Why Compassion Is Better than Toughness


The Harvard Business Review (HBR) recently had an article on its web site titled, “Why Compassion Is a Better Managerial Tactic than Toughness” by Emma Seppälä.

The main question the article attempts to address is “How should we react when an employee is not performing well or makes a mistake?” 

Seppälä notes that frustration is of course the natural response — and one we all can identify with. The traditional approach to deal with such frustration is to reprimand the employee in some way. Some managers, however, choose a different response when confronted by an underperforming employee: compassion and curiosity.

There is research to support the notion that a manager will get more powerful results with the more compassionate response.

Compassion leads to higher levels of trust, loyalty, and creativity, and employees view such managers as more effective.

While I am thrilled to see such research since it supports my beliefs (which I have written about before: Kindness in Action, Congratulations Patty B!, Is Nice the New Black?, Thank You!), what I found most interesting in the HBR article was mention of Stanford University’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education.

At first I was surprised that such a Center would exist; do we really need to be taught how to be compassionate? So I went to the Center’s web site to learn more about it. Below is a brief excerpt from the web site about why the Center was created and what its mission is.

While science has made great strides in treating pathologies of the human mind, far less research exists to date on positive qualities of the human mind including compassion, altruism and empathy. Yet these prosocial traits are innate to us and lie at the very centerpiece of our common humanity. Our capacity to feel compassion has ensured the survival and thriving of our species over millennia. For this reason, the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education (CCARE) at Stanford University School of Medicine was founded in 2008 with the explicit goal of promoting, supporting, and conducting rigorous scientific studies of compassion and altruistic behavior.

CCARE envisions a world in which, thanks to rigorous research studies on the benefits of compassion:

  • the practice of compassion is understood to be as important for health as physical exercise & healthful diet
  • empirically validated techniques for cultivating compassion are widely accessible
  • the practice of compassion is taught and applied in schools, hospitals, prisons, the military and other community settings.

Drawing from several disciplines including neuroscience, psychology, economics and contemplative traditions, research and programs supported and organized by CCARE examine:

  • the neural correlates, biological bases and antecedents of compassion
  • the effects of compassion on brain and behavior
  • methods for cultivating compassion and promoting altruism within individuals and society-wide.

From an educational perspective, CCARE offers:

  • a compassion training program
  • a teacher training program
  • public lectures, conferences, workshops and seminars
  • web-based education and outreach: blogs, videos, and wiki.

So after learning a bit about CCARE, I was convinced of the value of its vision and grateful to those who realized the need for such a Center, particularly Dr. James Doty. I look forward to learning even more about its work.

Imagine what life would be like if everyone’s response to any given situation was to first act with compassion.

As the Dalai Lama has said, “The cultivation of compassion is no longer a luxury, but a necessity, if our species is to survive.”

High School Summer Reading List


The Wall Street Journal had an editorial piece today about how weak and biased summer reading lists for high school students are these days. He relates the story of a friend who was dismayed to see contemporary writers such as David Eggers, Malcolm Gladwell, and Barbara Ehrenreich on his daughter’s reading list, with Tobias Wolff’s 1989 autobiography “This Boy’s Life, as the oldest book assigned.

I must admit I have not read anything by Eggers, but I have heard great things about his bestselling book “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius”.  I am a big fan of Gladwell’s work, and I have enjoyed, and learned a lot, from reading a couple of Ehrenrich’s books. So while I am certainly no literary critic, I don’t see a problem with any of these three authors. I am not familiar with “This Boy’s Life”, and so I can’t really comment on that one.

The father asked the author of the editorial, Gilbert Sewall, to come up with a better summer reading list. Here is that list:

  • “The Eruption of Vesuvius” (79 A.D.), Pliny the Younger.
  • Declaration of Independence (1776), Thomas Jefferson.
  • “Self-Reliance” (1841), Ralph Waldo Emerson.
  • “The Souls of Black Folk” (1903), W.E.B. DuBois.
  • “The Odyssey” (c. 750 B.C.), Homer.
  • “Aesop’s Fables” (c. 600 B.C.).
  • “Georgics” (c. 30 B.C.), Virgil.
  • “Metamorphoses” (c. 8 A.D.), Ovid. Icarus
  • “Canticle of the Sun” (1224), St. Francis.
  • “Romeo and Juliet” (1594), William Shakespeare.
  • “Gulliver’s Travels” (1726), Jonathan Swift.
  • “Candide” (1759), Voltaire.
  • “The Fountains” (1766), Samuel Johnson.
  • “Ozymandias” (1819), Percy Bysshe Shelley.
  • “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” (1834), Samuel Taylor Coleridge.
  • “The Cask of Amontillado” (1846), Edgar Allan Poe.
  • “Animal Farm” (1945), George Orwell

First off, that’s a really ambitious list for one summer! Second, I have not heard of most of the books on the list, so once again it seems like I’ve got to up my game. The book by Emerson is the one that seems most appealing to me, so I think I will put it on my summer reading list. Third, it’s interesting to read the comments to the article since there are several other books suggested.

The article got me thinking what books I might include on a summer reading list for high school students. So here is my list, a baker’s dozen, in no particular order, but separated by fiction and non-fiction. I’m guessing that most high school summer reading lists are almost all books of literature, but I wanted to include some non-fiction books on the list as well. The non-fiction books I’ve chosen are on topics that are not likely taught in high school, but I think the information contained in the books is quite useful, and the earlier that individuals are exposed to such information, the better.

  • To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
  • The Caine Mutiny, Herman Wouk
  • Confederacy of Dunces, John Kennedy Toole
  • Don Quixote, Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra
  • The Count of Monte Cristo, Alexandre Dumas
  • A Separate Peace, John Knowles
  • The Rosie Project, Graeme Simsion
  • Shantaram, Gregory David Roberts
  • The Water is Wide, Pat Conroy
  • The Food Revolution, John Robbins
  • The Icarus Deception, Seth Godin
  • Money: Master the Game, Tony Robbins
  • The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens and The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky are two books I hope to read in the near future, since I have heard that each is a classic. It may be that once I finish those books, I will need to revise my list.

I also know that there are several other classic works of literature that I have not yet read,  but I view that as a good thing.

In the meantime, I’d be curious as to what books you would include on a high school summer reading list.

Door Etiquette: Wawa and My Wife

crutches christening

My students went on a little field trip yesterday.

As part of Villanova’s Summer Business Institute, which enables non-business students to earn a business minor in one summer, we focus on one company throughout the program to use as a point of reference for many of the concepts. This summer, the company is Wawa, a regional chain of convenience stores. (Actually the BEST chain of convenience stores in the country!)

Prior to the start of the program, the students were given their first assignment – to read ‘The Wawa Way‘, a book about the history of Wawa as well as the key factors that led to its phenomenal success. Their next assignment, which took place yesterday, was a field trip to various Wawas to gather some market research data.

One of the pieces of data they were asked to track was how often a customer held the door for the next customer. While that may seem like an unusual item to monitor, the reason for doing so is that in the book about Wawa, the authors made a point that such behavior is something that makes Wawa different.

When I first read that I didn’t think it was anything special, most people hold the door for the next customer coming in to a store, or the post office, or an office building. I thought it was an unusual item for Wawa to claim makes them  different.

However, this past year, we were fortunate to have the CEO come to our business school and talk to our freshmen class, and he brought up the story of the door holding. Wawa has actually measured how long the average customer holds the door for someone, and they noticed at Wawa it was significantly longer than how long people held the door for someone at other establishments. So apparently it is something that differentiates Wawa from other businesses.

So during class today I asked the students about their field trip experience, and many of the students commented on the door holding behavior. Some students said that it didn’t seem any different than what they observe elsewhere, others said that it appeared as if the customers not only held the door for other customers, but seemed happy to do so. On student, who is from Boston, commented that he was surprised at how friendly people were, particularly compared to people from Boston. Another student from Texas was also impressed with how courteous the customers were. And Wawa is a Philadelphia company, a city that often doesn’t have the greatest rep for people behavior.

As part of this discussion, I noted the inherent value in treating people with respect, and that somehow Wawa has been able to create a culture where that type of behavior is the norm.

I then told the students that I was surprised about what a big deal the whole Wawa door thing seems to be, since holding the door for the next person is just something that was ingrained into me as a child by my parents and teachers.

Call me old-fashioned, but I still open the door for my wife when she is getting in the passenger seat of our car. It started when we first met each other, and 37 years later, it’s just something that comes naturally, like holding the door for someone at Wawa.

Unfortunately, even the best of intentions don’t always work out the way we hope.

You may be wondering what the picture at the top of the post has to do with anything that’s been written so far. Well, that is a picture from the baptism of our second child. If you look closely at the picture, you will notice that my wife is using crutches.

The reason she is using the crutches is that two nights before the baptism we had gone out shopping. When we were finished shopping, we walked back to our car and I opened the door for her. Unfortunately, I shut the door before her foot was all the way in. To make along story short, after a trip to the E.R., it was determined that her foot was broken and she would need to wear a small bandage on her foot, along with using crutches. Fortunately she was a good sport about it, and soon after we were making jokes about the incident.

So while things may not always turn out the way we imagine, it’s still always better to err on the side of being kind.

I’ve also noticed that 30 years later, my wife is much quicker about getting her feet inside the car…

The World of Freelancing and Outsourcing


While freelancing has been around for a long time, the Internet, like it has done for many things, has opened up a world of opportunities for freelancing, both in terms of those looking to do freelance work, or those looking to hire a freelancer.

Hand in hand with the notion of freelancing is outsourcing, particularly your personal tasks. Tim Ferriss, author of the wildly popular 4-Hour Workweek, helped popularize the notion of personal outsourcing. Here’s an interesting New York Times article about Tim and the idea of personal outsourcing.

Since that time, numerous applications have been developed to support freelancing and outsourcing. I thought it would be personally useful  to have a list of such sites in one place, so I thought why not share the list with others, and so that’s what I am doing here.

  • Elance – with Elance you can either hire a freelancer or provide services as a freelancer. It’s quite eye-opening to browse through the many categories and look at the variety os skills that people provide, from around the globe. The site provides ratings on the freelancers as well as how many jobs the freelancer has completed through Elance. Note that i 2014, Elance merged with oDesk and in 2015, oDesk was relaunched as Upwork.
  • Get Friday – is your personal virtual assistant. We will help you offload your time consuming and tedious tasks, leaving you to pursue more important things. GetFriday can undertake any task, business or personal, that does not require our physical presence.
  • Fiverr – is the world’s largest marketplace for services starting at $5. A service offered on Fiverr is called a Gig®. Gigs on Fiverr are offered for a fixed, base price of $5 (also referred to as one Fiverr). Whenever you see ‘I will _for $5″, it means the seller is offering a Gig for the fixed price of $5. Like Elance, people can be either buyers or sellers on Fiverr.
  • TaskRabbit – just tell TaskRabbit what task you want done, from home cleaning to furniture assembly to waiting in line, and it connects you with local “taskers” who are fully vetted and insured and will complete the task for you.
  • 99designs – is the world’s largest online graphic design marketplace. For more than seven years we’ve been connecting passionate designers with customers who need quality, affordable design services. If you are looking for a new logo for your business or need help designing a new t-shirt, 99designs is your place to go. You submit your design requirements, and then 99designs sends your proposal out for bid, and then you get to choose which one you are going to go with.
  • freelancer – Post any project you need done and receive bids from our talented freelancers within minutes. Compare their proposals and price, then select the best freelancer to complete your project. Like other services above, freelancer offers the individuals to either hire a freelancer or to be the freelancer.

There are many other sites out there, such as peopleperhour and guru, but odds are if you are looking for help completing a task, you will find the right person on one of these sites. On the other hand, if you  are looking to share your talents as a freelancer, then the above sites will put you in front of millions of users who may need your services.

If you would like to read another interesting article about the future of freelancing (from 2011), here is a U.S. News and World Report story.

One of the takeaways is that there is no excuse now for not getting things done. If you are an entrepreneur whose skill set is in product design, then you don’t have to worry about how to best use social media to market your product. You can use one of these sites to find just the right person to help you get things done. And if you are looking for a way to transition out of a full-time job and be your own boss, then these sites offer you the opportunity to provide your services and to build up your client base.

I’d like to see if I could sell one of my accounting lectures for $5, but I’m afraid I’ll find out that my knowledge isn’t worth that much…



Some Old (Really Old) Commercials – Are We Any Better Off Today Than 1958?


While I was looking for a commercial to feature on today’s blog, I decided to take a look back at some really old commercials. While there were a lot of web sites that offered a look back at such commercials, one of the best sites I found was the Internet Archive, which can be found here. A word of warning, it can become addictive looking at some of these commercials.

The two I decided to use here are both from the 1958; one is a commercial about typewriters, and the other is about airline travel.

Here is the typewriter commercial:

“Isn’t it wonderful how the Remington Quiet-Riter helps stimulate interest in the young people, brings out the best in them.” This typewriter has the Fab 4! It’s only $1.50 per week! And it’s portable!

Wow, how times have certainly changed. Can you imagine asking a student today to type a term paper on this thing?

However, as the next commercial shows, changes are not always for the better.

Here’ a commercial for Pan Am.

Again, wow, how times have changed. Forget about getting lobster and other full-course meals for dinner, forget about all that room (did you notice the size of the restrooms?!), forget about the flight attendant walking around serving hors d’oeuvres, forget about being able to smoke (thank heaven).  Plus look how nicely everyone is dressed. I also read that Braniff International used to require its flight attendants to change their outfits three times during a routine flight.

The two commercials offer an interesting contrast at how progress isn’t always for the better. I’m thrilled that we’ve moved beyond 16 pound portable typewriters to smartphones and tablets, but I long for the days of a kinder, gentler approach to air travel. Unfortunately, I think that plane has already left the tarmac.

Kindness in Action


Today was one of the best experiences I have ever had with a doctor, and I wasn’t even the patient.

My mom is 89 years old, and getting somewhat frail and forgetful. Another doctor had suggested that perhaps a geriatrician would be the most appropriate type of doctor to monitor her health and to coordinate her care among the many physicians that she sees.

So we scheduled an appointment a few weeks ago, and today the big day finally arrived.

The geriatrician was everything you would want in a doctor. She was kind, compassionate, knowledgable (before she became a doctor she was a pharmacist), and clearly had my mom’s best interests at heart.

The doctor spent over an hour with us, and she never seemed rushed. She wanted to learn as much as she could about my mom both as a person and as a patient so that she could create a plan of care that would work best.

I told her that some of the doctors that my mom sees just seem to go immediately to medication as the solution; she said she likes to get people off of as much medication as she can. Such a response scored huge points with me!

While I fully recognize the wonders that drugs can do, I also think that sometimes prescribing medications is the easiest approach for the doctor, but not always the best treatment for the patient. I would prefer that doctors try a non-drug approach first, perhaps through diet and exercise. Plus it’s hard to predict what some of the interactions might be when you are taking as many pills a day as my mom.

When the appointment was over, I left the geriatrician’s office wishing this woman could be my doctor!

But the great day did not end there.

While we were leaving, we passed an optician’s office on the ground floor of the medical building. I went in and explained how my mom’s glasses were quite loose, and were falling off whenever she would look down. The optician said she would be glad to help, and in a few minutes she had my mom’s glasses fixed and cleaned. I asked her how much it would cost, and she said “no charge, I was happy to fix them for her.”

After I left, I thought about what I had just experienced and realized that the bond that linked the two events together was kindness. The phrase “no one cares how much you know until they know how much you care” fit both situations perfectly.

I also realized that another common bond was that in each case it was a woman who was taking care of my mom. While I don’t think women have a monopoly on kindness in health care, it may be that they are more likely to initially approach a patient from such a perspective.

Perhaps “The Power of Nice: How to Conquer the Business World With Kindness” by Linda Kaplan Thaler and Robin Koval should be required reading for all health care professionals; heck it should be required reading for everyone.

Find a Leaking Ship


This is the tenth in a collection of newspaper ads from United Technologies that appeared in the Wall Street Journal from the late 1970s through the early 1980s. The link to the original ad is at the end of this post.

The ad this week is a timely one for Memorial Day.

The ad notes how America went from its greatest naval loss at Pearl Harbor to its greatest naval victory at Midway in just six months. A turnaround that changed the course of history.

The ad encourages us to be on the lookout for all types of struggling organizations, whether it is a failing business, a scout troop, a church choir, a public school, or a city council. We may have the right skill set, access to capital, new idea, or simply the willingness to serve that could “plug the leaks” at these organizations.

As the ad points out, your effort can make a difference.

Here is the United Technologies ad that inspired this post.

I also want to express my gratitude to those who have given their lives fighting for our country. Your efforts made a difference.

Red Nose Day and Childhood Poverty


Somehow I missed this one; this past Thursday, May 21 was the first Red Nose Day.

Red Nose Day is a campaign dedicated to raising money for children and young people living in poverty by simply having fun and making people laugh. The inaugural Red Nose Day will be held in the US on May 21st, 2015. People across the country will come together to have fun and raise funds and awareness.

While it is too late to participate in any of the events for this year’s Red Nose Day, it’s not too late to donate to the cause or to raise the level of awareness.

According to the  American Psychological Associationresearch has demonstrated that living in poverty has a wide range of negative effects on the physical and mental health and wellbeing of our nation’s children. Poverty impacts children within their various contexts at home, in school, and in their neighborhoods and communities.

  • Poverty is linked with negative conditions such as substandard housing, homelessness, inadequate nutrition and food insecurity, inadequate child care, lack of access to health care, unsafe neighborhoods, and underresourced schools which adversely impact our nation’s children.
  • Poorer children and teens are also at greater risk for several negative outcomes such as poor academic achievement, school dropout, abuse and neglect, behavioral and socioemotional problems, physical health problems, and developmental delays.
  • These effects are compounded by the barriers children and their families encounter when trying to access physical and mental health care.
  • Economists estimate that child poverty costs an estimated $500 billion a year to the U.S. economy; reduces productivity and economic output by 1.3 percent of GDP; raises crime and increases health expenditure.

I am thrilled that something like the Red Nose Campaign has been started to help address these issues. I just hope it is as successful as the Ice Bucket Challenge.

The Ice Bucket Challenge raised more than $200 million for ALS, which affects approximately 20,000 Americans per year (info from the ALS web site). That works out to $10,000 per person.

U.S. Census data reveals that from 2009 to 2010, the total number of children under age 18 living in poverty increased to 16.4 million from 15.5 million. Child poverty rose from 20.7 percent in 2009, to 22 percent in 2010, and this is the highest it has ever been since 1993. If the Red Nose Campaign has the same success as the Ice Bucket Challenge, that would result in $160 BILLION raised to help fight childhood poverty. Imagine the impact such money could have.

I’m looking forward to wearing my red nose next year, a leftover from my days when I used to dress up as a clown for birthday parties for friends and neighbors.

Never underestimate the power of a laugh or just a simple smile; it could help lift a child out of poverty.

Some Keys to Longevity


Today’s Wall Street Journal had an article written by Dan Buettner, author of “The Blue Zones Solution: Eating and Living Like the World’s Healthiest People“.

Buettner found that the keys to longevity in these blue zones were diet, community, family, and exercise.

The cornerstone of every longevity diet in the world was the humble bean. One five-country study showed that beans were the only food that predicted a longer life—for each 20-gram serving (about two tablespoons) eaten a day, the chance of dying dropped by 8%. Dollar for dollar, most beans deliver more protein than beef. More important, beans’ high fiber content serves as a gut compost of sorts, enabling healthy bacteria to thrive.

Life in these communities is very social, and family is at the heart of the social network. In the U.S., you’re likely to live eight years longer if you have a strong social network, compared to someone who is lonely.

When it comes to exercise, it’s just a natural part of the day. Buettner found that people living in blue zones were engaged in physical activity every 20 minutes. Such activity burned 500 to 1,000 calories a day.

Buettner concludes that successful strategies to avoid disease and yield longevity require decades of adherence—or entire lifetimes. He recommends that for enduring gains in health in the U.S., we should shift our tactics away from trying to change individual behavior to optimizing our surroundings. We should make healthy choices not only easy, but also sometimes unavoidable—so that longevity “just happens” to Americans.

People in the blue zones lived in cultures that made the right decisions for them. They lived in places where fresh vegetables were cheap and accessible. Their kitchens were set up so that making healthy food was quick and easy. Almost every trip to the store, a friend’s house, work or school occasioned a walk.

So it seems that the key to longevity is going for walks with family and friends, after eating some beans. Just don’t walk behind them…

The Start of My Bucket List


A few years ago I read the book “The Business of Happiness: 6 Secrets to Extraordinary Success in Life and Work” by Ted Leonsis. Leonsis was an early executive at AOL, and is currently the owner of the Washington Capitals ice hockey team and the Washington Wizards basketball team.

What I found so fascinating about the book, and Leonsis, was his 101 List, a compilation of his personal and professional goals. As of January 2013, Leonsis has managed to achieve a remarkable 74 items on the list, some of which are quite ambitious.

I also recently finished reading “Winners Dream: A Journey from Corner Store to Corner Office” by Bill McDermott. McDermott, the CEO of software company SAP, also listed a set of goals he would like to accomplish in his life, and has done quite well in pursuing those goals

So I thought, maybe there is something about creating a list of life goals, a bucket list if you will. Perhaps having such a list will make it more likely that I will achieve the items on the list.

So I thought I would create my own bucket list, broken into various categories like Ted Leonsis has done. His categories were:

  • Family Matters
  • Financial Matters
  • Possessions
  • Charities
  • Sports
  • Travel Stuff

At this point, the categories I would have on my bucket list would be the following:

  • Family Matters
  • Financial Matters
  • Charities
  • Travel
  • People
  • Personal

Admittedly, at this point I have not given too much thought to specific items in many of these categories. This is a work in progress which I hope to refine over the next month or so.

One area that is different than Leonsis’ list is the inclusion of “people” which will be a list of people I would like to not only meet someday, but to have a brief (or not so brief) conversation with. Since this is probably the easiest one to start with in terms of coming up with specific items, let me begin my bucket list by listing the people I would like to have a cup of coffee with.

20 People I would Like to Have a Cup of Coffee With (in no particular order, just whenever the opportunity presents itself)

  • Bruce Springsteen
  • Bill Gates
  • Seth Godin
  • Woody Allen
  • Ellen Degeneres
  • Oprah Winfrey
  • Tony Robbins
  • Barack Obama
  • Bill Clinton
  • Elon Musk
  • Mark Zuckerberg
  • Jon Stewart
  • Tim Cook
  • Cory Booker
  • Anna Kendrick
  • J.K. Rowling
  • John Mackey (Co-Founder and Co-CEO of Whole Foods)
  • Steve Wozniak
  • Ted Leonsis
  • Jeff Bezos

If I were putting this list together five years ago, there is no doubt that Steve Jobs would have been at the top of the list.

I guess that’s one of benefits of having such a list, it starts the plan in motion before it’s potentially too late. Not that I would have necessarily met Jobs even if I had a bucket list five years ago, but having it written down as a specific goal certainly couldn’t have hurt.

So let the coffee meetings begin, I’ll gladly pay.