., carrots and onions) to traditional subsistence crops (maize, potatoes, and beans); higher farmer income, some of which goes for additional education for children; improved disease prevention and treatment for farm animals; and more sustainable use of natural resources.

An important qualitative impact of the Kamayoq program is increased self-confidence among farmers, an attitude adjustment that motivates innovation. Willingness to innovate is essential for continuing to raise living standards in the face of the changes that are occurring in the farmers' physical and socioeconomic environment.

1 Practical Action's methodology draws on the work of Paulo Freire, a Brazilian educator who devoted himself to developing pedagogy for the underclass. You can read more about Freire's work by visiting the website of the Paulo Freire Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles.


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Sunday, March 15, 2009

Best Practice in Eradicating Rural Poverty

Tomorrow, I'll describe a particular example of the development model outlined below, but for today I just want to highlight the model's central principles. This improved paradigm for alleviating, even eradicating, rural poverty, is receiving increasing attention among economic development experts because of the good results it is generating when effectively implemented.

The particular version of the model I reference here comes from Pachamama Raymi, a Peruvian non-governmental organization (NGO) whose mission is "to contribute to eradicate rural poverty and reclaim the environment." "Pachamama raymi" means "fiesta of Mother Earth" in Quechua, the language of the Incas.

Pachamama Raymi identify seven shifts in the way development assistance is handled that underlie the methodology — also referred to as "Pachamama Raymi" — that they use:
  1. Old: NGO undertakes project implementation
    New: NGO provides program assistance

  2. Old: NGO project staff have the leading role
    New:Community people have the leading role

  3. Old:Top-down approach to deciding on activities
    New: NGO seeks to stimulate community people’s initiatives

  4. Old: Top-down knowledge transfer
    New: Peer learning (the focus of tomorrow's example)

  5. Old: An external implementing agent
    New: Implementing agents who are integrated with and strengthening local governments

  6. Old: Projects invest in hardware
    New: NGO helps build the capacity of local actors to undertake investment

  7. Old: Amalgamation of fragmented approaches
    New: Holistic management, involving the three major issues of sustainable development and poverty eradication: health, education, and economic development
In accordance with the set of "New" principles above, the Pachamama Raymi methodology:
identifies the best performing individuals, families and communities, in issues as diverse as natural resources or small business management. [A core element] of Pachamama Raymi is recognizing and giving credit to these outstanding persons and organizations, as well as public recognition of the value and importance of their (ancestral) knowledge and know-how. Another core element is diffusion of this knowledge and know-how among equals through exchange and other elements of Pachamama Raymi. An important tool for motivation is contests between families and between their territorial organizations, with significant prizes. Contests are also a way to identify best practices.
You can read about the history of the Pachamama Raymi methodology here.


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Saturday, March 14, 2009

How a CMO Should Exert Influence

On March 10, Advertising Age published a brief note (sub req) by John Quelch, a professor at Harvard Business School, that offers concrete advice concerning the issues on which a chief marketing officer (CMO) can most effectively contribute to his/her CEO's decision-making during the current recession.

Quelch identifies four key issues:
  • Adapting to shifting consumer behavior — "The CEO needs a CMO who understands the company's brands and consumers — and their comparative profitability — to recommend needed changes in customer targeting and brand messaging."

  • Optimizing pricing — "Marketers need to hit key retail price points [which are lower than in rosier economic times]; emphasize lower-cost, stripped-down or downsized versions of their products; and revamp their promotion calendars to maximize price competitiveness at the point of sale."

  • Stretching marketing dollars — "An experienced CMO will know how to take a scalpel rather than a sledgehammer to the marketing budget."

  • Embracing Internet-based media — It may be time "to experiment further and allocate more of [companies'] budgets to search advertising, banner advertising or motivating user-generated content through a branded website." The CMO has the expertise needed to make informed recommendations.
Quelch concludes by noting that CMOs need to be not only adept at brand differentiation, but also financially literate so that they can put together credible business cases for their marketing recommendations.


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Friday, March 13, 2009

James Lieber on the Roots of the Economic Crisis

As long as you're game to read an analysis of the current economic crisis that has a pronounced point of view, you can't do better than to go through the lengthy article on the subject that the Village Voice published on January 28. This piece serves as a good complement to the dispassionate New York Fed paper covering much of the same ground that was the subject of yesterday's post.

The Voice article's author is James Lieber, a Pittsburgh-based attorney who has written a number of books, notably Friendly Takeover: How an Employee Buyout Saved a Steel Town (1995) and Rats in the Grain: The Dirty Tricks and Trials of Archer Daniels Midland, the Supermarket to the World (2000).

In his Voice article, Lieber points to sales of credit derivatives as the root cause of the global financial crisis. These sales were far in excess of safe levels, which are determined by the selling firms' capital bases/reserves and the true riskiness of the derivatives.

Lieber cites a number of fundamental questions in urgent need of answers, namely questions
... about the size of the derivatives market, the names of the counterparties, the amount of replication of derivatives [repeated sales of insurance on the same underlying debt], the role of securities ratings in Bloomberg calculations [of the terms of the insurance] ... and how the OTC industry should be reported and regulated in order to prevent future catastrophes.
Lieber concludes his article with his own answer to the question, "What do we do now?" Not surprisingly, his recommendations include regulation of all institutions and companies involved in securities creation and trading. This means not just getting new regulations on the books, but also engaging in conscientious oversight to ensure that firms are adhering to the regulations, with criminal penalties imposed on fraudsters.

Lieber also advocates reclaiming monies paid out to parties deemed to have engaged in fraud, and replacing management of companies that receive government bailouts in order to stay in business.


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Thursday, March 12, 2009

Securitization of Subprime Mortgage Credit

One of the most frequently downloaded of the New York Fed's Staff Reports is "Understanding the Securitization of Subprime Mortgage Credit" (pdf), by Adam B. Ashcraft and Til Schuermann.

As you can see from reading the paper's executive summary, Ashcraft and Schuermann organize their explanation of the securitization process around what they refer to as "frictions" among the players involved. These frictions are diagrammed in the figure below, which appears on page 3 of the paper.

The eight types of player involved in the securitization process are:
  • Mortgagors — property owners who obtain loans, using their property as collateral.

  • Originators — institutions that underwrite and initially fund and service mortgage loans.

  • Arrangers (aka issuers) — institutions that purchase pools of mortgages and carry out all the steps required to complete securitization so that the resulting mortgage-backed securities are ready for sale to investors (often with asset managers acting as middlemen — see below).

  • Credit rating agencies — companies that assess the risk of loss that investors are incurring by investing in any particular security whose issuer has paid to have it rated. The main rating agencies are Moody's Investors Services, Standard and Poor's, and Fitch Ratings.

  • Warehouse lenders — institutions that fund loans arrangers have not yet sold (i.e., loans that are "warehoused"). Generally, depository institutions do their own funding, but issuers that do not take deposits turn to warehouse lenders.

  • Investors — individuals and institutions that purchase securities.

  • Asset managers — purchasers of securities who turn around and sell the securities, or shares in portfolios of the securities, to investors.

  • Servicers — institutions that handle receipt and disbursement of interest and principal payments remitted by mortgagors. Servicers may, and generally do, require mortgagors to maintain escrow accounts for the purpose of paying property taxes, hazard insurance, etc.
As you can see from the above diagram, there are seven types of friction to which the players in the securitization process are subject. In reading the diagram, keep in mind that each arrow points from a party at risk of harm to the party who presents the risk. For example the first friction involves the potential for predatory lending on the part of an originator. The party harmed by such behavior is the mortgagor, perhaps because the latter is financially unsophisticated and therefore doesn't understand the precise nature of the deal he/she is being encouraged to accept.

Ashcraft and Schuermann outline all seven frictions in their executive summary, and also identify ##1, 2, 3, 6, and 7 as the frictions that caused the subprime crisis we are currently experiencing. Considerable additional detail is provided in the body of the paper, which runs to some 66 pages.


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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Goals Need Success Criteria

Universia-Knowledge@Wharton, the Spanish-Portuguese segment of Knowledge@Wharton, published an article today that seems overwrought in cautioning organizations about the pitfalls associated with making goal-setting central to performance management.

In "'Goals Gone Wild': How Goal Setting Can Lead to Disaster," we read about "the hazards of setting goals":
In pursuit of such mandates, employees will ignore sound business practices, risk the company's reputation and violate ethical standards.
I believe such unacceptable consequences of goal-setting are generally due to a falure to qualify goals by defining criteria that specify what successful achievement of each goal requires. Employees need to understand that how goals are achieved will be taken into account in assessing whether the goal achievement is truly successful. For instance, in the article's opening example, the story of the ill-designed Ford Pinto, whose fuel tank was vulnerable to catching fire in a rear-end collision, it seems that Ford neglected to require engineers to include proper attention to safety in the design criteria.

The Universia-Knowledge@Wharton article summarizes a paper (pdf) by Maurice Schweitzer (Wharton), Lisa D. Ordóñez (Eller College of Management at the University of Arizona), Adam D. Galinsky (Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University), and Max H. Bazerman (Harvard Business School) (SOGB).1

In fairness, I must note that SOGB point to the need to monitor performance as employees pursue assigned goals, and that they base their reasoning in part on the fact that such monitoring is frequently quite difficult. Nonetheless, I would argue that SOGB overstate the degree of unmanageable risk in setting specific goals for employees to meet.

As summarized in the Universia-Knowledge@Wharton article, there are four problems SOGB emphasize as likely to accompany goal-setting:
  • "Goals that are too specific often lead employees to develop such a narrow focus that they fail to recognize obvious problems unrelated to the target." I say that there is no reason for management to let employees overlook problems related to other desiderata.

    SOGB also discuss the problem of setting too many goals, so that employees pick and choose in a manner that does not match organizational priorities. The counterpoint here is that managers need to clarify priorities and coach employees on gauging their efforts to match priorities.

  • Time horizons for goals that are (1) too short, meaning long-term considerations are largely ignored, or (2) too long, meaning employees slack off if they manage to meet a goal in advance of the deadline they've been given. I say (1) success criteria should include optimizing the combination of short-term and long-term considerations, and (2) there is no reason not to plan for special rewards and recognition — and a revised goal/timeframe — to ensure employee productivity is maintained when the initial deadline for a goal proves longer than necessary. (I'd also note that the example of New York cab drivers electing to knock off early on rainy days — because they can meet their own, self-set goals for the daily total of fares earlier than on clear days — is not actually relevant to an analysis of employee response to goals set by management.2)

  • "Workers with highly specific and ambitious targets will engage in risky practices in order to meet them." Again, it seems evident that success criteria should include requirements for appropriate risk management.

  • "Unethical behavior is one of the more obvious pitfalls of overly ambitious goal setting ..." Success criteria requiring adherence to ethical standards, with compliance monitored, are a sine qua non in any respectable organization.
The last two items are aspects of the general issue of perverse incentives. Mitigating perverse incentives involves not only setting appropriate success criteria, but also directly adjusting the structure of incentives to reward desired behavior and not reward behavior that undercuts organizational values.

Where SOGB are on firm ground is their caution concerning undercutting employees' intrinsic motivation by overemphasizing financial rewards. Also well-taken are SOGB's observations that employees will "lose their focus on learning new skills in favor of using tried-and-true methods to meet their quotas," and that "[setting] targets for individual workers can create a culture of competition in which workers tend to shun teamwork in problem solving." But even here I'd say that astute definition of both the goals and the success criteria can mitigate the danger of perverse employee behavior.

In their paper, SOGB discuss two other problems they associate with overuse of goal-setting to motivate employees.

There is the issue of "goal-induced reductions in self-efficacy" that can occur when employees achieve a good result that nonetheless falls short of a stretch goal they were aiming for. This "can be highly dettrimental because perceptions of self-efficacy are a key predictor of task engagement, commitment, and effort." I say that effective leaders will take action in such a situation to acknowledge that employees have done a good job that has moved the organization forward; the stretch goal was overly ambitious, so no one is in trouble for falling short.

Another problem is the difficulty of tailoring goals to match individuals' particular strengths without creating perceptions of unfairness. Managing this issue is a matter of managerial judgment — that takes employee input into consideration — allied with persuasive communication. If an employee is still disgruntled after a manager has heard him/her out, responded with any goal adjustments that may be appropriate, and explained the rationale for the final determination of more or less disparate individual goals, it is fair to point out that the employee may need to find a position that better matches his/her job preferences.

For me the bottom line is that, while SOGB have done well in articulating the issues associated with making goal-setting a central element in performance management, especially in a complex setting, I believe, based on my own observation of companies intelligently implementing performance management systems, that attaching success criteria to all goal statements, providing constructive coaching, and exercising appropriate managerial oversight makes establishing goals for individual employees a crucial part of maximizing odds of mission accomplishment.

1 The link takes you to the working paper version of the Schweitzer et al. article. The published version is in Academy of Management Perspectives, Vol. 23, No. 1 (February 2009).

2 SOGB adopt the view, "If NYC taxi drivers used a longer time horizon (perhaps weekly or monthly), kept track of indicators of increased demand (e.g., rain or special events), and ignored their typical daily goal, they could increase their overall wages, decrease the overall time they spend working, and improve the welfare of drenched New Yorkers." True, and perhaps cab drivers should be reminded of this fact regularly to make sure it hasn't slipped their minds. All the same, we're talking about utility here so, ultimately, it's up to the cabbies themselves to decide how they want to spend their time.


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Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Lincoln's Leadership Style II

The vexed question of whether emancipation should be a goal of the Union side in the Civil War has led many to question Lincoln's sensitivity to the need to correct the obvious injustices of slavery and racism. In Lincoln and His Admirals, the book cited in yesterday's post, author Craig Symonds offers this summary and anecdote:

"Conservative Republicans supported the president so long as it was evident that his primary goal — indeed, his only goal — was saving the Union. They were lukewarm to the idea that the party should ensure the permanence or universality of emancipation, and most of them opposed the proposition of granting citizenship or other civil rights to the former slaves. More progressive Republicans, such as Chase [the treasury secretary] pressed Lincoln not only to make emancipation permanent and universal but also to make a commitment to civil rights for blacks. Lincoln was entirely committed to emanicipation in the rebellious South, and encouraged programs by which the border states could undertake voluntary emancipation, but he made no specific commitments either way about civil rights for blacks. On this, as on other issues, Lincoln kept both branches of his party in the fold by postponing the moment when he had to choose between them.

In a cabinet meeting later that winter [of 1863], Lincoln told a story about a black preacher who told his parishioners that there were 'two roads for you' and they must 'be careful,' for one road led 'straight to hell,' and the other went 'right to damnation.' Upon consideration of this warning, the parishioner responded: 'Josh, take which road you please, I go troo de wood.'"

I think it's safe to say that Lincoln's anecdote has relevance to just about any factional struggle that threatens achievement of a critical mission.


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Monday, March 09, 2009

Lincoln's Leadership Style I

I'm reading Lincoln and His Admirals: Abraham Lincoln, the U.S. Navy, and the Civil War, by Craig L. Symonds, professor emeritus at the U.S. Naval Academy and finding it quite illuminating, even given that I've previoously polished off quite of pile of books about Lincoln.

A passage from Symonds' book that got me thinking today:

"The unseemly denouement to the naval careers of both Samuel Francis Du Pont and Charles Wilkes was due almost entirely to Welles' judgmental worldview, and differed dramatically from the way Lincoln handled most of the generals he had to dismiss. [Gideon Welles was Lincoln's secretary of the navy.] The president seldom criticized anyone directly, even when he felt compelled to dismiss them, and he never employed the kind of confrontational language that Welles used in writing to Du Pont. The closest Lincoln ever came was in the fall of 1862 when he read a report from McClellan that the horses of his army were fatigued. Lincoln was in the telegraph office when the message arrived, and in an instinctive response he shot back a question: "Will you pardon me for asking what the horses of your army have done since the Battle of Antietam that fatigue anything?" The passage has been widely quoted by historians as a clever riposte, but its sarcastic tone was uncharacteristic of Lincoln, and it is possible he regretted sending it almost as soon as it left his hand. He knew that he was more likely to produce good results by encouragement than by hectoring." (pp. 265-266)

Symonds' book was published last year by Oxford, and is an excellent complement to Tried by War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief, by James M. McPherson, also published in 2008 by Penguin.



Sunday, March 08, 2009

Training for Lifeboat Crews

The Royal National Lifeboat Institution has been saving lives in the waters around the UK and the Republic of Ireland since 1824. Volunteer lifeboat crews perform search and rescue, and, in the UK, volunteer lifeguards stand duty on beaches.

The RNLI operates a training center called Lifeboat College in Poole, on the south central coast of England. The Lifeboat College includes a survival center, among whose facilities is a bridge simulator, which crew trainees use to practice sea search and rescue skills. The RNLI website explains:
Exercise scenarios require crew to coordinate activities with other rescue authorities and rescue craft in an assessment situation, under pressure. Simulator exercises average 90 minutes, involving scenarios such as man overboard, missing craft, sinkings or groundings. All training within the simulator is styled on recent, real life situations around the UK and Republic of Ireland coast.
You can see the simulator in action in the video below.

The survival center also has a wave pool, in which students taking a combined first aid, sea survival and firefighting course can practice in conditions of darkness, simulated storms, and simulated helicoptor recovery. The pool is also used for the capsize training element of inshore lifeboat courses.

Other facilities in the survival center are an engine fire simulator, used for training in fire prevention, fire fighting, and maintaining teamwork in emergency situations, and an engineering workshop, in which lifeboat mechanics hone technical skills, including repair and maintenance of a variety of engines used in RNLI lifeboats.



Saturday, March 07, 2009

Tony Hsieh's Thoughts on Using Twitter

A couple of previous posts have discussed how Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, views exceptional customer service as the linchpin of his company's strategy for continuing success.

Hsieh is convinced that the key to exceptional service is hiring people with the right attitude and a willingness to embrace the culture at Zappos, a culture that is encapsulated in ten core values:
  • Deliver WOW through service

  • Embrace and drive change

  • Create fun and a little weirdness

  • Be adventurous, creative, and open-minded

  • Pursue growth and learning

  • Build open and honest relationships with communication

  • Build a positive team and family spirit

  • Do more with less

  • Be passionate and determined

  • Be humble
Hsieh's commitment to these values comes through in a blog post he wrote back in January dealing with his happy experience as a Twitter user. Since I'm still resisting spending time with Twitter, and worrying that I need to get on the bandwagon, naturally this post caught my eye.

As a company, Hsieh explains, Zappos "[uses] Twitter to build more personal connections with people." But that's not all, as far as he's concerned. He goes on to say that "Twitter has contributed to my own personal growth and made me a better person."

Hsieh mentions four aspects of this personal impact of Twitter:
  1. "Transparency & Values: Twitter constantly reminds me of who I want to be, and what I want Zappos to stand for."

    This is where Hsieh cites Zappos' core values as a constant guide not just for his company but also for his own life. He explains, "Whether I tweet about something personal or something related to Zappos, if I'm living my life through these 10 core values, it all goes towards building the Zappos brand while shaping me personally as well." He also mentions that "Because I knew that I was going to be tweeting regularly about whatever I was doing or thinking, I was more conscious of and made more of an effort to live up to our 10 core values."

  2. "Reframing Reality: Twitter encourages me to search for ways to view reality in a funnier and/or more positive way."

    Hsieh explains that "now anytime something that used to get me upset or frustrated happens, I try to find the humor in the situation and think about how the situation can be reframed. I've found that almost every 'bad' situation is actually an opportunity that can be entertaining to my followers on Twitter, which also forces myself to see things in a different light." You definitely want to read the example he cites of how he used Twitter when he managed to lock himself out on his hotel balcony while on a trip to Mexico.

  3. "Helping Others: Twitter makes me think about how to make a positive impact on other people's lives."

    Hsieh reports that nowadays most of his tweets "do at least one of the following: Cause my followers to smile with something funny. Inspire my followers (for example, with an inspirational quote). Enrich my followers' perspectives (such as with a link to an interesting article)." This certainly matches my own idea of what would interest me enough to become someone's follower on Twitter.

  4. "Gratitude: Twitter helps me notice and appreciate the little things in life."

    Hsieh says, "For me, because I try to tweet every day, I've found that I'm always looking for opportunities to have something to tweet about. So I end up noticing and appreciating things that I would normally not even give a second thought to." Again, the sample tweets he mentions are charming.
Since I'm already following Hsieh, in the sense that I always read anything I happen upon that quotes his thoughts about running a business, the day may just come when I add myself to his Twitter followers list.


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Friday, March 06, 2009

Flemming Flindt, 1936 - 2009

The video below shows Flemming Flindt, an important Danish choreographer who died on Tuesday, rehearsing Sergei Filin and Svetlana Lunkina of the Bolshoi Ballet in 2007. The ballet they are working on is called "The Lesson," based on a play of Eugene Ionesco. (Note: The video's audio track is in Russian.)

Flemming Flindt
(Bolshoi Theatre)


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Thursday, March 05, 2009

Dmitry Fadeyev on Common Usability Mistakes

Back in September 2006, an interesting English-language e-zine was founded in Lübeck, Germany. Smashing Magazine is addressed to designers and Web developers.

One of the frequent Smashing Magazine authors is Dmitry Fadeyev, a Web designer based in England. On February 18, an illuminating article by Fadeyev called "9 Common Usability Mistakes in Web Design was posted.

The mistakes Fadeyev describes are:
  1. Tiny clickable areas on a Web page.

  2. Pagination used for the wrong purpose, i.e., for the purpose of increasing page views in order to increase ad revenue.

  3. Duplicate page titles instead of a unique title for each page.

  4. Content that is difficult to scan visually.

  5. No way to get in touch with the website's owner (i.e., the company, organization, or individual that publishes the website).

  6. No way to search.

  7. Too much functionality that requires registration before you can use it.

  8. Permalinks that, in fact, are dead.

  9. Long registration forms.
In addition to the article itself, the comments conributed by readers, with some responses from Fadeyev, are often a source of good ideas.



Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Mayo Clinic on Anger Management

Like just about anyone else these days, I regularly hear about "anger management." I finally decided I wanted to know what professionals, as opposed to casual observers, are talking about when they use the term, so I did some Web surfing to become better informed on the subject.

I came upon various useful sites. The material posted by the Mayo Clinic in Rochester MN, an organization whose health information I regularly consult, was as sensible and informative as any I encountered. Mayo has three pages that together cover what I felt I needed to know:

Anger management: Explore your anger to gain control
"... points to consider when assessing whether you express your anger in a healthy or unhealthy manner, and how to get a better grasp of anger management."

Anger management FAQ: The good, the bad, the ugly
Robert T. Zackery, a licensed independent clinical social worker at Mayo who provides counseling and runs anger management classes, "offers insights into the nature of anger, when it can be helpful, how to manage it, and what to do when you're confronted by someone whose anger is out of control."

Anger management tips: Tame your temper
"If your outbursts, rages or bullying are negatively affecting relationships with family, friends, co-workers and even complete strangers, it's time to change the way you express your anger."

A key point is that one can unlearn inappropriate anger behaviors and, at the same time, learn how to express anger appropriately. Some people can manage this process on their own, while others need the help that anger management counseling and classes provide.



Tuesday, March 03, 2009

A China Hand Offers Advice on QC and Negotiation

To get a detailed idea of what vendors who outsource production to China have to know, you can do worse than reading David Dayton's Silk Road International Blog.

Dayton is the owner and manager of Silk Road International, "an international procurement and project management company that helps clients find the right factories in Asia and coordinates and supervises production, logistics and quality control." He has been based in Asia for over fifteen years.

The particular posts that drew me in have to do with quality control and negotiation with Chinese suppliers.

The most recent post opens with some cautions concerning personal safety in factory cities beset by rising unemployment, and then goes on to provide level-headed advice concerning how to maintain quality control standards in the face of a culture of bribes and all-too-human excuse-mongering.

Excellent (aside from the typos) posts on negotiation date back to last year. In May, Dayton compiled a list of ten negotiation tips for striking deals with suppliers and getting those deals fulfilled. To give you the flavor of Dayton's style, here's tip #4:
Anger is a good as saying you’re gone. Because competition is so fierce in China, and because there are so many other options out there, angry emails, arguments and blow ups, unless carefully managed, tell the factory that you’ve moved on (why else would you burn personal bridges?).
A few months later, in September, Dayton provides insight on how to interpret and respond to such factory statements as "We did our best" and "This is good enough for the Japanese." He sums up his views on how to handle these and other negotiating tactics from the Chinese side of the discussion by noting:
As I’m constantly reminding my project managers, negotiations isn’t about what you want as much as it’s about understanding where the other party is coming from and what they can actually do for you. Understanding what options are realistic for your supplier is a valuable starting point in discussing how you’ll get what you expect (or at least what you can accept).
Dayton then sends you on to an article he wrote in 2007 that has thirty-one further pearls of wisdom about how to negotiate with Chinese suppliers.


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Monday, March 02, 2009

Investigative Journalism Training in Tanzania

You can get a good picture of the nature of investigative journalism (IJ) by looking at how the needed skills are taught in a context in which combatting corruption is an especially critical aspect of strengthening civil society.

The context I have in mind is that of developing countries. The example of organized training I'd offer is a toolkit for facilitators (pdf) developed in Tanzania by Pact, a non-profit organization based in Washington DC that helps organizations in developing countries with technical assistance, capacity building, and monetary grants.

Pact's stated mission is:
to build empowered communities, effective governments and responsible private institutions that give people an opportunity for a better life. We do this by strengthening the capacity of organizations and institutions to be good service providers, represent their stakeholders, network with others for learning and knowledge sharing, and advocate for social, economic and environmental justice. Interdependence, responsible stewardship, inclusion of vulnerable groups, and respect for local ownership and knowledge are core values across all of our programs.
The specific goal of Pact's IJ training is to achieve "increased media scrutiny [that] will contribute to improved accountability, tranparency and good governnance at the national and local levels."

In developing the IJ training and the associated facilitator's manual, Pact collaborated with the Tanzanian chapter of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA), an NGO whose aim is "to promote a free, independent and pluralistic press in Tanzania." Funding came from the US Millennium Challenge Corporation and USAID. The training effort began in December 2006, and the manual was published in September 2008.

The first chapter of the manual defines IJ, discusses how it works and its advantages, looks at how to identify stakeholders (e.g., councilors, district council officials, media, civil society organizations, and influential community members), details the principles of ethical conduct when pursuing IJ, and explains the concept and methodology of Public Expenditure Tracking Systems (PETS), a "follow the money" approach to holding governments accountable for how funds are budgeted and utilized. (The governments in question are typically at the local level.)

The second chapter deals with corruption. It defines corruption, describes the two major types — petty corruption and grand corruption, explores causes and effects of corruption, and discusses how to respond to corruption via prevention, education, institution building, and legal enforcement.

The third chapter deals with good governance. It defines good governance, explores its various aspects (transparency, accountability, honesty, adherence to the rule of law, protection of human rights, separation of powers), and discusses the connections between politics and good governance.

The fourth chapter covers the role of IJ in anti-corruption efforts and strengthening of governance, discusses starting points for investigative journalists looking to uncover corruption and governance problems (and successes), and explains how to identify possible stakeholders (i.e., sources).

Pact Tanzania provides its take on the outcome of the IJ training effort here.



Sunday, March 01, 2009

A Tribute to Graciousness

The Handsome Heart:
at a Gracious Answer

'But tell me, child, your choice; what shall I buy
You?' – 'Father, what you buy me I like best.'
With the sweetest air that said, still plied and pressed,
He swung to his first poised purport of reply.

What the heart is! which, like carriers let fly —
Doff darkness, homing nature knows the rest —
To its own fine function, wild and self-instressed,
Falls light as ten years long taught how to and why.

Mannerly-hearted! more than handsome face —
Beauty's bearing or muse of mounting vein,
All, in this case, bathed in high hallowing grace . . .

Of heaven what boon to buy you, boy, or gain
Not granted! – Only . . . O on that path you pace
Run all your race, O brace sterner that strain!

                — Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844 – 1889)

"G.M.H. called this sonnet 'autobiographical ... Last Lent two boys of our congregation gave me much help in the sacristy in Holy Week. I offered them money for their services, which the elder refused, but being pressed consented to take it laid out in a book. The younger followed suit; then when some days after I asked him what I shd. buy answered as in the sonnet.' ... Line 7, self-instressed, moved by its own natural impulse, i.e., towards the Good." (from Gerard Manley Hopkins: A Selection of His Poems and Prose, W.H. Gardner (ed.), Penguin Books, 1953, pp. 228.229.)


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