Christmas Gifts That Count

On rare occasions I step away from my primary theme in this blog. Christmas is certainly one of those. Many people I work with and many readers of this blog are not Christian, but I have not yet met or worked with anyone who does not appreciate the Christmas season as a time to exchange gifts with loved ones or enjoy the company of friends and family around a cup of cheer. So to all my friends, coworkers and blog readers, I wish you a very Merry Christmas and hope that this season will find you giving and receiving gifts that count.

What are the gifts that count? To answer that, I want to share with you a selection from a devotional talk given by President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Second Counselor in the First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (of which I am a member) at the 2011 First Presidency Christmas Devotional.

“Christmas and some of the cherished traditions of the season remind us that we, like the Wise Men of old, should seek the Christ and lay before Him the most precious of gifts: a broken heart and a contrite spirit. We should offer Him our love. We should give Him our willingness to take upon ourselves His name and walk in the path of discipleship. We should promise to remember Him always, to emulate His example, and to go about doing good.

We cannot offer Him the gift of perfection in all things because this is a gift beyond our capacity to give—at least for now. The Lord does not expect that we commit to move mountains. But He does require that we bring as gifts our best efforts to move ourselves, one foot in front of the other, walking in the ways He has prepared and taught.

And what are the Savior’s gifts to those who are willing to bring these gifts to Him?

This may be the most one-sided gift exchange in the history of the universe. The Savior’s gifts to us are breathtaking.

Let us begin with immortality. Because the Savior overcame death, all men and women—both the just and the unjust—will live forever.

Then, forgiveness—even though our sins and imperfections be as scarlet, they can become white as snow because of Him.

And finally, eternal life—the greatest gift of all. Because of the Atonement of Christ, not only are we guaranteed an infinite quantity of life, but He offers the possibility of an unimaginable quality of life as well.

Some of His divine gifts are reserved for that glorious future day when we return to His presence.

But He extends many gifts and His grace to us every day. He promises to be with us, to come to us when we need comfort, to lift us when we stumble, to carry us if needed, to mourn and rejoice with us. Every day He offers to take us by the hand and help transform ordinary life into extraordinary spiritual experiences.”

Whether you celebrate the Christ and His birth this season or not, I wish you all peace and joy and a happy and prosperous new year.

Meaningless Meetings Meander Morosely Mostly

Recently I came across an interesting list of top ten time wasters at work. I jotted them down but have lost the source, so I apologize for not providing the link. Here’s their list:

  1. Instant Messaging
  2. Over-Reliance on Email
  3. Meandering Meetings
  4. Short Gaps Between Meetings
  5. Reacting to Interruptions
  6. Ineffective Multi-Tasking
  7. Disorganized Workspace
  8. Personal Communication
  9. Web Surfing "Breaks"
  10. Cigarette/Coffee Breaks

It’s a decent list that one might find on many top ten sites, I’m sure. But it’s not terribly accurate. You see, the biggest time waster in the enterprise is the Meaningless, Meandering Meeting Machine. So here’s my revised list:

  1. Thinking about meetings.
  2. Planning meetings.
  3. Doodling in meetings.
  4. Talking about meetings.
  5. Scheduling and rescheduling meetings.
  6. Meetings.
  7. Follow-up meetings.
  8. Looking or asking for minutes from meetings.
  9. Assuming people will do what was agreed to in meetings.
  10. Making lists about meetings.

I have seen good, productive employees become consumed by the Meaningless Meetings Machine. It is an endless recursive function leading to enterprise stack overflow. Sometimes executives are lost for months in the Machine and when employees smart enough or lucky enough to stay away from the Machine are asked if they have seen Mr. Soandso, they say, No, and hurriedly move on lest they too be sucked into the Machine.

Seek to Establish a Corporate Culture of Honesty

In April of this year, an executive of another company told me in a telephone conversation, "Everybody lies. You just have to get used to it."

I was stunned by the statement and have given it a lot of thought since then. It reminded me of a scene from Babylon 5 that went something like this:

Garibaldi: Everybody lies.
Edgars: That's a very sad view of the universe, Mr. Garibaldi.
Garibaldi: Yeah, well, it's the only one I got. And it works for me.
Edgars: The truth will be revealed in a couple of days. How many people can say that?
Garibaldi: I don't know. But I think the last guy got thirty pieces of silver for the same job.

Dishonesty in this technological age has even produced its own vocabulary, specifically the verb "to blag." The third definition of "blag" in the Urban Dictionary:

To convince another person that all the stuff you just made up is in fact true and worthy. Example: "Caught in a tight spot, Harry blagged his way through the conversation and somehow got the job."

I do not wish to accept the dim view that everybody lies. And I certainly do not wish to get used to it, in any way shape or form. And yet there is growing evidence both anecdotally in my own professional career and globally that the enterprise often creates a dishonest culture. Author Brian Amble in Management Issues filed a piece in 2005 entitled Corporate Culture Encourages Lying. The author mentions "blagging" and makes these three very interesting points:

"The rot starts at the top, revealing a surprisingly ambivalent attitude amongst...bosses towards the honesty – or otherwise - of their staff."

"The vast majority of company directors and senior managers believe it is wrong for their employees to lie to them. But almost half are comfortable with those same employees telling untruths on their behalf to their customers – with female bosses even more tolerant of this sort of behavior than their male colleagues."

"[Microsoft] encourages decision-making [using a] technology-based process that creates permanent digital records and maintains the integrity of the information on which those decisions are based."

In my experience blagging is most especially prevalent in the world of software development where management clings to the notion, and consultants sell the latest process magic to reaffirm the assumption, that building software is like building a house, sufficiently predictable and repeatable so as to accurately establish a firm budget, timeline and resource commitment before ground is broken. Software artisans then find themselves in the very uncomfortable position of feeling pressured to lie to their patron bosses who clearly do not wish to know that building software is often as much an unpredictable art as it is in any way a predictable science.

Software craftsmen who boldly stand their ground and declare, "I don't know how long it will take to build that," are more often attacked and labeled malcontent and misfit, shunned by managers who insist that they can bend reality to their will while they ignore what their experts have told them. And lower management who know better are caught in the ultimate catch 22. They may believe their lead developers or software architects when they say, "we cannot deliver all these features on that date," but they cannot report that fact to their own managers or customers, so they choose to lie in order to protect and even advance their own career knowing that if the implementation team fails, they may avoid accountability by throwing the developers under the bus, asserting the implementation team is incompetent and ought to be replaced.

Given the impossible circumstances in which software craftsmen find themselves, they often resort to lying to themselves and their bosses asserting that they can produce some piece of software, despite the general lack of specific requirements and understanding of the problem domain or the target users, within the time budget and resource constraints imposed by management. And then in order to avoid being exposed as just another blagger, the software artisan (or collectively the team) works impossible hours, makes imprudent quality compromises and desperately seeks for external circumstances which can be blamed for delays. Knowing that such responsibility diverting opportunities always arise, the software artisan begins to accept and even embrace the culture of lies produced by her circumstances until she does not even recognize the truth.

I know that this scenario is not universal. There are organizations who take great steps, incorporating technology and constant vigilance, to avoid the traps of dishonesty. These organizations are led by honest people who genuinely listen to their people and avoid the trap of boxing their software craftsmen into a set of assumptions that are untenable at best and downright foolish at worst. Dr. Rhonne Sanderson said it best in an article by Marcia A. Reed-Woodard entitled Don't lie to me: dishonesty can ruin professional and personal relationships:

"Although lying provides an easy out in the short-term, it comes with serious repercussions," says Dr Rhonne Sanderson, a Dallas--Fort Worth area licensed psychotherapist. He maintains that the fallout from lying can hurt others, ruin relationships, as well as rob the liar of integrity, credibility, confidence, and self-esteem. "Lying only exacerbates the real problem."

If we let honesty govern our dealings with our fellow man, we will all be the better for it. We do not need to sacrifice civility for honesty, nor should we mistake an honest disagreement for disrespect or insubordination, for when we do, we encourage others to be dishonest through their silence.

We can boldly speak the truth and expect others to do so. We can hold ourselves and others to account. We need not settle for the notion that everybody lies. And we certainly do not need to get used to it. We can and ought to do and be better.

“Come What May, And Love It” (and Learn to Laugh)

I remember listening to this wise counsel three years ago from Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin Of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Today my mother reminded me of it and I enjoyed reading it again. If you have ever faced tough times or felt like you were on the losing end of a game, in sport, in work, in life, I hope this article will pick you up.

I would like to highlight one of the points Elder Wirthlin makes, perhaps my favorite:

Learn to laugh – When things go wrong, we can choose to be angry or sad or depressed, but if we choose to laugh, we can get through the present difficulty and more easily find a solution.

“The next time you’re tempted to groan, you might try to laugh instead. It will extend your life and make the lives of all those around you more enjoyable.”

When the stresses of work or a commute or a family crisis threaten to bring you down, laugh. It truly is the best medicine!

Keystrokes – Don’t Waste Them

I spend perhaps six hours a day, five days a week, fifty weeks a year hitting the keys. At my slow average typing speed of 30 words per minute (I can type faster but I’m not constantly hitting the keys, so I’m guessing here) and assuming I spend thirty years of my life doing this, my total keystrokes (assuming an average of 6 keystrokes per word) will be:

60 minutes * 6 hours * 5 days * 50 weeks * 30 years * 30 words * 6 keystrokes = 16,200,000 keystrokes

Percentage of my work output firing off an ill conceived email providing advice to someone who does not care or want the advice and will certainly not waste time reading the missive: 0.01%

Today I wasted 0.01% of my available productivity.

I’ve already consumed nearly 50% of my available keystrokes, so I’m posting this to remind myself to conserve my energy and use what remains of my personal utility more wisely.

Important note to self. Do not waste time writing perfectly good advice and sending it to someone who could not care less about your opinion. Instead, read a good book. Write a new blog post. Refactor some old code. Or just watch the leaves in the trees dance in the wind. This would be a more valuable use of that time. Time that cannot ever be recaptured.

Desktop Book Inventory of an Amazon and Borders Addict

Every few months I give up on stacking everything on my desk and begin the arduous task of cleaning it up. In my most recent battle with desktop clutter, I came to realize that I am a book addict. Set aside the numerous entertaining novels I've bought and read over the last few months because they don't make it to my work desk. If they did, I'd never get any work done.

Here's a list of just the books currently floating in the stacks on my desk. No, I am not making this up. And no, I'm not going to give you a link to each one of them. You can always hit www.amazon.com or your favorite alternative and look them up. Many of these come from my local Borders store and others from Amazon. My Amazon Prime account has more than paid for itself.

I must also confess that some of these were not purchased recently but have somehow made their way back off my shelf and onto my desk in recent months. The order is of no particular import except to note that it is essentially a LIFO list which may provide a quasi reverse chronological order to my wandering interests and/or problems/challenges.

  • Agile Principles, Patterns and Practices in C# by Martin and Martin
  • The Data Model Resource Book Volume 1 by Silverston
  • The Data Model Resource Book Volume 2 by Silverston
  • The Data Model Resource Book Volume 3 by Silverston and Agnew
  • Pro ASP.NET 2.0 in C# 2005 by MacDonald and Szpuszla
  • SQL Server Analysis Services 2005 with MDX by Harrinath and Quinn
  • Windows Workflow Foundation by Scribner
  • Programming WCF Services by Lowy
  • Pro C# 2008 and the .NET 3.5 Platform by Troelsen
  • jQuery in Action by Bibeault and Katz
  • Building a Data Warehouse by Rainardi
  • Programming Collective Intelligence by Segaran
  • Workflow in the 2007 Microsoft Office System by Mann
  • Pro SharePoint 2007 Development Techniques by Bruggeman and Bruggeman
  • Regular Expressions by Friedl
  • Regular Expression Recipes for Windows Developers by Good
  • Microsoft SharePoint Buidling Office 2007 Solutions in C# 2005 by Hillier
  • C# Cookbook by Teilhet and Hilyard
  • Refactoring Databases Evolutionary Database Design by Ambler and Sadalage
  • SharePoint Server 2007 Best Practices by Curry and English

Update: Wandering through the house, I found several more at various favorite reading spots. They've now taken their proper place on my desk piles. Here they are:

  • Pro Silverlight 2 in C# 2008 by MacDonald
  • Thinking in C++ Second Edition Volume 1 by Eckel
  • Chris Crawford on Interactive Storytelling by Crawford
  • A Programmer's Introduction to C# Second Edition by Gunnerson
  • Visual C# 2005: The Base Class Library by Balena (I won this one)

Yes, this is a sad but not unhealthy addiction. The only detriment here is to my pocketbook and the fact that I'm running out of shelf space. Do you any of you have similar addictions?