Friday, August 5, 2011

Zen & Net Control

You are responsible for conducting a meeting of your colleagues.  It is not a “brainstorming meeting” or a “team bonding” meeting.  Time is very short, 45 minutes at max.  Everyone brings at least one bit of “hot potato” information that they desperately want to pass on to someone else, so they can get on with their work.  When they “check in” with you at the beginning of the meeting, they list what they have & what they are looking for from others.  Some of them have even less time available than you do.  Discussing everything sequentially would take far more time than you have & bore some people to sleep.

Even while the intros are still going on, you start pairing people up & sending them to various other tables to take care of their business, asking them to return when they are done.

You have to clear more urgent exchanges first.  You have to clear people on a tight schedule first.  After that, you need to clear short exchanges first, to release as many people as possible back to their work.

Some information, with data common to a number of exchanges, must be passed at the main table.  If someone unfamiliar with this style of meeting shows up, you also have to very briefly explain what is going on.

You must not lose track of anyone or anything.  You have your “bingo card” spreadsheet in front of you, to help you keep track.  

Now imagine that the meeting is really a conference call.  Let’s say that the other tables are individual telephone calls & all you are doing is pairing people off to make those calls.  Let’s say that if people all talk at once on the conference line, the VOIP garbles it.  Now it is easy to see why one person has to tightly control what happens & call on people.  Otherwise, there is chaos.

Can you do it?

Of course you can.  Many people do it several times per week & are quite proficient.  Many even do it in Morse code (not normally anyone’s first language)!

It doesn’t happen in a meeting room or on a conference call.  It happens on ham radio, during “traffic nets” where operators gather on a certain frequency at a certain time, with the sole purpose of relaying information.  The information consists of messages or “radiograms” sent by hams to their own friends, relatives & fellow hams, or to anyone on behalf of a “third party.”  They do it to keep alive a well-oiled system (the National Traffic System) for passing urgent messages during a disaster when the normal infrastructure isn’t working.  The National Traffic System also serves to train hams who respond to disasters, in net procedures & accurate/efficient message transfer.

On the radio, instead of sending people to other tables, you are sending them to other frequencies in the ham radio bands.

There are further consideration that I could not figure out how to include in a conference call analogy.  If you are operating on short wave, your ability to communicate depends on a the upper atmosphere, where there is a layer, called the ionosphere, that reflects radio waves back down to other parts of the globe.  The ionosphere changes as the day progresses & with solar activity.  You must be aware of whether or when some net members may “lose connectivity,” so you can clear them early.

You are “net control.”  The people with the time constraints are liaisons to other nets.  The nets run in cycles, with nets spaced 45 minutes apart.

Since hams send & receive messages every day, many traffic nets also meet every day, so it can be said that the National Traffic System is probably the only ham radio organization that practices for disaster 365.25 days per year.  (Normally with a different crop of hams each day of the week.)

Here is what the manual (Public Service Communications Manual, Appendix B “Methods & Practices Guidelines,” Chapter 5 “Net Control”)  has to say … “You may panic freely between transmissions.”

Otherwise, it is Zen as usual.  If you can control when you panic, then why bother?

Seriously, the samurai approach to martial arts & pouring tea can be very useful here … a combo of total concentration & relaxation is in good order.  

Then watch the coping skills spill over into the rest of your life!