Friday, May 28, 2010

Freedom Isn't Free

Maybe it's my age, maybe it's the silent list of those killed in action at the end of the News Hour or maybe it's the impact of having just finished watching all ten episodes of The Pacific on HBO or some combination of the foregoing plus the fact that it is Memorial Day weekend that prompts this post. Who knows?

When I say my age, I am of the generation that was born just before WWII, so while I was aware that my father was "away" I really was too young to connect any dots. When the war was over I was six and about the most I remembered was handing a bouquet of flowers to the MPs at the base in Tallahassee, Fla.

Because I was so young, as I grew older and was exposed to programs such as Victory at Sea, it still all felt like the good guys against the bad guys and since you knew who "won" it was neat to watch, but even as a young adult, it didn't all hit home.

It wasn't until even later on that I began to read some histories (e.g. Truman by David McCullough) that I began to realize just how close we had come to losing what I took for granted every day, to the point where I rarely thought about it at all.

Fast forward to today, and I have to say when I look around and see the sort of thing that Steve McCallion has so eloquently portrayed in his post on Fast Company, it worries me a lot.

There is much I could say about it here, but as I say, it would do an injustice to McCallion's piece but if you have not read it, read it.

I have been fortunate enough to be in some countries at a time when the acknowledgements of the kind that McCallion's article references have taken place, and they are powerful, emotional and stick with you.

It is quite a feeling when no matter where you are or what you are doing everything comes to a total halt, and for sure is a different feeling than eating hot dogs that come wrapped in red, white and blue napkins.

The moments of silence that we sometimes have at sporting events are nothing by comparison in helping a nation to remember things like freedom isn't free until one sees their world simply stop.

If we did this as a start, maybe generations who have yet to relate will start to internalize the fact that there are some things where the term video game is an oxymoron.

Monday, May 17, 2010

That Time of Year

I live in a town just outside of Providence, RI. Of course, now that I think about and given the size of RI, I guess almost any town in RI is "just outside of Providence.

Be that as it may, I am happy to report that despite its size, Providence still has a daily newspaper; actually a pretty good one by my "lay person" standards which are pretty much made up of a criteria that includes large print, very little coverage of the Yankees, the virtually daily stories reporting with great color commentary which local politician has been arrested for what, and really good forecasts as to when the blues will be running.

There is also a columnist named Mark Patinkin who is syndicated around and about, but happens to live in Providence. Not that his living there is of any real import, just something for us to get puffed up about and living in RI, hopefully readers will understand that we need all of that we can get.

Anyway, to the crux of the post; Patinkin recently wrote a piece called Best advice? The simplest which as you might guess it being this time of year was what he called his own "low-key guidance".

I don't want to spoil it for those who might want to check out the whole column, but how far wrong could anyone go by knowing things like: "..Life is easier if you hang clothes instead of stuffing them in drawers" or "..It's all right to ask for a fork in a Chinese restaurant."

By this point some of you may be wondering where the business/career leadership point is since much of what I post here ends up in that arena in one form or another. Well, I thought there really was one.

Mr. Patinkin also had a couple of other pithy "tweets" that anyone who aspires to a leadership role in the years ahead or who may be in one now could do well to keep in mind:
- "A key test of character is how you treat salespeople."

- "It doesn't count as listening if you're thinking what you going to say next."

- In both hockey and life, skill matters but it matters more to really want the puck."
I think this sort of stuff applies equally well to the classes of '10 as much as it still rings true for those of us of with rings from '61.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

The Data-Driven Life

They don't call it the digital age for nothing I guess and further proof showed up recently on the NY Times site with the publiation of an article written by Gary Wolf who, if you read the print article in the May 2nd Sunday Times magazine, you will already know writes about science and social issues for Wired, where he is a contributing editor. The article is called The Data-Driven Life. I found it a fascinating read.

Among other things it made me stop and think much more carefully about the degree to which data plays a role in our lives, both business and personal. If you believe what Wolf has to say in terms of the impact data has, you haven't, as the saying goes "seen nothin' yet."

From a business perspective it made me wonder if those executives who suffer from what back in the day was called analysis paralysis would soon become extinct or whether as data gathering becomes more and more sophisticated if those same executives would all of a sudden become the super heros of the corporate universe not to mention cyberspace.

Seemed to me one could make the argument on both sides and have an equal chance of making the right call.

On the other hand, as we all know data is just data until someone interprets and draws from it conclusions as to how it can most effectively be used to make decisions for the organization.

It was when I reminded myself of this last thought that I started to feel a bit better that maybe we were not all destined to be replaced by R2 D2 and/or C-3PO.

I found myself thinking that while technology continues to move at a pace that is harder to follow than re-runs of trauma cases arriving on ER, that at the end of day no matter how much data we are able to draw from the system value judgements will have to be made and so long as that holds true, people not machines will continue to manage the systems not the other way around.

And before you start sending in cards and letters that remind me that while all this may be true, given our track record as a species we would not likely get too many Oscar nominations for the decisions made to date, hopefully the advances about which Mr. Wolf has written will help us to do a better job.

Those who work with us and for us are probably hoping the same thing.