Archives: August 2008

Biggest So Far

While I plan to retire in the saddle, and no time soon, I have nonetheless provided my most comprehensive "Master Presentation" to date. It is a ten-part offering:

Parts 1.1, 1.2, 1.3, 1.4/Generic Master
Part 2/Leadership
Part 3/Talent
Part 4/"Value-added Ladder"
Part 5/"New" Markets
Part 6/"The Equations"
Part 7.1/Implementation
Part 7.2/Implementation
Part 8/13 "Guru Gaffes"
Part 9/Health"care"
Part 10/"The Lists"

With luck, it'll all eventually get annotated—in the meantime, you will have to live with my shorthand. As to the "Generic Master," it is constantly updated, and is my encyclopedia from which about 75% of each presentation is constructed.

Olympic Footnote

The Olympics are over, but one of Tom's old friends, Heather Schultz, sent him an interesting way to look at the medal results. It came from John Fawcett, a New Zealander and Shultz's colleague at Save the Children. John says, "[S]urely a better way to assess the depth and quality of a nation is to take a look at the per-capita medal table, the table that puts medal totals in proportion to population size?" Here's a pdf of the table. Some of you have been discussing this topic in the comments. Let us know what you think of the table. Erik Hansen raised a point about Iceland winning a silver medal in handball, and that their population is 304,000. As John asked, do you know any Olympic medalists personally?

Cool Friend #126: Richard Thaler

We continue the topic of last month's Cool Friends interview with the latest addition. Once again, Behavioral Economics is the subject of discussion with our new Cool Friend, Richard Thaler. Many people say that he invented the discipline. Thaler is Professor of Economics and Behavioral Science at the Graduate School of Business, University of Chicago, and Director of the GSB's Center for Decision Research. Earlier this year, he and coauthor Cass Sunstein wrote Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness. Erik interviews Richard to find out the difference between a nudge and a noodge, what a choice architect is, and whether libertarian paternalism is an oxymoron. Thaler wants to help people make better choices. That’s why we think you might want to read his Cool Friends interview. You can also explore the website,, or the blog of the same name.


Susan read yesterday's post, and informed me that in her conversations at the dinner in question there was discussion of one of our friends' sisters having a recent colonoscopy—in which the intestine was inadvertently punctured, with a nasty infection ensuing. (The victim, uh, patient, did live—I guess that's something.) Could it be that the odds of a screwed-up colonoscopy are higher than the odds of detecting a problem relatively early enough to justify the risk? I don't know the answer in this instance, but I do know that in any number of situations "Stay the f#^* away from the hospital" is the statistically correct choice.

Quote of the Day

DrunkardsWalk.jpg"If I had said 'yes' to all the projects I turned down and 'no' to all the ones I took, it would have worked out about the same."—David Picker, movie studio exec, quoted in William Goldman's classic Adventures in the Screen Trade (cited by Caltech physics professor and author Leonard Mlodinow in The Drunkard's Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives)

NB1: Mlodinow's book gets a 10 out of 10 from me, hanging in with Fooled By Randomness by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. (Another fav from Mlodinow: "Mathematical analysis of firings in all major sports has shown that those firings had, on average, no effect on team performance." A dozen or more studies appearing in prestigious academic journals are cited.)

NB2: If Randomness Rules then your only defense is the so-called "law of large numbers"—that is, success follows from tryin' enough stuff so that the odds of doin' something right tilt your way; in my speeches I declare that the only thing I've truly learned "for sure" in the last 40 years is "Try more stuff than the other guy"—there is no poetic license here, I mean it.

100 Ways to Succeed #136:

Ultimate & Perhaps Only "Sure-fire" Winning Formula


*Screw Around Vigorously


Do most healthcare professionals care? My evidence is clear: Yes! (Exclamation mark deserved.)

Lab techs.

Not good enough.

Hang out with old people, and the topic invariably turns to health—or the lack thereof. Well, I was at a small dinner last night, four couples. Among the men I was the youngster at 65, though 70 was the upper end. I've gotten in the habit, for professional reasons, of digging a little when the likes of surgery is discussed.

So, here's last night's scorecard:

***Bypass surgery: nearly died of infection in ICU.
***Other open-heart surgery: nearly died due to anesthesia problem; nurse caught it when patient's color went all haywire.
***Kidney surgery: nearly bit the dust due to badly wrong meds administered during recuperation—nurse caught it when patient turned odd color.
***Death: best friend of one of us died last year when pneumonia went un-diagnosed, patient was sent home and croaked in 72 hours.
***TP (me): bought my farm because 52-year-old prior owner had bypass surgery, went home, had severe pain, was told by phone it was routine—and died of infection in 48 hours.


(1) Every one of us had relatively recent personal (family, close friend) horror stories.
(2) None of us, except for the installation of my pacemaker, could recall a personal hospitalization without errors worthy of remark.
(3) None of the horror stories involved the "it;" e.g., the surgeon's work during the procedure.
(4) Hence, all the above are preventable errors.
(5) Thank God for nurses!!!
(6) All agreed, not prompted by me, that a fulltime, "24/7" advocate (family or friend) was needed for any hospitalization.
(7) None of the above took place at a small "boondocks" hospital—all were in med centers of high repute.
(8) None of us or our friends in question was uninsured—we all had at least Buick coverage.

This really pisses me off.
And I shall continue to say so at every opportunity.

There are no excuses.

Make no mistake, this is a story of lousy management and sloppy leadership—not, primarily, the result of lousy health policy.

Make no mistake, this is a story of unconscionably lousy management and almost criminally sloppy leadership—not, primarily, the product of bad health policy.

Fold 'em in Hell!

Fold 'em?

Consider this AOL report from Beijing: "[Angelo] Taylor, a once-troubled 29-year-old who was laying electrical wire 14 months ago, became the first 400-meter hurdler since Edwin Moses to win gold medals eight years apart Monday. He led the first sweep of the event since the U.S. did it in 1960."

(And for every Angelo Taylor there are hundreds who we never hear of, many of whom should have long before age 29 gotten a life beyond running. Yadda, yadda, yadda.)

World's Worst Advice!

An old friend visited for a couple of days last week. Google him, and you'll be impressed. Or you would be, if I'd tell you who it is.

In the course of a dozen conversations—old guy conversations—we shared stories of joys and sorrows, anger and pain, good fortune and ill winds, pals and foes and traitors and through-it-all supporters.

His Hall-of-Fame career includes bushels of excoriating criticisms along the way. Embarrassing and well-deserved failures. Off years—in fact, off decades.

And musing on it all reminded me of a Very Sensible Saying that I think is pure, unmitigated crap, in fact the World's Worst Advice: "Know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em."

As I said ... pure crap.

Forget "fold 'em."
Drop it from your vocabulary.
Excise it.
Bury it.
Stomp on its grave.

If you care, really care, really really care about what you are pursuing, well, then, pursue-the-hell-out-of-it-until-hell-freezes-over-and-then-some-and-then-some-more. And may the naysayers roast in hell or freeze in the Antarctic or bore themselves to death with the sound of their "statistically accurate" advice.

It's a good fortnight to bring this up. I'll bet the farm, my farm, or at least an acre thereof, that less than 1% of the 10,000 athletes in Beijing moved smoothly through their careers. I'll bet virtually all had coaches who advised 'em to hang it up, "career-ending" injuries, humiliations heaped upon humiliations, and so on. And on.

And yet they persisted.
And they're in Beijing.

My anonymous visiting friend gave me The Pixar Touch: The Making of a Company, by David Price. Consider this paragraph:

"One of the curious aspects of Pixar's story is that each of the leaders was, by conventional standards, a failure at the time he came onto the scene. [Animator-superstar John] Lasseter landed his dream job at Disney out of college—and had just been fired from it. [Tech genius and founding CEO Ed] Catmull had done well-respected work as a graduate student in computer graphics, but had been turned down for a teaching position and ended up in what he felt was a dead-end software development job. Alvy Ray Smith, the company's co-founder, had checked out of academia, got work at Xerox's famous Palo Alto Research Center, and then abruptly found himself on the street. [Steve] Jobs had endured humiliation and pain as he was rejected by Apple Computer; overnight he had transformed from boy wonder of Silicon Valley to a roundly ridiculed has been. ..."

That is, shit happens. And if enough of it happens to you, then, if you are wise, you'll fold 'em. And God (and I) will love you just as much as if you'd endured—but we won't read about you in the history books.

Now if you do indeed "endure"—well, we probably won't read about you either, because the odds indeed are long against you making it to that history book or Beijing. I readily admit that.

But if you really really really care ...

About computer animation. Or rowing. Or the shotput. Or those supercalifragilisticexpialidocious chocolate-chip cookies you bake. (Alas, Mrs. Fields announced a bankruptcy filing today.) Or haiku. Or better ways to provide a supercalifragilisticexpialidocious customer experience.

Or ...
Or ...

If you really really really really really care ... then there ain't no time to fold 'em until your last breath is drawn—and even that's too soon if you've bothered along the way to inflame others about your presumed Quixotic cause.

In the (doubtless not) immortal words of Tom Peters: "There's a time to hold 'em and a time to keep on holdin' 'em—if you really really really care."

Your responses are as always very very welcome!

100 Ways to Succeed #134:

Never Give Up.

Odds are zero.

Screw "them."
Go visit the Lincoln Memorial.
Never give up!