Singularly Creative Individual

Photo copyright ©2019 David J Crone. All rights reserved. Taken at COSI exhibit: “Jim Henson: Imagination Unlimited”

Who inspires you?

Last week my daughter treated me to a day at COSI, the Center of Science and Industry, Columbus’ science museum. It was a belated Father’s Day gift and well worth the wait. The main attraction was a special exhibit: “Jim Henson: Imagination Unlimited”.

We both greatly enjoyed this exhibit, remembering fondly the many things brought to life by this singularly creative individual.

“Singularly Creative Individual”. That is exactly what struck me the most as we went through the exhibit. Yes, these creations all came from “The Jim Henson Company.” Clearly, Jim Henson was the driving force behind them. But the Muppets and all of the rest of these fantastical creations were not done by one singular individual. They were brought to life by a team.

If there is one thing that I took away from this exhibit it is the importance of colleagues, friends, and collaborative partners.

While the Muppets would not be what they are without Jim Henson, they also would not be what they are without Frank Oz and Jerry Juhl and Jane Henson.

It was through the collaborative genius of these colleagues that we have the Muppets as we know them today. “Sesame Street”, “The Muppet Show“, “The Muppet Movie“, and “Fraggle Rock” all exist because of the partnership and underlying friendship of these individuals.

During my time in corporate America, the best times were when I had that kind of collaborative, collegial working relationships. The kind of relationship where you eagerly celebrate your collective successes, while also being able to tell each other when they are full of crap.

I often find myself jealous of those who have been able to sustain that level of deep, connected partnership through decades.

Have you seen the biopic movie about Freddie Mercury, “Bohemian Rhapsody”? There is a scene where Freddie gets back with his “Queen” bandmates after a somewhat failed attempt at going solo. To paraphrase, Freddie says, “I had plenty of studio musicians who did exactly what I asked them to do. And that was the problem. I need you guys to tell me when I’m wrong.”

Like any partnership, I’m sure there were times at The Jim Henson Company when the team did not all agree. I’m sure there were spirited debates and challenging conversations. These were not well represented in the exhibit. But, put more than one creative person together in a room and there are bound to be disagreements.

And that’s OK.

True creative types thrive on different ideas.

Do you have a collaborative partner in your work or life? If so, celebrate!

Do you have the beginnings of such a relationship? Nurture it!

Find a friend. Find a person with whom you can give and take; push and be pushed.

To be a singularly creative individual takes more than one person.

A Seat at the Table

Photo of a sign that reads "Golfers only beyond this point"
Photo copyright ©2019 David J Crone. All rights reserved.

“Whatever you do, do it well.”

Walt Disney

The full quote is, “Whatever you do, do it well. Do it so well that when people see you do it, they will want to come back and see you do it again, and they will want to bring others and show them how well you do what you do.”

Walt Disney’s motivation for this quote was about business. Deliver a quality product and people will come back again and again.

Ralph Waldo Emerson is credited with saying something along a similar vein.


“If a man can write a better book, preach a better sermon or make a better mouse trap than his neighbors, though he builds his house in the woods, the world will make a beaten path to his door.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

This quote has been simplified over the years to become the adage, “Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door.”

Both of these quotes speak to the value of doing good work. If we do good work, we will be rewarded – monetarily.

That’s fine. But is that the only thing that motivates you?

I have a different perspective.

To me, the highest reward we receive for being good at our craft is getting to hang around others who are good at theirs.

We earn a seat at the table.

It’s a whole lot more fun to hang around with people who are good at doing what they do.

Do you remember playing games on the elementary school playground? Do you recall how teams were determined?

Two team captains were appointed; usually by general consensus. Then those two captains would take turns selecting individuals to be on their teams.

When were you selected? First? Somewhere in the middle? Last?

It was never fun to be selected last. Believe me, I know.

Do you play a sport? If you are an avid golfer, do you enjoy playing with a horrible duffer?

Maybe tennis is your thing. Maybe you’re pretty good at it. Is it any fun at all to play with someone who isn’t?

While sports are an easy metaphor to help us understand the concept, this same thing plays out at work.

When we are truly excellent at our craft, we want to hang around with others who are excellent at theirs. Our crafts do not need to be the same. But our levels within our area do.

It is frustrating to be held back by people around us who are fumbling about.

Yes, we can expect to be better compensated when we “do it well”. But, even more important, it is more fun – because we earn the right to be with others who also do it well.

Be excellent at whatever it is that you do.

Earn your seat at the table.

Travel Day

Photo looking out the window of an airplane
Photo copyright ©2018 David J Crone. All rights reserved.

How do you spend your time when traveling for business?

Do you frantically check, recheck, and respond to email? Are you constantly on the phone, coordinating the latest project, or averting the latest crisis?

I’ve seen all kinds of crazy behaviors at airports. People who are clearly caught up in their own self-importance, who can’t let go.

I’ve been all kinds of crazy at airports and continuing onto the flight.

Long before the days of iPhones, I had a PDA. A PalmPilot, with its nifty stylus and hand writing recognition. I even had a portable keyboard for my PalmPilot.

This keyboard allowed me to write documents while on cross-country airplane trips without needing to use the heavy laptops of the day.

I remember when iPods came along. The ability to carry your entire music library in your pocket! What a joy!

Somewhere along the way, I realized that the quality of work that resulted from my vain attempts to be productive even during travel time was so low that it was essentially pointless.

I switched to carrying a thin Moleskine notebook and a pen for those flashes of brilliance that came along during travel. Those flashes happened often enough to justify the price of official Moleskine notebooks, yet infrequently enough that a single notebook would last a couple months.

The big ah-ha that came along with this shift was that I am much happier. I arrive at my destination with far less stress. While I can’t say that I enjoy travel by air, letting go of this compulsion to “make the most of the time” has allowed me to at least tolerate the travel.

Ironically, letting go of a need to “work” while traveling has actually turned out to be a more effective use of the time.

Using the travel time to do nothing, while not quite recharging the batteries, has had the effect of allowing the batteries to not drain during that time.

Try it sometime. Maybe even on your next trip.

Give yourself a travel day (and one to get back). Do nothing other than transporting yourself from point A to point B.

See if you don’t arrive in better spirits, able to accomplish more overall than when you were frantically “working” the whole time.

Report back.

Share your results.

In the meantime, I have a book to read.

Deadlines

Image of trees blooming in springtime.
Photo copyright ©2019 David J Crone. All rights reserved.

How do you deal with a deadline?

Do you panic? Do you completely freak out? Do you shut down?

I have a love/hate relationship with deadlines. I do my best work under the pressure of a looming deadline, and yet I hate that pressure.

Do you know people who are always prepared well ahead of time for everything? Me too. I hate those people.

OK, so “hate” is too strong a word. I simply don’t understand them. I’ve never been that kind of person. I procrastinate. Constantly. If I were told I must procrastinate, I’d find an excuse to put it off until tomorrow, or next week.

Then, as that new date approached, I would be the best procrastinator you ever met.

Or, at least that’s what I would tell myself.

I sing in the choir at our church. This is a relatively new experience for me. I was in a choir only once before. I didn’t enjoy the experience and it didn’t last long. This time it is completely different. I love being in this choir. So much so that when we have a week off from rehearsal, I miss it.

Our director is amazing. She is a highly skilled musician and an excellent teacher. But, what I most appreciate is her steadfast, calm, persistence as we struggle to step up to sing music well beyond our comfort level.

This year as we were preparing our anthems for Easter, it was clear we were being pushed in our musical ability. Our director is not a procrastinator like me. However, I definitely felt that we should have started learning these pieces much sooner than we did.

As the deadline of Easter Sunday drew near, it seemed like we would be better off starting over with something easy. But, she persisted. Calmly. Steadily.

Each week at rehearsal, our director comes in with her notes on specific spots that are particularly problematic in whatever we are currently preparing. Usually, this is a few well-spaced passages in the music. In this case, it was pretty much the whole thing.

And yet still, she persisted.

And we went along.

Slowly, steadily, it got better.

Easter came. We pulled it off. An Easter miracle.

It wasn’t perfect. But, it was certainly acceptable. Maybe even good. Perhaps a 6 or 7 on a scale of 1-10.

What deadline do you have looming? Are you in panic mode? Are you feeling like you should just throw out your lofty goal and start over with something easy?

Hang in there.

Be like our choir director: steady, calm, persistent.

You can do it.

A 7 out of 10? Not bad.

Keep going.

Lease vs Buy

Image of house for sale
Photo from Pixabay. Used per license.

In today’s rambling blog post, we’ll cover the following topics:

  • Leasing vs buying
  • Phil Mickelson
  • Streaming music
  • Ongoing employee education

Stick with me. They’re all related.

Lease vs Buy

Do you lease your cars, or buy them outright? I’ve never been a fan of leasing. I tend to keep my cars a long time; 10 years is about average. I buy them new, take good care of them (mechanically, anyway), and drive them until they no longer serve my needs.

I don’t completely drive them into the ground, but they are clearly a used car by the time I replace them. I love not having a car payment. Leasing simply doesn’t make sense to me from a financial perspective.

How about your home? Do you prefer to rent or buy?

I much prefer to own my home.

Maybe you own a condo? Maybe when I no longer enjoy mowing the lawn this will be attractive to me.

For now, I prefer as much physical separation between my house and the neighbor’s as possible. I also like to change things in my house to suit my tastes, without needing to negotiate with a landlord for permission. And I like the idea that what I put into the house I will likely get back.

As an owner, I feel I have more to gain from ongoing maintenance and improvements. When I rented apartments, anything I spent on improvements felt like throwing my money away.

Phil Mickelson.

Even if you don’t follow professional golf, you’ve probably heard the name Phil Mickelson.

I live in Dublin, OH, a Columbus suburb. Dublin is the home of the annual Memorial Tournament, a regular stop on the PGA tour. As you can imagine, this annual event is the topic of much of the local news media during the weeks leading up to the event, through a final recap once it has ended.

One of my favorite “interest” pieces from years ago was about Phil Mickelson and his propensity to drive his rental cars through the car wash, usually every day. In the article, Phil said it makes him feel better to drive a clean car.

I’ve rented many cars in my travels. I have never once driven one through the car wash. I’m not even that fastidious with my own vehicles.

Streaming music.

Rumors abound that Apple is moving to a model of streaming-only for music that it sells. According to these rumors, there will come a day when they will no longer allow you to download music, only stream it.

The idea, like Spotify, is that you don’t own the music. Rather, you pay for access to it. I’d call this leasing. If you stop paying, you lose access.

You’ve probably guessed that I am not a fan of this concept. While I enjoy listening to the music I’ve purchased on my phone, iPod, and other portable devices, I find comfort in knowing that the original CD is still available to me in a box buried in the basement.

There’s something about having the tangible media. Like many audiophiles of my generation, playing a record was a ritual involving meticulous care of the record, cleaning on every use, and careful storage.

Unlike many of my more persnickety music lovers, I eagerly embraced the transition from vinyl to CD. However, I am strongly resisting any effort to remove the ability to “own” a copy of the music I love.

I am warming to the idea of that copy being only in the digital domain, with no physical media to back it up. But, I do require a copy that I can manage. I am not OK with a leasing model that only provides access to the music, and that only works with an active Internet connection. Maybe someday.

Ongoing employee education

And now the fun part – relating all of that to work and ongoing employee education.

Do you lease or buy your employees?

(As an employee, how do you see yourself?)

As with a car, neither leased nor purchased vehicles are forever. Sure, some people drive their vehicles to the point where they have no useful life when they’re done with them. But, at some point, most vehicles need to be replaced.

Likewise, employees. Whether your employees leave to move on to other places, or retire, at some point that employee will no longer be there.

Most people I know tend to maintain their vehicles better if they purchase rather than lease them. Same goes for our homes. If we own it, we tend to take better care of the property.

If you lease your vehicle, do you still perform routine maintenance? I certainly hope so. Maybe you don’t worry so much about minor dings and scratches. But, surely you keep up with oil changes and new tires.

Most employers I have experience with do a far better job of training and providing ongoing education for their employees when they view them as “purchased” rather than “leased”.

In more typical business lingo:

  • Purchased = Full-time permanent. Long term.
  • Leased = Contractor. Consultant. Temporary. Short term.

Some employers I’ve encountered treat all their workers as if they are temporary, only guaranteed until the next paycheck. They rarely provide ongoing education that would move people ahead. They often resist doing even routine maintenance that would keep their employees’ skills at par.

Oddly enough, these same employers tend to be the ones who are baffled by high employee turnover. And they are the ones who struggle the most to find what they consider to be qualified employees.

Even if you view your employees as “rented”, do you drive them through the car wash on a regular basis?

My philosophy has always been to provide as much ongoing education as possible. I enjoy working with people who are up on their skills, engaged, pushing themselves and those around them. It’s more fun, like Phil driving a car that has been freshly washed.

Many of my corporate job peers have gotten upset when they made an investment in training, only to have that person leave for another opportunity. Certain employers I’ve worked for have suggested having employees repay the cost of education if they leave within some period of time after the training.

The reality is, changing jobs is a complicated equation.

It is the manager’s job to create an environment that is supportive yet challenging, that makes people want to stay. Ongoing education is simply one part of a supportive environment. It makes people better at their job. It makes them more fun to work with.

How do you treat your employees?

How does your employer treat you?

Rather than ask, “What if we invest money in employee training and they leave?”

Ask, “What if we don’t and they stay.”

Making It Look Easy

Inigo Montoya: You are wonderful.

Man in Black: Thank you; I’ve worked hard to become so.

The Princess Bride

I love watching people who are skilled at their craft.

The scene from “The Princess Bride” quoted above is a perfect example. Two highly skilled swordsmen in an epic duel. Both such masters of their blades that they make it look easy.

I recently had a front row seat at a concert by Ellis Marsalis and his trio. Ellis Marsalis is a jazz pianist and the patriarch of the well known Marsalis clan. Perhaps you’ve heard of his more popular sons Branford and Winton, or the younger Delfeayo and Jason.

The concert was an evening of awesome music and performance. Ellis is well known in the jazz world for his smooth style at the piano. At 84 years old, he can barely walk. But, when his hands start moving over the keys, you forget that he needed assistance to get to his position on the piano bench.

He makes it look easy.

If someone had said, “You are wonderful,” he would have been justified in responding, “Thank you; I’ve worked hard to become so.”

What is it that you do that elicits that statement?

I’ll bet that there are things you have done for so long that you find them to be easy to do and that you have forgotten how long you worked to become proficient. With most things we do on a regular basis, once we become good at them, we forget that it was ever hard. Take walking for example. Or riding a bike.

There’s a fun saying that if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

The concept of that saying is that when we have mastered a particular tool or technique, we tend to apply that tool or technique as our first choice for anything we encounter.

What’s the go-to tool in your toolbox?

There’s nothing wrong with this “everything looks like a nail” approach. When we have great skills in a particular thing, it makes sense to apply those skills.

The problem arises when we become so enamored by someone else’s mastery of their particular tool of choice that we forget that isn’t the only way to accomplish the task.

Each of the Marsalis brothers plays a different instrument. Imagine if they all thought they had to create music the same way as their dad.

And yet, that’s exactly how we often think. We see someone who is good at artistic painting, or sewing, or creating masterful Excel spreadsheets. We can’t do those specific things, so we feel “less than.”

Often, this gets exacerbated by the Excel expert who thinks the only way to do, well, pretty much anything, is by using Excel. So, everything they show you involves a spreadsheet. If you’re not good with that tool, the job becomes harder and wrought with frustration.

Go back to the original objective. What are you trying to accomplish? How is that “expert” using their tool of choice to accomplish it? What are your skills? How could you apply what you are good at to accomplish your goal?

There are many ways to attach two pieces of lumber together. A hammer and nails is only one of them.

In music, the variety of instruments makes the music better. We all need more cowbell. But, even that has its limits.

Use your tools. Make it look easy.

You are wonderful. You’ve worked hard to become so.

Simple Luxuries

Photo of a piano with a microphone on it.
Photo copyright ©2019 David J Crone. All rights reserved.

What brings you pleasure?

What are your favorite little luxuries?

Where do you draw the line when it comes to saving money?

For my wife and I, coffee is a big one. We make our own coffee, but we are particular about the brands that we like. It’s not always Starbucks, although that is our go-to favorite. We’ve experimented with cheaper brands. Every time, though, we come to the same conclusion: it’s worth it to us to spend a little bit more for the brands we like. So we watch for sales and stock up when we can.

Being just the two of us in our house now, we also tend to spend more for smaller packaging rather than buying the mega-packs that would be cheaper on a per unit basis. We view it as paying the stores to store the excess for us. We’ll come back and pick it up as we need it, thank you.

There is something satisfying about being able to spring for life’s little luxuries. These are different for everybody.

For some people, it’s Charmin ultra soft toilet paper. Maybe it’s Jeni’s Ice Cream. Or, perhaps it’s that specific type of ballpoint pen, medium tip, black ink, that only comes in 5-packs and can only be found at that one store.

I am fond of good quality legal pads. White paper. College ruled. Somehow writing on them just feels better. It makes the ideas that get scribbled there seem more important.

I could go on and on about my personal choices for which things I find worth spending a bit more vs. where I am willing to go with the cheaper brand. You might get a laugh out of the list. You would likely disagree with many of the choices.

What matters more, though, are the choices that you make. Only you can determine those items that are important to you.

If you are a compulsive saver, uber frugal, who finds pleasure in how much you save by buying in bulk, go for it. If you are fine with plain old stick pens, have at it. I am not suggesting you do otherwise.

However, I do think it is important to identify those areas where treating yourself, even if only occasionally, is valuable. It sends a signal to your brain that you value your self, that you see yourself as being worth it. And you are.

So, go ahead. Throw caution to the wind. Buy yourself the extra-bright colored super-sticky 3M brand Post-It Notes.

You have earned it.

You are worthy.

True Crime

Photo of microphone in auditorium
Photo copyright ©2019 David J Crone. All rights reserved.

What did you walk away with from your last annual performance review?

Or, for those of you who do what I do for a living, what do you remember from the comment cards at your last event where you spoke or entertained?

Here’s my bet: You forgot all about the great comments, the compliments, and you are obsessively focused on that one negative comment.

In the annual review it is that one thing your boss gives you to work on going forward.

In the realm of the feedback cards, it is that one negative comment. It is the one score of 2 in a sea of 5’s.

Why?

Why do we give so much power to the naysayers? Why do we not give equal ranking to those who love us?

I am certainly not immune to this. Why else would I be writing about it?

I am still stinging from the feedback from one particular performance in recent memory. There were well over 500 people in the audience. All I saw from the stage were smiling faces. There was much laughter. The applause was loud and long. After the show there was a long line of people for the meet & greet waiting for an autograph and photo opportunity.

And then it happened.

While I was packing up, the organizer shared with me that she had received “a few complaints”. I take this seriously. So, I pressed her for details. I encouraged her to share direct comments with me and to encourage people who were displeased to email me directly.

In the end, it was hundreds of people who were thrilled by the event, eager to find an opportunity to see the show again. And 3 people who were not. Three.

You know where my mind spent all of its time over the next several weeks. Not the 500+ who are new (and renewed) fans. No. Those three.

Why do we do this to ourselves?

What are you holding back from trying out of fear of even a single negative comment?

That. That right there. THAT is the true crime.

You have something amazing to share with the world. YOU.

I don’t know what it is. But, I’ll bet that you do.

And I’ll bet you’re afraid. Afraid someone might laugh at you. Afraid someone will say something negative.

So you continue to hold back, keeping your fantastic gifts to yourself.

I vow to continue to fight this battle. Won’t you join me?

Let’s do this together. Let’s agree that we will share our gifts with the world. We will put ourselves out there. Give what we have to those who appreciate them. And let go of the need for a perfect scorecard.

Snow Day

Photo of snowy scene.
Photo copyright ©2019 David J Crone. All rights reserved.

What do you do when you get a snow day?

As I write this, we are in the throes of a polar vortex bringing record breaking cold temperatures across the midwest. Schools are closed. Community programs are cancelled. Even the Post Office isn’t delivering mail. Now that’s cold.

When I worked in an office, weather like this would often be an excuse for people to call in and request to work from home. Of course, sometimes that was more like “work” from home, meaning they would check their email randomly between chapters of the book they were reading, or getting up to put on a fresh pot of coffee.

When our kids were in school, a snow day meant an excuse to stay in bed.

How do you spend a snow day?

It doesn’t have to actually involve snow. This is more of a metaphorical term; a snow day is simply a day when all of your normal activities are cancelled. You don’t need to leave the house.

What do you do?

Do you celebrate? Or do you become filled with anxiety?

Do you view it as an unexpected holiday? Or do you freak out thinking of all of the things that you can’t get done?

As for me, I can go to either extreme, sometimes pegging the needle on both ends in a single day.

And I work from home.

I know people who take weather related delays, cancellations, and postponements as a personal affront. Some of these people are road warrior types who travel on a regular basis in their business.

You’d think that after more than a decade of life on the road you would have come to some sort of peace with it. And yet, some of my most hearty road warrior friends are the first to complain loudly over flights being cancelled, forced changes to their plans, etc.

This time around I witnessed numerous complaints from my fellow entertainers, especially those who do a lot of school programs.

I, too, was scheduled to do a program at a school on the coldest day of this latest weather front. We all knew it was coming. It was no surprise. The principal contacted me on Monday to discuss rescheduling the program scheduled for Wednesday. No big deal. Let’s shoot for Friday. If that doesn’t work, we’ll find another time. If we can’t? Again, no big deal. We’ll loop back for next year.

But, I will admit, that even with this calm approach to rescheduling of this one performance, I find myself wandering around the house, struggling to settle into doing something productive. I’d hate to waste this time that has suddenly appeared on my calendar.

My to-do list is enormous. Some of those items require working in the garage. Guess what? It’s too darn cold to be out there. Not just for comfort. The things I need to do out there require the temperature to be above a certain level, which simply isn’t possible to attain in that uninsulated space. They’ll have to wait.

So, while I can point out the inanity of complaining about how the weather affects business travel plans, I also find myself feeling frustrated by the impacts of the uncontrollable on my daily life.

For now, though, I’ll end this time of writing and go put on a fresh pot of coffee. After all, I get to “work” from home.

How about you? How will you spend your day when you are given the gift of cancellation of your previous plans?

The Right Tools

A photo of a table David Crone crafted.
An old photo of one of my more ambitious projects. A dutch pullout table. This is still in use today.

Do you have the right tools to do the job ahead of you?

One of the many hobbies I have enjoyed is woodworking. I love to make things. This hobby started like many of my hobbies: I couldn’t afford to buy the stuff I really liked, and was stupid enough to think I could make it myself.

So, I started making stuff. My goal was to build furniture as well as I could for as little money as possible. It was a fun challenge.

I started with a few simple tools and straightforward projects. It’s amazing what you can do with a hand saw, a couple of chisels, and a lot of time.

As my confidence and enthusiasm grew, I started adding to my collection of tools, tackling ever more complex projects. The first major purchase was a table saw.

I was living in an apartment at the time, with limited space and budget. So, I got a small, portable table saw designed more for a construction job site than a fine furniture making shop. But, with care and some creative shop-made accessories (called “jigs”), I was able to do what I needed. It was a big step forward.

Several years later, finally in a house, and with a bit more disposable income, I made the leap to a more substantial table saw. Wow! The difference was amazing.

It’s not that I could suddenly do things I couldn’t do before. But, that everything was easier. What used to take 30 minutes to set up a convoluted series of supports and guides to make a cut now took 30 seconds.

The more I used this new toy (ahem, tool…), the more I kicked myself for not making this investment sooner. And the more I laughed thinking about the gyrations I used to go through to make what was now a simple pass through the saw.

Have you had this experience?

Perhaps you like to bake. Once you move from a hand-held wooden spoon to a KitchenAid stand mixer, everything becomes so much easier.

What are the tools you use every day? Where are you going through complicated gyrations to make it work?

What if you decided to make the investment in a better tool? What would it save you in time and frustration? What additional joy would it bring you every time you use it?

Go for it. Invest in good tools. You’ll be glad you did.