Monthly Archives: May 2009

Creating a Culture of Collaboration

This post is inspired by Dr. Mark Drapeau (aka @cheeky_geeky).

In the business I work in, changing the culture of a community of people who do not have a history of sharing information freely isn’t easy. One of the common complaints I hear is when hard-working individuals consistently see their efforts re-packaged as someone else’s (imagine an analyst who writes an amazing paper only to discover that another analyst at a different agency has taken that paper and passed it off as his/her own). The beauty of working in an inter-agency, enterprise 2.0 environment is it’s more difficult to do this because work is transparent. One of the principles I espouse to all the students I teach and train is attribution and how necessary it is in order to create a culture of sharing; because when you take credit for things other people create, it sends the signal that individual gain is above community gain as opposed to being equal.

My question to @cheeky_geeky is: how do you decide when to give Twitter attribution? I and others have noticed that @cheeky_geeky will post tweets verbatim from someone without giving ReTweet (RT) attribution. I can understand it happening once in a while but it happens more than that (I’m sure a script could do analysis on this). Does this become a slippery slope? A tweet here, a blog post there? Perhaps this is part of experimentation. I don’t know. I do know that integrity is consistency…of actions, principles and outcomes.

The End of My Affair

Most affairs don’t begin with a person saying “I’m going to have an affair” for the sake of having an affair. That’s just not how it works. Mine began a year and a half ago. The situation practically begged for it – it was that attractive and tempting. And yes it felt wrong. But it also felt good. Really good. Like the kind of heavy release you have after being under water for an extended period of time, coming up for that first gasp of air. It was such a facile conquest.

It feels trite to attribute it to work circumstances – I could timorously say that had I not been in the position I was in, I wouldn’t have started the affair. But I can’t say that. I chose to be in that environment, driven by something shiny, tempting, and new. The affair was a coping mechanism – a blinder – to avoid dealing with what was really going on. But isnt’ that how all our vices take life? As a distraction from reality. Even as I commenced writing this not-so-easy admission, the craving returned.

Adderall is a stimulant drug used to enhance cognitive performance and “treat” Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). If you’ve ever sat next to me in a meeting, you’ve noticed my leg thumping at an accelerated speed, like an industrial-style sewing machine hard at work. Ostensibly I meet all the criteria for ADHD. I say ostensibly because I’m not convinced not liking to sit and participate in an activity that offers little benefit or stimulation (aka boredom) qualifies as a disorder. In the first grade my mom had to demand my new school test my IQ when a teacher wanted to place me in a “problem student” group – she said I wouldn’t be a problem if I wasn’t so bored. She was right.

The catalyst for my affair was a new job role – with new responsibilities – including sitting through three and a half hour long meetings. I felt like a lioness trapped in a six-by-six foot cage. The worst part was it didn’t have to be a long meeting – it was the result of ineffective and inefficient processes, tools and management (which eventually were addressed). I did a little research on ADHD and the drugs to treat it, then made an appointment with my doctor. He asked me some questions and prescribed it. And it worked. I was able to perform tasks with an element of physical detachment that I had never experienced before.

Cognition performance meds like Adderall and Ritalin have become the drug de jour of such illustrious groups such as Hollywood celebutantes and Ivy Leaguers. Lindsay Lohan was recently outed in Us magazine for using it to lose weight and it is widely accepted as the norm at college campuses to give students the boost they desire at finals time. 95% of these drugs are sold in the United States, with the biggest geographic consumer being the Northeast. There was even an episode in Desperate Housewives where one of the moms tapped into her child’s Ritalin stash to become Supermom.

So if everyone is doing it, what’s the big deal? It has become as common as athletes using steroids – who doesn’t do it? Roughly seven percent of all college students, and up to 20 percent of scientists, have already used Ritalin or Adderall to improve their mental performance (Wired). And several prominent ethicists and neuroscientists for Nature recently published a paper entitled, “Towards a responsible use of cognitive-enhancing drugs by the healthy.” So why would I end my affair with Adderall?

Because as with all “quick fixes” in life, there is always a catch. There’s always a cost. Sometimes it takes longer to discover all the costs. The first and most apparent one I noticed was the impact on my heart. I started experiencing chest pains and irregular heart beats, just every now and then, but enough to impact my ability to workout and be active. As an athlete and someone who has maintained a lifelong commitment to physical well-being, this was disturbing. If I know one thing it’s this: when it comes to matters of the heart, you don’t mess around.

And then there’s the bigger cost, one I didn’t fully realize until after returning from SXSW. It was my first time at the “Springbreak for Geeks” conference. I attended along with two great friends and colleagues (Andrea Baker and Steve Mandzik) and we had a blast (Steve’s write-up best explains why). After returning, Steve and I were standing in the middle of a bar (RFD) and he asked me how I felt now that we had returned from Southby. I paused for a moment and said, “I didn’t take my Adderall. I didn’t need it.” He asked me a few questions – why I started taking it, how it makes me feel – then let out this maniacal laugh – the quintessential Steve laugh, like the jokes on you and he’s thoroughly enjoying it. And finally he said it – You’re trying to fit into a world that doesn’t cater to people like us.

I started to tear up because I knew he was right. The fact is, I wasn’t taking Adderall to lose weight (FYI: I know people who are on Adderall who are not skinny) and I wasn’t on it to give me more energy (for someone like me, it tempered what I consider my natural buoyancy). Maybe it helped me slug through the more menial tasks at work but I don’t think it helped me perform better. (Side comment: if college students need to use it to get through finals, a process that does nothing to promote actual learning, maybe it’s time we actually address education in this country).

I’ve been Adderall-free for 3 weeks now. When I first went off, I felt…like me, which can probably be most easily conveyed by The Tigger Song. I’ve been able to “manage” my Sengrrr-ness by doing “radical” things like moving to a different desk so I can concentrate without constant interruptions and distractions, taking walks throughout the day, working hours that take advantage of my most productive period in the day (which is not the morning), reading work material on the elliptical and treadmill at the gym (which is where I do some of my best thinking), bringing a balance ball chair into work to encourage proper posture at my desk, bringing job-related reading material to meetings so I can utilize the time during the attention-not-critical segments, having clear and defined objectives for any meeting I attend and organize and sticking to them, and working by myself in a conference room when I need space to be creative and think big. Do any of these activities seem radical?

I wrote this post without Adderall. I’m concerned that people are being sold a bill of goods with cognition performance drugs, mainly because I don’t believe I thought any better on Adderall nor performed better. I wasn’t more creative or innovative and quite frankly, I have more energy and passion when I’m off of it. It did keep me up at night and for me, sleep and rest is key to mental and physical performance. Maybe some people like being an automaton. Maybe there are people who want a country of automatons. Maybe being able to do menial tasks for longer periods of time is a competitive advantage and I say if you want this competitive advantage, go for it, by all means, because my advantage will be that I’m not on it. I can’t say I won’t fall off the wagon and take Adderall again. But I can say I refuse to live a life where I need a drug to feel less like me in order to get through the day and I when I do feel the urge to take it, I’ll pay attention to the cause and deal with that instead of addressing the symptoms.

Momma, I Love You

Top 5 Awesomeness about my Mom:

  1. TechWizard
    • U would not believe this about my Mom but in the last year she has become wizard. Just last month we were at grammy’s place and both geeking on our iPhone’s. Plus she texts, emails, flickr’s, twttr’s, and freakin loves her speakerphone.
  2. She Loves Talk
    • Boy does she love gabbing. I think if she had a super power it would be to engage in conversation. We can sit for hours and just talk. Mom i think you need a talk show. Or, better yet let’s you and i podcast!
  3. Fashion
    • Mom you love to shop, but even cooler you keep your fashion sense going. Sometimes I question your obsession with dolphins and leopard print, but then you pass onto lighthouses and Sting. Keep up the cool fashion sense Mom and thanks for picking out my number one favorite shoes which are crazy in fashion now.
  4. Support
    • Everyone has a number one fan and mine is of course my Momma. She reads all my twttrs and blogs (even the multiple accounts i have on both systems). She checks out my pics and watches my videos. For my new venture, A Clean Life, she is even telling everyone she knows about it and growing the cause with me.
  5. Innovator
    • I am sometimes known as an innovative thinker. In fact, sometimes i am incapable of thinking ‘inside’ the box. Not until this year did i realize where i got that from….my Mom! She is totally a game changer. She does it not for the thrill but because its the right thing to do. Though, when she does do it she does get scared. Standing up to people and telling the truth is hard, but she still does it and inspires me to keep doing so too.

A Letter to My Mom

Dear Mom,

I know time together is the best gift I can give you, right? But I thought this Mother’s Day I’d share with you some of the things you’ve given me…

I know you’ve had to work hard and fight for the things in your life, in ways I will never know or experience.

I know that being a girl in a patriarchal family must have been like being a second-class citizen in your own home.

And I know that Grandmom said some pretty mean things growing up. But there hasn’t been a day in my life when I haven’t thought of you as my beautiful, intelligent mom who has tremendous grace and fortitude. And even for her downfalls as a mother, Grandmom was a grandmother who always made me feel loved and adored.

And I know Grandpop was not affectionate but what he lacked in affection, he made up for with an emphasis on family. And by god did you give me the most loving, openly caring and expressive dad.

And I know watching your three brothers be supported to attend universities while the girls were expected to get married and raise children was not fair or right. But I’m so glad you went to college anyway; doing it on your own and not having any support must have been difficult. But you’ve taught me that education and lifelong learning is the greatest gift we can give ourselves.

And I know that getting a divorce at a time when it was not en vogue and being a single, working mom must have been tough, and being the parent who is there and doing the raising is always going to be the most trying role. But I wouldn’t be here if you hadn’t.

And I know I wasn’t the easiest child to raise: strange, precocious and having a mind of my own are all kind ways of saying major pain in the ass. But somehow you were able to feed and nurture all my interests, needs and eccentricities – through food and art and dance and travel and music – and a lot of patience.

And I know it’s important to nurture all the relationships in our life – with our parents, our children, our friends, and our partners.

And I know we’ve had our differences and sometimes we don’t see eye-to-eye on things, but you taught me how to have a mind of my own:)

And I know a rich life is not measured in dollars.
And humility is not about being lowly but being connected to each other on one basic, human level.
And strength is not exercised by how many people we triumph over but how high we lift ourselves and others.
And grace may seem effortless but it takes effort.
And beauty is all around us but we still must seek it out and create it.

Thanks for everything you’ve given me. Happy Mother’s Day.

The Story of 1×57 & A Clean Life

On Monday, August 7, 2006, I started a new role as an instructor for a sabbatical program that is, what I consider, the gold standard for how enterprises should educate and teach its employees how and why to use social, web 2.0 software. I know the date, because 4 days prior, I called off my engagement and showed up to one of my best friend’s wedding, without my fiance. My friend reminds me of this and the date on a regular basis. I share this only because it is a turning point in the history of my life, a crossroads of sorts, when I decided to deviate from everything I knew and thought I wanted.

Enter Steve.

Steve and I were the first set of instructors to support what has become the Sean and Don show – the creators and pioneers of the program. If there is one thing that stands out in my mind about Steve and my initial impression of him, it was his total state of ease. I guess when you’ve spent time as a high school teacher and a software manager at Blizzard, teaching the intel community how to collaborate and share knowledge virtually isn’t a difficult transition.

Steve and I spent a year together in the lab, teaching and running the sabbatical. If I am considered by anyone today a good instructor, it’s because of him. During that time, we talked, a lot. Sometimes we would spend hours just talking, and debating. Most of the time his logic didn’t make sense to me. But that’s what I liked. The lab was the place where you could vent, learn, regenerate, geek-out, trade and argue ideas and thoughts, lay in the middle of the floor in the dead-man’s upward-facing floating position in total exasperation with the world.

1×57 is an inside joke. What it stands for is a foundation, a base…the place where it’s okay to be the renegade, the radical, the rebel, the dissident. That’s why Steve and I started it – our virtual home to be us.

Since I’ve known him, Steve has always been a “trash man.” My earliest memories include him not throwing away a single scrap of paper. And making sure we were first to have a recycling bin as part of a facilities pilot. And him ALWAYS using a ceramic mug and bowl for his morning tea and “mush.” And him reusing his plastic salad container, washing it out EVERY single day. And him rarely buying new clothes – instead opting for trips to Buffalo Exchange, the “hip” thrift clothing exchange store. If there is one thing most people will agree on about Steve, it’s that he’s not wasteful. He has mastered the art of efficiency and resourcefulness. This is who Steve is.

So when Steve told me he was leaving DC to start a non-profit to reduce waste in our country, I thought, “What a great idea,” – but that quickly changed to, “What the f$ck!?! You’re supposed to be my partner in 1×57.” I realized, however, that Steve is doing exactly what 1×57 is all about. He’s following his own truth. People have asked me why I’m helping him with A Clean Life. It’s difficult for me to understand why the question is being asked in the first place. Since when does helping a friend require an explanation? Actually, since when did not trashing your home go out of practice – shouldn’t we all be participating? I could say that my concentration in college was “Environment” and that the thesis I wrote is being used today for JMU’s Sustainability program. Or that starting at age 10, I was asking my parents what happened to all the trash we produced and shouldn’t we care about it? Or that “The ultimate test of a moral society is the kind of world that it leaves to its children.”(~Dietrich Bonhoeffer)

Ultimately, though, I believe in Steve. From the day I met him, I’ve felt this need – this pull, this push – to help him. I can’t explain it. Our relationship doesn’t make sense to a lot of people and it has changed over the years. But what hasn’t changed is how I know whenever we’re together, whether we’re talking, or fighting, or whatever, it’s worth more than anything material I can ever possess.

The Story of 1×57 & A Clean Life

On Monday, August 7, 2006, I started a new role as an instructor for a sabbatical program that is, what I consider, the gold standard for how enterprises should educate and teach its employees how and why to use social, web 2.0 software. I know the date, because 4 days prior, I called off my engagement and showed up to one of my best friend’s wedding, without my fiance. My friend reminds me of this and the date on a regular basis. I share this only because it is a turning point in the history of my life, a crossroads of sorts, when I decided to deviate from everything I knew and thought I wanted.

Enter Steve.

Steve and I were the first set of instructors to support what has become the Sean and Don show – the creators and pioneers of the program. If there is one thing that stands out in my mind about Steve and my initial impression of him, it was his total state of ease. I guess when you’ve spent time as a high school teacher and a software manager at Blizzard, teaching the intel community how to collaborate and share knowledge virtually isn’t a difficult transition.

Steve and I spent a year together in the lab, teaching and running the sabbatical. If I am considered by anyone today a good instructor, it’s because of him. During that time, we talked, a lot. Sometimes we would spend hours just talking, and debating. Most of the time his logic didn’t make sense to me. But that’s what I liked. The lab was the place where you could vent, learn, regenerate, geek-out, trade and argue ideas and thoughts, lay in the middle of the floor in the dead-man’s upward-facing floating position in total exasperation with the world.

1×57 is an inside joke. What it stands for is a foundation, a base…the place where it’s okay to be the renegade, the radical, the rebel, the dissident. That’s why Steve and I started it – our virtual home to be us.

Since I’ve known him, Steve has always been a “trash man.” My earliest memories include him not throwing away a single scrap of paper. And making sure we were first to have a recycling bin as part of a facilities pilot. And him ALWAYS using a ceramic mug and bowl for his morning tea and “mush.” And him reusing his plastic salad container, washing it out EVERY single day. And him rarely buying new clothes – instead opting for trips to Buffalo Exchange, the “hip” thrift clothing exchange store. If there is one thing most people will agree on about Steve, it’s that he’s not wasteful. He has mastered the art of efficiency and resourcefulness. This is who Steve is.

So when Steve told me he was leaving DC to start a non-profit to reduce waste in our country, I thought, “What a great idea,” – but that quickly changed to, “What the f$ck!?! You’re supposed to be my partner in 1×57.” I realized, however, that Steve is doing exactly what 1×57 is all about. He’s following his own truth. People have asked me why I’m helping him with A Clean Life. It’s difficult for me to understand why the question is being asked in the first place. Since when does helping a friend require an explanation? Actually, since when did not trashing your home go out of practice – shouldn’t we all be participating? I could say that my concentration in college was “Environment” and that the thesis I wrote is being used today for JMU’s Sustainability program. Or that starting at age 10, I was asking my parents what happened to all the trash we produced and shouldn’t we care about it? Or that “The ultimate test of a moral society is the kind of world that it leaves to its children.”(~Dietrich Bonhoeffer)

Ultimately, though, I believe in Steve. From the day I met him, I’ve felt this need – this pull, this push – to help him. I can’t explain it. Our relationship doesn’t make sense to a lot of people and it has changed over the years. But what hasn’t changed is how I know whenever we’re together, whether we’re talking, or fighting, or whatever, it’s worth more than anything material I can ever possess.