Friday, September 30, 2011

Why The Book (even the e-book) is Dying

Here's why I believe the era of the book, especially the how-to/self-help book, even in e-book format, is dying faster even than most people think:
  • People want info that's more current even than possible in an e-book. Most authors do not continually update their books. And even if an author does, if today he's updating page 300, page 1 may not be current enough.
  • People want information in shorter bites: distillations like Top 10 lists.
  • They expect it free: either as an article or, alas, a pirated book.
  • An ever larger percentage of books sold are used, which means no royalty for the author. So, except for famous people, who can still expect to get lucrative book deals, writers who need or want to make money from books are less likely to write them.
  • Book distribution is unwieldy. Certainly, traditional distribution is obsolete: print thousands of copies, store them in a warehouse, get a salesperson to flog chain buyers (forget about tiny-ordering independent bookstores) and when they don't sell, the books get shipped back to the warehouse. And, if you expect to make money selling your books, print-on-demand is too expensive. CreateSpace is probably best for creating a book but as long as Apple and Amazon keep fighting, the CreateSpace distribution network isn't wide enough.
That all said, I think CreateSpace-created-books with diligent e-marketing is probably the best way to go if you're eager to write something book-length. I think, however, that for all but the famous, book writing must be viewed only as a vehicle for consolidating one's learning or otherwise providing its own reward.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Favorite Communication Tips

Here are my favorite communication tips:

Smile more. It's amazing how much you'll benefit from that easy, superficial change: People will like you more, and you'll be more relaxed.

Put yourself in the shoes of the listener. Would what you're about to say elicit the desired effect?

Tip for establishing eye contact: What's his eye color? Does her eye area look kind or mean? Eyes are a window to one's soul.

To build connection, your responses should move toward the person: a clarifying question, supportive example, even playful teasing.

Keep your utterances to 45 seconds or less, then ask a question or shut up--No need to fill the silence.

In most conversations, talk a bit less than 50% of the time. More than that, you risk being viewed as egotistical, a blowhard, or too chatty.

Anecdotes persuade.

Don't confuse tact with timidity. Sometimes boldness is required.

Even if you need a lot from a person, perhaps ask for just a small piece. That cuts the risk of overwhelming the person and getting a "No."

"The first thing a man will do for his ideals is lie." Joseph Schumpeter, eminent 20th century political scientist and economist.

Secure people will accept and maybe even appreciate constructive criticism, but everyone loves earned praise, especially about something they feel insecure about.

When interviewed or giving a talk, you may be tempted to use a script. Don't! It leaches the crucial chemistry.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Yet Another Prod for Education Reform: Even Many Great People Shunned School

I've just listened to the CD-course, "The World's 100 Greatest People."

Many of them had little education, did poorly in school, and/or hated it:
  • George Washington "was poorly educated and neither spoke nor wrote particularly well."
  • "Although Lincoln went to school, he was mostly self-educated."
  • "In his early life, Churchill was a failure both academically and socially. He did though thrive in military school."
  • Rousseau "had no education."
  • Adam Smith found Oxford "uninspired and worthless" and dropped out.
  • Thomas Edison spent just three months, total, in school.
  • Henry Ford's education "consisted of eight years in a one-room school house and his grades were mediocre at best."
  • Neither of the Wright Brothers finished high school.
  • Charles Darwin, "who was not particularly successful in school, received his education on a five-year scientific voyage as a naturalist aboard the HMS Beagle."
  • Louis Pasteur "was a poor student early in his life."
  • Oliver Cromwell attended only one year of college.
  • St. Augustine "skipped school and told lies, and got into assorted scrapes."
  • Albert Einstein "did not perform well in school."
And HERE is a list containing more recent luminaries who shunned school. And my conversations with people, successful and not, indicate that the long-standing dislike of school indeed remains alive and well.

This raises questions:

Why should schools be such that even world-class people hate it? Why should we not replace our arcana-larded curriculum with material students really need and want to know? Why should we not hire the most fascinating teachers, not only those willing to withstand the soporific, feeble-theory-based two-year training program taught by out-of-touch professors rather than master teachers? Requiring aspiring teachers to complete such a program no doubt screens out many would-be fascinating teachers.

Why should we, as we now so-often do, place students in classes at random, which means the slow are intimidated by the bright and the bright are stultified, forced to listen to the teacher's third explanation of a concept the bright student knew before the teacher even taught it?

Employers use education as a key tool for screening job applicants. Should that be given less weight? After all, we all know many people who were good in school and bad in life and vice-versa.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Becoming an Effective and Beloved Boss

The first time I got hired to be a manager, I thought, "Well, I'm the boss. I guess that means I'm supposed to boss-around my supervisees." (A liberal arts education didn't include the art of supervising.) No surprise, I got "laid off."

I've learned a few things since then:

Look the part. We're a lookist society. It seems that half of how we're judged is our appearance. If you choose to appear fringey or grungy, you'll be leading with one strike against you. Rule: dress one notch dressier than employees at your level, two notches dressier than your supervisees. So if your supervisees wear casual shirts and pants and your fellow managers wear nicer shirts and pants, you wear a sport jacket, no tie.

Hire slow; fire fast. A boss's most important job is something she unfortunately often can't do: hire her supervisees. Usually, they're in place and can't easily be terminated. Study after study finds that hiring wisely is critical. That's not surprising: It's hard to turn a lazy employee into a hard worker, a dullard into a genius, a technophobe into a supergeek. Jim Collins, author of Good to Great, wrote, "Great managers get the right people on the bus and the wrong people off before figuring out where to drive it." So, the rule is: hire slow, fire fast.

Let everyone you respect know you're looking to hire. The best hires usually come from referral--your friends and colleagues are likely to refer only truly good people, not bad employees who respond to want ads with a primped-up resume, highly coached interview skills, and shill references so they look better than they are.

Your selection process should focus on simulations: having the applicants do bits of the kind of work they'd do on the job. And better to hire an inexperienced, smart, kind hard worker than an experienced person with lackluster intelligence and drive.

Spend only a short time trying to improve a weak supervisee's performance. Even psychotherapists, working one-on-one with patients for years, have a hard time fundamentally changing them. You're unlikely to do better. So if after a brief effort to improve a weak employee, you see little progress and you have the power, cut your losses. Where possible, rather than use a legalistic approach to termination, counsel them out: Point out that their strengths aren't best utilized in this job and that you'd like to help the person find a better-suited position.

The power to inspire is under your control. Workers are far more motivated if they believe in the mission and in you. Even if your supervisees' jobs are as mundane as payroll clerk, you can legitimately assert that their jobs are crucial. I'd tell them, "Our job is to make sure that the company employees and their families get all the money they deserve and that the company is not unfairly shortchanged. Very important."

Even more potentially inspiring: your behavior. If you present your supervisees with a wise strategy, work hard and ethically, focus on solutions not complaining, prioritize improving the company not aggrandizing yourself, you'll inspire most of your supervisees. Those that remain insufficiently productive should, if possible, be victims of Fire Fast or at least moved where they'll do the least harm.

Mold the job to your strengths. Some of your job description is limited by your boss and by your workgroup's needs but often you can structure your job to spend more time using your strengths and little using your weaknesses. Where possible, delegate tasks that would expose your limitations.

My wife is an education administrator. Most people in her position focus on managing people and doing budgets. But she remolded her job description to minimize those and maximize the things she's best at: giving speeches, doing demonstration lessons for teachers, appearing in the media, and solving people problems, for example, with the teacher's union, parents threatening to sue, etc. The result: she won, over 100 other candidates, her region's Schools Superintendent of the Year Award, Congressional Woman of the Year, and in 2014, the Best Public Advocate Award from the International Society for Technology in Education. .

Which are you strong and weak at: Strategy? Tactics? Budgeting? Organization? Coaching employees one-on-one? Leading workshops? Developing efficient procedures? Resolving people problems? Resolving technical problems? Public speaking? Running meetings? Hiring? Firing? Collaborative decision making? Solo decisive decision-making? Can you adapt your job description to fit?

Be strategic. Many managers have the opportunity to create strategy. My favorite approach to setting strategy is:

1. Lead a meeting with your supervisees in which you brainstorm the relevant strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.

2. Take their input back to your desk and develop a draft strategic plan.

3. Share it with the group and revise it based on their input.

4. Inspire your workers to implement the strategic plan, usually including measurable goals for which your workers are accountable, praised, celebrated, and perhaps financially rewarded when accomplished.

5. When goals aren't met, address the problem promptly, candidly, and crisply while, where possible, preserving workers' self-esteem.

Delegate. If you do it all yourself, you'll likely not only to work too long hours, your workers will feel disempowered. Sure, do the things you're good at and enjoy doing but delegate where appropriate, even if you could do it better yourself. Sometimes good is good enough. Indeed, the perfect can be the enemy of the good.

Treat your supervisees not equally, but fairly. Management isn't one-size-fits-all. Some workers need close supervision while others are most productive with maximum freedom. Some workers are motivated mainly by praise, others by fear, others by chats about their family, still others by increasing their responsibilities. Some employees can take lots of candid feedback; others would shut down.

Be only mildly nice. If you're too effusive, you can generate complacency in your workers. A small measure of fear doesn't hurt. Also, by withholding your kindest self, when a supervisee does something good and then you're very nice, he'll appreciate it and be positively reinforced by it, whereas if that's your normal behavior, it will more likely be shrugged off as business-as-usual.

You can more often get what you want if you don't insist on getting credit. For example, when I was president of a theatre's board, I developed a plan to capture audience members' emails. A small part of my plan was something another board member had come up with. So when I presented my idea to the board, I said, "Susan suggested a way to capture emails. I built on it and here it is. What do you think?" I believe that my giving her as much credit as possible helped it get adopted and contributed to my being perceived as someone more interested in getting things done than in self-aggrandizement.

Create an atmosphere of candor. Praise people for disclosing significant problems, chastise them for withholding key information. Candor is key--when it's an important problem. Sometimes, small problems and weaknesses are best ignored. They and you must wisely decide which battles are worth fighting.

Run crisp meetings. Meetings can be time sucks. Only call a meeting when an email to your staff won't do--for example, when you want real-time brainstorming or you're trying to build staff morale (Hint: Serve food. It lubricates conversation.)

Send the agenda in advance; ask for input. Start on time, keep to the agenda, and the time limit. Best time for a meeting: right before lunch: people will want to get out on time.

Let others talk. For most of the meeting, your main job usually is to listen carefully, ask clarifying questions, keep one person from dominating or being unduly negative, and encouraging quiet people to contribute.

The best time for you to have your say is after they've all had theirs. At the end of an agenda item, you'll often want to make a concluding statement such as, "In light of John's statement X, Mary's statement Y, and Jose's statement Z, we're going to do Q."

Embrace and win at office politics. When I was young, I thought, "I'll ignore office politics. I want to succeed on the merits." Mistake. In many workplaces, especially in tough times, some workers will stab others in the back, withhold information to gain power, and otherwise sabotage them.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure: Practice positive politics:
  • Make the effort to be at least moderately liked by all while staying out of the gossip vine.
  • Take the time to develop relationships with key people. Periodically ask them, "Is there anything I can do to make your life easier?"
  • When you want to propose something, see if you can get the right people on board before formally proposing it--even if you have to share the credit.
  • If you're sabotaged, privately warn the offender that if it happens again, you'll report it.
Do those things and chances are you'll be a respected perhaps even beloved boss.

How I Manage Stress

People often ask how I've worked so many hours a week for so many years without burning out. My keys to stress management are:
  • I am mainly self-employed so no one controls what I do. And when I want to work for others, I accept only work that would give me autonomy.
  • I try, not always successfully, to work without rushing.
  • I realize I can survive any failure. For example, let's say my boss at the radio station fired me for saying something he didn't like. I'd try to find a better radio station, at least one that won't fire me because I said one wrong thing. And even if I never worked in radio again, I'd find something else, maybe something even better to do. I can survive anything except end-stage cancer.
  • When I get stressed, I use very quick stress reducers: I take deep breaths, pet my dog Einstein, or take him for a walk. Even more potent,
  • I use the Stop Technique:
    1. Realize that all of us deserve to not be shackled by worry, even if I've made mistakes. We all have.
    2.As soon as a worrisome thought enters my consciousness, I say "Stop!" and quickly replace it with a productive activity.
    3. If I can't distract yourself, I ask myself, "What's the most likely positive outcome?" That eases my anxiety. Then, "What's the worst that's likely to happen? How could I cope with that?" I could, couldn't I?"
You needn't reduce your stress to zero. Indeed, you'd probably then be bored, torpid. But these ideas should at least help keep the lid on.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Landing a Job: What if Networking Doesn't Work?

Alas, landing a job is more of a pain than ever. Sure, it's easier today to find on-target ads with sites like,, etc.

That very ease, however, means that good job openings attract hordes of applicants. But even I couldn't believe it when I heard that when the Tacoma Water District advertised a $17.76-per-hour meter reader job, 1,600 people applied.

Tough times require tough job-search strategies. I provide a collection of them HERE.

What Career to Pursue?

Even if you've been an adult for a long time, it's probably not your fault if you still don't know what you want to be when you grow up. Reasonably, you assumed school would help you figure out what career to pursue. Alas, teachers and especially professors, live in an ivory tower, so most are ill-suited to helping you find a career. And even most students who go to their school's career center leave still unsure what they want to do.

After that, most people take whatever job they can get, and then with the golden handcuffs of having experience in one field are reluctant to change careers.

Or the career searcher reads a career guide or sees a career counselor who administers some "tests," such as the Myers-Briggs or Strong Interest Inventory, both of which are notable for their lack of predictive validity.

Or a career counselor or self-help book helps you identify your abilities and interests and then a matching career. That approach often fails because:
  • None of your abilities and interests stand out from the rest.
  • You identify abilities but those apply to too many jobs, like "people skills."
  • You identify an ability or interest that's unlikely to yield a decent living, for example, painting or singing.
  • A career fits your abilities and interests but somehow feels wrong.
  • You identify a career interest that is of interest to half the population: for example, the environment.
The following offers a better approach to finding a career:

Step 1. Scan annotated lists of careers in such guides as the Occupational Outlook Handbook, or my book, Cool Careers for Dummies.

For even more under-the-radar but currently in-demand careers, go to and search on a work-related skill you'd like to use in your work, for example, writing, analyzing, organizing, selling, or programming. Pick out the one, two, or three careers you find most intriguing.

Step 2. Google the name of that career and the word "careers," for example, "geologist careers." or "writing careers." Read a few articles that seem on-point.

Step 3. For any career that still seems interesting, search Amazon for a book on that career. In the best such books, each chapter is a different person's report on what it's like in that career.

Step 4. For any career that remains of interest, job shadow at least three (one or two might give unrepresentative perspectives) people in the field. Find them in the Yellow Pages, on the website of the profession's professional association, for example, The American Optometric Association, your alumni association, or simply ask your in-person or LinkedIn or Facebook network for referrals.

While you're job shadowing, ask questions such as, "What's your typical day like?" "What ends up being most important for success in this career?" "Why might someone leave this career?" and "What's the best way to get training so you're excellent in this career?"

Step 5. If a career still sounds good, choose it even if you're not 100 percent sure. Otherwise, you're likely to be waiting for Godot. Usually, career contentment comes only after you've entered the career and, like a great-looking suit, tailored and accessorized to fit you.

For example, career and life coaching fit me only moderately but I now love it, in large measure because I adapted it to fit me: I made nonnegotiable that I'd work from home and that I'd be a more active participant in sessions than is the typical counselor who mainly just listens. I also stayed committed to getting better and better rather than giving up after a couple of years of mediocre performance.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Why the Obama Jobs Plan Won't Work...and What Would

Today, creating jobs is Job One, and I worry that the Obama Jobs Plan will fail. Here are reasons why:
  • Both sides of the aisle advocate extending 99-week employment checks to more people, on the belief that redistributing money to people likely to spend rather than save it, will thereby create jobs. Alas, that has a serious side effect. Nearly all of my unemployed clients, in the confidentiality of my office, admit that each time there's an extension in unemployment, they feel less pressure to look for a job. They're just sitting around.
  • We've already tried a trillion-dollar stimulus and it created few jobs. It's oft been lamented, "The job stimulus didn't stimulate and those shovel-ready jobs weren't." That doesn't inspire sufficient confidence that it's worth spending hundreds of billions more of our money on another round of "stimulus."
  • Funding jobs with taxpayer dollars means taking money from the taxpayers (those most likely to use money to create jobs) and redistributing it to those least likely to.
  • Once any government-stimulus-spending-created jobs are completed, continuing taxpayer-funded money will be required to keep the recipients employed.
  • Many of the infrastructure jobs are make-work. For example, when politicians say spending will be on roads, they don't say they'll be building roads, which would relieve congestion. Radical environmentalists are making that nearly impossible. Instead, the road money heavily goes to repaving existing roads. I don't know what's going on nationwide, but where I'm driving, I'm seeing the repaving work that is funded by the previous round of taxpayer-funded stimulus, and those roads really don't need paving, certainly not enough to justify the cost to us the taxpayer. The main result is that I'm forced to sit in more traffic because of the repaving work going on, and which seems to take far longer than it should.
A Better Jobs Plan
(Regular readers of this blog will recognize two of the following three ideas. I apologize to you, but in light of the currency of the Obama Jobs Plan/Act, I wanted to present these ideas within that context.)

I believe that just the following three ideas would create millions of enduring, pro-social, offshore-resistant jobs.

Entrepreneurship Nation
Both sides of the aisle agree that government stimulus spending, at best, is a jump-start., that permanent job creation must come from the private sector. Most people also agree that entrepreneurs, while providing better, faster, cheaper goods and services, also create jobs.

So why not replace just a fraction of our arcana-larded K-16 curriculum with entrepreneurship education? For example, most high school students spend many hours deriving geometric theorems, balancing chemical equations, memorizing historical facts, and untangling the intricacies of Shakespeare. Could it be reasonably be argued that those are more important for all students than learning how to start an ethical yet successful business?

While some entrepreneurs are born not made, much is learnable, especially if taught not by ivory-tower academics but by successful, ethical businesspeople. I imagine that many, especially the retired, would be willing to do that even as a volunteer.

America Assists
It's widely agreed that buying non-essential "stuff" is unlikely to lead to happiness. Don't we all know people who live in an impressive home, who replace their good used car with a new one, go on costly vacations, and buy lots of la-di-dah clothes and jewelry, yet after a brief "shopper's high," aren't that much happier, let alone more kind? Yet we seem to be addicted to trying to shop our way into bliss.

But what if the government launched a public service campaign like its successful anti-smoking campaign to encourage the public to replace some of its buying of "stuff" with buying of services that hold greater promise of improving their quality of life. For example, hire a part-time:
assistant to:
  • help care for your newborn
  • a homework helper for your older child
  • a personal assistant to do errands, laundry, wait for the repairperson, etc.
  • a personal geek to teach you the technology you're afraid of
  • a health care system advocate to help you get the care you need, affordably, in our labyrinthine, scary system
  • a companion for your aging relative
Each of those jobs promise to significantly improve the life of the hirer and family. And the employee, piecing together a few such part-time jobs can make a reasonable living doing work that's unquestionably beneficial and ethical. Importantly, most of those jobs require only a modest skill set. Even many high school dropouts could likely find one such job they could do well enough.

How would hirers and employees match up? Just as they do for other jobs: hirers would place ads, for example, on Craigslist. If hirers want a professional to do the screening and payroll, they could turn to employment agencies. That would create yet more jobs.

Crowd-funded businesses. Today, it's very difficult for new businesss to obtain funding because banks are reluctant to invest in unproven entrepreneurs and because of massive government regulations. I'd waive those regulations for new businesses seeking up to $50,000, thereby allowing them to solicit financing on what I call crowd-financing websites. Potential investors could visit the site, read thorough various start-ups' prospectuses, and invest as little or as much as they wanted, from $1 to the maximum the new business wants up to the aforementioned $50,000.

Dear readers, as always, your comments are welcome.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Marriage Summit: A Potent Way to Fix a Troubled Relationship

When my marriage was in trouble, I asked my wife and I, separately, privately, to write what we liked and didn't like about aspects of our marriage: sex, communication, children, money, career, and recreation. For each, we wrote one behavior we would commit to changing and one behavior we wished our partner would change.

Then we showed each other what we wrote, agreed on what each of us would try to change, and that we'd meet in a week to rate our success.

During the week, when we saw our partner doing something good, we'd give a thumbs-up, something bad, a thumbs-down: No lectures, no recrimination. Just the thumbs-up and thumbs-down.

The next week, at a dinner out, we rated ourselves on our success in implementing the new behaviors and asked each other if s/he agreed with our self-ratings. The "meeting" ended with our agreeing on the behaviors that each of us would work on the next week. Key was that each of us proposed behavioral changes for ourselves, not for our partner. The partner's job was only to okay it or to suggest an alternative.

We had those weekly meetings for about two months, and that has been enough to keep our marriage on a far more solid footing. It's been 25 years since Barbara and I had that marriage summit. We've now been together for almost 39 years and hope to continue for a long time.

The One-Minute Weight-Loss Course

I must admit that none of these tactics work well enough for me, but they're the best I know for losing weight:
  • Love yourself enough to believe you deserve to be thinner.
  • Weigh yourself every day, especially when you've been bad.
  • Three times a day, say aloud why you want to lose weight: your health, looks, career, your kids, whatever. Say it with expression. That will brand it into your brain.
  • Most important: Be conscious of every bite, deciding whether the momentary pleasure of that bite outweighs the liabilities.
  • Eat something small whenever you're slightly hungry. Stop when you're not hungry, not when you're full.
  • All good diets reduce to eating lots of veggies, some fruit, a little protein, a little whole-grain carbs, and very little fat.
  • Eat the same things most days: the low-calorie but filling foods you most like and are easy to prepare.
  • When you screw up, forgive yourself and get back to your diet.
  • Find rewards other than food.
Update: A commenter asked why I didn't mention exercise. That's because current research shows that exercise, while healthy for other reasons, rarely helps you lose weight. Why? Because appetite increases in proportion to the amount of exercise you do. When ravenous, it's hard to eat little. Worse, having exercised, you feel entitled to eat more. HERE is a review of the research literature on the topic. And HERE is another article on the subject, which both discusses the literature and links to a Time article that also concludes that exercise is unlikely to help you lose weight.

It's all about the calories--but that wouldn't sell gym memberships.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

A Major Effort to Get Fair Treatment for Boys and Men

As I have documented often on this blog (click "boys issues" or "men's issues" in the tag cloud on the right side of this blog,) boys and men are struggling far more than are women, yet nearly all governmental efforts are to abet women.

My apologies to regular readers of my blog who have previously read what's in the rest of this paragraph, but my favorite example is this: When women have a deficit, for example, they're "underrepresented" in engineering, massive redress is undertaken. But when men have a deficit, even the ultimate deficit--they die 5.2 years earlier than women--not only is there no redress, there are seven federal offices on women's health, none on men, 39 states have offices of women's health, six for men, and most frightening, over the past 60(!) years, a review of PubMed, which indexes the 3,000 leading medical journals, finds that there are 40 articles on women's health for every one on men's.

In attempt to restore a measure of fairness, I am a member of the Commission to Create a White House Council on Boys to Men.

This article in Forbes makes the case why boys and men need a White House Council, arguably more than we need the already existing White House Council on Women and Girls.

If you ever have the opportunity to ask a legislator why there's a White House Council on Women and Girls but not one on men and boys, that Forbes article will provide all the evidence you need.