February 28, 2011
February 27, 2011
February 26, 2011
I read an interesting article in Harvard Business Review (March 2011) called “Zoom In, Zoom Out” by Elizabeth Moss Kanter.
In the article, Kanter states that “the best leaders know when to focus in and when to pull back.”
The idea is that like a camera lens, we can choose to zoom in or out—and change perspectives in the way we see the world.
Perhaps, more importantly in my mind, it is the change in our perspective, that can change the way we, as leaders, behave across three dimensions—in handling ourselves as people, in decision making, and in problem solving.
I have summarized in the graphic (above) how the different perspectives of when we zoom IN and OUT manifest across those three critical leadership dimensions.
Overall, zooming IN and OUT with our leadership lens differs in terms of the impact of Ego versus Institution on how we view the situation; whether decisions are driven primarily by politics or principles; and whether problems get solved using quick fixes or long-terms solutions.
Zooming IN: helps us get into the weeds and deal with the dirty details. It involves dealing with people, process, and technology issues—up close and personal. Typically, to get a problem fixed—there are internal politics and some horse trading involved. Resolution of the problems on the ground are typically based on “who you are and who you know” and being structurally, situationally, and practically-oriented.
In contrast, Zooming OUT helps us see the big picture and focus on principles. It involves pulling back from the nuts and bolts to focus on the long-term strategy. Problems are treated as puzzle pieces that fit neatly into patterns. These are used to find “underlying causes, alternatives, and long-term solutions.” Sometimes appearing a little remote or aloof (reserved), at the extreme like an ivory-tower effort, the focus is clearly on the Institution and vision setting.
According to Kanter, “the point is not to choose one over the other, but to learn to move across a continuum of perspectives.”
I would say that zooming IN is typically more like a manager and OUT generally more like a leader. But that a polished leader certainly knows when and how to zoom IN to take the management reins, when appropriate, and then zoom OUT again to lead in the broader sense.
One thing that I think needs to be clear is that those that can effectively build relationships and teamwork will show greater success whether zooming IN or OUT.
In the end, we can all learn to go along and get along as each situation dictates. As they say, “blessed be the flexible for they never get bent out of shape.”
February 22, 2011
Government Technology Magazine reports in February 2011 that Aspirnaut is transforming school buses into mobile classrooms, so that ”idle time is transformed into extended learning time with laptop computers and Internet access.”
The Hector School District buses are now equipped with computer screens, earphone jacks with headphones, wireless Internet, and scanning devices to record bus activity.
“The five 19-inch customized computer screens stream math and science content from PBS, NASA, the Discovery Channel, CBS News, and the Smithsonian Institution for students to watch on their hour-long rides to/from school. The screens also include video-conferencing capability.”
Students are seated on the bus in groups by age and grade to listen to their specific curriculum by plugging their headphones into jacks beneath their seats. The content of each bus-seating zone is then correlated to what the students are learning in the classroom.
Dr. Julie Hudson, co-founder of the program in 2007, is looking to improve student’s achievements, especially in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM). These are learning areas where we have fallen dangerously behind in national rankings, and this is seen as harming our innovativeness and competitive capacity for the future.
On one hand, I think that this type of extended learning program is very valuable to our students and provides them the opportunity to get additional constructive learning time in. Also, it’s great to distract them from getting into potential trouble on the ride home. :-)
Yet, on the other hand, I am also concerned that we continue to put more and more pressure on our children to seemingly always be productive, learning, and competing. Some examples of this are not just extended learning days (on buses or off), but also extended school years, even summer school, AP classes, SAT courses, some wonderful volunteer programs, internships, oodles of extra-curricular activities, side jobs, and more. Certainly seems like it’s not easy to be a kid these days!
Now, even a simple bus ride to/from school/home is no longer a time to unwind, sleep, socialize, listen to music, play video games, or just be kids. Even the choice of video content on the buses is purely educational and there is nothing social, fun, or relaxing for the children anymore. How about an episode of The Brady Bunch?
While, I certainly understand the need for us to advance our education, skills, and competitive positioning, and the learning bus is a great concept to move us towards that. However, I cannot help but remember a more innocent and carefree time in my own childhood, where there was “a time and place for everything.”
Then (not that long ago!), we took learning seriously and worked hard—always with a focus on the future (What will I be…Where do I want to end up…How can I live up to my potential?), but we also made sure to have time for friends and fun—downtime and think time. Today however, with the high-tech, always on, 24/7 society that we are creating for our children and ourselves, are we losing a sense of balance, perspective, even our innocence (so to say)?
In relation to this, I wonder sometimes about the Kingdom of Bhutan’s concept of measuring Gross National Happiness instead of what we measure Gross National Product, and I ask myself, where is our school bus heading?
February 21, 2011
- LCD Television
- Appliance Veneer
- All Weather
- Wall Format
- Work Surface
- Electronics Ready
- Large Panel
- 3-D TV
February 19, 2011
The Wall Street Journal this week (17 February 2011) had a scary and thought-provoking editorial called “Is Your Job an Endangered Species.”
The thesis is that “Technology is eating jobs—and not just obvious ones like toll takers and phone operators. Lawyers and doctors are at risk as well.”
The notion is that while technology creates opportunities for some, it is a major threat to many others.
The opinion piece says to “forget blue-collar and white-collar-workers.” Rather, think in terms of workers who are either “creators” or “servers”.
Creators—these are the innovators: programmers, researchers, and engineers. They are “the ones driving productivity—writing code, designing chips, creating drugs, and running search engines.”
Servers—these are jobs to service the creators: “building homes, providing food, offering legal advice,” etc. These jobs are ripe “to be replaced by machines, by computers, and by how business operates.”
These two categories of labor are similarly portrayed in the movie I. Robot with a vision of society by 2035 that has engineers (“creators”) from U.S. Robotics building robots and then masses of robots walking around side by side with people and performing everyday tasks from the delivering packages to caring for the sick (“servers”).
With manufacturing jobs continuing to move overseas to the “lowest price bidder” and service-based jobs at risk as we continue to make advances in robotics and artificial intelligence, there are a number of important questions that will challenge us:
1) Are the Creator jobs (augmented by the left-over service jobs that don’t go to robots or AI) enough to keep our population fully or even near fully employed?
2) Can almost everyone (no matter what their intellectual capability and curiosity) be expected to perform in the functional job category of creators?
3) Can we transition the preponderance of our society to be engineers and programmers and scientists and inventors—especially given our challenges in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), and is this even desirable?
According to the WSJ editorial, there are a few givens:
- Momentous change in the job market is upon us: “Like it or not we are at the beginning of a decades-long trend” in changing employment prospects.
- Jobs are going to be destroyed: “There is no quick fix for job creation when so much technology-driven job destruction is taking place.”
- New jobs will be created: “History shows that labor-saving machines haven’t decreased overall employment even when they have made certain jobs obsolete.”
One of the major problems with the rapid pace of the technology boom we are experiencing is that job market has not had time to adjust—and the “legacy” labor supply is out of equilibrium with the emerging market demands.
Therefore, until new jobs and the associated education and training catch up to meet the demands of a changing society, we are going to suffer severe job dislocation and unemployment that will be enormously painful for many years yet to come.
In terms of what the gamut of new jobs will end up being in our society, surely it will involve areas of critical need such as energy independence, ongoing medical breakthroughs, necessary security advances, high-speed transportation, and so much more.
In all cases though, we can expect that those workers that bring innovation and modern technical skills “to the table” will have the distinct advantage over those that cling to jobs past their technological prime.
Digital natives will have the advantage here; digital immigrants need to adjust to the seismic shift to the employment landscape that is still only just beginning.
February 18, 2011
February 15, 2011
February 13, 2011
Time Magazine (10 February 2011) has an interesting article called “2045: The Year Man Becomes Immortal.”
No, this is not about the typical quest of man for immortality, but rather it is a deep dive on The Singularity—Ray Kurzweil and Vernor Vinge’s concept of technological change becoming so rapid (through exponential growth) that there will be a “rupture in the fabric of human history.”
In astrophysics, the term Singularity refers to the point in the space-time continuum (such as in a black hole) where the normal rules of nature (i.e. physics) do not apply.
In terms of technology, the notion of The Singularity is that computing gets faster and faster (related to Moore’s Law) until finally the radical change brought about by the development of “superintelligent” computers make it incredibly difficult for us to even predict the future.
Yet predictions are exactly what these futurists attempt to provide us for the post-Singularity era, and while science fiction for now, these are viewed as serious contenders for human-kinds’ future.
Here are some possibilities posited:
- Human-Machine Blending—“maybe we’ll merge with them [the computers] to become super-intelligent cyborgs.”
- Physical Life Extension (or Even Immortality!)—“maybe the artificial intelligences will help us treat the effects of old-age and prolong our life span indefinitely.”
- Living In Virtual Reality—“maybe we’ll scan our consciousnesses into computers and live inside them as software, forever.”
- Man-Machine At War—“maybe the computers will turn on humanity and annihilate us.”
Whether you can believe these specific predictions or not, Kurzweilians all seem to adhere to a common belief “in the power of technology to shape history.”
Certainly technology enables us to do amazing things, which we would never have seriously dreamed of not so very long ago—I am still trying to get my mind around a computer, smartphones, the Internet, and more.
Yet, I worry too about the overreliance on technology and the overlooking of the hand of G-d guiding our journey towards a purpose with technology being the means and not the ends.
Often I marvel at both the pace of technological change and the capabilities that these advancements bring us. But at the same time, I think of these great technological leaps for mankind the same way as I do a Beethoven symphony or Leonardo da Vinci masterpiece—that it is inspired by a higher source, it is a gift from above.
So in this light, as I think about the four Kurzweilian predictions, I must essentially discount them all, since I do not believe that in G-d’s love for us that his intent is to turn us into either cyborgs, aimless immortals, virtual human beings, or to be utterly annihilated by a race of machines.
Nevertheless, these predictions are still valuable, because they do provide a “north-star” for us to guide us to constructive improvements in the human condition through robotics, artificial intelligence, biotechnology, virtual reality as well as warnings of the potential destructive power of technology unconstrained.
One thing is certain about Kurzweil and the other futurists, they have my admiration for taking a strategic, big picture view on where we’re headed and making us think in new and unconventional ways.
February 11, 2011
It’s the eternal battle of Man vs. Machine—our biggest fear and greatest hope—which is ultimately superior?
On one hand, we are afraid of being overtaken by the very technology we build, and simultaneously, we are hopeful at what ailments technology can cure and what it can help us achieve.
In spite of our hopes and fears, the overarching question is can we construct computers that will in fact surpass our own distinct human capabilities?
This week IBM’s Supercomputer Watson will face off against two of the all-time-greatest players, Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter in a game of Jeopardy—at stake is $1.5 million in prize money.
Will we see a repeat of technology defeating humankind as happened in 1997, when IBM’s Supercomputer at the time, Deep Blue, beat Garry Kasparov, world-champion, in chess?
While losing some games—whether chess or Jeopardy—is perhaps disheartening to people and their mental acuity; does it really take away from who we are as human beings and what makes us “special” and not mere machines?
For decades, a machine’s ability to act “more human” than a person has been testing the ever-thinning divide between man and machine.
An article in The Atlantic (March 2011) called Mind vs. Machine exposes the race to build computers that can think and communicate like people.
The goal is to use artificial intelligence in machines to rival real intelligence in humans and to fool a panel of judges at the annual meeting for the Loebner Prize and pass the Turing test.
Alan Turing in his 1950’s paper “Computing Machinery and Intelligence” asked whether machines can think? He posited that if a judge could not tell machine from human in text-only communication (to mask the difference in sounds being machines and humans), then the machine was said to win!
“Turing predicted that by the year 2000, computers would be able to fool 30% of human judges after five minutes of conversations.” While this has not happened, it has come close (missing by only one deception) in 2008 with an AI program called Elbot.
Frankly, it is hard for me to really imagine computers that can talk with feelings and expressiveness—based on memories, tragedies, victories, hopes, and fears—the way people do.
Nevertheless, computer programs going back to the Eliza program in 1964 have proven very sophisticated and adept as passing for human, so much so that “The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease" in 1966 said of Eliza that: “several hundred patients an hour could be handled by a computer system designed for this purpose.” Imagine that a computer was proposed functioning as a psychotherapist already 45 years ago!
I understand that Ray Kurzweil has put his money on IBM’s Watson for the Jeopardy match this week, and that certainly is in alignment with his vision of “The Singularity” where machines overtake humans in an exponentially accelerating advancement of technology toward “massive ultra-intelligence.”
Regardless of who wins Jeopardy this week—man or machine—and when computers finally achieve the breakthrough Turing test, I still see humans as distinct from machines, not in their intellectual or physical capabilities, but ultimately in the moral (or some would call it religious) conscience that we carry in each one of us. This is our ability to choose right from wrong—and sometimes to choose poorly.
I remember learning in Jewish Day School (“Yeshiva”) that humans are a combination—half “animal” and half “soul”. The animal part of us lusts after all the is pleasurable, at virtually any cost, but the soul part of us is the spark of the divine that enables us to choose to be more—to do what’s right, despite our animal cravings.
I don’t know of any computer, super or not, that can struggle between pleasure and pain and right and wrong, and seek to grow beyond it’s own mere mortality through conscious acts of selflessness and self-sacrifice.
Even though in our “daily grind,” people may tend to act as automatons, going through the day-to-day motions virtually by rote, it is important to rise above the machine aspect of our lives, take the “bigger picture” view and move our lives towards some goals and objectives that we can ultimately be proud of.
When we look back on our lives, it’s not how successful we became, how much money and material “things” we accumulated—these are the computerized aspects of our lives that we sport. Rather, it’s the good we do for our others that will stay behind long after we are gone. So whether the computer has a bigger database, faster processor, and better analytics—good for it—in the end, it has nothing on us humans.
Man or machine—I say machine, checkmate!
February 6, 2011
February 5, 2011
There is an inspirational essay by Elbert Hubbard written in 1899 called “A Message to Garcia” that is about taking initiative and getting the job done.
Here is an abstract:
“When war broke out between Spain and the United States, it was necessary to communicate quickly with the leader of the insurgents. Garcia was somewhere in the mountains of Cuba—no one knew where…the President must secure his co-operation, and quickly…Rowan was sent for and given a letter to be delivered to Garcia…[he] strapped it over his heart…landed by night off the coast of Cuba…disappeared into the jungle, and in three weeks came out the other side of the Island having traversed a hostile country on foot, and delivered his letter to Garcia.”
Garcia is held up by Hubbard as an iconic worker who can “act promptly, concentrate their energies: do the thing.”
And the right way for a worker to perform, according to Hubbard (in my words) included:
- Attention and care to the job
- Independent action/autonomy
- Cheerfulness (or a good attitude)
- Integrity to carry out their work with or without supervision
Elbert Hubbard emphasizes a strong work ethic that can be best summarized when he states:
“My heart goes out to the man who does his work when the ‘boss’ is way, as well as when he is at home [interesting that this was written before modern telework!]. And the man who when given a letter for Garcia, quietly takes the missive, without asking any questions, and with no lurking intention of chucking it into the nearest sewer, or of doing aught else but deliver it.”
Hubbard’s essay sold over 40 million copies and was translated into 37 languages. It was also made into two movies. The message of Garcia as a model employee obviously resonates far and wide.
Reading the essay, which is written in “Old English,” it was surprising to me that the management challenges we face today are the same ones that were apparently confronted already 100 years ago.
It seems that the search for great employees – meaning those who can generate results, are accountable for delivering value, and are customer-centric - is timeless!
“A Message for Garcia” is truly a call to action for all. No matter what level on the career ladder we occupy, and no matter what organization we serve, what we do for our jobs does matter. Let us “own it” and own it well, just as if we were delivering the President’s message to Garcia.
February 4, 2011
Jim Bueermann, former Chief of Police of the Redlands Police Department in California is a visionary when it comes to his adoption of iPhones and iPads for law enforcement.
I was fortunate to have met Chief Bueermann recently when he shared his experiences with Apple technology.
Earlier than most people, Bueermann saw how smartphone and tablet technologies could change the way his department could do business. He understood that information available to his people was as potent a force as a physical advantage.
This video shows his officers using it on the beat and back in the office - it's ubiquitous for them.
On the Apple profile, Bueerman states: "It allows them (his workforce) to look at satellite maps, access the Internet, send emails, and take photos of potential victims and subjects."
Lt. Catren of the Redlands Police says that "Having all this information at your fingertips and being able to share it instantaneously with other officers in the field is invaluable" and has led in many cases to identifying perpetrators and capturing suspects.
In the video, we see police officers using mobile technologies for everything from capturing information to giving presentations, from sharing suspect photos to analyzing and reporting on criminal activity, and from scanning property to taking and watching video surveillance.
I like when one of his officers explains that because of the portability and ease of use of these technologies, they are basically "made for law enforcement."
Moving to iPhone and iPads (and Droid devices etc.) with all the available innovative Apps at the touch of button is a culture change organizationally, but also it is a game-changer for how we use information technology anytime and anywhere for protecting people and saving lives.
Just because a technology is user-friendly, doesn't mean that it isn't "serious business."
Redlands PD is a great illustration, although on a small scale, of how we can adopt what was only a few years ago considered "consumer technology" and use it to great effect in the enterprise.
While Apple doesn't have a monopoly on this technology, it is certainly a good example.