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.

Toy Dogs and the trouble with short-term thinking

Last night was one of those unfortunate, frustrating nights in our house.  At 3:10AM, the dog decided he needed to go out into the yard, which caused him to prance loudly around our bedroom until we woke up to let him out.  Although he woke up both my wife & I, I was awake enough to get out of bed first (which rarely happens), so I let the dogs into the yard, brought them in, and went back to bed.

About 15 minutes later, before either of us could fully doze back to sleep, the 3-year-old started to cry in his bed.  It was just a bad dream, and he went back to sleep quickly, but when I came into his room I moved his toy dog over on his bed to make room for myself.  The button on the dog’s paw that causes it to sing and talk was now easily triggered every time my son rolled over onto it, which we discovered about 5 minutes after I went back to bed.

My wife, aggravated with the singing, got out of bed and went down the hall into my son’s room, and simply moved the dog over, expecting it to finish its song and then go silent.  Too tired to take a look inside the dog and switch off the battery back, she stumbled back to bed hoping the problem would go away.  Of course, by now, the 3-year-old was awake, and playing with the dog – hitting the buttons over and over to listen to the dog sing and talk.  Then, it became my turn to go and try to calm him down, which was impossible, and by 5:15 he was ready to run and jump, so we got up and went downstairs to watch some cartoons while I tried not to bang my head against a wall until I fell into unconsciousness.

Most of us have been in situations like this, or at least similar to it.  Tired, frustrated, stressed out – we seek a quick solution to an immediate problem, ignoring the potential long-term consequences.  For me, I simply moved the dog over rather than putting it someplace where it couldn’t be triggered accidentally.  My wife compounded the problem by just moving the dog and not taking a moment to find the off button.  As a result of taking care of an immediate problem, we ended up with a much longer-term one:  the toy dog kept on singing and the 3-year-old kept on playing, leaving us both tired, frustrated and grumpy as hell for the rest of the day – which will culminate with trying to get the kids to bed (and this time with the dog switched off, which he won’t understand, which means he won’t sleep well….).

Taking a few extra minutes to solve a problem for good seems like an onerous burden when you’re in the middle of the firefight.  That exact same behavior, however, is what leads to the next firefight in the first place.  Although we instantaneously reward ourselves (even with just a few more minutes sleep) for taking care of an immediate problem, we need to remember that solving the bigger problem usually means thinking about the longer term, and that alone will usually guide us to much more long-lasting solutions that allow us to avoid the next problem altogether.

When habits go bad – walking the extra mile

Let_Your_Mind_Do_The_Walking_by_jzcj5

Let your mind do the walking by jzcj5

So, it has been nearly 2 weeks since I’ve post to the blog.  Some times, inspiration is simply hard to find.

Other times, your mother-in-law takes your wife and 2 sons off on a trip and you get a whole week to yourself.  Such has been the case around here.  As it typically goes when the family takes off on an adventure without me, the fist half of the week is grand and glorious.  Napping, eating at crazy hours, sleeping at even crazier hours and, of course, the chance to knock some long overdue projects off the list.  The second half of the week, however, gets to be downright boring and lonely.

In the midst of the boring and lonely part, I needed to pick up my car from the mechanic’s this weekend (having it serviced was one of those projects that is much more convenient when only one car is needed for the week).  The shop is a bit of a walk – about 40 minutes, but not too bad once you get going.  While I could have easily called a neighbor or a friend for help, I simply felt like getting the exercise, so I hoofed it through the neighborhood and cut through a field to get to the shop, picked up the car, and drove home.

That, of course, is not much of a story.  But it did lead to an interesting observation.

What did strike me about 2/3 of the way there, however, is the thought –  “Why in the hell didn’t I just ride my bike??”

Duh.

Seriously, I should have.  The car I was going to pick up is an SUV.  There’s plenty of room for the bike once I get there.  It would have saved about half the time, at least, and still afforded plenty of good exercise.  Especially since I made the trek early in the morning when there was little traffic to worry about, too.  Of course, I could rationalize and say the exercise was great, or the slow pace was cathartic, or whatever else we all tell ourselves when we haven’t though through all our options only to realize later that there was a better way to go about our business.

And that’s the point when it comes to trying to understand how and why we all do, what we do.  Habit tells me that to get places without my car means I have to walk.  If I rode my bike more often, the thought to get on the bike and ride down to the mechanic’s shop would have been as natural as the thought that tells me I have to put on shoes before I go out the door most mornings.  Also, I could say, if I’d developed a better habit of stopping and thinking…to weigh alternatives….before doing….then I would have realized I didn’t need to hike all the way down to the shop.  I might still have wanted to, but I would not have needed to.

So, in a way, my habits let me down.  It makes you wonder how many other things we prevent ourselves form consciously choosing because we are unconsciously eliminating possibilities.  When habits rule, the likelihood of seeing other options simply diminishes.

It might even get you left all along on the roadside.

The incredibly satisfying sensation of infinite smallness

Beyond_the_Blue_Horizon

Beyond the Blue Horizon by PhotoDaemon

Another year, another family vacation in the books.  This year, we returned to the Point Sebago Resort in Casco, Maine for the third year in a row.  The weather was fantastic, the boys had a good time, and the parents weren’t completely exhausted at the end of it all.

Sebago Lake in Maine is a fairly large lake.  Having grown up in Buffalo, NY on Lake Erie, I am forever spoiled by the massive size of the Great Lakes when it comes to comparing bodies of fresh water.  Nonetheless, I can appreciate the size and depth of Sebago Lake, which  covers 45 square miles and reaches a depth of over 300 feet.

In spite of that size, however, neither Sebago Lake, nor even the Great Lakes, could offer something I have felt whenever I journey to the coast and look out over the ocean.  Something about standing before the endless, seemingly infinite expanse of the ocean has always been soothing.  It is as if the endless, rhythmic droning of the waves and the inability to see across to the other side reminds me that I am small.  More than that, that my problems are unbelievably tiny in the much grander scheme of things.  The ocean reminds me that it can be beautiful, calming, calamitous, treacherous and angry all at once, and that in all its nearly timeless eternity – it is absolutely unconcerned with anything that will ever transpire in my life.

Some might find this depressing – to be confronted with the undeniable fact that their existence will simply not matter to something so grand and ageless.  To me, however, it is a place of catharsis and solace.  It puts the things that trouble my mind into perspective, and that alone allows me to put my worries and fears and all my earthly concerns aside, and regain an appreciation for the important parts of my existence.

You see, while something as nearly incomprehensible and massive as the enormity and timelessness of the oceans will never be concerned with my short time upon this earth, the people that I encounter and share my life with will…..and that is where my focus should always be – on the people who share my life.  Inanimate things like money, cars, houses, wristwatches, sunglasses, comfortable chairs and cell phones and, yes, even something as great and grand as the ocean, will never notice my existence no matter how much time I spend with them.

Human beings, however, can be affected greatly and remember you to the end of their days, for things that occur even just once in a passing moment.  What’s more – the more you interact and share with them, the greater the likelihood of being remembered, and transcending into a place where the memory of your life becomes as infinite as the ocean itself.

The difference between learning and understanding

Learning the basics

learning the basics by etherealism.jpg

Learning is a fairly linear phenomenon.  You examine a decision, look at the outcome, and determine the causal chain.  It is incredibly useful, as well as simple and straightforward.  This is, usually, the manner in which we educate others and ourselves.  Do this and get that. 

On the Job training on the latest process or policy is usually much the same.  People are told, or expected to know,  some desired outcomes.  They are shown the steps that achieve that outcome, and then are expected to master those steps.  Perhaps, in an enlightenend organization, they might even be asked to improve upon those process steps.  This is, essentially, the “Know What” paradigm in action – if you know what gets you to the target, just repeat it, and you will always reach the target.

Learning is about seeing things only for the result they provide.  Understanding, however, necessitaties examining the context of a decision and the basis for the process in the first place.  Whereas learning is forward-thinking (do-this-get-that), understanding is backward looking (do-this-because-of-that) and, therefore, understanding is an essential component of the “Know Why” paradigm.

Know What is the most simple method of directing an activity.  Bosses, parents, bullies, and manipulators of all level will resort to this simplest of methods.  Basically, it’s not much more than, “Do this, or else.”  As such, people learn to avoid punishment.  Or, in a better way, we employ methods such as “Do this, and I’ll give you that.” in order to create a reward.  This way, people learn to seek compensation.

Know Why, however, is a more complex form of stirring people into action.  Know why requires a conversation.  It also requires that the person soliciting the activity has a deep enough understanding of the situation, the reasons why, and the ability to communicate them.  Understanding is not directing, but guiding.  It is also risky – people may reach different conclusions than what was intended.  This is acceptable, however, since it enhances the understanding of the subject for both the teacher and the student.

Developing the habit of understanding is difficult.  It is not the same as openly accepting ideas, but appreciating the thought patterns and circumstances that went into them.  You might not agree with a point of view, but you should understand it.  Interestingly enough, developing an understanding of things you disagree with tends to strengthen your beliefs and not weaken them.

Which, I have come to understand, is something that we should all try to learn.