Waiting for Wisdom

Posted by jlubans on September 28, 2020  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: Wise as Minerva, polyglot sardines.

I know a few wise people. Maybe two or three and one dog. No cats.
That small number doesn’t mean there are no other people (or dogs) who do smart things, who lead good lives. It’s just that the truly wise for me are few in number. The wise are not omniscient. Even they make mistakes, and my canine paragon chews on a dead gopher now and then.
Still, I aspire to be like those few but fall short much of the time and I am running out of time!
If that Jovian wisdom-imbuing bolt-out-of-the-blue is ever to strike it had better hurry up.
I find myself all too often in a decision-making rut, over reacting or under reacting.
The most I can hope for at this late stage is that the ratio of wise decisions vs. foolish ones is on the rise, however slight.
OK. What is wisdom?
What are wisdomly traits?
I’d include patience, kindness, humor, humility, and openness to other views.
The wise learn from errors but they don’t perseverate over failure; they move on and do a better job.
The wise are able to back away from a pet idea or answer. They don’t just ride a hunch, but knowingly believe there’s one way better than another.
But, the wise avoid clinging to that “one way” when there may be other ways to get to the same destination.
When I think of the truly wise, I believe they have an inner compass set to true north.
Yeah, I know “true north” sounds de rigueur but has little meaning for many of us.
More aptly, they seem to have an internal gyro compass that keeps them steady and out of dead-ends.
So, let’s say they are able to balance opposing views and make decisions based on an inner conviction of what’s important and what’s not.
The wise weigh consequences of decisions. While it may make fiscal sense to move a business to a place with low labor costs, the wise consider the multiple ramifications of such a move, not just profit. Perhaps there are other solutions besides joining a stampede to low cost places.
The wise are able to articulate of what they speak; that’s the inner conviction which keeps them cool under fire. It takes study and understanding.
Wisdom is more than luck, more than a flip of the coin that lands right.
Finally, the wise I know have a closeness to Nature, an awareness of forests and open fields, of sunrises and sunsets, and rain and wind and of other creatures besides man. Somehow, this link to Nature helps the wise person make techno/urban decisions.
In my wisdomly efforts, I’ve found time helpful. Not too much time but enough to cool off if agitated or un-nerved.
Then, I am best able to consider options.
Best of all, with enough time I can look for the real problem. Often, what I think is a problem is actually one superficial manifestation of the underlying problem.
I’d say we should avoid what is termed “conventional wisdom”. It isn’t either one.
I’ve come to believe that “putting one over” is not wisdom.
The Yankee horse trader who sells someone a lame horse may be canny and shrewd but it does not make him any less of a crook.
I try, whenever I think of it, to encourage wisdom with a conscious neutrality, asking for alternative views, and avoiding self-delusion.
The latter, especially is not easy to do.
I’ve often been one to go with my first idea. While occasionally the intuitive idea is good, it may well be skewed. When I slow down and rethink that impulse - burning to be put into action - I begin to see other approaches, other viewpoints. It’s akin to a written first draft, a second and third draft tends to get better.
All that said, waiting for wisdom may be like Beckett’s Waiting for Godot; Vladimir and Estragon loiter on.

Copyright all text John Lubans 2020


Posted by jlubans on September 17, 2020  •  Leave comment (0)


SEEING how a Bee was busying itself about a flower, an Eagle said to it, with disdain,
"How I pity thee, poor thing, with all thy toil and skill!
All through the summer, thousands of thy fellows are moulding honeycomb in the hive. But who will afterwards separate and distinguish the results of thy labour?
I must confess, I do not understand what pleasure thou canst take in it.
To labour all one's life, and to have in view—what?
Why, to die without having achieved distinction, exactly like all the rest.
What a difference there is between us!
When I spread my sounding pinions (wings), and am borne along near the clouds, I am everywhere a cause of alarm.
The birds do not dare to rise from the ground ; the shepherds fear to repose beside their well-fed flocks; and the swift does, having seen me, will not venture out into the plains."
But the Bee replies,
To thee be glory and honour!
May Jupiter continue to pour on thee his bounteous gifts!
I, however, born to work for the common good, do not seek to make my labour distinguished. But, when I look at our honeycombs, I am consoled by the thought that there are in them a few drops of my own honey."
Fortunate is he, the field of whose labour is conspicuous!
He gains added strength from the knowledge that the whole world witnesses his exploits.
But how deserving of respect is he who, in humble obscurity, hopes for neither fame nor honour in return for all his labour, for all his loss of rest —who is animated by this thought only, that he works for the common good!
Our bee is happy,
humble and content, he envies not the braggadocious eagle.
Many of us bloggers – under the long tail of the Internet (a scatological image, not?) – labor away likewise. Someone said, never have so many written so much to be read by so few (for free.)
Well, I’m not as gruntled or diffident as the collaborative bee; indeed, I am disgruntled by the congestion in the beehive of the Interne.
A bit like being in a traffic jam and sticking my head out the window, hollering: “Why the hell aren’t all you idiots home?”
I remember the Internet’s pre-congestion days of the 1990s, when every blog or web page had some kind of welcome and following. Of course, it was all a novelty back then.
Most of those early web pages are a now like burned out satellites circling the earth.
That said, while I know how to get more traffic to the blog, I really do not want to.
I eschew ginning up controversy to attract eyeballs. Nor do I want to promote beyond the little broadcasting I already do. I could pay to advertise, but why?
So, like the bee, I write this blog largely for myself and for the occasional reader who might enjoy something (the bee’s own drops of honey) I’ve written for the “common good”.

*Source: Krilof and his fables, by Krylov, Ivan Andreevich, 1768-1844; Ralston, William Ralston Shedden, 1828-1889. Tr. London, 1869.

2020 Copyright All text. John Lubans

Gluten Free Management* - The Neo-Boss

Posted by jlubans on September 12, 2020  •  Leave comment (0)


We’ve all seen products labeled “Gluten Free”. If you are among the 1% that suffers from celiac disease, you pay special attention.
Interestingly, it’s a magical phrase for about 30 percent of gluten-tolerant American adults. They believe in their hearts – without any evidence - gluten free is better for the world and them.
For example, my daughter’s laundry detergent proclaims to be Gluten Free! Some vodkas now claim gluten freeness! – thing is, vodka never had gluten.
Ditto for Olive oil. Butter. Cranberries, Milk. Garden hoses.
Perhaps there is more to the label than just a marketing profit motive. Are those consumers spotted in the gluten free aisle more with it than the rest of us?
Of course, managers do not have Gluten Free emblazoned across the shoulders in three-inch letters.
My use of the term applies to how managers act, how they behave.
When a manager is gluten free, what replaces the “gluten”?
When something is declared sugar-free, the replacement is usually a cloying chemical sweetener.
When a product heralds itself fat-free, what’s the replacement? Among other ingredients, a large scoop or two of sugar.
For my GFs, the replacement may be slogans over substance. And, the GF orthodoxy may be made up of taboos, indefinite stereotypes and unproven assertions.
But, conforming to what others want may require lying to yourself.
And, if you side with one segment – really a clique - you may alienate a much larger group.
Remember that there are some 70% of people who don’t habituate the gluten free aisle.
Of course, one solution is to hire only the wokest staff; but doing so is certain to limit diversity of thought. (Did I just hear the woke transgression alarm go off?)
To help clarify what I mean by gluten free management, here are some traits and indicators:
When pushed, GFs go along.
GFs are “woke” and intolerant of those less so.
GFs’ on-the-job decisions are knowingly influenced by one-sided societal and political thought.
GFs, being aggrieved about one thing of another, tend toward the humorless.
Some argue that this mind set leads to sweetness and light, but GFs operate in a climate of fear. Contrarian ideas are eschewed and those with differing opinions are crushed.
Such a climate requires the GF ever to be on the qui vive for shifts in what’s woke and what’s not.
Hardly an enviable position for the new manager.
Is it reversible? Only if senior leadership has the courage to offer guidance away from bias.
The trapped, unwoke manager, stuck in the gluten free aisle, can only hunker down, work hard and hope for the pendulum to swing toward a more open and diverse work environment.

*While my use of the term Gluten Free Management may be new, the condition is not. However, it’s been exacerbated of late. If past generations sought to drive out fear in the work place, that fear of being out of step, of being censored for contrarian views, is once again ascendant.

Text Copyright 2020 John Lubans

What I Would Do Differently, #2

Posted by jlubans on September 08, 2020  •  Leave comment (0)


This is the second essay on rethinking something in my 40-year career that either failed or went well. Failure is ahead by two!
Today’s reflection is about a large-scale project. It was a group effort developed within my administrative area to provide new students with a thorough orientation to a research library. We were evangelically committed to the concept, and we had the enthusiastic support of the head of the English department. He proclaimed he was in, boots and all!
Ours was an early and ambitious effort among research libraries at teaching two thousand freshmen research skills, ones they would need– we were convinced – to be successful university students.
Our program would give each student 3 class hours of in-person instruction.
We were a platoon of public services librarians, on a righteous mission to do good.
Our planning team was high energy, creative, unafraid to take on this Herculean task.
But, in the first of the 3 classroom segments, we began to see disconcerting behaviors - tardiness, reading of newspapers, talking, etc. - among the students.
Well, the grape vine had it that the Teaching Assistants (TAs) were not on board. They’d been pretty much ordered by the department head to do it.
No doubt the students were picking up on the instructors’ unhappiness; some TAs probably were not above sabotage.
By the third and last class, the head of the English department had capitulated to the mutiny and declared the class was no longer mandatory; it was now up to each student to be there or not.
When I announced this to my section of 30 students, all but one gathered their things and rushed for the door.
The remaining one was asleep; when I roused him and explained to him the new deal, he yawned and exited wordlessly.
So, what would I have done differently?
Obviously, I’d involve a cadre of the English TAs – all graduate students – in the planning!
Also, we would include a few freshmen in the design.
And, we’d make a much greater effort to fight group think – we were apostolically like-minded in wanting students to learn how to be independent library users. Why would anyone not want that?
Our task force should have developed worst-case scenarios and what to do.
In one of our early planning meetings, one of our quietest participants spoke up; she said we might encounter resistance from the TAs.
While I well remember that small voice, at the time I paid little attention. I, as the leader, should have stopped and asked her to elaborate. Sometimes the devil’s advocate might be the quietest person on your team.
And, at the bitter end, we should have done an AAR (after actions review) to better understand the why. This AAR would include any TAs willing to explain their viewpoint.
Instead of discussing what went wrong, we licked our wounds and went on with other efforts, mostly away from large group instruction.
Some of us blamed the department head for caving to the TAs, but that was not fair.
We did offer another large-scale orientation for freshmen, a scavenger hunt. Several cases of beer probably had something to do with its success!
Subconsciously, I am sure the failed partnership with the English Department shaped future efforts for the better.
A subsequent very successful teaching program became pretty much the model for effective collaborations between teaching departments and college libraries. It was the pairing of subject librarians with instructors in various disciplines at the point when students were writing research papers for a specific class.
That’s about it.
In retrospect, all obvious lessons; the foremost is to involve clients in any project dependent on them.
Diversity trainers take note!
Be suspicious of virtue, when you think you’ve cornered the market, you’re on your way to disaster.

Copyright 2020 John Lubans

What I Would Do Differently, #1.

Posted by jlubans on September 03, 2020  •  Leave comment (0)


Caption: Yours 40 years later (courtesy of a WSJ app)

From time to time I will write about some past event which I would do differently – this is the first installment.
These reflections will come after a 40-year career in higher education (teaching and administration). Some, like this first case, will be based upon a failure. Others will be based upon successes.
I won’t bore you with personal life-decisions I’d do-over.
I will just bore you with things I would have done differently at work!
Why? Well, since I still teach management topics this is a constructive way for me to reflect. And, maybe a reader will find something of value for how she or he leads.
So here goes.
Numero Uno was a project, long unrequited.
Simply put, we had two different ways of labeling files. The new way one had about 3 million files (more recent and most used) in it and the old one (less used) had 1 million.
Some wanted to reconcile the two systems.
Others saw little value in doing this because, besides the work being redundant, there were several other ways to find any desired old or new file.
However influential clients mounted a persistent campaign and were adamantly convinced about merging the two sets of files.
I was charged with chairing a team as to whether to do this merger and what the costs might be.
We never got much past the best guessing phase.
The end result was that our (probably skewed) estimate of the high costs of changing labels prevailed. The pro-relabeling forces folded their tents and went off to brood some more.
While conclusive for one side, the recommendation did not assuage those believing a merger was essential
How would I do it differently? In several ways:
Borrowing from the military and business, I would appoint red and blue teams. Each would argue factually their side of the problem. To merge or not to merge.
Of course, this would also require our stating what the real problem was. Indeed, was it a problem? And, if so, just how large was it.
The evidence was pretty much only complaints claiming that having two systems inconvenienced some and somehow did not provide “good optics” of a modern organization. If one were a fuss budget, then this was something to fuss about.
We needed to get past the emotion and absolute certainty on each side of the issue.
I would include in the exploration team a few of the staff closest to the work, not just the supervisors.
I’d also try to find out via focus groups what it was the pro re-label faction wanted and why.
Once we had some conclusions to offer, I would lead a robust after action review (AAR) to make sure we were on the right track.
Another different approach would be to jump in feet first and do a large sample and actually re-label 1000 of the old files.
Doing so, would get at underlying complexities and the true costs – perhaps they would be far less than what we guessed they might be.
None of this re-label work would be wasted since the newly re-labeled would go into the new label side. And we would have a much firmer idea of how to do this project, if and when decided, and what the most effective procedure would be.
While not a new approach of doing the work, I’d use the opportunity to leverage a quid pro quo from the re-labeling advocates.
The same clients agitating for a merged system were largely opposed to storing files off-site. Perhaps if we agreed to re-label the most heavily used (all files had records of use) and store the least used, the opposition might go along not only in reducing the size of the re-label project but also getting them to be a bit more positive toward the use of off-site storage.
That might have been an acceptable trade off.
Probably the ratio would be around 60% for storage while the remaining 400,000 could be relabeled and merged with the new system; I’d be happy with 50/50.
Doing so, we would gain badly needed on-site space and reduce substantially the redundant and other work required by a re-labeling process.
In any case, the more we showed a full faith and inclusive effort to study the problem, the more trust we could between the two factions.
But, as happens in traditional organizations like bureaucracies, reason does not always prevail.
As it turned out, in a few years, many of the old and new labels would be replaced with barcodes linked to e-records for off site storage.

Copyright John Lubans 2020