First Friday Book Synopsis

"…like CliffNotes on steroids…"

Robert Sher: Part 1 of an interview by Bob Morris

SherRob Sher is founding principal of CEO to CEO, a consulting firm of former chief executives that improves the leadership infrastructure of midsized companies seeking to accelerate their performance. He has published extensively on the successful leadership traits of CEOs of mid-market companies. His first book, published in 2007, is The Feel of the Deal: How I Built a Business Through Acquisitions. His latest book, Mighty Midsized Companies: How Leaders Overcome 7 Silent Growth Killers, was recently published by Bibliomotion in 2014. Rob is also a regular columnist for the online version of Forbes and CFO Magazine and recently published a seven part series on HBR online.

He and his partners act as consulting CEOs who help client companies’ CEOs and their top teams to navigate difficult passages. Running a company is a series of judgment calls, each of which can have major consequences. They often help make those judgment calls, drawing on deep experience as CEOs and by helping their clients think through situations. Some people call him a CEO coach. Others call him a CEO mentor. And some think of him as their own “Chairman of the Board.”

Here is an excerpt from Part 1 of my interview of Rob. To read all of it, please click here.

* * *

Morris: Before discussing Mighty Midsized Companies, a few general questions. First, who has had the greatest influence on your personal growth? How so?

Sher: Warren Bennis, the author of On Becoming a Leader and so many other groundbreaking books on leadership, really made me a better leader. It was an incredible awakening. I started reading his books as they came out in the mid 1980’s, and at that time I was on a personal development binge, reading (and listening to) Wayne Dyer, Brian Tracy, Tony Robbins and Earl Nightingale. I was so honored when Warren Bennis agreed to endorse my newest book, as it turned out just a few weeks before his passing.

Morris: The greatest impact on your professional development? How so?

Sher: In 1996 I joined a peer group of CEOs called The Alliance of Chief Executives, in northern California. Sitting with peer CEOs every month and learning from their wisdom (and their mistakes) was a quantum jump in my learning. I still actively participate in Alliance groups. You see, when you run just one business, there is a limit on how many things—good or bad—can happen to you that turn into lessons. In a group of 12, the process is accelerated. Similar groups exist everywhere in the country. Vistage and YPO are two of the largest.

Morris: Years ago, was there a turning point (if not an epiphany) that set you on the career course you continue to follow? Please explain.

Sher: In 2004 I was sitting in my CEO group and shared some frustrations (for the umpteenth time) about some seemingly intractable frustrations that were holding me back from leading my company to the next level. The group (which had known me for years) hammered mercilessly on me for over an hour (we CEOs are hard headed and often need a drubbing to take notice). Their point was that I needed to affirmatively find a solid long-term solution or to move on with my career. That day I went back to my office and triggered a series of events that led to my exit, and to the founding of my consulting firm in 2007. I’ve never looked back. Interestingly, we often play this role for clients, who need a push, plus a little confidence and guidance to make courageous changes that help them break free from their past and pursue a brighter future.

Morris: To what extent has your formal education been invaluable to what you have accomplished in life thus far?

Sher: It has been very important. It gave me a solid understanding of the basics of business, like accounting and marketing. It seemed slow and laborious at the time, but from every class, I drew nuggets. Realize that I worked while going to school, leading what was then a small business. So I had every chance to practice what I learned. I got my graduate degree when I was 27 in an executive program, and I realized, to my surprise, that I was truly an executive. Too often, small and middle market business leaders exist in an isolated world. They really don’t know what they’re made of, how they really stack up. That certainly was true of me, and my confidence took a big step up from the experience.

That, and Michael Porter’s teachings! I also learned how to learn, and today, many years later, what I learned in a class has given way to what I now learn on my own. I can become an expert in many things if I devote some time and focus to it. My formal education also includes teaching at the MBA level, and assembling my curriculum. I learned a lot by having to organize my thoughts and deliver them effectively in a classroom.

Morris: What do you know now about the business world that you wish you knew when you when to work full-time for the first time? Why?

Sher: Building a strong, deep, wide network. I grew up being taught about hard work, but teamwork and friends were not emphasized at all. I got a long way with hard work and good insights. It wasn’t until way later that I learned that who you know (and who you’ve helped along the way) is a powerful factor for success. And helping people is gratifying as well!

Morris: Here are several of my favorite quotations to which I ask you to respond. First, from Lao-tse’s Tao Te Ching:

“Learn from the people
Plan with the people
Begin with what they have
Build on what they know
Of the best leaders
When the task is accomplished
The people will remark
We have done it ourselves.”

Sher: The more leaders you can harness in pursuit of your vision, the more quickly it will become a reality. Even employees at the bottom of the org chart can feel a bit like leaders if they have some latitude, and are allowed to participate in decision-making. Understand where your people are, and work to help them get better, if only in small increments. An incremental approach to greatness is what works best, and the people will indeed feel like they have ownership of the success. As the top leader, sometimes it can feel a little unfair that little credit is given—yet offsetting that is an amazing team that will continue to perform at high levels.

Morris: From Howard Aiken: “Don’t worry about people stealing your ideas. If your ideas are any good, you’ll have to ram them down people’s throats.”

Sher: From the CEO’s seat, I advocate planting the seeds of my ideas within my team and letting them grow there. Then, hopefully (!) my team will take ownership of an idea, and it will blossom. But that’s not stealing my ideas, that’s nurturing them. I believe that in midsized companies, there must be a process for evaluating ideas, so that the best ones will eventually become “obvious” and eagerly adopted, not “forced down people’s throats.”

Morris: From Richard Dawkins: “Yesterday’s dangerous idea is today’s orthodoxy and tomorrow’s cliché.”

Sher: I’m probably not deep enough to really appreciate this, but from my perspective, in business, it’s a reminder that the best and most profitable growth comes when you are innovating to find scalable opportunities and then growing them before everyone else jumps in.

Morris: From Isaac Asimov: “The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds the most discoveries, is not “Eureka!” (I found it!) but ‘That’s odd….’”

Sher: Our ears are more powerful than our mouths. Too many of us fail to listen, to observe with care and to think and deliberate. While we may love our ideas the moment they pop into our heads, most of them require research and observation before they are worthy of acclaim.

Morris: Finally, from Peter Drucker: “There is surely nothing quite so useless as doing with great efficiency what should not be done at all.”

Sher: Being clear about why we are doing something, why it is essential, and how it ties into our most important strategies is a great place to start before diving into any business project.

Morris: In one of Tom Davenport’s recent books, Judgment Calls, he and co-author Brooke Manville offer “an antidote for the Great Man theory of decision making and organizational performance”: organizational judgment. That is, “the collective capacity to make good calls and wise moves when the need for them exceeds the scope of any single leader’s direct control.” What do you think?

Sher: There is never, ever a substitute for a great leader. The best leaders create and maintain the conditions for great teams to make great decisions. In most cases, the leader won’t have to make the decision, because they have a great team doing so. Is a great leader a great man? I think so, but not because of their individual contribution or personal judgment. Likewise, I would point out the vast difference between a tyrant with “direct control” and a “single leader” of a great team. Approach is everything.

Morris: Here’s a brief excerpt from Paul Schoemaker’s latest book, Brilliant Mistakes: “The key question companies need to address is not ‘Should we make mistakes?’ but rather Which mistakes should we make in order to test our deeply held assumptions?'” Your response?

Sher: Of course we must test things, and many ideals will fail. My big point is that failing on a small scale makes sense, but there’s no excuse for failing big without de-risking first on a small scale. Too many midsized firms make reckless attempts at growth, blowing big money. That’s foolish, a stupid mistake. Nothing brilliant about that whatsoever.

* * *

To read all of Part 1, please click here.

Rob cordially invites you to check out the resources at these websites:

All about Mighty Midsized Companies link

Free assessments and other tools link

Rob’s consulting firm, CEO to CEO, website link

Sunday, October 19, 2014 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Karl M. Kapp: Part 1 of an interview by Bob Morris


Karl M. Kapp, Ed.D., CFPIM, CIRM, is a scholar, writer and expert on the convergence of learning, technology and business operations. He is a graduate professor of instructional technology at Bloomsburg University in Bloomsburg, PA. where he teaches courses in instructional game design and gamification and is the Director of the acclaimed Institute for Interactive Technologies. He is author of six books on the convergence of learning and technology and has authored courses for

Karl works internationally to help government, corporate and non-profit organizations leverage learning technologies to positively impact productivity and profitability. He provides advice on e-learning design, games and gamification and learning technology to companies and organizations in diverse industries ranging from pharmaceutical, to manufacturing to high-tech. Karl He is a Participant in the National Security Agency Advisory Board (NSAAB) (Emerging Technologies Panel) and sits on several National Science Foundation (NSF) visiting committees. He works frequently with startup companies. He has been called a “Rock Star” of eLearning and is listed among the top gamification experts in the world as it relates to learning and instruction. In 2007, Karl was named one of the Top 20 Most Influential Training Professionals as voted by TrainingIndustry, Inc.

Here is an excerpt from Part 1 of my interview of him. To read the complete interview, please click here.

* * *

Morris: Before discussing The Gamification of Learning and Instruction: Game-based Methods and Strategies for Training and Education, a few general questions. First, who has had the greatest influence on your personal growth? How so?

Kapp: My family had a huge influence on my personal growth. Growing up everyone in my family was involved in teaching. My mother was a teacher, my father taught classes at the local community college and my grandmother had been a teacher. It was instilled in me early that education is a ticket to great things. I learned to value learning and gained an appetite for continual learning. My grandmother was so into learning that during her lifetime, she earned two different master’s degrees in biology. She had gotten her masters in biology early in her career and after about 10 years, she decided that the field had changed so much that she had to go back and refresh her knowledge with another master’s degree. So my family set the expectation that learning was something that was of value, important and should be pursued. I didn’t always appreciate it at the time. In fact, one of most frequent gifts I got as a youngster was books. I can tell you a 13-year-old boy doesn’t really appreciate the gift of books on his birthday when he really wanted a soccer ball. You can’t appreciate that until you are older but over the long run, it makes a difference. I can still remember when my grandmother gave me “Gone with the Wind” to read. At the time, it was the longest book I ever saw and never thought I could finish it. My grandmother paid me to read the book—she bribed me. It turns out I really enjoyed the book and then discovered I could read that many pages.

Morris: The greatest impact on your professional development? How so?

Kapp: In high school I had a teacher for composition named Mr. Mortimer. He did two things that had a profound impact on my later success as a writer of non-fiction. First, we had class every day and every day he made us write for the first ten minutes. We would come into class, sit down and he would set the timer for ten minutes and we would write. At the time I thought this was the dumbest, stupidest and most frustrating thing to do. We could write about anything so most of the time I wrote about how dumb it was to write for ten minutes straight. Looking back years later, it was the best gift anyone could give me. He taught me in those ten minutes a day that writing is not an instant inspiration or a shazam of insight but rather a deliberate process that can be mastered through practice. He taught me to write even when I have nothing to write about and something will come. He taught me to overcome writer’s block. He taught me about writing and re-writing. Those ten minutes every day were the best ten minutes I spent in my high school career.

The second thing Mr. Mortimer taught me was that getting published was not just something that “other people” did but that people I knew actually got published. I always thought just famous or special people got published. One day Mr. Mortimer came to class all excited because he had just gotten an article published in “Field and Stream” magazine. I was so impressed and I remember thinking if my English teacher here in the middle of nowhere Pennsylvania can get published then maybe I have a shot. It took me almost a decade later for my first published article but I did it and I owe that inspiration to Mr. Mortimer.

Morris: Years ago, was there a turning point (if not an epiphany) that set you on the career course you continue to follow? Please explain.

Kapp: The turning point for me was landing an internship at an instructional design company after college. There was this company near my hometown called Applied Science Associates (ASA) and no one really knew what they did—something with computers or learning or something. So having an English degree as an undergraduate with lots of courses in Psychology and a teaching certificate, it seemed like interning at a company that had something to do with learning would be a good fit. Plus when I was younger, I was involved in a local theatre group and we were recruited by ASA to play kids in a safety video. So my pitch to work at the company was that I had actually worked for them before as an actor and so now I wanted to work for them as an intern. They gave me a little quiz, I think it was creating a small instructional lesson based on some content and the next thing I knew I was interning for them. As I learned more about what they did and how they created corporate training with technology (at the time green screen computers with text-only interactions), I decided this was the career for me and changed my graduate school enrollment from educational counseling to instructional technology. I loved what they were doing and how the field used all my skills of teaching, Psychology and writing. It was an eye opener because before that I never even knew the field of instructional design existed.

Morris: To what extent has your formal education been invaluable to what you have accomplished in life thus far?

Kapp: My formal education influenced me in terms of writing, from the experience with Mr. Mortimer and then my English degree and teaching certificate influenced my ability to get the job at Applied Science Associates and my Doctoral degree influenced my ability to get my job at Bloomsburg University. At every step of the way, my education has propelled me to the next level. I think what formal education does is to make you study, in-depth topics and that it sometimes makes you learn and do things you don’t think you want to do but in the end are really good for you. Good formal education stretches your mind, it needs to hurt a little, it needs to be a little frustrating and then you can truly grow and learn from the experience. I think informal educational experiences don’t always have the same pain point and, at times, that pain point is good for personal growth even if you may not like it at the time.

Morris: Of all the films that you have seen, which – in your opinion – best dramatizes important business principles? Please explain.

Kapp: I think The Matrix. So why this movie? First, it is one of my all-time favorite movies. But second, it is really about thinking beyond perceived limits. It is about breaking boundaries and refusing to be stuck in the status quo. Innovation in business is about taking a look at what everyone else sees and then finding the areas that can be pushed or destroyed or reconfigured to create new value and to introduce new ideas. So the concept that “there is no spoon” really resonates with me. I like to think about what boundaries can be pushed or removed to create a new way of presenting content or interacting with learners. The concept of gamification is about pushing the boundaries of traditional learning and shaping a new reality…it’s what The Matrix is all about.

Morris: From which non- business book have you learned the most valuable lessons about business? Please explain.

Kapp: George Orwell’s Animal Farm had an impact because it led me to realize that power and control can be a cyclical occurrence. One can be in power and then easily drop out of power and the people who gain the new power will eventually be out of the position of power as well. This served a cautionary tale to me so that I always try to keep in mind that power or control is fleeting and that you always need to be careful of what you do and say to people because no matter what your relationship is with someone, it can change for better or worse so apply the golden rule or you could be in a terrible position. The book also highlighted to me that a person can be influential without having to be in power or control. As a young kid in high school, those were some pretty impactful lessons.

Another book I read in high school but didn’t really understand until my job at the university was Joseph Heller’s Catch 22. Heller so elegantly and hilariously captured the workings, or should I say mis-workings of a bureaucratic organization. Unfortunately, not a week goes by that I don’t think I am in some kind of sequel to the book. It taught me to laugh at the absurdities that surround every working adult.

Morris: From which business book or author have you learned the most valuable lessons about business? Please explain.

Kapp: The following business books have always had an impact on me. Early in my career I read everything I could by Tom Peters. I loved the way he gathered and interpreted research from multiple sources, loved the way he wrote and expressed his ideas. He openly contradicted himself, he interviewed smart people. My favorite book of his is Re-Imagine and I hope one day to use that format of tons of graphics, call outs and general chaotic pages for a book. It was brilliant and stands the test of time.

In fact one quote that Peters had in one of his books was by Mario Andretti, “If everything seems under control, you’re not going fast enough.” Whether or purpose or by accident, I seem to live that quote frequently. Control is an illusion that we need to get rid of to excel. But that’s hard to do but the results can be fascinating.

Morris: Here are several of my favorite quotations to which I ask you to respond. First, from Lao-tse’s Tao Te Ching:

“Learn from the people
Plan with the people
Begin with what they have
Build on what they know
Of the best leaders
When the task is accomplished
The people will remark
We have done it ourselves.”

Kapp: Leadership is about consensus. I think too often young leaders envision everyone automatically falling in line with whatever they want to do. In reality, to lead is to serve to work with others to accomplish goals. I always try to involve others in my writing and projects. Early in my career I wrote an article titled “Lone Ranger Need Not Apply” the article was about how it takes a team to implement new software. And I think it takes a team to accomplish any goal worth accomplishing and good leaders first create good teams.

* * *

To read the complete interview, please click here.

Karl cordially invites you to check out the resources at these websites:

Karl’s Website link

Karl’s TEDx Talk link

YouTube Gamification link

Facebook link

Pinterest link


“Gamification Myths Debunked: How To Sidestep Failure And Boost Employee Learning” link

“Improve Training: Thinking Like a Game Developer”link

“Gamification of Retail Safety and Loss Prevention Training” link

Wednesday, October 15, 2014 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Peter F. DiGiammarino: Part 1 of an interview by Bob Morris

D13_041_019Peter DiGiammarino is a senior executive with 35 years of success leading businesses that target tight public and private markets around the world. In addition to running companies, he serves public, private, private-equity-owned, and venture-capital-backed software and services firms as an adviser and/or board member and has consistently helped them to achieve their full potential to perform and grow. As a leader who has served successful companies in the role of CEO, Peter knows how to develop and lead teams of high-powered, driven professionals. His emphasis is to create and implement plans that are true to the organization’s market, offerings, competence, and purpose.

Peter currently serves as Chairman of Compusearch and advises a dozen other organizations as CEO of IntelliVen. He is based in San Francisco, California. He is also adjunct professor in the Organization Development program at the University of San Francisco where the workbook he authored, Manage to Lead: Seven Truths to Help You Change the World, is used to teach a course he developed on Organization Analysis and Strategy. That book was published by IntelliVen (July 2013).

Here is an excerpt from my interview of Peter. To read the complete Part 1, please click here.

* * *

Morris: Before discussing Manage to Lead (in Part 2), a few general questions. First, who has had the greatest influence on your personal growth? How so?

DiGiammarino: My father. He and my mother raised six of us; I am the oldest of a generation on my father’s side. He was a high school teacher, football coach, and camp director who in mid-career got his PhD from Syracuse University in Education, became an assistant superintendent of a public school system, and taught at a teacher’s college. He guided us to be interested in new technology and tried constantly himself to use the latest and greatest to improve the work of teachers. His master’s thesis in 1954 was on the potential for the felt board to improve teaching. In the ‘60s he was the AV (Audio Visual) guy who brought home a projector and movies on reels for us to watch well before the days of VHS and DVRs, and in the ‘70s he led a team to design and implement a mini-computer based system to keep track of student data that is still ahead of its time.

He taught that a smart and motivated person could figure out how to do anything (work on a car, repair a washing machine, fix a computer) … and, further, that there is no point in figuring something out if you don’t also share it with others; starting with your siblings!

He had reservations about the big, bad business world so stayed in academia his entire career. We never seemed to have much money and I thought it must not be too hard to do well and vowed to one day have more than enough financially.

Morris: The greatest impact on your professional development? How so?

DiGiammarino: Charles Rossotti has been my career-long mentor. He was one of a team of five that left the group known as McNamara’s Whiz Kids in the ‘60s to start American Management Systems (AMS) in 1970. I joined 7-years later in an annual wave of aggressive MBA recruiting. We grew AMS to a $1B and 10,000 people over 20 years. As our CEO, Charles modeled constant experimentation, learning, growth, and performance with intelligence, teamwork, and drive.

In the mid-80s the $30M/year unit I had grown from start-up was underperforming relative to plan. Charles called on me more frequently to review status and plans but didn’t take over; instead he showed interest, confidence, and patience and offered help and support. He knew we could get back on track…and we went on to generate nearly $200M/year within a next decade.

Morris: Years ago, was there a turning point (if not an epiphany) that set you on the career course you continue to follow? Please explain.

DiGiammarino: After 20 years at AMS felt I knew too much; every day people came to me with problems that I knew how to solve. I wasn’t learning any more. I wanted something new and figured it was time to run an entire company, not just a large business unit. In 1996 I let myself be recruited to be president and COO of a $200M public software company.

I quickly found that I had a lot more to learn. While I had been successful at AMS, it was almost too easy in an environment that was familiar and insular. I knew I had figured out some useful and important things about growing past the start-up phase and crossing over to being a credible business but needed to test, hone, and further develop my ideas before I could credibly share them with others. It was at this point that I began a systematic process to immerse myself in different companies, in different markets, at different stages of evolution, scale, and business model in order to enrich and apply anew what I had learned first at AMS.

Morris: To what extent has your formal education been invaluable to what you have accomplished in life thus far?

DiGiammarino: I attended the University of Massachusetts for as an undergraduate because I was accepted only to UMass. I vowed that I would never let important things in life “happen to me” again. Instead, I would figure out what I wanted and then make it happen. On the last day of high school I decided to graduate in the top few percent at UMass and go to MIT for graduate school. Which is what I did.

At UMass I was accepted into a new interdisciplinary major for upper-class students who wanted to pursue an unconventional course of study. Even though the program was open only to juniors and seniors, I entered as a freshman because I only wanted to study computers and there was no other option for undergrads to take computer courses. I recruited as my advisor Dr. Wogrin, a 20-year veteran of teaching at Yale and Chair of the UMass Computer Science Department. He became interested in me and assisted me in developing a four-year plan to study math and economics (which is really applied math!) in order to prepare to someday study business (which is, after all, really applied economics!) rounded out with all the courses from the Masters Program in Computer Science.

For my senior project, which enabled me to graduate with honors, I designed, and led a team to implement, a system students could use online to find and register for courses that fulfilled specific requirements, such as being well-liked by other students, meeting a core requirement, and not held before 10:00 AM. In doing this I experienced first-hand the potential different disciplines have to create enormous value that did not previously exist when brought to together to bear on real-world problems.

From the interdisciplinary program I also learned to:

o Plan
o Be accountable to a plan
o Implement a governance structure; by having to review my progress against plan with my advisor twice a semester
o Master bureaucracy
Note: For example, I got the Computer Science Department and the interdisciplinary program to each pay half of the increase in costs relative to state school tuition to finance a semester of study at MIT in my junior year.
o Set high goals and then drive to achieve them no matter how lofty
o Follow through on commitments
o Work hard; because it generates worthy results and it is a waste of time and money not to
o Be comfortable being different
o Appreciate the value of outstanding counsel and advice
o Take full advantage of available resources

Conventional education tracks the best students to learn more and more about less and less as they go from a bachelor’s degree to a master’s and then on to a PhD in a subject area. The limit to this approach is that a student learns everything about nothing. Those that follow this path tend to be extraordinarily deep in their chosen specialty and remarkably inept on topics outside of it as they are intimidated by their own lack of knowledge relative to what they know in their field.

An interdisciplinary program prepares the best students:

o To learn a great deal in any field they want and so are not inclined to get good at only one subject but easily develop depths of competence in whatever they want or need to know.

o To be enriched by the insights, ideas and opportunities that unfold from the blending of competency depths, empowering them to synergize and innovate to create value far beyond what could previously have been imagined.

Upon graduation from UMass I went on to the MIT Sloan School of Management where I studied Information Systems, Strategy, and Organization Development (OD). I took all the OD classes I could because when I arrived I came across a study of alums 20-years out that said the number one course of study they wished they had had more of by far was OD! I had the opportunity to study with some of the second generation founders of the field including a course from Richard Beckhard and a class from Ed Schein.

* * *

To read the complete Part 1, please click here.

Peter cordially invites you to check out the resources at these websites: web site that features a blog of tips and tools for getting organizations on track to fulfill their potential to perform and grow; subscribe to receive 2-3 short posts per month at no cost) (sample vision, mission, values) (HBR: strategy & change) (strategy & leading change) change) books for non-profits) assessment of national financial activity) (international site connecting MBAs and aspiring MBAs with key topics and each other) (for nonprofits) (graphic tools for strategy, change, et al) inquiry) (evaluation and measurement) (emotional intelligence) (cultural transformation/values) of life, development tools for people and organizations) and other resources for CEOs)

TWITTER accounts to consider following:


Formatted Version: Complete

Sunday, October 12, 2014 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

How We Learn: A book review by Bob Morris

How We LearnHow We Learn: The Surprising Truth about When, Where and Why it Happens
Benedict Carey
Random House (2014)

How to take full advantage of a host of techniques that deepen learning that remain largely unknown outside scientific circles

As Benedict Carey explains, “this book is not about some golden future. The persistent, annoying, amusing, ear-scratching present is the space we want to occupy. The tools in this book are solid, they work in real time, and using them will bring you more in tune with the beautiful, if eccentric, learning machine that is your brain.”

Ironically, perhaps paradoxically, Carey invites his readers to use their minds to think about their minds in new ways. He examines an emerging theory that accounts for new ideas about when, where, and why learning happens: The New Theory of Disuse. “It’s an overhaul, recasting forgetting as the best friend of learning, rather than its rival.”

There really is a “science of learning” and it requires the same rigor and focus that the study of physics or calculus does. His research and analysis of others’ research invalidate some assumptions about learning, validate others. When asked, “How much does quizzing oneself like with flashcards help?” here is Carey’s response:

“A lot, actually. Self-testing is one of the strongest study techniques there is. Old-fashioned flashcards work fine; so does a friend, work colleague, or classmate putting you through your paces. The best self-quizzers do two things: They force you to choose the right answer from several possibilities; and they give you immediate feedback, right or wrong. As laid out in Chapter 5, self-examination improves retention and comprehension for more than an equal amount of review time. It can take many forms as well. Reciting a passage from memory, either in front of a colleague or a mirror, is a form of testing. So is explaining it to yourself while pacing the kitchen, or to a work colleague or friend over lunch. As teachers often say, ‘You don’t fully understand a topic until you have to teach it.’ Exactly right.”

In a similar vein, Albert Einstein once suggested to a graduate student at Princeton, “If you can’t explain a great idea to a six year-old, you really don’t understand it.”

Of even more interest and value to me is his repudiation of cramming. Is it a bad idea? “Not always. Cramming works fine as a last resort, a way to ramp up fast for an exam if you’re behind and have no choice. The downside is that, after the test, you won’t remember a whole lot of what you ‘learned’ – if you remember any at all. The reason is that the brain can sharpen a memory only after some forgetting has occurred…Spaced rehearsal or study or self-examination are far more effective ways to prepare. You’ll remember the material longer and be able to carry it into the next course or semester easily. Studies find that people remember up to twice as much material that they rehearsed in spaced or tested sessions than during cramming. If you must cram, do so in courses that are not central to your main area of focus.”

These are among the dozens of other subjects and issues that also caught my eye:

o Cognitive science and physiology of the brain: Aids for study (xi-xvi)
o Retrieval of memory (21-41, 59-79, 82-97, and 205-209)
o Philip Boswood Ballard (Pages 29-35 and 205-206)
o Elizabeth Ligon Bjork and Robert Bjork (35-40, 93-100, 153-158, and 160-163)
o Context for memory, environment for learning (47-64)
o Four Bahrick Study (69-74)
o Testing as self-examination (76-79)
o Preparation in learning (92-103)
o Carey’s experiences in learning: Incubation or percolation, problem solving (107-130 and 131-148)
o Obstacles to learning (124-126, 145-156, and 167-168)
o Psychology of learning (134-1e39)
o Learning Cognition: Discrimination (142-146, 159-163, and 175-194)
o Interleaving (163-171)
o The brain during sleep (195-212)
o Learning: Essential Questions (223-238)

Here’s my take on Carey’s book:

1. People must be self-motivated to learn.
2. They learn more when focused on whatever interests them.
3. Achieving that objective is the reward they value most.
4. People learn more when they learn with others, in collaboration.
5. The more people explain something to others, the better they will understand it.

Ben Carey concludes his book with a Q&A section, responding to many of the questions you may have. (I had them and others before I began to read it.) Here is one question of special interest to me: “Is there any effective strategy for improving performance on longer-term creative projects?” That is an excellent question and his answer to it again stresses the importance spacing one’s efforts. “Simply put: Start [longer-term creative projects] as early as possible, and give yourself permission to walk away. Deliberate interruption is not the same as quitting. On the contrary, stopping work on a big, complicated presentation, term paper or composition activates [or re-activates] the project in your mind, and you’ll begin to see and hear all sorts of things in your daily life that are relevant. You’ll also be more tuned into what you think about those random, incoming clues. This is all fodder for your project — it’s interruption working in your favor [rather than as a distraction] — though you do need to return to the desk or drafting table before too long.”

Those who purchase this book expecting Carey to reveal a “secret sauce,” cheat sheet checklist, short cuts, etc. to accelerate their learning process will be very disappointed. This is not a book for dilettantes and pseudo intellectuals. There really is a “science of learning” and it requires the same rigor and focus that the study of physics or calculus does. The best works of non-fiction offer a journey of personal journey. To those who are about to read this brilliant book, I offer a heartfelt “Bon voyage!

Wednesday, October 8, 2014 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

David Zinger on Employee Engagement: A second interview by Bob Morris


David Zinger connects the strength of one with the power of many as an engagement speaker, coach, and consultant. He founded and hosts the global Employee Engagement Network, with more than 6,400 members and counting. He fuses a down-to-earth prairie upbringing with a global reach. He has worked on engagement in Canada, United States, Poland, Wales, Germany, England, India, Spain, and South Africa. He is a prolific author. He wrote Assorted Zingers: Poems and Cartoons to Take a Bite Out of Work and Engage: How to Get More Into Your Work to Get More Out of Your Work. He has written more than 2500 blog posts on work, engagement, management, and leadership. He has also co-created 10 exceptional free employee engagement e-Books in conjunction with the Employee Engagement Network.

He is also an educator. He taught Educational Psychology and Counseling Psychology at the University of Manitoba for 25 years. David’s specialties were work, humor, career development, well-being, engagement, management and leadership. He created the popular “Ten Building Blocks” pyramid of employee engagement to help clients focus on practical and tactical engagement. David believes that small is the new significant and that small, simple, strong, significant, scalable, and sustainable actions within the context of good work will make the biggest difference in engagement for the benefit of all.

Finally, David is innovative and experimental. He worked for three summers making connections between engagement, honeybees, work, and community. David believes honeybees provide an insightful and living model of the social elements of work and the importance of thinking differently inside our hives (organizations). To receive a free copy and learn more about his finding click on the title of David’s eBook, Waggle: 39 Ways to Improve Human Organizations, Work, and Engagement.

Here is an excerpt from my second interview of him. To read the complete interview, please click here

To read the first interview, please click here.

* * *

Morris: A great deal has happened since our last conversation in January, 2012. It’s good to get caught up. Of all the changes that have occurred in employer-employee relations since then, which do you consider to be most significant? Please explain.

Zinger: I think mobile work combined with new technologies is significant but will grow immensely in the next 24 months. I see so many people using Fitbits and other ways to get metrics on their fitness and sleep and with the new Apple watch I see a lot more workplace applications coming out very quickly. Employee engagement needs to reside more in mobile.

Morris: At which point in your life did you become passionately interested in employee engagement? Please explain.

Zinger: Hearing my Dad, an executive, complain about his job when I was young made me wonder about work and relationships. Having a job early in the railway where people did their best to avoid working. But primarily working as an employee assistance counsellor for 15 years with Seagram let me know the workplace from the inside out. I want work, to work, for everyone.

Morris: To what extent (if any) are the dynamics of employer-employee relations in Canada significantly different from those in the U.S.? Please explain.

Zinger: I travel the globe and I don’t study the macro elements. I am interested in the day-to-day. I redefined employee engagement a few months ago as good work, done well, with others, every day. I don’t care if you are in platinum mine in South Africa, the government in Singapore, or an office worker in Vancouver — we can all achieve good work. For too many people work is hell when I believe work can make us well!

Morris: Recent research by highly reputable firms such as Gallup and Towers Watson indicates that in a U.S. workplace today, on average, less than 30% of the employees are actively and productively engaged; as for the others, they are either passively engaged (“mailing it in”) or actively disengaged, undermining the given company’s success. Why are so many employees either indifferent or hostile?

Zinger: Still not sure I believe the numbers. It often is just the classic bell curve and so given the bell you would expect about 20% disengagement. I think there is a lot of iatrogenic disengagement, meaning what we do around engagement may cause disengagement. I think it is tragic, on a small scale, when we don’t have open, honest, trusting, and respectful dialogues at work with everyone at work and that we need to rely on anonymity and outside consultancies to learn about our own workplaces.

Morris: Here’s a follow-up question. How to increase the percentage of those employees who are actively and productively engaged?

Zinger: That’s a book or two. I think it is small, strategic, significant, and sustainable behaviors done daily. I think culture and strategy and climate are way too large to handle. I want three or four key engaging behaviors done every day. This can range from meaningful conversations to beautiful questions, to ongoing conversations about performance, progress, and setbacks, etc.

* * *

To read the complete interview, please click here.

David cordially invites you to check out the resources at these websites:

Sunday, October 5, 2014 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Organized Mind: A book review by Bob Morris

Organized MindThe Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload
Daniel J. Levitin
Dutton/The Penguin Group (2014)

How to “recapture a sense of order and thereby regain the hours of time wasted by a disorganized mind”

Clutter can fill up our minds the same way it fills up closets, drawers, cabinets, attics, and basements of residences. The problem is even more serious in offices, given all the places in which clutter can accumulate. Climate-controlled storage has become a multi-billion dollar business in the United States precisely because so many people have so much “stuff” that there is insufficient room for it anywhere else.

Don’t blame the human mind. It is what the brain does and is remarkably well-organized but our use of it is certainly not. Pretend for a moment that you are behind the wheel of a Ferrari F12berlinetta, a vehicle that combines superior design and performance. Start the engine and begin to drive it. Oh, I forgot to mention, you don’t know how to use the accelerator, brakes, and steering wheel. The challenge is to understand what this magnificent vehicle can do and then master the skills necessary to take full advantage of those capabilities. I realize that citing the hypothetical situation of driving a Ferrari F12berlinetta without any control of its speed or direction is a bit of a stretch but the fact remains that many human beings feel overwhelmed by the velocity and complexity of their lives. Cluttered thinking results in a cluttered life.

Daniel Levitin wrote this book to help as many people as possible to meet this challenge, to increase their understanding of (a) the human mind and (b) how effective use of it can help them “recapture a sense of order and thereby regain the hours of time wasted by a disorganized use of mind.” He notes two of the most compelling properties of the human brain and its design: “richness and associative access. Richness refers to the theory that a large number of things you’re ever thought of or experienced are still in there, somewhere. Associative access means that your thoughts can be accessed in a number of different ways by semantic or perceptual associations.” These are but two of countless functions and capabilities of the human mind. “The cognitive neuroscience of memory and attention — our improved understanding of the brain, its evolution, and limitations — can help us to better cope with a world when more and more of us feel we’re running fast just to stand still.”

The best business books tend to be research-driven and that is certainly true of this one. Levitin provides 83 pages of annotated “Notes” (Pages 397-481), a clear indication that the abundance of information and insights he provides has a rock-solid foundation of authoritative sources.

These are among the dozens of passages of special interest to me, also listed so as to indicate the scope of Levitin’s coverage:

o The Inside History of Cognitive Overload (Pages 3-13)
o Information Overload, Then and Now (13-32)

Note: How serious has the problem become? According to Eric Schmidt, Executive Chairman of Google, “From the dawn of civilization until 2003, humankind generated five exabytes of data. Now we produce five exabytes [begin italics] every two days [end italics]…and the pace is rapidly accelerating.”

o How Attention and Memory Work (37-45)
o The Neurochemistry of Work (45-48)
o Where Memory Comes From (48-54)
o Where Things Can Start to Get Better (77-87)
o Home Is Where I Want to Be (106-112)
o How Humans Connect Now (113-120)
o Aren’t Modern Social Relations Too Complex to Organize? (120-135)
o When We Procrastinate (195-201)
o Creative Time (201-215)
o Thinking Straight About Probabilities (220-230)
o How We Create Value (268-276)
o The Future of the Organized Mind (329-337)
o Where You Get Your Information (365-369)
o Browsing and Serendipity (376-383)

Levitin acknowledges, “There is no one system that will work for everyone — we are each unique — but in [this book] there are general principles that anyone can apply [begin italics] in their own way [end italics] to recapture a sense of order and to regain the hours of lost time spent trying to overcome the disorganized mind…Getting organized can bring us all to the next level in our lives. It’s the human condition to fall prey to old habits. We must consciously look at areas of our lives that need cleaning up, and then methodically and proactively do so. And then keep doing it…The key to change is having faith that when we get rid of the old, something or someone even more magnificent will take its place.”

Long ago, I began to realize that our lives are the results of the decisions we make, for better or worse. Also, that making no decision is itself a decision, usually with consequences and sometimes with serious consequences. I am deeply grateful to Daniel Levitin for all that I have learned from this book, especially during a second reading when preparing to compose this brief commentary. It seems ironic — and is perhaps a paradox — that we need the human mind to enrich our understanding of the human mind. The material in this book can help anyone to make better decisions about what’s important — and what isn’t — so that better decisions can be made about what to keep and what to eliminate.

It really is true: Cluttered thinking results in a cluttered life. The choice is ours.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Power of Noticing: A book review by Bob Morris

Power of NoticingThe Power of Noticing: What the Best Leaders See
Max H. Bazerman
Simon & Schuster (2014)

How and why a wider perspective (System 2 thinking) will guide you toward more effective decisions and fewer disappointments

I agree with Yogi Berra: “You can observe a lot by just watching.”

However, as Max Bazerman explains in this brilliant book, more than watching is necessary: we must also notice and then, of perhaps even greater importance, we need to have developed a mind-set that enables us to recognize what is especially significant. This is what Isaac Asimov has in mind when observing, “The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds the most discoveries, is not “Eureka!” (I found it!) but ‘That’s funny…'” Hence the importance of anomalies. It is impossible to connect the dots to reveal patterns, trends, causal relationships, etc. unless you know what the right “dots” are and connect them in the right way. The same is true of accumulating disparate data (viewed as pieces of a puzzle) and know how to assemble them in proper order.

As Bazerman explains, “The Power of Noticing challenges leaders to also be noticing architects. Leaders too often fail to notice that they have designed systems that encourage a misspecified goal (booked sales) rather than a more appropriate one (actual profit to the organization). I encourage all leaders to become better noticing architects and to design systems that encourage employees to notice what is truly important.” All of the great leaders throughout history were great noticers. With rare exception, they helped others to become great (or at least competent) noticers.

In the second chapter, Bazerman suggests that inattentional blindness “is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to our failure to notice. Much worse — and well-documented — is the common tendency to willfully ignore inconvenient evidence of others’ unethical behavior. In Dante’s Inferno, the last and worst ring in hell is reserved for those who, in a moral crisis, preserve their neutrality. Inattentional blindness has been a problem for several centuries. Consider this observation by Thucydides: “When a man finds a conclusion agreeable, he accepts it without argument, but when he finds it disagreeable, he will bring against it all the forces of logic and reason.”

These are among the dozens of business subjects and issues of special interest and value to me, also listed to indicate the scope of Bazerman’s coverage.

o The Broader Argument: Our Failure to Notice (Pages xix-xxi)
o From Bounded Awareness to Removing the Blinders (13-15)
o Jerry Sandusky Scandal (16-25)
o Broad Oversight (36-42)
o Implicit Blindness (50-61)
o Negotiating the Wrong Deal (78-82)
o Not Noticing on a Slippery Slope (88-92)
o Sherlock Holmes in “Silver Blaze”: The Dog That Didn’t Bark (101-109)
o Not Noticing the Ingredients of a Financial Collapse, and, It IS Too Good to Be True (126-132)
o The Market for Lemons (139-145)
o Cynicism: The Dark Side of Thinking One Step Ahead (146-150)
o Walking the Customer: “We Reward Results!”(159-162)
o Failing to Notice Predictable Surprises (171-172)
o The Power of Noticing Predictable Surprises (178-180)
o A Noticing Mind-Set (182-185)
o Nothing Is Easier for Outsiders (187-191)

Obviously, no brief commentary such as mine can possibly do full justice to the scope and depth of information, insights, and counsel that Max Bazerman provides in abundance. However, I hope I have at least indicated why I think so highly of his book. He concludes: “As I hope you have learned by now, focusing is important, but sometimes noticing is better — at least when you are making critical decisions. In hope that this book has provided useful guidance to help you, as a focuser, also become a first-class noticer.” I presume to add a few points of my own. First, we tend to see what we expect to see and notice little else. Also, as Thucydides suggests, we tend to embrace that with which we agree and reject that withwhich we don’t. Finally, it is extremely difficult but nonetheless possible — and perhaps imperative — to establish a culture within which noticing is not only a core competency but an embedded value.

Sunday, September 28, 2014 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Why not multitask to get more work done?

NassResearch conducted by Clifford Nass and his associates at Stanford University was based on two assumptions:

o That multitaskers are superhumans, capable peak performance, while completing several tasks simultaneously

o That multitaskers have a highly developed ability to switch attention from one task to another in an orderly way

What in fact did the research reveal?

“We all bet that multitaskers were going to be stars at something, We were absolutely shocked. We lost all our bets. It turns out that multitaskers are terrible at every aspect of multitasking. They’re terrible at ignoring irrelevant information; they’re terrible at keeping information in their head nicely and neatly organized; and they’re terrible at switching from one task to another.”

In The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload, Daniel J. Levitin has this to say:

“We all want to believe that we can do many things at once and that our attention is infinite, but this is a persistent myth. What we really do is shift our attention rapidly from task to task. Two bad things happen as a result: We don’t devote enough attention to any one thing, and we decease the quality of attention applied to any task. When we do one thing — uni-task — there are beneficial changes in the brain’s daydreaming network and increased connectivity…You’d think people would realize that they’re bad at multitasking and would quit. But a cognitive illusion sets in, fueled in part by a dopamine-adrenaline feedback loop, which multitaskers [begin italics] think [end italics] they are doing great.”

When multitasking, we don’t get more work done. We get less work done and of a much lower quality. Now you know.

* * *

To read the complete report, Cognitive Control in Media Multitaskers, please click here.

Tragically, Clifford Nass died November 2, 2013, at Stanford Sierra Camp near South Lake Tahoe, after collapsing at the end of a hike. He was only 55.

Clifford Nass earned a B.A. cum laude in mathematics (1981) and a Ph.D. in sociology (1986), both from Princeton University. Before attending graduate school, Nass worked as a computer scientist at Intel Corporation. Nass focused on experimental studies of social-psychological aspects of human-computer interaction. He directed the Communication between Humans and Interactive Media (CHIMe) Lab. The four foci of the CHIMe Lab are: 1) Communication in and between Automobiles: Research on Safety, Information Technology, and Enjoyment (CARSITE); 2) Social and Psychological Aspects of Computing Environments (SPACE), which focuses on mobile and ubiquitous technology; 3) Abilities of People: Personalization, Emotion, Embodiment, Adaptation, Language, and Speech (APPEEALS); and 4) human-robot interaction. He is also co-Director of the Kozmetsky Global Collaboratory, which focuses on developing countries. To learn more about him and his important work, please click here.

LevitinDaniel J. Levitin is the James McGill Professor of Psychology and Music at McGill University, Montreal, where he also holds appointments in the Program in Behavioural Neuroscience, The School of Computer Science, and the Faculty of Education. An award-winning teacher, he now adds best-selling author to his list of accomplishments as “This Is Your Brain on Music” and “The World in Six Songs” were both Top 10 best-sellers, and have been translated into 16 languages. Before becoming a neuroscientist, he worked as a session musician, sound engineer, and record producer working with artists such as Stevie Wonder and Blue Oyster Cult. He has published extensively in scientific journals as well as music magazines such as Grammy and Billboard. Recent musical performances include playing guitar and saxophone with Sting, Bobby McFerrin, Rosanne Cash, David Byrne, and Rodney Crowell.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

David Van Rooy: An interview by Bob Morris

Van RooyDavid Van Rooy is Senior Director, Talent Management for Walmart. He previously held roles in International Human Resources, and was responsible for the world’s largest performance management and employee engagement programs at Walmart, covering nearly 2.2 million employees globally. Before Walmart his most recent role was at Marriott International, where he led global HR operations and systems for several Centers of Expertise (COE) including compensation, benefits, workforce planning, performance management, associate engagement, and learning. He also held several Talent Management and Marketing roles of increasing responsibility at Burger King Corporation.

David received his doctoral degree in Industrial and Organizational Psychology from Florida International University (FIU). He has published over 20 peer reviewed scientific business articles and book chapters. Most of these have been highly recognized and his work has been covered by many national and international outlets including USA Today, CNN, Forbes, Inc., and Fox News, and HR Asia. This has been complemented by over 30 presentations at international conferences. In addition to performance management and employee engagement, he is a recognized expert in the fields of emotional intelligence and employee assessment and selection.

His book, Trajectory: 7 Career Strategies to Take You from Where You Are to Where You Want to Be, was published by AMACOM (May 2014).

Author Note: In gratitude for the brave and unselfish service of our military men and women, David will be donating all of the author royalties he receives from the sale of Trajectory to the Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF) in support of our military veterans transitioning into the civilian workforce. IVMF’s mission is to enhance American competitiveness and advance the employment situation of veterans and their families by collecting, synthesizing and sharing veteran-employment policy & practices, providing employment related expertise, capacity, training and education and delivering technical assistance to stakeholders in the veterans’ community. You can learn more about this great organization here.

Here is a brief excerpt from my interview of him. To read the complete interview, please click here.

* * *

Morris: Before discussing Trajectory, a few general questions. First, who has had the greatest influence on your personal growth? How so?

Van Rooy: My parents. They provided me with a supportive, values-based childhood and demonstrated the value of hard work and integrity.

Morris: The greatest impact on your professional development? How so?

Van Rooy: I would have trouble pointing to a single person. I have been extremely fortunate to have amazing professors, bosses, and mentors throughout my career.

Morris: Years ago, was there a turning point (if not an epiphany) that set you on the career course you continue to follow? Please explain.

Van Rooy: At the first company I worked for out of graduate school I was presented with a neat opportunity to move from HR into Marketing. My time in marketing gave me direct exposure to a different part of the business, which I believe helps me to this day. Less than a year later, though, I had a chance to move to a new organization, but the role was back in HR. At that point I realized I had to decide which career path to take, and I decided that HR was where I wanted to be down the road. It’s sometimes hard to make these decisions at the time, but looking back on my career I have no doubt it was the right career choice for me.

Morris: To what extent has your formal education been invaluable to what you have accomplished in life thus far?

Van Rooy: My Ph.D. is in a field called Industrial and Organizational Psychology, which includes heavy research and analytical components. This has helped me in understanding data that is so important with decision making, particularly as the amounts of it continue to increase.

Morris: From which non-business book have you learned the most valuable lessons about business? Please explain.

Van Rooy: In college I took an organizational psychology class, and Bringing Out the Best in People by Aubrey Daniels was required reading. As an aspiring psychologist I was drawn to the message about motivating people through positive reinforcement. The alternative – negative reinforcement – can lead to behavioral change, but it is either short-lived or not as powerful as positive reinforcement.

Morris: Here are two of my favorite quotations to which I ask you to respond. First, from Richard Dawkins: “Yesterday’s dangerous idea is today’s orthodoxy and tomorrow’s cliché.”

Van Rooy: Absolutely! Many ideas that originally “failed” were simply ideas ahead of their time. Something that did not work in the past should not be forever discarded; instead, reevaluate when conditions change, and you may find that what was once dangerous or crazy is now brilliant.

Morris: Then from Peter Drucker: “There is surely nothing quite so useless as doing with great efficiency what should not be done at all.”

Van Rooy: It’s easy to fall into a trap and continue doing what worked in the past, even if it is no longer worthwhile. Over time we tend to get better and more efficient at what we do, but it’s important to make sure that it is still important. For example, you may be able to create a monthly scorecard much quicker than when you started it, but unless it is still being used it does not really matter.

Morris: The greatest leaders throughout history (with rare exception) were great storytellers. What do you make of that?

Van Rooy: It’s important that people have passion for what they do, and feel connected to the greater purpose. Stories have a powerful effect on us because we can relate to them, and as a result we remember them. It is this emotional connection that results in storytelling becoming such a powerful way to inspire others.

* * *

To read the complete interview, please click here.

David cordially invites you to check out the resources at these websites:

His website link

Inc. link

David’s Amazon page link

Sunday, September 21, 2014 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Kid: A book review by Bob Morris

The KidThe Kid: The Immortal Life of Ted Williams
Ben Bradlee, Jr.
Little, Brown and Company (2014)

A brilliant examination of a Hall of Fame career and of an “exceptional, tumultuous, and epic American life – an immortal life.”

I am among the 200 reviewers (thus far) who have rated this book highly but there are others (and there always are) who complain about something: its length, abundance of historical material, too much coverage of this/not enough of that, etc. I have read a number of biographies in recent years, including those of John Cheever (Bailey), Steve Jobs (Isaacson), Barbara Stanwyck (Wilson), Johnny Carson (Bushkin), John Wayne (Eyman), Michael Jordan (Lazenby), Woodrow Wilson (Berg), and John Updike (Begley) as well as Leigh Montville’s biography of Ted Williams (2005). In my opinion, none is a greater achievement than what Ben Bradlee, Jr. offers in The Kid, his examination of the “immortal life” of Ted Williams (1918-2002). His sense of nuance is impeccable.

As Charles McGrath points out in his review of the book for The New York Times, “What distinguishes Bradlee’s The Kid from the rest of Williams lit is, its size and the depth of its reporting. Bradlee seemingly talked to everyone, not just baseball people but William’s fishing buddies, old girlfriends, his two surviving wives and both of his daughters, and he had unparalleled access to Williams family archives. His account does not materially alter our picture of Williams the player, but fills it in with much greater detail and nuance…Bradlee’s expansiveness enables his book to transcend the familiar limits of the sports bio and to become instead a hard-to-put-down account of a fascinating American life. It’s a story about athletic greatness but also about the perils of fame and celebrity, the corrosiveness of money, and the way the cycle of familial resentment and disappointment plays itself out generation after generation.”

Bradlee devotes seven pages of Acknowledgments of hundreds of sources (including Montville) to which he is “deeply indebted.” He also includes 155 pages of Notes and in Appendix II (Pages 787-800) he lists everyone he interviewed. This is a research-driven book, to be sure, and probably the definitive account of the life of one of the most colorful – and controversial – public figures during the second half of the last century. Bradlee allows the sources to speak for themselves and provides a more balanced view than does Richard Ben Cramer, for example, in his biography of Joe DiMaggio and two of Williams. Perhaps most striking is Bradlee’s impeccable sense of nuance.

There is much in Williams and his life to admire, notably his skills as a hitter of baseballs and his two periods of service as a Marine pilot (during WW 2 and then Korea) as well as his active support of the Jimmy Fund. He was very uncomfortable when praised for that support. Here is a brief portion of the information provided by the Fund’s website: “Ted Williams was a hero in the ballpark, on the battlefield, and in the hearts of millions of children suffering from cancer. Famous for his extraordinary batting record during his decades-long career with the Red Sox, Ted also displayed heroism as a fighter pilot in two wars, and his tireless efforts on behalf of the Jimmy Fund. Ted went everywhere to support the cause: American Legion banquets, temples and churches, Little League games, drive-in theaters, department stores for autograph sessions. Most memorably, he made countless visits to the bedsides of sick children at the Jimmy Fund Clinic. As a kid, Ted dreamed of being a sports hero, but as an adult, he dreamed of beating cancer. His efforts over the years contributed to remarkable progress in the treatment of childhood cancers.”

These are among the dozens of other dimensions of his life and career that are of greatest interest to me:

o His childhood in San Diego and early promise as a baseball player
o His minor league years (1936-1938) and the friendships he developed (e.g. with Dom DiMaggio and Bobby Doerr)
o Being identified as “The Kid” by Red Sox equipment manager, Johnny Orlando
o The first season in MLB, after which Babe Ruth designated him “Rookie of the Year”
o The 1941 season: Williams batted .406, hit 37 home runs, and had 120 RBIs, finishing second to Joe DiMaggio for MVP
o First active duty with the U.S. Marine Corps as a fighter pilot, World War 2 (1943-1945)

Note: According to Johnny Pesky, a Red Sox teammate who was also involved with Williams in the aviation training program, “He mastered intricate problems in fifteen minutes which took the average cadet an hour, and half of the other cadets there were college grads.” Pesky again described Williams’ acumen in the advance training, for which Pesky personally did not qualify: “I heard Ted literally tore the sleeve target to shreds with his angle dives. He’d shoot from wingovers, zooms, and barrel rolls, and after a few passes the sleeve was ribbons. At any rate, I know he broke the all-time record for hits.”

o Second active duty with the U.S. Marine Corps, Korea (1952–1953)

Note: During the second tour of duty, Williams served in the same Marine Corps unit with John Glenn who described him as one of the best pilots he knew.

o Why he disliked the sports media so intensely, especially in Boston
o When and why he retired
o The significance of his relationship with Sears Roebuck
o His brief career as a manager of the Washington Senators/Texas Rangers franchise from 1969 to 1972
o His inadequacies as a husband and as a father
o The ambiguities of John Henry Williams
o Questions that remain unanswered concerning what happened after Ted Williams’ death on July 5, 2002 (aged 83)
o Key lifetime statistics: BA .344; HRs 521; 2,654 hits; and 1,839 RBIs

Bradlee thoroughly explores these and countless other subjects and related issues, perhaps with more details and to a greater extent than many readers prefer. He celebrates Williams’ several significant strengths and virtues but refuses to ignore or even neglect his prominent inadequacies in most of his personal relationships. I appreciate the fact that Bradlee does not presume to explain what drove him other than a need to become the greatest baseball hitter who ever lived (I agree with Bradlee and countless others that he was) and by his determination to have total control of his personal life, especially the news media.

As Bradlee explains in his Author’s Note, “Researching and writing this book took more than a decade. After six-hundred-odd reviews, uncounted hours of research in archives and among the private papers given to me and by the Williams family, after looking closely at that signed baseball more than a few times [one Bradlee received in his youth] and thinking hard about the man I’d briefly met as a boy and the man I was meeting now, I felt ready to let go of this Ted Williams tale, the story of an exceptional, tumultuous, and epic American life – an immortal life.”

This is by far the best biography of Williams that I have read thus far, indeed it is among the best biographies of athletes I have ever read. I am deeply grateful for learning what I did not previously know about “The Kid,” of course, but also for the meticulous care with which Ben Bradlee, Jr. presents all of the material, helping his readers to gain a better understanding and a greater appreciation of one of the most complicated human beings any of us will ever know. Bravo!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


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