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Communication? Elementary, My Dear Watson

Ears_plugged I just finished having lunch with each of my daughters at their elementary school.  The lunch conversations for each were... um... fascinating experiences. The first lunch was with my daughter, Abby, a kindergartner. Surrounded by diminutive talkers, lunch chat went something like this:

"My brother picks his nose."

"So does mine. It's always green and gross."

"Hey, Abby's dad brought Oreos! Can I have an Oreo?"

"Me too! Can I have one?"

"We fed Oreos to our dog once. He threw up in the minivan."

"We can't bring our dog in the car. My dad won't allow it."

"My mom won't either. She keeps her car shiny."

"Hey, Abby's dad, your head is shiny. Do you use the same stuff my mom uses on her car?"

It was the conversational equivalent of staring into the sun. Or logging onto Twitter. Now contrast that with Lauren's class. Conversation with 5th grade girls goes something like:



"TUH!" (which is more of an exasperated gasp, hard to capture phonetically)

"Like... like... "

"No way"

(Insert numerous eye rolls.)

Very little was actually communicated that a 44-year-old man could follow... but they seemed to understand each other. I doubt Jane Goodall would have done any better.

I was talking with a colleague this morning about communication and how important story-telling is in the art of conveying what you want to say. There's an art to sharing just the RIGHT AMOUNT of communication. Your goal is to be engaging enough that people will WANT to know more about your accomplishments.

Let's take the next three potential bullet points for status reports... all of which are meant to convey information about exactly the same task on the same project:

  • We're late.
  • The testing report was not completed yet again this week because Fred forgot to talk to the IT team lead, who had most of the detail surrounding the report since December, but refuses to discuss it with any of our team because of office politics.  Anyway, after our project sponsor forced the IT team to comply, he called Fred to set up a meeting last Tuesday at 3:30 PM in Room 702 of the East Campus Building.  Fred was called away by his wife to attend their son’s school program (which Fred had also forgotten to make note of), and when he left to go to the program, he neglected to mention anything about the meeting.  So it is now three months since the requirements were completed by IT, and our team still does not have the testing report complete.  Our sponsor will be discussing Fred’s dropped balls with him next week, and this will probably appear in his performance evaluation (at least it had better)
  • The testing report is not complete.  We are now three months behind schedule on this deliverable (originally due 12-28).  Fred is accountable for this deliverable.

The first bullet? Totally fifth grade girl. The second one? Kindgarten all over again. The final bullet gives you just enough information and engages your curiousity to ask intelligent questions.

So what grade is your communication? Are you branding your accomplishments with the right amount of information?

Cruise Conformity

"A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall." - Ralph Waldo Emerson, "Self Reliance"

Cruise-control I had a nice visit to UWM last week to teach a 2-day class on the basics of business analysis. It's always a fun little get-away, and it allowed me to get in a visit with good friend Ellen Winters and catch up with her (and wish her a happy birthday in person).

The trip up and back is virtually all interstate, so my cruise control gets a nice workout.  It's a pretty comfortable drive, and I enjoy the opportunity for some think time.  My biggest automotive traveling pet peeve is when another driver (who either does not have cruise control or is too inept to use it) decides that s/he would like to use me as his/her personal pace car. I pass; they pass. I slow down; they slow down. I speed up... well, you get the idea. Sometimes I will slam on the brakes or otherwise slow way down to the point where following me becomes too much of a hassle; then they move on to some other conscientious driver to annoy.

In the office, I see a lot of "pace car tailgaters" trying to emulate others' accomplishments.  Instead of developing a personal brand of their own, they try to emulate those whom they admire... usually with disastrous results. Don't get me wrong: using the best practices of others is a great learning tool. I wouldn't be where I am if I hadn't had some wonderful mentors who shared some of their secrets with me. If I hadn't been able to observe the good (and bad) behaviors of others, I wouldn't have learned what works and what doesn't.

Here's the catch: I watched. I listened. I observed. I learned. THEN I DECIDED. I didn't unilaterally attempt to take on the identity of those around me, mirroring their speed and driving habits exactly. I set my own pace and created my own style and technique. Sometimes things didn't work, or other things didn't feel comfortable. Then it was my decision to change.

I can honestly say that I feel comfortable in my own skin. In the classroom or on the project team, I'm the one setting cruise control. And I encourage those around me to set theirs. We'll all reach our destinations eventually... in our own time... following our own path. That's what makes our accomplishments identifiably our own.

A Head of the Game

Princess_beatrice_hat I admit it. I got up early a couple of weeks ago to watch the Royal Wedding of William and Kate. Before you make me turn in my "man card," in my defense, I live with a complete Anglophile whose mother made her get up to watch Charles and Diana 30 years ago, and who turned our London get-away into the British vacation death march. There wasn't much choice. But personally, I have an appreciation for snarky, biting British commentary, so waking up at 4 in the morning is alright.

I hear that Princess Beatrice is now auctioning for charity the artifact of the day... the one article of clothing that was talked about almost as much as the wedding gown itself: her hat. It was so fun to hear the comments about that hat, ranging from "we found the 5th Teletubby" to "is she going to set it on fire at the reception and have tiny tigers jump through it for entertainment?" Let's face it: Beatrice got noticed. And from what we heard, she WANTED to get noticed. And now she's getting noticed again for selling the beast.

Sometimes getting noticed is hard. You're jostling for position amid a sea of others who also want to get noticed. And sometimes we want to get noticed... but ONLY if getting noticed is all positive, raving praise, happy thoughts of puppies and butterflies and unicorns. Trust me, if your accomplishments get noticed, SOMEBODY will have less than favorable things to say about them as well.

Queen_elizabeth_bum And when you're jostling for position, it can be hard to accomplish what you set out to do. Take for example, my own brush with British royalty five years ago. The Queen was leaving St. James and there was a pressing crowd. My wife gave me her camera because I'm taller than she, thinking it would give us a better vantage for a shot at QE2. Well, the locals had other ideas about my goals for accomplishment. I got the shot of the Queen, but it really wasn't her best side. But I was just another face in a very big crowd, so my desire for accomplishment was compromised (unless the goal was "The Queen Bum" or "A Royal Pain in the Backside").

Bottom line: what are YOU actively doing to get your accomplishments noticed? Are you willing to have some observers NOT love you in order to do something different enough to get the important ones to love you?

I'll Take a Squeeze of History with That Tequila

Margarita Happy Cinco de Mayo.

Time for a couple of Margaritas... a Dos Equis or two (would that make it a quatro equis?). Fiesta!

But why?


You heard me, Gringo: why do we celebrate Cinco de Mayo?

Well, we needed an excuse to drink between spring break and the start of summer?

Um... yeah.

I'm sure the Mexicans who fought the Battle of Puebla and defeated the French on May 5, 1862 would be thrilled to know that their sacrifice and bravery was merely an excuse for American libation-consumption.

I had coffee this morning with a good friend and colleage who shared a recent project experience in which one of her colleagues felt slighted because he felt he was being cheated out of hours because the project went a different direction. My friend had to remind him that the REAL REASON for the project was the benefit of the client, NOT his personal gain and ego. We've all had project prima donas who forget about the others out there who benefit from the project.

What about you? Do YOU know the real reasons behind your accomplishments? Or are your projects just another reason to get drunk? (Um... don't answer that. We'll discuss the term "rhetorical question" later.)

Happy Cinco de Mayo.

What Now?

Rot_in_hell_osama_bin_laden Osama bin Laden is dead.


The focus of many nations for the better part of a decade (really, longer than that) has been accomplished.

I'm always fascinated by people and situations right after a major milestone is achieved. Granted, there's celebration over this event. But what now?

Focus on the economy?

Figure out the messes in Libya and Syria?

Deal with humanitarian needs?

Look at the environment?

Improve our nation's education system?

There are really no wrong answers. All of the above are good and noble causes. (Each will spawn new arguments between Republicans and Democrats, but that's another blog post for another time.) I would guess that the right answer is to prioritize and then do something. When you finish an accomplishment, celebrate and reflect... then move on. There will always be other accomplishments out there waiting for you... for me... for us.

Carpe Factum!

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