Get to Work – The Immobile – Earth SOL 11

April 21


Can you decipher the line above?

At one point in my career I worked at Lockheed Georgia where they build C-5 and C-130 aircraft. I worked in the Engineering group producing technical manuals for these airplanes. What I learned quickly was that every aircraft differed from the previous ones. Most of the differences were minor, such as an improved avionics component, while others were more significant. In both cases the differences required unique documentation and instructions for the specific tail number.

We kept copies of documentation on all the aircraft. If you know these airframes you know they have an extremely long lifetime. And these planes were very complex. Jus the documentation required to be physically on the aircraft weighed around 300 pounds. If at any time, one of our planes had an “incident”, we would often be called on to recreate the documentation on board to assist in the investigation.

I remember times when a high profile event would occur and we would gather not only the documentation but also those individuals involved in the design, construction and manufacture of the plane.

During “the Martian” story, there were a couple of instances that required a look at historic technologies and techniques.

IMG_4874-768x576The first was the use of hexadecimal encoding to represent ASCII characters. The rudimentary communication method required something simpler than a 26-character alphabet.

As for the opening line in this post, it’s HEX and you can convert it at this web site.

The next instance of old knowledge becoming new knowledge came when Watney dug up the old Pathfinder vehicle. Upon discovering his intentions, the NASA team immediately converged on the Johnson Space Center where they still had a working Pathfinder in storage. But more than that, they called together all of the remaining Pathfinder original team members. It’s that old knowledge that could not be easily replicated.

The great thing about knowledge is that it always remains knowledge. It may become less relevant or seemingly outdated, but it’s still knowledge. And in some cases, as we face new challenges, that old knowledge may be extremely helpful in providing a perspective that is unknown to those attempting to address the challenge at hand.

Promoting a social business culture not only assists in finding new knowledge, it can also be instrumental in uncovering and revisiting much needed old knowledge.

I believe future IBMer’s using our social system will be able to investigate the decisions we made, the process we went through and the discoveries we encountered. This old knowledge will be instrumental in helping our successors face the challenges of their day.

Or maybe I’m just being an old guy.

Get to Work – The Immobile – Earth SOL 6

April 16

immobile-social-crap-300x200When you’re working with other people, communication is key. As we work today, most of us have a variety of available options. And when I’ve asked people why they prefer one method to the other, the response is usually around fit or function. But I think there’s more to it.

In The Martian the original team on the planet would radio back and forth with Earth. Based on the speed of light, this causes a time delay of 12 minutes. So an answer would appear 24 minutes after the asking.

I can imagine this results in taking some time in framing your conversation.

I think email is like that. It gives you a sense of completeness, a form that can be reviewed, stored in draft, mulled over until you’re finally satisfied to send it. The turn around time can be lengthy, obviously not because of speed of light, but more affected by complexity of day. But we accept this delay knowing the email conversation is a structured, well-accepted means of collaboration.

After being left behind, Mark Watney had to figure out some way to communicate his existence. There was NO communication channel. Through creativity and clever problem solving on both planets, Mark was able restore to service the Mar’s Pathfinder that had a camera and ability to send images. At first it was a matter of posting a binary question on a sign with “yes” and “no” signs on either side. When the Pathfinder relayed the picture of the question, Johnson Space Center personnel would remotely direct the rover camera to the left or right…giving Mark the answer. The binary interface was awful and time delay was huge, but it was communication.

In today’s world I would guess an instant message, use of emoticons (single character to represent a larger message), chat or maybe even a tweet would be comparable. It gets the job done but it’s difficult to be the container for an expansive conversation…or so we think.

Mark Twain once said, “Sorry for such a long letter. I didn’t have the time to write a short one.” When communicating, it’s imperative to not lose the message in the medium. You have to think a lot about shortening a message to its bare essentials.

Some of my first communications with my team after the accident came by way of chat message. Attempting to relate a complex story in a few phrases was challenging. I spent a lot of time reading back what I had written to make sure it was meeting my intention.

Get to Work – The Immobile – Earth SOL 3

April 14

immobile-300x279Recently I saw the movie “The Martian” starring Matt Damon. If you haven’t seen the film, I don’t think what I have to say will spoil much, but it also won’t make much sense. So I encourage you, even if you don’t want to follow this series of posts, check out the movie. It’s worth the time to watch.

The premise of the movie is a Martian storm causes an emergency evacuation of a team of astronauts on the planet. During the exit, Astronaut Mark Watney, is injured, lost and assumed dead. To save the rest of the team, the remaining astronauts blast off to the awaiting Hermes command ship for the return to Earth.

But Watney is alive and the remainder of the movie is about the challenges that arise and Mark’s creative response to each situation.

Last week I had a home accident that resulted in the tearing of the quadriceps tendons on both knees. I couldn’t stand or walk. On Friday, repair surgery was done. Because both knees are out at the same time, recovery and therapy can take from 10-12 weeks. That’s no travel and only in the later weeks will I be able to get around on anything other than a walker.

My role in IBM involves a lot of travel, customer meetings and speaking engagements. All of that has changed for the next 84 Earth SOLS (The term sol is used by planetary astronomers to refer to the duration of a solar day on Mars).

Since I will not be able to function like the rest of the IBM Worldwide team, I will have to learn how to “Get to Work” for the next 3 months using the tools I have.

In the slightly altered words of Mark Watney, “In the face of overwhelming odds I only have one option. I’m going to have to (social) the (crap) out of this.”

During the coming weeks, I will be posting my observations, challenges and experiences to this situation. I am extremely excited about how this is shaking up my viewpoint and how these new perspectives are going to generate new work experiments and ideas that can assist each of us work smarter.

As always, let me know your thoughts.

Have you figured out what your audience’s “chairs” are?

In 1996, the movie Phenomenon was released. It starred John Travolta and Robert Duvall. I have to admit to not being a big Travolta fan, but I’ve really enjoyed Robert Duvall over the years.

The main theme is about an individual, George (Travolta) who is strcken by something “unknown” and develops an bizarre abilities.

Early in the movie George (Travolta) is trying to win the affection of a new lady in town. She happens to be an artisan creator of wicker chairs, which are said to be pretty uncomfortable. So George offers to let her sell them at his store. And they sell out almost immediately. She’s thrilled and continues to create more and drops them off at his store. Unknown to her, George is buying all her chairs

The scene that struck me was not as relevant to the main story line as it was about relationships. It’s in a bar and some locals are discussing George’s situation. Doc (Duvall) is present and offers some advice:

chairsBaines: That’s all. It’s not like he really knew stuff. Just studied hard at chess and made us think he was changing but he never really changed at all. Ain’t that right Doc? He never really got any smarter. Doc?

Doc: Baines (pause) How’s your lady love?

Baines: We uh, we broke up.

Doc: Really? That’s too bad. Now George, he’s got a love at his side and she’s sticking with him. You know why? Because he bought her chairs. Pretty smart to me. Did you ever buy Lisa’s chairs?

Baines: (laughing) Gosh, Doc’s really drunk tonight.

Doc: Every woman has her chairs. Something she needs to put herself into, Baines. Ever figure out what Lisa’s chairs were and buy em? (pause) Nope. But you’re right about one thing, George hasn’t changed.

This is great relationship advice. Both personal and professional. And as a someone who has a chance to share a message with an audience, it’s essential.

If you ask successful speakers about the audiences with whom they connected and why it went so well, I would wager most will state “an understanding of the audience” would be one of their responses. Yes, you can spout facts and figures that are impressive and insightful, but unless they are relevant to the audience, it’s a waste of time.

Remember…every audience has “chairs”, something they care deeply about. And most likely, they’ve given you the honor of speaking because they believe you have something interesting and relevant to say about their “chairs”. Don’t disappoint them. Show you know and care about their “chairs”.

And as someone who has been honored to be married to the same lovely woman for 38 years, it’s good relationship advice as well.

Find your inner squirrel

I have a lot of trees around my home and have a great time watching the wildlife. Throughout the year I observe squirrels either hiding or seeking the food stuffs they depend on to survive. I had heard they aren’t as good as one might expect in storing and retrieving, so I did a little research and was amazed.

According to an study done at Berkley, a squirrel can remember 300-400 triangulations to locate the food they’ve hidden. In contrast, a human can only use 4 or 5 points to locate something they’ve tucked away. Maybe that’s why they say our digital folder structures should never go below 3 or 4 levels deep.

And with all of that, the average squirrel only locates 25% of what it’s hidden. What does that say about the human’s potential to find the stuff we’ve hoarded away?

So in respect to my inner squirrel, I created this presentation and post:

Enjoy…and happy hunting!

The 10 Commandments of TED Talks

I recently discovered a book titled “How to Deliver a TED Talk” by Jeremey Donovan. Now for anyone unfamiliar with, I warn you…once you go, there’s no turning back. To quote Jeremey, “TED is a nonprofit organization devoted to amplifying electrifying ideas from the domains of technology, entertainment and design.” And in the process, TED has developed a reputation as a hub and home to some of the best speakers and presenters on the planet. TED talks are a maximum 20 minutes long. And some of the best are under 10 minutes. But the content and delivery is often so engaging that you literally lose track of time. That’s why I offered the warning in the first place. But I’ve never regretted a minute that I spent listening to new ideas or experiencing new stories on Anyone familiar with TED and my material will attest that some of my best stuff is based on content originally discovered on TED. But this isn’t meant to be a TED commercial. Like Jeremey, I believe we can all learn not only from the stories, but from the storytellers.

TED has garnered its exceptional reputation by carefully selecting and vetting the talent they put on stage. And part of that defining process is what is known as the TED Ten Commandments. I had never seen them before and I recognize that a few of them may not easily translate to our own presentations and sales methods. For that reason, I’ve arranged the list in an order that I believe to be from the most relevant to our situation, down to those very specific to TED’s purpose.

  1. Thou Shalt Reveal Thy Curiosity and Thy Passion.
    If you’ve ever pitched to someone and their response was “I’m not interested”, it was because you weren’t interesting. If you’re not exciting, they can’t be. BTW…everyone in the room wants you to be interesting. So it’s up to you to deliver. Record yourself and then listen. Would you find yourself interesting? If not, rework and repeat.
  2. Thou Shalt Dream a Great Dream, or Show Forth a Wonderous New Thing, or Share Something Thou Hast Never Shared Before.
    No one really wants to hear “if Facebook were a country, it would be the 3rd largest”…unless they work for Facebook. Most everyone knows that. What your audience wants to hear is something unique…something fresh…something that makes them think.

Tips to enhance your Social “Signal to Noise Ratio”

Often people think that when you move to using social business practices, you’re just going to divert the mass of your inbox into some social stream. I was recently asked by a client for some tips (best practices) around social business…specifically around the concern for “a lot of junk showing up in the newsfeed”. Here is what I sent her.

NOTE: My response reflect how I use my enterprise social solution (IBM Connections)

Network with the people who have knowledge you can use (who you invite) or who work with you and can leverage your knowledge (who invites you).
If you go after numbers in your network, the noise level can cause issues.

Follow the people with whom you have specific relevant interest or current business need.
In IBM Connections you can network with someone and/or you can follow them. Our CEO, Ginni Rometty, doesn’t accept network invitations, so she’s not in my network. Yet I can “follow” her which notifies me of her social actions. I follow pertinent executives and I also use the “follow” feature for people on current projects that I want to keep focus on. When the project is over, I just “unfollow” them.

Tune your listening to what you’re trying to accomplish
In the “river of news” (our status updates), we can select to see the items from:

  • “I’m Following” (Updates for people and things I’m specifically following and responses to my own content),
  • “Status Updates” (From my network, people and communities) and
  • “Discover” (Updates outside my network, but suggested based on analytics, popularity, etc.)

This allows me to dial up the “signal to noise” ratio to meet my immediate interests.

If you find people or subjects too “noisy” and of little use, un-follow or un-network them.
Don’t think it’s a personal thing. It’s business. It’s your time. So use it wisely and don’t let the noise makers clutter your listening.

Use @ mentions only when necessary.
In IBM Connections, we can include an @ mention (ie. @Louis Richardson) in posts. These generate a notification to the person mentioned. This can be in the river of news or if preferred by the individual, it can generate an email notification of mention. In either case, it triggers a “look here” type action. Historic email is cursed because of these and social can likewise be abused. So change the way you communicate and only call specific attention to someone when you must….not when you can.

Change your thinking (and culture) from “Why should I share this” to “Why shouldn’t I share this”
Open conversations and sharing should be the default. Our current transaction based systems, like email, IM, etc. have taught us to limit the people to whom we send the message/answer/idea. That’s because from the receiving end, our inbox is a “to do list” that we don’t own. Social sharing is more about making information and ideas available…when needed. So sharing socially is not an imposition, it’s an open invitation.

As for what you post, if you find it interesting, it’s likely others will as well.
Again, you’re not imposing, you’re making it available. So post freely. I often post material that I think I’m probably the only one that might be interested. I do it so I can find it again when I need it. On many such occasions I’ve been surprised how many people have used and appreciated that material. Don’t try to figure out why it’s important or to whom it would be important…just put it out there to be discovered.

If you have other recommendations, please post them in the comments below. Also if you have any questions, let me know and I’ll do my best to assist you in finding the answers you need.

I wish I had a pencil and a piece of paper

I have a daughter, Brittany, who is currently loving life as a professional illustrator. But when she was 5 years old, we took her to Chattanooga, Tennessee and visited a popular attraction, Ruby Falls. The 145-ft. falls are in a cave, so the trip down builds anticipation. Upon arrival to the viewing area, the lights are turned out (which in a cave means pitch black) and music begins playing. Then the lights are turned back on and the falls are bathed in rich colors.

Amidst all the music and hoopla, I overheard my daughter simply say, “I wish I had a pencil and a piece of paper.”

She’s an artist and the majesty of what she was seeing, in her mind, could only be captured if she could but put it down on paper.

A similar event happened to me this past week at IBM Connect 2013.

I have always had a passion for the promotion of creativity in people and in our businesses. I have long believed that people are the center of our business and to connect with people we must reach them on their emotional level. I believe pictures are more powerful than words. I believe stories are more impactful than statements of fact. I believe in focusing on the “why” more than the “how” and “what”.

As I sat through the Connect Opening General Session, I was well impressed with the thought and product leadership being expressed on stage. Our product teams have done an awesome job in putting us in the market lead and our management team is working hard to make sure we leverage that leadership to help our customers succeed. And it is that leadership that has secured Kenexa as part of the IBM family.

When Rudy Karsan, Founder of Kenexa, took the stage…that was when I had my “I wish I had a pencil and a piece of paper” moment. As it turns out, I did. I had my iPad and Twitter, so I immediately reported on what I was hearing.

rudy tweet

Here is what he had to say:

CAA – (IBM) Connections Anonymous Association

Welcome to the first meeting of CAA. Although this is a virtual meeting, I know there are a lot of addicts like me who need to come forward. It’s said that the first step on the road to recovery is to admit you have a problem. So I’ll start our meeting:

(ME) “Hi, I’m Louis and I’m a Connections-aholic”

(YOU) “Hi, Louis”

(ME) “For most of my professional career I’ve experienced this insatiable desire to ask questions like ‘why’ and ‘what if’ and do things a bit differently. For years I sought out the side hallways of companies and obscure water coolers where I would find other ‘why junkies’ and we would share our ideas and ponder what it would be like if we could redefine processes or remove the rules.”

“Early on, like others, I tried to find a fix in ‘document repositories’. For years I was a dealer of ECM. I started out pushing lightweight doc management, like Dom.Doc, but I soon progressed to the hard stuff…FileNet. But my overindulgence of content creation didn’t offer any relief. In fact, it just made matters worse. I found myself creating content dozens of times a day and yet it wasn’t having the effect I expected. I recreated stuff I already had, I lost track of ideas, I forgot where I put stuff, my desktop became a mess…in short, I was literally losing my mind.”

“So I turned to what I thought was more of a ‘recreational fix’…email. After all, how much time and effort could I possibly waste in a conversational tool? Again, like a lot of you who know the depths of nested in-box folders and the ever pressing ‘mail quota’ monkey on your back. It soon became clear that this wasn’t meeting my cravings for creative and innovative interaction.”

“Then I was exposed to this new thing on the market…a ‘social’ substance that some guys and gals in a research lab cooked up. In the early days I started getting hits on ‘blue pages’ and ‘cattail’ (internal project names). But it wasn’t long before these lab rats added other powerful ingredients and I became full scale addicted. Its street name was ‘Connections’. For me the name made sense. It was like having all my brain synapses connected and firing in tandem.”

“I began seeing content I had never seen before. And it wasn’t the stale black and white single version stuff I had experience in doc mgmt and email. It was living, breathing, interactive stuff in full fidelity. It had the flat content I was familiar with, but it added a depth of credibility. I could see where this stuff had come from and where it had been…who cooked it up, who tasted it and what they thought about the rush. Content dealers I knew began pushing their ideas and sharing from the stashes of others.”

“And it was interactive. I was experiencing content that got better almost as rapidly as I could ingest it. And it was mobile…so I could address my insatiable questioning and drive for answers from anywhere and at any time. The previous side hallways and obscure water coolers were now at my fingertips. I could get an innovation fix anytime I wanted one.”

“And it was easier to find. ‘Communities’ began popping up where knowledge junkies would hang out and trade expertise and opinions. If you wanted to experience a ‘blog’ or ‘wiki’, it was always right there in easy reach. And it went mainstream when they combined it with my other addictions. I could get this social in ‘portal’ and ‘mail’. They even combined it with ‘FileNet’ which increased the potency of both components. I soon realized that there wasn’t a place or a time when I wasn’t a few clicks from another taste of Connections.”

“I’m Louis and I’m a Connections-aholic. It’s been mere minutes since my last social posting. I’m sorry, but you’ll have to excuse me while I hit the ‘post’ button and feel the rush one more time.”

EDITORS NOTE: I do not (and never have) condoned the use of illegal mind altering or performance enhancing substances. But the legal mind altering and performance enhancing substances, like Connections, are awesome!

For anyone interested in IBM Connections and our social business solutions, please visit

And on a more serious note, I hope no one has been offended by this posting. But it’s commonly known that the only two industries that have “users” are technology and the drug trade.

Playing a Smarter Workforce on the Pitch

Looking at me today, you might not believe it, but I played soccer (or football) in college and during my Air Force years. I’ve also coached and officiated. One reason I fell in love with the game was that the rules just made sense.

The other reason was the way players participated. You had a “position” which was based primarily on your specific skills and talents. And you were responsible for that “position”. However, when the opportunity arose, you could “switch” with adjacent players to take their role and they would assume yours. For instance, a defender with a clear open field in front, could progress the ball down the pitch and the midfielder would take care of the vacated defender’s space. The only player relegated to a well defined space was the keeper who was the last defense of the goal. And any fan will recall games where the keeper left the goal area near the end of the game to add offensive pressure. I once played on a team that had an agile 6’9” keeper who would be called forward on our corner kicks because of his height.

Because there was one ball and 11 players (per side), I learned that much of the time I spent on the pitch was going to be “without the ball”. But that didn’t mean standing around waiting my turn. It meant running into open space to create opportunity. It meant talking to the other players, keeping them informed of what was happening around them. It meant thinking of the team’s objective ahead of my own desire to control the ball.

Knowing I’m not a sports blogger, you’ve probably already discerned the parallels of soccer and business.

In a Smarter Workforce, the company (team) and its coaches (executives and managers) will strive to put the best players (employees) possible on the pitch (company). The employees should be aligned to their specific strengths and talents. Within the course of the game (doing business), employees may be given the liberty to extend beyond their current role into other spaces, knowing their adjacent player (peers) will cover and protect them. And they should always be talking (sharing) with others to keep the entire team informed and alert.

Be a Smarter Worker. When you don’t have the ball, look for the open space to create new opportunities. Don’t crowd other players; give them the space they deserve to perform to their best. Encourage others and share openly for the benefit of the entire team. And when you have the ball, keep your head up. Look for open teammates. Listen to those around you. And when you score, celebrate with everyone else on the pitch, because they made it possible.

Now go out there and play the best game that’s in you.

Let me know if I can assist you. And for more information on how you and your company can field a Smarter Workforce, check us out at Kexena – an IBM Company.