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?
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!
I bet we’ve all been there. An incoming email triggers a strong response and we let those strong emotions turn into something we regret sending later. It’s not a bug – it’s a feature, one we need to learn to turn off since inevitably we spend a lot more time cleaning up the mess then we would have spent had we just taken 10 minutes to calm down, reread the initial email, and respond with a clear head.
I’ve been on the receiving end of one of those. A client who owed me a lot of money reacted badly when I asked to be paid. Having waited nearly two years, I thought I was not over the foul line for asking. In fact, I offered to reduce the amount owed if they would begin paying immediately. Rather than engaging in a discussion about how we could resolve the issue, I received a nastygram unlike any other I’d received in business. My response wasn’t to respond. Instead, I did something I’d not done in 10 years of consulting: I turned the debt over to a collection agency.
That’s one personal example. I’m sure you have a couple, hopefully on the receiving end so you don’t have to clean up the mess. We can’t “react” to emails. The blessing of email is that it’s fast, with immediate delivery and often a quick response. That’s its curse as well, along with the fact that there is no nuance. My philosophy has always been that if there is a problem I’d rather try to resolve it over the phone so I can judge the tone of voice as well as to be sure that what I’m saying isn’t misinterpreted somehow. I realize it’s harder to get many people on the phone but the investment of time in doing so can often avoid a series of increasingly infuriating emails.
Don’t “react.” Don’t assume that someone hasn’t responded because they’re disrespecting you. They might just not be the bearer of good news and are struggling to find a way to say what needs to be said. Remember that everything you send is preserved and you have no clue who will end up reading what you write. Finally, call if you can or, even better, buy someone coffee and talk things over face to face. Old school? For sure, but maybe some of these old school ways are why some of us old folks have done well. Your thoughts?
It’s Foodie Friday, and this year I’ve decided to repost something from a Foodie Friday in 2009. Originally titled “Jewish Thanksgiving,” I’m putting it back up because many of you are new readers since 2009 and because my family is gathering this evening to celebrate. That means I’m busy making bilkies. Making what? Read on!
This week’s Foodie Fun Friday post is dedicated to all of you who won’t be using the bathroom for the next week. You know who you are. But the gentiles out there are wondering “what could he possibly mean? What could possibly stop someone up that badly?” Well, dear readers, Passover started Wednesday night and by now, most Jewish homes have had two Seders. With those Seders goes matzo and when we say hello to the matzo, we say “buh-bye” to regularity.
As some of you know, my view is that most Jewish holidays can be summarized thusly:
Someone tried to kill all the Jews;
The Lord saved us;
Passover typifies this more than any other holiday. It’s really Jewish thanksgiving with brisket substituted for turkey and various other beige and brown foods substituting for the rest. Passover is a great culinary challenge on many levels. Think about how often you use breadcrumbs or cornstarch when you cook and you’ll begin to understand. Sure, matzo meal and potato starch are substitutes but they change the flavor, consistency, and appearance of the food in which they’re used. Oy!
One dish that’s made in our family is something I’ve not seen elsewhere. We call it a “bilkie or bilky” – not sure of the spelling. It’s sort of a knish without the outside. One cooks down some onions in schmaltz (don’t ask – these are really delicious and really not healthy) and adds them to mashed potatoes. Some more schmaltz, matzo meal, and some eggs to bind. Then one forms patties, glazes them with egg wash, and bakes them at 500 degrees until brown. I usually make a few dozen of these and there are NEVER any left – my relatives put what they don’t eat in their purses, which isn’t easy since they’re the approximate size and weight of a compact car hubcap. I’d love to know if any of you have ever heard of anything similar?
I love this holiday and love that it coincides with Easter. Everyone has a reason to eat even if we can’t exactly share a lot of the desserts. And in a week when we go back to eating as we regularly do, we all hope that the rest of us becomes as regular as our eating habits. On to Memorial Day, the next great pig-out!
Another major championship in golf, another screed about a business lesson learned from watching that championship transpire. Sergio Garcia, a Spanish golfer with a nearly 20-year history of frustration and failure in major championships, won The Masters yesterday. What’s surprising about the win is that it took him so long. He’s won 21 times around the world and has been a fearsome force on European Ryder Cup teams for a long time.
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
His skill was never in doubt, and yet five years ago at this very tournament, he stated that he didn’t have what it takes to win major championships. What happened and what can we learn and apply to our own endeavors?
Major championship golf is often described as “an examination,” testing both one’s game and one’s character. Sergio has always had the game but what he lacked was the character to deal with the adversity one faces along the way in any major. That’s why he gave exactly the right answer when he was asked yesterday what he liked best about how he won: “the demonstration of character.” Like every champion, he hit some awful shots. This time, however, he stayed calm, stayed positive, made a plan, and let life go on.
The lessons for any of us are clear. Skill and competence can take us a long way but to break through to another level we need the right attitude. We need to develop that maturity and character to deal with setbacks, both self-imposed (hitting a bad shot) and external (a competitor hits a great shot). Control what we can, deal with mistakes (we all make them), and remember that someone else doing well doesn’t mean that you’re doing badly. It might just mean that you have to change your plan and do better to get ahead.
Sorry if I’m becoming predictable in writing about golf after a big tournament, but what Sergio’s win said to me about all of us and business thinking was something I felt I had to share. He had already mastered the game years ago; yesterday he mastered himself. You agree?