Premature Judging

Should a new home construction project be judged when only its blueprint exists?  How about when the site has been prepared?  What about when the materials like wood, rebar, and electrical conduit are delivered?

Should we wait to judge the home build until the framing is complete?  Should we wait until the walls and roof are added?  Or, wait until all the windows are installed?  What about the paint and other finishing touches on the house?  Should you wait for those to be completed?

Can you judge the success of the home build before it’s finished?

When making chocolate chip cookies, do you judge the success of the cookies while mixing the ingredients?  How about when the chocolate chips are poured into the batter?

What if the recipe called for real butter, but you only have that non-diary butter substitute that’s supposed to be healthier than butter?  Are your cookies doomed at that point?  Should you call-off the project and declare it a failure?

Assuming you’ve made it past the butter/non-dairy butter issue, is it right to judge the cookies after they’re spooned out onto the cookie sheet, but not yet baked?

Just before placing those filled cookie sheets into the preheated oven, is that the time to re-evaluate the entire cookie-making process to determine if it’s failing?  Should you call a meeting to discuss whether the cooking temperature listed in the recipe is the correct one for your cookies?

Houses and cookies are obvious examples of “projects” that have a lot of moving parts.  They build from a set of raw ingredients, mixed with time and effort, into a completed item.

What about less obvious events in our lives?  When’s the right time to judge these for success or failure (using whatever measures you’ve chosen)?

  • new job
  • new business
  • new business strategy
  • new information system
  • new software development project
  • new friends
  • new marriage
  • new workout regimen
  • new hobby
  • new home

The easiest approach is to prematurely judge, declare failure and decide who to blame.  Failure is comforting.  The status quo is easy.

The new thing is never easy.  Creating something new is almost always uncomfortable.

When we judge too early, failure soon follows.

By the way, the cookies were amazing, but not until they came out of the oven.

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

Blame and Our Ego

“If you get your ego in your way, you will only look to other people and circumstances to blame.” –Jocko Willink

Here’s a thought experiment…

Looking back over the past few weeks (or months, or years), how many times did you blame:

  • someone
  • some thing
  • traffic
  • an injury
  • a disability
  • the weather
  • the economy
  • the government
  • your boss
  • your employee
  • social media
  • a company
  • a bad memory
  • anything but yourself?

No matter the subject, there are plenty of candidates for our blame…as long as we can aim it outward.

Our ego prefers blaming “the other” rather than accepting responsibility.  Life’s easier that way.

Blame doesn’t just apply to things that happened in the past.  Blame is most powerful (and crippling) when it prevents something from happening in the future:

  • I won’t be able to make it out there tomorrow. The traffic is just too crazy at that time.
  • I hate this job, but I don’t have time to learn a new trade.
  • I’d love to help you move, but with my bad back, I wouldn’t be very helpful.
  • There’s no way I’d ever start my own business in this economy. Besides, who needs all the government regulations and hassle?
  • It’s way too cold out there to go for a walk today.
  • I’d love to travel more, but there’s no way my boss would ever give me the time off.

How many times have you used blame to avoid doing something new, or something that could fail?

Blame is useful when it establishes a foundation for improvement.  When it represents a first step toward identifying root causes that can be solved.

Beyond that, blame has very little value, except stroking our ego (and keeping us nice and warm in our cacoon of status quo).

Photo by Casey Horner on Unsplash

That’s all great. But, what does your customer think?

  • “We had an awesome meeting yesterday. We finalized our growth plans for next year.  We’ll be presenting them to the CFO next week.”
  • “That conference was amazing. The speakers really hit the nail on the head about what’s coming in our industry.”
  • “We finished all the employee reviews before the deadline. We start every year with this fire drill!  I’m glad that’s behind us!”
  • “This new software update will finally fix our scheduling problems.”
  • “The year-end financials are done, and our tax filing is happening on time this year.”
  • “Our new branding colors are excellent. They really pop on our mobile app!”
  • “The holiday party committee met, and we’ve got our recommendations for the venue and party theme this year. When can we meet to finalize the plans so we can put money down on the venue?”

What do all of these have in common?

They’re all statements I’ve heard, or said, during my professional career.  I could’ve rattled off 30 more sentences just like these.  All would have represented important activities, milestones, discoveries, inventions, process improvements, or events within the companies I’ve managed (or owned).

But, none of them represented what our customers think.  The customer, in this case, is the person or company that’s paying us for our products and services.

None of the sentences describe us communicating directly with our customers or our prospective customers.

None of them focus on why our customers use our products and services.

None provide a greater understanding of how our customers relate to us.

None help us understand how important we are (or aren’t) in their life.

Are we just a faceless machine that delivers something our customer needs at this moment?  Are we merely a utility to them?

If we disappeared tomorrow, would they miss us?

Do they know who we are as a company?  Do they know anything about our values?  Do we know what our values are at this company?

Do they care about our branding colors, or that we’re having a nice holiday party this year?  Probably not.

Even when we fail to ask, our customers have powerful ways to tell us how we’re doing:

  • When they continue paying us, we know that they value what we’re doing today. They haven’t found anyone else who does it better, cheaper, or both.  They haven’t found anyone that they think cares more about them than we do.  We’ve won today.
  • When they call or write to complain or ask for something new and improved, we can infer that they care enough to ask. They trust that we’ll listen.  Our response lets them know whether their trust is well-placed, or not.

Winning today is nice.  Winning tomorrow, next week, next month, and next year is far more important when it comes to customers.

While we take care of all the tasks associated with keeping our organization afloat, it’s easy to forget why our organization exists in the first place:  to serve our customers and attract new ones.

The customer is the only reason we exist.

Something to keep in mind the next time you put off calling your customer back until after you’ve finalized your company’s holiday party plans.

P.S.  This riff about customers applies to our internal customers as well.  After all, our internal customers are often the ones who deliver service to our external customers.  If we fail to serve our internal customers, you can easily guess what’s going to happen to our external customers.

 

Photo by Tyler Nix on Unsplash

Time For a Reboot?

I learned a truism about computers back in the late-80’s:

More than 50% of the time, a computer problem can be overcome by merely rebooting the machine

Sometimes this means pressing a specific keystroke combination.  Other times it means simply unplugging the machine from the wall, and then plugging it in again.

Fast-forward nearly forty years, and the old “reboot method” is still effective at least 50% of the time.

Reboots aren’t only applicable to technology problems.

Unplugging from a problem or challenge, even for a short period of time, can shed light on a new set of perspectives.  And, guess what…about 50% of the time, one of those new perspectives will hold the key to overcoming your “unsolvable” problem.

Rebooting doesn’t only mean disconnecting.  It can also mean purposely switching up your approach, assigning new team members, changing up the words you use to describe the problem, or putting the issue into a “timeout,” so you can work on something else for a while.

Rebooting may mean taking that vacation you’ve been promising yourself and your family.  You tell yourself there’s no time for a vacation.  No time to disconnect.

Wrongo!

Denying yourself the opportunity to temporarily disconnect is denying yourself access to your most creative idea flow.  The flow that comes from freeing your mind, even briefly, from your day-to-day tasks.

There’s a ton of power in the reboot, the restart, and the disconnect.

The answers to your most unsolvable problems lie on the other side of that reboot you’ve been avoiding (at least 50% of the time, of course).

Photo by Nadine Shaabana on Unsplash

Happiness and Butterflies

“Happiness is like a butterfly: the more you chase it, the more it will evade you, but if you notice the other things around you, it will gently come and sit on your shoulder.” -Henry David Thoreau

I saw a butterfly today while working outside.  I didn’t pay much attention and continued doing my work.

For the next 2-3 minutes, that butterfly kept flitting by and finally landed on my shoulder (only for a few seconds before taking off and flying away).

Then, tonight I randomly saw this quote about happiness and butterflies from Thoreau.

I remember thinking how grateful I was to have that little butterfly land on me earlier today. I’m pretty sure everything else on my mind drifted away for that one quiet moment.

Happiness had gently come to sit on my shoulder.

Happiness is always within reach.  If only we take the time to notice it with gratitude.

Today, I needed a reminder and I’m grateful that little butterfly was there to oblige.

Photo by Stefany Andrade on Unsplash

 

No Matter What

  • “I’m going to do this, no matter what.”
  • “I’ll be there by 5pm, no matter what.”
  • “We’re having this party, no matter what.”
  • “We’ll finish this project by the deadline, no matter what.”
  • “We will hit our quarterly numbers, no matter what.”
  • “My family will always come first, no matter what.”
  • “My career will always come first, no matter what.”

No matter what doesn’t compromise.

No matter what won’t be distracted.

No matter what knows its priorities.

No matter what gathers allies but has the power to alienate.

No matter what takes no prisoners in pursuit of its objectives.

No matter whats are easy when we’re young, protected, and naïve; but hard to uphold in the wilds of real life.

No matter whats morph, adapt, and may even be forgotten as time passes.  But some remain unchanged for our entire life.

What’s on your no matter what list?

How many no matter whats do you say out loud?  Which ones do you keep to yourself?

Do you define your no matter whats, or do they define you?

Maybe it’s time to find out.

 

Photo by Zoltan Tasi on Unsplash

Come on in, the water’s warm!

Back in the day, we used to grab our boogie boards and take the bus down to Seal Beach (in California).  It cost 25 cents each way.  Perfect for a budget-minded 6th grader and his buddies.

Side note:  nobody thought it was the least bit strange for a bunch of 6th and 7th graders to go to the beach on a public bus without their parents…my how times have changed in 40 years.

That first step into the waves was always the coldest.  It never failed that a wave would break right on shore, just as we were trying to slowly enter the water.

We always knew that the moment the water hit our stomachs, we might as well just dive in and swim out through the waves.

Within about thirty seconds, we were used to the water temperature.  We didn’t think about it for the rest of the day.  All we were thinking about was catching the next wave and buying a hot dog and a Coke for something like a dollar at lunch time.

We humans have an incredible ability to adapt.  Sure, we feel the shock of a new challenge deep in our gut at first.  We’ll wonder how in the world we’re going to deal with this new set of problems.  But, give us a little time, and we have what it takes to not only adapt, but to overcome.

The only question is whether we choose to adapt.

It’s our choice.

We decide whether we’ll dive into the cold waves and paddle out, or retreat to the warm safety of the beach.

The beach may be safe, but the waves we’re trying to catch are out in the water.

Time to dive in and start paddling.

Photo Credit:  That’s our grandson, Charlie.  He’s riding his first wave on a boogie board, at Beach 69 on the Big Island, a few weeks ago.  He turns 4 this weekend.  Cowabunga, Charlie!

 

Time for a Lens Change?

Way back in junior high (in the last century), I learned about photography with 35mm SLR cameras.  These were the “real thing.”  They were a far cry from the cheap Instamatics that everyone I knew used at the time.

We learned about shutter speeds, f-stops, light meters, focus points, passive and active lighting, shadows, framing, composition, film types, and lenses.

Did we want to capture the action close-up, or in the distance?  Blur the action, or stop it?  Shadow the subject, or light it?  Black and white, or color?  Grainy or smooth?  Focus on the foreground or the background?  Capture the subject from the left, or right?

It didn’t matter if we were photographing a mountain, a flower, a person, or a can of tomatoes.  Using all the tools at our disposal, we controlled what happened in each photo.

Don’t even get me started on developing film in a darkroom.  We learned about that too.  More ways to control the image that appears in the photo.  For younger readers, darkrooms are the place where the exposed film was transformed into photos.  Using various methods, we could edit an image like you can today in your phone’s photo editor or Photoshop.

The main lesson about all this wasn’t the tools and techniques of photography. It was the realization that the camera was only a tool to capture a moment.  That moment, with all its beauty, drama, imperfections, and emotions.

More specifically, the camera captures a feeling that comes from the image and our memory of that feeling.  The image is merely a pathway to our feelings about the subject.

We capture moments and feelings every day.  Usually without a camera.  We control how these moments and feelings appear on the canvas that matters the most.  In our heart and in our mind.

If the world seems to be against you, and all you see is ugliness and despair, that’s probably because of the way you’re choosing to see the world.

If everything is amazing and perfect, that’s also a result of the way you’re choosing to see the world.

Neither view is 100% accurate.  Reality has its ups and downs.  We face challenges and triumphs, victories and defeats, every day.

The key is to understand that we have way more to do with the way these moments are captured and interpreted than anyone or anything in our world.

We control our settings.  We control our lenses.  We choose where we focus.

Ultimately, we choose how to frame our moments.  Not the other way around.

Photo by Warren Wong on Unsplash

Why the 90-Day Rule is So Powerful

With the advent of the internet, and then smartphones, we’re able to access the outside world on-demand from just about anywhere.  The flipside is that the outside world can access each of us just as easily.

Friends and colleagues can send us an email or text at any time.  They can use a selection of apps to “ping” us from across the world with information, photos, articles, or project status updates.

And, although rare these days, people can even call us on our smartphone…trust me, it still happens.

In all these instances, the expectation is that we’ll be fully accessible, and ready to respond immediately to any and all issues, questions, or opportunities that come our way.

An immediate-response, immediate-judgment, immediate-decision-making model of interaction is the new norm.  We train our brains to quickly scan complex situations with the goal of rendering snap decisions that we can provide as part of our response(s).

There’s just one problem:  creating this speedy-response capability eliminates the one thing that many decisions (especially complex and long-term decisions) require:  TIME

Time and space are exactly what we need to make our most effective decisions.

Time to absorb information at our own pace.

Time to immerse ourselves in a new situation before being forced to judge it or make decisions about it.

Consider the person who gets a new job.  This new job is going to be amazing.  It’s what they want to do, and it pays a lot more than their last job.

It’s normal to visualize all the ways to be successful in the new job.  It’s normal to think of how to spend the new-found money.

It’s also normal that once the work starts, the new job won’t be as amazing as it seemed.  After the first week, the job and the people at the new job may seem like a nightmare.

Or, the new job is as amazing as it appeared and the people are awesome.  But the work is highly technical and challenging.  Doubts can creep in about whether it’s a good skill set fit.

The truth is, in the first week (even the first month) of new things like jobs, relationships, or workout routines, we don’t know enough to judge.  We may think we know.  We don’t.

This is where the power of the “90-Day Rule” shows itself.  What is the 90-Day Rule?  It’s something I made up that says for the next 90 days, I’ll immerse myself in the new thing (job, workout routine, etc.) without any preconceived judgment, without any pressure to decide, and without any thoughts about alternatives.

If I’ve decided to do this new thing (after days, weeks, months, sometimes years of contemplation), I’m going to give it at least 90 days before judging it.

In the new job example, consider how freeing a 90-day moratorium on judgment will be.  You’re not judging the new people.  You’re not judging the new company.  You’re not judging your ability to perform in the new job.  You’re not even judging the commute.

No judgments means you can focus on what it takes to be as successful as possible in the new job.  All the energy you would have focused on making judgments and other distracting decisions is channeled fully into the most valuable tasks.

What about all that new money you’re earning at this new job?  What if you give yourself 90 days before spending it on all that new stuff?  Have a nice dinner to celebrate the start, and then wait 90 days.  You’ll have plenty of time to spend all this new money on the 91st day.  What’s your hurry?

When was the last time you gave anything 90 minutes before passing judgment?  It’s time to give important decisions at least 90 days before passing judgment.

You’ve decided on this course of action.  Let it play out.  Give it room.  Let it breathe.  See where it goes.

Give yourself the power of time.

Photo by Ümit Bulut on Unsplash

 

The Reasons We Quit…

Are usually not the real reasons.

Sure, we’ll have our story about how someone or something created the untenable situation that pushed us to quit.

We can talk about how continuing would have been a waste of our time and energy.

We can even describe how the emotional toll was so great that we needed to make the change before some type of permanent damage occurred.

All these reasons contain elements of truth.  But, not the whole truth.

The whole truth lies in the balance of authority and responsibility.

Authority and responsibility live on opposite sides of life’s biggest equation.  When we perceive that the authority we have matches up with the responsibility we’re carrying, we feel balanced.  Satisfied.

But, get them out of whack, and our dissatisfaction begins to climb.  Left unattended, the dissatisfaction we feel (subconsciously at first) will begin to overtake our patience.  The cascade toward departure begins.

A world where we have ultimate authority and no responsibility would be nice.  The “power” to do whatever we want without any ownership of the outcomes.  Of course, this is a fantasy world.

Having authority over anything means having responsibility.

The key is the balance.

So, back to the quit or don’t quit decision:

If we stay the course, we’ll be forced to take ownership.  We’ll need to assume authority and expend a ton of emotional energy.  We can’t blame the “other.”  When we decide not to quit, we’re deciding that it’s okay to be responsible for making the situation a success (however that gets defined in our heads).

Quitting is the easy way out of this “authority-responsibility” conundrum.  It requires a lot less energy and eliminates our risk of failure.  It doesn’t matter that the act of quitting may be an admission of failure in the first place.  That’s just a sunk cost.  The key is how much emotional energy we’ll have to expend in the future.

Why does any of this matter?  We aren’t planning to quit any time soon.  It’s not in our nature.

True, but what about everyone around you?  What about the people who report to you?  What about your teammates?  What about your friends?

It turns out they’re working through this same authority-responsibility equation in their own lives.

And guess who has both the authority and responsibility to help them with balancing their equation.

You.

 

Photo by Nadine Shaabana on Unsplash