Sunday, October 08, 2006

Corollary to Paradox of Play

So here's a thought - what if those team members who are not quite as productive as everyone else - the ones that are not so bad as to make their manager concerned, just have low enough productivity to be mildly annoying to the rest of the team - what if these people actually have some value that goes beyond what is measurable by normal individual stats? A sort of corollary to the the Paradox of Play as applied to teams, if you will.

I can think back on several teams to individuals that fit this general description. Invariably, these were the same team members that organized potluck lunches and other social events for the team. Sometimes the other members recognized some value to this social contribution and sometimes it was the source of some derision or overlooked altogether. But even when their efforts weren't fully appreciated, it sure seems to me that these people had a positive impact on the team as a whole.

True, if I have to choose between these folks and those who are more consistently productive, as a manager, I'd probably go with productivity. But I sometimes wonder if maybe there's some kind of synergy between the more socially adept and the productivity-focused that make the whole team more effective than it would be without them. They might not be putting up the same numbers as the other team members, but maybe they're helping to boost everyone else's stats simply by their presence alone. I guess that would make them some sort of a catalyst if it were true. Not that I can prove this theory at the moment but it'd probably be worth investigating, don't you think?

I'm sure that at the very least it's more enjoyable to be on a team that has some fun while they work and that's got to be worth something too, right?

If you have thoughts about the social butterflies one way or the other, send them to me at - I'm definitely interested to get some more data on this one.

How do you balance fun and productivity?

Kimm Viebrock is an ICF-credentialed Associate Certified Coach who helps technology professionals and service-oriented technology groups develop and use their skills more effectively and increase their value within the larger organization, allowing them to do more, do it better and have more fun doing it. Kimm is devoted to finding the connectedness in life.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

What We All Want - Part II

My personal feeling is that there's something else besides making a difference that we all want. I thought about it while driving to John Moe's book signing the other night and was pleased to hear and read that he'd basically come to the same conclusion - for those of us who have kids in our lives, there are three essential things we all want for them. We want our children to be safe, healthy, and happy.

We might disagree on the exact order but these Big Three are pretty standard across the board. If we spend any time at all looking for it, we're bound to run into differing views on what it takes to ensure our children's health, safety, and happiness. But if we start with that common ground and keep coming back to it every time we get wrapped around the axle because of the differing viewpoints, then maybe - just maybe, we can, with some civility, still work out the how of it together in a way that brings people together rather than drive them apart.

It seems clear to me that this basic logic applies to religion as well as to politics. For some, feeling closer to God (pick your version) is part of the equation, for others, not so much. In both cases the health, safety and happiness is still a point of common ground. In the case of politics, it's a matter of what the government's role is in this equation - and the basic goals are still the same.

In the workplace, we might expand our viewpoints to include other goals - and even so, the same basic principles can apply. Somewhere, somehow, there is something around which we can establish common ground. Establishing that as a base point, we can begin to work from that known quantity of agreement to navigate the territory of the unknown. When we get to know each other as people, it makes all the rest of it easier.

Throughout, I find it helps to have an understanding our own minds and a willingness to listen to others'. Lean back, and open yourself up to take it all in, then carefully pick through what you hear to find more common ground and use it to expand your base. Expanding and shifting perspective need not be a threatening thing.

Here's what I like best about John's book - that he was willing to stretch his thinking that way and share with all of us the process. I found it fun and enlightening reading. I don't know yet if people on both sides of the convervative/liberal fence will feel the same way and am hopeful they will. My sincere hope is that more people will feel compelled to try expanding their thinking themselves than they will feel compelled to say, See, we're Right! or See, they are a bunch of losers!

I'm of course proud to have been able to share some skills with John that he has told me he found useful but there's an important distinction to be made here - I just helped a teeny bit with the how... the interest and ability to put it to use was all him and I'm way more proud of him and what he's accomplished. I'm hoping there will be many more to follow. It sure seems to me like we'd all be that much more likely to get what we want if we're finding ways to do that together rather than continually detouring to fight with each other about the best way to do it.

If you've managed to work through differences to pursue common goals, I hope you'll send your thoughts to me so that the rest of us can get a better idea of how that works and where the incentives are to do it.

What would it take to expand your opinion of what's right or what works?

Kimm Viebrock is an ICF-credentialed Associate Certified Coach who helps technology professionals and service-oriented technology groups develop and use their skills more effectively and increase their value within the larger organization, allowing them to do more, do it better and have more fun doing it. Kimm is devoted to finding the connectedness in life.

Friday, October 06, 2006

What We All Want

My son thinks I'm famous, a notion that I actually find quite amusing, especially since I was once (and he 'knows' it), but not for the reasons he's glommed onto now. When I showed him my name in the back of John Moe's book, Conservatize Me, I really only did it because I figured he might find it mildly interesting. And I steeled myself for an appropriately pre-teenager derisive (or worse, completely devoid of emotion) "Oh." Instead, what I got was an enthusiastic hug and wide eyes proclaiming my importance in a world beyond his own - Wow, you're famous! It was in that moment that I began to re-think my position on why we sometimes pursue fame, or at least appear to.

Sure, it's nice to feel well-regarded within my own family and circle of friends. And for some, fame or recoginition mean credibility, access, or power, which might be inducement enough to crave it. I'll even readily admit that there are perq's to being a celebrity that are kinda cool - getting invited to sit in the players' wive's section at baseball games is one that I appreciated - but I've always maintained that the downsides mean that (for me anyway) the equation never really quite balances out in favor of pursuing fame.

Thinking about what it is that makes me proud to have been on-air for all those years even when my performances didn't always warrant such pride and proud to have been associated with John's project in however small a way it was and exactly why it is that I'm so happy that just having my name in a book means so much to the junior member of the family all helped me to crystallize my thoughts on the matter.

For me, and I suspect for a great many others out there too, it's not the fame itself that matters so much. What matters is that it is a flag indicating that we've achieved something else that matters even more. We've made a difference.

Let me know at how you make a difference. I always like to know these things.

What does "making a difference" mean to you and what qualifies as that?

Kimm Viebrock is an ICF-credentialed Associate Certified Coach who helps technology professionals and service-oriented technology groups develop and use their skills more effectively and increase their value within the larger organization, allowing them to do more, do it better and have more fun doing it. Kimm is devoted to finding the connectedness in life.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

The Play Paradox

Somehow we've got the notion into our heads that playing is somehow trivial - less important than "real work". Fortunately, I've seen enough evidence to the contrary that I rarely feel guilty anymore about playing, even when I'm getting paid to do "real work". I suppose part of it is feeling subversive, but only part. The truth is, as much as I enjoy having fun playing, I enjoy even more discovering how that fun can be turned into something useful. It's rewarding to see the playtime pay off but it can't be about the payoff or it's not real play. That's the paradox of play. To riff off of Julio Olalla a bit, only true purposelessness (when it comes to play anyway) can lead to purpose.

One of the first times I really understood that was back when I first got to try out this new application called a web browser. I was at that time suffering rather serious withdrawals as a result of no longer having access through the academic world into BITNet - one of the early incarnations of the Internet. Fortunately, the whole world wide web thing started getting really popular about then, and suddenly, for the first time, it was both cool AND okay for corporations to get in on the game. And so I started playing around with it. I made sure I got my work done but make no mistake, I was playing - using company access to the Internet and company time, I was fooling around, learning what I could about what was out there and how I could find it and how it all worked. It was fun, pure and simple.

Of course no one else around me seemed to really get what was fun about this. My analogies to a library that constantly responded to whatever ADD-like impulses might strike, following idea upon idea just by clicking something as mysterious as "hypertext links" was, at the time, fairly inept. I kept at it, though and friends and family mostly tolerated my craziness. Then one day, I ran across information about the hypertext markup language itself that made the whole world wide web a more user-friendly place than had been the BitNet-based file storing and sharing of my college days. Just click on a link and you're there. And wonder of wonders, I was delighted to discover that HTML wasn't at all complicated. In fact, for a small fee, there was even a relatively inexpensive editor you could get that made the coding work even easier.

Excited about the prospects and what we might be able to do with such capabilities, I took the idea to my boss. I didn't have a lot to show him at that point except for a lot of hand-waving and more library analogies. While academics had been using it for quite some time by then, the internet was still mostly a place to play at that point for the average corporate hack. But there were a small handful of companies that had started to put up customer-facing websites and a couple of them were even involved in our market - networking - and so I managed to convince my boss that our company ought to think about having a website too. We could publish the kinds of solutions and information we were currently providing our customers via fax and BBS. It would be a great resource as more and more people began to see the power and usefulness of the internet. It would give me an excuse to play some more.

Ultimately, my manager saw enough in my suggestion that was worthwhile to say that he at least wanted to see more. Could I do a mock-up of what I had in mind so that he could see how it might work in reality? He even gave me the money to get the HTML editor. It was called HoTMetaL . That summer, my stepson spent most of his time at his grandmother's so I had relatively few family duties for the entire month of July and a good chunk of August. I put in a lot of 14-hour days learning how to create a website, building the proto-type, and populating it with the kind of information I thought would make it useful. It was some of the most fun I've ever had and I like to believe that I mostly enjoy life as a general way of being most of the time.

At the end of it, I had something worthwhile to show my boss and we took that to various other executives in the company who also began to see the benefits. To be fair, I wasn't the only, or even the first, person in the company to be playing around with this stuff. I was just the first one to figure out how to make a convincing argument for turning what had been playtime for me into something valuable for the company.

By the time we went live with the project three months later, the surprise for me wasn't so much in that I'd been able to make it happen as it was more that we were going live with the proof-of-concept prototype itself. I never once thought it was good enough to be the real deal - my mock-up was just supposed to have been a way of showing people well enough how it all worked to get them interested in making the idea even bigger. Ultimately that happened too and within about a year - give or take a few months - our corporate website looked nothing at all like I'd first built it. I couldn't have been prouder.

This isn't the only time that I've seen play turn into something more worthwhile . And certainly it's not the most important event of my life. I play every chance I get and I make an active effort to remember to take time out to play and explore. And even though I don't always make that quantum leap from purposeless play into purposeful work, it happens a fair amount of the time, mostly because that's who I am. What makes this event stand out is that the linkage between the play and the result is so clear. While I still make an effort to ensure I am productive "enough", I rarely worry about whether I'm playing at the expense of being productive. In my mind, they're related, not mutually exclusive.

I'm curious - what pet projects do you have going that are fun for you and valuable at the same time? I hope you'll consider sharing them with me at - and if you want any tips for getting support for your project(s), be sure to let me know. I've got that part pretty well figured out by now.

How does play fit in with and impact YOUR life?

Kimm Viebrock is an ICF-credentialed Associate Certified Coach who helps technology professionals and service-oriented technology groups develop and use their skills more effectively and increase their value within the larger organization, allowing them to do more, do it better and have more fun doing it. Kimm is devoted to finding the connectedness in life.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Back to School

In spring, there is a quickening that results in bursting forth when the changes can no longer contain themselves. In fall, despite the clues that do exist, it seems that everything is going along pretty much as it was until the day when suddenly it's not - like stepping out of cut-off shorts into dressier clothes for the classroom or the leaves suddenly dropping off the trees after an October storm. Going back to school is part of that hard cut-over and it can mean so many things.

With school comes so many endings... End of warm summer weather. End of unstructured time. End of baseball season. And there are beginnings too. The beginning of cooler nights, soccer in the rain (at least around here), football, and time with friends after a summer full of family... payoff perhaps for the added discipline that comes with getting back into learning mode.

We're seeing all these transitions and more around our house. Summer was definitely an unstructured time for small person and me. We went swimming. He practiced his bike-riding skills. We spent time at the ocean as a family a couple of times and went hiking.

I worked too, though I didn't exactly do much blog writing over the summer. I managed a Judy's Book review from time to time and that was about it for writing, although I did also sign up with Associated Content and finally got around to sending in submissions a couple of weeks ago. I must have felt that fall discipline coming on early.

Now that small person is back in school, I am looking forward to devoting some more time to my latest writing project - an interfaith study guide for families. I spent a good chunk of the summer thinking about the need there is today for us to expose our kids to different ways of thinking and believing beyond what we might teach them ourselves and it galvanized me to finally get started on a project that's been on my mind for quite a while now.

I started some of the work of laying a foundation for how an interfaith study guide centered around families with kids might be organized and what sort of information would have to go into it to make it a helpful resource. Now I'm ready to dive in on the real work. If I were to feel that there was one thing for which I was uniquely qualified, this would probably be it. At least that's how it's felt the past couple of months. This is a good thing; I intend to use that energy to draw me into the work when everything else is trying to pull me out of it. Now, if I could just remember to quit once in a while so that I can remember to do other things too, like housework and catching up with friends.

I'm excited about another horizon-stretching writing project that isn't even mine. It's my 'friend' John Moe's, and it's called Conservatize Me and we're rapidly approaching release date. The quotes aren't meant as any kind of a jab; they're just there as a lame way of hedging my bets, kind of like how lots of reporters think they've kept themselves out of trouble simply by tacking on the word "alledged".

The reason I'm hedging my bets is because I have zero clue if John actually considers me any kind of friend or not. In fact, it's quite possible he might not recognize me when I show up to one of his booksigning appearances. It's not like we talk. He did interview me. Twice even. The first time was on the radio and someone I knew heard me without me telling them in advance, which is, of course, totally beside the point but cool from my perspective nonetheless. That there was a second time presumably has something to do with the fact that he too felt at least some rapport between us.

Anyway, John and I have exchanged emails a couple of times too. And I read his blog, which I totally love, probably at least partly because with our small person nearly ten, it's fun to be reminded of what five was like. I wonder if I should warn John about eight?

But here's the thing - and I know this already from television - you can't just meet someone a couple of times and read or hear them out there in the ether somewhere and then think you're friends. You might have some ideas about what they're like and you might even be right about at least part of it. In fact, you might even be right when you suspect that you have enough in common to become friends. The thing I have to keep reminding myself though is that friendships require time and attention - nurturing. This is a skill at which I've never exactly excelled.

Someday, they'll perfect a method of sending "Thinking of You" cards directly from the brain. When that happens, I'll have it made and my friends will hear from me on a much more regular basis. Until then, those who consider me a friend do so at their peril. My friends all know this so that part is not news. Mostly they seem to overlook it though occasionally they are honest enough to point out where I'm falling down on the my end of the implied bargain.

I am helped somewhat by the crazed circumstances in which most everyone finds themselves these days. It seems everyone's busy enough that my own lack of social graces is not quite as noticeable as it once was. Of course it also means that with neither side doing good job of keeping in contact, we'll quite regularly go months without seeing or even talking to one another. On the good side, we usually pick up about where we left off - friendships in slow motion.

I do my best to compensate by sending electronic birthday cards when I remember to find out a birthday and make note of it and by reminding myself in my calendar to reach out to folks from time to time. That helps - at least until I get so far behind that I don't follow my directives to myself any longer to send an email or make a phone call. Usually it's the phone calls that get me. See, this is where being at school or at work together can really make a difference. When we're in the same physical location together, it's so much easier.

If you have tips on how to stay in touch with people, send them to - we're not too proud to ask for suggestions and I for one am always more than happy to learn something new, even when it means having to give up old ideas to make room for the new ones.

What [skills/projects/ways of thinking/relationships/etc] are you cultivating?

Kimm Viebrock is an ICF-credentialed Associate Certified Coach who helps technology professionals and service-oriented technology groups develop and use their skills more effectively and increase their value within the larger organization, allowing them to do more, do it better and have more fun doing it. Kimm is devoted to finding the connectedness in life.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

More Links

You know what I totally missed pointing out in all the excitement around Kyle MacDonald completing his paperclip-to-house trade was how instrumental Corbin Bernsen was in the whole deal. While his role in the trade is interesting, it's the interconnectedness that makes it even more fascinating to me.

First, we used to enjoy seeing Bernsen on LA Law so that spousal unit could poke fun at the various inaccuracies in how the legal profession was portrayed. I don't remember being nearly that bad about aviation-related portrayals but we both are pretty tough on broadcasting. In any case, I did always think the Arnie Becker character was pretty interesting.

Fast forward a few years, and our older son totally fell in love with the movie Major League to the point that we bought a copy. Of course the resident small person loves baseball (all my fault, I'm sure) so much that he too now watches the movie. Fortunately he hasn't picked up any of the foul language - yet.

Those are practically throwaway links though compared to Bernsen's role in the new show Psych that's airing on USA Network. I just discovered it this week in time to catch the pilot and fell in love with show. I sure hope the rest of the episodes live up to the quality of the pilot.

Everything is connected - it goes way beyond six degrees of separation for me. It makes me wonder if there are likely to be any additional connections made between Ripley's "American Idol"-format competition for the movie role and Lawyerpalooza... or whether someone in my family might be demanding a trip to Saskatchewan anytime soon although I figure it'd have to be at least as much fun as seeing the World's Only Corn Palace. I'm sort of hoping small person won't end up sending his entire snow globe collection to Corbin - though I can sort of get the temptation that might exist.

What sorts of connections and 'small world' stories have you collected in your life? Send them to me at and maybe we'll find even more connections!

How does the (real or imagined) interconnectedness of life impact your decisions and actions?

Kimm Viebrock is an ICF-credentialed Associate Certified Coach who helps technology professionals and service-oriented technology groups develop and use their skills more effectively and increase their value within the larger organization, allowing them to do more, do it better and have more fun doing it. Kimm is devoted to finding the connectedness in life.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Another Link in the Chain

By the end of my senior year in high school, I was literally counting the days until my release. I made for myself a belt of paperclips, one for each day and then removed a paperclip from the chain each evening. Today, I build links out of ideas more often than paperclips. Sometimes the two go together - like just after having written about the movie Paper Clips, I learned that Red Paper Clip guy, Kyle MacDonald, is finally going to be getting his house.

Ultimately, both are stories about possibilities. And paper clips. I'll probably never see a paper clip the same way again.

What do the symbols in your life represent?

Kimm Viebrock is an ICF-credentialed Associate Certified Coach who helps technology professionals and service-oriented technology groups develop and use their skills more effectively and increase their value within the larger organization, allowing them to do more, do it better and have more fun doing it. Kimm is devoted to finding the connectedness in life.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Countering Bias

Back in my television days, one of my news directors (wish I could remember for sure which one, but I'm betting it was Mack Berry) told me that the notion of being an unbiased reporter is pure fantasy. He always claimed that despite what students are told in journalism classes (apparently, anyway - my only classroom was the newsroom), it's simply not possible to report without any bias and it wasn't just that he was predicting the current views on journalism. Mack simply believed it was a losing battle to try to completely rid oneself of bias - that it is far more effective to recognize where we are prejudiced and do our best to consciously compensate for that.

Bias shows up in a variety of ways, including which ideas we will consider as well as how we react to and treat other people. Presumably it is obvious that prejudice can adversely impact our workplace relationships and business decisions as well as our personal lives. What isn't obvious is that bias itself isn't always obvious, even to ourselves. Unfortunately, sometimes we aren't even aware of such attitudes, making them very difficult to root out. It's tough enough to be honest with ourselves about what biases - or implicit attitudes, as they're called - we hold and even tougher when we don't even know they're there.

One solution is to check our biases with a tool developed by a team of academic researchers called the Implicit Association Test. Personally, I always find such things totally fascinating, even when what I learn can be somewhat disturbing at times. It takes some courage and willingness to be introspective and, in my book anyway, is worth it.

For instance, as much as I'd like to say that I am free of any racial bias, it turns out that this is not entirely true. Knowing this, however, means that I can actively work to ensure that such implicit attitudes don't have undue control over my perceptions and behavior. I'm considerably more gratified to learn that I do not appear to have any particular automatic preference for Microsoft or Open Source software, which is exactly as I'd prefer, given that my primary goal is to assess technology situations and appropriate solutions on their actual merits alone and without bias.

On a more amusing note, I'm not at all surprised to learn that I hold no particular associations between gender and either career or family (meaning I am just as likely to associate women with career and men with family as the other way around) and I have a rather contrary moderate preference for associating women with science and men with liberal arts. Yeah, that explains a few things...

I know my parents did a lot to overcome any natural or socialized tendencies I might otherwise have developed in terms of bias. One bias I know I hold and am glad for is a general assumption on my part that things are good rather than a problem. It's helped me in so many ways and I'm glad it's a preferential perspective that my parents passed along.

Having recently seen the movie Paper Clips, I really get that what the kids in Whitwell, Tennessee, have are amazing teachers. The teachers themselves apparently have incredible compassion and curiosity that is just as amazing and even more powerful in that they are also paired with a trust that by following that curiosity with compassion, they will find a meaningful path.

If you haven't seen it, I urge you to. The teachers started with a seemingly simple goal of helping their students understand prejudice, what causes it and the pain that it can cause. I realize that's a serious understatement given that fighting prejudice is itself not exactly a simple goal. And yet the truth is that they accomplished so very much more than they ever imagined, given where they thought they were going with all this when they started on that path.

Life is like that too for the rest of us if we can only keep bias from blinding us to the greater realm of possibilities before us. I realize that's a bit too rosy an outlook for a lot of the cynics I tend to hang out with but there you are. I keep seeing stories like this one and it reminds me not only of the power of human compassion but also that so much is possible when we just allow ourselves to take that first step and let curiosity guide the way rather than the preconceived ideas that tend to show up instead. I know that had Mack met these teachers and seen how they set their biases aside so that they could listen to their students, he'd have been very proud.

Send your thoughts on how you deal with your own biases to me at as well as any stories you have about what's happened as a result. I'm curious.

As for me, paperclips have taken on a whole new realm of meaning, both in terms of fighting prejudice and also in terms making really big things happen.

Where does curiosity lead you?

Kimm Viebrock is an ICF-credentialed Associate Certified Coach who helps technology professionals and service-oriented technology groups develop and use their skills more effectively and increase their value within the larger organization, allowing them to do more, do it better and have more fun doing it. Kimm is devoted to finding the connectedness in life.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Archealogical Dig

This week I've been working on cleaning up my office a bit. I'm one of those who prefers to see everything so there ends up being a lot of stacks of paper around; not that you can really see it when it gets to that point but that's how it gets there. Now that I understand this, I actually am developing a better system that seems to be working but the old stacks are still there, hence the clean-up effort. What's fun (and sometimes annoying) is all the stuff you find - so that's where that's been all this time. See... so much for being able to see everything!

I started with just a few minutes at a time at the beginning, and now I can hardly stop. It's like the stuff demands to be organized, I swear - it's not like this is an activity I normally enjoy! Where I started was with my desk where all the papers that I felt I had to have right in front of me or I'd forget them had accumulated. Once I realized that I'd forgotten about pretty much everything from the third layer on down and couldn't even get to it if I did remember, it was a relatively simple task convince myself to scoop it all off into a pile on the floor. Of course, that meant one more pile on the floor but then with as many as there were, it was sort of tough to tell the difference.

So in ten minutes, I completely emptied the desk and in another ten minutes even took off every computer component so that the entire desk was bare. Then I walked away from it and left the house for the rest of the day. That's it.

The next day, I walked back into the office and took a fresh look. Did I want or feel the need to move the desk? Probably not, at least not yet. But I did re-arrange a few things and started immediately to like having things in their new places, like the fax machine next to me where I could actually see it and use it instead of on the lower shelf of the desk where I had to push the chair out of the way and kneel next to it if I ever wanted to send a fax.

I left it like that for a few days just trying to pay attention to how I work and how I wanted to use stuff. Then I started slowly, with a half hour of collecting stuff into paper sacks. The one labeled "Afraid I'll Lose Or Forget It" only narrowly edged out the one labeled "Sure I'll Need It For Something Someday" in terms of how quickly they filled. I will still have to figure out how to store the sorts of things I am so deathly afraid of losing or forgetting so they'll be readily accessible but I'm sure there's a lot of the stuff I've been so sure I'd need at some point that I can simply eliminate and that will make storing everything else so much better.

One of the things that's happened is that I actually have to work at limiting myself to 30 minutes a day an activity that normally you cannot beg or pay me to do. The willingness to devote myself to this is likely to fade a bit, so I am working on trying to find that delicate balance between taking advantage of the energy without totally burning myself out in the process. There is no 'done' in this kind of effort. We don't just stop collecting stuff - more gadgets and papers will continue to move through our lives. The trick is to be sure that at least as much is moving out as is coming in. To get there, you work simply on making progress a little bit at a time in such a way that is sustainable once you reach a satisfactory equilibrium. I know this is how it works and that helps a great deal.

And in the meantime, it's sort of like a treasure hunt. One of the things I unearthed yesterday is another of my old television contracts. I'd already found a more recent one, scanned it and have been working on chopping it up into pieces that I can share so we can all have a good laugh. Now we'll have even more to work with and compare. It'll be fun, I promise. Now that enough time has gone by, it's even fun for me - I haven't detected the slightest trace of bitterness yet, which is a very good sign.

After having gone for such a long time putting off doing this work, I have to say it feels very good to be getting rid of stuff I clearly no longer need. That's one of the benefits of waiting. My theory is there's always an upside to poor habits and/or there's something difficult about making a change, otherwise we'd have made the shift a long time ago.

Of course I'm also finding missed opportunities and that's the downside of not having kept up with stuff. And I realize that I can only be better going forward; it simply doesn't help to get annoyed about something that's so far past. No real worth for guilt.

Just clearing some space is worthy of celebration, no matter how it happens or how long it took to get to this point. I'm my own prodigal son.

The other sort of big thing I'm celebrating this week is the news that my ACC application was approved. It is nice to have had that effort rewarded and I'm proud of the accomplishment - now the clock is ticking on getting the next credential as this one has an expiration date. So I'll be collecting more hours (750 is the next milestone), and keeping better track of my Coaching Continuing Education Units. Wow, what a really great time to be better about how I file paperwork!

If you have favorite organizational tricks and tips, I'd be interested to hear about them so send them to me at or let me know if you'd like to hear more about the file system I'm currently using to keep active projects top of mind without having them clutter up the top of my desk.

How can you work with your tendencies and habits to get what you want instead of against them?

Kimm Viebrock is an ICF-credentialed Associate Certified Coach who helps technology professionals and service-oriented technology groups develop and use their skills more effectively and increase their value within the larger organization, allowing them to do more, do it better and have more fun doing it. Kimm is devoted to finding the connectedness in life.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Shelf Life

It turns out there's a word for the reaction I typically have to most of the junk that people - even the people who are close to me & ought to know better - seem to feel with some degree of regularity a compelling need to forward to me. One bit of glurge that has shown up in my inbox from time to time is the one about the husband explaining how he came to see the importance of treating every day as a special occasion after his wife died before she ever found the right 'special occasion' for which to don an expensive piece of lingerie. Even though the story always made me gag, the sentiment isn't entirely lost on me either... though I find now that I have an easier time thinking about it in terms of shelf life.

I'll admit that I came by this notion much more slowly than was probably necessary. I went a long time letting things like bananas and other fruit go bad, thinking that I was leaving it for someone else who might want it. I even have let really good chocolate turn completely tasteless just because it wasn't mine, if you can believe that. In retrospect, it's actually rather amazing that after having been passed by on so many other feminine tendencies that I should somehow get both the interest in chocolate and the kind of self-sacrificing that many men just scratch their heads over. Surely, "You gonna eat that?" ought to apply to chocolate as readily as anything else, right?

While I still hold back on chocolate that actually does belong to someone else, I'm less inclined to stand by and wait for the bananas to get so far as to become candidates for the banana bread I never get around to baking (another of the distaff qualities I somehow missed). I understand now that they have a limited shelf life. If we don't enjoy them now while they're good, it will be too late. Saving such things for later, even if it's something we believe would get used up and not replaced, doesn't work. At least with used up and gone, there's the enjoyment of the experience. Letting it go bad is just wasting that opportunity.

This applies to time too, especially time with people we care about or time spent doing things that are important to us vs. extraneous junk that seems more important at the time than it really is. We usually don't know how much time we actually have; we only know that it is a limited amount like will go on longer than it really will.

There is a shelf life to time and we must enjoy it while it is available to us. Saving it for some unqualified "later" won't work any better than saving Jelly Bellies for a year or more - which I can tell you from personal experience doesn't work well at all. Chocolate Easter Robins' Eggs on the other hand survive pretty well, though I'm not sure if that's because of the armor-like candy coating or the fact that they start out bad enough that it's tough to tell the difference a year later.

So what's a cynic to do - get all gushy and introspective? Maybe. I find it works to remain skeptical if need be and at least temporarily set aside the cynicism long enough to figure out if there's anything worthwhile in the midst of all the glurge before deleting it. Even in falsity there can be truth.

Case in point - Merck is taking some heat for its Make a Connection campaign to create more public awareness around the causal link between HPV - the human papillomavirus responsible for genital warts - and cervical cancer. And guess what - the shelf life of that link is along the lines of 5 years or more.

That means that if you're 'fortunate' enough to have to make several inconvenient trips to someplace really fun like Harborview - and hey, what a treat that is - about the time you have forgotten all the fun you had and why, there's an opportunity to make another series of even less fun trips to investigate and deal with any pre-cancerous anomalies that may have shown up on an annual exam - and can anyone tell me why freezing things that one normally doesn't think of freezing is so often involved? The only thing I can think of that's more unpleasant is the cutting that sometimes happens too. Then, if you truly are fortunate for real, that's about the end of it; only for lots of people, it's not.

Of course Merck's interests are sure to be largely mercenary given the vaccine that they're about to release, and hence the criticism. Anyone who doesn't think so can explain why we haven't seen this campaign say, about twenty years ago when scientists first figured out the relationship.

That doesn't make the program itself a bad thing however. Who wouldn't want to save their sister, girlfriend, or daughter from a cervical cancer scare - or worse yet, the real thing? I'm just amazed that in twenty years, people don't already understand the connection any better than they do. But then ignorance can have a pretty long shelf life. I olnly wish chocolate lasted that long.

If you have thoughts about how long is appropriate to wait to see if someone else is going to take the last slice of pie when you've already had a slice yourself... or the about longest amount of time you've ever waited to eat your last piece of Halloween candy and had it still be good... or anything else along those lines, go ahead and send them to me at so we can compare notes. As long as it's not glurge, I'll promise to read what you send.

How do you tell the difference between patience and immobilization and what does it take to move back into action?

Kimm Viebrock is an ICF-credentialed Associate Certified Coach who helps technology professionals and service-oriented technology groups develop and use their skills more effectively and increase their value within the larger organization, allowing them to do more, do it better and have more fun doing it. Kimm is devoted to finding the connectedness in life.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Strength in Numbers

I had to watch the video of FedEx arrivals into their Memphis hub during a major thunderstorm over and over. Someone has set the time-lapsed radar playback to music, which makes it look a lot like beautifully choreagraphed dancing ants. You can see the flights pick their way through the cells of the advancing storm and work their way into a queue for landing - right up until the storm is directly over the runway, at which point the ants all go running away from the airport, some to come back again after it passes but many finding their way to other nearby airports instead. It's hilarious... and I find myself wanting a voice-over too (Run away!).

Typically, though, I like to keep my love of flying and my interest in severe weather separate. They don't go well together. It's probably why I didn't do a lot of flying when I was in Omaha, which happened to be Stephen Colbert's target on his show Tuesday night. Between that and Jon Stewart's ongoing jabs at the Terre Haute weather team wars, I was feeling sort of deja vu all over again-ish, getting serious flashbacks of my days in small market television.

That, of course, is another story. While I was in Omaha, though, I nearly had a bit of a flashback of a different kind, coming close to getting caught up in a strike of my own, just like I used to see my father go through when I was a kid. Working in television in a lot of U.S. markets means joining up with AFTRA, the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists and while I was working in Omaha, the local AFTRA chapter came close to taking action against the station where I worked, placing me in a rather difficult position.

As on-air talent, my contract was considerably different than what most of the rest of the employees had with the station and was negotiated individually. Not surprisingly, the station considered me and the other on-air folks as part of a separate category altogether. They threatened us with harsher action if we honored the picket lines which certainly seemed intimidating at the time and was of course exactly the point.

Needless to say, the rest of the union considered "us" to be part of them along with everyone else and needed our participation to gain the leverage they needed in any kind of strike that might occur. The fact that I essentially agreed with them didn't make being in the middle any easier.

Basically, both sides needed or at least wanted us - our faces, voices, and soubriquets - on their side. I was greatly conflicted (mostly from trying to figure out how not to get sued) and not at all looking forward to making what was sure to have been a difficult decision, should the matter come down to a walk-out. Fortunately, the union and the station were able to come to an agreement and I never had to figure out my part in the situation.

The strikes I lived through as a child always seemed far simpler. No matter how difficult it might be for us as a family, we supported any union action that took place. And my father was always very clear that he understood not everyone was in a position to honor picket lines but he drew the line at enjoying the benefits resulting from such a sacrifice and enjoying continued work (and paycheck) during the strike. That always seemed fair to me.

I learned something else during that time. Going on strike is very, very difficult. I don't wish that on anyone. And what I came to understand back then was that no one likes to go on strike. When it happens, it's because the people feel like it is the only way to get what they want and that what they want is important enough to sacrifice a great deal to get it.

As such, I've always tried to honor any picket lines I come up against in my everyday life, the kind that have nothing to do with me except that they happen to be taking place at the store where I usually shop or the company from whom I usually get my newspaper. I tend to believe that in most cases, they wouldn't be walking the picket lines unless they really thought it was worth it because who in their right minds would willingly put themselves through that trauma if that weren't the case.

Becoming a manager in the tech world shifted my perspective just a bit, seeing what kind of hassles unionization was likely to cause in the places where I worked. When a manager really does try to do the right thing, meeting the demands of a union can be hobbling even while those demands are in place to protect against real-life issues caused by problem owners and managers. As a result, the opinion I've developed over time is that it is in everyone's best interests to do whatever is necessary to avoid the need for unionization, not to avoid unionization itself. If unions are sometimes a necessary evil, avoid the evil part by making them unnecessary.

The tech industry is currently working through the risk analysis for unionization with some folks actively pushing for unionizing technology workers now. There's no doubt in my mind that labor movements are not dead and that they will continue to have value so long as there are forces in the marketplace that push owners and managers to make choices contrary to the best interests of their employees.

When good owners and managers can resist those forces and take a more balanced approach, however, unionization may be premature. Smart owners and managers will recognize that and keep doing their level best to make unionization unnecessary - an obsolete notion - while smart workers will recognize those efforts when they're successful and hold off the unionization call, at least for the time being. While there is no benefit to unionizing before it's really needed, when it is needed, taking advantage of the strength that comes with numbers is the only thing that will work.

Too bad such strength in numbers doesn't work as well against forces of nature but then we wouldn't have had such a cool video to talk about.

Send your stories, thoughts or observations about this column, flying, management, unionization and/or weather phenomona to me at - I'm not picky; I'll work with just about anything

What are the important connections in your life?

Kimm Viebrock is a Certified Professional Coach who helps technology professionals and service-oriented technology groups develop and use their skills more effectively and increase their value within the larger organization, allowing them to do more, do it better and have more fun doing it. Kimm is devoted to finding the connectedness in life.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

KFS - Trade-offs

To make the airplane go up, pull back. To make it go down, pull back farther.
- - Old aviation saying
* * *
Soaring Mountains: Piloting tips applicable to everyday living
* * *

Slow an airplane down enough, and you'll find yourself in what's called the region of reverse command or, more commonly, "behind the power curve". It's a term we hear and use quite regularly in conversations that have absolutely nothing at all to do with aviation though I'd hazard a guess that most folks don't actually know what it really means.

A pilot will usually begin any explanation of the phenomenon by explaining first that all planes have a minimum flight speed. They need that airflow over the wings or they become very expensive rocks.

Flying very close to that minimum flight speed, pitch controls airspeed and power controls altitude rather than the other way around. The slower the airplane is flying, the more we find that we need more and more power just to maintain altitude until finally, there's no more power to give and the airplane begins to settle toward earth at a pretty good clip, even as the nose is pointed up in a climbing attitude!

All flight students spend some time learning about minimum slow flight and flying behind the power curve. They practice learning to spot the trouble signs and how to get themselves out of the predicament it poses - hopefully before the airplane stalls. When you've given it all the power you can and you still can't maintain altitude, there's nothing left for it but to trade altitude for speed of one kind or another - hopefully the kind you can use. And hopefully you've left yourself enough altitude to spare.

While the realities of flying behind the power curve and the solution for extricating oneself from that situation may be counterintuitive at first, it's only one of many aspects of flying that fit into that category so no wonder there's so much drill and practice in flying. It's important to get these things right and not just leave it to an instinct that may be inaccurate under certain circumstances.

There's a lot about life and business too that can be cast as "trading altitude for speed" and the best solutions in such situations can be equally counterintuitive. Sometimes we're simply trying too hard and things work better if we relax a bit. Sometimes we have to give in order to get. Sometimes we have to listen better in order to communicate better. It's just too bad we don't drill on these everyday aspects of our lives as much as pilots drill on flying skills. The impact is at least as great, even if it's not always as obvious or spectacular (link not recommended if you harbor any flying fears).

If you've had thoughts about how you recognize if you're operating behind the power curve or have questions about how that metaphor might (or might not apply) in a given situation, send them to me at and we'll see if we can't get you flying straight and level again.

What trade-offs are necessary to begin making progress again?

Kimm Viebrock is a Certified Professional Coach who helps technology professionals and service-oriented technology groups develop and use their skills more effectively and increase their value within the larger organization, allowing them to do more, do it better and have more fun doing it. Kimm is devoted to finding the connectedness in life.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Penned In

Sure, cubicles are nasty. I particularly dislike trying to get work done when the person on the other side of the partition is (loudly) carrying on the kind of personal, non-work-related conversation that keeps me from getting my own work done. Oh, that's right, I don't have that problem anymore. But I did once. The only thing I can think that would be worse would be to find myself in a sea of desks like the really old days.

So I'm not surprised that they're figuring out now that cubicles may not have been such a great idea. With space being at such a premium though, I'm not sure what the answer is. We'd all like offices (probably not the one I'm working in now and no, I'm not going to show you a picture even though that would be the logical thing to do) but is it really feasible to give everyone office space?

Maybe sharing two or three to an office would work like I've seen in some older buildings that don't have the open floorplan needed for cubies... even so, that's still a less efficient use of space. The end result is that I'm perplexed and don't really have any answers for that one though I am interested in whatever other alternatives people would consider.

Tell me - if it was your business and you were the one who had to choose where to spend your money, what would the desk space for your staff look like? Send your thoughts to me at and let's brainstorm a bit to see if we can come up with a better solution. Everyone will thank us.

What trade-offs are you willing to make to have what you want?

Kimm Viebrock is a Certified Professional Coach who helps technology professionals and service-oriented technology groups develop and use their skills more effectively and increase their value within the larger organization, allowing them to do more, do it better and have more fun doing it. Kimm is devoted to finding the connectedness in life.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Get Ready to Rock

So - what are your plans to celebrate Mt. St. Helens eruption day (5/18)? Much as I'd love to attend the Attachmate reunion and find out what everyone at the Circle-A Ranch is up to and what the deal is with the latest post-merger acquisition, I'll be too busy dancin' the night away at Lawyerpalooza down by Safeco Field. If there was an easy way to do both, I suppose I would but I'm so involved in LP4 that offering my help where it's needed and making sure I tend to my duties as a professional groupie really are my first priorities.

Of course, you're more than welcome to join me there at the Premier Club (a great venue for this kind of event) as a sort of anti-reunion if you like. It's likely to be far too loud to be able to tell me what you've been up to lately, which is okay since I'll probably be dancing instead of standing around talking anyway. On the good side, I promise I won't be handing out business cards, though I suppose I'll have some stashed somewhere if you're actually looking for one.

The last three events have been a total party, and I expect this year to be no different, especially since we've got some pretty hot sounding new bands joining us. How weird is it, though, that one of the bands comes out of the public defender's office and another comes out of the prosecuter's office? Should make for some interesting Chicago-style voting!

If you come out for the show, be sure to look for me; I'll be the one dancing even if no one else is. And if you go to the Attachmate reunion, be sure to say hello to everyone for me and give me a report afterward. And remember, any Circle-A stuff you still have laying around these days is vintage now!

If you want tickets to Lawyerpalooza or have news to share about the Attachmate reunion, let me know at

How can you use the best from your past now, and in the future?

Kimm Viebrock is a Certified Professional Coach who helps technology professionals and service-oriented technology groups develop and use their skills more effectively and increase their value within the larger organization, allowing them to do more, do it better and have more fun doing it. Kimm is devoted to finding the connectedness in life.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

My 'New' Friend Judy

Have you ever done something that seemed so simple at the time and it turns out that the impact is far more enormous than you'd anticipated? I had one of those the other day and it's still flooring me. I realize that even though it's one of my very most favorite things to do that not everyone else loves to fly. So I was very hopeful that I could be of some bit of service for another Judy's Book member when she asked about how best to calm her fears about flying. I had no idea the responses would be so positive or that there would be so many of them.

Having done a fair amount of flight instructing, I came to the conclusion early on that one of the biggest deterrants to students taking the controls with confidence was their concern over hurting the airplane should they make a mistake. As soon as I worked that out, I made sure that the very first thing we did as soon as it was safe enough to do so was to let them stomp on the rudder pedals a bit and then rock the wings good and hard and then push the yoke back and forth too. Unless they were the airsick type, I got them really going - just not all three together; I didn't feel much like scaring any prospective students with getting ourselves into a spin, even if I did know how to get safely out of one.

Every single one of them felt more comfortable afterward once they realized that there was nothing they could do (at least with me there) that would hurt the airplane or cause us to fall out of the sky. Knowledge, when you get enough of it, is power.

Small person (though he doesn't seem to need it) is getting a taste of this concept. He agreed to be a control group subject in an autism study, part of which involves taking an MRI. While it's another thing that I don't quite get, I know that a lot of people are afraid of MRI's. The closeness of the tube and the odd noises apparently bother a lot of people. There definitely seems to be a pattern around how people react to noises that they can't place. I've never had an MRI myself but I'm pretty sure that it wouldn't be a problem for me. I haven't noticed any claustrophobic tendencies and I figure instead of causing fear, the noises would be far more likely to seem like a puzzle to me that needs working out.

Small person doesn't particularly care for loud noises though, so I was glad when they gave him a "practice MRI" during our most recent visit to the research center. As it turned out, he had no trouble at all lying very still in a mocked up tube with headphones playing the normal noises of an MRI machine. In fact, he looked like he might be falling into a meditative trance! We'll play the CD they gave us at bedtime anyway so that he can be used to the sounds well enough by the time we do this for real that he can just fall asleep in there.

See - when we're afraid of the unknown, the best thing to do is to make it known. The same is true in business of course. When people don't know what's happening, they tend to make up the most dire scenario imaginable. It must be in our genes. The trick is to help each other identify what's really going on and to communicate that as much as possible. Even when the news isn't great, it's usually better than the story we've cooked up in our imaginations. And even if it weren't, it's far easier and better to make plans and take action based on the truth than on some fiction. We make better, more effective and more meaningful choices that way.

This sharing information must also be natural too even though the healthy version of it doesn't always take hold in corporate culture. It's a phenomenon I've been watching with interest as I watch Judy's Book continue to grow and evolve. People aren't just sharing reviews about goods and services. They're sharing information and ideas that go beyond stores and restaurants and who to trust with your car. They could be sharing these ideas with one another individually and yet there is something deeply satisfying about making sure that more than one or two other people can be helped by what you know. And in an era when we're so spread out and not in close connection with very many other people, the internet as a facilitator (as opposed to being a substitute) can be a real help at times. Plus, it solves the puzzle of figuring out who knows and who needs to know and matching them up.

How do you share information most effectively? Share what works for you by sending it to - or send whatever is currently keeping you awake with worry... either way, we'll all benefit as we work through it together.

What helps you move past fear into effective action?

Kimm Viebrock is a Certified Professional Coach who helps technology professionals and service-oriented technology groups develop and use their skills more effectively and increase their value within the larger organizaion, allowing them to do more, do it better and have more fun doing it. Kimm is devoted to finding the connectedness in life.

Thursday, April 06, 2006


Somehow, I never grew up with the concept of giving someone a mulligan. I'm not sure exactly why that was but today seems like a day for do-overs... a chance to get it right... so I'm going to take what I can get and run with it. I'm looking forward, for instance to doing a better job scoring Small Person's little league game this afternoon than I did over the weekend. Now that I understand the rules better, including the time limits, maybe they'll actually win this time. The weekend's game was definitely a good lesson in how we often have far more influence over matter than we realize.

If that's of interest to anyone, I'm sure I could get around to elaborating further. In the meantime, there seem to be other do-overs in the mix that have practically demanded today that I pay attention and appreciate. Getting a chance to re-write this essay after it blew up in my face is one. In the fall-out, I discovered that I get to have two ideas to work with, instead of just one, so I'm sure we'll all benefit. And while not everyone has been privy to my credentialing pursuit given that I've been far more silent on the topic than I'd intended, there were some rather interesting events that conspired last week to get in my way of filing my application by the deadline. I apparently was given a cosmic mulligan on that one too, sent in all the paperwork in the nick of time and now am under active consideration for my ICF ACC credential. Whew.

Coaching too, as an industry, got a mulligan today. After being (appropriately) skewered by the Daily Show, I didn't think the New York Times necessarily clarified any better what it is coaches do and how they can help the average person. On this morning's Today Show, however, Laura Berman Fortgang and Penelope Brackett did what I (and others) thought to be an outstanding job showing people the more positive side of coaching and what it can do, as Laura put it, to close the gap between where you are in your life and where you want to be.

Of course I'm somewhat biased because I highly respect Laura's work. Those who know me, however, know that it's not that I think she's good because I like her but more that I like and respect her because she's good. Part of that stems from the fact that I discovered her approach to be very similar to my own and so I've found it worthwhile for myself and my clients to leverage off of her efforts by becoming an authorized facilitator of her Now What: 90 Days to a New Life Direction program.

As with anything I get excited about, I'm happy to talk ad nauseum on the subject... and am totally fine too if it doesn't interest you in the slightest because here's one of the things I've learned about do-overs: they're great for helping let go of emotional attachment to a particular outcome because we've already been through the initial sense of loss. Getting a mulligan, at its best, means being able to give it another try without so much of the emotional attachment that can get in the way of doing it well.

Now, if only I could get a do-over where Laura knows/remembers about my meteorological background so that when Al Roker tells her he needs a weather coach, she knows to tell him she knows just the perfect person. Hey Al, I'm over here, on the other coast.

If you've been granted a mulligan recently, or wish that you had, how about letting me know about it at and sharing what you learned in the process.

What would you do differently if you were granted a do-over?

Kimm Viebrock is a Certified Professional Coach who helps technology professionals and service-oriented technology groups develop and use their skills more effectively and increase their value within the larger organization, allowing them to do more, do it better and have more fun doing it. Kimm is devoted to finding the connectedness in life.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Gold Rush or Something More Sustainable?

By the time the pioneers that small person is studying right now made their way west, most of the emigrants were farmers looking to build a sustainable way of life for their families. What got this wave of emigration really started though and broke trail and started the early settlements that made everything possible for the mainstream settlers was fur trapping and the gold rush.

Animal rights activism aside, fur trapping is an interesting business case - this was temporarily a sustainable industry fueled by an actual consumer interest in a particular product. What the mountain men out trapping fur animals and the companies that bought and sold pelts mostly didn't take into account was how fickle the market could be - it seems that silk became all the rage in Europe all of a sudden (but fur is so much warmer and it's not like they had polar fleece in those days!) and there went the fur trade. Companies went under very quickly after that because they hadn't come up with any viable alternatives.

Some did pretty well by shifting their strategy to one of provisioning the 49'ers and the more mainstream settlers, and therein lies another interesting business case.

A few people who were able to get in early and stake good claims right away did get rich off the gold they found. Most though, did not. By and large, the people who actually made money during the rush were the ones selling the miners the supplies they needed for mining and day to day life. Call me cynical, but I'm thinking that anytime you see that the only ones making any money are those 'helping' you to earn a living, you should run for the hills - and not the ones that are purported to have gold in 'them thar'.

And even when there really is gold out there to be had, it's important to go in with eyes wide open about what you're getting yourself into and to be as prepared as possible so that you're not caught short while you're still trying to make it. Keep in mind too, that just like driving in bad weather, sometimes it's not enough to be good yourself - you have to be prepared for the idiot(s) out on the road with you as well.

This whole cycle of gold fever, unprepared hordes who never got what they sought, and the people who made their wealth and lives off of said hordes has played out here in Seattle again and again. Not really sure exactly what that's about (note to self - think carefully about anything having to do with Seattle that sounds too good to be true), but I also know it happens elsewhere too.

So - no matter what business you're in or where you are, it's probably worth asking yourself if people really are making any money at it. It matters who they are and how they're doing it - if they're primarily making money off of each other, then what you've really got is a pyramid scheme. Is what you're considering really a sustainable concept or one that is too dependent on fickle tastes. How prepared are you for what lies ahead and how will you adapt if the market shifts?

On the good side, those pioneer farmers may not have made it big, but they did make it and when they found good homesteads, they made a decent living and raised loving families. They may not have struck it rich but many of them did thrive, always a worthy goal.

Interestingly enough, some of them even made it to Seattle. Some of us made it here a little later through later-wave pioneers - both the farming kind and then later than that through early aviation. Of course, real pioneering - the business of scouting out new territory and making it sustainable for more and more mainstream use - is a new topic altogether. I'm sure I'll get to it eventually though - since it's quite literally in my blood, I have a bit of a fondness for the subject.

If any of this sounds allegorical to the tech boom/bust or anything else, guess what... you're right.

After three weeks of studying about pioneering, I'm sure there's still plenty I don't know... and would be happy to dare you to stump me anyway. Send messages to me at and we'll talk about the gold rush or whatever else is on your alleged mind.

What is the reality of your current situation

Kimm Viebrock is a Certified Professional Coach who helps technology professionals and service-oriented technology groups develop and use their skills more effectively and increase their value within the larger organizaion, allowing them to do more, do it better and have more fun doing it. Kimm is devoted to finding the connectedness in life.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

The Long and Winding Road

This week, I've been helping small person build a fort. Not just any fort; the instructions from school are that the fort must be "authentic" and based on factual information. It's to be a fort that the pioneers traveling the Oregon Trail would have encountered along the way. Let me just say I'm totally against the whole parent doing the kids' homework projects thing and yet I'm finding there is a slippery slope one steps upon the moment we begin helping out with things there is no way a nine-year-old could possibly do.

Let's just start with the research. There were sufficient parameters placed on this project (yeah, I'm a literalist too - why do you think I work with the people I do? the other parents are probably shaking their heads at how overboard I've taken this thing) that finding an appropriate fort to copy and have enough information to actually do something with it was next to impossible. At least at the beginning when I couldn't have listed more than a half dozen forts by name - most of them, as it turns out, not military.

This, of course, was one of the early stumbling blocks - according to the instructions, it's supposed to be a military fort. Guess what - it turns out that a lot of the forts the emigrants came to on their journeys westward were actually private sector trading posts. More than a week into the project, a handout surfaces with information on several forts, some of which we've already discarded as possibilities because we'd written them off as Hudson's Bay Company forts and the like. Ahh well, at least I know I have a problem being too literal at times.

After much internet search help from Parental Unit Mom (me), we settled on Fort Laramie. I tend to like to be a bit different than everyone else and this seemed way too obvious a choice, but it has its advantages. As a major stop on a section of trail that was shared by just about everyone heading to just about anywhere in the Pacific Northwest all the way down into northern California, there is a lot of information about Fort Laramie. Almost too much, given how much it changed over the years. Hey, on the good side, that means our model is bound to be semi-accurate for some relevant period of time... and even if it's not, it'd be tough to prove that!

Uncle Doug had the best idea ever - start with a cereal box. With the cardboard we cut from the sides, we made blockhouses and then made a run to the craft store for $40 or so worth of supplies. Small person found a package of horses about the right scale, dowels sized about right for tipi poles, little pompoms he figured would be great for bushes and just the right color of textured spray paint to make a cereal box look like whitewashed adobe. Oh, and not being a glue person so much except to know I've run across lots of kinds of glue that don't do what I want, I probably spent half of our budget on several different kinds of glue. Actually, I think we've used almost every kind so far except for one and we may still get to that one yet. Thank goodness there's a scrapbooking craze on.

I did the design work trying to figure out how to turn a cereal box into a believable rendition of a pioneer fort and small person cut everything out and folded up the sections making the blockhouses. He blacked in where the windows and doors would go on the blockhouses and the interior apartments and together we taped it all into place.

Spousal/Parental Unit Dad took spray paint duty (do you think he'd object to being referred to as SPUD?). Seriously - you're not going to let a nine-year-old wield a spray can, are you? The last time one did in our household, it resulted in significant patches of blue carpeting in the junior member of the partnership's bedroom and the loss of our damage deposit. Fortunately, I can report that he survived that incident and seems to have rehabilitated his penchant for destroying his surroundings. And if not - well, it's his damage deposit now and being able to afford that is presumably part of the motivation for graduating from college.

Similarly, the X-acto knife action needed to delicately remove bits of masking tape from the doors and windows was my job. To my credit and the horror of better mothers everywhere, I did let him use the awl to poke holes in the catwalk so he could put toothpicks in for a palisade. No blood was shed and I didn't even feel the need to hover over him after the first five. The carefully applied spray paint is still even (mostly) in place. Spousal/Parental Unit Dad will be happy about that.

Along the way, we also took apart the latest rocket ship probe (though we were able to save the control panel) in order to make the base. And we only got a minimum of blue river glitter all over the floor. Happy Days. Small person decided that we really needed ladders in this fort too and they do make a nice touch. We have yet to put together the corral and the tipis but hopefully there will be time for that around everything else that's going on the next couple of days.

The net result so far is that this project is looking way cool and is "done enough" even if we don't get to the remaining finishing touches. Small person has had help, yes, and yet a lot of the work has been his own. He chose the fort. He read all the materials I helped find and made a list of things he wanted to include in the overall display, found a lot of the supplies needed to make his vision a reality, and he has done most of the gruntwork that didn't involve spray paint or digit-severing implements. Especially with the size constraints placed on this project, it may be just as well that the Fort Phil Kearny that he built with his grandfather recently (and saved all this time just for this project) was not found intact.

I have to say I've definitely learned (or at least was reminded of) a lot too. Among them, things like... Spousal Unit is still better than I am at recognizing when we're at the point where it's advantageous to remember the enemy of good is better... how a tipi goes together... how stinkin' many people paraded west during the mass emigration that occurred in the mid- and late-1800's and how short a time window they had to make the trek... the value of making note of where we've been for future reference... how many of our skills get pressed into play in ways we never anticipated... different styles of leadership are needed from one moment to the next, even working with a single individual... and perhaps most important of all - kids (just like employees) often are capable of far more than we give them credit for.

Are you working on any cool projects you'd like to share or have some comments on parents doing schoolwork for kids - it's really about the equivalent of managers doing work for employees, isn't it? Send them to me at - till then, Happy Trails!

In what new ways are your past skills and experiences still relevant?

Kimm Viebrock is a Certified Professional Coach who helps technology professionals and service-oriented technology groups develop and use their skills more effectively and increase their value within the larger organizaion, allowing them to do more, do it better and have more fun doing it. Kimm is devoted to finding the connectedness in life.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Put Me In, Coach

Tuesday night, I went to see Arlo Guthrie (what a truly awesome performance!) so I missed The Daily Show's send-up of life coaching. As a professional coach, I was curious to see whether I'd be able to laugh at having the industry skewered so I made sure to turn it on for the repeat broadcast early the next morning. As they say in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, "It's a fair cop."

As per usual, they go after their subject right where it's weakest. And as much as I believe in what I do, many professional life coaches as individuals and the industry in general do have some serious weak spots. Despite the growing popularity (both with people hiring coaches and with people wanting to become coaches), many are unclear about exactly what it is that we do. Many are untrained and uncredentialed. And at this point in the industry, there is very little barrier to entry, one of the first tests of any real profession.

On the flip (less flippant?) side, there is a lot happening these days that is sure to shift coaching toward a much more professional footing. Although these changes could penalize coaches who don't catch this next wave, they will most certainly benefit coaching clients, and that's a good thing so I plan to be part of the drive toward credentialing more coaches (myself included - yes, I'm still working on that!) and being sure that consumers are educated about what they're getting.

Right now though, I believe that as a group, we're kind of like the pre-teen who really wants to be seen as grown-up by everyone else and the jokes that prove that "everyone else" doesn't yet understand us - or perhaps understands some of us all too well - still sting a bit. When we really are grown up, I'm sure the jokes won't hurt so much because by then we'll be more sure of our own skins and more of it will be meaningless anyway.

In the meantime, I find myself mostly able to laugh, both at the gross mischaracterizations and at the barbs that hit uncomfortably close to home. Even more, I find myself thoroughly fascinated by the attention, especially since there seems to be so much of it all of a sudden. Over the weekend, even the New York Times Magazine joined in. Oh, and of course referenced The Daily Show piece too!

Just so we're clear - I happen to be one of those who sometimes struggles with explaining just exactly what it is that I do, mostly because it looks so different for each client I work with. It comes out in the success stories that follow the work that we do more than being anything particularly tangible.

Besides, working with the "show me" techie crowd like I do means that even more clients than normal start working with me for one reason only to determine partway through that something else entirely comes to the forefront. I'm getting comfortable with it, though, because dealing with that ambiguity and helping my clients through it seems to be one of my specialties. Y'know, come to think of it, it's kinda like the eBay IT ads. Wonder if I can borrow that strategy?

When your industry starts requiring more of you to prove your value, how do you handle it - or, if you'd rather, send to me at your thoughts or questions about the coaching industry. I can hold extended conversations on just about any subject!

Where do you need help laughing at yourself?

Kimm Viebrock is a Certified Professional Coach who helps technology professionals and service-oriented technology groups develop and use their skills more effectively and increase their value within the larger organizaion, allowing them to do more, do it better and have more fun doing it. Kimm is devoted to finding the connectedness in life.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Just Say No To Drive-by Carding

I've had quite a few conversations now about how informative and inspirational Keith Ferrazzi's presentation was the other day at the Microsoft Small Business Summit. Truly worthwhile, so I still recommend checking out the webcast now that they've managed to resolve most of the technical issues.

At least one guy who was there must have missed the point though. As I was getting ready to leave at the end of the day, one gentleman stopped by just long enough to give me the 5 second version of who he is and what he does and to give me a business card. I truly have no idea what I'll do with it. Chuck it, if I'm smart, but I anticipate my packrat tendencies and a desire to be 'nice' will mean that I'll stare at it while before that happens. Really, he could have made a little more effort to find out if I even wanted his card; that way maybe he wouldn't have wasted it or, more importantly, wouldn't have burdened me with it.

I had to laugh though - his next stop was to quite literally toss a card in the general direction of the guy with whom I'd had some pretty good conversation during the day and toss off the name of his business - all without breaking a stride. I have half a mind to check with Keith to see if this pegs his "eww - gross" meter as much as mine; I am reasonably certain it would.

Hey, even people who export their entire list of Outlook Contacts into LinkedIn are on stronger footing - at least they are more likely to have some level of connection with the folks in their Contacts folder. I not so sure that's quite as true of the people I'm finding who have 500+ contacts listed in LinkedIn. I mean, how well can you really know 500 people? While it certainly makes sense to keep in touch with as many people as possible, quality has to count for something.

And that, of course, was what gave me the chuckle about the drive-by carder. I'm sure he heard somewhere that you should be sure to give out at least 10-20 (or whatever number people tell you - I so do not know that number and don't care to) business cards when at a networking event. And I'm equally sure that he got to the end of the day and realized he'd given out less than half of them already. He'd have been better off focusing on more more decent conversation with someone where he really got to know the person. Even someone who doesn't need his services could be a great referral resource if he'd managed to bond with him or her even a little bit. Unfortunately, that person is not too likely to be me.

So - do you have funny networking stories or embarrassing moments you'd be willing to share? Send them to me at and we'll see what we can learn... or at least have a good laugh.

What does real bonding and connection look like and feel like for you?

Kimm Viebrock is a Certified Professional Coach who helps technology professionals and service-oriented technology groups develop and use their skills more effectively and increase their value within the larger organizaion, allowing them to do more, do it better and have more fun doing it. Kimm is devoted to finding the connectedness in life.