Monday, December 17, 2007

Network Gnoshing

It looks like at least a couple of us associated with Seattle Startup Weekend will be at the Seattle Lunch 2.0-organized Happy Hour event tomorrow (try not to get confused), hosted by Avvo. If you're there, be sure to find me and say 'hi' - and feel free to ask about Startup Weekend. Or Zeenami. Or just avoid me altogether.

I probably won't feel bad.

If you're thinking of participating in SSW, though, I recommend registering first and asking questions later. As mentioned previously, tickets seem to be going pretty fast.

What defines "fun" for you?

Seattle Startup Weekend

The folks at Almost Live! would be proud. First tests of the Startup Weekend - Seattle signup form have been less than perfect. I'm sure we'll get that worked out shortly. The important part is that we've got a date (January 25-27) and a location (Adobe), and we're on the move!

Now it's time to get the word out, find people who want to participate, get sponsors, and start pulling together all the elements needed to make this an awesome event. We're number 14 (or so I've been told) in the list of Startup Weekend events and we have quite a lot to live up to at this point. Since Seattle is definitely a hot technical community, I personally have pretty high expectations.

Even though it's nearer the end of January and we'll be starting to see a bit more light by then, don't let that distract you! Come join us. You'll have fun. You know you will. Even if it is in Fremont.

Oh, wait a minute... I used to live in Fremont... and that was back in the days when it was more hippies than wealthy people who work in the information industry. That's right... I remember now... I like Fremont.

I'm sure I'll like it even better in January. See you there!

What feeds your passion?

Sunday, November 18, 2007

The Changing Nature of Communication

You can tell we're in the midst of a shift that doesn't yet really know where it's going. The below-30 crowd almost exclusively communicates very publicly with one another using Facebook and MySpace while at the same time somehow expecting more privacy than such openness would suggest. The over-30 crowd, having mostly come to terms with the usefulness of email, is starting to venture into social networking a bit late into the game. They're not quite certain of its relevance in their own lives and more wary of the additional exposure.

While these things shake themselves out, I keep coming back to thinking about how what we say is impacted by how we communicate.

Over the years, I've given a fair amount of thought to that. There was a time in my life when the idea of a graduate degree - just to have done the work to get one, not for any particular use for the degree itself - was appealing to me. As my mind wandered down that potential path, I pondered over what sort of research I'd want to do. The question that interested me the most was "How does the method of communicating impact the nature and effectiveness of communication?" - or something like that anyway. I'm sure a good advisor and mentor would have helped me refine the question into something better if I'd ever gone down that path in reality.

Context is helpful here. When this question first came up for me, I was a college student at a time when only scientists, military, and government had ready access to the internet as a general group. College students, if they had access to the computing labs did too, but that capability was generally limited to those of us in engineering or computer sciences in the earlier days.

This also pre-dated today's ubiquitous cell phones, and flat-rate long distance plans and inexpensive calling cards were also still well out in the future.

So, the communication landscape of the day consisted primarily of letters and post-cards. If you had money and it was worth the expense, you might call long distance on the telephone occasionally but it was something a starving college student thought about before doing... and even then, we tended to count on parents with enough money to reverse the charges and kept the calls fairly short out of necessity.

In mass communication, the notion of satellite transmissions making a broader range of television programming available to more people was just catching on for real, finally becoming more of an expectation than a novelty or luxury. The 24-hour news machine that burst onto the scene in the form of CNN coverage of the transition from Desert Shield to Desert Storm was still in our future. We were just getting cozy with the joke of "50 channels and nothing to watch."

These days, it's more like eight hundred and fifty. And still nothing to watch.

When I think of the fact that being limited to these forms of communication is entirely foreign to my 11-yr-old and as good as that to the 23-yr-old in my family for all he remembers of life before the digital divide opened up into a chasm, it boggles my mind.

Pen pals were fun to have but the time it took for letters to transit state lines took special care and nurturing to keep the relationships going. Overseas pen pals were even more cool but further complicated by the typical two week lag (one-way!) and the space restrictions that accompanied the use of the "aerogramme" letters. Still - if you ever received one, that characteristic lightweight - nearly flimsy - blue paper held such an exotic quality that it made one think of faraway places and the other cultures found there.

The real-time chattiness of phone calls was reserved for cross-town family and school friends. Cross-country calls were rare for "regular folks" and were usually placed only if there arose some urgent need - such as to communicate a death or some grave illness. I don't recall much overseas calling at all - telegrams were still the more common method for communicating urgent messages and paying by the word meant everyone kept telegrams brief.

Having grown up as a world traveler at a time when such a life made me and my lifestyle exotic, the global nature of relationships made possible by the Internet felt like coming home. I felt at more at ease with BitNet communications than any other form I'd experienced previously. I temporarily lost any sense of urgency with regard to ham radio and fully embraced the beginning of the digital age.

And this is when I began to notice that just as email was different from snail mail (though I doubt we'd really started calling it that yet - more likely it was just 'real' mail) and phone conversations, it was becoming clear that email was also different from group internet relay chat, which was also different from the person-to-person BitNet messages, with their 80-character limitations.

Have something quick to say with the expectation of a real-time response... send a BitNet message. If you want to say more, save it for an email. These days, text messaging is similar to that earlier counterpart, but more prevalent because we all have cell phones and so with an even greater expectation of immediate responses.

The more public, group orientation of Facebook adds yet another dimension to communications while Twitter is particularly well-suited for announcements made just in case anyone out there cares. In fact it doesn't seem a lot different from times when Small Person (along with others I've known) announces to no one in particular that he's heading to the bathroom. Good thing he's far less technical than I am at this point. Maybe he won't feel inclined to be mad at me by the time he realizes I've invaded his privacy in such a public way.

The question of privacy in an online life is a tricky one. I don't pretend to understand how we'll come to terms with that one. The best I can guess at this point is that we may adopt some digital version of the traditional Japanese sense of privacy. In a world where many walls were nothing more than shoji screens, made with translucent paper, Japanese created privacy where there was none by politely pretending not to notice anything that couldn't be seen directly. Such sensibilities have even spilled over into forced face-to-face environments such as trains where crowds are necessarily able to see and hear things they might prefer not to witness.

Already I have friends online with whom I'm likely to pretend when together in person that we don't know as much about each other's private lives as we do. We're open and honest with one another and I believe that's admirable - it just shouldn't come back to cause problems or embarrassment later.

Until we figure it out, I think of my online presence in much the same way as I think of keeping teeth brushed and hair combed. Good personal hygiene is good practice anyway - and really important to make sure it's done before leaving the house. Similarly, I still advocate being ourselves - our best selves - online. Being our best selves means that we don't have to worry about whether parents and bosses are watching - which they probably are these days, along with a lot of other folks. .

It's an interesting conversation to have - what we have to say to one another, how we say it and what sort of expectations we have (and can have) around privacy - and whether that's the same as anonymity. I definitely encourage you to comment and get the discussion going. The more publicly we hold the conversation, the more robust it will be.

What do you have to say, and to whom?

Monday, November 12, 2007

Support for Support

The past couple of weeks have included an interesting confluence of events. First, I ran across someone wanting to know how to calculate costs for Support. This question on LinkedIn came to my attention just in time to use it as a starting point in a certification class for Product Managers, where we discussed some of the considerations involved.

I like to see interest in this sort of thing precisely because it's been so very rare in my experience. While it's great for me in that I don't have a whole lot of competition for my services, it's also not that great for the businesses where no one is thinking about Support until way late in the game.

My co-presenter, Nona, and I won't actually get into the detail of designing and costing out an appropriate Support organization until next Spring, but with a re-design in the coursework, we were able to get in early to at least raise the subject while the students were still working out their revenue models and business cases. This is as it should be and I'm glad that we got to spend some time in front of the classroom so much earlier than most people tend to think of Support.

Apparently some of the students are catching on to the importance too, as we saw at least one comment about a team that had completely overlooked the cost of Support up until that point. Whew, one pretend business saved from one of the many pitfalls that are out there!

After talking at extended length with another student who had a real-life need to make some decent cost estimates, I came home and started adding some more detail to the worksheet that I had developed a few years ago. I hadn't looked at it with a fresh eye for a while, so I'd forgotten how good it really is. Once I add in these new refinements, it should be even better.

As much as I'd like to pat myself on the back, though, for my ability to accurately assess the expense side of Support and how it factors in to the rest of the business, I didn't figure out how to do all of this on my own. I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Nancy Truitt Pierce and her Service and Support Consortium for all that I've learned over the years about the business of Support and the confidence I've gained in my abilities.

Sadly, I've just learned today that Nancy is closing up the Service and Support Consortium. Though I don't know why yet, I do have some guesses and can only say that it will be a major loss to the Puget Sound tech community. There are people and businesses all over who probably don't realize the powerfully positive impact that Nancy has had on their ability to succeed because of how much smarter the heads of their Support organizations have become under her guidance and with the help and support of their peers.

The loss of this organization means there will be some large, important shoes to fill. I'm thinking I see an online group in our future somehow...

In the meantime, I'm looking forward to the SSC Alumni breakfast gathering on March 13th. It will be important to me, and I'm sure to many others, to recognize the passing of an era and reconnect with some great minds.

Each company pays differing amounts of attention to the business of Support. I'm curious about how much you think about that aspect of your business, how well you understand the costs and revenue opportunities associated with Support, and what sort of support is provided to your Support organization. Do share - it's how we all learn.

What support do you need?

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Countdown to Crave

Seattle startup Zeenami is participating in the big Crave Show "Indulgence and Style" event for women at the Seattle Pike Street Annex today and tomorrow. And they'll have local coaches there too, helping women figure out what to do about life fulfillment scores that aren't what they want them to be.

Okay, so I'm a bit too geeky to really appreciate "Indulgence and Style" for myself but hey, I know LOTS of women who are into that sort of thing, so I'm thinking it's pretty cool to bring geek and coaching together.

If you plan on attending or have feedback, drop me a quick line at - I'm interested in your experience.

What do you really crave?

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Yes, It IS Big News

It's interesting watching the comments fly about Microsoft purchasing a stake in Facebook... and now just a couple days later, Google announcing OpenSocial. Despite some cynics, I contend that this is a big deal.

Social networking technology is finally catching up to a pent-up demand to satisfy the desire to connect with other people, despite living in a harried and fractured world. Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn and others have each addressed part of that need while at the same time, segmenting our lives further by remaining as entirely separate silos.

I'm not alone in feeling like it's crazy-making to keep up profiles across several different networks... or to choose to focus on just one or two to the exclusion of others.

People of all demographics want to feel connected. The younger folks, the young at heart, people who want to stay connected with them, and people who don't want to be left behind while the hiring game changes, all want to use technology to do this. That's a pretty sizeable group of people when you start to add it all up.

Most importantly, these people want social networking to make life easier and better, not harder, and the technology is finally beginning to catch up to that.

Of course, it mostly starts out with forging virtual connections with people we already know and care about in real life. As that capability matures, however, there is the capacity to learn more about each other than we often learn IRL, and to learn more about people we didn't even know before. So yes, these kinds of moves by the giants of the industry definitely could have an impact on quality of life and understanding fellow humans.

More than a decade ago, back when most of the folks I knew didn't even know what the internet was (including many of the geeks I worked with), and only a handful were just starting to get the idea about email, and the best form of electronic connectedness most of us had was through electronic bulletin boards of which only a handful were connected to each other... Way back then, Howard Rheingold wrote The Virtual Community, and it really spoke to me. I tried speaking to him too, but that didn't really go anywhere at the time.

Between then and now, the Internet became more widely accessible (and I only had to suffer through ten years' or so worth of withdrawal, after leaving school), started to offer more to the average person, and connecting electronically has become second nature to most of us. Between then and now, I and about 150 other women and some of their partners came together through the internet in support of one another throughout the duration of our pregancies - and our group was just one of many.

Though I can't speak to the others, I can say that our group is still going strong nearly a dozen years later, and I'm sure that between us, we can name every one of the people who was ever part of our clan (plus most of their kids and partners and a lot of other relevant details about their lives), even if they're not still an integral part of our thriving community today.

We're very close-knit and the connection we share electronically has been a real important part of our day-to-day support through pregnancy, child-rearing, trying to being good partners in our relationships and how we show up in life and work in the broadest possible terms. We help each other maintain sanity, offer differing points of view for consideration, celebrate successes and provide plenty of {{virtual hugs}} during times of grief and challenge.

If you want an example of how people can use virtual communities to improve quality of life and understanding of fellow human beings, just ask me about the November Moms of '96. And make sure you have a lot of time to stay and get the answer.

How will this new wave of technology-aided and abetted community shake out? I'm not all that sure yet - but I can tell you that I'm mostly excited about it. The news of the past week makes a lot of new things possible. That's great news for those of us with social networking on the brain. It's also great news for Startup Weekend participants or anyone else tapping into the value of community on the web.

In the meantime it's probably a good idea to go back and read some of Howard's thoughts on the downside of virtual communities - while the examples are perhaps dated, he accurately predicted a lot of what we've seen since his original writing of it all and the risks that haven't already been realized are still out there. It's probably a good idea to spend at least some time thinking about how to mitigate those risks and to keep thinking about how to realize the full potential of this notion of a virtual community that complements, not replaces, the real thing.

You probably have thoughts on the matter. I'd love to hear stories, predictions, concerns - whatever. Send them to me at and help design the future.

What does community mean to me and how do I express that in my life and work?

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Solving Puzzles and Mysteries

I love solving puzzles. Can't stand to sit on mysteries. That probably has a lot to do with how I got into Tech Support in the first place. When I started seeing the wild photos of the Mukilteo ferry running through the "sort of big" windstorm last week, my first question was - where did those come from?

Actually that was the second question. Let's just say I've had forwarded to me more than my share of fake, totally or mostly untrue stuff over the years.

Anyway, I'd have gone digging for the source of the photos except I got sidetracked playing NotPr0n. I can't even blame Brad. All he did was link to the guy who used NotPron as a metaphoric term. As I said, I can't stand to just sit on mysteries and the sentence just didn't make sense without knowing more about notpron... so I just had to go check it out.

Fortunately, while I was feeding my new-found addiction, someone else dug up the story on the ferry in the windstorm. And of course the original ferry photos are even more impressive than what I'd seen already. Thanks CitizenRain for spreading the word!

Don't send me any more puzzles, riddles, mysteries or fake internet junk - I don't need any of it, even the stuff I like. If you feel like talking privately about notpron levels 1-12, I'm here for you and can be reached at

What could I use less of in my life?

Monday, October 15, 2007

Sometimes You're the Windshield...

Here's what I know today - there's a lot I don't really know. Especially when it comes to the real state of the tech economy. Tech sector job reports in Seattle look good. And supposedly IT salaries are at an "all-time" high.

On the other hand, other market sectors are experiencing a downturn and there is significant debate over the actual health of an average tech worker's salary. On the other other hand, the Pacific Northwest (the Eastside in particular) is experiencing a construction boom and IT is cited as a major economic driver for the foreseeable future.

That kind of activity is usually a good sign though there are serious concerns looming on the horizon too.

The best I can tell, is it's all a very personal experience - you might be in the group that's doing really well, or you might one of those who is (still) struggling for any number of reasons. Some geeks struggle to find entry-level work. Then there is the matter of salaries that have been pushed lower in the skill-areas where the competition is for jobs, not talent. Some local tech workers are simply feeling the pinch of housing prices that remain high, despite national trends.

Regardless of where you are personally, the smart ones recognize that it's all a cycle - we have ups and downs all the time. If we're not in a down, it's wise to prepare for one. And for anyone hanging on through a lull, it's probably also worth considering that the landscape may have changed altogether, requiring a whole new mind-set and whole new set of skills.

When I started this blog, circumstances were grim all the way around for the tech sector, and hence the title. Even though the situation isn't that bleak today, things are not uniformly wonderful either. This means to me that it's still worth looking for the gems that make success a little easier - no matter where you feel you are on the success spectrum.

One such gem - use a time of downturn to try new ideas. Soaring Mountain Enterprises was founded exactly under such premises. It was no more risky for me back then to start my own business than it was to try to find full-time work as a manager and I'm glad I made that choice.

Another idea worth considering - if you happen to be one of the many who were hit hard by the bludgeoned tech economy and are still struggling, know that help exists. For instance, HopeLink serves north and east King County, providing a variety of services to help homeless and low income individuals and families become self-sufficient.

My feeling about HopeLink and other similar organizations is that if you don't need their services yourself, then there is probably some way you can get involved with them to help other people who do. When the system works as it's meant to, there are people who are unashamed to use the services available to them until they are self-sufficient... and then they turn around once they're on their feet again and support the ability of these organizations to continue to serve others.

Chris Gardner - the inspiration behind the movie Pursuit of Happyness (not to be confused with technology-oriented Christopher Gardner), and a real class act - is one of these 'full-circle' guys.

Gardner spoke at the Hopelink annual fundraiser luncheon recently. Many of our homeless are actually working families. Think of how many geeks and other employees in the tech sector who have been layed off over the years and how difficult it has been at times to find work - especially during the bust years. It occurs to me that even today, we could easily be working alongside someone who is homeless.

That notion - though probably without the geek spin on it - apparently hit home with people attending the luncheon. And I'm proud to say that together, we raised more than $1M - the highest amount ever for this organization.

Two things struck me, though, about the amount raised. First, given that the 2006 amount raised was $800,000, Gardner's $10,000 challenge contribution was a key to making the million dollar mark. Perhaps just as important, though, was that we only just barely cleared that number. The total was actually $1,001,200. Put in perspective, that means that just one table of $250 donations made the difference between hitting this important milestone and just missing it.

Of course, in the case of HopeLink, more donations are always needed. As Gardner put it, if homeless people are largely unnoticed by society, then the working homeless are downright invisible - primarily because they look and act much the same as the rest of their co-workers and typically aren't out by the road with cardboard signs.

My guess is that in the world of high tech, where periods of high salaries have pushed home prices skyward at the same time that lay-offs are common and people are more often than ever before working under contract without benefits, that there are more techies who are homeless (or at least struggling to not become so) than we realize.

So I'll reiterate - if you don't need the sorts of services provided by Hopelink or other similar organizations, seriously consider helping others who do by donating or volunteering.

If you have stories or words of wisdom about suviving a downturn, send them to me at and maybe that will help someone else somehow.

What changes do I want to make if this is an overall change in landscape as opposed to a simple up and down cycle?

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Geeks and Goals

Okay, how many geeks out there are willing to admit to using MS Project or Basecamp or some such professional application to track and manage their personal goals? Be honest!

If you thought you might want something that seems a little more, well... personal, you might want to check out Zeenami, the new Seattle-based website that's just been made available as a public beta. I always love trying new things if I think they might be helpful and I'm just starting to play around with it. Already I can see there are two areas in particular that my clients might appreciate.

One is the personal assessments area of the kind that I use regularly in my coaching. There's a life fulfillment survey and a sort of mini-Myers-Briggs that even provides the option of letting other people tell you what they notice about your personality. What you can do with these sure beats my own hacked-together Excel spreadsheet versions by a significant margin.

In fact, I might as well toss my home-grown tools altogether and let Zeenami take over. It's far more professional-looking than I'm ever going to take the time to make them. And you don't even have to register to access the assessments, which is nice.

The other area is the goal tracker templates, and to use those you do have to register. I still like Llamagraphics LifeBalance for managing my life overall, and I recognize that plenty of people simply want something to track their progress on a handful of goals. Zeenami can work great for that and I'm already starting to build some templates of my own to share with clients and others. I'll let you know when I've got something you can use.

Of course, I can hear some folks out there protesting any sort of tracking whatsoever. I know, it feels too much like micromanaging, sometimes. Think about it, though - we track progress and milestones for projects at work as a way of monitoring progress, making sure progress happens - and that it happens in alignment with the intended goal.

How is what we want out of life any different from that or less deserving?

I'm curious about whether you track goals or not and how well that works for you. Send me your opinions at and let me know what sorts of tools you favor for making sure (the right) things happen in your life.

What do I want to make happen in the next 90 days?

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Retro Me This...

As forward thinking as I tend to be most times, I definitely have a nostalgic side. I make my kid listen to Bad 70's Music. If I decide I'm really comfortable in the clothes I wear one day, I might just wear them again the next day. Especially if I think you haven't already seen me in them. Today, I'm wearing my now-vintage Attachmate Hardware team vest, complete with the old heart logo. I realize that old logo caused plenty of confusion - and I'll miss it anyway.

I recently spotted an AmazonFresh truck here in Bellevue, and it brought on such a wave of nostalgia, I nearly swooned. Okay, so not really, but it was a way cooler sighting than most people would probably think it to be. So, does anyone know - are these the old HomeGrocer trucks repainted? It sure looked like it to me.

Despite the ease with which some people ridicule HomeGrocer as a failed dot-bomb, I am proud to wear the hat with the peach and I am glad to see the return of the trucks. I'm not a former employee, as plenty of other parents at soccer games have guessed. Just a former customer who was quite loyal to to the service.

Back in the days when Small Person was a young toddler and Tall Person and I were both working full-time in the corporate world, getting groceries delivered was about the only way food was going to enter our household unless you count doggie bags.

HomeGrocer understood their market very well and did an excellent job bringing treats and fresh fruit samples to keep me thinking of things I might add to my next order. Although I haven't tried out AmazonFresh yet, there are some hallmarks of the earlier service that sound very familiar and I'm guessing it's the same business getting a new life under a different name.

Don't expect to catch me at a casino to see some favorite act from my youth anytime soon, but I do enjoy a good comeback. You can bet I'll be looking for a reason to order groceries online pretty soon... and chances are pretty good I'll be wearing that vest when I do. For the second (or even third) day in a row.

Send your experiences with AmazonFresh to - especially if you're a former HomeGrocer customer, and let's compare notes. I'm curious if the market has shifted enough to make this venture a go or if they'll have learned enough from the first failure to make this effort a success.

What's worth keeping or bringing back in your life?

Tuesday, September 11, 2007


If others are like me, people are waking up to the memory that this was the day. This was the day we started calling September 11 or 9/11. And while we might wish we could take it all back and trade it in for another day, this is the one we've got.

For most of us, it was a flashbulb memory-creating event. My tech support manager role six years ago meant that unlike most west-coasters, I was wide awake and walking in the door at work about the time the first plane hit the first World Trade Center tower. And then of course, a lot followed after that, both professionally and personally.

Last year, I figured enough time had passed that I could delve into the memories etched into my mind by the events of that day, see what lasted and what was worth remembering. The result was Memories of the September 11 World Trade Center Attacks - 5 Years After - a piece I wrote for Associated Content that focused on the impact that day had on me as a tech support manager and a mother while colleagues and family were dealing more directly with the attacks and their aftermath.

Like the memories themselves, frozen in time, that piece is but a snapshot. Others have their own September 11 experiences and memories to share. We were all affected - in profound ways and in small ways too. While we can't rewind time and send it all back, we can choose how it shapes us and how we choose to remember.

In so many respects, September 11 changed so much. In others, 9/11 and its aftermath maybe didn't change enough, in my opinion. But that's a different piece.

Today is about honoring the fallen, the memory, and the lasting shifts in our lives. Find what's good about it and hold on and let go of the rest. That much we can do.

You're probably thinking things today that are different from normal. Let's share stories - send thoughts and memories to me at and we'll sift through the sands of time and memory together, looking for what's good and worthwhile.

Which memories are the most important to hold onto?

Monday, September 10, 2007

All Clear

After exploring the connection between nomenclature and expertise, I thought it might be fun to delve into terms that are so self-explanatory as to make such a connection meaningless.

I'm talking about words and phrases that are so descriptive all by themselves that very little explanation is required, even if you've had no direct experience with the referenced matter and have never heard the term before.

Even people who have never carried a drink or food tray in their lives would have a pretty good idea of what it means to be in the weeds. And you don't have to be a restaurant worker to appreciate the view from the weeds. On the upside, those having been there will find that time in the weeds may be advantageous later on. I like to think so.

Plenty of people use the term, behind the power curve, without having any experience flying airplanes. Yet the basic meaning of the expression is so clear that even non-pilots essentially use it correctly to convey a point that readily resonates with other non-pilots.

The notion of a blowout diaper is equally descriptive. Even if you've never been near one, you know you don't ever want to be! Of course, blowout diapers are just one out of a wide variety that new parents are so fortunate to get to face. Just don't go investigating what you don't want to know!

Then there's the onesheet. I can't tell you how it is I've missed running across this term over the years but somehow it's true. And so when I asked for a summary describing the concept behind Startup Weekend that I could give to people who wanted to know more about it, I was anticipating something like an FAQ. What I got was even better - and I immediately understood both the term and what it described.

And for those of you who are interested in knowing more about this project that we're planning to bring to Seattle... I encourage you to check out the Startup Weekend onesheet.

After you've done that, give me a shout and let's talk about how you might like to get involved. It needn't be anything obscure or fancy. Whatever is self-evident to you might just be that obvious because it's a talent unique to you, something the rest of us don't have in as great a measure.

So make a comment or send a message to with your ideas. We're looking for space, talent, sponsors/backers/underwriters, ideas, you name it. If the Startup Weekend concept sounds at all intriguing to you, clearly we can find a way to get you involved.

What things are obvious to me that are not so clear to others?


If you've been paying much attention to the news this past week, you know that Nevada is not just for gamblers and skiers. It's also a place popular with some aviation enthusiasts - and a place where some of them go missing, the latest of whom is apparently Steve Fossett.

I like to keep an eye on Slashdot. I don't read everything, but I do keep a lookout for things that interest me that I wouldn't find out about otherwise. Over the weekend I learned from a Slashdot article that the search for Steve Fossett has gone high-tech, using Amazon Mechanical Turk.

With experience flying (with even quite a few hours in a Bellanca Citabria 7GCBC) and an interest in technology as a meaningful solution, I decided this was an excellent opportunity to actually do some good and not just settle for slacktivism.

I know what an experienced pilot is likely to do in a variety of situations. I know what kinds of perils exist in the air. And I have a rough idea of what a crash site is likely to look like. So, I started reviewing HIT (Human Interface Tasks) photos myself.

At 10-20 seconds for a decent look at most and up to a minute or so for the more complex photos where I feel a need to cross-reference with Google Earth views of the data, I've been able to process more than a hundred already in just a couple short-ish sittings.

Of course, that's just a drop in the bucket compared to the more than 65,000 photos that showed up on the list when I first looked. With so many people working on it though, that number is coming down rapidly. Currently, it looks like it's dropped to just over 52,000. Wow, that's a lot of hands making light work!

The work helps keep some of the normal speculation at bay. There's only so much hangar flying that's useful in these situations. I've found that it helps deal with the ambiguity - if it could happen to someone good like that, it could happen to me - by finding reasons why it could have been pilot error. We all secretly hope to determine it was an error that we can learn how to avoid once we've inspected every last aspect of the scenario and decided how we would have handled it differently. Beyond that, it's just talk.

General public with little or no experience in aviation likes to jump to conclusions for entirely different reasons. "Aviators are risk-takers to be avoided" seems to be the theme I run across most frequently. These are the people most likely to blame an accident on the lack of a flight plan, which is ludicrous.

No matter how short a flight I intend, however, I always file a flight plan because while lack of one may not cause an accident, it sure makes it a heckuva lot easier to find you should you need to be found. Not filing a flight plan is a meaningless gamble that you'll arrive at your destination safely without need of outside intervention.

Given that it's way easy to file a flight plan, it seems worth the extra time to just let someone know where you're headed - and then also let them know if your plans change. Place your bet on the possibility that you could need the help rather than the probability that you won't. Gamblers do generally prefer long odds as the better payoff anyway, right?

So go ahead, satisfy your curiosity and help out with a few Fossett-seeking HIT photos. Then, if you still feel a need for some more hangar flying, feel free to comment or send your discussion-starters to me at and we'll hash out amongst ourselves what could have happened, what should have been done differently, or what we should be doing next. I'll be processing a few more HIT photos myself in the meantime.

What small and seemingly unnecessary steps could I take now to mitigate risks later?

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Whattaya Call It

Sometimes a person's knowledge of terminology is indicative of their level of expertise. Sometimes it's not. I once advocated against hiring a person partly because his level of understanding of token ring functionality amounted to the belief that the system would "ring like a telephone" for the intended device. Umm, not quite. The notion of passing the token around to each device in turn was completely beyond him and he didn't have the other skills we were looking for to be able to make up for that lack.

Then there was the owner of Key Largo Airport Marina back in the 80's - where I believe the Port Largo / Marina del Mar / Ocean Cay complex is today. This guy had extensive flying experience and, if I recall correctly, had run a MAC airbase somewhere in the northeast. He knew aviation and therefore understood both charts and airfoils. Everything he knew about sailing, he explained once, came from understanding that sails are just vertical airfoils and from keeping in mind that nautical charts are very similar to aeronautical charts.

That's not to say that sailing with the guy was particularly easy or comfortable. He had almost zero knowledge of nautical terms, so it was pretty common to hear instructions such as, "grab that thing-y and pull it over and tighten it" - which led to a fair amount of confusion at times when the desired results weren't entirely obvious.

On top of that, his knowledge of knots was limited to the two or three most commonly used in flying - a number far short of the half-dozen or more that are most useful in sailing. Still, his knots usually held well enough to do what they really had to do. A bowline is a decent enough all-purpose knot. And he was always able to make the boat do what he wanted it to. In that, I grew to have a great deal of confidence though it helped too that I understood sailing pretty well myself. Overall, his was a case where ignorance does not necessarily translate to incompetence.

When I'm hiring, I have to be careful to take the time to make that distinction. Once or twice (at least - and one of these was even this year) I've been on the other side of that equation and I've noticed that not everyone knows how to assess competence separately from use of the local jargon. When you can't always hire for experience in every single skill you really want for a position, it's imperative to be able to assess the level of competence an individual can bring to the role anyway.

The corollary to this situation is that at least some hiring managers are probably fooled into believing a candidate is competent simply because they seem to know the nomenclature and I'm sure that is not always a valid assumption. Personally, I don't much like to see people get where they do simply through their ability to regurgitate buzz words or mimic language meant to describe underlying principles that they don't really understand. All hat and no cattle, as they say.

Here's what knowledge of the language is good for - when the terminology is tightly defined and broadly agreed upon, it speeds communication and makes the process more accurate as well more efficient. This is, of course, the trouble with buzzwords. More people believe they know what these words mean or are intended to mean than really do. Effective communication is undermined, not enhanced, in such cases.

"Drop the jib" and "Ready about" mean very specific actions that are readily comprehended by anyone in the know. Just as important, these are the kinds of terms a person must know to be of any real help on board a sailboat - though clearly knowing the terms is not a pre-requisite for knowing what you want or how to get it. It just makes it easier to be understood.

On the other hand, "What tools do you use in project management" could refer to software applications and other actual 'tools' used to support the work of managing projects or it also could refer to the cognitive approach or methodology used in the work itself. Actually talking about what it is that you want is an important step in establishing the context and even then, the context isn't the whole story.

Many competent individuals can be reasonably expected to use, or at least readily understand, many of the variously identified project management methodologies without necessarily knowing the specific nomenclature arbitrarily assigned to them. While I'm all for identifying good skills (project management and otherwise), I also like to be able to differentiate between that and marketing hype.

This is just a bias I have and I realize it's not shared by everyone. Feel free to disagree. Either make a comment or send a message to - you wouldn't be the first and I happen to believe it leads to better understanding all the way around.

How do I show my expertise and capabilities?

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Take Me Out to the... Meeting

What should have been a simple, get on SR-520 from the last entrance and scoot across the bridge, commute for an 11am appointment turned out to be considerably longer than 15 minutes it usually takes me in the middle of the day.

So I turn on the radio to find out what odd accident is responsible and discover that - hey - there's a Microsoft Annual Meeting scheduled to start at... wait for it... 11am! I feel sorry for all the folks that must've been late. Good thing I wasn't heading to the SoDo district myself.

Hmmm... I'm thinking that with that many people traveling from Redmond and Bellevue to Safeco Field, they ought to be publicizing these events way in advance, just like baseball games. I'm just sayin'.

Dunno how they'd do it so's I'd notice but it'd be helpful if someone could figure that out.

Fun commute stories or interesting info about the meeting? Send them to me at - I like surprises. I like the fun ones that don't make me late the best.

How do you handle surprises?

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Leggo My Lego!

So much interesting is going on right now that it's almost too much. Now that I'm back in town again, I've been joining the other folks in putting out some feelers for space for Startup Weekend Seattle (know of anyplace that'd work? we'd love to hear about it!) and it looks like I may be helping to re-write the curriculum and co-teach a unit on customer support for a UW certification program. We're making headway on those plans anyway and I'm excited about the prospects.

That's just for starters. There are plenty more irons in the fire too and on top of all that, there were so many articles of interest in the business section of the Seattle PI on Monday that I hardly know what to do with them all. The highlight for me was probably the article on Lego Serious Play. I've been interested in LSP since November, when I got to try it out for myself at the ICF Conference in St. Louis last fall.

In fact, I forwarded the article to Robert Rasmussen, figuring he'd appreciate knowing it made print here in Seattle. I'm glad I did; we've been talking about how to get me into one of the certification sessions and he mentioned that there's likely to be one in Vancouver, BC sometime this winter. I'm so there. I just have to make sure it doesn't conflict with Startup Weekend!

All I can say is with everything popping up at once, it's both scary and exciting - kind of like those thunderstorms Monday night which were way cool to watch by the way; it's just too bad that we had an obscured view - even our treehouse wouldn't have helped much in that regard. I'm just glad that Small Person is back to school so that he doesn't have to feel neglected as I start getting into all the cool new stuff happening.

Whether you're interested in Lego as a business performance tool or have ideas about space for Startup Weekend, I'm interested in what you have to say. You can send messages to me at and we'll build on that. It'll be fun, too - so long as you leave at least a few of the cool Lego pieces for me to use too.

How can I tap into fun and excitement to help get things done?

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Is THIS Too Far?

Back when I was pregnant with Small Person, Tall Person and I had an experience that taught us a helpful lesson about parenting - it's also turned out to be somewhat useful for managing too. We were out walking at Bellevue Downtown Park and were treated to an amusing interaction between what appeared to be an older uncle or perhaps grandfather, and his two-year-old charge, Alex. We know that this particular small person was named Alex because as he started sprinting for the hinterlands, we could hear his caretaker call out, "Now, don't go too far, Alex! Don't go too far!"

Tall Person and I burst out laughing at the same time, watching the older gentleman try to chase down speedracer Alex, who clearly had no intention of stopping anytime soon. Our best guess at what was going through little Alex's mind? "And just how far is too far grandpa? Is this too far? Is this? How about now?"

We took that incident to heart and when our own small person started testing out his legs, our instruction to him was, "Stay where you can see me!" Our theory has been that, like with rear view mirrors, if you can see me, I can probably still see you.

Whether I'm parenting or managing, I try real hard to think about how to deliver instructions that make sense from the perspective of the person receiving them. It's not always easy but I get better results that way.

It seems I don't always take my own advice though. Today I was alerted to a problem on the the Survival Strategies for Techies blog that shows up when using Firefox. I'd probably have run across the unresponsive script errors myself if I'd been using Firefox more often but I get lazy sometimes and the truth is that as much as I like Firefox, I hadn't gotten around to loading it on my computer.

I've loaded it now though, and as best as I can tell, it seems I may have been skirting around the edge of too far with respect to all the cool toys and gadgets I've been loading onto the blog. The good news is that there seems to be a pretty simple fix (or workaround, depending on your perspective), just by modifying a Firefox setting. Whew, glad that's settled! Now, if I can only figure out what happened to the MadKast icons on the more recent posts. Maybe something else strayed too far somehow along the way.

If you've got better troubleshooting suggestions or recommendations, send them to me at so I can find the best fix possible. I like hearing stories about what's too far too.

How will I know when I've gone 'too far'?

Friday, August 31, 2007

Internet Off the Grid

For the past year or so, the thought has occurred to me that conditions could reach a point where energy is precious enough that we may be pushed out of urban centers to better situate ourselves to grow our own food or at least live closer to its production. That's not the only cause or justification, but you get the drift - people more spread out instead of more concentrated. People quite likely living off the grid.

And if that were to happen, the question I keep wondering is whether that would result in going back to an agrarian society or whether some other way of being might evolve.

I'm comfortable enough with the former, having grown up around wheat farming and having helped raise cattle myself. But I'm betting on the latter. There is so much of what so many of us do that is virtual anymore that if there were a way to stay virtually connected via the internet, despite the distances and the changes in availability of energy, then I'm sure we could rebuild a spread out, virtual society.

It's an interesting thought anyway and now it seems there really does exist the technology that could take the internet off the grid. Makes you think about where the new power centers are likely to be, doesn't it? Of course, with the combination of the decreased daylight and increased clouds and storms in the wintertime, the Seattle area would likely be open for business only in the summer months.

So - what's your most interesting and/or optimistic post-apocalyptic scenario assuming there are still computers and ways for them to stay connected over distances? I love science fiction "what-if's" so send yours to me at and let's riff on it a bit. You never know where it could lead.

Where do I want to be in twenty years? What's likely then? And what can I do today to make the two mesh?

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Shades of Gray

Yesterday, I read one more tipping debate and yet another question about whether and how to move into management. I see these questions come up from time to time, and usually end up shaking my head.

As always, there are people who understand something about waiting tables and what it takes to be a manager (some of whom even have good advice). And then there are others who don't quite get what management is all about or think all managers are idiots. Sadly, these are perhaps the same people who display no understanding of the challenges faced by waitrons.

I'll step out on that limb because while there seems to be very little in common with these two subjects, there is one important aspect they both share - at least part of the passion associated with each is of the shoot first, ask questions later variety. People feel (and react) strongly without taking the time to understand more than their own perspectives.

Seeing issues in black and white terms seems easier than making the effort it takes to see and understand the shades of gray. It's more satisfying and there is rarely any shortage of like-minded opinions.

The real truth, however, generally lies somewhere in between. There are stupid managers but being a manager does not guarantee the lack of a brain. And yes, the federal rules that allow employers to pay servers less than minimum wage does cause serious and damaging misunderstandings about tipping, however it appears that the "tip credit" loophole is no longer a factor in Washington State. If that had been true back when I was waiting tables myself, I wouldn't have the stories I have to share today of getting negative paychecks.

It takes real effort - and a willingness to set preconceived ideas aside, even risk being wrong - to find out the truth. In the case of tipping, it's compassion for fellow human beings doing their best to make a living (or, on the other side of the coin, understanding people who may not realize that there is more to waiting tables than keeping a water glass full) that's at stake. I really can't imagine getting into a shouting match over it. I prefer to be nice to my servers and hope they're nice back to me. I've been there - which means I also know the real differences between good service and poor service and when there is a problem in the kitchen and when someone is just looking for someone else to blame for inattentiveness.

I also take the time to educate friends and family on the wage issues associated with the food and beverage service industry.

In the case of management (high-tech and otherwise), it's the difference between working together effectively or seeing the people you work with most closely as "other" - a de-humanized "them" that automatically puts these others on the wrong side of the fence as "us". Working with the shades of gray where one typically finds the truth can be very uncomfortable. The finer lines between the more black-and-white viewpoints are far simpler to work with than all the fuzziness. I like to think the rewards of trying to be right as opposed to just feeling right are worth it though.

And by the way - I'd hazard a guess that a willingness and an ability to work with those shades of gray is probably a good indicator of future success and/or effectiveness as a manager. There's no guaranteed black and white on that one - just a hunch worth checking out.

If you've learned something about waiting tables that applies to leadership or have a well-reasoned thought (as opposed to a knee-jerk reaction) to tipping or transitioning into management, I'm interested to hear all about it. Send your thoughts to me at and feel free to stretch my boundaries. Maybe you'll stretch some of your own boundaries in the process.

How rewarding is understanding vs. ridicule?

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

SMOG Is Back

It may be a perfectly sunny late-summer day in Seattle today, however I learned over the weekend that I was SMOG. Oh, and Tall Person was FOG. As a former meteorologist, I found this rather disconcerting at first, because even though we were in Spokane at the time, the weather was great there too.

It turns out, this was just Rev. Mary's way of identifying Step-Mother of (the) Groom and Father of (the) Groom. Today I am no longer SMOG; today I am simply a Mother-In-Law. While that news hasn't really quite sunk in with me just yet, the weekend of wedding festivities gave it a good start and I was reminded of how important ritual can be at times like this.

It was explained to me once that all the major rites of passage in one's life - births, coming of age, marriages, and deaths among the most important ones - typically involve ritual as a way of making the mental shift from one way of being (and relating to others) into another way. Understanding what I do about change management these days, this makes sense to me and this weekend, I had a chance to see this process up close and personal.

It wasn't just a weekend full of partying. My son and his new wife will have an easier time embracing the notion of starting a new life together as a couple because of having taken the time to mark the passage of their old ways of being. These same rituals also help family and friends to stop seeing them as they had been and begin seeing and relating to them in new ways.

My son is now grown-up in ways I hadn't really thought about before. I have a daughter now in addition to my two sons. I myself am now a Mother-in-law. And on top of all that, there are new people in my life to think about and perhaps bond with as a result of this marriage. These are strange new concepts for me and yet they have more sticking power because the wedding and all the trappings of the weekend help me get my mind around all the changes this marriage means.

My experience is that it is no different in corporate life, especially in the fast-paced world of high-tech. People come and go, managers change, new products are added while others are dropped, processes are added, improved, or eliminated, companies are created and then they grow, shrink, merge, move or fold altogether. All of these changes impact us to some degree or another just like weddings change our relationships in some way, even when we're not the ones getting married.

All the best materials I've seen about change management say that no matter what the change is, it helps to identify what is going away as well as what is new... and to properly grieve that loss first as a necessary step in the process of moving forward. Seen now in the context of a parent of a child who has just gotten married, I have to say it makes even more sense now than ever before.

It seems I've been pretty successful at one challenging role - that of a stepmother - so I'm hoping that I can learn from that and be an even better mother-in-law. The idea is starting to grow on me at least.

If you've got good advice about making that shift, I'm open to hearing whatever you feel like sharing with me at and I'm sure you'll hear more about my experiences and progress as I go along. As always, I'll try to keep it relevant. After all, the connections between the ideas is as important to me as the connections between people.

In the meantime, I'll probably still laugh from time to time at the coincidence that of all the people on Rev. Mary's map, we should be the two to end up with the meteorologically-inclined acronyms.

What do I have to give up in my life or work now, in order to make space for what's new?

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Hell Week(s)

I'm having trouble imagining the full impact the I-5 construction is likely to have starting Monday morning. No big deal or bigger than we all figured or what? Here's a thought - how about buying some time to see what it's really like before venturing out into the mess by test-driving the telecommuting component of your business continuity plans.

You know, the plans that take into account the possibility that some flu pandemic could hit, or the 520 bridge could sink or float away or the aging Alaskan Way Viaduct could pancake (especially after having been damaged in the Nisqually Quake), leaving workplaces not nearly so accessible as normal.

Having already had to restore tech support services offsite once when our building was red-tagged after the Nisqually Quake, I highly recommend making sure you can keep doing business from a remote location. That capability could come in handy over the next few weeks if the traffic really does get as bad as they predict.

I'm interested to hear how you'll deal with the anticipated construction havoc. Send your thoughts to about what you will (would) do if getting to work is difficult (or impossible).

What's in the way of your goal and what will you do about that?

Saturday, August 11, 2007


A lot of summer mornings, I love to get up early while the world is still quiet and just enjoy the stillness. Sometimes it's nice just to sleep in. Today would have been the latter except that after a while, I realized I was hearing a noise that didn't quite fit. There was too much regularity to the sound to be the wind in some shrub near the house. Curiosity (of course) forced me awake to investigate.

What I had decided must be chewing (and pretty big chewing at that) turned out to be a mid-sized raccoon (maybe 25-30lb), probably enjoying the apples that have started dropping from our tree. Mind you, although I enjoy a fabulous mountain view from my back patio, the downtown Bellevue skyscrapers I can see through the trees are walking distance away, so the fact that there are raccoons in my suburban backyard always strikes me as funny. I know they live here. I just don't always expect to see them.

I don't know if it's the same one or not but a while back, we actually had a bit of a raccoon problem. For a long time, I just thought our two cats really were eating 2-3 bowls of cat food a day from the self-filling dish I put out for them in the garage. Then one evening, tall person noticed a bandit face and little paws peering through our patio door from the dark. At that moment, we both realized that "Rocky" was getting into the garage through the cat door and was responsible for eating much of the cat food so I moved the dish indoors.

I didn't move the large container of food though, and so Rocky pretty quickly adapted to lifting the lid off of the storage container. Our next move was to lock the lid in place with bungie cords. A couple of mornings later, I found the entire 20lb container moved from the doorway to between the cars, tipped over on its side. Thankfully, the bungie cords were still in place but it was clear that Rocky was not only motivated and persistent, he was pretty clever too. I didn't want to give him another chance to figure out how to open the storage bin, so we moved it indoors and hoped he wouldn't be interested in looking inside for it.

As far as I know, Rocky hasn't been in our garage lately, so having him enjoy some of our fallen apples outdoors isn't such a bad trade-off. I'll probably be back to sleeping in when I want since I won't feel such a compelling need to get up and investigate now that I know what's making that noise. And next time I want to hire a tech support rep or a QA tester, I'll know where to find a character with the kind of ingenuity and persistence I like to see in those roles.

Send your stories of close brushes with nature or thoughts on hiring practices to me at

Which critter embodies your best/worst traits?

Friday, August 10, 2007

Start Me Up

Back when I was in Tech Support at Attachmate, we used to have an award where we'd pick the top ten people we'd want to work with if we were to put together a dream team - most of us chose people who were both knowledgeable in their domain(s) and were easy to work with.

Startup Weekend feels like that to me, especially since Andrew Hyde copied a handful of us who have expressed an early interest in making a Startup Weekend - Seattle event happen here by way of introduction to each other. So - now we're working on figuring out when to hold Startup Weekend - Seattle, where to have it and who to include. I can't really say I have any idea where it will all lead... and it's pretty exciting anyway, quite likely at least in part because I don't know.

So now I'm starting to think about who of all the people I know might be good in a startup environment and, of those, who might want to be part of a Seattle Startup Weekend, creating a company and a product all in one weekend - what Andrew calls Jazz for Entrepreneurs.

Some of us are having conversations already. Now that I'm back from vacation, I'm also working on getting to know the folks Andrew has put me in touch with and hear more about what they're up to in terms of planning for this event so we can begin to work out some kind of a division of labor. All of us are working on getting the word out - we're sure that Seattle has plenty of talent that would be drawn to this kind of experiment and help bring it to life.

Does the idea of Startup Weekend interest you? Do you know people in (or willing to travel to) the Seattle area who might be interested? Do you know someplace we could use for the weekend for this event? Send your thoughts to me at and let's have some fun pulling together a great team for a fun project and see what we can make of it together.

What does it take to make the unknown exciting instead of scary?

Monday, July 23, 2007

It's the Conversations

While I was reading Harry Potter on Saturday, Brad Feld was commenting on comments. Once again, I have to say, he's right on target.

Like Harry, I want to see all of it and learn the real truth (as much as that's possible anyway) - even the parts I don't like. By Sunday, when I'd finished the book and was curious about others' reactions, I went looking around for some. The review I read was, quite frankly, riddled with inaccuracies and spoilers - with some inaccurate spoilers for good measure - and didn't seem to really get the point of the book.

It was the comments, though, that helped me put the review into its proper context and provided me with a window into what everyone else was thinking. Just be prepared to do some wading and some thinking for yourself to weigh the different points of view.

My own comment yesterday to the tall person in our house was that where critics used to hold a great deal of power before, it seems that the commentors wield equal or sometimes even greater power now. It was sort of interesting to see a critic subjected to some of his own medicine. I just hope he didn't choke on it. I'm sure JK Rowling is mostly unhurt by his words.

If we thought blogging leveled the playing field before, commenting on blogs and articles and whatnot takes that notion a step or two or three further. Commenting is the new blogging.

In fact, I frequently find now that I learn as much or more from the comments than from the original post. Although it takes some perserverence and quite often some teeth-gritting (especially when the topic is particularly polarized), it's in the comments where I find the shades-of-gray middle ground I seek and trust so much more than the lambasting, "I'm right and you're wrong" blacks and whites that so often show up under some byline. I realize there's plenty of lambasting in comments too but that's not all that happens in that space.

I have always found the same to be true in business too. I can come up with some pretty decent ideas on my own. The ideas get better when I engage others in conversation and we comment on one another's trains of thought.

As a manager, I always made better decisions when I heard the different comments from various members of my team. I don't mean in a push-me-pull-you kind of way where my opinions would swing wildly, depending on who I'd talked to last. Instead, I always did my level best to carefully consider the different points of view and the points worthy of merit that were raised and responded to in group discussion.

In the online world, this kind of group discussion takes place in the form of comments more than anywhere else. Whatever it is we're commenting on is just the starting point. Brad's idea that we should be able to manage comments the same way we're beginning to manage other sources of information is a good one.

It would be nice to find all of the comments by an individual (to assess how on target the person tends to be overall), across sources and platforms. I'd love to see us be able to somehow tag and organize various groups of comments and perform searches on the resulting data.

I bet if we were to discuss it further, we'd come up with even more ideas about how to use comments better. If you have comments or ideas about comments, send them to me at and let's get a conversation going.

How can I make comments contribute to furthering the discussion and growth of ideas?

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Color Me Tired

Other people start a company in a weekend and get a really great headstart on a product. My big accomplishment this weekend was reading the final Harry Potter installment before I went to sleep Saturday night.

The two really don't compare, I realize, but I like to think of it as training. Maybe there will be a Seattle Startup Weekend sometime soon. If so, I think it would be a blast to participate. I'm sure I could offer something worthwhile.

I know I felt a strong pull toward the Boulder effort and kept wishing a) I'd known about it sooner and b) I wasn't heading off for vacation in the middle of the project. Not knowing how it all turned out until I got back was one of the few things I really missed in Yellowstone where there is no internet and hardly any cell phone coverage.

In the meantime, Deathly Hallows was definitely a good read. By sticking with it until I was done with only a few short breaks, I didn't have to wonder how it all turned out, though it did mean not getting a whole lot of sleep that night. That's okay though; it was worth it.

I found Harry and company's last adventure incredibly satisfying even if it was sort of bittersweet, knowing that we've reached an ending with no guarantee of a subsequent beginning.

VoSnap isn't quite ready for use so if you have a thumbs up or thumbs down on Harry or the thought of a Startup Weekend in Seattle, go ahead and send me a message at and let's see if there's some consensus of opinion. Until then, get caught up on your rest. You never know what else might come along that is worth staying up for.

What would make losing or cutting short a night's sleep worthwhile?

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Contextualize Me

The resident small person is pretty sure today that I'm crazy. We had a good gentle soaking rain going and since he was bored, I had him entertain me with the tale of Hansel and Gretel. After writing about trails of breadcrumbs recently, I panicked momentarily, thinking perhaps he didn't know the story and therefore might not understand the significance of things like breadcrumbs in current parlance.

It turns out, I didn't have any reason to worry - he was able to tell the story quite well with full detail and a lot of good storytelling technique. Apparently it's in one of his books; I guess we've been better than I'd feared at ensuring his cultural literacy. Whew!

It's in the interests of establishing a fluency in cultural literacy that I let the small person watch and encourage him to listen to old stuff that shaped my own generation and those that came before me. At least I hope it's more that than bad parenting or an occasional guilty indulgence in what we jokingly refer to around our house as "Bad 70's music" - and no fair saying that's redundant!

I believe in the adage that those who are ignorant about history are doomed to repeat its mistakes. I also believe that understanding context is key to understanding anything. You know - the inside jokes, kind of had to have been there kind of thing?

I'm sure you run into the same sort of thing at work - where there is historical context that is as critical to avoiding past mistakes as it is to understanding current language, decisions, culture, and so forth. That doesn't mean living in the past or adhering to old practices simply because "we've always done it this way." History needn't lock us into the same old problems. Sometimes what didn't work before will work now because the situation has changed. Understanding the context helps provide the clues as to what will work best in the current situation based on what has gone before.

What we need in organizations are storytellers who can capture the history and keep it fresh for all who need it. If that person isn't you, I hope you know who is!

I'm interested in your thoughts on the relationship between progress and historical context. Send them to me at and let's find the the creative edge between past and future together.

What am I doing to capture and learn from where we've/I've been?

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Follow the Leads

In which Kimm draws parallels between reporting, troubleshooting, geo-caching, and intuition... In the newsroom, I had a basic plan for tracking down stories that worked mostly without flaw - I'd poke around enough to come up with a handful of names worth contacting to get more information and I'd talk to them if they did. Sounds simple enough, except a lot of times they didn't have the sort of information I was looking for, so that's when the plan kicked in. I never let anyone off the phone until they answered one other question - "Do you know anyone else who might be able to help?"

It might take a few calls, but this method almost always worked; I'd just keep following the trail until I got what I wanted. Looking for the next clue if I couldn't get at the answer itself helped get me out of a few jams when I was in tech support too. Sometimes it was as simple as following a single thread and other times it was tougher and more like following breadcrumbs - find one breadcrumb then start searching for the next one, hoping the birds haven't eaten it.

This summer, small person and I have discovered geo-caching and I'm finding there are some similarities. We go to the latitude and longitude coordinates identified for the cache and then start following whatever clues and intuitive instincts available until we make our find. Sometimes the GPS coordinates are just the starting point - there are more clues or coordinates to find and follow before we actually find the treasure box and that makes it all the more fun. Or frustrating, depending on our perspective at the time.

Sometimes I stumble upon clues by accident and it occurs to me that this may be the best metaphor I've stumbled on yet for how to understand intuitive insights - especially the really strange ones defy any kind of reasonable explanation, even when "reasonable" is stretched enough to include some mechanism such as uncommon senses beyond the normally agreed-upon five senses. Sometimes where you're led isn't the ending point. Sometimes it's just the next clue in the trail of breadcrumbs we're meant to follow.

If that's true, recognizing whether we're at the destination or just another step closer is probably part of the puzzle to be solved. Good thing I like puzzles!

How do you solve puzzles? Send your methodology to me at and let's talk about what does and doesn't work, when and why, and when & why not.

Where might the thread I'm following be leading?

Monday, July 02, 2007

The Logic of Intuition

There is an inherent complexity when considering the usefulness and appropriateness of applying intuitive thought processes to a situation. One the one hand (quite likely the left), there is the increasing evidence that to "go with your gut" is not only a good thing, it may be one of the best things one can do. On the other hand, for those of us who prefer to think and act with logic on our side, intuition is, by definition, quite outside the realm of reason. That can cause problems when evidence and rational thinking point one direction and intuitive insights point another.

Reconciling both points of view can be a tough fence to sit, and it's a position made even more precarious when we consider legal and ethical matters. For me, however, it's quite as unreasonable to ignore intuition as it is to ignore logic, and I'm becoming increasingly aware of others who feel the same.

Unfortunately, the question of how to appropriately incorporate both kinds of thinking without seeming flaky, wandering off the legal/ethical high road, or becoming completely schizoid is a topic I don't find discussed nearly often enough. When I do find it discussed, I'm rarely satified with how well the arguments explore the more troublesome gray areas when intuition is met with conflicting evidence.

When I used to troubleshoot issues for other people for a living and ran across a difficult issue for which no one else had an answer, the way seemed clear - it was up to me to gnaw at it until I worked out the answer. That approach seems to be needed here. It's definitely a work in progress and I think best when I get input from others, so feel free to contribute your thoughts and ideas.

Given that there are lots of aspects to this matter - a series of questions rather than a single question to be explored - I'm thinking it's best started like this, though please be assured I have a great many more thoughts on the subject that I hope to surface through this process of thinking out loud. Hopefully my mental meanderings will generate some useful food for thought.

And I do hope you'll participate in the process. You can start by sending me the questions you have about how logic and intuition fit (or don't fit) together to as well as any examples of issues that have arisen from ignoring one or the other.

What does logical intuition look like?

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

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Growing Leaders

When I first became a manager, I was fortunate. I worked for someone who cared more that I became an effective leader than just about anything else. I guess he figured (and rightly so, I've come to believe) that if all his managers were effective leaders, then just about anything else that needed to happen in the department would indeed come about: through us and the people we led together. Here's what I've come to learn since that time - hardly anyone has that level of support transitioning into any level of leadership it's too bad because it's both wanted and needed.

That is a sad and somewhat discouraging fact highlighted in a new survey just published by Development Dimensions International, Inc called Leaders in Transition: Stepping Up, Not Off. My own observation is that corporate work is simply moving too fast and too much else is demanded of leaders already in their own roles to provide the level of mentoring for the next generation leaders that I received. The results of this survey confirms this:

Very few leaders feel that organizations are doing the right things prepare their future leaders.
Fortunately, these leaders in transition don't have to be left high and dry even if sometimes they are left largely to their own devices. If you're not getting support through your organization, look for it elsewhere.

For some, reading may be good enough. I myself cultivate a variety of resources that help feed me new ideas on a regular basis. I've come to appreciate a local coach and columnist, Maureen Moriarty, though amazingly enough, our paths have not yet crossed. I'm thinking I'll have to do something about that.

I also cannot say enough good things about Bob Lewis, and I highly recommend you get yourself subscribed to his e-Zine, even if you're not an IT manager as quite regularly his essays deal with everyday questions of leadership. I've been reading his stuff for years and believe I am a better leader for having done so.

And when you want more personalized support, if your organization isn't providing it directly, maybe it's worth considering looking for that support outside of the organization. Peer learning groups such those offered by Woods Creek or supportive organizations such as ATW for women are illustrative of some of the options available.

If you hold the conversations in the right ways, your company might even pay for part or all of the expenses in participating in a group like these, since it's in their best interests for you to have access to the mentoring you need to grow as a leader. And there are always coaches out there too, many of them good and at least one of us is probably a good match for your needs.

However you get the support and whoever pays for it, I do encourage you not try to do it all by yourself. There's no great honor in going it alone if you can become more effective in less time and with less stress by getting some help along the way. After all, it's not like there's a lot of time these days to hang around and wait for the magic wand to wave and suddenly remake you into the world's most effective leader.

And if you need more convincing than your own experience, I encourage you to read the details on the DDI findings. It's powerful stuff.

What have been your experiences in growing as a leader? Send a message to me at and share your best resources - I'm always curious about what works best for people in this arena.

Where can I best get the support that I need to grow professionally in the direction I want?

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