Manage By Walking Around http://jonathanbecher.com Aligning Execution With Strategy Wed, 29 Jul 2015 00:03:06 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.2.3 Is The Glass Half Empty or Half Full? http://jonathanbecher.com/2015/07/26/glass-half-empty-or-half-full/ http://jonathanbecher.com/2015/07/26/glass-half-empty-or-half-full/#comments Sun, 26 Jul 2015 23:03:24 +0000 http://jonathanbecher.com/?p=5310 The pessimist believes the glass is half empty and the optimist sees it as half full but the insomniac stays up all night trying to decide the answer. This is an amusing twist on the classic expression normally used to show that any given situation can be looked at optimistically (half full) or pessimistically (half...

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The pessimist believes the glass is half empty and the optimist sees it as half full but the insomniac stays up all night trying to decide the answer.

This is an amusing twist on the classic expression normally used to show that any given situation can be looked at optimistically (half full) or pessimistically (half empty). The expression is so well-known that personality types are sometimes referred to as ‘glass half-full’ or ‘glass half-empty’. In other words, different people can perceive the same situation in different ways.

Before a colleague told me the insomniac version of the phrase, the most amusing variation I had ever heard went something like this:

While the optimist and pessimist are arguing, the pragmatist takes the glass and drinks it.

After doing some online searching, I discovered there are many variants of this expression. Here are some of my favorites:

  • The project manager documents that the glass is twice as big as it needs to be.
  • The existentialist wonders ‘what’s the point of the question?’
  • The economist lets market forces decide how full the glass is.
  • The obsessive compulsive checks the level of the water, checks it again, and again, and again…
  • The lush doesn’t worry about half empty or half full but rather who is going to pay for the next round.
  • The IT support person doesn’t answer the question but suggests you try emptying the glass and then refilling it.

Of course, you can create endless variations to fit specific professions or circumstances. Given the current fascination with unicorns – venture capital backed technology companies valued at $1B or more – I thought I would create a version for them:

The entrepreneur says: I can’t believe no one has come up with an app that solves this conundrum. This is a huge, untapped market. I’m going to raise a $50M seed round with a $200M post and create the next Big Data Internet of Things cloud security unicorn.

I’m sure you can come up with some creative examples. Post them in the comments.

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Can Meditation Make You 10% Happier? http://jonathanbecher.com/2015/07/12/meditation-make-you-10-happier/ http://jonathanbecher.com/2015/07/12/meditation-make-you-10-happier/#comments Mon, 13 Jul 2015 02:45:06 +0000 http://jonathanbecher.com/?p=5292 If you think you’re having a bad day, you might want to consider the case of Dan Harris, a correspondent for ABC News, anchor for Nightline, and co-anchor for the weekend edition of Good Morning America. Ten years ago Harris had a panic attack during a routine live TV newscast – in front of millions...

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If you think you’re having a bad day, you might want to consider the case of Dan Harris, a correspondent for ABC News, anchor for Nightline, and co-anchor for the weekend edition of Good Morning America. Ten years ago Harris had a panic attack during a routine live TV newscast – in front of millions of people. Here is a video of Dan with ABC News anchor Diane Sawyer talking about his public breakdown:

Dan’s anxiety was partly caused by feeling he was lost in his job and partly from self-medicating with cocaine and ecstasy. His anxiety manifested itself with an incessant voice in his head:

The voice comes braying in as soon as we open our eyes in the morning, and then heckles us all day long with an air horn. It’s a fever swamp of urges, desires, and judgments. It’s fixated on the past and the future, to the detriment of the here and now. It’s what has us reaching into the fridge when we’re not hungry, losing our temper when we know it’s not really in our best interest, and pruning our inboxes when we’re ostensibly engaged in conversation with other human beings. […] If we don’t pay close attention —which very few of us are taught how to do— it can be a malevolent puppeteer.

The voice in your head is what keeps you from concentrating on what’s happening to you at that moment.

Harris writes about his journey from crisis to calm in a book titled “10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works – A True Story”. Amusingly, he originally wanted to call the book “The Voice in My Head Is an Asshole” but his publisher talked him out of it.

For Dan, the antidote to his anxiety – and the voices – was meditation. Harris initially had severe misgivings about meditation:

I thought of meditation as the exclusive province of bearded swamis, unwashed hippies, and fans of John Tesh music.

But the more he learned about meditation, the more he understood that popular wisdom was wrong. Meditation can be used by anyone and it works. In Harris’ words:

If you can get past the cultural baggage, though, what you’ll find is that meditation is simply exercise for your brain. It’s a proven technique for preventing the voice in your head from leading you around by the nose. To be clear, it’s not a miracle cure. It won’t make you taller or better-looking, nor will it magically solve all of your problems. You should disregard the fancy books and the famous gurus promising immediate enlightenment. In my experience, meditation makes you 10% happier. That’s an absurdly unscientific estimate, of course. But still, not a bad return on investment.

That’s a fantastic way to describe the benefits of meditation. My employer rolled out mindfulness classes last year but many people were skeptical of taking them. Too touchy-feely. Maybe we should have just said we were giving classes on how to be 10% happier.

If we had done that, I’m sure the classes would have been standing room only.

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Fourth of July factoids, 2015 edition http://jonathanbecher.com/2015/07/03/fourth-of-july-factoids-2015/ http://jonathanbecher.com/2015/07/03/fourth-of-july-factoids-2015/#comments Fri, 03 Jul 2015 16:04:00 +0000 http://jonathanbecher.com/?p=5269 On July 4 1776, the Continental Congress approved the Declaration of Independence. The declaration announced that the thirteen American colonies no longer considered themselves as part of the British Empire but rather a new nation of independent sovereign states — the United States of America. This in itself is well-known: however, here are some factoids...

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Happy 4th JulyOn July 4 1776, the Continental Congress approved the Declaration of Independence. The declaration announced that the thirteen American colonies no longer considered themselves as part of the British Empire but rather a new nation of independent sovereign states — the United States of America.

This in itself is well-known: however, here are some factoids about the event that are less well-known:

  • The term “Declaration of Independence” is not used anywhere in the document.
    It’s unclear when or how the document started to be referred to that way.
  • Congress had already voted on July 2 to declare independence from Great Britain.
    For that reason, John Adams wanted July 2 to be considered Independence Day.
  • While 56 people signed the Declaration, John Hancock was the first and – by far – the largest signature.
    This is why the phrase “John Hancock” is sometimes used to mean signature.
  • At 70 years old, Benjamin Franklin from Pennsylvania was the oldest person to sign.
    At 26, Edward Rutledge of South Carolina was the youngest.
  • Not surprisingly, two of the signers were future Presidents: John Adams and Thomas Jefferson.
    Oddly, both died on July 4, 1826 – the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration.

Americans celebrate our independence with fireworks, parades and – the most American of traditions – backyard barbecues. This gives rise to a few other unusual factoids:

  • The beef in our hotdogs, burgers, or steaks likely came from Texas or Nebraska.
    An estimated 1/3 of our nation’s beef supply comes from those two states.
  • Our pork sausages and ribs probably originated in Iowa.
    Iowa is home to ~30% of our nation’s pork supply; twice as much as any other state.
  • It’s a safe bet the baked beans we ate came from North Dakota.
    As I blogged about in 2008, the state produces more than 40% of U.S. beans.

Happy 4th of July.

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Word Cloud for MBWA, 2015 edition http://jonathanbecher.com/2015/06/28/word-cloud-for-mbwa-2015/ http://jonathanbecher.com/2015/06/28/word-cloud-for-mbwa-2015/#comments Sun, 28 Jun 2015 19:22:45 +0000 http://jonathanbecher.com/?p=5257 More than six years ago, I created a wordle of my 10 most popular blog posts. Back then, word clouds were relatively new and I thought it was an interesting way to explore what I had been writing about. Some words were expected – performance, scorecard, objectives, strategy, metrics. Others were a bit more surprising –...

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More than six years ago, I created a wordle of my 10 most popular blog posts. Back then, word clouds were relatively new and I thought it was an interesting way to explore what I had been writing about. Some words were expected – performance, scorecard, objectives, strategy, metrics. Others were a bit more surprising – often, time, usually, group.

Since these days I write less about performance management and more about leadership and behavior, I decided to revisit the idea and generated the above word cloud on my last 20 blog posts using Tagxedo. Comparing the 2009 word cloud with this new one gives me a few ideas of how my writing has evolved:

  • There are fewer large words than there were 6 years ago.
    This means I’m writing about a wider variety of topics, rather than concentrating on a few ideas.
  • ‘Books’ and ‘words’ are among the largest words.
    This suggests I get most of my inspiration from books and that words do matter.
  • ‘Think’ and ‘know’ are about the same size.
    I take this to mean my posts are equal part opinion and fact.

Then there is the unexpected appearance of the word ‘don’ in the upper left hand side of the image. For a while I couldn’t explain it – after all, I haven’t written about the Mafia or the Spanish title of respect. Eventually, I discovered tagxedo was interpreting the word don’t as two words: don and t. Just like my high school grammar teacher said: avoid using apostrophes.

Anyone see any other surprising words?

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How to Make Better Decisions http://jonathanbecher.com/2015/06/21/how-to-make-better-decisions/ http://jonathanbecher.com/2015/06/21/how-to-make-better-decisions/#comments Sun, 21 Jun 2015 23:15:00 +0000 http://jonathanbecher.com/?p=5237 I always ask aspiring business people: How do you beat Bobby Fischer, the renowned chess champion of the 1970’s? The Answer: Play him at anything but chess. This excerpt is from the second chapter of Seymour Schulich’s book, Get Smarter: Life and Business Lessons. Schulich is a self-made billionaire and one of Canada’s greatest philanthropists, having...

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I always ask aspiring business people: How do you beat Bobby Fischer, the renowned chess champion of the 1970’s?
The Answer: Play him at anything but chess.

This excerpt is from the second chapter of Seymour Schulich’s book, Get Smarter: Life and Business LessonsSchulich is a self-made billionaire and one of Canada’s greatest philanthropists, having donated more than $350M to education and healthcare causes. His best-selling book was designed to give entrepreneurial advice to those earlier in their careers. While the book is 304 pages, it’s a quick read – most chapters are only a few pages long.

In the first chapter, Decision-Maker: A Tool for a Lifetime, Schulich suggests a simple, but practical, extension to the traditional two-column pro/con decision list.

On one sheet of paper, list all the positive things you can about the issue in question, then give each one a score from zero to ten — the higher the score, the more important it is to you.

On another sheet, list the negative points, and score them from zero to ten — only this time, ten means it’s a major drawback.

If the positive score is at least double the negative score, you should do it — whatever “it” is. But if the positives don’t outweigh the negatives by that two-to-one ratio, don’t do it, or at least think twice about it.

Adding the weighting to the traditional pro/con list ensures a small number of factors don’t overly influence the decision; unless those factors are very important to you. If you assign the scores in a relatively consistent way, the Decision-Maker can take the emotion out of an important decision.

Schulich is a big proponent of the Decision-Maker. He claims it can work for groups as well, describing how it helped in the decision to sell Franco-Nevada to Newmont Mining. In fact, Schulich goes on to say:

I have used it for virtually every major decision of my adult life. It has never let me down and it will serve you well, too.

With that endorsement, I think I’ll start using it. Maybe you should too.

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History might not be the greatest teacher http://jonathanbecher.com/2015/06/07/history-might-not-be-the-greatest-teacher/ http://jonathanbecher.com/2015/06/07/history-might-not-be-the-greatest-teacher/#comments Sun, 07 Jun 2015 18:19:04 +0000 http://jonathanbecher.com/?p=5220 The Lucretius problem is exacerbated by the fact data captured in the past is not necessarily as reliable or as complete as data captured today. As a result, historical data includes bias or variability.

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As I wrote a few weeks ago, Antifragile was a better book than I expected it to be. One passage that stuck in my mind long after I read it was the following:

Risk management professionals look in the past for information on the so-called worst-case scenario and use it to estimate future risks […] They take the worst historical recession, the worst war, the worst historical move in interest rates, or the worst point in unemployment as an exact estimate for the worst future outcome. But they never notice the following inconsistency: this so-called worst-case event, when it happened, exceeded the worst [known] case at the time.

I have called this mental defect the Lucretius problem, after the Latin poetic philosopher who wrote that the fool believes that the tallest mountain in the world will be equal to the tallest one he has observed.

When I first read this, I thought Taleb might be describing a valence effect; the tendency for people to overestimate the likelihood of good things happening. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized something else was going on. People expect positive outcomes to be exceeded but they don’t usually consider that negative results can also be topped.

In sports the maxim ‘records are meant to be broken’ exhorts athletes and teams to strive for even better performance. But we rarely consider that negative records can be broken as well. The 1972-73 Philadelphia 76ers were long considered to have an untouchable losing record with a .110 winning percentage (9 wins in 82 games). But the 2011-12 Charlotte Bobcats proved us wrong with just 7 wins in a strike-reduced 66-game season (a .106 winning percentage). To add insult to injury, the Bobcats ended the season with 23 consecutive losses.

The Lucretius problem is exacerbated by the fact data captured in the past is not necessarily as reliable or as complete as data captured today. As a simple example, it is difficult to compare the intensity of The Great Lisbon Earthquake of 1755 to China’s Tangshan Quake of 1976. Measurement techniques have changed fundamentally in 200 years.

This means historical data often includes bias or variability. If it isn’t accounted for in the statistical or predictive model, the results are suspect. As Taleb remarks in Antifragile:

We overestimate the validity of what has been recorded before and thus the trends we draw might tell a different story if we had the dark figure of unreported data.

So much for the oft-quoted proverb: ‘Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.’ Maybe history isn’t the greatest teacher after all.

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Spelling Bee 2015: Co-Champions and the Rapper Drake http://jonathanbecher.com/2015/05/31/spelling-bee-2015-co-champions-and-the-rapper-drake/ http://jonathanbecher.com/2015/05/31/spelling-bee-2015-co-champions-and-the-rapper-drake/#comments Mon, 01 Jun 2015 05:10:26 +0000 http://jonathanbecher.com/?p=5211 This year at the 2015 Scripps National Spelling Bee there were 285 entrants, including 139 boys and 146 girls. The kids ranged in ages from 9 to 15 years old. Forty-four spellers were only children; two were from families with 10 children. They came from all 50 U.S. states and 11 other counties. There was even...

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This year at the 2015 Scripps National Spelling Bee there were 285 entrants, including 139 boys and 146 girls. The kids ranged in ages from 9 to 15 years old. Forty-four spellers were only children; two were from families with 10 children. They came from all 50 U.S. states and 11 other counties. There was even an entrant from my home town.

After 20 rounds, two eight-graders were crowned co-champions. It’s only the fifth time in the 90-year history of the contest there have been co-champions but it’s the second year in a row.

The results seem to reinforce it takes experience to become a champion. 13-year-old Vanya Shivashankar from Kansas was a five-time finalist and 14-year-old Gokul Venkatachalam from Missouri was a four-time finalist. Both had finished in the top 5 in previous years. Vanya’s sister, Kavya, won the 2009 Spelling Bee.

Of course, the Bee is about the words. Vanya’s winning word was scherenschnitte, a German word for the art of cutting paper into decorative designs. Gokul’s final word was nunatak, an Inuit word for the exposed, often rocky, portion of a mountain or peak not covered with ice or snow.

In my opinion, Vanya had the tougher final word. But Gokul’s path to co-champion was hardly easy. Check out the words he had to spell. I’m pretty sure I would have misspelled pyrrhuloxia.

The highlight of the event likely occurred in round 7. A contestant was given the word ‘bacchius’ to spell. When he asked to hear the word used in a sentence, the announcer responded:

Rumor has it that Drake’s next mix-tape contains a rap in which every verse begins and ends with a bacchius.

Drake might be a wordie because he posted the clip on his Instagram feed. Wouldn’t it be cool if he used the word is his next album?

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Food Mashups: from cronuts to totchos http://jonathanbecher.com/2015/05/17/food-mashups/ http://jonathanbecher.com/2015/05/17/food-mashups/#comments Sun, 17 May 2015 19:05:35 +0000 http://jonathanbecher.com/?p=5189 It might have started with the Frappuccino, the line of frozen coffee beverages sold by Starbucks. The term was coined as a combination of the words frappé (in Boston: a thick milkshake with ice cream) and cappuccino (in Italian: espresso coffee with frothed milk). While the 500+ calorie beverage was only introduced in 1995, it...

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TotchosIt might have started with the Frappuccino, the line of frozen coffee beverages sold by Starbucks. The term was coined as a combination of the words frappé (in Boston: a thick milkshake with ice cream) and cappuccino (in Italian: espresso coffee with frothed milk). While the 500+ calorie beverage was only introduced in 1995, it now represents $2B in revenue and more than 20% of Starbuck’s coffee sales.

While I wasn’t a fan of the drink, I was amused by the name – since I’m a fan of words, I liked that it was a portmanteau. Before Starbucks, the only other portmanteau food I had ever heard of was turducken; the turkey, duck, chicken hybrid.

And then two years ago, cronuts (croissants & donuts) stormed onto the scene. They were trendy and delicious. Amazingly, they are still popular. They’ve also spawned a legion of hybrid food portmanteaus:

  • Birizza (biryani pizza)
  • Bronut (brownie & donut)
  • Brookie (brownie & cookie)
  • Cragel (croissant & bagel)
  • Cruffin (croissant & muffin)
  • Duffin (donut & muffin)
  • Flagel (flat bagel)
  • Frankaroni (crispy mac and cheese with a hot dog inside)
  • Moffle (mochi & waffle)
  • Pizzabon (pizza on a Cinnabon)
  • Pake (pie in a cake)
  • Sushirrito (sushi burrito)
  • Totchos (tater tot nachos)

Some of these sound like they would taste delicious and some – well – are creative names. It’s a smorgasbord of food mashups. You know, fashups.

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The Silver Salt Shaker Effect http://jonathanbecher.com/2015/05/10/the-silver-salt-shaker-effect/ http://jonathanbecher.com/2015/05/10/the-silver-salt-shaker-effect/#comments Mon, 11 May 2015 03:35:58 +0000 http://jonathanbecher.com/?p=5161 A mentee of mine recently asked how she should confront a co-worker about a delicate situation. Her intentions were good but she was worried the conversation would quickly escalate – to the point the co-worker might lash out at her. What should she do? As the situation could have had legal ramifications, I encouraged her to...

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A mentee of mine recently asked how she should confront a co-worker about a delicate situation. Her intentions were good but she was worried the conversation would quickly escalate – to the point the co-worker might lash out at her. What should she do?

As the situation could have had legal ramifications, I encouraged her to be upfront with her co-worker but allow him to remedy the situation. In other words, don’t back him into a corner.

To bring the point to life, I told a story attributed to Winston Churchill, the former prime minster of Great Britain:

During dinner for Commonwealth dignitaries, the chief of protocol approached Churchill and quietly informed him that a distinguished guest had slipped a silver salt shaker into her pocket. Rather than confront the dignitary about the salt shaker, Churchill guided her out of earshot of the other guests and pulled out the matching pepper shaker from his pocket. “Oh dear,” he said in a guilty-sounding voice, “We were seen! Perhaps we’d better both put them back.”

Of course, the dignitary understood that Churchill knew the truth but was allowed to correct the wrong on her own.

I call this the Silver Salt Shaker effect. We know from research studies that people are more likely to choose the desired outcome when they believe they are choosing for themselves. In contrast, people are more likely to resist when they are told what to do. Anyone with a teenager witnesses this daily.

So the next time you have to confront someone in a delicate situation, remember Winston Churchill and invoke the silver salt shaker effect.

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This Ain’t My First Rodeo http://jonathanbecher.com/2015/04/19/this-aint-my-first-rodeo/ http://jonathanbecher.com/2015/04/19/this-aint-my-first-rodeo/#comments Mon, 20 Apr 2015 04:49:29 +0000 http://jonathanbecher.com/?p=5116 A few weeks ago, I asked a co-worker to take the lead on a complex situation involving a partner. When I asked him whether he was comfortable being on point, my co-worker replied: This ain’t my first rodeo. If you’re not familiar with the expression, it’s a colorful way of telling someone you’re prepared for...

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A few weeks ago, I asked a co-worker to take the lead on a complex situation involving a partner. When I asked him whether he was comfortable being on point, my co-worker replied:

This ain’t my first rodeo.

If you’re not familiar with the expression, it’s a colorful way of telling someone you’re prepared for a situation and it doesn’t offer a significant challenge to you. Where I grew up, locals used a similar vivid expression:

I didn’t just fall off the turnip truck.

In my experience, both expressions have a touch of sarcasm. They are often used when someone is being given unjustified and unwanted advice. Apparently my co-worker didn’t think the situation was particularly challenging.

Since I’m interested in the origin of phrases, I spent some time trying to figure out where the rodeo expression came from. The earliest instance I could find was from the 1981 movie, Mommie Dearest, which chronicles the life of Joan Crawford. When told she is going to be removed from the Board of Directors of Pepsi, Faye Dunaway (the actress playing Crawford) responds “This ain’t my first time at the rodeo.” This classic scene is a fiery performance with strong language:

Who gets credit for inventing the rodeo phrase? The phrase isn’t in the book that the movie was based on and I couldn’t find any evidence this scene happened in real life. As such, the quote should probably be attributed to Frank Yablans, who wrote the screenplay.

For those of you who prefer an exact quote, I found it in the 1988 Judd family biography. From the book,

Naomi is not a shy woman; she has never claimed to be.
“I’m divorced and I’ve been to the circus and I’ve seen the clowns,” as she put it “This ain’t my first rodeo.”

It’s a fantastic thought that Naomi Judd might have been channeling Faye Dunaway.

Now if I could only figure out where that turnip truck came from. Any ideas?

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