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Leading with Music presents: Bands

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engaging The Fall…

engaging The Fall…

I rarely run across a song and a group that I have never heard. And not bragging… just when you make it your business to notice and know music, it is a shock. Recently people have given me the tagline “… and his encyclopedic knowledge of music” It is why I love listening to Sirius XM Deep tracks… and Wikipedia 😉 Between them, I can still occasionally reward my brain with something that it has to process for the first time… and, wonder is something that only gets better when you use it… often…

renewing and ReLaunching leadingWithMusic

renewing and ReLaunching leadingWithMusic

The days of summer are waning, and I hope you have had a chance to renew a bit. We have had the great fortune to gather with our extended family a number of times, which helped me reflect a bit on what the last few years have taught us. 

renewing Powerfully

renewing Powerfully

As we were standing in the small conference room off of the Vice-Chairman’s office, we were surveying some of the memorabilia that he had collected over his Powerful career. One of the few engineers to actually ascend to this stratospheric level, he had been my idol when I started. If he could make it as an engineer, I had a chance also. Our President was playing with a ball-bearing race, with the silver rolling balls exposed that he was gently nudging around the circle. He turned to my boss and said, “… at least one of these is mine”

Power execution

Power execution

Our dinner out that night in Manhattan was lovely and relaxed. Mostly because we were killing time… until an overnight flight would deliver a replacement card for a demo scheduled the next morning. In setting up our demo at THE seat of Power of IBM at that point, 590 Madison Avenue, in the boardroom no less, I had discovered the hardware was dead. And, there was something called DeltaDash that at that point was slightly more common than FedEx, and would bring us a new one at 3 am. No problem, we would drive back and have a few hours before our 10 am demo.

The wonder of Power

The wonder of Power

As we deplaned in Atlanta, we were looking for directions to the private jets section of the Airport. Catching a taxi across the tarmac, we arrived where the Powerful people fly, and waited for our Division President to arrive. We were due for an important update on the project he was the Executive Sponsor for, and the only time we could find was to fly back with him from Atlanta to DC… So if you are wondering, we flew down from DC to fly back with him … to DC.

observe the Power of Power

observe the Power of Power

“Who the ___ are you anyway?” was the exasperated shout from the senior Engineer and IBM Fellow from our Austin facility. With the precision of my national debating days, I had just reduced his arguments against what our small (but growing team) was doing into shreds and now I had him calling me names. Perfect. Victory. The facility manager who had brought all of his Power to this meeting had to step in and calm the waters. “I will take your ideas back for consideration and we will be back in touch.” And with that, we observed his team gather their things and leave…

Power partners

Power partners

As I finished talking about our project, there was a pause in the conversation while the Senior VPs were considering what I had shared. My boss, now my partner, was leaning back as he always did, even though he knew most of these very Powerful men well. By now he had confidence in my ability to communicate difficult concepts quickly and convincingly, which freed him up to study and read what was really happening and not being said…

managing Power

managing Power

With the prospect of working for a person I did not respect, it also became clear to me that people who win proposals are often not the right people to perform the work. In fact, the Power had quickly shifted from those who were Clever to those who were… well… more predictable to manage. The combination had resulted in my friend, the AA, setting me up with a new opportunity to work on another important division project that “needed some help”…

Power engagement

Power engagement

A warm handshake and “Thank You” from my exec was worth the long hours it took to win the Space Station contract. What he said next, was not “… and I would like you to work for ____ now to help integrate the teams.” A few of my peers had had the “opportunity” to work for him already, and we had heard about his use of Power in not complimentary terms over weekend beers. Luckily, my own network had offered me a path forward that would give me a front-row seat to what Power really is … and isn’t…

renewing Clever

renewing Clever

Having poured a good portion of my life into the “Circus” project over the last 6 years, I was not going to simply sit back. It may or may not have been renewing, but I stayed up all night polishing our “appeal” of the Division edict demanding the use of older hardware, and turned it into a Clever and compelling approach. The net was that we had a very cost-competitive bid because of the savings on ground systems, the easy access to commercial off-the-shelf tools, and the general market appeal of the PC. I walked our exec through it, but I couldn’t go with him. Imagine what that must have felt like to him – once again taking a Clever and risky approach into a President’s office…

Clever execution

Clever execution

The code name for the series of PC’s that were the centerpiece of our Space Station Demonstration Lab was appropriately:  “Circus”. All the Clever code names were things having to do with “circus” – like the network was “Ringmaster”, which is what I had now become. Our proposal would incorporate all of the elements simulating execution of the whole computing infrastructure. We had Fiber Optic Networks, Color Displays, real-time test equipment, all coordinated with a simulation environment that leveraged IBM’s PC’s in every element. Sadly, we had just been told, our proposal was mandated to bid the Division Standard 1750 chipset – or don’t bid…

The wonder of Clever

The wonder of Clever

One of my constant refrains was “how can we compete with our cost structure so out of line??” As we had finished our prototype to great accolades, we were now in the process of putting together a real proposal to get this system sold and installed into the Shuttle. I priced out an “empty” box – that is NOTHING in it, and NO actual design work. In 1983, that was $250,000 for each piece of equipment, and a Non-recurring cost of over $4 million. Finally, someone pointed out what I was missing… and no wonder. “This is a cost-plus based business – your profit was 6% of your costs… “

Clever observation

Clever observation

August 18, 1981 would change the world – the day the IBM PC was announced. Built by a small, Clever team at their Lab in Boca Raton where Dad had worked when I was in junior high, the impact on all of us is still profound. For me specifically, I had grown up around microcomputers, having built one around the previous version of the Intel processor, and had been observing since then what would be coming. As I came home excited and talked about the new computer that we would get at home, my wife observed, “Does this mean we are getting a raised floor?”

partners in Clever

partners in Clever

They had been in a conference room for nearly 2 days now, reviewing problems with our Division’s largest program. These partners had been collected to recommend changes to get it back on track. It was to be a state-of-the-art new approach to computing on a new state-of-the-art submarine. All eyes had turned to the senior architect of the systems that were used on the Space Shuttle who had been flown in. He paused … and after a very uncomfortable silence said “It’s a Bar problem”. Unclear someone asked… and he clarified. “We can fix this …we might as well go drink.”

Clever management

Clever management

Our design danced to life “right on schedule”, a Clever way of saying we made it just in time. After struggling for weeks, our 2nd Line manager had “offered” that if we didn’t have it running soon, they would fly in some “real” engineers from our main site to “help” us. As you might expect, it was not music to our ears … and that type of management triggered exactly the response he wanted. Maybe not the TONE he expected, but it had gotten our system running, and mostly on schedule. A good thing, as I was now the Project Manager…

engaging Clever

engaging Clever

It was another late night in the lab, and by now we had been slugging away at our project for over 18 months. It was just me and my office mate/partner, everyone else had long gone home. We KNEW our design would work but it just was not coming to life. Each reset, it would make it a bit further than before… then, nothing. Finally, I looked at the pattern coming up, and realized that 6 of the signals never changed. “I think those memory chips are bad”. Replacing them, we hit the reset button… and up came the greatest 7 characters I have ever seen: MACSBUG.

Effecting Right renewal

Effecting Right renewal

We were wrapping up one of our last tests at Berkeley, up the hill further, into the Bevatron – a device that is a football field in diameter – such that it can generate Billions of electron Volts per particle. As such, you don’t need a vacuum, and simply set up your target in an open room. Surrounded by thick concrete, we were just taking down our computer when an ambulance arrived. A young 14-year-old was wheeled into the same spot, and a large metal mask put over most of his head – a small hole where the beam would go into his brain…

Effectively executing Right

Effectively executing Right

Sitting in the conference room waiting, I was nervous about what was about to happen. The experiment had been a success, and we should be celebrating as a group, an Effective use of all of the talents of the team. Sadly, I had jumped the gun and helped get attention through my friends in communications, and now they wanted to feature the team in an upcoming publication. Sadly, it was not the Right thing to do, and the rest of the team was furious with me, particularly the group that was supposed to be “in charge”. And, my boss had accompanied me up to be confronted and what I thought would be an execution by the other members of the team…

The wonder of Effectively Right

The wonder of Effectively Right

The sun wasn’t up as we rose for the 3 am bus ride. We were up early because the time of the launch was 7 am, and with traffic near the Cape, we didn’t want to be late. I had been invited to come down for the launch of our experiment which, through no small set of wonders, we had Effectively completed on time and within the Right budget. It was now stowed in the back of the Space Shuttle and was about to blast off with STS Mission 41-G, the 17th flight.

observing Right Effectively

observing Right Effectively

As we were chatting before dinner in the large ballroom, I was surrounded by the “royalty” of the Radiation Effect community. Admittedly a little off the main road of the IEEE, it was nonetheless THE place to meet, greet, and talk with everyone who knew anything about Radiation effects. The decor had some eggs on the buffet bar as a garnish – and you would assume they would be hard-boiled. Our Principal Investigator, a jokester, picked one up and cracked it on the man standing next to me… where it exploded all over his bald head…

Effectively partnering Right

Effectively partnering Right

As I watched the fog roll across the bay, the Golden Gate Bridge was the first to disappear. Then San Francisco became just a soft glow. Now the fog was over Berkeley and coming up the hills where it was 3 am. Completely covered now, the moon was just a glow, and I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face. I stepped back inside just in time to help my partners change out the current device for the next one in our testing. I was standing inside of one of the world’s most powerful devices – yes – inside…

managing Right Effectively

managing Right Effectively

“Don’t be ridiculous. I have just invested $15 Million dollars in your development. Now get back to work”. With that, the young executive exited the CEO’s office with his letter of resignation torn in half and handed to him. He had gone from one of the top executives in the company to losing the current equivalent of $200 Million dollars. Thankfully not me, but that investment Rightly paid off as he was our Executive… and an outstanding and Effective manager 25 years later when I joined his team in Houston.

Do you engage Right or Effective?

Do you engage Right or Effective?

While we didn’t realize it, we were all engaged in an over 10-year plan to keep IBM as the provider for the onboard computers and software for the Space Station. The Shuttle was designed and built in the ’70s as a “Space Truck” – you could fit a School Bus in the Payload Bay. Its mission was to build the Space Station – the next element in a chain that started with the first space experiment Explorer in the 1950s. My work would be pulling those pieces together – using the truck to put up a basic science experiment that could allow modern computers to be used. Would I be Right, or Effective, or neither??

renewing Diversely

renewing Diversely

My real job for this season was to design a memory card for the Display System of the Space Shuttle. Our funding was to prototype what a newer computer and color display could do to help automate the very manual ways the Space Shuttle actually worked. If you have ever used an HP calculator, their Reverse Polish Notation approach to math was very similar to what the astronauts did to command the vehicle to fly. It was very labor-intensive, and our mission was to renew that technology from a mid 60’s torpedo computer into the 80’s…

Diverse execution

Diverse execution

So, no problem. I had to get the facility that thought they were the center of ALL radiation knowledge in our division to work with the other facility that manufactured ALL the equipment we could build. And both thought they were the pre-eminent facility in our Division… And did I mention by this point, I had executed repeated railings about how behind the times both organizations were? And not in small ways – in a couple of cases taking on older and wiser leaders with both memos and in-person indictments of the lackluster execution from both…

wonderful Diversity

wonderful Diversity

The lack of cooperation and coordination in business shouldn’t have surprised me, but it did. Today it was very clear as I was talking with the lead investigator of an experiment that had already flown in space. Sponsored by the part of NASA that was dedicated to non-manned flight, they literally hated those of us working on Manned Space. They had, in fact, put the first United States satellite in space, but since the Astronaut crew was announced, their budgets and centrality to the NASA mission was dwarfed. It was no wonder that he was very hesitant to even talk with me…

Diverse observation

Diverse observation

From my days in Debate, I observed that you could follow links between documents. Remember this is LONG before hypertext and the web, but at the end of papers are the references. You start to see the same papers referenced many times, and you find there are typically only 10 real papers you need to understand. Here I found a couple on a model of what happens in space, a couple about measuring devices in a cyclotron, and a couple about an experiment that actually flew in space. And I observed that none of them had worked together…

partnering Diversely

partnering Diversely

“You have learned how to learn. It is not about the topics or the subject matter. With these tools, anything can be understood”. This framing of Diversity is one that my parents had enforced with all of the IBM swag around the house. I thought it was sorta corny, and also sorta redundant – why do you need a sign that says “THINK”. Isn’t that the thing that differentiates us from the animals – another phrase that rang out often. As I started to work with new partners, it was clear this may actually be needed…