Sunday, February 22, 2015

On to the Next One (D. Jones Remix)

It's yo boy D.Jones, aka Skully bones,
Now I'm workin' for the Fed, now here come them hoes
Naked from the waist to the toes, sucking on these flows
Got D like Rodman, go head and put it in your soul
I'm on my fuckin rap shit, fuck all that actin,
Lights, Camera, Action, it's a chain reaction
I gots me a sweet tooth, like a fuckin fat chick,
Eat the beat up, I ain't on no diet
It's on to the next one, on to the best one,
Movin on up, like I'm George Jetson
Or was that Jefferson , kiss and caress em,
So much hate, I just deflect em
Y'all niggas old news, Wildcat formation,
Let me show you how its done, standing ovation
Niggas is emotional, must be ovulating,
Rumors of my demise were much exaggerated.
Drinking Crown and ginger, I'm a Presbyterian,
A chosen one like a Philistine, vaca in the Philippines
Is y'all niggas feeling me? D. Jones molestation
This that death row flow, no probation.
I'm opening up the studio, gettin on my Diddy flow,
Use some alliteration, y'all niggas too literal
Its on to the next step, movie star no extras
2 women, no homo, sugar free like Extra.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The Reason for the Season

Photo by DeAngelo Jones
Over the years, I have grown to dislike Christmas. I would even say that I dread it. Instead of celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ or, more accurately, the slow ascent of the sun toward the Northern Hemisphere once more, heralding the lengthening of the days and the renewal of life in the Spring, it is a commercial holiday where people use material objects as a surrogate for real connection.

I've gotten more emails from Amazon, The Tie Bar, and JackThreads than I have from friends and family members. Not unlike my family and friends, when I do hear from these companies, they want something from me. Often times, I succumb to the constant intrusion into the sanctity of my autonomous life, buying a new shirt, pair of shoes, or giving the few bucks that I'm asked to "lend". God, I need another shirt, sweater, or bill to pay like I need a hole in the head (lobotomy maybe).

However, the best thing about the holiday season is the spirit of giving the permeates the ethos. This year, my company (Norwegian American Hospital) decided to have a toy drive in lieu of our usual "Adopt - a - Family". I was put in charge of the project. Given the low morale of the workers as evidenced by our engagement survey scores, I didn't know what to expect. Armed only with my name and the reputation for trustworthiness and competence that I had engendered over the fast few years, I humbly asked our employees for donations (both cash and toys).

Many of our employees are themselves living paycheck to paycheck. They can barely make ends meet and have some tough choices to make on a daily basis in their own lives. However, when confronted with the needs of the community at-large, they rose to the occasion! Hundreds of toys flooded into my tiny corner office. Employees walked up to me with envelopes filled with cash, some of significant amounts. In the end, we collected nearly 200 toys and $500 in cash.

On December 19th, we had our toy drive. There are no words to describe how honored I felt to be a part of this event. The kids that received the toys didn't know that they were poor. Their level of scrutiny concerning what we had to offer them was evidence of that. However, the level of appreciation and gratitude that their parents expressed was enough to break even Scrouge's heart. There was a literal and figurative sigh of relief from the parents in knowing that their children would have something in their stockings this holiday season.

The other aspect of the toy drive that amazed me was the dedication and teamwork by our employees, who took time from their very busy schedules to volunteer to brighten the lives of a few kids. I think that if you asked any of the volunteers, they would say that the most important work done that day was not accomplished in an office or conference room, but in the lobby of our hospital at that event.

We have out the remainder of our toys at a coat drive that took place last night. Hundreds of families lined the corridor to get winter coats for their children, something that those of us that are fortunate take for granted as a given. Once again, the parents were so grateful that their kids would not have to brave a harsh Midwestern winter with a sweatshirt or layers under a spring jacket.

To me, this is the essence of the holiday season. Yes, it is to give material objects, but only those that are truly needed and greatly appreciated. Most importantly, it is about creating shared experiences, opportunities to work together and enjoy the fruits of meaningful labor and, most importantly, to increase the amount of positive energy permeating the cosmos.


Photo by DeAngelo Jones

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Are Leaders Born or Made?

Yesterday, I attended new student orientation at The Chicago School of Professional Psychology.

During my breakout session with my academic advisor Dr. Charmon Parker-Williams, she proposed a question to the group of other advisees that has stirred something immense in my very being.

Dr. Parker-Williams asked whether leaders are born or made. Of the group of 10 advisees, 7 sided with "made", while 3 sided with "born". I was on the fence because I believe that it is a hybrid. Agnosticism not being a choice, I had to choose a side. In the end, I sided with "born".

Leadership, in the first place, is contextual. A leader in one situation may be a follower, or even a non-participant, in another. Leadership skills can be taught and developed. If I didn't believe that, why would I be studying I/O Psychology at such a high level? However, it is my fundamental belief that the qualities that allow for the learning and, eventually, the expression of these leadership skills are inherent at birth.

Who we are, our personality, is a conglomerate of who we are on a genetic level coupled with our experiences over time. This is the old nature/nurture paradigm. Who we are changes over time because our experiences morph in that timeframe. However, how we are able to express those changes over time is hard coded into the very essence of our being. A few examples.

For as long as I can remember, I have been a dedicated learner. I vividly remember reading my grandmother's mail and reading the newspaper to my grandmother because she was functionally illiterate. Over time, this developed into academic excellence at every level, up to this day.

I have always taken learning into my own hands. My mom was a good student, and my dad was very intelligent by all accounts. However, I did not grow up in an environment where there were many books, and education was not a concept that was emphasized in my family. Where did this thirst and desire come from?

Well, I believe that it was a combination of the genes that I was born with coupled with the situation that I was born into. I had to have the mind to read a newspaper written for adults at the ripe old age of 5, whilst growing up in the situation of having an illiterate grandmother, who I loved and cared deeply for.

Let's look at elite athletes versus very good athletes. Hall of Fame wide receiver Chris Carter frequently talks about his induction weekend at the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Chris brought his childhood friends with him to Canton. All of Chris' friends played sports with him as a youth, yet he was the only one that played professionally and, eventually, was immortalalized in the HOF.

Chris' friends all said that there was just "something different" about him, even as a young kid. What was that "something different"? Yes, it was the fact that he grew up in abject poverty.

That experience pushed him to pursue a better life. Chris also came from a family that produced several pro athletes. This fact alone speaks to both having examples of athletic excellence around him and, most importantly, the genetics to express this talent.

There is a razor thin line that separates elite athletes, and people in general, from great, average, good, and mediocre people (in any walk of life). That line is defined by what we generally observe to be grit, determination, will, desire, resilience and the like.

Can those qualities be taught? Yes, but on a superficial level. What causes those qualities to be hard coded? Do the precursors have to be present for the training to have something to attach itself to like a computer program must have a processor upon which to imprint the code?

Another good example is the psychological trait of sociopathy. Sociopathy has been proven by science to be a trait that one is born with. It is an inherited trait in fact. How sociopathy is expressed is the sum result of one's experiences over time.

Negative experiences coupled with improper training may yield a sociopath who becomes a rapist or pick pocket. Positive experiences coupled with more traditional training may yield a stock broker, CEO, lawyer, physician, or an elite athlete (all of these fields measure highly for the trait of sociopathy).

The quintessential example that I can elicit derives from the area of stem cell research. Biologist have discovered that stem cells are the basic building blocks of every component of organic bodies.

For example, scientist harvest stem cells from the umbilical cords of human babies, add a stimuli, and can then produce a liver, kidney, retina or other organ in the human body. Heretofore, scientists can not produce the stem cells themselves. Only God or nature, depending on your belief system, can perform this action.

A sculptor can chisel away at a block of granite or marbel, and create a beautiful statue, but they can not produce the stone itself. They harvest the block from a quarry. The quarry itself was formed by water and other elements shaping the base materials over eons. The base materials are organic materials that either fell from space or were formed from materials that are indigenous to the earth. Who or what formed those organic materials? Diamonds are another example of this analogy.

The question of whether leaders are made or born speaks to the very question that humans have asked since we became conscious beings. From whence came us?

As an I/O Psychologist, I am bound by objective data derived from observation and testing. I then use this data to create training & development plans that are tailored to individuals and that, ultimately, meet the needs and goals of these individuals and the organizations that these individuals work for and within.

To me, it is important to understand where a person comes from in order to facilitate where they are going in various contexts. A huge component of who we are, aside from our experiences, is how we are. This is the part that scares scientists to this day because it can't be explained through traditional scientific inquiry. We have mapped the human genome, but we can not explain the existence of the materials which compose it.

However, we can't ignore what we heretofore can't explain. Is this not the basis of scientific inquiry to seek answers where none appear to be? As I/O Psychologists, we must reconcile this seemingly unanswerable query in order to properly assist the people and organizations that we work for with becoming their best selves and institutions.

Such science has been used negatively in the past to justify the superiority or inferiority of certain races and genders. This misuse of knowledge can not scare us from reasonable inquiry because, in the end, we are the expression of our genes.

Our genes are the acorns that produce the evergreen. Our experiences, training, and education are the ornaments that adorn the fern, creating the Christmas tree. Let us not find ourselves in the abyss of valuing the ornaments at the expense of the tree.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Taking Initiative


I hate firing people. It's my least favorite part of being an HR professional. When someone gets fired, not only did the individual fail, but I can't help but to feel like the organization failed the individual.

I ask myself, what more could we have done to keep this employee? Did we effectively communicate the resources that the employee has at their disposal? Did we have them in the right job that accentuates their strengths and diminishes their weaknesses? Is our organizational structure conducive to success?

But, then, I remember this long lost concept known as Personal Responsibility. Yes, as an HR professional, it is my task to ensure that the organization is structured correctly, that training & development opportunities exist and are communicated, and to keep both the employer and the employee informed of and compliant with ever changing labor laws (to name but a few responsibilities).

However, the employee has to have some skin in the game as well. The employee has to make sure that they show up on time, are competent at their jobs (maintain licenses and certifications), provide excellent customer service to our patients and each other, and take an active role in shaping their own future in relation to training, development, and career advancement.

I'm afraid that, as Dr. Lovell alluded to in his quote, we have developed a society where people wait for things to happen instead of making things happen. In organizations, it may be a bureaucratic reporting structure that formalizes development at the expense of flexibility and creativity. But, what is it about people, as individuals, and society as a whole that breeds this lack of initiative? I'm not sure, but I'm guessing that allowing a 26 year old to stay on their parent's health insurance is a symptom of whatever IT is.

I encouraged the person that I had to let go today to take control of their life. They can create the future that they want if they are willing to make the sacrifices necessary. I encouraged them not to look at being fired as a sad thing, which is difficult to do when you're the one being fired, but as an opportunity to grow and become the person they are destined to be. I truly believe that everything happens for a reason, but you don't have to be a passive observer in your own life's journey.

As the sage Manly Palmer Hall once wrote, only those who live the cause can produce the effect.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Virtual Baseball, Great Organization

The one thing that I love about baseball video games is that it takes the spectator "behind the curtain" of what it takes to put a team on the field, Granted, it's in a virtual environment, but the games are so detailed, and the Artifical Intelligence so advanced, that the lines between reality and virtual reality are becoming blurred.

In the Franchise mode of most baseball games, you are responsible for everything from hiring coaches, to drafting players, to, ultimately, playing the game on the field. When you suck, you have no one else to blame but yourself. You bought the groceries. You cooked the food.

The parallels between being a baseball executive (real or vitual) and being the leader of any organization are not surprising. In both instances, you are establishing a foundation, and building upon that with talent. However, it's not about the quantity of talent you have, it's about the quality. In order to build a great baseball team (real or virtual) or a great organization, you need these building blocks.

Mission and Vision

Why does your team or business exist? What do you stand for? Stand against? What drives your passion for the work that you? The Mission and Vision of an organization is the foundation upon which the super structure will eventually be erected. The key to a good Mission and Vision is not the words on your website or signs in a locker room, but the ways that everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, live, breathe, and display the Mission and Vision everyday.

For example, when I think of Notre Dame, I don't think of a private, Catholic school known for its high academic standards, I think of:


Culture

The Mission and Vision can't mean one thing to executive management, and another to the janitor. It can't mean oe thing to the General Manager, and another to the lefty reliver out of the bullpen. All parties have to be on the same page, or you might as well not have a Mission and Vision at all. This is where Culture comes into play. Culture is how you LIVE the Mission and Vision of your organization. If a random person, who never heard of your company, walked into the front door, your Culture would tell you everything that you need to know about that company.

Colleagues have informal conversations by the water cooler, waiting by the clock to punch out, throwing impromptu dance parties, spreading negative gossip, and awarding extra days off for hard work are all signals of a organization's culture. How an organization lives and breathes its Mission and Vision in the form of Culture has a tremendous influence on whether people want to continue to work for you, come to work for you, or recomend you to someone.

If you have never heard of the Oakland Raiders, or even watched American football, the passion that the fans exude for their team resonates with you. The Oakland Raiders have established an organizational culture that transcends the doors of their facility.


Talent Selection

I've seen a lot of organizations (both in sports and in corporate America) try to attract talent before they knew what they stood for. That's like picking baby names before you've lost your virginity. If your organization has a Mission and Vision, and everyone has bought into it (Culture), then you're off to a good start. The next part of the equation is recruiting talent based on these principles.

If you're an organization that values quirkiness in your talent, then hiring a stuffy grouch is counterintuitive and antithetical to your values. In much the same way that a misplaced puzzle piece destroys the entire puzzle, having talent in your organization that doesn't fit the Culture can bring down the entire structure. Yeah, I know, it's not likely that one or two misplaced people will bring an entire organization to ruin.

Tell that to the 2012 Boston Red Sox...

 

...and the 2013 Boston Red Sox


Consistently compromising your values, as a person or as an organization, will bring ruin by a thousand cuts.

Training and Development

So, you've got your Mission and Vision. Everyone in the organization is on the same page, and actually live the values of the company (Culture). Your company is so awesome, that other people want to come and work for it. You're so committed to upholding the culture of the organization, that you won't just hire anyone. What now?

From an internal stability standpoint, employees want to get better. Some will take their personal and professional growth into their own hands, but most will need to have their hands help. It is imperative that organizations provide the resources that their employees need to get better at their jobs. On a baseball team, this might mean building a state of the art practice facility. For a corporation, this could take the shape of a Leadership Development program. Aside from compensation and management, the opportunity for growth is a key component of engagement and satisfaction.

From a market standpoint, your competitors aren't resting on their laurels. They're training and developing the hell out of their talent, positioning themselves to take advantage of opportunities in the market. A car is only as good as the engine, and the engine of most organizations are their people.

Some examples of this principle in operation in baseball would be the success of the St. Louis Cardinals, Boston Red Sox and (eventually) Pittsburgh Pirates minor league systems. They turned negatives (consecutive losing seasons, high draft picks, low fan support), and turned them into positives (Multiple World Series titles for the Cardinals and Red Sox; first playoff appearance in 20 seasons for the Pirates). Examples in corporate America would be Apple, Amazon, and Grub Hub (to name but a few)


Begin With the End in Mind

I heard this phrase at a seminar on Employee Immersion (New Employee Orientation is lame now). The speaker said that, in order to create an Employee Immersion process that is sustainable, you have to decide what type of employee you want the orientee to be at the end, when they are out on the floor without supervision, and work backwards.

This is not just an organizational principle, it is a life principle. You should determine what you want to make of your life, and then work backwards, laying the ground work to eventually attain your goals.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

The Importance of Observation


I play a lot of video games.

All of the experts say that the best way to deal with the stress of work is to do something that you love. I love video games. Specifically, sports video games.

In video games, you're God. In sports video games, you're the modern incarnation of God, the General Manager! You control the players on your team, their attributes and, since they're not real people, you can trade them indiscriminately without considering how the move will affect their school-aged children, spouse, or tax liability. Fictitious characters governed by artificial intelligence don't have tax liabilities.

I play a lot of Major League Baseball 2K14. I love the game of baseball more than sex and running, and I love sex and running. Any chance I get to watch or play baseball is like a combo spa day/psychotherapy session.

Like anything in life that's good, once you have a little bit of it, you want a little more. Positive reinforcement is amazing like that. Whilst playing 2K14 for several hours, putting up exceptional video game stats as usual, I began to think of ways that I could maximize my output as a batter (although my power stats are sick, I'd like to bring down the number of strikeouts).

Thinking back on my days as a real life baseball player, coupled with all of the coaching/analysis/opinions I've received or heard concerning this subject, I thought that the most effective way to increase my offensive output would be to see more pitches. What a novel thought.

As simple of a concept as this seems, when you're hitting the pixels off of the digital ball, your premises begin to change. You get caught in the proverbial "swing hard in case you hit it" mentality. Taking more pitches, even when you're going good, serves many useful purposes:
  1. If you're unfamiliar with the pitcher's repertoire, taking more pitches allows you to see what's in his arsenal.
  2. If you know what pitches he throws, you can gauge the velocity (speed + direction) with which he throws those pitches on that given day.
  3. With advanced metrics, pitchers can easily recognize and exploit the weaknesses of the batter. Inversely, watching how a pitcher works you yields insights into what the other team(s) perceive your weaknesses and strengths to be.
  4. Within the life cycle of an at-bat, especially in video games, the pattern of pitches, if plotted out like a dot graph, usually form a linear equation. If you're really, really smart, you can calculate the equation in your head to predict the location of the next pitch. If you're just normal, like me, you can take an educated guess on the location of the next pitch just based on the pattern laid out by the previous pitches.
  5. Over an extended period of time, usually 2-3 at-bats, a discernible pattern emerges. For example, if the pitcher started your initial at-bat with a cut fastball on the outside corner, chances are the pitcher will start subsequent at-bats with a cut fastball on the outside corner, until either you adjust or the game conditions dictate a change in strategy.
These observations are useful, in and of themselves, for the avid player of MLB 2K14. However, the Organizational Psychologist in me has this primal urge to draw comparisons between these insights and how they can be used to impact your career.

Taking Pitches

Taking pitches in baseball is analogous to "feeling out a situation" in the workforce. If you are new to a company or career, it is wise to sit back and observe your environment. Who's in charge (by job title)? Who's in charge (by personality)? How do your co-workers interact with each other? Are people waiting by the door at 5pm? Once you have as good of an idea as any human being can have regarding the behavior of other humans, then you can interject yourself into the fabric and culture of the company in a more strategic fashion. If you jump in full frontal, then you're no better than the hitter that swings hard in cases he hits something.

Velocity

This is key when you're familiar with some of your colleagues on a personal (or informal) level, but aren't quite sure what type of work animal they are. A person can be joking and jovial in a non-professional setting, and a raging maniac at work. It's important to observe these variations in behavior, so that you're prepared to make adjustments as needed.

Feedback

In much the same way that how a pitcher pitches you speaks volumes about how they perceive your strengths and weaknesses, how people treat you speaks volumes about how you are perceived. One issue that constantly comes up in my performance reviews is that I can be unapproachable. I perceive this me just being serious and stoic like I've been since childhood, but to people who haven't known me since childhood, I'm just an asshole. I've actively began to manage my body language, tone of voice, and hand gestures to match the affect of the person that I'm speaking with. No one likes receiving feedback, especially negative feedback, but its an invaluable tool for the person that wants to grow and prosper.

Patterns (Micro)

Our initial perceptions of people are remarkably accurate in predicting their likely behavior. People just are who they are for the most part. With a little information about the person (zodiac sign, Myers-Briggs inventory, list of prescribed medicines), you can predict who's going to show up late for that meeting, who stirs up trouble and, on a positive note, who to align yourself with for upward mobility.

Patterns (Macro)

Past performance is the best predictor of future performance. On the macro level, looking at patterns of behavior and performance can help you identify high performers, disengaged employees who, with a shot in the arm, could be top performers, and low performers who should be disposed of at all costs (as just one example).

It should come as no surprise that meaningful insights into life can come from an artificial reality. Human beings create these artificial environments as labs for experimenting with the human condition (with the potentially detrimental effects). One of the most important faculties to cultivate, for our personal as well as our professional lives, is the ability to observe your environment. The data gleaned from meaningful observation provides insights into how you should approach others and, in turn, how others perceive and make use of you. With this data, we can add some stability to what appears to be and, in some cases actually is, the seemingly random nature of human interactions.

Batter Up!

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Wednesday Witticisms

Tuesday night was a very interesting night in sports television. Here are the 5 events that grabbed my attention:

Looks like the Cleveland Cavaliers got a mulligan on their 2013 selection of Anthony Bennett. If he improves just slightly from year 1 to year 2, it will be like having 2 first overall draft picks (unless the new guy sucks, too).

 
Yankee living legend Derek Jeter played his last night game at Wrigley Field on Tuesday night. The Cubs presented Jeter with a piece of the iconic scoreboard. In return, Jeter gave the Cubs a signed picture of the Marlins winning the 2003 World Series.


Former NFL players are suing the league for prescribing pain killers to mask the pain of injury, getting the players back on the field quicker, and for withholding diagnosis of serious injuries. In other news, snow is white and heat is hot. No one forced guys to take a bunch of pills to play. Players took the drugs because they wanted to play. Now, the withholding diagnosis stuff - that might play. With all of the recent lawsuits, what's the future of the NFL as the nation's most popular spectator sport? If the ratings from the 2014 NFL Draft tell us anything, the future is still bright.



The Miami Heat beat the Indiana Pacers 84-81, evening the best of 7 Eastern Conference Finals series at 1 game a piece, heading to South Beach. LeBron and D. Wade are officially the Nasty Boys of team pro sports. Best Tag Team...EVER.


On an eerily similar note to the NFL story, Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel profiled the widespread use of pain killers and masking agents on race horses, leading to horses breaking down mid-race, killing the horses and, in most cases, severely injuring the jockeys. Veterinarians say that giving painkillers to race horses is an easy way to supplement their income, especially since the practice is widespread. On the owners and trainers end, a horse isn't profitable unless they race. A horse breaks down, you put it down and move on. All of the comparisons between football players and race horses aren't just hyperbole.