Good morning, good morning

August 27, 2021

Good morning, good morning

My previous blog described my one trick– asking people actually doing real work this: What would make them happier and more effective in their work? Then getting them what they wanted. When I started performing it I expected hard requests—a better computer, better chair, better maps, more modern power tools, authority to buy what they needed rather than submit paperwork to a distant procurement office.

I actually got those answers and many more. But the number one ask, or rather complaint, was my boss doesn’t say good morning to me.

Why on earth would a boss walk by a worker and not say good morning? And so many act that way there must be an important reason. In earlier times I think I walked by people in the morning, avoiding eye contact so I could rush past, uninterrupted, and get to my work on time. If I said good morning I feared that they’d respond, good morning, how are you? And then a conversation might start. And I’d be wasting valuable time. I think I learned that trick in a time management course. Ugh. Ugh!

Each of the no-good-morning bosses must have their reasons for disrespecting their workers. But whatever time a boss saves by not saying good morning and risking delay, it’s value is far exceeded by the harm done to worker morale and enthusiasm.

In fact, saving time isn’t such a good goal. In my latest book I encourage ostentatious time wasting. Say good morning to everyone you encounter, including the security guard who stands at the building entrance. Ask how they’re doing. And listen to what they say. You’ll make them happier to be at work and you may even learn something.


I was a one-trick pony

August 22, 2021

As a long-time civil servant I knew the ropes. Lots of problems that I knew how to fix—more or less. Opportunities I knew how to exploit. But after I retired from federal service and became a consultant I had to try to help organizations I knew little about:. But I had one trick I’d learned at the Pentagon.

When Rick Cole, then Santa Monica city manager, asked me

what I might do to help, I told him I had just one trick: ask people actually doing real work this: What would make you happier and more effective in your work? Then get them what they wanted.

Rick responded that if I only had only one trickthat was a pretty good one to have. So I went to work in Santa Monica, asking the same question I had asked front line workers in Philadelphia, Baton Rouge, Oakland, Washington, Maine, and Los Angeles.

The answers were as different as the places: a navigation app for sanitation truck drivers, a government credit card for electricians, instant hiring authority for first line supervisors, things that their boss’s boss’s boss would never have thought of.

There’s no reason that any organization should have to hire a consultant to ask front line workers such a question. People from the CEO to the first line supervisors should be doing this continually. But too many of them don’t.

It’s never too late to start.


Check out my brand new book: Ostentatious Time-Wasting: Tales from The White House, Pentagon, and City Hall. Tom Peters calls it “as fine a leadership book as I have read in many many a year.” Look here.

Ostentatious Time-Wasting/

August 20, 2021

I just published a new book, I think it’s my best.

Ostentatious Time-Wasting comprises thirty-four short (or very short) stories about what I learned while attempting (with some success) to dismantle centralized management at the Pentagon and throughout the Federal government. Some of the lessons are things “everybody always knew,” but didn’t often follow; some are profoundly imprinted on my heart. All are useful to living and leading.

Tom Peters called the stories wise, practical, and inspiring. His overall assessment is that “Ostentatious time-wasting is as fine a leadership book as I have read in many many a year.” Philip Howard says that it “shows how a sense of purpose and a healthy disrespect for rules can get good people to a good place.”

And every story is fun to read.

Thoughts on Genocide Remembrance Day, 2021

April 24, 2021
Map of the 1921 Allies proposal to dismember Anatolia: Ermenistan is the Turkish word for Armenia

April 24 is an Armenian holiday: Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day. President Biden today gave official certification that the massacre of Armenians by Ottoman Turks in 1915 was a genocide. I wrote my thoughts about the issue many years ago. I wouldn’t change much today. Perhaps someday–when the history of Jim Crow, the war with Mexico, the occupation of the Philippines, the abandonment of European Jewry to extermination, the Chinese Exclusion Act, are honestly taught in American schools–perhaps then will we have the moral standing to pronounce which side, the Armenians or the Turks, have the better assessment of the horrors of 1915. Until then it would have better for Biden to stay out of the argument.

Here’s what I wrote ten or twenty years ago on the subject:

Memo to Congress: Leave the Turks and Armenians alone to bury old enmities

Old hatreds die hard. Many Serbs still burn with hate for Muslims over the lost battle of Blackbird’s Field in Kosovo on June 15, 1389. In Great Britain there remains mutual hatred between Catholics and Protestants dating from atrocities of the 17th century. And many Armenian Americans still burn over the massacres and other deaths of 1,500,000 Armenians by the forces of the collapsing Ottoman Empire—the predecessor to modern Turkey–in 1915. Turks dispute the number, claiming that 300,000 Armenians were killed and at least as many Turks, as the empire descended into chaos and war.

It seems that civilization depends on our ability to put such horrors aside, to consign them to the ash heap of history. That ability is what allows black and white Americans to coexist—even love each other—a mere 140 years after the end of brutal slavery in the U.S. It allows many Jews and Muslims, Japanese and Chinese, Indians and Pakistanis to live and let live. Even Turkey and Armenia are on the verge of normal relations and an open border, with their presidents even attending football (soccer) games between the respective national teams in each other’s country.

Enter the US House Foreign Affairs Committee, which just passed, 23-22, a non-binding resolution calling on US policy and President Barack Obama to refer formally refer to the World War I mass killings as a “genocide.” Speaker Nancy Pelosi must now decide whether the bill passed by the committee will be sent to a floor vote in the House.

All the members knew that this was a matter of national pride for Turkey, an issue that could blow up relations between the US and our close ally. It has. Turkey—the Muslim world’s oldest democracy—has just withdrawn its ambassador from Washington in protest.

“We condemn this resolution accusing Turkey of a crime that it had not committed,” the Turkish Prime Minister’s office said in a written statement. “Our Ambassador to Washington Namik Tan was recalled tonight to Ankara for consultations after the development,” the statement said.

The mind boggles at the House action. Several questions worry an ethicist:

1) Was it genocide? This Fourth Edition of The American Heritage Dictionary defines genocide as “the systematic and planned extermination of an entire national, racial, political, or ethnic group.” Armenian-Americans say yes, passionately. Some Turks agree, although the Turkish government’s position rejects just about every word of the definition: not systematic, not planned, not extermination, and not entire.

2) Is the US doing good or harm by raising the issue? Armenian-Americans are pleased, although Armenians are likely to be big losers if the budding normalization with their Turkish neighbors is wrecked.

3) Who are we to cast a stone at the Turks. Perhaps we should first come to terms with the sins of our own forebears before we accuse others of –what? Descent from sinners? Aren’t we all?

Secret Police in Portland!

July 20, 2020

It’s hard to decide what’s the worst, the most unethical, the most unconstitutional thing of the Trump administration. In my naivete at first I thought it was the bald faced lie about the crowd size at his inauguration. But that was only his first day in office.

The bad things came fast. The attempts to stop the FBI from investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election. The sabotage of health care for the poor. I’ve long thought that grabbing infants from their mothers’ breasts at our southern border was the cruelest, the most awful thing.

And then…Portland. While the Courts have long ruled that the President has broad authority over our borders, the Constitution clearly denies local law enforcement powers to the federal government.

But to heck with the Constitution. Over the strong and unambiguous objections of Oregon’s Governor and Portland’s mayor, our Leader has dispatched national troops, their identity secret, to Portland to show his manliness by crushing protests. The secret National police snatch people, some violent, some peaceful, and haul them off in unmarked vans with no process of law whatsoever.

What to call the secret national police? Maybe an acronym; SEcretNAtionalPOlice, the acronym is SENAPO. Maybe it’s more euphonious in another language. Let’s try German: Geheim Staats Polizei. Yes, that sounds right. That’s where our Leader seems headed.

Oh, for the simpler days when he was only snatching babies from their mothers.

What about my statues? Not Caesar Rodney!

July 6, 2020

I’ve found that the most powerful ethics tool is putting yourself in the other person’s shoes: “How would I feel if that were me in that situation?”

So, I thought, how would I feel if I were Richmond born and raised, about giving up the Confederate flag and the statues that I would have driven past every day—the same statues that Black residents saw as a symbol of all the ills of their world. I would have agreed with removing them, I thought, not by the mob, but by the orders of legitimate authority. The statues and symbols of betrayal should never have been erected or honored.

But I’m not Richmond born and bred—I was born and raised in Wilmington, Delaware, where the town center has a majestic square—Rodney Square, dominated by a gorgeous (to me) equestrian statue of Caesar Rodney. Rodney is remembered, and little children learn this, for rising from his near-death bed to ride overnight through a thunderstorm, eighty miles from Dover to Philadelphia to cast a tie-breaking vote to adopt the Declaration of Independence. He’s the figure on the Delaware quarter.

Rodney was a lawyer who went on to command the Delaware militia in the Revolutionary War, then to be President of Delaware until adoption of the Constitution. But nobody knows that—we Delawareans know and honor Rodney for that ride. And nobody knows—or rather, knew, that he owned a plantation farmed by 200 slaves.

Rodney-the-hero to me was Rodney-the-slave owner to the Black Delawareans. And so last month he came down.

And I felt like I suspect old Richmonders felt—punched in the gut when I saw my childhood totem erased. So I’ll spare a spot of sympathy for Richmonders, who have to learn to live without proud thoughts of Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, and Stonewall Jackson. And I’ll mourn Caesar Rodney.

Celebrate July 2

July 2, 2020
On July 2, 1776, the 2nd Continental Congress Formerly Adopts ...

Before we get to July 4, we should commemorate an equally (or maybe more) important anniversary–that of the events in Philadelphia on July 2, 1776, as well as the events of July 2 four score and seven years later at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

You should know about momentous July Seconds. Let my ethics friend Jack Marshall refresh your memory at And try to ignore his knock against Dems who don’t condemn quickly enough or strongly enough the far leftists who denigrate our history.

What to do on July 4 and 5

June 30, 2020

For 90 years the New York Times has published a full-page facsimile of the original Declaration of Independence every fourth of July. I always considered it a rite of Americanism to read it, and I read it every July 4. I used to read the Times’s facsimile of the original, on paper; now I read it here: Here’s the Times’s reprint. It reminds me what America stands for, and however imperfect he was, what Jefferson’s vision of America is–today as in 1776.

But not every American’s vision. My friend, Michael Schroeder, history professor at Lebanon (Penna.) Valley College, taught me that I should read something else the next day, July 5. It’s Frederic Douglas’s speech, What to the Slave is the Fourth of July? It’s painful to read, but I think every American should read it.

It’s a part of our National heritage along with the Declaration of Independence and the Letter from a Birmingham Jail. Every American should read each, over and over. I recommend reading the Declaration every July 4; the Douglas speech every July 5 (he gave if July 5, 1852–thirteen years before Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation freed the slaves of the Confederacy). And read King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail every Martin Luther King Day.

Statues, Black lives matter, mobs, and patriotism

June 26, 2020
It wasn't a mistake to pull down the statue of Ulysses S Grant ...

It often gets my blood flowing, and my mind thinking, when I read opinions and analyses I disagree with. Often I disagree with my friend Jack Marshall, whose blog,, I’ve learned a lot from.

I eagerly look for columns of his where I could say, “Perfect. I wouldn’t change a word.” His piece today about mobs, statues, Black lives matter, and patriotism comes pretty close. If you’re a liberal like me look it over here.

It won’t hurt you.

Like Jack, I’m against all mob actions, in fact against all mobs, period. But two reservations about this column:

1. I believe “Black lives matter” is a slogan, value, cause, movement. To me it’s a reminder that in our society black lives are often, by some people, some government officials, treated as not mattering as much as white. So I’m happy to give people who write, talk, or march peaceably in protest, my ear. I believe, however, the movement is often invaded by criminals and anarchists, and the unorganized movement has no organized way to stop them. But this doesn’t invalidate the cause.

2. I abhor all mobs, and to the point, all the tearing down of statues. I also agree about the historical value of many statues (Grant, Key, etc). I do know, however, that some statues are (small?) humiliations to many people. Think about a Black in Nashville having to walk by a statue of Nathan Bedford Forrest twice a day.

What to do? It’s not up to any mob, not even to BLM believers. In our still-democratic system it’s up to the local authorities. I hope they follow the example set by the Memphis City council, who voted three years ago to remove their Bedford statue.

Death Toll from the Tulsa Rally

June 19, 2020

Anyone attempting to spread COVID-19 intentionally may face ...

How many deaths will result from the Trump rally in Tulsa? The formula is simple:

(# of attendees in arena plus overflow) x (Fraction of attendees already infected) x (Average transmission rate) x (mortality rate of Covid-19) = deaths

Let’s call (# of attendees in arena plus overflow) = N

(Fraction of attendees already infected) = F

(Average transmission rate) = R

(mortality rate of Covid-19) = M

So, Deaths = N x F x R x M

Nobody can dispute this equation; it’s true by definition. The uncertainty is what values to assign to the variables N, F, R, and M.

Here are my guesses:

N = 30,000 (19,000 in arena plus 11,000 outside and in the overflow area Read the rest of this entry »