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Archive for January, 2012

Are you insane?!?

30 January 2012 7 comments

What is the definition of insanity? Albert Einstein said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” I only have two brief things to say about that.

First
Repeating Excellence does not fall into this definition. We want to be doing the same thing over and over again, but we don’t expect different results. We expect to be excellent over and over again. We’re repeating the same thing expecting the same results. If we are not achieving excellence, then we should be doing something different expecting the same results–excellence.

Confused? Read on. I’ll explain.

Second
I have heard these same comments time and time again. “I’m going to lose weight,” but there is no diet or exercise. “I’m going to write a book,” but there is never any writing. “I’m going to get rich,” but spending habits don’t change. Results do not magically materialize from thin air. We have to DO something, usually by extending ourselves outside our comfort zone.

If you’re going to do something over and over, Repeat Excellence.

What rut are you stuck in? Post it for us in the comments and we’ll work through it together.

Nothing-But-Net Leadership

27 January 2012 Leave a comment

My dad, Jim Smith, was a huge proponent of mental attitude and vision and the effects they have on our lives. I was never much of a basketball player. In fact, I shunned team sports. I didn’t really care to watch them or even play them. My brother, on the other hand, was everything sports, especially basketball and football. My dad tried to get me involved in wrestling, but I was always more of a lover than a fighter. Still am.

I do remember, however, my dad telling us how our performance on the court or the field depended as much on physical practice as it did on mental practice. He said, “If you want to get good at free throws, your need to imagine yourself shooting free throws.” He would constantly remind us to “picture” ourselves standing at the free throw line. Dribble the ball a couple times, in our minds. Feel the weight of the ball in our hands. Assume the stance, the toe of the right shoe poised just slightly behind the line. Bend slightly at the knees. Focus on the front of the rim. Then purposely and smoothly extend the right arm, flicking the wrist down, letting the ball sail toward the goal…..swish! Nothing but net. He reminded us over and over and over to run through it in our head again and again and again.

When I was young and could play basketball, though I didn’t want to, this all sounded like hog wash. But time has taught me the wisdom of his words. It turns out, this technique works for more than just sports.

The quote that applies here is a scripture, “As he thinketh in his heart, so is he.” (KJV Proverbs 23:7) We become the focus of our desires. Concentrating on World of Warcraft will not develop good grades in school. Focusing on sewing (thinking about, reading about, watching shows about, talking about) WILL make us better at sewing.

I saw a poster the other day: “If you want to be a writer, write.” If your goal is to write a novel, it is not going to pour out of the ether while you’re playing online poker. You have to focus on writing. We will not accomplish the one thing we want–whatever it is–unless we devote some serious, concentrated, focused effort on that ONE thing.

My advice: If you want to be a leader, lead. Yes, you are going to make mistakes. But that is what life is all about. Live and learn. You will learn from your mistakes. Read books about leadership. (Read blogs about leadership!) Watch great leaders in action. Imagine yourself in similar circumstances…over and over and over again. Imagine yourself repeating excellence. Spend time on the leadership “court”. And then, when you are finally physically standing at the free throw line of leadership…swish! Nothing but net.
Categories: Leadership Tags: ,

The Wonderful World of Seven

25 January 2012 Leave a comment

Have you ever wondered why US phone numbers are seven digits long? Or why there were seven brides for seven brothers? What about the seven books in the J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series?

While researching my post on planning I continually stumbled onto lists of ways to plan. It seemed odd to me that each list contained seven elements. Seven New management and Planning tools. Seven Principles of Planning. Seven things that keep you stuck – Part Seven Planning.

What gives? What’s will all the sevens? We’re all familiar with the Seven wonders of the world, seven days of the week, the seven deadly sins, and the seven seas. Though some may be coincidental, it turns out there truly is some scientific fact surrounding seven.

In 1956, George A. Miller, a cognitive psychologist, pioneered research on the limitations of short-term memory in adults. He published a landmark paper describing our abilities to retain a maximum of 7 ‘chunks’ of data (including words, digits, letters or other units), in our short term memory. Later, this became known as Miller’s number. ABC did a story December 6, 2009, on Miller’s number which is slightly more interesting and easier to read than Miller’s actual report.

It turns out that the human brain is wired to remember lists of about 7 elements. (Check out this excerpt from Boost Your Memory.) But does that answer the significance of the plethora of articles I found that use a list of seven? Consider this fractional sampling:

I also read an article Monday morning that caught my eye: Microsoft by the numbers: http://tiny.cc/rgbqt.Windows 7 sold 7 copies per second every day for 7 months. (Actually 8 months, but 7 months worked better in that sentence. Besides, if the did it for 8, then they certainly did it for 7, too.) Coincidence? It almost sounds like marketing hype, but I’m not in a position to judge. I, myself, once went seven years without singing seven songs for seven days. But then again, didn’t everyone?? (Sorry. That was a bit of randomness.)

We haven’t even touched all the biblical references to the number seven. The seven notes of a piano scale, seven point rating scale, seven categories for absolute judgment, seven levels of hell,  the seven sisters of the Pleiades constellation, or seven ages of man.

So what does all of this have to do with Repeating Excellence? Perhaps nothing. But, maybe the next time you’re listing to your boss the reasons you need a raise, or to your spouse why you were late getting home from work, or to your children why they’re grounded…you might want to limit the number of reasons to seven.

 

Let’s see how many we can come up with. What other “sevens” have you seen?

Categories: GeeWhiz

Elements of Successful Planning

23 January 2012 2 comments
Courtesy of Mardi Hughes, Picasa.Have you ever planned a team retreat or a meeting or even a date with your spouse? How did it go? We’ve all had situations where we hoped they had gone better. We beat ourselves up with all sorts of “if only” thoughts. “If I’d only have scheduled the venue earlier.” “If only I would have advertised it more.” “If only I would have invited so-and-so to speak.” Hind sight is 20-20.
There are some elements that we can incorporate into our planning that might make it more successful next time.

1. Plans need to be meaningful
If the plans come from a third party, such as a consultant, there will be less buy-in by the team. It is not their idea; it’s not their plan. People are generally far more motivated when they are championing their own notion, rather than something that has been imposed upon them.
the plans need to be connected to the organization (team, company, family). Motivation will be lacking or absent when the plan comes from the outside.
2. Align the plan with the strategy
Again, this applies to large organizations as well as small teams and families, even individuals. If the plan does not mesh with the over-arching goals and mission of the organization, then run away! Even the best plans, when the contradict the organization strategy, will fall flat on their face.
3. The plan should be feasible
I would never set a goal to build my muscle and frame so I could move my car with my bare hands. Sounds silly just reading it. There might be a reader that has that goal, but for me it is far too unrealistic. First of all, I have no desire to do such a thing (#1 above). Secondly, it would serve no purpose in my life (#2 above). And thirdly, I know that no matter how much I work out and pay that personal trainer, I am never going to be able to reach that level of strength.
Make sure your plan is feasible–that you have the resources (time, money, and people) to carry it out.
4. A good plan has all the facts
Read Stephen R. Covey’s Speed of Trust. Well, not right now. Finish reading this post first. When our communication is open and honest business moves much faster and decisions are made much quicker. And they’re better decisions! Your plan needs to consider the big picture. Ask questions to clarify: What if. Five whys. How. Be open-minded about the answers.
5. Your plan should consider the customer
Maybe you are the customer because this is an individual plan. I can almost promise you that very few decisions or plans that we make affect only “me”. In SixSigma terms we conduct what is called a “Voice of the customer”. We ensure that the process we’re attempting to improve is really what the customer wants and needs. Does the deliverable of your plan meet the needs of your customer?
I’d conclude by saying, “Good luck with your plans”, but luck has little to do with it. Repeating excellence is not always easy. Just achieving excellence ONCE is sometimes difficult. (Trust me; I know.) But it also does not come without consistent and directed effort. Humans now days are not accustomed to such extended exertion. You can do it. I believe in you.
Categories: Planning

Time for Time

20 January 2012 Leave a comment

Courtesy of iStockPhotoTime. We have all been allotted the identical number of minutes in a day. The number is 1440. Depending on how much you sleep (360-480 minutes) you might end up with a few more or less than the person in the cubicle next to you.

Personally, I function very well on about 330 minutes of sleep. I’m usually in bed by 11:00 pm and sitting at the computer keyboard by 4:30 am. I attribute my sleep habits to a summer I worked two jobs for the same company. I worked as a custodian from 4-8 am and then clocked in on a different time card to do food prep from 8 – 2 pm. Some days, mostly weekends, I would do custodial in the morning, and then come back late-afternoon to work the dinner shift and close at 1 am.

I am a morning person for a number of reasons. Firstly, my mind truly does function better in the morning. When I was working on my Bachelor’s degree and then again on my MBA, I did all of my studying and homework in the morning before my family was up and moving. The house was quiet; the phone didn’t ring; no one was knocking on the door. There were no interruptions.

Secondly, I always feel guilty when I cheat my family out of time with her husband or their father. My evenings, for the most part are devoted to them. There is always a play or concert or recital or activity or meeting or function or gathering of some sort that demands my attendance. And I’m obliged to attend. I enjoy watching them perform or playing a game or just sitting on the couch watching a program on TV. I can’t do that, enjoy myself, if I’m worried about other stuff. I know that I will have about 120 minutes of morning minutes to devote to the other stuff. So my evenings are theirs.

So how do I do it? How do I keep my schedule organized and my life in some semblance of order? How do I manage my 1440 minutes?

I am a chronic list maker. Everything that needs to be done goes on a list. I spend about 10 minutes of my morning routine generating the list for the day. My list goes into a Microsoft Word document named DailyTaskList that is stored in my Dropbox folder. (How I use Dropbox is a discussion for another day.) The document has three columns: “Today (20 January 2012)”, “Tomorrow”, and a third column divided horizontally into “Short Term” on top and “Long Term” on the bottom. Short term task need to be done in the next week or two. Long term items need to be completed in the next month or year. In the morning, my “Tomorrow” tasks roll to “Today”. All of the completed “Today” tasks get deleted. I review my calendar for today and the week and add any tasks to “Today”, “Tomorrow” and “Short Term” that need, or will need, attention.

I don’t do a very good job at prioritizing my lists. But what it does do for me is give me an idea of how much I need to cram into my 1440 minutes–or about 1000 minutes after sleep, eating, and other personal essentials and unmentionables. I look at my list and think, “Wow! I have a lot to accomplish today.” I can see that I don’t have any room to take on unforeseen projects. If they occur, I know I have to put them on the list for tomorrow…or next week. It gives me fuel and courage to tell people, “No.” It give me the fortitude to control my own life.

Can I do better? Could my lists be more efficient? Yes and yes. But this is what works for me now. I’ve tried other canned packages (Covey’s prioritizing and Allen’s GTD and others). Though the desire was there to do better and be more organized and efficient with the use of my time, I wasn’t committed to their systems. THIS is my system and it works for me.

Find out what works for you and do it. Trust me. I’ve read countless HowTo books about time management and organization and productivity and efficiency. You, too, can read them all year long. But the thing that will make the difference in YOUR life is YOUR system. Find it. Apply it. Stick to it.

If you’ve got a system of task organization that works for your 1440 minutes, let us know. Post a comment and share your ideas. I might even consider a guest posting to the blog so you can give us all more detail.

Categories: Time Management

Making Decisions

17 January 2012 Leave a comment

In light of my last post, I was searching for things I might have done better. Oddly enough, an email from Dave Ramsey fell into my inbox. “Five Ways to Make Hard Decisions Easier“. Dave mentions several things that may have applied to my situation.

Setting a Deadline

Making the decision was not the difficult part for me. However, if you’re procrastinating that tough call, Dave recommends setting a deadline. “I’ll do it after my office is clean.” or “By 3 o’clock I’ll make a decision.”

 

Taking Your Time

This one seems contrary to the previous suggestion. It is important to remember that it may be just as dangerous to make a hasty decision as it is to make no decision. Such was my plight. I think I pulled the trigger too quick and didn’t have all my information lined up.

 

Gathering Options

This might have been another contributer to my poor decision. I relied to heavily on the research conducted by the former project manager. I based my decision on his judgement. I was choosing between two choices. Certainly there must have been more out there. I didn’t have enough options to choose from.

 

Avoiding Financial Risks

This was not a factor in my decision. In the grand scheme of my employer, the financial hit I incurred was extremely small. But when you’re struggling to make the big judgement, it is best to consider the financial hit or burden that could be placed on you or the company. So, ask yourself, “If everything goes south, will I be able to weather the storm?”

 

Instinct

This is my own. Some might call it a gut feeling or intuition. It really doesn’t matter what you call it. If the decision “feels” wrong, then it probably is. The tough thing is distinguishing between nervousness and wrong. For me, I have come to realize and recognize the difference in myself. My wife is a pretty good barometer, too. Even when the decision doesn’t affect her in any way, I often bounce some ideas off of her and get her reaction and feelings. She is seldom wrong.

 

 

Categories: General

Fail!

13 January 2012 1 comment

I found out yesterday that a project I’ve invested $45,000 into and countless hours is going to have to start over from scratch. Well, almost. Much of the research we’ve done is still sound, but the server we hired a consultant to build and implement has to be rebuilt.

Here is the lesson learned: When you hire a consultant make certain that the terms of the contract are specific. In my case, the contract was very high-level–more of an overview than anything else. So now, when we’re trying to find ammunition to hold the consultant accountable, we have nothing. I cannot definitively say, “This is what you agreed to accomplish and you only did that.” I should have created a specific, detailed list of tasks to be done. Instead, there were assumptions on both sides that led to over-promising, change orders, and extensions that led to a project running two-times over budget with nothing to show for it in the end.

The consultant we hired is a great guy. In fact, he and I have much in common, particularly our love of software development and a commitment to get the job done. However, he is not a very good communicator. Nor was he consistent at doing so. About mid-way through the project we discovered this fact and took measures to mitigate the effect. We asked for daily status updates and weekly calls with the stakeholders. The daily messages were sporadic at best and the weekly calls occurred about a third of the time. He was also responsible for some training of my team on the new product. Though that happened, he was not a very good trainer either.

What can I pass on from this experience? We interviewed the consultant before we signed a contract. On the phone, he seemed like a really good fit. In fact, as I said before, as a person he was an excellent fit for our environment. The interview went great. However, we did not contact any references which may have fleshed out some of the issues we ran into.

With this particular project, we were anxious to get it to completion. It had been dragging on and on under the direction of the former project manager and stewardship for this system was transferred to me in an effort to get it to production quickly. I was too hasty in getting the consultant on site and made some rash decisions in doing so.

The key to this, and most other things in life, is patience. The appropriate amount of time, thought and effort will always reveal the truth.

Categories: General