Apple’s Oct 2016 Mac Event

Apple Event Oct 2016

Saying that the Mac has been getting the short shrift is an understatement, recently, at least from a hardware perspective. Recently, macOS Sierra was released and I have been running it since a week before its public release and I can say it is the best macOS release I have run so far. Part of that, I would imagine, is that the features continue to be tweaks and integration points between macOS, tvOS, watchOS, and iOS and that leaves a lot of time to work on fixing bugs and minor annoyances. Many annoyances are fixed each and every release, which is great to see.

However, I’m not the normal consumer and I am quite strange, so I do not consider my experience to be typical. While I might consider myself a power user, I tend to be a careful power user who minds the default applications and default settings and does not stray from them unless there is a need. I use as many of the default as possible, in other words. If what I am doing works and allows me to do what I need, I’m pretty happy.

New 2016 MacBook ProThat doesn’t change the fact that Apple’s hardware on the Mac side needs a refresh, and I am not counting the update to the MacBook back in the April 2016, but looking at the rest of the line. Yesterday’s event was the start of the refresh and it is a very Apple start to a very Apple refresh. I’m less interested in the specifics of the new MacBook Pro than I am in what it seems to signal about upcoming refreshes and where the Mac line sits for the future.

What Is A Computer

In case you have not heard the howling, Microsoft held an event on the day before Apple and released some new products as well. These have received some, overall, positive press and feedback from a variety of sources around the web.

I will admit that Microsoft is doing some really interesting, and fundamentally different, things with their Surface lineup of computers. We have deployed the Surface Pro 4 at Martin Luther College to our faculty and so I have been able to use Windows 10 on a Surface device for almost a year. It is a very different idea of what a computer is.

That is where the rub is right now: Apple has a different idea of what a computer is going forward, and this new MacBook Pro continues to drive that home.

Apple’s lineup clearly is stating that the iPad, and more specifically, the iPad Pro, is the entry-level computing device now. Where the MacBook Air was the entry-level mobile computing device, the iPad now filling that role. From there, the traditional Macs are rising in price and pushing the Mac as a professional device in many contexts.

That’s what the lineup says right now with the lowest-priced new 13″ MacBook Pro sitting around $1500. Even the slightly cheaper MacBook starts at $1300 and that device serves an even smaller niche.

However, the 9.7″ iPad Pro starts at $600 and the 12.9″ iPad Pro starts at $800. Those are prices far more palatable to consumers if Apple is able to jump the gap from “big iPhone” to “small touch-based computer”. Will they be successful? I do not know, but these are really awkward times as Apple seems to be attempting to move the lineup while not giving in to the idea that their lines should merge like the Surface lineup has.

One Port To Rule Them All … Almost

USB-C is in … almost everything else is out on the Mac. The only other port is a headphone jack, but USB-C is going to handle everything from displays, to card readers, to power, to storage, and everything else in between. Granted, they are really Thunderbolt 3 ports, but this next generation of Thunderbolt has allowed Apple to simplify their port situation in such a fashion that everyone is going to complain about it.

I am excited!

The fact that we are now able to have a single cable handle everything, including charging, and with a reversible port as well is such a huge step forward that Thunderbolt 3 is maybe the greatest temptation for me to upgrade my current 13″ MacBook Pro with Retina display. The idea of being able to connection two 4K displays hooked up to a single docking station with network, sound, USB 3, and Thunderbolt 3 ports ready to go is extremely enticing and exactly the way I would want to be able to set up a future workstation here at work.

Yes, there is a dongle explosion at the moment to enable the usage of current and older technology, but that is temporary as well. The future is USB-C and I, for one, am happy to see it coming.

That is about it from me. The devices are not as interesting as what it means for the future. There will always be come better, something coming in the future, and something that will appeal to some and alienate others so enjoy what you have, buy when you need to, and enjoy what you are doing!

 

Communication During Change

Change

The past eight weeks have included taking a course titled Change Leadership as part of my grad studies. During that time I have been able to read a book by John Kotter titled Leading Change. In the book Kotter lays out his eight-step process for leading change and dives into some other subjects around the future of organizations as well. It is a short and easy read but dense with information. I highly recommend it for any leader in any organization. It is well worth your time.

Communicating ChangeOne theme that ran through the text, or maybe it was through my head, was the importance of communication while leading the change process. This was not just a one-time thing, stuffed into a single chapter and then forgotten again, but a general theme woven throughout the book and an integral part of each and every chapter. Each step along the way involves communication in some way shape or form. It is the air that leaders breath during a change. It is the fuel for the fire of any change an organization undertakes. Kotter’s first step is Create Sense of Urgency. Take a look at that and think, what is the best way to do that than to communicate with anyone and everyone about what is going on and why it needs to change … now? How is anyone supposed to know both the what and why of a change than when they are told!? Even the last step, Institute Change, will require a concerted and focused effort to keep that change from fizzing out at the end. Communication, and its importance, is integral every step of the way!

So how does that communication happen? Well, the possibilities are endless! However, here is a helpful video which can give you some ideas to start with.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. For each and every organization, there is a unique blend of communication styles, mediums, and messages needed in order to make sure the change is getting through and that the communication being presented is having an impact. Talk with your people and figure out what will work best. Here is an excellent example of just talking to people and tailoring the change message to the audience. It is of Steve Jobs taking questions during the 1997 World Wide Developer Conference. Much of what he talks about here can be seen played out in Apple, through the changes he started, over the next 20 years.

One aspect of communication that I have really come around to over the past few years, and I think is vitally important for change in particular, is to be on the lookout for the dysfunctions of a team found in Patrick Lencioni’s book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. In his model, he presents the dysfunctions that he has seen railroad teams and organizations across decades consulting with businesses and non-profit organizations. You can find it reproduced here:

5 Dysfunctions of a Team

These same five dysfunctions can very easily sidetrack and sideline needed changes because some of those needed levels are not there. What is the first thing to go? Communication breaks down and becomes ineffective and when that happens, the downfall of the organization follows closely behind. Patrick is an entertaining speaker, so I will let him speak for himself.

Trust is the base, and it needs to be the base for change as well. When trust is there, it makes the work of the leadership that much easier and the way that trust is fed is through effective, true, useful communication. I cannot recommend Patrick Lencioni’s books enough as quick and easy reads with many useful tidbits about leading organizations. They are filled with humor and knowledge.

Here are some more resources to look at. Remember, communication is vital, but it is also a moving target and something that needs to be tailored to each and every organization and situation:

In closing, do not discount at all the importance of communication during change. When you think you have communicated enough, double the effort. When you think that everyone is onboard, triple the effort to pick up those people who are still on the fence and move those who are in opposition onto the fence so you can pull them over when you do it again! As Patrick Lencioni wrote in The Advantage:

… there is no such thing as too much communication.

Go forth and communicate … then communicate some more!

Old Things

MLC Old Main 2016

St. Paul's Church 2015I like to work as a part of old things. Old buildings. Old industries. Old organizations. The farm that my family owns is already on its third generation, the church that I volunteer at and am a member of just celebrated its 150th anniversary last year, and my place of employment is not far behind. Farming, education, and religion are all “old industries” as well (in a sense).

Christmas at St. Paul's ChurchThis is almost anathema today. So often we are pulled to look outside of where we are and to find discontent … with the promise that we will be able to find contentment in the new things that world is offering us today. Sad? Buy a new car! Not feeling content with your job? Then you need to change your job to one of those new and up-and-coming companies! Feeling like you are not fulfilled where you are? Then move away to one of those hip areas in the country! Looking for Christ? Look to that new mega church down the road! Toss all of your past behind and leave those backwards places to your old self and try on this new self today!

MLC WCC 2016The old, the traditional, the stable are things to be cherished and embraced. Our culture tells us to toss out those old things in our lives and bring on the new things without taking into consideration what is being lost in the process. All of the combined decisions and knowledge and meaning of the past is then left behind when we decide that what has come is not worth out time. History is our collective understanding of who we are and where we came from, and tossing all of that history aside because “I know better” or “I don’t need that anymore” is a high form of hubris. How are we to know we know better? Don’t sit there unthinking and without a look toward what can be done better, but don’t sit there and believe that you somehow are able to have a higher understanding.

Now, none of these things are old when considering the entire span of history, but it does a person good to consider the institutions they are a part of and why they are there. Embrace history, embrace the old, embrace the opportunity to work within these established, stable, traditional places and to be a part of something greater than just the here, the now, the transient.

Indecision to Carry

Each workday I go through the same routine:

  1. wake up to alarm
  2. get out of bed
  3. shower and change for work
  4. head downstairs and help with breakfast/lunch prep/etc.
  5. drink cup of coffee with wife
  6. brush teeth
  7. pray with family
  8. gather together my stuff for work into bag
  9. say goodbye and head off to Martin Luther College

There are sometimes a few small variations to that routine, but for the most part that is it. However, out of every small decision I make in the morning it is #8 on that list that gives me the most pause each and every morning:

  • gather together my stuff for work into bag

Looking at the picture I used at the top of this post, it is probably pretty easy to see why. While my iPhone is always in my pocket and I have various amounts of reading material in my bag, I am constantly shuffling what technology I should be carrying between home and work.

Here are the three devices I currently work through my mind each morning:

  • Apple 13″ MacBook Pro with Retina display
  • Apple iPad Air
  • Microsoft Surface 3

The iPad Air is the easiest to carry, fits nicely into my bag and fulfills probably 85% of my needs on any given day. The Surface 3 is a test device for the Windows 10 deployment we are looking at for work along with an interesting look at the differences between form factors (and fits nicely into my bag). It fulfills maybe 75% of my needs on a given day, but a slightly different portion than the iPad Air.

The 13″ MacBook Pro is, surprisingly, just a little too big to bring along every day. It just fits into my bag, means I can’t bring too much else along, but fulfills 95% of my needs on any given day. It is just less portable. It takes up more space and so it sits on my desk.

In my own mind it looks like an iPad Pro or MacBook would be great compromises, but they are coming from different ends of the spectrum. Do I want a laptop more like a tablet or a tablet more like a laptop?

The Surface 3 is interesting only because it tries to toe the line between laptop and tablet by having different modes. It sorta works, sometimes (not a rousing endorsement, I know). The other problem with going all-in on Microsoft’s platform is that the software is just not at the quality I’ve grown accustomed to over in Apple’s camp.

Sadly, my trusty Lenovo X220 with openSUSE Tumbleweed has been relegated to primarily system admin work as I fix things around campus requiring a serial interface and a CLI. I eagerly watch for what the response is going to be from the open source operating systems to where Microsoft has taken Windows 10, but maybe Windows 10 is not the proper course.

All of these words are here to whine about the fact that I often don’t know what to carry with me between home and work. We have a Surface Pro 4 coming in as a test machine for our next faculty deployment at Martin Luther College. Maybe the increased size and speed will force me to start moving to a more device-agnostic way of working.

There are four amazing platforms to work from right now: Microsoft, Apple, Google, and Linux/Open Source. They all have their strong points and their weak points, but the entire ecosystem has been polluted by the fact that each platform is ever so slightly different in major ways (yes, I did read that phrase three times … it is what I want to say). Where do you turn?

Maybe it just doesn’t matter.

IT as Partner

I recently completed my first grad school course and started my second. While the first focused on leadership, the second is dialed into information technology (IT) management (so I’m quite excited about it).

Our first unit focused on strategy, planning, and alignment (which are all good buzz words). However, the word alignment received some extra billing within the readings because of how that specific word can still leave IT as a separate entity and not fully integrated into the business.

The word promoted in place of alignment was partnership. The picture that partnership is supposed to conjure up is one of two equals working together toward the same goal. While still providing maybe a little too much separation between IT and the rest of the business, it does move things in the right direction.

With that in mind, a friend of mine and I had a little discussion on this very topic over Twitter. Here is just a small sample of what we covered:

IT isn’t an afterthought and it can’t be run separately from everything else. IT is the business, or a major part of it. If you are doing anything of worth, you are most likely working with information technology in some form or fashion and instead of looking at it traditionally as a cost-center to be managed, it is better to think of it as a valuable business partner were there are opportunities to innovate.

This also means that IT needs to think more globally, but the good news is that the people within that department are usually uniquely positioned to be able to easily do that. What department doesn’t IT work with? None. IT works with them all!

There is no alignment to be had or worked on because the goals should be the same across the board. If they are not, then there is work to be done.