Posted by jlubans on October 28, 2016  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: The Martyr in the Kitchen by CLYDE J. NEWMAN, 1899.

“Once in a Country Town there was a Man with a Weak Back. He could put a Grindstone into a Farm Wagon if any one wanted to bet him the Segars, but every time he lifted an Ax, something caught him right in the Spine and he had to go into the House and lie down. So his Wife took Boarders and did the Cooking herself.
He was willing to divide the Labor, however; so he did the Marketing. Only, when he had bought the Victuals, he would squat on a Shoe-Box with the Basket between his Legs and say that he couldn't see what Congress wuz thinkin' of.
He had certain Theories in regard to the Alaskan Boundary and he was against any Anglo-American Alliance becuz Uncle Sam could take care of himself at any Turn in the Road, comin' right down to it, and the American People wuz superior to any other Naytionality in every Way, Shape, Manner and Form, as fur as that's concerned. Then his Wife would have to send Word for him to come on with the Groceries so she could get Dinner. Nearly Everybody Sympathized with her, because she had to put up with such a big Hulk of a no-account Husband. She was looked upon as a Martyr.
One Day the Husband was Sunstruck, being too Lazy to move into the Shade, and next Day he Passed Away without an Effort. The Widow gave him the best Funeral of the Year and then put all the Money she could rake and scrape into a Marble Shaft marked ‘At Rest.’
A good many People said she was Better Off without him, and it was certainly a Good Riddance of Bad Rubbish.
They hoped that if she ever Married again she'd pick out Somebody that wuzn't afraid to Work, and had Gumption enough to pound Sand into a Rat-Hole.
There was General Satisfaction when she became the Wife of Mr. Gladden, who owned the General Store. He built a new House, hired a Girl and had the Washing sent out. She could go into the Store and pick out Anything she wanted, and he took her riding in his new Runabout every Evening.
Consequently, she was very Miserable, thinking of the Jewel she had lost.

Moral: “If the Woman thinks he's All Right, you keep on your own Side of the Fence.”
Why does this remi
nd me of ye olde phrase, “one man’s pleasure is another man’s poison”?
And, I am reminded of when out of the blue someone comes up to me, say at a “meet and greet”, and begins to praise a mutual acquaintance. A paragon, a "Jewel" to the one oozing forth. To me, the exalted individual is naught but a prissy fuss-budget.
Well, like those domestic disputes the police find themselves in, beware the frying pan in the spouse’s hand does not hammer you – the peace officer - when the abusive partner is taken off to dry out.

*Source: George Ade. “Fables in Slang.”

For more about George Ade, see one of my first posts of his fables.

© Copyright John Lubans 2016

The Callous vs. the Empathetic; Markings along the Road

Posted by jlubans on October 25, 2016  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: Jerk Highway

On the heels of my most recent venture into the jerk domain –many of us own property there - I was taken with a headline, “Baltics have the least empathetic people in the world.”
Naturally, being a Balt (Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania make up the Baltics) I was interested in how we earned that dubious distinction! (Caution: while one can find un-empathetic behavior all over northern Europe, I’ve also experienced unparalleled kindness.)
Is one’s empathy a measure of one’s jerkitude? While we all have an idea of what a jerk is, we do not all agree on a definition.
The empathy article not only lists out the good, the bad and the ugly** but also gives us a working definition of empathy.
That’s the “tendency to be psychologically in tune with others’ feelings and perspectives.” In other words, we all have “tendencies to feel concern and compassion for others” but some of us are more so inclined than others. It is in our DNA.
Empathy also includes the tendency and capacity “to imagine different viewpoints beyond one’s own.” That, of course, is highly relevant to the workplace when groups seek best solutions from among divergent, competing views.
You may recall that Schwitzgebel defines the jerk as
“ignorant of the value of others, ignorant of the merit of their ideas and plans, dismissive of their desires and beliefs, unforgiving of their perceived inferiority.” That sounds like a failing grade on the empathy scoreboard.
The empathy researchers made use of the “Big Five” personality traits to help determine national levels of empathy.
The big five as defined in the paper:
1. “Openness to experience is the degree to which people are imaginative, creative, tolerant, and introspective.”
2. “Conscientiousness is the tendency toward being reliable, organized, and dutiful.”
3. “Extraversion is a tendency toward activity, assertiveness, and talkativeness.”
4. “Agreeableness is the degree to which people are kind, gentle, and generous.”
5. “Neuroticism (vs. Emotional Stability) is the degree to which people regularly experience negative affect such as irritability, depression, and anxiety.”
Can we say with certainty that jerks score poorly on the Big Five? Probably not, but let’s ask the jerks we know:
1. Openness to experience. (A jerk responds: “Of course I am creative, imaginative! Maybe I am intolerant but then I am surrounded by bozos.”
2. Conscientiousness. Jerk: “You bet! I am more responsible than anyone on this team and I do a better job.”
3. Extraversion. Jerk. “Look, I like to get the job done. The less talk the better. So yes, I can have a low score here but only for the right reasons; I do not waste time in idle chatter.”
4.. Agreeableness. Jerk: “Am I considerate and kind? Of course, but only up to a point. I have high expectations so I don’t suffer fools gladly.”
5. Neuroticism. Jerk: “Well you’ve got me on that one, but it is not my fault. I am surrounded by the inept and the incompetent; more than enough to spoil my day. It’s what happens when you have to work with jerks.”
So where does that leave us? At the end of my story about the Estonian angel a reader offers a suggestion for those of us wanting to be less jerkish and more emphathetic: “I have always thought and lived by the rule that kindness (of any kind) is life's greatest wisdom! A family saying in our house growing up was: an error in kindness (even if you do the wrong thing trying to help) is NEVER an error. The other idea is to reciprocate received kindness, ‘Pass it on.’"

*Source: William J. Chopik, et al.
Differences in Empathic Concern and Perspective Taking Across 63 Countries” Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology October 14, 2016

**Countries with the highest empathy: Ecuador, Saudi Arabia, Peru, Denmark, and the United Arab Emirates! (Emphasis added.)
Least empathetic countries: Lithuania, Venezuela, Estonia, Poland, and Bulgaria.
It is interesting to note that the members of the Low Five were or is ruled by a totalitarian, communist system. The researchers, for whatever reason, do not consider the cumulative effect of totalitarianism on a nation’s psyche and empathy. Fear of speaking out makes one circumspect, and inhibits reaching out to others. Make no eye contact with strangers; you mind your own business, lest someone mind yours.
The Baltics became democratic republics (again!) between 1989 and 91; believe me, the effects of a brutal regime linger long after the last KGB interrogator drops dead in his dacha.

© Copyright John Lubans 2016

Friday Fable. Sir Roger L'Estrange’s “AN ANT FORMERLY A MAN”*

Posted by jlubans on October 21, 2016  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: Jupiter’s Ant, still filching.

“The Ant, or Pismire, was formerly a Husband-man, that secretly Filch'd away his Neighbour's Goods and Corn, and stor'd up all in his own Barn. He drew a General Curse upon his Head for't, and Jupiter as a Punishment, and for the Credit of Mankind, turn'd him into a Pismire; but this Change of Shape wrought no Alteration, either of Mind, or of Manners; for he keeps the same Humour and Nature to this very Day.”

“THE MORAL. That which Some call Good Husbandry, Industry and Providence, Others call Raking, Avarice, and Oppression: So that the Vertue and the Vice, in many Cases, are hardly Distinguishable but by the Name.”

Once more, we meet our friend the ant.
This time in a far less favorable light than the industrious ants in the illustration; they, of course, slam the door on the fiddling grasshopper, leaving him to perish in the wintry wind.
And, so it can be at work. How?
There’s the manager who knows all the rules and reasons not to break them (a form of Raking, if you will) vs. someone who cares less for rules than assuring customers are well served.
Colleen C. Barrett, President Emeritus at Southwest, calls this “leaning toward the customer” vs. leaning away. She told me she was much more likely to forgive a mistake when the agent was leaning toward the customer. Saying that, Colleen was giving permission to break rules when a situation required it – to do what was right - rather than maintaining the rules no matter what.
How many times have I run into workers who have a great idea for improving their work but it is denied because the idea challenges the “way we’ve always done it”? Hence, “the Vertue and the Vice, in many Cases, are hardly Distinguishable”.

*Source: Aesop’s Fables translated by Sir Roger L'Estrange, 1692.

© Copyright John Lubans 2016

End of the Line

Posted by jlubans on October 18, 2016  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: What organizational entropy can look like.

I’m thinking of using this photo – one I took this month at Opal Creek* – for a Democratic Workplace class discussion on organizational theory.
The picture is what’s left of a lumber mill*. Dozens of people worked here. Given the wild, mountainous location, people likely lived here and may have had families along with them.
Probably there was a dining hall. There were loggers and supervisors and mechanics and other specialists to keep the mill and its gear running. And, there had to be drivers and trucks to haul in supplies and haul out the massive loads of lumber taken from old growth stands, some towering trees harkening back 1000 years.
For me, the scene suggests these folksy metaphors:
End of the road
The wheels coming off
Going off the rails
The end of the line
All done in
Terminal, as in Termination.
Out of Business (OOB)

Maybe the students will come up with similar metaphors, maybe something to do with applying steampunk theory to the workplace.
I’ll introduce the topic with a bit of organizational system’s theory; notions of equifinality, homeostasis equilibrium, and so on.
I hope they’ll consider an important aspect of an organization’s life: it’s imminent death and how to avoid it. The thermodynamic term of entropy is an important aspect of organizational theory. Entropy suggests, as does the picture, that there can be an end to it all, a flying apart of an organization (a nation, a business, a family) as it uses up its energy. I’d like for the students to think about what might delay a group’s demise. We know that the importation of energy (ideas, money, resources, customers) is essential to sustaining a system. What else might keep a system going?
Relate this photo to organizations you know. What comes to mind? What happened to the people (ancient and contemporary) that were on this land, who walked amongst these trees? What does this scene say to you? How does this apply to our class, the Democratic Workplace?

*The Merten Mill – the site of this photo - was a working lumber mill for a short span during America’s Depression, and came to grief (literally going off the rails) when two of the mill’s lumber trucks tumbled off the canyon road. Fortunately, tree huggers and lumberjacks compromised, sort of, so that this area is now protected as a 35,000-acre ancient forest watershed called the Opal Creek Wilderness and Scenic Recreation Area in the state of Oregon in America’s Pacific Northwest.

© Copyright John Lubans 2016

Friday Fable. Abstemius’ “A Bear and Bees”*

Posted by jlubans on October 14, 2016  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption. Illustration by Ernest Griset, 1869.

“A Bear was so enrag'd once at the Stinging of a Bee, that he ran like mad into the Bee-Garden, and over-turn'd all the Hives in revenge. This Outrage brought them out in whole Troops upon him; and he came afterwards to bethink himself, how much more advisable it had been to pass over one Injury, than by an unprofitable Passion to provoke a Thousand.”

“Better pass over an Affront from one Scoundrel, than draw the whole Herd of the Mobile** about a Man's Ears.”

Griset’s enraged bear moves me to repeat this; it first appeared here in 2013. I cannot imagine a more evocative drawing of the damage inflicted by the bees on one highly agitated bear. Along with the new illustration the rendering of the fable is different from 2013. This time it is by Abstemius, librarian to Duke Guido Ubaldo, circa 1500 and the translation is by the redoubtable Sir Roger L’Estrange, 1692.
This fable’s moral offers wise counsel to leaders and followers, at home, in the military, in the workplace, and for any executive level office holder. Don’t overreact.
Back in 2013 I concluded: So, let’s break this cycle; move the nest far up into a tree hollow. If the bear wants honey, he’ll have to climb for it.
At work, if we are in a predictable negative cycle, stop and ask why. Then move to change the circumstances. If it’s due to a lack of support for some service, get the necessary support. Or, drop the service.

*Source: Aesop’s Fables translated by Sir Roger L'Estrange, 1692.

**Mobile, my guess, is not a medieval phone but a lengthier version of today’s mob, as in the mob protested the loss of the football game by tearing up the stadium seats and breaking into the Doritos storage shed.

© Copyright John Lubans 2016

Fifty Shades of Jerkiness

Posted by jlubans on October 11, 2016  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: Where one goes for rehab.

Sometime ago, the Media Lab at MIT worked on something called the Jerk-O-Meter app. No, it was not something to alert a jerk for talking too loudly on his cell phone, or to screech at someone’s rudeness in taking a phone call in the middle of a tête-à-tête.
No, too bad, nothing like that. Rather the J-O-M was to listen in on your yakking with someone and to signal whether you (and eventually the person at the other end) were paying attention to the conversation. The app would message you: "Stop being a jerk!" or "Wow, you're a smooth talker!" depending on your degree of jerkitude.
Alas, the J-O-M never lifted off. However, some progress is been made in understanding jerkiness, jerkitude, or how jerks come into being.
This is not a new topic for me:
Of Jerks, Bozos, Dorks, Fatheads, Nincompoops, Dunderheads, Twerps, Bamboozlers, Fakers, Hornswogglers, et al.”
Genius and/or "Competent Jerk"?
Gender in the Workplace: Getting to Effective Teamwork
Weird at Work.
Just revisiting the topic populates my mind with instances of jerk behavior. Indeed, under some circumstances, I’m the jerk.
But, usually it is other people’s jerkiness that I sputter about.
I can rattle off example after example, as can the reader:
- My directional question – in English - being dismissed in rapid incomprehensible Italian at the Milan train station’s Information kiosk.
- The Dean of a University office lambasting me on his speakerphone in front of his students.
- To show that widespread jerkiness can be ameliorated, there’s the NY subway stationmaster colorfully cursing me, a clueless out-of-towner, for asking about the subway fare. Since NYC’s near bankruptcy, the subway staff almost always respond in helpful and courteous ways and never with a muttered, “Go to hell!”
Whence jerkitude? What motivates, inspires the jerks among us? One’s jerk may be a hero to another. Some celebrate the political bureaucrat who undermines an opposing faction's effort.
And, the jerk who “Destroys People’s Selfie Sticks with a Branch Cutter in NYC” (if not a phony story) might be viewed as a quixotic hero by many.
One researcher is exploring the topic, getting to the source of what is defined, vulgarly, by the Oxford Dictionaries’ as a “dickhead”. In other words, “a stupid, irritating, or ridiculous person, particularly a man.” Hmm, why are jerks often men?
In two articles, the researcher Eric Schwitzgebel guides us to a better understanding of jerkiness. His articles explore the finer points:
A theory of jerks: Are you surrounded by fools? Are you the only reasonable person around? Then maybe you’re the one with the jerkitude.”
And, “How to Tell If You’re a Jerk: If you think everyone around you is terrible, the joke may be on you.”
Dr. Schwitzgebel suggests there is a jerkiness continuum; the extreme jerk at one end and the sweetheart at the other. Where are you on the continuum?
His definition: “To be a jerk is to be ignorant in a certain way—ignorant of the value of others, ignorant of the merit of their ideas and plans, dismissive of their desires and beliefs, unforgiving of their perceived inferiority."
As for the sweetheart: “… habitually alert to the needs and interests of others, solicitous of others’ thoughts and preferences, liable in cases of conflict to suspect that the fault might lie with them rather than with the other party.”
It comes down to this, your regard for others. “It is your basic moral comportment toward the people around you.” The jerk has zero or low regard and the sweetheart has 95% or more. Perhaps it’s something to do with a deficiency in EQ, emotional intelligence? A certified jerk may be unwilling or even unable to see his/her jerkiness. “What? Me a jerk? Never!”
So, how do you, a wise leader, deal with jerkitude? More on that later. How I dealt or did not deal with jerks in the workplace.

© Copyright John Lubans 2016

Friday Fable: H. Belloc’s “The Frog”*

Posted by jlubans on October 07, 2016  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: Illustration by B. T. B. (Basil Temple Blackwood), 1896.

“Be kind and tender to the Frog,
And do not call him names,
As 'Slimy skin,' or 'Polly-wog,'
Or likewise 'Ugly James,'
Or 'Gap-a-grin,' or 'Toad-gone-wrong,'
Or 'Bill Bandy-knees':
The Frog is justly sensitive
To epithets like these.
No animal will more repay
A treatment kind and fair;
At least so lonely people say
Who keep a frog (and, by the way,
They are extremely rare).
Oh! My!”
Pursuant to last week’s Friday Fable, THE BOYS AND THE FROGS”,
Belloc’s poem is more than a little apropos. Why? Belloc was a declared anti-Semite. If I “read between the lines”, so to speak, I can well believe that Mr. Belloc is pooh-poohing the name calling of any species, be it frogs or people we do not like.
Unlike last week’s lessons of kindness and tolerance, Mr. Belloc insinuates that insulting frogs is no big deal.
I suggest the reader take the poem literally. All of us are sensitive flowers; so, be kind, be gentle, offer no insults. Respect the frog; besides, he or she might be a prince or princess.

*Source: The Bad Child's Book Of Beasts (1896) by Hilaire Belloc

© Copyright John Lubans 2016

Weird at Work (again).

Posted by jlubans on October 04, 2016  •  Leave comment (0)

In doing research for an upcoming blog on Jerks, Jerkitude, and the Jerk-O-Meter, I revisited a blog from last year, “Weird at Work”. Here it is again.
Caption: Time deliquescent. Section from Salvador Dali’s* “Persistence of Memory” 1931.

“Weird is good”, says Suzi McAlpine, a leadership coach, in a recent article. Her subtitle: “Why dissonance fosters innovation”.
She proposes that instead of rejecting that which strikes us as weird, we try to understand its meaning and why it effects us the way it does. That acceptance and reflection may result in indirect solutions to problems or inspire us to move in another direction, away from the same old, same old way of doing something.
She provides an example, “The Rite of Spring” ballet. When first performed, it was so upsetting, so weird, that half the Paris audience threw vegetables at the orchestra and shoved and punched those who disagreed with their opinion. Figuratively, I see something similar occurring whenever an organization of people confronts radical change. The Rite was different yes, and only a few – if any - knew they were part of a wrenching separation from the past to the modern. “(For) many who saw it on that balmy evening a century ago, it was nothing short of scandalous.” A hundred years later, at the anniversary performance in the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées - the same theater in which it was first performed - one critic anticipated the audience will “convene to celebrate ‘one of the great aesthetic monuments of Western art — completely assured, startlingly original, brutal, tender, and altogether wonderful.’"
Well, ever the contrarian, I have to ask what’s happened to make this audience more accepting of what was “weird” a century ago; how did this audience move from denial and refusal to being demure and appreciative? Or, is the audience – we - any better now in dealing with change? Or does change so different, so weird, require a century before it is seen as something other than "puerile barbarity"?
I doubt that Ms. McAlpine is suggesting that simply courting weirdness is an “open Sesame” to a new way of looking at things. Some weird is best ignored – the bare chested man in the city park with the snake coiled around his neck is just what he is – there’s little there to inspire creativity, more likely creepiness.
Now that’s not what I would say about the depicted Salvador Dali’s art. While Dali exploited shock and awe as effectively as any artist in his lifetime, his genuine art did change our perspective, and I would suggest in a largely positive way. McAlpine’s point I think is that we need to be sensitive as to why we are repelled by the weird and try to move past the initial response – like the knee jerk violence of those music fans at the first performance of The Rite – to a greater understanding and appreciation for what is happening and why. The challenge is knowing when to accept and reflect since some weird is just weird, just like some radical change ideas are delusional. A metric I use is whether the outcome from a revised perspective will result – in organizational speak – in better customer service and greater productivity. Doing something so that the staff feels better about their jobs – with no tangible improvement - is not worth doing.
Some readers might say I am no stranger to weird. Yes, I am happy to go with the eccentric any day vs. staying in the safety zone, in the comfort zone. Leaving the safety zone, accepting the unknown, has often resulted in highly positive results.
Most of my essays, training workshops, and teaching incorporate the “strange”. That can backfire, as one dis-satisfied participant in a Texas team-building workshop let me have it with both barrels. I had the group do something with balloons and several in the group were not following the rules, but no one, including me (deliberately), was calling the presumably unethical behavior. The disgruntled participant upbraided me later and demanded why I did nothing about the cheating. She signed herself a “Tall Texan.” No doubt she saw me as little more than a “burbling pixie”** since I failed in her eyes to repair years of dysfunction in this organization in my 7 hour workshop. What she saw was weird to her. More weird to me was her not calling what she saw as chronic cheating, not only in the workshop, but, as she explained to me, throughout the organization. A little reflection on her part might have resulted (from this weird little game) in the organization’s first-time-ever honest discussion about its ethics.
I rely on experiential learning to explain and augment leadership, management, and teamwork concepts. I am among a very few teachers of management in library schools to use experiential activities. Certainly, many use team projects but I know of no one else who uses group activities, at least not to the extent I do.
I’ve culled and adapted my problem-solving adventure “initiatives” from the many “new games” created dating from the 60s: Egg Drop, Bibliofoon (now Book Chain), Mirage, Pyramid, and Frenzied Fun and Facts.
Each of these activities can be done and discussed inside 30 - 40 minutes. (A note of caution: these require space and movement. And these activities are often “strange”, even weird, in a university culture that is hard-wired for lectures and textbooks under a highly formal relationship between student and professor.)
The value is to be found in the “debrief” following each activity; that’s where we overcome the “weird”. Step by step we look at the activity and what happened; then we explore “What I learned about myself and the group during the activity”; and, finally I try to get answers to this question: “What will I use/apply personally from what I did and saw?” As these types of teaching/learning experiences are new and fun (and weird for a few like the Tall Texan), it is important to emphasize the learnings, to allow students time to think, reflect, and discuss what has been learned. That’s how the weird becomes less off-putting and more familiar so that personal lessons can be learned.

*Caption: Maestro of weird

**A denigrating appellation assigned to P. G. Wodehouse, by an un-amused critic of “serious” literature. Wodehouse, perhaps the greatest humorist writer of the 20th Century, used the “burbling pixie” to good effect in contrasting the two genres and ridiculing the critic’s pettiness.

© Copyright John Lubans 2015 & 2016