Friday, July 30, 2010

Things not moving fast enough for ya?

The Iconic Figure of Perseverance
Originally uploaded by [j]t

The other night at dinner we were talking about favorite activities when we had a "from the mouth of babes" moment. For the sake of context - my daughters are on a club swim team. The younger (almost 7) likes to tease us about how she doesn't like swimming, then we see her best Jack O' Lantern smile when she's at practice.  So, we ask about the her favorite activities during this dinner conversation and she says her usual  "I don't like swimming."  I repeated back, "You don't like swimming!" to which she responded, "But I'm persevering."

She's persevering.  Thank you Mr. Matthews (her first grade teacher.)  I heard your voice in that statement.  Thank you for teaching the idea that there are things that don't come quickly or easily.  It takes a continuous effort, sometimes without any visible sign of progress, until - Bam!  There's your improved result.

Once the breakthrough occurs it looks like it was instant, like the proverbial overnight success, but victory was not automatic.  It took try after try, practice, gnashed teeth sometimes, tight stomach - but the continous application of energy, reinforced by purpose, won the day.

How many times do you try to learn to tie your shoes until you get it down?  How often do you start (or restart) a self-improvement program before you transform what you have been into what you want to be?  How many obstacles do you count and surmount before you reach the prize?

Even the snail is going to get there.  It might take some time (and a little slime) but the snail perseveres until it reaches its destination.  Water droplets expand a tiny crack in a rock over time, and eventually a plant grows there.  Things happen when you apply action to the outcome you desire.  But it's not part of the deal that it will be accomplished in your timeframe.  It's not only about you.

As Franklin D. Roosevelt said,  "If you think you're at the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on."  Persevere.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Where did you learn your table manners?

Where did you learn which fork goes with which course of your dinner?  Or where to place your napkin?  At what age did you stop picking food up with your fingers (picnics aside) and start to use utensils?  Who taught you?  Or did you simply watch other people around you and mimic their behavior, staying one safe step behind them to avoid embarrassing yourself?

Table manners are assumed until we demonstrate through some gaffe that we don't have them.  Other elements of "common sense" are like table manners - they are assumed.  The other person expects that you will think the way that they do, and might be baffled, surprised, upset, etc. when you demonstrate that you don't.  Your frame of reference is different.

In the process of raising our Chinese-born daughters, we learned a bit about chopstick etiquette - don't cross the sticks and don't point them at anyone.  We know just enough to feel like big cheeses at our local Chinese restaurant.  But I wouldn't bet on us being the epitome of local customs if we were actually back in China.  We haven't learned all of the tenets of polite behavior.  When we were there we watched closely and tried to mimic the local etiquette, but I'm not sure that we didn't mess up.  And it was stressful having to be that constantly alert to avoid being perceived as offensive, however inadvertent our mistake might be.

If you're a leader and expecting good common sense, you're taking a risk if you don't take time to teach the other person(s) what your expectations are.  You won't feel truly comfortable delegating until you're confident (within a reasonable margin) that the other person will do what you would do.  No, there's never a good time to teach table manners - or common sense - but that means that there's never really a bad time either.

In a parents' magazine I read about the idea of "white glove night."  That's where the family sets up a special evening where the goal is to teach and practice table manners.  The parents and kids get just a little bit dressed up, the dinner is a special entree, and they pretend to be at a fancy restaurant.  The specialness of the occasion helps to enhance the diners' awareness of the importance of manners.  And in addition, having the special time set aside relieves the parents from having to harp daily about napkins, forks, etc.  (Not that I'm suggesting that we take Moms' and Dads' fun away!)

A similar technique might apply in helping people acquire corporate common sense.  Structure time in the day/month, etc. to make a point to teach it: 
  • Why not set aside some time for a game of "What would the boss do?"  Pick a scenario, then ask individuals to decide what to do.  Next, ask them to consider what the boss would do, and discuss the differences (if any) between the two approaches to the scenario.  If they're way off base, this is a low-stress, low stakes opportunity to help them learn a better method.  Talk about "why" in order to set a foundation for improved responses to future real situations.
  • In a meeting, develop a set of criteria that the group will use to evaluate possible solutions to a problem.  This teaches newer members of the team what the appropriate criteria are, so when they are on their own they're more likely to use the same (common sense) criteria in other problem solving situations.
You can choose to be opportunistic and look for teachable moments in which to cover these topics, but moments like that are better suited for reinforcement of a message - not to deliver the original message.  You don't want to leave things as important as values, decision making criteria - or table manners - to chance or fortunate timing.  Otherwise you might realize too late that someone is dunking their dinner roll in their water glass.  Horrors!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The pain of discipline vs. the pain of regret

Originally uploaded by ***Just~M~Chelle***

I was sitting in a sales meeting when the speaker on the platform warned the audience, "I know you don't want to pick up the phone and call people.  You don't want to do your prospecting.  It's painful to risk being rejected.  But the alternative is also painful - the pain of regret.  The pain of discipline, of making the daily choices that support your goals, is relatively small.  The pain of regret, of looking back at your failings and wishing you had done differently, is big - and by then it's too late to do anything about it."

Ouch!  Pain vs. pain - not exactly the expected approach from someone who wants people to get fired up and charge out the door!  But he had a point - it hurts just a little some days to get up and do those ab crunches when I'd rather sleep.  It's not convenient to stop and do five minutes of weeding in the garden, or five minutes of organizing in the office.

But if you don't do those little painful things now you'll have to do them sometime - and the pile, the backlog, the flab is going to be bigger then.  The task is going to seem harder, the pressure more intense.  And some of the opportunities will have passed you by, not to return.

The speaker that day knew that some people are moved to action by the possibilities, of the castles they build in their minds.  But the majority of people are more likely to change behavior based upon the avoidance of negative consequences.  He was working that angle on that day.  And he was right.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Overcoming the inner "autopilot"

"Autopilot" Custom Munny
Originally uploaded by Hugh Rose

AKA DRED (ReadersWives Collective)

It's estimated that almost 90 percent of our daily behavior is done on autopilot, the product of prior conditioning.  The development of habits does bring us some advantages - our habits enable us to save time and energy because we don't have to relearn what we're doing every time we do it.  When we engage in our habits we do them without thinking consciously, leaving our brainpower available for other tasks that require it. 

Imagine, though, the impact of habit when you are trying to change behavior.  Even when you understand the value of doing things differently it's easy to revert to habit when you're not paying full attention.  And how much of the time are you not paying full attention?  Almost 90 percent of the time!

In order to change habits we have to temporarily interfere with the autopilot, the conditioned state in which our habits rule our actions.  One effective way in which this can be accomplished is by setting near-term behavioral goals that are stated in specific, measurable terms.  I can set a general intention to "be a better communicator" within the next thirty days, but what does that mean?  Does that mean that I should talk more - or talk less?  Should I use more precise words or a less aggressive tone?

Another requirement of the behavioral goal is that it be stated in positive terms.  If I set a goal to "stop swearing," what am I going to do instead?  If I want better results I need to define the exact new behavior to which I want to recondition myself.  Otherwise
  • I'm more likely to revert to my old pattern
  • I'm going to be running on trial and error when the habit-stimulating event or condition appears.  That will likely make me tense and slow to respond, and will hamper my ability to consider the longer-term ramifications of my choice of action.
  • I might replace my old habit with an equally unproductive one.  (It's not better to replace swearing with hitting, for instance!)
The process of getting better results means confronting habits.  The undesirable habits have to be unseated, broken down, and detached before new habits in better alignment with your goals can take their places.  But because you're comfortable with them, you might not go quietly.  You are likely to go through a mourning process once you realize that you're going to have to change (storming.) 

But do not let temporary feelings of grumpiness or short-term reduced productivity caused by storming deter you from your goal.  Focus on the rewards of the new behavior, and reinforce for yourself the negative consequences that you're avoiding by choosing to recondition to more beneficial habits.

One last idea - The longer habits continue, the harder they are to reform.  If you have been doing something in the same way for 20 years it will be harder for you to overcome your autopilot than it will be for someone who has newly acquired the habit.  Even ingrained habits can be modified, though, when you
  • understand the reason for the change (rewards and avoided consequences,)
  • you engage a process to move from your current state to the new one, and
  • you have tools and methods with which to experiment (and measure your results.) 
I have seen it work with thousands of individuals, from the boardroom to the front lines.

Monday, July 26, 2010

What you need is a change of venue...

Ok, yes, I'm reflecting (and perhaps gloating just a bit) today.  Just got back from a week with extended family at one of my FAVORITE places in the world, Bethany Beach, DE.  It's become an annual pilgrimage for us.  The place isn't important - "our" beach doesn't have to be your favorite place too -  but the purposes (and outcomes) of the week away are important.

All year long you produce, produce, produce.  Have you given yourself a change of venue yet?  I've said it before, but it bears repeating - you wouldn't be able to run your car indefinitely and expect great performance without refueling it and changing the oil - why would you try to run yourself that way?  At some point you have to work on maintaining or rebuilding your personal production capacity, and it helps to have a change of venue.  You get fresh scenery, a change in schedule, the potential for new contacts - and REST.

With all of the hectic scheduling, deadlines, and multi-tasking it takes a force of will to choose to get away.  The trend is toward shorter, more frequent trips.   According to Steve Born, vice president of marketing for Globus, mini getaways (four days or less) have seen an increase of 95 percent in 2010 bookings over those of 2009.

How long does it take you to kick back and recharge the batteries?  I appreciate a weekend here and there, but it takes a week for me to really relax.  There's the preparation, the packing, getting there, unpacking, orienting - and then the relaxing.  On a week-long vacation by Thursday morning I'm starting to anticipate the dismount:  repacking, reloading, traveling home, unpacking, laundering, grocery shopping to refill the fridge, picking up pets at the kennel, and the zillions of other tasks associated with getting back into the groove.  So it takes a 7-day vacation for me to get 4-1/2 really relaxing days that are free of logistics.  Maybe I'm wrapped a little tight, but that's how it is - and I'm certain that I'm not alone in this.

When we're lounging at our beach house we often talk about how much time it would take for this our favorite vacation spot to become routine, hum-drum, etc.  My next goal is to have a two-week (concurrent) stay, and at some point test a summer at the beach - uninterrupted.  How cool to be there long enough in one stretch to find out my tolerance for kicking back and listening to the surf and seagulls!

It's a different type of relaxation when you're exploring new turf - touring abroad or visiting a site that's new to you.  This is more about expanding your thinking rather than suspending it (or allowing room for it to drift on its own).  The explorer vacation stimulates, builds new connections, taps new skills perhaps. 

If you're reading this post and you're a person who has left vacation days untapped and unused from one year to the next, shame on you!  Yes, I'm sure you're indispensable, but if you're not giving yourself a periodic change of venue you're not only cheating yourself of benefits you've earned - you're not operating at your optimum level.  Simple as that.  So git!  Skedaddle!  Vacate!

Friday, July 23, 2010

The game face and the paradigm of threat

Dark Alley
Originally uploaded by Nick LaCroix

When you're in a dark alley or other high-anxiety situation you've learned how to put on your game face. You might be quaking inside, but for the outside world you hide it - you might appear to be completely confident and ready to meet the challenge. Over time, though, the game face can become a habit - and can become a problem.
To what extent are you aware that you put on a facade or game face rather than reveal the person that you really are? You don't generally use your game face when you're feeling confident and upbeat - in those times and situations your nonverbal communication reflects your confidence without you having to choose to "put it on." You decide to get out the game face when you're feeling a bit uncertain, fearful, or sad and you don't want anyone to know it.
We all operate from our own frames of reference about relationships with other people, whether business or personal. Some of us come from the assumptions that the world is generally a safe place, people are generally nice, and that it's OK to be whoever we are. In this case we feel free to be our authentic selves, and don't overrely on adaptation or self-protection.

Others of us come from a paradigm that says that for the most part the world is threatening, people are generally out to get us and that we need to prevent them from having the opportunity to do so. When we're coming with this attitude we make assumptions like:
  • You can tell they're lying because they're moving their mouth.
  • They'll take advantage of any sign of weakness to overpower me or make me look bad.
  • Everybody else is more competent than me and I hope nobody figures that out.
That defensive position creates behavior like:

  • Hoarding resources or information.
  • Avoidance of other people.
  • Calling attention to other people's flaws in an attempt to distract attention from one's own.
  • Taking a proactive attack position to be able to make the first strike rather than feel vulnerable.
  • Spreading misinformation (gossip.)
  • Collecting a cadre of allies for the purpose of defending against or attacking a threat
  • And of course, keeping the game face on at all times.
Let's assume for a minute that you operate under the paradigm of threat in a fairly wide range of situations. What would happen if you would test your assumption that the world is out to get you? Just because you think they're against you doesn't mean they really are. Chances are pretty good that it's not even about you. But if you persist in being inauthentic, strategic, or attack first in the name of self-preservation you can create the conditions you fear. Your "preventive" and protective actions can become the cause of the effects you don't want to see.
If you decided to let go of your paradigm of threat and behave as though the setting and/or other people were neutral to you, or even helpful, you might:

  • Share information freely.
  • Choose to interact with people even when you're not forced to.
  • Let people get to know you as a person, not just as a job description
If you're in a situation where you are experiencing legitimate threat on a regular basis you might want to consider whether you would be better off somewhere else. Take yourself out of the setting that triggers the habitual defensive behavior in you. The choice might not be easy, but you always have a choice.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Dealing with the elephant in the room

Where people skills are concerned, the question often arises, "Just how much should be said?" I'd have to answer, "It depends."  I'm of the view that honesty is the foundation of good relationships, but that it is not the same thing as full disclosure. For instance, why tell someone that they have a huge stain on the front of their shirt if they're not in the position to do something about it?
But what if there's something big that nobody's talking about - an elephant in the room?  And this is the thing that eventually is going to have to be addressed in order for things really to improve and move forward?

When everyone sees it but nobody talks about it the elephant doesn't go away. It stands there smelling up the place while people squeeze around it in their communication with one another. In some cases the elephant is big enough that one person can't even hear what the other person is saying because they're so preoccupied with the elephant.

What do you think would happen if one person had the courage to speak up and identify the elephant? Let's say you flew off the handle with George on Tuesday and you can still feel tension when you and he are in a room together. What if you said, "George, I know that I completely blew up at you the other day and I would understand if you are still upset with me. I am sorry for overreacting and I would like to mend fences with you, because you're important to me."

Notice that in the example above the speaker is acknowledging that there might be a problem and is taking responsibility for their own actions and expressing their feelings. They are expressing a desire to get past the situation on the basis of wanting to have a good relationship with the other person. Next the speaker should give George an opportunity to respond. If all goes well George will accept the apology and the elephant will dissolve.

It might not be quite that simple, but if unaddressed the situation will likely continue to fester and impact later communication between the speaker and George. It might even become fodder for the company gossip mill if the speaker is perceived not to care about running roughshod over someone. This elephant eventually could be in several places at one time!

Dealing with the elephants is more effective if:
  • You or the other person(s) can personally do something about the elephant you see/feel
  • You take responsibility for your part of the situation 
  • You have a mutually beneficial reason for calling it to attention
Notice that the last point above says you need to have a mutually beneficial reason when you call out an elephant. If you were to exclaim, "Sally, everybody knows that the reason you don't have a date for prom is that you have a face like a lizard!" you're not helping the situation by identifying an elephant. Even if Sally is not very attractive by your judgment there's no benefit for her in you saying what you've said - you're simply hurting Sally.
Don't let the elephants stomp all over your interactions, or on the productivity of your team.  Call them out, resolve them, and then shoo them out the door.  Otherwise you'll be left with the things that elephants leave behind!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Eight Reasons Why People Don't Set Goals

Originally uploaded by aremac

Many times in my posts I'm writing under the assumption that my readers have developed written goals. But I know there a lot of folks who for one reason or another have not yet chosen to do so. Here are some of the top reasons I've seen why people don't set goals:

  1. The idea of full accountability in the form of "I made it or I didn't," is intimidating.
  2. Someone else is mandating what their goals should be. (Can you spell murder by objective or budgets that flow downhill?)
  3. The corollary to #2 is that the word "goal" has four letters and is equivalent to a whipping post - it's something you don't really want to do, it'll hover over your shoulder like a vulture, and it's going to get you in trouble if you don't do it.
  4. They have nonspecific unwritten sort-of goal ideas and don't see how writing them down will make a difference in whether they achieve them or not.
  5. If you achieve goals your friends might ostracize you for "showing off" or "acting like you're too good for them."
  6. They are concerned that being individually proactive rather than completely responsive to others is selfish.
  7. You might not know how to structure a goal statement or how to lay out a solid plan.
  8. They don't have a solid direction, so they don't have a frame of reference under which they could develop goals.

To what extent are you running your life? Or is your life running you? If you have no goals how do you know where to focus your energy? Go ahead, think about what you really want. Then wrap some words around it using these criteria:

W - Written
H - Harmonious (with your other goals)
Y - Yours

S - Specific
M - Measurable
A - Achievable, yet
R - Realistically high (a stretch)
T - Time-bound (a date for a deadline)

The extent of your ability to believe in the realism of the goal is the extent to which you'll feel committed to do what's necessary to achieve it.  So it follows that a plan that takes your goals all the way down to today's action steps will boost your ability to believe that it's possible.  A plan also helps you prioritize the goal-related action steps among everything else you have to do.

If you're not a newbie to goal setting but are reading this because you know other people who struggle with this, let's turn it back to you.  Just how audacious are you ready to be? Are you really putting it out there and stretching yourself? If you've had some success in achieving goals already, my challenge to you is to go for a bigger one. Not because someone else tells you to, but to test just how far you can take yourself if you choose to do so.

Friday, July 16, 2010

How well do you know your numbers?

What are the key numbers you need to be following to make sure you're creating the future you want?  You might not want to wait until the results are in - your numbers can be the early warning system that tell you whether you're on course for a satisfactory outcome, or whether you'd better make a course correction or ramp up your activity levels - NOW.

In a company setting the key predicitive indicators are called the dashboard, things like: 
  • $ in production backlog
  • Average customer satisfaction rating
  • # of new prospective clients met with
  • Employee turnover rate
As an individual you might be following other numbers:
  • Savings balance
  • Blood pressure
  • Cholesterol and/or blood sugar levels
  • # of date nights with your honey in the past month 
Your feelings can be a roller coaster, up one day and down the next. Without data about critical contributing factors you can easily become addicted to "hopium," waiting for outside forces or the same old actions to give you new and better results.  On the flipside, your jaundiced habits of thought about a situation or a person might be preventing you from seeing progress.

When you keep your eye on something measurable you can better maintain perspective, get off of the emotional roller coaster, and become more intentional about the actions you take on a daily basis.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Baptism by fire

baptism by fire
Originally uploaded by u2fanbwg

A friend of mine is going through a tough time right now - a REALLY tough time.  Issue is piled on top of problem, and that's teetering on top of complication - and it seems like every day brings a new one.  What is the meaning in all of this?  Is there a lesson in there?  Is this baptism by fire?

Preventable fires
Some fires are the natural consequences of our prior actions, or of our inaction.  We don't cut the grass - the grass becomes so tall that it's difficult to cut.  We yell constantly at our loved ones - our loved ones don't want to spend as much time with us.  We procrastinate on some key tasks and we feel the increasing pressure of a looming deadline.  The preventable fire is the effect that naturally results from prior causes.

Sometimes we don't realize that we're engaging in non-beneficial actions until and unless the fire comes.  We need the negative outcome to show us that we need to behave in a different way.  (And, frankly, some people need to see the consequences multiple times and still don't get the message!)

Nonpreventable fires
Bad things that happen to a person are not always the result of that person's bad behavior.  In nature some things just happen - storms, floods, and droughts.  Sometimes one person is the unwitting victim of another person's bad behavior.  Sometimes they are random events, and a person is simply unlucky enough to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

There is a gray zone, some would argue here.  Bad health habits result in bad health - or sometimes they don't.  You don't build a house in a flood zone.  Don't walk where the criminals hang out.  There are some people, and some situations I suppose, where there is some personal accountability, even though personal behavior might not be a direct cause of the misfortune.

I take issue with the man I know who accused his terminally ill wife that her breast cancer was not healed because she had no faith.  He seemed to believe that her illness became so severe because of some moral weakness on her part.  Others around them speculated that perhaps it was really a divine escape route for her, because living with him was such a trial.  Or perhaps it was just cancer and that's that.

Baptism by fire
Heat treatment has been used to strengthen metal for years.  Welders know that heating can also soften, enabling metals to join together.  Heat changes the physical, even the chemical properties of the substance being treated. 

Christians believe in the concept of the refiner's fire - where a soul is perfected through trials.  Some people cave in under pressure and misfortune.  But some do seem to rise above, to summon resources that they didn't even know that they had, in order to carry the burdens in front of them.  They do come out stronger.

Whether there's reason or not behind the fire, it's helpful to look for the lesson, the learning in it.  This sometimes isn't visible until later - perhaps much later.  But at least in this way it's possible to gain something positive from an event (or series of events) that might otherwise be crushing.  Learning can give misfortune purpose.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Better than reality?

An email from a friend and colleague of mine yesterday opened a new concept to me - augmented reality.  OK, you technological natives - take it easy on a "seasoned" non-technical person - this may be old hat to you already.  But it's new to me, and fascinating.

Augmented reality is a software application that can use your computer or a smart phone equipped with a camera and allows you to gather supplemental information about objects around you.  It can make a flat photo of a baseball player or a dinosaur on a poster look 3-D, and move.  You can walk around a neighborhood, point at a restaurant and read reviews on its food.  You can even point at a business and find out whether it's hiring!
  • Ben and Jerry's is using AR to bring home a branding message about "it's what's inside that counts," a look at family farms that produce the ingredients for the Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream flavors.  You click at an object on the lid of the ice cream package (four flavors right now) to engage the AR feature.  See more about this project here.
  • Esquire published an issue of its magazine featuring Robert Downey, Jr. and demonstrating augmented reality in several spots in the magazine.  See the YouTube demonstration of how to use the issue by clicking this, and see links top some other cool videos about AR as well.
  • There are AR toys from the James Cameron movie Avatar, also demonstrated on YouTube.  How fascinating is that!
If the "gee whiz" factor isn't enough for you and you want to know more about Augmented Reality, there's some great information on the How Stuff Works site.

It will be interesting once our kids take ahold of this technology in greater numbers.  They could be posting photos to FaceBook, placing a dinosaur in front of local landmarks (or who knows what else!)  Better than reality?  I can't wait to find out...

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Happy Birthday Summit!

Double Birthday Cake
Originally uploaded by Lanie's Cakes

As of July 2010 Summit is twenty years old!  It seems like only yesterday, yet it seems like forever ago, that I left my familiar corporate life and ventured into my own show.  Many people I've spoken with over the years have fantasized about working for themselves, and some have done it.  Some have had a romanticized view of self-employment that's centered around making millions of dollars overnight and being free to make any decision any way they want to.  Others have asked, "How did you have the courage to go out on your own?"  Indulge me for a few minutes -  in honor of our birthday here are some of the things I've learned from working for myself:
  • Productivity equals eating.  There's no such thing as an endless meeting that has no cost associated with it.  I need to know what real productivity is and do those things.  And usually it revolves around revenue generating and customer satisfying activities.
  • I don't place the value on my services - my customer does.  It's my decision to charge what I charge, but only they can determine whether they think it's worth the investment.
  • It's a good idea to say yes.  Not every project is standard or easy.  Some of the best learning has come from saying yes first and figuring out how to do it second. 
  • Define what "success" means to the customer.  I can rise to the occasion, even in new territory, when I've said yes and I know exactly what the customer wants.  If I'm not sure, I don't have enough information to be agreeing to the project.
  • Define what "success" means to me.  I knew early on that I liked project work - with a beginning and an end.  I wanted diversity, and constant learning.  The dollars were important, but secondary.  And once we brought the girls home I was clear that I wanted to be onsite and available to them.  Has that been an easy balancing act?  No.  Has it been worthwhile?  Absolutely.
  • Work hard toward doing what's necessary to do those things.  It doesn't happen overnight, nor is it always a smooth path.  Sometimes it feels like it would be easier to let somebody else call the shots and bear the responsibility.  Every choice has its investment, in time, money, sometimes worry - so it's important to make conscious choices with as many facts as possible within reason.
  • Intentions are different than actions.  Intentions are important, but they are no substitute for the right actions. My credibility (or theirs) is on the line.  There's saying it, there's meaning what was said, and then there's doing it.  Three distinct concepts.  Do what you say you will do.  The corollary to this is "underpromise and overdeliver."
  • The more you know, the more you realize you don't know.  Draw a circle that represents the amount of information you know.  Now draw another circle that's double the size.  Which circle has the greater circumference?  The second one.  It's the same with knowledge.  If you think you know everything your circle must not be very big.  (I'm looking in the mirror when I say this!)
There are a whole lot more things that have been lessons on this journey of helping other people succeed.  Space (and your attention span) preclude me from putting all of them down here.  But let me take a moment to say thank you to all of you readers who have been clients, cheerleaders, helpers and encouragers along the way.  If Summit has had a part in helping you reach your goals, then my day has been made and my mission fulfilled.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Sweeping as a form of play?

Originally uploaded by Gurugo

With a home office it's all too evident that right now I'm working all day while my kids are playing.  But I don't have to settle for a "poor me, look at me slaving away" attitude about the things I'm doing.  I'm reminded about Ellen Langer of Harvard University and her study of mindfulness vs. mindlessness. Today I'd like to revisit some of her ideas about work vs. play.

When your young child is at play he or she is in the moment - thinking in ways that, for example, enable a cardboard box to become a castle or a car and a towel to morph into a superhero's cape. This is mindfulness, where you're noticing the details and not missing the castle because it looks like an ordinary cardboard box. The following excerpt comes from a blog called Stay Free that talked about Langer's work:
"Essentially, a mindful approach is like "play;" a mindless one, "work."

Work is what one does to reach a particular goal; play is focusing on the process–the end is beside the point. To borrow Langer’s example, take golf
(please). Someone who enjoys golf putters around, tries out new techniques,
talks to people, plays. But say someone invents a miracle method for knocking
their handicap in half. The golfer learns this and cuts their handicap. Then
maybe they start using a miracle club for cutting it down half again. Then
there’s another discovery and so on until there’s no game. By focusing on the
end result, the golfer loses sight of the process and there’s no more game."

(full blog content here)
I think about times when my then 4-year-old daughter wanted to sweep the kitchen floor. She wanted to feel the weight of the broom and see what it did to particles (and the ever-elusive pet hair) on the floor. She took her time and pushed the pile of accumulated dust around the room, scattering some of it around again in the process. But she was learning about sweeping. She was playing at sweeping.

I, on the other hand, am only interested in the result - having a clean floor. I pick up the broom, not really noticing how it feels. I'm only focused on the dirt and my desire to have it off the floor. I don't have to tell you that sweeping is NOT play for me - it's work in my mind. That's because I'm mindless of the process. It's so automatic that I even generally sweep different parts of the room in the same sequence every time!

What would happen if you took some time this weekend and dedicated it to enjoying the process rather than focusing on the result? I know, I know, you've been at work all week and now your second full-time job comes into play. There are bills to pay, laundry to do, rooms to clean, cars to wash... Most of us get paid for results, not for process, so even on the weekends it's our habit.

What would it do for your mind and your enjoyment if you shoveled a design into the snow, or mowed one into the grass rather than only focusing on getting it done? Could it, just for a few moments, transform the task from work into play? How would it stretch you if you, just for fun, messed around with a cardboard box or a few pieces of scrap wood to see what you could make out of them?

We all have the ability to create more. We have the ability to play more. Slow down, and allow extra time so the result doesn't matter, just for now.   Experiment with the process.  Play.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Just say it already!

Corporate Alphabet
Originally uploaded by Kate_A

Those of you who read this blog regularly know that on occasion I rant a little bit.  Well, this is one of those days, spurred on by a discussion with a LinkedIn pal (thanks, Norman!)  Spare me the technobabble or the intellectualized gobbledygook - just say it already!

Norman was talking about the value of experts and their studies (we were questioning it, actually) when he  wrote:
"Must say, I'm impressed by anyone who begins the summary of their conclusions with . . .

'Naturally, our correlational findings are causally ambiguous.' " 
See the excerpt from the original article here.

"Causally ambiguous?" This goes to two points:

  1. The expert is discounting the study's content, after the entire study was described in detail, and
  2. Tell us in plain language!  If the expert had made his point clearly he would have said - "we don't know, or this study didn't really tell us anything."
As for point number one, I think we need experts to study things.  Niches of specialized information create opportunities that the average person doesn't have time (or the interest) to pursue.  Not every study will pan out with results that validate our assumptions.  In my mind, no problem there.

As for point number two - why not just come out and say it?  Is it necessary to wrap an idea in a flowery package in order for it to be perceived as smart enough?  I say no, and if you dispute that point you're apparently not smart enough to get my point. ( hehe.)  I'm not advocating that you "dumb things down,"   but why engage in verbal obfuscation?  (Obfuscation - that word just rolls off the tongue!)

Hey, I read - a lot.  I have a pretty big vocabulary.  (No brag - I'm going somewhere with this...)  I understand the words.  But why is it necessary for some people to stand on a pedestal and rain fifty-pound words on other people's heads?

I'm thinking that it's not about communication - which is a two-way process.  It's about doing a performance, a monologue.  Gotta tell you that I won't be clapping - except maybe because I'm glad it's over.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

What if a crystal ball really predicted...

Do you feel impatient to see the future?   Do you think it's already out there, and it's only a matter of doing the time it takes to arrive?  Do you think it would help you if you had the chance to look into a crystal ball and see what the future holds for you?

If you want to know RIGHT NOW, you're not alone.  When we know what's going to happen we can feel like we're a bit more in control of it.  We can make plans to make the most of it, whatever it is - but wait a minute.  If the future is already determined, why do anything?  If you're not going to be able to influence the outcome by what you do now, why get showered, dressed, and go to work?  Why not stay comfortably entrenched on the couch?

I fervently believe that what you do (or don't do) today DOES matter.  There are any number of possible outcomes for you - not only one.  The thoughts you're nurturing and the actions you're taking right now - today - are creating your future.

So all of this begs the question:  Do you know what you'd like your future to be?  Have you laid it out there in writing?  If not, how can you possibly know whether today's thoughts and actions are bringing you closer to it or sending you farther away?

Perhaps instead of a crystal ball it would be more beneficial to you to have a blank canvas, paints and brushes.  Why consult the crystal ball when you could paint a picture of your own?

Friday, July 2, 2010

What it really means to be free

Originally uploaded by .krish.Tipirneni.

Here in the United States of America our forefathers sacrificed their security, their connections with their homeland, even their lives in order to create a place where people could have "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."  So what does it really mean to be "free"?
  • Nobody owns you.  Nobody can compel you to do anything - you are your own person, with the same rights as anyone else.   You have choices.  That is, unless and until you take some action that squanders those rights, like committing a crime, in which case you may be required to be subject to someone else's wishes.
  • You are responsible for yourself, and for those dependent upon you.  This is the flip side of not being owned.  You are responsible to make your own way, to earn your own living, find your own place to live, and take care of all of the things that enable you and your family to survive and thrive.
  • You have a voice in government.  You might not choose to use it, (that's your right,) but if you don't use it you can't complain about the direction things in which things are moving and have any credibility.
  • You can speak freely.  It doesn't matter whether you are critical of the government - remember, you have a voice.  Just also remember that your neighbors and those who disagree with you have the same right.  They have the right to sound like complete morons if they want to do so.
  • You live within a framework of laws.  At first this might sound contradictory to the idea that nobody can tell you what to do - that you're not owned.  But remember that you (if you choose to be) are part of the body that creates the laws.  They come from you.  They are designed to enable you to live your own life, and to allow your neighbor to do the same thing.  You can be free, but without infringing on someone else's freedom.  When you have a question about whether someone is out of line, you have to refer here.
There has been a lot of controversy over the past years in the U.S. about individual responsibility, autonomy, and to what extent it's our job as a country to help those who are less fortunate.  There is a difference between laws and values.  Laws encompass how we have to behave to live together successfully, and values tell us how we want to live together to ensure the best quality of life for all.  Laws are the same for all, but values may be very different from person to person.

If we were all the same we wouldn't need all of us, would we?  We are stronger in our diversity - together we can know more things, do more things, and have more impact than we can alone.  It's no wonder why people from around the world want to come here and stay here.  Those of us who take freedom for granted forget how compelling the opportunity for freedom can be. 

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Teaching them to fish

first time fishing
Originally uploaded by bogdog Dan

Years ago - OK, years and years ago - when I was a kid we'd debate on many evenings at the dinner table.  When my two brothers and I were in disagreement about the facts or we (heaven forbid!) disputed our dad's point of view he'd say, "Well, go look it up!"  He was serious - and we did go and look it up.  I suppose we had then - and my husband will tell you that we still have now - a great desire to be right.  Bigger than that, though, was our desire to know.  So we looked it up.  We had to know.

Back in those days there was no Internet, so no Wikipedia or Google or Ask Jeeves.  We had the World Book Encyclopedia, on display for all visitors to see, in our family room.  The encyclopedia was a big deal, and its conspicuous presence was a sign that parents were concerned about their children's education.  That's where we went to "look it up."  There or in the dictionary right beside it.  My younger brother actually read that encyclopedia, cover to cover, A to Z.  (He moved on to trivia books from there.  I suppose it's no wonder that he's finishing his Ph.D. after two Masters Degrees...)

This idea of "look it up" did create habits.  We figured out how to fish for information, and once we learned we didn't have to rely on someone else to tell us the capital of the state of Maine, or the spelling of the word antidisestablishmentarianism. 

Are you feeding fish to people in your family or at work?  Or are you teaching them to fish for themselves?  Do they rely on you for answers, or do they know where to look, or what criteria to use to figure it out on their own?

I think many times we move straight from "I'll feed you" to "Can't you read my mind??!!" without stopping to teach people how to do it for themselves.  It's no wonder that managers have a difficult time delegating, when they can't rely upon their employees' using a similar thought process or values to their own when working independently of them.

Perhaps it's time for some fishing lessons.