Category Archives: Business

Why I’ve Seldom Written On Paper

I work in an engineering company and engineers like to write things down, as well as illustrate their points when describing why they did something or how a component/tool/machine works. To that end, just about every one of them carries around a hardcover journal. I, on the other hand, have seldom written things down. In my entire school career, which includes two postgraduate degrees (but no undergrad school), I may have taken a few pages of notes, but that would be it.

White boards are also the domain of engineers and scientists, and every conference room generally has numerous illustrations and equations written on the boards on their walls. As a southpaw who writes backhanded, I’ve never been comfortable writing on a chalkboard or whiteboard. I just end up smearing everything. In fact, even on paper I’ve been known to fill out a form from the bottom up, just so I wouldn’t smear the ink before it had time to dry.

Folio

It’s so elegant, it almost feels like a crime to write anything in it. Weird, huh?

Still, just recently I decided to carry around one of the ubiquitous journals the company provides for everyone to use. Not only that, I purchased a really nice Moleskine Folio Professional Notebook, a leather pencil/pen case, and am seriously thinking about some high-quality pens. I did this in an effort to force myself to write more frequently. Unfortunately, I still have a problem getting anything down.

It’s really been bothering me as, at 68 years of age, I’m not sure how much time I have left, either in my life or in my ability to write coherently . . . and to remember what it is I’m doing. I have managed to write a few things down and, especially at work, I’ve found it helpful to keep notes about what I need to do in a journal, rather than on separate sheets of paper, which is what I’ve been doing for a while.

The problem for me is multi-faceted. As a leftie, I’ve never had terribly legible handwriting. Since I had no intention of becoming a physician, a profession where legible handwriting doesn’t seem to be a prerequisite, I gave up years ago and only print, in CAPS. When I actually write something down, that is. I learned to type in the seventh grade and during my second year of law school I got a job as a legal secretary, where my typing speed steadily improved until I was at about 85 wpm. Not blazing, but much faster than I can write/print. The attorney I worked for got an IBM memory typewriter, for which I spent a full day in class at one of their offices. I was enamored of word processing and, shortly afterward, he got a somewhat more sophisticated computer called an Artec Display 2000. It used 8″ floppies and I assembled wills, trusts, pleadings, and interrogatories with it. Keep in mind, this was in 1974 or 75 — forty years ago.

Since that time I have worked with quite a few word processing tools: Wordstar, with which I wrote many a module in dBase II; WordPerfect, which I learned on-the-fly when I answered the call for a temp job at a law office and again at an insurance agency; Lotus Word Pro and a homegrown (Rockwell International) competitor, with which I wrote reports at Rocketdyne, my alma mater and current place of employment (though it’s now Aerojet Rocketdyne – after being Boeing and UTC’s Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne); and, Scrivener, with which I hope to write my memoirs soon, providing I can remember anything clearly.

The thing is, when you write something down on paper it’s very difficult to do much editing whereas with a computer (or even a phone or tablet) editing is essentially a piece of cake. Hence, the problem I have with physically writing anything down is my belief that if it’s anything useful, I’m going to want to save it electronically so I can both edit and post it (if it’s worthy and, frankly, maybe even if it isn’t). That will require a duplication of effort my experience in knowledge management makes it very difficult for me to contemplate. Yet, I will try and find those circumstances where writing something on paper makes sense. So far I’ve put about a hundred words in to my Moleskine.


Just Flew In. Boy, Are My Arms Tired!

Equipping my new cubsicle

I got a phone and a Dell desktop with Windows 7 and IE . . . while I was there.

I survived my first day back on the job, reasonably intact. I knew I would get a bit of a workout just walking from my car to my desk, but I ended up walking about 3/4 of a mile and climbing around 10 flights of stairs. The first flight I climbed was a mistake. I ended up at the end of a hall where there was a secured door to a clean room. I knew that was the wrong place to be and had to turn around a go back.

I saw close to two dozen former colleagues, the majority of whom I hadn’t seen in nearly five years. Amazing how many of them remarked on how the company would let anyone back in. ;) They know me well.

I am prepared to put up with a boatload of shit coming from what I know is a very old-fashioned aerospace enterprise, but I think it’s going to be even worse than I imagined. Not so much because of the hierarchy, the layers and layers of rules many have forgotten the origin of, or the command-and-control mentality that I know still informs the actions of many of the org’s leaders. There are other, more subtle reasons.

One of the first things I noted was everyone communicating with email; for everything. This wasn’t all that surprising, but it was a bit disconcerting to discover I had a shortcut to Cisco’s Jabber and nobody seemed to know anything about it. I have my work cut out for me. Bottom line, really, is I’m thankful for the opportunity and it couldn’t have come at a better time financially. The fact that it puts me smack dab in the middle of the struggle to be more effective as a team, a community, an organization makes this all the more sweet.

I’m going to try to share what I learn as I learn it. I hope some will find it useful. It’s possible just sharing it will improve its utility to me and, if that’s all I accomplish, I will consider the effort a success.


Kicking Up My Heels At 67

Six RS-25 Rocket Engines

A row of RS-25 engines, formerly SSMEs (Space Shuttle Main Engines).

I had a great two-hour meeting with the man who will be my new manager starting Monday, and to whom I’m deeply grateful for bringing me back to the company I lived at for over two decades. My feeling about returning is probably best summed up by an old friend/colleague who still works there. She commented on a Facebook post where I told my friends I had jumped through the final HR hoop, saying “Welcome home“.

I don’t know how many of you have been lucky enough to work at a place where you can feel that way, but I have. Despite the fact I worked for three of the larger, more (shall we say) staid aerospace companies – as parent organizations; mother ships – in no way diminishes the camaraderie, affection, and deep respect I felt for so many of my colleagues.

Also, I think I had a bit of an epiphany yesterday, a few hours prior to meeting with Geoff. I was thinking about how much hierarchy and command-and-control organization are anathema to me, when I realized that I also work best when I’m involved with a team. I need to be around other people from whom I can learn and share experiences with. It’s my nature. The latter is what gives me the strength to live with the former, and I always have the opportunity to make things better. That’s what I’m ostensibly there to accomplish.

These, then, are the continuing adventures of a 67-year-old man, prematurely retired by circumstances partly beyond his control, who now returns to approximately what he had been doing nearly five years ago. I’m really looking forward to this next part of the journey. I have also discovered I have a great deal of difficulty writing about the things I’m deeply interested in – the business concepts and practices I worked on before retirement and have carefully studied since then – if I’m not involved with them. I just don’t feel I possess the gravitas sitting in my home office that I will have when I’m out there actually working with a group of people to make things happen. I think this move is going to change, if not improve, my blogging and posting habits. Time will tell.


Heading Back To The Ol’ Homestead

Truth to tell, I never wanted to retire. I grew up around men who worked until they dropped dead and I had every intention of doing the same. This was especially so because I wanted to be part of humanity’s return to the Moon and our venture to Mars. It looked like that was not to be when the Space Shuttle program was winding down and those of us working on the Shuttle main engine (SSME) – and other rocket engine programs – who were over sixty were offered a decent severance package, which I accepted. I believed it was the best of several not optimal choices.

Asteroid Strike of Earth

It’s happened before. It WILL happen again.

Today I received a package from the agency that handles contract workers for what is now Aerojet Rocketdyne, and it looks like I will be brought back and will have the opportunity to be a small part of our space program once again. This is no small thing for me, as I have long considered it an absolute necessity for humans to establish not merely a technological, but especially a cultural presence off this planet; if for no other reason than the statistical certainty there will be an extinction level event before long. As long as the only presence we have is on this rock, it becomes a binary event. Having at least a seed colony elsewhere could make all the difference in terms of our ability to come back from such a catastrophe.

To say I’m excited is a bit of an understatement. I had pretty much come to the conclusion it wasn’t going to happen and I’m quite capable of dealing with that possibility. Assuming it works as planned, though, is like a lagniappe; an extra helping of dessert I wasn’t expecting. To think it came about because of a chance conversation with an old colleague at an event held by our children’s elementary school is really sweet.

I should also point out I am only going back as a temp, a contractor, and I have no reason to expect this employment will go on for long. In fact, I’m hopeful it will turn out to be more part time, but on a long-term basis, if that’s at all possible. I like some of the other things I’ve become involved in and I have a few obligations I need to conclude as well. l believe it can all be worked out in the next couple of months. I know I’m committed to making that happen. I hope everyone I’m working with is flexible enough for this to be a good thing for all of us. There’s nothing like the ol’ win-win.


In Honor of Working Out Loud Week

First off, let me say I’ve been a proponent of “working out loud” since long before it was called working out loud, even before it was “observable work“, though I didn’t actually have a name for it back then. Since I’m mostly retired, it wasn’t until the end of this week I became aware it was “Working Out Loud Week” and, as a result, decided to look back at the history of the concept. That’s how I came to the two links I’ve shared above. I also know both authors, had encountered their work many years ago, and was not surprised to find them listed among the seminal documents describing either phrase.

I have no desire at this point to write a comprehensive history of the idea and how it’s developed, as well as any prognostication on its future, so I won’t be getting into that. Besides, there are others who are still far more deeply engaged in the day-to-day effort than I, so I think — at least at this point — I can leave that up to them.  I will offer, however, I’m a little disappointed at the idea of setting aside one week in which to suggest people all over the world give it a go; believing instead, it’s a concept worthy of continuous admonition and support. Nevertheless, I understand the forces we’re struggling to overcome and the resistance and inertia standing in the way of progress. It’s often necessary to encourage people to take baby steps, get their feet wet as it were. My disappointment doesn’t run terribly deep.

Actually, due to a chance encounter on the interwebs as I was doing this looking back, I mostly wanted to ask a question. To wit:

If last week was “Working Out Loud Week” (#WOLWeek), then what the hell was this? Color me cornfuzzled although, as I have noted, I’m all for #WOLForever. It’s also good to see Ms. Hart provides links to John Stepper’s, Harold Jarche’s, and Luis Suarez’s efforts, but I’m a bit surprised the author is so unfamiliar with Luis she calls him Luis Elsua! :/ That, I suppose, is another story.

PS – I looked a little further and discovered a post of Harold’s that refers to the post of Jane Hart’s I refer to in the paragraph above. So . . . now that I’m dizzy and, really, a bit delighted at the cross-referrals, I’ll leave my original question. I remain curious as to how we got two #WOLWeeks, but I haven’t the time now to do the research to understand. Maybe someone will actually comment on this post and help me out. In the meantime, I’m glad the concepts of observable and narrated work are getting the attention they deserve. It is a very important aspect of knowledge management and essential to building and maintaining high performing communities, IMO.


Oh Snap! Tough Love For Uber

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been following the ongoing saga of Uber as they shove a full-sized sedan up their collective ass. Between the misogyny and now the threat by a VP to use their data to harass journalists they think are being unfair to them, not to mention the calls by lots of people for a few heads to roll, it’s been quite a couple of weeks of revealing info. I don’t usually write about current events, but this one is just so bloated with lessons to be learned and practices to avoid if you want to run a successful business . . . and keep it that way, I thought I would share this latest spike strip thrown on the road, access to which Uber seems so desperate to control. Enjoy!

Franken Letter to Uber - Page 1

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Franken Letter to Uber - Page 2

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Franken Letter to Uber - Page 3

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Six Ways To Avoid Using Lists

Does Retirement Mean "Used Up"?

Does Retirement Mean “Used Up”?

OK — I’m lying about the six ways and the lists. I couldn’t help myself. I had just been perusing the Pulse articles available on LinkedIn and was amused by how many of them contain lists, e.g. “7 Ways Leaders Fail”, “The 8 Simple Rules Of Expert Negotiation”, “3 Traits Shared By Companies And Hoarders”, “The four types of clients you should fire immediately”, “12 Email Marketing Credibility Boosters”, etc., etc., etc. I could go on for some time, but I won’t bore you as much as I was. I know I’ve read somewhere that lists are a great way to create posts and get people to read them. Nevertheless, I tend to shy away from using that strategy because it seems so formulaic to me, and I’m not interested in taking that route.

I know I should have written this earlier today but, as I’ve noted numerous times before, I’m not a journalist and I don’t do this as a business, so I have never been all that interested in an editorial calendar or lining up my posts perfectly with anything in particular. Nevertheless, today is a bit of a milestone and I thought I should mark it with a bit of possibly rational blather.

It’s been exactly — datewise — four and one-half years since I retired from Rocketdyne, where I labored for approximately 23 years. My last day (though, to tell the truth, I had been working at home and nobody expected much from me for the final two weeks I was officially “there”) was May 14, 2010. I can still vividly recall my final moments; being walked to the guard at the front reception area, handing in my badge, saying goodbye and shaking hands with my Manager, and walking out the door knowing I could not walk back in beyond the reception area without an escort.

I felt both elation and sadness. I threw my arms up in the air, but had tears in my eyes. Both emotions were warranted, as the last four and a half years have made quite clear. It’s not an easy thing walking away from a large group of people who you’ve come to think of as almost family and, make no mistake about it, once the main thing you have in common with them is gone, most people essentially disappear from your life forever.

Blogging on the beach

Blogging on the beach, something I’ve never actually done

For me, this has been the hardest part of retirement. While I’ve stayed in touch with a few of my former colleagues, some of whom remained and others who became casualties of our nation’s decision to essentially forget about space exploration (at least manned space exploration) for what still seems like forever, the majority of people I saw on a regular basis I have not heard from again. There’s also a sort of mid-range group who I’ve connected with via Facebook and LinkedIn, but I’ve had little contact with most of them.

I think this is a big problem with our entire concept of retirement. In our culture it seems once you retire, you might as well be dead. The place you worked at has no use for you and, since we are also a culture that celebrates youth and fears old age and death, nobody really wants to know what you’re doing. A possible exception is made for those people who worked at one company all, or almost all, of their life and, consequently, retire with enough money to not have to do anything to supplement their income. Remaining employees do seem to enjoy receiving the occasional postcard from an exotic location, or another reminder of what they, someday, may be able to do as well.

I’m sure there are those who thoroughly enjoy hanging out and doing whatever they want, or nothing at all. I’m not one of them. Bottom line, I guess, is this. I have managed to survive relatively well, though I have yet to find a way to supplement my income such that we’ll be reasonably comfortable for the foreseeable future. I do worry about what might happen in a few years when our income suffers from inflation or some disease or unfortunate turn of events depletes what little savings and investments remain.

I also worry about my physical and mental ability to generate income. At 67 years old, it’s difficult to not notice I’m gaining speed on that inevitable slide down life’s rollercoaster. Nevertheless, I’m not one for fretting too much about choices I’ve made. I’ve been characterized by others as a survivor; one who will find a way to make things happen. Especially when push comes to shove and I’m backed into a corner. I don’t actually want to reach that point, so I’m working on quite a few prospects and avenues.

In another six months it will have been half a decade since I left the place I had been at longer than anywhere save this planet. I’m looking forward to celebrating that occasion a little more energetically. If I’m lucky, I’ll be able to afford throwing a little party for some of those former colleagues who remain friends. That would be a hoot.


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