Saturday, February 28, 2009

Wisdom & Morals

Synchronocity continues to occur! The latest TED video I just watched directly reflects on my yesterday's blog on "Regulate or De-regulate" plus a number of other sympathetic thoughts we share. Barry Schwartz's 20 minute talk covers a range of important observations and principles that I've been working on and concerned about for years:

  • practical wisdom, that can't be prescribed by job descriptions (reminding me of Total Quality Management and the Ritz-Carlton's example of quality service by all their associates);
  • bureaucratic rules and incentives vs. moral skill (expanding on my regulate/de-regulate quandry);
  • rigid rules (like school curricula), that prevent disaster, but ensure mediocracy;
  • community responsibilities vs. individual interests.
His answer is to re-moralize work, not through more ethics courses, but by identifying and celebrating moral heroes, being the examples of the ordinary heroes we need, and embodying the character and virtues we want our kids to develop.

It's certainly heartening to hear such views after working with some state education leaders, at least one of whom said she couldn't even mention the words "character education" lest she be accused of being a communist!

Social Networking, Twitter, Blogging - In Plain English

While cruising around the 'net trying to figure out how I should use social networking, blogging, newsfeeds, etc., I found a series of quick (2 minute), light videos by Lee LeFever and his company Common Craft that effectively convey some basic concepts. Here are the links to the videos on YouTube with the embedded videos. If you go to the videos at YouTube, you'll see other explanatory videos you might find interesting.

Social Networking



RSS Feeds

Friday, February 27, 2009

Regulate or de-regulate?

Regulation vs. deregulation. Alas, it's a false black/white, either/or choice. And a dangerous one.

Our current economic crisis is an example of what has occurred many times in past, given slavish adherence to deregulation dogma. In an almost religious quest for deregulation, we've suffered a repeat of the kind of impact we saw with the savings and loan crisis, derivatives debacle, junk bonds, etc. (yet with each occurrence, we've seen an increased magnitude of impact). In fact, the over-leverage by financial institutions in their investment in mortgages is reminiscent of the over-leverage by investors in the stock market of 1929.

Deregulation shouldn't be a religious quest by believers in a free market. The New York Stock Exchange - a global exemplar of a free market - depends on a high degree of regulation to ensure its reliable, efficient operation.

Now, with the problems caused by decades of over-deregulation, we can expect government regulators to step in and close the barn door after they've let the horses out. I'm not arguing that we don't need additional regulation. Re-regulation is needed to attempt to prevent similar bad things from recurring in the future. Such regulation may be appropriate, but trying to preventing unwanted outcomes is not the only approach that should be considered.

My first job was in management consulting within a public accounting firm. As a young associate, I was taught lessons in basic controls. Such controls are of two types: prevention controls and detection controls. Prevention controls keep bad things from happening (for example, preventing employees from stealing money from their company). Detection controls don't directly keep bad things from happening, but detect bad things after they happen (finding out that an employee stole money from the company). Well, what good is that? In the theft example, if the company had something of the employee's, it could claim restitution of the stolen funds - from the employee's next paycheck or pension funds. 

Given all the focus on and resistance to regulation, it appears that few lawmakers, government regulators, or bureaucrats know of these 2 types of controls. They focus solely on prevention controls. What's wrong with that? Prevention controls are very expensive. And they're often viewed to be oppressive. In fact, they are sometimes inappropriate, given the level of risk and the potential of detecting the problem and possibility of gaining restitution. 

So let's hope this time, policy makers, regulators, and bureaucrats consider such detection controls instead of relying solely on prevention controls. If they don't, they'll inevitably over-regulate, putting us into yet another round of ping-ponging to over-regulation begetting frustration then under-regulation again. And each time, it will cost us each more.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Experiential Learning

The George Lucas Educational Foundation's Edutopia features a 4-minute video report on "High Tech High": a high school focused on experiential learning. All their students are admitted to college. The students are shown to be engaged and developing critical thinking and communications skills. All their students are admitted to college.

More than a decade ago, the Ohio Board of Regents did a study on effective learning techniques (funded by the National Science Foundation), and concluded that students learn math and science more effectively through an inquiry-based (i.e., experiential) approach, rather than the traditional lecture/memorize/drill/test (didactic) approach. These are not new conclusions; John Dewey espoused them in the 1930s. Yet in seeing the results in the video, we are still amazed because teaching has changed so little in the past century.

Perhaps successes like those in San Diego will inspire more schools, parents, and policy makers to expect these important lessons be brought into our schools to help our kids learn in this 21st century.

Monday, February 23, 2009

TED: Ideas Worth Spreading

The Rotary Club of Briarcliff's blog on Chinese food led me to TED: a website devoted to spreading ideas. It's a wonderful source of talks (most about 20 minutes long), that have been given at the TED conferences that were originally focused on Technology, Entertainment, and Design, but have broadened out since their first conference in 1984. They range from light and entertaining to very thought-provoking (and often are both), and are free.

My finding and exploring the site reflect a few of the points I've made in my blog entries so far. First, I found it by following someone's blog entry. Responding to my FaceBook status saying I was exploring TED, a FB friend endorsed the site, saying it's wonderful (and suggesting other sites for me to check out as well). The hundreds of content-filled videos at TED are examples of Information Overload, but at least the ideas have been assessed (the conference organizers and TED's Brain Trust invite the speakers). Still, there are so many interesting sounding presentations (available both through the Internet and for my iPhone), that going through them will take a lot of time. I'm trying to play the talks I've selected in the background, replacing TV, while I'm working on other things (multitasking). I'll share specific items that I find interesting that are related to my own thoughts; doing so may help others sift through the talks and encourage them to do likewise.

So here's the first talk I'll share. It's one directly related to The Tyranny of the Either/Or - more pointedly, the difference between liberals and conservatives (I call them "tribes"; Haidt calls them "teams"). It's a surprisingly moderate talk (both/and), since was given at a TED conference (expectedly - and empirically - attended mainly by liberal thinkers), and presents the developed moral psychology differences between them. Among its conclusions, as K.S. commented in my blog: We need to be open to both black and white thinking. Here's a link to the talk on the TED site in case the embedded video doesn't work for you.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Power of the Both/And

Thanks to K.S. for his comment on my entry on The Tyranny of the Either/Or, noting extremes are important: Black and white are needed to make a beautiful photograph.

It's a wonderful analogy! The beautiful Ansel Adams photographs that so many of us enjoy have an incredibly rich range of grays between the deep black and bright white extremes. (One of my treasured experiences was taking a 1-week photo workshop in Yosemite, offered by the Ansel Adams studio.)

How would his photos look without the grays? Fairly stark. Of course there are questions for which there are properly only yes or no answers. R.S.V.P.: Will you be attending the event? But many other questions involve nuances - shadings of choice. Those who try to polarize the public are very skilled at recasting complex, nuanced questions into stark either/or, black/white forms. It's a lot simpler to pick between 2 choices. Alas, often that's a false simplicity because the answer is "it depends."

An even greater challenge is when we're offered no choice: It's either all black or all white. What dull pictures those make! (Even Ad Reinhart's totally black Abstract Painting at MOMA - one of my favorites - is made of very subtly different shades of black.) If our worlds were all black or all white, we'd be blind and reliant on others to guide us. That's the danger that Adams, Jefferson, and others warned against in founding the U.S.A. We must be educated well enough to make our own judgments or we risk becoming relegated to being subjects of totalitarian government.

So the answer to the Tyranny of the Either/Or must at least be Consider Both/And. That answer doesn't quite do it, though, because we need to be discerning enough to see the multiple shades of gray. We'll need to find a pithy way of saying that, though.

The Personal Communications Explosion

In the past few weeks, I've spent a lot of  time getting myself into blogging and FaceBook. As I've thought about it, these are two of an explosion of new means of communicating that have become widely available during the last several years. Learning how to use them, with whom, for what, and with which of alternate providers of similar services has been a new experience - one that has made new demands on my time.

Thinking back, through my school years, I had three basic means of communicating: personal conversation, letters, and telephone. New technologies provided fax machines and mobile phones. Then personal computers and telecommunications networks opened up entirely new kinds of communication: desktop publishing, email, personal websites, user help forums. Combining PCs with mobile communications gave us instant messaging, Internet phone and videophone service. Add camcorders and iPods and we got YouTube and podcasting. Now we also have blogging, social networking sites (like FaceBook and MySpace), and instant mass broadcasting (Twitter).

With this expansion of types and means of communicating has come the explosion of volume of personal communications: more types of communication, more frequently, with more people. There are evolving expectations of responsiveness (can I ignore instant messages when I know the sender can see that I'm online and active?). Add Internet surfing to find information and just try out neat stuff. And this is on top of the explosion of commercial communications: junk mail & faxes, telemarketing, spam, pop-ups, plus all the news services. And I've probably left out some other major communications mechanisms.

How are we to manage this new volume and its demand on our time and attention? 

New technology will eventually help (my answering machine and two phone lines let me direct commercial calls to my answering machine so I can ignore most of them; spam and junk mail filters, like anti-virus programs, fight a never-ending battle of who can be more clever). I've found ways to link my Twitters and Blogger entries to FaceBook, but I still have a net added demand on my time to read, respond to, and generate all this new communication. (That's why I'm writing this at midnight.)

I'm afraid the personal assistant avatars that the futurists at Xerox PARC predicted 20 years ago won't come soon enough; technology still hasn't met its promise of giving me less paper or more leisure time. So I guess I'll just have to cope with even more work - even if it's the pleasant work of staying in touch with friends and family. 

Perhaps with the expanded level of communications, some folk more experienced at this will provide me help by suggesting ways they've found to cope!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Tyranny of the Either/Or

So much of what we've seen in public policy for at least three decades offer us stark choices between extremes. Welfare or workfare? Pro-choice or pro-life? Regulate or deregulate? Liberal or conservative? Democrat or Republican?

The problem of the "tyranny of the either/or" (thanks to Liz Lanier, my first chair of the Ohio Board of Regents, for sharing that phrase with me), is that best answers are often in the middle: the "both/and" solutions. More recently, Jim Collins embraced that view in Built to Last.

The extreme positions - and those who advocate them - often want to keep us from seeing the reasonableness of the middle-of-the-road positions. This situation is particularly troublesome since so many Americans haven't developed the ability to think critically. (While the term "critical thinking" is much in vogue in higher education circles, it's rarely defined. I like Bard College's Susan Gillespie's succinct definition: "an ability ... to understand diverse points of view.")

We're all so busy and under so much pressure! It's so much easier for me to accept a good-sounding proposition without having to think about it. Let me just pick my tribe and I'll stick with them wherever they go.

Alas, this attitude has given those with extreme, passionately held positions inordinate power. It's also just this situation that our Founding Fathers feared and so they stressed the importance of educating the populace as the means of preserving our free and democratic society. But education must go beyond the ability to understand differing points of view. To defend a democratic way of life, we also need the disposition to understand differing points of view.

Living here in the Heartland of America, I see most of my friends and neighbors are not extremists, but moderates by disposition. Are there tools that can help make it easier for us think and act more critically? I believe there are - and I'll share some in upcoming entries.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Three Stages of Life

My friend and former boss Tally emailed me a link to Lee Iacocca's "9 C's of Leadership" (widely quoted). I agreed with Iacocca's 9 C's and went out and bought his 2007 book: Where Have All the Leaders Gone?

It's a blistering attack on President George W. Bush's Administration, timed, of course, to help influence the 2008 election. Given President Bush's popularity ratings, many would probably agree with Iacocca's criticisms. Alas, given the political nature of the book, some non-political gems of his thinking have gone largely unnoticed.

In thinking about his own life, Iacocca acknowledges that it took years into his retirement before he discovered:

Getting back to the meaning of retirement, I like to look at life as having three stages. The first is learning. The second is earning. And the third is returning. A lot of the baby boomers are still yearning in the third stage, because they’re never satisfied. But if you think of retirement as a time for returning – of giving something back to society – it can transform your life.

Learning. Earning. Returning. It's similar to a maxim I learned years ago: Do well to do good.

While I find I agree with a lot of Iacocca's thinking, I disagree a bit with his his suggestion that retirement is the time for returning. Iacocca came late to the realization that one should give something back to society, recognizing this need to help him find fulfillment his retirement years.

My friends Wayne and Mike made the returning point to me when they asked me to consider leaving my newly-gained partnership in Andersen Consulting - and its income - to join the Cuomo Administration in 1983. Now, 26 years later, I still recall them observing: "This State has been so good to you - look at how successful you've become. Don't you think you should do something to repay that goodness?"

I'm grateful that because of my parents and society, I got to learn and I got to earn. I'm also grateful that because of my upbringing and friends, I've gained great personal satisfaction in having the opportunity to start and keep returning, long before my retirement years.

Thursday, February 12, 2009


Do coincidences and accidental meetings occur for a purpose? That's the conclusion of the principle called "synchronicity." I first discovered the principle (originally developed by Carl Jung), when I saw the spirituality book The Celestine Prophecy by James Redfield in my sister's bathroom reading pile. I had seen the book in stores, but never read it. I thought it strange that she had the book because neither she nor her husband are religious. So I got the book from my library and read it. I found the story (the book is in the form of a novel) engaging and the message interesting.

Since reading the book, I've tried to stay much more open to listening to "messages" from chance meetings and to understanding the opportunities they contain. Some of the messages have been powerful. One last summer - a chat with a good friend and neighbor - told me I should sell all my stock and keep it in cash for a while. 

Alas, I've also learned that getting messages and acting on them are two different things. Both being open to receiving messages and acting on them take work. (My friend sold his stock; I didn't.) Fortunately, the chance meetings and messages keep coming, as do the opportunities. The message of synchronicity seems somewhat related to Malcolm Gladwell's less mystical Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking

Oh, I asked my sister about the book I found on her bathroom pile. It turns out the book was a gift from a friend and she never read it. Was my finding the book there another example of a chance meeting, waiting for me to be open to its message?

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Lucia di Lammermoor at the Met

I had the pleasure of being at last Saturday's matinee performance of Lucia di Lammermoor at the Metropolitan Opera, starring Anna Netrebko. This is the first performance I've seen her in; the almost 4000 of us there gave her a warm ovation when she stepped out on stage.

I thought Netrebko's performance was thrilling - if merely for her star power. Friends who saw the performance in a Columbus theater's HDTV broadcast also thought it was terrific. Netrebko belted out her high notes with high volume, but I noticed a little inconsistency in her singing (her voice missed the start of a few notes and her midrange volume was low). Not at all bad for her having just returned from having her baby.

Netrebko is the 3rd Lucia I've seen in this production. I thought Natalie Dessay's acting in the mad scene was the most compelling, and the best all around combination of acting and singing was Diana Damrau's. Yet Damrau was the least heralded of the three. Ah, the magic of good publicists!

BTW, I also had the pleasure of meeting Zinta Lundberg, Bloomberg's arts & culture writer, at the Opera Club again during my visit this weekend. She wrote up the Jan. 27th performance of Lucia, with ailing Rolando Villazon. Fortunately, we heard Piotr Beczala as Edgardo and he sang very well. Marco Armiliato conducted with his characteristic verve, as he did in Friday night's Adriana Lecourvreur, sung powerfully and beautifully by Maria Guleghina, Placido Domingo, and Olga Borodina.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Information Overload

Looking back at John Seely Brown's PowerPoint slides for the OLN conference, I'm reminded of his advanced thoughts - of how we need to focus not just on learning, but on the differences between "learning about" and "learning to be," and many other important concepts. I'm going to review his website in detail to check out his latest thinking.

I was searching for John's thoughts - that I recall from his earlier SHEEO talk - on the problem of information overload, given the masses of new, unfiltered stuff we now get. It's a growing problem because even the media don't do the job they once did in critically evaluating the substance and value of information and opinion.

For most of my life, there have been professionals who have evaluated and assessed the value of much of the information that has gotten to me. Educators decided what was important for me to learn. Librarians decided which books to put on the shelves. The New York Times decided what news was fit to print. Times have changed.

Although so much of education is still based on the rote transfer of knowledge ("learning about"), the Internet has opened access to an inconceivable amount of unfiltered information. And it appears to be a basic journalistic tenet today that to be "balanced," a reporter must offer a contradictory viewpoint for every issue. 

The problem then is that educators haven't focused on how learners can - and must - determine for themselves the value or validity of information and points-of-view. Are we preparing our kids or ourselves to weigh the arguments of those who want us to believe that the holocaust never occurred or that the theory of evolution must be abandoned because of ones faith in divine creation?

Yet the founding principles of the United States recognize that widespread education is required to preserve our free and democratic society. Given the huge volume of unassessed information now available to all, we need to educate people on different things than we've done for the past 100 years. Yes, I know the cries from educators: "How can you ask us to do even more than we're already doing?" I don't advocate doing more, but doing different.

I recall that John said that kids today do judge the validity of information they receive. But are they developing the needed "critical thinking" abilities and dispositions to apply judgment throughout their lives, or are they doing so only in particular compartments of issues and information? I fear it's the latter.

But enough for now; more on this critical question in upcoming pieces.

Sunday, February 8, 2009


Thanks to K.S. for starting my Mom on blogging. Her blogs finally got me into doing mine.

Years ago, I bought futurist John Seely Brown's 2000 book The Social Life of Information. He's the former head of Xerox PARC. I really couldn't get into the book (it's a difficult read). But I had the pleasure of hearing John present at a national SHEEO conference. He made the story live! And he made so much sense. He basically presaged the Web 2.0 phenomenon, noting how much more directly people would interact with each other through the Internet.

In 2006, I suggested we invite John to speak at an Ohio Learning Network conference of education technologists. I had the pleasure of introducing him. (It's interesting to look back at the video of my introduction on the OLN website. My 6 1/2 minute introduction includes some of my fundamental conclusions of what we must do to improve elementary, secondary, and higher education education in America.) 

In introducing John, I boasted how I had really learned something from hearing his address at SHEEO and, as a result, had moved to get with the new technologies: I had taken an online course using the multi-participant conferencing facilities of Elluminate, bought an iPod, signed up for instant messaging, and had a webcam. In response, at the start of his talk John quickly burst my bubble and challenged me further: "Do you have a blog? Ah, we have to work on this guy!" (John Seely Brown's thought-provoking talk and slides are, sadly, no longer available on OLN's website.)

Having lived such a public life for the past 25 years, I've been especially focused on maintaining what personal privacy I could. The notion of making my thoughts available to people I don't know has been completely abhorrent to me. However, as I've been thinking about writing a book with such thoughts, the notion has become more reasonable. Tackling a big project such as writing a book is somewhat more conceivable if I address it a little piece at a time.

So here I am, almost 3 years later, finally blogging. Thanks to K.S., Mom, and John Seely Brown for getting me going! This blog has already gone in directions far removed from my book thoughts. But it's nice to get down in writing some of the thoughts I've had for a long time, even as they randomly pop to mind.

Inauguration Photo

Glenn forwarded me a link to an amazing photo of President Obama's inauguration. It shows fine detail, even of people far away -- through their website, you can zoom into faces far in the distance and still see who they are! The original sender suggested a "Where's Waldo" exercise: Find Yo-Yo Ma taking a photo with his iPhone.

Checking it out further, the photo was created with a battery-operated robot camera cradle (uses your own camera -- even point-and-shoots), that takes 100s of photos. Then, with their software, stitches them together in a super-panorama photo that they host on their website for others to view and zoom in on.

I've long used a photo called Panorama Maker to stitch photos (still using it -- does a better job than Photoshop and is simpler to use). This takes it to a whole new level. It's the kind of technology that I used to buy on a whim. At under $400, I still might!

Friday, February 6, 2009

Cornell University Council

Yesterday, the Membership Committee (which I chair) of the Cornell University Council met to review candidates for membership. (We met in at the Cornell Club of NYC, not in Ithaca, as suggested by the photo. But it's nice to recall the beauty of the Ithaca campus, even at this snowy time.) CUC is a wonderful organization of 440 distinguished alumni and friends of Cornell. Our charge as the Membership Committee is to review the hundreds of nominations we received this year to recommend new and readmitted members to a 4-year term on Council.

Being named to Council is an honor bestowed by the Cornell Trustees to individuals who have demonstrated leadership and exemplary service to Cornell, distinction in their profession, or contributions to society. While it's a lot of work to review the nominations, it's also inspiring to learn of so many who are truly notable in what they have done for Cornell, in their careers, and in their communities. 

The only responsibilities of Council membership are to try to attend the annual Trustee-Council Annual Meeting in Ithaca each October and to learn more about Cornell. In that extended weekend, we learn more about the important and exciting work Cornell is doing. Of course we also get to meet Cornell faculty, staff, students, and other Council members - all notable individuals, given the criteria for membership - but also the friendliest people I've had the pleasure to get to know. It's a real joy to get back to campus to meet old friends and make new ones among such a distinguished yet really folksy crowd.

Of course, to know more about Cornell (and other Cornellians) is to love it more. And that inspires most of us to do more for Cornell, or in representing it well in our work and society. And hopefully, those additional activities will earn us another term on Council!

Parallel Universes

Reading my Mom's Rotary Club of Briarcliff Manor blog, I saw mention of "Parallel Universes." It really isn't so mystical for those of us who know Edwin A. Abbott's Flatland - a wonderful little book that I read in grade school that helped me understand the unimaginable. For those more visually than literally inclined, there's now a charming movie version available on DVD (it's in my collection). 

I recall getting headaches in my youth trying to think of what additional dimensions we might be living in (beyond our 3 space and 1 time dimension). Now physicists have theorized that we exist in 11 dimensions (string theory). Having mulled about Flatland for so many years, I have some inkling about the mysteries they are unveiling. It's quite fun now to think a bit about the possibilities of what it means to be part of a universe of additional dimensions outside our experience. And I don't get headaches thinking about it anymore.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Executive Pay

Today's reports on Pres. Obama's proposal to limit executive pay in bailout companies reminded me of Cornell Prof. Robert H. Frank's books Winner Take All Society and Luxury Fever. More than a decade ago, Bob warned of the dangers of skyrocketing compensation for top entertainment and business figures. He also offered some solutions. Alas, those solutions were largely dismissed as being impractical, given the political and cultural obstacles.

With the excesses of Wall Street, bankers, et al, having hurt us all, those obstacles might now be addressed. We should look to our scholars for answers they've been developing for years and not just to political insiders who are flailing around with our trillions of taxes and increased debt. 

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

NYC Wretched Excess (continued)

Last night, I was the guest of Tom & Pat Shiah at the 80th Chapitre of the Confrerie des Chevalier du Tastevin, Sous-Commanderie de New York. It was at the Pierre Hotel. Tastevins' motto: "Jamais en Vain, Toujours en Vin." Met the chapter's Grand Senechal Will Zeckendorf and a few other of my friends from the Opera Club and Accenture. The lavish reception (caviar, foie gras, etc.) and dinner were accompanied by wonderful Burgundy wines from the club's 10,000 cellar. Still, the evening paled in comparison to the wedding reception & dinner that Tom & Pat had at the Pierre for their daughter, Christine.

La Caravelle Premier Cru Brut Champagne
Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru "Les Chenevottes", Domaine Bernard Morey et Fils 2002
Beanue 1er Cru Blanc, Clos de Mouches, Domaine Joseph Drouhin 2000
Bienvenues-Batard-Montrachet Grand Cru, Paul Pernot et ses Fils 2000
Gevrey Chambertin 1ere Cru Aux Combottes, Domaine Dujac 2000
Clos de la Roche Grand Cru, Domaine Ponsot 1997

NYC: Wretched Excess

Arrived in NYC yesterday. Having not eaten, I tried out a Japanese AYCE restaurant that David & Laura's friend Bill Darden had recommended. It's now called IchiUmi, 6 E. 32nd Street. Unbelievable! For $18.95 + $2 for green tea, I luxuriated in trying 6 different kinds of whole fish, dozens of nigiri and sushi rolls, plus tempura, meats, veggies, soups, oyster congee, and desserts. Honestly, the sight was more savory than the food (quality: B-), but still, the value was impressive!

Monday, February 2, 2009

Ground Hog Day

Six more weeks of winter! But it's not just winter, it's the craziness of the weather that's the problem.

I recall meeting then Vice President Al Gore early in the Clinton Administration and talking to him about global warming. "It's not that you'll notice it getting any warmer," he said, "but you will notice the weather getting crazier!" Well, he was right!