Memorial for a friend

Jimmy Charles Jones, my father J.W. Hiland, and my uncle Jim Hiland met in or around 1953. They went to school, played baseball, fished, hunted, made mischief, and grew up together in Conway. Some might say that Jim grew up much sooner than the other two, but that’s a story for another day. The point is that the Hiland family has loved and been loved by the Jones family since long before I was even a thought. We are family by choice.

There has been no time in my life in which Jimmy was not a presence. He was there when I caught my first fish, when I caught his ear on my back-cast, when I dropped a huge stringer of bream into the pond, and when I single-handedly brought home enough catfish to feed both of our families and then some. Jimmy was our neighbor for several years. A naturalist at heart, he carefully watered and nurtured the moss on the rocks on the outside of his house to get that aged look. I also remember him as typically jovial and even-tempered, taking it all in stride when my sister Kelly decided to “help him out” by cleaning all that moss off of his rocks. My sister J.J. named her cat Jimmy Charles because Dad would sit on the deck and talk to it. Then, when Jimmy came to visit, even though he wasn’t much of a cat fan, the cat would go straight to him. They say that animals have the best instincts regarding human character, and I believe it.

I have always admired and been inspired by Jimmy. He started college when he was well into his thirties, and followed his love of the outdoors into a career that allowed him to study, care for, and simply be with nature. He also learned to play guitar later in life. He became a skillful finger-picker and sang with a lovely and weathered baritone voice. His rendition of Paul Simon’s “The Boxer” is still one of my favorite versions of that song. And, I have always admired the friendship between Jimmy and my dad. They were friends for over fifty years – longer than I have been alive – and maintaining any relationship for that long requires an ample supply of love, trust, forgiveness, humility, generosity, courage, and faith. I believe that both of these men lived their lives in a way that demonstrated these qualities on a regular basis.

After my father died in 2009, I stopped by Hot Springs to visit Jimmy on my way back to Austin. I will never forget the lost look on his face – a look that inspired a song:

WORDS FOR THIS (Words and music by Matt Hiland.)

I don’t have words for this; I don’t know how this fits

With any map I have for living

I don’t have words for this; all these years of friendship

Slipping right through my grip into the ground

I don’t know whether to shake my fist at God for taking you away

Or thank God for taking away your pain

I don’t know what life’s supposed to look like at the end of each day

Without you here

I don’t have words for this; I don’t know how this fits

I don’t have words for this; there are no words

 

Now, I recognize that look as the same one that I must have had when my parents died, and the same one that many of us share today. It’s the look that says that, even though we all know that every life must come to an end, and even when it’s no surprise when it happens, it is still really hard to lose a loved one. My heart grieves with all of you, but my heart also rejoices that we are here together, drawn closer by the life of Jimmy Charles Jones. I don’t think Jimmy or my dad ever heard the song about to play, but I think that its message would resonate with them. And, based on the company of friends gathered here, I believe that Jimmy is a man who has fully earned the love and the celebration received today.

COMPANY OF FRIENDS (Copyright 2007. Words and music by Danny Schmidt.)

When I die, let them judge me by my company of friends

Let them know me as the footprints that I left upon the sand

Let them laugh for all the laughter

Let them cry for laughter’s end

But when I die, let them judge me by my company of friends

 

When I die, let them toast to all the things that I believe

Let them raise a glass to consciousness

And not spill a drop for grief

Let the bubbles rise at midnight

Let their tongues get light as thieves

And when I die, let them toast to all the things that I believe

 

I believe in restless hunger

I believe in red balloons

I believe in private thunder

In the end I do believe

 

I believe in inspiration

I believe in lightning bugs

I believe in slow creation

In the end I do believe

 

I believe in ink on paper

I believe in lips on ears

I believe what’s shared is savored

In the end I do believe

 

I believe in work on Sundays

I believe in raising barns

I believe in wasting Mondays

In the end I do believe

 

I believe in intuition

I believe in being wrong

I believe in contradiction

In the end I do believe

 

I believe in living smitten

I believe all hearts will mend

I believe our book is written

By our company of friends

Zen and the Art of Project Management

I receive a lot of notices from LinkedIn of new questions/discussions in groups. I usually glance at them briefly and delete the emails, but one this morning caught my attention. The question was “Why are there so many changes on Projects mainly in the execution phase?” I could sense this person’s frustration and recognized it as the same feeling that I have felt many times. There were multiple good responses dealing with requirements gathering, change management, and Agile approaches, but in my opinion it all comes back to setting expectations.

Change happens. Change is the only constant – in life or in projects. No matter how hard we try, we can never predict the future. The important thing is to set that expectation at the time of contract negotiation and agree on how we will manage the change. It certainly can be maddening and can increase cost and duration, but when change occurs, it doesn’t necessarily mean that any party or team member is incompetent or has failed. In fact, the change often is an opportunity to improve the final product.

Nikki Fotheringham provides a good overview of the approach toward which I strive in her blog on TrackVia. Be fully present, remain calm, expect great things from your team and yourself, anticipate and recognize change, and respond to it in a positive manner.

Where To Now?

The Universe seems to be pushing me in a new direction, as evidenced by a recent colorectal health scare, the film “Forks Over Knives,” and a post this morning from Robert Reich.

When discussing the first of these, it’s easy to quickly cross into TMI-land. In a nutshell, I had some bloody stools and received my first colonoscopy. I was diagnosed with ulcerative proctitis, the primary causes of which appear to be diet (mine has not been particularly healthy lately) and antibiotics (of which I had quite a few earlier in the year).

We went to see the documentary film “Forks Over Knives” last night. Taking into consideration that the film was presented at Whole Foods Market, which enjoys quite a bit of product placement in the film, and that the film has spawned quite a brood of commercial endeavors, the evidence remains very powerful that a better diet can not only prevent some of our most lethal and expensive health issues, it can actually reverse them.

This morning, I saw this post from Robert Reich: 

Regressives want to debate the size of government, but, as evidenced by their farm bill, the real question is who government is for — the poor and average working people, or the rich and big corporations. The bill slashes food stamps for the poor while giving away billions to big agribusiness. Recent bills emerging from House appropriations committees don’t scrimp on money for military contractors but cut billions from families and children (federal spending on children has already dropped more than 15 percent in real terms from 2010). Both parties bail out Wall Street, GM, and Chrysler but won’t even debate bailing out Detroit. The biggest banks, now subsidized by the Fed, are too big to fail, but student loan rates have just been hiked so high many students will inevitably fail. A hedge-fund or private-equity manager can still treat his billion-dollar income as capital gains, subject to a 20 percent tax, lower than the rate paid by a teacher earning $50,000. And so on. Progressives must reframe the debate over government — from its size to who it’s for. A smaller government reflecting the needs of the middle class and poor is superior to a big government reflecting the needs of the privileged and powerful.
Despite common knowledge that our health care costs are skyrocketing, that our health issues are mostly preventable, and that prevention is always more effective and less expensive than cures, our Government policy continues to promote and subsidize activities that are harmful to our economic, physical, and mental health. They prioritize the financial health of 1% (or less) of our citizens over all other considerations, and this criticism applies to both major parties.
So for me, it’s clear. It is time to get serious about my health. In doing so, I will drastically reduce, if not completely eliminate, meat and animal products from my diet. I will focus on purchasing and eating more fresh, whole foods. I will drastically reduce my consumption of pre-packaged, processed foods. I will try to purchase produce from small local farmers. I will try gardening again. I will exercise. I will talk to my physician about a plan to eliminate my daily medications. I will set a better example for my child, and be around longer to enjoy the healthy and happy human that I hope he becomes.

Proud Parent Moment

Through a serendipitous series of events, my son was invited to help out at the VEX robotics booth at the US News STEM Conference in Austin. I am grateful to Chris and the other volunteers who taught him Lego Robotics at school. I am grateful that his Montessori guides have taught him and encouraged him to learn more about the scientific concepts behind these cool toys. I am grateful that they also helped him to have the confidence, social skills, and demeanor to immediately instill trust in others. I am grateful to Miller Roberts and the other staff at VEX and Robotics Education Foundation for accepting and supporting him. I am grateful to his mother for the wonderful parenting she does. Finally, I am proud and grateful for the fine human being he is becoming.

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The Most Important Aspect of Management

A few recent events have inspired some thoughts on this topic, so I may as well write them down.

First, on May 28, I attended a presentation by Martin Nazareth at the Austin PMI Chapter meeting. The title of the presentation was “Strategy Linked to Mission and Vision.” However, what I took away from the presentation was:

  1. Why work on anything other than the most limiting constraint?
  2. The most limiting constraint is almost always people.
  3. Help people to improve themselves and the business improvements will follow.
  4. Help people be responsible and accountable rather than holding them responsible and accountable.

Second, Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) is in the process of transitioning from in-house to outsourced information technology (IT) support. Having been a consultant IT project manager for TxDOT since spring of 2009, I have developed many personal and professional relationships across the agency and have concerns about how this transition will impact my friends, colleagues, projects, and me. A couple of conversations have centered around the theory that what management does in pursuit of an organization’s goals is no more important than how those things are done, and that how you treat the impacted people has a huge effect on how efficiently and effectively changes are implemented. As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “The time is always right to do what is right.” This is never more true than when making changes that impact many peoples’ livelihoods.

Finally, I participated yesterday in the PMI Agile Community of Practice webinar “Your Agile Leadership Gift” by Christopher Avery. He spoke of responsibility – which is horizontal, collaborative, and expansive – vs. accountability – which is vertical, hierarchical, and constraining. He spoke of the spectrum of natural human reactions to problems (deny, blame, justify, shame, obligation, quit, responsibility) and the importance of helping people get to the state of responsibility. When the sense of responsibility is greater than the sense of accountability, people are happier and more productive. Therefore, it is imperative to stress dynamics over mechanics and scalable behaviors more than scalable processes.

So, what is the most important aspect of management? As I age and hopefully become wiser, I am becoming more and more confident that it is neither profitability, domain knowledge, sales, statistics, negotiation, nor even strategic thinking. The most important aspect of management, as in most of life, is simply the desire and the ability to treat people well and to help them grow, learn, and improve themselves.

My Top 10 Experiences at SXSW 2013

#10.  Sound CitySee my earlier blog on this film here.

#9.  The Grammy Museum’s 50 Years of the Beatles Tribute:  Many outstanding musicians delivered inspired versions of their favorite Beatles tunes.  The lineup included The Dunwells, Tori Kelly, Jovanotti, Andy Allo, La Santa Cecilia, Ron Sexsmith, David Garza, Jenny O., Pyyramids, Nina Diaz, Alexandra & the Starlight Band, Luke Sital-Singh, Steve Forbert, Blue Sky Riders, Delta Rae, and Willie Nile.  The show was running ahead of schedule (a SXSW miracle), so some unscheduled collaborations were added such as Ron Sexsmith and David Garza performing together for the first time ever, and Tom Freund, who happened to be in the audience, borrowing Ron’s guitar to perform with David on piano.

#8.  HawkingSee my earlier blog on this film here.

#7.  Richard Thompson’s Songwriter Session:  See my earlier blog on this session here.

#6.  Cello Fury:  This is a rock band like no other.  Hailing from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, heavy metal is in the blood and the sweat of these three cellists and drummer, and it flows right into their anthemic hard rock instrumentals.  Faces were melted, hair was flying, and heads were bobbing.  I’m sure that if the room hadn’t been full of chairs we would have had the first ever mosh pit in a church.

#5.  A.J. Croce:  Having heard his name, but not much of his music, I was looking forward to hearing him.  Two songs into his set, I became a huge fan.  He is a brilliant songwriter, arranger, and performer.  I listened to his latest CD Cage of Muses  all the way home that night and all the way back downtown the next day, with a huge grin on my face the whole way.

#4.  Seryn:  Before SXSW, this six-piece band from Denton, Texas had already earned some serious props from media outlets like Paste Magazine and NPR. It turns out that they are not only very talented musicians but also really nice people.  They offered to share their equipment with the other bands to help reduce costs of those coming from further distances and to help the evening stay on schedule.  Having seen and heard the exquisite beauty of St. David’s Bethell Hall, they retired to the green room and spent a couple of hours re-arranging their planned set to be quieter, more acoustic, and more reverent than the louder and more electrified sets they had been playing in bars and parking lots all week.  The songs and the performance were truly amazing.

#3.  Muscle Shoals:  See my earlier blog on this film here.

#2.  Minecraft Presentation at the Gaming Expo:  With some help from one of the other parents, I took my 9-year old son and four of his friends to see the presentation by Lydia Winters, Director of Fun at Mojang, the company that created the multi-player online game Minecraft.  We rode Capital Metro Rail, had lunch downtown, and stood with a much larger crowd than SXSW expected.  They saw other friends there, made some new ones, and were generally incredibly stoked to be there participating in discussions with others who are as excited about this low-tech game that encourages children to use imagination and collaboration to build virtual worlds in 8-bit graphics.  We then went to NASA’s exhibit on the James Webb Space Telescope, and finally brought some tired, happy, and inspired children back home.

#1.  Daniel and Luther:  On Thursday night, Tompkins Square Records presented six very different and very original artists, each of whom focuses on preserving and evolving traditional American musical styles.  Daniel Bachman is a 22-year-old musician born and raised in Fredericksburg, Virginia. He has been playing what he describes as “psychedelic Appalachia” since he was a teenager, releasing small run editions of tapes, CDs and LPs for the past three years, with a sound that evolved from drones and banjos to a now guitar centered focus.  Luther Dickinson, son of pioneering musician and producer Jim Dickinson and lead guitarist of North Mississippi Allstars, received a Grammy nomination for his 2012 release Hambone’s Meditations, which was born out of Luther’s passion for the acoustic folk and blues music of the American South that surrounded him growing up.  They met in the green room, and Luther immediately noticed Daniel’s lap slide guitar.  It is a beautiful looking and sounding instrument, but is very unusual due its lack of ornamentation and branding.  It leads to a great story that should be recorded elsewhere, but suffice it to say that this instrument is one of the best ever pawnshop finds.  Luther asked Daniel to start in with his fast droning rhythmic finger picking on his Guild steel string acoustic.  Luther filled in lead riffs growing straight up from the gumbo mud and kudzu.  They went for 10-15 minutes, playing off of each other, building, and finally just stopping with a huge laugh because it could have gone on forever.  Maybe for them it was a throwaway moment, but for me it was pure magic.  I hear a lot of Austinites complain about SXSW, whining that it was so much cooler twenty years ago, or vowing condescendingly to avoid it like the plague.  And, I have to concur that there is a lot of bullshit at SXSW, just like there is a lot of it in Austin or any other city on any given day.  However, this moment and many others like it illustrate that the love of the art is still at the heart of this conference and festival and in the hearts of many who participate.  Did this moment require SXSW to have existed?  No, but SXSW facilitated the first ever meeting of these two who might have otherwise remained strangers on the same label forever.  It was a moment that tied together the theme of the week for me.  Yes, Luther could have played those same licks on any other lap slide sitting anywhere else.  Yes, Daniel could have played those same cool finger rolls alone in his hotel room.  But when those parts were brought together in the context of each other and another observer, the result was something far greater than the sum of its parts.  It became a moment of inspiration, transcendence, and creation.  These are the moments that cause so many of us to begin and continue pursuing the arts.  It’s not the encore in front of 10,000 people.  It’s not the royalty check that’s in the mail.  It’s that instant when you know that you and one or more other souls have together been a part of something beautiful and true and eternal.