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Golden Oldies: If the Shoe Fits: Wave Deafness

Monday, June 19th, 2017

It’s amazing to me, but looking back over more than a decade of writing I find posts that still impress, with information that is as useful now as when it was written.

Golden Oldies are a collection of what I consider some of the best posts during that time.

When I wrote this originally it was aimed directly at entrepreneurs, especially the ones who don’t seem to hear their people very often — if at all.

Coming across it five years later I decided it’s so apropos across the board that it definitely qualified as a golden oldie.

Read other Golden Oldies here.

A Friday series exploring Startups and the people who make them go. Read all If the Shoe Fits posts here

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mLast year I wrote about Tony Hsieh’s approach to employee empowerment, featuring some great quotes from him.

As I said then, the thing that sets Hsieh apart is security.

Hsieh is comfortable in his own skin; secure in his own competency and limitations, so he doesn’t need to be the font from which all else flows.

Entrepreneurs can learn from this.

Startup hiring usually comes in waves as the company progresses.

While most founders will listen to their initial team and first few hires, those hired later often find it difficult to get their ideas heard.

Unfortunately, this behavior often sets a pattern, with the ideas and comments of each successive wave becoming fainter and fainter and those employees less and less engaged—and that translates to them caring less and less about your company’s success—call it wave deafness.

Wave deafness is costly.

Costly in productivity and passion, but even more costly in lost opportunities.

As Hsieh points out, there is no way he can think of as many good ideas as are produced if each employee has just one good idea in a year.

And not just from certain positions. I never heard of a manager, let alone a founder, admit to hiring dummies for any position, no matter the level.

So if you hire smart people and don’t listen to them, who is the dummy?

Image credit: HikingArtist

If The Shoe Fits: Quantitative Data and Self-Deception

Friday, June 16th, 2017

A Friday series exploring Startups and the people who make them go. Read all If the Shoe Fits posts here.

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mThe following post is reprinted in full with Wally’s blessings. I e-met Wally when we both blogged for b5 Media — I think. It’s so long ago I’m not sure, but over the years I’ve read and appreciated Wally for both his insights and independence from accepted leadership-speak. I highly recommend adding his blog to your reading list.

Quantitative Data and Self-Deception

If you need someone to blame this on, it might as well be Rene Descartes. The 23-year-old Descartes was serving in the army when was visited in a dream by the Spirit of Truth who told him that “Conquest of nature is to come through number and measure.”

Numbers were power. That effect was amplified during the Industrial Revolution. That’s when the engineers took charge, measuring and calculating. Soon, Frederick Taylor and the efficiency experts showed up with their stopwatches and clipboards. Now we’re in the Digital Age, where computers spit out numbers by the mountain load.

Today, companies trumpet the claim that they’re “data-driven.” The Economist proclaims that “data is the new oil.” If there is a golden calf to worship today, it’s probably digitized.

We love numbers so much that we don’t think about where they come from or how we’re using them. We can summon them from our vast databases, manipulate them, and turn them into equations that give us “answers. It makes us feel like we’re in control. We’re not, really. We’re only in control of the data.

The map is not the territory and data is not reality

Data is not reality. At best, data can only represent reality. Reality is complex and messy and we can use data to simplify parts of it so we can understand it better. To do that we must leave out part of reality, assign numbers to things that aren’t inherently quantifiable, and approximate relationships with equations.

If, after all that, we treat data like reality we commit what Alfred North Whitehead called “the fallacy of misplaced concreteness.” We get lost in the wonder of our calculations and think we’re describing the elephant, when we’ve only got hold of one leg.

It’s a good idea to apply George Box’s observation about models to our data. All are flawed, but some are useful.

Quantitative data is not objective

No matter what you or your boss thinks, quantitative data is no more objective than qualitative data. Someone, somewhere, sometime decided what would be counted and tracked and what would not. Someone, somewhere, sometime decided how and how often data would be gathered and how it would be presented.

That’s obvious when you talk about qualitative data. We usually get qualitative data in the form of a story. This happened when we observed it this way. With quantitative data, the questions, assumptions, and decisions that lie behind the data are usually behind the curtain and invisible to the people who receive and use the data.

Dig into the history of things to find out why you use certain measures and not others, how the raw data is gathered and manipulated, and why it is presented in the way that it is.

Quantitative data is not enough

Quantitative data is important, it’s just not enough for a successful business or a satisfying life. The most important things in life and business can’t be counted or calculated. Relationships drive much that happens in business. More than half a century ago, Mason Haire demonstrated that emotions influence buying decisions of all kinds. Knowledge workers trade in conversations and tacit knowledge.

There’s one more thing about quantitative data. It’s easy for us to manipulate and “understand” quickly, so we’re likely to pay attention to what we can count and ignore what we can’t. That’s part of the reason why the long term is often sacrificed to the short term and why numerical accounting data gets more attention than “soft” human stuff. As one friend of mine said years ago, “When the pressure’s on to make the numbers, people almost always take a hit.”

Bottom Line

Quantitative data is important. You can’t run a successful operation today without paying attention to it. Remember that quantitative data is always a flawed representation of reality. Look behind the curtain to discover the whys and hows behind the data. Remember that human choices drive quantitative data as much as qualitative data. And, please, remember that the most important things in life and business cannot be force-fit into a dataset.

Copyright © 2017 Wally Bock, All rights reserved.

Image credit: HikingArtist

Privilege, Bootstraps, And Reality

Wednesday, June 14th, 2017

https://www.flickr.com/photos/littlehuw/9410579316/

Yesterday we looked at the hypocritical nature of Walmart’s culture, but perhaps it’s a reflection of what’s happening across the US, as opposed to an attitude unique to Walmart.

In the last half century, economic, political and social changes have altered not only the makeup of the workforce, but also what it takes to get a job and support oneself, let alone a family. 

Public policy does little to mitigate what’s happening, and much of enterprise is retreating.

“You end up with this perfect storm where workplace and public policies are mismatched to what the workforce and families need,” said Vicki Shabo, vice president at the non-partisan National Partnership for Women & Families (NPWF). (…) Overall progress for workers has been slow, because the country is attached to an “ideal myth of America.” One where you pull yourself up by your bootstraps [emphasis mine].

Assuming bootstraps were once real, do they still exist?

Of course, there is no doubt that privilege is real — no matter how often and how much people deny it.

We all need to remind ourselves of our advantages: whether it’s straight privilege, or financial privileges, or able-bodied privilege, or whatever extra boost we’ve gotten. Humans are prone to credit our successes to our own ingenuity, true or not. Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, asked randomly selected subjects to play Monopoly. But the game was rigged. The winner of a coin toss got twice the starting cash and higher bonuses for passing Go.

Not surprisingly the advantaged players won. But as they prospered, their behavior changed. They moved their pieces more loudly than their opponents, reveled in triumphs and even took more snacks. Some, when asked about their win, talked about how their strategy helped them succeed. They began to think they earned their success, even though they knew the game was set up in their favor [emphasis mine].

Bootstraps depend on who you are.

Thorstein Veblen’s The Theory of the Leisure Class was published in 1899 and in it he coined the term “conspicuous consumption” — no definition required.

Although you still find that in the 1%, Elizabeth Currid-Halkett, a sociologist, has a new book, The Sum of Small Things: A Theory of the Aspirational Class — a new term that better represents the far-reaching consequences of what’s happening today.

Who is the aspirational class?

Highly educated and defined by cultural capital rather than income bracket, these individuals earnestly buy organic, carry NPR tote bags, and breast-feed their babies. They care about discreet, inconspicuous consumption—like eating free-range chicken and heirloom tomatoes, wearing organic cotton shirts and TOMS shoes, and listening to the Serial podcast. They use their purchasing power to hire nannies and housekeepers, to cultivate their children’s growth [emphasis mine], and to practice yoga and Pilates.

These kids grow up with better health, better education, more enrichment, a solid belief of their place in life.

No matter how liberal their parents’ politics, they consider the world they inhabit the norm.

Few consider it privileged — after all, their parents aren’t actually rich.

Most of these kids are white.

And so the cycle continues.

(Thanks to KG for sending me the first article.)

Image credit: Huw

Golden Oldies: The Perfect Attitude

Monday, June 12th, 2017

It’s amazing to me, but looking back over more than a decade of writing I find posts that still impress, with information that is as useful now as when it was written.

Golden Oldies are a collection of what I consider some of the best posts during that time.

Attitude. That illusive quality with the giant impact. It’s the ‘A’ in MAP — mindset, attitude, philosophy — and a large part of the reason you land the job or ‘the one’.

Read other Golden Oldies here.

Have you ever wondered what the perfect attitude is? Not just a top dog or the person out front, but for any entrepreneur who aspires to succeed and, for that matter, every person who lives and breathes.

I recognize it when I see it, know when I’m doing it, and can explain it when I’m coaching, but I’ve never seen it so perfectly boiled down to ten short words—all self-explanatory, nothing to look-up or study or requiring training.

I found those words in a friend’s description of how his daughter lives.

Like 3 year olds, be passionate, humble, impatient, grateful…daily.

Do it and change your life—and your world—guaranteed!

Image credit: LizMarie on flickr

What Is Success?

Wednesday, June 7th, 2017

https://www.flickr.com/photos/planeta/5306860886/Yesterday we considered the idiocy of postponing your career in an effort to “find your passion.”

The popular attitude is that if you do something you are passionate about then it will lead to success.

Of course, that depends on how you define success.

Most people believe that if they are successful they will also be happy.

Coincidentlly, a large percentage of them have also bought into the current attitude that equates success with money.

So it comes as a major surprise to many who have achieved financial success to discover they still aren’t happy.

Rather than my opinions, I thought you would find these stories more enlightening.

First, an unhappy $150K a year millennial woman at 26 to happy single momhood and $50K five years later.

I realized that higher pay didn’t equate to a better job fit for me. I do know that at the end of the day, life is so much richer than the number on your tax form — and that’s a lesson that’s priceless.

Not that there is anything wrong with financial success.

Ed Schweitzer moved his company into the future decades ago and has already accomplished in terms of good jobs what Washington claims it’s going to do by turning back the clock.  

Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories, a manufacturer of sophisticated equipment for the global power industry based in Pullman, WA, solved its people problem internally.

While others outsource, Schweitzer goes DIY. While others establish a tightly focused definition of work history and skills they’re looking for, Schweitzer focuses on fundamentals: “I like to hire smart people with good values and strong fundamental education,” says founder Ed Schweitzer, who started the company in his basement 35 years ago. Today, it employs just over 5,000 and has revenue of nearly $1billion.

Schweitzer also set the company up as an ESOP, meaning it’s employee-owned.

Even in Silicon Valley, maximizing financial success isn’t everyone’s preferred road, like Craig Newmark — the Craig in Craig’s List.

“Basically I just decided on a different business model in ’99, nothing altruistic,” he said. “While Silicon Valley VCs and bankers were telling me I should become a billionaire, I decided no one needs to be a billionaire — you should know when enough is enough. So I decided on a minimal business model, and that’s worked out pretty well. This means I can give away tremendous amounts of money to the nonprofits I believe in … I wish I had charisma, hair, and a better sense of humor,” he added in a completely deadpan voice. “I think I could be far more effective.”

When enough is enough.

A quaint concept by today’s standards.

Read the stories.

Think about them.

Then create your own definition of success—what you want, not what you’re supposed to want.

Image credit: Ron Mader

Ducks in a Row: The Myth Of Finding Passion

Tuesday, June 6th, 2017

https://www.flickr.com/photos/44412176@N05/4461384285/

I know it gets old, but here is yet another reason to subscribe to CB Insights newsletter. At the end there is a section called The Blurb that provides four links to exceptionally excellent content, such as

Mark Manson’s thoughts on “passion.”

Manson is referring to the oft stated advice to new grads to “find your passion” when looking for work. Seems a lot of those people write him saying they don’t know what their passion is and asking how to find it.

But more importantly, what I want to say to these people is this: that’s the whole point — “not knowing” is the whole fucking point. Life is all about not knowing, and then doing something anyway. All of life is like this. All of it.

He points out some basic truths about work and passion/loving what you do.

  • Priorities, like buying food and paying the rent/mortgage, often trump passion.
  • You can work for the priorities and spend the rest of your time on your passion.
  • Even your dream job will include parts that suck and some days when it all sucks.

If you’re passionate about something, it will already feel like such an ingrained part of your life that you will have to be reminded by people that it’s not normal, that other people aren’t like that.

If you have to look for what you’re passionate about, then you’re probably not passionate about it at all.

A child does not walk onto a playground and say to herself, “How do I find fun?” She just goes and has fun.  

Further,

  • You won’t find your passion in a set of data points.
  • Nor will you find it by looking/asking/ranting/whining.
  • Just because your best friend loves their job doesn’t mean you would.
  • People change. Your passion at 25 may not be your passion at 45, let alone at 65.

Don’t just read Manson’s essay, think about it and then apply the lessons learned to your own life.

I guarantee you’ll be a far happier/satisfied/passionate person.

Flickr image credit: gorfor

 

Ryan’s Journal: Fear As A Culture

Thursday, June 1st, 2017

https://www.flickr.com/photos/bullgator0892/11370960706/This week has been an interesting confluence of events across the world stage.

Uber continues to be in the news, this time they decided to fire the head engineer, Anthony Levandowski, who is at the heart of the lawsuit with Google.

The US is on the verge of leaving the Paris Accord, something that could quite possibly have a generational effect.

Suicide bombs continue to tear apart lives across the globe.

What is at the root of these three things?

I believe it is fear.

They say the coward dies a thousand tiny deaths, but a brave person dies one glorious death.

I can tell you right now these are cowardly acts.

To begin, Uber is in the fight for its life. They are losing money every day with their current model. They are betting big on automation and have come up against Google over perceived theft of proprietary documents.

If they lose this they could be done. When you step back and look at the ride sharing model, it’s needed but it’s not unique. The barriers to entry are low and there is no differentiation of product from one company to the next.

They need to lead the space in automation because it’s the future and is inevitable. Fear has led them to both hire and fire the engineer at the center of it all. Perhaps they believe this will help their case, time will tell.

The US leaving the Paris Accord is monumental. I am not a scientist, but I can say this: I inherently know that pumping carbon emissions into the air is bad. Add to that the science that supports it and you begin to see the need to somehow influence climate change for the better.

Why would a president risk the lives of future generations so that a few energy companies can prosper?

Fear. Fear has gripped the voters in the first place who chose not to better their lives through education, which would enable them to better their lives.

Fear is in the president’s heart as well to think that climate change is not real.

Finally it brings us to terror.

These plots are designed to disrupt and bring fear to the masses. It is sometimes effective and can have lasting implications.

How do we combat fear?

One way is by seizing the courage to move one step forward at a time. Embrace the fear and look st how destructive it can be and then make a move against it.

That could be helping someone that isn’t like yourself. Learning about a new culture. Perhaps even sitting down to talk with someone on a different political aisle then yourself to learn why they believe the way they do.

It starts with believing people have value regardless of position and then embracing them.

Perhaps that’s too simplistic, but I know in my own life it has worked and is scalable.

Image credit: Pati Morris

If The Shoe Fits: No Such Thing As “Self-Made”

Friday, May 26th, 2017

A Friday series exploring Startups and the people who make them go. Read all If the Shoe Fits posts here.

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mI get so tired of people being labeled “self-made,” whether by the media, their circle or themselves.

There is no such thing.

I can hear your thoughts across the miles. “Who is she to say there’s no such thing as self-made. Just because she didn’t do it doesn’t mean I can’t.”

I agree, I’m nobody, but Arnold Schwarzenegger is a well-known somebody and he says the same thing.

I always tell people that you can call me anything that you want. You can call me Arnold. You can call me Schwarzenegger. You can call me ‘the Austrian Oak.’ You can call me Schwarzy. You can call me Arnie. But don’t ever, ever call me the self‑made man.

It took a lot of help. None of us can make it alone. None of us. (…)  And I have to say that it is important to acknowledge that, because people make it always sound that you did all this yourself.

I didn’t. I did it with a lot of help.

Yes, I was determined. Yes, I never listened to the naysayers. Yes, I had a great vision. Yes, I had the fire in the belly and all of those things, but I didn’t do it without the help.

Here’s the full video in case you think I made it up.

Now stand in front of the mirror and say three times, “I am not self-made.” Repeat twice daily until you believe it.

And if that isn’t enough, add the words whispered in the ear of conquering Roman generals as their chariots paraded through the streets, “You are not infallible; you are not a god.”

Image credit: HikingArtist; video credit: UHmultimedia

The Three Most Important Things When Hiring

Wednesday, May 24th, 2017

https://www.flickr.com/photos/mauropm/3436674445/

I’ve worked with and spoken to thousands of hiring managers over the course of my career.

They all want to hire the best people available and will go to great lengths to do it.

Sure, some work harder at hiring than others, but they all want a hire that succeeds.

Some look hardest at skills.

Some at accomplishments.

But the most successful managers focus on three character traits, before anything else.

Attitude, aptitude and initiative.

Attitude: Skills can grow and tech can be learned, but energy expended on changing someone’s attitude has the lowest ROI.

Aptitude: Things change. Not just tech, but rules, bosses, buildings, colleagues, and anything else you can think of; an aptitude for change can mean the difference between success and frustration.

Initiative: Going beyond the job description; doing more than expected; not for a reward or the glory, but because that’s who you are.

That’s how you build an organization that succeeds and makes you look great.

Attitude. Aptitude. Initiative.

Image credit: Mauro Parra-Miranda

Golden Oldies: ­­­Pssst, Want A Leadership Silver Bullet?

Monday, May 22nd, 2017

It’s amazing to me, but looking back over more than a decade of writing I find posts that still impress, with information that is as useful now as when it was written.

Golden Oldies is a collection of some of the best posts during that time.

I always find it strange that a post this old (2006) doesn’t need updating to be relevant — but it doesn’t. Nothing has changed. You are still the closest thing to a silver bullet that you’re going to find and it’s still all in your mind.

Read other Golden Oldies here.

These days (especially these days) managers spend time, energy and money (their company’s and their own) in an effort to move from manager to ‘leader’. They study examples and best practices, read books, attend seminars and classes, take advanced degrees, check out software, turn to the spiritual (if so inclined)—you name it, someone’s tried it.

Everywhere you turn you hear/read about how you need to be a ‘leader’ to get ahead, otherwise you’ll end up a <gasp> follower.

You probably won’t believe me if I say that the basic premise is bunk.

The dream is to find a silver bullet—all you need to do is say/do THIS—but it ain’t gonna happen.

But here’s the well kept secret—you already possess the closest thing to a silver bullet that exists and it’s all in your mind.

That’s right, it’s your MAP and, like a snowflake, it’s totally unique—yours, and yours alone.

And the magic that turns the bullet from lead to silver is your ability to consciously choose to change your MAP through your own awareness.

How cool is that? The very thing that frees you to soar and it’s not only yours, but also within your control.

Who could ask for anything more?

So never forget!

You are the silver bullet!

Image credit: ijm2007

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