Distraction Factor

Distraction Factor

Recently, I watched the Science channel (which I enjoy). I find myself curious more about the people behind the concepts than the concepts themselves. For instance, http://science.discovery.com/tv/through-the-wormhole/ with Morgan Freeman one of the scientists starts talking about time and string theory. This is the part that I love the most the first thing they say is something like this “We don’t know and we may never know about what we are talking about but we think a lot about this and we may come up with answers that we can’t verify.” Isn’t that interesting? I read the Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson some time ago, in it he started every area of science with “we don’t know a lot about this but.”

I call this “The Distraction Factor.” We know of many things that are what they are but we want them to be something else so that we can deal with what is distracting us rather than deal with the actual problems themselves. Science is important and we do find unintended answers to questions we may have asked elsewhere but what is the cost? (Transition) I am simply using this situation as an example of things we do everyday practically everywhere. Where I work people get hung up on concepts that they “deep dive into” and they stay with these concepts and drown in them. I have thought about this a lot over the years and today I decided to write a little about it.

What is this “Distraction Factor” and why is it important to recognize and point out?

Generally at work we don’t talk about distraction, we just get distracted. Here is a reference on Distraction and Dissonance. Today distractions are amplified to an extent that makes it apparent to us. What I mean by that is that we can all identify with being distracted. It is almost like asking someone if they have a cell phone or some social media account. Chances are if you asked people about distraction they would acknowledge and have a lot of areas to identify distractions. “SQUIRREL”reference from the movie “Up”. If you are reading this chances are you know what it means. Did I get away from the discussion? My kids just came in arguing about a game. I got an email and a text, oh my phone is ringing. These are things that are easy to see but what about the distractions as identified in the beginning of this blog? I want to solve world hunger as I watch a pumpkin chucking contest on TLC. I want to solve the mysteries of the universe and I will devise complicated math problems to do this knowing that I can’t validate my answers.

The greatest scientific minds are distracted? We have real problems that we all but ignore because we are walking on the intellectual treadmill. I guess I have made my point clear enough, we are ADD/ADHD as a society and at the same time we are intently focused on things that MAY not matter. As I am writing this my wife and kids are playing with out me. I am distracted from them with this and for what? Who am I writing this for? What good will this do? How much will this time cost me? Who keeps you distracted? Why? Do you know that you are distracted? How much is your distraction costing you? How much does your distraction cost me?


Here is what I am suggesting to you. We need to pay careful attention to the distractions in our lives and understand what they are taking us away from. What is it that you really want to accomplish? Last week I wrote about how my boss called me to a meeting, asked me to participate and later was distracted by email. If we calculate the time of all the people in the meeting and we look at the net result of the meeting what we will find is a LOSS. That particular situation is popular as many friends commented that they felt the same pains. We aren’t going to be able to deal with all of the distractions but if we take time to realize when, where and how we are being distracted we can start to limit their effect on us. The other areas of concern is that some of us want to live in the distraction and for those of us that do anything that I am saying right now will make sense BUT not for them. Getting back to my example if I asked (Steve) to think about something else he would most probably ignore my request. Here is my final point where distraction meets practicality. If Steve is studying and working on something that is beneficial to everyone but we don’t know why or how and we can’t validate or verify this, he should pay for it. The real question (for thought) is how am I distracted and how much does this cost you?

Opening our eyes to this is our first step in dealing with ….. I need to get some coffee be right back.

Ron on the common config

Not sure I am following this logic. What is considered common config? Give an example because to me configurations are usually unique because for example each human is unique, we try to configure to our environments but I wouldn’t say we have common configurations because we are complex, but if you are saying that perception (who’s perception… the whole group or the individual) may not actually be the configuration that you configured as the actual configuration which is more realistic, well that makes perfect sense because in a network process there is self organization going on that will compliment the configuration or adapt to it and that means that both sides of the configuration will do some adjusting in order for it to work together. There are very few configurations that are simple updates to any system. This is why the cost of configurations is usually very high. Our aim in my opinion is not to establish configurations but to adapt by allowing collaboration up front in developing the solutions where any configs are built into the solutions with all members in agreement therefore it will be pushed as an enterprise solutions and not just between specific entities. We might look at what is happening right now in Washington, Congress is pushing for a different config than the President and vise-a-versa. Both sides are planning configurations without collaboration, so what happens is more adjustments will have to be made after the fact instead of during the development process. Oh, I left one thing out about Washington; they are dysfunctional as a self-organizing entity because they don’t have the same intent for the country. If they did, we might see some of this self-organization being developed.

From the Configuration Manager

If you try to configure your configuration in a way that is configurable
to the common config then your perceptual configuration may not actually
be the configuration that you configured to as opposed to the actual
configuration which is the realistic and most appropriate.

7¥p1(4£ M0rn1n9 = Typical Morning

I walked into the meeting, it was morning and you could smell the coffee in the air.  The room was full of obnoxious comments and morning sarcasm.  I sat down in the back where I always like to hide and said “Hi”.  Of course, I find myself playing more with my tie than paying attention to the conversation and then…. “Howie, what do you think”?   I look up and I see the whole room looking at me, I heard what they were saying, it was the same old blah blah blah.   I was wondering if I should give them some random answer like “42” or something that would tell them that I am not in the mood to be here .  All I am thinking at this point is that I am tired of having the same conversations over and over and getting the same results.  After all “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results” Albert Einstein.  That is what is happening, they are asking me the same questions to the same problems that I have answered over and over.  I stood up and grabbed the black expo from the bottom of the white board and started to write.  Of course the freaking marker is dry and I have to look for another.   There are days that you wind up with something funky like green or brown, that isn’t cool.  I started drawing with the green marker, the words pour out on the board covering every inch end to end.   The lines intersect with the circles and squares as I draw what would equate to the world map of IT.  Some of my audience is intimately familiar with my thoughts, looking at them from my position it seems as if they are reading an old familiar novel.   As for the others, looks like they were hit with the light from a police mag light in the window after a night on the town.   “Does anyone have any questions?”    I love the really really smart guys, they always look into their doctorate brains and see if they can ask me a question that steers the conversation to their areas of expertise.    NOT TODAY SIR!♠  The question;  “Howie,  can you explain how this is related to the semantic ontology of the ISO standardized inter-relational trans-dynamic standard of universal interoperability.. dark matter?”  Now of course half the room is leaving for coffee or the bathroom; it is their secret escape that isn’t a secret.   Dr. Dorkatron just tried to hijack the conversation,  if you ever wondered why nothing gets done in the government, this is part of the reason.

Now I am calling for a break.♣

I go downstairs to get a cup of myself and of course some of these guys follow.   They want to talk to me about what they think and about their great contributions to the world.   I find myself at the coffee mess trying to explain that I am interested in their thoughts but we have to stay focused on the task at hand.  Of course the clock is ticking and they are holding me hostage.   I have to get back to the meeting, the boss is waiting for me to finish telling his story.   I manage to convince the good doctors that we need to get back up to the meeting and so we head up the stairs.

Action to Activity.♥

I have read this book called “Dealing With People You Can’t Stand”; I sure wish I could make their suggestions work.   At this point I am standing in front of the whiteboard with fresh marker smell in the air and I am looking at what I had just painted on the board.  I have no idea where I was, the good doctors were successful in derailing me although we aren’t talking about what they want to talk about.  Seriously, I am standing there with my head and hair in my hands, some nervous marker OCD tics that I have picked up along the way and a map of something that looks complicated but wasn’t complicated when I was drawing it.

Me and My Whiteboard

I have to get back to the important topic at hand, I have to get back to the point.   Who, what, when, where, why and how we are going to accomplish our goals.   What is the mission, vision, scope and objective?  How are we going to solve these very real and complicated problems?   I catch my breath and look across the room and what do I find?  The only people who are left are my loyal teammates and those that want to talk about their most brilliant achievements.   My leadership had to get back to their desks and answer emails ( I AM TALKING TO YOU BUT YOU ARE LOOKING AT YOUR SCREEN, TYPING AND SAYING “UH HUH” ARE YOU COMING BACK UP TO THE MEETING SIR? ARE YOU SIR?)   I guess this conversation wasn’t important enough?  “Howie, I trust you will work it out.”   Work what out?   What the.. what just happened?  Oh well, it is almost lunchtime anyway and so goes another morning.

I never finished, these days I never do.




It wasn’t simple, or was it?

 I am writing you today that I am fed up.

I am fed up with being fed up.  I have spent more time using the backspace key today than any other single letter.   I am only on the third sentence but there could have been a book already.  I have leaned forward in the chair a few times because of the pain in my back but the pain in my back doesn’t really compare to the frustration I am feeling in my being.   For the past few weeks I have been consistently in conversations that are circular in nature.   While I love circles, they don’t do much for progress if we are walking the line.   That isn’t a clear statement but this is a blog so I guess I can say what I want to say.  Onto the conversations and the situation.   There are people who I am close to professionally and personally that feel trapped.   They are an increasing number.  It used to be one or two, then three or four but now they are more.   I thought for a while about their situations individually and more so about how I may help them.   Which brings me to my frustration; I have realized that helping doesn’t always help.

One of my best friends was a grumpy old man.   He taught me that I should help people the way that they needed not the way I think they need help.  He would yell at me if I overstepped my bounds and he would threaten to shoot me (sometimes I thought he was really considering it).  When he needed acceptable help, he would call me and allow me to help.   Which brings me back to my professional situation.  I feel as if I were standing at the top of a hill and looking down over a battlefield.  I can see the various troops, participants and unintended casualties walking about just doing their business.  I can see the tents where the military commanders convene.  I can see the hustle and bustle of the lower ranking troops.  I can see the people who will be caught in the crossfire.  My life experience facilitates the varied and consistent game play in my mind.  In other words, I have been war gaming the situation over and over with various outcomes.  I have read a lot of leadership books in my life and have realized that resolve comes in only two basic forms, trust and fear.

Sometimes people say to me “Howie, tell me how you really feel!”  Of course I never want to say something that is caustic but I want people to know what I truly think when I am asked for my opinion.  I have been a consultant professionally for many years but I have been practicing my whole life for this job.  I can say that my approach to solving problems is based on trust.  There are many books about trust; Stephen M.R. Covey has a business built around the ideas and concepts tied to trust.   Trust is important, it is a key critical enabler and it is a factor in every facet of our lives.  Covey himself talks about being counterfeit as being damaging.  So, a lack of trust is damaging.  Ok, I am telling you something that you already know.  Then there is that whole fear thing.

Fear will put a man in a foxhole, but trust can pull him out. 

That’s it, the whole thing in one sentence.  My friends are in a foxhole and I am having a difficult time getting them out.  I would love to tell them that it is safe outside but they ask me for my honest assessment and I tell them that it is dangerous out here.  I also tell them that it is worth coming out of the hole.  It is fear that binds them and that keeps them in their situation.  With that I would like to share a story from one of my favorite books Tao of Pooh feel free to skip this part if you already know of “The Stonecutter.”  If you don’t know it then read it.


The Stonecutter
by Benjamin Hoff

The Stonecutter
Benjamin Hoff

There was once a stonecutter who was dissatisfied with himself and with his position in life.

One day, he passed a wealthy merchant’s house and through the open gateway saw many fine possessions and important visitors.

“How powerful that merchant must be!” thought the stonecutter. He became very envious, and wished that he could be like the merchant. Then he would no longer have to live the life of a mere stonecutter.

To his great surprise, he suddenly became the merchant, enjoying more luxuries and power than he had ever dreamed of, envied and detested by those less wealthy than himself. But soon a high official passed by, carried in a sedan chair, accompanied by attendants, and escorted by soldiers beating gongs. Everyone, no matter how wealthy, had to bow low before the procession.

“How powerful that official is!” he thought. “I wish that I could be a high official!”

Then he became the high official, carried everywhere in his embroidered sedan chair, feared and hated by the people all around, who had to bow down before him as he passed. It was a hot summer day, and the official felt very uncomfortable in the sticky sedan chair. He looked up at the sun. It shone proudly in the sky, unaffected by his presence.

“How powerful the sun is!” he thought. ”
I wish that I could be the sun!”

Then he became the sun, shining fiercely down on everyone, scorching the fields, cursed by the farmers and labourers. But a huge black cloud moved between him and the earth, so that his light could no longer shine on everything below.

“How powerful that storm cloud is!” he thought. “I wish that I could be a cloud!”

Then he became the cloud, flooding the fields and villages, shouted at by everyone. But soon he found that he was being pushed away by some great force, and realized that it was the wind.

“How powerful it is!” he thought. “I wish that I could be the wind!”

Then he became the wind, blowing tiles off the roofs of houses, uprooting trees, hated and feared by all below him. But after a while, he ran up against something that would not move, no matter how forcefully he blew against it — a huge, towering stone.

“How powerful that stone is!” he thought. “I wish that I could be a stone!”

Then he became the stone, more powerful than
anything else on earth.

But as he stood there, he heard the sound of a hammer pounding a chisel into the solid rock and felt himself being changed.

“What could be more powerful than I, the stone?” he thought.
He looked down and saw far below him the figure of a stonecutter.

Benjamin Hoff from The Tao Of Pooh


Interestingly enough the story of the stonecutter is a circle too isn’t it?  Which brings me back to the beginning of my post.  I would love to have a conversation with someone and have the ability to provide a thought-provoking and inspirational comment that would change his or her position on despair.  More than not, despair and fear hold them hostage.  I have decided to take and apply the lesson taught by the great and wise Arden (Spook) Skelton.  Always be honest, always be helpful in a way that is acceptable to the person in need of help and answer the questions only when asked unless otherwise specified. Taking action only as necessary.

 One other area that I didn’t write about or cover but I must address for my very dear friend Ron is love.  Love is…. How about I leave it at that for now?



Cutting costs in the DoD may cost more in the long run.

A doctor walks into room, he looks at the nurse and then to his toolkit.   He is preparing for a very serious procedure, he looks at the chart and he takes a deep breath as he moves his team into the operating room for surgery.   Eight hours later the doctor emerges from the operating room, he heads for the waiting room as the family of the patient is anxiously awaiting the status of their family member.  “Ma’am, your husband did great, we removed his right arm and right leg, the cancer should be all cut off now.”  The wife looks at the doctor with tears in her eyes in a stunned and confused demeanor.  “Sir, my husband had these growths on his left side.”

What happened?  The doctor cut what he thought he should cut, just like politicians and high level military officials are looking across the DoD to cut what they “think” they should cut.   Why don’t they know?  The GAO has a report on enterprise architectures  you can follow the link to read it but basically it says we don’t know enough about what we have.  How could you make a decision on what to cut if you don’t know or understand fundamentally what you are cutting?

If the department simply makes cuts without performing the proper analytical rigor, it will cost more in the long run.  It will cost more because programs will lose people, process, tools and corporate memory.  It will cost more because there will be new requirements building, and functional capability analysis.  It will cost more because certain things can’t stop and those things that are cut that can’t be cut like food or fuel will result in high immediate costs.  In other words, if you cut an existing contract for food supplies and we know you can’t stop food flowing in, the new costs for food will far exceed what we are paying now.

I submit that we can’t afford to make cuts without producing enterprise and operational architectures for analysis immediately.  Each DoD program of record and any funded program or platform should produce a business architecture that addresses the who, what, when, why, how and how much of what they do.   If they can’t do that within a 3-6 month timeframe, they should be suspended.   Being suspended as opposed to being cut can result in a choking situation where the impact of cutting the program can be felt but not necessarily permanently.

Additionally, once the enterprise architecture products are submitted to the accounting office there should be immediate analysis performed with technological infrastructure, operational and personnel consolidation in mind.  There is still too much political posturing in the DoD and bureaucracy that inhibits effective and realistic consolidation.

Finally, there should be a plan to deal with technical and operational standards in conjunction with Title 10 code that mandates use of architectures.  We need to address our business process as opposed to simply the technical side of the equation.  We need to look at the people (our war fighters) and understand what they actually need as opposed to what we thought they needed 10 years ago.  Then and only then can we move forward with cutting costs.

If we do anything else, we will wind up like our patient, armless, legless and ultimately incapable of protecting the very things that we seek to protect.

From Contractor to Coach (What I am working to be)

Coach Cohen


I am currently working for a consulting firm supporting a government client.  I have worked in the same place for about 7 years now.   In recent times I have heard more complaints about “contractors” and there is outward speculation concerning the intent of people working for government aligned business.   I am sure that some of the people who are complaining about contractors at some point were contractors themselves.   As a matter of fact, since I have been around the office for a long time, I have seen some of these contractors to government civilian conversions.   I am a patriot, I love my country and I care deeply about the overall mission of our armed services which is to protect our country, our freedoms and our way of living.   Mostly, I think about the young service members and how we can help make their lives easier as they put themselves in harm’s way.

Holistically, the government spends a lot of time spending time.  It is what it is. I have written in the past about this in terms of taking individual actions to make a difference.   That isn’t exactly what I am writing about today.  There are many people who work for the government under various conditions.  I have thought about the differences specifically regarding people who are considered “contractors.” While they are considered “contractors” I feel strongly that a lot of them are more than that.

What is a contractor?

A contractor is a person that performs a task or set of tasks that is specifically outlined. Contractor company or person under contract: a company or person with a formal contract to do a specific job, supplying labor and materials and providing and overseeing staff if needed.

Oddly enough this doesn’t neatly translate in the world of working for the government.   There are many times that people are asked to work outside of the bounds of their specific task.   There are also times that the government writes very high level tasks that could be many different actions with a great many sub-tasks.   Regardless, the contractor is the person working to satisfy the tasks with some level of specificity.   In other words, I do the job then hand you the bill and receive compensation.

What is a consultant?

Consultant professional adviser: an expert who charges a fee for providing advice or services in a particular field.

“A consultant is someone who borrows your watch to tell you the time, and then keeps the watch” is a popular saying among people who aren’t fond of consultants. Advertising executive Carl Ally (1924-1999) was credited with the saying by 1965. Robert Townsend further popularized the saying in his book Up the Organization (1970).

Still in the realm of the government the consultant is considered a contractor.   The difference though really is that in most consulting organizations when a contract is negotiated the firm can and will move expertise in and out of the engagement to satisfy the actual requirements of the contract.  This is an important distinction because the client should have no expectation of working with the same person or people for an extended period of time.  Consultants essentially need to move around to maintain their level of expertise.  Various engagements bring unique and dynamic capabilities to the individual client.
What is a coach?

The first use of the term coaching to mean an instructor or trainer arose around 1830 in Oxford University slang for a tutor who “carries” a student through an exam.

I find it interesting that the original reference was to a tutor who “carries” a student through an exam.  A coach is a teacher.   He is hired, most likely by contract to instruct and align with his team to help them become successful.  He is hired to help them win.   I would say that he is a contractor as well.  This doesn’t diminish his passion or his caring for the people he works with and for.   The other major difference is that the coach is potentially working with a longer time frame in mind.   He is in it for the long run.  How many coaches have worked for schools for their whole career?   Being a coach means wearing many hats, at times the coach may have to be a consultant.   The bottom line is that when the team wins the coach wins and that is an important distinction.   Did the coach play the game himself?  Isn’t the coach being paid to do his job? Aren’t coaches that win religiously highly compensated?   Clearly coaches have a stake in their work that transcends the monetary compensation.

I consider myself a coach.  I spend a lot of my time thinking about how my clients can win.  I want them to win because it means that I have done my job.  I want them to win because a win for them is a win for me.   It is an important distinction from consultant to coach because it drives to the heart in the matter of helping people, to help people you must have trust.  Coaching allows for you to build trust and with trust people will make the right decisions even if they don’t necessarily agree with them.

With that I will now answer the question that I most frequently am asked concerning what I want when it comes to my career.

What do I want?

Simply put, I want to help people.  Saying that doesn’t tell you much so I will attempt to be as clear as possible.

I would like to continue to bridge the gap between people and technology.  Lowering the total cost of operations and identify ways to raise awareness and opportunity to capitalize on existing capabilities.   I believe that it takes small teams working in clusters.  I also believe that behavior is more important to recognize and address over technical concerns.   In other words, we have the technical solutions to most problems solved; our clients need our help in leveraging those solutions.  In order to help our clients gain max efficiencies we need to help them with their process and methods including behaviors.   Most problems are people or situation oriented not technical.

Ultimately, I would like to walk into a project as an objective observer with my other core team mates and examine the clients’ perceived need and compare this with an evaluated need.   I believe holistically that we can and must use Architectures, SOA, ITIL and other known process to identify the low hanging fruit.  My experience with the DISA enterprise and various interactions with COCOM’s, services and agencies tells me that tools are available to meet and exceed client demands.  Clients are simply unaware of such tools and additionally fear these tools.

The DoD is moving towards a cloud paradigm and our clients will be mandated to move in that direction.  The lesson here is that clients will need to understand trust models.  I would like to help them achieve this lofty goal but gradually by educating them on cloud concepts and introducing them slowly to capabilities they are unaware of or rejected due to fear.   The end result is a decrease in operational expenditures in technology and an increase in management and focused labor resources.

Instead of spending money on creating technology to meet their mission, clients can spend their money on meeting the objectives of their mission.  Using already in place identified resources and leveraging products to understand what capabilities exist in the various domains, where they reside and how to access them we can actually help them perform the tasks they require as opposed to having them develop home-grown solutions that waste resources.

Fundamentally, it is about establishing trust between our various communities and the enterprise.  It is about building strong people to people connections in this disjointed and hyper-dynamic environment.   I want to make sure that my clients have the time to think about their choices and trust the various options presented to them.  Finally, I want to make a difference in the world so that I know when I go home that I didn’t just get a pay check but I am paying forward for my children and your children so that we have a safe, stable and free world.

To clearly know a person’s intent we should look no further than their actions.   What do you want to be?