Head Spinning From All The Spin

Head Spinning From All The Spin

The Nazi Minister of Propaganda, the evil Joseph Goebbels said, “He who controls the message, controls the masses.”

All dictatorships function very much from this premise as we see even now a days in totalitarian governments that limit Internet access, block websites, and filter news and messages from the people, so as to keep them docile and servile.

However, even in a democracy as fine as ours, the ability to control the message is a very powerful tool in directing how events are understood by the public and what action is taken, or not.

Some recent examples:

1) Syria’s Use of Chemical Weapons:
Numerous allies including England, France, and Israel say they have intelligence about Syria’s use of sarin gas against their own people…So did Syria cross the red line and use chemical weapons requiring us to take action or is this a matter for investigation and evidence?

2) Iran’s Violation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty:
Iran is one of the world’s richest in energy resources and reserves…So is Iran violating the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty necessitating that we stop them or are they just building nuclear facilities for peaceful civilian energy needs?

3) Egyptian Military Coup and Roadmap For Reconciliation:
Egypt’s military overthrew the Egyptian Prime Minister from the Muslim Brotherhood who oversaw the rewriting of the constitution in 2011 to be based on Islamic law and not inclusive of other more secular elements of society…So is the restoration of true democracy and civil rights for the Egyptian people or a brutal coup?

4) Sudan Committing Genocide in Darfur:
With over 400,000 killed, 2,500,000 displaced, and 400 villages completely destroyed in Darfur…So did Sudan commit genocide requiring prevention, intervention, and punishment or was this just Sudanese internal conflict?

5) People Employed in U.S. at 30-Year Lows:
The proportion of the U.S. population that is working is at low rates not seen since the recession of the 1980’s…So is the unemployment rate still a critical national issue or is the unemployment rate really better and the economy strong again?

6) Edward Snowden Leaking Classified Information:
Snowden sought out the job with Booz Allen Hamilton to gather evidence on classified NSA surveillance and when he did he leaked this information to the news and harmed national security…So is Snowden a traitor or a whistleblower?

7) An $82 Billion Federal IT Budget:
The Federal IT budget is anticipated to rise to $82 billion in 2014…So are we still spending on large troubled IT projects or realizing billions in IT savings from new technology trends in cloud, mobile, social computing and more?

As Bill Clinton in 1998 said when questioned about the Monica Lewinsky affair…”It depends what the meaning of the word is, is?”

We see clearly that definitions are important, interpretations are important, and spin can make right seem wrong and wrong seem like right.

How we communicate and present something is very important and has critical ramifications on what is done about it whether in terms of action, attribution, and retribution.

Moreover, we should keep in mind that “He who knows doesn’t tell, and he who tells doesn’t know,” so there are limits to what even gets communicated from the get-go.

What is communicated, when, and in how much clarity or distortion is a function one on hand of people’s agendas, biases, career building (including the desire to get and keep power), as well as the genuine need for secrecy and security.

On the other hand, the desire for openness, transparency, truth, and healthy debate (facilitated by the media, checks and balances in government, and the judicial system) provides a counterbalance.

We the people must press to determine–is the person telling it like it is or are some things being contrived, manipulated, edited, and Photoshopped.

In the end, critical thinking and looking beyond the surface can make the difference between what we know we know and what we think we know. 😉

(Source Photo: here with attribution to Jah~)

The Future In Good Hands

Ethics_bowl

I had the distinct honor to attend the first Washington D.C. High School Ethics Bowl at American University.

There were eight teams competing from local schools in the D.C., Maryland, and Virginia areas.

My daughter’s team won 2nd place!

(Note: the trophys were identical except for the engraving of first, second, and third places.)

I was so proud to see that the schools are educating our students in ethics–both the theory and the practice.

The student teams prepared and competed using 10 case study scenarios that covered everything from oil drilling in Alaska to the death penalty. 

In lieu of the education of yesteryear that relied all too heavily on rote memorization, it was awesome instead to see the students analyzing real life scenarios, using critical thinking, debating ethical and philosophical considerations, and making policy recommendations. 

The students were sensitive to and discussed the impact of things like income inequality on college admission testing, the environmental effects of offshore drilling versus the importance of energy independence, the influence of race of criminal sentencing, and the moral implications of the Red Cross teaching first aid to named terrorist groups like the Taliban. 

I was truly impressed at how these high school students worked together as a team, developed their positions, and presented them to the moderator, judges and audience–and they did it in a way that could inspire how we all discuss, vet, and decide on issues in our organizations today.

– They didn’t yell (except a few that were truly passionate about their positions and raised their voices in the moment), instead they maturely and professionally discussed the issues.

– They didn’t get personal with each other–no insults, put-downs, digs, or other swipes (with the exception of when one team member called his opponents in a good natured gest, “the rivals”), instead they leveraged the diversity of their members to strengthen their evaluation of the issues.

– They didn’t push an agenda in a winner takes all approach–instead they evaluated the positions of the competing teams, acknowledged good points, and refined their own positions accordingly to come up with even better proposals. 

– They didn’t walk away from the debate bitter–but instead not only shook hands with their opponents, but I actually heard them exchange appreciation of how good each other did and what they respected about each other.

I’ll tell you, these kids–young adults–taught me something about ethics, teamwork, critical thinking, presentation, and debate, and I truly valued it and actually am enthusiastic about this next generation coming up behind us to take the reins. 

With the many challenges facing us, we need these smart and committed kids to carry the flag forward–from what I saw today, there is indeed hope with our children. 😉

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Ominous Sky

Ominous_skyline

This was the skyline in Washington D.C. this past week.

I have never seen anything quite like it.

You can clearly see the grey clouds forming overhead.

And the contrast with the clear sky off in the back.

The trees along the train tracks provide almost an end of days feel–just a few standing.

There is a guy on the train on the right with his head bowed back against the train doors–is he feeling sick, tired or just down with the weather.

This picture was taken one day before the second Presidential Debate, only weeks before the election, months before we come up on the “fiscal cliff,” and perhaps only a few seasons before as they say, Iran gets “the bomb.”

Where is this train taking us, what are we going to do to solve the sizable problems ahead, and will these dark cloud lift or settle in on us?

Hope and pray that G-d gives us the good fortune to succeed in these trying times and that the sun shines bright again for all of us soon.

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Cloud Second, Security First

Shadyrat_map

Leadership is not about moving forward despite any and all costs, but about addressing issues head on.

Cloud computing holds tremendous promise for efficiency and cost-savings at a time when these issues are front and center of a national debate on our deficit of $14 trillion and growing.

Yet some prominent IT leaders have sought to downplay security concerns calling them “amplified…to preserve the status quo.” (ComputerWorld, 8 August 2011)
Interestingly, this statement appeared in the press the same week that McAfee reported Operation Shady RAT–“the hacking of more than 70 corporations and government organizations,” 49 of which were in the U.S., and included a dozen defense firms. (Washington Post, 2 August 2011)
The cyber spying took place over a period of 5 years and “led to a massive loss of information.”(Fox News, 4 August 2011)
Moreover, this cyber security tragedy stands not alone, but atop a long list that recently includes prominent organizations in the IT community, such as Google that last year had it’s networks broken into and valuable source code stolen, and EMC’s RSA division this year that had their SecurID computer tokens compromised.
Perhaps, we should pay greater heed to our leading cyber security expert who just this last March stated: “our adversaries in cyberspace are highly capable. Our defenses–across dot-mil and the defense industrial base (DIB) are not.” (NSA Director and head of Cyber Command General Keith Alexander).
We need to press forward with cloud computing, but be ever careful about protecting our critical infrastructure along the way.
One of the great things about our nation is our ability to share viewpoints, discuss and debate them, and use all information to improve decision-making along the way. We should never close our eyes to the the threats on the ground.
(Source Photo: here)

>Damned If You Do, Damned If You Don’t

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Frequently employees face double-bind message in the workplace and these not only impair morale, but also can result in poor decision-making.

One example has to do with whether we should apply tried and true, best practices or be creative and innovative. This manifests when employees bring innovative approaches to the table to solve problems are told, “there’s no reason to recreate the wheel on this.” And then when the employees take the opposing track and try to bring established best practices to bear on problems, they are told disparagingly “ah, that’s just a cookie cutter approach.”

Another example has to do with when and how much to analyze and when to decide, such that when employees are evaluating solutions and they hustle to get a proposal on the table, only to be told they haven’t done enough work or its superficial and they need to go back, “do due diligence, and conduct a more thorough evaluation.” Then when the employees go back to conduct a thorough analysis of alternatives, business case, concept of operations and so on, only to be told, “what is taking you so long? You’re just getting bogged down in analysis paralysis—move on!”

I am sure there are many more examples of this where employees feel like they are in a catch 22, between a rock and a hard place, damned if they do and damned if they don’t. The point is that creating contradictions, throwing nifty clichés at employees, and using that to win points or get your way in the decision process, hurts the organization and the employees that work there.

What the organization needs is not arbitrary decision-making and double-bind messages that shut employees down. Rather, organizations need clearly defined, authoritative, and accountable governance structure, policy, process and roles and responsibilities that open it up to healthy and informed debate and timely decisions. When everyone is working off of the “same sheet of music” and they know what is professionally expected and appropriate to the decision-making process, then using clichés arbitrarily and manipulating the decision-process no longer has a place or is organizationally acceptable.

We can’t rush through decisions just to get what we want, and we can’t bog down decisions with obstacles, just because we’re looking for a different answer.

Sound governance will help resolve this, but also necessary is a leadership committed to changing the game from the traditional power politics and subjective management whim to an organization driven by integrity, truth, and genuine progress based on objective facts, figures, and reason. Of course, changing an organization is not easy and doesn’t happen overnight, but think how proud we can be of our organizations that make this leap to well-founded governance.

>What China’s Bullet Trains Can Teach Us About Governance

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One of the foundations of this great country is that we believe in respecting the rights of the individual. This belief is founded on the Judeo-Christian doctrine that every life is valuable and the loss of even one life is like the loss of an entire world.

The rights of the individuals are enshrined in the Bill of Rights that establishes what we consider our fundamental human rights, such as freedom of speech, press, religion, due process, eminent domain, and many others.

The flip side of the protection of individual rights—which is sacred to us—is that it may occasionally come at some “expense” to the collective. This can occur when those individuals who may be adversely affected by a decision, hinder overall societal progress. For example, one could argue that society benefits from the building of highways, clean energy nuclear plants, even prison facilities. Yet, we frequently hear the refrain of “not in my backyard” when these projects are under consideration.

In my neighborhood, where a new train line is proposed, there are signs up and down the street, of people adversely affected, opposing it—whether in the end it is good, bad or indifferent for the community as a whole.

So on one hand we have the rights and valid concerns of the individual, yet on the other hand, we have the progress of the collective. Sure, there are ways to compensate those individuals who are adversely affected by group decisions, but the sheer process of debate—however valuable and justified, indeed—may slow the overall speed of progress down.

Why is this an especially critical issue now?

In a high speed networked world with vast global competition—nation versus nation, corporation versus corporation—speed to market can make a great deal of difference. For example, the speed of the U.S. in the arms and space race with Soviet Union left just one global superpower standing. Similarly, many companies and in fact whole industries have been shut down because they have been overtaken, leapfrogged by the competition. So speed and innovation does matter.

For example, in the field of information technology, where Moore’s Law dictates a new generation of technology every two years of so, the balance of speed to modernization with a foundation of sound IT governance is critical to how we must do business.

Fortune Magazine has an article called “China’s Amazing New Bullet Train (it leaves America in the Dust!)”

China’s new ultra-modern rail system will be almost 16,000 miles of new track running train at up to 220 miles per hours by 2020. China is investing their economic stimulus package of $585 billion strategically with $50 billion going this year alone to the rail system. This compares with the U.S. allocating only $8 billion for high-speed trains over the next three years. Note: that the high speed Amtrak Acela train between Boston and Washington, DC goes a whopping average speed of 79 mph.

One of the reasons that China’s free market is credited with amazing economic progress—for example, GDP growth this year projected at 8.3% (in the global recession)—is their ability to retain some elements of what the military calls a “command and control” structure. This enables decisions to get made and executed more quickly than what others may consider endless rounds of discourse. The down side of course is that without adequate and proper discussion and debate, poor decisions can get made and executed, and individuals’ human rights can get overlooked and in fact sidelined. (Remember the shoddy school construction that resulted in almost 7000 classrooms getting destroyed and many children dying in the Earthquake in China in May 2008?)

So the question is how do we protect the individual and at the same time keep pace—and where possible, maintain or advance our societal strategic competitive advantage?

It seems that there is a cost to moving too slowly in terms of our ability to compete in a timely fashion. Yet, there is also a cost to moving too quickly and making poorly vetted decisions that do not take into account all the facts or all the people affected. Either extreme can hurt us.

What is important is that we govern with true openness, provide justice for all affected, and maintain a process that helps—and does not hinder—timely decisions action.

We cannot afford to make poor decisions—these are expensive—nor do we have the luxury of getting caught up in “analysis paralysis.”

Of course, there are many ways to approach this. One way is to continue to refine our governance processes so that they are just to the individual and agile for our society by continuing to simplify and streamline the decision process, while ensuring that everyone is heard and accounted for. Recently we have seen the use of new information sharing and collaboration technologies, like those provided through social media—wikis, blogs, social networks and more—that can help us to do exchange ideas and work together faster than ever before. Embracing these new technologies can help us to pick up the pace of the vetting process while at the same time enabling more people than ever to participate.

Perhaps social media is one of the only things faster than China’s new bullet trains in helping us to progress how we do business in the 21st century.