Sunday, October 30, 2011


Some time ago I was at a wilderness training camp and heard the role of "fire keeper" used in a derogatory sense. The speaker seemed to consider it a lowly position. Naturally, I lept at taking such an honored role. Fire, the building and use of, is one of mankind's greatest tools. When you are out in the cold few things warm the heart and body like a crackling fire and a hot meal cooked over it.

Let me use another derogatory term, please forgive my language. "Management". There, I said it. You can uncover your children's ears and eyes now. Few roles have been so disparaged yet are so critical to keeping the energy of industry going. Few roles had such capacity to stoke or quench the passion in a worker than the "M" word.

As I build my fire-making skills I am intrigued by the corollaries in my career field. What is the best way to engage the breezes to my campfire going. How do I use the changing winds of IT innovation to keep my team fully engaged and passionate? What can I do to fend of the dampening effects of rain and personnel changes?

Monday, October 17, 2011

Are you smarter than me?

I hope so.

If you have not watched the movie "The Big Year", I recommend it.  Steve Martin plays Stu Preissler, Jack Black plays Brad Harris, and Owen Wilson plays Kenny Bostick. All three are serious birders engaged in a "Big Year". They are trying to see the largest number of species from 1 Jan to 31 Dec. Stu is the "really" guy; he is really in tune with his family, really rich, really significant, and who many of us would really want to be. Brad is the "real" guy; he has a real job, real family difficulties, and a real hard time connecting with the girl of his dreams. Kenny Bostick is, well, "totally" a bird guy. Totally consumed with a task, totally missing the beautiful in his life, and totally blowing it.

In the movie Brad makes some less than ideal choices but he also makes some right ones. Even Stu grows, but the real transition is when Brad chooses to be less "totally" committed to the task and more "really" committed to priorities. The line "What am I doing?" is pivotal in the movie and even more critical in our lives.

What am I doing to really make a difference where it counts? 

What am I doing to ensure the people I love really know they are loved? 

What am I doing that is really important?

To be honest, I have spent more of my life like Kenny than Brad. Guys find it easy to seek significance in a task and easy to forget that the task is not the master of our fate nor the sole measure of our value. Smart guys wind up like Stu; they are really connected to what is really important. Smart guys do not always have the Mensa card to whip out but can call on friends and loved ones in a time of need and get a significant response.

I want to be smart but have a long way to go. How about you?

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Degrees and Education

Not too long ago I wrote about choosing the size of events in my life. As of yet I can't seen anything wrong with the idea, except that it is harder to do than to write. Much harder. Things at work started to worry me and I let them intrude for a while. This was happening right while I'm reading Dale Carnegie's "How to quit worrying and start living". Talk about time to put the material to work! I chose to reduce the size of those events in my life and made some mental plans if things did get out of hand.

And that tidbit is the difference between getting a degree and getting an education. Important information is not just what you know but what you can use to make things better.  When you look for a job the hiring manager generally puts more emphasis on what you've done with what you know than with just what you know. If you have saved $100,000 at work by doing X instead of Y, then no one cares if you had a GPA of 4.0 or 2.0. Most won't care if you have a GPA at all.

Let me be honest, I have a graduate degree. I thought it would make me more hireable in my chosen career field. I no longer work in that field and can only remember two useful things from my entire graduate experience. Had I found those two useful things in a magazine somewhere I could have saved a lot of time and money. I got the degree but didn't get much of an education. On the other hand I currently work in a career field that I am woefully under-trained for and have no degree in. Instead I have gained a lot of experience learning from smart people and beating my head against a problem until I pass out and the solution comes to me in a pain induced haze. I have an education but no degree.

The beauty of an education is simple. It lets you sort through a lot of information and quickly find those parts that are critical. The sum of human knowledge on any subject is over-whelming and you cannot take into account every variable and possible scenario before you make a decision. You also get a good feel for just how much effort is necessary to succeed. It is so much easier to tell your boss something over coffee than to do a twenty page report that they may or may not read.

As I transition to a new career field I look for training and certification to get hiring manager's attention. However, I'm really hyped about getting my education. For that I write business cases for projects, try and figure out earned value and how to explain it, and stare at network diagrams until my brain oozes out my ears. If I cannot show by my experience that I have already learned the basics who will hire me to do advanced stuff?

If you are looking at a job or career transition, how good is your education? Can you prove it?

Monday, October 3, 2011

Size Matters

Apologies for the late post, Sunday took more out of me than I expected.

There I was, with all life's problems and accomplishments, sitting on the side of the dive boat Steel Slinger. While Captain Pat and Divemaster Kyle were doing a great job of tending a bunch of divers. I was fascinated with the water roiling off the bow. As each moment passed more water was displaced than the mass my body occupies. That mass was smaller than the boat we were on which is much smaller than the wrecked boats we dove on. Yet even those boats were almost lost in the small space we operated in off Panama City Beach. If Pat didn't have the coordinates we could have never found them just by looking. It struck me how small I was and how big the world is. You could take everything I've ever owned, every place I've ever worked, and every town I've ever lived in, dump them in the ocean, and the water level would not be noticeably changed.

Down on one of the wrecks I watched a fish who was hiding behind a metal ledge, watching me. There wasn't enough of him (her?) to make a snack out of but it was fascinating to meet eye to eye with a creature you cannot communicate with. The fish was looking at this ungainly bubble blowing thing and possibly wondering what was about to happen. The ungainly bubble blowing thing was realizing just how interesting life could be if you met it eye to eye. That fish, unnamed but not forgotten, really means more to me than the problems I had left up on the surface. He, or she, made me think about all the other odd species I encounter and forget to really look eye to eye with. Marco the dog who lovingly puts his chin on my leg and pees on the floor for me. My wife, odd sort that she is, puts up with me from day to day even when I fail to really pay her the attention she deserves. And she doesn't even pee on the floor! My friends, here and everywhere, who give me their attention when I ask for it. I too often fail to meet them "eye to eye" (or "e-mail to e-mail") and pay proper attention.

Size matters. Not the physical size of an object like a boat that bobs up and down on the ocean nor the culturally prized size of your bank account. It is the span of your attention given to a friend and the depth of your love for another that really speak volumes about you. As I sat on the side of the boat and looked out over the water, I understood that I determine the size of a person or problem in my life. It makes no sense to bring a small problem from work home and let it diminish the attention I pay my wife. I have to act upon the size imbalances I've let creep up in my life.

Are the things in your life the proper size?