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.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

You need to be afraid...

career fear scared
Traveling north during a recent early winter storm I was able to keep the truck out of the ditch and generally pointing the direction I was headed.  Two winters ago I was following a truck pulling a trailer with four snowmobiles (snow machines) that was traveling too fast.  Four wheel drive is a dangerous thing for all the freeway NASCAR drivers.  As the vehicle lost control it entered the center ditch the snowmobiles went airborne and landed in the southbound lane.  The truck and trailer were deeply buried in half a winter's snow. Never have four snowmobiles flown into my lane.  I have thought about deer, small animals., wrong-way vehicles, moose and airplanes but never four airborne snow machines.  My guess is that first thing that would happen is I'd quickly wonder if they were SkiDoos or the Minnesota-based Polaris machines.  It would be scary.

Listening to NPR interview a gentleman who had written a column for the San Francisco Gate for thirty-five years.  He wrote a column three days a week.  Many times he stared at the screen with a two-hour deadline, but he was good.  One comment he made was "If you have never been scared in your job you are probably in the wrong job."  During the gig I have to admit I was never scared.  I was methodical, thorough and competent.  There were indicators that it was not as challenging as I wished.

Facing the unknown is OK.  We need to have more of a challenge than just the unknown.  If you've worked through every scenario on every big project you're good.  We need the unexpected.  Since leaving the gig I've challenged myself many times. Today I took on a project I'd never done.  Going into it confidently I left feeling damn good.  All the right tools accompanied me and there was only one predicted trip to the hardware store.  It's four hours later and I am afraid that I might have missed one component.  It's sort of like losing one lug nut on a six hole rim...a little bit scary; that's good.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

The Polls Were Wrong...The Underbelly of Big Data

Presidential Polls...All Wrong...I Was Right
Two years ago I made a two bets.  The first was that Donald Trump would be the Republican Presidential nominee.  Winning the Presidency was the second.  Each was for $40.  

As the campaign progressed the margin narrowed and with missteps on the part of the Democratic candidate, possible Hatch Act transgressions by the FBI Director and rising enthusiasm of the disenfranchised right (and Sanders misguiding the youth) and Mr. Trump won, not carrying the popular vote but winning the electoral vote which is what really counts.

It was about 10:30 PM on NOV 8th that all the talking heads and pollsters must have simultaneously watched the red light go on and thought "everything we've analyzed and said is wrong."

One aspect of Big Data is the marketing and merchandising side.  No one reads much any more, including Donald Trump, but we're addicted to smart phones, tablets, 140 character Tweets and a perpetual stream of visual and sound bites (bytes).    It's regarded as truth by many despite the fact that the major news carriers are more about advertising dollars than journalistic responsibility.

My forecast was based on no data, simply a gut feel.  As Andy Warhol  said "In the future everybody will be world famous for fifteen minutes."  It appears that I've had my fifteen minutes although it's been in two or three minute segments.

Your Online Smart-Ass Social Media Legacy & Big Data
During the Republican debates Ted Cruz had to defend the allegation that his father was a conspirator of Lee Harvey Oswald based upon a fuzzy photograph taken in Cuba.  A photograph, almost sixty years old may have played a part in Mr. Cruz's failure to be the nominee.  Minimally it's now become a topic.   Some people, having seen it in the debate or the regurgitated media/internet blasts will not certainly regard it as truth.

With the progression of the Obama Presidency it appears that American's willingness to identify themselves  with slanderous, derogatory and offensive commentary seemed to escalate.  Often I'm amused when people talk about their Facebook pages and state that they can say whatever they want on 'their Facebook page.'  Now if Facebook was a public utility or a government entity, perhaps like the library system that might be the case but it's not.  Facebook is a corporation.  When you open an account there, or on Twitter, Foursquare, Pinterest, etc., you are agreeing to the corporations end-user license agreement (EULA) which almost always says that you have given them all rights to use your postings, data, contacts, profile information, etc.

So down the road when your child applies to college or for a job the first research that will be done will be to look up their current social media profile.  As big data progresses big data will be re-packaged and sold to other companies that mine this data to provide analytics on what you might buy, where you might live, your political inclinations and your suitability for whatever.

If you repeatedly posted that President Obama was born in Kenya or some more disparaging comment your kids or your children's children might lose out because you were a birther or you were a political contributor to the wrong party or you bought a lot of odd things online or from a particular retailer.  It's possible that you, too, might have to defend yourself as Ted Cruz did.  On the other hand you have the opportunity to leave a good online legacy.