Tuesday, December 20, 2016

You must be a hands-on CIO to succeed

Please check out my latest blog, where I explain why you must be hands-on as a CIO.  I give three examples of what that could mean and how to get there in your career.

http://www.cio.com/article/3151516/leadership-management/why-every-cio-needs-to-be-a-hands-on-leader-to-succeed.html

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Taking the Pain Out of Cloud Adoption

You no longer have to be an IT expert to take full advantage of the cloud.  Many of the mistakes that leaders made in the past can now be avoided by taking advantage of 3rd party expertise. 

Check out my recent blog on CIO.com:

http://www.cio.com/article/3146132/cloud-computing/what-you-dont-know-about-cloud-adoption-doesnt-have-to-hurt-you.html

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Work Face-to-Face, Answer the Phone, and Be More Successful

Choosing to live and work "in person" will pay huge dividends in your career progression and personal satisfaction.  I tackle this topic in my latest blog on CIO.com:

http://www.cio.com/article/3140455/work-face-to-face-answer-the-phone-and-be-more-successful

Monday, November 14, 2016

Digital Leadership

In my recent blog on CIO.com, I explore what it means to be a digital leader.  I also give direct steps on how to successfully embrace digital leadership in your career.

Take a look:
http://www.cio.com/article/3138529/digital-leadership-defined

Monday, October 24, 2016

New Venue

I want to express my sincere thanks to everyone who continues to read my Simple CIO blog posts and musings.  I was asked to move my venue to the ICN/IDG contributor network, aka CIO.com.  You can check out my latest post entitled "If you're just thinking about the cloud it's already too late".  Just click aqui.

My plan is to continue publishing blogs to this site as well so don't abandon me!  This site on blogger.com will allow me to write about topics that are especially important to me and to you as well but more on the "opinion" side...

-Christopher

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Video Games & Office Hours

Just recently Amazon has begun testing something almost blasphemous in the America Corporate environment.  Beginning this month, a sub-section of the company will begin working a 30-hour week - while remaining full-time employees.  Amazon's stated goal is to determine whether or not this type of approach to managing employees can pay enough dividends that it can be extended to its entire workforce.

I am extremely interested in seeing how this experiment pans out for a number of reasons.  Why you might ask?  I could write five blog posts on why, but the biggest reason why I am fascinated is because this strategy appears to be rooted, at least partly, in video game design theory.  Amazon is clearly conducting a very intricate, highly analytical psychological experiment upon its workforce.  But are they inventing the psychology or did it originate somewhere else?

There are many people who play online video games and many more that don't.  Yet, video games are some of the most highly profitable and significant entertainment products ever made.  You don't believe so?  Take a close look at the two numbers to understand the significance of gaming.

  • In 2015, the total cumulative box office for all the movies shown in theaters within the United States came to just about $11 Billion.
  • During the same year of 2015, total sales for all video games purchased in the United States almost reached $24 Billion.
Yes, Hollywood has its stars, franchises, and of course the annual Academy Awards.  But from a business perspective, movies as a form of entertainment are merely the "poor relatives" of the gaming industry.

One of the most successful online games of all time (not World of Warcraft) was titled "Destiny" and first came out in Q3, 2014.  For several years before its release, the studio behind the game, Bungie, had a number of doctoral level scientists working to develop behavioral psychology that would integrate into the game's mechanics.  The goal was to maximize player involvement, loyalty, and overall play time.  For a in-depth look at what they did you can look here to see the Reddit article that goes into the detail about what Dr. John Hopson and his team did to mold the Destiny player experience.

Tying this information back to Amazon, I want to focus on several aspects of the psychological gaming theory utilized by Bungie that has direct applicability.  Borrowing liberally from the information laid out in the Reddit article, I believe that Amazon is going to focus heavily on the evaluation of what is called "Fixed Ratio".

Fixed Ratio definition:  "(It's) a very distinct pattern that gives a burst of activities to do at a time but (is) then followed by a long pause."

Rather than requiring the workers to follow a standard (minimum) 40 hour work week that implicitly rewards time spent with "butt in seat", Amazon is specifically constraining the available amount of time to complete tasks.  This represents a gigantic shift in thinking for the traditional American worker.  Most of us have been inculcated with a belief that long hours in the office are good and that with a willingness to stay late and/or work weekends, the time to complete a task can be stretched.  Amazon is basically saying to that philosophy: "Nope, you've got 30 hours and no more to get all of your tasks done.  Now go!"

Another concept that Amazon is seemingly aiming to tackle deals with the subject of "Avoidance".  This term, often associated with procrastination, refers to the tendency of humans to avoid doing hard or unpleasant tasks as long as possible in order to avoid "pain".  In a video game like Destiny, this behavior might manifest as doing simple low risk activities like "Patrol".  However, in terms of the story related to Destiny the most important but most difficult activity is referred to as "Raiding".  

In the video game, players are forced to tackle the hardest tasks if they ever want to progress.  And progressing is fun.  In the workplace, completing a project, innovating a new product, or landing a sale is much more important than filling the copier with paper or making a fresh pot of coffee.  By creating a scarcity of time in which employees can work, Amazon appears to be explicitly emphasizing the requirement/reward of doing the harder, more important work first and de-prioritizing non-value added "make work".  Another side effect of introducing scarcity into the available work hours is the tacit emphasis on collaboration.  Just as in video games, players (or employees in this case), almost universally find more success working in teams as opposed to individual effort.  We might be seeing a very clever strategy by Amazon to create an "organic" desire for people to work together within its workplace rather than mandating collaboration as a rule.

We should all watch this experiment very closely to see whether it works well enough to for Amazon to take it corporate-wide.  Imagine how the entire working experience would change if, instead of dreading a grindingly long work week, you came in eagerly knowing that the clock starts ticking the moment you step into your office.

Would you be more productive, energetic, and enthusiastic if your employer constrained your work hours rather than promoting them while holding you to the same production output levels?

It looks like our work places may start to feel like action video games if Amazon has its way...

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Connecting Your World

Imagine that you lead the technology functions as CIO or Head of IT for a global business.  Your operations extend across four continents, all with different regional and logistical problems.  As you might expect, the company is going to look to you to ensure that business in every country is empowered with the same IT resources - networking, applications, phones (telecom), and systems.  How do you go about ensuring that the technological needs of all your company's employees are met? 

Let's take the scenario a little further.  Up until today your company has operated solely within the United States. Due to a large acquisition, the company has, overnight, inherited operations in Europe, South America, and Africa.

As might be expected, there are many answers to this question, all of which will have some merit.  The interesting thing is that this scenario is not really new or esoteric.  It happens all the time, especially when an influx in business capital opens up all sorts of new opportunities for previously static companies.  More than one CIO has been faced with the mandate to extend the IT portfolio of a U.S.-based company into regions where the leadership has no experience or business contacts.

The answer to the question, "What to do?" can derived from a return to basics.  In order to deliver IT services to multiple locations across the globe the "price of entry" or starting point is the conception and formation of a worldwide network (WAN).  This structure is the backbone required to connect your IT services and functions to all locations.  Without a foundational network, almost no IT services can be provisioned or delivered.  Yet, this return to basics can be a very painful journey for even the most season IT veterans.  Why?  Because providing network services is completely dependent upon the ability to delivery raw Internet bandwidth to any location.  With the advances in Internet service and availability in many cities most people (IT folks included) believe that this progress is a universal occurrence.  The facts are that while cities are easy to network, most of the United States and the rest of the world are still rural.  Outside the city environment, Internet service availability is far from being a given.  Telecommunications service, be it phones, cellular, or Internet bandwidth, is handled much differently in rural areas and is almost always provided by committee.  In other words, in the countryside the number of potential telecom companies who participate in delivering service is much, much greater than a city dweller would expect.

This juncture is where many CIOs make a fundamental yet very avoidable mistake.  By understanding that bandwidth is key, the CIO and staff quite often set about establishing Internet service coverage by entering into contracts with local telecom and bandwidth providers.  Initially this doesn't seem like a bad idea because each contract signed represents progress.  However, in areas that are more rural or remote, contract negotiation becomes more problematic.  Take for example just the State of Texas (USA).  In Texas there are just about 26,000 telecom providers.  If your company has field operations that are spread out in many rural areas, you could be facing the prospect of managing dozens if not hundreds of contracts for just one State!  

Now imagine facing the same prospect in a foreign country - different laws, different language, foreign business practices and cultures.  How are you going to manage all of those aspects when you are very likely facing time pressures to bring up and extend your IT systems - yesterday?  The problem becomes quite daunting indeed.  So what is the solution?

The answer comes not from better contract management skills but from telecom aggregation.  Many years ago global companies realized what a nightmare it could be if they had to engage each and every provider across the world in order to stand up a global network.  This problem was initially posed to the giant telecommunications providers of the time - AT&T, GlobalCom, BT, NTT, DT.  These giants began to offer services where they would offer to deal with each telecom provider on the behalf of the business customer.  Through aggregation a company could establish a 1:1 relationship with a telecom giant who would handle, on behalf of that company, all of the contracts across all the geographical region.  Talk about true one-stop-shopping!

Over the progression of several decades many other aggregating companies have stepped into the competitive arena.  It has been just such as company (Masergy) that has helped me solve the problems of establishing and maintaining a highly dynamic, changing global network over the years.

Remember that you don't have to do it yourself.  Aggregating services can be incredible resources to use if you ever find yourself in charge of operating a global IT shop.  There are many from which to choose so always do your homework to ensure that you find the right fit.  But once you do, hand over the heavy lifting to the experts so that you can focus on the truly important tasks of being a global IT leader.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Staying Relevant

Imagine that the year is 2004 and you are a CIO.  It's been less than five years since Y2K and companies like Google, Amazon, and eBay are still very much a new phenomena.  The role of the CIO, which emerged in the late 1990s as a corporate force, is one of the hottest new positions in corporations around the world.  You are riding high on a wave of prestige having just been given a seat with the senior executives and are regularly presenting at board meetings.  It seems like you are just coming into your own and can see an actual path to the top chair - the actual CEO position.  This is not a dream - Bob Willett became the CIO of Best Buy in 2001 and quickly ascended to run the entire company as CEO just a few years later.

There are a few naysayers out there including writer Nicholas Carr.  A few years earlier he wrote a book, essentially becoming the lone voice saying that the CIO position was doomed.  He believed that the CIO role was simply an over-hyped reaction to the Internet/Dotcom bubble which only recently has begun to ebb.  Now this year (remember we're still in 2004) on May 1 he sat down with the Editor-In-Chief, Abbie Lundberg, of CIO Magazine to double down on the assertions in his book.    Carr is saying things like:

(IT Innovation will be outsourced) "I think there will continue to be lots of innovation in corporate IT. But it will take place at the infrastructural level, it will be driven by vendors, and it will be shared."

And on the role of the CIO:

(The importance of the CIO role will fade away) "I don’t believe that it’s essential that it always be a C-level position. In a lot of companies, that’s probably not necessary. It might make perfect sense to have the CIO report to the CFO or the COO. A lot of the hype that surrounded the CIO role during the Internet boom, particularly, was the sense that the CIO was driving strategy. "

Like many other CIOs you join in the chorus of boos and cat-calls aimed in Carr's direction.  With the importance of IT in the corporate environment, the CIO position is here to stay.

On your way home from the office on a crisp Fall evening you are kidnapped by an unknown assailant.  You are drugged and put into a stasis unit where you hibernate for the next 12 years.  Mysteriously, you awaken to find that you are now in the year 2016.

---------------

You somehow find a way to travel to your old address.  Defying all logic, not only is your house still there but everything is *exactly* the way you left it.  All of the food in the 'fridge is still fresh, house is clean, and the car is in the garage.  Taking things a step further, you go into work the next day.  Even though it's been more than a decade, your office is still there and your name tag reads "CIO".  Everything is good, right?  Not exactly.

When you take a look at your org chart, most of the staff is comprised of people you've never met.  You also have dotted lines to external service partners that are managing some of your most sensitive core assets. What's more, the total count of your personnel which used to be 350 is now 80. (!)  Rather than having seven data centers you now have two and one of those is co-located instead of in its own facility.  You walk down to the CEO's office for your daily staff meeting but are greeted by a confused executive assistant.  He says, somewhat bewildered, "You have reported to the CFO since 2013.  Her office is down the hall in suite 1622."

At the end of the day you look at your new reality and see that while you were asleep, everything else changed around you.

---------------

The little story above is somewhat dramatic but it highlights in a simple way what has happened to a number of technology executives over the past decade.  The reality of IT has changed in ways that would NEVER happen in any other part of a company.  If that's hard to believe, just take a look around your own environment.  For the most part, accounting is still accounting, operations still works very similar, and sales people still go out and sell.  Only within IT has the entire "modus operandi" changed.  The function of technology is still very much the same but it is practiced in entirely new ways.

So the biggest question of all is, "How do you stay relevant?"  Depending upon who and what you are the answer will be different (of course you knew I'd say that).  However........there is something that all of us can do that will lead to the right path.  The answer - MOVE FORWARD.  This can take shape in a number of different ways:

  • Embrace virtualization outside of the data center
  • Work with strategic partners when and where you need them instead of hiring full-time staff
  • Hire problem solvers - Be a problem solver
  • Express yourself internally to your company and to the outside world (history is written by the writers!)
  • Use a Mac (in other words, become hardware agnostic, not a PC evangelist)
  • Spend your budget on projects that will give immediate results
When you realize that being a technologist is a journey rather than a career is when this whirlwind journey that we all share will start being fun and rewarding.

Monday, June 13, 2016

All Business Is Personal

One of the most famous lines in all the great gangsters movies is usually said before someone gets whacked (killed).  Right before the trigger is pulled, the antagonist says, "This isn't personal kid, just business..."  Directly afterwards you heard the gun go off (BLAM!) and see the blood and gore spray.

Just thinking about that type of scene I've always laughed at the hypocrisy of that statement.  When someone kills you, what could be more personal?  While carrying out a "hit" on somebody may indeed be a business transaction (for the hit man) the end result ends up being extremely personal.

In the world of business we rarely deal with issues of life and death.  No, our daily struggles are more mundane concerns about deadlines, deliverables, presentations, and the such.  Yet, how many of us fall into the trap of believing that the things we do and the way we treat and interact with people is "just business"?  If you've ever laid someone off or been laid off yourself, did you feel emotionally detached from the situation?  Odds are that whatever side you were one, the experience felt very personal.

Consider something if you will.  When you receive your paycheck, whether it comes as a paper form or simply an electronic deposit, do you believe that the "company" just paid you?  Most people believe exactly that, but nothing could be further from the truth.  The reality is that every time you get paid it is because of several factors:

  1. A specific person set and approved your particular compensation
  2. Another person made sure that your information was correctly recorded into whatever payroll system your company uses
  3. Yet another individual took the responsibility to authorize ("sign") your check
  4. Someone made sure that your money was correctly delivered to you
Not everyone gets paid in exactly the same way but the point still stands.  Your company did not just pay you - some individual or group of people did it.

Everything we do in our daily work is personal to someone.  For example, the work that you do in your role either contributes or detracts from your own sense of satisfaction or fulfillment.  Each assignment that you do for somebody else affects them in many ways from how they feel about you to how successful he or she can be in their career.  Every customer with whom you interact takes your actions personally.  If you've ever received a speeding ticket you will remember positively or negatively how the police officer treated you.  If you were disrespectful to officer that will also be remembered as will your politeness if you maintained decorum.

The ultimate point of this particular blog is to help you both understand and manage self awareness.  People who are self aware get tuned into the subtleties of how even the smallest actions reflect upon a person.  Time and again you will notice that the most successful people in all walks of life are those that understand the concept that everything is personal.  

Certain cultures are more tuned into this concept than others.  Having travel the (entire) world, I can speak from experience.  In Asia, the success of almost every business situation in which I was involved was determined by small things.  Did I have a personal connection to my counterpart across the table?  Did I know about his life, his family, his interests?  What was my connection to community where I was trying to do business?  Did I conduct myself with decorum?

I have many examples that I could give not only from Asia, but South America, the Middle East, Africa, and Europe.  That's not necessary, though, because you get the point.  (All my readers are highly intelligent and intuitive!)

If you want to be successful in business always, always remember to be self aware.  It's those people who can make business personal that always achieve the most success.  Think about it and you'll know it's true.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Poor Personal Choices & the Coming Machine Era

The other day I was reading an article that claimed robots would be taking over about 95 million jobs from humans in the next 10-20 years.  There were some interesting assertions in that piece so I did some more searching and came across another article that was titled, "Will Robots Make Humans Unnecessary?" From a certain perspective, headlines like these are simply "clickbait".  This term is used to described headlines that draw the attention of people to content that would not otherwise be enticing.

While I don't believe that the world will be ruled by machines anytime soon, I think that the trend is a legitimate one.  Given what I've just said, we might ask ourselves why this shift is occurring.  As the second article says above, why have the number of workers employed in manufacturing jobs dropped 31% over the last 40 years?  The answer lies in the way that humans behave.  Let's look at a few examples of certain types of behavior that most would consider "poor".  Ask yourself if you've either committed or observed any of them.

  1. As you drive in traffic you notice an accident on the other side of the road.  You slow down to see "if anything happened", at the same time causing a ripple effect of slowdowns behind you.
  2. A person goes to bedd too late and comes to work the next day tired.  They proceed to turn in less than top-notch work.  The result is that some of the effort must be re-done or the finished work product is of less quality than it should be.
  3. A person is in an angry state of mind and allows those emotions to negatively impact an interaction with a customer.  The customer decides to move to a competitor.
  4. An airline pilot makes a mistake in routine flying procedures causing an incident with the plane.
  5. A check-out clerk at a store incorrectly prices or fails to scan an item resulting in an incorrect total.  The store loses money.
  6. A package arrives on a person's doorstep that, while properly addressed, was hand delivered to an incorrect house two lots away from the intended destination.
  7. A typo in an accounting entry causes a transaction to be off by a factor of 10.  The person who committed the erroneous transaction blames it on a "system error".
  8. A worker at a famous fast food restaurant decides not to wash his hands after leaving the bathroom.  As a result, an outbreak of e-coli causes tremendous disruption to the business.
  9. A heart patient continues to eat fatty food and smoke after surviving a triple heart by-pass surgery.

Of the nine examples above I believe that all of us can identify with at least three.  Maybe not personally, but we each would have knowledge of them occurring.  They all illustrate examples where humans routinely cause disruption, lower quality results, or poor output - all of which are the result of poor choices.  Is it no wonder then that many businesses have looked for ways to automate processes or remove the "human element" from the equation?

I do not believe that robots and machines will ever replace humans in the sense that they will "take over" our world.  What I do believe is that the inability to remove poor choices from the human experience will continue to drive companies all over the world to find ways to mitigate the resulting problems that arise.

I've recently written about transportation being one of the biggest problems and opportunities of our modern era.  If ever there was stage to illustrate the cause and effect of poor (human) choices, it is in the daily traffic found in every city around the world.  That's why we have already seen the advent of the driverless car.  With computers in charge of moving cars in heavily congested cities, traffic jams will become extinct.  It doesn't mean that people will no longer drive cars, it just means that driving will take on a whole new (streamlined) form, augmented by automated machines.

Just like the Luddites of the early 1800s, humans will adapt in the coming decades to embrace whole new ways of work and play.  Making poor choices is just a part of the human condition and can oftentimes tied to emotion.  With machines more integrated into many parts of our lives, we can become more fully who we are as species.  It may sound scary, but the next era we enter - the Era of the Machine - may be the happiest healthiest time we have ever experienced.

Monday, March 7, 2016

The Trillion Dollar Problem & Reward

If you asked your closest friends or colleagues about what they considered the biggest problem on the planet to be, what answer do you think you'd get?  Some might say war, some famine & hunger, others disease, and certainly climate change would be high on the list of many people.

Without arguing against the points of view held by others, I would argue that the world's biggest problem is something much more basic.  I would posit that the world's biggest problem is also it's most lucrative opportunity.  In other words, if a person could solve it, the reward would be worth trillions.

By now I know that most of you who read this blog do not like suspense so I'll get right to it.  The world's biggest problem, by far, is transportation.  The ability to freely, quickly, and cheaply move from one place to another is THE constraining factor on happiness and productivity for anyone who lives and works in the modern world.  Let's take a look at a few factors:

Work

  • In the United States, the average worker spends about 200 hours per year commuting to and from work.  That's about the same as five standard work weeks.  For many people in very populous areas, the commute time almost doubles to 375 hours per year.
  • Making the arbitrary assumption that cars burn 2.1 gallons of gas per hour and there are 63 million commuters: (2.1)x(200)x(63,000,000) = 26.5 billion gallons of gas/year.
  • Many people choose where they live based upon where they work.  This means that the number of choices available to these workers is limited due to distance/commute constraints.
  • Some very desirable areas to work, such as the Bay Area or New York City (for example), are unavailable to workers who live outside a given radius.
If I could summarize this section I would focus on two things.  First, workers in general are wasting an unacceptably high amount of time and money ($53 billion/year in fuel cost) simply moving to and from work.  The second is that labor is constrained from migrating to the best and most interesting employers.  The latter is especially bad because it encourages disconnection between companies and their people based on the belief that good talent is artificially discouraged in flowing to a true "free market".  Thus, because of geography companies assume they will enjoy a built-in advantage to retaining labor.

Life
  • Because of a lack of effective transportation workers are constrained to labor at companies within (generally) a 30 mile radius of their homes.  This lack of mobility leads to social isolation of whole population groups.
  • Cultural exchange between States (in the U.S.) and other countries is generally constrained.  To travel more than a few hundred miles, costly and inconvenient options such as air travel must be used.  Most people cannot travel this way regularly or at all.  Europe and India, due to prevalent rail systems, are the exceptions.
  • Due to a lack of mobility and interchange, great political and social differences develop over time.  (Take a look at the differences between the Northern and Southern U.S. States dating back over 200 years)
This section reads more "dryly" than I usually prefer to write.  The point I'm making here is that because people are unable to travel great distances due to limitations in the transportation infrastructure, large societal differences develop.  If a person could live in Alabama and (feasibly) work in New York City, would the differences in culture and politics be as significant as they are today?

We have some very inefficient modes of travel today.  Going anywhere by car, rail, or especially airplane is costly and highly ineffective.  The ever-present chance for human error only contributes to this situation.  So what could be different?

Many years ago a concept arose that proposed travel by a special "egg shaped" pod which would travel at fantastic (meaning 5,000+ mph) speeds through an enclosed tube.  These underground pods would be moved by computer through a tube that had no air and thus no friction and would be suspended by superconducting magnets.  Imagine something moving that fast with no friction and essentially no moving parts.  A person could in a very real sense live anywhere, work anywhere, and travel to anyplace on Earth in about an hour or less.  And because of the simplicity of the travel, the costs would be exceedingly reasonable.  The change to the entirety of human civilization would be so immense that all known national boundaries would rapidly fade away.

Does this sound too fantastic to be true?  It probably does, however...  Think about a problem like this from the perspective of reward.  Given that the person or people who solve it will become trillionaire(s), there is plenty of incentive to completely reinvent the concept and practice of transportation.  Humans have always proven that when the stakes are high enough the impossible can always be made possible.  

If you are interested in taking on this problem, you already have some competition*.  Get to work!



Thursday, February 11, 2016

We All Need to Be Hated!

Let's take a moment to talk about leadership.  I don't know about any of you, but I've read a nauseatingly large number of management books that all talk about the need to be a "people person".  To summarize most of the advice I've received:  "My success is tied to both the number and quality of relationships that I possess.  Being a relentless networker who can charm people with dazzling charisma is the way to get things done."  I've even been told by a CEO that I greatly admire that there are three factors that make up every successful leader.  He called them CCL, or Capability, Credibility, and Likability.

I am not here to argue about the need to be well in tune with people.  That fact should be axiomatic to most of us, but it does not represent the whole truth.  Not by far!  In thinking about my own experiences, I've always seemed to work better under leaders (and sports coaches) who challenge my self-imposed status quo.  I fondly remember reporting to bosses who were very friendly and complimentary of my work (no matter the quality) but those people never seemed to get the best out of me.

But enough about me.  We need to look beyond individuals at more broad situations.  Along those lines, comparison examples are always helpful - let's look at a few.  Keep in mind that I live in the United States but that a significant number of my readers do not.  So when I talk about politics, please think about the ones pertinent to you and your location.

Let's begin by first examining the approval rating for the current president of the United States, Barack Obama.  By all accounts President Obama, "the leader of the free world", is a wildly successful politician and leader.  He easily won both of his presidential elections and has been more effective in advancing his legislative agenda than almost any president in recent history.  Given all of this popularity we need examine some numbers shown in this chart:



For all of his success as president, Obama's approval rating has an average of about 45%.  One way to interpret this number is to say that out of every 100 people, 55% of the individuals in that group do NOT like what President Obama is doing or has done.  That's more than half!  How can someone win two terms to the highest, most powerful job in the world when so many people are disapproving?

Things get much worse if you take a look at the United States Congress.  According to polls late last year, Congress as a whole had an 11% approval rating and an 86% disapproval mark with the nation's population.  No matter how you look at those numbers they are really quite terrible.  Yet, the same faces seem to be in Washington year after year.  So is being disliked a bad thing?

Scurrying away from politics we can now take a look at business leaders.  Steve Jobs was one of the greatest corporate leaders of the past century.  He did so many momentous things that within five years of his death, there were two major Hollywood movies made about him.  Yet, at the same time, Jobs was absolutely hated and despised by friends, family, business partners, and associates.

Elon Musk is a name that most of us will recognize.  Sure, there's the Tesla Auto company that he's most associated with to the public.  However, he is also responsible for some other spectacular ventures as well.  Ever heard of SpaceX, Solar City, or the Hyperloop?  Yet again we have an example of a leader who has been wildly effective and successful, yet remains an individual that very few people view as being likable.

In his book, "The Five Temptations of a CEO", author Patrick Lencioni explicitly says that no leader can be successful and seek acceptance at the same time.  The hard truth about being a leader worth following is that hard decisions must be made and firm stances taken.  Whenever either of these things is done, opposition will materialize and "hate" will develop.  But there is simply no alternative if one wants to bring any value at all to the world.

Pause for a moment and take stock of your current situation.  If, as a leader, you are doing things which cause others to polarize around you, it's highly likely you are either becoming a successful leader or probably have already reached that goal.  If you find that no "hate" is being directed towards you, odds are that you haven't yet done anything.

For further reading, see:

Monday, February 1, 2016

We Are All Ants

Imagine that you were walking outside one day and spied an ant scurrying over the ground.  You pause for awhile to observe the ant.  It moves to and fro, spying out new trails, picking up food, and generally making random maneuvers.  As you watch this ant it's highly likely you're thinking about just how unique it is amongst ants.  You might even make the guess that every ant in an anthill is equally unpredictable.  In other words, you could pick any ant and in watching it notice that its behavior is distinctly different from any other.

If you're like me and have a distinct hatred for fire ants (Hello, Texas), you may occasionally kick over a mound just to see the bajillions of ants moving about in an absolute frenzy.  For those of you who have done this, you'll agree that once the top comes off the mound it's just absolute chaos!  It looks like rice boiling in water with no pattern discernable whatsoever.

Now what would you say if I told you that every single ant you'll ever find on the face of the Earth has behavior which is absolutely predictable?  Yes, in this post we are going to talk for just a bit about predictive analytics.  There is a whole scientific practice that is dedicated to the creation of pinpoint predictions about just exactly what is going to happen and when.

Back to the little part about ants from earlier.  If you were to do what I suggested and pick an ant to watch for a bit, you most likely would learn nothing about it other than it acted without much repetition.  However, if you could view this exact same ant for five days straight (assuming x-ray vision for underground movements) you would start to build up a robust data set of actions.  After an interval like this you would become very surprised at just how similar this ant tended to behave.  Even accounting for external conditions - changes in climate, temperature, or people kicking over the ant's home - the ant's behavior would be remarkably easy to predict after five days of observation and data collection.

So why is this topic so important that we would need to dedicate a whole blog post to it?

That ant is really you and me.  Does that sound completely insane?  There is no way that a human's behavior, as complex as it is could possibly be compared to an ant.  Right?  Wrong.

Humor me for a second and think about a couple of things:

  • What you do right before you go to bed // What you do right after you get up
  • What do you eat and when do you eat it?
  • How often do you see the same car(s) in your daily commute even though you live in an area with thousands/tens-of-thousands/millions of people?
  • What pathways do you choose to walk to your most common destinations?
  • How do you answer the phone and what do you say when you hang up?
  • What do you say when someone sneezes?
These questions could go on and on, but something tells me that you get the point.  Nobody acts and behaves the same all the time.  External stimuli makes sure of that.  But as quickly as possible, people revert back to the same patterns.

Remember when I referred to the need to have a sufficient data set to predict the ant's behavior?  Guess what?  If you're a person (don't even need to be an adult) with an email address and a credit card there is already an ENORMOUS database dedicated just to you.  Can you guess who has it?  (The answer is that your data is shared around more than gossip on Facebook)

None of us is nearly as unique or random as we'd like to believe.  The truth is that we, as humans, are exceedingly repetitive and thus quite predictable.  If we could view ourselves as we might an ant, over time we would see that most of what we do day in and day out is part of a regular pattern.  From what you say to what you do and where you go (and why) can be predetermined by your historical behaviors.

Being predictable is not always a bad thing.  It allows us to be served more effectively, from entertainment to products (and marketing), to traffic control.  Government and private business can be prepared well in advance to ensure that our needs are always met and our "wants" are always catered to.  The science of predictive analytics has allowed us to do so many things to better our world that it would be hard for a modern day human (1st world) to live in a previous century.  Imagine going to a supermarket and NOT finding exactly what you need.  Today, the store already knew well in advance what you'd need and had it ready for you before it even crossed your mind that you had to go to the store.  Your great grandparents would be in awe.

Predictive analytics now combined with big data are changing our collective world in new and wonderful ways.  If you feel inclined, take a look at what your own company is doing today.  Are there opportunities?

The only downside for predictive analytics comes for those people who are targets for assassination or kidnapping...

Monday, January 25, 2016

Buy American?

Ever so often, usually around election time, the mantra "Buy American" resurfaces.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with the sentiment if you're from the United States.  It is simply a natural way to:

  • Seem patriotic
  • Promote the goods and services of domestic companies
  • Call attention to businesses that would otherwise go unnoticed
  • Make a point that the lowest cost is not always in the best interests of all
We see something similar these days in many trendy restaurants with the "buy local" initiatives.  Many eateries around my home tout the produce and meat they buy and how it comes from local ranches and farms.  It's a way to differentiate similar offerings while adding "cache" to the dining experience.

Now that we are in a presidential election cycle I am seeing much more talk about the effects of immigration and foreign worker visas on the country.  Almost always, the discussions focus on the negatives of how offshoring and immigrants are constantly taking jobs away from Americans. 

I have a slightly different take that I wanted to share in this installment.

The odds are that the IT products and services you use in both your homes and companies are heavily influenced by things foreign to the United States.  In fact, technology has become so global that as a CIO it's hard for me to ever "sole source" to any one location.  Let's look at some facts.

IT Hardware
If you own any type of smart phone, tablet, or computer - congratulations!  That device was manufactured outside of the United States.  Sure, there may be a few parts here and there that were made domestically but your final product wasn't made in the USA.  So where is this stuff made?  Well, if you have an iPhone, that was made in China.  If you have a Samsung device, look to Korea.  It used to be that Nokia manufactured their phones in Finland, but that too is a thing of the past as is likely the Nokia brand.

All laptops and desktops (remember those?) are made overseas unless they're custom jobs.  Then, it's the components that come from abroad.  In fact, most U.S. tech companies have given up on the personal computer market altogether.  It was just over 10 years ago that IBM sold its PC business to the Asian company Lenovo.  In 2014, they also sold their server and chip business to them as well.  

But what about RIMM...I mean Blackberry?  They are a Canadian company so don't they make their phones in the truly northern part of North America?  Nope, if you have a Blackberry your phone was made from parts all over the world - China, India, Ukraine, Hungary, Mexico, Malaysia, and the U.S.


Yet, for all of this foreign manufacturing, most of us can look past that.  It's just a fact that low foreign wage costs make for cheaper electronics for us here on the home front.  So let's examine what may truly be eye opening.

IT Services
While quite a bit of noise is made about "Indian H1-B" visas and offshoring, it's very rare in most corporations to find standard IT work done exclusively by Americans.  So why is that?  Here are a few reasons:
  • A lack of American IT workers - Can you name one U.S.-based University that has a Majors program designed to turn out information technology professionals?  I can't, even though I've looked.  If I wanted to buy American, that might not be an option for me.
  • Other companies dedicate chunks of their economy to IT - India, China, Brazil.  Enough said.
  • The "Soccer" comparison - Soccer, or Futbol, has a very low cost of entry.  Unlike U.S. football, basketball, or baseball, all of which need special equipment, all you need to play soccer is a round-"ish" ball.  Same thing goes with Application Development.  You don't need any formal training or a specialized degree to find work.  If you can make things happen with a keyboard, you're imminently employable.  That makes it easy for motivated 3rd-world workers to train themselves to a level that is attractive to 1st-world employers.
  • IT work is cyclical - Business leaders tend to be very concerned with IT when things are broken (Yes, email is the world's most mission critical application) and very apathetic when things are working.  This means that the money and challenges of IT are typically found by people who can either (a) work from anywhere or (b) go anywhere to work.
Looking back over the past four years, I have managed a very global IT team.  I've employed people from India, China, Pakistan, Ukraine, Mexico, UAE, Canada, Nicaragua, Australia, and probably other places that aren't coming to mind right now.  I have also had long term contractors who seemed like internal employees, from countries such as Colombia, Nigeria, the Philippines, and the Czech Republic.  In fact, the individual from the Czech Republic is one of the best programmers I've ever seen and has helped me at multiple companies.  He does work for me while sending pictures of his beautiful family living in a picturesque village which they never leave.

I'm all for "buying American" when that's possible.  But in the global world of IT, I will source the world in order to best serve my firm.  Odds are that you will too.