In my second year of law school I was able to secure a position with a sole practitioner in Beverly Hills. His name was Michael David Freeman and he hired me to be his legal secretary.
Although I had not done secretarial work before, I was a pretty good, fast, and accurate touch typist and I was doing well in school and kind of knew my way around the issues I would be dealing with.
MDF specialized in personal liability and property damage as the representative of three major car rental firms: Thrifty, Budget, and Dollar. He had previously been a C-level executive of one of them and had numerous connections.
We did some other work as well: a little contracts; some wills and trusts; and maybe a little family law. This was from (approximately) late ‘74 to late ‘76.
Shortly after I started working for him, he purchased an IBM memory typewriter and sent me to a one-day class in Century City to learn how to use the thing. It was my introduction to word processing, pretty much at the inception of the concept.
Between learning to skillfully use the device and sending out demand letters, discovery requests, and other miscellaneous documents, I sometimes riffed on the concepts I was conveying with a mix of facts and legal mumbo jumbo, and now and again would fire off a letter or two to friends … just for the fun of it.
Yesterday, while desperately searching for a document I needed in another context, I accidentally came across a couple of those letters. What follows is one of them I sent to my long-time, dear friend Loren.
I’m beginning to think nobody (at least not progressives) should use the word “socialism” any longer. We should replace it with the word “humanism.” This way it’s easier to point to the most important distinction between the two. Capitalism is concerned with capital, i.e. profit/money/wealth/things. Humanism is concerned with humans. Capitalism exalts things over everything else unless there’s a huge regulatory environment seeking to ensure capitalists don’t overreach. Humanism exalts humans over things, and seeks to ensure everyone has the basic things (shelter, food, clothing, healthcare, education) to become a fully realized, contributing member of society.
I know humanism is used differently, but socialism has been saddled with this connotation of authoritarianism, and too many people don’t see the difference between economic systems and systems of governance. Using the word humanism puts emphasis on who we want to benefit from our economic activity … the pipples.
When I was at Rocketdyne, my last job was to research, test, and (if warranted and reasonable) deploy social media and collaboration technologies. Part of the reason I took the early severance package they offered back in 2010 was because I didn’t believe the company was really commmitted to supporting what I was doing.
Now it looks like I’m going to have to resurrect my knowledge of those tools and platforms just so I can interact with my friends and family. For instance, anyone who sees a lot of my posts on Facebook knows I usually go to the gym on Fridays, then out to dinner and for a couple of craft beers with two of my former colleagues from Rocketdyne.
We can no longer do that for the next month or so, and we’ve already talked (texted) about how to get together virtually. Not sure how, but there are lots of options. I’ve been using Slack with Quantellia, but I’m really interested in something free. I’ve used Google Hangouts before and I’ve been reading some good reviews from Zoom users. I don’t think Zoom existed back then, but I’m going to find out about it.
The saying is “necessity is the mother of invention,” and I have no doubt the next few months are going to drive our innovative capabilities and our need to collaborate and work together. While I’m not looking forward to being essentially cooped up in my house with my wife and two teenagers (plus a dog and two cats) I am a little excited about discovering the positive things we can extract from the disruption. I expect there will be far more than most of us can contemplate. Hang in there everyone. Let’s expand that silver lining.
This is another paper I found on my computer. Truth to tell, I have no idea who wrote it. It could have been me, but I don’t remember. I searched the phrase from the title in Google, but could not find anything. Inasmuch as I retired from Rocketdyne (and the pursuit of enterprise-wide KM) nearly 10 years ago, it could be from something I encountered more than a decade ago. Nevertheless, I’m sharing it with the caveat that I’m not claiming to have written it; I’m only asserting it’s an important document for anyone who’s struggling with getting their organization’s people to share their knowledge for the benefit of their company. My experience, as well as my discussion with those who are still involved in the corporate world, is that knowledge sharing is still nowhere near as widespread as I think it should be. So, without further ado, here’s that Baker’s dozen of reasons people aren’t sharing:
don’t know why they should do it. Leadership has not made a strong case for
knowledge sharing. Solution: Have the leader of the organization communicate
regularly on knowledge sharing expectations, goals, and rewards.
don’t know how to do it. They have not received training and communications on
how to share knowledge. Solution: Regularly communicate and conduct training,
webinars, and knowledge fairs. Web-based training and webinar recordings should
be available for all tools.
don’t know what they are supposed to do. Leadership has not established and
communicated clear goals for knowledge sharing. Solution: Establish and
communicate clear knowledge-sharing goals.
think the recommended way will not work. They have received training and
communications but don’t believe what they are being asked to do will work.
Solution: The KM leaders, knowledge brokers, and other members of the KM team
have to convince people in small groups or one-on-one by showing them that it
think their way is better. They are used to working on their own or
collaborating only with a small group of trusted comrades and believe this is
the best way. Solution: Regularly share stories of how others are benefiting
from sharing knowledge using the recommended ways. This should help sway those
stuck in their current ways to consider using better ways.
think something else is more important. They believe that there are higher-priority
tasks than knowledge sharing. Solution: Get all first-level managers to model
knowledge-sharing behavior for their employees, and to inspect compliance to
knowledge-sharing goals with the same fervor as they inspect other goals.
is no positive consequence to them for doing it. They receive no rewards,
recognition, promotions, or other benefits for sharing knowledge. Solution:
Implement rewards and recognition programs for those who share their knowledge.
For example, award points to those who share knowledge, and then give desirable
rewards to those with the top point totals.
think they are doing it. They are sharing knowledge differently than the
recommended ways (e.g., sending email to trusted colleagues or distribution
lists). Solution: Assign people to work with each community and organization to
show them how to use the recommended ways and how they work better than other
ways. Providing a new tool or process which is viewed as a “killer app” – it
quickly and widely catches on – is the best way for the old ways to be replaced
with new ways.
are rewarded for not doing it. They hoard their knowledge and thus get people
to beg for their help, or they receive rewards, recognition, or promotions
based on doing other tasks. Solution: Work with all managers in the
organization to encourage them to reinforce the desired behaviors and stop
rewarding the wrong behaviors.
punished for doing it. As a result of spending time on knowledge sharing, they
don’t achieve other goals which are more important to the organization.
Solution: Align knowledge-sharing processes and goals with other critical
processes and performance goals.
anticipate a negative consequence for doing it. They are afraid that if they
share knowledge, they will lose their status as a guru (no one will have to
come begging to them at the time of need), that people they don’t trust will
misuse it or use it without attribution, or that they will not achieve other
more important goals. They are afraid of asking a question in public because it
may expose their ignorance or make them appear incompetent. Solution: Position
knowledge sharing as being a critical success factor for the organization.
Facilitate ways for people to establish trusting relationships through enterprise
social networks and face-to-face meetings. Recognize those who ask in public,
and provide ways to ask questions on behalf of others.
no negative consequence to them for not doing it. Knowledge sharing is not one
of their performance goals, or it is a goal which is not enforced. Solution:
Work with all first-level managers to get them to implement, inspect, and
enforce knowledge-sharing goals. This needs to come from the top – if the
leader of the organization insists on it and checks up on compliance, it will
obstacles beyond their control. They are not allowed to spend time sharing
knowledge, they don’t have access to systems for knowledge sharing, or they
don’t have strong English language skills for sharing with those outside of
their country. Solution: Embed knowledge sharing into normal business
processes. Provide ways to collaborate when not connected (e.g., using email
for discussion forums). Encourage those with weak English skills to share
within their countries in their native languages.
The last few years I was employed at Rocketdyne, my job – which I essentially created – was to research social media for the purpose of bringing it inside the firewall for internal communication and collaboration.
As a result, I became both well educated in the use of numerous apps and platforms, and excited about the possibilities they represented. When the Space Shuttle program was nearing it’s end, everyone over sixty was offered an early severance package.
After some research I decided to accept the offer, which I characterized as a “gold-leafed handshake.” I was pretty excited about going out on my own and offering social media marketing services to local small businesses. Unfortunately, very few people knew what I was talking about and most businesses remained content to spend $200/month on a Yellow Pages ad that likely got thrown in a recycle bin the moment it arrived.
I’m not entirely certain, but it does seem like things have changed and many more businesses understand the value in promoting via Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc. As a result in finding it easier to get clients to help and supplement my retirement income.
Experimenting with some short form blogging.
I’m sitting in a conference room where I was supposed to meet with a couple finance people to go over our integrated master schedule. Nobody is here except me.
It’s kind of nice not having to deal with anybody, and I log onto my computer at my desk, but it’s just not the same and I’m bored.
Now I’ve moved into another conference room and it looks like I’m gonna be doing the same thing. At least I’m being taken out to lunch today, by one of the very people who’s supposed to be here right now. He will hear about this.
I am both amazed and highly disappointed at the number of people who believe the ability of colleagues to talk to each other via a tool that is either fairly ephemeral and basic (e.g. MS Communicator) or more persistent and inclusive (e.g. MS Yammer or Cisco Jabber) is a waste of their time. One of my least favorite things to hear is “I’m too busy to learn how to do that” or “I don’t have the time to waste on these things.”
How can I help you?
“These things” are designed to improve our ability to share what we know and to find out what others know; not as a lark or just because, but in support of the work we do every day. How often have you remembered there’s some information that’s available to help you out, but you can’t quite recall where you last saw it or who told you about it? Imagine being able to essentially broadcast a question and have it reach dozens or more people, any one of whom might be able to answer the question for you. How is that a waste and in what way is spending 10 or 15 minutes to learn how to use a tool wasteful given how much time it can save in the long run? Even if you only saved 5 minutes per month, you’d be in the black after only a third of a year.
The business world is changing; grudgingly – at least in many places – but nevertheless changing. A long time ago one of my colleagues who had been a student of Deming’s and who was deeply involved in the understanding of systems, offered his belief that the main reason we survived as a company wasn’t so much because of how good we were at what we do. Rather, it was in large part due to the reality that everyone else was much worse. He wasn’t talking about our organization’s technical skills, but rather about our systems and procedures, most all of which exude bureaucracy from every corner.
I believed him then, and I’ve seen nothing to dissuade me from believing it still – even after a nearly five year hiatus and having been back for over six months now. I’m not sure how much longer any organization can continue doing business the way they’ve always done. I can’t possibly predict when it will be too late to change; when another business will match our technical skills and outperform our organizational skills, leaving us – eventually – in the dust.
It will undoubtedly take longer in aerospace than it would in, say consumer electronics, but even with long-term contracts and government funding there has to come a time when failure to learn and modify how things get done, especially those things that rely on people talking to and working with one another, will mark the end of an organization’s viability. I don’t dwell on it, but I do find myself occasionally listening for that other shoe to drop. You?
I’m beginning to see the effects of aging on my proficiency in much of my work; not just the slow and inexorable deterioration of mental acuity, but the slight discomfort I sometimes experience when either writing or typing. Due to my essential tremors, and the loss of flexibility and dexterity that can’t be avoided with aging, I frequently find there are times when I can barely do either. I have experienced instances when the shaking has been so bad I had to stop, stand up, and walk away until the shaking subsides.
For many years I’ve believed as long as I had the ability to type and use a computer, I would be able to communicate and, more importantly, work and earn at least a bit of income to supplement what retirement income I have. Now I’m faced with the possibility a time will come – perhaps not for another decade – when I will not easily be able to do so. I’ve experimented over the years with apps like Dragon Dictate, but I’m so much more comfortable actually having my fingers on a keyboard. If I am forced to do it, I suppose I’ll adapt. The prospect isn’t terribly exciting though.
There’s a little sort of game going on in Facebook lately. Someone is challenged to list three things they’re thankful for for seven days, at the same time tagging a friend each day (or something like that) to do the same. I haven’t been asked to do it, and I have no plans of doing it either, as it just seems too spread out and broad to do justice to the recognition of those things we might be thankful for. Nevertheless, it does give me pause and I have been thinking about what I would say should I choose one or two specific things for which I’m thankful. There is one seemingly mundane thing that keeps popping into my head. My ability to type.
I can’t imagine how different my world would be if I had to use what an old girlfriend of mine called the “search and destroy” method of typing. Most people use the more pastoral term “hunt and peck”, but she spent several tours with the USO in Vietnam and her life was colored by her exposure to that war, the military, and her involvement in the movement to end it. If I were hampered by that inability, my social presence and my ability to communicate would be virtually non-existent.
I was fortunate. In Junior High School I took a typing class; instead of what I haven’t the faintest, but I recall it seeming to be the most useful option at the time. As a result, I learned to touch type. Later on, when I was in Law School, I secured a position as a legal secretary for a sole practitioner who did a lot of contract and property damage work for several of the largest car rental agencies in the country. We were very busy and my workload was challenging enough that my speed increased. I’ve never been as prolific as the best, but I was up to a little over 80 wpm, with few if any errors. That’s not quite as fast as the average person can speak, but it’s a respectable clip.
The IBM Memory Typewriter
The job turned out to be a major turning point in my life, as I was introduced to the early stages of office computing and word processing. We ended up getting an IBM Memory Typewriter, the one built on the correcting Selectric, but with a dial providing memory for 50 separate pages. We moved up shortly to an Artec Display 2000, which used two 8″ floppies and had a scrolling display of approximately 30 characters. I don’t remember if it was LED or LCD, but the characters were red. We used it for pleadings, and wills and trusts.
Back to typing speed and how critical it is to communication in today’s world. I don’t really have to imagine what it would be like, because I had an experience with a colleague that pointed it out rather clearly, though it took months for me to recognize what was happening. I was working with the Director of our newly formed Program Management Office at what was then the Rocketdyne Power & Propulsion business unit of The Boeing Company. We were at almost opposite ends of the main office building in Canoga Park and I was upstairs in what was called The Annex. The distance between his office and my cubesickle was around 400 yards; not a huge distance, but it took time to walk back and forth. Plus it meant passing through the Executive Office area and there were always distractions.
I can’t recall the exact dates, but it was very early in our use of Instant Messenger; so early that I had to point out its value, as most of the older staff (which meant all of the Executives) perceived it as only a toy their kids used to communicate with each other. I kept sending IMs to this Director, but he never answered them, nor did he respond in anything resembling a timely manner to emails, so I was forced to walk to his office repeatedly during the day.
It wasn’t until a couple of months had passed that I happened to be sitting with him in his office and he was answering an email. Watching him type . . . ever so slowly and painfully . . . made it clear why he never responded to me. He had to hunt anew for each letter and, with his two index fingers, peck them out in a long, excruciatingly difficult session. He clearly hated it. I know I was cringing as I watched. I never sent him an IM after that day.
I’m thinking the ability to type is one of those essential tools we seldom think about — perhaps take for granted — without which our world would be far less rich and fulfilling. I can type this post, tweet, post to Facebook, engage in lengthy, spirited debates with dozens of widely dispersed people, and participate in a plethora of other forms of communication or collaboration relatively easily, all because of my ability to type quickly and accurately. I imagine this is true for almost all, if not all, of my friends and acquaintances.
Since “announcing” my nascent book project the other day, I have communicated with four people who were part of the action back in the time I am writing about. One of them reached out and reminded me of some of the things we were involved in that had yet to cross my mind. Two of them I had been in touch with previously and they just happened to answer emails I sent out a couple of days ago. One I called today to give him a heads-up.
Of these four, two are Vietnam veterans; one an Army Engineer, the other an RTO with an Army LRRP team. They both played major roles in my life back then, as their opposition to the war they had fought in strengthened both my belief it was wrong and my resolve to do something to end it. I have a hard time putting into words just how much their friendship meant to me, but I’m going to try.
Right now I’m working on an Introduction; an attempt to explain what I want to accomplish in the body of the book. This is all kind of new to me. Not entirely, as I’ve had the honor and experience of working with a few other people (as an editor or proofreader) on books they’ve written. It’s just that I’ve never done the actual writing before and those books were business books (and a couple of Zombie Apocalypse novels). I’m hoping once I get going a lot of it will just come pouring out. Those were eventful times.
Since my retirement from Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne in 2010, I have spent quite a bit of energy on developing work as a social media marketer for small business, a business manager for an AI software development firm, and as an editor/proofreader for a number of business books and a couple of novels, as well as a two-year return engagement at Rocketdyne from 2015 to 2017.
I have decided to stop actively pursuing business in these fields and am now positioning myself to be a writer. I have done quite a bit of writing over the years, but I’ve never really attempted to make any money at it; at least not specifically. I’m starting out with a couple of memoirs and, currently, I’m studying the craft, creating a detailed outline and timeline, and honing my skills as a storyteller. Pretty sure I’ll be writing some fiction as well.
The views expressed herein are those of the author. Any opinions regarding the value or worth of particular business processes, tools, or procedures, whether at his former place of employment, at a current client's enterprise, or in general, are his responsibility alone.