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Archive for August 2010

Rose-colored glasses: our bias of success over failure

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This site has made many references to Seth Godin.  Seth is a great guy and has a great blog.  He is a serial entrepreneur, author of 11 books (so far), and a marketing genius.  He is highly influential in the business community.  He has degrees in computer science, philosophy, and an MBA from Stanford.

Nice to see that Seth has an article this months (September) Harvard Business Review.

Seth’s article in HBR is about Redefining Failure.

I am continually amazed by the wide variation in individuals assessment of what counts as success and what counts as failure.  For some, being average is “good enough”.  For others, this will never do.  For your son or daughter in school, is a C average “good enough”?  Or, is straight A’s the standard?  Do you just want to get by?  Or, do you want the change the world?  For some, enough is never enough.

Recently, I heard President Obama ask an affluent person, “Don’t you have enough”?  The answer should have been, “No, I don’t”.  Is there a cap on achievement or accomplishment?  Is there a cap on what you should invent, develop, or build?

Did they tell the people who built great cities, “Hey wait, that is too much! – Stop now!”.  If so, there would never be places like New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles.  Did they tell the folks in Chicago that the Sears tower was too tall?  Did they tell the Pharaohs in Egypt, “Hey, those pyramids at Giza, too big, too tall, too beautiful, and they will last too long.  Stop your building now!”  Did the Beatles (or the Rolling Stones, or U2) write too many songs, have too many concerts?  Did too many people listen to their music?

Much of what counts as achievement is hard-wired or built-in as pre-cognitive positions of individuals.  By pre-cognitive I mean that there is no rational argument that you can present to someone who thinks that “average” is acceptable to convince this person otherwise.

“Good is the Enemy of Great” – Jim Collins

If you are reading HBR you are probably one of the “enough is never enough” people.  And so, the article by Seth Godin in the September issue is going to fit in perfectly.  The title of the article is Redefining Failure.

The point of the article is simple.  We don’t define failure broadly enough.  If what spurs action is failure, and if we have a definition of failure that is too narrow, then many things that look like not-failure are missed opportunities and the slow slide into mediocrity.

From the article:

One surefire way we’ve found to avoid failing is to narrowly define what failure is-in other words, to treat almost everything that happens as a non-failure.  If the outcome of our efforts isn’t a failure, there’s no need to panic, is there? Failure creates urgency. Failure gets you fired. Failure cannot stand; it demands a response. But the status quo is simply embraced and, incredibly, protected.

Seven new ways to think about failure

From the HBR article:

If you care about your company, your customers, and the meaning of value, you’ll care enough to reexamine your definition of failure. Here are a few types to consider adding to the mix:
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Written by frrl

August 31, 2010 at 5:54 pm

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Quandary: Career Advancement of Technical Engineers Part II

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This is a follow-up to the posting:  The Quandary of Career Advancement of Technical Engineers

And the extraordinary question asked by an engineer to a Vice President at a corporate all hands meeting, “What does this [ direction, goals, reorganization of the company ] have to do with me?”

The last posting cited an academic study on why engineers turn down offers of advancement.  Or, in general why the interest of engineers is often not aligned with the company they work for.

Here is more from that research.  This comes from the Discussion section where the findings are summarized

Advancement Choices
Engineers enjoy technical work. That is why they chose their profession and it is also why they continue to be engaged in it. They entered the corporate world with the awareness that advancement means success, and success should be everyone’s goal. There is pressure to advance quickly, a finding that supports Westney’s (1985) earlier research. However, there is only one career to pursue: management. And even though management is a possible goal, the process of being promoted is mysterious and contrary to the engineering nature that appreciates unambiguity and concreteness. In fact, the engineers are not sure that a technical ladder actually exists. If it does, it is a very short one, as there is at most one level above the one at which they entered. The criteria for this promotion are inconsistent and the meaning of the promotion is ambiguous. The engineers would prefer a more open and structured technical promotion process based on experience and professional demonstration. On the whole, these findings support earlier research indicating that R&D career paths are ambiguous and inconsistent (Allen & Katz, 1986; Bailyn, 1982, 1991; Bailyn & Lynch, 1983; Dalton & Thompson, 1986; Ritti, 1971).

Personal “Reality”
Success is not really on the engineers’ minds, but when prompted they say they do feel successful. However, they tie their success more to family, happiness, and personal accomplishments. They view internal ideas of success as more important than social, or external, measures of success. Their self-development occurs outside of work and they also have outside leadership roles. They feel their lives are sometimes out of balance due to clashes in work and personal life demands. They view the demands of work as excessive and think that their workplace should be more flexible in the area of time. They feel organizations are trying to trade visions of flat organizations and empowerment for more of their time, and this just does not work for them. Their organization does not provide onsite childcare, which they feel would help their situation. They feel torn between their personal and work obligations and this causes a fair amount of stress. They see organizations’ increased demands as unhealthy for people and detrimental to organizations’ long-term goals. The only way they feel that they can cope is by keeping organizational and personal concerns completely separate. Their experiences parallel Hochschild’s (1997) and Rifkin’s (1995) work regarding the difficulty of defining work and personal life boundaries. The engineers would like to continue to “build” things, and they think that they might enjoy doing work that involves “using their hands.” They would like to own their own businesses, or work in a more creative environment. They mentioned trying management under different circumstances, when they have less personal obligations to attend to, or perhaps in a smaller company with a different culture. They look forward to a time of retirement and financial independence, when they might donate their technical work to needy causes.

The Disconnect between Engineers “Personal Reality” and Corporate Goals

Here’s a proposition for you to consider.  The personal goals of an engineer and the basic fundamental goals of a corporation are fundamentally opposed.  Engineers are engineers because: 1) they love technology 2) their primary pursuit is that of personal technical competence – both self-development and application.  Corporations exist to: 1) Make money 2) Satisfy the wants/desires/needs of other people in order to sell products and services to generate revenue (make money) for other people (shareholders). 

To  put it clearly, Engineers are about technology and self.  Corporations are about money and others.

There is a little more to it. 
Read the rest of this entry »

Written by frrl

August 29, 2010 at 6:10 pm

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The experience of the presence of God: On-Demand

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The God Helmet

How do you know the World?  All experience is mediated and interpreted by the brain.  Did you ever have a “ringing in your ears”.  As you know, there is no real sound, out there, in the “Real” World.  The brain self-generates this experience and its as real (to you) as any sound you ever heard.  But you know there is no external source for the sound.

When you have an experience, how do you know if its “out there” or “in your head”?

What if you could generate “experiences” on-demand?  What if you could experience the presence of God, on-demand?

What if you could build an electronic device that stimulate a certain part of the brain, and just as you hear “ringing in your ears (Tinnitus)” you could experience the presence of God.  In this case, where is God?

This is just what Michael Persinger says he can do…

His theory is that the sensation described as “having a religious experience” is merely a side effect of our bicameral brain’s feverish activities. Simplified considerably, the idea goes like so: When the right hemisphere of the brain, the seat of emotion, is stimulated in the cerebral region presumed to control notions of self, and then the left hemisphere, the seat of language, is called upon to make sense of this nonexistent entity, the mind generates a “sensed presence.”

Persinger has tickled the temporal lobes of more than 900 people before me and has concluded, among other things, that different subjects label this ghostly perception with the names that their cultures have trained them to use – Elijah, Jesus, the Virgin Mary, Mohammed, the Sky Spirit. Some subjects have emerged with Freudian interpretations – describing the presence as one’s grandfather, for instance – while others, agnostics with more than a passing faith in UFOs, tell something that sounds more like a standard alien-abduction story.

It may seem sacrilegious and presumptuous to reduce God to a few ornery synapses, but modern neuroscience isn’t shy about defining our most sacred notions – love, joy, altruism, pity – as nothing more than static from our impressively large cerebrums. Persinger goes one step further. His work practically constitutes a Grand Unified Theory of the Otherworldly: He believes cerebral fritzing is responsible for almost anything one might describe as paranormal – aliens, heavenly apparitions, past-life sensations, near-death experiences, awareness of the soul, you name it.

Michael Persinger has a vision – the Almighty isn’t dead, he’s an energy field. And your mind is an electromagnetic map to your soul.

Read the full story in Wired –

Watch this multi-part video from the BBC.  First part below.  You can find all the parts on YouTube


More on “cerebral fritzing” – The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat: And Other Clinical Tales

Written by frrl

August 29, 2010 at 7:33 am

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Of Telegraphs, Telephones, Radios, and Organizational Momentum

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As told by Joel Kurtzman

Never missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity

Western Union, founded in 1851, commercialized the telegraph. In 1865, at the end of the American Civil War, the first war in which the telegraph played a role, Western Union was America’s largest and most valuable communications company. In 1884, it was one of the original stocks in the Dow Jones Industrial Average, having built a nationwide communications infrastructure. And then it went to sleep.

The Telephone

In 1879 a young, Massachusetts‐based educator and high‐tech inventor, Alexander Graham Bell, attempted to interest Western Union in one of his inventions: the telephone. He argued that with his patents and its nationwide infrastructure of telegraph wires, the company could quickly be transformed into something new and potentially far more valuable: a national telegraph and telephone company.

The never‐before‐challenged leaders of Western Union huddled together and examined Bell’s patents, which they collectively deemed “no big deal.” Of course, we now know Bell’s patents were the most valuable in all of business history and went on to form the basis of the U.S. and global telephone industries. Those patents led to the creation of the Bell Telephone System, the American Telephone and Telegraph Company (AT&T), and many other companies. For nearly a century, the companies Bell founded were the world’s most valuable, enriching millions of investors who owned their stocks.

The Radio

After it had passed on the telephone, Western Union was offered another new invention: radio. With radio, information could travel around the globe instantly, reaching communities everywhere, not to mention ships at sea and airplanes high above the earth. But Western Union passed on radio too.


Later, in the late 1930s, Western Union glanced at another new technology: television. Some of its suppliers had decided to produce TV sets and TV production equipment, but the leaders at Western Union once again declined to participate, preferring instead to focus on what made them money then—delivering telegrams and transferring money—rather than what might make them money in the future.

The Internet

Later still, Western Union observed the introduction of the Internet and briefly flirted with the idea of becoming a player in that burgeoning field. And why not? With its wire‐and‐microwave‐based infrastructure, Western Union could have become an important carrier of packets of digital Internet traffic. But in the end, Western Union failed to invest in the Internet.


Finally, in the early 1970s, Western Union watched as cellular telephone technology was developed by Motorola and then commercialized in the mid‐1980s by AT&T, one of Bell’s companies. Again, Western Union’s infrastructure could have supported this technology. But the company decided not to invest. Western Union kept its network and its company intact, but failed to take advantage of decades of progress and change.

Where they are today

Today Western Union continues to exist, but it is limping along on the verge of extinction, saddled with debt, having been taken over, sold, and resold several times. And rather than growing, this old firm has spent most of its long life in slow decline. Today, as in 1871, Western Union’s largest (and now sole) business is transferring money.

The moral of the story


Western Union was organized from the top down, like most other companies of its time. All strategic decisions and capital allocation decisions were made at the very top. Western Union’s leaders could not be challenged. They were experienced people, from similar backgrounds. They had inherited a company of substance, which they were determined to preserve. And they were suspicious of outsiders and of new ideas.

The Affect of A, B, and C players in an organization

Tragically, poor leadership tends to perpetuate itself, which explains why once great organizations slowly wither and die. As Joe Griesedieck, vice chairman and managing director of CEO services at Korn/Ferry, the world’s largest search firm, told me, A players pick other A players with whom they surround themselves and from whom they build their teams. But B players pick B and even C players to prevent their leadership from being challenged. Over time, B players are succeeded by the B and then C players they picked. And since leaders in hierarchical organizations can’t really be challenged, the tyranny of the B player is preserved. As a result, once great organizations wither and die. Missing out on opportunities is as much a killer of organizations as failing to pay attention to bad news

How many other organizations are in the same boat as Western Union, missing opportunities, failing to innovate, resistant to change, led by a cloistered assortment of B and C players? How many organizations turn away from the future even when it knocks at the door? Sadly, the answer is far too many.

Read a related articleThe Google Way

Written by frrl

August 27, 2010 at 10:16 pm

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Homeland Security – National Interoperability Field Operations Guide

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What is the “National Interoperability Field Operations Guide”?

The National Interoperability Field Operations Guide is a technical reference for radio technicians responsible for radios that will be used in disaster response applications and for emergency communications planners.

[ It ] is a pocket-sized listing of land mobile radio (LMR) frequencies that are often used in disasters or other incidents where radio interoperability is required, and other information useful to emergency communicators. It is based on the “National Interoperability Frequency Guide”.

We encourage you to program as many of these interoperability channels in your radio as possible.  Even if geographic restrictions on some channels preclude their use in your home area, you may have the opportunity to help in a distant location where restrictions do not apply.  Maximize your flexibility

Take a read and be prepared –

Here is some interesting guidance found on page 3 and following

Don’t I need a license for these channels before programming them into radios?

A license (for non-Federal radio users) or an authorization (for Federal users) is required only to TRANSMIT on an LMR radio frequency. No license or authorization is required to program the frequencies into radios.

How can I use these frequencies if I don’t have a license for them?

 There are six ways you can legally transmit on these radio frequencies:

  1. You or your employer may already have a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) license or a National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) authorization for some of these frequencies, or may be covered by a higher authority’s license.
  2. The non-Federal National Interoperability Channels VCALL10-VTAC14, UCALL40-UCALL43D, and 8CALL90-8TAC94D are covered by a “blanket authorization” from the FCC for mobile operation, but base stations and control stations still require individual licenses (see FCC 00-348, released 10/10/2000, paragraph 90).
  3. In extraordinary circumstances, the FCC may issue a “Special Temporary Authority” (STA) for such use in a particular area.
  4. In extraordinary circumstances, the NTIA may issue a “Temporary Assignment” for such use in a particular area.
  5. If you are an FCC licensee, you may operate a mobile station on the Federal Interoperability Channels only when invited or approved to do so by a Federal Government radio station authorized by the NTIA to use those channels, and only for the purpose of interoperability with Federal Government radio stations. You may not use these channels for interoperability with other State, tribal, regional, or local radio stations – these are not a substitute for your regular mutual aid channels. Your use of these Federal channels is done under the auspices of your FCC license; any misuse subjects you or your employer to FCC ines and/or possible license revocation.
  6. When necessary for the IMMEDIATE protection of life or property, radio users may use prudent measures beyond the speciics of their license:

President Woodrow Wilson – “Leaders of Men”

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When I read the proposed constitutional amendment to remove term limits from the President of the United States I thought of Presidents like this guy – Woodrow Wilson.  Woodrow Wilson was the 29’th President of the United States during the Progressive Era.

In 1889 Wilson wrote an essay entitled: “Leaders of Men”

Here is a slice

The true leader of men is equipped by lacking certain sensibilities which the literary man, when analyzed, is found to have as a chief part of his make up. He lacks that subtle power of sympathy that enables the men who write the great works of the imagination to put their minds under the spell of a thousand motives not their own but the living force in those whom they interpret

The competent leader of men cares little for the interior niceties of other people’s character.  He cares much everything for the external uses to which they may be put.  His will seeks the lines of least resistance; but the whole question with him is a question as to the application of force.

There are men to be moved: how shall he move them? He supplies the power; others supply only the materials upon which that power operates. The power will fail if it be misapplied; it will be misapplied if it be not suitable both in its character and in its method to the nature of the materials upon which it is spent; but that nature is, after all, only its means.

It is the power which dictates, dominates; the materials yield. Men are as clay in the hands of the consummate leader.

Woodrow Wilson would make a good no-term-limit President of the United States

Read the essay –

Read a related article – The Ruthless vs the Rest of Us

Written by frrl

August 24, 2010 at 5:39 pm

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Proposed Amendments to the Constitution of the United States

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Are you paying attention to the proposed changes to the US Constitution?

In writings of the founding fathers the Constitution of the United States was called “an experiment”.  The authors of the Constitution provided for the provision to change, as circumstances arose, this founding document of the United States.

Are you paying attention to the proposed amendments?

You can find them on the website

Some of the more interesting amendments include:

  1. Removing term limits on the President of the United States (was this sponsored by Hugo Chavez (read) ?
  2. Abolish the Electoral College
  3. The right of everyone to affordable housing
  4. Government protection against unemployment and to provide “existence worthy of human dignity” through “social supplements”
  5. Ok, everyone in the pool – “… proposed amendment to give citizens the right to propose amendments to the Constitution through an initiative process”

You can see all the amendments proposed to date by entering this link

Written by frrl

August 23, 2010 at 2:11 pm

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