Category Archives: Hard Work

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

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

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

 

The Dodge

Here’s a paradox about productivity:

I’m often most productive when dodging the thing I’m supposed to be doing.

I always know when I’m avoiding a task, even if tell myself I’m not.  That task that seems undoable, requires multiple synchronized steps, requires difficult decisions, involves lots of other people who may not be “on board,” or the task with a nebulous benefit way out in the future.

It’s easy to dodge these challenging tasks and focus on the simple stuff.  That list of to-dos I can knock out in an afternoon.

I know I’m not doing the tough thing, but at least I’m being productive.  Nobody can accuse me of being lazy if I just keep moving.

This is the curse of staying busy, while not accomplishing anything.

I can dodge all I want.  I can tell myself stories to justify my delay.

It doesn’t matter, the tough task will still be there, waiting.

Here’s another paradox:

When I finally face the tough task, the one I’ve been avoiding, it usually starts to look a lot easier.  The next indicated steps begin to show themselves.  The unwieldy becomes doable.

The dodge makes the tough task appear bigger than it really is.

It comes down to fear.  Fear of the unknown.  Fear of the difficult.  Fear of embarrassment.  Fear of failure.  Fear of success (yes, this is a thing).

What if this task is harder than I imagined?  What if it owns me?  What if I can’t do it?  What if someone sees me fail?

The answer to all these questions is, “So what.  Get started anyway.  Stop dodging and start doing.”

“Knowing what to do is very, very different than actually doing it.” – Seth Godin

Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash

 

 

 

Iteration is Everything

Iteration knows none of us know.

Iteration recognizes our first try isn’t our only try.

Iteration feeds innovation.

Iteration is fueled by our commitment.

Iteration is the only path to knowing.

Iteration overcomes our Resistance.

Iteration makes the mysterious familiar.

Iteration makes the impossible possible.

Iteration makes mistakes.

Iteration requires failure to find success.

Iteration sheds light on the darkness we fear.

Iteration is the journey to greater understanding.

Iteration always gives us another try.  The question is:  Do we have the courage to try again?

 

Photo by Tommy Lisbin on Unsplash

 

 

The Book on Pushups

Surely, reading a book on pushups is the best way to learn how to do them.

The proper techniques.  The most effective forms.

When should you do your pushups?  How often each week?

While doing your pushups, what should your mind be doing?

What’s the proper number of pushups per set?  How many sets should you do?

What are all the available variations of pushups?

Why should you do pushups in the first place?

Are there any risks associated with doing pushups?  What about the rewards?

What if the author also provides weekly blog posts and podcasts about pushups…or YouTube videos of people doing pushups?

All of this is helpful. None will match what you learn by doing your first pushup.

That first one will be awkward.  It’ll shock your system.  It’ll be much harder than you imagined after seeing all those happy people doing them on YouTube.

Your technique will be terrible.  Your body will scream in protest.  Your wrists will ache, your shoulders will burn, you’ll probably feel muscles in your lower back you haven’t felt in a while.

Now that you’ve done that first one, what about the next ten?  The next hundred?  Will you make this a habit?  Will you do pushups every day, every-other-day?

Maybe you’ll decide they’re too hard and just skip them altogether…

It’s the same with most things in life.  Reading about it, talking about it, or watching it provide only one dimension of understanding.

Doing is an entirely different thing.

Doing brings the risk of failure, the risk of embarrassment.

Doing requires discipline and endurance for the journey you’ve chosen.

Doing requires personal drive and motivation to push through the awkward (and sometimes painful) beginning.

It’s easy to sit on the sidelines of life, casually watching and listening to what everyone else is doing.  But, the most important choice each of us can make is the choice to step into the game.

Step in and do the thing you’ve been watching.

It’s the only way to truly learn.

 

Photo by Lopez Robin on Unsplash

 

I’m not afraid of heights…

…but I am afraid of ladders.

When I heard someone at the gym saying this to his workout buddy, he was referring to the reason he doesn’t put up Christmas lights.  He hates climbing on ladders.

For the record, I’m not too keen on climbing ladders either.

My immediate thought was how easy it is to dream of and visualize reaching the heights of our chosen field.  The hard part is the ladder.

Choosing the right ladder, or series of ladders.

Our ladder needs to be sturdy enough to take our weight and the weight of everyone else making the same climb.

It’s easy to pick the nearest ladder or the one where we can see the top.  But that’s not always the right one.

And, once we choose, how long should we climb before jumping to another ladder?

The real question isn’t about fear of heights or fear of ladders.  It’s about your definition of the higher ground.  Your definition of success.  The “why” for your climb.

Are these easy questions to answer?  Definitely, not.

Here’s the tricky part:  your answers to these fundamental questions of why will morph over time.  Something you thought was important in high school isn’t important when you’re 25, or 30.  Similarly, something that’s important when you’re 30 isn’t so important when you’re 50, or 65.

Our answers also adapt to our surroundings, to the people we see the most.  It’s human nature.  We adapt to survive.  We compromise to fit with those around us.  Our perceptions are shaped by what’s closest.

The good news is that with the internet, blog sites, news sites, books, videos, and podcasts, the definition of “closest” has changed.  While it’s true that we still work closely with the ten people that are near us, we have access to a universe of ideas and perspectives far beyond our “local” reach.  All we have to do is choose to look.

What about heights and climbing ladders?  They matter.  But not as much as why you’re climbing in the first place.

“Management is efficiency in climbing the ladder of success; leadership determines whether the ladder is leaning against the right wall.”  –Stephen Covey

Photo by Samuel Zeller on Unsplash

The Power of Graduality

Most things happen gradually.

A roof appears on a newly-constructed home only after the gradual process of building the foundation and walls first.

A child “suddenly” learns to walk only after they’ve gradually learned how to roll over, sit up, military crawl, real crawl, stand next to furniture, and finally take their first awkward steps.

A pitcher makes it to “the show” after working nearly every day of his life.

That amazing motivational speaker you saw this morning got amazing by speaking to hundreds of audiences over the past five years.  Truth be told, she probably wasn’t amazing five years ago, but now she is.

The raging river you’re rafting down began its journey as a few drops of melted snow and built from there.

That guy in the gym who knocks out 50 pushups between weightlifting sets got there by doing one pushup at a time, thousands of times…when nobody was watching.

Even when we see the results of graduality all around us, it’s easy to miss.

Make no mistake.  Graduality is one of the most powerful forces in the universe.

But it carries a price few are willing to pay:  self-discipline and self-belief.  The discipline to work tirelessly, and the undying belief that you’re doing the right thing.

What future do you want for yourself?

Do you believe in that future?  Do you have the discipline to work for it every day?  If so, the power of graduality is there for you.

The good news is that when you harness graduality the right way, your destination becomes much less important than the journey itself.

“Winners embrace hard work. They love the discipline of it, the trade-off they’re making to win. Losers, on the other hand, see it as punishment. And that’s the difference.”  –Lou Holtz

Personal note:  Something I’ve worked on gradually for nearly six years is writing blog posts like this one.  This is my 220th post.  While I’m proud of this achievement, I enjoy the journey of writing them much more than the realization that I’ve amassed so many.

I’d love to hear what you’re gradually working to achieve.  Let me know in the comments.

Photo by Vlad Tchompalov on Unsplash