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Showing Initiative – A True Story

Although I was in Portland this week, I reflected over an experience I had last week while traveling. I went out for dinner and had similar things happen, but with totally opposite results. In the first case I wanted to order my meal and was told they were out of what I wanted. I then tried again, but received the same answer. I tried a third and fourth time and each time I received the same answer: “We are sold out of that and we don’t get our food shipment until tomorrow morning.” I ended up putting down some money for my iced tea and leaving to go someplace else. How can you operate a restaurant when you are out of meat, poultry, fish, noodles, and greens? And yes, my attempts were in that order <grin>. What was even more frustrating was each time I asked the waiter played the victim as he walked back to the kitchen, asked, and then came back to tell me “try again.” It wasn’t his fault, he explained, his “…manager hadn’t ordered enough produce this time around.”

Now, this very same week I went to another restaurant and thought I was going to have a déjà vu moment. I ordered and the waitress came back to tell me that they were out of what I had selected. Now here is where the story differs… The waitress went on to say “…our manager isn’t here, but the busboy decided to run down the block to get some groceries and should be back in less than 20 minutes. Would you like to order something else or would you prefer to wait?” She then went on to make a recommendation based on what she knew they had. In my case I decided to wait. I later saw the busboy sprint through the front door, rather winded, toting three to four plastic grocery bags. I also saw her bus some of her own tables while the busboy was out. I read some news articles and some of my current book on my Kindle while I waited and then went on to have a very enjoyable meal.

Why am I sharing this story? Based on my previous experience just a couple of days earlier I was inspired by the initiative shown by the employees at this second restaurant. At the first restaurant all of the employees had given up and were waiting for something to happen outside of their job descriptions. It wasn’t their fault they had run out of produce before their next deliveries for that week. As a customer asking them for things they were out of I was even beginning to become annoying to them. However, at the second restaurant, an employee who had nothing to do with food procurement or preparation decided to solve the problem to help his teammates out. Those employees at the second restaurant showed great initiative to do the right things for the right reasons to ensure that their company delivered the best product and experience possible to their customers.

I was really inspired by that busboy. So much so I made a note to share this experience with anybody who would listen. I hope you are inspired too.

In Agile it isn’t about job titles or job descriptions; it isn’t about tossing things over the wall via e-mail or ticket to some other team member, functional group, or department – it is about doing the right things for the right reasons in an effort to delight customers in a timely manner.

Agile is about real-time collaboration to solve a problem, divide the work, and push through it vs. waiting.

I’d like to thank all who understand and practice that across Agile teams today. You too are inspiring…  The rest of you?  Perhaps pretend you work at the second restaurant?  :D



One problem the software industry has is that it has been difficult for it to attract women to pursue Computer Science degrees and then go on to work in development, QA, or other software engineering positions. I believe this is kind of criminal given a woman, Ada Lovelace, wrote the first computer program in the mid-1800’s. A component of the issue regarding the lack of diversity in tech has been stereotypes that have been created and perpetuated throughout the industry. One woman, Isis Wenger of OneLogin, decided to address this head on with her #ILookLikeAnEngineer campaign on Twitter. There is a good article on TechCrunch that explains why she did this. 

Some may find this to be a controversial topic— it shouldn’t be. Collectively, we need to further promote and aid diversity in the workforce. I believe that it starts with #STEM programs and encouraging school age girls to learn how to code and explore the career opportunities that exists within this industry. It continues with breaking down the perpetuation of stereotypes. For our female team members, you may wish to share your own post to #ILookLikeAnEngineer to help contribute to diversity education and the conversation.

It’s PI DAY!!!

Hey, this Saturday is Pi Day. Did you know that everything that has ever existed or will exist can be represented somewhere in Pi? Every book, every movie, even your unique DNA sequence. I know, it makes your brain explode thinking about it…
Pi Day Countdown

I managed to capture this screen shot at Pi time on Pi Day:

Will Portland Hear Our Innovative Spirit This Thursday?

This Thursday night the political gears will be grinding away. The transportation commission hosts their public hearing on Uber, Lyft and similar technology-based services. Sometimes our Portland tech community can be loud about what it believes in and at other times it can be quite passive and quiet. I believe this is a moment where Portland tech needs to be vocal about the entrepreneurial spirit and push back on legacy, protectionist policies that exist to block innovation. It isn’t Uber and other similar services at risk here; it is any tech startup who dares to challenge the status quo.

PDX Rides Community Forum
Thursday, February 26, 2015 | 6 – 8:30 p.m.
Portland Building, Second Floor, 1120 SW Fifth Ave.

RadioShack R.I.P.

I felt that I needed to write a eulogy for Radio Shack, given its demise this week.  Radio Shack is one of the reasons I’m in computers today.  It started in 6th grade with a Science Fair 150-in-1 Electronic Project kit in the 70’s that my parents purchased for me on a whim.  After that Radio Shack became the cool place you went to when you wanted to build or create something that none of your friends had.  It had all the instruction manuals, tools, and electronic components to allow you to build a variety of great things. I remember that AM Radio transmitter I built from scratch that let me pretend to be a radio DJ one summer. I built my first “robot” after reading an article in OMNI Magazine (also dead today) from parts purchased at Radio Shack: a gutted remote control car that was hardwired with electronics to either follow a flash light automatically or to scurry away like a cockroach and hide in the dark once a light was turned upon it.  Then there was the Trash-80, as we affectionately called their CPM-based early microcomputer.  I learned that it was easier to change code than to modify circuits by wirewraping or soldering new components.  I’m sad.  Today we have the Rasberry PI and similar escapes; if we could only get our kids to look up from their thumbs blurring away texting, Instagraming, and Facebooking to take a glance at them…  Radio Shack R.I.P.

Portland Political Leaders Say “Uber can go pound sand in our city”

The city has had ample opportunities, even back in September of 2013, to address 2-3 easy “issues” regarding Uber and similar services. Instead it decided to stonewall and delay while protecting status quo. Using lawyers instead of proactively managing the update of policy and regulations to those in line with the opportunities of this century is perhaps one way to govern. Congratulations to how the mayor and Transportation Board decided to prioritize and spend taxpayer dollars on something that should have never reached this point (I’m being flip). Now it seems like they are simply digging their heals in because “they can” vs. asking “what is the right answer for our citizens and travelers who visit our great city?”

I have no horse in this race other than that of being a business traveler who has been repeatedly delighted as a customer while using Uber when traveling to other cities across this nation. As a prior board member of the Technology Association of Oregon and former Chief Technology Officer of Regence Blue Cross Blue Shield I’m frankly embarrassed that Portland has sided with the Luddites as opposed to embracing what great technology can enable.

As a business traveler I will continue to vote with my wallet (and my Uber phone app) until I am no longer delighted by the service they and their drivers provide to me as a consumer compared to other available options. I suspect other consumers will decide to do the same.

Banner Ad Turned 20

ATT Banner Ad

Last month if you had found a time machine and turned the dial back 20 years you would have seen the first set of banner ads. partnered with fourteen companies to try something new and innovative.  If you want to go back in time and see what AT&T did as one of these collaborators and early adopters, look at the top of this posting or go to (don’t worry about feeling nostalgic and setting your video settings to 640×480 first).  Go ahead and click on the banner ad and check out the static text landing page that had 3 hyperlinks, which then buried a couple of pages that were pretty dramatic and jaw dropping for the day).

One of the coolest aspects of their first banner ad was that they tied it in to a video advertising promotion that they had been running both on CD-ROM (as magazine inserts) and on TV.  The campaign was called “You Will” and it featured some of their predictions for what people would be able to do in the future due to technology.  You can see a compilation of these videos here.  It’s worth going through them all.  Video didn’t stream on the internet back then, but the “You Will” tagline tied their messaging and unique content delivery across multiple mediums together for them.

What is ironic about these predictions is that they pretty much nailed all of them, but one.  We may still be waiting for personal medical records, but the prediction they missed was one that was in their own space at the time.  How is it they were able to predict all the others, but not their own?  Quite simply they suffered from a phenomenon known as Innovator’s Dilemma.  Simply put they were too close the problem, could only see the solution in terms of how they would solve it based on their domain knowledge of the day, and they failed to ask the question “How would others do this?”

I’m a big fan of a methodology called “The 6 Qs” when trying to take on an initiative or problem (I’ll explain it in a future post).  Question 5 is “How have others solved this problem?”  All too often many of us think that when it comes time to solve a problem that we have to leverage our own creative juices to find the answer.  Most of us leverage our own experiences within our space, try to leverage how our products work today, and then try to leap to the next logical change or enhancement that would get us to the solution.  Our starting point is often based on where we are standing today vs. from where others are standing.

The truth is that many notable innovations come from what has already been invented.  The reality is that these stem from leveraging a solution in an adjacent space and reapplying it in your own domain in a way that delights your customers.  History is full of examples of people and companies credited with inventing or innovating something really transformative to an industry.  The dirty secret is that if you peel away the layers of the onion you often find they were the ones who saw a solution in an adjacent space and were the first to make the leap as to how to apply it within their own domain.

How will somebody else from an adjacent space out innovate you as you work from where you stand today?


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