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Information is Power

The smart money has always been on information as king, even though modern industry seems to be in denial.
This first became evident when Ogette discovered fire worked well for heating and cooking, and was able to lure George into a permanent relationship, beating out her competitor Glumpha for the male considered most likely to be useful. While the value of this triumph was not immediately evident -- George tended to sit on a massive stone in the cave and stare at the cave paintings, it was clear that he broght strenght (he had lugged the stone into the cave) and art appreciation into the family mix.  In any case, their children aquired her brains, his strength and discovered great things such as the wheel, sharp stick ("you'll poke out your eye" said Ogette) and the tooth pick.
Knowing how to do things, having the facts you need, when you need them have always been essential. However, we have been building information into devices for some time.  Early compasses, sun-dials, and other devices reflected the first real information technology. Running a ship without some of these devices was an invitation to disaster (see Dava Sobel's book "Longitude" for some examples.)  The nice thing about the 1600's is how little information you needed to be succesful.
As we moved into computers, networks, and more recently into masses of data (see Tony Hey's book: The Fourth Paradigm: Data-Intensive Scientific Discovery) we have gone beyond the point where a few experts - be they navigators or shaman -- could be relied upon to set our course. There are now two forms of businesses: information driven/driving businesses, and out-of businesses. Organizations who do not recognize where Information Technology is strategic for their business are inviting competitors to help put them out of their ignorance.
I had a recent discussion at meetings in Korea where leaders from the Korean and Japanese computer professional societies and I were sharing observations about our experiences. We found common concern in the denial of industry about the strategic relationship for computing in their business, and their investments to address this emerging reality. Some companies are in the IT business (Microsoft, Hatachi, etc.) others recognise the critical role of computing (Northup Gruman, Sony, etc.) but others (unnamed) don't get it. This shows up when we ask leaders in these companies to sponsor or otherwise get involved in 'local' conferneces, or in their lack of encouragement for their professional employees to join, participate and volunteer in professinal society activities (even some of the aformentioned companies who "get it" don't get this part of IT.)  
So, why is sponsorship from the corporate level for events, volunteer leaders, and participation by employees critical? It has to to with the network of information. Companies that keep their employees dis-engaged from this network are losing essential employee development, innovation and motivation. Money can only go so far in motivating employees (see Dan Pink's video  or book: Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us  ), ultimately you need to encourge employees to connect with their peers, develop and maintain mastery of their competencies, and experience some true autnomy and leadership opportunities.  You don't need to turn over a major project to them as a testing ground, you can encourage them to take the lead in an IEEE event or community. Program chair for their section/chapter, participate in a conference planning team, or serve on one of many local, national or international committees within the IEEE Computer Society. They will value the recognition -- they will develop new knowledge and bring ideas into the company, they will aquire soft skills in teamwork, communications, and collaboration.  The peers they work with may just provide key answers to problems your organization faces, or could be the partners you need in the "next big thing". 
Ogette gets it, even George gets it, by now Glumpha gets it as well.  
If your management doesn't get it .. send them a pointer to this Blog entry it may help them get out of their cave, and even let you out of yours once in a while.
If you have any examples you can share of how engagement in professional activities have helped you develop new ideas or solve problems, please add your comments!
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Like the glut of information, there is a glut of conferences and the quality and value of these conferences is suspect. We still hear the term â??boondoggleâ?? when referring to conferences. There are vendor sponsored conferences, quasi vendor sponsored conferences and then conferences supported by donations from vendors. Itâ??s akin to lobbyists in the political arena.

The problem also is the quality of the conferences. Many are comprised of talking heads (thought leaders, X-Spurts) who had an idea once and decided to foist it upon the world. Finally there are the proverbial snake oil salesmen (or women), plying their elixirs.

With this confusion it is difficult to rationalize conferences and visits to modern day caves (Las Vegas). Give most people a challenging project to work on, provide them with the resources to do so and the freedom to act and that will motivate them. No conferences will provide that level of self-satisfaction (well unless there is entertainment provided emoticon.
Posted on 12/14/10 2:05 AM.
Richard raises a common engineering perspective ... stay heads down in the cubical and focus on solving the problem at hand --- something that does need to be done at times.
I've been considering the "boondoggle" aspect of conferences, realizing that corporate management and many other professions have events (conferences, training, workshops) ... in Hawaii, near golf courses, and so forth; or even the once popular "three martini lunch". -- here's the gotcha ... your golf partner may be a critical business associate that is the key to your next corporate success. The other attendee at the conference may just have the critical experience that would address the problem you are trying to solve. Engineers dislike wasted time, and building relationships, attending events, etc. seems like much wasted time. But I also go looking for these things -- and often you get what you are looking for.
Posted on 12/28/10 3:15 AM in reply to Richard Ordowich.

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