Commitment Compassion Curiosity Current Events: 2021 Empathy Humility Patience Vulnerability Willingness

Fixing Today’s Workplace Requires Packing Up Our Politics

🎹 Music for this post:

Taking a look today (December 6th, 2021) at the New York Times Hardcover Nonfiction bestseller list, I see:

  1. History (THE 1619 PROJECT)
  2. Biography/Entertainment (WILL)
  3. Biography/Entertainment (THE LYRICS: 1956 TO THE PRESENT)
  4. Biography/Entertainment (THE STORYTELLER)
  6. Entertainment / Food (TASTE)
  7. Personal stories (THESE PRECIOUS DAYS)
  8. Biography/Medicine (THE REAL ANTHONY FAUCI)
  10. Biography/Entertainment (THE BEATLES: GET BACK)

Compare that to two years ago at this time:

  1. Politics (A WARNING)
  2. Politics (TRIGGERED)
  3. Entertainment (ME)
  4. Politics (BECOMING)
  6. Communication (TALKING TO STRANGERS)
  7. Personal stories (FINDING CHIKA)
  8. Personal stories (EDUCATED)
  9. Biology (THE BODY)
  10. Politics (WITH ALL DUE RESPECT)

Those differences are telling. Two years ago, post-election, with our cold civil war a-brewing, politics was our fascination. Today, we are weary for just about anything other than entertainment. Our brains and our souls need a rest and a reset.

Interest in work-related topics is also in an ebb cycle. People are not in the mood to read books, columns, or blogs that consist of generalized advice aimed at improving their work lives. I suspect people realize that questions about what’s truly going on right now in the workforce have no easy answers. What’s truly going on is that our cold civil war has bled into our work life.

The Progressive CIO was borne out of my epiphanies in the wake of COVID-19 — a long and turbulent wake that we are still navigating. My writings have reflected my work and encounters along the way. In recent months, however, I’ve slowed. I have nothing to offer that I think can address our cold civil war, and writing more about the eight foundational values of The Progressive CIO seems tone-deaf at the moment. While those values are — and always will be — important, getting back to considering them will require navigating out of our current wake, which requires addressing politics.

We’re not supposed to have politics in our workplaces, though, right? As it turns out, it’s too late for that. As we attempt to return to offices, COVID has brought politics into the workplace as never before, for a simple reason: the semiotics of the face covering.

I cannot think of any symbol in the workplace — or in everyday life — that has communicated a political stance so overtly in my lifetime as the manner in which face coverings are (or are not) worn. This is not to say that wearing a face covering or not is, unto itself, a form of political expression. As with a tree falling in the forest, it’s the junction of the act and the audience where meaning takes shape.

Take a look at these four different face-covering scenarios, and reflect on what they say to you:

At least one of those will strike a nerve within you, wherever you sit on the political spectrum.

Semiotics are a part of everyday communication and everyday life. Face coverings fall into the non-language communication subset of semiotics, which are distinct from the more-commonly-encountered non-verbal communication. Non-verbal communication involves a language; that is to say, a system of communication with a learned form and structure. Music is a language, for instance. Non-language communication, on the other hand, lacks any system or learned form and structure. Lines on our roads are non-verbal communication; a driver swerving around those lines is non-language communication.

Non-language communication isn’t discussed much outside of academic circles. If it were, I suppose we might have a better public dialog about face covering techniques. I suspect, however, that it wouldn’t have an impact on our current cold civil war at work. Whether we like it or not, masks have become a form of wearing one’s politics on one’s face. The bigger issue is that non-language communication, through its very nature, makes verbal analysis more challenging.

At the present, only fully-distributed workforces are in a position to avoid face covering controversies in daily work life. We know, however, that not all workforces can be fully-distributed.

Proposed vaccination and testing rules are about to increase the magnitude of the COVID-19 wake, before the current tide has finished going out. How a company reacts to and addresses these rules puts politics on a company’s face as well.

When we are in a place where we know the solution is: “Take politics out of the workplace” and those politics are now a way of life as a matter of public health, then where does that leave us?

It leaves us doing our jobs and trying not to think about them when we don’t have to. It leaves us tired of politics, even if we are energized by them. (Which leaves me to ponder: If one is energized by politics, then what does that say about that person and their priorities?) It leaves us retreating to our homes, our families, entertainment, and the things that truly matter in life. That’s not all a bad thing. But if our lives require us to work, we’re all in a pickle for the time being.

Back to those eight foundational values of The Progressive CIO: I would be remiss if I didn’t take a moment to reflect on them, and how they play a role in getting ourselves out of our current situation:

Vulnerability: Are we willing to be honest and open with one another about how our current world is affecting us? This will include senior leaders acknowledging that these vulnerable voices need to be heard.

Humility: Are we willing to recognize that this situation is bigger than all of us, and that it is a comedy of errors, of sorts, if not a true human tragedy? It’s difficult to laugh at, but I believe we have to if we are to collectively solve it.

Empathy: No matter your politics or attitude, will you try as hard as you can to see the validity in the other side’s point of view? This doesn’t mean that you agree that the other side is right; it merely means that you work hard enough to try to understand and not summarily dismiss.

Patience: This might be the hardest thing of all. People were tired of not getting their hair colored one month into the pandemic. Do we have the collective patience to deal with one another to move past where we are today? We don’t have a choice, because it will be a long haul. If we can acknowledge this, we stand a chance to get a clearer understanding of what the path to progress looks like.

Compassion: Do we genuinely care about each other, to the extent we are willing to go out of our way to bring comfort to others?

Curiosity: Are we willing to explore the new and unseen options that we have not yet explored to get us past where we are today?

Commitment: Are we willing to make true commitments to one another, and follow through on those commitments?

Willingness: Do we have genuine willingness to do all of the hard work above?

Given how tired we all remain, who can we expect to initiate this sort of effort on a meaningful scale?

Only those who govern us.

I’m not talking about legislation; I’m talking about leading by example, living those eight values. If that sounds like a tall order, it most certainly is. That’s because there is a chasm between politics and governance. The government I am alluding to does not exist today, and has probably not existed in our lifetimes. Until we can pack up our politics, no governing will happen. Until we can pack up our politics, no leadership will happen. Until we can pack up our politics, our workplaces will not flourish. Until we can pack up our politics, the world will not be the place we want it to be. The good news? Packing up our politics starts, apparently, with the books we buy.


A friend shared the following response:

I loved your start – the comparison of the top books is quite telling, and I would not have thought to make that comparison. I am right there with you throughout your article until the end. Who should or will initiate these changes? For me it’s all of us, it’s the workers, it’s the everyday people in the workplace, it’s you and it’s me. I think we can be sure right now our leaders are quite absent, especially those who govern.

One of my favorite quotes I encountered along the way of my doctoral studies comes from Ralph Stacey, “Change can only happen in many, many local interactions.” For me, this means it is in the small conversations that spark other conversations and so on that we begin to change culture, that we begin to change each other. I is in those times of making space and being vulnerable that we listen to others and that we speak our truth. In those moments one or the other or both are truly changed, and that sparks a change in the next conversation that we have. For me, it is in this process that true change happens. Not in the top down, governed-inspired or directed change.

But that’s me, and perhaps I am missing some of what you are concluding or alluding to.

I agree with this in spirit—and I had wanted to end with this sentiment. But after reviewing the how the foundational values might address this, and pondering how realistic this would be, I felt this conclusion would sound trite. There is a realist at work in my brain right now. This sort of change benefits from top-down work of unimaginable magnitude. Imagine the impact our governing bodies could have if they demonstrated these values in their everyday actions!

In the “DVD bonus feature” spirit of allowing you to choose your own ending, I encourage you to do just that with this post. I would love nothing more than for everyday people—rather than government—to achieve this change.

In the end, if this post merely encourages discussion, then it will have served a purpose.

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Current Events: 2021 Technology of the Year

Technology of the Year, 2021 Edition

🎹 Music for this post:

“There were very few things people loved. That was one of them.” So said a dear friend and retired IT director, who introduced this year’s Technology of the Year to me many years ago. Oxymoron? No. Read on.

I assure you that this year’s Progressive CIO Technology of the Year will not be highlighted in any other similar column you will read this season. It’s unfortunate, and I can explain why.

(This is NOT a sponsored post.)

What if you could live in a world where you received no junk mail? Not occasional junk mail—no junk mail.

In 2003, Sendio Technologies introduced its “Opt-Inbox” technology, which was arguably the earliest implementation of a challenge-response technology (patented at the time) whose goal was to eliminate spam. Sendio’s earliest offering was an appliance that you would install in line with your email server. Here’s the Sendio user experience:

  1. Someone from outside your organization emails you for the first time.
  2. You do not receive that email.
  3. The sender receives a “challenge” email similar to the following:

Your email to John Doe is almost there!

We need to verify your email address. Click the button to instantly become a trusted sender.

✓ Verify me

John Doe’s Company is using Sendio’s Opt-Inbox technology to ensure they do not receive unwanted email. Verifying your email address will ensure that all future email from you will be delivered directly to John Doe’s inbox without delay.

Verification using the button above is instantaneous but if you prefer, simply sending a reply to this email will also work.

  1. If the sender reacts to the challenge, the email is delivered to your inbox.
  2. If the sender doesn’t react to the challenge, you do not see the email in your inbox. Automated email systems are unable to address the challenge to verify themselves. Additionally, in my experience, even human beings who receive the challenge emails don’t click on them, for fear they are phishing.
  3. As you desire, you can visit a web page that shows you a list of emails that were not verified. After a few days of doing this, this list is almost all unsolicited email, not deserving meaningful attention. (You will find this to be delightful.)

If, on the outside chance, a real human verifies their email and it arrives in your inbox, you can go back to Sendio’s web interface and block them from ever communicating with you again.

Sendio also allows administrators to configure a greylisting filter as well, which further reduces the amount of email that even invokes a verification process. You can upload your contact lists to pre-identify people you want to hear from. If you send an email to somebody before they email you for the first time, Sendio validates them automatically.

If you’ve read this far and think, “How is this net-net different from me properly marking email as junk and occasionally checking my junk email folder?” then you will begin to appreciate why you don’t see Sendio on any end-of-year technology lists this year. It’s very difficult to appreciate the difference between the predominant way of doing things and the Opt-Inbox way of doing things, in the same way it’s difficult to appreciate certain products (iPhones, Apple Watches, Rolexes, etc.) until you experience them first-hand.

I can attempt to convey the difference using these words: In the Opt-inbox view of the world, there is no need for Bayesian filters or machine learning — all of which are imperfect. In the Opt-inbox view of the world, there is nothing in your junk folder, ever. It’s a wonderful, and one of the few experiences that is truly remarkable. In the Opt-inbox view of the world, the only email you see is from people with whom you’ve definitively decided you want to communicate.

Refer back to my friend’s comment: “There were very few things people loved. [Sendio] was one of them.” Someone else once told me: “You should never love something that cannot love you back.” That’s good advice, but Sendio elicits a response in people that pushes those sorts of boundaries.

So what’s the big deal with Sendio in 2021? Sendio Opt-Inbox for Office 365 Exchange Online.

Whereas Sendio used to involve appliances and/or awkward cloud-based integrations — making it even more unlikely that you’d get a chance to experience it — in Q4 2021, Sendio made its product available to Exchange Online customers for the first time, and the implementation is brilliant. It works via Azure AD’s Application Registration system, and integrates with Exchange Online through a series of Mail Flow rules. Here are some remarkable things about this version of the product:

  1. It does not require any changes to your MX records;
  2. It plays well with Exchange Online Protection (all mail is still processed through your organization’s EOP rules);
  3. It relies on Azure AD, so it provides seamless SSO, supporting your MFA and other authentication rules, with no drama.
  4. It can be enabled for individual people or groups who need it, without needing to be introduced or trained to your whole enterprise for those who have less of a need for a product like this.
  5. It is decidedly inexpensive. It starts at about $56 per user per year, with a 10-user minimum. introduced a nearly-identical opt-inbox capability last year, their How It Works page probably does a better job of explaining how this sort of system works than either I or Sendio have done. But is not something that integrates Exchange Online, making it a non-starter for most enterprises. Sendio also doesn’t try to reinvent your email experience with things like’s “Feed” and “Paper Trail.” Sendio’s technology is simple, thoughtful, and completely, 100% effective at eliminating spam. and Sendio are pretty much the only two accessible, lucid challenge-response spam elimination products on the market. How many people do you know who use How many people do you know who use Sendio? Why do your answers contain such low numbers? Because it’s difficult to explain in words. It’s something that you have to experience to appreciate. And Sendio for Office 365 Exchange Online significantly reduces the barrier to entry for your organization to experience this first-hand. This is why it is The Progressive CIO Technology of the Year, 2021.

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Albums of the Year Current Events: 2021

Albums of the Year, 2021 Edition

🎹 Music for this post is the music for this post.

Always remember: work is a means to an end. The things that are not work are the most important things in life. For me, music is one of those things. I like the challenge of distilling a year’s worth of music into six favorite albums. I believe that 2021 was not a great year for music; as Sting recently shared, there has been too much music that wants to remind us of our problems without offering us solutions. Here is some music that tried.

1. Pinegrove – Amperland, NY

Taylor Swift is not the only artist this year to re-imagine earlier material to great effect. Ostensibly a soundtrack, this is really a greatest hits collection — with all tracks recorded and revisited — from a truly great band that wanted to give us all a lift with their melodies and messages.

2. Idles – Crawler

Idles make this list two years in a row. When punk bands are at their most vital, they produce volumes of great work in quick succession. This is a worthy contender for any album of the year list.

3. The Weather Station – Ignorance

Of all of the music that was released this year, this album probably has the best chance to be lovingly remembered. It is a masterpiece of music in the Laurel Canyon tradition, in a year that saw Joni Mitchell win a Kennedy Center honor as well as a year that sorely needed music to help us heal. This album will do that. Bravo.

4. Sturgill Simpson – The Ballad Of Dood & Juanita

I’m one of those folks who feel that Sturgill Simpson rescued country music from the Insinkerator. This is a brilliant album, with Willie Nelson along for the ride. But my favorite track is Sam. I suspect it might become yours as well. It’s one of the finest songs released this year.

5. Abba – Voyage

Is this Abba’s best album? No. Does it matter? Absolutely not. Voyage was a gift of melody — a warm embrace, really — to a world that needed it, and it couldn’t have been better timed. The two lead singles got all the headlines, but there is more depth to the record than those. Here’s another superb song that you might have missed if you haven’t already listened deeper:

6. Wet Leg – Chaise Longue

Technically Chaise Longue isn’t out yet, so I suspect you might see this record on the 2022 list if the rest of it as good as the four tracks that have already been released. If you miss music that is not only catchy, but that will make you smirk (think Devo or the B-52’s), then I suspect this record will bring a smile to your face. The world needs a lot more music that can make us smile. Here’s to 2022. Cheers!

Happy holidays to you and yours!

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