On Being a White Liberal In Portland OR

Portland Oregon has been in the news a lot lately. Mostly for not very good things. The city has a great image generally, but that’s because the people talking about Portland, generally look and think like me. White, bearded, and generally liberal. However, there’s a history to Portland that’s rarely talked about, which is that it was essentially founded to be a White Utopia. Oregon Public Broadcasting has a great article interviewing people of color after the Max Light Rail attack, I recommend you read that here, because they do a great job explaining the background.

I think generally, it’s safe to say, that Portland encompasses both the best and worst of being a white culture. You’re able to find good high paying jobs in technology. You are able to be around other white people because you have a similar background. I can’t decided if those two sentences are the best or worst. On the one hand it means that generally white people are well off, but that also means that we are exclusive and not well integrated with the rest of the community at large. This leads to ignorance, in liberals it results in something of a White Hero mentality, regardless of good intentions. In Conservatives it can manifest itself into hate, including white supremacy and neo-nazi’s. The former wants to make friends with minorities to understand them better, but that can result in tokenism. While the latter ends having “our Mexican” who isn’t like those other Mexicans out there. Which is a justification for liking one Mexican while hating all other job stealing Mexicans.

I’ve become acutely aware of this over the past several years in Portland. I am married to a Mexican-American woman as many of you know. In Austin these issues didn’t come up as often as they do now, and I think that was more due to the people she was working with during her PhD studies and Post-Doc. However, whenever she started working at Intel, which has a big problem with diversity, these issues became a focal point of many things she does. She’s been heavily involved in Women’s groups at Intel. She’s a member of the Saturday Academy working to get under privileged and minorities involved in science and technology at an earlier age. These were things that, to be honest, are fairly new to me as a thing that needs to be done.

Growing up in Grove City, you didn’t really realize that you had it pretty well. It was a very very very White community. The school system was really good. Opportunities were there for anyone to join Saturday Science, there were ways to easily take more advanced classes in any subject if you were on the college path. Since Grove City was a really small school, our High school had 800 some odd students, we didn’t have the massive disparities due to differing socio-economic. They were there to be sure. It was a handful of kids rather than the majority of the kids as some rural or inner city schools see.

I guess it’s really fair to say i grew up sheltered and started to experience more diversity while studying at Pitt. I have been lucky since going to Pitt to marry my amazing wife, study in Europe meeting people from all over the world. People from countries the US has foreign policy issues with.

Even despite that, I’m still uncomfortable around people that I don’t know how to start a conversation. I think it’s important to be honest about that discomfort to myself and use that as an opportunity to grow. The only way to get rid of the discomfort is to meet more people. I don’t want a black friend because they are black. I want and need more friends of diverse backgrounds to grow into a better person. My wife has opened my eyes to her family’s cultural. I really enjoy Mariachi music now, Son De La Negra is one of their favorite songs and one of mine too.

So how does all this relate to being a White Liberal in Portland? Well, I think for a start, we need to meet people where they are, try to understand their world and world view. It’s very different than ours. We need to start joining groups and becoming part of the larger more complex city of Portland or whatever city you currently live in. The other thing that we must do is listen. When people are talking about their history and where they came from, you’ll hear both a lot of similarities and many defining differences. You can build bonds on the similarities, while using those differences to understand people in a way you never could before. These differences can be painful because it forces you to look into the mirror and really think about where you came from and for you to grow as a person it requires to potentially reevaluate how you got where you are. I know that I grew up in a pretty special area that gave me a huge amount of opportunity. My parents were in a position where they enabled me to go to Pitt leaving with minimal debt. This makes me very fortunate and puts me in a very different place than people who built up a lot of debt going to school or came from an area where they weren’t enabled to succeed.

Upon self-reflection, I need to do more listening and growing.

Effective Tools for Managing Trump

I’m reading the book Messy The Power of Disorder to Transform our Lives right now. The author is a economist that looks at some pretty interesting topics, I enjoyed his book about failure and how failing typically leads to better results later in life for people that have tired a venture and failed, compared to those ventures that kind of limp along as zombies.

In this book, which to some extent is a natural extension of the failing book, Tim Harford discusses how a lack of a fully formed plan can actually result in significantly better results. However, this isn’t universal and cannot be applied in every circumstance. It’s important to note that, but he outlines some pretty clear ways that this approach works extremely successfully. Ultimately, I think he shows that strong planning that meshes with flexibility and allows for both improvisation and innovation works the best.

He describes Rommel’s campaign in Africa during WWII as one of the best examples of how this can be successful. Rommel, basically went from battle to battle continually pressing in using controlled chaos to dominate the British.

This is something called the OODA loop, Observe, Orient, Decide, Act – which is a rapid response approach to dealing with a chaotic situation. You have to observe to understand what’s happening, orient your plan to take advantage of the situation, decide your course of action, and then act on that. The faster and shorter you can make this loop the more you can keep your opponents on their heels.

Trump’s campaign, the book is rather new, is another case in point where continually pressing attacks and not looking back can be effective. He was very successful in attacking Rubio for his robotic responses, attacking Jeb Bush for just about anything while using these attacks as a way to keep himself front and center on the news. The media had no idea how to deal with him, because it requires a lot of people to produce content and planning from senior leadership to manage what should be included in a given segment.

The groups that were able to handle Trump the best were smaller organizations with more flexibility like The Intercept and contributing writers like the Young Turks, and Shaun King. These people were able to be much more nimble and respond because they either had editorial freedom, or could push out an article on a daily basis without much need of oversight.

These are the same people that draw the most criticism from the central planners, similar to Rommel, in the DNC and Establishment Democrats. DNC wants to manage the resistance and plan how they are to address the Trump issue complete. This is doomed for failure the same reason the Jeb failed. It’s too reactionary and cares too much about it’s own “Optics.”

To truly combat Trump, you must use similar tactics, continually pressing attacks. Continually keeping him on his heels, force him to jump from one thing to another, without really being able to focus on anything of actual import. The next step is to completely tie the republican establishment to Trump in every article and work to ensure that they are also back on their heels reacting to Trumps reaction.

These attacks must, of course, be factual and use a policy informed with stories of people to counteract Trump. The Repeal of Obamacare is the best place to use this tactic as there’s a lot of misinformation about it and there’s a lot success stories. However, playing the victim card won’t work here, because Trump loves victims and he thrives when people feel victimized.

So, I’m going to start blogging more about these sorts of topics and trying to use this approach to engage the other side to see what happens. Could be terrifying, but it’s something that must be done.

An Election Reflection

I’ve been pretty disappointed with the entire election process this go around. I haven’t blogged at all during it because I’ve been so disheartened by all the candidates excepting Bernie Sanders. I felt betrayed by the Democratic party, which I even decided to join, shedding my proud independent classification to actually vote in the primary. He struck a cord with me that I think a lot of people that have lost their jobs and had hard times could relate to. Apparently, some people felt that with him out of the race the next logical person was Trump. He was speaking to the same people.

One thing that we have to keep in mind about this, and if you travel around the US you’ll see this, is that most of America is really suffering. I used to drive between Austin and Santa Fe, New Mexico on a really regular basis. This was a super depressing drive. There were entire towns that were essentially abandoned. Boarded up homes, empty shops with shattered windows, and rusted out cars on the side of the road. It was depressing. With my current job, I frequently travel to other cities for work. Most of these cities have a lot of money, but every time I’ve had to go near the part of the town that’s really depressed. That is hurting, that needs saving.

These are the people that voted for Trump. The people that have no hope. My home town most certainly went to Trump, the county did as well. Except for a few areas that part of the country is pretty depressed. In a small town like Grove City, there are only one or two major suppliers of jobs and if one of them closes down due to a loss of contract or moving a plant somewhere else, the entire town and surrounding area will suffer. Trump’s goal is to make it more difficult for that to happen.

States like PA were hit super hard by the shifting of economics away from manufacturing in the United States. Yes we’re still one of the largest manufactures in the world, but at most of those facilities, they are heavily automated and the jobs that require more and more skills are fewer and fewer. For example, in a semiconductor fab, there are two types, fully autonomous where the only labor are engineers or equipment maintenance people or manually loaded fabs, where you toss in a handful of operators to load the tools. The goal of every fab out there is to drive down the cost of the operators loading the tools but using systems that will do their thinking for them.

This is just business. This is only going to get worse over the next 5-10 years. In fact, news outlets are already calling that automation is going to prevent Trump from meeting his job goals, even if he pulls back large amounts of manufacturing to the US. Elon Musk is calling for a Universal Income because automation is going to take our jobs. It’s not just going to be low paying jobs, this is going to move up the food chain and will probably take out jobs like Paralegals, reduce the number of doctors, etc.

This is why Trump won. The folks that voted for him voted for him in spite of everything else he stood for. They were able to look past that because he was promising them something that Clinton couldn’t. He selling them the idea of real job creation. He was telling them that his business experience would translate to getting the best deal for US workers, because he’d done it before. This is what they heard. Even when presented with (faked) behavior worse than “Grab them by the Pussy” his supporters looked past it (Clinton supports did the same).

What we need to do now is to organize. Create long lasting groups that will change the way the US does politics. This needs to start at the local level and move up to the larger stages. It will take time. The first step to righting many issues within the country is to get rid of various forms of Gerrymandering and eliminate corruption through campaign finance reform. I believe this has to be the first place to start, because as Trump says, you can buy access to any politician if you give them money.

Tech and Art

Last night I asked for a writing prompt, not for my blog, but for my planned creative writing stream on Twitch.tv. Instead of a fictional writing prompt, I got one requesting I write about the intersection of technology and art. This is a pretty interesting space to be honest as there are folks that are building crazy things for Burning Man, Soak in Oregon, and just for fun.

The laser reflecting on the windmill is pretty interesting. I haven’t see anything quite like this before. When I used to drive between Austin and Santa Fe on a regular basis the wind mills in east Texas, always got me excited, even when it was just the flashing light on the top. The elegance of the blades juxtaposed with the barren landscape was really a great site to behold.

This gif also brought to mind another Dutch technologist/artist though. This creator uses a form of machine evolution to create super interesting “animals” that move around on beaches without going into the ocean and that move around more efficiently.

A book I read a number of years ago, called “Design Driven Innovation”  talks about how using art along with an understanding of how people use objects allows a great deal of innovation in our products. What might seem useless today, such as a laser on a windmill may actually help pave the way for new energy transmission methodologies or perhaps another way to enhance the amount of energy a windmill actually creates.

I’ll close this with my thoughts about an event in Eindhoven, The Netherlands that I really loved. It was a Glow Festival, which really makes sense because it was a city large built upon the successes of Philips. It is a festival where the entire city center is turned into a series of light art exhibits. It combines the aesthetics of the old city, with modern lights. I really enjoyed it and if you’re living in Europe I strongly suggest you check it out!

Values in an Agile/Lean/Innovative company

This is part of my Lean Disruption Series where I’m looking at Lean, Agile, Innovation, and Lean Startup.

None of these methodologies can be adopted for free. They require a great deal of firm introspection. Understanding how processes interaction with people and values is vital to adopting any of these approaches let alone a combination of these approaches.

Metrics are one of the best examples of how there can be conflicts between stated values, values in making decisions, how resources are handled and how processes are structured. The famous saying “You manage what you measure” is right in a lot of ways. Many companies claim that they value customer satisfaction, however many of these companies do not actually do anything with the satisfaction surveys they do get. Comcast is the most obvious example of this. Comcast doesn’t really value customer satisfaction because they measure their customer support on how much they can upsell to the customer anytime they are on the phone. This changes the processes their customer support must use, rather than designing processes to enable single call resolution, their processes are designed to enable selling more products. Their employees, the resources, are rated based on this and if they don’t meet those goals they are unlikely to do well. Considering the Verge’s Comcast Confessions series most of the resources at Comcast do not feel valued. This all points to the true values for Comcast being retention at all costs and more revenue per user measured in Churn and ARPU (Average Revenue per User) respectfully.

Agile Manifesto from ITIL’s blog

For a company to adopt an Agile approach to developing software, the paradigm of what the organization values must radically change to align to the Agile Manifesto. In most software development the concepts on the right are what are valued through a Project Management Office. The concepts on the left are typically considered only at the beginning or the end of the project or not at all. Working product is the goal of a project, while customer collaboration inclusive only in the beginning getting requirements.

Switching from the right to the left creates massive cultural upheaval at an organization, where power is shifted down and out. It is shifted down to the team level, where managers in the past made all the important decisions Product Owners, Scrum Masters, and developers make the decision now with the customers. Power is shifted out through increased collaboration with the customer. Customer centricity forces the company to understand what the customer really wants and more quickly respond to changes in their understanding of their needs. This does mean that the “requirements” change, however, in many cases due to the uncertainty in a technology, interface, or some other aspect it was impossible to properly articulate the actual need until there was an example in front of the customer.

With these value changes there must be process changes to that properly reflect the change in the way the values require work to be completed. In the case where Single Call resolution is the most important metric reflecting the value of true customer satisfaction, processes must be built to enable that – such as training, information repositories, and authority to truly address customer needs at a single point of contact. In software development rapid iteration with continual feedback is a process that must be built to enable that.

This changes are not free and require true commitment from leaders across the organization. Without their commitment any adoption of these frameworks is doomed to failure.

Diversity, Vital but Difficult

Increasing diversity at work is extremely difficult. There are all sorts of unconscious biases in the work place, including the words we use to describe jobs. Language that appeals to mostly guys could be a serious turn off to females. Calling people “Hackers” like in the Fast Company linked above, not only turns off females, it turns of men too. It has a connotation of a specific type of work ethos that doesn’t necessarily mesh with the type of environment a lot of people want to work in. While it’s awesome for fresh out of college graduates, for many experienced employees it sends the wrong message.

Diversity is a worthy goal, but it also needs to be tied to performance improvements in the organization. Not because you want to make a decision to turn it off or not, but because you need to know how successful it is and how it’s impacting the organization. If you’re hiring more women, how do you think that’s going to impact your company? Is it going to increase the number of releases, the number of novel features, make the product more appealing to women in general? The answers to these questions are incredibly important because the results should shape where your organization is going over time. Diversity isn’t going to just impact the team, it’s going to move the company. As a leader you should expect a similar result from the African-American and Latino communities as well.

Sociology research has indicated that diversity in backgrounds, even something like living abroad or knowing another language, dramatically increases the number of good ideas that come out of a group. Developing a clear plan with metrics will help leaders, that may not have bought into the plan, to understand the true value.

Unfortunately, this means that there is a group of workers that are going to either actually be negatively impacted or will feel like they are being unfairly called out. Scott Adams of Dilbert wrote about this just a few days ago as it has actually impacted his career. He had to leave two careers over diversity pushes, but he knew as a white male engineer that he’d be able to find work in other industries because he was a white male engineer. Other groups do not have that luxury. The Scott Adams of this world aren’t the problem, it is the people that feel that this is the wrong thing to do are being attacked by these initiatives. This is something that needs to be addressed immediately as it can seriously poison the culture of the company. It will make the diversity hires feel like they were only hired because they were a diversity candidates not because they bring something to the table. My wife has told me she has directly been told that before, which is unfair to her because she’s an amazingly brilliant woman.

There are a few ways to deal with recalcitrant people. One is the help them leave through a comfortable severance package. Obviously this would need to be handled carefully to avoid any potential lawsuits. Secondly, it needs to be clear that there is a place in the organization for white males in some fashion. Help them help with the diversification of the organization. For the highly experienced have them mentor some of the candidates so they can support those new employee’s career growth, they know the organization best and know where it needs help the most. Enable talent to move to the best places for them in the organization through mentoring. Provide mentoring to this cohort of employee by both minorities and others that have already bought into increasing diversity.

Increasing diversity is difficult because it’s painful. It means a great deal of change for everyone involved. The incumbent employees will have to adapt to a new work culture, while the diversity candidates might feel aggression towards them. It’s important for leaders to create the right type of environment where everyone can succeed and grow.

Legacies and Self Reflection

Last night while listening to Pandora, Fall Out Boy’s “Centuries” came on, not a huge fan of the song, but it got me thinking about how difficult it is to be remembered for “Centuries.” Even 100 years after a person’s death is impressive. Considering the fact that most people if asked who the richest person ever is, they wouldn’t come up with John D. Rockefeller even though his legacy is likely to last more than 100 years.

This made me think about my legacy at the companies I’ve worked. Once you leave a company having a positive legacy for years to come is difficult unless you implemented a major project or new product. This is important to me considering I’m going through a “Career Transition” according to my previous company. My last day is on Friday the 13th, because I’m being laid off. At my previous company my only real lasting legacy will be the impact of the process improvement training program and my help on the new medical management system. The latter will likely not be a long lasting legacy, while the former might last as long as the people I trained.

I am being let go because my organization didn’t prioritize process improvement, so my position was eliminated to make room for higher priority employees. It happens, i’m disappointed because we were just getting our program off the ground. We had several completed Kaizen events and one of them is up for a Blues Innovation award. I’m excited to have made that much of an impact so quickly with my student’s work and jobs. I believe that my students will continue to thrive and make significant changes to the organization using the skills I taught them.

I hope that my previous job’s legacy for me is to have learned from what I did well and did poorly at the organization. I know I was far from perfect and have room for improvement. I believe I can and will improve and that I will end up in a better position because of my experience at this job.