Archive for March, 2013

View from Afar

We seem to live in a time where doctors destroy health, lawyers destroy justice, schools destroy knowledge, governments destroy freedom, the press destroys information, religion destroys morals, and banks destroy the economy.
It’s easy to fault the institutions for our problems. Without a doubt there is some corruption and incompetence. But they are made up of people, most of whom are good and well intentioned. Look closer. How do things work in your little universe? How good of a job do you do? Oh, your boss is an idiot? That’s the problem? No, look a little closer.
Unless you’re God’s gift to whatever it is you do, in which case you should rise to nearly the top of it, then I think it’s pretty safe to assume many of the people you work with and for are competent enough to hold down their part. This is not always true, but overall if viewed objectively people are generally satisfying what their bosses want or need. So, the problem is the bosses, right?
If you’ve been in charge of people then you know how challenging that can be. You probably aren’t perfect at it. But you do pretty well, right? You get most of it right. Well, the problem must be at the top of these institutions. So the top people in the field are to blame? That can be true, but generally…I don’t think so. They didn’t get to the top by being idiots, and the people who put them there probably aren’t fools.
Isn’t it ironic how anytime we can put the word “they” in a sentence it becomes very easy to pass judgement or to see what needs to be done.
Consider that they are, perhaps, satisfying a different set of conditions than those you are aware of or believe are important. And the farther you are from the center of it the more out of whack it can look to you. From afar it’s too easy to vilify people and institutions. They tend to become things, entities, and we lose sight of the fact that they are more like us that we would feel comfortable believing. And the people right around you, who somehow seem to hold views and values similar to your own (coincidence?), support your beliefs.
Read that first sentence again. Pick the worst one (to you) of the examples. Ask yourself if in the cold light of objectivity whether you really believe they are screwed up, or are they doing what they must. Now, go do YOUR job.

Out of Character

We sometimes let situations make us act out of character. If someone you care about is straying, you have a duty to try to intervene in some way. It doesn’t always work, which is another symptom of them being out of character in the first place. Sometimes you have to step back and let them burn themselves a little. Try to help limit the damage and then be supportive by helping them see the dynamics of what happened. Help them backtrack in their minds. To learn.

Hopefully you have someone around that will do the same for you. Sometimes we can only see our finger when someone asks us to point at something. No matter which side of the coin you may find yourself on there is always ample opportunity to learn.

Who is Number One?

RickPitino

Today kicks off the greatest annual sporting event in all of sports. The genius of the NCAA basketball tournament is a marvel. To many fans it’s a bunch of interesting games, but it’s so much more. It’s like a religion to the die-hards. You can’t ‘invent’ something this good. It has taken on a life of its own, organically. There are so many fascinating facets to it, most of which are well documented, that I couldn’t possibly touch on them all. One of the most notable of them, and the most relevant to this post, is how the audience has become part of the event. The stats showing the decline of office productivity to pools and brackets speak for themselves. It has truly carved out a place in our culture that transcends the sport itself.

Our species is inherently competitive, and our culture both banks on and fosters this. We want to know who is best, or who can find a way to win. Often times this degrades to winner take all and not caring about the rest. Who won the job, or the scholarship, or the lottery, their 15 minutes of fame, or…?  But who was it Kentucky beat last year? Likewise nobody cares who came in second in the office pool. Still, the fact that we get to participate the way we do generates a lot of interest and buy-in from people who otherwise wouldn’t give it a second thought. When you get closer and more engaged in something you see a lot more of the nuances. It’s kinda’ like a religion.

The quest for who is truly the best at something, though seemingly important to us, is awfully hard objectively determine. But as for who is number one? That’s easy. Each of us is number one to ourselves (and closest to ourselves). Everything you do and say springs out of that. You can disguise it 100 different ways, and be as altruistic as they come, but in the end it still boils down to the same thing. You have a hierarchy of perceived wants and needs that you strive to take care of. Consider this quote from a friend…

Being true to my faith in God makes me happy.

It’s a very insightful and honest statement for this individual, and one I think would be shared by many who have a capacity to look within. Even though the actions required to be true to said faith may not always be ideal (or at least not easy), if someone has figured out that staying the course and following a doctrine works and produces happiness…then that’s a great way to look out for number one. This person would say and believe that God is number one, and put God ahead of themselves. But the ultimate and unavoidable truth contained in that quote is profound.

I wonder if God approves of gambling in office pools?

Why You Need to Sell

carrot

Many people have the wrong idea about what it means to sell, and to be good at selling. They believe that a good sales person is born that way, and has a gift of persuasion, to the point of manipulation. They believe sales people aren’t to be trusted. The belief is reinforced through the actions of some sales people, especially when they do unethical things.

But the real pros, the ones who care about their craft and their reputations, have a clearly defined set of ethics they observe. All selling involves a little bit of what one might think of as minor manipulation. Heck, getting a date or a job can, too. But it’s the manipulation of emotions, not distortion of facts, and so long as ethical boundaries are observed it can be a good thing. The goal is to get people to do what they really want to (or should) do anyway. To get them to move off center. There is a real skill to this, which may be learned or innate.

Let’s say you’re a health care professional. Do you present the facts and hope your clients take the proper action, or do you motivate? Look around you. The facts are everywhere, as are unhealthy people. Clearly facts and information are not enough. If you can inspire them you will get better results, which will help them more, and help you be more successful as well. That little bit extra, the intangibles that tampering with the emotions of the client provides, can be the difference between merely doing a job and getting the job done, so long as care is taken.

If you’re an engineer, do your ideas get accepted easily, or are yours often overlooked? Surely good engineering ideas would stand on their own, right? Wrong. People evaluating ideas are as susceptible to good marketing as anyone else. Package your idea up and sell it. Do you offer something that makes their life easier, or better, or saves time, or costs less? Take the time to find out both who your customer is (boss? client?) and learn how to appeal to what she/they care about.

People who understand these things about sales get much further in their careers, especially careers other than sales. Time to change your attitude about what it means to sell and be sold.

I See Dead People

DigFrameI have a digital picture frame in my office containing pictures that go all the way back to my first camera over 40 years ago. As those pictures go by I see a lot of dead people. Ghosts. Memories.

They all had dreams and aspirations at one point. Some achieved, but many discarded in favor of other things deemed more important. Life became a grind of routines for most of them, because life has a way of clinging to us and bogging us down over time. We can wind up ‘dead’ many years before our bodies finally stop functioning. We aren’t ‘unhappy’ per se, but an underlying feeling of discontent flickering in the back our our minds tells us we took the easy/safe way out enough times that it triggers a dull feeling we gave something up. Potential unreached.

What could have been? Most of those in my photos got used to it. Accepted it. And maybe even eventually forgot what it felt like to think about living life to the fullest. But somewhere in the background they knew…

Can you recall an old person wishing s/he had taken fewer risks in life?

Each picture that goes by has dead people in it soon enough. Too soon. When is it too late to make changes and start?

Steve Jobs said it best…

Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure — these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.

Broken on Purpose

ratinmaze

Rebates fall in the category of things that communicate an intention to try to get one over on people. You have to jump through hoops to eventually get some check or gift card, or whatever…way after the fact. They could be given at the point of purchase. The process is absolutely broken on purpose, and conveys disingenuous intent. (Whether or not it is actually disingenuous isn’t the point. It conveys it.)

Of course many people never bother to collect the money. Or if they try and something goes wrong, many give up quickly. Meanwhile there are those who diligently work to claim them every time. This is all calculated and statistically known up front and designed into the model of profitability.

It sets up a scenario with winners and losers. You get a better deal because the vendor knows about how many will forfeit it, based in part on the mechanics of how each one is implemented.

In the process the vendor mildly irritates the very customers he would probably like to have the loyalty of the most.

Deals and circumstances where someone has to lose for another to win can be destructive. Of course we do it routinely. Take Gambling for example. It’s fun up to a point. There’s some seduction born out of the possibility of a payoff. But most who gamble are willing to lose to be entertained. It’s just a lot less fun when we lose a lot. And when we win we don’t worry about taking from the house because that’s “them” and they can afford it. However, when we take from individuals it feels a little different. We gamble for more than money.

We have competition for jobs, promotions, resources, status, money, mates, etc. Competition is part of our species and in many ways a positive motivating force. Exclusivity, on the other hand, while attainable in some cases, communicates disingenuous intent. The goal is to get the big win mostly through having others lose out, or be excluded, rather than on merits alone. If I am the exclusive distributor of a sought after product I can charge especially high prices. It’s an agreement between me and the manufacturer that leaves customers feeling taken advantage of.

Exclusion limits. Inclusion elevates. If a relationship is contingent upon exclusivity then it makes one wonder what the underlying intent is. Your friend gets married and the friendship suffers, or is cut off because the spouse doesn’t feel it fits within his or her boundaries. It might seem understandable, but it’s fear that begets this type of control. We each want the best tactical advantage we can get, and in some domains more than others we’re willing to be pretty cutthroat about manipulating circumstances in ways that inherently limit. Limiting others, even those we care about, for the sake of our own security.

Exclusivity is designed to trap you. It’s just that you rarely recognize it or don’t care until you’re on the outside looking in.

We break things on purpose…to satisfy greed, status, security, etc. Society accepts and even encourages many of these actions, however, they don’t reflect an ideal of living harmoniously together with each person and organization rising to reach their full potential.

Inclusion is usually more uncomfortable and risky. Dare to take that higher road.

Love and Trust

LoveandTrustI previously wrote about actions when things go wrong. Without a doubt the things people do (or don’t do) when it all hits the fan can be quite illuminating. It affects dignity and trust, and speaks to character. A song lyric from the past comes to mind…

We need trust to build faith
And in that faith we’ll find hope
And with that hope we learn to love

The other side of this same coin, however, is that love can provide these things. It provides room for benefit of the doubt, faith, and hope if we let it.

It means I don’t have to be told exactly where I stand because I know what is in your heart. You don’t have to explain why things went wrong because I believe your intent was in the right place. I trust you.

Real love provides these things. Even if there is bad stuff in there, or bad things happening…love overcomes. It keeps the light on and helps us not to get swallowed by negativity.

Are there limits? Of course. It can be fragile. If enough goes wrong the benefit of the doubt starts to be replaced by skepticism. Eventually one becomes jaded and cynical. Trust is lost. Faith is lost. Eventually love is lost. More lyric…

We broke the promise – started keeping score
Lost sight of why we ever played
So I’m not playing anymore

Can it be rebuilt? Of course. Love can find a way, if you let it.

Your individual results may vary. Some people respond to the actions of building faith and trust better than others. They can gracefully give benefit of the doubt, even when they have reservations. And like the first lyric says, these things can provide a way to love. I envy those people. For the rest of us it starts with love, and everything else blossoms out of that. It can be powerful, if you let it.



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