Associated Press Picks Top U.S. News Stories for 2012


The Associated Press had its top U.S. news editors pick the top news stories for 2012. For more information, check out the Huffington Post article here:

Newtown Shootings Top Story Of 2012: AP Editors Poll http://ow.ly/gla6c

Here’s their list of top 10 news stories which I have put in the following table with the following color scheme:

Topic

News story content

1. Mass Shootings 20-year-old Adam Lanza kills 20 children aged 6 or 7 and six staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.
2. US Election Obama wins second term with large lead in electoral and popular votes. Republicans lose Senate, retain House.
3. Superstorm Sandy 800-mile-wide storm hits eastern US, particularly NY and NJ. With $60B + damage, second more destructive storm in US history after Hurricane Katrina.
4. Obamacare Supreme Court upheld law by a narrow 5-4 vote, with Chief Justice Roberts casting the decisive vote.
5. Libya 9/11 assault on Benghazi kills 4 Americans including US Ambassador Chris Stephens. Becomes cause celebre for Republicans seeking to attack President Obama’s administration.
6. Penn State Jerry Sandusky, former assistant of Coach Joe Paterno, convicted of sexually abusing 10 boys and sentenced to 30-60 years in prison.
7. US Economy First the good news: unemployment has gone down to 7.7%, the lowest rate in 4 years. GDP growth is weak (about 2%) but US economy doing better than that of Europe, which is in a recession.
8. Fiscal Cliff Now the bad news: the inability for the Republicans and the White House to come to a deal to reduce the Federal Deficit means that there will be an automatic trigger of dubiously named “the fiscal cliff” as a “shock doctrine” tactic by the media
9. Gay Marriage Three states, Maine, Maryland and Washington, became the first US States to legalize gay marriage by a popular vote. The Supreme Court has two cases up for consideration involving this matter.
10. Syria Protests against the regime of Bashar Assad have escalated into a civil war, and affected international relations since Syria is a client state of Russia which is helping arm itself against the rebel forces and impeding calls from the UN for a negotiated solution to the crisis.

Here are some of my thoughts about the stories, and where they might lead in 2013.

  1. Mass Shootings: top story in 2012 about mass shootings in Newtown was made even more poignant today by the story of the 2 firefighters who were shot and killed with 2 others injured responding to a house fire in Webster, NY. The gunman, William Spengler set the fire on purpose with the idea of luring the firefighters there whom he killed with an assault rifle. This will fuel the move by the President to introduce a ban on assault rifles in the next Congress. Prediction: The Republican-controlled House will not allow any such legislation to pass, and gun control will not go anywhere at the Federal level until 2014.
  2. US Election: The election of Obama over Romney was predictable if you were in the fact-based community (someone like Nate Silver, for example). But a race that was not close did not fit into the “horse-race narrative” that the mainstream media preferred, so the only ones that were surprised were ones that either got their news solely from those media or those political consultants who believed their own political spin. In the end, the ground game made the crucial difference between the two campaigns. GOP soul searching runs in two directions: either a) they need to become less extreme and reach out to minorities, or b) they need to become even MORE conservative. We’ll see which direction they go in 2014.
  3. Superstorm Sandy: the damage caused by the storm surge is literally the wave of the future. Insurance companies are taking note and may become more vocal in the climate change debate in the future.
  4. Obamacare: The vote by Roberts was a surprising, but it means that the controversial measure will survive at least until 2014, when many of its provisions finally kick in. This will not end the debate on the problem of health care costs in this country, but was at least an attempt at a solution.
  5. Libya: The debate about Susan Rice’s candidacy for US Secretary of State is over, since she withdrew her nomination. The “scandal envy” among Republicans trying to attack the Obama Administration will fuel more investigation into the Benghazi incident, but one angle that neither the Congress nor the media is covering is the problems created by the provision of the safety of public officials by private contractors.
  6. Penn State: The tendency for institutions to protect their leadership from the responsibility for their actions, to the point where it works against the interests of those whom the leadership is supposed to protect, is a theme that can apply to many institutions in the United States, and this tragedy is the perfect formulation of this dilemma.  Expect the tragedy to be replicated in the case of the leadership of the Roman Catholic Church with the same issue of sexual abuse of minors, but this time by priests rather than a football coach.
  7. US Economy: 2% growth seems pretty anemic, until you look at the alternative in Europe which is in recession. How did it get that way? By adopting austerity measures, the very ones that the US is contemplating adopting here in response to the fiscal cliff negotiations. We have been given a warning by those across the Atlantic, if we had politicians who were wise enough to heed it.
  8. Fiscal Cliff: This is “shock doctrine” framing by the media at its worst. It is almost as hyped as the end of the “Mayan calendar” was, but the inability of the Tea Party to endure ANY compromise regarding tax increases means that come January 2013 we will endure the automatic budget cuts and tax increases that were hard-wired into the political system as the result of the LAST round of debt ceiling negotiations. Forgetting about the politics of it, the actual fiscal cliff results will mean a slowing down of the US economy by 1-1.5% (according to John Mauldin and other financial experts), but not bad enough to send us back into a recession (if we’re lucky).
  9. Gay Marriage: Three states have made it legal, and it seems that this may be a bellwether for the future outside of the South, of course. The US could have gone the route of some European countries and adopted a “civil union” approach which would have obviated the whole issue of the traditional definition of marriage, but for whatever reason activists chose the more direct approach which risked a greater backlash, but which is now bearing fruit.
  10. Syria: The real specter in all of the Middle East regarding the Arab Spring is what is happening in Syria, an all-out civil war. This is the nightmare in the background of all countries in the region, whether they be conservative such as Saudi Arabia or relatively more progressive, such as in Egypt. The real question about the end of the Assad regime in 2013 is not “if”, but “when”, and “after how many more deaths?”

It was a pivotal year for the country as it goes from election mode to governing mode, as the problems of 2013 require some serious attention by political and other leaders alike.

Advertisements

Multilingual Learning Plan for 2013


I’ve been enthused about language learning all my life, but I made a real discovery this year of an Irish guy named Benny Lewis who travels the world learning new languages and shares his language-learning tips on his website fluentin3months.com.

One of the things he encourages those members of his community to do is to set out a plan on how they want to tackle a new language in the coming year.  I’ve spent this weekend thinking about what I’ve done in the past year with the various languages I’ve learned, and planning what I want to do next year with each one. This post is the result of that effort.  I hope you can get inspired by it to create a language learning plan of your own for the next year.

In the chart below, I list for each language what level of fluency I am at now, any notable accomplishments I’ve done in learning that language in 2012, and then what my target level for 2013 is, together with any specific goals I have and what method I plan to use to reach those goals.

I must first, however, explain the shorthand I use when it comes to the fluency level for each language. This is the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages. This framework has been influential worldwide because China’s proficiency exams have been changed to conform to this framework.

Level Explanation
A1 Beginner Can introduce oneself and understand familiar everyday expressions.
A2 Elementary Can describe oneself and communicate about one’s immediate environment.
B1 Intermediate Can talk about past and future events and about most situations encountered at work or school.
B2 Upper Intermediate Can communicate about simple ideas and concepts in a way that is generally understood.
C1 Advanced Can communicate about complex ideas and concepts in a way that is easily understood.
C2 Fluent Can summarize complex idea and concepts and create coherent presentations.

With the fluency levels understood to be those referred to above, here’s my language planning chart for 2013. In the chart, RS means “Rosetta Stone”, TB means “Textbook”, FSI means “Foreign Service Institute course.”  The various abbreviations in the “Achievements” column are for the officially recognized proficiency exam for that country.

If it’s a European language I have it colored in red, if it’s an Asian language I have it colored in yellow, and if it’s a Middle Eastern language it’s colored in green. Spanish and Portuguese are, of course, originally European languages, but I’m specifically learning the South American version of these languages as opposed to the European version, so I have colored these two in orange.

Language 2012
Fluency

Level

Achievements in 2012 2013 Fluency

Level

Plan for 2013 Learning Resource(s)
Spanish B1 Passed DELE A1,
RS Level 4
B2 DELE A2, B1,
RS Level 5
FSI
French B2 Passed DELF B2, RS Level 4 C1 DALF C1,
RS Level 5

 

FSI
German B1 Passed Zertifikat B1
RS Level 4
B2 Zertifikat B2,
RS Level 5
FSI
Japanese C1 Passed JLPT N2 C2 JLPT N1 (C2) TB 
Chinese B1 Passed HSK 3 (B1) B2 HSK 4 (B2) TB
Arabic A1 RS Level 1 A2 RS Level 2-3, ALPT A1 TB, RS
Portuguese A1 RS Level 1 A2 RS Level 2-3,
CELPE-Bras A1
RS
Korean None None A1 KPE 1 (A1) TB
Italian None None A1 RS Level 1 TB
Farsi None None A1 RS Level 1 TB

So essentially my plan is to move up one level of fluency in the five languages I’ve studied and am already proficient in (B or C level), as well as in the two languages I’ve studied and am still a beginner in (A level).   I also plan to start three new languages in the coming year.  I would never have had the audacity to try such a thing if it weren’t for the inspiration of Benny Lewis, who knows a DOZEN foreign languages fluently.

Why am I starting these new languages? Korean is an obvious one to me because I’m in the manufacturing sector and Korea has become such a powerhouse in manufacturing, especially if you live like I do on the West Coast. Italian has no real direct professional reason but I am inspired to learn it for fun and because it’s the next European language on my list of languages I want to learn. Farsi is because there are so many people of Iranian heritage here in the Los Angeles area and I want to learn to speak their language. Someday I’ll try a language that’s from a different area, such as India or Africa.

But the point is to have a plan, and to use multitasking whenever possible to practice using the languages you are learning.

  1. I listen to language recordings while driving. Traffic is not seen as a curse but as a way of turning your vehicle into a language lab. Plus if you get frustrated, you can practice yelling insults to the other drivers in other languages!
  2. I listen to language recordings while doing housework. It takes away the drudgery of routine physical tasks by listening to foreign languages while doing it.   You’ll reorder your brain while putting order into your environment, let’s put in that way.
  3. I like renting foreign films from Netflix and watching the film first in the foreign language, and then again with the English subtitles turned off after I know the story.
  4. I like the Spanish, French, and German audio magazines from Plango which I listen to on their mobile phone app while waiting in line at the grocery store, DMV, etc.  I also like the phone app called Skritter which helps me practice Japanese and Chinese character writing when I want a short break from work. There is something about recalling and tracing characters on the screen that relaxes me almost as much as meditation.
  5. Finally, the proof of language learning is in the speaking, and I plan to find native speakers through Meetup groups, through my Toastmasters network, or other means.

These are some creative ways I try to use my time so that I can do something as audacious as to follow Benny Lewis’ lead, whom I mentioned at the beginning of the post.   There’s no reason why I can’t shoot for the same goal of being fluent (C2 level) at a dozen or more foreign languages.   It is a journey of 1,000 miles, but I can do it–one step at a time for each language I’m studying.

Six Sigma Green Belt: Define—Team Tool #3 Force Field Analysis


Force field analysis is a tool in analyzing the forces that are for and against a proposed decision or change that management wants to have implemented in the organization.

When I read about this tool in my Six Sigma Green Belt class, I wanted to learn more about it looked up the history of it on an excellent website called Mindtools.com. It was developed in the 1940s by an American social psychologist named Kurt Lewin. But the more I read about the technique, the more it reminded me of a technique Ben Franklin described in his autobiography which he used whenever it came time to make a tough decision. He described it as follows:

.. my Way is, to divide half a Sheet of Paper by a Line into two Columns, writing over the one Pro, and over the other Con. Then during three or four Days Consideration I put down under the different Heads short Hints of the different Motives that at different Times occur to me for or against the Measure. When I have thus got them all together in one View, I endeavour to estimate their respective Weights; and where I find two, one on each side, that seem equal, I strike them both out: If I find a Reason pro equal to some two Reasons con, I strike out the three. If I judge some two Reasons con equal to some three Reasons pro, I strike out the five; and thus proceeding I find at length where the Ballance lies; and if after a Day or two of farther Consideration nothing new that is of Importance occurs on either side, I come to a Determination accordingly.

Let’s see in contrast what the force field analysis entails.   In the force field analysis, you divide your paper into three areas, a central rectangle for the central decision or change being proposed, a space on the left-hand side for the forces for the change and a space on the right-hand side for the forces against the change. 

 Then you estimate the impact of each of the forces on either side, with one common scale being suggested of 1 to 5, with 1 being “not very impactful” to 5 being “very impactful”. Then you make the height of each arrow correspond to the number on the scale, like in the schematic example below.

This gives a visual representation of the forces for and against the change. These could be internal forces (technology, training, organization, etc.) or external (customer demand, regulatory) as long as they impact in some way on the change being considered.

Then you have two levels of decision to make: First of all, do we go ahead with this change or decision? If most of the arrows are creating a “headwind” against the change, then it may be best to think of another project, unless you want to devote the resources to overcoming most of the barriers. The way to do this is to add up the ratings you have given each of the forces (1 through 5) and see if the balance of them lie on the “for” or “against” side.

If the organization IS going to go ahead with the decision, then you have to develop a plan to initiate countermeasures against the forces that oppose the project, and to strengthen those forces that are for the project.

Here are the steps described above, but listed in a flowchart format with the basic set up of the change and the forces for and against in blue, the estimate of the impact of the forces in green, and the final discussion based on the results in red.

I think if you compare the process above and read the description of Ben Franklin’s decision-making method, you can probably see some similarities.

The force field analysis is the last of the team tools listed in the Green Belt Body of Knowledge.

With this I conclude the last of the posts on the Define portion of the DMAIC (Define-Measure-Analyze-Improve-Control) process of Six Sigma. Starting in January, I will move on to posts that discuss the next part of the DMAIC process, that of Measure.

Six Sigma Green Belt: Team Tool #2—Nominal Group Technique


 

This technique is similar to multivoting in its purpose, but the method is slightly different.

You first create a list of ideas (blue), then you vote on them (green), and then you take the final results, announce them and discuss them (red).

Step Explanation
1. Discuss Explain the purpose of the activity, to generate a list of action items by means of group consensus.

 

2. Write down Each person should write down their ideas separately; collect them.

 

3. Clarify Put all ideas on whiteboard.

 

4. Cull List Combine similar items so you have a final list of ideas.

 

5. Distribute Cards Distribute index cards so that there is one index card for every 5 or so ideas on the final list.
6. Vote Vote for the best ideas, one idea per index cards.

 

7. Rank Rank how many votes each idea receives, rank in order from most chosen to least chosen.
8. Announce Announce the top-ranked ideas.

 

9. Discuss Agree upon moving forward on the action items that were top-ranked by the group.

The difference here between this and the multivoting technique is that the generation of ideas is done separately by members, and the results are pooled together. This can also be done by sending responses remotely to, say, subject matter experts (SMEs) or stakeholders, for example.

The purpose, however, is the same, to generate ideas on what problems to handle next and to develop a group consensus on which of them have highest priority, so there is buy-in from the group going forward. Even if your pet project wasn’t voted on, you can at least have the satisfaction that your idea had an airing before the group.

Six Sigma Green Belt—Team Tool #1: Multivoting


We’re coming to the end of the material in the Green Belt Body of Knowledge under the Define portion of the DMAIC (Define-Measure-Analyze-Improve-Control) methodology of Six Sigma.  This series of posts covers various brainstorming tools used  by teams such as multivoting, nominal group technique, and force field analysis.

Here are the steps of multivoting. You first create a list of ideas (blue), then you vote on them in a series of rounds (green), and then you take the final results, announce them and discuss them (red).

1. Brainstorm Generate a list of items to be considered using a brainstorming technique. Record the items on a whiteboard, flipchart, or other surface so members can see it.

 

2. Review & Combine Review each item so group understands it. If there are any items that are similar, combine them if group agrees.

 

 

3. Number Once items have been combined, number them in a list for voting purposes.
4. Decide Vote Method Group decides on voting method. Typically, each person gets to vote for 1/3 of the total number of items in list.

 

 

5. Conduct Vote Each person votes for items he or she considers most important in list.

 

6. Tally Vote Tally the amount of votes and list items in terms of number of votes cast.

 

7. Reduce Items Select items based on voting criteria. Some groups only choose those items voted on by at least half of the participants. Some groups eliminate the three least-voted items.
Redo steps 5, 6, and 7 with continuously shrinking list of items until only four or five items remain.
8. Announce Results Announce final four or five ideas that remain after multivoting process complete.

 

9. Discuss Results Discuss final list of items. Conduct a group discussion to decide which of the final ideas should receive top priority. Or conduct one last round of votes to see which item is the priority item.

The purpose of this team approach is to achieve a consensus of which items have a priority based on the opinions of those on the team.

Six Sigma Green Belt—Define: Team Dynamics and Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions


In the last post I discussed many of the issues that can impede the development of group dynamics. The last type of issue I listed was that of cultural issues. I wanted to go further into this topic in this post using the cultural dimensions developed by Geert Hofstede.

His theory is that different countries have different cultures or value-systems that be compared by looking at several dimensions along which these cultures can be said to reside. He started out with four different dimensions, and the theory has gradually grown to six of them.

Let’s take a look at each of these dimensions in turn.

Cultural Dimension

Definition and Contrasting Pairs

1. Power Distance Index (PDI) The extent to which less powerful members of organizations accept that power is distributed unequally.

High power distance countries are more autocratic, low power distance countries are more democratic.

2. Individualism (IDV) The degree to which individuals are integrated into groups.

Individualistic societies stress personal achievements, individual rights. Collectivist societies stress group affiliations and loyalty

3. Uncertainty Avoidance Index (UAI) The degree of tolerance for uncertainty and ambiguity.

High uncertainty avoidance cultures are more emotional, and control changes with rules, laws and regulations. Low uncertainty avoidance cultures are more pragmatic, and have as few rules as possible.

4. Masculinity vs. Femininity (MAS) The distribution of emotional roles between genders.

Masculine cultures are competitive, assertive, materialistic; feminine cultures place more value on relationships and quality of life issues.

5. Long term orientation (LTO) The time horizon of a society.

Long term oriented societies are oriented to the future, and are pragmatic, rewarding persistence and saving.  Short term oriented socieites are oriented to the present and the past, and are steady, rewarding reciprocity in social relations and the fulfilling of social obligations.

6. Indulgence vs. Restraint (IND) The ability to show one’s inner feelings.

Indulgent societies are those that allow the expression of one’s inner feelings to others, whereas societies that are restrained discourage this kind of expression.

For these six cultural dimensions, here are some examples of countries or regions that have high, medium, or low values in each dimension. In the case of countries, their scores are given on a ranking scale from 1 (lowest) to 120 (highest).

High

Medium

Low

PDI Latin American, Asian, African, Arab countries; Southern and Eastern Europe United States Northern Europe
IDV North America, Europe Japan, Arab countries Asia, Africa, Latin America
UAI Latin American, Germanic countries, Southern and Eastern Europe, Japan Latin America (varies from country to country) Anglo, Nordic countries, China
MAS Japan, Germanic countries Nordic countries
LTO East Asia Eastern and Western Europe Anglo countries, Arab countries, Africa, Latin America
IND Latin America, Africa, Anglo and Nordic Europe East Asia, Eastern Europe, Arab world

Knowing the difference between cultures can be the first step in avoiding cultural miscues between team members from those cultures, and eventually developing cross-cultural leadership.

Six Sigma Green Belt: Define—Team Building Challenges


In the previous post I discussed the process of team development, according to the stages set forth by the American psychologist Bruce Tuckman. Those are the stages that develop if everything develops  well. What are the some of the challenges that can occur that could prevent arrest the development of a team?

These problems range from psychological differences (red), organization issues (blue), ego conflicts (green), and cultural differences (purple).

Problem Explanation Possible solution
1. Dominant or reluctant members Some people have a fear of stating their opinion in front of others, where others seem to have a fear of NOT stating their opinion and tend to dominate the discussion. Give the floor to the shy people FIRST. Have time limits on comments from dominant members or have them keep the minutes of the meeting which will force them to listen to others. 
2. Group think In many cultures, there is a pressure to conform to the group or to the manager’s opinion; differing opinions are not expressed. Have the younger or more junior people speak first or have separate meetings of the junior people who represent their findings to the senior staff. 
3. Anarchy The opposite extreme from group think is when any member of a meeting is allowed to go off on a tangent. Have an agenda prepared and a timetable and stick to it; table discussions that are off topic or that go on too long. 
4. Lack of trust Teams meet only at virtual meetings, so trust is slow to develop. Have at least one face-to-face meeting at the beginning of team project; find some way of having team members access biographical information on other members so they are seen as human beings beyond the professional role they play. 
5. Stating opinion as fact If you give you opinion about a person’s idea and state it is as a fact, rather than how you see it from your perspective, then it makes it harder for them to accept. You should teach people how to do evaluations that MUST be prefaced b words such as “in my opinion,” “I think”, etc., to let people know that it is your opinion–and nothing more.

 

6. Put-downs Criticism that is focused on the person and not on the idea. Criticizing an idea without giving any indication of how to improve it. Make clear rules about attacks on a person rather than their ideas. All criticism must be constructive. If you don’t like the idea, say how you yourself would improve it. 
7. Humor In the early stages of team formation, humor can backfire if it is not understood or worse, misunderstood. This can occur because people from different cultures may interpret something said or even a gesture differently. Avoid making jokes and alleviate tension in a way that is less risky, until you get to know participants better. Cultural awareness on the part of the project manager is essential.

These above are examples of the different sources of conflict that might occur. However, the last one, that of cultural differences, is an increasingly important topic in teams that are international or global. So the next post deals in more detail with these cultural differences.