books

Back (sort of)

I’ll be returning to posting more regularly in the next little while. But in the meantime, here’s updates on two earlier posts. (more…)

Art that Makes a Difference

As much as I like going to museums and art galleries, I sometimes struggle with the question of what these institutions contribute to the world. And I know museum and gallery professionals struggle with this question too. Sometimes people just need a place where they can look at or interact with something that gives them new ideas or new insights, or makes them see the world in a different way. Museums and art galleries can be that place. But while I certainly disagree with the business-oriented operational model that demands tangible and measurable outcomes – because that model assumes that if it can’t be measured, it doesn’t exist – I do wonder sometimes whether museums and galleries can use their resources to have a more visible impact outside their own walls.

So I was very excited to read about an art exhibition which will have a tangible external impact. (more…)

Book Publishing and False Economies

The North American book publishing industry has been disrupted in the last couple of years. Publishers’ revenues are dropping for a number of reasons:  different publishing formats, the increased ease of self-publishing, and upheavals in distribution and sales channels. And in any business, when revenues decrease, one of the first strategic responses is usually to reduce production costs. For book publishers, that can mean reducing the costs of editing or proofreading in the book production process. But cutbacks in those areas can be a false economy, if those cutbacks significantly affect the quality of the finished product. And this week I received a review copy of a book that perfectly illustrates that dilemma.
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“Follow Your Heart”: An Interview with Jim Pons

The start of a new year, along with all the “New Year, New You” encouragement, usually leads people into thinking about making changes. One kind of change that’s often considered is a new job or a new occupation – but that can be a pretty scary leap into the unknown, especially when there’s cutbacks and downsizing going on at many formerly prosperous companies.

I thought that it would be interesting to interview someone who made that big leap and had it work out for them. After some asking around, my friend John Cody offered to connect me to Jim Pons, who is a wonderful example of this kind of career transition. Jim is a bass player and vocalist, and was part of three major bands in the 1960s and early 1970s – the Leaves, the Turtles,  and the Mothers of Invention. But he quit the music industry in 1973, and embarked on a career in video production with the National Football League, first with the New York Jets team and then with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Jim has recently written his autobiography, and generously agreed to be interviewed via email about his experiences in changing careers. (more…)

The Dark Side of Workplace Wellness

The Report on Business section of the Globe and Mail newspaper recently ran an interview with the authors of a provocative new book, The Wellness Syndrome. The authors, Carl Cederstrom and Andre Spicer,  argue that the ideal of “wellness” has become distorted into a “dangerous ideology”. Promoting “wellness” as a virtue, they suggest, implicitly promotes discrimination against those who have difficulty being “well”, such as people with chronic weight or health issues. And framing “wellness” as an individual issue deflects attention from larger societal conditions, such as poverty, that have much more impact on an individual’s health than their individual choices. (For example, it’s hard to get regular outdoor exercise if you live in an unsafe neighbourhood, or to eat well if the stores in your area don’t stock healthy, affordable food.)

The authors’ perspectives make a lot of sense. And, I would argue, their take on the misuse of “wellness” is also applicable to many “workplace wellness” initiatives.  There are good employers with sincere intentions who run “workplace wellness” programs because they genuinely care about their employees’ well-being. But there are other, less admirable aspects to some of these programs. (more…)

Society, Power, and “Hack Attack”

Nick Davies’ book Hack Attack  is a powerful read. It’s the story of Davies’ investigation into the phone hacking conducted by several of the British newspapers owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News International. The investigation led to a judicial inquiry, several criminal convictions,  and the closure of the News of the World newspaper. And since Hack Attack was released last year, eight victims of phone hacking have filed a civil suit against the Mirror group of newspapers for invasion of privacy – a suit that is currently being heard in a London court.

Davies’ book describes the details and scope of the hacking – and how the hacking gradually became exposed, thanks to several anonymous informants – but also illuminates (more…)

My New Book

I’m very pleased to announce that the 4th edition of my textbook Industrial Relations in Canada, published by John Wiley and Sons Canada, is now (more…)

When “Best Practices” Aren’t Best

Anyone who went to business school around the same time I did remembers “excellence”. Specifically, that was Tom Peters’ book In Search of Excellence, which described how companies could improve by copying what great companies did well. That book sparked a management fad of benchmarking – which then morphed into the idea of “best practices”. But now, unfortunately, it looks like the very sound ideas behind “best practices” are being lost and corrupted by corporate doublespeak.

In the last couple of weeks, I’ve come across more than a few examples of organizations using “best practices” as a reason to reduce or cancel services. The explanation usually goes something like this: the organization has “benchmarked” itself against similar organizations, or looked at other organizations’ “best practices”, and allegedly found that other organizations are doing less of a certain thing, or doing that thing less expensively. This then becomes a justification for the organization to downgrade its own offerings.

This use of “best practices” is not what was originally envisioned. Although Peters has admitted that his investigation of “excellence” was not as rigorous as it could have been, nevertheless his book had a powerful practical message.  (more…)

TIPPING POINTS? MALCOLM GLADWELL COULD USE A FEW

An excellent investigation of Malcolm Gladwell‘s questionable use of uncredited secondary sources. Here’s some of my earlier posts on other problems with Gladwell’s work:

Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 Hour Rule Doesn’t Add Up

Malcolm Gladwell’s Weak Defense of the 10,000 Hour Rule

Who’s David, and Who’s Goliath?: Malcolm Gladwell and His Critics

Malcolm Gladwell and His Critics, Round Two

 

Our Bad Media

In the summer of 2012, just days before a certain columnist was found to have plagiarized from The New Yorker, a staff writer at the prominent magazine itself resigned in the wake of a widespread plagiarism scandal. The journalist, famous for pop-science works that generated scathing reviews, had been using unattributed quotations taken from other people’s interviews. He had copied-and-pasted from his peers. Generally, he had faked his credentials as an original researcher and thinker.

The New Yorker itself had a doozy on its hands. The scandal had tarred the magazine’s famed fact-checking department, despite claims that its procedure was “geared toward print, not the Web.” Editor-in-chief David Remnick was embarrassed. He’d initially kept the writer on board, distinguishing one bout of self-plagiarism from the more serious offense of “appropriating other people’s work.” Now, his magazine was losing a star that had been groomed as “Malcolm Gladwell 2.0.”

That…

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The Return of Jonah Lehrer

When we last heard about writer Jonah Lehrer – whose career self-destructed after his writing was found to have numerous instances of plagiarism and factual inaccuracies – he had been paid $20,000 to give a much-criticized speech about journalistic ethics. A few months after that, he was reported to be circulating a book proposal – which also allegedly included plagiarized content. Then….nothing.

And now, very quietly, he’s back.

At the end of March, (more…)