What I’m Up To…

Details to follow (over time), but here's a summary of what I'm up to these days: I'm working with companies, ranging from established leaders to "two guys, a dog and a crazy idea" who are busy:

  • Delivering on the true, high value promise of RFID in huge (really) untapped (seriously) markets
  • Offering the industry's first Cloud-based Mobile Device Management solution
  • Inventing Intelligent Mobile Workspace solutions, around best-of-breed tablet computing platforms (a category they pioneered nine years before the IPad)
  • Leveraging unparalleled skills in custom device engineering services into a foundation for a breakthrough products company
  • Preparing to launch "Groupon on steroids" (from an already very successful platform in the space)
  • Re-conceiving accounting (of all things) as an enterprise and investment management tool
  • Will soon be helping you and me leverage our loyalty program participation to new heights of value
  • Connecting brands and consumers in previously unimagined ways

All are involved with inventing the future.

Oh, and I'm having fun doing it.

Triptych: Rooms with a View, Part I

View from 7 WTC, 35th floor

I don't really have an office, per se, in our downtown NY executive headquarters location.
Rather, I've been using Conference Room B, or C on occasion, whenever I work here — here being the 35th floor of 7 World Trade Center (mailing address 250 Greenwich Street).

Adjacent rooms, each about fifteen feet on a side, they both face due south, with floor-to-ceiling windows affording unobstructed views of what many of us still think of as Ground Zero and, for a time at least, off to the right, a generous expanse of NY's Harbor beyond.

Nine years on, the haunting memories of what happened just above (and below) my vantage point have softened, as if time has twisted the focus ring just a bit.

The adjoining space still presents itself as a hole in the sky however, and echoes persist. Of dinners above, accompanied by overpriced wines… and of the distant but horrible black and orange plumes visible on that day, from my seat on another plane, still awaiting takeoff, safe from any immediate danger, but not from the changes we were all to face in the time since.

The memorial waterfalls were turned on for the first time a month or so ago, to some media fanfare. They're off again now (dry run?).

The western extent of the views from here have recently been occluded by the rising tower of 1 WTC (formerly a.k.a. "The Freedom Tower"), visible at right. Several months on, it's now at forty five stories, perhaps more, and climbing at a rate of a floor every couple of days.

Catty corner (NY expression for diaganolly?) across the site, you can see the shell of the DeutcheBank building, which has been systematically deconstructed, floor by floor, so as to remove the last of the terminally 9/11-damaged structures, without the dangers of the more dramatic implosive techniques we've all witnessed applied to other large buildings whose useful life has past.

Remember, please.

Do You Really Know What’s Going On?

This is an article primarily intended for leaders at or near the top of their organizations. The reason: the rest of you already know what I'm going to explain.

The more time I spend in business, the more amazed I am at how frequently and how badly leaders handicap themselves by not realizing a simple truth: the foundation for every aspect of their effectiveness is a firm grasp of what's really going on in their organizations. Not what they wish, plan, project or orate about — what's really happening, and not, "on the ground."

Anyone with even a passing interest in politics has likely heard how this is one of the challenges facing a President. How the layers of staff, security, protocol and process combine to insulate the holder of that office in what's sometime called a "bubble," other times an echo chamber.

The former connotes simple isolation, a cutting off from information flows about what's going on outside of the White House; the later layers on the additional distorting effect of the administration being fooled by listeing to itself talk.

You don't need to be the POTUS for this effect to complicate and compound your challenges as a leader. The head of an organization of any size bears the same risks, caused by some combination of the following:

  • Lower level staff being afraid to bring bad news up the organization;
  • The way the "telephone effect" adds incremental distortion with each retelling of a "fact" as it's passed up the line in a hierarchy;
  • Senior leaders failing to spend time with the ground troops, actively inquiring about realities and listening, actively, to what they hear;
  • Leaders who are so caught up in their own story lines and rhetoric that they form their own echo chamber in which all they hear, in effect, is themselves;
  • Leaders who desperately want to believe their plans are working, and are afraid to see if it's so;
  • Leaders who purposefully isolate themselves, retreating to their senior teams and executive suites because they're more comfortable there, in their familiar routines involving abstractions and numbers, than they are in the nitty gritty stuff of the business.

Whatever the causes, this behavior cripples effective leadership. How can you make sound judgments if you don't know the true facts of the situation? How can you lead if your credibility is undermined by the quiet snickering of your team as they realize you don't really know what's going on? You can't.

As vexing as this problem is, its solution is simple. Get out of your office and talk with all layers of your team, one-on-one and in small groups preferably, and engage in an honest two way dialogue about the business, as they see it. What's working? What's not? Why? Are things trending positive or negative? You may have to do this for a while before your team fully opens up and trusts, and you need to be careful not to cut the legs out from under your middle management, but this simple process works.

Not only will your decisions benefit from better information, and your credibility with the troops improve, your team will be and feel more engaged in the business.

While you've likely heard about this issue before, (it's behind the "Management by walking around" idea), I thought this reminder might be useful and timely.

Do you know what's going on? Really?

Whatever Begins, Also Ends (Seneca)

Earlier today, Ellie and I were visited by John, the owner of the contracting company that gave shape to our dreams of how this house in Carmel Valley could become our home a decade ago. Our purpose was to arrange some fix-ups prior to moving on. John became family when he and his crew were a fixture for the fourteen long months of renovation. The meeting had a decidedly "goodbye" feeling to it.

Endings, even when paired with exciting beginnings, as this one is, are always difficult.

Sitting now in our living room, facing eastward, the direction that life has declared as "forward" for it's next chapter. Bright washes of sun, slanting under clouds, warm the right side of my face. I gaze out on a view I've enjoyed, in all of its changeable aspects, for these past ten years.

Valley View 1

Below, a driver making his way from the adjacent valley to this one, pulls to the side of the road, gets out and takes in the scene framed from a prospect somewhat less advantaged than this and, after a time, moves on.

Valley View 6

I think of my great fortune in being able to partake of this view for so many years. I'm saddened by the reality that it will no longer be mine, but then realize that we never really "own" a pleasing glimpse of nature — we borrow it, reflect on it, and carry it as part of us for all the days that lie ahead, even as we dream of all the scenes we've yet to take in.

Valley View 9 

A Private Letter, To Friends…

Just a short note to friends following this blog.

While not yet official, as many of you already know, I've decided to join NCR. I'll be serving as their Chief Marketing Officer and VP, Corporate Development. Part of John Bruno's team, my responsibilities will be to both help tell the story of what the company is about today and give shape to what it will be tomorrow. 

From time to time, as appropriate, I'm sure that I'll find opportunities to share some thoughts on the progress we make as we strive to turn a grand old company into a great new one.

But that's not my purpose here. Now, I simply want to thank all of you with whom I've worked in the past for your friendship, your caring and for all of the incredible memories that we created together. They are treasures that I carry in my heart, and always will.

There were many possible paths into this moment. One led here, to what is. Many paths lead forward, and none of us know which we'll follow to what will be. All we can do is our best to live each "now" to the fullest. And that is what I intend to do.

But it seemed appropriate to pause here, to offer a smile and a warm "Thank you" to all of you who have been such an important part of what was. Please accept them with my sincerest gratitude.

Now, onward.

Downtown Sunday Morning

We're sort of uptown types by nature, but this weekend Ellie and I spent time in the lower reaches of Manhattan.

The original idea was a change of pace stop on the way back to CA yesterday. Plans for returning to our west coast home changed when, over the weekend, I decided to accept an offer to join a company based in NYC. (Pending formal announcement, I'll need to be coy and ask you to stand by for full details.) As I write this post, I'm sitting in a Starbucks, an hour or so away from starting my new adventure.

Back to the weekend…

Flatiron-building  We decided to keep to our plans for a NY night in the Flat Iron / Gramercy Park area, now repurposed as a mini-celebration. As it turned out, we did so early in the evening with good friends and former colleagues at both Symbol and Intelleflex, Steve and his wife Pam (a couple of very special people), and later with my brother John, passing through NY doing a bit of fund raising for Stanford, where he serves as Vice Provost, responsible for the undergraduate program. (He's pretty special too.)

Venue for our dinner with Steve and Pam was Craftbar, Tom Colicchio's informal spot on lower Broadway. Based on this, our first visit, I can recommend it heartily: great food, service, atmosphere and vibe. We had a terrific time…

…As we did later that evening with John, back at The Rose Bar in our overnight spot, The Gramercy Park Hotel.

I'm sure that readership clever enough to be on this blog can read between the lines (new job to celebrate, long dinner with great friends, late night toasting with family…) and figure out that Sunday morning was slow and fuzzy in arriving.

So, sometime around 11:00, a walk in the bracingly cold air seemed like just the thing to usher in a return to clarity. We pointed ourselves south on 3rd avenue, eventually ending up at DBGB, Daniel Boulud's latest restaurant. Named with a tip of the hat to a long time fixture in the neighborhood, the underground rock club CBGB, and specializing in all things sausage, the place has been a big hit since opening mid-summer.

Ellie chose an incredibly creatively prepared and presented upscale hotdog; I went with a sausage done in the style of Tunisia. Great old blues songs were played one after another. The place filled with an ecclectic collection of folks, united in their obvious enjoyment of the experience.

This all played out in room set as a stage to simple foods, prepared with imagination and skill. The kitchen was open to view, and the room was ringed overhead by copper cooking pots, each accompanyed by a small plaque bearing the name of the famous chef who gifted it to Daniel Boulud for placement here.

The manager, (who we know from his earlier service at another Boulud establishment) explained that they make it a practice to seat those chefs immediately adjacent to "their" pots when they visit. I smiled and told him how that reminded me of how my friend Steve is notorious for something similar: seating his guest following a round at his club at a table facing a board displaying plaques commemorating past club champions — his and his son's names prominent among them, where they can't possibly be missed.

I recorded a bit of the DBGB scene, as well as sights on the walk back to the hotel, and set them into a brief video, which will serve as a punctuation to this post. Turn up the sound, and please enjoy…

Want to Learn Something? Teach It!

One of the best ways to learn something, or to significantly deepen your understanding of it, is to teach it.IStock_000004387778Small


Well, in my experience, it's true, and powerful.

The trick, of course, is what teaching something forces you to do before you get up at the lectern, in preparation. (That's assuming of course that you take the teaching assignment seriously enough to prepare.)

Let's look a little deeper, starting with why this works.

1. Teaching forces a focus on relationships and patterns, not just stand-alone facts.

To teach something well, you'll need to go beyond simply relating the "atomic level" facts or ideas involved; you'll need to explain out how those building blocks form patterns, sequences and relationships.

True understanding of something is achieved when individual instances can be abstracted to general truths. By first parsing your subject into major blocks of knowledge, then arranging them into logical sequence and pointing out key patterns and relationships (cause and effect…), you'll not only be preparing to present the material in a manner best able to be absorbed by your students, you'll be teasing out new insights that will deepen your understanding.

Finally, this organization of ideas into a logical framework renders it much easier to remember. (It's how our mind works.)

2. Teaching challenges you to identify and use Analogies and metaphors.

People learn best when they can relate new ideas to things they already know and understand. So, you'll want to use them in teaching your subject. Which means you'll have to find or invent them. Which in turn forces you to think about those patterns mentioned above yet again, from a fresh perspective. All of which will result in a further deepening of your understanding. If you can't come up with compelling analogies to get across your ideas, chances are you'll need to dig into the topic a bit deeper to find those underlying patterns and relationships.

3. Preparing to teach identifies gaps in your knowledge.

If you go about your preparations with care, you'll likely find that your knowledge of the subject is complete in some areas, less so in others. In effect, you'll be forced to take inventory of your own understanding. Gaps will stand out, and can be filled with study or further thought.

4. Teaching engages more of your mind.

While I'm not a cognitive scientist, I've done enough reading on the subject to claim with confidence that the sort of active information processing the brain does when organizing information per the above, and again when actually presenting it verbally, graphically or both, engages parts of our mind not engaged in more passive activities such as reading.

5. Teaching creates positive and negative incentives toward learning.

Nobody likes to be embarrassed, a state all-too-easy to find yourself in if you get up in front of a class to teach something and aren't prepared, or can't answer questions in a satisfying manner. When we're agree to teach something, we instinctively get this, and so are motivated to put in the effort required to do a great job.

A Tip: regardless of the sophistication of your audience, when you're finished preparing your lecture, ask yourself if the main ideas are presented so that an audience of bright thirteen year olds could understand them, and be engaged by them. If not, you still have more work to do in distilling down the concepts and finding compelling ways to present them.

One of my favorite fellow bloggers, David A. Brock (@davidabrock), recently called attention to the physics lectures given by Richard Feynman, as exemplary of how very complex (and potentially dry) ideas can be presented so as to achieve both understanding and emotional engagement. I first read and listened to them a couple of dozen years ago. David's spot on, and this standard of excellence is one to aspire to reach.

By the way, these same learning benefits accrue whether you teach a course, write a serious paper, article or blog post (I'm learning something this way every time I do one of these) or step up to do some intensive one-on-one coaching for a promising team member.

Regardless of which vehicle you choose, in addition to deepening your understanding, you'll realize a powerful set of side benefits. You'll:

  • Improve your communications skills
  • Enhance your standing in your peer group, industry or community
  • Gain the satisfaction of helping others
  • Have fun!

So, next time you want to learn something, find a way to teach it. It'll be good for you.

Thoughts on Starting a New Job

IStock_000002979477Small I'm likely going to be starting in a new job (and new company) sometime before the end of the year. Perhaps some of you are too.

Beginnings are always important times. Early impressions matter, patterns once set can be difficult to change and establishing momentum early is important.

Here's how I'm planning to approach the process:

1. Get acquainted with the Team — As we know, business is a team, contact sport. Precious little can be accomplished without the aligned and active support of those around you. The foundation to build that on is trust, which in turn depends on the establishment of personal relationships.

That takes time and dedicated effort. So, job one is to meet and spend time with members of my team, my peers and those members of senior management with whom I don't already have a relationship. In each case the goals are similar:

  • Get to know them as people
  • Introduce myself to them
  • Ask their inputs on what's most important to focus on in getting started (see below)

Throughout, it's important to remember that you're inserting yourself into an existing web of relationships, some links in which may have formed over decades. Coming to understand how that's working today, and about the cultural norms within which it operates, is another early key point of focus.

With their inputs, I should be able to lay out a prioritized plan for where and when to focus my attention. That plan will likely look something like the next steps listed below…

2. Immediate (First Week) Priorities — If there's a ticking bomb somewhere, I'll want to discover it fast, apply triage as required, and begin to develop a get-well plan:

  • Are any critical programs or initiatives about to come off the rails?
  • Major customer satisfaction issues (external or internal)?
  • Looming legal issues?
  • Budget blow-ups?
  • Critical people issues?

If any exist, it's likely that I'll readily find out about some easily, others make take some digging.

3. Mid-term (First 90 day) Priorities — After gaining confidence that something isn't about to blow up, these items will get my attention next:

  • Program Reviews: I'll be joining an up-and-running business. There will clearly be a good number of existing initiatives and programs that my team has going, either independently or on a cross-functional basis with others. I'll want to know how all of those are going, by attending already scheduled program reviews, calling new ones if required and spending one-on-one time with owners and other key players.
  • External Constituency Meetings: Since mine will be a market-facing responsibility, I'll want to meet as many key customers, as well as partners and suppliers, as possible, as soon as possible. The discussion agendas will be similar to those for the team meetings, described above. Listening here is more important than talking.
  • Establish a Local Management System: While the company overall most likely has a well-structured system of meetings and other processes by which it operates, it's likely that some local refinement and personalization will be appropriate.
  • Fill any Short Term Team Gaps: A thorough plan for Organization Development will come a bit later (see below), but it's possible that I'll find it important to fill critical gaps in the team early on. In some cases, I'll choose to don another hat or two rather than make a hasty hire or promotion before I know how to do so intelligently.
  • Refine and Align the Definition of My Role: Mine will be a newly created function. While I'll clearly have a good idea going in as to the definition of its responsibilities and accountabilities, it's also likely that some refinement of that initial conception may be appropriate. I'll want to focus on this, and secure alignment all around regarding any mid-course corrections required, during the first ninety days or so.
  • Homework: I'll want to lay out a learning agenda for myself: existing Business Plans, Industry Briefings, Analyst Reports, etc. Reading stuff for nights and travel time.

4. Longer Term (First 6 – 12 month) Priorities — Next, I'll turn attention to strategies and organization development:

  • Strategy Refinement: While the role I'll be taking is new, the team(s) I'll be responsible for are existing. They're executing current plans under some combination of company-wide and local strategies. While I'll want to understand what those are as early as possible (via the steps above), I won't be expecting to change them in the early going, if for no other reason (there are several), I won't know enough to do so in any informed way. Within the first 6 to 12 months though, it will be time to focus on refreshing, refining or extending those strategies. This is a team effort, and my preference is for broad participation. (More on this some other time.)
  • Organization Development: By now, I'll know enough to be thoughtful regarding how to build the organization I'll be responsible for so as to meet our responsibilities and challenges. Some of this may be done within the context of an annual planning cycle; some may not be able to wait that long. We'll see.

So, that will be my basic plan of attack. I will refine it as I come to learn more during the early stages of settling in. Should be fun.

Now and Then


I’m teaching myself ActionScript, a programming language used with Adobe Flash. Unless I flunk myself, the reason will appear in a post not too far into the future.

ActionScript is an object-oriented language.

OK, I know that I just ran the risk of losing 90% of you. Trust me, there’s a funny story to follow…

The term “Object Oriented” today refers to a concept in computer science where a programming language is structured so that building block “routines” written in it have very well defined and tall “walls.” For example, if you write a part of your program to, say, draw a rectangle on the screen, all the other parts of the program interact with the Rectangle Routine in very well specified ways. They don’t get to muck around with Rectangle Routine’s internal bits. They can only tell it where on the screen to draw it, it’s dimensions, color, and that’s it. Each routine is like a little castle; what goes on inside is its business.

Well, while Object Oriented Programming was around when I was working toward my computer science degree from SUNY Stony Brook. We learned about it as a theory, but I never used it. It’s application in common practice lay a dozen or so years into the future. (It took hold in the 90’s.)

But, at the significant further risk of terminally dating myself, allow me to explain that there were objects that were very much involved in my programming, back in the day.

Punchcards.018 They were called punch cards. One’s pictured right over there on the left. Real time access to a computer was a platinum-precious resource in those days. The way you typically interacted with one was to write out a program’s set of instructions, sit down at a console like the one over there on the right (that’s not me), and type out a punch4506VV4002  card for each and every line of code in your program (the more complex the program, the more cards), and then take your “stack” of cards to someone who would feed them into a machine that would present them to the computer for processing. A few hour later, you’d get a printout (on “Green Bar” paper). If something didn’t work, you’d have to figure out what was wrong, fix your program, go back and type out the new cards, insert them in the right places in your deck (their order was as important and their individual contents), and hand it over to run again. Another three hours later, you’d find out if you’d fixed the problem.

Well, as you might imagine, this was pretty tedious stuff. Especially with very large, complex programs.

I labored through much of the fall and into winter of 1977 on one such large program, a Senior Project, with success in it a requirement for graduation. The program grew large, there were many, many retries to get it just right, and my stack grew larger and larger.

By the time I finally got it all right, on a particularly cold December afternoon, my stack of cards measured somewhere around eight inches tall.

When I looked down at the Green Bar printout, and all, excepting some minor formatting issue, was as it should be, I did some 70’s version of a Tiger fist pump, and rushed out of the building to drive home.

Mazfest04_mazdarx3 Finding my Mazda RX-3 in the parking lot, I tried to open the door. No luck — dead frozen. Fortunately, this was a known problem, and I had a can of spray de-icer at hand. I put the card deck and printout on the roof, and set about gaining entry to my car.

It took awhile, maybe 10 minutes. I was freezing and it was getting toward dusk. When my key finally turned turned in the lock, I jumped into the driver’s seat, flipped the ignition and cranked up the heat.

A few minutes later, I had warmed up enough to drive. I reversed out of the parking spot, turned toward the exit, and gunned it…

…only to see each and every one of my stack of cards fluttering behind, like their accompanying snow flakes, in the rear view mirror.

Never slowed down, even a little. When you screw up, you gotta move on.

The next day, I sat for God-knows-how-many hours, retyping each and every one of those objects. I passed the course.

Saturday Morning Musings…

Saturday morning turning afternoon, Carmel Valley. I’m working on “Create Something” alternatives, against the possibility that none of the several “Run Something” opportunities I’m now pursuing mature into a good fit.

The old saw about necessity and invention is prominent in my thinking. I have the former in abundance. I’m trying to summon up the later.

In an earlier post, I commented on how the boundary area between the realms of atoms and bits is an interesting place to do business. I still very much believe that. But I also see opportunity all across the flow of digital content, by adding value as bits are captured, stored, shared, aggregated, transformed, searched, output and acted upon. I’m thinking about those in particular that are software centric (and therefor likely the basis for a business that’s not too capital-intensive) and enhance the value of data streams through re-combination and presentation in new contextual frameworks designed to provide new insights.

The developments of the past decade or so present what I believe to be unprecedented opportunities for new business formation:

The ecosystem for creation, marketing and deployment of applications is incredibly rich, across environments and platforms. Think App Store and cloud-based computing paradigms. In addition, digital content is being created, shared and consumed in prodigious volume. Recent evolution in popular culture, worldwide, has paralleled and complemented enabling technology trends. Facebook’s rise depended as much on us deciding, en mass, that we wanted to share thoughts, photos, movies, location and online discoveries with extended networks of our friends as it did on any of its technology building blocks.

Throw in a global recession and its resulting liberation of talent from previous bindings, and the picture is complete: a rich brew of components for a new enterprise.

I’m thinking about how those elements might be combined to create the basis for something interesting and valuable. Stay tuned.