Interesting Reading

I’ve picked out a few articles that struck me this week as particularly interesting. Thought I’d share them here.

  1. How Long Till Hackers Start Faking Leaked Documents appeared in The Atlantic a few days ago. I had never considered this possibility before and it has really struck me. Distribute thousands of real emails and insert in 2-3 carefully crafted ones into the mix. Elections could be influenced. Governments could fall. Businesses could collapse. I had never thought of this before and is absolutely no reason to believe it isn’t happening already or will happen.
  2. Spotting the Gaps is a wonderful reminder that we need to learn to see what is missing. We need to learn to look for the missing pieces, the things that aren’t there or aren’t happening. We tend to only see what is right in front of us. Perhaps we should start purposely asking about what is missing in discussions about problems and opportunities.
  3. Six Rules to Simplify Work is another gem. Reenforce the integrators is particularly important. Those who connect and tie things together are very valuable. Learn to be that person.
  4. Seven Steps Toward Better Critical Thinking is another very good list of things to consider. Don’t believe something just because everyone else does. I might add to the list that you need to consider the source of a position because they might be biased in favor of one position over another. I recently read an article where someone came out criticizing a position yet it wasn’t clear in the article that the author was motivated and prospered by the decision going a particular way.

I post a lot of articles that I like on twitter at @brewerma.

 

Cross Disciplinary

When I was in graduate school, I remember sitting in a vector calculus class and realizing how the thoughts in this class were beginning to merge together with an earlier electromagnetic fields class and my current complex analysis class. The thoughts and ideas were overlapping and merging together. It was a moment of clarity for me as I saw how these different disciplines began to fit together.

This draws me back to Steven Johnson’s book Where Good Ideas Come From which I’ve talked about before here and where he writes about exaptation and liquid networks and how ideas can blend together, cross over, and become something new. He uses the phrase ‘idea sex’ where ideas blend together to become something new and perhaps amazing.

I just finished reading one of James Altucher’s books, The Choose Yourself Guide To Wealth after following him online for a long time. In the book, he talks about reading all the time and in several places about tying different things/thoughts/disciplines together. He, like Johnson, use the phrase ‘idea sex’ where you combine two ideas into a new better idea.

This is not just taking a good idea and applying it to your problem or space. It is about blending ideas together in a new fashion. One day at work years ago, we had a network cut that isolated one of our key sites off our corporate network and to make matters worse, the tool we used to communicate bulletins about outages was hosted at the site cutoff. We lost the channel we used for corporate communications with this outage. In thinking about this, I realized we should have an off-network communication channel and at once, we realized that Twitter could be that channel. We could create a private account on Twitter and only allow approved people to see the tweets of that handle. Then we’d have a communication channel for broadcasts 100% off our network. We used a social networking platform in a new way to solve a problem and it cost us nothing.

I see this all the time. When I read the book Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder (Incerto) I could see how that applies to several problems in a University setting and I shared it with friends there and I also had work related applications in mind.

Tying all this back together, I think we need to

  • Be reading all the time and reading across disciplines. Don’t just read in your area of expertise, but read across lots of areas and include fiction in your reading too.
  • Connect people together and have more meaningful conversations and not just about the weather and the score of the game. Talk about politics, about what you are reading, about what struck you on a blog post or in a twitter feed, talk about ideas.
  • Share great ideas and nuggets of information with others that might help them in their endeavors with no expectation of anything in return. Become known for sharing ideas with others.
  • Listen deeply to what others are saying and perhaps what they are not saying.
  • Become a person who facilitates the success of others. Countless leadership books talk about this.

Altucher’s book is about a lot of these ideas and he even suggests we should host dinners with interesting people. Just bring good people together to meet, share and connect. Perhaps, one of your guests might solve a big problem that another one of your guests is struggling to solve.

There was a wonderful post in the NY Times the other day called The Moral Bucket List which starts by saying:

ABOUT once a month I run across a person who radiates an inner light. These people can be in any walk of life. They seem deeply good. They listen well. They make you feel funny and valued. You often catch them looking after other people and as they do so their laugh is musical and their manner is infused with gratitude. They are not thinking about what wonderful work they are doing. They are not thinking about themselves at all.

When I meet such a person it brightens my whole day.

Be that kind of person. Be someone connecting dots and people.

Change

pablo (2)

Seems to me that lots of change is about to happen in corporate IT. There has been chatter for years about everything moving to the cloud and disk drives are dead or everything must be mobile or the like and most of those brash predictions are just nonsense. They might be true in a corner or in a niche or in some limited applications, but in general, they are nonsense. Few things in IT change overnight or even in a year. Many times is takes decades.

WSJ just posted an article about things we’d like to see die (fax machines) and it is mostly about right. The bulky ERP on the list is right and wrong. Yes, we’d like them to go away and magically be in the cloud, which means someone else’s computer, but it just can’t happen quickly for big organizations. The shift to some of these platforms is really, really, really hard.

However, this time it feels like change is happening. Incrementally. Here are some thoughts:

  1. There is going to be turmoil and turnover in applications used and deployed in the coming years. It is likely that apps installed and put into production last year will be replaced by different applications next year. There are new SaaS solutions appearing weekly and some vendors are integrating lots of functions into a suite (ServiceNow, Salesforce.com, WorkDay, etc.).
  2. Data growth will continue with no real slowdown in sight. Storage is cheap and the engineers want to save everything forever. The data scientist types will want the data saved forever too.
  3. Turmoil will continue with hardware and software vendors. The current wave of M&A activity will continue. Suites gobble up small application companies. Infrastructure companies gobble up other infrastructure companies. Others just won’t make it. The hype cycles will continue.
  4. Security or information protection is getting harder. No easy end in sight.
  5. Lots of stress in IT. Do all of the above, spend little or less, keep everything secure and be faster.

What else?

How I Think, Mostly

evernoteEvernote posted this huge blog post about how to use Evernote to capture, store and use the information and ideas one reads, finds, thinks about, receives, discovered, stumbles upon, has recommended to them, and otherwise crosses paths with in the day-to-day.

I’ve written before about how I keep everything in Evernote. I’ve gotten into the habit of just storing everything there. A while back a friend asked for notes I had on a particular topic and in about 15 minutes I gave her about 10-12 resources that I had collected over time on that topic. I can’t tell how times I’ve wanted to go deeper on a subject and I’ve just search in Evernote and found where I’ve already saved a bunch of articles on the subject.

This blog post entitled, “Evernote and the Brain: Designing Creativity Workflows” completely nails it for me. This is how I think and work. I don’t use the tags feature as much as this article suggests but instead use search. I’ve written about my thinking on search a while back. I use folders in Evernote, but even that is perhaps no longer as useful as what I thought when I began. I’m mostly convinced I could combine all the folders into one (or a small number) and just use search to find what I wanted. I do use a tag called, ‘favs’ for some articles that really connected with me. Rarely, I’ll create a tag or folder for a specific, short-term project but that is not the norm.

A lot of things cross my desk and if something catch my eye then I will likely post a tweet about. If it is particularly good or in an area that I want to keep thinking about, I’ll also send it to Evernote. Related, I save my Kindle highlights into Evernote so I can find some quote or nugget that caught my eye one day, perhaps years earlier.

Over time, this collection of articles and notes, now over 2400 in size becomes a priceless resource to me on things that I find interesting or useful. This is what computers are really all about, helping us connect the dots and helping us see insights that wouldn’t otherwise be as easily reached.

 

 

 

Customer Relationship Management Fail (or Success)

thumb_CRM-ButtonI’ve been thinking a lot about CRM lately. About how some organization seem to get it and some simply don’t. And those who get it appear to be fantastically better than than the ones who don’t get it. I don’t understand why some organizations aren’t better at this(or don’t seem to be trying) when I perceive the return to be huge.

I have season tickets with two nearby sports teams. One gets it and ones doesn’t.

In the one case, I needed an extra ticket at a certain level to get a visiting family member into the club space. I called my contact there and asked if I could buy another ticket (they don’t sell single game tickets) and the reply was that ‘he would take care of it and there would be a ticket at Will Call under my name.’  No questions. No hassle. No charge. The same organization has done other great things for us that were not needed or even expected.

The other team, despite much more expensive tickets, barely knows my name. I once asked about getting a guest’s birthday posted on the screen at half time and I was told they would take care of it. Didn’t happen. Wasn’t there. Never heard back from my contact afterwards either. They also seem to take better care of their business customers better than their individual/family customers.

Another organization that I interact with bends over backwards to help me get things done. If I need help, they just take care of it. Even things that they shouldn’t have to do for me, they take care of it because they are great service providers to me. Yes, they make money selling me services but they bend over backwards to help me be successful.

I will routinely have sales executives come to visit me and I find that some know a lot about me and some know nothing. Some have read this latest post here which is funny and interesting to me. They comment on it. That is almost creepy, but it means they are doing some research and they are trying to better understand their customer.

Someone sent me an email recently commenting on my LinkedIn profile in a funny manner. They made the attempt to connect with me from that description. Another person a few years ago noticed my ‘donkey handler’ skill on LinkedIn.

Related, there was an article a few months ago which said the following about sales,

By providing personal, determined, and honest service instead of the hard sell, it’s possible to build long-term relationships instead of quick, one-time sales

Much to think about here. I think I could do sales (but I don’t want the travel).

Built to Last

Events around me have caused me to be thinking about how an organization can thrive across long periods of time. Not just points in time, but across decades. How does an organization continue to move forward into the future, accomplishing its mission without getting distracted, lost or even disappearing?

There are so many examples of really great companies that just went away. Kodak and Polaroid are examples of well respected companies that were at the top of their game at one point and now they are gone. The same happens with non-profits, churches, organizations, etc.

Jim Collins wrote the book, Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies (Harper Business Essentials) which tells the story of companies that have lasted a long time and seemed to prosper over the years. I’ve not read the book but I might. I did scan the Blinkist post on that book and it doesn’t quite seem to hit what I’m looking for right now. The summary does state that these organizations seem to have a higher purpose and that they relentlessly pursue progress.

It seems to me that it is about the people. The leadership and the culture.

I’ve seen companies and organizations lose their way and it is heart breaking. It seems that it is due to the people more than external factors.

How do you build an organization that moves forward successfully across decades of time pursuing worthy goals?

Your thoughts are welcome.

Getting Better?

I usually don’t pay much attention to IT futurists who like to tell us how IT will look in a few years. I mostly think those articles are written by people who are looking to increase their following or subscribers and are not likely based on real insights. One group I followed years ago wrote about Future IT and while some of the points where great, I thought others were absurd.

But, as I think about IT and where it is going, I think corporate IT is getting smarter and has more options than it has had in the past.

  • We can host applications internally or in public clouds or in a blend.
  • We can use open source solutions for some parts of the stack.
  • We can virtualize services and avoid more and more hardware.
  • We can use SaS solutions in some cases.
  • We can outsource parts of our service in areas where we don’t want to operate.

And we have new IT visibility tools that can give us deeper insights into our own operations than ever before. ServiceNow, Apptio, and xMatters give us more options than ever before.

I’m not sure we are getting smarter and I’m not sure if we are getting more respect from our business partners, but I do think we have more options than ever before.

What do you think?