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Archive for the ‘Current Affairs’ Category


The Crystal Ball

I have a feeling this is going to be a good year.  Now, that might be simply because I'm (as someone who reviewed one of my books once said) a "relentless optimist."  But it might also be true.

I suspect that the economic upheavals over the past 18 months could actually provide – are actually providing -  all kinds of impetus for new growth, fresh thinking, alternative pathways to success.

Fireweed-yukon_470 It's like a forest fire.  It's a scary, awful thing when it's happening: animals die, people lose their homes.  In fact, though, forest fires are necessary – beneficial in the long-term.  Here's a paragraph from an article I found on the science buzz blog:

"Even as the fires were crackling through the branches of pines, birch and spruce, the start of new tree growth was already popping. The heat from the burning trees pops open the cones on those trees, releasing seeds that have been waiting to get loose for years. Millions of those seeds were dumped on the forest floor and within less than a month, some of them germinate, pop through the soil and start growing into little seedlings…In fact, fire is a natural part of the forest’s regeneration system. Most forest trees need to be exposed to fire every 50 to 100 years to invigorate new growth."

Don't get me wrong – this has been dreadful, and I know a lot of people are still feeling the effects (I have a beautiful house in Kingston, New York that I've been trying to sell since 2008 – interested?).  I just think that the destruction of some outmoded assumptions and ways of operating might clear the way for more thoughtful, balanced approaches, and for companies that have something new and useful to bring to the party.

What do you think?

Posted in Current Affairs


It’s Official – Kind Of

Bernanke Says Recession ‘Is Very Likely Over at This Point’ – NYTimes.com.

In this brief article in the NYTimes, Ben Bernanke opines (with supporting data) that the recession is officially over.  Pretty much.  He cautiously states:

"the consensus of economic forecasters is for moderate economic growth for the remainder of this year and next, particularly as credit markets thaw, consumer confidence takes time to heal and the federal government begins to unwind spending and lending programs intended to mend the economy."

Spring-trees-shepherds-lane-124724 And that's certainly what I'm feeling and hearing in talking to clients and observing my own business.  It feels like a slow thaw, but a thaw nonetheless — with executives beginning to move forward in new ways, invest, grow, develop people, build teams.

It's kind of like those first couple of weeks of spring, when it's still a little chilly, a little brown, patches of ice in the shade…but then you look across the river and notice that the trees are just in that green-gauze state that precedes actual leafing out.

I'm looking forward to seeing what this new season brings in the world of business…

What are you all seeing and feeling in this regard?

Posted in Current Affairs


A Year of Crisis

Reuters: Times of Crisis.

A powerful and well-crafted retrospective on the world-changing 365 days since Lehman Bros declared bankruptcy.  I suggest you watch the video first, and then look at the timeline.

It reminded me that this is a global change – it's easy to be too US-focused in thinking about this – and it made me want to do whatever I can to help re-establish our economy and our expectations in a new and more sustainable way.

Posted in Current Affairs


An Anthropological View of March 17th

Hundreds of thousands of people participate in St. Patrick’s Day Parade in New York _English_Xinhua.

I found this article thoroughly charming: today’s St. Patrick’s day parade in New York viewed through the eyes of a Chinese journalist.

I especially like the slight misunderstandings: “A band marches down the Fifth Avenue,” and “[It] is generally celebrated on March 17.”

How wonderful and strange it all looks from this different point of view! Through this lens, the pictures of the celebrants in their green ritual costumes and face-paint seem suddenly bizarre. Whereas, when I actually saw them in the flesh as I walked down Sixth Avenue today, they looked perfectly normal.

Hope you had whatever kind of fun you wanted to have today.

And happy birthday, Rachel!

Posted in Current Affairs


Diversity at the Top

I know the hard work starts now:  our President, his team, and all of us have to find our way out of the hole we're in.  It will require, as he said, hard choices, personal responsibility and clarity of purpose.

And yet, even now, as we roll up our metaphorical sleeves, there are already so many indicators that this is a new beginning. For instance, I read an article in the NYT this morning about the diversity of Barack and Michelle's extended family. I've tried to reproduce the graphic here, but you can also find it in the article.


In business, I always take it as a very good sign of things to come when the senior team of an organization starts to evolve from being made up entirely of baby-boomer white men, to a mix that looks more like the rest of the US and of the world. It means to me that an important psychological barrier has been broken…that the powers-that-be in that organization have gone from "thinking diversity is a good thing" to simply wanting to have the best people for the job, no matter what they look like, how they live their lives, or where they were born. 

And it also means, almost invariably, that this more diverse and expansive team is going to think in fresh ways and come up with new and better solutions.

I'm crossing my fingers that this wonderfully varied new First Family signals the same things for our country.

Posted in Current Affairs


the Beauty and Power of Language

Writers praise Barack Obama’s inaugural address – Los Angeles Times.

There are so many things I could say about today. A singular, joyful, complex, evocative day.

I was so moved by our President’s speech.  It resonated with me deeply, both emotionally and intellectually.  And, even as I was listening, I enjoyed it tremendously simply as a piece of writing.

Then I found this great article in the LA Times, where a variety of writers talk about his speech: they use the power of language so beautifully to talk about the power of language.

I can only hope the strength and clarity of his words is matched by the strength and clarity of the transformation that he will catalyze, and that all of us will bring to fruition.

Posted in Current Affairs


Overcoming Fear

"Only Thing We Have to Fear Is Fear Itself": FDR's First Inaugural Address.

Images-1 I've been quoting FDR's "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself" line to all and sundry lately.  I really believe it's true: I'm watching fear motivate all kinds of goofy, panic-stricken, bad-for-business decisions.  And I'm watching other people take a deep breath, put aside fear, and just figure out how to operate in the current circumstances – and how to succeed.

So I decided to look up the actual speech from which that quote came – and his words are eerily applicable to our current situation.  Here's the opening paragraph:

I am certain that my fellow Americans expect that on my induction into the Presidency I will address them with a candor and a decision which the present situation of our people impel. This is preeminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly. Nor need we shrink from honestly facing conditions in our country today. This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory.

Being in fear is tremendously distracting and limiting.  Fear shrinks our point of view: we don't see things clearly; we miss important facts; we have a hard time stepping back and looking at the broader frame.  Fear can rob us of our clarity when we need it most.

It's critical to remember, in situations like our current economy, that you can manage your fear by managing your self-talk.

Posted in Current Affairs


Obama Being Strategic

Now that the dust has settled a bit on the election (feels like ancient history, vs. 6 weeks ago!), I find myself still thinking about what a great example it provided of one person being strategic and the other not — and the power of that!

People who are strategic, in my experience, approach an important situation by getting clear on the problem they’re trying to solve before they start throwing out solutions.  It seems to me Obama went into the primary season very clear on his essential challenge: How can I persuade the American people that I’m the best person to be the president of the United States?

Once you understand the problem you’re trying to solve, being strategic also involves knowing what you have to work with – what you can bring to bear to address your challenge. Obama took a long, clear-eyed look at his current reality: his own strengths and weaknesses, and the circumstances around him that might support or impede him addressing his challenge.  Being able to look at one’s current state without flinching is essential to being strategic.  Obama seems particularly good at this.  In his first post-election press conference, when he casually used the phrase “mutts like me,” it was a startlingly simple and neutral statement of fact about a complicated and emotionally fraught subject. The personal attacks leveled at him over the past six months didn’t seem to phase him; I believe he’d already reflected upon and made his peace with all the possible things the Republicans might throw at him.

Then, it seems to me, he created a vision – a very clear vision – of what the US would look like, feel like and do if he were the president.  Out of his clear vision emerged clear speech.  No question about it, Obama is a uniquely eloquent and skilled speaker – but no amount of technical capability can make up for a lack of substance. Every time he spoke about the future he envisions for us, for our country, millions of Americans felt drawn by the depth and breadth of that vision for the future.  Articulating a compelling and inclusive picture of a hoped-for future is an essential element of being truly strategic.

And then he created his strategies; made those core directional choices that would move him intact and victorious toward that vision.  Throughout this longest of all election seasons, here’s what I saw again and again:

Do a full-court press: Clearly, Obama decided to go broad rather than deep.  He decided to speak to as many of us as possible about the things he believed were most important. Tactically, he implemented this strategy by leveraging Dean’s fifty-state strategy, fully using the internet, and building an amazingly deep and impassioned team. The results are self-evident: a slew of newly-blue states and a resounding popular majority.

Stay on the high road: Even when his own people encouraged him to respond to the Republican attacks in kind, he stayed civil and entirely focused on the big issues: McCain’s people called him a terrorist-loving Muslim, Obama acknowledged McCain’s service to his country.  And certainly there were hugely tempting topics: the Keating Five, McCain’s well-known temper, Sara Palin’s religious views and ethical problems, just for starters.  But Obama stuck to his strategy – and it paid off.

Share the hoped-for future: Obama used the powerful combination of his vision, his rhetorical skills, and his steadiness to powerfully turn people’s attention again and again to the possibility of a better future for our country. He believed this would appeal to Americans more than fear and divisiveness. Fortunately, he was right.

In contrast, McCain was the opposite of strategic.  He seemed unclear about both his current reality and his vision (other than really, really wanting to be president, and seeming to feel that he deserved it). As to consistent choices: very few.  From his seemingly spontaneous Vice Presidential choice, to the embarrassing on-again-off-again campaign “suspension,” to his ambivalence about allowing others around him to use ever-more-desperate smear tactics. But then it’s hard to be anything but tactical and reactive when you don’t have a sense of the future you’re trying to create – and “not Obama” isn’t a clear vision for the future.

So, the next time you hear people say someone isn’t “being strategic”– think of Barack Obama’s astonishing journey to the presidency, and you’ll know what they’re looking for – and why it’s important.

Posted in Current Affairs


Back in the USA

I just did a Google news search on “people management.” I was simply casting a net; kind of randomly looking for interesting stuff to blog about. But I discovered interestingness in an unexpected way…

Of the first 40 results, only 10 were from the US,. When I subtracted press releases (which were, in effect, ads for companies that provide some form of people management technology) the disparity grew: only 3 out of 26 – 11.5% – were substantive US-based articles about the actual managing of people.

What’s up with that?

I suspect it’s an indication that we’re not nearly as cool, on a whole variety of levels, as we persist in believing we are relative to the rest of the world. (Note, in the Peter’s Projection map at the right, how relatively small the US is.)

Posted in Current Affairs


Important Work: Thank You

Link: Issue Highlights.

Just last Friday, I had the pleasure of speaking with Sheryl Silver, a journalist and editor, about an article she’s doing on Growing Great Employees for her career column.

In the course of our conversation, she told me about the work she’s been doing for almost four years, to pass legislation to support early detection of gynecological cancers. She began the work to honor her sister, Johanna, who died of ovarian cancer in 2000.

I was so touched at her herculean effort on behalf of her much-loved sister, and so grateful — as a woman — that she and her colleagues wended their way through all the political and social barriers to getting this legislation passed, that I wanted to share her story with you.

The link above is to an article that gives a bit more detail about the legislation, and here’s some more information about Johanna’s law at Sheryl’s website.

Thank you, Sheryl.

Posted in Current Affairs