Ah, Ralph’s!

I’m attending an internal IBM conference this week at IBM Research in Yorktown. While I don’t expect anything as personally interesting as the Ben Zander talk at TLE, I did get a chance to satisfy an urge on my way from JFK to the hotel.

Most people coming to a conference in Westchester County choose to fly into White Plains or LaGuardia, because of the shorter drive. I usually choose Kennedy, and there are two reasons. One, of course, is that I can get a nonstop, and that saves me time and removes one source of problems. But the other is that I can stop in Valley Stream and visit Ralph’s Italian Ices.

It’s not far out of the way, though there’s often a long line (tonight, it was 15 minutes long, and it wasn’t even a hot night). But it’s worth it — we just don’t have anything like it at home. I just wish I’d known about Ralph’s the entire time we were visiting Diane’s family in Valley Stream; we only discovered them about five years ago — that’s twenty-five years of visits wasted. At least in one sense.

And I have the return flight on Thursday afternoon, and then another trip next week…but I still won’t make a dent in the flavor list.

They’ve got my number

A few weeks ago, I borrowed a copy of Now, Discover Your Strengths from the IBM Almaden library. I found it interesting, but I was disappointed when I realized I couldn’t take the StrengthsFinder assessment, since the secret code was in the book jacket, which I didn’t have.

So I bought StrengthsFinder 2.0 so I could take the test. This evening, I sat down at my trusty Mac to take the test, entered the secret code, and ran into a dead end — the page which asked for my ethnicity offered no “Next” button.

I tried again, and got the same result. So I unlimbered the View Source Chart Firefox extension, which showed me the rendered HTML; there was an <iframe> tag with an interesting URL, so I clicked that, and found myself looking at question 1 of the assessment…complete with “Next” button.

I finished the assessment; it told me that my top theme was “Strategic,” which they describe thusly:

People who are especially talented in the Strategic theme create alternative ways to proceed. Faced with any given scenario, they can quickly spot the relevant patterns and issues.

I guess that must imply that not everyone would look at the source code of the page to figure out what’s wrong and how to proceed. It takes all kinds….

School spirit

Jeff attends Kehillah Jewish High School. It’s a small, new school (he’ll be in the third graduating class), and so it’s somewhat light on traditions. No sports championships, either, unlike my high school, which was a perennial cross-country power (and a football doormat).

But today is one of those mornings which creates traditions; the school Jam Band won the K-FOX School of Rock competition last week, and today, they’re broadcasting live from the studio. So the school decided to invite everyone to come in early, including parents, to celebrate together. It’s great fun to be here with the kids, teachers, and even a few other parents (it is awfully early….).

I rarely listen to local terrestrial radio any more, because of all the commercials and the limited choice — I usually listen to XM, with occasional excursions to KKUP, a truly listener-supported and eclectic station. But local radio, even if owned by a monster like Clear Channel, can support the community — the School of Rock competition is a great example.

So thanks, K-FOX, Greg Kihn, and Kehillah!

24 amazing hours

I’m home from the IBM Technical Leadership Exchange in Anaheim, where I spent two interesting days and then 24 amazing hours.

The interesting days were filled with useful sessions and conversations, and I’ve written a bit about them on my internal blog; there are a few things I could write about here, too, but I’m not going to bother, because the last 24 hours have been so incredible.

It started on Tuesday night. There was a “networking event” for the conference, at Disney’s California Adventure, and from all reports, a good time was had by all. I wasn’t there, though, for two reasons. I’d just been there in August during Worldcon, and I had a more important engagement. One of my colleagues who lives in Los Angeles (we’ll call him “Dr. K”, though his real name is Steve Krantz) had decided to retire at the end of May, and his manager and many of his friends (including me) were here. So his manager invited 24 or so of us to dinner at The Catch of Anaheim. I’m glad I didn’t have to submit the bill for reimbursement, because the beverages flowed fairly freely, and food wasn’t inexpensive, either. But even though the food and drink were great, that wasn’t what made the evening memorable. It was the love (not a term I use for work-related events very often!) that perfused the table, born of respect for Dr. K and his influence on all of us.

Dr. K is in the CIO organization, as was almost everyone at the table but me; one of the few other non-CIO people was a person considering taking up a rotational assignment in the CIO team. I don’t know if he’s made up his mind about the assignment or not, but I can think of no better advertisement than last night’s dinner. (I’m not in the CIO organization, by the way, but I’ve worked with (and against) Dr. K for over a dozen years, and it’s always been a pleasure — even when we’ve been on opposite sides of an argument.)

Dinner ran a little late, and morning had to come early; we’d been asked to come to the general session 15 minutes early today to allow enough time for the two speakers. So I wasn’t in the best of spirits when I arrived.

Our first speaker was Ginni Rometty, Senior VP for Global Business Services. She’s a good speaker — unlike most IBMers, she is able to speak without PowerPoint (though she did use one slide today). And what she had to say was interesting and relevant. And the Q&A was useful. But, somewhat to my surprise, she was strongly encouraged to finish quickly and introduce the morning’s second speaker. Senior VPs are rarely asked to give up the stage, but I thought it might have been out of courtesy to a non-IBM speaker.

And perhaps there was a little of that, but I’m sure that wasn’t the real motivation.

Our second speaker was Ben Zander, conductor of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra, and he treated us to two hours of transformation. I can’t do justice to his presentation — it was high-energy, high-touch, high-contact, and high-value. We sang Happy Birthday to an audience member (and I’ll never sing Happy Birthday again without remembering today); he talked about distinctions and developing categories; he showed us the difference between playing music and performing it; he explained how he only teaches “A” students and why giving someone an A frees you to tell them the truth; he showed us one-buttock playing; he gave us the secret of life and Rule Six; and finally, he led us in singing the Ode to Joy — in German.

I’ve left out much that he gave us; but I plan to live it. And now I can add another item to my CV: I’ve sung — twice — under the direction of the conductor of the Boston Philharmonic.

It’s hard to really describe the impact of his presentation, but perhaps the most startling fact is this: there were 4700 IBMers in the room…and not one open laptop that I could see (I’ve been told that there were, indeed, people using laptops, at least at times, but I didn’t see any where I was sitting).

After the performance, many of us followed him to the TLE Bookstore, where he signed copies of his book, The Art of Possibility: Transforming Professional and Personal Life. They’d brought in 500 copies, and they were gone within ten minutes. There was a long line of people who wanted their copy signed; I couldn’t wait, because I needed to check out of the hotel, but when I returned 30 minutes later, he was still signing books and talking to everyone. So I chose to miss a bit more of the next session in favor of getting my book signed and having a chance to thank him for the experience.

I’ve ordered three of his discs with the Boston Philharmonic: Beethoven: Symphonies No. 5 & No. 7, Mahler: Symphony No. 5 – Benjamin Zander / Philharmonia Orchestra, and Mahler: Symphony No. 9 / Zander, Philharmonia Orchestra. They should be here tomorrow; I can’t wait to listen to them.

But Ben’s presentation wasn’t the end of the conference. No, there were two more slots left. Or, to be more accurate, 1.3, since I’d chosen to spend time getting Ben’s book rather than going directly to the session I’d chosen, the first of two parts of “Unleashing Your Possibilities: Creating What You Want”, taught by Therese Kienast of Radical Leadership.

I thought about blowing off the session and just going outside — it was a lovely day in Anaheim. But I didn’t. And when I finally made it to the third floor of the Convention Center and entered Ballroom D, I was asked immediately to move towards the front instead of staying at the back, because sharing and participation was part of the program. So I did.

I’d arrived just in time to be asked how much of my time was spent in running the Trickster Triangle, moving (mentally, at least) between victim, hero, and villain. I wasn’t quite sure what was going on, but it was clear that running the Triangle wasn’t a good thing. And, after a few minutes, and a few (sanctioned) conversations with my neighbor, I had more or less caught up. Just in time for lunch.

Lunch was actually part of the class; we were asked to sit together, with people we didn’t know. I didn’t quite succeed in that, since I discovered that I’d actually met one person many years ago, when he and Ed Costello used my Gopher server to host MVS manuals on the Internet, but we decided that was OK. And I wound up hardly talking with him anyway, since he was too far away. Instead, I talked to my immediate neighbors, and I may wind up mentoring one or two of them as a result.

The second session of the class was also worthwhile; we talked about radical leadership, choice, and responsibility. On an ordinary day, it would have been an amazing high point — but a day with Ben Zander isn’t an ordinary day. So the class was merely excellent.

And then TLE was over. But my run of good luck wasn’t — I was able to get an earlier flight home, and even had an empty seat next to me.

There were many good technical sessions at the TLE; I suspect most people concentrated on those sessions, because they were immediately job-relevant. Although I did attend one or two such sessions (and even got some job-relevant information on structuring presentations at one of them), I don’t think they’re the real value of a conference like TLE, any more than the programming courses I took at RPI were the real value of my education there. Technical skills are short-lived; what’s important is learning how to learn, and how to make the world a better place. This TLE offered much in those areas, and I’m very glad I was able to take advantage.

Deja vu, sorta

I’m at the IBM Technical Leadership Exchange in Anaheim for the next few days. The signs don’t say “IBM”, but most people are wearing clothes or carrying briefcases with the IBM logo, so I don’t think it’s much of a secret.

The event is at the Anaheim Convention Center, the same site as LACon 4 last August. So the venue and surroundings are quite familiar (though I’m at the Marriott this time instead of the Hilton); I’ve already registered, collected my badge and badge holder (the standard design), the pocket program (no program book — it’s a PDF file instead), and even gotten the first issue of the con newsletter, which, like the LACon newsletter, is full of session changes (but this one is printed in 12-point type; LACon used 3-point type, which was a cruel thing to do!). I’ve seen old friends and am awaiting others.

But the atmosphere is different; we’re here to learn and work, not just to enjoy ourselves. Hmmm, maybe that’s how authors feel about Worldcon?