Year of The Rabbit as we welcome the Year of The Dragon

Sunday, January 1st, 2012

2011 was the best or one of the better years of my life. Maybe because it had to be for what choice do we have?! It passed quickly as I feel as though I had just taken last year’s Christmas tree to back of the yard when we brought home the tree for this season. I well remember the minutes that passed for days, especially on the mid-watch at sea, so I have to be fair in admitting that the fleeting passage of time indicates times that are.. fun? interesting? fulfilling?

I notice more of the heroes of my youth and the fixtures of those days pass on. The vanishing of Steve Jobs affected me most as he represented the rest of us who now have the power to make a difference by Thinking Different thanks to him. Uplifting was the new borns welcomed by my Navy friends, Chris, Noah, Josh and Garth.

The satisfying surprise of the year was my son’s acceptance into Naval Flight School. There are rumors of Defense Department budget cuts with reductions in officer rolls. For now, he’s slated for training in Pensacola after May graduation. I remind myself by telling others that uncertain times create certain opportunities; of course, I was surprised when this happened to him / us. My other son’s interest in lacrosse (interested in the way that birds are interested in flying) and a chance discussion at one of his games, propelled me to qualify as a high school lacrosse referee. After 40 plus assignments, I can confidently describe myself as having advanced from an Awful ref to a Bad ref. This game grows nearly recklessly with support from ESPN and Nike. I hope and plan to ref over the next 10 years to see how far and fast it goes.

The year began with the best meal of the year, lunch at Auberge du Soleil in Napa Valley which even impressed the Belgium clients. In spring, I returned to Apple in Cupertino and in the fall, I visited Stockholm for the first time. Silicon Valley is, indeed, an inspiring wonder of creative density; Stockholm, despite the brevity of its beautiful weather, is a wonder of civility, physical and crafted beauty. Funny to me is that it reminds me of San Francisco because of its definition by water, love of food, unpredictable weather and appreciation of all things off-beat (at least to others). Thankfully, everyone recommended the Vasa Museum.

In my job as an Internet Strategist, I gravitate towards larger financial firms, mostly banks, who, although believing that there is something to the social media habits and hobbies of younger folks, they’re just not quite sure how to get involved in a programmatic or profitable way. Despite the opportunity-wasting bickering amongst our political druids and the furor of ‘Let’s solve the Greek problem so we can worry about the Spanish problem so we can get to the Italian problem,’ not all banks operate equally and many, especially middle-sized ones, were interesting and challenging to meet this year. Banking executives readily acknowledge that their own customer relationships have to become characterized by sharing and learning more than blind transactions, yet are stymied by the weight of their recent past. I advocate that the underpinning of what all of our organizations are suffering is that knowledge is no longer power because everybody knows. How does one readily change a culture, be it political, religious, financial or even the athletic department when the entity fortified itself with the belief that they either know something or can withhold something from somebody else. Brings to mind those extravagant suits of armor that required a hoist to seat the lord on his horse only to have him taken-down in battle by a longbow from afar.

In parallel with my clients in the Fortune 100 are the clients of Blue Pane Studio who encourage their unsure department heads to explore the potential of smart phones and apps. It’s a shame that neither the HP nor the RIM tablets made favorable impressions in the market. I had high hopes for Amazon’s Android-based Fire tablet and this, too, seems rushed to market. Despite its success, I feel that the iPad and the application potential of tablets in general would benefit from a credible Android alternative to the iOS. Meanwhile, with a portfolio of 40+ apps for iPhone and Android smartphones, Blue Pane has a handful of iPad clients lined-up for 2011. We’re grateful to the National Cancer Institute, Dartmouth College, The National Institute of Health, the WIC program at USDA and The Research Triangle Park as bringing an app to life with a partner from afar requires an honest and faithful relationship. Curious is that the four web sites that we bid for never came to pass. I don’t mean that we didn’t get the work; I mean that they never got built or overhauled. The process of web site overhaul is too expensive and requires to much organizational time and resources. Apps deliver what clients, the fabled users, truly care about. I’m eager for tablets to help change how training and education, both scholastic and organizational, is created and delivered. And I guess that the video capabilities of these devices will be vital to the new processes of sharing learning.

In mid year, I retired or turned-over the helm as President of the RTP Chapter of the US Naval Academy Alumni Association. Now this is the way that we should go out: not with a box of personal effects or a strained conversation about a ‘new direction for the team’, but on schedule having helped one’s successor into the seat. Plus, I received a framed gift of thanks. Leading the Board of Directors introduced me to a broad range of military personnel: veterans, female officers, retirees, ROTC midshipmen, business school students, sea cadets, Marines, Rangers and parents of midshipmen. The privilege of helping them in small ways, the benefit of laughing with those whom I could trust implicitly even though we may have just met, the honor of sharing experiences with those who contributed so much more than I have, all enriched my life and caused me to realize how shallow can be the context of everyday jobs where sincerity and self-sacrifice are often little valued despite the sloganeering and mission statements.

The representative event of 2011 was the Fuji bicycle that I bought from Owen the Australian who lives across the street. In a generous act of friendship, he offered one of his bikes – he is an expert rider – when I asked how to upgrade my 15 year old Raleigh that I bought after the handy-man broke into our garage and stole my bike and Alexander’s. We didn’t know that he would be that handy! As with fine tailoring, properly aged wines and nearly everything else that costs alot and is worth it, once you ride a well balanced, correctly tuned and lightweight bicycle (mine is a cross-over model), it’s stunning how clunky and inefficient becomes previously well-revered ride. It seems that every bit of energy that I delivered to the new bike via its rubber-studded peddles, shot me down the road as I had never experienced. Former hills and distances seem to change even though I recognized that I was different and the difference. So began 2011.

The silver and bronze medal moments of instruction arrived, as does nearly all enlightenment, away from the throne of productivity, i.e. my desk with MacBook. At an late August luncheon with Swedish executives in Palisades, New York, we sat around an outdoor table ‘catching some rays.’ This is what Swedish people do when favored with late summer sun. Our day together centered on how to use the popular technologies of all things with an ‘i’ plus their sister and brothers of social media to help their bank to catch-up, keep-up and to get a bit ahead of the interests of their clients. What is the formula for changing that which works well?! The vacillating fortune of RIM, makers of Blackberry, is vivid proof for executives that being both good and popular is not a guarantee of survival in the marketplace. Our social media conversation led, inevitably, to comments on the expectations of succeeding generations. Parental concerns of employment, marital satisfaction and social adjustment aside -which we all shared- someone remarked, as they always do, that the members of Gen X or Y or Gen Something have little or no sense of organizational loyalty, quoting how may careers, 9 is a common number, that they’ll experience in a working lifetime. I injected my observation that the young developers working at Blue Pane Studio nearly despise the phrase ‘manager’ as they feel technically superior to most of their organizational elders. “They do not want to be managed, but they do seek guidance and instruction.” The Swede to my right nodded in reply, “I’ve been a manager for 25 years; I’ve been a leader for 3.” Silver to Bjorn.

We live in a cultivated forest shared with Duke University. Although not far from state and interstate roads, we enjoy the array of outdoor neighbors including a fox that walks with dogs (in the dark, in the morning), hawks, turkey buzzards, possums, squirrels and birds of many varieties. Their sights and sounds enrich my ‘staring at the screen’ work posture. The deer are on the other side of the highway, thankfully. We never see the raccoons except after a traffic accident and we hope never to meet one of the copperhead snakes that an owl or cat catches at night and deposits near the mailbox about once a year. From time to time, a wren will build a nest in the garage or in the mailbox on the porch. For the first time in ten years, a mourning dove built and occupied a nest on the wood pile next to the front door. When we exited the house, she or he would exit the nest revealing two tiny eggs. Some geo-location info is in order. Our porch is about fifteen feet away from the yard and 6 feet off of the ground. We would leave through the garage door to avoid disturbing the brooding dove and we’d peek from the living room curtains to check on her progress. One day shortly after arrival, the nest was empty, completely empty. No shell bits of any size. I wondered if baby doves eat the shells for their first pre-flight meal. I returned to the nest a couple of times that day for signs of birth and flight. On about my third trip to the front porch, I inspected the wood pile for evidence of the hatching. As I bent over the second level of the stacked wood, I peered into the black eyes of a black snake. Tessa and I used a broom handle to push the interloper into the garden where we re-located it to the edge of the yard. How did the snake know of the location of the nest intrigued me. An easy question for The Google. Snakes are on the lookout for repeated flight patterns of birds and will follow them to their nests. Up the side of a brick house onto a wood pile is but a short intercept for a six foot black snake. Fate takes many forms and one never knows who is watching. Bronze to Elaphe obsoleta.

There I was at the IBM Centennial on 16 June 2011

Friday, June 17th, 2011

Quite the achievement to have begun prior to the First World War remaining a well established brand in Barack Obama’s presidency. I believe that IBM is among our national treasures if not for its potential and if only for its heroic contributions to our country over the past ten decades. As with all champions, within its strength lies the seeds of its demise as it wrestles with the unsettling premonitions of the prevailing global economy. There is certainly much to admire in its people as there is much reason for concern as its own customers struggle mightily in adapting to and adopting the changes wrought by technology, particularly the speed at which markets gather information and make their own decisions. In my own professional lifetime, the corporation journeyed from market advantage by virtue of its access to business machines of various sizes and designs, typewriters to computers, office buildings and medical benefits, to the present where its seems that the average business enterprise struggles to understand the popular tools readily accessed by its customers, and even, employees, which are often superior to those provided at work.

The luncheon on the 100th recalled my first encounter with IBM. I was a customer in the Material Control Department of Bath Iron Works, circa 1984. We successfully upgraded our mainframe, from DOS to MVS as I recall, and implemented a suite of packaged software that was the rage of consultants at the time, MRPII. My role within the Department expanded to include traveling around talking to clients and partners, especially the Navy and Littons Industries, our construction partner, about the lessons-learned of our project. After a while, I thought that maybe I had a chance to apply for a position with IBM as wearing a nice suit seemed preferable to work boots and winters in the shipyard. I arranged for an interview with the Branch Manager in Portland, Maine (Branch Offices and their Managers were the fiefdoms and lords of its marketplace empire in those days. Today, nearly 50% of the 425,000 international employees work from home). I dressed-up, drove to Portland after hours. I remember the time of day because every single desk in the Branch was cleared and locked with numerous signs reminding employees to clear their desks and to lock the contents. Entered Wally’s office; we met a couple of times before. Look on his face told me that this was a courtesy interview and not an inspection of my potential contribution to his company. We chatted politely and briefly, very briefly. He began with the opener as I recall, ‘so it seems that you’re interested in working for IBM.’ ‘Yes!’ I nearly exclaimed as I seized the chance to describe how my MRPII experience might suit me well for a role in sales or systems engineering. He nodded and related a personal story of how competitive was the prevailing computer marketplace where customers sought the low-cost provider more than the very best solution. Loooong pause with head nodding; eye contact; staring; me nodding; me staring. ‘You know,” he continued, ‘I have a friend who makes $150,000.00 selling shoes to department stores around New England. There are lots of ways to make money.’ Me nodding, me staring in absolute bewilderment at that remark. Wally rose, offered a handshake and thanked me for coming over. ‘See you around the shipyard,’ he said.

I guess that is really the tale of how I ended-up in North Carolina and spent most of fifteen years in software start-ups of one type or another. Not finding a sales job in Maine gave my wife a chance to study landscape architecture in North Carolina where the move south suited us both.

As I looked around the cafeteria on Thursday’s Centennial after the multitudes side-stepped through the bbq chow-line, I wondered how many of those present, especially the 600+ retirees, sat in a Branch Office. Many, I surmised. Even though we were connected by the path of IBM’s 100 year journey, I recognized that in some curious and necessary way, IBM probably has changed more since 1984 than I have. At any rate, despite the very casual attire for the occasion, out of respect for the moment and my amazement at my inclusion (when I really think about it), I wore my best suit with my best pair of shoes, Wally.

Formerly President of the United States Naval Academy’s Alumni Association’s North Carolina Research Triangle Park Chapter

Friday, May 6th, 2011

Not exactly MacArthur’s address to Congress and I, too, was honored to have served and to have helped to improve our Chapter’s sense of self. By complete coincidence, I published this reference to Admiral Alan Shepard on the 50th anniversary of his walk in space, May 5, 2011.

Shipmates and Friends of the Chapter,

A final reminder re our guest speaker tomorrow, LtCol Mike Franzak, author of A Nightmare’s Prayer. Registration: http://usnamayluncheon.eventbrite.com/ We may even get to share a few thoughts on the Pakistan OBL operation by our comrades in Spec Ops.

And tomorrow will be our annual meeting for the purpose of electing the 2011-12 Chapter Board of Directors. This evolution will not take long as the Chapter has effectively decided on its officers and directors. And this brings me to my story about Alan Shepard, astronaut and admiral. One pleasant spring afternoon circa 1973, Admiral Shepard visited our Academy for lunch and our beloved Wednesday P-rade on Worden Field. After Brigade Seats, Admiral Shepard was invited by the Supt. to say a few words to the mids in the mess hall- that’s what it was called in those days. Of all the P-rades and March-Ons and Monday practices that I enjoyed (which admittedly were few), I’ll never forget this one because Astronaut Shepard turned to the seated Supt. and suggested that since he never liked marching in P-rades as a mid that he would appreciate and respectfully requests that today’s 1530 P-rade, where he is the slated guest of honor, be cancelled and the mids given town libs. As Salty Sam would say, “I kid you not.” The mess hall exploded in cheers; the Supt. complied with Admiral Shepard’s request.

Regaling you with this sea story is my own way of informing you that this is my final correspondence as Chapter President. Thank you for this honor. Hope to see you at lunch tomorrow. And for the information of all hands, there will be no parade for tomorrow’s change of command of the Board of Directors.

That is all. Go Navy.

Christopher Perrien
President
NC Triangle Chapter, USNA Alumni Association
http://sites.google.com/site/usnatriangle/

Blue Pane Studio launches Research Triangle Park Foundation website

Wednesday, March 16th, 2011

a screenshot of the new RTP website home page

New RTP site designed and developed by Blue Pane Studio of Durham, North Carolina. Full disclosure: Blue Pane is Tessa, my wife’s, studio.

Current Economy & the Future of RTP, NC

Friday, August 13th, 2010

I met with a senior executive in Durham this morning to discuss how the stressed national economy could affect our normally resilient regional economy. Highlights of our discussion:

– the RTP of 2060 will, of course, be entirely different than the 50 year old RTP of today. And the RTP of the near future is not guaranteed to remain as relevant or exemplary as it is today due to the ease with which capital, commodity goods and labor are priced around our globe. Co-location is not the advantage that it once was.

– as reported by the local press on the 11 August 2010, there is an opportunity for the three major universities in the RTP to employ new technologies to help to commercialize their research efforts. And to be successful, such an effort will require a level of inter-university cooperation and business skills that are not usually the strength of academic institutions.

– the customary channels of regional economic development are affected by the
reduction in funding for state and local governments and entities. There will be fewer scouts and promoters for new business. Like their counterparts in the commercial world, customer retention and finely tuned customer identification will be areas of keen focus.

– more spending? less long term debt? no one is certain what is the answer or even the proper mix of solutions as the nation’s economy and integrated global economy travel in uncharted waters. Those well educated and well established seem able to ride out the stormy weather. Those entering or re-entering the job market or in industries not essential to a functioning economy are in a long line of pessimistic hopefuls.

– the curve of economic recovery, like that of General Motors (soon to IPO) could have been V shaped (good to bottom to good) had banks been forced to fully declare their financial positions in 2008; instead, we cut-off the bottom of the V by salvaging essentially dead banks, turning the V into a hoped-for U. At present course and with the public’s exclamatory distaste for more debt, the U recovery may be taking the form of an L (good to bottom without return to good in focus).

– new problems must be solved with fresh thinking and the willingness to experiment and to practice.

Thx to Cary Real Estate

Research Triangle Park (RTP) on new Apple iPad

Wednesday, January 27th, 2010

What app will look like when iPad available.
iPad RTP home page
Screen shot 2010-01-27 at 4.06.05 PM
Screen shot 2010-01-27 at 4.08.35 PM

ScienceOnLine 2010: RTP Science Journalist Conference

Tuesday, January 19th, 2010

Those closed eyes! Thanks to Ernie Hood for filming the interview.

The Science of Business & the Business of Science: shall the twain meet?

Friday, October 9th, 2009

Participated, and fortunate to do so, in the annual Fuqua Business School’s High Tech Conference on Wednesday and attended, gladly to do so, the Summit on Nano Technology and the Environment, program here on Thursday. My guess is that even though the Fuqua School and the Bio Tech Center, host of the Summit, are separated by 8 miles of distance, their purposes and perspectives keeps them miles apart. Yet, each expressed an interest in meeting more of the other. A recurring theme of the nano conference presentations was not to let the capabilities of the science get too far ahead of the ‘public’s acceptance’ of this science. Lessons from the hysteria of genetically altered crops, aka Franken-science, remain vivid.

Forty percent of the Fuqua MBA program comprises international students and ones who are ambitious, accomplished and clever as well courteous and purposeful. Deflating for me is that 90% of the Hi Tech Club comprises international students. I guess that my fellow Americans who join the Retail, Finance and Energy Clubs at Fuqua don’t feel comfortable in the HT Club, or worse, maybe don’t feel that technology will have much bearing in their future roles. Cannot be true! Even though the average age of an MBA candidate is 30, meaning that they have plenty of work experience, they are eager for tips and secrets and leads for employment. Is there a science to the adult, working world? Which made me ponder the notion of a Masters of Business Administration. Do we need business administrators? Can leadership be taught ’cause this is what we need. Is not the essence of leadership selfless service or sacrifice? Here’s a B-school promo: come to XXX for $120k in real cost and learn to sacrifice or help others to perform better. I’d like to change the name of the degree to Masters of Business Innovation or is this too close to Tom Wolfe’s masters of the universe image in The Bonfire of the Vanities?

At lunch, I asked if the business school curriculum taught business development or sales. ‘Not really’ was the table’s reply. What business is there to administer if there is no top-line or revenue?! Reminds me of my transition from the Naval Academy to the fleet or real Navy. At Annapolis, we learned a lot about ship design and missile intercept solutions. Didn’t get too much insight into how to manage a division of 15 to 18 sailors, most older, some smarter and all more worldly than me. This was my first assignment as I didn’t do much ship driving or any missile firing until much later. OK- it’s not news now that the adult world’s concept of management and organizational behavior is about as fragile and outmoded as, well, as is our banking system.

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Governor Hunt welcomed attendees. Did you know that he was governor twice, twice = 16 years.

The highlight of the Nano Summit was the presentation by Dr. Joe DeSimone, reknown chemist and entrepreneur. Yes, Virginia, one can be both. He spoke adeptly about his vision for nano technology and even though he pitched his latest venture, Liquidia, his presentation was interesting, informative, well substantiated (meaning his charts aided his talk; his talk did not furnish color commentary for the charts as we too, too often suffer). Dr. Joe knows how to make a business of science and has a keen sense of the science of business. I learned more about the potential of nano technology in his 20 minutes than I’ve in 3 years of trying to read the occasional article on this topic.

My conclusion from these two days is that there is enormous opportunity for those with an aptitude, if not the scholarship, to discuss the business value of technology. How can we shorten the distance between our RTP business schools and our RTP scientists?

My kind of social media or medium

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2009

My job is to think about and to discuss the potential of newer Internet tools to better connect businesses to their constituents. It’s a tough sell to persuade business school educated executives that the likes of Facebook and Twitter are making a permanent difference. The only rock that I am able to cling to is the example of Apple’s iTunes as it didn’t sell a song ten years ago and now rules the music distribution business without much complaint by its own customers. I find the resistance to this trend of facilitating people to people connections to be as curious as I find the eruption of confidence in the stock market over the past three or four months with a 50% improvement in the market’s performance. Maybe we over-corrected and are just getting to the level of proper adjustment since the collapse in 9/08?! My personal evidence of the sluggish state of things is the merchants with whom I speak in our RTP: one hotel near RTP is down more than 50% in room-nights over the past year and the barber says that the back-to school-cuts for women and college girls is no where near usual levels. And the dollar for travelers is at a one year low. The flights may be inexpensive to Europe, the coffee and accommodations will not be upon arrival. Pessimistic nature accounted, I’d prefer a sober assessment of our financial plight and a call for true common sacrifice – a plan with goals and measurements such as taxing gasoline so that we may wean ourselves of foreign oil dependency.

One bright spot is that I find people willing and eager to congregate. Mr. Sugar fulfilled his ambition of a Long Table dinner comprised of loosely connected attendees (word spread by Twitter). The table wasn’t long and the food was cooked elsewhere and we’ll have to see if the community wants to perpetuate this notion. I enjoyed telling my story of the Stolen Oldsmobile for my 10th birthday (King’s birthday) and hearing the tale of the unplanned attendance by Julie Child at an Atlanta, Georgia dinner party. Last night, our RTP hosted one its periodic Techie Tuesdays, an effort to connect the workers who labor behind the pine tree buffers. Both good efforts in an important moment where trust and confidence, if not inspiration, is eagerly, if not desperately, sought.
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Techie Tuesday on left; Inaugural Long Table on the right.