Archive for the 'Art Schwartz: Views & Opinions' Category

Outliers Part II

Continuing our report on Malcolm Gladwell’s fascinating book Outliers, we’ll take a look at his explanation of why birth months matter in athletics and academics, and the background on the 10,000 hours of preparation that made the Beatles and Bill Gates.

Birth Months Matter

Climbing the pyramid in Canadian Hockey Leagues doesn’t just go to the swiftest or most agile. Professional hockey players are born in January 5 ½ times more than players born in November.  In the U.S. football and basketball don’t select and differentiate quite as dramatically. Baseball and European soccer are organized similar to Canadian hockey and have a similar skewed pattern of success related to birth months.

What is this all about? Is there some mystical force at work that enhances children born in different months and gives them some added skills in reaching the highest level of their sports?

Not exactly. According to Gladwell and his research most of this has to do with the age cut off dates imposed in these youth sports leagues and it works about the same way in educational achievements as well.

Going back to Canadian hockey, the eligibility cut off date is January 1st. A boy who turns ten on January 1 can be playing alongside a boy who is 6 to 11 months younger. The cut off date therefore provides a decided advantage to the child who meets the eligibility close to the arbitrary cut off date. That child can be almost a year ahead in physical and mental maturity.

Gladwell quotes two economists who looked at the relationship between scores on “trends in math and science.” They found that the older—the ones closer to the eligibility cut off date—scored between 4 and 12 percentage points better.

It is those who achieve early success, Gladwell concludes, who are given extra or special opportunities that lead to further success. It’s the best students who get the most attention and added teaching. It’s the biggest nine- and 10-year-olds who get the most coaching and practice.

If we understand the disparity, of one arbitrary cut off date, may be we should consider two or three different cut off dates for different leagues or classes. Wouldn’t we have twice as many, or more, gifted athletes or outstanding students?

More complicated to administer, but wouldn’t it be worth it?

The 10,000-Hour Rule

Achievement has always been thought to be talent plus preparation.  According to Gladwell, the more psychologists have looked at the careers of the gifted, the bigger role preparation plays.

The Beatles came to the United States in 1964 and were the stars of the “British Invasion”.  They first started playing together while still in high school in 1957.  Three years later, they were invited to play in Hamburg, Germany.

According to John Lennon, “In Liverpool we only played one hour sessions.  In Hamburg, we had to play eight hours, seven days a week.  The Beatles went to Hamburg 5 times in the next two years.  In total they played 270 nights and over 1300 hours.  This was extraordinary.  Most bands don’t play this much in their entire careers.

The success of Bill Gates has a similar back-story. In seventh grade his parents enrolled him in a private school, named Lakeside.  In his second year, the mother’s club raised $3,000 and bought one of the first computer time share terminals. It had a direct link to a mainframe in downtown Seattle. This was amazing. In 1968 in eighth grade Bill Gates got to do real time programming.

Those five years through the end of high school were Bill Gates equivalent of the Beatles in Hamburg. By the time Gates dropped out of Harvard he had been programming well past 10,000 hours.

These stories validate the adage that “hard work beats talent when talent isn’t working hard”.

Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell is not all new facts, but it is an eye opening, examination of a lot of questions we often ask and assumptions we don’t have enough background to really understand.

There is a lot more to this book than we have synthesized here.  It is an interesting and profitable read.

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Outliers: A Book Report

Malcolm Gladwell is the author of several best selling books.  In “The Tipping Point,” he changed the way we understand the world.  In “Blink,” he changed the way we understand the process of “thinking.”  In his latest book, “The Outliers,” he tells us that the lives of “Outliers” are those people whose achievements fall outside normal experience.  The stories of Bill Gates, the Beatles and dozens of other lawyers, athletes and entrepreneurs who have achieved outstanding success are Outliers.

There are two chapters in this fascinating exposition by Gladwell that call attention to what he calls “The Triumph of Culture.”

The first outlines the different way children learn to count in Asia and in the West.  This difference offers a distinct advantage to Asian children and may well account for why Asian children do so well in math.  In the West, children learn to count in a non-uniform system; 1 thru 10, then eleven, fourteen, forty.  In China, Korea and Japan, children count twelve as “ten-two,” twenty four is two-ten-four.

If you’re not sure that makes much difference, tests have shown that at the age of 5, American children are a year behind their Asian counterparts in fundamental math skills, and that disparity widens over time.  The Asian system is transparent and easier to grasp.  By age 4, Asian children, on average, can count to 40 while American children can count only to 15.

There is another cultural factor which aids Asians and their proclivity for math as well as all educational studies.  You’ll scratch your head when I tell you that the root of this advantage lies in the historical dependence and commitment to rice farming.  As the anthropologist Francesca Bray put it, “rice agriculture is skill oriented.  If you’re willing to weed a bit more diligently, become more adapt at fertilizing and spend more time monitoring water levels as well as make use of every square inch of your rice paddy, you’ll have bigger crop.”

The people who grow rice, not surprisingly, have always worked harder than any other kind of farmer.  Some estimates put the annual workload of a wet rice farmer in Asia at 3000 hours over 360 days.  How does this account for the success of Asian students?  Go to any western college campus and you’ll find the Asian students have a reputation of being in the library long after everyone else has left.  Culture does make a difference instilling a discipline for hard work.

At the same time, culture has some negative aspects as well.  This becomes very apparent when analyzing plane crashes.  You listen to the “black box” conversations of airline crews and ground controllers and you hear some alarming cultural differences in communications, as well as teamwork or the lack thereof as the major cause of numerous plane crashers.

Where American air controllers are authoritative and precise, some Asian and Latin crewmembers are differential and intimidated by the controller or the chief pilot and a disaster can be in the making.  Trying to be polite and non-assertive in order to be liked and not offend, often leads to inadequate or nuanced requests for instructions.  “Tell it like it is” is not always the order of the day because of cultural differences in the diverse makeup of airline crews and controllers.

The advantage of diversity also requires more attention to helping employees and colleagues overcome some of their cultural predisportions in order to function effectively in the workplace.  Crises in particular are best solved with good precise communications and respectful teamwork of equals.

Next month we’ll continue our report on Gladwell’s discussion of the critical importance of birth months as well as the 10,000 hour rule in the success of many Outliers.

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No More Tax Exemptions

Why are 501(c) organizations tax exempt? And, more important, why should they be? The only real advantage to being tax exempt is that you can accumulate the excess of revenue over expenses without paying taxes on that net income and therefore you have the additional dollars that you would have paid in taxes.

Isn’t it time tax-exempt organizations started paying taxes just like any other corporation? Giving up the so-called “non-profit status” wouldn’t be that big a deal. Dues would still be deductible as a business expense by members and everything would still go on as usual.

Organizations would still carry on the same programs and, as a matter of fact, would have more freedom in terms of lobbying and complying with regulations to prove they should be tax exempt.

With a national debt exceeding 14 trillion dollars, everyone is going to have to pay a bigger share. Shouldn’t associations and other 501(c) organizations be part of that equation as well?

I recognize that there is a psychological aura in being a “nonprofit” but in this day and age that seems to be somewhat of a shallow rationale without much logic.

If associations were to now come under the tax umbrella, it’s probably time for all 501(c) organizations to join the fold. That includes churches, unions and charities as well.

Certainly this new revenue alone will not solve our deficit problem, but maybe it should be part of a plan to start raising more revenue and eliminate all the loopholes. This could be a good start before we start considering tax increases.

It’s time for associations to step up — time for everyone to step up.

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More Lessons in Management

Lesson 1

A little bird was flying south for the winter. It was so cold the bird froze and fell to the ground into a large field.

While he was lying there, a cow came by and dropped some dung on him.

As the frozen bird lay there in the pile of cow dung, he began to realize how warm he was.

The dung was actually thawing him out!

He lay there all warm and happy, and soon began to sing for joy. A passing cat heard the bird singing and come to investigate.

Following the sound, the cat discovered the bird under the pile of cow dung, and promptly dug him out.

Moral of the story:
1. Not everyone who dumps on you is your enemy.
2. Not everyone who gets you out of dung is your friend.
3. And when you’re in deep doo, it’s best to keep your mouth shut.

Lesson 2

A turkey was chatting with a bull.

“I would love to be able to get to the top of that tree” sighed the turkey, “but I haven’t got the energy.”

“Well, why don’t you nibble on some of my droppings”? Replied the bull. “They’re packed with nutrients.”

The turkey pecked at a lump of dung, and found it actually gave him enough strength to reach the lowest branch of the tree.

The next day, after eating some more dung, he reached the second branch.

Finally after a fourth night, the turkey was proudly perched at the top of the tree — where he was spotted by a farmer, who shot him out of the tree.

Moral of the story:
B.S. might get you to the top, but it won’t keep you there.

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Definition of Management: Part Two

In the previous discussion of this question, I reported on the events that led me to interview for a position with an association in Southern California. Now it was time for a second meeting with the association’s executive committee.

The interview started in the usual manner and after the introductions, the president turned it over to Bob Bratton, who apparently was the “hammer.” His interrogation went on for 45 minutes or so.

I tried answering his questions as best I could. He was aggressive and a little brusque. Sometimes he interrupted me and his manner was beginning to get under my skin.

Everyone else in the room appeared to be getting a little uncomfortable as well. Then he hit me, “okay,” he said. “What is your definition of management?” Wow, now we were getting academic. I took a deep breath, realized I didn’t have an intelligent response and was about to tell him and the committee in the most measured tone I could muster that I didn’t think that this was going anywhere.

The association principal I had met with in Phoenix, perhaps sensing my irritation, interrupted and said, “I think we have all the information we need.” Fortunately everyone agreed, especially me.

Truth be told I didn’t have a clue about a definition of management. Fortunately, I was saved by the man who became my mentor, Ed Myers.

The committee asked me to step outside and about 15 minutes later they called me back in and offered me the position. We chatted and I agreed to give them a decision within three days. I spent the next day and half visiting with several members of the executive committee and then returned to Phoenix to consult with my wife and my former boss, Dick Reucker.

I couldn’t wait to see Dick and ask him for a definition of management. Without blinking an eye and looking at me with a certain amount of disbelief, he said, “That’s simple, management is planning, execution and control.”

I never forgot Bob Bratton’s question or Dick Reucker’s simple answer. My only regret was I never got to know Bob Bratton. He was promoted and transferred back to his company’s corporate staff before I moved to Los Angeles.

I stayed with the association as executive vice president and it was my first client when I started my association management company and with me for more than 10 years.

What is your definition of management?

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What Is Your Definition of Management?

Recently, I was asked to interview two candidates for a position as a trade-show conference manager. The staff had already met with both people and now wanted an outside and perhaps more penetrating appraisal.

It had been so long since I had done any interviewing, I’m not sure how penetrating — or even cogent — my skills were. I tried to prepare as best I could, trying to remember what I used to do in interviews.

During this process I was reminded of an interview incident early in my own career: I was in Phoenix working for KTAR-TV, the local NBC affiliate, as a sales executive when I got a call from my former boss at the Electric League of Southern California. He told me he had been contacted by a management consultant who had been retained by the Electric League to find candidates for their executive vice-president position. He told them he wasn’t interested in moving to Los Angeles, but they should talk to me.

The consultant called. I sent him a resume and subsequently had an interview with him. When one of the association principals was attending a meeting in Phoenix I had the opportunity to meet with him as well.

The next step was to visit to Los Angeles and a meeting with the Electric League’s executive committee. Everything seemed to be okay and then I didn’t hear anything for a while. Growing a little impatient I called the management consultant and told him that if they were interested in me I would need to make a decision in the next month.

He got back to me in a week or so and asked if I could come back to Los Angeles for another interview. Sure, I said and we set a date. Two days before the meeting I got a call from the consultant to ask if I could meet him at the Phoenix Airport the next day while he was changing planes on his way to Tucson and could I also bring my wife.

I didn’t understand the wife part, but figured I would go along. So we went to the airport the next day and waited. The plane from Los Angeles was late and all we had time to do was walk from one gate to the next. He never did talk to my wife and told me that I should dress conservatively, maybe get a haircut and be prepared for a tough interview. They were bringing in someone who would press me hard on a number of issues.

This seemed a little peculiar. It was now 5 p.m. and there was no time for a haircut even if I thought I needed one. I picked out the loudest madress jacket I had to wear and was ready to go….

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30 Thoughts for the New Year

  1. I’d kill for a Nobel Peace Prize.
  2. Borrow money from pessimists – they don’t expect it back.
  3. Half the people you know are below average.
  4. 82.7 percent of all statistics are made up on the spot.
  5. A conscience is what hurts when all your other parts feel so good.
  6. A clear conscience is usually the sign of a bad memory.
  7. If you want the rainbow, you’ve got to put up with the rain.
  8. All those who believe in psycho kinesis, raise my hand.
  9. The early bird may get the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese.

10. I almost had a psychic girlfriend … but she left me before we met.

11. OK, so what’s the speed of dark?

12. How do you tell when you’re out of invisible ink?

13. If everything seems to be going well, you have obviously overlooked something.

14. Depression is merely anger without enthusiasm.

15. When everything is coming your way, you’re in the wrong lane.

16. Ambition is a poor excuse for not having enough sense to be lazy.

17. Hard work pays off in the future; laziness pays off now.

18. I intend to live forever … so far, so good.

19. If Barbie is so popular, why do you have to buy her friends?

20. Eagles may soar, but weasels don’t get sucked into jet engines.

21. What happens if you get scared half to death twice?

22. My mechanic told me, “I couldn’t repair your brakes, so I made your horn louder.”

23. Why do psychics have to ask you for your name?

24. If at first you don’t succeed, destroy all evidence that you tried.

25. Experience is something you don’t get until just after you need it.

26. The hardness of the butter is proportional to the softness of the bread.

27. To steal ideas from one person is plagiarism; to steal from many is research.

28. The problem with the gene pool is that there is no lifeguard.

29. The sooner you fall behind, the more time you’ll have to catch up.

And an all-time favorite:

30. If your car could travel at the speed of light, would your headlights work?

Happy New Year

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Three Mentors

I’ve had three mentors in my life. I didn’t answer an ad—didn’t look at Craig’s List or They just sort of adopted me.

The first was my employer at the Valley of the Sun Electric League. His name was Dick Reucker and he was an amazing, talented management executive. He was in the first group of certified associations executives recognized by ASAE.

Dick had one failing and I was the beneficiary of that flaw. He dislikes the hiring process and never took the time to interview candidates thoroughly for his assistant. I was his first and I guess that convinced him he didn’t need to change his approach. His overall record was pretty good. A little more than half his hires were successful.

He gave me responsibility,he gave me freedom and he gave me a voice in almost all the decision-making. He made the job interesting and exciting. I thought it was the best job I ever had or would ever have.

At some point, he told me that I was pretty good but there was more I could learn. He said you stay, I’ll work your tail off and then I’ll help you get a better job. Down the road he recommended me for my next job at KTAR-TV and the one after that as executive vice-president of the Electric League of Southern California.

My second mentor was Ed Myers, vice-president of marketing for Southern California Edison. He was instrumental in a number of subtle, but effective ways to me being hired to take over the Los Angeles–based electric industry association. He was the principal financial backer of the organization, but rarely exercised his power.

At one point, he vigorously opposed my move to change a minor organization program. Later on in private, I asked him why? He said “Don’t’ ever give me any surprises”, I learned, I never did.

During the first few years of my tenure, Ed would see me any time of the day or evening, but would never have a meal with me. At one point when I suggested lunch, he explained he didn’t want his name or mine on an expense account because he didn’t want anyone to think our professional relationship would be personally influenced.

When I suggested we create a long range plan with a committee he would chair, he said, “No. You draft a plan and I’ll chair a committee to discuss and fine tune it. That way,” he said, “we’ll have a concrete proposal, well thought out, that will save us two years time”.

I went to visit him once when he was recovering from pneumonia. His staff was falling apart because they were rattled by him. They were unsure what he wanted them to do. I suggested he hire me as his de facto Chief of Staff. He explained why that would be a big help to him but the corporate culture would kill me. He was right and probably the best advice he gave me. Truth be told, the corporation would probably never have agreed to hire me.

My third mentor was my brother-in-law Al, a professor of social work at Columbia University. He rarely gave direct advice. He would get me to verbalize the problem and rather than give me his opinion, he would outline some possible options and the consequences of each. It was very effective. On a couple of occasions, his direction led to a decision which made important changes in my life in a very comfortable way.

The only direct recommendations he made on a few occasions when I had some personal issues to resolve was to go talk to a professional. That was fine, but in each case except one, I thought they were more conflicted than I was.

Mentors have been very important in my life. They can be very important in yours.

What do you think?

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Creating a Third Political Party

The modern history of attempts to start a third political party in the U.S. has not been successful. They usually just help the major party candidate whose views were farthest from their own: Ross Perot—John Anderson—Ralph Nadar.

The basic flaw in past efforts to create a third party has been the focus on a presidential candidate, not building a party.

To be effective, a new third party needs to start from the bottom up—not from the top down. That means finding congressional candidates who can embrace the basic principles of a platform which is fiscally conservative, as well socially and culturally centrist.

When a sufficient number of congressional candidates are elected over six to eight years, only then can a presidential campaign be launched.

Electing a third-party candidate as president will accomplish nothing if he or she has no congressional support.

An essential ingredient in forming a third political party would be to have recognizable popular name(s) to head up the effort, none of whom have presidential aspirations, i.e., Colin Powell, Michael Bloomberg, Michael Jordan, Jack Welch, Warren Buffet, etc.

A sample platform:

1. A woman’s right to choose.
2. A minimally graduated flat tax based on each year’s balanced budget.
3. Authorization for a line item veto and limitations and transparency of ear marks.
4. An immigration policy which encompasses secure borders, annual quotas of guest workers, a path for citizenship, no citizenship for children of illegals, no benefits for illegals.
5. Reform of the Obama Care Health Insurance plan to include tort reform, allow insurance companies to cross state lines, increase deductibles (including Medicare) to control costs and increase reimbursements for doctors and hospitals.
6. Means testing for Social Security.

A new third political party can be an energetic and effective force to break the current dysfunction and polarization of our two current political parties. It must be created with the best chance of success and allowed to grow.

What do you think?

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Helping Employees Understand

Some time ago, a young employee came to tell me how disturbed and overworked she felt. We discussed the situation and a few days later, I wrote her the following:

Dear Employee:
In reflecting further on our discussion of last week, I would like to pass on the following thoughts:

1. To be a manager (of yourself or other people), you have to keep things in perspective. You have to learn first how to manage yourself. Part of any job is realistically recognizing what you can do, as well as what you cannot do.
2. You are here at work 7 ½ hours each day. How much paid overtime have you put in? How much extra time on your own have you invested? Do you honestly feel you give 100 percent of your time? How much time is spent in personal calls, general B.S.? How overworked can you be? Stressed, yes, but, generally speaking, stress is what you create, not the job.
3. The appropriate steps to take when you feel you are, in fact, substantially “behind”:
A. Try to establish priorities.
B. Discuss the priorities with your supervisor.
C. Decide if extra help is needed, or whether some of the deadlines can be skipped.
4. You need to work at controlling the tendency to internalize, emotionalize and feel sorry for yourself. These reactions drain your energy and cut your effectiveness by 10 to 40 percent.
5. A standout baseball player of yesteryear who became a great salesman once asked, “How hard are you willing to work … and what price are you willing to pay in order to achieve success?” It applies to any job — any career — in any industry.
6. If you want a job, you can work 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. and hope to get somewhere. If you’re lucky, you might. If you want a career, you had better be prepared to make some investment of your time and energy. In a career, you may gain a lot more control over your advancement and your destiny.

You have a lot of potential. Keep your eye on the doughnut, not on the hole.

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