Monday, July 23, 2012

Quote APPROVAL!?! You've got to be kidding...

“If a public official wants to use NJ as a platform for his/her point of view, the price of admission is a quote that is on-record, unedited and unadulterated.”  -- National Journal memo quoted in New York Times

Journalism is in the midst of massive change and tough times... but...

Quote approval?

We're now learning that the quotes we see in the New York Times, and probably everywhere else, have been "approved" by some political flak in the politician's entourage.

Thank god a few outlets like the National Journal are saying, 'no thanks.'

Of course politicians and corporate presidents want to control how they are quoted. But, in the past, at least at the lower levels, they were told such a thing as controlling quotes by editing them on publication was against editorial policy. As reporters, we usually pushed this back on our editors. "I just can't do that," I've said many times, "because if I do, my editor will fire me."

Apparently, it doesn't work that way at the higher levels.

Now, allow me to make an important distinction here. The word 'approval' is critical. When we were confronted by a source who demanded control of quotes in exchange for interviews, we usually had the option of offering to 'read' the quotes in the story back to the source before we published. 'Read' is a very long distance from 'approve'. In fact, those policies -- though not universal -- often allowed the reporter to get even more juicy information and also clarify what she had in the first place. We just treated it like a good second interview.

Granting approval to a source is completely different.

This is all about competition, which is generally a good thing. What has happened here, however, is that politicians have figured out how to play one weak willed news organization, one lazy reporter, against another.  This has long been a problem with the ubiquitous beat system at news organizations. Your editor says, "Lofflin, stand up to 'em. Do what's right and if they shut you out, we'll give you another beat."


That, of course, is a rotten deal. I have to learn a new beat. I may have spent a decade learning this one. And learning a beat is tough. It not only means learning stuff, it means cultivating sources, and cultivating sources is roughly the equivalent of growing tomatoes in this wretched heat. And, especially if your beat is a plum, you will be violently adverse to such a change. If your beat happens to be the White House, well, there are no comparable beats to compensate you for standing your ground.

You learn to play ball. You play ball as little as possible, work your charm, soften the effect of bad news with plenty of push back from the sources you have to hurt, give a few nasty findings -- the small ones -- street paroles. Ultimately, the news is tainted by the beat system combined with the limits of personal integrity.

But, giving final approval of quotes to sources in exchange for access takes 'tainted' up a level. Kind of the way an Atlas rocket takes a capsule up a level.

It's time for principles to dominate. Put another way, it's time for the big national news outfits to grow a pair. If the majors stood together against this silliness, it would stop. If the editors of the majors simply made approval of quotes a major offense, it would stop. Because, in the end, the politicians and the corporations need the majors as much, or more, than the majors need them.

And, herein, lies another solution. What we really need today are reporters who file stories based on depth of research rather than access to politicians. We need depth journalism, not 140-character journalism. And, at the economic heart of this -- because everything does come down to money, thank you Cindy Lauper -- is a simple reality. The people who pay for news aren't after those gotcha quotes. They buy substance. In fact, in the Internet age, substance may be the only thing they will actually buy.

They can get all the 140-character quotes they want from the infernal crawl under the news talker or from Google headlines. They don't need a news organization for that.

Especially, they don't need a news organization whose quotes are no more than political public relations. The age of single source, catchy quote journalism is over. The majors just don't know it yet.


Wednesday, July 18, 2012

What the Royals need more than decent pitching on the eve of the July 31st MLB trade deadline -- They need a winner's attitude... losing. dammit, should hurt

"After the Loss" -- Fred Patek in the dugout long after the Yankee beat the Royals in the final game of the 1978 playoffs. Photo/John Lofflin

Losing should hurt...

I know. Baseball is a long season. The best players keep an even keel. Not too high, not too low. Always look for the silver lining. There's always next year. We've got good stuff, it just doesn't translate to the game. We just have to keep going out there and grinding...


But the real problem with this team across the past quarter century is its brain trust has done a wonderful job teaching talented young players how to lose gracefully.

It's time for a some Freddie Patek attitude in Kansas City.


A few minutes later.../photo John Lofflin

Monday, July 16, 2012

Flow: the final word on motivation... as Daniel Pink says, time to move from compliance to engagement, from pawn to player, or playa, if you prefer....

Flow: Great Smoky Mountains Stream / hand-colored image John Lofflin

Flow. Flow brings this soliloquy on motivation full circle.

When I started, I promised to bring this exploration back around to the personal from the organizational. I’ve said my piece on how your boss, your organization, tries to motivate you. At some point, you have to motivate yourself. It’s too damned bad that sometimes you have to motivate yourself despite them.

Flow is a term I borrowed from Daniel Pink. He borrowed it from Mihaly Csikszentmihaly. I don’t know if I have it just right, but what I have works for me so that’s what I’ll share.

Flow is that feeling you get when you’re in the zone. Pen in hand, notebook on table, a good cat twitching her tail at your elbow, you melt into the work. Everything else goes quietly away. The sound of traffic in the street, the hum of a television on the first floor of the house, the rattle of the air conditioner coming on, your oh-for-four night, your itchy hemorrhoids, the disrespect you felt today from someone you trust, your ambitions, your victories, the melody Layla put into your head, all fade quietly into the background. Everything vanishes but the work. The words, as Henry Miller once said – somewhat ironically – are coming from God and you’re just trying to keep up.

I was in the flow once writing a feature story. I was on the last page of a 20-page manuscript. The chair I was sitting in – I’ve always lived in dorm furniture – splintered as I tried to adjust it to the table. I kept on writing, crouched over the computer, until the page was finished. I didn’t even realize the chair was gone until I finished that thirty-dash.
That’s flow and you can feel it doing almost anything.

Let me put these thoughts into context. The first time I tried to put flow into words I was having some difficulty in my feature writing class. The students were rebelling against the deadlines I’d established for pieces of their final projects and to the points I’d assigned to those deadlines.

My reaction was quick. I just threw out the deadlines and kept the points. In other words, you didn’t have to do any of the pieces until the night before if you wished but you still got the credit. In motivational terms, you got the carrot whether you did what I wanted or not. Were the final projects as good as they would have been with incremental deadlines? Some were. Some definitely were not.

A couple of weeks after I struck down the deadlines, I knew I had to explain why they had been posted in the first place.  That’s where flow came to the front. Here is, more or less, what I said to them taken from the notes I made before class:

“The carrot and the stick was not what I was after when I established these incremental deadlines. I was after a more disciplined approach to writing designed to provide you with a certain experience.

“As a teacher, I see myself in the same business as a tour guide. It is my job to take you to certain places where you can witness certain things. When we get there, you can choose to look around, to look deep, or to not look at all. My job was to get you to the edge of the Grand Canyon, for instance. You could look hard, you could take a picture, or you could go get a hot dog.

“The view I wanted you to see here is an experience, an experience which is rare but attainable by anyone. I wanted you to see and feel what it is like to be in the flow of writing. It’s the experience of having everything together in one place, of having something meaningful and significant to do, then to simply tell a story without interruption from your soul to the world.”

I know this Chautauqua seems pretentious but, really, how pretentious can you be when the student next to you is eating chicken fingers from a Styrofoam box, another is eating Chinese with chopsticks, two students are texting each other across the vast expanse of the room and one is understandably somnambulant from senior comprehensives? Maybe to the three who were listening it was pretentious, I don’t know. I do know I felt like a squirrely little souvenir someone was bringing home as a joke from a trip.

Anyway, the point of all this was intrinsic motivation. I reasoned that if I could give these students the liberating buzz of actually being in the flow with words, they’d be hooked. And the best way to get there, I thought, was to parcel the work out so they could do it when they had time, when they had all the pieces in front of them and they were full of confidence about the possibilities.

My guess was this would be better than trying to cobble something – anything – together the night before the last day of class. Oh, it happens.

Flow, it seems to me, is the object of all this talk about motivation. Anything you do, as a boss or as the boss of yourself, which contributes to flow, is good. Anything that doesn’t contribute to flow is counterproductive. This is not a world where flow is plentiful. If you’ve ever experienced that place, you’ll want to go back. If you’re a teacher or a boss, you have to put people in a position where they can feel it – then get the heck out of the way. If you’re a writer or a painter or a photographer – or a ballplayer – you have to put yourself in a position to feel it, and to do it – then get the heck out of your own way.


Whew! -- Lofflin

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Maybe the best thing a boss can do is get out of the way... more thoughts on motivation from Daniel Pink

I want to talk
a bit about autonomy – one of Daniel Pink’s pillars of healthy motivation – but to do that I have to start with its opposite – authority.

When people want to put a happy face on authority they call it leadership. But a rose by any other name is still a rose. The trouble I’ve always had with being a leader is that it implies being a follower. To be a leader, you need followers. And, as a child of the 1960s, I’ve always detested followers.

So, if I’m a leader, I’m in the uncomfortable position of wanting to lead people I detest for being followers.

This is more than semantics. It’s the very nature of thinking of yourself as a leader. If nobody follows, you haven’t done anything. You have nothing to put on your vita. You can’t check anything off your to-do list. To be a leader, somebody has to follow.

Right, you say. Everybody can’t be a leader; somebody has to be a follower. That brings to mind my favorite blues line, attributable, I think, to Memphis Slim. “Everybody wants to go to heaven but nobody wants to die.” Everybody wants to lead but nobody wants to follow. Which is, I cautiously suggest, the case in just about every workplace.

I have much the same problem with the idea of being a “manager.” As Pink says so eloquently… You manage supply chains, not people. But the bigger problem is this: I have found it nearly impossible to manage my own life and I’ve been managed by quite a few people who also found it difficult to manage their own lives. It is, no doubt, easier to manage supply chains than to manage people and even harder to manage yourself. Management of people looks to me like a big trap for anyone who pursues it.

Indeed, somebody has to be in charge. I’ll grant that. Allow me to couch this in the terms I know but you can apply it to any workplace. And let me be clear, this is a what-if; I do not wish for this to happen. That said, my suspicion is if  the entire executive staff went on a leadership cruise and the ship was lost in a storm until Thanksgiving, all students would still be enrolled, all classes taught, all grass cut and all restrooms cleaned. The executive staff would, I’m certain, return to find a fully functioning outfit. They might even discover a handful of creative solutions to persistent problems.

And, if that happened, they would have to ask themselves the question I’ve been trying to raise here. They would have to ask themselves, what exactly is my job? What exactly is it to be in charge?

I hesitate to say this, but maybe the most important thing to do if you are in charge is not get in the way. Foster autonomy rather than manage, lead, threaten or reward. The work will be far more intrinsically satisfying if people are left to simply do it the way they think will be best.

Why would all the students be taught, all the restrooms cleaned? Because doing what we do for the university is our job. Most of us take intrinsic satisfaction from it. We come in, we teach. We solve problems. If two of us wind up scheduled for the same classroom, absent executive staff, we would figure out a solution. Life would go on because we would go on doing our jobs. Not for the evaluation we would get; but because our jobs are what we do, we get satisfaction from them, we see that they amount to something… most of the time.

Now, I have to be honest here. Academia is the home of autonomy. It’s hard to think of a job with more autonomy than higher education, though government and business are doing everything they can to strip autonomy out of elementary and secondary education. And the business model many in higher education are mistakenly embracing is making inroads on autonomy there, as well. But, at least for today, autonomy is still a large part of teaching in colleges and universities. Autonomy is not so prevalent in most of the jobs we do today.

In fact, in an age when research shows autonomy is more necessary than ever for the kind of work most of us do, managers and leaders seem ever less likely to embrace it.

Pink is far more specific about this. He thinks of autonomy in terms of having control over the task, the time, the technique and the team you work with. I’m always a little nervous about lists that begin with the same letter. The point he’s making, however, is that to be satisfying, work has to be engaging. It is difficult to engage when all you’re doing is satisfying somebody else’s calculus about what’s important, about what’s measurable, about what counts.

If you want people to engage, you have to turn their jobs into adventures. And, if you’re the person in charge, that takes courage.

Next: One final post on the subject – Introducing the important concept of flow, the key to mastery.


Well, after I posted this, the question it asked intrigued me, so this morning I made a list of 10 things those in charge can do for you, in addition to getting out of the way. Nothing magic about 10... it's all that would fit on a napkin. And, in no particular order...

1) Tell you what's going on. Like newspapers are supposed to do, those in charge can establish their veracity and the veracity of the outfit.If they don't, distrust will put a ceiling on what your outfit can accomplish.
2) Give you all the information you need to do the job. As Socrates said, all knowledge is good.
3) Handle the paperwork.
4) Make sure you have the materials you need to do the job.
5) Listen.
6) Help you link up with others who can help with the job you're doing. 'Help' is a key word here. Not 'assign,'
7) Inspire, with substance -- ideas, principles -- and by example.
8) Know who you are and put you in a position to succeed. If you are seen as an interchangeable part, you'll act like an interchangeable part. The best bosses appreciate your rough edges and utilize them. This is where rewards and punishments often stifle creativity and innovation.
9) Deploy your strengths where they can help the cause.
10) Do some of the work themselves so they know what's going on and what the evolving challenges are.


Thursday, July 5, 2012

How to tell what your boss really thinks of you and what your boss really thinks of the work you were hired to do...

What does your boss really think of you?

What does your boss really think about the work you do?

Here’s an easy clue to these questions. By simply adjusting the way you see how you are being motivated, you can make the answers transparent.

Just figure out the theory of motivation to which your boss subscribes. And, when you figure out his or her theory, you’ll understand what your boss really believes is the fundamental nature of the human being. And, since you are a human being, you’ll know what your boss thinks of you.

Are we basically good, basically capable, basically well-intentioned? Or, are we basically evil, slothful, bent on being and doing as little as we can? Are we basically trustworthy or are we incorrigible cheaters? Left to our own devices, will we flourish or flounder?

My guess is, if you really see what theory your boss operates under you’ll find your boss worries you’re basically an evil, slothful, untrustworthy, flounderer. You’ll have to look past the transparent gloss of the fine language of the latest management text she has read -- or her boss has foisted off on her. You’ll have to look past the sticky cotton candy verbiage the carpetbagger consultant sold your outfit. 

You’ll have to ignore the particularly tricky word “empowerment” in their lingo. If your boss declares she wants to empower you, she means, as Daniel Pink says, she has the power and she intends to ‘ladle’ a little bit of it to you – then hold you responsible for that sip of power you’ve been given.

Here’s one key place you can find the secret. Take a hard look at the evaluation form your boss uses and the rewards he or she offers. Take a look at the nature of punishment and the nature of reward. Take a look at what your boss counts toward those and what your boss doesn’t count. Heck, take a look at the very fact that your boss counts.

If what you find is a 1950s stick and carrot model of evaluation, you can bet her theory of motivation is not that you are a self-directed, creative, trustworthy person. So says Pink, in his new book “Drive” ruminating through acres of behavioral research on the nature of human motivation. If Pink is right, your boss's theory and its subsequent motivational system are better designed for 1950s manufacturing tasks and ill-suited to the need for creativity and innovation in the post-industrial era. 

Which, then, is also a clue to what your boss thinks of the work you do. If your boss subscribes to this old school theory of human nature and human motivation, she does not care if you are creative, if you innovate, if you can improvise to solve problems that stymie others. She thinks your job is closer to tightening bolts than nurturing ideas. No matter what fine verbiage she attaches to her management tools, her evaluation forms and her kudos, if she’s counting the pieces you do, you’re doing piecework.

In fact, the very fact she thinks of herself as a manager, is a clue to what’s in her boss’s heart. You manage supply chains, Pink says, not people.

Lest you think these negative images of people and their work fit only telemarketing salesmen and wait staff, these theories are quite obvious in my world, the world of higher education. Academia is more about controlling our worst impulses, keeping us in line and churning out credit hours than you might imagine. Don’t get me wrong; that old ivory tower is a fine place to work but sometimes the pomp and circumstance hide the underlying ways it is just as pridefully old school as other 1950s professions.

Here are some clues Pink and I offer:

Language – In addition to the words management and empowerment, look out for the phrase “bottom up decision making” or “we’re moving decision making down.”  Carefully examine the meaning of a “collaborative process.” If that process begins with your input -- another word freighted with meaning -- but doesn’t end with your decision, the meaning of “collaborative” does not trend in your favor. 

Counting – As I said before, the very fact that your boss counts is a strong clue to what he or she thinks of you and the work you do. Most academics operate under the weight of the holy Trinity – teaching, scholarship, service. The calculus your outfit uses to evaluate you is a precise measure of what it values. A recent long-winded discussion among the newspaper division members of Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC) devolved, as usual, into an acrimonious argument over this precise calculus. Amen.

Counting, part two – What sort of work do you do? Chances are you consider your best work to be innovative, to be the creation of something, to be your ability to solve a problem or help someone else solve a problem. Does your boss count these things? If not, your boss doesn’t consider them to be the work you were hired to do.

Guess what; even in education this is true. I don’t think I’ve ever seen an evaluation form that asked if the teacher was good at helping students sort out their lives. I doubt anyone who signs evaluation forms actually reads many of the articles fellow academics submit to journals, unless they happen to share the same expertise. I can’t recall anyone in authority saying a syllabus looked interesting … or a syllabus was flawed. The only word I’ve ever heard from authority about a syllabus was when it was late being posted. 

Bottomline, if your boss counts what you do, as in credit hours accomplished or articles published or how promptly the syllabus was distributed, that’s what matters to them and that’s the sort of work they hired you to do. They did not hire you for your creativity, ability to solve problems in new ways, or whether you care about the people you serve. No matter what else they say.

Who does the counting – Here’s an important test to understand what your boss actually thinks of you. Would you be considered terribly naïve if you suggested that you – the worker – ought to have the final word on how you’ve done? Would such a suggestion cause ripples of laughter around the board room where the council of presidents, vice presidents and assistant vice presidents sit? Would you be laughed out of the room if you suggested employees could be trusted to evaluate themselves? It is, after all, their careers. They are, after all, the ones who do the work. But if the idea that you might determine if you’ve succeeded or failed or hit the dreaded “meets expectations” on the nose, it that idea is considered naïve, you know a lot about what they really think of you.

For most people, the facts are obvious. Your boss doesn’t trust that the work you were hired to do will interest you enough intrinsically for you to be left alone to do it. Your boss became a boss, you might guess, because the work wasn’t intrinsically interesting to him or her. If the work itself didn’t interest your boss deep down, why should it interest you?

Next: Autonomy and mastery -- Values your boss probably doesn’t understand...and fears.


Sunday, July 1, 2012

How 'managers' steal the joy of your work...


I tried writing
some about motivation in reply to Matt’s dilemma, but the stuff I had been reading and thinking about for some time, and some external events in my workplace didn’t fit the problem of motivating yourself very well.  So, I’m going to write some about those more organizational problems then come back, at a right angle, to the more personal problem. I believe the two are often related – lessons from one often apply to the other.

One thing is clear from living. Motivation is one of the most fundamental elements in our lives, if not THE most fundamental element. So, any thinking we can do about motivation is worth the effort. You could debate this question forever: Which is more important, motivation or talent?

Talent is useless without motivation. Motivation, however, can almost always produce something at least close to talent. What works is motivation in the direction that is natural for you.

This is the problem with “management.” When someone else tries to manage your talent, that person is rarely trying to manage it toward its natural bent. More likely, that person is trying to manage your talent to accomplish what he or she thinks – or, more often, is told – is the direction the company wants to move toward. You are very lucky, indeed, if the direction the company wants to move is also the direction you want to move. Unless, of course, you own the company.

And this disconnect takes you right back to the problem of internal motivation versus external motivation. It comes back to the disconnect between the natural flow of your talents and the flow of external pressures. Managers try to realign you with rewards and punishments. As Daniel Pink points out, carrots and sticks may work in the short run and may work even better if you’re doing piecework, but they don’t work at all for the sort of creative, innovative, problem solving tasks involved in modern work.

Whew! Let me just let out a sigh here. Wouldn’t you think these ‘managers’ would just look around and see that what they are doing isn’t working? Their employees aren’t happy. They’re quibbling over every tiny thing like who gets an office with windows, who gets mentioned in the meetings, who gets the green carpet and who gets the carpet that doesn’t make your eyes water. They’re not solving problems. They’re afraid to innovate. They can’t wait to get out the door and away from you.

Can’t they see this?

You wouldn’t think much of this would apply to the free form world of academia, but it does. Academia seems free form from the outside only. Inside, it is as stick and carrot as any other occupation, except, perhaps, new car sales. In fact, sticks and carrots have been refined to the level of Kantian ethics in academia. From the outside academia looks like freedom, from the inside it as tight-assed as Martin Luther. Luther and Kant in the same paragraph – that should earn some points somewhere.

Instead of recognizing the disconnect involved in trying to manage another human being, in trying to bend and twist her motivations to fit your preconceived goals, managers just double-down on control. Having raised a couple of children, I understand the impulse. But, in both arenas, that impulse has led to nothing but wasted effort, wasted talent, and, occasionally, disaster.

My guess is the problem of managing others lies in a short sighted appraisal of the goal. It lies in results oriented management. Profit centers. Whatever some consultant defines as accountability. Goals that are irrelevant to the success of the work because they are external rather than internal goals. Here’s how manager see it: I have a department full of these vastly different personalities, these people with their own goals, their own talents, their own spirits. If I let them alone, 1) I won’t be doing my job so I’ll have nothing to put in my annual (some call it “anal”) review and 2) disaster will ensue. I must harness all this talent and drive it in the same direction, the direction that, frankly, matters to my immediate boss.

Change bosses and magically the direction changes. This is transparent, by the way, to employees and a source of great amusement.

Think of it the way a good hitter looks at the problem of getting a base hit: If I take care of the things I'm doing right now -- relaxing, seeing the ball, letting my hands do the work -- the results later will be fine. If I try to drive the ball over the fence, I pop up every time. Managers pop up all the time. They make themselves miserable, they make everyone else miserable and -- to put it bluntly -- they fail more often than the succeed.

The problem is, driving talent drives out joy, creativity, spirit, and the willingness – ironically – to pull together.

OK, enough for now. Next: How to tell what your boss really thinks of you and what she really thinks of your work.