The blog of a kind and wise man.

I’m very pleased to see that Les Hayman has a blog, and that he is rattling off posts with vim, vigour and consistency. If you are interested in HR, career and life advice from someone who has been there, done that, then Les is a must read.  Les was on the the extended board at SAP,  he ran sales in Asia and Europe and then he ran HR.

A number of people have asked me to write of my experiences running a company internal HR department after 40 years in business roles. When I was first asked whether I would do this, rather than retiring, I felt that it was a bit like asking Attila the Hun to look after the Vestal Virgins. I have to admit that it was probably the hardest job that I ever had, the two years being both challenging and frustrating, and it changed and molded many of the views that I have about people and about management

On the state of management

One of the disappointments in my move to Europe in 2001 was that I have seen little evidence that European companies have created a culture of management as a profession. Management skill appears to be more of an add-on to vocational brilliance, rather than being viewed as an art, a science and an asset in its own right. The idea is that management skill is a “nice to have” rather than a mandatory part of an executive’s role.

On business card titles, CEO tenure, and my favourite, the Pesto Effect and buzzwords.

Ten years ago no-one had heard of pesto, and then suddenly it was everywhere. You could go to any restaurant anywhere in the world and the odds were that pesto would be somewhere on the menu.
I even saw a hot dog seller in New York who had a sign saying “Mustard, Ketchup, Pesto”.

Oh, and he lots to say about living in France.

A short, sort of review of Nicholas Carr’s “The Shallows. What Google is Doing to our Brains.”

Many technology writers  deify or reify technology.  There is often an assumption that more technology is by definition a good thing.  Nicholas Carr’s recent book challenges that. This is probably why many tech types don’t seem to like it.

Looking through my blog archive, I’ve often disagreed with Carr, but rather than just base my view on this latest book via headlines and what others wrote, I decided to buy the book and read it to make up my own mind.

I found it to be an excellent read. Well researched, tight prose, and an eclectic mix of scientific, philosophical and social material.  I was on a cycling holiday when I read it. My blackberry had given up the ghost, and the only computer I had with me was the bike computer.

I began the book expecting  to disagree with Carr. I make my living out of researching technology so I figured that I would join the queue of other tech folks dissing his “dystopian” views.  By about a third of the way through I found myself agreeing with him.  He spends part of a chapter discussing Joe Weizenbaum, who should be more famous and read than he is.  More than any Computer Scientist, Weizenbaum challenges the notion that technological progress is good for humanity. Carr echoes many of Weizenbaum’s concerns, in a more accessible form.

In reading the book, I’m reminded of two other writers, Alain de Botton, who is my favourite modern non-fiction writer.

He says much the same as Carr, but more lyrically. 

I felt keenly the painful psychological adjustments required by life in modernity: the need to juggle a respect for the potential offered by science with an awareness of how perplexingly limited and narrowly framed might be its benefits. I felt the temptation of hoping that all activities would acquire the excitement and rigours of engineering while recognising the absurdity of those who, overly impressed by technological achievement, lose sight of how doggedly we will always be pursed by baser forms of error and absurdity.

quoted from the Sorrows and Pleasures of Work.

 his recent post is also on the money.

One of the more embarrassing and self-indulgent challenges of our time is the task of relearning how to concentrate. The past decade has seen an unparalleled assault on our capacity to fix our minds steadily on anything. To sit still and think, without succumbing to an anxious reach for a machine, has become almost impossible.

The obsession with current events is relentless. We are made to feel that at any point, somewhere on the globe, something may occur to sweep away old certainties—something that, if we failed to learn about it instantaneously, could leave us wholly unable to comprehend ourselves or our fellows. We are continuously challenged to discover new works of culture—and, in the process, we don’t allow any one of them to assume a weight in our minds. We leave a movie theater vowing to reconsider our lives in the light of a film’s values. Yet by the following evening, our experience is well on the way to dissolution, like so much of what once impressed us: the ruins of Ephesus, the view from Mount Sinai, the feelings after finishing Tolstoy’s Death of Ivan Ilyich…

The need to diet, which we know so well in relation to food, and which runs so contrary to our natural impulses, should be brought to bear on what we now have to relearn in relation to knowledge, people, and ideas. Our minds, no less than our bodies, require periods of fasting.

The second is GM Hopkins. I’ll leave you with a verse from the Habit of Perfection.

Elected Silence, sing to me
And beat upon my whorlèd ear,
Pipe me to pastures still and be
The music that I care to hear.

I’m glad I took the time to read Carr’s book without distraction.  I need to find more time to savour the joys of quiet reading and thinking.  As De Botton says “To sit still and think, without succumbing to an anxious reach for a machine.”

Ngiyabonga kakhulu Johnny Clegg

Copper sun sinking low
Scatterlings and fugitives
Hooded eyes and weary brows
Seek refuge in the night

I remember sitting around a campfire in the Umzimkulu valley about 30 years ago. I was in my first year of high school, and we were doing a kayak race, the Umzimkulu marathon. It was a clear African night, the Southern Cross bright and clear.  The older boys told tales of massive rapids and huge drops, and we cooked a sort of  breadlike substance  on the fire.  We were miles from any town or city.

The batteries on the cassette deck weren’t fresh, and the tape copy neither but Johnny Clegg’s music has been special to me ever since.

I saw his band (then called  Savuka) live at university. It it was 1986-7. He intertwined great music with a strong and clear political message. Asimbonanga. He rocked the Student’s Union, and changed the mindset of thousands.  South Africa’s political change owes much to Johnny Clegg.

Last night, with mates Phillip and Dean, I got see him live in Mainz.  The venue was packed and the audience a mix of Germans and a rather more rowdy South African Diaspora.

Johnny and his band gave it all, and the place rocked.  The band played hit after hit. His band were excellent, several of the members have been with him for decades. Johnny didn’t jump quite as high as he used to do (Guka ’mzimba), but his stage presence remains impressive, and the music is timeless.

Here he is with Juluka, back in the 1980’s

Thanks Johnny, for 30 years of great music and a fabulous evening.

Most of his albums are on itunes and emusic.  I downloaded an album that don’t have in my collection this morning, Ubuhle Bemvelo.

Application flexibility and the tree pose

Cross posted on my Gartner blog.

As some of my readers know I’m a keen but slow amateur cyclist. It is a sport that doesn’t really lead to flexibility, the opposite in fact. I need to stretch if I’m going to have any sort of suppleness, so I have made a conscious decision to stretch a lot. (Thanks Graeme

It works for Lance.

 image

I’ll admit to doing yoga poses while on client phone calls. Nothing like a tree or butterfly pose to focus the mind while discussing ERP upgrades or SaaS talent management vendors.

In my ever widening search for obscure metaphors, it seems to me that enterprise applications are a bit like cyclists. Unless they get stretched regularly, they loose their suppleness. They become rigid, which eventually undermines performance.

So many ERP and HCM projects start with good intentions. The project drives change, and then you go live. Then you stop stretching.Things ossify.

Can your system still touch its toes?

  • Do you have people in your organization who can help the systems flex or do you need to get in expensive SI resources to make changes?
  • How easy is the product for business experts to configure?
  • How can you easily test configuration changes?
  • More than these though, get over the idea that going live is the end of change. It should simply be the beginning.

Some of this is about the inherent suppleness of the technology, but even the most flexible technology turns rigid if you don’t embrace continuous change. Get that mat out.

Ada Lovelace day. Two academics.

I’m featuring two academics for this year’s Ada Lovelace day. It is an international day of blogging to celebrate the achievements of women in technology and science.

 Firstly: Dr Sue Black. 

I’ve not met Sue, except on twitter,  but I have admired her efforts to support Bletchley Park for some time now. She blogs about them here. 

I think Bletchley Park should be a global heritage site. It is one of the cradles of the our industry, and the work of the people there was as heroic as that of any soldier. Sue’s work in raising the profile of Bletchley is my main reason for featuring her, but her campaigning for women in technology is relentless, and her academic research is well worth a read too. 

 Secondly:  Theano.

I’ve not met her either, and she isn’t on twitter.

Theano of Crotona was the wife of Pythagoras.(born c. 546 B.C.),

According to tradition, Theano was the wife of Pythagoras. She and her two daughters carried on the Pythagorean School after the death of Pythagoras. She wrote treatises on mathematics, physics, medicine, and child psychology. McLemore writes that her most important work was the principle of the “Golden Mean.” But discerning what Theano actually did is extremely difficult. As stated in the article in the Biographical Dictionary of Women in Science,

That Theano continued to operate the school of Pythagoras after his death is often affirmed but not confirmed. Thus, it can only be stated that, according to tradition, Theano was a mathematician, a physician, and an administrator—someone who kept alive an important training ground for future mathematicians.

In addition, Damo (ca. 535-475 BC), the daughter of Phythagoras and Theano, is said to have published her father’s treatises on geometry as well as treatises on the construction of a regular tetrahedron and the construction of a cube.  via this site.

According to one source, Theano’s principal works included a Life of Pythagoras, a Cosmology, The Theorem of the Golden Mean, The Theory of Numbers, The Construction of the Universe, and a work titled On Virtue. None of the primary sources that remain, however, reveals anything of her personality.

Theano’s most important work is said to have been the principle of the Golden Mean. Like the geometrical constant pi, the Golden Mean is an irrational number that shows up in many relationships in nature. Its decimal value is approximately 1.6180. In geometry, a “golden” rectangle is one whose sides are related by the Golden Mean ratio, for example 13:8. Both the ancient Greeks and Egyptians designed buildings and monuments with proportions based on the Golden Mean. It is now known that some growth patterns observed in nature occur in accordance with the Golden Mean, examples being the spirals in the nautilus shell and the ratio of clockwise to counterclockwise spirals in a sunflower.

In a treatise on the construction of the universe attributed to Theano, she reportedly argues that the universe consists of ten concentric spheres: the Sun, the Moon, Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Venus, Mercury, Earth, Counter-Earth, and the stars. The Sun, Moon, Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Venus, and Mercury move in orbit about a central fire. The stars are fixed and are not considered to move. In Theano’s theory, the distances between the spheres and the central fire are in the same arithmetic proportion as the intervals in the musical scales. via this site.

It is a shame that the work of both Theano and Damo is lost in the mists of time. It is my view that many of the great scientists of the past owe much more to their spouses than history lets on. Programmers may have heard of Theano as a python library.

Spring is in the air. So is my home office.

Nothing is so beautiful as spring—
  When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush;
  Thrush’s eggs look little low heavens, and thrush
Through the echoing timber does so rinse and wring
The ear, it strikes like lightnings to hear him sing;
  The glassy peartree leaves and blooms, they brush
  The descending blue; that blue is all in a rush
With richness; the racing lambs too have fair their fling.

Gerard Manley Hopkins

 

Here is my take on spring.

 

image

 

The box shades the computer so that I can see the screen but I’m still in the sun.

The tulips are from my trip to Utrecht last week.

Industrial action impacts high tech companies too

Thinking of strikes, it is easy to imagine coal miners, railway workers and automobile assemblers with shop stewards quoting Trotsky, Gramsci and Marcuse, and brandishing a well worn copy of the Ragged Trousered Philanthropists. This is a naive and foolish stereotype. As this example from Yahoo! shows,  industrial action is alive and well in the high tech industry. Valleywag reported on a strike at Yahoo in France.

[YOUTUBE=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kulOZowv0Qc]

(watch the video here if you dont see the embedded player)

Carol Bartz‘s lacerating eccentricity may captivate Silicon Valley, where she’s cutting costs left and right. Not so in Europe: When Yahoo tried to shut down operations in France, workers made this surreal, defiant video. And went on strike, naturally.Their point: Yahoo made about 1 million euros per worker from Yahoo France alone last year, and used to hype how “it’s important to have [locally] concentrated engineering activities… to innovate” in France, where it would base “one of [its] most important centers in Europe.” Yahoo France’s engineers will now stop working until Yahoo agrees that they shouldn’t have to stop working. At least they’re fact checking the internet company’s hype along the way.

(thanks Valleywag).

There is a  lesson for all “global” high tech companies. HR practices that work in the US don’t necessarily travel well. I have quite a bit of research in the pipeline on a related topic. I have seen global HR projects derailed because of worker and union opposition, forcing system redesigns and huge delays.

I’ll predict that the software industry will face increasing collective and industrial action. Social software makes it easier to organize and motivate around an issue, and create a strong collective even without the presence of a union. It makes it easy to reach the broader public too.  We have seen the power of the disgruntled customer using social media to mobilise support and opinion. Employees have access to the same tools and media. Executives of global software companies will need to get a lot more savvy about global HR issues. Gosh, that degree I did in Industrial Relations might actually be useful one day.

More Shakespeare. This time on the software sales pitch.

 

No, Time, thou shalt not boast that I do change:
Thy pyramids built up with newer might
To me are nothing novel, nothing strange;
They are but dressings of a former sight.
Our dates are brief, and therefore we admire
What thou dost foist upon us that is old;
And rather make them born to our desire
Than think that we before have heard them told.
Thy registers and thee I both defy,
Not wondering at the present nor the past,
For thy records and what we see doth lie,
Made more or less by thy continual haste.
This I do vow and this shall ever be;
I will be true despite thy scythe and thee.

Sonnet 123

thanks again to the sonnet a day.