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

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

"Five Resume-Formatting Mistakes"

Earlier this month Matthew Rothenberg published an excellent summary of five mistakes to avoid when formatting your resume. It will only take you a moment to read Rothenberg's piece. Here's a preview of the five "Don'ts" he highlights:
  • Don't make your resume too long and/or use type and margins that are too small.

  • Don't overuse bullets.

  • Don't stick too rigidly to listing your career history and accomplishments in chronological order.

  • Don't include pictures, and don't use PDF format (do use MSWord).

  • Don't choose a poorly formatted filename.

    (Do use something along these lines for, say, a Logistics Manager position: John-Doe-Resume-Logistics-Manager.doc.)
You can find a variety of "Do's" for your resume at TheLadders, the online job site where Rothenberg is editorial director.



Monday, June 29, 2009

Older Workers Are Not So Very Different

The June 2009 issue of the American Economic Review has a notable article by Gary Charness (University of California - Santa Barbara) and Marie-Claire Villeval (University of Lyon, France) that offers evidence that older workers, on average, are no worse than younger workers in terms of cooperativeness, competitiveness, and acceptance of risk. In fact, Charness's and Villeval's evidence suggests that older workers tend to perform better than younger workers when team cooperation is needed.

Charness and Villeval summarize their findings as follows:
Our results show first that seniors [defined as workers over 50] are more cooperative than juniors [defined as workers under 30], in the sense of making more contributions to team production. Second, we see no evidence at all that seniors are more risk averse in financial decisions. Third, seniors react to incentives and the competitiveness of the environment about as strongly as juniors. These three results are found in both the field and laboratory environments. Finally, we observe beneficial effects in the field from having working groups in which there is a mix of juniors and seniors, since working seniors increase their contribution when they know they are interacting with juniors; this suggests that there are indeed benefits in maintaining a work force with diversity in age. In addition, workers at the two firms in our study reveal a preference for being in age-heterogeneous groups. Overall, the implication is that it may not be wise to exclude seniors from the labor force; instead, defining additional short-term incentives near the end of a worker's career to retain and to motivate older workers may provide great benefits to society.
Of course, this research comes with caveats concerning its generalizability (e.g., only workers at two French companies were involved in the field portion of the research). Nevertheless, the statistical significance Charness and Villeval found suggests organization managers would be well-advised to give open-minded consideration to the potential older workers have to make substantial contributions to meeting organizational goals.


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Sunday, June 28, 2009

John Muir Festival VII: Yosemite

"Down grade into the valley"
Illustration from John Muir's article,
"The Treasures of Yosemite" (1890)

(Sierra Club)

One shining morning, at the head of the Pacheco Pass, a landscape was displayed that after all my wanderings still appears as the most divinely beautiful and sublime I have ever beheld. There at my feet lay the great central plain of California, level as a lake thirty or forty miles wide, four hundred long, one rich furred bed of golden Compositae. And along the eastern shore of this lake of gold rose the mighty Sierra, miles in height, in massive, tranquil grandeur, so gloriously colored and so radiant that it seemed not clothed with light, but wholly composed of it, like the wall of some celestial city. Along the top, and extending a good way down, was a rich pearl-gray belt of snow; then a belt of blue and dark purple, marking the extension of the forests; and stretching along the base of the range a broad belt of rose-purple, where lay the miners' gold and the open foothill gardens--all the colors smoothly blending, making a wall of light clear as crystal and ineffably fine, yet firm as adamant. Then it seemed to me the Sierra should be called, not the Nevada or Snowy Range, but the Range of Light. And after ten years in the midst of it, rejoicing and wondering, seeing the glorious floods of light that fill it,--the sunbursts of morning among the mountain-peaks, the broad noonday radiance on the crystal rocks, the flush of the alpenglow, and the thousand dashing waterfalls with their marvelous abundance of irised spray,--it still seems to me a range of light. But no terrestrial beauty may endure forever. The glory of wildness has already departed from the great central plain. Its bloom is shed, and so in part is the bloom of the mountains. In Yosemite, even under the protection of the Government, all that is perishable is vanishing apace.

[. . .]

The most famous and accessible of these cañon valleys, and also the one that presents their most striking and sublime features on the grandest scale, is the Yosemite, situated on the upper waters of the Merced at an elevation of 4000 feet above the level of the sea. It is about seven miles long, half a mile to a mile wide, and nearly a mile deep, and is carved in the solid granite flank of the range. The walls of the valley are made up of rocks, mountains in size, partly separated from each other by side cañons and gorges; and they are so sheer in front, and so compactly and harmoniously built together on a level floor, that the place, comprehensively seen, looks like some immense hall or temple lighted from above. But no temple made with hands can compare with Yosemite. Every rock in its walls seems to glow with life. Some lean back in majestic repose; others, absolutely sheer or nearly so for thousands of feet, advance beyond their companions in thoughtful attitudes giving welcome to storms and calms alike, seemingly conscious, yet heedless of everything going on about them. Awful in stern, immovable majesty, how softly these mountain rocks are adorned and how fine and reassuring the company they keep--their feet set in groves and gay emerald meadows, their brows in the thin blue sky, a thousand flowers leaning confidingly against their adamantine bosses, bathed in floods of booming water, floods of light, while snow, clouds, winds, avalanches, shine and sing and wreathe about them as the years go by! Birds, bees, butterflies, and myriads of nameless wings stir the air into music and give glad animation. Down through the midst flows the crystal Merced--river of mercy--peacefully gliding, reflecting lilies and trees and the onlooking rocks, things frail and fleeting and types of endurance meeting here and blending in countless forms, as if into this one mountain mansion Nature had gathered her choicest treasures, whether great or small to draw her lovers into close and confiding communion with her.

[. . .]

Along the curves and zigzags of the road, all the way down to the bottom, the valley is in sight with ever-changing views, and the eye ranges far up over the green grovy floor between the mighty walls, bits of the river gleaming here and there, while as we draw nearer we begin to hear the song of the waters. Gazing at random, perhaps the first object to gain concentrated attention will be the Bridal Veil, a beautiful waterfall on our right. Its brow, where it first leaps free from the rock, is about nine hundred feet above us; and as it sways and sings in the wind, with gauzy, sun-sifted spray half falling, half floating, it seems infinitely gentle and fine; but the hymn it sings tells the solemn power that is hidden beneath the soft clothing it wears.

[. . .]

Owing to the westerly trend of the valley and its vast depth there is a great difference between the climates of the north and south sides--greater than between many countries far apart; for the south wall is in shadow during the winter months, while the north is bathed in sunshine every clear day. Thus there is mild spring weather on one side of the valley while winter rules the other. Far up the north-side cliffs many a nook may be found closely embraced by sun-beaten rock-bosses in which flowers bloom every month of the year. Even butterflies may be seen in these high winter gardens except when storms are falling and a few days after they have ceased. Near the head of the lower Yosemite Fall in January I found the ant lions lying in wait in their warm sand-cups, rock ferns being unrolled, club mosses covered with fresh growing points, the flowers of the laurel nearly open, and the honeysuckle rosetted with bright young leaves; every plant seemed to be thinking about summer and to be stirred with good vital sunshine. Even on the shadow side of the valley the frost is never very sharp. The lowest temperature I ever observed during four winters was +7°. The first twenty-four days of January had an average temperature at 9 A. M. of 32°, minimum 22°; at 3 P. M. the average was 40° 30', the minimum 32°.

[. . .]

Source: Sierra Club.


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Saturday, June 27, 2009

John Muir Festival VI: The Grand Canyon

A conceptual cut through the Grand Canyon alongside a geologic column
(click to enlarge)

(Charles R. Cowley)

In a dry, hot, monotonous forested plateau, seemingly boundless, you come suddenly and without warning upon the abrupt edge of a gigantic sunken landscape of the wildest, most multitudinous features, and those features, sharp and angular, are made out of flat beds of limestone and sandstone forming a spiry, jagged, gloriously colored mountain range countersunk in a level gray plain. It is a hard job to sketch it even in scrawniest outline; and, try as I may, not in the least sparing myself, I cannot tell the hundredth part of the wonders of its features--the side canyons, gorges, alcoves, cloisters, and amphitheaters of vast sweep and depth, carved in its magnificent walls; the throng of great architectural rocks it contains resembling castles, cathedrals, temples, and palaces, towered and spired and painted, some of them nearly a mile high, yet beneath one's feet. All this, however, is less difficult than to give any idea of the impression of wild, primeval beauty and power one receives in merely gazing from its brink. The view down the gulf of color and over the rim of its wonderful wall, more than any other view I know, leads us to think of our earth as a star with stars swimming in light, every radiant spire pointing the way to the heavens.

[. . .]

It is very hard to give anything like an adequate conception of its size; much more of its color, its vast wall-sculpture, the wealth of ornate architectural buildings that fill it, or, most of all, the tremendous impression it makes. According to Major Powell, it is about two hundred and seventeen miles long, from five to fifteen miles wide from rim to rim, and from about five thousand to six thousand feet deep. So tremendous a chasm would be one of the world's greatest wonders even if, like ordinary canyons cut in sedimentary rocks, it were empty and its walls were simple. But instead of being plain, the walls are so deeply and elaborately carved into all sorts of recesses--alcoves, cirques, amphitheaters, and side canyons--that, were you to trace the rim closely around on both sides, your journey would be nearly a thousand miles long. Into all these recesses the level, continuous beds of rock in ledges and benches, with their various colors, run like broad ribbons, marvelously beautiful and effective even at a distance of ten or twelve miles. And the vast space these glorious walls enclose, instead of being empty, is crowded with gigantic architectural rock forms gorgeously colored and adorned with towers and spires like works of art.

[. . .]

No other range of mountainous rock-work of anything like the same extent have I seen that is so strangely, boldly, lavishly colored. The famous Yellowstone Canyon below the falls comes to mind; but, wonderful as it is, and well deserved as is its fame, compared with this it is only a bright rainbow ribbon at the roots of the pines. Each of the series of level, continuous beds of carboniferous rocks of the canyon has, as we have seen, its own characteristic color. The summit limestone beds are pale yellow; next below these are the beautiful rose-colored cross-bedded sandstones; next there are a thousand feet of brilliant red sandstones; and below these the red wall limestones, over two thousand feet thick, rich massy red, the greatest and most influential of the series, and forming the main color-fountain. Between these are many neutral-tinted beds. The prevailing colors are wonderfully deep and clear, changing and blending with varying intensity from hour to hour, day to day, season to season; throbbing, wavering, glowing, responding to every passing cloud or storm, a world of color in itself, now burning in separate rainbow bars streaked and blotched with shade, now glowing in one smooth, all-pervading ethereal radiance like the alpenglow, uniting the rocky world with the heavens.

[. . .]

To the mountaineer the depth of the canyon, from five thousand to six thousand feet, will not seem so very wonderful, for he has often explored others that are about as deep. But the most experienced will be awestruck by the vast extent of huge rock monuments of pointed masonry built up in regular courses towering above, beneath, and round about him. By the Bright Angel Trail the last fifteen hundred feet of the descent to the river has to be made afoot down the gorge of Indian Garden Creek. Most of the visitors do not like this part, and are content to stop at the end of the horse trail and look down on the dull-brown flood from the edge of the Indian Garden Plateau. By the new Hance Trail, excepting a few daringly steep spots, you can ride all the way to the river, where there is a good spacious camp-ground in a mesquite grove. This trail, built by brave Hance, begins on the highest part of the rim, eight thousand feet above the sea, a thousand feet higher than the head of Bright Angel Trail, and the descent is a little over six thousand feet, through a wonderful variety of climate and life. Often late in the fall, when frosty winds are blowing and snow is flying at one end of the trail, tender plants are blooming in balmy summer weather at the other. The trip down and up can be made afoot easily in a day. In this way one is free to observe the scenery and vegetation, instead of merely clinging to his animal and watching its steps. But all who have time should go prepared to camp awhile on the riverbank, to rest and learn something about the plants and animals and the mighty flood roaring past. In cool, shady amphitheaters at the head of the trail there are groves of white silver fir and Douglas spruce, with ferns and saxifrages that recall snowy mountains; below these, yellow pine, nut pine, juniper, hop-hornbeam, ash, maple, holly-leaved berberis, cowania, spiraea, dwarf oak, and other small shrubs and trees. In dry gulches and on taluses and sun-beaten crags are sparsely scattered yuccas, cactuses, agave, etc. Where springs gush from the rocks there are willow thickets, grassy flats, and bright, flowery gardens, and in the hottest recesses the delicate abronia, mesquite, woody compositae, and arborescent cactuses.

[. . .]

Here at Hance's river camp or a few miles above it brave Powell and his brave men passed their first night in the canyon on the adventurous voyage of discovery thirty-three [34] years ago. They faced a thousand dangers, open or hidden, now in their boats gladly sliding down swift, smooth reaches, now rolled over and over in back-combing surges of rough, roaring cataracts, sucked under in eddies, swimming like beavers, tossed and beaten like castaway drift--stout-hearted, undaunted, doing their work through it all. After a month of this they floated smoothly out of the dark, gloomy, roaring abyss into light and safety two hundred miles below. As the flood rushes past us, heavy-laden with desert mud, we naturally think of its sources, its countless silvery branches outspread on thousands of snowy mountains along the crest of the continent, and the life of them, the beauty of them, their history and romance. Its topmost springs are far north and east in Wyoming and Colorado, on the snowy Wind River, Front, Park, and Sawatch Ranges, dividing the two ocean waters, and the Elk, Wahsatch, Uinta, and innumerable spurs streaked with streams, made famous by early explorers and hunters. It is a river of rivers--the Du Chesne, San Rafael, Yampa, Dolores, Gunnison, Cochetopa, Uncompahgre, Eagle, and Roaring Rivers, the Green and the Grand, and scores of others with branches innumerable, as mad and glad a band as ever sang on mountains, descending in glory of foam and spray from snow-banks and glaciers through their rocky moraine-dammed, beaver-dammed channels. Then, all emerging from dark balsam and pine woods and coming together, they meander through wide, sunny park valleys, and at length enter the great plateau and flow in deep canyons, the beginning of the system culminating in this grand canyon of canyons.

[. . .]

Every building is seen to be a remnant of once continuous beds of sediments,--sand and slime on the floor of an ancient sea, and filled with the remains of animals,--and every particle of the sandstones and limestones of these wonderful structures to be derived from other landscapes, weathered and rolled and ground in the storms and streams of other ages. And when we examine the escarpments, hills, buttes, and other monumental masses of the plateau on either side of the canyon, we discover that an amount of material has been carried off in the general denudation of the region compared with which even that carried away in the making of the Grand Canyon is as nothing. Thus each wonder in sight becomes a window through which other wonders come to view. In no other part of this continent are the wonders of geology, the records of the world's auld lang syne, more widely opened, or displayed in higher piles. The whole canyon is a mine of fossils, in which five thousand feet of horizontal strata are exposed in regular succession over more than a thousand square miles of wall-space, and on the adjacent plateau region there is another series of beds twice as thick, forming a grand geological library--a collection of stone books covering thousands of miles of shelving, tier on tier, conveniently arranged for the student. And with what wonderful scriptures are their pages filled--myriad forms of successive floras and faunas, lavishly illustrated with colored drawings, carrying us back into the midst of the life of a past infinitely remote. And as we go on and on, studying this old, old life in the light of the life beating warmly about us, we enrich and lengthen our own.

Source: Excerpt from "The Grand Canyon of the Colorado," Chapter 24 of John Muir's 1918 book, Steep Trails. You can read the full text of the book here.


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Friday, June 26, 2009

John Muir Festival V: Mount Shasta

Mount Shasta, California
(US Geological Survey)


I followed the main Oregon and California stage-road from Redding to Sisson's, and besides trees, squirrels, and beautiful mountain-streams, I came upon some interesting men, rugged, weather-beaten fellows, who, in hunting and mining, had been brought face to face with many a Shasta storm. Most of them were a kind of almanac, stored with curious facts and dates and ancient weather-notes, extending through a score of stormy mountain years. Whether the coming winter was to be mild or severe was the question of questions, and the diligence and fervor with which it was discussed was truly admirable. A picturesque series of prognostications were offered, based by many different methods upon the complexion of the sky, the fall of leaves, the flight of wild geese, etc., each of which seemed wholly satisfactory only to its author.

A pedestrian upon these mountain-roads is sure to excite curiosity, and many were the interrogations put concerning my little ramble. When told that I came from town for an airing and a walk, and that icy Shasta was my mark, I was invariably informed that I had come the wrong time of year. The snow was too deep, the wind too violent, and the danger of being lost in blinding drifts too great. And when I hinted that clean snow was beautiful, and that storms were not so bad as they were called, they closed the argument by directing attention to their superior experiences, declaring most emphatically that the ascent of "Shasta Butte" through the snow was impossible. Nevertheless, I watched the robins eating wild cherries, and rejoiced in brooding over the miles of lavish snow that I was to meet. Sisson gave me bread and venison, and before noon of the 2d of November I was in the frosty azure of the summit.

[. . .]


The ordinary and proper way to ascend Shasta is to ride from Sisson's to the upper edge of the timber line, — a distance of some eight or ten miles — the first day, and camp, and rising early push on to the summit, and return the second day. But the deep snow prevented the horses from reaching the camping-ground, and after stumbling and wallowing in the drifts and lava blocks we were glad to camp as best we could, some eight or ten hundred feet lower. A pitch-pine fire speedily changed the climate and shed a blaze of light on the wild lava slope and the straggling storm-bent pines around us. Melted snow answered for coffee-water and we had plenty of delicious venison to roast.

Toward midnight I rolled myself in my blankets and slept until half-past one, when I arose and ate more venison, tied two days' provisions to my belt, and set out for the summit. After getting above the highest flexilis pines it was fine practice pushing up the magnificent snow-slopes alone in the silence of the night. Half the sky was clouded; in the other half the stars sparkled icily in the thin, frosty air, while everywhere the glorious snow fell away from the summit of the cone in flowing folds more extensive and unbroken than any I had ever yet beheld. When the day dawned the clouds were crawling slowly and massing themselves, but gave no intimation of immediate danger. The snow was dry as meal, and drifted freely, rolling over and over in angular fragments like sand, or rising in the air like dust. The frost was intense, and the wind full of crystal dust, making breathing at times rather difficult. In pushing upwards I frequently sank to my arm-pits between buried lava-blocks, but most of the way only to my knees. When tired of walking I still wallowed forward on all fours. The steepness of the slope — thirty-five degrees in many places--made any species of progress very fatiguing, but the sublime beauty of the snowy expanse and of the landscapes that began to rise around, and the intense purity of the icy azure overhead thrilled every fibre with wild enjoyment and rendered absolute exhaustion impossible. Yet I watched the sky with great caution, for it was easy to see that a storm was approaching. Mount Shasta rises 10,000 feet above the general level in blank exposure to the deep gulf-streams of air, and I have never been in a labyrinth of peaks and canyons where the dangers of a storm seemed so formidable as here. I was, therefore, in constant readiness to retreat into the timber. However, by half past 10 o'clock I reached the utmost summit.

[. . .]


Next morning, breaking suddenly out of profound sleep, my eyes opened upon one of the most sublime scenes I ever beheld. A boundless wilderness of storm-clouds of different age and ripeness were congregated over all the landscape for thousands of square miles, colored gray, and purple, and pearl and glowing white, among which I seemed to be floating, while the cone of Shasta above and the sky was tranquil and full of the sun. It seemed not so much an ocean as a land of clouds, undulating hill and dale, smooth purple plains, and silvery mountains of cumuli, range over range, nobly diversified with peaks and domes, with cool shadows between, and with here and there a wide trunk canyon, smooth and rounded as if eroded by glaciers. I gazed enchanted, but cold gray masses drifting hither and thither like rack on a wind-swept plain began to shut out the light, and it was evident that they would soon be marshalled for storm. I gathered as much wood as possible, and snugged it shelteringly around my storm-nest. My blankets were arranged, and the topmost fastened down with stakes, and my precious bread-sack tucked in at my head, I was ready when the first flakes fell. All kinds of clouds began to fuse into one, the wind swept past in hissing floods, and the storm closed down on all things, producing a wild exhilaration.

My fire blazed bravely, I had a week's wood, a sack full of bread, and a nest that the wildest wind could not demolish, and I had, moreover, plenty of material for the making of snow-shoes if the depth of the snow should render them necessary.

The storm lasted about a week, and I had plenty to do listening to its tones and watching the gestures of the flexilis pine, and in catching snow-crystals and examining them under a lensand observing the methods of their deposition as summer fountains.

[. . .]

Source: Excerpt from "Shasta in Winter," published December 21,1874 in the Daily Evening Bulletin (San Francisco). You can read the full text here.


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Thursday, June 25, 2009

John Muir Festival IV: Mount Rainier

Mount Rainier,
by Albert Bierstadt (1830 - 1902)


By night of the third day we reached the Soda Springs on the right bank of the Nisqually, which goes roaring by, gray with mud, gravel, and boulders from the caves of the glaciers of Rainier, now close at hand. The distance from the Soda Springs to the Camp of the Clouds is about ten miles. The first part of the way lies up the Nisqually Canyon, the bottom of which is flat in some places and the walls very high and precipitous, like those of the Yosemite Valley. The upper part of the canyon is still occupied by one of the Nisqually glaciers, from which this branch of the river draws its source, issuing from a cave in the gray, rock-strewn snout. About a mile below the glacier we had to ford the river, which caused some anxiety, for the current is very rapid and carried forward large boulders as well as lighter material, while its savage roar is bewildering.

At this point we left the canyon, climbing out of it by a steep zigzag up the old lateral moraine of the glacier, which was deposited when the present glacier flowed past at this height, and is about eight hundred feet high. It is now covered with a superb growth of Picea amabilis [30]; so also is the corresponding portion of the right lateral. From the top of the moraine, still ascending, we passed for a mile or two through a forest of mixed growth, mainly silver fir, Patton spruce, and mountain pine, and then came to the charming park region, at an elevation of about five thousand feet above sea level. Here the vast continuous woods at length begin to give way under the dominion of climate, though still at this height retaining their beauty and giving no sign of stress of storm, sweeping upward in belts of varying width, composed mainly of one species of fir, sharp and spiry in form, leaving smooth, spacious parks, with here and there separate groups of trees standing out in the midst of the openings like islands in a lake. Every one of these parks, great and small, is a garden filled knee-deep with fresh, lovely flowers of every hue, the most luxuriant and the most extravagantly beautiful of all the alpine gardens I ever beheld in all my mountain-top wanderings.

[. . .]

At noon next day we left camp and began our long climb. We were in light marching order, save one who pluckily determined to carry his camera to the summit. At night, after a long easy climb over wide and smooth fields of ice, we reached a narrow ridge, at an elevation of about ten thousand feet above the sea, on the divide between the glaciers of the Nisqually and the Cowlitz. Here we lay as best we could, waiting for another day, without fire of course, as we were now many miles beyond the timberline and without much to cover us. After eating a little hardtack, each of us leveled a spot to lie on among lava-blocks and cinders. The night was cold, and the wind coming down upon us in stormy surges drove gritty ashes and fragments of pumice about our ears while chilling to the bone. Very short and shallow was our sleep that night; but day dawned at last, early rising was easy, and there was nothing about breakfast to cause any delay. About four o'clock we were off, and climbing began in earnest. We followed up the ridge on which we had spent the night, now along its crest, now on either side, or on the ice leaning against it, until we came to where it becomes massive and precipitous. Then we were compelled to crawl along a seam or narrow shelf, on its face, which we traced to its termination in the base of the great ice cap. From this point all the climbing was over ice, which was here desperately steep but fortunately was at the same time carved into innumerable spikes and pillars which afforded good footholds, and we crawled cautiously on, warm with ambition and exercise.

At length, after gaining the upper extreme of our guiding ridge, we found a good place to rest and prepare ourselves to scale the dangerous upper curves of the dome. The surface almost everywhere was bare, hard, snowless ice, extremely slippery; and, though smooth in general, it was interrupted by a network of yawning crevasses, outspread like lines of defense against any attempt to win the summit. Here every one of the party took off his shoes and drove stout steel caulks about half an inch long into them, having brought tools along for the purpose, and not having made use of them until now so that the points might not get dulled on the rocks ere the smooth, dangerous ice was reached. Besides being well shod each carried an alpenstock, and for special difficulties we had a hundred feet of rope and an axe.

Thus prepared, we stepped forth afresh, slowly groping our way through tangled lines of crevasses, crossing on snow bridges here and there after cautiously testing them, jumping at narrow places, or crawling around the ends of the largest, bracing well at every point with our alpenstocks and setting our spiked shoes squarely down on the dangerous slopes. It was nerve-trying work, most of it, but we made good speed nevertheless, and by noon all stood together on the utmost summit, save one who, his strength failing for a time, came up later.

We remained on the summit nearly two hours, looking about us at the vast maplike views, comprehending hundreds of miles of the Cascade Range, with their black interminable forests and white volcanic cones in glorious array reaching far into Oregon; the Sound region also, and the great plains of eastern Washington, hazy and vague in the distance. Clouds began to gather. Soon of all the land only the summits of the mountains, St. Helen's, Adams, and Hood, were left in sight, forming islands in the sky. We found two well-formed and well-preserved craters on the summit, lying close together like two plates on a table with their rims touching. The highest point of the mountain is located between the craters, where their edges come in contact. Sulphurous fumes and steam issue from several vents, giving out a sickening smell that can be detected at a considerable distance. The unwasted condition of these craters, and, indeed, to a great extent, of the entire mountain, would tend to show that Rainier is still a comparatively young mountain. With the exception of the projecting lips of the craters and the top of a subordinate summit a short distance to the northward, the mountains is solidly capped with ice all around; and it is this ice cap which forms the grand central fountain whence all the twenty glaciers of Rainier flow, radiating in every direction.

[. . .]

Source: Excerpt from "An Ascent of Mount Rainer," Chapter 20 of John Muir's 1918 book, Steep Trails. You can read the full text of the book here.


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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

John Muir Festival III: Mount Ritter

Mount Ritter, California
(Scott H. Ensign)
At a distance of less than 3000 feet below the summit of Mount Ritter you may find tributaries of the San Joaquin and Owen's rivers, bursting forth from the ice and snow of the glaciers that load its flanks; while a little to the north of here are found the highest affluents of the Tuolumne and Merced. Thus, the fountains of four of the principal rivers of California are within a radius of four or five miles.

Lakes are seen gleaming in all sorts of places, — round, or oval, or square, like very mirrors; others narrow and sinuous, drawn close around the peaks like silver zones, the highest reflecting only rocks, snow, and the sky. But neither these nor the glaciers, nor the bits of brown meadow and moorland that occur here and there, are large enough to make any marked impression upon the mighty wilderness of mountains. The eye, rejoicing in its freedom, roves about the vast expanse, yet returns again and again to the fountain peaks. Perhaps some one of the multitude excites special attention, some gigantic castle with turret and battlement, or some Gothic cathedral more abundantly spired than Milan's. But, generally, when looking for the first time from an all-embracing standpoint like this, the inexperienced observer is oppressed by the incomprehensible grandeur, variety, and abundance of the mountains rising shoulder to shoulder beyond the reach of vision; and it is only after they have been studied one by one, long and lovingly, that their far-reaching harmonies become manifest. Then, penetrate the wilderness where you may, the main telling features, to which all the surrounding topography is subordinate, are quickly perceived, and the most complicated clusters of peaks stand revealed harmoniously correlated and fashioned like works of art — eloquent monuments of the ancient ice-rivers that brought them into relief from the general mass of the range. The cañons, too, some of them a mile deep, mazing wildly through the mighty host of mountains, however lawless and ungovernable at first sight they appear, are at length recognized as the necessary effects of causes which followed each other in harmonious sequence — Nature's poems carved on tables of stone — the simplest and most emphatic of her glacial compositions.

[. . .]

But in the midst of these fine lessons and landscapes, I had to remember that the sun was wheeling far to the west, while a new way down the mountain had to be discovered to some point on the timber line where I could have a fire; for I had not even burdened myself with a coat. I first scanned the western spurs, hoping some way might appear through which I might reach the northern glacier, and cross its snout; or pass around the lake into which it flows, and thus strike my morning track. This route was soon sufficiently unfolded to show that, if practicable at all, it would require so much time that reaching camp that night would be out of the question. I therefore scrambled back eastward, descending the southern slopes obliquely at the same time. Here the crags seemed less formidable, and the head of a glacier that flows northeast came in sight, which I determined to follow as far as possible, hoping thus to make my way to the foot of the peak on the east side, and thence across the intervening cañons and ridges to camp.

The inclination of the glacier is quite moderate at the head, and, as the sun had softened the névé, I made safe and rapid progress, running and sliding, and keeping up a sharp outlook for crevasses. About half a mile from the head, there is an ice-cascade, where the glacier pours over a sharp declivity and is shattered into massive blocks separated by deep, blue fissures. To thread my way through the slippery mazes of this crevassed portion seemed impossible, and I endeavored to avoid it by climbing off to the shoulder of the mountain. But the slopes rapidly steepened and at length fell away in sheer precipices, compelling a return to the ice. Fortunately, the day had been warm enough to loosen the ice-crystals so as to admit of hollows being dug in the rotten portions of the blocks, thus enabling me to pick my way with far less difficulty than I had anticipated. Continuing down over the snout, and along the left lateral moraine, was only a confident saunter, showing that the ascent of the mountain by way of this glacier is easy, provided one is armed with an ax to cut steps here and there.

The lower end of the glacier was beautifully waved and barred by the outcropping edges of the bedded ice-layers which represent the annual snowfalls, and to some extent the irregularities of structure caused by the weathering of the walls of crevasses, and by separate snowfalls which have been followed by rain, hail, thawing and freezing, etc. Small rills were gliding and swirling over the melting surface with a smooth, oily appearance, in channels of pure ice — their quick, compliant movements contrasting most impressively with the rigid, invisible flow of the glacier itself, on whose back they all were riding.

Night drew near before I reached the eastern base of the mountain, and my camp lay many a rugged mile to the north; but ultimate success was assured. It was now only a matter of endurance and ordinary mountain-craft. The sunset was, if possible, yet more beautiful than that of the day before. The Mono landscape seemed to be fairly saturated with warm, purple light. The peaks marshaled along the summit were in shadow, but through every notch and pass streamed vivid sun-fire, soothing and irradiating their rough, black angles, while companies of small, luminous clouds hovered above them like very angels of light.

Darkness came on, but I found my way by the trends of the cañons and the peaks projected against the sky. All excitement died with the light, and then I was weary. But the joyful sound of the waterfall across the lake was heard at last, and soon the stars were seen reflected in the lake itself. Taking my bearings from these, I discovered the little pine thicket in which my nest was, and then I had a rest such as only a tired mountaineer may enjoy. After lying loose and lost for awhile, I made a sunrise fire, went down to the lake, dashed water on my head, and dipped a cupful for tea. The revival brought about by bread and tea was as complete as the exhaustion from excessive enjoyment and toil. Then I crept beneath the pine-tassels to bed. The wind was frosty and the fire burned low, but my sleep was none the less sound, and the evening constellations had swept far to the west before I awoke.

[. . .]

Source: Excerpt from "A Near View of the High Sierra," Chapter 4 of John Muir's 1894 book, The Mountains of California. You can read the full text of the book here.


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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

John Muir Festival II: Cuba

The Morro Castle, one of the first sights John Muir saw when he sailed into Havana Harbor in 1868
(Wikimedia Commons)

The daily programme for nearly all the month that I spent here was about as follows: After breakfast a sailor rowed me ashore on the north side of the harbor. A few minutes’ walk took me past the Morro Castle and out of sight of the town on a broad cactus common, about as solitary and untrodden as the tangles of Florida. Here I zigzagged and gathered prizes among unnumbered plants and shells along the shore, stopping to press the plant specimens and to rest in the shade of vine-heaps and bushes until sundown. The happy hours stole away until I had to return to the schooner. Either I was seen by the sailors who usually came for me, or I hired a boat to take me back. Arrived, I reached up my press and a big handful of flowers, and with a little help climbed up the side of my floating home.

Refreshed with supper and rest, I recounted my adventures in the vine tangles, cactus thickets, sunflower swamps and along the shore among the breakers. My flower specimens, also, and pocketfuls of shells and corals had to be reviewed. Next followed a cool, dreamy hour on deck amid the lights of the town and the various vessels coming and departing.

Many strange sounds were heard: the vociferous, unsmotherable bells, the heavy thundering of cannon from the Castle, and the shouts of the sentinels in measured time. Combined they made the most incessant sharp-angled mass of noise that I ever was doomed to hear. Nine or ten o’clock found me in a small bunk with the harbor wavelets tinkling outside close to my ear. The hours of sleep were filled with dreams of heavy heat, of fruitless efforts for the disentanglement of vines, or of running from curling breakers back to the Morro, etc. Thus my days and nights went on.

[. . .]

Havana abounds in public squares, which in all my random strolls throughout the big town I found to be well watered, well cared for, well planted, and full of exceedingly showy and interesting plants, rare even amid the exhaustless luxuriance of Cuba. These squares also contained fine marble statuary and were furnished with seats in the shadiest places. Many of the walks were paved instead of graveled.

The streets of Havana are crooked, labyrinthic, and exceedingly narrow. The sidewalks are only about a foot wide. A traveler experiences delightful relief when, heated and wearied by rains through the breadth of the dingy yellow town, dodging a way through crowds of men and mules and lumbering carts and carriages, he at length finds shelter in the spacious, dust-less, cool, flowery squares; still more when, emerging from all the din and darkness of these lanelike streets, he suddenly finds himself out in the middle of the harbor, inhaling full-drawn breaths of the sea breezes.

[. . .]

Havana has a fine botanical garden. I spent pleasant hours in its magnificent flowery arbors and around its shady fountains. There is a palm avenue which is considered wonderfully stately and beautiful, fifty palms in two straight lines, each rigidly perpendicular. The smooth round shafts, slightly thicker in the middle, appear to be productions of the lathe, rather than vegetable stems. The fifty arched crowns, inimitably balanced, blaze in the sunshine like heaps of stars that have fallen from the skies. The stems were about sixty or seventy feet in height, the crowns about fifteen feet in diameter.

Along a stream-bank were tall, waving bamboos, leafy as willows, and infinitely graceful in wind gestures. There was one species of palm, with immense bipinnate leaves and leaflets fringed, jagged, and one-sided, like those of Adiantum. Hundreds of the most gorgeous-flowered plants, some of them large trees, belonging to the Leguminosae. Compared with what I have before seen in artificial flower-gardens, this is past comparison the grandest. It is a perfect metropolis of the brightest and most exuberant of garden plants, watered by handsome fountains, while graveled and finely bordered walks slant and curve in all directions, and in all kinds of fanciful playground styles, more like the fairy gardens of the Arabian Nights than any ordinary man-made pleasure-ground.

[. . .]

Source: Excerpt from "A Sojourn in Cuba," Chapter 7 of John Muir's 1916 book, A Thousand-Mile Walk to the Gulf. You can read the full text of the book here.


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Monday, June 22, 2009

John Muir Festival I: The Calypso Borealis

Calypso Borealis
(Fine Rare Prints)

After earning a few dollars working on my brother-in-law’s farm near Portage [Wisconsin], I set off [in 1864] on the first of my long lonely excursions, botanising in glorious freedom around the Great Lakes and wandering through innumerable tamarac and arbor-vitae swamps, and forests of maple, basswood, ash, elm, balsam, fir, pine, spruce, hemlock, rejoicing in their bound wealth and strength and beauty, climbing the trees, revelling in their flowers and fruit like bees in beds of goldenrods, glorying in the fresh cool beauty and charm of the bog and meadow heathworts, grasses, carices, ferns, mosses, liverworts displayed in boundless profusion.

The rarest and most beautiful of the flowering plants I discovered on this first grand excursion was Calypso borealis (the Hider of the North). I had been fording streams more and more difficult to cross and wading bogs and swamps that seemed more and more extensive and more difficult to force one’s way through. Entering one of these great tamarac and arbor-vitae swamps one morning, holding a general though very crooked course by compass, struggling through tangled drooping branches and over and under broad heaps of fallen trees, I began to fear that I would not be able to reach dry ground before dark, and therefore would have to pass the night in the swamp and began, faint and hungry, to plan a nest of branches on one of the largest trees or windfalls like a monkey’s nest, or eagle’s, or Indian’s in the flooded forests of the Orinoco described by Humboldt.

But when the sun was getting low and everything seemed most bewildering and discouraging, I found beautiful Calypso on the mossy bank of a stream, growing not in the ground but on a bed of yellow mosses in which its small white bulb had found a soft nest and from which its one leaf and one flower sprung. The flower was white and made the impression of the utmost simple purity like a snowflower. No other bloom was near it, for the bog a short distance below the surface was still frozen, and the water was ice cold. It seemed the most spiritual of all the flower people I had ever met. I sat down beside it and fairly cried for joy.

It seems wonderful that so frail and lovely a plant has such power over human hearts. This Calypso meeting happened some forty-five years ago, and it was more memorable and impressive than any of my meetings with human beings excepting, perhaps, Emerson and one or two others. When I was leaving the University, Professor J.D. Butler said, “John, I would like to know what becomes of you, and I wish you would write me, say once a year, so I may keep you in sight.” I wrote to the Professor, telling him about this meeting with Calypso, and he sent the letter to an Eastern newspaper [The Boston Recorder] with some comments of his own. These, as far as I know, were the first of my words that appeared in print.

How long I sat beside Calypso I don’t know. Hunger and weariness vanished, and only after the sun was low in the west I plashed on through the swamp, strong and exhilarated as if never more to feel any mortal care. At length I saw maple woods on a hill and found a log house. I was gladly received. “Where ha ye come fra? The swamp, that awfu’ swamp. What were ye doin’ there?” etc. “Mony a puir body has been lost in that muckle, cauld, dreary bog and never been found.” When I told her I had entered it in search of plants and had been in it all day, she wondered how plants could draw me to these awful places, and said, “It’s god’s mercy ye ever got out.”

Oftentimes I had to sleep without blankets, and sometimes without supper, but usually I had no great difficulty in finding a loaf of bread here and there at the houses of the farmer settlers in the widely scattered clearings. With one of these large backwoods loaves I was able to wander many a long wild fertile mile in the forests and bogs, free as the winds, gathering plants, and glorying in God’s abounding inexhaustible spiritual beauty bread. Storms, thunderclouds, winds in the woods — were welcomed as friends.

Source: Yosemite Online.


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Sunday, June 21, 2009

Father's Day and Summer Solstice 2009

Painting of a midsummer bonfire
on the Skagen south beach,
by P.S. Krøyer (1903)


Working Late

A light is on in my father's study.
"Still up?" he says, and we are silent,
looking at the harbor lights,
listening to the surf
and the creak of coconut boughs.

He is working late on cases.
No impassioned speech! He argues from evidence,
actually pacing out and measuring,
while the fans revolving on the ceiling
winnow the true from the false.

Once he passed a brass curtain rod
through a head made out of plaster
and showed the jury the angle of fire--
where the murderer must have stood.
For years, all through my childhood,
if I opened a closet . . . bang!
There would be the dead man's head
with a black hole in the forehead.

All the arguing in the world
will not stay the moon.
She has come all the way from Russia
to gaze for a while in a mango tree
and light the wall of a veranda,
before resuming her interrupted journey
beyond the harbor and the lighthouse
at Port Royal, turning away
from land to the open sea.

Yet, nothing in nature changes, from that day to this,
she is still the mother of us all.
I can see the drifting offshore lights,
black posts where the pelicans brood.

And the light that used to shine
at night in my father's study
now shines as late in mine.

                               – Louis Simpson



Saturday, June 20, 2009

Personal Growth Through Professionalism

Today's Wall Street Journal has a piece by Peter Kramer (pdf), author of Listening to Prozac (1993), that is rich in insight. In his article, Kramer is speaking most directly about the disappointment many recent graduates are experiencing because they don't have much in the way of a menu of tempting jobs to choose from. In fact, as reading the article makes clear, Kramer's thoughts apply to people of all ages.

Kramer is looking at how one's paid work helps shape one's identity and interpersonal style. He argues:
Embracing a profession with its own traditions — whether of the artisan, scientist or soldier — can bring a sense of solidity to people otherwise prone to self-doubt. And the correlation, person and calling, is hardly random. Darwinian forces shape the job market; organizations that use people well survive. The workplace employs the temperaments, dispatching the brash to sell and the finical to check and calculate. And then it encourages employees to stretch. The impulsive are urged to exercise caution, the deliberate to entertain the bold gesture.
Since part of the ethos of a profession is continuing growth in effectiveness, which implies a willingness to change things about oneself as necessary, Kramer posits that deficits in interpersonal skills are easier to address in the context of the job than in the context of such private matters as family disharmony.

In Kramer's view, willingness to make improvements in one's behavior at work can be expected to have spillover effects at home and in one's life in general. Kramer observes:
When I see patients who have been injured in their private lives, by past abuse, say, or a recent trauma, such as divorce, often I suggest that they invest new energy in their careers. The workplace may not overlook anxiety or depression, but often it is more neutrally instructive than the sphere of intimacy. When it functions well, the office teaches all of us when to stand our ground and when to be strategic. We learn that decisions don't always go our way. The workplace says, "Aw, get over yourself." Since on the job we're focused on performance, we are likely to do just that, to absorb advice and move on.
Accomplishments and advances on the job become fuel for developing greater self-efficacy — for developing a stronger sense of identity

Kramer acknowledges that
there are exploitative work environments. ... [E]ven for workers in benign settings, the demands of home and office have come to overlap. ... But the movement has not been all in one direction; the contemporary workplace, when it functions well, embraces domestic virtues: playfulness, empathy and others. This convergence may be for better or for worse, but surely there is something to be said for the integration of aspects of the self, for being able to be one person here and there.
And, as he is concluding his piece, Kramer sounds a note of particular significance:
If people need to bring workplace expertise home, then they simply do. That competence may extend beyond efficiency to awareness of our effects on others.
Being able consistently to think of how we affect others is, in my opinion, a key marker of personal maturity. Kramer goes on to sound another note with which I heartily agree, namely that the ideal situation for people is that they are working in jobs they truly care about — i.e., their day-to-day life at work is infused with what I call critical caring.



Friday, June 19, 2009

21st Century Journalism XXXV: Clay Shirky on What the Future Holds

I was quite taken with a blog post Clay Shirky published in March, in which he talks about the difficulty newspapers are having building a future for themselves. His thesis:
With the old economics destroyed, organizational forms perfected for industrial production have to be replaced with structures optimized for digital data. It makes increasingly less sense even to talk about a publishing industry, because the core problem publishing solves — the incredible difficulty, complexity, and expense of making something available to the public — has stopped being a problem.
The burning question is how news providers will actually arrive at the digital future.

Looking at the experience of transitioning from handwritten to printed books, Shirky argues that journalism's transition process will be — is — chaotic because people have to try various possibilities with no certainty about what ultimately will pan out. Shirky believes that
For the next few decades, journalism will be made up of overlapping special cases. Many of these models will rely on amateurs as researchers and writers. Many of these models will rely on sponsorship or grants or endowments instead of revenues. Many of these models will rely on excitable 14 year olds distributing the results. Many of these models will fail. No one experiment is going to replace what we are now losing with the demise of news on paper, but over time, the collection of new experiments that do work might give us the journalism we need.
I found Shirky's post stimulating and informative — well worth a reflective reading.



Thursday, June 18, 2009

Stakeholder Capitalism

Continuing my periodic citation of work by Jeffrey Pfeffer (most recently here), one of my favorite business academics, let me recommend reading the two-page piece he has in the July-August issue of the Harvard Business Review.

"Shareholders First? Not So Fast ..." deals with today's renewed appreciation of the value of considering all stakeholders in business planning and decision-making. Pfeffer argues:
In the 1950s and 1960s, the stakeholder was king. CEOs saw their role as one of balancing the interests of the various groups that touched their companies — customers, employees, suppliers, shareholders, and the community at large. This reflected the executives' sophisticated understanding not only of their role as stewards of the valuable resources entrusted to them but also of their own enlightened self-interest: Each of these groups was essential for organizational success. What was true then is even more so today, in an age of knowledge work, outsourcing, global supply chains, and activist interest groups.
Pfeffer goes on to say that
opinions on deregulation, finance, time horizons, and the wisdom of corporate leaders are all shifting, and the logic for putting the creation of shareholder wealth ahead of the creation of stakeholder-value is rightfully under fire.
To build profitability and productivity, enlightened managers are
implementing high-commitment work practices. These include investing in training, decentralizing decision making, and having pay be contingent on organizational, not just individual, performance. Other sources [of research] show the benefits companies reap from customer loyalty and high levels of customer satisfaction.
Pfeffer points to the increased prominence of balanced scorecards and other assessment tools as evidence that companies using such tools recognize the suboptimality of focusing exclusively on financial metrics.

Of particular interest to people in the training field, are Pfeffer's repeated references the the importance of employee training in implementing strategies that embody a balancing of stakeholders' interests.


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Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Igor Stravinsky's 127th Birthday

Following Google's lead, I'm going to dedicate today's post to marking Igor Stravinsky's 127th birthday. Stravinsky was born on June 17, 1882 (June 5 in the Old Style calendar), and went on to live a long and productive life as a composer. He died April 6, 1971.

(Library of Congress)

In the 1965 video below, you can watch rare footage from BBC Opus Arte showing Stravinsky conducting the concluding eight minutes or so of the 1945 version of his Firebird Suite. The musicians are the New Philharmonia Orchestra performing at the Royal Festival Hall in London.

The 2002 video below shows dancers performing a different part of the ballet, namely the pas de deux of the Firebird and Ivan Tsarevich. (You can read a synopsis of the Firebird story here.) The ballerina is Diana Vishneva, and her partner is Andrei Yakovlev.


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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Persuading Offenders to Shape Up

Yesterday the Center for Crime Prevention and Control of John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York made the official announcement of the launch of its National Network for Safe Communities.

In reading about this effort, first in the Wall Street Journal on Saturday, and then in the June 22 issue of The New Yorker, I was particularly struck by the special type of persuasion the program uses to reduce violent crime and to remove drug markets from community streets.

David Kennedy, director of the Center for Crime Prevention and Control, had the insight some years ago that criminal offenders who had not yet perpetrated violent crimes might be deterred from continuing their illegal activities by being challenged to behave better by people with moral authority, such as family members and community leaders. At the same time, it would be impressed upon the offenders that the police had already accumulated sufficient evidence of their misdeeds to convict them in court if the illegal behavior recurred.

This second-chance approach, with attached sanctions if the second chance does not produce improvement, reminds me of an approach to dealing with recalcitrant employees that has always seemed smart to me. The basic idea is to call in an employee who has persistently failed to meet expectations and deliver this message: "You need to go home for a day and think very seriously about what you want to do. Do you want to bring your performance in your job up to the level that we expect, or do you want to look elsewhere for employment? If you are sincerely ready to do what's necessary to meet expectations, we are ready to help. If not, we have no choice but to let you go."

The process followed with criminal offenders is to ask them to attend a meeting; they are promised that the meeting is not a trap at which they will be arrested.

Those who appear at the meeting are confronted by influential figures, such as family, friends, clergy and ex-offenders, who describe the harm the offenders' activities are causing, earnestly entreat them to stop the bad-acting, and offer help with getting education, jobs, and other assistance for turning their lives around. As the New Yorker article explains, "victims and their family members [are] on hand to deliver the moral component of the message to the offenders: 'What you are doing is wrong, and we know you can do better.'"

The offenders also get a deliberately theatrical talking to from police and representatives of the criminal justice system, who present the dossiers of evidence that are ready to be used to convict them and send them to prison if they fail to take advantage of the offer of a second chance.

You can see portions of such a "call-in" meeting in the video below, which deals with use of the Kennedy approach to deter street drug-dealing in High Point NC.

Jeremy Travis, president of John Jay College, argues:
David [Kennedy] has proved that when you communicate directly with offenders, tell them their actions have consequences — not abstract consequences but direct, immediate ones — and then offer them a way out, that it can have an enormous deterrence value.
It should be noted that, according to John Seabrook, author of the New Yorker article, the social services element of Kennedy's approach has been relatively weak. I am inclined to think that this is because, as experience shows, helping those with employability problems is itself a project that requires concerted, multi-pronged effort. See, for example, this post about the "wrap-around services" the Cincinnati Works program offers to individuals facing various employability issues.

An excellent Wall Street Journal report on the High Point NC experience with using the Kennedy program is here. The maps below show the prevalence of serious crime in High Point prior to the "call-in" of drug dealers, and then about 600 days after. Colors indicate the number of crimes by census block. White indicates the fewest crimes and red the most.

(National Institute of Justice, US Department of Justice)

For a more extensive presentation of David Kennedy's research and ideas, you can have a look at his 2008 book, Deterrence and Crime Prevention: Reconsidering the Prospect of Sanction.


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Monday, June 15, 2009

"The Half-Truths of Leadership"

As a follow-on to a post from April in which I discussed Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths and Total Nonsense: Profiting from Evidence-Based Management, by Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert Sutton of Stanford's business school and engineering school, respectively, I'd like to mention the availability of an excerpt from the book that provides much food for thought.

The excerpt addresses the proposition that "the idea that we are well served to have leaders in control of their organizations is a half-truth."

Pfeffer and Sutton argue, with ample supporting evidence, that "Managers often have far less influence over performance than most people think," and go on to suggest, "Perhaps the best way to view leadership is as the task of architecting organizational systems, teams, and cultures — as establishing the conditions and preconditions for others to succeed."

Pfeffer and Sutton also caution that leaders, though limited in their ability to make good things happen, can "make things much worse by taking actions that increase employee turnover and diminish employee motivation, as well as encourage lying and stealing, and by causing numerous other organizational problems." Which "suggests that avoiding bad leaders may be a crucial goal, perhaps more important than getting great leaders."

Pfeffer and Sutton emphasize that
Part of a leader’s job ... is to behave in ways that cause others to believe in the possibility of success of both the organization and the leader. To maintain the impression that you, as a leader, are in control — and to take some actual control as well — you need to start and sustain what we call the "leadership control cycle." The cycle begins when leaders talk and act as if they are in control, persuading key players that they have a strong impact on the organization. When changes happen to the organization, these changes are attributed to the leaders. The leaders believe they actually helped shape these changes, which gives them added confidence to complete the cycle and talk and act even more persuasively. Confidence thus becomes self-fulfilling, setting in motion behaviors that in fact make things better, whereby the leaders’ confidence is justified.
Pfeffer and Sutton summarize by offering this takeaway lesson: "[T]he best leaders are smart enough to act like they are in charge but wise enough not to let their power go to their heads or to take themselves too seriously."

What you have above are my favorite excerpts from the excerpt. Since the whole piece is only a bit over four pages, and is packed with compelling information, it is well worth reading in its entirety.



Sunday, June 14, 2009

How much participation does a prediction market need?

In April 2008 McKinsey published an edited and abridged transcript (pdf) of a roundtable on prediction markets moderated by Renée Dye, a consultant in McKinsey's Atlanta office. The participants were four experts on prediction markets:The discussion is quite substantive and well worth reading in its entirety (eleven pages). Here I will call attention to a helpful sidebar Dye provides in which she summarizes the decisions you have to make in setting up a prediction market at your own organization.

Dye cites six key decisions:
  • How to define the variable the market will forecast. "Express [the variable] in a precise, intuitive unit (such as '2nd-quarter revenue, in euros, for new product X') to avoid confusion among participants."

  • With whom to share the results. Dye points out that results can be embarrassing to management (e.g., a prediction that a product under development will fail in the market). Results can also raise legal issues (e.g., a prediction that future financial results will show that the company's current stock price is too high).

  • Who should participate. "Markets involving only internal participants are easiest to organize." On the other hand, if you include appropriate external participants, you will generally increase the accuracy of the results.

    Dye also points out, "Front-line employees often are the most active and excited participants."

  • The nature of the market. "Markets with real-time buying and selling of contracts yield rich, continuous results but require large numbers of participants, some of whom may need training."

    "Simple surveys and other single-point forecast mechanisms are easier to administer. Companies getting started may want to proceed gradually through a series of increasingly sophisticated experiments."

  • Incentives. Cash can present legal issues, since it can make your prediction market look suspiciously like a gambling operation. Fake money can be a workable substitute. Modest prizes, such as t-shirts, have worked well at companies like Google (pdf).

    See here for Adam Siegel's suggestion of using access to top management as an incentive. (Siegel is a co-founder of Inkling, a company in Chicago that provides a prediction market platform that anyone can use to set up a prediction market. See this earlier post.)

  • The role of experts. "Departments dedicated to forecasting [e.g., marketing] will see the establishment of a prediction market as a threat."

    Dye argues that shifting the mindset of experts concerning their role is important. Rather than being the people "with all the answers," experts should view their role as formulating the right questions and helping with "analyzing the answers [yielded by the prediction market] in creative ways and using them to guide decision making.".
BTW, if you want to track academic work in the field of prediction markets, one source you can use is the Journal of Prediction Markets, published since 2007 by the University of Buckingham Press.



Saturday, June 13, 2009

Five Steps to Sell An Idea to Senior Management

Early in 2007, Geoffrey James posted an article at bnet.com that offers good advice on how to win thoughtful consideration of an idea you believe will help your organization.

The article is short and easy to read, so I'll just outline what you'll find there:

Step 1
Confirm that you and your idea are a credible match.
People you approach with the idea have to believe you know what you're talking about.

Step 2
Frame your idea with a strong narrative.
Help people see intuitive sense in what you're suggesting, and help them feel good about endorsing it.

Step 3
Map the idea to the perspective of the decision-maker.
For instance, if the decision-maker is the CFO, he/she is apt to be focused on return on investment. On the other hand, if you're dealing with the COO, a key issue is apt to be the likelihood of smooth implementation.

Step 4
Reduce or eliminate downside risk.
The decision-maker will undoubtedly think about what could go wrong with your plan. Anticipate concerns, and prepare responses that show how risks can be substantially mitigated (e.g., through using a pilot to test and refine the idea).

Step 5
Close the deal.
You need to "create momentum to keep your idea moving forward."

In a companion item, James offers contrasting "Wrong Way" and "Right Way" memos to illustrate what he believes is the best way to broach your idea in writing to a senior manager.

Earlier this month, James added a post to his "Sales Machine" blog at bnet.com that lets you test your grasp of the above process. It's a good refresher.


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Friday, June 12, 2009

Runde and Flanagan on Managing Conflict Within Teams

Despite its awkward title — Building Conflict Competent Teams — a recently published book by Craig Runde and Tim Flanagan1 offers sophisticated advice for managing conflict within teams. Runde and Flanagan aim "to help teams and team members assess their current level of conflict competence, select areas for improvement, provide some practical guidance for handling conflicts more effectively, and leverage conflict to their advantage."

In developing their recommendations, Runde and Flanagan worked from four premises:
  • Conflict is inevitable.

  • Conflict can have both positive and negative results.

  • People often have recourse to fight-or-flight responses to conflict.

  • People can learn more effective conflict skills.
Runde and Flanagan also posit that "conflict competent" teams have three characteristics:
  • The right climate — a climate of trust, vulnerability (i.e., team members are willing to risk seeming inadequate in some respects and/or situations), and safefy.

  • Behavioral integration — meaning the team acts as a team. Members are cooperative, reach decisions collectively, adhere to shared commitments, share values, reward team accomplishments. "Teams that become behaviorally integrated are more likely to see their differences and conflicts as advantages and opportunities rather than barriers and traps."

  • Constructive communication — Team members are skilled in saying useful things, and saying them in a way that encourages open-minded consideration by the others on the team. This includes good habits of nonverbal communication.
In addition to the first chapter, which is available as a pdf sample of the book, you can read a summary, published in the Center for Creative Leadership's, June newsletter, of techniques Runde and Flanagan recommend for minimizing potential for conflict within a team ("Before a conflict" techniques), for managing conflict when it arises, and for "effectively giving periodic peer feedback." As the summary puts it, "Whenever conflicts begin to take a toll, these techniques can help team members regain control, refocus their energy and begin to reestablish the climate."

1 Craig Runde is director of new program development, and Tim Flanagan is director of custom programs, at the Leadership Development Institute at Eckerd College, St. Petersburg, Florida.



Thursday, June 11, 2009

Carl Spetzler on Decision-Making

For a quick discussion of what goes into good decision-making, you could do worse than reading Kim Girard's piece on Carl Spetzler's approach that bnet.com published on May 4.

Spetzler is CEO of Strategic Decisions Group, a consultancy that, among other things, collaborates with the Center for Professional Development at Stanford to offer a certificate program in strategic decision-making and risk management.

Girard explains that Spetzler distinguishes three types of decisions:
  • Strategic decisions — "... very important, involve significant uncertainty and complexity, and are hard to think through."

  • Typical decisions — ".. can have a big impact, but they are frequently tactical in nature and arrived at through a collaborative process."

  • On-the-fly decisions — The decision-maker uses "a different part of the brain that emphasizes rapid pattern recognition. Beginning with limited or incomplete information" the decision-maker tries to relate the current issue to similar situations he or she has encountered in the past.
Spetzler argues that there are six elements to get right if one wants to arrive at a good decision:
  • The frame, i.e., the definition of the problem you are trying to solve.

  • Clarity about what outcome you're seeking. "For example, are you trying to maximize shareholder value or just trying to stay alive and minimize damage?"

  • Creative alternatives.

  • Relevant information, including information on the uncertainties you are facing.

  • Reasoning, taking into account both what you know and what you don't know.

  • Commitment to implementing the chosen solution.
Girard concludes her piece by asking Spetzler how he evaluates the success of his decision-making framework. His reply:
We take a decision and try to document what people would have done otherwise, which is called the momentum strategy. Then we compare the best choice they make with us to the momentum strategy they would have used. We can now say pretty clearly that our approach avoids lots of downside errors. It avoids value destruction and creates a lot of value. Most people leave a lot of value on the table when they make intuitive decisions.
For an example of Spetzler's decision-making framework in action, you can see this article by Richard Luecke, which describes how General Motors used the Strategic Decision Group's dialogue decision process to determine whether and how to roll-out GM's OnStar system. Luecke also describes the training in decision methods that Chevron uses.



Wednesday, June 10, 2009

More Professional than Thou

A friend of mine, Bruce Fleming, who teaches English at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, recently posted an article at SoldiersForTheTruth.org that tries to prepare incoming plebes and cadets for what their years at one of the US military academies will actually be like.

Based on twenty-two years of direct observation at Annapolis, Fleming argues that the approach to education adopted by the military academies drains students of the idealism with which they enter. Students are subjected to a high degree of counterproductive frustration that could and should be substantially reduced, to be replaced by methods that build enthusiasm and motivation for performing well ...

... and professionally.

I benefited from reading the entire article, but here I'll just cite one passage that struck me because it alludes to one of my pet ideas, namely that people often lack a clear understanding of what "professional" behavior actually amounts to.

In discussing the start of a plebe's first academic year (which follows Plebe Summer), Fleming, addressing incoming plebes directly, says:
Simply by keeping your eyes open, you realize that many of the first-class [seniors] you were prepared to idolize are goof-offs, looking for ways to get out of doing things rather than being fired up with The Spirit. Some may be downright unprofessional. Their sloppiness may be in their uniforms, their rooms, their attitude, or their people skills. Yet so long as they pass their inspection and don’t get caught doing whatever it is they’re doing, they seem to think it’s okay. They get away with it. And it doesn’t seem to bother them. You’ll realize that people here aren’t interested so much in being good as in looking good. This will be a huge blow to your idealism, which has all the intensity of an 18-year-old eager to take on the world. How can they lecture you on not being “professional” when they’re so lax themselves?
Clearly, a goodly contingent of the soon-to-graduate first-class students have yet to internalize the notion that a professional, among other things, is a person who has the discipline to practice what he/she preaches. Instead, in Fleming's view, all too often the impact of the Naval Academy culture is creation of passive aggressive behavior that is anything but professional.

In the "Bottom line" section of his article, Fleming sums up:
Mostly you’ll learn to put your chin down and survive. If you just hang on, it’ll all be over. Midshipmen are constantly counting down to something: the next vacation, the end of the semester, Herndon, graduation. Because you get zapped for everything you do, after a while you’ll cease looking for ways to be pro-active. It’s rare to hear midshipmen enthusiastic about an academic or military challenge — unless they make it themselves.

That’s what you have to “get” about Annapolis: it has lots of opportunities, but despite our rhetoric of “ship, shipmate, self,” the opportunities aren’t collective, they’re individual. Take advantage of everything offered, accept every new challenge — vow to become a leader. On your own, I mean, because in my view that’s the only way anybody ever became a leader. Namely, because s/he decided to become one.
For a book-length account of Bruce Fleming's views concerning the culture at Annapolis, you can see his 2005 book, Annapolis Autumn: Life, Death, and Literature at the U.S. Naval Academy.


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Tuesday, June 09, 2009

The ABCs of Social Bookmarking

Here at Streamline we look fondly on anything educational that accomplishes its purpose in a way that is as quick and simple as possible. A fine example of this principle in action is the 3:25 video below, "Social Bookmarking in Plain English." It was created by Lee LeFever, using decidedly low-tech materials and technique.

LeFever's flight from bells and whistles in no way compromises the clarity of his explanation of social bookmarking (i.e., sharing your favorite websites, duly tagged, with the wider world).

Although the version of the video I've embedded above is from YouTube, its original home is CommonCraft.com, the site where LeFever and his wife post short videos that introduce beginners to subjects that are confusing and complicated if too much information is presented in what is advertised as an overview.

In addition to their brevity, all the Common Craft videos use plain English, another practice that Streamline very much favors.

You can browse through Common Craft's other videos here.


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Monday, June 08, 2009

Management Software for Conservation Projects

As a follow-on to yesterday's post, I'd like to mention the Miradi software that the Conservation Measures Partnership (CMP) and Benetech have been jointly developing since 2007. ("Miradi" is a Swahili word that means "project" or "goal.")

As the developers put it at the Miradi website,
Miradi is designed to provide project teams with the essential features that they need to design, manage, monitor, and learn from their conservation projects, in other words, to practice good adaptive management. Currently, most conservation practitioners go through the adaptive management process either using pen and paper, or by cobbling together functions from a wide range of programs including flowcharting, mapping, project planning, spreadsheet, accounting, and other software packages. Miradi takes the right functions from each of these different kinds of programs and bundles them together in one easy-to-use integrated package.
To get a project set up in the software, the user works through a step-by-step process that matches the flow of the Open Standards for the Practice of Conservation developed by the CMP. Those steps are:

1. Conceptualize project
1A. Define initial project team
1B. Define, scope, vision & targets
1C. Identify critical conservation threats
1D. Complete situation analysis

2. Plan actions & monitoring
2A. Develop strategic plan
2B. Develop monitoring plan
2C. Develop operational plan

3. Implement actions & monitoring
3A. Develop short-term work plan
3B. Develop & refine project budget
3C. Implement plans

4. Analyze, use, adapt
4A. Prepare data for analysis
4B. Analyze results
4C. Adapt project plan

5. Capture & share learning
5A. Document learning
5B. Share learning
5C. Create a learning environment

Close the loop

Once the conservation project is set up in Miradi, the project can be managed and tracked using the various data views the software provides.

The Diagram View shows the conceptual model underlying the project:
In a complete conceptual diagram, the overall project scope is linked to specific conservation targets that are each in turn linked to direct threats and the contributing factors that lead to these threats. The diagram also displays the strategies that the project team is taking to counter these threats, showing the key assumptions that the project team is making about how their actions will lead to their desired outcomes. The diagram also allows users to focus on the specific results chain that they predict will happen as a result of their interventions and to determine what indicators they need to measure to test these assumptions over time. [emphasis added]
Other views include the Threat Rating View, Viability Analysis (showing the status of each conservation target, e.g., "coral reefs"), Strategic Planning View, Monitoring View, Work Plan View, and Budget View.


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Sunday, June 07, 2009

Training to Support Ecosystem Conservation

The Río Plátano Biosphere Reserve, established in Honduras in 1982, is a prime site for ecotourism.1

Río Plátano Biosphere Reserve,
La Moskitia, Honduras

(Erika Nortemann)

Map of the Río Plátano Biosphere Reserve in northeastern Honduras (click to enlarge)
(Smithsonian Institution)

A non-profit organization called Rare includes the Río Plátano Reserve among a wide range of conservation projects it has undertaken in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, Latin America, and the Pacific in which Rare pursues its mission "to conserve imperiled species and ecosystems around the world by inspiring people to care about and protect nature."

A major element in Rare's efforts is training of local people in effective promotion of conservation, including through sustainable tourism.

For instance, Rare runs a Nature Guide Training Program for local residents of areas visited by ecotourists such as the Río Plátano Reserve. The guides' training involves "three months of coursework, learning the natural and cultural history of the region and gaining the necessary skills to translate their knowledge to visitors from around the world."

A similar program has trained guides employed by La Ruta Moskitia, "a locally-run ecotourism operation launched in early 2006, which includes six indigenous communities from the Río Plátano Biosphere Reserve ..." This training involved "eight weeks of intense classes and field study in ecosystems ranging from coastal lagoons to highland cloud forest to learn about the dramaticaly different ecosystems and natural history of the areas in which they will be leading their visitors."2

Rare's general approach to promoting conservation is to use marketing techniques to achieve the attitudinal and behavioral changes needed at the local level for conservation objectives, such as rainforest preservation, actually to be met. You can read more about Rare's social marketing approach here.

Of particular interest are the details of the Masters in Communication program that Rare offers to individuals who undertake two-year Pride Campaign projects. The curriculum, accredited by the University of Texas-El Paso, is impressive in its comprehensiveness, as you can see by reading the program brochure (pdf).

Rare assesses project success by monitoring relevant metrics. In general terms, the organization watches the "3 C's": the capacity for conservation that a project builds, the constituency that is built, and the conservation that is actually achieved.

1 As defined (pdf) by UNESCO, "Biosphere reserves are areas of terrestrial and coastal ecosystems promoting solutions to reconcile the conservation of biodiversity with its sustainable use. They are internationally recognized, nominated by national governments and remain under sovereign jurisdiction of the states where they are located. Biosphere reserves serve in some ways as 'living laboratories' for testing out and demonstrating integrated management of land, water and biodiversity. ... There are over 500 biosphere reserves in over 100 countries."

"Each biosphere reserve is intended to fulfil 3 basic functions, which are complementary and mutually reinforcing:
  • a conservation function — to contribute to the conservation of landscapes, ecosystems, species and genetic variation

  • a development function — to foster economic and human development which is socio-culturally and ecologically sustainable

  • a logistic function — to provide support for research, monitoring, education and information exchange related to local, national and global issues of conservation and development
2 As explained in a 2008 press release, "La Ruta Moskitia was established by Rare ... and the Small Grants Programme (SGP)/GEF/ Honduras United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in an effort to link sustainable tourism, biodiversity protection, and poverty alleviation in the [Río Plátano] Reserve."


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