Monday, April 22, 2013


Something I've been pondering lately is what makes someone smart. I say it lots, that I'm working with some of the smartest people I've ever met before, but what does that really mean? Is it being witty? Well-read? Good data recall? Plain ol' hard work? Lots of technical knowledge? A big vocabulary? The ability to think brand new thoughts? Or put old ideas into a new order?

And I guess this is partly me trying to come to grips with being part of the -82 legacy...I don't think I'm particularly smart. I know I don't mind working hard (though two weeks straight of at least 11-hour days is eroding a bit of my enthusiasm...I have *no idea* how the folks back in Aft Steering or some of the other reviewers do it. They're there when I get to the office a few minutes after 0700, and still there when I leave 11-12 hours later.). I know I can multi-task. I know I can process complexities. I know I communicate well (as long as I can use cuss-words liberally)...which really means I know I listen more than I talk -- though I'm pretty sure some Programs would vehemently disagree about my self-proclaimed lack of verbosity. And I can extemporize with a certain amount of skill, as long as I have a decent sense of whatever subject on which I am pontificating.

But I don't think I'm particularly good at developing new ideas or putting together old ones in new ways. I'm not very good at analysis -- knowing what questions to ask to learn more about something...I don't know what I don't know. I tend to accept things at face value, even when there is an obvious question begging to be asked. I like to simplify things, break them down into little pieces, even when that degrades nuances. And I have my biases...too numerous to mention here; but those small-minded little assumptions that are the foundation upon which I build all my thoughts and perceptions.

So all this has led me to the question of what makes smart? Looking at the other people in the office who definitely personify the smartness of the office, I'm gonna boil smart down to three basic qualities: people skills, technical abilities or knowledge, and common sense. In our office at least, people skills manifest as wit: a sharp running commentary, witty repartee, quick comebacks and hilarious quotes that are logged, voted on and memorialized on members' departing plaques. While I think wit is indicative of the ability to quickly process information, make subtle connections from seemingly disparate bits of data, it also shows a keen ability to read people and know what might tickle their funny bone, or touch their hearts, or fire them up.

MC Hooligan has *mad* people skills -- I don't know which came first, the people skills or the 20-some-odd years as a state trooper in the Northeast. But he has an amazing ability to pick up very subtle cues, understand motivations, sense anomalies, and connect with all kinds of people. We talked about the people skills aspect of smart late last week. Our conclusion was that people skills are grounded in a genuine interest in people, concern for their welfare and desire to make connections and understand the human condition. Without that authentic-ness, a person in some way. But that genuine-ness can  go a long way towards compensating for social awkwardness (or, in my case, lack of social grace). It was a great discussion; I'll have more excerpts from it a little further along in this post.

Technical abilities and/or knowledge is the book smarts that some people just seem born with. Book smarts can be learned, I think, with enough effort, dedication and time studying, but I think it just comes naturally to some people. While there is a component of data recall to this aspect, what I'm really talking about is the deep internalizing of that information so that it becomes a basic component of how people think.

And common sense is, well, umm, kinda hard to actually pin down. Maybe, an ability to apply the rules of a generally accepted reality to any situation. Or maybe it's a foundational acceptance of the adage, "don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good." Or when something sounds ridiculous, it usually is. I don't do you explain common sense?

So we've got these three components of smart. In all his wisdom, MC Hooligan made this make sense too: the strongest of any shape is a triangle; and the strongest triangle is an equilateral triangle with all sides equal. Our three smart qualities make the triangle, and the smartest people, or maybe the most successful people have each of the strengths in equal, or nearly equal, abundance. I like the simplicity of it.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Catching Up

Here's what's been going on since early March:
-- Sequestration went into effect. There were lots of external Qs (questions) to answer.
-- I finally caved and got my Maryland motorcycle learner's permit on the way to getting a real, legit license. It hurt to give up my Hawaii license, but it was due entirely to my lack of looking at the identification requirements before going to Oahu. `
-- A major workforce management decision memo was signed. Pretty sure that I'll be working on responding to questions about that here within the next few weeks. 
-- Congress passed an FY 2013 appropriation for DHS...not just a CR (Continuing Resolution). There are mechanical differences for how accounts are managed between the two.
-- My cousin, her boyfriend and my *sister* came to visit! Yay!! They had planned separate visits, but ended up here on the same weekend which was awesomely cool to get to hang out with all of them. My sister and I walked miles and miles on the Mall. In a stunning oversight of awareness, we ended up on the Mall the day of the International Kite Festival that was part of the Cherry Blossom Festival. It was crowded, but so cool to see all the kites free and easy in the breeze. We were still too early for the cherry blossoms though.
-- The FY 2014 President's Budget was released. The Qs have been coming fast and furious for the last few days, and will likely continue to do so for the near future.
-- I dropped my lawnmower and weed eater off at the appliance repair place for a pre-summer tune up nearly a month ago. I've stopped by a couple of times now to pick it up. The first time it wasn't ready (they were waiting on carburetor kits); the second time they were closed for a medical emergency. I really hope I can get the tools back soon...the weeds are starting to get outta control.
-- We're working on a  fast-approaching deadline for submission to DHS for FY 2015. I've got a couple of items for which I am responsible. No pressure...we're just talking $50 million to $70 million. No biggie.
-- One of my immediate family members is going through some health issues. It's scary and there's nothing I can do right now to help. There might not be anything I'm ever able to do to help.
-- The first round of departures have started from our office. JZ headed out late last month. He is missed. New folks won't start showing up until mid-June. We have some gaps in the office. We're managing.
-- I got a bunch new gear for The Old Man, getting ready for a road trip to Florida in May. The Old Man has a new windshield, new saddle bags, a new *seat pad!*, and I got a new helmet. And my friend/neighbor, Molly, got me my Hawaii license plates!! Yay...and thank you, thank you, thank you, Mols!!!
-- The personnel ladder chart was finalized for FY 2014 roll-out. It includes a technical footnote required by some assumptions we made about FY 2013 that were proven wrong by the FY 2013 Enacted Appropriation. Apparently, the footnote made things very confusing. Guess what -- the dang thing is confusing to begin with!! The footnote at least points readers in the right direction to be able to figure out what happened. Harumph.
-- I'm trying to kick processed foods and refined sugars. The refined sugars are kicking my ass. Donuts, Easter candy, *jelly beans* (I love jelly beans), Cadbury creme eggs, cookies, brownies, ice hard to resist. I had one day last week where I didn't eat any refined sugar. Just one day. I'll keep trying.
-- Spring has sprung...finally! I was getting really tired of riding my bicycle in to work with so many layers on I could barely move, and still feel like my lungs were burning from the cold. So very very nice to ride with shorts and a t-shirt on!

Here's what I haven't done: write. Not one word outside of work. I mean, at work, I write every day...long, obnoxiously explanatory emails, talking points, OERs, awards, edits...all kinds of stuff. But that's not for me. Obviously, it's shown in the fact that I haven't posted for six weeks. But it's Very Difficult to write in this forum about what I'm doing now. The pre-decisional side is only one small piece. 

The larger, harder piece is that I don't necessarily always agree with leadership decisions. While I don't have much refined sensitivities about Coast Guard, internal Headquarters politics, I am just barely savvy enough to understand that whining about decisions made by senior leadership will not enhance my career, and depending upon how egregious the whining is, could be detrimental. I like my career. I don't want to end it prematurely in that particular fashion.

Now, on the other hand, there have been a few decisions recently that I think are stupendously inspiring and support whole-heartedly. They are decisions that show vision, and understanding of organizational needs in a changing world. Just the stuff that I think we need much much more of right now.