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.


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.


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…