I quit smoking for my birthday in 1976.

I have mentioned since that that used up all my willpower. I don’t smoke. I still like the smell of a good cigar but I still didn’t smoke today.

I figure I have aimed my stock of willpower at not smoking which doesn’t leave much to avoid lusting after a new Android tablet or a different boat.

Researcher Roy F. Baumeister sort of agrees in Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength. Like a muscle, willpower is fatigued or broken down completely by overuse.

We’re not talking about the Australian racer who drives for Team Penske in the IndyCar Series. Willpower is usually thought to mean self discipline, self-control, or the ability to force yourself to do something you really really really didn’t want to do.

Like keep a New Year’s resolution.

I “came of [management] age” in the 70s and 80s when the B-schools thought employees were valuable and Theory Y was king. I still believe in Management By Objectives, a program I first implemented at Harris.

MBO relies on participative goal setting in which employees decide on what business goals they can attain and the tasks they will undertake to fulfill them. The part I like best is that we measure the actual results against the standards we set at the beginning of the period so we all — managers and managees alike — always know exactly how we are doing.

The reason managers like MBO is that the employees think they have power because they are setting their own goals and are more committed to the company (and more likely to outproduce the company expectations) as a result.

The only real downside to MBO is that it is still a top-down process.

On the other hand, it doesn’t rely solely on willpower. Properly done, every goal has both an external deadline and a manager or coach or peer to make sure we do it. It’s a pretty good process to force yourself to do something you really really really didn’t want to do.

When I led a parent group at our local middle and high school, we started a goal setting club. The kids created their own goals, set milestones, and chose someone to monitor their results. We had a reward at the end. The kids did very well.

Back to Dr. Baumeister’s weight room. He has shown that we can build “new” willpower in much the same way we build muscles in the gym: practice and reps, practice and reps. And by eating properly. Our brains need fuel to make decisions, store and retrieve memories, and pass standardized tests. Dr. Baumeister found that willpower requires glucose too so we can be strengthen our willpower simply by working out and adding to the brain’s fuel stores.

Building working muscle means working with moderate weights but doing it over and over and over again.

Want to keep your New Year’s resolutions?

Take Dr. Baumeister’s advice and use what we’ve learned in MBO. Just like the 7th and 8th graders:

  • Create a goal you can reach. It is darned near impossible to lose 50 pounds but it is reasonable to lose a pound a week.
  • Set checkpoints to make sure you’re on track. That’s no different than going to the gym every day.
  • Choose someone to monitor your results. There is nothing like peer pressure to make sure you haven’t snuck out to the barn for a smoke — I told everyone I knew I was quitting and they watched me like hungry mosquitoes.
  • Build your willpower and resolutions just one or two goals at a time. You can work your biceps today and your glutes tomorrow.

Revolutionary, that is.

America’s Best Colleges?

“It’s so much easier to suggest solutions when you don’t know too much about the problem,” Malcolm S. Forbes said a few years ago.

Hana R. Alberts, Michael Noer and David M. Ewalt, writing for Forbes Magazine, have published “an alternative” to the quality report that U.S. News & World Report has long issued about American higher education.

It is not the best ranking system I have seen.

Darn it. It could have been.

Malcolm S. Forbes died young, about 18 years ago. As an interesting (to me) aside, he was born on my grandfather’s birthday, August 19, but the same year my parents were born. As far as I know, my family and his had nothing else in common although I did read his magazine. Mr. Forbes published Forbes Magazine which his father founded and his son now runs.

He was graduated from Princeton University, active in politics and community, and strong-willed about his magazine which he grew large.

Despite the shallowness of the college report, I suspect the aphorism rags to rags in three generations will not apply to the Capitalist Tool Forbeses.

The Center for College Affordability and Productivity’s big idea seems worthwhile at first glance. Ranking the profs, career success, costs, graduation rates, and student recognition are all pretty good tests. Too bad their methodology fell apart at the starting gate. The group of mostly college students at CCAP gathered data from 7 million student evaluations of courses and instructors in a non-scientific, online, “inmates rating the asylum” poll site. That’s a quarter of the grade. Another quarter comes from Who’s Who listings. I have a Who’s Who listing along with a few million other Americans, so I’m pretty sure that’s not a great qualifier. Maybe they should use Wikipedia listings.

I find it interesting that Cal Tech is ahead of Harvard and that my mom’s alma mater, Swarthmore, is well ahead of Yale. Not to mention the fact that Dartmouth offers free tuition but is way down on the list.

OTOH, ya gotta ask yourself How does one really choose a school? I ended up at Stevens Institute of Technology almost by accident. I looked for schools that had belly button design. Webb didn’t accept me. Stevens did. Forbes ranked them number as either 127 or 565. Stevens is a Top-10 engineering school.

I taught in Vermont Colleges for several years. I even survived student rankings. With that caveat, I never thought that students should be allowed to design a curriculum even when I was a student and I have always believed that student ranking of teachers is too much Entertainment Tonight and too little NASA Tech Briefs.

Come on. Students go to school for one of four reasons: get out of the draft, get out of the house, get out of having to work for a living, OR TO LEARN SOMETHING. I can accept a student’s appraisal of courses or teachers after, say, long enough in the workplace to apply what was learned in school and to judge whether it helped her or hurt him.

Let me pose that as a question: Who do you want removing your appendix? The surgeon who has done it a few hundred times or the pre-med student who has read Appendectomies for Dummies?

At least Forbes recognized that “the sort of student who will thrive at Williams might drown at Caltech, to say nothing of West Point.”

That said, Forbes also believes that “these rankings reflect, in a very real way, the quality and cost of an undergraduate education at a wide range of American colleges and universities. And when families have to make a decision with a six-figure price tag and lifelong impact, we think they deserve all the information they can get.”

Pfui. I reckon that when families have to make that six-figure decision, they deserve better information than this. Here are the top 10 questions I would want answered plus a couple of extras:

Personal Questions
• Does the curriculum match what I need to learn?
• Do the instructors teach in a way that matches my learning style?
• Is the program rigor too much (or too little) for me?
• Does campus life help or hinder my growth?
• Will I find help from other alums in my chosen field?

Statistical Questions
• How much will it actually cost, net?
• What kind of job will I get upon graduation?
• Does my education stick me in a single track or can I branch out into whatever interests me as I grow?
• How much do employers and peers respect my school?
• How many freshmen wash out? How many graduate

Then, much lower on the list, come two questions CCAP asked:
• How many Nobel Prizes and MacArthur Genius Grants has the faculty accrued?
• How many Rhodes and Fulbright scholars come from the undergrad program?