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8 posts from October 2009

October 30, 2009

Who is flying the plane?

I've been reading Malcom Gladwell's The Outliers: The Story of Success. It focuses on factors beyond intelligence and ambition in the lives of people whose achievements fall outside normal experiences. Gladwell makes a case for the impact of generation, family, culture, class—even the year you were born—on your human potential. 

The chapter I can't stop thinking about is "The Ethnic Theory of Plane Crashes." It details how crashes "are much more likely to be the result of an accumulation of minor difficulties and seemingly trivial malfunctions" than something like a rudder snapping off in midair. Yes, weather, minor technical problems, the stress of delayed flights and fuel-exhausting holding patterns, etc. can be contributors. But Gladwell says the typical accident involves seven consecutive human errors, one made on top of another that combine for catastrophe. 

In 52 percent of crashes, the pilot had been awake for 12 hours or more at the time of the crash, and in 44 percent of disasters the pilot and co-pilot hadn't flown together before. Then Gladwell provides a ton of fascinating supportive information (including conversations between pilots, co-pilots and air traffic controllers) and concludes: "Planes are safer when the least experienced (the co-pilot) is flying, because it means the second pilot (the captain) is NOT going to be afraid to speak up" to provide course corrections and other input. One person is supposed to be checking the other, and they're to be working cooperatively.

So crashes in commercial airlines have been far more likely to happen when the captain is IN the "flying seat," writes Gladwell. And when pilots and co-pilots come from a culture where respect for one's superior reigns strong, airline disasters had resulted because of the lack of clear and direct communication between the two and with air traffic controllers. A first officer can be more hesitant to "correct" his superior officer. But a captain who is not at the controls isn't concerned about being polite and using mitigating language to hint that a correction needs to happen. He "commands" and the first officer doing the flying listens and obeys. 

That got me thinking. It's not one thing that usually pushes us over the edge on any business day, but an accumulation of lots of little things. And so I ask myself:  Am I truly awake and watchful for "the accumulation of minor difficulties and seemingly trivial malfunctions" in my business, or am I oblivious?

I try to focus on "must do" priorities, the big stuff, the writing projects on my desk that take precedent because of their deadlines and importance. The "little" things along the way that I need to address get put aside for later action, sometime when I'm tired and I can be on autopilot. Well, autopilot can malfunction. Maybe we shouldn't sweat the small stuff, but don't miss dealing with it either. It can build into a disaster. 

Plus, as a sole proprietor, I'm asking, Can I be the pilot...and the copilot? Doubt it. So do I have the right checks and balances in place to keep my craft on course...or able to make course corrections as needed? After 30 years I'd hope so, but the map of the world and business keep changing.  But If you have experienced and trusted employees, do you let them play the co-pilot role and sometimes fly the plane? Like the pilots who are supposed to be working cooperatively, can they be honest and direct or do they have to watch their verbiage because of your authority or attitude? Gladwell is always good for the getting people to look at life a little differently.

October 26, 2009

Credit where credit's due

Why has it become so hard in sports to give the other team credit for something?

Your team loses and it's because the players gave the game away. Or your team had some bad luck. Or there were some fluky plays. And, of course, the refs/officials/umps screwed us.

This comes up in the wake of the narrow but significant victories the Iowa State and Iowa football teams posted over the weekend.

Iowa State came up with eight turnovers in a 9-7 victory at Nebraska -- the Cyclones' first win in Lincoln in 32 years. If Florida or Alabama or even Nebraska had eight takeaways, fans and pundits would be slobbering all over themselves about the great defense they played.

Case in point: Alabama defensive lineman Terrence Cody -- who has all of 17 tackles this year (and no sacks) -- blocked two kicks to help preserve the Tide's 12-10 win over Tennessee and now he's being talked about in some circles as a Heisman Trophy candidate.

Iowa State gets eight turnovers and it's a fluke. The Cyclones got lucky. Nebraska shot itself in the foot. One NU fan said the Cornhuskers had to give Iowa State the game for the Cyclones to win it.

OK, when Nebraska receiver Miles Paul loses the ball as he headed to the end zone, maybe that's a fluke. But ISU safety James Smith never gave up on the play and that's why he was in position to recover the ball when it squirted from Paul's grasp like a wet trout.

As for the other turnovers, it sure looked like the Cyclones created them. They punched the ball away or simply wrested it from Nebraska runners. Say what you want about interceptions off tipped balls, but somebody on the defense has to be in position to tip it. And how about the hops 6-foot, 234-pound linebacker Jesse Smith showed when he jumped to make that last interception? He got it because he was in the right place.

One Nebraska player lamented, ``Luck's not going our way right now.'' But just who was the unlucky team? Iowa State played without its starting quarterback and running back, several players were puking in buckets because they were sick and defensive back Ter'ran Benton went out in the first half with a broken leg. Now that's bad luck.

You've got to hand it to Nebraska coach Bo Pelini, though, because he made no excuses. He told reporters he didn't want to say the Cornhuskers beat themselves because that would discredit what Iowa State did.

Still, the Huskers might want to put in just a wee bit more time on ball security drills.

As for Iowa's 15-13 win at Michigan State, Ricky Stanzi's last-play touchdown pass to Marvin McNutt made all the highlight shows and deservedly so.

But if Florida's Tim Tebow had done that, oh my gosh. It would have been his Heisman moment. Touchdown Timmy does it again. We would have heard about it from now until the ceremony.

Iowa pulls it off and well, the Hawkeyes are barely scraping by. That was a bad call when the MSU defensive back was flagged for holding just before intercepting a pass on the final drive. The Spartans weren't in the right kind of defense. And so and so on.

Check the replay and yes, Michigan State had no defenders in the middle of the end zone. Once McNutt got inside position, his defender was toast. But how about giving McNutt credit for getting in that position and some kudos to Stanzi for his quick read in recognizing the situation.

What's wrong with saying, ``You know, those other guys made some great plays. That's why they won.''

Is that so hard to admit?

October 23, 2009

MVP and other topics

Iowa football beat writer Andrew Logue posed a thought-provoking question in The Des Moines Register this week. Who's the Hawkeyes' most valuable player?


That requires some deliberation because the Hawkeyes don't have a big star, which is one reason they haven't caught the nation's fancy despite their 7-0 record and conference-leading 3-0 mark in the Big Ten.

Tight end Tony Moeaki would have been a good choice had he been healthy all season. He's certainly been a big factor the last two games, but the Hawkeyes won all three games he missed. Other than Moeaki, the offense has been just good enough to keep the team from losing.

That leaves us with the defense, the strength of this team. Defensive end Adrian Clayborn would be a good choice. So would linebacker Pat Angerer, cornerback Amari Spievey and safety Tyler Sash.

I'll go with Sash. He's a sure tackler (third on the team with 52) and he's shown a nose for the ball with his five interceptions. Hardly anything or anyone has gotten past him this season.

And while we're at it, let's throw a few crumbs to punter Ryan Donahue. When a team relies on its defense as much as Iowa does, a solid punter can be a huge help and Donahue definitely has done his part. He's put 16 of his 32 punts inside the opponent's 20-yard line, giving his defense a big edge in field position. Thirteen of Donahue's punts have been returned, but for an average of just 3.5 yards, so he's getting good hang time. He might not spend much time on the field, but he's still a valuable cog.

As long as we're on the Hawkeyes, here's an admonishment: Stop it! Put a lid on that talk about playing in the national championship game -- at least for now.

Yeah, it's great that Iowa is undefeated and sixth in the BCS standings. But there's just too much football to be played to be dreaming about that Jan. 7 title game in Pasadena. OK, you can dream, but be realistic enough to understand that it might not happen.

Five games remain, including two tough ones on the road. The Hawkeyes play at Michigan State tomorrow night and they've lost to Sparty four straight times in East Lansing. A fifth straight loss there is entirely possible. If Iowa gets by that one -- it's also entirely possible the Hawkeyes could win -- they're still facing a Nov. 14 game at Ohio State. Iowa hasn't won in Columbus since 1991. So caution is advised.

Having said that, I think the worst the Hawkeyes will end up is 10-2. And that might still be good enough to claim a berth in a BCS bowl. Maybe.

The thing is, the polls might punish Iowa severely if it would lose a game. The Big Ten isn't held in such high esteem right now and there evidently are still a lot of Hawkeye skeptics out there just waiting to say, ``See, I told you so.'' After Iowa beat Penn State, it took the Hawkeyes three weeks to move ahead of the Nittany Lions in the coaches' poll. And even then, Iowa landed just one spot above Joe Pa's bunch, despite a convincing 21-10 victory on the Nittany Lions' home field.

It would be unfortunate if all the talk of an unbeaten season right now would result in 11-1 or 10-2 being viewed as a disappointment. Back in August, any Iowa fan would have celebrated that kind of record.

And now to our final topic, Marquis Gilstrap.

Gilstrap is the Iowa State basketball player who's getting a huge buildup. Though he's yet to play a minute for the Cyclones, he's seen as someone who can turn Iowa State into a team that finally makes some noise in the Big 12.

Gilstrap already has been voted the league's newcomer of the year. Texas Tech coach Pat Knight says he wishes he had recruited Gilstrap. Knight also says the 6-foot-7 forward is as good as any McDonald's All-American the Cyclones could have landed. Nebraska coach Doc Sadler says Gilstrap will be a ``great player.'' ISU coach Greg McDermott says Gilstrap is just what his team has been missing -- a versatile wing player who can shoot, rebound and take the ball to the hoop with authority.

Wow. You have to wonder if anyone could live up to that kind of hype. He sounds like the real deal, but how many times have we seen the next big thing turn out to be not quite as advertised?

On the other hand, there's something that tells me Cyclone fans have every right to be excited about Gilstrap. Mike Green, an associate director of athletic communications at ISU, is the eternal pessimist. If there's something to be down about, Beener will find it. But he's seen Gilstrap in action and says the guy can really play.

Hey, if Beener says that, I'm going with it. Keep the hype coming.

October 20, 2009

IQ, EQ and now...TQ

Yes, there was a Trust Quotient (TQ) even before unscrupulous investment bankers caused consumers to question everyone's truth in the marketplace.  But your mother's advice to "Just trust your gut" has morphed. Now the world even has "trust consultants."

Today we're connected worldwide, but it can be impersonal. In this age of social media relationships and speed networking opportunities, people are trying to determine who to trust (because that's who we want to do business with) as well as how we can best exhibit our ability to be trusted (so people will want to do business with us). 

In 2001 David H. Maister, with Charles H. Green and Robert W. Galford, published The Trusted Advisor, stating that professionals must earn the trust of their clients and keep re-earning it throughout their careers. They broke trust into component parts that, when assembled, could move an outside advisor to a client's inner sanctum. Green's work is the basis for a TQ self-diagnostic formula/equation from The Trusted Advisor. Basically the equation is "credibility + reliability + intimacy and a low level of self orientation = TQ (trustworthiness).

In 2008 Jeffrey Gitomer came out with his Little Teal Book of Trust: How to Become a Trusted Advisor in Sales, Business, and Life. He says there's no simple formula for trust, but gives a step-by-step game plan to achieve it. This year Andrew Sobel  published All For One: 10 Strategies for Building Trusted Client Partnership. He also has a model for developing enduring client relationships.

And on Friday of this week, there's a Trust Summit in New York City, featuring four leading consultants on trust in the business world: Maister and Green (mentioned above) and social media gurus Chris Brogan and Julien Smith, co-authors of the 2009 book Trust Agents; Using the Web to Build Influence, Improve Reputation, and Earn Trust. Brogan and Green say the most valuable online currency isn't the dollar, but trust itself. 

The economic recession has created changes internally and externally for most companies. Perhaps the people who loved doing business with you and only you are gone from a client's company. Or maybe clients have cut back on purchases of products and services you painstakingly provided in the past. Some might have pulled projects in-house to provide work for their own employees. Whatever the case, take a minute to think about trust and its role in solidifying your business reputation. 

October 14, 2009

A sense of history gone missing

Gannett columnist Mike Lopresti came up with an interesting piece this week. He visited the tiny town of Hall, Indiana, talked to some of its residents and wrote about the place.

It seems that NASCAR is a big deal in Hall. Two of the people Lopresti interviewed were watching a race when he stopped by on a Sunday afternoon. But the most telling part of his story was this segment in the middle:

``You're in redneck country,'' Amanda Traut said.

She also had a question.

``Who's John Wooden?''

Why would she ask that? Well, that's the whole point of the story. Lopresti wrote about Hall because John Wooden was born there.

Yes it was in 1910. And he lived there only eight years. But good grief, the name John Wooden doesn't at least ring a bell? Sure he gained his fame winning 10 NCAA championships at UCLA. But Wooden spent almost 40 years in Indiana. He starred at Martinsville High School and was an All-American at Purdue. He coached high school ball in South Bend and was the head coach at Indiana State for two years before moving west. John Wooden is a Hoosier icon. He's college basketball's elder statesman, a gracious, principled man who's been quoted endlessly about the game. And to have to ask, ``Who's John Wooden?''


It reminds of a story I read about former baseball star Frank Robinson, a story he confirmed when I interviewed him a few months ago.

Robinson was managing the Washington Nationals in 2005 when one of his players asked him if he had played in the major leagues. Yep, the guy really didn't know.

Frank Robinson is the only player to win the Most Valuable Player Award in both leagues. He slugged 586 home runs in his career. He's been in the Hall of Fame since 1982, for gosh sakes.

Did he play in the majors?

Doubly sad.

An even more astounding example of someone unaware of history came during the 1985 World Series between the St. Louis Cardinals and Kansas City Royals.

Jackie Robinson's widow, Rachel, threw out the first ball prior to Game Four to recognize the 40th anniversary of Jackie's signing with the Brooklyn Dodgers' organization. So New York Times columnist Dave Anderson went to several of the black players to ask what they remembered about Jackie Robinson. When Anderson talked to Vince Coleman, the Cardinals' fleet outfielder, he got this response:

``I don't know nothin' about him. Why are you asking me about Jackie Robinson?''

Well, it could be because if Jackie hadn't turned the other cheek to all the indignities heaped upon him, who knows how long it would have been before another black player was signed. He paved the way for Willie Mays, for Hank Aaron, for Frank Robinson, for Bob Gibson and yes, for Vince Coleman.

``Why are you asking me about Jackie Robinson?"

That's not just sad. It's tragic.

I love old music. I enjoy learning history, especially sports history. I also know you can't live in the past. Still, seems to me that it doesn't hurt to know at least a little bit about it.

By the way, John Wooden turned 99 today. Happy birthday, Coach.

October 08, 2009

Eating their own

Unless you're a basketball recruiting guru or a University of Kentucky fan, you've probably never heard of Dakotah Euton.

Euton is a 6-foot-8 high school senior in Kentucky who committed to UK in June 2007, just after his freshman year. It was a dream come true for the lifelong Kentucky fan. One day, he'd be wearing Wildcat Blue -- or so he thought.

Things have changed since then. For one, the coach he hoped to play for, Billy Gillispie, was fired. And then there was the harsh criticism from some of the ''fans" he hoped to play for. They tore into the kid's ability on internet message boards and questioned how dare he think he's good enough to play for their beloved UK, the be-all and end-all in college basketball -- in their minds, anyway. After Euton announced his commitment, opposing fans heaped verbal abuse on him during his high school games.

Here's a sampling of what's been written about Euton (any spelling or punctuation errors are those of the poster)

''dont quite understand what BCG (Gillispie) sees in this kid he is super super super slow"

"If we dont cut this guy i see it as a huge downfall of bcg's recruiting. We are UK  and don't need to take a chance on this guy.''

"Slow is not a strong enough word to describe his speed ... Looked like he was wearing 20 pound ankle weights.

''painfully slow"

"very poor inside"

One poster, Will Lavender, said he never heard anything negative about Euton until after he committed to Kentucky. All of a sudden, Lavender noted, he was "slow and unathletic and a bust.'' He added later in his post: " ... it seems like we eat our own a whole lot around here.''

Euton isn't the only one getting flak, either. Rick Robey, a former Kentucky basketball star, has a son who's a standout high school football player. When Sam Robey committed to Florida, some on UK message boards slammed the family for being disloyal, according to the Lexington Herald-Leader. Let's see, you could play football for Florida (currently ranked No. 1, two national championships in the last three years) or you could play football for Kentucky (0-2 in the SEC after a 38-20 loss to Alabama). Duh.

When Euton announced earlier this week that he would attend either Eastern Kentucky or Akron, the critics found fresh fodder.

"The Mad Scientist has THIS guy on UK's radar? Sheesh.''

"What, he dropped Duke, UNC and Michigan St from his list?"

"EKU and Akron. Hmm...I'm so glad they fired Gillispie. What a nut."

To be fair, numerous posters thought Euton worked hard, some liked his shooting touch and others were willing to cut him some slack and give him a chance to develop. One even said, "The more I see of this kid, the more he reminds me of Larry Bird.'' Makes you wonder if they're talking about the same player. Another thought it was puzzling that a kid who committed to a big-time basketball school was now looking at mid-majors. But he added, "Either way, I wish him the best wherever he attends.''

Everybody has a right to his or her opinion, but good grief, we're talking about a high school kid. Can't you give him a break? If you're a fan of a particular school, shouldn't you be pulling for your recruits to become good players instead of jumping all over them for their perceived weaknesses? Why would a kid want to go to a school whose fans are ridiculing him before he even gets there?

To me, this is partly the result of our public discourse being dominated by talk show loudmouths. Everybody has to rip on someone or something. And with the internet, they have a worldwide forum, which isn't always a positive development.

I don't normally read message boards, but I'm sure this kind of stuff is posted on many fan sites. I just happened to land on Kentucky because I'm in Louisville this week and read an article about Euton in the Courier-Journal. Plus, Kentucky fans make themselves an easy target because it seems like they think their school invented basketball, as exemplified by this post: "No other program is favorably comparable to the greatness of UK.'' (All you Kansas, North Carolina, Duke, Michigan State, Indiana and Connecticut fans can gag now).

Today's paper contains a story about new Kentucky coach John Calipari's appearance at a Tip-Off Luncheon in Louisville. There's a kicker on the front page about that story: "UK coach helps fuel Wildcat fever."

Sometimes I think that fever in college sports turns into a real sickness.

October 06, 2009

Will You Join Me in Multitaskers Anonymous?

I'm taking the pledge.  For such reasons as needing to calm myself, restore focus and have fewer stacks of paper at my fingertips, I'm now trying to do just one thing at a time. After years of believing I could only accomplish all my goals and responsibilities by multitasking, I think it probably would be easier to have my tonsils removed through one of my big toe nails than to put the kibosh on managing multiple priorities in rapid-fire succession or simultaneously.

In the past I've felt pretty good about all I could get done in a day, but maybe my satisfaction with "overachieving" has too many nasty side effects.  For several years researchers have told the consequences of multitasking: 

  • we're really not as efficient as we think (I never believed that)
  • the chances of retaining information drops more rapidly when we aren't wholly focused on one item at a time (that might be possible, might not)
  • by perpetuating a lack of ability to focus we're shortening our memories (oh, please, let that not be true)
  • multitasking could be a leading cause of stress, depression and even early memory loss (okay, I get it; I need to stop multitasking)

I can't go cold turkey. But I'm taking baby steps. So far I have three to embrace.

* I decided to ignore the "ping" telling me that yet another email has arrived. I'm not good at this, so I finally turned off the "ping." New plan: I'm going to try to deal with emails in the first hour of the morning, then only look at them when I switch projects, before I stop for lunch or late in the day when my mind needs a little time-out. 

•  When random things I need to do pop into my head while I'm working at my desk, I frequently jump up, take a little break and do them so I won't forget. Talk about a productivity killer. I've now devoted the blue "stickie" (a Post-it note on my Mac) to "totally unrelated work needs to remember" and I type thoughts there as my brain shouts them out. The green "Stickie" gets "totally unrelated home needs to remember."  Both can be dealt with at the end of the day. 

•  Since overlapping deadlines can drive me to multitasking madness, I'm taking a good look at projects to be sure that my clients and I are setting realistic expectations and deadlines. Will clients think I'm extraordinary—the only person they'll ever turn to again for services—if I get a project done in two days when they don't need it until next a week? Of course I want to believe that!  Won't they be pleased and see my commitment to customer service when I drop everything to make them the center of my universe and deliver what's needed without delay? Sure, Pam, they'll NEVER forget that! 

In many cases, I'm sure that I'm the problem, NOT the client's needs. But when they suggested a tough turn around time, I'm going to try saying, "That's not going to work for me, but I could get it to you on (date)." Many times in my 30 years I've rushed to do a project that was needed right now, only to have my draft sit for a month or two because the company got busy taking good care of its customers and put their own needs on hold.

I admit I get an incredible rush from getting though a daily to-do list while also handling more than a handful of unexpected issues. That's a difficult high to give up. But I'll work on it: "Hi, I'm Pam, and I want to quietly focus on one thing at a time so that everyone gets my best from me...and I get to keep my memory."

October 02, 2009

A plug for ISU's defense

Is that headline correct? Something positive to say about Iowa State's defense?

Believe it.

Usually when you include the word plug and ISU's defense in the same sentence, it's in the context of plugging holes in a unit riddled with them. But this year's group has been much more stout than what we've seen in the recent past.

All the buzz going into the season was over the new spread offense that was supposed to dazzle everyone with passing and light up the scoreboard. But that unit isn't yet running as smoothly as the coaches would like. Instead, it's the defense that deserves a lot of the credit for the Cyclones' 3-1 start. And who thought we'd be saying that?

In its three victories, Iowa State has given up 17, 14 and 10 points -- this from a unit that was torched for 35.8 points a game last season. Yes, the Cyclones gave up 35 points in their drubbing by Iowa, but a lot of that had to do with the offense's six turnovers.  Even the best defense can lose its will if it has to keep dragging itself back onto the field after a slew of  turnovers.

So far, the Cyclones' undersized defensive line has held up, though it hurts losing end Rashawn Parker for the rest of the season with his torn ACL. Jesse Smith is having a strong senior season at middle linebacker. Ditto for James Smith at free safety. JC transfer David Sims has been a nice addition at strong safety. His leaping one-handed interception against Iowa was highlight reel stuff.

For sure there are concerns heading into Big 12 play, starting with that smallish defensive line, a group that's now without one of its leaders. The linebackers aren't all that big, either, and heck, neither are the DBs. In the pass-happy Big 12, they're going to see more sophisticated offenses than what they've faced so far.

But for now, Cyclone fans should celebrate their team's 3-1 start. That's more games than ISU won last year and as many as the Cyclones won in 2007. And there's a good chance -- dare we say this? -- to be 4-1. The Cyclones get Kansas State in their opener at Arrowhead Stadium in KC and they're actually favored by three points. Any team that can lose to Louisiana-Lafayette, as KSU did, certainly can lose to Iowa State. Nebraska, by contrast, pounded Louisiana-Lafayette 55-0.

Later, ISU gets Baylor at home and the Bears won't be the same without quarterback Robert Griffin. Colorado visits later and Buffs have shown they can be had ...

Geez, I gotta stop before everyone starts thinking I'm drowning myself in Cardinal and Gold Kool-Aid, too.