Executive Times

Volume 7, Issue 9

September, 2005


ã 2005 Hopkins and Company, LLC

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The mandated scripted response to almost all customer exchanges at Ritz-Carlton is “my pleasure.” Sometimes the line is delivered with such enthusiasm the most cynical customer suspends any disbelief that the line is genuine. Perhaps when repeated often enough, it’s a reminder that work can bring pleasure, even the most mundane tasks. For some of us, work is always pleasurable, because we love what we do. For others, work provides a means to an end, and becomes a necessary evil and rarely brings pleasure. Many workers ricochet between those two extremes. Executives who love what they do are breathing a sigh of relief this month as the typical vacation season ends, and they can finally ratchet up intensity at work. In this issue, we explore some ways in which work can bring pleasure, and how being proud of the job one does and enjoying work can make the time spent working seem minimal. As you think about the situations described here, reflect on your attitudes about your current job. Are you excited to start a new work week? Do those who report to you share your enthusiasm? Does time at work seem to fly by? How proud are you of what you’re accomplishing at work?


Fifteen new books are rated in this issue, beginning on page 5. Two books are highly recommended with four-star ratings; seven books are recommended with three stars; three are mildly recommended with two star ratings, two books have a one-star recommendation; and we’ve bestowed our first DNR (Do Not Read) rating for the year. Consistent with the theme of this issue, the DNR review is for a manifesto calling for workers to disengage quietly at the workplace. Visit our 2005 bookshelf at http://www.hopkinsandcompany.com/2005books.html and see the rating table explained as well as explore links to all books we’re reading or considering this year. 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, let us know by sending a message to books@hopkinsandcompany.com.


We read a fine description of the pleasure that can come from work in The Wall Street Journal (8/23) (http://online.wsj.com/article/0,,SB112473011878219678,00.html). Poet Donald Hall came away from his Harvard ’51 reunion “dismayed by the attitude of many of his former classmates, who had become bankers, brokers or lawyers. Describing to them how he had left a secure faculty position to move to his family farm and write for a living, they collectively cried, ‘What self-discipline!’


‘In vain did I protest,’ Mr. Hall writes. ‘For me, I told them, it required no discipline to spend my days writing poems and making books. …The unvarying frequency of the accusation -- that I took the whip to myself every day, while handcuffed to the desk -- upset me because the stereotype suggested a melancholy provenance: Did all my classmates hate their work so much?’ … Mr. Hall doubts it. He suspects that like him, many people find in their work an ‘absorbedness’ that transports them to an interior world where the ego is quieted, the mind (and possibly the body) is wholly engaged, and hours pass like seconds. Work isn't the master of such workers; it's a fountain of contentment. Or as Anna Howard Shaw, a minister, physician and teacher, wrote in her 1915 autobiography, ‘Work has always been my favorite form of recreation.’”

Does your work flow like a fountain of contentment? Is work your favorite form of recreation? How much discipline does it take for you to work? Does work engage you and those who report to you and those with whom you collaborate? Do hours pass like seconds in your workplace? Where on the love-hate continuum would you place your feelings about your work?


Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has been studying a notion he calls “flow” for four decades, but the results of his work have been slow in entering the business sector, according to articles in the August issue of Fast Company (http://www.fastcompany.com/magazine/97/art-of-work.html.) While his groundbreaking book, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience came out in 1990, and caught the attention of some sports figures (Jimmy Johnson credited the Cowboys 1993 Super Bowl win to flow), few companies have tried to apply flow in the workplace. (In our June 2003 issue we gave Csikszentmihalyi’s book Good Business a two-star review). According to Fast Company, here’s how Csikszentmihalyi describes flow: ‘“It is what the sailor holding a tight course feels when the wind whips through her hair....It is what a painter feels when the colors on the canvas begin to set up a magnetic tension with each other, and a new thing, a living form, takes shape.’ ... It's a condition of heightened focus, productivity, and happiness that we all intuitively understand and hunger for. … In the flow state, Csikszentmihalyi found, people engage so completely in what they are doing that they lose track of time. Hours pass in minutes. All sense of self recedes. At the same time, they are pushing beyond their limits and developing new abilities. Indeed, the best moments usually occur when a person's body or mind is stretched to capacity. People emerge from each flow experience more complex, Csikszentmihalyi found. They become more self-confident, capable, and sensitive. The experience becomes ‘autotelic,’ meaning that the activity actually becomes its own reward. ‘To improve life, one must improve the quality of experience,’ he says. One of the chief advantages of flow is that it enables people to escape the state of ‘psychic entropy,’ the distraction, depression, and dispiritedness that constantly threaten them.” Patagonia CEO Michael Crooke has been applying the principles of flow to his organization for years, and calls it “the center of everything I’m doing.” With workers and customers focused on what they want and need, successful Patagonia products come to market quickly.


When you’re working, is your body or mind stretched to capacity? Do you come away from work “more self-confident, capable and sensitive”? Does work provide you with that “condition of heightened focus, productivity and happiness” you hunger for? How well are you stretching those with whom you work? Are they pushing their limits and developing new abilities? Is work its own reward in your workplace?



After boxes of old memos were released as part of the confirmation process of Supreme Court nominee John Roberts, we got to thinking about how important the written record is for most white collar workers. The work of professional service craftspeople takes the form of the e-mail message, the memo, the report, and, alas, the PowerPoint presentation. We read in the August 29 edition of The New York Times (http://www.nytimes.com/2005/08/29/politics/politicsspecial1/29grammar.html) that Judge Roberts appears to have taken a lifelong interest in the proper use of the English language. According to the Times, “Careful wording is ‘part of his approach to the practice of law,’ said David G. Leitch, the general counsel to the Ford Motor Company, who overlapped with Mr. Roberts at the law firm Hogan & Hartson and at the Justice Department in the 1990's. Something as minor as punctuation style could cause Mr. Roberts to demand revisions; longer debates ‘over the way certain sentences were phrased and the possible unintended meaning of certain phraseology’ were a hallmark of his style, Mr. Leitch said. ‘Judge Roberts always viewed it as a point of pride that we really strived [sic] to make everything in our briefs perfect,’ Mr. Leitch said. ‘Not that we always achieved it. But he was a stickler for everything, from spacing errors to the formation of quotation marks to grammar, and to the actual construction of arguments. So it was definitely an intense process.’ In Judge Roberts's [sic] view, he said, ‘your brief writing conveys not only your argument to the court, but it also conveys a sense of your credibility and the care with which you put together your case.’ … diligence is a trademark of even Judge Roberts's most mundane memorandums, thousands of which have been made public in recent weeks as he prepares for his confirmation hearings. Time and again in his White House work, he singled out improper usage, though often in a wry tone suggesting a scholar's passion for the English language more than an effort to find fault or boast.”


What conclusions about your written work can others draw? Does your diligence stand out? Has your precision helped to convey your message? Can you refrain from sending a redlined copy of Executive Times to us pointing out all the grammatical errors in this issue?


For some people, work becomes an addiction and that can be unhealthy for that person and for those around him or her. You can take an online test from the archives of the National Business Employment Weekly at http://www.careerjournal.com/myc/killers/20041130-raudsepp.html to gauge whether or not you have an obsession with work and whether or not work may be dominating your life to the detriment of other relationships. The article at that site, “Are You a Workaholic?” also explores the impact of work stress on health. A more informal test is to ask the people you love if you’re spending too much time working and not enough time with them. Rebalancing may be a challenge, but once you get into a new flow, both your work and the rest of your life will improve.


How do you recognize signs of workaholism in yourself and others? How can you deploy your energy with a greater balance between work and the rest of your life? If your work feels like recreation to you, how does your work feel to those with whom you are in close relationships? Have you asked them how they feel about your work? Are you prepared to change the way you work to become healthier?




Here are selected updates on stories covered in prior issues of Executive Times:


Ø      The front page of the November 1999 issue of Executive Times noted that State Farm lost a class action lawsuit concerning the use of non-OEM parts for auto repairs and faced paying over $1 billion in damages. In August, the Illinois Supreme Court overturned the earlier ruling affirming that non-OEM parts were more price-competitive and helped, rather than hurt consumers. Readers who will enjoy a class action reversal can read the complete opinion at http://www.state.il.us/court/Opinions/SupremeCourt/2005/August/Opinions/Html/91494.htm

Ø      Many prior issues of Executive Times (most recently the February 2005 issue) have pondered why Daimler CEO Jürgen Schrempp wasn’t given the boot for his performance in leading that company. The Daimler supervisory board announced that Schrempp will step down at the end of this year. For a comprehensive look at poor performance and the challenges that are in place for his successor, Dieter Zetsche, read the 8/15 Business Week cover story, “Dark Days at Daimler,” (http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/05_33/b3947001_mz001.htm.)

Ø      In case you were detached from the world during August, and missed the news, President George W. Bush appointed John Bolton as ambassador to the United Nations despite our labeling Bolton as a bully in our May 2005 issue and giving space to Stanley Bing calling him a lousy boss in our June 2005 issue. We’re prepared for his performance in his new role to exceed our expectations.



The most successful executive of his generation has retired, especially if one measures success in terms of consistent profitability. For the last dozen of the 42 years he’s spent at Exxon, Lee Raymond has served as CEO, out of the limelight, generating billions of dollars of profits at the world’s largest company whether oil is priced at $10 a barrel or at $70 a barrel. During an era marked by corporate malfeasance and political correctness, the few times that Raymond calls attention to himself, he’s notable for sticking to his positions, whether popular or not. For example, he doesn’t believe in global warming, and has made that clear. Exxon announced in August that Raymond will retire at the end of this year, and will be replaced by his groomed internal successor, Rex W. Tillerson. We read on the Associated Press wire (http://www.forbes.com/associatedpress/feeds/ap/2005/08/04/ap2174088.html) that, ‘“Lee has created a group of executives to lead the company into an era of bigger projects and longer lead times,’ said Daniel Yergin, president of the Cambridge Energy Research Associates. ‘He's imparted a steadiness for Rex to move the company on a disciplined course.’” Raymond’s focus on profitability produced extraordinary rewards for shareholders, and he’s left a legacy at Exxon for his successors to follow. While we’ll hear plenty in his final months about his gruffness, political incorrectness and huge compensation, his legacy has been in remaining diligently focused on profits, and for that, he’ll be long remembered.


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 2005 bookshelf at http://www.hopkinsandcompany.com/2005books.html).


Title (Link to Review)



Review Summary


Roadside Religion

Beal, Timothy K.

Attraction. Religion professor hauls family in motor home to visit religious attractions. Describes 11 places in detail from the absurd to the well-intentioned to places than can deepen one’s spirituality.

This Common Ground: Seasons on an Organic Farm

Chaskey, Scott

Restoration. Poet-farmer-author describes what it took to restore a farmed-out plot of land on Long Island, and what society yields when land is cared for and food is grown close to the people who eat it.


Cook, Robin

Tedious. Over 500 pages of predictable exposition, unnecessary dialogue and political polemics. An average Cook offering that will appeal to fans, but may not be as thrilling as genre readers expect.

Men Fake Foreplay and Other Lies That Are True

Dugan, Mike

Chuckles. Fans of Dugan’s live performances will find fewer laughs between these lines, and those attracted by this title will find less pleasure than anticipated.

The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century

Friedman, Thomas L.

Repetitive. A connected world has dramatic implications for individuals, corporations and organizations. Through multiple examples Friedman repeats his premise about a flat world and permits readers to reflect on the implications.

Until I Find You

Irving, John

Longing. 850 well-written pages by a master of the long form of prose, reveals a three decade journey by protagonist Jack Burns, who searches for his father, his identity, and the truth. Unusual characters and situations with universal emotions and complex relationships.

What Lincoln Believed

Lind, Michael

Hijacked. While debunking many positions others have attributed to Lincoln in what Lind claims is error, the author stressed a point of view that others will view with skepticism.


Littell, Robert

Discovery. Fast paced spy novel explores the identities or legends of protagonist Martin Odum who tries to discover who he really is, and who he has been during his CIA career.

Bonjour Laziness

Maier, Corinne


Arrêtez. Nihilistic manifesto for workers to disengage quietly as a protest against management abuses. Neither comic nor provocative. Take a pass.

No Country For Old Men

McCarthy, Cormac

Stun. Spare, raw dialogue and dialect move along a story of good versus evil, overwhelming stunning violence, and the way that chance and luck change our lives.

One Magical Sunday

Mickelson, Phil

Nice. Hole by hole recap of 2004 Masters, Mickelson’s first major tournament win, along with family stories. Nice, hardworking guys sometimes finish first.

The Deep Dark

Olsen, Gregg

Disaster. Detailed description of the 1972 disaster at Idaho’s Sunshine Mine when 91 people died. Lessons about corporate culture in how decisions were delayed out of fear.

Fire Sale

Paretsky, Sara

Questions. Latest novel in V.I. Warshawski series, set on Chicago’s South Side, tackling money, power, race, corporate responsibility and recklessness, and complicated relationships. Private eye asks the right questions and gets the bad guys.

Pretty Birds

Simon, Scott

Divided. Debut novel tells the complicated story of the siege of Sarajevo in 1992 from the perspective of a 17 year old female sniper.

The Sunday Philosophy Club

Smith, Alexander McCall

Responsibility. Protagonist Isabel Dalhousie applies her interest in moral philosophy to her life experiences, accompanied by a cast of quirky characters, and the need to solve a murder.


ã 2005 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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