The Virtues of Flesh Sensing Technology

Carpenter cuts wood with a table saw.I was visiting with a friend this weekend and he showed me his table saw from a company called SawStop, based out of Tualatin, OR. He is a part-time woodworker and cabinetmaker and, while his table saw is certainly nicer than mine, I was most intrigued by the safety features. SawStop has a patented flesh sensing technology that stops the saw and drops the blade within milliseconds if it detects skin. Instead of an amputation, you come away with a scratch. If you have been reading this blog for very long, you know that I love unique technology applications so I had to find out more about this one.

History

SawStop was formed in 2000 when cofounder Steve Gass invented the saw brake and sensing technology that is used in their cabinet and portable table saws. He shopped the invention to the likes of Ryobi, Craftsman, and Black & Decker but could not come to an agreement with any of them. In 2005, he gave up and manufactured the saw himself through the SawStop name. The other manufacturers were interested but were hesitant to raise the price of their product to compensate for this additional safety technology.

How It Works

The SawStop carries a small electrical signal through the blade. When skin contacts the blade, the signal changes because the human body is conductive. When the signal changes, a spring loaded aluminum brake is released into the blade, slowing it from 5000 RPM to 0 in approximately 1/200ths of a second. The force of the brake also drops the blade below the surface in that same amount of time. It ruins the brake, which is a relatively inexpensive replaceable cartridge, and also breaks the blade, which can be replaced. Comparatively though, it is less traumatic to replace saw parts than to lose a finger. This is incredible technology that can prevent a lot of woodworking accidents.

Fast Forward

This safety technology has only been available in the SawStop large cabinet saw up until early this year when the company also introduced a portable table saw with the same technology. Bosch’s new REAXX portable jobsite table saw, available this fall, is the first saw to copy the flesh sensing technology since it was developed in 2000 and commercialized in 2005.

Thoughts

So while I love this application of technology, my bigger question is this: why did it take so long for a competitor to copy this proven safety feature? Would consumers pay extra for this if it were available, or are we focused only on cost? I chose this blog topic today to highlight this technology but also to ponder on the bigger economic questions of safety features and marketability of a product. Let me know your thoughts.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional and assistant professor of practice for the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.

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Will Technology Change How We Value Art?

Colorful computer generated fractal art in swirls of browns, greens and golds.I enjoy listening to classical music but am not a big fan of synthesized music. Maybe I have worked around computers too long to appreciate the fact that a computer can produce art. In other words, I question whether the bridge between technology and art can actually be bridged. I wonder also about computers that can produce visual arts. Are they comparable to those works created by a traditional artist? Will computers ever make traditional sound and visual artists obsolete or does their value lie in aiding the human creation process? Lately, I have been reading about some new applications that may be spanning that bridge between art and technology.

Sound Machines

German industrial automation company Festo has developed a robot controlled

music system that consists of five self-playing instruments. The system can “hear” or record a melody, then improvise and play it live with electrically controlled mechanisms that consist of one string and a sliding bar, which simulate fret action or the left hand of a musician. A hammer simulates right hand plucking or hammering or stroking of the string. They have built this mainly as a showcase for their factory automation capabilities, but it holds some real promise for creating and playing computer-controlled music.

Fine Art

Kenichi Yoneda, aka Kynd, is trained as a fine artist but has recently been creating computer-generated art that looks like traditional artwork in different simulated mediums. He is currently an electronics designer who programs computers to create artwork that looks like the real thing. His work can simulate oil, watercolors, or other techniques. To be clear, this is not a robot with a palette but digital artwork generated on a computer and printed or just displayed on digital monitors. Lately, he has been experimenting with artwork combined with sound in an attempt to improve on traditional computer animation. The results are very unique and engaging.

Thoughts

The two thoughts I have are these—first, what is art and second, how do we define it? I believe art is a personal expression. What is considered art by one person is simply noise to another, whether that be audio or visual arts or a combination. Secondly, will we, or have we already created a computer that will be able to create Mozart concertos, the works of the Rolling Stones, or artwork to rival Rembrandt or Andy Warhol? If so, will we still hold it in the same high regard as works created by an individual through training and inspiration? Do we value computer-generated artwork the same as human creations?

As we continue to refine computers and try to endow them with humanistic capabilities and reasoning through advanced algorithms, it is reasonable to think that we will have to face that question. What is art? What will art museums look like in the future? I would love to hear your opinion so that we can explore this topic further.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional and assistant professor of practice for the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.

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Making Education Accessible and Affordable

book of knowledgeHow can we creatively make higher education more affordable and accessible? I am wrapping up preparations for a course on innovation later this month and my thoughts turn to ways to apply innovative ideas to higher education. There are some new ideas that have developed over the last several years such as online delivery, but they have not always been implemented in a deliberate and holistic manner. I am hoping that you will weigh in and help me figure out how we can create new solutions to this long-standing problem.

What Is Our Mission?

Harvard professor Clayton Christensen suggests that there are really three purposes of higher education and that we as universities and colleges often dilute our focus and try to cover all three areas with a confusing combination of products. The three suggested areas are:

  • knowledge creation, or research;
  • knowledge proliferation, or teaching; and
  • preparation for life and careers.

Christensen claims that universities use three different business models to deliver these value propositions, creating confusing products in the process. He suggests that we be clear and purposeful about our mission, our value proposition, and how we deliver our product. This clarity can help reduce program administrative costs and therefore help reduce tuition.

Innovations in Education

Universities and colleges have been working through different delivery methods in recent years to make higher education more accessible. Several of these have been centered around online delivery. Correspondence courses have been available since the mid-nineteenth century and as technology and networking improved, these morphed into online courses. To make education more accessible, massive open online courses (MOOCs) were developed that enrolled thousands or even tens of thousands of students in various subjects. These are free or low cost but do not generally grant credit. Some universities such as Stanford are experimenting with hybrid MOOCs whereby a student can take the online course and apply and pay for credit. The University of Pittsburgh is experimenting with what they call a HOOC or a hybrid open online course. In this model, the course is offered online and onsite simultaneously and at some point during the course, the online students can join the onsite students synchronously, often offering input through tweets or other discussion applications. Online education—in all its forms—has made learning more accessible to those that are not near a college or cannot take courses at the time prescribed.

Employer Criteria

One of the most important factors in aligning higher education with employment is understanding what an employer wants in an educated worker. Are they looking for someone with a broad four-plus year education and exposure to many ideas and thoughts, or are they looking for someone that has proven mastery in a particular area? Would a series of technical certificates prove the worth of a potential employee, or do they need to produce an advanced degree from a recognized college or university? I believe the problem is two pronged and we need to address both areas. As mentioned earlier, universities need to develop expertise delivering in a prescribed area rather than trying to cover all business models. Additionally, employers need to be precise in their requirements for employment and not add layers of education that are unneeded. If we can tackle these two areas, then we can come closer to matching delivery to expectation and drive down the overall cost of education while increasing accessibility.

Thoughts

Do you have specific thoughts on innovations that will help lessen tuition and make education more accessible? I know that greater minds than mine are working on this very problem and I welcome your input and ideas. Perhaps together, we can come up with a solution.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional and assistant professor of practice for the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.

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In Case of Emergency: Weather Warnings, Amber Alerts, and National News

Cell phone alertI am traveling in southern Idaho and I got to thinking about the technology necessary for modern emergency notification and response. I got an AMBER Alert on my cell phone to watch for a vehicle involved in a kidnapping. First of all, I had never heard my phone make a noise like that and second, I didn’t even remember signing up for AMBER Alerts. That was the first alert I ever got, so I was intrigued by the infrastructure necessary for emergency notifications and I did some research to see how it works.

Emergency Notification

With the proliferation of cell phones, emergency notification becomes a lot easier and can be localized. In addition to the AMBER Alert I got this week, I also heard a tornado warning and flood warning from other cell phones. These all come through a program called Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA). WEA enabled cell phones from mobile carriers to automatically send these alerts through local cell towers. If you are in an area that broadcasts an emergency alert, then you will receive the message. Possible messages include AMBER Alerts, messages from the weather service, and emergency messages from the President of the United States. According to FEMA, you can opt out of weather and AMBER Alert messages but not messages from the President.

This makes it possible to broadcast to many people at the same time outside of the traditional television and radio emergency broadcast system. With the shift away from watching live television or listening to the radio, the broadcast system has adapted to reach us wherever we are.

Emergency Response

As with emergency notification, emergency response has been updated as well. Since cell phones can broadcast GPS signals, your call to 911 can be traced to your specific location, even if you don’t know where you are. This is most important when speed is critical for emergency personnel to reach you. Again, the system has adapted to our lifestyles and current technology. With enhanced 911, wireless and wireline calls are routed through a Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP) where your information and location are detected and relayed to safety personnel.

Thoughts

As we become more mobile and rely more on mobile devices, it is good to know that our emergency systems are broadcasting and collecting information through these devices. It may feel at times as there are few places left where we can get away from being connected but in an emergency, that’s a good thing.

Do you have any experience working with emergency systems? Are there still updates that would make it even better? Let me know your thoughts.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional and assistant professor of practice for the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.

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The Future of Self-Driving Cars

Stock photo of a young man clasping his hands near the steering wheel of a self-driving car.The Future of Self-Driving Cars

I own a sports car that requires all of my attention while driving. I love driving it but from time to time I think about what it will be like to drive (or ride in) a self-driving car. According to a recent article, at least two automakers are only five years away from production of self-driving cars. I think I would be bored, but I can see the advantages of being able to get caught up on work or sleep or enjoying a good book during commutes. It would be like having your own chauffeur. I was curious as to what the future holds, so I did some research.

Computers vs. Humans

In the article mentioned above, self-driving cars have been in 11 accidents in the last six years and Google claims its cars were not at fault in any of them. Perhaps the future of self-driving automobiles lies in providing transportation for people who do not drive well or choose not to drive. When it comes to driving, do you trust a computer or a 17-year-old?

The Future Is Now

The early components of self-driving cars are already available. Adaptive or autonomous cruise control is an option on several foreign and domestic vehicles. This technology typically uses radar to sense the distance between you and the car ahead of you. It will then actively brake or accelerate to maintain a safe distance between the two vehicles. Unfortunately, it is less effective in rain, fog, or snow.

Acura’s Lane Keeping Assist System uses a camera mounted between the rearview mirror and the windshield to track whether you are staying in your lane. If you veer outside the lines, then the car will warn you and also apply light torque to the steering to guide you back into the lane. In theory you can drive without hands on the wheel, but a dashboard warning will appear if you do it for very long. If you signal for a legitimate turn or lane change, then the system will assume that you are in control and not try to nudge you back to center.

Crash avoidance systems are also available now. Other technology exists, but needs to be integrated and perfected before going into mass production.

Thoughts

Google’s self-driving cars are set to hit the streets this summer in neighborhoods around the Mountain View, CA campus. Self-driving cars are on the near horizon, but there are social and legal issues to deal with. For example, should laws be different for self-driving vehicles? In the event of a traffic infraction who is responsible, the car or the driver/rider? How can a self-driven car help certain segments of the population? I will explore these questions in future blog posts.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional and assistant professor of practice for the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.

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Travel Tech: How Do I Pay for My Croissant in Paris?

Credit card on wheels with a straw hat.Summer vacations allow us to unwind, see new things, and even meet new people. As you plan your vacation, it is important to think how you are going to pay for it. With more Americans traveling overseas, you’ll need to plan for currency exchange and whether your credit cards will work in a foreign country. This post will sort out the facts of foreign travel and will hopefully prepare you for a stress-free vacation.

Foreign Exchange

I have traveled to various countries and continents around the world and my approach to money has changed dramatically. Years ago I used to go to my local bank and get all of the cash I thought I needed, in the local currency. If I were to visit multiple countries I would have to estimate the cash needed for each country. Before the Euro, I had to carry marks, pounds, and francs at the same time. If I ran out before I left the country, then I had to navigate the local currency exchange (often with a hefty fee) or the local banking system. This system was clumsy at best.

The Miracle of ATMs

The first time I used an ATM in a foreign country was in a dark alley in Dublin. I was totally amazed when the screen flashed my name and asked me the nature of my transaction. I knew then that technology was totally awesome. I was in a foreign country far from home, yet the machine knew who I was and gave me money in local currency after determining I had that money in my account. The system, the networking, and the applications all had to work together to make this magic. That was the last time I visited a currency exchange at my bank, the airport, or a train station. I was hooked.

Who Carries Cash?

Fast-forward to today and I rarely carry cash. With the worldwide network of credit card and debit card receiving terminals there is no need to carry large sums of cash. I usually get enough cash at the foreign airport ATM to pay the taxi driver and for small purchases, but outside of that I rely on my credit and debit cards. For foreign travel though, that brings up the question of whether the American issued credit card will work. Possibly not.

Chip and PIN vs. Chip and Signature vs. Magnetic Swipe

Many countries, including those in Europe and Asia, adhere to the EMV (Europay, Mastercard, Visa) standard of electronic transactions. This requires a chip and PIN type card, but many still accept chip and signature and possibly, but not necessarily, the old magnetic swipe cards. A chip and PIN system requires a PIN number to unlock the information embedded in the card. A chip and signature terminal can decode the information on the chip but does not ask for a PIN number and requires a live signature instead. The magnetic swipe has the user information embedded on the magnetic strip and requires a swipe and a signature. The newer cards being issued in America generally are the chip and signature variety. While it is a step in the right direction towards EMV standards, it is only a half measure and may not always work abroad. Consider the situation of needing to purchase a train ticket from a kiosk in Vienna in the middle of the night. That kiosk has no way to collect your signature so you could be spending a cold night in the station while waiting for the ticket office to open in the morning.

What About RFID?

One of the concerns about travel is rogue Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) scanners. Some credit cards have embedded RFID with credit card information. All U.S. passports since 2007 also have an embedded RFID chip. To be clear, this is not the same thing as the chip in a chip and PIN or chip and signature card. Popular RFID credit cards are Visa PayWave, MasterCard PayPass, American Express ExpressPay, and Discover Zip, and they generally carry a symbol of four wavy lines. You will find the same chip in many electronic lock systems. The advantage of these is that you can bump the card against or near the transaction scanner without having to remove it from your wallet. The disadvantage is that others with a scanner close enough to you, generally two feet, can also read and copy your information. There are a lot of solutions for blocking that data collection, from special wallets to Tyvek and aluminum card sleeves. My favorite is the homemade duct tape wallet with built in RFID block (tin foil). Before you invest in anything, make sure that your card even has an RFID embedded chip. I believe that with the advent of electronic pay systems such as Apple Pay and Android Pay, these cards will fade from use, as will the security concerns.

Thoughts

These are some things to think about as you plan your travels this summer. The world is a big place but it is becoming smaller through technology. Just when you think you may be in unchartered territory you will be surprised, as I was years ago when I walked into the terminal at the Frankfurt airport and was greeted by a big sign that said “American Express Welcomes You To Frankfurt.” They obviously got there before me.

I hope you will share your travel experiences this summer and any tips that you have to make the process uneventful so that you can fully enjoy the experience.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional and assistant professor of practice for the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.

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Spring Cleaning That Dirty Data

Photo of pulling a squeegee across a soapy window on a sunny day.I am in spring cleaning mode this week and plenty of projects around the house need attention. Now that the sun is out, I can see how dirty my windows really are. In addition to physical cleaning, I am also trying to clean up my files and data and I would encourage you to do the same. As January is for resolutions, the arrival of spring is a good tickler for cleaning.

Big Data

There is a lot of talk about big data and the potential for new insights through careful analysis. What we don’t talk about enough is the fact that these brilliant insights will not be possible unless we organize and cleanse the data that we have. The biggest problems are missing data, inaccurate data, and redundant data. Until we clean up these problems the results of our analyses will continue to be flawed.

If you work with customer records, medical records, financial records or other critical data, you should be scrubbing constantly. For the rest of us, we should provide a good annual cleaning, at a minimum. It really all comes down to trust. Do I trust the results I am getting and do I trust the underlying data? If not, it is time to clean.

Missing Data

Information professionals say “garbage in, garbage out.” This is especially applicable to missing data. For example, a form prompts customers to supply their name, address, city, state, and zip code. If some customers fail to provide their zip code, you could never sort with accuracy on that field. If you wanted to send out advertising to a select geographic location based on zip code, you could not. Your data for this task is incomplete and useless. Maintaining strict rules on incoming data can alleviate this problem.

Inaccurate Data

Inaccurate data is even worse than missing data. With missing data, you can see where you have holes even if you cannot sort on that information. With inaccurate data, you could be happily marching down the yellow brick road and not know how bad your results are. You may not even know the extent of the problem. The key to accurate data is to put filters in place so the data is analyzed for accuracy, correct values, and values in the correct field.

Redundant Data

Another problem is redundant data. This can come from poor version control or not replacing old values or information with newer values. As an example, think about your personal digital photo storage. How many times have you stored the same photo? If you are anything like me, you have a copy on your phone, your computer, possibly your tablet, and one or two memory cards. The good news is, if you ever had a device failure then you have plenty of backup sources, but the bad news is you have created redundant data or images. With the introduction of cloud computing, we should be able to synch everything to the cloud and have one clean filtered copy of everything. Unfortunately, there seems to be some lingering trust issues with the cloud, but hopefully we can get beyond that.

Thoughts

Big data can get out of control quickly without well thought out strategies for input, organization, and cleansing. This year, as part of your spring cleaning, identify those areas where you have dirty data and vow to get them under control before it controls you.

Do you have any advice for cleaning big data and keeping it clean? Are there any products that have worked well for you? Cleaning data is harder than cleaning windows but the results can be just as bright.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional and assistant professor of practice for the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.

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Courage in the Face of Change

Man leaps across a precipice in the mountains at sunset.I have been thinking about all of the students who are about to graduate and the new students who will begin the AIM Program in June. Graduates may be moving into the job market or starting a postgraduate program, but there are still many unknowns. New students may be embarking on their first graduate experience or their first online course. It takes courage to start that first step and to follow through on the commitment. This blog post is dedicated to those courageous souls facing new adventures.

Definition

Courage is defined on Dictionary.com as “the quality of mind or spirit that enables a person to face difficulty, danger, pain, etc., without fear.” I am not sure that having courage means you have no fear. Instead, I think it is a managed fear. Think back to the last time you ventured into the unknown. What pushed you into that new venture? Was it to alleviate discomfort in your current situation? Were you seeking a reward? Or were you curious as to what the new experience would bring? The first time I skydived, there was definitely some fear involved, but there was also curiosity. In my case, the curiosity outweighed the fear.

Examples of Courage

One of the finest examples of courage I can think of is military service. These men and women face the unknown just by reporting for duty. They then face ongoing challenges if they are deployed to foreign lands to defend our freedom and security. They are not alone, but they courageously face the unknown despite their fears. I honor them for that courage.

Another example of courage is young people who move away from home and the towns they grew up in to better themselves through education or employment. It takes courage to build a new life. It gets easier as they continue to encounter new experiences, but that initial move can be daunting.

Change Takes Courage

I have come to understand that change takes courage, whether it be changing jobs, entering a new academic program, taking on new volunteer responsibilities, or changing a lifestyle. The pain of your current situation could make changing easier but it still takes courage to take the first step toward (hopefully) a better future.

Thoughts

I hope that you will take a moment this week to recognize someone who is facing a change with courage. Whether they are a new graduate or someone starting a new venture, congratulate them and wish them well as they confidently step forward.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional and assistant professor of practice for the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.

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Technology in the Air

Photo of modern airplane flying on autopilot.In light of upcoming summer vacation plans, I want to look at how technology works behind the scenes to keep us safe and comfortable as we travel. Recently I was on a plane and, as I often do, I looked in the cockpit at the instruments. I was amazed at the array of gauges and computer screens available to the pilots. How far have we come in the last 100 years in terms of technology in a plane? Is it better for the pilot? Is it safer for the passengers?

Electronic Flight Bag

My son is taking flying lessons and his flight bag seems to get heavier by the day. Every pilot takes a similar bag into the cockpit and it carries flight maps, aircraft operating manuals, and other documentation. Fortunately, an electronic flight bag has been developed that allows pilots to download maps and other useful information to a tablet. The iPad seems to be the tablet of choice for pilots and can be updated at airports or real time through wireless 4G. They can also hold apps such as weather maps, FAA updates, and GPS navigation aids. Such technology makes critical information much more accessible to the pilot.

Passenger Entertainment

There are many networked systems running in a plane, including the navigation systems, the point-of-sales systems for purchased food and beverages, and the passenger entertainment systems. On top of that, wi-fi has been added to many flights. It is a miracle that it all works and is a testament to good systems architecture and a robust network. I flew overseas last year and the plane had a seatback entertainment system with what appeared to be an endless array of music and movie choices. More recently I flew with a small airline that rented tablets connected wirelessly to an on-board server, with movies and in-flight entertainment. The options continue to grow as airlines try to differentiate themselves and become more sophisticated in their technology offerings.

Who’s Flying the Plane?

I read about the advent of driverless cars, but will we see a pilotless passenger plane anytime soon? Drones are available now that can take payloads that range from cameras to missiles. Passenger planes have autopilot, which can be used once the plane is in the air, but a human still takes off and lands. In a recent article, experts speculated on future technology that could possibly push pilots out of the cockpit. This debate has intensified since a German pilot deliberately crashed an Airbus A320 into a mountain last month. Completely remote aircraft management is being researched. In fact, remote control airports are already in use in Sweden and are being considered in other locations. The question I ask myself is do I trust the plane to a pilot or a programmer?

Thoughts

If your travels take you on a plane this summer, I hope you will appreciate the technological changes that have come to the airline industry, both for your safety and comfort and to help those charged with getting you safely to your destination.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional and assistant professor of practice for the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.

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Lessons in Leadership

Hiking group trekking on a Crimean mountain.In many of our AIM courses, we teach about leadership. Whether leading people, new processes, or new technologies, we place a great emphasis on leadership. But what are the characteristics of a good leader?

I believe this is important to understand and practice so this week I will share with you some leadership lessons I have learned and, more importantly, I am hoping that you will share your insights.

Leading Change

Throughout my career I have had several opportunities to lead change. In my opinion, this is one of the hardest tasks because it requires you to transition people into new territory amidst skepticism and fear of the change. I once worked on a very large data center consolidation project where computers were being moved from scattered sites around the world to large centralized data centers. People had become attached to their application running on a computer that they could see and touch like a favorite pet. To move the application and hardware to an unknown location was truly a change to be reckoned with. This same scenario is being played out daily as companies transfer data and functions to the cloud. I wish we could come up with a better term than cloud so that the end result appeared more concrete and palatable to those suffering from computer separation anxiety.

From this experience I learned two valuable lessons about leadership:

  1. A good leader is a good communicator. It is important to be able to paint a plausible and even inviting picture of the future: “IF we do this, here are the benefits for you.” The first thought in everyone’s mind is “what’s in it for me?”
  2. It is vital to lead people in a direction that is in their best interest and does not lead them off a cliff. This builds trust and increases cooperation. The first time a leader moves a team or group in a direction that is not in their best interest, trust dissolves and resistance increases. Until that trust is re-established, the leader will no longer be effective.

Leading from the Middle

Hard charging and visible leaders often lead from the front. Shepherds, in contrast, lead their flocks from the back. I have found that it is sometimes necessary to lead from the middle. Recently, I had the opportunity to teach and lead a weeklong youth leadership course at a nearby camp. There were 48 teen campers and a staff of older youth. During the week, a group of campers was tasked with cleaning the dining hall. The staff was in a meeting at that time. I decided to help clean the dining hall, since I knew that I had support leading the staff meeting. The participants were pleasantly surprised that their adult leader would actually help them finish their chore so that they could go off and do what they wanted. They assumed that a proper leader was always out front TELLING them what to do, which was their limited experience with leaders, but leading from the middle builds team unity and builds respect for the leader.

A Good Leader is a Good Follower

I have come to realize that to be a good leader you must practice being a good follower. If you understand the vision and goals of the leader, then it is important that you help your teammates to achieve those goals. For example, as a follower, it is your responsibility to ask clarifying question when the vision is not clear and then support that vision once the direction has been decided. When it is time for you to lead, you would do well to have teammates who are also good followers.

Thoughts

I think that everyone has a chance to step into a leadership role in his or her lifetime. Whether that role is parent, coach, mentor, manager, or executive, it is important to remember to lead in a way that gets everyone to the goal safely. As the leader, it is not about you but about the group and the desired outcome for everyone.

I hope you have some leadership stories that you are willing to share with me. What worked for you? What lessons did you learn by getting it wrong the first time? Did everything turn out well, or were there lessons along the way? Let me know.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional and assistant professor of practice for the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.

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