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.

In the age of engagement, you can’t thwart ambition

ambition_by_tja88

ambition by tja88

There are more articles, books and posting out there on engagement, creating engagement, the benefits of creating engagement, and so on than I can count.  So, of course, I’m going to write a post about engagement (Once in a while, I do like to suppress my contrarian urges and go along with the crowd).  Instead of yet another voice telling you how to generate engagement, however, here’s a tale of how to make sure it gets utterly destroyed:

A friend recently told me that, at the employer she has been with for years, and after having recently completed a graduate degree that the company funded, during her Annual Review (a practice that, all by itself, tends to smother engagement anyway.  Click here for good reading on the subject) she was penalized….yes, actually penalized, for seeking other opportunities within the company.  “Clearly, you’re not happy here,” she was told.  “Everyone else is doing good work because they are committed to their position.”  and, with that, she received a less-than-stellar review that impacted her income, of course.  During the course of the year other people had transitioned to new roles both into and out of that department, leaving her flabbergasted at the comments in the appraisal.

My poor friend’s predicament left me wondering how, in an era where engagement is so widely and openly discussed, any employer can seek to crush its people’s ambitions?  Clearly, this person was not disloyal – after receiving advanced education she was looking to return that value to the company by applying it internally (something she had limited opportunities to do in her current role).  Nonetheless, she was chastised and punished for trying to bring greater value to the company and create her own sense of engagement by taking on a more challenging position (because, obviously, no one was much interested in creating that sort of engagement for her).

I heard this story right on the heels of a great Fast Company article describing how many employees are now forced into faking enthusiasm.  Clearly, as both the article and my friend’s experience demonstrate, the situation with regard to engagement is getting worse instead of better.   Also, if you want people to be dedicated, celebrate their ambitions.  Chris Seper recently placed a very popular article on LinkedIn speaking to the situation directly: “Why I celebrate when my employees leave”

Here’s a tip for those who are still struggling with the concept:  Engagement….or passion…or loyalty…or whatever word you want …. is not about appearances.   Nor is it something that you should rely on people creating for themselves, because such things are not brought about through the perserverance, discipline and dedication of employees.  Perserverance, discipline and dedication are the results of employee engagement, not the inputs.

Dad tells a story of inefficient communication, and truly wasteful meeting management

steelwork_by_roodpa-d4xunzm

steelwork by roodpa-d4xunzm

On a recent trip home for the Holidays, I was railing about such-and-wuch workplace goings on, when my father shared a story from his days managing projects in the construction industry.

His experience was in steel fabrication – the guys who take standard bpieces of milled steel beams, bars and plates and cut it into the pieces necessary to erect buildings and bridges.  As such, he worked closely with the erectors who took those custom-fabricated bits of steel and turned them into the skeletons around which the rest of the structure was put together.

Often times, he told me, he would have to report to the job site for a project status meeting.  The general contractor, or whatever entity was in charge, would require all the leads of the various teams to report out and hear what was happening and where the project was, and establish any hand-ins and hand-outs that had occurred, or needed to occur.  None of which sounds too terrible, of course.

That is, until Dad also let me know that, as the “steel guy,” most of his work was done fairly early in the life cycle.  The steel was cut, fabricated, delivered, erected, corrected, charged back, and his end of the project entirely signed off.  Nonetheless, he was bound to attend these hours-long meetings at times, just to hear how the electrical inspection and finished carpentry was progressing.  His activity on the overall project was long since done and over with, nonetheless, in the name of communication, he was required to attend.  The fact that the meeting would never include any information he needed to hear was entirely lost on the meeting’s organizer.

So it goes with most meetings.  Well-intentioned people will often, in the name of completeness or the feel-good sensation of having shared information with the entire group, call large all-hands meetings and blurt out every bit of info under the sun, just so everyone is “on the same page” and can understand the “project environemtn” and “paths to success.”  Unfortunately, what gets lost is that the project is made up of many, many mini-projects and, just as the PM does not want to waste time and cost by speding effort on anything not relevant to his or her project, so it is with the leaders of all the mini-projects, too.

Communciation for the sake of driving a necessary decsion, from the necessary decision makers, is valuable.  Communication for the sake of team building and understanding is valuable, too.  Communication for the sake of adhering to formal or informal protocols or because “this is what we’ve always done,” or because of a single-sided belief that people want to hear what you have to say is misguided.  People like to know what’s going on if it helps them to get a job done.  Otherwise, all that communication is just a hindrance to some actual accomplishment.

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 paradoxical inefficiency of thought

Imagination

Imagination by silverin87

One of my life’s great frustrations is the number of good ideas that get lost throughout the course of a normal day.  Before I can find a voice recorder, pencil, or something to write my ideas on, they fly away and my train of thought is lost forever.  It’s not an unfamiliar tune – authors, artists, musicians – all of them frequently relate stories of how much goes through their minds that is simply lost before they get the chance to write it down or record it.  Such is life for anyone any kind of a creative bent – be it an innovative scientist, a performer, or even a part-time blog writer who likes to ramble about life’s daily struggles.

My own difficulties with the passive annihilation of good ides got me thinking about how good ideas can be actively squelched as well.  People who are asked to “be professional”, not make a “Career limiting move” by speaking their minds, or who are asked to just live with a problem or not step on someone’s toes – all of these sometimes innocuous messages serve to do one thing – actively decrease the number of ideas that get poured out.

When I do get to writing down or recording my thoughts, I also often find that a lot of those really don’t have any legs and never go anywhere.  So, too, the number of ideas you get might result in only a few gems – but therein lies a certain discovery that needs to take place.  That is, that you can’t demand good ideas.  You have to sift through all the ideas to find the really good ones – because generating good ideas comes about only through the process of crafting them.  Also, the value of an idea is not something that is inherent and internal to the idea itself.  Rather, it is a function of time, place and circumstances that make any idea valuable.  What seems like a really, really good thought and the solution to all our problems today might be utterly ridiculous tomorrow.  Nonetheless, that value judgment can’t take place as the idea is being formulated in someone’s head.  It has to come about and be judged under the lights of the here and now.

This is something of a paradox, I suppose – that in order to attain high levels of ingenuity in products and activities, the environment in which those ideas are created must support an endless ocean of thoughts that yield very little value, in the hopes that, eventually, a single very good one will be produced. Generating ideas is an inefficient process, even if those ideas are generated around improving efficiency.

Therefore, the efficiency of thought should never be pursued.  Only the efficiency of implementation.