Last Wednesday I participated in IBM’s Federal Summit at the Ronald Reagan Federal Building in Washington DC.

Business aside, it was one scary meeting. There were control systems all over. From the IRS to airports, to National Security, the demos were much more advanced and comprehensive than anything you may have seen in a movie. Big Brother to the Nth degree. They know it all about you. In a second. You either get paranoid-serious about security, encryption and privacy, or you might as well forget completely about your privacy. If you choose the latter, at least demand that those who rule (and it should be “we, the people”) expose all their info too, and that we have access to all and any of their and our info. Watch the watchers.

At least I enjoyed for a fleeting second when I saw the surprised face of retired General Keith Alexander, Former Commander, US Cyber Command and Former Director NSA, Chief Central Security Service when, on his way to his keynote speech, preceded by two attractive young female assistants, and one burly bodyguard, saw the “hacker” and “come back with a warrant – EFF” stickers on my laptop and tattoos on my right arm. No time to chat, but I’m sure he can have me checked out online if he wants to 😉

The event also helped me experiment something that I knew about but had not experienced before, or if I have, I have already forgotten about it: the despicable interaction behavior modification based on perceived status derived from external symbols. Allow me to explain: the event was composed of talks-speeches (separated into 5 tracks), food, and “stands” with signs and screens displaying a host of different solutions IBM and partners, like my company, offer the US government.

Most partner companies had an executive dressed in a suit, “working the floor”, and an assistant “manning the booth”. To make the distinction crystal clear, the organizers have bright blue t-shirts to assistants. Since I was the only one attending from my company, I was given a t-shirt, and I thought it was a playful display of good spirit to wear it over my dress shirt, so I put it on. The second I put on that t-shirt the attitude towards me of those around changed completely! Mainly from “business partners”, “event organizers”, and “government officials”, but strangely not from IBMers for the most part (I guess they receive training on avoiding this).

All of a sudden I was addressed to quite unpolitely, given constant orders and directions, often repetitively as if I could no understand at first, and requested to move, get out of the way, or even simply ignored. Amazing! The same people that minutes before were networking and chatting with me, cracking jokes and trying to do business, now turned into complete *holes (without the glass*).

It was a real enlightening experience. Not that I did not know before that power structures and hierarchies were detrimental and damaging to equalitarian, fair and “decent” human relations, but boy did I get a first row seat this time! So, remember, no matter what you are wearing, who you are, or what the acronym on your title or position spells, you work WITH people. People do not work FOR you. Let’s get rid of the self-entitlement, self-righteous, dominating, and abusing attitude and behavior concentration of power seems to lead to. Open your eyes, look beyond the tie, the apron, the make up, the business card, and remember: what you have in front of you is a real person, not a “function” or an “asset”. And if you think you are doing your corporation, your stockholders, or your pocket a favor by believing there are “inferiors” and treating them like dirt, you could not be more wrong. Get your head out of your butt, and change before it is too late. Because that kind of attitude should not go unpunished.

Another lesson I learned in this trip is the importance of not having checked-in luggage:

I was recently named member of the IBM European Cloud Advisory Board, and the first meeting was to be held the next day in Nice (France), in the morning. In order to make it I had to change flights at the very last minute. My wonderful travel agent was super fast and expedient, changing my tickets as the check-in was being announced closed in front of me. I looked for the supervisor, explained that I had an eTicket confirmation and no baggage to check-in and, presto, I was allowed to board, making it on time to my meeting after a nasty flight.

Note to myself: do not fly 7 hours with torn ankle ligaments unless you fly flat-bed first class with an ice pack on it.