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Life’s Lessons

14 March 2012 Leave a comment

The Checklist Manifesto

13 February 2012 1 comment

I just finished reading the second book of 12 non fiction books I intend to read this year. To be honest I haven’t finished the first one yet. This one was recommended by a friend. Intrigued by the premise, I opted to put the first aside for a time.

 

The book? The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right by Atul Gawande. Gawande is a surgeon who “discovered” that following a simple checklist in the operating room dramatically reduced infection, mistakes, and deaths. He took his revolutionary idea around the world. Many hospitals were reluctant to adopt the checklist idea. Most people felt like it was too childish, that they were too intelligent to need a checklist to improve their outcomes.

 

Gawande says that our universe is so vast and complex that there is much of our universe that we don’t yet understand. However, there are substantial realms in which control is within our grasp. But even with what we do understand, there are two reasons we still fail. Ignorance and ineptitude. We err because we just don’t know or we err because we know, but fail to apply the knowledge correctly.

 

Atul identifies three primary kinds of problems in the world: simple, complicated and complex. Simple problems are like baking a cake. There is a recipe to follow and, with a few basic techniques, one needs only follow the recipe to produce a high likelihood of success. Complicated problems are more like sending a rocket to the moon. The task is huge, but can be broken into a series of simpler problems. There is no straight forward recipe. Success requires multiple people or teams and specialization. Once you learn how to send a rocket into space you can replicate the process and perfect it. Complex problems are like raising a child. Every child is unique. No one recipe will raise every child. Expertise is valuable, but it is not sufficient and does not guarantee success. In addition, the outcomes remain highly uncertain.

 

He explains how checklists can help manage these problems and improve the likelihood of success. Surgeons use them, pilots use them, investors use them. Checklists must be concise and clear. Our human nature does not like checklists. They are painstaking. It somehow feels beneath us to use them, almost embarrassing. yet Atul Gawande has proven that they reduce mistakes and save lives.

 

When we look closely, we recognize the same balls being dropped over and over, even by those of great ability and determination. We know the patterns. We see the costs. it’s time to try something else. Try a checklist.

 

I am a believer. A checklist can help us to be more consistent in repeating excellence. Join me as I help Atul Gawande spread the word about the value of checklists.

 

Only Impressions

10 February 2012 15 comments

Earlier this week, I read about Felix Baumgartner on Fox News. He intends to “Space” dive from the edge of space, 23 miles to the earth. His goal: break the sound barrier. This is extreme sky diving–beyond extreme. Sky diving embodies one risk: the landing. Space diving touts the hazard of no atmosphere 23 miles from earth…….and the landing! The amount of planning and resources that goes into Baumgarnter’s jump is staggering. There is no room for error. Felix gets one shot at this.

You’ve probably experienced similar situations. Not space diving, but one-and-only opportunities to make an impression. These are different from normal, everyday first impressions. First impressions imply that there is a chance for a second impression, and a third, fourth and fifth. Though first impressions are important, “only” impressions are critical. So what can you do to enhance the one-and-only shot at making your best impression?

1) Prepare

I can’t over emphasize this point enough. Preparation is key. Can you imagine Felix hitching a ride on Spaceship One and pulling the eject lever without giving any thought whatsoever?  Neither should you. Research the person or group with whom you’re meeting. Find out about the company, both historical and it’s vision. The office assistant knows best. If possible, ask them about the person’s interests. “Google before your tweet is the new think before you speak.” Google the daylight out of the person.

2) Try to relax

I know it is difficult not to be nervous in these high-stress situations. Be yourself. This opportunity might be important, even critical. It’s natural to have butterflies. Make sure you are well rested, eat healthy and pay attention to tip #1 above.

3) Dress appropriately

What if Felix jumped without a pressurized suit? His blood would boil. Make sure you are dressed for the occasion. If you’re not sure what is appropriate, then ask. Don’t show up to the black-tie affair in Hawaiian shorts. Of course, if you just want to make any ‘ol impression, go ahead and give it a try.

Life is too short to waste it. When it really counts, put forth a little effort to give it the best you can.

What do you do to improve that first and/or only impression? 

Siri-ous Affection

8 February 2012 2 comments

Disclaimer: This post is not an advertisement or endorsement for Apple products. This post is about productivity. Wait for it!

 
I am not traditionally an i-Fan. That doesn’t mean I don’t like Apple. It means that I’ve never been the type of person that follows the fad or the in-crowd. I was always just me–not always popular, or even noticed. Just me. Which means that sometimes I shied away from the “popular” stuff.

Then, 18 months ago I acquired my iPad. It has made me phenomenally productive. Every bit (pun intended) of information I need is right at my finger tips. And so the conversion to the Apple revolution began. I’ve carried Franklin Planners, Palm Pilots, smart phones; nothing compares to my iPad.

Until now! I have owned an iPhone 4S for six days. It is my iPad on a smaller scale. My iPad is affectionately called Padi. I considered naming my iPhone Son of Padi, but it sounded far too macabre. I opted for the more Scandinavian Padison.

My point? …. Oh, yes. I love Siri! Siri on my iPhone has taken productivity to a new level. I no longer have to fumble with tiny feedback-less keys. I simply hit the microphone button, speak naturally, and hit the done button. Texting, reminders, appointments, voice-activated calls, emails, notes….you name it. I can do all this in at least half the time it previously took me to do it by hand–literally. My voice and Siri are a great team.

No training required. Out of the box, Siri is at my beck and call. And she seems to have a personality at times. I wonder if there is a real person in there. My techno-background says, “No,” but it doesn’t stop me from wondering.

Get yours now. Not sold in all stores. Battery included.

Out of curiosity, how has your i-device and/or Siri made you more productive?

I Can’t Stand It!

1 February 2012 Leave a comment

When I was middle school age (I use the term loosely because I actually attended a K-8 school) my small group of friends was introduced to the following mantra:

 We, the unwilling, led by the unknowing, are doing the impossible for the ungrateful.

We have done so much for so long with so little,

We are now qualified to do anything with nothing

I don’t remember where it came from (Actually an advanced placement science teacher gave it to us, but I don’t know where he got it.) and research on today’s Internet reveals sketchy sources, including Mother Theresa.

So it has been around for about 35+ years. The thing I find most interesting is that it is still valid. I don’t care if you are the 16 year-old flipping patties at the local burger joint or the CIO that is retiring next month. We have all had bad days (or years) where we didn’t want to be at work. We have all been in a position where someone couldn’t care less whether we were there. We’ve all been over worked, under-paid, and non-appreciated. I can see the tears of recognition welling up in your eyes. We should start a support group or something.

I’m not asking for a show of hands; we’ve all been there. Maybe you ARE there. If so, I’m sorry. *hugs*. Here are a couple of coping mechanisms that might help take the edge off.

1) Focus on the task at hand.

I have found that when I look at the big (miserable) picture I falter. I procrastinate. I gossip. Nothing good comes from it. When the going gets tough, it helps me to just focus on the details, on one task at a time. I know when it comes to goal-setting and progression that we have to look at the big picture. Think of your current job as a picture with-in your big-goal-picture. You have a plan. You’ll work your way out. For today, though, focus on being productive at the tasks at hand. You’ll be happier and feel a higher sense of accomplishment. It will make a difference.

2) Consider what can change.

I’ve been in environments where the boss had quite a mouth. Every third word was an expletive. It was very offensive to me. After finally getting to the end of my rope, I pulled my boss aside and calmly and quietly mentioned that his language was offensive, how it made me think more about him and not my job, and how I was less productive because of the distraction. The expletives did not cease, but they did decrease dramatically in frequency, at least around me. What can you change about your environment that might make the situation more bearable? Sometimes rearranging your office furniture or workspace, or cleaning your office, or even just hanging a cute picture drawn by your three-year-old can have a huge impact on your attitude, though it technically does not change the root cause.

3) Is it time for a dramatic change?

I know what the economy is like. I watch the news and see my neighbors. I’m grateful to have a stable, secure job (at the moment). I also know that there millions out there that do not. The job market is tough. Hundreds of people are waiting in lines for the same few jobs. I understand over-qualified and under-qualified. I get it. So when you read this, don’t run home to your spouse and announce that you’ve quit your job because some blogger said so. I’m saying, look around. A few years ago, when I was feeling less comfortable with my position, I did some job shopping. I spent a lot of time searching for another job. I even applied at several different companies. The exercise helped open my eyes to what I have. What I was going through wasn’t really as bad as it was elsewhere. I ended up staying with my current employer and I’m happier. In all of your searching for a change, you might actually find a new job and make the switch. If nothing else, hopefully you’ll get a peek over the fence and notice that just maybe the grass is not all that greener.

Hey all you “unwillings” out there: My heart really does ache for you, especially  if you’re in a difficult situation. Keep your head up. Hang in there. There is a light at the end of the tunnel, even if the tunnel is really, really long.

Categories: General, Leadership, Planning

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.

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