Comfort Zone

Photo of dog snuggled in blankets
Photo copyright ©2019 David J Crone. All rights reserved.

“You’ve got to step out of your comfort zone!”

This statement is often used to challenge us to grow. I disagree.

Stepping out of our comfort zone is a bad idea.

When you are completely outside of your comfort zone, you are like a fish out of water. Have you ever seen what happens to a fish out of water? Right. They die.

You don’t have to completely abandon your comfort zone to grow. In fact, I would argue that if you stay inside of your comfort zone, you will grow faster.

Instead, work on making that comfort zone bigger.

Do you remember math class in school? If that was too long ago to remember, think about your kids.

Consider the progression of topics. You don’t learn basic math skills and then go directly to calculus. Each level of mathematics builds on the levels that preceded it.

Jumping from basic algebra to calculus is stepping out of your comfort zone. Going from algebra to geometry to functions to calculus is EXPANDING your comfort zone.

We learn best when we stretch our knowledge rather than forgetting all that has come before. Skipping steps, completely abandoning our comfort zone, is a path to frustration.

Have you ever learned to play an instrument? Perhaps the piano. When we learn to play the piano, we don’t start with Franz Liszt’s “La Campanella”, which is consistently ranked among the most difficult pieces to play.

No. A good piano teacher will start you out with the basics. Typically one learns to play one note at a time using one hand at a time. As you improve, new techniques are added, constantly stretching you, expanding your comfort zone.

Here’s a fun one: Arthur vs the Piano

This is the same with anything we do. Sure, there are times when we don’t get a choice. Sometimes we are thrown into the deep end of the pool before we are ready. But if we have expanded our comfort zone, we can draw on all that we have learned in other areas of our lives and apply it to the new situation, allowing us to stay afloat long enough to reach the ladder on the side of the pool.

If we are given a choice, though, it would have been much better to start in the shallow end and work our way up to it.

Stay in your comfort zone. Just make it bigger.

Toast

Image of toast popping in a toaster.
Photo copyright ©2019 David J Crone. All rights reserved.

Where do you eat lunch? Are you a brown-bagger, a company cafeteria, or a go out somewhere – anywhere – to get your lunch kind of person?

My office/studio is in the basement of my house. When lunch time strikes, I simply walk upstairs to the kitchen. Most days I make a sandwich. On really good days, that sandwich is made from leftover meatloaf. Mmmmm…

Regardless of what goes on the sandwich, I have found that toasting the bread makes the sandwich way better.

It’s a simple thing. Take the bread from the bag, pop it in the toaster, and gather the rest of the ingredients while it reaches that perfect golden brown color, filling the kitchen with the wonderful aroma of toasted bread.

When I really want to splurge, I pull out the George Foreman grill, turning that simple sandwich into a delicious panini.

Either of these simple steps make an otherwise boring sandwich feel more like a meal.

When I travel to gigs, I often pack a sandwich. It’s OK. But it’s just not as good as when the bread is toasted, or the sandwich is grilled.

It occurred to me that our offices are like sandwiches. The same thing every day. But with just a little bit of extra effort our work environment can become a lot better.

What is it like where you work? Is your office more like a boring old sandwich? Does it feel like the same thing every day? Do you say hello to the same people in the same order as you walk to your desk in the morning? Do you know exactly where every one of you officemates keeps their trash cans, making it easy to drop your random bits as you wander the halls?

Do the days all blend together, feeling no different from the rest?

Or do you live in a toaster-fueled office? A place where people make that little extra effort to make things more enjoyable.

It doesn’t take much.

Maybe it’s the guy in the cube around the corner who enjoys putting a “Word for the Day” on a small whiteboard outside his cubicle. Maybe it’s the person who wears a different team jersey every Friday during football season. Maybe it’s the one who brought in the lava lamp for its joyous randomness.

What little steps can you take to make your work environment more fun?

Look for ways you can spice up your boring old sandwich. Whether it is simply toasting the bread, or going all in on a panini, look for small things you can do to mix things up and add a bit of fun.

Remember: Work Should Be Fun!

Resistance

Photo of a sign that reads "Please stop"
Photo copyright ©2019 David J Crone. All rights reserved.

How do you respond when things are not going your way?

Do you sit down and pout? Do you pick up your toys and go home? Do you actively throw a fit?

I saw a bumper sticker the other day that read, #RESIST.

Combined with the other stickers on that car, it was clear what they were resisting. Since this blog is not about politics, I won’t include the rest.

This blog is about making work fun.

#RESIST

I’ve seen this same approach at work. We don’t get the promotion we were seeking. We are part of an interview team to select our new manager, but our preferred candidate is not the one who gets the job. New policies go into place that we don’t like. There is a rearrangement of office space and we are not happy with the changes.

(Side note: I used to say that if the biggest complaint my staff had on a given day was their office, I was doing pretty well as a boss.)

Some people deal with disappointments by resisting. They do everything they can to try to subvert the decision. They go around every day as if they had the hashtag #RESIST tattooed on their forehead.

The Borg said it best: Resistance is futile.

So, what should we do instead? Allow me to suggest an alternate hashtag.

#PERSIST

Don’t like your new boss? Ask yourself, how long did the old one last? I don’t know about you, but in my career, I have outlasted a lot of bosses.

Don’t like a new policy? Why not? Is it just because it’s different? Or is it really going to be an issue for you?

Do you have a better idea? Perhaps you can suggest an alternative. Politely. Through proper channels. Start by understanding the reason for the change.

Work environments, like much in life, are often like a pendulum swinging. In order to fix something that isn’t working, it is sometimes necessary to swing the pendulum to the other side for a while. Eventually, it will come back again.

Ever tried a crash diet? Yeah. Like that.

I have yet to find a workplace that is a democracy. Good leaders do want to hear from the staff and create a good work environment. But most things are not decided by a vote. Input, yes. Vote, no. Get over it.

You do have a choice. Sure, you can sit down and pout. You can silently refuse to do your job, or decide you’re going to do it half-assed as a means of protest. I guarantee you, the only one who will feel the pain from that is YOU. If you choose this path, get your resume ready. You’ll need it.

Of course, getting your resume together is another option. If you really can’t stand the current situation, you do have the option to seek something else somewhere else.

(Side note: You should ALWAYS have your resume ready. Not just for the unexpected bad turn of events, but also for the unexpected once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that might present itself.)

Persistence isn’t about “sit down, shut up and put up”. It is about looking out for yourself in a positive way. Sometimes that does involve putting up with a situation you do not like. More often it means finding a way to adapt, either by making a change to yourself, your attitude, or the situation.

Persistence is about staying power.

In sports, it is doing the extra reps even when you are exhausted. As a software engineer, it was writing those extra lines of code before breaking for lunch. As a manager, it was communicating changes to my staff with a positive outlook even when I, personally, did not agree.

And some days, it is about simply making it through another day.

If you are feeling the urge to #RESIST, turn that energy around and apply it in a positive direction.

Resistance is futile. Persistence is rewarding.

#PERSIST

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.

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”.