Wednesday, November 30, 2011

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Current Issue |

What Managers Need to Know About Cognitive Biases
by Neal Beets

“All of us think we see the world as it is, but we see it as we are.”

—Stephen Covey

The field of brain research is hot. Scientists are writing popular books about it.1 Journalists are translating academic research into practical insights for the rest of us.2

One subfield of brain research deals with cognitive biases. Cognitive biases are ways of seeing or deciding that are shaped by our psychology and biology.

What do managers need to know about cognitive biases?

Some cognitive biases are so commonplace they have become part of our language and culture. Things like the bandwagon effect, the herd instinct, and the self-fulfilling prophecy are part of our everyday understanding and vocabulary. So are 20/20 hindsight, Monday morning quarterback, rose-colored glasses, and rationalization.

Less commonly known but just as important for managers are several more cognitive biases.

Managers work in a political environment. This is always the case in the general sense that choices are made and priorities are set by elected officials. In addition, some managers work in explicitly partisan environments where local officials run for office with party labels and party backing. In-group–out-group dynamics are a daily part of both the explicit and implicit political environment.

Even in cities and towns where elections are nonpartisan, political groups and parties still compete to be the powerful, influential, alpha in-group.

One way to become and sustain an in-group is for several elected officials to undercut elected officials from another group and to marginalize staff who are viewed as sympathetic with the emerging out-group. Consequently, one must be cautious in determining how policy input addresses the merits of a public policy question as contrasted with how that input advances or retards the power and influence of a particular group.

Political in-groups and out-groups wage almost constant battle. The intensity of the struggle differs from place to place, time to time, and issue to issue. But, subtle or stormy, the contest for influence and control is always present in organizations, and especially government bodies.

In-group–out-group effects extend beyond politics. Longtime residents of a city, town, or county often begin their public testimony at public meetings by making sure their elected officials know how many decades they have lived in that community. The old-timers discount those who have lived in the community for only a few decades.

In-group–out-group dynamics also play an important part in management and employee relationships. Some employees jockey to be favorites of the manager. Other employees work equally hard to remain aloof or independent; they are proud of marching to the beat of a different drummer. Union bargaining can present classic instances of in-group–out-group allegiance.

Racial, gender, and ethnic discrimination is also a conspicuous and unfortunate reflection of in-group–out-group dynamics.

Whether dealing with malevolent forms of discrimination or more ordinary divisions between people feeling allegiance to one group and not another, we need to know when in-group–out-group dynamics are at play, how to focus on the merits of a problem rather than power struggles, and how to reach across the divide between groups with generosity, understanding, and courtesy.

We all know Garrison Keillor’s mythical Lake Wobegon. It’s the town where all the women are strong, all the men good looking, and all the children above average.

Sim'ilarly, managers often have to deal with the perception that there just isn’t another county, city, or town as hardworking, intelligent, successful, and distinctive as their own. The Lake Wobegon Effect makes it difficult for managers to change anything in their organization; their community is already better than the rest, or so it thinks.

The Lake Wobegon Effect also shapes ethical issues in government. Michael Josephson reminds us that we tend to judge ourselves by our best intentions, but we seem to judge others by their last worst act.3 We are ethical; it’s those others who are unethical. Confirming this bias, studies show that far more than a mere majority of respondents will indicate that they are more ethical, more hardworking, more intelligent, or, yes, even more attractive than “others,” which of course creates an absurdity. How can almost all of us be superior to everyone else?

Most of us tend to magnify our virtues and minimize our vices and to reverse that perception for others. We need the humility to realize this tendency and the courage to combat it by stepping back and putting ourselves in the other person’s shoes (or in a third party’s position) so we can understand and deal with reality more accurately and fairly.

I wish I had a dollar for every elected official who said he or she didn’t have enough information to make a public policy decision. We all have ways of avoiding tough decisions. And this one—“I don’t have enough information”— is one of the most common.

Like other cognitive biases, the information bias has an element of truth to it. In certain contexts it makes perfect sense and is entirely appropriate to want more information. In contrast with shoot-from-the-hip decision making, evidence-based decision making tends to allow passions to cool and thoughtfulness to prevail.

But we also need to recognize and appreciate the limits of information and factual knowledge. Sometimes the information being sought simply isn’t available. Or maybe the information that is available is not relevant and does not really affect the decision to be made. A surfeit of information clouds, it doesn’t clarify.

More fundamentally, small-group decision making in a council setting often depends as much on values as on facts. For example, what are our priorities? What is most important to accomplish, and are we willing to disclose our preferences to the public? Are we willing to pay the price discipline may require of us to follow our stated priorities? Not all decisions require more facts; often they require the courage of one’s convictions.

Finally and most profoundly, life is a mystery. To postpone making a decision until you have “all the facts” can be like waiting for Godot. Facts don’t make decisions, people do. While attempting first to gather all the relevant facts, we must not shy away from actually reaching and explaining a decision. By making and carrying out decisions based on our values and the best available evidence, we can learn from our experience in implementing that decision and reviewing its consequences, intended and unintended. Making a decision puts us in a better position to make the next decision, and the next, and so on.

The favorite bias and tool of lawyers, national politicians, and salespersons is framing: framing means creating a perceptual boundary or image that focuses attention in ways that serve the framer’s purpose. If you can create the dominant frame of reference for a public policy issue, you are more than halfway to persuading others to your position.

The decision frame helps us and others see (and not see) issues, facts, and values in a certain light. This can be good and bad. It is good in the sense of being practical; we all need some way to organize our thoughts and emotions about a subject. It can be bad if the decision frame seriously distorts reality, such as by ignoring key considerations.

The lesson here is not to reject perceptual frames of reference. We might as well reject our eyesight or hearing. Rather, we must respect that all public policy issues come with frames, and we must always question the accuracy, completeness, fairness, and relevance of the offered frame or frames.

Before concluding what we can do about cognitive biases, here are some additional biases affecting our professional lives as government managers.

Primacy effect, recency effect. Something is not more important or more true because you perceive it first or last; it’s just that you remember it more strongly.
Repetition bias, emotional bias, authority bias, belief bias, optimism bias, expectation bias, and wishful thinking. Statements don’t become more true through repetition. They don’t become more true as a consequence of the volume or emotion with which they are presented. Statements don’t become more true because of the length of the explanation or because of the title of the speaker. They are not more true because you hope or expect them to be true.
Inevitability effect. Necessity and inevitability are interpretations, not facts. To say something is inevitable or that we have no choice in the matter is often a sign we have stopped thinking or given up. There are always options; maybe not desirable options, but options nonetheless.
Being a manager is a tough job, made tougher by the cognitive biases we all deal with every day in our own thinking and in the thinking of others.

The challenge is to recognize our biases and compensate appropriately. Get information from many sources. Check your own biases by asking for feedback. Be humble about the complexity of what you are dealing with. Don’t think you have, or anyone has, a monopoly on the truth. To the greatest extent possible, test hypotheses on a small scale, where being wrong has less negative impact.

And we certainly need to disabuse ourselves of such illegal and hurtful biases as racial, ethnic, and gender stereotypes. But, despite all these cautions, we need the courage to make decisions so we can learn from the new experience gained by carrying out a decision.

In dealing with others, recognize that bias is part of being human. The question is not whether elected officials, staff, and community members have biases, but how to deal with those biases. Recognition is key. Compensation is critical to make up for the weaknesses and inaccuracies submerged biases can introduce into your decision-making process.

If we do our best to recognize and compensate for our cognitive biases and the cognitive biases of others, our decisions will be more richly informed and more likely to advance the public good.

1David Eagleman, Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain (New York: Pantheon Books, 2011); Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature (New York: Viking, 2002).
2David Brooks, The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement (New York: Random House, 2011); Malcolm Gladwell, Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking (New York: Little, Brown and Co., 2005).
3Michael Josephson, You Don’t Have To Be Sick To Get Better (Los Angeles: Josephson Institute of Ethics, 2001).

Neal Beets is town manager, Windham, Connecticut (

Forgiveness - Top 20 Best Quotes | Building Personal Strength

Forgiveness - Top 20 Best Quotes | Building Personal Strength

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Forgiveness - Top 20 Best Quotes

In another post I reported the story of Eva Kor, who in my opinion performed the ultimate act of forgiveness. More than forty years after the fact, she publicly forgave the Nazis who tortured her in a death camp when she was ten years old.

A great many people still think that when you forgive someone, you're doing something for him. Yes, the person who harmed you may regret doing it and may have asked for forgiveness. And indeed, telling the person that you forgive him may give him some psychological relief of guilt feelings.

But the primary beneficiary is the person who forgives. As a friend of mine told me, "To forgive means not dwelling on past hurts or pains, which can torture one's own spirit." When you decide to stop reliving the hurt, when you commit to leaving the past in the past and let go of feelings of anger, vengeance, resentment, hate and other corrosive emotions, a great burden is lifted.

I've been collecting quotes for over 40 years, and forgiveness is one of my favorite topics. As these well-known people have said, it takes strength to forgive, but doing so liberates you to move forward with a free heart and mind.

My top 20 favorite quotes about forgiveness...
"To carry a grudge is like being stung to death by one bee." - Bill Walton, American professional basketball player (1952- )

"Anger is a killing thing: it kills the man who angers, for each rage leaves him less than he had been before--it takes something from him." - Louis L'Amour, American novelist (1908-1988)

"The practice of forgiveness is our most important contribution to the healing of the world." - Marianne Williamson, American author (1952- )

“Forgiveness is the key to action and freedom.” - Hannah Arendt, American historian (1906-1975)

“A man who studieth revenge keeps his own wounds green.” - Francis Bacon, British philosopher (1561-1626)

"There is no revenge so complete as forgiveness." - Josh Billings, American author (1818-1885)

"Forgive yourself for your faults and your mistakes and move on." - Les Brown, American author (1945- )

"Don't hold on to anger, hurt or pain. They steal your energy and keep you from love." - Leo Buscaglia, American author (1924-1998)

"Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could; some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day; you shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense." - Ralph Waldo Emerson, American philosopher (1803-1882)

"Hating people is like burning your own house down to get rid of a rat." - Henry Emerson Fosdick, American author (1878-1969)

"If we practice an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, soon the whole world will be blind and toothless." - Mohandas Gandhi, Indian religious leader (1869-1948)

“He who cannot forgive breaks the bridge over which he himself must pass.” - George Herbert, British poet (1593-1633)

“Two persons cannot long be friends if they cannot forgive each other’s little failings.” - Jean de la Bruy√®re, French author (1645-1696)

“Darkness can not drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” - Martin Luther King, Jr., American civil rights leader (1929-1968)

"Forgiveness means it finally becomes unimportant that you hit back. You're done. But it doesn't necessarily mean that you want to have lunch with the person." - Anne Lamott, American novelist (1954- )

“To err is human, to forgive, divine.” - Alexander Pope, British poet (1688-1744)

"Write kindness in marble and write injuries in the dust." - Persian Proverb

"Forgiveness liberates the soul. That's why it's such a powerful weapon." - Nelson Mandela, South African president (1994-1999)

“Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured.” - Mark Twain, American novelist (1835-1910)

“I will permit no man to narrow and degrade my soul by making me hate him.” - Booker T. Washington, American educator (1856-1915)

Post by Dennis E. Coates, Ph.D., Copyright 2011. Building Personal Strength .

Eva Kor and Josef Mengele - Forgiving the Angel of Death | Building Personal Strength

Eva Kor and Josef Mengele - Forgiving the Angel of Death | Building Personal Strength

Eva Kor and Josef Mengele - Forgiving the Angel of Death

Dr. Josef Mengele
Dr. Josef Mengele was the evil German SS officer and physician known as the "Angel of Death" at the Auschwitz concentration camp during World War II. The purpose of the camp was to implement Hitler's "Final Solution." Jews and other people deemed undesirable were brought there by trains, and thousands were killed each day.

Mengele was a cold-blooded mass murderer. He met the trains and selected people for his grisly experiments. One of his pet projects was doing experimental medical procedures on sets of twins. He tested the effects of germ and chemical warfare agents. At the conclusion of each experiment, he killed the children and performed comparative autopsies on them. He tortured about 1,500 sets of twins. Only about 100 pairs of twins survived.

Eva Kor at Navarro H.S.
I recently met one of the survivors, 77-year-old Eva Mozes Kor. Eva, not quite five feet tall, is a highly energetic, articulate and straightforward woman with a rich sense of humor. She spoke in front of a group of middle school and high school students in the Navarro High School gymnasium about 25 miles south of Austin, Texas. She has made it her life's work to spread a message of peace and humanity to the world.

Her presentation had two parts. The second part was her story of how she came to forgive Mengele, the man who tortured and abandoned her to die, and all the other Nazis.

But first she described what happened to her at the camp, which helps people understand the magnitude of what she forgave. No doubt you've heard the stories and seen the films about the horror of the death camps. The reality was much worse than that. If you want to know about it, I encourage you to get a copy of Eva Kor's book, Surviving the Angel of Death: The Story of a Mengele Twin in Auschwitz (Tanglewood, 2009). By her account, she survived simply because she refused to die.

How she came to forgive Mengele and her other tormentors is an interesting story. About 20 years ago she was asked to speak to a group of doctors at Boston College. They asked her if she could bring one of the Nazi doctors with her. She didn't even know if any of them were still alive, but the request intrigued her. So she checked and found one living in Germany. In 1993 she visited him. To her surprise, the man treated her with humility, kindness and respect. When she asked him if he knew what was happening at Auschwitz, he said, "This is the nightmare I live with," and described how the Jews were killed. He didn't want to go with her to speak, but he agreed to sign a document.

Eva wanted to thank the doctor, but she didn't know how. Ultimately, she decided that she would give him a letter of forgiveness. It took her four months to write it, and in it she forgave everyone who ever hurt her. She even forgave herself for her hard feelings toward her parents. She even forgave Hitler.

It wasn't easy to do this. For one thing, the other surviving twins were angry with her. They misunderstood, thinking that Eva's gesture put a favorable light on the Nazis. But Eva experienced a surprising personal benefit. This is what she says on her website:

I believe with every fiber of my being that every person has the human right to live with or without the pain of the past, and that it is a personal choice. My question is, "How many people would choose to live with pain, when they could heal from it?"

I do believe that this healing is possible through the act of FORGIVENESS, and I believe in FORGIVENESS as the ultimate act of self healing, and self-empowerment. once a person decides to forgive, there is a tremendous feeling of wholeness in thought, spirit and action all moving in the same direction creating a powerful force for healing and freedom.

My forgiving the Nazis is a gift of freedom I gave myself, a gift of peace for myself. It is also a gift of peace for everybody who wants it. Both peace and war begin in the heart and mind of one person. Pain and anger are the SEEDS for WAR. FORGIVENESS is the SEED for PEACE!

When one human being harms another, the perpetrator lives with the burden of guilt. To atone, he or she can admit responsibility, resolve never to do it again, make restitution, apologize and ask for forgiveness. When the victim expresses forgiveness, some of that burden may be lifted.

Whether the guilty one does any of these things, however, the victim experiences a burden as well. It's the burden of pain and anger. The only thing that can lift this burden is forgiveness. "Forgiveness is something you do for yourself. It's an act of self-healing, self liberation, and self-empowerment," Eva explained to the students. "What was done no longer defines who I am. I let go of anger and bitterness."

It takes strength to forgive. You decide to stop nurturing hate, resentment, bitterness and other bad feelings about what happened. When you do, the burden is lifted from your heart and mind. What happened in the past stops being a part of your present and your future. You walk away from the incident, leaving it in the past.

Eva Kor - "I have no more nightmares. I can talk about it and I can joke about it, and it doesn't bother me."

Post by Dennis E. Coates, Ph.D., Copyright 2011. Building Personal Strength . (Photo of Mengele in public domain. 2011 photo of Eva Kor by Kathleen Scott, used with permission.)

Thursday, November 24, 2011

» How I Changed My Life, In Four Lines :zenhabits

» How I Changed My Life, In Four Lines :zenhabits

How I Changed My Life, In Four Lines

‘What saves a man is to take a step. Then another step.’ ~C. S. Lewis

Post written by Leo Babauta.

Changing your life can seem an incredibly tough and complicated thing, especially if you’ve failed a great number of times (like I did), found it too hard, and resigned yourself to not changing.

But I found a way to change.

And I’m not any better than anyone else, not more disciplined, not more motivated. I just learned a few simple principles that changed my life.

I’ve written about them many times, but realized they’re spread out all over the site.

Here is how I changed my life, in a nutshell.

tl;dr The four lines you’re looking for are at the bottom.

How I Started Running

In 2005 I was sedentary, and couldn’t for the life of me figure out how to make exercise a regular habit. At the end of 2006, not only was I running very regularly, I finished my first marathon. These days I can run a half marathon race at the drop of a hat, have run several marathons.

How did I do it? I started with just 10 minutes of running a day. I focused not on how hard it was, but how much I enjoyed the movement and the outdoors. I increased slowly, until I could run 15 minutes, then 20, and later a couple hours. I was grateful for every run I was able to take.

I got healthier, fitter, slimmer, happier.

How I Started Eating Healthier

In 2005 I was overweight, and addicted to junk food. I ate fast food, chips and cookies, fried meats, anything fatty or sweet or salty … and I had no idea how to change. Today, I am 70 lbs. lighter, I eat almost all whole, real foods (almost nothing processed), I eat a sweet treat now and then but am happier eating healthy food.

How did I change? I started with small changes like drinking more water, eating more fruits and veggies, cooking at home more and preparing my lunches for work. One at a time. I gradually improved my diet, eventually cleared my fridge and pantry of junk, and stopped going to fast food places. I found healthy foods I really loved. I was grateful for every delicious healthy meal I ate.

I felt better about myself, trimmed down, and feel great every single day.

How I Got Out of Debt

In 2005, I was way over my head in debt — it was so bad, I had creditors calling me, and I would ignore my phone calls. I struggled to make it paycheck to paycheck, and sometimes didn’t even make it — I had to borrow money from friends and family. It was one of the most stressful times of my life. At the end of 2007, I celebrated with my wife Eva when we paid off our last debt and were free!

How did I do it? I started one little change at a time: I started cutting back on expenses a little, saving a little at a time, paying off the little debts and then the bigger debts, found some breathing room, and saw the light at the end of the tunnel. I gradually changed my financial habits and got into better shape. I was grateful for every debt paid off, every dollar saved, every inch of breathing room.

I’m debt free and will never go back. It’s the most liberating thing ever.

And On and On

I was planning on writing the same capsules for how I decluttered and simplified my possessesions, how I started focusing and accomplishing more, how I turned my passion into a living, and so on … but the truth is, the story starts to repeat itself.

I used the same principles, over and over. More on that in the nutshell below.

And Then I Gave Up Goals

About two years ago, I started to give up goals. Just as an experiment.

It turns out, I could still accomplish the same kinds of things, but I just didn’t plan it out. Instead, I just followed the same principles (more on those below). They still work, even without goals.

People say I can give up goals because I’ve already accomplished a lot … but the truth is, I can give up goals because I have learned a few things that work, and realized they work with or without goals. And if you follow these things, you can change your life, with or without goals.

The Nutshell Principles

So what are the principles that changed my life, repeatedly?

If you read the brief stories above, you already know:

1. Start very small.
2. Do only one change at a time.
3. Be present and enjoy the activity (don’t focus on results).
4. Be grateful for every step you take.

In programming, this is called an algorithm. It’s a series of steps that you can apply to make any change, no matter what your situation.

It works. This is the Zen Habits method, the Change Your Life App, in four lines. I hope it helps.

Update: If this method helps you, please share it on this public document I’ve created.

The Top 25 Temptations of Leadership « Leadership Freak

The Top 25 Temptations of Leadership « Leadership Freak

The Top 25 Temptations of Leadership

  1. Using position to intimidate or manipulate.
  2. Believing talent, experience, or skills compensate for preparation.
  3. Choosing the easy way for you rather than the best way for them.
  4. Overlooking the destructive behaviors of high performers.
  5. Withholding benefits or resources as punishment.
  6. Avoiding tough issues.
  7. Staying the same.
  8. Pretending you know when you don’t.
  9. Hiring yourself. Surrounding yourself with people who have your strengths.
  10. Playing favorites.
  11. Self-protection.
  12. Waiting for the perfect solution rather than choosing the best option.
  13. Consensus decision-making.
  14. Seclusion.
  15. Considering power a perk rather than a platform for service.
  16. Placing short-term wins before long-term success. “Let’s just get this done, we’ll fix the problems or big issues later.”
  17. Ignoring your inner voice when it says something isn’t right.
  18. Allowing people to think you agree when you don’t.
  19. Telling people what they want to hear.
  20. Shortcuts.
  21. Forgetting it’s always about the people.
  22. Focusing on problems and weaknesses to the detriment of opportunities and strengths.
  23. Giving answers before exploring options.
  24. Meddling.
  25. Little white lies.

Cave dwelling (seclusion) is one of my temptations. I love people but I also love privacy, books, and being alone.


What are the most tempting temptations leaders face?

What temptations do you feel as a leader?

Thanksgiving by Linda McCarriston | The Writer's Almanac with Garrison Keillor

Thanksgiving by Linda McCarriston | The Writer's Almanac with Garrison Keillor


by Linda McCarriston

Every year we call it down upon ourselves,
the chaos of the day before the occasion,
the morning before the meal. Outdoors,
the men cut wood, fueling appetite
in the gray air, as Nana, Arlene, Mary,
Robin—whatever women we amount to—
turn loose from their wrappers the raw,
unmade ingredients. A flour sack leaks,
potatoes wobble down counter tops
tracking dirt like kids, blue hubbard erupts
into shards and sticky pulp when it's whacked
with the big knife, cranberries leap away
rather than be halved. And the bird, poor
blue thing—only we see it in its dead skin—
gives up for good the long, obscene neck, the gizzard,
the liver quivering in my hand, the heart.

So what? What of it? Besides the laughter,
I mean, or the steam that shades the windows
so that the youngest sons must come inside
to see how the smells look. Besides
the piled wood closing over the porch windows,
the pipes the men fill, the beers
they crack, waiting in front of the game.

Any deliberate leap into chaos, small or large,
with an intent to make order, matters. That's what.
A whole day has passed between the first apple
cored for pie, and the last glass polished
and set down. This is a feast we know how to make,
a Day of Feast, a day of thanksgiving
for all we have and all we are and whatever
we've learned to do with it: Dear God, we thank you
for your gifts in this kitchen, the fire,
the food, the wine. That we are together here.
Bless the world that swirls outside these windows—
a room full of gifts seeming raw and disordered,
a great room in which the stoves are cold,
the food scattered, the children locked forever
outside dark windows. Dear God, grant
to the makers and keepers power to save it all.

"Thanksgiving" by Linda McCarriston, from Talking Soft Dutch. © Texas Tech Press, 1984. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Today is Thanksgiving Day. Although the Thanksgiving festivities celebrated by the Pilgrims and a tribe of Wampanoag Indians happened in 1621, it wasn't until 1789 that the newly sworn-in President George Washington declared, in his first presidential proclamation, a day of national "thanksgiving and prayer" for that November.

The holiday fell out of custom, though, and by the mid 1800s only a handful of states officially celebrated Thanksgiving, on a date of their choice. It was the editor of a women's magazine, Sarah Josepha Hale, a widow and the author of the poem "Mary Had a Little Lamb," who campaigned for a return of the holiday. For 36 years, she wrote articles about the Plymouth colonists in her magazine, trying to revive interest in the subject, and editorials suggesting a national holiday. Hale wrote to four presidents about her idea — Taylor, Fillmore, Pierce, and Buchanan — before her fifth letter got notice. In 1863, exactly 74 years after Washington had made his proclamation, President Lincoln issued his own, asking that citizens "in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise." He requested prayers especially for those widowed and orphaned by the ongoing Civil War, as well as gratitude for "fruitful fields," enlarging borders of settlements, abundant mines, and a burgeoning population.

It was Ralph Waldo Emerson (books by this author) who suggested, "Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude."

In the book On Gratitude, published in 2010, a number of writers take up Emerson's charge, listing some of the specific things that helped them in their writing career — things for which they are grateful. In the book, Kurt Vonnegut (books by this author) said: "I've said it before: I write in the voice of a child. That makes me readable in high school. Simple sentences have always served me well. And I don't use semicolons. It's hard to read anyway, especially for high school kids. Also, I avoid irony. I don't like people saying one thing and meaning the other. Simplicity and sincerity, two things I am grateful for."

John Updike (books by this author) said: "I'm not a movie star or a rock star. I maybe get two or three letters a week out of the blue, for some reason, and as I'm an old guy now, most of the letters are kindly. They do keep you going. This is an unsponsored job. I don't get paid without readers. So I appreciate that enduring fan base. It does keep me going. And for someone to take the time to say they like me. That's a blessing."

Joyce Carol Oates (books by this author) said: "I was only about eight years old when I first read Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland, and when we're very, very young almost anything that comes into our lives that's special or unique or profound can have the effect of changing us ... I virtually memorized most of Alice ... That blend of the surreal and the nightmare of the quotidian have always stayed with me. My sense of reality has been conditioned by that book, certainly, and I am grateful for it."

Jonathan Safran Foer (books by this author) said: "I'm grateful for anything that reminds me of what's possible in this life. Books can do that. Films can do that. Music can do that. School can do that. It's so easy to allow one day to simply follow into the next, but every once in a while we encounter something that shows us that anything is possible, that dramatic change is possible, that something new can be made, that laughter can be shared." (less)

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®


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Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Municipal Benchmarking: The Holy Grail

Municipal Benchmarking: The Holy Grail

Rodney Dangerfield was once asked, "How do you like your wife?" His answer was, "Compared to what?"
Without a standard for comparison, evaluating public services can leave the same sense of mystery. How efficient is your city's police department? How well does your state's transportation agency perform? Is the Department of Agriculture doing a good job?
In government, efficiency answers can be hard to come by. We are often left with vague reputations and anecdotes, very rarely with hard facts. In fact, both ends of the efficiency equation -- outputs and costs -- can be scarce in the public sector.
This isn't anyone's fault. Public organizations lack a single standard of achievement. Companies can be judged by their profitability -- a firm that consumes $1 million in resources and brings in $1.2 million in revenue from their customers has created value, at least as judged by the customers.
Public entities lack the profit measure. The only way to try to gain insight into performance is through benchmarking, which is a vexing challenge in the public sector.
A new study takes a stab at municipal benchmarking, comparing the efficiencies of 100 American cities. The study from IBM, Smarter, Faster, Cheaper, compiles high-level spending data in a number of categories. For example, it finds that Chula Vista, Calif., spends $63 per capita on fire safety services compared to $333 per person in Cincinnati.
This sort of comparison doesn't provide an answer -- without more information we can't definitively say whether Chula Vista is more efficient or if Cincinnati is doing a better job in terms of fire services. What is valuable about this sort of data is that it highlights areas where it is worth asking more questions: What operational factors are driving the cost differences? What sort of outcomes are realized in the two cities? Are there environmental reasons for the large delta between these cities?
Perhaps the most intriguing outcome of the study is this: "The level of resources that cities dedicate to delivering basic municipal services varies enormously. In fact, per capita spending in certain service areas can vary by a factor of ten." The study further found that the large spending variance "does not seem to be driven by exogenous factors...."
Benchmarking alone won't improve anything. What benchmarking can do is begin a process of operational examination rooted in data, one that attempts to assess the two things that matter to citizens and taxpayers: the cost and quality of municipal services.
If you knew for certain that your road repair service was inefficient, you'd target it for improvement. If you knew for sure that San Antonio's road service was the most efficient in the nation, you'd look to see how they do things. Without any such data, you are flying blind.
A robust, objective measure to compare cost effectiveness of various cities is something of a holy grail in the quest to improve municipal government. Such a measure would be of value as both a guide and a catalyst for streamlining efforts. But creating a meaningful comparison of this sort can be extremely difficult. Nonetheless, looking at operational performance data both within and between cities is a key part of the effort to streamline public performance.

John O'Leary
John O'Leary is a former GOVERNING contributor. He is co-author of "If We Can Put a Man on the Moon: Getting Big Things Done in Government."

How to Become a Great Finisher - Heidi Grant Halvorson - Harvard Business Review

How to Become a Great Finisher - Heidi Grant Halvorson - Harvard Business Review

The road to hell may or may not be paved with good intentions, but the road to failure surely is. Take a good look at the people you work with, and you'll find lots of Good Starters — individuals who want to succeed, and have promising ideas for how to make that happen. They begin each new pursuit with enthusiasm, or at the very least, a commitment to getting the job done.

And then something happens. Somewhere along the way, they lose steam. They get bogged down with other projects. They start procrastinating and miss deadlines. Their projects take forever to finish, if they get finished at all.

Does all this sound familiar? Maybe a little too familiar? If you are guilty of being a Good Starter, but a lousy finisher — at work or in your personal life — you have a very common problem. After all, David Allen's Getting Things Done wouldn't be a huge bestseller if people could easily figure out how to get things done on their own.

More than anything else, becoming a Great Finisher is about staying motivated from a project's beginning to its end. Recent research has uncovered the reason why that can be so difficult, and a simple and effective strategy you can use to keep motivation high.

In their studies, University of Chicago psychologists Minjung Koo and Ayelet Fishbach examined how people pursuing goals were affected by focusing on either how far they had already come (to-date thinking) or what was left to be accomplished (to-go thinking). People routinely use both kinds of thinking to motivate themselves. A marathon runner may choose to think about the miles already traveled or the ones that lie ahead. A dieter who wants to lose 30 pounds may try to fight temptation by reminding themselves of the 20 pounds already lost, or the 10 left to go.

Intuitively, both approaches have their appeal. But too much to-date thinking, focusing on what you've accomplished so far, will actually undermine your motivation to finish rather than sustain it.

Koo and Fishbach's studies consistently show that when we are pursuing a goal and consider how far we've already come, we feel a premature sense of accomplishment and begin to slack off. For instance, in one study, college students studying for an exam in an important course were significantly more motivated to study after being told that they had 52% of the material left to cover, compared to being told that they had already completed 48%.

When we focus on progress made, we're also more likely to try to achieve a sense of "balance" by making progress on other important goals. This is classic Good Starter behavior — lots of pots on the stove, but nothing is ever ready to eat.

If, instead, we focus on how far we have left to go (to-go thinking), motivation is not only sustained, it's heightened. Fundamentally, this has to do with the way our brains are wired. To-go thinking helps us tune in to the presence of a discrepancy between where we are now and where we want to be. When the human brain detects a discrepancy, it reacts by throwing resources at it: attention, effort, deeper processing of information, and willpower.

In fact, it's the discrepancy that signals that an action is needed — to-date thinking masks that signal. You might feel good about the ground you've covered, but you probably won't cover much more.

Great Finishers force themselves to stay focused on the goal, and never congratulate themselves on a job half-done. Great managers create Great Finishers by reminding their employees to keep their eyes on the prize, and are careful to avoid giving effusive praise or rewards for hitting milestones "along the way." Encouragement is important, but to keep your team motivated, save the accolades for a job well — and completely — done.

Stephen Colbert's Commencement Speech Is Worth Watching - Entertainment - The Atlantic Wire

Stephen Colbert's Commencement Speech Is Worth Watching - Entertainment - The Atlantic Wire

Overcoming the Danger of Familiarity « Leadership Freak

Overcoming the Danger of Familiarity « Leadership Freak

Overcoming the Danger of Familiarity

Image source
Words are like a ship’s rudder; they establish and maintain life’s direction.

During dinner with two successful leaders, one the COO of an organization with over 14,000 employees, I noticed the COO spoke with subtle optimism.

He didn’t excitedly jump up and down. He wasn’t blindly filled with bubbly optimism; something that sets me on edge. His temperament and demeanor led me to expect a “darker” outlook but his speech consistently set a positive course. I admire him.

You say things to those you know well that you never say to those you don’t know well. You expose yourself and become vulnerable; that’s healthy. Familiarity, on the other hand, frees you to overlook social protocols and speak in ways that others would interpret as harsh, negative, or ungrateful.

My passion this morning concerns bringing higher levels of positive speech to those we know best. The advantage of familiarity is reality – both good and bad. The disadvantage is we expend our positive speech on those we know least and express our negative speech with those we know best.

A challenge: Treat those you know best as those you know least. For example, once a week a local business leader buys me lunch. It’s unfortunate that the familiarity of his kindness may result in casual, unspoken appreciation on my part. If it was a one-time lunch, forgetting to show appreciation would be out of the question.

Your words matter because they establish and maintain direction. They matter to those you know least. They matter, more importantly, to those you know best.

John Wooden’s Winning Principles « Linked 2 Leadership

John Wooden’s Winning Principles « Linked 2 Leadership

John Wooden’s Winning Principles
Posted on April 7, 2011 by Kristi Royse

I have always been a BIG follower of John Wooden!
I have read every book on him and have worked to apply his principles to my business, my relationships, and my life.
A Standard of Excellence
I recently came across this INCREDIBLE strategy of standards of excellence and code of conduct to find happiness. I now read it every day before I leave the house and before I rest my head on the pillow.
It has helped make me not only a more effective coach and leader, but also a better mom, wife, friend, and contributor to this challenging but wonderful world we live in.
What a Wonderful Life :: Video

Get Your Happy On
Coach Wooden said happiness comes from making and keep nine promises:
1. Promise yourself that you will talk health, happiness, and prosperity as often as possible.
2. Promise yourself to make all your friends know there is something in them that is special that your value.
3. Promise to think only of the best, to work only for the best, and to expect only the best in yourself and others.
4. Promise to be just as enthusiastic about the success of others as you are about your own.
5. Promise yourself to be so strong that nothing can disturb your peace of mind.
6. Promise to forget the mistakes of the past and press on to greater achievements in the future.
7. Promise to wear a cheerful appearance at all times and give every person you meet a smile.
8. Promise to give so much time improving yourself that you have no time to criticize others.
9. Promise to be too large for worry, too noble for anger, too strong for fear, and too happy to permit trouble to press on you.
A Look in the Mirror
I hope you will take some of these wonderful pieces of wisdom and look at yourself with true introspection. If you do, I can promise you that you will gain some of that happiness that Coach Wooden promises!
Hopefully these nine promises will have the same effect on you as they did on me. I would love to hear about how one or all of these nuggets helps you. Please share as we all learn how to support each other in increasing our happiness in these challenging times.
Kristi Royse is CEO of KLR Consulting
She inspires success in leaders and teams with coaching and staff development

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Economic Insecurity -

Economic Insecurity -

November 22, 2011, 6:30 AM
Economic Insecurity
With the Census Bureau fine-tuning its definition of poverty, a group of “near poor” has emerged — those who are not officially poor but are perilously close to it.

Another way of putting that is to look at “economic security,” the amount of income necessary to cover basic expenses without relying on public subsidies.

A new report from Wider Opportunities for Women, a nonprofit group that previously produced an index of what it takes to do more than survive while working, shows that 45 percent of United States residents live without economic security. That means they are not earning enough income to cover basic expenses, plan for important life events like college or save for emergencies like unexpected health bills.

“What does it take for households in this country to get by and be able to plan for their own futures based on the work that they do?” said Donna Addkison, president and chief executive of Wider Opportunities for Women. “We’re really looking at not just the lowest of the lowest income households but that slice of households that live somewhere above the poverty line but are constantly in danger of being thrown into financial catastrophe, and that’s a much larger slice of the American public than we are currently talking about.”

Although the study uses median incomes on a national basis, Wider Opportunities and its research partners are working on tables that define what economic security would mean on a state-by-state basis. Obviously, the income needed to cover basic expenses would be higher in New York City than in Omaha.

The report showed that 55 percent of children live in households where families do not earn enough to achieve economic security. Even among those households with two full-time workers, 22 percent of those families with children earn less than is necessary to guarantee economic security.

The most vulnerable households are those led by single mothers, as well as African-American and Hispanic households. Only 18 percent of households headed by single mothers are living with economic security, while two-thirds of Hispanic households and 62 percent of African-American households are not earning enough to cover basic needs and saving requirements.

Part of the problem, Ms. Addkison said, is that so many jobs pay low wages. According to the report, less than 13 percent of the jobs that the Labor Department projects will be created by 2018 will pay wages that will be sufficient to allow families to keep their heads above water.

“We have a construct in this country that if you work full time and keep your nose clean and live by the rules, you will get that full-time job that allows you to take care of your family,” Ms. Addkison said. “And what we’re finding is that workers who are working full time or the equivalent are still struggling.”

Monday, November 21, 2011

Julian Treasure: Shh! Sound health in 8 steps | Video on

Julian Treasure: Shh! Sound health in 8 steps | Video on

Julian Treasure: Shh! Sound health in 8 steps

Apple's Greg Joswiak describes Apple's four principles of success | TUAW - The Unofficial Apple Weblog

Apple's Greg Joswiak describes Apple's four principles of success | TUAW - The Unofficial Apple Weblog

Apple's Greg Joswiak describes Apple's four principles of success

Greg Joswiak, Apple's vice president of iPod, iPhone, and iOS product marketing, shared four keys to Apple's success at a recent event titled "Silicon Valley Comes to Cambridge." You can hit the original story at The Wall Street Journal for the full text of each point, but we've pared them down to the basics below.

  • Focus: It means saying no, not saying yes.
  • Simplicity: Make complex things simple.
  • Courage: Don't hang on to ideas from the past even if they have been successful for you.
  • Best: If you can't enter the market and try and be the best in it, don't enter it.

Joswiak knows what he's talking about; he's worked at Apple for 20 years, and he's been responsible for marketing some of the most successful electronic products ever -- forget most successful Apple products, we're talking most successful gadgets from anyone, period.

What's refreshing about these four points is they sound as though they could have come from Steve Jobs himself; though the man himself is gone, the company he built has clearly internalized the principles that made it successful in the first place.

Strategy & Business Lists Hard Facts Among Decade's 10 Most Significant Books - Bob Sutton

Strategy & Business Lists Hard Facts Among Decade's 10 Most Significant Books - Bob Sutton

Strategy & Business Lists Hard Facts Among Decade's 10 Most Significant Books

Strategy and Business just released a list of the 10 "most significant books" published between 2001 and 2010. They looked back and selected one book for each year. I am pleased to announce that, for 2006, they picked the book that Jeff Pfeffer and I wrote about evidence-management. Here is what they said:

Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths, and Total Nonsense: Profiting from Evidence-Based Management, by Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert I. Sutton (Harvard Business School Press). By explaining the causes of common managerial errors (casual benchmarking, repeating what worked in the past, and following unexamined ideologies), Pfeffer and Sutton pointed the way to better decision making.

Jeff and I are delighted the selection; we believe that, although some organizations are making progress toward using evidence rather than making bad gut decisions, doing what they have always done, or mindlessly imitating seemingly successful organizations, that our workplaces would be far more effective if decision-makers made a commitment to using evidence-based practices when possible, especially when making important decisions (unfortunately, they seem to do the opposite too often).

If you want to listen to a fun interview about the power of evidence-based management, check out the recent Planet Money interview with Harrah's CEO Gary Lovemen, who we talk about a lot in Hard Facts. It starts out with a quote/joke from Gary that also appears in our book, something like "There are three ways to get fired at Harrah's: Stealing, sexual harassment, and not having a control group." Although he is joking a bit, taking an evidence-based approach has given Harrah's a huge competitive advantage.

Here is the rest of the list. You can read about each in more detail here in the original story.

Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap...and Others Don’t, by Jim Collins

Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done, by Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan

Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance? Inside IBM’s Historic Turnaround, by Louis V. Gerstner Jr

Changing Minds: The Art and Science of Changing Our Own and Other People’s Minds, by Howard Gardner

The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid: Eradicating Poverty through Profits, by C.K. Prahalad

Prophet of Innovation: Joseph Schumpeter and Creative Destruction, by Thomas K. McCraw

Redefining Global Strategy: Crossing Borders in a World Where Differences Still Matter, by Pankaj Ghemawat

Managing, by Henry Mintzberg (Berrett-Koehler). The iconoclastic Canadian professor made the best case of his career for a more holistic, humane view of managing, which he convincingly declares is as much art as science. 2010

Chasing Stars: The Myth of Talent and the Portability of Performance, by Boris Groysberg

We are honored to be included in such a great group. Of this list, my favorite three are probably "Who Says Elephants Can't Dance," "Prophet of Innovation," and "Chasing Stars." My candidates for the best books of 2011 are The Progress Principle and, because of impact, Steve Jobs of course.