Thursday, December 30, 2010

Goals for 2011

Last step in the process of review, reflection and repositioning of priorities -- setting some goals for next year. Some things carry on from 2010, while others are new...

1. Continue to improve my connection to members of my immediate family. I worked on this last year and made some progress, but it will take continuing effort.

2. Spend good quality and quantity time with Candace, Sarah and little Thomas when he arrives sometime in the spring.

3. Make measurable progress on my writing:
* Enter the Amazon Breakthrough Novel competition using INCENTIVIZE as my submission manuscript.
* Sign a publishing contract on at least one novel, or decide to self-publish by year end.
* Complete at least two additional novels during the year.
* Decide what to do with Lessons Learned the Hard Way, my non-fiction manuscript.

4. Add something business-like back into my life. Right now I'm considering the acquisition of a very small business, but consulting or board memberships could fill the bill as well, if I could arrange them.

5. Fully recover my running form by the fall, including: losing twenty pounds, recovering fully from injuries, and increasing mileage to at least 30 miles per week (right now its about 15). A bonus here for getting into marathon shape and running a fall marathon.

I'm trying to balance with these five goals between family (2 goals), professional (2 goals), and personal (1 goal). I have a tendency to over-focus on one or two things, neglecting the others, so balancing can be hard for me. I hope to do a better job of it in the coming year than I've done in the past.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Year in Review

Back when I was in the Corporate world, I would give myself my own mini-review each year around this time. The idea was to see how I did on my personal goals set at the beginning of the year, and then use the knowledge gained to set new personal goals for the upcoming year.

Unfortunately, I don't have 2010's goals handy (they're undoubtedly in a box full of office junk that I've studiously avoided looking at for the last nine months), but I believe I can recall more or less what they were. So for better or worse, here is 2010's report card.

1. Change my career trajectory -- Grade A.

In 2010, I had the courage (and the financial resources) to quit my job without a plan, and without any preconceived notions of where I was going to go. Although there were a couple of opportunities for more of the same kind of work that quickly popped up, with Paula's help I managed to resist racing down any of those paths.

2. Undertake a period of reflection, and try to deliberately decide what I'd really like to do for the balance of my career -- Grade C

I'd done a lot of reflecting prior to leaving my old position, but some of the things I envisioned doing, such as visiting non-profits or taking a sabbatical of several days in nearly complete sensory isolation, never happened. I ended up writing, perhaps not because I'd intellectually chosen it (in an intellectual sense), but because I enjoyed it. In a sense, however, it was a deliberate choice, just one made more with my gut and heart, than my head (which, if you know me at all, is definitely an out of body experience).

3. Reconnect with my family -- Grade B

If measured by the amount of time I spent, it's and A. Quality is probably a C. I've developed some hermit-like tendencies that make me less emotionally available than I'd ideally like. This is something I need to continue working on next year as well.

4. Spend time with the twins while they're still small -- Grade B

They definitely know they have two parents (When Anna was little, I was gone so much she believed I lived somewhere else, and only came to the house to visit!). I never understood the level of conflict that could exist between twins until actually experiencing it. There are some days where it can be pretty hard be enthusiastic about spending time with them if they're in a crabby mood.

All in all, while far from perfect, still a pretty good year!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Incentivize - a novel

I finished up the third, and hopefully final, draft of INCENTIVIZE this morning. I'm pretty pleased with the work, and have sent it off to my agent for review and comments. A short synopsis follows:

Julia McCoy a young female internal auditor, is sent to
Ethiopia to perform work at a copper mining company owned by
American materials conglomerate Matrix Corporation. Local
management at the EthioCupro mine is involved in a scheme to reprocess
mine tailings, extracting additional valuable minerals from them and
selling them for personal benefit. McCoy pretty quickly figures out
something is wrong at the mine, but doesn't grasp exactly what is
happening. After a confrontation with the senior manager at the site,
an accident is arranged for McCoy. But things don't go exactly as
planned, and a short time later she finds herself in Mogadishu, the
guest of a warlord with ties to al Qaeda.

Meanwhile, Randy Esteban a lawyer workings in the Matrix legal
department, becomes involved in investigating the Ethiopian copper
mine based on an email sent by McCoy prior to her disappearance. He
and McCoy's father travel to Ethiopia in an attempt to rescue the
young woman, and discover the motive behind her kidnapping. While
McCoy first struggles to survive, and then escape from her captors,
Esteban begins to unravel the secret EthioCupro management is willing
to kill to keep.

You can read more about this novel and my other projects at my website. I have an older version of the novel posted on another blog, which I will replace with this new version over the next few days. It can be accessed at Incentivize - a novel, but requires prior permission to view. To obtain permission, simply send me an email at and request it. Very soon afterward, you will be able to read INCENTIVIZE on line.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

At Last, a court date

I haven't talked extensively about our plans to adopt another child from Ethiopia -- as some of my blog readers are aware, we adopted Sarah and Candace from there a year and a half ago. This summer, Paula and I decided to once again add to our nest, this time adopting a waiting child.

Waiting children are usually older and male. We were matched with Feyissa, who we will be named Feyissa Thomas and called Thomas when he comes to the United States, back in June. He is supposedly four years old (although we suspect he may be a little older, given his height and weight), and comes from the Hadiya region, which is south and a little west of the capitol of Addis Ababa. Since then, we've been going through the paperwork exercises necessary to make the governments of both Ethiopia and the United States happy.

The adoption requires us to make two trips to Ethiopia -- one to appear in court for the actual legal adoption in that country, and a second time to obtain the child's visa from the U.S. Embassy and to bring him home. Getting the court date established is a big deal, and ours is set for March 4th. The second trip is typically six to eight weeks later. If all goes well, Thomas should be at our home some time in April.

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Taste of Poetic Justice

When I was in school, we defined poetic justice as: "he who lives by the sword, dies by the sword". Its a common literary device, and tends to be very popular with readers or viewers of film.

But how sweet is the taste of a personal villain "getting theirs"? Most people have experienced a shadow of this -- when that sedan overtaking you on the road, clearly going twenty or more miles per hour over the speed limit, is pulled over by a cop a couple miles further down the road.

Yeah! That's what I'm talking about! Gives you a shot of personal moral justification.

Not too long ago, I had the opportunity to experience this on a somewhat grander scale. A former peer whom I felt had undermined me and helped bring about the end of an otherwise successful career, was in turn ousted from his role.

It left me with a kind of odd feeling, overall.

While I admit to a little fist pumping when I first got the word, enough time has passed, and I've moved on far enough to also feel an odd combination of pity and sympathy as well. While it pains me slightly to admit it, my former nemesis is actually a pretty talented guy. And while he might initially tell himself that he pulled the trigger on his departure, I think he'll have to deal with the fact eventually that he was voted off the island. And I know from personal experience, its kind of hard to do.

Its an odd feeling, to not be dancing a jig.

When I reflect on the bigger picture, the same couple of business units that felled me, also caused the demise of no less than eight other senior executives in a span of twelve years. That business is a sausage making machine, with a butcher who keeps trying different cuts of meat when he doesn't like the taste of the sausage. Unfortunately the butcher never checks to see if there's something wrong inside the sausage grinder itself.

Yeah, I do feel some sympathy for the guy.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Presentations Count -- Tactic #7

How often do you get the opportunity to strut your stuff before the top people in the company? We're talking about the ones that are far enough up the food chain that you have limited access to them. Maybe that's a plant manager, or maybe it's the board of directors -- it depends on where you currently sit in the organization.

If you work for a large corporation, I'm guessing the answer is: not much. And I'm also guessing that when you do get some "air time", its probably in the form of some kind of presentation.

Those individuals are the very ones that can make things happen for you. They can think of you when that next big project comes along, or that promotion, or whatever you're capable of doing. It doesn't take a lot of insight to realize those few contacts with the senior people are pretty important.

What you may not realize, however, is how top executives form their opinions about others -- at least most of those who don't report directly to them. So here's the secret -- its 20% based on your objective performance, 30% based on what others are saying about you, and 50% based on direct observations. Okay, maybe the numbers aren't that precise, but you get the idea.

I had a boss who would decide an employee was either a genius or a fool within five minutes of them opening their mouths during a presentation -- and once they fell into the fool category, there was no redeeming them. We can argue about the fairness of his judgments, but like many aspects to corporate power and politics, fair or unfair had no bearing on the reality of the situation. He made those judgments based on an employee's ability to communicate ideas during reviews and presentations in a clear, concise fashion, to speak intelligently, and respond to questions well.

To a greater or lesser degree, pretty much all senior executives do the same thing. I can't tell you the number of times I've heard someone remark "She's smart," after a good presentation, or "He's in over his head" (or something much less kind), after a bad one. Did those senior execs really know their conclusions are correct? No, they extrapolate based on the short snippet of information they gather during a presentation. And the judgment can easily become a self-fulfilling prophesy. The fool is picked apart on every tiny misstep, while the genius is forgiven his errors in consideration of his greater brilliance.

So what do you do in the face of this political reality, my politically neutral friends? The path to success is no great secret -- your presentations must be of the best quality, and wow the audience. To get that to happen, follow these simple steps:

1.) Master the subject you are going to talk about. Make sure your real depth of knowledge on the subject equals or exceeds the most knowledgeable person in the room. Cram if you have to, and understand the theory, too, not just the way it is handled in your organization.

2.) Get your slides and words right! Nobody is impressed by poor grammar, uneducated phrasing, or other silly or careless mistakes. Often times, senior executives will have slide pet peeves. Ask around to figure out what those are. I always disliked the use of 3D graphs, for instance. Getting it right is tough to do on your own -- get some help from others, either professionals or your allies. Even after years of making board level presentations, it took one of my peers to point out to me the frequency with which I used the phrase "obviously".

3.) There are bonus points for introducing fresh or innovative ways of looking at things. These may come from theory, the experiences of other firms, or even right out of your head. They confirm your mastery of the subject, and get the audience thinking in a new way. It isn't necessary to overdue it, however, one new idea per major presentation is plenty.

Presentations are a big deal, and deserve a big application of time and effort. You can miss a lot of smaller stuff in your job, and as long as you get these big events right, your political future will be strengthened.

If you find this series of posts on corporate power and politics interesting, please visit my website to read my article titled Power and Politics.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A New Project

I took a break from the near endless process of reading and editing over the past few days, and thought about some new alternatives.

I had a call from a group that sponsors CEO led acquisitions -- their model is to locate senior managers with at least ten years experience managing P&L's of at least $100M, and have them put together a strategy to acquire and rapidly grow mid-sized companies. They supply the capital. I rejected this one out of hand, as I'm not willing to move, and the chances I could put together a deal locally is very low indeed.

Talked to a good friend about doing some consulting work. Said yes to that, but I don't think it really leads anywhere. It will still, however, be fun and will allow me to exercise my "management muscles" before too much atrophy sets in.

Discussed management roles, in general with another friend. He works for a bank, and said there were times where having the right person to put into a senior management position might make the difference in their decision making for loans. He asked me if I was open to considering such positions -- I said yes, but I will be extremely picky, particularly with respect to my potential relationship with owners.

Another contact asked me if I would be interested in purchasing a business line from him. After thinking about it, I think the answer is yes, provided my best friend will agree to run it for me. My day to day involvement will be limited to the kinds of things I like to do -- strategy development and execution, relationship and contact management, and new product development -- and would take only a fraction of my time. Eventually I would sell my equity position to my friend.

Started to develop the concept for a new novel -- Working title is Heir Apparent. The storyline focuses on a daydream I had once concerning how a senior manager COULD react, if he was the Heir Apparent in a large company, but discovered he was about to be passed over. In the story, the senior executive resorts to murder, and then several additional killings of prominent local CEO's to try to cover his tracks. Of course, there will be a good guy who will try to stop him, too.

A break in the action is a welcome way to mull over new opportunities.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Measured Risks -- Tactic #6

Let me start this post with a disclaimer -- this was one of the tactics used by political neutrals that I was probably the worst at. I've always been a gambler, knowing that some of my bets would probably not pay off. In some organizational cultures, that would probably be okay, but it sure provides a lot of cannon fodder for your political opponents. When you live in an organization that is very risk averse, its a prescription for self-destruction. So here I can only say -- do what I say, but not what I've done.

If you're climbing the corporate ladder, you're not going to move up without some big accomplishments to point to -- at least not very far. While early in a career, the promise of greatness is enough to create opportunities, by mid-career, people expect to see an impressive track record. You won't have one, however, if you don't take some risks.

Risks themselves range anywhere from the foolish -- the low probability of success but high reward -- to the nearly sure thing. I'm going to suggest that if you want to survive and thrive, you look as much as possible for sure things, and studiously avoid any risk with a low or even moderate probability of success.

Risk profiles -- the capacity, or even enjoyment of risk taking -- vary from person to person, and represent a personal bias toward risk-taking behaviors:

At one end of the spectrum are the conservatives -- managers who try to avoid risk taking to the maximum degree possible. They might only be provoked into accepting one risky project or goal per year, or even less if they can get away with it. Their biggest problem is without a higher degree of risk taking, they aren't likely to build an impressive track record.

At the other extreme are gamblers -- managers who love to agree to high targets, and put a lot of balls in the air at all at once. Generally, they're betting that more of the risks will result in successes than in failures, and that they'll be rewarded. Their biggest problem comes when too many things go south all at once. That's when they'll end up losing their status or their job.

The easiest way to have your cake and eat it too, is to be personally conservative with a harem full of risk takers working for you that you can sacrifice when things go wrong -- but that's a power player tactic known as scapegoating. If you're going to remain a neutral, how do you position yourself along the risk spectrum in order to succeed?

The answer will depend somewhat on the corporate environment where you find yourself, but all other things being equal, I recommend you stay at the conservative end of the risk-taking range you see among your peers. Why? Because relative gamblers rarely have much longevity. Eventually too many risks blow up on them simultaneously, and they flame out. Gamblers are also perfect victims for power players who use scapegoating.

But you can be too conservative as well, appearing to be so afraid to try anything that you just muddle along. People in this profile often last, but rarely progress in their careers.

So, in summary, know you're own risk taking profile -- it will identify the bias you will need to fight against. Observe the spectrum of risk taking among peers, and pick a position that is on the conservative end for your organization. Finally, try to find the surest risks you can take.

Monday, December 6, 2010


Whew! After five crazy weeks, I now have a completed first draft of DELIVERABLES. This is the novel I completed the outline and proposal for in early September. Much work still remains, but getting the first draft down is usually the biggest chunk of work in any novel writing exercise.

This novel was a bit different from it's predecessors -- LEVERAGE and INCENTIVIZE, in that it was written in first person, and from the point of view of two different characters. The first character is the victim of a crime of deception -- Roger Follansbee, who is seduced into helping a private security company masquerading as the CIA. Follansbee is helped by the second principle character -- Joel Smith, a retired CIA agent with a conscience, who walks into the mess with built-in insights and understanding that poor Roger never had.

The fun in the story surrounds the technology that is being stolen, understanding who is behind the thefts, and the what the ultimate motive for the deception really is. On top of this is the on-again off-again romance between Smith and Follansbee's attorney, Carol Hitchcock.

This novel was a departure for me in another way -- I used it as my project for National Novel Writing Month, and made an audible on the design at the last minute. My normal practice would have been to painstakingly go through the original design documents, but in this case, I decided to Pants it (in writer lingo, this means to fix it by the seat of my pants). While there will be a number of problems to straighten out in the first half of the novel, I'm pretty pleased with the storyline of the first draft.

In the next few days, I will post the individual chapters on my blog site. Those who are brave enough to wade through a first draft, please send an email request to me, and I will give you access to the chapters. As always, all I ask for is some thoughtful critique after you're finished.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Lend Support -- Tactic #5

How do you build your political alliances and move your projects and ambitions forward? You need to build up a balance in your political checking account. Tactic #5 for political neutrals is all about making sure you'll have allies when you need them.

Can you build alliances without lending support to others? Sure, but mutual support is the glue that holds alliances together. Without sticking your neck out for others a bit, they're not likely to stick their necks out for you.

So how do you do this effectively?

First, you need to give before you get. You need to demonstrate your commitment to other people and their agendas before you need their support. Will you get burned by doing this? Sometimes. There are power players out there (especially street fighters) who will gladly throw you under the bus if a situation presents itself where it is to their clear advantage to do so, regardless of how much you've supported them in the past. But if you don't start lending support, then you consign yourself to the virtual sidelines. Then you only play the game when someone else gets hurt, and then probably without a team behind you.

Second, build most of your alliances with other neutrals. By eschewing the more dangerous and distasteful tactics used by power players, you make yourself an easy mark if you ally too closely with these creatures. Besides, you can count on things like friendship, sense of obligation, and fairness to help you with neutrals. Those things might or might not matter to a power player.

Third, lend lots of moral support. This can be in the form of a shoulder to cry on, a counselor, a behind the scenes ally. This costs you very little, is low risk, and can pay dividends in the long term. I'm almost temped to advise you to agree with everything your allies do behind the scenes, but most neutrals need to maintain a certain connection with those things they think are fair an right. So instead, do as much of this as you can.

Fourth, just as with many of the other political tactics, select your battles carefully. You will find there are times when you need to lend public support to allies. Do so sparingly, causing as little offense as possible, and making sure you know the implications of your actions. Most people can accept a position taken against them, if it is taken on principle. Make sure the underlying rationale for your actions are sound.

Fifth, lend support to those you've opposed in the past. Opponents in a minor skirmish doesn't have to mean enemies forever. Stay engaged, and continue to lend support to erstwhile opponents when it makes sense.

Master this tactic, and when you find yourself in a political jam, you'll have plenty of friends to help you escape. Ignore it at your own peril.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Irrigation Development Ladder

Back in 2003 I gave a presentation to the USDA Ministerial Conference in Sacramento, California. That presentation discussed the various methods of irrigation in use today, and introduced the concept of an Irrigation Technology Development Ladder. The purpose of the concept was to help Agricultural ministers in developing countries select the appropriate technologies for use in their national projects. I just posted this article to my website, and it can be found at The Irrigation Development Ladder, should anyone be interested in reading it.

Monday, November 29, 2010

A do-over?

I've never been much of a backward looking person, always pretty much accepting my mistakes and decisions as they've come out, while concentrating on trying to make the best of things as I find them.

But Career Transitions are a time when it is challenging to take that position -- the future is pretty murky, and the past that led you to this place tend enter one's mind a lot. Over the last eight months, I've reflected frequently on some of my big decisions. What if I'd gone back to school and gotten a masters in science or engineering, instead of business? How would my life have been different? Or if I'd just stayed at GM or Emerson? What if I'd focused on something more literary or more creative at a younger age -- like writing, or design?

What if I'd never read The Fountainhead? That's a big one -- it changed my life's direction and pushed me far down a business - careerist path. Where would I be without that influence?

So I'm declaring a do-over for those could'a-would'a-should'a' been thoughts. I refuse to be permanently bound by past decisions, and will continue to explore all interesting possibilities for the future. While some things are closed off from me due to physical limitations and age, there is a big wide world out there just waiting for me to stumble around in it.

No, this isn't to say that writing as a pursuit is receding, but I was letting it become an obsession more than a passion. So I'm backing up and taking another run at the future.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Be careful what you put in writing -- Tactic #4

We've all seen it -- that horrible email sent by a foolish or cloddish peer. You know the one, where they use inappropriate language and/or say something so insensitive that it boggles the mind. And we all know what happens to those emails -- they end up circulated to anyone and everyone who might find the behavior offensive.

So if we've all seen it and know the result, why does it keep happening? I believe these instances are the intersection of two events -- a political abstainer or neutral who's in over their head, and a highly emotional situation were the writer feels a self-righteous need to vent.

Email was where I first started seeing this kind of stuff, but today it's hardly limited to the company email account. Now you're at risk based on anything you post on your blog, facebook account, Twitter, leave in voicemails (which can become digitized files that are exchanged via email), or write down anyplace its easily accessible and can be easily copied or circulated.

So what's the secret to managing your writings in such a fashion that you don't undermine yourself, or give your enemies plenty of ammunition to attack you with?

First, warning bells should sound anytime you are typing or talking, and you're angry. If you can't stop, then please, please, please save whatever it is as a draft and hold off hitting send. Once you've cooled off, re-read what you've written.

In most cases, at this point you'll want to delete it.

If you feel compelled to send it, first imagine your words on the front of the newspaper, in your church bulletin, on in the company newsletter. Would it make you proud? If not -- delete.

If you still need to tell someone off -- do it verbally, preferably when no one else is around to hear. At the least doing it this way leaves some uncertainty in the minds of others as to exactly what happened when they hear about it. When put in writing, you've got nowhere to hide.

Second, remember that anything you post on facebook, twitter, linkedin or any other social media site is in the public domain. If juicy enough, or if discovered by an enemy power player, you have to expect it will be used against you. If you must post insults about your employer, or naked pictures, or whatever, do so anonymously.

Tactic #4 is all about showing self-restraint and emotional control. If you can't do that, you have no business playing the politics game.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Figure Out What's Valued -- Tactic #3

Know the rules by which you are playing. This may seem obvious, but I've seen it violated so many times, it definitely bears mentioning in the list of important tactics to be utilized by political neutrals.

Most organizations have certain characteristics they say are valued by the organization. One company I worked for claimed to select managers based on passion, integrity, continuous improvement, and the ability to produce results. These were partially accurate -- I would dispute the last one, where "the ability to produce results" seemed to mean the ability to hit plan regardless of the errors or mistaken assumptions plan might be based on. And I would have rejected "continuous improvement" entirely.

The point is, companies say one thing, and reality is something else. Characteristics that are stated as valuable are sometimes aspirational, representing how the company ideally would like to value its people. There are hints about what's really valued in them, but it's hardly enough to be definitive.

There are other characteristics that are not stated, but are still critical to successful. For my example company, I would add the following unstated, but highly important characteristics: Connection to important decision makers outside the company, dedication as measured by hours worked and personal sacrifices made, going along to get along, and quickness to upwardly communicate bad news. Fall short on any of these, and you may very well be out the door.

The art of managing your image within the organization becomes managing it along these dimensions. Do this well, and you're starting from a solid foundation when you get in the inevitable political battle. Do it poorly, and you're setting yourself up for difficulties.

So how do you figure out what the valued dimensions are? The primary thing to do is LISTEN. What are other employees criticized for? If you hear constant complaints about clock watching, or how quickly the parking lot clears out at five PM, or how irritating a late arriver is -- you can surmise that time committed to work is an important dimension along which you will be judged.

Should you hear people criticized for emotional or angry outbursts, then going along is probably an important characteristic. In one organization where I worked, people were criticized for not showing emotions -- specifically anger -- when challenged. You have to notice these things.

It definitely matters who's doing the criticizing -- higher level employees and obvious power players carry more weight than others.

Once you are aware of the behaviors and characteristics that are valued, it becomes your job to manage other's perceptions. Will you be the first one to the office in the morning and the last to leave at night, in an organization that values the hours you commit? If you're willing to make the sacrifice, then it can only help you.

When your reputation is openly questioned, it's important to defend yourself -- hopefully with facts. "Yes, I left early yesterday -- I needed to buy a gift for that Chinese client before I left on the trip." Don't let someone knowingly undermine you with half-truths or outright lies. If you've developed your network of relationships and alliances carefully, you'll know when these things occur. If not, you're still exposed despite doing all the right things to be in compliance with the organizational expectations.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Mr. Mom -- Day 13

Final entry in the Mr. Mom series of posts.

A medium-difficult day today, probably made more hard by just being busy. The twins played in the one inch of soggy snow we received last night, then we left for Omaha and were gone from 10:30 to 2:30. I did manage to finish all the paperwork on Emily's replacement car, but since I couldn't drive two cars home at the same time, it still physically resides at Carmax. The twins were good while we were at all of the stops, but bickered non-stop in the car.

We have church at five, and I'll pick up pizza afterward. Sometime between then and bedtime for the twins, mama should be home.

Overall, I learned quite a bit from this experience, and I feel I understand and relate to the twins better than I did before it started. That being said, I'm not volunteering to make this my full time gig. Instead I think I'll go back to writing as a job, and leave the "mom-ing" to a professional.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Mr. Mom -- Day 12

Another good day today, starting with an easy morning routine. The twins had a pajama party at school today -- whatever that means. From my perspective, it meant that the twins got up, took off one set of pajamas, and put on another (the cool ones). They were very excited to go to school dressed this way. Fortunately I was able to persuade them it was okay to wear their tennis shoes in the rain, and put on their slippers once they got to school.

After school was basically as smooth as well. I slightly improved the nutritional value of my average dinner today by buying fried chicken at the grocery, and adding corn and a rice side dish for dinner. Sad statement that it was better than average for the two weeks, but what can I say? Guilty as charged.

I also completely forgot to bath the girls last night. I'm not sure why it slipped my mind, but of course, they didn't remind me either. So I made up for it by bathing them after dinner tonight. Once again, baths one at a time meant virtually zero conflict.

Paula returns tomorrow, so I have only one more Mr. Mom day left, and I'm hoping for smooth sailing. They miss their mother, and I miss her too, and look forward to her return tomorrow night.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Mr. Mom -- Day 11

Another relatively benign day, which ended especially well. Like most of the days during my Mr. Mom stint, this one felt very full.

I was up early again this morning, testing my latest epiphany -- that making sure I wasn't in a hurry was a good way to keep the stress down. It worked pretty well. There was lots of time, which was good because we wore new winter coats today, ones with a zip in/out fleece. The twins, true to their usual form, felt a need to unzip every zipper and unsnap every snap. By the time I had the coats reassembled and found acceptable gloves for them, the extra time was gone.

After school, I could feel my blood pressure rising a bit as a series of light skirmishes between each twin in turn and Anna, occurred. During that same time, I was getting after school snacks, scooping the cat liter box, and trying to pick up and clean up. I spent twenty minutes vacuuming up dead Asian beetles -- man, there were a lot of them. But it all dissipated at dinner time.

Then something magical happened. After a fine dinner of leftover pizza and coke, Anna organized a game of Polly Pockets that lasted until bedtime. And they actually pick up when they were done (Oh Anna, if only you'd learn to pick up after yourself, you'd be the perfect daughter!). I spent an enjoyable hour talking to my brother on the phone, something I do too seldom.

Bed was even fairly easy, and I'm relaxed, but still waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Mr. Mom -- Day 10

Mr. Hyde stayed away most of the day today, and the nice and polite Dr. Jekyll visited instead. Mr. Hyde only made a brief appearance, when the twins first came home from school -- again, some inane conflict between the twins, this time over sharing a quilt on the couch.

Of course, today's routine was pretty favorable -- loaded with things they like to do. School prep this morning was easy and unhurried because the hair routine is currently simple, and I woke up early and had the dogs all taken care of before I woke the girls (making sure to leave some extra time, might be a secret to making all the routines easier).

After school, other than the short blanket battle, the girls watched Ice Age part 12 (or whatever the latest version is of that series to hit cable), and then we left for pizza. The school passes out free pizza coupons if the kids read (or have read to them) four books during the month. Candace and Sarah were finished the second day of November, and we got the coupons Monday. It's a nice reward for the kids, but the girls always want instant gratification -- they wheedled to use the coupons immediately. I was able to hold out two days before taking them out for their favorite food.

After dinner was CCD, which they really like. The transition from CCD to home and then to bed can sometimes be difficult, but tonight it was smooth and easy. And both girls made some good compromises -- Sarah on tomorrow's clothes, and Candace on the comic book Sarah was looking at which she really really wanted to see.

When its good, its great.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Mr. Mom -- Day 9

Two days ago I thought I had these kids pretty well figured out. Today, by contrast, I was humbled by how bad I job I can really do managing them and myself.

The morning went fine, I was able to get both girls to eat, and although Candace was a little cranky, and claimed she was sick and should stay home from school (she has a runny nose -- allergies, almost certainly). I managed to get them off to school fine, and on time.

This afternoon started fairly well, too. I finished my daily writing early, and decided I'd make a pumpkin pie for dinner -- that didn't turn out too bad, other than me scorching milk on the bottom of one of our pans (hey, if you don't have any condensed milk, why not just make it! I'll tell you why, because scorched milk is really tough to get out of the pan, that's why!).

Everything was calm until Anna came home from Walmart, and then the Barbie battles began. Eventually, Sarah was such a terror, that I had to put her on the naughty seat, where she screamed non-stop for nearly fifteen minutes.

It wasn't until after I went outside to start the grill, however, that I reached my personal flash point. I discovered that one of the twins (both deny it, of course) had opened the valves on the propane grill, and all the gas was gone. Not only was this inconvenient, but it had been potentially dangerous.

I tried a couple of times to get Sarah off the naughty seat, but each time she was so vindictive and mean, that she ended right back on it. By then, I was mad and yelling.

I ended up spanking her, which I hate doing, but I just couldn't get her to stop her fit any other way. Then I got the cold shoulder from her all the way up until bed time.

Candace, not to be outdone, had her fight with Anna a little later, and she ended up on the naughty seat and spanked also.

Now I'm sitting here feeling very bad about the whole day, and definitely pulling my nomination for father of the year. In fact, I believe both twins were ready to pack up their things and walk back to Ethiopia at one point in the evening. Sigh.

And just when I thought it was safe to go back in the water...

Monday, November 8, 2010

Mr. Mom -- Day 8

So how do you keep from getting sucked into sibling conflicts? I can't seem to do it, and I've come to the conclusion that getting sucked in is a large portion of what makes parenting the twins stressful.

Today had a couple of good examples.

On the way back from dance class this evening, the girls started arguing. It started with yelling and screaming and soon there were a few slaps and hair pulls added in (to the degree that can happen when they're separated by an empty seat, and strapped into car seats) complete with oodles more yelling and screaming. Always a pleasure to drive down those county roads with no shoulders, where pulling over to the side of the road is more or less impossible. My approach tonight? I turned the radio up loud enough to drown out their yelling until they quieted down, and when I got home, they both went on the naughty seat. I doubt the punishment will leave a lasting impression, unfortunately.

Contrast that with the bedtime fiasco tonight -- we had round two of the who gets to turn out the lights dispute. I kid you not - Candace leapt out of her bed, and practically walked over Sarah in her bed to get to the stupid light switch. On this one, I decided to take the issue off the table by saying I would, from now on, be turning off the lights. That caused Sarah to launch into a baby-crying fit. What they really want is for me to keep track of who's turn it is to switch the lights off, but there are already so many of these let's take turns items that its become too much to keep track of. Just in the bedtime routine there is already turn taking on: picking the story, going to the bathroom, and teeth brushing. I'm loath to add light switching.

If I don't intervene, then I usually see one twin (usually Candace, but not always), unfairly treating the other in a cruel bid to get her way on things. Maybe I shouldn't worry about the fairness aspect, but when you hear one twin say "If you don't give me do X, I won't be your friend" or similar things, it's hard to just let it go.

Otherwise the day went fairly well, except for my vow of better quality food. I could barely get them to eat breakfast (one kid ate a single strip of bacon, the other -- five spoonfuls of cereal). After school snack was ice cream (a step up from the candy they demanded), and dinner was the golden arches, which they at least ate. Gotta work on this harder tomorrow.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Mr. Mom -- Day 7

Kind of a mixed bag today. Some things went well, others not so well.

On the positive side -- Girls slept reasonably late, and were pretty much crab free in the early morning. They actually shared at donut at breakfast without complaint. We saw Megamind with Anna and Kenneth, and other than some bickering in the car on the way there, it was a lot of fun. And the separate bath strategy worked like a charm -- it was easy, and more or less conflict free.

On the negative side -- Candace and Sarah spent half an hour playing outside this afternoon (nice day), and somewhere during that time they decided to break most of the branches off of four of our bushes. There were several epic Anna versus Candace battles -- I wish I knew what to do about that one -- best friends one minute, and butting heads the next. And at bed time, Candace had a series of fits over not getting to go first or pick something, culminating with a major pout because Sarah gets to turn the light over the bed out when the story reading is done. I apologized for not immediately calling an electrician to move the switch to a spot next to her bed, but that apparently wasn't enough (nor did she think I was funny, either).

I need to work on a more nutritious menu tomorrow. I don't think another day where the meals mostly consist of donuts, chicken strips, fries, hot dogs and popcorn -- all sprinkled with a bit of Holloween candy here and there -- is in everyone's long term interests!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Mr. Mom -- Day 6

Wow. This day was busy! I actually had to get the girls out of bed on a Saturday morning to go to a doctor's appointment at 10am in Omaha. Then we grabbed a drive-thru lunch at Burger King before a marathon hair appointment. You see, I got some great advice on the twin's hair -- if you get it corn-rowed (full head version), then the morning hair care routine is almost zero for as long as the corn-rows last.

I made an appointment at Capitol School of Hairstyling for 11:30. Unfortunately, they only had one stylist who could corn-row available today, so it was Candace first, then Sarah. The whole appointment took four hours. I kid you not -- four hours! I would have never guessed anyone could spend two hours just doing hair. My hair... well, no point in going there!

Afterwards, we made a quick stop at Target to get birthday presents for a party next weekend, and then headed toward home -- only we didn't go home because church starts at 5pm. With the little slack time we had, we stopped and had ice cream at the little shop in town. Then church (the twins were extra wiggly today, for some reason), and afterward, we drove back to Omaha to the Ethiopian Restaurant.

We finally made it home at 8pm, and I let the twins play for an hour, while I cleaned up. Then it was bedtime.

Busy, yes! But really no conflict, no meltdowns, no anger.

A most excellent day! (with apologies to Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure).

Friday, November 5, 2010

Mr. Mom -- Day 5

Little kids get tired and crabby when they get up early for school each morning and also don't go to sleep when they go to bed. So do the parents!

Actually, everything went fairly smoothly today until Anna insisted the twins help clean up the Barbie mess in their room. Anna humors them with Barbie play when she doesn't have anything else she has to do. Sarah just left the room, leaving the clean up to Anna and Candace. There was much shouting and gnashing of teeth as a result.

But somewhere along the line, the crabbiness switched kids, because it was Candace who sat on the naughty seat all through dinner. I'm not sure exactly what caused it, but all of sudden there she was, getting angry with everyone about pretty much nothing.

I thought it had stopped at the end of dinner, but Candace picked right up again afterwards. Eventually I dragged her (carried her over my shoulder, actually) down to my room and read a couple of old time fairy tales to her. That seemed to do the trick.

We're off to bed momentarily -- I'm posting now, because I'm so tired I don't want to have to try to do it after they finally go to sleep.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Mr. Mom -- Day 4

Okay, this day was a puzzle to me. Mostly it was a good day, but there were a couple of outliers that popped up. I was please that I managed to maintain a sweet disposition through it all, however, so at least my patience seems to be increasing a bit.

Before we left for school, Candace asked if we could leave the house a little later than usual. It seems the elementary school children are walking around the playground for exercise before school, and Candace doesn't like doing it. When we got to school, the kids were still walking, and Candace flat refused to get out of the car. So while a line of twenty other parents waited, I got out of the driver's seat, and had to drag my kid out of the back row of the Suburban! I'm sure that provided entertainment for at least one or two adults.

Everything went great this afternoon and evening until Anna returned from diving. Then Sarah decided to start making up stories that she told her self -- out loud, of course, so we could all hear them -- about how mean Anna and Candace were. The stories involved a lot of punching and hitting. This went on for fifteen minutes, until I finally had to send her out of the room.

Oh, I almost forgot bath time, where one side (not one end) of the tub was decided by both girls to be superior to the other side. They pushed and shoved each other, trying to claim it like a couple of three year olds, until I gave up and drained the water. Next week -- separate baths.

Yeah, I'm tired now, and hopefully will be headed off to bed shortly.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Mr. Mom -- Day 3

Today we entered the meltdown phase -- Sarah had two -- yes, two -- before she left for school. One over the clothes I'd picked out for them to wear (I fixed that one, we all picked out clothes for tomorrow together this evening), the other over the five day old donuts I callously ran down the garbage disposal yesterday.

Candace's was no less dramatic, and came just before bedtime over -- yeah, bedtime. There were tears, pouting, interference with Sarah going to sleep, naughty seat, more tears, rocking chair. I finally broke the cycle by inviting her to have a candy bar, and that seemed to fix everything, at least for now. Ah, the wonders of Almond Joy.

Tomorrow, other than taking the twins to school, I don't have to go anywhere -- no dogs to take to vets, no elections to vote in, no grocery stores. I'm looking forward to it.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Mr. Mom -- Day 2

They completely fooled me last night. I went back upstairs at nearly 10:30, and the girls were in their room with the light by their bed turned on, arguing back and forth.

The morning routine, the one I've been most concerned about, wasn't too bad. I woke up half an hour before Paula has been normally getting up, and I was still hurrying to get out the door. Hair took me forever, but it looked pretty good -- IMHO -- for a ham-handed man.

Dinner tonight went okay. I made a pheasant and barley soup with Ethiopian spices, and grilled cheese sandwiches. The twins and Anna humored me by taking a few bites of the soup. It took quite a while to prepare, and I couldn't help thinking that they would have all preferred spaghetti or pizza.

Emily and some college friends stopped in for an hour on their way to see a live act at the Slowdown. They spent 98% of the time in the bedroom putting on sequins, satin, really tight jeans and makeup. Sigh.

Sarah had a melt down just before bed that was developing all evening. I think the twins wait until bed time so I'm at my least patient before the crying, screaming and going limp starts. I finally got them in bed five minutes ago, but they for sure aren't asleep yet. This was a darned long day.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Mr. Mom -- Day 1

Okay, the twins are asleep. At least I think they're asleep. Or maybe just doing a good job of faking it...

Anyway, I survived the first day of Paula's trip to Africa. Of course, this was the easiest day, as she was here in the morning for the usual getting-ready-for-school routine. Tomorrow I have to do that on my own.

Only thing of note was the panicked call I received on my way home from running errands from Paula herself. Seems she forgot her passport, but figured it out before getting too far. Rather than turning around and rushing home, however, she asked our twenty-one year old to bring it to her. Her call to me was something along the lines of "Where is that kid? Doesn't he know I'm going to miss my flight if he doesn't get here right now!"

Uh, I suppose. But what can I do about it? Oh yeah. Just listen. I keep forgetting to shut up and listen. Old habits die hard.

The dogs were really a bother today, too. Our oldest dog, Bruno, has cataracts and seems to feel a need to scent mark anything he finds in the house. He'll have surgery to correct his vision in December -- I just hope all our furnishing survive that long.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Burning Bridges -- tactic #2

Conventional wisdom tells you to never burn bridges, but can you really go through your career straddling every issue?

I doubt it. I certainly wasn't able to do so, not that I was trying to avoid burning bridges as a goal.

But many people allow themselves to be drawn into political battles, and burn bridges (or another way to think of this is: they damage their relationships) without really thinking things through.

An example might be instructive.

Let's imagine you're on a company's senior staff and an acquisition is being reviewed. You know the CEO is going to ask every person in the room to give their opinion of the proposed deal at the end of the review. A peer in another division is advocating for the deal, and you can tell from the discussion that the CFO is adamantly opposed to it. What do you do?

Chances are, you aren't going to be able to straddle this one -- it would hard to be in favor and opposed to the deal at the same time. You certainly can try to be as inoffensive as possible, perhaps by outlining the good and bad points of both positions before you vote. But the fact of the matter is, you have a good chance of alienating the person you vote against.

Of course there are questions of fact and questions of politics both in play here. The questions of fact might surround the financial projections, the integration plan, and all the other things you've learned to ask questions about in school or on the job. Those things are normally talked about during the review.

The questions of politics aren't typically discussed. They involve things like -- who is more important to my future -- my peer or the CFO. Is my peer the next COO of the company, or is he a lame duck on his way out. Also important is understanding who allies with each party. Is the CEO listening intently to the CFO and nodding, or is he quietly rolling his eyes when a challenge is issued? Which way is my most important political ally leaning? To understand these thing requires careful observation of word, tone and body language.

Once you have the political landscape figured out, then what? You must know what you stand to win and lose based on any position you might take. In our example, if you know the deal is going to to be killed because the CEO is aligned with his financial guy, you might choose to vote in favor of the deal, currying favor with your peer. Anytime you're on the losing side of an issue, you're less likely to burn a bridge than if your vote was the swing vote that put the vote over the top. On the other hand, if you know the CFO is a vindictive grudge holder, you might choose to vote with him anyway. It's all a question of properly reading the situation and forecasting the political implications of your actions.

Of course, I'm assuming in my example that there isn't a clearly correct answer based on the facts of the situation. An acquisition was a good choice for my example, as they tend to reflect opinions about the future, rather than facts. If there is a clear factually correct answer, I would have a tough time not following it, regardless of the political ramifications. But that's just me. I'm sure there are some politicians that would act based on the political reality alone, largely ignoring or discounting the facts.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010


I've been a runner for about ten years now, and getting regular cardio exercise for longer than that. Over the years I've had a few injuries -- a muscle spasm here, tendonitis there. Every time it happens I find myself falling into a funk.

Currently my left foot is undergoing a persistent bout of plantar fasciitis, also known as heel pain. The problem typically is tightness in the calf muscle that causes stretching and inflamation of the tendon running from the arch to the ball of the foot. The typical symptom is pain in the heel area when you first put your foot down after sitting for a while or sleeping. Mine is bad enough that I'm experiencing heel pain pretty much all the time.

This is my second bout with plantar fasciitis, the first one coming eleven or twelve years ago. It's not horribly painful, but certainly prevents running, which always causings further tightening of the calf and further inflames the tendon in question.

I know patience is needed for this to clear up, but I've never been a very patient person. I'm looking for some kind of cardio exercise that won't further inflame the heel, and also doesn't require an expensive piece of equipment to perform. Swimming laps across the lake would have been a good choice in August, but its getting a little cold now.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Learn the Landscape

The first and most important political skill any neutral or power player needs to have is an understanding of the alliances and important hot buttons those alliances are built around.

Political relationships are sometimes built on real friendships, but often times they are arrangements of convenience. Because of that, you can't just rely on who eats lunch with whom (although that's something to notice, too!) when trying to sort out the landscape. Most organizations have a handful of hot button issues that are central points along which battle lines are drawn. The web of relationships around those hot buttons are what creates the political environment.

An example might help -- In one organization I was involved in, there was a significant disagreement over centralized control versus decentralization. The battle over this issue was being played out in the way the purchasing organization was structured. Some people's positions were fairly predictable -- divisional operations VP's didn't much like a centralized structure, as it made getting their jobs done more difficult. Senior corporate management found a centralized structure more appealing because it was theoretically cheaper. But there were a couple of key senior corporate players who felt the decentralized structure led to better accountability and was worth the price.

In my example, the new vice president of corporate procurement made a lot of mistaken assumptions about who was on each side of the issue. In doing so the VP alienated potential allies, and solidified opposition. It was a big part of what led to the VP's eventual departure from the company.

So how do you figure all this out? First identify the hot buttons. There won't be more than a dozen or so of them in most organizations, and they tend to be the items people will talk about when they are having casual conversations. As you go along, gather information on who seems to be on each side of the issue. Try to base this mostly on what they say and do, and not who they are friends with or what their position title is, although that information can be useful at times. Then look for patterns.

People that tend to be in lockstep on most or all of the hot button issues, are likely to be allied. This will help you identify political camps and their captains. Bear in mind that this isn't a static picture. People, particularly fringe players or those who don't find an issue threatening or compelling, may shift their positions and alliances.

And whatever you do, keep your trap shut. Expressing your opinions strongly before you know where others stand is dangerous -- you have no idea who you might be making an enemy of.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Are these cute self-portraits or what?

Today was parent-teacher conferences for the twins. They've been in the U.S. about sixteen months now, and both of their kindergarten teachers have been impressed by how quickly they've learned English. While their pronunciation isn't perfect, they have certainly come a long way.

I thought I'd share their self-portraits. Here is Sarah's effort. She's a bit more quiet and introspective. Her drawing is more realistic -- except for the blue eyes :).

This is Candace. She's our more outgoing, and fast paced daughter -- I think the more abstract (and hurried) style captures her personality.

Okay, they're a little young to be labeled future Picasso's, but I thought the pictures were cute.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Mr. Mom

Paula is headed out of town for two weeks -- she's going to Ethiopia as a part of the charity Because Every Mother Matters, which will be working to start up a women's health clinic in the south of the country. She's been wanting to do this for months now, but has been nervous that your's truly couldn't handle the twins in her absence.

I won't say it will be like falling off a log, but I have been watching pretty closely what needs to be done each day. There are only a few areas where I'm a little nervous:

* Dinner -- our twins are the pickiest eaters I've ever seen, although there has been some improvement over the last few months now that school has started. School lunch is basically an "eat what's there, or go hungry" affair, and it's forced the girls to branch out a bit. I'm vowing now NOT to resort to McDonalds or Pizza every night!

* Hair -- There's a lot of it, it's always a bit of a mess in the morning, and there is a limited amount of time available to redo it. I did rebraid a couple of times this summer, but basically I'm a hair neophyte about to be cast into the big leagues. And the weekly style change looks even worse. Photos may have to be forbidden during Paula's absence.

* Melt-downs -- Maybe its a guy thing, but I rarely seem to do the right thing when one of the twins has a melt-down. The fact that they often come in the evening, when I'm at my least patient, probably doesn't help much. I think my strategy will be to take a deep breath, and then do exactly the opposite of what my instincts tell me to do. Failing that, I do have the phone numbers of my mother and my mother-in-law memorized for emergency aid.

So if you see two adorable twin girls who look like the ones in the picture...

except their clothes don't match, their hair is sticking out of their braids, one throwing a tantrum, and they have pizza sauce smeared on their fingers, they couldn't possibly be mine!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Power Players

If you aren't an Avoider or a Neutral, then you actively use the political environment to your advantage. Then you're a Power Player.

Power Players come in two broad categories -- Street Fighters and Maneuverers. They are very different in their approach, but both essentially do the same thing -- try to change the perceptions about individuals other than themselves. The difference is how they go about doing this -- a Street Fighter is overt, while a Maneuverer is covert.

Maneuverers are more numerous than Street Fighters for reasons I'll describe momentarily. To be a successful maneuverer, one must be keenly aware of the existing power structure, and be able to see how that structure can be manipulated to advantage. The work of a maneuverer is subtle. In many cases, the intended target is not aware they are subject to a political play. In others, they are aware, but aren't sure which maneuverer might be behind it. In almost all cases, the target is unable to do much of anything about it.

A maneuverer is a little like a stock broker -- market goes up, I win; market goes down, I win. They maneuver their targets into a position where they are faced with a bad choice or a worse one. Sometimes the objective is to directly help the maneuverer -- as in scapegoating, for example. If the maneuverer successfully identifies someone to take the blame for a mistake, then the blame doesn't fall to them. Sometimes the objective indirectly benefits the maneuverer -- the removal or discrediting of a competitor or opponent, for example.

I doubt there's any data supporting it, but I will assert that the higher level positions in most corporations are heavily populated with maneuverers. This is why some of the wildest political battles occur at this level. We can argue as to which is cause, and which is effect, but I believe maneuverer skills definitely help executives ascend the corporate ladder. At a minimum, they help protect them while on the way.

The primary reason I think there are more maneuverers than street fighters is, I believe, because it is lower risk. If your target doesn't know who is behind the political play, it's hard to expose them or fight back. Even if the target does grasp what's going on, its often impossible to do anything about it. Some of this is because of other maneuverer's admiration for a game really well played. I've seen this a couple of times behind closed doors where the entire scenario is well understood by the guys at the top, and they tacitly approve of the maneuverer's skills, and blame the hapless target for being so stupid.

Street fighters are rare breed, and I don't think they are necessarily present in all organizations. A street fighter openly identifies opponents and goes after them. The best example of a street fighter in my career successfully removed at least one competitor I knew of, and his boss tolerated it while he took aim at several others. It was only when this street fighter went after the boss himself, that he over-reached and was fired.

This is the primary reason street fighters are so rare -- they make a lot of enemies, and often times self-destruct. And I don't know of any large organization headed by a street fighter. I suspect the incongruity between the demeanor expected by boards and shareholders, and the street fighter's overt tactics, make it difficult for them to reach the corner office.

Just like other distinctions I've made while musing on this subject, I'm talking about the Power Players as if they had a bilateral choice -- maneuverer or street fighter. In reality, some maneuverers occasionally engage in street fighter tactics. Street Fighters are capable of maneuvering as well. There is every grade in between the two extremes.

Next I will start discussing some of the specific tactics used by Neutrals and Power Players (if you're an avoider you, by definition, don't use political tactics). Doing so will help further distill the differences in approach, and how the various roles shape the political environment of the corporation.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Close Encounters

Everyone has a fear -- some rational, some irrational. Ever since we moved to East Amherst, New York back in the mid-80's, I've been afraid of hitting a deer. The roads I drove on each morning to get to work had many deer, and frequent collisions. I think I remember someone saying that one stretch of that road had more deer-kills per mile than anywhere else in the state.

The fear embraces all negative aspects of such an accident -- from killing an innocent wild creature, to the damage to my car, to actual fear of bodily injury. Accounts I read in the papers described deaths from deer-car collisions where the body of the deer came through the windscreen, or a driver was impaled by an antler, etc.

This fear had an upgrade in the late 80's when I made a trip to Kapaskasing, Ontario during the dead of winter. Yes, a deer would be bad, but a moose -- that would almost certainly be worse. The fear was stoked by a moose I saw that wondered into a vehicle test track one cold morning. I was driving, trying to keep the car at a steady 35 mph on the icy track, while dodging this seemingly lost and confused animal.

The phobia took a sabbatical for a few years, until three years ago when we moved out to rural Nebraska. I kept seeing dead deer on the side of the road -- a certain sign that my peril had increased greatly. Then another new high -- I came motoring around our lake development one night, only to find cows in the road. Cows would be even worse than a moose, and they appeared to be even stupider! And I was driving this tiny little Lexus SC430 convertible -- yikes!

Now a couple more years have passed, and I was beginning to think I had this whole deer-car thing figured out. I traded in the Lexus for a gigantic Chevy Suburban, I rarely drive in that dangerous 6pm - 9pm time frame, and I know exactly what a deer's eyes look like reflected in the hi -beams.

None of that prepared me for this evening. Tonight I almost hit a horse. No kidding, a horse. Admittedly a little lighter than a cow, but the center of gravity is oh-so-much closer to windshield height, even in the 'burban.

I'm still not exactly clear how it happened. I was driving along a gravel road, thankfully at only 40mph. There was a horse paddock on my left -- I'd seen it and the beautiful animals kept there a thousand times before. Along a portion of the paddock were some ratty old pine trees. Like a flash a grey horse shot out from between two of the pines right in front of me. I reacted instantly, slamming my foot on the brake pad, the anti-locks engaging as I skidded to a stop. My heart was pounding, and I felt a surge of warmth flow through my body from my stomach radiating outward. I started to sweat.

The horse took one brief look at me from no more than twenty feet away, and bounded off into a recently cut cornfield. Paula, who saw the whole thing in her Buick a quarter of a mile behind me, called the sheriff's office.

Suddenly, deer don't seem so scary, anymore.

Monday, October 11, 2010

"Everlasting Spring" Provides Hope for Children

Yezelalem Minch is an Ethiopian run charitable organization that helps keep families together in the face of extreme poverty. They are trying to recruit 50 sponsors in 50 days, and our family is trying to help. I've reproduced Paula's blog post here. Please consider giving.

50 sponsors in 5o days... will you be one?

Yezelalem Minch is a grass roots organization in Ethiopia devoted to helping children stay in their families when faced with the prospect of becoming an orphan on the street due to the death of one or both parents. Yezelalem Minch helps provide children with food, clothing and education. YM helps to keep families together by providing support to caregivers. For the children who sadly have no one, they provide a home in addition.

You can give all this to a child for just $30 a month. $1 a day.

For me, that's less than my daily "good morning Diet Coke" at the drive-through.

Click here to see my friend Kara's Smilebox slideshow of YM. You can get the contact information at the end of the slideshow (slide 40). You can also ask Kara how you can receive a wonderful free DVD about Yezelalem Minch... how it came into being and stories about some of the children it is assisting. It is profoundly moving and I highly recommend it. Just in time for Orphan Sunday on November 7!

Sunday, October 10, 2010


I talked about political avoiders in an earlier post. Today, I'll comment on the fuzziest category of responses to the corporate political environment -- political neutrals.

There are a few characteristics that define a neutral. First, they are aware of and understand the political environment. They also typically are willing to engage in defensive tactics, but not offensive tactics, for one of several reasons -- they don't understand how the offensive tactics work, they think those tactics are too risky, or they find them morally reprehensible. I'll talk a little bit more about defensive tactics in a later post, but for the most part, defensive political tactics involve managing your own image and the perceptions about you, but not attempting to negatively alter general perceptions about others.

An example might be helpful -- let's say (as was the case with one of my employers), you recognize the political reality that your commitment is being measured by your boss (or someone else higher up) by the number of hours you spend at work. An adept neutral would make sure that when the boss and other power players could see they were at work for long hours. A neutral might also cut out early or take an extra long lunch if they felt they were not being watched (that's more of a question of personal integrity). The neutral might engage in a conversation about how little of their vacation they used, or how much time they had to spend at home working over the weekend.

An avoider, by contrast, would whine about how it shouldn't matter how many hours you work, as long as you get your job done.

A power player, would take this one step further -- they might identify their organizational rival or target, and find a clever way to make sure the boss knew they weren't as committed. For example, they'd find a way to expose that three hour lunch, or the fact that their competitor was playing solitaire for an hour on the computer each day.

Neutrals run the gamut from ham-handed to skilled, just like power players do. I've personally witnessed some pretty poorly executed self-promotion over the years by political neutrals.

I don't know if this is a complete list, but I think Neutrals stay as neutrals, and don't venture into being power players, primarily for three reasons.
  1. They might be unaware of power play (PP) tactics -- I expect this applies to very few people. If someone was ignorant of PP tactics, they would generally be an avoider, but I can't rule out the possibility that they might know just enough to poorly utilize a few neutral tactics.
  2. They may see the power play (PP) techniques as too risky. There is little question that PP tactics are more difficult to get right, and more likely to create enemies. Some individuals probably do the math, and decide PP tactics are not for them.
  3. They see many of the things power players do as wrong or unfair. I personally fell in this category. While I had no problem trying to improve my own image, there was just something that felt wrong about trying to negatively influence someone else's image.
As I've mentioned before, these categorizations are abstractions. Probably nobody is a perfect neutral. Sometimes neutrals may fail to recognize a political reality, and other times, they may try a PP technique or two. I would also argue that the vast majority of corporate professionals and managers are neutrals. Unfortunately for them, in the organizations I've known, adept power players typically rise rapidly to the top.

Next subject: Power Players

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The future of books

I've spent a lot of time recently reading about the future of books, and have come to the following conclusions:
  1. Book sales are on a slow decline. This is because of competition from other forms of entertainment, many of them on-line. Paula is a good example -- today she spends some of her time playing webkinz, doing geography quizzes, or reading/writing blog posts. A few years ago, some of that time would have been spent reading.
  2. eBooks are capturing increasing share from print books. The most recent statistics I've heard suggest 6-10% of current book sales are electronic. Everyone agrees it's going up, the only question is how far and how fast. A recent article titled Where will bookstores be five years from now suggests it could be 50% of the market by 2015. Another industry person I talked to said it will still be under 50% in 2025. I tend to believe the first analysis is closer to the truth.
  3. eReaders -- Kindle, Nook, Sony and iPad, are all coming down in price. You can get a basic reader right now for $139. If the entry price drops below $99, watch out. One will be in nearly everybody's Christmas stocking. And the technology is good -- almost everyone I know with a dedicated eReader, loves it.
  4. The share eBooks are capturing is mainly coming from bricks & mortar bookstores. How long they can hold on in a declining market with declining share is anybody's guess. I know from experience in other businesses, it's tough to survive a 20% drop in sales, and you do it typically by closing less profitable outlets. Look for bookstores to start closing soon. That will drive more of the print market to on-line vendors like Amazon, continuing to drive a death spiral for the brick & mortar stores.
  5. Publishers are in a tight spot in this environment. The primary value they add, the one that can't easily be replaced, is access to shelf space in brick & mortar bookstores. They do other things as well, namely: cover art, editing, printing, packaging and, to some degree for new authors, marketing. All those things can be purchased from other sources. As bookstores become less relevant in the equation, then so do publishers.
  6. It isn't easy, but even today, a new author can experience success by ePublishing for the Nook and Kindle, and contracting a print on demand service for the physical books. It is still my guess that a new author will sell more copies, and earn more with a traditional publishing contract, but I suspect we may not be all that far from the cross-over point.
  7. The ability to market your books, or get someone to market them for you, will be as important as craft when it comes to success. A poorly crafted book will not succeed with a great marketing strategy. A excellently crafted book will not succeed with a poor market strategy. It takes both.
So in this evolving environment, what is the best strategy for a new author, like your's truly? For now, I'm trying to enter using the traditional method -- a publisher. But I can't afford to be infinitely patient either. In both environments, it helps to have a number of titles, rather than just one. For now, I'm going to continue working with my agent to try to land that elusive publishing deal, while I work hard to produce additional work. Who knows where I'll be in a year?

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Open Invitation

I've had several people make comments on the post from last week titled "A Friend Speaks Out". I want to open up my blog for other guest posts that reflect your frustrations and/or fears associated with the work world. Or if you just have an ironic or strange story to tell about something that happened.

What I can offer you is to put it in print on my blog -- disguised enough so others won't necessarily recognize it was you (if that's what you want). Your personal experiences can serve as signposts and warnings for others as they try to navigate similar waters.

From a mechanical standpoint, just email me at I promise I won't print anything without your approval/agreement.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010


I just posted the rest of the second draft of Incentivize to it's blog site. As before, it is available to be read and critiqued. To gain access, simply send me an email at and request permission.

All I ask in return is that you keep track of mistakes, sections that don't make sense, or character behavior that seems wrong, and let me know verbally or in writing once you've completed your reading.

Monday, September 27, 2010

A Friend Speaks Out

My blog today is a guest post. This note came to me as an email from a close friend, and captures some of the feelings of anger and frustration I've experienced as well. The names have been removed to protect the innocent, but the guilty should read this and burn with remorse.

Yesterday as I walked Chicago's downtown, dodging the masses as I headed toward the attorney's high rise mansion, I began to get angry. Surrounding me, hoards of people were scurrying to make their 8:00 AM start times, police officers were directing honking traffic, and city workers were digging up century old concrete to fix a broken water line. The morning was spewing forth life in the form of work, and money, and yet here I stood without income and health insurance almost a year after being the victim of a drive-by restructuring. I began to question how in the world someone with my credentials, and my extreme willingness to work, can be the one "left behind".

When I walked into the law firm's board room for a quick rehearsal of this morning's deposition, I must have looked preoccupied. One of the company's attorneys, upon greeting me, asked if all was well. Realizing I must be carrying all this hurt, anger and tension on my face, I calmly asked them how important my testimony would be to the success of the case. With their response of "critical", I got even angrier.

I asked them how it happens that their lawsuit is dependent on a man who can't find a job, doesn't have insurance, has no money, and who's testimony will enable the company that fired him to save millions. That took the legal team by surprise.

It took the team by even further surprise when I noted how easy it would be to turn the tables on those that had put me in this situation. How tempting it was. How good it would feel.

The room became very quiet, and I knew then my point was something they too had secretly been worried about.

I somehow managed a smile and said "let's start going over the agenda. You're fortunate that an honest man will be in front of the camera today".

The corporate sucks you dry.

Saturday, September 25, 2010


I've talked a lot about the political environment in corporations. Now I'd like to direct my attention to the three approaches people take in addressing themselves to it. I call the three types: Avoiders, Neutrals, and Power Players. Another way to think of them are -- those that ignore the political environment; those that recognize it, but fined some of the commonly practiced tactics morally or otherwise repugnant and won't engage in them; and those who will do just about anything that works.

Just like any classification scheme, it's an abstraction, and every grade in between these three probably exists.

As my subject for tonight is Avoiders, let's talk about them...

Avoiders either aren't aware of the political environment, or they're in denial about what their senses reveal to them, or they hate politics so much that they aren't willing to participate regardless. I'll talk about each in turn.

Aren't aware of the political environment -- these would typically either be people that operate with so little human interaction that they don't get enough data about what is going on in the organization to see the political landscape, or perhaps those people that have very low emotional intelligence (there are great sources out there to explain this concept, if you are unfamiliar). They are likely to make huge and very obvious mistakes that will leave other corporate employees scratching their heads at times.

In denial -- some people, despite their emotional intelligence, pretend that there is no politicking going on in the organization. I'm not sure why this happens, but I've seen it a few times in the past. It almost seems their image of other people in the organization is so out of alignment with the political behavior going on that they can't square the two up. Something has to give, and it ends up being the political reality.

Hate politics -- this is more of a moralistic position. Most of the situations where I've seen this, the argument is to eschew politics essentially because they are "unfair" or "undemocratic". I've seen this more with young people, but it does seem to show up some across the entire employee spectrum. Let me give an example -- "Son, nobody is going to take you serious in the corporate world with that tongue piercing and facial tattoo," said the father. "That's just stupid, unfair and wrong!" says the son. The point is, the avoider's dislike of the political reality doesn't change a thing. It still is what it is, with their participation or not.

A variant of this last group is the rather sizable group that believes that only performance should matter in progression and reward within corporations, and politics and the skillful playing of politics shouldn't be a factor. Just like the above example -- their faith in performance as the only basis for judgement about a person is misplaced, and doesn't change a thing, no matter how "unfair" it may seem.

The advice I've offered to Avoiders in the past is: work for a small company, start your own business, or be satisfied with not climbing above the first couple or rungs of the corporate ladder. Is if fair? No. Is it reality? In most cases, yes.