Leave ‘Em Be, plus What I Learned from the Honey Badger

Today I learned:

1. Leave ’em be: 

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Today was my first day back in the office after a week at home recovering from surgery. As I sat down with different people on the team through the day one thing became abundantly clear: Everything was under control.  This didn’t come as a surprise mind you, but it is good to learn that your expectations have been met, or exceeded. It reminded me of a great quote on hiring and team building:

“Hire people who are better than you are, then leave them alone to get on with it.”

David Ogilvy

2. What I learned from the Honey Badger: With 39+ million hits on You Tube, most people have seen the hilarious Honey Badger video (linked below). I’ve been exposed to it a number of times, but always from the perspective of humour.  When the link crossed my path again today I saw an opportunity to view it in a different light.

Can we learn anything about business from the Honey Badger? It turns out we can.

For me, there are three key lessons:

1. Be fierce:

“The most fearless animal in the animal kingdom. It really doesn’t give a sh*t. “

The Honey Badger knows what he wants, and he goes after it. In his case the prize is a treasured Cobra and maybe a taste of larvae. For you it may be additional responsibilities, a new contract or just a chance to bend the bosses ear. Whether your goals are personal or career driven, it pays to clearly identify what you are after and then be fierce in your pursuit.

2. Be relentless:

“It’s getting stung like a thousand times. It doesn’t care.”

The Honey Badger takes its problems in stride. Stung by a swarm of bees? Bit by a cobra?  Day to day, hopefully at least, you are not likely to be taken down by a cobra, but other pitfalls and speed bumps are all around us. Downsizing? Negotiations falling apart? Crappy boss? We have problems every day. And we choose our own response. Take your licks, get back up and continue driving forward with both eyes squarely on your prize.

3. Accept pursuit:

“The Honey Badger does all the work, while these other animals just pick up the scraps.”

You wouldn’t surround yourself with Jackals by choice, but they are a sign you are doing something right. In business the jackals will multiply in the good times. Don’t be concerned when they are hanging around. Be concerned when they aren’t.

I should note, I chose a business angle to this post, partly because I googled the subject and it turns out I am not the only person with a slightly odd sense of humour who thinks we can learn something from the Honey Badger. I actually found a couple other blog posts referencing personal learnings and life lessons from the Honey Badger. These are the two best I found:

As well, for those of you who would prefer to see the Honey Badger video in the light context that I am sure it was originally intended, I apologize. Here is a link to another hilarious video that I promise not to analyze and ruin for you. There is certainly nothing to learn from it, other than the fact is it an obvious reminder for self-censorship.


Staffing decisions and Who was Jasper Mardon?

Today I learned:

1. Staffing: When you make a tough personel decision, and no one on your team is surprised when you deliver the news, you made the right decision but you made it too late.

2. Who was Jasper Mardon? The other day I was shuffling through a pile of papers my dad gave me from his working days. An old resume, materials from training programs, newspaper articles. The kind of stuff most people would have trashed years ago.

In the middle of the pile I came across something interesting: an undated stack of papers in a font and style that could only have come from the early PC days. It was labelled “Life’s Lesson’s Learned” by Jasper Mardon.  A forgotten document. Deep in a pile of forgotten documents.

As I tossed it on the “shredding” pile,  the dedication caught my eye: “To my brother, Humphrey Mardon, with whom I shared a war and a sense of values…(and) the officers and men of the Third Queen Alexandra own…with whom I served.” It seemed important. At least to Jasper Mardon it must have been important.   I decided to give it a quick glance. I was immediately enthralled.

The document is essentially fifteen pages of quotes to live by. In a simple, direct style Jasper Mardon shared the collective wisdom of his life and work.  What struck me first was that regardless of when he wrote it, his opinions are still bang on.

Mr. Mardon organized his thoughts into broad categories – Private Life, Man Management, Work Rules, Courtesy, Training & Education, and Public Obligations. Even within this you can see what he felt was important in life.

A few of my favourites:

One cannot be half-ethical. Ethics are like virginity, one has it or one has not.” This was just too good. I googled it to see if this was just a collection of popular quotes.  No results.  An unpublished Jasper Mardon original.

Avoid being one of those experts who is the opponent of anything new.”  Is there a better motto to abide by in a dynamic workplace? I frequently catch myself dreaming up up barriers to change. It is just easier than actually changing.

Surround yourself with knowledgeable people who will have the courage to argue with you.” This reminded me of a Seth Godin blog post.  (I recommend you check his post. It hit so close to home for me that I sent it to my direct reports. The link will also explain why I requested that they please, please not refer to me as “Garmin.”)

Management must balance the interests of the three stakeholders, the shareholders, the employees and the community at large.” As a student I heard triple bottom-line thrown around in class on a daily basis. Classic MBA speak. The concept seems obvious today. Was it so clear 30 or 40 years ago? History suggests it was not.

Criticize early on when it is useful, not when it is too late and merely self-serving.” This gets to the heart of project management in a large organization.  In my experience projects are extremely easy to start, and extremely difficult to deliver.  The tendency is kick things off with whoever you can get on board. Whoever is in has their say. As momentum builds everyone and their dog wants to jump in and add their two cents. “What about this feature?” “I can’t sign-off without that…”  The result is a never-ending loop. The challenge for every project manager is to identify those late-comers and to mitigate risk by getting them to criticize at the outset, while you can still do something about it.

After reading the document I called my dad and asked what he knows about the Mr. Mardon. My dad described him as a brilliant man – an icon in the Pulp and Paper industry. He was also a demanding but tireless mentor to anyone in whom he saw promise and effort.  A guy who spent his life trying to both teach and learn. There is also a little bit of background available online – the best source I found is the You Tube video posted below.  I can’t find any mention of his “Life’s Lessons Learned” though.

It strikes me this man was ahead of his time.  We all create and broadcast in the media available to us when we are around. Mr. Mardon had a dot-matrix printer and the modest aspiration of recording his takeaways from life.  If he was around today we would probably all have the opportunity to share in his insights. We’d be reading his blog, or following his tweets. My guess is he would have been all over social media.  In his own way he said it himself: “To continue to be ‘tuned in’ on the network you must continually contribute.” My e-business or marketing profs couldn’t have said it better.

So that is how I learned about Jasper Mardon. Insights from a  forgotten document that is as relevent as any reading or lecture from my entire MBA, uncovered from a pile of forgotten documents.

More on Jasper Mardon

If you want to learn more about Mr. Mardon, this was the best piece I could find:

I should also mention I thought about publishing a copy of his work here but decided it was not mine to freely post. I do have a pdf of the orginal document. If you would like to give it a read, send me a message at darrenmcknight (at) gmail.com and I will e-mail you a copy.


Why I won’t hire you and Girls’ toys suck

Today I learned:

1. Why I won’t hire you:  I read a great blog post on hiring today that echos many of my opinions on the subject.  While I agree with quite a few of the points in the post, it made me reflect on other things I look for in a candidate. For me, there are a few additional things:

  • You treat me differently than the receptionist: When you leave the first thing I do is ask her how you acted on your arrival, before I showed up. If you showed me more respect than you showed her it me gives a good sense of how you really treat people.
  • Your resume sucks: You can’t spell. You can summarize accomplishments. You can succinctly tell me what your skills are. If you can’t create a professional document given no time limit, I assume this will carry over when time limits are applied.
  • You know nothing about where I work: If you haven’t done your leg work to know who is interviewing you and what our company is like, I assume you will take short cuts in your work too.
  • You don’t ask me questions: This means meaningful questions that help me understand what is important to you in the selection process and not basic things like “what are the hours?” I want to know you have put some thought into this and you aren’t just flying by the seat of your pants.

2. Girls’ toys suck: While replaying the day at the dinner table the other night, my daughter expressed an interest in Lego. This led me to do some research into what kinds of products Lego is making these days. I was familiar already with some pretty cool stuff, like Super Hero and Star Wars products that my nephews are addicted to. I was excited to see what I could find for my daughter.

It turns out girls’ toys suck. Or at least, in my humble opinion lego for girls sucks.

With hundreds of creative products for boys, all they seem to have managed for girls are things like a beauty shop, doll house, and bakery.  At least give me a pink doctors office or something that I can work with her on to aspire towards, rather than a weak knock off of Barbie’s convertible.


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.


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?

Eating local and Is ‘Temporary’ pain worth it?

Today I learned:

1. Eating local: We stopped by a farmers market this morning and ran into a friend helping out with her dad selling locally produced sausage under the name Chef’s Natural.  I have to admit 99% of our meat and fish comes from places like Costco and Safeway, but today we bought a few meals worth to support a friend. Dinner tonight was exceptionally tasty, and with no chemicals on the ingredient list I even felt watching my kids chow down.  Surprisingly, it was not much more costly than the something similar from a big box retailer. A good lesson in eating local and supporting the little guy.

2. Temporary Pain: I spent a chunk of my day working on planning staff resources for 2012 projects. Realizing workload will exceed resources, I started thinking how I could utilize temps to offload some tasks.  This made me reflect on past experience and reminded me of a quote I wrote for myself one day last spring:

Keep your enemies close, and the temps you hire to do menial tasks even closer.

The motivation for that came from a day lost dealing with two temps hired to do a time sensitive task.  That experience taught me there are few things you can actually pass off to a temp to save your staff time.  If your operation is lean enough those tasks either don’t exist, or they are done more efficiently and with less supervision by those who already work for you.  A good reminder and an opportunity to rethink priorities for the year ahead.