Thursday, October 30, 2003

Got Brains?

How's this for smarts: I have periodically googled my employers and my own name from time to time just to see what comes up. One time that I did this a while back, I ran across a guy's blog wherein he proceeded to blast the company that I worked for and the whole interview process he had recently gone through with some of their folks.

I know what you're thinking - he's entitled to his opinion. Sure, that's what I thought too... until I read that he had another interview scheduled with that same company a short time after the date of that particular blog entry.

It was one of those cartoon shake-the-head double-take moments. What was he thinking?! These are people who are potentially in the position to offer you a job - and you publicly insult their interview skills? It's totally irrelevant whether the guy was on-target with his opinions or not. Who would want to hire him after reading about themselves like that? And if he really didn't want the job after all (as the blog seemed to imply), then why bother accepting another interview?

On a different tangent, for years, I've been telling employees they should think more carefully about what they send via company email. Like many, I sometimes have gotten lax about this myself but in general, I try to think about what I'd be willing to have people read if a message were to get printed and left out at work. In the old days, the most anyone had to worry about was whether the company was machiavellian enough to want to wade through a lot of email to find anything incriminating. Not only are there filters now that make that job easier (and so more likely - especially if we give them any reason to want to go looking for incriminating information) but there's more than just the possibility of a malicious employer (probably more remote than most people are willing to believe) involved now too.

Consider the case of the Enron employees whose personal email messages were made a matter of public record because of the lawsuit. In the future, expect to see guidelines established around how to treat email as a strategic asset that should be included in comprehensive data retention policies. That means that sometime soon, we're likely to be asked to save just about everything we send. Beats me how IT will deal with that, given that they're usually the ones who set limits on the size of my inbox but it's probably coming down the pike anyway.

These things have been percolating in my brain for a while now. The real news today was a story I read in today's Seattle Post-Intelligencer that really made me stop and think about a few things. It's is about Michael Hanscom, who was fired because of his blog and it really personalizes some of the other stuff I just mentioned.

If you're not too quick to jump on the whiner band-wagon, there's a lot to learn here. First off - in reading his blog entries, Michael is clearly not a whiner. That's good. You know I can't tolerate whiners; what you may not realize is that the reason I have such trouble with whining is that nothing good comes from it.

Case in point: this guy could run off blaming the company that fired him and not get anything from it except a bunch of whiner-bandwagon "friends" who are willing to commiserate just so long as he feels like venting about how he's been wronged. Those folks are just looking for the next pity party.

Instead, Michael seems to be genuinely interested in sorting through what his mistakes might have been so he can avoid them in the future. And while he's willing to point out ways he thinks the situation could have been handled better, he doesn't fall for the blame game trap - hopefully because he recognizes that really wouldn't get him anywhere. What will (I predict) get him someplace worthwile is that he seems to have strong ethical standards and is up-front about who he is, fully backing whatever he writes these days. Proof: it's beginning to look like this combination is going to result in some pretty decent press for him - meaning, that he could very well come out of this not just 'okay' but maybe 'pretty darned good'.

Another important lesson here is that mistakes are rarely a matter of life & death. Certainly they are in some situations but that's not the norm. Somebody smart enough to realize this will be willing to hire him. And when they do, they'll probably be the sort of folks he likes working with because they'll have open conversations with him about their expectations and will give him room to make some minor mistakes while giving him plenty of warning if he's getting too close to a big one. That's just my guess anyway.

Of course, the guys that fired him over the blog would probably benefit from a better approach themselves but without more information it's impossible to tell that for sure so I'll leave my opinions about that side of it for another time when I can use a situation I'm more familiar with.

With regard to the blogging, I can only suggest that you should feel comfortable printing out your most recent entries and posting them on your refrigerator at home and on your cube wall at work for friends, family and co-workers to see. If it can't pass that test, then maybe you should re-think the writing and/or the people you associate yourself with.

If you think I'm wrong, I'd be interested to hear your ideas about a situation where you have legitimate concerns over what you're willing to write and who could see it. Send them to

If you always conduct yourself as you true best self, and stick with people who can appreciate you for that, then you probably haven't got anything to worry about.

Wednesday, October 29, 2003

What's Your Trap?

Are you the sort who looks before you leap or do you get stuck, still wanting to know more before you're willing to take a step?

Either trait is pretty common, especially with tech folks. If you're not sure which you are, take a look around you at the people who drive you most nuts... "She never thinks these things through - she just blows right through with her big ideas, expecting everyone else to pick up the pieces when they don't go right!"... "He couldn't make a move to save his life!"

If the thought under your breath is, "Good thing I'm not like that!" then you probably struggle with the opposite issue. If you simply cringe when you see what others do wrong, then it's probably a sympathy cringe, seeing your own behavior in someone else.

Great, so you know what your problem is - okay, bigshot, NOW what?

The way I figure it, every weakness is just a strength taken too far. Back off a bit and you'll be in just the right place.

If you're impulsive, that passion can do a lot for you. All that's needed is to harness it and add in some critical thinking before launching. Invite someone whose judgment you trust to take a look at your idea and offer other viewpoints. If there's criticism, don't let it get you down; instead, re-work your proposal to address the issues raised.

If you suffer from analysis paralysis, figure out even one small step that will take you in the direction you want to go. You can always adjust later; that one step just gets you moving and helps break the logjam of activity. After that one step, think of one more and then another until you've got some momentum built up. Continue to analyze as you go along but forget about perfection. It's not gonna happen!

Even the yellow brick road wandered around and around a bit before taking off toward the Emerald City. That's okay. When the pathway does straighten out, that's when you want to check to be sure it's headed the direction you want, making whatever adjustments you think are necessary then.

Where do you get hung up - on the thinking part or the doing part? Send me an email at and give me your best "yeah, but".

What is one thing you could do to improve the linkage between thinking and acting?

Sunday, October 26, 2003

Taking Time Out Before Being Taken Out

I wrote that last entry when I was trying to recover from the flu. It about knocked me flat but I probably had it coming. One thing I've learned is that I usually only get sick when I'm not giving myself enough time to rest up. I always have a good reason for running 90-per so my body steps in once in awhile just to say, "Enough already!"

There's even research out now that validates my long-standing theory that I only get sick after I've completed some major sprinting effort... after I finished taking my finals, after some big project has been turned over to the next group, after some important rollout, etc.

Once I figured out that the world was not going to come to an end just because I recognized I needed a rest before my body gave out, things started running a lot more smoothly all the way around. I was going to have to take the time away from work one way or another at some point. Why not make it more a thing of my concious choosing & control rather than waiting just to get sick at the most inconvenient time possible?

This is not to say I like taking time off gratuitously because "I have it coming to me." We all know people who think only of themselves and not at all about the team. I find those folks to be a major pain. Probably because they also tend to be the ones who whine the most. It also costs money for the business - money that, when it's spent on absenteeism, isn't available for other things like equipment, salaries, R&D, etc.

The stoics have a different problem. They tend to think only of the team and hardly ever about themselves, not realizing they're not helping the team any if they totally burn themselves or their bodies out and so therefore aren't even available to the team at all.

It's a whole knowing when to stop as well as knowing when to act that is key to the I Ching "Keeping Still Mountain", one genesis point for the name Soaring Mountain Enterprises, so yeah, you could say it's a general philosophy of mine.

How are you finding the right balance for you... What are you struggling with? Send me an email at and let's talk about how to make it work better.

The greatest benefits are had when there's an overlap between the interests of the individual and of the group.

Thursday, October 23, 2003

Death Is Nature's Way of Telling You To Slow Down

"Death is nature's way of telling you to slow down"

We all have things we'd like to do "if only I had enough time." Exercise, spend more time with the family, relax, do something fun (what - spending time with the family isn't fun and relaxing?!), whatever. The thing is, if you don't have enough time to do these things now, just when is it you think you will have time? Have you found it yet?

Probably not. It's called the "Myth of Spontaneity" and it's got us duped into thinking we'll get to these things after this "one urgent thing I've got to do first."

If the urgent thing really is that much more important, sure go for it. How many times, though, do we really stop to question what's truly important in our lives? And how often do we fool ourselves into thinking that an action is a "must-do" or a thing is a "must-have" when in reality, that might not be the case?

Want to know a good test?

Try thinking of it in terms of your 95th birthday. Will you rate this as one of the things you're most pleased about in your life if you do it or have it? Will you still regret it that much later if you don't?

If you're feeling pressured into putting in long hours at work that take away from feeling like you have a balanced life, you're not alone. Tomorrow is Take Back Your Time Day. It's scheduled to coincide with the day out of the year that the typical American could stop working altogether - and still have worked the same number of hours as the average Western European.

Maybe you just need help sorting out the logistics of achieving the sort of balance you want. I'm planning to give Life Balance™ software a try - it sure looks interesting anyway.

On the "gottas" (I gotta do this or else...), I can only say I dare you to think about it differently or find another way.

I'm sure I don't want to hear all the reasons you can't make more time for yourself (remember - no whining!). How about instead you think of one way you can (just one, we don't want your brain to burst). Try it and send me a message at - I'd like to hear how it works out.

What would you do if you had the time?

Thursday, October 16, 2003

Building On Small Successes

So now that you're starting to move a little bit or are at least thinking about it more than you may have been, I am reminded of something a lot of geek folks deal with... we tend to want to be perfect straight out of the chute.

Well, here's the deal: it doesn't work that way. Yeah, we tend to learn fast and that's probably our ticket to stardom, but you've still got to start somewhere when it comes to something new. This is especially true when it comes to physical activity when you may not have had much focus on that in the past. (Any?)

You can get this message many places and the concept is applicable to all aspects of life and work.

The first time I ran across it and noticed it for the good advice that it really is was in a book called The Runner's Handbook by Bob Glover. He writes about his Run Easy program where the amount of running (or even walking, depending on the level of fitness you're starting with) he advocates in the beginning is so small as to be downright embarrassing. At least that tends to be true for those of us Type-A folks whose natural inclination is to "get in there and do it right if we're going to bother to get in there and do it at all. The trouble with the Type-A approach is that it just isn't sustainable.

FlyLady knows that starting small and building up from there is where it's at too. I'm sure you're sniggering now - or will be as soon as you visit the site. One of smartest geeks I know, though, is out there shining his sink and doing the 27-fling boogie on a regular basis.

Many of the Eastern philosophies dwell deeply on the subject too. Don't beat yourself up if you're not "there" yet - work on where you are instead and begin stretching out from there when you're ready. If it sounds like yoga, you're not far off, given that it's where I heard the message most recently myself. Added bonus for the male-dominated field of tech-geeks: group yoga classes can be a great place to pick up babes.

On a related, but less physical note, there's even a book called Start Where You Are that takes the reader through at least some of the how of giving into what is happening with us right now and learning to accept and even use it to make improvements.

What stands in your way? What do you do to overcome that? Send your thoughts to me at and we'll discuss it.

For now, what is one small step you can take toward your goal? Are you willing to make that step?

Tuesday, October 14, 2003

Get a Move On!

Have you moved yet today?

I don't mean from bed to car to desk to car to couch. I mean getting fresh oxygen into your lungs and getting your blood circulating. If your idea of a break and some fresh air is to step outside (only because that's what's expected) for a smoke, then this goes double for you.

Lack of time is one of the biggest reasons I hear people don't do anything to get (and stay) fit. The real reason (and the second most likely cited) is lack of motivation. Why is that? For many of us, it's because we've thought of ourselves as a brain that just happens to be associated with a body for so long we've forgotten that the two do actually come as a matched set. For others, maybe the desire to play video games the 20 hours a day we don't sleep is more enticing.

In truth, though, just about anything else that we do and enjoy can be made better by paying at least some attention to our bodies by looking after them and caring for them to some degree. That is even true if we give it just 10 minutes at a time.

When we get regular cardiovascular exercise of some kind, we live longer, feel better, enjoy food more, get to eat more food (or don't have to cut out quite as much), and have more stamina to do the other things we like to do. Yes, even THAT.

Let's pretend that you decide you really are motivated to get with this fitness thing. You're not angling to become the next governor of California or anything, you just want to be able to walk around the block without getting out of breath. There's that time factor of course, so how do you deal with that? Well, how about starting with just ten minutes at a time. Take a walk instead of having a smoke. Or find something else you enjoy doing - a quick bike ride, shoot some hoops, go for a run, or even yoga (don't laugh - have you tried it?). If you belong to a gym, you probably have even more options available to you. Swimming is one of my favorites. I can get a full body workout in a short period of time and I usually don't spend the next half hour sweating.

One great way to ease your way into this moving thing without having to dive right into a big commitment is to focus on the 10,000 Steps advocated by the Surgeon General. Don't try to DO 10,000 steps just yet. Just track with a pedometer (this one I won't link out to - there are too many to try to indicate a preference) and make a note of how many steps you're walking each day. After doing that for a while, start increasing it, just a little each week. While you're at it, take note of how you're feeling. If you're increasing your activity slowly enough, you'll probably be feeling better in all sorts of ways you may not have even thought about before. And THAT can help provide some of the motivation you may have been lacking up until this point to get out and move.

Oh, and do us all a favor - consult with a doctor before making any serious changes to your level of activity. The presumption here is that you do have a brain attached to that body you're thinking of taking better care of.

What's your favorite activity for attaining/maintaining some level of fitness? What kind of results have you noticed? What are your favorite excuses for not being more fit? If you have of any of these or any helpful advice to share with others, send them to me at

Just remember, "Everything in moderation - including moderation". The idea is to enjoy life!

Thursday, October 09, 2003

Letting Go...

Today it's raining. Big surprise given that I live in Seattle, if you believe the stereotype but that's beside the point. What I've noticed today, is that after having a truly superb summer (assuming it's not a part of the whole global warming trend that folks are concerned about), it's finally feeling like fall is really setting in. The weather has definitely changed and everything feels different now.

Some people are whining about it but you already know I don't go for whining, right? The rest of us are thinking about what else we can do with the time that's productive.

Personally, I like taking my cue from the seasons. Summer is a great time to be out there doing things, having fun and making things happen. The whole world is active and it feels right to participate in that activity. Then, late summer and early fall is harvest time in nature and I start thinking about paying attention to the successes I've had. It's usually good timing too because it's not too unusual that this is when I'm asked to write something up about my performance during the previous year.

Then October comes and by the middle of the month, the leaves are starting to color and fall off in earnest. It's time to let go of stuff.

What can I clean off my desk? What stuff at home can I bag up to give away to charities or sell on eBay? If I get enough junk tossed, I find I can even begin to think about what mental clutter I could be ditching too.

For me, mental clutter is outmoded assumptions, beliefs that don't help me get where I want, and any negative thoughts that I have to keep navigating around just to get through the day. Imagine piles of newspapers around that have to be stepped over or through just to get anywhere. Eventually I get tired of it and it just has to go... my thought processes are no different in that respect than the physical space around me.

So what about you? What thoughts or beliefs are keeping you from whatever it is you want? Are you ready to let go of any of that yet? If not, what would it take to be ready? I think it would be cool to hear what you're letting go of... and even more cool to hear what happens afterward. Send me an email at and let me know what you're up to.

Learning to let go is a powerful way of making room for something even better.