!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Strict//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/xhtml1/DTD/xhtml1-strict.dtd"> Streamline Training & Documentation: January 2010

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Building Disaster-Resistant Housing in Developing Countries

The Build Change organization has established a successful process for building disaster-resistant housing in developing countries. It's an approach that involves working closely with local people to ensure that
  • the housing fits local preferences

  • the people understand the value of protecting themselves by investing in housing that meets building codes
As described at the Build Change website. there are five steps in the process:
  1. Start by learning why some houses collapsed in an earthquake (or sustained serious damage in some other natural disaster), while others did not. This involves carrying out forensic engineering studies.

  2. Design disaster-resistant houses that are culturally appropriate, i.e., that fit what local people actually want. The Build Change process lets homeowners choose their own layout and materials and manage their own construction (with technical assistance from Build Change advisers). Build Change offers a range of solutions catering for different income levels, family sizes, cultural prefernces and climatic conditions.

  3. Strengthen the skills of local masons, carpenters, and homeowners by providing training in how to build disaster-resistant housing. Build local capacity by hiring and working with local engineers, architects, builders, universities, and governments and by training students in technical high schools.

  4. Stimulate local demand. Help rural homeowners see the advantage in investing some of their limited resources in building safer houses. "Make it affordable, easy to implement, and leverage the window of opportunity that exists right after an earthquake disaster."

    It is also necessary for local government officials to have an easy way of enforcing building codes. "Create simple building codes, training seminars, and inspection systems that work in rural areas with little infrastructure, budget, time and personnel."

  5. Measure the change. Look at the prevalence of disaster-resistant houses among new houses being built. "Seeing homeowners building safe houses with their own resources — not simply living in houses built for them — is the true test of sustainable, long-term change."
You can read a couple of case examples of how Build Change implements its process here. Tachnical guidelines are here.



Saturday, January 30, 2010

Helping R&D People Pitch Their Ideas

The January 2010 issue of Chief Learning Officer has an excellent case study describing how one company improved its approach to identifying ideas generated by its technical staff that have strong commercial potential.

Authors David Midgley (INSEAD) and Carlos de Pommes (now at Cambiio) explain that QinetiQ (think "kinetic"), a defense technology and security company, designed a program to:
  • equip their scientists and engineers to present ideas as compelling business propositions, and

  • make sure that ideas were brought to the attention of all relevant business units, not just the unit to which a particular research team was attached.
The program, launched in the spring of 2007, was called "Pitching to Win." For details, do read the Midgley/de Pommes write-up. I'll just highlight the training component of the program:
To make a convincing and compelling pitch, teams needed to master four key parts of an investable proposition, known internally as NABC: the need of the customer; the approach the team took to deliver the solution; the benefits for both the customer and QinetiQ; and the likely competition. Experienced instructors taught these skills during the 90 days of the competition and supported the teams throughout.
As of the time of writing, 50 ideas have been proposed, of which 11 were ultimately approved for funding.


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Friday, January 29, 2010

STRATUS Center for Medical Simulation

The Department of Emergency Medicine at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston opened its STRATUS Center for Medical Simulation in February 2004.

The Center uses a wide variety of emergency and critical care scenarios to train all categories of medical personnel.1 There is strong emphasis on teaching teamwork and clinical decision-making.

(Brigham and Women's Hospital)

The video below provides an overview of STRATUS Center training.

The Center has several laboratories, including:
  • Lab for procedure training — Using sophisticated manikins, trainees practice such procedures as intubations and chest tube insertions.

  • Micro-simulation computer laboratory — Trainees handle emergency and pre-hospital scenarios that emulate the actual physiologic changes that patients undergo during critical injury or illness and resuscitation.

  • Lab with a specially designed human patient simulator (see above photo and video) that provides interactive, team-based training in two resuscitation rooms that are virtually identical to the resuscitation bays in the Alpha Unit of Brigham and Women's Emergency Department.
Note that one of the many advantages of simulator-based training is the ability to provide ample practice is handling relatively rare medical cases.

You can read additional details (with a few typos) of how the simulation training works here and here.

1 STRATUS is an acronym for Simulation, Training, Research and Technology Utilization System. In addition to training for emergency personnel, the Center provides training for personnel in a range of medical and surgical areas, such as anesthesiology, surgery, obstetrics and gynecology.



Thursday, January 28, 2010

Alex (Sandy) Pentland on Social Signals

I can't say I'm sold on the broad feasibility of "reality mining," a quantitative technique for tracking people's relationships and behavior developed by Alex (Sandy) Pentland, a professor of media, arts, and sciences at MIT. Reality mining uses electronic sensors to collect the data, which is then analyzed to identify patterns that are influencing performance.

The two videos below provide an overview. The first explains how "honest signals" — defined by Pentland as "unconscious human behaviors that give reliable insight into our relationships and attitudes" — are gathered and analyzed electronically. For more detail, you can turn to Prof. Pentland's 2008 book, Honest Signals: How They Shape Our World .

The second video presents clips of Prof. Pentland responding to questions concerning Honest Signals.

Data collection via sensors that record a person's location, body movements, tone of voice, etc., raises obvious privacy concerns. In an article published in 2007 in Booz Allen's strategy+business magazine, author Mark Buchanan lists Pentland's suggestions for dealing with the privacy issue in a business firm, which include:
... that the technology ought to be used on a voluntary basis, with individuals adopting it because they learn the benefits that it brings for both themselves and the company. An organization could store information on individuals’ own personal computers, rather than in a central location. It might also give people the opportunity, at the end of each day, to review the data that’s been recorded about their activities. They could have the option of deleting anything they’d prefer to keep private. The devices might be fitted with an additional button that would erase, say, the last 10 minutes of data, or data collection might be strictly limited to teams, time frames, and workplace settings where there has been explicit agreement in advance to allow the analysis. Although all these possibilities reduce the amount and quality of data that would be gathered, some steps along such lines will be crucial for giving people confidence that their privacy is being protected.
I leave it to you, after watching Prof. Pentland in the videos, to decide whether or not he oversells his concepts. As I indicated at the beginning, I am not convinced that his "sociometric" techniques have the broad application he claims. For instance, any alert business manager knows, without checking data collected by electronic sensors, that employees often need help in matching their styles to the expectations and preferences of those with whom they work, both internally and externally. On the other hand, I find Prof. Pentland's description of an application like the fuel economy game quite credible.


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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Two Helpful Sales Tools

Back in April 2009 Geoffrey James posted "The Ultimate Cold Calling Tool" at BNET.com. I just stumbled on it and like it, so I'm passing the link along.

James followed up in August with "The Ultimate Prospect Qualification Tool, which you might also want to look at, though I'm afraid you'll find the format awkward.



Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Gus W. Thornton 1933-2010

The Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, my favorite charity, lost one of their most outstanding leaders on January 24.

Gus W. Thornton, DVM

As detailed in the obituary at the MSPCA website, Gus Thornton first arrived at the MSPCA's Angell Memorial Animal Hospital in Boston in 1957 as an intern. He became Chief of Staff in 1966, a position he held until 1989, when he was named President of the MSPCA. He retired in 2002. He was a man respected, admired, and loved who will be much missed.



Monday, January 25, 2010

Is a 1% productivity gain worth it?

The January 16 issue of The Economist has a brief report of an experimental study that found workers responded more to being told they would lose a supplement to their wages if they failed to meet a production target, than to being told they would earn the same amount by achieving the target.

The Economist report doesn't mention that the difference in productivity between the two situations was all of 1%. For that bit of information you have to go to the original paper (pdf) by Tanjim Hossain, an economist in the Department of Management at the University of Toronto Mississauga, and John List, an economist at the University of Chicago.

So the question arises whether a 1% gain in productivity is worth telling employees that, in effect, they will be punished for failing to meet a production goal, as opposed to telling them they will be rewarded for meeting the goal.

I'm inclined to think that, overall, the straightforward proposition to employees that "you'll share in gains from improvements you help the company achieve" will do more to nurture commitment to meeting company goals than a message of "we'll dock your pay if you fall short of this week's (or month's, or whatever) production target."



Sunday, January 24, 2010

Strategic Planning Losing Favor

As a follow-on to yesterday's post concerning coping with uncertainty, I'd call attention to an article in today's Wall Street Journal reporting on companies' declining confidence in the value of strategic planning.

According to reporters Joann Lublin and Dana Mattioli, instead of trying to look ahead and plan for a "likely" future, companies are striving for "increased flexibiliy and accelerated decision making" — decision making that has a pronounced element of opportunism.

It has become evident to the companies in question that they need to respond more quickly to changes in customer demand, so they have begun updating operating budgets more frequently — often monthly rather than quarterly. And they have been thinking in terms of scenarios and spinning out ideas for how they can position themselves to respond adaptively to changes in the business environment.



Saturday, January 23, 2010

Coping with Uncertainty

The Winter 2010 issue of the MIT Sloan Management Review has an excellent article addressing the issue of how businesses can best cope with uncertainty.

Spyros Makridakis (INSEAD), Robin Hogarth (Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona), and Anil Gaba (INSEAD) note that there are two types of uncertainty:
  • Uncertainty concerning events whose probability distribution is known

  • Uncertainty concerning events whose probability distribution cannot be known
The authors note that even in the case of events with a known probability distribution, it is generally impossible to know when a low probability event will occur. The situation is even more nebulous for the second type of uncertainty, since even the frequencies of possible events are unknown.

Since forecasting in an uncertain world leaves the key question, "When will the Big One hit?" unanswered, the authors argue that a business should de-emphasize forecasting exercises and instead prepare for the future by developing plans for handling various scenarios, including quite extreme, if rare, situations.

The authors recommend a technique they call "future-perfect thinking." They offer this example:
Assume you’re the CEO of a major airline, and in order to formulate your corporate strategy, you need to forecast oil prices for the next five years.

First, imagine that five years have already passed. You’re now able to look back on what happened over that period. It turns out that oil prices have been quite low and stable over the “past” five years, which was a great benefit to the airline (and your career). However, instead of just enjoying that imaginary good luck, explain — or tell the story of — how such favorable circumstances came about. What were the particular economic and geopolitical events that contributed to the low, stable oil prices?

Now, take a second trip forward five years on the time machine. This time, however, when you look back at oil prices, you are exasperated. All you see is mayhem: a period of steep and highly volatile prices that made running the airline almost impossible. Once again, explain what happened. What were the particular economic and geopolitical events that led to that painful scenario?

If you do that kind of exercise a few times, focusing on the realms of your own experience, you’ll start to develop a feeling for different futures and the fact that they are all plausible. ... [T]hough there is no formal technique for converting plausibility into probability, you can use your new insights to develop appropriate risk protection strategies. That is the essence of future-perfect thinking. It involves harnessing the clarity of hindsight to develop more vivid pictures of the future.
The affinity of future-perfect thinking to scenario planning is apparent.


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Friday, January 22, 2010

The Reality of Cultural Change in an Organization

John Shook, an industrial anthropologist who worked with the NUMMI joint venture of Toyota and General Motors from its inception, has written an illuminating article about cultural change at the NUMMI factory in Fremont CA. The article appears in the Winter 2010 issue of the MIT Sloan Management Review.

Shook's model of cultural change is a close cousin of that put forward by Edgar Schein, an emeritus Sloan professor who specializes in organizational development. The Shook and Schein models are diagrammed in the graphic below.

(click to enlarge)
(MIT Sloan Management Review, Winter 2010)

The arrows in the graphic represent old and new thinking concerning the process of cultural change.

The traditional view, represented by the upward arrows, is that you start by getting people to change their thinking about how it's proper to behave, and they then proceed to make the desired behavioral changes. The Schein/Shook view, represented by the downward arrows, is that you start by getting people to change their behavior and, in due course they adjust their thinking about what sort of behavior is appropriate.
  • In Schein's model, the initial step is to change "cultural artifacts" — "the observable data of an organization, which include what people do and how they behave." This leads to a change in people's values and attitudes and, ultimately, to a change in the "pattern of shared basic assumptions ... that has worked well enough to be considered valid and therefore, to be taught to new members as the correct way to perceive, think, and feel in relation to [solving] problems."1

  • In Shook's very similar model, managers initiate the process of cultural change by defining the actions and behaviors they desire, providing training, and designing the work processes that are necessary to reinforce those behaviors. This leads to a change in people's values and attitudes and, ultimately, to a change in organizational culture.
Shook describes how NUMMI's adoption of Toyota's system of requiring workers to immediately address any problem, even if that means stopping the production line until the problem is fixed, quickly produced a new culture of employee concern for quality. Previously, the factory had been plagued by worker-management friction and high absenteeism, and quality had been notoriously poor.

In Shook's view,
What changed the culture at NUMMI wasn’t an abstract notion of “employee involvement” or “a learning organization” or even “culture” at all. What changed the culture was giving employees the means by which they could successfully do their jobs. It was communicating clearly to employees what their jobs were and providing the training and tools to enable them to perform those jobs successfully.
The key take-away Shook offers at the conclusion of his article is that the "tools of the Toyota Production System are all designed around making it easy to learn from mistakes. Making it easy to learn from mistakes means changing our attitude toward them," i.e. skipping the finger-pointing and instead nurturing a culture of alert problem solving by empowered amployees.

1 Edgar Schein, "Organizational Culture and Leadership" (1993) in Classics of Organization Theory, Jay Shafritz and J. Steven Ott (eds.) (Harcourt College Publishers, 2001), pp. 373-374.


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Thursday, January 21, 2010

A Simulation that Helps with Counterinsurgency Training

The US military, even more than organizations in the private sector, is stepping up the pace at which it implements simulations for training. A recent example — UrbanSim — is described in a brief item in the January/February 2010 issue of The Atlantic.

Brian Mockenhaupt, a freelance journalist and former infantryman who served in Iraq, explains that the object of UrbanSim is to tilt the support of the local population in a war zone toward a U.S.-led coalition and the local government.

The game's scenarios involve named local individuals (e.g., the mayor of a town) and groups (e.g., a neighborhood), all of which are "autonomous agents that react not just to specific actions, but to the climate created by a player's overall strategy."

The intent of the simulation is to
teach commanders new ways of thinking about multiple problems in a fast-changing environment, always reevaluating instead of fixating on one approach. “You have to think through the cause and effect of your decisions,” said Colonel Todd Ebel, the director of the School for Command Preparation [where UrbanSim was first used]. “Like chess, you have to look two or three turns down the road.”
In UrbanSim, players in two-person teams take on the role of an Army battalion commander who has to plan, prepare, and execute counterinsurgency operations. The commander's task, as explained at the UrbanSim website, is to "maintain stability [a particular focus of the simulation], fight insurgency, reconstruct the civil infrastructure, and prepare for transition." Progress is measured in terms of impacts on:
  • governance

  • economics

  • security

  • essential services

  • capabilities of local police and soldiers
Teams receive feedback from an intelligent tutoring system (ITS) as they're working their way through whatever scenario their trainers have set up for them. The ITS is designed to help participants understand why the local individuals and groups built into the scenario react in paticular ways, given the state of the world in which they find themselves, a state significantly affected by what the battalion commander has decided to do. The ITS can also indicate the response an alternate decision by the battalion commander would have elicited from the local individuals and groups.

For more details of how UrbanSim was created and how it works, you can see a paper (pdf) co-authored by key participants in its development: Ryan McAlinden, H. Chad Lane, and Andrew S. Gordon of the Institute for Creative Technologies at the University of Southern California; Paula J. Durlach of the U.S. Army Research Institute for the Behavioral and Social Sciences; and John Hart of the U.S. Army Research, Development, and Engineering Command Simulation and Training Technology Center.


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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Teacher Training

"What Makes a Great Teacher?," an article by Amanda Ripley in the January/February 2010 issue of The Atlantic, is well worth a read.

Here are two key paragraphs in which Ripley summarizes findings of research conducted by Teach for America that investigated the characteristics of highly effective teachers:
First, great teachers tended to set big goals for their students. They were also perpetually looking for ways to improve their effectiveness. For example, when Farr [the Teach for America researcher and trainer] called up teachers who were making remarkable gains and asked to visit their classrooms, he noticed he’d get a similar response from all of them: “They’d say, ‘You’re welcome to come, but I have to warn you — I am in the middle of just blowing up my classroom structure and changing my reading workshop because I think it’s not working as well as it could.’ When you hear that over and over, and you don’t hear that from other teachers, you start to form a hypothesis.” Great teachers, he concluded, constantly reevaluate what they are doing.

Superstar teachers had four other tendencies in common: they avidly recruited students and their families into the process; they maintained focus, ensuring that everything they did contributed to student learning; they planned exhaustively and purposefully — for the next day or the year ahead — by working backward from the desired outcome; and they worked relentlessly, refusing to surrender to the combined menaces of poverty, bureaucracy, and budgetary shortfalls.
In addition to reporting on the distinguishing characteristics of highly effective teachers, Ripley discusses how Teach for America's approach to hiring has evolved over time in response to research findings. You can read Teach for America's own summary of what they're looking for when they hire by clicking here.



Tuesday, January 19, 2010

KOTO Hanoi

The same sort of thinking that lay behind the training offered by the now-defunct MiMe's Cafe that I discussed in an earlier post, inspired creation of KOTO Hanoi in 1996.

Jimmy Pham, an Australian of Vietnamese descent, wanted to help street children in Hanoi develop career and life skills that would equip them for stable employment and decent adult lives. His philosophy was "Know One Teach One" (KOTO):
The greatest accomplishment for the person who has helped you, is to see you stand on your own two feet and then in turn help someone else that reminds you of yourself, because if you Know One, then you should Teach One.”
KOTO's two-year training program encompasses instruction and coaching in hospitality industry skills, life skills, and English as a second language. The hospitality curriculum has been adopted from that offered by Box Hill Institute, an Australian vocational school.

The life skills program includes instruction on health issues (e.g., reproduction) and first aid; sports, social, cultural, and creative activities; and community service.

The short (4:20) 2005 BBC video below, introduces you to a KOTO graduate and lets you see some of what the training looks like in person.

For a fuller account of KOTO's history and training program, you can watch this 17:46 video from 2007.

Vivid blog entries by Steve Jackson, an Englishman who worked as a VSO volunteer at KOTO between 2005 and 2007, are here.


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Monday, January 18, 2010

Academic Earth Update

Last February, I wrote a brief post calling attention to Academic Earth, a portal for videos of college lectures that was then in beta. The site is now fully functional and has notably expanded the number of universities and courses it covers.

The unversities — with the added schools marked with asterisks — are:


The list of subject areas is also a bit longer now (added subjects are marked with asterisks):

      AP Test Prep*
      Computer Science
      Environmental Studies*
      International Relations*
      Literature (broadened from "English")
      Media Studies*
      Political Science
      Religious Studies (used to be "Religion")

I haven't personally sampled many of these courses, but can recommend "Building Dynamic Websites," taught by David J. Malan, a lecturer on computer science at Harvard College, to anyone interested in relatively advanced website development. The syllabus is here.

For a more basic treatment of computers and the internet, you can try Prof. Malan's Harvard Extension School course, "Understanding Computers and the Internet." The syllabus is here (pdf).



Sunday, January 17, 2010

A More Efficient Soybean Market in Madhya Pradesh

About a year ago, I wrote a brief post about the Ethiopia Commodity Exchange (ECX), launched in April 2008 as a mechanism for helping farmers gauge their crop sales in light of up-to-date information about world commodity prices.1

A similar effort to promote market efficiency is the subject of a study by Aparajita Goyal (pdf), an economist at the World Bank.2 Goyal studied data relating to soybean sales in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh before and after introduction of internet kiosks and warehouses that provided "wholesale price information and an alternative marketing channel to soy farmers in the state."

The aim of setting up the kiosks and warehouses was to mitigate exploitation of farmers by middlemen. Due to poor rural transport and storage infrastructure, lack of reliable price information, and an inability on the part of purchasers — processing companies and exporters — to verify produce quality, middlemen were able to get away with paying lowball prices to farmers while often overcharging purchasers.

Goyal found that the availability of the kiosks,3 which began being installed in Madhya Pradesh villages in October 2000, produced a significant increase in prices received by farmers and in the amount of land farmers allocated to soy production. The rise in prices — driven by increased competition among buyers — resulted in a 33% increase in profit for farmers. Land cultivated in soybeans went up 19%.

ITC Ltd., the large Indian conglomerate that deployed the kiosks and built the warehouses — at which farmers could sell directly to ITC — benefited from the improvement in quality of soybeans procured (ITC tested beans for oil and protein content before purchasing them), from the creation of a direct marketing channel, and from a reduction in its transaction costs (principally, costs of storage, weighing, loading, and bagging). The value of these benefits fully offset the cost of the kiosks.

1 ECX trades five commodities: maize, wheat, beans, sesame and coffee. You can read remarks by Eleni Gabre-Madhin, ECX's CEO, concerning the first eighteen months of ECX's operation here.

2 Members of the American Economic Association can access Goyal's paper, "Information, Direct Access to Farmers, and Rural Market Performance in Central India" (forthcoming in American Economic Journal: Applied Economics), here.

3 The kiosks are called "e-Choupals." "Choupal" is a Hindi word meaning "village gathering place." In addition to price information, the kiosks provide agricultural information and weather forecasts.


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Saturday, January 16, 2010

21st Century Journalism XXXVIII: Training Rural Journalists in India

On January 14, India Knowledge@Wharton published an article reporting on what newspaper publishers in India are doing to attract rural readers. Despite a rural literacy rate of only 50% and road conditions that make delivery arduous, Indian newspapers are succeeding in maintaining circulation in rural areas by covering topics of local interest, marketing vigorously, and employing resourceful delivery people.

Rajasthan Patrika, a Hindi-language newspaper that has made a point of building rural readership
(Dan Reynolds)

The article opens with an account of rural distribution of a city paper, Rajasthan Patrika, and then goes on to describe a paper that is more strictly local:
Khabar Lahariya, or News Waves, [is] a weekly newspaper based in Chitrakoot, one of the poorest districts in central India. Written in Bundeli, the local language, the paper's all-female staff has forged a reputation for investigative journalism and support of grassroots causes since the paper was founded in 2002 by Nirantar, a New Delhi-based literacy education non-profit.

With a readership of 35,000 in 400 villages and costing 4 U.S. cents, the paper has no glitzy promotion strategy like its urban counterparts. Khabar Lahariya's marketing strength is instead its bold reporting on issues concerning lower-caste communities, for which it won the 2009 King Sejong Literacy Prize from UNESCO, among other recent accolades. However, the main reason why Khabar Lahariya receives such kudos is that it is run by trained women from marginalized communities and it conducts (in conjunction with Nirantar) journalist training and writing programs for locals — a vital step, many believe, in increasing rural literacy.1
Khabar Lahariya's training effort offers a promising model. You can get an idea of how Nirantar organizes its training workshops from an August 2007 report (pdf) that Nirantar has made available online.

A Nirantar training workshop on rural journalism

The workshop described in the report ran for seven days with eighteen participants. It was a mix of "group discussions, analysis of written material, field visits, film screening,2 debates, lectures and role plays."

The basic journalism concepts covered were:
  • What constitutes news

  • Sources of news

  • Verifying sources

  • Questioning gender norms

  • Completing stories

  • Effective interviewing

  • Ways of writing up interviews (Q&A, feature story)
I would note that the field trips, which were timed to support the discussions of what constitutes news, maintaining neutrality,3 identifying and tapping reliable sources, conducting interviews, and doing a thorough job of gathering information, were vital for giving the training participants a real feel for the process of reporting.

It is also notable that the workshop's interviewing role plays were especially well received:
This was definitely the highlight of this session: a combination of entertaining characterizations and the excitement of interacting with the trainers in a different role really worked to draw the group into the exercise. Six groups were formed, and each given a different character to interview — ranging from officials to interesting personalities (A sleazy District Magistrate, a boatwoman, a station master, a woman freedom fighter, a woman pradhan). They were given a situation, and asked to plan/prepare questions for the interview. Some of the issues that emerged were — how to deal with long, rambling, unfocussed interviewees; how to deal with officials behaving inappropriately (and thus distracting attention from the questions asked); and how to extract important information from sources who are busy/evasive. In general, the energy was high through this activity, and provided a spur to the field trips that followed.
The report closes with notes on how the training was evaluated. To test retention the trainers used a competition, with questions in various forms — multiple choice, matching, true/false, and items dealing with more detailed issues covered inthe training. The trainers' assessment:
It was deeply heartening to see that most of the group had a grasp of the basic concepts of journalism, but also were able to articulate some of the more complex issues — of what news is important, and why, of how to write certain news. It was also an exhilarating way to end the fairly long and draining week we’d had.
In addition, the trainers solicited oral and written feedback from the participants. In the oral feedback,
[m]any participants said they were nervous before they came ... – about the work that would be expected of them - but had enjoyed meeting so many people, and speaking to them, and learning so much. Many people listed the key concepts in the course (we were sure none of the 18 participants would ever forget what LEAD or KHABAR ["news"] or INTERVIEW meant!). [S]ome people shared the difficulty in understanding or remembering words that were used in the course ... but hoped that what they didn’t recall, they would in the work to follow. Uma shared what a different experience it was to be encouraged to go out and speak to so many different people.
1 You can see a sample 2007 edition of Khabar Lahariya here.

2The film used in the workshop was Mrityudand ("The Death Sentence"), a 1997 Hindi-language release.

3 In the Indian context, maintaining neutrality was difficult for some of the training participants because they felt that the (mythical) stories they learned in their religious instruction should take precedence over alternate stories based on standard journalistic fact-finding.


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Friday, January 15, 2010

Stanley Bing's Tips for Managing Up

Not everything Stanley Bing writes is satirical (though everything he writes for Fortune's back page is). For instance, he regularly offers practical advice at BNET.com that is down-to-earth and unhoneyed, while also being amusingly expressed.

On January 12 the issue was how to get one's good work noticed by the boss. After encouraging the correspondent who wrote in with this question to familiarize himself with his boss's likes, dislikes, and habits, he goes on to list ten tips (abbreviated here):

1. Talk to the boss every day you can. ... Don’t wear him or her out. Just begin to establish the idea that you are a human being, not just a function ...

2. Notice when he or she comes in to the office, and then make sure you're there too.

3. Wander by his or her office now and then, and stop in for a chat if he or she doesn’t seem to mind.

4. Look for opportunities to make your boss’s life easier.

5. Never present a problem without also bringing along a couple of solutions.

6. Tell the boss the whole truth.

7. Don’t whine. If he or she treats you mean now and then, just accept it.

8. If there’s anything going on that requires a volunteer, let it be you.

9. Show your appreciation. Anybody that tells you that sucking up — done properly and with restraint — is wrong ... is simply advising you to disarm one of the most powerful weapons in your arsenal.

10. Share glory, but not blame. When there is praise due for something well done, let your boss have the credit, even if you deserve it. If there is blame, accept it, even if the boss deserves it.

The above gives you a taste of Bing's style. If you want a further dose, you can visit his website at stanleybing.com.



Thursday, January 14, 2010

Missteps to Avoid in Job Interviews

In one handy package, Adriana Gardella provides a list of seven mistakes to avoid in a job interview, each illustrated with a telling example.

The mistakes are:
  1. Being rude or otherwise behaving badly in front of low-level employees (e.g., the receptionist).

  2. Telling the interviewer too much about your life circumstances, such as your medical situation or your childcare hassles.

  3. Assuming your resume speaks for itself.

  4. Taking phone calls and checking for incoming messages during the interview. (It's hard to believe that people actually do this, but take it from Gardella, they do.)

  5. Suggesting that the job you're interviewing for is beneath you.

  6. Following up on the interview too aggressively, i.e., leaving multiple messages to inquire how the company is progressing with their decision-making.

  7. Being sloppy in the written messages you send to the prospective employer, whether through snail mail, email, text messaging, or social media such as Facebook. Always proofread before sending.
By all means, if you're in the job market, give Gardella's advisory a read because doing so can put important interviewing "don'ts" at the front of your mind.



Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Tips for Your LinkedIn Profile

Back on Christmas Eve, at Web Worker Daily, Meryl K. Evans published tips for putting together an effective profile on LinkedIn that are well worth your attention. By "effective," Evans means good "at attracting contacts, generating leads and showing off your skills."

Here is a somewhat abbreviated version of her tips:
  • Use the name that most people know you by professionally.

  • The photo you upload should preferably be one taken by a professional photographer.

  • Add an effective Professional Headline on the “Edit My Profile” page.

  • Pick the industry that best represents what you do. Alternatively, you could use your clients’ industry if they all come from the same one.

  • When entering details for your current and past positions, highlight the activities that represent what you do or want to do by mentioning them first.

  • Write a summary that highlights your most important business information. (Remember that you can add details under “Current Position.”)

  • List your web sites and blog. Rather than using the name of your web site and blog, use keywords that describe what you do.

  • If you have a Twitter ID, include it in your profile, along with your your Twitter name.

  • Request recommendations. (Writing recommendations for others can lead to reciprocal write-ups for you.)

  • Add LinkedIn apps to enhance your profile. For example, if you have a blog, you can use a LinkedIn app to feed your blog entries into your LinkedIn account. You can also turn LinkedIn into an online document collaboration platform.

  • If you tweet, send selected Twitter tweets to LinkedIn. You do this by adding the hashtag “#in” to the tweet. (Turn on this feature in Twitter Settings.)

  • Select what to display in your public profile, using the Public Profile options (which is also the section where you set up your Public Profile URL — http://www.linkedin.com/in/yourname). The more you reveal, the easier it is for people to know if they have the right person.

  • Review your settings to make sure you've dealt with everything you want to adjust, including the new features and settings LinkedIn provides from time to time.
When Evans's tips were summarized at BNET.com, some helpful comments came in from readers, such as this one from merribame: "[A]nswer questions in your area of expertise. You'll gain exposure. [Also] ... ask questions — even when you know the answer. You give others a chance to enter your world with their perspective. And they'll love you for it!"


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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Don Vandergriff VI: How to Avoid Choking

Yesterday's post referenced Don Vandergriff's workshop, "Deciding Under Pressure and Fast." Today I'd like to call attention to an overview of research on performing under pressure that lends support to Vandergriff's insistence on the necessity that people get ample practice in making decisions under time pressure.

The article in question is "Avoiding the Big Choke," by Elizabeth Svoboda, in the February/March 2009 issue of Scientific American Mind. Choking is defined as "performance decrements under pressure circumstances."1

Though much of Svoboda's article is devoted to activities like playing golf and public speaking, not to Vandergriff's main focus on training people who need to plan and execute military and law enforcement actions, there is a key point in Svoboda's report that is clearly applicable to any job requiring an ability to think on one's feet: "The best way to make a performance situation feel like rehearsal ... is to subject yourself to the same anxiety-packed conditions during practice that you expect to encounter" in the actual situation for which you are preparing.

Svoboda cites Raôul R.D. Oudejans, a professor in the Faculty of Human Movement Sciences of VU University Amsterdam. Oudejans conducted a study with Dutch police, the results of which "indicate that turning up the heat from the very first day of practice may be one of the most effective ways to immunize yourself against blowing it."

Art Markman, a psychology professor at the University of Texas at Austin, weighs in with the complementary idea that "[t]he more exposure you get to these high-pressure situations, and the more you succeed [despite them], he less likely you're going to get that whole affective experience" of feeling distractingly nervous about your performance.

Svoboda summarizes: "the more comfortable you feel, the less likely you are to be affected by pressure." To become as comfortable as possible, you should devise "a high-tension practice regimen appropriate to your particular performance situation."

In concluding, Svoboda cites Harry Wallace, a psychology professor at Trinity University in San Antonio. She says:
The most effective strategies ... are the ones that imbue performers with the assurance that they can deal with any eventuality. This mind-set proves helpful even (and perhaps especially) when something goes wrong. According to Prof. Wallace, "Part of the key is not being overconfident in advance and recognizing that you may feel more anxiety than you expect. You want to address any concerns far in advance of performance. You don't want to have any second thoughts about your likelihood of success."
The affinity of this admonition with the philosophy underlying "Deciding Under Pressure and Fast" is apparent.

1 Svoboda adopts the definition used by Roy Baumeister, a professor of social psychology at Florida State University.


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Monday, January 11, 2010

Don Vandergriff V: "Deciding Under Pressure and Fast" Workshop

Don Vandergriff's main training program is his "Deciding Under Pressure and Fast" workshop. The video clip below — from 0:30 to 3:17 — gives you a taste of the workshop's approach, a look at what Vandergriff's Adaptive Leadership Methodology looks like in action, and a couple of participant responses to the workshop.

The Transatlantic Network 2020 (TN 2020) summit where this workshop took place ran from September 28 to October 3, 2008 in Belfast, Northern Ireland, and Dublin, Ireland. The Vandergriff workshop took place on September 29 and 30.

As explained on their website, TN 2020 "works to strengthen ties between Europe and North America through the creation of a sustainable network of young leaders." TN 2020 is sponsored by the British Council.


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Sunday, January 10, 2010

Don Vandergriff IV: Assessing Students in Courses that Use the Adaptive Leadership Methodology

A section of the blog post by Don Vandergriff and Fred Leland that I cited yesterday is devoted to explaining how students in classes using the Adaptive Leadership Methodology (ALM) are assessed and graded.

Vandergriff and Leland describe a couple of assessment methods:
  • Short-answer tests — "These examinations place [the students] in a specific tactical scenario and require them to make decisions. They must then explain the reasons behind their decision in writing. For example, student might be told that he is the commander for a convoy of vehicles that [must] travel to an assigned destination within the next several hours. After being presented with information about the composition of the convoy, a map, the nature of the enemy threat, and the specifics of the mission and Commander’s Intent,1 the student would have to determine which route he will take and then explain why he selected that route. The instructor then grades him on how he approached solving the problem using the information at hand and how well he communicates his reasoning. This gets to the point of examining 'how' the student is thinking, not 'what' he is thinking."

  • Graded Tactical Decision-Making Exercises (TDEs) — "Just like the short-answer tests, these are scenario-based and require students to make decisions. This technique is virtually identical to a standard in-class TDE with the exception that students are required to write out or brief their solutions to their instructors who, in turn, grade those solutions. In many cases, these examinations require students to produce a concept sketch with short hand-written notes concerning exact guidance for individuals, their teams, the sequence of events, and most importantly the purpose behind various actions."
Vandergriff and Leland note:
Regardless of the technique or format of the assessment, the tactical scenario must allow for multiple “correct” ways to solve the problem. For the assessment to be truly effective, students must have the freedom to actually make a decision on their own and formulate a plan rather than being forced to regurgitate a pre-determined “template.” If tests fail to allow room for creativity, students become focused on identifying the “approved solution” rather than thinking for themselves. In order to permit freedom of thought, scenarios must have a significant amount of ambiguity. The situation must be such that one could reasonably interpret the available information in multiple ways. Of course, this does not preclude the existence of “wrong” answers. Violations of the Commander’s Intent, unethical conduct, poor communication, or an unrealistic course of action all constitute an automatic failure. Additionally, if the student is unable to make a decision in the face of the time and information constraints of the test (the worst of all possibilities), he is assigned a failing grade.
To ensure that different instructors are applying comparable standards in grading students,
... all instructors must participate in a free exchange of ideas regarding the key concepts that are the focus of the upcoming assessment. ... [T]hese group discussions ... begin with the instructors actually taking the test followed by an open discussion regarding the content of the exam and how to approach grading. At the end of this exchange, the Course Director compiles the applicable notes from the session into a short set of general guidelines.
According to Vandergriff and Leland, this approach has produced satisfactory consistency in grading.

1 An August 14, 2009 post on the Combined Arms Center blog quotes the following definition of "commander's intent" from paragraph 5-55 of the Army Field Manual 3-0, Operations (February 2008): "The commander’s intent is a clear, concise statement of what the force must do and the conditions the force must establish with respect to the enemy, terrain, and civil considerations that represent the desired end state. The commander’s intent succinctly describes what constitutes success in an operation. It includes the operation’s purpose and the conditions that define the end state. It links the mission, concept of operations, and tasks to subordinate units. A clear commander’s intent facilitates a shared understanding and focus on the overall conditions that represent mission accomplishment. During execution, the commander’s intent spurs individual initiative."

The following paragraph adds, "The commander’s intent must be easy to remember and clearly understood two echelons down. The shorter the commander’s intent, the better it serves these purposes. Typically, the commander’s intent statement is three to five sentences long."


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Saturday, January 09, 2010

Don Vandergriff III: Themes in the Adaptive Leadership Methodology

In a long blog post (which seems to be the source of the article I discussed yesterday), Don Vandergriff and Fred Leland, a lieutenant in the Walpole (MA) Police Department and a security consultant, discuss the Adaptive Leadership Methodology (ALM) in detail.

Some of their key points have been covered in my previous posts. Today I'd like to note the three themes that they identify as applying to all Adaptive Leadership scenarios:
  • "[S]tudents learn to approach their analysis of the terrain (or tactical environment) and the opponent (criminal) with the objective of identifying that which they can use to their advantage. With respect to the enemy (criminal element), we teach our students to identify enemy strengths (which they must avoid) and weaknesses (which they must exploit)."

  • "[I]t is vital that students understand the long term consequences of their immediate actions. This requires the ability to operate within the framework of their higher headquarters 'Commander’s Intent.' In order to reinforce this concept, students see orders as 'contracts' between senior and subordinate. The higher commander assigns a mission (the short term contract) with the understanding that the subordinate leader will be allowed maximum latitude in figuring out exactly how he will accomplish that mission. The only stipulation is that the subordinate leader’s 'solution' must not violate the Commander’s Intent. This intent constitutes the long term contract between senior and subordinate. Ethical conduct and adherence to the Rules of Engagement (ROE) are always part of the Commander’s Intent, and this serves to emphasize the often strategic-level consequences of actions at the lowest levels."

  • "ALM-based courses [focus] on the way that 'tactics' are defined. In ALM-based courses, instructors describe tactics as unique 'solutions' to specific problems, not tasks or drills that must be executed through doctrinal formulas or set procedures. Following fixed rules not only results in predictability, it quickly becomes an excuse for not thinking. Since courses using ALM focus on 'how to think' about tactical problem-solving, while developing an individual’s competence and confidence, anything that discourages creative thought has no place in its curriculum."
Leland and Vandergriff cite William Lind's theory of "maneuver warfare" as the basis for these themes. Lind's theory is spelled out in his 1985 Maneuver Warfare Handbook.


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Friday, January 08, 2010

Don Vandergriff II: Developing Adaptive Leaders at West Point

A couple of earlier posts discussed John Boyd, who served as an Air Force officer from 1951 to 1975. Among his notable contributions to military thinking is the "OODA loop," aka the "Boyd Cycle," a decision-making process summarized in the graphic below.

Adapted from ""No 'Approved Solutions' in Asymmetric Warfare" (pdf), by Maj. Chad Foster. The Orientation phase is highlighted because the orientation process is emphasized in West Point's military science classes that use the Adaptive Leadership Methodology.

The OODA Loop is now embedded in military science courses taught to cadets at the US Military Academy at West Point. This is part of a broader framework designed to develop students' adaptive leadership skills.

As Maj. Chad Foster explains in a brief article (pdf) published in the August 2009 issue of West Point's Assembly magazine, Don Vandergriff's Adaptive Leadership Methodology (ALM) is now used in Academy military science classes in order to nurture "effective decision-making and adaptability through experiential learning."

The graphic below shows how ALM governs the flow of a class. The OODA Loop comes into play at the points where students need to reach decisions on how to handle scenarios the teacher presents.

Use of the Adaptive Leadership Methodology in West Point military science classes
("No 'Approved Solutions' in Asymmetric Warfare" [pdf])

The emphasis is on the Orientation phase of the OODA Loop
because this is when the cadet attempts to make sense out of the information at hand. The decision is important, but how the cadet arrived at it is just as important.
In concluding his article, Foster notes that implementing the Adaptive Leadership Methodology at West Point involved considerable effort, but that the results — in terms of student engagement and learning — have clearly made the effort worthwhile.

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Thursday, January 07, 2010

Don Vandergriff I: Teaching the Adaptive Leadership Methodology

Back in December, Donald Vandergriff, a retired US Army officer who now acts as a consultant on leadership development, wrote a post for his blog that gives a good idea of the type of training he recommends — and conducts — for members of the armed forces and civilian law enforcement organizations.

Vandergriff advocates leadership development training that emphasizes adaptability. As you can see from his blog post, Vandergriff is focused on adaptability because it is essential for being able to handle complex problem situations, especially when time is of the essence.

In brief, Vandergriff teaches the Adaptive Leadership Methodology as follows:
Experimentation comes first through the execution of Tactical Decision-Making Exercises (TDEs) [see below] followed by the officers briefing their decisions, plans or orders. After the officer explained him or herself and responded to criticism from their peers and me, the group executed an intense instructor-facilitated after-action review (AARs). The “teaching” was accomplished through AARs as the officers discovered for themselves the concepts and principles included in workshop’s outcomes.
Vandergriff explains how the TDEs are set up:
Each TDE consisted of a scenario summary and a map with graphics. I either handed out a printed copy of the scenario or issued it verbally to the officers, requiring them to listen closely and take notes. The TDEs were two types (1) immediate decision exercises that gave the officers only 30 seconds or a few minutes to make a decision and (2) planning exercises that are longer in duration and culminate in the briefing of orders. In either case, the officers were given limited time and limited information to make their decisions and to complete their plans. This induced stress and allowed them to discover for themselves that delaying decisions until one has “perfect intelligence” or to wait for “permission” is both unrealistic and ineffective.
Citing the work of Robert Bjork, a psychology professor at UCLA for support, Vandergriff reports that he has consistently found that long-term learning is greater if specific tasks are taught in the larger context of problem solving (as opposed to being taught in isolation as a series of lessons that take the form "in situation X, do the following").


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Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Epiphany 2009

The Epiphany (c. 1320)
Giotto di Bondone (c. 1267 - 1337)
Metropolitan Museum of Art




Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Twelfth Day of Christmas 2009




Monday, January 04, 2010

Eleventh Day of Christmas 2009

Eleven Pipers Piping

(Be Well @ Stanford)



Sunday, January 03, 2010

Memorial of the Holy Name of Jesus

"... one of the Holy Name of Jesus monograms that devout Sienese put above the gates of their cities, their businesses and homes in response to the preaching of St. Bernardine of Siena. St. Bernadine urged devotion to the Holy Name of Jesus as part of a peace-making response to the many family feuds that plagued the city."

(Intentional Disciples)



Saturday, January 02, 2010

Memorial of St. Basil the Great

St. Basil the Great
(St. Basil the Great Parish, Kimberton PA)



Friday, January 01, 2010

New Year's Day 2010

For all my family and friends who have been exulting over their wonderful cats . . .

(Amy Crehore)