It was a little before 6 am, and my thirteen-month-old baby boy was crying. My husband’s side of the bed was empty. His call schedule as a fifth-year general surgery resident was especially demanding. I knew I should get up, but I felt exhausted.
The night before, I had stayed awake until midnight. I was busy drawing sketches for a new promotions screen for the Knowledge Management system I had implemented almost a year ago. A recent survey had indicated the call center customer service representatives were experiencing difficulties using the software to provide instant answers to customers’ questions. The telecommunication company I worked for had invested thousands of dollars in the system. I had no intention of letting them down.
Reluctantly, I got out of bed. It was cold. The rooster was crowing from a distance, and our neighbors’ dog started barking. Ever since the canine had found his way to the chicken coop, they didn’t like each other. After a short, yet epic, match, both sides were left mentally scarred. I thought it was a fantastic validation of the philosophic dilemma of what came first, the chicken or the egg: was it the rooster’s early wakeup calls that had provoked the canine’s attack, or was it the canine’s howls next to the coop that made the rooster fight for his honor? Either way, every morning the symphony of the dog and the rooster played around the same time.
I lifted my son from his crib, kissed him softly, and cradled him in my arms for a few minutes. He calmed down, and I carried him to the kitchen, and while I was half asleep, I warmed up his bottle in the microwave. It was before sunrise and the house was dark. I took my son to my bed, organized the pillows behind me, sat back down, and sniffed his brownish curly hair that smelled warm and sweet, while he was slowly sucking on his bottle. When he had finished eating, I left him in his crib and went to the kitchen. I turned on the coffee machine and listened to my son chattering to himself. His vocabulary consisted of only a couple of words, but he babbled short syllables and mimicked the intonation and rhythm of the language he heard us use. I thought he had started to comprehend a few words like names and everyday objects.
After having a cup of coffee, I changed his diaper, placed him in his rocking chair in front of the TV, and played a Baby Van Gogh videotape. It was by far his favorite tape of the series, but back then, we didn’t know the reason. He loved watching the video that presented basic colors: red, orange, yellow, blue, green, and purple through the context of images and emotions. The real-life images were visually attractive, and every time one of Van Gogh’s paintings appeared on the screen, he clapped his tiny hands and cheered loudly. I knew I had half an hour to get ready for the busy day ahead.
I was about to leave the house when my phone rang. It was never good news when my phone rang that early in the morning. My employee was on the other end. She sounded anxious. “The marketing department is doing it again. They hold information until the last minute. This time, they haven’t informed us about rate changes. We don’t have time to correct the numbers in the system. We had to make a hard copy and print it out for the use of the call center representatives. They will have the new rates but will have to calculate the sales tax manually when customers ask for the bottom line. As a result, the calls are expected to take longer than usual, and the overall customer wait time would probably increase to three minutes. Be prepared for a call from the center’s director,” she alerted me.
Although the Knowledge Management system had been implemented almost nine months ago after a massive organizational change, it was still very hard for the people of different departments to share information. I understood the reason behind this difficulty. Information is the ONLY thing that cannot be taken unwillingly from an individual. In every organization, and the one I worked for was no different, people feel their intellectual property is their competitive advantage that will protect them or provide them with leverage in a time of trouble. Yet organizations must acquire this knowledge, maintain it, and make it available for the entire organization to use. The collective knowledge and its implementation is the source of companies’ competitive advantage and leverage among competitors.
As the project manager who was responsible for the design and implementation of a Knowledge Management system, it was my responsibility to reassure employees that sharing their knowledge would not only allow them to perform their job more efficiently but would enable organizational growth from which they would benefit.
I took a deep breath. I wasn’t supposed to be at the office until later that day. I had meetings planned at the headquarters of the software development company I had hired to build the system. We needed to decide on a new screen for service promotions.
“Thank you for finding a temporary solution. Please ask the team to withhold other projects, and instead insert the new rates into the system as soon as possible,” I said briskly, choosing practicality over criticism.
I checked my watch. It was getting late. Baby Van Gogh’s tape had ended, and my son started uncomfortably moving in his chair. I picked him up, keyed the speed dial number for the call center director, and briefed him about the latest development. He wasn’t happy to hear that calls were expected to take longer, because the volume of calls had increased in the last few days due to a special holiday sale.
“I promise to add this item to the list of issues we need to discuss in our weekly executive meeting. I know the marketing department should do better; we’ll find a way to help them.” I attempted to appease him.
Finally, I called my manager and explained the situation. At the same time, my son pushed up against my right hip bone and tried to grab the phone. I placed him on the cold floor, and he started crying. Then I went into another room, quickly reminded my manager that I would be out of the office most of the day, and promised to update her once the new rates were in the system.
Every minute in life was accounted for, but it seemed as if minutes weighed even more in the mornings. I had wanted to avoid the rush hour, but I had to drop off my son at daycare, and I knew I would get stuck in the notorious traffic jam on the freeway on my way to Tel Aviv. I stopped by the daycare center gate. Thankfully, the teacher was outside with a few kids.
“Good morning,” she greeted us with a heartfelt smile. “We were about to go inside, come join us.” She opened her arms, and my son leaned in. I walked back to the car; my son waved at me, and I blew him a kiss in return.
When I finally entered the office, the meeting had already started, and I joined it just in time for my screen design presentation. Two hours later, we finished the meeting and went to the company’s auditorium to listen to a lecture about The Magic of Repositioning.
I knew the speaker from my early days in the industry. Dr. S was an entrepreneur and managing director of an innovative book publishing startup dealing with publishing books through the Internet. She was also a consultant to many leading companies in Israel, focusing on the implementation of Knowledge Management systems. Both digital books and Knowledge Management were relatively new-to-the-market business ventures, but Dr. S never let doubt control her agenda. I admired her determination and dedication to the cause and immediately after I had been recruited by the telecommunication company, I hired her as my consultant. She had given me direction and advised me to focus on the human aspect and its significant contribution to the success or failure of the project. I hadn’t spoken to her for the last year, and reposition was a topic I was interested in for a good reason.
Dr. S gave a great lecture about the options that companies have when they experience declining performance due to major shifts in consumers’ preferences or needs. She explained firms have two choices: exit the market, or use tactics to extend their brand or product lifecycle, also known as repositioning.
The bottom line of repositioning is to reinvent oneself, and companies should swallow their pride and look inside and out, in order to figure out a way to realign their offerings to customers’ needs and wants, and by doing that, reclaim a competitive advantage and regain growth. I thought about the company I worked for. If my organization experienced a decline in sales would it have the courage, and both tangible and intangible resources, to go through a repositioning process? I figured that only companies with great personality would succeed because “personality goes a long way” as Jules Winnfield, the hitman who found god in the excellent movie Pulp Fiction, insightfully said.
Repositioning is not about obliterating the past and discounting the old glory. It is about reviving, rejuvenating, and regenerating what you already have in a way that will be aligned with the new environmental conditions. It is about going back to where it all started and beginning anew. What about me as a manager, an employee, an individual would I be able to reposition myself if I needed to? Would I have the courage and the ability to reinvent myself?
I stared at the brainy quotes calendar that hung on the wall across the room. It was February 27, 2001, and the month’s quote was by Albert Einstein who said, “Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile.” At that point in time, I had no clue how profound, insightful, and truthful that sentence was.
At the end of the lecture, I shared lunch with Dr. S, and she said other companies had started to express an interest in Knowledge Management systems. The system I had designed and implemented for the call center was the second of its kind in Israel. She asked if I was ready to move to my next project.
I wasn’t. I told her that the system had been active for nine months and still had a long way to go. There were new screens for me to design, processes to learn, and knowledge-sharing culture to establish. What I didn’t tell her was that I had been procrastinating on a decision that could influence my entire life.
After lunch, I called the office. My team informed me they had just finished updating the new rates. They also said there was an interface glitch in another place in the system. I promised to take care of it. I emailed my manager the crisis was over and joined the development team for what was supposed to be a two-hour session of design and development.
I hadn’t noticed it was getting late. I had to leave the development team by 4:30 pm and make it back to my office. I had planned to meet with my team. I knew they had had some problems with sorting information, and I wanted to learn more about their challenges. It was already 4:45 pm. I dug my phone out of my briefcase and opened it. There were ten unanswered calls. I skimmed through them and realized my husband had called a few times. I clicked my voice mail and listened to his first message.
He said that he remembered it was his responsibility to pick up our son from daycare, but there had been another suicide bombing attack on a northbound 6 bus at the French Hill junction in Jerusalem. Many people had been injured, and paramedics had transported the wounded to all three major hospitals in town. He needed to cover the trauma unit and wasn’t sure he would be able to make it back on time.
In the second message, he said that the hospital had received the majority of the injured, and he would not come home that night. He was sorry. He wanted me to kiss our son for him. I got into my car and rushed to the daycare, but I was late again.