Stack Theory Doesn’t Stack Up

Extraordinary People.jpeg

Christopher Mims’ article in the Wall Street Journal today on why big companies get disrupted by others doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. 

He discusses the “Stack Fallacy” of Anshu Sharma a venture capitalist that it “is the mistaken belief that it is trivial to build the layers above yours.”

Mims explains that the stack is like a “layer cake of technology”–where one layer is built on another.

Similar to the OSI technology model where there are architecture layers for physical, data, network, application and so on. 

Basically, Mims explains that tech companies can only invent at a single layer of technology (or below). 

But when companies try to invent up the stack, they fail.

Here’s why…

Mims says that companies despite their size and resources can’t innovate up the stack because they don’t understand the users there. 

But this doesn’t stack up to me. 

Companies can and do use their resources to study and understand what users want up the food chain and what they can’t easily build, they can acquire. 

Apple successfully went from a iPod and iTunes music player and song store to producing a highly sophisticated and integrated iPhone and Apps store where music is just an afterthought.

Similarly, IBM went from being primarily a mainframe and desktop company to being a top-tier consulting firm with expertise in cloud, mobile, social, artificial intelligence, and analytics computing. 

But it isn’t easy for a company to change. 

And to me, it’s not because they can’t understand what users want and need. 

Rather, it is because of something we’ve all heard of called specialization. 

Like human beings, even extraordinary ones, companies are specialized and good at what they are good at, but they aren’t good at everything. 

A great example of this was when NBA superstar, Michael Jordan, tried to take his basketball talents and apply it to baseball…he was “bobbling easy flies and swatting at bad pitches” in the minor leagues. 

As even kindergarteners are taught that “Everyone is good at something, but no one is good at everything.”

Companies have a specific culture, a specific niche, a specific specialization and expertise.

And to go beyond that is very, very difficult…as IBM learned, it requires nothing less than a transformation of epic proportions. 

So I think Mims is wrong that companies can’t undertstand what users want in areas up the innovation stack, but rather it’s a monumental change management challenge for companies that are specialized in one thing and not another. 

Welcome to the world of Apple after Steve Jobs and his iPhone and to the the recent 25% decline in their stock price with investors and customers anxiously waiting for the possible but not certain next move up the technology stack. 😉

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

The Science Of The Interview

Job

Job interviews seem to have evolved into elaborate psychosocial and behavioral tests.


Almost as if there is an exact science behind trying to pick “the winners” from “the losers.” {hate those harsh terms about people]


Many questions look at how quickly the interviewee thinks on their feet, how prepared they are for the interview, and how well they present themselves for the job.


However, my question is whether these things are truly determinant of the fit between the person and the job, the culture, and the supervisor and team, as well as indicative of integrity of the person, their work ethic, or how well they would actually perform in said job. 


The interviewer proudly blurts out from his or her script:


TELL ME ABOUT…


A time that you came from from work and said “I completely nailed it–a home run out of the park!”


Or


–  A time that you came from work and said “Oh shit, I completely screwed everything up.”


Ah, like work–or life for that matter–is generally that black and white.


Are we forgetting about the 99% of the time that people go in the office, put in a solid day’s work for a solid day’s pay–and did a good job, made a decent contribution, and got along with the team. 


Also, let’s face it, the vast majority of people are not the Einsteins or Steve Jobs of this world. 


They don’t come to the interview having invented the driverless car or negotiated the end to World War II.


How about this question…


“Why do you want to work here?”


I heard someone actually asked this question about a job working in mining regulation–yeah right, your and everyone else’s dream job. 


What an incredibly narcissistic question, where the interviewer is looking to hear about how great their organization is or their department is, how superb a leader he/she is known to be, and why the person just will fit in perfectly to a place that alas they probably really know very little about from an insider’s perspective.


Okay, let’s try another one…


“Where do you see yourself in 5-years?”


Let’s see I want to be kissing your ass in 5-years and actually until the day I die or maybe better what your really afraid of hearing is that I’m gunning for your and would like to take your job and show this company what a real XYZ can do to improve things around here. 


Here’s another one a colleague told me about recently…


Pretend your David Ogilvy and sell me on one of your ideas. You have 15-minutes to prepare. 


Ok let’s put the pressure on, because the candidate coming in today for the job interview with a mortgage and two kids at home to feed isn’t enough.  Do these conditions really demonstrate what the person could do with amble time and preparation and for something they really believe in?


Let’s not forget to give an IQ and personality test to the person, so we can peg their intelligence and Myers Briggs or perhaps we should give them some puzzles and let them really sweat with the pieces. 


Let’s face it we’ve all had some people wow on the interview and on paper and turn out to be duds on the specific jobs, and others that you weren’t so sure about that turned out superbly.  


Assessing people is hard and many people are great at the poker game of landing the offer. 


It’s the interviewers job to look beyond the playbook and the acting, and try to see the real person sitting in front of them.


Yes, presentation is important, but even more so can we get down to the work ethic and the integrity of the person?  What they are good at and where do they have weaknesses? Are they able and willing to learn and grow?  What do they like to work on and what do they recoil from?  How do they relate to others and can they get along?  When they face problems, challenges, and conflicts, can they and are they willing to work through it? 


I don’t know any supervisor that hasn’t hit the jackpot on some hires and made mistakes on others…those that claim they’ve made an actual science out of bringing on the absolute talent–I wonder how well they do in their next interview. 😉


(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Measured {Leadership + Management} + Staff = Success!

Tug Of War

So I heard from a colleague this week an argument about:


Too much leadership dilutes good management. 


AND [similarly]


Too much management dilutes good leadership.


What is this a tug of war (without the showy skirts please!)?


Or 


Can you ever have too much of a good thing? 


Typically, leaders provide the vision and managers the execution.


I don’t see how it is really possible to have one without the other and have anything useful at the end of the day.


A vision without delivered execution is just another big idea.


And


Execution without a meaningful vision is just chasing your tail.


Too much leadership with grandiose vision after vision overwhelms the ability to manage a successful execution.


Too much management of the devils-in-the-details and even the best leadership vision isn’t going to see the light of day.


So the conclusion:


Great leaders need to set the goal posts high but doable and then get out of the way so that talented managers can make sure to get the job done and done right.


And don’t forget that it’s a diverse and skilled staff that actually does the heavy lifting and need to be respected and appreciated.


Tug of war over! 😉


(Source Photo: here with attribution to Jamie McCaffrey)

Self-Perpetuating Immigration For All The Wrong Reasons

Business Lover

So this is the prevailing misguided logic by some for more immigration. 


We need immigrants to “reduce the ratio of retirees to workers.”


Why? 


Because the birth rate has fallen to below replenishment rates (roughly 2.1 births per women). 


And since our “trust funds” for social security, medicare, pensions, and the like have NOT been been kept in trust, BUT INSTEAD have been squandered on other things…


Therefore, according to this warped thinking we now need a wave of immigrants to come save us–have lots of babies and grow our economy–to pay for what we should be able to, but can’t–because of gross mismanagement and corruption with the money that was taken out our payroll all our lives supposedly to care for us in our elder years. 


The wrong reasons for immigration are expressed by Charles Kenny in Bloomberg Businessweek.


– According to Kenny, “More immigration is both the cheapest and most effective response to the challenge of a shrinking, aging population,” which he frets is “ominous for pension and health-care costs.”


Kenny’s approach to immigrants is that they are not vital and talented human beings, but rather basically baby machines with higher birth rates for population replenishment, as he states, “Although immigrants rapidly adopt the fertility patterns of their new countries, they still tend to produce more children to begin with.”


– And he says, because most come over as adults, we have the benefits of the workers “without the expense and delay of rearing…[them as] children.”

– Oh, and by the way, Kenny says, “Some newly arrived workers help provide cheap child-care options.”


Wow, how biased, cold, and condescending is that!


Not once does Kenny mention or advocate for immigration for any of these truly worthy reasons:


– Shelter from persecution 


– Political asylum


– Promote diversity


– Bring in needed skills, investment, and innovation 


– Rejoin families


And what is the result of bringing in immigrants to pay our way?


Well, we’ll need to bring in yet another and another, wave after wave of immigration, because we can’t balance of budget and spend rationally, responsibly, and with an eye toward the future–it’s self-perpetuating immigration for the sake of deadbeatism. 


Sweet land of liberty is being thrown out for a bunch of economic opportunists who feel we need “immigrants to [come to] the rescue” rather than join together with us in being great in terms of compassion, humanitarianism, and mutual respect. 


(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Taking A Bow

Taking A Bow
Wow–this is some awesome piece of art!



Aside from the beauty of it, what do I think about looking at this?



Something like this:



Some people take a bow in arrogance and self-aggrandizement, while others are bowed in humbleness and grace.



Those who see only their own greatness fail to see all those people, factors, and most importantly, G-d’s mercy that enabled them to achieve what they have. 



We are but agents of the heavenly maker above who endows us with creativity and the ability to capitalize on it. 



We should be bowed in thankfulness to G-d, but unfortunately all too often instead stare in the mirror admiring our own image that we imagine is so talented and successful because of who we are and what we ourselves have done–that we can’t even contain our bursting self-satisfaction in wonderful selves. 



Yes, it’s good to recognize when we do something good and when we make mistakes so that we can learn from them, but G-d is not only our one-time maker, but he gives us the knowledge, skills, abilities, and good fortune to succeed in what he wills. 



I remember being taught in Jewish day school that not a leaf falls from a tree without G-d wishing it–that G-d is not only the creator, but is intimately involved every moment with us and the world.  



Like the most brilliant computer that can calculate gazillions of calculations a second, G-d can orchestrate the fates of all his creations in a just and masterful way that takes everything we do and don’t do into account.



May it be G-d’s will to endow us with what we need to succeed and for us to be deserving of it, and to recognize from where it all comes and not be so in awe of ourselves that we fail to see our innate limitations and mortality that is us. 



(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Govgeddon Is Not An Option

Govgeddon Is Not An Option

Interesting article in the Wall Street Journal about how the Federal government is falling to attract young people.

“Employees under the age of 30 hit an eight-year low of 7% in 2013…[while back in 1975, more than 20% of the federal workforce was under 30.”

Conversely, 45% of the federal workforce is older than 50.

Moreover by September 2016, a quarter of the all federal employees will be eligible to retire–that the retirement wave we’ve been hearing about for years, but never seems to really come (because of the economy).

Without “a pipeline of young talent, the government risks falling behind in an increasingly digital world.”

It’s not the older people can’t learn the technology, but rather they aren’t digital natives as those born in the later part of the 20th century.

To see just a glimpse of the digital divide, you need to go no further than when many of these folks snicker at us for even just sending emails–something so uncouth to the younger crowd.

With years of salary freezes, no awards, benefit cuts especially for new hires, and shutdowns, the federal government which used to be “an employee of choice,” is “now an employee of last resort.”

Further, “the reputation for bureaucracy and hierarchy is driving away many workers.” People want to be productive and get things done, not spin their wheels.

Yet, the government offers so many exciting jobs performing critical missions in everything from national security, diplomacy, law enforcement, and so much more, it is ironic that we cannot attract young people, who are often the most idealist.

Diversity in the federal workforce means that people under 30 are not a rarity!

Everyone–no matter what age, sex, race, religion, and so one–provides an important contribution, so that the sum of the parts is greater than the whole.

We need people to clearly feel the honor in public service, to see the importance of the missions performed, and to be treated like valued workers and not political pawns in partisan showdowns and Washington shutdowns.

Let’s actively recruit with an attractive smorgasbord of enhanced salary and benefits, especially in critical fields like cyber security, information technology, biotechnology, aerospace engineering, and more.

It’s time for the federal government to become attractive for young (and older) workers again, and not apologetic for providing important jobs in service of the nation.

The federal government needs to compete for the best and brightest and not resign itslef to second-tier, ever.

Our young people are an important pipeline for fresh ideas and cutting-edge skills, and we need them to prevent a govgeddon where we can’t perform or compete with the skills and diversity of workforce that we must have. 😉

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

How NOT To Interview For A Job

How NOT To Interview For A Job

So I am at this place of business this evening, and I overhear someone trying to apply for a job.

Note, I feel bad for the guy who is looking for extra work, but the interview just is going all wrong.

– Easy-Smeasy – He asks “What is the easiest part of the job?” Ugh, didn’t sound exactly like he was looking for a challenge.

– Keep your head down – He exclaims, “And never do someone’s else’s job!” What about helping where the help is needed?

– Great facilities you got here – He ends with, “And when I work here, my kids are really going to love coming to use the facilities here all the time!” Not exactly, a what will I do for you strong ending.

I didn’t get to hear the whole interview dialogue, but this was enough to get the idea about some things not to do in an interview.

The funny/sad thing was, I think this gentleman really thought that he was going to get the job after all. 😉

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Archaic Federal Hiring Practices

Archaic Federal Hiring Practices

So the Federal government has some archaic hiring practices.

Some common critiques of the system:

– While gone are the dreaded KSAs (knowledge, Skills, and ability essays), in it’s place are what many could consider meaningless multiple choice questions that enable applicants to game the system and answer what they think or know is the right answer just to get the highest points.

– Also, there is always the potential (however infrequently) that there is a favorite candidate of someone or someone who knows someone, but knowing doesn’t necessarily mean best qualified, but rather well-networked or connected.

To be fair, there are protections in the hiring system to include an oath of truthfulness on the application as well as security clearances which are used to help ensure accuracy. Additionally, there are the Merit System Principles that prohibit favoritism and nepotism of any sort.

However, when it comes to hiring, what you can’t really do in the government is just plain and simple see and recognize talent and bring someone on board.

Anyway, this came to mind today, when we ran again into this amazing lady at Starbucks. She works there right out of college.

She’s a barista and has the most amazing customer service skills I’ve seen in 25 years of professional experience.

She remembers us every time we come in and recalls what we talked about on our last visit. She regularly asks about things like my kids talking their SATs, visiting colleges, and more.

But she doesn’t just do this with me, but with all her customers.

She has a big welcoming hello, and smile for all of them, and doesn’t just take their orders, but engages them as human beings.

I tell you this young lady would be terrific as a customer service representative in my IT shop or any other…and if I were in the private sector or had my own company, yes, I’d conduct a more thorough interview and background on her, but then I’d probably shake hands on the spot and offer her a job.

I can see her interacting with my customers, capturing their requirements, problem-solving, as well as routine troubleshooting through engagement with the customer and the subject matter experts.

Why?

Because she is a natural with people and intuitively understands how to work with them, engage, and establish trust and good service ethos.

However, if she applied on USAJOBS in the current system of hiring, I think she’d never make “the cert” (the list of qualified applicants that gets referred to the hiring manager), because she’s currently working in a coffee shop.

Something is wrong that we can’t easily bring in young or old, talented people from the private sector or out of school, and grow them into federal service, even if they don’t have the perfect checklist answers.

Unfortunately, this is a problem in many bureaucratic-driven organizations, where if it’s not checklist-driven, then it’s usually not at all. 😉

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Survival Is More Than An iPhone

Survival

Please see a new article by Andy Blumenthal at Government Technology.

We “need to learn ever new technology skills and simultaneously retain, old tried and true, core survival and self-sufficiency.”

This is a serious topic, and there will come a time when the lights go out and those who blend old and new skills will survive, while unfortunately, others who don’t, will not.

Hope you enjoy the article.

Andy

(Source Photo: here with attribution to U.S. Army Africa)

Why Memorize?

Why Memorize?

G-d, I remember as a kid in school having to memorize everything for every class–that was the humdrum life for a schoolchild.

Vocabulary words, grammar rules, multiplication tables, algebraic and geometric equations, scientific formulas, historical events, famous quotes, states and capitals, presidents, QWERTY keys, and more.

It was stuff it in, spit it out, and basically forget it.

This seemed the only way to make room for ever more things to memorize and test out.

In a way, you really had to memorize everything, because going to a reference library and having to look up on the stacks of endless shelves or microfiche machines was a pain in the you know what.

Alternatively, the home dictionary, theasarus, and encyclopeda were indispensible, but limited, slow, dated, and annoying.

But as the universe of knowledge exploded, became ever more specialized, and the Internet was born, looking something up was a cinch and often necessary.

All of a sudden, memorization was out and critical thinking was in.

That’s a good thing, especially if you don’t want people who are simple repositories of stale information, but rather those who can question, analyze, and solve problems.

Albert Einstein said, “Never memorize something that you can look up.”

But an interesting editorial in the Wall Street Journal by an old school teacher questions that logic.

David Bonagura Jr. proposes that critical thinking and analysis “is impossible without first acquiring rock-solid knowledge of the foundational elements upon which the pyramid of cognition rests.”

He says, “Memorization is the most effective means to build that foundation.”

As a kid, I hated memorization and thought it was a waste of time, but looking back I find that more things stayed in that little head of mine than I had thought.

I find myself relying on those foundations everyday…in writing, speaking, calculating, and even remembering a important story, principle, saying or even song lyrics.

These come out in my work–things that I thought were long lost and forgotten, but are part of my thinking, skills, and truly create a foundation for me to analyze situations and solve problems.

In fact, I wish I knew more and retained it all, but short-term memory be damned.

We can’t depend on the Internet for all the answers–in fact, someday, it may not be there working for us all, when we need it.

We must have core knowledge that is vital for life and survival and these are slowly being lost and eroded as we depend on the Internet to be our alternate brains.

No, memorizing for memorization’s sake is a waste of time, but building a foundation of critical skills has merits.

Who decides what is critical and worthwhile is a whole other matter to address.

And are we building human automatons full of worthless information that is no longer relevant to today’s lifestyles and problems or are we teaching what’s really important and useful to the human psche, soul, and evolution.

Creativity, critical thinking, and self-expression are vital skills to our ability to solve problems, but these can’t exist in a vacuum of valuable brain matter and content.

It’s great to have a readily available reference of world information at the tips of our fingertips online, but unless you want to sound (and act) like an idiot, you better actually know something too. 😉

(Source Photo: here with attribution to Chapendra)