Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Taking a Badly Needed Vacation

Thankfully - the shingles cleared in time for me to take my planned vacation. My badly needed planned vacation.

So I'm off to Florida - to play golf in the rain (pesky TS Noel), visit family, and enjoy warm (if rainy) weather.

Most importantly - to get away from the computer!!!

I love my computer, but we need breaks from each other every once in awhile.

I'm offline until Tuesday (or so). By then, I hope to have more material and an improved attitude.

Have an awesome week!!!!!

Monday, October 29, 2007

VP or Catalyst

I don't want to be management.

There, I've said it publicly.

I don't want to be in charge of people. I don't want to spend my entire day in meetings. I don't want to have to maintain status quo while "growing the company" or what have you.

I don't care about titles or corner offices or "perks" like "free iPhones" (a perk with an ulterior motive if I've ever seen one....)

At the end of the day - I just want to get stuff done. To see real progress towards a useful goal. The days where I have concrete evidence that I've accomplished something (finished a tutorial, mapped out next steps on a project, completed one of those steps, etc.) are the days I go home satisfied.

Harold Jarche reminded me that there are other, equally valid, career paths beyond just climbing the corporate ladder.

One of the five requirements for a successful starfish organization is to have a catalyst. In many ways, I think that is the role I’ve played, or tried to, in various organizations over the years, and it explains why I quickly lost interest in climbing the corporate ladder.

Catalysts are bound to rock the boat. They are much better at being agents of change than guardians of tradition. Catalysts do well in situations that call for radical change or creative thinking. They bring innovation, but they’re also likely to create a certain amount of chaos and ambiguity. Put them into a structured environment and they might suffocate. But let them dream and they’ll thrive. (p. 131 - The Spider and the Starfish)

As I've aged, I'm discovering that I'm not cut out for climbing the corporate ladder. And that I've, sometimes unwittingly, played the role of the catalyst (even despite my best efforts to be the good corporate soldier). I think back on all of the jobs I've had over my career and in almost all of them I've left the job with something useful and lasting for the organization. For example:

- New warehouse processes and forms for tracking equipment availability (back in my stagehand days)
- Building a portable video teleconferencing system (before cheap webcams, broadband cable and compact communication protocols)
- Transitioning medical practices from paper to computer.

I find that once I get things somewhat stable, I get restless. Planing, creating and building are fun. Maintaining, not so much. And I've never been a big fan of breaking things just to keep myself entertained.

Over the past few months, I've found myself second-guessing my career aspirations. And getting advice from well-meaning friends and family:

Don't say you're not interested in promotion publicly. Then they will never see you as leadership material.

But leadership comes in many different forms. And in my mind, being a VP or mucky muck of some ilk does NOT automatically make you a leader.

The ability to create positive improvement in an environment, in my mind, is one of the characteristics of a great leader. Notice I did NOT ambiguously say change.

Often, I find mucky mucks like creating big change for change's sake because it makes them LOOK like a leader. They can get people running around, looking busy, and proclaim, "Look!!!! Change is happening!!!!!" I'm finding, however, that this type of change often does more harm to the organization than good.

Small tweaks can create positive progress. And it's the ability to know when a major change needs to occur (not as often as we think) vs. a small adjustment that marks an intelligent leader.

I'm going to embrace my role as catalyst. With all of the personal instability that entails. In the end, as long as I leave wherever I'm at better than I found it, I've been successful.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Techology to Bring Back Intimacy

I suspect that higher technology is bringing back the kind of intimacy we lack when we are separated from the world by visual perspective. And an intimate world seems more human. What an artist is trying to do for people is to bring them closer to something, because of course art is about sharing: you wouldn't want to be an artist unless you wanted to share an experience, a thought. I am constantly preoccupied with how to remove distance so that we can all come closer together, so that we can all begin to sense that we are the same, we are one. That is what I think removing distance on whatever level means, and that is why there are so many parallels, in science, in publishing, in printing, in communications generally.

- David Hockney, That's the Way I See It, 1993.

Physical locations function more like "groups and walled gardens". Stephen Downes has sensitized us to the shortcomings of restricting any of the valuable diversity of an open network. Besides there's no way with live bodies to tag, bookmark, link back or add comments 6 hours later to what got said in passing.

- Tom Haskins, 10/24/07

Both of these quotes have me thinking about the value of distance and the exercise of bridging that distance. When David Hockney saw "higher technology" as being a tool to bridge distances and, more importantly, bring back intimacy - he did this in the context of an environment where the internet was still new and used in highly isolated pockets (I was one of the few in my graduate department in 1994 to have a sendmail account). Before Web 2.0 and online social networks became buzzwords. When any online networks occurred within small groups (such as the bored engineers at VA Tech with their IBM 500s, 19.2 K modems and Procomm Plus talking on bulletin boards) and the chances of meeting the folks you talked to virtually in "real life" were practically 100%.

It has me thinking about the relative value of our physical "real world" networks (the ones we don't necessarily choose, but we are a part of simply due to proximity and circumstance) vs. the value of our "second life" networks (the ones that we choose due to shared interests and experience).

I am wondering if it is a mistake to value one network over the other. To see one as more important than the other. I find myself with a bias towards my "real world" network. Not necessarily because I get more out of my interactions with this network - often, I don't - but because of the "instantaneousness" (I suspect that's not a word) of those interactions.

Physical proximity leads to a sense of immediacy, whether the issue at hand truly has long-term importance or not. It's easier to share emotions (good or bad) when you are standing in front of an angry customer or sharing someone's excitement in person than it is when you are typing an e-mail or instant messaging or blogging. Physical proximity also has a way of making issues more urgent than they really are.

E-mailing, blogging, and instant messaging allow you to archive and reflect in a way that face-to-face conversations don't. Telephone, video conferencing and in-person conversations provide levels and layers of instantaneous feedback, adding tone and, in some instances, body language to the words. Neither are superior. And both provide various ways of establishing intimacy between people.

My recent enforced period of isolation has made me better appreciate the virtual communities I participate in. I value not having to make snap judgments. I love that I can read through ideas, categorize what I read and write for later reference and generally process my environment in a more leisurely (and frankly more meaningful) manner. And the feedback I receive from members of the virtual community is more thoughtful (thanks Tom!).

I suspect that the time spent engaging another person is more a measure of intimacy than the "stuff done" or "things gotten" that we often do to show how much we care for another.

This isolation time has allowed me to see exactly how rushed and panicky our "real life" environments get (for no apparently good reason). People feed on the urgency. Busyness = importance right? Hate to say it, but many people are addicted to that type of rush. Or, like myself, they get used to operating at that level of anxiety.

It's been interesting to find that "real life" communities are not necessarily more intimate than their "second life" counterparts.

Yesterday, I was mentally writing off my recent blogging conversations with a dismissive

"This is fun, but I have no idea how I'm gonna use this in my real life"

And I'm realizing that these virtual conversations don't necessarily have to translate to "real life" for them to be important.

Just like scientific research does not always have to be immediately applied.

This time has been a real eye-opener.....

Friday, October 26, 2007

1 day I'll come up with a great title for this post

It's amazing what happens when you are not forced to think or do for an extended period of time.

1) It's really impacted my ability to come up with pithy post titles. I see myself being reduced to "Today's Post" for my next few postings (whenever those might happen...)

2) I think I inadvertently helped Dr. Karrer with his presentation. KNOCK 'EM DEAD TONY!!!!! Can't wait to hear how this goes....

3) You have more time to truly process the information and events surrounding you - and take in any feedback. Case in point, my blogging conversation with Tom Haskins about reflection and work. BTW Tom - I'm still processing....

4) The Freudian slips that occur when you are having a hard time developing coherent thoughts turn out to be valuable. Even better, people who are thinking more clearly (i.e. Tom Haskins ) can then take those ideas and run with them.

5) I'm re-discovering that illness serves a purpose. I'm going to quote Tom because he's more eloquent than I ever hope to be....

For years, I've noticed myself creating a "mandatory timeout" via illness when I was stressed out, incapable of reflecting, and caught up in too much action. A two week convalescence is a superb break from the action. Given the clarity, depth and expanse of Wendy's insights here, I'd say the hidden purpose of her case of shingles is getting well served. When we've been acting like human doings, we all need time to feel like human beings again.

It's almost easier to relax when your body FORCES you to than when you do so voluntarily. I find that if I feel even remotely capable of doing, I go do. Even if I plan a 2 week relaxation time (no illness), I still feel obligated to "be productive." Guilt, self-esteem issues, fear or whatever makes it difficult for me to truly relax when I am "well" and "on vacation."

It's taken me a few days, but I am slowly rediscovering what "relaxing" feels like. And, from the feedback I'm getting, it has been inadvertently productive. Whether this sort of productivity is going to help my co-workers (who I'm sure would have been much happier if I was there answering phone calls from frustrated doctors) remains to be seen.

Come to think of it, I'm not entirely sure why it matters.......

6) I discover new things to play with. Some cases in point:

Drunk Elephants. 'Nuff said....

The World Series.
I'm sure I have the quote wrong, but I like what Bob Apodaca (the Colorado Rockies pitching coach) said to his talented rookie Ubaldo Jimenez:
Pitch to Contact

Essentially - trust the team behind you. Your stuff is good enough to beat anyone and everyone else will help.

That's exactly what Josh Beckett (Boston Red Sox Ace Pitcher) did when he pitched that brilliant game in Game 1. A perfect example of what a very talented person can accomplish when he trusts the team behind him.

And an entire season of playing together built that trust..... NOT weird team-building games....

The Arlington VA Library online catalog.
Finding stuff in ACORN is about as much fun as browsing the stacks. And browsing library and book store stacks is one of my favorite things to do - so that's saying lots....

7) I find I have way too much time to babble in public (also known as "evidence of reflective thinking" hahahahahahaha.......)

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Things I Think I Think

With apologies to Peter King....

1) I think that corporate culture (in general) DISCOURAGES the development of reflexive learners (platitudes to the contrary).

For those of us working in corporate environments, the stress is on DOING stuff (or, at least, APPEARING to DO stuff) rather than thinking/reflecting/planning/anything that requires NOT ACTING INSTANTANEOUSLY.

Evidence of reflective learning looks suspiciously like goofing off.... Yes, I am writing, but I'm not writing a step-by-step guide on how to schedule a patient. I'm writing about how do teach that better. Why is that important when our old way works just as well (never mind the phone calls from folks who didn't understand the material in the first place)? Therefore, I am goofing off.....

2) I think that encouraging an organization requires serious culture change for most of us.

Question for those working in corporate environments. How many times have you been faced with a student / students who say point blank "just tell me how to do it!" You tell them, then they call you back the same day accusing you of not "teaching" them because you just told them how to do it? Is it just me?!?!?!?

3) There has to be some way to nudge / cajole / wheedle / bribe an organization into at least allowing reflexive thinking practices - or, at least, not actively preventing them, at ALL levels of an organization.

Whenever I've seen reflexive thinking in an organization, it is at the highest levels and/or within individual, isolated pockets of rebellion. Hmmm...maybe if we bridge those pockets somehow......

4) The only way I can think of starting (as Tom said) is to model the behavior as best I can.

I only truly have control over my own actions, right? At least, more control over my own actions than over others (over which I may have persuasive ability, but no actual control).

5) The only other thing I can think of doing is to encourage this radical behavior one individual (or really open group) at a time. Just like we are doing amongst each other in this little corner of the blogosphere. Enough individuals and we have tipping point, right?

6) Blogging while ill is a dangerous thing...

Still fighting the evil Shingles. Wendy, these are like chicken pox, but worse, and that takes 2 weeks to clear up. You didn't think this was just gonna go away in a weekend, did you????

Something I've re-discovered during my convalescence, clarity of thought comes at a premium when you are ill / under stress.

My apologies if I didn't make much sense.....

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Random Things in My Head

Watching the Washington Capitals - they looked sooooo promising the first 3 games. What happened?!?!?!

Still thinking through how to create an ideal training program that encourages intrinsic self-motivation in a corporate environment. Tom Haskins has given some excellent ideas both in his comments and later post. He continued his thoughts the next day. I'm still kicking the issues around - but I haven't had enough quiet time to really meditate on the issue and come up with a clear idea of what I want to say. Right now - it's all unformed gut feelings.

I want to see a Cleveland / Colorado World Series.

I am 0-6-0 in Fantasy Football. The yucky part - I've been top 3 in points most weeks. Just I'm being beaten by people having good weeks. Curses! (And no, I won't tell you the name of my team. Not appropriate for a "g-rated" blog)

My stress relieving attempts have failed miserably. Evidence of this fact: I was diagnosed Friday with a case of Shingles. The good news - I'm not contagious to anyone who has already had chicken pox. The bad news - this stuff HURTS. No itchiness like chicken pox. Plan, flat out, focused radiating pain.

I knew something wasn't right this week. Friday afternoon, I called in a favor from Dr. F. (one of the side perks of working in health care - informal consultation). Showed her the rash, gave her a list of symptoms and timeline. She did a 2 minute exam. Classic case.

I'm not surprised. You've been under a lot of stress this week. And it really seems to have been wearing on you. When are the rest of the vendor folks coming....?

So I may finally get time to think about the issues Tom and I discussed. Hopefully through the haze of antiviral medication, painkillers and regular applications of calamine lotion and Aveeno skin relief cream (for the allergy rash that has appeared in tandem because my immune system is currently whacked out), I might be able to come up with something.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Bonding Between Sides

Mark - thank you for the link.
The giggles are sorely needed.

During periods of high stress within the organization (like when our enterprise systems refuse to work and fixing the issue requires time and infinite patience), it's easy for IT to see the doctors as "the enemy" and vice versa.

I am often impressed and surprised that the docs in the organization I work have the level of emotional intelligence that they do. Thus far, during this very stressful 6 month period, I have only been the recipient of 2 major, inappropriate temper tantrums. To the credit of the organization, these outbursts are dealt with strictly and at a very high level.

I don't blame the doctors for being incredibly frustrated. To their credit, they understand that we (IT) are not the culprits and that we have little control over the current situation. My job this week has been reduced to 3rd line application support. This consists of remotely going into the computer, capturing screenshots and whatever workflow the doctors have time to give us, trying to work around the issue to get them functional again, entering the information into the vendor's helpdesk system, and, during a pause in the action, wandering to where we have the vendor's head of development and lead developer chained to the chairs (we have been feeding and watering them, so they seem happy right now) and sharing further information / trends.

During one such troubleshooting session, Dr. F (one of our Internal medicine attendings) said You know Wendy - our jobs are very similar.

What do you mean?

Well - you diagnose the problem, but you are often powerless to fix the problem.

If you are not certain about a problem, you can go to the next level - in my case, the specialist. In your case - the vendor folks.

If the problem can be fixed, it often takes more time than you or the customer (in my case, the patient - in your case - us) wish it would take.

And sometime, all you can do is mitigate the pain.

I hadn't really thought of our jobs being all that similar but on a certain level, you're right. The big difference - my decisions are ultimately not life or death.

But Wendy, in a certain way, they are. We rely on that information to help us with our job. Without the information, we could make a major mistake in our decision-making. So it may not be directly a "life-or-death" decision, but you are indirectly making life or death decisions too.

Not that I want to give you more pressure or anything......

Nope - no pressure at all....(Wendy laughs nervously)

In the throes of dealing with minimally functional systems and aggravated doctors, fielding 2 phones worth of calls at the same time, and trying not to take everything so danged personal - my conversation with Dr. F. reminded me that we really aren't that far apart. And sometimes, the day-to-day efforts you make to help others have much greater importance than the immediately obvious.

Continuing the Conversation

I'm moving Tom's comment to me from my last post so that all can see the conversation.

Wendy: I'm glad you've raised some new questions. Perhaps it will help to consider an exemplar who already creates context and dives into intrinsic processing without any structure from the course. Such a learner has self-selected the course/module. The need or motivation to learn this thing came about in their world. They bring that context to the learning, whether it's an attempt to impress somebody, qualify for some promotion/assignment, or prove to themselves that they succeed when taking on this kind of challenge. They are free of needing structure to make it meaningful, relate it to their own experiences or to anticipate follow thru/implementation on the job -- because they are there for their own reasons. This could happen in groups easily, so long as the entire group's enrollment is self selected, not mandatory, monitored and included in annual reviews.

However, if the group shows up with a context of resentment or work pressures, the cultivation of a "developmental context" takes more of a therapeutic approach. Perhaps they need a reminder of what they are doing right, how their intentions are worthy of admiration, or they already know enough to understand the new content without breaking a sweat. Maybe they would be more inclined to generate some context if they were given some freedom of choice or authentic control of their situation. They might get psyched by opportunities to "contradict the propaganda" with their own personal experiences that could be accumulated in a wiki online. There could even be a sequence in their eLearning module that started with the premise that the content was useless/devoid of context and set up the learner to invalidate the claim and take exception to the lack of context with their own frames of reference - just like Tom Sawyer got Huck Finn to whitewash the fence.

I've been pondering user generated contexts some since last week.Synching up with the learners has been the first sign of that. My post tomorrow will follow up on all this we're exploring

Please read Tom's post. I'm going to spend some time processing.....

Monday, October 15, 2007

Processing and Context

Tom Haskins, in his post The Next Killer Ap? writes

After reflecting deeply on the functions and varieties of PLE's last month, I've concluded most recently that using the Internet to get an education depends on reflective practicing. Learners have to be able to learn from what happens as they:

* find what they are looking for and delve into deeper interests
* change the questions they have in mind and directions they're pursuing
* discover others who reveal different perspectives on common interests
* create content for others that gets quoted, debated or disparaged

Successful blogging appears to thrive on reflective practicing. We are making tons of uniquely, personal sense from what shows up in our feed readers. We are sharing our insights among ourselves and learning more from how our content plays out in other readers' understanding as they reflect on what we offer. Perhaps we've got what it takes and only need to figure out a viable way to share our basis for using the killer app already.

As usual, whenever I read Tom's blog, he gets me thinking. I'm including the comment string for some background...


10/08/2007 4:50 PM
Wendy said...

Tom - so much learning seems to occur in the processing. After reading your post, I'm thinking that what we really need to look at is how to encourage people to PROCESS what they are taking in.

This seems to be beyond the "opportunities for practice" that we focus on when we create courses or think about education. And maybe beyond the "contextual exercises" that those of us in corporate environments inflict on people when they sit in our classrooms (either virtual or actual).

In my environment, maybe I can encourage people to think about their prior experience and have them help develop context rather than just GIVE context to them.... I gotta think this through a bit more.....

10/09/2007 6:23 PM
Tom Haskins said...

Wendy- Thanks for taking this further. I sure agree with you it takes more than opportunities to jump start reflective practicing. Your reflections today on the loss in your fragrance group, and several weeks ago on the anguish & adjustments your cats went through - are vivid examples of "leading by example".

Your idea of the learners developing their own context is rich - I too will ponder that one some more :-)


When I wrote the original comment - it hadn't dawned on me that I was

1) already doing this myself - I've been calling it "babbling in public." "Evidence of reflective practice" sounds so much better....

2) already encouraging others to intrinsically develop context - at least during the one-on-one training conversations I have.

In a one-on-one environment, it is easier to ask a person questions that can trigger context development:

- In your past job, what were your most important tasks?

- Are there any similarities between what you did then and what you think you will be doing now?

- Any particular thing you wish you knew how to do in the context of this educational session / using this tool / whatever else it is we're supposed to accomplish during our time together?

Of course - the questions are asked a lot more informally and in the context of "getting to know you.." And in the one-on-one environment, I generally have more flexibility to let the conversation go where it may and use examples given to me by the other person.

Also, because a person is getting individual attention - it is easier to find the triggers that will intrinsically motivate the person to process the information you are sharing. These triggers do not necessarily have to directly apply to "work". I haven't met an adult over 21 yet that doesn't come in with experience and interests of some sort.

So the next questions in my mind are:

- How do you encourage GROUPS of people to develop individual context and process information in a way that is useful and personal? Especially within the limited time / high-pressure context of most "courses"

- How do you encourage context development asynchronously - without the give and take of real-time conversation?

- How can you intrinsically motivate another to process and develop context for the material at hand?

I have a feeling being able to figure out answers to THOSE questions will allow us to truly apply PLEs and context-rich education into our corporate environments - where time and resources (# of people, hours in the day, limited trainer patience, large amounts of content...) do not allow for 1-on-1 synchronous training.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Fear of the Known

One of the more educational pieces of my job consists of entering and configuring provider notes into our electronic medical record. I learn a lot about the various specialties and how these doctors work through this exercise.

Thankfully, I am not particularly squeamish. This is why I get the projects from the "fun" departments (Colo-Rectal Surgery, Urology, Gynecology, Emergency Medicine....)

Pictures of colonoscopies and endoscopies, ER docs sharing movies of their favorite "accidents"...I guess that means they like me.....

I finally found a circumstance where the reality is even scarier than the note.

One of our new Urology docs is heading up a new Pelvic Floor clinic. As part of that practice, she performs a procedure calls Fluouoscopic Urodynamics. This particular procedure is performed in a special chair. The procedure sounds scary enough:

A 7Fr triple lumen urodynamic catheter is placed into the urethra and advanced to the bladder. Additionally, a 7Fr rectal subtraction catheter is placed into the rectum. The catheters are zeroed to atmosphere prior to placement. The urodynamic catheter is infused with Cysto-Conray at a rate to 60cc/min.

The civilian interpretation - they sit you in a special chair, stick straws in unmentionable places, pump air and other stuff into those places and make you pee....


I figured that it couldn't be nearly as bad as it sounds on paper.

The nice thing about working at an academic medical institution (especially one whose first priority is TEACHING not research) is that many of the doctors are teachers at heart. Ask a question about what they do and they are more than happy to answer...usually providing more information than you really wanted to know.

So - I figured I HAD to go see this new chair. I know the Urology doc was REALLY excited about it when it came in. This should have set off alarms in my head. It is never a good sign when a doctor is excited about something. It usually means something bad is afoot. But curiosity got the better of me....

The chair is even scarier in real life - this picture doesn't do it justice (and I can't take pictures in our clinic - imagine lots of tools and a catch basin for the inevitable plus 3 computer screens.). Lots of computers and beeping things surround this chair in a large white room.

Even the new RN they hired for this clinic is creeped out by the thing (and she's old school and has seen darn near everything).

I still can't believe people strap themselves into this voluntarily!

Change management seems to focus on mitigating the fear of the unknown, but what do you do to mitigate the fear of the KNOWN?!??!

Meanwhile...I hope I NEVER have to be strapped into that scary chair......

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Paint and Spackle

When I moved into the new apartment, the bathroom was a disaster. The bathroom in the condo upstairs leaked for years - causing damage to the ceiling in our unit. Rust and mildew chipped the paint off of the window sill. Simply put - the bathroom was a very scary thing.

The boyfriend and his ex-roommate lived in this unit for 8 years prior to my moving in. The landlords speak a variant of Turkish (we think) and no English. They had established a relationship with the landlord where he communicates directly with the property manager / handyman, Perry. They also performed really basic maintenance tasks. In exchange - the lease absolves them of any responsibility for the condition of the apartment when they move out.

So we took it upon ourselves to fix up the bathroom - especially after we established through Perry that the bathroom upstairs had been entirely remodeled.

We had two options to repair the bathroom

Option 1 (the permanent fix): Take all of the drywall back to the studs and redrywall the entire bathroom. After installing the drywall - taping, spackle, paint. The drywall in the bathroom - ceiling to tile - was completely bubbled up. This would have required significant amounts of money, contractors (I will only tackle drywall if I'm working with someone who knows what they are doing), and time. Plus we would have to get the landlord involved. From the boyfriend's previous experience, the landlord really doesn't want to be bothered with this and working with him would be difficult at best because of the language barrier. He already plans to completely redo the unit once we move out.

Option 2 (the fast/cheap surface fix): Scrape and sand the bubbled areas, spackle and paint. This eliminates multiple steps, but we also know that this fix may not last very long. Our thinking is that if the repairs hold for a year - we did our job. This takes about 5 working hours plus drying time.

Guess which one we chose.....

As I put the final coat of Kilz on the wall, I started thinking about how fast/cheap vs. "the right way" applies to my work projects.

Right now, I am finally in a position to put together my online training plan "the right way." This after 4 years of "paint and spackle" projects. These "paint and spackle" projects stress me out and frustrate me. I can see that in the long term - we will have to redo the training/repairs. And, being the perfectionist that I am, I want to do things "the right way."

Maybe it was the fumes, but I am finally realizing WHY we do paint and spackle projects - beyond time and resource constraints. Sometimes, that's all you really need. It doesn't have to be pretty or permanent (application training is never permanent anyway because of upgrades and configuration changes). I am only being asked to do just enough so that the casual observer doesn't notice the holes in the walls or the rust on the sill. I am not being asked to gut and remodel the bathroom so it stays beautiful for the next 20 years.

BTW - I am not showing before and after pictures of the bathroom. The bathroom is an improvement, but I don't think it's going to make an appearance in Architectural Digest anytime soon.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Life Passages and Community

You can tell a lot about a community through how it copes with life passages, particularly mourning.

So many of the communities we attempt to build at work are artificial. These are communities that serve a very particular purpose - learn a skill, complete a project, that sort of thing.... And a work community that completes the assigned task can be considered "successful." But is it?

I am beginning to think that a hallmark of a truly successful community is one that celebrates each other's happy events and joins together in grief - unbidden. Through the bonds they have established with each other, these communities are able to accomplish more over longer periods of time.

I have been participating in Basenotes for the past few months. The members are professionals within the industry as well as die-hard perfume fanatics. Unlike some of the other perfume boards, the Basenotes boards are very focused and usually polite. Many of the members have carried their online relationship over to the real world. Mostly through trades, (especially since this is a truly international community), but also through regular meet ups.

They recently lost Sudsy, one of the most active members of the community. Most of us did not know her personally. Many (such as myself) knew her only through her board posts. Closer members of the community knew her through trades and e-mails. But the community circled the wagons around each other and mourned in the way they thought most appropriate - rememberance through scent.

Complete strangers, around the world, whose only initial shared bonds are a passion for perfume.

Sudsy - I'm wearing Montale's Aoud Damascus in your honor. Rest in Peace.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Opportunity, Risk and Worry

Signal vs. Noise pointed to an interesting post on Opportunity and Risk from Marc Andressen's blog. These thoughts are in the context of career, but from my current perspective, they apply to other areas of life too.

Roger von Oech also chimes in on ways to find opportunity (and why those of us who spent way too much time in school may not be so good at recognizing it). Read the comments too.....

Much of my checkered life has consisted of assessing risks and taking opportunities. Some choices worked out, some didn't. Some were given careful analysis (otherwise known as worrying), some just happened. After 37 years, I am finally figuring out that whether things work out or not has no correlation with the amount of time spent agonizing over the decision.

So has this discovery made me start worrying less? Ummm...not really. I'm hoping that awareness of the problem is at least half of the solution.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Thoughts on Teams

All of this thinking about relationships has me wondering.... What makes a successful team? One that not only gets things done but also makes ALL participants richer and happier for the interaction?

The reason why I stress ALL participants - despite what many managers seem to think, some of us HATE working in teams. Yes - I know this comes across as anti-social. Take one's natural personality, add some bitter experiences (unecessary meetings, vague requirements, waiting for others, spending more time explaining than doing, watching others take undeserved credit, etc) and VOILA - a person who cringes when a manager-type says "I want you to work on this project with...."

I have been occasionally accused of "not being a team player." Interestingly, I never receive this comment outside of the corporate arena. So what is the difference? My recent successful forays into team play gave me some clues:

- A common goal. - My stagehand friends and I have talked about what makes most stage crews successful teams. The thing we all agreed on - stagehands work towards a concrete, common goal - the performance starts close to on-time and enough of the pieces work to keep the audience engaged. Everything HAS TO BE DONE by curtain. There are no "do overs" and little time slack. The requirements are not particularly nebulous. Of course, there are times when it is all put together with gaffers tape, bubble gum, string and prayers - but if the curtain goes up on-time and the audience doesn't notice the disaster occurring in the wings, it's been a success. I am aware that corporate environments are more fluid, but part of me suspects that the nebulous nature of a lot of corporate projects is more a result of indecision and politics than it is about the "nature of the beast".

- Perspective. - The teams I have enjoyed working on understand that there are very few life and death situations. Unless you are Soldiers, EMTs, Firefighters, members of a surgical team or that ilk - in the grand scheme of things, it ain't that important. The guys I bowl with - we understand that everyone looks like an awkward dweeb when they bowl. And it's a game where you fling a heavy ball down highly greased hardwood floors to knock things over. It's not worth getting the ego bent out of shape for.

I suspect when perpective gets skewed is when people are more focused on perceived potential rewards as a result of the activity than the activity itself. Promotions, money, recognition, etc. Don't want to downplay these things - it's important to a lot of people - but the focus on external rewards, in my experience, has been the cause of most unpleasantries among teams that are supposed to be working together.

- There's a reason for the project. - Teams that I don't mind working on are teams working towards a goal that enhances the experience of the team and/or others. The goal of the"bowling" and "bocce" project teams was to enhance relationships with each other and learn new skills. It doesn't harm anyone (except for MD, who we are afraid will break his ankle sometime this season with his bowling style, but that's a whole 'nother story....). The goal of the stage crews I worked with was to "help" the visiting artist and crew put on a successful show.

What bothers me about some of the teams I am told to work with in the corporate world is that there doesn't seem to be a real reason for the project. Or its a useful project with unnecessary hurdles thrown in for no apparent reason. I'm most disturbed by working on teams where the project itself is actively hurtful. Thankfully, I haven't been asked to do that often in my career (and haven't stayed very long in the organizations that asked.....)

- There is respect and trust between the team members. Managers think you can manufacture this instantaneously. I know that I am personally willing to give someone I don't know the benefit of the doubt until proven otherwise. But true respect is earned over time. Trust is built by shared experiences (and not of the "let's do team-building exercises" type).

There are people at work that, if I need something, they are right there and I trust that. Alternatively, there are people who have proven to me that I cannot trust them to do something or who I know will over-promise and under-deliver (if I have a pet peeve, this is it). Human nature. But my expectations of these individuals are built through multiple instances of working together. In the early going, I will ask but will also have a plan B ready just in case.....

(An aside on "team-building" - The most successful team-building exercises I've been involved are ones that seem least effective. The team can then bond over the ridiculous experience they just shared. "Team-building" exercises that seem successful in the classroom, however, are quickly forgotten and people revert to their old habits after 3 days of holding hands and singing "Kumbaya"....)

Remember - loners rather work alone. Speaking for myself - I would have rather full control over all of the pieces of the project than have to rely on someone else to get something done. (Maybe because I expect too much and have been disappointed too many times. I'm working with my shrink on that....) Nevertheless, a good team of people who respect each other's strengths can perform miracles and is an ultimately more satisfying experience.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

While My Moodle Server Weeps

This is one of the hazards of using castoff equipment to implement one's evil schemes.

If it croaks, you are up the creek.....

Ta and I are slowly watching the Moodle server die. Since the upgrade to Moodle 1.8.1, the server keeps crashing. When it's up, and when I'm administering courses and loading new files, it moves like molasses in the winter. Add a user, fiddle with 3 Captivate slides. Add a course, read an article. Load a file, go to local coffee shop to correct the blood/caffeine levels. Edit a section, read e-mail. And so it goes.

Reopening 2 courses and adding 3 files took me 2 hours + 1 server hard reboot.

A flood in the server room today (a major water main broke right next door) and the resulting power surge didn't help.

We've done all of the diagnostics. After some research, Ta is convinced we are staring at the death throes of the server. She has already replaced one blade.

The only "good" news about all of this - right now, there are very few people using Moodle in our organization since I am still in the process of updating the content.

Dear Moodle server - please please PUHLEEZE get well soon.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

A Pleasant Surprise by the County Government

Virginia residents (in most jurisdictions) pay local personal property tax on their cars. As evidence of payment, each car must display that year's tax decal for the city or county of residence.

My 5 mile move placed me in another county. As a result, I had to get a new sticker. Since my old sticker expires October 5, and I knew that payment by mail or online wouldn't give me the decal in time, I decided to take a trip to the Arlington (VA) County Courthouse.

A trip to the DMV (Virginia's Motor Vehicle administration) is guaranteed to be at least a 1 hour trip - even if it is "not busy." Visiting other government bodies (in person) usually takes at least 2 hours (and that's if you have all of your stuff together). I was fully prepared to camp out for awhile.

I was in and out of the Arlington County courthouse in 15 minutes.

This includes waiting in 2 lines - 1 to process all of my paperwork. 1 to pay the bill. AND there was a reasonable-sized crowd. I suspect that I got somewhat lucky since I didn't have to wait very long (maybe 1 minute) to get to a person in the first line. Still - I was mighty impressed by the experience.

I had most of my information together. Sadly, I seem to have misplaced my vehicle registration in the move. I DO have the Vehicle Registration Renewal form so I brought that. Now - any other government office would have had the person looking at me and saying - "But I need your registration." We would have gone in circles until I either gave up in disgust or (if I were feeling particularly energetic) I called in 3 levels of management, then gave up in disgust.

The clerk processing my forms in Arlington County, however, said
"Great! I have the information I need here. Since they sent the renewal to you, you are obviously registered in Virginia. Hey - I can renew your tags if you want too!"

You mean I don't have to wait an hour + at the DMV or muddle through the user unfriendly online processing forms or confusing kiosks?

"Nope - I can do it right here, if you are ready. If not - you are welcome to come back. Just bring this renewal form and the inspections."

"Oh - let's change your voter registration too while you're here."

Everyone else also seemed to be getting the same level of customer service.

Not expected.

I did take a glance at the badges of the people working behind the first counter and noticed that everyone was a supervisor or senior level clerk. Even the guy who is the "face" of the Arlington County government on public access serves at the 1st window.

They were also obviously empowered to make decisions for themselves based on the circumstance.

Moving to the other line - I noticed that this is where the junior levels took payment. At least 3 senior-levels (that I could tell) were available. 1 to "direct traffic" to the appropriate windows (he made the decisions based on availablility and the strengths of the individual junior level at the booth). 1 to answer customer questions about what to do and where to go. At least 1 (there may have been 2 back there) to answer questions from the junior levels.

The idea behind this entire process seems to be that all of the difficult decision-making occurs at the first window by people with the authority to make decisions. By the time the customer reaches the second window for payment - it's simply a matter of taking money, copying 1 form, and handing the customer a copy of the form and the needed sticker. if it's more complicated than that - the junior levels have support right there. The senior levels are already there observing the interaction and can quickly step in before things get out of hand (and Northern Virginians are notoriously demanding and unreasonable. I know, I'm one of them.).

To the folks at the Arlington County, VA Treasurer's Office (and I WISH I took names) - count me seriously impressed. I hope this is a permanent thing.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Inspired by the Gaps

On my Case Study in Attitude post, Karen commented:

Loads of object lessons in this story, Wendy... some of them a little close to the bone ;-)

Yup. That's why I wrote it. I think I need those object lessons in attitude more than anybody. It's kind of a personal reminder. Sadly, I've been more like the Baltimore Orioles than the Washington Nationals this year...

This gets me thinking...How do you overcome a negative attitude and develop a positive one without being phony to yourself or having a nervous breakdown. How do you do it when it seems that circumstances are against you?

Please understand that right now, things are pretty good in my world. As a result, I find that now is a good time to think about these sorts of issues when it is easier for me to reflect and attempt to implement and practice.

I envy those with naturally sunny, positive dispositions.

Oh - and a big thank you to Dr. Karrer who reminded me why I love instructional technology:

OTHER than education/technology/eLearning/computers"
Hold it! What else is there?
Hopefully, you'll find inspiration soon.

Well, there is a LOT more than just that - but I can use the activities / events / interests outside of those fields and use the theories and skills that education/technology/eLearning/computers provides to continue exploring and processing my experiences.

Sometimes, I find the coolest things within the gaps......