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Archive for the ‘performance’ Category

One of my former youth posted something about wanting to prove wrong those who didn’t believe in her. A few of us quickly commented to ignore them. There are several good reasons why.

First, there are always going to be naysayers. You could succeed smashingly and someone is still going to find something negative to say. If you’re energy is invested in proving them wrong, you’re always going to be pouring it on people who will never acknowledge your success.

Second, people who will always find something negative to say aren’t worth your time. The people who believe in you, who stand by you, who aren’t afraid to tell you the truth even when it’s painful – those folks are worth your time. Invest in the people who care about you, not in the people who don’t.

Third, you should be doing what you do because it’s important to you. That’s not to say that you’re doing something for someone else. For instance, you could work the job you are in because you know that it provides the necessary resources for your family. But you’re doing that job because it’s important to you because your family is important to you. You can get caught up into listening to naysayers in such a way that you start doing things for them. You start trying to do things that are important to them. Except, as we already established, it doesn’t matter what you do, you aren’t going to please them. So why bother? Focus on what’s important to you.

With all that said, just because someone doesn’t agree with your goal or your direction, that doesn’t make them a naysayer. As a parent, I have found myself disagreeing with a direction one of my children is taking. However, I’m still behind them, supporting them, loving them, and wanting the best for them. The reason I disagree is bound up in all of those things. Sometimes the direction they are looking at isn’t the best direction for them. So don’t immediately categorize someone as a naysayer just because he or she disagrees with you. Why is that person saying no? What’s the motivation? That’s how you determine who is a naysayer. 

And once you identify someone as such, learn to tune those folks out. Don’t let them discourage you. Don’t let them distract you from your goals. Use what they say as fuel for your fire, sure, but do so in a way that doesn’t become a crusade to prove them wrong, but rather stick to the fact that what you’re doing is important to you. 

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Humility is too often treated as a bad word, especially in the professional sphere. It shouldn’t be. Here’s an example from my career where humility would have served me well:

Everyone in my group looked at me sternly. We had been given a simple logistics problem to solve during Air Force Field Training and I was being obstinate. 

I was trying to absorb every detail and build a solution for every occurrence of the problem. The mathematician side of me had taken over. Others around me didn’t understand what I was trying to do. They didn’t love math like I did. I was the only math/hard science/engineering major on the team. I believed this is why they didn’t care about an elegant solution. As a result, I was getting angry and upset at them. In turn, they were getting angry and upset at me. The tension in the room was extremely high. I was the root cause. I knew I was responsible for the tension, but I believed my teammates needed to listen to what I was saying and come along to my way of thinking.

Then one of my teammates said something to the effect of, “Let’s start with an point in time and see how things work out. That gives us a starting point, we can adjust, and check our work.”

The rest of the team agreed. Silently, I fumed. The problem consisted of a set of multiple equations. Solving them required a technique from Algebra I. The issue was there were six or seven equations and I needed a bit more time to solve them. Why couldn’t they wait?

They proceeded with the starting point method. Their first stab got them within 30 minutes of the time they had to meet. They backed up an hour, recalculated, and received a satisfactory answer to the problem we were given. I had gotten through four of the equations. The rest of my team felt we were done. Internally, I screamed. We weren’t done, because I hadn’t solved the equations. However, based on the problem we were given, we were done. We had solved the issue. 

At the time, I didn’t understand I was wrong. It was only during the de-brief about fifteen minutes later that I realized how my arrogance prevented me from understanding what my teammates were trying to do. I thought they were going down the wrong direction. It didn’t occur to me as we were in the middle of the exercise that I could be the one in the wrong. Arrogance can be blinding.

Humility in that situation would have meant I started with the belief that my teammates might understand the problem in a way I didn’t. Humility in that situation would have meant I would have listened first to what they were trying to accomplish and compared it with what I knew. After all, I could have been wrong (and I was). Humility in that situation would have meant that I didn’t care about who came up with the key way to solve the problem, just so long as the team solved it successfully. 

Humility isn’t thinking less of your own abilities. Humility, especially in a team setting, consists of:

  • Believing that your teammates bring something to the discussion/problem.
  • Choosing to listen first to what your teammates are proposing.
  • Checking what they say with what you know to verify you understand what needs to be done. 
  • Putting aside personal desires to be the hero.
  • Believing that you could be the one who is wrong if there’s a conflict.

A lot of these don’t come natural to us. That’s why we need to work on each facet of humility. All of them together make us the best possible teammate, gives our team the best possible chance to succeed, but improvement on any facet improves us as teammates and improves the team. If we want to be better teammates, we must embrace humility.

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It was my first chess tournament. I was extremely nervous, especially because my parents had come to watch – both of them. Typically my dad didn’t watch my competitions as they made him nervous, which in turn made me more nervous. That was the case that day.

I remember the first pairing. The opening was the Four Knight’s Defense, which at the highest levels tends to lead to draws. Only we were scholastic players, meaning it was a perfectly reasonable opening. We were even through the opening and the middlegame. Then in the endgame I snaked a couple of pawns through and queened them. Game 1 was a win. My nerves quelled some then. Why had I succeeded in the endgame? The reason is because I played constantly against a couple of gentlemen who were significantly better than me in that phase of the game. I had taken a lot of lumps playing, and losing, to them.

Game 2 I had the White pieces. There is an opening that is considered “unsound” at the highest levels and luminaries like Bobby Fischer proclaimed they had developed counters that refuted it (they haven’t). That opening is the King’s Gambit and there are still grandmasters who play it and play it well, so it’s anything but refuted, though there are stronger openings for White. Because of its reputation, it wasn’t played by anyone at that tournament, the SC state scholastic tournament, except one player who liked to attack, attack, attack. That was me. I opened with it in my second game and my opponent crumbled quickly. Within the first twenty moves, my opponent’s queenside pieces were sitting off the board, having been captured in a massive onslaught my opponent didn’t know how to stop. The King was hunkered down behind his defenses but would fall a few moves later. I had earned another win.

Up until that point, I had lost every single game of the King’s Gambit I had ever played. I had played it well over a couple of hundred times and my chess backside was black and blue with the beatings I had endured playing my pet opening.

Some of those games I had lost badly. Others reached the endgame where decisions I had made in the middlegame came back to haunt me. But each of those previous games was against an opponent who was significantly better than me. This opponent had also played the King’s Gambit for years before switching over to other openings. Every time I forayed out the first few moves, I was going against someone who I knew was going to have a significant advantage over me in this particular opening. However, I wanted to learn it. So I challenged myself by playing the King’s Opening against this particular gentleman. I learned just about every way you could lose playing the King’s Gambit. When I got to the state chess tournament and uncorked it, I was ready to win with it.

The secret to my success that tournament was I had challenged myself greatly leading up to it. I had intentionally played the toughest opponents that I knew, especially in openings I wanted to learn that I knew that they understood and had played. In the end I made it to the final round with a perfect record, eventually losing that final game to the state champion.

Challenging myself was the key to my success. I have found this to be true whether we’re talking about games, about sports, about work, or about life. I rarely improve when facing situations that don’t require my best. This is true of most people. If you find yourself in a rut or you don’t think you’re improving fast enough, ask yourself, “Am I being challenged?” If you aren’t, that might be the reason you aren’t growing.

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I’m not a positive person by nature. It probably has to do with the fact that I am the type to collect as much information as possible and plan for the worst case scenario. Working IT security and being in the military before that, this attitude comes with the territory. After all, the military has coined phrases like, “Embrace the suck,” and acronyms like BOHICA.

However, recent research on positive attitudes, happiness, and like subjects have shown that there are benefits to maintaining a positive attitude. People who focus on the positive tend to have less stress, live longer, and be healthier.

Those studies tell me to change my outlook. If you’re like me, you’ve hidden behind defenses like, “I’m not a pessimist. I’m a realist. I see things as they actually are.” Those defenses might be 100% correct. However, they don’t help your health.

Also, there’s the concept of being able to do things you didn’t know you weren’t supposed to be able to do. I am constantly amazed at how my youngest children are able to work devices that folks would say shouldn’t be doable by toddlers. If you’ve ever had a three year-old and an iPad, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Part of the reason they’re able to navigate around these devices and find Netflix or their favorite game is because no one has told them they can’t (as in, they aren’t able to) do it. The toddler may be told he or she can’t, as in mom and dad say, “No,” but not that such a task is beyond the toddler’s ability.

Apply that to yourself. Have you ever accomplished something difficult simply because you didn’t realize it was supposed to be difficult? Have you ever done something that you found out later others didn’t think was possible, simply because you didn’t know it was supposed to be “impossible?” That’s partially due to the power of positive thinking. As a result, we can accomplish more when we stay positive.

Therefore, even if you aren’t a positive person by nature, it is still a good idea to try and be positive as much as possible. The studies show there are definite health and life benefits that can’t be ignored. Plus, you’ll be able to accomplish some things simply because you believe you can.

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Life isn’t fair. When little girls die of cancer, you know life isn’t fair. We can wish life to be fair all we want, but it’s not going to be true.

Unfairness Isn’t Going Away in People:

As long as their is greed, as long as there is hardship, as long as their is disparity, some people are going to be unfair. Those people are going to look out for themselves and their own first. And if it happens to hurt you, too bad. That is, if they even consider your feelings or situation at all. In a perfect society, we wouldn’t have to worry about this. However, under our own power, I don’t believe we’ll ever see that utopia. All it takes is one person who doesn’t want to play fairly to disrupt things. Therefore, fairness is always going to be an ideal and not a reality.

The World Itself Is Unfair:

See cancer, above. There are illnesses. There are natural disasters. There are accidents, like falling and breaking your arm. There are all sorts of events that just aren’t “fair.” We can’t prevent all of them. Therefore, let us not pretend they don’t exist. We are only fooling ourselves.

Fight for Fairness:

While fairness is an ideal, it’s still worth fighting for. When we see prejudice, disparity, hardship, etc., we should do what we can to change things. Acknowledging that we will never reach the ideal isn’t a reason to give up trying.

What All This Means:

Don’t develop your plans expecting life to be fair. Don’t expect people to always treat you fairly. Don’t expect them to always do the right thing. If you do, likely your plans and your efforts will fail. Don’t misunderstand me: in my experience, the majority of folks will try to treat others in a reasonable way, but there are always a few who won’t. Therefore, you have to be prepared for those who won’t.

Also, don’t build/propose solutions that only work with everything is perfect. Expect failures and hardships. Expect unfairness. Build that into how you cope with things. Case in point: any time you suggest an action which is only going to work when everyone is on their best behavior, you are not making a good suggestion. There will always be some folks who know better but will still choose to be disruptive, to be obnoxious, to be harmful. Any time you propose a plan that will only work if “all the stars align,” you are proposing a plan that will likely fail.

As we say in the military, “No plan survives first contact.” The unexpected will come to pass. Be prepared to deal with change. If possible, have resources available to attempt to handle an unplanned situation or circumstance. If you know someone has the potential to be unfair, especially because of prior experience, consider what to do with said individual. Can you confront? Or is bypassing better? Don’t be caught off-guard by unfairness.

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Note: I listened to the book in audiobook format. More on this shortly.

Delivering_HappinessDelivering Happiness is an intriguing title. I thought so the first time I saw it, but because it was about how Tony Hsieh and crew built Zappos, I continued to put it aside in my audio book library. I don’t find news about shoes appealing. In hindsight, my assumption about the subject matter was incorrect and I should have listened/read this book far sooner.

Why? 

First, Tony doesn’t cover what they did right, he also covers some of the things they did wrong. This isn’t just true of Zappos, but also of LinkExchange, the first company Tony built. I despise books that just cover what folks did right. Often times the best lessons come from analyzing the mistakes that were made. Delivering Happiness has this. There were some things Tony did at Zappos that were to avoid issues that had developed at LinkExchange. There were also actions taken by Tony and crew at Zappos later on in the company’s existence from mistakes they had made early on. One of the biggest is the focus on culture. Any interview I’ve heard with Tony Hsieh talks about company culture. LinkExchange’s culture was allowed to deteriorate to the point where the founders didn’t want to show up to work any longer. That mistake wasn’t repeated at Zappos.

Second, the book covers quite a bit about Tony, his mindset, and what his priorities were. I said were because over the course of the book you see how some of those priorities changed drastically. From wanting to be the best worm farmer around (as a kid – to make a ton of money) to valuing relationships and seeing the limits of money, you see growth. Tony’s also not shy of admitting why priorities changed and how he was wrong.

Third, Tony Hsieh included important lessons honed in practice about customer support and about brand. One important lesson is that both come out of company culture. The better you get your company culture, the better you’re going to see both customer support and brand. In the past you could fake brand with enough marketing dollars. Customer support was easier to fake, too, because it was harder to get the word out about poor customer service. Nowadays, with social media being what it is, one viral story sinks you. So if you try to fake customer service or brand, if they don’t come out of your culture, you fail.

Finally, a lot of the lessons don’t just apply to a company. Tony hits this in the epilogue. As an individual we can make a lot of the same choices he recommends for a company. Many of these choices are for the better.

What about the premise of the title?

I think it’s a bold statement to say one “delivers happiness.” There’s an interview on the audiobook that I listened to where Tony gets asked what happiness is to him. When you start listening to his explanation, I don’t think it agrees with what he puts forth in the book. I know for some receiving some set of goods, like shoes or a handbag, may result in a momentary feeling of happiness. However, it’s not long term. Therefore, I think the title fails, though it is catchy.

Do I recommend the book?

Yes, I do, because it’s another “make you think” type of work. I’d be surprised if anyone agreed with everything Tony wrote about. I certainly didn’t. However, Tony gave the reasons for why he did particular things, why Zappos made particular decisions, etc. In looking at those scenarios, it’s an opportunity to analyze and grow. From that perspective, I think anyone can get value out of this book.

So what about the audiobook?

There’s more content, including an interview with Dr. Warren Bennis that’s well worth the listen. I don’t believe it’s in the print book and even if it were, certainly something would be lost in translation.

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Here is where I had a lunch time meeting today:

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It’s another private spot in downtown Columbia, another place to get away. Today’s lunch meeting consisted of an alumni board meeting for my high school alma mater. It was a conference call and it was my first as part of the board. As a result, I wanted to:

  • find a place of privacy.
  • find a place of serenity and quiet.
  • get some sun.
  • steer clear of the office.

The fountain in this location is more prominent and the flowing water is soothing. This particular spot, while in downtown, is located on side streets where there isn’t a lot of traffic. As a result, I was able to focus on the conference call and make good use of the time.

Even when you find private spots, consider what is good and and bad about each one. I could have gone to the spot yesterday, but the amount of background noise would have been in competition with the voices on the phone, even with a headset. This particular spot is slightly less private (more people know about it) but always much quieter, even with people present. That’s why today’s spot was the best place for me to attend my meeting.

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