Thursday, January 2, 2014

Check out my new blog

Hi all,

I took a break for a few years to focus my writing on my profession--enterprise architecture.  For some of the results of that work, see my SlideShare site.  I've started a new blog, with shorter entries on what I am reading, viewing or thinking about.  Please follow it at



Sunday, April 3, 2011

"Capital Moves" Shows Why Labor Must Unite Globally to Counterbalance Multinational Capital

Labor historian Jefferson Cowie follows RCA's radio and television manufacturing operations from Camden, New Jersey to Bloomington, Indiana to Memphis, Tennessee and finally to a maquiladora industrial park in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. RCA's quest for a cheap, docile and sexually stratified workforce fails to ensure its survival as an independent company, but vividly illustrates the flight of capital to havens of cheap labor and lax regulation. Cowie's work is at once scholarly, compassionate and balanced as it considers both the benefits and detriments of manufacturing as it waxes in one community but wanes in another. Over a decade old, this book's message rings truer than ever: If labor and its policymaking allies are to counterbalance multinational corporations, they must integrate their efforts worldwide.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

DOs and DON'Ts for Technology Salespeople

As an IT enterprise architect, I often meet with salespeople from among the best-known and most reputable technology companies, as well as from younger companies staffed with industry veterans.   I am often flabbergasted by the mistakes they make as they try to sell complex solutions.  But I also depend on these salespeople to help me make the right recommendations and build internal support for my efforts, so I often work with them to refine their approach.   Here is a sampling of the advice I give:
  • If you are selling something, say so.  I have gotten email from a company requesting my help in doing "research",  when they were in fact trying to sell sophisticated software. 
  • Do your homework.  I have written extensive requests for information and proposals, and spent hours explaining what we needed, only to receive generic presentation and sales materials in return.      
  • Don't rely exclusively on simple associations to construct your sales agenda.    Salespeople have spent many hours preparing and presenting materials that are only tangentially related to my employer's situation, or that cite customers with vastly different circumstances.
  • Don't sell things that customers are not ready for.    Recently, after briefing a sales team extensively, I was rewarded by an hour-long presentation on an advanced capability that my employer could not possibly use in the next several years.   Some foundational IT-enabled business capabilities can take years to mature, due to the need to re-engineer business processes, develop organizational culture and capabilities, and perform complex integrations with critical older systems. 
  • Don't assume that a close working relationship can easily be extended.  I have seen salespeople casually introduce themselves and start selling complex solutions to people whose names they have just learned from their their regular contacts.  
  • Don't try to undermine the IT-business partner relationship.  I have seen salespeople directly confront business managers with specific proposals without the support of IT.  IT organizations rely on close working relationships that pool technical and business expertise to make commitments that shape the organization for many years. 
  • Get the team right.  After extensive pre-meeting preparation, I have often spent hours meeting with pre-sales consultants who did not fully understand the problem at hand.
  • Keep your word.   I have made detailed plans with salespeople for joint investigations or technology demonstrations that could have laid the groundwork for new business deals, only to have the plans fall through because the sales team did not do their agreed-upon part.   
This advice may seem obvious, but I find that the few salespeople that follow these rules consistently stand out from the crowd and are a joy to work with.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Growing Up in an Experimental Village: Two Views of City Life

The sleek glistening Concorde SST jet, its dropped needle nose angled like a pterodactyl's beak, slid through the cloudless blue sky, high above the Manhattan skyline. I saw this from the balcony of the top-floor apartment where I grew up in New York City's Rochdale Village just north of Kennedy Airport, which the SST was approaching.

My father selected the spacious apartment, with three bedrooms and wood parquet floors, mainly for the view.   My family arrived in 1964 when I was two and Rochdale was still under construction.  I grew up watching the Manhattan skyline about fifteen miles to the West. I saw the World Trade Center being built, with self-erecting cranes atop rising towers that glowed a fiery orange at sunrise. I marveled when the lights atop the Empire State Building were tinted for various occasions: red, white and blue for the fourth of July, orange for Halloween, blue and white in honor of the New York Mets.   I had an unobstructed view of fall foliage, train movements, fires, storms, fireworks displays, and blackouts.

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Rochdale Village was established as a cooperative and named after the Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers, a group of British skilled workers who, in 1844, banded together to form the first consumers' cooperative to sell items they could not otherwise afford.  Rochdale Village was developed by the United Housing Foundation, a real estate investment trust with roots in the labor union movement. It received crucial support from urban planner and builder Robert Moses and New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller, along with $86 million in financing from New York State agencies.  Rochdale was experimental in that it was one of the first large urban developments -- twenty fourteen-story, three-section buildings holding nearly six thousand families -- intended to be racially integrated. It was also designed to retain the middle and working classes in New York City instead of losing them to the suburbs.

Rochdale was planned as a walkable and self-contained residential community, with two elementary schools, a middle school, two shopping centers, a medical center, a community center, generous parking, access to public transportation and even its own plant for generating electricity. It was laid out with broad green lawns, a network of walking paths and many playing fields and playgrounds.

The early years of Rochdale seemed to fulfill the its promise. Low housing costs, community amenities and the prospect of living in an integrated community attracted a diverse group of middle and working class people. A multiracial and multicultural community flourished with many racially mixed organizations. My mother taught in one of the elementary schools, and was well-loved in the community. During those early years, we had many friends and I could always find children to play with. 

But Rochdale was not insulated from the crime and racial and class tensions rampant in New York City during the 1960's and 1970's. It was built on the site of the former Jamaica Racetrack in a historically African-American area with solid neighborhoods of private homes as well as low-income housing projects and pockets of extreme poverty.   However, its initial racial composition was 80% Caucasian.  As I grew up, I became less and less comfortable walking around. I got lots of sneers and taunts from many of the kids who used our parks, malls and schools but lived in the surrounding neighborhoods, or who had recently moved to Rochdale from tougher neighborhoods.   By the time we moved out in 1981, all of our Caucasian friends and many of our African-American friends had fled Rochdale for the suburbs or other New York City neighborhoods.

I have not kept in touch with anyone in Rochdale Village, but the community website and demographic data suggest a thriving, overwhelmingly African-American community, and crime statistics show very significant reductions over the last twenty years.

I grew up with two views of city life: the skyline and the experimental community.   I learned that cities are fascinating, complex and organic--always full of possibility but often beyond our control.

For this article, I referred to Rochdale Village and the rise and fall of integrated housing in New York City by historian and former resident Peter Eisenstadt, whose forthcoming book Rochdale Village: Robert Moses, 6,000 Families, and New York City's Great Experiment in Integrated Housingcan now be ordered in advance.

Monday, July 26, 2010

"Happiness at Work" Offers a Playbook for Personal Fulfillment.

In The Fifth Discipline, which I reviewed on July 11, personal mastery is the first of five disciplines in which learning organizations must engage.   The central fifth discipline is systems thinking, which in author Peter Senge's approach, integrates and aligns the disciplines of personal mastery, mental models, team learning and shared vision.  "Happiness at Work:  Be Resilient, Motivated, and Successful--No Matter What"  by business scholar and teacher Srikumar S. Rao complements Senge's work on organizational development with a guide to personal mastery.  The book contains thirty-five short chapters, each with a mixture of philosophical arguments, pragmatic advice, parables and exercises--all designed to shift the reader's personal perspective and consequent actions. 

Rao's basic premise is that we create our own reality, not in some magical sense, but through a continuous stream of thoughts and reactions that we incorporate into perpetual internal narratives.  Like Senge, Rao asserts that we are captives of mental models of which we  are unaware, and that there is much freedom to be gained by becoming conscious of our mental strictures.   As the creators and managers of our own mental states, we can perceive new opportunities and gain new energy to pursue them.  Also like Senge, Rao urges us to focus on what we share with those around us and to seek meaningful rather than competitive interactions.  For both Senge and Rao, the value of a vision is the work it inspires us to do, not in whether the end state is realized.  While not explicitly advocating systems thinking, Rao enjoins us to see ourselves as part of a greater whole, and look for opportunities to serve the common good rather than just our own direct interests.  

There is, certainly, a fine line between systematically striving for personal fulfillment and self-interested, Machiavellian conduct.  In a chapter entitled "Standing on Slippery Rocks", Rao instructs readers to progressively sharpen their consciousness of the impacts of their actions.  Rao also asks us to trust that the world is a fundamentally benevolent place that is gradually making moral progress, even in the face of contemporary setbacks.

"Happiness at Work" is largely an artful repackaging of ideas from Zen Buddhism and elsewhere.  Many of the ideas will be familiar to those exposed to the human potential movement.   But understanding is not the same as disciplined practice, so the true value of the book arises from doing the exercises and applying the results.   In return, Rao promises a changed life, replete with energy, anticipation, commitment, fulfillment and joy--although this life may not be what the reader has planned.   

Can this work?  I read the book cover-to-cover this weekend, and did abbreviated versions of a few of the exercises.  Even though I have been exposed to much of the material before, I do feel clearer and more excited about what is ahead of me, and I think I am communicating more effectively about some difficult issues.    I plan to go through the book again, and do all of the exercises.  Stay tuned...       

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Is Waste Essential to Sustainability?

Elephant ears in the fryer
Recently, I visited Portland's Oregon Zoo with my wife and daughter.  Besides enjoying the animals, especially Samudra, the now not-so-small baby elephant, we made some purchases.  First were two elephant ears for my wife and daughter: tasty, zoo-themed slabs of fried dough slathered with butter and sugar.  At the end of our visit, we stopped in the gift shop, where my ten-year-old daughter got a stuffed animal.  In the gift shop, a sign announced an upcoming renovation that would enhance the shop's sustainability, with new bamboo shelves and paints with low levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

The sign got me thinking.  Certainly, the zoo's activities embody sustainability: education about the precious diversity of life; breeding and sometimes even releasing endangered species; and contributing to the economic well-being of the Portland metropolitan area.  But the concession stands and gift stores sell a lot of junk food that isn't good for us and souvenirs that we don't really need, like plastic toys, stuffed animals and T-shirts.

But everyone likes souvenirs, and they contribute to the economic viability of the zoo.   So, are they a good thing?   It seems that unnecessary consumption is an essential fundraising tool for even the worthiest of causes.   Consider the charity auctions and galas that consume significant resources just to get people to come and donate.  Why not just donate everything directly to the charity?  But I imagine that just asking people to write a check doesn't work as well.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

"The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of the Learning Organization" Guides Leaders of all Stripes

We expect organizations to be corrupt and dysfunctional, requiring watchdogs to keep them on track. We expect their leaders to be venal and short-sighted, on the verge of being uncovered by investigators. Peter Senge, however, in the 2006 revision of this 1990 management classic, provides a convincing and inspiring guide for building successful organizations that adapt to change while nurturing their members.  Learning organizations see their members, operations and surroundings as a connected whole, and use each of their members to continually sense, interpret and adapt to change. A learning organization must continually engage in five disciplines:

  1. Personal Mastery,  in which individuals develop personal visions while seeing the world exactly as it is.    They harness the resulting "creative tension" to focus their efforts on realizing these visions.
  2. Mental Models, which are ways of consciously and unconsciously perceiving the world.  All models are simplifications and therefore limiting.  Many are useful, but often we are not conscious of the models we embrace and the limits they impose.  Therefore we can achieve new levels of success by becoming conscious of these models and deliberately evolving them.