Feb 172014
 
lol on a candy heart

lol on a candy heart (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I spent Valentine’s Day re-enacting all the Hoth scenes from “The Empire Strikes Back” trapped in a hotel/airport in Alexandria, VA.  That lady sure got upset when I sliced her luggage open and crawled inside.

One thing that was in abundance even in such romance-starved wastelands as the airport were candy hearts.  You know the kind I mean – the chalky, vaguely flavored candies that taste mostly like they were molded from bat cartilage.  They have the printed sayings on them like “Be Mine” or “Kiss Me” or any number of things you don’t feel like being or doing after someone has given you one of these to express their feelings.  Most of them were pretty nondescript, but I got some messages that I wasn’t sure were entirely appropriate candy heart material, listed below:

  1. Stop Crying
  2. FREE TIBET
  3. Look Behind You
  4. Is That Your Sister? Hello!
  5. Show Me Your Relevant Genetalia
  6. Candy Organ Donor
  7. Ate the Last Granola Bar
  8. Choke On This
  9. This is the Only Hard Thing in my Pocket
  10. F = ma
  11. Help Me
  12. No Message Due to Ennui
  13. Give ‘Em Hell
  14. Settle
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Feb 042014
 
  • People in Plane Crashes in the United States from 1983 to 2000: 53,487
  • Number of People Who Survived: 51,207
  • Survival Rate: 96%
Fan Death (Caution)

Fan Death (Caution) (Photo credit: kang_a_ji)

Although I can’t say every one of the man’s ideas are sound, Robert Kiyosaki taught me this great little acronym for FEAR: False Evidence Appearing Real.  It turns out that there’s actually very little connection between the things that we’re afraid of and reality.  This probably served a survival purpose way back when.  It probably pays to be a little too afraid when Uglook might kill you at any time to take your sweet pile of rocks or when roving packs of wild animals competed with you for game.  But in modern society, although technically death is still imminent, our brains have found other things to be afraid of.

  • Number of Species of Scorpion: 1000+
  • Number of Species of Scorpion with Venom Dangerous to Humans: 25-50
  • Number of Species of Scorpion with Venom Dangerous to Adults: 10
  • Odds of Dying from a Scorpion Sting: 1 in 300 million
  • Odds of Dying from Falling Down in Your Shower: 1 in 65,000

We all know this from practical experience.  We know many more people die in traffic accidents than airplane crashes, but we are deathly afraid to fly and not at all afraid of suiting up in our two ton motorized death machines.  We know that zombies aren’t real.  We know that, even if they were, the odds of the undead spontaneously appearing in our bedroom would be slim, but our pulse still speeds up when we hear an unexplained noise in the house after watching a zombie movie.

  • Number of People in the U.S. Who Die from Shark Attacks Each Year: 1
  • Number of People in the U.S. Trampled to Death by Cows Each Year: 22
  • Number of People in the U.S. Dated by Taylor Swift Each Year: 4

The implications for our individual lives are obvious.  Once you recognize there is virtually no connection between what you fear and what is likely to happen, hopefully it encourages you to take more calculated risks.  I wouldn’t jump in a bathtub full of scorpions, exactly, but if there’s a particular reward you want, but you fear the risk, you might consider acting in defiance of your feelings, because the odds are actually in your favor.

Even in those areas where the risks are real, known, and not in your favor, that shouldn’t paralyze you.  Another little nugget from Kiyosaki is that 9 out of 10 businesses fail.  You might look at that figure and decide it’s too risky to start a business.  You also might look at that same figure and make plans and prepare to try at least 10 times.

  • Number of People in America per Year Who Receive Venomous Snakebites: 7000 – 8000
  • Number of People in America per Year Who Die from Venomous Snakebites: 5
  • Number of People in America per Year Who Die from Non-Venomous Insect Bites or Stings: 7

Organizations have something to learn here, too.  Organizations are, at root, collections of people who have fears that are often way out of proportion with reality.  Having a large group of us doesn’t make us any less prone to our psychology.

Organizations have to be courageous, too, acting in defiance of their feelings when a desired reward is on the line.  That may take the form of totally overturning ensconced business practices.  It may mean rewriting a code base that has been “good enough” for years.  It may mean putting some marketing muscle behind an untried product or making a foray into a new segment.  It may even mean redefining your mission.

What good ideas have died a horrible death at your organization because of fear?

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Dec 272013
 
A Garlando style table with a game in progress

A Garlando style table with a game in progress (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve been pretty quiet after Samhain this year, maintaining a laser-like focus on getting version 1.0 of one of Netchemia’s new products ready for the new year.  My birthday (Scorpios UNITE) and Thanksgiving slipped past with barely a nod.  Originally, I meant for my return to social media to be a Christmasy post, but the sad truth is that I was sick on Christmas and celebrated the incarnation of our Lord by eating reheated pizza by myself and watching Family Guy.  This is not the stuff of which epic posts are made.

In the absence of holiday-related material, I spent some time reflecting on why I enjoy working at Netchemia so much.  After all, I’ve worked in almost every .NET development shop in Kansas City either as a consultant or a full-time employee, so what makes Netchemia different?  There are many reasons, but most of them boil down to three, main ones.

NOTE: None of these reasons have anything to do with foosball, which is a game specifically designed to lower my self-esteem.  My only notable foosball tactic is to throw a spare foosball in my opponent’s face and hope that gives me enough time to score.

3. Kaizen

Netchemia has been up and running in some form or another for about ten years and has racked up around 80 employees (probably 90 by the time I finish writing this if the growth rate holds), but if you spend some time there, it very much feels like a startup.

Everyone in every department is constantly working to hone their craft, including upper management.  There are no sacred cows.  There is no “this is how we’ve always done it.”  Running lean, being agile, and continuously improving are elements baked into the culture long before I got there.  This has ramifications for software development, definitely, but it also rigorously applies to sales, marketing, customer service, and operations.

Challenging others (respectfully) is encouraged and sought after in employees.  Passionate debate is frequent and welcome, all done in an atmosphere of trust and mutual respect.  You can march over to the CEO’s cubicle and tell him you don’t believe we’re making good decisions, and you’ll get treated to lunch instead of fired (this is how I get my lunch these days – inventing challenges).  When was the last time your company shared its financials compared to its goals with all the employees?  Netchemia does that every month.  Ideas and innovation about any aspect of the company from any quarter is much desired.

2. They’re a real team.

Although most companies would say they operate as a team, they really don’t.  Most departments in companies would also say they operate as a team but don’t.  What you usually have is a group of silos in a company that hand work off to one another, and you have a department where everyone is doing the same kind of thing, but they do it separately.

Netchemia is perhaps the only place I’ve ever worked at where I would call the entire organization a legitimate team.  Everyone from every department routinely communicates with the others on virtually a daily basis to move company goals across the finish line.  Almost daily, I talk with someone in sales, marketing, customer service, and upper management for the specific purpose of helping each other accomplish our work.  Within my own department, any feature of reasonable size typically has two or more developers on it working together and collaboratively to complete that feature.

I realize this may not appeal to everyone.  Some people like to be off on their own working alone, and I sometimes like that as well for a change of pace.  But generally speaking, complexity in delivering business value is best addressed by teams, and I love the level of collaboration and teamwork that doesn’t just exist at Netchemia but is intrinsically required to do your job and help others do theirs.  The environment is hyper-collaborative.

1. The people are awesome.

This is not to imply that there aren’t awesome people all over Kansas City, because there are.  The people I consider colleagues, friends, and enemies are all high-caliber types and work for or run a wide variety of companies.  But there is something about the crazily intensive hiring process at Netchemia that has produced a certain characteristic batch of individuals.

First of all, the overwhelming majority of employees are attractive.  Now, this fact doesn’t really mean a lot to me, but the implication does.  This means that, statistically speaking, my employment at Netchemia provides very good odds that I’m also attractive, so that’s an ego boost right there.  I may be one of the exceptions, but it would be really rude to point that out.

The main thing, though, is that most of the people who make it through the hiring gauntlet turn out to have several of the following characteristics: entrepreneurial, intelligent, articulate, energetic, thoughtful, sacrificial, dependable, competent, tough, hilarious (sometimes unintentionally), and they love the company as much as you do, if not more.  They are the kind of people that motivational authors encourage you to surround yourself with.  Being around them is a motivation to go to company events outside of work hours.

Sure, the organization has its weaknesses and some days you may not like everyone equally well, but for me, the company is a perfect fit.

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Nov 082013
 

Two Halloweens ago, Agile Wolf stalked the corporate landscape of Kansas City.  His silhouette wove through the tall grass of the Silicon Prairie, only pouncing out to declare nuggets of agile wisdom and occasionally hip-hop dance.

This year, his cousin (I don’t know how that works from a species perspective – just go with it) Agile Horse made the scene, bringing thoroughbred lean counsel to the small to mid-size Prairie Village business sector and occasionally causing traffic difficulties on 75th.

Agile Horse lounges around with GEICO spokesman

Agile Horse lounges around with sales executive disguised as GEICO spokesman

Agile Horse expounds on the virtues of Kanban

Agile Horse expounds on the virtues of Kanban

Taking a break to hang with friends

Taking a break to hang with friends

Sporting the executive look

Sporting the executive look and causing aforementioned traffic difficulties

Blending in with the nice attorneys over on Windsor

Blending in with the nice attorneys over on Windsor

Glamour shot

Glamour shot

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Nov 012013
 
The Deming Institute mentioned you on Twitter!

People smarter than I am who understand Deming liked the article

It’s pretty cool to have an article about Deming’s thought approved by the actual Deming Institute.

I’ll get back to actual blog posts, soon, and stop the shameless self-promotion, but it’s been really gratifying to have that article picked up by such prestigious parties.  Can’t wait for all the fast cars and money to start rolling in!

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Oct 252013
 

In many ways, it is like one of your toys, but a toy for adults.

Johnny

Original drawing of Johnny Five-Aces

In 2006, a man on the SomethingAwful forums had a vision.  This vision was to solicit volunteers on this forum to create the best computer RPG to date.  This RPG was “The Zybourne Clock.”

When the object enters the timestream, time begins to correct itself. Let me use this example: Imagine four balls on the edge of a cliff. Say a direct copy of the ball nearest the cliff is sent to the back of the line of balls and takes the place of the first ball. The formerly first ball becomes the second, the second becomes the third, and the fourth falls off the cliff.

Time works the same way.

In a very short time, the project produced a prodigious amount of material consisting mostly of bad game ideas, poor artwork, and horrifically written prose (a later parody would introduce the character Dr. Malaprop because of the vast amount of malapropisms).  Any kind of criticism was met with harsh resistance and removal from the project.  Unfortunately, the group’s single programmer fell to this Damoclesian sword after two weeks.

You always had a pension for the dramatic, Johnny.

Once the project materials leaked, the SomethingAwful forums at large had a field day writing parodies, creating “fan art,” and even a fake game trailer and interview.  In fact, far more effort and material has been produced making fun of the Zybourne Clock than was ever produced as actual game content.  Even to this day, it’s very difficult to tell the difference between parody material and original material, mostly because the original material was so colossally bad.

Next few things I want to cover. The change mood command will change the selected characters mood at random. It can only be used once in battle. You can also use an item to change a characters mood by using an item or by seeing a Psychologist. Okay, Ill let you do the rest! Look forward to our next and final installment of tutorials, Timesynch!

Oh yeah one more thing.

Anger <> Hurt

Tense <> Nervous

Happy <> Sad

This Friday, for your entertainment, dear readers, I present you with the keys – the keys to a door – a door to space, and a door to time.  Open this door carefully, for this door, the door you behold and are about to enter through the door, has on its other side nothing other than the Zybourne Clock.

The answer came to me while reading an article out of a Science magazine that I had picked up about 2 years ago. The article basically summarized how the planet got to its current point in its evolutionary cycle and where it had started. It compared key points of life over 20 millenia and now. I sat there in and thought about the article for a good 3 hours. If we could subtely alter the cycle at which the planet terraforms and speed up human evolution, we could, possibly make humanity advance far past wars in a few millenia’s time. My heart jumped into my throat as I ran through the bay doors to tell my colleagues that I had finally found a safe way to alter the way the timeline to such a degree as to not rip a hole in time itself.

As I looked around the room, my excitement faded. All of them looked as if they had just became very ill.

“Doctor, you understand if we do this, We will fade from existance as the timeline corrects itself.” One of my colleagues said in the grimest manner I had ever heard him speak before.

I began to turn pale, and dizzy. I quickly found a chair and used the magazine (that I was subsequently still clutching) to fan myself.

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Jul 242013
 
Charles Comfort

Charles Comfort (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Any important advancements or evolutions in life cost comfort.

If you want to be healthier, you will have to do things and eat foods that will disrupt your comfort level.  If you want a better relationship with someone, you’ll have to risk rejection and dedicate yourself to activities and spending time to build that relationship that you aren’t currently doing.  If you want to make more money, you’ll have to take risks and work more.

If you want to be happier, healthier, wealthier, wiser – whatever it is, you will have to spend comfort to get those things.  You may be starting or ending habits, starting or ending relationships, changing locations, working harder – whatever it is, the one guaranteed price of anything important in your life you want to acquire is comfort.

This is the case organizationally as well.  If an organization wants more money, more productivity, better morale, whatever it is – comfort has to be spent to acquire those things.

Like most areas in life, this is an area where movies have greatly misled us.  In the movies, these things sort of happen to you.  The big recording executive shows up in the bar where you’re playing.  Julia Roberts walks into your bookstore.  It turns out your biological parents were wizards.  Although there are counter-examples, a rather large number of our stories revolve around amazing things happening in someone’s life without them having to lift a finger.

While this can occasionally happen, it certainly isn’t typical or the default.  And yet, how much more attractive it is to hope in that than to actually spend comfort.  People want more money, so they play the lottery.  Guys complain about not meeting women, then never leave their house.  Nobody wants to have 36 hour coding marathons, but everyone wants to be the next Mark Zuckerberg.

It isn’t just about working hard; it’s about spending comfort.  It’s about potentially ditching things that keep you comfortable and engaging in things that make you decidedly uncomfortable.  Anything significant in your life is purchased with comfort.  And just like any other currency, you can choose to collect and hoard it; just don’t expect to receive any of the things that currency can buy.

He stepped on his dreams so many times and wore out the path
He needed to take to find the life he thought would just happen to him
Like the changing of a season

Huffamoose, “James”

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Apr 182013
 
A look down Downtown Kansas City streets today.

A look down Downtown Kansas City streets today. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is more general than Kansas City, really, but I’m finding that putting “in Kansas City” in the title of my posts tends to create a lot more discussion (and anger, but I’m a big boy).  I’m thinking of it being the new phrase I add to the end of fortune cookie fortunes.  “The dragon of opportunity also breathes fire… in Kansas City.”

I was thinking about this, because I see a lot of effort being expended in Kansas City, but I’m not sure I see all that effort producing many helpful results.  This could possibly be a side effect of startup culture – the assumption that doing something is the same as improving or getting good results.  It doesn’t matter if your business idea is sustainable or marketable, it only matters that you start it.

And I understand to a point.  It’s a necessary corrective in an economy where people are afraid to start, disrupt, do, or finish.  You have to get people past the initial hurdle before you can even talk about anything else, and that initial hurdle is usually starting.  Doing something.

Unfortunately, this is where the conversation usually stops.  If someone is doing something, we laud them for it.  Well, ok, fair enough, but success isn’t defined by expending effort; success is defined by results.  If I bust my butt trying to help developers get jobs, and I don’t get any of them a single job, that might mark me as having an altruistic heart, but it doesn’t mean I’ve been good for Kansas City (or whatever community you happen to be in).  Nobody says, “The Chiefs are such an awesome team; look at how much training they do!”  They want points on the scoreboard.

So, I’ve made a checklist for myself.  It’s not comprehensive, but it does help me continually measure whether I’m actually making an impact in my community or just generating a lot of activity:

  1. Did I help someone get a job or create a job for someone to fill?
  2. Did I help a company increase their profits, lower their expenses, or protect assets that would otherwise have been at risk?
  3. Did I help people, in any line of work, deliver more value?
  4. Did I help a person or an organization who stumbled get back into the race?

That’s my personal scorecard in the Game o’ Improving Kansas City.  This is not my scorecard for all aspects of life, but for measuring my impact in Kansas City’s economy, it’s a decent one.  I put numbers to each of those and, most months or quarters, I can.  And I’m just one person who is a relative nobody.  Just think of what groups with actual money and clout could do.

As Eli Goldratt once said, “Tell me how you measure me, and I’ll tell you how I behave.”  As you can see, a scorecard like mine drives certain behaviors, or at the very least, puts those behaviors in context.  It allows me to identify low value and high value activities.  It allows me to measure success.

So, in terms of impact, here are examples of the things that matter most:

  • Hooking people up with job openings that are good fits or, secondarily, referring people to the extremely small number of recruiters that I trust.
  • Helping an organization identify where their biggest gains would come from in terms of hiring new people.
  • Teaching people skills that make them more marketable and/or enable them to perform better and deliver more value to their organizations.
  • Turning around a struggling business.

Here are examples of the things that don’t have much impact at all:

  • Blogging
  • Creating or hosting “events”
  • Tweeting
  • Meeting with like-minded people so I can continue to agree with myself

Obviously, I enjoy some the things on that second list and get value out of them, and they generate some value in their way, but in terms of measuring actual points on the scoreboard that impact Kansas City economically, they mean almost nothing.

Interestingly, when you look at the various entities trying to do this or that for Kansas City, we tend to be very good at that second group of examples, but not so demonstrably good at the first group.  We’re very good at creating entities and generating interest and energy (and occasionally funding), but we’re not so good at actually delivering valuable contributions.

And lest I be misunderstood on perhaps the most potentially ire-generating point in this post: creating and hosting an event in and of itself is a very low value activity that helps nobody, except maybe the venue you paid to host it, and we create TONS of events.

Did your event create new jobs?  Did it put people in jobs?  Did it save any company any money?  Did it help them make more money?  Did it get capital to someone who needs it?  Did it revive a failing business?  Did it enhance anyone’s job security, marketability, or ability to deliver more value than they had before?  If the answer to one or more of those questions is yes, then your event made a positive impact in the community!  Otherwise, it might have been a fun event, but the net effect of it was nothing.  Lots of effort, no points on the scoreboard.

Like I said, our strength as a city seems to be talking, getting things going, building up buzz, generating motivation… we have a hard time delivering anything that actually changes anything.

So, my challenge to you, whether you are an individual or an organization that is trying to improve business in Kansas City, is this:

Don’t just start things; start the right things.  You don’t need to plan all the details of your endeavor before you begin, but you do need to know what success looks like and how you’ll measure it.  Spend your time on the activities that will generate actual impact as opposed to perceived impact.  Change lives.  Improve the economy.

I’m definitely on your side.

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