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Expand Your Mind: Fascinating People

Saturday, September 11th, 2010


I know people who are fascinated by technology, by science, by pop culture, but it is people, the source of all that, that fascinate me.

Not people in terms of gossip, Twitter or Facebook; not just what they do, but why they do it.

For that reason I sometimes watch Biography and American Greed on CNBC, read biographies and articles.

So I thought I’d share a few recent ones with you.

I’ll start with a bit of fluff; not an article I’d normally read, but I was bored and clicked on the link. It’s a profile of Naomi Campbell, not glitz or sleaze, but an interesting overview of a woman who has done the almost impossible—stayed an icon of beauty and interest, and still going strong, for 25 years in an industry that typically uses them up in four or five.

Did you know that three Italian towns produced most of more than 100 commercial knife sharpeners in the US today? Here is the story of one of those families that is reinventing itself so it will be around for future generations.

In our land of instant gratification people are unlikely to want anything enough to spend years to get it. Now meet Cha Sa-soon, a 69-year-old widow who lives alone in a mountain-ringed village in Korea, who wanted a drivers license badly enough to take the test 960 times before she passed. Who do you know with that kind of tenacity?

Tell me, if you were going to run a Ponzi scheme where would you look for your victims? What kind of organization or network would you want to infiltrate? Wayne McLeod ran a small scheme as these things go, just $43 million, but that entire amount came from law enforcement officers at all levels, including Homeland Security and the FBI. But there won’t be a trial, McLeod killed himself, but first sent an email to his investors saying, “I pray that at some point in time you can and will forgive me.” Excuse me, I don’t think so!

Finally, if you ever thought that owning a bordello would be a good career move, but you didn’t want to deal with the sleaze, and you speak German there is a bordello for sale on eBay. (See pictures here.) Let me know if you buy it, because I’m sure it would be the kind of story I like to hear.

Flickr image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/pedroelcarvalho/2812091311/

Expand Your Mind: Fascinating People

Saturday, August 7th, 2010

expand-your-mindPeople make the world go round. Love ’em or hate ’em they are the only thing that truly keeps boredom at bay. However, we’re not all fascinated by the same ones. Personally, I require more substance to fuel my interest than is usually offered by most of the glitterati and sports figures that many people follow; here are a few that I’ve enjoyed recently.

I always find salaries and those who receive them interesting and this synopsis of a Wall Street Journal article and the article itself (links in the synopsis) fill the bill. I especially chuckled when I saw that Steve Jobs would have made more holding his underwater options than he did with the restricted stock that replaced them; he also wouldn’t have gotten into a backdating bind.

Of all the articles written about Tony Hayward, my favorite was Rosabeth Moss Kanter’s guide to Hayward’s leadership skills. To wit: deny and minimize problems; emphasize your own power and importance; make the story all about you; never apologize, and don’t even pretend to learn from your mistakes; and hang onto your job even when it’s clear you should go.” Although many executives practice one or more of these traits, the list seems a better fit for 99.9% of politicians past, present and, probably, future.

Next is an absorbing article about Alex Bogusky, the whiz of Madison Avenue—or he was. The guy responsible for Burger King’s success and Microsoft’s “I’m a PC” campaign quit. Not uncommon, but Bogusky not only left the industry and turned his considerable talents to making a kind of peaceful war on it.

Finally, the story of socialite Judith Peabody—a truly remarkable woman. Remarkable not just for the money she raised, but for her courage in the face of a disease that terrified a nation—AIDS. 30 years ago when even much of the medical profession refused to touch an AIDS patient, Judith Peabody spent hours visiting patients offering hugs and encouragement.

Flickr image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/pedroelcarvalho/2812091311/

Expand Your Mind: More Fascinating People

Saturday, October 30th, 2010

expand-your-mindAnother post about fascinating people—an eclectic selection for your reading pleasure the day before Halloween. They include two women and three men; one middle-aged—two seniors, and two deceased—we’ll start at the bottom and move to the infinite.

The youngest entry at 54 is pianist Robert Taub, who had an epiphany while listening to his daughter practice her violin that morphed him from pianist to software entrepreneur.

“I thought, wouldn’t it be wonderful if she could take a photograph of her page of music and hear it instantaneously,” he recalled. “She’d know what the right notes are, and what the right rhythms are, and she could imitate what she heard.”

Next is 96 year old Dr. Frances Oldham Kelsey, a shining example of what a civil servant should be.

And though her story is nearly forgotten, she was once America’s most admired civil servant — celebrated for her dual role in saving thousands of newborns from the perils of the drug thalidomide and in serving as midwife to modern pharmaceutical regulation.

Judge Wesley E. Brown is a youthful 103 and still presides over his courtroom daily with competence and flair.

His diminished frame is nearly lost behind the bench. A tube under his nose feeds him oxygen during hearings. And he warns lawyers preparing for lengthy court battles that he may not live to see the cases to completion, adding the old saying, “At this age, I’m not even buying green bananas.”

Next is a brilliant outsider Benoît B. Mandelbrot, who died at 85.

…a maverick mathematician who developed the field of fractal geometry and applied it to physics, biology, finance and many other fields… He coined the term “fractal” to refer to a new class of mathematical shapes whose uneven contours could mimic the irregularities found in nature.

My favorite is an amazing woman who truly lived life on her own terms. At night she was Gloria Wasserman, wife and mom, but by day she was South Street Annie, also known as Shopping Cart Annie.

For several decades, Annie was the profane mother of the old Fulton Fish Market, that pungent Lower Manhattan place fast becoming a mirage of memory. Making her rounds, running errands, holding her own in the blue banter… Some ridiculed and abused her; others honored and protected her.

Finally, since it’s the end of the month, here is a link to October’s LeaderTalk Roundup.

That’s it for this week. Tomorrow is Halloween, have fun, be careful of spooks and stay safe.

Flickr image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/pedroelcarvalho/2812091311/

Expand Your Mind: Lousy Leadership

Saturday, October 9th, 2010

expand-your-mindToday’s offering includes three fascinating examples of lousy leadership at work, two explanations of the worst traits of lousy leadership and a review of a remedial book for lousy leaders.

The first example of lousy leadership is personally embarrassing, not because it’s about me, but because in January 2008 and again in April I lauded this lousy leader for creating a great culture. Little did I know. The lousy leader is Sam Zell and his hand-picked executive Randy Michaels, now CEO, created a culture that rivals or exceeds anything you’ve heard about on Wall Street.

Randy Michaels, a new top executive, ran into several other senior colleagues at the InterContinental Hotel… After Mr. Michaels arrived, according to two people at the bar that night, he sat down and said, “watch this,” and offered the waitress $100 to show him her breasts.

And it went downhill from there.

Next we have a pair of lousy leader brothers, Sam and Charles Wyly, who have avoided paying taxes on hundreds of millions of dollars by using trusts and tax haven-based shell corporations. And these two Texas swashbucklers are sure that the upcoming election will see an end to their problems.

“I think it’s good politics to beat up on big companies and rich people,” said Sam Wyly. Soon, he said, “the election will be over, and this will be forgotten about, or lost, be shut down, be gone, will be nothing.”

The third is Goldman Sachs, a company stuffed with lots of lousy leaders. Not another article, but a recommendation to watch CNBC’s Goldman Sachs: Power and Peril when it repeats October 26 at 8pm ET in case you missed it last Sunday.

Greed is a constant hallmark of lousy leaders. According to Andrew Lo, an MIT professor who researches the relationship between neuroscience and economics, greed actually has a chemical basis.

“When a person acquires resources, chemicals are released in the brain that cause the sensation of pleasure. Greed is simply the addiction to that release.”

Can corporate culture turn good leaders into lousy leaders?

Organizations have more power to direct employee ethical behavior of than we previously knew.

That’s the bottom line of new research from the University of Washington Foster School of Business that demonstrates, for the first time, the relationship between moral intuition—a reflexive perception of what is right and wrong—and moral behavior.

Finally, the perfect gift for lousy leaders—a copy of Marshall Goldsmith’s new book, Mojo: How to Get It, How to Keep It, and How to Get It Back If You Lose It

Flickr image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/pedroelcarvalho/2812091311/

Expand Your Mind: Studies, Studies Everywhere

Saturday, April 10th, 2010

expand-your-mindA few months ago The Conference Board published a study that showed that US workers were more dissatisfied now than at any time in the previous 20 years. James Heskett, Baker Foundation Professor, Emeritus, at Harvard Business School, used that study as part of the basis for a discussion about the growing dissatisfaction. Heskett poses intriguing ideas, but the greater value is in the comments he draws from his audience.

Speaking of American workers, do you know what their favorite new TV show is? A show that is a giant hit with young viewers and even beats Desperate Housewives? It’s Undercover Boss and I highly recommend it. Tomorrow is the season finale (I think) and it should be good. The company is 1-800-Flowers and according to the blurb the boss gets outed.

Next a little insight that could increase job satisfaction. Do you pride yourself on your poker face or are your emotions as obvious as a TV show? Or do you censor some and share the others? Research has proven that facial expressions are important to social interaction and current studies of people with facial paralysis offers some great insights for the rest of us.

Finally, some fascinating studies back up the premise discussed in Even Among Animals: Leaders, Followers and Schmoozers. Interesting reading and even better dinner conversation.


Image credit: pedroCarvalho on flickr

Expand Your Mind: Insights to Leadership

Saturday, February 27th, 2010


‘Leader’ is a word that’s bandied about with reckless abandon, but it is the only word that’s available that carries a fairly universal meaning.

That said, I have several leadership links I think you’ll find interesting.

First, from American Express’ Open Forum, 10 excellent examples of real business leadership. Some refer to companies, others to people, none will take you long to read. And if the story resonates you can always google more in-depth information.

Next is a fascinating analysis from Newsweek that looks at the pros and cons of business executives as politicians. It’s a timely article considering how many are throwing their hats in the ring.

Finally, whether you consider yourself a leader, or just someone who enjoys helping others excel, you’ll find lots of good ideas at LeaderTalk where Becky Robinson has a round up of posts discussing the importance of, and ways to, develop people from some of the smartest coaches around—including me.

Have a great weekend and happy reading.

Image credit: pedroCarvalho on flickr

Expand Your Mind: CEOs and Culture

Saturday, February 13th, 2010


I’m not sure whether it’s amusing or ironic (or both) but breakout companies all seem to be focused on culture. And when they are successful, no matter the business, they are immediately in high demand to tell others how they do it—think Tony Hsieh and Zappos.

Last Saturday I told you about Nick Sarillo, whose two pizza restaurants in Chicago do $7 million a year with 20% turnover vs. the casual dining industry average of 200%. As a result of the Inc magazine profile he is keynote speaker at the Pizza Executive Summit this summer. I’m sure he’ll be in demand other places. I love the title—Culture 2.0: Branding your company’s way of life;” think about it.

Along with being a culture fanatic I also believe that anyone can lead given the opportunity, challenge and a supportive culture in which the messenger is never killed.

An NYT interview with Mark Pincus, founder and chief executive of Zynga offers insight into his approach of making all his people CEOs.

“I’d turn people into C.E.O.’s. One thing I did at my second company was to put white sticky sheets on the wall, and I put everyone’s name on one of the sheets, and I said, “By the end of the week, everybody needs to write what you’re C.E.O. of, and it needs to be something really meaningful.” And that way, everyone knows whose C.E.O. of what and they know whom to ask instead of me. And it was really effective. People liked it. And there was nowhere to hide.”

A new blog by David Silverman at Harvard Business Review should prove interesting; the first is about Richard Charkin, Director of Bloomsbury Publishing Plc.

Stories from CEOs of their most life-changing day in their careers. Sometimes the result was promotion to the upper reaches of business, and sometimes a steep fall from grace.

TED has become a phenomenon and it’s on now. Plan to spend some time listening to an eclectic group of creative thinkers.

TED is a small nonprofit devoted to Ideas Worth Spreading. It started out (in 1984) as a conference bringing together people from three worlds: Technology, Entertainment, Design.

The annual conferences in Long Beach and Oxford bring together the world’s most fascinating thinkers and doers, who are challenged to give the talk of their lives (in 18 minutes).

In a final tip of the hat to Valentine’s Day tomorrow, check out substitutes for Viagra that taste great.

Image credit: pedroCarvalho on flickr

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