Random Thoughts in a non-random world

Assuming Keith Scott actually had a gun (which I don’t believe) and that we are now seeing that good guy with a gun gets shot by the (plainclothes) police in North Carolina, why is the NRA silent?  Is it a stretch to say that the 2nd Amendment only applies to white men?  I’m guessing Anton Scalia would say yes, “Guns move too fast for blacks.”

Why does North Carolina put up with politicians that believe “blacks hate whites” and that transgender citizens are bathroom predators?  What has there been, 1 maybe?  There are more conservative politicians with sexual predatory convictions (or clearly shown cover ups) than transgender bathroom issues.  See:  Dennis Hastert.  I’m not dismissing liberal sexual criminals, but they aren’t the ones driving the laws in North Carolina.

Why must a black man with hands up, assumingly following police commands in Tulsa, be a “bad dude”?  Is the false accusation of being a “bad dude” automatically a death sentence?

In a world where many (90%?) of our Law Enforcement officers are good, if not great people, why must they protect the minority that abuse the power and make mistakes (yes I’m being kind) that end lives?

Why do people think that I am anti-police?  I’m not.  I’m against injustice and the policies and practices that protect the abusers.

In a country where we are proud of our freedoms, including the freedom to protest, why are we focused on one man kneeling during the national anthem as a crime against the country and ignoring what his message is?  Why are the angry conservatives ignoring the message in light of recent tragedies that are on point with his message?

Why do people think that kneeling during the national anthem is a slight against the Military?  The Military defends the constitution and our rights, not a flag and a song.  Peaceful protest is a protected right.

Why do people think that after hundreds of years of slavery and 100+ years of Jim Crow and continued rights violations (see NC and voter restrictions), do people not understand that the black experience in this country is different from all (most?) others?  Why do we think there are easy answers? There aren’t any easy steps.  We are good at easy.  It’s hard. It’s painful to look in the mirror and say, “I’m part of the problem” in some way.  But for the most part, if you are reading this, you are.  So am I.

In the 30’s, the US ignored Europe.  We were worried that Jewish refugees were spies.  Then 6 million were executed, along with other targeted peoples.  Why don’t more people worry that we are doing this again?  Is it because Muslims scare us?  Jew were thought to have horns, so let’s get over our Muslim fear.  For the record, no one in my family has horns.  I won’t speak for other Jews.

Why is it so hard to embrace our heritage of the freedom to practice our religion, when it comes to Muslims?  Yes, there are elements of their texts that are harsh and talk of killing those that are different.  So does the Christian bible, but we conveniently ignore that.  Isn’t that a tad hypocritical?  That’s not to say there isn’t an ISIS, terrorism issue in this country.  There is.  Again, hard problems and difficult work.  Profiling and registration database will inflame those given to intolerance of “Western” values.  Why can’t we be smarter?

Yes, I think there are too many guns in this country.  Yes I think it is too easy to get a gun and way too easy to get a gun capable of killing a great many people in seconds.  I’m in favor of keeping guns out of the hands of people that shouldn’t have them.  See: Sandy Hook.  I’ve never heard a major candidate for president say we should round up the guns; TAKE THEM AWAY!  Never.  I guess not. But that is what the NRA is advertising.  Do people really believe that?  Why don’t people realize the NRA is a lobby for the gun manufacturers and survivalists?  Who really needs 100 guns?  5 isn’t enough?  Because once you go past 5, what are your really saying about your need for guns?

After all the 2nd Amendment guaranties the rights to guns. Do people forget that it takes most of the states to ratify a constitutional amendment?   The odds of your guns being taken away in the next 20 years is 0.  And if you are worried about 20 years from now, you are being ridiculous.  Start worrying about 2036 in 2026.  None of us can see that far.

Why aren’t we all working to make this world a better place?  What stopping you?

 

Loneliness is Crowded Room

Sometimes the universe sends us signals.  You know what I mean and you see it all the time.  There is that horrid Prius commercial that is so ubiquitous that I’m now nauseous when it airs.  Clearly it was that man’s time to buy a Prius and change his life.  Other times, the universe sends us false signals.  On one unnamed TV show, the lead sees the same number over and over and over.  Realizing it’s a sign, he engages is risky behavior centered on that number with disastrous results. (I’m sure many of you will binge the show later so I’ll keep the title covered.  Hint: it is not Firefly, Game of Thrones or Real Housewives of Atlanta.)

Similarly, I’ve been a bit of a funk for a while.  I’m not great at hiding that, and my four loyal readers know I often process my moods here.  And by often, I mean about 10% of the time that I start to.  I do edit myself a little and I really don’t want to turn this into a forum people avoid.  No, not you Sir. I know you are here for the Ashley bashing, that is located here.  But today, the fingers type, the words flow, and the Oxford Comma prevails.  What is going on around me?

The commute and the attitudes around me in the office weigh heavy on my generally happy soul.  For those of you that don’t know, I leave the house at 6am and return home generally after 6, too often towards 7.  That’s 75-90 minutes in the morning and 2 hours on the way home after spending day in a cube where there is limited human interaction and too much of it revolves around not meeting hidden expectations and the constant implication that no one is working enough hours.  Keep in mind that I am not a piecemeal factory worker or laborer (and both are fine, honorable jobs) – I think, I plan, I influence to gain results.  There is no clock measuring my thoughts thinking &  ideas.  When a thought hits me and I work on it, it can be driving, doing dishes or at 3am coming out of a dream.  I’m generally engaged 12-18 hours a day on what I work on.  So why the ridiculous obsession over time?

Just because I’m paid hourly doesn’t mean I don’t put in lots of time that is not technically on the clock.  Oh, and 40 hours a week is the absolute maximum.  I once made the mistake of working 2 hours on a Sunday, because something came to me late on Friday, which I would need to act on early the next Monday.  My hours didn’t exceed 40, but I was told in no uncertain terms that anything other than 8 per day, Monday through Friday would require advance approval.  I keep forgetting that not everyone sees me as the adult I believe I am.

Every day for the last week and way too much for way too often, I keep hearing the seminal hard rock anthem “Closing Time” by Semisonic.  (I looked for the sarcasm sans font, but couldn’t find it and I know WordPress does not feature it.)  As silly as the song is about the hook up life at 2am, one phrase stands out.

Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.

Is the universe trying to tell me to move on and find a new beginning, a new cubicle?  When do I become too old to be attractive in the new economy of disposable workers?  Are my experience and skills an unwanted commodity, the Filet-O-Fish of the work world?  How heavy is the baggage that is my gray hair and wrinkles?  Can I embrace the reality of my fading youth, yet still see that experience and wisdom are liabilities in my world?  What is my place?  Is there a new beginning to be sought?

And no, I’m not having a midlife crisis. But much weighs heavy.  And I consider the adage about the grass being greener elsewhere and see my lawn turning brown due to drought based water restrictions.  I’m not one to take the easy route. I’m not quitter.  Of course I think about it all the time, but in the end I do the right thing, even when it’s the more difficult, arduous path.  Maybe I should have been a mountain goat.

Today, I sat in traffic behind some unseen delay on the approach to the bridge.  Of course I heard the song about the “last call for alcohol”.  Seriously? People paid for that record?  But then I realized that it was part of a shock and awe bombardment of sad, aching songs.  Like a train wreck, I couldn’t turn away.  Horrified at the sonic sneak attack on my already fragile emotional state, I embraced the sadness.  For more than 30 minutes I sat, not hearing an uplifting note.  8 stations, making sure I paid attention.  Of course I skipped over the Eagles and Journey, it is in my DNA.

There were songs about the  break ups to come.  And then the actual breaking up and the aftermath that follows – longing, regret, and sadness.  Lonely sailors waiting for their bitter end, stranded on an island without Gilligan.  No wonder I spent my youth listening to mostly progressive rock, there are very few love songs and their opposite numbers.  And in those days I had nothing to measure songs of the heart against.  With age comes experience, and those experiences yield so many different yardsticks to use as needed.  I had several in use today.

I sit here, silent, typing, and reflecting on how I’ve been feeling; the loss of empowerment and the shrinking of my ego.  The sadness of the forgotten wrench in the bottom of the tool box, replaced by a shiny new tool straight from a well-produced Kickstarter campaign, left to rust in the dark.

Years ago, I was driving to pick up a date.  Yes, this was over 30 years ago.  One of my favorite songs came on the radio.  “Dance Away” by Roxy Music.  I always loved that song.  But in that instance, that song of finding solace in music and motion, became something different.  It became the manifestation of a rough break up a few months prior.  Tears flowed and I think I finished processing the pain I was holding.   Decades later, I still love that song and I still feel the emotions of that relationship ending. And sometimes I feel the relief of finally recognizing how to move on.

I’m not feeling sorry for myself, just musing aloud.  Much like music this morning, this silent, six by six cubicle is quite sad and lonely.  Perhaps I can figure out a way to make these days better and repurpose that discarded wrench.  Just typing this out helps.

Here are few songs to help you see the frame of my day.

Dance Away, Roxy Music

A Salty Dog, Procol Harum

Childhood’s End, Pink Floyd

Train in Vain, The Clash

Management 2016 or Navel Gazing in the Age of the Internet

I have been thinking a lot lately about Leadership, Management and Identity. It seems in the new world, this one born of the internet, smartphones, investor returns and social media that our world has changed.  As I started my career, the way to success was through management.  It didn’t matter if you were technical or support staff.   Increased pay, growing responsibility and interesting work followed through the management path.  And naturally, so did I.

I had 6 months of management training before being allowed to supervise or manage anyone.  Then, out of the blue I was managing 8 developers, all 10-15 years older than myself.  They weren’t happy about it and I had to prove myself.  It took time, but I did.  As a manager your job is to remove obstacles, allowing others to achieve, while making sure that their work is aligned with the goals and objectives of the company.  Piece of cake, right?  Not in the least.   But that was the past and bluntly, the past seems to matter less each day.

There has been a shift, one as big as the rise of man in the ranks of the predators.  Gone are the dinosaurs, the professional managers.  Management skills have been devalued for hands on technical skills.  I have interviewed for positions over the years where my skills were needed, but the focus of the manager (or director or VP) was to be hands on.  80% of their view of management was to configure the infrastructure or write code.  The staff’s well-being, professional growth, and productivity was sacrificed for more staff, more line labor and ultimately results that missed the mark.

As I’ve transitioned from a managerial leadership role to a place in the temporary labor force, I see managerial skills lacking all round me.  I have worked for managers that could not manage, let alone evaluate staff.  Hiring the wrong person is worse than not filling an open position.  The damage can be anywhere for bad to nuclear.  I’ve made that mistake and watched others decimate their teams with decisions that were far worse than simply “bad”.  Of course we all make bad decisions.  How we and fix them is what separates good leaders and managers from placeholders.

I’ve worked in environments where leadership was clearly lacking.  Managers and executives had limited interaction with their staffs failing to ensure strategic visions were communicated, actions were aligned and results we achieved.  In general, people want to do good things, they want to contribute and they want to achieve.  If they didn’t need help, the role of manager would have never been created.  People never really finish growing.  You thought you knew everything once you finished High School or College? Nope.  There is always more to learn, there is always improvement just beyond your grasp.  Providing the help you need to get there is what good managers do.  Leaders instill the vision; managers translate that vision to actions while growing a company’s most precious resource – its employees.

I’ve seen managers refer to their staff as cattle, to their face repeatedly.  I’m pretty sure that was not a compliment and did not instill loyalty.  But then the manager didn’t care, it was clear he saw people as a commodity to be replaced as needed.  While it is rare to hear this, I don’t think that is the majority view.  But as managerial skills are devalued and eroding, the attitudes become more prevalent.  People become devalued as generic tools, and the results are larger than the bean counters care to notice.

Since I am not a manager, and I do not have the authority or license to really lead, who am I?  In today’s world, our identity has shifted.  We have our identity at home, which differs from our online identity, which is clearly different from our work identity.  And some of have even more.  There was a point in time when I was a husband, father, leader and teacher.  The world was simpler and those all rolled into one nice neat package.  Today, it is less clear.

You are reading this on a screen.  It is not part of an oral history.  It most definitely is not work related.  No, this is part of your social or self-educational experience.  If I can help you I’m glad.  But this is far different from my other social media identities.  In each setting, various elements are set up to provide opportunities for people to show their personalities and interests.  While I’m not a troll, I’m most definitely not a taste maker.  Well, unless you want to come for dinner and peruse the wine cellar.

The change in the employment environment changes everything.  My core identity was once that of a leader and problem solver that contributed as much directly as indirectly.  I worked hard to help the people around me grow. Now I am a wrench, to be used on very specific tasks as needed.  Leadership, as I’m defining it, is not part of the workload and it most definitely would not be lauded if it emerged.

I wonder if that impacts how others perceive me.  Am I less than I was? Do those closest to me see me as less?  Has my gravitas given way to grey hair and the ultimate devaluation of my skills?  I pretend I’m not less, but professional fulfillment has been replaced by the practicality of paying the mortgage.  I sit and ponder my identity and my place in this world far too often these days.  Changes happen when you least expect them and deliver new pressures and influences to our perspectives and actions.  I think in this new world of ours, we probably need to spend more time connecting with our inner selves and with others.

Years ago, I worked for an executive that I had a love/hate relationship with.  She was a bit nutty and a hugger.  I am picky on who I hug.  If I hug you, it says a lot.  If I don’t, no need to be offended.  She taught me a lot – mostly on what not to do.  But, I always remembered that she was the one that told me “high tech means high touch”.  The innovations in this world are meant to help us, not separate us.  As we move further apart, we need to have the time and skills to really interact, really make a difference and not just hope that last short email changed someone’s mind.

So while I’m not who I was, I am still me.  I strive to make a difference. I work to help others and when no one is looking, I try to lead.  I try to set the appropriate example.  I believe I can still make a difference.  But sometimes, in my own private corner, I wonder if I’m fooling myself.  In some ways, I’ve always been naïve.

 

 

 

Tipping Over Rocks

As I watch middle age wind its way inevitably towards life’s downward slope, I ponder which part of my soul to put into words.  While we inevitably have some mid-life or existential crisis – though not nearly as grand as Don Draper’s – I never seem to find the words to process those events appropriately.  Instead, I find myself coming back to the common themes of food and literature.  But not today.

As the parking wars of Oakland ended with my career taking a twist, today I’ll travel the musical path and in doing so, perhaps raise a smile, give you a tune and reveal a bit too much.  Let’s find out.  I’ll take “Tipping Over Rocks” for $2000 Alex.

Nearly everyone my age loves Led Zeppelin. What’s not to love?  Bonham’s barely contained rage on drums, Jones’ arrangements and base, Page’s searing, inventive and hypnotic guitar and Plant’s vocals driving home the point.  And that well-worn spot on his jeans.  Yes, I know that you know he dresses left.  I fought embracing Zeppelin them in high school because everyone else did, but it all finally made sense to me around 1979.  I haven’t let go.

If you ask for a list of people’s favorite Led Zeppelin songs, you will inevitably get “Stairway to Heaven”, “Kashmir” or perhaps “Ramble on”.  While I do love “The Immigrant Song”, my favorite track is a little ditty on side 3 of Physical Graffiti, “The Wanton Song”.  Who doesn’t love a song about the rush and immediate need of sex?  I do.  But the song is about the hook.  This is my favorite hook in the music universe, with all apologies to Mike Campbell.  It rocks.  It rages.  And yet it radiates a progression and melody that echoes all the false promises of pop music.  It is meaty and it delivers.  It takes my seed from my shaking frame, and the wheel rolls on.

 

In the early 70’s no band was more theatrical than Genesis.  My love of the Peter Gabriel era Genesis records is well documented.  I’ve dragged Lambchop to more Musical Box schlong fests than she cares to recall.  And while such staples as “The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway”, “The Musical Box” and “Supper’s Ready” are true favorites, I have a deep, carefully curated, soft spot for “Harold the Barrel”.

Harold is a man depressed, contemplating suicide, being encouraged by reporters and the crowd.  The song offsets the grim situation with a power pop melody and vocals reminiscent of happy children.  It’s a tough song to interpret as it is presented like an opera, but in Peter Gabriel’s singularly spectacular voice.  But without the liner notes showing the various parts, it can be tough to truly grasp the theatrics.  In the midst of such a crisis, Harold’s mother tries to talk him off the window ledge by telling him, “”Your shirt’s all dirty, there’s a man here from the B.B.C.”.  Some things are universal.

 

 

And then there is REM.  I first discovered REM with Life’s Rich Pageant.  That’s me, late to the game. But I went back and found the rest.  From 1986 – 1994 REM put out the soundtrack to my ascent into adulthood.  It might have been easy to point to “Texarkana”, “Can’t Get There From Here” or “(Don’t Go Back to) Rockville.” Instead I’ll point you to “A Carnival of Sorts (Boxcars)”.

There is a manic, frantic quality to the song.  At once I want to dance and cry.  The beat grabs me by the collar and forces my attention.  Yet under the reaping wheel, a sadness and strange environment dominates the world around me and despair rises.    Don’t miss the train of woe; Boxcars are pulling a carnival of sorts, Out of town, out of town.

 

In early 1980, my friend Matt brought over a copy of London Calling.  The Clash was new to my consciousness and while the title track and “Train in Vain” were cool, it really wasn’t till I started college later in the year did I grasp the meaning and might of this band.  Let’s skip the obvious and jump to the meat.  As I’ve aged, when I listen to Strummer and Jones I always yearn for “Stay Free”.

Clearly, the tale of a friend who wound up in prison and then got out bears no relationship to my life.  But time passes and life’s choices often create distance between friends.  Relationships erode and yet, deep down, bonds never really break. I wonder what might have been, filling in an alternate history for my life.   I always tear when Mick sings “But go easy, step lightly, stay free”, my code for what never was, but could have been.

I’m sure your first exposure to the Pretenders was “Brass in Pocket”.  Perhaps you always loved “Back on the Chain Gang.”  I know Lambchop loves “Night In My Veins” and that special something dark and dirty about Chrissie’s nights.  I tend to prefer the darkness in “Up the Neck” and the raw, bleeding emotion of “The Wait.”    One brings the darkness of love gone violently wrong to the sweet melody of a strolling love song, while the other rages with pain dished out and taken.  When I heard the entire debut from the Pretenders, and my view women in rock had changed forever.

Bondage to lust, abuse of facility
Blackmailed emotions confuse the demon and devotee

Oh gonna hurt some, child, child, child, child, child
Gonna hurt some whoa my baby

Music changes us, rewriting our DNA in a way that we can’t comprehend until it’s finished.  The old cliché is that music, generally what we heard in high school  is the soundtrack to our lives.  Instead I find it to be the fabric on which we write our story, the texture to our soul.  And if you listen closely, you’ll hear echoes of my past, here under the rocks.

ennui

I drive to work; the train is no longer an option. Later, I drive home.  The round trip is at least 3 hours, often closer to 4.  It gives me time to listen to sports talk and generally the presidential debates. Satellite radio is a wondrous thing.  But my mood has shifted.  I am reverting back to listening to music.  My mind collapses around the sadness that is the 49ers.  The Warriors are a bright spot and the Giants exude yearly hope.

But then there is the election, still 8 months out.  Am I the only one that see’s Trump inciting violence?  I was appalled when he suggested that if he didn’t get the nomination with plurality votes, which he will surely have, the people might riot.  Might?  Isn’t he telling them to?  I took it as a signal.  A blatant call to arms.  And we wonder why he is compared to Fascists.  There are no good choices.  My politics lean liberal and as bad as Trump would be – and he would be—Cruz is worse.  The manipulation of the media for air time, the cultish feel of some candidates.  Wondering if Cruz would really like to start the end of days as his father suggests.  And then I’m reminded the next SCOTUS depends on how the NRA feels.  It all makes me weary.

And Brussels, following Paris.  Some days it is indeed too much.

So I move to music.  And the lift I’m looking for is nowhere to be found.  Sad songs.  Reminders that Bowie and Kantner passed on.  That Morrison, Hendrix and Joplin died too young.  That Duane Allman cut a swath through the south but left it searing and incomplete.  John had me imagining, but even that leads down dark hallways in this year’s context.

Today, there is no joy in Mudville.   I’m sorry I’ve neglected you, my 3 or 4 dedicated readers, but most things haven’t gotten past my filters.

Here’s a little spot of joy. Maybe it will help, at least for a moment.  Who doesn’t like power pop about teachers spiking the punch of wee ones?

 

More Black Marks on my Permanent Record

I’ve avoided this corner of the web because I don’t want to seem harsh or only use it to vent. Let’s see how even keeled I can be today.
I’ve been pondering management quite a bit lately; more accurately, mismanagement. I see quite a bit of it these days. People often mistake management for knowing every arcane detail to the point of being ridiculous or completely controlling people so that they can’t make a decision to do anything other than breathe or shit without asking permission and guidance. Of course if management is not highly valued, incompetence and counter-productive behavior is allowed, even encouraged to proliferate.
Industry has looked to flatten management. The stock market and a generation of corporate raiders have shown that middle management was excessive and unneeded; filled with fat. Cutting out those layers in response, without appropriately adding in the skills to handle the world by managing for results and leading people to grow their skills have led to responsibilities being added to existing jobs, without the support mechanisms and guidance to help the average person. I know many people whose responsibilities have tripled (or more) in the past several years. Is this a cause and effect or is it just my time on this earth allowing me to see things differently?
There are many different styles of management and none are always correct. Different people and different situations require different approaches and tactics. I’ve come to realize that management is lost art and most of the managers I work with are a one trick pony. Years ago, I told a VP I was consulting for that he needed to stop managing his staff the way he wanted to manage and start managing the people the way they NEEDED to be managed. It seems simple, but it is not. Some people need to be micromanaged. Others need to be inspired and given goals to achieve. Others need something in between. Very few people need nothing.
Exceptional managers are often exceptional leaders. But let’s be honest, these are two very different skills and do not always go hand in hand. Very rarely do I meet a manager that understands the difference and works to make those two skills work hand in hand. There are also the needs of tactical achievement versus strategic goals. I often see managers not understanding the difference and thinking only about,” what fire do I need to put out today?” Of course putting out the fire that you started does not make you the hero either. I have learned a lot during my career and have lots of examples of styles and performances I use to keep myself in line.
I used to work for a highly decentralized company. I was responsible for IT in one division and worked hard to forge relationships with business users and find ways to improve their environment, creating efficiencies that allowed them to make more money. It was an exciting time and we improved the way things got done. Processes were smoother, productivity skyrocketed and overall profits increased. Of course some small thinkers in the corporate office only saw the increased IT costs.
One day, this company decided to centralize. One “powerful” executive had a few key phrases that guided how he centralized and remade the company, specifically the technical side. At the time I was appalled. In retrospect I see it even worse. He preached that “perfection was the enemy of the good.” On the surface, that might sound like a restating an incremental improvement goal. It wasn’t. It was his understanding that things weren’t efficient and setting the bar very, very low so no one complained and that it looked, like things were changing.
I was different than most people in my position. There were 15-20 us, running IT for the various units. I was an IT professional. I had 7 years of IT management experience prior to coming to this firm. Most of my peers were the guys that “like” computers and were moved from line jobs to IT management. A few were developers that were hired from outside, because developers make great managers. Sadly, most people don’t see the disconnection in that last statement. And again, management as a skill is disregarded.
I’ve always been an achiever. I see the endpoint, wallow through the ambiguity and find results that exceed expectations and change processes. Those results are not possible when you set the bar too low. And when you set the bar high, you identify your issues and solve them. That’s not saying “we can’t,” it is planning for the tough work that follows, even if it remains ambiguous. I’m all for continuous improvement, but creating illusions of success and change are counterproductive now and in the future.
His other favorite phrase was “some people have to take a step backward, so others can take a step forward.” As you recall, we had drastically changed our workflow and increased profits. Since other divisions had not, my division was “ordered” to adopt new processes and abandon the systems and benefits we’d implemented over the previous 5 years. These new processes were basically the processes we had left behind years before.
One example was our accounting system. We were in a specialized financial industry and had a separate accounting system for our clients. When I started, people used to run reports, analyze the reports (ok line item entries) and highlight the report; they changed the data and started over again. This process was a full time job for 1.5 people. We actually built a system to aggregate the data, highlight 90% of the needed changes and show the results of the change in real time. This reduced the effort needed to less than half of a person per month, which allowed us to assign more resources where they were needed.
The new system we required to move to worked similar to the old system, but we had to send our changes to a third party to input the changes and send us reports the next day. The new system took more than 2 people per month PLUS the fees sent to the third party. Not only did we move backward, costs increased, which represented a decrease in management pay.
I guess I forgot to mention that management was incentivized in our division by having a significant portion of pay determined by profitability. Innovation and improvement was encouraged. Yes, there was significant dissent and upheaval. It didn’t matter. It was to be. The other divisions did not have that component, so increased costs meant nothing to them. It was someone else’s decision. The fact that there were differences was completely ignored. I was not surprised the stock price dropped significantly over that period of time.
Needless to say, the innovations we had made were thrown away. 5 years later, a few were brought back as some other manager’s idea. In that way, my current role is similar. I was caretaking a department for several months. I worked with the various departments to understand their needs and goals to improve their environment. The new manager came in and decided that he knew more and contradicted every decision that had been made and cancelled every plan in place. A year later, most of them are back in place, albeit late and not understood. Imagine if he had the managerial skill and acumen to understand thing before he decided he knew best? We need not go in to the other mismanagement details.
In graduate school I did my thesis on the productivity paradox. In a nutshell computers, specifically PCs were supposed to make industry more productive. They didn’t. Much like giving a teenage power tools won’t make him a master carpenter, training, direction and leadership are needed to help one understand the craft and the art of the possible. We have a new productivity paradox. Today we throw people problems and often don’t support them with the skilled (or even competent) management talent to help them achieve and grow. Am I the only one that sees this?
Suddenly I see a world populated with managers like Ashely Broad. THAT might be worse than the zombie apocalypse.

A Modest Apology

Earlier this week I decided that I would participate in National Novel Writing Month.  Lambchop has nudged for this off and on for several months.  I don’t think I have a novel in me, but what is the harm in trying? I mean besides my own ego.  I am sure you’ve noticed that my blog posting is irregular.  Sometimes I have 3 posts in a week and other times I can go two week s till I force myself to find something to write about.  More often the trouble is finding things I can write about.  No sense in digging myself into a hole.  Sadly I blame it on my muse.  She is as fickle as four-year-old picking out lollipops.

This has been an interesting year and a time of change.  No, I don’t think it’s my mid-life crisis; it’s still over the horizon, lurking behind the earth’s curvature.   At this point in my life I know what I do and do not do well.  Rather than focus on what I know I can do, I think I should stretch and try something I am pretty sure I’ll struggle with.  That which doesn’t kill us makes us stronger, right?  I hope so.

I’m sorry.

My first order of business is to apologize in advance.  I am positive that I will offend at least one person.  My imagination is not nearly as well-developed as it could be.  Someone will see themselves in a character.  Others will recognize a situation and say “How the fuck could Lee write that! He knows I don’t want people to know about that.”  They’ll know.  They’ll see.  They will know I know.  They just won’t know who you are; unless they already do.

I’m sorry.

Once wasn’t enough was it?  Seriously, it never is.

In a perfect world, the words will flow and images and concepts will transfer from mind to fingers to keyboard to keyboard to internet to you.  We both know that won’t happen.  I will probably find comfort and inspiration in the bottom of glass.  That worked well for Poe and Hemingway, and we know how they turned out, right?

Why am I doing this?  I don’t know.  Probably just because.  It is a good enough answer to give our kids, so it must suffice now.  But don’t think I’ll stop watching football, cooking or miss my niece’s bat mitzvah for this.  I won’t.  I guess it is as much of an obstacle course as it is a mental stretch and marathon.  Great.  I have the body all athletes aspire to.

In the end, it really is just an experiment.  I have no illusions that I’m the next George R.R. Martin or James Patterson (ok, I don’t read Patterson, but the Monkey does.)  With a little luck and perseverance it will improve my post quality and frequency here. We will know on December 1st, won’t we?

Now it is time to stock up scotch and maybe some of Evil Twin’s Wet Dream (damn that stuff is great.).  I already have plenty of wine. You knew that.

Looking Beyond The Box Score: A Baseball Metaphor

Baseball is really an individual sport.  We think of it as a team sport, but when you analyze it, 90% of it is made up of individual contributions.  Yes the pitcher and the catcher coordinate on calling the pitches and creating the flow of the game, but 90% of that activity is dependent on the pitcher executing his pitch; the speed, location and ball movement have very little to do with what pitch the catcher called for.  While there is coaching, only the batter can hit the ball.  Fielding batted balls, throwing and catching are individual activities, chained together to make a play.  It really is an individual spot.

Of course, that type of thinking will get you in trouble.  Just look at the LA Dodgers <cue boos!>.  They were 2 games behind the SF Giants <cue cheers!> when they added 6 key players to their team – 3 of them stars with huge potential.  What happened?  Of course they imploded.  There is an intangible side to baseball which is what makes it a team sport.  When the team gels, mountains can be climbed.  When they splinter, they circle the drain (ok, the 72-73 Oakland A’s are the exception that proves the rule.)  It doesn’t matter how much of an individual contributor you are, if your teammates don’t back you, things fall apart, disaster ensues.

On a cohesive team, when one person fails to execute, the others don’t feel the pressure to “pick him up.”  They want to pick him up.  They want to help everyone move forward.  Internal values will have been created that tells people it is time to do something for the team; excellence is often created.  In times of pressure you can see great teams work to cover “failures”, fix issues and exceed.  And you can see splintered groups place blame and try to justify why it isn’t their fault.  Often this comes from the fact that some players are more worried about their statistics and their next contract than the success of the team.  When the team is placed second, everyone suffers.

Other times, it is more about chemistry and how the team bonds and works together to build that feeling of wanting to succeed together.  I cannot say that there are selfish or “me first” players on the Dodgers – I really don’t know.  We all know one or two players added late in the season can be the catalyst to spark a team forward to over achieve.  In my mind, adding so many players to the Dodgers over such a short span may have fractured the camaraderie of those left and making it impossible to find that mixture of talent, desire and teamwork needed to succeed. It is clear the Dodgers did much worse after their roster revision than they did before.

We have all heard the phrase “there is no “I” in team.”  I have always understood it, but never really been in a position to see one or two seriously selfish people destroy a team.  Often, when you are an individual contributor you don’t think about how to interact with others.  You know your stuff and you make it right.  The problem is that there really are very few roles left for individual contributors in today’s business environment.  Most everything in today’s wired world requires a high degree of coordination, communication and cooperation.

I’ve shared some of the rough patches I have gone through recently in some past entries.  As rough as those were, they were nowhere near the roughest. The last 2 weeks were devastating in many ways.  I saw firsthand multiple contributors working on their portions of a project and refusing to effectively communicate with others and with me.  In some cases, there was significant lack of cooperation – ok let’s be honest, there was zero cooperation between most of the participants.  This lead to disaster after disaster; lack of communication leading to tasks that could not be done.  It was chaos, individuals telling other individuals they were smarter and better prepared than the others and more fighting than you can imagine.  There was zero teamwork and definitely less camaraderie.

The project was supposed to be completed Saturday at 5pm.  Here it is Tuesday – 10 days later – and there is still much to do.  We were able to cobble some things together and have some critical services available by 9am Monday and most of the services people see done by mid day on Wednesday.  And then the blame game came into full effect.  You can tell your team players, at least the ones that want to be on a team, as they own their mistakes and don’t look for reasons to blame others.  They are busier looking for solutions and trying to help others than in trying to look good.  The team already looks bad; there is no potential to shine. The divisive ones look to find ways to rationalize mistakes and blame others, trying to find a spotlight.  In a time of crisis or clean-up as we were, trying to blame others is counterproductive.  We needed solutions and teamwork, not to look for kudos.

I sat through meetings and side bars this past week (people talk to me and I try to be the glue on the team, but I didn’t do so well this time) blaming others and trying to rationalize why they were not at fault.  Everyone placed another comparatively at fault – 90%-10%.  In truth, it was 55%-45% in every case; basically everyone was at fault, but no one seems to be able to see it.  In retrospect this has been going on for 3 months, and I was completely unable to change things.

This was a huge lesson in teamwork, or lack thereof.  Sure, you can add a bulldog to a team to drive vendors and outside entities.  But you still need to think about how that force interacts with your team.  Even if you think you might have an underperforming team that can use some improvement, you need to consider how personalities mesh – and what is the cost of achievement.  I’m not sure the cost outweighed the damage in this case.  Certain things got done better than they would have been, there is no denying that.  Others were made worse as information became embargoed and fences erected to keep people away from fiefdoms.

As someone who tries to build teams and cohesion, I was both stymied and broken.  Yes, broken.  You can’t talk to people who aren’t ready to listen and even the strongest of us break under constant abuse and pressure.   I take a lot of ownership of this team’s failures.  It really wasn’t a team; it was 3 different factions, each trying to make the others look incompetent.  All that did was make it nearly impossible to complete the project.  I’m not placing blame, but there what little chemistry existed was corrosive.  I didn’t have the right chemicals to neutralize it.

Have you seen the Internet meme which proves, without a shadow of a doubt that there is an “I” in team?  After the last 3 months, it seems very appropriate.

Far From a Level Playing Field

The two towers rose above the river to the north.  Slowly, the pilgrims came from the other corners of the world.  There were Hobbits, Wizards, Klingons, dragons, artists, authors, actors and other disparate species .  They all came to call the corner of E. Wacker and Stetson in Chicago home.  The towers did not guard the entrance to Mordor, instead they welcomed everyone to the 70th World Science Fiction Convention.  Over the course of several hours, these two towers were quickly transformed from a large hotel to a village.

A convention really is its own self-contained microcosm.  The hotel provides beds, which in many cases are rarely used.  The hotel also provides convention facilities encompassing 3 levels below the hotel and a big bar (which was indeed its name) above.  If an immigrant to this village so chose, they would not ever need to leave the hotel complex, with the towers connected with an enclosed skyway and an underground tunnel.  The con provided food for snacks and lunches; the hotel provided the alcohol and shelter from the heat and humidity.

Including the bar, the con took place on 4 different levels of the hotel.  In investigating our surrounding, I realized that like the convention, Chicago was a town of many levels.  There were two levels of underground roads surrounding the hotel.  The river was yet another level down.  Looking westward, one could not miss Donald Trump’s latest ego driven construct, the Trump Tower; built in 3 distinct shining glass levels, each level proclaiming the increasing socio-economic status of its residents.  Rumor has it that the penthouse, with its modest $32 million price tag, is still available.

Up the street from Trump’s monolith and down in a hole,  sits the Billy Goat Tavern.  Famous for both the curse that keeps the Cubs from winning baseball’s World Series and John Belushi’s “Cheezborger! Cheezborger!” skits on SNL.  The shining and new tower with its 3 progressive levels is juxtaposed with a grimy (through clearly charming) old tavern.  The upper crust top level looks down upon the lowest level, a simile made concrete.  Or, in this case, glass.

Within the convention itself, there are levels.  One can tell what the organizers think of certain topics and speakers based on time slots, room sizes and conflicts. They probably don’t see it that way, but from my perspective it was hard to see it otherwise.  Jim C. Hines, in accepting his Hugo, talked about how he found Science Fiction Fandom and remarked that he “found his people.”  It was touching and rang true.  I’ve always known this was one of my tribes, as we all belong in more than one tribe.  Often it is difficult your place outside your immediate family.

The convention is not at all what one might think.  It skews much older.  The amount of “longtime fans” is quite large. I would guess more than a third of the attendees are over 50; a ver significant amount over 60.  And I’m probably guessing low. This in and of itself creates the stratas and layers within the convention.  Like the rest of society, there is also resistance to change.  It is not always obvious, but it can be seen if you look closely.  With such a long history, one must wonder why ComicCon and DragonCon are huge compared to the humble village that is WorldCon.  I’m guessing it’s a resistance to change.

Unlike the Con, Chicago shows its changes.  You can see them on its sleeve. On its lowest level, you can tour the city via the river look up at the buildings.  Some are big blocks, others sweeping curves and still others are stacked in layers.  But you can see the changes from the down below.  You can see when it was in vogue for architects to “turn their back on the river,”  leaving little to no view of the water from the building.  Art Deco, Modernism and other forms of architecture cohabitate along the shores of the Chicago River, showing how change has imbued the city with a spectacular skyline, a modern forest and a past that welcomes the future.

We are not so different from the modern jungle. We may choose to ignore it, but we each have many levels and layers.  Generally, we only show a few to the people around us.  Those closest to us see a bit more.  The trick is knowing what should and shouldn’t be shared; when to embrace change and when to hold fast to what was previously a change.  As much as I hate to admit it, I’m not the long-haired teenager wishing I had been 18 in 1967.  That will always be one of my levels.  But there are several more.  I know I never expected me to  have a blog.  Did you?

A Musical Interlude

After the crowded halls of the Con and the crowded streets of Chicago, the walk down the platform from the train to the stairs is eerily empty.   Every 20 seconds or so an empty eyed urbanite wanders past me, unsure whether to wobble left or right as though they have never seen someone come into town.  As if all-knowing, the Genie in my iphone cued up one of my favorite songs.  It had been a while since I had heard it.

I pulled out the phone to look at the iconic cover.  I smiled even as the tune evoked sadness, but echoed hopeful strains.  I wandered to my favorite Peet’s, lost in the melodies, not the lyrics.  At various points in the song, hope is given over to despair.  Even with my caffeine fix in hand, the song resonated within.  And it struck home.

     You gotta keep one eye looking over your shoulder.
     You know it’s going to get harder, and harder, and harder as you get older.

There is something about getting older that hits you at strange times.  I don’t feel 50, but I am.  That age when society starts thinking less of you.  We all joke about AARP and their invitations that start arriving shortly after your 49th birthday.  Life seems more about what I’ve done than what I can and will do.  That’s hard.  It takes a concerted effort to change those thoughts and subsequent actions.

A week ago I had a great exchange with a fellow Cal grad.  His eyes sparkled when I talked about being in Memorial Stadium on November 20th 1982.  That was the day that Cal held John Elway in check for 59:56 only to see him single-handedly take the Cardinal (who names their team a color? I think of them as the Robber Barons, which did win the student vote) to a seemingly game winning field goal.  Stanford 20, Cal 19.  Dismay reigned.  Once again the Cal team of my tenure grabbed defeat from the jaws of victory.  What could happen in 4 seconds?

Quite a bit as turned out.  2 million people will probably tell you they were there.  I was one of the 60,000 or so in the stands, sitting in the middle of the Big C in the student section with my poker group, a junior among graduating seniors. It was about to be the saddest of the games I saw as student.  It was to be the last game I saw as a student.

4 seconds – a lifetime in slow motion. 5 laterals (one disputed, one blindly over a shoulder), a band on the field and crushed saxophone player later, Cal scored. I was in shock.  The stadium erupted.  My friends all ran down the bleachers to run on the field.  A bit shell-shocked, I sat there and guarded our belongings.  I know, even though you think of me as mischievous, I am generally the responsible one.

I’m talking to my fellow alum.  There is joy in my reminisces and his eyes light up a bit as I relate my memories.  It’s a important moment in our shared history. It’s a party and even I know I’m drunk and slurring just a bit.  That doesn’t mean my mind has seized up. Of course as I recreate this day to my new friend, I realize he was still in diapers as my 20 year old self sat in that stadium. The song is right, it’s getting harder; he’s not a kid.

     Gotta stay awake, gotta try and shake off this creeping malaise.
     If I don’t stand my own ground, how can I find my way out of this maze?

Again, the lyrics echo where I’m at.  Don’t get me wrong, I have a great life and much to be thankful for.  There is a transition that has been going on for some time.  We spend our younger years working, striving, motivated to achieve.  As we grow older, especially past 40 and then 45, workers have become disposable as jobs are off-shored and employment for life becomes a distant memory.  I believe I understand why it’s called the rat race.  Malaise sets in as what we focused much of our efforts on previously, is no longer within our reach. Life becomes a cycle of paychecks and sustenance. Our egos and self-image need to find new things to hold on to, simpler achievements to find joy and continued rebirth in.  Perhaps that is why I spend so much time in my garden.  Even if my plants suffer, I can try again; the sun will rise, the plants will grow and there is no pink slip at the end of the rainbow.

At this point, I often feel as out of place as beast of burden in the industrial age.

Dogs – Waters and Gilmour

Animals. Pink Floyd, 1977