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Tastes Like Check-In

Fried_chickenI spent a great summer away from consulting work this year. After wrapping up an almost two-year project, I decided to take time for myself. There were home organization projects to do, books to read, and calories to burn, so the project deliverable of the summer was... well... me. It felt great to invest time in myself. As Christine Kane once said, "I'm always impressed with anyone who can stop their life when their life starts speaking to you, when things start falling down around you. You know, most of us, we just think it means that instead of ordering a grande at Starbucks, we should order a venti and go a little harder." Not this boy. After all I've been through in the past five years, it was time to take that "self-imposed vision quest."

Anyway, I'm now back on the hunt for speaking engagements and/or contract projects. One lesson I've learned consistently over the years (and am reminded of constantly the past few weeks) is to pay attention to how people treat me during the initial contact and interview process. The "check-in" process is a great indicator of how things will go. If people are combative and caustic during the interview process, they will act that way during the project. If people are hospitable and friendly during onboarding, that's how they generally act throughout the duration of the contract. Indecision and waffling in hiring leads to indecision and waffling when work needs to move forward. Micromanagement breeds micromanagement. Openness breeds openness. You get the picture.

I had a phone interview a couple of weeks ago for something that seemed like an interesting project. I was very up-front with the person about my skills and abilities over our half-hour conversation. The following week, I found out the person came away with a completely different perception of our conversation and what I could/couldn't do than I remember telling him. I withdrew my name from consideration within the day, figuring if a simple half-hour conversation (and a couple of subsequent emails) yielded such disparity, I could only imagine what a multi-month project would do to my blood pressure.

So it has been a fun trip for my inner anthropologist to observe these people. I'm able to get a fairly accurate reading of their corporate culture before I even step foot in the door. And it gives me the opportunity to say "no" before I ever have to say "yes." There's a lot to be said for first impressions. One of my favorite books is Malcolm Gladwell's Blink, and I've shared with a lot of people the importance of "thin slicing," or taking that first impression to draw conclusions. Our brain's experiences coupled with our gut's intuition is generally spot on.

So what can you do to make the check-in process reflect the type of organization you really are? How can you as an individual align first impressions with reality? Because people are watching you, and they're drawing conclusions about you as well.

Science Is Not Boring

Science_center_iowaA friend of mine, Pete Jones, runs a popular and useful blog here in the metro entitled Des Moines Is Not Boring. He has done a lot for the community by highlighting overlooked restaurants, events, and attractions to help negate the perception that Des Moines, Iowa is boring. (It's really not boring, by the way; there's always SOMETHING going on.)

However, there's one unfortunate blight on an otherwise not-boring town. Last week, I took my girls to the Science Center of Iowa. We always get a season family pass to the Science Center, the Zoo, and Living History Farms. It's been a few months since I've been to the Science Center, and I hate to say it but I was grossly underwhelmed. Virtually nothing had changed since my last visit. Realistically, little has changed in the eight years it's been open. As a friend of mine put it: "They seem to care more about charging money for IMAX productions and hosting cocktail events than they do promoting science." Another parent recently wrote a blantantly honest assessment of their experience at the Science Center. It seems I'm not alone.

Science is about discovery. It's about not quite knowing what to expect. It's about curiosity. It's about exploration. What message is conveyed to children when they see the same old "attractions" sitting there visit after visit? In total we spent less than hour there. It's a shame. I've been to many children's museums and science museums throughout the country (on multiple occasions). Like science experiments, these other museums evolve. They change the variables. They keep the curiosity alive. It's how they maintain their credibility. By maintaining a stagnant status quo, our own Science Center undermines its own credibility as an institution promoting science.

In my last post, I referred to the Heath Brothers' book, Made to Stick, and we covered how your project scope needs to be simple and concrete. A couple of other attributes to memorable accomplishments are being UNEXPECTED and being CREDIBLE. Are you purposely upsetting people's expectations to get (and keep) their attention? And are you a trusted source of expertise? Your project is competing with every other email, meeting, project, Facebook post, Tweet, and interruption. As a project manager, it is imperitive that you keep your stakeholders from getting bored with you. It is critical they trust you to have the answers (or know where to get them).

One of my more memorable projects was (drum roll) a HIPAA compliance project (crickets... yawn). When it came time to create the training video, we did something unexpected: we created the entire video like an episode of COPS. We demonstrated our credibility by portraying the important messages to the employees. At the same time, we violated their paradigms of what a HIPAA training video should look like. Balancing credibility and unexpectedness, you keep your project valuable and engaging. It means you have people noticing you (for the right reasons). They're curious about you. They're interested in you.

And it doesn't take a lot of effort to do incredibly unexpected things to make your project unexpectedly credible. Find an excruciatingly long 2-hour meeting and figure out how to shave it down to 15 minutes (and still get the same result). You'll be a hero. Take a 10-page hyper-wordy status report and turn it into a 3-page PowerPoint that says the same thing. That will get executives' attention. Adding credible value in unexpected ways is simpler than you might think.

As for the Science Center of Iowa, I hope they can find their mojo again. My kids and I are looking forward to being curious, and engaged, and interested, and...

Hop On The Bus, Gus

Megabus_double_decker_frontviewOn my trip to Chicago last weekend, I decided to try something different for transportation. I'm not a fan of air travel for shorter distances, and driving seemed a ridiculous option since parking my car would have cost a prohibitive amount just to let it sit there for three days. My wife suggested I try the Megabus, and since the tickets were pretty inexpensive and it had free Wifi, I figured, "Why not?"

Because I could access my online community during the ride, I decided to have a little fun with the whole experiment, so I began a "log" of my travels on Facebook:

Hour one of my captivity on the Megabus. My captor is friendly enough and the other prisoners are empathetic. The cabin vibrates like a cheap motel room bed with a roll of quarters at the ready. Slow going. Must stay strong.

Hour three of captivity on the Megabus. Stopped in Iowa City to take on more prisoners... er... passengers. Now a VERY FULL bus.

Hour four on the Megabus: instead of taking the more streamlined I88 toll road, they are prolonging the experience for us. The college girl in front of me burst into unexplained maniacal laughter. The pressure must be getting to her, poor thing. They won't crack me that easily.

Hour five in my Megabus Purgatory: for the first time I truly feared for my life. I used the "facilities" in an experience best described as imagining one's toilet mounted on the chassis of a 72 Chevelle going 70 MPH with no shock absorbers There were illegible etchings on the mirror, no doubt the warnings of terror scrawled by the weak.

Entering hour #7 and the prisoners are restless. We've hit the snail traffic on I55 which plagues all equally. It is a cruel Chicago trick to be this close and yet so far. Must hang on to the end of my sentence... trip, I mean.

At first blush, someone from Megabus would probably cringe over this commentary; however, the discussion generated from my friends and colleagues was priceless. For some, they had never heard of the Megabus. For others, they knew my penchant for overexaggeration in these circumstances and enjoyed the humor.

The bottom line: I got people to START TALKING about the Megabus. Some even told me they'd never considered it before, and said they'd be willing to try it. Overall, the experience was pretty simple (especially compared to air travel) and, while a bit slower than driving, allowed me to get a lot of things done in six hours I couldn't have completed with both hands on the wheel.

My question to you in your quest to accomplish great things: what are YOU doing to compel people to START TALKING about your accomplishments? Positive or negative, the communication is important... to you and to them. But the trick is to motivate people to START TALKING. From there, you can manage the conversation, but there's nothing to manage if they don't start.

(On a very positive note about the customer service of Megabus, they responded to my Tweets very promptly. I was highly impressed, and I even downloaded the Megabus app to my mobile. I will definitely consider it for further Chicago travel.)

And for the record, my Facebook post on the way home:

I will behave on the Megabus. 
I will behave on the Megabus. 
I will behave on the Megabus. 
I will behave on the Megabus. 
I will behave on the Megabus.

Two Four Six Hate

"I may not have the capacity to love everyone, but I do have the capacity to act as if I do and run my business accordingly..." -Agnes Golden (character in The Radical Leap Re-Energized)

For once, I really wasn't trying to be difficult or contrarian. Really. But nonetheless, I caught the workshop leader off-guard.

I just recently became certified in Steve Farber's Extreme Leadership Institute. So now I am able to deliver his content to my clients, and it's a very exciting prospect. I've been a huge fan for years. But more on that to come in a near-future blog post. While we were going through the certification process, we were spending a great amount of time talking about the first cornerstone of Farber's tenets: Love (the 'L' in LEAP). The love thing is important. It's in the Extreme Leader's Credo: "Do what you love in the service of those who love what you do." It permeates everything an extreme leader is about.

So when I brought up the topic of hate, it sort of shocked our facilitator. But then I explained myself a little. The extreme leader isn't out to specifically make somebody else hate them. We want to love our work, love our coworkers, love our customers, love our projects. But in the process of cultivating love and acting audaciously as we pursue the OS!M, one can't help but have hate as a natural by-product.

2012-11-Creating-Passionate-UsersHuh? Love produces hate? Absolutely. A few years ago, I used Kathy Sierra's branding graphic to talk about personal branding as it applied to gender in the work place, but her model applies universally. If we're going to love, and if we're going to seek to be passionately loved by others, then "hate" will be a natural consequence from the people who not only don't "love what you do"; they're dead-set against it. But the key point is: they've noticed you and what you're doing. You registered with them. You got their attention by being an extreme leader.

But here's where some people break-down in their attempts to be extreme leaders; they aren't comfortable being hated. They want to be liked. By everybody. So they don't act audaciously. They don't prove themselves. And they cop out on love for a mild form of "like" that has all the energetic impact of warm milk.

But in listening to the stories shared by other workshop attendees over the two-day period, and especially hearing the inspiring story from Simon Billsberry, formerly of Kineticom, it became evident that an extreme leader can't love passionately WITHOUT allowing hate to be a natural by-product, either expressing hate for the non-leadership behaviors and values, or inspiring hate from others who don't embrace extreme leader values and behaviors.

I've experienced it more than once on a client site. I bring my own unique (ahem) brand of project management to the table, but I do so to get results and jar my clients from their old habits. But in so doing, I've turned off more traditionally-minded champions of the status quo... some of whom I've won over, but some of whom end up passionately hating my approach... and sometimes me personally. And I've learned to be OK with it. Why? Because there are others who love the results and accomplishment I bring to the table. And then I get to do what I love in the service of those who love what I do... in spite of those who hate what I do.

In your quest to be loved, are you comfortable being hated? I hope so.

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?

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