Monday, January 23, 2006

House Divided

Dealing with differences of opinion, especially those founded on deeply rooted emotions, can be a difficult task. It's important to respect the other person's opinion without getting walked upon in the process. Staying calm and avoiding personal attacks are helpful too. When it's family, remembering that you are family and that you love each other is an important ingredient. When it's the work environment, it helps to work on building interpersonal relationships and focus together on the common cause. And all of these skills will be tested very seriously over the next couple of weeks in my house because everyone in my family is a Seattle Seahawks fan... all of us, that is, except my sister who lives in Pittsburgh.

I have to say that this is not a Super Bowl matchup I'd ever worried about before. For starters, the Seahawks had done so poorly over the past few years that I'd nearly given up paying any attention to them whatsoever. After all, I am primarily a baseball fan anyway. But we did used to have season's tickets to the Seahawks and I have spent many a lovely Sunday in December inside the Kingdome, usually watching them lose. More painfully, it was often the only decent weekend day(s) out of the month, which made it that much tougher to be indoors. That's beside the point though.

This year, the Seahawks have given us something to be excited about. Although they've gotten very little respect from everyone else until they started beating teams during the play-offs, they've been a well-oiled machine this season. That's fine; perhaps that means they'll be able to sneak up on the Steelers in what is certain to be a tight game.

Sure, as a franchise, the Steelers have the upper hand with previous Super Bowl trips under their belt. But how many who will actually be down there on the field will have Super Bowl experience to share? This is where Seattle has the advantage of numbers and we're hearing already about how that's helping bolster the team for the upcoming showdown. And I'm hoping that not having been to the Super Bowl yet in their own franchise history will make the Seahawks that much hungrier for a win.

My sister, of course, feels differently and is completely confident Pittsburgh will take the day. I have faith, though, that we'll be able to keep our senses of humor even as we begin to engage in the requisite trash talk. And I know that we'll somehow manage to avoid any kind of personal attacks (I swear, if I tell any "Pittsburgh fans are so stupid they..." jokes I won't mean the members of my own family; honest!) and by the end of the day on Super Bowl Sunday, one of us will still find a way to be happy for the other. Hopefully it will be my sister of course, recalling that she did originally grow up here in Seattle!

Fortunately for me, I've had plenty of practice in dealing with these kinds of situations because I also happen to live in what we've affectionately come to call a "bi-species" household. As a UW grad (Husky) married to a WSU grad (Cougar), it's made for some tense Apple Cup games some years but usually we've managed to escape them with dignity mostly intact and still willing to celebrate Thanksgiving together.

Of course, this also means that I'm well versed in the tradition of talking trash to the "enemy" though it is always in good-natured fun and never meant maliciously in our circle. We're able to do it and not get hurt feelings because everyone understands that and we pay close attention to whether we might be in danger of crossing the line though sometimes we do tread awfully close! Speaking of which...

"A study was performed to determined which of the US cities had the highest literacy rate. The mayor of Pittsburgh, being highly competitive, was disappointed to learn that while they'd made it into the top ten, had not ranked any higher than number 6 and so embarked on a city-wide literacy campaign. The effort paid off and the next year, Pittsburgh ranked third in the study, just behind Seattle, which had scored the second place slot for the second year in a row. Figuring they were on a roll, the Pittsburgh mayor issued a challenge to the Seattle mayor, saying they figured by the following year, they'd be number one and Seattle would still be second place chumps.

"When the results of the study came out the following year, the Seattle mayor was pleased with their own
first place literacy ranking but was perplexed as to how Pittsburgh had managed to drop all the way to number 8, nearly out of the top 10 altogether. So he called up his Three Rivers counterpart and asked about their reading habits that year.

"Somewhat disturbed with the response, the Seattle mayor fired off a quick email to Holmgren, 'Mike - I think I understand now why they're wearing the white jerseys. You might want to call up Cowher to let him know they get to be the home team and we're actually playing in Detroit; he might not have read the memo.'"

I'm sure you can come up with better (and shorter!) jokes about the Steelers. Send them to me at and let's get this thing going.

How will you stay fully engaged while detaching from the outcome?

Kimm Viebrock is a Certified Professional Coach who helps technology professionals and service-oriented technology groups develop and use their skills more effectively and increase their value within the larger organizaion, allowing them to do more, do it better and have more fun doing it. Kimm is devoted to finding the connectedness in life.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Many Hands

Bug-bashing pizza parties. Quilting bees and barn raisings. And now, interstellar detective work right here on earth. Many hands make light work, as the old saying goes. With centuries of proof that that the concept works, the challenge these days is to figure out how to apply it under 21st century conditions.

Fortunately, the distributed computing approach developed at the end of the last century for the SETI@home project is highly adaptable, even to situations in which human intervention is required such as will be the case soon with the Stardust probe data analysis. That's right, if you can prove you can tell the difference between interstellar dust and other microscopic particles and scratches, you too can help look for these tiny particles responsible for life as we know it.

And if the folks at JPL were able to figure this one out, then surely the rest of us ought to be able to figure out how to harness the power of many for more than just "help me move my stuff and I'll give you beer and pizza." After all, most situations are not so complex that they require solutions developed by rocket scientists.

The basic recipe is actually pretty simple and hasn't changed much over the years. For best results, take four parts difficult, tedious work and add three parts camaraderie, one part food, one part refreshing beverage and sprinkle humor liberally throughout. A dash of good-natured competition makes it even better. Suddenly, that difficult, tedious work doesn't seem so tough anymore. If you've got the "help me move my stuff" bit down, you've probably got what it takes to get a work party going for just about anything else short of looking to the cosmos for answers to life, the universe and everything.

The best part about it is that it's the sort of thing that can be undertaken in the corporate environment by staff and leaders alike. Potlucks arranged by co-workers can be every bit as enjoyable as pizza and soda bought by a manager and this is just one approach of many that are available to us.

As unlikely as it may seem, I suggest this as someone who is totally used to doing things by myself and, like any good geek, still believes in a meritocracy. Surely in the midst of all this, there is room for community too. It's simply more fun that way and a heck of a lot less lonely.

What would help us shift to a more collaborative approach and what things still make more sense undertaken independently? Send your thoughts to me at and perhaps we can find a way together to make more happen and have more fun in the process.

What are you and others trying to do alone that you could be making easier by sharing amongst yourselves?

Kimm Viebrock is a Certified Professional Coach who helps technology professionals and service-oriented technology groups develop and use their skills more effectively and increase their value within the larger organizaion, allowing them to do more, do it better and have more fun doing it. Kimm is devoted to finding the connectedness in life.