Leadership Lessons from Linus

Technology has changed the world. From the printing press to Facebook, technology has changed the way we view and interact with the world. As leaders, we must strategically implement technologies that improve our organizations and help our Associates understand and embrace those changes.

In order to select the appropriate technologies for their particular organizations, leaders must filter through tons of information and opinions to find relevant data. They must find trusted advisors that can assist with that daunting task, helping to identify technology that will improve their organizations. As Clay Shirky noted in his book, leaders must pick the right tool for the job. Just because a new technology is flashy or sexy doesn’t mean it will improve an organization. New technologies can be transformational to organizations, but only if they solve a need, can be embraced by the Associates and enhance the organizational culture.

The role of the organization in their Associates’ lives has also changed. In the last 50 years, men and women marry later and have fewer children. Many families live in suburban areas and both spouses work outside the home. Because of these changes, less socialization occurs in the neighborhood and organizations now provide a greater source of social interactions and activities. Because people are naturally social creatures, leaders have an opportunity to provide social opportunities for their Associates, creating a sense of social acceptance and collaboration at work. Gallup research has shown this improves employee engagement with their employers and provides a vital human need for Associates.

Technology can enable social collaboration in organizational environments, allowing leaders to source more input and participation from disparate groups. These interdisciplinary teams were difficult to create before technology enabled easy collaboration among people in different locations, industries and professions and leaders can leverage these advances to improve decision-making. Sustaining such disparate teams can be challenging, so leaders must establish a clear and strong vision that unites the team and sustains the team dynamics through inevitable conflict.

Leaders can learn several lessons from Linus Torvalds, creator of the Linux operating system. Torvalds did not set out to create a world-class operating system, he simply wanted to build a new and efficient kernel with online contributors. Incremental improvements over time by a diverse group of people have since made Linux a world-class operating system. Small changes are important and less daunting than huge organizational change. Leaders that make small course corrections immediately will see their changes add up over time as they find the correct path to take. Leaders that expand their pool of talent through the advances of technology and collaboration tools will take advantage of outstanding ability, regardless of location. And leaders that can motivate others to contribute to projects for the greater good instead of individual benefit will change the world.

Advertisements

Technology, Change and Technological Change

Technological change is fast, inevitable and intolerant to those who fall behind its staggering pace. As leaders, we need to ensure we are not behind in the technological race, nor are our Associates.

For IT professionals, we need to vet many different hardware and software trends to determine which make sense for our organization and our Associates.  Because so many hardware and software trends are tied together, this must be done holistically. Before a touch-optimized operating system is implemented, we need to plan for touchscreen monitors and laptops to take advantage of the new interface. Before moving applications to the cloud to take advantage of distributed processing capabilities, we need to architect our software and databases to run multi-threaded queries.

Information Technology leaders must make technical plans for change but they must not ignore the change management that must also be planned for technological change to be successful within an organization. Using the earlier example, upgrading an operating system has several technical steps that must be considered – testing, technical dependencies, pushing the software to users – but the much larger work effort is preparing users to understand the new interface and way to work. General training as well as individualized training may be necessary to teach users within an organization to do their jobs in a new operating system. Scheduling time for the upgrade to avoid major project deliverables or interfering with client expectations is vital to ensure organizational operations are affected as little as possible. Communicating the upcoming change in ways the users will hear and understand is important to ensure users are aware of and prepared for the change.

Leaders cannot know everything about technology trends, they must rely on their teams’ understanding of technological change and identify experts with which to consult regularly about technology trends on top of their own reading and explorations. They must seek information and be able to filter that information through the lens of their organization to determine what will impact their organization, how it will impact their organization and how they will lead their organization through those changes. They must be agile when technology changes quickly and willing to move to different technologies if the ones chosen prove to be the wrong technologies for their organization or customers.

Will Google Glass change the way people live and work in the future?  Maybe. Will wearable devices like Fitbit or the rumored Apple device move beyond counting steps and provide a truly interactive experience that could change the way we communicate with each other?  Possibly. Will mobile devices soon outpace website hits from traditional desktop browsers? Probably. Will tablets replace laptops for enterprise-quality computing? Perhaps. Will our kids need to learn to drive cars or will the cars do that all on their own? Who knows. Traditional ways of predicting trends by plotting graphs and even complex mathematical equations are difficult when change is exponential and new variables are introduced daily.

As leaders, we need to read about technology, find trusted advisors who read much more about technology, make decisions about how and when to adopt new technologies for our organizations, make course corrections when better options become apparent and always consider and plan for the impacts of technological change on our team members and Associates.

With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility

With advances in technology providing positive impacts to society such as improved collaboration, distributed computing, increased productivity and advanced communications, negative impacts to society are also created as people find ways to leverage those advances for their personal gain over innocent victims. Some common computer crimes include viruses, malware, denial of service, identity theft and fraud.

There are new examples of computer crime in the media daily – from stolen Target credit card data to Veteran’s Administration patient records. President Obama estimated the annual cost of computer crime to the global economy was $1 trillion dollars (a number disputed by many as the value of stolen data can be hard to calculate – for instance, what is the value of a stolen medical record? Hard to put hard dollar and cents around the asset, but very valuable to the person to whom the record refers.)

I was personally affected from stolen student records from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln; the former student responsible was just sentenced to 6 months in prison and $100,000 in restitution for his actions. When the perpetrator is caught, the penalties can be stiff, but many computer crimes go unpunished as the criminals stay one step ahead of law enforcement through new technologies and techniques.

There are three major areas of focus around computer crime affecting organizations: Prevention, Detection and Administration.

Prevention

The best way to deal with computer crime is to protect your organization and Associates from being victims in the first place. Secure infrastructure, application and database architectures are the foundation of prevention to ensure hardware and software are configured and developed in ways to prevent security breaches. Encryption of laptops is key in case of loss or theft. Firewalls filter network traffic and prevent unauthorized access to an organization’s systems. Anti-virus software prevents malware from taking hold on machines and servers. Restricted permissions ensure only authorized users can make changes to mission critical systems.

Detection

It is best to be proactive regarding IT Security, but it is impossible to stay technologically ahead of all computer crime. Because some form of computer crime is nearly inevitable, it is important to detect security breaches as soon as possible so they may be remediated. This is accomplished through systematic monitoring for security events, such as malware detection and unauthorized access attempts. Scanning and penetration testing help find security weaknesses and access points before they are exploited by unfriendly forces.

Administration

Policies, rules and training help Associates understand their responsibilities regarding their systems and give them tools to use in combatting computer crime. Policies create a framework for what is allowed and required, such as approval to install software, frequency of password changes, password strength and access to secure sites and programs. Training of Associates to understand basic security principles helps users make good choices regarding websites to visit, emails to open and software to install.

 

As Uncle Ben told a young Peter Parker, “With great power comes great responsibility.” This phrase can take on new meaning in today’s digital age with the unbelievable advances technology provides to society. The Computer Ethics Institute developed the Ten Commandments of Computer Ethics, perhaps it can be a guide to us to consider when exploring these new technological powers.

Striking a Balance

Leaders today strive to foster positive and progressive organizational cultures in order to attract and retain top talent and help that talent be efficient and effective employees. Creating that positive and progressive organizational culture means trusting and even empowering employees to make good decisions on behalf of the organization, including how to manage their own time. Gone are the days when work is left at the office at 5pm and resumed in the morning when returning to work; Associates now work beyond traditional office hours from their home by checking email or working remotely. As work infiltrates life, life also infiltrates work: Associates give up some of their free time to check in on work, so expect to be able to do some personal tasks during working hours as a tradeoff. This may include checking social media or personal email during the day or taking a break to workout.

Advances in remote access technology, bandwidth availability and video conferencing makes working from locations other than the office extremely attractive for some organizations and employees.  Because each organization and person is unique, here are some challenges and opportunities telecommuting presents.

Opportunities

More hours worked – a study by two professors looking at Bureau of Labor Statistics data found that employees who work from home work, on average, 5-7 more hours per week than those that work exclusively in the office.  A 2014 Gallup Poll found that an overwhelming 76 percent of adults employed part or full time felt that the ability to use their personal computer, tablet or smartphone to work remotely a positive development. That same study found that 51 percent of employees worked remotely at least 3 hours a week with an average of 6.3 hours.

Global coverage – for organizations with locations crossing time zones, delays in communications due to vastly different working hours can cause inefficiencies and slow decision making to a near crawl. Employees that can and do check email remotely outside of working hours can help alleviate that time difference issue by providing answers to urgent messages from home, allowing the global locations to proceed with decision making and business processes. I experience this benefit daily as I discuss IT needs with my partners in the UK, China, Australia, Singapore, India and Thailand. If I had to wait for my partners to be present in the office for an answer to an email (or they had to wait for me), there would be a nearly 24-hour delay between each message. Because my partners and I are remotely connected to each other, decisions can be made much more quickly and with the appropriate stakeholders involved.

Talent Retention – when exceptional employees need to relocate for personal reasons, allowing them to telecommute in order to retain their talents is a major benefit remote access provides. I have two people on my team that were top performers when family obligations required them to move out of state. I was able to retain their experience and skills by allowing them to work remotely and still remain active team members through video conferencing, screen sharing and other collaboration tools – in fact, both Associates remain at the top of performance rankings even while working remotely on opposite coasts. With the cost of replacement hires running as high as 150% of the employee’s salary according to Dunn & Bradstreet, retaining proven, high performing Associates makes great sense for an employer when remote access and collaboration tools are accessible. 

Cost savings – with fewer workers located in physical offices, organizations have hard dollar savings to consider with telecommuting. Smaller offices using less electricity mean lower expenses. Telecommuters also save time and money in transportation costs and commute time.

Challenges

Lying – some evidence points to increased lying between employees communicating electronically instead of face-to-face, however this is a challenge that exists in typical work environments as most communication is electronic, even between employees working in close proximity to one another.

Fewer hours worked – a study by Careerbuilder.com found that telecommuters actually worked fewer hours than traditional employees, the opposite result of the study mentioned above based on Bureau of Labor Statistics and results that caused many industry experts to question the study’s validity. It did identify several distractions at-home workers experience including chores, TV and children.

Lost productivity – it is estimated that NCAA March Madness costs American businesses up to $1.2 billion in lost productivity each year. Allowing employees access to the internet to improve their work productivity may have a negative side effect of also giving them additional avenues to avoid productive work efforts. In order to minimize bandwidth usage and also to promote staying at work instead of leaving for the day to watch the March Madness games at bars, my organization played the big games in our auditorium and provided snacks. Associates could bring their laptops and watch the game while they worked, or just enjoy social time with their team members and return to work after the game. This helped eliminate people watching the games from their desks and consuming excessive bandwidth as well.

Why is Someone Calling Me on My Alarm Clock?

The internet has changed many aspects of daily life while enabling the reimagination of existing products. Before the internet, I communicated with my family and friends on the phone, the only use for that device. 

Today, I still speak with friends and family on the phone occasionally, but the majority of my communications with them is through texts, Facebook, and email. Today, I talk on my phone a few minutes a month but use it many hours for email, taking pictures and conversing with my social network after it wakes me each morning.

The nature of work has also changed due to the internet and will continue to evolve as we find more ways to harness the power instant interconnectivity provides. Leaders need to understand both the opportunities and challenges these changes present.

Transparency – while it is easier than ever to distribute information in today’s digital environment, leaders must remember that sensitive data must be protected even more diligently. In Clay Shirky’s book he outlines an example of how barriers to spreading information have changed. Before email and online media, if I wanted to share a newspaper article, I would have to clip it from the newspaper, stuff it in an envelope and mail that letter to my acquaintance. If I wanted to share it with more than one person, I would have to add the step of making photocopies of the article and multiple the envelope stuffing and mailing by the number of people I wanted to see the article.  That work was not so overwhelming that it would prevent a person from sharing something really, really important, but it was enough work that most people wouldn’t go to the trouble for most news. Contrast that from today where I can share anything online by just copying/pasting that link into an email and blasting it to my contact list or even just clicking a link on the article and instantly posting it to my Facebook profile. This streamlined workflow means that more people share more data with more people, an exponential growth of sharing.

Leaders need to take this change into account when sharing information with their teams. The efficiency with which information can be conveyed to teams though the internet, especially geographically disparate groups, is extremely beneficial to leaders when communicating. If data are confidential, leaders need to take extra steps to ensure their team members fully understand their responsibilities regarding the protection of the data and what can be shared outside the organization and what needs to remain internal. This does not mean leaders should share less with their teams by any means, but they do need to educate and enable their team members to treat the information appropriately.

Remote Access – people are able to access the internet from just about any location in the developed world, allowing them more flexibility regarding where, when and how they choose to work. As an Information Technology leader, this presents opportunities for technology to facilitate that telecommunication through tools such as VPN (Virtual Private Network), VDI (Virtual Desktop Infrastructure) and Remote Desktop.

Leaders need to adopt telecommuting practices that work for their organizational cultures – is it something that is merely allowed or actually encouraged? Is everyone eligible or only those that cannot physically commute to the office each day? Can Associates telecommute as they please or must they get approval? Are Associates expected to be available during specific hours or may they work at any time of the day/night? How is productivity measured for home workers? There is no one-size-fits-all strategy for telecommuting and leaders need to ensure any new or changed policies reinforce – not detract from – the chosen culture.

Cloud Computing – this is very specific to my industry, but cloud computing is changing the way IT professionals work and think. In a traditional on-premise data center, System Administrators spend significant amounts of time maintaining hardware and platforms though upgrades, patching and monitoring. In a cloud environment, much of that work is provided by the cloud provider. Does that mean a company needs fewer System Administrators and can lower payroll costs?  Possibly, and it scares the hell out of those holding those jobs. But in my experience, cloud computing is taking away the less strategic tasks around maintenance and instead allowing System Administrators to concentrate on more impactful strategies around architecture, IT Security, and innovation. IT leaders need to help Associates understand all the possibilities around these changes, empower those that are capable of this new role immediately, determine education needs for those that are not currently at that level but can get there, and identify those whose talents do not align with the new environment and help them find roles that will be better matches.

The internet has changed the nature of work in countless ways in just a few decades of existence. How will the internet change the nature of work in the future? I can’t wait to find out!

New Efficiencies in Content Creation and Knowledge Management

Content today is delivered more quickly and with less critical oversight than at any point in our past. Where the cost of publishing used to ensure content was well vetted before distribution, the rise of social media has allowed anyone with a thought a platform from which to distribute their message. 

Nancy Dixon presented a model of knowledge management evolution where organizations have moved through three distinct phases when managing their knowledge assets. The first step was leveraging explicit knowledge where the assumption was that there was one best way to do things, so if organizations could capture that information and store it, others in the organization could learn from the experts. This hierarchical manner of transferring knowledge from experts to novices was found to be inefficient as the knowledge captured was too generalized to be useful and not often leveraged by the people for whom the knowledge was centralized.

The second phase of knowledge management was leveraging experiential knowledge where knowledge is dynamic and contextual. This knowledge tends to be more strategic where explicit knowledge is more tactical. Networks help in this knowledge management where peers teach other peers.

The third phase of knowledge management was leveraging collective knowledge where knowledge is actually created, not just managed. Diversity of experience and thought is a critical component of creating collective knowledge.

Leveraging both experiential and collective knowledge mesh well with Clay Shirky’s observation in Here Comes Everybody that today’s method of content creation has moved from filter, then publish to a model of publish, then filter.  This new approach can be an efficient method of content creation. Authors can work out bugs earlier and refine just the remaining content, avoiding spending time perfecting poor ideas or topics that won’t make the final cut. They can also collaborate with others to develop the ideas in ways that were not previously possible.  Within an organization, tools like Yammer allow Associates to pose questions to much broader audiences and perhaps find answers in groups they would have never thought to ask directly. Within a social network, tools like Facebook and Twitter allow the same feedback loops to be developed. SharePoint, Google Drive, Pinterest and Dropbox are all technologies that can help organizations or individuals to organize and maintain knowledge in central repositories that can be later accessed and shared.

As the ways in which content is created and managed evolve, leaders need to determine what knowledge is valuable and route that information to their constituents. They need to continuously expand the platforms from which they comb for quality content to take advantage of new thought leadership and ideas. They also need to contribute back to the body of knowledge from which they are learning to create new knowledge opportunities for themselves and others.

Prezi is Pretty, but Message Matters Most

Prezi is a presentation tool that can be considered an alternative to PowerPoint. Where PowerPoint is linear, Prezi is organic, allowing the presenter to move between the high-level concept and lower-level details in any order. Where PowerPoint uses slides to convey information, Prezi has a canvas where the presenter can place and group objects three-dimensionally. Where PowerPoint displays data statically, Prezi allows presenters to zoom in and out of details on the fly. Where PowerPoint can be stagnant, Prezi can be dynamic.

Both Prezi and PowerPoint can be utilized on a desktop or through a cloud offering although Prezi is most commonly accessed in a Software as a Service model and PowerPoint is more often installed locally. Prezi does have a somewhat steep learning curve as one understands the canvas, groupings and zooming capabilities and functionality.

Prezi has exciting prospects for use in business – it is flashy, can be engaging and creates a polished end product. Sales pitches, board presentations, internal communications and strategic planning sessions could all benefit from Prezi’s ability to present data in a compelling manner…if done appropriately.

No presentation software, regardless of functionality or flash, can substitute quality content. Using Prezi software to create an upscale presentation based on stale concepts or weak reasoning is no more beneficial than putting lipstick on a pig. Leaders need to be cautious that their team members are not using Prezi or other presentation software to shortcut the work required to craft a message by adding bells and whistles to hide the fact that their central thesis is not well developed.

Prezi is free to users that are willing to share their presentations with the world on Prezi’s website. In order to maintain any privacy with your content, you must purchase a license ($59-$159 per year for the cloud version for individuals, negotiated based on volume for organizations http://prezi.com/pricing/). This freemium model where limited functionality is available for free but advanced features come at a price is common in Web 2.0 companies, examples including LinkedIn, Google Drive and Dropbox. The free option, likely unpopular with organizations that require confidentiality, does create an opportunity for quickly aggregating content at a very low cost of coordination much like Flickr photographs (great example of this aggregation of pictures of a Mermaid Parade in Clay Shirky’s book, Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing without Organizations). It also allows amateurs to produce presentations that compete with products graphic designers may create, lowering the cost of entry into higher end productions much like tools like Picasa have allowed amateur photographers to create very professional portraits.

The bottom line on presentation software is that presenters need to select the appropriate tool to compliment their content. Whether that is PowerPoint for displaying text or data in a linear fashion or it is Prezi freely zooming in and out of topics, the most important piece of a presentation must be the message, not the graphics.