Monday, July 28, 2008

Buried in Paperwork

Buried in Paperwork
Originally uploaded by D73

"Back to life, back to reality..." I think about the lyrics of that song whenever I'm re-entering from vacation or from other extended time out of the office. If you've taken my advice and truly vacated (no email or cell calls either) you might feel a bit buried too right about now. But have no fear - here are some ideas you can use to un-bury yourself and get cruising again:

  • Set aside a block of time as early as possible to weed through email and interoffice mail. If you're like many people you'll really only have to deal with 25-50% of the items clogging your inbox. Start your process by deleting or pitching the most obvious junk items immediately and you'll drastically reduce the number of items on the pile.
  • Once you've gotten to the real actionable items follow the guidance of the GTD gurus and handle each item once - do it, delegate it, or dump it.
  • You've been out for a week (or whatever) already - people are used to you being out of the office, so leave your phone on park to avoid interruptions while you're catching up. Heck, if you really want to, leave your phone parked and see how many days it takes for them to catch up with you and realize that you're back on the job! (Just kidding - well, maybe.)
  • Set up a pow-wow with the people who report to you to get updated on what's been happening while you've been away. This is also the perfect opportunity to delegate some of the tasks from bullet #2 above.

This is just a quick first cut - I'd love to hear your best techniques to jump back into the water. What do you do to shrink the pile? And what's working for you to reduce the stress that accompanies the chunk of work that greets you when you return?

Friday, July 18, 2008


relaxing on the beach
Originally uploaded by meli254

This is what I hope to look like next week, although the picture will likely include ten pounds of sand toys, 43 pounds of 4-year-old, and about one hundred of other people. It's vacation time so we'll be, well, vacating.

I swear that I'm only going to the beach because Stephen Covey says I must. Really. Relaxation has been in short supply around here for the last few months - and that's a good thing because business has been really great - so it's time to recharge the old batteries. Covey says that rest and recuperation are quadrant two activities, meaning they are important to do but nobody will be pulling at you to do them.

Obviously Covey's children weren't in the room when he wrote that nobody will be pulling at you to go on vacation. Anyhoo - try to muscle your way through your blog reading withdrawal and I'll be back at you when I turn the office lights back on. Cheers!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

The interaction among attitudes, habits, and results

If you want different results, do something differently, right? Although the remedy to corporate insanity sounds obvious, the path to doing so isn't quite so easy, in large part due to the impact of attitudes and habits. Your attitudes support (or fight) your habits, and your repetitive behaviors determine your results.

Your habits are your conditioned behaviors - you do them automatically, sometimes without awareness that you're doing them. If you're a habitual nail biter, for example, you might have no idea when you last chewed on them. You might even feel startled when a friend or family member calls it to your attention, because you're on autopilot.

Of course not all habits are bad. You might engage in the positive habit of daily morning exercise that keeps your muscles toned and your metabolism cranking right along. If it's truly a habit you go through the routine of getting up, dressed, and to the gym without making a conscious decision to do so.

Attitudes are habits as well - they're habits of thought, and therein lies the connection between attitudes, habits and results. If I think of myself as fit in body I'm likely to engage in the habits that support my attitude - I'm likely to have supporting habits of exercise and/or food choices. If I think of myself (have an attitude) as uncoordinated and/or overweight it becomes much more difficult to keep going on exercise and eating plans that sustain fitness.

A friend and colleague of mine said, "My spouse is thin. They eat like a thin person and exercise like a thin person does. If I want to be thin like they are I have to see myself in that way also. That's the only means by which I will do the behavior consistent with my goals."

You might make the argument that you can behave your way into a new way of thinking. The vast majority of us don't ever test ourselves enough to know what's really possible, so we might begin a venture with some shortage of belief in our goal (attitudinal shortfall.) The completion of short term action steps can help us convince ourselves that we can, indeed, progress in the direction of our dreams, and can therefore help us in the short term to establish new habits while our attitudes catch up with our reality.

If you've been unsuccessful in the achievement of goals more often than you'd like, take a look at your attitudes. It's possible that you've created a label for yourself that contradicts the thing that you say you want. Once your habits of thought are in alignment with your goals you'll have a much greater shot at establishing the positive habits of behavior that lead to better results.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Tips for becoming a better conversationalist

elephant talk
Originally uploaded by gin_able

No matter how educated and/or technically skilled you are, or even how good-looking, effective communication skills are key to your success at work or navigating the social scene. But a lot of people aren't comfortable with just talking to someone. If this is you, apply some of these tips and you'll be able to become a better conversationalist.

  • Build your common denominator. Know what's going on in the world - who's vying for a World Series berth, or the latest developments on a current topic in your community. The more general knowledge you have the more people you're likely to be able to talk with comfortably - you'll have some ammo to get the conversation started. Recognize that they might be uncomfortable at first, too.
  • Dialogue, not monologue. Some folks think that they have to maintain a stock of twenty funny stories or detailed historical counts in order to be interesting. Quite the opposite tends to be true. It's all about taking turns if you don't want your conversation partner to check out on you. When asked a question, answer and then finish with a question back to them.
  • Show yourself. If you want to get to know someone better you might need to disclose a bit about yourself first. This is really the corollary to the prior point - if you are drilling them with question after question your conversation partner might start to feel at risk. Notice I didn't say "tell them your life history." Remember that the person asking the questions controls the conversation.
  • Keep your topics upbeat. It's not fun to listen to a litany of your complaints, and your conversation partner might start to feel uncomfortable if they get the impression that you're trying to elicit some "dirt" from them. If they're into conversational mudslinging, beware. That's a slippery slope that can get you into trouble when people know people (and they always do.) Besides, if this person skewers someone else in your presence, what might they say about you when they're in a different conversation?
  • Don't dazzle with vocabulary. Even if you're in love with words, to quote a client, "save it for Scrabble." If the other person doesn't quite get what you're saying they probably won't let you know - they don't want to feel ignorant. That means that your great word will be lost on them and your precise meaning will probably be lost too.
  • Seek to include. When you're in a large social setting you're not in the best spot for a tete-a-tete. Introduce people, include a newcomer into your conversation and you'll reduce the pressure on you to maintain the flow. You can all share the conversation, which multiplies interpersonal connections, keeps things interesting, and builds your stock as a guest.
  • Observe their pace and respond accordingly. You will probably see this fairly easily if you're not too focused on yourself. Some people are "born talkers" - they are extroverts who seem to think out loud, and sometimes it seems as though they have no edit button in their brain. They'll want a fast pace of back-and-forth or they'll be on to something else. Other people are more introverted - they like to think through their entire response in their head before it comes out of their mouth, so you'll need to give them some time to respond without jumping in with your own next comment. Allow some auditory space in the form of silence for them. Your ability to adapt to different paces and styles will in large part determine your communication effectiveness.
  • Watch for nonverbal cues. The darting eye will let you know that they're ready to move on, or that they're distracted in some way. Closed body posture might be telling you that they're feeling a bit defensive. Smiles and twinkling eyes will let you know that they're right there enjoying the conversation with you. Once you notice a nonverbal cue, use the information to manage the process. In other words, don't keep struggling to finish your story if you see that your partner is turning his or her body toward the exit. If you're not sure what their body language means, ask a clarifying question.

If you're really concerned about your conversational skills remember that it takes at least two people to engage in one - well, for most of us that is the case anyway. It's not only about you. It's about the connection between you and the other person. Lighten up on yourself and go talk with somebody!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Fear is a weapon of mass destruction

What are you afraid of? High places? The dark? Being broke? Being wealthy? Being sick? Making a speech? We all have something, or even many things, of which we're afraid. The difference between us is whether we let the fear stop us from moving ahead, or whether we push forward despite it. If we let ourselves become captives of our fears we'll be engaging in self-inflicted mass destruction.

Fear can work on your behalf because it can help you take that extra minute to consider before you take action. Sometimes fear is your intuition telling you "don't go there." You might have a track record of bad things happening when you attempted a certain task - perhaps you had an ugly fall off of a bike, or you tripped on your way up to the podium at your presentation in front of 1000 people. Fears are sometimes there with cause.

The classic advice for overcoming the emotional baggage attached to a bad experience is to "get back on the horse." Do it again, because you probably don't have a big enough sample size to determine that this activity isn't for you. Prepare, practice, identify what you can learn from your prior attempt(s,) then do it again.

But what if the thing you fear never happens? One author's acronym for fear is "false evidence appearing real." Not all of our fears are based in experience. We have some overall negative conditioning that says "that won't work," or "you don't deserve this" that we generalize into some assumption that whatever can go wrong will go wrong.

Let's break this conquering fear down into manageable bites by asking ourselves a few questions about the thing(s) we fear:

  • What is the source of your fear? Is it experiential, or is it manufactured?
  • For the experience-based fear, what can you learn from your most recent attempt?
  • If this fear is manufactured, is there valid data to support it?
  • What are the rewards of overcoming your fear and doing this?
  • What are the consequences if you don't?
  • Are there identifiable obstacles that you need to overcome to be successful? What are some possible solutions to those obstacles?
  • What is one step you can take to get you closer to conquering this fear?

Are you willing to risk the consequences associated with not taking action? What would you lose if you never felt the wind blowing past your body as you whizzed down the road on your bike? What would be the consequences if you wouldn't pick up that phone and call a prospective new customer? How much would it matter if you never made a speech?

Perhaps not every one of your fears has enough motivation inside it to put your energy toward overcoming it, and that's your choice. But think how free you would feel if fear weren't weighing you down. Think how powerful you would be inside yourself, and how much further you'd stretch in your development. Overcoming your fear could unlock your gifts for the world, and just might help unlock others' gifts as well.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Being too up to date

I think it's way easier to be a small business owner and make decisions about technology than it is to own a larger business and make the same ones. I decide how much of my budget is going to go to it, and if I mess up it's only going to impact one or two people. I can set a goal to upgrade this morning, and by this afternoon I can be upgraded, courtesy of a quick stop to my local office store. But I've found that it's possible to add complexity by being too up to date.
When my husband did a stint in the corporate arena after being self-employed for a while the first thing he noticed was that he had better systems when he was doing it himself. He had a relationship management system in place, then had to wait for a year to get it when he worked in corporate. The result of the company's investment was a less current, less flexible, less user-friendly system than he had in his two-person shop.
For me in my business compatibility with clients is the most important thing - my needs are fairly simple. Although I think Apple is really cool and the interface is great, my customers use PCs, so I do too. It's also important to me to be up to date - this is probably more my thing than my clients'. I want to be able to download templates for presentations that look fresh, and that takes Office 2007. So the other week I upgraded.
The upgrade wasn't without complexity, rebuilding Outlook settings, learning the new Word toolbar, etc. The other week my Outlook was acting glitchy, so I contacted my local ISP. The customer service guy wasn't familiar with Office 2007 (he hadn't installed it yet,) so our 45-minute conversation didn't help much. (Outlook is still being a bit ornery, not loading properly sometimes.) Then I sent Word 2007 documents to a few people and they couldn't read them.
So now for the time being I'm dealing with Outlook on a day-by-day basis. I'm automatically sending a link to Microsoft's compatibility pack for Office 2007 with every document, much like some people send the link to download Adobe Acrobat. Not exactly the efficiency I was hoping for when I upgraded my system, but I'll take comfort in the fact that I did it first, and now they'll now feel the need to get up to date too.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Takes on generosity

What does the word generosity mean to you? Does it represent the sharing of your financial resources? Your knowledge? Your willingness to give someone else the benefit of the doubt? For a fun Friday diversion, here are some takes on generosity:

It takes generosity to discover the whole through others. If you realize you are only a violin, you can open yourself up to the world by playing your role in the concert. -Jacques Yves Cousteau

Real generosity toward the future lies in giving all to the present. - Albert Camus

Generosity is giving more than you can, and pride is taking less than you need. - Kahlil Gibran

Gentleness, self-sacrifice and generosity are the exclusive possession of no one race or religion. - Mohandas Gandhi

You see, antiquated ideas of kindness and generosity are simply bugs that must be programmed out of our world. And these cold, unfeeling machines will show us the way. - Bill Gates

The success I have achieved in bodybuilding, motion pictures, and business would not have been possible without the generosity of the American people and the freedom here to pursue your dreams. - Arnold Schwarzenegger

Generosity is nothing else than a craze to possess. All which I abandon, all which I give, I enjoy in a higher manner through the fact that I give it away. To give is to enjoy possessively the object which one gives. - Jean-Paul Sartre

Have a great weekend, everybody!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Youth wastes away, but immaturity can last a lifetime

I don't think this guy is immature - I think he's enjoying life. But I'm sure you've had more than one occasion to observe the difference between chronological age, intellect, and emotional maturity. One does not necessarily correlate with the other, much to our chagrin from time to time.

We can develop our intellect - schools do it every day, and we can continue the process by being intentional about developmental reading programs, what we watch, even games we play. We can develop our bodies to forestall signs of chronological aging (thank heaven) to some degree.

We can also develop our emotional maturity by paying attention to it just like we do to the physical and intellectual aspects of ourselves. Here are signs of emotional immaturity as presented by Jerome Murray, Ph.D.:

  • Volatile Emotions: Emotional volatility is indicated by such things as explosive behavior, temper tantrums, low frustration tolerance, responses out of proportion to cause, oversensitivity, inability to take criticism, unreasonable jealousy, unwillingness to forgive, and a capricious fluctuation of moods.
  • Egocentricity: Egocentricity is self-centeredness. Its major manifestation is selfishness. It is associated with low self-esteem. Self-centered people have no regard for others, but they also have only slight regard for themselves. An egocentric person is preoccupied with his own feelings and symptoms. He demands constant attention and insists on self-gratifying sympathy, fishes for compliments, and makes unreasonable demands. He is typically overly-competitive, a poor loser, perfectionistic, and refuses to play or work if he can’t have his own way. A self-centered person does not see himself realistically, does not take responsibility for his own mistakes or deficiencies, is unable to constructively criticize himself, and is insensitive to the feelings of others. Only emotionally-mature people can experience true empathy, and empathy is a prime requirement for successful relationships.
  • Stimulation Hunger: This includes demanding immediate attention or gratification and being unable to wait for anything. Stimulation-hungry people are incapable of deferred gratification, which means putting off present desires in order to gain a future reward. Stimulation-hungry people are superficial and live thoughtlessly and impulsively. Their personal loyalty lasts only as long as the usefulness of the relationship. They have superficial values and are too concerned with trivia (their appearance, etc.). Their social and financial lives are chaotic.
  • Over-Dependence: Healthy human development proceeds from dependence (I need you), to independence (I don’t need anyone), to interdependence (we need each other).
    Over-dependence is indicated by: (a) inappropriate dependence, e.g. relying on someone when it is preferable to be self-reliant, and (b) too great a degree of dependence for too long. This includes being too easily influenced, indecisive, and prone to snap judgments. Overly-dependent people fear change preferring accustomed situations and behavior to the uncertainty of change and the challenge of adjustment. Extreme conservatism may even be a symptom.

Sometimes it's easier to take a look at your emotional development by setting targets for yourself, not dwelling on the "as-is" state and instead focusing on the "can-be." Here are Murray's signs of emotional maturity:

  • The Ability to Learn from Experience: The ability to face reality and to relate positively to life experiences derive from the ability to learn from experience. Immature people do not learn from experience, whether the experience is positive or negative. They act as if there is no relationship between how they act and the consequences that occur to them. They view good or bad experiences as being caused by luck, or fate. They do not accept personal responsibility.
  • The Ability to Give and Receive Love: Emotional maturity fosters a sense of security which permits vulnerability. A mature person can show his vulnerability by expressing love and accepting expressions of love from those who love him. An immature person is unduly concerned with signs of “weakness” and has difficulty showing and accepting love. The egocentricity of immaturity will allow the acceptance of love, but fails to recognize the needs of others to receive love. They’ll take it, but they won’t give it.
  • Just as Interested in Giving as Receiving: A mature person’s sense of personal security permits him to consider the needs of others and give from his personal resources, whether money, time, or effort, to enhance the quality of life of those he loves. They are also able to allow others to give to them. Balance and maturity go hand in hand. Immaturity is indicated by being willing to give, but unwilling to receive; or willing to receive, but unwilling to give.
  • The Ability to Face and Deal with Reality: The immature avoid facing reality. Overdue bills, interpersonal problems, indeed any difficulties which demand character and integrity are avoided and even denied by the immature. Mature people eagerly face reality knowing the quickest way to solve a problem is to deal with it promptly. A person’s level of maturity can be directly related to the degree to which they face their problems, or avoid their problems. Mature people confront their problems, immature people avoid their problems.
  • The Capacity to Relate Positively to Life Experiences: A mature person views life experiences as learning experiences and, when they are positive, he enjoys and revels in life. When they are negative, he accepts personal responsibility and is confident he can learn from them to improve his life. When things do not go well, he looks for an opportunity to succeed. The immature person curses the rain while a mature person sells umbrellas.
  • The Ability to Accept Frustration: When things don’t go as anticipated, the immature person stamps his feet, holds his breath, and bemoans his fate. The mature person considers using another approach or going another direction and moves on with life.
  • The Ability to Handle Hostility: When frustrated, the immature person looks for someone to blame. The mature person looks for a solution. Immature people attack people; mature people attack problems. The mature person uses his anger as an energy source and, when frustrated, redoubles his efforts to find solutions to his problems.
  • Relative Freedom from Tension Symptoms: Immature people feel unloved, avoid reality, are pessimistic about life, get angry easily, and attack the people closest to them when frustrated—no wonder they are constantly anxious. The mature person’s approach to live imbues him with a relaxed confidence in his ability to get what he wants from life.

Emotional maturity doesn't rely on you being an introvert or an extrovert. It's a matter of seeing yourself clearly, choosing your actions consciously, and finding something outside of yourself (a purpose) on which to focus your energy. If you think you're OK in emotional maturity but want to get even more effective, this might be a scope of work for a coach. If you think you have longer-term baggage that you want to get rid of, perhaps a chat with a counselor would be helpful to determine an appropriate course of action.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Involving the front line in fixing a process

One of the principles of effective leadership is that there are times to lead and times to follow. The highest performers know when to ask an expert for knowledge on how to solve a problem. In the case of processes that need to be improved or overhauled, the experts are the people who are operating the process on a daily basis.

So you want to involve your front line to work on a process improvement project. Many leaders have concerns about how to make it work effectively. Here are a few, along with some remedies and/or preventative measures.

  • "It will turn into a gripe session." When this happens it's often because the workers don't have a process improvement process to follow and therefore wallow in what is. In other cases it's because they have been given the responsibility to fix the process but not the authority to make the changes. Give them a process to follow and equip the team with the authority (perhaps a management-level champion) and resources to take action.
  • "They will want to just throw money at it and we can't afford that." One of the principles of effective process improvement is that you put creativity before capital. A neutral facilitator (from outside the company, preferably) can press the group to reduce the dollar investment necessary, yet still achieve the same gains.
  • "I think they will find problems, but not be able to come up with solutions." This is another place where a process expert (facilitator) can help the group. They will take a look at the current process from two perspectives - who the involved people are and what they do, and what the product does. Then they will weed out non-value-added steps from the process. The facilitator has tools to help them get past any brain cramps and move toward realistic redesign.
  • "I can't afford to hire someone to help us with this." This type of project can typically easily fund itself from the often significant reduction in cost achieved. It's not unheard of to take 80% waste out of the process, in materials and/or labor cost. With that opportunity, can you afford not to?
  • "My people are afraid of losing their own or their friends' jobs if they're too successful." This is a commitment you as leadership have to make - to find other ways to allocate the people resources if they're removed from this process. If you let people go as a result of your improvement efforts you'll only be able to do it successfully one time before your staff goes into self-preservation mode.

When you choose to involve the front line, the people who actually do the work, on a team to improve process you will achieve gain several benefits beyond the money and time saved (as though that weren't enough!)

  • You'll remove the skepticism and potential lack of implementation that follows an improvement effort performed by people who aren't there in the trenches every day. You'll be way less likely to hear "That won't work," or see the accompanying resistance.
  • You'll have the opportunity to identify informal leaders in your ranks who have outstanding ideas but have heretofore been unheard or whose ideas have been edited and diluted before they got to you.
  • You'll help to create a climate where everyone has an opportunity to make significant contributions to the company's success. That's motivating, and generates better everyday performance.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

5 tips for better concentration

Originally uploaded by jfvo

C'mon - it's summertime! You don't want to spend all day, every day working. Remember what they said about Jack (not this little cutie!) being a dull boy? If you can maintain your concentration just a little bit better you can get every "need to do" off your plate and still have time to hit the swimming pool. Sound good? Then read on:

  1. According to The Power of Full Engagement by Jim Loehr your maximum window for productivity is no longer than 90 minutes. If you go any longer than that at one stretch you'll be mentally wandering, so break your big tasks into smaller pieces.
  2. Remove obvious distractions from your work space. Close your door, park your phone, turn the radio down and the TV off. If you've got "new email" notification popping onto your computer screen, turn it off.
  3. Do your tasks requiring highest concentration at your peak times of the day. I write at 5:30 or 6:00 a.m. I talked with someone just the other day who does his peak work at home after everybody is in bed - he's says he's not fully with it until midday.
  4. If there are other tasks that you want to remember to do, write them down so they don't interrupt your current train of thought by cycling through your short term memory loop.
  5. Reward yourself for completing a task. Stick with it to the end and then go for a cup of coffee, or take a quick walk around the department to touch base with your colleagues (as long as they're not trying to concentrate, of course.)

No plan for being uninterrupted is 100% foolproof. When you have to regain your concentration it can take as long as 20 minutes to do so. One method to get back to what you were doing more readily is to create written goal plans for your projects. If you do so you'll have specific action steps and the reasons why documented so your brain power can be refocused more easily.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Greg Mortenson - how one man made a difference

I just finished reading Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin for my book group. I feel compelled to talk to you about it because it inspired me to think about the differences one person with a vision can make - despite huge obstacles - to make an impact that could potentially change the world.

This isn't a work of fiction. The book details the incredible life of Greg Mortenson, an American who spent many of his formative years in Tanzania and who has invested years and months away from his family to build schools in remote villages in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Mortenson wound up in Pakistan after a failed attempt at climbing K2 left him weak and lost. His hosts in a remote village called Korphe provided care and some of their best resources for him while he recuperated. He was the first Westerner many of the villagers had ever seen, yet they welcomed him and sought to learn from him.

There was no school in Korphe. The children struggled in this inhospitable climate to learn their lessons in an open-air setting where some had to write in the dirt because they had no school supplies. The Koran was the only book available, and even the leader of the town wasn't able to read it.

Mortenson's connection with the town was so strong and his compassion for the residents' desire to educate their children was so great that he made a commitment to build a school there. The book details the hurdles of funding, competition from other villages, sneaky actions by a couple of local suppliers, physical threats, etc. that Mortenson had to overcome in his process of building a school. He had no personal resources to throw at the project - his life as a climber had left him without even a car to his name. So everything depended on his ability to make connections and inspire donors to fund his project.

He didn't stop with Korphe. Mortenson grew to believe that the influence of the Taliban and the influx of terrorist training schools funded by the Saudis was largely the result of people not seeing other possibilities for their lives. They needed to believe that they had other options - that living was better than dying. And that was best accomplished through education.

As of 2006 when the book was completed Mortenson had built many schools in Pakistan and was beginning to fulfill promises to remote communities in Afghanistan. He had developed a cadre of benefactors and become the director of the Central Asia Institute (CAI,) which even now seeks contributions to enable Mortenson to continue his work.

This book sheds a light on the humanity connected to the runup to the war in Afghanistan. If you buy Three Cups of Tea directly from the website, part of the proceeds will go to continue the work Mortenson has begun in Central Asia. A good read, and a great message. Check it out.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

How do you define patriotism?

Tomorrow we'll take a few moments and remember the founding of our country and how lucky we are to live here. This is a big 4th for me this year - I visited Williamsburg and Jamestowne in November and got a renewed sense of the struggle, physical, social, and political, that our predecessors had to go through to form our nation. I watched the John Adams miniseries to get a glimpse into the persona of some of our founding fathers. This is also a big one for me because of the impending election, which in some ways picks open old wounds about how we as a country and the leaders we chose behave.

Patriotism, its evidence and its lack have been the center of quite a few stump speeches, and I expect that it will continue to be a discussion point. How do you define patriotism?

  • I brought two children from another country to live in the United States. When my husband and I adopted them we had a clear sense that we were helping them to have a better life than they would have had in their birthplace.
  • I think we're wrong when we expect that patriotism means blind obedience to leaders. The founders of the country were the opposite of obedient - at least a number of them were. They knew that their current way of living wasn't working for the people and they weren't willing to settle for that. They were willing to argue against authority and to fight in order to build the place in which they could achieve the way of living they had dreamed about.
  • Part of patriotism, in my view, is to look toward the good of the whole and not only to my own benefit when I use resources and make decisions. It's feeling more and more immoral to waste food and gasoline and even fresh water. What I'm taking (looking out for myself) might be taking away from what we or someone else will need later. It's not enough to think about it and to talk about it. I need to do something that helps or I need to refrain from doing something that harms.
  • Can one really be patriotic and be uninvolved in the process? I think not - our systen was created around the idea that people who are governed need to be represented. Yet how often do we vote, or send letters to our congressmen with our views on an issue, or run for office, or volunteer or contribute to get a certain candidate elected?

Enough of the soapbox for one day, but let me end with this thought: when you're watching fireworks this weekend, think beyond the spectacle in the sky. Remember what the fireworks represent. It takes a lot of sparks to make a beautiful formation in the sky. Perhaps you are the spark that's needed to help our nation grow and prosper.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

From a new fan of dog parks

I've always considered love of animals to be a key sign of good character. They depend upon us, defend us if need be, leap for joy when we walk in the door - what's not to like? (Well, ignore the parts about chewed furniture, hair everywhere and drool on your good black pants.) They do so much to fit into our lives - they sit, lay down, hang out while we're at work and wait patiently when the 10-year-old is 2 hours late in feeding them dinner.

Yes, as I've written before, I love my dogs. I've been very excited about the development of our first local dog park. I was looking forward to going because a) it's good exercise and socialization for my two canine friends, b) because I get to meet other dog people, who are typically very social, and c) the pups come home completely worn out and plop on the rug snoring for the rest of the evening (instead of the puppy stealing and chewing on a series of my daughter's toys.)

The dog park has a double gate much like an air lock in a submarine that prevents puppies from dashing out unaccompanied or unleashed. And there are two separate areas: one for big dogs and one for small dogs who don't want to be trampled by the big ones. Cookie, our seven-year-old Lab, starts to cry and whine as soon as she sees that we're pulling into the dog park driveway. And as soon as we open the inner gate she and Boomerang, our 8-month-old Aussiedoodle, streak toward the cluster of dogs at the other end of the enclosure.

There are a couple of guidelines for the park so everyone can have a good time:

  • Keep your dog at home if he or she is aggressive toward other dogs or people
  • Children under 10 are not allowed, and I totally get it, even if it's less convenient for us. I see every day what my 4-year-old doggie loving daughter does to show her affection. Her dogs tolerate being squeezed around the neck and chased mercilessly, but other dogs might not. In addition, there are some horse-sized regulars at the park who might intimidate or accidentally knock over a little one who gets in their path.
  • Pick up after your dog, please. There are dumpsters for disposing of "buddy bags" so people don't have to worry about land mines.
  • Just like in school, if you bring treats you'll be VERY popular, so bring some for everybody.
  • Although there's a water fountain at the entry, on a hot evening you'll want your own supply in the area where you're hanging out. Your dog won't drink it - they'll drink out of everybody else's bowls - but the other doggies will thank you for it.
  • Balls and Frisbees are welcome but not necessary. Your pups' main activities will be sniffing other dog's parts (you know which ones) and doing crazy puppy laps as they greet the new arrivals.

If you're a business owner or have some influence in your local community, please consider advocating for a dog park. So many times dog walkers are (inadvertently) the bane of trail walkers' existence, and the park gives them a designated place to give their puppies some exercise. I would never recommend a "no pets" policy at a park - in my opinion that's like saying don't bring your kids to the playground if they're not potty trained. But the dog park has quickly become one of my favorite places.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Going overboard with competitiveness

Free competition is the American way. We love to keep score, whether it's in business, professional sports, politics, or whatever. When the Olympics come in a few weeks, despite the emphasis on global harmony through sport, you know as well as I do that the highlight of our coverage will be the medal count. The medal count, of course, determines who can lay claim to living in the "best" country.

But has all this competitiveness gotten out of hand, and are you part it? Do you get involved in verbal jousting to determine whose idea "wins?" Is all of this comparison necessary? What do we lose when we play king of the hill with ideas?

Fallout from overcompetitiveness

Decisions often don't get made because we debate the quality of ideas ahead of the fact, and by the time we determine which is the "best" to try the opportunity to implement has passed. In addition, the previously crowned idea kings get full attention while the newly dubbed knights (who might have fresher perspectives) sit on the sidelines.

Turf wars are fought in corporations every day because leaders want to have the largest budgets, the best offices, and the choicest employees. If competition leads to more effort and more focus it's OK with me. I've been involved in spurt incentive programs for marketing campaigns for years. But when egos become more important than the strategic plan there's trouble in River City.

To what lengths will you go to win?

The capitalist economic system says, in effect, "to the winner go the spoils." Stock prices go up and salaries follow suit (sometimes to a ridiculous level in my opinion.) The idea is that healthy competition makes everyone stronger because they rise to the occasion. But we've read too often in the headlines how leaders stooped to actions far short of honorable in pursuit of the win.

Where can we find a model for ethical competition? Brittania documents that King Arthur's Knights of the Round Table had a strict code of honor that they followed:

  • To never lay down arms

  • To seek after wonders

  • When called upon, to defend the rights of the weak with all one's strength

  • To injure no one

  • Not to attack one another

  • To fight for the safety of one's country

  • To give one's life for one's country

  • To seek nothing before honour

  • Never to break faith for any reason

  • To practice religion most diligently

  • To grant hospitality to anyone, each according to his ability

  • Whether in honour or disgrace, to make a report with the greatest fidelity to truth to those who keep the annals

If we could commit to and strive to operate by their code, to seek the good of the whole and pursue it with honor and faith...what a wonderful environment in which to work and live - and compete.