Parenting: Blueberry Yogurt and The Power of Suggestion

Today I learned:

1.  Blueberry Yogurt: My kids love yogurt. We have to buy in bulk to keep up with their appetites.  They go through strawberry, vanilla and raspberry at an insatiable pace.

The problem is bulk packs all come with 25% blueberry flavour.They love blueberries but they hate blueberry yogurt.

Faced with an ever growing stash of the stuff I have two options: Eat it or waste it.

I just can’t bring myself to throw it out, so day after day I eat more blueberry yogurt. I love blueberries and there was a time in my life that a nice bowl of blueberry yogurt was appealing. That time has passed. At this point I hate the stuff. Can’t stand it. But day after day I eat more blueberry yogurt.

It occurred to me today, as I choked down another spoonful at breakfast, that life as a dad can be summed up in a bowl of blueberry yogurt:  Ultimately what is in their bowls is more important to me than what is in mine. I know I am not alone in martyrdom.  At my brother’s place it’s the leftover food. I haven’t seen the guy eat an entire meal from his own plate in 8 years. I think he feeds himself entirely off leftover scraps on the plates of his 4 kids. That’s life. We’re dads. That just what we do.

2. The Power of Suggestion: As I peered into my daughter’s dresser this morning to help her pick out clothes I noticed something odd in the corner of the drawer. Odd but not unexpected. With two little kids you learn that something odd is always going to be there. I actually check spots like this frequently to reclaim items like the whisk, TV remote or one of my shoes.

With today’s find I just couldn’t resist the overwhelming desire to mess with the kid.

Casually I laid out her clothes – pink socks, monkey shirt, striped pants – all typical 4 year-old garb. On top of the pile I added the piece de resistance: Ski Goggles.

She looked at me a little funny, but she didn’t say anything. She certainly didn’t object. The goggles actually went on first, making it tough to execute the shirt phase in our daily dressing drama, and 2 minutes later she was at the table laughing, sucking back yogurt and just generally looking at life through rose-coloured goggles. When I left for work she was still wearing them.

My wife walked her to daycare and apparently she was pleased to have them on – they kept the rain out of her eyes. The kid was still wearing them when my wife left for work too.

8.5 hours later when we returned to pick her up? Still on.

It all got me thinking about the impact we can have on our kids, and potentially on just about anyone, with just a subtle suggestion. I didn’t ask her to wear the goggles. I just put the idea in her head and she ran with it. She got to be the centre of attention. People around her got a smile or two. Everybody is happy. Win-win.

The power of suggestion is huge with little ones. Kids run with whatever tools you give them. Leave a few sheets of paper and some crayons on the table and within minutes you will find them drawing. If we leave out cookies they will eat them. Put out grapes instead and they will be gone, no questions asked. We can get them to do pretty much anything. Except eat blueberry yogurt.


The Streaming Diet, plus Saved by the Pomodoro?

Today’s two things come via links courtesy of Daniel Pink. His book Drive – The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us – has been sitting near my bed for months. Now that I see all the great content on his site and twitter account (@danielpink), I might just be motivated enough to move it up in the queue.

Today I learned:

1. The Streaming Diet:

“Personal Productivity is the new Dieting”

– Daniel Pink

The central concept proposed (linked below) is that information, much like our caloric options, has proliferated to such an extent than an entirely new industry has been created to help us manage the issue. Essentially, he suggests we pile too much information on our plates now, in the same way we started to pile too much food on our plates decades ago.

A useful analogy, in my opinion, and a concerning one.

Despite a multi-billion dollar diet industry, collectively we clearly haven’t figured out food. Obesity rates continue to climb, particularly in kids.

Does the similarity between food and information mean one day ADHD will be the new Diabetes?  It’s been 72 years since McDonald’s was founded and we haven’t yet figured out how to deal with the food in front of us. Certainly in the 6 years since Twitter launched the stream of cool stuff coming at us has simultaneously multiplied and become more difficult to say no to. I have never been great at turning down the chance to super-size my value meal. I am no better at avoiding the seduction of another glance at Twitter, email, RSS feeds…the list goes on.

That all said, I actually had some personal success with dieting through 2011.  My breakthrough came when I translated a trick that had helped me manage a family with two kids, full-time work and a part-time MBA program for 2.5 years. The solution was simple: meticulous planning, diarizing and recording of everything on my calendar.  In translating the idea to food this meant keeping a diary of all food intake via an app on my phone. I set no goals or dietary restrictions, but found the simple act of keeping track kept me honest and motivated. Personal drive immediately and drastically improved the quality and volume of what I consumed. In 9 months I lost about 20% of my body weight – a drastic improvement with almost zero effort.

It all makes me wonder: Could the same “diet” concept translate to managing a information overload?

This seems to me a worthy experiment. So, here is my plan:

For one week I will keep a simple but meticulous checklist recording every time I do the following things:

  • Check my work inbox
  • Check personal email
  • Review my Twitter feed
  • Navigate to Google Reader
  • Click into Google + (accidently of course, because why else would you visit a ghost town every day)
  • Check out my Facebook timeline

If, after a week, the idea seems manageable and promising I will continue my checklist in hopes of seeing if my behaviour changes over time. My working title is The Streaming Diet and March 1 (tomorrow) sounds like a natural place to start.

Link to Daniel Pink: How to Say No…Especially to Things you Want to Do

2. Saved by the Pomodoro? Keeping on task is a problem for just about everybody. If you don’t have issues with it, you probably quit reading this post somewhere in #1 above.

The question is, can a Pomodoro save us from ourselves?

Pomodoro is italian for Tomato, and apparently the shape of most simple timers in Italy, so in North America this idea might gain wider appeal as the Egg Technique (though it would not have the same marketing appeal).

The concept, via pomodorotechnique.com is simple:

  1. Choose a task to be accomplished
  2. Set the Pomodoro to 25 minutes
  3. Work on the task until the Pomodoro rings, then put a check on your sheet of paper
  4. Take a short break (5 minutes is OK)
  5. Every 4 Pomodoros take a longer break

I find the concept appealing in its simplicity. I also find it appealing in that there is an app for it.

Screenshot from ITunes Canada

I’ve been an advocate of mini-breaks for years and I used them incessantly while studying to artificially “chunk” my progress.  I like the concept for work too, due to the natural tendency to allow interruptions – phone, email, open-door – to impact my ability to buckle down and keep me from critical tasks for the day.

This seems like another worthy experiment for me. I have a sense that the short time blocks might simultaneously make me more productive, and help me with The Streaming Diet that starts tomorrow.

Time to go shopping in the app store.

Link to the inspiration for this post, Daniel Pink: Can a tomato make you more productive?

Link to the “cheat sheet” on pomodortechnique.com


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

Today I learned:

1. Leave ’em be: 

http://i1112.photobucket.com/albums/k488/sqacct7/Topic%20Photos/Section%20B/betterthanyouquotes.jpg

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.


I am an Idiot, plus Inspiring Action with Why’s not What’s

Today I learned:

1. I am an idiot: Admittedly, some may tell me this should not be news or at least it should have been an assumption going in. Regardless, I didn’t make it past 7:15am before the label was applied this morning so at minimum this is earlier than usual.

As I prepared for work , 7 days post ACL-reconstruction, my wife looked at me like I was nuts.  This in itself is not unusual, but she is a physiotherapist so when rehab is concerned I need to listen (even more than I usually do, of course).  I continued to prepare until, as I struggled to pull my socks on, she muttered “you’re an idiot.

This helped snap me out of it, and we had a good discussion on surgeon recommendations, rehab principles and recovery.  Suffice it to say, another day at home for me. A good reminder that I don’t always know best, but at least my wife does.

2. Inspiring Action with Why’s not What’s:

“People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.”

– Simon Sinek

The goal is to sell people on why you do what you do. What you do is simply the proof of what you believe. Within Simon Sinek’s Ted video (linked below), he draws together this concept with several engaging examples – Apple, TiVo, and the Wright Brothers – but for a business leader or manager the most tangible example from my perspective relates to Martin Luther King Jr.

In jest, Mr. Sinek quips “He gave the I have a dream speech, not the I have a plan speech.”

This struck a cord and immediately made me consider how I have addressed my team in the recent past within activities like staff meetings, project planning sessions and 1:1’s.  It served as a good reminder that too often we emphasize what we are doing – what the plan is – not why we are doing things.  This is not to say we ignore the why, but rather we don’t always lead with it, and perhaps don’t give it the time and credence it deserves.

Importantly, in management the why must be tailored to individuals and the team.  For example, when I think about one large project I worked on in the past, our why messaging was at a corporate level, and it didn’t sell the goal at a personal level.  In the end, people follow for themselves – not solely for the money but for whatever else is intrinsically driving them. Selling your staff needs to get personal, in terms of why it is good for them. Get your Why right and you will have no trouble getting your team on board for the How and the What.

Link to Simon Sinek on Ted.com, plus graphic from guidedinnovation.com.


Leading with Lollipops, plus Sibling Bonds

In a TED-themed post, today I focus on learnings from a morning spent enthralled in the growing online library of Ideas Worth Spreading.

Today I learned: 

1. Leading with Lollipops:

“Maybe the biggest impact I’ve ever had on anyone’s life…was a moment I don’t even remember.”

– Drew Dudley

This quote comes from a powerful video (linked below) in which Mr. Dudley describes a time when a young woman recalled an interaction with him that had changed her life, and he couldn’t even remember it.

Mr. Dudley speaks about the idea of everyday leadership. He proposes we re-frame the concept away from money and power, to a more tangible concept we can all own. He suggests leadership is “the moments we create, acknowledge, pay forward and say thank you for.”

This idea is somewhat similar to the theme of Robin Sharma’s book, The Leader Who Had No Title (and I have already made it clear I am a fan of this concept). I consider myself a believer in this approach to leadership, and over the past several months I have been trying to emphasize it in interactions with everyone I meet. It gives me tangible ideas I can use to make me a better parent, manager, and friend.  It formed part of the motivation for this blog, and it has certainly impacted how I approach my relationships with others.

The video also led me to consider a “lollipop moment” in my own life – one I have never said thank-you for.  Here it is:

In 2007 I was looking at options for what to do next and I was considering a number of different academic pursuits, in the hopes I could open some additional doors in my professional life. I knew I needed to do something, but I wasn’t sure what, until I met professor Darren Dahl.

I decided to attend an information session on the part-time MBA program at the Sauder School of Business at UBC, and as it turns out Mr. Dahl was the presenter. The experienced floored me.

Instead of providing basic information on the program, he energetically launched into a pseudo-marketing class, conducting a discussion on the BMW film series. I said nothing. I was totally caught off-guard. I also knew I was home. I left the session and immediately got to work arranging my life  so I could attend the program.  Fast forward a few years and I graduated in 2011.

Would I have done it anyway? Maybe. Only one thing is for sure: In that moment, he handed me a lollipop that changed my life, and he probably didn’t even realize it. He certainly never asked for anything in return.  That’s leadership.

Link to Drew Dudley @ TedxToronto: (Trust me, it is worth your 6 min 22s seconds.)

2. Sibling Bonds:

“They are with us for the entire ride.”

– Jeffrey Kluger

I have known for years that my brother just gets me.  My humour is littered with 80’s sitcom jokes that only he seems to be able to pick-up. Often, I make a joke and we are the only two laughing. Most people are looking at me curiously, wondering what I could possibly find funny about Kale in a salad.

Understanding the impact of our relationship, makes me keenly examine the relationship between my own children – two young girls that are 20 months apart. The girls are the best of friends but admittedly emotions shift quickly. At times they fight with reckless abandon. Within Mr. Kluger’s Ted video (linked below), he suggests children in the 2-4 age group engage in one fight every 6.3 minutes. Frankly I think either he is low-balling the number, or my kids help bring down the average.

The most thought provoking piece to me is Mr. Kluger’s conclusion: “Life is short, finite and it plays for keeps. Siblings may be among the richest harvests of the time we have here.”

This raised one question for me – how can I ensure my daughters value their sibling relationship in the way I do mine?

At their age, I can say it, but it won’t hit home. I can try to control the fights, but it won’t change much. There will always be another doll to yell about.

Instead it hit me the best way to accomplish this goal is modelling.  They learn so much from what they watch and experience. What is the best way to build my daughters’ relationship? It might just be calling up my brother and inviting him and his family for dinner.

Time to make a phone call…

Link to Jeffrey Kluger: The Sibling Bond on Ted.com.


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.


Steve Jobs was an A–hole and Robin Sharma is a Genius

I can’t seem to read just one book at a time. Typically I have a few going and I switch back and forth depending on my mood. On the nightstand right now is the Steve Jobs biography by Walter Isaacson, and The Monk Who Sold his Ferrari by Robin Sharma.

From these two amazing books, today I learned:

1. Steve Jobs was an A–hole (and a Genius): From the sounds of it the only thing you could predict about Steve Jobs was that an encounter with him would be entirely unpredictable.

A terrible boss. Demanding, demeaning, insanely detail focussed. I doubt I could have worked for him but I wish I could have.

A terrible customer. He would never hestitate to explain everything you had done wrong. There was no filter. No mute button. I would have hated dealing with him, but I wish I could have.

A terrible listener. Prepared slides be damned. No way would he sit quietly through your presentation. It would have been impossible to present to the man, but I would have loved to have tried.

An utter genius with an unrelenting drive for perfection. I own 6 products with his stamp on them. I can’t imagine life without them – they make my day easier and remarkably more fun. The more I learn about the man the more I find to both like and dislike, and the more I want to buy his stuff.

2. Robin Sharma is a genius:  I just picked up a copy of The Monk Who Sold his Ferrari, and only a few pages in I am fascinated. I already considered one of his other books, The Leader Who Had No Title, the most simple and simultaneously profound book I have ever read, so it is no surprise I am enthralled with this one too.

As a carryover from school I always read with pen in hand ready to circle things that impact me. This is the passage that hit me today:

What I love about Robin Sharma is the simplicity at the core of everything he writes. Stripped down messages not unlike Aesop’s fables. This passage presents such a simple concept in a way that is easy to action. After today I know that the next time I am presented with an idea I will be sure to ask myself, “Is my cup full or empty?”