Descending the Black Diamond Slopes with Green Circle Skills

Icy TreesHave you ever been frustrated trying to keep up with someone who is years ahead of you? Yeah, me too.

It’s good to observe experts in our field of interest. They provide great inspiration and a view of what is possible. It’s also important to realize how long it took those experts to achieve that level of skill.

When learning anything new, we need to be aware when we are attempting to ski down the Black Diamond slopes with only Green Circle skills.

In the US, ski slopes are typically labeled for increasing levels of difficulty, from Green Circles to Blue Squares to Black Diamonds. There are even Double Black Diamond slopes for the truly crazy, er, skilled skiers.

If you’ve ever attempted to ski down a snowy slope that is beyond your current skill level, you know that getting down that slope involves a lot of time on your behind – or strapped to a stretcher escorted by the Ski Patrol.

In most things we undertake, there are many more than just 3 levels.  To keep things simple, let’s say our area of interest has 10 levels.

For me, the best way to learn new skills is to hang out with people who are 1 or 2 notches above my current skill level. That gap feels like it can be crossed. And my own skill level is close enough to those above me that I am not too much of a drag on them.

Beyond that 1-2 levels, I get frustrated trying to keep up. I spend too much time on my behind. I get discouraged. I might even end up being carried away on a stretcher. And those I’m trying to learn from get frustrated at having to slow down for me.

On the other hand, if I only hang out with those who are at the same level, or below, my learning is stunted.

Seek out those who are farther along than you. Create opportunities to learn from them. Just be careful in your selection so that you are stretching without breaking.

One last thought. As you advance in your skills, you will inevitably travel at different rates than those around you. Watch out for friends who seek to hold you back because they can’t or choose not to keep up with you. That Black Diamond slope is calling. Let your friend take the Green Circle slope. You can still meet up at the bottom for a warm cup of cocoa.


20 / Good Enough

Do you crave perfection? Does every little flaw drive you crazy? Do you work and work and work to put the final touches on a creation long after the point when most people would have moved on? Do you expect perfection not only from yourself, but also from others around you?

St. Louis Arch - Model of perfection


As an engineer by training, I was taught to believe that perfection is attainable. Not just attainable, but expected. In some areas of my life and work, this has been a good thing. In others, it’s just plain annoying. Or, so I’ve been told.

Several years ago, I had LASIK to correct my vision. And I expected perfection.

LASIK is not perfect. Read the fine print and listen to the ads carefully. What they actually promise is, “a reduced dependency on eye glasses and contacts.”  Claims of perfect vision are only made with a subtle disclaimer, as in, “Many patients experience 20/20 vision…”

My optometrist wishes I had paid better attention to those qualifying statements because I have been driving him crazy since having the procedure 8 years ago. (He didn’t do the procedure, but he did refer me to the place that did.)

It’s not that my procedure was botched. I do have “a reduced dependency on eye glasses or contacts.” Legally, I’m even allowed to drive without glasses. How I passed that vision exam, I’m not sure. There was much squinting involved.

During my most recent exam, I told my optometrist that things had become much better lately. Not because my vision was any better. But, rather, because I adjusted my attitude, my expectations.

He said I had achieved, “20/Good enough.”

Isn’t that the way it should be in many cases? Yes, striving for perfection is laudable. But, having the expectation of actually achieving it is a sure path to insanity. Insisting on perfection is rarely justified.

Consider the task at hand. Strive for perfection. Remember to step back once in a while and recognize when you have achieved “20/Good enough.”


Why don’t I do that?

What’s on the top of your, “Why don’t I do that?” list?  You know you have one. That list of things that if you could just be more consistent in their execution, you would see positive results and relish the benefits. Yet, for some reason, you struggle to do it.

A few obvious examples that are on many people’s list include exercise and eating right. But, since this is the Work Should Be Fun! blog, let’s focus on work tasks.

Here’s the item that has long held the top spot on my list, far exceeding all others: Cold calling. It’s not that I don’t enjoy talking with new people – I do. It’s not that I have any doubts about the product I’m selling – I don’t. The problem boils down to one thing. I don’t want to be “that guy.”  Having been a decision-maker in the corporate world, I was often on the receiving end of relentless cold calls. Out of every 100 calls, only 1 or 2 were of any interest. The rest were pure annoyances. I really don’t want to be “that guy.”

It has taken a lot of soul searching to uncover this underlying reason for my reluctance. Now that I understand it, I can take steps to address it. I can work to do this task in a way that will reduce the likelihood of being “that guy.”

But, first, I needed to understand the core issue causing my reluctance.

What is at the top of your list? More importantly, why? What is it about the task that is holding you back? What can you do about it? How can you approach the task differently so that your resistance is reduced?

Good luck in your quest. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have phone calls to make.


Be a Dreamer

“A goal without action is just a dream.”

Well, count me among the dreamers.

I’ve had lots of dreams over the years. Great ideas that I never took action to bring to life. Or didn’t act fast enough and saw others put them into practice. Here are a few of the ideas I’ve had, all of which now exist:

  • Color score board for baseball and football stadiums. Now they’re even in HD!
  • Automatic equalizer for professional sound systems.
  • Automatic feedback suppressor – an extension of the automatic equalizer.
  • Solar-powered roof exhaust fan.

Some days I pine away for these dreams, wishing I had done something to bring them to life. “If only …”

Other days, I look back at these dreams, see the way others have implemented them and feel good that my dreams have been validated. Seeing that these devices exist gives me a sense of satisfaction, even if I was not the one who made the dreams come true.

As my career moved from software engineer to manager to director, more and more of my job became that of enabling others to bring the dreams to life. Over time, I came to enjoy the role of enabler at least as much as I ever enjoyed that of doer.

Many times, sharing my dreams, my vision, with my staff was the spark they needed to take a project in a totally new direction, adding their ideas as well, and the project was better because of it.

Yes, we need goals. Yes, we need action plans. But, we also need dreams – those images of a better world that seem so far out there that we can’t yet fathom the path to get there.

Share your dreams. Celebrate when they come to life, regardless of who makes it happen.

Play the Fool

When was the last time you sat in the dunk tank, challenged your staff to a jousting match, or jumped onto a Velcro wall?  How long has it been since you encouraged others to laugh – at you?

As I write this, it is April Fool’s Day. When is the last time you willingly played the fool?

If you are a boss, a leader of people, this is an important skill that seems to be lacking from most management courses.

In my work as an entertainer, I’ve seen all kinds of environments. The single biggest differentiating factor I have observed is the attitude of the boss. I have observed an incredibly consistent correlation between a workforce that is eager to go back to work the next day, people who enjoy their jobs, and the willingness of the boss to laugh at himself (or herself).

If you’ve ever seen my show, you know that I end with the PeoplePuppets routine. This is where I bring two people on stage and turn them into ventriloquist puppets. It is always a huge hit.

For corporate events, I prefer to use the boss and one other person. The people who hire me know this. Sometimes, the event organizers will specifically ask me NOT to use the boss. These same clients make it a point to ask that I not pick on the boss in any way during the show.  Other clients are exactly the opposite. They give me all kinds of insider information about the boss to use as fodder for comedy and encourage me to use as much of it as possible.

Even without this direct input from the event organizers, it is amazing how obvious the culture of the organization is to an outsider (like myself) attending a company function. When the boss is a fun-loving individual who is able to laugh at himself, the rest of the attendees tend to have a lot more fun. Even more, they speak about their work in an excited, engaged way.

When the boss is a no-nonsense, never let their guard down, must keep up appearances at all times type of person, these events tend to be stiff, formal (regardless of dress code), and obligatory. You’d be amazed at some of the comments I have overheard from staff in the restroom, or walking by small groups.

The other casual observation I have made is that, especially for small businesses, the companies with the fun-loving bosses are growing like crazy, barely able to keep up with their success. Meanwhile, for those with the stern, don’t you ever make me look foolish bosses, the success levels have been significantly less consistent.

Play the fool. Be the first to go into the dunk tank. Lead by example that Work Should Be Fun!