Friday, March 30, 2007

Pimp My Bride: Serious Matchmaking

How people make their living (and spend their money) is of endless fascination to me. Thus I was intrigued by Bella English's recent Boston Globe article on Janis Spindel, Serious Matchmaking.

Well, call me Madam, but serious is an understatement.

Spindel, whose business is in NYC, was in Boston looking for love. Not for herself, but for one of her serious matchmaking clients.

Divorced Boston businessman in late 40s with beautiful home and lots of dough seeks single woman, mid to late 30s, for marriage and babies. Must be thin and possess classic good looks. He's a warm and cuddly guy who enjoys golf, sailing, and tennis. If interested, call his matchmaker at 212-987-1582.

The man who Spindel is looking for - she calls him "Jeremy" but I like to think of him as a John - is paying her serious money: $100,000. So much for taking out an ad in The Phoenix or joining eHarmony, let alone asking your sister-in-law if she has any friends....

In the 15 years she [Spindel] has been in the matchmaking business, Spindel claims responsibility for 760 marriages and "massive thousands in committed relationships."

On her web site, the claim is both toned down - "1000+" rather than "massive thousands," and tarted up: these relationship, the copy claims, are monogamous. Just how Janis Spindel determines this is anyone's guess. (Got to drop Harry and Sally from the rolls, Sally just called and said that Harry was cheating on her. He claimed she'd let herself go - she gained 10 pounds after the baby and ballooned up from a size 2 to a size 4.) Fat, as we'll see later, is a big no-no in this world. When you've got the big bucks to spend, thin is in.

Spindel is clear to differentiate her product from a dating service:

"I am a matchmaker," she says. "A man can get dates on his own. I'm a little too expensive for that. And I don't deal with trophy wives. I'm looking to match soul mates."

Spindel wears the matchmaking mantle proudly, terming it "'the second oldest profession.'"

Well, given the world's oldest profession, I would have thought that pimping might rank number two.

Spindel's business is geared toward men. "Women are too high maintenance," she says. "They're needy. They're nagging."

So forget about what women want - those needy, nagging, high maintenance whiners. Men want pretty. Men want long, straight hair. Men want thin. ("We're not in Kansas or Iowa or Nebraska.")

Spindel uses the familiar sliding scale to price her services, from the:

$25,000 "basic" package that Spindel says takes her "five minutes" to match from her database of women to a $100,000 "elite" plan consisting of an out-of-town client and a casting call that can involve hundreds of women.

John, errrr, Jeremy has signed up for the elite plan, and Spindel is holding a Boston cattle call for prospective brides on April 13-15. (They must make an appointment, and pay a $50 processing fee. Spindel is clearly not interested in leaving any money on the table.) The field will get culled, and Spindel and Jeremy will review the results of the call and pick out a few women for him to follow up with.

Like so many of Spindel's clients, Jeremy has been too busy becoming rich and successful to find the time to cultivate a serious post-divorce relationship. In his 40's now, he's ready to re-settle down. He's got the house, apparently, now all he needs is the wife and kiddies.

While the 1000+ monogamous couples that Spindel has matched up are nice, it's the 760 married couples that really matter.

Spindel is both a romantic and a shrewd business person: she gets a bonus if wedding bells ring out. (Bonuses can range from $25K, to a Harry Winston pink diamond, to a first class family vacation.) She does not, however, get invited to the wedding. "Men are embarrassed by the fact they have to pay me."

I bet she also knows where her clients can get a good pre-nup lawyer, too.

Spindel's web site -  pretty in pink, hearts, and cupids -  is absolutely worth a look. You learn that her 10,000 name data base is "made up of carefully screened, upscale professional people who are searching for convenient and effective ways to meet other quality singles."

Her services include pre-screened 30 minute (fee-paid) interviews for women in which Spindel separates the A-players (who get "invitations to Janis' signature intimate dinners") from the B-list (who do get into her database). These cost $1K if you get Spindel herself, $500 if you work with her assistant.

For men, she offers "simulated lunch or dinner dates", in which Spindel plays the date and sizes up manners, intellect, and interests and figures out who Ms. Right might be.

And then there's the matchmaking services themselves: "Fees to be discussed during initial meeting."

Spindel also runs "upscale" parties and invitation-only "intimate dinner parties. 4 courses. 4 rotations. 4 tables of 8."

Ah, doesn't that sound like fun.

Obviously, there are a lot of people out there looking to meet their significant other. Spindel may well be as adept as she claims, and she's clearly meeting the need for at least some of the "upscale" crowd.

But there's something a bit off-putting about the whole thing, especially the $100K matchmaking. I've acquired my fancy job, my fancy car, my fancy condo; now I've got to acquire a fancy wife. Let's see, I like fast, low, and sleek in a car; chrome, glass, and leather in a condo; how about thin, straight hair, and upscale in a wife.

The commoditization of yet another bit of life's little magic, and talk about giving lie to the saying that "money can't buy you love."

Finding a nice-looking wife through Janis Spindel: $100,000.

Lavish wedding to show off the little woman: $250,000.

Waking up next to someone who loves you, warts (and that spare 10 pounds or so) and all: priceless.

For those interested, Janis Spindel Matchmaking has franchise opportunities.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Child Neglect: Penelope Trunk on CEO's with kids

Penelope Trunk, that Brazen Careerist, had a provocative post the other day on "whether people with kids should be CEOs of large corporations." Penelope is apparently not one to mince words, and the words she's not mincing here are "no, they shouldn't."

Fortune 500 CEOs, like Howard Stringer, who work 100-hour weeks and have kids at home, are neglecting their kids. Not neglecting them like, that’s too bad. But neglecting them like, it’s totally irresponsible to have kids if you don’t want to spend any time with them.

In some sense, this is a double-non-apply for me, since I don't have children and, God knows, I'm never going to be CEO of a large corporation. But it's still a topic of great interest.

Penelope goes on to argue that the notion of "quality time" is a total crock, and that what kids really hunger for is "quantity time." Even without having kids of my own, I'm someone who has spent a fair amount of "quantity time" with kids. I think that Penelope is dead on. Sure, kids like to be going to the Big Apple Circus and F.A.O. Schwarz. But they also like playing Yahtze and Candy Land, watching Blues Clues, making cupcakes, coloring, doing kitchen experiments, running errands with you, and - ta-da - just yacking in your ear about every bit of whatever happened to them that day or is happening to them at that moment. Kids all need lolling around time, especially today's kids who are often so hyper-programmed.

(Years ago, I remember describing a typical summer's day of my childhood to a young friend. The day involved hanging out under a tree in someone's back yard playing Clue with my friends, running through the sprinkler, going to the drug store to buy a Popsicle, and generally trying to stay out of earshot of my mother so that she couldn't ask me to do anything. Every once in a while we'd hop on our bikes and ride around looking for kids who were on foot. We'd slow down as we rode past them, swipe one foot on the pavement, and holler "Pedestrian!" On a big ambitious day, we'd go blue-berrying. In the evening, all the kids in the neighborhood would convene for hide-and-seek, dodge ball, or donkey. When I was a kid there was, in fact, no notion of quality or quantity time with your parents. Most of your time was spent Lord of the Flies style: in the company of other kids. Talk about a lost world!

(Sophia's reaction to my humble, uneventful childhood summer: "That sounds wonderful!")

While Penelope doesn't frame her argument from an exclusively female perspective, she does point out that:

Climbing to the top of corporate America requires near complete abnegation of one’s personal life, not in a sacrificial way, but in a child-like way. In most cases, when there are children, there is a wife at home taking care of the executive’s life in the same way she takes care of the children’s lives.

If behind every great CEO there's someone making sure that there's toothpaste and clean underwear, that the orthodontist appointments are kept and the Girl Scout uniform still fits, I'd argue that this is equally true for anyone in an all-encompassing profession or life pursuit.

How many politicians with young kids could hold run for, let alone hold, high office if there wasn't a "shadow government" taking care of "everything else." How many great performers, athletes, or artists manage to get to the pinnacle of their careers without at least some prolonged period of mono-focus/me-focus. I'll bet there are damned few of them.

When I read the Ellman biography of James Joyce, I was struck not only with Joyce's ability to keep his writing going by exploiting his wife, Nora Barnicle, but by perhaps even more profoundly exploiting his younger brother, John Stanislaus, who had hoped for a writing career of his own but who, instead, pretty much sacrificed all to support the family genius. (One per family limit, I guess.) Joyce had two children, a daughter who suffered from mental illness (and who, I believe, spent her adult life largely institutionalized) and a son who I think was an alcoholic of scant accomplishment.

For the most part, in order to get to the top of whatever heap it is that you're climbing - Fortune 500 CEO, or genius artiste - it is likely to be done at some cost. For most that cost will be family life. I'm sure there are exceptions: someone who strikes it rich, or finds an endeavor where you can run the show or lead the pack on a part-time basis. Few. Far between.

And to circle back to Penelope, for the most part, the person standing behind every great Y is an X chromosome.

Few women get to be CEO's of major corporations. Fewer, still, do that and have children. (Of the two female CEOs I've known pretty well - both running public companies, one actually of pretty good size, if not quite Fortune 500 - both have children with husbands with back-burner careers.)

Is it because women instinctively get that you can't do both? Is it because even highly ambitious women - even if there were no roadblocks, no sexism, no glass ceilings - end up asking themselves "who wants it/who needs it"?

Kids aside. I'd also guess that few CEO's (X or Y) have much of a work-life balance in general. To get to that level of top, work has to become life. Golf because it's good for getting ahead in business, not because you necessarily want to chase a little white ball around a big green course. Put in a guest appearance at the company's Volunteer Day, pick up a photo-op rake and clean some trash out of an inner-city sandbox, pat the head of a grateful little inner-city kid. Make sure your executive assistant knows your anniversary and the kids' birthdays.

Anyway, go give the Brazen Careerist a read. She writes about interesting topics and she doesn't nibble around the edges of them at all.


This post is included in the Carnival of Careers in Middle Age. This carnival is hosted by Wesley Hein of LifeTwo, a site is dedicated to us middle-agers. It covers a wide range of topics and is definitely worth a Boomer look.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Churn, Baby, Churn: why customer retention matters

A few weeks ago, I heard management consultant/business guru Michael Treacy speak at the Syracuse Famous Entrepreneurs Series. Like so many other high-end business consultants, Treacy rides the horse of his latest book. In this case, Double-Digit Growth is already four years old, so Treacy's had a good long ride. But this nag is not yet ready for the glue factory, and the business wisdom contained within is more practical than faddish. And Treacy is an engaging speaker, and his presentation was first rate. 

I will likely be blogging further on Treacy's book - and on the businesses that Treacy's firm invests in. (Actually, I'm not sure if it's Treacy's firm, Gen3, or Treacy himself who's taking a stake in these places, and I'm not about to parse through things and figure it out until I actually go to post on it. Treacy's personal web site is plenty referenced in Google, but when I tried to check it out, it's surprisingly a dead-head that leads to no man's land.) In any case, Treacy seems to be an X-treme capitalist with a highly-developed money-making imagination.)

But for now, here's the 5-second summation of Treacy's book. (Source: Gen3)

He found that the companies that increase revenue significantly year in and year out manage themselves very differently than those that inch along. The most important difference is this: Fast-growers possess a rigorous management process that aggressively seeks revenue increases in five fundamental areas:

  • Retention of existing customers;
  • Market share gains;
  • Market positioning exploitation;
  • Adjacent market entry; and
  • New business investment.

I'm going to focus on the first item on Treacy's list: retention of existing customers.

We hear a lot about fleeting loyalty and the impossibility of customer retention in an era of perfectly imperfect information. But the customer you already have is one of your most important assets. They already know you, so - unless you've really botched things -  you don't have to convince them that you're worth doing business with. Having leapt this barrier - and, again, as long as you haven't done anything to damage the relationship - they're more apt to buy more from you. Not to mention act as an internal and external reference and a lot of other good things.

In the technology world, whether you're providing hardware, software, or services, your customers also provided a steady income stream for you. While it's one that you don't have to stay on top of in the same way that, say, Kellogg's needs to keep you loyal to Cheerios every time you walk down the cereal aisle in the grocery store, you still need to earn the right to keep your customer business. And you need to earn that right daily - not just at contract renewal time or when you want to cross-sell or up-sell.

Several years ago, when I worked at a managed services company, I had upfront and personal experience with how important and valuable it is to keep the existing customers satisfied.

At this company, which provided higher-end managed hosting, we had to struggle for each new customer in the face of commoditization of the fundamentals of the business, which resulted in colossal downward pressure on prices.

Fortunately for us - unfortunately for them - most of our existing customers were locked into multi-year contracts at rates that had quickly become high relative to where the market was going. Many of the customers were still living with "eyes bigger than stomach" service configurations implemented when it looked like the boom would never go bust.

We were also experiencing tremendous churn - averaging over 2 percent of our customer per month. In a business that relied on recurring revenues, looking for new customers while we were losing so many existing customers was demoralizing and exhausting. We felt like we were in a leaky boat, bailing with a tea-cup.

Marketing took the lead and, working with customer support, finance, and sales, came up with a plan - Defense of the Realm - to help stop the customer churn. The plan approach called for proactively solving customer problems and devising strategies for improving the customers' set ups - in some cases that meant upgrading, in some cases it meant downsizing. In a few cases, we decided to let customers who were costing us money go. In most cases, we were focused on retaining good, profitable customers - even if in the new scheme of things, they'd be paying us less money than they had been.

We were just starting to implement Defense of the Realm when we ran into a situation that was a deal-stopper for senior management. We found a customer that we had been overbilling for years. And I don't mean overbilling by the new market pricing standards - if that were the case, we were overbilling everyone. No, we discovered a couple of mistakes in our monitoring, measuring, and accounting that had resulted in tremendous overcharges over an extended period of time.

When we brought this situation to senior management's attention, they weren't happy. We weren't proposing a give-back. (That money was long spent.) What we were suggesting was an own-up, and a make-good: moving forward with some extras that we wouldn't charge for.

Our proposal met with a big NO WAY and the end, in fact, to the entirely program.

Churn, baby, went back to churn, and we continued to lose 2 percent per month while struggling to compensate for that with new customers.

One of the things that Michael Treacy pointed out in his speech was that, whatever percent of your customers you're losing every year, that's an additional percent that you have to grow by.  If you want to grow by 10%, and you're losing 20% of your business every year, guess what? You need to grow your business by a lot more than 10%. Just to stay in place, you need to make up for that lost 20%.

It's unlikely that any customer will ever achieve 100% customer satisfaction and retention. It just doesn't happen that way.

But, as Treacy pointed out, you've got to be crazy to keep letting good customers walk out your door. It's not a matter of blocking their way with "your stuck" contracts. It's a matter of doing whatever you can to make sure that they're not looking for the exit sign to begin with.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Nerds: High school robotics competition

I was never much of a Science Fair type.

It's not like I wasn't a nerd. Come on, I was in the Latin Club. We competed in Latin Festivals, where I wore a nun-designed toga that looked more like a nun's habit than a toga . I recited Virgil and entered sight-translation contests. I took the annual Auxilium Latinum test.

I was also in the Literary Society. Hey, kids, let's have some real fun this Saturday and drive to the Old Manse to see where Ralph Waldo Emerson lived!

 Not to mention the Glee Club, which is why I know the second-soprano parts to every Christmas carol ever written.

But, science nerd I was not.

Still, what is not to love about the story of kids from high schools all over New England competing in the Boston For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology Regional Robotics Competition. (And how is that name for a nerdly mouthful?)

Here's a bit from an article by Brian Ballou of The Boston Globe on the event:

There was the roar of a Super Bowl crowd, the frenzy of a NASCAR pit stop, and the costumes of a Mardi Gras celebration on Bourbon Street. The stage looked like an Ultimate Fighting Championship ring.

But instead of fist-flinging action, the competition in Boston University's Agganis Arena yesterday featured teams of high school students from throughout New England in a battle royale of remote-controlled robots they had designed and built from scratch.

According to the article, 50 high school teams participated in this event, which was attended by about 5,000 folks.

The event is sponsored by FIRST - as in For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology - a group founded by Dean Kamen of Segway fame and, how about a wild guess here, nerd extraordinaire -  which has as its vision: 

To create a world where science and technology are celebrated... where young people dream of becoming science and technology heroes.

And what is not to love about this group, that has the notion of something called Gracious Professionalism at its core:

With Gracious Professionalism, fierce competition and mutual gain are not separate notions. Gracious professionals learn and compete like crazy, but treat one another with respect and kindness in the process. They avoid treating anyone like losers. No chest thumping tough talk, but no sticky-sweet platitudes either. Knowledge, competition, and empathy are comfortably blended.

In the long run, Gracious Professionalism is part of pursuing a meaningful life. One can add to society and enjoy the satisfaction of knowing one has acted with integrity and sensitivity.

In a world where we hear all too much about high school suicides and Columbine massacres, cheerleader mom murders and unadulterated jock worship, "hooking up" and binge drinking, what a delight to read about a bunch of kids interested in science and technology, learning things, having fun -  and having 5,000 people in the audience cheering them on.

Fans stood on their feet, waving pom-poms, yelling challenges to fans of other teams, and pounding noisemakers to the beat of rock music.

The finals are coming up in April in Atlanta. The New England squad is made up of students from Boston Latin, Brookline High School, Quincy High School, and Clinton High School. (Brookline and Quincy are Boston suburbs, but Clinton is a small used-to-be-milltown out in the far reaches of Worcester County.)

Innovation. Technology. Science.

These are the kids who are going to keep our economy flying in the years to come.

They're going to be the real home-town heroes.

Go, New England Robot Nerds! Yay, team!

Monday, March 26, 2007

Lookin' for adventure...the Can-Am Spyder Roadster

My father, in his youth, rode an Indian Motorcycle. (Which is obviously not what's pictured here. That, my friends, is a Can-Am Spyder.)

His motorcycling days were long past by the time he was heading down the highway with a pack of kids crammed in the back seat making fun of every "hairbreath Harry" who'd go sailing by us on his motorcycle. (Hairbreath Harry was a comic strip character out of my father's childhood.) We knew all the words to Black Denim Trousers*, and we'd shout it out the window - once those dangerous bad-boys on motorcycles were safely out of ear-shot:

He wore black denim trousers and motorcycle boots
And a black leather jacket with an eagle on the back
He had a hopped-up 'cicle that took off like a gun
That fool was the terror of Highway 101

While The Wild One was a bit before my movie-watching days, the iconic poster of Brando, motorcycle capped tilted menancingly over one eye, was on plenty of dorm-room walls of my era.

Then, of course, there was Easy Rider, the ultimate "statement movie" of the late 1960's.

All that said, I have never, ever, ever in my life had any desire to get on a motorcycle.

My closest experience was a motorbike in Bermuda. What with the driving on the wrong side, that was plenty scary enough for me.

Still, I'm more than a little intrigued by Bombardier Recreational Products new Can-Am Spyder Roadster, a three-wheeled motorcycle that really put a smile on my face when I saw one in last week's Economist.** (Note: the brief article on the Spyder is premium content, but you're already reading The Economist, aren't you? And make sure you go to, not, which brings you to a picture of Alan Greenspan, hailing him as the economist of the century. I'll have to check with my husband on that. I mean, I know that my husband isn't the economist of the century, but he is an economist so he might have an opinion on who the econ-of-the-century might be. I guessed he'd say Keynes. And I went and asked, and I was right. He reminded me that it's too soon to call the econ-of-the-present-century.)

But the Spyder Roadster....

Okay. You're thinking three-wheeled motorcycle? Doesn't that make it a tricycle?

No, no, no.

Just take a look at this baby. It's got two wheels in the front, not the back. So you won't look or feel like an old geezer while you're on it. You'll look and feel like a Hairbreath Harry, an Easy Rider, a Wild One. This one's got Baby Boomer written all over it. With the cool Spyder name, and the slightly retro "roadster" designation that worked so well for all that marketing of the PT Cruiser the Boomers. (Talkin' 'bout my generation.)

Okay. Maybe the Hell's Angels will make fun of you for ridingone, but I bet that in a few short years, plenty of them will want to ride off into their own personal sunset on something that doesn't need a kickstand.

Given Bombardier's other recreational offerings - SkiDoo, SeaDoo, and the Evinrude outboard engine - I'm sure that the Spyder Roadster will make plenty enough noise to satisfy the most ardent Harley fan.

I've already got a marketing campaign for the Spyder.

They're all pre-Baby Boomers, but the Easy Rider principals are still kicking. How about an ad with Jack Nicholson (b. 1937), Dennis Hopper (b. 1936) and Peter Fonda (b. 1940), "heading down the highway, lookin' for adventure."

Like a true nature's child
We were born, born to be wild
We can climb so high
I never wanna die
Born to be wild
Born to be wild***


*Words and music by Leiber and Stoller, who also wrote Hound Dog, Jail House Rock, Kansas City, and Stand by Me.

**The brief article on the Spyder is premium content, but you're already reading The Economist, aren't you? And make sure you go to, not, which brings you to a picture of Alan Greenspan, hailing him as the economist of the century. I'll have to check with my husband on that. I mean, I know that my husband isn't the economist of the century, but he is an economist so he might have an opinion on who the econ-of-the-century might be. I guessed he'd say Keynes. And I went and asked, and I was right. He reminded me that it's too soon to call the econ-of-the-present-century.)

***Born to be Wild, recorded by Steppenwolf, and written - words and music - by Mars Bonfire (Dennis Edmonton). (No, I didn't know this bit or the one about Leiber and Stoller, either. That's what Google's for.)

Friday, March 23, 2007

Infrequent Flyers: Death in the Skies

By now, everyone has no doubt seen something written - or heard a bad joke - about the latest British Airways passenger who died in economy class on a flight from Delhi to Heathrow. They upgraded the woman's body - and her family -  to first class for the remainder of the flight.

I'm quite sure that there's no easy way to handle this situation (although apparently Singapore Airlines has something called a "corpse cupboard" on the planes that do their long haul, 17-hour flights). Propping a body up in a toilet is one solution, I suppose, but the thought of anybody - even a dead one - trapped in one of those fetid little rooms might be too unsettling for the deceased's family. Between the bright blue "flushing liquid" and the completely ignored 'as a courtesy to your fellow passengers' note about wiping down the sink....yuck.

There's not a lot of room in the galleys for laying a body out - plus they're "preparing" airline food-stuffs there. (Want to make inedible food seem even more inedible?)  The overhead baggage containers are always way too stuffed. On a full flight where there won't be any free rows to let someone stretch out in comfort - or whatever the dead-body equivalent is.  They could use those ultra-comfy flight attendant jump seats, but would that mean a stew had to stand the entire flight?

I don't supposed anyone would be up for the airplane equivalent of burial at sea - just opening one of those pressurized doors to jettison the body could, I suppose, cause wreak all sorts of havoc in the cabin. Not to mention where the body might land...

So, I'm going to give BA some credit here and suggest that they probably made the best of an unpleasant situation.

Apparently, this is not as rare as you might think. In fact, late last fall British Airways had a death on a flight from London to Boston, and BA has said that it happens 10 or so times a year.

So, what to do, what to do.

What British Airways does is provide a post-mortem upgrade to first class for the deceased and traveling companions, and they try to keep everyone calm and collected. (That's one way to get into first class, but I think I'll still take steerage.)

British Airways flubbed this upgrade a bit. At least that's according to businessman Paul Trinder, the 15-minutes-of-fame guy sitting cross-aisle from the late lamented, and widely quoted in accounts of this flight (here taken from a The Sunday Times article picked up by Fox News):

“It was a complete mess — they seemed to have no proper plans in place to deal with the situation,” said Trinder, 54, a businessman from Brackley, Northamptonshire.

The woman died during a nine-hour flight on a Boeing 747. Trinder was catching up on sleep when he was woken by a commotion and opened his eyes to see staff manueuvering the body into a seat.

“I didn’t have a clue what was going on. The stewards just plonked the body down without saying a thing. I remember looking at this frail, sparrow-like woman and thinking she was very ill,” said Trinder.

“She kept slipping under the seatbelt and moving about with the motion of the plane. When I asked what was going on I was shocked to hear she was dead.”

Trinder was further aggravated by the wailing of the dead woman's daughter - even ear plugs couldn't block out what Trinder described as "a really intense, primal sound." Trinder tried to get a refund on his first class ticket, but, according to him, was told by BA to "get over" it.

The India Times coverage also starred Paul Trinder, but it was a bit more florid. 

"I woke to see cabin crew manoeuvring what looked like a sack of potatoes into the seat. Slowly, through the darkness, I realized it was a body. At first, I thought I was dreaming. Then I was convinced it was a big wind-up," Trinder said of his experience.

[Translation note: wind-up is Brit for practical joke.]

He added that he was frightened the body was decomposing. The relatives of the dead passenger also kept wailing throughout the flight, which further depressed him.

Fear of decomposing? Does it happen that quickly? I don't think it does unless someone has one of those ebola virus-hemorrhagic fever diseases, straight out of the movie Outbreak. In which case, Mr. Trinder, you'll have a lot bigger things to worry about than wailing family members, slip-sliding bodies, and whether or not BA will grant you a refund.

"The corpse was strapped into the seat but because of turbulence it kept slipping down on to the floor. It was horrific. The body had to be wedged in place with lots of pillows," he recalled. "Then the relatives were allowed to sit in First Class and spent the next five hours wailing and weeping."

Well, I'm sure it was no fun for Mr. Trinder, but it was probably a lot less fun for the dead woman's family, don't you think?

It also strikes me that most people in modern society tend to be pretty skittish about the dead. No, I wouldn't want to live in a world where there were dead bodies in the gutter, or where we reacted casually to death. But, let's face it: it's a part of life. Why are we all so freaked out by the thought of a dead body?

Maybe because I started attending wakes and funerals at a fairly young age - and grew up in a world where Open Casket was the only way to go - the idea of being near a dead person doesn't disturb me all that much (especially if it's a dead elderly person who has died of natural causes). Naturally, if I had to be sitting by a dead person, I would prefer it if it were accompanied by relatives who were a bit more stoic (a quiet moan or sniffle, rather than out and out wailing). And, as I said, I would sure prefer it to be a granny type rather than a young person.

What would disturb me more, quite frankly, would be sitting there amid the gawkers, a reluctant witness to a stranger's profound grief, a death voyeur when someone should be allowed private and the comfort of friends and families - not gaping strangers.

If there were room, BA should have moved everyone out of first class and given them at least partial comp. But apparently they didn't do that.

But if he were so upset, Mr. Trinder surely could have made his way to the seats in economy vacated by the dead woman and her family. BA could have given him his first class meal, his first class drinks, and maybe even given him some sort of coupon for his troubles.

Maybe there should be a policy - part of all those new Passenger Bill of Rights decrees - that states that, if there's a death, the deceased and family will be moved to the front of the plane - first class if available.

They can swap out anyone upfront or in first class who is completely wigged out by the idea of being too close to a dead body - or keening family - for their personal comfort. And swap in those passengers who were capable of not staring, rolling their eyes, and looking annoyed. They might even look for passengers of an age that would suggest that they'd suffered the loss of at least one loved-one in their life, and might be willing to actual provide a hand pat or shoulder to cry on if one were required. I suggest they start with middle aged women.

(I have a suspicion that when they have unaccompanied minors, they plonk a mom-grammy-auntie looking woman down next to them. It's sure happened to me often enough to be more than coincidence. Why not do the same for accompanied or unaccompanied dead travelers?)

Meanwhille, British Airways - at least on the part of their web site - has been mum on the subject. (A search of their site for dead body brought up an article on jet lag.)

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Caveat eBay Bidder: Manny Ramírez in the not-so-hot stove league

On of the more wondrous things about being a Red Sox fan is watching Manny Ramírez. Watching him play. Watching him act out. Watching, as the saying goes, Manny being Manny.

For those who don't follow the sport, Manny is "our" brilliantly talented left fielder, and seeing him park a homer (or, as we say at Fenway, pahk a homah) brings nothing but great sports fan joy (that is, if you're a Red Sox fan).

Putting up with Manny's eccentricities can be amusing. It was actually kind of fun when, mid-game, he disappeared into the reaches of the Green Monster (the outfield wall at Fenway). The Green Monster has what may well be the last manually updated scoreboard in the majors, and speculation was that Manny popped in to visit with the scorekeepers, or guzzle some Gatorade, or pee.

Putting up with Manny's eccentricities can be tiresome. At while back, Manny's home (a luxe downtown condo) was featured in the Boston Globe Sunday Magazine. All well and good, but a short while after the article appeared, Manny was bleating that he wanted to be traded - he and his family couldn't get any privacy in Boston. Well, Manny, if you want your family to have privacy it might not make a whole hell of a lot of sense to let me and every other person on the face of the earth see a picture of the view from your living room, let alone your son's bedroom.

Putting up with Manny's eccentricities can be aggravating. Last season, after the coulda-shoulda-woulda Red Sox were coming out of a mid-season swoon and, with catcher Jason Varitek back in the line-up after a prolonged injury outage, looking like they were going to able to make a late season fun at it, Manny checked out. It may not have been their year, and they were definitely a long shot, but.... September wasn't as exciting as it could have been. (At least in October we got to see the Yankees cold-cocked.)

Yesterday, Manny being Manny was pure, unadulterated odd-ball fun.

According to an article by Amalie Benjamin in The Boston Globe, Manny was on eBay trying to help a Florida neighbor of his sell a humongous Jenn-Air grill on eBay. (The grill was pictured in the article and it's larger than my car. Hell, it's larger than my kitchen.)

Here's the story - or what may be the story. Manny being Manny and all that....

"Hi, I'm Manny Ramirez," reads the ad, listed under the seller "mannyramirez1524," a member since March 18. "I bought this AMAZING grill for about $4,000 and I used it once . . . But I never have the time to use it because I am always on the road. I would love to sell it and you will get an autographed ball signed by me =) Enjoy it, Manny Ramirez."

When Benjamin asked Manny about it, he admitted that it wasn't quite true. He was just helping a neighbor out, hoping to pump the price up by claiming that it was his own.

This all sounds like echt Manny, alright, and I'm going back and forth in my own head about whether this was a good thing (helping a neighbor) or a bad thing (misleading eBay bidders into thinking they were getting something they weren't). I think I'm leaning good thing, since who would really and truly give a rap whether some inanimate object may or may not have been owned - but was even at "best" used just once by - a celebrity.

This is, of course, yet another example of the celebrity obsessed world that I do not get. I grew up in a culture where relics were venerated - bits of bone, locks of hair, scraps of clothing - but these relics had once been part of and/or belonged to SAINTS. (I actually saw St. Francis Xavier's arm once - under glass - when it toured the States when I was a kid. It was creepy.)

Saints are one thing. Britney Spear's hair? Elvis Presley's gum? Princess Diana's ballgowns?

I mention the latter because a non-profit that I'm involved with was given one in the year after her death. Alas, despite our great expectations, we only realized about one-third of the amount we had fantasized about. Still, it was amazing to me that we got as much as we did.

So there was Manny's grill - or, rather, Manny's neighbor's grill - up for bid on eBay.

Someone, however, bid the grill right through the roof top. We now know that eBay's odometer rolls over at $99,999,999.

eBay may have also decided that the didn't like Manny's hustling a grill as his own when admittedly it wasn't - maybe not a hot stove, exactly, but something slightly fraud-ish. When I googled on Manny-Ramírez-eBay-grill, here's what I got:

This Listing Is Unavailable
This listing (120099426399) has been removed or is no longer available. Please make sure you entered the right item number.  If the listing was removed by eBay, consider it canceled. Note: Listings that have ended more than 90 days ago will no longer appear on eBay.

I suppose they have no choice.

After all, what's to prevent me or anyone else from putting some old piece of crap out there on eBay and claim a celebrity provenance. Just looking around my living room. That piece of Roseville pottery could conceivably have been owned by someone like Julia Roberts or Meryl Streep. My wedding band is vaguely Celtic-looking. Maybe it's Bono's. That anchor book end that my father got when he was in the Navy in World War II. Well, JFK was in the Navy in WWII. And my father was an Irishman from Massachusetts. So, hey, it's not that far fetched.

But as far as Manny being Manny goes, the eBay grill story is pretty much just plain fun. May this be as zany as he gets during the forthcoming season.


For more fun with Manny, check out Why I'm Glad Manny Doesn't Report to Me.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

I Believe in Miracles, Urban Parking Edition

One of my favorite New Yorker cartoons is one by Mick Stevens from a few years back that shows a couple sitting on the beach in the Hamptons. The husband is staring out at the water and says to his book-reading wife:

I can’t stop thinking about all those available parking spaces back on West Eighty-fifth Street.

Anyone who has ever had the pleasure of urban car ownership can relate. On those summer weekends when you're in the city, just seeing all those free spaces makes you want to move your car just for the pure, unbridled pleasure of it.

There's a winter version, of course, and that's all those available parking places that no one has shoveled out.

Perhaps because I am one of the few car-owning Beacon Hill residents who does not own an SUV that's capable of bulldozing its way into and out of any parking place - no matter whether it's on an ice floe,  bordered by a hillock of crusty snow as hard as steel, or completely full of slush - I always shovel my car out. And I always hope that my stellar example will encourage others to similarly shovel their space out even though they know that they have no chance whatsoever of getting that space back.

We are not one of those urban neighborhoods where, while it may be crowded, you typically park near your house and, when you shovel out "your" space, the time-honored tradition is that it's yours. All you need to do to claim it is plunk an old kitchen chair in the middle of it. This has been the way it's worked for years in Boston neighborhoods like Charlestown and South Boston. For whatever reason - invasion of the yuppies, too many cars, or the general breakdown in urban comity - this quaint and homey practice has pretty much ended. People who violated the kitchen- chair rule were getting their cars keyed. Complaints were made to City Hall. The City started throwing the chairs away... I think a compromise was reached last year: people can claim their space for a couple of days after a storm, but then it's fair game.

This chair-in-the-space stake-claiming was never done on Beacon Hill. Perhaps we're too la-di-dah. More likely it's because it's always been so hard to find parking here that no one actually parks near their home. So there's little sense of, gee, that's my neighbor's spot. The rule of thumb is: first space you see, grab it.

Despite knowing that I'll never see it again, I still persist in shoveling out whatever space I'm parked in. While I resent those who don't - their not shoveling out makes life a lot more difficult for everyone - I understand why it happens. It's not as if shoveling out an urban car is easy. You can't throw the show back in the street that just got plowed - that's illegal. You can't put it on the sidewalk that just got shoveled. (That's maybe got shoveled - a lot of people don't bother to shovel their sidewalks, either; but that's a rant for another day). There aren't always front gardens - let alone yards - to put the snow in.

No, every shovel full has to either be carefully stacked between your car and the shoveled part of the sidewalk. Or ferried half a block away to some corner snow bank. No wonder that even a shoveling saint like myself will occasionally toss a small shovel full into the street where someone will run over it and it will melt more quickly and more easily.

Fortunately, we have had little snow this winter. (Simultaneously, it's also unfortunate that we've had so little snow, as the snow and cold keep the rat population - which is known to hang out under the hoods of cars - down.)

Last Friday, we had a storm. Nothing that big, just eight or so inches. But it was followed by rains that that turned the whole thing into ice pack that may not disappear until July.

Saturday morning, I hiked over to where my car was parked and shoveled it out in the pouring, icy rain.

On Monday, I kissed that parking space good-bye and headed off to a consulting client.

Monday afternoon, I found a space closer to my house. I was able to bull my way into it through the slushy ice but, fearing that my car would freeze in place overnight, I shoveled the place out, jockeying the car back and forth, in and out, until the space was clean as a whistle. On Tuesday morning, I was happy that I had  done so. I could actually get out on the first try. But I did leave the place with a pang of regret, knowing it would be gone when I returned.

It was.

I drove around for a bit, then spotted a free space on the same block where I'd been parked over the weekend.

The space was full of ice, slush, snow - and SUV tire tracks.

I pulled over, turned on the flashers, grabbed my trusty shovel and started to clean the place out.

A fellow was getting into his SUV a few spaces back and called to me, "Why don't you take this place. I'm leaving."

It was - cue harp music and celestial chorus - the very same parking space I had so assiduously shoveled out on Saturday.

The kind gentleman in the SUV even waited while I drove around the block so that an undeserving person wouldn't sneak in and snag my spot. Which was clean as a whistle. Not a speck of snow, slush, or ice.

The beauty of working as a consultant is that I don't need to leave the space every day. Unfortunately, I do have to take the car out on Thursday. But we're expecting temperatures in the 60's, and I'm hoping that, by the time I return on Thursday afternoon, parking spaces will be pretty much free and clear. I cannot expect another miracle like the one I experienced Tuesday afternoon. I'm guessing that there's only one of those per lifetime.




Every so often, I do get the urge to rant about cars and parking. If you want to see other posts related to cars and parking, check these posts out.

Baby you can drive my car is about my love-hate relationship with thing automotive (i.e., my very own car).

Needle in a Haystack talks about a couple of  companies with parking-place-finding applications. Really.

Pahk-the-kah-ching is about paying a lot of money for a parking place. (And I do mean a lot of money.) 

Look Ma, no hands deals with parallel parking aids for the parking-challenged. (Lexus parallel parks for you.)

Tuesday, March 20, 2007


First off, whatever the product is, what a great name.....

Second, the product sounds great, too.

Jitterbug is a (Samsung) cell phone cum service for people who are just looking for, well, a plain old-fashioned, no jive cell phone. Not a video camera. Not a PC. Not an e-mail device. Not a scheduler. Not a walkie-talkie. A cell phone.

It's the brainchild of an outfit called Great Call, and here's what they have to say for themselves:

GreatCall created Jitterbug to provide Baby Boomers and their parents with perfectly simple cell phones and services that work the way they want them to. Jitterbug is designed to be the best telephone a cell phone can be. Nothing more. Nothing less.

The company's mission is to simplify technology and make it available to everyone. Jitterbug’s products, services and systems are centered on simplicity, personalization and ease of use.

While their market is Baby Boomers and their parents, I think that the operative words here are "and their parents." Even though the first wave of BB's turned 60 last year, I don't see the average Boomer giving up their tech toys quite so soon. (Give us a few years, though, and those large, back-lit buttons may start to look really good.) But for anyone who's worried about their parents or other elderly loved-ones and wants the comfort of knowing that help is just a cell-phone call away, Jitterbug looks like a must.

Jitterbug comes in two flavors, Jitterbug Dial and Jitterbug OneTouch.

Jitterbug Dial is aimed at those who would rather have easier to read numbers than the ability to text in their vote on American Idol.  It also has a few other nifty features like a cushioned rim to help block out background noise.

I'm guessing that Jitterbug OneTouch will be the real big seller for those who are worried about their parents.  It's got three calling buttons: Jitterbug Operator, 911, and a personalized button. You can also have a phone list - accessible simply through scrolling and Yes/No - that Jitterbug will set up for you. (Or you can update it yourself - or for your folks - on Jitterbug's site.)

Other elder-friendly features include hearing aid compatibility, use of the familiar dial tone, and easy speakerphone activation. I can sure see this replacing those "I've fallen and I can't get up" alert buttons.

Truly, I can't imagine anyone not wanting their aging parents to have a Jitterbug, especially if they're still driving (which I know, first and second hand, can give the Boomers a real case of the jitters).

The simple functionality - a phone is a phone is a phone - should be plenty enough for the greatest generation. After all, they're never in a million years going to want to watch Casablanca or The Best Years of our Lives on their phones. They're never going to want to listen to the collected works of Glenn Miller or Tommy Dorsey on their phones.  They have no desire to text message "Kilroy was here." And, unless Ted Williams or Greta Garbo comes back from the dead, they're never going to use their phones to take a picture of a celebrity walking by. (Just who is Paris Hilton?)

Basically, most older folks are going to use their cell phones to get help and/or call their kids to get help for them.

Jitterbug'll do it.

We will, of course, be seeing more and more of these products aimed at helping people adapt to aging, and keeping older people more independent and on their own. Chairs that help you lift yourself up. Electric tea kettles that turn themselves off (rather than whistle on until the bottom burns itself out).  Devices that help you unscrew jar tops.

Most of these are aimed at the BB 'rents generation, but as the Boomers edge up their, they'll start to look better and better to us, too.

Personally, what I'd like is something that would help me differentiate black from navy blue in the dawn's early light. My spectrum lamp doesn't quite do it.

So Jitterbug's a great idea, and next time Icatch myself fumbling for a number in my phone list, or trying to remember how to de-activate speakerphone, I'm sure I'll forget what I said about Baby Boomers not yet ready to forego cool tech, and get myself a Jitterbug.

Yes, it's nice to have that neat  picture of the Brooklyn Bridge on my screen. And I guess it's good to know I could get web access if I wanted to. But, fundamentally, it's a phone.

The more I think about the Jitterbug, the better it looks.

Monday, March 19, 2007

A Tale of Two Booksellers, Iraqi Edition

Like most literary-minded readers, I spend my share of time bemoaning the closing of small, independent bookstores. I still miss the late, lamented Wordsworth in Harvard Square, and celebrate the continued existence of local indies like the Harvard Book Store, Porter Square Books, and Brookline Booksmith. All three of these stores support local writers, have readings, and stock interesting books. But the truth is that, I don't live in Cambridge or Brookline, and my local bookstore is Borders. Which I have to admit I actually like. They have good selection and excellent service and don't appear to mind browsers. So that's where I do most of my book-buying.

But all that gnashing of teeth over the loss of the indies is put nicely in perspective by an AP article by Hamza Hendawi that appeared in yesterday's Boston Globe on the plight of Iraqi book lovers, book buyers, and two Baghdad booksellers, Atallah Zeidan and Mohammed Hanash Abbas.

A few weeks ago, the news was of a suicide bombing in Baghdad's book market, in which 38 people (and counting) were killed and over 100 wounded.

The bookstore that Zeidan and Abbas had so optimistically dreamed would expand and flower post-Saddam, managed to survive the bombing with the loss of a window.  But "the book market, a favorite haunt of the Baghdad intelligentsia, was wrecked."

Their bookstore, called Iqra'a, the Arabic imperative for "read," is on the second floor of a dusty, garbage-strewn and mostly empty mall. It sells secondhand books and lends poor students volumes in English, French and German for a small fee.

The books survived [the bombing] and Iqra'a remains open for business...

The place still smelled of burned flesh. Books on law, philosophy and religion, some torn or stained by soot, were scattered on the ground. On the walls were black banners announcing victims' names and funeral dates. One listed five members of the same family.

As Zeidan notes in the article, "They can replace the books and rebuild the shops but where are they going to find people who know about books?" Abbas, his partner, is hopeful that the stepped up American security efforts will work out and the book market will survive/revive. But both partners live in fear of being kidnapped, and have lost friends and family.

"We are still staying afloat, barely," Zeidan said in November. "July was not good, August was worse and September was miserable."

Still, Abbas wasn't giving up hope. In a voice barely audible over the clatter of low-flying helicopters, he said: "We may be hurt but we are not defeated."

With all the thousands who have died in the war - our soldiers, their civilians, and, yes, plenty of bad guys - it seems somewhat trivial to focus on the fortunes of a couple of Iraqi booksellers.

But there is something heart-wrenching about their efforts to make a living, to keep alive the opportunity for Iraqis to keep exploring the universe beyond their terror-riddent world, to indulge in the oh-so-peaceful practice of curling up with a good book.

Year ago, I saw a movied called The White Rose, which was based on a true story of some German university students who, during the war, worked in opposition to the Nazi regime - and paid with their lives. One scene I remember most clearly showed heroine Sophie Scholl buying stamps to mail out her group's leaflets. She had to pretend that they were for sending out a death notice about her brother - otherwise, her large stamp purchase would have been noted by the Gestapo. Another scene showed the difficulty in purchasing paper: what possible legitimate need would someone have for a ream of paper. And so terror can grip a society and oppress that society's people down to the most take-for-granted activity: buying stamps, buying paper.

Iraq is not, of course, Nazi Germany. The terror the Iraqis live with it is different, but still oppressive. The thought of losing your life while looking for a good book to read.

Of all sad things I've read about the impact of the war on the Iraqi people, this tale is one of the saddest.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Kiss Me, I'm Irish...

Well, full disclosure, I'm half-Irish. (The other half's German.) But I was raised in an Irish family, in an Irish neighborhood, in an ethnic city (Worcester Massachusetts) where there were loads o'Irish (and no Germans other than my mother, as far as I could tell), went to schools taught by Irish nuns, and a church run by Irish priests. (The lone non-Irish priest I remember was Father Cyril LeBeau, famous in our family for initially refusing to baptize me Maureen, since as far as he knew, it wasn't a saint's name. My father filled him in: Maureen is an Irish form of Mary, and Fr. LeBeau was going to see plenty more of them in our 'hood.)

By the way, preface all that Irish with American. I rarely met anyone who was an actual immigrant. We were all second-third-fourth generation. And happy to be here, thank you. (As my grandmother used to say, "If Ireland were so great, we all wouldn't have had to come over here.")

We celebrated St. Patrick's Day the American way. We wore green carnations or little green Erin Go Bragh flags pinned to our school jumpers. At school, we sang "When Paddy McGinity's Plays His Harp" and "The Kerry Dancers," and listened to the nuns extol the superiority of the Irish (a practice which was not reserved for St. Patrick's Day - we heard it all the time). For supper, we ate corned beef and cabbage. And a cake decorated with bright green icing shamrocks. Or green jello. Then we listened to a Clancy Brothers album.

Sure and I've got the Irish gift of gab here. (For blog purposes, should that be gift of blog? The gift of blab?) Well, in honor of St. Patrick's Day, here's some gab I wrote during my trip to Ireland last September, when I was a new immigrant to the blogosphere, just off the boat, as it were. A green-horn, still wet behind my blogging ears. (A couple of these posts are from Pink Slip, the others from Opinionated Marketers).
World Bread & Pastry Champion
Ireland on the Move
Hold That Celtic Tiger
Happy St. Patrick's Day to you all.

Celtic Tiger: The World's A Jungle

As someone who first saw the Emerald Isle in the early 1970's, when things were not-as-bad-as-they-used-to-be-but-still-pretty-grim, it's been interesting to watch the little short of miraculous growth of the Irish economy. Yes, there are still backwaters, but Ireland these days is prosperous, modern and, for the first time since the Danes invaded, a nation full of immigrants instead of emigrants. No more Irish wakes as Paddy and Bridget headed off to the coffin ship, never to return.

One of the big growth areas contributing to the Celtic Tiger has been the pharmaceutical industry.

So I read with interest an article by Etain Lavelle and Dara Doyle (on Bloomberg March 15) about some shifts that are occurring in the Irish economy.

First off, the article noted that Ireland (specifically, University College Cork's Alimentary Pharmabiotic Centre) in competition with a dozen other countries, was awarded GlaxoSmithKline's business for research into things-gastrointestinal. (The date of this decision is not clear from the article, but it was August 2006.) Amgen and Wyeth (schizophrenia and Alzheimer's research) also have scientific facilities in Ireland.

Scientific research, it appears, is booming there.

But the boom in research is counterbalanced by the bust in pharma manufacturing, which had fueled such a hefty proportion of Ireland's economic growth. (Viagra, among other drugs, was made in Ireland.)

Ireland, it seems, is losing their manufacturing jobs to lower-cost options like Puerto Rico and Eastern Europe.

``The Irish government regards research and development as the heart of future success,'' says Enterprise Minister Micheal Martin. ``If we are to remain competitive, we have to move quickly up the value chain and ramp up much more quickly our investment in research.''

Prime Minister Bertie Ahern's government made attracting research a priority in 1999. The country's 12.5 percent corporate tax rate, which had lured drugmakers in the 1970s, was no longer enough to retain low-skilled jobs as wages climbed in the euro region's fastest-growing economy.

Ireland still provides attractive tax rates to corporations, but the big draw is the educated populace. According to the article, 26 percent of Irish adults have a college education.

While the manufacturing jobs leave Ireland, some of the slack gets taken up by the research jobs. But most of the growth in the Irish economy these days is coming from the construction and services sectors.

Sounds familiar, doesn't it?

Just another example of the head-spinning, accelerating pace at which the world economy runs.

Seems like only yesterday, Ireland was THE place to locate manufacturing jobs. Now they're trying to figure out how to bring in the high-level knowledge-centric research jobs, while watching service jobs - which can mean anything from high-end jobs in financial services to dead-end jobs cleaning hotel rooms - replace the manufacturing jobs that weren't there all that long to begin with.

Looks like Ireland's seeing 100+ years of changes in the structure of their economy - from farming, to manufacturing, to services - telescoped into 25 or 30 years.

You sure do have to be fast to keep up with things. Even for the Celtic Tiger, it can be a jungle out there.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Inspire me!

Motivation is a tricky thing. If people aren't self-motivated, they're not likely to get up and go just because management says so. Yet we'd all rather feel jazzed about where we're working, and it's a lot more fun to be working around other people who are similarly jazzed.

But motivation (let alone inspiring) folks is - as I said not one blogo-second ago - a tricky thing.

Of course, nothing motivates like having a clear idea about what your company's purpose is, understanding what's genuinely good about your products and services, and having that sense in your gut that you can win....And nothing, but nothing, motivates more than winning itself. Success begats success. (Losing motivates people up to a point, but at that point...TIP. If you're working in a company that through ill-luck or bad habit makes a long-run practice out of losing a lot more times than you win, sprint to the nearest exit.)

But trying to motivate and inspire the troops sometimes leads to taking short-cuts and falling into the trap of believing that a pep rally, t-shirt, or mug is going to motivate someone. (Damn, the outlook's not good, I better order me some motivators today.)

Yesterday I posted on business clichés, which, of course, we all use on occasion, but which I find incredibly annoying when they're used repetitively and relentlessly.

Today, I'll focus on something that I find even worse than listening to the leadership spout  clichés, and that's having them reward you with on of those inspirational plaques - brilliantly colored nature or athletic picture - the best of stock photo -  with a motivational saying. God knows, I'm a snob, but I always wince when I see one of these hanging in someone's office.

It is thus somewhat bracing to see business bromides turned upside down on, which markets demotivators that are take-offs on all those inspirational messages.

There's an entire series of signs, all cynical, some very funny. Here are a couple of the ones I particularly liked.

Ambition: The journey of a thousand miles sometimes ends very, very badly. (Visual: bear eating salmon)

Change: When the winds of change blow hard enough, the most trivial of things can become deadly projectiles. (Visual: tornado)

Dare to slack: When birds fly in the right formation, they need only exert half the effort. Even in nature, teamwork results in collective laziness. (Visual: birds flying in formation)

Discovery: A company that will go to the ends of the Earth for its people will find it can hire them for about 10% of the cost of Americans. (Visual: Taj Mahal)

Underachievement: The tallest blade of grass is the first to be cut by the lawnmower

And, naturally:

Motivation: If a pretty poster and a cute saying are all it takes to motivate you, you probably have a very easy job. The kind robots will be doing soon.

As gag office gifts (or office Yankee swaps) go, these are right up there with a statuette of Dilbert's Pointy Haired Boss, and there are certainly many, many occasions and companies for which a little dose of despair is apt. But I have to admit that having read through them all I was almost hungering for one of the "real ones". Snide cynic that I am, even I wouldn't want to work someplace where a lot of these were in evidence.

My sincere thanks to my brother-in-law John for inspiring me to write this post.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Run It Up the Flagpole: the dreaded business cliché

Bob Sutton's recent post introducing Polly Labarre's marvelous term, jargon monoxide, got right to the point that hollow, meaningless, interchangeable language should be avoided. Over on Opinionated Marketers, I've posted a challenge to marketers - including myself - to make a real commitment to get off of the jargon monoxide track.  Bob's post also triggered flashbacks to some of the more memorable cliché practitioners I've worked with.

Now, clichés - used sparingly and wisely - can be fun and entertaining. It's their incessant, repetitive, and predictable use that can make even the calmest person tear their hair out.

One fellow to whom I reported for a mercifully short time could not open his mouth without spouting some cliché or another -generally stringing them together in tandem. Paul couldn't ask someone for their opinion. No, he had to run it up the flagpole. He couldn't just refine or massage his sales forecasts. He had to apply a little Kentucky windage. He couldn't seize an opportunity. Not when he could take a tiger by the tail. Worse yet, Paul's clichés were generally accompanied by pantomime. (He must have been afraid we'd miss the point.) So when he ran it up the flagpole, he pulled on his metaphorical ropes and saluted when the flag reached the top. To demonstrate Kentucky windage, he mimed siting his trusty Winchester rifle, cocking one eye and slightly adjusting his aim.

During his staff meetings, everyone's eyes would glaze over as Paul dredged up yet another expression from his all-occasion Kentucky windbag of clichés, offering them to us as if they were the wittiest of bons mots.

Fortunately, we were saved from the tedium of listening to Paul and witnessing his Marcel Marceau moments by our wise and wonderful president. Dave applied a little Kentucky windage of his own and handed Paul his head, showed him the door, and put us out of our misery. Paul, no doubt, found a new herd of swine to cast his pearls of great wisdom before.

In another place where I worked, the president was completely enamored with sports. It may have been compensation - he was short and did not appear to be particularly athletic. But he did love his sports clichés. At every, but every, company meeting Cal came to play, exhorting us to block and tackle, and reminding us to play to win. 

Joe, the CEO of another company, could not get through a meeting with marketing without slamming his palm down on the table and declaring, "we need rolling thunder." He would look around the table. "I want rolling thunder." Everyone would cast their eyes down, trying to avoid eye-contact. "What are we doing for rolling thunder?" Talk about collective cat got your tongue! But we all knew from experience that whatever programs and product announcements we were planning were insufficiently rolling and thunderous to put a smile on Joe's face.

And unfortunately, the only rolling thunder that place was able to deliver was the quarterly rolling of heads, and the thunder of pink-slipped employees being escorted out the door.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

eSapience - Think Tank or Plain Old Flack?

I read with great interest Peter Howe's recent article in The Boston Globe on a lawsuit that Cambridge think tank eSapience is mounting against Hank Greenberg, the fallen from grace former head of American International Group (insurance). My interest stemmed from the combination of juicy element - lawsuit over non-payment of a big, fat $2million consulting bill - and the mention of outgoing MIT Sloan School Dean Richard Schmalensee's, eSapience's Senior Advisor. (I'm a Sloan alum, and, while I don't think I ever took at course with Dick when I was there in his pre-dean days, I do remember him as an affable and engaging presence.)

From the eSapience site, we learn that the company (or should I say organization, since their address uses the more academic - and less commercial - designation): a new media and research entity that shapes the debate on issues that intersect law, economics, and policy.

The firm's core expertise is in designing and executing highly targeted strategic policy campaigns in support of high-stakes business issues facing the world's leading organizations. Through its global network of academics and other public intellectuals, the firm publishes leading journals, organizes high-level strategic briefings and closed-door sessions, and creates a variety of other on- and offline venues which assemble the key participants in policy discussions.

All well and good - and definitely high tone - to focus on "strategy policy campaigns in support of high-stakes business issues facing the world's leading organizations." Quite another thing to find someone to foot the bill. Thus, the rather low tone wrangle that eSapience finds itself in with Hank Greenberg.

Here's a take from Peter Howe's take (which, in its sub-head, characterizes eSapience as a "Cambridge PR shop", which may be a fair assessment, but which I doubt jibes with eSapience's self image). Anyway, I give you Peter Howe:

They were hired, they say, to buff up the sullied reputation of one of the nation's best-known billionaires, insurance giant Maurice "Hank" Greenberg.

Now, the image-makers at the high-end Cambridge communications firm eSapience Ltd. are suing Greenberg's company for allegedly refusing to pay a $2 million bill.

A key executive of eSapience is no less than the dean of MIT's Sloan School of Management.

Howe goes on to detail Greenberg's troubles as he battled criminal and civil charges (fraud, insurance and securities violations) brought against him by then NY State AG Eliot Spitzer. (Criminal charges were dropped, but several of the civil charges remain - and Greenberg remains fighting them.)

But enough about Greenberg, already. I'm a lot more interested in what eSapience was doing for him.

Just what Greenberg's firm hired eSapience to do will be a key issue of contention in the suit. Schmalensee and top academics from the University of Chicago and from University College London, also eSapience officers, say they were called in to boost Greenberg's profile through events like an insurance industry seminar last September at the St. Regis Hotel in New York. Greenberg was invited by eSapience to give a keynote address to 50 top insurance executives, according to the lawsuit.

Schmalensee and eSapience executives set up a new think tank, the Barbon Institute, specifically to provide a credible-sounding new platform for Greenberg to give the image-rehabilitating speech at the St. Regis, the suit says.

The article goes on to say that eSapience worked on trying to get an article in the New York Times that basked old Hank in a kindly light. Not to mention hiring John Sedgwick to ghost-write Greenberg's autobiography, which they apparently failed to find a publisher for. No surprise there. If I were going to pick up a book by and/or about Hank Greenberg, I'd prefer one about the Detroit Tigers slugger and baseball Hall of Famer - not the disgraced insurance mogul. (I'm yawning just blogging about the unrealized bio of Hank AIG.)

eSapience describes itself as "a content-driven enterprise built around a set of relevant issues that ultimately determine the direction of market economies."

Sometimes there's a disconnect between how we'd like to see ourselves and how the world views us. Cambridge PR firm. I doubt that this is how eSapience sees itself. Is risking that this mantle sticks, is being surrounded by the not-so-glowing aura of out-and-out floggery, worth the $2M that they claim Hank Greenberg has stiffed them for? Or should they just give it up the academic scrim and call a a (The url appears taken but is unused.)

I'm sure that Dick Schmalensee and the other brainy guys running eSapience really want to be content-driven. Well, as we all learn in business 101, business is business. Like every other business, this one - whatever its lofty aims - is revenue driven. Nothing wrong with that. After all, Dick's the dean of a business school, not the divinity school. If you want to be purely content-driven, I guess ya gotta blog.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Letting off a little self-esteem

A few weeks ago, a story came out over the wire about a survey reporting that college students (and presumably) young workers just starting out on their careers suffered from an excess of self-esteem. They were, survey said, narcissistic and self-centered.

From an AP article (reported by MSNBC), we learn that, in 2006, 2/3's of college students surveyed scored above average on something called the Narcissistic Personality Inventory - up by 30 points over the Mother Teresa's of 1982. (Proving, once again, that there are places like Lake Woebegone, where all the children - or at least 2/3's of them - are above average.)

One can imagine how this could play out in the workplace. They won't be team players. They won't want to pay their dues. They think that they're too good for entry-level lackey work and pay. They won't be able to accept any criticism, however constructive. All in all, they will have self-confidence that isn't backed up by their qualities and capabilities.

Reading about this was quite interesting to me, coming as I do from a long ago time and far away place where promoting self-esteem in children, instilling in them any concept of their value and worth, just didn't exist. Which may explain a lot of the over-reacting that baby-boomer parents have done making sure that their kids feel good about themselves, however beyond reason and reality those feelings may be. And certainly makes me somewhat sympathetic to the plight of young people who suffer the results of an over-dose of self-esteem.

Frankly, I'm a bit envious of them.

When it comes to self-esteem, I'm something of a graduate of the school of hard knocks. Oh, it wasn't called that, but my grammar school certainly excelled sure kids didn't feel any too good about themselves.

For starters, there was the generally accepted seating arrangement: smart row girls, smart row boys; average row girls, average row boys; dumb row girls, dumb row boys. Dumb, of course, wasn't the official term, but it's the word that all the kids (including the dumb-row kids) used, in our brutal and tactless way. Of course, I now realize, those dumb row kids may not have been dumb at all. They may have been learning at a different pace, they may have had learning disabilities, they may just have been bored out of their minds.

There were variations on the theme of categorizing kids by ability. In first grade, the smart kids were Our Lady's reading group, the average kids were in St. Joseph's, and the dumb kids were in Guardian Angels. To this day, my mental image of St. Joseph is that of a kind of a C-grade, somewhat dull plodder; and I think of angels as mindless.

Perhaps because I was a smart row girl, I never questioned the justice of these seating arrangements and the rank categorization of kids. But even as a kid I questioned a couple of the other practices of the school.

One was the Reading of the Report Cards, which occurred four times a year. Monsignor Lynch, the stern and scary pastor of our church, would come to each classroom and read everyone's grades out loud. All of them. Bad grades were read out in an especially loud voice. Even as a second grader, I remember feeling bad for my friends who were embarrassed by a poor grade.

Worse, still, was the annual ritual of moving on to the next grade. On the last day of school, we would all march into the next year's classroom. That is, all of us would march in except for the kids who were being kept back. Those of us who were getting promoted would leave our classroom, trying not to look at the kids who were staying behind, crying at their desks. When we got to our new classroom, we made the same attempts not to look too closely at the kids already sitting there - although I will admit we were always curious to see who would be joining us next year.

The parish I grew up in was a mix of blue collar and lower-middle class, with a smattering of families who were quite poor. Almost every kid who was kept back - and some kids were kept back multiple times - was from one of those poor families. I don't recall one kid from any of the higher-end families - those like mine who were relatively prosperous, and who were active in the church and school - being kept back.

Late in my grammar school career, someone or other - a more enlightened and humane nun, or an enraged parent - decided to put and end to the last day of school rite. Kids who were being held back didn't have to come to school for the last day.

If Our Lady of the Angels was death to the self-esteem of its slower students, it was not exactly nirvana for the rest of us.

Being a smart row denizen could be particularly hazardous to your mental health - especially if you were one of those uppity bright kids who liked to ask challenging questions. Smart row kids were quick to learn that asking a question was risky business.

So was finishing a test more quickly than the allotted time. There was no "read a book" or "do some additional work" if you got the test done. Nope. If a test was supposed to take 30 minutes, you had to spend thirty minutes staring at the test paper that you'd completed in 5 minutes. If you were lucky, it was a test that let you use scrap paper that would not be collected. As long as the scrap paper wasn't going to be collected, you could doodle a picture of Gerald McBoing-Boing or write down the words to the "Quick Draw McGraw" theme song. It was a little risky - if sister was patrolling the aisles she might spot the doodling - but it was worth it. If the scrap paper was going to be collected, you were stuck. But you could use your eraser to write things on your desk that you could cover with your arm, or get rid of entirely with the application of a little spit and elbow grease.

I don't believe that my grammar school had a motto, but it probably would have been "Who do you think you are?"

This was the general response to anyone who asked a question (see above), anyone who demonstrated any pride whatsoever in their academic accomplishments, or who was, at anytime or for any reason having to do with academic performance, an outlier in the positive direction. (The question was not typically applied to bad-behavior troublemakers. Instead of being asked anything, troublemakers were told: you are a disgrace to your family-school-religion, a bold and brazen stump, a bad apple who will come to no good.)

I remember feeling particularly whip-sawed about the academic pride "thing". On the one hand, the school sometimes held a party for the kids who made honor roll. On party day, you didn't have to wear your uniform, and you got to go to the school auditorium and get a Hoodsie Cup. On the other hand, you weren't allowed to go to the party more than once a year. And on that third hand that was so sneakily hidden, if you at all mentioned your delight at being on the honor roll, let alone bragged about it, you were told that it had nothing to do with you. It had everything to do with your parents and your God-given brains.

"Nothing to do with you" was, like "who do you think you are?", an all purpose swipe at academic achievers. When my sister Kathleen won a scholarship to the high-falutin' Catholic girls high school in town, she was told that the win had nothing to do with her. The credit went to our parents and the school. (At least she got to win the scholarship. There was a rumor that the smartest boy in her class was up for a scholarship to the high-falutin' Catholic boys high school in town, but that the nun refused to recommend him because of his 'attitude.')

Fifth grade was a particular annus horriblis for me.

I wasn't generally teacher's pet material, but I was enough of a goody-two-shoes that I was not usually actively disliked by any teacher.

Not so that year.

For some reason, Sister Saint W loathed me from Day One. (She must have been a mind-reader.) At any rate, she plunked me and my friend Bernadette in the average row boys - double the humiliation. She also declared herself a "hard grader", and marked all my grades down from in the 90's to in the 80's. (I frankly don't remember if this was purely personal or across the boards. I'll have to ask my smart row girls cousin, who Sister Saint W also hated.) Given that virtually every test we took was multiple-choice or some other "only one right answer", nothing subjective about it, sort of exam, I don't know how she justified these grades. It's not like I didn't try for class participation. I couldn't help it if she ignored my raised hand.

One of the things we had to do in fifth grade was fill in a notebook with the title, author, and brief synopsis of each book we read. I read 6-10 books a week, which was no great feat given that they were Nancy Drew mysteries and the like. It wasn't like I was plowing through Victor Hugo. Still, I knew that Sister Saint W wouldn't believe me, so I left every other page my notebook blank, hoping she wouldn't notice that I was so many books ahead of the pace that she had declared acceptable.

Of course, she caught right on, ripped the pages out of the book and accused me of being a liar and a sneak.

A while later, she accused me of cheating on a standardized test because I had the highest score in the class. I knew enough not to challenge her logic on this - if I got the highest score, who, exactly, was a cheating from? Someone in the dumb row boys?

In eighth grade, I won the same scholarship my sister had won two years before. On the last day of school, the nun handed out a few prizes. Mine was the last one she announced.

Sister Mary F looked out the window and in a flat voice said, "The girl who won the scholarship." I walked to the front of the class, humiliated and confused that she could not even bring herself to use my name. (I know that she had wanted another girl to win.) I got to her desk, and without giving me a glance, she tossed a set of lavender glass rosary beads at me.

I know, of course, that given the size of our classes - up to 50 kids in one classroom, and some of them (in retrospect) with substantial learning disabilities or emotional problems - there was little time for special attention for anyone. Smart. Dumb. Dumb. Smart. Didn't matter. The focus was on the middle, with enough slaps at the outliers to keep them from causing too much trouble.

Was it all unrelieved torture? No, of course not. There were actually some teachers who were able to overcome the classroom challenges, treat kids decently and instill a love of learning. Monsignor Lynch, he of the read-out-loud report cards, hired a Spanish teacher so that the smart row boys and smart row girls in seventh and eighth grade could take after school language lessons. And he gave out prizes to the kids who did the best. (And, yes, I was a winner: a book about Maryknoll Missionaries and a very nice marble statue of the Blessed Mother.)

But, gee, I really wished there'd been a few more teachers who'd let me know that it was actually okay, and maybe even a good thing, to be smart.

So, as I said, I'm a bit sympathetic for these twenty-somethings exuding all that unwarranted self-esteem. They may need, and deserve, to get taken down a peg or two before it's too late. They may have difficulty accommodating the businss world, where no one will think of them as all that special until they prove themselves by working hard and getting results. But at least when someone asks them "Who do you think you are?" they'll have an answer.


I had originally seen a reference to the self-esteem study flying by me on Comcast News, but I didn't pick up on it until I saw a post about it on Inside the Cubicle.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Mon Gauloise! The cigarette pause that refreshes

Recently, I saw in The Economist that on February 1st, France became the latest country to outlaw smoking in offices. No more unfiltered Gitanes passed around the boardroom. No more secondary sacre bleu smoke to inhale. Défense de fumer is the law of the land. 

The last time I saw Paris (May 2004, I think), you could still smoke in restaurants, so I'm hoping/guessing that no smoking in offices means no smoking in eating establishments, too. Which will certainly be a breath of fresh air. Everytime we went into a restaurant, I asked in my tortured, one-tense high school French whether they had a non-smoking section. I could seldom understand the torrent of information I got back in response, except to say that it generally involved some blather about the air filtration system, and generally ended up with us sitting in one of the two non-smoking tables plunked in the middle of Marlboro Country (pays Marlboro?).

So no smoking in the workplace is obviously a good -  a votre santé for everyone. But what's of interest is what happens to those who still want/need to take a few drags to get through the work day.

Well, for one, they're now relegated to the sidewalk, and I'm sure that France will have to go through what we've been through here as non-smokers who don't want to run the smoke-filled gauntlet demand that the smokers move further and further away from the entrances. But where the French smokers will be smoking is far less interesting than whether they'll get paid for their pause cigarette - or have to make it up.

For those unfamiliar with French labor laws, they have a fairly strictly observed 35 hour work week. So they're now facing a debate on whether cigarette breaks should be included in the regular hours, or whether smoking workers should be docked for the time spent.

Once I get over my general wonderment at the idea of a 35 hour work week, I can actually see both sides of this debate.

If you start to monitor everyone's cigarette breaks, why not their trips to the water cooler? Why not their bio breaks? Why not their gossip sessions?  And doing all of this monitoring doesn't exactly sound like it will enhance productivity, now does it?

On the other hand, if someone takes a cigarette break every hour or so - certainly not unheard of for a pack a day smoker - that's quite a bit less time you're getting out of someone. When you could smoke at your desk it was one thing. You could still type, read, talk on the phone, look at your computer screen. But if you have to get up from  your desk, walk to the elevator, go outside, smoke, take your return trip - what was a negligible productivity hit is now 10 minutes for each break. One-sixth of your time. That adds up.

Even if they take their laptop with them, or their cell phone to make business calls, there's still the to-ing and fro-ing to take into account. In any case, ignoring the smoking breaks entirely will likely result less work getting done by the smokers - and greater resentment (and gold bricking) on the part of the non-smokers who feel that they have to pull extra weight because of their colleague's vices.

Surely, there are examples that the French can draw on. Obviously there are factories and other workplaces all over the world that have figured out how to let smokers smoke without burning a hole in anyone's pocket.

Personally, smoking has factored very little in my career. Anyone actually smoking in the office is a vague and distant memory, back there in the great beyond with smoking in movie theaters and smoking on planes, which at this point are just unimaginable.

But I did have one period in my life during which I did smoke.

As a Durgin-Park waitress, I shared the habit with just about everybody else who worked there. Durgin - an ancient, landmark restaurant in Boston's Quincy Market, once noted for its surly waitresses - a bunch of us would chip in and buy packs of Marlboros, which we'd leave in various cubby holes around the edges of the restaurant floor. Whenever there was a break in the action, you could just grab a cigarette and find someplace off in a corner to go take a break in peace. The break was finite - the three or so minutes it took you to smoke a cigarette - and a good little respite from dealing with surly patrons, surly cooks, the surly owners, surly fellow waitresses - and with the strain of being surly yourself (which is not all that easy when you are a sweet young thing).

Half-way through your infinitely relaxing cigarette -  and the stare-off-into-space little fugue we'd all go into while smoking - someone would always come looking for you.

The guys with Beanpot tickets were looking for their check. The BO lobsters were up. Some fuss-budget on nine had found what looked like a fingernail in her cole-slaw. The nit-wit who ordered two-dozen oysters on the half-shell just figured out they wre raw, even though you'd told him explicitly.

"Tell 'm I'll be right with them," we'd always say. "Lemme just finish my cigarette first."

Thursday, March 08, 2007

EQ Trumps GQ (that's Geek Quotient)

Early on in my career, I worked as a consultant for a small company (that had been recently acquired by a larger firm) that developed econometric and financial pro forma forecasting models for our customers. The models were designed to predict demand, anticipate cost and price shifts, and perform "what if" scenarios. I cannot imagine that anyone actually ever derived much utility out of our models, but we were paid a lot of money to construct them and to run the forecasts on our mainframe computers.

We built our models using an arcane programming language called XSIM that used an elaborate syntax involving all kinds of ampersands. I was by no means an XSIM jock, but one of my peers was.

"Amos" was, in fact, the primo XSIM user of all the consultants and an all-round really smart, high-IQ guy with clear technical ability and a strong work ethic. He was also an exceedingly difficult person to deal with: a rigid. control freak, no sense of humor (and no eye-contact), workaholic. Whenever anyone else in our group was tapped for a project or people-managing position, Amos's resentment and fury were palpable. While he had a technical undergraduate , Amos also had an MBA and he really wanted to manage something other than himself.

Now we would probably diagnose Amos as suffering from garden variety Asperger Syndrome. In those days, the diagnosis was simpler. Amos was an odd-ball. And we had to put up with his odd-ball behavior and occasional temper tantrums because he was so good at what he did.

Amos found it particularly galling when I got a promotion. The promotion wasn't exactly earth-shattering - my vast empire consisted of one person reporting to me.  But the position, and the effort I was heading up, was pretty prominent. Amos was quite perturbed. He interpreted the promotion as my first step on the road to a real management position that could conceivably have put me in a positive of authority over him. So Amos took advantage of his vast technical skills to tap into our primitive e-mail system to send an anonymous screed to our group president attacking all the women in the company (in general) and me (in particular).  At that time, I was the ranking woman there. (We could tell because I was the only one with a window office.)

I wish I'd kept a copy of the famous Amos' e-mail, but I do remember being upset because the attack was so personal and irrational. Plus I was more than a little unnerved. The letter contained dark mutterings that could easily be interpreted as threats that something could happen if someone like me was actually named a Director or VP.

As it happened, the hoopla over Amos' love letter was quickly swept aside by a major reorganization. After a few years of trying to figure out what to do with us, our parent company did a little forecast of its own and predicted that there were going to be fewer and fewer buyers out there willing to pay big bucks for our stunningly useless forecasting models. Our parent was going to put us out of our misery as an organization. They closed us down, laid off a few people (including my boss and the one-and-only person reporting to me), placed most of us into new positions at corporate HQ, and shut the place down.

With all this as backdrop, any response to the Amos letter just fell by the wayside. He left the company soon thereafter. I heard he took a position in IT somewhere, which sounded like a good fit for him, and I later heard that he was running a group, which didn't sound like such a good fit - but, hey, people are subject to change. Maybe Amos did.

I thought of Amos when I saw a recent online article by TechTarget's Shamus McGillicuddy entitled, "People Skills Outrank Tech Skills, Researcher Says". In the article, McGillicuddy writes:

Within the next few years, businesses will demand an entirely new mix of expertise within their IT organizations -- but tech skills aren't likely to top the list.

He cites the research of Gartner's Diane Morello, who underscores prediction that "by 2010, the demand for IT infrastructure and services expertise will shrink by 30% or more,"by noting that "demand for business process and relationship management skills will double."

In this new world, one of IT's "most important roles will be managing 'points of interface' with other parts of the business."

IT employees will need to speak the same language as business stakeholders. This means less demand for specialists (IT employees with a deep understanding of specific technology) and generalists (IT employees who have a broad set of relatively shallow technology skills). IT will still need technical skills, but the most valuable technical employees will know how they can apply those skills to different situations in different parts of the business.

Gartner has apparently come up with a term for these folks. They're  "versatilists." I have no idea where Amos is, or what he's up to. Perhaps he has changed, and has become more of a versatilist than he once was. Perhaps he is no longer someone who would think of "versatilists" as really nothing more than "shallowists" who got ahead because they had more EQ than GQ or IQ.

Perhaps Amos would be delighted to learn that I did, somewhere along the line, make it to senior management positions where I thanked my lucky stars every day for those folks on my teams who were in every way smarter, more knowledgeable, and much better at their jobs than I ever would have been. My job was being a versatilist, doing whatever I could to make sure that my teams got the support and resources they needed to get their work done, and to make sure that they got the recognition and opportunities they wanted and deserved. I guess I had no choice. I wasn't smart enough to do anything else.