Category Archives: Attention

The Power of Chaos

Chaos is easy to create.  Eliminate judgment, eliminate priorities, and you’ve set the stage for a good dose of chaos.

Chaos is seductive.  It gives the appearance of action while preventing forward progress.

All the planning, all the preparation, all the foresight…none of it will prevent chaos when we give it control.

Chaos provides excellent camouflage for mediocre results.

After all, how can I be held accountable when all around me is chaos?  If I’m able to deliver any results amidst all the chaos, I’m a hero.  It doesn’t matter if my results are of the highest quality or even the desired quantity.

Look around you.  Is your work environment chaotic?  What about your personal time?  Chaotic?

Is all this chaos creating a positive environment for the changes you want, or is it sapping energy and stopping progress?

The secret to chaos is that you own the choice.  You decide how chaotic your life is.  You have the power over chaos, even when it appears that chaos is in control.

When you choose your priorities, choose what gets your attention, choose what to ignore, and choose what to eliminate, you take back control from chaos.

Be careful…

As you consciously take steps to eliminate chaos, you will be held accountable for the results you should be producing, instead of the results you sneak past all the chaos.

In the end, living in chaos is easier than being truly effective…probably why so many people choose it.

 

Photo by Erik Eastman on Unsplash

 

 

The Cow Stuck in the Mud

“How did that cow get there?”

“Why wasn’t the mud bog fenced off?”

“Who was supposed to turn off the sprinklers before this place got all muddy?”

“Why do we have cows in this area anyway?”

“Can you believe that this cow just walked right into that mud and got herself stuck?”

“What was that cow thinking?”

“I told you this could happen, and now it has!”

“There’s no way you’re gonna pin this on me.  I never told that cow to go there.”

“We’ll need some pretty heavy equipment to get this cow out, and that’s going to be expensive.”

 

I’ve never seen a real cow stuck in real mud.

But, I’ve seen lots of metaphorical cows stuck in deep metaphorical mud.

The dialogue about the cow usually revolves around how the cow got there, who should have prevented it, who’s to blame, and the costs.

The one thing that’s usually missing from the conversation is how we’re going to get that cow out of the mud, clean her up, and send her on her way.

All the talking in the world isn’t going to get that cow out of the mud.  In fact, the longer the cow is stuck, the more risk there is that the cow will get seriously hurt.

That cow will remain there until you take action.  Enlist the help of others.  Then, work creatively and diligently to get that cow out of the mud.

There’s plenty of time to discuss all the why’s, how’s, and whose at fault…after you save the cow.

Stop talking, stop pointing blame, stop finding excuses.

Get to work and rescue that cow!

 

Photo Credit:  Joshua De @unsplash.com

 

No Surprises…the Secret to Managing Up

“I love spontaneity, as long as it’s well-planned.”  –Says nearly everyone in business

Surprises can be great.

We love surprises when they bring unexpected wealth, unexpected fun, or unexpected comfort.

Sadly, surprises aren’t always good news:

  • Surprise! The IRS just sent you an audit letter.
  • Surprise! That small mole on your cheek is melanoma.
  • Surprise! That neighbor you thought was a nice guy is wanted in another state for armed robbery.
  • Surprise! Microsoft just added a feature to their operating system that makes your profitable utility app obsolete.
  • Surprise! Your private financial and credit information was just hacked at Equifax (well, that type of thing shouldn’t really be a surprise nowadays).
  • Surprise! Your most promising employee is leaving your company…to join your competition!
  • Surprise! The executive that “owns” your company’s contract and projects just got fired.

Surprises in business are rarely the good kind.

In fact, a “good” surprise in business can become a nightmare if you’re not prepared.

Think about that sudden and unexpected increase in demand for your service or product.  Great news!  But, now your staff is feeling overworked and things are starting to break under the pressure of all this new business.

How does all of this connect with managing up?

The number one thing your boss, and your boss’s boss (and so on) need from you is to minimize the surprises that come their way.

Does this mean you should keep information away from them?  Of course not!

It means creating an open and thorough communication path between you and your boss.

It means anticipating surprises before they happen.  Preparing for the unexpected, since you can always expect it.  I’ve seen lots of surprises that shouldn’t have been surprises at all.

Your boss needs to know when something is wrong, or about to go wrong.

Your boss needs you to be honest.  Always. Even if you’re the one causing the surprise.

If you, or someone in your organization, make an expensive mistake, your boss needs to know about it.  Now.  More importantly, your boss needs to know how you plan to learn from that mistake, and avoid a similar mistake like this one in the future.

If you see or hear something in the marketplace that can help (or hurt) your organization, your boss needs to hear from you.  Now.

The last thing you want is for your boss to learn about a problem (or a surprise, which may be the same thing) within your organization from someone else.  This does two things:

  1. Lets your boss know that you may not understand that something is going wrong, and
  2. Makes your boss wonder if you’re hiding bad news and if you can be trusted.

When I was a kid, we lived in a small 3-bedroom house.  We had a hallway that got pitch black when all the doors were shut.  Even when your eyes adjusted, there was almost no light to see where you were going.  I always had this (unfounded) fear that I might run into something, hit my head, or crack my shins on some unseen edge.

Your boss might as well be walking in that same dark hallway, whether he or she realizes it.  It’s tough to see what’s coming, and in the real world, that fear of being hit by something in the darkness is often justified.

Many of the lessons we learn from the “school of hard knocks” begin as surprises.

Lesson One:  expect the unexpected.

Lesson Two:  make sure your boss knows what’s coming.

Lesson Three:  don’t ever forget about Lesson Two, and you’ll be doing a great job of “managing up” in the process.

 

 

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

 

The Power of Repetition

We’re each born without skills.

We don’t know how to play the piano, hit a tennis ball, type a letter, program a computer, balance a checkbook, climb a mountain, drive a car, wake surf, back up a semi-trailer, finish concrete, ride a bike, race a motorcycle, fix an engine, pilot an airplane, or just about anything else.

Fortunately, humans are learning machines.  Watch a toddler for even a few minutes and you’ll see an aggressive and insatiable quest to imitate, experiment, test limits, check for patterns, see what works, see what parents allow, and see what happens when they push certain buttons (real and metaphorical).  Amazingly, they’re doing these things before they can walk or talk.

Toddlers also have an almost unending desire to “do it again.”  If throwing the ball once is fun, it’s even more fun to go pick it up and throw it again, and again, and again.

I took a typing class in my freshman year of high school.  There were about fifty students in the class.  Half of the typewriters were electric (the new IBM Selectrics) and the other half was manual typewriters.  Yes, I’m that old.

I started my year on a manual typewriter (we swapped to the Selectrics mid-year).  This meant that at the end of each line, after hearing the ding, I had to reach up and manually return the carriage…and place my fingers back on the correct keys to continue typing.  It also meant that my keystrokes had to be smooth, consistent and well-timed.  Otherwise, the keys would jam on top of each other.

We started with the Home row.  I must have typed ASDFJKL; a thousand times!  Then, we added the G and the H to the home row drill.  ASDFGHJKL;  Again.  Again.  Again.  Ding.  Manual carriage return.

Did I mention that all the keys on the typewriters were blank?  We were learning how to be “touch” typists.  Looking at the keys was not an option.  We had diagrams and workbooks that showed us what each key was, but nothing on the typewriter.

After mastering the Home row, we moved up to the QWERTY row.  The row that gives the standard keyboard its name.  QWERTYUIOP  Again.  Again.  Again.  Again.

Next, the drills included the Home row and the QWERTY row at the same time.  We were typing letters in random order from both rows.  QPJHFDRT Again.  Again.  Again.  Ding.  Manual carriage return.

Finally, we moved to the dreaded bottom row.  ZXCVBNM,.  I hated the Z.  The Z is in an awkward spot.  It requires pinky strength and dexterity in the left hand.  A tall order for a right-hander.  A right-hander who had broken his left pinky a few years earlier (another long story).

Now our drills included all three rows, and all in random order.

Oh yeah, every drill was being timed.  We started and stopped each drill as a class and typed the drills until we heard the ringing of the clock.

The drills got harder, included more randomness, and both upper-, and lower-case letters.  Again.  Again.  Again.

I don’t remember how many weeks we spent on all these drills, but one day our teacher told us we’d be typing actual sentences.  One more thing:  our typing speed would be measured in words-per-minute.

Any mistakes would subtract one word from our score, so accuracy mattered.

How could this be?  We’d never typed sentences before.  We weren’t ready to be tested…on real sentences.  We were just getting good at the drills.  We had practiced proper hand position, proper finger curl, proper posture.  But, this was uncharted territory.

“Ready?  Begin.”

“Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their party.”

“The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog.”

Why do I remember these two sentences?  They’re classic typing drill sentences.  They each use almost all the letters in the alphabet and require the typist to jump between all the rows.  I typed these two sentences continuously during the day of our first typing test.

I realized I was actually typing!  Not just a drill, but two real sentences.  I was typing them quickly…even on a manual typewriter.

After that first day of testing, we typed many more sentences.  We learned about the structure of various business letter formats.  We typed information into practice forms.  We keyed numbers into columns.  We centered text.  All before spreadsheets or word processors made these simple tasks.

Our teacher provided the drills, the structure, and the discipline.  We drilled, practiced, and drilled again.  And, again.

We were touch typists, using the skills we learned through repetition.  I was having my own “Wax on…wax off,” moment before Karate Kid was a movie.

Fast forward 35 years.  I’m still learning new skills.  Practicing.  Making mistakes.  Sometimes pushing too hard.  Sometimes jamming my keys in the process.  Always looking to improve.

Only with repetition can I learn, improve, and become.

Again.  And, again.

 

Photo by Jason Yu on Unsplash

 

 

Lessons from SpaceTeam!

I’ve never been much of a gamer.  The idea of more computer time at night, after spending an entire work day on a computer has little appeal for me.

Until I saw, or more accurately, heard, SpaceTeam.  My little cousins were gathered in a circle, yelling out commands to each other, swiping their devices, and pushing toward the elusive goal of HYPERSPACE.

Set the Duotronic Capacitor to 2!

They’re all on a malfunctioning spaceship, attempting to escape from a black hole.  The only way they will survive is to work together.

It’s called a collaborative shouting game for phones and tablets.

Commands whiz across each players’ device, but here’s the tricky part:  their fellow players are the only ones who can carry out those commands.  And, there’s a time crunch since the black hole is pulling at the ship the entire time!

Calibrate the Hypersonic Thrusters to 3!

Each player has to see their own commands, yell out those commands for their fellow players to execute, and also be listening to the other players’ commands that they can execute on their device.

Disengage the Warp Transponders!

As I watched them play, I thought the game looked like a fun way to practice reading, and learn about team work…and have some fun.

Then, they asked me to play.

My first thought was, “I’m not much of a gamer.  I probably have something else I should be doing.”  But, when do I get an opportunity to play a game with my cousins (who range in age from 5 to 11 years old)…especially where they’re teaching me how to play.

Remember to remove the slime!

Did I mention the slime?  As the game progresses, minor problems start to impact your device.  The game controls come unhinged and swing on the screen.  Slime oozes across the controls.  The slime can be cleared by swiping it away, but that distracts from reading your commands.  It also distracts from hearing your teammates’ commands and executing them as quickly as possible.

This game is a lot harder than it looks!  Like most things in life, spectating is much easier than playing.

Set the Flux Beam to 2!

Luckily, my team is strong and capable.  While I’m distracted with slime and repairing my control screen, they’re executing commands flawlessly.  I can hear the patience in their voices as they repeat their commands.  A sense of calm hovers over us amidst the yelling of commands.  We just might make it to HYPERSPACE!

Disengage the Tripolimer Conduits!

Do the commands have any rhyme or reason?  Does it really matter?  This is a crisis!  We don’t have time!  Our survival is at stake!

Sci-fi fans will recognize many of the words, but that won’t help you.  Your ability to quiet your mind, focus on your screen, and listen to your teammates will determine your success.  That and your teammates’ ability to do the same thing.

You win as a team and lose as a team.  Sound familiar?

If one player is weaker than the others, it’s up to the team to deal with it by executing what they can as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Deploy the Solar Sail!

Do you work with and trust others to achieve your goals?

Do you find a sense of calm and confidence when relying on your teammates to perform?

Are you dealing with “slime” in your life as you work to achieve your goals?

Are you called upon to deliver results without enough time, even when things are a little chaotic and difficult?

Do you allow yourself to be lifted-up by your team when you fall short of their expectations?

SpaceTeam will give you practice on all of these questions…and it’s lots of fun!

HYPERSPACE!

How’d we do?  I’m pretty sure I was the weak link.  We made it to HYPERSPACE anyway.  It pays to be on a strong team!  We didn’t get to play a second round because the evil Schedule Monster emerged from the shadows to remind us about the event we were attending.

I look forward to playing again!

 

Photo by NASA on Unsplash

 

 

Every Job Has a Suck Ratio (along with everything else)

Nearly every pursuit in life has some portion that sucks.  This is especially true for jobs.

It may be a short “phase” at the beginning caused by your lack of knowledge or experience. “I have no idea what I’m doing, so every day is torture!  I can’t wait until I get the hang of this new job.”

It may be a valuable sacrifice required to fully embrace the benefits of a new opportunity. “The position is exactly what I’m looking for.  The only problem is the 90-minute commute…each way.”

Maybe there’s 1% you don’t like that comes along with 99% you love.  “This company is amazing!  I wish the people I work with would realize it.”

What if the suck is more than 1%?

What if it’s 30% of the experience?  80% of the experience?

The ratio of suck versus awesome determines happiness.  As the suck goes up, happiness goes down.

Humans are more sensitive to the suck than the awesome.  We thrive on the negative.  Bad news travels fastest.  We assume and discount good news, so we don’t put much effort into spreading it…even to ourselves.

Measuring the suck is arbitrary and subjective.  Something that sucked only 1% last week may suck 95% today when that 90-minute commute causes you to miss your daughter’s award ceremony.

Are you considering a job change?  Just thinking about it means you’ve decided that the suck ratio is getting too high in your current job.  So, a new opportunity or a new direction seems like a good idea.

The new opportunities have their own suck, whether you choose to see it or not.  Sure, they have things you appreciate, but it’s easy to overvalue the good stuff and minimize the parts that suck.

It’s human nature to see only the “good” stuff that’s happening over there…and see only the things that suck, happening here.

The grass usually isn’t greener over there (wherever “there” is).  It’s usually just another shade of green that looks greener today.  The suck ratio is in play over there just as much as it is where you’re standing.

Does this mean we should never change jobs or career paths?  Hardly.  But, it’s important to keep some things in mind:

  • Every job has a suck ratio.

 

  • It’ll take a lot longer than you think to get good at your new job. Even longer before you become great at it.  Until then, it’s suck ratio will be higher than you like.

 

  • It’s hard to see the suck from the outside. Suck only shows itself once you’re on the inside when it’s too late.

 

  • Don’t measure the suck every day. Suck measures are only accurate over the long-term.

It’s easy to find something that sucks today if we look hard enough.  It’s just as easy to find something that’s awesome.

The effort we put into the search for suck or awesome dictates the one we find the most.  That’s true for jobs, too.

 

Photo by James Pond on Unsplash

Baby Steps…

-Don’t look like much at the beginning

-Are difficult to measure

-Take lots of patience

-Require focus

-Won’t bring acclaim (at first)

-Are seldom seen or appreciated

-Are quietly rebellious (which makes them fun)

-Deliver results.

It doesn’t matter if you’re building the world’s longest suspension bridge, assembling a 500-piece puzzle, or rolling out a new digital marketing campaign for your business.

The key to success in any of these endeavors is baby steps.  A relentless pursuit of the smallest possible step in the right direction will yield surprisingly impactful results.

A big challenge with pursuing the smallest steps is the overwhelming desire to provide evidence of progress.  First to someone else, and then to yourself.

Baby steps aren’t impressive when measured individually.  Most people can’t see them.

The power lies in being the one who sees them.  More importantly, when you motivate others to take baby steps with you, their impact will be profound…often before anyone realizes what’s happening.  Multiplication drives organizations, especially when it comes to baby steps.

Just for giggles, look back every now and then.  You might be surprised to see how far those baby steps have taken you.

 

Photo:  Unsplash.com, Emma Frances Logan Barker

Be the reason…

someone goes beyond their limits

someone laughs today

someone has a fond memory they cherish

someone learns something new

someone chooses life

someone believes more deeply

someone cares beyond themselves

someone knows they have unlimited potential

your boss can’t imagine delivering results without you

your employees can’t imagine delivering results without you

both can deliver results without you because you’ve taken the time to ensure they can

each person you encounter remembers your positive energy

your children know right from wrong

your children are independent and productive members of society

someone finds clarity

someone uses their imagination

someone thinks first

someone stops using lame excuses

someone steps outside of their habits

someone enjoys their day

someone smiles

someone is forgiven

the world is more beautiful.

 

Photo Credit:  Unsplash.com, Michal Grosicki

Advice to My 25-Year-Old Self

I regularly listen to the Tim Ferriss Podcast.  In fact, it’s the only podcast I listen to.

A question he asks nearly every guest is:

What advice would you give to your 25-year-old self (or whatever age is about half your current age)? 

For me, that was late-1992.  I’d been married for four years.  We had a two-year-old daughter, and our newest daughter had just arrived.  We’d purchased our first home in 1990 (at the high-point in the market before a 5-year down cycle).  I was about two years into my first management job, working in the healthcare industry.

Here are 10 things I’d like my 25-year-old self to know (in no particular order):

  1. Don’t change a thing! You’re about to be blessed with 25 years of awesomeness.  You may not realize it while it’s happening, but trust me, it’s going to be amazing!  You will face triumph and tragedy, hardship and happiness.  Take lots of photos and videos so you can remember just how small your kids were and the things they used to say.  You’ll get a kick out of the photos of yourself when you actually had hair and it wasn’t all gray.
  1. Take time to write about the things you’re experiencing, what you’re thinking about, and what’s motivating you. These things will probably change as you get older and you might appreciate seeing where your thinking started compared to where it is in 25 years.
  1. Be sure that you include the words, “Have Fun” in as many of your mission statements and plans as possible. These words are easy to forget while focusing on the day-to-day dramas that you will inevitably let drive your life.
  1. Seek out mentors, and be a mentor to others. Find ways to serve others while never thinking of how you’ll be “paid back.”  You’ll do a pretty good job at this, but it’ll take you many years to get started, and those are years you’ll never get back.
  1. It’s okay to ask for help or admit that you don’t know everything. “Knowing everything” and getting the highest score in all your classes may have brought you straight A’s, but trust me when I tell you that you don’t know nearly as much as you think you do.  You never will.  Here’s a corollary:  when you think you’ve thought about every angle of a problem, or come up with every contingency in considering a new strategy or idea, you haven’t.  The only way you’ll ever approach a full understanding of a new strategy or idea is to get lots of other people involved.  Have the patience and humility to do this on a regular basis.
  1. You are surrounded by the love of God. You need to take the time I didn’t take at your age to realize it.  The signs of His love are all around you.  Stop and listen.  Stop and look.  Just stop.  What are you running from?  It’s going to take you another 20-plus years to realize this unless you follow my advice today.
  1. When you look at starting that new home automation business (it’s a long story), remember that the most important question in any business, especially small businesses, is who is your customer and how will they find you? The next most important question is why should this elusive customer come to you for your service or product?  Until you can answer these questions, you’re wasting time (and money) on everything else.
  1. Realize that just about everything takes longer than planned. As you make progress in your career, initiatives that you think should take 3-6 months to complete will actually take years to fully bear fruit.  Practice looking at things on a longer horizon.
  1. Read more fiction, especially science fiction. It’s a great way to declutter your mind.  Of course, books come on paper in your time and we have these new devices that make reading so convenient.  Don’t let that deter you.
  1. I recently heard this, and it’s something you should consider…you can always go back to the museum. What do I mean?  Most people go to places like museums, theme parks, other states, or other countries only once.  At least, that’s their plan.  With that in mind, they try to cram everything into their “one and only” visit.  Their visit becomes a long checklist of things to do and things to see.  Instead, approach your visits with a plan to return again someday.  Focus on the few and leave the rest for your next visit.  Be present and let go of the checklist.

Bonus advice:  You’ll have trouble with that patience and humility thing, but embracing these will be your key to happiness.  There is no checklist.  Life isn’t a race.  Life isn’t a destination.  It’s a journey and an infinite opportunity for experience.

Realize that you aren’t the one holding the compass and you’ll find more joy than you ever thought possible.

 

Photo Credit:  Unsplash.com, Justin Tietsworth

Starting Line Quiet

“On your marks!”

“Get set!”

Most starters wait about 1.4 seconds after the “Get set” command to fire the start gun.

The silence freezes us in time.  We listen for the first hint of sound from the gun.  Breath relaxed but held.  The faint sound of a heartbeat in our ears.

We visualize our next move even as that second moves slowly in the distance.

Everything has led to this moment.  Everything is this moment.  All the training.  All the drills.  The intervals.  The stretching.  My coach’s advice.  All my doubts.  All my hopes.

What will the next second bring?  Will I exit the blocks cleanly?  Will I stay within myself to the finish line?  Will I run my own race?  Am I good enough?  Can I dominate?

I love starting lines.  A quiet eternity of 1.4 seconds plays out for all to see.

You can learn a lot about yourself in 1.4 seconds.  What you say to yourself is critical.  Are you asking questions or making declarations?

Imagine asking what the next second will bring and giving yourself nothing but answers.  I will exit the blocks cleanly.  I will stay within myself to the finish line.  This is MY race to win.  I’m definitely good enough, in fact, I’m amazing!  I will dominate!

It’s okay to question yourself as the race approaches.  Questions prioritize preparation.

When it’s time to deliver, time to start your race, time to show what you’ve got…that’s when the questions must exit your mind.

Questions at the starting line raise doubt and inspire needless fear.

The gun fires!

Go run your race.

 

Photo Credit–Unsplash.com, Braden Collum—why this photo?

I looked for photos of a bunch of sprinters in the “set” stance.  I found a few, but none grabbed me.  This one gets to the heart of the matter.  It’s just you in the blocks, alone with your thoughts.  I also focused on the baton.  Although we run alone, most great things are created by a team.  We must be prepared to make a smooth hand-off when the time comes.