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Month: June 2010

Asking questions about life after the recession

Celebs Face_0320 by EDWW day_dae (esteemedhelga) via Flickr5 stages of grief and the recession

By now, everyone has registered that we are in a severe recession.  We have gone through denial, and we have gone through anger. I wonder, though, whether we have arrived at acceptance and action or whether we are currently going through bargaining, and when that fails, have yet to go through depression.

What do I mean?  At the moment, we are still quarreling over the cuts to make. No. We are still quarreling over whether to make cuts.  This is not action. This is bargaining.  We are still hoping to propitiate the gods.

We flood the Gulf of Mexico with oil and we are surprised when ace negotiator, Barack Obama gives us a bill larger than the additional taxes we need to pay to clear up the credit crunch.  We definitely aren’t that far along, are we?

Anticipating life after the recession

That doesn’t stop me trying to anticipate the end game, though.  It struck me today that the essence of much of our debates is a rather abstract question:  what will be the relative roles of our economic and social lives?

Many pundits think our economic lives will become marginal, not because we will be poor but because we simply don’t have to work so hard to meet our basic needs.  (I can hear you tell me to talk for myself!)

But the structure of economic life is the central question we face and within that question is the question of the relative roles of economic and social lives.

Where will work fit into our lives after the recession?

Within this question is the role that economic activity plays in a healthy existence.  We like to work.  We may not always like the conditions of our employment or or relative status, but we like to work.

Poet David Whyte thinks our character is tempered by the fires of work.  We express ourselves through economic exchanges.  We grow through economic exchanges.

Maybe this question should be the starting point of imagining our radically different collective futures.  What kind of economic interchanges do we believe are worth pursuing?

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Maximally ambitious? Do we dare?

Maximally ambitious

Love that phrase! But who would dare to stand up in a room and say they want to be maximally ambitious. Too, too ninja, as Lloyd DavisBig Ambition by ronwalf via Flickr would say.

Too much ninja is not good

Too ninja is a problem, to be sure. Anyone who is very goal-oriented probably learned before they left high school that getting results may be fun but itis about as destructive as getting behind the wheel while drunk.

Working for results should always take place in a safe place, like a football pitch ,with a good referee and medics standing by.

But holding back on maximally ambitious is usually ‘an abundance of caution’

But we don’t hold back on pursuing maximal ambition because we might hurt others. We hold back because they might hurt us.

Minimally, we will be jeered. We will be cut down to size on the spot. Downunder, they call it tall poppy syndrome. Your success, your glee, your fun is harm to me even if none of the damage I described above has happened or is even remotely likely to happen.

Who is allowed to be maximally ambitious? It’s political, stupid.

We don’t pursue maximal ambition because the right to be maximally ambitious is hotly contested and savagely protected. Who has the right to be maximally ambitious, is a political question.

Yet, in stopping people being maximally ambitious, we cramp their souls to such an extent they feel deadened.  And then we wonder why they are disengaged from work and the political process.

By destroying their sense of the possible, by taking away their sense of spaciousness, we create an environment that we don’t like very much ourselves.

In Lloyd Davis’ language, we have to let the ninjas out to get a bit a organizational yoga going. And the ninjas wisely don’t come out unless they know they will come out to a bit of yoga.

Designing communal space

Designing communal space is so important. Making space for the ninja of us all requires the soft cushion of yoga around us.

Maximally ambitious. Why not?

Provided we let the other guy be maximally ambitious too. What can we do together when we are all maximally ambitious?

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Cribsheet for HR Planning & Design

Global Warming Ice Cream Van queue at Studland by Watt_Dabney via FlickrBasics of HR Planning & Design

I am tidying up (again) and I thought I would post a revision crib sheet that I made for students of HRM.

HR Planning & Design of HR System

What is HR planning? (mention supply, demand and matching actions)


How do we understand and project demand for HR? (pattern of sales, technology)

Is demand for HR a fixed number (such as 3 engineers)?


How can we understand and project supply of HR? (internally and externally)

Is supply of HR a fixed number?

Match demand & supply

How do we match demand for HR that we are pretty certain about?

How can we match demand for HR that is volatile/that we are uncertain about?

How else can we improve the match of supply and demand of HR?

Metrics: How well do we match supply & demand?

What metrics doe we use to monitor our success in matching supply and demand in HR? (think HR Costs and Sales Revenue)

UPDATE: If you need an example, here is a link to planning for surgeons in the NHS.

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Rational data analysts have to consider motive first

Winners by Ann Morgan via FlickrDo the leaders of the world consider hard cold data when they make decisions?

I was sitting on aeroplane, catching up with the executive of an houshold name mulitinational, when he said something that was either the befuddled product of a jet-lagged brain, or something quite profound.  I know he is capable of both, so see what you think.

He said that he had learned, that “at this level  [buying and selling business units across borders]” the final decision just depends on the person making the decision.

Is there a general truth in this observation?

It is true, that like the son of a rich man, a firm can seem to “do well” just because of inherited wealth.  If we compare like-with-like and mentally subract the advantage of licenses and capital, is it true that at some point, organizations stop making rational decisions, and revert to the prejudices, preferences and whims of decision-makers?

Is the world ultimately run on whim, concealed by the size of major organizations?

Does data and rational decision making really matter in this complex and fast moving world?

I doubt we would ever have the hard data to systemaically explore this speculation. Wee may as well put it aside.  But another question does suggest itself.

If the world is puttering along on the basis of whim and prejudice, maybe we should stop worrying about being rational?  Maybe we should just suck-our-thumbs and join in? Put two stones in our pocket and say yes or no depending on which one we pull out?  Should we worry about having data at all?

What is the purpose of data?

It seems to me that we data pundits may have created a “straw man”.

Skilled leaders know that every decision is, at the last, personal.  Their decisions are their choice and the choice of the people they represent.  For them, the important order of events is not data and then preference.  It is preference then data.

Data is not there to tell people what is rational.  Data is there to follow through personal choices rationally.

Do we always use data sensibly?

There are, of course, foolish leaders who discard data when it does not endorse their naïve preferences.  The are inept leaders who discard data when it is ‘politically impossible’ to convey bad news to the people they represent.

More enlightened leaders, and I’ve known a few, use data to learn more about the group’s preferred possibilities and more about ways of achieving their preferences.  The enlightened leader becomes more conscious about what they need to negotiate, with whom, to secure their preferences.  The enlightened leader becomes more aware of what to look out for as they enact their preferences.  The enlightened leader becomes aware of side-effects that might undermine their preferences once the achieve them.

Data is useful to them but not when we try to tell them what they and their followers want out of life.  Data is useful to them when we elaborate their values and help to understand more fully what they want to do.

What is the role of a data pundit?

In short, I suspect data is always welcomed by enlightened leaders when it helps their mental model become

  • fuller
  • more flexible
  • more oriented to the outside world
  • and more supportive of informed, sensitive engagement.

A concrete example

I think Iit’s pretty much like taking a long haul flight with several segments across the world.  If I need to be in a certain city by a certain time, a rational analysis of options is pretty useless.  I am only interested in my options for achieving that goal.  And if that goal becomes uncertain or impossible, then I want data that allows me to re-formulate my goal and communicate to all the people who will be affected.

Leaders are rational; they are motivated

This seems obvious but we expect leaders to be more rational.  They aren’t rational.  They are motivated.

Sometimes we think that is wrong.  But following that reasoning,  it would be equally wrong to want to be in a certain place by a certain time.

The questions facing data pundits are

  • which motives do we enjoy serving?
  • and which data puzzles  can help to solve?
  • Executives often seem satisfied to support massively important decisions with sub-standard data.
  • Our data often seems good.  Yet they throw it out.  We jump to the conclusion that they are too motivated to follow a course of action without a rational analysis.
  • The reality is that we may have done the wrong task.  We may have interrogated a question that interests us rather than people we serve.

So why did I bother to write this post?

We shouldn’t be dismissing leaders as being willing to proceed without data.  They’ve been forced to proceed without data because we didn’t make data available to address the problem facing them today.   We might think they could make better use  of their time and effort but it is likely they would use data that elaborates what they value should we make it easily available.

Motive first. Analysis second?  First, be clear about the motives of the leaders and people we serve?

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Why do we stop using a gratitude diary when we are happy?

Oahu's North Shore by ttrygve via FlickerHow often do you use a gratitude diary?

Do you use a gratitude diary? Some people recommend using one weekly.  I have used one daily but I’ve found that when I’ve had a particularly bad day or when things are going particularly well, I don’t use it.

Why leads us to skip our gratitude diary routine?

I pondered the latter, particularly.  At first, I thought that when I already feel positive,  I spontaneously avoid becoming more positive.  After all, after positive comes irrational optimism and I like to keep my feet on the ground.

My one-off test

Then I disciplined myself to jot down some notes on a lazy Saturday morning and I decided that the opposite is true.  It strikes me that we veer away using a gratitude diary when life is going well because it reminds us of our underlying anxieties.

It’s reasonable to avoid spoiling the party but anxieties are anxieties because there are serious matters in our lives that might not work out well.  Acknowledging anxieties does not have to be mood-dampening.  Cleaning dust out of a corner doesn’t make us think our house is permanently dirty (though we might marvel at how much collects).

Acknowledging anxieties keeps us in touch with rich tapestry of life and makes life fuller and more enjoyable.  At least, that’s my current thesis.  Time to get back to using a diary, I think.

What do you predict? ‘Events’ notwithstanding, will I be better off for cleaning out the subconscious anxieties that I  would be quite content to ignore if I thought I could?


Listening to the customer can be helpful; listening to your own voice can be revolutionary.

Listen by Marcus Q via FlickrListening to the customer can be helpful; listening to your own voice can be revolutionary.

I’m not sure what Dan Pink was really trying to say in this post, but the last sentence is terrific: Listening to the customer can be helpful; listening to your own voice can be revolutionary.

Surviving kidnapping

Earlier this morning, temporarily forgetting it is June in the northern hemisphere a long way from the equator, I thought 3.30 was morning and inadvertently spent an hour listening to stories of religious people who had been kidnapped in Colombia and held for long and (more importantly in my opinion) indeterminate periods.  It was only when I wondered why BBC thought this was breakfast viewing that I realized my error.  That said, it was an interesting program.

Despite the Stockholm syndrome, the advantage of being kidnapped is that we know who the enemy is.  Often in real life, horror emanates from people we want to like.  Not knowing how long a horror will go on for is really horrible.  It’s difficult to budget one’s energy.  We cannot use the line I read about long term jail sentences: Do your time; don’t let your time do you.

It’s in that phrase that we see the value of religion in these never ending horror situations. When we say “don’t let your time do you”, we try to go on as usual.  We try not to change ourselves.

I never comprehend religious arguments.  They seem circular to me.  But what I gathered from the people speaking to BBC was a determination not to broken by the experience.  We can be changed by it, not broken.

Religious people have within their narrative the power to ‘offer’ the horrific situation to God.  Give it back.  Secular people have to reason logically.  This situation is bad but I am not.

Whatever narrative we use, the goal is to be happy within the situation.  I wonder if the programme is available on iplayer because it is difficult to repeat what the former hostages conveyed. Maybe being logical is not helpful.

Remember rather: Listening to the customer can be helpful; listening to your own voice can be revolutionary.  What is your story?  What in this story is a story you can repeat, initially to yourself?

Immoral press

The Moral Maze on BBC4 last night ‘discussed’ ostensibly the outrageous behavior of BBC and other media outlets during the Cumbria shootings.  Beginning with bad manners and utter lack of empathy, they trampled over Cumbria turning other people’s tragedies into titillating gossip for people with nothing else to watch on TV.

Immediately following trauma, we need practical help

The program veered off this point into the personal prejudices of the panelists as is the Moral Maze’s wont, but some of the brave professors who gave of their time to be ‘witnesses’ made an important point.  In the immediate aftermath of a tragedy, we don’t need professional help.  Immediately, we need practical help: a blanket, a cup of tea, a working mobile phone to contact loved ones.

Professionals concentrating on emotions do more harm than good.  I know from my own lit reviews that professionals are unlikely to do better than chance (one third get better, one third get worse and one third stay the same).

Why counselors might make trauma worse

Professionals probably do harm for three reasons:

  • They distract us from the immediate needs of the situation: a blanket, a cup of tea and get in touch with loved ones
  • We rehearse the bad parts making it more likely we will remember the bad parts
  • In the immediate shock, we have no story. Our story got demolished along with the actual event and we need time to think through a coherent and positive narrative.

The last sounds as if we are making things up.  We are not.  We are making sense of what happened.  And unless we have prior experience (and a story made up in advance), it takes time to reorganize our brain just as it does when we are finding our way over any unfamiliar terrain.  We are not ready to talk because we can’t organize our thoughts coherently.  Not yet.

But to leave our story as the story written by the perpetrator, or a story written by chance and bad luck, that is madness.  To live our story as so much debris tossed around on the waves of chance and misfortune, that is madness.

Once we have had a chance to catch our breath, we remember that Listening to the customer can be helpful; listening to your own voice can be revolutionary. Being buffeted by events means we are alive.   Taking notice of events means we are sane.  Listening to our own voice is revolutionary.

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Tick Bite Fever . . . not feverish at all. A mellow read.

Tales of African morality  .  .  . from African ex-patriates

Somewhere I read that the No 1 Ladies Detective Agency stories are about African morality. ‘Traditionally built” Patience Ramotswe solves every case, not only with patient detection but in a spirit of kindness and fairness.  Through each story, we are reminded of what is “good and true, better and possible”.Tick Bite Fever by David Bennun

This weekend I read David Bennun’s 2004 book Tick Bite Fever.  The book is widely praised for its humor and “mordant wit”.

I often avoid books written by wazungu (white Africans).  They often make me wince.  I found Tick Bite Fever refreshing.  It is funny.  Maybe the wit is mordant.  I found it kind.  I found it humble.  I found it connected.  Could it be said that Tick Bite Fever is also an example of African morality where each situation is played out, not by heroes, but in a muddle that is resolved by restoring the dignity of everyone involved?  Can I hold my breath that there is style of literature emerging from African expatriates that is gracious and proportioned?

But even if you don’t want to think too hard, it is a good read.  If you are from that part of the world, you will recognize the lifestyle and laugh.  If you like wit, you will enjoy the keen phrase.  If you need a gentle book for curling up on a wet British weekend, this is it.  Tick Bite Fever.  Not feverish at all.  A mellow read.

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Live your dream – how do you get started?

IMG_2363 by against the tide via FlickrFrustrated dreamer?

We all have dreams.  But most of us don’t dare pursue them

We blame circumstances.  We put off starting until we have done something else.  We dismiss our dreaming as silly.

And we envy (and blame) people who do what they want to do.

Can we pursue our dreams?

But how do we start?  How do we start when we short of resources and have ‘grown-up’ responsibilities to take care of?

Here are two examples.

Penny U and YoungandFoodish

Penny U is a coffee shop (on my list).  YoungandFoodish is a food writer building a foodie community in the great metropolis of London.

I am not going to tell you about them.  You can follow their links and read about them for yourself.

This is for people taking their first step

But I know some people who are just starting out.  They have taken that first piece of paper and written down the the ideas precious to them.

Now they are probably having a slight crisis of confidence and they are thinking, once again, that this is silly; this is childish.  They are thinking that unless someone pays me 50K plus immediately to follow this idea, then this idea is silly.

And I am going to challenge their first crisis of confidence

Well, why should you ask anyone for permission to follow your dream?  Why do you need someone elses endorsement?  They have their dreams.  You have yours.

All you have to do is add one small piece to your dream every day.  Maybe on a half-an-hour commute.  Maybe at lunchtime.  Maybe in 20 minutes snatched while you cook supper in the evening.

A small addition every day and before long, you too will have a venture, shaped around your ideals, contributing your special vision and bringing in a stable, dependable income from work that is honorable, worthy and sound.

Little and often

But it needs a little, every day.  Dreaming is not enough.  We must begin, however, small that beginning.  We must continue, however small the next step.   And we we must do this daily.  We must not break the chain.

A tiny step forward every day.  I’ve followed this process.  I’ve seen this process often.  They people who succeed are those who keep taking the small steps.


Tagaroo vs Zemanta

Tag and image suggestions

When Zemanta first came out, I fell instantly in love.  I had been blogging about a year and I found it really, really useful to have it suggest links and images as I wrote.  It even helpfully suggested posts of my own to list as “similar posts”.

Why I fell out of love with Zemanta

But Zemanta became ‘luggable’.  It did strange things while I was writing, scribbling my posts.  It was immensely difficult to turn off when it played up.  It also lost its tremendously helpful Community Manager.  Sadly, I unsubscribed and, as is the wont of the net, forgot about it.

Is Tagaroo a good alternative?

Today, I found a similar service, Tagaroo.

Tagaroo is downloaded as WordPress plugin where Zemanta is a Firefox extension.  This is the first time I am using it.  It is slowing down my typing.  So check luggable.

Tagaroo sits below the post, rather than next to it.  And it has moved my tag box below the post.  Let’s see what it has done. It has suggested Zemanta as a tag but not Tagaroo(!) or semantic web or anything intelligent.

It has listed 2000+ images which tend to be ‘literal’ rather conceptual.

I picked one and it took me a while to figure out how to insert it.  The choices were staring me in the face.  There are four choices of size but they are all positioned on the left. I suppose that could be adjusted with a bit of editing.  It also inserts far less code into a post than Zemanta – one of the reasons that Zemanta played up as it got tangled up during edits.

Evaluation of Tagaroo

No. I am not totally convinced.  I’ll use it once or twice again.  But so far, I’d say it is quicker to check out Flickr myself.

P.S.  And one more thing.  Tagaroo highlights any sentence containing a tag.  Not very useful for blogging but fantastic if you were doing research and wanted to skim a document.


How to download 100 pdf files from a website in one batch

How do we download pdf files from a website without opening and saving each one separately?

Wheat harvest before sunset near Branderslev, Lolland by Lars Plougmann via Flickr

I am doing a little research job and I want to read over 100 pdf files linked into several pages on a website.  Obviously, I could select each link, open the file, save the file to my hard drive, and go on to the next link.  to download all the files would take 2 to 3 hours and then I would probably miss a file or two through fatigue.

I wanted to download all the files more quickly and accurately, so I looked around and put together a 5-step solution.

Step 1:  Find a complete list of the links

Problem: The listings visible to the casual visitor were paginated and I would have to step through 20 pages to download them all.

Solution: I used the website’s sitemap to dig deep into the website and find a “page” where all the links were on one scrollable, rather than paginated, page.

Step 2:  Download all the links on the page

Problem: To download all the links on the page would be terribly tedious.

Solution: Used the “find links” function in Outwit to list all the links which I copied and pasted into an Excel file.

Step 3:  Create a list of pdf files

Problem: The list of links produced by Outwit included links to everything on the page not just the pdf files.  The links to the pdf files were also listed as .htm

Solution: I did a simple alphabetical sort of the links in Excel and deleted everything except the links ending with .htm.

Step 4:  Reformat the links to link directly to the pdf files

Problem: I still had a list of .htm links not links to the pdf files.

Solution: I used the “Inspect Element” feature of Firebug to inspect the link on the website page and found the source and format of the underlying link to the pdf file.  Then, I edited the .htm links into links that described the pdf files.

Finally I saved this list of links to the pdf files in a text file.

Step 5:  GoZilla

Problem: I still had the problem of downloading the pdf files and did not want to download them one-by-one.

Solution: I uploaded the text file to GoZilla and used automatic downloading to complete the job while I did something else.


140 pdf files downloaded onto my hard drive ready for reading or conversion into text for further searching.

It took me just as long to work this out as to do it manually but next time I will be able to do it quicker!