The InfoPosse -- Inc's team of crack corporate librarians -- reports each month on what's good, bad, and ugly in the world of corporate information. The Posse's biographies appear at the end of the article.
AND A ONE, AND A TWO, AND A THREE: You'd think that American business magazines would have the rankings market cornered, what with their ubiquitous covers touting the 500 Largest This and the 100 Best Places to Do That. But what if you're trying to identify the 10 French companies with the most patents? Or the 200 richest people in Australia? Then hie you to "From Fortune 500 to Handelsblatt's European 500: A Look at Some Useful European and International Rankings," by Helen Clegg, published in the September 6 edition of the newsletter Free Pint ( www.freepint.com). "Clegg's article contains a powerhouse of links to international business rankings, and I can see it becoming a well-worn bookmark for banking and financial firms," says InfoPosse member Lisa Zwickey.
"If you need to know the top European regions that are contributing most to European expansion, check out 'Le Top 15.' You'll find that Bavaria is in first place and the Flemish province of Brabant is in 15th place."
BELLY UP TO THE BAR: Free Pint -- an online newsletter and community serving more than 41,000 business researchers -- is one of the Web's great resources for people who know what they don't know but don't know who knows what they don't know. The site is run by a trio of information specialists who track data across the Web the way astronomers track meteors. But while the site is aggressively global in scope, its U.K. origins are unmistakable. In addition to employing a pub metaphor, recent issues of the fortnightly newsletter have included links to every conceivable site dealing with British rail service and to a resource-heavy article on the very English art of bell ringing.
SPEAK SOFTLY ... : This month we have reports from both the bright and the dark sides of the human-resources planet. First, the bright side. Most books on communication for managers address matters of law, etiquette, or effective negotiation. But How to Say It From the Heart: Communicating With Those Who Matter in Your Personal and Professional Life, by Jack Griffin (Prentice Hall Press, 2001), takes a welcome, softer look at this familiar subject. The goal here is not to advise readers on how to sell or protect themselves but rather to "be clear and honest without mauling the other person's feelings," says InfoPosse member Genevieve Foskett. Griffin focuses on emotionally charged interactions, demonstrating, for example, how to criticize without sounding mean, how to congratulate without sounding jealous, and how to sympathize without sounding false.
... BUT CARRY A BIG STICK: The headline "Don't Train 'Em. Fire 'Em!" tells you immediately that Samantha Chapnick isn't losing a lot of sleep over employees' tender feelings. Her article in the July 2001 issue of T+D (Training and Development) magazine ( www.astd.org) is for managers who -- perhaps blaming themselves for a misjudged hire -- try their darnedest to make a bad-employee situation tolerable. As a result, the company ends up squandering resources on someone who doesn't contribute and sending the wrong message to employees who do contribute. Meanwhile, managers grow inured to the ineptitude and toxicity of their problem employee, and don't even bother offering the person new or challenging work, to the detriment of both the employer and the employed. The article "makes controversial but salient points," says InfoPosse member Christine Klein. "Chapnick's 'tough love' may not be pretty, but it is probably correct."
THE AGING ARE ALL OF US: Klein also submits for your consideration an unusually thoughtful piece on the impact that an aging population will have on business and society. "Care for the Long Term," in the September issue of Association Management magazine ( www.asaenet.org), considers what will happen in 30 years, when a projected 70 million seniors will exert their market and political power as they simultaneously drain medical resources and retirement benefits. The issues raised by author Winthrop Cashdollar should be factored into every company's long-term planning.
"Attention can be converted into other currencies, like accumulating enough 'E-points' by viewing online ads to 'earn' a DVD player."
LISTEN UP: Companies hunger for people's minds and dollars, but they won't get either unless they first capture people's attention. Thomas H. Davenport and John C. Beck state that attention -- what they call "human bandwidth" -- is the most valuable, and most easily depleted, resource in business today. Their book, The Attention Economy: Understanding the New Currency of Business (Harvard Business School Press, 2001), argues convincingly that the information glut -- along with an abundance of capital, labor, market access, and attention-getting technology -- has made it almost impossible to keep employees and customers focused on one subject long enough for a company to accomplish its goals. The implications for business, says InfoPosse member Lisa Guedea CarreÃ‘o, are sobering.
The study of attention yields novel insights for both managers and marketers. Psychological and psychobiological research suggests that attention is not mechanical (logical, rational) but rather organic (shaped by "erratic forces of evolution," the authors explain). In a riff on Maslow's hierarchy of needs, Beck and Davenport point out that the most effective attention grabbers are matters of survival, reproduction, and safety (food, sex, children, health, natural disasters, and, needless to say, hostile attacks). Managers, meanwhile, must be wary of employees' wandering "social attention," which channels their thoughts away from work and toward "political scheming, brooding, arguing, and gossiping."
Some of the authors' predictions have a sooner-rather-than-later feel, such as the notion of companies' establishing "information-free zones," where employees labor without interruption from E-mail, phone calls, or other hand-in-the-air technologies. Other ideas, particularly those involving social structures, are more radical. For example, the authors suggest that one day family members -- in an intimate, human twist on pollution credits -- may buy and sell among themselves the time and attention that must be bestowed on children and elderly relatives. They also predict a shift in emphasis within organizations, such that "the ability to prioritize information, to focus and reflect on it, to exclude extraneous data will be at least as important as acquiring it." Hmm ... sounds like a great environment for business librarians.
InfoPosse members are Genevieve Foskett, corporate librarian at Highsmith Inc.; Lisa Guedea CarreÃ‘o, library director at Goshen College; Christine Klein, director of knowledge and information management at LifeCare Inc.; Jean Mayhew, director of information and learning at United Technologies Research Center; and Lisa A. Zwickey, senior research specialist at J.J. Keller & Associates.
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