History of the Modern Middle East–Lecture 4: The Military-Industrial Complex of the West vs. the Military-Commercial Complex of the Islamic World (part 2)

The original title of Prof. Richard Bulliet’s lecture given on January 29, 2009 at Columbia University lecture is “Inequality” vs. “Difference”, but I found after listening to his lecture, that the above title more specifically addresses the contents.   In this post, he talks about the growing dissatisfaction in historical circles of the notion of the “decline of the Ottoman Empire” or “the decline of the Middle East”, and refers to Edward Said’s debunking of many of the ideologically driven critiques of Islam and the societies of the Middle East.

Then he lays the groundwork for talking about the inequality between  modern EuroAmerica and the Middle East and North Africa by showing how society evolved in different ways in those regions.   He starts with the notion of aristocracy in Europe, which does not exist in the Middle East.  

4. The Decline of the Ottoman Empire

Now the debate over the decline of the Ottoman Empire or the decline of the Middle East really moves along a different track. People who have focused on the issue of decline and who have provoked a strong reaction have been less interested in material measures like livestock or population than they have in the structure of government. In their view, the notion of government by a Shah or a Sultan appears to be primitive and unworkable, whereas government by a Constitution Monarch and a Parliament seems to be wonderful and advanced. They are focused on the political inadequacy and/or the problems you have with Islam. Some people will argue concretely that Islam as a religion is deemed incompatible with aspects of modernity, with the notion of individualism, and the notion of science, and it is deeply imbued with the notion of fatalism, that is to say, throwing everything into the hands of God and therefore not doing any work. You know, “I have these 10 acres of land, but I think this year I’m just going to kind of sit and watch the sun rise and the sun set and lot God grow the damn crop (laughter). It almost reaches that level of ascribing to a religious outlook a totally unproductive and backward, superstitious way of dealing with the world.

Ever since the work of Prof. Bulliet’s late colleague Edward Said, it is pretty much universally accepted that these conjectures are ideological and have little basis in any sort of close examination of history. They reflect a tendentious and insupportable interpretation of what Islam is about, and they reflect a profound ignorance of the actual structure and operation of government and the financial order in the Middle East.

5. The Great Divergence re-examined

So if you throw out all of that, then we still get to the question of “what was different”? In a way you can say, it should probably be examined in three different parties

  • one party consisting of Northwest Europe,
  • one party consisting of the Ottoman Empire–that is to say, the countries of Southeast Europe, Turkey and the Arab world extending into North Africa, and
  • one party consisting of the Russian Empire.

If the Europeans are by certain measures substantially better off than the Ottoman segment, by those same measures they are substantially better off than the Russian segment. In many ways, if you compared the Russian segment and the Ottoman segment, the Russian segment appeared to be more in need of development, of commercial and intellectual evolution. But by the time Modern Middle Eastern history came into being as a topic, Russian had become a great competitor. You could no longer say Russia and the Middle East were primitive, underdeveloped lands and therefore talk about Western Europe vs. these other places. What had happened instead was that Russia had become an advanced society, a very productive society, but one very differently structured politically. You also the interesting comparison of Japan, which had also gone from being a peripheral land disconnected from the European perspective to being a country competitive with the great powers in the world.

So if inequality existed, then to what do you attribute it? And is that attribution so contingent that it can almost change overnight if you have a different way of doing things, in the way that Russia changes after the Bolshevik revolution.

What did the inequality involve? There are probably as many perspectives on this question as there are lectures available in this course. Prof. Bulliet will not give an exhaustive list, but will point out some of the characteristics that contribute to it in different ways that may not necessarily be obvious.

6. Aristocracy and the Caste System in Europe

Aristocracy is a characteristic of Europe. An aristocracy is ultimately rooted in the societies that go back to the spread of people speaking Indo-European languages, in other words back to around 1500 BC or thereabouts, as people spread from northern India across to the British Isles. It is very clear in the surviving literature and vocabulary of these languages, that these societies have a caste of warriors. In India originally this was called the Kshatriya class; they also have a class of priests that are called the Brahmins in India, and then they have other classes of people. In India, you would call them the Vaisyas¸ the commercial/artisan class, the shudras, more or less an agricultural class.

Fig. 1. The Four Castes of India (from Guide to the Essentials of World History, by Prentice Hall)

It is these top two, the Brahmins and the Kshatriyas, which seem to be the most common: a religious, priestly elite and a warrior elite. These are the two segments of the society that dominate.

They dominate either through monopoly over religious ritual or a monopoly over military activity. The king comes from the Kshatriya class. You might say this is simply the way societies are organized, but it isn’t. If you go into ancient Egyptian society, the king is not part of the warrior class, he is a living god, and to distinguish the Pharaoh from the religious sphere and to put him strictly in the military sphere simply doesn’t work. If you go back to ancient Mesopotamia, the king plays a very important religious role and his military role is less singular. Leaving all of this ancient stuff aside, the result is that in many if not all of the societies that come from this cultural background, you have a hereditary notion of military service and military duty, and this becomes directly associated with the notion of governance. The king perhaps originally was the first among equals of warriors, but then becomes the person who is in a position to denote someone as a warrior at various levels: they may become a Duke or an Earl or a Margrave or a Herzog or whatever nobility the imagination might think of. The king is able to distribute these honors that are closely related to the control of land.

When you get into the 19th century, and to a lesser degree before that, you begin to have an increasing importance on nobles who come out of the administrative service of the state, but this sort of ennobling of administrators relates to the growth of centralized kingdoms and is really overshadowed certainly before the late 19th century by the hereditary nobility based on possession of land.

NOTE from 4squareviews.com:

Prof. Bulliet’s remarks made me realize that even within the Indo-European societies, there has been a difference the aristocracy evolved in Europe and the way its original form was in India. In India (see Fig. 1 above), the Brahmins or religious/priestly caste is the top class, whereas in Europe, the warrior class is at the top. You can tell that by looking at a deck of playing cards. What is the order or ranking of the suits

1.   spades (♠ represents the warrior class because it derives from a symbol for a sword)

2.  hearts (♥ represents the religious class because it is the symbol for a man’s heart or conscience, which in Protestant terms was the key to religious fervor.  This was changed from its original medieval form that you see in a suit of Tarot cards of CUPS or CHALICES which was the symbol of the sacraments of the Catholic church)

3.  diamonds (♦ represents the merchant class—an obvious symbol of wealth)

4.  clubs (♣ represents the clubs or batons of the agricultural class)

These rankings replicate the aristocratic system of Europe as opposed to the original Indian formation that would have had the hearts or religious class as the top ranking.

Fig. 2 Suits of playing cards

The next post covers the evolution of societies in Middle East, which do not have this tradition of aristocracy that existed in Europe.

History of the Modern Middle East–Lecture 4: The Military-Industrial Complex of the West vs. the Military-Commercial Complex of the Islamic World (part 1)

The original title of Prof. Richard Bulliet’s lecture given on January 29, 2009 at Columbia University lecture is “Inequality” vs. “Difference”, but I found after listening to his lecture, that the above title more specifically addresses the contents.  

Please note that since this is essentially an edited transcript of Prof. Bulliet’s lecture, it is difficult to catch the ironic tone that he sometimes uses to satirize an opinion which he himself does not believe, but you can sometimes note the reaction to it in the laughter he evokes from his students who are listening to the lecture.

1. The concept of global inequality and the history of the Modern Middle East

The concept of inequality on a world-wide scale has a connection with the notion of the Modern Middle East in that the people who were inventing the notion of the Modern Middle East had won World War II. Defeating fascism was an incredibly thrilling thing. It made people in the West think that they were able to do anything. It is not surprising that in the early post-World War II years you get Western scholars, particularly American scholars, who begin to come up with theories about the entire world and how it operates.

It was the heyday of sociology, the heyday of development theory, and so forth and so on. The notion that there was a fundamental inequality between what comes to be called the underdeveloped world and the West became a centerpiece for thinking about Modern Middle Eastern history, with of course that nuisance of the Soviet Union and its satellites hanging around to keep things from being totally peaceful.

2. World-system theory

It raises the question of “when did this inequality begin and why?” Some people address it explicitly. One of the best of the recent books on the history of the Modern Middle East is by a scholar at UCLA named James Gelvin called ingeniously The Modern Middle East: A History and he starts out with the question of this inequality. He says there are many reasons that might have contributed to it, and then he proceeds to focus his book on one, which was the development of economic relations and particularly the formation of what is called “world systems theory.” In world systems theory, the entire globe in earlier centuries is divided into a number of great empires, but you can have a number of great empires with each having its own particular geographical territory, economic structure, structure of domination, etc., but they tend to be very large political units that have more or less limited trade relations. They tend to be focused on the internal of each unit.

This “Modern World-System”, which is the theory of Immanuel Wallerstein at the State University of New York at Binghamton, states that the congeries of world empires give way at a certain point in time to a certain world-system in which you have a plurality of states, but an increasing unity of economy. You draw the world’s economy into a single system, and the need or the practicality of having separate large empires diminishes, so the empires gradually dissolve or are destroyed. Meanwhile, the economy becomes increasingly unified on a global scale, and within that global scale, there are winners and losers.

3. Dependency Theory

Northwest Europe becomes the great center and the other areas become to various degrees a periphery. It is in the nature of the dominance of the center over the periphery that the dominance goes beyond simply having manufacturing in the center and drawing upon the periphery for raw materials. It also goes into the idea of the center actively suppressing improvements in, say, manufacturing or intellectual production in the periphery in order to engender a deeper inequality in which the intellectual, commercial, industrial and political leadership will be the best in the center and the periphery will become dependent on the center.

Prof. Bulliet does not happen to find the world-systems theory terribly convincing, and he doesn’t think that it offers any peculiar advantage for the kind of issues he wants to talk about in his lectures. Gelvin starts out by saying that many reasons have been postulated for why this inequality took place between Europe and elsewhere. He does not specify that it was only part of Europe, and certainly does not have a larger scope that would encompass Europe, the Middle East and North Africa within a single geographic and cultural unit which would have been Prof. Bulliet’s preference.

4. The Debate over Global Inequality

There is another book that is worth looking at, and that is the one by Kenneth Pomeranz called The Great Divergence. It looks at the postulated inequality of Europe being so much in advance of everyone else, and makes comparisons with China and India, not with the Middle East. He says that the degree to which Europe appeared to be ahead, in interpretations of European historians who focused on the 17th and 18th centuries, is really exaggerated. A number of particular factors that are ascribed to Europe, such as more livestock per capita or a lesser rate of mortality through epidemics, simply don’t hold up to examination. |The more you learn about India or about China, the less the distinctiveness of the European economic position stands out.

He makes a number of very telling points. He says the highest agricultural productivity as measured by calories per acre isn’t in Europe; it’s higher in China and in India depending on what areas you’re dealing with. The business of epidemics is very arguable; the mortality in Europe doesn’t seem to be distinctively lower than mortality elsewhere. He goes along with the idea that there is a surge in population in both areas. But without going into that argument in great detail, because the question of whether population growth is always a good has to be considered, he says there actually was no Great Divergence. Once you balance things off, it’s not clear that Europe was that far ahead of everyone else in the 17th and 18th centuries.

He doesn’t talk about the Middle East; he does observe that Northwest Europe is usually the standard of comparison. So the question of inequality is intensely debated in historical circles for people who are focused on world history.

In the next blog post, Prof. Bulliet switches to the debate over the decline of the Ottoman Empire and the decline of the Middle East.

From the Viking Choir to the Masters of Harmony–Returning to the Choral Sea (part 2—preliminary audition)

A chance encounter at one of my recent networking groups leads to my rediscovery of choral music. This post is dedicated to Brad, who took the chance of asking an odd question at a networking group.  In answering that question, I am awakening a part of my life which had been dormant for decades, my life in music.

When Brad asked the networking circle we were in the unusual question, “does anybody here sing?”, I responded with a hesitant “well, I used to,” since I had sung in a chorus in high school and college, but had not done so since I left grad school over two decades ago.   He said we should talk after the network circle had concluded, and then he described the a capella style men’s chorus called Masters of Harmony in such enthusiastic terms, that it resonated with some spirit of adventure I had, and I asked him more about the chorus.  It was the premier men’s chorus in the Southern California area, Brad said, and he said with justified pride that it had won the International Chorus championship last year. He invited me to check the chorus out, and as I have related in my first post on the subject https://4squareviews.com/2012/06/10/from-the-viking-choir-to-the-masters-of-harmony-returning-to-the-choral-sea/, I decided to try to join the chorus.

The process of joining the chorus is a long and somewhat complicated one, involving multiple auditions only after you’ve gone to enough rehearsals to demonstrate that you are serious enough about joining.  But this process, however arduous, has been helped along by the wonderful experience I had singing again in a choir. The desire to recreate that experience I used to have in high school and college is such a great motivation.

It has summoned up within me an answering determination to succeed which has surprised me. On the surface, I should have no business, as busy as I am, trying to join a chorus which will eat up AT LEAST an evening a week, not to mention the extra rehearsals before concerts and the concerts themselves. But when you hear your voice blending in with that of other guys and the overtones stack up to the vault of Heaven itself, you don’t mind putting in the hours of dedicated work it takes to get the privilege of standing on those risers.

As I mentioned in the last post, the director Mark Hale was passionate about the music and relentless in his drive to bring out the best performance in each and every one of the chorus members. And I mean “each and every one”—there is a phenomenon in a group called “social loafing” where people exert less effort to achieve a goal in a group because they can rely on the efforts of those around them and thus minimize their effort and become a “free rider”. You can’t have anyone minimizing their effort in a chorus because not only does it decrease the energy of the group, but a slack pronunciation or a tone that is dull and not bright can actually negate the efforts of others.

Mark Hale’s exhortations to the group reminded me exactly of what Walter Rodby in my high school chorus used to say. They make each choral member want to reach inside himself and pull out his best effort. God, that’s a good feeling when it happens! So now after having gone for three consecutive rehearsals, I was pulled aside by Mark, the assistant section leader for the baritones, who said that the next rehearsal I was to go through a preliminary audition to check my musical aptitude, experience, and quality. The contents of the audition were to be a surprise so there was no way to prepare for it.   He was encouraging, but matter of fact about the audition.   It may be, he said, that the audition shows that this may not be the best chorus for me at this time.   I told him I was willing to accept his judgment, but I nevertheless wanted to try.

Yesterday evening, after the first half of the rehearsal, Mark took me back to a small studio with a piano, and then started testing me to recreate notes, and then passages, both musical and rhythmic, and finally to improvise a harmony while he played a melodic line.    Somehow, after not singing in a chorus for over 20 years, the instincts came back to me and I was able to do so.  “Excellent,” Mark said.    At one point, where I got a passage wrong, he at least gave me credit for recognizing that it was incorrect.    Having an ear for where you are off the mark is, of course, an important prerequisite for getting yourself back on it.

Now we moved onto the quality of my tone, and here he went through a lot of review of breathing, placement (where the sound is produced in the vocal tract), and other factors that affect the quality of the sound.  Here I was on shakier ground, I think, but I did well enough to pass the preliminary audition.    At least I came out of there knowing that I had a chance to go on to the nest phase of auditions, and I also had a vague sense of what I needed to work on.   I wasn’t stunned as I was when I passed my first choral audition way back in high school, but poised between pleased and persevering.  Pleased that I had made it to that first step, but recognizing that to make it to the next step, I would have to persist and even perspire, because the next level of auditions will not be alone, but in a quartet where I have to pull my own weight as a baritone singing one of the parts.

I don’t care how many times I have to practice the audition song, but I am DETERMINED to give it my best. I have been given the chance to sing after 20 years of having my instrument muted by the shear inertia of life which I had accepted complacently for so long. Once a talent has been awakened, however, it must be expressed. It reminds me of the 1948 film directed by Michael Powell called The Red Shoes, where the young ballerina Victoria Page is accepted as a protégé by the ballet impresario Boris Lermontov because she tells him that she must dance. She cannot not dance, she explains to him. It means everything to her.

To use a less exalted metaphor, it’s like the Tom and Jerry cartoons where Jerry smells a hunk of cheese much larger than he is and is lifted bodily up in a hypnotic trance as he wafts his way nose first in an undulating way towards the source.

After going through just the one month of rehearsals with this amazing choir, likewise, I must sing.  It is, as the Army slogan goes, about being the best you can be, but it is recognizing that only by striving to be part of something larger than yourself, like a chorus, can that “personal best” be awakened into existence.

#Toastmasters—The Benefits and Pitfalls of a Dual Membership

1. Benefits of Regular Membership

I’m sure if you talk to anyone who is a member of Toastmasters, they will tell you about the benefits of membership in the group. Being a better speaker, being a better leader, developing self-confidence—all those reasons are valid. They certainly have rung true for me.

When I ask new members what brought them to Toastmasters, the answer usually includes the fact that knew someone in the organization that told them about the benefits of being a member. However, when a person decides to take the next step and visit a Toastmasters club, what do they do? They go to the Toastmasters International website at http://www.toastmasters.org/and go to the left-hand side where it says “Meeting Locations” right above a red button which says “FIND a location near you”. But what happens if, especially in a crowded metropolitan area like Los Angeles where I live, you find a list of 10 or more clubs near where you live? THEN how do you choose?

2. Pitfalls of a Dual Membership—too much confusion for a newbie
My best advice would be to go to someone’s club whom you know as a Toastmaster—they will be able to give you the “inside scoop” on how the club runs. Although Toastmasters International gives general guidelines on how to conduct meetings, it is surprising to learn that not every club runs in exactly the same way. Just like individual people, individual clubs have their own personalities.

We had one member who liked the location of our club, which we shared with another club that meets on the other alternate Tuesdays of the month. She decided to join both clubs and was totally confused by the fact that the two clubs’ meetings were run differently. In the end, she chose to be in our club because it “fit” better with her personality.

So joining two clubs at first, and then deciding later on the one you like best is NOT recommended. When WOULD I recommend such a thing?

3. Benefits of a Dual Membership

Some clubs are general membership clubs, that is, they are open to all members. Some clubs are corporate clubs that are closed membership clubs, that is, you can only belong to the club if you are a member of that corporation. This is mainly because the club usually meets at that corporation’s office or related facility.

However, there are some clubs which are “special purpose” or “themed” clubs. When I decided to become a project manager, I found out there was a special club devoted just to those who were project managers or who aspired to become one. I wanted to join that club, but I was quite happily “married” to another club where I had been a member for a year and a half. Besides, I was a club officer in the original club and so I didn’t rightly feel like “abandoning my post”. So I decided to join the 2nd club as a “dual member”.

Once I joined the second club, which I was able to do because it met on a different night of the week; I realized that it gave me certain benefits or advantages. These seemed to outweigh the disadvantages.

Let me expand on these advantages and disadvantages. The fact that you are in two clubs gives you twice as many chances to speak. When you are working an advanced level of communication award, each level requires you to do 5 speeches each from 2 different manuals. In my regular club, I have decided to do the “Entertaining Speeches” manual. However I will do speeches more geared towards professional presentations from a manual called “Speaking To Inform” in the club that is geared towards project managers. That way I can pursue both types of speech, each in a venue that will be more receptive to it.

However, I would wait until one is at least halfway through the Competent Communicator (CC) or Competent Leader (CL) manual before trying a dual membership That is because you need to understand really well how your club functions before you go to a different club and try to participate in an environment where the rules are somewhat different.

Finally, the last disadvantage is one that I heard about through talking to one of the officers in our division, namely, a case where someone who was in clubs A and B, let’s say, promised the educational award he would earn to club A. Then halfway through the manual, he changed his mind and decided to give that award to club B without telling the Vice President Education of club A. Club A only found out about this months before the end of the year, and had been counting on that award as one of the points the club wins towards becoming a Distinguished Toastmaster Club. That caused the club to have to scramble and find someone else to complete that award within an accelerated time frame because it was towards the end of the year. It turned out well for that Club, but it caused a bit of friction there for a while.

So the lesson is, if you decide to become a dual member, find out if your award is going to be needed by your club for its Distinguished Toastmaster Club award. Talk to the Vice President Education or VPE and find out. It could very well be that your club already has somebody else getting that award and so doesn’t need to claim credit for your achievement. Then you can feel free to give it to the other club.

But if your VPE in your first club says “we need it for our club”, then let the VPE of the other club know. He or she may be disappointed, but it is better to know this at the BEGINNING of the year rather than right before the end.


So I think having a dual membership does have its advantages, and for me they outweigh the disadvantages. I am fortunate to have the financial and time resources necessary to attend both clubs. Therefore I recommend it as an option for those who want to take one step deeper into the pool of experience that Toastmasters International has to offer.

7 Helpful Tips for Successfully Passing the #PMP Exam (Updated)

Last Saturday I completed a 7-week course put on by the Orange County chapter of the Project Management Institute that helps prepare those taking the course to pass the Project Management Professional (PMP) certification exam. The course went over the material in the Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (or PMBOK® Guide for short), and was supplemented by PowerPoint presentations on each of the knowledge areas covered by the various instructors, additional supplemental materials on some areas, and a PMP Exam Prep book called Achieve PMP Exam Success by Margaret Chu, Diane Altwies, and Janice Preston.

There were several study groups arranged by various members of the class that met during the class, and I organized one of them myself. Based on my observations of our study group, my conversations with those who led other study groups, and my experience of the exam prep class, I have come up with 7 tips to help those who are studying for the PMP exam or those who are contemplating taking the exam sometime in the future. Some of them may seem obvious, so I hope no one’s intelligence is too insulted as the list is read through. Other items may seem controversial, but remember this is based on my own observation as a student and not a seasoned veteran (i.e., someone who has passed the exam) or instructor.

Here goes:

1. Join a class

You can purchase a PMP Exam prep guide and study on your own, but joining a class will give you three important elements to help you pass the exam: 1) access to instructors to whom you can direct questions, 2) fellow students whom you can interact with during class and in study groups, and 3) a regular schedule so that you force yourself to take time out of your busy schedule to focus on the material in the PMBOK® Guide.

2. Form a study/accountability group

In the same way that a truly well-integrated team can come up with solutions that the individuals may not have come up with by themselves, studying in a group can help when you get stuck with understanding a certain concept because there will be times when others are stuck and you just happen to know the answer. It will also act as an accountability group that forces you to prepare the material ahead of time in order to contribute to the group. This, like joining a class, is a way of disciplining yourself to go through the material systematically.

3. Supplement your class textbook with one another Exam Prep Guide

Your class will most likely use the PMBOK® guide as a centerpiece of the instruction, but will have either its own textbook or collection of presentations that the different knowledge areas covered by the Guide.  Our group got a supplemental guide in addition to the Achieve PMP Exam Success  guide we used in class for the end-of-chapter review questions.   That book was the

PMP Exam Prep, Seventh Edition: Rita’s Course in a Book for Passing the PMP Exam by Rita Mulcahy

 Others I have heard used in other study groups are:

PMP Project Management Professional Exam Study Guide by Kim Heldman 


The PMP Exam: How to Pass on Your First Try, Fourth Edition by Andy Crowe

Your study group may decide on a different text, but the important thing is that you ALL USE THE SAME GUIDE.

The reason why these exam guides are helpful are because they a) review the same material you receive in class in a unique way, b) give exercises to practice these concepts, and c) have review questions which test whether you’ve really understood the material relating to each knowledge area.

However, a word of caution: don’t try to use more than 2 guides or to have everyone use a different guide in your group. There is so much material to cover that having to go through yet another guide’s explanations, exercises, and questions may give you diminishing returns, or as I like to term it, “increasing marginal futility”.

4. Data dump

You are not allowed to carry ANYTHING with you to the actual exam, so in the first 15 minutes you get at your testing station before the exam starts, you are given a few sheets of paper and a writing instrument for you to scribble some notes. USE THIS TIME to put down the 42 project management processes that are divided into 5 process groups and 9 knowledge areas by

a) drawing a 5 x 9 grid,

b) putting labels on top of the 5 vertical columns for the process groups: Initiating, Planning, Executing, Monitoring & Controlling, and Closing,

c) putting labels on the left of the 9 horizontal rows for the knowledge areas: Integration, Scope, Time, Cost, Quality, Human Resources, Communications, Risk, Procurement, and d) filling in the 42 process groups in the correct “cells” of the grid based on the scheme shown on p. 43 of the PMBOK® Guide (4th edition).

On the flip side of that same sheet of paper, put the formulas that you need to remember.

The purpose of this is so that you will not forget the formulas during the “heat of battle” of taking the exam. If you study the process groups by constantly referring to the grid on p. 43, you will find that re-creating such a grid on your own before the exam starts will not only give you quick reference to the groups, but will help you recall the other elements associated with those groups, such as the inputs, tools & techniques, and outputs.

You need to practice this beforehand until you get it down to 10 minutes.

5. Flip charts and drawing boards

If you are able to study in a library that has a chalkboard or whiteboard, use it to work out various practice exercises or to make notes on concepts. Sometimes a concept that is fuzzy on paper can be made much clearer if you try to draw a diagram, a table, chart, or some other form of visually representing the information.

If you are at someone’s home, as our study group often was, you can bring a flip chart for the same effect. If you meet a coffeehouse or restaurant, just a simple pad of paper will do. But having everybody visually be able to refer to the same drawing, no matter where it is drawn or on how big a surface, helps tremendously in the brainstorming sessions you have in your study group.

6. Create a Study Plan

Planning is essential to any project, and your success in studying for the PMP exam may similarly hinge on you treating it as a project in and of itself. You need to figure out the end date, or the date you plan on taking the exam, and work out how much material you need to review in X number of weeks. Our class for example took the 12 chapters of the PMBOK® Guide (9 knowledge areas and the 3 introductory chapters on the Overview, Framework, and Processes) and studied it in 7 weeks. If the material is new to you, you may take as much as 7 weeks for your review after the class is done. If the material is familiar to you, you may review concurrently and cumulatively so that you are ready to take the exam right after the class is done. In fact, we just heard from one enterprising class member who took the exam on the Monday after our Saturday class was done—and passed!

Once you have how much material you need to study within a certain number of weeks, for example, 2 chapters of the PMBOK ® guide per week, then you need to do the following for each chapter:

1. Read PMBOK® guide thoroughly

2. Make flashcards for glossary terms used in chapter

3. Review flashcards (between 3 and 5 times)

4. Review PMP Exam Prep guide material

5. Do PMP Exam Prep guide exercises

6. Read PMBOK® guide AGAIN (skimming this time is OK)

7. Do PMP Exam Prep guide practice exam questions (either those printed in the guide at end of chapter or those that come from CD-ROM which accompanies the guide)

8. Go over practice exam questions—note WHY you got them wrong and review sections of PMBOK® guide for clarification

9. If practice exam score for chapter > 80%, go on to next chapter

10. If practice exam score for chapter < 80%, redo review (steps 1-9) until you get 80% or over.

Make an Excel spreadsheet or grid of each of these 10 steps times each of the PMBOK ®

Guide chapters PLUS the Professional Responsibility material which is not in the PMBOK ® Guide but can be obtained from the Project Management Institute. Creating this grid and realistically figuring out how much time you can devote to studying for the PMP exam (your own personal resource allocation) will give you a realistic study schedule.

Once you have the knowledge areas reviewed, you will want to take the full practice exams that contain 200 questions like the real exam will. One place that was recommended for this full practice exam review was Exam Central, which you can register for and join for free at www.examcentral.net.

If you get 80% or over on one full practice exam, you need to schedule your test as soon as possible. Once your registration for the exam is accepted, and you have paid the fee for the exam, you are then directed to make an appointment at Prometric or some other testing facility. Please be aware that it may take up to a few weeks to get an open appointment date.

However, you do it, make sure that the time from the point where you are prepared (80% on practice exams) and the time you take the test is as short as possible.

Don’t be pressured by others who are taking it more quickly than you do, but on the other hand don’t put it off indefinitely into the future. Picking an end date and actually registering for the exam are two different things.

7.  Study by candlelight (UPDATED)

“WHAT?”, you may be asking.  This is a quirky exam tip but I am including it because I have used it to pass other certification exams than the PMP.   It was given to me by a female instructor and she said that if you are studying at home, try studying while you have a scented candle lit.  Obviously you should not ruin your eyes and try to study ONLY by candlelight, but the candle you should have lit next to your study area should be a scented one.  I was EXTREMELY skeptical of this at first, but she said that many people who are studying at home are studying after a long day at work and are physically exhausted. Studying at home before sleeping is good, but how to motivate oneself can be a problem when you are fitting it into your already hectic schedule.

A scented candle does the following:

a) it associates a pleasant, stimulating smell with studying so your brain is more likely to pay attention and absorb the material,

b) through olfactory memory, whenever you light a scented candle in the future, your mind knows that it is time to study, and you spend less time “settling down” to study,

c) you can take some sort of object with the scent on it (a cinnamon stick, for example, if you have been using a cinnamon-scented candle) and put it in your belongings that you must put in your locker. If your mind gets stuck on a problem, take a physical break (however, remember that the exam clock is always ticking) every half-hour or so, go to your locker and take a smell of the scent. You will be amazed at how much of your memories that were imprinted while you smelled that scent during your studies will come back to you.

UPDATE:   I just heard from someone who passed the test at the end of June (the Monday after our prep class ended) that you are NOT ALLOWED to return to your locker during the breaks.   So unless you have some sort of cologne that smells like the scented candle, you can only use your olfactory memory BEFORE the exam starts.   But hey, if it got you in the mood to study for the exam, it will put you in the same frame of mind before you actually enter the exam room.

I can tell you from personal experience that I actually tried this and it worked—not for the PMP exam, but for the CPCU (Chartered Property Casualty Underwriter) certification. It was a difficult exam, several hours long and an essay exam rather than multiple-choice. I went through the exam, and was going to review those questions that stumped me the first time around. I went to the washroom, splashed water on my face, and went to the locker where I had my little cinnamon stick stashed.

By the time I got back to the testing area, I went through the unanswered questions and got all but 2 of them in the second pass.  Now I don’t know how much of that memory refreshment came from the cold water on my face and how much came from the cinnamon stick I held in my locker, but I can tell you that the scented candles made studying so much more pleasant that it helped me study for longer than I could have otherwise.

And, if you study before you go to sleep, your unconscious works on the material while you are sleeping, so sometimes you can look at problems the next day and suddenly understand the solution based on the processing that went on “under the radar”, so to speak.

Well, those are my 7 tips for success. Most are probably common sense (except for #7), but I wanted to tell you these come from empirical observation of several study groups that have met during the course of our exam prep class. Let me know in the comment section if you find anything else helpful for those studying for the PMP Exam!

And to those of you who are either going to taking the exam or are contemplating taking it, YOU CAN DO IT TOO!

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Project Managers–Habit 7: Sharpen the Saw

1. Introduction to Habit 7:  Sharpen the Saw

Now we come to the 7th habit, the one that strengthens all the others.  What is it the 7th habit and how does it do that?

Fig. 1. The Seven Habits in all their Glory

Habits 1 through 3, the ones below the center of Fig. 1, take one from being dependent to being independent, which is another way of saying being responsible. Once you have a group of responsible people who work as individuals, a project manager must form them Figure 1, and these habits allow the once individual members to become interdependent. What is Habit 7 and why is it in the center of Fig. 1? In Stephen Covey’s diagram, it surrounds the other six habits and encompasses them. For some reason, I like representing Habit 7 as being in the CENTER of the other six. Why? Because it nourishes them and replenishes them.

You see, Habit 7 is where you make time into your schedule for those activities which may not seem productive at first glance but do increase one’s production capacity, one’s future ability to produce. They are not urgent but important, so they are Quadrant II activities, using the time management system developed in Habit 3. They are, in other words, an investment in yourself. They give you the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual strength you need to improve all of the other six habits.

2. Four Dimensions of Personal Growth

Fig. 2. The Four Dimensions of Personal Growth

Here are examples of activities that help you grow in the four dimensions that Stephen Covey outlines in his book: the physical, mental, emotional/social, and spiritual.

1. Physical

Strength and Endurance—from muscular resistance training and aerobic training, respectively, particularly with focused intensity

Flexibility—before and after exercise

2. Spiritual

Meditation—reading from spiritual texts and contemplating them

Art and music—immersion in great literature or great music

3. Mental

Reading—quality literature

Writing—journals, blog posts (gee, you mean like this one?)

4. Emotional/Social

Volunteer—service opportunities to help others

Networking—be a positive scripter, or affirmer, of others

Following these habits will make you a stronger, better person and therefore a more charismatic leader whom people WANT to do better work for rather than doing it out of fear of some punishment that might receive if they don’t.

3. Habit 7 and Integral Life Practice

Let me again use Habit 6 and synergize by pointing out the underlying similarities between the philosophy of Habit 7 and the philosophy behind Integral Life Practice, pioneered by the philosopher Ken Wilber, who created this system of balanced growth. It too recommends one to choose what Ken Wilber calls a practice rather than a habit. However, the same dimensions of body, mind, psyche (emotions/social interactions) and spirit are covered as well. I make an ILP matrix or list of practices from each of the four areas that I will perform that week.

Sometimes I get into the old habit of saying, for example, “I’m too busy to exercise.” But I’ve been down that route before and I know where it leads, namely, to less energy. And then everything takes longer to do and I have even LESS time than before. Now I know that making time for intensive exercise, even just 15 or 20 minutes a day, reaps such good benefits that, if you could receive those same benefits from a pill, it would outsell even Viagra, I think.

4. Habit 7 and Transformation

Speaking of exercise, one of my favorite fitness gurus, Bill Phillips, who wrote the bestseller Body for Life, came up with a new version of his fitness program called Transformation. It takes 18 weeks, and the reason why it takes this long is because it goes through the physical, mental, psychological, and spiritual barriers people have to succeeding in their fitness program. Hmm, do these 4 factors sound familiar? I think if you take any endeavor and make sure you include time to work on all 4 dimensions of the 7th habit, you will find yourself more successful at it.

CONCLUSION: For those who are interested, you can of course buy Stephen Covey’s book, but I also recommend that you get the audio CD of his book and listen to it during your commute. There are many pearls of wisdom that I have simply hinted at, like giving you a quick tour by skateboard of the Louvre Museum. But don’t just read it or listen to it. Success literature is not a spectator sport: invest in getting the Personal Workbook and go through the exercises which help you discover these 7 Habits for yourself.

You, your project team, and your organization will be better for it!

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Project Managers–Habit 6: Synergize

1. Introduction to Habit 6: Synergize—Sometimes 1 +1 = 3 is a better answer

Habit 6 flows very directly out of Habit 4 (Think Win-Win—on negotiating) and Habit 5 (Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood—on empathic listening).

Here’s how. If you may recall the matrix of possibilities that may occur in human interaction, you have Win/Win being the desirable or actively desirable outcome, with Lose/Lose (compromise) being an acceptable or passively desirable outcome, and Lose/Win (capitulation) and Win/Lose (domination) being unacceptable outcomes for the parties involved.

Fig. 1 Human Interaction Matrix (four possibilities)

What is the level of trust and cooperation for FUTURE negotiations that are engendered in each of these four possibilities?   See the matrix below:

Fig 2. Human Interaction Matrix—Trust and Cooperation Levels

So the interesting thing about the Win-Win interaction in the present is that it lays the groundwork of trust and cooperation in future interactions, and allows creative syntheses of viewpoints or synergisms to occur. And that’s the true wellspring of group or team creativity.

2. Synergy and the “open mode”

As an example of a creative synthesis, I was reading this passage about Habit 6 and all of the wonderful things about team creativity sounded very familiar to me. Then I realized where I heard something similar, and realized that I had done a series of blog posts on an idea that was very similar to that of Stephen Covey’s. This is itself an example of “synergy” or two ideas sparking a third connection (in my mind).

John Cleese did a talk on “creativity and the open mode” in which the “open mode” is precisely this trusting and cooperative atmosphere engendered in a group that allows for creative solutions to take place.

Here are the links to the three blog posts which contain the substance of his talk on “creativity and the open mode”.




The closed mode is the opposite of this, and is what you get if you don’t have that level of trust and cooperation you need for the open mode. The research on the open mode was introduced to John Cleese by Brian Bates, who runs the psychology department at the University of Sussex, and it had been done in the 1970s at Berkeley University by Donald MacKinnon.

Fig. 3. The Synergistic or “Open Mode” contrasted with the Closed Mode



Relaxed Anxious
Expansive (inclusive of other’s viewpoint) Focused (on one’s own viewpoint)
Playful Purposeful
Humorous Not much humor

Here’s how it fits into Stephen Covey’s Habits 4, 5, and 6. If you enter a Win-Win relationship (Habit 4), this engenders an atmosphere of trust and cooperation, which together with empathic listening (Habit 5) creates this open or synergistic mode.

Notice that the “closed mode” is purposeful
as opposed to playful, which seems to go against the principle of Habit 2 (Begin with the End in Mind). However, this is anticipated by Stephen Covey, who says that “purposeful” in this sense when you are dealing with another person means “the predetermined purpose you had in mind” at the beginning of negotiations. A playful spirit engendered by the open mode will create a solution that NEITHER party may have anticipated.

3. Ways of Entering the Open Mode

What are some of the ways of entering the open mode? Remember that, although the idea of “synergy” is the one from Stephen Covey’s book, I am positing that it is closely akin to the “open mode” described by John Cleese in his talk on creativity. John Cleese suggests the following elements are essential for entering this creative state.

Fig. 4 How to Enter the Open Mode



1. Space Create space for yourself away from demands that accompany the closed mode. Seal yourself off where you will be undisturbed.
2. Time (endpoints) You need to create your space at a specific beginning time and a specific ending time in order to create an atmosphere which is closed off from the closed mode in which we normally operate.
3. Time (duration) You need to create sufficient time within which to allow truly creative solutions to emerge.
4. Confidence Allow yourself to play and suppress the fear of making a mistake.
5. Humor Use humor to become more spontaneous and creative.

If you want further elucidation of this process, I suggest you go straight to John Cleese himself and listen to his entertaining and informative talk which is laced with a series of “light-bulb” jokes: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VShmtsLhkQg.

Now this was an attempt to reach the open mode by one’s self, but you could see that it could also apply to negotiations or creative interactions with others. John Cleese in fact includes prescriptions for ways to TALK to the other side that encourage synergy or the open mode:

  • “Would it be even better if …”
  • “I don’t quite understand that—can you just explain it again?”
  • “Go on …”
  • “What if …”
  • “Let’s pretend …”

This will allow you to brainstorm together with your team. Now sometimes as a project manager you have to have communication that is one-way, and the closed mode is okay in those situations when time is pressing and you don’t have time to listen to the other team members. Hopefully those situations will be a rarity during your project. But if you as a leader make the closed mode your MAIN form of communication, you toll the death knell for any hope of creative collaboration in your group. Listen to John Cleese as he gives the following negative lesson in this tongue-in-cheek presentation at the end of his speech on creativity:

JOHN CLEESE: So here’s how to stamp out creativity in the rest of the organization and get a bit of respect going:

A. Allow subordinates no humor

It threatens your self-importance, and especially your omniscience. Treat all humor as frivolous or subversive, because subversive is of course what humor will be in your setup as it’s the only way that people can express their opposition. This is because if they expressed their opposition openly you’d come down on them like a ton of bricks.

So let’s get this clear: blame humor for the resistance that your way of working creates; then you don’t have to blame your way of working. Solemnity is no laughing matter!

B. Criticize everything

Keeping ourselves feeling irreplaceable involves cutting everybody else down to size. So don’t miss an opportunity to undermine your employees’ confidence. A perfect opportunity comes when you’re reviewing work that they’ve done. Use your authority to zero in immediately on all the things you can find wrong. Never ever balance the negatives with positives: only criticize, just as your schoolteachers did. Always remember that praise makes people uppity.

C. Constantly press the accelerator

Demand that people always be actively doing things. If you catch anybody pondering, accuse them of laziness and/or indecision. This is to starve employees of thinking time, because that leads to creativity and insurrection. Demand urgency at all time, use lots of fighting talk and war analogies, and establish a permanent atmosphere of stress, of breathless anxiety, and crisis. In a phrase: keep that mode closed! In this way, we no-nonsense types can be sure that the tiniest, microscopic quantity of creativity in our organization can all be ours. But let your vigilance slip for one moment, and you could find yourself surrounded by happy, enthusiastic and creative people whom you might not be able to control ever again.

So in the spirit of George Costanza on Seinfeld, do the OPPOSITE of what was stated by John Cleese and you will be on the way to a better, more creative team.

In my last post, I will present the last and final habit 7: Sharpen the Saw