Competence, plus Preparation, Take 2

Today I learned:

1.  Competence: The other day I took part in a leadership training seminar where we discussed the concept of competance. The facilitator showed a great video clip of a labourer carrying bricks off a boat:

This man is clearly good at his job, and he has spent whatever time was required to develop a true competence in the task at hand.

Reflecting back on the discussion today, this clip raises two questions:

a. Will his employer (apparently in Bangladesh) pay for the treatment of his future neck and/or back injuries?

b. How do you help your team members achieve this level of competence – or mastery really – in their jobs?

The second question is tougher.

The basic method proposed in my session was to “show them what to do, how to do it ,and why.”

No question it is good, clear advice. But a video like this suggests to me that is really part of step two in this problem. From my perspective the video tells as much a story about hiring practice as it does about competence and eventually mastery. I do believe there is some form of greatness or calling in everyone, but I don’t believe everyone is suited to do anything.  To me this video is more about Jim Collin’s famous statement that you need to “get the right people on the bus,”  or in this case the boat. Not every person is going to balance 20 bricks on their head. Most are going to fail miserably at this task. To me this is more a lesson in finding and then nurturing the development of the right people, than it is about taking who you have and helping them master the task at hand.

Am I right or have I had one too many bricks fall on my head on this on?

2. Preparation, Take 2: After yesterday’s post on presentation preparation and my perception that people are too often inclined to blame their lack of preparation on a technology fail, today I found myself involved in a 2 hour preparation session with representatives from my company and one of our vendors aimed at planning a series of three webinars for a customer group. Two hours, about 10 people online, bouncing ideas and working on a very rough run through. We had technology problems, poor narative, and incomplete explanations. At the start we weren’t on the same page with the message and we had differing views on the key issues to address. It was generally a weak product.

Is this a problem?

Nope.

It was the first of 3 sessions, over which I expect we will iterate the presentation to a final product that I am sure will be polished and, most importantly, valuable to the customer. It certainly feels good to have a take away from personal involvement in a good process, just one day after learning a similar lesson while observing a bad one.

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Locus of Control and Don’t Blame the Tech

Today I learned:

Locus of Control in Parenting: One of the most disconcerting times in life for a parent is knowing your child’s future will be impacted by factors beyond your control.

Our daughter – set to being kindergarten in the fall – has her name in a hat tonight with hundreds of other preschooler’s registered for French Immersion.  With more families interested than spots available, the method of schooling of our daughter is now left to chance.

Growing up I didn’t learn another language, and this remains a regret.  I would like to provide her with an opportunity I did not have, and it is quite bothersome to know I cannot control the outcome of the draw.  It is not a matter of money. I would gladly pay for it it that option was available.  It is simply a matter of which names come out of the hat.

So, today I learned for the first time, but certainly not for the last time, that not being able to control the path your child takes through life doesn’t feel good.

[Note @ 2013.02.01: After losing the draw she spent this year in English Kindergarten. It has been mostly great, with some annoyances…but we are now VERY pleased she won the lottery this year and she can switch to French for Gr. 1. Sad for all the other parents and kids that lose out to chance again.]

2. Don’t blame the tech: I participated in a webinar today which got off to a rocky start. Immediately after logging on we were all kicked out and told to wait five minutes then restart, giving the presenter time to deal with a technical issue.  The program eventually started 15 minutes late and in turn went 15 minutes long, impacting the rest of my day

Blaming the technology is a nice fallback option to have, but this excuse is starting to feel like crying wolf.  When a carpenter learns his trade, the rule #1 is “measure twice, cut once.” Other similar maxim’s include “success is 90% preparation,” and “practice makes perfect.” One of my favorites comes from from Abe Lincoln:

“If I had eight hours to chop down a tree, I would spent six hours sharpening the axe”

How come then a similar lesson on preparation for presentations doesn’t seem to catch on? I wouldn’t wing it if I was renovating a bathroom.  I would make a plan, learn the tools and find a way to practice. Yet people seem just fine winging it in front of a crowd of people? Here’s hoping this quote, from Wayne Burghaff, one day becomes as popular as the rest:

“It takes one hour of preparation for each minute of presentation time.”

Tweets Can Kill (Your Job Prospects) and Corporate Trends for 2012

In honour of my shot yesterday at Guy Kawasaki’s apparent spamming strategy on Twitter, I decided to stay tuned in to him for one more day to see if I could actually learn something valuable before enacting my plan to unfollow him.

So, here goes, two diamonds in the rough courtesy of links from @guykawasaki‘s ridiculously annoying spambot.

Today I learned:

1. Cats and the downward dog:  Apparently cats love Yoga.

I’m kidding. While I did technically learn that today I am not counting it in my two things. I just couldn’t resist another shot. Lucky he only repeat posted that gem 3 or 4 times today.

Please allow me to start over…

Today I learned:

1.  How Social Media can get you fired: Via @guykawasaki, and courtesy of tribehr. The linked infographic is particularly interesting for someone – no names here – trying to write a blog that involves thoughts on business, without ever directly referencing anything that could put himself in hot water with his employer.  Generally this can be achieved by focusing on personal and positive lessons learned without direct or even traceable references to other employees. Admittedly though, this is a fine line.

The interesting piece to me from this link is one specfic stat:

“85% of employers indicate they are less likely to hire candidates whose social networking profile or tweets evidence unprofessional behaviour.”

This suprises me, but maybe not in the way you might expect.

What amazes me is why is this not 100%? Exactly what businesses – 15% in total – would still hire you if you were clearly displaying unprofessional behaviour online? More importantly, even if you are one of those businesses, how could you ever admit it? I wonder if the practice aligns closely with another stat that I probably just made up: “15% of businesses get burned by inept hiring practices.”

2. Trends for Workplace Change in 2012: Via @GuyKawasaki, and courtesy of Entrepreneur.com. The linked article provides a good set of cues you can use within your own organization to see if you are on track with hot issues on the agendas of other organizations. A few of the issues discussed include open office concepts, telecommuting and co-working spaces.

Two of the trends I keyed in are:

  • Corporate Culture Initiatives: Ever since reading the book Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh of Zappos.com, I have been enthralled with things that influence culture.  Entering a new role about 12 months ago I think it is fair to say that I underestimated what it takes to make meaningful change in this area. It has been particularly tough through a period of outsourcing and downsizing, but it remains a key interest of mine.  It is not surprising that more and more companies are realizing that attracting and retaining the best is no longer just about the money.
  • Mobile Devices: We use Blackberry’s at work but more and more I find my company phone doesn’t offer me the flexibility and tools I want.  I now carry my personal iPhone (and periodically my iPad too) at work, and often end up using it for work purposes to help make me more efficient or creative. In the last 5 business days I have shared whiteboard shots with colleagues, demonstrated slides on a iPad for discussion purposes and used a mapping tool to brainstorm ideas. I have also dictated brief memos, uploaded business cards, mapped my route to a meeting and reviewed a service provider’s app.  An efficiency has been gained in each one of these actions.  More and more companies are bound to realize – as people like me already have – that there are tools available to help us do a better job. Why not provide them?

Twitter: Strategy vs. Spam

Today I learned:

1. Twitter Strategy: Following yesterday’s post on the failings of my initial twitter strategy for this blog, I spent some time reflecting on the experience and researching alternative approaches today.

My take away?

At the outset I described this blog as an “opportunity for introspection.” It strikes me that my personality is naturally pushing me to shift this goal towards an “opportunity for ego-stroking.”  There is a part of my brain that would love to know thousands of people are reading my work, but that strays decidedly from the point.  My intention with the blog was two-fold:

  • to shift my mindset to ensure I am constantly open to learning and experiencing new things
  • to dedicate a piece of my life to reflecting on the lessons learned in hopes it will help me grow

The result however is that about 5 weeks in I am already concerned with what other people are learning from me.

In the end this suggests to me that while I understand that developing a meaningful set of followers on Twitter will require a new strategy, this is not the task at hand.  That may one day become a goal for this blog. Today though, is not that day.

Instead for now I will stick to what I call “organic growth” – a small amount of self promotion via my own personal website, WordPress tags and the odd tweet. I don’t intend to employ “fertilizer” (e.g.tweet bots, meaningless direct messages) to draw in followers at this point.  One day, some day, not today.

And, speaking of tweet bots...

2. Twitter Spam:  I recently started following Guy Kawasaki (@GuyKawasaki) on Twitter after a friend recommended his book, Enchantment.  I actually already bought a copy of the book too, but I haven’t got to reading it yet. I was looking forward to it though as it seems right up my alley – it adresses “The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds and Actions” according to the cover.

I assumed, as one reasonably might, that his online content would follow a similar theme. Or any theme. Instead it seems that Mr. Kawsaki’s twitter strategy is all about spam.

Within minutes of following him my timeline was clogged with garbage. Post after post about things like predicting the future with asparagus.

The worst part?

He appears to use an automated mechanism that posts tweet after tweet to fill your timeline, and then after a few hours it deletes those tweets from his history and re-posts exactly the same thing. Good content or not, constant re-posts always keep him on top of my timeline.

The evidence?

Apparently Red Aurora (tweets pictured below) set the night on fire, and seemingly the day too. First at 11:16pm last night I find Red Aurora noted in my timeline from 10 min earlier:

Then this morning at 9:27am, posted 2 hours earlier, the exact same thing, although with a unique short-link (and the initial tweet deleted):

There are numerous other examples too, but I don’t want to risk being called a hypocrite for trying to get the same point across 7 or 8 times.

If exposure is the goal, regardless of the content, then this strategy works well. @GuyKawasaki hit the top of my timeline before bed, and he was also the first thing I saw when I checked Twitter in the morning. To me though, it comes across as an inauthentic approach that is beneath someone who has generated meaningful content. He has written several popular books and yet on Twitter he focusses on mindless spamming. Basically, it looks like he just keeps throwing crap at the wall to see what sticks. Especially interesting for a guy with a link on his blog to a post called “How to not be annoying on Twitter.”

So, today I learned that regardless of whether or not I have a successful Twitter strategy, I have now discovered at least one approach that turns off the consumer in me.  The 491K other people that follow @GuyKawasaki probably don’t agree with me, but for now my plan is simple. #Unfollow.

I Dance at a Pre-School Level and If Nobody Clicks your Link does a Tweet Make a Sound?

Today I learned:

1. I dance at a pre-school level:  I have never considered myself much of a dancer. Today I was presented with a wonderful opportunity to gauge my proficiency level.  With Mommy working, Daddy was on the clock for two dance classes this morning. The 2 year-old & parent participation class proved to be the most enlightening.

I rocked it.

Bunny hopping? Jumping on one foot? Rolling on the floor? Listening quietly to the teacher?  One class and it is clear I’ve got all that down cold. Maybe it’s not that I am a bad dancer so much as I have not been assessing myself against the correct criteria.

2. If Nobody Clicks your Link Does a Tweet Make a Sound? When I launched this blog I started a new twitter account (@twothingsblog) to accompany it. My initial intention was to experiment and try to see if I could engage an audience and bring them to the blog with a “passive” account. The strategy was simple:

  • Tweet 1 time per day, posting the topics of the day and a short link (via automated WordPress functionality)
  • Follow only a few random people initially
  • Follow back anyone that follows me (aside from tweeps that were obviously porn fronts)

It didn’t take the MBA to know this strategy would ultimately fail, but I really didn’t think it would be so colossally unsuccessful.  One month in and I can report some statistics from my twitter account:

  • 136 followers
  • 34 tweets
  • 13 re-tweets, seemingly all by bots
  • Exactly zero people have clicked through

Lucky I was not trying to monetize this little blog experiment.

Based on my experience so far it seems I have located a colony of people that want to gain followers for no other reason than, I presume, ego-stroking. I don’t read their stuff and they don’t read mine. Seems a fair trade, but utterly wasteful for both of us.

This proved to me that, as I expected, a passive twitter account is not going to get you anywhere.  It might work for a few people with a tried and true message or those with a dedicated base outside twitter (e.g. @thisissethsblog), but if you are just starting out there is no substitute for hard work. Unless you engage others directly, and in a meaningful way, you are just another addition to the background noise.

It strikes me that the term “follower” is part of the problem. It seems relatively easy to gain followers, but that alone is not going to get you anywhere. If I was trying to promote a business via twitter I think I would try to redefine the term as “customers.” That might shift my perspective towards an approach that has more of a hope at being successful.

Time to develop a new Twitter strategy…or abandon the channel.

20 Year Reunion and Fear the Facebook Timeline

Today I learned:

1. 20 Year Reunion: The first thought to run through my head when reading an email invite for my 20 year high school reunion is “I am old.”  The second thought is “Wow. When I graduated we didn’t even have email.”  This realization in turn brings me back to the first thought.

Once that all passes I then also learned my motivation to exercise is heightened by reunion invites, even if the event is a year away. This strikes me as a potential cure to obesity. If we all woke up to a daily reminder of a high school reunion coming up I bet our health and fitness would improve. This would be an interesting experiment…

2. Facebook Timeline: After my recent hiatus from FB, I returned to the site today to check out the new timeline feature, intrigued after reading about it in a Globe and Mail article. The author – somewhat horrified with the simplicity and ease with which any of his friends could track his history on the social network – first took to culling posts. When that was deemed too time consuming he took the dramatic step of deleting his account and starting fresh.

Intrigued by the pain this caused him I activited the timeline feature on my account today to check it out.

He was right. It is a bit scary to see, all in one place every photo, comment, status update, check-in…everything on a shiny little timeline.  You can track my life since I joined the network in 2007. Or at least you can track a few important events like the birth and milestones of kids, along with a about 200 status updates that seemed funny at the time.

At least everything is relatively benign. Nothing to delete, or at least it is not worth my time to bother.

I doubt the lack of true privacy on Facebook (despite using the most restrictive settings) is going to burn me in any future job search or attempt at public office. That is, unless the reviewer attacks my judgement based on what is clearly a poor understanding of how interested people will be in how much I liked my dinner on Aug 12, 2008, or how I played golf on July 1, 2007.

I do fear for people that actually post things that could hurt them in the long run though. I certainly don’t hire anyone these days without scoping out their presence online before making an offer. If I come across a Facebook timeline in this research it will wrap everything up in a pretty little package for me.

Chick TV and Addiction to Gadgets

Today I learned:

1. I can’t watch a chick shows: Grey’s Anatomy, American Idol, Dancing with the Stars – they are all the same to me. Intolerable.

I simply can not watch these shows without constantly groaning about the problems I see and providing a sarcastic running commentary. At the same time I am happy to lose myself for a short time in sitcoms that are no more stimulating, like How I Met your Mother or The Big Bang Theory. This must drive my wife nuts.

2. My Addiction to (Useless?) Gadgets is Flourishing: The realization dawned on my today as I clicked “confirm” to finalize my online purchase of a Fitbit activity tracker that will help me monitor both my activities and sleep, syncing wirelessly to the web and – the kicker – allowing me to track the information obtained through an app on my phone.

Don’t get me wrong, this is not buyers remorse talking. I meticulously research these things and only buy stuff that I am convinced works well and I will use. It is just that I seem to have an addiction to these marginally useful products.

The evidence?

A few other things I own, and use everyday to make my life more enjoyable or easier, but I don’t really need:

  • Watch with a vibrating alarm, so that it wakes me up to exercise without stirring my wife.
  • TV remote app, so I can turn my TV on/off and change the volume when the kids lose the remote.
  • Bluetooth car speaker, solely to listen to the Economist from my phone will commuting to and from work.
  • Remote controlled light switches for all the bedrooms. Basically a glorified clapper, and a ridiculous luxury, but they look cool.

Ultimately I think it is good design that gets me. This is also why I have a love-in for most Apple products. If the gadget is simple, works flawlessly and looks good then I am an easy mark. Alternatively, if it doesn’t fit all those criteria and it somehow makes it into my home (e.g.this recent gift, which arguably fails all three tests), it is destined for the garage sale pile.

Serving Feedback in a Sh*t Sandwich, plus The Death of Cable TV

Today I learned:

1. The Sh* Sandwich: I had a great discussion this morning with a few other managers about performance evaluations and the art of delivering feedback. One person came up with a term that I wasn’t familiar with before today – the Shi*t Sandwich.  Essentially this is the practice of framing a piece of negative/constructive feedback with two positive points.

Source: http://www.quotesfromthestreet.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/criticism-sandwich-big.jpg

For example: “You did a job great developing that proposal, John. We need to do a lot of work to get your presentation skills up to par, but in the end you are still great at developing rapport with clients.” Although, we know that with many managers the middle part will be more like, “…your presentation skills suck…” Hence the title.

Regardless, I am not a big fan of this approach.

It is an easy way to get across a tough point but the area for growth can get lost in “the bread.”  I prefer to deliver both the positive and the negative separately, clearly delineating between the two. As well – maybe most importantly – I think it is critical to ensure upfront the person is ready to hear everything you have to say.

My preferred approach would be closer to this: “John, would you like some feedback on our work with Customer X?…Great…I think you did an excellent job in some areas but in a few spots we need to work on improvement. Let’s start with what I think you did very well…”

From my perspective The Sh*t Sandwich is a cop out. It’s an easy way to get tough news across, but in the end if the key piece doesn’t hit home you will just need to revisit it down the road. Better to be clear, with specific examples, up front so you can get to work on the road to improvement.

2. The Death of Cable TV: Admittedly it is not dead yet, but its days are numbered.

In the fall we got a PVR, and we now watch about 5-10% of the commercials we previously watched, mostly when we forget to fast forward.

More recently we signed up for Netflix, and in the last month my 4 year-old daughter hasn’t watched Treehouse TV once. She is only interested in Netflix (via TV, iPad or Computer) as she is in control of what she consumes. She can even pause it to pee.

Add in Apple TV a couple weeks ago and we now stream shows, along with our pictures and music.

Interestingly, with more choice we are actually watching far less TV. Flipping on a slideshow or some music is now viable and fast, so we are turning to more laid back evenings with music, pictures and books. All in all, everything is better, faster and in-line with what we want, when we want it.

Reflecting on it today it occurred to me that it all happened very quickly. Our progression – from basic cable to everything on-demand – took us about 3 months. This spells very bad news for our cable account. If every hockey game was free in HD online we simply wouldn’t need it.

How many years will it take for everyone else to follow the same path? 10 years? 5?


45-Minute Meetings and Reflection on the Crisis in Syria

Today I learned:

 45-Minute Meetings: Last night I listened to a new podcast put out by Manager-Tools.com on 45 minute meetings.

There were a number of good reminders, such as:

–      circulate an agenda in advance

–      start and end on time

–      maintain an eye on the clock and a militant hand on the agenda

The advice, while good, was for the most part not new (and they admitted as much in the podcast). The simple concept of 45 minutes is an interesting one though.

The basic premise is this:  Meeting best-practices aside, whatever you can do in 1-hour, you can probably accomplish in 45 minutes. Essentially it is just a MS Outlook default setting that causes us to book most meetings for an hour, and when we truly put thought into the time required we will typically realize less is more. I decided to give this a run today, and re-booked a meeting I had scheduled with 8 people from across the company for 45 minutes instead of an hour.

The result? Success.

Would we have ended that fast anyway? Possibly, but there is risk in taking that approach. Conversations tend to fill the time available to hold them.  Today, I made the timeline very clear at the start, and the end result is that 8 people saved 15 minutes. Put another way, the company gained 2 hours additional time for other matters. Not a bad start.

All-in-all, more valuable insight from the guys at Manager-Tools.com. Highly recommend.

The Crisis in Syria: I read an article in the Economist this morning about recent events in Syria, and it occurred to me it had been awhile since I had spoken with a friend of mine originally from the area.  I decided to see how he is doing.

He told me his parents and siblings are living in a “war zone.” Shops and businesses are generally closed, opening only  periodically and briefly to help get citizens critical supplies.  The only time his family has left the house in the last 7 days was when they were smoked out due to fumes from a pipeline which exploded in the area. The internet and phones lines are intermittent, and while he is speaking with them daily, it is often after dozens of attempts to get through.

I asked what he thinks the outcome will be and he said lessons from other countries in the region will not be translated directly to Syria’s President – “when you believe you are a god, you dismiss similar events, as you can not believe they relate to you.” In the end, he feels the tide is slowly turning and the outcome will be no different than in other places, such as Libya.  One man hidden in an ever shrinking strong-hold, surrounded by an ever shrinking army of supporters.

Personally it is having a huge impact on him.  At this point he said “ I can’t sleep. I get up at 2am every night to watch the news of what is happening during the daylight hours there.” Most telling though, his final comment: “Despite all that, in the 16 years since I left Syria, this is the first time I wish I was home.” He would rather leave a quiet life in Canada to enter a war zone, just to be near his family.

Day to day problems at home don’t seem too bad…

Book Take-Aways and a Google Privacy Policy #FAIL

Today I learned:

1. Take-aways: I was reading the materials provided for an upcoming leadership training program I am participating in and one of the stats given was intriguing: Only 1% of people who read a business book will actually implement any of the ideas.

There was no source provided so I can’t back this up (and for this reason I am not citing where I read it), but it does seem like a reasonable guesstimate.  It got me thinking. Am I part of the 99%…or the 1%?

It seems in this area I am not doing too bad, but I could be doing better. When I read I already do it pen in hand and I am forever circling, underlining and bending page corners to keep note of things that hit home for me.  That said, I rarely look back to recalibrate on the lessons learned. Tonight I decided to change that with a new strategy.

Whenever I finish a book, if I think there are things I need to implement, I am going to schedule a 30 minute reflection in my calendar about a month away to revisit it.  If I find that time helpful I will schedule another one a bit further down the road.

To experiment, I tried it tonight with Peter Legge’s The Power of a Dream which I finished in the fall of 2011. It turns out there were several lessons and anecdotes I have actually used, but the refresher reminded me of a few gems I had forgotten.  A worthy exercise it seems. My assumption is that with a powerful book after 2-3 reviews I should be able to ingrain the key points permanently. Will it take more? Maybe, but this plan is a start, and it seems a useful experiment. Why not invest another couple hours or so in a book you feel strongly about? Otherwise it just gathers dust.

I am interested to know if anyone else does something similar – any comments?

2. Google Age Restrictions? Privacy Policy #Fail: Google products are integrated deeply into my life and the way things are going I assume they will be weaved into the lives of my kids too. That’s why I am quite concerned with a piece of their new privacy policy.  I was reading up on the changes tonight and I found this link outlining a new age requirement of 13 years for a Google Account in Canada.

Presumably this was done to match the existing Google+ age-restriction policy, but I see a problem with it.

Gmail is email. It is not Google+, and not Facebook. It is social, but not a social network. Integrating all our accounts across platforms makes some sense, but not when it limits access to the most basic communication tool they have – email. That’s akin to telling me when I was growing up in the 1980’s that I wasn’t allowed to buy stamps.

This could actually create a problem for me – I already have accounts for my kids. In fact, they had them in the womb. They are not even close to 13, and while the kids don’t even know about them yet, my wife and I actually use them. We send them things like pictures and funny one liners as sort of e-diary which we hope they will one day enjoy reading.

Will we let the kids use the accounts prior to age 13?  That was certainly the plan.  From what I understand lots of local kids need email as early as grade 1 to manage homework and communicate with their teacher.  I would hate to think this policy could sent my kids flocking to Hotmail, or god forbid, Yahoo.