Great moments of our trip to Ireland

The plan was to travel from London Euston to Crewe, switch trains to Holyhead in Wales and cross the Irish Channel by boat. The plan worked, expect for the cancellation of the Crewe to Holyhead train which was impossible due to a rail strike. No problem, I’ll write the railway and get a refund, I assured my son. The railway immediately acknowledged my complaint by email, detailing the arduous process I would need to go thru to get a refund, and that due to an overload of complaints, it “may take a few months”.  Stuff it- we took a 250 pound cab.

Arriving at Dublin Harbour, we prepared our passports, but in the end, we just walked thru because the passport booth was unmanned. We were told that “this happens at times; we are a bit laid back”. There was no cab or bus at Dublin Harbour, but a friendly lady “who had married an Irishman” took us in her cab using the taxi app that we had not yet installed. My son subsequently installed the app. I did not.

The car rental was the last hassle before the brilliant trip began. Due to someone’s error, the car we ordered was unavailable-we were a no show; at least we were registered as such. We were there, but we were registered as a no-show. This reminded me of a scene from Seinfeld. There WAS a car, but it was a downgraded version, that is, smaller than we ordered. We agreed to take it, BUT the system did not allow the clerk to downgrade us. There was no way to upgrade us either, because we ordered a large car due to my height. So, the system blocked any solution. The attendant told us that this was the ultimate impact of software on Irish informality, and promised us a solution. She called someone, spoke for an hour, got us the car that we had ordered which suddenly appeared (as well as a 200 Euro rebate), and off we went.

From Dublin to Waterport to Cohb to Cork to Killarny to the Ring of Kerry to Doolin to the Cliffs of Moher to Westport to Galway and back to Dublin went we. Slowly over two weeks, laughing all the way about our idiosyncracies, we discovered the beautiful Republic of Ireland. The easy-going nature of the people, the beauty of the landscape, their suffering, their history, their struggle with the British, their informality, the ubiiqutous green colours, the coastal roads, the sheep and cows, their intricate beautiful language in which they have pride. We listened to Irish songs on Spotify, went to listen to Irish music in pubs at night, drank beer, and were never deterred by the constant rain and piercing cold as we ploughed thru this gem of a country.

There is nothing so rewarding and bonding as a father and son trip, except a father and son trip to Ireland.  Thanks to Amir for making this experience of a lifetime, and for driving properly “on the wrong side of the road”.









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Face Saving and Maintaining a Façade: The Difference


A few months ago, I decided to revive my French language skills, which over the years had rusted away. During Expo 67 (Montreal) at the world’s fair, I worked at The Human Cell Pavilion (aka la cellule humaine) with an Australian named Karen and a Quebecois named Arthur. The three of us spoke only in French; Arthur really got a kick out of making fun of our “over-correct” grammar and our avoidance of using any English even when Karen and I spoke to each other.

When I decided to “revitalize” my French, I found it was in a sorry state. I could not string a sentence together and often found myself translating directly all the time from Hebrew or English, which is impossible because French is so different. Finally after about 20 lessons, I am pretty fluent.

However, I am very ambitious and it is not enough for me just to be able to express myself. I want to be able to express complex ideas, so I choose difficult subjects to discuss with my French tutor.

Today I chose to explain “face saving”. My tutor knew nothing about the term; she teaches languages. C’est tout. After my explanation, she asked me what the difference is between maintaining a façade and face saving. Good question. I hope I gave a good answer.

The word façade implies that underneath the veneer of appearance, there lies an unpleasant reality. As in, her façade gave no hint of her anguish. Façade also implies an outer layer which hides something deeper underneath it-perhaps something more sinister or unpleasant.

This is not the case with face saving, at least as I understand it. Face saving means that relationship maintaining is more important than the “truth”. The truth is irrelevant because it undermines something which is far more valuable, that is the centrality of the harmony of close relationships.

When a Chinese gay filmmaker returns from the USA to visit his family and decides not tell his grandfather that he is gay, he is not maintaining a facade. He is asserting that harmony of his relationship with a very old man is far more important that authenticity and other values which pretend, incorrectly in his world view, to be in centre stage.

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Simple Guidelines to an Organizations Pathology-and the proper treatment

Poodles tend to have weak rear legs.

Older people get cataracts, shingles and what not. Kids get measles, mumps and chicken pocks.

Boxers often get dementia. Tennis players get bad elbows.

People who sit next to a computer all day get various aches and pains.

All of the above “come with the territory”, and are almost unavoidable.

Similarly, different types of organizations have different pathologies. The pathologies are not avoidable because they come with the territory of being what they are.

In this post, I shall provide a short taxonomy of pathologies I have encountered in my long career in 4 types of organizations, and suggest how to best deal with them.

  1. Bureaucracies eventually ossify to the point that that they work against doing their own job. Ministries of Housing slow down building of new houses; Welfare Ministries keep people poor. Ministries of Defense go to war. Income Tax creates a black market. My approach to working with bureaucracies has always been to work with empowered project teams from different functions to create a counter force to the functional structure and logic of bureaucracies.
  2. Start Ups create new technology, but they do not change human nature. Start-up founders are often extremely arrogant, know-it-all, and believe that they are so special that their shit smells like a rose. They have little trust in consultants, until things get really bad. My approach with start-ups has generally been to try and create around the founder more common sense. The founder is often not part of the solution, but the problem itself which needs to be counterbalanced.
  3. Organizations which are growing quickly often believe that they are doing everything right, and that is why they are growing quickly. This is very often total nonsense. They are growing because in the past, smart decisions were made. In the present, they are creating the reasons why they will stop growing. My approach to working with organizations which are growing quickly is to work on mitigating the damage to the “critical core” (people, ideas, behaviours) that made the company great; it is these very people who lose their power and influence when the company grows quickly.
  4. Organizations of about 20-30 people have a problem of infrastructure. They are no longer a small company, but they cannot afford to create “staff” roles. As such, everything slows down and it becomes very hard to do simple things. My approach has always been to focus on hiring an over qualified individual who have vast experience in companies of this size. Hires from start-ups or very small companies have a hard trouble adapting to companies of this size.

One final comment. OD consultants must have domain experience. If you have done OD in family businesses, it does not “count” as relevant experience for any other type of organization.


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Dad takes me to a Montreal Expo’s Game

“It’s a really slow and boring game, but let’s go anyway,” my Dad suggested in the first season (1969) that the Montreal Expos entered the  American baseball league. Dad added, “we can get ourselves a chien-chaud (hot dog) and a few Labatts (beer); I’ll doze off and you can wake me up when it’s over”.

Dad loved sports. He had played professional football after the airforce and he was an avid skier and golfer as well. Baseball was not his cup of tea but joking around with me about  baseball gave him a kick.

Dad knew no French at all (ok, he knew 30 words) but he knew that I loved French. He knew how interested I was in what words would be used to translate the various roles in baseball, and how the PA announcer would (mis) pronounce different names.

At Stade Parc Jarry (Jarry Park) he parked his Pontiac, lite up yet another Export A, and we tried to make our way to the seats. Dad was hard of hearing and the attendants who gave directions at Jarry spoke only French. Dad kept asking me ‘what did he say”? I laughed at that; he didn’t. “What a sick sense of humour you have, boy”.

A few things stand out in my memory from that game. First and foremost, I ate 3 hot dogs, chips (frites), popcorn and ice cream. Another memory: the the PA announced the name of the next batter:  “l’arret-court, the short stop, John Bocabellllllllllllllla.” I was ecstatic. The French word for short stop and the Bocabella name dragged out.

Later on in the game, a batter came up whose family had originally come from Quebec, although he himself was playing for an American team (LA Dodgers) , having been born and bred in the US. His name was James Kenneth LeFebvre. The announcer said “Second base, deuxieme base, Jim Le-Feeber, Jacques LeFebvre”. The crowd went wild.

On the way home, Dad asked me if I wanted to drop into the Dairy Queen for a sundae. Of course, he knew that I had eaten like a pig. After he asked me that question, he laughed for a long time, while smoking yet another Export A.

When we got out of the car Dad said, “Jesus what a f-cking back ache I have. I prefer watching boxing from bed, to be honest.”

Oh how I miss him.

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Indicators that an Internal OD function is not properly focused

In a previous post, I described internal OD departments as chicken shit brigades, a pejorative term that I do not regret using.

I reread the post and instead of updating it which would force readers to re-read it and find the differences, I have put together a case study that illustrates a few symptoms indicating that an internal OD function needs to be refocused, to use a polite term.

  • CEO Stan stated in his yearly goals that middle management needs to assume ownership of problems, and not escalate almost every issue to senior management for resolution.The level of teamwork and alignment between Stan’s direct reports is non-existent. Stan over-delegates to his direct staff and they have become warlords, who micromanage middle management.

Stan’s HR VP, Gloria, has an internal OD department, which coordinates training programs, allots parking space, coordinates the health/wellness project and leads the Early Bird Retirement Plan for staff fired before the age of 40. Gloria is about to present how internal OD will support the changes Stan strives for. Here is her plan.

  • Middle managers will each be coached on how to assume responsibility. 2 hours per month. 5 external independant coaches will be commissioned from the National Coaching Institute.
  • The Middle Management Steering Committee will put together a mission statement and critical success factors. The committee will be composed of the top 3 middle managers, the HR director and the internal OD function.
  • Middle Managers will get a monthly lecture, on Zoom, on empowerment, out-of-the-box thinking and authenticity.

Internal OD departments which focus on people, not processes or systems, reduce the scope of the real issue to get senior management off the hook. They serve as a mild sedative which transfers blame and delays a solution. At best, they are often irrelevant. At worst, they make solving the problem much harder by delaying system changes until a crisis mode develops.

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