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An object lesson? 实物教学课

中国日报网 2019-11-05 13:45

Reader question:

Please explain “object lesson”, as in “the first meal was an object lesson of much variety.”

My comments:

A variety of foods was provided in the first meal and diners not only ate their full but learned many good lessons about how the foods were actually prepared.

I think that’s what the first meal being described as an “object lesson” means, in contrast to a mere lesson, one involving, say, the teacher talking and the listeners taking notes.

Or something like that.

An object lesson, you see, is a lesson involving objects, that is, real objects. For example, if we are in class to listen to the teacher describing in detail how to dissect a frog, it’s an ordinary lesson.

On the other hand, if this is done in an experiment class where the teacher actually does dissect a frog as demonstration, then this experiment class gives us an object lesson.

In other words, an object lesson is a real-life lesson or concrete lesson, using a practical example, one which tells us what we should do in a particular situation.

Or, for that matter, what we shouldn’t do. For example, watching footage of car accidents on TV provides us with an object lesson on how one should NOT drive a car in similar situations.

Since an object is a material thing that can be seen and touched, just remember that an object lesson also feels real, real instead of abstract.

All right, here are media examples of object lessons of one type or another:

1. Every year the electronics industry sees dozens of mergers and acquisitions. Although all of them present management challenges, a handful have ended so badly that they’ve become proverbial.

We asked four industry analysts to pick their favorites and tell us why the deals eventually went belly-up. Their choices are object lessons for any company trying to merge its way into success.

Lesson 1: Don’t acquire a product line that’s already in decline

Even if a deal looks strategic, it has to have real growth potential. Applied Materials learned that the hard way when it acquired Etec, a maker of mask-pattern-generating equipment, for $1.77 billion in stock in 2000. At the time, analysts praised the merger as a logical addition to Applied Materials’ product portfolio, especially because subwavelength lithography was forcing fabs to constantly retool manufacturing processes.

Even before the acquisition, though, there were signs that Etec was a bad deal. The company had experienced a drop in both revenue and profit in the year prior to the acquisition, and there were problems with product shipments. Once it was integrated into Applied Materials, the Etec business degenerated into a death spiral of losses and layoffs. By the time Applied Materials pulled the plug, in late 2005, Etec had shrunk from 1,000 employees to a skeleton crew of less than 100. Tellingly, the division was such an insignificant portion of Applied Materials’ revenue that the shutdown barely caused a blip on investors’ radar screen.

In the end, it was the customers that turned this merger into a debacle, according to Risto Puhakka, president of VLSI Research. “The customer base was forgiving and patient as long as the company was independent, but when it became part of Applied Materials, those same customers expected things to improve quickly, and when it didn’t happen, they lost patience and left in droves,” he explains.

Lesson 2: Don’t bite off more than you can chew

It looked like a match made in heaven: a megamerger between Compaq, the world’s largest PC firm, and Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC), the world’s second-largest minicomputer/mainframe manufacturer and a major provider of computer services. The combined giant was supposed to give IBM a run for its money, but in the end, DEC simply became an albatross around Compaq’s neck.

The problem wasn’t duplication of products: DEC’s PC business was insignificant compared to Compaq’s. What really soured the deal was a fatal clash of corporate cultures. DEC had just suffered from a half decade of debilitating layoffs. Much of its engineering and management talent had long since left for greener pastures, and the DECites who remained were largely bureaucrats more skilled at ensuring their own survival than building a business. Even after the merger-spawned layoffs, DEC employees still significantly outnumbered Compaq’s. This made it impossible for Compaq to “digest” DEC and assimilate the DEC employees into Compaq’s culture. In the end, Compaq became nearly as ineffective as DEC had been.

If managed poorly, a merger of this size can almost instantly put a company into crisis mode, according to Rob Enderle, former vice president at Giga Group and now head of the Enderle Group. “When you merge two big competitors, you’re asking a bunch of folks who for years have wanted to kill each other to play together nicely,” he says. “When the company that’s being acquired is larger than the acquiring firm, there are inevitable struggles for control that can quickly bring a merged company to its knees.”
- Lessons learned from four failed electronics mergers, EDN.com, April 11, 2007.

2. Former special counsel Robert Mueller’s testimony Wednesday has been described as “excruciatingly awkward,” “confused,” “struggling” and “a stammering, stuttering mess.”

I saw something completely different. From my perspective, after six hours of testimony, it was the 74-year-old career prosecutor and law enforcement officer who won the day. It wasn’t that close.

Tasked with overseeing the most high-profile investigation of our time, Mueller managed to complete the investigation without appearing to have a partisan agenda, with both sides embracing him at times. Even Trump said he acted “honorably”—before he turned on Mueller as “conflicted” and partisan—and touted “total exoneration” soon after Mueller concluded his work. Mueller’s down-the-middle, leak-free handling of the high-stakes investigation was an object lesson in professionalism.

And Wednesday’s performance was no different.

Mueller didn’t want to testify, for good reason. He had done his work already. As a prosecutor, he had to ensure he stayed detached from the political process, presenting his findings in a manner that did not make it appear he was choosing a side or advancing an agenda. One slip of the tongue could be used to undermine his team’s work.

In the long view, the verdict of history depends most of all on Mueller being seen as nonpartisan, measured and above the fray—an operator whose work is unimpeachable and can be relied on (now, or after Trump’s term, or years from now) as a bulletproof statement of fact. So all the little details of the case that members were trying to ferret out pale in comparison to his ability to maintain that status and be seen as a reliable agent of impartiality. During the hearing, that was clearly his goal. In doing that, he succeeded, and history can thank him for it.

- Actually, Robert Mueller Was Awesome, by Renato Mariotti, Politico.com, July 25, 2019.

3. Fisher Investments founder Ken Fisher is getting pilloried in the press for his reportedly boorish remarks at the Tiburon CEO Summit, which is billed as a closed-press, off-the-record event. It all started when one attendee related, via a video posted to Twitter, that Fisher managed to pack lewdness, misogyny, references to drug use, and digs at the poor into a single presentation. It’s unclear whether Fisher found any time to malign his go-to target, annuities. The story has been picked up in at least two trade publications, and we expect it will have legs.

We will leave it to Fisher’s peers and clients to weigh the veracity of the account, which he is disputing, and the implications for his business, but the firestorm around the remarks is an object lesson for something we like to remind our clients of at every opportunity: Anything you say at a conference—even if the organizers tell you it is closed to the press, or that attendees have pledged to keep the proceedings “off-the-record”—may end up being picked up and reported.

In this case, one of the attendees had a crisis of conscience and shared his account on Twitter when he felt he could not stay silent. But it could just as easily be an audience member with a phone (as presidential candidate Mitt Romney found out at a fundraiser where he famously declared half of Americans don’t pay taxes) or someone who simply calls up a reporter and shares their account of what was said.

Speaking off–the–record to a single reporter is risky enough. Speaking to a room full of your peers and expecting your remarks to remain in confidence is just plain reckless.

- In a room full of people, there is no such thing as off-the-record, Lowe.com, October 10, 2019.


About the author:

Zhang Xin is Trainer at chinadaily.com.cn. He has been with China Daily since 1988, when he graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University. Write him at: zhangxin@chinadaily.com.cn, or raise a question for potential use in a future column.

(作者:张欣 编辑:丹妮)


Ways and means? 方法和资源


Control freak? 控制狂


Useful idiot? 有用的白痴


Over his dead body? 死也不同意