Executive Times

Volume 8, Issue 8

August 2006


 2006 Hopkins and Company, LLC

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The multiple images of death and destruction following the exchange of missiles and bombs between the state of Israel and Hezbollah in recent weeks led to reflection about provocation. There are few simple answers to who started this mess, who else is being provoked, and how it will turn out. While this issue of Executive Times will not offer a plan for peace in the Middle East, there may be lessons here for executives to observe from situations and experiences outside organizations, and to apply in the workplace. More of our stories in this issue come from the sports world than is typical, perhaps an acknowledgement that a distraction from global political problems and the intensity and seriousness that can obsess executives may be most effective right now. We’ll look at several aspects of provocation in this issue, and ask executives to reflect on the ways in which provoking others or ourselves may lead to success or failure.


Fifteen new books are rated in this issue, beginning on page 5. One book is highly recommended with a four-star rating; eight books are recommended with three-star ratings; five books received two-star ratings, and one book eked out a one-star review. Visit our 2006 bookshelf at http://www.hopkinsandcompany.com/2006books.html and see the rating table explained as well as explore links to all 385 books read or those being considered this year, including 26 that were added to the list in July. If there’s something missing from the bookshelf that you think we should be considering or if there’s a book lingering on the Shelf of Possibility that you think we should read and review sooner rather than later, let us know by sending a message to books@hopkinsandcompany.com. As an added benefit to Executive Times readers, we’ve put all the books we’ve ever listed on one web page at http://www.hopkinsandcompany.com/All Books.html.


Some executives feel caught in the doldrums when everything that used to work to generate superior results now leads to average or even mediocre performance. When a setback arrives, something different needs to be done, and it isn’t often clear what will need to change. One lesson came recently from the remarkable performance of Floyd Landis and his Phonak team in Le Tour de France. After weeks of top performance, he had a miserable day in the mountainous 16th stage and fell eleven minutes behind the lead, and many considered him out of contention for winning the race. For stage 17, the normally even-tempered Landis arrived to the starting line full of anger. He dominated that stage over 85 miles in the Alps, made up the bulk of his lost time, and went on to win Le Tour. The Houston Chronicle reported (7/20) (http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/sports/4061950.html) that Landis commented on his performance after stage 17, “It's a three-week race and you don't win unless you keep fighting … You don't always win, either, if you keep fighting, but that’s all there is to do. Yesterday was not me. Today was me.” According to the Chronicle, “Landis rode angrily, defiantly. He was angry at himself, first and foremost. But he was also angry at headlines in every French newspaper that had written him off. One, in particular, got his goat, Le Dauphiné’s ‘Landis Out.’ ‘That really made me mad,’ he said, ‘because while I may be down, I'm never out.’ He also was furious that exactly one TV crew made the effort to come see him Thursday morning, before the departure in St.-Jean-de-Maurienne. But, by then, he'd already told his trainer, Allen Lim, ‘I'm the strongest man here.’ The Phonak crew had had a miserable previous day, too. But he didn't blame them for the collapse. He was, remarkably, seeking their forgiveness, not the other way around. ‘They deserved better from me,’ Landis said. ‘I did my best today to make up for it. I wanted to prove to them it's worth working for me because I won't give up.’ Landis was provoked to act in response to his own sub-par performance, and then the provocation escalated when he became angered by the reaction of others. His sense of purpose as the leader of the team, and the goal he had set for himself provoked him to perform at his best. He overcame fatigue, chronic hip pain, and the expectations of failure to lead his team to success. Any executive caught in the doldrums can be inspired by Landis and his persistence, and can find a new way to achieve outstanding results.


Does your team expect or deserve better from you? What kind of refueling do you need to do to lead your organization toward outstanding results? Do others feel that it’s worth working for you? Have you shown them your strength, and your willingness never to give up? What will it take to provoke you to do something different to shake away the doldrums? Have you channeled your anger in some positive way to improve performance?



Most effective executives practice restraint. Many feelings remain bottled up inside, lest emotional volatility be viewed as a sign of erratic leadership. In some form or another, those bottled up feelings have to come out somewhere, and every executive needs to find a healthy way to allow for some natural release of stress, anger, grief, or other strong feelings. Two leading sports stars erupted in unusual ways in recent weeks, one as he faced a loss, and the other following a win. Both situations may lead to lessons for executives. With just ten minutes left in his stellar career, France’s Zinedine Zidane was ejected from the final game of the World Cup after he head-butted Marco Materazzi of Italy. Many reports claimed that it was comments that Materazzi made about Zidane’s mother and sister that provoked the attack. Both players ended up receiving penalties for their behavior. We read one report that made us think about executives. According to the founder of a Zidane fan website, Ahmed Rehab, as reported in The Chicago Tribune (7/16) (http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/chi-0607160258jul16,1,5700314.story), “perhaps, Zidane the man had come to feel contempt for Zidane the hero. That the boy from the tough La Castellane housing projects in Marseille wanted, finally, to slough off his status as a sports idol and cultural icon. It was as if he chose to disappoint us while he still was in the spotlight. ‘You can take the man out of the rough neighborhood, but you can't take the rough neighborhood out of the man,’ teammate Thierry Henry told reporters following France's loss after a penalty kick shootout. I could be wrong, but it seemed that Zidane the rebel wished to leave us with a symbol of the torment we never knew he endured--primarily because we never cared to know. Why would we care to know? Heroes are worth only the joy they bring us. ‘It is even more difficult to be an Algerian rather than a black man in France,’ former teammate Marcel Desailly said of France's ghettoized North African immigrant population. ‘And the problem is that no one knows how much his origins affect his playing ability. He doesn't talk about it much.’ Zidane suggested there was a connection. ‘It's hard to explain, but I have a need to play intensely every day, to fight every match hard,’ he once said in an interview. ‘This desire never to stop fighting is something else I learned in the place where I grew up. And, for me, the most important thing is that I still know who I am. Every day I think about where I come from and I am still proud to be who I am: first, a Kabyle [a member of a tribe from northeastern Algeria] from La Castellane, then an Algerian from Marseille, and then a Frenchman.’ One wonders if Zidane, as a French hero, felt compelled to fit a mold that forced him to compromise his diverse identity. Perhaps he begrudgingly played this role for a French public that adored him--the same public that often shows disdain for the Zidanes who never made it out of La Castellane. To my knowledge, the reserved soccer star never complained publicly. But perhaps he wondered if it was really him that they adored. When Zidane finally broke his silence in an interview with a French TV station, he apologized to the children of the world. But he offered no more detailed explanation and displayed no sense of remorse. His obstinacy spoke volumes. It was almost as if he relished his most public act of defiance--a poor rich man's attempt at self-vindication.” For any executive feeling caught in a mold that forces compromising identity or strong feelings, there is always the risk of an untimely explosion. The other illustration of unexpected behavior came after Tiger Woods won the British Open recently. The typically reserved Woods cried on the shoulders of his caddy and his wife, and to the press, commenting later, “I'm kind of one who bottles things up a little bit and moves on, tries to deal with things in my own way. But at that moment it all came pouring out and all the things my father has meant to me and the game of golf. I just wish he could have seen it one more time.” Tiger’s father Earl died in May, and this was the first championship Woods won since then. Bottled up feelings usually end up coming out. It’s usually just a matter of when and where.


Are you adding to the normal stresses from your work by keeping your feelings bottled up inside you? As you reflect on your identity as an executive, are you compromising any aspects of who you are? What outlets do you find to manage stress and to release some of your strong emotions? When you work intensely every day, what do you do to counterbalance that intensity? Do you ever let go? What will provoke you to release whatever’s bottled up?



The prolific author Edward de Bono popularized a technique called lateral thinking, and executives can learn more about that and parallel thinking at http://www.debonogroup.com/index.html. Several organizations promote using what de Bono labeled “provocation” as a mind tool to spur creativity and lead to breakthroughs. We don’t endorse these organizations, but provide them as a reference for executives who want to explore this issue more completely. According to Mind Tools Ltd at http://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newCT_08.htm, “Provocation is an important lateral thinking technique. … we think by recognizing patterns and reacting to them. These reactions come from our past experiences and logical extensions to those experiences. Often we do not think outside these patterns. While we may know the answer as part of a different type of problem, the structure of our brains makes it difficult for us to link this in. Provocation is one of the tools we use to make links between these patterns. We use it by making deliberately stupid statements (Provocations), in which something we take for granted about the situation is not true. Statements need to be stupid to shock our minds out of existing ways of thinking. Once we have made a provocative statement, we then suspend judgment and use that statement to generate ideas. Provocations give us original starting points for creative thinking.” Some direct reports may opine that certain executives don’t need any special mind tools to make stupid statements. For others, this approach might be a gentle way to inject something provocative into the workplace without leading to spontaneous combustion. The folks of CreatingMinds at http://creatingminds.org/tools/provocation.htm suggest, “The trick with provocation is to get them out of their rut rather than drive them further in. If they are too confused by you, they will mentally run away. Thus you may need to come right back to rational words after a provocative statement. It all depends on the people you are with.”


What can you do differently to provoke those with whom you work in ways that will lead to increased success? How comfortable are you with making or encouraging “stupid statements?” What will break the patterns that limit your success? Are any of your direct reports confused by you, and mentally running away?



Here’s an update on a story covered in a prior issue of Executive Times:

Ø      Attention must be paid to Jack Welch. We’ve referred to him, positively and negatively, in seventeen issues of Executive Times. Other followers of Welch will want to read the provocative cover story in the July 24 issue of Fortune, titled “Sorry, Jack” in which Betsy Morris claims that his rules for winning don’t work anymore, but offers seven others that do. You can find the article online at http://money.cnn.com/2006/07/10/magazines/fortune/rules.fortune/index.htm.




One executive promoted a provocative business for more than twenty years, and that business now serves over 60 million customers every year. According to The New York Times (7/18) (http://www.nytimes.com/2006/07/18/business/18brooks.html), Robert Brooks “got involved in Hooters only after the friend he had lent money to invest in Hooters franchises could not pay him back. His first action as operator was to change from a bar concept that sold little food to a full-service restaurant and bar. He proceeded to open Hooters franchises from San Diego to São Paulo to Shanghai, at 430 locations in all. He started a magazine, pro golf tour, stock car racing series, credit card and casino, all under the Hooters name. His boldest venture, Hooters Air, an airline with hostesses in the familiar orange shorts and white tank-tops, began flying two years ago, but was grounded by high fuel prices. Although he was apt to volunteer to interviewers that he liked to invite the ministers of his church to stop by Hooters to appreciate what he considered its intrinsic wholesomeness, Mr. Brooks made it clear what he was promoting. ‘Good food, cold beer and pretty girls never go out of style,’ he said in an interview with Fortune magazine in 2003.” While Brooks declined to honor his wife’s request to eliminate bikini contests, he did follow her advice and had all locations remove the Playboy photo of a former Hooters waitress from the restaurants. Thanks to his generosity, Clemson University is home to both the Brooks Center for the Performing Arts and the Brooks Motorsports Institute which he funded following the death of his son, Mark, in 1993. According to the Full Throttle website, “While Brooks gave away millions, he may be best known for the return of $200. Following a Congressional Report in June of 2006 on the waste of tax payer funds from F.E.M.A. following Hurricane Katrina it came to light that money intended to help the victims of that disaster had purchased a bottle of expensive champagne at a Hooters. Upon learning of this, Brooks offered to reimburse F.E.M.A. the $200 and a few days later sent them a check saying ‘even if it is my restaurant it’s still not right.’ The gesture contributed to his folklore status and generated praise from government officials (http://cranialcavity.net/fullthrottle/wp/index.php/rip-bob-brooks).” Brooks died in July at age 69. His provocative legacy lives on.


Latest Books Read and Reviewed:

 (Note: readers of the web version of Executive Times can click on the book covers to order copies directly from amazon.com.  When you order through these links, Hopkins & Company receives a small payment from amazon.com.  Click on the title to read the review or visit our 2006 bookshelf at http://www.hopkinsandcompany.com/2006books.html).


Title (Link to Review)



Review Summary


The $64 Tomato

Alexander, William


Indulgence. The author’s gardening hobby mushroomed to such an extent that after a poor crop one summer, he computed his cost that year and came up with the book’s title.

Arthur & George

Barnes, Julian


Unhurried. Barnes takes his time to develop the characters and plot of this novel, and patient readers will be rewarded with the pleasure of reading some of the finest prose being written today.

Imposter: How George W. Bush Bankrupted America and Betrayed the Reagan Legacy

Bartlett, Bruce


Reformation. Readers of any political persuasion will find interesting facts and points of view in this conservative call for reform and for a return to fiscal responsibility.

We Are All Welcome Here

Berg, Elizabeth


Normal. Novel set in 1960s Mississippi in which a polio stricken woman who can move only her head, delivers a baby in an iron lung and proceeds to raise her in as normal a way as possible.

Dead in Vineyard Sand

Craig, Philip R.


Shallow. Seventeenth novel in series doesn’t require much thinking and may appeal to vacationing readers and to those fans who find the protagonist believable.

The Suitors

Ehrenreich, Ben


Updating. Literary debut novel that updates The Odyssey as a romance featuring a modern Ulysses and Penelope. Author tries too hard at times.

Friendship: An Expose

Epstein, Joseph


Affinity. Author riffs on many dimensions of friendship, and tells his own friendship stories candidly. Readers will both laugh and think, as a tribute to the author’s wit and wisdom.

To Hell with All That

Flanagan, Caitlin


Housewifery. Debut from staff writer for The New Yorker replete with fine writing, verve, insight and opinions that will delight and irritate various readers as she explores the conflicting roles of women.

The Foreign Correspondent

Furst, Alan


Detailed. Descriptive language places readers in Paris in 1939 with complete atmosphere, while characters develop slowly and action remains constrained throughout this spy novel.

A Death in Belmont

Junger, Sebastian


Presumption. A 1963 murder takes place in Junger’s childhood neighborhood, and later, a handyman who worked on Junger’s home confesses to murders attributed to the Boston Strangler. Junger tries to connect the two, to the frustration of many readers.

Growing Girls

Laskas, Jeanne Marie


Sweet. Modern family living presented through the fine writing skills of one columnist/writer/teacher/mom. Likely to please parents of all ages, except those for whom the dose of saccharine is too high.

Black Swan Green

Mitchell, David


Thirteen. Outstanding writing that explores the complicated interior life of a thirteen-year-old adolescent, the struggles with parents, siblings and peers, and an increasing awareness of the impact of the world beyond a small town.

The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals

Pollan, Michael


Choices. As we’ve become disconnected from the reality of what we’re eating, we make food decisions that may not be to our benefit. Readers may never look at food in the same way after reading this book.

The One That Got Away

Raines, Howell


Release. Introspective and instructive memoir full of wisdom and fine writing by fired New York Times executive editor and avid fly fisherman.


Vaite, Celestine


Mothering. Debut novel, set in Tahiti, presents a familiar and appealing story of the relationship between a mother and her daughter, with all the love and conflict one would expect.


ã 2006 Hopkins and Company, LLC.  Executive Times is published monthly by Hopkins and Company, LLC at the company’s office at 723 North Kenilworth Avenue, Oak Park, Illinois 60302. Subscription rate for first class mail delivery of the print version is $60.00 per year (12 issues). Web version subscriptions are $30.00 per year. Single issues: $10.00 print; $5.00 web. To subscribe, sign up at www.hopkinsandcompany.com/subscribe.html, send an e-mail to executivetimes@hopkinsandcompany.com, call (708) 466-4650, or fax to (708) 386-8687. For permission to photocopy or e-mail Executive Times, call (708) 466-4650 or e-mail to reprints@hopkinsandcompany.com. We will send sample copies if requested. The company’s website at http://www.hopkinsandcompany.com/archives.html contains the archives of back issues beginning in the month after the issue date. 

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