Thursday, August 28, 2008

Heavy meta

Would a novel about boredom have to be... boring?

We may be about to find out.

Aaron Sorkin, writer of A Few Good Men, The West Wing, Sports Night and Studio 60 is
writing a movie about... Facebook.


Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Keith Moon

I'm a lifelong Who fan, having seen them at one of the first American shows in New York.

I've read just about everything about them I can get my hands on, so this review for the Sun-Sentinel in 1999 was a natural.

MOON: The Life and Death of a Rock Legend. Tony Fletcher. Spike. 608 pages.

How many drummers in popular music ensembles are remembered 20 years after their deaths? How many are subjects of biographies, reminiscences and legends?

Now, when the majority of recorded percussion originates from computers instead of snares, tom-toms and cymbals, why does the abbreviated, brandy-soaked existence of a rock drummer matter? Tony Fletcher's massive new biography of Keith Moon, The Who's drummer, doesn't make much of a case for caring. It's strictly for fans with the stamina — and stomach — for this cautionary tale of success and excess.

A short, hyperactive child born into an otherwise unremarkable London working-class family in 1946, Moon impressed all with quick wits, brash manners and a profound inability to concentrate on schoolwork or other tasks. But when he discovered pop music and took up the drums as a teen, he also found himself.

After several short stints with semi-pro bands, he latched onto The Who — and completed them. They were an odd lot, even by early 1960s English rock standards. The guitarist was a pothead art student who regularly traded punches with the sullen singer, who was considered the group's sex symbol, but only by default. The bassist stood motionless at gigs as the others flew over the stage. Until Moon joined, the drum set was occupied by an older, incongruous — and clearly uncomfortable — gent. But Moon the Loon's histrionics were a better fit.

Moon's previous band, The Beachcombers, featured the young drummer's wild showmanship and attention-getting antics. Like Buddy Rich or Gene Krupa, the wild-eyed percussionist seized the spotlight. Moon could hardly bear it when the band went into a cover version of a current hit ballad, so he tossed his drum sticks, crossed his eyes, belched, pouted or crashed his cymbals for punctuation during soulful verses by the indefatigable crooner. The audience loved it.

Moon's audition for The Who is one of rock's great legends: He supposedly appeared at a gig in garish orange garb, hair bleached like a surfer's (or the London supposition thereof) and demanded the chance to sit in for their drummer, destroyed the drum set and was then hired on the spot. The tale's been told so many times that it's accepted as gospel. But author Fletcher insists that it's untrue. According to interviews with former bandmates and friends, Keith auditioned at a rehearsal hall and was offered the job a day or so later. Period. Fletcher also punctures other prevailing myths: Moon drove a car into a swimming pool on his 21st birthday; was banned from Holiday Inns for life; and even the drummer's purported year of birth (he was actually a year older).

Ample space is given to the claim that Moon was among the greatest rock 'n' roll drummers ever. Fletcher carefully makes the case. Though sonically dazzling, Moon never was a solid beat-keeper like Ringo Starr, Charlie Watts, Kenney Jones or other contemporaries. Indeed, Led Zeppelin's drummer John Bonham (another percussionist whose excesses hastened his premature demise) was far more proficient. But in The Who, Moon was almost a soloist — a lead instrumentalist — and no other drummer could do what he did, a fact proven by the inability of the aforementioned Jones to satisfactorily replace Moon after Keith's demise.

From London to L.A. and back to London, the ups-and-downs of Moon's life are recounted in painful detail. His outrageous sense of humor and flamboyant lifestyle provide entertaining anecdotes, but other than a few factual revelations, there's little new here. For hard-core Who fans, Fletcher's book is time well-spent. For others, an hour's documentary on VH1 will suffice.

published 2/24/99 in the Sun-Sentinel

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Weekly Biz Book Boogie

Do Your Best To Prepare For The Worst

Two books provide tips for protecting your job and dealing with the irregular rhythms of life.

Repeat after me: "There is no job security.''

Even if you're the most competent person in the company — or the world — sundry circumstances affect your tenure. Dealing with these uncertainties is now part of every employee's responsibilities, though the basics of ''doing your job'' and being mindful of your actions and how you are perceived by your boss and your co-workers still apply.

Bulletproof Your Job: 4 Simple Strategies to Ride Out the Rough Times and Come Out On Top at Work. Stephen Viscusi. Collins. 192 pages.

Viscusi is a recruiter and a frequent expert-guest on TV and radio talking-heads shows. He's pretty good in this role; outspoken, direct and somewhat abrasive. But a book is a different medium, and here Viscusi comes off as a bit overbearing. His tone throughout this tome is strident, with little room for ambiguity or disagreement. Maybe some people need that, though a one-size-fits-all solution usually fits no one at all. Still, if you can get beyond the bluster, Viscusi's admonitions are mostly commonsensical, so you can apply them as you see fit even if he states his opinions as incontrovertible facts.

His four "basic principles" are pretty good: "Be visible. Be easy. Be useful. Be ready.''

That's solid advice for new employees and lifers, too, especially in the current precarious economic climate. Here are some tips from the book:

1. Set a Goggle alert with your boss' name.
2. Set a Technorati alert for your company and stay in touch with the blog chatter about your company.
3. Always have a (firm handshake) to seal a deal.
4. Company gossip is gold and can help you bulletproof your job.
5. Bosses are trained to say office politics don't exist in this organization. Only dumb employees believe that.
6. Mentees-mentors and networking: Create a sleeper cell of friends in your company and industry who will emerge in a time of crisis.
7. Career coaches are for sissies. If you need a career coach, you don't have a career!

Most of his other declarations are decent, too, but a few of the things he advocates are pure BS, like arriving at work earlier and staying later than your boss every day. That's great, but some of us have lives and routinely working late proves nothing and guarantees even less. But the thrust of Viscusi's rap is pretty solid, and you're always free to accept what you like and reject what doesn't make sense to you if you choose to read this book.

The Change Cycle: How People Can Survive and Thrive in Organizational Change. Ann Salerno and Lillie Brock. Berrett-Koehler. 199 pages.

Salerno and Brock have given the issue of change a lot of thought, especially change in an organizational setting, like layoffs or acquisitions. Similar to the stages of grief, they outline the different feelings and mental states most of us experience as the reality of these extreme circumstances sinks in.

This book might be too touchy-feely for some, and will probably not be embraced by everyone, but their approach integrates an awareness of human nature with psychological principles in a way that's fairly easy to understand. The two authors keep things fairly light, too. It would be easy to embrace the dark side of all this, but instead of being somber, they invoke humor and worldliness in an authentic and heartfelt manner.

Their systematic approach may not be for everyone, but given the chaos many of us encounter, this book could be a very useful resource for understanding and coping with the irregular rhythms of contemporary work and life.

Published 8/25/08 in The Miami Herald

Monday, August 25, 2008

Jobs responds

Not really, but funny anyway...

Brand loyalty riddle

This defies logic, yet it's among the strongest examples of the power of branding — one that endures through multiple generations!

It's a riddle: The product name stays the same but some of its key components change from year to year. Many of these components are imported from competitive products; brands that are disdained or even detested. A few components remain for several years at a time; some for just a year, a few months or even days. Eventually, all are replaced... yet the product and brand remains.

Each product is tied to a specific geography yet sometimes one from distant areas is preferred. In some places, there's more than one product, but local proximity doesn't assure brand loyalty.

Sometimes, the product may retain its brand name but change location, often thousands of miles away. Decades later, people may still long for the earlier incarnation, and either intensely dislike the current version or are completely indifferent to it.

When the product is successful, loyalists' identification with the brand intensifies and they speak with a collective "we" when referring to it.

What is this product whose brand engenders such loyalty?

Mouse over the words after this sentence (or see the comments) if you haven't already guessed. Sports teams.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Rundgren preview

"Afraid," from the forthcoming album, Arena. What do you think?

Todd Squad

Why is Todd Rundgren touring with a Sgt. Pepper tribute band?

Guess I'd better post a review of the new Arena album asap. And maybe something more...

Friday, August 22, 2008

Weekend reel

The great Dave Thomas of SCTV fame.
His demo reel as director etc.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

What's the deal? Seinfeld for Microsoft!?

Always enjoy checking out the Seinfeld reruns to see which Macintosh he's using. (Not just for that, but you know what I mean.)

Now, it's been announced that Jerry will be one of several celebrities used in Microsoft's new ad campaign, being rolled out by Miami agency Crispin Porter + Bogusky.

Good luck with that!

But here's the real question: assuming Seinfeld is a Mac person, why is he doing this?

Does he need the money?

Doubtful. The syndication revenue from reruns of his old series amounts to a fortune.

Exposure? Come on! He could be on TV every second of his life if he wanted to (and is, actually, given the frequency of reruns). Seinfeld could also do guest shots, movies... even another series.

So why is he doing this? I don't know, but it's a worthwhile question to ask.

Maybe I'm putting too much into this (and maybe most people don't associate him with Apple or Macs), but isn't credibility worth something?

What's your price?

Wednesday, August 20, 2008


Blogging lightly due to some deadlines but here's a thought: when you send out mass email, do you think all your recipients are reading it together?

No? So why address it to "everyone" or use other plural terms?

It's pretty obvious, but we read stuff by ourselves, not in groups.

It may not be possible to address each person individually, but it's still one-on-one communication.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Super product placement

From a fine site with an interesting collection of these ads.
(I believe the art here is by Curt Swan and Vince Coletta, btw.)

Monday, August 18, 2008

Branding or Branded

Deciphering the importance of branding
Does meaning define the brand or does the brand provide the meaning? One author sees authenticity and community while another sees artifice and illusion.

Branding has become an increasingly important part of marketing — or has it? As a way to convey meaning and value, the practice of creating a unique name is a no-brainer, yet the promise that this act carries is both explicit and implicit.

If you are asking a customer to make a choice based on what the name means and the value it imparts, you'd better back it up. On the other hand, some brands organically develop as a part of a genuine culture, though companies may try to artificially induce the gestation process.

Two recent books look at the phenomenon and attempt to make sense of it.

Buying In: The Secret Dialogue Between What We Buy and Who We Are: Rob Walker. Random House. 256 pages.
This is a terrific book by the writer of the New York Times Magazine's ''Consumed'' column. Walker's curiosity leads him to many unexpected and interesting places and some remarkable people — skateboarders and women with red hats, T-shirt makers inspired by Manhattan landmarks and Red Bull promoters.

All discover an identity by either creating a brand or inhabiting an existing one. In addition, Walker sorts through the wisdom of gurus like Godin and Gladwell as he seeks to understand the reasons that people who claim to be uninfluenced and impervious to branding are some of its biggest adherents and proponents.

He coined the term ''murketing'' as a descriptor for the murky marketing that seems to occur mostly under the radar and often without the push of mass media.

He put up a website and blog to promote and extend this book, But the ultimate finding of Walker's research seems to be that the image of the brands we're attracted to reflects and resonates our own values and aspirations, which, of course, is what brands are supposed to do in the first place.

Obsessive Branding Disorder: The Illusion of Business and the Business of Illusion. Lucas Conley. PublicAffairs. 288 pages.
Conley is on a similar quest, but unlike Walker, he's not necessarily seeking enlightenment -- more like bemusement, it would seem.

The author begins by pointing out that some Japanese women so value Louis Vuitton goods that they forgo motherhood so they can afford to purchase the expensive handbags. From there, Conley looks at the virtual cults that have grown around some brands and how their corporate progenitors are working overtime to create and spread new ones.

Though he's a bit outraged at the endemic materialism evidenced in the deification of consumer goods, Conley manages to report the proceedings seriously.

He is a deft journalist and asks a lot of good questions. Conley is suitably skeptical of such things as product placement (alleged) in James Patterson novels, corporate-sponsored ''grass roots'' movements and personal branding by marketing guru Tom Peters and other less notable individuals who want to be recognized and celebrated more than they probably deserve to be.

While Walker seeks authenticity and finds community, Conley sees branding as an illusion, a trick, a way to conceal, mislead and seduce.

Of course that's all true, but the opposite — what Walker writes about — is the other side of the coin (so to speak). Some brands are real, or at least they evoke reality. The difference might be negligible.
published June 2008 in The Miami Herald

Friday, August 15, 2008

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Sell to Your Customers

I was thinking about this when I saw the new design of a local newspaper.

When I worked at The Miami Herald, we had two separate "redesigns" aimed at making the paper more appealing to younger readers... or to be more accurate, non-readers. Neither effort was successful, but sitting through some of the focus groups was a trip. If we'd listened to them, among other things, we'd have abandoned the broadsheet format and turned into a tabloid, but there was no chance the Herald would have done that. "Tabloid" has become synonymous with sleeze so, uh-uh!

But I've always felt that newspapers should not only try to hold onto their current readers ("retention"), but also market to people who are likely to be interested in the actual content of the paper. Radical, I know!
(Don't get me started...)
Marketing to people who don't want your product

The cost of acquiring new customers is far greater than the cost of retaining current ones. So why do some companies put nearly all of their marketing efforts into trying to attract new customers, and almost none into retaining the ones they already have and selling them complementary products and services?

Turnover — "churn" — is a problem in any business, and gaining new customers is a must, but some companies put too much effort into marketing to people who are not interested in their product.

Newspapers are a good example. People can get their news online whenever they like, so newspaper readership is in decline. A few years ago, one major-market newspaper conducted a series of focus groups and identified young females who didn't read a daily newspaper as their target. They initiated a marketing campaign focusing on the paper's "utility," which they defined as its value as a resource for making choices about shopping, entertainment, and other diversions. The function of the newspaper as a source of actual news was a distant second in the campaign.

They ran TV and radio spots, but it was hardly a saturation effort. The result: Circulation actually went down.

But if they had, instead, focused on the real reasons that people use their product — to stay informed or follow favorite sports teams; because it's a nice way to start the day or a good tool to acclimate to a new city — they might have had a chance. They would have been playing to their strengths. But to pursue people who didn't give a rat's ass about the things that a newspaper actually provides was a losing strategy.

If your product is failing in the marketplace, try to fix it. And while you are doing that, make sure you hold on to your current customers. Duh!

There's no point in spending ad dollars to go after a share of prospective customers' brains, especially in this time-starved, attention-deficit, instant-gratification environment, if your product is not good to go.

On the other hand, testing in low-risk and inexpensive situations is smart. You need to do that continuously, in fact. It will help you define your product and refine your message. But whatever you are marketing, don't waste your time and dollars trying to sell ice to Inuits. Or snowshoes to surfers.

Originally appeared on

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Not THAT nice

I do a (roughly) monthly book club through The Miami Herald. (If you're interested, click here for info.) This was the most recent selection and here's my review of the book (oh, and I was the one who was "sitting in an empty office working on an 'important' project while everyone else is at the company's annual holiday party," mentioned below.).

Nice guys don't have to finish last
Unassertive and compliant people are usually appreciated but rarely promoted, according to this book, which attempts to remedy the situation.

Nice Guys Can Get the Corner Office: Eight Strategies for Winning in Business Without Being a JERK. Russ Edelman, Tim Hiltabiddle and Charles G. Manz. Portfolio. 288 pages.

After this book was announced as a selection for The Business Monday Book club, I received this e-mail from a reader:

Dear Mr. Pachter,

If you could be so kind as to e-mail me the name of the book you covered around two weeks ago, I would really appreciate it. It was about nice guys not having to finish last in business. I wanted to send a copy to my son who is at the University of XXX's school of business and who is one of those proverbial nice guys.

Well, I asked for her son's address and sent him a copy of the book, but I'm not sure that it will help.

There is a chance it might. No disrespect intended, but it's possible that whatever is holding him back may require something more powerful than this book to dislodge any impediments from his path to success. Nonetheless, authors Edelman, Hiltabiddle and Manz do a creditable job of laying out the problems of nice but ineffective people. They also provide numerous examples of business people who exhibit such qualities and how these traits affect both their performance and the perceptions of colleagues and supervisors.

They also submit a ''Nice Guy Bill of Rights'' that reads more like a mild-mannered manifesto:

1) Self Awareness -- Know your strengths & weaknesses.
2) Speak Up — Let your opinions be heard.
3) Set Boundaries — Set and respect them.
4) Confront — Address issues directly and without fear.
5) Choose — Make choices without guilt.
6) Expect Results — Be accountable to others and yourself.
7) Be Bold — Push the envelope.
8) Win — Finish first.

This is, to some extent, the type of tome I generally avoid, a self-help book. But in this case, its value extends beyond wimpy, wish-washy, well-meaning workers to a more general audience. Although it may be primarily aimed at people whose inability to say ''no'' proves to be an ongoing impediment to their success, other can benefit from this book, as well.

There are many people — some not so nice — who could make good use of some of the wisdom herein. For example, managing your time is important, as is directly communicating your expectations and intentions. As for staying focused and completing tasks on time, most of this advice is fairly obvious and applicable to nice people, bad people, mean people or just normal people who are nice most of the time.

But ultimately, the Nice Guy shtick wears a little thin. Reading the numerous anecdotes about milquetoast goofballs who sabotage themselves by being acquiescent and compliant rather than assertive and confident may be fine in small doses, but a whole book's worth is a bit much. However, if you're the office doormat, wind up training a new hire for a job that you're qualified for, find yourself sitting in an empty office working on an ''important'' project while everyone else is at the company's annual holiday party or are just concerned about your lack of advancement, this could be the book for you.
published 8/11/08 in The Miami Herald

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The great Dick Dale on the music biz

Listen: He knows whereof he speaks.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Bad Company?

Well, they did pretty good business, actually.

Saw the ’70s band Bad Company on Friday night at the Seminole Hard Rock in Hollywood. The original members, Mick Ralphs, Paul Rodgers and Simon Kirke (bassist Boz Burrell died last year), did a one-time-only show, apparently to maintain their trademark or something, though Ralphs has his own version of "Bad Company" that tours in the UK.

My brother Steve and I caught Rodgers and his band after a Marlins baseball game a few months ago, and couldn't believe how great Paul still sounded— as good as ever, actually.

Steve was and is a big fan of Free, the group that preceded Bad Company (remember "All Right Now"?), so when I caught wind of this show, I got a pair of tix for us. It was allegedly recorded for a DVD, too. Cool.

Pretty good show; no big musical surprises, of course. Everyone sounded solid and Howard Leese from Paul Rodgers' band, whom I'd seen with Paul at that post-game gig, was second guitarist, filling out the sound quite nicely.

I expected the audience to be the usual, mostly male classic rock suspects, but was shocked to see how many women were there, up and dancing. Most were with husbands or whomever, but a fair number were apparently unattached, too, or in pairs.

One woman in the row in front of ours danced throughout the set. She had a big smile on her face, and was no kid, though probably quite a cutie back in the day. Her beefy and implacable husband resisted her entreaties to join her free-form rockin', but received an approximation of a lap dance from her during the last song, so maybe he knew what he was doing.

(Made me recall the Roberrt Christgau review of, I think their second album, which he referred to as "odes to peripatetic priapism.")

Still, I was a little surprised to see so many women into Bad Company and tried to imagine some of 'em about thirty years earlier. Nice distraction! (My own dear wife was home, by the way.)

Next day, I downloaded a live set from 1976 that came out last year but was withdrawn. They hadn't missed a beat.

For those who care about such things, here's the setlist from Friday night:

Bad Company
Honey Child
Sweet Little Sister
Burnin' Sky
Gone Gone Gone
Running With The Pack
Live For The Music
Feel Like Makin' Love
Movin' On
Simple Man
Rock Steady
Shooting Star
Rock and Roll Fantasy
Ready For Love
Good Lovin' Gone Bad
Deal With The Preacher

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Friday, August 8, 2008

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Sweet. And Low

A bittersweet history of a business and a family
The son and daughters of the inventor of SweetN' Low, the popular pink packeted sugar substitute nearly destroyed the company and each other.
By Richard Pachter

Sweet and Low. Rich Cohen. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 288 pages.

In South Florida, Sweet'N Low enjoys iconic status. Back in the '80s, radio host Neil Rogers poked fun at senior citizens — in Hallandale, mainly — who surreptitiously slipped a few pink packets of the artificial sweetener into their pockets and purses during Early Bird visits to local eateries. Their shrieks of outrage equaled the knowing howls of younger listeners who'd endured the spectacle in silence and could now laugh along with Rogers' exhortations.

Who knew that the petty larceny paralleled that of the owners and producers of the coveted powder and packets?

Probably writer Rich Cohen, whose meticulous and highly readable chronicle of the family business of Sweet'N Low creator Ben Eisenstadt combines the histories of sugar, the fabled borough of Brooklyn, U.S. government regulation of food and drugs, America's dieting obsession and his own story as the ''issue,'' (child), of the Eisenstadt daughter disinherited by the family matriarch.

Cumberland Packing Co., the family business, also originated the concept of selling sugar in packets, an earlier Ben Eisenstadt brainstorm. But who knew from patents? He quickly learned about them when the Domino Sugar Co. copied the idea, according to his grandson.

The company did reasonably well selling its own sugar in packets, but the business really took off after Ben's son (and Rich's uncle) ''Marvelous'' Marvin Eisenstadt came aboard. But then there was the matter of alleged Mafia infiltration of the company, the subsequent indictments and the deleterious effects of sibling jealousies and other family politics.

About three-quarters of the way into the text, Cohen — the author of previous volumes on Jewish gangsters, Jewish record executives and Jewish resistance fighters during World War II — explains this book's odd inevitability.

He writes: 'I started researching this story shortly before my first son was born, but I have always known that I would write it. (I have been writing it in my head my entire life.) It tacked on my horizon like a yacht. I studied the old patents and the newspaper articles archived in the New York Public Library. I stared at the pictures of Ben and Marvin that ran with these stories. I examined photos in old family albums. I talked to defense lawyers and lobbyists and scientists and prosecutors. My mother gave me a copy of the will, family letters and legal correspondence. It is a personal story, a version of which exists in the head of every member of the family, yet in just a few months of research it generated a mountain of paper. I sent away to a federal record center in Georgiafor all the boxes and files on the Cumberland prosecution, which I examined over several days at a building in Manhattan. If I had been an anonymous reporter, I would have thought, 'Gold mine!' As it was, I felt like a stalker lurking in the weeds behind my uncle's house.''

Cohen is a terrific writer, and what more fertile ground can there be than one's own family whose business enriched it with a fortune that he was denied? But he obviously worked very hard to give each family member their due, even the ones who blew him off and wouldn't speak with him. A lesser writer's sour grapes would have rendered the text bilious and unreadable. But this is a fabulous book, a fantastic portrait of how family and business can become intertwined and destructive to both.

(I didn't realize until he mentioned it, almost 60 pages on, that the author's father is Herb Cohen, the author of several fine books on negotiation. Aha!)

Unless I read 10 books better than this one, Sweet and Low is a lock for my annual Best Business Books list.

published May 2006 in The Miami Herald

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Blog to book?

Dilbert's creator blogs a book
Is this collection of Scott Adams' Internet musings worth killing tees for?
By Richard Pachter

Stick to Drawing Comics, Monkey Brain!: Cartoonist Ignores Helpful Advice. Scott Adams. Portfolio. 368 pages.

Scott Adams, whose newspaper comic strip, Dilbert, is wildly successful and popular, posts his thoughts — mostly text, not graphics — on his blog.

This is a compilation of some of those postings and as a book; it works, and it doesn't. I'll explain in a moment.

Several years back, I had a boss who sent e-mails and faxes to his friends, customers and fellow industryites every Friday of his musings on life and other matters. He intended to compile his work into a book, following the lead of an ad exec who'd done just that, turning his weekly client letters (which he only faxed in those pre-Internet days) into a book that sold fairly well.

When I left the company, the weekly letters stopped shortly thereafter, and I don't think there was ever a book. Just as well, I guess, since not every collection of short life lessons, observations and admonitions is worth killing trees for.

Collecting Scott Adams' blog postings into a book was a great idea — a no-brainer. I surely would have signed off on it if I'd been the publisher. As a reader, I'd also say "Go for it.''

And I enjoyed reading it, mostly in short spurts. For instance, early one morning as I waited to see if I'd been picked for a trial, after I'd been summoned for jury duty. Or while eating lunch at my desk. Or sitting in the smallest room of my house.

Adams is a funny writer, which you would expect from reading Dilbert. And he has witty and reliably irreverent takes on many aspects of life. He recently got married, and his interactions with his wife on the planning of the wedding are quite funny. In high demand as a speaker, Adams travels frequently, which also fuels his numerous observations on humanity, commerce, animals, machines, religion, politics and most every other aspect of life.

His take on business in general is also, as you'd imagine, quite funny. But his description of how he lost his voice due to a rare illness and miraculously got it back was nearly poignant, and could well have been unforgettably poignant if Adams had chosen to stretch out a bit. But maybe blog postings are not the ideal medium for such things, and if you buy and read a book by that mad comic genius behind Dilbert, then big yucks are expected.

So, Stick to Drawing Comics is fine if you are a Dilbert fan and don't read Adams' blog, or do read it and want to have a more permanent collection of his postings. But is it a ''book''? I don't know.

published 12/07 in The Miami Herald

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Book review: Play nice

Working together doesn't always work out

Teamwork is important, but two new books show how the workplace can be a dugout or a battlefield
by Richard Pachter

It’s a thin line between skepticism and cynicism. It’s also a constant challenge to remain open to all possibilities, which is why “Trust, then verify” is still the best policy for just about everything.

Sundry business books claim to have uncovered heretofore hidden secrets to success yet they usually describe idyllic companies that apparently function in alternate dimensions which seem very similar to our own, except that most inhabitants exhibit genuine passion toward their enterprises and always operate in clear, unambiguous bursts of altruistic energy.

I’m certainly willing to conditionally suspend my disbelief as I wade through these patently revelatory tomes, but it’s difficult to reconcile their science fictional scenarios with my own observations an
d experiences in the contemporary workplace. Yet case studies of successful business operations invariably provide inspirational glimpse of the possibilities, like a shining high-tech cinematic space opera, or rodent-infested and oversimplified parables.

Here are two new books that examine these bra
ve new worlds of work, as well as the real world that many of us occupy most of the time.
Great Business Teams: Cracking the Code for Standout Performance. Howard M. Guttman. Wiley. 239 pages.

Teamwork is important, although it usually happens for authoritarian reasons rather than as a function of unselfishness or professionalism. Guttman, a management consultant specializing in team building, examines a number of successful and not-so-successful units and seeks to identify consistent threads and reasons for

His findings can generally be expressed by the Tolstoy quote, ''Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.'' Successful and dysfunctional work teams appear to behave in a similar fashion: The good ones empower members, share responsibilities and goals, demand accountability and perform pretty much the way you would expect, especially in high-pressure situations. The bad ones each have their own ways of screwing up just about any project, as you can imagine or, perhaps, have experienced.

Among the companies Guttman examined were seve
ral Florida-based firms, including clothing retailer Chico's and Johnson & Johnson-Vision Care. Both, fortunately, exemplified good teams, as they confronted and successfully handled several large and small crises.
Executive Warfare: Pick Your Battles and Live to Get Promoted Another Day. David F. D'Alessandro. McGraw-Hill. 265 pages.

D'Alessandro, author of Brand Warfare and Career Warfare, continues his series of combat tales with this volume of business battles. Some people can play nicely, while others will gleefully shove a shiv in your posterior just to break up a dull day or for other, even less prosaic reasons. Some executives act in ways that suggest more humane traits, or at least enlightened self-interest. D'Alessandro recounts all with gusto and humor. Greed, venality, duplicity and occasional acts of kindness and maturity during a variety of mostly typical business settings are colorfully depicted, followed by D'Alessandro's pithy observations.

Usually the best parts of books like this are the anecdotes, and Executive Warfare is thankfully unencumbered by excessive pontification and interminable reflection, making it an enjoyable and interesting repository of worldly wisdom. And worldly it is. D'Alessandro's battle tales will echo with familiarity for anyone who has functioned for more than a few days in most earthbound corporate environments.

Originally published in The Miami Herald 8/4/08

Monday, August 4, 2008

Ipanema Rap

By semi-popular demand: The genius of Rick Moranis (Ret.) with a special appearance by Pink Floyd.

Best TV series ever

The Wire? The Sopranos? Hill Street Blues? The Twilight Zone? The Honeymooners? Star Trek? Seinfeld?

Nope. SCTV.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Friday Acapella

Petra Haden and the Sellouts performing The Who's "I Can See For Miles." Read more here.