My Christmas Letter

At this time last year, I was three months into what turned out to be ten months of unemployment and recovering from a cardiac stent insertion. As I like to say, it was not a lifestyle that I would recommend very highly. So things are definitely merrier this Christmas. Seeing the turmoil and tough decisions that so many people are still facing makes me realize that I dodged more than a few bullets over the past year.

In July, I moved 100 miles north to Columbus and began work at the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) supervising the work of Ohio’s railroad inspectors statewide. I’ve always been an infrastructure geek and railroads have been a particular interest for the past few years. Warren Buffett is buying one of the country’s biggest railroads (BNSF) and he seems to be a pretty smart guy so there must be a future in rail, right? Mostly, I’m glad to have a paycheck, health insurance and meaningful work to do.

Charlie & Claire were both in marching band this fall (drum & tuba, respectively) and are now playing in the school jazz bands and orchestra through the winter. Charlie is in the winter drum line again, continues with his piano studies and is learning to drive (yikes!) Claire is starting to take trombone lessons – I think she plans to boss the boys in the bass brass section when she gets to high school next year. They are smart, happy kids and I love that they both love music.

We’ve all seen tremendous change during the first decade of the 21st Century. I suspect that the pace of change is only going to increase in the coming years. I’m sure we’ll face challenges and opportunities we can barely imagine today.  It’s clear to me that my most important job in the coming decade is to help Charlie & Claire successfully make the leap from bright, happy, talented teens to confident, independent and responsible adults.

Being in a position to do this is the greatest gift I’ve ever received.

Love to you all and happy new year!

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Abide In My Love

I am preparing for Sunday’s bible study session; the lesson for this week contains the phrase, “abide in my love.”

“Abide” is one of those words we think we know. One of those comfortable, pretty, old-fashioned, church words that we’re sure we understand when we hear it. We never question it. We let it slide in our own self-confidence. We’ve heard it before. We’re sure we understand it because we understand the context in which it’s used. No need to look it up.

Well, I looked it up. Here’s what Webster’s has to say:

Abide v.  1. To wait patiently for.  2. To persevere under.  3. To accept or submit to.  4. To put up with.

I’ll save the theology for Sunday. Right now I wonder if I have what it takes to use the word “abide” in describing the earthly relationships in which I might venture to use the “love.”  Before I say “I love you” again, I will ask myself whether I am really willing to say, “I will abide in your love.” By saying these six words, perhaps the essence of what it takes for a lasting relationship, I would be saying:

  • I will wait patiently for your love.
  • I will persevere under your love.
  • I will accept or submit to your love.
  • I will put up with your love.

Then I wonder, will I ever find someone willing to abide in my love?

Job Searching Using Social Media Tools

A very good friend recently asked me to help her nephew, Steve.  He is a recent college graduate looking for a job in the business operations  field of Supply Chain Management.  This blog post is a copy of a recent email to Steve about the use of social media tools like blogs, FaceBook and LinkedIn in his job search.  I think it’s pretty self explanatory so I just copied it verbatim.

Perhaps you’ll see something helpful in this too. Maybe you’ll think I’m all wet. Either is fine with me but either way, let me know what you think. I want to learn from you.

Steve,

Regarding FaceBook, there is a very broad range of opinion about how open you should be. I have mine set so that my friends and their networks can see my stuff. Not wide open but if we have any connection at all, you can probably get to me. I have found FaceBook to be a great tool to get to know people that are casually in my orbit. This has accelerated personal relationships with several people that I previously only knew through work or as acquaintences through mutual friends or activities.In the end you have to be comfortable with how much of you is out there for others to see. There are no wrong answers.

My search engine comment was really around things like Monster.com and other job search sites. You can set up profiles and custom searches to have job leads emailed to you on a regular basis. I get daily emails from Monster and CareerBuilder that typically have 5 – 8 specific job postings each. I discard most of them but probably have 2 or 3 a week worth pursuing. Also look for professional associations (and groups on LinkedIn) – many have job postings that anyone can get to. Many are for members only but it’s worth looking – organizations are losing members fast because professional dues are often first-cut expenses. Some progressive organizations recognize this and are offering free or deeply discounted services to earn your loyalty for when your budgets return.

Finally look for supply-chain blogs (and other professional topics that interest you) and on-line publications. Subscribe to their RSS feeds through a tool like Google Reader. Yahoo.com has a good reader also. This way you can have info aggregated in a single spot that you can scan quickly on a regular basis for things of interest without having to bang around dozens of sites to find. I believe in turning on the fire hose of information and then drinking what you can. In my view it’s better to see data and discard it than to not see it at all. Just beware that it takes discipline (which I often lack) to not get sucked down into time-wasting rabbit holes chasing cool but irrelevant ideas.

Hope this helps. I’ll let you know if I have any specific comments about your LinkedIn profile.

Best,
John

Religion and Self-Control

I read an interesting blog post today by NY Times Science writer, John Tierney, on the topic of religion and self-control. I submitted a comment to the piece and have copied the essence of Tierney’s blog and my comment here. While I stand by what I say below, I have to admit to the irony of this blog. I should have been working on the more pressing items on my “To Do” list. So much for self-control.

You can find a link to Tierney’s blog, TierneyLab, under  “Blogs I Like” on the right.

Religion and Self-Control

Is self-discipline one reason that religious people tend to live longer? Do religious belief and piety promote self-control? You can find one answer in my Findings column. It discusses research from two psychologists at the University of Miami, Michael McCullough and Brian Willoughby, who have surveyed eight decades of scientific literature (pdf) to see if people who are more religious tend to have stronger self-control.

1. Are there any specific religious or spiritual activities that you have found to help build your self-control, or your child’s self-control?
2. Religious activities can also be exhausting, and presumably they could they could wear down someone’s self-control. Has this ever happened to you or your child?
3. If you’re not religious, what do you think of Dr. McCullough’s advice that it might be possible to build self-control by tying your New Year’s resolutions to sacred (but non-religious) values like self-reliance or concern for all of humanity?

My response:

I believe that this phenomenon of ‘religious’ people demonstrating more self-control is probably true but not due to the ‘religion’ that one learns at church, temple or mosque but due to the ‘ethics’ and ‘values’ discussions and education that occurs there. As the author, Karen Armstrong, documented in her book, ‘The Great Transformation,’ most cultures and faiths have independently developed some interpretation of what’s known to Christians as the Golden Rule as a positive way to live our lives on earth, irregardless of what some god may have in store for us later.

The notion that we should treat others as we wish to be treated requires an examination not only of others’ behaviors and actions but of our own. Once we begin to be aware of (and are then self-critical of) our own behaviors, we are more likely to avoid doing things that others might find reason to criticise – we exhibit self control. In doing this, we enable others to treat us favorably.

My own experience is that most people tire quickly of sermons and lessons (and water cooler talk) that focus too heavily on spirituality and theology. Zealotry, like a good martini, has a time and place but a little bit goes a long way. We would rather be taught how to make our faith relevant to our day-to-day lives. Personally, the sermons that don’t put me to sleep or to checking my blackberry are usually those that offer practical advice on how to live happily and productively among others. I suspect that anyone who regularly subjects themselves to a dose of practical ethical reminders is more prone to self-examination and to therefore improve their self-control in many aspects of their lives. And this, I believe, will lead to improved quality in one’s life.

As the Theory of Relativity is foundational to modern science, the Golden Rule is to life. We don’t fully understand the scope of either which is why inquiry and faith (in science and humanity) are so important. We do know through our own experiences however, that things get more difficult when we act as though these fundamental principles don’t exist.

Thank you for posing these important questions.

— John Fonner

Act Your Age

A great article about the importance of social networks, blogs, wikis – literacy – to careers.

Habit 7 – Sharpen the Saw

http://money.cnn.com/2008/11/19/technology/boom_years.moneymag/index.htm

LinkedIn, FaceBook and the Blog

I received an email today from a former colleague who had noticed my use of LinkedIn and this blog. Cindy is the marketing manager of a regional engineering firm and asked for my thoughts about these tools for promoting her firm.  After writing the following response, I thought I would add it as a post because it explains what I’m trying to do here.  Maybe I’m just lazy but I prefer to think of it as “content recycling.”

Cindy,
When I started using LinkedIn, I wasn’t sure what the value was but was intrigued and kept at it. During my current job search, I’ve had several HR people tell me that they use it aggressively to identify and screen candidates for positions that they are trying to fill or recruit. I think it is especially important as a validation tool for professionals who describe themselves as “well-networked.” Several people have noticed & commented on how many people I’m connected to and what kinds of professions my connections are (ie economic development, real estate, consultants, etc). I also got an emotional boost a few weeks ago when I asked several people to write recommendations for me – many did and seeing their comments made me feel great. One prospective employer mentioned that he saw little need to ask for additional references from me so I know that recommendations get noticed. I don’t believe LinkedIn is a silver bullet and constant pursuit of more & more connections just for the sake of driving up the number would be a time-waster, but I think it has an important role in managing your own career. I think it could also be valuable as a tool for a company like yours trying to raise the exposure of their business development and thought leaders.
 
I am just getting started with my blog. A web-saavy friend recommended WordPress as a good on-line hosting service but there are several others. WordPress has lots of templates to choose from and the tools have been pretty intuitive to learn and use. If you have some engineers that are interested in blogging to promote your company, you might consider having them experiment with something free like WordPress or Blogger. Choose a template that is compatible with your website so you can link & promote their blogs in a way that is consistent with your branding.  If it’s a hit, then consider spending the money to host the blogs on your own IT so you can more fully integrate them into your website. This way you can see who is really committed (and not just a ‘tech-talker’) and experiment without spending any cash. Again, I’m just getting started so I probably sound like I know more than I really do.
 
You didn’t mention FaceBook, but I have been using it for a while and really like it although it really has high time-wasting potential.  I have started thinking of LinkedIn, FaceBook and my blog as three parts of the whole John Fonner “brand.” (I hate using that word – it sounds so trendy & pretentious to me – but I haven’t found a better one yet.) LI and FB are where I interact with my professional and personal networks, respectively, or where people can ‘discover’ me. My blog is the place where I more fully develop and share ideas and can get feedback from people in either network that are interested in the same things. I’m trying to link the three together in a way that is natural and appropriate without seeming too self-promoting. I’m having fun and like the intellectual challenge of all this. I’m not too worried about making mistakes but am simply trying to do things consciously with a plan in mind.
Good luck & have fun as you wade in!

20 Principles for Centering My Life

In my first post I mentioned Stephen Covey as a writer that is imprtant to me. About a year ago, I reread The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and spent several days creating a personal mission statement as Covey describes in Habit 2, Begin With the End In Mind. It has held up without revision for a year, even as the world has thrown me a few curve balls.  It has proven to be one of the most valuable things I have ever done.

I guess it’s time to put it out there for every one to see and help me to be accountable to it.

20 Principles for Centering My Life

John Fonner

  • My children are the most important people in my life.  Never cause them to doubt this.
  • Raise them to be loving, confident, independent and responsible adults.
  • Be honest in all my dealings with others.
  • Look for reasons to trust people.
  • Treat people with different opinions, culture, experiences, religion, economic status, politics, gender and race with respect.  Be open to new ideas and perspectives.
  • Make a lasting contribution to my community without seeking recognition.
  • Pursue continued spiritual growth through study and contemplation of my relationship with God.  Don’t judge others’ spirituality or faith.
  • Take steps to prolong my healthy life.  Don’t fear death.
  • Make responsible environmental choices.
  • Be generous to friends, family and strangers.
  • Eliminate existing debt and limit future debt to essential assets such as my home, cars and college education.  Save for the future.
  • Be humble in receiving compliments and be open to criticism.
  • Seek help when needed, accept help when offered and offer help to others.
  • Cultivate lasting friendships and be reliable to those that are counting on me.
  • Be curious about the world and wonder about the way things are.
  • Develop my talents, acknowledge my limitations and learn new skills.
  • Be generous with praise, stingy with criticism, quick to smile and slow to anger.
  • Bend down to talk to small children.
  • Appreciate the beauty of well made things.
  • Don’t worry about what the other guy gets.