Monday, September 30, 2013

MOOCs morphing fast

Remember those Massive Open Online Courses--MOOCS--being offered by even big name schools?

Now, the likes of AT&T and Google are getting into the act, helping design them to make students better able to work at their companies--or even certificating student skills(niche certifications).

This according to Douglas Belkin and Caroline Porter (WSJ, Sept 27, 2013).

Udacity, one of the purveyors, offers a free certification with inputs from Google and AT&T and a few other companies.

MIT is also putting together a similar program called the Xseries with its MOOC partner edX.

With college tuition outpacing inflation three to one, some other approaches are needed.

Critics worry that letter the "bigs" into the game will focus courses too narrowly on the needs of those companies.

What do you think?

I tend to think the tail might soon wag the pooch. But who knows.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Bliss--or miss?

"Follow your bliss."

"If you love what you do you will never work a day in your life...."

Trying to make money from one's passion is quite the cliche generator.

Our bud Anita Bruzzese at Gannett talks about a successful Harvard lawyer who felt empty and depressed.

So she chucked her briefcase and started writing. She self-published a book on chucking your briefcase, basically, and was discovered by a major publishing house, and well...the rest is happiness history.

Gallup found that 70% of workers are not engaged at work.

"True passion is your greatest economic security," this woman gushed.

She suggests you take your pulse--are you excited over what you are doing.

Don't try to define your passion right away. Let it be--and grow.

Stop planning--you can't plan an inspired life.

Stop listening to doubters.

Well--here I am waiting to be discovered...anyone? I notice I did not get a MacArthur grant. Drat!

You have to be kind of hard-headed about such blithe advice--especially if you plan to revisit the grocery store at some point.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Are you an innie or an exie?

Anita Bruzzese, Gannett, says introverts and extroverts are forced to associate in an office setting.

But there can be friction. Introverts think extroverts talk too much, have trouble staying focused and are annoying. They also think these colleagues get all the cool stuff-promotions, recognition.

Now, a gal named Sophia Dembling has written a book called The Introvert's Way: Living a Quiet Life in a Noisy World.

She finds introverts getting madder and madder about "needy" extroverts.

Extroverts, she found, thought people who were quiet were sad. Bum-up.

If the exie tries to tell an innie a joke to lighten them up--it's out of concern, she says.

What do you think?

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Dopey shows are not what preppers are about

Capt William E. Simpson, a US Merchant Marine officer, writes about so-called Doomsday Preppers in the Sept/Oct issue of Emergency Management.

He says the spate of TV shows on preppers have given them an unfortunate image. Preppers, he says, are just like anyone else you know. There are between 3-5 million of them. Maybe even your neighbor.

Many are former military, police and fire. There are also doctors, scoutmasters, pilots, weather forecasters, and teachers. They come in all ages.

Usually they have witnessed a disaster and have decided to follow FEMA's advice.

As a rule, zombies do not figure into the scenario.

Emergency managers should appreciate these people--they can fan into neighborhoods in a disaster and provide real help. Many will not have Certified Emergency Response Training (CERT--google it). But they will still be of help.

After interviewing a doctor for WebMD on the subject of bird flu some years ago, I thought about how this disease could be managed at home--and even laid in a few supplies. But I never followed through.

Maybe it would not be a bad idea? The government has websites of advice.

I have a prepper in the family--they have two months of rice and beans stockpiled. And, of course, firearms. This is where it gets shaky for me--if the balloon goes up, what are preppers going to find when they emerge?

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

How much do you want that job?

As a few jobs begin opening up, you may be in a situation where you have to make extreme sacrifices to get one.

You might have to move.

You might have to ride a bike 90 mins each way if you don't have  car.

Some people spend two hours each way on a bus.

According to job guru Dale Dauten, you have to get to the job no matter what it takes.

Dauten even recommends renting a room in someone's house during the week to be near an available job.

If this sound undoable, you may not be desperate enough yet.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Interview jitters

People are getting the occasional interview these days--and it's been so long they have forgotten how to ace it.

CareerBuilder has some advice. Remember, first, that the interviewer's job may be on the line if they pick the wrong person. This can account for lots of strange questions and interviewer overkill.

You must prepare! Why ARE you the best person for the job? What did you learn in school that makes this the job for you?

At very least, know what the company DOES. A lot more research than that is recommended.

After checking in, relax, deep-breathe.

In the interview, think before you speak. Listen to what the interviewer says. If the interviewer asks whether you have questions--ask some, don't just jump up and leave.

And send a paper thank you. Always.

I like the listen and think advice. So often, on TV, when people are being interviewed, they get asked the same question they just answered. I scream at the set--"He just TOLD you that."

Friday, September 20, 2013

Work meltdowns

Sue Shellenbarger, WSJ, Sept 19, 2013, says in today's open office world, temper tantrums and blowups are hard to keep under wraps.

Thirty percent of workers argue with a coworker at least once a month (study by Fierce). Heads pop up over cubicle walls like gophers.

Screaming, and hearing it, hijacks performance.

Sometimes this form of office theatre can lead to everyone rethinking subjects.

But often not resolving these smackdowns results in employees thinking they have something on the participants and trying to use the incident to their advantage.

If you find a discussion spinning out of control, try to find a way to step back and cool off.

Get out of the office. Take the rest of the day off.

Then try to refocus on the problem, try to get the other person's perspective, apologize.

Should you--a bystander--intervene? No, if you are an intern and the shouting people are higher ups.

Managers should break up disputes between subordinates, though.

There was a blowup on Project Runway last evening. The ever-present mentor Tim Gunn made the two apologize somewhat, but this was not the first incident for one of them, and he ended up being eliminated. The rest of the designers were upset and their work slowed.

So, word to the unwise...

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Freelancer population rising--and not going back to offices

I made a decent living as a freelance reporter and marketing consultant for 35 years, then came The Troubles (election in 2008) and the sharks moved in trying to get between freelancers and the money--they offered unlimited work for $5 a story instead of $500. Even the good payers started cutting pay.

Now--even the writers who told me I was nuts for being worried, are worried. And at the same time, the entire economy is starting to trend toward self-employment.

Huge change!

More than 17 million American identified themselves as consultants, freelancers, or temps in May 2013. This was 10% more than in 2011.

This number will be 28 million by 2018.

Thirty-six percent of these are Gen Xers (age 34 to 49). The Boomers are 33%. Millennials are 20%. And "the matures" (yick), age 68 and up, are 11%.

They claim the economy is improving, but all I see is more part-time jobs being filled.

Experts wonder why freelancers are not flocking back to companies.

One guy said it best. "Companies are less committed to commitment."

As a side note, I find I can be superbly qualified for an assignment, but not get it. I think I am tagged as a "mature" when I list top-name publications. I think they assume I will want to be paid decently.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Mom and Dad, meet my boss

You know I let little go unsaid--but I pretty much thought I did not have to tell you not to take your parents to work.

But nooooo...According to Anita Hofschneider, WSJ, Sept 11, 2013, some of the Millennials (born 1981-2000) are so chummy with the 'rents, they invite them to company softball games and other events.

Some managers did not like this at first, according to this story, but are now getting used to it.

Northwestern Mutual Life welcomes parents of interns.

Parents come along on job interviews. They listen to performance evals.

So, of course, we know have Take Your Parents to Work Day (Google, natch).

This is also wildly popular overseas--more so even than in the US.

Of course, this can get awkward when rules prevent sharing the reasons a child got fired or something of that nature.

And one Millennial said if she got a letter to take to her parents she would feel like she was back in HS.

Hey--just forge their name on it like before. (joke)

My daughter recently showed me an attagirl a customer posted about her on her employer's website. She did it voluntarily. I was happy, though.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Oh, no, here we go again--positive attitude

I do not have a positive attitude. Never have, never will. Moments of fun, contentment, and happiness can be fleeting. If something good happens, fine, I love it. If not (such as undiagnosed whackos shooting things up), then at least I was right--life is not a bowl of little red tree fruit.

I like being right--it makes me feel happy.

So, when I saw Anita Bruzzese, Gannett, quoting Shawn Achor, author of The Happiness Advantage, I cringed. This is Achor's second book about happiness. Overkill?

He studied a big investment bank that went belly up--employees who stay productive embraced new realities.

What does that mean--no job and being strapped?

No--Achor says it means making stress work for you. Stress hormones can improve your performance.

They can deepen your ties to others, he says.

He recommends trying to look at things from different vantage points. Working extra for less money--well, that money will help your kids.

Volunteer--being altruistic can result in promotions, he says.

Eat and sleep healthily.

Ask people from different backgrounds for advice.

If you ask me, a good cry never hurts.

By the way--the Al Capp character with his own rain cloud always made me smile, then I learned Capp was mean and cruel and tragic. I probably would not have liked him despite my negativity. You can go too far.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Open offices can ruin concentration

Unintended Consequences #1 million: Open plan offices, with low cubicle walls, no office doors, and cafes scattered around give workers the attention span of the Brazilian fruit fly.

Well, they didn't actually say Brazilian fruit fly, but the message is clear. Sue Shellenbarger, WSJ, Sept 11, 2013, says the real culprit is not email or IM, but one's coworkers.

Face-to-face interruptions account for one-third more interruptions than email or calls.
Average time spent on a task before interruption: 12 mins, 40 secs.

Average time  to return to that task: 25 mins, 26 secs.

Time it takes to achieve same level of concentration: 15 mins.

Percentage of tasks interrupted in open plan offices: 63 percent.

In closed offices: 49 percent.

Interruptions cause exhaustion, frustration, anger. Error rates on the computer skyrocket.

A 2-second interruption is enough.

Some open offices have privacy rooms.

At one hospital, personnel concentrating--say on getting the right pills to the right patients and not kill them--wear a paper sash that says--leave me alone, I am thinking.

Most of this is commonsense--but what is the solution.

When my daughter comes in my office with a question, I like to think my dazed scowl and frantically waving hand will ward her off--but maybe a sash would work better.

Friday, September 13, 2013


Wouldn't ya know. No sooner do they invent stuff like Twitter, email, Facebook and so on, than people try to not use it.

We have all been around rude little drips who constantly check their phones in their laps at dinner, etc.

But some bigwigs (love that word) are also trying to dial back constant use, according to Rachel Feintzeig, WSJ, Aug 28, 2013. They more or less say it's for sanity's sake. They still think about work all the time, but without interruptions...which they say is good.

The head of one communications firm ditches his cell for part of each day.

Another did an Internet detox of 25 days and now does micro-disconnecting--say, no Twitter during meetings.

Another turns off company email for 24 hrs each week.

Another found out the world could get along without him. Yeah, that would hurt.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Entrepreneur school or business school?

Melissa Korn, WSJ, Sept 5, 2013, says special schools for those set on starting businesses are cropping up.

Students get enough marketing, coding, and operations training to get their idea off the ground. One is General Assembly, another Starter School.

The latter has a nine-month program for $33K.

Startup Institute is 8 weeks--and is in Boston, NY, and Chicago.

For one thing, an MBA does not mean much in startup circles.

What do you think? I think this is part of how the whole world of higher ed is fragmenting. In many cases, training is replacing "education."

I think it's good.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Lucky reinvention

As people get laid off or decide to retire early, there is much talk of "reinventing" oneself.

Personally, I have reinvented myself so much I look like a Rube Goldberg gizmo (look it up).

But I thought Bernie Born of Flagstaff, AZ, as reported by Kristi Essick in the WSJ, really took a leap. He went from financial analyst to horseshoer--or farrier.

He doesn't even ride much and is taking lessons to get better, but he had a little farm and three horses. When he laid off as an industrial appraiser in 2008, he realized he was tired of financial work.

Desk work, basically.

When the farrier came to shoe his horses, he was watching and thought, "I would like to do that." His wife said well, why don'tcha.

Amazingly he found a horseshoe school in Tucson, where he lived in a bunkhouse with other students many decades his junior.

He learned to trim hooves, heat shoes in a forge, shape them on an anvil, and diagnose horse diseases. He had to pass extensive exams.

When he returned home, he used his business skills to build up clientele--he was always on time, sent postcards reminding clients of needed services, and posted fliers and sent emails.

He is a happy man--he comes home tired. He has to exercise to keep up with controlling the large beasts and long days.

"I love my job," he was quoted as saying.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

C'mon, gals, computers rock

Colin Wood, Sept 6, 2013, says nationwide pushes are on to get more women and minorities into computers.

Almost 60% of all undergrad degrees are earned by women, with 52% of math and science grads being women.

But--most high schools do not require computer science classes. Technology is still regarded as a masculine field. The old saw about wanting to be around people who look like you apparently still holds sway.

Some HS teachers put on a full-court press to get women and minorities into their classes. Yet only 19% of Computer Science advance placement test takers are women.

In creating computer science classes, teachers need to make them gender neutral. A group called Black Girls Code hosts events around the country focusing on women and minorities, mainly girls between ages 7 and 17.

iUrban Teen Tech focuses on black and Latino males.

Bit by bit (pun intended) these bright and focused youngsters can help us enter the world of this new century---where technology will be king and the tech-smart will rule.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Did you ever melt a car?

You build a big, shiny building but it's at a wrong angle (or something) and the sun bounces off it and melts someone's Jaguar.

Don't you HATE that?

It was called the Walkie Talkie Tower--it's in London. Now it's called The Fryscraper. It melted the mirrors on a Jag and caused other mayhem.

Designed by Rafael Vinoly, the Fryscraper is not the architect's first star-crossed project--he had a similar experience with a building in Las Vegas.

That's two. Aren't you supposed to make a different mistake the next time--don't you listen to Auntie Star?

Oh, well--you thought YOU were having a bad day. At least it's not a bad career.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Encouraging office civility

Rachel Feintzeig, WSJ, Aug 28, 2013, says a toxic workplace of backbiting, gruffness, or no smiles can impair productivity.

Rudeness is ramping up. Employees may speak Spanish in front of English-speaking colleagues (this is an issue in this area of the country) and this is resented. That is only one example.

Ninety-six percent of workers have experienced incivility, according to a study by Georgetown and the Thunderbird School of Global Management, which queried 3,000 workers.

A quarter were treated rudely at least once a week. Other studies said more like 50%.

At the good old NSA, one analyst created a civil tree--the names of workers who were "kind."

People there who do good deeds get civility stars.

The DISH NETWORK has summer concerts for workers and their families.

Southwest Airlines--get this!--has a whole dept of people devoted to sending notes to people with sick family members, or who have a baby. They also send birthday cards.

Now there's a job--official birthday card sender.

Cisco Systems estimated in 2007 that rudeness cost the company $8.3 million in lost motivation and work time.

A hospital in Louisiana (Ochsner) has a 10/5 rule--eye contact with anyone within 10 feet, a greeting to anyone closer than 5 feet.

Doctors and nurses have to run to a safe room to "vent."

I guess these places are trying. It seems a little forced to me. But hey--fake it till you make it.

Was it rude to say "forced"?

Thursday, September 5, 2013

New show on making it in a small subculture

On the Bravo channel, we just finished the ins and outs of crewing on a luxury yacht. Now we are partway into EAT, DRINK, LOVE, which deals with some young women trying to make it in the foodie subculture of LA.

We have a restaurant publicist, a private chef, a baker, a food writer, a mixologist, and a marketing director of a famous chain of eateries--plus miscellaneous flirty chefs, double dealers, and tyrants.

So far, we have seen a talented baker join forces with another one to create a delish treat called "fonuts." This means being in a hot kitchen baking, not swanning around a bar schmoozing about baking.

The private chef never gets out and meets anyone--she is lonesome.

The marketing director is always having to watch her six for the long knives in her organization.

The blogger is chatty, flirty, and people think she puts out for information.

The mixologist creates cocktails and revamps alcohol menus--and gets paid for it--at least sometimes.

The publicist knows everyone but still seems like an outsider somehow.

Recognize any of these types from your work or office?

Of course, they are all babes--even the men.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Using correct grammar actually important

Mark Goldblatt, who teaches at the Fashion Institute of Technology at the State Univ of NY (WSJ, Sept 3, 2013, gets quite het up over the dreadful usage and the inability of students to get their thoughts across in writing.

Grammar, he says, does not count so much in 140 characters. And people reading that may cut you a break--they may know and even like you.

But college teachers don't know you and may not like you, he says.

Say you needed a semi-colon and don't know what that is--well, the eye is stopped in the midst of your sentence--and the reader, often an elite, grammatical prof, thinks, "What a dolt."

There is such a thing as good writing, he says, but no such thing as good grammar--only the absence of correct grammar. Competent grammar is grammar you don't notice.

You want to be understood, to be taken seriously. This may mean remedial English when you get to college.

"Learn what a clause is," Goldblatt instructs, "what a gerund is, what a misplaced modifier is."

You should have learned this a long time ago--he says.

Go to it.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Some bosses want you to call people!

I KNOW! Weird, isn't it?

Phones in offices used to ring all the time--and not with a tune--a RING! It sounded busy. It was busy!

Anita Hofschneider, WSJ, Aug 28, 2013, says Millennials don't like to call when they can email.

They think phone calls are an interruption. They don't even want a phone on the desk. Some unplug it.

One problemmo: Email doesn't "sell" like the phone does. You can ask a question on email--get an answer. But you can't immediately discuss that answer and persuade.

One woman gives full-day workshops on how to use the telephone.

Still--more desk phones are being shipped than ever. They include text capability and instant messaging.

Nevertheless, younger workers may have "phone phobia."

Some, in the story, had to be told that phones don't use a SEND command.

OMG--where have we gone wrong?