Sunday, September 6, 2009

Reinvention of self -- again

Three years ago I did a collateral reinvention when I started teaching an online course in Crisis Communications at the University of Maryland University College.

This has turned out to be a very satisfying reboot. I’d always harbored a desire to teach, and UMUC is a great place to realize this goal. While I would still like to try the classroom in-person mode, teaching online has quite a few advantages that in-person classes do not have. Asynchronous teaching and learning can be very convenient for both the teacher and the student.

This fall I’m branching out yet again, adding a new subject to teach in addition to Crisis Communications. The new subject is Intercultural Communications and Leadership. The material looks very interesting and challenging, and I’m looking forward to engaging with a new set of students in a different academic discipline.

Nancy J. Adler, author of International Dimensions of Organizational Behavior, one of the textbooks we’ll be using, frames the teaching task this way in her first chapter:

“Focusing on global strategies and management approaches from the perspective of people and culture allows us to understand the influence of national and ethnic cultures on organizational functioning. Rather than becoming trapped within the commonly asked (and unfortunately misleading) question of whether organizational dynamics are universal or culturally specific, this book focuses on the crucially important questions of when and how to be sensitive to culture.”

The company I spent most of my corporate career working for – Pacific Gas & Electric – had only minimal international operations, but my consulting career has carried me into several large organizations that operate around the world. I get a firsthand look at the interplay of communications and culture almost every day. The world is now the business arena. As Adler puts it:

Managing the global enterprise and modern business management have become come synonymous. The terms international, multinational, transnational, and global can no longer be relegated to a subset of organizations or to a division within the organization. Definitions of success now transcend national boundaries. In fact, the very concept of domestic business may have become anachronistic. Today “the modern business enterprise has no place to hide. It has no place to go but everywhere.”

I feel certain that the teacher in this course is going to learn as much as the students. Considering who the teacher is, probably a lot more.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Tag, you're out!

A while back, I wrote somewhere (I thought it was in this blog, but I can’t find it) that the creation of was a rebooting for me, and I needed to learn how to manage a website.

Well, this summer I decided that the time had come to quit procrastinating and learn HTML and XHTML so I could do my own tinkering with People told me, “Sure, you can learn it. I learned it, so surely you can.”

So I enrolled in “Publish on Web Using HTML/XHTML” at Foothill College. It was an online course, a delivery method with which I’m familiar because I teach an online course at the University of Maryland University College. I was excited about learning something new, and about being on the student end of an online course.

I got into it, and early on I discovered that the people who invented the web were smarter than I thought. Way smarter. These languages are not simple. And they are mercilessly unforgiving. Make one mistake in an opening or closing tag (don’t ask) and HTML simply refuses to perform. It just sits there, lines and lines of code on your computer, and because you left out one punctuation mark or got some tiny part of the syntax wrong, it does nothing.

Talk about user unfriendly. I felt it was user hostile!

To make a long story short, when I bombed the mid-term I realized that I had bitten off more than I had time to chew at this particular moment, so I withdrew from the course. Licking my wounds, I left the field of combat and said, “OK, I’ll come back another day.”

A month or so later, in a completely unrelated development, I was participating in a virtual meeting with a person who is an expert in HTML and XHTML, and we were discussing modifications to a work-related website. I could see his computer screen on my laptop. At a certain point he began writing new code to change the look of the page.

There, before my very eyes, I saw a person writing HTML as fluently and easily as I am writing English in this post. More than that, he was thinking in HTML, the way fluent translators can think in second and third languages. It rolled across the screen, all the tags and colons and semicolons and quotation marks and styles, marching across the virtual page in perfect order and form. He clicked “publish” and voila! There was the web page, looking exactly how he had told it to look.

It was a beautiful thing to see (OK, beautiful to me). To watch someone do so easily and so effortlessly what I had struggled with so mightily was both amazing and humbling.

Bottom line: I have a whole new appreciation for the people who do web design and creation. A huge appreciation. I learned my limitations. I learned that not every rebooting enterprise is a good idea. In truth, I can’t do everything.

Some things are better left to the experts. And HTML and XHTML are two of them!

He became his better self

Last Saturday Ted Kennedy was buried at Arlington National Cemetery. Reflecting on his life and the triumph and tragedy of the Kennedy family, Bob Herbert wrote in the New York Times, “The Kennedys counseled us for half a century to be optimistic and to strive harder, to find the resilience to overcome those inevitable moments of tragedy and desolation, and to move steadily toward our better selves, as individuals and as a nation.”

It occurs to me that Ted Kennedy was a rebooter of heroic proportions. From that tragic accident at Chappaquiddick, to that day when he stumbled over the question, “Why do you want to be president?” to the final years of his life, when he was revered as a consummate lawmaker who authored or co-authored many landmark pieces of legislation – he remade himself.

He picked himself up by his bootstraps and became “his better self.”

So many of us these days are at a point in our lives where a rebooting is necessary. It may be that we need to reinvent ourselves for economic reasons, for retirement-building reasons, or for personal reasons that go deep into our spirit. There is a time and a season for everything. This is a time and season for rebooting.