Monthly Archives: November 2006

Massive Integration

Since the previous post, I’ve been rather overwhelmed with my new experience as a department manager. Mentally and physically, I recognize a huge loss of available energy at night and on the weekends. I actually find my exhaustion rather odd, and in need of explanation. My work hours have expanded throughout this year from a nominal 44 a week or so, to a steady 50 hours, but this change occurred at the time when my wife left her job to homeschool (thereby freeing me up from a schedule dictated in part by school hours, and allowing me to work earlier in the morning). For the month or so from her departure to my assuming this new responsibility, I did not experience this sense of exhaustion. The amount of sleep I get has not changed significantly – I now go to bed about 30 minutes earlier and wake up 30 minutes earlier than before. There was an initial couple of weeks of difficult sleeping – mind racing through the decision process of taking the new job, and then racing through the various tasks that hung over me day after day – but this has completely subsided, and I can count on sleeping solidly most nights.

Clearly, then, I am expending much more energy than I was previously. Those around me worry about “stress”, but I find that to be an ill-defined term. There was that initial period of frantic psychological discomfort on different occasions when I was facing various “firsts” in this position, but I no longer feel that discomfort which I personally identify as “stress”. In fact, my level of self-confidence continues to rise rapidly the more time passes, and the more I see the positive effect of my actions on the department’s activities. I have also not been subjected to any strong personal criticism, and even if such criticism were present, I am not one to react poorly. (The other psychological condition which I recognize as a form of stress is time-based stress, which still occurs, but not on a continual basis).

So where is the energy going? Why do I feel weary every evening, and truly exhausted by the end of the week?

My answer is that I am experiencing what I’ll term Massive Integration. My daily experience is now of a completely different nature than it was previously. This is not apparent on the surface of my activities – I still write software, I still analyze data, and I’ve always taken other employees under my wing to an extent – but there are new elements to my activities and responsibilities, and I experience their effect every moment of every day. That I cannot accurately describe and clearly identify these new elements is the key symptom that convinces me that I am now in a period of conceptualization of these new phenomena. My mind is constantly, and mostly subconsciously, working out the relationships between these new experiences, and attempting to build a conceptual hierarchy which accurately understands this experience of Management. I am consciously struggling to build my own vision of proper management practices, and specifically the vision for the future of my department. In this I am working entirely off my previous and immediate experience, having found the “literature” available to be a mix of the inapplicable, the obvious, and the ludicrous. The effort involved in bringing my mind to bear on this problem is what I now understand to be the reason for my state of exhaustion.

It is in this very understanding that I find strength to carry on.

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A New Challenge

About 4 weeks ago, I assumed Management responsibility for the Optical Coating Engineering department for my employer (Goodrich Aerospace Electro-Optical Systems). I started my career with this company in this department 20 years ago, and have migrated through several other departments and positions since that time, staying firmly on the “technical track” of increasingly complex engineering. Since I ended my Coating-related activities some 12 years ago, the department has gradually lost its ability to innovate, itsfocus, its technical talent, and more disturbingly its basic sense of engineering practice. A string of ineffective managers have been assigned to run the group, and these have focussed exclusively on maintaining production schedules, at the cost of all else.

When the most recent manager was hired, about 3 years ago, there was great excitement that the long night in Coating was ending. The new manager was an industry expert, well respected by the Coating community and our customer base. Unfortunately, he took this job assuming it was his “sunset” position – assuming management of a well-executing department in which he could sail off to retirement at a time of his choosing. This was not at all what he inherited, however. Instead, the department proceeded to fall further into weakness. The new manager’s response was to gradually withdraw, while becoming irrationally defensive with the management surrounding him. I personally took a liking to this individual, as he was as outspoken as I was about some of the foolishness of the upper management activities. What I was missing by not having to work directly with him was the rapid acceleration of his defensive posture, and the great harm that came to the Coating Engineering department through his neglect of fundamental management practices.

The trigger event for the final downfall of this manager, and the chaos that has thrust me into the management track, was itself of little importance, and indeed of questionable validity. Nonetheless, our local Vice-President reacted with a strong arm, first splitting Coating into Coating Engineering and Coating Operations, then removing the managers of both of these sub-groups. This was done (as is typical in this company) without a firm transition plan, and a series of “investigations” were launched into the basis of the Coating illness. I lead one of these investigations, exposing my prior experience with Coating, and apparently my ability to filter information into insight, and plan a recovery.

I have now been challenged to lead this recovery. I looked initiallyat this assignment with about 60% excitement, and 40% terror. Now about 4 weeks later, the terror has subsided into a wistful confused longing for my prior pursuits, and a smaller uneasiness at being thrust so suddenly into management of an unhealthy department without proper managerial preparation. This latter will pass, as I’ll most likely discover that this”preparation” is less difficult to absorb than I originally imagined. The longing may persist, but will be resolved as I throw my engineering talent at Coating-specific problems which I had abandoned some 12 years ago, and have not been addressed by anyone since.

There will follow in this space, mixed in with the many other themes that I have launched here, more exposition on my experiences as I move into this new phase of my career. One thing has become very clear already – to succeed in this challenge will require my deepest commitment to fundamental philosophical tenets. The management surrounding me mouths the prevalent destructive philosophy of blurring Reality and accepting indeterminate truth. I must counter act this contagion with the black and white business ethics of Objectivism.

This is going to be fun!

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