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You Can't Outmaneuver Heimlich

9a979fc9f1ebf37a3bac2c4d3d27b8d8In church last week, my pastor shared the story of Henry Heimlich, now 96, who for the first time ever in an emergency situation, last week had to use on a fellow nursing home resident the very maneuver he invented. He had demonstrated the technique thousands of times throughout his life, but in his twilight years, he was able to put it to the use for which it was intended. He was no longer just a teacher; he was a practitioner. 

This story made me think of a lot of people I've met on the speaker circuit over the years. They talk a good game about project management, leadership, social media, or other business principles, but it's been years since they were in the trenches doing this kind of work. All they do now is go around and talk about it. I wonder if some of them would ever survive in a real corporation having to do the actual work they talk about.

Some people have asked me why I haven't moved into full-time teaching or speaking. I guess there are still things for me to learn about the craft of accomplishment. I always want to be the speaker/teacher who has the best stories because I've continually lived out my passion. I still sit in cubicles. I still make project plans. I still attend meetings. I still deal with difficult people. I still review requirements. I still have to ask the tough questions.

What about you? What's YOUR "maneuver"? Are you using it every day and actually accomplishing tasks around your passion, or are you simply talking about it?

It's a Shame

ShameI was catching up on news the other day online and ran across the story of Adam Smith, the former CFO who was fired after his vitriolic Chick-Fil-A video went viral. He went from making $200K a year with a million more in stock options to being on food stamps. He had managed to get a job elsewhere, but when his new employer found out about the video, they also fired him.

About the same time as seeing the news story, as I was cleaning my shed (have to love post-move spring cleaning)I ran across Jonah Lehrer's book, How We Decide. It reminded me of the plagiarism and fabrication scandal involving this book and his newer one, Imagine.

It's interesting how things of such short proximity collide in my brain. A couple of months back, I read a thought-provoking piece by Jon Ronson in the New York Times entitled, "How One Stupid Tweet Blew Up Justine Sacco's Life." In this piece, he dissects numerous incidents of public shaming. In this day and age of social media, it's pretty easy to pick a metaphorical skeleton clean in a matter of seconds and retweets. A couple of paragraphs struck me, though:

Still, in those early days, the collective fury felt righteous, powerful and effective. It felt as if hierarchies were being dismantled, as if justice were being democratized. As time passed, though, I watched these shame campaigns multiply, to the point that they targeted not just powerful institutions and public figures but really anyone perceived to have done something offensive. I also began to marvel at the disconnect between the severity of the crime and the gleeful savagery of the punishment. It almost felt as if shamings were now happening for their own sake, as if they were following a script.

Eventually I started to wonder about the recipients of our shamings, the real humans who were the virtual targets of these campaigns. So for the past two years, I’ve been interviewing individuals like Justine Sacco: everyday people pilloried brutally, most often for posting some poorly considered joke on social media. Whenever possible, I have met them in person, to truly grasp the emotional toll at the other end of our screens. The people I met were mostly unemployed, fired for their transgressions, and they seemed broken somehow — deeply confused and traumatized. (NYT 2/15/15, Ronson)

I know I've felt the self-righteous twinge of vengeance when I've perceived a wrong, whether against me or somebody else. In the early days of social media, Ronson nailed it: there was a leveling of social justice. But now it all seems so swift, so severe. And in this day of social media and mobile phones with video cameras, anybody and everybody seems to be fair game.

My bottom line is this: yes, there are people on this planet who do stupid, careless, thoughtless, and rude things. Their reasons are as vast as the stupidity of their actions. (Guess what? We all fall into that category; most of us are just fortunate enough that our actions weren't captured on camera or on social media.) Perhaps it's this Easter season and the thought of forgiveness is forefront on my brain, but maybe - just maybe - afford people a little leniency (or at least a meaningful dialogue) before passing judgment.

Nationwide is on your (Blind) side

Wow. Just wow.

Sitting there. Watching the Super Bowl. Loathing the Seahawks. Bemoaning the already mediocre set of commericals. And then the Nationwide commercial came on.


Now I'm not going to go down the road of how much of a downer it was. I'm not going to dog-pile on Nationwide for their insensitivity. They claim their goal was to start a dialogue about safety in the home. Very noble. Very necessary. As a parent, I've spent the last 15 years being neurotic about my children.

Two words: audience and setting

Whenever we try to communicate ANYTHING - from commercials on the Super Bowl to telling our kids to take out the trash, from a sales pitch to win a multi-million dollar account to an uncomfortable meeting with your project sponsor when things aren't going so well - one should always consider, beside the content of the message itself, the audience and the setting.

With the audience, to whom are you speaking? (Yeah, duh, but stick with me here.) Is it one person or many? What do they care about? What are their hot buttons? Why should they listen to you? Why are they in YOUR audience? Why should they listen to YOU? What's your past relationship with them? How much credibility do you have?

With the setting, you're looking at the broader context of the message delivery. Are people in the right mindset to hear what you have to say? Are they stressed about other things? Are you using the right channel? The right words? The right tone?

Nationwide failed on both of these tests. When watching the Super Bowl, we expect to see commercials about the misuse of Doritos, about puppies and horses making us want to buy beer (okay, I still struggle with that connection), and about what happens when a Viagra drops into the gas tank of a Fiat (my personal favorite of the evening). We want to laugh, to be amused, to be entertained, and (maybe) to be informed about the actual product.

I can't say whether heads will roll at Nationwide, but the decision-makers need to do a better job of explaining how they dropped the ball on both audience AND setting. They certainly seemed to be blind to both.

I'm Thinking About The Dads

BildeOne of my high school friends instant-messaged me yesterday on Facebook, inquiring why I'd been so obviously quiet about the Sandy Hook tragedy. I told him I was still processing it... then I unloaded a lot of my "processing" over the course of a few short messages.

I've been thinking about the first responders. Having a lot of buddies in law enforcement and a close friend who has worked in the coroner's office, I've heard their stories of other crime scenes. Those stories pale in comparison to the horror they must have come upon.

I've been thinking about the family members of the survivors and their sense of relief of finding their loved ones safe and sound.

I've been thinking about the victims themselves and their last few moments of life.

I've thought about their family and friends as they found out the horribly unthinkable news.

But mostly, I've been thinking about the dads. Especially the fathers of the little girls who were killed. Most of us naturally use context to make sense of a traumatic event; I'm no different. I'm the father of two girls who mean the world to me. When a little girl is born, there's an unspoken, unwritten, yet innately understood relationship: she's the princess, I'm her prince, and my job is to protect her from the dragons.

The dragons take on different forms. During infancy and toddlerhood, dragons resemble baby-proofing against outlets, stoves, household cleaners, over-zealous children, and dog-slobber. When our daughters are mobile and talking, we actually can play prince and princess with them. I personally have slain my daughter's stuffed alligator-posing-as-a-dragon no fewer than 4,186 times (all successfully, I might add). Dragons also look like traffic and stranger danger and stupid boys next door during these innocent childhood years.

Knight_DragonAs they age, the dragons change as does our role. In order to fight the dragons successfully, we begin to teach them to fight against them without us. But we're always there in the background with our sword drawn... just in case. Homework, boys, cell phones, grades, and driving... all dragons.

That's why this tragedy sucks the wind out of me. These men, these fathers, these DADDIES... were all cheated out of protecting their daughters from an unthinkably evil dragon. I've done over seven years of elementary school drop-offs. The first day of school is always rough, and the unknown is a dragon in and of itself. But to have this happen. It's not the way the fairy tale was supposed to end. Sure, the other family members of all victims, boys and girls, are suffering in their own ways. But to the dads of daughters who have been to the gates of parental hell, there aren't words to describe how sorry I am. You were their princes, their knights in shining armor. And I am so sorry that on this one fateful morning, the dragon got away with this heinous act.

It's all still too raw to think about - even from hundreds of miles away. Just too surreal. But to the dads, you have my sympathy, my respect, and a piece of my heart. God bless you during your time of sorrow.

Brother, Can You Spare Some Change?

Congratulations, Republicans, on your big win yesterday.  The voters really sent a message to Washington.  But just to be clear, it's not necessarily the message you think.  Two and four years ago, a message was sent also.  Americans were weary of the Bush-Cheney Iraq fetish.  They wanted a President and a Congress who were going to fix things here at home.  Our economy tanked, and it seemed nobody cared.  So the voters let Democrats have a shot... in a big way.  Two years ago, Democrats had the White House AND a filibuster-proof Senate AND an overwhelming majority in the House.  The agenda was theirs for the taking.

Conflict_Response Unfortunately, it wasn't the agenda that a majority of voters wanted.

Health care?

Cap and trade?


Um... no.

So the voters have sent another message, but this message isn't so much about ideological or political stances.  This message is one of accomplishment... or potential accomplishment.  So let me spell it out for the 112th Congress:  Work TOGETHER and get something done.

We who fill in our voting bubbles and pull levers really don't care who gets credit.  We want to see you identify problems and solve problems.




National Security.

Come on, people.... FOCUS!

But, in all fairness, you're Washington Insiders, so maybe nobody has ever taught you how to play well in the sandbox with each other.  So here's some assistance from Frameworks 4 Learning.  This is the conflict response model.  You've all been in competition and compromise mode for so long, you may not have realized there is a different way.  It's called COLLABORATION, but it requires a different mindset than you've used before.  Instead of "me vs. you" or "Democrat vs. Republican" you'll have to at least pretend you're both on the same team, and that the PROBLEM IS THE ENEMY.

Am I naive to think that Congress can "Carpe Factum"?  Perhaps.  But somewhere tucked away, there's a little bit of idealism in me that says U.S. Government still works.  You in Congress no longer have the luxury of games.  The clock is ticking on the economy and our crushing national debt (how's your Chinese, folks?).  The clock is ticking on the environment.  The clock is ticking on educational reform. Tick-tock-tick-tock. Can you work together?  

Let's hope so... two years can go by very quickly.

Marsha! Marsha! Marsha! Hits the Mark

Legends It's been an interesting week watching a news story evolve over a customer service gaffe turned ugly here in Des Moines.  You can read the long version if you wish, but here is the shortened version:

A group of teachers are on lunch-break during an inservice day last Monday.  They decided to go to a local establishment downtown, where one of the teachers found a hair in her salad.  She pointed it out to her server, who responded sardonically, "Don't blame me. I didn't put it there." The manager was too busy to talk to her.  On the way out, she and the owner had a confrontation, which ended with the owner gesturing and screaming at her and her colleagues that he never wanted to see another teacher in his restaurant.  She sent an email that night to a few of her friends and colleagues detailing her ordeal.  Within 24 hours, the story had spread across Des Moines faster than a corndog virus at the State Fair.  The owner apologized, and the Operations Manager released a written statement providing reasons (excuses) why the owner behaved the way he did.

It's been a week since this happened.  The Facebook page boycotting Legends continues to grow.  People have taken sides.  Being married to a teacher, I heard in no uncertain terms about the solidarity of the profession.  To offend one teacher is to offend them all.  I've also heard the other side, which basically implies the teacher was being whiny and demanding.

However, a few important observations have been lacking in this battle.  Both sides have accomplished a lot.  Mark Rogers has alienated many in this town against him, but he's also galvanized a few of his supporters.  Marsha has galvanized even more supporters, but has also drawn some fire.

But here's what's missing:

  1. What about the server? If you're going to hire a restaurant server, it seems that customer service 101 should be: "Oh, I'm terribly sorry. Let me get you a new salad right away." I would hope that server (who has conveniently remained nameless) is now jobless and looking for a position which does not require interaction with other living humans. The "middle man" who fired the first shot was allowed to slink into the shadows while two major forces arose in battle.  And in office politics conflicts, we see the instigator escape to wreak havoc another day. 
  2. It boils down to communication. Mark Rogers claimed he tried to make Marsha Richards happy, but she wouldn't hear of it. She claimed in her email that she tried to keep him focused on the server's behavior but he just grew more belligerent. To quote Cool Hand Luke, "What we have here is a failure to communicate." When learning the basics of male/female communication (anyone who's been through couples sessions knows this one), you learn that SOMETIMES women do not want problems solved as much as they want to be heard, validated, and affirmed first and foremost. My guess (based on the sides of both parties) is that Mark tried to short-circuit this part of the communication loop and just wanted to solve the problem to make her go away WITHOUT LISTENING to her. And he learned it didn't work very well, got frustrated, and blew a gasket

In our quest to accomplish great things for ourselves and our organizations, sometimes the little details get lost.  We forget what the real issue is.  And we then go to battle.  And both sides are ill-prepared to win, because it becomes more about ego than engagement.  And no Facebook boycott page or press release from an operations manager will solve the root cause of what's really wrong.

Personally, I was never a big fan of Legends to begin with, so I doubt the teacher boycott will affect my dining decisions one way or another.  But as far as entertainment goes here in Des Moines, it's been a great week.

Screw Recession... Is Your Company Ready For Recovery?

Economic_recovery The past 2-3 years have been spent fretting.  People have been worried about their jobs, about their companies, about their stability.  Business owners have sweat bullets every night, wondering if tomorrow would be the day they had to shut the doors for good.  Many have continued to do business in good faith, even with the evil thumb of fate hanging immediately over them... waiting to squish them like an insignificant bug.

Other companies have managed to ride out the storm, but they've not played nicely in the corporate karma sandbox.  They've taken advantage of suppliers and contractors.  They've oppressed employees.  They've screwed over customers.  Here in Central Iowa, there are a couple of companies who have low-balled project management consulting rates to insulting levels.  Why?  Because they know supply outstrips demand.  There are companies who have all but expressed they don't care if they lose a customer... there will be another to take their place.


Recovery is coming.  The economy is showing some signs of rebound.  While it may not happen tomorrow, companies are looking like they'll be hiring, doing more projects, and expanding their businesses... it's a cautious recovery, but it's a recovery all the same.  And what's going to happen when all of these "you done me wrong" vibes come to light?

Jeannine Aversa wrote a great piece today that job satisfaction is at an all-time low.  It's harboring ill-will, impacting teamwork, and undermining culture.  I've been fortunate to work for clients who have risen above the pettiness and have been great.  I have also had the luxury of recognizing the other end of the spectrum and be able to politely decline my services.  Some of my local colleagues have not been so fortunate.

Is your company ready to compete in a stronger workplace?  How do your employees really feel about you?  Are your suppliers and customers loyal to you through thick and thin?  If the responses to these questions are not all that positive, recession survival may be the least of your worries.  Your system's feedback loop is about to catch up with you during the recovery.

Showing Up in a Huff(-ington)

Very cool.  My new blog buddy, Marc Hershon (co-author of I Hate People) just did an amazing piece on standing out in the work place (in a good way).  And he was nice enough to quote li'l ol' me.  Now it's being featured in the Huffington Post.

Thanks, Marc, for the nod.  For someone who's an expert at hating people, you sure are darn likeable.  Great work on compiling some useful advice for every office dweller.

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