November 28, 2011

Moving Forward in Reverse


There is "more than one way to skin a cat" and there are those who take the high road, and others who take the low road to get to where they are going.

The Wall Street Journal (28 November 2011) has two articles this morning on how how reverse is the new forward.

"Reverse Mentoring Cracks Workplace" is about how "Top managers get advice on social media, workplace issues from young workers." It's a reverse on the traditional mentoring model where older, experienced workers mentor younger workers; now younger technology savants are teaching their older colleagues some new tricks.

According to the article, Jack Welch championed reverse mentoring as head of GE when "he ordered 500 top executives to reach out to people below them to learn how to use the Internet...fast forward a decade and mentors are teaching theirmentees about Facebook and Twitter.

Really this phenomen of learning from the young is not all that odd, when you think that many, if not most, of technology's greatest advancements of the last 35 years came from college kids or dropouts working out their garages and growing whole new technologies, industries, and ways of doing business.

Another article called "Great Scott! Dunder Mifflin Morphs Into Real-Life Brand of Copy Paper" describes how Staples and Quill have teamed up to market a new brand of copy paper called none other than Dunder Mifflin (from the TV show "The Office" now in its 8th season).

Here again, we are in going forward in reverse. "For decades, marketers worked to embed their [real] brands in the plots of TV shows and movies. Nowadays, they are seeing value in bringing to life fictional brands that are already part of pop culture."

This reminds me of when I started seeing Wonka chocolate bars--originally from the movie, Willie Wonker and The Chocolate Factory--showing up on store shelves.

Whether the young mentoring the old or fictional brands showing up in real life, changes that are the reverse of what we are used too, are not something to "bristle at", but rather are the new normal.

There are many ways to success and we will find them through creativity, innovation, and entreprenuership--any and every way forward.

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November 27, 2011

Running IT as an Ecosystem

The New York Times (27 November 2011) has an interesting article under "bright ideas" called Turn on the Server. It's Cold Outside.
The idea in the age of cloud and distributed computing, where physical location of infrastructure is besides the point, is to place (racks of) servers in people's homes to warm them from the cold.
The idea is really pretty cool and quite intuitive: Rather than use expensive HVAC systems to cool the environment where servers heat up and are housed, instead we can use the heat-generating servers to warm cold houses and save money and resources on buying and running furnaces to heat them.
While some may criticize this idea on security implications--since the servers need to be secured--I think you can easily counter that such a strategy under the right security conditions (some of which are identified in the article--encrypting the data, alarming the racks, and so on) could actually add a level of security by distributing your infrastructure thereby making it less prone to physical disruption by natural disaster or physical attack.
In fact, the whole movement towards consolidation of data centers, should be reevaluated based on such security implications. Would you rather have a primary and backup data center that can be taken out by a targeted missile or other attack for example, or more distributed data centers that can more easily recover. In fact, the move to cloud computing with data housed sort of everywhere and anywhere globally offers the possibility of just such protection and is in a sense the polar opposite of data center consolidation--two opposing tracks, currently being pursued simultaneously.
One major drawback to the idea of distributing servers and using them to heat homes--while offering cost-saings in term of HVAC, it would be very expensive in terms of maintaining those servers at all the homes they reside in.
In general, while it's not practical to house government data servers in people's homes, we can learn to run our data centers more environmentally friendly way. For example, the article mentions that Europe is using centralized "district heating" whereby more centralized data center heat is distributed by insulated pipes to neighboring homes and businesses, rather than actually locating the servers in the homes.
Of course, if you can't heat your homes with data servers, there is another option that gets you away from having to cool down all those hot servers, and that is to locate them in places with cooler year-round temperatures and using the areas natural air temperature for climate control. So if you can't bring the servers to heat the homes, you can at least house them in cold climates to be cooled naturally. Either way, there is the potential to increase our green footprint and cost-savings.
Running information technology operations with a greater view toward environmental impact and seeing IT in terms of the larger ecosystem that it operates in, necessitates a careful balancing of the mission needs for IT, security, manageability, and recovery as well as potential benefits for greater energy independence, environmental sustainability, and cost savings, and is the type of innovative bigger picture thinking that we can benefit from to break the cycle of inertia and inefficiency that too often confronts us.
(Source Photo: here)

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November 26, 2011

Espionage, Social Media Style

You are being watched!
Good guys and bad guys are tracking your movements, rants and raves, photos, and more online.
For example, The Atlantic reported on 4 November 2011 in an article titled How the CIA Uses Social Media to Track How People Feel that "analysts are tracking millions of tweets, blog posts, and Facebook updates around the world."
Further, in January 2009, "DHS established a Social Networking Monitoring Center (SNMC) to monitor social networking sites for 'items of interest.'"
And even more recently in August 2011, DARPA invited proposals for "memetracking" to identify themes and sentiments online and potentially use this for predictive analysis.
The thinking is that if you can use online information to predict stock market movements as some have attempted, why not criminal and terrorist activity?
Similarly, The Guardian reported on 16 March 2010 FBI using Facebook in fight against crime and cautions that "criminals dumb enough to brag about their exploits on social networking sites have now been warned: the next Facebook 'friend' who contacts you may be an FBI agent."
This is reminescent of the work of private sector, Dateline NBC in using Internet chat rooms to catch sexual predators online by luring them to a house where the predators believed they were going to meet up with a underage girl for a tryst.
While these efforts are notable and even praiseworthy by the good guys--assuming you can get over the privacy implications in favor of the potential to have a safer society to live in--these activities should be carefully safeguarded, so as not to infringe on the rights and freedoms of those who behave legally and ethically.
But the good guys are not the only ones using the tools of the trade for monitoring and analyzing social networking activities--the bad guys too recognize the implicit information treasure trove available and have you in their crosshairs.
For example, in the last years Arab Spring, we have nation states tracking their citizens political activities and using their power over the Internet to shut off access and otherwise surpress democracy and human rights. Further, we have seen their use for cyberspying and testing offensive cyber attack capabilities--only the most recent of which was the alleged infiltration of a SCADA system for a Illinois water plant.
Moreover, this past week, Forbes (21 November 2011) reported in The Spy Who Liked Me that "your social network friends might not be all that friendly."
From corporate espionage to market intelligence, there are those online who "steadfastly follows competitors' executives and employees on Twitter and LinkedIn."
In fact, the notion of online monitoring is so strong now that the article openly states that "if you're not monitoring your competitors activity on social media, you may be missing out on delicious tidbits" and warns that "it's easy to forget that some may not have your best intersts at heart."
Additionally, while you may not think your posts online give that much away, when your information is aggregated with other peoples posts as well as public information, it's possible to put together a pretty good sketch of what organizations and individuals are doing.
Forbes lists the following sites as examples of the "Web Spy Manual" with lots of information to pull from: Slideshare, Glassdoor.com, Quora, iSpionage, Youtube as well as job postings and customer support forums.
When you are on your computer in what you believe to be the privacy of your own home, office, or wherever, do not be deceived, when you are logged on, you are basically as open book for all the world to see--good guys and bad guys alike.
(Source Photo: here)

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November 25, 2011

No More Excuses, Please

The New Yorker (24 October 2011) has a clever take on the urge of some--in this case, the privileged--to try and preserve the status quo. However, this can be applied more broadly.
While not an endorsement of any specific movement, this is an acknowledgement of the resistance to change by both organizations and individuals, and the many excuses offered.
Some typical ones we all have heard, in one form or other:
- It's always been this way.
- We've tried "that" before and it didn't work.
- Change is hard.
- Everything is fine just the way it is.
While change for changes sake is obviously pointless, change to adapt to new opportunities and threats is just good business sense.
Additionally, change to address inequalities on inequities is good moral sense.
Of course, we have to vet proposed changes and ensure they are constructive, the best option available, and really doable, so we are not just jumping into something irresponsibly.
When change meets the mark, then to implement it, we have to give it all we've got!
From our leaders, it takes vision, courage, and determination to see what needs to get done, get past the excuses, and inspire change.
From society, it takes sacrifice and hard work to get us to where we must go.
But if it's a destination worthwhile, then we drop the excuses and move to action.

Hopefully, we can recognize when change is indeed, necessary, and not be blinded by our fears and self-serving resistance that hinders the greater good.

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November 24, 2011

Playing For The Good Of The Team


Good Morning America"s Play of the Day is called "Man Plays Baseball With Himself."

In this incredible video a Japanese Astronaut on the International Space Station throws a ball, runs and picks up a bat and hits the ball he just threw, and then jumps up and catches the ball he just hit.

An impossibility in Earth environment, but a possibility in the low gravity of space.

One lesson then is that nothing is really impossible--given the right circumstances, the impossible becomes possible, so have faith in your abilities and understand that your limitations are not insurmountable.

A second lesson is that while this astronaut shows what's it's like to be literally a one-man team and to succeed; in the real world, there are no one man teams--we depend on each other, whether to play a game of ball or to accomplish things from major projects to minor tasks.

On Thanksgiving, a favorite pastime is watching football and the NFL has been playing on Thanksgiving since at least 1920. In general, there is a huge appreciation of team sports in America, whether football, basketball, soccer, and more.

Pedople on sports teams and in organizational settings who get ahead understand the importance of team and that collaboration and strategy is the key to success and to "winning." Those who don't get alone, end up on the sidelines of the game and of life.

Playing alone, especially in space, may make a great video, but working through a difficult problem with others is even a bigger challenge and feat accomplished.

Getting alone is something we try to instill in people in our society from the earliest of ages, but it does not come easy for everyone. That why we describe people in the organization who don't get alone with others as "not playing nice in the sandbox."

Perhaps, this Thanksgiving, we can appreciate the ability of those who are team players as well as those who may be more individualist, as long as everyone is playing for the good of team.

(Source Photo: here)

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November 23, 2011

Where The Biggest Nuts Rise To The Top


According to an article in Mental Floss (November/December 2011) engineers at the Advanced Dynamics Laboratory in Australia in 1996 researched how to mitigate The Muesli Effect, which describes the paradox of how, for example, cereral in boxes tend to separate with the smaller stuff lingering on the bottom and the large chunks rising to the top. This is the opposite of what you'd expect in terms of the larger, heavier pieices falling to the bottom--but they don't.

This is also known as The Brazil Nuts Effect, because the largest nuts (the Brazil Nuts) can rise to the top. While in physics, this may be good, in leadership it is not.

With leadership, the Muesli Effect can led to situations where cut-throat, unethical, workplace operators push their way to the top, on the backs of the masses of hardworking individuals. Unfortunately, these workplace "bullies," may stop at nothing to get ahead, whether it means manipulating the system through nepotism, favoritism, outright descrimination, or political shinanigans. They may lie, steal, kiss up, or kick down shamelessly disparaging and marginalizing coworkers and staff--solidying their position and personal gain, which unfortunately comes at expense of the organization and it's true mission.

Some really do deserve their fortune by being smarter, more talented, innovative, or hardworking. In other cases, you have those who take unjustifiably and ridiculously disproportionately at the expense of the others (hence the type of movements such as 99% or Occupy currently underway). This corruption of leadership begs the question who have they "brown-nosed," what various schemes (Ponzi or otherwise) have they been running, how many workers have they exploited, suppliers squeezed, partners shafted, and customers and investors have they taken advantage of.

Countless such ingenious leaders (both corporate and individual) rise by being the organizations false prophets" and taking advantage of the "little guy"--some examples whether from Enron, WorldCom, HealthSouth, Tyco, MF Global, and Bernie Madoff are just a few that come to mind. These and other examples can be found as well in government, non-profit, as well as educational institutions.

Interestingly, the Museli Effect occurs when you shake a box vertically. However, if you rock it side-to-side, then you reverse the effect and larger and heavier pieces of chaff fall to the bottom letting the precious kernels rise to the top.

This is similar to organizations, where if you focus on working horizontally across your organization and marketplace--on who you serve, your partners, suppliers, investors, and customers in terms of breaking down barriers, building bridges, and solving customer problems--then the real gems of leadership have the opportunity to shine and rise.

In the age of social networking, information sharing, collaboration, and transparency, the reverse Muesli Effect can help organizations succeed. It is time to stop promoting those leaders who build empires by shaking the organization up and down in silos that are self-serving, and instead move to rewarding those that break down stovepipes to solve problems and add real value.

(Source Photo: here)


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November 20, 2011

The Moses Bridge, A Design Inspired By G-d

Really love the design for this "Moses Bridge" located in Holland.
The bridge is stretched out across a moat to reach a historic fortress built in the 17th century to protect against French and Spanish invasion.
It allows people to cross the parted water and reminds me of when the Jewish people left Egypt and crossed the Red Sea parted by G-d through the hands of Moshe.

The amazing design makes it hard to spot from a distance making it part of the fort's defensive camouflage.
I am not sure how they prevent the water flooding in over the walls when the water rises and drowning the proverbial evil Egyptian armies of yesteryear.
I think the greatest designs are inspired by the hand of G-d and this is one of them.

Source Photo 1: here and Photo 2: here

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November 19, 2011

Will You Survive?

If you are interested in your chances of survival in the event of a nuclear blast, check out the website for Would I Survive a Nuke?
I ran the simulation as if was still living in my old neighborhood of Riverdale, New York and 50 megaton bombs were hitting 5 cities with populations over 1 million people.
On the map, you can see the horrible destruction--gone is Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington, D.C.
The concentric circles around each blast shows 5 levels of devastation as follows (associated with the colors zones of red, pink, orange, yellow, and clear/outside the blast):
Devastation
This is not a pretty picture and warrants our consideration of how critically important is missile defense and homeland security is.
This position was advocated by the late Dr. Fred Ikle the former Pentagon official who passed away this week on 10 November 2011--Ikle challenged the status quo policy of MAD asking "Why should mutually assured destruction be our policy?" -WSJ
I, for one, don't like any of the 5 scenarios above and would like to keep our society and way of life going with a strong national security posture that includes the gamut of diplomatic, defensive, and offensive capabilities for safeguarding our national security.
With this in mind, this coming week with the deadline for Super Committee to come up with recommendations for reducing our budget deficit or else the automatic $1.2 trillion cut goes into effect--half of which is to come from the Department of Defense is extremely concerning.
Moreover, with well-known hostile nations having achieved (North Korea) or very near to achieving (Iran) nuclear weapons capabilities, we must take the threats of nuclear attack to us and our allies very seriously or else we can end up with not just scary looking colored concentric circles on a map, but the very real deadly effects they represent.

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November 18, 2011

Milgram And The Moral Fiber Of Leadership

Four year ago (7 November 2007), I wrote a blog called The Milgram Experiment And Enterprise Architecture, which discussed lessons from this experiment in terms of the awesome responsibility that we all have, but especially people in leadership positions, to do the "right thing."

Today, I sat with my mouth agape seeing the Milgram Experiments repeated 50 years later in a study for television, conducted by the Discovery Channel, where they asked "How Evil Are We?"

I watched one participant after another administer what they believed where painful shocks to a another person with a heart condition screaming and begging for the experiment to stop.

Of 11 people, only one women stepped up, stood up, and refused to participate, saying that she could not harm another human being.

All the rest, continued to administer what they thought were painful shocks to an unwilling screaming participant having heart pain, simply by being prodded by a man in a lab coat at the back of the room saying "the experiment requires you to continue" and "it's absolutely essential you continue."

To the viewers horror, the participants continue to to push the lever to shock the other person at an even higher voltage!

When they ask the people afterwards who administered the shock, who would've been responsible if the person receiving the shock had a heart attack and died? one lady immediately turns around and points to the other man in the lab coat.

Like in the evil Nazi death camps, "authority remains a decisive force" and people will do horrible acts saying they were "just following orders."

In the Discovery program, when they add a second person to the experiment who stops the shocking and refuses to go on, only then does the other person refuse as well.

So aside from the lesson that we must always safeguard our own moral compass and do the right thing even in the face of others prodding us to do things that are immoral, unethical, or illegal, we can also learn that by speaking up when we see something wrong, we can indeed influence others to do what's right as well, and in essence "lead by example".

My hope and prayer is that all of us can overcome negative impacts of nature and nurture to see with clarity when something is not right and have the courage to stand up and say and do something about it.

Like the sole participant who refused to administer the shocks and said that she couldn't go home at night and look herself in the mirror if she did these bad things, we too can live our lives so that when we go home to our maker, we can look at our lives with our consciences clear and at peace, and perhaps even having made a real and lasting difference in this world.

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November 16, 2011

Leadership Is Not A One Personality World

An article in the Federal Times (13 November 2011) called "To Change Government's Culture, Recruit Leader, Not Loners" was very unfortunate.
According to the author, Steven L. Katz, "Government in particular, attracts, rewards, and promotes people who want to be left alone. As a result we have a government of loners...seen in the scarcity of people with a healthy balance of substantive and social skills who are needed for leadership, management, and bringing projects large and small to completion."
Katz identifies these "loners" as Myers-Briggs ISTJ--Introverted Sensing Thinking and Judging. Moreover, he proposes that we consider "more people who test in the range of Myers-Briggs ENTJ--Extroverted Intuitive Thinking Judging"--to assume the leadership mantle instead.
In other words, Katz has a problem with people who are introverted and sensing. In particular, it seems that the introversion type really has Katz all bent out of shape--since this is what he rails at as the loners in our organizations. What a shame!
Katz is wrong on almost all accounts, except that we need people who can communicate and collaborate and not just in government:
1) Diversity Down The Toilet--Katz only acknowledges two Myers-Briggs Types in our diverse population--ENTJ and ISTJ. He is either unaware of or ignores the other 14 categories of people on the continuum, and he promotes only one type the ENTJ--1/16 of the types of people out there--so much for diversity!
Further, Katz makes the stereotypical and mistaken assumptions that introverts are shy and ineffectual, which as pointed out in Psychology Today in 2009 (quoted in Jobboom) "Not everyone who is shy is introverted, and not everyone who's charismatic and cheerful is extroverted." Further, shy people are 'routinely misunderstood as cold, aloof, or stuck up."
Katz missed the point as taught at OPM's Federal Executive Institute that all of us have something to learn, teach, and a preferred pathway to excellence.
2) By the Numbers--Contrary to Katz's implication that introverts are a small and social inept portion of population that should shunned, a report in USA Today in 2009 states that '50% of baby boomers are introverts" as are 38% of those born after 1981 with the onset on the modern computing age, Internet, and social media. Interestingly enough, Katz is even dissatisfied with these Millennials who according to him: their "dominant form of communication and relationships is online and on cellphones."
Moreover, according to a 2006 article in USA Today quoted on Monster.com, "Introverts are so effective in the workplace, they make up an estimated 40% of executives."
Included in these successful introverts are people like "Bill Gates, Steven Spielberg, Diane Sawyer, Andrea Jung, and Bill Nardelli"--Sorry, Steve!
3) Situational Leadership Is Key--While Katz is busy searching for personality type scapegoats to government problems, he is missing the point that Myers-Briggs is "neither judgmental not pejorative" and instead "helps assess the fit between person and job" (Reference: The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator in Organizations: A Resource Book).
In fact, according to a recent study published in Harvard Business Review (4 October 2010), introverts are not only incredibly effective, but are "the best leaders for proactive employees." Moreover, HBR points out that "Both types of leaders, the extraverts and the introverts, can be equally successful or ineffectual..."
So for example, Introvert leaders (who are "more likely to listen to and process the ideas") tend to be better leaders in a situation with a extroverted team, while extroverted leaders (who "end up doing a lot of the talking") tend to excel with a more introverted one.
However, the ultimate key according to HBR is "to encourage introverted and extraverted behavior in any given situation"--that is to use situational leadership to lead and manage according to the situation at hand, and not as a one personality type fits all world!
Katz is right that communication and collaboration are critical skills, but he is wrong that there is only one personality type that gets us all there.
(Source Photo: here)

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November 15, 2011

Now That's Flexible



This couch should be the poster child for flexibility.
Absolutely incredible.
It weights about 40 lbs and extends like an accordian in just about any configuration you can imagine.

One minute it's a chair, a bench, a love seat, a couch--it's straight, curvy, a circle--it's short, it's long--whatever you want.

This is what we should aim for--whether it's with technology, leadership, or life--flexibility to meet the needs of the occasion.
Like this couch--be flexible and adaptable yet stable and reliable--and you will amaze!

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November 14, 2011

Relationships, Our Key To Success

I have a new article out in Public CIO Magazine called "Investing In Relationship Remains The Key To Success.

"We've all read about the importance of networking and investing in your relationships--not only upward with leaders and managers, but also peers, employees, and everyone inside and outside the organization. Relationships are the glue that hold us together, enabling the trust and communications that ensure endeavors large and small are completed successfully."

Hope you enjoy the article...and what I learned from the success of John Lennon (not the musician) in South Beach, Florida.

(Source Photo: here)

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November 13, 2011

Designer Bobigner

In a book review in Fortune Magazine (7 November 2011) of "Steve Jobs: The Biography...His Rivalry With Bill Gates", one of Apple's early employees from the 1980's is quoted as saying "Each one thought he was smarter than the other one, but Steve generally treated Bill as someone who was slightly inferior, especially in matters of taste and style."
While Microsoft seemed to lead for many years especially in terms of "business acumen," in the end, Apple built the "more valuable company"--Jobs was the design extraordinare and his imagination for user-centric product designs like the iPhone, iPad, iMac and more touched people in ways that no "other business leader of our time could possibly match."
I have found that not everyone overtly appreciates the importance of design--and in fact, some people make fun of it, almost like children chanting "designer bobigner"--whether because they value function over design or they simply don't have "taste and style" like Steve Jobs complained about his rival.
In either case, I think people who seem or act oblivious to the importance of design are missing the incredible power of those who can develop products with an eye towards beauty, novelty, and functionality combined. A computer is a magnificent thinking machine, but an Apple is generally a work of art.
Think about how people neurotically cover their Apple devices with all sorts of protective cases as if it were a precious jewel instead of a just a phone or computer.
Art is treated as priceless, but a computer is often just a commodity. However, Steve Jobs knew how to combine the functional power of a computer with the design of a master.
While "Big Box" retailers like Wal-Mart and Costco continue to grow and expand, our world seems smaller because of it--their shelves and aisles are stocked high with rows and rows of commodity, look-a-like goods of toothpaste, sweat pants, and TVs; it is easy to forget that those products that are really valuable to us, usually aren't just good to use, but great to hold, feel, and look at.
In this light, I found two product designs that I thought were pretty cool to share.
The first is the white milk container that says Milk and the other is a box of tea bags, each bag with its own hanger for display and use of the side of a cup. The ideas are so simple, yet somehow so creative and appetizing. Two age-old commodities like milk and tea can be made new and special by how we package and meld with it in our environment.
Like the Chinese concept of feng shui, there are brilliant ways to develop our surroundings that energize and inspire, and great design is a magical element in a commodity world and what was not so long ago dominated by the one color black Ford Model-T.
Thank you Steve Jobs and the many other great design minds out there--keep the special things coming that make us say, "I want one!"
(Source Photos: here)


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November 12, 2011

Dale Carnegie's Advice In The Age of Social Media

Dale Carnegie's book "How To Win Friends and Influence People" is a classic (1936) and has sold more than 16 million copies worldwide.
Carnegie was an expert in techniques for self improvement and he conducted corporate training to make people better with other people.
Dale Carnegie's focus on the human capital side of management was a breakthrough in his day when many other management gurus like Frederick Taylor, Henri Fayol, Edward Deming and others were focused on the maximizing the production side of management through time and motion studies, functional specialization, and quality management.
Carnegie recognized that to really get things done in the organization or out, first, we need to be able to get along with others--make friends and influence people.
His ideas are principles that are as true today in the age of social media and telework as in the days of line production.
Some examples and how these might apply today:
1) "Don't criticize, condem, or complain"--It's easy to put somebody or their ideas down, but it's infinitely more difficult to be constructive by offering alternatives or a better way. Today, we try to focus on contributing something positive and being solutions-oriented whether through crowdsourcing, answering questions where you are a subject matter expert, innovating improved business processes or technical solutions, or even just rating or liking what you think is a positive idea or share.
2) "Become genuinely interested in other people"--It's easy, especially today, to become self absorbed in the world of social media, putting out new pictures of yourself, slideshows from your work, videos of your doings, and newsflashes from every moment of your life, etc. However, as Carnegie would point out, this will not make you popular or influential. Rather, use the social web to learn about others, interact with them, and build relationships. In the end, it's not about you, but about building more "we" and "us".
3) "Begin with praise and honest appreciation"--I remember learning in one of the oodles of management and leadership classes that I have been fortunate to participate in that we should always sandwich criticism between two layers of praise. Unfortunately, the praise in this context is usually not of the highest quality and sincerity, or deeply felt. But today, in an age of social media, I think we are learning to all be more open and honest with each other. Heaping praise on people, products, and services that are outstanding and putting criticism where it is due to hold unscrupulous vendors and poor quality products to answer publicly online.
4) "Be sympathetic with the other person's ideas and desires"--It is not always easy to see things from some else's vantage point. We all walk in our own shoes and usually can't stand the smell of someones else's. But in the age of sharing and collaboration, it is not really enough to put your ideas out there and always be right; instead we need to look at things from multiple perspectives, vet ideas, put them to the test, let others improve upon them, and build a better "widget" or decision collaboratively. By sympathizing with where others are coming from and looking for the merits of their points of view and why it is important to them, we can better negotiate a solution that is a win-win for all.
In a sense, I think this is really what Dale Carnegie was trying to get across when it came to winning friends and influencing people, it's not creating a win for me, but about creating a win-win for each other, where we all walk away from the table feeling good that we were not only heard, but also understood and worked with. Then, we all own a piece of the solution; we have skin in the game, and we can work together to implement it as a team of one.
(Source Mind Map: here)

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November 11, 2011

Seeing Is Believing

This robotic seeing eye dog from Japanese company NSK is an incredible display of how technology can help the blind and was profiled in PopSci on 9 November 2011.

While there are reports of many advances in returning sight to the blind through such breakthroughs as stem cell molecular regeneration and camera-like retinal implants, there will unfortunately be medical cases that cannot be readily cured and herein lies the promise for robotic guide dogs.

These dogs do not provide the same companionship that perhaps real dogs do, but they also don't require the same care and feeding that can be taxing, especially, I would imagine, on someone with a handicap.

The Robotic Seeing Eye Dog can roll on flat surfaces and can climb stairs or over other obstacles.

It is activated by a person holding and putting pressure on it's "collar" handle bar.

The robotic dog can also speak alerting its handler to specific environmental conditions and potential obstacles, obviously better than through a traditional dog bark.

The dog is outfitted with Microsoft Kinect technology for sensing and navigating the world.

It is amazing to me how gaming technology here ends up helping the blind. But every technological advance has the potential to spur unintended uses and benefits in other areas of our life.

Recently, I saw an advertisement for MetLife insurance that proclaimed "for the ifs in life" and given all the uncertainties that can happen to us at virtually anytime, I feel grateful to G-d for the innovation and technology that he bestows on people for helping us handle these; sometimes the advances are direct like with Apple's laser-like focus on user-centric design for numerous commercial technologies, and other times these are more indirect like with the Kinect being used for helping the blind, or even the Internet itself once developed by the military's DARPA.

I imagine the technology cures and advances that we achieve are almost like a race against the clock, where people come up with counters to the ifs and threats out there, adapting and adopting from the latest and greatest technology advances available.

Advances such as Kinect and then taking us to the robotic seeing eye dog, bring us a little closer--step by step, each time incrementally--to handling the next challenge that calls.

This week, I was reminded again, with the massive asteroid YU55 speeding past us at 29,000 mph and within only 202,000 mile of a potential Earth collision (within the Moon's orbit!), how there are many more ifs to come and I wonder will we be ready, can we really, and whether through direct or indirect discoveries to handle these.

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November 10, 2011

Tougher Than An iPad



Panasonic unveiled their ToughPad this week--the FZ-A1.

This is a hardened device ready for outdoor use. Rated for MIL-STD-810G, the device is 4' shock-resistant, rated for extreme temperatures, and is resistant to water and dust with IP65 sealed design.

Currently comes in 10" size, but the FZ-B1 device is slated for a smaller 7" screen in Q2 2012.

The toughPad packs a lot of punch: This is an Android 3.2 device with 1.2 GHz dual core,1 GB RAM, 16 GB storage, 2 cameras (back 5 megapixel and front 2 megapixel), anti-glare multitouch screen 768 x 1024 megapixels, a 10 hour repalceable battery, USB, GPS, WIFI 802.11, Bluetooth, and optional 3G mobile broadband.

Optional accessories for vehicle mounting and hands-free holsters.

Priced at around $1299.

Great option for the warfighter, law enforcement, and homeland security professional as well as others working in challenging environments.


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November 6, 2011

Divorce Is Not Funny, Except on SNL

For those of you who watched Kim Kardashian's multi-million dollar Fairy Tale Wedding, this spoof by Saturday Night Live on her divorce, after just 72 days, was a classic.

I must say that watching the endless fighting between Kim and Kris leading up to wedding left many of us wondering how long their marriage would last--my guesstimate was 90 days or less!

Hopefully, Kim will focus not on the fairy tale wedding, but on a loving and mutually supportive relationship in the future.

All the best to Kim and the Kardashians--they are generally awesome to watch.

Some of the best that reality TV has to offer. ;-)

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Desperate For A Meal

I was really moved by an article in The Washington Post (5 November 2011) called "A Hungry Challenge With Food Stamps."
Last week was the launch of the 2nd nationwide Food Stamp Challenge--"part of an interfaith campaign to raise awareness about America's poor."
For one week, Rabbis, Pastors, Imams, and members of Congress (600 people) took part in the program to live on $31.50 a week (or $4.50 per day) for food--the average that an adult gets on the food stamp program.
Intuitively, knowing what food costs these days, it makes no sense!
Even a basic meal from a fast food restaurant costs more than what the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) provides for a whole day.
The money for food is so meager that participants in the challenge report being overwhelmed by thoughts of food--"When am I going to eat? What am I going to eat?"
According to the USDA, food stamp usage has risen to the highest level ever, with almost 46,000,000 Americans on the program (that's more than 1 of every 7 people in this country!)
This is up almost 65% from 28,000,000 people in 2008--just 3 years ago.
With the food stamp program, while better than getting no help at all, people are still surviving on limited types of food and meager portions of things such as lentils, cornflakes, eggs, and so on.
It is frightening and humbling to think that any one of us--or our families--could be in that situation--wondering where our next meal is coming from.
I remember as a kid, before the SNAP program issued the food assistance on debit-like cards, seeing people in the supermarket actually tearing off and handing stamps to the cashier--they never seemed to have enough and invariably had to put back groceries. They were noticeably embarrassed, self-conscious, and fearful--often holding children in their arms or by the hand as they tried to work the math of feeding them all with what was obviously not enough.
While I have not participated in such a program as the Food Stamp Challenge, I am awed by those who take the time and effort to see what such hunger feels like and to learn the lessons of empathy, social justice, and charity.
As we enter the last few weeks of deliberation by the Deficit Panel Super Committee, I am afraid at what $4,000,000,000,000 (trillion) in cuts looks like to our nation and how the very real pain coming will be distributed.
With a nation already feeling squeezed by lost jobs, sunken housing values, near zero interest rates on fixed income investments, an rickety stock market, and global economic challenges from abroad, I wonder how our nation can take the deep cuts that we must without going into economic cardiac arrest.
Yet, Moodys and Fitch are waiting in the wings to downgrade our debt, if we do not embrace the tough love or if we fudge the numbers rather the do what our long-term economic health demands.
I pray that G-d helps us through this challenging period for our country and that the people who are hungry today and those that may suffer tomorrow are spared by the almighty in his everlasting mercy.
(Photo Source: here)

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November 5, 2011

Dilbert Shows The Way to User-Centric Government

Scott Adams the talent behind Dilbert comics and numerous books wrote a fascinating column in the Wall Street Journal (5-6 Oct. 2011) called "What if Government Were More Like an iPod."
Adams has some great ideas and here's a few:
1) Leverage Group Intelligence--"group intelligence is more important than individual genius...thanks to the Internet we can summon the collective intelligence of millions." While certainly in government, we are using social media and crowd sourcing to leverage group intelligence by making information available to the public (e.g. Data.gov), engaging the public in innovating new applications (e.g. Apps for Democracy), getting feedback and comments on regulations (e.g. Regulations.gov), soliciting policy ideas and petitions from citizens (e.g. We The People) and more, this is only a start. We can continue to advance engagement with people on everyday issues to come up with solutions for our biggest and toughest challenges. One example for doing this is utilizing more tools like Quora to put out questions to subject matter experts, from every spectrum of our great nation, to come up with the best solutions, rather than just rely on the few, the loud, or the connected.
2) Voting With Understanding--"Voting [the way we currently do] is such a crude tool that half of the time, you can't tell if you're voting against your own interests. Change can take years...and elected officials routinely ignore their own campaign promises." Adams proposes a website to see the "best arguments for and against every issue, with links to support or refute every factual claim. And imagine the professional arbiters would score each argument." I can empathize with what Adams is saying. Think of the healthcare act in 2010 that was over 2,500 pages or the 72,000 page tax code--there is a reason people are overwhelmed, confused, and calling for plain language in government communications such as the Plain Language Act. There is obviously more to be done here using user-centric communications and citizen engagement, so that the average citizen with bills to pay and a family to care for, can still participate, contribute, and vote with understanding unmarred by gobbledygook, "the weight test", and politicking.
3) Campaigning More Virtually--Make it "easy for voters to see video clips, interviews, debates, and useful comparisons of the candidates positions. In the modern era, it does't make sense for a candidate to trek all over the country on a bus." Too much of the political process is the shaking hands and kissing babies--the showmanship of who looks better and talks more sleekly versus focusing on the policy issues. While it is important to present favorably, lead and influence and bring people together, it is also critical to get the policy issues out there clearly and without flip-flopping (which should be reserved for burgers only). The media plays a role in keeping the political candidates on their toes and honest, but the process itself should vet the issues in written commitments by candidates and not reversible sound bites on TV.
4) Quicken The Innovation Cycle--"I'm fairly certain Ben Franklin wouldn't be impressed by our pace of innovation. He invented the post office and showed us electricity and it still took us nearly 200 years to come up with email. We're not good at connecting the dots." This is an interesting point, but it sort of misses the mark. There are lots of good--even great--ideas out there, but from my perspective on organizations, execution is usually the stumbling block. In fact, according to Wikipedia, the Patent Office has a backlog of over 700,000 patent applications as of October 2010, so new ideas are plentiful, but how we work those ideas and make them come to fruition is a project management and human capital challenge. While email seems like just a dot or few dots away from the post office and electricity, there is obviously a lot of groundwork that needs to be laid to send an email from DC to Jerusalem in split seconds.
In short, Adams summarizes his convictions for government change in advocating a form of User-Centric Government (my term). Adams actually proposes a 4th branch of government (I think he really mean a new agency) to manage "user-interface" or what I understand him to mean as citizen engagement. Adams describes this new agency as "smallish and economical, operating independently, with a mission to build and maintain friendly user-interface for citizens to manage their government." Adams would advance the achievement of his ideas and hopes for leveraging group intelligence, voting with understanding, campaigning virtually, and quickening innovation. I believe Adams idea builds on the concept of a Federal agency for innovation that has been proposed previously over the years by The Industry Advisory Council and others to be modeled after the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA).
While there are arguments for and against creating another government agency for driving user-centric government, creating more and better user engagement through understanding and participation is fundamental and aligns with our core principles of democracy and as a global competitive advantage.
While Government is not Apple, learning from some of the best and brightest like Steve Jobs on how to reach people intuitively and deeply is a great way to go!
(Source Photo: here)

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November 4, 2011

What's In That Container?

Ever since 9-11, there has been acute concern about preventing "the next" big attack on our nation.
Will it be a suitcase bomb, anthrax in the mail, an attack on our mass transit systems, or perhaps a nuclear device smuggled into one of our ports--all very frightening scenarios!
The last one though has been of particular fascination and concern given the amount of commerce that passes through our ports--more than 95% of our international trade--and hence the damage that could be done to our economy should these ports be hit as well as the challenges in being able adequately screen all the containers coming through--a massive undertaking.
Wired Magazine (November 2011) did a feature story on this topic in an article called "Mystery Box."
The article highlights the unbelievable damage that could occur if a dirty bomb ("a radiological dispersion device") were to get through in one of the millions of 20 foot long by 8 foot wide shipping containers out there--aside from the risk to lives, "it would result in a major national freak-out...cause billions and billions of dollars in economic damage...dirty bombs are weapons of mass disruption."
While 99% of shipping containers are scanned when they arrive in the U.S., DHS is supposedly challenged in implementing a bill requiring scanning every container before they enter the U.S.--"some 66,000 [containers] a day."
Instead "100 percent screening" is being pursued where, shipping information is checked before arrival--including vessel, people, and cargo, origination, and destination--and when an anomaly or cause for concern is detected--if there is a U.S. Customs Officer at the origination port, they can check it there already.
However, there are still at least four major issues affecting our port security today:
1) Most containers are still checked only once they actually get onshore.
2) The scanners are too easily foiled--"most detectors are set to ignore low radiation levels. [And] basic shielding would be enough to mask all but the strongest sources."
3) Thoroughly scanning every container is considered too time-consuming using current processes and technology and therefore, would adversely affect our commerce and economy.
4) Around the world "Customs tends not focus on containers being transshipped [those moving from ship to ship]. Their attitude is 'It's not my container, it's just passing through.'"
This is a perfect example of technology desperately needed to address a very serious issue.
Certainly, we cannot bring our economy to a standstill either by unnecessarily checking every "widget" that comes over or by risking the catastrophic effects of a WMD attack.
So for now, we are in a catch-22, darned if we do check everything as well as if we don't.
This is where continued research and development, technological innovation, and business process reengineering must be directed--to secure our country sooner than later.
The risks are being managed best we can for now, but we must overcome the current obstacles to screening by breaking the paradigm that we are boxed into today.
(Source Photo: here)

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November 3, 2011

Cloud, Not A Slam Dunk


Interesting article in Nextgov about the deep skepticism of cloud computing by the Corporate IT Pros.

The vast majority of IT practitioners questioned did not "believe so-called infrastructure-as-a-service providers protect e-mail, documents and other business data.”

So while many business people think that Cloud Computing is more or less safe, the IT community is not so sure.

Of 1,018 professional surveyed (of which about 60% were from IT)--only 1/3 of the IT professionals thought the cloud was secure versus 50% of the business compliance supervisors.

Cloud is not a slam dunk and we need to evaluate every implementation very carefully.

(Source Photo: here)

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