Monday, February 26, 2007

IT Multitasking and Productivity

Kathleen Melymuka, Computerworld, reports how IT multitasking affects individual productivity. She describes a five-year study where the researchers (Sinan Aral, Erik Brynjolfsson, Marshall Van Alstyne) analyzed 1,300 projects and 125,000 e-mails. Heavy IT users multitask, working on projects in parallel. Lower IT users work on projects serially. The researchers found that heavy IT users were associated with slower productivity speed in short term periods because multitasking slows project completion in the short run. However, because heavy IT users took on more projects, overall they had greater productivity, thus bringing in more money to firms over time.

They also studied communications within social networks (social networks may have been defined email communications—this is not entirely clear in the Computerworld article). The researchers measured “betweenness” which is an indicator of being in the “thick of the information flow”. They also measured the “reach” an individual had by counting the number of people an individual talked to and the number of people they “talked” to (subtracting for duplications), and then counting the number of hops. The researchers’ assertion is the more people one "reaches" the more diverse the information is.

Their suggestion is to "invest in IT skills” because those who are capable of multitasking can complete more over time. The researchers also suggest that individuals should create information diversity by making their social networks diverse. In other words, don't build social networks by talking to people only like yourself.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Social Networking, the Creeps, and Learning

Monday night I awoke around 2:30 startled from a dream. In my dream, I was speaking to a group of folks on our campus about social networking—that part of the dream is scary enough because I know soooo very little about social networking, albeit I am learning. As I was speaking, a man, with spine-chilling beady eyes, stared at me, looking right into my soul. I have met only a couple of people who give me the hibby jibbies and this one man was certainly in that class. I did not know him. A fear jarred my mind—he knew me because I had posted personal information on a few web sites.

Through the years, I have tried not to give too much information about myself through the internet. A few hours before I went to bed, I had posted a blog that was more personal than I intended, and then I completed a profile using my real name on a mashup site at a colleague’s request. As I awakened, I cursed my bizarre dream—the crazies can be in my backyard, or they can be half-way across the world.

The advantages of socializing, connecting, understanding, and learning are too great to forego over a little fear of what might happen. Connecting with others who have similar professional interests is way too easy to not try to soak up their knowledge and expand my own understanding. The best way to understand and learn from others is to immerse myself into relevant virtual communities. Kevin Gamble calls this “being the ball”.

In order to do 2.0 you have to live 2.0 (be the ball). It's not something you can just hear about and then immediately grok.
I have put those crazy paranoia thoughts behind me. Simply, I do not want to miss these great opportunities to learn from others. Hopefully, I will develop ideas because of others. And, maybe I can influence others, as well.

In case you are wondering how to stay safe on the internet, Cindy Eves-Thomas at the University of Maine Cooperative Extension authored "Staying Safe in the digital age" . Thanks to John Dorner to pointing out this information.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

How My Folks Taught the Five of Us to Be Successful

The Wall Street Journal article, “Raising Women to Be Leaders”, reminded my husband of the Mims girls. He knew that I was raised in an environment that fostered success, too. The article describes how Dennis and Connie Sullivan prepared their four daughters to be highly successful businesswomen. These four women lead major companies.

None of the five Mims kids lead major companies, but we do lead happy, productive, and successful lives. Though the tactics and environments were different, our parents also taught us to be independent, accept responsibilities, work hard, pitch in (now its called teamwork), be confident about our work and abilities, and get an education. Although these expectations were not explicitly stated, we knew what we were expected to do and how we were expected to carry ourselves.

Only eight years separates the five of us; the only male is in the middle. I am the fourth child. Unlike the Sullivan girls whose father was an AT&T executive, we lived in the Upper Coastal Plains of Alabama and most of my family's income came from farming and pulp-wood businesses. During the 1970s, my father switched from growing cotton to growing vegetables. Several reasons prompted his decision. High fuel and chemical prices of the 70s made making a profit in cotton production difficult. Vegetable farming promised to be very profitable, albeit very labor intensive. Vegetables, pecans, and pine trees funded our grade school and college education. We learned so many valuable life skills by "truck" farming.

Hard Work
My father did not believe in making work hard for the sake of working hard. He did want us to accomplish something worthwhile, though. In order to earn money for our education, we have to work hard at growing and selling vegetables.

I could describe the harvesting and marketing activities of any summer, but one particular summer is worth noting. For the summer after my oldest sister entered Washington and Lee Law School, the second oldest was in Pharmacy School at Auburn, and my brother would soon be a freshman at Auburn, we had planted more corn—sweet and field corn—than in any other summer. My dad “gave” my oldest sister a 9-acre field of corn for her tuition. This was not the only field of corn, but this one field was “hers”. He said everything that we sold from that field would fund her law school tuition. Many days would start at 4 AM and end at 10 PM. We would rotate trips to the market. At any given time at least two trucks were on the road or at the market, and the third truck was being loaded. .

I don’t recall at anytime my parents ever saying that we girls should be independent. In fact, the first time I ever heard my mother state her philosophy was this past December. She said, “I just wanted you girls to be able to live on your own and not have to depend on a man.” We grew up with an independent mindset and continue to be that way today. We are all successful individuals. We are all confident, that if by any unfortunate event, we are able to make our own decisions, take care of ourselves and families, and be successful on our own.

Allowing and expecting us to make our own decisions in lots of different situations helped us learn to be independent. We learned to negotiate with wholesalers and individual consumers at a very young age. Even in our social life, we were given the opportunity to make our own judgments. We were not given curfews—we knew we were expected to behave appropriately and we did!

Also, our dad taught us skills so we did not have to depend on others. For example, our father taught us how to change a flat tire and change the oil in our cars. I am not very efficient at either of these activities, but I know how to do them. Today, I am glad to pay someone to change the oil in my car, but in college, I did it myself.

The level of responsibilities, expectations, and opportunities were the same for the four girls and my brother. I realized that many folks viewed the level of capabilities to be different for boys and girls when my brother and I were selling produce together. Customers would invariably turn to my brother to bargain with him. Even though our customers may have perceived that there were differences in our abilities, our folks did not. We were given same opportunities and responsibilities as my brother. Certainly, our parents never said, or indicated, that men and women should be valued differently.

Our parents gave us confidence by giving us responsibilities at an early age. When I was 8 years old, my dad told me and my little sister to learn to drive because more help was needed to haul hay. The two of us were too small to pick up the bales, but if we learned to drive, then the older siblings could toss the bales onto the truck while we drove. We were thrilled to learn to drive! How did my dad teach us? In a field about an acre big, he told Kathryn and me to each drive a truck around the field until we were comfortable driving. We already knew the basics: the gas pedal, the brake, P for park, D for drive, and R for reverse. Our dad’s only instructions were to ease off the gas pedal before braking. We understood to keep the trucks out of the ditch and to avoid hitting each other. We were driving the hay trucks the next day AND happy to be able to drive and contribute!

Directly selling produce meant that we youngsters learned the value of “repeat” customers, negotiation tactics, and marketing strategies based on customer demands and our product availability. Selling to individual consumers and negotiating with vegetable wholesalers built our confidence and helped us learn to communicate with all kinds of people.

Our parents encouraged involvement in school activities—not just playing sports, but also becoming leaders and participating in youth and government programs that created opportunities for us to meet people throughout our state and around the nation. Our parents supported us in every activity. They managed to watch every every ballgame and listen to every speech. They even made trips to Auburn for some of our college events. Their support and belief in us made us believe in ourselves.

We were not given allowances; we worked and made money for the family—for the greater good. We never compared what one child got over another. We knew the shares would equal out “in-the wash” and what we received at any given time was what we could afford. Our parents taught us how to work hard and to work together. We knew when to pinch in—whenever something needed to be done. We never called it teamwork, but that is what it was. We knew we had to get the work done, and sometimes, we had to adjust and be flexible for others. Looking back, I realize that working together is what made life fun. Certainly, in my current role, the most fun is when I work with others.

Our parents modeled perseverance. Sometimes, our life was economically tough. Our parents always looked for improvements in our situation. We were responsible for making opportunities out of the situations that were given to us. Perseverance led to adaptability and flexibility. Every summer, we made adjustments from the summer before. Dad was always willing to try a new variety of corn and tomatoes. We adjusted to what was available and what we capable of doing. For example, when we all were able to drive, we planted more because we had the ability to market more.

Our parents believed in education. They made great sacrifices so we could get a very good education during our grade school and college years. Our parents never demanded or even asked if we were going to college—we knew we were going to Auburn. Like one of my colleagues, Barb (and like her father told her), tells all female students: “Your education is your meal ticket”.

Our parents expected a lot of us. Their expectations led to successful results. We are all well-educated and successful. By May, the five of us will hold a total 10 degrees—one law degree, two doctorates, one masters, and six bachelors degrees. We are known for working hard and being dependable, fair, kind and level-headed. We are influential and making a difference in our organizations. Jenelle is the associate dean of a law school. Nancy led the top branch of a major pharmaceutical company for several years. William, joining the Guard in his mid-thirties, has advanced rapidly and is known for his problem-solving skills in tight situations. He also runs his own business. I help lead a computer department. Kathryn has been an accountant, but later became a nurse, is known for her very caring and nurturing nature, and will get her Doctorate of Pharmacy in May. Of course, we continue to believe in ourselves with an independent mindset.

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Ralph Crocker, An Influential Man

The Ralph Crocker Classic Swim Meet is named for an incredible swim coach who believed in swimmers and expected great things from them—in and out of the pool.

Several years ago, Ralph Crocker’s introduction to the parents and swimmers of our age-group swim team was more like he was having a thoughtful, but a very matter-of-fact, conversation with friends. Early in this meeting, he portrayed his love for his family -- his wife, and Cameron, their daughter. They meant the world to him. In a courageous statement, he also admitted to this group of strangers that he will become melancholy at a certain time of the year which coincides with the time of the year that Lindsey, Margaret and Ralph’s daughter, died. His openness to his emotional side indicated that he understood the important things in life.

In describing his coaching philosophy, he emphasized that the sport of swimming is about the kids. At this meeting, parents knew that he would teach more than swimming; we knew he would also teach them many life skills. Trusting him with my children was easy because he immediately served as a role model for not only the kids, but also the parents.

Although Ralph is known for coaching top-notch teenage and college swimmers, he understood each of his swimmers from the youngest age-group kid and to the Olympians. Passionate about coaching and “genuine love for his swimmers”, he motivated and challenged each one individually. He demonstrated to us parents how to be positive and caring and to share humor.

During Ralph’s memorial service, the word “incredible” was used over and over because it describes the power of influence he had on others. As the long distance swimming coach during the most productive years of Auburn University swim program, Ralph encouraged, coached, parented, challenged, and mentored swimmers so that they accomplished what seemed unreachable. Ironically, they loved Ralph for pushing them. His workouts were fondly known as Ralph’s House of Pain (RHOP). BJ Jones, former Auburn University Swim Team Captain and of member of four NCAA Championship teams, described Ralph best.

Ralph made us believe in ourselves; believe that we could be great even when we weren't so sure. Ralph taught me courage, confidence, and conviction. He’s the only man I've ever met (who) had the ability to challenge and push his athletes to the limit every day, and have them love him for it. He would ask us to do unbelievable things that should have been impossible, but we did them anyway, partly because we wanted to make him proud, but mostly because he made us believe that we could do it.

Ralph Crocker was a man of integrity, influence, positive attitude, and a sense of humor. Ralph has influenced thousands of swimmers, coaches, and parents in his positive attitude, his love for coaching, and his dedication to developing kids into adults. Even in his last days, he courageously battled cancer without complaint, focusing on the future. Ralph Crocker showed us how to live and how to die.

Margaret has dealt with Ralph’s disease and his last days with untiring strength and love. Even on the day of his memorial service, Margaret’s gentle, southern sweetness, as always, made people feel comfortable and “at home”. Margaret and Cameron have been through more tribulations in their lives than most of us can imagine. Some say that bad things happen to good people so that these good people can show us how to react to adversity. The way Ralph lived his life demonstrated how to focus on the important things in life. Margaret’s and Cameron’s strength gives us encouragement to do so.