Friday Fable. Aesop’s “Jupiter, Neptune, Minerva, and Momus”*

Posted by jlubans on February 28, 2014  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: Mardi Gras, New Orleans, March 4.

ACCORDING to an ancient legend, the first man was made by Jupiter, the first bull by Neptune, and the first house by Minerva. On the completion of their labors, a dispute arose as to which had made the most perfect work. They agreed to appoint Momus as judge, and to abide by his decision. Momus, however, being very envious of the handicraft of each, found fault with all. He first blamed the work of Neptune because he had not made the horns of the bull below his eyes, so he might better see where to strike. He then condemned the work of Jupiter, because he had not placed the heart of man on the outside, that everyone might read the thoughts of the evil disposed and take precautions against the intended mischief. And, lastly, he inveighed against Minerva because she had not contrived iron wheels in the foundation of her house, so its inhabitants might more easily remove if a neighbor proved unpleasant. Jupiter, indignant at such inveterate faultfinding, drove him from his office of judge, and expelled him from the mansions of Olympus.”

Since being cast out of Olympus, Momus has lightened up his humorless carping with a sense of humor. So, today he is more about mockery. On March 4, New Orleans’ Knights of Momus krewe will once again engage in the revelry now associated with their namesake.
So, if you must nitpick, find fault, your message with go further with a dose of levity. Or, forget finding fault; focus on improvement and change rather than on what’s wrong.
Caption: How I felt during performance appraisal time.
In the workplace, nitpicking and faultfinding is institutionalized in something called Performance Appraisal. Promoted – with no evidence - as a formal process for employee improvement it has gained a well deserved notoriety as the most hated piece of management work: assigning a numerical value to another human being.
Wm. Deming had this to say about the effect of formal performance appraisal: “… It leaves people bitter, crushed, bruised, battered, desolate. despondent, dejected, feeling inferior, some even depressed, unfit for work for weeks after receipt of a rating, unable to comprehend why they are inferior.”
Hyperbole? You decide.

*Source: AESOP'S FABLES By Aesop Translated by George Fyler Townsend (probably from this edition): “Three hundred and fifty Aesop's fables”. Chicago, Belford, Clarke & Co., 1886.
Available at Gutenberg.

Friday’s Leading from the Middle Library - in honor of my daughter and her husband who are moving from America’s East Coast (with one horse, two cats, one DOG, and two laying hens) to America’s Pacific Northwest: The University of Oregon Law Library.
Law libraries, as a group have purchased more copies of Leading from the Middle than have the general libraries on their campuses. I wonder why? Perhaps it has something to do with the legal profession and its organization.

Copyright John Lubans 2014

Winning While Losing.

Posted by jlubans on February 25, 2014  •  Leave comment (0)

Many in sport adhere to the “Winning Is Everything” mindset. But, since few of us can come in first all the time – in sport or in work – our effort should be more about playing as good a game as we can; the wins will come. And, when on a team, we should play all out, all-for-one and one-for-all. You may have a star on the team, but no one’s coasting behind that star - not in true teams.
The Latvian hockey team recently schooled the hockey world about team effort. While, no question, the 21-year old goaltender, Kristers Gudlevskis, played a superb game (55 saves), it was the team that stifled the Canadians. How’d that happen?
The coach (in an interview prior to the start of the Olympics)
disclosed how he ramped up an underdog team to compete with the world’s best.
Latvia’s coach, Ted Nolan, a Native American (First Nations' Ojibwa in Canada) knows – from his own life experience - how a nation identifies itself through culture and language. So, one of Nolan’s first team rules was to speak only Latvian – no other languages - in the locker room. He included himself, and learned the language – no easy task.
He reasoned, Yogi Berra-like, “a group that's kind of been put down and under certain rule, sometimes it's tough to find your identity."
Speaking Latvian - the language purposely denigrated by the Soviet occupiers - was one way to add a cohesive element to the team. And, some of Nolan’s emphasis on identity may have influenced the goalie: his helmet has a picture of Riga’s Freedom Monument, the national symbol of Latvia's long struggle for independence.
And, when it came to winning, Coach Nolan answered, “Why, not?” Regardless of the talent there’s just the chance that even with “ordinary people, you can do extraordinary things.” "We're a hard-working team. And now they're starting to believe. And that's a deadly combination once in a while."
The team was pumped. Still the underdog, they upset Switzerland 3-1. Next, Canada – the reigning Olympic champion. Hockey insiders predicted a rout, termed it a warm-up game before the real teams from the USA and Sweden, even Russia. It was obvious, was it not, Canada had all the talent, power, size, weight, speed, and agility?
Imagine, then, the fear in the heart of the faithful Canadian fan: the game tied for well over 40 minutes! Latvia’s goalkeeper made save after save, prompting a star on the Canadian team to call the goalie's performance, "the best he'd ever seen."
The Latvians played an unorthodox game – they had to with Canada dominating the Latvian end of the ice. And, it was team effort that stymied - repeatedly - Canada’s onslaught.

Caption: In a swarm of 6 Latvian players, and three Canadians looking on, Latvia’s Sotnieks reaches over goalie Gudlevskis to trap the puck. No score!

Caption: Same play, from inside the net.

While I viewed the game on Latvian TV, it was not until I saw the still photographs (like the ones above) that I realized how much the team came together to keep the Canadians at bay.

Caption: No goal! Outnumbered by five Latvians, Canada is turned away again.

Yes, Canada won, but so did Latvia, and it wasn’t the Hospitality Award. It won, in my eyes, the trophy for Best Olympic Team.

Leading from the Middle Library of the Week: University of Iowa Libraries
If your library does not have a copy, ask why? The book offers lots of ideas on freeing up the workplace and implementing democratic principles in order to enhance productivity and improve customer service.

Copyright John Lubans 2014)

Friday Fable. Lubans’ “Misplaced Pity”.

Posted by jlubans on February 21, 2014  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: What it’s like to play football in the steel-mill and coal mining state of Pennsylvania.

In a folly-filled freshman year at my Pennsylvania undergraduate college (Lebanon Valley College, by name ) I went out for the football team; that’s American football, the “smash mouth” variety. Why? Well a popular song from a bygone era sums it up: “You gotta be a football hero.”
The first drill for newbies like me was to block out another player. Now blocking is not tackling, but it is hitting the opposing player and impeding his movement, taking him out of the action. Ideally, you knock him off his feet. The player I was to block was about a foot shorter and 30 pounds less in weight than me. And, he looked kind of goofy. I felt sorry for the guy. We lined up and I took it easy. Big mistake. The little guy crashed into me like a mini bulldozer and knocked me flat. As I struggled up I wondered how many times he did that to larger players sappy enough to feel sorry for him. I wondered if looking goofy was a cultivated piece of his player persona!

So, play with respect for your opponent. Pitying someone on his or her appearance is disrespectful and puts you and your organization at a serious disadvantage.

Friday’s Library: Pollack Library, Yeshiva University
New York City.

In Canada, do the Ontario Library Association a favor and buy Leading from the Middle at the OLAStore*.

Copyright John Lubans 2014

Sancho Panza as Survivor and Lovable Fool

Posted by jlubans on February 18, 2014  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: Statue of Sancho Panza in Madrid by
Lorenzo Coullaut Valera, 1930.

"I tell you, when it comes to asking stupid questions and giving crazy answers, I don't need to go looking for help from my neighbors." - Sancho Panza.

My students – there are 20 of them in the Democratic Workplace class at the University of Latvia – this week are reading Robert E. Kelley’s “Followership”. I’ll juxtaposition my talk about Kelley’s follower taxonomy with Casciaro & Lobo’s perspective about our colleagues at work, the Competent Jerks and Lovable Stars and Fools.
I want the students to enlarge - beyond a rigid taxonomy - their understanding of the people they work with and how they (the students) interact with their colleagues. For example, the lovable fool (Kelley’s "survivor"/ follower with a sense of humor) is there to lubricate the social interchanges, to harmonize the group as it takes on tasks. He or she provides the good will, the bonhomie to get us past the hard parts and to begin to feel better about each other; at least to move us past the negatives of group formation to something more positive.
I’m reminded of the illustrious adventures of the Knight of the Mournful Countenance, Don Quixote, and his erstwhile Squire, Sancho Panza.
It is the mix between the beleaguered Don Quixote and the rascally Sancho - the incompetent leader and the lovable fool -that gets them as far as they get – which is not very far, but their journey is not lacking for adventures and meaning, real and imagined.
Sancho Panza is, for me, the Lovable Fool described by Casciaro and Lobo. He is hardly their “lovable star” but he is not their bifurcated Jerk. For Cervantes, Sancho continues the Plautine tradition of the Aesopic fool, the wily and rascally servant, the lovable fool. Has there ever been a more lovable fool than Sancho?
But, just how foolish is this lovable fool? When Sancho gets his wish to rule an island – as a reward for serving the Knight Errant – he governs with a Solomon-like wisdom. Not much of a fool after all.
The two adventurers share a remarkable honesty. Don Quixote gets angry at Sancho’s antics, his cupidity, his laziness but it is always tempered with fondness and respect. Nor is Sancho afraid to give equal measure to what he gets from his master, as this droll exchange suggests when Don Quixote remarks on Sancho’s becoming less of a dolt:
 that, of 

That Don Quixote laughs at this statement suggests his ability to rise above what could be insulting language and to, instead, appreciate the joke. Nor is this the only instance. As they make their way across arid Andalusia, their relationship matures, strengthens. Kind of like what I would like to see happen in the class as the students get to know each other. I’d like for them to expand their horizons beyond those colleagues with whom they are already comfortable. I’d like to see them reach out to a classmate that’s still a bit of a mystery, to get past stereotypes and first impressions.

Copyright 2014 John Lubans

Friday Fable. Aesop’s “The Wolf and the Crane”*

Posted by jlubans on February 13, 2014  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: By Heinrich Steinhowel (1412-1479, the first to publish and print in Europe an edition of Aesop. This woodcut is from the 1477-1478 edition. Source: Laura Gibbs.

“A WOLF who had a bone stuck in his throat hired a Crane, for a large sum, to put her head into his mouth and draw out the bone. When the Crane had extracted the bone and demanded the promised payment, the Wolf, grinning and grinding his teeth, exclaimed: ‘Why, you have surely already had a sufficient recompense, in having been permitted to draw out your head in safety from the mouth and jaws of a wolf.’"
“In serving the wicked, expect no reward, and be thankful if you escape injury for your pains.”

While the woodcut illustration of poking one’s nose into another’s throat suggests that more than the bone would “come up” (ala evocative scenes from Lazarillo de Tormes and Don Quixote), the fable still brings to mind a colleague who was a great proponent of teamwork and collaboration, all the while professing unstinting camaraderie. But, his personal philosophy and practice were closer to "Every man for himself and the Devil take the hindmost". I had thought of him as a good friend and worked with him in implementing projects from which he derived recognition and some cachet on campus. But, it turned out he was pretty much a solo operator. When I needed a helping hand, he offered none. And, after achieving some success in a niche of the industry, he never failed to disdainfully dismiss requests for advice and counsel from less successful colleagues.

*Source: AESOP'S FABLES By Aesop Translated by George Fyler Townsend (probably from this edition): “Three hundred and fifty Aesop's fables”. Chicago, Belford, Clarke & Co., 1886.
Available at Gutenberg.

Friday’s Leading from the Middle Library: Victoria University of Wellington, Kelburn Library, New Zealand

Copyright John Lubans 2014

The Homely Lug Nut: The Inventiveness of Teams

Posted by jlubans on February 11, 2014  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: The pit crew in NASCAR racing (Note the two NASCAR umpires in white).
A decade ago, I had a short-lived flirtation with NASCAR, the stock car racing syndicate. Racin’ (that’s right, Racin’) is as American as apple pie; no, make that as American as “shrimp and grits” and deep fried sticks of butter. That’s more like it.
Why short-lived? Well, I was studying the Petty Motorsports team, owned by Richard Petty, racing’s éminence grise, the King, with 200 victories. And before Richard, there was Lee Petty, the daddy, another superb driver. The Pettys are racing’s royalty. Long retired, Richard attends every race; schmooze’s with the sponsors and, back in my day, was in charge. Now, a conglomerate out of Boston owns Petty. While better funded, the Petty teams have yet to get consistently good.
Kyle Petty, the son, was driving the Petty #43, but had only won a race or two. Tragedy had touched Kyle - his son, Adam, died in an accident during practice.
But, the word back then was that the Pettys were on the comeback trail and I wanted to write about their pit crews, the teams that take care of the cars and the driver. The pit crew was becoming increasingly important to the outcome of any race. Regardless of brilliant driving, a slow pit crew would keep the car out of victory lane. As I look back on my time with Petty, I think their lack of improvement soured their willingness to let me observe. Welcoming at first, as the season wore on and the three teams never finished in the top 15, more often in the 20s or 30s in a field of 40 cars, I felt less and less welcome. Midway, I gave up on the story.
After this long introduction, here is a short glimpse into racing and team inventiveness. It comes from my weekend in the inner circle of the half-mile (very short) Martinsville racetrack (make that Speedway!) out in the Virginia countryside:

On a becalmed black sea of tires sits a man. He’s wearing sunglasses against the Sunday morning sun and a fire suit – the kind with all the decals on it. He is either the front tire changer or the back tire changer. Either way he’s one of the seven-member Over-the-Wall team that gets to jump in front of the stock car as it veers at 50mph into the pit zone.
I ask him what he’s doing, and he tells me: “Gluing lug nuts”.
“How does it work?” I ask. He explains that this procedure is the invention of an Italian mechanic some 26 years ago to save time at pit stops. Attaching the lug nuts to the hubs eliminates handling them by hand. The end of the steel bolts that the tire slips over and the lug nut screws down on have a bullet shape. The bullet ending allows the lug nut to sit on top of the bolt, without being knocked off. The air-wrench then pushes the nut onto the bolt and zip, zip, zip, zip, zip, done.
“Done”, means get to the other side of the car, and then back over the wall out of harm’s way. Much can go wrong: imagine there are 7 pit crewmembers flying around the car all at the same time. The engine is smoking and the driver is counting the seconds before he can peel out. Other cars are pitting, only a few feet away. The gas can might spill. The hydraulic hoses can become constrictors. Somebody might forget to tighten a lug nut – a major goof, since the car has to return to the pit area. NASCAR assigns an umpire to each pit crew – to keep an eye on the rules being followed. The saying goes, “If you ain’t cheatin’ you ain’t racin’.”
A little further down pit lane I ask another tire changer why he’s gluing his lug nuts with a brilliant pink. Pink’s easier to see. Another time saving touch, each tire will have a vertical stripe on it, to match against a mark on the wheel well. At one time, pit stops for new tires, drinks and ice for the driver, cleaning the windshield and adding a few gallons of gas took a leisurely 50 seconds – friends and relatives made up most pit crews. Now, anything around 14 seconds gets high fives, longer than that the team is visibly disappointed. If your pit crew is not made up of NFL linemen or other athletes, you’re not going to win.
In the race – the Sunday morning calm transformed into a tangible roar - the lug nuts fly off, pneumatically spun off in all directions
After a successful pit stop, the two tire changers, caress their smoking air wrenches and give them a drink of oil – it’s a ritual. In between stops, the tire changers practice the drill against a board fitted with five bolts, over and over.
After the car screams away a sweeper gets out into the lane and sweeps the used up lug nuts to the side of the lane, looking down the track to see if anyone is coming in. The homely lug nut's fate: from celebrity to cast-off in less than 4 hours. The pink, magenta and orchid colors fade in the pit gutter. There is an after life; used lug nuts are recycled during daily pit crew practices ever seeking a faster time.

Copyright John Lubans 2014

Friday Fable. Aesop’s “FATHER AND SONS”*

Posted by jlubans on February 07, 2014  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: An Aesop collector's card from Creighton University's "Turkish Trophies Cigarettes" collection, circa 1900?
“A certain man had several Sons who were always quarrelling with one another, and, try as he might, he could not get them to live together in harmony. So he determined to convince them of their folly by the following means. Bidding them fetch a bundle of sticks, he invited each in turn to break it across his knee. All tried and all failed: and then he undid the bundle, and handed them the sticks one by one, when they had no difficulty at all in breaking them. ‘There, my boys,’ said he, ‘united you will be more than a match for your enemies: but if you quarrel and separate, your weakness will put you at the mercy of those who attack you.’"
“Union is strength.”

Well this fable might have a different outcome had Aesop known my story of “The Dog and the Stick”.
Tik un tā, (“anyway” in Latvian), so it can be in the world of work. When an organization’s departments bicker, expect failure. Frank disagreements, spirited argument, respectfully presented, are not of which I speak. I mean a “backstabbing kind of love” – an aspiring country music writer’s song title – the kind that uses a “perfumed dagger” – my first boss’ phrase – and whispered gossip and nasty rumor that undercut one’s own.
The only sure way to stop that is don’t participate. A good friend has an effective way of dealing with someone who wants to engage in gossip; after a moment’s pause, he changes the subject. He will not let the conversation degrade.

*Source: AESOP'S FABLES A NEW TRANSLATION BY V. S. VERNON JONES WITH AN INTRODUCTION By G. K. CHESTERTON AND ILLUSTRATIONS BY ARTHUR RACKHAM (Publisher: London: W. Heinemann; New York: Doubleday, Page & Co., 1912). Available at Gutenberg.

Friday’s Leading from the Middle Library: Berea College Library, Berea KY, USA.

Copyright John Lubans 2014

"The Dog Under Your Desk"

Posted by jlubans on February 04, 2014  •  Leave comment (1)

My new class on the Democratic Workplace meets for the first time this week. In preparation, I’m in the throes of defining the concepts behind the class. I have lists of what it is and what it is not, but no coherent manifesto.
People ask me, “What is the Democratic Workplace?” “Does everyone vote on everything?” “Is it a socialist idea?” What exactly is Freedom at Work? Is it a New England town hall meeting? Or, is it something akin to participatory management, in which some of the organization’s decision-making is shared with staff? Is it a kindly capitalism, gently exploiting labor?
Well, perhaps it is a mix of all that. A hybrid, then. But, it does have something else that sets it apart; the real Democratic Workplace (DW), in the right circumstances, gets results. It can be more productive, quantitatively, than the Hierarchy. (In my personal experience of freeing up a tradition-bound Hierarchy, in which I implemented many democratic ideas, we danced rings around our traditionally organized competitors. Other explorers of the DW report similar improvements.)
Let’s see if I can get it right: The Democratic Workplace includes elements of democracy (rule by people) more than do other systems of organization; it is an evolving hybrid (imagine two overlapping circles (Venn); the overlap is the hybrid; the DW is waxing, the Hierarchy waning) blending the elements of a less restrictive Hierarchy/Bureaucracy with the freedom of the DW. The DW relies heavily on individuals taking ownership of their work – thinking about what they do - and having the freedom to make decisions about their work (hence the improved productivity). The worker’s perspective is that of an owner, a manager. A DW worker has authority commensurate with his/her responsibility; motivation is internal.
The leader – yes, there is one – is of the unboss* variety.
What’s that? Well, someone that let’s go of the minutiae and empowers (gives power away) workers to accomplish goals, to get the job done. Someone that listens to worker ideas and says “Do it” more than “Don’t” – or she may say nothing since doing is preferred.
It is a work in progress,
it is the Gettysburg address, “…of the people, by the people, for the people ….",
It’s Lao Tzu
and Thoreau applied to where we work.
The DW hears the customer more clearly, listens better, than those agencies with the customer on the other side of the bulletproof glass. The DW customer/client/user is not the enemy; the DW has no monopolistic delusions; it is not OK to be unpleasant and uninviting.

OK, OK! Basta! How easy is it to implement?
A new organization can implement DW ideas more easily than can an old one.
There’s no template. Just like the hierarchy evolved over a couple hundred years, from a highly regimented bureaucracy to something far less so, a blend of Theories X ,Y and Z, it will take time - a lot of it - to introduce and refine elements, like “open books”, effective teams, and “egalitarian salaries” and to flatten the organization. The process speeds up once people see positive results. But, and this is a big but (hah!), the beneficiaries of the hierarchy will do all they can to sabotage the shift.
The organizational chart may change monthly; no one gets to stay in his or her spot for too long, including the unboss. Regular movement in the organization is encouraged, facilitated but not mandated. The goal is a mutually satisfactory balance of fulfilling the needs of the organization and of the individual. Neither is the slave of the other.
Work is as important as ever, even more so. It is understood that the organization must take in energy and resources to continue to thrive, to evolve, to avoid irrelevance. That’s nothing new.
The DWs S-shaped curve which depicts an organization’s life span is upward, not downward. You re-invent, adapt as necessary to survive and to excel.
There’s no blueprint to follow but the unboss and others have the idea, the vision of what it can be. The vision trusts in the overall notion that when people have similar interests and capabilities and are given authority and responsibility they will do better on their own, than under supervision. There’s no need for external motivation.
I have to say that no one has completed the entire puzzle – with all the pieces in place, the riddle solved. As a proponent (and a practitioner) of the DW I am aware that many DW ideas have been put into practice. Ideas like creating effective teams, setting your own salary, giving spending authority to project teams, working without managers, eliminating formal evaluation, and sharing the budget.
While the DW can be imagined as an orchestra without a conductor it is not without leadership or management. It is made up of musicians that want to understand a piece of music as well as the conductor and then interpret it as if they were playing the whole piece, not just their instrumental part. The musicians select the music, decide on the theme, and schedule the rehearsals.
The DW welcomes independent, critical thinking and action-taking followers; there are fewer "survivors", fewer of the alienated, fewer yes people, fewer sheep-like followers than in the Hierarchy.
DW staff steer away from the usual jealousies and infighting found in any group; there is more energy spent on producing and less spent on discussing.
The DW permits staff to help rather than hinder; it dispenses with jargon; it favors an easily understood language. If something is patently wrong, the DW permits – writ large -the wrong to be righted, without endless discussion. But, let’s keep in mind that the DW takes teamwork, it is not a maverick or a vehicle for pettiness or caprice, granting some favors, denying others. It does things with intelligence and awareness. If it errs, it self corrects. That intelligence emanates from the freedom enjoyed by its well-qualified staff, to do what is right. The law is obeyed; all else is open to question. We do not endanger, nor do we stymie just because someone has a need to officiate. The golden rule rules.

The DW is the worker who improves what he does without consulting the boss. Without having to get permission.
It is the worker who screws up and owns up to it and goes on to do a better job the next day, without fear of reprisal,.
If a worker is not performing well, then we find out why and try to do something about it. If there’s nothing that can be done, it is time for change, and not just for the “scapegoat” employee, as in the Hierarchy; if the worker is weak, the team leaders, the team, share the responsibility.
The DW recognizes that 95% of the staff do not need to be controlled.
The DW understands that 5% may need extra training and discipline, for legitimate reasons, not just for willful neglect or incompetence.
The DW expects great things of its staff and provides the resources for that to happen.
The DW is a “cool” place to work; it has a waiting list of applicants, all for the right reasons.
It’s not “dog eat dog,” it’s the dog under your desk.

*I first used – maybe even coined - the term unboss in my 2006 essay, “The Invisible Leader”, about the conductorless Orpheus Chamber Orchestra.

Tuesday’s Leading from the Middle Library: Saginaw Valley State University, 
Melvin J. Zahnow Library, University Center, Michigan, USA

If your library lacks a copy of Leading from the Middle it can be ordered here.

Copyright John Lubans 2014