Day 19: Embeddedness

Picture1Embeddedness. A word that gets used a lot in academia and a lot by me. I teach strategy and claim, repeatedly, that firms are embedded within industries, which are embedded within a global context. You cannot escape it.

And it’s there in every day life. Yesterday’s early morning news hour reported that Karla Homolka had been volunteering at a local elementary school, Premiere Couillard announced plans to relaunch the constitutional debate, and Trump walked on the Paris Agreement. Montreal. Quebec. Canada. World.

Embeddedness. We cannot escape it. But it’s tricky. Because the further out the issue, the less control we have. Homolka volunteering at a local school? Avoid the school, protest, shout loudly and you will be heard. Couillard’s constitutional pursuit? The long and winding road of elections. The Paris Agreement? Become a US citizen, vote against in 2020?

Our reach is limited. We sit squarely in our community, but as we extend our arms to the outer edges, there is little to grab. But we are touched. What happens on the other side of the world finds its way back, always. In exchange rates, the price of food, the temperature, our basic human rights.

The Internet of things is turning everything into a device. Cows. Snake-eating snakes. Food in fridges. Soon we will be able to track every movement of anything that moves, and will find ourselves swimming in a world of data. Awesome.

But it will take time to attach all of those things. So in the meantime, using the things that are on the Internet today, those things that allow a young girl, one voice, to send a message to one of the most powerful leaders of the free world, is one way to reach the outer edges. The Internet amplifies. It helps us extend our reach, to touch those outer-edges, to affect change.

Day 16: Covfefe

If you are of a certain age, your Glory Days are locked away in memory. You may have one or two photo albums, loosely bound, pictures MIA, and those that remain, burnt from the sun or the rotating flash of your Kodak camera. When you went out, stuff happened, and the next day, broken telephone ensued. The truth was debatable. Denial worked.

Today, not so much. Even staffers have to sleep at some point, leaving those perched on the highest of perches to their own devices. Those things on the Internet propagate gossip at an alarming rate. What was said requires no interpretation, it is simply photographed and handed over to two friends, who tell a zillion. And so, we wake up in the morning, check our things, and find ourselves in a fit of laughter that persists throughout the day.  Covfefe.

Presidents, however, have some leeway. Even when the one paid to keep their eye on the ball does not, the staffer eventually wakes up, checks things on the Internet, faints, gets up off the floor, and makes a desperate call, screaming “DELETE LAST TWEET!” And the PR machine kicks into gear.

Teenagers, not so much. Their staffers are not even aware that there was a party or there are things on the Internet upon which an eye must be kept. Teenagers tweet, retweet, emote, in the heat of the moment (like those perched in high places), but unlike the famous ones, they fly solo. No net. No lit pathways to the emergency exit. No safe landing.

Day 15: Things on the Internet

Image result for screen beansAsk a kid when the Internet was invented and they might give you a quirky look. Ask them when Facebook was invented and they will likely say, “Ages ago.” To them, there is no Internet, just a bunch of things on a phone that they never answer. What sits behind all of those things – fibre optic cables that run under oceans, gateways, servers, hardware, firmware, software, protocols, security, base stations, wireless access points, radio waves, some satellite – no matter. Who needs to know how the engine works to drive the car?

Ask someone around my age, different story. The Internet has been around for decades, spurred by American military and academic funding, yanking devices into its fold during the eighties and nineties. It was like someone threw a bunch of carrot seeds across a garden. Networks of devices sprouted up everywhere, someone sewed them all together, and the web was born.

I was introduced to the computing world while in university. I was sitting in the computer lab when the mainframe suddenly crashed. A friend of mine handed me a 5¼ inch floppy disk and said “Boot from here.” [Stunned look.] I grabbed the floppy, jammed it into the drive and waited. Up popped the command prompt and the flashing cursor [stunned look]. Friend leaned over, typed in a few commands. My introduction to DOS was complete. I ran to the bookstore to buy myself a desktop. Orange characters, greyish keyboard, loud hard drive. And a dot matrix printer. I was hooked. Out went the type writer and white out, in came backspacing.

My first job was in the IT organization at Nortel, in networking. I pulled cables, bixed wires, rebooted computers and printers, walked the shop floor, changed keyboards. I tracked my work on a mac, with a mouse, using email and voice mail, on day 1. A flash introduction to the high tech world. A company of thousands of employees, working all around the world, connected through an internal email system and voice network (7 digit call to anywhere). Automation, efficiency, speed. I fell in love with it all. Lots and lots of things, and some people (see Day 12). And as the years went by, it just got better. Instant messaging, laptops, video conferencing, personal voice conference bridges (oh yes), teleworking. All of which ran on the Nortel equipment.

By 2000, the developed world was so enthralled with the Internet that demand skyrocketed. The Internet was going to transform everything. We would never enter a store again, groceries would magically appear on our doorstep, we would wake up in the morning with new clothes on our back. Babies would be born remotely. And big business set aside bucket loads of money to make it all happen.

Now, as we know, it didn’t quite happen that way. Interoperability of technology and applications required people to actually work together. So it wasn’t until competition became co-opetition that plug-and-play became a reality.

But all the while, something unexpected happened. Things started popping up on the Internet. Unexpected things. Things like facebook, snapchat, exchange-o-gram instagram, blogs – all sorts of things. Things that snuck into our day, and sucked our day away. Things that make my kids late to the dinner table, pull students’ eyes towards the ground, yank adults away from conversations. Things that drive me crazy.

But then this morning, as I got into my car to go to work, I peered down at my phone to read, “Traffic light. 30 minutes to work.”

I love those things on the Internet.

Day 12… er 13: When I grow up

Yesterday I woke up thinking about destiny. Interest measures are all the rage these days. Some kids are clear on what they want to be when they grow up. Others, not so much. So the schools run students through series of questionnaires, asking things like, “Would you rather play hide-n-go-seek or read a book?” over and over again, ten ways to Sunday, until (somewhat mysteriously) out pops a list of professions, careers, hobbies, etc…

Interest tests are not so new. I did one as a teenager and my results pointed to all sorts of interesting things: engineer, military officer, lawyer, public administrator, IRS agent (must have been a US test). I landed squarely in the ‘realist’ bucket – prefers to work with things, rather than people. I also apparently had a relatively low interest in writing.  So after some debate, off I went into mechanical engineering. I not only liked working with things, but also things that move (planes, trains and automobiles, construction equipment).

But while I was in engineering, I spent a lot of time on the flagball field and broomball rink, became a sports rep, joined some committees and did a minor in management. I kind of liked hanging out with people AND things. And then I joined an IT department, where I worked in technical support. More people and more things. I went into management, where I was able to solve problems about things, with people. Then took up coaching, working with things (soccer balls, ringuette rings) and players. Teaching seemed interesting. Lots of people, less things. And research, lots of things. Some people.

So I have been periodically confused and often look at my husband over coffee, wondering, “What should I be when I grow up?” I frequently review my list of ideal professions, wondering if I answered the questions incorrectly or if I was trying to trick the test. I have done both the paper and online versions of “What color is your parachute?” I have snooped through university programs playing the What-if game. I have toyed with the idea of becoming the US Secretary of State (probably because I’m watching Madame Secretary).

But yesterday, it dawned on me (maybe it took me a while to grow up) that who we are and what we want to be have less to with ourselves than with others. Watch a child squirm when an adult asks “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Children come up with all sorts of answers but do any of us honestly think that a child knows much about any profession at all?  What a child has is a desire to ‘do’ – not ‘be.’ They live in the present. They do stuff. They play with things, with people, games, read, write, watch tv, go on the computer. They do stuff.

And so do we. All of us. All day. We do stuff.  There might be a label to what we do, or not. But while we are doing, the label has no bearing. We do the things we like, and sometimes the things we don’t like. And if the latter outweighs the former, we think, “I want to do something else.”

What do I want to do? Tell stories, solve problems, help others. How? Working on it.

Day 11: Memorial Day Weekend

Image result for screen beansFriday. Memorial Day weekend. A day etched into my memory. A day that I missed my plane home to Montreal, from Raleigh, NC. The day that I discovered how many Americans travel on Memorial Day weekend (many). I left my last meeting at the Nortel campus a little late (common). I couldn’t stop talking. I hate goodbyes. 20 words of business talk – “I have to go” – 20 more words of business talk – “I really have to go” … and so it went.

Now, the Raleigh airport is not exactly like LaGuardia, or JFK, or Chicago, etc… It’s more inviting. Easy rental car drop off (I don’t like being on someone else’s schedule), kind security greeters (although they cannot take the luggage of internationally-bound travelers), and a relatively easy check-in process.  But then “bam” – a security line-up similar to the launch of a Springsteen album at Sam-the-Record-Man.

I took off my shoes, hopped up and down, sighed loudly, watered my eyes. After long days of meetings, I was eager to get  home. The holiday travelers, however, had plans of their own. I looked around, tried to make eye contact. Nothing.

Luckily the line shuffled along at a good pace. I threw my carry on (TravelPro crew bag, still have it 20 years later) onto the conveyor belt, yanked out my laptop, turned it on to prove it really was just a laptop, hopped through the security check, threw everything back into my bags, and ran to the gate, with 10 minutes to spare.

But (and this was a first), the airline decided to close the doors “early.”  Yes, early. A word that should not exist in the airline industry. Leaving early is against all rules. Especially if you look at the manifest and say “We have a passenger MIA.”

I think I yelled a bit. Probably not too loudly. But loud enough for me to think the gate agent would eagerly run out onto the runway, block the plane and demand that they open the doors.

The gate agent didn’t flinch. She looked me in the eyes, and said “Please go to the ticket desk. They can assist you.” And thus began my 18 hour trip home from Raleigh, a trip that normally took me five hours.

Day 10: The Cloud … & the rain

As I sit here backing up my daughter’s phone, to the cloud, and back again, round and round we go, until all of the files land (hopefully) in the right place (on the new phone), I cannot help but think back to a day around 20 years ago.

I am quite sure I was leaning against a wall and staring at my feet (habit) in the office of one of the IT senior managers, who wasn’t actually there. In his seat was the VP of Network Services, feet on the desk, cowboy hat tipped to the side. Well, he didn’t actually have a cowboy hat on, but he might as well have. He was from Nashville. Or maybe Raleigh, not sure. His director was also there, sitting near him – my boss’s boss’s boss. And the cowboy was going on and on about the pc upgrade program and how we had to do it but he kind of wished we didn’t.

You see, the cowboy said, desks… laptops… they will be obsolete very soon (remember, this is the late nineties). And from that moment forward, for about 30 minutes, we cartooned a world where employees could log in from anywhere, on anything, anytime, and do their work. Not into big mainframes (which we had at the time, running at about 256 MB of memory and about the size of 4 deep freezers) but nimble applications, creating the illusion that you were working quietly on your own, personal computer.

We doodled on the board, thought about the cost savings in support (this gets IT executives very excited), and guessed at when it would happen. Cloud computing.

We certainly were not the only ones in IT talking about it. The idea had been swimming around for years. But the vocabulary was becoming concrete. And everyone in the IT department was getting very excited.

And then 2000 hit, and 2001 and …. sigh.  Nortel was a fantastic company for so many of us.

Day 9: Changing lanes

I take the same path to work every day. Well, every day that I go in. Sometimes I don’t. Go in, that is. But on the days that I do, my driving pattern is highly predictable. I could do it with my eyes closed if it weren’t for the other guys.

On the first day I drove into work back in June 2013, and for the weeks that ensued, I was not so predictable. I tried every path imaginable in an effort to reduce driving time; I will drive farther to get there earlier. And so by July, I established paths based on traffic volume. I now know precisely when it’s better to get off at Cavendish and take Cote-de-Liesse, rather than squeaking along 40 East to Decarie, and taking the infamous left side exit ramp (vivre le Quebec).

I change lanes often, based on which lane I believe moves faster at any given point in time. But… my lane changing pattern doesn’t change. Most of the time, that is. Exceptionally, I think, “Maybe this will be faster,” but minutes later I’m usually banging my head on the steering wheel, swearing, even if the windows are open. So most of the time, I stick to the lanes I have chosen.

“Stay in your lane” has become quite a popular expression these days, especially if you watched the last season of American Idol (I have my shows). It’s a nifty way of giving a compliment (you are great at what you do) but my hunch is that it’s more of a slap in the face: “Stick to what you know, know your place.”

Driving in to work today, I realized that my lane changing doesn’t change. It’s comfortable. I can drink my coffee, eat my bagel, talk on the phone, stare at the sun, ponder the meaning of life (which I do often) and plan my day. And then as I turn onto Cote-Ste-Catherine, to drive up to HEC Montreal, I join the Formula 1 racers for the last few minutes of my trip. At the top of the hill, I coast into the underground parking lot and, depending on the time, know exactly where I will park.

It never changes, I thought. Why?  Because the destination is always the same. Change the destination, change the path to get there.