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.”

Bulldozer Bosses

Image of bulldozer
Image source: Pixaby.com

In my previous post, I shared my view on the latest scandal around college admissions – bulldozer (or lawnmower, or snowplow…) parents.

This time I’m going to take on the issue of bulldozer bosses.

Have you ever experienced a bulldozer boss? Have you ever been one?

It is critical in the development of a child to allow them to experience failure – and to know the joy of pulling yourself out of it. Failure happens. Mistakes happen. We must develop our resilience and learn to recover.

This ability to learn from our mistakes, to deal with failure, doesn’t end when we leave school. Rather, when we stop allowing any possibility of failure, we stop learning.

In my experience, our greatest learning happens in the aftermath of things that go horribly wrong. I am not saying that we have to actually fail in order to learn. I am a huge fan of learning from the mistakes of others.

But, I am suggesting that allowing for at least the possibility of failure, by operating in a space where we accept that failure is a possibility, we do learn more.

Some bosses behave in a way that disallows any option of failure. They berate staff who make the most minor of mistakes, they fire people for making even single mistakes, etc.

My philosophy has always been that it is OK to make a mistake. Repeating them is not.

Some bosses act like bulldozer parents who attempt to clear all possible roadblocks. They cannot tolerate any possibility of failure.

Some of these bosses, in their attempts to avoid failures, become micromanagers. They not only tell their staff what to do, but exactly how to do it. And by “how to do it” I mean “the way I would do it.”

Like loading the dishwasher, there are many ways to accomplish the same objective. It really doesn’t matter whether the silverware gets loaded handle up or handle down. (I know, heresy, right?) We all develop our preferences for which is the right way, but in the end, they get clean either way.

The next level beyond micromanaging are the bosses who step in and do the work their staff should be doing. They don’t trust that their staff is capable of doing the task, so they do it themselves.

This is the worst of all. It sends a clear signal to the staff that they are seen as incompetent. It gives them no path to grow. It encourages them to do less, when all the time we are being surrounded by a message that we should be doing more.

If we want our staff to grow in confidence and capability, we must allow room for them to make mistakes. And in doing that, we also allow room for them to do things far better than we could have done ourselves.

Step out of the bulldozer. Point the way. Set the direction. Then stand back and watch the magic happen.

Pause and Rewind

County Fair ride.
Photo copyright ©2018 David J Crone. All rights reserved.

Our family has never been huge TV watchers. But, we have had our share of favorite shows over the years.

Remember when you had to tune in at a specific time if you wanted to watch a particular show? (Yes, kids, that really used to be a thing.)

One of my favorite inventions is the VCR, and later the DVR. It made a big change in our family dynamic when we had the option of watching our favorite TV shows at a time that was convenient for us, rather than whatever time the broadcast network decided to air them.

Now, even the need for a DVR has largely gone by the wayside. Missed your show? That’s OK. You can probably find it on Hulu, YouTube, or even the broadcast network’s own on-demand streaming service.

We get spoiled by this power to watch things whenever we choose, and to pause, rewind, or rewatch bits as we desire

The other day, as I was driving down the road, I was listening to the local radio station as I often do. I was mostly concentrating on the road, only half listening, when I caught the end of something they were saying that struck me as interesting.

My first response? Reach over for the pause and rewind buttons.

Oops. You can’t do that on radio.

Then I started wondering, how many times do I drift off while being with people I love? How many times have I not been fully present, because in some part of my brain, I have been trained to think I can just hit pause, back up, and play it again?

Life has no pause or rewind buttons. We get one chance to experience what is happening around us.

Leave binge watching to episodes of your favorite series on Netflix. When you’re with those you love, be present, in the moment, tuned in. Experience the moment as it happens.

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.

The Most Important Number

Photo of audience laughing

How many shows do you do in a year?

As an entertainer, I am often asked that question.

My off-the-cuff answer? I have no idea. And I don’t care.

Let me explain. I don’t like numbers.

You might find that a bit odd, because I am an electrical engineer by training. The classic stereotype of an engineer is an introvert who loves numbers and hates people.

I hate numbers and love people.

For much of my career I worked in data center operations: specifically, network operations. If you think engineers love numbers, operations folks take that to a whole other level. They live by numbers. Especially people in network operations.

I was surrounded by people who loved numbers.

Our job was almost entirely about numbers. Yet, still, I didn’t care. I cared about the people.

Numbers are boring. People are fun.

When I went to meetings where I knew I’d be drilled about the numbers, I would take other people with me who could answer those questions.

Some of my higher-ups were OK with that. Others, not so much.

At least in that context, the numbers were relevant to our jobs.

Let’s say you are at the grocery store. You’ve filled your cart and you are ready to check out. Do you care how many people the cashier serves during their shift?

It might be an interesting side note. But, what do you really care about at that moment?

  • How quickly you are going to get through the line.
  • Are you going to make it out of the store and home before your ice cream starts to melt?
  • Will they put your bread on top of the bag, or bury it beneath heavy cans again like the last time?

The number of how many other people have gone through that particular checkout line is irrelevant to your personal experience when it is your turn.

When you go to a doctor, do you care how many patients he or she sees in a day? Again, you might consider that question while you are waiting. But, what do you care about?

Right. You.

Having the doctor’s total, dedicated, focused attention on you.

The only number that matters is the number ONE.

How many shows do you do in a year? It doesn’t matter.

The only show that matters is THIS ONE, right here, right now.

I also don’t care how many people are in the audience.

I care about the ONE person I can see who is having a good time. The ONE person who really needed to laugh.

That ONE person is why I am there.

Numbers can be important. I am glad there are people who care about numbers, love numbers, and deal with numbers.

For me, the most important number is the number ONE.

It’s pronounced “JIF”

Dancing Baby GIF
Animation released to public domain by its creators.

If someone told you their name was Jerry, would you insist on calling them Gary?

Probably not. And yet, that is exactly the scenario with the pronunciation of “GIF”. It is properly pronounced, “JIF”.

Before you click away, understand that this post is about a much deeper issue than the silly debate over a hard vs. soft G. Stick with me a moment. It will make sense in a few paragraphs.

But, first, back to GIF…

Knowing that GIF stands for “Graphics Interchange Format”, it is logical to presume that it is pronounced with a hard G sound. However, if you ask the inventor, Steve Wilhite, he will tell you in no uncertain terms that it is to be pronounced with the soft G.

That should be the end of the story. And yet, even knowing this, people still insist that it is pronounced with the hard G.

What is something about which you formed an opinion, based on your own first experience, only to find out later that you were wrong? Was it difficult for you to accept it?

A couple decades ago, long before the movies, my family read the Harry Potter books for the first time. My wife read them out loud to our kids. If you are familiar with these stories, then you know that one of the main characters is Hermione Granger. We had never heard that name before. We read it as, “Her Me Oh Nee”. We thought that was how it was pronounced. With every reading of the name out loud, we became more convinced that was the correct way to say it. When we saw the first movie in theaters, we were shocked to find that it was pronounced, “Her My Oh Nee”.

To us, this odd pronunciation was simply wrong. How could they do that? Don’t they know the right way to say it?

Can you relate? Have you had that experience?

What both of these examples have in common is PRECONCEPTION. We form an opinion that seems logical; one that can even be defended as being a reasonable conclusion to have drawn based on the evidence available at the time.

From Dictionary.com:

preconception

noun
1. a conception or opinion formed beforehand.
2. bias.

Which of you believes that the Earth is the center of the galaxy, that all of the other planets and stars rotate around the earth? Which of you believes that the earth is flat?

We laugh at these notions now, even scoff at those who would have believed such a preposterous thing. But, had it not been for the evidence presented by scientists who came before us, we could be among those who had it wrong.

First impressions, first beliefs, preconceptions, are extremely difficult to overcome. We might have to admit that we were wrong. Gasp!

What if, instead, we viewed it as being unaware? Does that soften the blow? We did not have all of the facts available at the time we formed our opinion. We were not wrong. We simply didn’t know any better.

The real problem comes when we hold to these preconceived beliefs even after being presented with information to the contrary.

We can have fun debating how “GIF” should be pronounced. But, we cannot debate how its creator intends for it to be pronounced. From a New York Times blog posting:

“The Oxford English Dictionary accepts both pronunciations,” Mr. Wilhite said. “They are wrong. It is a soft ‘G,’ pronounced ‘jif.’ End of story.”

What preconceived ideas do you cling to, even in the face of evidence to the contrary?

Actively question beliefs you hold to be true. Be willing to adapt when new evidence is presented.

Be kind to yourself. Chances are you weren’t wrong. You just didn’t know any better. However, once you’ve become educated, accept the truth and move forward.

And remember, it’s pronounced, “JIF”.

 

Hardware vs Software

Photo of computer motherboard
Photo copyright ©2018 David J Crone. All rights reserved.

Are you a hardware engineer or a software engineer?

In my first job out of college, I did both. As a freshly minted Electrical Engineering graduate, I was thrilled to begin my first full-time job as an engineer at a small company where I got to do both hardware and software design.

You would think, that after 4 years of college (Ok, 4 1/2… plus a couple summers…), with heavy emphasis on the hardware side of things, that I would be better equipped to perform the duties of a hardware engineer than software. Especially since I had only a single semester course that covered the type of software I was doing at this job.

You would be wrong. Believe me, I was surprised as well.

It had nothing to do with the coursework in college.

What I discovered rather quickly was that hardware engineering requires a fully thought out, completely developed, and perfectly designed product before it goes to production. Once you send out the design for printing of the circuit boards, you are committed. Any mistakes you find after that point are quite costly to fix.

On the other hand, software engineering allows for a much more iterative approach. You write it, compile it, load it, and test it. Even if you go to production and later find a bug in the code, rolling out a fix is far less involved and costly than a hardware mistake.

I make a lot of mistakes.

Or, perhaps more accurately, I prefer the iterative approach to development of ideas. I like to start, develop a small bit at a time, test it, fix it as needed, then move on to the next bit. Sometimes in the process of doing this, I discover that a path I intended to follow is not going to work out. Sometimes changing course is a simple matter of changing from that point. Other times it means backtracking and going from there.

This happens frequently when writing this blog. I typically start with the title, thinking I am going to write about a particular thought. But, as the words come onto the screen, I discover it is heading a different direction. Rather than fight it, I simply go back and change the title to reflect the new endpoint.

I also follow the iterative approach when writing material in the act, and content for keynote presentations. I start with a particular idea in mind, create bits and pieces, put it together, test it, see how it works, and adjust from there.

I take a software engineering approach.

Other people I know prefer to have everything mapped out ahead of time. They plot and plan, design to a specific goal or purpose, with a concrete end product in mind. They do not vary from that objective. They thrive on making it all perfect before launch.

They are hardware engineers in their approach.

Note: This is not to say that all software engineering happens as an iterative process and that hardware cannot use this methodology. It is simply a convenient way to describe it.

Which one are you? Do you prefer to have everything well organized, lined up, and not deviate from the expectations? Or, do you like to dive in, get started, and adjust as you go along?

Both styles can work. But, it does help to understand your preferences. If you are in a job where the boss or organization as a whole is heavily biased toward the hardware engineering approach, and you are more of the software engineer, you are going to have challenges. Likewise in the reverse.

Knowing your approach and that of others around you is a good first step in being able to work better together.

Having a mix can be a good thing. In the computer world, hardware without software to make it do something is useless. Software without hardware to run it on is also useless.

Know your style and that of those around you. Work together to make something really cool.

 

Memories

Photo of bunnies in garden
Photo copyright ©2004 David J Crone. All rights reserved.

How long does it take for you to forget what drove you crazy?

We have all had relationships that ended, sometimes badly, and yet we find ourselves strangely drawn back to that same relationship that caused us so much pain. Why is that?

Memory is a fickle thing.

A friend of mine used to say that she judged the seriousness of any given situation by how long it would take before she could find the humor in it. Thus was born our favorite saying when things are not going according to our plans, “How long until this is funny?”

Recently, I performed at a local outdoor festival. Being local, many people I know came out to see the show. Several were coworkers at one of the places I used to work when I had a day job.

Enough time has gone by since leaving that particular employer that most of my memories are good ones. I especially miss the people I used to work with on a daily basis. For me, it is always the people that I miss the most.

When my wife catches me speaking with fondness about this particular former employer, she is quick to point out that at the time I left, I was overflowing with frustration, constantly complaining about the environment, and generally difficult to live with as a result. She’s right, of course. (She usually is.)

It was great to catch up with my former coworkers at this recent event. In talking with them, it was fun to remember the people I used to work with and the parts of the job that made it a decent place to work. However, I was also reminded of the things that used to drive me crazy about the environment. Apparently, it hasn’t changed much.

In case any of you reading this know which organization I am talking about, it is important to understand that I bear no ill will to the organization itself. They do great work in the community and I am a happy customer of the organization. But, just because you like to shop at Walmart, it doesn’t mean you would be happy working there. Meanwhile, some people love working there. It fits their style. Some people simply tolerate it. So it is with this former employer of mine. As I’ve said throughout this blog, it is all about fit.

How do you remember your former employers? Which ones drove you crazy at the time, but now you look back on with fondness, perhaps even wishing you could go back?

What if we could do that in the moment?

What if we could approach our current job as if we were looking back upon it in the future? Which parts would we choose to remember?

What if we could overlook the parts that annoy us now, the aspects that we will wipe from our memory over time, and focus on the good parts, the parts that in the future we will look back on with fondness?

How would that change the way we approach our work each day?

Enjoy the good parts. Tolerate the not so good parts. And, as always,  “Thank you for shopping at Walmart.”

 

The Nedlog Rule TM

Photo of sign that says "Fatface"
Photo copyright ©2017 David J Crone. All rights reserved.

Do you live by the Golden Rule?

“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

That’s great. It’s a nice starting point. It’s a good concept for how we should treat other people.

Here’s the problem: We forget to apply it to the person in the mirror.

How do you talk to yourself? If you spoke to other people the way you speak to yourself, would have have any friends?

I am a member of Toastmasters. Maybe you’ve heard of it. It is best known as a place to learn to speak in public. It is much more than that, but that’s enough for now.

At a typical Toastmasters meeting, a number of people will stand and give a prepared speech. For each of these speakers, another person takes notes and provides an evaluation with the goal of providing the speaker helpful ideas on how to improve.

Being an evaluator is just as important as being a speaker. One of the concepts we are taught is the sandwich technique. When giving an evaluation, start with something positive (something the speaker did right and should continue doing), then something that could be improved, then end with another positive.

This same sandwich technique is often used in annual evaluations at work. Managers are typically taught to start and end with positive reinforcement, while delivering the areas where improvement is needed in between these positives.

While the sandwich technique is a good model, a more important aspect when providing feedback is to focus on the action or behavior rather than the person. Telling someone, “That thing you did was really stupid,” is far better than saying, “You are stupid.”

And yet, how do we tend to talk to ourselves? Rarely do we use the sandwich technique on ourselves. Worse, we tend to go straight to attacking the person (our self) instead of the action. “I am so stupid!”

That brings me to the Nedlog RuleTM. If you haven’t figured it out yet, “nedlog” is “golden” spelled backward. If you looked at the word “golden” in the mirror you’d see “nedlog”.

The Nedlog RuleTM:

“Do unto yourself as you would do unto others.”

Show yourself some love. Treat yourself with the same respect that you show to others.

Planting Seeds

Photo of wildflowers
Photo copyright ©2018 David J Crone. All rights reserved

Have you ever wondered whether Johnny Appleseed went back to see what grew from the seeds he planted?

We’ve all heard the stories of Johnny Appleseed. Folklore has it that he spread seeds everywhere he went. Some stories say he created meticulous nurseries. Others suggest he strewed seeds randomly as he traveled along.

Seed planting is a powerful metaphor for leadership. Leaders are planting seeds constantly, whether they are aware of it or not. Sometimes the seeds are carefully planted with a specific outcome in mind. Sometimes it’s more like a person carrying a heavy burlap sack of seeds on their shoulder; the bag has a small hole in one corner; seeds are falling randomly as the person travels along their way.

In my career as a leader, there have been many times when I set out to plant seeds on purpose, to create a meticulous nursery. I had specific goals in mind for what I wanted to spring forth from the seeds I planted.

What I have found over the years is that the seeds that randomly fell from the sack were the ones that had the most impact.

We’ve all heard the saying, “Actions speak louder than words.” This is especially true when it comes to leadership.

No matter what we say or how fancy the animated graphics are on that PowerPoint presentation we use at our all-staff gathering, what we DO, how we BEHAVE, on a regular basis is what people will remember. Those are the seeds that will take root and grow.

Every once in a while, I hear from someone with whom I previously worked. They’ll say something to me that starts with, “You always said…”, or “You once told me…” and my initial reaction is, “I did?”

I enjoy these encounters, especially when what they took away was something that has been beneficial to them and/or others. Human nature being what it is, I tend to hear more of the positive stories than negative.

I recently received this text from a friend with whom I used to work:

I received the 1st quarter leadership award last week from our CEO. My team nominated me. Seems I’m making a difference in folks’ lives and careers. Sharing this not to boast but to let you know what a great mentor you are. Thank you.

I’d like to take credit for planting those particular seeds on purpose. But, I can’t, really. All I can do is turn around, realize that the sack I am carrying has a hole in it, and notice that some of what is falling has taken root to become something beautiful.

To be sure, there are things that have fallen out of my sack that did not grow into such a heartwarming result. I am sure there are people who could tell you about the weeds they have had to pull. For now, I will enjoy the good plants.

As a leader, you are always planting seeds. What’s falling out of your sack?