May 30, 2010

Beautiful Lies

Excerpts from Ham on Rye by Charles Bukowski, first published 1982 by Black Sparrow Press:

"I got up and walked out. I began my walk home. So, that's what they wanted: lies. Beautiful lies. That's what they needed. People were fools. It was going to be easy for me. ..."

. . . . . . . . 

"... The problem was you had to keep choosing between one evil or another, and no matter what you chose, they sliced a little bit more off you, until there was nothing left. At the age of 25 most people were finished. A whole god-damned nation of assholes driving automobiles, eating, having babies, doing everything in the worst way possible, like voting for the presidential candidate who reminded them most of themselves."

. . . . . . . . 

"I could see the road ahead of me. I was poor and I was going to stay poor. But I didn't particularly want money. I didn't know what I wanted. Yes, I did. I wanted someplace to hide out, someplace where one didn't have to do anything. The thought of being something didn't only appall me, it sickened me. The thought of being a lawyer or a councilman or an engineer, anything like that, seemed impossible to me. To get married, to have children, to get trapped in the family structure. To go someplace to work every day and to return. It was impossible. To do things, simple things, to be part of family picnics, Christmas, the 4th of July, Labor Day, Mother's Day ... was a man born just to endure those things and then die? I would rather be a dishwasher, return alone to a tiny room and drink myself to sleep.

My father had a master plan. He told me, "My son, each man during his lifetime should buy a house. Finally he dies and leaves that house to his son. Then his son gets his own house and dies, leaves both houses to his son. That's two houses. That son gets his own house, that's three houses ..."

The family structure. Victory over adversity through the family. He believed in it. Take the family, mix with God and Country, add the ten-hour day and you had what was needed.

I looked at my father, at his hands, his face, his eyebrows, and I knew that this man had nothing to do with me. He was a stranger. My mother was non-existent. I was cursed. Looking at my father I saw nothing but indecent dullness. Worse, he was even more afraid to fail than most others. Centuries of peasant blood and peasant training. The Chinaski bloodline had been thinned by a series of peasant-servants who had surrendered their real lives for fractional and illusionary gains. Not a man in the line who said, "I don't want a house, I want a thousand houses, now!"

He had sent me to that rich high school hoping that the ruler's attitude would rub off on me as I watched the rich boys screech up in their cream-colored coupes and pick up the girls in bright dresses. Instead I learned that the poor usually stay poor. That the young rich smell the stink of the poor and learn to find it a bit amusing. They had to laugh, otherwise it would be too terrifying. They'd learned that, through the centuries. I would never forgive the girls for getting into those cream-colored coupes with the laughing boys. They couldn't help it, of course, yet you always think, maybe ... But no, there weren't any maybes. Wealth meant victory and victory was the only reality.

What woman chooses to live with a dishwasher?"

May 20, 2010

The Art of Management

The You Are Special hair salon 
seen on Queens Boulevard in Rego Park, NY

A favorite subject of ours - Yvon Chouinard, founder and owner of Patagonia, has written:

"After we had pondered our responsibilities and financial liabilities, one day it dawned on me that I was a businessman and would probably be one for a long time. It was also clear that in order to survive at this game, we had to get serious. I also knew that I would never be happy playing by the normal rules of business; I wanted to distance myself as far as possible from those pastry faced corpses in suits I saw in airline magazine ads. If I had to be a businessman, I was going to do it on my own terms."

"... Studies have shown that it costs a company an average of fifty thousand dollars to replace an employee - from recruiting costs, training, and loss of productivity."

"... We don't hire the kind of people you can order around, like the foot soldiers in an army who charge from their foxholes without question when their sergeant yells, "Let's go, boys!" We don't want drones who will simply follow directions. We want the kind of employee who will question the wisdom of something he regards as a bad decision. We do want people who, once they buy into a decision and believe in what they are doing, will work like demons to produce something of the highest possible quality-  whether a shirt, a catalog, a store display, or a computer program. How you get these highly individualistic people to align and work for a common cause is the art of management at Patagonia."

. . . . . . . . 

Adam Bryant writes a gem of a column titled Corner Office for The New York Times.  The following Questions and Answers are from memorable interviews conducted by Mr. Bryant in the past two years.

From He Wants Subjects, Verbs and Objects, an interview of Richard Anderson, chief executive of Delta Air Lines:

Q.  What was the most important leadership lesson you learned?

A.  I've learned to be patient and not lose my temper. And the reason that's important is everything you do is an example, and people look at everything you do and take a signal from everything you do. And when you lose your temper, it really squelches debate and sends the wrong signal about how you want your organization to run. And it was a good lesson. It was a long time ago. And I had a C.E.O. who I was very close to, and he just took me aside and gave me a really short instruction about it. And it was a really important instruction.

We have a tendency in these jobs to push really, really hard and want to go really, really fast. Change can't ever be fast enough. But you do have to be patient enough and make sure that you always remain calm.

Q.  (When hiring) what are you listening for as somebody describes their family, where they're from, etc.?

A.  You're looking for a really strong set of values. You're looking for a really good work ethic. Really good communication skills. More and more, the ability to speak well and write is important. You know, writing is not something that is taught as strongly as it should be in the educational curriculum. So you're looking for communication skills.

You're looking for adaptability to change. You're looking at, do you get along well with people? And are you the sort of person that can be a part of a team and motivate people? You know, do you have the emotional I.Q.?

It's not just enough to be able to just do a nice PowerPoint presentation. You've got to have the ability to pick people. You've got to have the ability to communicate. When you find really capable people, it's amazing how they proliferate capable people all through your organization. So that's what you're hunting for.

Q.  What about time management?

A.  Only touch paper once. No. 2, always have your homework done. No. 3, return your calls very promptly. No. 4, stick to your schedule. I keep my watch about 10 minutes ahead. It's important to run on time, particularly at an airline. And use your time wisely. And then, once a month, take the rest of the calendar year, or the next six months and re-review how you are using your time and reprioritize what you're doing.

. . . . . . . . 

From Are You a C.E.O. of Something?, an interview with Mark Pincus, founder and chief executive of Zynga:

Q.  So give me an example of what you did to change that (keep everybody going in productive directions when you're not in the room).

A.  I'd turn people into C.E.O.'s. One thing I did at my second company was to put white sticky sheets on the wall, and I put everyone's name on one of the sheets, and I said, "By the end of the week, everybody needs to write what you're C.E.O. of, and it needs to be something really meaningful." And that way, everyone knows who's C.E.O. of what and they know whom to ask instead of me. And it was really effective. People liked it. And there was nowhere to hide.

Q.  But don't most people have something to prove?

A.  ..... This is another thing I really, really value: being a true meritocracy. The only way people will have the trust to give their all to their job is if they feel like their contribution is recognized and valued. And if they see somebody else higher above them just because of a good resume, or they see somebody else promoted who they don't think deserves it, you're done.

My approach is that you have to earn the respect of the people you work with. And so, if you come in and you start bossing people around and they don't want to work with you, they won't. In our company, if you want to switch teams, you can. In hiring, it's also a sign of a great manager when you tell me that there's all these people who want to come with you, or when you join us and we find other people are all sending us their resumes because you're here.

. . . . . . . . 

From Talk to Me. I'll Turn Off My Phone., an interview with Tachi Yamada, president of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation's Global Health Program:

Q.  What else (leadership lessons learned)?

A.  A second key lesson was from a doctor named Marcel Tuchman. He was the most compassionate person I have ever met in my life - I mean, full of human kindness. And every time he met somebody, you had the sense that he cared more about them than anything else in the world.

So what I learned from him is that when you actually are with somebody, you've got to make that person feel like nobody else in the world matters. I think that's critical.

So, for example, I don't have a mobile phone turned on because I'm talking to you. I don't want the outside world to impinge on the conversation we're having. I don't carry a BlackBerry. I do my e-mails regularly, but I do it when I have the time on a computer. I don't want to be sitting here thinking that I've got an e-mail message coming here and I'd better look at that while I'm talking to you. Every moment counts, and that moment is lost if you're not in that moment 100 percent.

Q.  Talk about how you hire.

A.  You have to have people in an organization who are willing to truly embrace change, because if they don't, then what you have is an organization that's constantly fighting to stay at the status quo. And, of course, that leads to stagnation. It's also an unsustainable model.

I've made an observation about people. There are people who have moved. Take somebody who's a child of an Army officer - they will have moved 10 times in their lives. And then there are people who've been born and raised and educated and employed in one town their whole lives. Who do you think is willing to change? I think, in this modern world, you really have to be sure that your work force has the experience of being elsewhere. That experience then has the ability to ensure that you will be comfortable with change.

The biggest problems I see in a group of people who don't embrace change is that they will always fight anything new, any new idea, any new concept, any outside point of view. And, of course, there are many examples of companies that have failed because of that. So I think that's a critical point. Almost all of the people on our staff have traveled all around the world, have lived everywhere.

. . . . . . . . 

From If Plan B Fails, Go Through the Alphabet, an interview with Steve Hannah, chief executive of The Onion:

Q.  What is it you want to know (when interviewing job candidates)?

A.  I want to know whether you were a kid who was entitled, whether you worked hard, whether you excelled at school, whether you held summer jobs, how hard you had to work, whether you got the jobs yourself, whether you got promoted. I want to know if you'll work hard.  I'm hopelessly old-fashioned. I want people who really want to work hard. And I absolutely loathe a sense of entitlement.

Q.  Tell me about the first time you were a manager.

A.  I was a reporter at The Milwaukee Journal.  I was really hungry, terribly ambitious. My boss came to me one day and said, "We need you to run the bureau at the state capitol." I was just starting a family. So I said, "How much does it pay?"

I felt I could straighten my co-workers out. And so I went in on Monday and said: "In case you guys hadn't heard, I'm the boss. Anybody who doesn't like it, step right up and let me know."

I did this silly dance for about nine months, and one day the senior member of the office came to me and said, "How long do you think we can survive this?" And I said: "I've got about another day in me. I'm exhausted trying to prove to you that I'm in charge."

Around the same time, I had lunch with a friend who said, "Do you get up every morning and think that life is a battle, that you're going to war every day?"  And I said, "Yeah, basically." And she said: "It's not going to work. Be kind, take care of them and they'll perform for you." It was a revelation.

Q.  What are the top three or five lessons?

A.  In no particular order? He (Lt. Gen. Harold Moore) taught me that you never, ever do anything to deprive a human being of their dignity in work, in life. Always praise in public and criticize in private. You might be tempted, for example, when you're letting someone go, to say something that would diminish the value of their work. Don't ever do that. ...

Q.  What else?

A.  When I was young and managing, I didn't listen nearly enough. Hal would always say to me: "Listen to the people below you because they are on the front lines. Do you realize that any given moment any one of those people from the highest to the lowest can be the most important person that day in your operation?" I've seen that happen in our business. ...

May 10, 2010

This is enough.

Hibakusha (bomb victim) Tsuyo Kataoka, Nagasaki, 1961
Photograph by Shomei Tomatsu

"Sometimes a photographer is a passenger, sometimes a person who stays in one place. What he watches changes constantly, but his watching never changes. He doesn't examine like a doctor, defend like a lawyer, analyze like a scholar, support like a priest, make people laugh like a comedian, or intoxicate like a singer. He only watches. This is enough. No, this is all I can do. All a photographer can do is watch. Therefore, a photographer has to watch all the time. He must face the object and make his entire body an eye. A photographer is someone who wagers everything on seeing. This is what a photographer is."

Shomei Tomatsu from The Pencil of the Sun, 1975

Please see Shomei Tomatsu: Skin of the Nation, published 2004 by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in association with Yale University Press.

May 6, 2010


On May 5, 2010, the Phoenix Suns basketball team chose to wear its Los Suns jerseys (a variant of the team's normal uniform) in a nationally televised NBA playoff game against the San Antonio Spurs.

From an issued statement by Billy Hunter of the NBA Players Association:

"The recent passage of the new immigration law in Arizona is disappointing and disturbing. The National Basketball Players Association strongly supports the repeal or immediate modification of this legislation. Any attempt to encourage, tolerate or legalize racial profiling is offensive and incompatible with basic notions of fairness and equal protection. A law that unfairly targets one group is ultimately a threat to all.

We applaud the actions of Phoenix Suns players and management and join them in taking a stand against the misguided efforts of Arizona lawmakers. We are consulting with our members and our player leadership to determine the most effective way for our union to continue to voice our opposition to this legislation."