Dec 9, 2008

A place where kids can be kids?

I've never been to Chuck E. Cheese but I've been to a number of McDonald's Playhouses. With three kids, my wife and I sometimes cave in to all the whining around when we pass in front of a restaurant around mealtime. I've never thought twice of it, except for the bad habits associated with fast food. But that's a whole 'nother discussion!

What prompted this post, however, is the following article from the Wall Street Journal:

Calling All Cars: Trouble at Chuck E. Cheese's, Again - WSJ.com

The article mentions a number of altercations at Chuck E. Cheese locations, where police needed to get involved in order to break things up. What really got me was this quote: "... in some cities, law-enforcement officials say the number of disruptions at their local outlet is far higher than at nearby restaurants, and even many bars." Holy kiddie brawls, Batman! In a restaurant for kids?

At first, I was surprised. But when you think about it, it fits neatly in our current society. Anyone heard of soccer fights? Or hockey brawls?

A few days ago, Sean Avery was handed a six game suspension for an off-colour comment about his ex-girlfriends. This from the same league that handed Tom Kostopoulos a scant three-day suspension for a hit that cost Mike Van Ryn "a broken nose, a broken finger, a gash on his forward, some lost teeth, and a concussion." The same can be seen in little league where some parents encourage their progeny to duke it out with the other children, in a bid to establish their "superiority."

A few years ago, I coached my son's soccer team. He was only 7, but before the season started, league officials had all coaches attend a meeting where they clearly laid out the disciplinary rules for the season. It seemed that the previous year, there had been some nasty altercations between parents, as well as some parents taking it out on young children on the field. Last year, I saw some inklings of this behaviour from the parents of our nine-year old kids.

So is it any wonder that in a place designed for kids, but where they serve alcohol (duh!), adults would be so badly behaved?

In business, similar behaviour can be seen, but in more subtle ways. I will pass on the many instances of disgruntled employees who have gone over the edge, and focus on more subtle behaviours. These behaviours include intimidation, sabotage, and gossipping.

All of these behaviours can be devastating to the victims, to the teams, and to the companies involved. And whether you like it or not, it's not a problem with the employees. It's a problem with their manages.

Intimidation, sabotage, and gossipping cannot continue unless it is implicitly endorsed by management. How do you implicitly endorse such bad behaviour? Easy: don't do anything about it, lay blame on the person who complains, and don't give them an opportunity to seek help.

Not every one is well-equipped to deal with these types of work-related problems. Yet, when a manager tells an employee to "figure it out himself and not act like a baby," the results may not be what is expected.

An employee may choose to stop talking and not do anything, instead of confronting someone that he/she perceives as stronger and more powerful than he/she. This will affect his/her productivity. If the problem affects more than one person, then an entire team can be demoralized because of one individual. Tempers can flare, and people can easily fly off the handle.

I've seen teams go bad when one person caused problems for other team members, but management did nothing to intervene and stop bad behaviour. Eventually, overall productivity declined until the offending individual was let go.

What would I recommend to Chuck E. Cheese?  I would start by removing alcohol in all locations. Then, I would publicize that event because the fact that I am blogging about it (and I've never been there) is an indication that Chuck E. Cheese is probably getting a lot of negative publicity.

After removing the alcohol, I would take a look at the numbers to determine whether the incident rate goes down. With every incident, I would look for a common pattern and address the root cause, until Chuck E. Cheese, indeed, becomes a place where "a kid can be a kid."

Dec 5, 2008

Is this all the leadership we have to offer?

The recent melodrama of Canadian politics has made one thing clear: we have a dearth of effective leaders in our government.

An effective leader knows what to do and gets it done. His or her prime directive should be to put the enterprise first, and him/her after. Evidently, none of our current leaders seem to realize this.

Let's see, now:
  • Michael Ignatieff: he was pegged as the next Liberal leader. In that capacity, now more than ever, he should step up to the plate and take a stance. Instead, he chooses to sit back, be non-committal, waiting to step forward when conditions are favourable. Not the sign of a great leader: I will jump in when things favour me.
  • Stéphane Dion: I admire the guy's tenacity, but enough is enough. Wednesday's blunder makes Inspector Clouseau look like Stephen Hawking. Few people want him as the head of the Liberal party, yet he clings on like a desperate cat hanging from a tree limb. An effective leader recognizes when he/she is no longer helpful. Mr. Dion is no longer helping the Liberal party: he is severely hindering it. If there was an election today, Mr. Dion's mistake would probably hand a majority government to the Tories.
  • Stephen Harper: in a scant few days, Stephen Harper has tarnished his image as a strategic, competent leader and now appears as a self-absorbed, power-hungry man. He showed that he is willing to go to almost any length in order to hold on to power. In the last two months, he has twice shown that he is completely out of touch with his surroundings. Once, after proposing a measure that infuriated Quebecers and most likely cost him his majority. And now, the current political upheaval. His address on national television was one filled with fear-mongering, blaming, and finger-pointing. He has become the most polarizing figure in Canadian politics and for the first time in years, "sovereignty" has once again become the centre of political discourse.
  • Jack Layton and Gilles Duceppe: both acknowledge that they need to rely on each other to get through the current mess. However, how long could such a coalition last? Mr. Duceppe has stated that he is willing to vote in favour of any measure that is favourable to Quebec. He has also pledged not to undermine the coalition for the next 18 months. But how will he vote if a measure is proposed, that does not favour Quebec?
  • Bob Rae: after dilly dallying, Mr. Rae seems to have donned his suit of armor and is ready to do battle. He stepped to the forefront of the coalition, ready to lead them to battle. Too bad the governor-general has scuttled his plans, for now. Nevertheless, he is the one that currently projects the best leadership qualities. He is calling for calm, and working to reassure business leaders that there is no 'crisis' in Ottawa, while simultaneously working with the other party leaders. In the past few days, he has decided to enter the leadership race and has stepped up to role of coalition advocate. If he does it well, keeps on message and maintains his enthusiasm until the Liberal leadership race in May, he may well become Mr. Dion's successor.
We're in the middle of an unprecedented economic crisis, with daily announcements of massive layoffs, dire warnings of tough times, and meanwhile, our government is putting more effort on saving its hide than it is on creating a better future for all Canadians.

When I look at our neighbours to the South, who just elected a unifying figure to counter eight years of disastrous PR, all I can think about is this: Is this really all we have to offer ourselves?

Nov 26, 2008

Voluntary layoffs? Think real hard first

To piggy back on my earlier post on the subject, asking people to voluntarily leave their current job, in order to cut costs, can backfire:

The Globe and Mail: Voluntary layoffs seen backfiring

The problem with such an approach is that employers see employees as only a number on the balance sheet. And if they can set that number low enough to have a high number on the bottom line, they think they have won. Wrong on so many counts!

When laying off employees, you do much more than reduce your expenses:

  • You affect morale, especially if you do it over and over again. Cut once, cut deep.
  • You affect productivity, especially if you announce layoffs weeks ahead of the actual cut. By the time you actually make the cut, you may have more than expected because people will tend to focus on the expected bad news, prepare their resumes, and so on. When your focus is not on your job (for whatever reason), performance will almost always suffer;

  • With voluntary layoffs, you run the risk of losing even more if your best people decide that they want to leave. Your performance will automatically be reduced, because that star performer leaves not only with his her salary (a win on your balance sheet) but also with the accompanying results (a loss that will outweigh the win on the balance sheet).

Voluntary layoffs may seem like a good plan, that humanizes the layoff process, but you need to think of the company in the long term. Sometimes, saving money can cost much more than you expect.

Nov 24, 2008

Layoffs, hospitals and budgets

With rounds after rounds of layoffs expected in the coming months, this is a timely piece:

The Art of Laying People Off

I especially like Guy's #10: don't let people self-select themselves, because you will lose your best people.

In Quebec, the government did that a few years ago in the health sector. Nurses and doctors were offered early retirement and many of them jumped at the chance. On top of that, they limited the number of admissions in medical faculties. Net result? Today there is a severe shortage of medical staff, at a time where needs are constantly increasing. It will take another 7 years before things get back to normal.

The reasons for doing so were for budget-balancing purposes, which is highly laudable, but I think the government officials failed to look at the big picture. They failed to take into account that many in the health-care sector were fed up with the system and were only looking for a way out. They failed to see that needs for medical personnel would increase, not decrease over time. They failed to adequately project the effects of limiting the number of health-care professionals trained by the system.

How bad is it? There is a large shortfall of family doctors in Quebec, partly because of the decisions made in the '90s and partly because of the bad rap general practitioners (GPs) receive in medical schools. I was recently discussing this with a specialist, and as he explained it to me, most professors in medical universities are specialists. Hence, they will vow for their profession and will encourage students to follow in their footsteps. Few GPs teach in university, so there is no emotional appeal to incite students to become family doctors. In fact, according to an article in today's Journal de Montréal, in 2008 300 new GPs were added to the workforce, while there was a need for 346. The race is not lost, but it's going to be difficult to win.

The lesson, for any business, is that you should not let your best people go, just to save money. In the long run, the costs can greatly outweigh any savings you make on the balance sheet.

Your first performance review is approaching?

What should entry-level empoyees expect from their first performance review? See some answers (including mine) here:

Entry Level Careers Examiner: Surviving your first performance review (part 1): What to expect

Nov 19, 2008

Confronting issues

A quote from Alan Weiss:

Confront EVERY issue. Life is too short to be worried about what people think of you.

Too many communication issues are a result of our fear of confrontation, simply because we are afraid of what others will say about us. I count myself within that group, at times and with certain people. Identifying the times and the people who cause that reaction, is a good step toward overcoming that fear.

You gain respect when you confront people who are more successful, more powerful, or more confident than you are. Doing so, and doing it well, raises your profile in everyone's eyes, including your own. But that only happens when you are willing to step forward, and take a risk.

Nov 18, 2008

How to connect emotionally with an audience, in a few seconds, using PowerPoint (or Keynote, or OpenOffice Impress)

When you look at the following video, focus on your feelings; don't focus on the speaker. What emotions do you get from this presentation? And more importantly, why?

David Hoffman on losing everything | Video on TED.com

Nov 17, 2008

PowerPoint slides tips for presenters

At the Toastmasters District 61 conference this weekend, I presented a workshop entitled "Breathe New Life Into Your PowerPoint Slides." The goal of the workshop was to explain to the attendees how to avoid "Death By PowerPoint" simply by changing a few things about the way they created their slides.

I presented a lot of the concepts that Garr Reynolds discusses in his Presentation Zen blog. My PowerPoint slides have been greatly influenced by the information on his site. Judging from the reaction I received, I believe that many of the attendees will change their views about the function and the design of their slides as a result of attending this workshop.

A few of the elements I focused on:
  • Death by PowerPoint is never the fault of PowerPoint it's always the presenter's fault. Sorry.
  • Slides are there to aid the presentation, they are not the presentation. When building a PowerPoint "presentation" the slides are only part of the picture (no pun intended). The most important part of the presentation consists of the information you provide and the way you deliver it.
  • The slides are primarily for the benefit of the audience, not the speaker. Yet most of the time, they are built with the speaker in mind.
One thing I learned: you cannot over-check your technology. Before the start of the workshop, I checked everything inside and out, making sure it all worked. I did this because I don't begin by showing the title slide on the screen as people walk in. At the start of my presentation, the screen is blank because the first slide is designed to elicit laughter. Well, it did, but not the way I expected it.

For some reason, when I put up the very first slide, nothing was displayed on the screen. My first joke fell flat, and I had to fiddle with my computer to get it going again. It took about 10 seconds, but it was long enough for someone in the audience to say "It kills me when that happens." I'm not sure if the comment was directed at me, or if she was sharing her past experience...

I got things back on track quickly, although the image was only projected on the screen: my laptop's display was blank, which forced me to turn my head constantly to make sure the audience was looking at the right slide during the speech. Not as seamless as I wanted it to be, but it worked out very well in the end.

It's all about proper preparation, putting the audience first, and not depending on the tool to deliver your message.

Nov 16, 2008

District 61 Fall conference

As I am writing this, I am lying in bed, my lovely wife asleep by my side, in the lovely Manoir St-Sauveur, at the end of the second evening of the Toastmasters District 61 2008 Fall Conference. I've been to a few conferences and I can safely say that this has been one of the best experiences (if not the best) I've had at Toastmasters.

A few months ago, my friend LouLou called me and told me: "I'm organizing the district conference and I want you to be the master of ceremonies for the banquet. Would you do that?" LouLou is a big fan of mine. When I listen to her talk about me, sometimes I feel like I could walk on water.

I thought about it a bit. I hadn't been to a conference in a long time. Most of the time, when I attended, I did so as a competitor in one of the speech contests. Once, I had chaired a contest. But a banquet? I almost said no, but I decided to accept. She was thrilled! And I told her, "Well, since I'll be there anyway, put me down for a workshop." And so today, I had double duty as workshop leader and as banquet MC.

My workshop went very well, but I'll discuss it in a separate post.

MC'ing the evening's proceedings was even better. Honestly, I wasn't sure about the banquet. I wasn't sure my style of irreverence would go over well. And since I hadn't MC'd a formal banquet before, I wasn't sure how it would come off.

Well, if the standing ovation was any indication, it looks like I did a pretty good job. After the banquet, I received many compliments from people telling me how much they enjoyed themselves.

To me that's what it was all about: giving a bit back to the community and organization that helped me launch my speaking and training career. I'm not sure I took the time to thank them in my closing remarks, because I was too busy trying to get a few jokes in before the curtain went down. If I had to do it over again, I would focus my closing remarks more on expressing the gratitude I felt, rather than trying to be clever.

I've MC'd other events before, and looking back on my past successes, these are some of the things that stand out:
  • Although, as MC, I am the most visible person, I am not the star. The MC's role should be to let the guests shine, by not keeping the spotlight on him/her at all times. Billy Crystal was a great MC, because he took the spotlight only when needed but kept it on the actors, producers, directors most of the time. Other Oscar hosts were not as gracious.
  • The MC must be adaptable. Although you have a script, I have found that things rarely go as planned. This weekend, I had to adapt the ceremony to the meal service and other unexpected events that occurred. If I had decided that we absolutely, positively had to stick to the script, it would have been a disaster. One phrase will stick with me for a long time, I'm sure: remember the member. You don't want to know.
  • Making it personal will make it more memorable. Whenever I can, I try to make things somewhat personal. Last year at a wedding, I asked married members of the audience to share a story that would entertain us, but also would be helpful to the newlyweds as they began their life together. This weekend, the theme was "The Oscars" so I asked all the people I introduced about their favourite movie. In the process, we all learned a few great things about some of the leaders of District 61. It made them shine even more, and I was happy to contribute.
  • Use humour and be yourself: a few years ago, I attended a CAPS conference where the MC was side-splittingly (is that a word?) hilarious. The reason was simple: he was irreverent, he had no idea who were the sacred cows among the speakers, and he acted accordingly. His wit was quick, and anyone who tried to have the last word with him paid the price. He was invited to host the following year also. Boring galas, banquets, and other ceremonies are often caused by hosts who are afraid (or don't know how) to be funny.
Next weekend, I am slated to host a charity evening. I will see if the same rules can apply. It will be a first, once again.

This was a great weekend, I saw some old friends I had not seen in a long time, and it was great to be in such a festive and positive atmosphere.

I thank LouLou for asking me to host the banquet. It was an honour, and a privilege to serve the District. Hopefully, it contributed to making LouLou's conference a great success!


Nov 2, 2008

Voting with your funny bone

The past couple of weeks have seen Sarah Palin and John McCain show up on Saturday Night Live, letting the folks at SNL have a little fun at their expense.

Now, this is not an endorsement by any stretch of the imagination, but if I had to vote solely on the "fun factor", the McCain-Palin ticket would win, hands down.

Palin has appeared on Saturday Night Live while McCain has appeared on SNL and David Letterman. In both instances, the folks at SNL had a chance to poke fun at the candidates, although I thought McCain did better than Palin. As for his Letterman stint, McCain showed up even though Letterman had been picking on him the previous day because McCain had reneged on a promise to appear on "the big show", choosing instead to be interviewed by Katie Couric.

Barack Obama has also been on some shows, but nothing like Palin and especially McCain.

For those who don't know, Sarah Palin was spoofed by Tina Fey on Saturday Night Live's season opener. Fey did a nail-on impression of Palin that received rave reviews and was the talk of the water cooler for weeks. You can see it on Saturday Night Live's site. A few weeks later, Palin agreed to appear on SNL, and appeared in two sketches: The Palin Rap and the opening of the show.

As you can see, they didn't give Palin much to work with. But they gave McCain much better material and he delivered:  a QVC Opening (which included his wife) and Weekend Update. On The Late Show, he traded barbs with David Letterman, who kept on nagging him about skipping the show the previous day. McCain could easily have said "no" and skipped out completely. But he came on, faced the music, and gave a great show. There was even a tense moment where I felt Letterman was truly upset and agitated about the state of the economy and the country. McCain, to his credit, treated that part of the interview seriously and gave a decent answer to Letterman's questions. This occured only a few days after a debate with Obama. That two-minute segment had more emotion and grit than the entire 90 minutes he had spent "debating" with his adversary.

During the SNL skit, I discovered a side of McCain that I hadn't noticed in the debates: when he's at ease, he is actually a very funny guy. Notice in his skits that he pauses when the audience laughs, in order not to step on their laughter. He doesn't hesitate much and he doesn't have a fake, scary grin like he did at the Republican convention. He genuinely is enjoying himself. I feel like all his TV appearances are a testament to that.

As for the Obama-Biden ticket? Well, so far, they are no fun at all. They don't seem to be making the rounds of the comedy shows and Obama's few apparitions barely made me crack a smile. Obama is smooth, even, and unemotional in his appearances. Those are great traits for a president trying to be reassuring to a nation in distress. But together, they make for boring TV!

I don't know what's going to happen on November 4th. Will the so-called "Bradley effect" prevail? Or will Obama win, as all polls seem to indicate? Will the appearances on comedy shows make McCain appear like a lovable, funny human being? Or will it portray him as a goofball? I'll be watching closely to see.

I will say this in closing, though: if McCain does not win, I hope Saturday Night Live gives him a spot as a regular guest. He could become one of the most valuable members of the team.

Oct 7, 2008

McCain vs Obama

Tonight was the second of three U.S. presidential debates, in a town hall format. So basically, they are responding to questions, either from the Internet, or from people present at the session. I'm not sure what the rules are, but it seems like they had as much time as they wanted to answer the original question but were allowed only one minute to "discuss" the question.

The moderator was Tom Brokaw, the NBC News anchor, who also acted as timekeeper.

The Good

Obama showed confidence. Once he started talking on issues that he felt comfortable with, he stuttered less and was more assertive in his statements. At one point, Obama even said “During my first term,” signalling that he fully expects to win and to be re-elected.

McCain tried, not always successfully, to inject a little humour in the debate. Yes, this is a serious situation but a little humour is often welcome.

Both candidates got up, got close to the people asking questions and looked them in the eyes when answering. They didn't just sit in their seats and force people to strain their necks to view them as they answered. There were a couple of instances, though, where I found that McCain walked in too closely to the crowd. Yet, after looking closely, it looks like it was a trick of the camera. At the beginning, McCain spent too much time speaking to the person who asked the question and not enough time addressing the audience as a whole. As the debate progressed, he improved that aspect.

Both were gracious enough at the beginning, acknowledging that each had done some good things, and even agreeing on a few issues. As time went by, though, the cordiality slowly went by the wayside.

Obama seemed more at ease than McCain. His movements were more fluid and he was better able to connect with the audience. In fact, I saw more nodding of the heads and smiles in the background when Obama spoke than when McCain spoke, a testament to Obama's greater effectiveness. McCain did not seem as comfortable. Of course, part of it is due to the injuries he suffered in Vietnam. However, it's questionable whether people will look past that when they look at him.

The last question of the evening was an opportunity for both candidates to show a little vulnerability. McCain took it and admitted he didn't know the future. OK, a bit banal, but still he admitted to it. Obama didn't. Yes, he said that his wife Michelle has a list of things he doesn't know, but Obama himself did not admit it. That only adds to his image of being arrogant and over-confident.

The Bad

Not enough stories. A lot of the themes tonight were very emotional for many American people. Yet both candidates failed to deliver compelling stories to illustrate those issues. Obama came close when replying to the "Obama Doctrine" question. In his answer, he posed questions directly to the American people, asking them to give a moral answer. But most of the examples were reduced to attacking the opposing party.

Obama stuttered at crucial times in his answers. They gave the impression that he was either lying, making it up on the spot, or he wasn't convinced about what he was saying.

McCain used the term “my friend” and “my friends” too often. It can be endearing, but as with any colloquialism, when overused it loses its effectiveness and becomes annoying.

McCain, at one point, forgot to use his microphone while answering. Normally, that would only be funny. However, that can be seen as a “brain fart” which is not a good thing for him.

When asked whether medical coverage is a right, a privilege, or a responsibility, McCain said responsibility. I am sure many people who have trouble paying medical bills felt insulted or stunned by that answer. That could play against him during this campaign. Especially since Obama stated it was a right.

The Ugly

Where was the timer? If you have ever been to a Toastmasters meeting, you know that one of the important functions in a meeting is the timekeeper. The timekeeper is the one that reigns in the people who think that their time is more valuable than other people's time. He or she uses (surprise, surprise!) red, yellow, green lights to tell people when to stop talking. And they are punished when they go overtime.

During the discussion period, Obama and McCain paid no mind to the time, and received a small warning from Brokaw. In effect, they were allowed to ignore the rules as they pleased.

McCain was dismissive and disrespectful twice in the debate: when he called Obama “that one” and when he assumed that one person had never heard about Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. That's a slight on McCain, and one that is not very presidential.

Final word

Overall, it was an interesting debate, as much in its form as in the content. I would have preferred more interaction between the candidates and a bit more dialogue so they could challenge each other more effectively.

The debate itself was closely fought. Obama wins it though, because he came off as more polished, more confident, and he better connected with his audience.

Oct 1, 2008

Recent quotes on other sites

I was quoted in Infoworld on angry IT workers:
Staff reductions following the dot-com crash have stripped many IT staffs to the bone, forcing those that remain to double or triple their workloads. The piling on of work can demoralize the people charged with keeping the business going, says Laurent Duperval.
Read more here:Angry IT workers: A ticking time bomb?

I also was quoted on CareerBuilder.com on being the bad guy at work, and the effects:
"Employees want to be treated with respect and they want to feel valuable," Duperval cautions. If your type of bad guy is disrespectful and humiliating, then don't expect to receive much appreciation in return.
Read more here: Does It Pay To Be the Bad Guy at Work?

And if you are considering using an OS in a consumer device, think Linux:

Technology News: Mobile Tech: Linux Where You'd Least Expect It

Sep 18, 2008

Honesty in sales

Yesterday my wife stopped to gas up the car at a local hardware chain. As she was waiting for the tank to fill, watching the numbers go by faster than the price of a barrel dictates, she was accosted by a woman flashing a large smile, and the conversation sounded like this:

"Madam, today is your lucky day. We are going to give you a $10 coupon which you may apply to your next gas purchase. Isn't that great?"

"Yes it is, thank you."

"Great, all I need is a bit of information to be able to send you the coupon by mail. What is your name? Address? How many children? How much money do you make? When did you get married?"

At which point my wife, spotting a logo at the bottom of the woman's notepad, interrupted to ask: "Are you registering me for a credit card?"

"Yes, I am. So if you'll give me this information I can..."

"I'm not interested," my wife firmly replied.

"What?" was the incredulous answer, "you don't want $10?"

"Sure, I'll take the $10 but I don't want the credit card. Besides, I don't live around here so this won't be of any use to me."

"Ma'am, I'm sure there is a store close to you. Where do you live?"

My wife was flabbergasted. As the woman walked away, she watched her attitude as she coached a younger salesperson doing a similar job. This woman's approach was highly aggressive and she had a derogatory attitude toward anyone who didn't want to buy her credit card.

There are several things wrong with this scenario. Number one: are these people reading the news at all? We have a phenomenal financial crisis on our hands and a lot of it is due to the high level of indebtedness of the general population. Regardless, they are aggressively pushing people to add more debt to what they already have.

Number two: the woman's approach was deceitful. Under the guise of wanting to give a gift, she was only interested in selling a credit card. If my wife had not asked, I am not sure she would have told her what was happening. This lack of honesty is the main reason people dislike salespeople.

Selling is about relationships. If you don't like a person, you will not buy from him or her. Furthermore, a bad salesperson tarnishes your image and it makes people not want to return and give you their business.

When people have bad experiences, they will talk about it much more than if they have a good experience. I would not have heard about this incident if it had not bothered my wife enough for her to tell me about it. And I suspect she will tell other people around her also.

I won't say the name of the company at fault because I don't know if the problem is a bad salesperson, an unscrupulous third-party credit card company, or if it is the company itself.

All I know is that they left a bitter taste in my wife's mouth, and that's never a good thing in business.

Sep 14, 2008

High price of gas fuels debate over telecommuting

With gas prices hovering around $4 a gallon, who wouldn't want to join the growing number of U.S. employees whose route to work is just a few short strides from the bedroom to a home-based office? You can read more here:

High price of gas fuels debate over telecommuting

Sep 12, 2008

Eliminating spam through education

How often do you receive messages from friends or colleagues warning you of a latest health scare, a child that was recently abducted, or an offer from Microsoft to send you $128,443 if you forward your email to 15932 of your closest friends? Most of these messages (not all of them) are fakes that are easily verifiable with a quick Internet search.

I used to get a few of them per week from people I know, but it has dwindled a lot over time. I figure it's either because people don't like me anymore, or because my approach to dealing with such messages has helped them send fewer of them. Of course, I like to think that it's the latter!

If you get a lot of these messages, I invite you to try and educate the people who send them. Reply to the sender and let him/her know that you have found it to be a hoax. It's a simple three step process:
  1. Search for the most meaningful terms in the message. For example "microwave causes cancer". If there is specific information in the message, use that as it will give you a more precise result, for example "John Hopkins Hospital microwave cancer." You can also search on known hoax-debunking sites such as snopes.com or hoaxbuster.com.
  2. Follow the first few links from the search page to find which ones are interesting.
  3. Send the links to the original sender, with an invitation to send them to the people who received the original  message.
Maybe if we can stem the tide of these useless messages, it can help take care of the email clutter we face every day.

Sep 6, 2008

Delivering a motivational speech, political style

Have you seen Sarah Palin's speech at the Republican convention? This was a great speech, whether you agree with the GOP's political agenda or not.

Why was it so great?
  • She was engaging: she smiled during the entire speech. Her smile seemed genuine and like it or not , a genuine smile is always more appealing than a sourpuss face. Too many political candidates forget to smile when they speak to their constituency. You can learn how to do so, but it always comes off better if you don't have to fake it. Palin seemed to thoroughly enjoy her moment in the sun, and it showed. If you want people to enjoy your speech, you need to enjoy delivering it also.
  • She made it personal: most of her stories were personal. This is a hallmark of this year's political campaign: all candidates and their running mates focus on personal stories whether it be Palin's dealings with the old guard in Alaska, McCain's days as a political prisoner, or Obama's rise to become the first black presidential candidate. It is easier to identify with someone when that person opens up and lets us know how they are very similar to us.
  • She made it about the audience: she identified the most important issues for the people in the room and addressed those, while skimming over the others. It is a fact that most voters don't really care about what happens outside of their country: it's what happens close to home that is important. In this type of setting, discussing foreign policy is a waste of time, except when your sons or daughters are serving overseas in a war-torn nation. For most Americans, foreign policy is not very meaningful unless it helps get their sons and daughters home safely, and soon. Palin stuck to themes that are important locally.
  • She showed grace and fury: one way to deliver a speech with impact is to include contrasting elements. She did so by using fierce words and tone of voice when talking about her political opponents ("What is the difference between hockey moms and a pit bull? Lipstick!") but using a decidedly more nurturing tone when speaking about children with special needs.
  • Few facts, much emotion: if you are looking for policy statements and programs in Palin's speech, you will find it lacking. But what she lacked in content, she more than made up for with flare. She brought the crowd on an emotional roller coaster ride for close to 45 minutes, and they loved it!
I don't fancy myself a seasoned political analyst by any stretch of the imagination. However, if the GOP wins the vote in November, Palin's performance last Wednesday night will no doubt be seen as a cornerstone of that victory.

You can see Sarah Palin's speech here: Vice Presidential Candidate Gov. Sarah Palin (AK) Full Speech at the RNC

Sep 1, 2008

Standing in the eye of the storm

Last week, I was discussing the Maple Leaf situation with some of my colleagues. Many of them disagreed with the approach taken by Maple Leaf to handle the current situation. Their perspective was that it was better to send a PR representative instead of the president. The reasoning was as follows: if things get worse, who do you send to the front lines then?

I disagree: Maple Leaf did the right thing and I wish more companies would follow their lead. When your company is facing a critical issue, one that could potentially spell the end, you don't send a mouthpiece to do the dirty work: you do it yourself. And you do it often.

Sending a representative for such important issues gives the following message: This isn't important enough for the president to be involved. For Pete's sake, people are dying here! If there is any time to send your president to face the storm, this is it!

This weekend, Maple Leaf put another full ad in the paper where president McCain (wow, that's a funny thing to say in September 2008) explained what steps are being taken to resolve the problem. Once again, he is reassuring their customers that all precautions are being taken fix the current problem and to prevent something like this from happening again.

Mr. McCain has done a lot of things right during the crisis:
  • he apologized and admitted guilt;
  • he has not tried to lay blame on anyone but himself and his company. Specifically, he hasn't tried to blame the current inspection process in Canada;
  • he has taken precautions beyond the minimal requirements to help resolve the issue;
  • he has communicated often to keep people aware of what is going on, and he is explaining and describing the progress and process.
Many companies can learn from Maple Leaf's stance: when things go wrong, if you are in a leadership position then you need to maintain that position throughout difficult times. You can't just hide and hope it goes away; you can't stop talking and expect people around you to fill in the blanks. You need to take responsibility, keep communication channels open, and take concrete steps to resolve the issue.

This works in business when dealing with clients or when dealing with employees. And by the way, it also works at home with your loved ones!

Aug 27, 2008

Process before results?

To follow up on yesterday's post: I saw an item in today's paper where food inspectors were complaining of the workload and the processes used in monitoring food processing plants.

It seems a new process was put in place to inspect a company's plant, however the system put more work on each inspector's shoulders while giving them less time to actually investigate. According to some inspectors, it gives them a more "hands-off" approach and prevents them from making observations they used to do before the new process was put in place. Some inspectors have even started asking the question: "I don't have time to do both so which is more important: the inspection or the paperwork?"

Processes are important in any well-functioning system but the processes must help reach results better, faster and more cheaply. If those are not the results you are seeing, then the process is flawed.

Process should never have priority over results. Bear in mind that any new process will inevitably bring about a certain slowdown or will change results in the short term. That's a natural phenomenon, until the process becomes second nature.

However, any new process must be closely monitored to see that you get the expected results and that you do not suffer from The aaw of unintended consequences.

Aug 26, 2008

Does your strategy serve the client or the business?

This morning an article in the Montreal Gazette mentioned that an Air Canada Jazz affiliate had chosen to ditch life vests from its aircraft as a cost-cutting measure. The gist of the story can be found on CanWest's news site. A spokesperson for Air Canada Jazz put the blame on high fuel costs.

Airline regulations only require airplanes to provide life vests if the plane flies more than 90 kilometers from land. The regional carrier rerouted some of its planes to make sure they met this criterion. In other words, they are complying with their obligations.

Contrast this with Maple Leaf, the meat packing company. This week, there was an outbreak of listeria, a deadly bacteria that has already killed 12 people in Canada.

In today's paper, there was a signed, full-page letter from Maple Leaf president Michael H. McCain apologizing for the problem and expressing his sympathies to the families of the victims. In the letter, he also outlined how his company had decided to go beyond the call of duty: they have recalled all of the products that came from the plant where the problem was found, even if the evidence showed that only part of the meat was tainted. He also decided to close that plant until appropriate measures are implemented.

To put things in perspective, there have been few water landings by commercial aircraft. So in effect, the life vests are probably a luxury. However the perception will linger that Air Canada Jazz, to "save a few bucks" has put the safety of their passengers in jeopardy.

Information is what you say and communication is what the other person understands. Air Canada Jazz needs to step up their communication strategy to make their clients understand that they in no greater danger now that life vests are no longer standard equipment on some of their aircraft.

Aug 21, 2008

The 'Big Brown' Syndrome in IT

Keeping IT rolling smoothly means paying attention to everyone, not just the best and the brightest. You can read more here:

The 'Big Brown' Syndrome in IT

Aug 19, 2008

Law of unintended consequences

This weekend I met someone who made me wonder about the long lasting impact we have on people, often without our realizing it.

I attended a festival in my hometown of Sherbrooke, Québec. As I was watching a dance show, someone tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Hey Whodini, how are you?”

I looked at the young man sporting mirrored shades and replied, "I'm doing fine thanks."

"You don't remember me do you?"

"Can't say that I do, sorry."

"Remember back in the 80s you used to work in a video arcade? Whenever you worked, you always played a lot of rap and hip-hop in the arcade. We loved it and you were the only guy we knew who listened to that kind of music and you made us a tape. Today I have a large collection of rap and hip-hop records, and it keeps on growing. For the past 16 years, my friend and I have been hosting a hip-hop radio show every week."

I was a bit taken aback that someone I had no contact with, other than seeing him once in awhile during a part-time job, would remember me almost 20 years later. I was even more surprised that a little gesture that I had forgotten about had had such an impact for so long.

I never would have known about this, had I not bumped into him quite accidentally. Then it got me to thinking: how many other people have I unwittingly affected, for better or for worse?

If I had to make a complete list of all of the people I have met, and had to evaluate all of the results of those interactions, what would the conclusion be? Would it be overwhelmingly positive? Negative? Somewhat positive? Or would I mostly have left them indifferent?

If you've ever read the book “Freakonomics”, you've heard about the law of unintended consequences. It's the law that says that any action will have some sort of unexpected outcome, such as what happened above.

I've been fortunate enough to know of (now) two unintended consequences of my actions. Someone else once told me that I had showed him what software I used to balance my chequebook. From there, he developed an interest in money management and today he has his own business. Who knew?

A more notable example is Facebook. It was originally developed to help a few college buddies keep in touch after school. Today, Facebook is the darling of the Internet and putting one's profile on site has much more impact than it used to.

How have you been impacted by unintended consequences? Or how have you impacted others in ways you did not expect?

Aug 11, 2008

Telemarketing III

I'm not even sure this is telemarketing or not. Maybe it's just a bad case of customer service.

As a member of Alan Weiss's mentor program, I am constantly being reminded that I need to follow up consistently. This lesson came to mind as soon as I received a call from a company that will remain nameless... because I don't remember what it was.

They called me around 10 pm and... well, instead of telling you, how about taking you LIVE to the phone call I received just moments ago. Roll tape!

(Phone rings)

Me: Hello?

Them: Hello Mr. Duperval, my name is So-N-So, how are you tonight?

Me: (Uh oh! Cialdini at work) I'm fine thanks.

Them: I'm calling from SomeCompany.com. On January 4th you sent a query through our Web site and I am following up. I don't have the question in front of me but I'll be glad to answer if you let me know what it was.

Me: ...

Them: Sir?

Me: Are you serious? That was seven months ago! How on Earth do you expect me to remember what I asked you?

Them: I understand sir. I just wanted to let you know that we have received your query and that we are following up. I apologize for the delay in responding. You may be interested to know that we have a new download of the software available and I invite you to get the latest copy. Do you have any more questions sir?

Me: Dude, I didn't have any questions to begin with!

Them: Fine, well thank you for your business and have a great evening! Goodbye!

Me: .....

Well, at least it gave me a good laugh.

Aug 4, 2008

Seven ways Your E-Mail Can Get You Fired

US News and World Report has an article about using email in a way that can be detrimental to your job. I was quoted as part of the article. You can find it here:

7 Ways Your E-mail Can Get You Fired

Interestingly enough, I was working on a larger document discussing the pitfalls of electronic communication. I will let you know when that document is ready.

Jul 25, 2008

Sometimes, being good just isn't enough

I am comforting my wife who is lamenting the loss of Will on "So You Think You Can Dance." The general sentiment is that Will was the best dancer of the lot, and many (including the judges, I believe) expected him to win the competition.

Yet tonight, he was kicked off the show. His talent, his grace, and his good looks did not save him.

Personally, I think it's a shame because I thought he was much better than Mark. But that's just me. Evidently, I was the minority. Plus, I didn't vote.

The results of the show are a mirror of what occurs in a number of situations in real life:
  • the most competent person is not necessarily the one that gets the promotion;
  • the one with the toughest job doesn't have the highest salary;
  • the one with the most talent doesn't have the most recognition.
It's just part of life. But when it happens to us, we become angry, we become upset, we blame other people, we carry a grudge, and so on. The result hurts us and affects the people around us also. The solution? A change of attitude. Instead of blaming and getting upset, focus on what you can control.

At one my son's recent soccer games, we were saddled with an incompetent referee. He made many bad calls and, surprise, surprise, the calls went against my son's team. At some point, the parents became loud and began yelling and cursing at the referee. He had to interrupt the game to let us know: "If you keep yelling, I will stop the game."

We had no control over what was happening on the field. We had to make a choice: if we kept complaining, the kids' game would be stopped and the coach would be fined. If we shut up, the situation would probably not change but the kids would be able to play their game and the coach would be off the hook. We shut up.

To some, such an attitude is a sign of weakness. To some, we should have continued to voice our disapproval because "the ref was wrong."

This response shows that the wrong criteria are used to evaluate the parents' reaction. The right criteria is: what is best for the kids?

You may have heard this before: you can be happy or you can be right. Too often, our ego gets in the way and we try to be right just for the sake of being right. Sometimes, it's worth the battle but sometimes it's just a waste of energy.

In business, the person who gets the promotion is judged on criteria tat may have nothing to do with their current job. The person who has the highest salary is probably bringing more value to the company, even if the job may not seem as hard. The person with the most talent probably doesn't have the best marketing vehicle.

In "So You Think You Can Dance" the votes didn't go toward the most talented dancer, probably because the criteria used to vote was something other than "best dancer," however you define it.

Some people have decided to stop watching the show because they disagree with the voting. Meh. I'll still watch it when I can, because I enjoy dancing and I think the kids on the show dance very well.

Plus, I gotta see it this is going to end up being a train wreck.

Jul 18, 2008

How strong is social pressure?

Guy Kawasaki's recent post, How to Change Someone's Mind, triggered a long-forgotten experience I had in college. Kawasaki mentions Robert Cialdini's book "Influence". One of the six components of influence is what Cialdini calls "Social Proof". Social proof is when you act in certain way because others around you are doing the same thing.

This reminded me of an experiment in social pressure that I conducted in college. It was a simple experiment to see how others' reactions affected our own reactions, especially when we knew they were wrong. The experiment wasn't original, but I don't remember who did the original research on the subject.

The setup: We had fifteen cardboard sheets which had three geometrical shapes on them. We corralled a team of seven participants and one test subject.

The experiment: We gathered the team and the subject in a room and sat them in a semi-circle. The subject was at one of the extremities of the semi-circle. We showed all of them one of the cardboards and asked them: "Which of the shapes is smallest?" We started with the team members and the subject was always the last to answer.

The twist: For ten of the fifteen cardboards, the team was instructed to give the wrong answer. Sometimes the difference between the smallest object and the answer given was subtle. But other times the difference was so large as to be absurd. For example, we had a small triangle, a medium one and a large one. You could easily fit four small triangles in the largest one. Yet, the team was instructed to say that the largest one was the smallest one.

The result: to our surprise, of all the subjects we tested, only one went against the crowd every time. We saw such looks of bewilderment on the subjects' faces that we had to work very hard not to laugh. I remember one subject staring wide-eyed as the other people said that the largest triangle was in fact the smallest one. He even interrupted the process to verify his understanding: "You want to know which is the smallest one, right?"

We stopped finding the experiment as funny when one of our subjects agreed with the team on all fifteen answers. After the subject left the room, we felt the energy being sucked out of the room; none of us could believe it and we felt bad.

How have you seen social pressure affect performance and behaviour in your workplace?



Jul 17, 2008

More telemarketing

Today I received another call from telemarketers. Yes, I know I can get on a no call list, but as long as it gives me material to write about...

This call was different. I realized, from the start, that it was a sales call but I decided to give her the benefit of the doubt.

She did a lot of things right:
  • She asked me "How are you?" Seems innocuous enough, but it can turn out to be a very important question. That question triggers the consistency and commitment response that Robert Cialdini explains in his book on influence. Simply put, if you ask someone how they feel, and the answer "fine" or "good," that alone increases your chances of closing a sale;
  • She pronounced my name correctly.
  • I gave her two minutes to make her case. After that time, she told me "It's been two minutes, may I go on?" Nice.
  • When I told her why I wasn't going to buy, she actually shut up and let me speak for about two minutes. The last time I had such a discussion with a telemarketer, the woman at the other end constantly tried to interrupt me to let me know how wrong I was.
At the end, she asked me if I was satisfied with the way she handled the call and I had to say yes. It was, in fact, an enjoyable call because even if I disagreed with her, she worked professionally and she treated me with respect.

Jul 14, 2008

You want my money? Get my name right! Click!

Tonight, we received yet another call from telemarketers who don't seem to know the difference between a "p" and a "b". I let the person speak for about 2 minutes as she proceeded to call me Mr. Duberval at least four times. When she asked me "Mr. Duberval, can we count on your contribution?" I replied "No," since she evidently was not referring to me. Click.

Herein lies two of my pet peeves about telemarketing:
  1. Pronounce my name correctly: my name isn't that hard to pronounce, especially in French. Yet, it regularly gets butchered by telemarketers. I've been called Mr. Duberval, Mr. Duverbal, and others. My favourite, though, remains Mr. Duverpal which translates to "Mr. Light Green" in English. If you're going to ask me for money, at least take the time to pronounce my name properly. If you don't know how to pronounce it, ask me, I'll gladly help out. Then, I may be more inclined to listen to you, and I might even buy.
  2. Get my name right: my wife and I don't have the same last name. In many countries, wives still take on their husband's last name but in Quebec, they keep their maiden names. Our home phone line is registered to my wife's name. Nothing says "telemarketer" quite as well as someone who hears my voice on the phone and says: "Hello, Mr. Wife, how are you today?" My answer: "There is no Mr. Wife here, sorry." Click.
  3. Act like you care about me: one of my biggest annoyances is a subscription company that calls me every other month or so, to make me an offer. The problem is, I'm already registered. When that happens, it makes me feel like a number. What am I saying? It makes me feel like less than a number: at least a number can be weeded out to avoid duplication. I must admit that the only reason I still subscribe is that I like their product. Otherwise, I would click them also.
Telemarketing loses its effectiveness if you cannot touch the client emotionally. You can do that much faster if you can make the potential client seem important. And you make a client feel important by getting his or her name right.

Otherwise, you may just be clicking your way to oblivion.

Apr 22, 2008

Defusing arguments quickly

Have you ever been in an argument and the situation becomes more acrimonious with each exchange? How do you stop that rapidly? Seth Godin has an interesting piece on his blog about this. Notice that he talks about written communication, but the same is true for oral communication also:
  • Accept the other person's point of view. In any given situation, no matter what feelings the other person conveys, she is right. She is conveying her sentiment of anger, frustration, fear, and so on. Telling a person that her feelings are wrong only exarcerbates the situation.
  • You don't have to agree with her feelings. Just because someone else has the right to harbour the feelings she wants, it does not mean that you have to agree with her.
  • Look for solutions. Once you've agreed with a person's feelings, they can't escalate them. think of little kids: why does teasing work so well? Because the person being teased reacts. If the person being teased stops reacting, the teaser gets bored an finds a new target. It's similar in a heated argument. Once you start accepting the other person's point of view, you take all the wind out of her sails. The only option left is to look at what can be done to make the situation better.

Apr 11, 2008

Annoying Web Sites

Ugh! Don't you hate going to Web sites and having to wade through layers of useless "stuff" before getting to the meat? Here are a few things that can be highly annoying about a Web site (any resemblance to Web sites living or dead is purely coincidental):
  • Flash-only home page: Not everyone installs Flash. And even so, Flash slows down access to your site and hogs bandwidth. Many people including me, evidently) will block Flash animations. If your home page is only Flash-based, you run the risk of people turning away.
  • Flash-only Web site: this is even worse! Unless your products and services can only be described with Flash technology, spare us please! Plain-Jane HTML may seem boring, but it's quick, efficient and gets the job done well. Keep the Flash separate from the rest of your site.
  • Hard-to-find contact information: Do we have to dig through multiple layers of muck before finding a way to contact you? Once the information is found, do we have to go through 7 steps before being able to send you a message or being able to contact you directly? Do you really want people to contact you or are you doing your best imitation of Voice Mail Hell on your site?
  • Email-only contact: In this day of high-tech-only communication, it feels good when you can pick up a phone and call someone and talk to an actual, live, real human being. Email forms are fine, but it shouldn't be the only way to contact you.
  • Psychedelic animations: Do you really need 47 animated images on the site? Where is the attention supposed to be drawn? Animated images can be fine for directing someone's attention to one special element on a page. But putting too many just makes me go nuts. And I'm sure I'm not the only one, or there would be no use for this.
And there is probably more, but I'll stop here. If your Web site is a way to attract people to you, make it easy on the user. Don't give them all the reasons in the world to stay away!

Apr 7, 2008

Picking fun at oneself

Here is a great video on Bill Gates's final day.

Video Le dernier jour de Bille Gates vost_fr - Microsoft, Bill, Gate, dernier, vost - Dailymotion Share Your Videos

You can never take yourself too seriously. It's refreshing to see such a monument of a man poke fun at himself so easily. And he does itin such a way that he still remains dignified in the end.

Kudos! I was rarely a fan of the software company, but the man did good!

Apr 2, 2008

A prank

Every year, around this time, there are a few pranks going around. I particularly like the Linux/open source/techie pranks. Well, I began my professional like as a techie. And the techie in me is still very strong.

Nevertheless, we now have:

What Happens When You Call Microsoft Support To Remove Linux?

Enjoy!

Feb 26, 2008

Communication Tips for Geeks and Other Experts

Information is what you say. Communication is what your audience understands.

Coming from a techie background (as a programmer, no less) I've been accustomed to the following tenet: if the client doesn't understand, then the client is stoopid. We've even got expressions for that: the problem is between the chair and the keyboard, this is an ID ten T problem (also known as ID10T), and so on.

As geeks, we often place ourselves above the fray, looking down upon the masses. We require our audiences or our clients to raise themselves to our level, to speak the same language we speak. If they are unable to do that, we consider them morons. We obfuscate our speech in techno-babble, to ensure that the "little people" clearly get our message: you aren't worthy, this is my domain, get out of my way.

This self-aggrandizing posturing is a mask for a geek's inability to speak in language that can be understood by most people, without making the listener feel stupid. It takes a lot effort to take your expertise and explain it in layman's terms. Few people do it effectively.

Seth Godin's recent post "The posture of a communicator " touches on this topic in a concise, insightful way.

A few tips to help geeks get their points across:
  • Ask questions. If your client or your audience or your listener doesn't understand, ask them what they don't understand. Also ask them what they do understand, to help you figure out what the gap is.
  • Use metaphors and other images to explain difficult concepts. It is harder to grasp a vague topic like directories and inodes; it is easier to understand folders and documents.
  • Put yourself in the other person's shoes. Think of something you can do, but not very well. In my case, that would be playing the guitar. I can make it sound like a guitar, but nobody would ever mistake me for a great (or even a good) guitarist. I can't fathom my reaction if in my first course, the teacher were to tell me: "What's wrong with you? A Gm7b5 chord is easy to play." (The chord is easy to play, I just can't figure it out without a picture in front of me.)

Feb 24, 2008

Oscars 2008

Here are some of the lessons (good and bad) from the 2008 Oscar ceremony:

Brad Bird, winner for Ratatouille: start with a story. His anecdote explaining why he made movies set the stage perfectly for the thank you's that followed.

Javier Bardem (Best Supporting Actor): he displayed one of the most important qualities of a great speaker: confidence. He spoke well, he spoke convincingly, he spoke in Spanish. At the risk of offending many people in the audience, he took position and said what he believed he should say instead of saying what he felt the audience wanted to hear.

Tilda Swinton (Best Supporting Actress): one word: humour. She messed up the beginning of her speech but recovered well from the moment she began comparing the statuette to her agent. Lesson here: even if you don't start off well, you can still deliver a good speech.

The Coen Brothers: speak only if you have a message. When Ethan Coen took the stage, he said "We..." looked a bit lost and then said "Thank you." I'm not sure if time ran out or not, but it didn't leave a positive impression. You undoubtedly have been in situations where a speaker ended his speech and you were left with one question: "Why did he even bother to speak to us?" That's what I felt. The second time he came to the stage though, he played humorously on what happened earlier ("I don't have much to add to what I said before."). That was pretty good.

Karen Baker Landers and Per Hallberg (Sound Editing): they had planned something and they blew it. So they dropped their script and ad libbed. Once in awhile, things go awry. It's not the end of the world. Suck it up, do your best and go home.

Marion Cotillard (Best Actress): she was a wreck! I thought I was about to see a train fall off a cliff. But she finished with a brilliant line, "It's true, there are angels in this city!" Great sound bite and flattering to the hosts. Nice conclusion.


Christopher Rouse (Film Editing) and Stefan Ruzowitzky (Foreign Film): don't begin your speech like most other people would.

Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova (Best Original Song): a great emotional moment and kudos to Jon Stewart for bringing Irglova back to say her thanks. That was a gracious move on his part. As an MC, his role is to make sure that everything goes smoothly. As I was sitting with my wife, her reaction was "Well that's cheap, they could have given her a few seconds to speak." She had a great message to say and was given the opportunity to do so. However, I felt her message lacked compared to Hansard. He told a story, and that is memorable. His message: even with a $100,000 budget you can still make it to the Academy Awards.

Daniel Day-Lewis (Best Actor): he epitomized eloquence. His description of the ideas sprouting from the mind of the writer was a thing of beauty.

Overall, a decent show. It didn't seem as long and boring as previous years. Eitherr that, or I was in a particularly generous mood tonight!

Feb 19, 2008

The witch is gone

Now that Barry Bonds has left the San Francisco Giants, the team has a chance to show what it can do without a superstar in it midst. Looking at the bottom line, Bonds has been an impressive baseball player. His career spanned more than 15 years, he has a number of records to his name. However, you can't help but wonder whether his attitude was helpful or hurtful for the team. With such a dominating performer, the Giants did not win the World Series.

This occurs in business also. There will be one or two people that outperform everyone else. They are good for business because they produce much higher revenues than all the others. However, their attitude can have an adverse effect on the employees' morale, and can adversely affect performance.

Bonds had a surly attitude with the media, but in the past, few if any Giants players complained about it. It is possible that his attitude was not the same in the dugout as it was in front of the cameras. That will be seen over time.

For now, it seems as though the attitude already feels less somber as they prepare for spring training. Time will tell if the attitude change will translate to winning on the field.

Feb 13, 2008

Is education getting even more expensive?

Interesting article in the Globe And Mail:

Cash for grades may be 'small price to pay'

I wonder if that would have worked with me when I was in school? I hated it and I did as little as I could in order to pass. According to the article, paying students a fee to do their homework seems to work. They also state that it works not just for the courses that offer financial incentives, but also for other courses.

I remember reading in Freakonomics that giving incentives to people who already love what they do, can actually backfire and cause a decrease in performance. It also can cause the person to dislike the task she used to like.

So is it possible that incentives work better when they are given to a person that does not like a task? The article points somewhat in that direction, although there is still a lot of analysis left to do.

Now, the question is: do I really want to pay my kids to get them to do their homework?

Feb 10, 2008

The band should play on

I watched a bit of the Grammies tonight, and saw when Kanye West received his award. His speech was too long, if the band-playing was any indication. Now, I don't know what the rules are, but I suppose nominees are given a list of guidelines for their acceptance speech. I know they do this for the Oscars. The actors are warned that should they speak too long, the band will start playing and they have to wrap it up.

At any rate, Kanye West gave his speech and the band started playing. West kept on speaking as if nothing was happening. At some point, he asked the the band to stop playing... and the band did. The audience applauded to show their approval.

The band should have kept on playing.

I have seen this too often in meetings. An agenda is set, time has been allocated to discuss specific issues. But some people in the meeting decide to take as much time as they want to state their views or opinions, and the meeting leader does not have the courage or the power to tell that person to shut up.

Net results? Meetings last longer than they should, some people are given more air time at the expense of others, and so on.

A successful meeting requires many of the same ingredients of a successful speech:
  • A roadmap: prepare an agenda containing a goal and the topics to cover.
  • An adequate amount of points to cover: too often, meetings or speeches try to cover too much ground. Having 14 bullet points is too much for a 60 minute meeting. More often than not, less is better.
  • Stick to the plan: if you realize that your speech is going to take more time than you expected, you need to cull on the fly. Same thing with a meeting. At some point, the moderator may need to say: "All right, we need to move on. We will schedule another meeting for this specific topic." Or: "We will not have enough time to cover everything we had planned to cover. I suggest that we complete the discussion on this important point and schedule a different meeting to address the rest of the points."
Doing so shows respect for everyone's time and will increase the effectiveness and usefulness of your meetings.

Feb 3, 2008

You Don't Abandon Your Team When They Are Down

So, the New England Patriots did not win the Super Bowl. I think it's too bad, because it would have been fun to see another team have a perfect season. Of course, there were a couple of incidents during this season, so maybe it would have been a perfect season with an asterisk.

Bill Belichick, the Patriots coach, made a questionable call during the game, and failed to act in a leader-like manner at the end of the game.

The questionable call came when the Patriots had the ball at the Giants 39 yard line. It was first down, and Belichick had to choose: try for a field goal to get three points, or try to keep the ball moving in the hopes of scoring a touchdown. He chose to go for a touchdown, but they failed.

In hindsight, getting the three points could have sent the game into overtime, and provided the Patriots with more opportunities to win the game. He made a tough call, he took a chance, it didn't work out. That's okay.

However, at the end of the game, while there was still one second to play and the Giants had the ball, Belichick chose to get off the field and returned to the locker room, while leaving some of his players on the field to complete the game. That is not the mark of a great leader.

Even if he was disappointed, even if the situation was difficult, as a leader he should have stayed on the field until the game was officially over. He came on the field with a team, he should have left the field with that entire team.

As the coach, he basically showed utter contempt for the rules of the game, and worst of all, for his players. It will be interesting to see how fans and players react to that behavior.

Jan 19, 2008

First impressions

Here is an interesting article on making first impressions:

Leadership: Directors of First Impressions

In Quebec, I have found that as a customer, I am generally well greeted. Not to the extent described in the article, but I don't feel like I am intruding into someone's life.

There is a bicycle shop close to my home where I buy most, if not all, of my biking gear. One of the reasons I buy from them is because the owner calls me by my name, even though I haven't been there very often. The first time it happened, I was slack-jawed. She saw me and said, "Hello Mr. Duperval." I think it was the second time I had gone to the shop. The previous time was almost a year before that.

Contrast that with the time I went to an electronics distribution company. Not one of those super stores, but one of those counters in the industrial section of town. I was greeted by the receptionist, and I explained to her what I was looking for. As she listened and called one of the salespeople, her voice and demeanor made me feel as though I was being a nuisance.

After letting the salesperson know I was at the front desk and needed help, she went back to her business. I stood and observed her behaviour. She was in the process of going through and filing her mail. Whenever the phone rang, she would sigh audibly, as if she was being bothered again.

This went on for about ten minutes. Never once did she check with the salesperson to see what the delay was. Never once did she apologize for the delay or try to contact me in any fashion. After 10 minutes of waiting, after such shabby treatment, I turned around and left without a word and went to spend my money elsewhere.

Jan 7, 2008

Public speaking on the campaign trail

There are some interesting lessons on public speaking that can be gleaned from the current presidential race. Here are a few. Mike Huckabee displays poise while answering a question he deems inappropriate. Also, pay attention to the interviewer: he asks a question, Huckabee answers it, yet the interviewer asks the question again -- probably because he wasn't paying close attention to the answer.

Huckabee, again, using (mean) humour to make a point. If he can use humour in a presidential debate, why don't more people use humour in business presentations? No, I don't advocate nasty humour unless you are a professional comedian.

Speaking of John Edwards: these two clips shows how you use a catch phrase (in this case, "You can't 'nice' these people to death") and keep a constant message.

Mitt Romney, showing how you control your Q&A session. Don't get mad, keep your smile.

Hillary Clinton showing emotion in her statements. Public speaking is not about being stone-faced during your entire speech. If you feel anger, display anger. Controlled anger, but anger nevertheless.

Clinton, again, noting the evolution of language:

Barack Obama showing the dramatic difference in energy between reading a speech and delivering a speech.

Body movement from Barack Obama. Ok, it's not on the campaign trail but you gotta love a guy who dances like that!

Jan 6, 2008

Let it go, already!

I had an interesting online discussion about this article:

ESPN - Slur incident at VMI sets WVU's Stewart on defensive - College Football

In case you chose not to read it, here is the gist: over 10 years ago, Bill Stewart, then a coach at Virginia Military Institute, used a racial slur (the N word) while talking to a student.

Today, he has been hired as a coach for a new school yet the school still has to defend their choice.

The incident occurred more than 10 years ago, Stewart explained what happened, apologized, resigned. What, does he have to sacrifice his first born on TV for people to just let it go and move on? Please!

We've all done idiotic things in our past, and we will continue making mistakes in the future. Very seldom should people be castigated for life because of their mistakes.

There is a larger issue here, which is that of language. The use of the N word is highly emotional, and can skewer one's perception of the message. This can often lead to miscommunication because we fixate on that single word instead of look at the bigger picture.

In this case, Stewart's intent was clear: he wanted to teach the young man that his antics could draw the ire of people in his community. His choice of words left to be desired.

One of my cousins told me something that sounds like this: "A n..... is the one that steals, does drugs and otherwise acts the fool."

No doubt you will be faced with situations where someone uses a word or phrase that you find highly offensive. What can you do?
  • Before dismissing that person's comments outright, take a moment. Breathe.
  • Unless the person is displaying an oft-repeated behaviour pattern, assume the best intentions. It's amazing how much less stressful life can be if you don't expect the worst from people.
  • Then ask the person to clarify his/her intent. A simple question like "What do you mean by that?" can go a long way.
If after those simple steps, it becomes clear to you that the person had ill intentions, then walk away.