Year of Dragon, Day of Favorites

Wednesday, April 25th, 2012

I should think about 24 April or is it 424 which 4+2+4 = 10, which is my lucky number, which is a 1 and a 0, which may be why the IT industry tolerates me?!

Yesterday began with a breakfast in Raleigh hosted by the local Naval Academy Alumni Association. Retired Admiral Benny Suggs spoke about Leadership based upon his 30 years of naval service including 1,264 carrier landings and 10 years at Harley Davidson as a senior Marketing Vice President. A colorful man, as are most successful aviators, he described the attributes of leaderships as vision, passion, values and velocity (this is is different one). Working with others, through others and for the benefit of others is the underpinning of successful leadership. Segue for inside joke: the opposite of cost-cutting to achieve arbitrary financial results such as EPS in some year in the future. Inspiring way to begin a day with the reminder that what matters is what matters and not what is measured. Mine is not an entreaty for fluffy hopes for world peace but my conviction that, indeed, thoughts are things, which can lead to inspired achievements which can measured.

Speaking of Apple, their second quarter financial performance exceeded the expectations of all. The ‘market’ was so nervous that Apple would not continue to lead that it dropped Apple’s stock price nearly $70 over the past 2 weeks. My interpretation of these jitters: ‘they are good and no one is close but can they keep it up?!’ I revere this company because it knows what is about: vision, passion, values and velocity – with 0 carrier landings.

The day ended with our annual cook-out for the military veterans graduating from Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business and Sanford School of Public Policy, about a dozen attendees. They’re off to Wal-Mart, ATT, John Deere, Google. Ages range from 28 to 32; Green Berets, Combat Engineers, Submariners, Infantry Officers, SeaBees, males and females. All with recent combat duty.

Inspiring assembly of our young. Easy to laugh; give and take comfortably. Figuring-out the transitions to civilian work because theirs has been a world of mission focus and this side of the fence is fixated on earnings-per share as a measure of collective achievement. Biggest laughs were the stories told from their job interviews: ‘have you ever held a leadership position?; please describe a difficult decision that you had to make that affected the career of another'; what management challenges would you expect if you had to lead a team of 3 to 6?; how does your GPA (grades) reflect your sense of integrity?” They wished that they could have answered about receiving mortar and rocket attacks; what armies really do when they confront enemy combatants; and what it feels like months later to know that your purpose in an organization was to put people’s lives at risk for the benefit of a perceived greater good. If only a couple of beers and a few burgers could thank them properly.

Noble Death Song

Monday, April 2nd, 2012

At a certain age, the eyes weaken and, yet, we are able to see more clearly. The conjunctions of my life, at present, are met by the May graduation of our elder son; the bleak news from around the world even though events on our 1/2 acre in Durham seem only remotely affected (visions of Downton Abbey abound); the sight on the horizon of my sixtieth birthday (in 2020! not really; doesn’t bother me.. and I just wish that the others of my circle and demographic would set a different example for me, like, quit dying) so that I am attracted to those who knew what they were doing early and often and able to find others like themselves.

Two Navy friends recommended Act of Valor. Couldn’t believe it as the trailer for the film looked so typical of ‘the best parts of a bad movie.’ They persuaded me that the film was made with SEAL cooperation with the hopes that the film would contribute to their increased recruiting requirements. Actual SEALs performed all of the terrific stunts and some of the weak acting. Happily, they did well at what they are paid to do. I wonder if we can really respond so effectively, and expensively, to dilute the malicious intent of so many cheaply armed bandits and thugs?! And can the SEALs truly carry enough ammunition for such firefights?! Anyway, watch the Behind the Scenes clip at the site.

Our audience of forty left the theatre in a quiet mood even though the film’s action scenes were exhilarating.

I admire the well-conceived obituaries in The Economist if only for the broad and interesting range of its selection. Lyn Lusi’s obit saddened me because of her achievements in face of daunting circumstances in a dangerous place (Republic of Congo). Courage may be manifested in many ways.

Photo courtesy of The Economist 31 March 2012

Tecumseh figurehead; US Naval Academy.

This poem of Tecumseh was central to the plot of Act of Valor. I walked or marched passed this figurehead thousands of times over a four year period, never investigating the purpose and meaning of its presence.

“So live your life that the fear of death can never enter your heart. Trouble no one about their religion; respect others in their view, and demand that they respect yours. Love your life, perfect your life, beautify all things in your life. Seek to make your life long and its purpose in the service of your people. Prepare a noble death song for the day when you go over the great divide.

Always give a word or a sign of salute when meeting or passing a friend, even a stranger, when in a lonely place. Show respect to all people and grovel to none.

When you arise in the morning give thanks for the food and for the joy of living. If you see no reason for giving thanks, the fault lies only in yourself. Abuse no one and no thing, for abuse turns the wise ones to fools and robs the spirit of its vision.

When it comes your time to die, be not like those whose hearts are filled with the fear of death, so that when their time comes they weep and pray for a little more time to live their lives over again in a different way. Sing your death song and die like a hero going home.”

A degree of excellence

Thursday, November 6th, 2008

I met with the Athletic Director of the Naval Academy recently at a fundraiser. He addressed the incredible financial pressure on our colleges and universities to raise funds for athletic programs to satisfy alumni. Such a vicious cycle. Alums want winners; winning programs require extensive funding; extensive funding requires the support of the alumni.

What made his presentation memorable was his example about excellence. Now that I’ve searched the Web, this particular one is everywhere, but I marvelled when I heard it last month for the first time. He described the difference between “potential energy” and “useful energy” or the distinction between “almost” and “excellence” by describing the increase in temperature required to convert simmering water to steam.

1 Degree. Water at 211 degrees rumbles or simmers or looks active, but cannot be put to use. Increase the temperature by 1 degree to 212 degrees on the Farenheit scale and water boils, creating steam which has innumerable applications.

1 degree separates potential from execution. As we consider the way forward in our lives, our work, even our country, let’s think about improving our performances by 1 degree.