Category Archives: Appreciation

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

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

 

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

Anything You Write…

“Anything you write can be fixed, except for the pristine perfection of the blank page.” –Neil Gaiman

Our future is the ultimate blank page.  The cursor blinks patiently, endlessly.  Waiting for us to write something.

That cursor doesn’t care what we’ve written in the past.  It doesn’t really care what we’ll write in the future.  Still it blinks…waiting.

Writers sometimes talk about writer’s block.  The intimidating view of a blank page that beckons them to write something…anything.

I agree with Seth Godin, that there’s no such thing as writer’s block.  Rather, there’s fear that what I’m writing won’t be as perfect as I want it to be.  It won’t be accepted by my readers.  It may be shunned, castigated, or otherwise flamed by someone I don’t even know.

So, my lizard brain protects me by making sure I don’t write a thing.

The same is true in life.  What we write into our life today may not be perfect.  It may not make sense to anyone.  It may be wrong.

That’s okay.  As Mr. Gaiman says, we can fix it.

Today’s page will be written, whether we do the writing or not.

What will you write today?

 

Photo Credit:  Bob’s computer screen before and after writing this post

 

What We Don’t Know

Consider everything you know…

All the things you’ve learned since you were born.

All the things you’ve forgotten…in the last five years.

The capital of Vermont.  Montpelier.  I remember that one from 5th grade, even though I’ve never been to Vermont or Montpelier.  I like the way it sounds, and the word Montpelier always makes me think of potato peelers.

“I” always comes before “E,” except after “C” and in weird words like weird.

Over ninety-eight percent of the population of Australia lives within 25 miles of the country’s coastline.  I learned that from a tour guide.  I assume it’s true.

Now, consider everything you don’t know.

Like, how to sew.  Or, how to find top dead center on a Volkswagen engine.  What about the method for calculating the orbital decay of a satellite?  The percentage of nitrogen and oxygen in our atmosphere?

How about the exact weather forecast for a month from now?  What your customers will want or need or expect one year, two years, five years from now?  The truth is, they probably don’t know either.

I’d venture to say that what we don’t know is “Infinity minus One” larger than what we do know.  Sounds hopeless.

But it’s the unknowns that make our little journey interesting.  Discovering the secrets of an unknown is the reward for our curiosity.

How does cruise control work?

How and when did someone decide it was a good idea to pick certain red berries, dry them in the sun, then put them over a fire for just the right amount of time (whatever that is), then grind up what’s left and run hot water over it to make coffee?

Where does castor oil come from?

Curiosity and the humility to admit our ignorance, in pursuit of new knowledge is the key to learning.

Understanding that our decisions will never have the luxury of complete or perfect knowledge.  We’ll never know everything before making the decision.

In fact, taking that risk and making the (uninformed) decision is another way we learn.  If our decision is wrong, we learn from it (hopefully) and make a new decision that is less wrong.

Knowledge is power, and ignorance is bliss.  Both are right.

But I believe ignorance can have more power.  The power to try.  The power to seek.  The power to chase the unknown.

What do I know?  I know that I don’t know much, even though I know a lot.

Knowing that I don’t know drives me to ask the dumb question(s), to search for answers, to seek the unknown, to leap, to discover, to practice, and most of all, to never stop learning.

Photo by Raj Eiamworakul on Unsplash

 

 

 

Letting Go

“If there are pieces of your past that are weighing you down, it’s time to leave them behind.  You are not what has happened to you.  You are someone unimaginably greater than you have ever considered, and maybe it’s time to consider all the possibilities that are within you.”  –Matthew Kelly

How much baggage are you carrying from your past?

The mistakes you’ve made.  The opportunities you missed.  The disappointments.  The tragedies.  The could’ve beens and the should’ve beens.  The people you still won’t forgive.

Letting go doesn’t mean forgetting your past.  It doesn’t mean ignoring the lessons you’ve learned.

It means forgiving yourself and forgiving others.  It means loving the amazing person you’ve become and letting go of the person you or anyone else thought you should have become.

Each of us is a work-in-progress.  We have an opportunity every day to define our future.  But, it’s impossible to choose our future while burdened with all the weight of our past.

It’s time to let go.  Drop the weight.  Drop the guilt.  Drop the anger.  Drop the regrets that quietly gnaw at your core.

Let go and prepare yourself for the awesome future that you choose.

As Matthew Kelly says, “You are someone unimaginably greater than you have ever considered.”

Photo by Gianandrea Villa on Unsplash

 

My Leadership Prayer

God, please grant me,

The faith and judgment to make sound decisions, and

The courage to change those decisions when they’re wrong.

The everlasting hope that, together, our organization can and will be successful.

The fortitude to seek continuous improvement in everything we do.

 

Integrity and a just heart to do the right thing, even when no one is looking.

A charitable approach to my employees, my customers and my competitors.

The ability to focus on the vital few while ignoring the distracting many, and

The prudence to deploy our limited capital wisely.

 

Oh, loving God,

Allow me to work from a place of humility, forsaking my prideful thoughts.

Help me look to others for motivation, not as a source of jealous envy.

Give me the self-control to reject greed, striving for what is needed and nothing more.

Show me that the trappings and status of my position are temporary and undeserved.

 

Always remind me that my life’s mission is to serve others before myself,

Helping my organization grow by focusing on the growth of every team member.

Remind me to provide life-giving feedback and questions that encourage rather than belittle,

To view mistakes and failures as opportunities for learning and improvement.

Help me understand that all of us are smarter and more creative than one of us.

 

Give me the strength and endurance to persevere through times of trouble.

Give me the vision to see beyond today,

To always strive for a better tomorrow.

Help me to become a positive example for others in my thoughts, in my words, and in my actions.

I invite You into each and every minute of my life.

Grant me the peace that comes from Your eternal and infinite love, now and forever.

Amen

 

Photo by David Monje on Unsplash

 

Are You a Time Billionaire?

I heard the term, Time Billionaire, a few weeks ago on the Tim Ferris Podcast (which I highly recommend, by the way).

There are 31,500,000 seconds in a year.

If you live to the end of your 90th year, you will have lived 2,838,240,000 seconds.

Each of us is a time billionaire.  We have billions of seconds at our disposal.

To date, I’ve used about 1.67 billion of my seconds.  If I’ve slept for a third of my life (wouldn’t 8 hours per night be nice?), I’ve been awake and actively (?) living for 1.1 billion seconds.  I have roughly 770 million more active seconds remaining (if I live to be 90).

How many billions of seconds have you used?  How many do you have left?

It’s easy to answer the first question, impossible to answer the second one.

One thing is certain.  If you’re reading this post, you’ve already used billions of your seconds, and you probably have millions more.

The most important question is:  What do you want to do with your remaining seconds?

Love.  Work.  Play.  Explore.  Rest.  Watch.  Avoid.  Climb.  Run.  Accumulate.  Distract.  Hate.  Support.  Waste.  Invest.  Achieve.  Overcome.  Reach.  Reduce.  Enhance.  Ignore.  Engage.  Imagine.  Share.  Write.  Read.  Produce.  Consume.  Hide.  Encourage.  Recover.  Experiment.  Challenge.  Destroy.  Create.  Build.  Live!

We decide how we use our seconds (even when we choose not to decide, or let someone else decide for us).

None of us gets a second helping of seconds.  It’s worth investing some valuable seconds to consider what to do with the rest of our seconds before they’re gone.

 

Photo by Aron Visuals on Unsplash