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Posts Tagged ‘excellence’

Life’s Lessons

14 March 2012 Leave a comment

One day at a time, one person at a time, one action at a time….

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I Voted….At The Caucus

7 March 2012 2 comments
I am not known for my political prowess. I research candidates and issues and propositions. I vote in every election. However, I am not loud with my opinions or vocal with my views. And then, last night, I went public and it reminded me of this quote by one of our founding fathers, Thomas Jefferson.
We in America do not have government by the majority. We have government by the majority who participate.

I had the opportunity of participating last night in Idaho’s first Republican Caucus. I stood (and waited for a long time) with my fellow citizens to cast my vote for the republican candidate. There were so many people at the venue (~3000) that they had to turn people away because they ran out of ballets. Still, there was less pomp than I expected. Only two candidates were represented, Paul and Romney. You would think the candidates would be a little more selective about who represents them. Romney’s representative read his entire speech, head down, barely understandable. Paul’s did better, but this was the first caucus he’d ever attended. With Idaho being an all-or-nothing state and 32 delegates…I expected better representation.

Notwithstanding the quality of the speeches, it was a fascinating process, and a great opportunity to rub shoulders for a few hours with neighbors, friends, and others that believe the way I do.

Thomas Jefferson had it right. The monument that stands in his honor in Washington D.C. is my favorite. He stands in the center of the rotunda surrounded by the quotes of his past. You can almost hear them echoing across the centuries. He was a man of honor and a man of God. He knew that this country needed the people and he knew that the people needed God. He knew that the people needed to be involved to make a difference.

So, get involved; make a difference; be excellent.

Elements of Effective Teams

5 March 2012 3 comments

Promotial photo of the original Star Trek cast, season three.A team isn’t a team just because you call a group of people a team. Instead of calling people “my staff” or “the department”, managers are referring to their subordinates as “a team”. However, Shakespeare’s quips don’t apply here: “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Just because you call it a team doesn’t make it smell any sweeter.

 

Regardless of what it’s called, if you want to develop a team you have to include a few key elements.

1. Commitment

Each member of the team must be committed to achieving the team’s mission. One bad apple spoils the barrel. Each member of the team must be devoted and driven to the end goal. If one person drags her feet or misses meetings or doesn’t follow through on assignments because of lack of enthusiasm or other commitments, the success of the team is as risk. This is especially true of small teams. This doesn’t mean that membership on this team is the only commitment or even the most important commitment. I am committed to my family, but that doesn’t mean I spend 24-7 with them. I am, however, there when they need me. The same should be true for team members.

 

2. Communication

Communication among the team members must be open and clear. Sometimes one member of the team may dominate the communication. This can be detrimental to understanding, cohesiveness, and collaboration. Everyone needs to feel comfortable sharing opinions and ideas without the fear of retribution.

 

3. Diverse Skills

When Star Trek’s Captain Kirk sent an away team to the surface of a planet, he didn’t just send a team of doctors. He sent a representative from key departments: medical, security, science, and administration. Besides the varied skills, diverse teams bring different perspectives and experience to the table. A programmer looks at a problem much differently than a school teacher. Teams need the broad range of expertise and perspective to tackle problems from every angle.

 

4. Flexible

There always seems to be a great deal of unknowns in the world. Even with the most extensive planning, there is always a curve ball. Teams that can adapt in changing environments will thrive and succeed. Part of being flexible means the team attacks problems head-on and not procrastinating or ignoring the problem altogether. Adapt, attack, advance.

 

5. Autonomy

Effective teams need the freedom to be creative. If a leader micro-manages the team, then the team is reduced to mere acolytes attending to the whims of the manager. The goal and constraints need to be clearly communicated to the team. Then stand back and let them solve the problem. Let their diversity and creativity reach a resolution.

 

Teams can be difficult to manage, both for managers and for team members. Some managers feel they need to be in control and that control stifles the productivity of the team. Some team members lack the social skills to function effectively in collaborative environments. These weaknesses can be overcome with education and practice. By practicing these principles you can bring yourself and your team one step closer to excellence.

 

What qualities or principles have you experienced in team settings that seem to work well? What have not?

 

Finnish Crepes

15 February 2012 2 comments

I don’t profess to be a food connoisseurr by any stretch of the imagination. I have, however, spent the last 20 years perfecting a crepe recipe. I can’t even begin to imagine how many crepes I’ve made over the years. Oh wait, yes I can. Let’s assume I make crepes about 30 times a year. That’s a conservative number…a little less then once a week. I make about 10-12 crepes at a sitting, we’ll say 10 for simplicity sake. 30 times 10 times 20 equals about 6000 crepes. WOW! I’m sure there are some restaurateurs out there that have cooked 100 times that number, but for a little home town boy cooking for his family, that’s a lot of crepes.

I grew up eating crepes. My maternal grandmother was from Sweden. My mom would fix them for us; we called them Swedish pancakes. After I got married, I started making them for my family and added a spice I was introduced to while serving a LDS mission in Finland, cardamom. We used to call them Finnish pancakes, but then I discovered a true Finnish pancake recipe and so now we call them by their true name, crepes.

In my home we traditionally fix crepes for breakfast, sometimes for dinner, and every now and then for dessert. For breakfast and dinner we’ll roll them up with powdered sugar and vanilla syrup, sometimes a splash of raspberry jam or even fresh fruit and whipping cream. For dessert, we’ll put in some ice cream and fruit. We frequently used pineapple on my mission. On holidays, I get really crazy. Last year on St. Patrick’s day, I added green food coloring. I’ll put red and green sprinkles on them at Christmas. Sometimes I’ve use food coloring to make two different colors of batter and make designs (faces, Christmas trees, initials, etc.) on the crepes. We have a lot of fun with them.

So, I wanted to share my “perfected” recipe with you. It is at least one thing in my life I consider excellent. It is definitely something that has been repeated (as we just discovered together) thousands of times. Enjoy.

 

Ingredients:

3 cups flour

1/4 cup granulated sugar

1/2 tsp salt

1 TBSP cardamom

2 eggs

1/4 cup vegetable oil

1 TBSP vanilla

about 3 cups of milk

 

Add all the ingredients, except the milk, to a 4 quart bowl. In a spirit of full disclosure, I don’t measure the milk. Pour in about two cups of the milk and then beat with an electric beater. You want the batter to be just a little bit thicker than paint. It will be thinner than traditional pancake batter, but not watery. If the batter is too thick, add a little more milk until you get the right consistency.

I heat a 12 inch frying pan on the stove with the burner set to almost full high. My dial ranges from 1 to 10 and I set it on 9. Spray the pan with a light coating of Pam (even if your frying pan is Teflon coated) and put in 3/4 cups of batter. Spread it around evenly by tilting the frying pan in a circular motion until the batter covers the bottom of the pan. (I can see where a video might be handy.) If the pan is sufficiently hot, the bottom of the crepe should cook in about 60-90 seconds. It should be golden brown on the bottom. Flip the crepe over. You can use a spatula; my mom always used a butter knife with this cute little wrist twisting motion. I just toss them up in the air and catch them on the reverse side in the pan. The other side needs about 30 seconds to brown. Serve them while their hot, from the pan directly to the breakfast plate. Makes about 10-12 crepes.

 

 

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.

 

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?

Groundhog Day

2 February 2012 2 comments

I’m breaking my M-W-F tradition to create a Thursday blog in honor of Groundhog Day. I am a big fan of Groundhog Day, so naturally I could not refrain from blogging about it. It even relates to Repeat Excellence!

There is no clear origin of Groundhog Day, but records indicate its observance as early as 1841 in the United States and over 1000 years ago in other countries. Legend claims that when the groundhog emerges from his burrow on February 2 and sees his shadow, he will scurry back into his den for six more weeks of winter. If he does not see his shadow, then spring will come early.

Groundhog Day is celebrated in dozens of cities around the United States, the most notable location, Punxsatawney, Pennsylvania, made famous by the 1993 movie starring Bill Murray, Groundhog Day. Phil, a weatherman played by Bill Murray, travels to Punxsatawney to report on the groundhog. His brash, self-serving attitude about everything and everyone is offensive and rude. He finds himself re-living February 2 over and over again until he finally realizes he is doomed to spend the rest of his monotonous life stuck on Groundhog Day unless he makes a change and makes a difference, which (spoiler alert!) he eventually does.

This is the point in this blog where you should be having that ah-ha moment. Phil repeats the day until he has perfected it; until he has achieved excellence. Groundhog Day (the movie) is truly an iconic standard (sic) for all of us out there striving to Repeat Excellence.

Long live Punxsatawney Phil!

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