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    White Flag

    Happy Independence Day!

    Regular readers of the blog might notice from time to time that I drop in the occasional modern art image to accompany some of the posts I run here. On Independence Day I figured why not run a post that just featured probably my favorite American modern artist and one of his most famous 'flag-based' works?

    Jasper Johns, (1930 - still happily alive and well), is an American artist born in Georgia, and who studied briefly at the University of South Carolina (my alma mater, go Gamecocks!), and went on to study and work in New York City where he began to produce some of the period's most iconic and interesting paintings and collages.

    Johns often used flags and maps and targets as a basis for his work, and in 1998, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York bought possibly Johns' best known piece White Flag (below). While the Met would not disclose how much was paid, "experts estimate [the painting's] value at more than $20 million.

    Here's what 20 large worth of White Flag looks like:

    Jasper Johns - White Flag, 1955

    You could, I suppose, read some kind of deep, political or philosophical significance into the re-imagining of the iconic American Stars and Stripes in this monochromatic manner, but art historians tend to think that really wasn't what Johns was intending with White Flag.

    Rather, the artist challenges the viewer to think differently about an object with which they would be instantly familiar, and one they have only envisioned in the expected way. We've all, at least those of us here in the USA, have seen the flag thousands of times. It appears, always, as we'd expect it to.

    With White Flag, Johns asks us to confront our expectations and assumptions - not so much about the actual flag itself, or our country, or its politics - but more deeply and fundamentally about anything with which we've grown familiar.

    You 'know' what the flag means and looks like, right?

    White Flag makes you question that, or at least think about it some, and perhaps think about anything that we believe we've already figured out, take for granted, and might not ever change.

    Or maybe it's just something cool to look at.

    Have a great day!


    The end of Reader and the trouble with filters

    I am not sure how you managed to find this post today, but as most of us have heard by now, the demise of the once dominant feed reading platform Google Reader means you're certainly not reading it there.

    Google Reader was for me, the primary mechanism where I discovered, (via the previously sunsetted 'shared items' feature), consumed, saved for future reference, and shared interesting content out to my friends and social networks. Reader was almost always an open tab for me in Chrome (Google please don't get any silly ideas about axing Chrome), and I easily checked it five or ten times a day.  Most nights, the last thing I'd do was run through the 400 or so feed subscriptions I had to make sure I had not missed anything important, seen what my friends and colleagues were writing about, and most importantly for me, saved items for possible use as sources or ideas for blog posts, articles, HR Happy Hour Shows, etc.

    Reader, more so than any other mechanism, became the primary filter through which I interacted with information and experienced what was going on in the world.

    Sure over time, other and arguably better news and information tools began emerging, primarily developed to take advantage of the display and touch capabilities of iPads and smart phones. News readers like Pulse and Flipboard, and my personal favorite Zite, have taken news and content discovery and consumption into the modern technology age. They look great, they are fun to use, and they continue to get better at presenting content in personalized ways. Zite, when given feedback in the form of 'likes' and 'dislikes', over time will 'learn' what content you'd probably be most interested in, and will then serve up more of the content it expects you want to see, and less of what you don't. 

    So while I still relied on Reader as my primary source of news and information, tools like Pulse and Zite began to fill in some of the gaps and problems that Reader, (and really my use of Reader), exposed. Namely, unless you actively sought out new and different sources of information, you'd pretty easily fall into the trap of reading the same kinds of information sources all the time, and perhaps more importantly, you'd end up reading (again mostly), the same things everyone else you knew was reading too.

    And if you spend a lot of time hanging out with the same kinds of people that read the same kinds of things, well, that all can get kind of boring kind of quickly. 

    The demise of Reader should not simply be an exercise in finding and replicating how we used Reader in some other tool. Rather it should be an impetus for all of us that love to read, that love to be challenged by new ideas, that are looking for perspectives that are different from our own, (and that of our friends), to more actively seek out and share something that is just a little bit different, just a little out of our comfort zone, and maybe something that is not the same thing everyone else is reading too.

    Since Reader is gone, we have a chance and a reason to think a little bit more expansively, and to loosen up the filters that we were comfortable with, and that we applied to ourselves and to how we experience the world.

    What are you reading that is different or interesting or makes you a little uncomfortable? 


    The three people needed for a successful revolution

    Over the weekend I caught this interesting piece on the Kottke.org site titled, The three types of specialist, and I think it is worth taking a look at if either you are at interesting in starting your own revolution, or just want to build better teams in your organization - ones that are more likely to be successful pulling off major change initiatives. And it doesn't hurt that this week here in the US we celebrate Independence Day - our most famous revolution.

    The piece quotes from a Kurt Vonnegut book I'd not heard of or read titled Bluebeard, and the key passage describes one character's assessment of the kinds of people that are needed in order to open up people's minds to new ideas and get them to actually consider embracing change.  Rather than simply 'smart people, 'influential people' or 'powerful people', Vonnegut offers up just a bit more detail of the skills, background, and capabilities of the three critical kinds of people needed to drive change.

    Simply put, it breaks down like this:

    First - You need a true, or authentic genius. This is someone capable of generating original ideas that have not been considered previously. This is, perhaps not surprisingly, the hardest person to find.

    Second - A member of the community or organization, who is respected and has some authority (either directly via position, or indirectly via more subtle and social means), such that he or she can validate, defend, and promote the possibly crazy geniuses ideas. This person makes the genius seem less scary, and begins to create an environment where it is safe for others to signal approval or agreement with the idea or proposal for change.

    Third - The technician or implementer. This person has to have expertise in the specific technical, operational, or procedural area of the change, and the respect of the front-line people in that discipline whose live and jobs will be most impacted by the change. The technician needs to be able to translate the genius' plan and vocabulary into concepts and language that the organization can understand, and feels more comfortable with. 

    And that's it.

    Genius --> Respected advocate --> Technician.

    It is pretty easy to see where the absence of any of these critical roles would derail any substantial change in an entrenched organization of any kind.

    Without the genius and his/her ideas, well all you have are potentially incremental and insignificant changes to existing processes and products. You know, like the 'New and Improved!' laundry detergent that is simply the same old formula in a slightly larger jug.

    Without the respected advocate, the genius' ideas are not likely to get enough or lasting traction with what is almost always a skeptical and scared organization. The genius remains safely marginalized as a nut.

    And without the technician you lose in a couple of areas. You might not be able to effectively take what are often abstract genius ideas and make them actionable. Plus, the true front-line people in the organization might not now the genius and might not think the respected advocate really understands their jobs and processes enough to tell them how they should be changed. The technician bridges the gap between idea and execution.

    Genius --> Respected advocate --> Technician.

    A pretty simple formula for building a team that can actually conceive and convince people to change.

    And according to Vonnegut anyway, it's the only way to have any chance of actually pulling it off.



    Job Titles of the Future #6 - The CEO Sober Companion

    Whether it is a hard-charging, world-commanding, and impossibly tall and good-looking CEO, or the global head of marketing that never seems to sleep, hits every major city in her empire at least every quarter, while always being the smartest person in the room,  it seems like more and more the work of a big-time corporate executive is never done. 

    Just like Knicks' legend Patrick Ewing once said about big shot corporate executives, (ok, he said something kind of like this, not actually this, but I needed a sports reference to try and get this post qualified for the 2013 Edition of The 8 Man Rotation E-book), "Sure, sometimes we party pretty hard, but we work hard and all the time too."  

    Or if you don't dig the stretched to the breaking point Ewing take, how about this one from America's favorite (fake) CEO - Kenny Powers who put it more plainly - ' I'm the MF, CEO!'

    The work demands, the inflated egos, the sense of entitlement, the feeling of invincibility that we often see possessed by people that have essentially been tremendously successful their entire lives - all these quite often combine with lots of money, opportunity, and some enabling behavior by friends and colleagues to drive CEOs and other execs into some bad, bad decisions regarding alcohol, drugs, and other inappropriate actions.

    And having the CEO of a big, possibly publicly traded corporation running into scandal, trouble with the law, or even simple lack of attention to the requirements of his/her position caused by one too many whiskeys or painkillers is the kind of risk that more and more companies are deciding to attempt to mitigate. And one of the ways in which that risk is combated is with the 'Sober Companion'.

    What does the 'Sober Companion' do? Check the details from this recent NY Post piece:

    Trying to reason with his multimillionaire client while plying him with black coffee, Chuck Kanner ducked and narrowly missed a bottle of whiskey aimed at his head.

    “He’d be sitting there [meeting] with people like Bill Clinton, Rudolph Giuliani and Mario Cuomo, spaced out, and I’d be saying: ‘Dude, this is not OK!’ ”

    The unseemly row aboard the drunken CEO’s yacht in the Caribbean was all in a day’s work for Kanner, a so-called “sober companion” who makes his living keeping high-powered business executives on the straight and narrow.

    He is part of an elite team of advisers and confidantes who work undercover, often 24/7, as personal assistants, bodyguards, researchers and potential investors, so the Masters of the Universe can get help for their addictions — while saving face as they rule the world.

    So maybe personal assistants or even executive bodyguards are not all that new, and are certainly not 'Job titles of the future', but this new spin, or expansion of duties - for the assistant to pose as a consultant of some kind with the job of making sure the exec doesn't over imbibe on booze or drugs, well that seems like a brand new take on an old problem.

    And I think it's also symbolic of the age that corporations and executives live in today. Don Draper could pretty plausibly get away with being drunk half the time and acting on pretty much every desire he wished. Sure, the times and expectations were a little different, but there were also no blogs, and no Twitter, and no Instagram to potentially capture and broadcast to the world all the monkey business he was up to, and that in today's age would be all over the web.

    Sure the 'right' anser to this problem is to have CEOs and execs that know better. 

    But until we are pretty sure that the million years or so of human tendency towards making bad decisions with booze and drugs is pretty much done, you might want to look into hiring one of these 'Sober Companions' for your exec team as well.

    Today, it doesn't take much (maybe about five scotches and a bad decision), to destroy billions in company value.


    PODCAST - #HRHappyHour 166 - 'Can I get a referral?'

    HR Happy Hour 166 - 'Can I get a referral?'

    This week on the HR Happy Hour Show, hosts Steve Boese and Trish McFarlane welcomed Ziv Eliraz, Founder and CEO of the social employee referral management platform Zao.com, to talk about the changing and evolving role ot technology to power and support employee referral programs.

    You can listen to the show on the show page here, using the widget player below, and as always on iTunes - just do a search in the podcasts section for 'HR Happy Hour'.

    Listen to internet radio with Steve Boese on BlogTalkRadio


    While we ALL know that the employee referral is generally cited as the 'best' source of hire for external hiring, it is also true that creating, managaing, and monitoring these programs has often been an administrative challenge, and keeping employees engaged in the process and referral program can also be a challenge.

    Zao helps solve a few of these common challenges, and even if you are not thiking of automating your employee referral process, Ziv shared some ideas and best practices gained from their work with organizations all over the world.

    Thanks to Ziv for the time and the insight about the role of technology to empower and extend the classic employee referral program.

    Have a great weekend!