Category Archives: Personal background

“Until one is committed…” quoting the correct author

Because of the work I do regarding the importance of making and keeping commitments, as well as the paths I have chosen to follow that express personal commitments I have made in my life,  I have often found inspiration in the following quote that is attributed to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe from his work, Faust:

“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.”

Thanks again to the wonders of the internet, which now contains nearly the entire knowledge of all mankind (our modern day equivalent to the Royal Library of Alexandria, the ancient world’s single largest collection of knowledge), I stumbled upon a question as to whether this quote is correctly attributed to Goethe.  Here is what I found.

The Goethe Society of North America investigated this very subject over a two-year period ending in March 1998. The Society got help from various sources and after extensive research they and others have discovered that the “Until one is committed…” quotation often attributed to Goethe is in fact by William Hutchinson Murray (1913-1996), from his 1951 book entitled The Scottish Himalayan Expedition.  Murray’s book (J.M. Dent & Sons Ltd, London, 1951) details the first Scottish expedition in 1950 to the Kumaon range in the Himalayas, between Tibet and western Nepal. The expedition, led by Murray, attempted nine mountains and climbed five, in over 450 miles of mountainous travel. The book is out of print and can cost over $100 from used book sellers.

The attribution to Goethe no doubt added a bit more cache to the quote, but I am nevertheless still indebted to the correct author, and therefore felt compelled to set the record straight here.  Please pass it on.




Electronic Office Born 25 Years Ago This Month – A Retrospective

The first use of desktop computers to process electronic forms occurred at Apple Computer 25 years ago this month.  It was an enterprise-wide, HR application that enabled every manager in the company to fill out and approve salary changes, department transfers, and performance reviews for 5,000 employees.  800 managers signed-on to access personalised data from a mainframe computer, routed forms through an approval chain, and automatically updated the host database.  This was the beginning of what soon became called “manager-self-service”.  The system was called “HyperGOLD”.  The year before, Apple launched the first “employee self-service” solution which enabled all employees to access and update their benefit elections using a personal computer.

These applications broke new ground in two areas – one technical and one behavioural.  The technical breakthrough had to do with managing user permissions and routing rules.  The system needed to accommodate “personalised” access and permissions by hundreds of users at different departments and levels of the company.  Line managers initiated various actions that had to be approved by others along the line before updating the database.  The other breakthrough had to do with the vast increase in the number of users.  Previously, computer systems, even those accessed from personal computers, required extensive training for use by a limited number of specialists.  It was untenable to consider training hundreds of new users.  The Apple systems were the first-ever to require no training!

The result was truly transformational.  Over the next three years Apple totally revamped how HR services were conceived and delivered, and the ratio of HR staff to line staff went from 1/30 to 1/300.  Getting stuff done was not only more efficient, but new policies, better practices, and improved behaviours were initiated that enhanced the Apple culture.

It was no coincidence this breakthrough occurred at Apple.  There were three enabling factors.  First, Apple was the only company in the world at that time that had a personal computer on every employee’s desk.  This accessibility meant that paper forms (and the associated double-data entry by administrative staff) could, indeed, be completely eliminated.  Second, Apple had pioneered the graphic user interface (especially valuable was HyperCard) that would support the “no-user-training-required” standard.  Third, then as now, Apple had an appetite for innovation.  These applications were not available in the market place, and Apple had to build them from scratch.  These pioneering applications took investments of millions of dollars over several years.

The team was co-led by David Arella (this author), who was Apple’s first Manager of the HR Systems Technology & Innovation Group, and Steve Austin, Information Systems & Technology Manager.  Their team included Lynne Hoppe, Dawn Black, Suzanne Summers, Aaron Hyde, Tim Hayes, Ted Ives, Ann Altman, Bill Lee, Paul Foraker, Wayne Robertson, and David Donaldson.

It turned out that Apple was way ahead of the crowd.  Many years passed before other companies implemented similar solutions.  Quantum and Adobe did their first employee benefit enrollment systems in 1992 and 1993 respectively.  Cisco did their first manager-self-service HR application in 1995, a full 7 years after Apple.  Dell Computer’s first enterprise-wide solution for line managers was not implemented until 1997 on their brand new intranet.  Other leading companies like Schering-Plough, Southwestern Bell, Colgate Palmolive, Marriott, AMD, MasterCard, Reuters, NY Times, and CNA Insurance came along in the late 1990’s.

Of course, these solutions are commonplace today, and we take all of this pioneering work for granted.  Companies that don’t have similar solutions in place are now in the minority.  New social media technologies have opened up possibilities for new advances.  So here’s an alert:  stay tuned because some of the same people who contributed this seminal work 25 years ago have been busy working on the next breakthrough solutions.

My Workflow Journey: From Apple to 4 Spires

As I begin this dialog of blog entries presenting my observations, ideas and suggestions, it is appropriate to provide readers with a view into my background, credentials, biases, and predilections.  For over two decades I have been intrigued with the power software applications can have to significantly improve organization performance and employee engagement.

Prior to starting my 8 year career at Apple in 1983 and getting immersed in the more technical side of systems development I worked in the “softer” sciences of human interaction as an Organization Development consultant.   I led training groups, coached executives, and facilitated off-site retreats for management groups – the traditional OD interventions intended to improve organization performance.  I was generally disappointed with the results, however, because once the “high” of the event faded, most participants would invariably return to their previous behavior.  The intended changes did not stick.  Disillusioned, I moved away from this field of work.

Apple HR Systems, Technology, and Innovations Group

In 1986 I was the founding Manager of Apple’s HR Systems, Technology and Innovation Group; the group that did the seminal work on the electronic office.  At that time, Apple was the only company in the world that had a personal computer on every employee’s desk, and that infrastructure was the basis for our Group’s development of the first generation of electronic forms and workflow management solutions for an organization of 5,000 employees.

Over a 4 year period my team designed, developed, and implemented a series of first-ever applications that enabled:

  • Managers to write, edit, and compile online performance reviews,
  • Managers to recommend and approve staff salary increases and bonuses,
  • Recruiters and managers to scan, track, and retrieve resumes,
  • Employees to evaluate, price, and select their flexible benefits, and
  • Managers to directly update employee records using a workflow approval process and electronic signatures.

The computer on every employee’s desk was a Macintosh, and having “grown up” with the Mac User Interface Guidelines as a standard, the solutions that we developed demanded a very high level of user interactivity in order to satisfy user expectations and ensure adoption.  This audience really understood what a superior Graphic User Interface (GUI) looked like; just saying it was “user-friendly and intuitive” was not enough.

The applications this team developed at Apple were way ahead of their time.  It was over five years before other companies, even those as innovative as Lotus Development Corp, deployed similar networked solutions for their employees, and it was fully 10 years before similar intranet solutions were coming on the scene at technology leading companies like Dell Computer.  I know this because both Lotus and Dell were customers of mine at the time.

During this period, I developed an insight that has guided me ever since:  A well crafted and thought-out software application can be a transformational Organization Development (OD) intervention with sticking power.

Apple to 4 Spires – Software Solutions focused on User Interactions

Software developers and architects design their applications to capture, manipulate, organize, and report on data. The paradigms and characteristics of the user’s behavior in an organizational context, however, are not often explicitly considered.

In addition to designs that elegantly and efficiently capture and report on data, I approach software design with the concerns of what behaviors and practices are being introduced and reinforced on the part of users.  I am concerned that design requirements also consider questions such as:

  • What are the organizational implications of enabling certain actions and preventing others?
  • What practice of interaction between people is the software instantiating?
  • What mood does the software create for its users?

My career has been focused around and dedicated to developing work management solutions for business that address these concerns and that strive to enhance organization performance.  4 Spires was founded to continue this legacy with a vision to create business applications that enhance the way work gets done through collaborative efforts by facilitating collaboration, commitments, and trust-building as means to substantially improve organization performance.

This Blog series will orient on my observations and recommendations about the role well-designed software can play in achieving these outcomes.  Beyond just using software to help get things done, the topics covered will include workplace trust, requestor and performer accountability, performance metrics, user adoption, social networking, managing remote workers, and the sensibilities of the modern work force among others.

I look forward to participating with readers in this dialog.