Tag Archives: innovation

Behind The 8-Ball . . . or Hand me The Hammer & I’ll Fix This.

Now that I’ve had a little while to work with my new iMac, I’m beginning to come down from the techno-induced stupor I’ve been in and am thinking about what this all means to me. I’ve also been thinking about what it should mean for many people who work in corporate America, where I have been laboring for the past two decades and more.

Let me explain what I’m getting at. From the first day I started working at what was then Rockwell International’s Rocketdyne division (formerly North American Rockwell), I was stuck using technology that was already a little behind the eight-ball. Back then (1987) there wasn’t much in the way of personal computers, but they were developing rapidly. I went from an IBM 8086 to an 8088 to an AT and, finally to Windows and on and on. As time wore on the level of state-of-the-artiness of the available technology I had available at work, unfortunately, fell further and further behind.

Now, this isn’t about the battle that took place between IT (formerly MIS) and Engineering for many years, and how it affected the development of the first LAN in the company (hint – it wasn’t pretty), but rather about the level of security and, perhaps, paranoia that built up over the years with respect to the use of computing resources.

Part of the problem for my line of work was the very real issue of the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) which, sometime after we were purchased by the Boeing Company, was painfully and expensively learned after an inadvertent and ignorant violation of the Regs (another story this really isn’t about). This lesson required some education and was fairly easily addressed once understood.

I think I need to throw in a caveat here. I am not an IT person. I have absolutely no formal IT education. I am merely a business person who has worked with (mostly) micro-computers – now called PCs – for close to thirty-five years. I have participated in or led efforts in knowledge management and Enterprise 2.0 for Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne, and I was instrumental in bringing in our first web-based social system over 7.5 years ago. I have also been the project manager for that terribly under-used application all this time as well. My point here is I may not use language that’s accurate, but I know the kinds of functionality available and I know all of it is – from a corporate point of view – there to serve the business.

What I’m concerned with is the application of a one-size-fits-all mentality to the provision of information technology to a company’s workforce, as well as the imposition of blanket security regulations that serve to cripple an organization’s ability to keep abreast of developments in that same technology. This becomes increasingly important as more capability moves out into the cloud (this includes micro-cloud environments, i.e. inside the firewall capability that utilizes cloud-like architecture.)

I have tried to argue, to no avail – I’m sure others will recognize this particular kind of frustration – for the identification of power users who could be provided with, for lack of a better term, beta capabilities they would exercise and learn about. These people would provide a cadre of workers who are constantly looking at new ways to improve communication, collaboration, and findability. People who’s job, in part, is to find newer and better ways to get things done. In my eyes, this is a no-brainer, and I have to say with the speed things are changing nowadays, I think this kind of approach is even more important.

I recognize it is difficult to get large organizations to move rapidly. One doesn’t turn a battleship on a dime. Nevertheless, it is conceivable to me (much more so now than a decade ago) a small group of people could help any organization understand – at the very least - how work gets done, how workers are communicating and collaborating with each other across various boundaries, and how knowledge is being shared in a timely and useful fashion. I also think, daring as it may seem to some, that paying attention to – and preparing to learn from – the processes that are changing the way we do these things can position a company competitively to be a player, rather than an also-ran. I quite certain failing to do so leaves you with the situation I grew used to; a company with computing resources and experience years behind state-of-the-art. In marketplaces where this can change dramatically in under a year, I think that’s unconscionable.

Have any of you experienced this situation? Does it resonate at all? Am I totally off-base or do you think this would be a viable approach for large organizations to engage in?


From the Frying Pan, Into the . . . ?

Last week, during the remaining few hours of a two-day Novations class in Project Management, I received a couple of somewhat disconcerting emails. The first one, from the President of the company, was a notification a “Voluntary Separation Program” was being offered to all employees (well, almost all) who would be 60 years of age or older on May 15, 2010. This was announced as the latest step in many that have been taken to prepare the business for the challenges presented by the ending of the Space Shuttle Main Engine program and by the changes announced recently by NASA. I can’t say it was a surprise. The second email was from HR. It contained the (again, not startling, but nevertheless uncomfortable) news that I was (being close the 63 years old) eligible for the program.

Now, I had not – until that point – seriously considered leaving the company. I have been there for a total of over 23 years (cycle time; I worked my first year as a temp and left for two years to join a somewhat ill-fated yet necessary attempt to rejoin a family business) and had every intention of remaining at least another 15. Furthermore, as the lead for a team charged with changing the way we did business, with special responsibility for the use of social media, I was excited about the challenges we faced and the opportunities that presented. Suddenly, I felt very old and somewhat useless. It was not a comfortable feeling at all.

I have since spent a great deal of time thinking about what this means to me and, as a result of this thinking, I have decided to take the offer. In fact, I signed the papers yesterday declaring my intent to do so. While it isn’t the most lucrative of offers they could have made, it will give me about six months in which to plant the seeds of my next career, a career I intend on pursuing with a vengeance. I am also old enough to retire, which will increase the time I have before I need to start dipping into our savings. One last course available to me is filing for social security, something I would rather wait until I am 66 to do so I can receive the full amount.

So . . . what am I going to do with this breathing space. Well, my friend Luis Suarez has hinted at some of it in his post of today, “When This All Gets Cool, It’s All about The People and Your Passion“, and it’s even in my profile on Facebook, where I said “I am most interested in using today’s Internet based social computing technology to further the interests of my company and, not incidentally, humanity as well. I see no reason the two interests can’t converge. Do you?” It looks like I won’t be doing it to help my company, but I’m confident I can find other companies interested in what I do. Possibly, the most exciting thing about this change in career, though, is it will allow me the time to work with schools, community-service organizations, and other types of enterprise that can benefit from my passion about social computing and the promise they hold for doing the right things.

This is the journey I am now embarking on and I’m literally bursting with enthusiasm for it. I believe it will be a large part of the experience I will chronicle in this blog. I will continue my long association with my friends and colleagues in the Enterprise Thinking Network, many of whom will continue (unless there are further, massive layoffs) with Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne. In fact, I am scheduled to co-present a workshop with Johnnie Pourdehnad, long-time associate of Russell Ackoff’s, and an adjunct professor at the University of Pennsylvania, where he also serves as the Associate Director of ACASA (Ackoff Collaboratory for the Advancement of Systems Approaches). This will be in April, before I have officially left the company (scheduled separation date is no earlier than May 14), at this year’s In2:InThinking Forum – an event you should consider attending if you are interested in new ways to view the world and the work we all do. I recommend it highly.

At any rate, thanks to a fairly extensive network I have built over the years in order to increase my value to my current organization (Hmm. Guess that didn’t work all that well, but it has had the side benefit of being useful to me professionally), I have already begun seeking out new adventures and new ways in which I can be of service. Maybe I’ll even be able to make a decent living at it! I you have any ideas of what some of those things can be, please don’t be shy. Let me know. I promise I’ll get back to you.


Inclusion: Bad for Diamonds; Oxygen for Innovation

In a response to a tweet from @MartijnLinssen, I noted that inclusions are bad for diamonds, but good for innovation and business in general. I think Martijn posted that particular tweet in response to a question I had posted about the use of the terms “consultant” and “expert”. I think too much time is spent on figuring out ways to exclude people from anything other than the roles we’ve pigeon-holed them in. This seems to be the default mode of Human Resource departments, i.e. find a job title and wrap it around a “belly button”. Once you’ve accomplished that task, you have an employee ready to fit into the pre-ordained mold you’ve created; the cog in your machine, if you will.

This seems to miss the reality that all of us are far more complex than a title can contain expression for. In my over twenty years at Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne I have seldom performed tasks that were directly in alignment with the title I held. Part of the reason for this is I was always looking for new and innovative ways of getting things done and, to their credit, my management never (or seldom) discouraged me from doing so. I don’t think I’m all that unique. I happen to believe everybody has hidden skills and talents an organization can – and should – tap in to. We should encourage, no, assist everyone to reach their fullest potential. We should create an environment where everyone can contribute to the growth and sustainability of their organization, whether their contribution is small or large. To do anything else is more than foolish. It’s wasteful and destructive. Our people are, indeed, our most valuable asset – especially in a knowledge-based economy. An asset we can ill afford to ignore.


So many places to “be” – I’m so cornfuzzled!

Copyright 2010 GoogleWith the release of Google’s Buzz yesterday I have added yet another platform/channel to my ever-growing arsenal of social tools with which to engage and, especially, to learn from a long list of wonderful and generous people who willingly offer their intelligence, passion, and wit by freely sharing what they know. I don’t know about others, but even with locations that federate, or aggregate (oh hell, I’m not sure which it is), many of the places I “am”, I still find it difficult to completely see the larger landscape of the social  network I’m entwined with. Dion Hinchcliffe hints at Buzz portending a change in the way the “knowledge” of who we are, what we like, who we know, etc. is treated in his “First impressions of Google Buzz: Smart, useful, long road ahead“, posted yesterday. If I understand him correctly, Google is using algorithms that can draw context from the web, associated specifically with what our (singular and collective) behavior, connections, and interests are evidence of, and serve up relevant and (one would hope) useful information for us.

I hope this turns out to be the case. I’m reserving judgement for now, as it took  me at least six months after signing up for Twitter before I could see any use for it that made sense to me. If Buzz is anything like Twitter (only better) I plan on being a bit more ahead of the curve than before. Only time will tell, but the thought of having some help in making sense of all the chatter (including my own) is pretty exciting to me. We may end up with a half-dozen different “suites” (which will, no doubt, find some overlap in the apps used) for us to choose from and I’m torn over whether or not I would prefer some sort of standardization. Nevertheless, the reality for now – for me – is that I’ve been using Gmail and other Google platforms for many years and am unlikely to pass up a chance to get (and put) most of my info into their hands.


Are We Failing to Fail?

Today I attended an hour and a half, lively, funny presentation by a man I had never heard of before, but who I intend on paying at least a little more attention to in the future. His name is Terry Paulson. He’s been described as the Will Rogers of Management Consultants and he pretty much lives up to that description. He was invited as part of a series of ongoing events put on at Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne called Passport to Leadership. This series is always open to anyone who wants to attend. Due to space limitations there is online registration available on a first-come, first-serve basis. Most of the time, unfortunately, the room (generally it’s held in an auditorium that can seat about 150 people) isn’t quite full. Sometimes it’s overflowing; depends on the speaker, the time of year, and what’s going on in the company at the time.

I chose to attend this particular event not because I had any idea who Terry Paulson was, but because of the title of the event – “The Innovative Leader’s Challenge: Inventing the Future in a Cost-Containment World”. Intriguing. Surely, anyone paying attention nowadays knows just about everyone is paying attention to costs more so than usual. What I really liked about his approach was its level of (in the words of his website) optimism, resilience, and hope – not to mention a good dose of animated humor. He made it clear he wasn’t talking about being a Pollyanna,  full of false promise and glittering visions of the future, but of being a realist; of looking at things and seeing them for what they are and being willing to face them head on. Interestingly, though he didn’t say it, his home page talks about something I heard many years ago from a radio psychologist by the name of Dr. Toni Grant. I used to listen to her on KABC radio here in Los Angeles when I was driving a truck in my family’s wholesale food business back in the late 70′s. She talked about the propensity many people have to be perfectionists, and she said perfectionism was the beginning of what she called “The Three Ps” – Perfectionism, Procrastination, Paralysis. Many people who read this recognize how frequently this is the case. I know I’ve experienced it at times in my life.

Here’s a quote from his website that kind of sums up the presentation he gave: “Most get an ‘F’ where it counts the most. They fail to fail! Too many get stuck in the Three P’s: Perfection, Procrastination, and Paralysis. They are so worried about making a mistake that they end up doing nothing at all. Most mistakes are not terminal; they become stepping stones to success. Get moving!”

At any rate, here are some of the takeaways I have from this presentation:

  • Frequently ask people questions like “What are you doing differently” or “What have you learned lately?” or “What’s working for you?”
  • When you attend a conference or a presentation don’t sit with people you know (they’re “used”)
  • Don’t wait for direction; get busy inventing the future by capitalizing on emerging opportunities
  • Continually use your quality processes and innovation as a strategic advantage to create the new “good old days”

Here are a few other concepts he discussed . . . and passed out in a nice handout I can easily copy them from :)

  • Claim the optimism advantage by using setbacks as stepping stones to progress
  • Build a learning organization in support of strategic innovation
  • Use bridge building strategies to make collaborative innovation work

One of the things I found most amazing about his presentation was every slide he showed was a quote by someone else. Normally I would find this abhorrent but, in his case, he supplemented every one of them with his own stories and anecdotes and his spin on what the message of the quote was. Even the way he read them was entertaining. He was very animated, very funny, very entertaining, and pretty damn enlightening. Like many presentations I’ve attended, he didn’t necessarily tell me anything I didn’t already know. Nevertheless, his style – and his substance – reinforced many of these things, either reminding anew of those things I perhaps needed to strengthen my skill at or providing some positive reinforcement that I’m heading in the right direction.

One of my favorite quotes (at least a portion of one) comes from Barbara Waugh, a personnel manager and change agent at Hewlett-Packard. She has talked about “amplifying the positive deviants”. I like to think she was talking about me when she used that term.


We Lost Another of the Absolutely Best Minds in Management This Week

There are two Management thinkers who have influenced my life, and the lives of  many of my colleagues – even as we struggle to have their ideas embraced where I work (a titanic, long-standing struggle indeed). One of them, W. Edwards Deming,  has been gone for some time now, but the other – Russell Ackoff – just died this past Thursday.  Russ was a giant in the field of Systems Thinking. Russ proposed what I’ve seen referred to as the spectrum of learning. He believed the content of our minds could be classified into five basic catergories: Data; Information; Knowledge; Understanding, and; Wisdom.

Russ had been in the habit of visiting us here on the west coast to share his wisdom and wit at the beginning of every year. He would spend an entire day with, usually, a large group of interested people, sharing stories of his experiences over the years. One of those I remember the best is his experience with Bell Labs. He quite accidentally was involved in the design of a lot of today’s telephone system. From that experience he later would go on to develop his concept of idealized design – a method whereby one throws out everything that’s known about a product or system and attempts to design it based on what would be ideal, then work backward to where you currently are.

Another thing I loved to hear Russ say, which he would do frequently was his admonition that it was much harder for a large organization to stop something once it had started than to agree to supporting any activity that was outside their comfort zone. In other words, “It’s better to seek forgiveness than ask for permission”. Russ also pointed out that doing the wrong thing better only made what was being done “wronger”.  Russ was so full of wisdom one could easily spend days listening to his stories and the knowledge he gained from his experiences, which were many and varied. Russ spent a large part of his life helping Anheuser-Busch truly dominate their market . . . and become the “King of Beers.”

For the past two years Russ had decided no longer to travel out here to speak to us. He was having back and hip problems and dealing with the incessant screening and the long lines and waits in the airport had become too much for him. My colleague, Bill Bellows, who had for years organized monthly telecons with some of the best speakers and writers in the field of systems thinking and management, asked me each year to accompany him to Philadelphia to visit with Russ and our friend Johnny Pourdehnad, a professor of Organizational Dynamics at UPenn. I was fortunate enough to spend many hours with both Johnny and Russell. One of my last memories of Russ is spending a lovely evening with him and his wife, Helen when Bill and I took them out to dinner for Russ’s 90th birthday. At the time Russ was suffering greatly from the pain he was experiencing associated with what he called “a shredded hip”. It was late January and there was lots of ice on the ground. We had to walk to the restaurant from  where we parked and Russ was using a walker. I hovered over him like a brooding hen, scared silly he would slip and fall. He didn’t, thankfully (I had caught him once in his home office), and we had a great meal followed by a birthday dessert. I snapped a picture with my BlackBerry and now wish to share it with whoever may find themselves here.

My Last Visit With Russ

Russell Ackoff Celebrates His 90th

There are numerous posts and websites where you can learn more about Russ and his work. You found your way here; you know how to search. However, I would like to give mention to one that has been writing about Russell for some time. Ironically, because of one word in the name of this blog, my company’s web filter blocks access to it from inside our firewall. I am referring to “The Curious Cat Management Improvement Blog“, where I got the title for this post.

Russell will be sorely missed by many people. I am hopeful his ideas, his wisdom, his tremendous intellect, and his enthusiasm for understanding and application of systems thinking will find even greater voice now that he is no longer with us. It seems a sad irony of life that so many people only become truly influential after their deaths. Doesn’t say much for us . . . but that’s the way it’s been. I hope Russ’s life will be instructive to many so that we can slowly evolve away from the mundane things that seem to attract us and pay a little more attention to things that matter.

Rick


To Search or Not to Search

About a week and half ago, while searching for I have no idea what, someone where I work came across a document or two that contained sensitive personal information. They should not have found this information, yet there it was. They were using a tool we have called Goldfire Researcher, a very powerful semantic search engine developed and sold by Invention Machine. The discovery precipitated an order from our IP Attorney to immediately remove access to all the databases generated from our huge share drive. This occurred almost on the same day I had another of Invention Machine’s products, Goldfire Innovator, installed on my machine and a couple of days before I was to receive training on its use. Needless to say, the training became exceedingly difficult as there was nothing to use for research; at least nothing internally.

Today we are to meet with two of our lawyers and decide how to proceed. I don’t believe anyone thinks it is in the best interests of the company to not be able to search our own data for useful information in either performing our daily work, or in our innovation initiatives. I understand the position of the lawyers. Being one myself (though that is not my position where I work), I appreciate the need to protect the privacy of our employees and the information that was found should not have been where it was. We need to put a process in place that allows access, yet protects all kinds of sensitive information. It will be interesting to see just what we come up with.

I should point out this is not a shortcoming of the tool(s) that Invention Machine provides. Rather it is, in some ways, a fortunate side-effect of the power of the tool(s) that we have surfaced areas where others have not been adhering to the procedures we already have in place for protecting this kind of information. I am hopeful we will find a way out of this quandary soon and will be better organized with respect to all our data as a result.

Rick


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