[When I wrote the original version of this post for Father’s Day 2010, I never planned to update and then reprise this post annually. But as each Father’s Day approaches, my sense of loss increases. With no family members of my father’s generation still living, my own sense of mortality grows.
I so wish my Dad were still here to share with me and my sister the laughter and tears of everyday living. And, now that I can afford to do it, with my time and not just money, I would so love to spend more time with him, hearing the stories of his childhood as well as of mine.
Ron and I have large paintings of our two fathers above an archway in our home built for this purpose, and they are very much with us in spirit. They lived at opposite ends of the country, could not have come from more different backgrounds, and they only met a couple of times. But I know that they are very happy playing pinochel together wherever they may be now. ]
My father, Jack Samuel Bloom, was in many respects quite an ordinary man. Being a father wasn’t his thing, but he became a terrific friend once I was old enough to hold up my side of that friendship. Of far greater value than any assets (f he had had them) that he might have left me, from Dad I inherited:
- his ability to tell a good story, to make a point while making you laugh;
- his commitment to active friendship, the kind of friendship that does what you need done even when you don’t know you need it;
- his intellectual curiosity, the kind that had him reading the entire World Book Encyclopedia from A to Z;
- his belief that any day on which you wake up is already a good day, that the gift of life is too precious to waste; and
- his habits of meticulous book-keeping, calendar-keeping, and commitment-keeping.
From my Dad I also inherited his love of reading and the sheer joy of opening a new book. Later I discovered that for me, being rich meant being able to buy any book I wanted to read and never having to browse in second-hand bookshops unless I was looking for treasure. Jewish families like ours, in the early 50′s, bought their children a copy of the World Book Encyclopedia, one volume at a time on a payment plan that they could scarcely afford, so that their children would be better educated than they were. I remember my Dad reading that encyclopedia from Aardvark to Zebra, even the boring bits (and there were many such), and perhaps that’s where I also learned that reading some books was about more than having the pleasure of meeting their words.
My Dad taught me to swim almost before I could walk by carrying me on his back as he swam from the gentle shores of White Sands Beach, in Old Lyme, Connecticut to the floating raft in the waters of Long Island Sound. I’ve loved swimming and being in and around the water ever since. I have no fear of the ocean’s waves and can still feel his support whenever I’m over my head. But I can also remember his advice when it came to swimming in open, choppy water: “keep your mouth closed.” Words to live by in many of life’s “choppy water” situations.
We buried my Dad on my 50th birthday. He spent just a few days in hospital, having not been ill before his unexpected collapse just as I was about to deliver a presentation at the 1995 SAPPHIRE conference in Phoenix. To my Dad’s funeral came many hundreds of people we didn’t know whom he had helped, quietly, without ever being asked. In his retirement, he had “adopted” older members of our synagogue who needed rides to doctors’ appointments, help paying their bills, or just an hour’s companionship. Without the financial means of major philanthopy, he found the means for active philanthropy, through the gift of his own time and caring. By the example of his life, I learned the true meaning of tikkun olam (literally “fix the world,” but interpreted in my family to mean that we must leave the world a better place than we have found it) and tzedakah (literally philanthropy/charity but interpreted in my family to mean that we must share our time and resources with others). Taken together, and they really are two sides of the same coin, tikkun olam and tzedakah were the foundations of my Dad’s quiet and quite ordinary but principled life, and I’ve done my best to live those same values.
By the time I launched my own business in 1987, the cost of long distance calls, so daunting when I first left home in ’63, were much more affordable, and I called him most days in the late afternoon even when I was onsite with clients (which was most of the time in those early days). Those calls always started with:
- Dad: How’s business?
- Naomi: Business is great.
- Dad: Are your clients paying their bills on time?
- Naomi: Yes, they sure are.
- Dad: Are their checks clearing the bank?
- Naomi: Absolutely.
When you know that those early clients were firms like Bank of America, Hewlett Packard and International Paper, something my Dad certainly knew, this ritual opening to our calls goes from being merely odd to very odd, unless you also know that being a small retailer all his life shaped forever my Dad’s view of Accounts Receivable. In the family business, Bloom’s Photo Supply, there were no angel/seed/VC/PE investors, no generous lines of credit, and no one to fall back upon if cash flow was mismanaged, so careful attention was paid to the creditworthiness of every customer. And in those days before credit cards became ubiquitous, when retail payments were either cash or personal check and commercial payments were almost always by company check, knowing if the customer’s check had cleared the bank was the critical step in cash management.
From there we’d go on to the events of his day and mine, and to what was happening across the Bloom family, in the larger Jewish community in which I grew up, and around the world. I don’t remember my Dad ever calling me — long distance calls were for emergencies only among his generation — but I know he loved my calls because he reported on them to the group of men with whom he ate breakfast early every morning at a local deli. And I loved those calls too because, for a few minutes, the stresses of my being a grownup were relinquished to my Dad’s always calm voice.
I’ve always said yahrzeit for my Dad at the appropriate times in our Jewish calendar, and I think of him every day, but I miss him especially on Father’s Day. If you’re lucky enough to still have your Dad, don’t wait for Father’s Day to call him. And if you are a Dad, the gift of your time, of your self, of living your principles so that they become a part of your children’s inheritance is so much more important than anything you could ever buy them now or any money you could leave them. Now back to that meticulous book-keeping, calendar-keeping and commitment-keeping that are a major part of my inheritance.
Hunter Valley, Australia
Ron and I spent mid-Feb to mid-March 2016 traveling in New Zealand and Australia, spending most of our time visiting with much-loved friends in both countries who we see far less often than we’d like. Although we have tons of modern ways to keep in touch, there’s just no substitute for being there, being together, hugging and laughing and strengthening bonds which distance and time zones do challenge.
But we also included in this trip some intense wine tasting in the Hunter Valley (not far outside Sydney) with a terrific specialist guide, Grahame Richards, during which I had quite a aha moment (but then you’d expect something to happen if you’d tasted 30+ wines between 10:00 AM and when you sat down for a late lunch). I found myself seeing real similarities between the wineries and wines I enjoyed/respected/loved and the software vendors and products I enjoy/respect/love. But I needed to let those thoughts settle a bit — and let me revisit them when entirely sober — to see if there’s really an aha here, and there is.
What stands out from the many wineries we visited and the wines we drank, what produced the aha moment, is that they fell into two very distinct groups, one of which reflected a grand passion and the other of which was very ho hum. Not surprising to those of you who know my work, I tend to see software vendors and their products in two equally distinct groups, but first let’s talk wine.
The ho hum group of wineries and wines were professionally and, in most cases, competently managed by folks for whom this was a business (so not a grand passion). Their wine production was focused on varietals and blends which their market research and agricultural studies suggested would be the most profitable from their particular terroir. Often they were owned by professional investors whose own market research led them to launch one of these ho hum operations as a money-making proposition. And although their young tasting room staff were pretty enough, they were also pretty much clueless. In general, these ho hum wineries produced wines which were vin ordinaire, often overpriced but usually with terrific branding, a snazzy Web site, and a lavish tasting room.
And then there were the wineries and wines we loved, which I’ll call the grand passions. At these usually quite modest tasting rooms, we found ourselves speaking with family members or winery partners who had devoted their lives — and not just their working lives — to building great wineries and wines. Very knowledgeable folks in the tasting room, often the vintner him or herself, really wanted to talk about their wines and about our enjoyment of them, about their terroir and it’s implications for the wine, and about our preferences as we tasted. They often had made special wines in a particular year or as part of an experiment which defied the market research and agricultural studies, turning out really wonderful wines which fit no established marketing category. When I checked their Web sites, they weren’t fancy but did offer the important information, and they rarely had professional investors (although some did have wine loving angel investors). But what these wineries and their wines has in common was the quality and customer-centricity that only comes when owners with a grand passion for wine are in control of their operations. And these owners most often had deep roots in the Hunter Valley, had spent their whole lifetimes around grapes and harvests and winemaking, and while profits certainly mattered, they were much more about making great wines.
But what does any of this have to do with enterprise software? Just about everything. At least in my neighborhood, at the intersection of HRM and IT, there are two distinctly different groups of vendors which, along with their products, also can be described as ho hum or grand passions. The ho hums may be founder-led, but they’re VC-funded if starting up or PE-bought if they’re a little longer in the tooth and not self-sustaining as a public company, and that founder may have gotten involved in HR tech not because of a lifelong passion for it but rather because their market research suggested that we’re “ripe for disruption.” When you visit their booths at a major HR tech show, it’s not uncommon to find that the booth attendants have no idea about our industry’s history, about the architectural underpinnings of their own products, or even about the products’ functionality beyond the script they’ve been given. Yes, many of these firms have been named by branding firms, have well-produced Web sites, and are clever at marketing (particularly at generating buzz via social media). But when you dig more deeply into their products, it’s not uncommon to see that they’re repeating mistakes of past designs and business decisions, but with the requisite commitment to mobile first and “cloud.” Nothing is harder to sit through than a briefing with one of these firms, be they startup or well-established. CEOs who know nothing except how to manage professionally, products which have learned nothing from the past 40+ years of HR tech and are not outstanding in any way, and business decisions grounded only market research, spreadsheets, and focus groups (necessary but not sufficient) with no leavening of experience or passion.
And then there are the vendors whose leaders have a grand passion for improving the business of human resource management via breakthroughs in technology enablement, vendors whose products lift my spirits because they’ve taken our collective learning and made a leap from the past to a well-positioned future. Great object models and architectures, functionality which appreciates the inherent complexity of work and workers but doesn’t foist it on users, business decisions which are customer-centric, employees who know what they’re doing and why they’re there, and business results which have staying power. Yes, some of these grand passion businesses fail, just like any other type of business, but when they succeed, they really do change our world. Interestingly, many of the most successful grand passion HR tech vendors and products were born in conjunction with a generational change in technology, but that’s by no means a requirement. And these companies need not be founder run if the culture and succession planning are strong enough to ensure continuity and competency of passionate leadership. Walk the floor at a major HR tech show, and you’ll meet some of these CEOs and senior leaders, and their conversation isn’t all sound bites and carefully rehearsed marketing messages.
All very interesting, perhaps, but where does this take us? Since I’m neither a buyer nor seller of HR tech, and I answer to no one but Ron, I’m quite free to follow my grand passions in HR tech. But if I’m going to urge others to do the same, I’ll need to update my blog posts on how I evaluate vendors and products to reflect these insights. I’ll also be testing these insights at vendor analyst days, at the major HR tech shows in Chicago and Paris later this year, and during as many briefings/demos as I have time to take. And I’ll be sure to keep up my consumption of grand passion wines. In vino, veritas.
If you’ve read even a few of my posts, then you know I focus pretty consistently on an issue that lurks, quietly but dangerously, waiting to sabotage our best efforts to achieve improved organizational outcomes through improved workforce performance. The villain of this piece is the sloppy, inconsistent, ill-defined and rampant misuse of terminology. The English major/natural science minor within me screams every time I hear or read someone misuse the subjunctive. But my psyche screams even louder when colleagues who should know better use talent management or engagement or SaaS or analytics to describe whatever ill-conceived or outdated idea or product they’ve got on offer this week.
But where to start to save humankind from sloppy terminology? The colloquial vocabulary for many to most of the important concepts at the intersection of the domain (formerly known as?) human resource management (HRM) and the domain (still widely known as!) information technology (IT) is so imprecise that I could make myself and you totally crazy trying to unravel that muddle. No entirely sane person is going to read the 3,000+ pages it has taken me to do so in my magnum opus, although a really surprising number of you — and you know who you are — have already done so or are doing so as I write, and I thank every single one of you.
When I began blogging, WAY back in November, 2009, I thought that the best place to start, to rid my world once and for all of sloppy, or worse, agenda-riddled terminology, was, as always, to begin with the results we’re trying to achieve, working backwards from business outcomes to figure what must get done, how, when and by whom, in order to achieve those results. In my professional life, the results we’re trying to achieve are specific organizational outcomes through what we used to call effective human resource management (HRM). But now, with the introduction of autonomous, even general purpose (or at least broad purpose) robots into the workforce, we simply must find a new term to describe the management of a workforce that not only includes employees and contingent workers of all flavors but also those darn robots.
I’ve used HRM (HCM being a much more recent and talent management-oriented term) since about 1980 to describe the subject matter domain, HR to describe the function, HRMS to describe the collection of software (ideally, truly integrated) which automates the bulk of administrative HRM while creating the essential foundation for TM, talent management (a much newer term). Given the always critical importance of integration across HRMS and TM, I have also used HRMS/TM to describe that integrated core suite which is central to effective HRM at every organization.
For me (and it’s central to every annual release of my HRM Business Model “Starter Kit” since 1995), the workforce has always included both employee and non-employee workers of every type, schedule and duration, and the HRMS/TM should always have addressed the entire workforce. But now, with humanoid robots entering the workforce, HRM etc. aren’t big enough terms to cover what’s really work and workforce management.
I’d like to change our collective vocabulary from HRM to WFM (workforce management), but that abbreviation has been in long use to describe the functions and software that manage scheduling, time and attendance, and related processes. Could I repurpose WFM to a much broader use? Probably not given the marketing $$ committed to its traditional meaning. So what’s a language precisionist supposed to do?
Work and workforce still apply as long as we consider workers to be both human (so employee and non-employee or contingent workers) and non-human (so humanoid robots, which could be acquired, maintained and accounted for as plant and equipment but to which many of the work and workforce-related processes (e.g. scheduling, development and onboarding as well as off-boarding) and object model (e.g. robots must have one to many KSAOCs and have their work defined in terms of duties and responsibilities) can be applied). No, I haven’t gone off the rails. We clearly need real care with our vocabulary as we expand greatly the notion of worker, and I’d really like to use WFM for this purpose.
The HR community was VERY slow to address properly, to include within the HRMS/TM, contingent workers in all their flavors, and we can’t miss the boat on robotic workers. Since vocabulary shapes thinking, as anyone who’s studied multiple languages knows, we’ve no time to lose in straightening out our vocabulary for the extended definition of workforce and for the related management processes. But, in the absence of a better term, I’m going to use worker management (WM). Therefore:
WM is a business domain, a collection of processes and business rules whose purpose is to help ensure long-term business and organizational success. WM is about planning for, organizing, acquiring, deploying, assessing, rewarding, leading, coaching, supporting, informing, equipping, retaining, and developing a high performance, cost-effective workforce. It is also about nurturing the growth, usage and value of the organization’s intellectual capital and personal networks.
What a mouth full, and there’s more. WM isn’t just the work of a central/local/3rd party WM department. While a WM department and WM professionals may still control the strategy and design of WM, WM execution is increasingly in the hands of managers and leaders (who may themselves be non-employee workers and/or robots) at every level and the increasingly technology-enabled, self-sufficient workforce.
The bottom line? The purpose — the expected organizational results — of WM are to maximize the performance of the organization’s workforce and the leverage from its intellectual capital and personal networks toward achieving the organization’s stated business outcomes. If we could get all of the organization’s work done and results achieved without any workforce, we wouldn’t need WM. But we can’t, at least not yet, so we do.
There’s been a ton of great coverage out of Workday’s 2015 Tech Summit, a preliminary list of which I’ve included below and to which I’ll add as others bring their coverage to my attention. But having attended this well-run event and after reading the coverage below and more, I was struck by how little attention was paid to what I considered to be two of the bigger takeaways from this event. Of course, every well-run vendor influencer day leaves me gasping from information overload, and my true analyst/media/influencer colleagues do a better job than I ever could of capturing all the relevant details, which is why I don’t do many such event reports. But now that the dust has settled on this particular influencer event, I thought I might add a little color commentary.
For me the first big underreported takeaway is the fact that not one single line remains of the original code in Workday’s platform. Let me repeat, not one single original line of code remains in Workday’s platform. That’s because the original design provided for changing out whole services, whole blocks of code, for new or rewritten services, adding entirely new services and/or removing no longer needed ones, replacing custom code with commercially available code, to include both open source and acquired code, and so much more while the software is in flight. That’s right, while in full production, with new customers being added all the time, the folks “in the basement,” which is how Workday’s chief architect referred to his own work location, have been updating, refreshing, replacing, rewriting, re-everythinging their applications platform (not to mention the applications themselves, but that’s an entirely different story as discussed below) without any disruption.
So, to the question I always get from financial analysts: “won’t Workday have to replatform soon, just because of all the technological and other changes that have occurred in the past ten years, and won’t that replatforming be a costly, error-prone, disruptive, black hole?” the unequivocal answer is NO. To my very technical colleagues who attended the Tech Summit and may have yawned about this because they know it’s no biggie, let me just say that I nearly fell off my chair and needed a 2nd confirmation (that’s confirmation, not resuscitation). I don’t presume to know how this is done, but I’m blown away that it has been done without anyone being inconvenienced. So much for the FUD around replatforming. And although Workday again said that they have no immediate plans for unleashing their platform in the way that Salesforce does — per Workday, and I agree (not that my opinion on this matters), this is an entirely different business for which the time is not yet right — it’s nice to know that, if and when they decide to go in that direction, they’ll be doing so with an always fresh, always evolving platform.
For me the second big but underreported takeaway is the high degree of object model and framework reuse which, along with the underlying architecture’s definitional development environment, are creating a real competitive advantage in better time, cost and quality to market. Do you remember the punditry from the learning community when Workday announced they would be building their own learning application? Of course that’s a major undertaking, but when you look at the amount of reuse across the objects they already had, those they were building for their student applications, and those needed for learning, the amount of reuse suggested that this major undertaking would be cut down to size. We saw the same thing happen when Workday announced they would be building a recruiting/staffing application, and with the same results of rapid time-to-market, no cast of a thousand developers, plenty of global and compliance coverage, and so on. And every time they look at an application type which lends itself to a framework, so to a generalized but systemic architectural solution, from work books to grid computing to the latest spreadsheet motif, it becomes clear that they’re building additional platform capabilities that can be unleashed across the entire applications suite. I’ve always cringed when hearing enterprise software vendors pounding their chests over their huge development organizations because I know from my own programming days just how hard it is to create anything elegant and lean in such organizations. Thus, I’m naturally biased toward finding ways to reduce the amount of code needed to birth and maintain applications.
Now some will say, and perhaps correctly, that what I’ve described here is the norm among enterprise software vendors, but it’s not been the norm in my experience. Do I need to get out more?
Partial coverage of Workday’s Tech Summit*
“Workday – 2015 Tech Summit Update” from Saugatuck’s Bill McNee.
“Has Workday ceded the cloud platform to Salesforce and Microsoft?” from Phil Wainewright of Diginomica was actually written before the Tech Summit at which the whole issue of platforms was discussed quite thoroughly.
“Progress Report – Workday Tech Summit – Good Progress, More Insights, Less Concerns” from Holger Mueller, which includes link to his Storify of the Tech Summit twitterstream.
“Workday, North by Northeast” from Vinnie Mirchandani.
“Workday HCM Growth Forges Expanded Partnerships with HRO Providers” from Nelson-Hall’s Gary Bragar.
“Workday Tech Summit 2015 – fighting talk as CEO thanks Oracle” from Dennis Howlett of Diginomica
“Workday Works Wonders on Platform for HCM” from Mark Smith of Ventana
“Workday Tech Summit 2015” from John Sumser of HR Examiner
* If I’ve left out your terrific coverage, please drop me a note at naomibloom at mindspring.com dot com.
Disclosure: Workday has been a client but my attendance at their Tech Summit was on my own time with Workday covering the bulk of my travel expenses. I was compensated by Workday for being a panelist on their annual Predict & Prepare video broadcast earlier in the week of the Tech Summit, a participation which is totally free of Workday content review or control.
[I’ll get back to writing about #EnSW, especially #HRtech, right after the New Year, but my recent strolls down memory lane have been part of my celebrations and reflections on turning 70, something you only get to do once. I also hope to make a lot more progress in the New Year on freshening my blog’s look and feel, not to mention mobility; freshening our home’s look and feel as well as functionality after firing everyone’s nightmare of an interiors firm and retaining a whole new team; and freshening Naomi’s look and feel, but that’s a much longer story. But before we get to 2016, here’s the last reflection, for 2015, on my childhood in the 50’s. And if you think you’ve read something very similar before, you’re quite right. And you may read an updated version in the future.
I learned so much about business, absorbed it through my pores, as I worked at Bloom’s Camera (later, Bloom’s Photo Supply and then just Bloom’s, Inc.), lingered at my grandmother’s kitchen table after Friday night Shabbat meals where all the important decisions were made for that business, and was then apprenticed to all the other small businesses run by various relatives. I went on buying trips to New York for the fancy ladies wear shop run by one aunt (they used to model the dresses at high end shops), learned the uniform business from another aunt, and was taught the basics of the Borscht Belt hospitality business by a great cousin. By the time I got to my MBA program, cash flow, supply chain, human resource management and more were already baked into my world view. So, with Christmas just around the corner, I thought you might enjoy a retail merchant’s Jewish child’s perspective on this holiday.]
Bloom’s Camera Catalogue Circa 1950
On Christmas Eve, my Dad’s retail camera shop closed early, and we knew we’d have him with us all that next day. Really just with us, even if he were too tired for much conversation after working the very long hours of the retail Christmas season. New Year’s Day was for taking inventory, and it was all hands, even my very small hands, to the wheel. But Christmas Eve and Christmas Day were really special. Time alone with my father (of blessed memory) Jack Bloom was rare and precious. He ran a modest camera shop with his brothers Paul (who passed away in early January, 2015, just after his 99th birthday and who has entrusted me with finishing his memoir) and Herman (who also published several “romantic” novels under the name Harmon Bellamy).
When I was really young, my Dad left for work before dawn and rarely got home before I was put to bed. Friday nights were usually spent having Shabbat dinner, with all my Bloom aunts/uncles/cousins and even great aunts/uncles (those without their own children), at my grandmother’s house. After dinner, Dad went off to Schul with his brothers. On Saturday mornings, we were all off to Schul, but we were orthodox so my only male first cousin, Elliot got to sit with his Dad. The store was open on Saturdays, so my Dad, in spite of the Orthodox prohibition against working on Shabbat, went from schul to work on many Saturdays, especially if they were short-handed by employee illness or vacations. Summer Sundays were for golf in the mornings and family time in the afternoons, often spent visiting family who lived far away. In those turnpike (yes, before there were highways, there were turnpikes) days, the trip to Hartford, less than thirty miles away, took well over an hour. But on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, we didn’t go visiting; we stayed home so that Dad could rest, and that meant me sitting beside him as we watched TV (once we had one) or read from the World Book Encyclopedia. My Dad was a great reader, something my sister and I have “inherited” from him.
In the run-up to Christmas, everyone worked long hours, and it was rare to see my Dad during December except when I was working at the store. My cousin Ronni (of blessed memory) and I, from about age seven, ran the strange machine in the open mezzanine above the shop floor that took addresses on metal plates and transferred them to labels for the Christmas mailing of catalogues (like the one pictured here) and calendars. Long before it was fashionable for small businesses, Bloom’s Photo Supply was into direct marketing, and we carefully collected the names and addresses of every customer and caller, all of which were entered in the perpetual address files that my Uncle Herman kept.
Sitting in the mezzanine, Ronni and I bickered over whose turn it was to load the metal plate (not fun), load the next item to be addressed (not bad), or turn the wheel (most fun) and discussed what we saw going on all around us. Excess inventory, the bane of every retailer then and now, was a major topic, along with fanciful ways of getting rid of it profitably. We also took careful note of anyone who appeared to be shoplifting, quickly reporting any irregularities with arranged signals to the salespeople on the floor, and our eyes and instincts were sharpened by experience. Even today, on the rare occasions when I’m in a store, I can’t help but notice such behaviors.
While I can never be sure, I think those conversations with Ronni must have been the origin of my now famous story about the invention of Christmas as an inventory management scheme. In that story, the wise men were retail merchants who saw in the humble birth of Mary and Joseph’s son a solution to the already age-old problem faced by retailers everywhere of how to ensure that the year ended without extraneous, highly unprofitable inventory. This is one interpretation of the Christmas story that my Christian Wallace family had never heard until they met me.
By the time we were ten, Christmas season found Ronni and me, the two youngest Bloom cousins, helping behind the counter after school and on weekends, ringing up sales, selling film and other simple products, dealing with shop-lifters rather than just watching for them from afar, recording those sales in the perpetual inventory files kept by my Uncle Herman (there never was nor ever will be again a filer like my Uncle Herman!), and generally learning the business. Everyone worked during the month before Christmas, including our mothers who were otherwise traditional homemakers, and by Christmas Eve, we were all exhausted. But the lifeblood of retail is the Christmas shopping season — always was so and still is — so our family budget for the next year was written by the ringing of those Christmas cash registers. To this day, whenever I’ve agreed to a client project or speaking engagement, I can still hear, ever so faintly, that old-fashioned cash register ka-ching.
My Dad was buried on my 50th birthday. My cousin Ronni, just four months younger than me, died in her mid-thirties. Cousin Elliot, Ronni’s older brother, and the only male Bloom cousin, took over the business from our fathers when they retired, built it into something completely non-retail but VERY successful, and sold it 15+ years ago. But if you’re ever in Springfield MA, you can still see the four story mural of long gone camera and photographic supply brands on the exposed wall of Bloom’s Photo Supply’s last retail address, on Worthington Street, just up from Main Street.
For me, sitting in my usual place at the keyboard, Christmas Eve will always be special. Years after my Dad retired and I had a business of my own, we talked daily, with me updating him on my business in response to his questions. You can’t fail to hear the ghosts of a retailer’s Christmas past even as my very non-retail business thrived. ”How’s business?” “Business is great Dad.” “Are your clients paying on time? “They sure are, Dad.” “And are their checks clearing the bank?” “Absolutely.” This Christmas Eve, I’d give every one of those checks for another Christmas with my Dad.
To all my family, friends and colleagues who celebrate the holy day of Christmas, may you and yours enjoy a wonderful sense of renewal as you celebrate the great miracle of Christ’s birth. And please pray hard, on behalf of all mankind, for more peace on earth in 2016 than we’ve had in 2015. And at the risk of offending those who support him, please pray that Donald Trump launches himself into a galaxy far, far away.
Chanukah 2015 HR Tech Wishes For 2016
Take Your Chances, Win Some Gelt
Have you ever played the Chanukah game of spin the dreidel? With or without the modified rules derived from “spin the bottle?” Did you know that the four letters, one on each side of the dreidel, make up a phrase that translates to “a great miracle happened here.”
Chanukah celebrates the miracle of freedom, a celebration not of a military victory (although there was a pretty big deal victory associated with the holiday) but rather of the miracle of G-d’s attention to the details of everyday life. Although the celebration of Christmas often falls in the same period of the Gregorian calendar as does Chanukah, and although we Jews may have added the tradition of gift-giving to Chanukah rather than listen to the cries of disappointed Jewish children, these holidays couldn’t be more different in their origins and application to modern life.
But both of them celebrate the fact that a great miracle happened here, where here is in Bethlehem for Christmas and Jerusalem for Chanukah. So, in the spirit of this miraculous season, here are the 2016 “miracles” — and I use that word intentionally because I think it would take divine intervention to achieve them — I so wish to see in our neighborhood, at the intersection of IT and HRM:
- The end of marketing speak in our industry, of calling everything you’ve got SaaS or cloud or social or integrated or analytics or automagical etc. Can you just imagine how much easier it would be for buyers and customers if there were no more “painting the roses red?”
- The end of chest beating by industry executives, of hyping their own accomplishments in hopes no one will ask too many questions, and of disrespecting the competition in loud voices and with known half-truths if not outright lies. Do these folks realize how much they sound like this Presidential campaign’s worst candidates? Prospects and customers would much prefer that their vendor executives tout their customers’ accomplishments and customer satisfaction scores.
- The end of whatever atmospherics discourage so many of my young women colleagues from aspiring to be and then becoming chief architects, heads of development and CTOs. I know these problems start minutes from the womb, and our industry can’t fix all of them. However, our HR leaders can do everything in their power to level the recruitment, development and advancement playing field and to ensure that the organizational culture is welcoming to women in tech roles. As for what our IT leaders can do to help, they can make their work groups gender-neutral in every respect, from the jokes and anecdotes they tell to the respect they show for differences in styles of communication and engagement. And yes, this is of particular importance not only to me but to every employer who can’t afford to waste half of the scarce tech KSAOCs.
- The end of bad HRM object models. We know how to do this right, or at least some of us do, and it’s way past time that the mistakes of the past were relegated to that past. I can’t tell you how frustrating it is for me to review relatively new HRM software whose designers haven’t bothered to study the sins of HRM software past. Even if you have a gorgeous, easy to use, and truly efficient UX, we can’t do succession planning without the granularity of position, and we can’t do talent management without a robust, multi-dimensional understanding of KSAOCs.
- The end of bad HRM enterprise software architectures. For example, how could anyone design true HRM SaaS that doesn’t provide for cross-tenant inheritance (e.g. so that you can embed and maintain a single set of prescriptive analytics, with their content and advisory material, then inherit it across all relevant tenants — i.e. those which have signed up for this service — with appropriate modifications by geography done once and then used to modify, by geography, that decision tree of inheritance)? And how could anyone design true HRM SaaS which doesn’t express all of its business rules, from workflows to calculations, via effective-dated metadata? And, what’s even more frightening, there are folks developing HRM enterprise software who aren’t even thinking about these issues.
- The end of bad HRM enterprise software development methods. I’ve been a strong proponent of definitional, models-based development since the late 80’s. My commitment to writing less code goes back even further. So it’s little wonder that I’m stunned when I hear enterprise software execs calling attention to their thousands of programmers when they might be able to accomplish even more with fewer developers and better development methods.
I could go on, but I think you get the picture, and it would really be a miracle if we woke up on the last day of Chanukah to find that all of these wishes had come true. But even more important, although it has absolutely nothing to do with HRM or IT, I hope the miracle of good health (mental, physical, and financial) comes through for all of us. And may the lights of Chanukah be a beacon of hope for all mankind in 2016.
Being both Jewish and American presents me with two major opportunities each year (so on Rosh Hashanah and now on Thanksgiving) to reflect on how very fortunate I am to live in this amazing country and on what I can do to make it and myself better. For all the problems we’ve got, and they are especially daunting at the moment, we are so very blessed to be here. Yes, even in the midst of terrorist attacks and the threat of further such attacks (and I count here all the ordinary crazies with guns shooting up their communities), in the face of growing zenophobia and the anger in our public discourse whose angriest voices claim their own deeply religious values, and with all the other challenges faced by each of us individually (I’d put aging on that list) and collectively (and here goes climate change, inequality of opportunity, even the drought in many of our richest agricultural areas), I am going to count my blessings. But that’s not all. Due to a 2011 Facebook entry by Ron’s first cousin Barbara Wallace Schmidt, I’m also focused on the giving part of this so American holiday, and that’s where I’m going to start.
Having grown up in an orthodox Jewish home (well, modern orthodox), I learned from a very young age that philanthropy (tzedakah) isn’t about extra credit. It’s an obligation. The window sill over our kitchen sink was the home of five or six tin boxes, called pushkas, into which my Dad deposited his pocket change each night after work. Periodically, a representative of one of the charities that distributed these pushkas would stop by to collect them, have a cup of tea and something sweet with the lady of the house (who rarely worked outside the home in those distant days), and leave a bright new empty box to be filled up again.
And then there were the naming opportunities. Maybe we Jews didn’t invent this concept, but we sure as hell perfected it. There’s not a tree in Israel or a toilet stall in a Jewish nursing home that doesn’t bear a plaque with the name of the donor whose funds paid for it. With my dimes, brought every week to Sunday school (Hebrew School after public school was on weekdays, and then we wrapped up all that learning plus on Sunday mornings), I must have filled dozens of folded cards with enough slots for two dollars worth of dimes that could then be turned into my very own tree in Israel. Every time we passed a stand of trees on our 2014 travels in Israel, I couldn’t help but think that somewhere among those trees were my very own.
It’s been more than a half century since I saw my Dad empty his pockets into those pushkas and I put my dimes (which I would have preferred to spend on candy) into the “plant a tree” card, but I remember them like they were yesterday. The Hebrew term for philanthropy is tzedakah, literally fairness or justice, and we learned it young and continuously where I grew up. Ron and I have been hugely blessed, and nothing gives us more pleasure than to be able to make our year-end donations to support the organizations to whose missions we’re most committed. One thing we’ve learned about donations is to concentrate our efforts rather than see them pissed away with a few bucks here and a few bucks there — something you too may want to consider doing.
And lest you think that all philanthropy is equal, Maimonides offers a hierarchy of giving, with the first item listed being the most worthy form, and the last being the least worthy. I find it interesting that the most worthy form is to help a person in need to become not only self-sufficient but also to join the circle of tzedakah in their own right, not unlike the later Christian notion of teaching a man to fish. Translated from Maimonides:
- Giving an interest-free loan to a person in need; forming a partnership with a person in need; giving a grant to a person in need; finding a job for a person in need; so long as that loan, grant, partnership, or job results in the person no longer living by relying upon others.
- Giving tzedakah anonymously to an unknown recipient via a person (or public fund) which is trustworthy, wise, and can perform acts of tzedakah with your money in a most impeccable fashion.
- Giving tzedakah anonymously to a known recipient.
- Giving tzedakah publicly to an unknown recipient.
- Giving tzedakah before being asked.
- Giving adequately after being asked.
- Giving willingly, but inadequately.
- Giving in sadness (it is thought that Maimonides was referring to giving because of the sad feelings one might have in seeing people in need as opposed to giving because it is a religious obligation; giving out of pity).
Although the term tzedakah was never mentioned, the first hour or more of Marc Benioff’s keynotes at Dreamforce are a paean to the power of tzedakah. And his 1-1-1 approach to corporate philanthropy should be the mantra of every business, especially those run by folks who would like to shrink our government sector. If everyone and every business put tzedakah at the top of their priorities, then much more of what the right hates about government could be done by the private sector. So yes, this is a call to everyone, but especially to my Republican friends and family members, to give until it hurts — of your time, your capital and your annual profits — in the spirit of Marc’s 1-1-1 philanthropic mantra. I don’t know Marc personally, but I’ve often wondered if his Jewish upbringing shows in his views on philanthropy.
I think that this view of giving, of philanthropy, of tzedakah, is the flip side of the Jewish notion of success. We believe (at least those of us who haven’t gone so far off the rails as to believe their own press releases — but that’s another story) that your successes are not solely of your own making and that one should not take too much credit for them. As it happens, we are all either blessed or cursed by the circumstances of our birth and by the good or bad fortune, the mazel, that has accompanied our journey through life. Born in the US? Mazel. Born healthy, intelligent, and loved? Mazel. Wanted and raised by two reasonably together and prepared parents? More mazel. Managed to get through school, university, life-to-date without dread diseases, terrible accidents, loss of your freedom or life in civil unrest? Pure mazel.
What you build on top of all that good luck through your own hard work, careful choices, and perseverance is absolutely yours for which to take credit, but it’s important to remember just how much of what we become, of who we are, and of what we have is just plain dumb good luck. Thinking about life this way, as a three-legged stool (the good fortune of our birth, the good fortune of our lives, and what we ourselves accomplish through our own efforts) of which we only control one leg, makes clear why tzedakah is an obligation for those of us whose stools have three good legs. Knowing that so many such stools have two wobbly legs explains why I’m on the progressive side of the political divide.
And now for the thanks part of this post. My list doesn’t change much over time, but my appreciation for these blessings has grown so much over the years. For those of you who haven’t started your list, here’s mine for Thanksgiving 2015:
- Ron Wallace — if you haven’t met The Wallace, you’re in for a treat. He’s smart (and never flaunts his far greater intellect than mine), beyond funny (especially when doing those imitations of all the satellite systems he helped design), kind to everyone even when they’re not, 150% behind me in everything I do, an enthusiastic dancer (even though my best dancing days are in the rearview mirror of life), able to design/fix anything electronic/mechanical/plumbing/etc., infinitely patient, very slow to get anywhere close to angry, doesn’t complain no matter how ill/uncomfortable he is, shares my love of travel/adventure/British mystery DVDs/boating/theater/the list of shared interests is very long, understands my need to “fly” solo at times, never asks me what anything costs (knowing I won’t go overboard even when we’re buying me great jewelry), likes many of my friends and is happy to have them travel with us, has provided full infrastructure support so that I could pursue my dream career and other interests, still a hunk after all these years (Ron went through college on gymnastics scholarships), and thinks I’m the best thing that ever happened to him. What more could any woman want? Most important, because aging comes to all who get this far, Ron has made it possible for me to keep doing a lot of what we love to do by pushing the chair when my increasingly unreliable legs can’t go the distance.
- Friends and family who are also friends — I value friendship above diamonds, and those who know me realize that’s high value indeed. No one gets through life unscathed, NO ONE! And it’s your friends who not only share your triumphs but will also see you through the really tough times. And I can tell you that, as you and your friends get older, the tough times increase, and you need each other more than ever. Friendship isn’t something I take lightly, and I expect a lot from those in my inner circle. When that call comes, when a friend is in need or in crisis, real friends drop everything, show up, and do whatever they can to alleviate your distress. But even casual friends ease our way when they lend a hand, offer a referral, or just ask how we’re doing.
- Good health, great health insurance, and the smarts to manage my own healthcare — Ron and I have watched the whole health care reform discussion with just one point of view: everyone should be as free from worry about their health care costs as we have been, even as we’ve battled a growing number of expensive health issues. I can’t even imagine having to fight with an insurance company in order to get what Ron needed when he was diagnosed 10+ years ago with non-Hodgkins lymphoma. The bills were enormous and would have broken even our generous budget if not for great coverage. And I’ve had so many joint repairs that the staff at the surgical center know me on sight, and that’s only the beginning of what aging has done to my llambada. But thanks to Ron’s NASA career, we’ve had the same kind of private insurance our Congressmen have, converted now to our supplemental plan while Medicare is primary. We’d like to see everyone have this level of financial protection and peace of mind, but what do we know about health care? For the record, Medicare is income adjusted so I’m paying a ton for it, and that’s entirely fair, but I’d love them to add a few higher brackets so that Mr. Ellison was paying even more.
- My career, clients and colleagues — I’ve had an amazing career run. I got in on the very ground floor of the use of computers in business and am still able to contribute. For those of you who are worried about your own career, and who isn’t with robots coming to replace many types of workers, please take heart. There’s always opportunity for those who talented and willing to work their butts off, invest in their KSAOCs, and do the heavy lifting. To all the colleagues and clients from whom I’ve learned so much, I’m very grateful for the opportunities and hope I’ve given as good as I’ve gotten. And I’d like to say a special thank you to my much younger colleagues who have welcomed this digital immigrant with open minds and helping hands.
- The accident of my birth — I come from pioneer stock. My grandparents were refugees (aren’t all Jews?) from a shtetl in Lithuania. They came to the USA at the turn of the 20th century to avoid conscription into the Czar’s non-kosher army as well as to escape the pogroms. Like every American except our Native Americans, we’re all refugees of one sort or another, even those who think they’re special because they came first or brought some wealth with them. Were it not for my grandparents having the courage to leave the familiar behind, to make what was then quite literally a trek across Europe to get bilge (they thought steerage was first class) passage to the USA, to arrive with no English and just the bundles they carried to a gentile America which was still quite hostile to Jews, I would never have had the opportunities that so many of us take for granted. Were the founders of our country legal immigrants? Hell no! They were conquerors who killed off the indigenous population after having only survived that first awful winter because of the kindness of those very natives. Were your ancestors legal immigrants? Probably not. Were my grandparents legal immigrants? I haven’t a clue. Perhaps that explains my own support for addressing our current immigration issues with humanity and a real respect for those who are following in the same path as our collective ancestors, seeking refuge from poverty and/or repressive governments, seeking a better life for their children, seeking a chance to work and live free from religious/political/economic/ethnic persecution.
- Our military and first responders along with their families — Freedom isn’t free, and democracy isn’t a birthright, so count your blessings that you’re here. And thank those who never rest so that we can, those who work the midnight shifts in emergency rooms, those who keep your power on and your news reported. There are so many who won’t be having as peaceful or comfortable a Thanksgiving as you and I will have. My thanks to every one of them.
Although Thanksgiving isn’t really a religious holiday, I think it’s prayer-worthy. So here’s mine for all of us. Life is short, fragile and amazing, so live large and purposefully while you can and out of respect for all those whose three-legged stools have always had one or two broken legs. G-d willing (now we’re back to mazel) we’ll live long and prosper and be the life of the party at the old farts home.
I Love Paris In The Fall!
With only one of me while both major HR technology conferences — if you haven’t attended the HR Tech World Congress, you may not realize that it’s become as large and as much of a must attend as the wonderful and separately owned/produced HR Tech Conference & Expo— are scheduled over just 10+ days later this month, I’ll be doing two sessions in Paris and taking my industry meetings there in 2015. With greater separation in their 2016 scheduling, and if I’m invited to speak at both shows in 2016, I’ll hope to see you in both Chicago and Paris. But whether you’re going to both shows or just one of them (and I can’t imagine that any of you will be missing both of them), it’s time to finalize your preparations so that you get the most out of your time in Paris and/or Las Vegas.
If you’re anything like me, from the time you arrive in Paris and/or Las Vegas, it will be:
- non-stop vendor/industry meetings,
- exhibition hall booth visiting (I make a valiant effort each year to stop at everything single booth, but now Paris has gotten so large that many of these visits will be flybys with no disrespect intended),
- session attending,
- session delivery,
- intense but wonderful hallway and restroom exchanges (do guys do as much substantive chatting and networking in their restrooms as we do?),
- time with valued colleagues and long-standing industry friends,
- an occasional meal and more than an occasional drink,
- tweetups and meetups,
- our annual Brazen Hussies gatherings, and more.
I’ve just turned 70, a landmark birthday in so many respects, and am still basking in the afterglow of another year well-lived. Living large, personally and professionally, honors those who never got this far, and the number of loved ones who didn’t grows longer with each passing year. One of the byproducts of aging that’s rarely discussed is how many friends and family members you outlive, and each one of those losses really hurts. But another byproduct, at least in my case, is that I’ve got sufficient mobility challenges that those of you whom I’ll be meeting for the first time this month in Paris should know that I’ll be using an electric scooter, otherwise known as my magic carpet, to get around your much larger conference facility.
As I’m finalizing my own preparations for these conferences, I thought you might enjoy a few tips from my personal list. And like all good twitterstreams, please read from the bottom up:
Bonus tip: This is where I had planned to suggest that you read my entire blog, from 11/9/2009 forward, but that seemed really pushy. Instead, just read those posts that are relevant to your purpose in Paris and/or Las Vegas. I can’t help but encourage you to focus on the posts that discuss what’s happening in HRM software that’s just out of sight, what you should be looking for “derriere le mirroir.” What you don’t know can cost you dearly!
#Tip #10: Get dates for #HRTechConf and #HRTechWorld 2016 on your calendar and in your budget right now. With both shows approaching parity in both attendees and vendor exhibitors, even as each has its own special flavor and areas of emphasis, if your organization and/or your own career has global underpinnings and/or aspirations, you’re going to want to attend both shows, so get that budget justification in process now.
#Tip #9: Talk, talk, talk and listen, listen, listen because sharing questions, ideas and experiences with colleagues is the point. Bring your list of the folks you follow most on Twitter and make it a point to meet them. Come up to me after my sessions and hit me with your questions. And do feel quite comfortable approaching almost anyone about anything reasonable; it takes a village, and that’s HCM and HR technology all over. And I would definitely get your foreign language skills in gear — a MUST if you’re hoping to support global organizations or becoming a global citizen yourself — whether you’re planning to attend the Paris conference or just take a gondola ride at The Venetian in Vegas.
#Tip #8: Bring a swag carrier if you’re flying in and plan to carry your giant stuffed toy home in your lap. Ron can’t imagine coming home from Paris or Las Vegas without a new monster, and who’s going to tell him that we’re overrun with them here at HQ? And if you’re a vendor doing some swag planning, we love: umbrellas (the rainy season is on right now, and you can never have too many), interesting stress reduction toys, cuddly creatures (why doesn’t anyone ever give away big stuffed alligators), shoe bags (those soft ones in which you pack your shoes when traveling), towels (all sizes appreciated), t-shirts (medium for Ron, XL for me — embarrassing but true), international electrical plug sets, great bottles of wine, and books we’d really like to read, but please no more vendor-branded tablet or phone covers. The risk of meeting with Vendor A with your iPad wrapped in Vendor B is just too high.
#Tip #7: Leave room in your schedule for serendipity and for nature breaks — well at least nature breaks. I’ve met some amazing women during those nature breaks; I can’t speak for what goes on in the men’s room. Having spent three weeks in France last year, I think their idea of shared restrooms — common sink area and a collection of stalls into which you slip as they become available — has real merit. Why should women be waiting on line while stalls in a separate men’s room are free? And sharing the sinks would also provide opportunities for mixed gender ad hoc discussions of conference-related topics — or not.
#Tip #6: Attend as many sessions as possible. I do because, at least when there’s NO sales crap allowed, they’re generally excellent. Come prepared to be an active listener, to take notes, to provide a twitterstream for your colleagues who couldn’t attend in person, and to boo any speaker who dares to give you a sales pitch or to trash their competitors. And the best thing we can do to support the hard-working men who program these conferences — so Peter Russell for the Paris show and Steve Boese for Las Vegas — is to complete those evaluation forms, adding comments as appropriate.
#Tip #5: Don’t try to attend > 3 vendor parties after a long first day of sessions. I hate missing all those great parties, but my party all night and work all day years are behind me — and behind many to most of you as well. Save at least a few brain cells for the second day of sessions; you’ll thank me if you do. And for those of you attending the Paris show, surrounded by some of the greatest wines in the world, I’ve learned my lesson about indulging in too much of those wines at the mid-morning coffee break.
#Tip #4: Plan your conference in advance. With what vendors do you want to schedule extended and/or private demos? Make those appointments now. What attendees with whom you share specific issues/vendors/industry concerns/etc. do you want to meet? And if you’re all on the same true SaaS product, you won’t have to waste a minute asking each other what release you’re on! Do that outreach and arrange those meetings now. Pick your sessions and, because there are too many good ones for just one person, find a buddy with whom you can divide and conquer. Better yet, bring a whole team to these conferences and cover the ground.
#Tip #3: Carry a water bottle and refill it at every chance you get. Convention center climates are designed to dessicate, and they don’t always have enough refreshment stations. Lately I’ve been carrying a protein bar or two in my briefcase, something you may also want to consider. And I could also suggest that you bring a restorative flask, but we HR people would never make such a suggestion.
#Tip #2A: Assume that the convention center will be too cold/too hot/too drafty/too whatever, and dress accordingly. We’ll be overrun with executives from across the industry, buyers and sellers, so you may want to lose the flipflops, cutoffs, and anything that reveals parts of you that I’d rather not see. Here I’m showing my personal biases, but business casual does not translate in my book into anything lower down the sartorial scale than clean pressed jeans, a similarly clean ironed t-shirt with at least short sleeves, most of your tattoos tactfully covered, and shoes. Of course, these suggestions only apply to the granddaddy of HR technology shows, the big Kahuna, in Las Vegas. Our Continental colleagues lean toward business formal, as in dark suit and tie. Hmm….
#Tip #2: Wear your most comfortable walking shoes. There will be few places to sit except in sessions and long convention center distances. Yes, I know that my younger female colleagues will want to show off those Manolo D’orsay spikes — the latest in fashionista circles — and I don’t blame you, but be sure you’ve got a suitably designed male colleague at the ready to carry you after the first hour. Having done my fair share of spike heel time, I’m convinced that there’s a direct connection to my now arthritic joints. It doesn’t matter what shoes I’ll be wearing as I flash by on my magic carpet, but you’ll be limping by noon if you don’t select your shoes carefully. And speaking of that magic carpet, we finally found, in an English antique shop, a suitable horn so that I can give fair warning before running over fellow conference goers.
#Tip #1: For vendors of greatest interest, do your homework in advance, preparing the mental scenarios that you’d like to see, so that booth time is hands-on demo time. And be sure to spend time on the floor checking out some of the newer/smaller vendors. There’s a ton of innovation going on in our industry, and it isn’t always on offer at the flashiest booths. In spite of the heavy industry consolidation, VC moola has been flowing into all things HR technology, so there are going to be a bazillion vendors at both conferences of which you’ve never heard.
I’m sorry that I won’t be seeing more of you in Las Vegas as I’ll be there just long enough for the Brazen Hussies event and a few industry meetings. But I’ll be in Paris for the entire show, and I’ll hope to see you there. Whichever you attend, have a terrific conference, and be sure to say thank you to the conference organizers.
Naomi & Cousin Ronni Circa 1950
I’m turning 70 this week — yes, 70 years old — and that milestone, combined with the natural period of reflection that I always observe around the Jewish holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, has reminded me of just how truly blessed has been my life, how very lucky I am to have gotten to this point. Many of my childhood friends didn’t make it into their twenties, my birth mother as well as my two closest friends didn’t make it to 40 (including my so talented and full of life cousin Ronni), and the number of people I’ve loved who are no longer with me just keeps growing. Losing my Uncle Paul Bloom earlier this year, just after his 99th birthday, meant there is no longer an older generation in my family. Now, I am it.
My body doesn’t work as well as it once did (if you’ve seen me scootering past you at a major conference, then you know that I have some mobility challenges, but then most of you didn’t know me during my llambada-enriched, sailing the Caribbean prime so as to have a proper basis for comparison), my dental repair bills are stratospheric, and I have macular degeneration (but thankfully with no visible impairment as yet) — and that’s just for starters. Believe me when I tell you that even if you escape truly life-threatening diseases and accidents, aging brings with it a shitload of minor medical issues. From revolting skin barnacles and easier/constant bruising (particularly true for older men) on your arms to challenging changes in your digestion and the increased time it takes for anything to heal, these are annoyances for which none of us are prepared. When I think of how lightly I used to travel compared to all the crap that’s now needed to keep me on the move, I am very thankful that my status with most airlines means that I don’t have to pay for checked bags.
But this post is not a lament on aging or my distant youth. Rather it is a celebration of a life well-lived, of my life thus far and of the life that’s in front of me. While so many of my friends and family never made it to 70, I’m still here. I’ve survived. More than just survived, I’ve flourished and prospered and had a truly wonderful time. And, in my own way, I’ve made an effort to improve the world around me. Sometimes that’s been related to my professional life, as in trying to save the world from crappy enterprise HRM software and equally crappy HRM practices/policies/plan designs/etc. by helping to design and deliver better software and better HRM. Sometime that’s been related to my personal life, as in making philanthropy central to our budget, both of time/energy and of financial resources. Sometimes it’s all about lending a helping hand, reaching out to comfort, being there even when it’s uncomfortable or inconvenient or you really don’t know what to say or do. And sometimes it’s about pushing and pushing and pushing because there’s a wrong that really needs righting.
I haven’t accomplished anything monumental in my life thus far, and it’s unlikely that I’m going to do so. But I’d like to think that a little bit of good done here and a little more done there adds up to what we’re commanded as Jews (but I really think this applies to everyone) to do in the words tikkun olam, literally to fix the world. But there’s so much to fix (more now than at any time in my lengthening life) that I often feel overwhelmed at where to begin, not to mention that there’s never time to keep my closets organized and my books alphabetized, to select cards and gifts for every occasion while changing our home’s décor with the seasons, or to master any of the topics/authors/etc. about which I’d love to be more knowledgeable. But the important thing about turning 70 is that it’s time to make peace, if you’re ever going to do so, with the fact that you’ll never be able to do everything you’d like to do. It’s truly time to refine ruthlessly your priorities.
Ron and I spent the last few weeks in England, and I spent a good bit of quiet time staring out to sea and noodling on those priorities. Where on this earth do we want to travel? With whom among our friends and families do we want to spend time? What old friend books and what new ones do I want to read? Do I really want to make time to improve my Spanish, sketching, marine navigation, and so many other skills? And what about boating, theater, music, museums, and just lolling in our pool? Then there’s the remodeling project from hell that’s consumed far too much of the last 18 months because of truly awful execution by the firm we’re in the midst of firing (but which still must be made to finish work that can’t be picked up by someone else, like pulled apart furniture awaiting reupholstery). What about my work with The Florida Repertory Theater (on whose Board I’ve sat for 10+ years and which is a nationally rated professional regional theater) or with a half dozen other local organizations which I support personally as well as financially? And all of that is apart from my continued efforts in #EnSW.
Doesn’t it feel like a little priority refinement is in order? Don’t we all know that if everything is important than nothing is? Well, I don’t have any great insights on how to handle all of this, but I can tell you from the vantage point of having lived large these almost 70 years that setting life priorities does not get any easier unless you choose to withdraw from life — and that’s not going to happen here. But the only real insight I’ve achieved about all of this is that, if you’re inclined to be a neurotic overachiever, that doesn’t change just because your joints are screaming and your hairdresser has to work harder at covering the grey. Au contraire. Those habits of a lifetime define not only how we live but also how we age. And for me, although the todo list has evolved and my priorities have changed, and while I’ve had to make a range of changes in everyday living to accommodate the physical changes of aging, it appears that I’m not likely to slip quietly into a bingo game-laden, early bird special dining, daytime television-watching style of aging. Not while I’m still sentient.
So watch out world. Naomi at 70 could be even more trouble — and having more fun — than Naomi at 50 or 40 or 30. And that’s the point.