Booch News

In November 2018 I launched a new blog.

Booch News is the premier source for independent news about all aspects of the kombucha industry — the beverage that is taking the world by storm.

It offers an in-depth look into the kombucha industry,  discusses the latest trends, marketing techniques, news, profiles, and other topics related to kombucha.

I’ll still post occasional updates to Professionally Speaking, but most of my attention these days is on Booch News. Meanwhile, the 900+ posts and 100+ podcast interviews on this site will remain as an archive of useful information.

A Nightingale sang…

A decade before Charles Joseph Minard famous chart that portrays the losses suffered by Napoleon’s army in the Russian campaign of 1812, which Edward Tufte claims was “probably the best statistical graphic ever drawn”, English nurse Florence Nightingale created a “rose diagram.”

In 1858 she published Notes on Matters Affecting the Health, Efficiency, and Hospital Administration of the British Army. Founded Chiefly on the Experience of the Late War. Presented by Request to the Secretary of State for War. This work contained a color statistical graph. Her “Diagram of the Causes of Mortality in the Army of the East” showed that epidemic disease, which was responsible for more British deaths in the course of the Crimean War than battlefield wounds, could be controlled by a variety of factors including nutrition, ventilation, and shelter. This was, believe it or not, denied by the medical establishment of the time.

Rose chart showing the causes of mortality in the Crimean War

Nightingale went on to develop other statistical graphics in her reports to Parliament, realizing this was the most effective way of bringing data to life.

Statistician Hugh Small explains how the ‘rose chart’ works:

The circle on the right has 12 sectors going clockwise representing the first 12 months of the war. The circle on the left is the second 12 months. The superimposed dark shapes show the monthly death rates. The diagram illustrates how the Sanitary Commission, sent out in the middle of the war, dramatically reduced the death rate. The length of the radial line in each month is proportional to the death rate, but both the text and the appearance imply that it is the shaded area that is proportional to the death rate, rather than the length of the radial lines. Florence recognized this error and inserted an erratum slip, but then replaced this diagram in later documents.

Indeed, the 19th Century was a time of great progress in data collection.  In 1837 the General Registry Office at Somerset House, led by William Farr who later helped Nightingale with her Crimean statistics, began to systematically record births, deaths, and marriages in the UK.  While census data had been collected every ten years since 1801, the 1841 census was the first to list the names of every individual. This gave researchers the opportunity to examine new cause and effect relationships using registration statistics.

Here’s another chart created by Nightingale:

Hugh Small comments on the ways in which this chart is designed for maximum emotional impact:

The title ‘Lines’ (in ornate script in the original) makes it sound like a poem, as in  Lines on the Death of Bismarck.  There are four pairs of bars, when actually the message is clear from one pair alone.  There seems to be a kind of repetition, as in a chorus.  This effect is increased by the words, repeated at the end of each line, English Men, English Soldiers … It sounds like a funeral march.  Second, the red bar for the soldiers would certainly make some people think of the  ‘Thin Red Line’ which had become famous in the Crimean War when a two-deep row of red-jacketed British infantrymen stopped a Russian heavy cavalry charge, something that was thought to be impossible.  The thin red lines on Nightingale’s chart represented these same heroic soldiers who were now dying unnecessarily because of bad hygiene in their barracks.

The variation of death rates due to differences in hygiene was very important to reformers like Nightingale because it showed that even the civilian death rate could probably also be improved by better hygiene. 

Her goal with these charts was not just to inform, but to change hearts and minds.

In our time

In recent weeks, a number of temporary field hospitals have sprung up across Britain for the treatment of COVID-19 patients. Named “Nightingale Hospitals,” they pay homage to the famous “lady of the lamp.” Florence Nightingale’s pioneering approach to sanitation changed the understanding of public health in Victorian Britain and laid the foundations for the profession of nursing as we know it.

In our time of “mask deniers” and people who doubt the safety of vaccinations, or even that the pandemic is “real” and not a “Plandemic“, we need the persuasive power of modern-day Nightingales more than ever.

Ring out, wild bells

An astounding reading of Tennyson’s poem ‘Ring out, wild bells’ by actress June Spencer (aka Peggy Woolley on BBC Radio’s The Archers) sent me to the words of this 19th century poem.

Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
   The flying cloud, the frosty light:
   The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

Ring out the old, ring in the new,
   Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
   The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.

Ring out the grief that saps the mind
   For those that here we see no more;
   Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.

Ring out a slowly dying cause,
   And ancient forms of party strife;
   Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweeter manners, purer laws.

Ring out the want, the care, the sin,
   The faithless coldness of the times;
   Ring out, ring out my mournful rhymes
But ring the fuller minstrel in.

Ring out false pride in place and blood,
   The civic slander and the spite;
   Ring in the love of truth and right,
Ring in the common love of good.

Ring out old shapes of foul disease;
   Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
   Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.

Ring in the valiant man and free,
   The larger heart, the kindlier hand;
   Ring out the darkness of the land,
Ring in the Christ that is to be.

https://poets.org/poem/memoriam-ring-out-wild-bells

Perhaps every generation since this was first published in 1850 have found allusions to their own era. Certainly these were suitable words to mark the beginnings of 1919 an 1946, when many would have felt the “grief that saps the mind/For those that here we see no more” as two World Wars ended.

The relevance to the start of 2021, with hope for a better year to come, especially in the United States, seems clear:

  • As the COVID-19 pandemic rages on:

Ring out the grief that saps the mind
   For those that here we see no more;

  • As Democrats and Republicans stare across the aisles of Congress:

Ring out a slowly dying cause,
   And ancient forms of party strife;

  • As lines of cars snake for miles around food banks across the country:

Ring out the want, the care, the sin,
 
  The faithless coldness of the times;

  • As Trump prepares to leave office:

Ring out false pride in place and blood,
   The civic slander and the spite;

  • As the vaccine becomes available:

Ring out old shapes of foul disease;

  • As Joe Biden and Kamala Harris prepare to take office:

Ring in the valiant man and free,
   The larger heart, the kindlier hand;

Ex Machina

Robin Wigglesworth highlights the effect of Artificial Intelligence on executive communications in an article in the Weekend FT (subscription required). A new form of “robo-surveillance” by trading algorithms is spurring executives to place a deeper focus on the spoken word.

Executives are coached to avoid saying certain phrases, such as “but” which could trigger stock sales by natural language processing (NLP) machines taught the intricacies of human speech. Using NLP, investment funds instantaneously scrape speeches, social media chatter and corporate earnings calls for clues.

Cat and mouse

The result is a cat and mouse game, where CEOs try to outwit the machines that can pick up a verbal clue that a human might not even realize is relevant.

A recent academic paper — How to Talk When a Machine Is Listening: Corporate Disclosure in the Age of AI — points out that companies are keen to show off their business in the best possible light.

…firms with high expected machine downloads manage textual sentiment and audio emotion in ways catered to machine and AI readers, such as by differentially avoiding words that are perceived as negative by computational algorithms as compared to those by human readers, and by exhibiting speech emotion favored by machine learning software processors.

The paper found that companies have tweaked the language of annual reports and how executives speak in public to avoid words that might trigger red flags for machines listening in.

These changes extend to the tone of voice executives use, in addition to the words they use. The paper notes:

Managers of firms with higher expected machine readership exhibit more positivity and excitement in their vocal tones, justifying the anecdotal evidence that managers increasingly seek professional coaching to improve their vocal performances along the quantifiable metrics.

Some companies’ investor relations departments are even running multiple draft versions of press releases and speeches through such algorithmic systems to see which scores the best.

In return, NLP powered algorithms are also continuously adjusted to reflect the increasing obfuscation of corporate executives, so it ends up being a never-ending game of fruitless linguistic acrobatics.

In this game, the machines have the upper hand. The algorithms can immediately adjust for a chief executive’s idiosyncratic styles.

A certain CEO might routinely use the word “challenging” and its absence would be more telling while one that never uses the word would be sending as powerful signal by doing so.

Body language

Machines are still unable to pick up non-verbal cues, such as a physical twitch ahead of an answer, but experts predict it’s only a matter of time before they can do this as well.

Where this will all end, and the impact it will have on speechwriters, presentation coaches, investor relations, and PR professionals is open to speculation.

Usually when machine and men collide, it’s the machines that have the upper hand.

Speechwriting in the Zoom era

Jeff Nussbaum and Kate Childs Graham, the 2020 Democratic convention speechwriters, have written a fascinating article in the Washington Post detailing how the ‘Zoom era’ has radically transformed political speechwriting.

While this probably won’t cause Bob Lehrman to tear up the guidance in his excellent book The Political Speechwriter’s Companion, it shows how the future of political rhetoric has been affected by the pandemic that required the prerecorded speakers at the convention to deliver speeches without a stage, an arena, or a live audience.

More is less

Nussbaum and Graham list the speechwriting techniques they used to script remarks for maximum impact, including:

  • Speaking at 150-170 words per minute vs. the 125 typical when speakers in front of a live audience pause for laughter or applause.
  • Cutting extraneous content to fit in tight 2 1/2 minute timeframes (the average length of a speech at this virtual convention).
  • Dropping the rhetorical techniques of “call-and-response” or “litany” (eg. ending each section with a phrase like “Yes, we can.”)
  • Delivering the headline message upfront, not burying the message in a lengthy speech.
  • Dealing with the loss of the lectern — as TED talks have. Absent that visual crutch bestowing authority on the speaker, the venue supplemented the message: Kasich at the crossroads; Jill Biden in the classroom she once taught in.
  • Invoking feelings via storytelling “As neuroscientist Antonio Damasio once put it, humans are feeling machines that think, not thinking machines that feel.” Hence the more memorable remarks were delivered by everyday people — the young man who stuttered, the lady whose father had believed Trump’s message on COVID-19 and died for his beliefs.

Michelle

Ironically, the one speech the professional writers did not script was the one many consider among the most powerful — delivered by Michelle Obama. The authors note:

She didn’t speak to 20 million television viewers: she spoke to one viewer in an intimate conversation that happened to take place 20 million times.

Recommended: Korean Romantic Dramas

These are unusual times. A challenge we all face as the minimize the spread of the coronavirus is how to stay healthy and sane in the growing regions of the world where we’ve been asked to stay indoors.

An antidote to the ‘self-isolation blues’ is to lose yourself in a good TV series. Apologies to anyone who has already found the genre of ‘K-Dramas’ but there’s a vast number of ‘Korean Romantic Dramas’ available on Netflix.

My wife and I have just discovered Something in the Rain which is a classic ‘boy meets girl’ chick-flick wrapped in bizarre scenes of drunken office workers singing karaoke; Tiger Mom’s who put Felicity Huffman & Lori Loughlin to shame; drunken girlfriends out on the town who just wanna have fun; creepy salarymen who predate #MeToo by about 1,000 years behaving badly; and a parade of fashionably dressed young people wearing winter coats that would be at home on the Upper West Side in Manhattan.

It segues into an awesome soundtrack (check it out on Spotify) featuring (I kid you not) two versions of ‘Stand by Your Man’ sung by past-French-President Nicolas Sarkozy’s wife Carla Bruni and a second by Tammy Wynette; first The Cats and then Bruce Willis’s version of ‘Save the Last Dance for Me’ (but not the quintessential one by The Deighton Family of their glorious Rolling Home album–in itself an antidote to isolation); and Daydream Believer by Mary Beth Maziarz.

But wait, there’s more! it’s educational. In every scene filmed in a car, there’s a dashboard camera attached to the rear-view mirror. Apparently “South Korean cars have them as a deterrent for scammers who throw themselves onto the windscreens of slow-moving cars in a bid to claim insurance money. … The vast majority of South Korean car owners use them — primarily for insurance purposes.” Who knew?

Highly recommended — it’s sure to warm your Seoul (geddit?)

Reimagining Conferences

At a time when the COVD-19 novel coronavirus is causing conferences around the world to be canceled or postponed, it’s more important than ever to take a long hard look at the fundamental ways that large gatherings for professional purposes are structured.

For too long, organizers have tried to cram a full schedule of keynotes, panel discussions, and mixers onto schedules. While these may look good on paper, they leave everyone dazed, unable to absorb a tsunami of data or to remember much of what they’ve heard when they get back home.

Writing in Forbes, Lital Moram challenges conventional wisdom about the organization of typical conferences. Technology has long-promised audiences new access to content and a backchannel for peer-to-peer communication in the face of the person on the podium.

She offers five suggestions for a timely reimagining of the way conferences are structured.

Less is More

Rather than larding the agenda with every minute filled, recognize people need time to discuss what they’ve heard. Downtime is valuable.

But wait, there’s more. Why not do away with an agenda altogether?

I was introduced to Open Space Technology 14 years ago at an NSA Northern California meeting. However, none of the major tech companies I worked for dared to embrace anything as radical.

Make your Speakers Accessible

Requesting that speakers schedule meeting time after they present gives audience members who feel uncomfortable asking questions in front of the whole audience a chance to discuss their issues one-on-one.

This is complemented by the social media backchannel, which has gone from a fringe activity to mainstream in many meetings. Moram provides an update in her next recommendation:

Don’t Shy Away from Technology

Beyond sharing tweets, there are a whole host of ways to engage audiences via their mobile phones. Savvy speakers are well aware of this, and can now employ a host of audience response software for instant polls.

Work Toward Relevance

Moram cautions against the threat of death by PowerPoint and the curse of the specialist:

Identify your keynote speaker’s expertise and then continue to build on their message by orchestrating workshops and breakout sessions that apply new insights they’ve shared as it relates to real-world pressing issues faced by your participants.

There are proven methods to help subject matter experts overcome the limits of their deep knowledge of one specific area.

Cultivate Learning by Doing

The most radical proposal in this excellent review is the acknowledgment that people learn by doing:

… the heart of the conference should focus on learning by doing — through moderated workshops, breakout sessions and interactive experiences where you get to apply new knowledge in action. Research shows that experiential learning is learning that sticks.

Problem-solving that involves your attendees personally is something they’ll remember 20 years later.

Taking it to the Next Step: Coach your Speakers

It’s refreshing to see that Forbes carries this article. While “Disrupting” meetings might have awkward historical connotations, her heart is in the right place.

Beyond the five suggestions listed, there’s no shortage of ideas conference organizers can review with each speaker, so that they are aligned to the goal if helping audience members remember what they say:

How to Get the most from your Next Conference

Sooner or later COVID-19 will cease to be the challenge to meetings that it is today. When you are once again able to attend your next conference, before you grab your name-badge and head over for nibbles and drinks, check out these useful tips for attendees. (Be sure to scroll down and read the resources listed in the comments section.)

Garbage Language

Obfuscation is alive and well in the corporate world. Molly Young writes in New York Magazine about the ways the Millenial generation of white-collar workers replicate the communication patterns of the organization man and woman.

Silicon Valley

She reviews Anna Weiners’ memoir Uncanny Valley about life in San Francisco during the current tech bubble:

…the scent of moneyed Bay Area in the mid-2010s: kombucha, office dog, freshly unwrapped USB cable…the lofty ambitions of her company, its cushy amenities, the casual misogyny that surrounds her like a cloud of gnats.

Wiener describes watching her peers attend silent-meditation retreats, take LSD, discuss Stoicism, and practice Reiki at parties. She tries ecstatic dance, gulps nootropics, and accepts a “cautious, fully-clothed back massage” from her company’s in-house masseuse. She encounters a man who self-identifies as a Japanese raccoon dog.

Only, as they say, in San Francisco. Or is it? Her description of the language employed is universal:

People used a sort of nonlanguage, which was neither beautiful nor especially efficient: a mash-up of business-speak with athletic and wartime metaphors, inflated with self-importance. Calls to action; front lines and trenches; blitzscaling. Companies didn’t fail, they died.

Weiner’s term for this is garbage language. More accurate than jargon or buzzwords since it is produced mindlessly and stinks. She notes how these terms warp and impede language, and permeate “the ways we think of our jobs and shapes our identities as workers.”

Etymology

Down the years, Weiner notes, garbage language has taken different forms:

  • In the 1980s it smelled of Wall Street: leverage, stakeholder, value-add.
  • The rise of high-tech introduced computing and gaming metaphors: bandwidth, hack, the concept of double-clicking on something, of talking off-line.
  • In the 1990s Clayton Christensen introduced the term disruptive.
  • By the turn of the century, New Age terms arrived: lean-in, conscious choices.
  • Then there are aviation terms: holding-pattern, discussing something at the 30,000-foot level.

Further characteristics include:

…verbs and adjectives shoved into nounhood (ask, win, fail, refresh, regroup, creative, sync, touchbase), nouns shoved into verbhood (whiteboard, bucket), and a heap of nonwords that, through force of repetition, became wordlike (complexify, co-execute, replatform, shareability, directionality).

WeWork

Young takes the WeWork SEC prospectus to task for it’s “fidelity to incoherence” — a 200,000-word tomb that overflows with windy passages such as:

We are a community company committed to maximum global impact. Our mission is to elevate the world’s consciousness. We have built a worldwide platform that supports growth, shared experiences and true success.

Why CEOs speak like idiots

In a passage worth quoting at length, Young zeros in on the dilemma those in the C-Suite face:

Edith Wharton[wrote a] story where a character observes the constraints of speaking a foreign tongue: “Don’t you know how, in talking a foreign language, even fluently, one says half the time, not what one wants to, but what one can?” To put it another way: Do CEOs act like jerks because they are jerks, or because the language of management will create a jerk of anyone eventually? If garbage language is a form of self-marketing, then a CEO must find it especially tempting to conceal the unpleasant parts of his or her job — the necessary whip-cracking — in a pile of verbal fluff.

Author Jessica Helfand lists commonly abused words and phrases, which she claims younger workers cling to because they give the illusion of authority. She classifies them as:

  • Hyphenated Mash-ups (omni-channel, level-setting, business-critical),
  • Compound Phrases (email blast, integrated deck, pain point, deep dive), and
  • Conceptual Hybrids (“shooting” someone an email, “looping” someone in).

Delusion as an Asset

Young concludes by quoting Nietzsche’s On Truth and Lies in an Extra-Moral Sense:

A mobile army of metaphors, metonyms, and anthropomorphisms — in short, a sum of human relations which have been enhanced, transposed, and embellished poetically and rhetorically, and which after long use seem firm, canonical, and obligatory to a people: truths are illusions about which one has forgotten that this is what they are; metaphors which are worn out and without sensuous power; coins which have lost their pictures and now matter only as metal, no longer as coins.

The German philosopher made the ironic suggestion that we drop all pretense at ‘functional’ speak and resort to poetry. Something, Young concludes, that would be less of a threat than the garbage spoken in the corporate world today, where:

The meaningful threat of garbage language — the reason it is not just annoying but malevolent — is that it confirms delusion as an asset in the workplace.

National Speakers Association, Northern California, January Chapter Meeting

People try to put us d-down (talkin’ ’bout my generation)
Just because we get around (talkin’ ’bout my generation)
Things they do look awful c-c-cold (talkin’ ’bout my generation)
I hope I die before I get old (talkin’ ’bout my generation)

The Who, 1965

Over 50 members and guests of the Northern California Chapter of the National Speakers Association gathered in Lafayette on Saturday to hear NSA National President Anna Liotta, CSP, deliver a program titled What’s Stopping Millennials/GenXers/Boomers from Hiring You, And What to Do About It.

She previewed her talk with a custom video addressed to the chapter:

Talkin’ ’bout my generation

For those Baby Boomers who didn’t die before they got old–and learned the value of trusting anyone over 30 a few decades back–Anna’s talk had particular poignancy. She explained how the recent OK Boomer meme is the equivalent of the advice not to trust anyone over 30. What goes around comes around. Here’s why…

Generational Codes

Anna Liotta has studied generational dynamics for over 25 years. Indeed, she wrote the book on generational CODES™.

What’s more, she’s lived the research. As one of 19 (!) children, her entire life has been a Ph.D. in generational dynamics. Her presentation addressed the question: What makes this age-old conflict of generational collisions and biases so important to us in business today?

Her concept of generational codes helps explain:

  • What defines each generation, including pivotal events and experiences that shaped it.
  • The truths and lies behind generational stereotypes.
  • How various generations define their work ethic.
  • How technology can bridge or break down generational communication.
  • The secrets of selling products and services to different generations.
  • What you need to know as a manager to find and retain new talent.

Anna demonstrated how, as speakers, we should develop savvy messages that appeal to the different generations.

This task is often confusing, as each generation has unique needs and motivators. Each brings its own set of attitudes, values, and beliefs to the workplace, and the way they do business. They make choices of who to buy from and who to work for, based on these values and beliefs. Understanding what shapes and forms each generation is vital.

Interestingly, each generation is sure that their values, attitudes, and beliefs are the right ones.

Her insight is that each generation is significantly influenced by what was happening in the world around them during their formative years. The ages of eight to 18 are when each generation is making decisions about how the world works and what’s possible. The events, icons, and leaders they see, experience, adore, and dislike are shaping their world. These influences set the paradigm for decision making, purchasing choices, and job selection for years to come.

Anyone doubting this can see the trajectory of individual lives play out in director Michael Apted’s films about a cohort of British Boomer children, the most recent of which–63 Up–opened in the US last month.

OK, Boomer!

My own rather self-satisfied response to the generational divide was to tweak the noses of the younger members of the audience who were strangely absent from the social media channel the chapter had promoted.

In her own words

I caught up with Anna after the event, and she shared her message with me, as well as an update on the changes that are occurring at the NSA. To hear what she said, click on the podcast below.

A Working Life IV: Sun Microsystems, 1990 – 2004

After attending a recent Sun Microsystems Alumni Reunion I’ve been inspired to continue the series on My Working Life that I last updated in May 2018 with Part III: My Early Career. As mentioned at the end of the last installment, I attended an interview in Milpitas for a position in tech support with Sun. I clearly remember the day of the offer. The recruiter brought me a cup of tea, and for the first time in my life I joined a company with more than 100 employees.

SalesDesk Support

Sun Logo

I was hired as the 14,672nd employee at Sun (badge numbers were sequential) and joined a small support team tasked with implementing the home-grown SalesDesk system in Sun offices worldwide. This is software that did the same tasks as Salesforce software would fill for companies today: lead tracking, quoting and configuration checking. The configurator was known as SPOC (the Sun Product Order Checker).

I enjoyed my daily commute from our home in Richmond which combined exercise and alone time. I would leave home at 6:30am; spend an hour on BART followed by a 25-minute bike ride (at a furious pace) to the Dixon Landing Road facility.

We worked out of a corner of the manufacturing facility in Milpitas, answering installation and user questions and traveling across the US visiting sales offices to train the salespeople and systems engineers. I was delighted when the quick reference card I developed was awarded a Carol Bartz ‘Ease of Doing Business’ $5,000 bonus. I enjoyed visiting sales offices in Albuquerque, Denver, Portland and other cities

It didn’t take me long to realize that the sales offices were far more dynamic and exciting than the back office and after 18 months I applied for a job as a Systems Engineer (SE) in the sales office in Pleasanton, California.

Systems Engineer: Pleasanton

I had to leave the bike at home and commute to Pleasanton by car. I worked with the sales team in the Reseller Area and called on systems integrators and third party Sun Resellers in the East Bay. I began to enjoy summarizing the latest product announcements and delivering lunch-time presentations to clients. I somehow managed to avoid having to actually install systems myself, which was way beyond my limited technical abilities.

Systems Engineer: Minnesota

Minnesota Winter

After our son was born I persuaded my wife that we could not possibly afford a three-bedroom home in the Bay Area and when an opportunity came to transfer to the Bloomington, MN office in the same role I took it.

We visited the region on a warm Fall day when the leaves were golden and the weather warm. That Thanksgiving we drove out in a truck filled with our belongings and arrived to frost, followed by snow, followed by the “bitter cold sun” the local weather forecasters described with glee every January and February.

My first sales call was to a mail-order operation called the Sportsman’s Paradise. The IT Manager took one look at the Limey across the table and said “Son, we sell everything needed to still a beating heart…”.

A highlight of the four years (three months and twelve days, as my wife would say) in the State was helping promote the Sun-sponsored NetDay event. I came to know the irrepressible John Gage who invited me to Washington DC for a national NetDay event where I spoke from the same podium as Vice-President Al Gore. We helped volunteers across the state wire schools for internet access in classrooms.

I was lucky to attend two SunRise sales award conferences, in Rome and Sydney, where the company spent umpteen millions feting the top sales teams.

Six Weeks at IBM

After six years as an SE I was interested in getting a shot at the commissions salespeople enjoyed. Sun did not make it easy for SEs to transition to sales. IBM did. So I applied for an SE position with IBM, was accepted, and before taking the job took a trip back to California with the family.

My wife saw the Bay, burst into tears, and said we had to move back.

I gave my months’ notice at IBM a couple of weeks after starting. They were not happy.

Meanwhile, I was hired to return to Sun’s Menlo Park HQ working in Field Product Training.

Field Product Training

The next few years were spent rolling out interactive training to field salespeople around the world. I used “McNealy Bucks” to motivate salespeople in Sao Paulo and Singapore; produced multi-media CDs and DVDs; and hosted an “SE TV” program from a small studio in Palo Alto.

I also volunteered to deliver the Company overview in the customer briefing center. My first presentation was to executives from Pfizer, the makers of Viagra. Luckily they were amused by my opening comment that our companies had a lot in common as Sun servers were noted for “continuous uptime”.

Australasia Liaison

My time in the Briefing Center brought me in contact with the Asia Pacific customer liaison team. I was hired to work alongside native Korean, Japanese and Chinese speakers to support Australia and New Zealand (perhaps on the assumption I would understand the rules of cricket when talk turned to sport?).

I flew business-class to Sydney once a quarter, visited every Australian city at least once, and learned to appreciate the rather more robust, and politically incorrect, Aussie sense of humor in business.

Following a weirdly unfair performance evaluation I took a look at the team who produced the company overview presentation I could by now deliver in my sleep. It turned out to be a small team of executive speechwriters. They needed someone with a love of communications, presentation skills and technical understanding. After a decade at the company I fit the bill and was hired.

Executive speechwriter

For someone who was hired to work out of a warehouse and take support calls, sitting in the executive suite listening to SVPs and the CEO develop strategy that would then be rolled into speeches was heady, vertigo-inducing, stuff.

I certainly felt moments when I experienced the imposter syndrome in full force. I was often the only person around the table who did not have a few thousand people reporting to them and a multi-billion-dollar goal.

It was exciting, exhausting, terrifying and the most fun at work I’d ever had.

I started out supporting the global head of sales (a fellow Brit, so my appreciation of irony helped), then worked for the head of the software group until I landed a role as one of the team supporting Scott McNealy, the CEO and co-founder. The main deliverables were a set of OpenOffice slides and a summary of the script on a set of 5×8 blue cards that he carried onstage each time he gave a presentation.

I traveled on the company jet to the east coast and Europe (a chance to meet my parents for the night in Ayr after the jet landed at Prestwick). I sat in the office of the head of the UK Civil Service (the very same used in the TV show Yes Minister, overlooking Horseguards Parade), ate pizza and banquet food, and worked around the clock when needed.

Then, in 2004, the company laid off 3,000 people, including the speechwriters. So I started this blog and looked around for another job.

Sun was, without a doubt, the best company I have ever worked for. I helped deliver network computing to the world, propagating TCP/IP and bring the Internet into existence.

The network really is the people.