January 31, 2010

Nurture Diversity to Achieve Better Results

Diversity is essential to critical thinking, innovation, and improved decision-making/governance. The more ways we have at looking at a problem, the more likely we can be to challenge the status quo, break old paradigms, and find new and better ways of doing things.

However, according to the Wall Street Journal, 25 January 2010, often diversity—even at the highest levels, such as on boards of directors—doesn’t produce the desired results.

WHY? “People often feel baffled, threatened or even annoyed by persons with views and backgrounds very different from their own. The result is that [those]…with views or backgrounds that are different are isolated or ignored. [Moreover,] constructive disagreements spill over into personal battles.” In the end, Groupthink and poor decision-making—rather than diversity and constructive dialogue—prevails.

Therefore, the imperative to improve governance mechanisms is “to unlock the benefits of diversity, boards must learn to work with colleagues who were selected not because they fit in—but because they don’t.


1. Assist Newcomers”—Help new people to fit in. Explain how things work and how they can play an important role. Introduce them to others, provide them opportunities to connect, and make them feel comfortable to share their points of view.

2. Encourage Dissent—“diverse boards must not be afraid of conflict, as long as it is constructive and civil.” Alternate views should be encouraged, recognized, and even rewarded for benefiting the governance process.

3. Ask Everyone What They Think-- It is easy for new people “to tire of the struggle of making themselves heard. Feeling isolated and ignored, they end up self-censoring.” Obviously, this is counter-productive to having diversity and hurts decision-making. So the chair of the board needs to make it easy for people to express their views and to elicit participation from everyone around the table.

4. Assign a “Devil’s Advocate”—choose different governance board members to play the role of devil’s advocate at different meetings to counter the inclination for everyone to agree just to get along and fit in.

Overall, the key to benefiting from diversity on governance boards is not to let any individual or any group predominate. The proverbial “my way or the highway” approach is how decision-making becomes one-sided, narrow, and deficient. Instead, every one on the board must be treated with respect, courtesy, and be given the opportunity to speak their mind.

In my opinion, leaders must ensure that governance boards do not just create an appearance of diversity, but rather encourage a genuine and productive encounter between very different people that is richer for the interaction.


January 30, 2010

Diplomacy and the Pitfalls of Dictatorship

Let's say yes to sound governance, and no to absolute power...

Power is a strange thing: the more you have, the more you want – it’s never enough. It’s an addiction of the soul that often results in poor decision-making and project failure.

I remember a teacher in high school that used to repeat to us the maxim that “absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Obviously someone has to be in charge and get things done, but there is more than one way to achieve results:

The first and crudest method that we have seen since the dawn of humankind is dictatorship. This is the aforementioned tendency for those in power to collect it, savor it, and protect it—and to want to wield it alone. Often those with power, not enlightened by the benefits of sharing and “checks and balances,” like to hold decision-making power for themselves. While perhaps made “in consultation” with others, it is their decision and theirs alone to make. Thus, decisions by the individual are more subjective, prone to mistakes, and driven as much by gut, intuition, and personal whim as by real facts. Furthermore, those who have to carry out the decisions do not understand them as well and are not as committed to their success because they weren’t fully part of the process.

A better method is diplomacy, when we work with others to strategize, collaborate, and vet decisions. Working with others in this way may often costs more in terms of time and effort upfront to “work though the issues,” but invariably these result in better and less-costly decisions being made in the long run. Diplomacy works especially well when the group you are working with is diverse and can bring a variety of experiences and perspectives to the table. You end up seeing things in ways that you would have missed otherwise.

Working through the decision process with others on a governance body (councils, boards, committees)—with individuals representing the universe of our stakeholders—provides a solid mechanism for all perspectives to be heard and for decisions to be scrutinized and challenged before being implemented. This is what good governance is all about.

Of course, there are occasions when diplomacy may fail and governance bodies may become dysfunctional. When groups fail to work together, dictators can sweep in and take over or, on the other hand, there can result endless bickering, a state of analysis paralysis, and no decisions being made at all. This is why governance must be well defined, structured, have an end-to-end process, and clear roles and responsibilities.

Although sometimes dictators can be brilliant and effective in getting things done and we can all think of business leaders who fit this style, too often these individuals can become drenched in their own “absolute power”—falling victim to ego and selfishness, and making decisions that are not in the best interest of the organization. This is a condition that must be countered with solid, structured organizational governance, in which decision-makers work with others collaboratively and share in the decision-making process, and the collective interests and those of the organization as a whole are put above those of the individual. In this way, diplomacy protects us from the whims and errors of dictatorship.

This is one of the nice things about our system of government, where despite the many strong differences of opinion and results that we may not always agree with, the system of checks and balances results in governance by the people for the people, where everybody has a chance to participate and be heard.


January 27, 2010

Lessons in Perseverance

I thought this short video provided some excellent examples of people who had some significant life failures only to go on to amazing successes in those very same areas. Everyone has something positive to contribute.



January 24, 2010

Andy Blumenthal Talks About Social Media At AFCEA Breakfast

Speaking - Afcea - January 2010 by Andy Blumenthal
Download now or listen on posterous
Speaking-AFCEA-Jan 2010.mp3 (10938 KB)

Subscribe to my podcast feed here: itpc://andyblumenthal.posterous.com/rss


January 23, 2010

Strategic Decision Making Trumps The Alternative

A strategist frequently has to temper the desire for structured planning and strategic decision making with the reality of organizational life, which includes:

· Organizational politics (who has the power today to get their way).

· Subjective management whims (I think, I believe, I feel, but mainly I want—regardless of objective facts).

· Situational knee-jerk reactions (due to something that broke, a mandate that came down, an audit that was failed, and so on)

· People with some cash to throw around (they have $ and “its burning a hole in their pockets” or can anyone say “spend-down”?).

The result though of abandoning strategic decision-making is that IT investment decisions will be sub-optimal and maybe even big losers—some examples includes:

· Investment “shelfware” (the seals on the packages of the software or hardware may never even get broken)

· Redundant technologies (that drain limited resources to operate and maintain them)

· Systems that are obsolete by the time they make it into production (because they were a bad idea to begin with)

· Failed IT projects galore (because they never had true organizational commitment and for the right reasons)

Why does strategic decision-making help avoid bad organizational investments?

1) Having a vision, a plan, and an enterprise architecture trumps ping-pong balling around in the firefight of the day, because the first is goal-oriented—linear and directed, and the second is issue-oriented—dictated by the problem du-jour, and generally leads to nowhere in particular.

2) Having a structured governance process with analysis of alternatives and well-thought out and transparent criteria, weightings, and rankings trumps throwing an investment dart into the dark and hoping that it hits a project with a real payoff.

3) Taking a strategic view driven by positive long-term outcomes for the organization trumps an operational view driven by short-term results for the individual.

4) Taking an enterprise solutions view that seeks sharing and economies of scale trumps an instance-by-instance approach, which results in gaps, redundancies, inefficiencies, and systems that can’t talk with each other.

5) Taking an organization view where information sharing and horizontal collaboration result in people working together for the greater organizational good, trumps functional views (vertical silos) where information is hoarded and the “us versus them attitude,” results in continuous power struggles over scare resources and decisions that benefits individuals or groups at the expense of the organization as a whole.

Certainly, we cannot expect that all decisions will be made under optimal conditions and follow “all the rules.” However, as leaders we must create the organizational structures, policies, processes, and clear roles and responsibilities to foster strategic decision-making versus a continued firefighting approach.

Understanding that organizations and people are imperfect and that we need to balance many competing interests from many stakeholders does not obviate the need to create the conditions for sounder decision-making and better organizational results. This is an IT leader's mandate for driving organizational excellence.

While we will never completely get rid of the politics and other sideline influences on how we make our investments, we can mitigate them through a process-driven organization approach that is based on a healthy dose of planning and governance. The pressure to give in to the daily crisis and catfight can be great that is why we need organizational structures to hold the line.


January 22, 2010

Checklists: Safety Nets or Strangleholds

Many functions in government are guided, if not driven by checklists. For example, federal information technology management has many checklists for enterprise architecture reviews, capital planning and investment control, IT acquisition reviews, configuration management, systems development life cycle, IT security (FISMA), Privacy, Section 508, and more.

One of the frequent criticisms is that these functions are just compliance-based and are not focused on the real-world task at hand—whether it be planning, governing, executing, servicing, securing, and so on. For example, many have said that FISMA needs to be amended, because our IT security staffs are so busy with their compliance checklists and reports that they are not adequately focused on strategically or operationally securing the enterprise from attack. Similarly, EA review boards have been criticized for being an almost thoughtless checklist of architecture alignment to the FEA and not of real planning value.

Yet, inherently we know that checklists are valuable and that is why they have been so heavily mandated and incorporated into our processes. Without the checklists, we know from past experiences with failed IT projects, poor IT investment decisions, and security issues that many of these could have been prevented if only we had thought to ask the right questions, and so these questions got codified—and we learned from some of our mistakes.

With regard to this, there was a fascinating book review in the Wall Street Journal on a book called “The Checklist Manifesto” by Atul Gawande.

The author:

Mr. Gawande makes the case that checklists, plain and simple, save lives and we need them. He cites examples of “how stupid mistakes in surgery can be largely eliminated through pre-operative checklists” and how “checklists first became the norm in aviation, where pilots found that minor oversights in sophisticated planes led to tragic crashes.”

Overall, the book’s author maintains that “checklists seem to be able to defend everyone, even the experienced against failure in many more tasks than we realized. They provide a kind of cognitive net. They catch mental flaws.”

The reviewer:

The reviewer points out the important flip side to checklists as follows: “Bureaucracy is nothing but checklists. That’s part of what’s wrong with government—officials go through the day with their heads in a rulebook, dutifully complying with whatever the lists require instead of thinking about what makes sense.”

The reviewer makes the point that someone in authority needs to use judgment and that means: “relying on individual creativity and improvisation—the opposite of a checklist.”

The review goes on to then try and address the seeming contradiction between the need and value of checklists and the stifling effect that it can have by pointing out that “The utility of formal protocols [i.e. checklists, standard operating procedures (SOPs), etc.] varies with the nature of the activity—some activities are highly systematized, like engineering and other dependent on the judgment and personality of the individual. Spontaneity and imagination are important in many jobs.”

So there you have it—checklists—are helpful in defined, routine, almost mechanized areas where we can identify and itemize the necessary tasks, they are common to its performance, and they are proven to help avoid frequent oversights and mistakes. But where agility and innovation is called for, checklists can lead to either bureaucracy and/or missing the mark in getting the job done.

So are checklists helpful or hurtful with technology?

On one hand, technology is a fast-changing, innovative field that drives organizational transformation and thus it cannot primarily be a checklist function. Technology requires visionary leaders, talented managers, and customer-driven staffs. There isn’t a checklist in the world can inspire people, build meaningful customer relationships, and solve evolving, large and complex business problems.

On the other hand, there are common IT operational functions that need to get done and well-known pitfalls, and for these areas checklists can help us not make the same dumb mistakes again and again. For example, we can check that we are not making redundant IT investments. We can verify that appropriate accessibility for the handicapped has been provided for. We can safeguard people’s privacy with appropriate assessments.

The place for checklists in IT is pretty clear:

· STRANGLEHOLDS—Checklists cannot be a stranglehold on our business performance. They are not a substitute for thinking and doing. They cannot replace dedicated, talented, hardworking people addressing challenging and evolving business requirements with new and improved processes and technologies.

· SAFETY NETS—Checklists are safety nets. They are codified best practices and lessons learned that help us in not making routine, yet costly mistakes again.


January 21, 2010

Andy Blumenthal Talks About Social Media

Check out this SlideShare Presentation:

January 17, 2010

A Winner Goes the Extra Mile

I recently came across this poem called "A Winner’s Attitude." I don’t know who the author is, but I really like the poem. The poem has valuable leadership lessons, especially when it comes to serving our customers in earnest, overcoming challenges and obstacles, and always striving for betterment and growth. Hope you enjoy it as I did.

A Winner's Attitude

A winner always has a program.
A loser always has an excuse.

A winner says, "Let me do it for you."
A loser says, "That's not my job."

A winner sees an answer for every problem.
A loser sees a problem for every answer.

A winner says, "It may be difficult, but it's possible."
A loser say, "It may be possible, but it's too difficult."

A winner listens.
A loser just waits until it's his turn to talk.

When a winner makes a mistake, he says, "I was wrong."
When a loser makes a mistake, he says, "It wasn't my fault."

A winner says, "I'm good, but not as good as I could be."
A loser says, "I'm not as bad as a lot of other people."

A winner feels responsible for more than his job.
A loser says, "I just work here."


January 16, 2010

Customer-driven IT Management

For many years, we have witnessed the failures of excessively product-driven management, where companies focus on the development and sales of products (from automobiles to toaster ovens) to their customers—whether the customers really want those products or not. This was epitomized by the “build it and they will come” mentality.

Numerous companies faltered in this over-the-top product mindset, because they were focused not on satisfying their customer’s needs, but on selling their wares. Think GM versus Toyota or the Days Inn versus The Four Seasons.

Now however, organizations are moving from product- to customer-focused management, with the basic premise that organizations need to engage with their customers and assist them in getting the most value out of whatever products meet their requirements best. In the world of IT, this is the essence of user-centric enterprise architecture, which I created and have been advocating for a number of years.

Harvard Business Review, in January-February 2010, has an article titled “Rethinking Marketing” that asserts that “to compete, companies must shift from pushing individual products to building long-term customer relationships.”

· Product-driven companies—“depend on product managers and one-way mass marketing to push a product to many customers.”

· Customer-driven companies—“engage individual customers…in two-way communications, building long-term relationships.”

The old way of doing business was to focus on the products that the company had to offer and “move inventory” as quickly and profitably as possible. I remember hearing the sales managers yelling: “sell-sell-sell”—even if it’s the proverbial Brooklyn Bridge. And the driver of course, was to earn profits to meet quarterly targets and thereby get bigger bonuses and stock options. We saw where that got us with this last recession.

The new way of doing business is to focus on the customer and their needs, and not any particular product. The customer-driven business aligns itself and it’s products with the needs of its customers and builds a long-term profitable relationship.

“In a sense, the role of customer manager is the ultimate expression of marketing find out what the customer wants and fulfill the need), while the product manager is more aligned with the traditional selling mind-set (have product, find customer).”

The new model for a customer-driven enterprise is the epitome of what social computing and Web 2.0 is really all about. In the move from Web 1.0 to 2.0, we transformed from pushing information to stakeholders to having a lively dialogue with them using various social media tools (like Facebook, Twitter, blogs, discussion boards, and many more)—where customers and others can say what they really think and feel. Similarly, we are now moving from pushing products to actively engaging with our customers so as to genuinely understand and address their needs with whatever solutions are best for them.

In a customer-focused organization, “the traditional marketing department must be reconfigured as a customer department [headed by a chief customer officer] that puts building customer relationships ahead of pushing specific products.”

I think that the new organizational architecture of customer-driven management is superior to a product-focused one, just as a emphasis on people is more potent that a focus on things.

Similar to customer-driven management, in User-centric enterprise architecture, we transform from developing useless “artifacts” to push out from the ivory tower to instead create valuable information products based on the IT governance needs of our customers.

Further, by implementing a customer-focus in information technology management, we can create similar benefits where we are not just pushing the technology of the day at people, but are rather working side-by-side with them to develop the best solutions for the business that there is.


January 15, 2010

Transformation That Can Succeed

Many organizations seek transformation. They are mired in paper even though we as a society have long moved to a digital age. They are organized around silos, despite the revelation that enterprise can function more effectively as one. They are overcome by day-to-day operational issues and are busy fighting fires, instead of focused on long-term strategy and execution. These are just some of the dysfunctions organizations seek to transform from.

But many transformations fail and they do so big time, leaving dispirited employees, disgruntled managers saying I told you so, and organizations hobbled in outmoded processes and legacy technologies, with the rest of the world seemingly passing them by. If they do nothing, they risk becoming obsolete, irrelevant, and a mere artifact of history.

Why do so many transformations fail and how can we help to convert these failures to successes is the topic of a Harvard Business Review (HBR) article titled “Accelerating Corporate Transformations (Don’t Lose Your Nerve)” by Robert H. Miles in January-February 2010.

Here are some of the major hurdles and what we need to do to overcome them:

· Self Interest (or the “I” factor): Those who control the most resources or institutional assets tend to monopolize discussions, trump new ideas, and strong-arm decision-making, thereby reinforcing the status quo” and the security of their own corporate kingdom. I personally think this is one of the most difficult challenges to organizational change, because you have managers (i.e. they are not genuine leaders!) whose self-interest trumps organizational progress. The author calls for compelling all executives to confront reality and work together, but this isn’t a prescriptive answer, rather it is more of a wish. In my opinion, the mandate for change must come from the very top and everyone needs to be held accountable for genuinely helping the organization changes succeed.

· Organizational capacity to change—“In most cases, the day-to-day management process is already operating at full capacity…there isn’t room within the established systems to plan and launch a transformation.” The author calls for a parallel launch with small visible victories. While, small victories are good, this doesn’t really address how the organization can carve out the time, resources and commitment in the face of already stressed people, processes, and systems. I believe that you must make the investment distinct from your regular operations (this is not a collateral duty!) and form a high-level transformation office that reports to the senior executive. The transformation office is elevated from the organizational silos and works horizontally to make change happen. This means that traditional organization boundaries become transparent for process improvement and technology enablement. However, this cannot be a proverbial, ivory tower effort, but it must be well thought out, focused, and inclusive. The transformation office must engage all stakeholders across the organization in visioning, planning, and executing change initiatives.

· Change gridlock—“Workers capacity to execute will become a choke point if the programs are not prioritized and sequenced.” The author calls for limiting change initiatives to 3 or 4. This creates organizational focus. While I agree that you do not want to overwhelm the organization with too much change too fast, I find this somewhat at odds with the authors notion of “launches must be bold and rapid to succeed.” In my mind, it is not the launches that must be bold and rapid, but rather the goals that must be bold and the transformation should be allowed to proceed in a logical sequenced phases so that the organization can achieve learning, proficiency, and sustainability. Last thing we want to do is build a house of cards. At the same time, I don’t believe there is a magic number of initiatives, but rather that this is dependent on the resources available, the size and complexity of the change initiatives, and the organizational readiness and capacity for change.

· Sustaining transformation—“The more intensive and engaging the transformation launch, the harder it is to sustain the heightened levels of energy, focus, and performance.” The author recommends a “launch redux” to continue the transformation. I’m not convinced you need an annual or periodic revival of the initiative, but rather I believe that’s what’s called for is the following: leadership continuity and commitment, the continued development and nurturing of a shared vision of what transformation means, and ongoing performance management and measurement to see the change through. I believe that people will support the change process if they can see that it is purposeful, reasonable, inclusive, and that the commitment is real and sustained.

The truth is that no major and meaningful change in our personal or organizational life is short or easy. If it were fast and easy, it probably wouldn’t be so darn pivotal to our future.

Transformation is a risky, but necessary endeavor. We should not be afraid to make mistakes and learn from these. The greatest change and growth comes from the striving itself. As others have noted, it is the journey—to the destination—that is truly critical.


January 11, 2010

Do What's Right--Anyway

I read this amazing poem and wanted to share it. It is wise and inspiring and provides leadership and life lessons for all.
Mother Teresa's Anyway Poem
People are often unreasonable, illogical and self-centered;
Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives;
Be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some false friends and some true enemies;
Succeed anyway.
If you are honest and frank, people may cheat you;
Be honest and frank anyway.
What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight;
Build anyway.
If you find serenity and happiness, they may be jealous;
Be happy anyway.
The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow;
Do good anyway.
Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough;
Give the world the best you've got anyway.


January 10, 2010

Motivated by Progress

There are all sorts of theories about what motivates people. The two most popular are Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and Hertzberg’s Theory of Motivation.
Maslow (1954) believed that people fulfill needs from the lowest to the highest order in terms of physiological, safety, social, esteem, and self-actualization.
Herzberg (1959) understood that more specifically at work, there were five key motivators to job satisfaction: achievement, recognition, the work itself, responsibility, and advancement. Things like salary and working conditions were believed to not provide satisfaction, but could lead to job dissatisfaction.
An article in Harvard Business Review (January-February 2010) underscores Hertzberg’s belief that achievement is the greatest work satisfier of all, as the article states: “we now know what the top motivator of performance is…It’s progress.”
· Workers are energized when “they’re making headway in their jobs, or when they receive support that helps them overcome obstacles.”
· Workers are demoralized when “they feel they are spinning their wheels or encountering roadblocks to meaningful accomplishment.”
Bottom line is that most people generally want to work and be productive human beings: when we contribute positively to the world, we feel a purpose to life. Achievement and progress means that we somehow leave this world a little bit better than when we arrived, and the whole thing is not meaningless. The daily growing pains of life are not in vain—we are contributing to something greater—something that outlasts ourselves.
Recently, I read that only 45% of workers were satisfied with their jobs (based on finding from the Corporate Executive Board). Even in a horrible economy, people are not satisfied with a paycheck. They want to feel good about what they are doing and that they are doing something.
Something is getting in the way of people’s feeling of progress at work or their level of job satisfaction wouldn’t be the worst in decades.
The authors of the Harvard Business Review article state “the strongest advice we offer [to leaders] from this study…”scrupulously avoid impeding progress by changing goals autocratically, being indecisive or holding up resources.”
The point is that a leader is first and foremost an enabler for progress. If they are holding back their people, rather than helping them, we have dysfunctional leadership at its core.
So in simple terms—effective leaders must:
· VISION: Set and articulate a compelling vision/strategic direction for organization bringing their people into the process through genuine inclusion.
· DECISION: Make decisions with a reasonable and responsible level of analysis and consideration, but avoid analysis-paralysis, wavering, and indecision.
· EXECUTION: Give your people the authority, accountability, resources, training, and tools to execute or as the saying goes, “put your money where your mouth is.”
Progress and employee satisfaction will not be achieved with just one or two of the three: If the employees want to move forward on leadership vision, but they can’t get needed decisions to really execute, the vision is for all intensive purposes, dead on arrival. And even if employees have a vision and the needed decisions to operationalize it, but they can’t get the resources to really see it through, progress is slowed, stunted, or perhaps, not even possible at all.
Perhaps this is one reason for the high project failure rate in organizations that we’ve seen for years now resulting in cost overruns, missed project schedules, and requirements that go unmet.
Yes, workers will always seek job satisfaction, but its not just about more money, more benefits, more recognition, more advancement, like so many erroneously still believe. Rather, the Holy Grail to worker satisfaction is a leadership that knows how to let them really be productive.
I believe that true leadership success is measured in progress, and a sure sign of organizational progress is when employees feel productive. A good metric for “progress” is whether employees are engaged and (to put it simply) happy.


January 9, 2010

Architecting A Secure Society

Once again, we are confronted with the basic security question of how much is the right amount?

It’s a classic catch-22 that requires us to architect security to meet opposing ends: we expect security to be as much as necessary to stop the terrorists, but as little as possible to ensure efficient travel and trade and maintain people’s privacy and equality.

In the last decades, we have behaved schizophrenically, calling for more security every time there is an attempted attack, only to withdraw and demand greater privacy protections, speedier security processing, and only random checks when things cool down.

The Wall Street Journal reported in the January 9-10, 2010 edition that the U.S.’s handling of security nowadays is an ever-losing proposition. The article calls it a virtual game of “Terrorball,” in which we cannot win, because there only two perpetual rules:

· “The game lasts as long as there are terrorists who want to harm Americans; and

· If terrorists should manage to kill or injure or seriously frighten any of us, they win.”

Based on the above, I believe that we can only win the game by changing its rules. Rather than being reactive to every terror scare, we are prepared with one approach—one that delivers an optimal level of security based on the current level of risk.

I recall when Michael Chertoff was Secretary of Homeland Security. During that time, he was a strong advocate for a risk-based approach that was multilayered, strong yet flexible enough to accommodate changing circumstances. From that perspective, which I think made a lot of sense: security decisions are made on the basis of objective criteria. These include technical feasibility, maximum effect, cost-benefit analysis, and so on.

A risk-based approach, or what I call “optimal security,” clearly makes a lot of sense. Yet it is tempting, when a security situation actually occurs, to let emotions get the better of us. On the one extreme, sometimes hysteria takes place and everybody seems a potential threat. Other times, we get angry that anyone at all is subjected to scrutiny or questioning.

In order to save the most lives and change the terror game, we have to decide to become more rational about the threat that faces us. This doesn’t mean being cold and calculating, but rather rational and proactive in developing a security architecture and governance that seeks to protect the most with the least negative impacts—but not trying to plug every possible hole at all costs.

In optimal security: sure, there is the ideal where we want to protect every American from every possible threat. However, there is also the reality where, because of competing priorities and scarce resources (to address everything from the deficit, health care, education, social programs, energy, science, defense, and more) we cannot—no matter how much we genuinely want to—prevent every terror instance.

So the terror playbook can and should be transformed. We can recognize there will always be terrorists—enemies of the state—who want to harm us and given enough attempts, no matter how optimal our security, they will occasionally get a sucker punch in on us—and we must be prepared for this. Moreover, rather than “freaking out” about this the terror threat, we can grow and commit to doing the best we can and accepting that we will increase security when information is there to support that need, and we will relax when that becomes possible.

Bottom line: We must move away from hysteria and any other factor that prevents us from being objective and make rational choices to deploy protections that are most effective and simultaneously safeguard our liberty.

“Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” captures the security debate well. We want to safeguard lives, but at the same ensure liberty and we want to be happy and not afraid all the time.

To accomplish this balance, our optimal security realization should be based on highly effective intelligence, supported by the very best technology, and a security platform that adjusts to threats in real time.

While our intelligence continues to strengthen and our technology continues to improve, the greatest challenge is our ability as a nation and as individual human beings to cope with the distress caused by terrorism.

We are ambivalent emotionally about the threat and what needs to be done to combat it. However, once we look inside and understand the emotions that this issue raises, and come to terms with reality we face, we will as a nation be more at peace and less likely to jump from one extreme to another in terms of our demands and expectations from those who protect us every day.


January 8, 2010

Speaking with Integrity

At work, there is often a lot more talking going on than just work issues. There is the office politics and the chatter about staff, colleagues, management, stakeholders, and so on.

“Oh by the way, have you heard what John said to Mary this week?”

Rumors easily get started about office indiscretions, “dumb mistakes,” bad decisions, injustices, nepotism, and even office romances.

Yeah, it goes on everyday.

Some of it is true, but more often than not, a lot is exaggerated, taken out of context, only one side of the story, or just plain B.S.—but for many, it makes for interesting conversation nonetheless.

Speech is a true gift. It enables us to easily communicate with each other and to share feelings, thoughts, and form meaningful relationships.

But speech is also something that needs to be guarded, because words misused or abused can hurt others—their feelings, their reputation, their future prospects, and even their basic human dignity.

There is an old saying that G-d gave us two ears and one mouth, so that we could listen twice as much as we speak. In other words, our speech should be carefully thought and wisely used.

I remember this Talmudic story going something like this…there are various parts of the body arguing about which is the most important—the legs said without me you couldn’t walk, and the eyes say without me you could not see, and so on and so forth. But the mouth says, I am the most important because with just one (or a couple of) word(s), I can get you in trouble and even killed. And sure enough, on some pretense the man is called before the king and from the man’s mouth comes some insulting words to the king who orders that the man be executed for his insolence.

Indeed our words are very important—they can harm and they can heal.

I was reminded of this just recently, a young adult was telling me that a boy in her high school class made fun of her “in front of everybody” and she broke out crying—deeply hurt and humiliated. Sometimes, these are the events that can scar a person long after the event is over and seemingly forgiven and forgotten. Perhaps, this was just another person’s insensitivity or their misguided thinking that they are elevating themselves by putting down someone else, but either way, their words cut like a knife.

I ran into another example of this recently, when I heard of a Star-Trek fan who questioned whether artificial intelligence (e.g., like the character Data) could be considered human, “just like Jews and Blacks.” Whatever the intent, it was a shockingly racist and hurtful use of language.

Words can and do hurt others, and people should be careful with their speech as well as with their actions.

On this topic, I read this week in the Wall Street Journal (6 January 2009) about a movement to get people to stop gossiping—like the Jewish prohibition against lashon harah (evil language).

Essentially the mantra for better speech is kind/true/necessary. Before we say something, we should ask ourselves:

· Is it kind?

· Is it true?

· Is it necessary?

And “every word we utter should pass through [these] three gates.”

One organization called WordsCanHeal.org advocates for this and asks that people take a pledge, as follows:“I will try to replace words that hurt with words that encourage, engage, and enrich.”

This is a great and worthwhile endeavor for us all in the workplace and in our personal lives.


January 2, 2010

A New Decade, A New Time For Technology

As we enter the new decade starting with 2010, we should reflect on the last decade, learn from it, and redirect for a better future.

While the last decade surely brought much good to many, for our nation as a whole, it was a decade punctuated again and again by terror—wrought externally, but also from within.

These events range from the horrific events of 9/11/2001 to the failed attack on Flight 253 by the Underwear Bomber on Christmas day and the Taliban attack that took 7 unsung heroes of our CIA on December 30, 2009.

The fear of terrorism has swept through our society this past decade, so much so that we insist people remove their shoes at the airport for screening and are quick to mistake a photo shoot of Air Force One over the Statue of Liberty (just this past April) as another 9/11. The possibility of a terror attack, and especially with weapons of mass destruction, looms always in the back of our minds.

We have also experienced homegrown terrorism, such as the assassination of an abortion doctor in Wichita, Kansas and an attack at the U.S. National Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. to name just a few.

As if all of this is not enough already, Americans have been deeply affected by other fearful events and issues:

· The Economy—From the 2001 bursting of the dot-com bubble and recession to the 2007 mortgage mess bringing us the worst financial recession since the Great Depression, we have seen foreclosure rates soar and unemployment rise to 10.2%. Too many of us now know the intense fear and also the reality of losing our homes and jobs.

· Health—Aside from traditional health concerns about cancer, heart disease, stroke and other diseases, this last decade we experienced concerns ranging from lingering concerns of Bird Flu to the newer variant of Swine Flu. We were constantly reminded of the potential of another deadly influenza pandemic such as the 1918 flu that killed 50 to 100 million people globally. People this last year lined up around the block for the H1NI vaccine, and delays in production and delivery of the vaccine caused even greater consternation among the populace.

· Energy—Oil prices peaked at $147.30 a barrel in 2008 before drastically receding. Overreliance of Mideast oil supplies, geopolitical disruptions, and natural disasters as well as peak oil fears all contribute to energy supply shortage fears and the move to alternate energy resources and energy independence.

· Global Competition—With the offshoring of U.S. manufacturing and the outsourcing of our job base, the recognition of the U.S. being surpassed as the economic superpower is on everyone’s mind, as the Wall Street Journal reported on January 2, 2010, “China is both making and eating our lunch.” We fear not only for our country’s future prosperity, but also for our ability and our children ability to earn a decent living anymore.

· The Deficit—With the trillion dollar wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the cost of the Recovery Act and the new Health Care legislation, as well as ongoing critical entitlement programs such as Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and so on, the national deficit has soared to over $12 trillion dollars and is about to hit the ceiling again. The viability of this deficit spending is sending shock waves through the American public who realize that at some point the bill must be paid.

· Environmental Issues—From addressing global warming to a green economy and the need for conservation, recycling and sustainable environmental practices, we have awoken to the fear of creating an environment that is no longer hospitable to human life, if we do not act to be better stewards of the planet.

This list is not meant to be comprehensive, but rather is meant to demonstrate the breadth and depth of issues to which we been exposed to fear, dread, and terror about our personal and national futures.

Further, the fear for the future that we experience is not meant to shut us down or demoralize us, but rather to direct our attention and redirect our energies to solving these critical dilemmas facing us all.

One of the biggest areas of hope that I believe we have is through technology. In fact, technology has been a major offset to the decade of terror that we have experienced. Through technology and the requisite cultural change, we have moved towards a society that is more connected, enabled, and informed. We have achieved greater information sharing, collaboration, transparency, and overall productivity. Advanced telecommunications, e-Commerce, online information resources, and entertainment have transformed our lives primarily for the better. Technology has helped solve some of the greatest challenges of our time—whether through biotechnology, food genetics, alternative energy, military defensive technologies, and hosts of engineering advances particularly through miniaturization and mobility solutions.

While we cannot rely on technology to solve all of our problems, we can use it to augment our intellectual and communications capabilities to better attack and resolve the challenges confronting us.

We are a strong and resolute people and we can overcome terror with religious faith, strong family and community, individual and national determination, sacrifice and innovation, all variety of technology (infotech, nanotech, biotech…), and the paradigm of continuous learning and improvement.

We have a unique opportunity in time to move from a Decade of Terror to a Decade of Peace—a peace of mind, body, and soul brought by a conquering of the terrorists found within and without. I believe that technology can and will be there to support us in this if we can change along with it.