I’m going to be a little lazy today since I have a sneaky feeling that many of you are off having fun for the extended holiday weekend. My laziness is taking the form of reposting this piece from July of 2008. As I reread it, It struck me that it’s even more appropriate now than it was 9 years ago (have I really been at this for that long??). No, it’s not an election year, but the rest of it struck a chord with me. You?
It’s going on July 4th and to all of us raised on the Red, White, and Blue we know it’s a day (OK, a long weekend) during which we can celebrate the fundamental principles that make the US of A what it is. No, I’m not going to venture into politics (although it IS an election year and there’s a LOT to talk about). What I do want to write about is the contradiction of the “independence day” term.
The Constitution (I know – a bit after the Declaration) begins with the word “we.” We The People. Not “me.” The independence rightly celebrated this weekend is, to me, about the specific rights and freedoms we have to be ourselves as a people, with all the quirks that make us unique. WE are independent of other folks (Great Britain, specifically, long ago) but NOT from one another. I’ve spent the last 30+ years learning how critical having a strong bunch of folks around you is as well as setting the bar high in terms of with whom you do business as best you can. Why? Because the better they are, the better you become. As I’ve transitioned from corporate life to consulting, the friends and business friends I’ve made over the last 30 years have been an unbelievable support network, even for a guy who is now independent.
Jack Ingram puts it well in his song “We’re All In This Together“:
We all think we’re special
And I hate to have to say
There’s a bunch of us on every corner
Of any town U.S.A.
We all got our problems
We all pay our dues
So if you’re thinking no one understands
I’ve got news for you
We’re all in this together
Whether we like it or not
So we might as well have a good time
With the little piece of time we got
Life’s too short to fuss and fight
So we might as well be friends
‘Cause we’re all in this together
Together till the bitter end
So Happy July 4th. Enjoy being independent. Together.
Like many of you, I often feel as if I have way too many things on my “to do” list. I’ll often start one task and then segue into another while trying to complete the first. Maybe I’ll read my email mail while I’m talking on the phone or maybe I’ll try to write the screed while I’m thinking of solutions to a client’s problem. My guess is that you make similar attempts to multitask.
Then there are the dummies who multitask at the worst possible times. Texting and driving, for example. The sad fact is that multitasking – even in situations where there aren’t potentially deadly results – does not work. As the American Psychological Association research found:
Psychologists who study what happens to cognition (mental processes) when people try to perform more than one task at a time have found that the mind and brain were not designed for heavy-duty multitasking. Psychologists tend to liken the job to choreography or air-traffic control, noting that in these operations, as in others, mental overload can result in catastrophe.
When we try to begin a new task while performing another, we have to make a mental switch to whatever rules and information will govern the new task. Our brains can’t do two things at once, and that switching means that we’re actually losing time and being less efficient in our attempt to be more efficient. Doing one thing at a time – and finishing it! – helps you get more done. Most importantly, you feel better as you can actually cross something off that “to do” list.
I think we’re all a bit ADD. The non-stop stream of news, email, social pings, and other distractions makes it incredibly hard to focus. I’ll admit to having a shorter attention span than I did 20 years ago, and I don’t think it’s (solely) because my aging brain is less functional. We’ve all become victims of the TL;DR syndrome or, even worse, the Fear Of Missing Out by remaining focused to the exclusion of all those alerts. Everything is too long and we want Cliff’s Notes versions. It’s hard to pay attention to that one task for an extended period, at least it seems so to me. But overcoming that desire to multitask is really the key to getting things done. I’m really going to work harder on it. You?
I’ve mentioned before here on the screed that I have friends of all political persuasions. By definition, that means that some of them diverge quite a bit from where I stand on various issues. I posted something on Facebook the other day about an action the Senate took to restrict press access (since rescinded). While my post had to do with the need for our First Amendment rights to remain unimpeded, a friend replied with a long comment that was a litany of hate speech the left wing had spewed. I suspect he was reacting to the horrible shootings in Alexandria last week.
He had missed my point entirely but that’s not my topic today. Instead, I want to reflect upon my immediate response and why it can be a horrible mistake in business. Within a few seconds of reading his rant, I had flipped over to the place on Facebook where you can block someone. After all, I don’t want my page to be filled with half-truths and venom. Fortunately, I took a breath and remembered a couple of things. First, this guy is a friend of over 20 years, and I know he has a big heart even if his head seems to interpret the world very differently from mine. Second, he and I have had many chats about politics and we’ve actually found that we agree on a lot more than you might expect. But it was the last thing I thought about which is relevant to you and to your business.
One of the biggest problems anyone in business can face is incomplete information. The other thing is that they live in an echo chamber, a place where all they hear is their own voice reflected back at them. Some people like it that way – I’ve worked for guys who never heard anything that contradicted their world view because they made it intolerable for anyone who brought them that sort of information. Closing off your mind to divergent points of view doesn’t improve your decision-making nor does it reflect the reality of the world. If you believe that all your customers are happy and totally satisfied, you’re delusional. Shooting the messenger or writing off the negative reviews is short-sighted. Ignoring data that point to a different direction than the one you’re taking is simply fostering ignorance. When I thought about blocking my friend and his divergent thinking from my page, I was heading down a very dangerous road (and infringing on his First Amendment rights too!).
As I’ve written before, I’m a firm believer in anyone’s ability – inside or outside of business – to express their opinions. I insist, however, that those opinions be grounded in fact. Is that how you approach things? Do you welcome new ideas and new thinking? Are you keeping an open mind?
This Foodie Friday our topic is rudeness. OK, maybe not rudeness per se but whatever it is one would call being brusque with servers in bars, restaurants, grocery stores, and elsewhere. You know what I’m talking about. You probably have a friend who treats the waitstaff as if they are indentured servants rather than food service professionals who work long hours for not a lot of money. Maybe they make ridiculous demands or maybe they manage to find fault with everything that’s sent from the kitchen, causing problems not just for the server but also for the cook who will probably have to refire the dish.
It’s an important business point. When you’re dining out, you’re in a position of power with respect to the servers and, to a lesser extent, the entire kitchen. In an office setting, there are managers who revel in that and they’re the ones whose subordinates can’t wait to find employment elsewhere. No one likes being treated dismissively. The rude manager is probably feeling a need to demonstrate how special (or entitled) they are. To a lesser extent, I think they’re trying to see what they can get away with. Unfortunately, subordinates rarely get the chance to tell the manager’s manager how detrimental this behavior is to the entire team.
I’m not saying we need to be obsequious either to the waitstaff or to our subordinates. I am saying that “please,” “thank you,” and other demonstrations of appreciation (a nice tip to the server, a decent raise if possible to the employee) will get you better results than being demanding and rude. I often wished that I could take every candidate I was thinking of hiring out for a meal, or at least for coffee. You will learn an awful lot about their character, especially if the service really is bad or if their order gets messed up.
One of my bosses told me a long time ago to think about managing as if I were moving a piece of string. If you get behind it and push, it rarely will go where you want. If you get out in front and pull, you can lead it anywhere. Good manners are part of being out in front, whether in a restaurant or an office, don’t you think?
If you’ve been wondering where the screed has been for the last couple of days, the post below from 2009 will explain everything. Originally titled “The BOA,” the “meeting” I’m attending is an incredibly valuable gathering both for me and for my clients because it helps me be a better advisor. Enjoy!
I leave tomorrow morning on an annual trip I take to Myrtle Beach. In theory, it’s a golf outing but it’s more of a 5 day stay in a rest home getting my batteries recharged. 13 of us go, 12 of whom play golf. The other guy is a “social member” – most golf clubs have them – who enjoys the non-golf activities – cards, movies, and general guy banter. Like “Fight Club“, the first rule is we don’t really talk about it. However, what I can talk about that these are the guys whom I trust, to whom I can turn for advice, and who are honest – often brutally so – with me about everything from my golf game to my attitude. For all of the social networking tools available out there, nothing beats the face to face contact with this group for me. There is a business lesson in this as well.
Every businessperson needs a “board of advisors” for themselves, not their business. While your significant other is a great start, like a business BOA, you need multiple diverse points of view. My group has a few lawyers, an accountant, a few “money” guys, a restaurateur, another digital media expert – you get the idea. Ideally, these are people who can get past how you say things and hear what it is you’re saying. They are comfortable enough with you to know that their candor will be taken in the open, supportive spirit in which it’s offered. When their advice isn’t taken, they’re not offended and are smart enough to hold their tongues when it turns out their advice was right.
So off I go to meet with my BOA. I’ll try to keep posting over the next few days but if I don’t, please understand it’s because I’m in a Board meeting. When is your next meeting? Do you have a board to gather?
We closed on the sale of Rancho Deluxe yesterday. I lived in that house for 32 years (almost to the day) and it holds a lot of happy memories. The pictures you see are the view from the yard when we moved in and the day we moved out. As you can see, quite a bit changed. While the core of the house is pretty much how we found it, we added on a few times and changed the old kitchen into office space when we built the new kitchen/family room.
The core of the house itself is over 100 years old and, as with most older homes, wasn’t without issues. Over the years we replaced the furnace (twice!), the roof, fixed sills, removed asbestos, and landscaped. There were also hundreds of little fixes and improvements. We did all that without tearing down the original structure as so many in our town have done. We like to think we left it better than we found it.
That’s really the business point. We often get pulled into situations or projects where there is a lot of history that predates you. One approach that many people take is to just blow everything up and to start over. That ignores the good in what’s been done already. It can also cause a backlash from the people who invested their efforts to get things to where they are when you walk in. The challenge, both with old houses and old business situations, is to leave things at least a little bit better than you found them.
That’s not to say that some things are beyond saving. Sometimes a situation is in such disrepair that gutting it and starting over is the prudent and less expensive course of action. I think, however, that we often get more focused on a solution that may be more expedient and different as opposed to better.
Think about the things on which you’re working. Are you making them better or just patching things up so you can cross them off the list? Is the team happy with what’s being built or are you painting things a color that everyone hates but which was on sale at the store?
I’ll miss the old place while at the same time not missing the almost non-stop series of items on the “to-do” list. It protected us from hurricanes, blizzards, countless minor storms, withering heat, and freezing cold. I always felt that we had to protect it a little. I’m walking away knowing it’s better than I found it and hopefully in good hands for the next 32 years. Can you say the same about what you’re doing?
Foodie Friday, and the topic is disasters. Like anyone who does a fair amount of cooking, I’ve had my share of disasters in the kitchen over the years. No, I’m not talking about the time I dropped a full pot of soup on the way to the fridge. I mean those times when the best-laid plans of the cook, as Robert Burns said, gang aft agley – often go awry.
In my case, there is a seafood sausage that has become the stuff of legend amongst those who were (un)fortunate enough to have seen it made and attempted to eat it. There was also the time that egg rolls refused to stay rolled and sent the cook (that would have been me) into a utensil throwing rage since I was cooking for my new bride and my parents and was pretty embarrassed.
There is a business point within my true confessions today. First, each of these things was a learning experience. Second, each has become a story that’s been retold over the years. While our main goal in business shouldn’t be to avoid being a bore at cocktail parties, having a few self-effacing tales in your repertoire isn’t a bad thing. The bigger takeaway is the first point.
Disasters are often the result of pushing the envelope. Hopefully, they don’t originate in sloppiness or willful ignorance or haste but rather is boldly going where you’ve never gone before, whether in the office or in the kitchen. When we fail in the latter venue, there is always some take out food we can get to serve. When we fail in the office, we can use the experience to rethink how we plan, how we prepare, and how we execute so that it becomes a teachable moment and not a complete waste. Besides – you just got another great story to tell at the party where you’re celebrating your company’s latest success!