This is another in what may be a frequently recurring thread about my health . . . and it’s progression (or deterioration) as I age. I wrote about my experiences with essential tremors and, a short while ago, mentioned some issues I’m having with my eyes. As I was driving home today after meeting my former boss (who, now that he’s retired, is writing a wonderful blog on Program Management and Risk Management) for lunch and to discuss collaborating on a post or two, I noticed something interesting.
Actually, it wasn’t so much that I noticed anything new; just that I saw it in a different way. I was looking at a truck that had some block letter printing on the side and I realized my eye issue made it appear as though the lettering had a nice drop shadow. Now, I’ve always liked the drop shadow as a way of highlighting text and I’ve used it quite a bit in many of the designs I’ve worked on. I now find it ironic that everything I look at has a drop shadow. I mean everything . . . at least until I get about 30 feet away.
I haven’t determined yet if this is dangerous or merely an interesting diversion. Stay tuned!
Being semi-retired (or, as I like to think of it, part-time retired) has its advantages. It is, however, a strange time for me and, I imagine, for most people who find themselves suddenly idle or at least not having to be somewhere every weekday. After so many years of working, not having to do anything in particular is a bit on the weird side.
To tell the truth, I have been looking for something useful to do almost since the day I left Rocketdyne, but I have taken some time to – shall we say – smell the roses. One of the things I did was to find myself driving around local neighborhoods looking for, and taking pictures of, interesting curbside mailboxes. This happened because we had a nice brick mailbox built for our house and I suddenly developed an interest in them. I never much bothered looking before.
Smile! You're on Candid Mailbox
So I started driving around looking for exemplars of particular types, e.g. brick, wood, stone, and especially whimsical ones. I discovered it was a gold mine and before I knew it I had close to two hundred pictures of various types of mailboxes, all suburban, curbside ones. What to do with them? I considered several things. Creating a coffee table book; writing an illustrated ebook; etc., as well as using the collection to develop a useful taxonomy, thereby getting some practice at the type of organization necessary to do it right.
Then someone suggested I create a blog and share the pictures. Well, since I already had a blog (this one!) on WordPress, I thought that was a great idea and I created “Going Postal”. So, here I’m sharing a couple of pictures of my favorites, along with the link to my other blog. I’ve still got lots of pictures, I’ve been sent a half dozen by friends and even a person I don’t know, and I expect I’ll get out there again and take a few more. I’ve seen some more interesting mailboxes lately.
I am also using the blog to sort of memorialize this suburban icon, as I am fairly convinced mail as we know it will soon disappear. It just makes too much sense. If most people are like me they throw away much of what they get and we all know it’s just a huge waste of paper. Anyway, I discuss my prognostication a bit on Going Postal. You can read it there if you like.
Well, I’ve finally decided to go out in earnest and get some clients. I don’t think I’ve mentioned much (if anything) about what I had hoped to do with my life after leaving Rocketdyne and, frankly, it was a bit amorphous in my mind for some time as well. I keep looking for ways in which the knowledge I’ve gained over the years can be put to good use for others. I’m beginning to see some fairly clear outlines of just how I might be able to do that. It isn’t all about “clients” either.
Today I met with the Principal of my youngest daughter’s school, Sycamore Elementary in Simi Valley; on Friday I am meeting with the Principal of my other daughter’s school, Vista Elementary also in Simi. I decided a while back I wanted to see if I could bring something to the table that might improve the educational system . . . some small but significant contribution I might offer that would take advantage of my Knowledge Management, Social Networking/Computing experience, as well as my overall skill set acquired from well over four decades of business experience.
Today’s meeting was a bit of serendipity, actually. I take my children to school every morning, dropping the older one off first, then dropping my youngest off on the way back home. Today I also walked the youngest in and watched her play a bit before class started. I then went into the office to talk to the Principal. My intent was to have essentially the same conversation I had with the Principal at Vista. After all, it resulted in an appointment to delve further into the issues. All that I could have asked for. I discovered today was the one day out of only a few in which she has set aside some time to have coffee and a chat with whichever parents happened to show up. Lucky for me!
Double lucky . . . the President of the PTA was there as well. She was very interested in what I suggested which, btw, was that I learn how they do “business” with an eye toward discovering ways they can take advantage of new tools, services, and techniques that might relieve them of any pain they’re experiencing. I know they’re experiencing it. You can’t be paying attention and think the schools and their ancillary organizations aren’t suffering from any number of headaches and problems which would improve the educational experience for students, teachers, parents, and administrators alike if they could be even partially solved.
So that’s what I offered to give to both schools. I have suggested I can afford to put in at least four hours a month per school and I am both willing and eager to do so. I plan on taking the same attitude to commercial and industrial establishments as well. I believe there are lots of ways in which social computing can be put to good use for small, medium, and large businesses. I also believe there are a lot of people out there who are holding themselves out as Social Media “Experts”. I am not doing that. I’m merely saying I think I can help – first and foremost – understand what kinds of problems any particular organization has that they want to address. Only then can they even think about what tool, service, process, or technique might serve to do so.
In order to drum up business that will actually make me income, I have developed my first piece of “Collateral” to leave behind after visiting the organizations I offer my services to. Anyone who is following me on Twitter, is my friend in Facebook, is connected with me through LinkedIn, reads this blog, or connects with me in any one of numerous other ways probably knows I’ve shared a few presentations I’ve given in the past – when I was still an employee of Rocketdyne. They can be found on Slideshare, here. I want to share what I’ve done in creating a brochure to leave behind after an initial conversation with a prospect. My intent is not for this brochure to introduce me, but rather to serve as a reminder of the conversation I expect to have with whoever it is I’m discussing these things with.
I know, from my years of pursuing knowledge in this field, through literally hundreds of conversations on the subject, and from following and reading the work of dozens of people whose intelligence I have nothing but the deepest respect for, that almost anyone; every process; every business; yes, even every institution – up to, and including, those of government at any level – could be improved through the intelligent application of social computing. Of course, every situation is different. The City Council here in Simi surely would neither benefit from, nor require, the same thing that might benefit the U.S. Senate, and a small restaurant surely doesn’t require the same capabilities that a large manufacturing or distribution enterprise would find helpful.
So . . . that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it. Below are the two pages of a three-fold brochure I’m going to get printed shortly and start bringing with me as I literally knock on doors. It’s not the only method I intend on using, but it gets me out of the house, and that’s a good thing. I’d be interested in any feedback those of you who might read this post have to offer. I’m a work in process. Aren’t we all?
Click on Image for Larger (Legible) Version
Click on Image for Larger (Legible) Version
P.S. – Special thanks are due to my friend Luis Suarez, who was kind enough to look over what I had done and make some very useful observations and suggestions. Thank you so much, Luis. You are one of those people whose presence I value dearly.
In the over two decades I worked at Rocketdyne I never had anything near “state-of-the-art” technology available to me. This isn’t surprising. After all, most – if not all – large companies have security issues they must deal with, and by the time they’ve fully tested any hardware or software they’re going to roll out to the enterprise and then support, quite a bit of time necessarily has passed. In a world that changes as rapidly as tech, that pretty much ensures nobody will be using the latest thing.
So, thanks to one of those occasional confluences of events we sometimes refer to as serendipity, after leaving Rocketdyne and as I was getting ready to travel to the Enterprise 2.0 Conference in Boston, MA, I decided to give myself a 63rd birthday present and purchase an iPad. I resolved to take it with me to the conference instead of a laptop, convinced the experience would be worth whatever inconvenience it created. More about that in a moment.
Although I went to the Apple store with the intention of purchasing the 16 gig, wi-fi model, I discovered they didn’t have any. While I was talking to the guy from whom I had purchased our two iMacs, he went to the back of the store to check on availability and discovered someone had canceled their purchase of the 64 gig, 3G model. Well . . . it was my birthday after all and, with very little hesitation, I decided to pull the trigger and spend the extra few hundred dollars. I’m glad I did, especially for the 3G model. I also just got in under the wire for AT&T’s $29.99 per month unlimited plan. Unless they’ve changed (and I’ve not seen it either way) that plan is no longer available for new users.
My plan for the conference was to take my iPad and my Bluetooth keyboard with me. I had already tested and confirmed it worked fine (though I didn’t have a stand for the iPad yet). I was hoping to be able to both live tweet from the sessions, and to blog here as I took some time to reflect. Unfortunately, halfway to the airport I realized I had left the keyboard at home. Now I was constrained to use the built-in, virtual, touchscreen keyboard. The challenges were increasing dramatically. So . . . here’s what I learned so far.
From my perspective, although manageable, the keyboard kind of sucks. It is very sensitive which, for many purposes, is just fine. However, for typing it is what I can only describe as unforgiving. If I don’t hold my hands somewhat rigidly over the keyboard, I am very likely to barely touch a key that isn’t the one I want to touch. For a touch typist this is very annoying. After all, it’s the ability to touch a keyboard that makes it possible to type without looking. Interestingly (and not a little ironically), the graphical representation of the keyboard shows the little nipples on the F and J keys! What’s that all about? They serve no purpose I can discern. Not only can’t you feel them, you can’t touch those keys without invoking them . . . so what’s the point?
The keyboard is also (if I’ve measured and calculated correctly – no guarantee here) approximately 20% smaller than my iMac’s keyboard, measuring from left to right on one set of keys. I’m not even bothering to measure other portions of the several keyboards available, depending on what you’re doing, as the scale is fairly consistent throughout. Let me just say the keyboards need some work, in my opinion. For instance, to get to the hashtag (all important when tweeting from something like a conference and, yes, I know many apps provide the ability to insert hashtags, but you still have to initiate their use) requires two keystrokes just for it to appear, then another to actually use it. This is but one of the combinations I find somewhat cumbersome. I find this unacceptable and I’m hopeful Apple will be able to provide a more useful set of keyboards once they realize how this works. Then again, maybe my experience is not mainstream enough and they just won’t care.
OK, enough of the difficulties. Overall, I had a great experience with my iPad. I used it everywhere; that’s where the 3G capability proved invaluable, even if it is AT&T. (For the record, my wireless experience – which spans well over ten years – is entirely with Verizon, dating back to when it was AirTouch here in California. Although my experience with AT&T is less than a month old, I can read!)
Two examples: On the first day of the conference I was pretty unclear on the best way to get there from my hotel, which was about six miles away in Chelsea. I was able to take the hotel shuttle to the airport, but from there I had to take the Silver Line bus to within walking distance of the Westin Boston Waterfront, my final destination. I got off at the wrong station and was unsure of the best way to get to the hotel. I invoked the maps and charted a pedestrian course to the hotel, holding the iPad flat in front of me and just following the directions it gave me. Worked like a charm.
Small, tall, and Black & White
The second example is more fun and, since the hotel wi-fi wasn’t available, the 3G capability was invaluable. I needed to participate in a telecon and GoToMeeting with two colleagues in Philadelphia and a potential client in Austin. I went in to M. J. O’Connor’s (an Irish pub in Boston – imagine that!) where the hostesses were kind enough to allow me to sit in a closed area that was reasonably quiet. I called into the telecon and, because I have a Bluetooth earpiece, I was able to lay my BlackBerry down and use it to provide a bit of an angle for the iPad, on which I had logged into the meeting space. As I was sitting there, for a moment I thought back to my childhood of dial telephones, party lines, and tiny black and white television screens in gigantic consoles. I was living the future I once visited in my imagination! I could have done virtually the same with a laptop, but the angle of the iPad made me feel as though I was peering through a kind of wormhole into this amazingly clear and colorful, collaborative space. It was magical.
That’s some of my experience over the last few days. Next up, some of my thoughts about Enterprise 2.0 and the conference, as well as some personal experiences and impressions.
Whenever most people talk about technology and people my age, it amazes me how many assume we can’t set the time on a VCR (remember those?) or that our view of IM is that it’s a tool primarily useful for young teenagers to plot their escape from under their parents’ watchful eyes. Perhaps, as a generalization this is somewhat true, but it’s not really a correct depiction of how we more “mature” folks use and view technology. The reality is far more complex.
As someone who struggled for well over two decades to bring the latest technology into a large, ponderous, and eminently cautious aerospace company, I have encountered all types of people, from foot draggers (lots of them) to early (and enthusiastic) adopters. Obviously, my favorite is the latter but the challenge really presents itself in the former. One thing I found is that things aren’t always as they seem either.
For instance, I was working with a person who was the Director of a newly formed organization. He was nearing the end of his career, which had been very successful. He was a wonderful person; friendly, helpful, and full of joy and excitement for his job and the work of others. He was very supportive of using newer technology yet, despite continuous efforts to engage him in instant message conversations (our offices were quite a ways apart), he never responded to me. Frustrating!
One day I happened to be in his office to talk with him for a while. As I was sitting there he was composing an email. It was then I realized why he wouldn’t answer my IM communication attempts. He used what an old friend of mine used the call the “search and destroy” method of typing; what most call “hunt and peck”. Carrying on an IM conversation for him would be like talking with a very bad stutter and it just didn’t leave him with a warm fuzzy, so he did the best thing for him. He opted out.
So be careful how you categorize or pigeonhole people. This very successful individual had spent a long career doing just fine without IM. As much as I believe it was a superior tool for communication and that it served to enhance our ability to share (I sometimes now think of it as a stunted form of micro-blogging) information and knowledge, virtually all of his career had proceeded rather nicely without it. I knew I had to accept this and make adjustments.
He retired within a year and I, for one, was very sorry to see him go. Keep in mind there are many more wonderful people in your organizations like him – to one degree or another. Don’t shortchange them or your company by selling them short just because they don’t see the use of technology exactly like you do.
So it looks like Twitter is going to add annotations to their service. Developers will now have the ability to provide for “tacking on” (as I understand it) more information, whether it be metadata or some other type of distinguishing information, via newly provided fields or other ways of accessing the extra space provided. I came across, via Kendall Thiessen (@ideasurge), a very interesting article on the concept – with lots of discussion about the different ways in which it might be used (links, extended tweets, languages, etc.).
My favorite part of the discussion, written by Mal Curtis, is where he talks about what problems this new capability could surface. The first issue he raises is closely related – I think – to the long-standing issue (argument?) between the use of a taxonomy (with its accompanying structured vocabulary) and that of a folksonomy (which can be characterized similarly to the author’s as a “Wild West” approach).
I also really like the first comment, from R_macdonald, which begins (and I can’t tell if he’s being a bit facetious here or if he’s just a bit more wound tight than I am), “Good post Mal, you are on top of a remarkably extensible chance for substantive innovation on the Twitter platform.” He goes on to discuss the semantic web and Tim Berners-Lee’s dream for a far more transactional and interactive web. All very interesting in my estimation.
Not being a real Techie, though, I’m curious to know what others may thing about this upcoming addition to Twitter and how it will (or can) be used by others developing apps to utilize this extension of Twitter’s capabilities. Anybody out there?
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.
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.
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.