How often do you find yourself being surprised at work? And how often are those surprises happy surprises?

Yeah, that’s what I thought.

Unless they are guaranteed to be happy surprises, surprises are best avoided in the work place. And let’s face it, most surprises in the work place are not happy ones.

The same thing goes for the way we treat our customers. Here’s one example.

About a month ago, I joined a gym. This gym uses boxing as the basis for their group workouts. We don’t actually punch each other, we just hit the heavy bags. But, we still wrap our hands and don boxing gloves. When I joined, they told me gloves were provided. Sure enough, there was a wall rack full of loaner gloves available. Until last week.

Me: “Excuse me. Where are the gloves?”

Staff person: “Oh, we aren’t providing those any more.”


I have no issue with the gym discontinuing loaner gloves. I’m not happy about it, but I understand their decision, which they explained was primarily for sanitary reasons.  However, I have a huge issue with simply walking in one day and finding all of the gloves gone. Especially since it’s two weeks before Christmas. Hello, Santa?

How much more effort would have been required to provide 2-3 weeks advance notice while continuing business as usual? A simple sign near the loaner gloves would have been plenty.  More importantly, how much happier would the members have been with some level of up front notification?

Note that I am not suggesting that we should seek approval from those who will be impacted by pending changes. Only that we should inform those who will be impacted.

Consider this as you make changes in your business, both to your customers, and your fellow workers. A simple heads-up notification with a brief explanation of the logic behind a pending change will do wonders.

Let’s keep work fun.

Invite inspection

My first job was in a small, family-owned bicycle shop.  I learned many lessons in that job that have stayed with me through the years. One of those lessons was that everyone makes mistakes. The trick is to minimize their impact by catching them before they cause a problem.

At the bike shop, we did this by having a second person inspect every bike before it left the rack. Even the owner and his first mate (I can think of no better way to describe his role) would call each other over to inspect their work.

There was no shame in having the second person adjust a screw here, or tighten a nut there. It was simply part of the job.

Later, as a software engineer, I learned the value of code reviews. The most intense code reviews involved a group of people inspecting your software, line by line, and providing helpful suggestions on ways to improve it during a code review meeting. It wasn’t just about finding mistakes (bugs), but about helping you improve as a developer. We all came out of these sessions better at our jobs.

Again, there was no shame associated with the number of bugs or suggested improvements identified. It was accepted as part of the company culture.

Yes, these inspections took time. Yes, they involved someone looking over your shoulder to inspect your work. And yes, they were worth it. Every time.

How is your work culture? Are you working as a team to produce a better product? Are you inviting inspection of your work? Or are you rushing through your day, hoping you don’t make mistakes, and hoping even more that nobody will discover them?

Invite inspection and open yourself to the feedback.

There’s No Substitute for Practice

A writer friend of mine says, “Thinking about writing is not writing. Only writing is writing.”  The same goes for practice. No matter how much you think about practicing, talk about practicing, plan for practicing, only practicing is practicing. And there is no substitute for practice to make us better at whatever it is that we do.

I’ve always found it odd that doctors call what they do “practicing” medicine. The last thing I want to be while lying on an operating table is an experiment. Experiments can go wrong. But, I get it.

When I was a software engineer, reading about writing software was useful. But, not as useful as actually sitting down at the keyboard and writing code. With each line typed, my skills and abilities improved.

As a ventriloquist, I spend many, many hours practicing. Some in front of a mirror, some while driving in my car, some while walking down the street.  Sometimes it’s fun, sometimes it’s a real drag.

I can always tell when I haven’t been practicing enough. And I suspect you can, too. You walk into that meeting and the prep work you should have done somehow didn’t make your personal priority list. You feel unprepared. Anxious. You spent so much time adding flourishes and adjusting color schemes in your PowerPoint slides that you somehow never found the time to stand up and practice talking through the presentation. So as you stand to give your presentation the great flop sweat hits you hard.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t like feeling anxious or unprepared. That is why I practice. Because practice causes exactly the opposite feeling. One of confidence, self-assurance, and fun.

You may not be trying to get to Carnegie Hall, but the answer to the question of “How do you get to …” is still the same.  Practice.