Maybe There’s Hope in the Middle
January 19, 2017
Tomorrow is the inaugural of a new President – conducted in a sea of anger and ignorance. Too bad.
In our local paper, yesterday, was a letter to the editor that was relevant, brilliant and worth sharing as a Michael’s Think Piece. The author is a former deputy who had won a medal for valor, but criticized by a colleague for being stupid by risking his life. So he asks “when do we cross the line from being brave to taking on too much? And when are we so obsessed with safety that we become cowardly?” (Think of today’s policeman.) He found an answer from Aristotle who wrote “bravery, like all virtues, is found in the middle between cowardice and recklessness.”
Think of this in the context of today’s political climate where we are increasingly pushed to extremes. From the right, perhaps represented by the Tea Party and the likes of Sean Hannity, there is a conviction for individual freedom and liberty. From the left, perhaps represented best by Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and MSNBC commentators, the conviction is for equality. The author says, and I agree: “Both concepts have their worth but when pushed to extremes, the results are anarchy or communism.”
We, as a nation, have been moving to the extremes for so long that I have lost hope in our future. We have already reached a model of governance that is unacceptable to me. I guess that’s because I find myself in the middle – between the extremes. But the middle is difficult to describe. The English language can be misleading as Bush the First found out when he said: “Know new taxes.” (Joke).
I ask: Can the knowledge that extremes are dangerous and undesirable be of some value and provide motivation toward the middle, for compromise and balance? Do enough people think that it is time to accept political middle ground as a worthy goal – a balance between freedom and equality? The author concludes with the words: “The middle is the only place where harmony can ultimately exist in politics.”
Trigonometry Averts Loss of Airplane
On a dark and stormy night in late December 1955 I was on duty at a US air defense radar base in north-eastern Italy near the town of Campoformido.
Just north of us were the Dolomite Mountains, also known as the Italian Alps. The cloud cover (ceiling) was at best 200 feet. With the technology of the day, this was not the kind of night you wanted to be flying. Suddenly, we got a call from a USAF pilot who told us he was in a storm, not sure of where he was, low on fuel and needed help. We were not really in position to give it to him. We didn’t even have a paved landing strip. There was C-47 on our base so that fliers could log in time and earn their flight pay, but they took off and landed on a grass field – only in the day time because there were no landing lights.
We did have a search radar for detection of aircraft (see photo) . It rotated steadily, sweeping the airspace with a narrow beam. When the beam strikes a flying object, a blip appears on a circular radar scope. And there was a height radar that didn’t rotate but did bob up and down in the direction it was pointed and gave the altitude of the flying object at which it was pointed. In 1955, technology was extremely crude. A blip on our radar screen was, in actual size, more than a mile in diameter. So we didn’t have as good an idea of his position as we would have liked. So, we were faced with a serious problem.
My goals were to
1. get the plane to travel in the right direction,
2. get some lighting on our field,
3. get better accuracy on the position of the aircraft, and
4. feed the pilot information about rate of decent by telling him at what altitude he should be at different distances from us as he approached the landing.
Since the grass landing strip was right next to the radar, direction was not a problem – just aim the plane at the center of the radar scope.
For lighting I asked a sergeant to get all the trucks and cars he could find, line them up on both sides of the “runway” and turn their lights on.
For better accuracy, we pointed the height radar at the aircraft. While we didn’t need the altitude information because we could get that from the pilot, it would give us better resolution than the search radar.
Goal number 4 was harder. But I came up with a crazy idea. A year earlier I had earned a degree in mathematics, and I remembered some things from trigonometry that might help. The reader might know that trigonometry was about such things as sines, cosigns, tangents, etc. But it was also about triangles, particularly about right triangles (ones that have a 90 degree angle). I remembered that ratios of the sides of a 30-60-90 degree triangle were as follows: if the short leg (opposite the 30 deg. Angle) is of length X, the diagonal (hypotenuse) is of length 2 times X and the long leg (opposite the 60 deg. Angle) is X times the square root of 3 – in symbols √3
What I needed to do was, for different ground distances from the landing point, calculate the altitude, x, in feet at which the plane should be on its decent and feed that info to the pilot so he could adjust his altitude accordingly. For example, at 10 miles from the base I had to solve for x in the equation:
10 (miles) = x (miles) × √3
or x = 10 miles ÷ √3
or x = 10 miles÷ 1.732 = 5.7735 miles
To get the altitude in feet, you multiply x by 5,280 – the number of feet in a mile. Hence the altitude should be 30, 485 feet at 10 miles from touchdown, if he is descending at a 30 degree angle. At 5 miles from touchdown the altitude should be 15,242 feet. And so on.
This is simple arithmetic today – my hand calculator gives me the square root of a number with one click. But one must remember that in 1955 we had no calculators. To get the square root of 3, we started with a guess, multiplied the number by itself, looked at the result adjusted the guess up or down and did it again. After doing this multiple times we set the square root of 3 at 1.7320508.
The result of all of this was what I thought was a miracle – the plane burst through the cloud cover in line with the lights provided by the cars and trucks. Everybody was delighted especially the pilot and his passengers that included a USO troupe of musicians and dancers. Lucky us. We all went to a large villa that I rented with 3 other officers and had a grand party.
About a year later I was dining in the Officers’ Club at a base outside of Casablanca and the pilot of that flight saw me from across the room and brought a group of people over and related the story to them.
In World War II, our site was an Italian air base. The place we used for the Officers’ Club was the basement of a building that was bombed in December 1945. It turns out that one of my golfing buddies may have been the one that dropped the bombs. On the record of his missions was a note that, on Christmas Day 1945, while returning from escorting bombers to and from the Ploesti oil fields in Romania in his P-38 fighter, he dropped some bombs on the Campoformido air base.
A Golfer’s Guide to Strategic Management Agility
In this YouTube video, I illustrate that golf is like life and business – always a series of new beginnings. You need a strategy for managing the external and internal changes of your business. All executives will enjoy the video – especially those who are avid golfers. Click on the url; below and enjoy.
How to Build a Better Future for America
Michael W. Lodato Ph.D.
I recently finished reading Zero to One by Peter Thiel, the founder of PayPal and a Silicon Valley venture capitalist. It got me to thinking about the problems in our country’s present and future and why there is very little likelihood that they will be solved.
Thiel describes two approaches to the future:
Horizontal or extensive progress means copying things that work – going from 1 to n. It’s easy to imagine the result because we already know what it looks like. If you take one typewriter and build 100, you have made horizontal progress. Globalization is horizontal progress because you take things that work somewhere and make them work everywhere. Today’s best practices, while helpful, lead to dead ends. It is copying what works elsewhere. California’s bullet train from Bakersfield (nowhere) to Fresno (nowhere) will result in horizontal progress. It’ll move people and things on trains but only a little faster. 1 to n.
Vertical or intensive progress means doing new things – going from 0 to 1. It is harder to imagine because it requires doing something nobody else has ever done. If you have a typewriter and build a word processor, you have made vertical progress.
Thiel says that most people think that the future of the world will be defined by globalization, but the truth is that technology matters more. Our challenge is to both imagine and create new technologies that can make this century more peaceful and prosperous than the last.
A lot of recent progress has been made using management processes. My own career has benefitted from it, but looking back I guess I was a good 1 to n guy. There are a lot of consulting firms and web sites making money by expressing different views on management processes. Thiel says that arguing over process has become a way to endlessly defer making concrete plans for a better future. Today, process trumps substance: when people lack concrete plans to carry out, they use formal rules to assemble a portfolio of various options. Just look at the political landscape during this election cycle for proof of what I mean. Politics has trumped policy.
The government has had some 0 to 1 moments, but, except for the Pluto flyby and similar space feats, not lately. In the 1940s it was able to coordinate complex solutions to build atomic weaponry and in the 1960s it applied high technology to send astronauts to the moon and back. But today, Thiel says, after 40 years of indefinite creep, the government mainly just provides insurance; our solutions to big problems are Medicare, Social Security and a dizzying array of other transfer payment programs. According to the indefinite logic of entitlement spending, we can make things better by sending out more checks.
On the other hand there are many examples of 0 to 1 progress in the non-government world. Look at how easy it is to communicate with others now. Billions of people have smart phones and every one of them has thousands of times more processing power than the computers that guided astronauts to the moon and back. (I know; I was in the Houston Mission Control Center during some of those Gemini missions.) They can easily reach one another from across continents and from sitting next to each other. Using voice recognition and texting, two hard-of-hearing people in the same room can communicate by speaking comments into their smartphones to create a text message and then sending it to be read by the other party. I call this smartphone closed captioning. (So far as I know, this is my invention. It is my own 0 to 1 thing.)
Consider also the 0 to 1 offerings by Google, Apple, Tesla, SpaceX and others.
Our country and the world have many, many very serious problems – from out-of-control spending – to unsustainable debt – to terrorism – to poverty – to serious civil rioting – to hunger – to disease. It has become evident, that we can’t solve these by following the polls or listening to focus group feedback or copying others’ successes. I am convinced that we might be able to solve them through careful planning, technology, and intelligence. But in our system the people in office or who get elected, on both sides of the aisle, show no evidence of planning ability or intelligence and seem to be suspicious of technology. There may be an intellectual or two but I see no evidence of elected officials with intelligence and motivation to solve any of our problems. (You can refute that statement by providing some evidence.)
We tend to confuse the terms “intellectual” and “intelligent.” For me there is a big difference between people with intelligence and intellectuals. Intellectuals are people who make their living dealing in ideas such as hope, change, universal healthcare, global warming. Their jobs are not necessarily to get things done. They don’t go after occupations where you actually have to solve problems and exploit opportunities. They are known for their books, articles, speeches and other communications, but not necessarily for the problems and opportunities they faced and what they did about them.
Don’t get me wrong, intellectuals do a lot of good things and we need them. Think of Martin Luther King Jr. and the Founding Fathers.
Intelligent people, on the other hand, when faced with problems or opportunities, come up with actual solutions. There is no guarantee that an intellectual is intelligent. At the same time, there are people who are enormously intelligent, but not at all intellectual. They do not make their living working with ideas. They may not even be learned. Yet their unencumbered intelligence can sometimes see the future more clearly than someone who is encumbered by complex ideas that their intelligence can’t sort through.
Here is the way intelligent people address problems or opportunities:
- They clearly define the problem or opportunity. (I’ve done a ton of what I called opportunity assessments in my day.)
- They set measurable objectives. (What are we trying to accomplish by solving the problem or exploiting the opportunity?)
- They define the measures used to gauge that objectives have been achieved.
- They list alternative solutions.
- They define criteria to be applied in choosing from among the alternatives.
- They analyze each alternative and apply the criteria to each and choose one that achieves the objectives. That is they make a decision.
- Then they follow a management process that insures successful implementation of the chosen alternative.
The essence of intelligence is objectivity. It’s the difference between a cognitive leap and jumping to conclusions. So someone who brings a strong political ideology to a problem or opportunity are very likely not to be intelligent.
Note that this discussion does not address the concepts of liberal and conservative. There are intelligent people and intellectuals in both camps.
My concern is that the problems facing our country are
- systemic, i.e. they are embedded within and spread throughout and affect the whole society and country. Any one of the problems can, by itself, bring the whole country down. Our elections have become a never-ending process of auctions, in which politicians outbid each other with promises.
- malignant, i.e. they are very serious and dangerous, tending or likely to grow in a rapid and uncontrollable way that can cause the fall of our society and democracy. They may be incurable if the problems continue to be ignored or addressed in a horizontal fashion and
- growing, i.e. they are getting worse every day.
It may be too late, (I’m pessimistic about this. I think it is too late.), but if we can elect people with big, bold ideas and the intelligence to implement them maybe there’s a chance. People who have a 0 to 1 vision rather than a 1 to n vision. People who are intelligent, unafraid of technology, and respect planning. People who intend to invent the future rather than try to improve it. It is important that we do this during this election cycle. (But it is not going to happen.)
Inventing the future starts with planning for it. But a good definite plan will always be underrated in a world where people see the future as random. Progress without planning is what we call evolution. Why would you expect our country to succeed when it doesn’t have a plan to make it happen? Darwinism may be fine in theory in other contexts, but to make our country better, intelligent design works best.
Perhaps a breakthrough technology can be created and applied instead of incremental improvements. But we have to have the right people.
The System Launch Date is Not an Input. What went wrong with the Obamacare Website
This is a non-partisan explanation for the problems associated with the launch of the Obamacare website.
- Served as the responsible executive for computer system launches.
- Was Executive VP of a company that sold and installed project management methodologies worldwide to major organizations both government and non-government
- Consulted for two years for another project management methodology company
- Consulted to organizations when their new product launches got into trouble
- Published a book Management of New Product Launches in 2008
While I wouldn’t classify myself as an expert and at 81 my pilot light doesn’t burn as brightly as it once did, I know a lot about this stuff.
The magnitude of a product launch
A product launch is a tremendous project management challenge deserving of high quality management effort. All the components of the offering: in our case the website, service, insurance policy contracts, website support, marketing communications, etc. have to be in place and coordinated at launch time. They must be introduced with first rate promotion and marketing. Execution of each function must be crisp – on time and on target. A lot of major things have to come together at launch time. Almost every company, including the big ones, botches the launch.
Four Key Issues
There are four key issues on launch projects:
- The scope of the project and system
- The resources applied to the effort
- The quality imposed
- The schedule – including the launch date.
If you set the scope and apply resources appropriate for the scope, while imposing a level of quality, you can develop a doable schedule and completion (launch) date. A few words about each of the four issues follow.
The Scope: The project scope gives the objectives, desired project outcomes, constraints to be considered, quality standards and user expectations. The system scope describes how the system would work, the features and functions, security of information, storage capacity, speed, number of users at one time, speed, number of policies handled, maintainability, ease of use and other capabilities. One manifestation of the system scope is the detailed system design.
Resources: The major resources required on launch projects are people (by numbers and capability), technology (methodologies, computers, software, and standards), information, facilities and equipment, and support services. Resources are identified and allocated as part of project planning.
In the planning, project work in broken down, level-by-level, to define individual tasks. We want tasks to be bite-sized (big enough to chew on but not so large as to choke). The resources that will be applied to each are determined and task durations are calculated. For people resources, I recommend that a par estimate of hours to complete a task be created. Par estimates assume the task will be performed by a single individual, of average performance, working at least 90% of his/her time on the task and where there is no more than one user to have interaction with during the task. Then adjust par estimates for the environment. Adjustments are made for team size, average team experience, percent of time on other work, user support, program complexity and a few other things. A record of the assumptions made relative to these issues should be kept for reference when specific individuals are actually assigned and when the project gets into trouble.
Quality: This issue deals with all the things that will be done to ensure that the system meets the quality standards established during the setting of the scope. So, tasks have to be included in the project plan for such things as load testing, alpha tests, beta tests, quality reviews, project reviews, document reviews, status reporting.
The Schedule: Tasks are linked together recognizing precedence relationships. Some tasks can be done in parallel while others require the results and/or talents from other tasks and therefore must be scheduled to start after the other tasks are completed. Using the task durations for the lengths of the activities, networks of tasks can be built and timed. A path is any connected sequence of events and activities that has a starting event and ending event. The project critical path for the launch is any path along which slippage in any activity will cause an equal amount of slippage in the launch date. The total elapsed time required to do all the activities on the critical path is the duration of the project.
A Problem Imposed by Management
Suppose the Launch date turns out to be March 30, 2014 and management demands that it be October 1, 2013. If the original schedule was done with integrity there are three alternatives to shorten the project schedule:
- Reduce the scope, and/or
- Add more resources, and/or
- Reduce system quality
But, in my experience, management often will not tolerate any, or only a little, reduction in scope. So an earlier than planned launch date can only be accomplished by alternative B and/or alternative C.
Adding resources might help but not as much as you think. For example, adding another person to a one person task does not reduce that task’s duration by half. A lot of the work just can’t be hurried much. The old saying, “nine women in one month do not make a baby” is applicable. Replacing a junior performer with an experienced one will help. In addition, adding resources adds to the project costs, sometimes significantly.
When the problem can’t be solved by reducing scope or adding resources, compromises are made on quality and things really get out of hand.
How to Get Out of Trouble
Find out where you are REALLY. You can’t go from point A to point B if you don’t know where point A is. I’ve built a list of readiness requirements for a launch to be successful. These are capabilities that should be in place at the time of the launch. And I’ve developed a set of checklists for measuring the work that is being done to meet each readiness requirement and for getting a clear picture of what work remains and when it can be expected to be completed. For readiness requirements that have not been completely satisfied there is a set of related tasks that, once completed, would lead to satisfaction of the requirement. There are four issues to be addressed relative to each related task identified:
- Has the task been defined? (You would be surprised at the number of times required tasks have not even been defined.)
- Has it been assigned?
- Is there an agreed upon task completion date?
- Has the task been completed?
When the last question has been answered with a yes, the readiness requirement has been met.
Estimate cost and lead times to fill gaps.
Estimate and schedule the remainder of the project. Insist on full time staff.
If the new launch date is unacceptable
- Try to reduce the scope
- Add people if task dependencies make it practical
- Make judicious quality compromises only as a last resort.
Let’s hope the new launch date of November 30, 2013 was derived and not imposed. We’ll know soon enough.