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What (Who) Is An Expert?

Sometimes Expertise is Clear

Sometimes Expertise is Clear

I originally wrote the following in January of 2012, less than two years after my departure from Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne. For some reason it got a bit out of control for me and I never posted it. I’m either breaking it into two separate posts, or removing some notes from the end and posting it as a standalone. Actually, I’m doing the latter for now – maybe working the removed notes into a second post at a later date.


 

How Do We Know?

Are you an “Expert” in anything? How do you know? If you say you are, how do we know it’s true? Furthermore, what is the difference between being an expert and having some – or lots of – expertise in a particular subject or field of knowledge? I was reminded of this problem a while back while talking to a friend and former colleague about the situation at my old company and, especially, how the tool I was the project manager for and had introduced back in 2002 was doing. I got the impression the issue of expertise was still a hot one and the situation hadn’t changed much since we first tackled it.

Some background

In 2001 I was a member of the Knowledge Management team for my former employer. One of the big problems we were grappling with was how to create an online directory or “Yellow Pages” of employees, including a way to search by expertise. The IT department had gone through at least two, possibly three, iterations using HTML as the basis for creating and presenting the information. Unfortunately, people moved around too frequently and the job of keeping it up-to-date was daunting; actually pretty much impossible. We were looking into other ways to achieve the results we thought were necessary to improve our ability to find the right people at the right time.

When the member of our KM team who was working on it decided to retire in the Fall of that year I volunteered to take over the effort. I soon came to the conclusion we were never going to be successful doing it the way we had been. Due to policies I had no control over, there was no way to connect what we wanted to create with HR’s database, which would have simplified the effort somewhat. Even more important, I realized what we needed was far more than just a directory. We needed a way for people to truly communicate with each other; a way to ask questions, receive answers, and conduct discussions on the appropriateness and efficacy of proposed solutions. This wasn’t what a mere directory of names and titles would give us. I set off to discover something better.

In my quest I came across a few tools that began to address the problem. The two that stood out back then were Tacit’s KnowledgeMail® and AskMe Enterprise. In fact, I ultimately conducted a trade study of both, as well as a home-grown (we were part of the Boeing Company back then) system that was designed to help Airplane Mechanics share what they knew and learned about the airplanes they worked on and their various intricacies. I quickly eliminated the latter of the three and concentrated on the two others. In the end I presented my findings to our Chief Engineer. Based on the criteria I used, AskMe was the winner as it addressed our security concerns in a manner far more to our (and our Lawyers’) liking.

What does “Expert” mean?

The Experts Are InHaving decided on a platform we then had several important issues to deal with before we could feel comfortable rolling it out to the entire organization. The first of them, which is related to this post, was:

Do we Control The Assignment of Individuals as Knowledge Providers &, if so, How do we Qualify And Present Them Within AskMe?

We developed a set of responses for each of these issues, the first of them being the most important and the one that was at the root of our disagreements, e.g. we decided to let everyone register and self-select as “having expertise” or knowledge in any field we provided a category for.

The biggest bone of contention was that some of our senior technical staff were worried people would overreach and end up providing bad information which might be acted upon. When you design and manufacture products that can easily kill a half dozen people and cost tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars of loss, you tend to be a little cautious. This was understandable. However, many of us felt the likelihood was next to nil, as we expected the internal equivalent of crowd-sourcing would likely take care of it. In fact, in the over nine years I led the project there was only one instance in which I was asked – by a panic-stricken Manager – to remove something from the system. I was able to do so immediately, though I took pains to copy and retain the information in case of a dispute.

We decided to take a few more steps to help users decide for themselves who were the most authoritative people in the organization, among them the labeling of members of the Technical Fellowship, Process Leads, and others in recognized positions of authority.

Recently, I had lunch with my former Manager, the Director of the Program Management Office where I last worked, and where this all happened, and he offered me some valuable insight I’d like to include in this post. Here’s what he suggested:

“I think that our biggest issue wasn’t the overstatement of expertise that was much discussed and worried about; it was the problem that people were reluctant to claim expertise and document it in a profile.  Whether this is an engineering cultural thing, mass humility, fear of ridicule from others or insecurity, I’m not sure, but it’s something that must be considered in making a breakthrough in this area.”

So . . . how do we determine what constitutes expertise? Here’s the problem we had with AskMe. Do we only allow recognized “Experts”, formally organizing our expertise, or do we allow it to become more organic and emergent? In a culture that actively encourages hoarding knowledge through its exalting of patents and intellectual property rights in general, it’s hard to get people to share. Yet feedback to the sharing of knowledge connects people and their behavior to the world around them. It gives everyone the chance to realize how their behavior influences the success of their organization. Effective feedback will reinforce positive behavior and correct negative behavior. The ability to give and receive feedback is a must for leaders who wish to have honest and direct relationships with employees.

Ultimately, it became obvious that the real power in what we were doing was not the listing of “experts,” but rather the facilitation of conversation and discussion. It also became apparent to me that what we had was not so much an expertise location tool in AskMe, but a powerful social media platform that allowed us to securely share information and knowledge about our products and processes. It was an excellent system, a precursor to the types of platforms most enterprise size organizations are currently using, and collapsed within a few years of my departure. To say it was disappointing to see nearly a decade of work be allowed to just fade away and disappear was deeply disturbing, and disappointing. Now, as Aerojet Rocketdyne it’s been several years they’ve had a project to create a front-end that will allow the remaining database (not experts) to be queried, but it’s still on the back burner as far as I can tell. Maybe if I live another 50 years (not likely, since I’m 70) I’ll hit the jackpot with an organization that truly understands the value of these kinds of platforms/utilities. Nah!

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I Hate Time Cliches, But They Fit!

I have written previously about my feelings regarding the passage of time. In case you don’t feel like going back and reading, here’s the relevant portion:

Lest you think I’m being melancholy, I’m not . . . though I will admit to occasionally feeling as though time has slipped by far too fast. However, I have a trick I use to deal with that and I’ve been doing it so long I really don’t think about it much any more.

I’m of the opinion the feeling that time has slipped by far too fast is a low-level form of self-pity. That trick I mentioned is something I used to do many years ago when I sensed I was feeling sorry for myself. I would pick a day, perhaps six months or a year ago, and try to recreate all the things I had done or experienced in the intervening time. I never made it to “today” because I always got bored from “reliving” all those things I had already done. Nowadays, I don’t even have to go through the exercise. I only need to remind myself of its efficacy.

I bring this up to explain my feelings (somewhat) when I worked on — and now look at — this collage I made of pictures of me and Aimee, my oldest. I’ve been teaching myself Photoshop and one of the most valuable skills one can master, IMO, is that of layering; and not just using layers, but being able to manipulate pixels through selecting and masking very selectively. While there are plenty of technical issues one must master in order to be able to successfully create multi-layer pictures (in a timely manner), there is most definitely an art to doing it well.

So . . . I’ve been practicing with creating memes and sarcastic photos of the Groper-in-Chief, as well as touching up some personal photos and creating new ones from old ones. Here’s the picture I put together that’s now causing me some consternation:

Aimee and Daddy

Aimee and Daddy

I was most interested in the speed with which I could select and create layer masks for each one of these photos (there are 10 separate pics, plus one barely visible as background). Resizing, aligning them properly, and putting them in the right order is not terribly taxing or time consuming, but selecting and masking requires some patience. This is especially true when you have essential tremors and your hands shake, at times almost uncontrollably. I also experience occasional “jerks”, where my hand just jumps for no specific reason, at least none I can discern.

Now that I finished and posted it — actually, yesterday on Facebook — I’m taking some time to enjoy the photos. They are, after all, some of my favorite pictures of the two of us. It’s important to keep in mind, I was childless until my 56th year; long enough to be pretty convinced I would never be a parent. I was resigned to this fact and content with my situation. Little did I realize I would have a 14-month-old, 25 lb. bundle thrust into my arms halfway around the world in the People’s Republic of China, shortly after my 55th birthday. The story behind how my wife and I decided this would be a good thing to do is a long one, and I have no intention of going into it here.

I have now been a father for 15 years. In addition to adopting Aimee, we returned to the PRC to adopt our younger daughter, Alyssa, when I was 59. I’ll do a collage of me and Alyssa at some other time. I don’t know if I have enough pictures of the two of us; second child syndrome and all like that, but I’ll put together what I’ve got.

What’s bothering me now about this picture is, every time I look at it I’m reminded that she is now a full-blown teenager and, as such, I represent everything wrong, lame, and stupid about the world to her. I know our relationship will never be the same. Actually, I knew it the day we adopted Alyssa, who was a real handful — still is, and that’s not hyperbole in any way. This, however, is somewhat different. I’ve watched enough of my friends’ and family’s children grow up and go through this. It’s not like I’m surprised or taken aback by it. It’s just that experience tells me she may not appreciate me again for another five years or more.

I’m 70 years old and already over a decade older than my father was when he died. I’m healthy, take pretty good care of myself, and expect I’ve got a while to go. However, even if I live into my eighties, we won’t have a great deal of time together. I only got a couple of years to enjoy the relationship my father and I started building in my mid-thirties. I still miss him and occasionally lament not having had much time with him after we worked out our differences. I want more time with Aimee when we can once again relate to each other without her being embarrassed or confused.

I do want that relationship with her, though only the passage of the thing I’m not sure I have a lot of is going to allow it to happen. I guess I have no choice but to wait. Do I have to be patient too?


Pledge Is For Furniture. Right?

Should I feel guilty they’re reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, I can hear it, yet I remain seated in my vehicle, staring at my phone?

Hint: I don’t think so.


Ode To A (Writer’s) Blockhead

Here I sit, broken hearted

Tried to blog, but couldn’t get started.

So I sit here in the parking lot, devoid of useful thought. Funny how that works. When my muse chooses to breath some life into my aging brain, I can go on and on. Unfortunately, most times I sit here, incapable of doing more than some light blathering. Maybe tomorrow.


Just A Little Reminder To Me

Sometimes I forget the work I’ve done. I mean . . . it’s over, lessons learned have been internalized and generalized . . . time to move on to something else, right? So I move on. My entire career has consisted of learning, sharing, and moving on. I’ve known people who held onto their knowledge like a life vest, scared silly for anyone to even know precisely what they do or how they do it. In my corporate experience there’s a phrase that perfectly embodies that kind of attitude: “Knowledge is Power.”

I’ve never agree with that concept. In fact, when I was doing Knowledge Management work for Rocketdyne, I used to say “If knowledge is power, then knowledge shared is power squared.” Unfortunately, becoming a sharing and learning organization requires a major cultural change and — especially in aerospace and other conservative industries — change is difficult to effect; certainly not within a short window of time.

At any rate, I was looking at the blog and web sites I am an admin for and realized I had written a couple of blog posts for a local business that was a client of mine for a very short while. I thought I would share it, only because I want to preserve as much of my work as possible. I want this in large part because almost everything I did at Rocketdyne is the intellectual property of the organizations that were the mother ship for Rocketdyne in the over two decades I was there.

I have a few presentations I did that are on SlideShare, but they don’t come close to the amount of content I produced over that time, and that includes a couple of years worth of monthly newsletters that were researched, written, and published almost entirely on my own. I even did the graphics for them. As I said, I don’t own them and, frankly, they were written for my colleagues and much of it wouldn’t make a great deal of sense to anyone outside the organization. Nevertheless, it’s a bit sobering to know you did a lot of work you cannot now take credit for . . . at least not easily. What follows is the blog post I wrote for Choice 1 Cleaners.


Your Tortured Garments

Red Wine Stain on White Blouse

Oops!

Many things in this world are a lot more complex than first meets the eye. Dry cleaning happens to be one of them. Actually, when it comes to today’s garments, any kind of cleaning is far more complex than one might imagine. This isn’t true of all garments, but it is true of garments in general.

Take, for instance, the variability in both materials and the things that stain them. There are basic differences, e.g. fabrics are made out of plant-based (cotton, linen), animal-based (silk, wool, leather), or synthetic (polyester, acrylic, nylon) materials. Stains come in different varieties as well; they’re either plant, animal, or synthetic. Proper cleaning requires an appreciation of the science involved when trying to remove those stains without harming the fabric.

In addition to the variations in material and the things that stain them, consideration needs to be given to the method of construction and the existence of adornments or embellishments, such as pearls, beads, chains, etc. Each of these creates different challenges that need to be addressed before the garments they’re attached to can be safely cleaned. Some require gauze to be hand-stitched over them in case they come loose. Some designer clothing can contain materials that need four to six different treatments to be thoroughly cleaned.

In order to get your garments truly clean – as clean as you expect them to be – we need to test spots as well, many of which you aren’t aware exist. For instance, sweat, alcohol, and perfume stains may not show up for a while. Your skin’s oils may leave stains you don’t notice either. However, when we clean your clothes we will discover them.

Rest assured, no matter how difficult the challenge, our mission is to clean your garments so they look and feel brand new. We can’t do much about the effects of time, but we can do an awfully good job removing the things that get on your clothing and render it stained and dirty. We pride ourselves on being the best and we think you’ll agree we are!


Reflections On My Second Life

Thirty-eight years ago tonight I came within a hair’s breadth of being murdered in my own home. It’s an interesting story, I suppose, but recalling it still causes a little adrenaline to spill into my bloodstream. Some of the facts are in this decision, but the main reason I’ve bookmarked the site for myself is to help me remember when it happened. It was on my 32nd half-birthday and, although I remember more detail than I wish, I can’t seem to keep the year in my head.

At one point I was laying on the floor and the perp, Leonard Brown, was sitting on my futon. He pointed my Ruger Blackhawk at my head and said, “I’m going to blow your fucking brains out.” I asked, simply, “Why?” He responded, “Cause you’re a honky.” I said, “Is that all?” He had no response to that.

He started telling me a story about being in Vietnam but, having spent many years working with lots of veterans from that war, I could tell he hadn’t really been there. He was, I believe, trying to work himself into enough of a frenzy – as well as getting me to respond fearfully, which I declined to do, so he could shoot me.

Eventually, he went to get something to tie my hands behind my back, something I was not going to allow to happen, regardless of the consequences, as I was sure that would be the end for me. He had to leave the bedroom momentarily and I had been slowly working my foot behind the door. As he left, I was able to slam the door, practically levitate myself off the floor one-handed (lots of adrenaline at that point), and grab my shotgun from a spot where I had hidden it in my closet.

I pumped a round into the chamber and said, “Get out of my house or I’ll kill you.” I heard him flee. Since I could not see where he was, and my girlfriend at the time (later to become my first wife) was going to be home at any minute, I could not fire through the door. I ended up going through the apartment, room by room, as I wasn’t sure if he had actually made it out. It was harrowing, to say the least.

There’s a lot more to the story, including three murders, several rapes, and somewhat of a comedy of errors (not funny at the time) getting the police to come and take a report. It took me five phone calls to three different jurisdictions – I was living in Venice, next to Marina del Rey – before the LAPD, who I called first and knew had jurisdictions as I saw them patrolling all the time, showed up. The officer who arrived was alone, had his hat in hand, and the safety strap to his sidearm in place, which unnerved him when he found out he was working an armed burglary and hadn’t been told so by the dispatcher.

Mr. Brown was eventually arrested, mainly due to his continuing crime spree. I ended up testifying against him twice – once at his original trial and again, years later, at a retrial on one of his murder counts.

The Court got one of the facts wrong in this decision. He only stole one weapon from me, and that was the Blackhawk, which he used to kill three men over the course of about a week and a half. I never got that handgun back, nor did I get back the beautiful pocket watch I had been given years prior by my maternal grandfather. I still miss the watch sometimes.


Sometimes I Wonder Why I Care

Maybe it’s just me, but I find as I get closer to the finish line, many things don’t seem quite as important as they used to. After all, I’m going to be dead for eternity. I won’t even be me. I just. won’t. be. I’ve been contemplating this as long as I can remember, and I still can’t quite wrap my head around it.

So, all these things that seem to matter so much, soon enough won’t matter at all (at least not to me). Yet I continue caring.

‘Tis a bother.


For Posterity (In Case We Survive)

Access Hollywood Bus

“I moved on her like a bitch.”

We’re in an interesting period of time for the United States, perhaps for the world, right now. We seem to have reached an inflection point, a tipping point if you will, in terms of women’s rights and how we respond to calls for equality, justice, and fair treatment. This does seem to be happening in many different areas where discrimination has been the order of the day, though not symmetrically at all.

However, the point I wish to address is only related to women and, especially, sexual harassment and sexism in general. As of today, at least two more men have been forced to resign or have been fired (according to the news I’ve been seeing). They are Matt Lauer and Garrison Keillor.

While I’m happy men are being called out for inappropriate and, at many times, truly disgusting behavior, I’m a little worried we’re using far too broad a brush when condemning and calling out abusers. There also seems to be a strong partisan disparity in who we’re “getting rid of”.

As far as I’m concerned, the most egregious of these men is currently residing in the White House. For some reason I do understand, but will never fully accept, he’s been given a free pass. People who swore they could never vote for a man who was an admitted serial sexual abuser, did so anyway and . . . here we are. So, in the spirit of seeking justice and equal treatment for all, I wish to memorialize — as many have been doing on both Facebook and Twitter — the words of our “Dear Leader”, made public over a year ago on what’s generally referred to as the “Access Hollywood Tape.”

I did try and fuck her. She was married. I moved on her like a bitch, but I couldn’t get there. And she was married. Then all of a sudden I see her, she’s now got the big phony tits and everything. She’s totally changed look. I’ve gotta use some Tic Tacs, just in case I start kissing her. You know, I’m automatically attracted to beautiful — I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star they let you do it. You can do anything . . . Grab the by the pussy. You can do anything.”

— The President of the United States of America

Let me reiterate. I’m glad we’re finally (at least that’s how it looks right now) addressing the imbalance of power between men and women in all aspects of our government, economy, and society in general. However, it appears some men are getting a pass and don’t deserve it, while others are being removed from their positions for acts that are far less inappropriate than those of other men . . . especially men like Roy Moore and Donald Trump.

It’s important to bring context into our understanding. Leering is creepy, but groping is far worse. Most healthy men have fantasies they wouldn’t dream of sharing with anyone and, as long as they remain fantasies, I believe they’re relatively harmless. However, some men (lots of ’em, apparently) just don’t know how to control themselves and go beyond merely fantasizing. That’s at least one place a line needs to be drawn. Surely, there are many others, but I’m not here to analyze them all.

My intent here isn’t to solve anything; that’s really not my place and I’m woefully unequipped to do so. However, I do have this blog and I want to ensure I do my part to point out what I see as a blatant example of hypocrisy, especially coming from the Republican Party, Evangelical Christians, and far too many so-called “conservatives”. If anyone deserves to be removed from their job, it’s Donald John Trump. He’s condemned himself with his own words, hosted himself by his own petard. Until the right starts clamoring for his removal, their protestations don’t impress me.


Thought On Being Human

Pro tip — You don’t have to know you’re making a racial slur for it to be offensive. If you didn’t intend it to be offensive, it just means you’re a fool, but not necessarily a bigot. Also, negligent is often worse than intentional.


Lousy Vehicles These Days

I can’t believe how the quality of vehicles has deteriorated over the years. It seems like the more expensive the ride, the more likely its turn signals don’t work. Puzzling.


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