Saturday, December 17, 2011

I Am in an Umberto Eco Mood - Review of "The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana"

Ever the didactic professor - even when wielding the novelist's pen - Umberto Eco explores how memory serves to lead us out the the metaphysical fog that often enshrouds us. "A sixty-ish Milanese antiquarian bookseller nicknamed Yambo suffers a stroke and loses his memory of everything but the words he has read: poems, scenes from novels, miscellaneous quotations." Eco manages to take this plot device and weave a tale that is a very personal recollection of what it must have been like for him to grow up in the Italy of World War II. Political intrigue often emerges from Yambo's fog-bound memory as images from his childhood trigger nostalgic excursions through the past.

Hovering over the entire enterprise is Yambo's unrequited love for the unattainable object of a high school crush - Lili, the memory of whose face he struggles to recalls as he lies dying in a comatose state. An initial cerebral incident had left him bereft of personal memories. Back home in his ancestral home of Solara, he slowly regains a sense of perspective and history through the books, records, movie posters and comic books he discovered sequestered throughout the villa. His final discovery of a priceless original Shakespeare folio triggers his ultimate cerebral vascular accident. The final chapters take the reader inside the mind of the dying Yambo as he speeds through a dizzying kaleidoscope of real and imagined images - all the while groping for the elusive image of Lili's face. These final chapters - and Yambo's final apocalyptic thoughts and memories - are presented (in typical Eco style) as a parody of the Book of Revelation.

The novel is a moving and irreverent conceit in which Eco opens the kimona and shows us not only his special mind but also his complex heart.

Enjoy "The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana."


Another Masterpiece by Umberto Eco: Review of "The Prague Cemetery"

Umberto Eco is a professor of Semiotics at the University of Bologne, and a brilliant novelist and essayist. I consider myself to be reasonably well-educated, but I must confess that I needed to look up "semiotics" to fully understand what this academic discipline is all about. In brief, it is a branch of philosophy/logic that examines how we use symbols and signs to create order and meaning - in our own minds and in our communication with others. Learning that truth helped me to see Eco's novels in a new light; he explores the manifold uses of symbolism in a unique way in each of his works of fiction

In the "The Prague Cemetery," he offers up a broadly drawn satire that pokes fun at all kinds of racism and prejudices. He also demonstrates our propensity to make order of the world by making lists; he seasons almost each page with some sort of list - often a list of ingredients that his gastronomic characters have ingested at a sumptuous Paris eatery.

In this latest novel, he limns a strange tale that weaves together historical characters, like Sigmund Freud, Garibaldi, Napoleon III, operating in fictitious relationships and dialogues. He illuminates in harsh spotlights historical conspiracy theories that have the Freemasons, the Jesuits, the Jews conspiring - sometimes separately and at other times in combination - to rule the world. The historical contexts include a once-in-a-century secret meeting of rabbis in a Prague cemetery, and the long struggle to unite the various segments of Italy into a united nation.

The story is told through the dual voices of a multiple personality protagonist. Eco's way of thinking and writing may be an acquired taste, but I have acquired the taste with great gusto.



Thursday, December 15, 2011

A Deeply Moving Tale of Fatherhood - "The Good Father" by Noah Hawley

Sometimes you can tell something about a book by its cover. I must share the experience I had when I opened the package from Amazon that contained the volume "The Good Father." I was struck by the Scotch tape that appeared to be holding together a torn front cover. I was shocked, because I have come to expect Amazon book to arrive in pristine condition. Then, upon closer reflection, I saw that the cover had been printed to look as if it had been torn, and a piece of real Scotch tape had been added to complete the illusion. As I began to read this remarkably moving book, I was looking for an explanation of the meaning of the torn cover. I discovered the link on page 222. The narrator, a father who is agonizing over the mystery of why his teenage son would choose to assassinate the leading Democratic candidate for President, is remembering a camping trip they had taken together years earlier:

"Later, I lay in the tent listening to the sound of his breathing. It was a sound I hadn't really listened to in years, the rhythmic sighs of my eldest son as he slept. He had been a baby once, needy and small, but that time had passed. Where had it gone? How can life move so quickly? Now he was a fifteen-year-old boy with a teenager's mustache. Now he was a book with a torn cover. I had known him once, his tiny body, the energy of his smile, the smell of his breath, but he slipped away from me." (Pages 222-3)

In looking for clues to his son's behavior, Dr. Paul Allen becomes obsessed with getting inside the minds of other notorious assassins. In the course of the novel's development, this troubled father comes face to face with his fatherly failures, and comes to grips with the many layers of questions regarding to what degree we as parents are able to shape - or misshape - our progeny. This is an unblinking examination of what it means to live with the results of the choices that a flawed, all-too-human parent makes - choices that have profound influence on a malleable son.

Author Noah Hawley has crafted a masterful tale that I found deeply moving and thought-provoking.



Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Review of "The Power in a Link: Open Doors, Close Deals, and Change the Way You Do Business Using LinkedIn" by Dave Gowel

After serving his nation as an Army officer, West Point grad Dave Gowel, CEO of RockTech, made the decision to turn his multiple talents to the business world. Along the way, he discovered the under-utilized utilities of LinkedIn, and made himself an expert in the use of this amazing social networking tool. Dave has probably forgotten more about the use of LinkedIn than many of us will ever learn. He has discovered applications of the tool that even LinkedIn's founders were unaware of.

Prior to co-founding his software company, RockTech, Mr. Gowel devoted part of his previous consulting practice to teaching business men and women how to maximize their ability to leverage LinkedIn to grow their businesses and professional networks. I have been privileged to participate in some of the workshops that Gowel performed for business leaders since 2008.

In this book,"The Power in a Link: Open Doors, Close Deals, and Change the Way You Do Business Using LinkedIn," he has distilled the most important lessons and offers them to business users of LinkedIn. Whether you are a LinkedIn neophyte or an experienced user of the tool, I guarantee that in reading this book, you will discover new tricks and methodologies for maximizing the ways in which you are able to use LinkedIn to grow your business and to enlarge and improve your professional network. This book makes an excellent gift - first as a gift to yourself and then to colleagues and clients.

I know you will enjoy this book written by my good friend, Dave Gowel.


Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Brewing Up A Job Opportunity - Andrew Russo's Business Is Growing

My friend, Andrew Russo, is an Army veteran who has made a successful transition to the private sector and has launched his own company, Captain's Coffee Brewers. He is now ready to create a sales force, and he prefers to hire other veterans. See his description below.

"Since leaving the Army in 2009, I have sought to build a unique and new coffee experience for the Boston area. My company has seen many changes and grown to require a sales associate to aid us as we expand a new product line to cafes, stores, and grocers. We are seeking veterans who are just exiting military service and desire a strong foundation to help them transition to civilian life. We want to offer more than just a job, but an experience where you will have the opportunity to learn about the coffee industry and connect with other small business owners.

Our goals is to bring our cold brewed coffee and coffee blends to customers in the Greater Boston area. These include our Cold Brewed Iced Coffees and Specialty Coffee Blends. The primary responsibility of this position is to seek out new business within the parameters set forth by the company. This position requires representing our company in the appropriate areas surrounding Boston, MA and candidates must live in that vicinity.

Talents We Require

· Ability to maintain accurate records of all sales and prospecting activities including sales calls, presentations, closed sales, and follow-up activities within their assigned territory, including the use of Microsoft Outlook to maintain accurate records to maximize territory potential

· Participates and contributes to the development of educational programs offered to clients, prospects and company employees

· Identify opportunities consistent with the objectives, priorities and
strategies of assigned customers

· Maintain an awareness of new and existing businesses in their region, effectively establishing which ones are possible customers."

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Compensation is purely commission based at the moment, with a 90 day and 180 review, with salary and compensation beyond commission once sales are being generated.

This is an opportunity I want to present to veterans, especially JMOs and non-coms.

If you or another veteran is interested in talking to Andrew, contact me and I will put you in touch with him.

Click on the link contained in the title to visit the Captain's Coffee Brewers website.


Halogen TV - A Force for Positive Influence Using Reality TV

"Does Reality TV Do More Harm than Good?" This was the topic of a televised debate recently recorded in NYC by Halogen TV. The competing teams represented two Ivy League stalwarts - Harvard University vs. Columbia University.

The reason that I was present at this special occasion is that I had played a small role in putting the producers at Halogen TV in contact with the Ivy League debate teams. My friend, Marcus Cheong, suspected that somewhere within my arcane networks there might exist some connections with the world of Ivy League debate; his suspicions were correct.

Prior to the event, I had known very little about Halogen TV, but what I learned that evening in Soho inspired me. As part of the event, Halogen TV Founder, Becky Henderson shared her vision, which is captured concisely in this vision statement from their website:

"Halogen TV is an empowering television network that entertains and motivates individuals looking to be the change they want to see in the world.

Halogen TV is a network that’s about much more than entertainment. Our aim is to be a platform for social good where people can connect with their purpose and with each other. This is our story …

Mahatma Gandhi was an Indian political and spiritual leader who lived at the turn of the 20th century and is attributed to a lot of inspiring quotes, including “You must be the change you want to see in the world.”

We couldn’t agree more.

The truth is that change is everywhere. People are waking up to the many and myriad needs around them and taking positive steps to help make the world a better place.

The difficulty is that everywhere you turn there’s a new need, cause or request for donations. Needs are global. They’re local. They’re everywhere and they’re overwhelming. All the noise on the Web and in the media leaves you unsure about what to support or if it will even make a difference.

You want to use your talents, skills and money to give back in meaningful ways. But where should you start? Consider Halogen your filter.

Our network and website tell the stories that matter to people looking for information, inspiration and ideas on how to make a difference where they are, with what they already have. We’re a multi-author collaborative community where our viewers have a voice alongside the newsmakers and trendsetters. We provide the latest and best news of positive social change around the globe and give you the inside track of how to get involved."

To watch the debate, click on the link contained in the title of this article. And check out some of Halogen TV's other offerings. They area growing force for good in this world.



Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Review of "Connection, Community & Conversation: Making Social Media Work for Your Business" by Glenn Gaudet with Jeff Kimball

I enjoy it when a respected author becomes a friend of mine. I love it even more when a friend of mine becomes a successful author. So, I am pleased to offer this review of an excellent new book on effective business uses of social media - written by my friend Glenn Gaudet, Founder and CEO of GaggleAMP. Along with his collaborator, Jeff Kimball, Glenn has published "Connection, Community & Conversation: Making Social Media Work for Your Business."

There are many things that make this book a worthwhile purchase and read. Gaudet and Kimball bring a literary style to the writing of this book that one does not often find in a "business book." This quality made the reading of the book even more enjoyable than I had anticipated. In less than 100 pages, the authors offer a concise history of the history of social media in a business setting. They also describe a number of best practices by highlighting and championing several executives - many of whom are current GaggleAMP clients - who are using the amplification capabilities of social media to plump up their top and bottom lines.

With the holidays coming up, I suggest you buy a copy for yourself and several more to share as gifts for colleagues, clients and family members who are in the business world.

Here is a brief description of what you will encounter when you read this helpful volume:

"A quick, informative and even entertaining look at what it really takes to make social media work for your business. The book, written by a pioneer in the use of social media for business and the founder of GaggleAMP, provides clear direction on how you can leverage social media to meet specific business objectives. You'll learn the dos and don'ts of a successful social media campaign, and learn from fellow businesspeople who have built successful social media efforts in their companies starting in most cases from scratch. You'll see why social media is the single most important and cost-effective marketing tool to use during rough economic times. You'll see how others have used social media to generate growth. If you know you need to "do" social media, but you're just not sure how, this is the one book you need buy."



Thursday, November 17, 2011

Our Tax Dollars at Work - In a Positive Way: The Center for Company-Level Leaders

Welcome to your professional forum! CC IS company commanders. We are a grass-roots, voluntary forum that is by and for the profession with a specific, laser-beam focus on company-level command. By joining, you are gaining access to an amazing community of professionals who love Soldiers and are committed to building combat-ready teams.

A Case Study in Transition from USMC to Harvard to The Business World

My friend, Michael Buonocore has recently had the experience of transitioning from the Marine Corps to graduate school at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, and recently to the daunting task of finding a job.

His reflections in the article below tell the good, the bad and the ugly of his road to transition.

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The prospect and process of finding a job is daunting. Trying to understand where to even begin, sorting through Internet advice columns, and putting yourself on the market like a mere commodity is difficult at best and emotionally damaging at worst. I would like to warn you, though, that if you are just beginning your job search, it will likely get worse before it gets better.

Interviews without callbacks, rejection letters, and simply not getting any response to applications you spent hours crafting will inevitably dent your pride and have you questioning your own self-worth.

Transitioning military personnel are particularly susceptible to feelings of self-doubt. After all, you commanded troops in combat, were responsible for millions of dollars worth of equipment, entrusted with national security secrets, and you did all of that really damn well. So you can’t help but wonder why a hiring manager who hasn’t had a fraction of the responsibility you’ve had won’t even respond to your application. It kills you or, if you haven’t started the job hunt, know that it will kill you. I know this pain intimately from experience and know it well.

I spent just about four years in the Marine Corps as an infantry officer. During my time I did two combat deployments (one on a MEU and one to southern Afghanistan) and managed to earn the respect of my Marines, peers, and senior officers. I had a great run and loved every minute of it but I always knew that I wanted to return to civilian life when my time was up.

I returned home from Afghanistan in June 2009 and started a Master of Public Policy program at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government in August of 2009. At the time, it was my dream to become a State Department diplomat so that I could help Washington sort out all of its Afghanistan problems, because I had all the answers.

I was very fortunate to land a summer stint working for Ambassador Holbrooke on the Afghanistan desk in between my two years at the Kennedy School. Unfortunately, I learned that working at the State Department, and for the federal government in general, was not what I wanted to do after I graduated.

I returned to Cambridge a little dissatisfied with the way the State Department approached problems and became very interested in how we can use the private sector and market mechanisms to solve those problems more efficiently. That is how I got involved with the Boston/Cambridge startup scene and ultimately what led me to found my own company.

I would be disingenuous, though, if I did not admit that one of the driving factors behind my decision to start my own company was that I simply could not find an interesting job. Even though I was working on my company during my second year of graduate school, I was still applying to jobs in the hopes that I could find something.

In fact, I applied for 26 open positions. Of those 26, I interviewed for two positions, received rejection letters from a handful of others, and simply heard nothing back from most. Totally dejected by the process, I set out to chart my own course.

I ran with my company as hard as I could for just over a year, but when I returned home from a month-long business stint in LA this past October I decided to seek out new opportunities. This was a hard decision for me and it was made even more difficult because my previous foray in the job market was still fresh in my mind. I didn’t know if I was ready for the doubt and humiliation that so many of us have endured before.

I had no choice, though, and so I started to send out my applications. This time I applied for a total of 13 positions over the course of two weeks, had interviews with three different companies (and even more requests), and received a job offer. Not only did I get offered a job, but I am starting at a company that I find incredibly interesting and whose mission I fully support. My job there is a significant one and the compensation is very fair. I haven’t even started yet and my colleagues have already started reaching out to me, making sure that I know that I am a part of a fantastic team. I am humbled by the opportunity and simply cannot be more excited about it.

While Serendipity was certainly on my side this time around, I also became a much better job applicant – and I hope that sharing the lessons I learned will make you a better applicant as well.

Below are some of the more important lessons I learned after applying to a total of 39 positions, listed to roughly correspond to the actual job hunting process. None of them are particularly groundbreaking but I am very confident that when I followed them, and executed them well, I became a much more compelling candidate.

The Resume: It is time-consuming and annoying, but you should have a different resume for every position. You should analyze every bullet point you have on your resume and make sure that it shows, in one way or another, how you are fit for the job and how your past experience is directly relevant.

This was certainly challenging for me as I tried to make parallels between my military experience and the positions for which I was applying. I found that it was extremely helpful to talk to someone who was in a similar position or field to help me find those parallels. I would simply talk to this person about what I had done in the past and s/he would say, “Oh, that’s just like what we do here.” I found that it was important to find those parallels and made sure to use the use the appropriate vocabulary so the hiring manager understood them immediately.

I also found that I had a better response rate to my resume when I put a very brief summary (two punchy sentences) at the top of my resume. This summary gave me the opportunity to properly frame my experience before the hiring manager started to look over it. The hiring managers whom I dealt with did not have military experience and (I’m guessing) that it is hard for people who don’t have military experience to conceptualize how your military experience is at all relevant to whatever field they are in.

The Cover Letter: I found that the response rate to my cover letters went significantly up when I sacrificed a bit of formality for direct language. The internet is littered with examples of ineffective cover letters, but because there are very few examples of good ones, there is little reliable guidance available for people like us.

I actually stumbled upon this lesson by accident. After not getting any responses to my cover letters, I kind of adopted this “I don’t care, I’m going to say it like it is” attitude. I dropped some of the formality (blandness) and wrote exactly what I could do for the company and why I thought I could do it. Of course I did so in a respectful manner but I did my best to ensure that the hiring manager had no questions as to why I thought I was great for the job. To my surprise, I started getting calls.

The Interview: As I mentioned earlier, this time around I interviewed with three different companies before receiving the offer I wanted – and I certainly got better with each successive interview.

Preparation is the key to success and by the time my last interview rolled around, I had spent a full day and a half preparing for it. I thought through the questions I knew would come up (tell me a little about yourself; why do you want to work at this company/in this position; talk about a time you failed; what’s your biggest weakness; etc.) but I went beyond that.

I first researched everyone who I was going to be interviewing with. A simple Google search will often times tell you how old someone is, where s/he went to school, if/how s/he is involved in the community, and the person’s work history. They have your resume so I think it’s helpful to have theirs, just so you know where the person is coming from and what their interests might be.

I also wrote down exactly what I would do during my first week on the job. Having this prepared not only provides answers to potential interview questions, but I think it shows that you are forward thinking and ready to hit the ground running; I think it demonstrates that you don’t need explicit direction to get started, which, in turn, shows that you really are qualified for the job.

The last, but probably the most important, aspect of interview preparation comes in the form of choosing and rehearsing your life stories that illustrate who you are personally and professionally. I received this piece of advice from Dr. Chase and I am very confident that it enabled me to effectively communicate the skills and ethos I proclaim to have.

For example, I have a 5-principle leadership philosophy that I strive to adhere to in any work environment. Principle 1 is “Lead from the front.” For us military folks, that is a familiar phrase and we know what that means in principle and in practice. But for someone who has never heard it before, it sounds interesting but the meaning is still kind of abstract.

Instead of trying to talk through the meaning of this principle, I prepared a story that demonstrated it. I had told this story to Dr. Chase a couple of days before my last interview as funny anecdote and he immediately told me that I need to work it into my interview because the story reveals more about me than I could otherwise explain.

The short version of the story is that after Hurricane Katrina hit, I went down to Louisiana and worked as a Red Cross shelter manager. People often forget that another hurricane, Rita, forced all of the Katrina victims who had fled to the coast of Texas to come back inland. This pushed our shelter to more than double our normal operating capacity.

One contingency that no one foresaw was that Rita would knock out our power and water. We had over 800 people and a total of 16 toilets, none of which were working for about two days. People had their needs, though, and they continued to use the toilets. Needless to say, after two days we had some cleaning up to do – and I was willing to lead the charge.

I made this story light and it really is kind of funny in retrospect, and it accomplished two very important interview goals. First, it effectively communicated what I mean when I say that I lead from the front. Second, when I walked out of my first round interview I overheard some people talking about it, which meant that I had left a lasting impression.

The story was effective because it eliminated the ambiguity of a concept that I was trying to communicate. In the military, we tell war stories for many reasons but it is rare that we use them as a way to explain our personal competency or our success. It is unnatural, and almost feels exploitative, to tell our stories in the pursuit of personal gain, but stories are more captivating, interesting, memorable, and revelatory than just about any other communicative device. Your stories are yours and they are, in large part, what has shaped and defined you – and there is no disservice in telling them when motivations are genuine.

These are only some of the lessons I learned during my job search but I am optimistic that they might help you. Transitioning from the military to civilian employment can be brutal, and that is what you should expect. Handshakes and pats on the back are plentiful when you get out but favors are few and far between. I firmly believe that my job search success was due to equal parts luck, determination, and applying the lessons learned from each failed application or interview to the next one.

The road ahead will likely be full of bumps, potholes, and a couple of accidents. But we’ve all experienced challenging times in the past and, like those, you will overcome these hard times as well.

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Thanks to Mike for his honest sharing about his journey. Feel free to forward this article to anyone you know who is contemplating a similar transition from military service.