Nothing Lasts – Except …

This link really screwed me up…

https://kruemcke.wordpress.com/2015/09/29/auld-lang-syne-ibm-systems-director-aix-6-withdrawn/ 

It was the announcement that IBM Systems Director, the product I spent years working on, was officially being pulled from market.

From 2004 through 2012 I spent most of my time at work working with users, designing, leading, educating, writing, and traveling to make IBM Systems Director the best it could be.

…and now it’s gone.

Not that it shouldn’t be…it’s a product from another era…pre-cloud. It’s purpose was to provide IT administrators a single experience that could manage the whole data center in a company’s shop. Certainly we can talk for hours about to what degree it succeeded doing that. While some may have criticized it, I loved working with a fantastic development team, and I felt like through our work with users and focusing on what they need, we were able to raise it a whole grade (or two) compared to what it could have been.

But, in the end, customers, and IBM, moved on.

What really messed me up is trying to think of all the personal and family sacrifice I made to make it better, not to mention the hit to the ego. I started to think of the missed family activities, all the effort, all the “we’ll fix it next release”, and it hit home that nothing…especially nothing in the IT world…lasts.

Which makes me think: what will last?  In a big company like IBM, even the best employee leaves a hole that fills in within a week or two. It reminds me of a Diary Queen shake: A new employee is like taking a spoonful out of a melty shake…the melty ice-cream quickly folds in and within minutes, nobody knows the spoon was even in there.  Even a stellar employee is like a spoon getting pulled out of a thick custard shake…it may take a bit longer but soon enough even the biggest hole gets filled in. Actually, a healthy company is designed to do that so productivity isn’t impacted by one person.

So where does that leave me?

When I boil it down, most things I just lift right out: Church, worship band, work, hobbies…

So what’s left? Relationships. My relationships to my family and friends. Most of my work relationships won’t last…hopefully some will but most are merely acquaintances (who will hopefully one day pause a few minutes before claiming my chair, monitor, and white-board markers). My family relationships are what might last: My wife, my kids. My wife I love dearly, and we are each-other’s anchor. But really the only thing that I am uniquely essential to is my kids. Sure someone else can raise them, but they won’t be their dad. That’s all me.

So what do I do with that? In a way it’s invigorating! It helps me focus on what’s actually important.

…to raise these kids the best I know how…

…to show them what hard work looks like
…that sometimes responsibility DOES mean sacrifice
…that a career is the HOW to provide and have a fantastic life, but not the WHY
…that life doesn’t revolve around them, but in how they can serve others
…that they should be driven by their passions and a career can possibly become that passion but will more likely their passion will become a wonderful side-car to their career that will give their life a sparkle.
…that they don’t forget what is most precious…it’s the WHO’s in your life, not the WHATs

Anyway, I’m still learning and trying to balance how this all works. Maybe I can teach and guide them so it doesn’t take them 23 years of hard work, where 8 of those years were entirely focused on a product that is no longer in the market…just to realize that the product’s purpose for me was to enable a fantastic life…it’s not the source of a fantastic life.

Life, Liberty, and The Pursuit of Being Productive in Something You’re Good At

It seems I suck at living my dream. Jon Acuff would be so disappointed in me. Ever since I was 16 I dreamt of “making it big” as a musician, songwriter, and performer.

Now, if you look at the path I took you could point to moments where I chose to ‘pursue my dream’ and I toured for a year with Up With People. But there are other moments where I chose to ‘play it safe’, some would say betray my dream, and I got a degree in computer science.

In the end, I am not working full time in the music business and generally that’s made me sadder than when I watched the whole series of “Friday Night Lights” one winter. So I’ve been reading a lot on how to be happy…including a lot on how to rediscover your dream once it’s been lost.

But then I read this:

Don’t focus in striving to be happy. Rather strive to be productive in something you’re good at. Happiness will come.

This, along with some great perspective from Mike Rowe, is making me think hard about what it means to be working in the career I’m in. (I was just about to write “…the career I’ve chosen”, but I’m not sure I really chose this…it just sort of fell into place. I’m good at math and science, randomly checked “Institute of Technology” on my U of M admission, walked by the IBM booth at the job fair, mentioned I studied computer graphics, and voila, a career is born.)

As I look at what I do at IBM, I’ve been recognized enough to know that I’m good at it. I also know that when I’m in the middle of a design session, time flies by and I come home happy. That makes me think the quote above is true. I can strive to be productive EVERY DAY at something I’m good at…and happiness will come.

I certainly know that when I’m down about my career path I tend to be less productive and I come home sad.

By the way, that career I’m in also allows me to spend the time and money on a recording studio that I can use any evening I want. The fact that I don’t use it enough is not entirely my job’s problem, but how I let my job overtake my emotions. If I’m worn out from a day of non-productivity, then I rarely have the ambition to record. However, if I’ve had a great productive day, I feel energized to do more…and into the studio I go.

Which brings me to the inspiration of this blog title: “Life, Liberty, and pursuit of happiness”.

I’m thinking that “pursuit” sounds a lot like work, which sounds a lot like being productive in something you’re good at.

It doesn’t really roll off the tongue, but I wonder if this is what our founding fathers were really pointing to. If that’s what the American dream was meant to be, then I guess I don’t suck at ‘living the dream’. Maybe I just need to strive to be productive in something, anything, I’m good at. We can’t just expect happiness to fall into our laps. I would argue that if the ‘thing’ that makes us most happy falls into our laps without working for it (pursuing it), it wouldn’t make us happy anyway.

So that’s what my next period of work will experiment with: Strive to be productive, every single day, in something I’m good at. In early tests, this has proven quite fruitful. Even if what I’m productive with isn’t related to my designs or deadline (for example, writing a patent disclosure instead of working on a design), I end up feeling happier.

How about you? Do you feel happier after you’ve been productive in something you’re good at, even though it may not be your dream job?

 

Omni-Tasking: An Illuminating Experiment

This originally appeared in Power IT Pro blog

Like you, I work in a fast-paced, high-tech business where I am constantly being challenged to increase productivity. For years this has involved multi-tasking across a large set of tasks that seem to constantly need my attention. While I feel I am quite effective at juggling multiple tasks at once, there are times I feel that the results, while complete, are not as satisfying as they could be. However, since the nature of our business holds up multi-tasking as the source of excellence and experience, the pattern has been accepted, and many times, required.

Recently I had an experience that began to challenge the very notion that “multi-tasking == better”.

Here is how it happened…

I’m sitting down to watch the season finale of Glee with my wife…beautiful thing…Netflix ;-). I had timed it just right…kids were asleep, wife was on the couch, and my very yummy evening dessert was freshly dished (heated home-made berry crisp bar with some really great French vanilla ice cream).

But it wasn’t just the ‘together time’ with the wife, the dessert, and Glee. I had my iPhone next to me, and even my laptop. I WAS SET! I clicked play, and my multi-sensory, multi-tasking late night experience started perfectly as planned.

And then the wife got up. WHERE DO YOU THINK YOU’RE GOING!?! I shout with my eyes (I’m good at that…especially when she’s walking away from me). She just hears the clink of the spoon and the pause of the show.

Dang it! I was so frustrated!

The experience instantly changed from a synchronized multi-tastic media blitz, to a time-wasting “watch the dessert melt while waiting for the missus” disaster.

I stared at my dessert in despair.

It started melting. Sadness.

I stared closer…

…it continued to melt…Amazing! I had never noticed it before:

The top of the ice cream was changing in real-time from a jagged mountain-scape into a smooth, soft pillowy cloud-scape. The berry crisp was causing the ice cream bottom to melt faster and created tiny fjords … ending in a micro sea of sweet deliciousness. The first spoonful was exhilarating! The textures I saw translated into a complex symphony playing across my tongue…complete with instruments of cold, warm, smooth, hard, sweet, tart…all within the first taste. The remaining bites were just as exhilarating…but different. As the melting continued, the texture changed, blending of sweet and tart increased, and each spoonful turned into a seamless tastexture that no amount of preparation could have produced.

I began to feel grateful for what I now refer to as “wifus-interruptus”. All I saw, felt, tasted, heard, smelled, savored…was all because I focused 100% on this one singular event. A multi-tasked version would have resulted in the dessert disappearing without barely tasting it, while at the same time a less enjoyable show with all the interruptions of glancing down at the dessert!

Then a sudden realization shook my core beliefs: Could my constant push to increase efficiency, experience, exposure, and excellence through multi-tasking actually be decreasing those very goals?

What if, instead, I focused 100% on one single thing at a time?

What if I took the time to dedicate all senses, all brain power, every curious and analytical fibre to experience everything that surrounds me like I just did eating that dessert?

What else would I notice that usually zips by without a neuron of recognition?

What delightful details evaporate before I can partake in their beauty?

What insight, skill, or invention escapes me because I constantly swap to the next of 18 things I’m trying to accomplish all at once?

I started to focus 100% on other things…

Did you know that the froth on a newly shaken glass of iced coffee bubbles like it’s alive…only to settle into a delicate blanket of protection over the liquid…preserving it for the perfect first taste?

Did you know a glass filled with iced coffee contains 1000 micro waterfalls? At least that’s what it looks like when the glass spontaneously starts sweating in the 90-degree summer air.

It was like I was given a sixth sense…focus. I wondered: Is this experience of omni-tasking, this 100% immersive focus of all senses into a single task, the key to unlocking a deeper, fuller, more satisfying experience? In my home? In my work? In everything?

I continued…

How about the pond and crick burbling in our walkout? It’s usually a background artifact filling the silent gaps between task switching. What if it was the foreground? The primary focal point? What would I absorb?

Did you know a chickadee stares at the water like it was the first time he’d seen such wonderful thing? Every time! “WOW! Look at that amazing, thirst-quenching river of life!”…he looks around…not frantic…looking for a friend? Lonely…he looks back: “WOW! Look at that amazing…” Did you know that a yellow finch seems so afraid at being eaten that every time he takes a drink he quick looks all around assuming it’s his last?

It was like I discovered a super-human power…

Did you know that 100% focus on your oldest son at the end of the day enables him to talk in a continual stream of consciousness? That through that kind of focus you can ask deeper questions, absorb his passions, likes, dislikes, and in the end show your love for him by just listening, reacting, and laughing?

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Now I’m wondering: Could omni-tasking help in other areas?

What if I focused 100% on my girls gymnastics training? Could we have deeper discussions on what the ropes feel like as they climb, arms only, in a pike position? Could they convey the feel of chalk on their hands as they spin the bars? What do they see as they flip across the floor?

What if I listened to my youngest? 100% focus. What would I learn from his crazy-smart brain? What insight would a 7 year old not-yet-jaded-by-assumptions-and-rules child have on a 42 year old too-distracted-by-everything-all-at-once-to-appreciate-much-of-anything brain?

What if I omni-tasked while writing music? What hidden gem would I discover? What deeper emotion could I share? What funnier lyric could I write?

What if I scheduled dedicated time throughout the day to omni-task on one work activity at a time? Would I marvel at what I accomplished? Would I find greater insight? Solve harder problems? Provide better leadership?

Lets get specific: As I leave work the day before, what if I identify just ONE thing to practice omni-tasking…and dedicate 2 hours to it? Heck, even 1 hour of 100% focus. What kind of solution or idea would appear at the end of that session?

Would I discover that through the self-driven pressure to multi-task I’m cheating myself…and everyone around me…from a deeper, better, happier, appreciative, wonder-filled, higher skilled, more inventive, kinder, better playing, love-giving, attentive, listening man?

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Omni-tasking. I might just have to spend 30 days experimenting…

Anyone want to join me?

3 Steps To Get Started In Social Media

Recently I was asked, “What does it take to get started in Social Media as a corporate employee?”. Here’s my response…

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That’s easy: It will take 10 minutes per month — from 12:50-1:00 p.m. central time — on the third Thursday, to be successful in social media.

OK so it’s not quite that simple. The real answer is that it takes three steps:

  1. Define Your Goal
  2. Have Balance
  3. Be Consistent

Define Your Goal
Before you start anything in social media, you need to define your goals. Once you have a clear picture of why you want to engage in social media, you need to be honest about how much time that would require.

For example, if your goal is to help an occasional user, you could, in fact, spend only 10 minutes per month reading your go-to forum and responding to individual questions about a topic you know about. However, if your goal is to be known in the industry as an expert, you could spend an hour per week creating your own technical blog to provide others in the industry tips and insight based on your experiences.

Have Balance
It really is up to you how frequently you are involved with social media, but make sure you can balance your social media effort with what you’re currently doing in your work.

Here are some example guidelines I have used to keep balanced while working towards my goal:

  • Blog: Post at least once per month. The more frequent, the shorter the posts can be. I find 300-500 words is ideal as users want to gain insight but not spend a lot of time reading
  • Tweet: Tweet at least once per week. Followers want regular insight. Think about making it a ‘tip of the week’.
  • YouTube: Post an educational/demo video once every 2 months. Make them short, and have them cover only one key topic.
  • Online in-depth article: Once per quarter since these are generally much longer and have a wider distribution.

Tip: When you feel like writing, work ahead! You will feel much better if you have a collection of blogs/tweets/videos that are publish-ready and can be scheduled using many available tools, rather than scrambling to meet the next deadline.

Be Consistent
The reality is that to be engaged in social media, you need to be consistent with how often you interact. Nothing is more useless than a stale blog or channel. If you think it might be ‘too much’, get a small team together to share the responsibilities. That way the frequency for you can be less but your followers still get the consistent cadence.

Regarding duration: Social media is an ongoing interaction. If you stop, your digital presence will fade. As long as your frequency is consistent, your social presence will stay, but there really is no ‘end date’. If your followers do not see regular updates, they will stop looking for your content. In my experience, if your goal is to help your customers gain insight into a product or service, make the blog/handle reflect the product name so if you move on to another job, someone else can take over the social media outlet and your customers can still gain insight from a new expert.

Finally, don’t forget to interact with your customers through comments. I often create content, but then forget that the real value of social media is in the conversation that happens between you and your subscribers in the comments section. This will not only keep things personal, it will grow your social media presence.

Question: How do you approach social media?

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