Category Archives: Focus

Before the Law

What can Franz Kafka’s parable, written in 1915, tell us?

Before the Law

Before the law sits a gatekeeper. To this gatekeeper comes a man from the country who asks to gain entry into the law. But the gatekeeper says that he cannot grant him entry at the moment. The man thinks about it and then asks if he will be allowed to come in later on. “It is possible,” says the gatekeeper, “but not now.” At the moment the gate to the law stands open, as always, and the gatekeeper walks to the side, so the man bends over in order to see through the gate into the inside. When the gatekeeper notices that, he laughs and says: “If it tempts you so much, try it in spite of my prohibition. But take note: I am powerful. And I am only the most lowly gatekeeper. But from room to room stand gatekeepers, each more powerful than the other. I can’t endure even one glimpse of the third.”

What exactly is “the law?”  I’m sure it’s something real, but it doesn’t matter.  Alfred Hitchcock once said that every movie is a search for the MacGuffin.  Every character in the story lives or dies in relation to quest for the MacGuffin.

How often have you confronted a gatekeeper?  That mysterious person with unknown power.  They appear to hold the key you need.  Their power emanates from the knowledge you need.  Knowledge they often don’t possess.  Their greatest power comes from your insecurity.  The gatekeeper represents your desire to stay safe, risk nothing, step back.  Thank God that gatekeeper’s there!  Otherwise, I’d have to actually step through that gate, without any obstacle to block me.

The man from the country has not expected such difficulties: the law should always be accessible for everyone, he thinks, but as he now looks more closely at the gatekeeper in his fur coat, at his large pointed nose and his long, thin, black Tartar’s beard, he decides that it would be better to wait until he gets permission to go inside.

The gatekeeper isn’t there to grant permission.  Access isn’t his to grant.  Our hero focuses so intently on every last detail of the gatekeeper that he gets to avoid thinking about what lies beyond the gate.  The biggest challenges in life aren’t delivered in the first step but in the thousandth.

The gatekeeper gives him a stool and allows him to sit down at the side in front of the gate. There he sits for days and years. He makes many attempts to be let in, and he wears the gatekeeper out with his requests. The gatekeeper often interrogates him briefly, questioning him about his homeland and many other things, but they are indifferent questions, the kind great men put, and at the end, he always tells him once more that he cannot let him inside yet.

Status quo is warm and comfy.  Pursuing the mundane is safe.  Busying ourselves with the day-to-day tasks gives us something to do, but doesn’t move us any closer to what lies beyond the next gate.

The man, who has equipped himself with many things for his journey, spends everything, no matter how valuable, to win over the gatekeeper. The latter takes it all but, as he does so, says, “I am taking this only so that you do not think you have failed to do anything.”

All the preparation in the world is meaningless without the desire to put that preparation to work.  To take what you’ve learned and test it in the real world.  To learn the real lessons that come from experience.  To make the mistakes that can cost you everything…and nothing.  To risk real failure, and real triumph is what makes life most interesting.

During the many years, the man observes the gatekeeper almost continuously. He forgets the other gatekeepers, and this one seems to him the only obstacle for entry into the law. He curses the unlucky circumstance, in the first years thoughtlessly and out loud, later, as he grows old, he still mumbles to himself. He becomes childish and, since in the long years studying the gatekeeper he has come to know the fleas in his fur collar, he even asks the fleas to help him persuade the gatekeeper.

How long have you waited for someone to pick you?  How long have you waited for your stars to align?  Stars are part of a perfectly ordered and yet totally chaotic system.  Their alignment is rare and temporary at best.

There are about 6 billion of us on this planet.  The law of averages (and large numbers) works against us being picked.  More likely, our small piece of the world is waiting for us to choose, and run in that direction.

The gatekeeper isn’t good or evil.  He has only one function.  To guard the gate, and warn us about the challenges that may lie ahead.  Nothing more, nothing less.

Finally, his eyesight grows weak, and he does not know whether things are really darker around him or whether his eyes are merely deceiving him. But he recognizes now in the darkness an illumination which breaks inextinguishably out of the gateway to the law. Now he no longer has much time to live. Before his death, he gathers in his head all his experiences of the entire time up into one question which he has not yet put to the gatekeeper. He waves to him since he can no longer lift up his stiffening body.

We don’t have to grow old for our vision to fail.  That can happen at any age.  It’s easy to lose focus.  It’s easy to find darkness in the midst of all the light.  We each have beacons of light to guide us if we choose to look in their direction.

The gatekeeper has to bend way down to him, for the great difference has changed things to the disadvantage of the man. “What do you still want to know, then?” asks the gatekeeper. “You are insatiable.” “Everyone strives after the law,” says the man, “so how is that in these many years no one except me has requested entry?” The gatekeeper sees that the man is already dying and, in order to reach his diminishing sense of hearing, he shouts at him, “Here no one else can gain entry since this entrance was assigned only to you. I’m going now to close it. 

Woe is me!  I’m the only person in pain.  I’m the only person with these challenges.  I’m the only person struggling.  The world is so unfair.  The deck is stacked against me.  Get over yourself!

Never assume you’re the only one struggling.  I saw a quote from That Gratitude Guy (look him up) recently that said, “Never compare your inside to their outside.”  Excellent advice.

Each of us has a path to follow.  Sometimes it’s smooth.  Sometimes not.  We will encounter obstacles on our journey and even more gatekeepers.

The most powerful gatekeeper of all is fear and the stories we tell to hide it.

No one else can overcome your fear.  That task is assigned only to you.

Photo Credit:  Unsplash, Joshua Earle.  Why this photo?  Why not a photo of a gate, a bureaucrat, darkness, or fear itself?  This photo reflects a beacon of light and an “impossible” next step.  Here’s hoping he finds his way past fear and towards the light.

 

Service…It’s Everyone’s Advantage

service-unsplash-mike-wilson

Take a good look at that picture.  Let it burn onto your consciousness.

As the world becomes smaller, and yet, more remote; as customers become closer, and yet, more distant; as you begin to blend in with everyone else…

Service is all you have to actually differentiate yourself.

When anyone can provide what you provide, do what you do, be what you want to be, your focus on service is all that matters.

How does an individual compete against a huge, well-entrenched company?  By providing better service.  Being more responsive, more flexible, and more personally accountable.

How does a huge, well-entrenched company compete against the scrappy upstart individual?  By providing better service.  Being more responsive, more flexible, and more personally accountable.

Sound familiar?

Who has the advantage in this battle to provide the best service?

The one that actually lives a service-first mindset.  The one that considers the customer’s perspective before their own.  The one that delivers excellent service…every time.  The one who knows that no company can survive or thrive if it forgets about creating an excellent experience for their customer.

Customers always have an alternative.  If your organization isn’t committed to making their experience an excellent one, they’ll figure it out quickly and choose an alternative.  It’s that simple.

It all comes down to execution, which comes from your uncompromising mindset toward service excellence.

Service is your only advantage.  It’s the same advantage everyone else has if they choose to execute on it.

 

Photo Credit:  Unsplash.com—Mike Wilson

Later…

Later creates room for compromises.

Later lives for tomorrow.

Later keeps lists.

Later allows us to avoid.

Later tells us why we’re preparing.

Later delays forgiveness.

Later is born from hope.

Later connects without really connecting.

Later captures what we imagine.

We often try to create what happens later by our actions today.

Later provides direction.

Later reduces today’s expectations.

Later can hijack the present.

Later is the carrier of our dreams.

Later gains power when it remains vague.

Later simplifies execution.

Later is where many careers will find their stride.

Later is where the craziest ideas go to die.

Later tells us it’s okay to delay.

Later is where big ideas find their future.

Later makes it okay to add complexity.

Later drags us reluctantly forward.

Later makes today easier.

Later makes today harder.

Later isn’t guaranteed.  It can easily turn into never if we allow it.

Later only matters in the present. By the time we get to later, there’s a new later that will once again seem more important than our new present.

There’s more to say on this subject.  I’ll probably get to it later…

Self-Talk

It’s not what you say out of your mouth that determines your life.  It’s what you whisper to yourself that has the most power. –Robert T. Kiyosaki

The first person to give you feedback is yourself…in the form of self-talk.  You have 24/7 access to your internal talk track.  Your messaging is unfiltered and brutally honest.

Does unfiltered and honest mean accurate?  Does it mean valuable?  Not necessarily.

The truth is that no matter how incorrect your self-talk is, or how much you try to ignore it, you are your most trusted advisor.  You have the most power over yourself (for better or worse).

Negative self-talk is easy.  Bad news travels fast, especially when it doesn’t have to travel.

Positive self-talk is harder, and sometimes difficult to believe.  Our positive self-talk can sound a bit crazy, which makes it easier to discount.

Status quo is powered by doubt in our positive self-talk.

The most successful people I know face challenges with self-talk.  They happen to believe their positive self-talk just a little more than the negative.

The negative is right there, trying to hold them back.  Somehow they’ve found a way to focus on the positive, finding ways to push past their wave of doubt.

They’ve usually found kindred spirits who can help strengthen their positive self-talk.  A support network that reinforces their crazy ideas.  The best support network doesn’t fully buy-in to the crazy.  They merely create an environment where it’s okay to explore the crazy.  To bring it out in the open and let it breathe a little.

And, that’s the real secret of self-talk.  We all have negative and positive self-talk rolling around in our heads.  But, if we can allow the positive to get a little breathing room, that’s usually all it takes to win the internal battle against the negative.

Here’s the challenge:  The war between negative and positive is never over.  You have to win it one battle at a time.

Note to Self

Maybe it’s all the close calls, existential threats, newly-invented liabilities, newly-minted regulations, new competitors, old competitors, angry customers, happy customers, former customers, new customers, potential opportunities, new ideas, new methods, better mouse traps, and everything else that comes our way in business (no matter the size).

Maybe it’s the fight-or-flight instinct that gets honed to a fine edge through years of experience.  Knowing when to hold ‘em, and when to fold ‘em…but always allowing room for doubt.  Knowing when the silent customer is more important than the loudest one.  Knowing that the employee you don’t see is just as important as the one you do see.  Knowing we always have a competitor, whether we realize it or not.

Maybe it’s that standard defensive posture that every business assumes at times, even when it knows that only a strong offense will win the day.  Understanding that this isn’t a game we get to win every day.

Maybe it’s just fear of failure, or more likely, fear of success.

Whatever it is that stops me from getting the most enjoyment from this business…now is the time to let it go.

Life is way too short to let the small stuff get in the way.

Here’s my promise to myself:

  • I will go on offense, every day
  • I will acknowledge my fears, but only if it helps create a stronger offense
  • I will focus on the next step forward, and let the past remain there
  • I will create opportunities for those around me
  • I will love and serve
  • I will let go
  • I will enjoy each day as the gift that it is.

I will do these things as a promise to myself, knowing that I’m not the One who is in control.

Speedometers Steal Speed

“The cheetah is the fastest animal on earth.  It can reach speeds of up to 65 miles per hour as it pursues its prey.  Just look at its awesome speed, as it chases down that gazelle!” – Every Nature Program about Cheetahs

Do you think the cheetah has any idea how fast he’s going?

What about an eagle as it dives through the air to reach its prey?

Does the pelican think about his speed as he dives into the water to catch dinner?

Does the pole vaulter know how fast she’s running just before her jump?

What about the downhill mountain bike racer?

The answers to these questions are obvious.  For each to be effective, none are looking at a speedometer to determine their next move.  They aren’t referring to some magical heads-up-display to tell them how they’re doing.

In their critical moment, no measurements or brilliant strategic insights will impact the outcome.  They will succeed or fail based solely on how they perform, in the next moment.

The moment is all that matters.

Speedometers don’t make speed.  They provide external feedback and nothing else.

How often are you slowing down to check your speedometer, instead of focusing on your next critical moment?

Truth is, your moment is all that matters.  There’s plenty of time for feedback later when it’s not stealing your speed.

The Rear-View Mirror

For years, I seemed to pick cars that were too short.  The rear-view mirrors were always right at my eye level.  At first, that sounds about right.  But, the mirrors actually blocked my view out the front windshield.

I had two choices:

Duck down and look under the mirror to see the road ahead,

or,

Remove the mirror.

Not wanting to scrunch down, or have to remember that what I could see was actually the view out the back window, I decided to remove the mirror from my view.

A bit drastic, but I was okay with it.  I could always use the side mirrors to see behind me.  Besides, I mostly used the rear-view mirror to scan for cops (it’s easier to spot their profile, or their lights, using the rear-view mirror).  Since I wasn’t in the habit of breaking laws, it wasn’t a big sacrifice to lose that wide-angle backward view.

Most of what I was interested in was in front of me anyway.  Removing the mirror let me stay focused on what was coming, rather than where I’d been.  Occasionally, I’d glance to the empty spot where the mirror used to be, mostly out of habit.

A habit born of the desire to glean value from where I’d been, but mostly to know if something was about to catch me.  It didn’t matter that I wasn’t doing anything worthy of being caught.  But, still, it was there.  The unknown pursuer.  The quick glance to the rear-view would help me see when it was coming.  It never was.

Fast-forward twenty years or so, and my car (actually a truck) is bigger.  The rear-view mirror doesn’t block my view out the front.  It provides a nice panorama out the back.  I don’t use it much (the side mirrors are still my go-to).  When I do use it, I’m not interested in seeing my pursuer.  I’m not as concerned about who may be back there (unless it’s a knucklehead weaving through traffic, ignoring everyone’s safety).

My rear-view mirror lets me quickly see where I’ve been, and that’s enough.  The real action is still in front of me, so I’m glad my mirror doesn’t block that view.

Otherwise, it would have to go.

Rear_View

The Finest Gift

Bingo changed my life.  The Alamitos dorm held their annual bingo tournament in the Commons, and a friend told me I should go.  Sounded like fun to me.  What else was a college freshman to do just weeks before final exams?  But, we’d have to wait a few minutes for one of his friends who’d be joining us.

She can shop all over town, turn the gift shops upside down.
Finding something for her man with everything.

I noticed her eyes first.  Then her smile.  It was like a perfect slice of the sun walked in the room.

“Bob, this is Janet.  She lives in the girl’s wing on our floor.”  Suddenly, words were a little hard to find.  “She’s a CIS major too,” he said, breaking the silence.  Talking about your major was always a good ice breaker.

But it’s right behind her eyes and no matter what she buys
She’ll always be the finest gift she brings.

Playing bingo is similar to a movie from a first date perspective.  There’s not a lot of time for chit chat.  Not that this was a date.  After all, we just met.  I was starting to string words together again, just barely.  This was the one person who would change my life forever, but this was also bingo.  It all about the numbers.

I wasn’t thinking about anything except how to see her again.  Then it happened.  I got a BINGO!  The prize?  A week’s membership at the Jack LaLane Health Spa.  That was nice, but didn’t get me closer to seeing Janet again.  Lucky for me they had more memberships to hand out.  A few games later, with one of the memberships on the line, I could see that Janet was close to having bingo.  How awesome is that?

Every year it’s never missed, should be at the top of every list.
It can never be outdone, it’s the perfect gift for everyone.

I’m sure I was the most excited person in the room when Janet yelled, “BINGO!”  We had matching membership envelopes!  This was my opening.  We were only three or four weeks away from the end of spring quarter.  We’d be moving out of the dorms for the summer…Janet wouldn’t be living just down the hall.  I had to move fast.

It’s in everything you’ll see, scattered underneath our tree.
You can hear it in the carols that we sing.

The details are a bit fuzzy for me as I think about our visits to Jack LaLane’s.  I do remember sitting in the Jacuzzi (I presume, after we had done our workouts).  The more I talked with Janet, the more I knew she was THE ONE.  And yet, I only had a few weeks.  The abyss of summer break was fast approaching.  I had to stay focused, which was impossible whenever I was around her.

It’s the heart of love’s design and it appreciates with time.
And she’ll always be the finest gift she brings.

Janet and a group of her friends were planning a trip to the Griffith Park Observatory to celebrate the end of the school year.  I knew a few of her friends (some were neighbors on my wing).  But, I wasn’t exactly part of the Griffith Park trip plan.  What do you do in that situation  Invite yourself, of course.

We had a small convoy of cars that night.  I couldn’t believe I was in the passenger seat of Janet’s convertible as we approached the observatory.  This was like a date, but not quite.  We were part of a big group.  Everything was closed at the observatory (college students work the late schedule), but we walked around the grounds and checked out the stars for quite a while.  I remember how the lights reflected off Janet’s eyes more than anything else.

Our road trip wasn’t over.  We stopped at a Tommy’s Burgers on the way back.  My first chili burger, on my first (almost) date with Janet.

Every year it’s never missed, should be at the top of every list.
It can never be outdone, it’s the perfect gift for everyone.

Only six weeks later, we were in my parent’s Toyota 4×4 pickup, following my family down to Gonzaga Bay in Baja…about 100 miles south of San Felipe.  Why not go to the middle of nowhere in Baja, off road, with this (awesome) guy you met playing bingo?  Janet is an adventurer, to say the least.

Now it’s not in any store and she could never give me more
Then her promise of the finest gift she brings.

Three years later, we shared our first Christmas as a married couple.

Christmas_1988

Our adventure continues to this day.

The finest gift is truly the one I receive every day (including Christmas).

Her love.

I know her love’s the finest gift she brings.

Clint Black sure got it right:  http://youtu.be/wGe96bEL7B8

 

The Most Important Question…

I’ve found an interesting theme among those I’m coaching lately. When I ask about customers, I get various versions of blanks stares, or platitudes about how they are trying to stay focused on their customer.

Rather than customers, they are usually focused on some sort of internal organizational issue, the latest restructuring project, the next budget presentation, or hitting the number (whatever number it may be). Don’t get me wrong. These are important; at least urgent.

But, this blank stare when it comes to customers is interesting. After all, isn’t the customer why we’re in our business in the first place? We have a product or service that our customers need or want (hopefully both). We may be the only source for our customer. Or, more likely, we’re one of many providers of the products and services they want.

If the customer is so important, why are urgent things getting in the way? Simple. It’s easy to get caught up in the urgent, often internal, issues. Being busy can feel rewarding.

It’s harder to remember that your organization only matters if your customers think it matters.

Sounds harsh, but that’s all there is…you and your customer.

See if you can answer these questions about your customers. Before you jump ahead, there’s one rule. Write your answers in the form of direct quotes from at least five of your customers:

  • How do your customers use your products and services?
  • Why do they use your products and services?
  • How do your products and services make them more successful?
  • What worries your customers?
  • What are you doing to help with the things that worry them?
  • What do they see in their future?
  • Will you be a valuable part of their future?
  • How can you help your customer get to their future faster?

And, the most important question of all:

  • Does your organization really matter to your customer? Why? (Or, why not?)

 

 

Questions of Talent

captain_picard

Talent is the life blood of any organization. This is easily forgotten as organizations try to remain relevant in a world characterized by nanosecond attention spans.

It doesn’t matter what product or service your organization delivers. Having the right talent in the right places at the right time is the key to your organization’s success.

With so much riding on talent, is it a top priority for you? How much time do you spend thinking about the talent in your organization?

How engaged is the talent in your organization? Do they really care about the mission, or are they just going through the motions, collecting a paycheck?

Do you know who’s ready to move up, who’s moving sideways, and who needs to move out?

What are you doing about it?

What about your own talent? Are you prepared to move up? Do you still fit in your role, or your organization?

Who are you developing to be your replacement?

Are you truly engaged in the mission, or just going through the motions?

If you aren’t fully engaged, it’s time to either move on, or re-commit. Life’s too short to live somewhere in between.