Archives: June 2009

May All the Gods Smile Upon Them!

Coffeemaker on-off button

See directly above. It is the "control panel" of my new Black & Decker SmartBrew coffeemaker.

One switch.
Two positions.

I hereby declare that B&D not only wins Tom's User Friendly Grand Award—but retires the cup!!

(Some of you snobs will go on & on & on about the limitations of my Dearest Delight. And I will reply with a smirk. In a blind taste test, my coffee will be as good as yours!)

Speaking of Superb User-friendly Design (and Simplicity) …

Below you'll see ye olde fashion nubby scorecard pencil—directly from Fenway Park. Doesn't get much better than that, either!

Stubby red pencil with Boston Red Sox printed on the side

Speaking of Design:
How to Spend $50,000

If I had $50,000 to spend on the design of a new home—or smallish professional office building, here's how I'd spend it:


Interior designer: $25,000.
Landscape designer: $15,000.
Architect: $10,000.

Logic: We live and work and play inside the dwelling (mostly) and outside the dwelling (some to a lot, depending on the climate). The skin that divides in from out, the architect's work, is a third-order concern.


Interior designer: $30,000.
Landscape designer: $12,000.
Architect: $8,000.

Logic is pretty much the same, with a little added emphasis on the interior.

If this makes sense from a use perspective (and "use" is what we do), why is the architect typically treated like God, and the interior designer and landscaper as second-stringers ... if we use them at all?

I suppose because "we" like pictures of the places we live and work better than the places themselves? (Ever notice that in architectural magazines, there are never people?) (Okay, I'll be fair, there are rarely people pix in interior design mags either—again, alas, we design for a good picture rather than livability.)

Full disclosure:

My wife is a tapestry artist and home furnishings designer-entrepreneur.
My hobby is landscaping.
I despise most Frank Gehry buildings as extravagant ego-exercises.*
[*There is one architect I love. Christopher Alexander—coauthor of the magnificent Pattern Language. He focuses on living in/using a space—inside and out—rather than the sexiness of the skin.]

Mary Pennington, Ignaz Semmelweis,
And the “Last 98%”

Mary Pennington, IBD tells us (June 22), was known as the "Ice Lady." The Philadelphian saved countless lives via her successful campaigns for sanitary food practices in the early 1900s. Her engaging demeanor was such that she was time and again able to gain the support of both producers and distributors. (A Ph.D. chemist from Penn, remarkable in itself, she became the first woman employed by the USDA.)

Reading about Ms Pennington, I was reminded of the virtually opposite story of Ignaz Semmelweis, another pioneer in the field of sanitary conditions. While his work, and that of his peers, eventually had enormous impact, it fell flat for decades—in spite of the obviousness of his findings. Rather than making common cause with the doctors whose practices he was trying to alter (wash your hands), he instead did such things as writing letters to the press at times denouncing the docs, per Wikipedia, as "irresponsible murderers."

It is "just" a "Monday rant" from me reminding us, as the week begins, of that "all important last 98%" called implementation—and, of course, that implementation is a matter of respect and listening and carefully nurtured relationships 98% of the time.

Success Tip #176:

Skip the Trashtalk!

Sure you're pissed off that the folks who will be the BENEFICIARIES (!!) of your Magnificent Work "just don't get it."

Hint: Calling them the likes of "irresponsible murderers" won't help!

Rule: Don't trashtalk prospective users of your programs—even in the most private of private conversations with your most trusted friends and allies!!

TomChirp #19

I desperately want to see a thoroughgoing healthcare overhaul (patient safety, an end to pay-by-procedure, and the exaltation of primary care docs are the main planks in my platform). But I was nonetheless fascinated by the lead article in the June 29 IBD/Investors Business Daily—"Uninsured Figures Overhype the Lack of Health Coverage." IBD points to several reasonable analyses that tally the involuntarily uninsured in the U.S.A. at about 20 million, or even less, rather than the "popular" 45 million+ stat. IBD is a conservative rag, to be sure, but this analysis points up the always obvious state of affairs: it's a dead flat cinch, left or right, to "interpret" statistics about the same phenomenon in RADICALLY different ways.

TomChirp #20

Recommendation: The July 2009 issue of Wired is particularly good.

TomChirp #17

How's Your Day Going?

CitiGroup to raise base pay of key execs by 50%.
And you?

TomChirp #18

MBA "Musings"

The Financial Times reported yesterday that Harvard b-school students created, and over 1,000 have signed, an oath specifying acceptable behavior. Among other things, they promise to pay equal attention to "shareholders, co-workers, customers and the society in which they operate." On the one hand, as writer Michael Skapinker says, it's easy to dismiss; the oath hardly represents "breakthrough thinking"—except perhaps in prestigious b-schools and on Wall Street. On the other hand, it is perhaps a small step in a useful direction, and deserves a tiny nod or at least temporarily suspended laughter. Some of this seems to follow not only the financial crisis, but the famous/infamous recent Jack Welch disclaimer. Welch, father-patron saint-cheerleader-haranguer-in-chief of the ubiquitous "shareholder value movement," recently dissed the primacy of shareholder value as "the dumbest idea in the world." Presumably dismissing as scurrilous the primary thing you stood for in your widely heralded career does not tarnish your reputation (Welch was just reported as starting an online B-school); to me, it makes the former GE icon a self-anointed laughingstock.

Speaking of laughingstock: My b-school alma mater, Stanford, has just appointed a new dean, Garth Saloner. I am sure he is a fine fellow, doubtless very bright—and of course I wish him well. But Stanford surely wins no out-of-the-box honors; in fact they seem to have defined "trapped in the same frigging box we've been in approximately forever." The new dean is a white-male-economist. Dear God-oh-God-oh-God-oh-God, why why why why why why another economist? Solaner, the latest poster child for non-diversity, makes the third or fourth economist in a row—I've lost track. (Before the economist streak started, we had an accountant who starred in the Enron fiasco.) The lack of imagination is nothing short of mind-boggling. I only wish I'd been giving my b-school a lot of money, so that I'd have the unalloyed pleasure of cutting them off.

Speaking of the Stanford b-school redux: I recently mentioned an excellent Harvard Business Review article, "The Buck Starts (and Stops) at Business School," in which author and former b-school dean Joel Podolny says at one point, "The degree of contrition at business schools seems small compared with the magnitude of the offense." In the issue of Stanford Business I just received, the outgoing dean, Robert Joss, offers his own assessment of b-school contrition: "A better balance is needed."

Please pass the barf bag!

Summer Banner, Excellent Idea

For our summer banner (which went up two days early because the Solstice occurred on Sunday), we asked Joy Stauber, who has been designing our banners for a couple of years now, to think about Summer and Excellence. While Joy has been designing a seasonal banner every three months for, this time we asked her to also consider Excellence, for Excellence is what this site is all about. Of course it hearkens back to the book Tom co-authored with Bob Waterman. It's an idea that launched Tom's speaking career and also an idea that at some level overwhelmed Tom, so that he found himself shying away from it for a long while.

To quote Tom from an April, 2006 blog post:

I got so damn sick of "excellence," so worn out by "excellence" ... for years after "the book" became a hit. Distanced myself from it. Ran from it.

But no longer. Excellence is back in a big way. If you've looked at any of Tom's slide presentations lately, you'll see that the first slide always includes: "Excellence. Always."

When Joy began to think about Excellence (which hereafter will always be capitalized at this site) and images for a banner, she thought about the wheel, and when she thinks wheels, she thinks bikes. (As a fan of bicycles myself, I’m glad that the banner begins with a bike in motion.) Joy discovered the black and white spiral while exploring the Golden Mean, also known as the Golden Ratio, and she liked the energy of it. (Cathy's concern: "When you scroll down our front page, the black spiral seems to pulse in and out. I hope we don't cause any seizures.") Yes, we all here at hope we don't cause any seizures, either, unless you’re seized by an urge to sit bolt upright and realize that you can begin right now to always be Excellent.

Flowers are Excellent, of course, but especially this flamboyant one. (No meek and mild-mannered flowers here.) (Recall also that Tom suggests not cutting back on your flower budget even during this recession.) And what could be more Excellent than fresh-grown garden tomatoes? From the earth, pictured next. As for the star, isn't Excellent work always rewarded with a star? (Maybe not in real life, but certainly in school. But maybe real-life Excellence should be rewarded with stars, too?)

Joy likes to include a silhouetted character in her banners. You may or may not think it's Tom, flying a kite. (His hair has never been that long in our recollection.) Think Ben Franklin and the discovery of electricity, think wind power. The words in the speech balloon clearly are Tom's, part of his new clarion call, "If not EXCELLENCE, WHAT? If not EXCELLENCE now, WHEN? " After that, we move on to the sunset, our Excellent reward at the end of each day.

That's the lowdown behind the new Summer/Excellence banner.

With that, we here wish all of you a wonderful, warm, relaxing, and Excellent summer. (As always to our friends in the southern hemisphere, best wishes for an Excellent winter.)