Saturday, June 4, 2011

Train Supervisors Instead Of Restricting Internet

In the great debate over how to keep employees from wasting company time on the Internet, one argument is to cut off Internet access to all employees who don't need it to do their jobs.  Here's the downside I see to that approach: Employees who are time wasters will find other ways to waste time and those who aren't time wasters may be offended that you won't trust them with an Internet connection. A "No Internet" policy is likely to lead to employees hiding out in the bathroom or break room to  use the Internet on their smartphones. The more brazen employees won't even hide but will sit at their desks and log on through their hand held devices.

So what's the answer?  Train your supervisors to concentrate on employee performance and address problems from there.  In her latest Eileen's Eye on the Net column, employment law attorney Eileen Johnson offers these words of wisdom:

The task for HR professionals is to educate supervisors to better identify when employees are failing to meet their work objectives. What if a supervisor suspects an employee is spending too much time online with nonwork activities? She can ask the IT staff to monitor the employee's online activity and determine how much time he is spending on sites that aren't work-related. With that information, the employee can be counseled about the dereliction of his duties.

In addition to training supervisors to identify and handle performance issues, you should make sure your employee handbook includes statements that you have the right to monitor e-mail and Internet usage and that there is no expectation of privacy when using any communication device you provide. While it's a good practice to have employees sign a statement that they have been provided with a copy of the employee handbook (or access to it on the company's intranet site), you can take that one step further and have employees sign a statement acknowledging that Internet access is provided for the performance of their work and that any personal access at the office should be minimal.

A simple performance-based policy and system will help you avoid accusations of favoritism ("But she plays on Facebook all day, why doesn't she get in trouble?") or even problems that come with simple oversight (maybe she is on Facebook all day but is good at hiding it) and skip straight to the real problem — whether the work is getting done (and getting done well).

– Celeste Blackburn

Technology for HR manual and HR Laws subscribers' tip: Get tips for writing your Internet use policies and more online.

Eileen Johnson is an attorney with Whiteford, Taylor & Preston L.L.P. in Baltimore, Maryland. She has more than 25 years of experience advising nonprofit organizations and associations on a wide variety of legal issues and writes a monthly column, "Eileen's Eye on the Net," for Maryland Employment Law Letter.

Need help crafting your electronic workplace policies? The Technology for HR manual gives you policy pointers  as well as talking points to bring up with employees.

Thanks to M. Lee Smith Publishers LLC / HR Hero


Six Ways To Ensure You Don't Get The Job

Simple Ways to Make a Terrible Impression in a Job Interview

Different jobs require different qualities in an employee -- so what a hiring manager is looking for will vary from interview to interview. But there are some behaviors that decision-makers agree are especially annoying. We asked several hiring managers for their interviewee pet peeves -- and for their take on what a job applicants can do to get their resumes tossed into the recycling bin.

If you're looking for a job, be warned.

Send a Follow-Up "thx 4 mtg" Text Message

Kristin Terdik, inside sales support director of Technekes in Charlotte, North Carolina, laments the lost art of professional interview thank-you notes that feature actual words on real paper. "Candidates directly out of school think they can send you a text message or an invitation to a social networking site, and that counts as a thank-you note," she says. "It doesn't count, but so many entry-level people are doing it now I'm forced to cut them some slack."

Peggy Rosenblatt, senior vice president for AKRF, an environmental planning and engineering consulting firm, is less forgiving. "If I don't get a well-written thank-you note as a follow up, they're out," she says.

Ask, 'What Does Your Company Do?'

"If candidates don't have the curiosity or interest to do their homework on our Web site, then I am not interested in them," says Rosenblatt.

Bring the Family

Erin Duddy, a recruiter at a small staffing firm in Raleigh, North Carolina, has been unpleasantly surprised when a candidate brings a baby or a child to an interview. "If you absolutely must bring children to the company, at least clear it ahead of time," she recommends.

A hiring manager at a Florida hospital adds that bringing a spouse or parent to the interview -- or letting a loved one negotiate your salary and benefits for you -- is one way to ensure you'll get no salary and benefits.

Use Your Cell in the Meeting

Hiring managers say that they're seeing more candidates use their cellphones to send text messages or take personal calls during interviews -- but that doesn't make the behavior any more acceptable.

John M. O'Connor, president of Career Pro, adds that even using electronics in the waiting room can reflect negatively. "Executive assistants often tell the boss everything, and if they see you constantly using your PDA, it may give the impression that you're unfocused or easily distracted," he says.

Don't Smile. Or Laugh Too Much. Or Cry

O'Connor says that a smile and a sense of humor are crucial in interviews, no matter what the job may be. "Hiring managers have told me, 'This person is great on paper -- but he's so intense and humorless in person, I would never want to go to lunch with him,'" he says.

On the other hand, Frank Papa, operating partner at H.I.G. Capital in North Carolina, warns against undue giddiness. "When a candidate laughs all the says they are trying too hard to be accepted and be liked."

Then again, laughter may be better than tears. "I hate interviewing someone who is so nervous they cannot answer the questions and then break down and cry," says Isabella Tagore, a recruiting consultant based in southern California.

Come with Your Own Beverages

Many hiring managers dislike it when people bring their own take-out cups of coffee to drink during an interview, according to career strategist Barbara Safani. It can come across as far too informal. And if you bring a child's Hello Kitty lunch box containing utensils to brew your own tea -- as one candidate did when meeting Terdik -- you will be memorable -- but not in a good way.

Thanks to Larry Buhl, for Yahoo! HotJobs / Career Advice Monster


How To Write An Effective Resume Title

When you create or edit your Monster resume, you are asked to name your resume. The name you pick will be featured across the top of your resume in bold and colored text as the resume headline, so select a name that is memorable and professional.

Experts suggest learning about appropriate job titles before writing the resume title field. "First conduct a search for representative jobs that interest you," says Ginger Korljan, principal of Take Charge Coaching in Phoenix. "Whatever title you choose, the remainder of your resume should demonstrate why you are qualified for that position," she says.

You are allotted up to 35 characters for the "resume name" field in the Monster Resume Builder, so select your words carefully. Don't be afraid to use abbreviations to save space, and keep in mind that the goal of your title is to compel employers to keep reading your resume. An effective title includes your resume objective and your strongest qualification, says Pamela Hann, CPC, a workforce services specialist for the Kansas Department of Commerce. "That could be years of experience, an industry credential or a job-related skill," she says.

"I would advise most clients to include at minimum their desired job target and the number of years of experience," says Joe Perez, CPRW and owner of Seattle-based resume-writing firm Writing Wolf.

Perez says that this is not the place to try to be clever or witty. "Employers want serious professionals who don't need to rely on gimmicks," he says. So avoid stunts like "Hire Me!" or "I'm Your Best Candidate!" and desperate pleas like "Out of Work and Need a Job." Also, steer clear of using your name for your resume title. "Jane Smith Resume" doesn't tell a hiring manager anything about your qualifications or job target.

Before and After Examples by Career Field

To get ideas about how you can craft your own resume title, check out these samples for a variety of industries:


Before: Secretarial Position Wanted

After: Admin Assistant -- MS Office Expert


Before: John Doe for Hire

After: Top-Ranked Pharma Sales Rep, 5 Yrs.


Before: Computer Programmer

After: Sr. Programmer –- Java / J2EE


Before: Engineer

After: Manufacturing Engineer -- Six Sigma


Before: Nurse

After: RN -- 10+ Years of ER Experience


Before: Accountant

After: CPA -- Accountant/Financial Analyst


Before: Finance Executive

After: Bank Ops VP with F500 Experience


Before: Graphics Designer

After: Graphics Designer -- Adobe Suite/3D

Human Resources:

Before: HR Professional

After: HR Manager / SPHR / 10 Yrs. Exp.


Before: Manager

After: Big-Box Retail Manager--11 Yrs Exp.


Before: Marketing & Communications

After: Marcom Manager--Nonprofit Specialty

Public Relations:

Before: Public Relations

After: PR Specialist -- PRSA Certified


Before: Teacher

After: Elementary School Teacher/NYS Cert

Skilled Trades:

Before: Brick Worker

After: Brick & Stone Mason -- 6 Yrs. Exp.


Before: Mechanic

After: Diesel Mechanic -- WTTA L. II Cert.


Before: Logistics Worker

After: Logistics Manager--12 Yrs. JIT Exp.


Before: Transport Industry

After: Transportation Mgr -- DMAIC Trained

Resume Titles for Special Circumstances

Career Change:

Before: Technical Troubleshooter

After: MCP Targeting Help-Desk Position

Military to Civilian:

Before: Ex-Military Worker

After: Army MP Seeking Police Officer Role

New Graduate:

Before: College Graduate

After: BSME Grad -- Available All Shifts

Workforce Reentry:

Before: Stay-at-Home Mom Seeking Job

After: Recruiter -- 10 Years of Experience

Thanks to Kim Isaacs, Monster Resume Expert / Career Advice Monster


'Blame Game' In Work-Family Conflict

ScienceDaily — When the demands of work and family conflict, is the job blamed, is the family role blamed or is blame placed on both? And what are the consequences?

A new study by Elizabeth M. Poposki, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychology in the School of Science at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, explores day-to-day experiences in attributing this type of blame. The work examines individual incidents of work-family conflict and tracks how blame for this conflict is attributed.

Only three percent of those surveyed blamed both work and family for conflict between the two. Sixty-four percent of those surveyed blamed work, not family, for conflict. Twenty-two percent blamed only their family role. Five percent blamed external factors other than work or family for the conflict, and only six percent blamed themselves for the conflict. There were no gender differences in how blame was assigned.

Individuals who attributed conflict to external sources rather than blaming the conflict on themselves were more likely to experience anger and frustration following the conflict. According to Poposki, anger and frustration on the job are related to many negative workplace outcomes such as employee theft. Preventing such emotions may benefit both employees and employers.

The study was published online before print on May 31, 2011 in the peer-reviewed journal Group & Organization Management.

Focusing on reactions to the work-family conflict, Poposki found that the order in which events were scheduled was an important factor in attributing blame as the second event, whether work or family related, was more likely to be blamed than the first. This type of conflict might be avoided on both the work and home fronts, she says, by scheduling events in advance. Last-minute office meetings and drop-in visits by relatives were highlighted by those she surveyed as blame targets.

The 269 participants in the study worked an average of 45 hours per week. All held bachelor's degrees and slightly more than half had received graduate degrees. With an average age of 43 years, two-thirds had spouses who worked at least part-time.

"A lot of research on work-life conflict exists, but most provides an overview which averages many experiences rather than exploring single incidents and reactions to these incidents," said Poposki, who is an industrial-organizational psychologist. "This study is valuable because focusing on details helps us better understand the mechanisms and processes of conflict. This understanding may be important to future studies of the negative emotional reactions to work-family conflict including anger, frustration, shame and guilt.

Poposki's research was supported by a King-Chavez-Parks doctoral fellowship from the State of Michigan and Michigan State University. She joined the School of Science at IUPUI faculty in 2010. In addition to research on the challenges faced when attempting to balance multiple life roles and goals, she teaches undergraduate courses in industrial/organizational psychology and research methods and graduate courses in organizational psychology.

Story Source: The above story is reprinted (with editorial adaptations by ScienceDaily staff) from materials provided by Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis School of Science, via EurekAlert!, a service of AAAS.


Depression: Not Just For Adults

ScienceDaily (June 2, 2011) — From a distance, Callie (not her real name) appears to be a normal if quiet 5-year-old girl. But when faced with a toy that blows large soap bubbles -- an activity that makes the vast majority of kindergarteners squeal and leap with delight -- she is uninterested in popping the bubbles or taking a turn with the gun herself. When offered dolls or other toys, she is equally unmoved. When groups of children congregate to play, Callie does not join them. Even at home, she is quiet and withdrawn. While Callie's mother explains this lack of interest in play as simple "shyness," researchers are now discovering that children as young as 3 years of age can meet the clinical criteria for major depressive disorder (MDD). What's more, they demonstrate patterns of brain activation very similar to those seen in adults diagnosed with the disorder.

Brain changes in pre-school depression

Joan Luby, director of the early emotional development program at Washington University in St. Louis, has been studying pre-school depression for almost two decades. Developmental psychologists have argued that young children did not have the emotional or cognitive competence to experience depression, but Luby's clinical experience contradicted the party line.

"When you think about it, most of the core symptoms of depression are developmentally broad," says Luby. "Sadness and irritability can occur at any age from infancy to very old age. But symptoms like anhedonia were thought to be adult problems because it's often talked about as decreased libido. That, obviously, doesn't occur in young children. But when you developmentally translate it to an absence of joyfulness, especially when joyfulness is the dominant mood state of young children, you have a pretty robust clinical marker."

Depressed pre-schoolers do not just show synonymous clinical symptoms to adult depression -- they also show similar patterns of brain activity when scanned using a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) techniques. In a study published in the March 2011 issue of the Journal of Affective Disorders, Luby and colleagues scanned 11 depressed children with an average age of 4.5 years while they viewed faces with different expressions of emotion. The group found that there was a significant correlation between the severity of the depression and increased activity in the right amygdala, the same pattern of activity viewed in adults with depression.

"There is something about the experience of depression in very early childhood that seems to leave an enduring mark on the brain -- these kids are more likely to be depressed as adults, too," she says. "So these results suggest that there may be very early markers of a depressed brain that can be picked up in kids as early as age 4 or 5 and may open the door to much earlier intervention."

Risk factors for early childhood depression

Daniel Klein, a psychologist at Stony Brook University, is investigating potential factors in early childhood that may predict later chronic depression.

"When clinicians ask a depressed person when they first started feeling depressed, they'll often report having been depressed their entire lives," he says. "It's not clear when the onset is so I study pre-school age children with the intent of trying to identify behavioral and emotional precursors that will later evolve into chronic depression."

He is currently following more than 600 families from the local community sample in a longitudinal study. Though preliminary, a few factors appear to play a large role in the onset of depression later in life.

"In terms of temperament, a lack of exuberance and joy in situations where most kids get very excited about and then a lot of feelings of fearfulness and sadness stand out," he says. "These kids tend to have parents who have a history of depression and we're seeing some abnormalities in electrical activity when we take EEGs. There's some evidence now that these patterns predict not necessarily clinical depression but more depressive symptoms three or four years later."

Treating children with depression

While understanding the origins of MDD is of great biological interest, parents of depressed pre-schoolers are more interested in viable treatment options than brain scans. While anti-depressants have been used with some success in the adult population, there is wide concern about whether they should be used in children, let alone children of such a young age whose brains are going through critical periods of development.

"Certainly, with kids, there are all kinds of concerns particular to their age and level of neurological and physical development when we're talking about drug treatments," says Michael Yapko, a former clinical psychologist and author of Depression is Contagious. "Despite those concerns, the Food and Drug Administration estimates that 7% of antidepressants are still being prescribed to children."

While Luby does not dismiss the idea of a pharmacological treatment in the future, Luby's lab is currently testing a unique early intervention called dyadic play therapy. Children work with their primary caregivers, who are coached via an earpiece by a therapist, on emotional regulation and development.

"So far, the treatment appears promising," she says. "We are just now writing up the results of a small randomized, controlled trial suggesting there may be large effect sizes with this intervention."

Both Luby and Klein emphasize that our biological understanding of pre-school depression is still very preliminary. And while there is no one treatment option for these children at this point, Luby offers this advice to parents -- especially parents who have a child like Callie.

"Be attentive. If you have a child who is persistently irritable, persistently sad, who does not brighten in play or when fun and exciting things happen, that's every bit as much of a concern as a child who is disruptive in pre-school," says Luby. "We don't tend to pay as much attention to it but it is every bit as much of a concern. And treating it early may make all the difference."

Story Source: The above story is reprinted (with editorial adaptations by ScienceDaily staff) from materials provided by DANA Foundation. The original article was written by Kayt Sukel.


Want To Solve A Problem? Don't Just Use Your Brain, But Your Body, Too

ScienceDaily — When we've got a problem to solve, we don't just use our brains but the rest of our bodies, too. The connection, as neurologists know, is not uni-directional. Now there's evidence from cognitive psychology of the same fact. "Being able to use your body in problem solving alters the way you solve the problems," says University of Wisconsin psychology professor Martha Alibali. "Body movements are one of the resources we bring to cognitive processes."

These conclusions, of a new study by Alibali and colleagues -- Robert C. Spencer, also at the University of Wisconsin, and Lucy Knox and Sotaro Kita of the University of Birmingham -- are augmented by another, counter-intuitive one -- even when we are solving problems that have to do with motion and space, the inability to use the body may force us to come up with other strategies, and these may be more efficient.

The findings will be published in an upcoming issue of Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

The study involved two experiments. The first recruited 86 American undergraduates, half of whom were prevented from moving their hands using Velcro gloves that attached to a board. The others were prevented from moving their feet, using Velcro straps attached to another board. The latter thus experienced the strangeness of being restricted, but also had their hands free. From the other side of an opaque screen, the experimenter asked questions about gears in relation to each other -- e.g., "If five gears are arranged in a line, and you move the first gear clockwise, what will the final gear do?" The participants solved the problems aloud and were videotaped.

The videotapes were then analyzed for the number of hand gestures the participants used (hand rotations or "ticking" movements, indicating counting); verbal explanations indicating the subject was visualizing those physical movements; or the use of more abstract mathematical rules, without reference to perceptual-motor processes.

The results: The people who were allowed to gesture usually did so -- and they also commonly used perceptual-motor strategies in solving the puzzles. The people whose hands were restrained, as well as those who chose not to gesture (even when allowed), used abstract, mathematical strategies much more often.

In a second experiment, 111 British adults did the same thing silently and were videotaped, and described their strategies afterwards. The results were the same.

The findings evince deeper questions about the relationship of mind and body and their relationship to space, says Alibali. "As human thinkers, we use visual-spatial metaphors all the time to solve problems and conceptualize things -- even in domains that don't seem physical on their face. Adding is 'up,' subtracting is 'down.' A good mood is 'high,' a bad one is 'low.' This is the metaphoric structuring of our conceptual landscape."

Alibali, who is also an educational psychologist, asks: "How we can harness the power of action and perception in learning?" Or, conversely: What about the cognitive strategies of people who cannot use their bodies? "They may focus on different aspects of problems," she says. And, it turns out, they may be onto something the rest of us could learn from.

Story Source: The above story is reprinted (with editorial adaptations by ScienceDaily staff) from materials provided by Association for Psychological Science.


New Bitter Blocker Discovered

ScienceDaily — Although bitterness can sometimes be desirable -- such as in the taste of coffee or chocolate -- more often bitter taste causes rejection that can interfere with food selection, nutrition and therapeutic compliance. This is especially true for children. Now, scientists from the Monell Center and Integral Molecular describe the discovery of a compound that inhibits bitterness by acting directly on a subset of bitter taste receptors.

"Bitter taste is a major problem for pediatric drug compliance and also for proper nutrition, such as eating those healthy but bitter green vegetables," said Monell senior author Paul Breslin, Ph.D., a sensory biologist. "But we currently have very limited ways to effectively control bitter taste."

Bitterness is detected by a family of approximately 25 different taste receptors called TAS2Rs. Together, the TAS2Rs respond to a broad array of structurally different compounds, many of which are found in nature and can be toxic.

Discovery of bitter blockers would help scientists understand the signaling mechanisms of these receptors and promote the design of novel and more effective blockers.

Monell and Integral Molecular are collaborating on a large project to understand the structure and function of TAS2Rs. In a serendipitous discovery, the researchers found that probenecid, a molecule frequently used in receptor assays, is an inhibitor of a subset of bitter taste receptors. Probenecid also is an FDA-approved therapeutic for gout.

In the study, published in PLoS ONE, a series of in vitro studies revealed that probenecid does not physically block interaction of bitter molecules with the receptor's primary binding site. Rather, it appears to bind elsewhere on the receptor to modulate the receptor's ability to interact with the bitter molecule.

"Probenecid's mechanism of action makes it a useful tool for understanding how bitter receptors function," said Integral Molecular senior author Joseph B. Rucker, Ph.D. "This knowledge will help us develop more potent bitter taste inhibitors."

A series of human sensory studies established that probenecid robustly inhibited the bitter taste of salicin, a compound that stimulates one of the target receptors.

"This demonstrates how we can take in vitro experiments and go on to show how they make a difference functionally and perceptually," said Breslin.

Additional studies will continue to explore the structure and function of TAS2Rs. The overall goal is to identify the regions of the receptors that contribute to bitter molecule binding and how binding events lead to signaling events within the cell.

Understanding modulation of bitter receptor function may have additional implications for the respiratory and gastrointestinal systems, as bitter taste receptors also are expressed in the nose, the lungs and the intestines.

Also contributing to the research were first author Tiffani A. Greene, Anu Thomas, Eli Berdougo, and Benjamin J. Doranz of Integral Molecular, and Suzanne Alarcon of Rutgers University School of Environmental and Biological Sciences. Dr. Breslin is also faculty at Rutgers University School of Environmental and Biological Sciences. The research was funded by the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders.

Story Source: The above story is reprinted (with editorial adaptations by ScienceDaily staff) from materials provided by Monell Chemical Senses Center, via EurekAlert!, a service of AAAS.


People Who Have Had Head Injuries Report More Violent Behavior

ScienceDaily — Young people who have sustained a head injury during their lifetime are more likely to engage in violent behavior, according to an eight-year study from the University of Michigan School of Public Health.

Further, the research found that young people who suffered a recent head injury (within a year of being questioned for the study) were even more likely to report violent behavior.

The report, which appears in the current issue of the journal Pediatrics, is one of the few studies to examine long-term effects of head injuries in a general population of young adults. Most other similar studies were conducted in prison populations.

There's been a recent blitz of media and research attention regarding youth, college and professional athletes who suffer head injuries and concussions while playing. This study is broader, but confirms previous findings about the connection between violence and head injuries, says lead author Sarah Stoddard, a research assistant professor at the School of Public Health.

"These are not necessarily sports-playing injuries," said Stoddard, who also is a research fellow at the U-M School of Nursing. "They could be from a car accident or from previous violent behavior, but it does support some of the sports research that's been going on with concussions."

Stoddard used data from the School of Public Health's Flint Adolescent Study, which looks at many issues regarding urban youth. Marc Zimmerman, professor of public health and chair of the U-M Department of Health Behavior and Health Education, is the principal investigator on that study.

The researchers followed a group of ninth-graders from four schools in Flint, Mich., into young adulthood. They conducted annual interviews over eight years. In years five and six, participants were asked if they had ever sustained a head injury. Those who said yes -- about 23 percent -- reported more violent behavior in year eight of the study.

Moreover, Stoddard and Zimmerman examined the proximal relationship between a head injury and violent behavior and found that an injury reported in year seven of the study predicted violent behavior in year eight.

"We found that the link between a head injury and later violence was stronger when a head injury was more recent, even after controlling for other factors including previous violent behavior," Stoddard said.

The results also suggest that adolescents and young adults who have suffered a head injury that did not interfere with their ability to participate in an hour-long interview may still experience significant adverse developmental or behavioral effects.

The researchers defined a head injury as having been knocked unconscious or sustaining a concussion or a fractured skull.

Traumatic brain injury is a serious public health issue, they say. An estimated 1.7 million people annually sustain a TBI, and that only includes people who get medical care, so the number is likely much higher. Roughly 75 percent of head injuries are mild and many do not receive medical attention, but any TBI disrupts the function of the brain. Long-term impact can include changes in cognition, language and emotion, including irritability, impulsiveness and violence.

Story Source: The above story is reprinted (with editorial adaptations by ScienceDaily staff) from materials provided by University of Michigan.


Thoughts, Unable To Turn Their Attention Away, Study Suggests

ScienceDaily — We all have our ups and downs -- a fight with a friend, a divorce, the loss of a parent. But most of us get over it. Only some go on to develop major depression. Now, a new study, which will be published in an upcoming issue of Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, suggests part of the reason may be that people with depression get stuck on bad thoughts because they're unable to turn their attention away.

People who don't recover from negative events seem to keep going over their troubles. "They basically get stuck in a mindset where they relive what happened to them over and over again," says Jutta Joormann, of the University of Miami. She co wrote the new study with Sara Levens and Ian H. Gotlib of Stanford University. "Even though they think, oh, it's not helpful, I should stop thinking about this, I should get on with my life -- they can't stop doing it," she says. She and her colleagues thought people with depression might have a problem with working memory. Working memory isn't just about remembering a shopping list or doing multiplication in your head; it's about what thoughts you keep active in your mind. So, Joormann thought, maybe people who get stuck on negative thoughts have problems turning their mind to a new topic.

Joormann and her colleagues recruited 26 people with depression and 27 people who had never had depression. Each person sat in front of a computer and was shown three words, one at a time for a second each. Then, they were told to remember the words either in the order they were presented or in backward order. The computer then presented one of the three words and they were supposed to respond as quickly as they could whether that word was first, second, or third in the list. The faster they were able to give a correct answer, the better they were at thinking flexibly.

People with depression had trouble re-ordering the words in their head; if they were asked to remember the words in reverse order, they took longer to give the correct answer. They had a particularly hard time if the three words had negative meanings, like "death" or "sadness."

"The order of the words sort of gets stuck in their working memory, especially when the words are negative," Joormann says. She also found that people who had more trouble with this are also more likely to ruminate on their troubles. She hopes that these findings point towards a way to help people with depression, by training them to turn their minds away from negative thoughts.

Story Source: The above story is reprinted (with editorial adaptations by ScienceDaily staff) from materials provided by Association for Psychological Science.


Examining The Brain As A Neural Information Super-Highway

ScienceDaily (June 2, 2011) — An article demonstrating how tools for modeling traffic on the Internet and telephone systems can be used to study information flow in brain networks will be published in the open-access journal PLoS Computational Biology on 2nd June 2011.

The brain functions as a complex system of regions that must communicate with each other to enable everyday activities such as perception and cognition. This need for networked computation is a challenge common to multiple types of communication systems. Thus, important questions about how information is routed and emitted from individual brain regions may be addressed by drawing parallels with other well-known types of communication systems, such as the Internet.

The authors, from the Rotman Research Institute at Baycrest Centre, Toronto, Canada, showed that -- similar to other communication networks -- the timing pattern of information emission is highly indicative of information traffic flow through the network. In this study the output of information was sensitive to subtle differences between individual subjects, cognitive states and brain regions.

The researchers recorded electrical activity from the brain and used signal processing techniques to precisely determine exactly when units of information get emitted from different regions. They then showed that the times between successive departures are distributed according to a specific distribution. For instance, when research study participants were asked to open their eyes in order to allow visual input, emission times became significantly more variable in parts of the brain responsible for visual processing, reflecting and indicating increased neural "traffic" through the underlying brain regions.

This method can be broadly applied in neuroscience and may potentially be used to study the effects of neural development and aging, as well as neurodegenerative disease, where traffic flow would be compromised by the loss of certain nodes or disintegration of pathways.

This research was funded by grants from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) and Santa Fe Institute Consortium to TP and a J.S. McDonnel Foundation grant to ARM.

Story Source: The above story is reprinted (with editorial adaptations by ScienceDaily staff) from materials provided by Public Library of Science, via EurekAlert!, a service of AAAS.


Baby Thinking - Radiologists Use Light To Scan The Inner Workings Of The Brain

Radiologists have developed a new device to understand brain activity. It is a collection of fiber optic cables attached to a flexible cap placed atop the head. The cables send near-infrared light through the skull and into the brain, where it is diffused or scattered before it is collected by receiver cables. The device is able to interpret the light to measure blood circulation and the amount of oxygen in that blood, which helps explain brain activity.

When doctors want to find out what's going on inside a baby's brain it usually requires, noisy or dangerous equipment and babies sitting completely still.

But, new technology is now giving researchers a fascinating look inside an infant's brain in a much easier way.

Radiologists are using a new technique to see what parts of a baby's brain are working during any given task. Their method is baby-friendly with no exposure to radiation or loud machines.

"It has a more wearable cap so it can be placed in infants heads while they sit in their parents lap," Joseph Culver, Ph.D., Washington University Medical School said. Culver and his colleagues improved a brain imaging technique called high-density diffuse optical tomography.

It measures how much blood and oxygen are in the brain.

"It's similar to taking a flashlight and putting it on one side of your hand and looking at the light come through your hand so the light has traveled through your hand and the light that you detect on the other side tells you something about what's inside your hand," Dr. Culver said. Fiber optic cables on the cap shine light on the baby's brain. The light scatters revealing blood flow related to brain activity in a 3D tomographic image. You can see it in action, when a patient watches a flickering light; a similar rotating pattern shows up in the brain's blood flow.

"There's an increase in blood flow to that area and that allows us to map that neuron activity," Dr. Culver said.

Future uses for the cap include researching brain development in the tiniest of babies … or monitoring a baby's brain during surgery.

BACKGROUND: Researchers have developed a new brain imaging technique for infants called high-density diffuse optical tomography which helps them to study the developing infant brain. This should help treat infant brain injuries by being able to monitor them in their incubators, and help scientists learn important basics about developing brains. The new scanner is quieter, and portable because it is much smaller – about the size of a small refrigerator – than typical MRI or CT scan machines. The developers are working to make the unit even smaller, about the size of a microwave.

THE PROBLEM: Scientists have been able to study brain scans of infants while they are asleep or sedated using functional MRI (magnetic resonance imaging). Ideally researchers would like to scan their brains while sitting on a parent's lap or interacting with their environment. fMRI requires the patient to be inserted into a tightly confined passage through a large, noisy magnet; most infants find it upsetting and difficult to sit still in that environment. In the same way CT scans involve large, loud equipment, and also expose patients to levels of x-rays considered unsafe for infants.

HOW IT WORKS: The high-density diffuse optical tomography (DOT) uses harmless light from the near-infrared light spectrum. Unlike X-rays or ultrasound, near-infrared light passes through bone easily, so scientists can use the diffusing light to determine blood flow and oxygenation in the blood vessels of the brain. When these characteristics increase, it indicates that the area of the brain they are scanning is contributing to a mental task. To scan a patient, scientists attach a flexible cap that covers the exterior of the head above the region of interest. Inside the cap are fiber optic cables. Some of those cables shine light on the head and by determining the way the light is scattered, researchers can learn more about brain activity. Light passes out of one fiber optic cable, goes through the tissue, and is received by another cable. Based on its interpretation of the diffusion data, the machine creates a 3D image based on whether the red blood cells have lots of oxygen or less oxygen to determine brain activity.

WHAT IS fMRI: Magnetic resonance imaging uses radio waves and a strong magnetic field to take clear and detailed pictures of internal organs and tissues. fMRI uses this technology to identify regions of the brain where blood vessels are expanding, chemical changes are taking place, or extra oxygen is being delivered. These are indications that a particular part of the brain is processing information and giving commands to the body. As a patient performs a particular task, the metabolism will increase in the brain area responsible for that task, changing the signal in the MRI image. So by performing specific tasks that correspond to different functions, scientists can locate the part of the brain that governs that function.

The American Association of Physicists in Medicine and The Optical Society of America contributed to the information contained in the TV portion of this report.

Editor's Note: This article is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Note: This story and accompanying video were originally produced for the American Institute of Physics series Discoveries and Breakthroughs in Science by Ivanhoe Broadcast News and are protected by copyright law. All rights reserved.


Successful Start-Ups Use Bold Strategies To Kick Start Sales

Conventional business wisdom supports the premise that a start-up company, with no track record and no customers, needs to grow slowly and first reach for the "low hanging fruit." My actual experience says—"it depends." My first cold call was to Saks Fifth Avenue's main purchasing office.

As a single parent, I knew that playing tennis on the weekends would give me an opportunity to meet people. Although I was an avid tennis player, I couldn't stand the pre-game "mirror check"—all my tennis dresses were stick straight, clingy, and short.

My "Rubenesque" figure had its share of curves, and I knew I could design a dress that fit my body better than those available in the marketplace; flaring out at the waist, ample in the bust, and slightly longer. My design covered all my curves and I added two new functional improvements —pockets (which avoided having to stuff the second tennis ball in my underwear while serving), and a breathable fabric that held its shape and was wrinkle free.

"I absolutely love that dress!" said the chorus of women at the tennis club the first time I wore my design. "Where did you buy it?" That was my "focus group" and I immediately knew I had something marketable.

Although calling Saks Fifth Avenue would be considered a gutsy move for someone with a brand new, unknown product, it seemed to me that the quickest way to find out if my company had something unique was to take my sample tennis dresses to one of the most prestigious and well-known department stores in the country and one that sold women's high-end tennis clothing.

My initial surprise was that the buyer came to the phone. An even bigger surprise was that he agreed to see me the following week!

I arrived at the Saks New York store for the meeting, was directed to the back of the sportswear department and instructed to set up the garments in a dressing room. Most sportswear lines have about a hundred samples and take more than an hour to arrange. Arranging my four sample dresses took less than a minute.

The appointment was scheduled for 4 pm. By 5:15 I was still waiting for the buyer and was beginning to think he had heard about my piddling line and was going to cancel the showing. However, at 5:30 the buyer came into the dressing room. Without saying a word, he walked over to the long silver rack where my sample dresses were displayed.

"Where's the rest of your line?" he asked.

"This is it," I said, hoping he wouldn't laugh and walk out.

He didn't laugh. He didn't walk out, and for the next 10 minutes, he looked critically at my dresses, one at a time.

I didn't need to point out the hidden pockets or the fine workmanship, as I saw the buyer nod slightly as he turned each dress inside out—seeming to approve of what he saw.

Just when I thought the buyer had finished his inspection, he went over the selection again, lingering on one in particular—a white dress with a large rhinestone butterfly on the front. Finally, he turned to me.

"Can you produce 500 of this one and ship them to me in New York by the first of November?" he asked.

"Certainly" I said, having no idea if the contractor that made my samples could fill the order.

The dresses were delivered and sold out; my company was launched!

Selecting potential customers for my product line was obvious—women who played tennis, were in their 30's and older, and were able to afford an outfit that was pricey—and who better than Saks to showcase my dresses?

Yes, this was a bold strategy. Yes, I took a calculated risk that I could be embarrassed and turned away by the Saks buyer, and yes, reaching for the ultimate, the buying office headquarters of Saks Fifth Avenue, to sell my first creation, was a daring move.

But it worked!

The best guidance I can give you is this—toss out your MBA handbook and do what I did.

Thanks to Susan T. Spencer / Blogs Forbes


Project A More Powerful Image At Work

There are two sets of body language cues that people look for in leaders: warmth (empathy, likeability, caring) and authority (power, credibility, status). Although I know several leaders of both sexes who do not fit the stereotypes, I've noticed that women excel in the warmth and empathy characteristics but lose out when it comes to the power and authority cues.
If a woman wants to be perceived as credible, confident, and powerful she has to be aware of the nonverbal signals she's sending. Too often, women on all levels of the corporate ladder unknowingly exhibit behaviors that reduce their authority.

If you want to be taken seriously by your superiors and co-workers, avoid the following 10 common women's body language mistakes:

1. Using too many head tilts. Head tilting is a signal that someone is listening and involved—and a particularly feminine gesture. Head tilts can be very positive cues, but people also subconsciously process them as signals of submission. Women who want to project power and authority should keep their heads straight up in a more neutral position.

2. Condensing your space. One way that status is nonverbally demonstrated in a business meeting is by physically taking up room. Lower-status, less-confident men (and most women) tend to pull in their bodies and minimize their size, while high status males expand and take up space. So at your next meeting, spread out your belongings and claim your turf!
3. Acting girlish. Everyone uses pacifying gestures when under stress: they rub their hands together, grab their upper arms, and touch their necks. Women, however, are viewed as much less powerful when they pacify with girlish behaviors (twirling hair, playing with jewelry, or biting a finger.)

4. Smiling excessively. While smiling can be a powerful and positive nonverbal cue— especially for signaling likeability and friendliness—women should be aware that excessive or inappropriate smiling can be confusing and can lower their credibility. This is especially true if you smile while discussing a serious subject, expressing anger, or giving negative feedback.

5. Nodding too much. When a man nods, it means he agrees. When a woman nods, it means she agrees—or is listening to, empathizing with, or encouraging the speaker to continue. This excessive head nodding can make a female look like a bobble-head doll. Constant head nodding can express encouragement and engagement, but not authority and power.

6. Speaking "up." Women's voices often rise at the ends of sentences as if they're asking a question or asking for approval. When stating your opinion, be sure to use the authoritative arc, in which your voice starts on one note, rises in pitch through the sentence and drops back down at the end.

7. Waiting your turn. In negotiations, men talk more than women and interrupt more frequently. One perspective on the value of speaking up comes from former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who, when asked what advice she had for up-and-coming professional women, replied, "Learn to interrupt."

8. Being overly expressive. While a certain amount of movement and animation adds passion and meaning to a message, women who express the entire spectrum of emotions often overwhelm their audience (especially if the audience is comprised primarily of males). So in situations where you want to maximize your authority, minimize your movements. When you appear calm and contained, you look more powerful.

9. Shaking hands too delicately. People who have a weak handshake are judged to be passive and less confident. So take the time to cultivate your "professional shake." Keep your body squared off to the other person, facing him or her fully. Make sure you have palm-to-palm contact and that the web of your hand (the skin between your thumb and first finger) touches the web of the other person's; and, most of all, remember to shake hands firmly.

10. Flirting. Women gain likeability but lose their competitive advantage when they flirt. In a UC Berkeley study female actors played the roles of sellers of a biotech business. Half were told to project a no-nonsense, business approach. Half were instructed to flirt (using the nonverbal behaviors of smiling, leaning forward suggestively, tossing their hair, etc.) —but to do so subtly. The outcome was that the "buyers" offered the flirts (dubbed "likeable losers") 20% less, on average, than what they offered the more straitlaced sellers.

About the Author(s) :- Carol Kinsey Goman, Ph.D. is an executive coach, change-management consultant, and international keynote speaker at corporate, government, and association events. She is the author of The Nonverbal Advantage: Secrets and Science of Body Language at Work.  Her new book, The Silent Language of Leaders, will be published in spring 2011. For more information, contact: or visit: and


Fifteen Ways To Show Your Value At Work

The unemployment rate is hovering at around 10% and for many companies, business isn't exactly booming. The best way to keep your job is to show your employer that you are so valuable that they simply can't live without you.

Here are 15 sure-fire ways to increase your value to the organization:
1. Be part of the bottom line.
If you want to be valuable to your company, then you need to help it make money. The company measures its ROI on you, so you should measure the ROI on yourself as well. Focus on the activities that use your time, skills, and resources most effectively to connect back to the bottom line.

2. Remember that time is money. Your most valuable commodity is your time; spend it wisely. Don't invest eight hours in putting together a presentation when you can deliver the same results with less prep time. Management will value the content of your message, not a bunch of fluff and pretty artwork.

3. Sing your own praises (but not too loudly). Your work generally won't speak for itself. You must speak for yourself. Make sure that managers understand the effort you put into your job and the results you produce. A bit of modest bragging will not only help you come promotion time, but it will also help discredit any attacks levied against you. Provide the right amount of information about yourself, but don't beat your accomplishments to death. Too many trips to the boss's office may work against you.

4. Recognize "deal or no deal" situations. Most people don't negotiate well because they really want what the other person has and they don't want to risk losing it. But whether it's a big contract, a job, a promotion, or a new car, you have to be willing to walk away. When you are willing to do so, you will be pleasantly surprised at how much better your negotiations turn out. Suddenly, what you offer carries value, and the tables often turn.

5. Get smart. Too many people don't understand the basic operation of their companies. Familiarize yourself with the organizational chart and reporting structures. Study and understand the financials. You never know where your life may lead. Learn as much as you can along the way, even though what you're learning may not seem relevant at the time.

6. Be a confident innovator. When you pitch your ideas to management, be prepared to defend your views and also to receive criticism. Management will challenge you simply to test your level of enthusiasm for the idea and its viability. There are a lot of variables to consider, and management wants to know you've thought about them. If you support your ideas with solid research and show some passion, management will be more likely to embrace your concept.

7. Keep an eye on your e-trail. Save all important e-mail and electronic data. If you have ever received an e-mail from someone asking you to confirm something, that person is likely covering himself. This is not a bad thing, and in many cases can clear up any confusion later. Disk space is cheap compared to the trouble it may save you.

8. Don't be afraid to say no (assuming that you're doing such a great job your company can't afford to get rid of you). If you don't set limits, you will find yourself on a perpetual treadmill.

9. Know which rung on the ladder is right for you. Do you want to be responsible for the success or failure of your company? If so, move up the ladder. Do you want to go home at five every day and forget about work until the next morning? Then moving up the ladder is not for you. The important thing is that you do your job to the best of your ability and that you are happy doing it.

10. Shut up and listen. If you don't know what you don't know, then seek out some experienced advice. A mentor can warn you about things you may never have considered and keep you from being blindsided by unforeseen events or costs. As difficult as it may be, admit to yourself that you don't know everything.

11. Learn the difference between e-communication and real communication. Communicating with people is an opportunity not only to transfer information but also to build relationships with them. In an age of electronic communication, our conversations are becoming increasingly impersonal. Effective employees must be able to interact with people and solve problems. If you can't interact with people directly, you have no value.

12. Add sales to your skill set. When it comes to You, Inc., there is only one person on the sales team: you! Despite what your resume says, adding sales to your skill set is a must. Whenever you are trying to pitch a new idea to your company, you'll need a sales pitch that is convincing and sound. Moreover, if you are vying for a promotion or raise, you'll need to be prepared to pitch yourself. Be ready to defend your views and have answers for the tough questions. If someone disagrees with you, be ready to support your ideas with solid research and your own enthusiasm. You'll soon persuade people to see things your way.

13. If it isn't broken, don't fix it. The only reason to change something is to make it better. In business, change is often confused with progress. Likewise, employees feel the pressure to constantly make changes to keep up the appearance of productivity and to prove their worth. Put a time limit on your own goals so that you don't chase a bad idea longer than you should. In addition, if the system, idea, or product you currently have in place works well—then let it be, and concentrate your efforts on changing the things that truly need it.

14. Get a life. It's good to be committed to the company, and corporate accomplishments are rewarding; but when all is said and done, a lifetime goes by quickly. Try not to take your job home with you. I am a firm believer that you get what you give. If you are happy, those around you will be happy as well.

15. Say "no" to working vacations. When you take your vacation, take your vacation! Don't offer to check e-mail and voicemail while you are away. I have made this mistake and I can tell you if you do it, you might as well have stayed at work. A lot of companies offer rewards and perks like club trips or weekend getaways. Although these are great and can be a lot of fun, they are not vacations. They are still about the company, and you will still be working. You'll just be out of the office.

Finally, if you spend your workdays worrying about losing your job, you are probably headed for trouble. Push those negative thoughts out of your mind and focus on the work you do and how you add value to your company. Demonstrate positivity and a can-do attitude to your team. Work smarter than your competition and you'll get ahead, every time.

About the Author(s) :- Blaine Loomer is the author of Corporate Bullsh*t: A Survival Guide (Mitchell Publishers Inc., 2009). He has consulted with thousands of companies, from enterprising individuals of mom and pop shops to executive officers of some of the largest corporations in America.

Thanks to AMA—American Management Association


Seven Ways To Make Your Customers Love You

With so much emphasis placed on finding customers today, business owners often lose sight of keeping the ones they have. Here are a few surefire ways to stem those losses.

These days, every customer counts.

So why then do companies lose them? Between moving away or passing away and switching to a competitor -- the excuses are many for why customers may jump ship. But the No. 1 reason why customers bail is the feeling of indifference toward a product or service.

To counter this ambivalence, it's key to make sure your customers feel and perceive that they're wanted and want to stay where they're appreciated. But to make customers love you, you'll have to work even harder. Here are seven ways to win the devotion that makes for loyal customers:

  1. Never assume. You may think you know what customers want. But what if you're wrong? The main reason such a high percentage of new businesses fail is because those companies are trying to create demand where there isn't any, or they're built around untested or unproven ideas that are hard pressed to attract even a small sampling of customers.
    Don't make the same mistake. Test and start small, and build your product, service or value proposition around the wants, needs and desires of your target customer. Not only will you get a better understanding of customer needs, you'll be able to identify innovative ways to solve their problems and exceed their expectations.
  2. Always deliver. To win customers back, you need to deliver on time, every time. If a problem arises, inform your customer right away. Explain how you're going to deal with it. Then follow up again -- and again -- to ensure positive results. This also goes for your invoices and any correspondence. You might even create a system to ensure that each task gets completed correctly and is always delivered in a timely fashion.
  3. Personalize loyalty programs. In order to ensure you have a winning loyalty program, you must plan, design and execute it in a systemized way. Plus, you need to show the value of it and continually demonstrate that value to your team. An example of a really big company that does this on a personalized level is Caesars Entertainment, which has mastered the art of customer loyalty programs on a massive scale to drive profit.
    For instance, Caesars knows, down to the penny, just how much its top customers are likely to spend at any of its properties, and what types of activities individual customers prefer when they stay -- be it gaming, dining or taking in a show. This knowledge allows the company to issue customized offers that may be more appealing to Caesars' best patrons.
  4. Train your staff. Here's where scripting comes in. Use periodic training sessions to help give your team the skills that are necessary to boost your company's reputation, trust, empathy, flexibility and verbal communication proficiency. This is vital because each customer contact with your team is an opportunity to build your reputation -- or destroy it.
  5. Say "Thank You." Sounds obvious, but consider this: When was the last time you received a thank-you note from a company you do business with? Or any notice, other than when a payment is due? This simple strategy can really make an impact and says a lot about your company and the value you place on customers.
  6. Stay connected. While the frequency may vary, every customer should receive an off-line "touch" at least once per quarter and, with an email or e-newsletter, even more often. For instance, once a week with an "opt-in" message may do the trick. Over time, you can develop a relationship with your customers, especially if your "touches" are information or educationally-oriented and are designed to add value to their experience with you, rather than just as a mechanism for pushing products or services.
  7. Play favorites. New customers are critical to growth, but you must ensure that current or long-standing customers get VIP treatment as well. Nothing is worse for loyal customers than to see products or services they bought at full price discounted to entice new customers. You can turn this around by offering exclusive loyalty programs, deals or specials geared specifically to your best and most loyal customers.
Thanks to Brad Sugars / Entrepreneur Media, Inc.

Logically Laid Out: A 5 Step Guide To Organizing Your Business For Efficiency And Success

Photo by Mrs Logic

A businesses' ability to implement an effective system of organization could mean the difference between order and anarchy…stability and chaos…success and failure. A strong organizational plan helps ensure that a business remains focused on its goals and is able to work toward those goals in the most efficient manner possible. Without an organized business structure, time may be wasted, and wasted time can translate into lost revenue. Therefore, the following list provides guidance for organizing a business for increased efficiency; however, individuals or families may adopt some of these ideas for a plan to organize their household or personal life as well.

1. Favor Function over Form

We all have that friend who has an unhealthy obsession with organization. She's the one who has books color coded in her bookcase, food alphabetized in the pantry, a rigid, written schedule for every minute of every day, and she makes lists of her to-do lists. Retailers love these overly organized types; they market expensive products to them, like attractive "daily planners" (aka notebooks) and stylish "organizational bins" (aka boxes). If these products tend to lure you in, take a minute to reflect the next time you reach for one when browsing a store or shopping online. Ask yourself if the product is really likely to help keep you organized, or are you really just attracted to its appearance. Because the purpose of organizing is to maximize efficiency and to make our lives easier, you may be wasting your money by purchasing expensive, unnecessary organizational devices.

This same principle applies to the business world. For example, an attempt to form a separate department or committee with a fancy name to give the appearance of organizational structure will likely cost a business financially and lead to reduced efficiency. Organizing your business should be an organic process, and every attempt to increase efficiency should have a specific purpose and should not be based on pretense.

Indeed, organization doesn't have to be pretty. I know a guy whose office looks, to casual observers, like a disaster. Stacks of paper line the floor in his office and everything appears to be out of order. However, he insists that he knows where everything is and that tidying up the apparent mess would undermine his organizational strategy and lead to wasted hours trying to find things. While that example may be extreme (and, to be fair, there are other important reasons for avoiding the appearance of chaos while carrying on your business), it does demonstrate that we should all strive for function over form in organizing our lives and our businesses.

2. Go Custom Instead of Generic

The organizational structure for every business should be carefully designed with the nature and size of the specific business in mind. For example, the model adopted by a one-man-show or sole proprietorship won't necessarily work for a multi-office corporation. And the system implemented for a retail establishment might not translate well if introduced into an office environment. Therefore, take time to analyze your specific needs and goals as you determine the best way to organize your business.

3. Make It a Comprehensive Plan

Careful organization shouldn't just be confined to the system of storing your files or the manner of retaining your company's paperwork. Instead, you should strive to bring order to every aspect of your business. That means carefully managing your finances, your staff, and all other features of your business. Depending on the circumstances, neglecting the organization of just one component of your business could be devastating.

4. Get Everyone Onboard

In order to create a comprehensive organizational plan, everyone within your company must be on the same page. A successful, organized business depends on teamwork and cooperation among coworkers. If rogue employees are allowed to deviate from the plan, chaos could ensue.

5. Put Everything in Writing

We may poke fun at our friends who are compulsive list makers, but they may be on to something. Business owners who insist on putting everything in writing may have a competitive advantage over others when it comes to maintaining order in the office. For example, giving written instructions to employees will help make your expectations clear and can help keep the staff in line. Keeping careful records is also important for future reference. In business, we often have short memories, and if you need to consult a file or a project from years past, having all the important information reduced to writing will help refresh your recollection.

Kenneth McCall is director of IT for In this role he builds the systems that help customers find the best self storage.

Thanks to SimpleProductivityBlog

Friday, June 3, 2011

Fascinating Living, Growing Architecture

Still-living plants can themselves be shaped into bridges, tables, ladders, chairs, sculptures - even buildings. Known variously as botanical architecture, tree sculpture, tree-shaping, tree-grafting, pooktre, arborsculpture, and arbortecture, the craft is, essentially, construction with living plants. Includes pictures from the root bridges of India to living islands!

1. Root Bridges of India

In the depths of northeastern India, in one of the wettest places on earth, bridges aren't built -- they're grown. 

(images credit: Vanlal Tochhawng)

Grown from the roots of a rubber tree, the Khasis people of Cherapunjee use betel-tree trunks, sliced down the middle and hollowed out, to create "root-guidance systems." When they reach the other side of the river, they're allowed to take root in the soil. Given enough time a sturdy, living bridge is produced. 

The root bridges, some of which are over a hundred feet long, take ten to fifteen years to become fully functional, but they're extraordinarily strong. Some can support the weight of 50 or more people at once. 

One of the most unique root structures of Cherrapunjee is known as the "Umshiang Double-Decker Root Bridge." It consists of two bridges stacked one over the other!

(images credit: Marcus Fornell, Jim Ratcliffe)

Because the bridges are alive and still growing, they actually gain strength over time, and some of the ancient root bridges used daily by the people of the villages around Cherrapunjee may be well over 500 years old. 

(image credit: Marcus Fornell)

But these are not the only bridges built from growing plants. Japan too, has its own form of living bridges. 

2. The Vine Bridges of Iya Valley 

One of Japan's three "hidden" valleys, West Iya is home to the kind of misty gorges, clear rivers, and thatched roofs one imagines in the Japan of centuries ago. To get across the Iya River that runs through the rough valley terrain, bandits, warriors and refugees created a very special - if slightly unsteady - bridge made of vines. 

This is a picture from the 1880s of one of the original vine bridges. 

First, two Wisteria vines -- one of the strongest vines known -- were grown to extraordinary lengths from either side of the river. Once the vines had reached a sufficient length they were woven together with planking to create a pliable, durable and, most importantly, living piece of botanical engineering.

The bridges had no sides, and a Japanese historical source relates that the original vine bridges were so unstable, those attempting to cross them for the first time would often freeze in place, unable to go any farther. 

Three of those vine bridges remain in Iya Valley. While some (though apparently not all) of the bridges have been reinforced with wire and side rails, they are still harrowing to cross. More than 140 feet long, with planks set six to eight inches apart and a drop of four-and-a-half stories down to the water, they are not for acrophobes. 

Some people believe the existing vine bridges were first grown in the 12th century, which would make them some of the oldest known examples of living architecture in the world. But there is one ancient group of peoples who took the concept to an entirely new level. 

3. The Living Islands of the Uros People 

The Uros peoples' lives revolve around reeds. They make reed houses, reed boats, reed flower tea, and use reeds as medicine. 

(image credit: Benjamin)

But most amazingly, the Uros build entire islands out of those very same reeds. It is the fact that these islands are alive that makes them work. The dense root structures of the living reed masses keeps the whole island together and floating on the lake. 

(images via 1, 2 )

As reeds disintegrate from the bottom of the islands, which are four to eight feet thick, residents must add more to the surface. The entire island moves slightly with the water, similar to the feeling of laying on a waterbed. The Uros, however, have gotten quite used to it, as have the cats, fowl and other animals that live on these floating islands. 

The Uros have been living on these floating islands since the 1500s when they were forced to take up residence on Lake Titicaca after the Incas expanded into their territory. While many of the islands are moored to the lakebed, they can be moved if necessary. One of the main advantages to living on a floating island is that when the enemy comes too close, you can just float the other way. 

Even tiny outhouse islands have been created, in which the living roots help absorb the waste. 

Today, in the shadow of the Andes, on the world's highest navigable lake, hundreds of Uros (or descendants of the Uros, depending on how you define them) live on these floating islands and make their living from fishing and selling their reed handicrafts to tourists. 

4. "Espalier" Art Form

Another more common form of tree shaping is known as espalier - the process of creating three-dimensional forms out of trees. A popular practice in Medieval times, the craft likely dates back to ancient Egypt. Espalier can be used to make ornamental trees, increase the yield of a fruit tree, or build a sturdy fence or wall from growing trees. 

On Pacific Street in Pacific Heights, San Francisco:

(image credit: David Pham,

One of the more famous examples of espalier can be seen at the Cloisters in Manhattan, New York:

(A Living Menorah in Illinois, Allerton Park - image via)

Of course, not all living architecture is about building or shaping things out of trees. Sometimes it makes sense to build things inside of them... 

5. The Chapel Oak 

Like something out of a fairy tale (or Keebler Elves commercial) the hollowed trunk of this ancient oak tree is home to two small chapels, reached by a spiral staircase winding up the trunk. 

In the early 1660s, a 470-year-old oak tree in Allouville-Bellefosse, France, was struck and hollowed by a lighting strike. Not only did the tree survive this attack, but it came to the attention of Abbot Du Détroit and Father Du Cerceau. In 1669 they began building a shrine to the Virgin Mary directly inside the tree itself. Later, a staircase climbing the outside of the tree was built and another chapel was added on a "second floor" of the tree. 

(image via)

Things almost took a very bad turn for the tree during the French Revolution when a mob stormed the tree and threatened to burn down this symbol of the abhorred Church. A quick-thinking local renamed the oak the "Temple of Reason," sparing it a fiery fate. 

Here we enter what could be called the modern period of botanical architecture. It begins in Wisconsin, with a banker named John Krubsack. 

6. The Chair That Grew 

One day in 1903, a friend of Krubsack's openly admired a beechwood chair he had crafted. A man who perhaps didn't know how to take a compliment, Krubsack announced, "Dammit, one of these days I am going to grow a piece of furniture that will be better and stronger than any human hands can build." Fifteen years later, he had done just that, with every joint in his chair "cemented by nature". 

Though many handsome offers were made for the famous chair, Krubsack refused to sell, eventually leaving it to his nephew to be displayed in his furniture store. The "Chair That Grew" was last seen at the entrance of Noritage Furniture, owned by Krubsack's descendants. The store recently closed and the fate of the chair is unknown, but it likely still resides somewhere in the tiny town of Embarrass, WI, not far from where it grew nearly 100 years ago. 

7. The Circus Trees of Axel Erlandson 

Where Krubsack was a pioneer, Axel Erlandson was a visionary -- though he didn't know it at the time. Axel Erlandson never intended to create a new genre of sculpture or become the father of an art movement. He just wanted to entertain his family. 

A farmer in California, Erlandson had noticed the curious ability of trees to naturally graft themselves together. So, in 1925 Erlandson began planning a series of trees that were deliberately grafted together for artistic effect. His first creation was the "Four Legged Giant," four trees which he merged into a single truck, creating a kind of tree-gazebo. 

In 1945, twenty years after Erlandson had begun his hobby, his daughter suggested to her father that he might open some kind of "Tree Circus" to showcase his unusual arbor creations. Erlandson did just that, creating over 70 unique arborsculptures in his Tree Circus. Among his creations were a tree that split into a cube, an arch tree and a six-tree woven basket. 

(images credit:

The Tree Circus was a not much of a financial success, and in 1963 Erlandson sold the property, trees and all, and died shortly thereafter. It wasn't long before all 70 trees were forgotten and by 1977 only forty of the unique specimens remained. These were all scheduled to be bulldozed to create a mall. 

Luckily for the trees, and for the world, they were saved from this fate by Michael Bonfante, owner of Nob Hill Foods. Bonfante, a horticultural connoisseur, opened a theme park and in 1985 relocated the trees to what is now known as Gilroy Gardens. 

Today, 25 of Axel Erlandson's arborsculptural creations are on display at Gilroy Gardens, and his first creation, the Four Legged Giant remains alive and well some 80 years after Erlandson's idea first took root.

8. The Auerworld Palace 

Many of these marvels are the works of one dedicated person, but the mysterious Auerworld Palace took some 300 volunteers to create. Architect Marcel Kalberer and his group, Sanfte Strukturen, are re-envisioning the way living building materials and techniques can be used to design modern spaces - with willows. 

(images credit: SanfteStrukturen, via)

Constructed in 1998, the Auerworld Palace in Aeurstedt, Germany may be the first modern "willow palace," but the techniques Kalberer uses are ancient. Sumerian reed houses were famous for their construction of tightly bound reeds. 

(other structures by Sanfte Strukturen)

But where Kalberer and his team create buildings out of trees, Austrian artist and architect Friedensreich Hundertwasser has created a building inspired by, and incorporating, trees.

9. Waldspirale, or Forest Spiral 

Hundertwasser wasn't much fond of straight lines, dubbing them "the devil's tools." In fact, his famous apartment building, Waldspirale, does away with them entirely and is instead a celebration of nature's sinuous loops and arcs. Located in Darmstadt, Germany, Waldspirale translates to "wooded spiral," and that is exactly what it is. It hosts as many trees as human occupants.

(images via 1, 2)

10. Modern Organic Forms 

Today a growing number of tree grafters, arborsculptors and botanical architects are working to create new organic forms. Among them is Richard Reames who coined the terms arborsculpture and arbortecture (he also has a book on the subject, order it here). 

Richard grows and shapes tree trunks using the ancient arts of grafting, framing, bending and pruning. He believes that his living arborsculptures could one day replace many of the things that trees are typically killed to make. 

(images credit: Richard Reames)

Another absolutely wonderful tree grafter who has been working since before the form even had a name is Dan Ladd. Ladd crafts trees into whimsical shapes, and incorporates other objects into the trees. 

(images credit: Dan Ladd)

Ladd also practices the ancient art of gourd shaping. These are all gourds that were growing inside of forms. They have not been carved or altered after they were harvested. 

(images credit: Dan Ladd)

Tree grafters Peter Cook and his wife Becky Northey have developed a range of their own special tree-shaping techniques, which they call pooktre. 

(image credit: Peter Cook)

Among the many other artists working in the form are Konstantin Kirsch, Laura Spector, and Aharon Naveh.

(images credit: Aharon Naveh)

(staircases by Laura Spector)