Make a Big impact in a SMALL way

As youngsters, we are all going to change the world by doing big, great things! We will be astronauts, deliver massive keynotes to stadiums full of people eager to be influenced or we will make the world’s most memorable music that will forever be referenced alongside the Beatles Anthology.

Fast forward a few years: Ed Sheeran never invited you to open for him, NASA pretty much shut down and you like terrible in a black turtleneck on stage. Eventually, we learn that our destiny is not this level of greatness and an early mid-life crisis sets in.

How can you make a difference?

Ask the ticket agent at the airport how their day is and get them a coffee unsolicited.  Check in on the runner next to you in your next 5K to see what influenced them to enter the race. Truly be present and listen when a colleague says they’ve had a tough day.

Small things add up and though they don’t necessarily make a massive difference to you at a given time, they will make a big difference to those who you encounter through your days. If we all do this a little more, the world will change.

Flipping Cards – Going Analog

This weekend I found myself flipping baseball cards with a friend and his daughter.  For anybody who has never done this, flipping cards is an age old game created by baseball card enthusiasts where you flip cards on the ground and try to have them land on top of your opponent’s card that has already been flipped.  If you are successful, you not only retain your card but take your opponent’s card.  This was the way people grew collections in the early days of baseball card collecting when money to buy a pack of cards was scarce.

It was a great reminder how much fun an analog game such as flip cards following the surprise of opening an old pack of baseball cards can render. 

As a side note, I’ve lost my touch when it comes to flipping and my friend’s child experienced some serious beginner’s luck!

Embrace the Suck – It’s Good Practice

Work, sports and relationships challenge us periodically, sometimes with more trying issues than others.  These situations create varying levels of stress that will impact or determine the way we handle the issue. Prioritization of issues is important but asking the most basic questions can help in creating a plan to attack. 

Will anybody die or face grave danger based on the outcome of the decision?  If the answer is yes, I’m not the right person to provide advice. 

If the outcome is anything less dire, it is helpful to ask trusted advisors for a point of view.  A different vantage point can lend perspective on the importance of the problem and a variety of ways to address.

Lastly, these challenges, as annoying as they can be, will serve as good preparation for the truly life changing struggles we will inevitably have in life.  Embrace the challenge – It is good to practice working through difficult decisions with slightly less significant topics to build thicker skin, coping mechanisms and decision processes that will help when bigger stakes are on the line.

Design is How it Works

Steve Jobs once said:

Most people make the mistake of thinking design is what it looks like. People think it’s this veneer – that the designers are handed this box and told, “Make it look good!” That’s not what we think design is. It’s not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.

This quote is not only a perfect fit for objects such as iPhones, watches (both digital and analog) but also for organizations.  A perfect watch design and movement makes the complications flow without friction to the gears, creates the longest life/power reserve, serves a purpose for the user and is aesthetically pleasing to the eye adhering to certain design principles that may not guarantee acceptance but greatly increase the likelihood.

Good org design cannot be focused only on appropriate spans of control and minimization of layers but it needs to address interaction between humans, the speed information can travel, optimization of learning and development across an organization and reduces friction where possible.   Recreating an org structure is equivalent to building the movement of a watch.  If done right, it perpetuates momentum. If done wrong, it is an expensive waste of time and money.  

Get Back to Your Baseline, Reset

Improvement, achievement and success are great motivators. Inevitably, there are times when we face challenges.  Projects with longer time horizons lead to mounting challenges that become overwhelming. This can take place around both physical objectives and those of the intellectual nature.

An example for a marathoner is a nagging IT band or slight hamstring pull.  While we want to continue our training to accomplish our goal race time, doubling down when an injury persists is rarely the best solution and may create more serious setbacks.  Similarly, if you are working through a difficult project at work without the necessary support and a positive outcome seems nowhere in sight, you may tempted to soldier forward disregarding your well-being.  This approach could lead a stressful breaking point where the anxiety itself reduces your chance of success.  

In both cases, continued attempts at forward progress can be detrimental in the long-term.  Even creating an effective plan when experiencing heavy stress can be difficult. It is important to get back to your baseline, recover, reset mentally and recalculate your course. A short recovery period will allow you to develop a clear and unclouded path to success without adding greater risk to your project’s outcome.

Entitlement or Disloyalty in the NFL

Sundays are for football.

This season in the NFL seems to have hit a high (or low depending on how you look at things) related to players demanding trades, skipping practice or for the infantile behavior when things don’t go their way. 

Generally in conversations, people seem aligned with the with the notion that some NFL players are acting a touch entitled.  Many would argue that these players make enough money and should be happy they are getting paid so handsomely for playing football.  I wouldn’t make that argument as players provide a service that generates revenue.  Owners pay what they feel is fair market value for the outcomes they, in part, drive… this is another argument for another day.

My concern is that these players who say they have a problem with ownership, the franchise, the NFL or a litany of other issues are actually quitting on their team members.  When talks of trade start taking place around these players, Should players from other teams join together and ostracize the players who have already shown that they are disloyal to team members? Would that create a positive change.

Leadville Starts at 4:00 AM

Leadville starts at 4:00 AM

On December 31, 2018 I stated my New Year’s resolution aloud.  This is a rarity for me as I don’t normally believe in such arbitrary timelines to commit to things we should probably be doing anyway.  Resolutions such as “eat healthily” or “spend wisely” should be constant themes in life, not fleeting commitments once a year.  

My 2019 resolution was to prepare right for Leadville.  I had signed up to run the Leadville 100 Trail race in August 2019.  While finishing the race in under 30 hours seemed to be the goal on the surface, my resolution was to prepare flawlessly every single day.  Such preparation would allow me to perform to the best of my ability and never second guess my effort.  Vowing simply to finish the race misses the point and the hard work, difficult tradeoffs and commitment to excellence along the way. 

I changed my daily alarm to be titled “Leadville starts at 4:00 AM” as a daily reminder that I could do something that day to achieve my goal.

On August 17th, Leadville started at 4:00 AM and after running 100 miles, successfully finished for me at 8:33 AM August 18th.

A Tale of Two Headshots

People often give me flack for my two headshots, one that is used for my professional profile and the other for my personal profile. They were taken on the same day and one is more serious than the other. Take a guess which was the less serious one… one hint, rubber chickens are not generally seen as serious props. 

My professional headshot is a good mix of smug and patronizing with a hint of lightheartedness.  While I can see the humor in it, I clearly like it and feel it portrays me in the image I’d like the world to see me.  That’s the beauty of a great headshot photographer.  They accentuate the things that you like about yourself, hide those you don’t and make it look authentic while at the same time the entire experience is completely contrived.  The day that shot was taken I remember showing up in a bulky fall sweater, jeans and sneakers.  I changed into my nerd gear and posed for a bunch of photos.  There were at least three changes of clothing and more haughty, arrogant looks than most people could fit into a lifetime.

How do you see the world seeing you?

A tale of two headshots

Credit: Special thanks to Rick Bern for all of his great photography work over the years.

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

I was recently reminded of the book “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” by Robert Pirsig. This book was very valuable to me for several reasons but most of all it helped me recognize why I find so much enjoyment in certain material objects. 

In the book, Pirsig’s main character split the world into two segments. The first segment was populated by people who want to understand how things work, take pride in the mechanics of a machine, the craftmanship that went into creating that object and the enjoyment in making it perform the intended task.  He contrasted this to the other side of the world with people who would rather not understand the mechanics behind an object and simply get enjoyment from the ultimate purpose of that object.  In the case of the book, motorcycles were the machine most frequently referenced but this comparison goes far beyond bikes and physical machines. 

Pirsig points out the need to enjoy the process, not only the outcome.  The appreciation in his eyes is greatest when the parts of a whole are truly appreciated for their contribution to the experience.  When you enjoy the journey, the destination will never be a disappointment.

It Gets Darkest At Night

Before you think that today’s column was brought to you by Captain Obvious, let me explain. Of course it gets darkest at night with the exception of some parts of Alaska and a few other places on the planet.  It is not only a matter of physical darkness but there is a mental aspect that kicks in when one pushes their limits in the dark.

Recently I paced a friend of mine in a 100 mile race. The race held at a farm in Vermont and repeated a .87 mile loop that he would need to circle 115 times to complete his challenge.  While the pastoral scenery was beautiful for the first five hours, the mind-numbing experience was accentuated around hour twelve.  My friend ran much of the race without a headlamp as he normally enjoys running in the dark. This turned out to be a detriment making his world closing in around him and making the task much harder to conquer.  Sometimes we create our own obstacles.

After a few hours of running in circles in the dark, he opted to use a headlamp and his pace and spirit improved finishing 100 miles in just under 26 hours.  Badass!