Relax

Take a deep breath. Everything will be ok.

Why do we say this? Nothing about our lives and our world seems to suggest that relaxation is worthwhile. If it were important wouldn’t we focus more on being relaxed?

Feeling some form of relaxation is important and we should be conscious of tension. I was reminded of this while watching a 60 minutes spot on free-diving. What is free-diving?

Free-diving is a form of underwater diving that relies on a diver’s ability to hold his or her breath until resurfacing rather than on the use of a breathing apparatus such as scuba gear.

60 Minutes shows a couple of free divers that are attempting new world records. In one case, William Trubridge is attempting to dive 400ft. He has to hold his breath for over four minutes! (and I thought I was a bad A when I held my breath longer than another dad at the beach – we made it a minute!).

Source: thexodirectory.com

My mind was clearly blown by watching someone hold their breath for four minutes and dive almost 400 feet below the surface. I was most inspired by what William does before he dives.

He relaxes.

As he sits in the water, about to risk his life for sport, the most important thing to him is to stay relaxed. If any tension creeps in it will reduce the air capacity in his lungs and jeopardize his dive.

How tense do you feel? Right now as you read this post?

Left to my own devices, I tend to operate out of tension and stress rather than confidence and relaxation. But I recognize that I am at my best when relaxed.

So why do we – why do I – become stressed and overburdened? And how do we learn to relax?

A large factor of stress is perspective. What is it you value?

Do you value a particular project that you are working on? Or do you value the chance to stretch yourself? Do you value the destination? Is it all about where you must go? Or is it about the journey?

It’s clear that Truebridge spends many hours trying to de-stress and stay relaxed. If it’s important to you, why not spend some time thinking about what it is you truly value.

How to relax?

I’m no expert, but I have found that having fun at work to be an excellent relaxation technique. If you can’t laugh at some point during the day or do something completely pointless with your team, then it’s easy to stay tense.

As I mentioned in a previous post (Fun at Work), we took this picture because it would be fun. I routinely try and do these sort of things to keep my team and myself relaxed.

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As I have observed workplaces where empathy, creativity and empathy abound, I have noticed a common theme. Everyone seems to having a great time. Workers are free to be playful and inspired and all parties benefit. The customers get great products/services. The employees have fulfilling work in a great environment. The company is more profitable because it’s customers and employees are happy.

Do something fun at work today. And take a deep breath.

My oh my

Please treat yourself and watch Macklemore perform My oh my.

My oh my. I love his passion – it’s infectious. He gets that he is making art and his first desire is to connect with his audience.

But connecting doesn’t always come easy. Macklemore writes about working on his craft from an early age

Chasing dreams since I was fourteen with the four track bussing
Halfway cross that city with the backpack, fat cat, crushing

He’s now 30 years old and has spent 16 hard years honing his craft. What have you worked on almost continually for the past 16 years? For me, the list is short. In fact, there’s nothing on the list. But if you’re like me, you sometimes expect to make Macklemore quality art, without his hard work and dedication.

Making art is hard work and not everyone will connect, but I believe that is ok. You’re art isn’t for those people. Don’t let the critics keep you from making art.

Connection is why Macklemore makes music. If people don’t resonate with his music, then doesn’t feel like he is doing his job. Notice that nowhere does he say that it has to resonate with everyone. He wants his music to resonate with his fans.

Be an artist. Keep honing your craft. I feel like I’ve been making art for close to a year now. By the Macklemore standard, I have many years to go. To keep a long perspective on my journey as an artist, I set a reminder on my calendar for 9/17/2028 to see how my art is connecting. Hopefully it is half as good as what Macklemore is making.

I wanted to end this post with a couple of things:

  1. It’s been a delight to post daily for the past month, and today is my last post for a few days. I want to reflect about what I have learned and share with my readers.
  2. Below is the text of the interview between Kevin Cole and Macklemore. He completely get’s what it takes to make art. Enjoy:

Kevin Cole: My oh my. I’ve had listeners email after I’ve played that song saying that they had to pull over the car because they were just weeping. And it’s amazing to get that response. Just incredible. And the interesting thing about that song, Dave Neihaus, the announcer for the Mariners from day 1 to the end of the season – it means a lot to Seattleites, but it really connected beyond that. If you look at the YouTube comments people are like, “I have no clue who Dave Neihaus is, but this song is incredible.” That’s special.

Macklemore: Yeah…Yeah…When I wrote this song it was more of dealing with the grief and a therapeutic exercise in writing and it turned out to be something that not only are Seattleites relating to, but something that people from all over the country are submitting YouTube comments or whatever are connecting with it. So it’s amazing.

KC: How important is it to get people to connect?

Mac: That’s why I make music. That’s why I write music. This is a oral tradition. This is a language and if people aren’t resonating with what I am writing, then I’m not doing my job.

KC: Yeah, I think what makes that song so powerful though, is that you could write and have it be very nostalgic, but there are so many layers to the song. In fact, you kind of turn you back on nostalgia in that song when you talk about “I don’t collect cards anymore, it’s just cardboard gathering dust.” You turn it into something about being in the now. About living your life to the fullest. Super cool.

Mac:Thank you.I appreciate it.

Wired to care

One of my life goals is to write a book. Every day is an opportunity to work out the content. This blog is a place for me to practice my writing. Repeat each and every day until I have a story to tell and the ability to write it. Sounds like a decent plan, right?

A great title for my book would be “Wired to care.” I’ve been blogging a lot about the importance of empathy. I could tell the world about how companies prosper when they create widespread empathy.  I would take readers inside of big companies like IBM, Target, and Intel to see widespread empathy in action. I would show you how we are designed to be empathetic. This book would be awesome.

Sadly, (or “fortunately”, if you can read!), Dev Patnaik has already written this book. So you should go and read it. I am only a chapter deep, but I am loving what I see. I’ll be sure to devote a couple of posts to the content.

Buy Patnaik’s book, but save $10-20 for my upcoming work. It will be worth the money and the wait!

Get emotional

As someone who is continually looking at numbers, specs, contracts, prospectuses, etc, it is easy to forget about the people who buy our products. Focusing singularly on the technical aspects of one’s job tends to create a clinical environment. Somewhere in the discussion of “ROI”, “pattern of cash flows”, “interest rate sensitivity” and “asset/liability matching” we lose touch with our emotions.

I’ve written about the importance of feeling something at work and how I believe it’s important to be “emotional” – even – no, especially – when you work in a technical field. Being “emotional” has a negative connotation, but I believe being an “emotional” employee will help you to become more engaged and innovative.

Your company exists because of its customers. Customers are the reason that any business exists. And spreadsheets, contracts, processes, KPI targets all serve as a buffer from the messiness of people’s lives. But why is it that we create, or allow this separation?

I believe this separation mindset was made popular during the industrial revolution, where management believed that employees were interchangeable parts. Managers only cared about the work force being as efficient as possible and most workers were happy to have a job that paid them much more than they could have made farming or continuing the family craft. Empathizing with the customers didn’t seem necessary.

But as we have moved from an industrialist society to a post-industrialist connection economy, empathy and connections matter. I don’t know a single person who doesn’t care if their work has impact.

Isn’t it time to change how we view our work?

Part of my personal journey involves a transformation of a worker who lacked empathy, to one who saw the life changing impact of knowing the customer intimately. Here are a couple of huge benefits of being closer connected to your customers:

  1. Better engagement – most workers net worth does not increase $1MM for every $1 increase in the stock price. Your record quarter doesn’t mean much to 95% of the company. What matters are the lives that you are able to impact through your work.
  2. Innovation – the magic of design thinking depends upon empathy. When I truly feel what it is like to have a particular problem, I see the real needs. The real problem. And I will develop more innovative solutions.

So, why aren’t more workers connected to the customers? I think the language we use plays a large part in removing the emotion from work. Here is an example from the actuarial field:

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This symbol stands for “the probability that a life aged 33 will not be living at the end of 15 years.” In other words, what are the chances that a guy aged 33, would die before 48? We would run a model and I could tell you that out of a 1000 lives, 21.297 people are not alive at the end of the 15 years.

While this may be technically accurate, it misses all the emotion. What if you thought of this symbol standing for:

  • A father not being there to walk his daughter down the aisle on her wedding day
  • A mother not being there to see her son graduate high school
  • A middle school aged girl who isn’t sure who will take her to a father-daughter dance

Photo credit: Jenna Perfette photography

How much more motivating and rich would your work become if you felt more connected to the impact your business has on its customers? Start by imaging the peoples lives that are represented by the spreadsheet. Your customers are more than just points in a model or a series of cashflows. They are real people.

There’s nothing wrong with using technical language to describe a calculation, or spending time in a spreadsheet. But don’t lose sight of your customers. Literally. Place their pictures on your walls, know their stories, go and talk to them.

You’ll find yourself more engaged and you’ll find yourself thinking more creatively about solving their problems.

Chicken soup for the innovator’s soul

Source: PBS

I asked a co-worker the other day, “should I question my priorities in life when I get completely geeked out when my new issue of the Harvard Business Review shows up?” Wait…don’t answer that. Because I do get really excited.

Here is some more gold from the HBR. Jason Seiken of PBS, discusses how he pushed his team to fail. Not just pay lip service to the idea of failure, but to actually fail. And what was the result? Did Seiken get fired? Did ratings, clicks, viewers, etc at PBS decline?

Exactly the opposite. This mindset – embracing failure and taking risks let Seiken and PBS to some huge wins.

If you have read much of my blog, it won’t surprise you that I find what Seiken did at PBS to be incredibly inspirational. I just love hearing these stories. This is chicken soup for my soul.

Sometimes what you need to do to be successful is the opposite of what everyone else is telling you. The first are last. The last are first. Winning is losing. Losing is winning.

Great stuff Jason. Thanks for your leadership and sharing your story with HBR.

Please read the entire blog entry here:

http://blogs.hbr.org/2013/09/how-i-got-my-team-to-fail-more/

Here are some of my favorite quotes:

Business-school literature has long stressed the importance of taking risks and encouraging rapid failure. In the real world of quarterly numbers, though, embracing failure mostly remains a throwaway line in CEO speeches.

So when I joined the company in December 2006, I decided to deliver a shock to the system. Soon after arriving at PBS, I called the digital team into a conference room and announced we were ripping up everyone’s annual performance goals and adding a new metric. – Failure.

Because if you’re not failing enough, you’re playing it safe.

We learned that to make the culture change stick, we needed to be both radical and incremental.

Radical because we needed to establish audacious goals to inspire the team. Incremental because, well, we didn’t want to get fired. (And because it’s a rare organization able to swallow significant change in one gulp.)

By making failure a requirement, I had shocked them into taking the message seriously. Sometimes it takes a stunt to push people — and organizations — out of their comfort zones and on to lasting change.

Race against the machines – TED talk

As soon as I post about how technology is often not the answer, Andrew McAfee goes and gives a brilliant TED talk showing technology’s impact.

A friend of mine recommended this and one more talk of McAfee’s that I will share later.

While technology has transformed every part of our world, a machine will never be able to empathize, never show compassion, love, anger and sadness.

If you are worried about having your job replaced by a machine, become really good at empathizing with your customers and make that part of your job. Making connections and caring and loving for people you work and live with is something that is uniquely human.

Empathy = job security

What is the real problem?

source: pcmag

I am the new owner of a Fitbit One. For those of you who don’t have experience with Fitbit, Jawbone UP, or Nike Fuel Band, these devices track your activity. They measure how many steps you’ve taken, calories burned and even how well you sleep.

Peter Drucker tells us that “what gets measured gets managed.”

The makers of activity tracking devices have a hypothesis. If you are continually measuring your activity against set goals, over time you have a better chance of living a healthier. more active live then those that don’t us the device.

What would this look like in the context of your life? What would it be like if every activity your performed was tracked? Would it give you a better shot at achieving your goals?

More importantly, does technology solve all our problems? I will admit, I am terrible at tracking my activity. I even made the book below to try and stay on top of what I was doing at work.

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But is technology really the root cause to this problem? Many individuals in the last several hundred years have managed to log their activity.

Will technology make activity tracking easier? Of course it will. But keep asking “what is really the problem?”

In The Toyota Way to Lean Leadership, Jeffrey Liker tells a story about a problem that was occurring in the body shop at a Toyota plant. The workers on the line where over tightening the bolts and it was causing small dents in the body.

A new Toyota executive, Gary, had the perfect solution to the problem – buy wrenches that shut off at the proper torque. i.e. upgrade the technology. GM, Ford and others all had these wrenches. Why didn’t Toyota? This answer did not suffice for Toyota management – they sent Gary back into the plant to observe some more and come up with another answer.

Through root cause analysis (see The 5 Whys), Gary was able to determine that the real problems were tool maintenance and training. He instituted a new program that helped to keep the shop tools well maintained. Rather than spending millions of dollars on new drills, his solution was cheap and solved the real problem.

Without question, root cause analysis is hard. Your boss will want “the story” quickly and many companies have short term goals, so quick fixes are preferred to solving the real problem. Think of the patience and wisdom Toyota had by sending Gary back to the plant for another week to try again. How many managers would have been delighted that his or her employee had come up with a solution?

Next time you discover a problem and think you have a solution, think about root causes. You may be solving the wrong problem.