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Revisiting God's Little Chew Toy

Dog-chew-toy Wow - what a month.  I've been juggling with curve balls this month, from car break-ins to health scares, and to be honest, I'm feeling a little exhausted.  I really didn't leave a lot of slack in my own personal system to deal with stuff beyond my normal go-go-go pace... which is my own fault.

One of my first blog posts was about dealing with God's Little Chew Toy... you know, the Eeyore of your team who always has multiple things going wrong all at once.  At the time I wrote it, I was dealing with two team-mates who seemed to have everything collapsing around them simultaneously.  The frustrating part was that neither was a great performer, so I was finding it hard to show them sympathy for the "excuses" for their lackluster performance.

But what happens when the "bad karma slump" hits YOU?  What happens when you are God's Little Chew Toy?  I found a great set of posts by Jonathan Keese Sr. about dealing with adversity.  He has some simple yet powerful lessons on handling the many curve balls that life throws at us.  I have a couple to add:

  1. Laugh - find something, ANYTHING, that will make you laugh.  It's been proven that laughter is the best medicine.  Recently, I've been on a Phineas and Ferb kick.  I know the chuckles derived have helped me keep my head.
  2. Help - do one good deed for somebody else.  Even if it's just paying for coffee at the drive up for the person behind you, you just never know when that one random act of kindness finds its way back to you.
  3. Confide and share - my church small group and my circle of friends collectively rock!  I've been overwhelmed by the outpouring of support and encouragement... BECAUSE I ASKED.  That's not easy for me; I'm used to solving others' problems.  But the texts, Facebook messages, phone calls, etc. have been so uplifting.  Don't keep it bottled up.
  4. Exercise - admittedly, I've done horribly at this one this past month, and I've felt it.  So this lesson was learned the hard way.  Back on the cardio, weights, and nutrition immediately.

A lot of people are still going through the effects of the bad economy, are looking for jobs, and are just trying to get a grip on some very tough realities.  We've known a few people who have filed for bankruptcy, and there are others who are just feeling the pain of difficult job hunts.  It's scary.  The bottom line:  it can and will get better.  I promise.

Pull Out Those Old Recipes, Folks

Younkers Recently, I posted on Facebook that my wife was making chicken salad for supper.  Not just any chicken salad, mind you.  This was the famous recipe from Younkers' Tea Room.  I realize I have a lot of readers outside the Des Moines area.  For those of you over the age of 40, you probably had a similar place in a nearby metropolis.  Back in the day, Younkers Tea Room was the swankiest place in town.  My high school prom was held there... ok, so back loooong before I was in high school, it was really upscale.  This was the place where the social elite would be seen dining.  It was also the source of many great recipes, among which was the chicken salad.

The memory of Younkers Tea Room evokes nostalgic images of a bygone era, of dressing up for dinner, of old-fashioned high-end department stores, of live entertainment.  But no matter how far removed we get from it, there's a recipe that holds a special place in our hearts (and our stomachs).  And every once in a while, we have to pull it out and make it (no matter what it might do to our cholesterol levels).  It's that old tried and true that always seems to work, that never fails to make us feel better.

We have those in work and in life, too.  It might be a book, a poem, a friend, or a painting.  It may be a building, a park bench, a road less traveled.  It's OK to pull them out, dust them off, and revisit them for a while.  Life isn't all about change.  Sometimes life is about remembering.  And through remembering, it may give you inspiration for the future.  So pull out those old recipes.  Call that old friend.  Read that poem.  It's OK... really.

And for those of you who are curious, I will share with you the absolute best chicken salad recipe on the planet (with the discoveries my wife has made along the way):

  • 3 cups diced, cooked chicken thighs (it's OK to buy the roasted chicken at the supermarket and use the whole chicken, if you'd prefer, over the thighs)
  • 1 cup chopped celery
  • 1/4 cup chopped onion
  • 1/4 cup shelled sunflower seeds
  • 1 cup ranch dressing (we've found the T. Marzetti's light ranch gives the right taste and texture)
  • 1 teaspoon celery salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried minced garlic
  • Salt and pepper to taste (optional)

In a large bowl combine chicken, celery, onion, and sunflower seeds.  In a smaller bowl, stir together salad dressing, celery salt, garlic, salt and black pepper.  Pour dressing over chicken mixture; toss to mix well.  Cover and chill for one hour.  Makes six servings.  (My opinion:  best served with crisp Romaine lettuce on a croissant.)


Graduation_cap Tonight I'm heading to a couple of graduation parties in honor of my Drake graduate students.  I've mentioned before that I'm a little melancholy to see this group leave.  In almost a decade at Drake, the past two years have yielded the best collective group of students I've ever had the pleasure of teaching.

It's been a few years since I've written a "graduation post" so in their honor, I thought I might pass along a little wisdom that the past 20 years of post-graduate professionalism have taught me (sometimes naturally, sometimes the hard way).  We do a good job of telling people to set goals and to move toward important things, but in looking back, I wonder if we warn our graduates of those things which should be avoided.  So, here goes:

  • Shun "good enough" and "comfort zones" - mediocrity will eventually kill you.  You'll hit middle age and realize all the things you didn't do, all the risks you didn't take, and you'll want a do-over.  They only allow mulligans in golf, and even then when it really doesn't matter.

  • Shun excess and greed - the perils of that mindset are becoming painfully obvious in our current economy.  I'm not saying you shouldn't succeed, nor that you shouldn't enjoy the fruits of your labor.  Just live well within your means.  You will rarely be stressed.  I once had a colleague who allowed the rewards to out-prioritize the work which helped obtain them; I don't associate with this person because his values changed so drastically over time.

  • Shun selfishness - giving back to others is a tremendous feeling.  Helping another on his or her journey holds the best rewards.  Setting somebody on the path of success is a success for you, too.  If your focus is purely internal, you'll never realize the interdependent potential of the world around you.  My best teaching experiences have involved helping my students as well as local not-for-profits and small businesses.

  • Shun small minds - develop an "improv" mindset of "Yes, and..."  Small minds can never comprehend possibilities.  They can't build.  They can't expand.  They can't imagine or dream.  And they are threatened by those around them who do.  I knew an executive for a consulting company who took perverse pleasure in telling those around her what they couldn't do and what couldn't be accomplished.  As a result, people worked around her to get things done.

  • Shun excuses - we live in a world begging for accountabililty and responsibility.  If you make a mistake, admit it and learn from it.  And advertise your lessons.  Develop a great set of brakes so the buck stops with you.  People will notice and reward it.

  • Shun stodginess - life is to be lived.  Laughter and passion are the soul of what keeps us breathing.  Get excited about something.  Hug, hurt, heal, run, fall, rebound, giggle, guffaw, shout, dance, believe, wish, hope, plan, work, relax, worship, look, think, appreciate, clean, improve, reach, learn, and then start the cycle over again.  There's a series of accomplishments waiting out there with YOUR name on them.

So, 2009 graduates, as you move your tassle in order to move forward, I hope you remember some of the things you need to leave behind.  There's a world out there begging to be changed... are you up for the task?

Carpe Factum!

Miss Congeniality... or Miss Take?

Carrie_prejean2 So "the Donald" pardoned Carrie Prejean and let her keep her crown as Miss California.  The photos "weren't that bad."  The comments about same-sex marriage were "honorable."  No harm, no foul.  Everyone back to your corners.

But I want to see Round 2.  Rosie O'Donnell hasn't weighed in yet.  Expect a press release comment soon.

Given their past relationship, I really wonder if Donald Trump did what he did just to tweak Rosie.

In office politics, there are some people who take actions - not because they really believe they're right - but just to spite another human being... or department... or team... or company.

What can you do if you are on the receiving end of this bad office karma?

  1. Nothing - if the action is not harming business as usual, then I've found a "do nothing" approach can annoy the annoyer more than anything.

  2. Alliance Building - Get other people to go to bat for you.  This shows the decision-maker that the action was inherently bad.

  3. Up the Food Chain - If you have the relationships in place, go above the decision-makers as a "concerned team player"

  4. "What the hell...?" - Confront the person if the opportunity arises.  Hold a crucial conversation to get at the heart of the conflict and move past the surface struggle.  I've had situations where a thorn in the side has become a great ally after one of these talks.

  5. Mitigate - if their actions or decisions are irreversible, at least try to lessen the blow to yourself and those around you.

  6. Kill 'em with Kindness - I've found that retaliating with a kind and considerate gesture can do wonders for turning something negative into something really cool.

We'll see if Rosie reads my blog.  If I were her advisor, I'd tell her to go with 1) or 6).

It's a Date

Originally Published In Iowabiz.com on May 2008

Dsc_0067I had to chuckle when I drove past a local arena and saw the sign advertising the Cinco de Mayo concert... on May 3rd.  Evidently, somebody neglected to tell the planners that "cinco de Mayo" is Spanish for the 5th of May.  Oh well.  I'm sure the concert content is great, regardless of which day it occurs.

In project management, we talk a lot about late tasks and how these impact the project and the organization.  Sometimes, we neglect the impact of tasks that come in too early.  An older post at the Ever Changing Crusades blog yields a valid issue on completing projects too early:

Since I mentioned Dead Lines.......back at my previous job,  I had absolute deadlines.  Everybody did.  What was the point in getting a project finished too early and then something, at the last minute, changes the outcome and have to redo the work?  My view was/is to just wait until all the facts were in, and then do the job.

So assess your tasks.  Think about the predecessor and successor relationships.  Look at impacts and resources.  If your task needs to finish on a specific date, then don't try to overachieve.  (Mind you, don't procrastinate either.)  Just get it done... right... and on time.

Carpe Factum

Outcome Predicted

Man_behind_bars Last week, I attempted my first stint with Junior Achievement.  After dealing with c-suites, dysfunctional middle managers, and passive-aggressive cubicle dwellers, you wouldn't think a group of fourth graders would have me spooked, but I have to admit a certain level of nervousness headed into Mrs. Costello's Crestview Elementary classroom.

The curriculum I was given deals with regions and resources and how they interact with our business decisions.  It's very cool, and extremely easy to teach (normally, I loathe "plug and play" lesson plans).  Toward the end of the lesson, I handed out little post-it note flags to each of my students and asked them to think of a business they wanted to start.  Then I asked them to put their initials on the their flags and place them on a map of the U.S. where they wanted their business to be located.  For the most part, it was a relatively uneventful exercise, except for two of the students, whom I will refer to as "Bart" and "Lisa" (not their real names).

As he was walking up to the map, Bart demonstrated his attention to recent current events by proudly informing me he was going to start a bank and then keep everybody's money.  Upon overhearing his plans, Lisa scoffed.  (Side note:  fourth grade girls scoff better than any other class of human beings.)  She turned to Bart, and matter-of-factedly stated, "Fine, then we'll just put your flag here at Alcatraz in San Francisco Bay, because you're just going to wind up in prison anyway."  I didn't have the heart to tell her that Alcatraz was no longer in business as a prison, but I was impressed with her geography skills.

What impressed me most about this exchange was that even in fourth grade, kids are already getting cause-and-effect.  I predict Lisa will go far in life, not because she's an uptight goody-two-shoes, but because she understands that one person's behavioral inputs will create a certain type of output.

Of course, there are constraints to her views on justice.  Our nation is pretty cyclical, and while the Obama administration is moving the pendulum in one direction, eventually things come full circle.  I was reading a blog post last month where the writer was criticizing the works of Ayn Rand, and how harmful they were to our country.  What really got my attention were the two comments left by the same person.  Those comments showed much more insight into cause-and-effect of human behavior.  Overlaid with our perceptions of right and wrong is a concept of balance.

Maybe instead of prematurely sentencing Bart to prison, Lisa should start focusing her energy into allowing Bart means of making the money he desires within boundaries that will keep him out of jail... or maybe not... because another fundamental truth is that fourth grade girls love to get fourth grade boys into trouble.

The Fast and the Curious

Fast-furious Last Sunday, I took my turn with "nursery duty" at church.  In the toddler room, we get kids between 12 months and 3 years old... in other words, old enough to be mobile and potentially damaging and young enough to turn on the charm by giving you a clueless look when you're trying to direct them away from being "potentially damaging."

Such was the situation last Sunday when 18-month-old Benton decided he wanted drag race me across the room.  In his tender mind, "drag racing" consisted of crawling at break-neck speed from point A to point B.  Let me tell you, the kid was fast.  My only saving grace was that he was 18-months old... and easily distracted.  "Ooooo, look!  Pretty toy!"

But young Benton reminded me of a fundamental truth...  in our hustle and bustle to get things done, we sometimes need to stop and be curious.  Do we take time to revisit our scope and requirements periodically?  Do we ever wonder if we're going down the right path?  Do we pause to consider the accuracy of our information and paradigms?

One thing I've been observing is the number of people who are afraid to take time off from work.  They're so concerned for their jobs and being perceived as expendable that they don't wish to take any time away.  This economy has a lot of people spooked.  They've convinced themselves they have to be fast, but no longer allow themselves to be curious, to pause, to take time, to revisit.

How do you do this?  Is it impossible?  Not really.  Some of my favorite tips for taking a break in the fast lane:

  1. Schedule a meeting with yourself.  Put a meeting notice on your calendar with no other attendees (or use outside emails as the attendees).  Then make yourself scarce.
  2. Plan early.  Take the first 10-15 minutes of the day and the first 10-15 minutes after lunch to chart out your time.  Any time management guru will tell you that.  Your day is a project; plan it out.
  3. Develop a BS-o-meter.  Learn to sniff out unnecessary work.  Then learn to say "no" or "not yet" or "I'll get to it" to those things that feel just half-baked or bad ideas.
  4. Take a walk.  A change of scenery is always positive.  Get outside,  Eat lunch somewhere beside your desk.  You can't be fast OR curious if you're constantly stuck at your same old gray-beige cubicle.
  5. Say No.  As much as you like to contemplate your own super-human qualities, you can't do everything.  Make your requestors prioritize what they need.  If task A gets done, task B won't.  Let them make the decision, document it, and hold them to it.
  6. Work from home.  If this will alleviate distractions and interruptions, this may be a good solution.  The lack of driving is also healthy for both the environment and your stress level.

What are your suggestions for remaining both fast and curious?  (By the way, I let Benton beat me in 3 out of 4 races... that seemed to amuse him.)

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