Saying Good-bye to WebCT

Dear Colleagues–

The time has come to say good-bye.  I can honestly say I didn’t anticipate how difficult it would be, even though, in its way, it’s been coming for a long time.

A huge part of what I am has been determined by what I have learned from all of you—about customers, about sales, about service, about support, about technology, about finance, about how to take the fuzziest of notions and turn it into a product and explain it to a market, about how to run a company, and most of all, about how to be in the world. More than anything else, I want to thank you for that.

Many of you have been kind enough to drop me notes about what working at WebCT has meant to you.

Some of you have talked about the company.  Kathy Vieira taught me that the heart and soul of any services organization, the magic confidence that enables consultants to go out and do their jobs, comes from knowing that someone has always got your back.  That’s the way I felt at WebCT.  I knew I lived in a strong and supportive network of people I could count on, who put the customers’ interests before their own, pulled together as a team, and always, always watched each other’s backs.

Others of you have talked about the opportunity we have had to change the world.  It’s hard to travel back 10 years and imagine a time when the most exciting content accessible on a university’s network was the menu for the dining hall–or back to a time when many people told Carol and I this notion would never stick or grow because college professors would never, ever touch technology. 

I find it overwhelming to think about the change we’ve seen in global terms.  I find it easier to think in terms of a story Lisa Philpott and Sarah Burke included in the IMPACT 2005 keynote about a middle-aged man who displayed such talent and compassion at the hospice while caring for his dying wife that the workers there urged him to change careers and become a healthcare practitioner.  He made the change while working and caring for his daughter, and never set foot on campus until the day he graduated as valedictorian of his class.  When Sarah interviewed him, he said that what made him proudest was that working at home in the evening on his computer, he was able to model for his daughter the skills, eagerness to learn and work ethic he believed she would need in her own life.  When he returned from graduation, she had created a Powerpoint presentation to offer her congratulations.

That is the sea change we have been a part of.  All of us.  And I hope each of you takes pride in your own contribution.

I want to wish every one of you the very best wherever life takes you from here. Please do not hesitate to reach out if I can ever be of any help.

For Jen and Mladen–The Secret to a Happy Marriage

Recently I have been thinking a lot about what makes a happy marriage.  From the perspective of 30 years (27.6 of them happy, cumulatively), I think I can say that I have isolated the ONE thing that will ensure your future happiness:

–plain, old, blind, dumb luck.

That’s right.  Luck is the one thing that separates the good from the bad, the sublime from the truly awful.

I know it’s an unsatisfying answer for a couple of goal-oriented, high-achievers like yourselves—not to mention bad news for Dr. Phil, Dr. Laura, Dr. Ruth and all those people who grind out millions of pages of advice in “women’s” magazines.

But it is the truth.  It’s amazing how much of it comes down to stumbling on the right person and being, for whatever reason, at a point in both your lives when you are smart enough to recognize it.

So while there isn’t much you can do now, having found the right person and all, to ensure your happiness, there are a few things you can do to protect against unhappiness. So here is the only secret I have figured out.

Fighting is no big deal: I am always skeptical of those couples who never fight.  After all, this is a huge step you are taking.  You are promising that you will never again, ever, make a major decision without taking into account the needs and desires of another person.  And there are some huge decisions not far down the road for you—whether, when and how to have kids, where to live, where to work, how much to work, how much to spend, how much to save. And that’s just for starters.  You will need to revisit some of these decisions again and again as time, fate and luck (remember luck?) play into the equation. 

With practice, most couples find ways to navigate the big decisions, but that leaves the small stuff.  Things like—

–What-is-this-(alleged-collectible, hideous-piece-of-furniture, free-loading-relative)-and-why-is-it-taking-up-room-in-our-house? Or

–What-do-you-mean-you-took-the (trash, dog, free-loading relative)-out-the-last-time? And the ever popular

–Would-it-kill-you-to-(replace-the-toilet-paper, run-the-disposal, wait-on-the-freeloading-relative)-just-once?

Or whatever the little frictions in your particular relationship may be. 

Anyway, fighting or arguing or bickering is just the way that, having pledged to go down the same road for the rest of your lives, you negotiate the direction, speed, vehicle, and all the many things that remain negotiable.  So don’t worry about it, unless you run into

The Three Horseman: The three horseman of the marriage apocalypse are money, sex and the kids.  If a couple is fighting about one, they are normal.  If they are simultaneously fighting about two, danger signals are flashing.  And if they are fighting about all three, it is just a matter of time before you are sending their Christmas card to two different addresses.

The thing about the three horsemen is they are bedrock values issues.  When a couple is at odds over all three for an extended period of time, they almost always expose a true fissure in the relationship—a couple whose core values are growing apart.

So it’s important to know what you are really fighting about.  Money, sex and the kids are all short hand for what you value. You demonstrate what you value by how you allocate your resources, time and attention.  What you attend to says more about you than anything else.

Which brings us to

R-E-S-P-E-C-T:  Marriages can survive deep financial setbacks, horrifying personal losses and infidelity.  But they can never, ever survive the loss of respect.  When one spouse loses respect for the other, even if love remains, it becomes just a matter of time until the marriage, one way or another, is over.

So the good news is, each of you holds half the key to the success of your marriage in your hand.  Whenever you are at a crossroads, make the choice that allows you to maintain respect for yourself.  And if you make the wrong choice, grab hold of it, fix it, stop it, turn it around.

The bad news is, each of you holds only half the key.  You cannot control the other person.  You will find there are times when a word, gesture, action or even silence helps the other person make the right choice. You will also find there are times when nothing you do or say can make a difference. If you picked the right person (and you did) then they have it in them to make the right choices.

And that is the secret.

Which pretty much brings us back to the luck part.

Jen and Mladen–I have no doubts about you.  You are strong people who have each faced adversity in your own lives and come through with strong and common values.  And you have been lucky enough and smart enough to find each other at just the right time.

I hope the universe brings you nothing but happiness.

Why I Love Living in Massachusetts

     Today when I was at the Post Office in Davis Square, Somerville, a tweedy old guy wandered up to the window and asked the middle-aged postal clerk if he had any stamps with movie stars on them.

“Well,” replied the clerk, “I have Ronald Reagan.”

And then he looked at the old guy and the old guy looked at him and they both burst out laughing.  

The clerk knew the old guy wasn’t going to buy the Ronald Reagan stamps.  In fact, the clerk’s expression implied it had been a long time since anyone had bought those stamps.

The old guy went with superheroes stamps.  No explanation or further conversation was necessary.  

And that’s why I love living in Massachusetts.