General Mattis on ‘Too Busy To Read’

“The problem with being too busy to read is that you learn by experience (or by your men’s experience), i.e. the hard way. By reading, you learn through others’ experiences, generally a better way to do business, especially in our line of work where the consequences of incompetence are so final for young men.

Thanks to my reading, I have never been caught flat-footed by any situation, never at a loss for how any problem has been addressed (successfully or unsuccessfully) before. It doesn’t give me all the answers, but it lights what is often a dark path ahead.”

Source: General James ‘Mad Dog’ Mattis Email About Being ‘Too Busy To Read’ Is A Must-Read


The Neo-generalist and functional resumes

It has been many years since I’ve really given my resume much thought. I have, of course, kept it (and my LinkedIn profile) up to date in terms of my actual job, and mostly up to date in terms of the work I’ve done in the course of those jobs. But it is a straight ahead chronological resume, following the standard (if there is such a thing) configuration of most recent job first and going back to the last x number of jobs and listing various responsibilities and accomplishments in those jobs. Not necessarily the work I’ve accomplished, but more the “important” tasks I completed. (The full version currently weighs in at a solid 7 pages.)

A key factor in my neglect of the resume is the fact that I’ve worked in the same environment for all of my adult career, and that type of resume is how you are judged, the primary consideration when looking for a new position (and how the company for whom you work demonstrates its range of skills to potential customers). A focus on what you’ve done in the past, with a demonstrated progression of skills and responsibility within a (generally) narrow specialization, not to mention specific education milestones and certifications specific to that narrow field.

My recent online reading (and writing) and involvement with various meetup groups, communities, and organizations (including a nascent startup) here in St. Louis and around the world (online) got me thinking about this resume, and how I present myself and what I do as opposed to simply what I’ve done). And the books I’ve been reading this summer, including Rise of the DEO, Service Design for Business, Managing for Happiness, and Liminal Thinking have got me thinking about what exactly it is that I do do. But it was a book I haven’t read yet (bought, dispatched, not yet delivered) that really got me thinking about what I do, and how to explain it.

From the back cover of The Neo-generalist:

Have you encountered difficulties describing what you do to other people?  Yep. 

Have you ever labelled yourself in order to be understood?  Double yep. 

And even more to the point from the Preface (posted on the book’s website):

Since the advent of the Industrial Revolution, our society has remained in thrall to the notion of hyperspecialism. This places constraints on the ways in which we are educated, the work we do, the people we socialise with, how we are recruited, how our career progression is managed, how we label ourselves for the benefit of others’ understanding. To counter and challenge these social norms, the neo-generalist has to learn how to give expression to their more generalist tendencies, even as they practise various specialisms, guiding others as they do so.

Which is exactly the conundrum in which I find myself.

To give you an idea here is a list of some of the things I’ve done through the years, in (not reverse) chronological order:

  • Responsible for the operation of a 24/7/365 communications facility in support of mission critical operations, including designing of communications networks, maintenance of equipment, and training of personnel and the periodic (several times a year) requirement to shut it all down, pack it up, drive it to a farmer’s field somewhere in Europe and set it all back up again. And, of course, return it to the buildings.
  • Designed and executed logistics for the upgrade of all equipment in a communications organization, including replacement of vehicles and communications equipment (which involved a range of activities including inventory and inspection of old equipment, disposition of old equipment (including rail and other transport manifests), inventory and inspection of new equipment, arranging a place where all this could happen, and making sure that all the paper work was correct at the end of it all.
  • Chief executive of a communications company of 150+ people, responsible for providing mobile network services for a customer organization consisting of mobile operation centers operating in unforgiving physical locations. In addition to the network design, maintenance, and training operations, responsible for housing and feeding of company members as well as all financial aspects of the organization. (Best job I ever had, probably the best I will ever have.)
  • Test officer for mobile and man-portable satellite communications terminals.
  • Assistant project manager responsible for the fielding of manpack tactical satellite communications radios to the US Army. Included all aspects of coordination, planning logistics, coordinating training, and ensuring the receiving units were satisfied with the products. (Basically the other end of the job 2 above; I learned a lot from job 2 that went into my success here.)
  • Assistant CIO responsible for implementation of Public Key Infrastructure within the organization, including distribution of required hardware, development of appropriate policies and guidance, and execution of training.
  • Systems engineer including
    • Develop requirements for next generation tactical network communication systems
    • Develop operational concepts for the next- next generation tactical network communications system when the next generation system was deemed not next generation enough
    • Refine operational requirements, act as intermediary between requirements creators and vendors designing systems to meet the requirements
    • Review and approve (or not) designs at preliminary design reviews, system design reviews, etc.
    • Work on the edge of the system, integrating with the next- next- next generation system, ensuring the interests of the program for which I worked and the end user were considered in the development of the other system
    • Integration of systems onto platforms for which they were not designed, involving coordination between many different parties while keeping in mind the desired end state.

I think you get the idea. Like most people, especially most people in the Army, I started out in the jobs that my career field said I should start in. While I didn’t have a choice in the job, I did have a choice in the work. As my career progressed, especially after leaving the Army, I did have a choice of job, and often based my decision based on the type of work I’d be able to do. And, as importantly, how I’d be able to do it.

Though I didn’t have the words or terminology for it back then, I realize now that I’ve always had a human-centered approach to my jobs. Although getting the job done was always important, how it got done was very important to me. Though not to everyone. A story from my first job….

On my unit’s first deployment to a field exercise after I had joined, one of the comms links was just not coming in. It was a training exercise and so, naive me, I was using it for training. What I didn’t realize is that others (my boss and his boss) saw it not as a training exercise for me and my team but for them. (This is, if you are familiar, the curse of the Signal Corps.) So when my boss came out to the rig and saw me in the door, he started chewing on me before he even arrived. “Why are you out here, why aren’t you in their making this work!!!” I had no words except, “This is [her] job, she needs to do it. Besides, I don’t know how to make this work.”

When I was in the Army, it was easy to tell people what I do – “I’m an Army Signal Officer.” Once I left the Army, it was a bit less straightforward. “Systems Engineer” is no help to most people, and the tasks I was performing weren’t any better at getting across what I did. So, for the most part, I was “in computers”. Even now, that is pretty much what most people think I do, though it might be a bit more expansive, “He does corporate IT.”

Which is kind of true. My current job title is Solution Designer (Enterprise Social Networks) and Community Strategist, whatever the hell that means. Again, a lot of tasks I perform on a daily basis, but listing those doesn’t really get across what I do, nor how I do it.

Which gets me back around to neo-generalism. Though I haven’t yet read the book (dispatched, not delivered), what I’ve read from the authors leads me to believe I am a neo-generalist. Which makes sense, because I’ve very often found myself acting as both generalist (connecting the dots) and specialist (building the dots). The chronological resume format doesn’t – can’t – really convey this to the casual reader typical hiring manager / resume screener. Which gets us, finally, around to the functional resume.

Nearly everything I’ve read about functional resumes, as I’ve been thinking about and doing research for revamping mine, paints them as a last resort, something to be avoided unless absolutely necessary. As I’ve gone through this process, though, I’ve come to realize that this is because most people look at jobs, at work, in terms of specialization. That if you don’t have a good cohesive chronological narrative of tasks, there must be something wrong with you.

And, to be clear, if you want a job that builds on a specific specialization, it is probably a good idea to have a chronological resume with some good details on what you’ve done.

But I’m starting to think that for me, and for other neo-generalists who are interested as much in how they work as the tasks they perform, the work they do and not just the job they have, a functional resume may be the way to go.

tl;dr I’m going to update my resume, and it is going to be a functional resume.


Is safe really better than sorry?

I first mentioned this tweet from @codinghorror in my review of StrangeLoop 2010.

It has stuck with me through the years, and always seems to pop up when it’s needed. Not too long ago (wow – the better part of a year), I tweeted my own variation on this, exploring a bit the “is such crap” part of Jeff’s tweet.

Is safe better than sorry?

It all depends on the context. How you define “safe” and “sorry”, the time scale in which you’re working. What you are willing to give up for what you want to achieve. What you are willing to tolerate. What you want to have written across your tombstone, or in the history books, when your time on this earth inevitably ends.