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Archive for August, 2008

mY generation: George II

Sunday, August 31st, 2008

To mY generation author Jim Gordon, the saga of George II is a perfect parallel to Shakespear’s Richard III. Join Jim over the next few weeks to see this saga play out. See all mY generation posts here.

Quotable quotes: Do you believe what you're told?

Sunday, August 31st, 2008

Do you listen to what people say about you? Do you believe what they say?Do you listen without realizing it, buying into the negatives and allowing them to shape your life?

choice1.jpgWhether you do or don’t is a function of your MAP and that’s within your control—in other words, it’s your choice.

So when someone tells you that you can’t, think about it honestly—first about the source of the comment and then about the comment itself—and make your choice.

Here are a number of folks who fortunately didn’t listen.

Can’t act. Can’t sing. Balding. Can dance a little. –MGM executive, reacting to Fred Astaire’s screen test, 1928

You’d better learn secretarial work or else get married. –Emmeline Snively, to Marilyn Monroe, 1944

Many others who’ve won fame and riches were told they couldn’t/wouldn’t succeed…

  • Elizabeth Taylor because “her eyes are too old”
  • 5’6” Alan Ladd was too short, as were Laurence Olivier and David Niven, James Cagney and Edward G. Robinson.
  • Esther Williams, Alexis Smith, Patricia Neal and Ingrid Bergman were all too tall
  • 5’7”Katharine Hepburn was considered too tall to work with Spencer Tracy
  • Barbara Streisand’s nose was too large and too ethnic
  • Anne Bancroft left Hollywood for acting lessons in New York and won several Tony Awards
  • Sylvester Stallone’s lisp, face and voice were all considered no-wins

And finally a business favorite of mine straight from the horses mouth,

“So we went to Atari and said, ‘Hey, we’ve got this amazing thing, even built with some of your parts, and what do you think about funding us? Or we’ll give it to you. We just want to do it. Pay our salary; we’ll come work for you.’

And they said, ‘No.’ So then we went to Hewlett-Packard, and they said, ‘Hey, we don’t need you. You haven’t got through college yet.'” –Steve Jobs on efforts to get Atari and H-P interested in his and Steve Wozniak’s personal computer.

To whom do you listen?

Your comments—priceless

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Form vs. Leadership – Appearance vs. Substance

Saturday, August 30th, 2008

2008.jpgI know, you were expecting to read about the fifth chapter in IBM’s The Enterprise of the Future (a steady Saturday feature since July 12 (be sure and download your free copy), but I’m taking a break in the name of politics.

As you all know, John McCain announced his running mate in an acknowledged effort to blunt the Democratic convention momentum (yawn). Nothing new there.

McCain chose Alaska Governor Sarah Palin. Based on my limited knowledge of political maneuvering, her main advantages are gender, Conservative credentials, and age.

Upon reading here and there today, I got the impression that the Republicans are hoping that “Hilary women” will vote the Republican ticket because the Vice Presidential candidate has the same plumbing. Never mind that Palin stands in diametric opposition to most of Clinton’s beliefs.

At the Democratic Convention and in the media Obama was hailed as a personification of Dr. King’s Dream, but If he (an eighth cousin to Dick Cheney and an 11th cousin to G. W. Bush) does win he’ll actually be the seventh black president (after Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, Warren G. Harding, Calvin Coolidge and Dwight Eisenhower)—just the first one who shows and, as Americans have proved over and over, appearance is everything.

Are we [the American people] really as shallow as we’ve made ourselves out to be?

Is our vision truly so focused on form that substance sinks into oblivion?

Felony pork

Saturday, August 30th, 2008

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Convicted felons may not be able to vote, but when they’re just under indictment they can run for office, win the primary and maybe even win in the general election.

I’m not talking about some local or even state office; I’m talking about the US Senate.

I’m talking about 84 year old Ted Stevens; the Republican Alaskan’s have elected the last seven terms.

Federal prosecutors allege Stevens lied on Senate disclosure reports to conceal more than $250,000 in home renovations and gifts from oil industry executives. He was caught up in a federal investigation of corruption in Alaska politics that has seen three state lawmakers sent to federal prison and two more awaiting trial. All five are Republicans.”

But I understand why he garnered 63% of the primary vote—as a friend said, “He does for constituents what he did for himself.”

Although what Stevens did for himself pales in comparison to the amount of pork he’s brought home over the years.

“According to Citizens Against Government Waste, a Washington watchdog group, Stevens sponsored a total of 1,452 pork barrel projects worth $3.4 billion between 1995 and 2008, making Alaska the No. 1 state in pork per capita every year since 1999.”

Stevens House compatriot Don Young may even be worse. His achievements include

“…a $223 million check from the federal government, the bridge will connect Gravina (20-mile-long island, home to fewer than 50 people, has no stores, no restaurants and no paved roads) to the bustling Alaskan metropolis of Ketchikan, pop. 8,000 and $231 million for a bridge that will connect Anchorage to Port MacKenzie, a rural area that has exactly one resident, north of the town of Knik, pop. 22.”

Legal or not, the abuse of power is stunning. Pork like this may not be a felony, but it should be!

What do you think?

Reasonable accommodation or political correctness

Friday, August 29th, 2008

accessibility.jpgYesterday CandidProf wrote about what he’s expected to do as “reasonable accommodation” for his students with disabilities.

Many of these struck me as totally UNreasonable. For example, the additional 18 hours a week for just one student is ridiculous—even more so because the work is expected to be done gratis in addition to a normal professor’s workload. No corporation could get away with that.

And CandidProf’s situation applies in the majority of universities, colleges and even high schools across the US.

I realize that in many lofty universities, such as Stanford and Harvard, there are rock star professors who teach only a few classes and spend their time and reputations acquiring grant money to fund research, which, in turn, attracts more alumni donations and an ever larger endowment fund. And although much of that research is valuable and needed, that’s not the issue here.

The issue is the choices being forced on our educators in the name of politically correct and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)—but not on the educational facility.

Our educational system is continually being dumbed down in the name of “fairness,” initiatives such as “no child left behind” and laws like the ADA, with compliance tied to ever scarcer funding.

All mandated by the Powers That Be—mandated but never paid for. So the actual cost is pushed down from Federal to State to local to individuals, with, as usual, those who care, who haven’t been burned/burned out by the system, footing the bill through unpaid hours of work.

The more I read CandidProf’s posts the more depressed I become. I wonder how long he, and others like him, will choose to continue teaching, continue being put in the position of doing more and more for which they weren’t trained, aren’t paid for,  and never dreamed would be required.

What is “reasonable” when it comes to education? And how reasonable is it when that accommodation can have a ripple effect? Do you want an accountant doing your taxes who achieved professional status through a series of accommodations? How about your lawyer or doctor. Would you want your house wired by an electrician whose training was eased over because he had difficulty reading schematics?

How fair is it to the students who do all the work to achieve the same status as the disabled student who was “accommodated?”

Is it even fair to the disabled student? How fair is it to take that student’s money, tell them that they are qualified only to have the world and the law tell them that they aren’t?

Finally, before you tear into what I’ve said—

There are teachers in my family. My niece taught English and history in middle school for several years. Burned out from the constant battles with parents demanding better grades for their children and children talking about suicide as their only choice she returned to school for a MS in Library Science. As a librarian, she can focus on nurturing a love of reading. Her husband teaches college-level economics to high school honor students and runs afoul of the same problems as CandidProf.

As to myself, I have an 85db hearing loss—the typical hearing aid is designed for losses below 65 db—specifically in the consonant range of the human voice. Normal noise, coupled with today’s ultra-fast speech patterns, has eliminated my ability to do much out in the world. It has been years since I’ve attended a function and actually taken an intelligent role in the conversations; and forget podcasts and videos (unless they’re closed captioned). Even in a quiet conference (or living) room I can’t understand the back-and-forth talk between people. That’s why I switched my consulting to coaching via phone, instant messaging and email.

I can tell you first hand that it’s enormously difficult for people to modify their speech patterns and the majority don’t want the bother, which I can understand having been on their side in communicating with my mother.

What truly amazes me is that in spite of all this there are still people who want to teach.

What do you feel is “reasonable accommodation” in an educational situation? And how should it be paid for?

Your comments—priceless

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Corporate culture tops workforce wants

Friday, August 29th, 2008

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Oh goody. More support for my decades of harping on the importance of corporate culture. I’ve been preaching that corporate culture was number one on candidates’ list of “wants” since the late Seventies (Good grief, where did the time go?)—long before most companies would listen.

Hollister, a Massachusetts staffing firm, just published a survey confirming this. And although it was done strictly in Massachusetts, it’s representative—more so because these are hardheaded Yankees, not touchy-feely Californians. Nor was it a survey of Millennials or moms, just a cross section of people.

The Workforce Survey polled over 1,000 people throughout the Commonwealth, both employed and unemployed. When asked to rank which factors contribute most to their job satisfaction, the majority of people polled ranked Company Culture first followed by Opportunities for Growth, Employee Appreciation, Work/Life Balance, and a good Benefits Package. Listed last was Competitive Salary/Pay.”

As I’ve always said, “The person who joins for money will leave for more money.”

Amusingly, opportunities for growth, employee appreciation and work/life balance are either part of, or the results from, a good culture—even a good benefits package reflects a company’s culture.

Click the link, download the survey and then give some thought to your culture and how it performs in these areas.

What’s in your culture?

Dealing with student disabilities

Thursday, August 28th, 2008

By CandidProf. This is the second part of a discussion about what today’s teachers face and the choices that they make. Read all of CandidProf here.question.jpg

There are some students who come along who are indeed beyond anything that we should realistically be expected to deal with.  Yet, all too often, we are expected to deal with those students.

Every semester I get a notice from the Disabled Students Office about several students who are taking my class who are registered as disabled.  We are expected to make “reasonable” accommodations.

Unfortunately, nobody seems to know what constitutes “reasonable.” Some students have hearing problems and need to record the lectures to play back later.  No problem.  Others need extra time on tests.  I can do that.  Some with visual difficulties need class handouts to be printed with extra large fonts.  OK, that is not such a big deal.

These all take extra time, but I put them in the category of students that I mentioned earlier that simply need more of your time.  But, of course, we have NO training in how to handle such cases.  Again, we are trained in our disciplines, not in how to deal with disabled persons.  We have people who have studied that, but they have not studied the individual academic disciplines, so they can’t help.

The real problem comes with those students who have major disabilities.  For example, students who are blind or have major motor impairments.

We have curricula set up that involves students doing certain things to learn; part of that is lecture, homework, and tests.  But in the sciences, there are also labs.

I have had students come along that simply could NOT do the regular laboratory work.  In some cases, safety is an issue.  How to you keep a blind student safe in a chemistry lab when there are open flames, beakers of dangerous chemicals, and fragile glassware?

What about a biology student whose hands shake and then tries to use a scalpel to dissect something?  This means that you have to stick with that student through the laboratory exercise to make sure that they are safe.  But you are also supposed to be watching out for other students.  It often isn’t possible.

One solution is to meet with the disabled student to do the lab at some other time with just them.  That means that you are effectively teaching an extra class, only not being paid for it.  Some institutions have TA’s to help, some don’t.  But, do you want to put the safety of this student in the hands of a TA even less trained to deal with them than you are?

I have had blind students before.  The Office of Disabled Students is supposed to have someone to read the textbook to them and to read the test questions to them.  Only for physics questions those people don’t understand the symbols that we use and they don’t want to come to class to learn the material, so they ask me to read the text and questions. Of course, that is extra, unpaid, work.

I have had other students with cognitive difficulties.  One in particular required me to sit with her for about 3 hours after each one hour lecture explaining things.  There are three of those per week.  I worked with her for about 9 hours per week doing each lab that the other students did in less than 3 hours.  That means that I was spending about 18 hours per week, extra, with just that one student. I still had a full teaching load, plus my other duties.  And, of course, I did not get paid one dime for that extra 18 hours per week.

There have been other times when I have had to write entirely new laboratory exercises for some students who could not do what the existing labs required because of some physical limitation.  That is even more work than teaching an extra section of the class because I was unable to use the existing lab manual.  I had to spend about 6 hours per week writing new labs and then 3 hours per week doing the lab with the student.

Naturally, I did not get paid for teaching a special section of the class for this student.  I don’t want to sound like all I’m after is money, but it really is not fair to expect me to put in all that extra time without ANY compensation other than that I feel good about helping someone.  At least they could cut back on my teaching load, or actually count these special circumstances as part of my regular teaching load, but they don’t.  I do it all on top of a full load.

Some might suggest simply not having the students do the exercises, but then that defeats the whole purpose.  Those are supposed to be teaching experiences that help them learn.

Besides, is it fair to give laboratory science credit to a student who does not do a lab of any kind?

Is it fair to the disabled student to just hand them a degree if they have not earned it?

Apparently we got in trouble some years ago for giving a student a degree in a field that required passing a state licensing requirement, only for said student to be unable to pass that state licensing exam and get a job in the field because of their disability.  The department in question had made many adjustments to its curriculum and requirements in order for the student to pass classes.  The problem was that the student was unprepared for what came later.

Would it be right to adjust the curriculum so that a student got an accounting degree even though they had a cognitive problem that prevented their understanding numbers?

There has to be a better way.

This quickly gets past where I feel like I have any experience or ability to truly help someone.  However, all too often, it falls on my shoulders to do the work.  Of course, I am not the only one.  This is happening in colleges and universities all over the nation.

Obviously disabled people can do quite well. I have met a blind astronomer and a blind computer scientist.  I know of a deaf news reporter.  Look at Stephen Hawking.

But these are people who did most of the work in overcoming their disabilities themselves.  They did not have their accomplishments handed to them.  They earned them, and they did so the hard way.

I know that I am probably going to upset a lot of people with these posts.  But I see this as a problem facing us in the colleges and universities.  I am not suggesting that we not work with disabled students.  My fiancée is disabled and I really appreciate all that was done for her in her education.  That is particularly true because I recognize that most of that was done by individuals who bent over backwards for her.

Until she met me and saw how much I have to do to help disabled students, she had been thinking that it was her university that had done all of that work.  Now, she realizes that the university probably didn’t do as much as she thought.  Rather, it was her professors who did most of the accommodating.

But I don’t want to leave her out.  She has worked hard to not let her disabilities disable her.  She often never asked for what would have been reasonable requests.  She worked to perform like everyone else and she still does.  To me, she seems to be quite a leader herself.

Readers of this site, I suppose, are looking for insights into leadership.  Well, as I see it, a leader’s role is often more than just directly job related.

We are all human beings and human beings interact in all sorts of complicated ways.

We cannot totally separate our individual beliefs, feelings, and emotions from our professional selves.  We bring all of these things into the job.  They are what build the framework of how we see things, both on and off the job.  So, when extraneous things are going on, they impact how we do our job.

Sometimes a leader needs to recognize that the people they are leading are people not robots.  They can’t totally forget whatever else is going on in their lives.  So, in order for them to be the best followers, their leader needs to help them address these outside influences.

Unfortunately, that takes time and it is often beyond what the leader is trained to do.  I think part of the innate “leadership potential” that some people have is in their ability to help people focus on the job at hand.

You also have to know your own limitations.  You need to know when dealing with these outside factors is over your head.  That is when you need to refer the problem on.

Leaders have limits, too, and the best ones know their limits.

What do you consider “reasonable accommodation” in a college setting? [Miki]

Your comments—priceless

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Multitasking Update

Thursday, August 28th, 2008

Yesterday, Dave Zinger reviewed a book called The Myth of Multitasking.

Also yesterday, Brenda left a comment on an old (before my time) post on my other blog that led me to a 2001 APA article explaining “executive control.” “[It] involves two distinct, complementary stages: goal shifting (“I want to do this now instead of that”) and rule activation (“I’m turning off the rules for that and turning on the rules for this”). Both stages help people unconsciously switch between tasks.”

The time spent shifting is yet another reason why multitasking is a myth.

All this reminded me of a post I wrote in 2006 that is overdue for republishing right now.

Smart or stupid? Your choice!

Back in early 2003 I read an article in the Wall Street Journal called Multitasking Makes You Stupid and I cheered. Why? Because it’s always nice to have one’s opinion confirmed through scientific study by experts with lots of credentials—especially when most of the people around you are bragging about how well they multitask.

I got to thinking about that and did a bit more searching to see if anything’s changed. There’s one study that looked at gender differences and came to the conclusion that whereas productivity is about equal, women have a slight advantage in accuracy. I’m certainly not claiming I read all 250,000 pages returned on a search using the terms, multitasking study Dr university, but scanning through the first hundred I didn’t notice anything that contradicted what I’ve always thought—multitasking is not productive!

So what’s happened since the original article appeared? More ways to multitask; more managers demanding that their people do it; and more people bragging about their skill at it—more errors, accidents and loss of productivity.

Don’t believe me? Think about

  • what it’s like talking to someone who is reading email or doing other computer tasks during the conversation;
  • how close you’ve come to creaming someone, or being creamed, while talking on a cell;
  • the last time you didn’t notice the sirens ’cause you were listening to an iPod or talking on a cell.

And before you write all this off with the famous “but me” argument ask yourself: are you really that different from the rest of the human race?

For more insights read HBS working Knowledge columnist Stever Robbins (among many others), then read my Think, dream, innovate, and then really think about how you want to run your life!

Then ask yourself, what percentage of the day do you spend multitasking?

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Grab your future

Wednesday, August 27th, 2008

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Click to see my other WW: another corporate decision-making tool

Wordless Wednesday: another corporate decision-making tool

Wednesday, August 27th, 2008

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Don’t miss my other WW: grab your future

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