Cash cow decline

A cash cow is a product, service or technology which is past its prime. Its owners (which may in fact change causing it to go into cash cow status) have decided it is no longer worth investment but instead will only reap the payments made by its users for licensing and support revenues. So, it is dead as a product, but alive as a passive source of revenue. Part of the end-of-life planning is to acknowledge that revenues will decline as customers move on to greener pastures and likewise, internal investment in employees working on the technology will also decline as they are laid off, forced into retirement or otherwise disbanded.

 cow GIF

As you might guess, working on a dying product like this is less-than-desirable work. It’s not the stuff of resume building, for sure. You get type cast and obsolesced along with what you’re working on. It’s not fair, but it is business. And life.

Now, I’ve been in that situation. For. Years. I wanted to jot down some thoughts on how to keep from feeling futility and even despair:

They want you to leave. When they want you to leave. A friend of mine said this the other day and both of us fell into the rage you get when you feel grossly manipulated. But later, I asked myself if that rage was justified? The business that employs us can only do so because of money coming in. When that money wanes, so does employment. And though it’s not pleasant to see the end of the road, it was always an agreement. I could leave any time I wanted, and indeed I may. So chill on the manipulation story; it’s a two-way street.

 fear GIF

We work for a bunch of scared idiots. Two things there: fear and incompetence. The adage of not knowing what it’s like till you walk in another’s shoes applies strongly to the incompetence part. What I would do with my partial knowledge of the real climate and business trends and bravado in spending someone else’s money has very little to do with reality. I do believe the fear part is very real; it’s cultural and it tends to increases as you go up the ladder, unfortunately. As I’ve said to many – if you are solely concerned with what you look like, you will eventually look awful. Fear’s crippling grip can freeze ideas upon inception. But as an individual don’t let it seep inside. There is a seed of inspiration, an insistence on excellence that can still reign. And it must.

 cows GIF

It’s just monkey work. I have had the suspicious sense, with evidence, that there are those in the most senior management who think me and my colleagues are over-employed and overpaid simians. So they try, utterly unsuccessfully, to offshore our jobs and make us obsolete in every way they can. They try equally hard to supplant the product we work on with even worse results. To them, keeping the cash cow chewing its cud is just busy work; anyone can do it. However much of that is imagined loathing, it’s a hideous lie. The way to prove it wrong is to do elegant, excellent work, which can be done in the most lowly circumstances, it turns out. Problem determination, cost savings and system reliability are disciplines that have spawned deep and valuable innovation. So go there, read up on how people have solved the thorny problems that face you, even in service of keeping the cow from being tipped in the middle of the night. Monkeys are pretty good at swinging from trees it turns out.

 movies freedom braveheart mel gibson GIF

Those other guys just don’t get it. I’m talking about internal competition. Where I work, I’ve accurately typified the organizational culture as warring city states (if our customers only knew!!). As in feudal times, people are loyal to their locale. And fight with the others. When business is on the downswing, this means you can actually be motivated by seeing the other group get laid off and disbanded, but not your own. So, be sure to call that a sick and evil motivator, in all its gradients. Get over suspicion – and your suspicion is the only one you can affect. Mix with people from the other city. You may not think you need each other, but if you can build a bridge you’ve actually changed the culture.

We have to get back to the old days. No we don’t. And we can’t anyway. Life goes one way – forward. And if you don’t go with it, you will be dragged. Which is unpleasant. It’s okay, even necessary to reminisce. Learn from, but don’t yearn for the past. Because as bad as a dying cash cow is, there will always, ALWAYS be new cattle to take its place. That’s the circle of life; if it bothers you, you really have no option but getting over it.

No automatic alt text available.

So yeah, it’s not that bad. And its been a good ride. Gratitude is an infinitely more noble sentiment than complaining. I’m thankful; or at least try to be.

1 Thessalonians 5:18 Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

Advertisements

The deafening expectations on a drone

I recently heard a friend express a mindset I know too well – that he was drowning in the expectations of others. I have been there. There was a time when I felt that I was even accountable to my dog. I don’t know or care if there is a clinical name for that state of mind. I only care that it’s wrong and that it’s healthy to get past that feeling.

It’s not that others can’t impose – they can and do. It’s not that we don’t truly have obligations to meet – we do. The problem is that we can sink into an existence that doing what is expected of us is all we are. We become beings whose only value is doing our jobs. Worse, those jobs only increase in number, have virtually no rewards and they never end.

This doesn’t happen in a vacuum. The people and institutions in our lives enforce a thankless, workaholic drone existence. No, not the pilotless drone aircraft, the drone bee, who does nothing but work for the queen in service to the hive:

Image result for drone bee

I have found some ways out of this trap, but for sure it can still be a struggle, and one that depresses and steals joy. Here are some ideas:

  1. Celebrate. If you are like me, you work for and/or with people who rarely if ever give you a sense of completion, even when you are victorious. At least that’s how you see things and how you hear what they say. Every finished task is rewarded by a list of future expectations. In that situation, it’s not just advisable but required that you intentionally mark your accomplishments with times of relaxation, reflection and parties. I mean spend resources – time and money – to formally do it. You have done and/or built something beautiful.  It’s part of life’s rhythm to sit back and rejoice in that, enjoy it.  And if you don’t do that, your longing for closure and the accompanying “feel good” will plague you. I know this from experience.This includes celebrating the finished work of others. Because the joy is contagious whenever you do.
  2. Identify voices. If there are certain people who make it a habit of telling you only what you haven’t done, make sure you notice and give them a label – toxic. It’s not that you always get to separate yourself from these people, but you can certainly marginalize their impact on your life. It may be that you must pay attention to these people (e.g. this might be your boss). But the message of incessant shortcoming is not good to listen to; so learn to tune that part out.
  3. Turn down the volume of competing priorities. I have had times when urgency was all I heard. And I was not imagining it – it was all there was. So I developed a saying – “If everything is urgent, nothing is urgent” – that has served me well. Find the few people who can help you and get your priorities straight. If they can’t help you 1) make your own priorities by level of impact (list things by what you think can you do that would help the most) and 2) know they are not worthy to be advisers or authorities in your life.
  4. Ask for help. I was never accountable to my dog. It was just a job I had assumed that turned into drudgery at times. We didn’t even need a dog in the first place, though Alex gave me great joy also. But as for stuff like that, rotate the job with others or take the steps to just eliminate it from your life.
  5. Decide what really matters. Years ago, a wise friend in the Christian faith shared a verse from the Old Testament with me – Micah 6:8 He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. Now I have determined I’m a mortal, so this pertains to me. The first two parts – act justly and love mercy – define attitudes and actions towards myself and others. Am I just with myself – really weighing what I’ve done and am doing against how things were before I did those things ? And do I love mercy – towards myself? Do I forgive myself, cut myself some slack and allow for myself to learn life’s lessons? The last part is about being humble; putting others first and letting myself be a small part of something much, much bigger.

    And these things apply to how I work with others. Acting justly and loving mercy gives them the same benefits I need.

    So if this is all that’s required of me – and I would posit it does – the urgency projected onto the drone are simply the wrong measuring stick for a life well lived.

It’s Christmas in 2 days. Let’s relax and celebrate. Because we need it.

Cancelled

The business world is unpredictable. I have learned over many iterations and through the depths of devastation NOT to cement my hopes to promises of management and plan my future according to their word. When I do, I will almost invariably find myself awash in the emotional muck of betrayal, futility and just fatigue.

The problem is that I want to be passionate about my work. It has to matter to me to do it right, with excellence and diligence. I want to finish the job. And I’m good at what I do. That’s not a boast; it’s the testimony of those who regularly review and evaluate my “performance”.

So it happened again.

Cancelled.

canceled

The cycle goes like this:

  1. A project starts up, designs happen, maybe a prototype.
  2. Preliminary results roll in and they are somewhere between auspicious and stellar.
  3. The meat of the project gets underway. People work hard, together and intermediate results are produced.
  4. Management reviews the project or there is a business event or shift.
  5. The project is cancelled.

Now, I’ve been on projects that are canceled earlier than point e). And this most recent cancellation was after point b).

And most painful were those project canceled who had lasted 2-5 years before point d).

I had someone once tell me to “just get over it” and that stung almost as much as the cancellation. You don’t just turn your passion off like a switch.

They say it’s not failure; that 70% of all projects never finish. You can imagine how much that helps.

Now it is a business fact that management loses confidence if a deliverable is not produced in months and not years. They are not paid to be patient or risk-tolerant.

In engineering it’s supposed to be adult and well-adjusted to just produce. Anything. For any amount of time. Dispassionately. Without attachments or emotions.

I can’t do that. Or I won’t. And I don’t really care which it is. It’s not me.

So where do I go when this happens? I go to loving people; it’s all that keeps going.

  • There will be a new team with people I can love, encourage and do stuff with. I don’t know how long it will last but the people are what matter, not the work. No matter what management says.
  • I will love management. Those people live in fear and under constant criticism. They don’t need more from me. It’s not that I won’t speak my mind – they also need to know they don’t manage robots.
  • I will love my wife, my family, my friends and my church. They are always there for me and .. they are a big reason I go to work in the first place.
  • I will love my work. Picking up the pieces, assessing what I’ve learned, I will dare to try again. In smaller places. Even unapproved ones. Because that’s where I’m a genius.

Canceled. It’s not the end of the world. Just another disappointment.

The prison called “I can’t”

There are those reading this that don’t believe in God. And those who believe in God but are suspicious of anyone claiming a personal encounter or even communication with God. I acknowledge and grant you the right to believe what you will, but ask you to grant me the same. And to suspend your beliefs long enough to read this story because it might well be for you.

In the early 90s, God gave me a dream as I slept. I know it was God because of the nature of the dream and the communication afterwards.

It was an intense, vivid dream of a little boy. He was only 4 years old or so, just learning how to draw.

And he took all his best crayons, and with all the love and hope in his young heart, he drew a wonderful, beautiful picture of his house, his family and all the trees flowers all around. In the dream I wasn’t just watching him do this like someone looking over the shoulder of a child and saying “Isn’t that cute”.  No, I was feeling his emotions as he drew. And they were absolutely beautiful.

When he was done, he was so proud of it, and it was so much a part of his young creativity that he took it to his mother to show her.

He had no way of knowing, but it was bad timing and she was not in good health emotionally.

Out of her own pain and hurt, she took her son’s beautiful picture, ripped it up into little pieces and said “that’s a piece of garbage”

God let me enter his little heart to feel how it broke, absolutely devastated that something he thought was so beautiful could be cast off as ugly and shameful.

And I woke up in horror, devastated, and asked God – “Where is that boy now? You’ve GOT to tell me” Because it wasn’t just a dream. It was the story of someone’s life.

In my spirit, I heard God say “He’s in prison. A prison called “I can’t””

I told the dream to 2 groups of people shortly after that – at MCI Shirley to a group of inmates and at church. In both cases, multiple people came up later and said that little boy was them. If not verbatim, then thematically.

So I said 2 things to them:

  1. That drawing was VERY GOOD and you have vital gifts that you have put away in shame.
  2. You’ve been in a prison of lies but today you’re going free.

 

How I’ve made peace with winter

Winter. Season of death, frozen tundra, blowing snow and the reign of all things icy.

I like it, have always liked it.

I like the snowscapes, the way it drifts and sculpts the land with sharp ridges and sunken, clean-blown valleys. And it’s white, so white.

Isaiah 1:18 “Come now, let us reason together,” says the LORD. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool”

The image of purity and restored innocence is not lost on me.

Icicles themselves are a study in their bulbous crystalline growth. If I give myself time I can see the drops trickle down the length of a long one, never finishing their plunge to earth. And when they catch the sunlight the shower of disbursed rays defies prediction and description.

When there is a storm, and this year there are plenty, we stay indoors.  Travel is impossible.  There’s a humility in that somehow warms me.  People may find it perverse; I don’t care.  There’s something right about being humbled by an event of nature that’s good for me, good for all people, whether they appreciate it or not.  And it’s just right – not a killer disaster like an earthquake or tornado.

People complain, but then they sit at home, having to be quiet as the storm rages around them.  Generally, people are well-fed and warm.  The coziness is to be enjoyed to my way of thinking.

When I was younger, I loved having snow days.  Missing school was one thing – there was one February – in 1970 I think – we literally had only 3 days of school.  But playing in the snow was a whole adventure in itself.  Our snow forts were edifices of grandeur – though they also had the practical quality of defense against the onslaught of snowballs projected by the enemy – the kids across the driveway.  And we’d form an arsenal of frozen weaponry for such battles.

I got so good at making snowballs that I decided it was a good thing to practice on moving vehicles.  I pelted one on the way home from school one day and got a vicious tongue-lashing by a driver who thought he’d hit something.  He was right; my snow balls were simple too well made for traffic use.  Unlike some downright delinquent friends – who somehow NEVER got spoken to – It was the last time I did that.

The part that most people don’t like about winter and snow is moving it.  Now I completely sympathize and have had many years of miserable experience doing that.  You get cold.  The snow is heavy.  You get a heart attack (really!) from shoveling.

So I want to say that if one is to enjoy the humility of being snowed in, there needs to be an conquering spirit that can only thrive when you are suitably equipped.  With a snow blower.

I loaned my snow blower to a neighbor once who HAD to report, ebulliently “There is NO BETTER WAY TO MOVE SNOW”.

I was glad to share the experience and life-lesson with him, for I know I had put joy into his winters forever.

There was a year in the late 80s when purchasing a Ariens snow blower became a need – not unlike a dishwasher around the same time – something we budgeted and did.  I still use my Ariens; I did this morning:

http://youtu.be/LvEixlFMat4

And that’s it.

I know folks in Minnesota do more outside in the winter than the summer while in Maine one asks “What do you do in winter?” with the requisite answer “We don’t”.

But I’ve made peace with winter for the most part.  Even if you haven’t be glad with me that spring is coming.  It will be warm and green and pleasant in every way.

Recognizing a death march (and doing something about it)

No, this isn’t about a real death march.

It’s not about a bloody dictatorship arresting its foes and forcing them to trek thousands of miles by foot, watching, even delighting, as they fall along the way.

But there are enough similarities to what I’m talking about to warrant the name.

And I didn’t make it up.  I remember when I first heard the analogy and it stuck because it applied well.

What I mean by “death march” is a long, drawn out season of work towards an elusive goal.  If the goal is even stated and known.  Sometimes it isn’t, or it’s hidden behind in some bean counter’s (accountant type’s) head or in some private meeting of decision makers.  The first time I heard the “death march” analogy it was describing the tedious throes of a startup company being driven by uncaring venture capitalists.  Now, not all venture capitalists are uncaring – the best ones care deeply – but these were.

In addition to mystery goals, this kind of death march has some distinguishing characteristics:

  1. Efficiency takes a back seat to daily, even hourly goals.  Deliverables that purportedly enable business advances are vaunted as so vital, so necessarily punctual, that their achievement drives the corporate conscience.  And the way the organization gets there can be as manual and costly as possible.  No one cares; it’s all about getting it done.
  2. Fear-driven micromanagement is stifling and pre-emptive.  This of course adds to the inefficiency.  Gathering status becomes a job in itself.  Showing progress against a burn-down graph or chart takes an inordinate amount of time, but that is dwarfed by the time it takes to explain schedule slippage.  And explain you must.
  3. Creativity and innovation, the lifeblood of realized value, are tolerated at best.  This is not a quashing of “fun” in the workplace, it’s a buy-in for a uniform, utilitarian approach to the work.  If there’s a better way to do something, and you come up with it, it threatens everyone else as it threatens the lockstep of the march.
  4. People are leaving; newbies are confused.  This is the “death” part of the analogy.  Workers, even the best ones, drop off the march, departing to retrieve their sanity and joy.  When they are replaced, the new hires have a terrible time climbing the learning curve because no one has time and no one will take the time to help them.  Thus, the culture and cycle is perpetrated.

Can this end well?  Yes .. and it does sometimes.  But only when goals are known, achievable and bought into by the masses.  Only when strategy is as important as tactics.  Only when there is enough management commitment to see things through and to see them done well, remembering the principles of efficiency and productivity.  And that takes guts to stand up to the holders of graphs and charts.  Personally, I try to do that regularly.

Can this end poorly?  Yes, it is likely that will happen.  The practices are bogus and unsustainable.  Everyone knows it.  But fear keeps the march going.  Until what everyone fears actually happens – funds dry up and people get their resumes on the street or at least down the hall.

Am I in a death march like this?  Are we?  I hope not, but I can’t avoid the signs; they’re everywhere.

Even if I am, there is ministry and help I can give even as things fall apart – so that people don’t fall apart as well.  It’s clear that I should not merely watch out for myself at this point.  I’ll be okay; well I think so.

But I can certainly refuse to be fear-driven myself.  I can force myself to do creative things.  I can take the newbies to lunch.  In fact, that’s how we all stop marching like this – one person at a time!

And if the powers that be shut the thing down well then it wasn’t worth working on and/or they weren’t worth working for in the first place.

To be sure:

Isaiah 43:1-2
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you ablaze.

Yes, it’s a faith thing for me; and deeply so.   It turns out that fear is no match for faith.  I invite all to try it.

Cheerleaders

When I was in high school, the student population was totally split. Major schisms in who you hung out with and .. well .. identified with. There were the jocks, the freaks and the greasers. I was a freak. Greasers, in my high school were just scary, but really just troubled kids needing love. But that wasn’t about to come from me and my freak friends.

Cheerleaders were female jocks, the enemy. They were all sweet and prissy and untouchable and snooty.   I speak the mindset of a messed up 17-year-old.  Those were all generalizations. I knew none of them.  They were going through the same thing as I was – teenager-hood.

But the war went on. And we all graduated.

The older I’ve gotten, the more I have appreciated the role and the heart of the cheerleader. Man, do I need cheerleaders in my life. We all do.

It’s not about the clique, it’s about not giving up, about remembering potential when the chips are down – and they are VERY down sometimes.

So I say .. if you’re a cheerleader – WE ALL NEED YOU! It’s a precious gift you bring and we die without it.