"The summer's over and I didn't get anything done."
I’ve heard this every August, and I’ve said this almost every August I started teaching.
Whenever I’ve asked professors and PhD students what percent of their planned work they got accomplished over the summer, no one has ever said “All of it.” Almost everyone says something between 25 to 35%. Everyone from the biggest, most productive super stars with the biggest lab to the most motivated, fire-in-their-belly PhD student with the biggest anxiety.
We are horrible estimators of how productive we’ll be over the summer. I was in academia for 35 years (including MA and PhD years), yet every single summer I never finished more than 30% of what I planned. How can we be so poorly calibrated? We never learn. We never readjust our estimate for the next summer. Next summer we’ll still only finish 25-35% of what we planned to do.
There are only two weeks in the year when I’m predictably down or blue. It’s the last two weeks of August. It’s not the heat (I mostly stay indoors). It’s not the impending classes (I love teaching). It’s not all the beginning of semester meetings (I loved my colleagues and loved passing notes to them under the table). Ten years ago, I realized that I felt down the end of every August because I had to admit “school’s starting and I haven’t gotten jack done all summer.” The beginning of school is the psychological end of the Academic Fiscal Year.
One solution to our August blues lies in understanding what times of the year we do like most, and to see if we can rechannel those warm-glowy feelings to August.
If you had to guess the #1 favorite time of the year for most academics, you’d probably guess “The end of school.” The #2 favorite time of the year you might guess would be the “Winter or Christmas break.” What would you guess the third favorite time of the year is?
Surprisingly, I’ve heard people say it’s when they turn in their Annual Activity Report (AAR). That’s the summary document they turn into their hard-to-please Department Chair that summarizes what they’ve accomplished in the prior 12 months: What they published, who they advised, what new things they’ve started, what new teaching materials they’ve created, and so forth.
Snore. How could writing an Annual Activity Report be a highlight?
Because it shows in black-and-white that we didn’t sleep-walk through the year. It reminds us that the publication that we now take for granted was one that we were still biting our nails about last year at this time. It reminds us of our advises who were stressing over their undergraduate thesis a year ago and who have now happily graduated. It reminds us of the cool ideas we've into hopeful projects -- ideas we hadn't even thought of a year ago.. Going back in a 12-month-ago time machine shows us what we did accomplish. It turns our focus toward what we did – and away from what we didn’t.
Once we cross things off of our academic To-do list, we tend to forget we accomplished them. August might be a good time to do a mid-year AAR. It might not turn our August blues into a happy face yellow, but might at least turn it to green. A green light for a great new school year.
Have a tremendous school year.
Some people have a rare aura around them. It's an aura or a glow that something is going to be different because this person is in the room. Or it's that something is going to be different because this person is in charge, or at the podium, or even at dinner with you.
Fred Webster had this aura. Some people saw it when he was a marketing professor. Some saw it when he was the Executive Director for the Marketing Science Institute (MSI). Some saw it when he started the Tuck Summer Marketing Executive Program, or when he was a volunteer fireman Etna, NH. Others even saw it when he was sitting across from them at a recruiting dinner. I think he had this aura around him all the time.
There's a great story that during WWII, Winston Churchill was attending one of Franklin Roosevelt's White House cabinet meetings in Washington DC. He was seated off to the side of the large cabinet table where all FDR and all of the cabinet Secretaries were seated. Roosevelt cheekily said to Churchill, "Winston, I bet you wished you were sitting at the head of this table." Churchill replied, "Anywhere I sit is the head of the table."
Anywhere Fred sat seemed to be the Head of the Table. At board meetings for the Marketing Science Institute, all of the marketing professors would crowd around CEOs. All of the CEOs would crowd around Fred. He was serious when the topic was heavy, entertaining when the topic was light, and always, always pithy and interesting. I had never heard of the words "turner of a phrase" until meeting Fred.
Fred grew up on a hard-working dairy farm in Upstate New York, not far from not far from Auburn. He must have done very well in school because a scholarship to Dartmouth and to Tuck followed, along with a PhD from Stanford, and an inimitable career of impact that continued long after he retired.
He did well wherever he was planted, but he also did well when working with wherever you were planted. At one point a veteran janitor at Fred's school commented that in 25 years as a janitor, Fred was the only professor who knew him and greeted him by name. Trees that grow in strong winds on dairy farms grow deep roots.
I used to write down the prophetic, or funny, or pithy, or interesting one-liners or stories Fred would say. They were Websterisms. They might be something he said in a meeting, executive education class, at lunch, or while passing each other in the hallway. I'd scribble them in a notebook because when I would reread them they would either make me laugh or think. After reviewing them over the years, some of them stick.
When I learned about Fred's passing earlier this month, I wanted to share what he meant to me to my three teenage daughters (who had only heard snippets about him over the years). After dinner, we migrated to the living room, as I scrambled off to find my book of Websterisms. Since I couldn't quickly find it, I had to wing it. Probably for the better. Instead of spending the rest of the night reading an endless list of funny quotes or insightful life lessons to three highly distractible teenagers, I spent it telling stories of what I remember Fred doing -- and being -- for other people.
I'd like to think that as they heard the stories, they saw the aura and the glow.
If you knew him, you might even see it in his photos.
TUCSON, AZ — Frederick Elmer Webster, Jr. passed away on Tuesday, May 24th, 2022 in Tucson, Arizona with his wife Mary Alice and daughter Lisa by his side. Fred was born on October 22, 1937 in Auburn New York, the son of Fred and Evelyn Webster.
Fred grew up in Auburn, New York and met Mary Alice while attending Auburn High School. They were married for 66 years.
Fred was a scholar, teacher, father, and husband with a deep devotion to family, community and service. He was a class of 1959 graduate of Dartmouth College establishing lifelong friendships with many of his classmates. He continued his education earning an MBA from the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth in 1960 and a PhD from Stanford University in 1964. By the time he completed his work at Stanford, he and Mary Alice had three children; Lynn, Mark and Lisa.
Fred moved his young family to Tenafly, New Jersey for a brief time to explore the business world in New York City. He quickly discovered that the commuting life was not for him, and moved the family to Hanover, NH in 1965, where he began his career with the Tuck School. They moved to Etna, NH in 1968 and lived in an idyllic setting on 200 acres of land. Fred and Mary Alice and the kids had a small farm on the property with sheep, chickens, a few rabbits, cats and dogs. When he was not at the Tuck School or at the fire department, he was out in the fields on his tractor. He loved working the land and still found ways to work outside in the desert heat of Tucson.
He was a disciplined scholar and teacher. A professor of management, his area of expertise was marketing. He had a strong reputation in the field and was a pioneer in the areas he studied, making significant and enduring contributions.
Service to his community was deeply important to Fred. He served on many local and national boards. And everyone knew the importance of his commitment as a volunteer firefighter with the Etna Fire Department for over 20 years. His Tuck colleagues recall one day when a small fire erupted in Byrne Hall, he was the first on the scene and ready to go. He had spotted the smoke from afar, exclaimed to colleagues, “Well, that isn’t right!” and quickly dashed off to gear up. He also joined the Southport Fire Department in Southport, Maine where he and his wife would spend summers. Upon retiring to Tucson Arizona, he served as a volunteer with the Sherriff’s Auxiliary.
Fred loved cars. He drove several different models of Mercedes - all with the recognizable FEW plates. On his 50th birthday, Mary Alice surprised him with a 1937 Ford Woody. He spent many happy hours driving around town and to car shows.
A lifelong educator and learner, Fred continued to find ways to teach and research when he retired to Tucson. He was a visiting scholar and lecturer at the Eller College of Business at the University of Arizona, and he remained engaged with Tuck’s executive-education programs and marketing faculty colleagues.
He is survived by his wife, Mary Alice; daughters, Lisa Webster of Tucson, AZ; Lynn Webster Brink and her husband Russell of Sun City, AZ; daughter- in-law Annie Dean and husband Doug Jones of Falmouth, Mass; grandchildren, Bene Webster of New York City, Henry Jones of Boulder, CO, Maddie Webster of Tucson AZ, Nick Lane and wife Heather of Anthem, AZ, Kelly Lane of Phoenix, AZ; and great grandchildren Riordan, Declan, Damon, Madi and Maxine. Fred is preceded in death by his son, Mark.
The family would like to thank Traditions Hospice of Tucson for their compassionate care in Fred’s final 24 hours that allowed him to be home.
A memorial service will be held at Saint Alban’s Church in Tucson on Tuesday, July 26 at 10am.
If you would like to make a gift in Fred’s memory, please consider Saint Alban’s Episcopal Church, 3738 N. Old Sabino Canyon Road, Tucson, AZ 85750 or the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College, 100 Tuck Hall, Hanover, NH 03755-9000.
Yesterday’s cooking contests used to be 4-H cookie bake-offs at the county fair. Today’s cooking contests have Iron chefs being broadcast globally on TV specials. Tomorrow’s cooking contests will be an Olympic sport. An apron-wearing Betty Crocker look-alike will run into Olympic stadium with the Olympic torch. As she reaches the pinnacle and reaches the torch out to light the Olympic flame, it will be in the shape of a large grill that signals the beginning of the Hamburger Cook-off event.
To watch the crazy number of cooking competition TV shows or read the crazy number of websites on cooking contests, you might come away with the idea that winning a cooking contest is all about the recipe and ingredients. Not so. If you think this, you’re cooking with one hand tied behind your back.
The best cook doesn’t always win, and the best recipe doesn’t always win. If you understand what the judges are going through as they taste and judge, you can use three teaspoons of psychology to increase the chance that you Bring Home the Gold.
Most cooking competitions and bake-offs and recipe contests don’t have Bobby Flay or French chefs judging them. Most have either a judging panel of amateur cooks, or they are judged by popular vote. In either of the last two cases, the judges are trying all – or at least many – of the entries. This means that they are starting to get a little bored and the entries are starting to taste an awful lot the same. Here’s what you can do.
Use Taste Contrast. After tasting eleven versions of the same pasta, sensory-specific satiety sets in, and pasta starts tasting monotonous. You win by making your recipe stand out in contrast from the others, and you win by having contrast – taste contrast and texture contrast – within your own recipe. A chili that stands out by adding some steak chunks along with the hamburger, has a taste contrast compared to other chilis. One that uses onion that’s cut into large long pieces (instead of diced), makes every bite stand out in contrast to the next.
Use Visual Contrast. At Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, they say “You taste first with your eyes.” If it looks great, the judges are thinking it’s going to taste great. By including colorful or high contrasting colors or shapes, it makes it look less boring compared the previous 11 things they just tried. The pasta recipe that uses with two kinds or pasta, black olive slices, two types of meat, and a broiler-browned top is going to look a lot more award-winning than the 11 family recipe spaghettis they just tasted.
Give it the Right Name. Tables full of eating psychology research show that you taste what you expect you’ll taste. If someone says something is sweet, you start focusing on what’s sweet about the food. If they say something is creamy, it seems to taste creamier to you. You can make your Olympic entry look good by having it in a nice dish and making it look great (using contrast like browning, parsley, or whatever). You can also give it a name that evokes what you want people to taste. Calling your favorite dessert entry “Sugar Cookies” won’t be doing you a favor, but calling them “Vanilla Sugar Cookies” (because you put a drop of vanilla in the recipe) just raised the Las Vegas betting average that you’ll place higher in the sugar cookie race.
If you’re interested in how this might look in action. Here’s an example. There was a Casserole Cook-off at our mini-country fair this week. Being from the Midwest, I love casseroles. We were going to go to the fair that Saturday to ride on carnival rides, and my daughters said, “You should make something for the casserole contest.’
Step 1. Grab Ingredients. I took a basic boring crab casserole recipe off the internet, and defrosted about $3 worth of fake crab meat from the freezer. I grabbed other stuff from the cupboards that would give it taste contrast or visual contrast.
Step 2. Add Taste Contrast. I figured the judges would be eating lots of casseroles with pasta, rice, or potatoes as the starch. I wanted to this to stand out a different. I substituted soft bread cubes and sliced hard-boiled eggs instead of the pasta. Then I put a cup of celery in it gave each bite taste contrast. I would have sautéed garlic, but I didn’t think of it until I was backing out of the garage.
Step 3. Add Visual Contrast. Sliced black olives – in the shape of rings – would have it some nice contrast. Not everyone likes black olives, but they would be worth the risk. I also finished the casserole off under the broiler to brown it for contrast.
Step 4. Give it the Right Name. Instead of calling it Crab Casserole, I called it “Crab-a-gonza Casserole” which was silly given that there’s no actual crab in the recipe. To take the silliness over the top, I put a little crab icon next to the name, and printed out a color name plate, in case they put the descriptions in front of entry (which they ended up doing).
Step 5. Collect Your Prize. This prize was larger than the first kitchen I had.
There are a lot of other ideas you can use, but these will get you started on your journey to bring home the gold. If you’re looking for ideas that work well for names or how to turn your comfort foods into cash and prizes, I’ve included the links to some scientific articles – including one called “Engineering Comfort Foods.” [They are a bit detailed and boring, so don’t read them while driving or operating heavy machinery.]
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