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Sunday, October 25, 2015

Change? You need to be ready first.

I'm convinced that the world needs another "How to Manage Change" book, because we all know that the existing 4 million of them just aren't nearly enough.

Oh, and I've read a few of those books, and in all honestly, just about all of them have valid ideas, strategies and suggestions to offer.  They really do.  But it's not execution, or execution strategies or models that I think really get in the way of that almost mythical state known as "change resiliency".

I speak only from experience here, but it seems to me that there are two barriers that have to be overcome before any change strategy, no matter how well thought out, can take hold.  Oh, and I doubt very many people are actually "change resilient".  That's a subtle code used by those that create change to goad into a particular action those that they need to change; think the CEO telling employees that they need to be ready for the possibility of job layoffs ("It's critical that we all build change resiliency", so says the person who will likely be financially rewarded for laying others off).

Anyway, here are my two change barriers that must be overcome:

#1 - Mentally Ready State
First, we needs to be mentally prepared for change, or at least aware that it that it is coming.  I don't think lasting change works well as a surprise.  I am not suggesting that readiness is required for change to take hold every time, but what I am suggesting is that if you or I want to initiate change on our own or be prepared when it happens to us, mental preparation is the key.

A good chunk of that mental preparation should be practicing being present and grounded in the moment.  Mental images of the past, be they good or bad, can't be good for current change.  Nor can obsessing over future states that are going to occur regardless of our actions.  Now we should certainly plan for the future, but that's different than obsessing over the future.  

In addition, I think it can be argued that "mentally ready" is less of a demarcation line than it is a kind of fuzzy, neutral zone.  However it manifests itself though the fact is that we can't engage in something if we can't conceive of ourselves as actually engaging in that very thing.  I know, that sounds circular, but it has the benefit of being true.

#2 - Nouns
Second, sometimes there are actual barriers that have to be overcome.  By barriers, I literally mean what we all learned in elementary school as defining a noun:  people, places or things.

For example, it's easy to say to the alcoholic that they need to "change", but the reality is that drinking is associated with...

...people - drinking buddies...or the habit of drinking alone and stewing in one's own thoughts...

...places - those social places where drinking becomes a problem...or finding yourself all alone in a home with no one else to talk to other than Mr Jim Beam and his friend Mr Johnny Walker or...

...things - those events that signal to us it's time to drink.

Lest anyone think the non-drinker (me) is picking on drinkers, I'll bring it a bit closer to home.

I've made tremendous changes in my life over the past 5 or so years, but thinking back a decade or more, there were barriers that I needed to overcome before those changes could be made.  The barriers weren't as much outside my head as they were inside my head, but they were barriers never the less.  First I had to be mentally ready for change.  Having me read a great book on, and model for change just wasn't enough.  In fact, it was as I was going through change...not before...when things like change models began to make sense.  The hardest part of change for me was facing the reality of having to deal with those "nouns", both known and those which just seemed to appear as I worked through change.

Notice that I'm not claiming to be an expert in dealing with change, even in my own life.  I still struggle, and sometimes ghosts of the past reappear to remind me of long ago thoughts.  The difference now, at least for me, is that I recognize the struggle for what it ultimately is:  Living Life.  It's not something exterior to my existence, rather it's woven into my existence.

In the end, I'm not pretending to be an academic, but I am categorically stating that I've gone through a lot of change in my life, which I think gives me reason to both pause and to share my thoughts.  Take them for what they are worth, or ignore them if you see fit.  We all have to walk our own journey in life, and it seems to me that part of that journey has to be the act of sharing it with others.  My ten dollar annual investment in a URL and these sometimes random thoughts are included in my act of sharing.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Thank You Paul Ryan (Seriously, Thank You)

I'm not being snarky.  I really do think Rep. Paul Ryan really does deserve thanks.  Why?  Well in the midst of all the conversation about who should be the next ox to be gored I mean Speaker of the House, Rep. Ryan made an interesting demand to those who seek to have him run for that most un-fun office:  He wasn't going to give up his family time.  Reference HERE.

(Image from Wikipedia)

In fact he said "I cannot and will not give up my family time".

In a building full of weasels who basically try to out weasel each other, it's very refreshing to see a senior member of the institution stand up for something that doesn't really involve political demagoguery.   Yes, I know, the cynic can claim that this is just another form of posturing to some group or another, but in the real world of American politics, where someone like Newt Gingrich (who has been thrice married) can talk about family values...but not live them...Rep. Ryan is putting his money where is mouth is, and that's refreshing.

I may not agree with all of his politics, but he is doing a service to working Dads everywhere.

Well done Sir, well done.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Road Apples, #165

The Martian...I saw the movie The Martian over the weekend.  It's worth the effort and the money.  It's great to watch a movie that's simply a good story; the fact that its got an element of science fiction to it makes it all the better, at least for me.  I'm thinking that the potato board must have helped sponsor the movie though.

October... As I was laying in bed at 4:30am Monday morning, I realized that I have a ton of things to do at work, as in several big things to deliver.  It's nice to be needed, I think.  First things first, time to make a list.  A big, hunkering list.

October is an interesting month for me.  Some good things have happened in October, and generally speaking, I love the weather.  Some not-so-good things have happened as well, but it's hard to not have those kinds of things in any kind of life worth living.  As I often times remind myself, life is the ultimate contact sport.

Blog Dilemmas...I have a posting that I've been holding onto, in one way, shape or form, for a while now.  I just can't seem to get myself to hit the publish button.  The content might be upsetting in some corners, but that hasn't stopped me before.  I think maybe the bigger issue is one of perceived disappointment, namely that, despite my advancing age, I still don't want to be a disappointment to anyone.  Apparently even people I either barely or don't know.  Oh well, I suspect it will eventually see the light of day.

Also, it has been requested that I write something funny.  I'll have to think about that one some more.  Generally speaking, I don't do well with blog content requests.

School...I am officially 40% done with my graduate coursework, and am on track to get half way done before the end of the year.  I've already begun to ask myself the question "Gee, now that you don't have school anymore, what are you going to do with your time?".  Somehow, I think I'll manage.  Some things I could do include:  Learning to play guitar, learning to speak French or Italian, starting up a business blog, volunteering to help others and/or going to a trade school in the evening.

Struggle...Granted, it may appear that I more or less have my "stuff" together, but being a completely and normally flawed human being, there are many things I do struggle with pretty much on a daily basis.  Some of those thing are:

- Physical Exhaustion (due to really bad sleeping patterns)
- Socializing, as it's really difficult for me
- Ego*, mainly in others, as I'm more or less afraid to have one of my own
- Optimism, I try hard to be, but it's a struggle at times
- Self-Doubt, its always been a problem for me
- Self-Talk, as in I have to work hard to avoid the negative variety
- Over-Eating, and there's no rhyme or reason to it
- Judgement, I am by nature judgmental, and I have to work hard at not being

(*) The more I read and think about the works of Eckhart Tolle, the more I'm convinced that he's absolutely right about ego.

Feel the Bern...I confess to not being a fan of Bernie Sanders.  Maybe it's the militant advocacy for unions, his often quoting of the erroneous 78% wage gap (see HERE; there is a gap, but it's not that big and some of the reasons for its existence have nothing to do with evil, scheming older white guys) or the notion that college should be free (it has value, so it's worth paying for...although that cost shouldn't be measured in "house sized" units).  Anyway, I think the passion for him is at least partially a negative reaction to the candidacy of Hillary Clinton.  Now I don't consider myself a fan of Ms Clinton, but I hardly believe that she is the evil, communistic she-devil that her opponents make her out to be either.  Bottom line?  It's going to be a long primary.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Jimmy Kimmel on Vaccinations

Sometimes the  best comedy is the stuff that's true to life.  Think George Carlin talking about "Sr Mary Discipline with the steel ruler" and the absurdities of television banning 7 "dirty" words but yet being perfectly okay with all manner of grotesque violence.

Anyway, with that is mind, I found the following clip from Jimmy Kimmel's late night show, where he (for the most part) seriously talks about childhood vaccinations.  It's worth a watch as an example of satire that's hitting a serious nerve.

The major piece of mock research that claims a link to Autism and childhood vaccinations (see HERE) was been completely discredited.  Simply put, there is no link between Autism and vaccinations.  Read HERE, among other credible sources.  The bottom line?

"Multiple studies have been completed which investigated the measles, mumps and rubella vaccination in relation to autism. Researchers have also studied thimerosal, a mercury-based preservative, to see if it had any relation to autism. The results of studies are very clear; the data show no relationship between vaccines and autism." 

Monday, October 12, 2015

Response to Mike Sporer's Comments, SFT Strike

Writing in response to Mike Sporer's comment made to THIS posting.

* * * * * *

Thanks, as always, for commenting Mike.

I think we basically agree on most points when it comes to the strike.

Regarding education in the United States, I also agree that it's best.  More realistically, I think it's broken beyond a simple repair.  Everything, from the length of the school day to the school year, from teaching methods to materials needs to be examined.  Therein lies one of the problem I have with teacher unionization though:  Through the union, teachers will fight most core/structural changes to education by treating them as bargaining chips (in order to get something in return).  Put another way, public school teachers should be at the forefront of bold experimentation and innovation in education, yet we don't see very much of that, simply because the labor unions will want to negotiate every little change made to work rules and methods.  Why?  Because that's what labor unions do:  They are designed to protect and promote union members, not, in this case, students.  That's one of many reasons why I think professionals should not be unionized.

Another problem?  Older teachers aren't necessarily better teachers, yet seniority based systems, such as those required by labor unions, are designed around that very concept.  I want the best performing teachers to be paid the most; schools shouldn't simply be rewarding "sticking around for a long time".  One can be the same as the other, but not least not in the real world of performance management.

I'll reaffirm though that while philosophically I don't think teachers should be unionized, practically speaking they have to be under the current circumstances, as there needs to be something to protect them, as individuals, from grossly incompetent and politically motivated school boards.

With regards to Ms Boland, I actually think I had her as an Art teacher at East Scranton Jr High.  I could be wrong, and I've tried to find a biography on her to verify that fact, but I've come up empty.  Assuming she was my teacher back then, I'll say that she made a positive impression on me, and I can't say that about most of the teachers I had back in those days.  Present day she does sound tough, but her union members should expect that of her.  Truth be told, I don't have a problem with a tough union negotiator.  Where things break down for me is when there are falsehoods repeated as facts and thuggish tactics are employed by unions.  Two examples -

a) Falsehoods - I actually heard a few weeks ago, from a very good source, that the "35 kids in a classroom" mantra that the union was spouting as being a chief reason for the strike was sheer and utter nonsense.  That fact was confirmed by the Scranton Times in its Saturday edition.  Simply put, the union lied about this one because it makes them seem more sympathetic to the parents of children who are not currently being educated.  It's a better story than "we want more money".

b) Thuggery - I was very glad to hear that the SFT decided not to demonstrate in front of the school board president's home, although it was disheartening to hear that it was seriously considered.  Board President Douaihy deserves a fair amount of grief for this whole situation, but everyone else...should be allowed respite in his own home.

Nothing and no one in this situation is clean, but in the end it's the students who continue to suffer because the adults can't act like adults.

Now as alluded to above, I don't share your opinion regarding unions being the savior of the middle class in this country.  I do think they have their place in the working world, but my opinion has always been that organizations with labor unions have them because they deserve them...with the possible exception of Walmart (who does deserve them but doesn't have them...and that's a whole different topic)...because they failed to treat their employees as true assets.  Unions can, in many instances, create as many problems as they solve.  For example,  unions homogenize employees into buckets not based upon performance and unique contributions to results, but instead based almost exclusively on tenure.  That's simply wrong, as compensation and opportunities should always be based upon performance.  What's more, unions encourage the notion that individuals are incapable of speaking for themselves, which I find demeaning, harmful and encouraging of a victim mentality.

Finally, while I don't think unions (as currently constructed in the United States today) are the answer to the problems that plague the modern workplace, and speaking as an HR professional, I do recognize that a new model for the workforce is definitely needed.  There is a need to protect employees from unreasonable demands, and in some instances employees should have the benefit of expertise available to them to help solve problems with management in an organization.  Personally, I think a good place to start can be found in the concept of co-determination in the workplace, as, for example, practiced in Germany.  It's not a perfect model, but that's okay, as it doesn't have to be.  Either current extreme in the U.S. today, be it the insane anti-union tactics of a Walmart or the thuggish tactics employed by some unions*, is not getting us anywhere.

(*) True story told to me by a colleague who used to work at a unionized employer:  During a strike, he, as a member of management, had to cross a picket line in order to go to work.  Approaching the door, he got wet, even though there wasn't a cloud in the sky.  The liquid in question had a particular odor to it...the kind of smell that you might encounter in a men's room at Fenway Park during a Dropkick Murphys concert.

Saturday, October 10, 2015


Proof positive that every once in a blue moon I am able to come up with one of those clever tweets that other seem able to produce at will.

I even got a "favored".

For the record, the above is in celebration of the fact that Uranus is (barely) visible in the night's sky now.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Striking Scranton Teachers

I had commented on a posting in Mike Sporer's blog Fresh Perspectives (link to that content HERE) related to the Scranton Teacher's strike.  Technical difficulties apparently made that comment null, void and nonexistent, but I did promise Mike a re-post.  In the finest of blogging traditions, I'll do my best to re-create that comment here (in other words, I'll also manage to milk a posting out of this...).

* * * * * *

Disclaimer:  I'll note that my ex-wife is a teacher in the Scranton School District and my oldest daughter is a teacher in a charter school in New York City.

* * * * * *

Regarding the striking Scranton teachers and the grossly incompetent school board that they are at odds with, well, there is plenty of blame to go around.

First, the word you hear shouted most loudly by the teachers is "Respect" (cue Aretha Franklin), but it's not a lack of respect that's at the heart of this labor dispute, it's money.  In the world of public union public relations, "respect" lends a more sympathetic ear than "cash".  Now I'm not faulting the teachers for wanting more money, as no one should be effectively forced to work for less each year*, but I am saying that there's just a bit of message manipulation going on as this labor dispute plays out, and people by the droves are falling for it.  Then again, many of these same people though actually elected the school board members that helped cause this mess in the first place.  I'm also thinking that Scranton's taxpayers won't like how "respect" ends up being reflected in their already too high tax bills.

Second, as a person who knows a word or two of the English language, I am truly tested to come up with words to describe the level of gross incompetence on display by the Scranton School Board.  Did the board president actually think that he could hire this 80th cousin, thrice removed, (or however he managed to down-play that relationship) as the district Superintendent, give her a contract with automatic raises and then tell other district employees "well, sorry, we don't have any money for you to get automatic raises"?  At a bare minimum, the district should be offering other district employees some kind of parity with the new Superintendent when it comes to annual compensation changes.  Had "Cousin Cy" negotiated a truly performance-based compensation system for the Superintendent, you where raises have to be earned...the district would be in a better bargaining position.  But that's wishful thinking.  Also, the fact that the district has a nasty habit of...

a) Hiring relatives like it's some kind of Duggar family business
b) Spending money foolishly (such 300% excessive bus contracts)
c) Poorly prioritizing spending (Old textbooks?  That's okay, as the stadium has new turf!)

...only lends fuel to the argument made that they simply don't know what the heck they are doing.

Third, the entire labor-management system for public education in Pennsylvania is tragically broken.  Teachers, if they truly view themselves as professionals (and they are professionals by the way) should not be able to strike.  When was the last time you heard of striking doctors or lawyers?  Ponder that one for a moment.  Anyway, I do also believe though that teachers need protection from grossly incompetent local school boards, so the structural solution to this mess should be a state-wide collective bargaining agreement that would cover all of Pennsylvania's teachers.  The contract should have salary bands to reflect differences in the cost of living by location, but otherwise provide a level playing field for educational professionals.  It would also take the hacks...I mean local school boards...out of the business of negotiating contracts.

Lastly, the blame for this mess mostly falls to the feet of the about 20-30% of Scranton's voters who actually show up to the polls.  They voted for the current school board, putting connections, political affiliation and the right sounding ethnic last names ahead of actual qualifications.  Yes, only in Scranton would someone who looks like he's 15 but just happens to have the name "Robert Casey" be elected to help manage a 10,000 student educational system.

(*) Not getting a raise = working for less when you factor in inflation.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

The Guilt Posting

(from THIS page)

Ever have a stretch of time when you feel as if you're being pulled in several directions?  Of course you have, as we all have.  Hence today's guilt posting.


Well the guilt part centers around the fact that I feel somewhat guilty when I don't post anything for a while.  No, that has nothing to do with "readers" or stuff like that; heck, while I'm glad people read this stuff, I do this stuff for me.  But, in the best Catholic of traditions, I do feel guilty that I'm not as disciplined about writing as I should be.

Anyway, so this is the "guilt salve" posting.

I do have a reasons for not writing as much.

  1. I've got a ton on stuff going on work, both in terms of products/projects and other things that tend to devour mental and physical energy at a copious rate.
  2. My Fall I graduate class is ending soon, and I'm busy trying to get a final group project & presentation ready.  Fortunately I have great team members to work with on this assignment.
  3. I haven't been sleeping well, which is normal, but it makes things worse when combined with #1 & #2.
  4. There is a lot to do around the house to get ready for winter.
  5. There's just so much going on in the world that sometimes it feels that I can barely keep up with current events.

I know, boo-freak'n-hoo, but the above are the best excuses I have because they happen to be true.

Things are not likely to get better, as I have another graduate class starting right after Fall I ends, and the work stuff will likely more complex.  It does make me think about working on those things that I can control, or maybe "attempt" to control, such as getting more sleep.  I think it was Poe who referred to sleep as being "little slices of death", and what I wouldn't give for the need not to sleep.  Alas, that's a super power I will never have, so I'm left with talking to my doctor during the next regularly scheduled oil change for ideas, suggestions and possibly pharmacology.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

A Gentle Reminder to Social Media Users...

The following is the text of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.


If you read the above carefully you will discover that the First Amendment guarantees a RIGHT to free speech, but it does not guarantee a FORUM for free speech.  It doesn't say "you can exercise your right to free speech anywhere you want", it simply says that Congress can't restrict the exercise of free speech.

(from Rep Barletta's Twitter feed)

Practically speaking, this means that you can criticize the government all you want.  I can call Scranton Mayor Bill Courtright "grossly incompetent" and I can say that Representative Lou Barletta "looks like a Mexican" (that's ironic, get it?) all I want, and that's perfectly okay.

What this doesn't mean is that I have a right to express those opinions using someone else's property, be it physical or intellectual.  For example, the Facebook people can very well say that "no postings should be allowed that are critical of Lou Barletta" and that would be perfectly okay.  Why?  Because they own Facebook and they  can make up all the Facebook rules they want.  If I don't like that rule, well, I have to realize that there is no (contrary to what you actually read in some dark corners of Facebook) Constitutional right to free speech on Facebook.  My recourse is to simply go "old school" and talk to my friends about Lou Barletta or maybe even create my own social media forum where Lou Barletta can be criticized all day and night.  Think that's extreme?  Well go hunt down former Scranton Mayor Chris Doherty and ask him about

Rant concluded.