Monday Miscellany

w1056This is interesting:

If the data is any indication, most of us use our phones more than we think: Participants estimated an average of 37 uses throughout the day (anything that turns on the screen, from hitting snooze to making a call), but the actual number was around 85. The slight majority took less than 30 seconds. (Participants also underestimated duration of use by about an hour — the real total was 5.05 hours — which included phone calls and listening to music when the screen was off.)

If you are awake for 16 hours, turning on or checking your phone 85 times means doing so about once every 11 minutes (and doesn’t account for internet use on a computer), and 5.05 hours is over 30 percent of the day. What might be the effect on reflection of this compulsive behavior?

In 2010, researchers led by Dr. Stephen Fleming at the Wellcome Trust Center for Neuroimaging at University College London published a paper in the journal Science in which they correlated introspective ability with the amount of gray matter in the prefrontal cortex. (Introspective ability was defined for the study as the accuracy of measuring one’s own performance on a visual-perception task, a sign of metacognition, or “thinking about thinking.”)

via The End of Reflection – The New York Times

I think they may be on to something here, when’s the last time we really thought something through?

So is this:

The eight-hour workday is an outdated and ineffective approach to work. If you want to be as productive as possible, you need to let go of this relic and find a new approach.

The eight-hour workday was created during the industrial revolution as an effort to cut down on the number of hours of manual labor that workers were forced to endure on the factory floor. This breakthrough was a more humane approach to work 200 years ago, yet it possesses little relevance for us today.

Like our ancestors, we’re expected to put in eight-hour days, working in long, continuous blocks of time, with few or no breaks. Heck, most people even work right through their lunch hour!

This antiquated approach to work isn’t helping us; it’s holding us back.

The Best Way To Structure Your Day

A study recently conducted by the Draugiem Group used a computer application to track employees’ work habits. Specifically, the application measured how much time people spent on various tasks and compared this to their productivity levels.

via Why The 8-Hour Workday Doesn’t Work

Maybe that’s why I tend to be more productive when I need new glasses, in about an hour the headache gets started. 🙂

In an article on boredom, my friend Amyclae note that Evagrius said this about the ‘demon of acedia’.

Is the most oppressive of all the demons. He attacks the monk about [10 A.M.] and attacks the soul until [2 P.M.]… He makes it appear that the sun moves slowly or not at all, and that the day seems to be fifty hours long. Then he compels the monk to look constantly towards the windows, to jump out of the cell, to watch the sun to see how far it is from [3 P.M.]… he instills in him a dislike for the place and for his state of life itself… He finds it would be better if he were not there.

via But Boredom

I resemble that remark all too often, I fear, sometimes even when I’m doing things.

‘Merica, or why we lead:

Hey, if it’s crazy and it works, is it really crazy? Randy Wagner’s neighbors in Rosharon, Texas, thought he was crazy when he started walling off his house with a big rubber tube:

“I was the crazy guy. Everybody was kinda going by, laughing at me. But today they are really impressed with this AquaDam,” said Wagner.

The Brazos River, known to most Americans only as a geographical feature in the Westerns of the thirties through the sixties, became a real threat to many Texans’ homes and even lives when it flooded. When the people of Rosharon and Brazoria County were warned to be prepared to evacuate, Randy Wagner had a different idea: could he prepare to save his home?

via “Crazy Guy” Saves his House from Flood

I’ll have more to say about Orlando, perhaps tomorrow, but for now, I want you to think about this. The best friends the gay community has are those whom Obama characterized as “It’s not surprising, then, they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.” Why? Because they’re the ones who will on their own initiative regardless of anything else, defend themselves and others. That too is the American Way.


Respect and Gen Y: What’s Age Got To Do With It?

At a job interview

At a job interview (Photo credit: Arroz y Asado)


This is an article by a young woman, Kayla Cruz, who is teaching leadership in college, and I really like it. She says something here that far too many young people forget, to demand respect for yourself.


OK, I admit I have some difficulty with her formulation, in my world respect is something you earn. But part of that is that I’ve been around long enough that I’m not threatened by people coming up behind me. It’s a small but important distinction


I’m one of those bosses who likes to shove responsibility down as far as possible, and help people grow. Why? It makes my life easier if I don’t have to babysit you. I doubt I’m alone, either, this is the model that works in the real world. Sure, I realize you’re not going to come out of High School/ Trade School/ College knowing everything it’s taken me 40+ years to learn but, if you have a reasonable level of intelligence, a desire to learn, and decent work habits, you’ll go far in my organization.


The thing is you will screw up, if I’m doing my job correctly, it may cost a bit of money, but the effects will be limited, and then we’ll talk about it and see how to do it better, and we’ve (hopefully) both learned something.


I believe it is my job to bring you along, praising you to my superiors when justified and taking the blame for your mistakes, both of which I will do, if you do your part. It is summed up very neatly: Always make new mistakes.


One thing I have noticed with the young people coming up today is that, they seem to have little confidence in their own judgement, and maybe a lack of self-confidence. I think this is a by-product of modern education. If everybody succeeds and no one fails, how can you make a judgement, which in my world is essential. Granted my world, electricity, is quite unforgiving, it’s either right or wrong, and sometimes the answers come back literally in the form of life or death, but keeping your risk manageable is my job, which is why you should listen to us old-timers, we’ve seen a lot.



Alright… so in an effort to find the right topics to discuss and the right stories to share with these students, I’ve had to reflect a lot on my experiences in the workplace.

And well…that hasn’t been fun.

It hasn’t been fun because I’ve realized something.

I’ve realized that although there are a lot of things that I can teach these students, there’s no way that I can control the hardships that they’ll continue to face as young professionals.

There’s no way that I’ll be able to rid them of the label that they’ll often be given:



Know your worth.

Be professional.

Do good work.

And always make sure to stand up for yourself.

Because if you don’t demand that respect for yourself, no one else will.


Read it all Respect and Gen Y: What’s Age Got To Do With It?. It’s a super article, as are her other articles. She’s good, very good. Respect her.


But remember this too: In the last analysis, most of us will give you the respect you earn, no more, no less. Act accordingly.


Bill Gates Workplace Rules

Bill Gates Workplace Rules



Don’t look now, but Valve just humiliated your “corporate culture”. « Michael O.Church

English: Company logo for Valve Corporation. N...

English: Company logo for Valve Corporation. Note:Words and short phrases such as names, titles, and slogans; familiar symbols or designs; mere variations of typographic ornamentation, lettering or coloring; mere listing of ingredients or contents; are not subject to copyright. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The author of the linked article Michael O. Church, writes occasionally on corporate culture, and he makes worlds of sense when he does, a lot of his posts have to do with software, game theory and other stuff that is well over my head but, is interesting.

Personally, I haven’t seen anything about this but it’s not my culture, either. If you have good enough people to make this work, and I think it’s a big if, this system could be a world beater. In leadership we talk a lot about empowerment, mostly its talk. But here we have a company that has empowered its employees right down to what they work on.

It takes a lot of trust for management to let go this far but if you can, I suspect that it is a world beater. Wouldn’t you like to pick what project you work on, even if it’s one you detest but you know you’ll get extra reward for (tangible or intangible)

So here’s Michael O, Church. (Be advised that Michael uses a few words that I don’t but I haven’t changed them, it’s his article).

The game company Valve has gotten a lot of press recently for, among other things, its unusual corporate culture in which employees are free to move to whatever project they choose. There’s no “transfer process” to go through when an employee decides to move to another team. They just move. This is symbolized by placing wheels under each desk. People are free to move as they are capable. Employees are trusted with their time and energy. And it works.

Read more of this post

Leadership and Management in America; What’s the Problem Here? Part 4

Special cases and summary

I will readily admit that because I do operations this is considerably easier for me. It’s not difficult to compare the number of outlets installed or poles replaced in a day. If you are trying to lead an office force, you are going to have to figure out some reasonable and objective standards with, and for your people.

This bears only tangentially on my experience so I’m going to let Michael talk about the current culture (sounds toxic to me, by the way) in the technology sector.

My issue with “fail fast”, and the more general cavalier attitude toward business failure observed in VC-istan, is that people who espouse this mantra generally step outside the bounds of good-faith failure, responsible risk-taking, and ethical behavior. When you take millions of dollars of someone else’s money, you should try really fucking hard not to fail. It’s a basic ethical responsibility not to let others depend on you unless you will do your best not to let them down. You should put your all into the fight. If you give it your best and don’t make it, you’ve learned a lot on someone else’s dime. That’s fine. The problem with “fail fast” is that it sounds to me a lot like “give up early, when shit gets hard”. People with that attitude will never achieve anything.

Usually, the worst “fail fast” ethical transgressions are against employees rather than investors. Investors have rights. Dilute their equity in an unfair way, and a lawsuit ensues. Throw the business away recklessly, and end up in court– possibly in jail. One can’t easily fire an investor either; at the least, one has to give the money back. On the other hand, a remnant of the flat-out elitist, aristocratic mindset that we have to kill the shit out of every couple hundred years (cf. French Revolution) is the concept that investors, socially speaking, deserve to outrank employees. This is absurd and disgusting because employees are the most important actual investors, by far, in a technology company. Money investors are just putting in funds (and, in the case of VC, money that belongs to other people). They deserve basic respect of their interests for this, but it shouldn’t qualify them (as it does) to make most of the important decisions. Employees, for contrast, are investing their time, careers, creative energy, and raw effort, often for pay that is a small fraction of the value they add. Morally speaking, it means they’re putting a lot more into the venture.

I’ve seen too many sociopaths using “fail fast” rhetoric to justify their irresponsible risk-taking. One example of a fail-fast acolyte is someone in his mid-20s whom I once saw manage the technical organization of an important company. I won’t get into too many details, but it’s an ongoing and catastrophic failure, and although it’s evident to me at least (because I’ve seen this shit before) that he is personally headed toward disaster, it’s not clear whether the company will follow him down the drain. (That company is in serious danger of failing an important deliverable because of decisions he made.) I hope it doesn’t. First, he took a scorched earth policy toward the existing code, which was written under tight deadline pressure. (Despite this twerp’s claims to the contrary about the “old team”, the engineers who wrote it were excellent, and the code quality problems were a direct result of the deadline pressure.) I don’t consider that decision an unusual moral failure on his part. Give a 25-year-old programmer the authority to burn a bunch of difficult legacy code and he usually will. At that age, I probably would have done so as well. That’s one very good reason not to give snot-nosed kids the reins to important companies without close supervision. I remember being 18 and thinking I knew everything. A decade later… turns out I really didn’t. Taken too far, the “fail fast” mentality appeals to impulsive young males who enjoy waving a gun around and shooting at things they can’t see and don’t understand.

My second encounter with this person’s “fail fast” sociopathy was in a discussion of hiring strategy, in which he discussed building “30/60/90 plans” for new hires, which would entail milestones that new employees would be expected to meet. As a way of setting guidelines, this is not a bad idea. Technology workplaces are a bit too dynamic for people to actually know what a person’s priorities should be three months in advance, but it’s always good to have a default plan and baseline expectations. New hires typically come on board, in a chaotic environment, not knowing what’s expected or how to “on-board”, and a bit of structure is a useful. This little sociopath wanted to take things a bit further. He thought it would be a good idea to fire people immediately if they missed the targets. New hire takes 35 days to meet the 30-day goal? Gone, after one month. No chance to move to another part of the organization, no opportunity to improve, no notice, no severance, and it’s all made “fair” by putting all new hires on a PIP from the outset.1

OK, I find this interesting as well as toxic. I wouldn’t work for this fool, and I would expect that if you do you’re going to have a bad experience that will have repercussions throughout your career.

Then there is this. All companies have jobs that are just plain boring, and lots of them are filled with university graduates that are (at least supposedly, intelligent and educated) although I really don’t understand why. It doesn’t take a B.A. Degree to run the switchboard or get coffee. Here, read this:

I would like to dedicate this article to all of my fellow intellectuals who, by no fault of their own, have found themselves trapped in a fluorescent dungeon of boredom, forced to test the limits of their sanity  by relentlessly performing thoughtless and menial tasks for upwards of 40 hours a week.

It’s a tough economy, and it seems that having a handful of college and graduate degrees can only soften the blow so much. So here we sit, after investing years of our lives and hundreds of thousands of (the government’s) dollars into our educations, only to be performing jobs that a high-school drop out with a full-frontal lobotomy would fail to find challenging.

In order to first determine whether you fall into my target demographic of weary office drones I have prepared a short quiz.


  • You are concerned that the incessant tingly feeling in your head might actually be your mind slowly going completely numb

  • You have experienced at least one sudden-onset moment of clarity during which you stopped pouring your boss’s coffee and thought to yourself “wow, I really miss thinking.”

  • The highlight of your month is an office birthday party (free cake almost compensates for a life devoid of any real meaning, right?)

  • You find yourself flying into a fit of uncontrollable rage when someone uses your mug- I mean come on; it had your NAME on it in TWO places! TWO! (I’ll save you some serious introspection time: it’s not really about the mug.)

  •  The cashier tells you that you owe $2.83 and you realize that counting out the change is the most action your brain has gotten since…you can’t even remember when.

  • You see a computer screen when you close your eyes to go to sleep at night

  • You know more about your boss’s kids than you do about your roommate

  • On at least one occasion you have accidentally answered your cell phone by mindlessly reciting the mandated greeting used at your office: “Thank you for calling ____, this is ___ speaking, how may I help you?”

  • You’re fairly confident that a machine could do your job…not even a fancy machine…on some days, possibly even a stapler.

  • You have wondered on more than one occasion if your co-workers think you’re mentally challenged. The tutorial on how to sort mail by recipient and place it in their corresponding mail box was definitely a red flag…However, the explicit instructions given on how to stuff envelopes (“you have to fold the letter into thirds, you can’t fold it in half or it won’t fit.”) was really just a slap in the face. 2

How are you going to supervise, motivate, make a team player out of this person? Is there some way you can make their job at least somewhat interesting? I don’t know either but, I do know we are wasting an irreplaceable resource here, so we’d be well advised to figure it out. She may well have valuable input but, you’ll never know until you ask. A lot of these jobs have been automated, which is why really bad typists like me type these days but still, there has to be a way.

You know, I, like you have been watching the nonsense at GSA all week. Could this be why the government has this sort of problem more than we do in the private sector? I don’t recall ever seeing an office type government job that I couldn’t have done in half the time with half the people, maybe they are just bored out of their minds.

OK then, obviously I don’t have all the answers, and the answers I have work for me but may not for you. That’s why when in doubt I fall back on our military heritage and look for the answer there, large (or even small) corporations have existed for about 150 years, armies go back at least to the siege of Troy in our tradition, experience counts, so use it. I saw this article the other day, Trevor sums up these themes very well:

Nestled amidst the swampy forests of Fort Benning, Georgia, the image of Iron Mike is a common site.  No, not Mike Tyson.  Rather, Iron Mike, the U.S. Army’s Infantry symbol and mascot.  An advancing soldier, rifle clutched in one hand and his other arm raised above his head, beckoning others forward.  The infantry motto….Follow Me!

It’s this image that inspired a nineteen year old Army Private in the early 90s, not only for its romantic visage of honor and courage, but for the message it held up as the standard for leadership.

Half a decade later, it was the Navy’s touted values of Honor, Courage, Commitment that helped round out my vision of what leadership means.  It’s a combination of all these that defines the highest quality of leadership to me.

  • Follow Me

  • Honor

  • Courage

  • Commitment3

Note that Trevor has explained the bullet points very well go and read his post.


This is hard for me to sum up. Partly because we have limned problems in various sectors with different actors which probably mandate different means to obtain optimum (or even acceptable) outcomes. If you’re the person in charge of a company with all these type of actors, how are you going to generate a paradigm that will encompass the receptionist with an M.A. degree, the programmer who dropped out of high school and forgot to shower all week, the lineman who learned his trade in the US Army in Iraq, the social climber without any respect for others, the office manager who never made a mistake, and all the rest. I would bet we all have different answers and I haven’t a clue who’s right or wrong, or in between. But if that’s your job description, you had best figure it out, if you want your company (and you) to succeed.

Happy Labor Day

Happy Labor Day & How the unions cost jobs.

I don’t have much of anything to add to this so I’ll just agree with him.

from Labor Union Report:

Labor Day & The Union Tax: How Unions Kill Jobs

The Labor Day holiday is always a time for union bosses and the media to reflect on the role that unions play in society. Not surprisingly, with a mere 11.9% of America’s workers unionized today (6.9% in the private sector), between the unionized media and press releases issued by union communications departments, the majority of stories about Labor Day center on what used to be or the current ills ailing the moribund labor movement.       Read the rest:


Make you glad that the thugs union workers are out there doesn’t it?

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