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Archive for February, 2011

I was caught by a headline in the WSJ last week, titled, “Get Out Of My Way, You Jerk!” (2/15/11-Shirley S. Wang) The article is about the sidewalk equivalent of “road rage.” In the article, Dr. Leon James of the University of Hawaii, discusses the danger of the intermittent explosive disorder termed “sidewalk rage.” He has actually devised a way to measure this phenomenon called the Pedestrian Aggressiveness Syndrome Scale.

I’m a busy New Yorker. And New York is a walking town. I’ve lived here over 30 years and I am an aficionado of practical ways of navigating Manhattan most efficiently. I still ride the subways regularly, just as I did in my salad days as an actor. (I find that most times subways are the fastest, surest transport in New York.)

But I am also a wily and strategic walker when I am in New York. I have certainly experienced “sidewalk rage,” which is a dangerous thing for any salesman prior to a meeting or presentation. It just throws you out of sync and can leave you emotionally unfocused and concentration impaired. So, in addition to well-known techniques of deep breathing and letting go in such circumstances, I use some little practical tricks to remediate my semi-chronic vulnerability to this state, particularly when I’m running late. Here’s just one.

You are rarely not in a crowd when in mid-town Manhattan. So, when I am late as I come off Metro North at Grand Central Station, I pick the largest, fastest-moving man I can find and follow closely (about three feet behind) in his wake. When he veers in a different direction from my destination I switch to the next large, fast man going my way, much in the manner of a football running back following his left guard through the line. I avoid the awkwardness of a strict open field run and its real risk of knocking over old ladies and small children in my frantic urgency to make my next appointment.

Or, as John Florio says in SecondFruits, “If you will be a traveler, have always the eyes of a falcon, the ears of an ass, the face of an ape, the mouth of a hog, the shoulder of a camel, the legs of a stag…

Thanks, John.

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Here’s an only half facetious comparison of a business friendly state with one that is not so much.  A Texas client of Corporate Rain shared it with me.  It is why I think long and hard about what states I have exposure to these days.

California

The Governor of California is jogging with his dog along a nature trail.

A coyote jumps out and attacks the Governor’s dog, then bites the Governor.

1. The Governor starts to intervene, but reflects upon the movie “Bambi” and then realizes he should stop because the coyote is only doing what is natural.

2. He calls  animal control. Animal Control captures the coyote and bills the State $200 testing it for diseases and $500 for relocating it.

3. He calls a veterinarian. The vet collects the dead dog and bills the State $200 testing it for diseases.

4. The Governor goes to hospital and spends $3,500 getting checked for diseases from the coyote and on getting his bite wound bandaged.

5. The running trail gets shut down for 6 months while Fish & Game conducts a $100,000 survey to make sure the area is now free of dangerous animals.

6. The Governor spends $50,000 in state funds implementing a “coyote awareness program” for residents of the area.

7. The State Legislature spends $2 million to study how to better treat rabies and how to permanently eradicate the disease throughout the world.

8. The Governor’s security agent is put on leave, with full pay and benefits,  for not stopping the attack. The State spends $150,000 to hire and train a new agent with additional special training for the nature of coyotes.

9. PETA protests the coyote’s relocation and files a $5 million suit against the State.

Texas

The Governor of Texas is jogging with his dog along a nature trail. A coyote jumps out and attacks his dog.

1. The Governor shoots the coyote with his State-issued pistol and keeps jogging. The Governor has spent $0.50 on a .45 ACP hollow point cartridge.

2. The Buzzards eat the dead coyote.

And that, my friends, is why California is broke and Texas is not.

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Talk about unintended consequences.

No one projects a more cool, groovy, or fabulous personal brand than Kenneth Cole. I know almost nothing about fashion, but do casually keep up with the high-profile life of Kenneth Cole since he was a fellow graduate of my Alma mater Emory University in Atlanta in the early ’70s. But his latest blog makes me question my own academic pedigree. What was he thinking?

Well, probably he was thinking that he had made another clever and oh so courant bon mot promoting his brand on one of the cutting-edge new technologies, Twitter.

In case you haven’t heard, Kenneth Cole personally posted the following tweet at 10:30 on Thursday, February 2, 2011: “Millions are in an uproar in Cairo. Rumor is they heard our new spring collection is now available online…K.C.”  This was posted in the context of violence and death, including western journalists, in Egypt.

Here are just a few response tweets:

1.  arrington – WTF is wrong with you, @KennethCole?
2.  SoullaLindo – Bad taste @Kenneth Cole. Bad. Taste.
3.  palbi-palbi – @kennethcole is the asshole of the day.

Or take PR executive Kathleen Schmidt, who goes by the user name BookGirl96. She jokes,”I wouldn’t want to be in Kenneth Cole’s shoes right now.”  Haha. Ah, Kenneth. Hoist on your own petard.

It is easy to pile on, doing back flips in an orgy of schadenfreude over the perhaps overly smug and glib cleverness of Mr. Cole. (In fairness, he has apologized.)  But, the bigger issue is, one of unintended dangers in usage of any number of exploding new apps and Internet genius. I have personally spoken with thought leaders at cutting-edge technology companies (BzzAgent, Zappos.com, Think Interactive, Oddcast, Didit, Blue Ribbon Consulting, Blue Wolf Group, et al), many of whom have been clients of my firm Corporate Rain International, who, to a man, speak with an almost supercilious dismissal of expressed caveats about the downside of our new technological nirvana.

I’ve  written about my personal misgivings in several  previous blogs (see 1/11, 7/27 and 7/20) and I won’t repeat the litany today, except to say there is an Icarus-like danger in insufficiently examined hubristic flights of faith in our wondrous new media. Hence, Kenneth Cole last Thursday.

To quote Ogden Nash (Verses from 1929 On), “Here’s a good rule of thumb/Too clever is dumb.” Thank you, Ogden.

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I was so immensely touched by a movie I saw last week called “The King’s Speech.” It’s about King George VI, who accidentally became King of England upon the abdication of his older brother Edward VIII in 1936 on the eve of WWII.

George VI was deemed imminently unsuitable to become British monarch because of his debilitating and humiliating stutter. It was unimaginable that this man could inspire and lead his people with such a handicap. The film chronicles George’s attempt to overcome this severe and very public embarrassment.

For me George VI’s story is a tale that informs and inspires me in my own attempts to lead my company from my own flawed foundation that is the heritage of being human.

Corporate leaders are all stutterers in one form or another. It is an audacious act to create a company despite the inadequacies that, in their variegated ways, are the fundamental heritage of all people and why I have always felt the foundational virtue of entrepreneurship is simply courage.

Colin Firth, who portrays George with an admirable combination of determined fortitude and raw emotional nakedness that will surely win an Academy Award this year, describes watching archival footage depicting George VI’s stutter. “You see the neck and mouth go. I found it heartbreaking, literally tear-jerking. Something really hit me watching that. I saw the vulnerability and immense courage, all wrapped up in one moment.” (Interview in the Wall Street Journal by David Mermelstein–January 19, 2011)

The quality of effective corporate leadership that I most admire combines a practical modesty with a frontiersman’s ability to step fearlessly into the unknown. Perhaps entrepreneurship is truly the last frontier, now that all physical frontiers have been explored and conquered.

One of the problems of my own generation–that of the baby boomers–is that we have perhaps come to think too highly of ourselves. We seem to have lost the innate humility that comes from an acknowledgment of our fallen, flawed nature, what we unapologetically used to call sin, the state of being less than God. Ideal corporate leadership is mindful of the practical reality of human limitation and imperfection.

“The King’s Speech” gives a piquant reminder of the limitations in each of us as corporate leaders, as well as the earned dignity imbued from both the acceptance of that imperfect human state and its vanquishment where possible. Healthy entrepreneurial leadership exists in a balanced place  between narcissistic overconfidence and an immobilizing despair at our inevitable insufficiencies.

Dag Hammarskjold says in his spiritual autobiography “Markings,” “Humility is just as much the opposite of self-abasement as it is of self-exaltation.” Thank you, Dag.

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