Friday, December 10, 2004

Shameless Self-Promotion

I find that I gag when people try to sell me solutions to problems that don't really exist. Most geeks do. It doesn't seem honest and makes us wary of the ulterior motives behind most sales and marketing efforts. On the other hand, sometimes issues do exist and we're just waiting for a better solution.

I saw an ad on television for one of those "better solutions" the other day and I remember noticing that instead of feeling marketed to in a bad way (read, slimed on), I was glad to have the knowledge. Done right, marketing serves a valuable purpose - bringing together a true need and a true solution. Done badly, it simply annoys the heck out of us.

All of us market ourselves, every single day. Yes, even you. The question is whether you're doing it effectively or not. Plenty of us regularly engage in our very own negative campaigns, literally selling ourselves short.

It's a good idea to get used to the notion of there being a right way to engage in marketing that finds the right people and draws them toward you... and an ineffective way of marketing yourself that pushes folks away or draws in the wrong crowd - people who are not a good fit.

Drawing the wrong crowd is as bad as not drawing one at all; in fact, often it's worse. When it's not a good fit, it means we're generating negative publicity for ourselves down the road and that's bad marketing.

Think of good marketing as education more than selling, and you'll be on the right track.

In the case of this blog, I've heard from folks that the randomness with which I make entries can be a bit of a problem. They check back every once in a while to see if I've written anything but I'm sure it's as annoying to them to visit when I haven't written in a while as it is disappointing for me to think that I've made and entry and people may not know about it.

If you're a Windows user trying to figure out when I'm going to get around to writing another post, then I may have a solution for you. I recently discovered a site that facilitates building custom toolbars that can include RSS-aggregator elements so now you can have your very own SME Toolbar.

The toolbar is kinda cool, I think. You can see how many recent posts are available and how many you have not yet read, right there on your browser toolbar. There are other cool features too and I'm hoping that with your help, I can make it even more useful.

For those of you who already aggregate feeds into a reader, I hope you'll let me know if you ever experience a problem with the XML, Atom or RSS links that I've been providing. I'd also love to know what reader you use. I'm still looking for one I really like.

You can send your toolbar and your reader recommendations to me at as well as your thoughts on what sorts of self-promotion works for you and what you dislike or find difficult about marketing yourself. Let's have some fun with this.

What kind of marketing do you do for yourself?

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Politics in the Workplace and the World

Sometimes a new way of looking at things is a huge help in finding ways to make things better. That was definitely true for me last night when I had the opportunity to hear author Donna Zajonc speak about her new book, The Politics of Hope.

With so much of the nation feeling disappointed or even bitter about the results of the presidential election and many of the rest telling them to get over it, and with the Washington State gubernatorial race still in question as we head into a manual recount after a machine recount further narrowed governor-elect Rossi's tight margin of victory, tilting into the holiday season and the start of a new year with all its promise, I felt the timing could not have been better.

Personally I'm exhausted by it all and want only to find ways to make it better; I feel closer now to people with whom I disagree on political matters who are able to have a civilized conversation regarding our opinions than I do to people with whom I essentially agree but cannot get past the ranting. Having been in danger for a time of staying rant mode myself and still working past the occasional tendencies to regress, I find it's important to cultivate opportunities to surround myself with hope and steer myself that direction as an alternative to fear. As far as I'm concerned, this is as true within the workplace and corporate politics as it is in the rest of our lives.

Some of you know that I serve on the board for the local chapter of coaches, the Puget Sound Coaches Association. Part of that means that I make a special effort to attend all of our program meetings. Of course, I was doing that already, which probably has something to do with how I got nominated and elected to the board in the first place. In any case, my attendance record served me quite well last night because it meant that I was there to hear Donna speak about her insights around what she calls the four stages of political evolution. While she came up with this model as a way of viewing the democratic process, I believe it can be applied in a variety of situations, including leadership in the workplace.

Take, for instance, her views on trust... where are you and your co-workers?

Stage 1 - "Trust no one"
Stage 2 - "Trust our candidate to solve our problems"
Stage 3 - "Trust only yourself and your immediate family and community"
Stage 4 - "Trust the evolutionary process and our collective wisdom to create fair policy"
From the book The Politics of Hope: Reviving the Dream of Democracy, published Oct. 15, 2004 by Donna Zajonc; used by permission.

For the corporate environment, substitute the leader of your choice for 'candidate' and workgroup and department for 'immediate family and community' and it maintains its relevance.

I share with Donna the belief that as we begin to shift in our own evolutionary processes, so will the others around us. When we reach sufficient critical mass as a group, we will begin to impact what happens at a larger level. That kind of critical mass will only occur when we reach out to each other regardless of perspective. Mathematically, it cannot occur if our conversations are restricted only to those with whom we know we agree or if we are strident in our approach, pushing away the others with whom we disagree.

Whether you disagree or whether you have tips on dealing with people who disagree with you, I'm interested in hearing your thoughts at to see what more we can learn from each other.

How are you bridging the gap between someone else's perspective and your own?

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Finding Relevance in Silliness

A certain small person I know, like many other persons both large and small (myself included), very much enjoys blowing the paper wrappers off of straws. Unfortunately, the drinking straw manufacturers may have decided that this activity is potentially hazardous and are intent on discouraging such behavior. The perforations often found at the ends of the wrappers seem designed specifically to make this activity impossible.

My ploy is generally to see first if another person at the table will be successful in blowing off the wrapper. If they are not, I usually decide it is not worth the effort to try myself. On a recent foray into the land of fast food, the scene played out just has it had many times before... only this time with a bit of a twist.

Soon after the small person discovered the paper wrapper on his drinking straw was going nowhere, we all settled down to eat. Ever watchful of his surroundings (I'm going to have to learn to be this much more observant myself), small person calls out - "Hey, I saw someone shoot a wrapper!"

I've learned not to question the observations of this small person. He's nearly always right. In this case, I have no idea if he was correct or not; it turns out to be completely irrelevant.

Hearing, though, that someone else was successful where we had not been, caused my mind to race. If there was a way to make it work, what would it be? Then it hit me.

"I bet I can shoot a wrapper at you," I challenged. "But if I do it, you have to promise to let me tell you what's more important than how I did it."

It took me two tries, but ultimately I made it work. Even with a perforated wrapper, I was able to blow it off the straw, just like the old days.

The secret, I explained, was in first believing it was possible. Holding that bias meant that I did not give up until I had discovered the solution. My mistake in the past had always been that because I had seen other attempts fail, I had made the erroneous assumption that what I wanted was not possible.

What perhaps surprised me the most was how quickly I discovered a solution once I was certain one had to exist.

For anyone curious about how it was done, it turns out that sliding the wrapper partway off so that you have room to make a gentle twist or two that cuts off airflow through the perforations is one way that works pretty well. There may be others.

Do you have proof that drinking straw manufacturers are trying to eliminate good clean silly fun or do you have other counter-seriousness measures you care to share? Send them to me at so we can encourage more humor in life.

What if the challenge in front of you is not as impossible as it may seem?

Sunday, October 31, 2004

Cobbler's Children's Shoes

Well, I know what I'm likely to be spending most of my day doing. Apparently the fan is out on the power supply for the old computer I use as a print and scanner and weather station server. Alarms started going off VERY late last night and I just sat and stared at it wondering what the heck it was till I figured out it was the overheat alarm. What a drag.

At least I was still up (working on the background info for the project that I've decided to take on as part of NaNoWriMo). It would have been even more of a drag to have been woken up by those rather obnoxious alarms. Of course, now I can't really print until I get this thing taken care of.

I don't fool myself though - the job is not really just as simple as changing out the power supply. This is the second time in about a year I'll have had to do that so clearly something else is up. Which means, of course, that unless I want to keep changing out power supplies and risking further damage, I'm going to have to take the time to figure out what is up and do it pretty darned soon.

I don't exactly have a great track record there though - like many techies, I tend to have my systems running closer to the edge (at least for my own capabilities, if not always the true edge) than really works to keep it all running in top condition, which means my equipment regularly crosses the line into inoperable or barely-operable-using-annoying-workarounds. And I don't always take the time to fix it right, just fix it enough to get it back operational again. It's a case of the cobbler's children having no shoes. Such minor problems invariably are simply larger problems waiting to happen.

On the good side, when the larger problems raise their heads, I usually recognize that I myself am the root cause for ignoring the earlier warning signs I and don't go looking to point blame anywhere else. Strange how the reality that things are FUBAR and it's all my own fault should be in any way a good thing. Hmmm, maybe I can prepay for a trip to de Nile.

I'm curious how you approach important, non-urgent issues and hope you'll send some thoughts to me at And if you happen to know what (besides replacing the whole box) could readily be done to fix whatever keeps sending my power supplies into never-never land, go ahead and let me know that too.

What are you putting off today that could become a serious issue tomorrow?

Friday, October 29, 2004

Geekier Than Thou

With most geeks, only one thing matters - being smarter, or more of a geek, than the next person. The odd thing is that for the rest of the world, being a geek is the last thing they want to be. Of course, since they're not geeks, most of us who are don't much care what they think. And therein lies part of the problem.

There are entire message boards of geeks telling each other off for not being smart enough, since the ability to be clever is the only measuring stick worth using. Everyone else is stupid so why care what they think?

There are stupid people out there, certainly and it frustrates me to no end when I run into them. Don't confuse different types of intelligence, though, with stupidity. And I beg of you not to think that your kind of intelligence is the only kind that matters. In my book, people who only think one way are as difficult to be around as those who don't use their heads at all.

So you make a great product... so what? If only people who are as smart as you can make it work, do you think you're going to have much of a market share? So you're the best troubleshooter or the best programmer who ever walked the earth... so what? If no one can work with you long enough to find a solution that meets more than just the needs you think are important, then what good are you?

And don't worry, I'm not talking about you or where you work, at least not on purpose. I've seen this more places than I can count. I also realize that what I'm saying is likely to only hit home with those who already see things the same way I do (if you do, I'd love to hear from you - we're in the minority and need to strengthen our numbers). Everyone else is likely to point out that I'm only a manager and not smart enough to be credible. Fortunately, I don't worry about that a whole lot. My friends and family know better. I'm geekier than they are, so clearly I'm a geek. They usually forgive me, though, because I work pretty hard at speaking human most of the time.

What experiences have you had on either side of this fence? Have you or anyone you've seen crossed that fence and seen both sides? Is there hope for the human race? You can always let me know at

Managers - how well do you understand and address this aspect of geekdom? How do you establish and maintain credibility?

Thursday, October 28, 2004

More on Toys

One of the people who picked up on the Trillian kick pointed out that it maintains a weblink history. This can prove very handy for capturing all the links that tend to fly back and forth. It also means there's no pressure to go visit every last site right this minute. Of course, given my own level of impulsivity, I probably will anyway. In fact, that's probably the single biggest reason why I hadn't really noticed before now.

For storing and managing links, I still prefer Backflip. I like their Daily Routine feature and the notion that I can visit my favorite sites without worrying which computer I'm using. Plus, the ones I visit most often float up onto a Top 10 list that I find very convenient. I'm curious, though, to know more about what everyone else uses - besides the Favorites or Bookmarks lists in their browsers, that is.

If Backflip counts as Something Old and Trillian as Something Blue, then the Something New must be Monday's announcement of the pending availability of the Treo 650.

Yes, it will have BlueTooth, just as everyone has been expecting, and it will have an MP3 Player too. I could care less about VersaMail, as I consider Sproqit to be way better, but then I admit to a certain amount of bias around that one. What I don't know is how much they plan to charge for this puppy - that bit of detail is noticeably absent from the marketing literature I received though I can't say I'm really all that surprised. It should drive down the cost of the unlocked 610's on ebay though.

Help me fill in the gaps by sharing what you know about prices, other technologies you prefer, functionality, etc. at If you'd rather talk about functionality you wish was available, that's okay too.

What role does technology play in your life?

Friday, October 22, 2004


The recent posts on the new Google Desktop utility got some folks to thinking a bit about toys and other new things.

So far, I've been pleased with Trillian as a substitute for all the various forms of instant messaging I use; it does IRC too. The only other IM tool I still have on my system is MSNIM - apparently it's "integrated" too tightly at this point to remove; go figure. I just leave it logged off though and don't actually use it anymore now that I've got a "one-for-all" solution.

I also had Mooter pointed out to me as a new search tool. Having been a Lycos fan way back (was that the original? I forget; my memory is failing me), only gradually making my way through the other search utilities until Google became more popular, it's tough for me to say yet how I'll feel about Mooter and whether it will ever entirely replace Google for me... I will say it's a pretty interesting approach though.

Speaking of interesting approaches, how about the Can't Find It On Google site. Help each other find stuff you can't locate and (presumably) help out the search utilities improve their products at the same time. Cool, eh?

Then there's this Sproqit thing - way cool, true desktop access (in theory, for anything at all that you've got there; in practice, they're starting with the most important stuff - mail and files) from anywhere you can get to the internet from a Palm or Pocket PC device (other devices to follow, I'm sure but my favorite at the moment is the Treo). Now that they've got a release out, you may want to check it out for yourself.

What other toys do you know about that could help save the world? Send links or other info to and let's talk about how you use this stuff to make your lives better.

How well do you use the resources available to you?

Friday, October 15, 2004

What Privacy?

At least one person is surprised and several more are rather dismayed at just how effective that new Google utility is. Here's what I want to know - exactly how private did any of these people think their email would be, accessing it from a tradeshow floor computer?

Even with passwords, there is caching, there are Sniffers (the original, plus others going by the genericized name), keystroke-capture utilities and all sorts of interesting (and much more hidden than a big ol' icon in the systray) methods of snooping if somebody really wants to know what you're up to. Sure, this is easier. It's also more obvious that you can't expect the level of privacy you wanted.

For that matter, what sort of privacy are we really expecting when we're using computers at work, even when we're the only ones on them? My personal policy generally was to stick with writing and keeping only that information I truly believed in.

Sure, there is a time and a place for everything and there is some information I might prefer stay private, at least for a while. That said, if I conducted myself authentically, there was no point in feeling badly if anyone discovered the "real me". Having anyone read what was on my computer (in theory anyway) would have been no worse than having them overhear a conversation that I held in public.

Aside from making at least basic attempts to be un-snoop-worthy, I also always made an effort to keep my computer locked so that no one else would be able to readily browse around my files & email (Google desktop or no)... I came from the old school where if you want privacy, you have to think about your own security. Teaching that to others in the computer lab at school (WAY back when) usually involved installing a "" file on their account if they walked away from terminals where they were still logged in. The next time they logged in, those students usually found themselves being cursed a blue streak or in some looped program where the only exit was to go to the person who wrote the thing and admit you were an idiot.

My files were mostly nicer than that but I'm guessing that a gentle reminder to "hey, remember to log off next time, dufus!" is not nearly as effective as getting called another crude name every time you tried another command.

So - how big a privacy concern is this utility for you? Will you be using it? Send your thoughts to so we can get an sense of the opinions out there from the sorts of folks I care about.

What does privacy mean to you?

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Where Did I Put That?

Sometimes I lose things. I tend to think that it's largely a matter of my brain moving too quickly onto the next thing. The point is that I regularly need to go looking for something I know I've had, said, or written.

And herein lies the problem. My brain collects a lot of stuff. What I've discovered is that I hang onto trivia well because it's information that's tougher to locate otherwise. Anything I think I can look up later, I don't store in my head for very long - FIFO, you know. My brain does a good job of keeping an index of all these things, just not such a good job at tracking the location.

Google may have come up with a GPS locator for the tangible representations of my thoughts with their new Desktop Search capability. Downloading this thing, I had this vague thrill for a moment, not unlike the time I first jumped off of a 25-ft cliff into the water - an activity that was great fun and scarier than all get-out at the same time.

With the cliff jumping, I decided the "scarier than all get-out" feeling sort of took out a lot of the fun, so I stopped as soon as I could be sure I was quitting for the right reasons (fear alone not being a good reason, as far as I was concerned). I don't know yet for sure how I'm going to feel about the Desktop Search tool. Certainly I have to wonder a bit about privacy issues down the road. Of course, I also used to wonder about privacy issues using credit and then debit cards but that didn't stop me from using them instead of cash for purchases... and I still use my grocery store loyalty card even though the very existence of these things makes me madder 'n heck.

I will say that the searches I've tried so far have turned out great. I frequently remember things by a key word or two along with an approximate feeling for when. Oh, and I also tend to remember words by some odd consonant in the middle but I doubt anything will help make use of that particular facility anytime soon. Googling my desktop, I came up with good (and relevant) matches right away - much faster than normal document searches on my hard drive and the searches include my documents, my email, my websearches and (when it's done indexing) my instant messaging chats too. I'm impressed so far.

That FIFO problem also causes me a certain amount of angst when it comes to my literal desktop. I have loads of papers piled up, fearful that I'm going to forget I have this information available to me. Here's what works for me: choose a storage method that aligns with my style (I'm very visual, so storing papers where I can readily see where and what they are is better than locking information away into file drawers) and then work on organizing my papers for just ten minutes a day.

If ten minutes a day doesn't seem like much, then you've got nothing at all to lose for trying it. You'll probably be quite surprised at how well this works... and how easy it will be to stay with it because it doesn't cause a huge time crunch. Face it, you may know "exactly where everything is" but if you can't (near-) instantaneously produce what you're looking for, then you're just wasting time; spending a few extra minutes a day to save you from wasting all that time would clearly be a worthwhile investment.

You may also be surprised that I learned this little trick of spending such a small amount of time on a thing and expecting to make progress from a website on housekeeping (don't laugh, one motorcycle-riding dev dude I know is totally into the whole FlyLady routine). I hear the timers are great. You can choose their recommended 15 minutes if that works for you; in a busy environment, sometimes the ten minutes is less stress-inducing, easier to maintain and just about as effective.

How do you find stuff? Send your ideas (or your Google Desktop Search reviews) to Curious minds want to know.

Is frustration a normal part of the creative process?

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Nurturing the Great Idea

One of my great-grandfathers apparently obtained a patent once for an idea he had for a "dishwasher". Back in the era when washing dishes was still assumed to always be done by hand, there was still the matter of making the most of the water that had to be heated - and often hauled - to do dishes and his invention centered around conserving as much hot water as possible during the dish-washing process. I saw the patent once before my grandfather's house burned down, so I can verify its existence though I have yet to uncover it in any of my searching of the online databases. Perhaps it is simply too old to be part of the digital record.

In any case, having done plenty of dishes by hand myself, I could appreciate what a clever design it was and I know that it could still be useful today in certain applications. Unfortunately, the fact that it was a great idea is not the point. The sad truth is that the world is full of great ideas and simply having a great idea is not good enough.

Apparently this is a truth that my great-grandfather learned with at least some disappointment. In uncovering the patent, we also uncovered letters that made it clear that he had attempted to sell his great idea to somebody else he hoped would build and then market his hot water-conserving system for washing dishes so that he could make money off of his idea without having to do any of the work to bring it to reality.

It is also clear from the letters that manufacturing did not work that way - at least back then. If I were a betting man, I'd say that the manufacturing world probably STILL does not work that way - disappointing news, I'm sure, if you just spent money on one of those many Inventor's Kits I see advertised on television these days.

No, the point is, that great businesses are built less on great ideas than they are built on great execution. So as much as I stress strategic planning that includes some unique way you plan to deliver some unique product or service (the great idea - or even a good one will do), I like to be sure that people aren't forgetting the realistic steps it takes to achieve the visions we set out for ourselves. I also like to offer this reminder - those performance evaluations we hate doing so much are the only consistent way I know to build a solid bridge between the strategic and the tactical.

What hassles do you have around performance evaluations, strategic planning or implementing the tactical pieces of your plan? Send them to and let's explore some answers.

Executing our Great Ideas shouldn't be about killing them.

Thursday, October 07, 2004

Getting There Together

Do geeks have a sense of vision for what they want for themselves and their organizations? I certainly hope that they do. My experience has been that it's not too uncommon for them to have a vision - and then not recognize it for what it is or not know what to do about it when they see that they have it.

The other night I had an opportunity to hear Stephanie Reynolds speak about strategic planning. While I feel I have a pretty good handle on these things, I almost always learn something new when I hear a fresh perspective and this was no different.

Then, yesterday, I was talking with a manager I used to coach about doing performance reviews and realized there is some overlap. My life is full of synchronicities like that and I find it to be a lot of fun to notice this when it happens and then run with it a bit.

The overlap that I find between strategic planning and performance reviews is that essentially to get the best work out of anyone - yourself, a co-worker, a boss, or an employee - it's important to recognize what your own strategic vision is for them and what their strategic vision is for themselves. The question then becomes a matter of how do you align the two visions and how do you make (and track) progress against such a joint vision.

I pose that it takes a better-than-average leader to be able to pull this off, especially when you're talking about geeks because when they see their image of how they want things to be, they see it so clearly and it makes so much sense to them that they can't even understand that there might be others who need help seeing it as clearly as they do.

So, are you a great leader or do you want to be? How do you resolve the two visions, yours and theirs? And how do you make the progress you want to make against both? I have some ideas of my own - which I'll share - and I'm always interested in hearing your thoughts too. Send them to me at and let's see what we can learn from each other.

Ending up in Minneapolis in January by way of China when your original plan was to go to Boston for a relaxing vacation on a warm gulf beach can only be considered a success if your ultimate vision was to have a random adventure.

Monday, October 04, 2004

Staying Informed

I find it helpful to stay as up to date as possible on the various technologies and thinking methodologies regarding contact center management. Any information I get has to be carefully reviewed for relevancy to the organizations I'm working with at any given time (of course!) but there is nothing better than a good trade show to get a quick glimpse of the broad universe of alternatives in a short period of time. It's also a great way to find and meet like-minded individuals.

The 2004 Annual Call Center Exhibition in Seattle this year turned out to be just such an event and I'm glad that I went.

They thoughtfully provided networking tables as well as meeting sessions that were particularly relevant to small to medium sized contact centers (of particular interest to me since that is my primary market at the moment) and there were a number of vendors participating in the Exhibition hall who had products in display I was interested in learning more about.

The ACCE will once again be held in Seattle in September, 2005 so it's probably worth marking on your calendars now.

One of the situations I ran into more than once was that the managers working in the contact centers didn't always understand all of the technological requirements behind various solutions that were presented (or if they did, they were not sufficiently familiar with other IT initiatives to understand how some solutions might fit into overall plans), while the IT managers were not always aware of the issues faced by the contact centers that needed solutions. Just as it is a huge help to develop a relationship between departments within the work environment, it's also of great benefit to send a person from each department to a trade show such as this one.

Have you been to any events recently that you think are of particular use for staying up to date on technologies & trends and/or for networking? Sending details to will help keep the information flowing.

All the best minds working together will accomplish far more than any one brain on its own, no matter how great that one brain may be.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Speak Up

Part of being willing to participate in finding a solution (aka as Whining Avoidance, not to be confused with Whining Adherence Advocate or WAA!) means speaking up when you see something that isn't right. Shouting at somebody that they're a stupid moron (even if true) and venting to like-minded colleagues doesn't count; getting out on a limb and thoughtfully expressing your opinion does.

The first step is to position yourself well for a conversation on whatever it is you see that needs attention. If it's a workplace matter, know that things like good productivity and a history of working well with others give you more credibility to speak up about issues with people who might be higher up on the food chain than you are. If you don't have that kind of credibility to back you up, at least be up front about the things that might detract from your message.

Back in the dark ages when I was still a tech, there was a policy or some matter that I felt the VP of the department needed to know wasn't working. We were all talking about it amongst ourselves but when I really paid attention to what was happening, I was concerned to see that there were folks who wanted to use the bad policy as an excuse for poor work habits and others who had figured out ways to scam the system and weren't interested in making any waves. As a worker with a history of good performance, I figured that it was less likely (even if no guarantee) that speaking up about the issue with the VP would result in my butt out on the pavement.

With that thought, I summoned up the confidence to approach the VP and explained why I was coming forward with the information and what I hoped would happen and what I was willing to do to help. I don't recall that any miraculous changes occurred overnight but the people I spoke up to defend were appreciative and the management staff had the opportunity to see me as someone who was willing to speak up and to articulate well-reasoned arguments.

Let me forewarn you that this strategy is not entirely without risk. Few things that are truly worthwhile are risk-free and each person has to decide how strong their beliefs are and weigh them against the realistic risks and their own level of risk tolerance. The good news is that risks often have their rewards when they are taken in alignment with our beliefs and values. In my case, while I can think of at least one other job where this strategy did not work well for me, in this particular situation I believe it helped position me well for some of the promotions I received later where the ability to have a reasoned dialog on the issues was an important ingredient for success.

That brings me to the other important component in successfully speaking up. Speaking up means engaging in real dialog: back and forth communication where you listen to what the other person has to say and you give them a chance to hear what you have to say in non-offensive terms so that they don't feel backed into a corner. What do they think? Why do they think the way that they do? What kind of common ground can you find?

No matter how far apart you are, I can promise that sane, reasonable people can find something in common. This is not to say that at least one person is not sane or reasonable if common ground cannot be discovered; I would simply take it as a sign that not enough time and effort have yet been spent toward that end. When we really take the time to listen to what other people are thinking, we do find middle ground, that place where both sides have something in common. That area of commonality is important because it provides the foundation from which to start a real conversation... a real dialog as opposed to a shouting match.

This approach works well in politics too. In a country that has become more and more divided in recent years, we may find ourselves in more difficult straits if we don't find a way to remember how to have intelligent discourse on all sides of the issues. We can start by considering the possibility that instead of signifying an ever-worsening condition, the current problems and divisiveness are rather symptoms of a fever about to break. If that notion is more attractive than the continual frustration of wondering how in the world there can be idiots who persist in such wrong-headed thinking, you may be interested in a book called The Politics of Hope - Reviving the Dream of Democracy by Donna Zajonc, a Seattle-area coach who works in the political arena.

Even if you don't speak up about your political views in a public way, I do advocate voting as the quickest, easiest cure for WAA! (whining). If you're registered to vote, I hope that you have already voted in your Primary election today (Washington State) or are making plans to do so before the polls close this evening. Oh, and my personal recommendation is that you not bother with marking up your ballot all wrong just to prove a point that you hate the new primary system. Just do it the way they want you to - to do anything else would be like yelling at the high school burger flipper because the fast food joint you patronize doesn't use organic beef. Talking to someone who can actually do something about it would make more of a difference.

If you're not registered to vote yet, there is still time to register for the General Election. If you're a Washington State resident, you can get a registration form from the Washington State Secretary of State; just be sure you submit it by October 2, 2004. Absentee ballot requests have to be processed through your County Auditor and submitted by September 15, 2004 (in most states - check yours to be sure) for the 2004 General Election in November. If you're not a Washington State resident, chances are good that if you found this site, you're smart enough to do a Google search on voter registration for your state, find out where to get the right forms and figure out the deadlines that apply to you.

What are you saving your voice for?

Friday, September 10, 2004

Sick of Work

I asked a programmer once what his interests were outside of work. He looked at me like I was completely crazy. He had no other interests and spent nearly all of his waking hours at work. In his case, I think he's genuinely happy to have his life be that way. I'm not so sure it works as well for the rest of us.

During the tech boom, employees were happy devoting their lives to the cause of the corporation because there was something in it for them - the promise that if they worked hard enough and hung in there long enough for their options to vest, they'd be rich. Many did become millionaires (at least on paper), though most did not.

These days, hardly anyone expects to suddenly come into the big bucks simply by donating every waking hour to work, especially when the question for many is not how much their options will be worth when they're vested but rather, whether they'll have a chance to vest at all before more layoffs hit.

Some may think this is a particularly pessimistic view. I choose to think of it as an opportunity.

When the financial prospects were huge, the promise of money for many people drowned out every other thought about what else might be important. Now it's easier - and even more crucial - to pay attention to the other priorities in our lives because it's clearer that the money will never be enough to make up for what we lose by not pursuing what's most important to us.

As managers, it makes sense to promote that way of thinking because guess what - it costs an organization money to have employees who are stressed out. Stressed employees use employee assistance programs more and get sick more often. Taking the productivity hit and paying for health care, plus making other employees more stressed when they have to take up the slack, all come at a price. And don't think that firing all the stressed out folks will make the problem go away.

If you're a manager, you can help your company's bottom line by doing everything in your power to make or keep your organization a reasonable place to work. Sure, you have work that needs doing. Understand that forcefeeding to your staff isn't necessarily the most expedient or cost-effective way of getting it done. Make it possible for employees to set personal boundaries that work for themselves as well as for the company. Set a good example yourself by establishing your own healthy work/life balance.

If you're an employee, make it your own responsiblity to keep yourself healthy while doing the work that's expected of you. Manage up if necessary, to help this happen in a positive way; sometimes the person you report to simply doesn't understand all of the ramifications of a particular request. And if the company culture is so toxic that this isn't possible, go somewhere else and let somebody new be their cannon fodder.

Yeah, I realize all too well this is easier said than done. Frankly, figuring out the how of it & actually getting it done is part of what keeps me in business.

What workplace issues do you face and how are you addressing them? Send your thoughts to - if you have new ideas, I'm interested in hearing your approach; if you're fresh out, maybe we can brainstorm together.

Pretending a problem doesn't exist doesn't make it any less real.

Thursday, September 09, 2004

Learning from Lance - Part Trois

The list of business-applicable lessons gained from watching Lance last summer kept on growing. Then I was busy celebrating the history-making Win #6. Then an armadillo ran across the road, sidetracking me for months. Really.

Are you ready for the rest of it? I hope so!

The thing that really pulls it all together is that Lance is a terrific all-around package. The rest of the list just goes to prove some of the ways that's true.

Why is this "total package" thing important? It's because riding well isn't the whole of it. Sure Lance can time trial well and ride up hills like a monster. More than that, though, he uses his head as well as his legs. Lance is a great interview and has the respect of highly rated riders. These qualities and others like them make Armstrong the one other great cyclists want to ride with and it earns him valuable sponsorships. When you are able to assemble a great team and get top of the line equipment and all the other kinds of support you need in a competition as fierce as the Tour de France, it's a tough combination to beat.

Lance uses who he in addition to how well he rides to attract the support he needs and a top-notch team that help him to be competitive. Here's some of the "who" and the "how":

  • Think strategically - Lance and his coach have a plan every day he goes out to ride. He knows where he wants to be in the pack, who to watch for and how he wants to finish.
  • Prepare, prepare, prepare - Sometimes it's simply a matter of preparing better than the next person. When you've done all your homework and prepared for everything you're likely to encounter, success is bound to be yours.
  • Execute well and be a strong tactician in the field - Executing a well-made plan is an important component. Not only does Lance execute well, he reads changes in the field like a master and adapts accordingly.
  • Be able to read your team and your adversaries - Lance gets the most out of his team that he can because he fully understands what they're capable of and how well they're doing. He's also reading the other cyclists, figuring out their strengths and weakness along the way so that he can pinpoint the moves he wants to make, when, and how.
  • Understand and plan for your adversaries' strengths and weaknesses - So many times during this Tour, I came away with the idea that Lance understands his rivals even better than many of them understood themselves and clearly he used that to his advantage whenever possible.
  • Work with your adversaries when it makes sense - When other riders refuse to join up and help each other out simply because they are rivals, no one gains. Lance seems to understand that lesson very well and always has been willing to work together when it furthered his own game plan.
  • Minimize your weaknesses and capitalize on your strengths - When Lance was so sick during the 2003 Tour, master that he was, he actually turned it into a strength, playing down his actual abilities even further and fooling rivals into believing that he'd be easier to beat. In 2004 (as in others) Lance concentrated primarily on the mountains and the time trials where he knew he could gain a time advantage, leaving the flats to the sprinters.
  • Try not to make enemies - As Filippo Simeoni discovered, making an enemy means there's now someone who's heart and soul is devoted to making sure that whoever wins, it won't be you. It's not a good place to be so do your best to avoid it. Rivals are good. Enemies aren't.
  • Don't let your enemies take advantage - Once you have an enemy, it's wise to not ever let them get the upper hand. There's a difference between being "easy to work with" and being a doormat.
  • Pay attention to the details - Even small things count. Lance works hard to make his riding stance the most aerodynamic possible. He sheds every ounce of unnecessary weight and nothing that can impact his ability to ride goes unaddressed.
  • Stay healthy - Simply put, you can't win if you can't play. All that preparation is meaningless if you overdo it during the training or during the real thing. Pacing yourself has to be as much a part of the formula as knowing when to dredge up that extra juice to make it more than 100% effort.
  • Stay with it and don't give up - Voeckler should have been handing over the yellow jersey much earlier than he did. Sheer will-power kept him in the game and now he's created a bit of history of his own. Who knows, perhaps when Lance is done taking home the yellow, we'll be cheering on Voeckler in future Tours.
  • Watch for the right time to make your move - Strike out on your own too early, and you run the risk of being reeled back in by the peloton... delay too long and you may miss your window of opportunity. Hopefully it's no surprise that market timing and understanding whether the conditions in the workplace are conducive to supporting a new initiative work the same way.
  • Sprint for the finish - Winning usually requires that you give it your all right through to the finish. Slacking off means running the risk that there will be someone else just behind you ready to beat you just at the end.
  • Be driven - Find out what drives you and use it to your advantage. For Lance, it was going for the yellow jersey and it wasn't just for the winning; the yellow jersey is what inspired him to go on living and so that proof of vitality is probably a big part of what yellow is all about.
So, did I leave anything out? If so, it's probably because you haven't yet contributed your thoughts on the matter to - While I've got lots of other topics clamoring for space, it's not too late to add more to this one.

What drives you and how much is that helping you get what you want?

Saturday, July 24, 2004

Learning from Lance - Part Deux

To continue what I started...  if it's not just about the technical skill, where does consistent success come from?

Assuming that Lance crosses the finish line tomorrow in the final stage ending along le Champs Elysées, (and he's careful enough about such things that there's no reason he shouldn't), it's practically assured that Lance will take home his sixth Yellow Jersey, an unprecedented accomplishment, all the more impressive because he will have done it all in consecutive years.

While Lance has improved the standing of the sport with the American public, his story is not the only impressive one out there. Jan Ullrich continues to be a formidable force to watch. I find myself curious about what role Andreas Klöden will play next year. Ivan Basso seems to be coming into his own. Tyler Hamilton continues to astound me even though he pulled out of this year's Tour... and even though Thomas Voeckler lost the white jersey today, who couldn't help but be impressed by his efforts and all that he accomplished, sometimes on nothing more than sheer guts and determination?

If you watched any of this year's Tour de France, you would have had an opportunity to see just how much the entire US Postal Team contributed to Lance's (and their own) success and there's a lot of good stuff there to mine for lessons about business and life itself. Here are some more of my attempts at connecting the dots...

  • Assemble a great team - This year, as in other years, there is more than one member of the US Postal team who is capable of being a star in his own right. These guys really know what they're doing and they focus all their attention and energies on helping Lance succeed.
  • Give your team something worthwhile to work for - One thing I keep hearing is that the work of a supporting cast member for a team like Lance's is rewarding enough to be playing second fiddle... and it must be true to have attracted top talent like they have. Team success, individual success when it is consistent with the team goal, a share of the financial rewards of success & recognition are all some of the possibilities I can think of that might be the motivators for these guys - someone has figured out what makes it worthwhile to the riders themselves because we've seen every stage of the Tour where they give nothing less than their best.
  • Instill confidence - One of the things that really amazed me throughout the tour was how much easier it must have been for the US Postal team to have devoted single-minded effort into supporting Lance, knowing that he was capable of doing what he set out to do... compared with how troubled the T-Mobile team had to have been with Ullrich struggling to stay in the running. Here we are on the eve of the final "just make sure you cross the finish line" stage, and Ullrich as team leader is more than two and a half minutes behind one of his own teammates. It's tough to know as an outsider and a non-competitive cyclist what the dynamics actually look like on that team right now but I have to guess that a willingness to support the leader and get the team where they collectively want to be has to suffer in a situation like that.
  • Work on the teamwork - A singleminded willingness to work for the good of the team doesn't by itself guarantee success. Lance and his team have clearly prepared heavily for the most foreseeable situations, developed a comprehensive plan and practiced their individual roles in the execution of that plan as much as they needed to until they were able to execute it nearly flawlessly. Every time Lance was led by and surrounded by his guys in blue, you saw it in action and it most definitely worked.
  • Control the pace - By making it their game instead of someone elses, Lance's team controlled the field and made it more likely their guy was going to be the one to come out on top
  • Be willing and able to do the hard work yourself - Lance has great support from his team and he could not possibly achieve the success that he does completely on his own, but he also knows there comes a time when he has to be the one out in front doing the heavy lifting and he has to do it alone.
  • Know who your real adversaries are - Along with the other A-list cyclists, Lance (mostly - okay, he's definitely not perfect) doesn't waste his time or energy chasing down riders who aren't in a position to affect his own standings or the success of his team.
  • Work with a great advisor - One of Lance's keys to success is that he has Johan Bruyneel, a coach who understands him completely and also understands the challenges he faces. Johan is a friend, a confident, a sounding board and an advisor who ensures Lance and the rest of his team are at the top of their form on race day. At least part of his top-notch performance comes from the outside perspectives Lance gets from Bruyneel.

That's probably more than enough for now though with input from others, I definitely have more to add to the list. If you'll send your ideas to I'll make room for those as well.

What's one thing you could do to improve your own chances of success?

Friday, July 23, 2004

Learning from Lance

Yesterday's Stage 17 was sure something, wasn't it? I continue to be amazed at what these guys are able to pull off. And of course I also continue to apply what I see on le Tour (as I do with everything) to other aspects of my life. It strikes me that there is a lot to be learned about the business world from watching Lance Armstrong.

I actually wrote out a giant list of exactly that yesterday - it wasn't meant to be comprehensive but it was a pretty fair list, I thought. Well, apparently that didn't need to go out to everyone yesterday because after spending an hour and a half writing, it all went into the ether, instead of into the ethernet. Not that I'm bitter, mind you. Not at all (said through gritted teeth). Okay, maybe a little. But I'm figuring out how to make lemonade out of the carnage and I'm working on trusting that what will come out instead as a replacement will somehow be better. I haven't figured out how yet but that's what I'm shooting for!

For starters, how about I just write out a few things at a time and spread it out over a few days, eh? Shorter and easier for you to read anyway I guess. Of course, it means that a lot will probably have to wait until long after we know the outcome of this year's Tour de France. Hopefully that will be okay for all of us.

So the first thing I remember being such a powerful insight is that watching Lance and US Postal, it is abundantly clear to me that technical ability is not enough... it's just a ticket to play, is all it is. In cycling, if riding a bike well was good enough, Jan Ullrich would have many more titles than he has ('97 was his only win). In fact, that would still be true if strength, guts, and determination were "all" that it takes. Ullrich has the legs, the power and some level of will & drive. He's often regarded as one of the better bike handlers too. But Lance has won le Tour more times than Jan and at this point, it is still uncertain whether Ullrich can even pull off another second place finish.

If it's not all about the technical ability, what else is needed to win consistently? That's the part I want to try to recapture - perhaps you can help me rebuild my list. The address to use is still and it'd be great to hear from you about your ideas on the matter.

What, besides your technical abilities do you bring to the table in your life and work... and what else could you use that would help you be more successful?

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Living Strong

I'm still completely enthralled with Tour de Lance - I mean, Tour de France. It's a great story of human challenges and triumphs... and today was a great stage what with spectacular performances on the individual time trials on l'Alpe d'Huez. 

I'm sorry Tyler Hamilton is out; sorrier still that he's lost his dog, Tugboat, a long-time companion. It's probably been a rough week for him and he really does seem like a class act. Fortunately, anyone who can ride an entire Tour with a broken collarbone probably has what it takes to get through just about any adversity so I feel comfortable (and I don't even really know the guy though it turns out there are only a couple of degrees of separation there) that he'll be able to get through this too.

And while it probably has been a tough week of another kind for Voeckler, I do hope he still feels good about what he's accomplished, wearing the Yellow Jersey for as many days as he has, especially since he kept it for a good two days longer than even the most the most stretched imaginations could suggest was possible.

One of the sidebar items of interest to me are the numbers of people who are wearing Lance's Live Strong yellow bracelets. They're easy to get ($1 is cheap and you can pick them up from NikeTown or order them online), easy to wear, easy to spot and go for a great cause. What's not to like? I figure they've become a meme, they're getting so ubiquitous. Heck, even cyclists on other teams (Virenque, Basso, Zabel and O'Grady, to name just a few) are wearing them!

It rather makes me wonder what small-seeming, otherwise worthwhile ideas I've been harboring that could be turned into "idea viruses", given the right push. You probably have a few too. Who's to say at the outset whether they're ideas that capture everyone's attention and are ripe for becoming as commonplace as the yellow wristbands or whether they are ideas that take shape in a much smaller scale? For now, it's enough to simply begin taking action, breathing life into them so that they become something real and not just an idea locked in somebody's head.

As one friend quoted to me today, "There is magic in action." There is no need to gather more information, get permission or "how-to's" from someone else you assume to be more an expert than you are; there is only the need to do one thing that carries your idea forward into the realm of reality... and then one more thing and then one more. Like the stories of Stone Soup, when you start taking action, others will want to help out. You'll know if you have an idea that will take off - others will get excited, perhaps even looking to you to lead them. What a great place to be.

My challenge to you is to Live Strong in your own way. Define it for yourself and then make it happen. If it involves drafting others into your cause and making it real for more than just yourself, so much the better. Let me know at what you're up to and how you're making your world a better place.

Try something new - try living your life "out loud."

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

King of the Hill

It seems there are others out there who share my interest in the Tour de France. While watching for Lance is an extra bonus because what he's attempting to do is so momentous I find that having watched the Tour for several years now, he's not the only rider I recognize and follow.

There are other names that crop up from time to time that I know now too. Richard Virenque is one. He pulled off a breakaway in Stage 10 today, gathering up all the King of the Mountain points and taking not only the Polka Dot Jersey but also the stage win as well.

That's one of the things I think is so interesting about the Tour... there are so many kinds of winners. Best time overall gets the Yellow Jersey. Points are awarded for sprints and the rider with the most points gets the Green Jersey. And don't forget the White Jersey for the best young rider under the age of 25. Which jersey most represents your attitudes about life and work? Are you a specialist at flat-out sprints... do you love the challenge of overcoming the toughest obstacles... or do you want to be best all-around at both? At the end of the day do you want to come home with a win even if it's fleeting... or would you rather let others take the early wins so you can come home as the winner overall?

Do you watch the Tour too or is it something you can't stand? Either way, I'm sure you won't be the only one and it would be fun to have you share your point of view with me at so I know whether to spend more time on this topic.

Where do you shine?

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Create a Winning Strategy

I'm watching Lance Armstrong in the Tour de France these days. Clearly it's hard work and requires a huge amount of physical and emotional preparation along with sheer willpower to muscle through such and event. It also requires sound strategies well thought out ahead of time and quick thinking in the field to adapt to unforeseeable conditions.

While I can't begin to guess at most of the strategies Lance uses in the Tour, it's obvious that he uses some basic thinking as his foundation and then adapts as needed as conditions warrant. Pacing himself is part of it. So is staying out of trouble. He works at being "good enough" a lot of the time and saves his energy for where he really shines... and then pours everything he's got into it.

It strikes me there's plenty to learn from those strategies and apply to other situations, including business. What preparations have you made to deal with what's foreseeable - what are your strategies? How do you adapt them when conditions aren't "normal"?

What did you do today to ensure you'll still be "in the race" tomorrow?

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Write It Down!

Process needn't be a scary word. In flying, I learned that it's not so much a way to hem you in as it's a way of making it easier to adjust or adapt when situations are unusual.

Good pilots make a rectangular pattern at a specific altitude above the runway when making a landing - and they do it the same way every time. Sometimes terrain or other conditions dictate that it happen differently, but if you don't change the way you make your landing, it's easier to tell when something is not as it should be so that you can make the appropriate adjustments. Not only are you more likely to remember everything that needs to be done (especially helpful when flying!), you can also see and feel when something is different because you get used to what "right" looks and feels like.

Similarly, a photographer friend of mine told me the reasoning behind her selection of a medium-grade film stock. While it was possible to get film stock of a superior grade, she felt that shooting with the same film all the time was a more important factor in producing good images because it allowed her to understand the film better under all conditions if that's what she always shot with. By keeping the film constant, she was playing with fewer variables and could concentrate more on the conditions of the shoot. Because she traveled all over the world, she wanted to be sure she chose a film she could get anywhere; she sacrificed a bit on film quality to keep the consistency she found so useful in her work and her photographs were better for it.

Do you know your processes at work or in your home life as well as the photographer knew her film? Do you even have processes that you use?

A friend of mine bought a house a while back. If you own a home long enough, sooner or later you will come to realize (hopefully not the hard way!) that there are some things you just need to do on a periodic basis just to protect your investment, even if you don't care about getting wet when the roof starts to leak or getting cold when the furnace blows up. Cleaning moss off the roof and keeping air filters in the furnace clean are just a couple of good examples. Usually, grass just looks ugly if it gets overgrown but conscientious folks seem to at least understand the concept that mowing the lawn once a week or so is a good idea even if they don't always follow through. Maybe it's just calling to be cut. Plenty of other processes aren't so readily apparent in their necessity until serious problems arise.

My friend's solution was to keep a notebook, complete with calendar, listing all the things that needed to be done regularly (as they were discovered, or according to advice) to keep up the house and yard. There was never any question then of when or if something needed to be done. Consulting the notebook and calendar became a regular habit for ongoing maintenance that then was scheduled into the normal flow of life... and when those little emergencies hit, all the needed information was right there too.

Business is the same way. Customers yelling to have something fixed, a boss hassling you to get a thing done, even your inbox piling up with unread messages may be in front of your face enough to be like the grass that needs mowing. Do you wait for those things to crop up when it's most inconvenient for you or do you do things like prune your inbox for 10 minutes each evening before you head out the door for home?

What other things in your business life need processes that are written down and scheduled? It seems like such a scary thing - like we'll become robotic or something - adhering to all these processes. Think of it though - how much more can you get done if you're on top of things and taking care of issues before they become fires instead of running always to catch up? How much nicer would it be that you can go on vacation, knowing that work will still get done (because someone else can follow your process) instead of something that steadily grows into a larger and larger headache waiting for your return.

About now, some people like to point out the one-off situation that only rarely occurs. The trouble there is, if you have no process for those situations then everyone wastes that much more time trying to figure out how it should be handled. And sure, it may not happen again, but then again it may... or something similar enough may occur again that what you learned this time around could be of some use. If you don't write down what you did (and what of that worked, or what you decide later should be different the next time around), then you (or your successor) will have to go through that exact same hassle the next time around. There is value to maintaining a sense of history - not to get locked into old ways of doing things but to avoid having to constantly reinvent the wheel.

What wheels do you find yourself having to re-invent on a periodic basis? What do you do regularly that no one else understands how to do? Send your thoughts (or your vehement objections to anything resembling a process) to I bet it would make for some great discussion!

Where would improvements in consistency beat out superior effort in your pursuit of quality?

Friday, June 04, 2004

Choose or Lose

We make choices every day.

It took me a long time to realize that sometimes I liked to pretend to myself that I wasn't making a choice - that "things just happened" that kept me from what I said I wanted. Hey, I wanted to see you this weekend, I just never had the time.

Usually though, if I look back far enough, I did make a choice somewhere that had direct bearing on the outcome. I chose to sleep in or I chose to veg on the couch watching TV or go biking instead of picking up the phone to make plans to get together. Sometimes it seemed like a bigger deal that I had no control over, like having to take the time to fix a broken down car so I'd have wheels for work - but then if I'm honest, it's probably something I could have take care of much earlier so it never got to the point of breakdown. Tough thing to admit... but there it is.

Every time we choose to do one thing, it nearly always means that we are choosing not to do another thing - at least not at that moment anyway.

In practical terms, this was mostly a time management issue for me for a long time. Then I realized that I felt better about choosing to do some things than others. Some of my choices seemed like a good idea at the time (like sitting in front of the computer for hours on end not getting anything particularly productive done), only to find out later that I felt much worse for having made the choice. It reminded me of having too much to drink at a lousy party and not having the alcohol haze improve my opinion of the party... worse yet, then waking up with the hangover from hell that won't go away. Very unsatisfying at nearly every level.

What was up with that?

What was up was that I was making choices that weren't meaningful to me. They were what was easy, sure, and being easy is important to me but it's not the most important thing to me. And there are other ways to have that and get more out of it. What I discovered is that if I made choices based on the values that mattered most to me, I started feeling better about how I used my time and I even started getting more done, however that works.

It turns out that lots of folks don't even know which values are most important to them. If that's true for you, it does make it tougher to align your choices with your values. We all onion-boys like Shrek, I guess; we got layers and it can take some effort to peel some of that away - even when we're just talking about ourselves.

One way to peel back some of those layers is to try playing "Choose or Lose." Unlike the MTV deal of the same name (where I'm not sure exactly what it is you lose if you don't choose - your voice? Definitely important but not what I'm talking about), this is about choosing what's important or lose the ability to harness it. Some people lose even more than that when they don't understand and align with their core values.

I'm sure the list of values noted on the worksheet is incomplete. I hope you'll give it a look and send a list of additional values you think should be included to me at so I can update it.

If you want to know where you're going, just take at look at the choices you're making.

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

When Problems Raise Their Ugly Heads

The trouble is, sooner or later, there's always trouble of one kind or another. What I will suggest as a hypothesis is that it's how we deal with trouble that defines who we are as individuals and as teams.

Say you're the cause of the issue. Stop causing trouble. 'Nuff said for now, 'kay? Just like I don't care for whiners, I'm not overly thrilled with people who cause trouble for the sake of trouble. If you're doing it for other reasons, we'll try to get back to you another time.

Say you're just an "innocent bystander" - Did you speak up? If no, then maybe you should have. If yes, did you speak up soon enough? Did you make yourself willing and open to helping find a solution that worked well for as many people as possible or were you whining? If people are ignoring your good insights, maybe they don't deserve you. That's less likely to be the real issue, though, isn't it?

If you're the leader, what's your excuse? If your answer is you didn't know about it, then I might have to come kick some butt. It all comes down to what I think is the real reason why several of the candidates on The Apprentice didn't get the job. Trump never really addressed this one on air (maybe they figured they'd have to bleep out too much foul language) but he should have. I'll save you the trouble of asking him what he thought about it and share with you my own thoughts on the subject.

The first is to ask a favor first... please help me understand why you didn't know. Can you do it and still prove yourself a good leader. Quite frankly, I'm not sure it can be done unless you also harbor a willingness to work on it.

In the case of the wanna-be leader of the guys (it turns out he wasn't - he just was the one who acted like he was the whole time; for the real leader who didn't act much like it, well, that's a different issue) when they lost the contest to the women at Planet Hollywood, he didn't know what was going on out front because he was stuck in the back. If there was ever a good reason for managers not to get stuck doing, that's it. You build good credibility by being able to do and you should always be willing to step in and help out with whatever you're expecting your staff to do... but don't forget - your first responsibility to the success of the team is to lead. The moment you get stuck, heads-down, on doing the work to the point where you can't pop up from time to time to get a good read on matters, you're no longer effective as a leader because how can you know what's going on out front if you're in the back the whole time?

Of course, the same is true if you're stuck in your office the whole time. Or in meetings, or on Capitol Hill. Get out, walk around, see what's happening. Talk with people; more importantly, let them talk with you. If you really listen, they'll let you know what's up.

That leads me to the second most common excuse I hear - "No one ever told me." Excuse me, did I hear that right? I have more questions for you on that one. Did you ask? Was it in a way that led people to believe you really wanted the truth? Do you make it safe for them to give you real information? Most importantly, would your staff answer it the same way? If not, then go back in read the posts about the environment.

It's one thing to see these kinds of mistakes happening on The Apprentice. Sure, these are folks who were supposed to be a cut above the rest but basically they're still kids in a lot of ways. And besides, you know at least part of the reason they were picked was because it makes for entertaining television. I can live with that, even if I don't personally find it all that entertaining.

When I see this stuff move from the entertainment hour on TV to the news hour, it's a little more disturbing. Face it, I really wasn't a manager all that long. And there were plenty of things I did or didn't do that I'm sure people disagreed with. This one feels so very basic, though, that I feel pretty passionate that anyone spending any time at all in a leadership role should have this one down cold. That includes anyone who acts in any kind of capacity as an "unofficial leader" or is hoping to move into management or any other role involving some kind of leadership. If I can convince even one or two people that it's a worthwhile competency to develop, I'll feel like I've accomplished an important task.

I hope you'll send an email to me at and share with me your examples, horror stories, or disagreements. As always, I'm interested in your point of view.

Do you know enough - how could you know more?

Monday, May 24, 2004

What a Great Idea!

I've always been interested in innovation.

As a Tech Support Rep, I looked for ways I could do a better job and even kept an eye out for ways we could improve our business. Looking back on that time now, I realize I did some key things that made this successful for me. They seemed so natural to me at the time that I never thought much about it until I started running into people with different experiences.

Some folks complain that they can't get anyone in management to listen to their ideas. Others find they keep getting pulled off the interesting work they're doing to do stuff they find much less compelling. Both are sure that managers have it out for them and in some cases they're right. What's a guy to do? How about a pity parade for starters because quite frankly, the only times I've ever "had it in for anyone" as a manager has been when the person just wasn't doing their job. Typically, such folks seem to think that their job is something else altogether, no matter what I ever tried to say to disavow them of such notions.

So... the first order of business is getting your job done. If you want to work on something more exciting, you're not as likely to get the chance to focus on the more interesting work if it comes at the expense of what you're getting paid to do. Start with making your own work easier, get it done more efficiently and create the time to be more creative. Then everyone wins, especially if you come up with ways to be more efficient that others can duplicate.

Some people will find this to be totally "duh!" advice. If so, you're not the ones who need it. Look at the person next to you who thinks that the scutwork is there to be ignored. If you can, see if you can help the person understand that you need walls first and then you can hang curtains on the windows. If you can't, you might consider keeping enough distance that you won't suffer through any kind of guilt by association.

If you're already concentrating well on on the core work and are just trying to get people to pay attention to your latest and greatest improvement, try slowing down a bit. What would be meaningful about your idea to your boss (and his or her boss too, while you're thinking about it) - from their perspective? Take the time to work up an example of what it would look like. Show how it would solve some problem that they care about. Raise the questions they're likely to have before they ask, and show that you've thought about some of the possible answers.

As foreign a thought as it's likely to be, essentially what you're looking to do is to sell your idea. The more you understand about what good selling is (not the slimey kind of selling you're probably accusing your sales and marketing staff of undertaking), the more successful you're likely to be.

If you're still quite allergic to the notion of selling, think of it not as talking a person into buying something they don't need, but instead, as educating him or her about a thing until they reach the point where they realize they really do need it. Seen that way, it's likely to be far easier.

As for this permission thing I keep hearing people talk about - never once have I ever had "permission" to do any of the bigger projects I've undertaken. It seemed like the right thing to do at the time, I thought hard about what it would take to do it the right way and I made sure I stayed on top of the work I was expected to do. With that approach, no one ever questioned how I spent the extra time I carved out, especially when they saw that I was yielding some worthwhile results. Who needs permission under circumstances like that?

I did let my boss know what I was up to so he could report to his boss and his peers what we were up to (yes, "we" - think of it as a group thing, even when you're the only one working on it and you're likely to go farther) or choose to re-direct my energies if that seemed necessary. If I still thought my project had merit, I checked in at some point to find out what it would take for my boss to feel comfortable with having me spend time on it again. And I made sure I listened and met whatever criteria were mentioned prior to re-engaging in the project. The result was that I always got to work on the projects that I wanted to.

So what projects have you been able to talk your boss into supporting or had trouble getting sponsorship for? What have you found works or doesn't work to that end? Hey, I'll even tolerate a bit of whining on this one if it gives us something to look at together... No, wait a minute, I take that back; I'm only interested in hearing that if you're willing to let me offer my opinion on what might have made it better which, by definitions I've suggested previously, makes it no longer whining. Anyway, if you're brave enough to give it a go, send me your thoughts at Let's see what we come up with...

What great ideas would you like to build some traction for if you thought you could?

Friday, May 21, 2004

Environmental Impact

That environment thing... have you thought about it?

My own experiences in this arena have been quite worthwhile. I learned early on that if I got into the habit of shooting the messenger, there would get to be a point where I would have no more messengers.

Instead, I made a concerted effort to make it safe to come talk to me. I insisted on no whining - be willing to participate in finding and implementing a solution and I'll be satisfied - but whatever the fallout was, it wasn't about hearing bad news because I was more interested in fixing the root problem. Leading is easier when you have information as opposed to no information... even when the news isn't good.

I also learned that little things make a difference, like how I dress (both in general and on particular occasions), how the room is arranged during meetings, and whether I smile when I see people in the halls.

What have you discovered makes a difference in your work environment? Share your ideas by sending them to

What would your environmental impact report say?

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

It's the Environment

I realized this morning when I got up that the lessons to be learned from current events are so important and relevant in the business world that it's worth the risk of crossing over into political territory to mention it here.

Let me start off first by saying that ever since Nuremberg Trials, "I just did what I was told to do" has not been an acceptable excuse for behavior that can later been judged to be poor. Twelve of the defendants were sentenced to death for their crimes during WWII and seven more were sentenced to prison terms of varying lengths. Each of us must take responsibility for our own actions, or at least not be surprised when others expect us to. It can seem like a good idea at the time or it can feel like it was the only reasonable choice available and even so, our own behavior is still the result of our own choices.

While personal accountability cannot be ignored, it is important to recognize that the environment in which we make our choices greatly influences the choices that we're likely to make. As leaders, it's imperative we constantly ask ourselves what sort of environment we are creating because the choices our employees make can nearly always be found to have stemmed from that environment.

Basic psychology and sociology courses in the first year or two of college (and even some high schools) nearly always cover the Stanford Prisoner Experiment conducted by Zimbardo in which researchers discovered in the most powerful ways possible that even the most normal normal human beings can resort to some pretty atrocious behavior. What is regrettable about current events is that this basic understanding of human behavior does not seem to have been taken into account in the form of putting sufficient safeguards in place to prevent or discourage inappropriate behavior.

Just because it's business doesn't mean we're completely immune from this phenomenon or the responsibility to do better. Hopefully the stakes are just lower and the ability to foster a more positive environment and choose better behavior (regardless of environmental impacts) is easier as a result.

It's also worth pointing out that each and every one of us is responsible for the environment in which we find ourselves; leaders of an organization aren't the only ones on the hook for ensuring the environment promotes ethical, useful, and productive behaviors.

What are you doing to make your work environment a better place, one where you and your co-workers can feel safe and productive? Any thought or ideas you send to will make a good jumping off point for further conversations on the subject.

How well do your business and personal ethics mesh?

Friday, May 14, 2004

Dealing With Whiners

Think of a complaint you've heard recently... or made. It should be easy to do. The world is full of whiners. Even I give in to whining now and then. Sometimes it just feels better than taking responsibility for myself. Fortunately, I usually snap back to how I really want to be, which is not a whiner.

Anyway, I digress... back to that complaint. I was at a Little League baseball game not too long ago and the complaint I heard there was something about not being able to get shoes tied. "I can't tie my shoes!" came the plaintive cry.

When the complaint originates in the office, it often lacks that particular tone that sets off warning flags for parents but I'm sure you know what it sounds like anyway. There are statements made in exasperated tones - "Andy still hasn't finished that report we asked him for!" And there are questions that are more rhetorical than inquisitive - "Where did all the pens go?!" and then there are the "I can'ts" - "I can't get this $%#@^# application to work right!"

At the root of all of these complaints is some form of a request... "Andy, please send me the report so that I can ask for the budget we need on this project"... "Are there any pens hiding someplace or can you put in an order for me so that I can write out my report?"... and, "It looks like I'm still having trouble with this application; do you know something about this that would help me out?"

Find the request and make it directly, or find the request in someone else's complaint and respond to that, and you'll probably get a lot farther. In any case, at least it won't be whining anymore. In the case of the little leaguer, his mother suggested that perhaps he wanted to rephrase his statement in the form of a question. Maybe that's how Jeopardy got started.

What sorts of requests have you heard disguised as complaints? Send them to me at and let's compare notes.

What would you ask for if you thought you could get it?

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Pacing Yourself

If life (and yes, work too) is a marathon and not a sprint, you can begin to see that pacing yourself becomes an important concept to grab hold of. That might not be enough though. Consider that even a marathon has an ultimate end goal, after which point we expect to rest, and only after.

So what if it's about finding purpose in all that we do, while we're doing it? How does that impact how you work and how you live? Personally, I find that when I focus on this instead of the deadlines, I find much more to enjoy about my work and my life and it is easier to find some sense of balance. Amazingly enough, the deadlines are easier to reach too. Don't ask me to explain that one; I haven't figured out yet how it works but it does seem to.

This week, the end goal was Lawyerpalooza, which came off very well. It was a pretty late night for a Monday night with plenty to do still on Tuesday. Today, I'm taking it a bit easier and pacing myself in the midst of the other things I still have on my plate to get done. It's interesting that instead of really feeling tired, I feel only a greater appreciation for all the effort that went into pulling off the event because I can feel it in my body, in my bones. While we don't yet know how much money was raised, all the bands made great music and everybody had a terrific time. It felt like we were fully living our purpose.

What about you - have you tried focusing on purpose instead of end goals? What have you noticed? Send your observations to me at as well as any tips or tricks you've learned along the way.

What greater sense of purpose drives you?

Thursday, April 29, 2004

It's All About the Connections

Whether you're talking computer networks or people networks, it's all about the connections.

Metcalfe's Law is just as true for people as it is for computer networks and it's also just as true for doing business within an organization as it is for job searching.

One person I know was starting to wonder why job-searching wasn't panning out until he started touching base with old co-workers. In another case, a manager used building social capital as a way of getting two departments to work better together. Building a network of resources and people who are interested in helping you out and willing to give you the benefit of the doubt when things go sideways is a good way to start off on the right foot in a new environment too.

So how does a geek go about growing and maintaining a network when being social isn't necessarily a high priority?

Here are some of the thoughts other readers and some of my clients and previous coworkers have come up with...

    Keep a list of people you enjoy being around or might like to get to know better. Make special note of those who have good social networks of their own and those who work in other departments and similar departments in other companies and are respected for their work.

    Keep a running appointment on your calendar to invite one or more of the people on your list to lunch every 1-3 weeks. It's good networking and you could probably use the break.

    Make arrangements to meet up with people on your list after work for drinks or for some other social time periodically.

    Send a quick email or IM periodically to the people in your address book - if it's a large list, you probably want to set up some kind of a rotational schedule.

    Schedule periodic potluck or brownbag lunches with people from your department and the other departments you work with - it can be purely social or can be work-related, such as a peer-learning network.

You'll notice that food is a common theme - Food seems to be one of the geek universals and it helps make everyone feel more interested in joining in and more at ease when they do. Scheduling is another repeat item in the list of suggestions. It's a good way of keeping a promise to yourself (for those who think it "just happens" or those who find it an uncomfortable chore) to get out there and do it... and it's also a nod to the fact that the human aspect of networking requires the same kind of maintenance and attention that computer networks do.

If you have other suggestions or experiences you'd like to share, send them to me at and let's grow our knowledge network.

Are you plugged into some sort of network or are you trying to make it happen all by yourself?