Category Archives: Surprises

If you look…

…for things that are frustrating

…for people to disappoint you

…for what’s missing

…for situations that are hopeless

That’s exactly what you’ll find.

If you look…

…for opportunities to be thankful

…for people to surprise you

…for what’s included

…for situations with a path to success

That’s exactly what you’ll find.

It’s easy to be disappointed.  Easy to be frustrated.  Even easier to want more.

Are you seeking the good, or just the opposite?

Do you expect failure, or success?

Your expectations and perspective create the outcome.

Are you a manager?  A parent?  A coach?

Guess what…the people who count on you the most will quickly learn what you’re looking for.  If you’re looking for success, they will deliver it.  Looking for failure?  They will deliver that.

You find what you seek.  The choice is yours.

 

Photo by Dmitry Ratushny on Unsplash

 

 

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

 

Getting on the Next Pole

I sat in front of a pole vault coach on a recent plane ride. Overhearing his discussions brought back memories of my vaulting in high school.

I had no idea I’d become a pole vaulter when I went to the first track practice in my sophomore year.  The coach told us to go run a green (running around all the grass in the school, maybe a mile) as a warm-up.  I didn’t know anyone on the team as I started my warm-up run.  Suddenly, a group of guys ran up behind me and asked what my event was.  I said that I didn’t know, but I was a pretty fast runner so I figured I’d do one of the running events.  Looking back now, I really had no idea.

Immediately their response was, “You should be a pole vaulter.  It’s the best event out here!”

My response, “I’ve never vaulted before,” was met with an even quicker response of, “No problem, we can teach you…it’s easier than it looks.”

So, by the time we got back from running the green, I was a vaulter.  When the coach called my name and asked what event I was trying out for, I said, “Pole vault,” like it was my plan all along.

Fast forward a year or so.  I was stuck at 11 feet for the longest time.  No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t clear 11’ 6”.  We were blessed to have a pole vault coach, and he recommended I move to a pole that was a foot longer and rated for a bit heavier vaulter than my actual weight.

Moving up to the next pole is quite an adjustment.  It feels completely different.  Everything is off from what you’re used to.  The run-up needs to be adjusted to accommodate the additional height of the pole.  Plus, you have no idea how the pole will respond on your first jump.  In a worst-case scenario, your step may be off, the plant goes poorly, the launch is compromised, and the pole might spit you back, instead of taking you into the air.  For a high school kid, that’s a lot to consider.

In practice, I never actually took any jumps with the new pole.  I merely worked on adjusting my run-up to get the plant right.  As our next meet, against Warren High School, approached we decided to bring both my old pole and the new, longer and stiffer pole.  I remember the bus ride to Warren, wondering if I’d have the nerve to jump with the new pole in competition.

Warren had the “new” rubberized track and runways (standard nowadays).  The rubber runways added bounce and speed to my approach.  This was the perfect time for me to get on the new pole.

My coach’s advice was to block out any negative thoughts (always good advice, by the way), focus on a smooth approach, and nail the plant.  He said that if I relied on my technique, the rest would take care of itself, and I’d have no problem making my first jump.

My warmups were over and I still hadn’t actually vaulted with the new pole.  The plan was for me to take my first attempt on the new pole, and if it didn’t go well, then use the old standby pole to clear a height.

My opening height was usually 10 feet, just to establish an opening.  We decided to pass to 11 feet since our competition was good and we might need to win with fewer attempts.  Pole vault competitions are won by the vaulter who goes the highest with the fewest number of total attempts on the day.

I passed at 10, and then 10′ 6″.  Other vaulters cleared their opening heights.  My tension mounted as 11 feet came up.  He gave me the sign to pass that height as well!  So, I did.

Finally, at 11’6″ I took my attempt.  My heart pounded in my ears.  I didn’t hear anything else, except for my deep breath as I readied for takeoff.  My run up felt great.  I focused on hitting my plant perfectly and blocked everything else out.

The plant was perfect and I felt a sensation I’d never felt when vaulting. There was a noticeable pause in the takeoff and then a sudden lunge straight skyward.

As I twisted at the top of my vault I saw the crossbar whiz by and still I was climbing.  I had skied over the crossbar by at least two feet!  Everything slowed down and I reveled in amazement that I was higher than I’d ever been before.  I caught myself celebrating in my mind before realizing that I needed to let go of the pole and prepare for my landing.

I fell backward toward the pads in slow motion.  All I saw was that crossbar sitting there, motionless, as I cleared my opening height with a pole I’d never used before that day.

The cheers from my fellow vaulters (my team and the Warren vaulters) and my coach were deafening. The height I cleared wasn’t high (even by 1983 standards).  But, everyone knew that I’d just catapulted (literally) to the next level in my vaulting career.

“You flew that vault!  You could have easily cleared 12’6″ or even 13′!” my coach yelled as he patted me on both shoulders.

We decided to pass at the next two heights and come back in again at 12’6″.  Another height I’d never cleared in my life.

On only my second vault of the day and my second vault on the new pole, I easily cleared 12’6″.  My new personal record.

I don’t remember what place I finished that day.  I think we swept the top three spots in the vault and collected all the points from that event for our team.

It didn’t matter to me at the time.  Overcoming my fears, leaping to a new level, delivering for my team, and creating a new launch pad for future improvement was more important to me than my place in that day’s standings.

We are being formed throughout our lives, whether we realize it or not.  We face opportunities for failure every day.  Opportunities to let fear win, for status quo to take the day.

Overcoming the mental terrorism that only we can inflict on ourselves is the key to finding that new level.  The new levels are there, waiting for us to arrive.

Once we arrive, we can choose to stay or leap to the next level.

It’s (Just) an Experiment

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Failure has a strange power.  It can provide the most effective lessons in life.  And yet it’s also a source of fear, anxiety, stress, and a reason many choose not to try.

How is it that some people can launch new ideas, new ventures, new strategies, new hobbies, and new friendships without fear of failure?

I think they’ve realized it’s all an experiment.

Experiments are there for us to test a hypothesis.  See what works and what doesn’t.  See what’s provable.  Experiments are ways for us to demonstrate, first to ourselves, that this new idea can actually work.

What if it doesn’t work.  What if it fails?

That’s just it.  Experiments are, by their very nature, free from failure.  The experiment that “fails” merely proves or disproves an idea.  The experiment itself is a success either way.

The continuous journey to explore and experiment leads to the opposite of failure.  The outcome of each experiment is merely another observation in a long series of experiments.

When a person’s sense of self-worth and self-esteem are wrapped around the execution of something new, the experiment’s natural flow can be compromised.  The experiment can’t function properly since the “owner” is working so hard to tilt the results away from his definition of failure.

The true experimenter gets to explore without fear of failure.

In fact, the failures pave the way to new successes.

 

Photo Credit:  Unsplash–SpaceX

 

 

Wishing Well

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What’s the first thing you think of when you see a stranger?

How about your competition?

Or, the jerk that just cut you off in his Porsche?

What’s your default setting when it comes to others?

How critical are you?

How many stories have you made up about that stranger—stories that only you hear—based on nothing more than appearance?

It’s easy to be critical.  It’s easy to look for the worst, and even easier to find it.  Defaulting to fear and distrust is the safest play.

What if you defaulted to wishing others well?  Even strangers?

What if the stories you tell in your head give that stranger the benefit of the doubt?

What if you looked for the best, instead of the worst?

What if you had no opinion about that guy who just cut you off?

What would happen if you helped your competitor improve?

Starting with a mindset of wishing well, looking to give instead of take, understanding rather than responding, reveals our best self.

Our best self hides behind walls of criticism, doubt, distrust, fear, and ill will.

Take away its hiding places and get to know your best self…default to wishing well.

 

Photo Credit:  Unsplash–Brandi Redd

I Should’ve Laughed More

A photo by frank mckenna. unsplash.com/photos/EgB1uSU5tRA

Grandpa Clyde used to say, “You had to laugh!” whenever he told stories about something that had happened.

I’m not sure he was laughing when the thing was actually happening, but he knew you had to laugh when he looked back on it.

How many tough situations, crises, or plain old everyday events do you experience in a day, a week, a month…a lifetime?

What if we could pull ourselves out of these situations just long enough to hear the story we would tell?  It won’t get us out of the situation, but might help us find the reason to laugh.

 

 

Photo:  www.unsplash.com, Frank McKenna

 

“I’m bored!”

“Thems was fightin’ words” in our house when I was a kid.  If mom ever heard us utter those two words, she had a list of things for us to do.  We learned quickly to find things to do for ourselves, since mom’s list was definitely not a fun list (toilets, folding clothes, raking leaves, etc.).

I remember one summer, probably the one between 7th and 8th grade.  Our little crew had a solid plan every day.  It usually involved taking a mid-day “break” to watch Get Smart at Denis’ house.  I’m pretty sure they ran two episodes, back-to-back.  So, that took care of about an hour of entertainment.  The rest is a blur of football games, hide-and-seek, swimming at Marty’s, riding bikes, and just about anything else that would keep us from having to say, “I’m bored.”

I suppose it’s all those years of training, followed by “advanced” training in college, and then even more in the work environment.

Stay busy.

Keep moving.

There’s always something to be done.

Don’t be lazy.

If you aren’t busy, you better at least look busy.

Where’s your work ethic?

Aren’t you dedicated to this cause?

Focus on the task at hand!

Don’t be boring (even worse than being bored)!

Somewhere along the way, a lack of movement, or a completed task list, started to equate with the dreaded “b” word.  Somehow, a lack of movement turned into an example of laziness.

Is it even possible to do nothing and be at peace with it?  Or, do we have to tell ourselves that this momentary lack of movement is just a quick break before returning to another of life’s endless tasks?

When did doing nothing go from being a peaceful state to one of guilty boredom…or worse, an example of our laziness?  When did life become a task list?

The next time I’m faced with the challenge of doing absolutely nothing, I hereby promise myself that I won’t be bored (or guilty about my laziness).

I will enjoy the peace of that moment with gratitude.

What’s next? (just kidding)

 

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.

The Puzzles We Build

 

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When was the last time you assembled a puzzle?

Did you do it yourself, or did you have help?

How long did it take to assemble?  Minutes?  Hours?  Days?

In our house, whenever we started a puzzle, it was an “all-hands-on-deck” affair.  We’d all start working it.  Some of us would focus on organizing the pieces to make them visible.  Others would dive right in and start putting pieces together.

I worked the edges.  It’s the only thing that helped me get my bearings on the puzzle.  Start with the flat sides and establish a border…then work into the middle.  Working from the middle, out, was way too random for me.

“Hey, does anyone want some hot chocolate?” always seemed like a good question for me to ask after about a half-hour of diligent work.  With marshmallows.  Without looking up, I’d get some slow yesses and a few grunts.  By the time I came back with the hot chocolate, I was always amazed at the progress.

I’d get back to working the edges.

Each of us had our specialty and our own pace.  Some of us were easily distracted (me).  My wife would stay focused for hours…one piece at a time.

“Hey, who’s up for a break from the puzzle?  Maybe we can hit it again in a couple of hours with fresh eyes.”  I was always a proponent of fresh eyes.

But, then we’d get most of the edges completed.  I’d get my own personal rhythm, and I could start to see the patterns.  The puzzle started to take shape.  First, in my mind and then on the table.  My perspective on the puzzle and my ability to add value to it changed as the image emerged from all the pieces.

I don’t know if my wife and daughters (or anyone else who’d stop by and get sucked into the assembly project) went through the same evolution in their perspective as I did.

Our latest puzzle is a new business (actually, an existing business that we recently purchased).  Once again, our family is building a puzzle together.  This time, it’s not at the dining room table with a clear picture of the final product.  In fact, new pieces are being added to this puzzle all the time.

Once again, we’re each approaching the puzzle in our own way.  Center-out.  Edges-in.

Distractions?  Definitely.

Is an image beginning to emerge?  Yes.

The best (and most challenging) aspect of this puzzle is that it’s never finished.  It grows and evolves.  It occasionally leaves us feeling a bit perplexed.  But, it also takes beautiful shape before our eyes as we continue to build, one piece at a time.

Anyone up for some hot chocolate?  We’re gonna be here a while!

 

 

Microwaves and Slow Cookers

I recently heard someone make reference to their art not being microwaved.  Their art is the kind that comes from a slow-cooker.

An interesting concept.

The food (or drink) that we place in a microwave is already mostly prepared.  We aren’t interested in the process.  We just want it to be hot, and we’ve relied on someone else to handle the actual work of preparation.

With the slow cooker, it’s up to us.  We choose the ingredients.  We do the preparation.  Separately, the ingredients just sit there…waiting to be part of something.  But, blended properly, with the right amount of time and heat (energy), those separate ingredients (hopefully) combine to create something unique and tasty.

The microwave measures its cooking time in 30-second increments.  Hot dogs wrapped in a damp napkin take about a minute.  Popcorn takes three to four minutes.  Organic brown rice from Trader Joe’s takes four minutes.

Slow-cooking time is measured in hours.  Six hours is usually too short.  Eight to ten hours gets it right.

And, what about the accompaniments?  With a microwave cooking cycle, there’s only time to get your plate ready, find a clean fork, and maybe pour a glass of your favorite beverage.  Linear and task-focused.

Slow-cooking provides time for the cook to consider what goes best with the main dish.  What shall we have for dessert?  Would a loaf of fresh French bread go well with this stew?  The fullness of the dining experience is in play.

Neither method is perfect.

Ever burn popcorn in the microwave?  If so, you know how quickly it can happen.  Something so simple becomes a lump of smoking charcoal.

Slow-cooking disasters are equally possible.  Your reward for that ten-hour wait may be something that’s not even edible (at least for anyone who has taste buds).

Both methods have their place.  Both carry risk.

The question is how are you deciding which parts of your life to microwave, and which parts to slow-cook?

A tougher question might be:  Are you making the choice, or allowing someone else to make the choice for you?