Thursday, May 19, 2005

I still believe LANL is a great scientific laboratory


Please post anonymously.


I have to tell you folks that reading this blog is getting really depressing and if it doesn't improve I'm going to have to stop reading it. People who read this blog, especially those not employed at LANL, need to know that some of the comments here don't represent all LANL employees. I for one feel the need for some positive postings to support the Laboratory.

I still believe LANL is a great scientific laboratory where a lot of great science and engineering takes place and will soon again become a great place to work. We've had several rough years and I'm glad our former director is gone. But.......we need to put that behind us and focus on our jobs, the science here, and the Lab's mission. It's imperative for the sake of the Lab and national security that we do this. Otherwise we will continue in the downward spiral and take the Lab with us to a point that it becomes a shell of its former self. We owe it to the legacy of Los Alamos and all the great accomplishments achieved here to not to let this happen!

I was impressed with Kukuck's comments last Monday and I thought President Dynes was upbeat. Foley did come off looking bad and hopefully Dynes saw this and will work with the regents to address his behavior and his role at UCOP. I'm hopeful that Bob Kukuck will be a great interim director and address some of the problems that have been allowed to fester here over the last few years.

Given that, we need to start supporting our place of work. I've been here 25 years, raised a family in town, and feel I've gotten a lot out of working and living here. Maybe it's time to give something back. If you are near retirement you should look at your options and decide if you want to retire or to stay and help LANL get back on its feet. Each of us has to look at these options and decide. LANL needs us and we need to support the Lab, especially now.

At this time I would like to remind readers something my grandmother (and maybe yours too) taught me when I was small: "If you haven't got something positive to say, say nothing at all." Unfortunately a blog such as this lets too many negative people keep making negative comments. It's time for some positive ones. The glass is not half empty.

Right on!!!

I also rejoiced in the day the good admiral shoved off, but I think his extreme behavior allowed us to take our eye off the ball in two ways. First, he was so clearly, arrogantly in the wrong so often regarding details that it enabled us (me, anyway) to neglect to discern and feel the need to address the truth that underlay some of the directions he pursued (namely financial accountability, security accountability, and a safe work environment in which we can be confident we'll go back to our families in one piece at night). Second, his egregious personal "interface" enabled us to more comfortably ascend to the Chair of Judgment, where, honestly, most of us don't sit with genuine comfort because we don't truly understand the various balls that a LANL director must juggle so as to bring us all forward as effectively as possible in all ways. I, for one, was similarly guilty of continually believing that such-and-such a path forward was a "no-brainer," but if I'm honest, I don't truly know what I was talking about.

Anyway, let's give the new guy a chance, and in so doing, give ourselves the best chance as well. A pause to reflect and apply a personal, private arrogance detector to our own Wise Judgments might be a prudent step at this point.
Another "Amen" from here. I've said for some time that the departure of Nanos doesn't mean things will get comfortable; rather, that we now have to start doing the really hard stuff. That time is now upon us and it's up to us, the survivors, to bear down and do what must be done.

I do see some encouraging signs on that count. Some steps are getting rolling to deal with issues of aging facilities and replace them with infrastructure that is modern, meets the needs, and will be useful for a long time. In my part of the lab, at least, recruiting issues that have festered for years are finally getting addressed. And I am seeing signs of interorganizational cooperation that I haven't seen in years. All of these are good things.

The challenge now is simple: let's get back to work. Unfortunately, we're not doing so well at that. Part of the reason, to be sure, is that we still labor under the burden of worthless CYA "training" and paperwork that is Nanos' legacy; but part of it is our own shortcomings. We still don't really *believe* that we can work, so we don't. Fixing that will take time, it will require soul searching, and it won't be entirely comfortable. But we have to; getting our own motivation back is as important as removing the external demotivators like Nanos, and unlike the external forces, it's something we can and must do from within. So let's get on with it.
I'm with you. I'm still committed to getting back on our feet.

Check out the alternative blog started by Eric earlier this week.

This blog still has plenty of value as a place to (continue to) vent and a place to announce important features but it's mood remains angry and negative. For good reason.

But for some of us, the blog might fit our mood a little better. Careful optimism?
Prior to coming to the Lab I worked for a world-wide organization that I was proud to be a part of. I felt valued. My supervisors (and there were many because I moved every few years) used positive reinforcement and provided guidance and training. I knew my contribution was part of something bigger than myself and I would enjoy telling my grandkids about my work there one day.

Fast forward to now.

My Nanos-like boss is an abuser and technically so far in over his head he can't make competent decisions. He sleeps through meetings. He is a blamer and scapegoats his employees. He doesn't listen or reply to feedback from his direct reports. He ignores all manner of advice unless it supports his positions. He is dictatorial and punitive. And amazingly, his boss puts up with his bad behavior and I can't understand why.

I really enjoy my work location and am proud to be a part of the facility mission. I really love the people I work with locally. So I stick it out hoping my abuser boss will go away through some upcoming reorganization and my life will return to a happier place.

Until I (and my family) am relieved of this daily weight, I will have a hard time being upbeat about UC's management team and the future of the Lab. I will do my best each day, despite the debilitating manager, in the hopes he will go away soon. This is the cross I bear daily and I doubt I am alone.

There is just no excuse for any company, public or private, to perpetuate poor managers who are technically incompetent and people abusers. Life is too short for this to be acceptable to anyone. And please don't say "just leave." If it were possible, I would have been gone by now. Los Alamos real estate values prohibit me and my family from either just quiting or leaving at this time.
I too believe the Lab is still a great scientific organization. This will be true as long as we have great scientists filling the ranks. Our challenge is to keep it this way. If the Lab’s management wants to start helping, we have a greater chance of success.

This morning my wife made a comment that just hit me like a 2-by-4. She was commenting on future jobs for our preteen kids, “When the kids get older, I don’t want them to work at the Lab because it isn’t a creative place.” Wow. A great scientific organization isn’t creative. She’s right, but it’s a troubling observation.

Let me recast the comment, we still have creative, innovative science going on in the ranks, but it struggles against the bureaucratic labyrinth and meaningless paperwork streaming from all directions. The majority of our management has lost sight of what is important. Everything our management does pushes our behavior toward complete mediocrity. Risk taking is discouraged at all levels. I remember the big message of the past year, “our next mistake could be our last” “we live in an environment where no error can be tolerated.” All that is preached is compliance. Sounds like the Borg! You must comply! Our management is trying create a staff full of drones and slaves. I’ve never heard of any organization filled with subservient drones that ever did anything excellently. Slave labor isn’t noted for the quality of their work.

Excellence is something that only exists in the rank-and-file of the Lab. If it is to reassert itself as a fundamental organization characteristic, it must come from below. Continued excellence in science requires support for creativity, innovation and risk-taking. Science is fundamentally about learning and growing. The whole issue with the lack of risk-taking is that you are not learning and pushing yourself unless you are failing. Failure is one of the chief mechanisms in learning. You have to learn from your mistakes, but quite often if you are not making mistakes you are not learning.

We scientists have to keep the faith and retain our focus on the science. We need to continue to do the right thing. The right thing is to take chances. Do things that might not work and keep pushing the system. We must take risks or excellence will eventually vacate the Lab. Ultimately, the organization must decide whether it can accept the risk, but the price for not accepting risk in the forfeiture of excellence. The two things are inseparable. We cannot make the organization become something that nurtures science, but if we don’t keep the faith it is guaranteed not to happen.
I, too, have been turned off by the venom of some prolific posters here. And the brave few who have made positive suggestions have been mistreated or ignored. We do need a better attitude, thanks for your post.

p.s. I've also posted thoughts at, which is just getting started.
These seven comments and the original post are the "breath of fresh air" I have been watching for during the past 5 months. Now, I do believe the Lab can survive.
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