Saturday, April 29, 2017

Gizmo Vortex

Officially my office, the space with the 1960s green desk, piles of paperwork done and undone, three or four computers, extra drives and cables and connectors for gizmos past and present, may be the location that I do my best creative work.  The quality can only be attributed to the office chair from my former gig that complemented my bottom from 1987 to 2001 at which point I simply rolled it into the elevator, through the Skyway and home.  The topic of previous blog post, the chair has served for thirty good years.  The office contains an iPad rarely used, an Amazon Echo and a small SONOS unit used daily for music.  There are three desktops and a couple of notebooks and three printers.  My good stuff comes from a single thread of technology through that mess.

The Samsung Chromebook upon which I'm writing goes everywhere.  When I want to look serious I carry a briefcase that also contains a high-end Lenovo notebook which usually has a depleted battery.

The night before last I had a weird dream in which a guy named George sold me an airplane for $13,999 which I proceeded to hide in my uncle's basement.  Currently I am working with a guy named George, airplanes are of a casual interest and my uncles was special but has been gone thirty years.   Before going to sleep I'd looked at YouTube content on warbirds.  Perhaps that triggered the airplane purchase.

But really I think my weird dreams of late have occurred because I don't have a job (not even a dumb job) and my brain has been invaded by technological gizmos.  When I headed off to sleep the eve of the airplane dream I brought my Chromebook (in case I woke up in the middle of the night and needed watch something with a video need (nothing planned), my iPhone (alarm, weather check, Instagram, Google Tasks, Google Keep), another Lenovo notebook (I keep forgetting it's there), an Amazon Echo Dot with Bluetooth speaker, my original Amazon Kindle (just restored the battery), an early Amazon Fire (previously used for video) and my new Amazon Paperwhite Kindle.  This is too much.  In the old days you read a book and then fell asleep.

  • The danger, as tablets, smartphones, ever more powerful (and complex) PCs and cloud options continue to develop is falling into the 'gizmo' trap.  
  • Track how much time you spend on you own personal technology support such as upgrades of software, new phones, data plans, internet resources.
  • Drive a stake into the ground
  • Define your business and personal goals...what's important
  • What are the measurable business and personal outcomes for your goals that you hope to achieve.
  • Have a business and personal mentor...not another Gizmo person...find a balance.
I'm going to cut down on the the extra stuff.  Three Kindles are crazy.  More than a couple PCs is crazy.  Standardize onsite and cloud storage tools (currently I use Dropbox, Google Drive, OneDrive and far too many onsite storage devices.    

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Following Teaches Leading

*Note:  At times I leave my editing strikeouts in place, for no reason (Actually there is.  I'm attempting to write more directly, leaving out the extra verbiage.) 

Staying within the lines...

Convention is practical., often the result of 'on the job' learning or directed process improvement initiatives where bureaucracy (corporate or government) has stifled change.  

Intuition and impulsive moves can lead to innovation.  Some people would have told me to move my vehicle;  I am dropping all people who tell me to stay within the lines. 

Learning to lead...

Ft. Lewis during the Viet Nam era was a training ground for 2nd Lieutenants just out of OCS (Officer Candidate School).  For good reason they were referred to as 'shake and bakes' and little question existed as to which would be successful.

Most had spent little time in the military.  They were trying to lead without mastering 'following.'  OCS provided an opportunity to delay the trans-Pacific trip to the Republic of Viet Nam.   

Wall Street Journal..."When Second is Best"

My previous posts have addressed the importance of being a good follower:

  • ...listen more than you talk
  • ...master your good in others
  • with peers outside your'll find that what you find unique or peculiar about yours probably is not 
  • ...always be employable elsewhere
  • ...speak positively
  • extremely cautious  offering criticism of staff you don't supervise
Recognize that even as a leader you are a follower of someone; you're probably a #2 when you think you are a #1.

The April 19, 2017 issue of the Wall Street Journal contained a great article, "When Second Is Best" under the "Work and Family" category.  

The WSJ is well-written.  Sitting at work and reading the WSJ is a somewhat accepted activity to avoid work if you are an executive or aspiring corporate man/woman.  During my C-career I was usually a bit too busy which was a mistake.  It's important to invest in yourself first.

In the process improvement work a good focus is 'CEO.'  Focus, in order on the Customer then the Employee and finally on the Owners.  My advice to employees was to remember that but also to focus on themselves each and every day...learn something more thing before going home (this would be a great place for an 'easy to remember' acronym if I had one).  

These were the WSJ's points for being a good '2nd.':


Excuses for not blogging...

  • ...needed to do a year's worth of small business accounting in a month
  • ...unlike POTUS, had to do personal & business taxes
  • ...going to sleep with no job to wake up to has caused me to have an infinite number of 'projects,' all of which I could ignore when employed
  • ...the break convinced me that I had nothing to say...the standard writer's block.  Today certainly does not mean that I have anything to say but it did open the faucet again
  • ...our community put in new water treatment facility with the purpose of removing iron and manganese; we overdosed on black particulates; probably manganese (causes nervous disorders)

Lack of Focus...

This blog post certainly has a lack of focus.  I'm ending it with a link that caused me to smile which has not happened much lately.  On Facebook I commented that I would 'unfriend' anyone who did not enjoy this video.  

    Thursday, March 23, 2017

    Countdown Clock...No Overtime

    Countdown Planning
    Not having a job is time-consuming.  Writing about not having a job takes time...sort of like a job, which I don't have.

    The goal was to create a log of events leading to the next job, re-education, re-branding, etc.  Once you reach the age of "you're almost done" you fight it.  "I AM NOT DONE!!!"  The reality is that you're now working on a countdown clock. There are no overtimes (Bill Murray's line is something like "This is not a rehearsal.").

    Being remiss in writing has several reasons:
    1.   The small business remains small but takes a great deal of time.  There's not really any money in it but I spend time explaining "it's not about the money."  People don't get that but they don't want us to stop.  We are a community thing.  On Facebook one of my acquaintances is a guy from Western Minnesota, a farmer and writer who thought the small town cafe should be open, be a community resource for people to meet and to use the commercial kitchen to add value to their small crops,  and become an incubator of sorts.  He applied for a Bush Foundation grant to do some upgrades.  Following his efforts has been comforting, a bit of a parallel path to our small business.  He committed to four years which has now expired with a new owner taking over.  We've done this for six years.  I've been there the last three.  We'd like to transition from day-to-day operations to pursue some ideas.  There's a book or two of experiences, practical and human interest.  I'm working on a draft, sort of a Studs Terkel "Working" format.
    2. The election campaign was exhausting.  The Presidency has been
      exhausting.  The Russians have been following my numerous posts.  Many Facebook friends have dumped me.  I hear voices all the time.  Some are worried that their microwaves are spying on them.  That is something I've always known, ever since the first Little Litton entered our kitchen.  My original one is in the barn, still listening, sending encrypted messages to the KGB.
    3. "Writing Down the Bones" by Natalie Goldberg inspired me years ago to start writing.  I remember carrying a copy in my briefcase to my 'real job' and reading it during breaks.  Her premise is to just write.  Every book on writing that I've read since includes the same theme.  The demons in our lives, jobs, relationships, distractions, the internet, music, obligations and hunger cause us to stop writing.  The re-start process is complex, like cold-starting a barn-find car left sitting for forty years.  There's hope.
    4. My daughter owns a new dog.  I've had "let the dog out duty" a few days.  It's not really taken any significant time but I wanted to work the dog into this post.  Dogs know stuff.  It's been good having conversations with him.
    5. Year-end small business accounting and business and personal taxes.
    6. I've been putting locks (literally & figuratively) on doors that have been unsecured for decades.
    So getting people to read you blog is interesting.  My break was broken because another blogger mentioned the tediousness of blogging and the fact that it might be out of vogue and mentioned several people who seemed to have disappeared.  Not writing has hence motivated me to write. 

    Apparently I either have to write more or get a job.

    Tuesday, February 28, 2017

    My Son Was Right But I Won $40...Motivation

    chuck close innovation creativity writing
    Two years ago I bet my son $40 on the outcome of the Presidential election.  He looks at a great deal of data and understands the political history and process in great depth.  My position came from a gut feel.  It would be good if I could attribute my betting success to some specialized life experience from having been around the block a few more times, but I cannot.

    When I started  this blog I was committed to writing every day about this odd status of not really having a job or certainly not having a 'real' job.  He remarked "you'll never do that."  His perspective on that topic also likely came from a 'gut feel.'  For a period of time I wrote daily to prove him wrong.  I lost.  Somewhere in my head I was also following some obscure guidance from other writers that encouraged simply sitting down and writing every day.  It's now clear that those writers, and those who write books about writing, write about writing every day when they are stonewalled by a blank screen.  It's sort of a 'go to' topic.  The issue is that you need 'seat time.'  Looking for motivation while not in the seat is usually a waste.  The screen is the motivation.

    Writing seems to be the thing to do at this point.  Of course I've ground through quite a few texts and online seminars and so for looking for key motivations to get me down that path.  A while ago I read about a writing seminar on an island in Lake Superior with 'real authors' with 'successful formulas' for getting your work, your blogs into the mainstream.  That was interesting and the lazy part of me said "yes, wait until next summer when the ice is out, go to this seminar and pick up some good motivation and ideas and then you can start this part of your working world..."  Distraction.  Delay tactic, logical at that.  Chuck Close, noted portrait painter, offers the following real advice.  "Inspiration is for amateurs--the rest of us just show up and get to work." In hindsight that was the key to my former executive work.  I just went there, plugged away with the tools and resources at hand and did good work.  I need to simply leverage that path elsewhere.

    The small business has taken most of my time that I would have dedicated to a 'real job.'  Real jobs pay real money, you sit in strategic planning sessions, construct budgets, hire and fire 'talent,' mentor, build relationships and other sorts of tasks.  Now at 66+ I find that people who want to manage money ask me what I want my 'legacy' to be.  I think that means what happens to any residual money after I'm dead.  If I contrast that with what 'real' jobs have to offer I don't find either particularly appealing.

    AARP, which puts out nice magazines, always have articles and commentary about second careers, "doing what you're always wanted to do" and other consoling sorts of themes that attempt to make one feel all that much better about being unemployed.  The writing is well done but I'm resistant to feeling better about not having a real job.  This effort, this creative one, with a different set of tools (words, blank screens, intuitive and deductive melding and conflict, etc.) is likely the path.

    During a late night browsing of either Amazon Prime or Netflix I came upon a series about creative design.  The first episode was about a German graphic designer, the evolution of his work, where and how he worked and the pressure of deadlines thrown into a more or less life of doodling.    The second episode showcased Tinker Hatfield, whose quote "If people don't love or hate your work you've not done all that much" I'd come across before I knew who he was.  He's designed every Nike Air, a small town guy, architecturally trained who's changed the world of shoes...and design.  It's a nice legacy.  

    I'd like to leave a bit more that people love or hate.

    Friday, January 27, 2017

    Check your tie (or whatever), Read, Network

    Every day starts with a checklist. 
    • Am I wearing the right clothes for the tasks of the day
    • Do I know what I'm doing (if not, read, do a search)
    • What are the outcomes (get paid, be stronger, build a wall)
    • Relax, re-group, re-prioritize
    • Nourish  parts of your body as needed
    • Promote yourself
    It's easy to get off track.  Stay on-track to reach outcomes.  Go off-track to move beyond convention.

    The internet, tablets, big screens, etc. distract us.   It's easy to never read, never crack a real book, open two books at the same time, write in the margins, highlight key phrases, tell someone what you learned.  Review your own words.

    During my IT career I consumed business journals and IT-focused publications.  Knowing that information provided great advantages in management, negotiation, purchasing, visualizing the future, etc.  Now that I don't really have a dumb job I've broadened that scope.  Instead of reading the tech sections of the Wall Street Journal I read all of it, even the 'Mansions' section promoting homes in the $5M+ range.  The Saturday issue is particularly enjoyable.  I read the Wall Street Journal in traditional paper format.  The New York Times is consumed more selectively in digital format.

    Even People Magazine offers up a few bits of value, humor and self-reflection.
    • Don't wear clothes that evoke "that's weird" responses
    • Read
    • Network outside your specialty
    • Don't get locked in an age group (know more than 15 people in People)

    Reading People Magazine
    Somehow I ended up with a subscription to People magazine. Typically I pick this up only when I’m about
    to get my deteriorating teeth cleaned or waiting for my diminishing hair to be cut. It’s actually a bit embarrassing to have it arrive in the mailbox. Given the range of publications arriving at our home address this would add thoughts the postman may have about “What kind of people live here? This is all odd.”

    Usually I grab a Sharpie (It get 1/10th of a cent for everyone who reads that) and mark all the people I know in People. This is not a publication for sixth decade readers. Fifteen or sixteen people are usually all I can recognize. The current cover mentioned the Menendez brothers. “I remember that! It was a couple of years ago.” It was 20 years ago. The “Exclusive” was someone named Katherine Heigl. No idea.

    “Brad’s Moving On.” I know who Brad Pitt is. He’s married to that woman who’s the daughter of not Dustin Hoffman but that other guy in “Midnight Cowboy,” a pretty good movie from a few years ago. The “StarTracks” page showed eight people. None were identifiable. I recognized Justin Timberlake because I learned who was from watching the CMA show. Ellen. Sure. Everyone knows Ellen.

    There are a lot of ads for drugs in “People.” They all warn you to be on the lookout for heart irregularities, kidney failure, anxiety and diarrhea.

    According to the “Passages” feature Roger Daltrey is 72. That seems unreasonable, perhaps an ‘alternative fact.’

    Mel Gibson, 61, has a 26 year old GF. My staff used to tell me there was a guideline for this, something like “half your age plus or minus 7” was OK....61/2+30.5-7=23.5. No, I think the rule must be “half your age plus seven”...61/2=30.5+7=37.5. Gibson has a lot of cash. Trump=70...(70/2)=35...35+7=42. Melania=46. OK, that meets the “old guy (with lots of money) wants a younger GF rule.”

    James Corden. I know him from YouTube and the carpool karaoke skits. Of course my favorite is his drive w/ the Red Hot Chili Peppers who are now senior statesmen of the rock world. Apparently Corden has a TV show...never have seen it.

    There are two pages on the guy with the awkwardly long red tie and 4-6 pages on people uncomfortable with the awkwardly long red tie guy.

    The Menendez article was succinct. They are in prison forever.

    Crossword puzzles have always bored me. Obviously this one would be pointless. It would be similar to being on “Jeopardy,” knowing absolutely nothing and having Alex Trebek repeatedly ask you “Are you sure you know nothing?”

    Sunday, December 18, 2016

    The 38th Parallel of Organizations

    Donald Trump
    Donald Trump
    Every organization has an organizational structure. The formal structure, often represented in an 'organization chart' displays names, titles and reporting responsibilities.  Paralleling that is the informal structure of how organizations actually work.  Often titled staff "make things happen" beyond the representation of the organization chart and it's accompanying catalog of formal job descriptions.  The "informal organization chart" lacks documentation other than informal but established and historical knowledge, experience and perspectives.  The lack of formal organization charts and documented processes can be a challenge to new incoming staff members.  Entry level staff struggle to understand how the processes work.  Incoming senior staff often stumble when attempting to formalize or change informal processes that already work fine.

    Douglas MacArthur
    Douglas MacArthur
    It's a challenge.  The junior person needs to "get up to speed" and "show their worth" in the first year. The new senior person needs to "straighten things up"  and "make the changes that need changing." The counterpoint is for all new people to understand an organizations culture.  Strangely, the challenge is to create a formal process of education and communication that transfers knowledge of the informal processes.

    Zappos, the online shoe retailer, does a great job of educating new employees on Zappos culture.  A lengthy, mandatory training session on company culture is followed by the offer to leave the company, with a cash offer, if the employee is uncomfortable in any sense with the culture.

    Notes to incoming junior staff:
    • listen more than you talk
    • request a peer mentor
    • request a mentor at a more senior position
    • develop a mentor at a comparable organization
    • network
    • be good in your discipline and another
    • plan your future leadership
    Notes to incoming senior staff:
    • listen more than you talk
    • request a peer mentor
    • request a mentor at a lessor non-reporting position
    • develop a mentor at a comparable organization
    • network
    • be good in your discipline and another
    • lead based on your experience as a follower
    Now for the political commentary...
    The President-elect has offered complementary statements about his military hero, Douglas MacArthur:

    Regarding Hillary Clinton's website:
    Former secretary of state Hillary Clinton is helping ISIS by putting her plan to fight the extremist group on her website, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump argued in Monday night’s presidential debate.
    “General Douglas MacArthur wouldn’t like that,” Trump said.
    My comment:  Donald Trump has frequently mentioned and idolized General MacArthur (and General Patton to a lesser degree).  He's possibly cherry-picked those references.  We all do that to a degree.  
    The media and the generals:
    Trump:  "I don't want my generals being interviewed."
    My comment:  Patton and MacArthur, two egotistic WWII generals are often referenced by Donald Trump.  Each was criticized and censured by sitting Presidents for their public commentary.  MacArthur was removed as commander of US forces in Korea for his commentary.  Historians regard both MacArthur and Patton as leading media whores of their era, successful yet controversial in the field.
    Fox News:
    Trump commentary: As Donald Trump, our new president-elect, starts to plan for the future, the man he should turn to for advice may have died more than fifty years ago, but his words and deeds live on. He’s General Douglas MacArthur, who actually has a lot in common with Donald Trump—and should be one of his role models as president.    
    Like Trump, MacArthur was a maverick, an anti-establishment figure.
    Truman: "I fired him (MacArthur) because he wouldn’t respect the authority of the president," Truman later explained. "I didn’t fire him because he was a dumb son of a bitch, although he was, but that’s not against the laws for generals. If it was, half to three-quarters of them would be in jail."
    Trump reference: Nothing else Trump has said—about Muslims, women, protesters, immigrants and so on—has chilled the political, military and media establishment more than his glib pronouncements on nuclear weapons. If we’re not going to use them, Trump told MSNBC’s Chris Matthews in a typical remark last March, “then why are we making them?” He said he might drop one on the Islamic State group, known as ISIS, or Europe. “You want to be unpredictable,” he said.
    MacArthur:  (from "American Caesar" by William Manchester)
    On the second anniversary of Hiroshima, when a bell of peace was rung at the very spot where the bomb had exploded, he asked that "the agonies of that fateful day serve as a warning to all men of all races" that nuclear weapons "challenge the reason and the logic and the purpose of man....This," he said, "is the lesson of Hiroshima.  God grant that it not be ignored."
    My comment:  MacArthur was also not in favor of the use of nuclear weapons on Japan.  He was a great general, more knowing of his opponent's intentions that they were themselves and believe Japan to be within days of surrender.  This is what differentiates leaders (good executives); understand your staff, your peers and your competition as well or better than they understand themselves.  It's a big job.  Listen.  Read. Plan.
    MacArthur now resides in history as a great strategist particularly in his role in the Pacific in WWII.  Unfortunately, ego, his major strength and major flaw undermined his place in history.  

    Donald Trump has surrounded himself with people of extreme partisan positions and experience, some with no experience.  His challenge will be to afford  the "MacArthurs" of his appointees to succeed yet remember for whom they work, and to ensure his own MacArthur traits include the ego to define, prioritize and strategize but remain a humanitarian.

    Humility has a place in leadership. Good business leaders have followed before they led. 

    Sunday, December 4, 2016

    The Wisdom of Youthful Organizational Decision-Making

    During all of my managerial positions I was older than my staff.  My job was to understand them, their needs, the reality of the organization, and do whatever, but leave them alone.  They were talented.  Rarely did I override their decisions.  The exceptions were at times of major strategic changes in direction or the inevitable crisis; those were the times to pull experience from my cerebral cortex.

    The talents to lead are honed when you follow.  It's not easy working for someone you don't care for or who lacks talent.  It preps you for your time at the podium.

    Of course getting to the podium is just the start.  My constant advice is continual re-education.  There are few professions or crafts that are not continually developing and changing.  Listening to younger people, your staff and others offers insight.  The challenges of a youthful employee and a more senior employee are much different.  One can be comfortable with their achievement (don't get comfortable) and one wants more challenges and growth (that's your are the waiter).

    Organizations that fail to change fail (duh).  My approach in hiring was to always include a younger staff member.  In the IT space I worked really hard to be ahead of the curve in strategy and opportunity but I knew that interviews were about discovering what kind of person wanted to work there.  As a senior person did you know all the trends and lifestyles that you should?  Did you put a candidate in the reject pile because of their ink?  Your youthful counterpart might have explained that half the world wears ink.  

    The secondary and more important reason for bringing a youthful employee to
    meet candidates is because you might have 3-5 years of employment left.  The young employee seated next to you might be working with this candidate for 25 years.    The young employee and this young candidate are the ones that will shape the future, not you.  It's one of those times that you have to poke yourself in the eye and remember that despite your manager status you work for your employees.  Listen to them.

    It's also possible that anyone achieving a 'C' level position should either have to go sit in the basement, out of sight or automatically be laid off in 24 months. That would improve innovation, creativity, etc.

    P.S.  "Office Space," the movie, should be viewed annually.