Time out

Photo of flags on a flagpole
Photo copyright ©2017 David J Crone. All rights reserved.

When is the last time you called a Time Out?

Like much of America, I’ve been watching a lot of football the past few days. It’s college bowl season. The concept of calling a time out struck me as something that has meaning far beyond football.

In football, the purpose of calling a time out is to give the team a chance to pause, reconsider their current strategy, revise it as needed, and sometimes just to give the players an opportunity to breath before the next play.

The week between Christmas and New Year’s Day is often one in which I call a time out – from work. It is a time to pause, reflect, and spend time with my family. Sometimes it is simply an opportunity to breath before launching into whatever is coming next.

When do you call a time out? Is your play clock running dangerously close to zero? Could you benefit from taking a moment to reconsider your current direction?

Give yourself a break. Call a time out. Then get yourself back into the game.

 

Tides

Photo of beach sunset
Photo copyright ©2017 David J Crone. All rights reserved.

Have you ever spent an entire day at the beach?

You arrive early in the day, set up the beach chairs, plant the umbrella, and spread the towels. After lathering up with a good coat of sunscreen, you plop into the chair, crack open a book and watch the day go by.

Ah…

Thanks to my wife, I have come to love spending time on the beach. Writing this on a gray day in early December in Ohio, the draw of sunshine on a warm beach is especially appealing. My thoughts today are not about the sunshine, though, but about the waves.

There is something about the constant motion of the water that is incredibly soothing. And also a great metaphor for life and work.

Have you ever noticed the tides?

People often comment on “high tide” or “low tide” as if those are the peaks of activity or inactivity. If you’ve ever paid attention to the waves, you know that both high tide and low tide are when the water is the most calm. It is the in between times that the waves are the roughest.

And so it is with work.

I love work that comes in waves, or rather cycles of waves, like the tide. I love the onrush of a new project, the buzz of activity, the excitement of doing something new. And I love the lull at the completion of the project, the end of that cycle.

It is fun to play in the waves. And it is fun to float on the calm water.

What is not fun is when either of these goes on too long and you feel like the current cycle will never end. Riding waves is fun, unless they never end. Floating on the calm water is a nice break, unless the waves never kick up again.

Leaders must find a way to manage the flow. If the environment has no cycles, the leader must manufacture them. If it is always roiling waters with no calm periods, leaders must find a way to create periods of rest and calm. I can’t imagine an environment where it is always calm, with no waves, but if that is the case, the leader must manufacture ways to create waves.

If the environment is full of natural cycles alternating between waves and calm, the leader’s job is to remind people that whichever phase they are in at the moment will change. The leader needs to encourage people to keep going through the rough waters, ensuring and reminding them that calm waters are coming. Likewise, when people are getting stir crazy during long periods of excessive calm, a good leader will remind the staff of what is on the way.

Next time you go to the beach, pay attention to the tides.

Enjoy the waves. Enjoy the calm. They’re both important parts of the cycle.

 

Sticks and Stones

Photo of sticks and stones
Photo copyright ©2017 David J Crone. All rights reserved.

Say it with me… Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.

Depending on where you grew up, you might have a slight variation on the ending. Any way you say it, the point is the same. When people call us names or say something negative about us, we are to move on and not let what others say rile us.

Eleanor Roosevelt expressed this in a different way:

“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”

I recently heard someone use this adage in a presentation. What immediately came to my mind was an additional ending.

Sticks and stones may break my bones and words may never hurt me, but your silence is killing me.

For me, I can handle criticism. I can deal with people telling me where I need to improve, even when it is done in a less than kind way. But, I can’t handle silence. For me, no response is far worse than the most scathing review.

In the words of Jeff Dunham’s character, Achmed, “Silence! I kill you!” For me, it is silence itself that is the killer.

Have you ever given someone a gift and heard nothing from them? I’m betting you assumed they hated it.

At work, have your poured your heart and sole into a project, then when it was completed the only thing you got was your next assignment?

Have you sent a carefully crafted email to someone and received no response whatsoever? Have you posted something on someone’s Facebook wall and waited in vain for them to click “Like”?

Where does your mind go in the absence of a response?

We all crave feedback. Sure, we prefer that feedback to be positive. We prefer praise over criticism. But, any feedback is better than no feedback.

Why? Because in the absence of feedback, most of us assume the worst. Our inner critic shouts, “They hated it. That sucked. You really screwed up that time. You’re going to be fired.”

Maybe you did screw up. Maybe you did disappoint. But, then again, maybe you didn’t. It is difficult to know in the silence.

My first job was working in a bicycle shop. Every bike we worked on was checked over by one of the two bosses. They even double checked each other’s work. The best response you could get was, “OK.” Not, “Good job.” Not, “You do good work.” Nope. The best you could get was, “OK.” I came to shoot for that response as my goal. But, even that “OK” was better than silence.

Are you with me? Do you have this same reaction to silence?

I wish I had great words of wisdom to share as to how to handle the silence and resist the temptation to assume the worst. I’ve got nothing. If you have thoughts on this, I’d love to hear them.

In the meantime, all we can do is to pay attention to when others are looking to us for feedback. Do your part to share honest feedback with them. Be overt in your thanks and appreciation.

Give others the gift of your input. The silence is killing me.

 

Back to the Beginning

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

Where did you get your start?

I recently had the opportunity to go back to where it all started for me as an entertainer. I did a show on the first stage I performed on as a kid. Several people in the audience had even been there for that first appearance approximately 45 years ago. While this show was a solo performance, that first time I was one of many acts performing as part of a youth talent show.

If you’ve ever experienced a youth talent show, you know that the range of talent being shared on that stage was quite broad. That didn’t seem to matter. I remember that every act was met with enthusiastic applause. Every one of us was made to feel like a star. We were applauded – loudly – for getting up there and giving it a shot.

What I do now would not be possible had it not been for the encouragement I received then.

Being back on that stage in that environment was deeply moving for me. It brought back deep-seated memories. It drove home for me the love and support I have been blessed to receive in so many areas of my life. It reminded me that I would not be where I am now had it not been for the encouragement of a countless number of people along the way.

Who has helped you on your journey? Who has been there with a kind word at the very moment when you needed it most? Who has been there for you to lend a hand, to help you up when you stumbled? Who has been there to cheer you on along your journey?

Where would you be now had they not been there to cheer you on?

Like that early talent show, I’m betting that many times you have been applauded even when your act kind of sucked. But, because of that applause, you kept going. It gave you the encouragement to continue. Perhaps you’ve kept going to the point where it (whatever it is that you do) no longer sucks. You might even be pretty darn good at it.

What if you had not received the applause before your act deserved it?

What a shame it would be if you had stopped. How sad it would be for those who now benefit from what you do well.

Take a moment to remember those who have cheered you on and encouraged you, even at a point in your development when it didn’t seem justified.

Now it’s your turn.

Who needs to hear your applause? Who would benefit from your words of encouragement and support?

Cheer them on. Applaud loudly.

 

Raising the Bar

Photo of a glass of beer
Photo copyright ©2017 David J Crone. All rights reserved.

Have you been told to raise the bar?

Sure you have. Usually it is a boss asking us to do more (with less).

Or, it is a coach pushing us to work harder, to do more reps at the gym, to run another lap at the track, etc.

Or, it is the person in the mirror saying, “You can do better.”

This is all fine. We do need to push. We should always be striving to get better at our craft.

But, we can take this too far.

Sometimes, what we really need to do is STOP raising the bar and instead, SIT AT the bar; take a break. Raise a glass to toast our accomplishments.

God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. – Genesis 1:31

As important as it is to push, it is even more important to recognize our accomplishments. Take a moment to look around you. See how far you have come. See the good.

Invite your friends to join you in the toast.

 

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.