Thursday, May 31, 2007

Booknote: Patton on Leadership

Axelrod, Alan. Patton on Leadership: Strategic Lessons for Corporate Warfare. Paramus, NJ: Prentice Hall Press, 1999. ISBN: 0-7352-0297-4.

Genre: Nonfiction
Subgenres: leadership, business, history, strategy.

This is one of the best books I have read this year. Personally, I have always admired Old Blood and Guts because he embodied a leader who would not surrender and would not back down. However, from reading history, I knew that, though very daring and seemingly reckless, he was also a consummate planner and someone who valued information. This book confirms a lot of that for me. Whether one likes or despises General Patton, one definitely can learn something from his leadership ideas and style. This book provides those lessons.

The book provides a brief historical overview of the general and his accomplishments. The rest of the book then presents a principle, takes lines and segments from various writings (by him as well as by others) to illustrate the key leadership principles, and then the author provides an explanation. From how to be a leader to communication to inspiring others, this book has a lesson for everyone who aspires to be a leader or for those who have leadership thrust upon them. There are many good lessons here that I would like to remember, and that in some way I hope I could apply in my practice and life. In a time when I am not seeing good inspiring leaders, I always know I can turn to history and learn from the great ones. I borrowed this from my local public library, but I am definitely buying myself a copy as soon as possible.

Anyhow, here are a few lines:

  • On difference of opinions: "No one is thinking if everyone is thinking alike."
  • On keeping your mind open and taking notes: "Everything that interested [Patton] was painstakingly typed on notecards and suitably annotated with additional ideas and comments" The quote is from Carlo D'Este's book Patton: A Genius for War. In a very small way, that is what I try to do with my attempts at blogging and my personal journal. It does not always work, in part, because I am not as disciplined as I could be in my writing, but I try.
  • On getting out from behind the desk and into the real world: "I want you to know that I do not judge the efficiency of an officer by the calluses on his butt." You can't know what is going on with your subordinates if you sit on a desk all day.
  • On change, which by the way, is something that often comes up in the library literature: ""If the 14th -Century Knight could adapt himself to gunpowder, we should have no fear of oil, grease, and motors." This is quoted from a speech Patton gave to the Pennsylvania National Guard in 1930 about adapting to mechanized warfare. What do you know? Some things never change.
  • However, I think General Patton may have had something to say to the 2.0 technogurus who rag on those who "don't get it" as well: "All this talk about super weapons and pushbutton warfare is a pile of junk. Man is the only war machine. . . .Always remember that man is the only machine that can win the war. . . . It's nice to have good equipment,. . . but man is the key. Remember the French Revolution? That battle was won with brooms, sticks, and stones-- by a bunch of angry women. Get a determined bunch of men and women and they will the battles no matter what the odds or what kind of equipment they use." For me at least, that is why I always prefer to look at the human factor.
  • And while on the human factor, leaders should always remember those who work for them: "The soldier is the army. No army is better than its soldiers."
And this last one is my personal favorite. It is something that I see lacking a lot these days, and yet, well, it speaks for itself:

  • "SUCCESS IN WAR DEPENDS UPON THE GOLDEN RULE OF WAR. SPEED--SIMPLICITY--BOLDNESS." The quote is from Patton's field notebook. Upper case emphasis in original.

Friday, May 25, 2007

I am just as evil as they come

On keeping the theme from a couple weeks ago when it comes to quizzes, and yes, it is Friday once more (and a long weekend too, woo hoo). An interesting little quiz; I wonder how come I did not score 100%. Maybe it was that UN question, which I was tempted to answer differently (if you take it, it will make sense). Anyhow, if asking for accountability and decency make me evil, then let's burn. At any rate, peaceful as I can be, I am someone with no tolerance for anyone of any religious stripe wanting to impose their theocracy.

Your 'Do You Want the Terrorists to Win' Score: 96%

You are a terrorist-loving, Bush-bashing, "blame America first"-crowd traitor. You are in league with evil-doers who hate our freedoms. By all counts you are a liberal, and as such cleary desire the terrorists to succeed and impose their harsh theocratic restrictions on us all. You are fit to be hung for treason! Luckily George Bush is tapping your internet connection and is now aware of your thought-crime. Have a nice day.... in Guantanamo!

Do You Want the Terrorists to Win?
Quiz Created on GoToQuiz

Found via Liz's Library Tavern.

Booknote: Twinkie, Deconstructed

Ettlinger, Steve. Twinkie, Deconstructed: My Journey to Discover How the Ingredients Found in Processed Foods Are Grown, Mined (Yes. Mined), and Manipulated into What America Eats. New York: Hudson Street Press, 2007. ISBN: 1-59463-018-7.

Genre: Nonfiction
Subgenre: Food narratives, popular science and history

If you want to learn more about what goes into your food, this is the book to read. Ettlinger looks at the well-known cake snack and goes through the list of ingredients to let readers know where things come from. From the flour to the additives, you get a full tour of items that may be baked, chemically altered, or even completely bioengineered. Some products are even used as industrial cleaners or explosives, but no worry, they are safe enough when they get to the Twinkie. Much of the trick has to do with amounts and concentrations. The book is an easy read. The chapters are pretty short, which make it a good book to read on the commute or just to read a little bit at a time. Some of the names of companies have been omitted for security reasons, but the reader will still get a good sense of processes and how things are made. Overall, I recommend this one.

Similar books may include:

Eric Schlosser, Fast Food Nation
Morgan Spurlock, Don't Eat This Book.

I think it may appeal too for those who read Barbara Ehrenreich's books, though I think this book is lighter.

Update note (same day): I came across this conversation between the author and Dr. Moira Gunn, out of TechNation. Found via LISNews.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Booknote: The Paradox of Choice

Schwartz, Barry. The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less. New York: ECCO, 2004. ISBN: 0060005688.

Genre: Nonfiction
Subgenre: Psychology, Human behavior

To make this short, this book is basically a psychological study of the concept of choices. Why we make choices and how our choices are shaped. What things influence our choices. The paradox is basically whether having more choices is a good thing or not. One the one hand, more choices would mean one can have more information to make better decisions. On the other hand, too many choices would mean that a person could be paralyzed or have regrets once a choice is made due to not knowing what other choices could have entailed. The book has an interesting premise, but it is a bit of a dry reading. Anyhow, once you read the prologue, the author gives such a clear road map that the incentive to read the rest of the book is minimal other than to read the illustrations for his arguments. His arguments are:

  1. "We would be better off if we embraced certain voluntary constraints on our freedom of choice, instead of rebelling against them."
  2. "We would be better off seeking what was 'good enough' instead of seeking the best (have you ever heard a parent say, 'I want only the 'good enough' for my kids'?"
  3. "We would be better off if we lowered our expectations about the results of decisions."
  4. "We would be better off if the decisions we made were nonreversible."
  5. "We would be better off if we paid less attention to what others around us were doing." (5)
Some of those I disagree, and some of them I agree with. The author claims these go against the conventional wisdom where "the more choices people have, the better off they are, that the best way to get good results is to have very high standards, and that it's always better to have a way back out of a decision than not" (6). The arguments are somewhat compelling, but personally, I don't agree with all of it. Anyways, the book may give some food for thought for folks out there.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

McGrorty Remembers Schlitz Beer

Michael McGrorty recalls the kiss of the hops and Schlitz Beer, a beer that is "plain as denim, shallow as the Ed Sullivan Show, a beer that wouldn’t leave a welt if you drank a half-dozen. A beer to drink with a shot of ordinary rye; a beer to place beside a ball park hotdog. It damn near brought a tear to my eye." It makes me want to go out and find a cheap beer myself. Heck, I think I could use a couple after working here some days. Anyhow, the post also made me recall the book Ambitious Brew, which I recently read and has some parts about Schlitz.

And to get a little history, here is an 1890's Schlitz Beer Wagon. Found on the Encyclopedia of Chicago website.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Yum, all the testicles you can eat.

I think this line from the article says it all:

"What else can you do in a small town?" Fenske said.

It turns out there is an all-you-can-eat testicle festival up in Wisconsin. I had no idea. Here is the menu:

More than 300 people paid $5 for all-you-can-eat goat, lamb and bull testicles Saturday at the ninth annual Testicle Festival at Mama's Place Bar and Grill in Elderon in central Wisconsin.

Saturday was this past Saturday, May 12, 2007. So, break out some beers and eat up. The testicles are deep fried, and according to the story, after a few beers, you can't even tell the difference. Find the story here, via Yahoo! News.

A hat tip to a Blogwork Orange.

Friday, May 11, 2007

"He's evil"

Thank the powers that may or not be that we made it to another Friday. I think we can label this result as a dark moment. Except for the part about working for AOL (or as my friends call it "AOHell"), the rest is not really that surprising now, is it? Would be nice if my mere presence would strike fear into people. You try it out, hehehe.

How evil are you?

Found via Pharyngula, who, to be honest, I would have expected to be more evil. Oh well. And no, I am not surprised by his result either.

Booknote: Mavericks at Work

Taylor, William C. and Polly LaBarre. Mavericks at Work: Why the Most Original Minds in Business Win. New York: William Morrow, 2006. ISBN: 0060779616.

Genre: Nonfiction
Subgenre: Entrepreneurship, business leaders.

While I am not one to read business books on a regular basis, once in a while I will pick one up if it seems interesting. The title of this one seemed interesting, so I picked it up. Add to that the fact that I just like mavericks. Anyone can follow the party line, but it takes a special person to see beyond the ordinary. I think we could use a few more mavericks in our profession, and no, I don't just mean the usual technogurus. Those are not mavericks. In a way, they follow a certain party line with a fervor unmatched by few. I think we know a maverick when we see one. This book may help you know what to look for.

Throughout the book, I found myself making note of various passages because I thought there were a couple of things that libraries could consider. For example, some questions to ask in your organization:

"What ideas is your company fighting for? What values does your company stand for? What purpose does your company serve?" (12).

Replace the word "company" for "library," and I think it opens the possibility for some interesting conversations. Needless to say, if you can't even give a tentative answer to those questions, then you really need to sit down and think things over.

Then there is the observation about the language of the workplace. I think I recall reading a while back something about language in our profession. (I'll have to see if I find it again. It was something along the lines of using different words in discussing information literacy). Anyways, the authors discuss how mavericks create their own vocabulary.

"One sign that a company is pursuing a truly original competitive strategy is that it has created its own vocabulary. Not buzzwords, acronyms, and the other verbal detritus of business-as-usual, but an authentically homegrown language that captures how a company competes, how its people work, why it expects to succeed, and what it means to win" (39).

As I look at that, I see that also involves an element of assessment. They don't call it that, but when they ask what it means to win, it means what indicates that we have been successful. How do we know? I am not about to put something like "Grand Poo Bah of Instruction" on my business card, but how we say things, how we express ourselves is important as well.

The book combines looks at various maverick businesses and organizations with advice and ideas on how to compete as a maverick. The advice often takes the form of question and answer sections. The book also features an appendix with an annotated reading list where the authors highlight other books and materials for further reading. For business readers, this may be a book to pick up. For me, it was just ok overall.

Friday, May 04, 2007

I am neither an early bird or a night owl

It's Friday, so it's time, once again, for everybody. . . you get the idea. This was an interesting little quiz to see if you are a late night person or an early riser. In my case, I am pretty flexible. For me, it depends on circumstances. Though I can stay up late if something interests me or has to be done, I will get myself to bed early if I know I have to be up early the next day. I don't care much when I get my eight hours or so of continuous sleep. I just have to get them in somewhere. On a side note, while in graduate school, I did some of my best writing late at night. The house was quiet. I would usually get some sleep early in the evening, get up sometime after midnight and get a paper written for instance.

Take the quiz yourself here.

Anyhow, here is my result:

You are a hummingbird
You are neither. Chronobiologist Michael Smolensky refers to your more flexible type as a "hummingbird." You tend to be ready for action both morning and night, in sync with our culture's demands.

A hat tip to Liz's Library Tavern.

Booknote: The Carrot Principle

Gostick, Adrian and Chester Elton. The Carrot Principle: How the Best Managers Use Recognition to Engage Their People, Retain Talent, and Accelerate Performance. New York: Free Press, 2007.
ISBN: 0-7432-9009-7

Genre: Nonfiction
Subgenre: Management, workplace motivation

I finished reading this, and I must say that it was a pretty easy read. I actually found myself reading through at a good pace. The authors basically argue that recognition is the accelerant for the basics of good leadership: clear goal setting, open communication, trust, and accountability. If a good manager has all those four, and he adds recognition, it can only get better from there. However, adding recognition just to add it will only make things worse. I think a lot of this is common sense, so as non-business person, it amazes me at times that people can get paid to dispense this kind of common sense advice to corporations who seem to lack a clue. Of course you should always say thank you. Of course you should give credit where credit is due. Of course people are motivated by more than money (but you still do have to pay an equitable wage).

Having said that, if I have to tell managers to read a book, this may be a good one. I hate to say this, but I work in a culture where recognition is pretty rare. And I am not just talking my library, but the campus at large. In their case, they have to work on the elements of leadership before even thinking about working towards a carrot culture. What I liked about this book is that the advice was simple and direct. It was straightforward. You get a sense that this is something that can be accomplished. The authors even provide a list of 125 ways to give recognition. I have to admit some of the options are clearly corporate types of things, but there are a few items that certainly could be applied to a library setting. There are simple things such as recognition from the first day and advice for managers to go out and get to know the employees. Here is a hint to managers: ask us what makes us tick. Very often we will be happy to tell you. Don't assume. And you can never give enough recognition.

By the way, recognition also helps with helping the employees to be both engaged and satisfied. No, they are not the same thing. You can be very satisfied at your job without being engaged, and viceversa. However, if the very engaged employee who is not very satisfied is the one who is probably looking for a new job, while the very satisfied one who is not engaged is more than happy to stay put, he just won't be producing anything above and beyond. Things to think about.
Finally, this is something I want to remember. The authors cite four good engagement questions. These are the kinds of things managers should be asking their workers. Paraphrasing then, from pages 118-119:

  • At the 3 month mark, ask "have we lived up to our promises to you?" and "are we what we told you we would be?" From here, the manager should listen closely to the replies. The manager may ask any further probing questions, but no rebuttals allowed. It is time to listen.
  • Ask next, "what do you think we do here best?"
  • Ask also: "Is there anything you've seen elsewhere that we might be able to use here to make our company better?" I think you could insert "library" for company in this and other questions.
  • Finally, ask, "have we done anything in the past ninety days that might cause you to leave us?" In other words, ask if the person is staying.
Anyways, it is an interesting little book worth reading. I think it has a couple of insights that some libraries could learn from.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Beer Jello? What next?

Just when I thought I had seen everything, here comes beer jello from Japan. It's basically "a gelatin desert that is based on, smells like, and tastes like (you guessed it) Yebisu Premium Beer." If nothing else, this works for the folks who say there is always room. . . you get the idea.

See the story here.

Found via the Liquor Snob.