Thursday, September 20, 2007

Being a fringe person

I've always been a fringe person. It took years to recognize it, and finally did at a Total Quality Management (TQM) workshop. In the first day of the workshop we took personality tests, of both ourselves and by others. It was quite interesting and informative to me, as it defined me as a "fringe person."

In TQM there are three concentric circles of employees with the boss at the center. Around the boss is a small circle of senior management who surround the boss as senior advisors, supervisors, and so on. Around that and encompassing most of the rest of the circle are the employees. And around the outer edge is a thin area of fringe people. Why the small distinction in the latter two groups?

The employees are generally divided between the inner group of supportive employees who volunteer, voice support, etc. for management's decision, and the outer compliant employees who are there to work and often don't care much for management. The thin third outer group are those employees are those who first, think out of the box - the most creative and innovative employees, second, question management, and third, don't accept rules or protocols - often expressing frustration at them.

This last group are the fringe people. It's where most companies, organizations and agencies get most of the ideas which lead to new products and services, often being reassigned to "normal" employees to do and get credit (trust me here, been there, experienced that). It's also where most companies, organizations and agencies get change and improvements. This is because most "normal" employees rarely question authority or don't often suggest ideas for fear of failure.

Most of the time I thoroughly enjoyed my career as a fringe person. I discovered that while many employees won't associate with you, the ones who like and respect you will and both will teach each other about life, work, ideas and so on. It's management that is the issue. If you are truly a fringe person, management will accommodate you because you advance the company, organization or agency with new ideas, but they may and often will also fear you.

They will fear you for two reasons. The first is the obvious loss of ideas. They know new ideas advance their career and won't hurt that. The second is because fringe people are the radicals who will stand up for rights and against abuse. They accept the consequences of their own decisions and willing to risk a lot, if not all, in the name of reality and truth. And that's scare most bosses.

Some bosses like this in fringe people. It's about individual responsibility and accountability, something senior bosses generally respect but many middle management fear since they play office politics fringe people don't. Fringe people believe in principles and issues, something senior bosses understand. That scares middle managers since they could be outed for their mistakes, abuses, and bad decisions.

I've spent a life so fare and career as a fringe person. It's been fun, sitting on the fringe looking outside and watching inside. I wouldn't trade it and will continue to be one. The freedom to be is more powerful and fun than the alternatives.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Finding me

I'm not really lost, I'm just as I tell people, "I'm never lost, I just don't always know where I am." Well, as a geographer, I always know where am I, but as a person, I don't. Sometimes it's nice to find a chair, get a cup of coffee, and ponder and wonder the universe. It's the old adage about finding one's place in the giant scheme of things. But sometimes it's about simply being, the who and what.

You see I was always taught from being an military officer's kid, to know, understand, accept and follow rules and roles. I even spent my four years during the Vietnam era doing my role to follow my father, except I didn't stay. We had a rather heart-felt talk one day about my staying and our generation's views collided, and exploded. We didn't speak for a long time afterward, and rarely even then.

That was a dumb and stupid mistake on both our parts, and while I tried to reconcile things later, he wasn't open to it, as he had his own issues and was facing his own demons near the end of his life. We had very similar younger life experiences and I wonder if that added to our conflict. I'll never know as he died in 1994. Anyway, I don't regret my life, only not having a Dad to sit down and talk about the world and life.

And I followed the expected role as a husband. I married a really great woman, Linda, who was everything in a woman. Ok, we had our faults, but we were good together for a number of years, even through some rough and tough time. And we parted friends. She remarried and divorced, and we keep in touch occasionally. She still has a corner in my heart. As does a few other women who came along later in my life. It's my nature, they capture their piece and it's permanently there.

And all along that I was a professional hydrologic technician and hydrologist with the US Geological Survey. Nearly twenty eight years. Whew. What a career in Oregon, Arizona and Washington. While I hated management - except a few bosses in Arizona, even being in it the last half of my career, I loved the work and the field staff. You couldn't ask for a better organization for the field people.

After all, how many people have the ability to say they've done work few ever do on rivers and lakes, including knowing you were part of the team who collected data on the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens. I still have my pass into the red zone only USGS and a few other people had. And all the rest of the field work was worth the time, as I cherish the work I did as a senior data/database manager for Washington.

Anyway, after retiring in December 2005 to pursue some personal life directions and my personal photography, the latter eventually into a small, personal business, it's been the big change. It's not life that worries me, but redefining yourself on your own grounds where you're not responsible or obligated to anyone else. Just me.

And so it's a wandering path. As I describe to folks, it's the old highway 50 from Sacramento to Lake Tahoe. Wandering and scenic. Except I've intentionally misplaced the map and I've lost my watch because I have the rest of my life on this long road to somewhere. There is no end, only when happenstance decides it.

The photo? If you're ever downtown Seattle, by all means visit Belle Epicurean. Your taste buds, body, mind, spirit and soul will appreciate it. Overstated? Maybe, but go there first before you disagree.

September 11 2001

As the title suggests, it's about that day then, when the world we know here in the US changed, for everyone individually and as a nation. You can argue the history of the events before and after, but you can't argue our individual experience that day. It's our own as is our personal view of it and our life because of it.

For me, it started normally. I was a senior technical manager, meaning part of my job was to operate and manage the surface water - meaning rivers and lakes - data(base) for Washington - which is about 95% of all this data collected throughout the State and over the history of data collection. I did all the training and problem solving for users, who input, review, compute and produce the data, and guest accounts, who have read-only access to view all the data. It was one of the coolest jobs I've had helping everyone get their data into, through, computed and produced, to make sure the system worked.

In August I had gone to Denver for a week-long training for the latest major update to the software and database. And now in preparation to the installation locally, I had to conduct four training sessions for users on the new tools and proceedures. This session was the first in our Tacoma Office, and I had worked with the IT folks to get all the computers setup in the training room. I had all the handouts ready and at 8:30 am was simply waiting for everyone to arrive from the distant offices.

Then someone from IT came in to say I should watch the TV. We only had one TV in the office, in the conference room (stupid federal regulations about people not watching television at work). We all watched as the news told the story, replayed the footage of the airplanes crashing into the towers, and the live coverage of the towers. We watched them fall.

Over the next hour or so, the word came down to close all the federal offices and all employees go home. We did, and I went home to turn on the TV and watch as the story unfolded on the small screen. There wasn't anything to say, just listen and watch. I guess I was more struck by the buildings falling than the planes flying into them. It was slowly clear it was an act of terrorism, but why and how did the buildings fall, I kept asking myself. I didn't make sense.

And terrorism does? No, I've watched the news over the years of terorists hitting US and well as other nations targets, whether it's failed attempt in New York City, military barracks, US Embassies or US Navy warships. I knew this was done by terrorists wanting to send a message to the world. Not just to America, but the world. While many Americans died in the towers and in the rescue, many were also from other nations. It was after all, the World Trade Center.

It seemed they had succeeded in their greatest act to date. I remember the announcement grounded all US flights. That night and the next few nights, I sat on the deck to see the darkness of the skies without airplances. While it was enjoyable it felt strange. Something had silenced this nation. And while everyone remembers that day, it was the years afterward that would see the effects to each of us personally and nationally.

I won't put 9/11 in those momentus points in history, or just yet anyway, because I don't think it changed the face of this nation as some past events have been extraordinary events. I am troubled with the direction this nation is going from 9/11. I think we're losing our civil rights and liberties in the name of fear for something that has always been in the world's and our nation's history. 9/11 was only a bigger event than the rest.

I don't know if my memory of 9/11 will fade. Sometimes I hope it will. I want and think we should keep 9/11 in perspective and find a realistic and pragmatic way of living in the world after it.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

58 years ago

Update.--May 8, 2009, someone pointed out a mistake in my calculations which I've updated. It doesn't change the idea.

At about 6:00 pm September 4, 1949 I came into this world. I was one of about 100 people who also came into the world that minute, 6,000 that hour at 6-7 pm, and 144,000 that day. Sounds kinda' small if you look that the whole of the day in the world that particular day 58 years ago. But to my parents, I was just one, their one, and the third child in their family. My sister born a year plus earlier and my brother born six years earlier were there to greet me at home.

I don't remember any of my early years. My first memories are from about 1953-54 when we lived in an English country estate before moving onto base housing at Sculpthorpe Air Force Base where Dad was stationed. We lived in Bardon, Garvestone, Norfolk, England. It was a four-story stone house built about 400 years ago. It had no electricity and Dad wired the first floor to add baseboard heaters and kitchen appliances.

I remember the youthful freedom on the estate, just open space. As time will tell I need open space where I live. My current home where I've lived over 20 years now, has a view of the entire southeast horizon overlooking the Narrows Strait and Tacoma Narrows Bridges. I keep my curtains and windows open to let the light and air into the place and I can always see out into the world. When I worked in an office without windows once I realized I'm mildly claustrophobic - why I hate backpacking, I can't sleep in tents.

It's been an interesting 58 years. I lived in England and Germany for half my life before I was 14 years old. To see older Europe in my youth was great. Beside Bardon, in Germany we lived in a small town outside Frankfort, the only Americans in a town of a few hundred people on the top of a hill surrounded by a national forest. We had to catch the school bus at the bottom of the hill and had our afternoons were spent playing in town with the other kids and in the forest.

I lived in Aurora, Colorado in the early to middle 1960's, when it was almost entirely a white middle class suburb of Denver than a city of its own. Aurora Central High School was a bike ride every day before I got a 1961 Studebark Lark for a car as a teenage driver. I learned to drive in a VW in the rural roads in the country east of Aurora, a short 15 minute drive from our home. It was the safe neighborhood where I watched the riots in big cities and the war in Vietnam on television, the first time I ever watched television.

After my service in the US Air Force (1969-73) I used the GI Bill to get a BA and MS degree in Geography and join the US Geological Survey (1978). I spent the next 27-plus years as a hydrologic technician and hydrologist in Oregon, Arizona and Washington. I thoroughly enjoyed my career, especially the work - including Mount St. Helens in May 1980 shortly after the eruption - and the field and office staff I worked with and who worked for me the years I was a supervisor. I had a major dislike and disagreement with management, which lost me a career opportunities into senior management to do more and better stuff.

I regret the choices losing the opportunities but I don't regret the choices fighting and sometimes offending managers. Most I've met in my career are horrible as managers and forget they're people just like the rest of us. I only had one boss whom I both respected and liked. They're rare, and yet, I always had positive evaluations from those who worked for me and had numerous recommendations to become a senior manager. It's just, like my my brother, I didn't play office politics, so I lost.

Since my retirement in December 2005, I pursued my longtime hobby as a serious photographer. I hope to continue to learn and do better, to capture and produce better images, and to develop it into a small personal business. I hope to continue my interest in my photography projects, especially a photography guide for Mt. Rainier NP. I hope to continue to have my health for my life interests in hiking Mt. Rainier NP and travel for my photography. And I hope to continue my other interests in life on my Website.

It's been a good life so far, and I'm luckier than many people, especially to be financial ok and physically healthy to have the time and resources to do what I want. I couldn't ask for more from my 58 years, and the future is still there.