Category Archives: Collaboration

Is Meeting F2F All That Important?

Virtual Handshake

Nice to Meet You!

This morning I had a wonderful Skype conversation with my reasonably long-time “friend”, Euan Semple. I use “friend” because we’ve never met in person. We have, however, been connected through various social channels (including Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn) for something like six or seven years.

Euan had contacted me and suggested, since we were likely never to meet IRL (in real life), a Skype chat might be in order and asked if I was interested. I was. Actually, I was thrilled as I have enormous respect for Euan and the things he has accomplished. I urge you to check him out, especially his blog “The Obvious?“, to which he has been posting since February of 2001 (that’s 13 years!).

As the time for our conversation was approaching, I found myself wondering whether or not we should have a video chat, as opposed to merely audio. That got me thinking about the value of F2F (face-to-face or IRL) meetings, which then drew me into the value of virtual teams and meetings and, finally, all the possibilities and ramifications in between.

I have written previously about virtual teams and the value of in-person contact, but I took things in a slightly different direction this time (at least I think I did) and Euan added an important piece as well, later on in our conversation. So here are some of the things I was wondering:

  • How important is breaking bread together for team/group cohesion?
  • Assuming it can prove valuable, can you “share” a meal virtually? In other words, is there value to meeting at a time where all those involved (especially if it’s only two or three people) can spend part of the time — perhaps all of it — just eating and shooting the shit?
  • Assuming “water cooler” conversations can be quite valuable, is there a virtual analog, e.g. chat, IM?
  • Is there value in being able to pick up body language and, if so, how much?
  • How likely is it that a person can disguise their true feelings and “fool” their colleagues/fellow attendees when they’re meeting face-to-face? Euan had suggested it would be easier for some to do this in person precisely because of body language and eye contact.
  • What about when they’re meeting virtually? Can’t a video chat accomplish almost the same thing?
  • Can a virtual team work without ever meeting in person?
  • If not, how long should the intervals be between f2f meetings and what can be done in between to build cohesiveness and get things done?

This is just a placeholder and starter list. There are likely many issues I’ve missed and that others have thought of. I’d love to hear what you think.


What Goes Around . . .

It’s been nearly three years since I “retired” from Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne. I’ve been through several iterations of “What do I want to be when I grow up” and I think my latest incarnation is actually working! I’ve given myself until the end of this year for it to prove out to be a viable trajectory, at least for a few more years while I still have to tend closely to my children. You can read my most recent self-assessment/self-promotion at LinkedIn.

Additionally, some of the seeds I planted a while back may be sprouting, which would be really satisfying and might steer me comfortably toward another line of work I can enjoy.

It seems understanding Social Media’s role, both inside and outside the corporate firewall, wasn’t a terribly interesting subject for most organizations and, despite my zeal, I couldn’t get the traction I needed to do what I thought made sense. Equally, at least here in Simi Valley, small businesses have had a very hard time – as a whole – seeing how social can be used to promote their business or organize their work a little more effectively. I need to say . . . there were lots of opportunity for being a charlatan and raking in some dough or for doing something I didn’t really enjoy just to make money. I’ve chosen not to follow those paths, so the challenge has been finding – again – who and what I want to be or, more accurately, continue becoming. Being frugal’s been kind of important as well. :D

It’s important to note there are lots of large organizations who recognize the value of social for reaching out to, and communicating with, their current and potential customers. There are fewer, in my estimation (disclosure: I have not researched the numbers. I have, however, been observing for a long time) that appreciate the value of social to build community inside the firewall, let alone in the space they share with their suppliers/vendors.

At any rate, I haven’t given up entirely and I was gratified to be contacted by someone who interviewed me on the subject nearly 2 years ago. He asked if the audio could be used in a couple other blogs and sent me a link to it. Frankly, I had completely forgottenI did the interview. Also, inasmuch as I am now doing some editing/proofreading professionally, I was a tad dismayed to read the copy that accompanied it, and I’ve asked for the opportunity to proofread these new publications prior to publication. I don’t believe I  had that opportunity with the first publication, which can be found here. Below is the Vimeo audio file with my interview. I don’t think I made a fool of myself. I’m hoping I actually make more sense today than I did back then. I’m gratified Dustin felt it was worthy of being repeated.

PS – I may no longer be a Chief BooMillennial Officer, but I do think I’m still an Emergineer and definitely a Serendipity Wrangler.


To Correct and Preserve

I'm an Engineer

Ahm also illitaret.

Being a member of the Grammar Police is not a pleasant thing at times. It can often be a curse, as it makes reading for pleasure  distracting and, sometimes, painful. I’m finding it also makes it difficult to write for this blog regularly because I’m too freaking anal about mistakes and how I say things. I’m seriously working on not caring . . . well, not NOT caring but not being paralyzed by caring . . . if you get my drift.

When I was working for Rocketdyne I wrote a blog post in response to the reality that many people who had a lot to share with their colleagues didn’t step up to the plate precisely because they were afraid doing so would expose them to ridicule or, at the very least, make them look less competent than they actually were. The fear was somewhat real because Engineers are notoriously lacking in overall English and grammar skills, as evidenced by the numerous t-shirts and coffee mugs available with the slogan you see here. However, my experience is blogging doesn’t require the same kind of attention to detail designing an auto, a microwave, or a rocket engine does. Unless, of course, you hold yourself out as a member of the Grammar Police.

Therein lies the rub. I do hold myself out as such and, in fact, am herein sharing a new business card I created to advertise and promote my services. The first iteration of it brought me a small amount of embarrassment because I used “ghost writing” instead of “ghostwriting”, the latter of which is correct. Careful research seems to show it’s correct to use either “Ghostwriter” or “Ghost Writer“, but “ghostwriting” is the only correct usage.  A friend of mine shared the graphic of my card and one of her friends immediately called me out on it. I thanked him profusely for his unwitting collaboration and immediately changed the spelling, after which another person suggested some design changes that made sense as well, so I once again edited the graphic.

I’m pleased with the results and want it known I do not hold myself out as beyond error or reproach. Most people are painfully aware their own writing generally contains errors they are virtually incapable of spotting because of their proximity to the subject of the text. I am no different, though I am pretty damn meticulous in reviewing nearly everything I write – including chat messages. Yes, I am a wee tad obsessive, but therein lies my strength.

I recently was required to read a novel; one which I will likely soon talk about at some length on these pages. In doing so, I asked the author if it was OK for me to make note of any errors I came across. I received the go-ahead and, although it had been read by quite a few others, I nevertheless came across a couple dozen small (but frequently distracting) mistakes. I even discovered a rather glaring error in continuity, which the author was glad to have me point out.

I am currently working with several authors and on several projects. I am looking for more business. If you or someone you know could use a little help polishing up their novel, blog post (one that requires a modicum of professionalism, that is), or even some simple promotional or marketing text, please consider running it by my discerning eye. I believe I can help more than you might imagine. BTW – Here’s the card I ended up designing and may even print out some day. If you spot an error somewhere, feel free to admonish me. I can take it.

Grammar Police Biz Card

One day the shield will read “To Correct and Preserve”


A Slight Change of Course

Since my presentation to the American Oil Chemists’ Society at the end of April, I’ve been seeking out other engagements to talk about using social media for managing communities within an enterprise. All of my experience heretofore has been inside the firewall of a large (very large) aerospace corporation, and it was the essence of my presentation to the AOCS.

I haven’t been actually hustling engagements; rather I’ve just been suggesting I’m available and that I might have something worthwhile to say. Today, nearly four months later, I finally had the opportunity to present to an organization that could use social media to improve their ability to achieve their goals, which are manifold – but not commercial.

The organization I spoke with today is a local Rotary Club that has two major fund-raisers each year. Originally, I had spoken with my friend and former Manager who, since retiring, has joined this Club and had suggested I might present, about the one I gave to the AOCS. However, after having dinner with the President of the Club it became clear he wanted to at least partially address the difficulty he’d been having with getting the membership to “like” their Fan pages and join and engage with their group page.

So . . . I put this together somewhat hastily and concentrated primarily on the benefits social media provide for communicating and sharing knowledge, as well as addressing the issue of reluctance to participate. I finished with a little info on how its use is disruptive and pointed out how they could use Clayton Christensen‘s concept of Jobs-to-be-done (disruptive innovation is one of his as well) to address the direction they might take their new efforts in.

I also prepared the presentation exclusively using Google Docs; the first time I have ever done that. The only exception is that I imported a couple of slides from my AOCS preso, which I originally prepared using PowerPoint. I also heavily annotated the slides, which I do not normally do, and printed out a copy of them and the notes. However, I did not use them during the presentation. Once I got going I just winged it, which seems to fit my style perfectly. Having the notes kept me from being nervous, but turned out to be mostly superfluous. I only experienced one moment when I couldn’t think of the right word I wanted to make a point, but it came to me reasonably quickly.

So . . . here ’tis. I don’t know how intelligible it is without the notes. Especially considering I made these slides last close to 25 minutes, I believe. I guess having a long history and lots of stories comes in handy when you tend toward loquaciousness. :)

One more thing. I uploaded the .pdf to Slideshare in the early evening and shortly afterward received an email from them that my presentation was the most talked about one on Facebook (where I had shared it) and so they were featuring it on their home page. Frankly, I didn’t see any evidence of the discussion, but the preso had been viewed close to 180 times last I looked, so maybe I’m getting some traction there. Hope you enjoy it.


Can You Sense Me Now?

Below is a Slideshare presentation posted by a friend who is in the process of authoring a new book entitled “The Age of Context”. He’s presenting it today at the Big 3 Conference in San Francisco, where he is one of the keynote speakers. It’s quite high level and somewhat simplistic at this point, but you should be able to get an idea of the direction the book will be taking.

I have long believed we humans are on the road to becoming a race of cyborgs. Nothing that’s happened in the last quarter century has served to dissuade me from this belief, either. At the rate we’re developing and making use of prostheses, and with continuing advancements in Fetal surgery and in utero cardiac procedures, it’s only a matter of time (100 years? 1000 years?) before most humans will have some sort of inorganic component attached or implanted.

I haven’t thought much about this lately, being content to watch as we meandered down this path. However, recently I was made aware that a couple of social media “friends” of mine were writing a book discussing another aspect of this inevitable evolutionary route we’re on. Their current working title is The Age of Context and I am really glad they’re writing it.

What they’re talking about is the newest developments in the fields of mobile technologies, wearable computers, sensing and mapping capabilities, big data residing in “the cloud”, and the apps and services that bring them together. I believe they’re truly on to something.

The book likely won’t be available until sometime next year. However, one of the authors (they are Shel Israel and Robert Scoble) has put together a simple Slideshare presentation that gives some hints of the direction they’re heading in. Since the presentation is available, I thought I would share it to give you a taste of what they’re seeing and thinking. I am hopeful I’ll have a lot more to say about the subject as time goes on. Suffice it to say I’m very excited about their thoughts, including how they mesh with and supplement those I’ve had for several decades now.

Disclosure: At the request for assistance by the authors, I offered to proofread the manuscript for them and they agreed. Here is how Shel tweeted about it a couple of weeks ago.


Health News – Neuroscientists Find That Status within Groups Can Affect IQ

NOTE: This is the first time, to my recollection, I’ve posted directly from Posterous. I’m not sure how I want to deal with this, but thinking I’d rather share a link to the article than the whole damn thing. Nonetheless, this is a fascinating look at how social status can affect intellectual performance, which points out yet again the impossibility of understanding anything well in isolation from the system – or environment – within which it exists and operates. My comments from Posterous are at the end.

PASADENA, Calif.—Our cognitive abilities and decision-making skills can be dramatically hindered in social settings where we feel that we are being ranked or assigned a status level, such as classrooms and work environments, according to new findings from a team of researchers from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) and four other institutions.

The finding flies in the face of long-held ideas about intelligence and cognition that regard IQ as a stable, predictive measure of mental horsepower.

“This study tells us the idea that IQ is something we can reliably measure in isolation without considering how it interacts with social context is essentially flawed,” says Steven Quartz, professor of philosophy at Caltech and one of the authors of the new study, which appears in the current issue of Philosophical Transactions of The Royal Society B. “Furthermore, this suggests that the idea of a division between social and cognitive processing in the brain is really pretty artificial. The two deeply interact with each other.”

“You may joke about how committee meetings make you feel brain-dead, but our findings suggest that they may make you act brain-dead as well,” says Read Montague, director of the Human Neuroimaging Laboratory and Computational Psychiatry Unit at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute and corresponding author on the paper.

To investigate the impact of social context on IQ, the researchers divided a pool of 70 subjects into groups of five and gave each individual a computer-based IQ test. After each question, an on-screen ranking showed the subjects how well they were performing relative to others in their group and how well one other person in the group was faring. All of the subjects had previously taken a paper-and-pencil IQ test, and were matched with the rest of the group so that they would each be expected to perform similarly on an IQ test.

At the outset, all of the subjects did worse than expected on this “ranked group IQ task.” But some of the subjects, dubbed High Performers, were able to improve over the course of the test while others, called Low Performers, continued to perform below their expected level. By the end of the computer-based test, the scores of the Low Performers dropped an average of 17.4 points compared to their performance on the paper-and-pencil test.

“What we found was that sensitivity to the social feedback of the rankings profoundly altered some people’s ability to express their cognitive capacity,” Quartz says. “So we get this really quite dramatic downward spiraling of one group purely because of their sensitivity to this social feedback.” Since so much of our learning—from the classroom to the work team—is socially situated, this study suggests that individual differences in social sensitivity may play an important role in shaping human intelligence over time.

During the computer-based test, about a third of the subjects underwent brain scans, using functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI). This type of imaging allows scientists to track increases in oxygenated blood flow, indicating heightened activity, in the brain. At the start of the test, researchers observed increased activity in all the participants in a brain region called the amygdala, which is associated with fear and emotional arousal. Among High Performers, that activation decreased over time, while it remained steady in Low Performers.

“What is causing the Low Performers to be hindered by the social context is something for follow-up studies, but certainly the suspicion is that it’s a dimension of personality that is driving the difference,” Quartz says. That dimension could be neuroticism, the tendency to worry or to ruminate about social information. “The pattern of activity that we see originally in both groups, but especially in the low-performing group, is quite similar to the pattern of activity you see in studies looking at the neuroscience of neuroticism.”

The researchers also tracked activity in the nucleus accumbens, a part of the brain involved in the processing of rewards. They observed elevated activity in the nucleus accumbens when a subject’s rank within the group increased. “That shows that the task was motivationally important to people,” Quartz says. “When they saw their rank go up, that was a reward.”

The idea for the new study came, in part, from a study published in 1999 in which researchers from Emory University examined social rank—a strong and extremely motivating signal among primates. It has long been known that even monkeys that have never met before can quickly sort themselves based on social standing within the group. The Emory researchers isolated low-ranking rhesus monkeys and taught them a learning task. They found that in the presence of high-ranking group members, the monkeys who had learned the task acted as though they were not familiar with it.

“Social rank isn’t as well understood in humans,” Quartz says. “So we wanted to see what would happen when social rank becomes salient in a group of humans, as it does in most real-world learning environments. We wanted to see if this has an effect on the expression of IQ.”

Throughout the 20th century, IQ was used in different arenas as a way of sorting or classifying people into niches. Because people believed it to be a more abstract notion of cognitive ability, it was thought to have strong predictive validity of mental capabilities even from age six. But IQ was always measured in social isolation. “That reflects a long tradition of intellectual history, of considering rationality and cognition to be this isolated process,” Quartz says. “But one of the things that we’re learning more and more in social neuroscience is the role of our social contexts and the social adaptation of the brain.” Understanding the role social context plays and its differential impact on the brain may ultimately help educators and others to design more effective learning environments.

The present study found some unexpected trends, including the tendency for female subjects to be more affected than males by the implicit signaling of social status during the test. Although all of the subjects scored similarly on the paper-and-pencil IQ test, 11 of the 14 Low Performers on the ranked group IQ task were female, while 10 of the 13 High Performers were male. Due to sample size limitations, additional studies are needed to validate the finding and to investigate possible causes.

In addition to Quartz and Montague, additional authors on the paper, “Implicit signals in small group settings and their impact on the expression of cognitive capacity and associated brain responses,” are Kenneth Kishida of Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute, Dongni Yang of the Baylor College of Medicine, and Karen Hunter Quartz of the University of California, Los Angeles. Montague is also affiliated with the Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging in London. The work was funded by the Wellcome Trust Principal Research Fellowship, the Kane Family Foundation, and the National Institutes of Health.

# # #

Written by Kimm Fesenmaier

Deborah Williams-Hedges
626-395-3227

The part of this I find fascinating, even though I’m tempted to point out I’ve always found meetings a bit mind-numbing, is the apparent systemic nature of IQ and overall cognitive ability, and it’s (again apparent; more research is in order) cultural sensitivity. The apparent gender bias, for instance, tracks well with much previously observed behavior. I suspect there would be other, similar results in the future related to less generic (genderic?) aspects of culture as well. Vewy intewesting!


Fittingly for Halloween, I’ve Become Invisible

Am I That Transparent?

Am I That Transparent?

Does Retirement Make You Disappear?

When I accepted an early retirement from the company I  had worked at for well over two decades, I did so because I knew both our business and the economy in general were shrinking. I knew, because of my position in the enterprise Program Management Office (actually, an attempt at a Project Portfolio Management Office, as I recall), there were going to be layoffs and I had reason to suspect I might be one of them. There were lots of good reasons to believe so, not the least of which was my propensity to push for the use of social media to both enhance internal communications and to better market an organization that had never really marketed itself (have you ever heard of Rocketdyne? You have and don’t even know it. See if you recognize any names here). Neither of these positions had proved all that popular amongst either the leadership or the rank and file.

I was also over two and half years into the demographic the offer was made to (everyone 60 and over) and whether they meant to or not, they were telling me I was getting long in the tooth and, perhaps, they wanted me to move over for younger blood. At least that’s how it felt. They may not have meant it that way but it felt a bit like they were telling me, regardless of my service or anything I had previously done for the organization, I was no longer needed and, perhaps, no longer wanted. Again, that’s pretty much how it felt.

For those, and many other, reasons I accepted the severance package they offered after some little deliberation and a lot more financial analysis to see just how tenable my position would be. I have often referred to their offer as a gold-leafed handshake; not exactly gold-plated and hardly a golden handshake. It amounted to about a half year’s salary. Fortunately, my wife and I had scrupulously saved and forsaken a lot of things we might otherwise have spent money on over the years in order to build up a reasonably large nest egg. With the knowledge it would be years before we had to sell the house and live out of our vehicles, and knowing the skills and capabilities I possessed stood me well in the business community, I took the plunge and accepted the offer.

Shortly after leaving I started looking around for the possibility of finding an organization that could use my services and wasn’t in the position my previous company was in; that is, they were hiring rather than laying off. I posted a few resumes with some very large companies and was even asked to apply for a position with a very large tech company that provided many of the tools – or types of tools – I had been learning and evangelizing at my previous place of employment. Unfortunately, nothing panned out and I didn’t much feel like spending more time than necessary beating my head against a wall, especially given the continuing deterioration of the economy.

Mind If We Stay In Touch?

Now, I’ve written before about the need – as I see it – for companies such as the one I retired from to stay in touch with former employees. I had proposed a method of doing so at least seven years ago when I suggested we provide access to our internal expertise location/sharing tool (an early, proprietary social media tool) for retirees who wished to remain engaged on an as-needed basis after they left. It seemed a small investment to make and I knew there were lots of former employees who, despite their retirement, would have welcomed being asked to throw in their two-cents worth on an important issue. We made rocket engines, for crying out loud, and our engines had propelled virtually every American astronaut since the very beginning of the Mercury project. Nobody I knew really wanted to totally stop being a part of that kind of awesomeness.

Needless to say, my proposal fell on deaf ears. Ironically, although the aerospace industry designs and manufactures some of the most technologically advanced products in the world (in our case, the Space Shuttle Main Engine, numerous other rocket engines, and some pretty cool energy products involving what we called “extreme engineering“), their embrace of computer technology is almost always way behind the curve. This is not necessarily so in terms of engineering computing, but is most definitely the case when it comes to business processes and internal communications. It was a source of mildly aggravating bemusement for over twenty years, but more of that at a later date.

Back To The Grind . . . Eventually

Back to this ongoing communications thing. I have come to realize, despite the over two decades I spent at Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne, my departure has made me completely transparent to the company. Many of the people I used to talk with daily, even those who are Facebook friends, haven’t said word one to me. I guess it’s kind of a cultural thing. Once you’ve retired and are presumably out of the workforce, you just don’t exist anymore. Unless, of course, I were to play golf with the company golf club. Then, at least for the duration of the game and the drinking afterward, I would exist in perpetuity. There are, as well, a few notable exceptions. Several people with whom I worked closely have remained in contact with me and I am deeply appreciative of our ongoing relationships.

Speaking of cultural mores, I suppose this is a logical extension of how we treat older people in general. We are, after all, a culture that exalts youth and all of its frivolity and mundane inanity. I suppose I should have known this would happen and, truth to tell, I’ve really been enjoying this retirement thing. I know it can’t last; we don’t really have enough money to maintain a decent standard of living and still be able to send our two young girls to college in 8 and 11 years from now. However, I’m just about ready to return to working at something that will take close to a full-time effort. Right now, though, I still feel a bit like the Invisible Man.

Photo shamelessly linked from Monsterland


The Hell It’s Not About The Tools!

Hand Axes

What Would Lizzie Borden Do?

I had lunch a while back with a former colleague from Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne. He is also a fellow cohort member from my Masters in KM program, from which we both graduated in late 2009. We have worked together extensively. After eating we were discussing the situation at my former (and his current) place of employment, which is a bit unclear at this point.

As I shared my thoughts about the value (as I see it) of using social media to increase the organization’s capabilities (you know, the innovative, collaborative, communicative ones), he said something he had said to me over and over while I was still a colleague . . . “It’s not about the tools!”

Now, essentially I agree with him – at least to a point. Tools are, by themselves, absolutely useless unless they’re used to get things done in the manner for which they were designed. Even better, if you can figure out how to use them creatively they can be even more powerful. Try pounding a nail into a stud with your bare fist, though, and then tell me it’s not about the tools.

Nevertheless, this argument is valid when taken in the context of an organization where people think that throwing tools at a problem will somehow, magically I guess, solve the problem confronting them. I have personally seen this happen quite a bit and, in fairness to my friend, it did seem to be a common occurrence at our place of employment.

On the other hand, we’re probably all aware of situations where the simplest of tools served an organization well in dealing with a particularly difficult situation. This can only happen, I think, when the people confronting the situation are open and honest about what they’re facing and how it’s affecting the processes and people who are tasked with dealing with it.

This means they have to be able to think both critically and creatively. Too often people get to thinking in predictable ways and they pigeonhole the problem, thereby confining their possible solutions to the things they’re familiar with and have previous knowledge of. This usually leads to failure.

The thing about tools, though, is that they frequently give us the ability to use a bit of lateral – or even sideways – thinking. In the case of social tools such as Jive or Socialcast or Yammer, we’re also given the possibility of working together and sharing our information and knowledge in ways not previously possible.

A perfect example of how not to do it is the way in which the company I used to work at shared their knowledge of rocket engine design and manufacture. It was always the case that younger Engineers would send email requests to their older counterparts, requesting information on design intent or material properties or manufacturing techniques, etc. The older colleague might spend days researching and crafting an answer, which would then be sent back to the requester in an email.

The problem with this was that access to all this wonderfully useful information was now confined to the two (sometimes a few more, depending on who was included initially) people engaged in the conversation. Usually, within a short while the information and knowledge so thoroughly and carefully created was lost; frequently even to the original person asking the question. This was because there was no useful method by which email could be easily searched.

Nowadays we can do much better. We have tools, applications, and systems available to us that provide functionality like instant broadcasting (micro-blogging), collaborative creation (wiki, even Google docs), and ubiquitous indexing and search. There is, in my opinion, no excuse for not taking advantage of as many of these tools as is reasonably affordable – taking into consideration the culture of an organization and its tolerance for experimentation and change. Frankly, from what I’ve experienced and from what I learn from friends and others who are engaged in community organization and leadership, there are ways to introduce, champion, and develop these kinds of tools in just about any organization.

So I would wish to characterize the use of tools just a bit differently. I would say it most definitely IS about the tools, but it’s just not entirely about the tools. Having functionality available that was not possible five or ten years ago can change things dramatically. However, it doesn’t happen overnight. It takes a conscious effort and, sometimes, dramatic changes in the culture of an organization. Nevertheless, the pain associated with change is usually ameliorated by the newfound capabilities the change brings; the possibilities of developing innovative processes and organizational structures and of increasing both the efficiency and effectiveness of those things we engage in. If anyone tells you it’s not about the tools, as if to say they aren’t important, ask them when was the last time they combed their hair with a fork!


We Don’t Need No Stinking Meetings!

The Ubiquitous Conference Room: Where Collaboration Goes to Die

Before you get your panties in a bunch, I’m not really advocating the complete abolition of meetings. I always loved getting together with 20 or 30 of my closest associates and spending the first ten minutes – of what always managed to completely fill the exact amount of time allotted to it – with banter about our kids, our pets, our plants, and our plans for retirement. Regardless, it always seemed to me there were just a few too many of them, and many were just . . . well . . . kind of unnecessary. So I’m just saying maybe we should consider there are meetings that are a complete – or near complete – waste of everyone’s time. Allow me to provide an example and, hopefully, I won’t piss off my former employer too much by sharing this.

Quite a few years ago I was a member of the High Pressure Fuel Turbopump team for the Space Shuttle Main Engine program at a famous, but not very well-known organization. [Pop Quiz! Who designed the engines that powered the Saturn vehicles to the moon?] At the time, another company was in the process of certifying their design for the same pump, as (Warning! the following statement may be hotly disputed by the parties, and they are only a partial recollection from a limited perspective) NASA had determined their (the other company’s) design was more reliable and, therefore, more safe. Unfortunately, this other organization was having trouble with some of their design and they weren’t meeting their certification and delivery goals. For this reason, we were given a contract to produce ten more high pressure fuel pumps.
For a length of time I can no longer recall (this was in the late 1990s, I believe, and the experience was somewhat painful), but let’s say it was around or over a year, we had a stand-up meeting every day to discuss what had happened the day before and what we wanted to happen that day. There were always between 15 and 20 people in attendance. However, on most days only a few of these folks actually had to be there. Unfortunately, it was impossible at the time for anyone to know whether or not they were needed without attending the meeting to see and hear what was talked about.
At the time, Macromedia had a product they called Generator which, as the team’s webmaster and web content volunteer learner guy, I had discovered. Generator worked with Flash to create animated displays. Among the things you could do with it was to create a ticker tape that would run a stream of updates at the bottom of an employee’s display. I knew nothing of “social” back then, but it sure seemed to me that having people update their activity through the use of this ticker tape would obviate the necessity for at least half (probably more like 80%, thank you Mr. Pareto) of the meetings we were having. This seemed a significant savings to me. Unfortunately, I might as well have been standing in the corner talking to it.

Now that this occurrence has faded in my rearview mirror, I can look at it a little more rationally. At the time, it was just one of numerous ways in which I saw us spending far more money and effort than necessary to get things done (don’t get me started on how click-to-talk phones could have sped up the flow of components through the shop). It wasn’t to be.

Although I’m no longer in that world (corporate, that is), I have good reason to believe things haven’t changed much in all this time. I know they hadn’t by the time I left (May of 2010). Are you still having meetings that accomplish little other than to fill up the hours? Here’s a suggestion. Read the book by Patrick Lencioni – “Death by Meeting: A Leadership Fable“. It’s a great business book masked as an entertaining fable, in the mold of Eli Goldratt’s “The Goal“. See if you can’t turn your meetings into what they should be, a vital and invigorating component of running an organization rather than a time-wasting drag on everyone’s energy and enthusiasm.


Brand Haiku – Ode to Philz

A new Facebook friend of mine, Christopher Carfi, made me aware of this entertaining project that’s gaining some traction on the Interwebs . . . Brand Haiku. I got sucked in a little bit and wrote two of them (though I realized the first wasn’t about a brand at all, which is why I wrote the second, actually). So here’s a link to The Social Customer Manifesto, where I got started. There seems to be a lot of interconnected activity out there on this subject. I believe I’m adding to it by blogging my comments (i.e. my haiku, which appear below).

Brand Haiku – Ode to Philz.

The door is open
Kids wait silent in the van
Fall semester calls

My daughters greatly miss
The four free-wheel shopping carts
Once found at Trader Joe’s

Addendum: I have once again realized I missed the mark here; at least on the original intent expressed in the concept of “Brand Haiku”. Although I do now (in my second attempt) mention a brand, I am essentially relating a complaint or pointing out what my daughters and I consider a short-coming. I am, therefore, now adding a third attempt, to wit:

New Android phone’s a bust
’til Target geek points out app
That kills useless tasks


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