The Entrepreneurial Engineer

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Nextumi hires CEO

Since September 2004, I've been chief scientist of a company called Nextumi, Inc. that is developing technology to turn the web inside out (see Champaign News-Gazette article here). In late December 2005, the company hired a CEO, Mike Blackwell, who brings long development and business experience in pioneering web based companies. An article in today's News-Gazette (print only), highlights Blackwell's experience and Nextumi's plans.

Friday, January 27, 2006

IESE versus GE

I used to work in a department called General Engineering. The new name is Industrial and Enterprise Systems Engineering. Read more here.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Values course

I'm almost done with a terrific course available over at the Teaching Company. In particular, Patrick Grim's Questions of Value has absolutely knocked my sox off. Here are the lecture titles:
  1. Questions of Value
  2. Facts and Values
  3. Lives to Envy, Lives to Admire
  4. Foundations of Ethics—Theories of the Good
  5. Foundations of Ethics—Theories of the Right
  6. Thoughts on Religion and Values
  7. Life's Priorities
  8. The Cash Value of a Life
  9. How Do We Know Right from Wrong?
  10. Cultures and Values—Questions of Relativism
  11. Cultures and Values—Hopi, Navajo, and Ik
  12. Evolution, Ethics, and Game Theory
  13. The Objective Side of Value
  14. Better Off Dead
  15. A Picture of Justice
  16. Life's Horrors
  17. A Genealogy of My Morals
  18. Theories of Punishment
  19. Choice and Chance
  20. Free Will and Determinism
  21. Images of Immortality
  22. Ethical Knowledge, Rationality, and Rules
  23. Moralities in Conflict and in Change
  24. Summing Up

Lecture 10 on relativism was quite nice in separating different flavors of relativism from one another, and lecture 6 on religion was well argued even if I didn't agree with his conclusions.

Elsewhere, I've raved about Teaching Company courses (see here, here, here, and here), but this one is a keeper. If you haven't tried these courses, start with Questions of Value.

Vacuous method + new-age mumbo jumbo = Presence

Over the holidays I read Presence: An Exploration of Profound Change in People, Organizations, and Society by Senge, Scharmer, Jaworksi, and Flowers. I enjoyed Senge's The Fifth Discipline and have since my first reading believed that systems thinking Senge-style (a derivative of Forrester style) is a useful tool to help bridge qual-quant divide in organizational theory and analysis. I was chagrined, therefore, when I dug into Presence and found it methodologically vacuous, full of new era overstatement, reliant on new-age mumbo jumbo, .

The book is the anecdotal account of a year and a half conversation among the authors about changes taking place in organizations in response to the rapid and global pace we witness today. The meetings take place in a bunch of swell places around the globe and the authors are earnest about finding answers to the pressing problems of organizations today, but in the end the result seems to be, drum roll please, an amalgam of what the authors believed before they started talking to one another.

This is not to say that there is nothing interesting here. The book is a not unenjoyable read with engaging stories about personal and organizational transformation. And there is interesting speculation, extension, and integration of the authors' theories. But the custom of late among organizational theorists has been to build or confirm theories in response to long-term data collection efforts. This is not a data-driven book, except in the loosest anecdotal, quasi-historical sense.

OK, fine. That a bunch of organizational theorists have written a book of speculative theory is a not a news flash, but is the theory interesting, provocative, insightful, or otherwise useful. The authors are largely concerned that the decomposition inherent in the solution of any complex problem prevents sufficient holistic thought to solve the problem well. To counter this the authors propose the U Movement, a series of seven steps to step back and be more integrative and creative about organizational problem solving. The seven steps are as follows:
  1. Suspending
  2. Redirecting
  3. Letting go
  4. Letting come
  5. Crystallizing
  6. Prototyping
  7. Institutionalizing
(Don't seven steps constitute a decidely unholistic decomposition of a process; can't the authors be more integrative about their learning architecture? But I digress.). The steps seem to map fairly nicely to Wallas's earlier (1926) Art of Thought or Osborne's pioneering work on brainstorming going back to 1939, and the work is more concerned about how to institute such thinking in large-scale organizations as opposed to earlier creativity theorists who were more concerned with individuals or small groups. Yet there isn't anything here that seems compellingly interesting or provocative.

Moreover, to read the book one must put up with a fair amount of new-age mumbo jumbo and Western thought and institution bashing. For example, the rationale for being in the moment (to presence) is drawn from Zen and other Eastern traditions. This is fine (and certainly not new), but the authors go on and bash Western governments, institutions, and corporations for not being in the moment and sufficiently holistic. If only they were all more Eastern in their thinking, the world would be closer to the authors' utopian ideals. This is an easy game to play, because all global institutions today (including those in the East) are decidely Western in their decomposition, organization, management, and operation. Of course, this is because Western thought and culture have been decidely successful (have won the evolutionary struggle) in creating new knowledge and using it, going back at least as far as Bacon.

Of course, the jig is up once one understands what the authors want to do with their theories. Not only are they interested in improving large global organizations that are forming everywhere. Their Global Leadership Initiative, seeks to focus on "critical issues like AIDS, water, malnutrition, sustatinable food production, and climate change--over the next five years." How? "By simultaneously engaging leaders from corporations, government, and civil society, GLIS is dedicated to building leadership capacity while producing concrete results."

I see. Leaders from despotic organizations like the UN and corrupt third-world countries will hold hands and sing Kumbaya with Senge and company, do a bunch of presencing, and solve all the remaining intractable problems of our world. That's a nice half-decade's work for an unproven methodology unsupported by data.

The larger problem here is that Forrester's leading disciple learned the wrong lessons of the master's work. The hope in the 60s and 70s that Systems Thinking I would lead to our ability to model organizations universally using computer simulation, but the failure of modeling efforts by the Club of Rome and others largely discredited such efforts. In Presence the tools have changed, but the utopian goals remain operative. A little humility in the face of such failure would certainly be in order but is not in evidence. As a result, it is hard to recommend Presence as a serious contribution to the organizational literature.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Resolved in 2006: List values, mission, and goals

The new year is an arbitrary but convenient time of the year to reflect on the past and make resolutions and plans for the future. At my recent TEE short course in Harrisburg (see here), I asked for a show of hands among those who regularly made professional goals or resolutions on an annual or more frequent basis. I was surprised to see only 2-3 people raise their hands (10% or so), because I know that short- and long-term personal planning are important elements in a personal success strategy for those who wish to steer their own life course.

For a long time, I merely went through an exercise of making a list of goals (personal, work, and financial) for the next year, but back in the early 90s I also drew up two other lists: a personal values statement and a personal mission statement. Now, in drawing up my goals, I take a look at the mission and values statement and think in terms of what things are most important to me and central to my life. Over the course of a year, I am usually gratified to see measurable accomplishment toward last year's goals, and over the course of a decade, I have seen progress toward living out my life's mission and values.

One of the hardest lessons for me in making these various lists has been trying to be true to my own heart. It is very easy to put things on your values, mission, or goals list that sound good but you don't really believe in. These imposter bullet points usually reveal themselves after a few years, but much wasted effort can be avoided by making lists that are consonant with who you are or who you want to be.

If you don't have a list of long-term goals, a values statement, and a personal mission statement, why not start 2006 out with a dose of reflection and added resolve to steer a course toward the life you would really like to lead. For those who are interested, chapter 3 of The Entrepreneurial Engineer (see here) covers these topics in more detail.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

10 steps to happiness

The Practice of Leadership has a post on ten steps to happiness here.

More HappyFest 2006

I forgot to mention rereading Dennis Prager's Happiness is a Serious Problem as part of HappyFest 2006. Prager has interesting perspectives on many issues. I enjoy his talk show, which I sometimes listen to out of KRLA in Los Angeles (www.krla870.com).

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Happiness fest

I've been reviewing some of my favorite books on happiness over the holidays as part of my usual yearend goal/mission/values exercise (see TEE chapter 3 here).

Here are the books I've been going over:

Learned Optimism (M. E. P. Seligman, see related post here)
Authentic Happiness (M. E. P. Seligman)
Man's Search for Meaning (V. Frankl, see related post here)
How to Do What You Love for a Living (N. Anderson)
Character Strengths and Virtues (C. Peterson & M. E. P. Seligman)
You Can Be Happy No Matter What (R. Carlson)
Nicomachean Ethics (Aristotle, see Teaching Company course here)

If you were going to read one, read Authentic Happiness. If you wanted to do a short course, do the Teaching Company course on Aritstotle's ethics.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Back from Orlando

Over the holidays I laid off the blog and took some time off with the family in Orlando (Orlando is Las Vegas for families; Las Vegas is Orlando for adults). The amount of commercial development since my last visit in 1999 is stunning, and the crowds after Xmas day were incredible. We enjoyed a fairly tame SeaWorld on Xmas day, and then stayed away from the theme parks. Weather was pleasant and it was just the right getaway from the cloudy cold of Champaign-Urbana.

Have done some business related reading over the holidays I'll be bloggin about. In the meanwhile, have a happy, productive, new year.