The Fold

November is National Blog Post Month (NaBloPoMo). This post is part of my post-a-day challenge. I have picked a theme for the challenge: song titles. These songs have been featured on live albums from KEXP (an awesome alternative radio station in Seattle), so at a minimum you will hear some great music.

The word fold typically refers to a flock of sheep. Sheep are helpless out in the open. They flock together in folds because there is safety in numbers.

Being vulnerable is the key to developing real empathy and deeper relationships. Vulnerability allows you to grow. There has to be some risk that you will fail if you want to succeed at anything meaningful.

But don’t do it alone. Be vulnerable with other people that are also vulnerable. This is why I think the concept of the fold is important. Surround yourself with safe people. Protect your fellow sheep and grow together.

Lower the bar

Source: sportxcel.org

I am reading yet another fabulous book and I can’t help myself from sharing. Switch, by Chip and Dan Heath, helps us understand how to create change when change is really hard.

Have you ever said to yourself, “why won’t he change?” or “why won’t they change?” Or have you attempted to create change with your team, with a group at work, in your marriage, or with you children and come away frustrated? If so, you should read Switch. (aside: this book has inspired me to teach a change seminar at work for my team and others that are interested. I will share the results with my readers)

Chip and Dan lay out a straightforward framework for creating change. It’s so easy, you could create a checklist or guide to outline what you want to change. (If one doesn’t already exist somewhere on the internet).

One item I want to share with you from the book is the idea of “lowering the bar.” We often approach change thinking that a radical shift is what will motivate people (including ourselves). In the business world, managers are fond of mentioning things like “burning platforms” and “burning the ships.” I’ll admit that I’ve used this tactic before to try and motivate people.

Take the burning platform – this comes from the story of an oil rig explosion that happened in the mid 80s. The rig caught fire and those who survived the explosion where forced to chose between staying on the rig and burning to death, or jumping to an almost certain death in the ocean (which was also on fire) 150ft below. The term “burning platform” is used often, but it’s not a great analogy.

First, why is our platform on fire? As the typical worker sits in her cube, telling her that the platform is on fire won’t go very far. She doesn’t smell smoke. This doesn’t motivate change.

Second, who wants to take a plunge into a fiery ocean? Can we provide a slightly better alternative to 150ft jump to an almost certain death? Again, you will not get people lining up to jump from your burning platform.

Now, I’m not saying that there are not real burning platforms out there. Blockbuster was a burning platform. Kodak was a burning platform. My point is simply, people don’t typically change just because they are forced to do something very hard. Change happens because we want to change and because it is easy.

I was struck by the idea of “lowering the bar.” I often think about making targets aspirational, but study after study shows that giving people a path to the change and showing them clearly where they are going is the way to drive change.

Think about losing twenty pounds. You would begin to think about all the exercise, the cookies you will give up, the salad that you’ll need to eat, etc. What if instead you thought, all I need to do is set out my workout clothes every night, so that I am ready to go in the morning? Or, all I need to do is coordinate with a friend to run tomorrow morning?

You, your team and your company is more like to make a small change. The next time you need to impact change, think about lowering the bar to get change moving.

 

 

 

 

I got my city right behind me

Birmingham skyline (source: britannica, photo credit Mark Segal – Stone/Getty Images )

“I got my city right behind me
If I fall, they got me. Learn from that failure gain humility and then we keep marching ourselves” – Macklemore

Failure helps keep us humble. Failure is essential to learning. But failing without support leads to hopelessness. Failing with a community allows you to grow stronger while remaining humble. You know that this life is not all about you. It’s only because of your “city” that you can do anything.

Who do you have behind you? Are you in a position where you can fail? Can you take a risk and know that it won’t cost you your job? Can you experiment with a new way of doing things without getting funny looks?

If you have a “city” behind you, congratulations. You are in a great spot. Not many people are in a position where their failures are looked upon as a necessary step in a life long journey or growth. You can be vulnerable and real with your friends, family and co-workers. You can take risks. You have a community – use it.

But what if you don’t have a “city” behind you?

First off, you are not alone even though it may seem like you are. Find your city. Find those are willing to accept your failure. Find those that will show you grace and patience. Find those who care about who you are as a person.

Secondly, be the city to other people. Forgive mistakes quickly. Applaud risk taking and approaching problems differently then you would have. Be the kind of co-worker, friend, spouse, etc that you would want others to be to you.

Almost anyone who has had any success, professionally or personally, has a story about failure. As you write your own story, don’t shy away from taking risk, just for the fear of failure. Get your city behind you and stay humble.

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.

photo

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.

These go to eleven

Friday afternoon I received this email from a co-worker:

Hey Lance,

I’ve been reading your blog and I just wanted to let you know that I really enjoy it.  I thought I’d send you a note of encouragement on your month long journey of blog posts.  I’ve even picked up “The Lean Startup” and plan on starting it this weekend.

Anyway, keep up the posts.

On a scale of awesomeness from one to ten….these (notes) go to eleven!

Source: This is Spinal Tap

How long to do think it took for the author of this email to write this note to me? Probably all of two minutes? But what was the impact? This note was amazingly encouraging.

In some way, encouragement is like trading a good that you have a vast supply of, but the recipient is unable to produce it on his own. That said, one key ingredient is time. Although it may only take a minute or two to send a thoughtful email or text or call, it will be impossible to do if you are self-absorbed (which I will be the first to admit, I am a lot of the time).

Encouraging others takes selflessness. Tim Keller, in The Meaning of Marriage, describes selflessness as literally thinking of ones self less and thinking about others more. If you had to categorize your thoughts what % of time is spent on issues that effect you and what % is spent thinking of others?

If there was a thought tracker that I could attach to my brain, I think I would be embarrassed at the breakdown.

As I have mentioned in other posts, this is something I am trying to change. One small step I have taken is to try and call/text a friend everyday on my drive home. Similar to posting every day, it is a routine that I hope to make a habit.

It only takes a couple of minutes to let someone know that you care or that they are doing a good job, or that they knocked the last project out of the park.

We’re all in this together. You will work for a long time. You will be with your family for a long time. You will be in friendships for a long time. Spend some of your time thinking about and encouraging others.

Focus

photo credit: digital-photography-school.com

My guess is that most of my co-workers, friends and associates have no clue how un-focused I can be. At current I feel like I have 13 different projects going on, without sole focus on one thing.

Small batch theory advocates that we are more efficient when we focus on completing one project (or batch), rather than pushing along several projects along (as I am doing now). – See The Power of Small Batches

I am learning that focus and control of your schedule comes and goes. There are times when it is clear the one thing that must get done. There are other days when I push along 15 different tasks. My hope is that most days I am able to focus on a few important (small batch) task, but embrace the days where life and work get crazy.

How focused does your work/life feel?

Errors of omission

source: investingcaffeine.com

Most errors fall into one of two camps:

  1. Errors of omission – a mistake involving not doing something I should have done. Example, I did not call my grandmother on her birthday.
  2. Errors of commission – a mistake involving doing something I should not have done. Example, driving 82mph when the limit is 70mph.

For me, the errors of omission sting and haunt me much more that the errors of commission. To paraphrase Seth Godin, the biggest mistakes in your career are the risks that you didn’t take. The job opportunity that you turned down, the times you failed to speak up in the meeting, the tough conversations you didn’t have.

Living life will involve mistakes of commission. If you spend a lot of time with people, you will say things you wish you wouldn’t have said. If you create a lot of presentations, you will have some that don’t have page numbers. If you generate and analyze a lot of reports, some of those reports will have errors or you will miss something in the analysis. Errors of commission are the cost of doing business and living life.

If you spend all of your time focused on avoiding errors of commission, you will increase your errors of omission – and this is a tragedy.

Who wants to live squarely in between the margins? Who on their death bed thinks, “I am so thankful that I played this life safe.” Or “I am so glad that I made 75% of the people in my life sort of happy.”

Take action. Making an error of commission involves action. Missing a work function to go to your kid’s ballet recital involves taking a risk. It may look “bad”, you may get passed over for a promotion, a fire may start at work – but there are some things that you cannot hedge. If you put every chip you have on every number on the roulette wheel, the house will win every time.

The next time you think, “I should have called her” or “I should have spoken up” or “I should ask how he is doing”, write this down. Actually recognizing that you are “omitting” is a huge first step into making fewer errors of omission.

I came up with big error of omission in my life just this weekend. I do not reach out enough to the people in my life who matter the most to me. They matter deeply to me and I think about them often, but they don’t know it. It would be so easy to make a phone call or send a text, but I fail to do this, time and time again. So today, I took a first step. I wrote down my error and came up with a plan to take action.

Life is too short to have your money on both red and black. Take a stand, have a point of view and make some mistakes along the way.