September 2010

It’s not your imagination – there was no August newsletter. I’m right in the middle of one of those “good news/bad news” scenarios. I haven’t been this busy in a long time (I’ve been “rediscovered” – alas, in my late 60’s), and I’ve never had so many simultaneous deadlines (I’m amazed at how much old time writing it takes to feed the new technology). I hope this newsletter still makes it to you in September.
First, a few announcements:
On September 30th, at 8:00 PM (CST), Arleah and I will be featured in an internet “Live Event”, sponsored by, the pre-eminent personal development website. We’ll be interviewed by Scott Martineau, the site’s founder and CEO. The topic for the evening will be “The Secrets of Personal and Professional Success.” You can find out how to access the event through your computer or your phone (or through your intergalactic communication device) through this link: There is no charge for participating in the event.
I am working with Frank Sarr and John Stout of Training Implementation Services (TIS) in Connecticut, on an interactive online seminar that incorporates the best of computer driven distance learning with live, telephonic coaching. We have taken my material and experience with recruiting and selection and have translated it into a unique, provocative, and highly effective program on “Picking Winners and Keepers.” It will allow anyone who is responsible for, or who touches recruiting, to learn a new and compelling methodology for assessing job applicants. And all of this can take place without the learner ever having to leave their office and travel anywhere. Lastly, this will allow an organization to scale this knowledge across a broad and large range of people, at an extraordinarily reasonable price point. We hope to have the finished product ready by the end of the year. Look for updates in future newsletters.
The newsletter will be changing after the first of the year. It will be shorter. I have gotten feedback that some folks would prefer that, and my internet guru friends tell me that it needs to be so if I want to compete with popular blogs. Also, the capitalist in me is getting tired of busting my ass every month (or so) and giving it away. I’m beginning to feel like a charity hooker of ideas. What I’m thinking of doing is offering longer versions (like White Papers) of the ideas put forth in the newsletter and charging a fee for each paper. Let me know what you think and how you feel about that idea. The fee would be fairly nominal, but somehow, I think it would make me feel better. Now, for the newsletter
Business Tips
“Meaningful Work and Meaningful Lives”
“Live a life of meaning and you won’t need to search for the meaning of life.”
Bill Valentine
I always like to make you aware of studies that affirm my ideas and opinions. It makes me feel good, it validates my intuition, and it fires up my Jewish chromosomes.
For years, Arleah and I have been preaching and teaching the importance of meaningful work, as the prime incentive for increasing productivity and performance, and for laying the foundation for building cultures of excellence. Well, lo and behold, a recently published study flashing around the internet, not only confirms this, but does so in a cross-cultural context. The study was conducted in the U.S. (Massachusetts) and in East India (in the northeast part of the country). It showed the following: When people were engaged in routine, repetitive work (most of which is being replaced by technology), more money proved to be an incentive for enhancing performance. However, when people were engaged in work that involved complex tasks and complicated interactions (i.e. involving lots of information and relationships), money not only failed to be an incentive, it proved to be a disincentive. This surprised everyone involved with the study. As more and more money was offered to people doing these complex tasks (which 90% of us do daily), performance steadily decreased.
So what increased performance? To put it in a nutshell – emotional involvement in the processes and the relationships at work. Communication, genuine participation, responsibility; in essence, a feeling connection with the human environment. What is most fascinating, for me, is the cross-cultural nature of the study. The results were the same in a first world, high tech culture, and a third world, developing society (the Indian part of the study was conducted in rural, agrarian villages, not metropolitan areas).
Making work meaningful, then, makes you money. And you do it by building relationships and emotionally connecting with people. If you choose not to do so (or have people working for you who choose not to do so) you will continually lose money. I’m often asked if people who struggle to build relationships and connect with people can be taught these skills. Absolutely – if they get constant, clear, and direct feedback in two key areas: How they impact other people (starting with you); and how they impact the desire or lack of such, to build a relationship with them. With these two critical bits of information, enormous change can occur. Without them, nothing will change. No amount of “training,” supervision, mentoring, coaching, or simply harassment will have any effect. Creating feedback rich cultures is the only way to consistently and permanently increase productivity and performance.
One additional, and very connected phenomenon, is worth noting. Over the last year (especially the last six months), I’ve seen a dramatic increase in the number of people in the workplace, experiencing a personal meltdown (as well as people applying for jobs). The economic meltdown and severe financial contraction is putting unsustainable pressure on everyone’s lives; but in particular, on the lives of people who were on the margins to begin with. This pressure has threatened to obliterate any meaningfulness in the lives of lots of people, and they are simply grinding to a halt, paralyzed with indecision, trying their hardest to sustain unsustainable personal lives.
A few months ago I had a conversation with a senior manager who was telling me about an experienced salesperson who was doing worse and worse in his job. He was on the verge of losing his home, expecting another child, and having conflict with his wife. The manager was trying to re-arrange his schedule to relieve some stress, and was strategizing with him to try and save his house. None of this was having any positive impact. What I talked about with the manager revolved around helping the salesperson identify what brought some meaning to his life, and how to go about salvaging and preserving that. We developed a plan of action that involved helping the salesperson give up the house, cut back on all non-essential expenses, and focus on the relationship with his wife and the upcoming birth of their child. A lot of this interaction involved conversations about feeling like a failure, what that meant in the salesperson’s view of himself, and, most importantly, what brought the most meaning to his life. The turn-around has been dramatic. The business results are significantly better and home life has done a 180.
People can’t have meaningful lives at work, if they don’t have them at home. It is the responsibility of leaders to spot deterioration as soon as it surfaces; and even more importantly, to help people face it and make the tough, often gut-wrenching decisions. Ignoring it, or simply listening to people recite a tale of woe, and be sympathetic, is unhelpful, dismissive, and ultimately, cowardly. If we profess to care about the people who work with us, or for us, then we must do something that compels them to face what they need to do.
Political and Cultural Observations
“It’s Time To Retire Public Education”  
Our public education system is analogous to the American union movement. Both have served valuable purposes and have played important roles in the evolution of our culture. The problem, however, is that the culture that spawned them is dead and gone – long gone. And because of that, we have an educational system that is a relic of bygone times. As cultural institutions go, nothing is quite as irrelevant to the way we live, work, and most vitally, learn, as our public educational institutions (including private, parochial and “charter” schools).
The public school was a key institution in a new, then rapidly growing country. It played an essential role in the socialization, acculturation, and democratization of the diverse, unorganized, and often chaotic citizenry looking for a modicum of structure and direction for their lives. It grew up in a low information culture, with few vehicles of communication and a relatively modest rate of change. And it established a linkage between education and learning that stood for a few hundred years. The culture has changed – dramatically. The linkage is gone. And public education needs to go.
Learning and education no longer have a necessary connection. Learning involves the continual expansion of self-information and the integration of life experience with this self-information, in the service of fueling ongoing growth and development. It is about using what you’ve been through, to catalyze the next stage of your maturation and personal development. Above and beyond everything else, learning is fundamentally experiential, challenging, and disruptive.
Learning is not about content. It is all about context. In this post-Google culture, it is not only unnecessary, but is essentially fruitless and frustrating to try and fill your brain with a lot of data, facts, and information. This is not to say that there are not essential bits of knowledge required to live a good, productive, and self-sustaining life. It is simply to state what the new learning technologies have made obvious – children and adults learn rapidly and thoroughly when their life experience demands it. (In the 1940’s, A.S. Neill, in England, demonstrated this in his groundbreaking school – Summerhill – where people of all ages became literate, when illiteracy no longer served their needs.) The explosion of online learning, virtual conferences, and the “unschooling” movement (worldwide) is a testament to this seismic shift.
Education, as translated through our schools, is about compliance, coercion, and mind-numbing boredom. It was boring and unchallenging 50-60 years ago, when I was a student, and it hasn’t substantively changed. There are a few more gimmicky things, some “new” pedagogical theories, and a few computers – a token offering to the gods of technology. At its core, it is the same conflict-free, unprovocative, and emotionally sterile ballet, devoid of engagement and deep involvement. Earlier this year, there was an article in the New York Times Magazine, which reported the results of an exhaustive and comprehensive study of numerous programs attempting to improve the effectiveness of teaching. Its conclusions were fascinating and depressing. Effectiveness, using numerous criteria (not simply student test scores) was miserable and appalling. (The study was done by educators, not “critics” and was remarkably and brutally honest.) What was most telling, was that more money, smaller classes, different physical configurations, non-traditional teachers, mentoring and coaching programs – none of these had any significant impact on effectiveness. But, fascinatingly, and almost as an afterthought, there was a brief discussion of one variable that kept popping up. Every once in a while, a teacher emerged who was head and shoulders above their peers, in all measures of effectiveness. Guess what they did differently? They were emotionally engaging and challenging. Duh!
So, what needs to be done for us to become a truly life-long learning culture? I would suggest the following (in a multi-staged order):
1. Eliminate tenure at all educational institutions; from kindergarten through graduate school. It has always amazed me that there is little or no citizen outrage over the blatant contradiction of living in an increasingly high risk society, while supporting a cultural institution, touching almost all our children, that guarantees people life-long jobs after two or three years of work. Arleah and I never worried about the safety of our children, when we sent them off to school. What troubled us was their daily exposure to some of the lowest risk people in the culture, who had no appreciation for or any interest in the unpredictable, uncertain, and energizing world we lived and worked in (along with a few hundred million of our fellow citizens).
2. Put every teacher in America on a one-year renewable contract that paid them on the basis of their performance. The criteria for performance would be student achievement, student and parent feedback, peer review, administrative assessment, classroom observation (by independent third parties), committee work, and mentoring and coaching of colleagues. I know many excellent, engaging teachers all over the country. To a person, they feel suffocated and dispirited by the current system, and very resentful of the well-paid mediocrity surrounding them. I would have no problem paying excellent, engaging teachers six figure salaries, as long as it was possible to readily terminate incompetent, boring, and cynical teachers.
3. Eliminate the connection between property taxes and the funding of our schools. That money belongs in the hands of families, to use, at their discretion, to buy or not to buy, learning experiences for themselves and their children. If that’s a “school,” an online provider, a neighborhood co-op, a religious institution, or a private tutor; that’s their choice, and is none of my business or anyone else’s.
4. Eliminate compulsory education. All that requiring kids to go to school accomplishes, is to escalate the level of passive-aggressive behavior and malicious compliance. It also relieves families and individuals from taking responsibility for their own lives. Lastly, it penalizes excellent teachers and distracts and diverts them from working with willing learners.
5. Shutdown and shutter all the school buildings in America. (They could be used as museums, restaurants, or other businesses.) Keeping kids closed up in these anachronistic bricks and mortar structures, is one of the more bizarre things we do in our culture. The media, technology, and travel opens the whole world to them, and we expect them to grow, learn, and flourish, cooped up in a building, day after day, while the dynamic real world passes them by. Learning takes place by interacting with people doing real things in the real world. The community – local, regional, national, and international, should be our “school.” There are already a number of innovative programs in the “unschooling” movement, that involve students and teachers traveling the country, interacting with business people, government centers, healthcare facilities, and other cultural institutions. Their “schoolwork,” at the end of the day, is writing about and discussing what they just experienced.
I have always been a learner, and I love learning. I would love to see everyone in our society have the opportunity to take advantage of the almost infinite resources for learning increasingly available to us. It is almost within our reach.
Personal Notes
“Getting Tired of the Tolerence of Intolerance”  
As I age, I’m very much aware of two almost polar opposite changes occurring within me. The first is a softness, gentleness, and access to feelings that I have rarely experienced before. In particular, feelings of sadness and grief for my own losses, and for the losses and suffering of others. This past Memorial Day and the recent anniversary of 9-11, had an enormous impact on me. My good friend, Bill Valentine, sent me an email on Memorial Day, sharing his grief over the death of his son, in combat in the Middle East; and I could barely get through it without sobbing. I reproduce it here in hopes that it may help some of you tap into the grief over your losses, and experience some cleansing and release:
“Early this morning I went out to raise our flag as I do nearly every day.
But today is different. I followed the protocol for displaying the flag on Memorial Day. I raised it slowly to the top of the pole and then slowly lowered it to half-mast. It remains there now, hanging limply, sadly in the gentle rain that has been falling all night. And if God is nature, as some believe, God is crying today in memory of my son and the millions of others who have given their perfect selves for this imperfect country of ours.
The flag will remain at half-mast until noon, at which time it is again, this time briskly, returned to its proud position at the top of the flag pole. For within the pain and sadness of this day’s remembrance is also the feeling of awe, and pride and gratitude for those fallen. How do you thank an angel?”
These days I can barely watch a Humane Society commercial, without losing it. If the pictures of abused animals get too graphic, I have to switch channels.
On the other hand, I have developed a visceral disdain and disgust for politically correct idiots who establish moral equivalencies between political and business decisions made in our country, and the outright barbarism that passes for daily life in innumerable countries across the globe. This idiocy reached its zenith a few weeks ago, when some moral morons in our State Department actually worked with the U.N. Human Rights Commission (how’s that for a non sequitur?) to present Arizona’s Immigration Law as a possible human rights violation in the United States. What level of stupidity and denial do you have to sink to, to equate a piece of controversial legislation with stoning adulteresses to death, starving hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children into submission because of their tribal affiliation, and selling girls, as young as ten years old, into sexual slavery? Are you kidding me?
Let’s review some undisputed facts:
1. Every independent inquiry commission that has reviewed the outcome of U.N. Peace Keeping Troops’ interventions in Africa, has arrived at the same conclusion: Random murder and property destruction shoots up, and, even more outrageous, mass rape of not only adult women, but very little girls, skyrockets. Along with this, goes unspeakable mutilation of both sexes. This is not, by the way, only a recent phenomena. The history of central and northern Africa is one of a moving bloodbath. The History Channel, recently, aired a show about the slaughter of 350,000 human beings in Sierra Leone, by their fellow citizens. It took place in the 1970’s, and almost all the victims were either shot at close range, or macheted to death.
2. Women in Middle Eastern Muslim countries have a status somewhere around that of livestock. The rape “laws” are infamous for their absurdity and cruelty, and even when women are “allowed” to go see a doctor, they can’t, literally, see him, or be seen by him. In addition, a male relative must communicate the woman’s problem or complaint, to the doctor. Remember, also, that converting from Islam to Christianity is a capital offense. (I wonder what would happen if you convert to Judaism? Can you be killed more than once?)
3. The Crusades, the Inquisition, the stoning of adulteresses (where have we heard of that before?), the burning of witches; none of those horror shows were constructed or committed by Hindus or Buddhists. They were a Christian contribution. In a related issue, it took a bit over a few hundred years for the Catholic Church to absolve the Jews from responsibility for killing Christ. This gives a whole new meaning to “just in time.”
4. The Orthodox Jewish community in Israel is one of the greatest obstacles to peace in the region. Their rigidity and opposition to compromise is notorious, and although a very small segment of the total population, they have an undue impact (some would say, a stranglehold) on political and cultural life in the country. When I was growing up, my grandparents’ generation had “funerals” for their compatriots who married gentiles. And they treated them as if they were dead.
So, what’s my point? Is this a Bill Maher-type rant against organized religion? Nope? I’m simply fed up with hypocrisy and lying; particularly the latter. I’m real tired of hearing about “moderate Muslims,” as if that should make us feel better about lunatic Muslims. And I’m really, really tired of hearing that Islam is a gentle, peace-loving, and inclusive religion. It is not. And you don’t have to be a scholar of the Koran to figure it out. Like all unreformed belief systems, it is narrow, intolerant, and brutal in its view of “non-believers.” We’ve been here before, with Judaism and Christianity. It’s Islam’s turn.
What I’d like to see is politicians, opinion makers, business leaders, and other “spokespersons,” have the courage to speak the truth. Specifically –
I’d like to see a senior spokesperson at the State Department announce that the only reason we have any kind of relationship with most of the regimes in the Middle East, is that they have oil. And that if they didn’t have oil, we’d cut off communication as fast as Lindsay Lohan in a rehab program.
I’d like to see the Obama Administration come clean and just tell us directly that their number one objective is to even the score with free-marketers, and that if you’ve been a successful risk-taker, you’ve got a target on your back.
I’d like to see the leadership of the Republican party tell the religious right that their obsession with abortion and gay rights does not make it a legitimate public policy issue. And that their unending crusade to jam their fundamentalism down the party’s throat, only alienates and dispirits genuinely concerned people.
I’d like to see the leadership of the Democrat Party tell the Congressional Black Caucus to cut it out. Nobody plays the race card more than those folks, and nobody throws around the “racism” label more gratuitously and self-destructively. Unfortunately, they’ve become every bigot’s dream.
This isn’t too much to ask, is it?

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