Happy New Year!

Ahhh, it is the middle of summer….time to enjoy the long days, experience the outdoors and spend time with our families. Albert Einstein discussed the relativity of time in his General Theory of Relativity. This work describes the perception of time as relative to the situation in which the time is observed. First hand experience with this phenomenon occurs when one must wait in line at the Department of Motor Vehicles, time slows to a crawl. Contrast this with a busy day at the office, when the day is over long before our to-do list has even been dented. Another way to witness what Einstein refers to as “time dilation” is to observe the effect of aging. Einstein and other physicists use what are called “thought experiments” to describe abstract events. A thought experiment would be something like this: Two people of the same age begin work on the same day. One remains an engineer, while the other climbs the corporate ladder. After the twenty years, the two reunite. The engineer has aged about 20 years. The one who climbed the corporate ladder has aged about 40 years, lost his family, has achieved lifetime frequent flyer status, has lots of stock options, missed his kids' graduation, works Saturdays, and is busy bucking for that next rung…cool. Since executives have little control of their lives outside of work, they like to control everything at work. Once word got out that time is relative, they flexed their corporate muscle to redefine the calendar. No longer is January the beginning of the year, “we want …ummm…July to be the beginning of the year!” “All those in favor say ’aye’ … those opposed ‘nay’… it is passed”. And so it is. A declaration to the peasant employees follows: “Hear Ye, Hear Ye…We now declare, that from this day forward, that the year shall begin on the first day of July and shall come to a close on the last day of June... and, this shall be referred to as the Fiscal Year.”… (You always wondered what goes on in those board meetings. I understand they are working on their own currency next.) Of course, when we communicate outside the kingdom to our customers we must still use the normal or “Calendar Year”. To facilitate the communication of this information, some neat abbreviations have been devised. Any year information is now preceded by an F for Fiscal or a C for Calendar. So we have FY08 for Fiscal year 2008, 1HFY08 for first half of Fiscal year 2008, and Q3FY08 for third quarter Fiscal year 2008. Of course one must understand the transfer function to convert Fiscal to Calendar in order to communicate to your customer (Q2FY08 = Q4CY07 for example). Perhaps we should consider extending this to months so that FJan = CJuly. And really, since work begins on Monday, we should redefine Fiscal Sunday to be Calendar Monday. Come to think of it, the work day starts at 8:00, so maybe Fiscal 12:00 a.m. should be Calendar 8:00 a. m. Thanks to the insight of the upper echelons and the introduction of the Fiscal calendar, the clarity of the marketing material has greatly improved. Hopefully, if the currency thing works out, it will take care of those boring financial slides next. You know, work is just too easy without keeping track of this kind of stuff. Hey, I’ll meet you for lunch, how about Fiscal 4:00a.m.on Calendar Wednesday?

Have a Cup...

Coffee is, without a doubt, a key contributor to the productivity of the American corporate machine. It is the liquid lifeblood of business and office activity. Many office designs are centered around the coffee station, with well worn carpet on the paths to the community pot. These office areas are the proverbial community well providing a much needed resource and opportunities to collaborate. Most start their work day off with a cup of the brewed elixir prior to logging in, turning on the monitor, checking voice mail or even sitting in their chair. The work day simply does not get rolling until that first cup. While we are all different, and we arrive at varying times, the human time constant and meeting schedules - (hour on the hour) result in many having another opportunity to meet…at the rest room. It is uncanny how that many people can synch up to arrive simultaneously for relief. Just as amazing (although some theorize of a conspiracy of sorts) is the entirely improbable yet consistent coincident arrival of the female janitor to clean the restroom… At the top of the hour, conference room doors fling open, men who have spent the last fifteen minutes of the meeting noticing how slowly the second hand moves when one’s bladder is full, run toward the restroom like school children to a playground for recess….”Sorry, the restroom is closed for cleaning”. The sight is a common one; several professional men standing around dancing with their legs crossed outside the restroom waiting for service to complete. A few brave enough to venture off to find another restroom, chance long lines of floating eyeballs at the next restroom. That is, if the sneaky janitorial staff has not already started cleaning that restroom with female attendant number two. Suddenly, the cup of coffee that got us off to such a good start is now having the reverse effect. This is, by the way, why most men no longer start their day off with a bran muffin. This leaves me pondering the philosophy of restroom hygiene: Is there a universal force that allows restrooms to be cleaned only at the top of the hour? What happened to all the male janitors? How empty are the restrooms before and after normal work hours? Perhaps restrooms can only be effectively cleaned if people are waiting to use them. Why are there no paper towels in the dispenser? Where do you get those giant rolls of tissue? I can’t ponder too long, they have re-opened and I need to get in line…I gotta go!

For Your Review...

Technology is a wonderful thing. It has provided us with tools to improve our efficiency, facilitate our communication and give us a reason to carry cool company subsidized gadgets. Technology has had an amazing impact on our corporate world. Take for example how it has changed the old cumbersome method for requesting someone to review a piece of work. Not too long ago, we would have to manually take the work from our office, make a copy for the reviewer, and deliver it to the reviewing party . This process was made much more efficient with the introduction of the “networked server”. Now we no longer had to carry the work to the individual , we could simply give them the “path” to find the work on the server. No more trips to the copy machine. Of course the “path” was never easy to remember with all those slashes and dots. So we usually had to write it down. That is why e-mail helped us so much. With this virtual postal service we could write down the “path” and electronically mail this vital trip tix through the server, to our reviewing comrade. No longer did we need to get up and walk around the building (this is why it became important to fit in a workout over the lunch hour). With true proverbial irony, too much of just about anything can be bad - the convenience of e-mail quickly morphed into the Freddy Kruger of your work life stalking you with a nightmare on your desktop. Reading and responding to the seemingly never ending stream of e-mail in the inbox conveyor belt conjured up images of Lucille Ball eating chocolates. It was time to start filtering or scanning e-mail. No longer was it considered bad form to skip a few emails and not read and respond to each. In this new paradigm, another technology became the tool of choice. Since everyone always listens to their voice mail, one could receive priority e-mail service by leaving a voice mail reminding the recipient of the waiting e-mail with the path to the work to be reviewed. The problem with this method came with the proliferation of the mother of all hand held technology ...the mobile phone. Once these little communication marvels entered our lives , somehow the urgency of the office voice mail seemed to subside. After all, “if it was really important, they would have called my mobile phone” we reasoned. Of course, not every call can be taken all the time. You can leave a voice mail on the mobile phone to notify your reviewing buddy that you left a message on their office phone, to remind them of the e-mail with the path on the server to the work to be reviewed. Since the reviewer did not answer the mobile phone, it is likely they are in a meeting, so the best thing to do is send them an instant message (IM) where you can clearly communicate that you left a mobile v-mail for the office v-mail to get the e-mail that contains the path on the server to the work to be reviewed. Without the incredible communication technology available today, this level of efficiency in communication would simply not be possible. Including the text message I just received from the guy I asked to review some work. He requested that I print it out and bring it down to his office for review. Man, this works great.

Did I Say That?

As human beings we simply cannot process everything, all the time. So our adaptive bodies and minds come to the proverbial rescue by filtering inputs and automating responses. How recently did you arrive home from work with the weight of the days work on your mind, as you close the garage door you realize you are home and don’t remember your drive home? You wonder “Did I stop at the stop lights?" , "Did I yield properly? “ Apparently you did since you are home safe. Just imagine trying to drive your standard transmission sports car without your automated operation of the clutch. Somehow, your feet and hands take care of the mechanics, while your eyes and brain deal with the traffic situation, leaving you free to talk on the cell phone, shave, eat your burger, or mess with your new navigation system. This works well in the car, but can be dangerous in the workplace. It was a busy day- you know - lots of meetings, e-mail piling up, voice mail, and the seemingly endless cell phone calls (how do so many people know my cell phone number?). I was handling requests, fielding questions, and taking actions. With a day like this I had to rely on whatever automated help I had at my disposal. My fingers danced entering passwords, I fetched coffee, and navigated through voice mail; all on auto pilot. Things were running under control , but barely. I thought the stress was getting to me as my thigh started to quiver in pulses. It was just my cell phone vibrating. Great, it is my boss, I gotta take it. “yes, mmm hmmm,ok, yep I’ll get er done.” I snap the phone shut, slide the sleek communicator into my front pocket. It was about the moment the phone hit the bottom of the pocket that the automation cycle was broken. The unmaskable interrupt to my brain’s processor resulted in an immediate sinking feeling in my stomach. I quickly rewind my mental tape and play it back in slow motion. Oh No! It was there! Grasping at the electronic waves that carried my response forward proved futile, the words were gone. I played it back one more time. Maybe it wasn't so bad. “yes, mmm hmmm,ok, yep, I’ll get er done...Ok, I love you, bye”. On second thought it was that bad. Any hope that my memory was failing were dashed as the phone shuttered one again with the text message from the boss “Luv U 2”.

Bring Your Notebook

I love my notebook computer. What a great tool, I don't go anywhere without it. It is small enough to carry with me all day long. You never know when I might need it. Actually, I don't do much computing on the computer. I mostly use it for e-mail and presentations. I started taking my computer to meetings to take notes, and of course to present power point slides. Taking notes didn't really pan out...which is weird because everyone else in the meetings is always busily typing away while I am presenting. I am glad that taking copious notes is working so well for them. Anyway, one day I was running behind and needed to touch up my presentation material; so I quietly made the much needed edits to my presentation while someone else was presenting. It worked out great. I was at the meeting AND I got my work done. Hey, that gives me an idea: I could could check my e-mail while in the meeting! Well, this turned out to be a great idea. Now I can keep up with e-mail and no one in the meeting has to know (everyone will just think I am taking notes). My secret didn't stay mine for long - soon I began to receive e-mails from other people in the meeting. We started to hold a virtual meeting while in the meeting. Now, this is effecient- two, two , two meetings in one!(just like Certs). Actually, it is kind of hard to pay attention to the face to face meeting when typing so dilligently. But, hey, thats ok, because I can just catch up what I missed via e-mail during my next meeting. Meetings are great - a chunk of time to take care of my e-mail ... Oh...and work on my new presentation - I signed up for next week. We now all take turns "presenting" in the meetings so that everyone else can get their work done. Well, I gotta go, this meeting just got over and there are a bunch of people with notebook computers waiting to use the conference room....they probably have a lot of work to get done.

Check Your Calendar

If ever in an interview, taking a business exam or serving on a panel, you cannot go wrong answering "communication". Most critical business questions can be accurately answered with "communication." If the question is "what problem did you observe in the case study?", "what could improve the situation?" or "what would you do different next time?"... communication. You just cannot go wrong. Remember when you used to communicate to your manager so that the information could be passed on as needed up the chain? Then one day your manager decided that it was too much trouble to spend time tracking down each team member and extracting information from each. It would be much more "efficient" to call a meeting and poll each captive team member (the added effort to wake them prior to the query is minimal compared to tracking them down). Of course this was couched under the need for furthering communication between team members. The meeting, an efficient get together to efficiently pass on information from one to many, just flipped over into an inefficient interruption to the participants and a convenience for the manager. On the bright side, it gives the manager much more time to massage the information into a sculpture suitable for display in the next management level art gallery. Each level of management polishes, shines or buffs the sculpted material as it moves up the chain. We all want to please, you know. Finally, some high level muckety muck grins and offers a hearty atta boy to the final deliverer of the polished pile. This is the same muckety muck that is alarmed because actual results may vary. And they really vary because the polished pile doesn't resemble the raw granite status provided at the initial staff meeting. The mucketty muck (MM) asks the question "how is this possible?" Well, you know the answer...yep, you got it... communication. So, our wise MM takes corrective action. After all, our MM rose through the ranks and understands the polishing practice, so a new plan is put in place. Our MM will venture out to the field and meet directly with the troops. Go straight to the source. So plans are made, and everyone gets an invitation to the MM meeting. After all, what is one more meeting? Now, one level below the MM there is great distress, as the Sub MM wants to ensure that the appropriate information is communicated. This leads to the Pre-Meeting. A meeting to ensure that information does not contradict the polished pile. So everyone gets an invitation to the Pre-MM meeting. Ok, so another meeting.... In true domino fashion, the polisher below the Sub MM needs to ensure that what is communicated to the Sub MM is controlled. Soon, everyone receives the invitation for the Dry Run of the Pre-MM Meeting. Oh, don't forget to attend the Walk Through for the Dry Run of the Pre-MM Meeting; and what ever you do, don't miss the Stand Up to go over the Walk Through of the Dry Run for the Pre-MM Meeting. Hey, don't you have some work to do? After all we need something new to communicate.

Message This

It is interesting how phrases can become fads. Spreading througout the business world almost overnight. Kind of like when you were a kid and you could not wait to take Pop Rocks to school and amaze your friends with this new amazing chemistry in a colorful packet....only to find that every other kid had the same idea. Or when you thought your best friend was the mastermind behind the phrase "psych out " only to have your cousin from the east coast use the phrase at your family reunion. Somehow these verbal morsels are propagated through some unknown fabric to schools and conference rooms around the globe (or the country at least). Some words get used a lot because people simply like the way they sound, so they work hard to work them into explanations. These are words like bifurcate, orthogonal or exacerbate; as in "we need to bifurcate the tests into orthogonal sets to see which input is exacerbating the failures." Another colloquial practice is to use nouns as verbs, such as "we need to solution this", "text me your response" or "IM me". This brings us to acronyms. These little time savers are fertile territory for mis-use (especially the three letter variety or TLAs as they are known). You may be told "Enter your PIN number in the ATM machine." Last I checked, PIN is a TLA for Personal Identification Number and ATM is a TLA for Automatic Teller Machine. So instead, perhaps I should "enter my PI number in the AT Machine". Another interesting thing is when acronyms are pronounced to make a new word. For example, the American National Standards Institue- ANSI is pronounced "an'see", and the National Association of Stock Car Racing - NASCAR is pronounced "nās'kär". And speaking of sports...another favorite is using sports terms to describe business situations; as in "the rest of this issue should just be blocking and tackling" , "we don't need a home run on this one" or "this should get us on the fairway". So don't be surprised in tomorrow's big meeting when you hear someone promulgate, "we could get called for icing if we message the resulting IOPS (eye'ŏps) per second in an excitatory way."

What's His Name...

Names are weird. Expecting parents pour over names, trying to identify the perfect name for their child. Can't be too feminine for a boy, not too masculine for a girl. Whatever the case, there is always that name that one parent hits on that sends shivers down the others spine. "No Way" without thought, the dissenter replies. To this, the other either presses the issue or nods quietly not even wanting to ask. Something about a name has a profound impact on us as we remember old playmates, classmates, cousins or TV characters that carried the moniker before. Either we liked them or not, but first impressions are often shaped by our previous interactions with individuals with that name. That is why when we meet someone with a name we have never heard before, we kind of stand there, deer in headlights for a moment, while our memory banks are searched, stammering some stupid response while a new folder is created in our file system. Occasionally, we get the name filed wrong when we first meet a person. This is a problem, as it seems it is quite difficult to edit entries already in place in our super sticky information repositories. There is a guy at work named Ken, but he is filed under Kurt, (I am pretty sure it is Kurt and not Curt - So I at least have the first letter right). Whenever I see him I greet him as Kurt. The telling grin he returns is enough for me to recognize the mistake. Now what to do? Let it go or correct it? Probably best to let it go. The error message processing in the brain, usually has unwanted effects on the verbal response part of the system. What results is not pretty. So today, I finally asked him if he could just be Kurt instead of Ken. He said he would and now my filing system is correct. Whew, now on to the next one...

Up and Running

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The Art and Science of Herding Cats - Otherwise Known as "Management" in the Corporate World.

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