Tuesday, January 5, 2010
Multitasking, to me, is a myth -- a sometimes dangerous myth. If you've ever been annoyed by the driver who is simultaneously texting and obliviously cutting you off, then perhaps you agree.
I think it is important to understand what employers mean when they cite multitasking as a valuable skill. When I first think of the word multitasking, I see in my mind's eye a person who is talking on the phone and trying to compose an e-mail or surf the net. I see a person who is giving me half of his or her attention while dealing with some other matter on the desk in front of them. In short, I see rudeness and ineffectiveness.
I don't think these are the types of multitasking that employers are looking for. It is possible for us to truly mutitask in certain activities. Perhaps you are able to walk and chew gum at the same time. It's possible to listen to a traffic report on the radio and drive at the same time. But what makes these things possible is that at least one of the tasks takes little or no active thought on our part. The more intensive the tasks, the less likely you can do more than one of them. Furthermore, the more tasks you add, regardless of how small, the more of your brain's processing power you're going to eat up.
In an era of speed and almost overwhelming information input, you are much better served by learning to focus and plan than to attempt these immediate kinds of multitasking. What employers truly want from you is the ability to manage your schedule so that you can give each task the attention it needs and deserves. Yes, they want you to be able to work on more than one project at a time. They want you to be able to keep the details straight when you leave your desk after working on the Anderson account to attend a meeting about the new Bennington account, but they really don't expect you to be on the phone with both accounts at the same time.
Employers want competent employees who can give their focus to more than one project and meet multiple deadlines. They want employees who can produce quality work. They want employees who can work quickly but who don't give the impression of being hurried or hassled. You can't give that impression to your employer if you're trying to multitask everything.
So, don't take the article's advice too literally. There may be limited situations where true multitasking is appropriate and even necessary, but what this article is trying to tell you -- albeit using the wrong word -- is that employers want employees who can effectively manage their workload.
Monday, November 23, 2009
I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I started reading it to get a better understanding of the background to Mad Men. The show about the lives of the ad men (and women) of Sterling Cooper is set in the sixties, but it is pretty commonly accepted that the early years of the sixties were, in many ways, an extension of the fifties. Many people mark the Kennedy assassination (the anniversary of which was yesterday) as the official death of fifties innocence and the beginning of the sixties awakening.
I’m embarrassed, too, and more than a little, at my own naïveté regarding certain realities in the world. This embarrassment stems from my own history. You see, I was a History major in college. Granted, I was most interested in medieval history and early 20th century European history, especially the period of World War I and its immediate aftermath. My memory is woeful on these periods as well, but I found myself shockingly unaware of certain realities stemming from at least the 1950’s.
I suppose I’m not alone in thinking that the current political atmosphere in our country is unique to our time. I used to regularly read Glenn Greenwald’s column at Salon.com. There, Glenn and his readers discuss the putrid state of our media, the corruption of our government, and the forces at work in the Democrat and Republican parties. Like Glenn and many of his readers, I am often puzzled by the seeming contradictions in press coverage and the actions of our nation’s leaders. I keep looking for the reasons for why we are drifting further from the principles set forth in our Constitution. As Glen continually points out, we so often act contrary to it.
I have long been aware of the prescient warning President Eisenhower gave us on the occasion of his farewell address. The whole speech is well worth reading or hearing, but this excerpt is the heart of his warning:
“In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.”
For most of us alive today, America has always been the world’s policeman. We pride ourselves that we stand watch over the peace. It has been easy for us to believe this because peace has so often been the state of our nation. Though we have a long history of violence in this country – our country was formed from revolution, challenged by civil war, grown through conquest of the native peoples, and maintained and strengthen by our wars abroad – much of our recent history of violence has taken place on other shores. We have been insulated from the death and destruction in which we have participated and, at times, exacerbated. With such good intentions and receiving such a paucity of information about our activities abroad, it is no wonder we show such great surprise when others question our behavior.
I’ve long questioned much of this, so I was really taken aback at the impact Halberstam’s analysis of the fifties had on me. In an example of just how relevant history is to our current time (and always has been and always will be), Halberstam relates the story of how we came to overthrow the Iranian government in 1953, setting up the Shah of Iran as that country’s new leader. Halberstam notes the ease with which we were able to covertly accomplish this task. Tellingly, in the aftermath, Halberstam claims that the world press and the Iranian people well knew that the CIA had been central to the coup. The American people, however, were in the dark. The American press had run the cover stories their CIA handlers had asked them to.
I think it is largely accepted by most people that our government works covertly. In fact, I’m not sure there are too many people who would argue they shouldn’t. We seem to accept this fact with a shrug, just as we accept the realities of the world – even if we don’t fully understand them – that make this necessary. Still, we comfort ourselves that we live in a democracy, that we are represented in the halls of power, and that this is a free nation of the people. So when I read these words from Halberstam, my eyes shot wide open:
“The national security complex became, in the Eisenhower years, a fast-growing apparatus to allow us to do in secret what we could not do in the open. This was not just an isolated phenomenon but part of something larger going on in Washington – the transition from an isolationist America to America the international superpower; from Jeffersonian democracy to imperial colossus. A true democracy had no need for a vast, secret security apparatus, but an imperial country did. As America’s international reach and sense of obligation
increased, so decreased the instinct to adhere to traditional democratic procedures among the inner circle of Washington policymakers. Our new role in the world had put us in conflict not only with the Communists but with our traditions. What was evolving was a closed state within an open one.” (371, emphasis mine)
And there it was. An explanation for all of the seemingly incomprehensible things the press says, the shallowness and lack of breadth of “debate” in the public forum, our insatiable need to launch adventurous military campaigns, the thorough lack of difference between the two major parties, the boldness with which our government ignores what the people want and responds to what the moneyed interests want. None of these things was entirely new in the fifties, but clearly a new center of gravity – one that magnified and expanded these tendencies – had been created.
As if to underscore all of this, Halberstam spends a fair amount of time on Richard Nixon. While his presidency spanned the late sixties and early seventies, his political teeth were cut in the late forties and the fifties. Why is Nixon relevant? Because a number of our older politicians got their start with old Tricky Dick, including another Dick worthy of that appellation: Dick Cheney.
When I was a kid in the sixties and seventies, the fifties seemed an eternity ago. It was my parents’ time, the past. As I got older, I realized that what had seemed an eternity was really just the recent past for people like my parents. Now my recent past is someone else’s eternity. And with each passing year, history contracts for me. The line connecting us to the past seems ever more relevant. And with each recognition of this fact, a little more of my naïveté falls away.
Monday, November 16, 2009
I've had the opportunity, in the past few days, to reconnect briefly with David Gasper, founder and former President of Gasper
Corporation and current President of Initial Point, LLC. We talked briefly about our experiences at Gasper Corporation.
When I joined Gasper Corporation in 1994, I joined a team of about 28 employees. By the time I had left Gasper 10 years later, the company had grown to more than 80 employees and had been purchased by NCR. My experiences there were transformational. Gasper is where I learned business. In fact, I like to say that I earned a working MBA from Dave Gasper.
One of Dave's great strengths was his ability to find a balance between the aggressive use and development of technology with a cautious approach to growth. Dave always moved swiftly to identify and take advantage of technology changes, but when it came to his employees, he had a different approach.
Dave was always cautious about hiring new people. This caution, I believe, came from two sources. The first was his belief in a principle Jim Collins has identified as one of the keys to achieving sustained success in business: getting the right people on the bus.
Dave understood that the quality of his people was as important, if not more important, than the quality of his product. In fact, he knew the quality of his company depended on the quality of the people he hired.
The second source of his caution in hiring was Dave's commitment to his employees. He once said that he never wanted to hire someone he was going to have to let go. This spoke to both elements of his caution. He wanted to make the right decision, and he also wanted to make sure that the company was positioned to support the growth in personnel. He viewed a job offer as a commitment. This philosophy was a direct reflection of his belief in the role of business in a community. Business wasn't merely a money-making proposition to Dave. It was an opportunity to contribute to the community and give back.
Dave's caution in hiring was well rewarded. Gasper Corporation had one of the highest employee retention rates of any company I've ever seen. Dave provided numerous opportunities for growth. As his company grew, so did the opportunities. He also made sure that his employees had the support they needed to grow.
I remember how he prepared Jeff Davison years in advance so that Jeff could one day take over the day-to-day operations of the company. He moved Jeff around the company, making him the head of each department at one time or another to ensure that Jeff had a keen understanding of each operational area. Jeff learned his lessons so well, that when NCR bought Gasper Corporation, it wasn't long before Jeff found himself promoted within the larger corporation.
I keep using the past tense here, but the truth is that Dave continues to promote that philosophy in his current venture at Initial Point. I know that when Dave reads this post, he'll say that I'm giving him too much credit, but I don't think that is true. Certainly, his employees were a big part of the success of the company. Dave made sure of that by instituting programs like Open Book Management and ensuring that every employee understood and could articulate what his or her job meant to the company's bottom line. So, yes, Dave hired talented people, and they worked hard for him. That's true. But it started with Dave. Hiring the right people, providing the opportunities, and setting the tone for the kind of company he wanted.
Dave is right in one sense, though, because he is certainly not alone in the Dayton area. I've had the good fortune to know or work for other dedicated entrepreneurs as well. Travis Greenwood at The Greentree Group shares many of the same qualities. His dedication to his employees and the community are on par with Dave's. I see the same care in growing a company from Gary Nissen over at HealthPlus Technologies. In fact, Gary employs some former Gasper folks. Both of these local entrepreneurs understand the synthesis of technology and innovation with people and community.
When I think about these entrepreneurs, I realize that it isn't the big corporations that will ultimately save our economy. Too many corporations view themselves as too big to fail. They take from local communities and give little in return. Their defenders talk about the Free Market, little realizing that not only do we not have a free market (a fact they are either unaware of or despair about), but that Adam Smith's original ideas about the free market were premised on the idea that markets make us responsible to one another when they are local enough that we all pay the price or reap the rewards for our actions.
Defenders of the largest corporations like to talk about accountability, but their only definition of that word has to do with their shareholders, those faceless, nameless people who have invested only their money in the company and care only about their financial return. They are not shareholders so much as speculators. CEOs who have no history or sweat equity in the companies they run have little vision for the long run. Their job is to turn the quick profit so that their speculators can make their buck and run.
We need more entrepreneurs. The future of this country is in its small business operators -- people who live and work in the communities in which their companies are located. People who understand the value of their employees and their communities. People like Dave, Travis, Gary, and others.