Monday, August 24, 2015

Wild Thing

Have you ever watched one of those nature programs on the discovery channel or animal planet? You know, the kind of program where some ernest caretaker finds themself suddenly—perhaps accidentally—in charge of some small wild thing that has comes into their life?

They care for it, raise it, teach it, and come to love it it—and they are careful not to tame it—because they know that if they do things right, one day this creature will return to the wild. While the raising is rewarding and sweet, we know this time is all too short. Eventually, there are too many changes necessary for the place where the creature was lovingly raised to continue to be a support. That day they knew would come does come, and they all realize that it's time for that creature to go out into the world.

So they look to find a place where that not-so-small creature can transition to life on its own. They make preparations—finding supplies for the purpose, and then go to the place—a good place that the caretaker knows from long ago—it seems right. There are others like this one there. They make a place and leave the creature unfettered.

Full of life, the creature goes out to explore its new surroundings. After a bit it comes back, both the caretaker and the creature are pleased. The first night in the new place passes (un)eventfully enough. The next day, they meet one last time. The creature has a wilder look in its eye, makes its goodbye, then runs off with its kind kicking up its heels.

It was that kind of weekend.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Indistinguishable from magic? No, it's a platform.

I have been thinking about Oracle Team USA, and what they did this week, and the old quote "any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic".

Emirates Team New Zealand built a great boat. They sailed it extremely well. They learned and improved. But their opponents had a completely different approach. Oracle built a boat, sure, but they created much more: a platform.

And the platform was modified based on data. The platform included the engineers, designers, sailors, and computation. In 19 races they turned a mediocre boat and average Americas Cup crew into winners.

Yes, there were lucky breaks from rules created 2 years ago. Yes there were innovations in the ways that they monitored and controlled their foils.

In the end, it was the platform approach that won...and we see it all the time in business: are you listening Nokia?

It's not enough to build a great boat...even if it is one of the fastest upwind boats of all time...if your opponent has a platform and you need one more win.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Over the past couple of years, I've been trying to understand what makes some teams that I've worked with successful. The amount of resources available to a team don't correlate to its success. Hard work, pure motivation or ambition certainly color the output but are not a guarantee. Talent and domain expertise are helpful, but I've worked with world-class talent that struggles, and average talent that thrives. Size doesn't matter. Success is unevenly distributed, but it isn't random.

Focused action seems to me to be the critical common element of successful teams. At Xerox Norm Rickard changed the company, teaching it how to focus its actions using a common process language of quality, but today, I think we need something that is more responsive.

The key ingredients are flexibility to respond to changes in the environment, clear, short-term goals, the commitment of the team to deliver a defined set of outputs, and the capacity (mostly self-contained) within the team to execute. In the software development world, agile methodologies help small teams achieve productivity and velocity far greater than in traditional organizations. Agile methods scale fractally from a single team to entire development organizations.

So I'm wondering, what would happen if companies could move agile techniques out of development and across the enterprise? They could think and act iteratively in marketing, finance, sales, and across the executive suite. Across-the-board agility would dramatically enable organizations of all sizes to have a structure and process that would allow them to rapidly test new ideas and markets, expand offerings that resonate with markets, and ultimately adapt and grow.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Rita Ann Resch Flobeck 1960–2011

Rita Ann Resch Flobeck was my first baby sister. I don't remember any days when she wasn't part of my life until last week. And now I will never have another day with her.

When she was a child, she was always laughing. Rosie Kidd reminded me of one of my favorite memories: Whenever Rita would fall asleep, she would replay the day in her head. Almost without fail, she would remember something that made her happy from that day on her way to sleep. We all knew this because when we'd go on a family trip (often camping), we would sleep in close quarters. We would all go to bed at the same time, and as we fell asleep, Rita would start laughing. If you asked her why she was laughing, she'd tell you about whatever it was, and usually, you'd start laughing, too.

School wasn't easy for Rita. I remember that she had a really hard time with her second-grade teacher, and then she had her again for third. I think that Sister Fabiola did more damage than good as an educator. But even that didn't stop Rita from being kind to her.

That's the thing about Rita. She was an unconditional lover—of everyone she met. She could find the good. She didn't look for—or remind you of the bad. She had a huge heart.

Rita was generous. She loved to give people presents. Not expensive presents, but heartfelt ones. From the time she began to make money from babysitting, if she knew you were around—or could be around—at Christmas, she had something for you. Her Christmas trees were a sight to behold, overflowing with presents.

Rita loved it when we were back in the same school. In High School, I was a senior, and she was a freshman. She loved walking around the halls of Maine South in Park Ridge, and seeing me and my friends from the swim team. They liked seeing her, too. She was a beautiful teenager.

After high school, I worked for 2 summers in South America doing public health work. One one of those long trips, Rita wrote me and told me that she started dating "Don". I immediately thought of all of the Dons that I knew...and I was worried. That was a short, but not particularly savory list of people. I came home, and met Don. He wasn't any of the Dons I feared she might be dating. He was older than she was, but you could tell that he adored Rita. They got engaged and Rita married at 19. I thought that was too young. But she knew what she wanted, and she chose Don Flobeck.

They married May 27, 1979, and because he worked for Delta Airlines, they often travelled. To Austria, or Thailand, or Greece. They loved to travel together.

I lived for a time in an apartment in the same buildings. Rita was pregnant, and during the at the end of the summer of 1981, she decided that she had enough. So she asked me to drive her around in my red VW bug—she hoped being jarred around in it would start labor. In September 1981, they had their first child, Sara. She was a beautiful baby. I moved to Mexico to work. In January 1982, Sara died of SIDS. The loss of her baby tore Rita apart.

But Rita and Don were strong. Before long, they had Johnny, Bobby, Joey, Donny, Jacob, and at last she had twins, and one of them was another daughter: Mark and Anna. Rita loved all of her children, and was proud of each of them individually. But I don't think anyone was ever wanted more as a child than Anna. Anna is everything Rita wanted, and seeing her now reminds me in so many ways of my sister. She's tall, and blonde, and beautiful, and graceful, and smart, and caring.

The Flobecks made do with what they had. But they had challenges, too. The house burned down, and while living in a hotel, they were robbed. Don and Rita held together.

In 2003, a tragedy beyond thought occurred when Johnny was murdered by a fellow student at UT Austin, while hanging out in a parking lot outside his apartment at school. Rita was devastated. Her worst nightmare was the loss of Sara. Now the nightmare returned. Rita grieved for years.

Most recently, Rita worked to make ends meet working as a substitute teacher. As always, she was mom to her kids, and drove them to school and games, she volunteered at the police department, and ran the clock at basketball games.

Her loss is a shock to me. It's a too-vivid reminder that this life is too short and bittersweet. I will miss her. I will miss her unconditional love for me.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Geoff and Alena's Wedding Ceremony

Dearly Beloved, we are gathered here today...to celebrate...this little thing we call LOVE. (Geoff enters, Alena enters)

Ladies and Gentlemen, it is my honor to welcome all of you -- men and women, boys and girls. Step right up! Gather round, Don’t be shy! Today it is my privilege to share with you one of the the most exotic and rare wonders of the world: true love in public. You who have come from near and far will be rewarded with an extraordinary sight. Right here in the center ring, Alena and Geoff come together. A two ring ceremony, in which Alena and Geoff will marry each other.

They asked me to say a few words to set the proper mood and tone for their wedding. When they asked, of course I was honored. And because of who they are, I immediately began to think about what I would say. I thought about finding some poetry, or songs of love. But someone else’s words don’t sound right when I say them. So, I decided to to talk today about Geoff, about Alena, and about the circus and about marriage.

Circus. The spectacle comes from a time and a place before iPhones, hybrid cars, or HDTV. The circus comes from a time and a place when you physically had to go to be there--to see--to wonder.

Marriage is like that too. It’s our ancient tradition. One where two people have to come together themselves. One where the rest of us physically have to go, to see, to witness, to wonder.

Marriage is just like the circus in so many ways. They’re both rare...maybe a bit seasonal. Both are festive events that we look forward to. The performers, clowns, acrobats, magicians, jugglers and contortionists at the circus wear special costumes just for their act. So do the bride and groom. There’s excitement and uncertainty. Some find the circus thrilling. For others it’s a little scary. It’s the same for marriage.

There’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes. There’s a lot of work and practice, and choice, and deliberation before the spectacle in circus or the marriage comes to the ring.

Geoff and Alena met about three years ago. The first time was brief...they were both working on an art car to take to burningman. (That art car has some special significance for me, because that’s where I met Allison, but that’s another story.) So one day they went to work on this art car for their camp, Geoff was there for the early shift, and as he was leaving, Alena was arriving. Geoff noticed Alena, and thought “She’s wearing all black...” Alena saw Geoff leaving with Bob, and thought “He’s super cute, but he’s with Bob. Is he “with” Bob??” Here’s the important thing: they both noticed each other, and both remember that brief moment.

A few months later...out at that other circus called Burningman, Geoff and Alena ended up camping with the same group of people. There are more parallels here to the circus. There is preparation behind everything...not just spectacle. Geoff and Alena are those people who are not only visible in front of the crowd, but behind the scenes setting up. Geoff arrived early to set up the camp.

Alena arrived in camp Sunday night. So, it wasn’t until Monday that they met. On Monday evening, they went out with some others from their camp on bicycles, looking for interesting art, adventures, and people. But they both got tired around the same time, and went back to camp together.

There were signs that tell us that the night they met was an auspicious night. That night, there was a full lunar eclipse. Also that night, the man (of burningman) burned early. 4 days early. But Alena and Geoff didn’t notice these things. They had their own signs and symbols to attend to. Geoff and Alena went to the circus, to the spectacle of Burningman, and found each other.

Remember when you were a little kid, and went to the circus, and got peanuts or snow-cones or hotdogs? Geoff and Alena shared sticky sweet cotton candy kisses. But like the treats you remember, too soon, that week was over. Haven’t we all felt the letdown when the circus leaves town?

After the show is over, there’s a lot of work. Everything needs to be packed up, and loaded onto vehicles, maybe to be put away, maybe to be moved to another town. Geoff packed up his stuff, Alena hers, and they both left burningman. Sad that it was over.

Then, for a year, They were apart during the week for work, but nearly every weekend they got together. In Santa Barbara or in Oakland.

A year after they met, nearly to the day, back once again at burningman, Geoff proposed, and Alena said yes. Geoff moved to Santa Barbara soon after they were engaged.

Some people dream about running away to join the circus -- or to marriage. It’s a dreamy fantasy to escape from everyday lives. Geoff and Alena are dreamers, too. But rather than run away, they’ve decided to get married. They’ve decided to formally, proudly, boldly, and publicly declare their connection to each other. And they’ve asked you here to celebrate.

Here’s another parallel between marriage and circus: for those who are in it, it’s a way of life. It’s they way they live every day.

How do they plan to live? They plan to bring out the fun in each other. They promise support rather than judgement. They’ll share the things they love...dressing up, food, travel, wine. They promise to live with close to no conflict, and not to depend on drama for excitement. They promise to remain sexy, fun, smart, and adventurous. And finally, Geoff promises he will learn to fish to become a part of Alena's clan.

The adventure they are about to embark on has all the magic of any circus. Out on the high wire, their hearts have no net. But the truest fact is, that as long as they stick together, connected to each other, their married life will be so much more than a circus.

Let’s get you married, shall we? Allison, will you please bring up the rings?

Alena says her vows, then Geoff says his vows.

Through this ceremony, I now declare that Alena and Geoff are married. You may seal your vows with a kiss.

Ladies and Gentlemen, it is my profound pleasure to present: Geoff and Alena Roland.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

My Work Style

I prefer synthesizing the big-picture and working from that understanding to accomplish any goal. I dive deeply into details and facts to understand the big picture. Sorting through large amounts of information is not intimidating. When working on a project, I know where I am and how to reach the goal. What "floats my boat" is my sense of practical creativity in the moment, which ultimately paves the road to that final destination.

I am a natural optimist: I view the glass as half full rather than half empty. I don't waste my time worrying about the past or the future. Most of my energy is focused on the here and now.

I naturally communicate information, ideas, and feelings. I enjoy sharing new information with others. My ideal setting is where an open exchange, intellectualization and ongoing discussion can take place. I can handle an open-ended, semi chaotic environment with a limited amount of noise. I recharge my emotional batteries by interacting with others. A looser environment keeps me from becoming anxious and bored. I draw my energy from working with a group, and I provide others with energy and enthusiasm in turn. I confirm my knowledge and insights by teaching the material to someone else.

I intentionally spend a lot of time pondering future and cultivating the behaviors, activities, skills, knowledge, processes, and ideas that will be important. My preparation frees me to be present-tense-oriented; I do not have to plan to excess. I keep a close eye on what I expect to unfold, and as long as things are moving in the right direction, I’m patient and can let them develop.

I can keep records and write reports, but this is not my forte. When taking directions, I generally will comply. I like getting things done in a routine or orderly fashion, and I love processes that make me, and the groups I work with more efficient. At the same time, I am alert to new opportunities and creative alternatives and I enjoy embracing novel, possibly better ways of completing the task at hand.

My preference is to collaborate to complete tasks, but having someone breathing down my neck and telling me exactly how to do something only works for me for a short period of time. Eventually, though, it will make me snap.

I know where I am in the present moment and I know where I have to go. The details between the here-and-now and the end point are clear in my mind and I am aware of the protocol and paperwork needed to bridge those two points, but formalities are not my primary focus. What overrides them is the final product. If someone questions how I’m going to get the job done, I will be able to fudge an answer, but you should probably know that I will do it my way.

I am very aware that success and achievement are important. I base my name and reputation on what I have accomplished, and to a lesser but meaningful degree on whom I know and who knows me. Although I enjoy seeing my name in print or in the spotlight, what really motivates me is my ability to use past success, achievement and recognition to illuminate others.

When making a presentation or speech, I can talk effectively without notes. Part of what drives the emotional content of my spoken word is my spontaneity, and the feelings of the moment. I draw my energy and confidence from the crowd. I have spent the better part of my life developing this style, which touches people in a manner that ensures they will remember everything I said. I know how to work a crowd!

I know that I have what it takes to inspire others and spur them to action. It does not matter if the group is large or small; I know how to move the crowd. My enthusiasm and intelligence motivate others toward a goal before they cross the starting line.