Saturday, July 31, 2010

Ranai

The title of the particular technique above is especially poignant for this entry, given that this week we've had a few major events. From the Japanese, the nearest literal translation is "Order from Chaos" - something that shows direct parity with our current state. On Monday, we finally heard our assignments for the coming year. I will be stationed in Washington, D.C. as a municipal functionary, along with no less than 4 other classmates in the same office. A total of eleven of us from this cohort will populate various Municipal, Non-Profit, and Federal agencies across the metro area, and I daresay that - in and of itself - will be an amusing adventure. That said, in a strange serendipitous twist, a good friend from high school, who's younger brother lives right inside the area, happens to have a place to rent me and so that was worked out with all due haste, and I don't have to worry about the landing pad when I get there. It remains to be seen whether or not I will manage to have time (or money, energy, or all of the above) to get back in the dojo while there. Stay tuned.

Adding to the chaos -> order progression was our reading this week of Jim Collins' book "Good to Great". Prof. Sermier's voice was a constant track in the background of my mind as I went through this book: in regards to executive pay, 'getting the right people on the bus', 'what is essential to the mission of the organization', but then, just last night, he told us this is the management book he would have written had he ever been given the opportunity to write one. My mind is filled with new concepts, and how they relate - connect all the dots - of all the points that we've been learning across the courses: The Hedgehog Concept, The Flywheel versus the Doom Loop. Buildup and Breakthrough, and the 'Stop Doing List'. In a few short hours, the fairly simple language in the book could easily be understood, and re-presented visually, as a road map for take companies from just successful, to industry leaders.

Now is the mad dash to find places to live, hunting for NUF alums from previous classes who are willing to lend a hand while we adjust to the new arrangements, and getting read to leave NYC while still trying to make sure that we finish our PAF 9120 papers due in August. I am almost completely decided on leaving my apartment and finding something else on the other side of the mentorship, unless, of course, they ask me to stay there, which is entirely possible. I'm slightly distraught at being forced to leave my pets with my sister, though, I suppose that's necessary for now. There has been much speculation about whether or not we will all make it through the various odd assignments, the research paper writing, the intense work schedule, etc, during the next twelve months. My personal feelings, following along with my budo training, is that work is work. You do what needs to be done, and reserve your deeper emotions for family life, and those close to you. Understand that statement means nothing at all about having passion for your work. We absolutely should, and it would be futile to enter public service lacking it, however, I hear several of my colleagues already becoming slightly unnerved by the prospect of what needs to be done. Having already been there - twice - perhaps I'm just a bit jaded.

Through all of this, one song has continued to play in the background of my mind for the past week. The Great Satchmo, Louis Armstrong:

Saturday, July 24, 2010

The shifting sands of time

This week has been quite the roller coaster ride in terms of emotions. Thursday we had to turn in a batch of case studies (3 total) for budgeting, and this was quite taxing. My classmate and I had already managed to burn through one of them the previous weekend, leaving us, with the highly compressed schedule, only two to complete during the day on Thursday (forward thinking, that) which we did, and finished a full hour before the class was set to start. A good thing too, else we might not have had time to review the case we'd initially done and look for places to improve it, which we did.

There were many bittersweet tears later on in the week, as Friday, in the midst of a seminar on Breakthrough Leadership our Program Director began to pull people out and let them know where they'd been placed. This has also caused a bit of consternation amongst some of the cohort, as those who are in the know have been sworn to secrecy, and are upholding their end of the bargain. But, unfortunately, I'm not one of those, and have to wait until Monday evening, after our last class, when the official lists are handed out. I've been told only that the Godfather has something special in mind for me, and to trust his judgment, which I do, so, I suppose we will see what we shall see. Friday we also had a Q & A session with the outgoing 2010 class, and they provided us with lunch, which was quite the affair. I know that after peppering them about every possible angle for an hour longer than was originally planned, they likely were ecstatic to be leaving, because their last week of classes has been easily as hard if not harder than ours.

At the end of the day, there was a free wine tasting just a few steps from the doors of the campus, which I attended with a few classmates, and we shared some pleasant conversation. The really amusing part of this all though is that, after I left the wine tasting with my classmates, I found myself engaged in an in depth conversation with mom about budgeting and how to design one for her agency's department. I swear, she's going to get charged an hourly rate next time....

Of course, just when we've gotten into the idea of being in New York in the Summer, and spending 9 hours a day with our new family of classmates, we have to uproot ourselves once again, and go off into uncharted waters and try to make our lives work over there. The entire situation reminded me of the following song:

Monday, July 19, 2010

So, MiGoVaSWOT?

This morning started off with a presentation by PMF, one of the NUF's long-time supporters, on financial management, and the highly utilitarian value of Excel and building Macros. While I enjoyed a bit of a review of what we've heard up to now in our budgeting class (structural balance, material errors, amortization rates, time value of money, etc.) and our Public Affairs class (bond structures, bond variations, bond markets, bond manipulation, bond refinancing) I believe the presentation might have been better focused on simply the ways in which the financial model they had set up and were demonstrating during the presentation might have better been manipulated to our greatest advantage in strategic budget planning. Unfortunately, this section of the presentation seemed incredibly rushed, though, I do happen to have the contact information and can likely ask for a more detailed explanation.

In the meantime, I've taken a few more initiatives to heart about the use of social media, and have recently developed and populated a LinkedIn profile. Then, while I was at it, I took something of an initiative to go on the hunt for other, related social media resources that might be of some pertinence to the effort I'm making in the MPA degree. Here's a smattering of the links I farmed from the internet:
  • Latino Rebranded: Latinos and Social Media - Louis Pagan takes a look at this crucial viewpoint. How are we showing up? 
  • The Center for Hispanic Leadership - Interestingly, we've just finished an online lecture for one of our classes entitled "Public Management" where the professor spent a good amount of time discussing how to effectively write a mission statement. CHL's is as follows:  "To empower the professional growth and talent development of Hispanic Employees through the use of culturally-tailored curriculum that helps accelerate the awareness and potential of their unique skill-sets and capabilities in the workplace."
  • The Hispanic Alliance for Prosperity Institute -  "The only proven Hispanic national grassroots network for economic freedom"
Some interesting reading, to be sure. This week also brought us an introduction to PAF 9180 "Policy Analysis" - essentially a research class, which should help streamline us into the Capstone writing experience. Those of us in the cohort who have either completed major research proposals before, or their PhD *grumbles* will recognize the format, and quite likely the resources. The Craft of Research Booth, Colomb, & Williams is the very same text that we utilized in the Intro to Research seminar I took during the latter part of my graduate studies at NYU, which is to say, that right now I'm sharpening up my three minute elevator story (you really have to read the book to get this.).

Oh! and we got our Stats final grades back today. If the graph of the class' grades is a skewed curve with a long left tail, I was closer to the peak towards the right. 'nuf sed.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Mediating your social interactions

Today's Public Affairs final really taxed our mental fortitude. Between evaluation of public policy, characteristics of Business Improvement Districts, Iron Triangles of political influence, and so forth our answers quite likely seemed a bit rushed. However, as ever, our class was not without its moment of redemption. All during the course, our Professor had been joking that we'd be doing the final with little party hats on because we'd be having such and amazingly good time with the final. True to form, a couple of our integrants made a side trip to a party store, passed out party hats to the entire class before the exam got passed out, which everyone kept hidden until, at one critical moment while he had his back turned, we all got our party hats on at the same time. I'm certain someone has photos, it was a good memory.

After spending the entire day funneling the greatest amount of information into our already crowded minds for what frequently seemed the least amount of effect possible (a sort of bastardization of the rule of parsimony. A cost-benefit analysis would show this to be an inverse correlation,) we set to the task of writing out the Public Affairs exam. Many of us took the entire two hours and whatever else we could get our hands on, to finish, and, as with many things, quantity does not necessarily denote quality. However, I personally walked out with a good feeling about the thing, and I suspect so did quite a few others, in direct contrast to how many of us felt in regards to the midterm.

Following the exam, we were accosted by a group of 2010 folk who were make a solid attempt to complete a Stats II survey analysis with the objective of completing sufficient data to do some manipulations which were are all assured we will have to experience in approximately 10 months... No doubt of that, though, I'm convinced I will be sending out a version based on a digital platform to as many people as possible engaged with my online presence as possible. Quick like bunny rabbit we hopped on over to a presentation on Social Media by a panel of experts in the industry, where I managed to glean several ideas for how to deal effectively with the several interfaces I currently manage to leverage them for profit and position. Not a bad use of time, though, from what I could gather, the totality of the presentation boiled down to the following:
  1. Utilize the media networking platforms available to you
  2. Don't be scared to deal with people in real time (offline, outside of cyberspace)
  3. Complete your LinkedIn profile 100%
  4. Send vibrations down your web of influence.
  5. Keep all your contacts "warm"
  6. Mind what you're putting out there. This is akin to 'dress the part': whichever way you dress - you're going to find what you're looking for...
  7. Brand yourself, and if you're changing gears, repositioning, or retooling your approach, don't be afraid to re-brand.
  8. Applications like Hootsuite, Tweetdeck, and so forth for your Smartphone are your friend
  9. Sometimes, you just have to go off the grid.
 Malla Haridat, Kenneth Briscoe of A6 Media, and Allison Jones all contributed valuable insights into the presentation. Now to turn in the first case study for Budgeting. Uuuufff...

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Muga Mushin

Yesterday was the final round of mentor interviews at the end of a highly pressurized week. The Statistical Analysis final had the majority of the class in fits, and I heard from several people their feelings on it were not positive. My heart goes out to them, because I understand their frustration. At times like these, I remember clearly several key words in the writings of Takuan Soho, from 'The Unfettered Mind', specifically the part entitled 'Annals of the Spirit Sword Taia', and 'fudoshin'. But more on that as (or if,) it becomes relevant.

I was selected for interviews with the EPA, in which I spent a good 10-15 minutes responding to questions from the interviewer regarding the children's book I wrote, illustrated, and self-published. The reason didn't become immediately apparent until he got around to making a point of saying that he was specifically looking for creativity and finding someone that thinks in, around, outside, under and over the box. Though, until I heard that I wasn't entirely certain that I might have found myself in the wrong place. The City of Philadelphia Parks Department (currently undergoing a merger with the City of Philadelphia Recreation Department) also asked me to come in, and I signed up for an interview with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. This last one was particularly important because of how closely related our work is, given that one of their grantees, the Hablamos Juntos program, was a key factor in a policy paper that I turned in last week for my communications class. Everybody liked what it was that I had to say, and I'm entirely uncertain at this point, having had several 'successful feeling' interviews, where it is that I'll be ending up. I do know, however, that I'm beginning to feel incredibly comfortable with the idea of being in the leadership position.

It's an odd thing - as a teacher, you're automatically a leader in the class, you're a person with a great deal of responsibility, lives depend on you, yet, to consider yourself for a position of leadership as it's contextualized within this program is frequently outside of the realm of possibility for most people in the education field. "I'm just a teacher" is such a common phrase... kind of like "I'm just an interpreter." It sometimes surprises me that I've managed to overcome that feeling, and why it is that the sentiment is so heavily ingrained into the communities in the first place? But, I know I wasn't selected for this by mistake.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The anti-hero

Another Social Studies teacher friend of mine sent along this video of Jay Leno at Universal Studios in California. It brought tears to many of us...
Today we're turning in the memo format book report on Little Pink House - the novel style history of one of the most famous eminent domain cases in the history of the country Kelo v. New London, to which I've alluded in a previous post. Tomorrow is the Stats final, I'm a bit sorry to see it go, I keep repeating this at the end of each session to whomever will listen: had I but known all the statistical manipulations we just learned during my first graduate school experience, how much better would my analyses have been, how much more would I have possibly understood about the research I was reading, and so forth. Ah well. In the end, given that we've just completed quite a bit of deliberating with Prof. Mitchell who, like me, enjoyed making the crossover between stats equations and Public Affairs, in regards to economic development, its effects on children's education, tax abatements and their direct relation to businesses being able to afford to stay in town, and thereby also weakening the tax revenue pool with which to fund school systems, (which historically are the critical things that large corporations go looking for in terms of criteria to stay in a location, because they need excellent schools to train an excellent workforce, in order to maintain a leadership position in their respective fields. So, you see how cyclical this becomes) there's this rather amusing equation to be extracted from the vast waste fields of data (both good and bad):

AGERICH(hat)= 3.141527 - 2.5 SMOKING + 10CEDUC - 8HTMES + 0.6802SMOKING*HTMES

And that said, let us not forget to always pronounce "chi" as [kai], and not "chai" [tshai] which is a very heady, fragrant, flavorful tea from the far East, made incredibly popular by coffee house franchises the world over *shudders*.

Tomorrow brings more mentor presentations, and hopefully an interesting look at a few local organizations. More on that probably this weekend, after the actual interviews happen. Stay tuned.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

How to gain friends and influence people

Just got finished with the 'Little Pink House' memo for Prof. Mitchell's class. Today's been a bit wild: it started with getting the clothes clean while watching the Argentina-Germany match for a stunning loss that eliminated El Albiceleste, and had the entire Twitterverse claiming that Mick Jagger was somehow responsible for four of the most devastating losses in the past week.

We've started our PAF 9140 Budgeting class with Prof. Sermier, whose extensive list of accomplishments and impressive titles is enough to give anyone pause. Having worked in 'all three sectors' private, non-profit, and public, he brings a wealth of information and training to the class that will likely end up benefiting us in whatever position we find ourselves. That said, learning to read a balance sheet while adopting his way of thinking is an interesting and unique exercise. I am quite shocked at the flexibility of my own mind - prior to this program, I had come to believe that there was only one set path for me, and that was one entirely strewn with words, their significance, their manipulation, and how that might be turned into a marketable product. Now, after having survived the majority of statistical manipulation, and for the most part comprehending the mathematical computations in the budgeting class, I'm beginning to wonder if I hadn't pigeon-holed myself into a language based thought pattern early and simply never ventured outside of it for some irrational fear of leaving the comfort zone. It should be interesting to see how this all unfolds.

I skipped a barbecue today in order to complete this assignment, but the folks let everyone know that I was working steadily on homework and deadlines. Tomorrow is one I cannot miss, though I'm fairly certain that I should be alright between waking up early and working on the spreadsheet all day. Then all I have to finish is Stats and readings, and I should be back on track. Thankfully, we got paid this week, though Paychex managed to somehow delay our disbursements by a day, which had the entire cohort in a tizzy. But, now with money in hand, bills are getting paid and food is in the fridge. Phew!