April 15, 2009

It's Important to Look Busy

Brazen Careerist: The New Rules for Success by Penelope Trunk (Warner Business Books, 2007, ISBN 97-0-446-57864-6)

This book was written by: Penelope Trunk, author of a long-running career advice column. Ms. Trunk writes that "the column, Brazen Careerist, which still runs today, had ironic timing: I was unemployed, single, strapped for cash, and, for the most part, lost"(p.xvii). Although Ms. Trunk's work as a professional volleyball player, personal assistant to Esther Williams, and CEO of several startup companies shows that important lessons can come from anyone, author Jennifer Wiener has accused Ms. Trunk of dismissing advice from people who are

What is in this book: Instructions for looking like a success, since “the issue here is not if you are productive as a worker. The issue is whether you are productive as an image manager, because if you are not managing your image at work, you are not managing your career”(p.164). Taking an active role in managing your image and your interpersonal relationships will pay off because “being likeable matters more than being competent”(p.90). In fact, “the next time you consider areas for self-improvement, choose interpersonal coaching over office skills and you’ll likely get more bang for your buck”(p.91). Ms. Trunk will be the first one to tell you how effective that strategy was for
Elliot Spitzer’s whore.
The book also has a keen grasp on the motivations and drives of the modern worker. For example, “here are some grand thoughts I bet you wish you’d had: viral marketing, routers, E=mc2”(p.154). Hell, everyone wishies that they thought of routers, but I specifically lie awake at night wishing that I was responsible for the theory that led to some of the greatest atrocities ever visited upon humankind. Coming up with the idea that led to the development of the atomic bomb would have been pretty sweet, too.

What is not in this book: The previous generation's outdated thinking about needing to pay your dues to get ahead. “A lot of experience doesn’t mean that someone is clever, likeable, or talented”(p.149). In fact, “don’t be the hardest worker. You shouldn’t look lazy, but if you work the most hours, you typically look the most desperate.” (p.151) You won't need to focus on your experience, anyway. Because “resume writing is a creative exercise that combines the skills of direct mail with the skills of a storyteller”(p.21), feel free to get as creative as necessary with respect to your employment history.

Would you recommend this book to Willy Brandt? Oh HELL yes. Ms. Trunk could teach him a metric ton about dissolving boundaries. Ms. Trunk broke work/life barriers by taking strategies from her household to the office after her couples therapist "observed that the problems I have in talking to my husband are probably the same types of problems I have in talking to people at work. This made sense to me immediately because I always say that I love my husband but would never want to work with someone like him.”(p.95) Ms. Trunk later brought the workplace back home by attacking her (now ex-)husband's unwillingness to communicate with her from her blog's professional platform in a column that was later

Would you recommend this book to Larry Storch? Pfft. What possible use could he have for something brazen? The man's work is already a collection of solid gold.

What was interesting about this book? Ms. Trunk notes that “each piece of paper you get should either go in the garbage or into a file. Don’t let it sit on your desk for more than three hours”(p.163). That quote was supposed to illustrate a point I wanted to make, but I accidentally threw my notes away after they sat on my desk for too long.

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April 1, 2009

This Kid Is The Bomb

The Explosive Child: A New Approach for Understanding and Parenting Easily Frustrated, Chronically Inflexible Children by Ross W. Greene, PhD (HarperCollins, 2001, ISBN: 0-06-093102-7)

This book was written by Ross W. Greene, PhD, who “specializes in the treatment and study of explosive children and adolescents at home and school and in inpatient units, residential facilities, and juvenile justice facilities,”(p.335) although he is not particularly well-known for research in the fields of either military ordnance or spontaneous combustion.

What is in this book: A discussion of what makes an explosive child, and how to deal with one. The explosive child throws a tantrum at the slightest provocation; this is illustrated by the hypothetical scenario at the beginning of the book where one such child “pushes her mother out of the way, seizes the container of frozen waffles, then slams the freezer door shut, pushes over a kitchen chair, grabs her plate of toasted waffles, and stalks to her room”(p.2).
Their sensitivity and over-the-top outbursts may sound funny, but “the parents of inflexible-explosive children do not describe meltdowns with good humor”(p.23). Unfortunately, these children have been given a raw deal genetically, a “brain-based failure to progress developmentally”(p.14). “Some children—no matter how hard they and their parents, teachers and coaches try—are just not ‘built’ to be great athletes, readers, or spellers”(p.10). Similarly, inflexible-explosive children are not “built” to handle challenging situations like frozen waffle shortages (p.1), chili being offered instead of macaroni and cheese (p.62), chicken pot pies being served incorrectly (p.143), being told to stop eating cookies (p.164), and jugglers in Harvard Square performing without a permit (p.76).

What is not in this book: The same old approaches to managing problem children, because inflexible-explosive children can't be stopped, reasoned with, or beaten senseless when they are in the grip of a frustration-induced meltdown—your Earth weapons traditional parenting methods are useless against them because “punishing a child during meltdown has the potential to fuel his frustration even further and, as you may have found, may not decrease the odds of a meltdown the next time he’s frustrated”(p.23). Parents of inflexible-explosive children either have to recognize potential meltdowns before they happen and intervene immediately, or brace themselves for the worst and ride it out. “I use the term mental debris to describe the horrible words that may come out of a child’s mouth during these incoherent moments”(p.23), and you'd better learn how to shrug it off, you “freaking bitch”(p.203), because the kids don't really mean it and won't be stopping it anytime soon. If you're the kind of person who thinks “I just can’t tolerate disrespect. My immediate reaction is to start screaming”(p.199), you’re kind of screwed.

Would you recommend this book to Jack Bauer? Sure, but he’s pretty good at dealing with explosive situations already.

Would you recommend this book to a Mexican? Yes. Specifically, I would recommend this book to the staff of Mexico’s Grande Casa de Peligro Resort, to prepare them for families like that one with the foul-mouthed little brat that was always in the dining room while I was there. On the other hand, the resort’s guests should read The Explosive Diarrhea, to prepare them for... well, it was Mexico.

What was interesting about this book? Dr. Greene presents real-life dramas and case studies that as are fascinating as one would expect, but more interesting than that is the variety of names that he has assigned to the characters involved. “Most of the names are, in fact, those of friends, nonspecific cartoon characters and rock musicians, and my wife’s ex-boyfriends”(p.x), which is why readers will learn about Hubert, Marvin, Jermaine, Eduardo, and Ken (it is not clear if Dr. Greene married Barbie).

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