Category Archives for "News"

Aug 25

The missing leader and crippled manager pandemic

By Rita Vazquez-Torres | News

Its hard to say when it started, but the outbreak seems to be taking on a life of its own, met with a total inaction to find a cure.  There is a significant departure from the Deming era of measurement based on results from the 1980s’, where leaders and managers were accountable for instituting quality and results.

During the 1990’s, an era of empowerment, organization and structure tailored by adjusting results through understanding one’s inherent styles and methods and how these impact others and the outcome emerged, allowing for leaders to guide to success despite fiscal constraints and through change.  It wasn’t easy but it was done, and for the most part, organizations were motivated to follow these holders of the sacred dogma of “lets get this done together”.  It added a dimension of humanity to those business practices that were not strict manufacturing, that required strategic management of assets and charismatic leadership of people.

Leaders, in one of the many theoretical frames, by nature, do not motivate people, but assist people in finding that which motivates them to contribute to the whole, and hopefully excel.  And trust me, these men and women could get you to drink your water and be happy, even if you weren’t thirsty!  Their demeanor and presence got the organization through rough waters.  These folks inhaled and exhaled the mantras set by the conga line of authors:   Kass, and Covey, and Hershey and Blanchard and Tannenbaum… that have explained, theorized, lectured a new generation of “mind changing, change leading, people reforming” theologists of the leadership mantra.  So the good leaders, inoculated with a dose of creativity, could adjust and make people want to be there, and get it done so they could achieve the next milestone… (so much for this “intro” – you get the picture…).  But this seems to have dwindled rapidly over the past 10-12 years of backstabbing, reality tv and the “real housewives and husbands” of chaos, scandal and indifference.

There is a serious pandemic afflicting the work place, in particular government business, where good leaders have fallen to some incurable disease and retreated never to be found.  What is emerging are little pockets of carcasses floating ashore, as if the remnants of the great eras of productivity were hit by a tsunami of incompetence, leaving the drift to just float through the current to where ever they land.  Many of the drift were once the best and brightest, beaten to exhaustion from the swimming against currents. Left are carcasses of organizations crippled to handle the reality of budget cuts, reprioritizing, politics by reality show and the scandal du jour drowned by the large photographs and love me walls of Senior Leaders who seem more interested in how they look or tweet, to what is actually happening in the organization.

The emperors walk around completely naked, (ehem, cough ASSUMING THE EVEN SHOW UP) and ignored by the followers who no longer care about the bareness so blatant, many could, recite how many stretch marks the naked emperor – yes the ones who spend more time tweeting or playing candy crush than minding the front store – have on their bare ass butts….  They ARE that naked.  And the troops have become so uninterested, indifferent and uncaring, they no longer try to speak up – they get a paycheck, medical benefits and paid vacations, so muddling through is better than speaking to the diva they have heading the organization.

Lets see, what do I hear?  Well, there is the “I don’t want confrontation and I’m lazy so I delegate everything but getting my paycheck” leader.  This “leader” is characterized by the uncanny ability to delegate EVERYTHING – confrontation management, vision and strategic planning/leadership, – if they could they’d send a minion to the rest room for them – and overwork the stuckee to the point of depletion, because its easier than rolling up their neurons and making things happen.  They simply don’t want to be accountable, thus delegating is brilliant – if it bombs – it was the minion.  If it succeed – they own it.

–   There is the “my life is boring and I want to have fun leader” who has no budget for its organization but seems to be able to travel to their bucket list locations or take the significant other on that prized vacation, while they dump the “boring” meetings/trips on to the next minion.

–   There is the “DO IT BECAUSE I SAID SO, YOU ARE ALL LAZY AND CANT BE TRUSTED” tyrant, perfect, lecturing and condescending who simply is so above mortals “you can’t touch this”.

–    The “Look how good I look on the front door poster, placard or video monitor” – but can’t be found anywhere when needed to provide direction and guidance… Of course they are always somewhere else, doing something important to save the organization and “you should thank me.  They look great on a marquis and maybe would look good in person IF you can find them…. (Where is Waldo?).

–  The “You should be grateful you have a job” leader, who will resent your discontent.  “Talk to the cyberspace, take two sessions with the counselor and call me in the morning”. …

What is really freakish is that these leaders can stand in front of other leaders or congress or their families and really pat themselves in the back and high five themselves.  “All hail the boss”, while some serious markers of decay can’t be hidden with pancake foundation:

1.  Morale is in the gutter and it can be measured, not by the trillion money wasting surveys that most of the employees lie on because the can be tracked but because:  absenteeism is rising, people call in sick more frequently – to include many that never got sick before – or the body language is so thick you can serve it on a platter with whipped cream and a cherry…

2.  Stress and interpersonal conflict is on the rise – they have more people going at each others throats, having melt downs, spats and seizures than teens at a Justin Beiber concert or a gang clash on the Texan border.

3.  Budgets are bad, but even with a budget, NOTHING seems to get done.  Motivation and creativity take a nose dive but the number of “YES BOSS WHATEVER YOU WANT” seems to increase.  So the leader winds up with toxic amount of paper or electrons of nothingness that goes no where and is void of meaning.

4.  The requests for telecommuting TRIPPLES, and not because of the flexibility of telecommuting, but because people cant stand to physically be in the place they simply can’t respect the leader but still want to do a good job.

5.  My personal favorite: The best and brightest and most fed up and courageous are jumping ship either retiring, finding other jobs, preferring to join peace corps and disappear or live under a bridge than have to report to someone they can’t respect.  (But the ones the “leader” would love to see go, stick around because they can!)

Maybe the solution is to go back and retrieve some of the leaders that have been inoculated and create a vaccine.  Maybe a day of throwing a party with a piñata with that picture of him/herself the boss loves so much and wants others to love, and just let people have at it.  Maybe the entire organization should plan NOT to show up on the same day?  Will the boss even notice?  How about the kiss ass suck up “deputies with no clue” that no one likes either, will they notice? I’m not sure what the solution is.  But a cure needs to be found.  Before the leader is nothing more than the Warlock commanding an army of Zombies, the team of the living dead…

Jun 06

When the ‘Bots Came Marching In… Tech and Humanity Met

By Rita Vazquez-Torres | News

NewStoneSoup VT had the privilege of serving as participating judge during the 2013 NASA Centennial Challenge, at Worcester Polytech Institute, Worcester MA:  What a personal and professional rush, and an experience to intimately observe first hand, the intricate nuances of robot design, building, programing and bringing to life a cold technology with “human-like” abilities.  This NASA sponsored challenge is all about offering a sweet incentive (1.5M) for sending an autonomous piece of technology geek wizardry out into a territory and retrieve items.  The terrain is earth, but the scenarios are designed to simulate a MARS mission. Successful contestants will walk away with bragging rights, maybe a big cash in and having solved problems that will make NASA’s mission more successful.  It captures the imagination and focus of its participants.  It elevates mind and soul matters – none of us are the same people who met at the event when we leave.  Something more human than machine happens when those ‘bots come marching in.

For those of us born in the 60’s – space exploration and robot building conjure the “Lost in Space” images of Will Robinson and his B-9 ‘bot caring for his human friend (unforgettable “Danger Will Robinson, DANGER”!), a world where robots take on human feelings and qualities. We are the generation of moon landings, The Jetsons (50’s-60’s), and great human-machine inventions that have changed our lives.  Ever since, we have been fascinated by robots, and WPI took that fascination past an obsession – a plunge into creating the first accredited Robotics Engineering curricula in the US, leading the path and setting hope and a high bar for the upcoming generation of roboticists.  This competition, brings out self coined roboticists of all ages and back grounds with a common passion – taking the “mechanical or virtual agent, usually an electro-mechanical machine that is guided by a computer program or electronic circuitry.” (wikipedia) – and converting it into a prototype worthy of NASA exploration. 

As much as I’m tempted to comment on the technical intricacies, quality, trials and tribulations of the ‘bots, or address the frustration associated with computer glitches and algorithms that won’t find their “rhythm” (rhyme or reason…), or the technical specifications that NASA imposes on the makes and models (for Food Network Fans, this is the “Chopped Champions” of Robotics, although the ingredients in the basket are somewhat known…) … I just can’t.  For it wasn’t the mechanical motion that captivated me (ok, so that was pretty darn cool…) to the point of metaphysical introspection – I was swept away by the people behind the machines, their stories, their journey, the teams and the team spirit and the humanity within the geekiness of it all.  The stories range from the WPI staff and volunteers, NASA sponsors (geeks with hearts of gold), the teams, fellow judges, visiting teachers and BRIGHT EYED students.

I could write a dissertation on the teams…  Still today I am giddy with human after glow, having received the profoundly karmatic power of the human spirit.  Trials, challenges, sportsmanship and simple pure CARING for one another as professionals, and people.  I could say, that the competition itself embodies the spirit of what NewStoneSoup stands for: collaboration in times of austerity, and we all walk away with a doggie bag after filling our hearts with the warmth of the meal of camaraderie served:

Lets take team SpacePride from South Carolina – a two person team: a mechanical tinkerer who is fascinated by building things and making them work – he builds beyond machines, he also builds relationships with his southern charm, wit and old fashioned manners. And a Math Teacher who is a self proclaimed math geek (she seriously LOVES math and teaching, just inspiring!). Second time participants, their Robot duo exhibited impressive improvements over last years contender with the undying enthusiasm, southern charm and camaraderie they brought with them last year.  NOTHING rains on their parade, not even mother nature.  They were the “cheerleaders” of the group, always lending a smile, a story, a helping hand – and they can duke out the equations with the best of them.

Team Wunderkamer, the bot that didn’t make it through the door in 2012, with the team leader perpetually focused on his laptop writing his code… Persnickety, laser focused, seemingly lost in his thought and world, with the heart to make sure ALL teams where tended to while executing a hardware store run…  He at the keyboard, his wife running the errands.  Enthralled in precision and smiling for the eager children and teachers that came to visit.  Charming and so classy.

Team Intrepid – a husband-wife team (also second timers that almost didn’t make it), and the first bot to make it back to platform to the cheers of all spectators rooting for this complex and finicky robot.  As it does with Robots, in particular those that are put together in between full time jobs and not financed by huge donors or corporations, these puppies tend to collapse at the most unexpected moment. Yet while the team scrambled to correct technical issues, they still took time to help other teams with their technical challenges.  To watch Intrepid make an attempted retrieval and diligently return to home base, was a spiritual moment for all of us.  This team leaves us with a sense of determination and commitment, positive realism in face of the art of the possible but never losing the faith in their work and looking towards improvement. 

University of California Santa Cruz – a group of undergads that started out as an undergad project and wound up scrounging for the 3K registration fee, lodging and daily stipend funds (nope, school didn’t pay for it, but they sure got bragging rights for the stellar execution) who rolled up their sleeves to help others and ripped apart and rebuilt a computer to make sure they met the judging criteria.  They were “broke” young men/students that were thrilled to have earned an “A” for their project and to have the privilege of an audience with NASA.  Just beautiful.  They were exhausted and punchy and geeky and funny and so helpful and caring.

Team Waterloo, our Canadian neighbors, driven by the bragging rights to beat the Americans, sleeping under the stars if needed and willing and able to jump to the rescue of fellow geeks if needed.  So proud to speak with teachers and children and express their passion for technology in ways that even a policy geek like I can understand.  Their robot performed so spectacularly, it took our breath away, but the team is one of iron determination and heart of knowledge generosity.

Team Kuukulgur, from Estonia – traversed the ocean to strut their technological stuff, their seemingly eccentric sense of fashion and their camaraderie.  They strutted through our language and our culture with confidence and desire to contribute to the whole.  They truly embodied “partnership competition”, and we hope their effort pays off for them in their country as well as in the US. They reminded us that humanity does not have a flag.

Team Mystic, another husband wife taking on a “later in life” passion with vision.  They took on to other teams with parental care, sense of family and shared with us, their desire to encourage the spawning of roboticists nationwide.  They brought more than a swarm of bots that children would gladly swipe and take home – they brought hope and courage, family and art.

Team Middleman, husband and wife team – he’s retired from Digital Design, while she still works with challenged humans, taught us all that you are never too old and its never too late to pursue a dream and a vision.  They brought us hope and a sense of humor with their robot (lovingly referred to as our favorite ice cream truck) who achieved more than even they hoped for.  Simply a living lesson in determination and not taking oneself so seriously we cripple ourselves.

The level 1 winner – Team Survey – a TOWERING team of mega minds, eccentric and witty – everything you would think of when you close your eyes and think “geek” (but in huge, outdoorsy bodies), were fierce competitors that never lost their sense of human perspective.  Even through the victory, they were humble and vibrant, “big brother” like, mentoring, helping and caring.  Class act in the face of a victory.

Over and over again, I saw teams helping teams, people helping people.  Teams saving food for other teams, for the teams that camped outside and averaged 3 hours sleep. WPI professors and teams that “DIG” people and technology and do both oh so well.  WPI’s love of teaching is infectious.  We would all hope our teachers care for our children in the manner they do – the same love the have for technology, they put into people.  The NASA carriers of the mighty check book sharing their undivided attention and knowledge for all, while reminding us they are still husbands/wives, parents, neighbors and people.  They just aren’t NASA.  They are the soul of NASA.  Fellow Judges from IRobot, WPI Alumn, JPL and Honeybee Corp – dead serious about the competition and the rules and oh so caring about the human story and nature behind the bot – it was a true homage to professionalism and having fun at the job when hours were long, and they, the out of towners, bunked in dorms! 

Technology does not take away our humanity.  We give up our humanity when we forget to care about people, the environment and all things living.  Technology, can bring us closer to our inner creator and enables us to unleash the power of our imagination and make the impossible, possible. It can help us reach out to loved ones far away.  Or inspire a stranger in need. For all the intimidation it can create, technology will NEVER replace the human spirit, the soul, the humanity.  The human IS part of the loop and the equation.  We just must take the obligation of not losing that perspective, not only seriously but responsibly.  We can not survive without each other.  The “Terminator” is not here. Human spirit is.  Next time you are tempted to keep your nose in your Iphone, don’t forget to take the time and smell the roses, look up and acknowledge the life forms around you.  It is possible to let the bots in along with a dose of heart and soul.  I learned that from a group of geeks…

Nov 27

Could you please pass the knowledge? And a side of secret?

By Rita Vazquez-Torres | News

Mentorship… Teaching others the magic at some point should be an infectious disease.  I wish it were as simple as sneezing on the intended subject, but unfortunately it is not.  Mentorship takes time and the right chemistry between mentor and “mentee”… Partially fine art, partially crafting another human, mentorship should be a beauty regiment / exercise as we move up and along and an investment in others. Mentorship is not about “cookie cutting” and prefab systems.  Its an art that involves intuition, trial and error, dynamic evolution, renewal and permanence.  

In the past I have seen well intended management task well intended engineers with developing a “system” or a “p-r-o-c-e-s-s” for passing along the institutional knowledge.  And with good intentions they developed a “p-r-o-c-e-s-s” based on “teach what you know” that simply was not implementable, but yet they are getting paid to try to force a creative process into a rigid formula.  The devil in the details is that we can’t always quantify or qualify the art of the “secret sauce”, nor is everyone receptive to the message, yet we try to force something that is mostly human chemistry, skill and art.  Mentorship should be a unique and special relationship where a serious lesson is passed on to a serious candidate (we should develop a “” for mentorship!).

There are experiences and skills that can be taught.  Others… can we? – Can “vision” be taught?  Can “applied intuition” be taught?  How do we harness, bottle and dose game changers/visionaries and unorthodox creative forces? Can it be captured in a “p-r-o-c-e-s-s” (for as much as process oriented professionals are a necessary evil, they can oftentimes be a serious drag).  Who is the keeper of the secret sauce?  Does the sauce have an expiration date or can it be re-seasoned to match organizational evolution?  Once the art and the artist are identified, who is the recipient of the knowledge?  How do we pick them?  

Just thinking out loud here on some of the elements of Mentorship-Mentee-ship… After all, there has to be something worth teaching, someone teacher worthy and someone student worthy.  What I am babbling about is that mentorship is critical – whether it is for the sake of succession because it offers longevity when longevity is relevant, or because it is the necessary circle of giving back.  

It gives us the ability to move people and concepts around, keeping the business or enterprise fresh, refreshed and relevant.  It builds strength through change and it gives success new meaning.  There has to be chemistry between the mentor and the mentee.  And the ideal mentee has to possess the same type of skills and qualities as an athlete or singer – mentee either has it or they don’t…  Lets face it, some of us, no matter how hard we try, we weren’t born with the pipes to sing – period!  

Successful careers are determined by many factors, and lets be honest – We all started some where, and someone gave us a chance. I really believe that it is a privilege and not an entitlement – so if you owe your success to someone who gave you a chance, took the time for you or lead you by example, pass it on to a deserving soul.  Let it flow and figure out what will work for the parties involved.

Dont get stuck on the “p-r-o-c-e-s-s” – enjoy the journey, and rejoice in the product.  But pass that secret sauce (just make sure the recipient “gets it” and knows what to do with it!) – give someone a chance.  For those of you who gave ME a chance (and you know who you are).  THANK YOU!

Nov 11

When customers are as good (or better than) as the product

By Rita Vazquez-Torres | News

As NewStoneSoup ventures into the wine mentoring and sales (yes, passion for wine isn’t as much about your seniority / somalier-like qualities, but a continuous life experience, and maybe some authoritative training), we had a chance to spend some time observing the vibe (and friendly competition, more a wine-food kinship) at the 2012 Wine and Food Phest in Boston South End.  

Hosted by two well recognized and trusted enterprises – Phantom Gourmet and Julios Liquors (Westborough, MA), the event was fun and vibrant.  The selection was limited but hit the point it set out to make – introduce the young wine-ophile into the affordable and food friendly experience.  Underlined by the “drink responsibly” – tickets were $30 in advance and $40 at the door, not for the faint of budget or lacking the maturity to understand the communion of responsible feasting – the event featured 36 budget and food friendly selections and 8 food choices, leaving the pairing up to the exploratory nature of the 21-35 year olds that dominated the event.  And this is where my maternal pride kicks in – not only is Julio’s known for putting together some seriously intense wine tastings (this being one of their “lighter hearted” I’ve attended), but it was with great pleasure to watch the playful seriousness, well instilled manners and community spirit of the young crowd.  

If your young adult was at this event, dear potential reader/parent – our congratulations to a job well done in raising such well tempered and rounded generation.  As for the wines – well, as well rounded and fun as the crowd.  For those lucky enough to meet the winemaker – STLTO wines, italian intro to food-friendly, easy drinking and super affordable wines with an image (Jimmy Choo shoes anyone?) had the father-daughter team engage throughout the 6 hour ode to baccus. On the more “moving up to the guiding you gently from less complex wines to a more sophisticated palate” were the dark chocolate/tobacco noted Gabbiano Chianti begging for a hearty southern italian red sauce (meatballs from Martino’s anyone?) and the Carmine Grenata Cabernet Suavignon – interesting because it comes from the traditionally Malbec South American soil, was a very pleasant surprise.  Im a sucker for a good bitter apperitif, Mionetto “IL” Spritz is a good stand in for the Venetian 3 pm amaro apperitif.  Some usual suspects – Beringer and 90+ Cellars were in the house, but for wine snob like myself I was surprised by the flavor and easy drinking characteristics of the Phantom Gourmet Chianti. Cakes by Erin showcased some dainty and wonderful cupcakes and the mildly rich dark chocolate from The Chocolate Truffle made for a great pairing with some of the “heartier” (for this crowd) reds such as the Duca Pinot Noir (I made the recommendation to a couple of college girls and they felt they had a day of awakening…). I had to move on to another tasting, but Phantom tweeted with glee, and captured the crowd going “gangham style”.
For more info on the vendors and the event, visit or give the Julios staff a call. Great crowd, great event, and let us NOT forget Megaphone Mark the outdoors while we stood in line stand up comic!

As for the customers – I look forward to seeing you again as I explore tastings with the “Dos Familias” extensive lineup of wines, or see you at Julios when passing by for yet another wine or whisky tasting.  SALUD!

Nov 08

Having a moment between two slices of bread…

By Rita Vazquez-Torres | News

Have you ever had a moment when something surprises you in a way you have to take a moment to ponder “on the moment”?  I think I had one of those many moments today, and this is an unsolicited marketing ploy, not out of being a loyal customer since they opened their doors, but out of pure pride that this establishment is in my community…

For those who know me, I am a shameless “home bread foodie” a puertorrican home cooking mommy with an appetite and an obsession for food (and wine and other bibes, but I digress).  Fed up with the monotony of high tech, a well respected italo-greco Marlboro husband and wife team set out to bring good wine, cheese and bread to Marlborough.  And a star was born.  As the kids grew up, and became entrenched into the VinBin fiber, they each brought their unique touch to the establishment (I know, wait for it, its coming, so bear with the babble…).

Their son, former chef for the red sox and culinary educated and food traveled heir to the dad throne, has been romancing the idea of a restaurant of his own.  But as we parents know, its hard to let the kids fly the coop, and as we age, we hope that our offspring will take our legacy to the next level.  And so, after moving and expanding, after adding craft beers, spirits and expanded the cheese case as well as specialty foods, the little wine shop that could and still can, opened up their “VinBin Cafe”… and so I had finally a moment between two slices of bread.

Three weeks operating, and I had YET to sample the prize some locals had been buzzing about.  Torn by the cold and the sliver of wet snow, I decided to pay the Cafe a visit.  Fresh ingredient/home made soups, breads, and hand crafted sandwiches, I had a moment.  A moment that took me back to CooknTaste in Barcelona as I sipped the Barcelona Tomato soup with a hefty dollop of aioli… and then I tried to gently nibble on the Barcelona sandwich, when I realized the bread had been pressed to perfect crunch, perfect setting to the home made tepanade and thin slices of manchego that had melted and oozed out of the bread.

I closed my eyes.  I inhaled the garlic.  I dunked the sandwich.  And I licked my fingers.  And I became further firmed in my obsession for good things simply made and made well, my passion for family owned businesses that do their thing really well, and I declared Chef, our local “Sandwich King on Main”.  The VinBin is located on 91 Main Street in Marlborough, MA, and the Cafe is open from 11-3.  Here’s to having a moment…