I Might be Paranoid, But Is This Why They Asked Me to Switch Offices?

About two years ago, the person in charge of operations for our business school asked me if I would consider moving to a different office. He said it was my decision, but they thought the new Economics faculty member coming in would benefit from having people from his own department near him. He was offering me what many considered the nicest individual faculty office in the building (except for the chairpersons’s offices, which are the biggest). The office is also in an interesting location; surrounded on either side by the chair of accounting and the chair of marketing.

I told him I don’t really consider any office space to be mine; it belongs to the business school. So anywhere they wanted to move me would be fine with me, and I’ve been in my new digs for the past couple of years.

I didn’t think there was any hidden agenda to such a move until I read this story today in Kellogg Insight, a publication of the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern.

Researchers looked at the 25-foot radius around high-performers at a large technology firm and found that these workers boosted performance in coworkers by 15 percent.

And here comes the part that’s got me paranoid:

Of course, the flipside is that bad eggs impact their neighbors, too. Negative spillover from so-called toxic workers is even more pronounced—sometimes having twice the magnitude of impact on profits as positive spillover. Yet, while this toxic spillover happens very quickly, it also dissipates almost immediately once that worker is either fired or relegated to the far physical reaches of the companyWhich means that companies potentially have a very cheap way to boost productivity—simply shift some desks around.

So is that why they asked me to switch offices? Was I a toxic employee?(Technically I was not a toxic neighbor, since the authors define a toxic neighbor as someone who gets fired. But still, they did ask me to leave my office…).

Now I feel like checking what’s happened to the productivity of the people in the offices that are close to where my old office used to be. I’m almost hoping it’s gone way down, so I can say, “See, it wasn’t me.” And I also wonder what’s happened to the productivity of the people I’ve been moved closer to, but I’m scared to find out what the answer might be.

So yes, I’m a bit paranoid, and as that famous saying goes, just because you’re paranoid, it doesn’t mean people aren’t following you (or asking you to move offices).

Some Wonderful Foreign Words with No Equivalent in English

Mental Floss had this delightful story today about 38 foreign words that have no equivalent in the English language, and I’d thought I’d share a few of my favorites with you, with my own comments, in italics.

  • Tartle (Scots): that panicky hesitation just before you have to introduce someone whose name you can’t quite remember. I wonder if there’s a word for when you can’t remember the word tartle.
  • Backpfeifengesicht (German): A face badly in need of a fist. If I were a boxer, I would whisper this word into my opponent’s ear just before the fight. Talk about getting the upper hand on someone.
  • Greng-jai (Thai): That feeling you get when you don’t want someone to do something for you because it would be a pain for them. I don’t know if I’ve ever had this feeling 🙂
  • Mencolek (Indonesian): You know that old trick where you tap someone lightly on the opposite shoulder from behind to fool them? The Indonesians have a word for it. And here I thought I invented this trick. Or maybe I did, and it just spread around the globe.
  • Gigil (Filipino): The urge to pinch or squeeze something that is irresistibly cute. Such an urge could get you in trouble today.
  • Fremdschämen (German); Myötähäpeä (Finnish): The kinder, gentler cousins of Schadenfreude, both these words mean something akin to “vicarious embarrassment.” I think my wife has experienced this feeling many times on my behalf.
  • Lagom (Swedish): Maybe Goldilocks was Swedish? This slippery little word is hard to define, but means something like, “Not too much, and not too little, but juuuuust right.” I think if anyone ever asks me what my salary is, I’ll just say ‘lagom’.
  • Layogenic (Tagalog): Remember in Clueless when Cher describes someone as “a full-on Monet…from far away, it’s OK, but up close it’s a big old mess”? That’s exactly what this word means. Maybe they could create a new word, ‘Bordengenic‘ – from far away, it’s a big old mess, but up close, well, it’s still a big old mess.
  • Bakku-shan (Japanese): A Japanese slang term, which describes the experience of seeing a woman who appears pretty from behind but not from the front. I wonder if Shan-bakku would mean just the opposite?
  • Seigneur-terraces (French): Coffee shop dwellers who sit at tables a long time but spend little money. I’ll be on the look out this Spring for the les serveurs  in Paris looking in my direction and whispering this phrase.
  • Zeg (Georgian): It means “the day after tomorrow.” OK, we do have “overmorrow” in English, but when was the last time someone used that? This word will come in really handy when my students ask me when I plan to grade their papers.
  • Cafune (Brazilian Portuguese): Leave it to the Brazilians to come up with a word for “tenderly running your fingers through your lover’s hair.” I wonder if I can I use the same word when I do it to my own hair?
  • Boketto (Japanese): It’s nice to know that the Japanese think enough of the act of gazing vacantly into the distance without thinking to give it a name. I see this look a lot when I teach Accounting.
  • L’esprit de l’escalier (French): Literally, stairwell wit—a too-late retort thought of only after departure. I’ve actually written a blog post about this word, over a year ago. Unfortunately, I am the master of L’esprit de l’escalier.
  • Hygge (Danish): Denmark’s mantra, hygge is the pleasant, genial, and intimate feeling associated with sitting around a fire in the winter with close friends. I assume they mean a fire that is under control. Otherwise I don’t think there would be much hygge.
  • Luftmensch (Yiddish): There are several Yiddish words to describe social misfits. This one is for an impractical dreamer with no business sense. The perfect word to describe me when I owned a personal training studio.
  • Schlemiel and schlimazel (Yiddish): Someone prone to bad luck. Yiddish distinguishes between the schlemiel and schlimazel, whose fates would probably be grouped under those of the klutz in other languages. The schlemiel is the traditional maladroit, who spills his coffee; the schlimazel is the one on whom it’s spilled. So that’s what those words were that Laverne and Shirley were singing at the start of every episode! Now the whole show takes on a different meaning!

Today’s Goal: Grade Half of 83 Student Essays; Result: 0

I got into my office about 8:00 today with one primary objective – make a significant dent in the 83 student papers I had left to grade. My goal was to get through about half of them by 2:00, when I had some other obligations.

First though I had to take care of some faculty administrative work, which ended up taking much longer than I thought. Then there were several student emails I had to respond to that also required updating their assignment grades. After that, someone stopped by the office to chat. I then decided to stop down at the Dean’s Office to pick up a package that had been sent to me (who could resist getting a package at Christmas time!) Before I knew it, it was time for a lunch appointment I had made with another faculty member I had never met before. The lunch turned out to be a wonderful and informative conversation.

At this point, it was only a few minutes before 2:00, and I didn’t have the energy to just read one or two of the essays; I figured what’s the point. So I went back to the mindless work of checking and responding to my email for a few minutes, and then it was time to move on.

So much for my lofty goals; I had not read a single paper in that six-hour time period.

This is not the first time this has happened. And each time it does happen, I say to myself, ‘next time, just grade a few at a time each day; don’t try to get a lot of the grading done at once. Before you know it, you’ll be finished.’ But most times, I settle into my old habit, and it ends up taking longer than it should have.

Part of it is that I know the work will get done; this is my 63rd semester teaching (not counting summers), and I’ve always gotten the work done before the grading deadline (good thing there’s a deadline!)

I also know that if I only had 15 papers to grade, I would have gotten them all finished today. I don’t know why I just can’t act as if that’s all I had to grade, even if I had 83. 15 here, 15 there, and before you know it, I’d be done. But I just keep thinking about that big number, and sometimes I just can’t get started.

I wish there was some psychological term for it, but I don’t think there is. But I do fear there are a couple of words that describe my behavior – lazy and unmotivated.

But tomorrow’s another day. I’ll start the day with the same goal, but in the back of mind I’ll be thinking, ‘if only I had done 15 yesterday, I’d only have 68 left today.’

Fortunately the clock is ticking, and the papers have to get graded. So at some point the motivation will kick in, and I’ll get in the zone where the work just starts flowing. And before I know it, the papers will be finished.

And at that point I’ll spend a few moments congratulating myself but then I’ll start telling myself, ‘next time…’

And the cycle continues…

image from Steve Keating

This Post Will Make You…

Buzzsumo, which provides insights into the most popular content online and the influencers sharing it, recently did a survey of 100 million headlines published between March 1, 2017 and May 10, 2017, to find what three word phrases or trigrams gained the most Facebook engagements (likes, shares, comments).

And so what was the most popular phrase?

“Will make you” gained more than twice the number of Facebook engagements as the second most popular headline trigram, “this is why”.

So I thought I’d give it a try, and just use the phrase as my entire headline to see what happens. I leave it up to the reader to use their imagination to complete the phrase, but I can offer some suggestions.

This post will make you:

  • smarter
  • better looking
  • richer
  • happier
  • healthier
  • never want to log onto the Internet again
  • angry for falling for click bait
  • dumber for having read it


Read the First Paragraph of This Post Out Loud*

must read jborden.com; must read jborden.com; must read jborden.com; must read jborden.com; must read jborden.com; must read jborden.com; must read jborden.com; must read jborden.com; must read jborden.com; must read jborden.com; must read jborden.com; must read jborden.com; must read jborden.com; must read jborden.com; must read jborden.com;

That should do it; you can stop now. (If you didn’t read it out loud, go back and do it now; I’ll wait.)

So what was the point of having you read that first paragraph out loud?

A study from the University of Waterloo has found you are more likely to remember something if you read it out loud. The study found that speaking text aloud helps to get words into long-term memory. Dubbed the “production effect,” the study determined that it is the dual action of speaking and hearing oneself that has the most beneficial impact on memory.

Colin M. MacLeod, a professor and chair of the Department of Psychology at Waterloo, co-authored the study with the lead author, post-doctoral fellow Noah Forrin. In addition to this production effect, MacLeod notes that doing puzzles and crosswords, along with regular exercise and movement, may also help strengthen the memory of seniors.

Hopefully at this point you realize I write something every day (1,075 straight days), but you may occasionally forget my web address or get busy with something during the day. As a result you might miss out on a chance to say to yourself, “I can’t believe what nonsense Borden posted today!” And who doesn’t like that feeling of superiority over someone?

So to lessen the likelihood of that, just read the final paragraph out loud:

must read jborden.com; must read jborden.com; must read jborden.com; must read jborden.com; must read jborden.com; must read jborden.com; must read jborden.com; must read jborden.com; must read jborden.com; must read jborden.com; must read jborden.com; must read jborden.com; must read jborden.com; must read jborden.com; must read jborden.com;

*P.S. Don’t be shy about doing this in public spaces; there may be memory benefits for those who are in close proximity as well…

**photo found at http://www.emmersionlearning.com/power-reading-loud/

Another Great Semester of VUnited

Last spring, I wrote about my wonderful experience as a participant in VUnited, a program run by Villanova students that provides an opportunity for people with intellectual disabilities to be exposed to college life.

This past weekend was the final week of the program, and included presentations by the students, along with awarding the students certificates of completion.

The presentations were the culmination of a six week program that taught students about money management, health, nutrition, grocery shopping, cooking, job applications, and social media.

The presentations were fantastic. The students had been asked to talk about something they were passionate about, and they delivered. Among the topics discussed were:

  • a young man presented photos of his recent tour of some national parks with his mom; you could tell he loved the trip.
  • a young man gave a talk about how to give an effective speech; one of the funniest speeches I have heard in a while, the presenter was quite good
  • a young man talked about how much he liked working at McDonald’s; kudos to the young man and McDonald’s
  • a young man showed pictures of places around the world he has visited, including Las Vegas, Atlantic City, Tucson, and Dublin
  • a young man talked about his experience as the manager of a local high school football team, and how he actually got in a game – and scored a touchdown!
  • a young woman talked about her family, including the fact that her dad is a Cowboys fan, while she and her mom are Eagles fans!
  • a young woman showed many pictures of her time spent playing softball and soccer as part of the Special Olympics; you can tell she loves being part of the team
  • a young woman wrapped it up by also talking about her love of playing basketball as part of the Special Olympics; she noted that her goal is to teach basketball to her friends in India!

So congratulations to the students for making such wonderful presentations, and to all the Villanova students who served as mentors and friends to these students.

It’s students like this that make Villanova a special place, and I am honored to be part of such a wonderful group. You can learn more about VUnited by clicking here.

Special Blog Edition for Fourth Graders*

See Jimmy. See Jimmy stare at blank screen for two hours. See Jimmy finally write his blog.

See Mary. See Mary read Jimmy’s blog. See Mary fall asleep.

See Pat. See Pat like Jimmy’s blog. See Jimmy’s total likes for his blog posts usually equal one.

See Jimmy’s subscribers. See Jimmy whine about how few subscribers he has.

See some hot topic. See Jimmy write about it six months later, when no one cares anymore.

See the pictures on Jimmy’s blog. See those same pictures somewhere else on the Internet. See Jimmy’s web site shutdown for copyright violation.

See Jimmy’s blog. See Jimmy’s blog contribute to the decline in literacy in the United States. See Jimmy not care. See Jimmy say, “The blog must go on.”

See Jimmy realize that most of his blogs are written at the same level as this post.

*The results of the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study, an assessment given to fourth-graders in schools around the world every five years, show that the average score in the United States dropped to 549 out of 1,000 in 2016, compared to 556 in 2011. The country’s ranking fell from fifth in the world in 2011 to 13th, with 12 education systems outscoring the United States by statistically significant margins. Three other countries roughly tied with the United States; they  scored higher, but the differences were not ­notable.

I wrote this blog in honor of these fourth graders…


Drunk Droning?

New Jersey lawmakers are moving forward with legislation that would make operating a drone under the influence of alcohol a disorderly persons offense, which carries a sentence of up to six months in prison, a $1,000 fine or both.

The legislation cleared an Assembly committee on Monday and is up for a vote in the full Senate on Thursday. The law would also make using a drone to hunt wildlife and endanger people or property a similar offense and would prohibit using drones to endanger safety at correctional facilities a crime as well as interfering with first responders who are engaged in transport.

U.S. airspace is exclusively regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration, which already has rules in place barring the drunken operation of drones. However, according to Jonathan Rupprecht, an aviation attorney based in Florida, many states are pursuing their own legislation because of a “lack of enforcement” at the federal level.

I’m not sure how I feel about this.

Yes, I’ve heard that drones can be dangerous, and I agree that there needs to be regulations in place to control their use.

But to me such laws seem like they should be enough. If someone violates whatever drone operations laws are in place, then they should face consequences, whether they are sober or drunk.

But if someone is just out flying his or her drone in compliance with the drone laws, then I don’t think that person should be targeted by law enforcement just because they’ve had a couple of drinks while flying the drone.

Perhaps a compromise would be to make the penalties more severe IF someone violates existing drone regulations and the person is drunk.

But sitting out on your deck, drinking a six pack, and flying a drone around your back yard, under complete control?

Even if you’re considered “drunk”, I don’t think that type of behavior needs to be regulated.

P.S. By the way, here’s an article from Slate from a couple of years ago arguing in favor of such drunk droning laws. Just giving you both sides of the argument…

*Photo from Rotor Riot

Another Benefit of Sharing Embarrassing Moments

Back in July I wrote a post (based on a Dan Ariely WSJ column ) about how sharing embarrassing stories is a wonderful way to get to know one another, and I shared a few such stories.

Leigh Thompson, a professor at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University and the author of nine books, recently shared another use for embarrassing stories.

Writing in the Harvard Business Review, Thompson shared research she did with her colleagues that explored whether people could be primed for better brainstorming before the idea generation even starts. In the first experiment, they asked one set of participants to describe a time they’d felt embarrassed in the previous six months; they next asked a second group to describe a time they’d felt proud. The researchers then asked each individual to spend 10 minutes thinking of new uses for a paper clip.

On average, the embarrassing stories group well outperformed their counterparts, both on fluency (the sheer volume of ideas they generated) and flexibility (how many different kinds of ideas they came up with).

In a second study, the researchers randomly assigned 93 managers from a range of companies and industries to three-person teams, and gave them one of two group “introduction” and “warm-up” exercises. Half of the groups were told to share embarrassing stories; half talked about times they had felt pride. The anecdotes had to involve them personally and have happened in the previous six months.

After 10 minutes, they introduced the brainstorming challenge — this time, to generate as many unusual uses for a cardboard box as possible, also in 10 minutes. Using the same scoring criteria — fluency and flexibility — they found that the “embarrassment” teams generated 26% more ideas spanning 15% more use categories than their counterparts.

In conclusion, Thompson notes:

Candor led to greater creativity. Thus, we propose a new rule for brainstorming sessions: Tell a self-deprecating story before you start. As uncomfortable as this may seem, especially among colleagues you would typically want to impress, the result will be a broader range of creative ideas, which will surely impress them even more.”

If that’s the case, then I have the chance to be one of the most creative people the world has ever seen.

I wonder is there’s added creativity for turning red when you tell such stories…

P.S. If you came here looking for more embarrassing stories, my apologies. But me walking into a glass door never gets old: