Friday, July 31, 2009

What do you do when the going gets tough?

Time to Dry
Originally uploaded by Ozventure

What do you do when the going gets tough? I'm certain that you have habits in which you engage when you're met with circumstances similar to ones you've experienced before.

For example, when we hear a certain kind of music in a movie we know that something sinister is about to happen. Some people watch, intending to enjoy the jump they'll do when the bad guy pops out from behind the door. Others hold onto the arms of the chair so they won't show a visible reaction (and feel silly about it.) Some don't watch the screen until the foreshadowed event actually happens - they don't want to look. And other people avoid that sort of movie altogether.

Right now we aren't at a movie. We can't choose not to be here (well, not unless we do something pretty extreme.) So here we are. What do you do when the world is rocking around you?

  • Curl up in a knee-chest position with your thumb in your mouth?
  • Attack, by words or actions, the people you hold responsble for your circumstances?
  • Take action, any action, to blow off steam and feel like at least you're doing something?
  • Start learning and strategizing?
  • Sit back and watch, looking for an opening?
  • Wait for someone to rescue you?

There are three key questions to ask yourself in tough times:

  1. Is your usual method working, or do you need to carve a different path?
  2. Is there a way in which you have contributed to the creation of your own hard times?
  3. Is there a course of action you can take that will help prevent you from creating them again?

It's great to have outside support when the going gets tough for you. But you are the only person whose actions you can control. If you are waiting for someone else (or blaming someone else) you are making yourself a victim, eroding your self-image and preventing your own growth and development. Drive your own car.

(thanks to Ozventure for the photo)

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Graham’s Hierarchy of Disagreement

I was participating in a LinkedIn discussion yesterday and shared my opinion on the state of health care in the US and received a rather flaming response from one of my fellow discussers. It was evident from his response that he has a lot of emotion about this issue, and if one could extrapolate from his words, he was attempting to do a bit of a smackdown of my point of view.

I don't think he effectively refuted my position, but the whole thing got me thinking about the topic of disagreement. Are we willing to genuinely share differing opinions in search of "truth," whatever that is, or do we use the opportunity instead to posture, create or reinforce stature, etc.?

I ran across a blog called Create Debate Blog and a post entitled "How to Write Strong Arguments." It was based on an essay by Paul Graham that is ostensibly used as a reference for online poker, which calls for extensive bluffing and mental power - and made it visual. The representation of Graham’s Hierarchy of Disagreement is pictured here:

According to Graham, argument ranges from name-calling through personal attacks, all the way to an actual refutation of the central point being posed by the "opposition."

When we have conversations about "fair fighting" this hierarchy will come in handy. The lower down the pyramid you're operating, the less likely you are to be fighting fairly. If you are in the pink or orange zone you're attacking the person, not the point of disagreement. Unless you want to be avoiding the main point (which is the reason for some personal attacks) you want to look to evidence that supports your point of view.

Whether the opposing party accepts your evidence or not is another question. If your evidence contradicts habits of thought held dear by him or her, even "proof" might not be able to hold sway. In that case you may have to accept that not all disagreements are the same. Some disagreements will (and need to) have winners and losers, but some will ultimately stand as differing opinions that will remain differing.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Find out a reliable way to improve results

Our new book, Changing Results by Changing Behavior, is now available on

Summit Human Resources Development has been working with companies and their owners since 1990 in more than 30 industries to create changed behavior in order to improve results. My colleagues and I have seen unquestionable victories and some struggles in the process. We have talked with owners and senior executives who have described their frustration with their prior investments in training, coaching, or other methods to try to improve the behavior of their people - in some cases they didn’t get nearly the improvements they expected, and in others the habits of behavior seemed nearly impossible to overcome.

Here is what we’ve learned: No matter what new results you want to achieve, you will need to make positive behavior changes in order to get there. To expect otherwise is to perpetuate a state of corporate insanity. It’s like going to a store and pushing on the door, pushing and pushing, to no avail…until you look down and see the word on the door: PULL. You could push all day long, but until you change the way you move your hands and feet - to pull - you’re not going to be able to open that door.
If you’ve struggled to make change happen, or if your vision is so compelling that you’re not going to take no for an answer, this book is for you. We’d go so far as to say, "Don’t invest one more dollar in training before you read this." Because achieving improved results that are real and sustainable is like dancing - it depends entirely on HOW you do it. Surely you’ve had this experience too - you’ve seen people on a dance floor who were a vision to behold, but others who have been, well, a sight!

Don’t just throw money at the results improvement issue, even if it’s already in the budget. This book will give you the information you need to create a step by step plan toward better results, using concepts that have been proven successful in hundreds of other businesses of widely varying industries, sizes and situations.
If you've been settling for results that are less than you want for your department or your company, you owe it to yourself to read Changing Results by Changing Behavior. It just might be the catalyst you need to jumpstart - or reinvigorate - your improvement efforts.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Timing and communication

Bristol Time ?
Originally uploaded by brizzle born and bred

Part of the reason why communication as a general category is one of the top two or three issues I'm asked to deal with in companies is that contains so many variables:

  • What you communicate
  • With whom you communicate (or don't)
  • How you communicate it (including the direction of the flow)
  • Why you communicate
  • Where you communicate
  • When you communicate

Today's post is about the timing of communication. This is one of those issues that might seem obvious to some, but that in practice isn't always as straightforward and simple as it might appear at first blush. And although real and effective communication is two-way, we're looking at it from the sender's perspective.

Here are some considerations for you to use in choosing the timing of your message:

  • How urgent is the recipient's need to know? If there's a fire in the building, everybody needs to find out right now so they can take action to be safe. But if your message doesn't require immediate action you might not want to interrupt someone's work flow to share it right now. "FYI" communication can create interpersonal glue, but it can also be one of the biggest time-wasters when it creates a perpetual stream of distraction.
  • Do you expect the perception of the message will be positive or negative? People love to have something to look forward to. When the vacation reservations are made it's great to share the information with the family so they can start imagining all of the fun times they are going to have. Conversely, too much advance time to ponder a dreaded event only adds to its power.
  • Who else knows the message, and what will be the impact on the people with whom you need to communicate directly? In certain industries it's a key competitive and/or strategic factor to be the first one with the information. It might be critical to give lead time to the people on your team so they can clear up misunderstandings, prepare to handle the fallout from negative publicity, etc.
  • What else is going on with the person with whom you need to communicate? If the person is swamped with other responsibilities right now your message had better be important for you to interrupt them. If you've got bad news and you know that they already have heard enough for one day, unless the message requires immediate action you might save it rather than pile on.
  • What is the power and authority structure? Many bosses have told me that they don't like suprises - if something isn't right they want to know ASAP. They appreciate finding out right away so they can take action if necessary.
  • Are you certain the information is accurate? Most times it's better not to tell information until it's been verified, and the more critical the message the more important the verification becomes. People will often act from emotion, and inaccurate information shared too precipitously can lead to things like stock market swings.

People interpret their relationship with you partly based upon what you tell them, and how soon they find out about it. Heaven forbid that you tell your friends on FaceBook that you're getting married before you tell your parents! Timing is a key factor in communication that builds relationships, so keep it in mind when you've got something important to say.

Monday, July 27, 2009

What's your summit?

Did you pop out of bed this morning ready to take on whatever was waiting for you? Or did you drag out of it, dreading the thought of one more round of same-old, same-old? If you'd rather be popping out of bed, energized and enthusiastic, consider what might be your summit.

How would you define success for yourself in the next 6-12 months? A purchase? A certain level of business accomplishment? A refreshing vacation with your family? A restart of a neglected hobby?

It doesn't matter what you choose - what matters to your motivation is that you choose something you want rather than something that you should. Sometimes should and want are similar concepts and lead us to similar actions and choices. The difference, though, is where the intention comes from. "Want to" comes from you, whereas "should" comes from someone else.

When you're defining your summit one of the challenges is to determine how big a stretch is the most motivating. Why not go for the gusto? Why settle for what is easily achievable? Challenge yourself. If you don't want to tell anyone else about your big, hairy, audacious goal - well, that's OK. Keep it to yourself - unless you'd like their help to achieve it.

It's not as fun to shag fly balls as it is to play a game, and the reason is that during a game you keep score. Yes, you do run the risk of losing some, but the wins are oh so sweet. You can't win if you don't play. And you won't have the chance to see the view from your personal summit if you don't choose to climb.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Questions for developing your vision

At Summit we're all about taking action, but before you dash out the door to chase the latest opportunity, make sure that you know what you want to be chasing. If you haven't done so, or haven't done so recently, you need to develop a vision for your company, your department, or yourself.

A vision statement is a statement of intention that answers several questions:

  • Why am I in business?
  • Who do I serve?
  • What do I aspire to become when I "grow up"?
  • How big is my market?
  • What is my dream?
  • What is my purpose?

The timeframe for vision is longer term - at a minimum 5 years - and possibly as long as 10, 20, or even 50 years. Some cultures develop vision with future generations in mind.

Some organizations have a mission statement that answers the above questions. In particular, nonprofits often look at their organization from a "missionary" perspective, so vision is titled "mission". The purpose is almost a sacred intention, and usually service oriented. When we use the term mission, we intend it to be a separate statement from the vision.

The semantics aren't as important as the function. Vision describes the biggest picture, unlike mission,which indicates what big accomplishments need to be made during the next planning period (2-3 years usually) in order to get closer to our vision. If you want to give them other names, no problem. Just develop two different statements, knowing that they do two different jobs.

Until you describe what or who you want to be it will be difficult to determine what actions are appropriate to take, or how fast you want your pace to be. Some visions will never fully be realized (like an end to world hunger,) but others, once articulated and communicated, will serve as rocket fuel to launch their respective companies forward.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

There is no free lunch!

no-free-lunch copy
Originally uploaded by kodel

An economics professor once shared the TINSTAAFL theory of economics with us - There Is No Such Thing As A Free Lunch. Ultimately you will have to pay for it. I get it from the standpoint that I don't typically expect transactions to be anything but an equitable exchange of value in business.

Where people are concerned, natural optimist that I am, mistrust isn't generally my first reaction to things. I assume people tell me the truth unless I have evidence or precedent to lead me to think otherwise.

But sometimes a deal that seems too good to be true really is. There's a catch. I saw a Tweet a couple of weeks ago that said, to “add 400 followers per day @” Fairly new to Twitter, I thought, "Cool. I'd like more followers!" and I signed up. Silly, silly me.

There is a Twitteradder that appears to be completely legit. Tweeteradder is not, at least that's been my experience. Their terms of service include a permission to market their service from your Twitter ID. Because I have multiple Twitter IDs, that resulted in my being contacted by Twitter about a violation in my terms of service.

We're all learning together about the new social networking media, and it's exciting to contemplate growing a huge follower base. But proceed with caution. You might be looking for lunch, but you'll pay for it - one way or the other. It won't be free.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Garden: What Legacy Are You Leaving?

Today’s blog is provided by one of the other team members at SummitHRD. Jim has been wanting to share these thoughts and challenges with you and this photo and video:

We poured out a “cuppa” each of hot, sweet black tea for Gramp and for Nana, then one each for ourselves.

It was two days before Memorial Day and the girls had had an early morning swim meet. My youngest daughter, a newly minted kindergartener, wanted to come with me to see the “garden with all the monuments that people put up to honor and remember their family members who had died.” She marveled at the beauty of this big garden and vigorously helped my pull away the weeds from my parents’ bronze and marble gravestone, wipe away the grit, and pour off the rainwater from the bronze vase that holds the silk flowers and stars and stripes, so dutifully placed and maintained by my older brother and his wife.

As we stood over their marker, I reminded my daughter that although she never met my parents, they watch over her from heaven day and night, forever. I told her that they had each lived a good and full life and had coped and overcome many difficulties in their lifetimes and that she and her sister will be strong and successful and do the same.

I found myself recalling that my father had served his country for 23 years, starting in the Army in June of 1943 when he enlisted in the U.S. Army within a month of graduating from high school as a loyal young man compelled to protect his homeland and right the wrong of December 6, 1942 when the Japanese attacked our nation at Pearl Harbor without forewarning. My mind wandered to
the images my mother have shaped in my mind’s eye of her teen years in Liverpool, England being bombed by the Nazis. She was scolded by her parents one day for having walked her little sister home from their Parish’s Catholic Girls School while the anti-aircraft guns, the “ack-ack guns” as she called them, fired on the German bombers overhead from the nearby park and together the girls marveled at the hunk of hot shrapnel that fell from the sky and they carried home in my mother’s gasmask bag. Mum eventually worked in the war factories sewing and folding parachutes and machining trigger housings for machineguns.

Dad had spoken of how he and his co-driver, Shorty the farm boy from Iowa, had driven their ‘deuce-and-a-half’ ten wheeled truck out the dropped ramp of their LTC boat and into the breaking waves and watched as the water rose into the cab and finally stalled the engine, leaving them like sitting ducks in the reef until a vehicle he’d never seen before tracked up the beach to cable up and pull them from the tide . . . it was a Caterpillar bulldozer. That night he and Shorty decided that one of them should sleep under the truck and the other in a crater from the artillery shells the Japs kept lobbing at them. They agreed that that way at least one of them would survive is a shell landed on their location. Dad rarely spoke of his service in forward combat areas on the Pacific Islands he and Shorty “visited” during World War II, nor of his two tours in combat zones during the Korean “Conflict”. He once told me, while lying on a gurney gazing at the ceiling during our interminable wait in the Emergency Room because of a painful, rapid onset of a bleeding bladder infection due to his radiation treatment, about the horrors he had seen when men killed each other in war as bloated bodies floated ashore in the tide and sand crabs consumed them the day after a historic beach battle.

I kept these kinds of details to myself and modestly described to my youngest that her grandparents had survived being bombed and shelled in wars and the Great Depression. Nana and Gramp lovingly and loyally raised four children and lived long enough to know twelve grandchildren and one great-granddaughter. I explained that because her Nana and Gramp where thrifty and frugal folks they left enough behind in their estates to be divided among their four kids and that I had taken my portion and surprised her Mommy and big sister, Jie-Jie, on a Valentine’s Day that we would come to China to bring her home. Their willingness to live modest lives, while providing for their children, had allowed her mother and I to come to the orphanage in Huainan, in Anhui Province, to wrap her up in our arms, cover her with kisses and bring her thousands of miles home to Pennsylvania.

What legacy do you choose to leave behind? What are you teaching your children that will positively influence generations who come after you, but who never knew you? What are you building in your village, your community that will stretch onward into the millenniums benefitting the children who walk the earth long after you are dust?

Do you have a written Family Vision Statement (our purpose for existing) and a written Family Values & Principles Statement? Would it be beneficial to you and your family and your friends and your community if you did formulate, publish, and share these? Is there something you haven’t done for yourself that you still long to do, to strive toward, to achieve?

Start today, this morning, tonight, right now to be the person you want to be, in every way. Tell your loved ones just one or one hundred more times how much they are loved by you, how much you respect them and their efforts, and how much you expect them to achieve of the goals THEY WANT to achieve for themselves. Ask them how you can help them, support them, TODAY and TOMORROW. Listen to them and begin to support them RIGHT NOW, honor them RIGHT NOW, honor those who strived to provide your parents, your great, great, great, great grandparents with the food, shelter, clothing, and opportunities they needed and deserved so that you could walk this earth today and achieve your dreams, your goals, and pass along their legacy, and your legacy.

Thank you Chad and Edith, Will and Ruby, Bob and Helen, Stan and Pip, Lloyd and Ruth! And, thank you Larry and Pat.

Jim Poland,
Chief Noodge and Coach

Click the Video to Walk the Garden:


Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Show your gratitude - do the dance!

I first saw the Gratitude Dance on YouTube a while back, and I played it over and over - for myself, my family and my friends. I talked about it to customers and friends. Then I didn't think about it for a while.

But today calls for a little more gratitude. Let's think about what we have, and do the dance so other people can feel the joy that comes from recognition and appreciation of life's abundance.


Monday, July 13, 2009

Is your ego getting in the way?

Originally uploaded by h.koppdelaney

To what extent is your ego getting in the way of your progress right now? As people interact with the world there is a face they want to show - a way in which they want to be seen. It's a mask, really, that they have developed via the feedback they have previously received from their surroundings.

Many people continue to wear the mask because they don't want to risk showing their true selves. They are concerned, often only at a subconscious level, that for some reason they won't get positive feedback about their unaltered self. They posture, do what they don't want to do, or don't do what they really want to do - all because they want to measure up in someone else's eyes.

Ego can:

  • Stop a student from asking a question because they don't want to appear ignorant. So instead they don't find out what they need to know and, as a result, stay ignorant for real.
  • Cause a person to place themselves in financial jeopardy because they don't want the Joneses to know that they are struggling, as though financial resources are the sign of value and character.
  • Lock a person in to a position, because to alter their opinion might mean that they were previously wrong, and they want to be seen as being right and/or knowledgeable.
  • Cause a person to distance themselves from others because they would rather be the rejector than the rejected. Emotional distance can be a pre-emptive strike to save face when the assumption is that the outcome won't be good.

Ego in this sense is a self-protection device that works the same way as a child's safety gate does - it is put into place to keep a person from going somewhere they perceive as "dangerous" for some reason. But by being there, the gate actually prevents the person from navigating the rest of the world that is out there. The safety device becomes the obstacle to development and greater competence.

Think of some of the things you could accomplish if your ego were not in the way:

  • You could take a lower paying or lower status job that you would enjoy more than the one you have now.
  • You could unshackle yourself from some of the possessions that are, in effect, owning you by creating financial burdens beyond your current capacity.
  • You could ask for help when you need it.
  • You could consider more options, not filtering out the ones that you think might not "look good."
  • You could stop focusing on the warts of other people and start working on fixing your own.

Our ego works as our ally when it helps us adapt effectively to our environment. But when we let it lead us so far into adaptation and self-defense that we can no longer be our authentic self, we have given it far too much power.

One way to overcome the over-influence of ego is to focus on your goals. The pull of a desirable result can be very strong - once we have defined what that desirable result is. We can overcome our overactive egos when the goal is compelling enough.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Getting specific about what you want

How specifically have you defined what it is that you want? There is a huge correlation between knowing, in detail, what you're aiming for and actually achieving it.

Here is the description accompanying this Kirkwood Ranch Estate photo: "Gorgeous custom cabin sits amidst 113 Acres of pristine Sierra mountain land. The one of a kind log cabin rests on a gorgeous 2.5 acre Alpine meadow surrounded by treetops and hills. Every season comes to life in it's own special way on this rare Northern California property."

Now that's specific. Look at how many criteria are evident just in the photo description if you were planning this outcome as your goal:

  • Custom cabin - one of a kind
  • Sitting on 100+ acres of land
  • Sierra mountains, Northern California
  • Surrounded by meadow
  • Located in a spot where you experience 4 seasons

If you were planning this you might also add:

  • Type of log (profile, wood species, peeled, D-shaped, etc.)
  • How much porch space you want
  • Interior layout (# of bedrooms, baths)
  • Fireplaces (stone, brick, concrete, woodstoves)

The options are dizzying. But as you think about the options and plan the details of the goal you can also determine:

  • $ investment necessary to build it
  • Timeframe needed to acquire land, select log resource and contractor, construct house, furnish house

As you add more detail you can get a more realistic idea of the action steps necessary to get the project done. You can identify obstacles that need to be overcome and resources that need to be brought together. And as you increase the level of detail in your goal plan you accomplish two important things:

  1. You increase the likelihood that you'll achieve it (you will have covered all of your bases)
  2. You increase your belief that it will happen because you can see the specific path of action steps necessary to get there. With increased belief comes increased enthusiasm and a greater motivation to take action.

There is some risk associated with creating a detailed plan:

  • As your details make the desired outcome more and more real in your mind you will become more emotionally attached to the goal. That is usually a good thing, but it might be a bit scary in that you'll be really upset if you aren't able to achieve it. If your goal is important to you, don't let fear stop you.

How much do you want that which you are seeking? Are you willing to stick your neck out and plan for whatever it is that you really want? If you really want to go for it, that detailed plan is your friend.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Building on core competencies

Glowing apple
Originally uploaded by Masood Sharif

What is it about your company (or you) that makes you unique, outstanding, and gives you a competitive advantage that is hard for others to acquire or imitate? Is there something that is fundamental to all of the things that you do, something that is foundational to everything you produce - one or more core competencies?

C K Prahalad and G Hamel introduced the concept of core competencies through a series of articles in the Harvard Business Review and a best-selling book entitled Competing for the Future. They posed three criteria for identifying core competencies:

  1. Provides potential access to a wide variety of markets

  2. Makes a significant contribution to the perceived customer benefits of the end product

  3. Difficult for competitors to imitate

You and your company might have some competencies that are necessary to do the work you do, but if they do not differentiate you from your competition they are not core competencies. So if you are working on developing the strategy for the future of your business, you should be placing focus not on catching up with what someone else is doing, but on developing that which makes you unique and gives you competitive leverage.

Examples of core competencies include:

  • Product research and development
  • Customer satisfaction
  • Information networking
  • Technical expertise in a specialized area

Copying off of others, even if they are engaging in what you perceive as best practices, tends to result in you becoming a diluted version of what they are, an echo of what they do. Instead, build your competitive advantage by becoming more of what you are and developing the unique skill set you have to offer.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Lessons from self-publishing

If you believe that every person has at least one book in them, you'll probably see the benefits of self-publishing. You can create what you want to create, control the process, cut out the middle man (and layers of cost,) etc. Biggest advantage of all for the aspiring writer is that you don't have to have someone else's approval before you publish - no endless stream of rejection letters telling you that your work doesn't measure up to somebody else's standard.

When I decided to embark on self-publishing it was because I wanted to do a book NOW. After exploring print-on-demand houses I decided to do my first book (Secret Messages: How Your Inner Voice Might Be Holding You Back, And What To Do About It) in an e-version only. The upside was that a friend had a contact with an e-book marketing site. In addition, with an e-book there's no printing cost. (No kidding.) And if you're green-minded, you don't have to kill trees to get your idea out there.

The downside of the e-only approach was that it was hard to reach people who weren't online. And I wanted something tangible to give prospective clients. I tried putting the e-book onto CDs, I went to Staples and bound some of them using several different methods.

My first e-book hit the market probably before the Kindle reader was even a twinkle in Amazon's eye. It did sell, but didn't set the world on fire by any means.

On this go-around I decided to do e-version again (the market and the tools have caught up and green is still important,) but I also decided to create a paperback so I could have that tangible thing to give to prospects and clients. I wanted a broader distribution potential than my own contacts and those of my friends.

Right now the proof copy of my new book, Changing Results by Changing Behavior, is being created by CreateSpace, owned by Amazon. It's print on demand, so I won't have to store a stack of 500 books in my garage unless I choose to do so. And of course my work will be accessible through the most powerful book sales site there is.

Here are some of the lessons I've learned from self-publishing:

  • Understand your goal. Among others, is this a book that you will distribute yourself, or do you want to have access to multiple channels of distribution?
  • Test your title. I did this on Microsoft AdCenter Labs. The idea is to determine whether the words in your title will attract people who have a high likelihood of buying something, in this case online.
  • Pay for a proofreader/editor and check your ego at the door. At the very least have several trusted people read your manuscript and provide detailed feedback. I had one other person read my draft, then sent it to the editor, then had a handful of other people preview the revised draft. The editor (Cindy Kalinoski at The Word Helper) helped me refine my writing style, and the previewers helped me make some enhancements that would strengthen the final usability and visual appeal of the book.
  • Understand that the creative (writing) portion of the process will be a smaller portion of the total production time than you expect. I'd estimate that the editing, previewing and final layout took me three times as long as the writing did. I'm a maniac about writing and do it pretty fast, but I'm also impatient to see my result. Be forewarned.
  • All e-versions are not created equal. Preparing a book for Kindle through Amazon's Digital Text Platform requires knowledge of html. It's not completely intuitive. My other e-book channel only requires a pdf. Much easier, but not with Amazon's reach.
  • Hire someone to do your cover for you. You can do this yourself, but unless you're graphically gifted a professional can probably do a better one. I used Inkbug Design, and was very happy with their work. Your cover is the first thing that convinces people to buy your book, so skimping here isn't a good idea.
  • Think about the promotion of your book. How will people find out about it? I've engaged Inside Out Consulting to help me get the word out through press releases, interviews, speaking engagements, and even a FaceBook quiz. You might want to do book signings, and you might even want to shlep copies of your book around to local bookstores or other sites that might sell it.

There's so much more to learn here, and my journey is only partway complete on this book. These are the very tip-of-the-iceberg lessons I've learned so far, and I'm happy to share more if you'd like to shoot me a few questions. Always happy to help if I can.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

It's not just hype - your brain can still grow

So you think that as you're aging you are doomed to lose brain capacity? Or perhaps you've heard the opposite - that brain exercise helps you to preserve brain function?

Tracey Shors, a professor in the department of psychology and the Center for Collaborative Neuroscience at Rutgers University, wrote an interesting article in the Scientific American magazine called "Saving New Brain Cells." In her studies in brain growth, Shors has discovered that we do, indeed, continue to generate new brain cells into adulthood, but that if we do not use them they die.

New cell growth has been located in the hippocampus, the portion of the brain associated with learning and memory. There are specific types of tasks that help preserve the new brain cells and they appear to be ones that are more challenging to learn - the effort engages the new cells.

It also appears that individuals slower to learn - in Shors' studies those who took more trials to learn a task - tend to retain more of the new cells. So you can continue to grow your brain even if you've never thought of yourself as a mental giant who is quick to absorb new information. In her research with rats, Shors discovered that activities that came naturally, like swimming to a visible platform, did not have a noticeable beneficial impact. It was the high demand activities that retained more of the new neurons.

Click the link above to see the entire content of the article, but here are a couple of tidbits with which you can dazzle your lunch partners today:

Contributors to the generation of new neurons:

  • Exercise (physical and mental)
  • Antidepressants
  • Blueberries

Brain growth blockers (no surprises here):

  • Alcohol
  • Nicotine

This course of study has positive implications for the treatment of early dementia. Some accounts indicate that mental exercise with demanding activities, in combination with antidepressants, may stave off the progression of dementia. Shors writes that "A study in 2007 found that chronic treatment with antidepressents increases daily living and global functioning in patients with Alzheimer's - a hint, at least, that such therapy might promote production and survival of new neurons in patients."

I don't know about you, but I know that for me the idea of dementia is one of the scariest potential aspects of growing old. It's reassuring, even exciting, that growth is possible into our latter years. So go ahead, strain your brain and learn something new that takes some effort for you to do - and keep your brain vigorous and firing on all cylinders.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Making money vs. helping people

Originally uploaded by dube1111

"The purpose of a business is to create a customer." Peter Drucker

Where is the real focus of your business - on making money or on helping people? Business guru Peter Drucker said that the goal is to create a customer - where is the best balance between being other-focused and being profit focused in achieving that end?

Too much profit focus

  • This can lead to overcharging, which means that the customer doesn't get the level of value they expect for the investment they make, and ultimately it means that they will be unlikely to buy again. Given that it costs 5 times as much to get a new customer as it does to retain an existing one, overcharging means you're trading tomorrow's (and next month's and next year's) profits for today's - from this one transaction.
  • Too much focus on profit means that investments in infrastructure and production capacity aren't being made before they reach crisis status. Not all investments are going to show immediate return, so business leaders need to know what their criteria are for the payoff timeframe.
  • It can become tempting to add more, more, more to employee workloads until - snap - someone gets sick or injured, or somebody gets tired of the ratrace and quits. This also can lead to practices of promoting people without investing in adequate training and development to prepare them to perform competently in their roles. Just like the circumstances above, this is the triumph of short-term reward thinking over long-term sustainability.
  • Too much profit-centered thinking can lead companies to chase the latest trends and money-making schemes, even when they aren't compatible with the company's capababilities and resources. Short managerial attention spans can kill a business.

Too much helping people

  • Drucker said the purpose of business is to get a customer - not a "patient" or a hanger-on. Attraction-based marketing says that it's good to give free samples. But if the sample is as nourishing as the meal, why buy the dinner when you can get it for free? Good will is great, but that alone doesn't pay the electric bill or the payroll.
  • Too much in the helping people department has led some leaders to be overly tolerant of behavior that isn't effective - to keep people on board when they are not performing. I've seen situations as extreme as ones where truck drivers with alcohol abuse problems weren't fired in an effort for the company owner to "help" them - even after several accidents. I'm not advocating an "off with their heads!" style of management - I wholeheartedly advocate training and providing opportunities for people to show what they can do. But too much tolerance of ongoing lackluster performance places the company at risk.
  • Ultimately you have to find a way for the work you love to be funded - by somebody. Otherwise you won't be around to help the people you want to help.

In case it's not already blazingly obvious, it comes down to two sets of criteria and how you balance them in your decision making:

  1. Is it primarily about what I can get, or about what I can give?
  2. Am I focused on the short term or on the long term?

I don't think it's a good idea to run completely toward either side of the ship. Balance is what keeps your ship afloat.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

How you contribute to health care costs

Yes, I mean you - and I mean me. There is so much furor about health care reform right now, and oftentimes the discussion is about who's making too much money, and for whom the current and/or proposed system is unfair. Let's take it down to the granular level - the ways in which individuals are contributing to the current situation. This isn't intended as a finger-pointing post - no rant today - just a thought starter.

You're adding to the cost of health care if:

  • You're not exercising to keep your body strong. It doesn't have to be intense, and it doesn't have to take hours per day in order to be helpful. And don't say that you don't have time. Socialize with a friend on a walking trail instead of over a triple-mocha-sugared-latte-freezy-thing.
  • You're not eating right. There's a huge amount of information on adding more produce to diets, incorporating nonsaturated (healthy) fats, consuming fiber, cutting back on sugar and salt, and exercising portion control. You know what to do - it's a matter of doing it.
  • You're not getting enough sleep. It's been documented that more heart attacks occur on Mondays, and on the first day of daylight saving time. According to there are no fewer than 8 maladies caused by sleep deprivation, including obesity, heart disease, breast cancer and glucose intolerance. Not to mention that you're going to be so irritable that your family or friends might have to deck you, sending you to the doctor! (Just kidding - maybe)
  • You use too much health care. We spend $600 billion on unnecessary care. The opposite situation to lack of access, AARP Magazine reported a correlation between more health care facilities and more services, but no correlation between more services and better health outcomes. More MRIs, more tests, more tonsillectomies aren't always signs of better care. Countries with less aggressive treatment methods for prostate cancer, for instance, have no worse statistics than we do in the US. Surgeries and other invasive options, while high in cost, sometimes have no better results than less invasive treatments. Information is your ally here.
  • You are too eager to sue. A lot of the excess health care services come from physicians' worries about being sued for not providing comprehensive care. It's easy to understand why a devastated family member might want to take it out on the physician if a loved one dies prematurely or suffers permanent disability. But that's why doctors sometimes overprescribe - they are managing your perceptions of the quality of care by giving you quantity of care.

Quite a tricky topic, this health care issue. There are multiple systemic contributors to the high costs we in the US are experiencing right now. But when there is a systemic problem there is almost always at least one contributing factor that rests with ua as individuals, one that we can choose to take control of on our own.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Are you tolerating too much?

Look at this poor cat. Bless her (or him) for being so tolerant of playing the baby doll for her little girl. If you're an animal lover like I am you might share the belief that animals sense that they're dealing with a baby, or with someone who takes care of them, so they let things slide. They ride in strollers, or wear costumes, or even put up with some not-so-nice treatment without scratching or biting.

I'm sure you've tolerated your kids whacking you in the wrong spot during a game, or your friend being late for a lunch date. But are you going so far in the toleration department that you're compromising your well-being?

There's a difference between tolerating and coping. When you're coping, it means that you think the thing that's getting you down isn't going to change. So you endure it. When you're tolerating, on the other hand, you can do something about it, but are choosing not to for now.

When you are overly tolerant you create consequences:

  • When your toleration involves behavior, the behavior continues
  • Others draw the conclusion that you don't mind what they are doing
  • You can be perceived as being unassertive and powerless, reducing others' respect for you
  • You can lose respect for yourself for not acting
  • You might feel tired, depressed, fuzzy
  • Lost money, lost time, lost opportunities...

There is a difference between being toleration free and intolerant. To be intolerant means you don't acknowledge others' rights to their own opinions, rights, etc. To be toleration free means that you choose not to put up with things that are bad for you.

As in most interpersonal issues, the first place to look for too much toleration is at yourself. What are you allowing yourself to do, to be, that is not helping you? Are you tolerating sloppiness, gluttony, tardiness in yourself? What are these tolerations doing to you? What would be different for you if you stopped tolerating and started to take action?

Thomas J. Leonard wrote this about becoming toleration free: "You'll be happier, more fun to be around! You won't be busy tending to ego-bruises, so you'll have extra energy to express your values. You'll have the edge: You'll waste no energy stepping over or around things."

Sounds like maybe we'd better get on it.