Cover band

Photo of Kiss cover band
Photo copyright ©2016 David J Crone. All rights reserved.

Do you write your own music, or are you in a cover band?

When you show up for work, are you doing your job in a way that someone else could easily step in and take your place? Or are you doing it in a way that is clearly your own?

How about your life? Are you forging your own path? Or are you only imitating what you see in others?

So many of us spend our days trying to reproduce what others have done, living our lives note for note like what we see in others. We follow the rules. We read how-to guides. We may be technically excellent at our craft. But, in the end, what we produce looks like it could have been done by 50 or 100 or 1,000 other people.

This starts young. “Why can’t you be more like Tom?”

It continues into adulthood, especially in the working world. “We could use a lot more Toms.”

And we do this to ourselves. We see someone we deem to be successful and think, “Hey, if I can just do that, I, too, will be successful.”

We invest in programs guaranteed to produce the same kind of results others have produced. “Follow these simple steps and you, too, can earn a 7-figure income while working from home in your pajamas! This is a limited time offer! Act now!”

It has long fascinated me how many cover bands are out there. I’ve seen some good ones. The good ones can make a decent income. They might even develop their own fan base. But, it has always struck me as limiting. The best you can do is a perfect imitation of someone else. Where’s the fun in that?

Here’s the reality. We are never going to make it big in the art world with paint-by-number reproductions. We are never going to top the Billboard Charts as a cover band. We will never reach our full potential in our careers by doing only what others have done. We are never going to live a truly fulfilling life by only replicating what we see others doing.

Be an original. Study from the masters, then paint your own masterpiece.

 

If You Won the Lottery

Photo of Powerball Lottery ticketIf you won the lottery, would you still work?

That question has been on my mind since the summer of 1984.

I was a starry-eyed recent graduate, happy to have my first real job as a bona fide Electrical Engineer and eager to prove myself. So, I was thrilled when, less than a year after I started, my boss asked me to attend a trade show where we would have a booth to show off our products.

The trade show was in Atlantic City at the big convention center right on the boardwalk. This was back when Atlantic City was still in its Heyday. It was exciting.

It was a major trade show for the scientific measurements industry. I had never seen anything like it. It was full of big-name manufacturers showing off their large sophisticated machinery with equally large and sophisticated names.

The exhibits were impressive. On display was a vast array of complex scientific research instruments, measurement systems, and elaborate demonstrations of these products.

Our booth was not quite so impressive. We had a fish tank and ping-pong balls. (I wish I had a photo. It was truly a sight to behold.)

But, it did demonstrate the basic functionality of our product. Its simplicity created an opening for a conversation. At least, that’s what we told ourselves.

Have you ever worked in a trade show booth? Those of you who have, know it is grueling work. At the end of our first day, we were exhausted.

But, we were in Atlantic City!

So, we left the convention center and headed out for dinner … to … the Playboy Club. That is a story for another time.

As we were walking along the boardwalk we passed a sign advertising the lottery and its current jackpot of $1 million. Remember, this was 1984.

That was when Lou, the founder and president of the company, asked me the question. “Hey, David. If you won the lottery would you still work?”

Alert! Alert! Danger Will Robinson!

I may have been young and naïve, and believe me, I was. But, I knew a trick question when I heard one. So, I took great care with my answer.

After a reasonable pause to demonstrate I had appropriately considered the question, I confidently said, “Yes.” Lou seemed satisfied and we moved on, never discussing it again.

But, the question lingered in my head. In fact, that question became a guiding principle throughout my career. Because I knew that, “Yes”, was an incomplete answer.

The full answer, the one that I so carefully avoided saying out loud, was, “Yes, but not for you.”

As excited as I was to be there, I knew it was not a forever job. I knew this was just a starting point in my career.

Throughout my career, I have asked myself variations of that question on a regular basis.

“If you won the lottery, would you still do this?” And, “Would you still do it here?”

One of the hot topics of conversation in the business world today is “employee engagement”. It’s an especially big buzzword in the HR circles.

Employee engagement, retention and satisfaction. They all tend to get lumped together. And I do think it is an important topic.

What is the first thing companies typically do when they want to measure these? Right. The employee satisfaction survey.

Have you ever taken one of these? I’ve done several. Some of them were quite lengthy. And that’s part of the problem.

If you truly want to measure employee satisfaction, you only need to ask one question.

“If you won the lottery, would you still work here? Why? Or Why not?”

If you believe employee satisfaction is important, the goal is simple. Create an environment where the answer to that question is a resounding, “YES”.

How do you do that? Obviously, there is no one answer for all situations. Since you are reading this blog, then you know that my primary answer is, “Make Work Fun!” How you do that is the real challenge – and worth the effort.

Let’s look at the personal side of this, though.

If you were taking this one-question survey and your answer were, “NO”, my question for you would be, “Then why are you still here?”

I’m sure you’ve worked with people who do nothing but complain. Day in, day out, the only thing that seems to make them happy is to tell you how unhappy they are, and how much they hate their job.

The only response to this is, “Then why are you still here?” And, “What are you going to do about it?”

We do have a choice. The choice is not whether or not to win the lottery. Although, if you want to win, you do need to buy a ticket.

Our choice is, what are we going to do about it? Why wait?

If you don’t love what you are doing, if you are not excited to get up in the morning, what’s holding you back from making a change?

Define your own jackpot. Print your own lottery ticket.

Live your life with a resounding, “YES”.

 

No More Watermelon

Photo of Beatles 8 Track cartridge
Photo credit: Amazon

I hate watermelon.

There, I’ve said it. Can we still be friends?

I also can’t stand to listen to the Beatles.

Uh, oh, now we’ve crossed into dangerous territory.

It’s not that I think watermelon is bad. And I certainly have great respect for the music produced by the Beatles.

But, I’ve had enough of both to last a lifetime.

Every summer as a kid, I went to Boy Scout Camp. One night during each camp session we had a family night. Parents and family would come for campfire where we would enjoy stories, skits and songs.

Our troop had a tradition whereby parents would bring watermelon for us to enjoy after the families had gone on their way. We would be up late into the night having watermelon eating races. The goal was to finish every watermelon before going to bed. With nearly a watermelon per kid, you can imagine we got pretty creative with the various ways of eating it all.

To this day, the very smell of watermelon makes me want to turn and run the other way. Please, no more!

The Beatles suffered a similar fate for me. Growing up, we took many trips in the car together as a family. We all liked having music playing, but as a family, it was often difficult to find something on which we could all agree. The Beatles became the one thing we could all accept.

Side note: Unlike the Beatle’s White Album, Cheech and Chong’s White Album (actually called the Wedding Album…) was the only record I recall that was completely banned from further play in the house. Which, of course, made us want to listen to it even more. Back to the Beatles…

Later, the Beatles gave way to Paul McCartney and Wings. Same thing for me. I’ve had enough.

Our 8-track copies of these albums were well worn by the time I headed off to college.

When you’ve listened to these songs as much as I did as a kid, hearing them as an adult yields two possible outcomes. Either you would be struck by fond nostalgia, or, as in my case, quickly reach for the buttons to change the station (or playlist).

My reactions to both watermelon and the Beatles at this point are visceral.

What are your triggers? What things, events or situations bring about these types of strong negative reactions for you?

Are there things in your work environment that cause you grief, but that many others find to be pleasant? Maybe they were great at one time, but now it’s become too much of a good thing.

What about your staff?

What have you been doing the same way for so long that you (or your staff) simply can’t tolerate doing it one more time?

I’m not suggesting that you ban watermelon from your company cafeteria, or that you never allow the Beatles to be played within the office confines.

But, I do think it is good to look for places where changing things up might provide a much needed fresh perspective. Don’t wait until the smell of watermelon causes you to wretch – or your star employee leaves because they can’t stand the thought of having to submit a weekly status report in that same blasted format one more time.

Also, make the change real. The Beatles “unplugged” is still the Beatles. And that is so yesterday.

Go ahead, make a change. Make it bold.

Disappointment Correction

Photo of giraffe sticking tongue out
Photo copyright ©2017 David J Crone. All rights reserved.

Have you ever been disappointed? What did you do in response?

During a recent meeting with our financial advisor, he said there is a high level of expectation among financial experts for a “disappointment correction” in the stock markets. I’d never heard the term before, but he claimed it is a well-known term in the financial sector.

Here’s one story about the concept.

The gist of this is that investors are disappointed by things not going the way they had anticipated. As a result, they will make adjustments, or corrections, in their holdings and strategies.

The term struck me as being apt for describing what happens in the workplace.

The company promises certain things, setting expectations for the employees. If done right, the employees get all excited about these promises and new ventures. They have renewed energy and focus. They work harder. Then, if things don’t pan out as expected, people become disappointed. Sometimes they will become so disappointed that they make drastic corrections, like moving on to another employer.

It’s a difficult road to travel for leaders. You want to paint a rosy picture, share possibilities, get people excited for what is yet to come. But, if you paint too rosy of a picture, or can’t follow through on those promises, you have to expect some level of frustration and disappointment among the staff. You have to be ready for the corrections.

Then there is the issue of hiring someone who turns out to be a poor fit for the position. The new person starts, everyone is excited, and then disappointment sets in because, well, they aren’t actually qualified for the position. Or, perhaps the job duties were not clearly explained during the interview process. Or, maybe the true nature of the work environment was not clearly articulated. There is a mismatch in expectations. The result is that the hiring manager needs to make a correction.

This can happen on the other side as well. I once started a new job full of eager anticipation. By the end of the first week I realized the job was not what I expected. I was disappointed. I needed to make a correction. It took me a full year to make the correction by changing jobs. The second time this happened, it only took me 5 weeks.

A workplace correction is not always a major deal. Sometimes it only requires a minor tweak to the environment, like a change of your office layout, a new computer, or bringing in a pair of headphones to drown out that annoying gum cracking in the cubicle next to you. Sometimes it means changing the people assigned to a project, or their specific roles within the team. It doesn’t always have to end in parting company.

Disappointment can show up in so many areas of our lives. When it happens, we have a choice. We can be sad, or we can take action – make a correction.

Be aware of your disappointment. Let it motivate you to do what needs to be done to move on. Sometimes a mental shift is the only correction needed, while other times serious changes in lifestyle are needed.

Where are you now? Are your expectations being met? Are you disappointed? If so, it might be time for a correction.

 

Start Here

Photo of sock puppet
Photo copyright ©2017 David J Crone. All rights reserved.

Do you have a vague concept of something rattling around in your brain? You don’t have all the details figured out, but you feel there might be something there. How do you determine whether it is worth pursuing? Where do you start?

Simple. Start here. Right here. Wherever you are right now. With whatever you have on hand at the moment.

You’re probably familiar with the term, “proof of concept”. Or, maybe you prefer the term “working prototype”. These are generally good things. But, when you are doing something really new (to you), there are many unknowns. You might not even be able to fully define what it is you are contemplating. In those cases, these methods ask for too much up front. Too much time, too much money, or both.

Here are two examples.

I had this idea for a new character in my act. It was to be a man who by day is a typical office worker, probably an accountant or some other data-focused desk-sitting cubicle worker. A guy who most people in the office ignore. He comes to work, does his 9-5, then goes home. Nobody in the office has any idea, or interest, in what he does outside of work. This is where it gets fun. What he does in the evenings and on weekends is take to the stage as a female impersonator. And not just some shmucky horrible impersonator, but a full-on diva singing voice, holy cow that’s amazing female impersonator.

I decide that to fully pursue the idea, I needed to have the physical character in hand. I purchased a relatively expensive “dummy”, played around with the character, had his daytime voice and personality down, figured out the basic logistics of how to have him go through the transition to nightclub singer, picked out some songs I thought would work, took voice lessons… And discovered that I do not (yet) have the vocal chops to pull it off the way I wanted. I invested a lot of time and money into the project. I couldn’t do it. In the end, I decided to sell the puppet and put the idea on a shelf. (I still like the idea and hope to be able to do it someday…)

By contrast, I have another character in my act that started out as a sock puppet – literally. His voice popped out one day, and I thought, hmmm, I wonder what I can do with this? His first appearance was at a campout with my youngest daughter. (See photo at the top of this post.) After that campout, I continued to play around with the voice and develop the character over the span of several months, making sure there was something there. Once I was pretty sure it was going to work, I made the final puppet. (Side note: This the only puppet in my act that I have physically constructed myself.) That character has played out extremely well and is still a mainstay of the act 12 years later.

In hindsight, I wish I had taken the “let’s see how this might work” approach with my female impersonator character concept. I didn’t need a puppet to try singing and to develop the voice. I didn’t need to make that monetary investment. Fortunately, I was able to sell the puppet (also called “figure” in the ventriloquist business) and recoup most of that financial outlay. But, that isn’t always the case when we jump into something whole hog before testing a few basic things first.

I’m sure you’ve been there. You’ve bought expensive tools, components, etc., only to later find out that the original concept was horribly flawed. Money down the drain. Notice I only say money down the drain. Time spent exploring new ideas and concepts is always time well spent. Even if you end up going a completely different direction or abandoning the idea, you’ve still learned something.

My preferred approach to wild and crazy ideas is the “mock up”. A mock up is a drastically pared down version of a proof of concept or working prototype. It doesn’t have to be fully functional. It doesn’t have to look like what the final product might look like. It might be a simple sock puppet. All it needs to do is allow you to go further into the concept. Explore. Test.

It is so easy to become bogged down in the process of creating the prototype that we lose sight of the original idea. Or, we give up because there are pieces we can’t figure out how to model. Don’t worry about it. In the early stages, it’s just an idea. Give the idea room to grow and develop. Let it go where it wants to go.

Start with what you have. Start now.

 

Intelligent Disobedience

Photo of dog giving a raspberry
Photo copyright ©2017 David J Crone. All rights reserved.

Do you know when to say, “No!”?

Have you ever seen a blind person with a guide dog? I am fascinated by helper dogs, and guide dogs in particular. Columbus is the home to Pilot Dogs, a training facility for these four legged partners.

I heard a presentation by Pilot Dogs at a recent meeting of the Lions Club to which I belong. We heard a brief overview of the intense training regimen involved in taking a dog from birth through full employment as a Pilot Dog. One thing in particular jumped out at me – the concept of intelligent disobedience.

Our presenter explained that the dogs are trained to say “no” to the person they are guiding when the situation warrants it.

Imagine a blind person with a guide dog standing at a street corner. The person wants to go and starts to step off the curb. Meanwhile, the dog sees a dangerous situation and resists. Despite the person urging the dog to go, the dog refuses. They disobey. The person might become frustrated, but also must trust the dog.

Our presenter indicated that this has become an increasingly important behavior due to the increase in all-electric vehicles that do not provide the audible engine noise clues of traditional gasoline vehicles.

Does your company culture support intelligent disobedience? Does your boss allow you to say “no” when you know that what you are being asked to do is wrong? Maybe it is unsafe. Maybe it is simply stupid. Maybe the results of doing what you are being asked to do will be counter to the objective.

Being willing to stand up and say “no” to something you have been asked to do is a valuable skill. It requires confidence, courage, tact and a strong working relationship with the person you are saying “no” to. It also requires a culture that makes this behavior acceptable.

As a leader, fostering a culture that allows intelligent disobedience requires effort. It is not a natural behavior. It is critical to avoiding costly and even dangerous mistakes. And it is totally worth the effort.

Learn to say “no” when the situation calls for it – and be ready to explain why. Learn to accept “no” when you have asked someone to do something – and be open to a discussion about why.

Practice intelligent disobedience.

 

Creative Collaboration

Photo copyright ©2004 David J Crone. All rights reserved.

When you think of a creative person, do you immediately think, “artist”?

When you think of an artist, do you imagine them holed up, all alone in their studio?
We often associate “creativity” with “artist”. It is natural, then, to think being creative means being individualistic and working alone.
We rarely associate creativity with collaboration, which is all about working with other people. On the surface, these two concepts seem at odds with each other.
Collaboration implies practicality and goal orientation toward a shared objective.
Creativity implies artistry and individualism toward a personal vision.
Intense artistic creativity taps into our most deeply held beliefs, dreams, visions and even fears.
Sharing that creativity involves baring our soul. It leaves us exposed. It makes us vulnerable. Fearing this vulnerability, many people hide their creativity. They either resist creating altogether, or they never share their creations with anyone else.
Collaboration is all about sharing. It requires us to be open to feedback – both positive and negative.
Collaboration requires that we share our creativity, and thus forces us to make ourselves vulnerable.
So, how can these two words go together?
Let’s start by looking at the words themselves.
Creativity:
“the use of the imagination or original ideas, especially in the production of an artistic work.” – Google Dictionary
Collaboration:
“the action of working with someone to produce or create something.” – Google Dictionary
See what just happened there? The Google Dictionary definition used the word “create” in its description of collaboration. We might be onto something here.
Creativity cannot happen in a vacuum. Creativity is fueled by our environment and by sensory input. We observe. We watch. We listen. We absorb. Then we mix it all together and create something new.
Collaboration increases that sensory input. It adds to our environment. It provides alternate points of view, additional ideas. It fuels additional creativity.
When Collaboration and Creativity combine, we get what I call Applied Creativity – applying creativity to reach an objective, or to solve a problem. For me, that’s when things really get to be fun.
When we can work collaboratively, encouraging and fueling each others’ creativity, our own creativity increases, we get much better solutions and we have more fun doing it.
Go find a creative soulmate and collaborate. It’s fun!

Getting Ahead

Photo of kids running football
Photo copyright ©2017 David J Crone. All rights reserved.

When you hear the term, “Getting ahead”, what is your first thought? Do you immediately compare your current situation to that of other people?

Don’t worry if you do. That would make you completely normal. And wrong.

Life is not a race. Neither is a career.

In a race, everything is relative to the others in the race. There are clear winners and non-winners (OK, losers).

I have nothing against competitive sports and the concept of winners and losers in that context. But, I have a big issue with viewing everything in life and work through the same lens. It’s not necessary.

If you have good things happen in your life, I am happy for you. Your success does not define my failure. Some people struggle with this concept.

What if we viewed the term, “Getting ahead” as purely a personal reflection? What happens to our general outlook if we define “ahead” in terms of our own history instead of some skewed view of a random person down the street or in the cubicle across the hall?

While I was never a golf fanatic, there was a time in my life when I played on a fairly regular basis. I played with many different people of wildly different skill levels. Regardless of skill level, I find golfers fall into two categories: those who compare their score against those they are playing with – winning is everything – and those who compare their score against their own scores on previous rounds. I have always found those in the latter category much more fun to be around.

The “comparing to myself” players who were better golfers than me (usually the case) took the time to coach me and help me with my abilities. They wanted me to be a better player. They realized it is more fun to be around golfers of higher skill levels, so if they could help me improve, future outings would be more fun for all.

Meanwhile, the “comparing my score to this foursome” players, regardless of skill level, were far more likely to cheat to improve their score and complain if I, in my efforts to simply learn the mechanics of the game and keep things moving, nudged my ball into a slightly better position. (What? Cheat? Me? Nah…)

When we treat “Getting ahead” as purely a personal assessment, we are more apt to reach out and help others around us. We realize life is not a zero sum game. Others do not need to lose in order for us to win. It’s a heck of a lot more fun to hang around others who are good at their game. If we can help others around us improve, it’s more fun for us to play together and everyone wins.

Go on, get ahead.

Roll the Credits

Photo of kids celebrating
Photo copyright ©2004 David J Crone. All rights reserved

There are two types of movie goers: those who sit through the credits at the end and those who don’t.

Which one are you?

My wife and I are credit sitterthroughers. (That’s a real word. Look it up.) We are often the last ones out of the theater, sometimes soliciting glares from the cleaning staff waiting to do their jobs.

Some movies include fun things mixed into the credits, e.g. bloopers, outtakes, or teaser clips for future movies. Also, the occasional made-up title or name thrown in just for fun. Pay attention to the credits of a Monty Python movie, for instance.

While those are fun, that’s not why we stay.

I am fascinated by the long litany of roles listed at the end of major motion pictures. Hair stylists. Assistant to Mr. Clooney. Caterers. Mustache wrangler.

My wife is fascinated by the names. As a writer, she finds the credits to be a great source of names for characters to use in her own writing.

When I watch the list scroll past I am struck by many thoughts. What constitutes enough contribution to be included in the credits? Who keeps track of them all? Which of those people was the credit roll list keeper? Is that an official movie making job title? How much does it pay? What is a “best boy“?

One of my most arduous tasks in the corporate world was to create the list of all who contributed to a project so that they could be recognized upon successful completion. This came easily for some projects. Others were so complex, spanning so many departments, over so many months, that we would miss a few people. I used to joke that creating the list of all who contributed was harder than the project itself.

And yet… It is so vitally important. Not to that project. To the next one. It’s always about the next one.

The point of the credit roll at the end of a successful project is to plant the seeds of enthusiasm for participating in the next project. The anticipation of being recognized is far more powerful than the recognition itself. Conversely, the negative impact of missing someone as part of the recognition at the end of a project is far more damaging than the positive impact to those you remembered. Getting that list right is arduous, but worth it.

Starting a big project? Start your list NOW. Pay attention. Keep track. No contribution is too small.

This isn’t about “everyone gets a trophy.” It’s about giving people their moment in the spotlight, letting them know that you noticed them. Be generous in your recognition and praise.

Roll the credits.

 

Don’t Wait Until You’re Dead

Image of tombstone
Photo copyright ©2017 David J Crone. All rights reserved

What will be on your tombstone?

The one in the image above jumped out at me for its utter simplicity. (In case you can’t see the photo, the inscription says, “C.L. Died 22 Aug 1783”.) Perhaps C.L. didn’t leave behind enough funds to carve additional letters into the stone. Or, perhaps that’s all that needed to be said. I prefer to believe it was the latter.

What message will you leave behind when you are gone?

A friend of mine reacted to last week’s post about Admiration vs Jealousy, sharing with me that he found out that he was admired and respected by someone only after that person died. The revelation meant the world to my friend as he held this person in equally high regard. That got me thinking.

Who do you admire? Who do you respect? Have you told them?

As it turns out, I admire this particular friend of mine. So, when he shared his comments with me, I took that opportunity to let him know it. He was touched.

How does it make you feel to know that someone admires and/or respects you? If feels pretty good, doesn’t it? Why, then, do we not share our feelings of admiration more readily?

Don’t make those you appreciate wait until you’re dead to find out. Pick up the phone. Send them a card. Shoot them a quick text message. You don’t need to make a big deal about it. Simply be earnest. You can be specific, such as, “I respect you for the way that you…” Or, “I admire you for the way that you…” Perhaps you might tell them that you look up to them, that you find them to be inspiring. The important thing is to let them know.

Let me start. I appreciate YOU for reading this blog. I appreciate the comments, the encouragement and the challenges to my words. I hope that you find some value here along the way. [Note: Comments on the blog itself are disabled because it’s too much effort to ward off the auto-bots and other nefarious attempts to use my blog as a platform from which to attack others. But, email comments are always welcome as are comments left on the various social media platforms where this gets published.]

As for my tombstone, I hope that I will have said the things that needed to be said while I was alive, making any words on the stone superfluous.