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.




Its Not Just Me with Black Marks on My Permanent Record – The NFL Joins the Party

Suddenly the news cycle and our vocabularies are filled with domestic violence, Ray Rice, Greg Hardy and Roger Goodell.  It grew and spread faster than the firestorm that took down the Oakland Hills in 1991.  And then we threw Adrian Peterson and Jonathon Dwyer into the mix and the news cycle exploded all over again.  The only thing that surprised me was the national reaction.

Let me be very clear.  I am in no way excusing or condoning domestic violence or hitting women or children.  If it helps, replace the term domestic violence with “act we can all agree is completely and utterly wrong”.  It just happens to be the foundational issue that brings my focus the news circus.

When Roger Goodell gave Ray Rice a 2 game suspension and fined him an additional game check, there was near universal outcry – except of course from the Baltimore Ravens and their fans – that it was far too lenient.  After all, smoking pot gets you 4 games and it is legal in in 2 states recreationally and medically in many more.  I sat and wondered, really?  Not about the outcry, but about the on-going public reaction.

Early on I realized and I’ve tried to reinforce with my kids the underlying concept of the world:  Life is NOT fair.  The sooner you realize it and work with that, the easier it is get past the frequent disappointments you inevitably run across.  As much as we may hope and want it to be so, life and work is not a meritocracy.  Being born extremely rich can open doors and smooth out rough spots that many others are burdened with.    Money solves many issues.  Especially when you have way more than any one person needs.

In the workplace, it is not about wealth.  It is about connections, politics and perceived value.  Surely I’m not the only one who has worked with people who were seemingly rewarded for acts others were fired for committing?    Or that imbecile running a department or division because she’s someone else’s favorite child, yet continually making bad decisions, running off the talent and seemingly failing to the top.  Surely you recognize someone similar.  Maybe it’s the executive who swears and rudely belittles people in public, but is protected because he holds the key to (what is perceived to be) a key customer.  It leaves you scratching your head doesn’t it?  What happened to the HR policies about respect, diversity and open doors?  Sadly, they are often conveniently forgotten.

Managers generally make decisions and take action based upon what they believe is in their best interest.  People rarely sacrifice their best interests for what’s best for the company, especially now that “lifetime employment” is no longer part of the implied social contract or business topology.  Roger Goodell giving Ray Rice a gentle, $1million slap on the wrist was what he perceived to be in best interests of the NFL.  It definitely benefited the Ravens.  As you recall, there was a lot of hullabullo and vitriol, but nothing changed.

What changed was the leak of the video.  That surprised me, because it showed exactly what I assumed happened.  What really happened is that all the people willing to not care, suddenly looked foolish.  Not because anything changed, but everything changed.  People were forced to confront what they wanted to assume didn’t exist.  It was no longer ok to move forward.  And when people mass, so do the advertisers.  In a nutshell, let’s be honest, societal pressure was going to build on the advertisers.  That is what the NFL caved to, not the public.  Season tickets were sold.  TV contracts are measured in billions.  But the advertisers have clout.  The advertisers saw what could happen and acted.  Anheuser-Busch and Procter and Gamble made moves that may have been telegraphed prior to their announcements.

Whether it was those specific moves of the realization they were coming is what moved the NFL.  Society can make changes, albeit small ones, through the government.  Capitalism is what moves business.  In my experience, and I have worked with several myopic executives, the through process usually goes something like this:

  1. What do I want?
  2. What makes ME the most money/how does it affect the stock price?
  3. Will anyone notice or care?
  4. What is the right thing to do?

To my way of thinking that is the order the NFL thought until people and advertisers noticed.  That is where the income is generated and has the potential to affect the game and its owners.  If the think about it, I’m sure you’ve seen similar reactions in your work environments.  And you aren’t on TV.

We have all seen the sales person who generates sales but lacks in other areas.  Perhaps they are selfish and not team players, putting their success above anyone else’s results.  I was once called to HR I dared to suggest that a sales executive should be able to file, retain and retrieve the monthly production sales report.  It was Wednesday and the report had been distributed on Monday.  She considered this harassment.  Nothing came of it because she harassed at least twice each quarter according to her.  Of course nothing was done to change her behavior.  She was deemed important, similar to Ray Rice and what I can only assume where his jersey sales.

Another time everyone was going out to celebrate the new job the sales manager had gotten and was sad he was leaving.  I was in the minority because I believed that the fact that he had slept with 4 of his subordinates as well as several other women in the company, was sexual harassment and his exit was good riddance.   I was quickly educated that I was wrong and I should get over my tired ethics.  I’m sad to report my ethics have not changed and I fully believe that sleeping with your subordinates is wrong.  Of course there are exceptions and there are processes, but in this case, I always felt like there was a very dirty element in this instance.

And of course there was the VP I worked for that made every decision based on how it made him look.  Because of his tenure and connections, it took wasting millions of dollars and exiling too much talent before his name was presented for a trip to the corporate gallows’ pole.  To my mind that was a form of workplace abuse.  I’m sure it is far more common than we think.  It was when I realized ideals were important, but being right was not enough.  Life was not a meritocracy.  Work was not a test where the right answer got you an A.  Sometimes, you have to purposefully get thing wrong to be seen as successful.

So while what Adrian Peterson, Ray Rice, and others in the NFL have done is deplorable, exacerbated by Goodell’s meat -handed handling and been too visible in the news cycle, it has been happening in business for years.  In the past, it was probably even condoned.   After all, cronyism came from somewhere.  I’m encouraged to see the national spotlight moved to domestic problems that we have tolerated for too long.  And while we are at, maybe we continue to improve in other areas, holding people accountable for all of their actions, not just the ones we find convenient.

Another Black Mark on my Permanent Record

I’m in a strange headspace these days.  There is so much going on around me, and so little going on with me.  I can usually tell things are off when I sleep through the alarm, which I’ve been doing lately.

Today, as my normal, I walked into Peet’s for my morning cup of coffee and saw to my, again totally normal, dismay the coffee of the day was the House Blend.  For those of you unfamiliar with Peet’s House Blend, let me describe it as Maxwell House meets Starbucks in dark parking lot exchanging insults.  Clearly, it is something I won’t drink.  So, as become my new norm, I ordered a press pot of one of the roasts I do like.  Today it was the Tanzania.

Sadly, however, the small press pot is 12 oz.  And by 12 oz, I mean it is about 6-8 when poured.  It is sad in its little cup, made sadder by the last oz being filled with grit.  We know the press pot, like an old cabernet, has lots of sediments we shouldn’t drink.  The first 80% was delicious, I just wanted more.

I often want more.  These days my work day is filled with small secretarial chores.  “Lee, will you order this?” “Lee, can you type this request up?”  “Lee, I created a ticket on the thing 5 minute thing I didn’t want to do, that you did last week.  Will you add notes?”  Those were the highlights of my last week.

There is plenty going on around me, but clearly I’m not being asked to participate.  Yeah, I probably did myself no favors by calling out the village idiot after a few months of him talking to me like I was a dog.  “Here boy” “Fetch!” “What a good job!”  There is more to life than peeing on the pad each time and waiting for the treat.  I might have changed the wording a tad, but the inflection and intent are unmistakable.

As an example, the parent company where I work (8k+ staff) did a survey to see how IT services can be improved.  Generally, these go by with nothing said.  This year the CIO stopped in our office (that never happens!) to give one of my coworkers and me recognition on “excellent customer service.”  This included a “Certificate of Recognition.”  I was touched, but as you might know, I really don’t want public accolades.  What I wanted less was the village idiot to comment, “Way to go on the certificate Lee!”  It was said in the same tone you’d tell Rover he was good for going outside.  I think I’d rather work with Cesar Milan.

Of course let’s compound this with 2 key facts – everyone likes to avoid confrontation and the understanding of how to manage people, projects and deadlines is largely absent.  Often, getting down in the weeds and micromanaging the details, often with incorrect information, is the substitute for superior results and achievement.  It is frustrating having insight and ideas that are not wanted.  I don’t work on areas I have unique and deep understanding of because, “I get in the way.”  I got in the way because I understood the needs of the customers and build solid relationships with them and that was perceived as being “on the other team.”  Let’s ignore that mistakes are being made daily and that misinformation and fiction are being sold as truth.

So I sit here, with my sediment laden coffee, trying to look busy and realizing how much is going on around me that I’m not doing, because I need to be “asked” to participate.    I don’t want to butt-in; I don’t want to upset the apple cart.  I let some things flounder because it is not my place to speak up.

I remember years ago in my first job the CEO describing why I felt things were going wrong.  “People need to stay in their box.”  I laughed to myself and waited till he retired.  In general business needs innovation to drive growth.  Meanwhile I am sitting in my box till 5pm when undoubtedly I’ll be asked to write an email or purchase and item and have another 10 minutes of work to do.

And then it occurs to me, as it does most days, maybe it is me.  Maybe I just wasn’t made for these times.


A Piece of Tape Too Far

An Open Letter to the Parking Nazi at 217 (or is it 229, Who can tell?) Harrison in Oakland, CA.

As you and I both know, I park in front of your building when I drive to work.  I park there because there are always spots there.  You have done such an effective job of scaring everyone away, there is always a spot.  You must realize it is your fault that I infuriate you so much.

(For those of you coming late to this party, 217 Harrison has a banked curb leading to 4 loading docks;  3 of these docks have been converted to office walls or doors, making them LEGAL parking spots.  The office puts flyers on cars, trying to intimidate them into leaving.  I love knowing that 95% of the time I have a spot waiting for me.)

I returned to my car recently, finding 2 new notes.  There was they typical “NO! NO! NO!” flyer, which is often found in on the sidewalk around the neighborhood.  There was also a note, loaded with vitriol, about how you’ve told me many times not to park where I park.  There was also paper taped to my driver’s side window saying “Tow this car!”

I think it is time we clear the air.  For the last several days there have been no flyers on the cars parked where I often park.  Are these your cars or have you been ill?  If you have, I hope you feel better.  I’m neither vindictive or evil, contrary to what you believe.   I feel sorry for you.  Your parents must not have taught you the hard lessons about sharing.  Did you scream when other kids touched your toys?  It must have been lonely not having friends as a child.  The public parking spots on Harrison Street are not yours alone, you really need to share them.  I can only surmise sharing is foreign to you.  I would also point out that putting flyers all over car does not make you my friend.  It does, however, make your passive aggressive and inconsiderate.

Let’s not talk bullshit about how the (mythical, magical) truck needs to park parallel and therefore you are saving me from being blocked in.

  1. Trucks back up to loading docks
  2. Trucks block traffic all the time in our neighborhood
  3. I have never, ever, ever seen a truck at your location
  4. Let’s not forget the time you told me, in our only conversation that you needed access to the windows 8 feet off the ground,  which  told you was ridiculous
  5. Go ahead, block me in.  I work till after 5, often after 6.  What truck driver is leaving your business that late?  That’s right. None.

I won’t minimize the fact that you want these spots all to yourself (or possibly your firm.)  Its an admirable, if misguided goal.  The fact remains that these are public spots and the signs you have posted are not legal.  You do not own the street and any implicit easement was eliminated when your firm build walls rendering the loading docks ornamental.  The parking authority won’t write tickets for the spot I park in and tow trucks won’t be towing me based on your note.  The past 18 months of results bear all this out.

Perhaps you had an “incident” and your sense of reality is skewed.  Did you take the brown acid at Woodstock?  seriously, you were warned. Let me help you in ways your parents and coworkers clearly have not.  Your notes and wishes won’t change reality.  The fact that you don’t want people parking there won’t make it illegal.  I want to win the lottery.  Just because I want to, won’t make it so.  Nevertheless, my odds of success are far higher than yours. Rather than tilting at windmills, perhaps you’d be happier accepting reality and getting on with your life.  This isn’t the Twilight Zone and you won’t wake up tomorrow finding that your misguided sense of reality is the new truth.  Grow the fuck up.

How sad must your life be if you spend this much time placing flyers on cars that aren’t yours?  I’ve seen your work on other vehicles and more importantly, all over the neighborhood.  Clearly you realize that we work near the water and the wind kicks up in the afternoon, cascading your inane flyers over several blocks.  I’m guessing the police are looking for you.  With all the green initiatives in the Bay Area, how do you sleep at night knowing you are a major litter contributor, let alone resource waster?  Have you no consideration for the forests you’ve decimated and the trees you’ve condemned to be part of your folly?

I think you would be better off finding a new hobby.  I don’t think it would be out of line to suggest you start fostering cats.  Start with one, and with your obsessive nature you can add more. Clearly, you will agree that being a crazy cat lady is far better than your fixation on my parking habits.  Let’s be honest, you’ll probably have more friends as the Crazy Cat Lady than you will as the Parking Nazi.  Or at least  you’ll have cats.  And Grumpy Cat on the internet.

Of course if you really wanted to have my car towed, you would have called a tow company.  And since the car isn’t yours the liability you and your company would face in the light of an illegal seizure would be monumental.  It appears that the note you put on my car is a feeble attempt at drawing unsuspecting innocents into your fantasy.  I think it is time you gave up on this fantasy, became and adult and embraced reality.

As I have tried to empathetic to your plight, I know your therapy bills are probably much higher than any plan your company provides, I feel I must be honest with you.  You have annoyed me far more than you have a right to.  I’ve stopped finding your notes funny, silly or sad.  That you have gone so far as to use tape on my car, I feel that your behavior encroaches on battery or defacing of property.  My car is my property and it is not your bulletin board.  Any further defacement of my vehicle will result in my filing charges with the police and ultimately lead to a civil suit.  I am actually considering a class action suit.  You have badgered many people and I’m only too happy to find them and develop a much larger action.  Do you really think all the people you’ve pissed off don’t care?

This is a warning.  My attorney is only too happy to proceed on my next phone call.

I hope you are feeling better.  Perhaps your therapist should increase your Xanax.  You might suggest that on your next visit.

The Black Marks on My Permanent Record

Sometimes I reflect on the various events, characters and problems I’ve run across in my career.  Like today, I thought back to an event that happened in late 84 or early 85.  It was a different time.  One of the most important members of a company was the receptionist.  On some levels it was because that was the first person visitors met, but more importantly the receptionist was the voice of the company.

There was no email, faxes were becoming prevalent and a PC on every desk was not a given.  In 1984, I had one of the first 10 PCs in the company.  There were over 200 people in our office.  More significantly, there were very few direct lines to desks.  Every call came to the receptionist and she transferred them to an internal extension.  I sat just inside the ever open double doors, not far from the lobby.  There was nothing between Tina and I.  Except my cubicle walls.

In those days, I was trying to make my mark at work, but I was still a clumsy guy always fumbling for the right thing to say and understanding how to behave in a corporate environment.  And this was corporate – an insurance company in the Sears/Allstate family.  I knew enough not to hit on the receptionist.  Not that she wasn’t really cute; she was a very attractive Hispanic girl, a tad younger than I, from San Francisco’s Mission District.  I wasn’t suave enough to flirt or ask her out.  I wouldn’t have, because I knew she had a boyfriend and my father had taught me not dip my pen in the company ink.

I recall her vividly asking me one day, “Lee I need a favor.”  Always wanting to be helpful I walked to the counter and offered my kind assistance.

Lee’s rule of work #1 – always help the pretty girls.

Of course what she wanted was not at all what I was expecting.  I knew she was taking classes at CCSF, being a reasonably fresh graduate perhaps she wanted help with math or something similar.  It’s not like I was the guy who put staples in the stapler or could solve crossword puzzles with ease.

“Lee, you’re a native speaker and I’m having trouble with Spanish.  Would you help me with my homework?”

I was dumbfounded.  Floored.  She answered every call and transferred them to my desk.  She knew my last.  How she thought I was from Mexico, Guatemala or Spain escaped me.  Now I realize this might have been an opening to ask her out.  So much for being on my game.

“My last name is Greenberg.  I’m Jewish, not Mexican.  No habla espanole.”  Ok, so I was often confused for being Mexican when I was working in East San Jose.  I am a bit dark skinned and was more so when I was younger.  I could tell people I couldn’t speak Spanish and that was it.  My ethnicity traces to all over Europe, not the Americas.  I laughed very much at this exchange.  I don’t recall her reaction.

I recall this incident and realize I might not have handled it as tactfully I should have.  Ah, the perspective of 3 decades.

There was one other incident with Tina I recall.  This wasn’t quite so fun and it was handled much better.  Sometime later, in 85 I believe, there was a commotion in the office.  I walked around to see what was happening and Tina was running into my department.  I think I had moved to another part of the floor by then.

It turned out her boyfriend, or I should say ex-boyfriend, had come to see her in the office.  And by “see her” I mean he had a knife he wanted to stab her with.  We quickly found a closet and put her in there.  It was the wiring closet for the phones as I recall.  We all went back to our desks and acted as nonchalant as we could.  I have a vague recollection of a large man running by.

About 30 minutes later I had heard the police had him on one of the lower floors.  Wow.  I think she left the company within a month or two of that incident.  Over the next 9 years at that firm I realize I was witness or near witness to several other events I would group with this one.  I would not categorize the CFO walking into a board meeting with her dress tucked into her panty hose in the back as one of them.  But it was memorable.

I’m pretty sure you, gentle readers – all 40 of you, will ultimately have the opportunity to read about most of them.  Shall I continue?



Parking Wars, Carnage on the Oakland Front

There are many disappointments in our lives.  Santa never brought you that candy apple red Schwinn Stingray you had to have when you were 9.  Daddy never bought you a pony.  Your mother made you eat lima beans.  Don’t worry, mine did too.  Heidi Klum didn’t like your dress on “Project Runway” and told you were out.  (But then she kissed you.  Twice.)  And there is never a parking spot when you need one.

About a year ago my office moved to a new location.  It only moved a mile or so, but it moved a way from the BART station.  The City of Oakland does provide a free bus service that goes from BART to a few blocks from the office.  Sadly, the bus is not a time saver over walking.  Thus, my commute has increased by 20 minutes each day.  This necessitates driving to work on occasion, to make sure I am on time for early meetings.

Parking in our neighborhood is unique.  The lot next to the office is $6 for 12 hours.  That’s it, no options.  Across the street, and connected to the building over the train tracks, is a lot that charges $7 if you are in by 10 and out by 6.  Needless to say I generally work well past 6.  And when that lot changes to hourly, it is $2.50 per hour.  Of course I can afford either of these, but it galls me that I must pay for parking after driving and spending $10 or so in gas.  Call me petty.

There is plenty of street parking within 4 blocks of work.  What makes it tricky is that there is a mix of parking meters (too expensive), 2 hour parking (too short) and 4 hour parking (almost just right).  If I get to work before 9 am and move my car by 1 pm or so I can park for free.  A lot of thought has gone into this strategy.  I know the meter maids are focused on the meters.  4 hour spots are probably almost an afterthought.  What are the odds my car is being viewed right when I park? 0.  I figure there is also some grace between checking, so that it is a 5 hour window, if not more.  I drive at least 1 day per week and I’ve not gotten a ticket yet, knock on plastic.

When it comes to parking, people can be very touchy.  Perhaps you’ve seen the TV show “Parking Wars” where drivers and meter maids to at it tooth and nail.  No one ever believes they deserve a parking ticket.  Of course they do 99% of the time when they get one.  I also recall a study that was done years ago that proved that people took longer to leave a parking spot if someone was waiting for it.  It was a form of territoriality, drivers keeping what they perceived as theirs, not wanting another to have it.

That ranks right up there with people not wanting to split the bill at lunch or dinner in a group because someone “ordered something expensive” or “I didn’t have a drink.”  People are petty.  Don’t go out with a group if you can’t handle sometimes paying a bit more or bit less.  It evens out over time.  And don’t park in a spot if your fragile psyche can’t handle knowing someone will park there after you.  It is not your lover; it is a cold, undeveloped piece of ground.

As I started developing my parking strategy near the office, I avoided three loading docks between 217 and 229 Harrison St. in Oakland.  If you click on the link, you’ll see there are 4 loading docks, but there is a stair case in front of one.  It turns out, there are walls behind loading dock doors.  There is not a loading dock behind the doors, there is an office with a small window on each wall.

Of course each loading dock door is painted with the logo “No Parking 7/24/365.”  When they raise the doors, they also have no parking signs, the type you’d buy at the office supply store for $2.99.  These are, on the walls and the remaining loading dock edge.  Since you can’t simply put up a sign to prevent the public from parking in front of your wall (as opposed to a garage or loading dock), I consider this their art project.  I park there all the time.  It is very convenient to work.

IMG_2070 IMG_2071

The third time I parked in front of this office, a note was left on my car.  I was appalled at the audacity of whoever left it.  How dare they say I couldn’t park there?  I guess they believe by putting up those silly signs they believed they were writing new laws.  Delusional and petty were the words that came to mind.  I took the paper and put it my car to throw away later.  Why litter?


It is hard to imagine what went through the broken mind that wrote this note.  I guess a single “no” was not enough. Bold strokes and underlines were also required it seems.  And, as you have clearly surmised, knowledge of the law is not necessary to create nasty notes.  It is not illegal to park in front of an office wall.  At least to my understanding of traffic laws.

I guess intimidation works.  The spots in front of the loading docks are open fairly often.  From the notes they leave on cars and the effort they’ve put into their “art project” I have concluded that these are not stable people.  I’m not inviting them over for dinner.  Given my druthers, I’d park elsewhere, but these are convenient spots.  Over the last 11 months I’ve collected 8 flyers.  Maybe they will appreciate like baseball cards.  Actually, I wet them, and stick them back on the windows of their office.  It is my way of adding to their public art project.  I assume they wanted participation.

A few weeks ago I was not parked in front of the loading docks, but I noticed that 4 cars had notes on them.  The last one as I walked by had 2 notes.  I had to laugh as I noticed the flyer on the driver’s side was from the car’s owner.  I don’t recall the exact words, but the note called the “parking authority” on the concept of having a legally parked car towed.

Earlier I had come to the conclusion that the building wanted the parking spaces kept empty so they could use them.  What hubris, I thought.

The next day I had this confirmed.  I had parked in front of the stairs, which is a spot that is never harassed.  Behind me they had put out orange cones to keep the spaces empty.  Hubris is not strong enough word.  The cones were stamped “apple bottom” or something equally ridiculous.  Not PG&E, a cable company, a phone company or the government.  My quick thinking lead me to believe these were a public danger, fallen off the back of some turnip truck.  It was my civic responsibility to removed them from the street, to protect other members of the community.  I picked them up and stacked them on the stairs.  Crisis Averted.

Later I came back to my car to go to lunch.   The cones were back and there was a note on them.  I figured someone else could move them this time. I’d move them after lunch.  After lunch, as I surmised, someone else moved them.  I sense a movement starting in the neighborhood.

The other day I was meeting a friend for coffee.  I went downstairs to meet him and ran across him coming out of our parking lot because it full.  Being ever the quick thinker, I jumped in and guided him to these often vacant stops.  After we parked and started to walk away, some sort of sad station wagon pulled up.  A woman of certain age leaned out the window.  She was a sad case.  Her hair was dyed too dark, with an overly trendy and trying too hard platinum stripe ringing her face.  I stifled a laugh as she called out to us.

“You can’t park there.”

“Sure we can.”

“You can’t block our loading dock.”

“It’s not a loading dock. It’s a wall.” I laughed out loud.

“It says no parking.”

“So? It’s not an official sign.   It is an art project.”  I kept laughing

“We need access to the loading dock.”

“It’s a wall.”

“Sometimes we use the window.”

I looked at the window.  The glass didn’t pop out.  The screen was roughly 1.5 feet by 3 feet.  Its bottom edge was over 7 feet off the sidewalk.  I should my head.

“Now you are just being ridiculous.”

We walked away and ignored her as we went for our coffee.  I saw her glaring at me that night when I walked back to my car across the street from her office.

This ends year 1.  I predict year 2 will be an all our war.

Writer’s Note:  I spoke with a traffic enforcement officer the other day.  I asked about the legality of these notes and the threat of tow.  She laughed. She suggested that if they tow me, I should sue.  I am wondering if I should harass them, as they have harassed me.

A Room with a View or Two

Sometimes, we forget to really see what is right in front of us.  In the midst of several issues, I took a breath and walked to the lunch room and looked out the window. This is the view from our lunchroom.  Jack London Square, The port of Oakland, the old Alameda Naval station and in the distance, San Francisco.  The San Francisco skyline looks so small here.  Trust me when I tell you that it looks fantastic in real life.    This picture, while spectacular, does not do justice to the view from the wall of glass at the west end of the building.  We can actually see ATT Park from here.

Oakland 13-4-17

There it is, a water view most people would kill for.  I can have it all I want — from the break room.  Is it any wonder why I try to move my meetings with vendors and consultants on to our balcony, where the view can help make a dull meeting worthwhile.

Back at my desk I have a great view of the restrooms. I work hard not to make eye contact with everyone intent on doing their business.  I do sit a few cubes back (and yes they are very low cubes with no privacy) so I am not in the middle of the road, so to speak. One guy was.  I think a certain exec (or 6) got tired of a perky “Hi!” every time they visited the pot.  That guy got moved.  and I know he doesn’t understand why.  Being the mentor I am (think Big Brothers but for stupid workers, not disadvantaged kids), I explained it to him, quite bluntly.

Sometimes I just stand up and move to the window.  It is basically the distance from my cube as the restroom, but 180 degrees behind me.  when I look, this is what I see.  What you can’t see is that the train runs right next to the sidewalk across the street.  Every 20 minutes, in both direction, so roughly 5 times per hour.  With a train comes the long horn.  Some of the engineers are heavy on the horn.  Its annoying.  But the view is not.

oakland west 13-4-17That is downtown Oakland in the distance.  I walk from their to work.  It’s just under a mile.  That Blue building with the yellow stripes in the foreground? it’s a winery/tasting room.  I need to actually go in there one day.

Not too many attempts at laughs today.  Just a Million Dollar view.  And the runner-up in the &1.97 Beauty Contest of Views.

Today’s blog brought to you by Rip Taylor and J.P. Morgan.  I was never really a Chuck Barris fan.  But I did meet Gene, Gene the Dancing Machine.  But that is another story.

I tip my hat to the new revolution…

When last we left our hero he was surrounded by a rising tide of rude and oblivious coworkers.  Denial was rampant and the end was near.  As our hero tried to McGyvver himself out the perilous predicament with coffee, ghetto bagels and insults, there was a surprise.  Completely unprepared for this twisted turn of events, an hour or two was spent absorbing the situation and making plans (for Nigel of course.)  It has sunk in.  Now the ripples of that boulder in the pond add to the complexity of the future.

Like any respectable weekly serial, the climax remained off screen in some indeterminate future.  The cliffhanger loomed large, obscuring any other thoughts and plans.  What, you ask, was this week’s cliffhanger?  Why, thank you for asking.  Stress was running rampant and the harbinger of never-ending projects had developed a new 12 point workflow, which due to its complex and never-ending documentation processes, was going to change the world.  Note:  people who never finish things, usually don’t communicate or document either.

The twist: the villain of last week’s episode was shown the door.  In a completely unexpected move, at least timing wise, Snidely Whiplash was given a seeming innocuous pink slip.  He was in such denial he never saw it coming.  His binder of press clipping, most years old, did nothing to stay his fate.  The villagers dropped their picks, rakes and axes.  They snuffed their torches and sang kumbaya as they danced back to the village at the hill’s bottom.

This was not totally unexpected, but the timing was months sooner than expected.  Most of the residents of the castle were in shock.  Truly, most did not really see the work not getting done or the complete and total disrespect that showered over most people.  Granted, a large amount of tribal knowledge that was not documented left on that magic carpet ride that accompanied that pink slip, but since it had not been documented in the last 7 years, there was no reason to believe it ever would be.

Your humble narrator picked up all the work that was now homeless.  As a consultant, he did not pick up any direct reports, but will manage the work of said people.   That was Thursday morning.

On Friday, the sun shone, meetings went smoother and clients were receptive to the change.  Without a long talker monopolizing the conversation – why say “yes” when you riff on clichés for 20 minutes – meetings went smoothly and ended on time.  Cooperation reigned that day and hopefully it will continue to.  Next week the concept of accountability will be introduced, reinforced and measured.

So, in summary:  there was an execution.  Meet the new boss.  NOT the same as the old boss.  I have a lot of work to do, but I think I can develop cohesion and teamwork to make things move forward effectively.  There is a shit ton to do.  I’m sure you’ll hear about some of it



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

The Cupcake Conundrum

Some days, everything goes right.  The sun shines without making you sweat or burn.  You get the last piece of cake at the bakery.  You are a hero at work and your coworkers cheer your achievements and appreciate your help.  But then there are the other days, when you get less than your daily allowance of victories and successes.  I seemed to be having a lot more of those lately.

I think it’s my mother’s fault.  A few weeks ago when she bought dessert for a family dinner, she decided that no one needed more than half a cupcake.  You can’t make this up.  Of course this is the same lady that told my nieces parent that their daughter was fat.  For the record, I’m the only in the family who is fat.  One of my nieces is on the heavier side, but she is most definitely not fat.  And members of my family obsess over another niece’s weight because, in my opinion, she might be 3-5 pounds from her ideal weight.  Let’s be honest, they obsess over weight period.  Its not healthy.  Yes, my family is meshuggah.  Of course if this is all we have to bitch about, we are in good shape.  We have more, but I’ve no intention of talking about that.

That half a cupcake became my albatross.   Try as I might, I can’t get rid of my annoyance that my mother felt empowered to cut my caloric intake options.  I believe at 50 I am now the master of that domain and her need to make that decision for me hangs around my neck, dragging me down.  Metaphorically.

Things started to go sideways at work.  Not in a big way, just an overwhelming avalanche of pebbles, covering my feet and surging ever upwards with the intent of covering my face and inevitable suffocation.  Perhaps I exaggerate, but only a smidgeon.

I have been struggling with a few people lately.  My stress level is already up because my major project is a complete clusterfuck.  In the midst of trying to find alternatives and build temporary solutions, that direct work was taken from me and given to another.  Not that I’m still not responsible for the project, I am.  I felt like I failed to the top. Moved out of the way, as I was to manage all the subprojects that other people were managing.  It didn’t help that every one of those people took status straight to my boss and skipped me.  I could only get information from him, what information there is.

Oh, and that wonderful person that took over the issues I was trying to solve?  He decided that each strategy I employed, each decision I had made was wrong and took each project/issue in different directions.    it was hard not to read between the lines of his “you are so stupid, look how smart I am” game plan. It’s a cousin to the NIH (not invented here stratagem.) All I could do was watch and answer questions.  And of course the general feeling in the office reinforced my feelings of inadequacy.  A short conversation with my boss left me with the feeling he thought I was part of the problem.  And then he was unavailable for 4 days.  Nothing left but introspection.

I hadn’t felt like this in 10 years.  I had a bought with depression about 10 year ago.  I had a senior position with a Fortune 500 firm.  I was outspoken and always did what was in my boss’ best interests, defending his strategies and organization.  I was well paid and influential far beyond what one might have thought on first glance.  Sometimes I fought the edicts from headquarters because while it might make sense for some divisions, it was harmful to ours.  I also was good at telling the Emperor he was not wearing clothes. I now know that there is a downside to being right too often.   After finishing a horrible 2 year assignment handed down from the Ivory Tower and being a hero to my boss and his organization, I was immediately demoted and relieved of 95% of my responsibility and authority.  Seriously, backslaps on Monday and demoted on Friday. Someone even had the audacity to say that my job would be in jeopardy if I wasn’t in the office by 8am every day.  I worked 9am to 7pm (or later) every day at this point.

I sank pretty low.  At 40 a large part of my ego was tied up in my career and accomplishments.  I was seriously depressed.  Anti-depressants helped.  They kept me around long enough to finish another project and kick me in the head with “we can only give 60% of your agreed upon bonus, because corporate won’t let us give you more.” And “Today is your last day.  It wasn’t our decision.”  Those days were the bottom.  To some folks I must have been a villain.  I know I wasn’t to most of my team and coworkers.  Those were dark days but I got through them.

The last few weeks felt similar.  I felt my Joie de Vivre slipping away.  I pretended to be basically ok and pressing forward.  There were many other things weighing me down. I’m sure I wasn’t as affable and on my game as I should have been.  And still I was annoyed with the great cupcake decision of 2012.  Thank god they make great Greyhounds at Van Kleef, right?  Someone described me as having layers, like an onion.  Several were rotten.

Previously one of my coworkers answered my questions on the financial part of a subproject of my project with “Lee, you are asking questions that have already been answered.” In email, of course.  I immediately dragged the offender to conference room to explain that it was my job to understand the answers, and if I didn’t have them he should explain them.  He couldn’t understand why I would take offense at such a statement of fact. In his mind there was no way I should have inferred that he didn’t want to tell me.  I explained in no uncertain terms that his note was rude, insensitive and out of line and he needed to work on his communication skills.

Monday brought the tipping point.  In trying to help Mr. Sensitivity with questions he had – making no judgments on if he really needed the information – I received an incendiary email.  He thanked me for my “layman’s” opinions, but he was an engineer and the answers I gave him were surely flawed.  He went so far to disagree with my principle motivation in one area, telling me he couldn’t believe that. There were further implications (if A, then B) that I was incompetent.  I was livid.  More than livid.

Others were on this email thread.  More than one laughed at his audacity and inept communications.  Another called him a douche.  I made sure I wasn’t over reacting.  I wasn’t.

Eliminating everyone else from the email chain, I shot off a strongly worded, but polite email that pointed out his disrespect, his implication that I wasn’t even qualified to ask engineers questions and relay those answers to him and why it troubled me.  Of course I added that as a layman, I wouldn’t trouble him with confusing him by trying to help him any longer by answering questions.  He could wait for others to be available.  If I hadn’t told my boss I would work with this guy, I would be working hard to change this.  In this case I can’t.

To make matters even worse he responded to my last email with an explanation of why I am a layman and that he’s an engineer and I must “surely understand…”  All he did was underline that he had no respect for my technical knowledge.  He had no reason to apologize, just that no disrespect was intended.  Seriously? For the record, there are few IT related topics I’m not qualified to chime in on.  The expert?  Rarely.  But I know the experts and I am a problem solver and this was my project.  I have lots to contribute and I planned on contributing.  I had had enough of all this related bullshit and I was tired of it spilling over to the rest of my life.

Things can be dicey when you are a contractor.  You are a guest, serving at the pleasure of the person who wants you to work for them.  I don’t want to upset the apple cart which is way to easy to do.  I like working here and other than the stress associated with this project and this one troglodyte this is a good gig and a great fit for my skills.

I fumed.  I thought.  I figured it out.  I am not a control freak and most definitely not a micromanager.  I sat down with my boss and cleared the air.  No I wasn’t part of the problem and I shouldn’t have received that message.  I explained what I wanted to do.  He agreed.

At my weekly meeting I didn’t call anyone out specifically.  I was direct, I was emphatic and I made it clear I was angry without yelling.  I emphasized 3 points:

  1. There was no teamwork evident.  We were all on the same team and they needed to act like it.  We have problems and we wouldn’t fix them as individuals.  The subtext here was the two people who always insist on talking over everyone and being the smartest person in the room needed to shut up, because they are not.
  2. This was my project and everyone owed me status everyday. I would update our boss, not them and it was ridiculous that they made me go to him instead of vice versa.
  3. No more bullshit.  You all answer to me on this project.

Yeah, they might have been stunned.  They’ve seen me talk or bitch.  They really haven’t seen me manage in crisis.  I was tired of being affected.  I took control back.  Let’s see if I get those daily status reports.  Unhappy will be the person that doesn’t send me one today.

The sun came up today in the east.   It seemed a bit brighter today.  And there was half a cupcake in an albatross’ mouth as he flew west.  I hope he liked it; I didn’t.