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Carpe Factum in 2010

Times_square_ball Looking back over 2009, I'm not going to candy-coat:  It's been a rough year.  My accomplishment was making it through relatively unscathed, yet stronger for the experience.  Another accomplishment is that I'm brimming with hope for all of the promises that lie ahead for 2010.

My wish for you is that 2010 is filled with accomplishments and blessings beyond your wildest imagination.  (For those of you lacking imagination, my wish is that you develop one.)

Regardless of where you are in your journey, a new year is upon us.  My gut tells me to fasten the seat belts for a wild and fun ride ahead.

Stay safe and I'll see you in 2010!

Carpe Factum!

A Carpe Factum Christmas

From my childhood to yours, may you and your family and friends share the best magic and wonder of the season... and and continue to experience those blessings throughout 2010.

Merry Christmas!

The Season of Magic and Make-Believe

Santa_letter "Daddy, aren't you going to write a letter to Santa Clause?"  My 5-year-old's question was sincere enough.  If she and her older sister (who was going along with it, just to be nice) were writing letters to The Jolly One, why should the adults of the house be exempt?  "Doesn't Santa like big people?"

Her question actually holds more merit than one might think.  In yesterday's Wall Street Journal, Shirley S. Wang wrote a great piece about the power of magical thinking and imagination.  Citing numerous sources and research, Ms. Wang clearly lays out that fantasy and imagination have a role in the development of children.  To quote from her summary:

Fantasy play is correlated with other positive attributes. In preschool children, for example, those who have imaginary friends are more creative, have greater social understanding and are better at taking the perspective of others, according to Marjorie Taylor, a psychology professor at the University of Oregon and author of the book "Imaginary Companions and the Children Who Create Them."

But what about fantasy in adults?  How often do we "big people" let our minds wander from our cubicled existence?  Do we exercise our "what if" muscle enough or just blindly accept the status quo?  In another month, I'll be facing a new batch of cubicle-dwellers in the "Creativity for Business" MBA elective I teach.  Are they prepared to think beyond the realms of reality?  I sure hope so.

Me?  I happily conceded in writing my letter to Santa.  Who knows?  Maybe this year I'll get what I really want.

System in Detox

Hydrocodone Recently, I had to undergo knee surgery for a torn meniscus (one of the indicators of age... sigh).  My surgeon was kind enough to give me a prescription for a pain killer, the generic version of Vicodin.  I was very careful to limit my use of the prescription meds, limiting it only to night-time.  However, a couple of days after the prescription ran out, I found myself getting jittery and anxious.  My body was coming off of a pain-killer dependence.  (And, no, I did not renew the presciption... after a couple of days the symptoms went away.)

Our systems sometimes go through detox as well.  Have you ever downsized an employee, only to realize how critical they were to your organization?  What about software or a policy that was tossed out?  When you remove a critical input (either accidentally or purposely), you run the risk of sending your system into detox.  It's become dependent on the input.

Sometimes the input is negative, but it still sends your system into detox.  Our perceptions, experiences, beliefs, and paradigms can be negative inputs into our system.  I found a great example of this over at the TiE Leadership program blog:

Sean O’Malley runs The Quarry, a business incubator at Venrock, a leading venture capital firm. In the last 18 months he has started 6 companies that have gone from blank slate, through “ideation”, execution and validation to receive Series A funding. He spent more than an hour talking with TLP Fellows about the “Idea Development Model” he uses.

It is important to take the time to do ideation right. The first thing I do when an entrepreneur comes in to The Quarry is put them through “detox”. 9 times out of 10 this is the best thing they have ever done. It is great to be able to take that step back. It should take a least three months, which may seem too long, but the idea forming stage is really the only time you'll have time!

Think about your systems.  What inputs would send them into detox?  Is that what you want?  How will you get your system back on track from the input withdrawal?

Wordless Wednesdays: Universality of Systems Thinking


Curse You, Perry the Platypus

Perry-the-platypus Toward the end of every episode, Dr. Doofenschmirtz is foiled of his evil plans.  Rather than accept accountability for his lack of judgment, he belts out in his screechy, whiny, evil mad-scientist cackle, "Curse you, Perry the Platypus" as Agent P is jetting back to his domestic bliss as Phineas and Ferb's pet, generally to be met with the greeting, "Oh, there you are, Perry."

And we come to the end of our Phineas and Ferb journey with this thought:  amid your goals of accomplishment, there will always be those who will curse you.  There will be those who think you cannot succeed.  There will be those who want to see you fail and/or fall.  There will be those who just don't like you, plain and simple.

Jonathan Littman and Marc Hershon, whose book ("I Hate People") I reviewed a few months ago, recently posted the Soloist's Manifesto.  Similar to the "hero's journey," each of us must learn how to be a soloist and survive by our own wits.  Much like Perry the Platypus foils evil on his own accord and is cursed for it, each of us must learn to get past the "team spirit" which often mires corporate America in the mediocrity of group-think and committee-ism.  There are certain journeys which must be traveled alone.

Don't get me wrong.  As I mentioned in an earlier post, leveraging the skills of those around you is key.  But ultimately, the accountability for success lies with one individual:  YOU.  In many corporate environments, we have a desire to be liked.  But we neglect the fact that sometimes it's alright to be cursed, especially if the one cursing you is allergic to accomplishment and accountability.  Even Jesus mused, "Beware when all men speak well of you."


Phineas and Ferb's older sister, Candace, has one solitary goal in life:  to prove to their mother that the boys really are creating all of these outlandish contraptions.  (That would be in addition to the goal of some day marrying Jeremy Johnson and having two children, Xavier and Amanda.)  Candace goes to great lengths to attempt to bust her brothers, and her extreme tattling can be highly entertaining... namely because her "foolproof" efforts are always foiled (more often than not by one of Dr. Doofenschmirtz's crazy inventions).  Interestingly enough, Dr. Doofenschmirtz's daughter, Vanessa, is also trying to prove to her mom (and Doof's ex-wife) that he really is evil.  The funny part of all of these "busting attempts" are that those potentially being busted are making no effort to hide their accomplishments, nor do they think they are doing anything wrong.

There's an old phrase that says "Those who say it cannot be done should get out of the way of those doing it."  And with this post, we ride the fine line of accountability.  Usually a tattler thinks they have the best interest of all involved, but I've found in my experience that unless that tattler wears the title of "Auditor" or the one being ratted out is truly a rat (or otherwise causing organizational harm), there is very little benefit to trying to bust them.

One caveat:  I view many of the INTERNALLY developed corporate rules and regulations as tattle-fodder.  Instead of correcting one person's bad behavior or skills or decisions, a new policy is put in place to punish everybody.  If more companies hired common sense and cultural/personality fit, we'd need fewer company policies.

On one of my early jobs in a department at a local big box insurance company, I had to deal with a Candace.  She took great joy in running to our mutual boss.  Now, keep in mind, my Candace's tattling primarily consisted of "Tim won't do it my way."  After repeated attempts at "adult" conversation got nowhere with this individual, I decided to take the approach of a parent who catches their kid smoking and punishes them by making them smoke the entire pack to make them sick.  Since my Candace seemed to thrive on tattling as her preferred accomplishment, I sent her down rabbit holes to give her SO MUCH to tattle about (none of which had any substance) that it exhausted our mutual boss.  I'm not sure what was said between them, but she soon transferred out of the department in a huff.  Why did I do that?  She was getting in the way of actual productive and constructive work being completed... she was hindering accomplishment (and destroying team morale in the process... seems I wasn't the only "pesky little brother" she was tattling on).  I hear she's in a much better pasture cubicle job now.

When it comes to accountability and accomplishment, before blowing the whistle on another, ask if what they are doing is wrong or just different... then do a gut check to determine your own motives for wanting to "bust them."  You might save yourself - and everyone else - a whole lot of time and effort.

Whatcha Doin'?

Isabella Across the street from Phineas and Ferb lives Isabella Garcia-Shapiro, head of Fireside Girls Troop 246321.  Having an insatiable crush on Phineas, she spends an inordinate amount of time with the boys and is usually pulled into their adventures:

Isabella:  Hi, Phineas
Phineas:  Oh, hi, Isabella
Isabella:  Whatcha Doin'?
Phineas:  We're entering the Swamp Oil 500 today
Isabella:  Aren't you gonna need a pit crew?
Phineas:  Do you know a pit crew?
Isabella:  Well, I know a few people who work well together
Phineas:  Great! You're hired! See you at the track

Isabella is a team player.  Not only does she enjoy the company of Phineas and Ferb, but she dutifully pulls her Fireside Girls troop into the fray so they can earn more accomplishment patches for their sashes... yeah, NOW you know why I like them so much... they actually collect patches for their accomplishments ("Are we ready to earn our 'reckless disregard for life and limb' patch?")

And herein lies two more features of accomplishment.  The first is Isabella's curiosity.  Her first question is always "Whatcha Doin'?"  She's genuinely curious about the boys and their antics.  The second is her ability to leverage her utility players to get things done.  She recognizes her troop has many talents and she leverages ALL of their skills depending on the situation ("OK, girls, we're dealing with a 426 cubic inch, fully-blown V8, with hypo-lifters, radical cam, and a limited slip differential" as they all check their Fireside Girl manuals to determine how to approach this kind of engine).

Do you approach accomplishment with a sense of curiosity and wonder, or is it all the same ol' same ol'?  If Isabella were in your cubicle, would you pull her into an adventure or bore her to tears?  And what about your utility players?  Are you tapping the skills of those around you to develop them and help them earn their own accomplishment patches, or are you the lone voice crying in the wilderness... and then wondering why nothing ever gets done?

So the question begs to be asked, "Whatcha doin'?"

Backstory Time

Doofenshmirtz All of the action does not center around Phineas and Ferb alone, however.  As you might expect, they have a pet.  And as you also might expect, they have a rather unorthodox pet.  His name is Perry (and "he's a platypus; they don't do much").  Ah, but that's where you'd be wrong the whole "they don't do much" part.  Perry the Platypus leads a double life as Agent P, secret agent for an unnamed agency which uses animals as their workforce (the neighbor's chihuahua, Pinky, belongs to the same organization).

Perry's job as a secret agent is to battle constantly the evil wrong-doings of Dr. Heinz Doofenschmirtz (hey, I don't make this stuff up).  As any evil archnemisis, Dr. Doofenschmirtz loves to monologue about his evil schemes, often preceding his explanations with "Backstory Time!"  Let me tell you, this guy has issues.  His father made him work as a lawn gnome and named the family dog "Only son" before his younger brother came along to restore family pride.  His mother dressed him in girls' clothes as a child and favors his younger brother, Roger, for his kickball abilities.  So we can't blame him for being a little screwed up from his childhood in Gimelschtump, Druelselstein.  But as Josh Jackson of Paste Magazine argues, you have to love this guy's imagination for doing evil.

Even though all of his evil schemes ultimately fail, Doofenschmirtz gets one thing right about accomplishment:  he always tells his backstory.  I try to convince my students that all of them are in sales... because they are.  And if people don't understand the backstory of your ideas, if they can't put your desired accomplishments in context, they'll have a hard time supporting you.  How many times have you just sprung an idea on those around you and expected them to understand intuitively all of your thought processes and experiences which brought you to your conclusion?  Now... how many times have those around you given you the "what have you been smoking?" look in response to your idea?

Story telling is an art and a skill.  When mastered, it allows you to invite others to join you on your journey to accomplishment.  The story is a tool that is universal.  Jesus used it.  So did Aesop.  And so have countless thousands of people throughout history.  How about you?  What's your accomplishment?  What's its backstory?

I Know What We're Gonna Do Today!

Rollercoaster-phineas-and-ferb-3677069-432-243 Phineas is the undisputed leader between him and his brother (and pretty much every kid in the tri-state area).  He has a strategic/marketing mindset, while Ferb is the technical brains who makes all of their inventions come to life (miraculously quickly, I might add).

In virtually every episode, Phineas' ideas are heralded by the announcement, "Ferb, I know what we're gonna do today!"  And within this one simple phrase lies the elemental truths about the strategy of accomplishment:

I - there's personal accountability and ownership

know - definitive understanding of the end goal

what - with singular purpose, this demonstrative pronoun demonstrates focus (usually caused by the needs of one of their friends)

we're - it may be Phineas' idea, but he knows how to leverage a team to accomplish the goal

gonna - in no uncertain terms, this future will be made a reality

do - sleeves will be rolled up, and action will occur

today - there's a time box to keep the boundaries moving

Simple, yet so complex.  But do you know your "I know what we're gonna do today" statement?  Does your strategy, direction, goal, or mission have each of these elements in it?  If not, then maybe you should pull your staff together and say, "I know what we're gonna do today!"

Phineas and Ferb Are Gonna Do It All...

"There's a hundred and four days of summer vacation
And school comes along just to end it
So the annual problem for our generation
Is finding a good way to spend it"

(opening lyrics to Phineas & Ferb title sequence)

Phineas-and-ferb With the events of the past summer, some well-meaning friends implored me to find a mindless diversion.  Between wrapping up two book projects and helping a parent with cancer, I knew they were right:  I needed something fun to take my mind off of things... the more entertainingly brainless, the better.

My daughters came to my rescue.  I happened to walk in the room as they were watching Disney's Phineas and Ferb.  It was one of the most brilliantly written cartoons I've seen in a long time.

The premise is fairly simple.  Phineas and Ferb are step-brothers who live in the fictional town of Danville in a region referred to as the Tri-State Area with their parents and older sister, Candace.  As the above lyrics imply, each episode is about the brothers attempting to find a meaningful way of spending their summer.  And when I say "meaningful" I mean "completely over-the-top and imaginitive."  They build roller coasters, reunite rock bands, launch clothing lines, race in the Nascar circuit, and create a portal to Mars.

The writing and dialogue is witty, the plots are ingenious, the music is phenomenal.  It's 22 minutes of well spent time.  But more than that, there are some valuable lessons you can learn about accomplishment.  So for the next few days, I'll share a few lessons from watching a few all occasional frequent episodes.  I hope you'll enjoy the parallels between a seemingly innocent children's cartoon and accomplishing something amazing.

Pick Your Poison

OK, a few days ago, I shared the darker side of systems thinking with respect to professional decision-making.  Since it's the weekend, maybe something a little more light-hearted.  I mean, who hasn't agonized over where to go out to eat?  Personally, I've been trying to "buy local" in my eating out decisions, but this flowchart from the Consumerist blog should amuse you if you are determined to eat at a chain restaurant.

Imagine if more executives spent the time analyzing their decisions to this degree... then making a decision and sticking with it... how much better their businesses might be.  (Do you want fries with that ROI?)

(Thanks for Mark Hayward for pointing this out on Twitter.)


Source: http://eatingtheroad.wordpress.com/

Ten-Yeared Professor

Ten years.  I'm sitting here finding it hard to believe ten years have paTim_lauren_abbyssed since I heard phrases like "Honey, I think my water broke" or "It's a girl" and "Do you want to cut the cord?"

Since then, so many other phrases have crossed my path.  Barbies, Disney princesses, and all things pink have been introduced to my world.  A second daughter five years later only intensified everything.

So what have I learned in the past decade of daddy-ness?  Oh, a whole lot of things:

  • Priorities - things like "time management" and "what's worth fighting for" have been completely redefined.  I've learned to say "no" to a lot because saying "yes" to my daughters is more critical.  The issues which once made me hyper seem to have little effect on me now.
  • Management - ill-behaving executives and nasty managers are no contest any more.  I'm not afraid to face them down or just walk away from bad behavior. Parenting teaches you how to herd the cats in the right direction.  The "eat your spinach" message has taken on new meaning.
  • Attention - being in the moment has become more critical than ever. There's little room for mind-wandering when a kid wants your attention.  Same goes for clients.
  • Multi-tasking - contrary to the prior bullet, I've also figured out how to juggle multiple things at once and not drop a single ball (most of the time).
  • Diversity - imagine that... each kid is different.  They are motivated by different things.  They process things differently.  They react differently to the world around them.  And I have to be sensitive to those differences.
  • Fun - if you're not having fun, you're not doing it right.  Hearing my kids rip off one-liners in a way that would have a professional comedian in tears is fun.  My best laughs of the past 10 years have been caused by my offspring.

I'd like to think that my kids have taught this old dog a trick or two in the past 10 years.  They've made wonderful professors for this ever-eager student.  But we haven't even hit the teenage years yet (about to enroll in "Advanced Parenthood").  The next ten should be even more interesting.

System Neglect

There's a sad irony to this post.  As the readers of this blog know, I used a tactical police approach to express the elements of systems thinking for my next book.  Beyond looking at one system, SWAT - Seize the Accomplishment also looks at the relationship AMONG systems.  SWAT also stands for "Systems Working All Together."  In the past three years, I've met so many amazing and brilliant and brave law enforcement officers.  They've demonstrated to me in numerous ways how every system's output is the input to another system.  Recognizing those interdependencies is key to understanding your business processes, your relationships, and the world around you.

So when I see a system failure cause the deaths of four police officers, it saddens and frustrates me.  What's even more frustrating is that the system failure was avoidable.  I'm not sure why then-Governor Mike Huckabee thought it wise to commute the sentence of a man with a violent past.  But in releasing Maurice Clemmons as an output of the Arkansas justice system, he created a dangerous and deadly input to the Washington justice system.  To a degree, Huckabee is correct in his statement about this tragedy being a "result of a series of failures in the justice system" but what I didn't see was anything accepting accountability for his role in setting those system failures in motion.

Now I know this sort of thing happens all the time.  Prisons are overcrowded.  Issues are complex.  Every prisoner is different (after all, Clemmons pulled off an amazing smoke screen in convincing Huckabee he was a changed man).  HOWEVER... The one output over which every executive, manager, and professional has complete control and accountability is his or her DECISIONS.  I was saddened to see Huckabee quickly shift the blame to the parole boards of Arkansas and Washington.  I don't even want to think about the feelings of the families of those four officers.  I was severely disheartened about this tragedy, and I - half a country away - merely live on the outer periphery of law enforcement.

When you're about to make a decision, ask yourself the following:

  • Why am I about to make the decision? Do the inputs I've been given support the output I'm about to create?
  • Am I willing to accept the downstream consequences of my decision? Will I be accountable, regardless of the outcome?
  • What other systems will be affected by my decision? How will my decision serve as an input to other systems?
  • What is my decision-making process?

As you can see, while good systems thinking skills are beneficial, a lack thereof can be disastrous.  We'll hope your decisions don't cost innocent people their lives.  I'm just thankful that another police officer's decision-making process ended the nightmare before other lives were lost.  To the families and colleagues and friends of the four officers, my sincerest and deepest sympathies.  You're in my thoughts and prayers.


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