First Friday Book Synopsis

"…like CliffNotes on steroids…"

A Nation, A World, Of Disconnected Voices – We Are Not Just Bowling Alone, We Are Living Alone

Once a lender sold a mortgage, it no longer had a stake in whether the borrower could make his or her payments.
McLean and Nocera, All The Devils are Here, on one unintended consequence of modern mortgage practices.

—————

“No one is left from the Glenn Valley, Pennsylvania Bridge Club who can tell us precisely when or why the group broke up…” These are the opening words of Robert Putnam’s Bowling Alone.  I think it may be time to re-read this modern day lament, this tragic story of loss.

Here is a simple premise – if I know you, I want to please you.  The better I know you, the more I want to please you.  Or, at least, the more it matters to me that I don’t disappoint you.

Why?  Because I know you.  And why else?  Because we run in the same circles, and if I disappoint you or let you down or give you bad customer service, you will tell your friends – and they all know me.  And that will be very embarrassing…

Well, that was the good old days.  When we lived in neighborhoods, and knew each other by name, and our banker was someone we saw at church or in the restaurant or at the Rotary Club.  After all, our kids played baseball together.

Not so much anymore.

Today, nearly all of our business dealings are with strangers.  The voice we hear on the other end of the phone is in fact just that – a voice, not a person.  They don’t know us.  We don’t know them.  Oh, some companies do a really good job making that voice friendly and helpful (more companies need to work on this).  But in the end, that voice is still a stranger’s voice.

Our bank – well, our bank is a corner drive through, or a grocery store walk-up — some satellite location of some massive mega-chain of a “too big to fail” bank.  We don’t know a banker.  Heck, we don’t even walk into our bank anymore.  The deposit is automatic (electronic).  They “pay us extra” for that, in fewer charges.

Good.

Bad.

Good, because it is quick, easy, automatic.  We don’t have to “do” anything.

Bad – because nobody knows us, and we don’t know anybody.

Ok, I am presenting the worst case in this scenario, but I’m not far off, am I?

I knew a man who was wildly successful as an insurance man in Long Beach, California.  A nice man – a good man.  One of the things he did was to pay every bill in person.  Every bill.  He would walk in with a check in hand, so that he could meet, and talk to, the person he would hand the check to.  Every month.  In every bank, every utility company, he had friends.  And customers.  He was a master networker, before anyone came up with the word.

And if you needed something, from his company, or from someone else, he could help you.  He wanted to help you.  He did help you!

But, the further we move away from these little moments of human contact, the less we serve customers that we know, and the less that we are served by people that know us.

No, I don’t know how to fix this.  But, I think, as I read All the Devils Are Here, one unintended consequence jumped out at me.  It really would be good to know the people we make our mortgage payments to.  And it would be really good if they knew us.

Don’t you think?

Wednesday, February 2, 2011 Posted by | Randy's blog entries | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

An Epidemic Of Belittling And Ridicule – Time To Stop!

Let’s begin with the obvious.  It is possible to treat someone in a belittling manner.  Let’s acknowledge that we can speak with a tone, and words, of ridicule.

And let’s acknowledge this:  there is nothing positive about these practices.  Nothing.  It does not build anyone up, it does not bring out the best in people, it does not enhance productivity, it does not nurture community.

And since it is possible to belittle, to ridicule, then we all know someone who is an expert at such practices.  In fact, you – yes, you, the one reading this blog post – might be practicing the slimy art of belittling and ridicule yourself.

Stop it!

Those are my thoughts prompted by a short, simple, to the point tweet from Tom Peters.  Here is his tweet:

Consultant called in for exec retreat. Enters, goes to white board, writes “DON’T BELITTLE;” turns and walks out. (YES!!!)

Now, I do not know why this slimy art seems to be on the rise (but I think it is).  I might point to our toxic attack environment seen especially in talk radio, and overall lack of civility.  I do know that some people who are very good at belittling and ridicule are making a lot of money practicing their craft.

In a Slate.com article It’s Not the Job Market: The three real reasons why Americans are more anxious than ever before by Taylor Clark, we find a reminder that we are increasingly more isolated than ever before:

America’s increasing loss of community, what we might call the “Bowling Alone” effect. Human contact and kinship help alleviate anxiety (our evolutionary ancestors, of course, were always safer in numbers), yet as we leave family behind to migrate all over the country, often settling in insular suburbs where our closest pal is our plasma-screen TV, we miss out on this all-important element of in-person connection.

Maybe this isolation makes us more willing to just treat people badly.

But, I think this really does need to be addressed, attacked, stopped.  Or, as the management consultant quoted by Peters put it, “DON’T’ BELITTLE!,” maybe we all need to just start walking out of the room, start walking away from the people who do it, until they stop.

Remember this simple and powerful reminder from Kouzes and Pozner:

Honored and not diminished.  That’s how we all want to feel.
James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Pozner:  Encouraging the Heart: A Leaders Guide to Rewarding and Encouraging Others.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011 Posted by | Randy's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Best Magazine Articles Ever (from CoolTools)

For book lovers, here is a list of a different kind:  The Best Magazine Articles Ever.  Andrew Sullivan linked to it on his blog.

Here is the article, up to the list of the top seven.  The article lists many others, by decade.  Admittedly it is, as all lists, subjective.  Kevin Kelly posted it on his CoolTools blog.  I have not read all of these seven, and they are definitely going into my “to read” stack.

The Best Magazine Articles Ever

The following are suggestions for the best magazine articles (in English) ever.  Stars denote how many times a correspondent has suggested it. Submitter comments are in italics.

This is a work in progress. It is an on-going list of suggestions collectively made by readers of this post. At this point the list has not been vetted or selected by me. In fact, other than the original five items I suggested, all of the articles mentioned here have been recommended by someone other than me. (Although I used to edit Wired magazine none of the articles from Wired were suggested by me or anyone who worked at Wired. I also did not suggest my own pieces.)

This list is incomplete though it is getting quite long. You may notice that your favorite author or piece is missing. This is easy to fix. Simply recommend your favorite magazine articles to me via email: articles@kk.org. Or if your favorite article is already listed, use the same form to recommend it in order to elevate it to the “top”. At some point in a few weeks I’ll close the nominations.

— KK

The Top Seven Articles Based on the number of times an article is recommended

****** David Foster Wallace, “Federer As Religious Experience.” The New York Times, Play Magazine, August 20, 2006.

***** David Foster Wallace, “Consider the Lobster.” Gourmet Magazine, Aug 2004.

***** Neal Stephenson, “Mother Earth, Mother Board: Wiring the Planet.” Wired, December 1996. On laying trans-oceanic fiber optic cable.

****** Gay Talese, “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold.” Esquire, April 1966.

**** Ron Rosenbaum, “Secrets of the Little Blue Box.” Esquire, October 1971. The first and best account of telephone hackers, more amazing than you might believe.

**** Jon Krakauer, “Death of an Innocent: How Christopher McCandless Lost His Way in the Wilds.” Outside Magazine, January 1993. Article that became Into the Wild.

**** Edward Jay Epstein, “Have You Ever Tried to Sell a Diamond?” Atlantic Magazine, February 1982. Diamonds, De Beers, monopoly & marketing.


Andrew Sullivan recommended this article, As We May Think by Vannevar Bush from the July 1945 issue of the Atlantic, and included this quote:

Consider a future device for individual use, which is a sort of mechanized private file and library. It needs a name, and, to coin one at random, “memex” will do. A memex is a device in which an individual stores all his books, records, and communications, and which is mechanized so that it may be consulted with exceeding speed and flexibility. It is an enlarged intimate supplement to his memory.

And I would include the original articles (both led to books) The Long Tail by Chris Anderson and Bowling Alone by Robert Putnam.  And, of course, I would remind our readers that we link to the Malcom Gladwell and Atul Gawande archives, which you can find always on the right side of our blog.

And I would also recommend the David Halberstam article from the July, 1969 Harper’s, The Very Expensive Education of McGeorge Bundy.

 


 


Monday, August 2, 2010 Posted by | Randy's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

You Can’t Go To Networking Events In Your Pajamas –Thoughts on the Problem of Disengagement

Now, here is something strange.

When people need to find work, which a whole lot of people need to find right now, they need to absolutely become world-class net-workers.  They need to be the networking energizer bunny.  They need to “Never Eat Alone” (Keith Ferrazzi’s book), they need to meet new people every week, and go to as many events as possible.

And they do – for a while.  But there comes this moment, this horrible moment, when they simply can no longer face having to utter the words:  “no progress yet.”

Thus, they withdraw – just when they need to keep engaging.

I’ve seen this.  I think of someone who is so very gifted, talented, skilled.  Well educated, with so much to offer.  His department was shut down.  His company cut workers, including him.  And after a long while, he said (I’m paraphrasing): “I just don’t want to be around those people who are successful, having to admit, or really even to face the fact, that I have not gotten back to the top.”

This story (and I suspect many of us know others with similar stories) is now being written about.  Here are paragraphs from a recent column by Doyle McManus, Great Recession’s Psychological Fallout — From lower birthrates to decreased civic participation and volunteerism, economic downturns have many non-economic effects:

But here’s something more surprising: As the recession deepens, participation in civic activities — community organizations, volunteer groups, even church attendance and social clubs — is likely to drop. Sociologists once assumed that during hard times people would naturally band together, if only to protest their plight or to give each other solace. It turns out that the opposite is true: Economic distress causes people to withdraw.

“Rather than get together and hold community meetings or march in protest, the effect of unemployment in the Great Depression was to cause people to hunker down,” said Robert D. Putnam, the Harvard sociologist whose book, “Bowling Alone,” examines Americans’ civic engagement in the 20th century. “We found exactly the same thing in the recessions of the 1970s and 1980s … and I’m pretty confident we’ll see the same pattern in this recession too.”

And according to the experts cited in this column, the really disturbing part of this may be that many of the people who withdraw never fully re-engage.  The disengagement may be permanent – it may last a lifetime.    Maybe they have “learned,” or simply think that, “what’s the use, it’s going to collapse again soon anyway.”

By the way, this is a problem for middle-aged folks “in transition,” and for current graduates from top universities and graduate schools.  For example, one nationally regarded Law School has implemented a new “long career launch” program, in which they provide recent graduates “salaries” (small salaries) to work in jobs for a few months.  In other words, they have jobs, but the law school is providing the salaries through the company/agency that “hires” the law school graduates.    This is a help to the graduates; this gives them something to do.  But it also keeps the law school from dropping in the rankings (the rankings are based, partly, on percentage of graduates who do find work).  And here is a note about the “mood:”  on that campus, the most feared question is this:  “Do you know what you will be doing?”

I have no simple solution to this problem.  But if you are struggling during this downturn, and you find yourself disengaging, try your best to fight it.  It really is ok to say, “nope, no progress yet.  But I’ll keep trying.” Because, I assure you, you really are not alone.   There are a whole lot of people in the same boat that you are in.

And we realize, ever more clearly, that a long bout of trying to get back on your feet can lead to real self-esteem issues.  (Duh!).   I have written about a related part of this struggle in my post A Jobless Recovery and a Slip Down Maslow’s Hierarchy.

I do not presume to give advice to anyone.  But I have read and heard that one key is to be sure to “go to work everyday,” even if going to work is just sending our more resumes for the umpteenth time, and going to that next gathering for networking purposes.

When Paul Harvey went back to work after one of his bouts of serious illness, he remarked to his engineer in his studio, which was at his home, that things just did not feel right yet.  His engineer said something like this:  “Mr. Harvey, you’re not dressing for work.  You’re recording your programs in your pajamas and robe.  I think if you dressed for work, you’d feel better about things.”  So he did – and he did.

Maybe working in your pajamas on a regular basis is not such a smart idea after all.  Just a thought…  And, if your need is to keep your name out there, and network like the energizer bunny, then you may have to dress and show up for work, even if you don’t want to.  Remember the brilliant advice from Dr. J:

“Being a professional is doing the things you love to do on the days you don’t feel like doing them.” (Julius Erving).

Change it a little:  “being a professional is doing the things you need to do on the days you don’t feel like doing them.”

Saturday, July 17, 2010 Posted by | Randy's blog entries | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Interview: Seth Godin (Part Two)

Seth Godin

Godin is a bestselling author, entrepreneur and agent of change. An author of twelve books that have been bestsellers around the world, his most recent include Tribes, The Dip, and Meatball Sundae. Others include Free Prize Inside, All Marketers Are Liars, Permission Marketing, Unleashing the Ideavirus, The Big Red Fez, Survival is Not Enough, and Purple Cow. He is a renowned speaker as well and was recently chosen as one of “21 Speakers for the Next Century” by Successful Meetings and is consistently rated among the very best speakers by the audiences he addresses. He holds an MBA from Stanford, and was called “the Ultimate Entrepreneur for the Information Age” by BusinessWeek.

Morris: As I began to read “This Tine It’s Personal” in Linchpin, I was reminded of these lines from Yeats’s poem, The Second Coming:

“Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.”

You and Yeats seem to be observing the same world, only 90 years apart.

Godin: Boy, he’s a lot better than I am!

I think we don’t have anarchy here, we have opportunity. The opportunity created by the vacuum left as the industrial age dies.

If all the upside came from making average products for average people, now the upside comes from making a human connection and creating delight and surprise, which belongs to us, not to the system.

Morris: For those who have not as yet read your most recent book, to what does its title refer?

Godin: A linchpin is that little piece we can’t live without, a part that punches above its weight. The linchpin takes whatever is happening and makes it work.

But that’s just a metaphor. I’m talking about individuals, human beings who dare to stand out and make a difference. Because if making a difference is important, those are the people we can’t live without.

Morris: My own experience suggests that “indispensable” people create bottlenecks in an organization. Apparently you disagree.

Godin: Oh yes!

A well-run smooth system of an organization that has no competition and little change in the market abhors linchpins and indispensable people. I don’t know many organizations like that. Most organizations I know are called upon to solve problems that no one has ever seen before, to innovate, to delight customers and to change, and fast. Who, precisely, is going to do that?

Continue reading

Tuesday, January 26, 2010 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Interview: Seth Godin

Godin

Seth Godin

Godin is a bestselling author, entrepreneur and agent of change. An author of twelve books that have been bestsellers around the world, his most recent include Tribes, The Dip, and Meatball Sundae. Others include Free Prize Inside, All Marketers Are Liars, Permission Marketing, Unleashing the Ideavirus, The Big Red Fez, Survival is Not Enough, and Purple Cow. He is a renowned speaker as well and was recently chosen as one of “21 Speakers for the Next Century” by Successful Meetings and is consistently rated among the very best speakers by the audiences he addresses. He holds an MBA from Stanford, and was called “the Ultimate Entrepreneur for the Information Age” by BusinessWeek.

Here is an excerpt from my interview of Godin. The complete interview is also available.

Morris: Your blog, http://sethgodin.typepad.com, is one of the most popular and deservedly so. What do you know now about blogging that you wish you knew when you launched it?

Godin: I figured out most of what I know about blogging pretty early on. The thing that distracted me for a long time, though, was confusing noisy people with important people. I know how, for example, to write a blog post that gets a lot of traffic, a lot of discussion–but not necessarily the kind of people I want to reach or the kind of message I want to spread. So now, I write what I think needs to be written, not what the in-crowd necessarily wants to read.

Morris: Here’s a related question. What are two or three of the most common misconceptions about blogging? In fact, what is the reality?

Godin: Blogging isn’t tweeting. At least for me, blogging is an asynchronous essay, a chance to lay out a thought, gather direct, non-anonymous feedback and repeat. It’s not a conversation, because a conversation happens like a phone call–in synchronization–and it is almost between two people. I love the fact that I don’t have to wait a year for a book to come out in order to bring an idea to the world.

The fact that there’s no barrier to publication, though, makes a lot of people uncomfortable. That’s because they can’t hide. You just have to do it, no one to blame.

Morris: Robert Putnam has written that we are increasingly “bowling alone,” losing many of our voluntary associations with others. Yet, you have written of the rise of “tribes,” and described how people are finding each other and creating their own tribes. I agree. But can the interests and objectives of tribes be so narrow that their proliferation creates even more divisions within our society?

Godin: There have always been divisions. 150 people and [Robin] Dunbar says we spin off a new tribe. There was a division between the Lions and Kiwanis, between the Sharks and the Jets and between the Montagues and the Capulets. The thing about Tribes is that people desperately want to belong to them, and the problem with bowling is that there’s just too much overhead. Getting into a league as a trusted member takes about 1000 times as long as doing something similar online, and we just don’t think we have the time for that.

* * *

If you wish to read the complete interview, please contact me at interllect@mindspting.com.

You are urged to check out the resources at these Web sites:

http://sethgodin.typepad.com/about.html

http://www.sethgodin.com/sg/

Tuesday, November 10, 2009 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“I Make Money by Making Friends” — why people network

Call it what you will.  Networking; schmoozing; conversation; customer cultivation.  Whatever you call it, it’s still the same basic truth — you make money, you build success, one relationship at a time.

This truth came through loud and clear in a conversation with an innovative CEO from a premier Austin recruitment firm.  The conversation took place on family reunion weekend in Natchitoches, Louisiana.  (If you’re ever looking for a great Bed and Breakfast just four hours from Dallas, check out Jefferson House — owned and operated by older brother Herman Mayeux and his wife Arleen).  The CEO is my brother Mike Mayeux, CEO of Novotus.  The money quote:  “I make money by making friends all day long.” And you should see him at work.  I’ve been with him while he is on the phone, I’ve been with him in a room full of people.  Mike is really, really good at making friends!

This truth has to be embodied in the right kind of person.  Mike is that kind of person.  He likes people.  He really, genuinely likes people.  So when he says that he is making friends, he really is making friends, building relationships in which he will do what he can to help others.  And one of the things he can do is help people find the right talented person to hire for a whole lot of different kinds of jobs. He is not making friends in order to get what he can out of the other person.  He is making friends for the purpose of making friendships, and all such genuine friendship is, by definition, reciprocal.  (Robert Putnam, in Bowling Alone, describes a working society as one which shares much generalized reciprocity).

Business books confirm this.  In The Power of Nice, (a book my colleague Karl Krayer presented at the First Friday Book Synopsis), the authors put it this way:  You make positive impressions on others, and then, “these positive impressions are like seeds.  You plant them and forget about them, but underneath the surface, they’re growing and expanding, often exponentially.”  This book also reminds us of what happens if we do not treat people in a friendly way:  “Just as positive actions are like seeds, rude gestures and remarks are like germs – you may not see the impact they have on you for a while, but they are there, silently infecting you and everyone around you.”  A little more:  “The good news is that positive emotions are more contagious than negative ones.  A Yale University School of Management study found that cheerfulness and warmth spread far more quickly than irritability and depression.”  And this reminder (with a subtle warning for those who are not genuine):  “If you’re concerned that a compliment will come off as phony or patronizing, then almost certainly it won’t.  The very fact that you’re worried about it means you aren’t a slick glad-hander, and you won’t come off that way.”

And, as always, Never Eat Alone states it clearly and simply:  “I learned that real networking was about finding ways to make other people more successful.”

So, here is a set of business questions for us all:

1.  Are you meeting new people?

2.  Are you making new friends?

3.  Do your friends (your new friends/your long-time friends) believe that you have their best interests at heart?

4.  Do you have their best interests at heart?

5.  Are you making money by making friends?

It took my little (ok — “younger” — not so little) brother to sum up what I have spent years reading about and trying to learn:  “I make money by making friends all day.”

{To purchase our synopses of The Power of Nice and Never Eat Alone, and many other business books, with handout + audio, go to our 15 Minute Business Book site}.

Sunday, July 12, 2009 Posted by | Randy's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

   

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