Category: Uncategorized


Journey to Health Memory Box

For the Intro to Art class #artmooc, we had to do a personal collections “cabinet of curiosities” or memory box like those created by Joseph Cornell, one of my favorite artists. I’ve written about him in an earlier blog when I submitted a memory box as my photo for another class. The interesting thing about personal collections is that they are so diverse. Not only did Joseph Cornell create boxes but his home became an organized collection of objects that could be used to create other boxes. Andy Warhol kept a cardboard box next to his desk and would drop papers and other things in it. When full it would be labeled and placed with other boxes in storage. I’ve done that at times in my life as a cleaning technique but I doubt anyone would be interested in their contents beyond myself. But because I’ve collected many things and have created memory boxes, I wasn’t sure initially what to do. But the most important thing in my life right now is my journey to better health. It is changing my life style and creating artifacts although many of those are digital like pictures of clothes given away when they became too large.

So I decided to create an emerging memory box since my journey to better health is not finished and not all the artifacts are yet available. The rollercoaster represented in the pictures is the original Mr. Twister from Elitch Gardens that I rode once as a girl. My journey resembles that of a rollercoaster ride right now.

JourneyHealthBox

The Journey Health Box was created using an old makeup box that was labeled INDEED Brush Essentials along with different types of glues and tape. I kept the box intact because I love the silver color, the hardware and the mirror inside. This box contains artifacts that I have begun to gather since I started my journey to better health in September 2012. At that time I weighed 319.4 pounds with a number of health problems. I am aging and was afraid that I would become a physical vegetable unable to enjoy my latter years if I didn’t do something now. For most of my adult life I have been on a rollercoaster of weight loss and fitness programs. They would be effective for a few years and then I would go back to unhealthy living patterns. In September, I felt that this was the last time I had to do this. That it was the end of the rollercoaster – time to stop that ride and get as healthy as I could be as I grow older. Yet in some ways the journey since September has had its own twists and turns and plunges as I ended up with other unexpected health issues like eye surgeries to prevent blindness from glaucoma or severe vertigo that limited my ability to move. Yet through it all I was able to slowly lose weight and start to exercise more effectively two months ago. The journey isn’t finished as I have almost a hundred pounds to go. So this box will not be finished until I can get down to 160 pounds. And at that time I may end up with a cabinet as I have other artifacts that I am keeping like the cane I want to stop using by December 2013 or the pair of very large slacks and shirt I want to compare to my new clothes.

When putting this box together, I searched out pictures of the Mr. Twister rollercoaster from Elitch Gardens in Colorado. I had ridden this coaster as a young girl and it reminded me both of the rollercoaster weight losses of my adult life and the journey that I am now on. The original Mr. Twister is now gone – too big to fit into the new location for Elitch Gardens – just as my old ways are going to be gone to be replaced by a beautiful new vision (see photo of the new Mr.Twister II along the Denver skyline). To the box I added two graphs that show my weight loss of 40 pounds in 2012 – a nice drop followed by the rollercoaster of 2013 of only 22 pounds where other health problems caused twists and turns. I also added in a small section of a Facebook screenshot from comments on Dec 25, 2012. My friends and family on Facebook have been a key part of the encouragement that keeps me going when the rollercoaster seems out of control. I also added in small photos of myself at various points to show the weight loss in my face. Unfortunately, I did not take any full body shots at the beginning to show the 35 inches now lost. I also created a 3D photo insert that is movable and changeable. One side has a “selfie” of me from Friday looking up – looking forward to the next part of the journey. The other parts of the 3d insert (made of styrofoam board) have a picture of the first run of Mr. Twister with a comment that the first step is the hardest coupled with 319.4 pounds (starting weight). Other pictures not seen include small versions of the two size tags and myself in the gym last week. The two size tags show the physical weight loss. I had just purchased 3 pair of slacks in August 2012 in 3X(26-28W). I went back in April 2013 to get the same brand of slacks in 0x (14-16W) – many sizes smaller. Two of the 3X slacks were donated to the thrift shop; the other pair are part of my curiosity cabinet for when I complete this journey and a new me has emerged at 160 pounds.

For those of you wondering what it’s taken, I may write another blog. I have not done anything special except remove processed foods from my lifestyle. I enjoy foods like dark chocolate, coffee, and steak but I couple them with lots of dark greens and almost always organic due to allergies to even small amounts of chemicals. It’s been worth it. I don’t feel deprived and I am getting healthier even if some days the rollercoaster dips and twists a little too quickly for comfort.

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Yesterday I came across two articles on the recent issue of whether Urban Outfitters was stealing designs from the craft sight Etsy.com. I’m not here to judge either one but I do want to talk briefly about the dangers of rushing to judge without looking at all the facts and the damage that is hard to undo afterward. I think this is a valuable topic to disucss and am not going to do it justice here. But it is hard to cover in 140char (even with deck.ly). I may do something deeper later on.

Social media can be extremely powerful in giving a voice to those of us who felt we previously had none. But the danger to that voice is that we may choose not to listen to all the other voices that are out there. This may be the case with the Urban Outfitter/Etsy.com event.

Amber on myaimistrue website posted an overview of the public outcry against Urban Outfitters for allegedly stealing a design concept from a crafter on Etsy.com.  The overview is called “Anatomy of a trending topic: How Twitter & the crafting community put the smackdown on Urban Outfitters”  .  It’s a very good overview.  However, last night I found a counter point of view from Helen Killer at regretsy.com talking about the fact that this design concept is actually not new and may not really be proprietary (see additional information in some of the comments).   Yet the damage is done.   I saw the first message sent out via twitter from two people I respect with the following comments:

1. Awesome ex of Social Media Muscle! How crafting community used Twitter to put smackdown on Urban Outfitters

2.powerful reminder of how social media has changed the relationship between customers and companies

Had I only seen just the overview article, my personal thoughts would have mirrored the first comment.  But having seen the rebuttal, it forced me to reassess what I think about the possible power of the people to “smackdown” a company and how a potential misunderstanding could be changed.  Especially since it seems that the first article is getting more traction than the second based on a quick query of Google where I found all sorts of people condemning Urban Outfitter for this action.

So how can social media help undo the lack of critical thinking that we may all be guilty of when we start retweeting and blogging without looking at all the facts.

Fall cleaning: purging good ideas

Today I started cleaning out my cubicle. I have saved massive amounts of “good ideas” over the past 10 years and this was the time to start purging all the associated paperwork that went with them. I didn’t realize how hard it would be. None of the problems that they address have been solved. To see so much wasted talent that had been poured into those ideas by so many people both inside the community and out saddened me deeply. Especially as the next crop of good ideas are just variations of the same ideas I threw away to solve the same problems that haven’t yet been solved. I have never underestimated the challenges in making innovation happen but now I wonder if transformation of a deeply hierarchical bureaucracy is really possible. If the system doesn’t ultimately win over the talented employees trying to do what is right. I hope that I am wrong but I keep seeing indicators of a return to mediocrity and business as usual instead of working through the challenging change times.

Today I received my first performance-based evaluation. The new system has been much cause for complaint but I was willing to give it a chance. Partly because I have never doubted my ability to perform. I set my own personal objectives and they have always exceeded those set by my employers. I was concerned about the possibility of misuse of the performance-based objectives to drive analytic skills toward mundane bean-counting quotas instead of letting employees rise to brilliance. But I hoped that managers would be able to walk that fine line between abuse and leadership. I was foolish in the extreme to think that such visionary leaders existed. So today I learned that senior leadership in the office drove evaluations to meet a bell-shaped quota of performance scores. And any failure to achieve one objective was cause to drive the score lower to the point that I am in the middle at a 3.5 out 5.0 – merely “successful”. Considering that 95% of my evaluations over my career have been above average, “successful” is a slap in the face.

But what saddens me most is that I consider this  a sign that the job that I do as an innovator and change agent is not considered valuable to accomplishing agency missions (I do not consider it a personal assault on my performance). The very nature of my job is about connecting people, collaborating and sharing knowledge, steering new tradecraft and acting as a catalyst for change. And I have just been told that my work is just average despite an amazing year of making changes in attitudes happen in how multiple organizations look at the national security implications of social media.

As if that is not bad enough, there is a move to standardize performance objectives among people who have very disparate missions. It would be like assigning the same objectives to the salesforce that you assign to the knowledge management team. Both are working toward the same goals to make the organization more effective but they do it very differently. So now I’m wondering what other organizations do to manage and evaluate their innovators and change agents. Can innovators/change agents survive in a performance-based evaluation system where objectives don’t permit agility and ability to innovate. I’d love to hear any experiences that you have had.

I have resisted leaving government like so many are doing because I feel that there needs to be internal change agents with thick skins (and maybe skulls) willing to try to break down walls regardless of how it hurts your career or other aspects of your life. Now I’m beginning to wonder at the value of trying to improve the way we do business. Should I pour out the rest of my life into an organization that cares nothing for its most precious resource – its people? Because I was not the only one being shaped by this bell-curve performance based evaluation process.  I know I won’t give up because it’s not in my nature. But I just wonder what I should do from here. Can I in good conscious continue to fight to improve an organization that fiercely resists the changes needed to transform it.

I started writing this entry after a talk by John Kao fired up my imagination in late 2007. I have long known of his reputation as an innovative and creative thinker, but never had the opportunity to actually listen to him before. John had recently published a book about innovation as an element of national policy that was missing in the United States. Throughout his talk, he gave us great insights into some of the countries who were embracing innovation at the national level and having great success like Singapore in establishing an international relationship in life sciences innovation to include luring top talent away from their respective countries like the former director of the NIH or Stanford’s Medical College. By the time he was done, I was ready to apply even though it’s been a long time since I finished my degree in biological sciences.

“Are you on the Global Frequency” actually refers to a question that was asked during the final Q&A session about where the Intelligence Community (IC) should go – what should be the IC’s vision. John had referenced the vision put forth by Warren Ellis in his amazing book called “Global Frequency: Planet Ablaze” earlier as a means of visually communicating the story and the need for innovation. He went on to talk about the birth of the IC as a wave of innovation itself after World War II that has been forged into a deep hierarchy since then. He had no ready answers but suggested that looking to the Global Frequency to find answers.

So I picked up the book right before Christmas. Least you think this is a standard “five-steps and you’ve got it” book, guess again. This is an action packed, professionally illustrated graphic novel (aka adult comicbook) with great artwork and a scarcity of words that leaves a lot to the interpretative imagination of the reader/viewer. After reading both graphic novels, I began to wonder how it could apply. It seems to me that the concepts behind the Global Frequency include the collective intelligence of a global organization of 1001 deeply specialized experts in far-ranging skills from bio-weapons engineering to Le Parkour Runnng who are tied together by an amazing global communications system. When the call goes out to activate select members, they are “on the global frequency” and ready for action whether that includes advising a group on some aspect of an operation or conducting the actual operation itself. Members are selected when the problem arises based on the nature of the problem or threat and the unique skills of those members selected. At the heart is a centralized hub/knowledge base with access to global information run by one of the members (known as Aleph) with special skills known as “superprocessing” (handling separate inputs while performing multiple complex tasks and running deductive strings) and a true leader (vice inadequately trained manager) with a deep grasp of human nature who gets involved without getting in the way. All of them are tied together by their passionate willingness to accomplish their mission even to the point of sacrificing their lives.

Now some of what happens in the novel is unrealistic in relation to the role of the US Intelligence Community and seems a little hard to think about how it might transition into reality. Until you start thinking about concepts like Knowledge Ecosystems with extentions into virtual worlds that David Bray had been researching while at Emory University. Finally I had a chance to begin to look at some of his papers and found his video on National Security Projection 2019 . And while the video doesn’t take you into the graphic novel or virtual world, it does remind you of where we may be trying to go with the Intelligence Community and possibly even farther into full partnership in a global organization where we connect with partners in plans, policy, operations, research and acquisition as well as the more normal partnerships in intelligence analysis. Some of that is starting to unfold on various government domains (e.g. Intelink, A-Space, Bridge) and as a result of connections through social media that are creating new communities and networks for everything from disaster relief to grass roots activism to health reporting. A lot of hard work and challenges lie ahead to achieve a vision of a global collective intelligence that is “on the global frequency” and focused on the good of all. But won’t it be fun when the story of all our efforts gets written not in a graphic novel but a virtual world that is globally connected at multiple security levels.

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