“Making a flop a success”

Posted by jlubans on March 28, 2023  •  Leave comment (0)


Olympic gold medalist, Dick Fosbury, whom I blogged about (see below)
back in October of 2018, died on March 12, 2023 in Idaho, a state next door to Oregon, his home state.
His flop changed high jump techniques forever and is now used by almost every competitive high jumper. Even the questionable world record leap by Javier Sotomayor in 1993 of an astonishing 8 ft and 4 inches (2.45 meters) used the flop.
Mr. Fosbury was an engineering graduate of Oregon State University in Corvallis which makes him a “Beaver” and not a “Duck”.
This is noteworthy, at least in America's Pacific North West, since Eugene OR is the home of world-famous track teams, runners and events at the University of Oregon, aka the “Ducks”.
The rivalry between the Ducks and Beavers is legion, as they say.
Obviously, Mr. Fosbury's choosing OSU over OU shows he marched to the “beat of a different drummer” - a contrarian after my own heart - and led his life his own way.
And, his contrarian-mindedness (aka "lateral thinking") should be of comfort to those of us in the workplace – far from the sports arena - who sometimes find ourselves confounded with “group think” and antiquated tradition.
One writer suggests, when stymied, ask yourself: “What would Fosbury do?” Think laterally!

From October 2018:
Caption: Contrarian Jumping Horse by Peter Baldus

Less than a week ago, NPR marked the 50th anniversary of Dick Fosbury’s win in the high jump at the Mexico City Olympics.
What was remarkable then was this young man from Oregon using a move now immortalized as the Fosbury Flop.
As the NPR headline cleverly has it: He “turned his back on the bar and made a flop a success”.
Well, actually unlike the German cartoon with the horse launching backwards, Fosbury still faced the jump, approached it face on and then torqued his body so that he flew over with his back to the bar.
I’d say clearing 7 feet 4 inches and a quarter is a bit like flying.
Fosbury’s story offers all of us a lesson in contrarian thinking.
Few if any coaches believed his technique could work, yet he persisted because he believed going backwards, and lifting his hips, would help him clear the bar.
Now, for almost all subsequent high jumpers, the “only way forward was to go backwards.”

© Copyright text John Lubans 2018 and 2023


Posted by jlubans on March 22, 2023  •  Leave comment (0)

No Caption
"(Why) are you running so fast, gossip, without ever looking back?" a Marmot asked a Fox.
"Oh, my friend, my dear gossip, I have had a calumnious accusation brought against me, and I have been dismissed as an extortioner.
You know, I was the judge of the poultry yard.
In that position I lost my health and my peace of mind.
From the press of business, I never had time to get a comfortable meal, and at nights I could not sleep soundly.
And now, in return for this, I have incurred the wrath of my employers, and all on account of a calumny.
Only just think ‘Who in the world shall be without reproach’, if calumnies are listened to?
I, an extortioner!
Do they suppose I've gone out of my mind?
Now, I appeal to you, have you ever seen that I took part in that wickedness?
Think the matter over; reflect on it well."
“No, gossip, no; but I have often remarked that there was some down on your muzzle.” (Emphasis added)

Krylov explains: Many an official complains that he is forced to spend every ruble he has; and all the town knows that, originally, he had nothing, and that he got nothing with his wife.
But see! little by little he builds a house; he buys an estate. Now, in what manner can you reconcile his salary with his
Although you can prove nothing against him legally, yet you will not be committing a sin if you say, "That fellow has down on his muzzle."
And, I, your dear gossip, will add to those downy muzzles most assuredly some of our politicians, once penniless, now millionaires several times over.
Pontificate a time or two and pick up several hundred thousand dollars.
Allow your name to decorate an university advisory board and, voila!, another million zips into your bank account.
Or, listen eagerly while you are on a financial committee and share a little information with your stock broker – you know, a winking hint or two over drinks (or a joint) about what stock is likely to go boom after pending legislation.
And so on.
Not to mention those delightful intangibles of zero interest loans and fun-filled weeks, all expenses paid, in Bali.

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

My un-downy muzzled book, Fables for Leaders, is available. Click on the image and order up!

And, don’t forget Lubans' book on democratic workplaces,
Buy here.

© Copyright commentary by John Lubans 2023

“Servants of the Letter”

Posted by jlubans on March 14, 2023  •  Leave comment (0)


Latvia’s Prime Minister Krišjānis Kariņš recently said something that brought to mind the long slogs I sometimes had as a manager trying to improve an organization’s productivity.
To quote the report about what Mr. Kariņš said, “Latvian society should stop being ‘servants of the letter’* (implying following bureaucratic rules even in extraordinary situations)”
Most of my career was spent in university research libraries. Many, no surprise, will claim the campus is a bastion of liberty, innovation, and progressive thought.
Well, not always.
When it comes to change - especially territorial - the faculty and staff often respond in orthodox and fogey-ish ways, just like what you’d expect in any bureaucracy.
Hence, any effort to cut through the cherished red tape becomes a Herculean task.
Let me illustrate Kariņš concerns with a personal, multi-faceted example:
My father, upon my mother’s death, inherited her Latvian farm.
After Latvia’s independence in 1991, he went about reclaiming the farm which had been confiscated by the Soviets in the mid 1940s.
During the Soviet era, the farm - around 170 acres - had been collectivized and turned into a dairy.
After independence the farm was abandoned; a tumbledown, desolate version of what it had been when my mother grew up there.
It had been stripped of everything of value and the original farm house and barns and fences all were gone.
What remained were two or three roof-less, door-less and window-less dilapidated concrete structures, presumably of what had been the dairy.
My father petitioned to reclaim the property; he followed the process to the letter as required by Latvian law.
To conclude, he went to the town board and made his case. They knew from the documents that he, as a graduate of Latvia’s military academy had fled from the invading Russians at the end of WWII and that he was now a naturalized US citizen.
Regardless, they saw no difficulty in assigning the property to my father; he was the rightful heir, etc.
But, but, there were unpaid taxes which were now overdue.
“Taxes?” My father asked incredulously.
“Yes, of course”, responded the board, most of whom probably had held some office under communist rule.
“Let me get this straight”, my father asked.
“The communists destroyed the original farm and stole anything of value, but you are saying there are taxes to be paid?”
“If anything, I am owed reparations!”
Incapable or unwilling to consider any other option – even a conciliatory discount - the board responded, “Yes, while we may sympathize with you, the taxes must be paid; it is clearly stated in the taxation code. We have no alternative.”
My father, infuriated, told the board to forget it (not the exact phrase but you can probably imagine what he said).
A few years later, my cousin, Mara, and I partnered to re-claim ownership of the farm.
Mara had lived under Soviet rule and knew how to “work” the system.
Since the board were “servants of the letter” one always had to figure out how to cut through the red tape, how to “grease the administrative wheels”, how to get around the bureaucratic power-tripping.
She was adroit at doing just that.
Implicit in what the Prime Minister says is that if you repeat my father’s experience thousands of times in government, healthcare, education, and even in retail services you get an idea of how being servants of the letter can retard a nation’s progress and invite, inevitably, corruption.
Another Latvian/American friend, who owns a large, active farm in Latvia, always brings a “white envelope” with her to any meeting with a local bureaucrat.
She slides the envelope across the desk and voila! all is approved with smiles all around.
Play the system straight and you get what my father got, obdurate resistance to common sense or decency, just as bad as whatever the Soviets provided.
For Kariņš, "… we have to get rid of the fact that we are servants of the letter once and for all. We are a free, independent, sovereign state. We can make independent decisions on our own." (emphasis added)
As a manager I was forever promoting the notion that we were not rule nor tradition-bound; “we can make independent decisions on our own.”
That always sounded good to me and when we threw off those self-imposed shackles and other limitations we got surprisingly positive results.
And if we didn’t, we did better the next time.
Kariņš words apply to any bureaucracy, on or off campus.

*(In Latvian: Vienreiz jābeidz būt burta kalpiem.

My book, Fables for Leaders, which champions independent decision-making, is available. Click on the image to order.

And, don’t forget Lubans' book on democratic workplaces,
Buy here.

© Copyright text by John Lubans, 2023

Urban Wanderer

Posted by jlubans on March 07, 2023  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: Flâneuse (a female flâneur) - better “wanderer” - with no destination in mind.

The French - don’t they always? - have a word for my addiction to urban wandering: flâneur.
But it is not the bon mot they’d like to think it is.
First identified by the poet Baudalaire “in his essay The Painter of Modern Life (1863) as the dilettante observer”, his “flâneur carried a set of rich associations: the man of leisure, the idler, the urban explorer, the connoisseur of the street.”
The “connoisseur” made a conscious effort to look effortless and to have no worries about where his next franc was coming from.
He was the counterpoint to the bustling industrial worker focused on earning enough to pay the rent and put a meal on the table.
Alas, in impressionistic paintings the “connoisseur of the street” is a habitue of sidewalk cafes and often in spats and tails, a preening boulevardier, twirling his mustache and leering at whatever there’s to leer at.
Imagine a prissy Hercule Poirot and you’ve got it.
Baudelaire – never the priss – did identify a unique aspect of some flâneurs and all urban wanderers, that the aimless walk-about “is linked to not knowing exactly what you’re looking for”.*
Recently, a club of flâneurs met in London – all spiffied up (of course) – and took three hours to move a few blocks with frequent stops at any bar or bistro of an inviting aspect.
No, that’s not my urban wanderer.
We drift, stroll, meander, ramble, saunter, and dawdle along with only a vague destination in mind.
We are exploring and, like a dog sniffing, stopping along the way when something strikes our fancy.
I say WE but the true urban wanderer goes solo, as depicted.
If we have a phone, it’s on airplane mode.
Some psychological research suggests that the ambler - by ambling - improves his life perspective. The saunter results in good feelings.
If you’ve got the blues, well, get out and take a stroll. You will likely come back rejuvenated and feeling better.
Is wandering a form of loafing?
Might be, but I generally gain insights into problems or ideas – my brain is active, open for those juxtapositions that might lead to a new understanding of some intractable problem.
I’ve wandered on-foot in New Orleans, New York, San Francisco, San Diego, Bologna, and Riga, just to mention some places that fit my need for aimless, hours-long wandering.
If you want to start small, there’s pedestrian friendly San Antonio. It’s Riverwalk network – five miles in downtown - is ideal for safely meandering.
Cities built for automobiles fail the urban wanderer: Dallas, Los Angeles, and Chicago (currently).
When the day’s saunter is over, it’s over.
In my case, when in a new city at stroll’s end I look for a bus or a tram or a subway back to my hotel. Usually that results in my getting lost and the hotel then becomes the “laser-focused” mission to rest my aching feet!
No longer the deliberate wanderer, I become an erstwhile commuter seeking the shortest distance between where I’ve been and where I want to be.

*There's a country song for this condition: I’m Going Someplace I Hope I Find

When it’s time to rest up from your wanders - or for breaks along the way - my book, Fables for Leaders, is available. Click on the image and order up!

And, don’t forget Lubans' book on democratic workplaces,
Buy here.

© Copyright text by John Lubans, 2023