Excellence

It is Difficult to Scan the Horizon When Examining a Mole’s Rear

When should we have our head in a tiny mammal’s tunnel and when should we float in the clouds in a small basket suspended from a potential fireball?

I’ve noticed this interesting phenomenon. Succeeding generations of leaders, managers, and volunteer boards seem impelled to make a mark by undoing previous work, adding layers of bureaucracy, or drilling down to examine sub-atomic particles. (To understand “making a mark,” see Wikipedia about our now deceased and sorely missed poodler, I mean, poodle, Mr. Bigelsworth.) There might be a time for such (although developing a form that is always approved without thought and fed to the file’s gaping maw is never attractive to my way of thinking.)

The trick, to me, is perspective. It is difficult to get a bird’s eye view of the horizon when examining a mole’s rear. Conversely, one cannot pull dangerous weeds out of the garden from a hot air balloon—even with a Ronco Inspector Gadget arm.

When should we have our head in a tiny mammal’s tunnel and when should we float in the clouds in a small basket suspended from a potential fireball? (It is not on my bucket list to travel with a bag of gas and a lit flame. My compliments to those who do.) Tough question. One thing for sure—we should never get stuck just doing one or the other.

Perhaps we should ask ourselves if our probing or drifting will make a contribution to improving organizational performance or if it is window dressing. The benefits should outweigh the costs. In the accounting world, the concept of materiality takes into account context and flirts with gushy notions like relativity. (Not the Einstein version, the beancounter version.)

This is the struggle of the ages for the finicky “detailist.” It means there is no set rule. It means $1,000 could be material and $1,000,000 could be immaterial – depending on context. (Make no mistake, I love me some good finicky detailists all the livelong day. Please don’t eyeball it on structural engineering or wing it on airplane design – get it? Wing it…)

Anyway, what is wanted is a bit of judgment. An Accounts Payable manager who worked on my team years ago had a small paper taped to her giant, alien-head shaped monitor. It said, “Will it matter in 10,000 years?” If the context is I forgot to pay a bill and got a late charge the answer is always “No!”

For us how about: Will my mark—whatever it is—make a measurable, positive difference to all concerned? Is it material—meaning the benefit is greater than the cost? If yes, proceed. If no, maybe dial it back and rethink.

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Is a Clean Desk a Key to a Messy, Creative Mindset?

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I lived most of my life with stacks of paper on my desk, which I think is wood, and piles of manila folders on my floor, which I believe has a rug somewhere.

Create a peaceful space to be completely present, engaged, and focused on whatever you are doing.

I used to boast I knew where everything was or that for a creative person to clean and organize would be like cutting Samson’s hair.

Not true now. Maybe never was.

Perhaps it is a blessing of the busy-ness of growth or the curse of aging, but I found myself wasting more time looking for stuff.

Worse, work-life felt like Steve Martin being jolted awake by John Candy driving on the wrong side of the road careening toward two semis and cackling like a denizen from hell. “You’re going the wrong way! You’re going to kill someone! Those aren’t pillows.” [···]

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Are All of These Created Equal?

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As the pop culture icon and celebrated intellectual Madonna is to have said, “Everyone should be entitled to my opinion.”

Many blogs should include a tobacco-like warning: This article looks appealing, but its contents may damage your brain.

Opinions have always been popular, but the Internet Age has catapulted them into rarified public air historically reserved for the famous. Today there is a bull market for Opinions with plenty of buyers and sellers; trading is brisk.

Social media provides an egalitarian platform. Career academicians with multiple terminal degrees and people who were held back in the third grade 12 times and get most of their world news from the National Enquirer get the same invitation—share.

Surely freedom of speech is precious and should be guarded with vigilance. But are all opinions created equal? What if we disagree? The problem is not that we have opinions and want to share them—the problem is the trading value we expect and give.

Access to simple, slick packaging is both boon and bane. It has never been easier to dress up a pig in a fine suit of clothes, brush his hair, whiten his teeth, give him a breath mint, and parade him in front of the whole world like a gentleman dandy. Even the neophyte computer user can produce and publish stylish, image-rich, attractive content that may be absolute bunk.

Many blogs should include a tobacco-like warning: This article looks appealing, but its contents may damage your brain.

It is becoming harder to pick out the expert opinion that comes from someone who has made a career of studying the subject at hand, like a meteorologist. We rightly tend to give their opinions more credence than, say, Grandpa’s bunion pain predicting a tsunami. The dilemma with finding an expert opinion is the surety of finding another one that is 180 degrees diametrically opposite. Sorting out the truth is tricky.

Personal opinions about taste, on the other hand, are never wrong. “I like my steaks medium” becomes problematic only we try to force our personal opinions on others. We should publicize our personal opinions with the understanding that being heard is fair coin for the exchange. We should read personal opinions realizing there is no guarantee they came from a sane person.

Opinions become important when they influence our personal choices. When the issues are complex we tend to get the data we use to draw conclusions from sources we trust. But we have information overload, ambiguity, and conflict.

When studying a matter we should exercise due diligence and remember that all opinions—even our own—are not created equal. Don’t let easy access to information dilute disciplined research.

As the wise sage Ben Franklin wrote:

For having lived long, I have experienced many instances of being obliged, by better information or fuller consideration, to change opinions, even on important subjects, which I once thought right but found to be otherwise.

But then that’s just his opinion. What’s yours?

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Inertia Stinks

There is a law: a body at rest tends to stay at rest until it drops the flicker. The corollary: inertia stinks impacts all of us. We are perfectly aligned to achieve the results we are getting said thought-leader Stephen Covey. What if we are not satisfied with our results?

Perhaps we should first be brutally honest about whether or not we really want big results. Are we willing to pay the price? The word inertia­—which describes the resistance to change in motion or direction—comes from a Latin word that means ”lazy-butt” (loosely translated).

If you and I really want much better results, we’re going to have to change the way we do things. It may mean working harder, but if we are already working our butt off it means changing our approach. This is not about incremental improvements wrought by gnawing on details. I am talking about game-changers; raising trajectories.

A McMaxim precept states: Change is hard because it means doing something—different. Brilliant!

The first step toward significant improvement is to change the way we think and that means:

  • Admitting that we may have been seduced by the mediocre witch’s incantation: activity equals accomplishment;
  • Taking down our defensive shields and becoming completely vulnerable to the pain of new ideas;
  • Surrounding ourselves with and listening to rebels with a cause (if they are passionate, prepared, and respectful);
  • Actively seeking to read about those who found a new way to skin the cat;
  • Judiciously empowering someone to take something into uncharted waters—preferably 180 degrees from our current path;
  • Realizing that if we are comfortable—we ain’t changing!

Part of the magic of being human is the ability to continually learn, grow, overcome, improve, and change. We shouldn’t buy into the paralyzing notion that age diminishes these gifts.

We can overcome inertia! We can earn huge results. It starts with an uncomfortable mental journey to form new pathways in our grey matter.

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