Archive for December, 2011

In Memoriam: Be Like Burnetta

Saturday, December 31st, 2011

On December 13, 2011 the world lost a remarkable person and I lost a long-time friend. In the days that followed her death, however, the inspiring legacy of Burnetta Burns Williams began to emerge. I believe that legacy has the power to eclipse all the great things she accomplished during her lifetime. A story written by Geoff Caulkins, a sports reporter for the Memphis Commercial Appeal, makes a compelling case for sharing her story widely. The world would be a much better place if people followed his recurring recommendation, “Be like Burnetta.”

What was so special about Burnetta? The fact that she aspired to do great things with the talents she had been given – and that she insisted that others do the same. Even when you didn’t think you could do something, if Burnetta thought you could, she pushed you until you did it. Speaking for myself, those experiences were not always pleasant: Burnetta pushed really hard when she thought you were holding back on living up to your ability. My observation is that she usually was right: you really could do it.

And that was another thing about Burnetta: it seemed she frequently did things she wasn’t “supposed” to be doing. At her funeral, one of her closest friends said, “Little black girls from the projects in Memphis weren’t supposed to earn degrees from Yale and MIT. They weren’t supposed to grow up to be the Vice President and Treasurer of a Fortune 500 company.” But that was Burnetta – following her aspirations rather than allowing others to limit them.

Because Burnetta was an intensely private person, few people knew the extent to which she devoted her time, energy, resources, and connections to helping others, particularly young women, live up to their talents. The various pieces of her life were revealed during the services and the funeral that followed her death, as family, friends, and colleagues came together to celebrate her life. The stories that people shared were like richly colored threads that, when woven together, enabled us to see the beautiful tapestry that was Burnetta’s life.

So what is Burnetta’s legacy, that which should be passed on to every person, and especially to every young person? For me, it can be summarized in three words: expectations, choices, and focus. These are the things that I believe drove Burnetta to achieve her aspirations, and to help others achieve theirs.


      : Burnetta set the bar very high for herself and for others. She constantly pushed those around her to excel, even when we didn’t want to or believe we could. If Burnetta believed you could do something, she was relentless in pushing you to do it, even when it meant going far out of your comfort zone. The lessons learned, however, were priceless, as people walked away knowing they were much better than they had suspected. But Burnetta knew – and she wanted YOU to know also.

Choices: In retrospect, I think Burnetta epitomized the lesson articulated by Viktor Frankl in his book Man’s Search for Meaning. That is, no matter how dire the circumstances in which we find ourselves, human beings ALWAYS have a choice: we get to choose how we experience any given situation. We can choose to be victims and live in a state of victimhood, or we can make healthy choices that allow us to survive and thrive. Burnetta chose to follow her aspirations, and to guide others to do the same.

Focus: Like radar locked on its target, Burnetta was relentless in pursuing her goals and the tasks in front of her. If you were in her line of sight, you were lucky – even though you often didn’t feel that way in the moment – because she would turn that focus on you. Whatever the obstacles, they didn’t stand a chance: Burnetta always found a way to get what she wanted. And in so doing, she inspired others to do the same.

One of the biggest lessons I take from Burnetta’s life is that it was at least as much about others as it was about her. Personal success and accomplishments weren’t enough for her: she had to bring others along with her. Her life is a testament to the point made in the newspaper article: while not everyone can follow Michael Jordan’s path to success, everyone is capable of following Burnetta’s.

The question is, what can YOU do to be like Burnetta? And how can you help others be like her as well?

© 2011 Pat Lynch. All rights reserved.

Guest Column: A Geek for Digital Art

Monday, December 12th, 2011

While I was in Atlanta on business recently, I was able to spend some time with a friend who I hadn’t seen in some time. Now retired from a distinguished business career, she is able to focus full-time on her real and long-time passion: art. Gay is an accomplished artist in several media; her article below addresses one that involves computers. For those who aren’t particularly into art, I encourage you to read her practical advice about how you, too, can combine your skills with your passion. And do check out Gay’s work on her web site (below). Enjoy!

I am a “geek” for digital art and I don’t care who says what about it. It is a natural extension of my creative education, my talents and professional experience, in both photography and information systems. To be able to combine these in creative ways is a thrill of a lifetime.

By using digital photographic techniques and automated tools in new ways, I am exploring and refining new creative territory. The power of computers allows me to take risks; push the edge of current art forms, while maintaining the respect for the essence and guidelines of traditional photography and fine art.

I have dubbed the new art form “refacimento,” (pronounced ree-FATCH-i-men-toe.) The term was first used by William Safire, in On Language, NY Times Magazine, 02-15-09, and is defined as “the radical refashioning of a work of art, often by computer.”

First, I observe what is in the world and construct an original, objective photograph. Then I take the photographic image into my computer and hands, as an artist; and the subjective magic begins. Thus, by constructing a photograph, then deconstructing and reconstructing it using technology, I am enhancing the human experience of the objective scene and magnifying the natural art. The subjective enriches the objective. The camera and computer technology are my tools, much like the watercolors, or oils of the painter. See my web site for samples of my work.

But not everyone is convinced that what I do is art, because, they say, there is a machine (the computer) involved. However, if we take a look at history, we see that Claude Monet and Pierre August Renoir both used dabs and dashes to create many of their masterpieces. George Seurat came along and developed a system which reduced the dabs to dots. Paul Klee, in the 1930’s used a grid of muted colors; over which he painted a mosaic of shapes of 5 centimeters along one dimension; and then added what he called the linear elements. He likened each element of his paintings to a theme in polyphonic musical composition. Polyphony, he said, was “the simultaneity of several independent themes.” We could say that Klee actually created the first pixels, because that is what pixels allow us to do; they allow us to look, with great specificity and depth, at the reality behind the art. Then, using various computer tools, we can change that reality to suit our individual artistic expression.

But, is my effusive declaration, “Follow Your Bliss” enough to help you apply creative tools in your professional life?

I say it is. For, by nature, we are creative creatures. It is that creativity that facilitates our survival….in life, in business and in art. I took to my cutting-edge endeavor out of a desire to combine my skills and life-long interests. You can do the same.

Make two lists. The first contains those things that you have always had an interest in or wanted to do, but never got around to; the second contains those skills that you currently possess that have been your bread and butter.

Now, spend various pieces of time (it usually takes more than one) exploring how you can cross-match items between the two. Can you do the accounting for a belly-dancing society? Handle the interviewing and hiring for the rodeo? Volunteer to do marketing for a local theater company?

By combining your business skills with your avocational interests, you can pave the way for a transition to doing only the fun things, either as a vocation, or as a retirement interest. This method lets you test the waters before making a big break for something you’ve dreamed about, but perhaps may not actually like when you try it.

And you’ll discover other things that you hadn’t expected. This cross-match thinking will help you look at other situations from new perspectives and allow you to create solutions where none were occurring.

Copyright, 2011, H. Gay Allen

There’s Very Little Merit in “Merit Pay”

Thursday, December 1st, 2011

I was recently asked about merit systems and how they work. The fact is that there are relatively few organizations that implement a true merit system; however, there are many that say they have one. A true merit pay system means that people are rewarded and recognized on the basis of their performance. So when you have situations in which all employees in a specific classification or job are paid the same and get the same raises, as generally occurs in unionized environments for example, there is no merit pay system. Other organizations call pay increases “merit” pay when in fact they really are based on other elements, such as cost of living adjustments (COLAs) or profit sharing. Another reason why there are few truly “merit” programs is that the performance management systems that must assess performance either don’t exist, or they are inadequate, or they are not used, or they are used improperly. When the underlying assessment tool is faulty, the results on which merit pay decisions are made cannot be correct.

To sum up, a true merit pay system works poorly in most organizations, if it exists at all. In unionized settings, including those in public sector organizations, merit pay is seldom seen. While a great concept, merit pay mostly does not live up to expectations.