Tuesday, April 14, 2015

strategy and life

I gave a short talk today to the Claremont Rotary club about UNH, HMP, and my personal goals with developing my podcast, Health Leader Forge.

I framed the briefing using this presentation by Michael Porter:

I talked briefly about what I thought the value propositions were for UNH, HMP, and then my own goals of creating Health Leader Forge to try to create my own value proposition. If you skip to slide 16, he presents "Five Tests of a Good Strategy". Those are:
• A unique value proposition compared to other organizations
• A different, tailored value chain
• Clear tradeoffs, and choosing what not to do
• Activities that fit together and reinforce each other
• Strategic continuity with continual improvement in realizing the strategy
The whole presentation is worth reading and thinking about. I also recommend reading his seminal article, The Five Competitive Forces that Shape Strategy.

What I talked about to the Rotarians was how we all need to have a strategy at the organization level, section level, and personal level. That last one may sound a bit odd, but think about it - you don't want to go head to head with people competing with the exact same skills. You want to come up with a way to show other people and other organizations what is unique about you, and why that is uniquely valuable to them. You don't want to try to sell yourself as just like everyone else - that's the surest way to make yourself a commondity and get paid appropriately.

The more I thought about this concept on the two hour drive back from Claremont this afternoon, the more it seemed to extend even further into our lives - beyond careers.

You don't want to live someone else's life - you want to figure out what is unique about you and live that life.
You don't want to compete with other people for the same resources - find your own way.
Be clear about what you are going to do, and what you are not going to do. I'd call this in part drawing boundaries in your life, and it requires jettisoning people and expectations that don't fit with what you are trying to do.
Find synergies in your work, interests, and relationships. Don't create silos - find a way to make the parts of your life reinforce each other, not pull apart.
Don't chase every new idea. Find a unifying theme that is not too narrow, not too broad. I believe that's called "finding yourself". And be true to that self, once you've found him/her.
Not sure Porter had this in mind, but I wouldn't be surprised.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

UMass Concert Band Spring 2015 Concert

My daughter is first flute for the UMass Concert Band this year. Check out the first 30 seconds of this video - that's her playing the opening solo.

(link to video in case the embed fails: https://youtu.be/FzfAf5Q5Cv0 )

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Kýrie, eléison

I went to a funeral today. It was a Catholic funeral. One of the refrains in the mass (all masses, not just funeral masses) is "Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy."

It's origins are in the ancient Greek Kýrie, eléison, Lord have mercy. 

As I sat in the pew, it struck me how profound that simple prayer is.

We are all just trying to get by in this life, doing our best. All of us highly imperfect.

I've looked for the quote a few times and not found it, so I'll paraphrase what I think is Plato, probably from his dialogue The Gorgias - No one does a bad thing on purpose. People only do bad things out of ignorance of the good. If you knew what the good was, you would not have any desire to do anything but the good.

Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy. We are such ignorant, simple creatures.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

25 years, 11 months, 10 days

It is now 11:59, and in one minute I will move from the active rolls to the retired rolls. Today was my last day on active duty with the Army. It's a little anti-climactic as I've been on retirement leave of one sort or another for about 100 days. But this is it.

I've been blessed to have a wonderful partner through my whole adventure. When I was in basic training, Kandie used to bake 55 oatmeal cookies each week and mail them to me. Now that might sound like a lot of cookies, but the rule was, if you got food, you had to share it with everyone. So she baked 55 cookies, 54 of which went to the other 54 guys in the platoon so that I could have just one.

That's just the kind of person she is. And that's the kind of person it takes to be a military spouse.

Like all children born to military families, my kids are nomads. They've had it pretty good compared to some kids, since I was able to have two long, back-to-back tours at the end of my career. But they didn't have the opportunity to grow up with their family nearby, which is something we will never be able to make up to them. And they always knew that one move or another was coming eventually. It's not easy. A lot of people praise military kids for their resilience, but resilience comes at a price. They have paid a lot so that I could continue to serve.

I've made some really wonderful friends along the way. Many of them will see this post hopefully on Facebook. It's great to have a tool like that for me, and I think a lot of other military folks, because it allows you to get back in touch with so many of the people who have played an important part of your life. In many ways it's the friends, colleagues, subordinates, bosses, and for me, students, that make this whole journey worthwhile. I don't want to name names because I'd leave someone out and I would feel bad, but I love you all.

My memories of the Army are already gathering a rosy glow. I've already forgotten 0400 physical fitness tests, mandatory training to cover the latest knee jerk political explosion, urinalysis, vehicle inspections, distance passes... the list goes on. Maybe I haven't quite forgotten them. But their weight is lifting.

The memories I will hold on to are the ones with all of the wonderful people I had a chance to meet that I would not have met, and the places I got to see that I would not have seen had I never left New England. I'm grateful for all of those people, and I'm glad I can talk about watching shooting stars over the New Mexico desert, walking through the Garden of the Gods, camping on the beach on Oahu, fire pits, friends, and frozen drinks in the woods of Louisiana, watching Independence Day fireworks from Arlington Cemetery, and tubing on the Guadalupe to name a few.

I joined the Army in part to do exactly the things I have done - to see new places, to meet new people, to become a better person, to serve and make a contribution to our country.

Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not. -Ralph Waldo Emerson.

This Emerson quote is worth reflecting on though. The external will never answer your most difficult questions. Those answers must come from within. This was a thing I have learned, and continue to learn, and the thing we must all learn. It is a thing that can only come with age and experience.

The future is bright, if a little cold and snowy. I'm so happy to be back in New England, and I am honored to be entrusted by the people of New Hampshire to help educate their next generation.

The passing of the light today has seemed to move with solemnity. Something fundamental about who I am will change in a moment. Some part of who I am will die tonight when the clock strikes midnight. I will no longer be a soldier, an officer, or a member of the Army. For this part of me I have felt an impending doom, and today I feel a sense of grief. But tonight I pass the torch to some young soldier somewhere who I will likely never meet. I hope he or she finds the same type of life satisfaction I also feel today from his or her service.

This is Lieutenant Colonel Bonica, signing off.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

lifelong learning and the miltiary

One of the things that made me want to be an officer was the philisophical approach toward applied learning that the Army (and all of the armed forces embrace):
Army leaders expand their understanding of potential operational environments through broad education, training, personal study, and collaboration with interagency partners. Rapid learning while in combat depends on life-long education, consistent training, and study habits that leaders had prior to combat. 
from Army Doctrine Publication 3-0.

There are few organizations left in the modern world that embrace such a rounded education. The irony is that the military is one of the last bastions of the liberal education.

cool Frank Knight quote

Looking for some sources for a paper I am working on that deals with decision making under uncertainty, and I went to one of the foundational sources, at least in economics, Frank Knight's classic, Risk, Uncertainty, and Profit. This passage is more about epistimeology than risk (and follows in the tradition of Hume), but you can see how he leads to the problem of uncertainty at the end.
It must be recognized further that no sharp distinction can be drawn between perception and reason. Our perceptive faculties are highly educated and sophisticated, and what is present to consciousness in the simplest situation is more the product of inference, more an imaginative construct than a direct communication from the nerve terminal organs. A rational animal differs from a merely conscious one in degree only; it is more conscious. It is immaterial whether we say that it infers more or perceives more. Scientifically we can analyze the mental content into sense data and imagination data, but the difference hardly exists for consciousness itself, at least in its practical aspects. Even in "thought" in the narrow sense, when the object of reflection is not present to sense at all, the experience itself is substantially the same. The function of consciousness is to infer, and all consciousness is largely inferential, rational. By which, again, we mean that things not present to sense are operative in directing behavior, that reason, and all consciousness, is forward-looking; and an essential element in the phenomena is its lack of automatic mechanical accuracy, its liability to error. 
(find this quote in context here: http://oll.libertyfund.org/titles/306#Knight_0192_314 )

It's reading stuff like this that made me go into economics. It was Oliver Williamson's book, The Economic Institutions of Capitalism that showed me that economics was more than supply and demand curves. I get bogged down in teaching the basic stuff, but it is such a pleasure to dig deeper into the classics, like Knight's book, because you realize that the division between economics, philosphy, pyschology, history, and political science all start to disolve. When you dig deep enough, economics helps you look at the big questions - what is the good life? what is justice? how should I live my life? what is it to be human?

Sunday, March 22, 2015

seeing through, rather than seeing

One of the things that has struck me repeatedly during my first winter back in a place with a real winter is how I tend to stop seeing the snow.

What I mean by this is that I do, in fact, see the snow piled up everywhere, getting in the way, and so forth. But I catch myself seeing through the snow, creating a mental model of what is under the snow, and then seeing the mental model instead of what is actually in front of me.

In a way this makes sense - the snow formations are constantly changing. On a warm day they may shrink back 20-50%. After a storm, they may double or more. Plows come by and re-shape the piles. In a way, you need a mental model of what is underneath so that you can predict the future.

I think this has struck me because in the time I was gone from states with a real winter I have taken up the serious study of photography, and it is that study which has helped me to overcome the way the mind works - hiding from your conscious the actual details your eyes are seeing. A photographer sees the world differently than a normal person. It is why good photographers get good pictures. They are actually seeing the details that the normal person's mind very efficiently ignores.

But even though I work regularly to train my eye to really see light and shadow, shape and form, pattern and line, I still find my mind shutting it all out, and focusing on the practical work of getting through the day.

This I feel is very sad. Winter is incredibly beautiful. Yes, the snow can be a nuissance, and the cold can really be no fun at all, but New England in winter is a scene of constant change. There is so much to see and appreciate, it is hard to comprehend. This is why it is a shame that I think most of us who are living through the winter see through it, rather than really see it and allow ourselves to be awed by it.

And in no time at all, it will all be gone, and the green world will replace the white.

Which is also beautiful, of course, but in a different, tamer way. The winter is wild and dangerous and unforgiving. 

I will miss it when it is gone.