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managing Hope…

by | Nov 10, 2020 | Hope, manage, Santana

It was always dicey traveling out of the Ithaca area in the winter, which is basically not July 😉 We were heading to a meeting down at IBM Research in late January to discuss the handoff of the design to manufacturing, and 4 of us were standing in the Binghampton airport having just had our flights canceled.  Brett suggested we rent a car and drive the 4 hours through the Catskills mountains… and if you know Binghampton, for them to close that airport, it has to be VERY bad. Nonetheless, he prevailed, and we were now going 80 mph down Route 17 through snow and ice which was incredible, particularly for a Texan.  I suggested strongly he slow down, and he turned to me and said, “What?  It’s just Winter!”

I had neglected to notice that he had been raised not just in Michigan, but the Upper Pennisula where even July was sketchy. He was an exceptionally talented engineer and someone that my boss immediately identified for our team.  He had pioneered some changes in the process that not only sped up delivery, but also improved quality. We had located there because the large FSD facility there was going to be the “manufacturing” site for our hardware.  Our division President Hoped to avoid the “boom and bust” nature of federal procurements by adding some commercial manufacturing capacity. And to push those through this very staid, risk-averse culture, we would need more than just his crazy driving skills to get it to change. We would also need Hope that our team of 10 could literally re-energize the large behemoth that IBM had become… 

Carlos loved all kinds of music, and was constantly on the lookout for songs that he could record that.  Included on their first album was a song that was written by a jazz guitarist, “Sonny” Henry, and released in 1967 by a similar Latin jazz group lead by the percussionist Willie Bobo. We are no so accustomed to the Singer/Songwriter era that we assume that the people recording the music are the writers, and by the end of the ’70s, certainly, that is mostly true. Santana would put their unique style to it, but it is not as different as you might think. This was their first top 40 hit, peaking in 1970 at number 9, which again put them instantly in the spotlight.  The recording today is from almost exactly a year after their set Woodstock at Tanglewood – a location near where they had broken out, but worlds apart now as headliners with a top 10 hit. I enjoy watching the band, particularly Carlos who plants himself happily literally in the center of the sound, drums beside and in front of him, and the other members dancing around the stage…

I have worked for 2 large “pure” research organizations, set aside for the Hope that people assume is needed for creative innovation.  Filled with PhDs from around the world, they would be set up in small teams to look into edges of different corners of technology, and IBM being one of the biggest companies had a huge installation called the Thomas Watson Research Center.  The one you normally would see was the “main” lab up in the rolling hills of Westchester County New York near Yorktown Heights.  The work on actual computer architecture and design was done at an offsite building south of there, distinguished by an enormous Yellow Pole.  It always made me think “Caution:  Ego’s Center”.  My boss was one of the few that didn’t have a PhD, and had been brought in to help bridge the gap to actual product divisions. Having worked across many of those groups, and also with the large classified portions of the Government, he had led the development of a very large computer that promised to be easy to program with “normal” programmers.  It was now operating and producing many papers that are still referenced as important to computing, but the classified community had withdrawn their support, leaving us to know figure out who else could buy these concepts. And within Research, competing projects were taking on more “prestige” as the “new” thing, and his team was slowly opting out of continuing to support this work – their right as a Researchers…

Having been beaten down by the organization for many years, he was brilliant, but also brought a sense of dread and doom to many conversations. It was probably where I first actually did what I now would call “coaching”, but at the time, Brett and I just noticed that meetings were better without him in them 😉  This one went well enough, but also you could sense the torch of innovation was slowly dimming.  In one of my classes about NeuroLeadership, they talk about creativity and generative activities are stimulated when you are calm, present, and less stressed.  And… most of our work is done in a very different state, particularly now.  And it is contagious… whatever state you are in can be picked up by others. If you want to generate Hope in yourself, and also those around you, your grandmother had it right.  Take a Deep Breath, and change your brain so you can start to actually change your Evil Ways.

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