A Meaningful Life

Intentional living is what happens when you “wake up” to your self. Many people go through life in a kind of trance – they never question their own beliefs and habits, and keep doing what comes next. Some wake up slightly when they have a mid-life crisis, in which they realize that life is happening to them, and that where they are is not so much a result of intention as it is habit and following the beliefs that they were raised with. Others grow out of their limited perceptions because of a drive to succeed, or strong goals, which leads them to reflect on their beliefs and views to see if they actually produce the desired results. In the process they discover that many things that they thought were “reality” turn out to be unquestioned assumptions and habits of thought. Some people have a shocking or traumatic event, which leads them to re-examine their priorities and values, starting a process of self discovery. For some, spirituality or a peak experience leads to a deeper awareness that their “self” is more than a personality with a body. This gives them an ability to rest into something deeper than any one view, and a corresponding freedom to examine what is real, often discovering layers of beliefs that surprisingly are just one choice among many. Some people discover in therapy that who they thought they were was just that – a complex of thought and emotion, often chosen in the pressure of the moment without much awareness. They gain the freedom to choose, where there was no understanding that a choice was available.  For some, service or love opens their heart, revealing meaning and and a new perspective.

The problem with unquestioned assumptions is that you can’t see them. The fish never considers that life is lived in water. Be sensitive for opportunities for dis-illusionment. There may be more to life…

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Business as Service

When I started out in business, I had a bookstore in the Bay Area, selling books and tapes on self development and success. Some of my favorites still include Think and Grow Rich, As A Man Thinketh, and The Richest Man in Babylon. My goal was to help everyone fulfill their potential. It still is. Somewhere along the way I got hooked on technology. I love being able to help someone’s business work better, and I love playing with and learning about new technology. It’s wonder-full. There’s always something new and amazing that can make a difference. In a way, I love teaching – showing people what’s possible.

There are many models of business. Ours is business as service. Done well, every business makes the world better by serving people, providing something of value. Along with this is a fundamental belief in abundance – there is no limit to our creativity, we can always find a good solution, and there is plenty for everyone.

This is in contrast to the alternative – business as a zero sum game. In this model, there are only so many marbles, and the goal is to win. Underlying this is a feeling of lack – I may not survive, and my survival comes first. As Rev. Ike says, “the root of all evil is not money, it’s the lack of money”.

In one model, I get to fully express myself and my talents. In the other I get to survive, if I can outwit you. I prefer to live in a world full of wonder, joy, and unending potential. Love and fear are opposites.

These values get tested when the economy is not doing as well. Everyday we make the choice to serve, or to survive.

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Good books for business owners

Books and resources that were pivotal to my business education.   Besides being good books, they reflect our values and approach to business.

Getting Things Done, by David Allen

This should be basic training when you start learning.

Your mind immediately starts working when you have an idea to accomplish or act on it, and doesn’t stop until it’s done.  Time doesn’t really exist for this part of your brain. By deciding on a next action for each goal, and putting it in writing (in a “trusted system” ) so you know you will be reminded at the appropriate time, you can clear your mind to focus on the present task.  The slight effort involved in identifying the next action keeps your mind from presenting the goal in an endless loop.

There is much more, and if you are interested I suggest starting with the podcasts on their site – www.davidco.com

The E-Myth, by Michael Gerber

This book has what every small business person should have known before they started their business.  Every tech or workman who starts a business wears 3 hats: technician, administrator, and visionary.  How do you balance and fulfill all these roles well?  There is a whole consulting industry around this book.

 Honest Business (out of print?)  by Rasberry and Phillips

Small business owners that succeed have “tradeskill”, a combination of skills and habits that include the following: persistence, ability to face facts, minimizing risk, and hands-on learning.   You don’t learn this in school, or from a book. You learn it by being around people who have it, watching and absorbing how they run a business.

These people were part of the Briarpatch network, a group of small business people who wanted to make the world better through business. Many of my business values were influenced by this approach – Open books, Starting small,  building community as the core of marketing, social responsibility, business as a way to serve.

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Covey

This is another classic book that should be part of everyone’s basic education.  These are the basic principles of personal success, about as clear as it gets.

Here’s a quick summary, hopefully enough to get you interested:

Our character is a composite of our habits. Changing habits is hard, but can be done by tremendous commitment.

A (good) habit can be defined as the intersection of knowledge, skill and desire. Change is a cycle of being and seeing (visualization).

Our objective is to move progressively on a maturity continuum from dependence to independence to interdependence. Although independence is the current paradigm of our society, we can accomplish much more by cooperation and specialization. However, we must achieve independence before we can choose interdependence.

Habits 1, 2 and 3 (Be Proactive, Begin With The End In Mind, Put First Things First) deal with self mastery. They are the “private victories” required for character growth. Private victories precede public victories.

Habits 4, 5 and 6 are the more personality-oriented “public victories” of Teamwork, Cooperation and Communication.

Habit 7 is the habit of Renewal, creating an upward spiral of growth.

Effectiveness lies in balancing our Production (P) with building Production Capacity (PC).

Organizationally, the PC principle is to always treat your employees as you want them to treat your best customers. We must understand that the best contributions of our employees – their hearts and minds – are as volunteers, because they want to.

This process of growth will be evolutionary, but the net effect will be revolutionary.

The Trusted Advisor by Maister, Green & Galford

My favorite part of this book is the “trust equation”:
Trustworthiness = (Credibility + Reliability + Intimacy ) / Self-orientation
Being a good consultant means being trustworthy to your clients.  This book talks about earning the trust of your clients, and the implications for running a business.

I encourage everyone we hire to master these concepts, in addition to their technical skill set.

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Advice to Beginning Network Engineers

I often get requests from people starting out in the field asking what they should learn, or how they can grow their career.  Here’s my advice.

The first part applies to any field, but is not taught in school:
Know what you want out of life: set written goals, and review them regularly.  Think about what you want your life to mean on a regular basis, and make sure your activities are in line with your vision.
Do what you love.  It takes dedication and passion to be good at anything, and you will be able to sustain the needed focus and learning best if you are doing what you love.  Life is too short for anything less.
Get to know your strengths. We all are better at some things than others. Manage your skills like you were managing a baseball team – position your strongest assets where they will make the most difference, and train for the skills you need.
Learn how to learn.  Particularly in IT, the effectiveness with which you can learn will determine your value to employers.

Start with hardware, and the Workstation OS. Get you’re A+ Certification, and know how a PC works.  Get hands on experience till you feel confident you can solve most any PC problem.
Then learn networking fundamentals. The material in the Cisco Academy, and what is covered in NET+ certification overlap.  Learn how networking protocols work.  The OSI model and the details of TCP/IP are core materials that will serve you for the rest of your career.
If possible, take an assembly language class. This teaches the inner workings of the CPU hardware and will give you the foundation for understanding programming.  The goal here is to build your mental model of what goes on inside a computer or network device.
As you are learning, get familiar with the most popular products and software. A big part of being a network Tech or Engineer is being familiar with specific brands and their quirks.  Do whatever it takes to get some actual hands-on experience.

Pay attention to the Internet.  Get a good grasp on how it works (particularly DNS), how email is delivered, how the web works, and what the common protocols and ports are.  Learn how to search the web, find solutions to problems, and develop habits to stay current with what interests you.  Know all the main web tools and services, particularly Google and Microsoft.  Get familiar with portals and RSS. Sign up for newsletters. Try out web services and tools.
Start early building your online brand.  Put up a (tasteful) website, and if you like to write, start a blog.  Think about what you want your employers to see in 2 or 3 years, and start building your credibility now.  Be genuine, and talk about what you love.
Start building relationships.  These are what will drive your career. Develop the skill of networking with people. Systematically identify key people in your chosen field, and start following them online and in your local community. Look for opportunities to interact in a positive way with people who can influence your career, or lead you to potential employment or learning opportunities. Learn to use social media to help your “personal brand”.

Once you have the fundamentals, decide what you like best – there are a lot of areas in computing, and you will have to specialize.

If you are interested in Windows servers, there are several sides to learning what you need: getting familiar with the management tools; and knowing how things work in the OS; and understanding server hardware. Don’t try to skip over understanding networking fundamentals.  You can get pretty far by accumulating trivia, but you won’t be able to really troubleshoot without a mental model of what’s happening.
Take a class or get a good book on Windows Server.  It will take you through DNS, Active Directory, User rights, etc.  Get familiar with Windows scripting and command line tools. I encourage our staff to take the Microsoft Certification tests –  it shows you what basic areas of knowledge to cover.
Learn about server specific hardware, such as RAID.  Get familiar with the Dell and HP management tools for servers.
Learn about Virtualization, and get familiar with the major products, particularly VMWare and Hyper-V  (as of June 2011).
With an understanding of Windows Server, you can specialize further in server applications, such as SQL or Exchange.

If you are interested in routers and networking, start by mastering IP subnetting.   Revisit the OSI model, and make sure you have a thorough understanding of Packet structure, especially layer 2 and 3. Understand the packet structure of key services, such as DHCP and DNS.  Learn how routing tables work.  Learn about NAT, Proxy services, and VPN protocols.  Understand how a firewall works. Then get into the interfaces and management tools for specific vendors, such as Cisco.  Consider Cisco certification as a good benchmark in this area.

A lot of aspiring Techs want to become security experts, and learn about hacking.  Understanding security starts with understanding how things work. The same fundamentals apply.  Only by thoroughly understanding how things work can you understand how people abuse or get around them.  The best security experts have an understanding of both networking  and programming.

If you like Programming, there is no substitute for formal schooling.  Learn the fundamentals in as structured way – topics build on each other.

Another career path involves databases and data analysis.  This usually requires a foundation in programming.   You will also need an understanding of database servers and SQL.  It helps to be good with math.

When we hire, we look for non-technical skills first, as do most employers.  We look  for these things:

1.       Character and integrity.  This cannot be taught.

2.       Self-awareness and self-management skills – Clear goals, time and task management, the ability to see what is important.

3.       Passion and the ability to learn.

4.       Social skills – the ability to “get it” in a work environment.  Sensitivity to others. Self-awareness, particularly managing your own emotions.

5.       Communication skills.  The ability to work in a team.  The ability to read and write.

Whatever you know this year will need to be updated next year. I can teach technical skills, but it is harder to teach someone emotional and self-management skills.
Learn to see yourself as a work in progress, and identify what you want to work on.  Learn how to learn. Invest in speed reading and research skills.  Learn how to set goals and manage your time.  Learn how others see you. Learn how to communicate – especially how to listen.  These skills will make you successful.  To set yourself apart, get a basic understanding of business and accounting. If you are going to help businesses with IT, you have to understand how money is made.

There is a key moment in the lives of most successful people when they realize at a gut level that no one is going to do it for them.  You can become anyone you want to be, but only by managing yourself.  One author I like calls it “being the CEO of your own personal services company”.  You are always self-employed, even if you sell your services to just one customer (employer).

When teaching at COS, I often ran into smart and motivated students who had difficulty finding a job because they lacked experience. It’s hard to get experience without a job.  You may have to volunteer somewhere or take any job you can get – find a way to get the hands on experience that you will need to progress.

Torian Group offers internship opportunities – inquire if you are interested.

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Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas from the Torian Group

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The Learning Organization

All of our assets are in the heads of our staff, and walk out the door every day.  As a company, we are as good as our ability to learn, and to share our skills and knowledge with each other.  Creating a culture where it is safe not to know is critical to fostering an environment of learning.  Sharing has to be a valued and rewarded activity.  Some of the things we do to foster this process are:

1. Work with each team member on their career goals – everyone has a next certification goal. The company pays for the certification tests if passed, and for the training tools needed to prepare.  We try to give people a chance to do work in the areas they want to grow.  Retaining good staff depends on them seeing a bright future at Torian Group.

2. Reward sharing – along with every paycheck, team members get a scorecard, which tries to pull together objective measures of their effectiveness in relation to their job description. One area measured is learning on the job.  Another is contributions to innovation within the company. A third is ideas shared for our newsletter to clients. 

3. Provide plenty of resources.  We enroll in every vendor program we can, sign up for training and resource web sites, and do our best to let everyone know about what is available.  The internet is making it easier all the time to learn on demand. 

4. Stay focused. With technology, there are constant changes, and new sources of learning show up every day.  The skill of managing your skills comes first – learning how to learn and how to prioritize and manage work.

Here are a few resources on the Learning organization: 
Chief Learning Officer Magazine  – Great articles on Organizational learning and tools
E-Learning Magazine
Tech & Learning eNews
US Distance Learning Organization

I think there is an opportunity for companies to use the low cost video production and screen capture tools now available.  We can become an organization that learns better by developing our own training library.  First, we need to learn how to learn.

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Testing out WordPress as a blog platform

Just looking around for the best solution for us.

 Here’s the free FB gadget to post from your Windows 7 desktop.  Also looking at Windows live writer.  We use DNN for content management, so I might end up with a DNN custom module.

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