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.