by , Michael Mah, No Comments

Apr 13

Speed, Slowness, and Serendipity

by QSMA, Michael Mah, Comments Off on Speed, Slowness, and Serendipity

Apr 13

April 13, 2006

Shoulder 003 lo-res.jpg

This photo is tells yet another chapter of the ideas that are shaping “Optimal Friction,” and my observations about life in the speed lane of high-technology.

The contraption you see me wearing here is a Donjoy Ultrasling, mated with an Aircast Cryo-cuff. It’s home for a month and a half, as I live life in the slow lane after tearing the shoulder muscle, biceps, and ligaments off the bone from my legendary fall. As readers of previous OF posts may recall, this occurred from my being in a frantic hurry to put out the trash on an icy driveway, thinking about the 9am conference call at the office that I was late for. (Sad but true: The story of my rescuing my children from a wild bear while hiking in the woods was indeed, just an elaborate cover-up.)

The Donjoy sling immobilizes the shoulder at a 90 degree angle so that the subscapularis and supraspinatus (rotator cuff) tendons heal correctly. The subscap tendon is attached to my shoulder with a double-row of Mitek stainless steel screws. The Aircast Cryo-cuff is filled with ice water, exchanged by that cooler attached to a filler tube. It’s circulated a few times a day to keep the swelling down as the soft tissue heals. I kid you not; when I walk down the street with this get-up, people stop and stare. I draw crowds – men, women and children stop what they’re doing to ask me what in the world had happened.

My biceps tendon that tore off is no longer attached to its original mounting point inside the shoulder. Instead, a 25mm hole was drilled at the top of my armbone, and the tendon was clipped (shortened) to discard the frayed end. After that, the clean end was inserted into the hole and pinned into place with yet another stainless steel screw, in this case a “big-honkin” 7mm one. I’m told by my surgeon that there’s a 90% success rate with this technique, and he seemed quite proud of his handiwork. I’ll eventually be fine, in 6-12 months.

If any of you out there are in too much of a rush and get trapped in excessive multi-tasking, think of me and my accident. If you fall, I assure you that it is very difficult stop yourself in mid-air with one hand upon your landing on an ice patch. But then again, as my tennis coach Gary said to me, “Maybe you’re lucky. If you didn’t put your hand down, you could have hit your head.”

So where am I going with this? They say that you teach best what you most need to learn. For me, this is just one step (or slip) along that journey. I find it wildly ironic that I’m known for teaching about managing high-pressure projects and teams within the “cult of speed” in the age of the Internet and today’s world of software and Information Technology. There have been endless conference speeches and case studies, where teams that were in too much of a hurry caused their projects to crash – with the end result being a dramatic slowdown. On projects, trying to go too fast can make you really slow. And speaking firsthand, my life right now is in a severe mandatory slowdown after my speed-crash, as the soft-tissue repair inside my body runs its natural course of re-knitting onto bone. My consulting clients have simply had to wait.

“That poor man…” you might say. But hold your sympathy – the universe led me to this for a reason in all its mysterious wisdom. As far as metaphors go, it’s remarkable to be walking the walk on a personal level, in a situation that many of our teams here in the world of high-technology find themselves. In his book, “In Praise of Slowness”, author Carl Honore talks about when fast can be slow, and when slow can be fast. He experienced an epiphany that led him to this deep knowing when, while waiting in an airport, he came across a newspaper article about “The One-Minute Bedtime Story.” It seemed to be a solution to the tug-of-war that Carl had with his then two-year-old son, who often felt that dad would often read Dr. Seuss too quickly. Carl figured that, with these new books, he might even zip through a few executive summaries of Hans Christian Andersen stories in less than 10 minutes.

Just as he was considering buying the full set on Amazon, he said that redemption came in the shape of a counter-question: Had he gone completely insane? From the answer came a new direction in his life’s work.

And so, as I sit in my post-surgical Donjoy Ultra-sling complete with Aircast Cryo-cuff, I plan to continue to shape the ideas around dealing with time-pressure on today’s modern technology projects, and the “non-Optimal Friction” that I see being played out everywhere I look. That includes the lack of necessary friction on driveway ice.

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