Professional

Access Google without a Google Email Account

Posted on March 13, 2012. Filed under: Professional | Tags: , , |

I work with several not-for-profit groups (and a few other informal groups) and we have found the Google Site and Google Group services to be very useful. They are powerful, easy to manage and free! But Google is a business and they want to know who is using their services. While it is possible to access these services without a Google account, you must still register your email address to sign in.

TO REGISTER YOUR EMAIL:

[If you have not already registered your email address with Google, do so by following these directions; you DO NOT need to have a Google email account!]

  1. Go to the protected site or click the link in the site invitation (or go to http: http://www.google.com and click, “sign in”)
  2. Click the red “sign up” button in the upper right corner of the window
  3. Enter the requested information (does not have to be a Google email) and click “create my account”
  4. Go back to the protected site and sign in with the email address / password just set up; if you click “stay signed in,” the browser will remember your password
  5. Accept the invitation (see your site administrator if you have no invitation)
  6. You are in!

POSSIBLE ISSUES:

Web browsing is everywhere and Google is synonymous with web browsing. Anyone who has been online for more than a few minutes (if you are reading this article, you are a candidate), may have already associated their non-Google email address with a Google Account and simply forgotten the fact. Believe me, it is very easy to do! How can you tell?

When you go to a Google Site (used to create personal or group websites and may be protected with security) or visit a Google Group (used for group distribution lists and keeps a record of messages sent), you are asked to “Sign in.” See Figure A, if this is what the login looks like, you have already associated your non-Google address with a Google Account. The process above won’t help.

Google Sign in where a non-Google email has already been associated with a Google Account.

If your “Sign in” screen looks like this, you will need to recover your username or password (or both). Click the link immediately below the large blue “Sign in” button labeled, “Can’t access your account?” and follow the instructions. You’ll need access to the email application where you receive messages associated with your email address.

However, if your “Sign in” screen looks like Figure B, the process above should work for you! Wait! You say. What’s the difference? These screens look identical! Aha, but they are not. Look in the upper right corner, the red “Sign up” button is the main thing that is different. If you see this button, your email address has not yet been associated with a Google Account and you can follow the 6-step procedure outlined here.

Google Sign in screen where the email address HAS NOT been associated with a Google Account

Good luck and happy surfing!

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How to Survive a Layoff (according to me)

Posted on August 18, 2011. Filed under: Professional | Tags: , , |

Two and a half years after my fourth (official) layoff, I’m finally ready to write about my strategies for surviving and thriving after a layoff. First, a little history for context, then a list of guiding principles that have worked for me. Before I proceed, however, I feel compelled to point out everyone’s situation will be different. Therefore, consider these guidelines in that light… as a starting point for planning your own layoff survival in the event it happens to you.

John’s Principles of Survival

  • Count Your Cash. You should already know where your money is, but make sure you know how much is in each account. Create a list of savings and investments and determine which ones can be used (in priority order) if cash is needed. For me, I spend from my checking account first, then savings, then cash-in CDs or brokerage accounts (stocks, bonds.) If necessary, it is possible to withdraw from a Roth IRA without penalty — you’ve already paid taxes on it. Traditional IRAs can also be cashed in, but at a penalty — these are the last assets to use. Remember, spending your retirement has long-term implications, but if it is the difference between keeping your house long enough to land a job, you’ll have time later to worry about retirement. You may also be able to sell possessions, but these take time to convert into cash and if they are things you’ll need either during or after your period of unemployment, it will probably cost you more to replace than you will receive for their sale. Keep selling of hard assets as a last resort.
  • Cash Flow is King. Pay off debt, especially high interest-rate credit cards. Reduce or eliminate expenses that neither generate an income, promise to generate an income, carry a severe cancellation penalty or cannot be removed. For instance, you have to continue to make your mortgage payment, but often the bank will allow you to reduce your monthly payments to cover just the interest for a defined period of time. Do you need the expensive CATV package or the phone land-line when you have a mobile phone? When is your ISP contract up, can you negotiate a price break for renewal? Eat at home instead of at restaurants. Get creative, make all expenses as small as possible and then put them off as long as possible without incurring penalties or interest expenses. DO NOT put off these tasks, the sooner you adjust your cash flow, the longer your cash will last!
  • Preserve your Credit. Pay off debt balances early if you can. Stop using your credit cards as much as possible. Look for ways to exchange goods for goods or services for goods. Increase your limits while you still have a reported income. If you exhaust all your liquid assets (see Count Your Cash above,) you can use credit as a last resort. I say last resort because credit can be expensive. Take advantage of 0% interest for 6 months deals while you can… they may not be available later if your period of unemployment is prolonged. Avoid this phase as long as possible! Once you get into the circumstance where you must use credit, be ruthlessly thrifty, use low rate cards first, pay only the minimum balances each month but pay them on time to avoid penalties. Talk to the credit card companies to see if they can provide any relief for people in your situation.
  • Finding a Job is Your Job! Those who have never experienced long periods of unemployment often think of it as a vacation. But seriously, how relaxing can a vacation be when you don’t know when or how much will be the next paycheck? If your company provides a severance period, use it to its full extent. Don’t leave anything on the table. If they require you “wrap up” your old job, negotiate to minimize the amount of effort necessary to do so… don’t worry about putting a tidy bow on everything, it will get second guessed and redone as soon as you are no longer available anyway. Don’t burn any bridges, but remember it is more important you find your next source of income than for you to cross all of the t’s and dot all of the i’s.
  • Find Some Time to Relax and Reflect. I know I just said unemployment is not a vacation. But, it does offer some degree of flexibility. Take advantage. Have you thought about helping on a community project or volunteering at the local not-for-profit? Do it. They’ll work around your schedule and you might find either an interest or a lead that will send you down an unexpected path. Join your friends or take your family to the local free concert-in-the-park. It will allow you time away from your day-to-day stress, will not drain your pocket book and could be an important avenue for networking.
  • Some Expenses are Really Investments. Do you really need that fitness club membership? It depends, what kind of job do you seek? If you have a strong support network at the club, this may also be an important job network as well. Avoid isolation, scrutinize membership expenses but also consider whether they might lead to job leads or referrals. Hanging out at the popular coffee house might seem frivolous, but if there is a possibility you will meet your next employer there, it might still be worthwhile. Be sure to use your time productively while there and plan for lots of interruptions. Look for ways to eliminate expenses without eliminating the opportunities they present — can you reduce your membership cost? Can you drink coffee instead of a double latte with extra flavoring or stretch a single cup of coffee over an hour rather than having a couple over the same period?
  • The Clock is Ticking. It takes a lot of time to find a job that fits and pays well. There used to be a rule-of-thumb of 1 month for every $10K of annual compensation. I don’t know if that ratio still holds, but it is a reasonable starting place to estimate how long your savings need to last. Unless your savings are big, you probably won’t have the luxury of an extended employment gap. Consider negotiating your starting date once you land a job so you can have a week or two vacation prior to resuming work.
  • Plan Ahead. Obviously, it is not possible to plan ahead if you have already received a pink slip. If you have not, assume it could happen to you someday. I have made it a practice to estimate my monthly expenses periodically. I try to keep 3-6 months of savings on hand at all times. Here’s how it works, if the parachute account (this is what I call it) is in excess of 6 months, I’ll spend the money on anything reasonable. However, if it ever drops to 3 months or below, I will not touch it until the balance is once again up to 6 months. There is an undefined bonus effect that actually extends a 3-6 month parachute — if you calculate the savings goal based on current expense, whey unemployed you will minimize expenses and thereby stretch your cushion over a longer period of time.

Context: Why I am Qualified to Talk about This

I entered the professional workforce after completing an undergraduate degree in Business Administration from the University of Kansas. I was excited about the prospects of working for first employer because a KU professor’s tutelage had gotten me excited about Labor Relations and I would have the opportunity to practice in a company with a recognizable name. When my friends and I spoke about who had job offers, I didn’t have to explain who is Coca Cola.

Coca Cola Bottling Company

Our views of the world change as our perspectives expand. Mine is no different. Following the excitement of a union de-certification campaign, training management employees to work in the face of work stoppages and hiring strike replacements willing to cross a picket line, I began to develop a conscience. I learned that some companies deserve to have a union. Those unions can and do provide benefits that work to the advantage of both union and non-union employees alike. As my perspective expanded, I decided I would be better suited in sales and began applying for a transfer. Unfortunately, there was “bad blood” between the respective executives responsible to for Sales and Labor Relations and I became a pawn in a political game. I lost my job as a result.

PACE Membership Warehouse

It was 1983 and to my surprise, I landed on my feet in a role that fit my temperament much better and provided significantly better pay. I worked at this privately owned regional department store for more than five years. Advanced through a number of increasingly responsible positions and was ultimately recruited away when I topped out growth-wise in the moderately sized company.

PACE offered the promise of stock options, bonuses, travel, a considerable bump in pay and a prestigious job title. Unfortunately, the company did not know how to make a profit. Eventually, they were purchased (the goal of the founders of the company — built to flip) and I was out of a job.

Mutual of Omaha Insurance

Once again, I landed on my feet. I moved again, increased my salary, increased my responsibilities and got to do some really amazing projects. Professionally, I thrived in this environment; politically, I was a fish out of water. While heading the employee relations function of the global company I also received an MBA — paid for by the company! However, within months of finishing the degree, I became the football in another political game between corporate senior vice presidents. (I actually got the inside story when I ran into one of the VP’s at a cocktail party years later.) I had just finished my MBA and was ready to expand my responsibilities again. The situation allowed me to negotiate a superb severance package and move onto a dream job.

Alliant Health Systems

Yet another pay raise, bonuses, a generous boss and work outside of the human resource field, at last! I was still part of HR, but was working directly with front-line hospital workers and executives to re-create compensation and performance systems in brand new (at the time) and exciting ways. Despite the acclaim these programs brought to the hospital system and the increasing number of invitations to present at conferences, when my aforementioned generous boss moved to another position, I discovered I had not made the appropriate moves to replace him. Instead a peer manager had out-maneuvered me (again) and threatened to dismantle the systems I had assembled. Seeing the writing on the wall, I attempted to transfer within the system, but my skill-set was too specialized and no opportunities existed.

Hewlett-Packard Company

A number of factors led me to believe this would be my final career move. First, I could see organizational politics were not my long suit. I determined to shift my career trajectory from executive to professional. In other words, I intended to work in a role where expertise would serve me better than political skill. Second, I had longed wanted to live on the West Coast and HP offered an Oregon location. Third, my MBA had an international focus and I wanted to work with people in non-US countries. HP gave me instant global responsibility.

I was fortunate enough at HP to work on some very fun and unique projects. But mostly, I was able to turn a talent for organization into a job as a world class project manager. I developed a reputation for managing projects that were complex, dynamic and fraught with problems. I was constantly learning, was actively mentoring numerous colleagues and exercising a talent for problem solving at the same time. I thought I was set. Unfortunately, my success was also my vulnerability.

My frequent successes were met with bonuses, stock options and increasing salary. But I was working in a field (project management) that appeared generic and substitutable to company executives. Despite 13 years of success in management technical projects, my lack of a technical degree made me a candidate for layoff. I trained a replacement in India who earned 25% of my pay and was unceremoniously shown the door.

Oregon State University – An Encore Career

2008 was not a good year to be job searching. With the greatest economic crisis in nearly a century, high levels of unemployment and global financial malaise, few US (and international) corporations were hiring at my level of expertise. Plus, I was undergoing a personal crisis of identity. Faced with the prospects of having to relocate from a community where I had lived for a quarter of my life (longer than any other place) and leaving friends and community support, I decided to stay and change careers. Fortunately, a reasonably successful career had situated me such that I could pay off my home mortgage, eliminate all debts and survive on a significantly smaller income. I wanted to do something meaningful and teaching had been long on my mind as an option.

Due to some lucky networking breaks, I landed a position at OSU where I am now teaching strategic management to seniors and organizational behavior to juniors. My work experiences easily translate into the classroom and I’m finding the challenge of learning how to teach at the university level equal to any I found in corporate America and twice as fulfilling. It has been a struggle at times, but I am enjoying the dual reward of personal growth coupled with making a direct difference in other people’s lives.

Summary

Losing your job can be one of the most stressful events in your life. I ought to know, it has happened to me five times! But it doesn’t have to be the end of the world. Timing is everything. If you can build a big enough war chest, aggressively manage your cash flow and learn from your experiences, you too can survive a layoff.

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Macrowikinomics Book Review

Posted on November 25, 2010. Filed under: Professional | Tags: , , , , , , , |

Cover of the book, "Macrowikinomics"

Macrowikinomics by Anthony Williams and Don Tapscott

I was drawn to this book mostly through having met one of the authors, Don Tapscott. At a conference a few years ago, he spoke about his first book, Wikinomics. The idea of social media (or Web 2.0) was a brand concept for me at the time.

Macrowikinomics is a big book (432 pages) and the writing is thorough in its treatment of both the underlying wiki principles and examples of how these ideas are applied in the real world. It reads as much like an encyclopedia as a novel, meaning, one could read the first few chapters to get an idea of the general principles and then pick whatever specific subject he or she is familiar in order to hear Macrowikinomics applied to that particular topic.

Five Principles

Don Tapscott and co-author Anthony Williams suggest Wikinomics derives from five general principles: openness, collaboration, integrity, interdependence and sharing.

Openness

If social media has taught us anything, it’s that life takes unpredictable turns at most every opportunity. To close one’s self to the unexpected is to limit our options and relegate ourselves to sub-optimal outcomes. Openness represents the need to remain flexible for considering avenues of exploration and previously unavailable solutions.

Collaboration

As the lead for innovation training at a large multi-national corporation, I learned innovation is as much about collaborating creatively when solving problems as anything else. This principle embraces the concept of diversity in experience and viewpoint, accepts these unique views as valuable input and urges us to pursue goals that acknowledge the needs and requirements of more players not less.

Integrity

When open to new ideas and seeking diverse viewpoints through collaboration, it is very easy to lose one’s way. Integrity is essential in remembering what is most important and working toward those ends constantly, especially in the face of adversity.

Interdependence

“No man is an island.” (John Donne, 1572-1631) This trueism has never been more true than it is today. In the grand web of life, we are all connected and all impacted by the actions of others. Tapscott and Williams see optimism in the concept of interdependence and see this as a potential pathway for a more loving and accepting world (my words, not the authors’.)

Sharing

A friend recently introduced me to the concept of network externalities. A fancy sounding phrase with a straight forward meaning. The more something is shared, the more valuable it becomes. The classic example is the telephone. When the first one was invented, it had very limited value since there was nobody to call! With the addition of each new phone, however, the value of the entire system expanded. To share our knowledge, ideas and indeed our successes benefit us all.

General Observations

Embedded within these five themes are others that often get more press, so it is worth mentioning them briefly. The internet is a transformative presence in modern life. We are witnessing not only the demand for more transparency in everything from government to corporate governance, but the tools for making this a possibility are becoming more powerful and accessible every day. Imagine, ever more representative government courtesy of your smart phone!

“With great power comes great responsibility” (credit to either Ben Parker, father of Spider-Man, i.e., Stan Lee or maybe more accurately, Socrates.) Participation is the foundation of a collective system, like democracy. With the power of the internet and the interactivity of Web 2.0 and beyond, expect to see greater participation in the future.

Collective action, or the wisdom of the crowd, has been collecting more validation through data in recent years. Studies show in certain circumstances — such as guessing the number of jelly beans in a jar — the average guess of a sufficiently large number of people is highly likely to be accurate.

Finally, although not specifically called out as important concepts of Wikinomics, sustainability, distributed effort/perspective/storage, networks, and self-organization appear in different shapes and forms throughout the book.

Applications

Once the principles are laid out for Macrowikinomics, the authors turn their attention to numerous examples of the concepts in action. There are case studies for climate change, energy, health and sick care, solving business problems, transportation, media (digital: news, music, movies) and open source intellectual property.

Should you read this book?

Yes, if you think “big,” enjoy seeing large patterns or have reason to understand the context of large scale social change. This book will make you think.

No, if you become easily distracted, if nuance is lost on you or if you are so busy getting things done that you don’t have time for contemplative thinking.

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Book Review: The Big Short

Posted on April 29, 2010. Filed under: Professional | Tags: , , , , |

photo of book coverThe ponzi scheme that became the financial meltdown of 2008 and almost led to a second Great Depression is thoroughly and lucidly described in The Big Short by Michael Lewis. The author carefully and systematically retells the story of how greed led to stupidity and the eventual bursting of the largest financial bubble in history.

Lewis sums up the storyline clearly in his description the difference between a gamble and an investment. “Investing” he says, “is like gambling when the odds are in your favor.”

We are all familiar with the adage about gambling in a casino, the games are designed to favor the house. Whether or not the gambler is conscious of these asymmetrical odds, he is more likely to lose than win every time he pulls a lever or rolls the dice. Even winning streaks  eventually turn; it is only a matter of time. Keep the gambler in the casino long enough and the odds turn back to favor the house.

In The Big Short, we already know how the ending before it starts… but Lewis retells the story with an insider-like perspective that kept my interest throughout. Along the way, I gained insight (notice, I didn’t say I understood) about some very esoteric bond industry terms like CDO (collateralized debt obligation, at the root of the collapse and were essentially the ticking timebomb), CDS (credit default swaps, the gamble on which the “short” players bet against the established financial industry), sub-prime bonds and mortgage backed securities (the building blocks of CDOs.)

Many of the players are familiar: Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, Citi Group, Bank of America, Washington Mutual and others. Those that were previously unfamiliar were the genius in the big short: Frontpoint Capital, a division of Morgan Stanley (Steve Esiman, Vinny Daniel, Danny Moses), Cornwall Capital (Charlie Ledley, Jamie May, Ben Hockett) and Scion Capital (Dr. Michael Burry). And other became familiar for their contribution to the underlying story: Howie Hubler who was responsible for Morgan Stanley’s biggest loss ever of $9B, Greg Lipman who put Deutsche Bank in the middle of the game and of course the government players Hank Paulson, Timothy Geithner and Ben Bernanke who seemed to be asleep when it mattered.

In a speech to Harvard Law School, Charlie Munger (Warren Buffet’s less famous business partner) spoke of the Lollapalooza Effect. In it, Munger suggests incentives are often at the root of much ignorance. In other words, if a system is setup to reward certain behavior — even if that behavior is not in the best interest of the system — that’s how people behave. Therein lies, according to Lewis’ The Big Short, the root of the Great Recession of 2008-2010.

Lewis walks us step-by-step through the recent past (it had all become a blur for me in 2008 and 2009.)

  1. Bear Sterns fails first and is bought by JP Morgan with government guarantees.
  2. Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae follow and are essentially nationalized.
  3. Lehman Brothers goes bankrupt.
  4. AIG fails and receives a total of $180B by the Federal Reserve.
  5. Washington Mutual is seized by the government and sold to Chase.
  6. Wachovia is purchased by Citi Group.
  7. Enter the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) and a trillion dollar give away…

The closing pages of the book discuss where the key players are now and draws parallels to the savings and loan debacle of the 1980’s. Lewis actually claims the decision by John Goodfriend, then CEO of Solomon Brothers to go public (they sold shares of the company to the public where they had been a partnership previously), was the mustard see that grew into the recent crisis.

Overall, the book kept me hooked from the start — surely that is not because my career was just as disrupted as anyone else’s in this story?

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Book Review: Good to Great

Posted on February 28, 2010. Filed under: Professional | Tags: , , |

Good to Great book coverGood to Great, by Jim Collins has been on the book shelves for a long time. It was originally published in 2001 and updated in 2005. The title was somewhat off-putting for me. I figured there is so much literature these days about “greatness” and so much lip service paid to “excellence” — much of it is meaningless. I expected Good to Great to be more of the same. But, it is not. After reading Collin’s more recent book, How the Mighty Fall, I was impressed with him as a writer and thought I’d give his other books a second glance.

What makes this book different from other popular business books is data. Collins assembled an enormous group of helpers to dig into data about great companies over a multi-year project. His group looked at 30 years of data for hundreds of US-based companies to find 11 that have gone from good to great. The bar was set very high for inclusion, companies have:

  1. operated at a level better than the market for 15 years (good performance);
  2. experienced some kind of breakthrough to become great (better return than 3x the market); and
  3. sustained that level of performance for at least 15 years.

Other companies that had come close were retained for comparison purposes only. The outcome is a very thoughtful and pragmatically meaningful body of work. The essence of the book falls back to discipline — with equal focus on getting the right people on the bus (people), handling business like a hedgehog (thinking) and making a consistent and sustained effort, regardless of who is in charge, to turn the money-making flywheel of the business (action).

Disciplined People

In good to great companies, “who always comes before what.” Collins introduces the concept of Level 5 Leadership to describe the type of leaders his study found leading the way toward greatness. He describes his personal reluctance for including the topic of leadership in the study — and it sounds much like my own reluctance to read his book! But the data was clear, those leaders who have charisma and strong will and lead through the sheer force of their personality (think Lee Iacocca) are level 4 leaders. The difference between the fourth and fifth levels of leadership, Collins finds, is the presence of humility in place of ego. Level 5 leaders routinely give credit to others, keep blame to themselves and foster growth and continuity in the people they choose to lead the company. As a result, the success of great companies extends beyond the leaders that get them there. The culture of discipline inspired by Level 5 leaders lives on after the leaders are gone.

Disciplined Thinking

The hedgehog, as Collins explains, does pretty much one thing only; but it does it very, very well. A hedgehog is not very glamorous, when danger comes along it balls up, sticks out its sharp spines and stays put until the danger goes away. As a result, the hedgehog may not be very elegant, but it always survives. Hedgehog thinking happens at the confluence of three concepts: an economically viable idea, the ability to be the best in the world at something and a passionate drive for the work. Where all three of these things exist, the organization is using hedgehog or disciplined thinking

Collins explores the role of technology in success. He finds technology on its own neither creates success nor failure. Rather, technology acts as an accelerator. He found great companies use technology, but only to augment their hedgehog approach. Conversely, he found companies who failed to adopt technology were doomed to fail despite their technophobic ways. Disciplined thinking with respect to technology requires a crawl, then walk, then run attitude. Apply technology as it is useful and then master it before increasing its presence in your business.

Disciplined Action

When it comes to action, there is power in focus. The core concept of a business is its flywheel. The flywheel is the idea behind the organization that makes its business concept work. Just like the weight of a mechanical flywheel generates momentum as it spins, the spinning of the business’ flywheel has a multiplying effect on success. Collins found strong evidence that good to great companies figure out their core concept and then do everything to keep it turning at a steadily increasing pace. It may take years, but with consistent and dedicated effort at turning the flywheel, eventually enough momentum gathers that a breakthrough takes place.

This build up / break through concept focuses on preserving the core (organization values) and stimulating progress (business model.) The research found something I have LONG believed… when everyone focuses on turning the flywheel there is NO NEED for alignment exercises, motivational speeches and change management because everyone already knows what to do. Convincingly, Collins points to abundant data that show large pay packages — rather than causing improved performance — make no difference and may even be harmful for success of a company. The rock star CEO is a myth and the grossly inflated pay packages that go along with this type of elitism is simply a waste of organizational resources.

Summary

Good to Great gets two thumbs up from me. And, now that I’ve read two of his books, I’m anxious to read Built to Last. Although this was the first book in the series, he recommends reading Good to Great first. Supposedly, there is another book in the works too. I look forward to more of Collins’ data-driven, insightful approach to good business.

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Time Management 2.1

Posted on February 12, 2010. Filed under: Professional | Tags: , , , , |

Borrowing from the popular Web 2.0 theme, I’ve been considering what would the next generation of time management look like… since a lot of really smart people have already been working on this topic for a while, I decided my work is nothing special so it doesn’t deserve a 3.0 label, but I think I have an interesting twist on a very popular subject, hence TM2.1.

Consider all the tools — paper-based, client-based and web-based — available for free or purchase. The options are overwhelming and it is not my intention here to create an inventory. If I did, it would soon be out-of-date… probably before I hit the “Publish” button on my blog!

And this is the inspiration for my newest quest in time management… what would time management look like if it were tool agnostic?

Time Management Without Brand Names

My time management practices tend to become driven by the capabilities of the system I’m using. When I used Outlook, I filed all messages in a single folder because that was all that was possible. When I switched to Gmail I quickly learned the value of using categories instead of folders because now I didn’t have to decide which folder to use, I could use whatever categories fit. Even then, after years of using Gmail, I rely much less on structured organization and mostly use the search  feature to find what I’m seeking.

Herein lies the problem, when I align my practices with the features of a product I become beholden to the product and not the underlying task requirement. This started me thinking about the basic building blocks of my time management system. The challenge here will be to think about each part without using the Microsoft, Google or GTD names! Instead, I intend to describe the specific task in generic language.

Correspondence

When I started my career in 1980, email didn’t exist. All correspondence happened in paper form or by telephone. Instant messaging wasn’t even a dream. It was customary to plan 3 days for one’s correspondence to get to its destination. If something was really important, courier services existed for overnight delivery, but they charged a high premium for the privilege.

With email, instant messaging, chat, texting and social network sites we now have many ways to keep in touch, communicate and reach out. Plus, the old standby of postal mail is still in the picture. I’ve not seen an interoffice memorandum for some time, but I’m sure some businesses and public organizations still correspond in this format.

Tasks

In my world, correspondence usually leads to tasks. A meeting with a colleague, an email from a student, and IM from my child — these usually generate something for me to do. I wonder sometimes if, what we refer to as time-management wouldn’t more accurately be called task-management.

Scheduling

For me, scheduling is really tasks with priorities applied. While many of us play with the idea of multi-tasking, such divided attention practices rarely produce useful, meaningful outcomes. They are better suited for monitoring or maintaining what is happening around us. When we need to devote our attention to getting something done, we must focus our attention. This typically involves setting a priority and putting it in our schedule.

People

None of us is an island, we all rely on others for even the most mundane of activities — try starting your day without using products and services provided by someone else! Whether the person is a loved-one, a friend, an acquaintance or a service provider, I am often challenged with keeping track of them all. Throw in account numbers, usernames and password codes — all of which allow us to interact with other people or the services they offer — and this becomes a significant element for time management.

Reference Locators

This group is particulary hard for me to describe without using a common technology label, bookmarks. Its purpose however — and what distinguishes it from the next group — is its reference to accessing information that is routinely needed. In the year of 2010, we are stuck in a transition from reference information stored in a physical place to storage in a virtual place. The result is, we must have duplicate, parallel systems that work well together. To complicate things further, items stored in physical space are of a variety of dimensions. While a file cabinet and storage locker may work for most items, there is invariably something that fits in neither. There is a parallel problem in the virtual world — bookmarks, pictures, email, documents, etc require slightly different treatment.

Archives

This the miscellaneous category. Pretty much everything I’ve ever dealt with has one. Those nasty exceptions that just don’t fit anywhere else. The typical characteristic here is they are important — otherwise you would have thrown it away — and the time horizon of need is undetermined — otherwise, you would put them into your schedule. The primary challenge with archives is remembering you have them and being able to find what you need when you need it.

A Roadmap for Future Work

This topic has been on my mind (and a task list) for months, ever since I struggled with adapting the outdated electronic systems used by the State of Oregon to my personal time management system. I still remember a conversation with my carpool partner Steve about the topic. I was frustrated and threw my hands into the air — I feel like I’m being forced back to a paper system, but I still remember all the problems with paper! I initially wrote this blog article on 20-AUG-2010, but couldn’t finish it.

Subsequently, I struggled with the difficulties of having multiple locations from which I needed to access information. The age-old problem of not being in the same place as my address book when I needed to make a phone call, and related problems.

In more recent days, I am worried about my reliance on any one product or service. I enjoy when my time management system works for me and stays in the background. I become discouraged when a provider changes a feature I rely on or a technology change out dates an application that is the cornerstone of my electronic system.

Having a roadmap that lays out the basic blocks of my time management system and its requirements is a useful tool for future migrations and tool modifications. We all know they are coming, it’s only a matter of time! I’ll use my professional blog as a forum for working through these issues and options and I invite questions and opinions along the way…

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Google Conundrum

Posted on January 20, 2010. Filed under: Professional | Tags: , , , , |

Computers and technology seem inherently disappointing. Isn’t it amazing all of the things we can do today that nobody even imagined 10 years ago… Facebook, Twitter, phone apps, mobility, cloud computing, blogging, etc.

The problem is, when I find an application that does something I want — like Outlook does a nice job organizing a calendar and has a super powerful task function — there are trade-offs, Outlook is confined to a single PC. As computer hardware becomes more ubiquitous, being confined to a single work station, even if it is a laptop or a smart phone, seems silly and limiting.

From Outlook to Google

So, I moved on to Google. The Gmail email interface is more flexible than Outlook and replacing folders with tags was ingenious… and liberating. With tags and Google’s famous search capabilities, filing and retrieving messages is no longer a chore. Plus, I no longer I have to limit myself to a single piece of hardware. I can access messages anywhere I have an internet connection. Plus, the calendar function has evolved to be even better than Outlook (it didn’t start there!) Google is working on an improved “task” functionality, but it too is painfully so slow in coming.

Next Comes Mobility

Once freed from a single work station, my mind begins to worry about accessing information when I’m not connected to a network. Sure, I could pay my Verizon cancellation fee, spend an exorbitant sum on an iPhone and throw the thousands of dollars I’ve spent on PC-compatibility out the window so I could switch to Apple’s dark side, which also brings other complications. Too bad money doesn’t grow on trees. Plus, AT&T cellular coverage sucks in the small community where I live. And, all cellular coverage has holes. So, expecting to always have a network connection is such 2025 thinking.

Enter an iPod Touch. The benefits are great — in addition to getting a portable, flexible organizer that works even when the network is unavailable or inconvenient to use, iTunes allows synchronization with Outlook; Outlook will sync with Google and the whole system “hangs together.” The Touch does not require an expensive phone plan and it can sync with this time management universe through a small USB cable.

Onto Convenience

With computer memory so cheap and so many useful applications available, 64-bit technology is the next logical step. With old style 32-bit processors, computers are limited to 4GB of memory. That worked when there wasn’t much to run on your PC, but things have changed. The 64-bit processor allows virtually unlimited memory but also requires more modern operating systems and sophisticated software programs. Windows 7 promises many improvements over Windows XP (I never did make the step into Vista) and I dutifully updated all of my equipment to run Microsoft’s latest and greatest operating system this month.

Now the Google Conundrum

Even though 64-bit technology has been around for years, Google hasn’t discovered it yet. While their Calendar Sync application does a wonderful job of keeping my iPod synchronized with Google calendar via Outlook and iTunes, it doesn’t work in a 64-bit environment. Windows 7 offers this cool gimmick called “compatibility mode” which allows a user to run applications as if they were in a previous operating environment. I say “gimmick” because it doesn’t work. Much like the play ground toys at my local grade school, there are lots of knobs to tweak and levers to pull, but nothing happens outside of your imagination.

And, I’m on my own. Nobody seems to have this same problem and Google has no plans to support 64-bit operating systems. Microsoft has no incentive to put its client-based application online in a meaningful way for an individual user. Apple is stuck in their arrogance of wanting to control all elements of their tiny virtual ecosystem. All those mobile app builders are busying themselves with more important functionality for the masses like Grand Theft Auto Chinatown Wars or iMario Lite.

Once again, my fantasies drift back to simpler days of paper-based Franklin Day Planners…

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The Problem with Innovation

Posted on December 30, 2009. Filed under: Professional | Tags: , , , , |

When I worked as a corporate training consultant I was in charge of innovation training for many years. Despite the widespread interest in the topic it rarely got any real traction at the company I worked. In other words, while most of the executives of the company mention the term “innovation” in their public pronouncements and speeches, when they’d speak in private it had very little meaning to them. They supported innovation the same way Americans are raised to support “mom, apple pie and baseball.” They are good concepts but they have very “fuzzy” boundaries. It is hard to “get your mind around” any of them with regards to WHY they are important.

Why don’t they listen?

Eventually, I became curious why these executives would continue to fund my training programs in innovation but not support the other activities that seemed critical to accomplish the results they claimed to need. They would complain that innovation wasn’t happening, yet they were often the biggest hurdles to true innovation themselves. In the language of TRIZ (one of the methodologies for innovation that I championed), they were part of an innovation dilemma, how do we get more innovation while allocating fewer resources on the subject. This article describes the problem with innovation as it relates to the disagreement over getting started.

Innovation is one of those concepts everyone already knows. Like being a backseat driver, anyone can drive better than the person at the wheel when things are going badly. Many discussions leading to disagreement often started in an attempt to define innovation. Many and varied definitions were generated and hours of productivity were lost in the debate. Ultimately, the definitions were so different because they required context for their relevance. In other words, the definition for innovation depends on what you need at the moment and what issues you are facing on a day-to-day basis.

A unique perspective

One of the advantages my training role offered over others — I served all masters, not just a single one — was the opportunity to compare and contrast the different constituents while they attempted to find a definition that addressed their particular pain. This article is the direct result of a conversation I had with a former colleague yesterday over coffee. Jack was one co-conspirators in attempting to learn and proliferate TRIZ methodologies throughout the research and development community of our former employer.

What is TRIZ?

Before I go too much further, let me describe TRIZ. The term has been around since roughly the middle of the last century. My favorite source of information on the topic is at the TRIZ Journal website. The reason many Americans don’t know about TRIZ is related to the fact it was developed during the Cold War “behind” the Iron Curtain. A patent office worker (have we heard this story before) by the name of Genrich Altschuller noticed a pattern in the applications for patents in the former Soviet Union. Over time, he developed a body of knowledge referred to as the Theory of Inventive Problem Solving. In Russian that translates roughly to the acronym “TRIZ” and is usually pronounced “trees.” The training in the theories required a rigorous discipline and many years of post-graduate practice. Following glasnost in the late 1980’s, several Russians began introducing this set of theories to other parts of the world. The concepts have caught on slowly in the West because they require “unlearning” some pretty deep-seated understanding before they can be usefully applied. However, the power of the techniques is well documented and irrefutable.

The Elements of Innovation

Venn diagram showing the relationship between the various elements of innovation.

Elements of Innovation

In the diagram at the left, I have characterized innovation as consisting of three primary components — creativity, problem solving and implementation. The intersection of these three components creates four additional concepts. The overlap of creativity and problem solving (A) is generally the realm of science. The overlap of problem solving and implementation (B) is  the domain of engineering. The perspective of project management comes at the overlap of creativity and implementation (C). True commercial value resides at the intersection of all three elements (D). Finally, when these attributes of innovation take place within a collaborative environment, innovation is enhanced. Innovation can and does happen without collaboration, but it is usually enhanced through the collaboration of multiple experts.

When we stop trying to confine innovation to any one of these elements — and realize the act of innovating can be applied to one, all or any combination — the exact definition becomes less important than the act. Just like the proverbial blind people attempting to describe an elephant by touching distinct and unique parts of the beast — scientists, engineers and managers often have difficulty gaining consensus on a single definition. Obviously, the definition is complex and depends on its application at the moment. Therefore, I shy away from the need to have any specific definition for innovation and instead focus on how to make it happen.

In application, innovation is elusive. If you set out to be innovative, it just doesn’t happen. However, I found when I got scientists, engineers or managers focused on solving a problem the outcome was almost always innovative. When I finally got traction with innovation was when I stopped trying to teach it — or, more precisely — to offer training in innovative techniques.

Its not a destination!

In my role, I worked with many vendors. We often shared frustration with the difficulty of facilitating wide-spread adoption of innovation techniques. TRIZ might be embraced by the practitioners (like Jack), but it was rarely seen as useful by their managers. I often observed innovation happening whenever collaboration took place. TRIZ helped facilitate collaboration because it brought previously unrelated concepts to the same problem. Only when we stopped trying to teach TRIZ and started to solve problems did we make progress. In retrospect, the problem with innovation is that it is a by-product of specific actions creativity, problem solving, implementation and collaboration — often involving collaboration between related but isolated contributors — and does not happen simply through the desire to be innovative.

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11 Rules of Social Media

Posted on December 11, 2009. Filed under: Professional | Tags: , , |

One of my brothers lives on the other side of the county, in Vermont. I recently coaxed my brother onto Facebook (FB) so it would be easier for us to keep with each other’s lives. When I signed him up, I also suggested people he might know — mostly family. Within a day, he sent an email with a question about FB etiquette. My response is below and makes a pretty good guide if I say so myself… and I do! By the way, this came to an even 10 rules by coincidence, not because I was looking for a round number.

Your Facebook Goals

After signing up at a social media site, you will soon receive friend requests from old school buddies, former work mates, etc. FB has some tools to enable building your network and people will start finding you. It is a good idea to have a general idea of why you are in FB. That is, what are your goals?

  1. Start small and slowly. Social media has a tendency to snow ball. Slow at first and then it picks up speed. The tendency is to build big at first because it seems nothing is happening… then all of a sudden an avalanche comes rolling down the hill as the exponential growth curve kicks in.
  2. Separate work and pleasure. If you get into using social networking as a tool for work, keep that account separate from the one you use for sharing family photos and stories about your children’s health. I have a LinkedIn account I use purely for work and job search activities. I use FB for personal and fun stuff. A Rule of Thumb… once you put it on the web, it will always be there and anyone can find it. We’ve all heard the stories of drunken and nude photos…
  3. Be suspicious of everyone you add. You’ll also get spammers trying to use your address book to spread their evil. Your only line of defense is to “not add” them to your friends list. Especially with Twitter and to a lesser degree with FB, I get solicitations of a questionable nature. (My “status” is single. Not only does that mean I automatically get ads targeted for dating, I also get spammers who want to sell sex.
  4. It’s okay to ask, “How do I know you.” I didn’t know the request from Tuna was really a highschool buddy named Bill until I asked him how I knew him. If he’s legitimate, he’ll understand and respond back with his identity. If not, generally they don’t respond and you can “ignore” the request.
  5. Personal and professional protocols are different. If I get a “request to add” on LinkedIn I am very likely to accept even if I don’t know the person extremely well — it’s the modern version of exchanging business cards. On FB, it’s different… if I don’t know them I “ignore” them. For example, I would treat a friend request from an ex-wife differently in FB than in LinkedIn.
  6. Learn about the privacy features early. This past week FB enhanced security on their network. So you can decide which parts of your profile are visible. I keep most things protected except to my network. I have some information available to “friends of friends” and nothing available to anyone other than the mandatory profile photo and name.
  7. Put a photo on your profile. I get annoyed when a friend has no photo on their profile. Digital photos are so easy to come by these days and they say a lot about someone. What goes through my mind when I see a profile without a photo is, “Are they lazy or embarrassed about how they look?”
  8. Don’t let things get stale. Nobody likes when your retain an old profile picture, or fail to update your status periodically or share news and photos. This is another reason to start slow. After a while if you are enjoying the activity and want to put more energy into it, expand. Otherwise, resist the urge to sign up for everything that comes your way.
  9. Avoid FB applications like the plague! Apps are things like Farmville, Mafia Wars, and various holiday specials. They want access to your address book and they are very difficult to remove once you add them to your profile.
  10. Start simple and explore. There are many, many features to FB and it can be overwhelming. Start by updating your status periodically and responding to friend’s status updates. Eventually, you’ll post pictures or links, you might start sending person-to-person or wall-to-wall messages, using IM, etc. If you add features slowly, you’ll be a power user in no time and will be amazed at how easy it all is.
  11. Budget your time. Social media can be a time sponge and you can spend hours each day. Set limits and watch the clock. The cool thing about FB is you can drift in when you have time and drift out when things are busy. There is little expectation that you will “always be on.”
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Book Review: A Life at Work

Posted on December 9, 2009. Filed under: Professional | Tags: , , |

Life at Work book cover.I first learned of Thomas Moore (not Sir Thomas More the saint who lived during 15th and 16th century England) several years ago from a therapist friend. I “discovered” him again while looking for books to help with my work-life transition, post layoff. According to his website, Thomas Moore has written 16 books on deepening spirituality and cultivating soul in every aspect of life. He has been a monk, a musician, a university professor, and a psychotherapist, and today he lectures widely on holistic medicine, spirituality, psychotherapy, and the arts. His book A Life at Work: The Joy of Discovering What You Were Born to Do was first published in audio format in October 2007, hardcover followed early the next year.

When my friend initially recommended Moore, I bought his book Care of the Soul, but found it much to “dense” to easily absorb. I only read the first one or two chapters before it went to the “someday” reading pile and eventually found its way into my bookcase for long term storage. Similarly, I found his writing in A Life at Work to be difficult to penetrate. Still, with the motivation of wanting to know how to discover the work I was born to do, I persisted. I actually read the book cover-to-cover twice before feeling partly comfortable discussing its content!

The persistence paid off. Maybe it’s his background as a monk or even his decision to leave a religious life to live in the bigger world, Moore’s book provides insight into life at work through understanding one’s relationship to your spirit and soul. He provides an introduction to several useful terms in conducting spirit- and soul-work and provides insight into love and community. He suggests by understanding these things, what you were born to do will emerge… if you are quiet and pay attention. Moore strives for a life of duality and an opus of the soul. The book uses an analogy with alchemy throughout, identifying different stages of the search for one’s opus with the colors of black, red and yellow as they might be described in an alchemist’s notebook.

Fundamentally, it’s important to understand Moore’s concepts of spirit and soul. In his writing, spirit is something within us that looks forward, lives in the future and dreams big. It is the vision that lives within us and pushes us to be all we can be and do all we can do. The soul, by contrast, has roots in the past, keeps us grounded in our own history, learns from our experience and is our quiet connection to meaning. It is our soul that not only defines our deepest desires… it is our barometer for knowing when are fulfilling our life’s purpose.

Moore uses story telling as a means to accessing the messages of the soul. He recommends telling stories of our past over and over to as many people who will listen. It is the retelling that brings depth to our stories and this depth is the key to unlocking the treasures of our past. He values the listener who will simply hold space and listen quietly, but he also says we can analyze our own stories by paying attention to our own resistance. If there is a part of a story we skim over because it is “not relevant” or “not important,” he urges us to pay attention and tell it anyway. Often, says Moore, there is gold in that resistance.

He also advocates for dream journaling. He discusses the value of listening to our dreams holistically. He says avoiding analyzing too deeply and pay attention to the symbolism contained within. Those symbols hold clues to purpose and meaning.

Moore uses the Greek concepts of the daimon and duende to speak to an inner urge to do what is right and the ability to put your life on the line without the approval of polite society respectively. Daimon and duende push us from within to discover our true self. (This was part I had trouble unpacking, perhaps the links provided in this paragraph will do a better job than me for describing their importance. Looks like a third reading is in order.)

A lengthy discussion of three kinds of love – eros (sexuality, creation and pleasure), agape (compassion for one’s neighbor) and philia (friendship) led to a marvelous discussion of the importance of community. Moore describes community as a frame of reference where you define yourself in relation to those around you. It is the opposite of narcissism. It is a growth from self-love to love of the other. To pursue this growth, Moore suggests enlarging your sense of self — as opposed to attempting to going outside the self. The soul, he says, extends beyond the self into the community and the natural world.

Summing up, I found the book difficult to read but worth the struggle. I suspect I’ll read it a few more times. It is almost poetic in its composition. (Which may contribute to its complexity.) The modicum of success I achieved in these initial readings in fact have inspired me to go back to another attempt of Care of the Soul.

The Joy of Discovering What You Were Born to Do

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