About Me

Topics: HRExaminer, John Sumser, by John Sumser


“I learned three important skills along the way: a pilot’s eye for trouble, an engineer’s view of problem-solving, and an OD (Organizational Development) view of management.” – John Sumser

My dad was a Naval Aviator. He flew experimental airplanes that were part propellor, part jet. He was the co-pilot in a Squadron that patrolled the Sea of Japan. Day in and day out. Just above the waves. Looking for submarines to destroy. Relentlessly.

It was very dangerous work. As co-pilot, he had to be ready on a moment’s notice to take control and fix the problem. The job is a lot like first responder… a whole lot of waiting around followed by adrenaline-charged action and decision making. He had to understand the status of everything in the plane as comprehensively as possible.

You don’t meet a lot of really relaxed people in the job. When you are flying under these conditions (experimental plane, combat-ready, treacherous flying conditions), mistakes can be fatal. The job has a tendency to make you hyper-vigilant about the details of absolutely anything that could go wrong.

It’s actually a form of disciplined optimism but you have to squint pretty hard to see that. The surface is all Eyeore, all the time. The best are able to spot trouble well before it happens.

He parented like that. As a result, I have a finely-tuned sense of where things might veer from the plan. It’s very useful at the edges of technology. 

I spent my first career learning about technology. A liberal arts degree prepared me to see the big picture. But, the world of work only had jobs that were very low paying or technical. I wriggled my way into the technical world. For fifteen years, I worked in all sorts of projects from massive signal processing systems to R&D. I sold the Air Force Logistics Command the first database they’d ever purchased. It was written in UNIX and used to manage inventories.

At night, I went to school. I got a certificate in coding, most of a Masters in Organizational Development and most of an MBA. I was more interested in the applicability of my learning than having a credential. I still am.

I learned three important skills along the way: a pilot’s eye for trouble, an engineer’s view of problem-solving, and an OD (Organizational Development) view of management. Today, leadership and training are the foundations of my work. I am a very disciplined optimist who pressure tests new ideas and technologies.

We are witnessing the birth of a new way of working. The pieces are fragile and new. The people who work in this new way are also finding their way around. The technology is imperfect and so are the people.

I like to ask really hard questions because I believe that the technology has unbelievably enormous potential. I think we are headed to a world more wonderful than we can imagine. But, we cannot get there as passive consumers of the technology.

We are at the time of the foundation of the way things will work going forward. The stronger and more perfect we can make the foundation, the better off we are going to be. Please join me in asking hard questions. You have to learn something about the technology (which is why we publish the HRIntelligencer on Tuesdays).

Hard questioning alone is not enough. We need to think beyond what’s logical or expected. We can’t base the future on the past. The entire photography industry initially thought that no one would use a phone as a camera.

Read previous post:
HRExaminer v9.11

While PWC’s latest report on the impact of AI and automation focuses on how robots will take our jobs, a...