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.

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.

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?


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.

Is the Messenger killing us? Plus, Anchoring your Calendar

Today I learned:

1. The Messenger might be killing us: I was watching the news last night and eventually just had to turn it off.  I get it. The world sucks. It’s a dangerous place.

Or is it?

Watching another round of updates on the calamity in the world made me wonder why we see so few stories about the good things in life. With a bit of exploring, today I learned Karl Aquino from the Sauder School of Business at UBC – where I completed my MBA – completed some research on this and found that instead of freaking us all out the media could actually make the world a better place just by reporting good news.

The funny thing is that this is intuitive.  The Power of Positive Thinking. The Secret. The Leader Who Had No Title. All books that in one way or another subscribe to the general idea you can be a better person, and lead a more fulfilling life just by filling your mind with positive thoughts and adopting an optimistic, forward-looking perspective. It is not a stretch then to suggest that if we were all working together, helping fill each others minds with positive thoughts, then we might all be better off.  The media could certainly help with an initiative like that.

Yes, I know. I am living in a dream world.

Feel good stories don’t sell.

Or do they?

Imagine an hour of news without drugs, murder, accidents or the nightly Hollywood train wreck.  An hour where Mike McCardell gets the lead.  That’s an hour I would look forward too.  That would have also kept me tuned in last night, lending a couple more eyeballs to the commercials that are funding the broadcast.

2. Anchoring: One more lesson from The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari by Robin Sharma. (I am finished the book now, so I promise I will stop!)

A new addition to my weekly calendar: Anchoring. As in taking the time to “anchor” into my week the most important things in life – kids, family, personal and physical development, fun – the things that don’t get booked and that we assume will occur spontaneously or we will just fit in.

The concept works for me, because I spent the 28 months of my part-time MBA  program meticulously scheduling every moment of my day, just to fit everything in. I have gotten away from it recently, only really scheduling personal activities that seemed important like haircuts, doctor visits, and days off . A subtle shift in what I deem as important, and therefore what I book into my week, should make this new activity helpful and in turn make the behaviour stick.

Working from home and I forgot about Facebook

Today I learned:

1. Best Practices for the home office: With knee surgery in a few weeks I am going to be unable to drive and limited in my walking tolerance for a couple weeks so I will be forced to work from home for a short period of time until I am fit enough to make the trek into work.  Critically, my recovery period coincides with a particulaly busy period in a large project with a vendor, so I will need to be efficient in the time I put in from home.

In preparing for a period of work out of the office, I was inspired today to read up on best practices for working from home. A few great sources (Lifehacker, ZenHabits, Productivity501, and Stepcase Lifehack) have helped me prepare.

My key take-aways are:

  • Prepare for the day: The goal after surgery is to resume normal activities of daily living as quickly as possible, so this fits right in. Get up, shower and get dressed. Do everything I would normally do, just skip the commute and go straight to work.
  • Stay-connected: Pre-book calls and video chats for updates with both superiors and reports at the bookends of the day to help me stay connected and on task with deliverables.
  • Take breaks: Schedule down-time to help keep the energy up. I’ll need to be in a regular routine of physio exercises and icing anyway, so building in recovery time is critical.
  • Get the right tools: I have pre-tested all the required technology (laptop, VOIP phone, remote desktop) so there should be no surprises.
  • Shut the door: Make a clean break between work and personal life, particularly when the kids are home, to make sure I remain effective in both areas.

Any other tips to keep me on track?

2. I forgot about Facebook:  A pleasant by-product of my committment to learn two things a day (and to blog about it for the first 66 days straight) has been a noticeable change in my consumption patterns on the web, specifically with respect to Social Media.

The bottom-line?

I just went a week without accessing Facebook, and until today I didn’t even notice.

I think I have subtly shifted from passive to active consumption. Over the last few weeks my media consumption has moved towards sources of inspiration, rather than simply connection. With a committment to blog two personal take-aways from every day, I have spent more time reading books, magazines, blogs, and simply trying to talk to people.

At the same time I have watched less TV, changed the sites I visit online and, interestingly, without even noticing at first I have stopped checking my stream on Facebook.  I always knew I was a big Facebook lurker and I was really just using it to kill time.  Now that I am tasked with trying to produce something creative – even something on a very small scale – on a daily basis, I have almost no use for it.

It is certainly an interesting by product of this little experiment, and may just be my favourite lesson so far.

The Marginal Cost of Email and Price discrimination at the Parking Meter

Today I learned:

1. The marginal cost of an email is not always zero: Witty banter back and forth via email is a lot less fun when it’s a lawyer on the other end of the exchange and you know she bills you $20 every time she reads one of your messages.

This made me wonder, if I knew I was going to be invoiced $20 every time a recipient read one of my messages, how many emails would I actually send?

I am guessing a lot fewer.

So, should I build that into my decision-making criteria when determining whether or not to use email for certain types of communication?

I am guessing I should.

2. Perfect Price Discrimination for…Parking? The headline in today’s Vancouver Sun reads “Vancouver Parking rates could vary by block, month with new project.” Apparently 1500 of the city’s 10,000 meters can now have rates remotely changed.

The issue?  Not enough people are using transit, resulting in drivers parking illegally or circling around looking for spots in busy locations.

The solution? Remotely altering parking prices will allow the city to control consumption patterns with the goal of ensuring there will always be one open spot on every block. According to Jerry Dobrovolny, Vancouver’s director of transportation, “the reason for getting the right price is that the wrong price does so much harm.”

To that, I call bullsh*t.

This has nothing to do with the environment and everything to do with revenue. In fact, the lesson I learned here is that the city is actually smart enough to notice the technology now exists to take aim at perfect price discrimination for parking spots. They understand that with a bit of effort and investment they quickly change the cost of a spot to find the right buyer and then reap the rewards. They will have a model where they can extract more of the consumer surplus available.

To be clear I have no real issue with the direction they are going with this. It is brilliant. The city deserves kudos for figuring this one out.  As a resident of Vancouver I know just how many people will be coming in from the suburbs everyday to fill the meters and in turn add to the cities coffers. I just wish they were more honest about it.

Today’s Teachable Moment and The Rudest Guy at Work

Today I learned:

1. Teachable moments: While lying on the couch with my two year old this evening she looked squarely up my nose and excitedly exclaimed, “Dad, what’s up your booger hole?”

As an early candidate for father of the year I wasn’t about to let the teachable moment slip past me, and I politely informed her that it is nostril and not, as she and her 4 year old sister so fondly refer to it, a booger hole. We then engaged in quite a lengthy conversation about the purpose of nostrils during which it occurred to me that the lesson had in fact taken. This made me interested in how we identify and properly execute the “teachable moment.”

There are no shortage of people discussing this issue online, and what struck me is that the recommendations are basically the same whether you are taking the perspective of a parent or a manager.

The best K.I.S.S. summary I can come up with is this:

  • The right moment must be laced with engagement and emotion. Teaching about seat belts after witnessing an accident is an easy example. With kids, once they engage and start asking about something they are sponges. At work it may be tougher to spot the moment, but engagement looks the same in a 4 year old as a 40 year old. It just sounds different.
  • Be prepared. If you prep your message and stay ready to engage in conversation rather than command you’ll find your opportunity.
  •  Be patient. Outside school we have the opportunity to weave messages into the day. You don’t need to convey everything in one go. Learning occurs over time – take it.

2. The Rudest Guy at Work: I was reading an article on Manners in this week’s MacLean’s, not because I need it of course but rather to learn from the behaviour of others.

It got me thinking: who is the rudest person at work?

I work in a rather large office so there are quite a few candidates. People that leave their dishes in the sink for someone else to clean were the first to come to mind. The people that anonymously post sarcastic signs to condemn those people are close behind.

The winner?

At my office it is hands down the guy that shaves in the bathroom then leaves hair all over the sink.

Over the last few weeks I am becoming increasingly frustrated with that guy. Unfortunately I can’t bring myself to post a sign, so the plan I have developed to deal it is this:

  1. Take a deep breath and suck it up.  Life’s too short.
  2. Divert my attention – e.g. Use a different washroom
  3. Look for the lesson – e.g.  Examine my own behavior to ensure everything I do at work is not having the same negative effect on other people.
  4. Politely address the issue – e.g. collect the shavings and sprinkle them on his keyboard after he leaves at night.
Well, 3 out of 4 isn’t bad.