Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Next Stop, Iceland

Icelanders can now use a phone app to avoid incest. There are only 320,000 residents of Iceland and many of them are related due to generations of inbreeding; cousins marrying cousins. Now, they can simply “bump” their phones and an alarm will tell them if they’re related.

Wouldn’t that sort of technology be useful for all of us in a variety of ways?

You could bump to see if you’re a suitable romantic match for another person.

If you’re a salesperson you could bump to see if there is a business match between you and a potential customer.

Doctors could bump with patients, churchgoers could bump with ministers, cops could bump with drunks, scientists could bump with subjects…you get it.

You know…it now occurs to me that we “bump,” but not with the ease of the Icelanders. Their way only takes a second; our way takes lots more time, energy, money and emotion.

On second thought…what’s the airfare to Iceland?

Monday, April 29, 2013

Draw Your Day

What if someone slapped a big sheet of paper on the wall, gave you a handful of markers and told you to draw your day? What would you draw?

If you think the drawings created by a conference of county clerks from all over North Carolina would be simple, boring and one-dimensional you’d be wrong.

When I presented them with the art/work challenge in a two-day conference last week they drew everything from the fires of Hell to blood spurting from hearts to county commissioners wearing crowns and…ahem…unmentionable body parts.

In three words they were…off…the…chain!

Thirty-eight women and two men had some incredibly creative images of what their workdays look like.

A lot of these folks are the people you meet when you go to a county commissioners’ meeting, or file papers with a local or county municipality or have a question about how to register a complaint.

When people have an issue with their local government these folks are often the front line citizens encounter. I can’t imagine the patience it takes.

While I might have been the person leading the educational activities here’s what I learned: We might question the sanity of a lot of the politicians who represent us the people I met were smart, professional and doing their best to make sure we get treated fairly within the law.

However, don’t be a jerk or they’ll draw a picture of you…and it won’t be flattering.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

End-of-Month Checklist

We’re a little over three-fourths of the way through the month of April. Have you accomplished what you wanted for the month?

It never hurts to have an End-of-Month checklist; a list of steps you need to have completed by the end of the month in order to make sure you’re on track to complete your goals.

This doesn’t have to be really formal. It can be more of a Tickle File kind of tool to spur you to pick up the pace if you haven’t made the progress you need to make.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

What? and How? Versus Why?

Things always happen to me in threes. Maybe the same sort of thing happens for you.

If I drop food on the floor I can bet it will happen two more times in short order. If I lose my reading glasses I know I’d better have some glasses stationed in other areas because the first pair will go missing a couple more times in the next day or so.

Right now I have three situations in which I want to go to the people responsible and ask, “Why?”

But, asking people “Why?” often puts them on the defensive.

If you substitute, “What?” and “How?” for “Why?” stress levels go down and you get more specific answers.

“What happened?” “How did it happen?” Those work better than, “Why?”

Monday, April 22, 2013

Is This Thing Still Flying?

We all need a thought, saying, phrase or mantra to get us through tough times. Test pilots have long had an old line that puts difficult situations into perspective.

“Is this thing still flying?”

No matter what was going on in the aircraft and in the air if it was still flying the pilot could start making decisions to solve the problem. If it wasn’t still flying, if it was dropping from the sky like a rock, maybe it was time to exit the aircraft.

When times get tough are you still breathing, moving and able to look ahead? Are you still "flying?"

If so, take stock of your situation and start asking yourself, “What can I do to get where I want to be?”

Maybe the situation is that you simply don’t know where you want to be or don’t know your options. That’s fine. You can start looking around at potential goals and select one.

Mondays, the day in which the potential of the week is stretched in front of you, is always a good day to ask about work, relationships and life, “Is this thing still flying?”

Friday, April 19, 2013

Decision Downsides and The Globe of Death

If you’ve been hanging with me for the past 3 days as I recommend Chip and Dan Heath’s new book Decisive you know that in order to make better decisions you should:
Widen your options
Reality-test your assumptions
Attain some distance

The final step in good decision-making is to prepare to be wrong.

The Heaths suggest bookending the decision by asking, “One year from now, if this decision has gone great, how would we deal with the success?” And, “One year from now, if the decision has gone terribly wrong, can we deal with the failure.”

Is the realistic upside of the decision so great that it’s worth taking the risk? Is the downside of the decision too great to risk?

The Heaths use the acronym WRAP for widening options, reality-testing, attaining distance and preparing to be wrong.

On Tuesday when I started telling you about Decisive I mentioned that I was in the middle of making a big decision. I’m still in the process of working through the decision and I can tell you that Decisive has been invaluable as a roadmap.

As for the weekend, the circus is in town!!May have to go see The Globe of Death!

Enjoy the spring; see you Monday.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Villain #3

The third villain of making good decisions is short term emotion.

We can counteract narrow framing, seeing only one or a few opportunities, with widening our options.

We can offset our confirmation-bias tendency—automatically looking for information that supports our quickly-made choice—by reality-testing our assumptions.

Unfortunately, this is when short-term emotion gets involved. We hem and haw, pace back and forth and worry the situation like a cat with a dead mouse. Our emotions get involved and we start leaning toward the path-of-least-resistance choice or the one our emotions tell us to reach for.

This is the point at which we should put our pacing to good use and walk a little ways down the road…and then turn around and look at the decision from a distance.

Taking in the big picture helps us gain some perspective on the situation.

In the mid-80s Andy Grove, founder of Intel, was trying to make a crucial decision about the future of his company. After months of floundering, “We had lost our bearings,” said Grove, he happened to look out his office window and noticed the Ferris Wheel at the Great America Amusement Park.

What would the world look like if we were sitting in the car at the top?

Grove asked his CEO, Gordon Moore, “If the board kicked us out and brought in another leader what would he do?” Moore pointed out that the new guy would decide to take the company in another direction. Grove said, “What if you and I walk out the door and come back in and do it?”

So often we let our emotions create tunnel-vision and prevent us from getting an overall view of the impact the decision might have.

Once we make a decision we become overconfident that we can see the future. Tomorrow you’ll see that final decision-making stumbling block Chip and Dan Heath's book, Decisive

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

I Know What I'm Talkin' About!

If you were with me yesterday you know that in Decisive, Chip and Dan Heath’s new book about decision-making, we discovered that when making a decision we have a bad habit of narrow framing, thinking the decision is either/or instead of this/and.

The way to counteract narrow framing is to widen your options.

Unfortunately, in our usual decision-making style we often look at a few options and develop a quick belief that one of them is the best. Then, we seek information that supports the quick-choice option we picked.

This is called confirmation bias, it’s bad habit #2. We’re saying, “Yeah! I’m right and see, I can prove it!

The way to offset our confirmation bias is to reality-test our assumptions. We all know the old saying about what happens when we assume something, right?

A simple example is the couple who are sure they can handle having a baby. What’s the old advice? Get a puppy. If you can handle a year or two of dealing with raising a dog you have an inkling of what bringing a baby into your life might be.

When you are quickly sure you’re right and there’s evidence to prove it you might want to get some outside opinions from people who’ve done it, or test it.

What happens, though, is the confirmation bias increases our confidence, which means our emotions kick in…and short term emotion is the third decision-killer. You’ll see how it works tomorrow.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Aha! And the Heath Brothers

Information comes to me when I need it. Ever since I’ve become aware of this rule of life I’ve been amazed that when I am stuck for an answer or consciously seeking one the information I need finds me when I need it. All I have to do is keep my eyes, ears and mind open.

The same rule works for you if you’ll just be open to it. Ask life a question and then simply step back and you’ll see potential answers flowing to you. They may not be exactly the answer you hoped for but they are answers—often painfully honest ones—nonetheless.

I’m in the middle of making a big decision so it was no surprise to me that I happened on Decisive, the new book by the Heath brothers, yesterday on a trip to Barnes and Noble.

You’ve run into these guys before in this blog. Chip (professor at Stanford University) and Dan (senior fellow at Duke University) wrote Made to Stick, about marketing; and Switch, about how to make change happen.

They confirm that making decisions can be easy or hard. Some decisions make themselves while others lead to agonizing procrastination. There are also those decisions that never seem to get made.

In the Heath’s wonderfully readable style Decisive does a good job of spotlighting four biases (our inclinations to think a certain way or make a certain judgment) that keep us from making more effective decisions. Today, and for the rest of the week, I’ll offer some of their thoughts and provide you with the ways they suggest we counteract the biases.

The first bias is narrow framing. Too often, we see life in terms of either/or instead of this and that. An example would be, “Should I quit my job to do what I’ve always wanted?” (either/or, stay/go) instead of, “How do I lead a more fulfilling life?” (this and that, maybe it’s a variety of things in life that combine to make you feel less fulfilled).

The tactic used to counteract narrow framing is to widen your options. How can you expand the choices you have? When we widen our options we often have “Aha! I hadn’t thought of that!” moments.

What’s a big decision you’re trying to make? Are you narrow framing it into an either/or choice? Can you widen your options and find better, or at least more, solutions?

If you’re saying to yourself, “My problem is different,” you may be making an assumption…and we’ll talk about that tomorrow.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Lincoln, Titanic and Wi-Fi

Today, April 15, is the anniversary of the death of President Abraham Lincoln and the sinking of the HMS Titanic.

I felt like I was on the Titanic at the end of last week when my computer Wi-Fi connection crashed…and to have it happen on my birthday was doubly difficult. Thanks to friends for so many wonderful wishes, just wish I could have responded on that day.

Talking to AT&T about the problem was like talking to someone from Mars.

(Does anyone see a pattern in customer service blogs for me?)

The problem seems to have righted itself and that’s scary because you have to wonder if it’ll pop up again. But, you have to be thankful for small, and big, blessings.

I started thinking about the blessings issue this morning. A broken Wi-Fi connection is not even thinkable compared to something like standing on the deck of the Titanic and watching events unfold. Be thankful.

Lots of folks hate Mondays. We should be thankful we have the day at all.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

I Sure Miss the Goats

Last week a woman in one of my seminars was talking about ending a relationship she'd been in; the guy was a farmer.

She said, "You know, I sure miss those goats."

So often we find ourselves in situations in which we know we should move on--jobs, relationships, attitudes, habits--but there is something comfortable keeping us there.

In the Dan Jenkins book, Limo, one of the characters keeps trying to leave a bad marriage. But every time he's heading for the door, suitcase in hand, he has to walk through his den with his recliner, trophies and big television. He never makes it out the front door. When he thinks about the comfort he's leaving he turns and trudges back upstairs.

Like you, I've heard stories of decades-long marriages or careers that were saved by a single gesture or moment. Those make good stories but--and this could just be me--if you're going to hang your life on a relationship, career or issue there probably should be more to it than the fact that you liked the goats.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Get It Right the First Time

A friend has run into a customer service buzz saw with her phone/computer/cable company. She spent tons of time on the phone with CenturyLink (oops, did I let that slip?) on Saturday and Sunday trying to find out why no one showed up at her house as promised on Friday.

After multiple connections, interminable waits and lots of finger pointing from the media folks she discovered the problem. When she made the first call to set up the service the CenturyLink (dang! There it goes again!) employee on the other end took down an incorrect phone number.

So, when the media company explained that messages had been left it was discovered that they had been left at the wrong phone number.

Here’s something CenturyLink (it’s almost as if my fingers are typing this! wait, that’s what happens, isn’t it?) might want to think about: When a customer has a bad experience they will tell an average of 26 people over the course of the next year about the bad service. Even if they solve the problem to the customer’s benefit the customer will tell an average of 12 people about the mistake.

In a small town like my friend lives in that’s like gossiping in church; everyone knows it pretty quickly.

Miscommunication is expensive in terms of money, time, energy and reputation. Big companies don’t really care about one customer no matter what they tell you. It’s too expensive to care….oh, wait…what’s happening to JC Penney, and Kmart, and Sears?

Get it right the first time and the dissatisfied customers don’t start standing in line at the CenturyLink door.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Jury Duty Day

(Out of town tomorrow so here’s Friday’s blog in advance.)

What interests people is amazing. I received more comments about the jury duty blog than from anything else in awhile.

If you’ve done jury duty you have one of two opinions: It can be like being poked in the eye with a sharp stick...or, it can be an interesting and educational experience if you don’t let yourself spend the whole time agonizing about being there and wishing you were somewhere else.

I took some books and work to the jury lounge where we waited to be called. Our jury wrangler (I’m sure she had a more official title but that’s kinda how I saw her) was Nancy Vann, a smart, perceptive and funny woman, and she gave us the welcome speech at 9 am. After we watched an instructional video she announced that we were “free to move about the cabin” until we were called for a trial.

At about 10 am we got a call to head to the courtroom. It was an alleged armed robbery trial and the judge did a great job of prepping our group of 42 to serve as jurors. His best line was, “there are Americans losing their limbs and lives in Iraq and Afghanistan so being inconvenienced for a few days seems a small price to pay for the privilege of being an American.” Amen.

I was Juror #2. So, when the initial seating started I was the second juror questioned about my ability to serve as a juror. That’s when it happened.

The prosecutor, an assistant DA, asked if any of us knew police officers or had any law enforcement experiences that might keep us from making an impartial decision based on the facts of the case.

I raised my hand and explained that the first job I’d had right out of college was with the NC Department of Corrections. I explained that I was a public information officer who, among other duties, had to go into prisons to interview people at all levels about the corrections experience.

The asst. DA asked, “Did you have contact with inmates, corrections officials and officers, and police officers?”

“Yes, I did.”

“Do you believe your experiences would keep you from making an impartial judgment about the facts of this case.”

“Yes, that is likely.”

And that was it…I was off the jury.

Believing you can make an impartial judgment in different areas of life is a wonderfully self-indulgent assumption. But, we all have prejudices and some aren’t very flattering.

For instance, I believe that 99.9 percent of the people in prisons deserve to be there. Yep, there are mistakes made. Brian Banks, the kid who just signed with the Atlanta Falcons is an example of someone imprisoned for something he didn’t do. And I’m sorry about something like that happening and we need to do all we can to prevent it. But, I believe the majority of people in prison deserve to be there and that belief keeps me from being objective.

Now, put me in a traffic case, or personal injury or white collar crime and I’ll sit there all day and listen to the facts. Armed robbery though…no.

I was back on the street at 11 am. Thinking that I should volunteer for jury duty to make up for this time, to do my duty.

Flip a Penny

You’re probably like I am, if you see a penny heads up on the ground you pick it up and think “Yeah! Today’s my day!”

If you see a penny tails up you may leave it where it lays.

(Or, you may be like the tightwad hunter in the Southeastern North Carolina myth who supposedly dug the vacation spots—White Lake, Black Lake and Jones Lake—looking for the quarter he supposedly dropped while out looking for deer…and you pick up the penny no matter what its position.)

For the last few years I’ve played a little game with the universe involving pennies. As I’m leaving a store or simply walking along a sidewalk, if I notice no one around I’ll pull out a penny and place it face up on the sidewalk. I do the little act because I know someone will come by later, find the penny, and have the “Yeah! Today’s my day!” feeling. Playing the little game gives me a good feeling and it’s cheap, cheap, cheap.

Today I had a wonderful occurrence. I played the place-a-penny game in front of Lowe’s grocery store and then headed for my car in the parking lot. I’d walked about fifty yards, looked down and found…a nickel. Not a bad return on my investment…500%!

It struck me, though, that that’s what life’s like a lot of the time. If you’ll invest a little money, time, energy, love…whatever you have…you’ll often get a reward greater than what you invested. If you think that’s how life works, that’s how it works.

The only rule is that you can’t make the investment expecting the return. Somehow the universe knows you’re faking it.

Try the penny game and see how it makes you feel. You’ll love it.

PS…I used to pass by the tails up pennies, but now I flip them over and keep walking. For some reason my infantile mind believes I’m turning something that might be less than positive into something good.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Doing Our Duty

Jury duty today.

Lots of folks do their best to dodge jury duty. I’m hanging tough because I believe there are things we have to do in exchange for the privilege of being an American. Maybe I wouldn’t be so positive about it if I had a big, paying gig today, but I don’t.

So, I’m going to sit in the jury lounge with a book and wait to see what happens

Here’s hoping I don’t get a case where some dope is being tried for killing his wife with a weed eater…and it lasts 5 weeks…with government compensation of $40 a day.

Keep your fingers crossed for me.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Taking Advantage of Tulips

When I moved into this house almost two years ago I was digging around the mailbox out front and found lots of bulbs. Not being a gardener I had no idea what they were so I simply left them alone.

Later, as you probably can guess, tulips came up. This morning I noticed that my tulips are getting ready to bloom.

Every day we happen on ideas, people and situations that, if we simply enjoy and appreciate them, will flower into something much grander than we had imagined.

Expect chance and take advantage of it. Granted, sometimes it comes wrapped in unattractive packages or it’s buried in the dirt, but it’s there. You just have to notice it.

Monday, April 1, 2013

BS From the Mouths of Babes

Last week I had breakfast at Breadman’s, a popular eatery in Chapel Hill.

I was just diving into a cheese omelet when two students, a guy and a girl, were seated in the booth next to mine.

The girl was an attractive blonde. She had a wide, toothy smile that said her parents had probably bought a dentist somewhere a Mercedes.

The guy was a big kid who looked like he’d just rolled out of bed and he began reading a newspaper as soon as he sat down. He had a running commentary about what was going on in his life and rarely looked at the girl. I figured his style was based either on fear (being with a girl that cute might be new to him) or he knew the girl really well and didn’t care how he acted around her.

After a few minutes I decided it was the second reason because he was pretty foul-mouthed. I immediately thought about the line from The Staple Singers song, “Respect Yourself”

“Oh, you cuss around women
And you don't even know their names
And you dumb enough to think
That'll make you a big ol man

A few minutes later his cell phone rang and he answered it. After a quick (and loud) “Hello” he said, “I’ve had to step out of class to take this call.”

I immediately laughed out loud and he gave a surprised look as if he was hoping the party on the other end hadn’t heard the laugh.

From the conversation (at his volume it was impossible not to eavesdrop) it sounded like he was talking to someone about a job interview.

The look and sound of the kid had me thinking, “He’ll do great in the interview. He’s quick, personable and full of crap. If it’s a sales job he’s a lock.”

As I was walking out I thought, “Does this girl understand that if she calls him sometime and he tells her where he is he might not be telling her the truth? And, does he understand that BS may get him in the door but after that he’s going to have to produce?”

But, the thought that stopped me like a train when I got in the car was, “Forty years ago…that was me.”