Organizational Muscle Memory

I’ve had plenty of opportunity to tell my “story” lately. After my initial post that my current position is ending, there has been a pleasantly surprising amount of interest and activity. Others have told me that I shouldn’t be surprised, but I feel like I’ve been fairly heads-down the past six years so it was a little surprising to learn that people remembered me.

Back in September, I attended SatSummit in DC. I did so mainly to recharge by geospatial batteries. After three years, there was an in-person event in my back yard, so I took PTO and attended. (I did it that way to be free of any expectations from work.) By that time, I had been doing normal operational systems work for about three years. The previous geospatial work I’d been doing had been shut down by our new investors – a decision I couldn’t argue with given the performance of that line of business at the time of the sale – and I’d transitioned into a traditional CIO role.

In a foreshadowing of my current situation, I found myself at SatSummit explaining what I’d been doing and where I’d been. I’m certain I was a little fumbling and didn’t represent myself well. Over the past few weeks, I’ve had plenty of chances to refine the description of what I’ve been doing and better articulate its value.

Most recently, during an interview/call, the person I was talking to made note of my lengthly career working in GIS juxtaposed with the last three years of ops and asked me which I preferred. Without hesitation, I said “GIS.” From a technology perspective, it’s my second love – after programming, which I’ve done since I was a child.

Despite that, I don’t see operations and GIS to be mutually exclusive. That’s rooted in how I view software development, GIS, and the application of technology to solve problems as a creative process. For me, the process of applying technology to solve real, meaningful problems for people is as creative as any art or writing and people engaged in that work are creators. Getting back in touch with that creative energy is what drew me to SatSummit.

With regard to operations, I have viewed its role, and mine, as one of enablement. If the software developers and UX designers who are building and shipping new features are creators; if the professional services engineers devising custom solutions for users are creators; if customer success and support engineers helping users to better understand how to use our product to solve problems are creators, then the role of operations is the enable them.

Every organization has necessary business processes that must be attended to in order for the organization to remain viable but which aren’t strictly related to core, value-adding – creative – functions. I view the role of operations to be to streamline and automate those processes to the greatest extent possible to clear the road for the creators – to turn rote but necessary business processes into organizational muscle memory that provides the least amount of distraction and context-switching possible for those who are creating.

If that can be done successfully, the result is an efficient, well-run organization that is able to focus intently on its mission. It was this realization that unlocked the value of what I had been doing in operations and gave me enthusiasm for it. I have long-recognized that I am intensely mission-oriented. Enabling mission performance through operational efficiency was not an intuitive thing for me connect to, but now that I have seen it, I cannot unsee it.

So my full answer to that question was that GIS is unquestionably what I prefer. Geospatial technology has a nearly-unique ability to help address some of the world’s most critical problems – climate change, population displacement, reduction in biodiversity, food instability, and so many more. It’s impossible to not be motivated by that. If the role I can play in a geospatial organization is to help it operate more efficiently, develop organizational muscle memory, clear the road for its creators, and enable it to scale to solve more problems for more people, then I am ready to get to work.