Coupling & Crosstalk: Roller Coasters & Proverbs

Coupling & Crosstalk is my column in the MEPTEC Report. This column appears in the Spring 2020 edition on pages 9-10.

Electronic coupling is the transfer of energy from one circuit or medium to another. Sometimes it is intentional and sometimes not (crosstalk). I hope that this column, by mixing technology and general observations, is thought provoking and “couples” with your thinking. Most of the time I will stick to technology but occasional crosstalk diversions may deliver a message closer to home.

Roller Coasters & Proverbs

Are you the type of person who flips to the end of the book to see how the story ends before starting it? Or one who reads the online reviews with the plot summary – including the spoilers – before watching the movie? If so, do you want to know how the coronavirus COVID-19 epidemic turns out?Well, I could tell you how it ends. But more important than the ending is in what genre will the story eventually fit? Horror? Science Fiction? Mystery and suspense? Humor? I suspect not…  Love? Heroism? Leadership?

The story is like a roller coaster ride. It ends right where it starts.  However, there is much fear, panic, and screaming en route from the start to the finish. And right now – here in the United States as I write this – we are still on the “way up” the first hill just before the plunge. We can hear the screaming of those who have gone before us; we glimpse the twisted track ahead. China has led the way and they have already taken the first plunge in the group of cars ahead. But we are all wondering how many more ups, downs, twists, and turns remain? And there may be a dark tunnel ahead from which we never think we will emerge. In the moment we will be full of terror. But in the end, we will come to a full and complete stop after a very bumpy and terrifying ride. Will we fully recover from our fear, nausea, and excitement? And, more important will our outlook and capabilities change?

Until now “work” was a different amusement park ride – a delightful merry go round which we constantly rode to see if we could grab the brass ring of opportunity, fame, and fortune. Somehow, today we ended up on the wrong ride and now fear the future.

What is the author full of? Comparing a viral epidemic that will likely be a global pandemic to an amusement park roller coaster ride? Is Ira nuts?…..  Yes, this analogy is appropriate and informative. Human nature is full of optimism: sometimes it is a function of ignorance and sometimes optimism alone enables us to function. I’m betting that many people will not want to go on this roller coaster ride again (or perhaps not on a cruise ship until their memory fades) and that a lot of thought will be given to changing corporate work environments.

The value of remote/home offices will be proven conclusively to even the most ‘unenlightened’ management teams in this hopefully short-term crisis. You can assume that many companies that have previously rejected the concept will embrace it looking at the potential long-term savings. Everything thing from brick and mortar savings to the ability to add lower cost offshore staff while hoping existing employees will enjoy reduced commuting time and flexible hours.

However, full-time “hermit staffing” (isolation of employees) even though essential during this epidemic is shortsighted long term. Steve Jobs was an early opponent stating: “Creativity comes from spontaneous meetings, from random discussions. You run into someone, you ask what they are doing, you say ‘Wow’, and soon you’re cooking up all sorts of ideas.”

So how, when things return to normal, do we get the “best of all possible worlds”? We need a winning combination of corporate savings; live interfacing with coworkers, suppliers, and customers; and at the same time reducing unproductive daily commutes? Four workable elements to provide “human interaction”:

  • “Hoteling” at corporate headquarters: space where offsite workers can set up for an occasional visit or meeting.
  • Part time telecommuting: for companies that can afford both home and traditional offices for each employee, Laszlo Bock (former head of Google Human Resources) reports research shows one and a half days per week is the ideal work-from-home arrangement.
  • Co-work locations: where remote employees can simply get some social interaction and escape the confines of their home office. (As popularized by WeWork and others even if not the best business models.) These tend to be far more productive than working in a noisy coffee shop.
  • Industry Events & Conferences: They combine exposure to new ideas with social interaction. (Okay, okay, this is a shameless plug for MEPTEC and other industry events we partner with.) As I have previously written and many industry friends confirm, often the networking and interaction at a conference is far more valuable than the technical content. This is saying a lot since our event technical content is excellent! This presenter and audience interaction provides necessary synergy to make cross-functional break throughs and create new concepts to move industry goal posts forward.

In the end, each person needs to achieve the right balance between remote and ‘in office’ work. And the good news is that companies will increase their demand for telecommuting equipment and network bandwidth to support these new work arrangements. The promised connectivity of 5G mobile networks will also power these remote, and sometimes mobile, workers. All of which will drive the need for faster and higher performance electronics using advanced packaging. So even though this year’s growth forecasts have now been derailed, significant future growth is expected.

P.S. While we are busy screaming in terror and trying to guess where things will head next, here are three ‘proverbs’ to keep in mind:

‘Man Plans and God Laughs’ – We may have the desire and ability to plan – however sometimes these plans simply go awry. Not everything we plan works and sometimes we cannot plan for all contingencies. I bet a whole bunch of new contracts now spell out how things will be resolved in the unlikely event of the next viral outbreak. I’ve already canceled three international trips in the first quarter of this year – two to Asia and one to Europe. And right now, I have no visibility as to when I should reschedule these trips. Even if I attempted to guess at new itineraries, it is anyone’s guess when I will be allowed and able to go.

We may all need to complain to ‘vent’ our frustrations about the situation from time to time. However, simply complaining or predicting the future does not help. Please remember Warren Buffett’s “Noah Rule”“Predicting rain doesn’t count, building an ark does” – which reminds us that even if your prediction is correct, without concrete action it is meaningless. We are better to do what is within our power to improve or ameliorate the potentially negative situation instead of just talking (or worse complaining) about it. To do this right requires staying informed or becoming educated on the issues and using the best possible data to make informed decisions that result in action. However, analysis-paralysis is always unwise as you may be quickly over your head in rain before you reach a conclusion.

And my personal favorite “You can’t change the way the wind blows but you can adjust your sails”. I can assure you with all the current uncertainty and the rapidly changing COVID-19 situation, I have been doing a lot of tacking. Just like sailing, you need to pick a point and head there. And if the wind changes you adjust the path to the destination. Or, when necessary, you might change the destination altogether. With MEPTEC, TestConX, and several other events and conferences with which I am involved, we have ripped up our plans more than once this year. It’s no fun and takes a lot of work. But in the end, we continue to plan and adjust out of optimism and with the knowledge that life goes on. When the roller coast ride finishes, we are back to where we were… Perhaps changed by the experience but back to the ‘new normal’.

As always, I look forward to hearing your comments directly. Please contact me to discuss your thoughts or if I can be of any assistance.