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Snowy boots: A reminder that enjoyment enhances skill

Sunburst in Snowy Mountain ForestA walk in the woods this weekend with my sons, ages 8 and 3, was initiated with the expectation that the snow on the trails would have melted enough for us to walk on the ground or, as this time of year in northern New England typically requires, in the mud. Unfortunately, we didn’t find any mud (nor the associated puddles that are so much fun to stomp in) and, instead, discovered the trails were still covered by a good foot of heavy, compacted snow.

I contemplated turning around, and heading back after a short walk, but the boys were having a blast and convinced me to just keep going.  Falling into the snow up to their knees, at times, didn’t sway them in the least.  You see, for them, the importance was in spending time outside walking with each other.  We worked hard walking on the snow-covered trails, much harder than was needed had we decided to walk on an asphalt trail in a park, but we carried on just to enjoy the day and be near each other.

The situation made me think of some comments left in response to my post on Marissa Mayer’s decision to end telework at Yahoo, a person going by the unfortunate name of “FuggleyBrew” over on reddit.com posted the following:

You don’t need to be passionate for a companies every action in order to be one of its top performers.

They’re a company, they pay you to provide a service for them, you can be dedicated to performing your job well and earning that money but not be devoted to the company.

Yes, and….

While you can do work for money and do a fine job, imagine how much greater of a job you could do for a belief in addition to a paycheck.  As my boys demonstrated, even children will work hard for something they believe is worthwhile.  If you can combine that kind of belief with a skill so well developed people are willing to pay you for it, I can only imagine the degree of success that could be attained.

As business leaders and managers, it is important to bear this in mind, and to set an environment for people that engages their passions, and doesn’t just offers them a paycheck.

Presentation tip: Don’t rely on the presentation

conference room presentationA few weeks back, Karen Martin authored a post for her blog entitled, “How to capture an audiences attention” in which she gave several good tips for remembering your audience and delivering a strong presentation.

Inspired by Karen’s post and a recent chance to address the MassBay PMI chapter (a presentation for which I give myself a B+) I’d like to add another, useful tip to all those would-be speakers out there:

Don’t rely on your presentation to capture the audience, rely on your ability to present.

By presentation, of course I mean PowerPoint decks or other visual aids.  Quite frankly, unless you have something technically complex that can only be understood with a graphical depiction, or you have something uproariously hilarious that can only project its humor when seen, then you really don’t need slides at all.

Yes, perhaps decorum necessitates that you have them, but you really shouldn’t need them.  You really ought to be so utterly devoted to your topic that you can carry the audience without relying upon the screen.  Take a look at many of the TED talks – there’s just a passionate person talking, not a smart instructor elaborating on words most of the audience can already read.

My short speaking experience is already telling me – don’t even think about opening that PowerPoint file until after you have perfected what you will say and how you will say it.  Else, the slides will guide you.  You need to develop that perfect ability to deliver your topic to the room first.  Then, if you must,  craft a few slides around it.

But only if you have to.

Understanding questions

question marksI came across this post from the Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning at Harvard University detailing the different categories of questions:


Some Different Types of Questioning

Facilitating student discussions can be one of the most difficult aspects of teaching. Listed below are some different types of questioning one might use to encourage student participation in class.

Open Ended Questions

What’s Going On? What do you make of this situation? Casting question nets out to see what comes in. Listening for entry and emphasis points.

Asking for Information

Where? When? Who? What? Facts and opinions.

Diagnostic Questions

How do you interpret and explain “A” and “B’s” impact on the situation?How do you weave these points into some kind of understanding of what else is going on, possibly behind the scenes?

Challenge Questions

Why do you say that? How would you explain� Where is the evidence for what you say? How can you say a thing like that? Is that all? That’s just the opposite of what Student X said. Can you persuade him/her?

Extension Questions

Exploring the issues. What else? Can you take us farther down that path or find new tributaries? Keep going? Therefore?

Combination Questions

How would you relate your points to those mentioned by Student A or to something else you said?
How would you understand X in light of Y?

Priority Questions

Which issues do you consider most important? Where do you start? How would you rank these?Action Questions
What would you do in Person X’s shoes? How?

Prediction Questions

What do you think would happen if we followed Student Z’s action plan? Give us a forecast of your expectations. How will he/she react to your thinking?

Generalizing and Summarizing Questions

What inferences can we make from this discussion and case? What generalizations would you make? How would you summarize the three most critical issues that we have discussed? Can you summarize the high points of the discussion thus far?


What I find interesting is that, while intended to be questions asked of students in a classroom, these exact same questions are the sort of things that ought to be asked in the workplace when attempting to promote continuous improvement.  This list of questions serves as a useful study guide for anyone looking to conduct a root cause analysis or initiate a process change.

A powerful habit: commit to being a better person

climbYou are flawed.

Accept it.

I don’t care what age you are, or gender, or what you’ve accomplished in your lifetime (or not) – you are flawed.  There are things about you people don’t like, even if you’re unable to admit that that is true (which is a flaw) or you don’t see yourself the way those people see you (another flaw).

Here’s the truth: you’ve got problems and things you really need to work on, personally and professionally.  We all know that’s true, so here the real question:  What are you doing about it?

Now, you can’t swallow the whale – not everything about you is ever going to be perfect and so you can’t try to fix them all at once.  But for those fixable things that are in need of some fixing – are you working on it?  Are you trying to do better?

Improvement is not something you do at your doctor’s office, although he or she might help depending on the problem. It’s not something that you can easily eat or otherwise obtain.  It’s about consistent, disciplined effort over time.  A year from now, a week from now, ten years from now = are you going to be a better person than you are today?

How are you going to do it?

Define a goal.  Define a difficult goal.  Identify people who will help to reinforce your change in behavior.  Have a plan.  Stick to it.  But be aware that no amount of planning or determination will make a difference if you aren’t committing to being a better person.  You have to actually want something first before you can go forward and achieve it.

The parallel with business becomes obvious, too.  When you’re thinking about what your business could be be in five or ten years and then consistently and doggedly and with great discipline stick to that vision of the future, you will find yourself standing in it soon enough.  It’s really just that all the distractions that are getting in your way of becoming better.  So, don’t commit to dealing with distractions, commit to becoming better – and better you  will become.

If passionate, failure firms resolve

Don QuixoteThere’s a lot said about the need to invoke people’s passions in the workplace.  I don’t think it happens nearly as often as it should, since for the vast majority, employment is not about passion – it’s about income.  Nonetheless, it’s at least intuitively obvious that having people who don’t just enjoy what they do, but believe in its importance, is a good thing.

Where this might have the greatest benefit is when ideas don’t gain any traction and simply fall apart.  If there is no passion – then failure simply breeds resignation and complacency.  It results in something worse than defeat – the expectation of defeat.  If defeat is expected, then the enthusiasm to try your best simply dissipates.

It is said that success will breed a greater dedication to task.  Maybe, but perhaps that’s not entirely true, or only true for those who are after the material gains success brings.  For those with other aims, however, success isn’t necessarily a prerequisite for effort.

Like Don Quixote tilting at windmills, those with sincere belief will attack problems that are well beyond their ability to resolve.  In this sense, resolve is not a by-product of achieving goals, it is the unintended outcome of abject failure.