two magazines

August 7, 2008 at 12:25 pm | Posted in Professional Development | 1 Comment
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I received two magazines in the mail today. The first one I thumbed through was one of those trendy, “modern living” type magazines that was largely one big advertorial. In it I saw ads of people with teeth that were whiter than white, with a promise that mine could look that way too. Tummy tucks and yoga for golfers. Younger skin and harder abs. I didn’t think too much of it one way or the other.

Then I picked up the second magazine. It was from an organization that we support that helps impoverished children and families. Pictures there showed the inexhaustible smile of a child … with AIDS. Another showed a family rebuilding what was left of their “house” after an earthquake. Famines. Pestilence. Disease.

I put the two magazines next to each other on the table and it reminded me that once in a while I need to think beyond my work problems, career development, raises, and getting ahead. This isn’t a guilt trip or meant to try and thrust my values on anyone else. This entry is entirely a reminder for me.

Note to self: When I get down and frustrated and upset with my work problems, pick my head up a little higher and get some perspective… then come back to the problem in its proper context. Odds are I’ll find a better solution that way.

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surface simplicity

July 10, 2008 at 5:01 pm | Posted in Professional Development | 4 Comments
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Final thought on my recent simplicity posts.

I came upon the following quote in a book I’m reading called An Intellectual History of Liberalism.  (BTW, it’s a very interesting read on the history and evolution of geopolitical movements and frameworks such as empires, city-states, oligarchies, monarchies, democracies, etc.) The (relatively small) book is itself a great example of simplicity, given the extremely tedious and voluminous subject. But one quote in particular really hit me as the author was talking about Machiavelli:

I shall confine myself to the idea that everyone, even those who have not read him, has of Machiavelli — that is, to the surface of his work, because it is this surface that influenced men’s minds. With an author of Machiavelli’s rank, the surface contains, so to speak, the depth. (p.13) [emphasis mine]

Take some time to absorb that.  “it is this surface that influenced men’s minds.” I think that is every bit as true today, but it’s not limited to Machiavelli!  It happens to you and to me.  And, likely, we do the same “surface” reading of others.  The real genius is to achieve what he credits to Machiavelli, which is that “the surface contains, so to speak, the depth.”  THAT should be our goal.  That our simple surface — presented through simple, clear, concise communication — is the same as the depth of what we’re trying to communicate.

That is no small challenge.

simple

July 7, 2008 at 9:26 pm | Posted in Business, Professional Development | 1 Comment
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Over the past several days, I have been continually hammered with a resounding awareness of the power of simplicity. It has come in many forms, some of which may merit their own post, but the essential point is the same: simply communicate. Or maybe better said: communicate simply.

If you’ve never tried to do it, you may find it’s way harder than it sounds.  Here is where coaches will make or break it.  Playbooks are generally pretty thick.  Options for every play seemingly unlimited.  Yet you have these kids that have to absorb it, and implement it, along with every other distraction they have going on in their life.

Making the complex simple in coaching is rewarded and appreciated.  But not always so in business.  Sometimes the one who dazzles with technical talk or obscure ideas is seen as the smartest guy in the room.  Well, he may be the smartest, but not the wisest.  In fact, he may be neither.  Until he can “simplify” it, one may never know. More on simplicity in coming posts.

it’s that time of year again

July 4, 2008 at 12:05 am | Posted in Professional Development | Leave a comment
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Hot dogs, barbecue, and resume updating.  Every six months I like to stop and do a career check. Obviously, the New Year is a great time to take an introspective look at your career, but I find a mid-year check to be helpful as well.

These are some things I look for in comparison to where I was six months ago:

1) Am I making any progress on career goals?

2) Reflect on some of the valuable experiences I had (good and bad).

3) What new stuff did I learn?

4) Am I more, less, or the same value in today’s job market?

5) Do others view me as more, less, or equally favorable?

Then I update my resume accordingly.  If I don’t have any updates to the actual resume, but am making good progress toward something, then I’m OK with that and will drive to getting it added in the January revision.  But if I haven’t made progress, I’m not more valuable, and I haven’t learned anything… well, might be time to do some serious introspection between burgers during the holiday cookout.

don’t get baited

July 2, 2008 at 9:52 pm | Posted in Professional Development | 3 Comments
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Sometimes we have to deal with people who have very different personalities from our own. For me, the worst case is dealing with someone who seems to take pride in being antagonistic. Or, to give them credit, perhaps they unknowingly just have an abrasive personality that makes it *appear* as if they are intentionally bent on being condescending, arrogant, or sometimes just flat out rude.

My first approach is to find a way to tell them that what they are doing is coming across as offensive. Sometimes this works. Mostly it does not. Yet I still feel I owe it to myself to extend them that courtesy. If it doesn’t work, then what?

Used to be that I would take an *inordinate* amount of time crafting (what I thought were) articulate, comprehensive emails that I was sure would win them over, point by point. They didn’t. Next I went through a phase where I thought I would just drop to their style and duke it out insult by insult. But that’s not who I am. And certainly not who I want to be. So as of late, I’m trying a new approach. Just ignore it. If it doesn’t require a response (and more often than not, the worst baiting comments don’t) just let it go. The time and energy I waste on replying and thinking about it just flat out isn’t worth it. Nothing revolutionary here, but I’m amazed how much discipline and character it takes to say nothing at all.

who is your booth coach?

June 30, 2008 at 7:11 am | Posted in Professional Development | Leave a comment
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Watch a football game and sooner or later they’ll give you a camera shot of the booth coaches. They sit high in the stands, well above the field, and talk to the coaches on the field via headsets. They are invaluable for several reasons:

1) They are far enough from the fray that they can see things for what they are. Contrary to popular belief, being on the sidelines is a LOUSY place to watch a football game. Your perspective is all wrong. It’s tough to see the big picture. The booth coaches can see it perfectly from their vantage point.

2) They can think clearer. It gets very, very emotional on the sidelines. You’re trying to coach right from the trenches, so to speak. Players are flying around in front of you, you’re trying to deal with officials, often you’re fighting the weather, too. It’s chaotic. Your coach in the booth is far enough away to not get entangled by those things in his thinking.

3) They are usually better strategists than the coaches on the field. As a head coach, identifying which guys have the right kind of thinking to keep in the booth during games is often one of the most critical aspects of the job.

I believe we should all have a booth coach. Someone who knows our life and career game plans. Someone who is objective and not entwined in the emotions of our problems. Someone we trust as a good strategist and clear thinker that we can trust. Someone with skills in areas where we may be weak. Do you have someone like that? Talked to them lately? I’ll be calling mine tomorrow for a catch up. Always valuable, that is.

you too can be a successful, fit, bazillionaire

June 25, 2008 at 11:11 pm | Posted in Professional Development | Leave a comment
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Guess I’m in a cynical mood tonight. Just read Seth Godin’s post on the five easy pieces of marketing.  The other day I was looking at the pragmatic marketing framework, which they have successfully made into their corporate logo.  And while at the gym I saw that they were interviewing Richard Kiyosaki to get his “expert” advice on the mortgage situation.  Seems we’re just swimming in folks who have it all figured out.

What is an “expert” anyway?  How many successes do you need to make you one?  And what credentials are required before you can start amassing a following?  Every Saturday morning during college football season, I watch college game day.  And every Saturday night I laugh at how they know no more than anyone else as to what would happen that day.  There are just way too many variables to calculate and you’re dealing with those pesky humans who tend to screw up the best “predictive models” with their emotions, passions, prejudices, etc.  Seems some folks are just experts and being experts. For my money, the best “experts” are the ones who make you think.  And work.  And enable you to solve problems and create you OWN methodology to fit a problem you encounter.

So how ’bout it?  What do you get out of “experts?”  How much do you really retain over time?  How much do you implement?  Can they really lead to success by copying their formulas?  Or does success much more depend on that crazy chemistry thing I talked about yesterday?

education caught in a time loop?

June 21, 2008 at 4:52 pm | Posted in Professional Development | 5 Comments
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Watched an interesting talk from Ken Robinson where he challenges modern thinking on education.  Given my background in coaching, I have a fair amount of experience with the educational system.  And a little known fact of no value is that all I have left is my Student Teaching class to get my Masters in Arts and Teaching (but pesky bills get in the way of taking off 1/2 a year).

That said, I have to say that in general, I agree with Ken’s challenging of our current system.  What I’m not clear on is the alternative.  What is the best way to educate in the modern era?  Those folks we educate are going to run our businesses and our companies in the not-too-distant future, so it’s an important question to ask.

What about at work?  Do we appreciate those who think differently?  *should* we appreciate them?  I suspect for every story of the one that succeeds are thousands of the ones that really were hair-brained schemes.  But man oh man, when that one does hit, it can revolutionize things.  How to get there… that’s the challenge.  Sometimes we become victims of our own success in the sense we become beholden to what got us there.  It’s a tough challenge, and one I’ve been thinking a lot about lately.

leveraging those who see things differently than you

June 18, 2008 at 12:29 am | Posted in Business, Professional Development | Leave a comment
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A couple of years ago I was doing an exercise at work where we were going through a fictitious acquisition of a small company. We were given the company details and asked to make a first-line recommendation on an offer. My immediate response was, “What’s the guy like?” Another colleague asked, “Why?” and then an interesting conversation ensued.

For me, knowing the guy was really important because I tend to work primarily off relationships. My colleague said, “I actually don’t want to know because it clouds my judgment. I want to just look at the data.” Which way is right? Neither. And both. I think taking just one approach isn’t going to give you the full picture because you will inevitably have blind spots. It’s important to surround yourself with folks whom you respect, but who have ways of approaching problems that are different from your own.

The best leaders (in business and sports) seem to have a knack for surrounding themselves with perfect compliments. The trade off is that you won’t always reach consensus as quickly as you’d like, which can sometimes be frustrating. But that pales in comparison to the benefits of having a strong compliment of talent around you who can see things from all angles.

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going “backwards” when you’re deep in the playoffs

June 17, 2008 at 12:02 am | Posted in Business, Professional Development | Leave a comment
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A recent comment on one of my posts got me thinking about an old lesson I learned many years ago…

If you make it to the championship in high school football, from the time the first practice started, you’ve likely been at it for 18-20 weeks straight . Each week you advance in the post season, it gets very tempting to add more and more new stuff for the next opponent. If you’re not careful, you can soon outcoach yourself. Putting in too many new things, chasing that next magic play, or tweaking your schemes beyond your fundamental core abilities are all traps to watch out for.

What I learned from an old coaching mentor of mine was: “When you get deep in the playoffs, take a day and go backwards. Go back to the basics.” He was advocating running a practice like it was the first week of the season. Focus on the fundamentals. Get the intensity back. Return to the vision and hunger you had when the season started. I was amazed at how well it worked for us coaches and for the players.

I think we can do the same in business. As our companies mature, and markets get tough, and innovation is required, and growth gets more challenging, and we’re always pushing the envelope… that may be a good time to take a few days to go back to our basics–whatever they may be. Am I doing all of the little things right? Am I following a cohesive vision? Am I letting others know, clearly, what we need to do to succeed? Am I doing the things I would train another to do if they took my role?

It is so easy for me to stray from the little things that I know make a difference. Revisiting them every so often is a way to make sure I don’t stray too far.

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