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?

 

Better Together

Photo of 2 people blowing out candles on a cake
Photo copyright ©2018 David J Crone. All rights reserved.

Are you fiercely independent? Do you love doing things all by yourself?

Here’s a thought. Invite a friend to join you.

Confession time. I love doing things myself. I abhor asking for help.

Maybe this is a guy thing. Watch people burdened by a load of boxes enter a building. Chances are, you will see what I have noticed. A women laden down with a bunch of stuff, when approached, “Can I help you with that?” will more often than not say, “Sure.” A man in the same situation is far more prone to respond, “Nah, I’m good.” despite items falling off the stack they are balancing.

It is only over the last few years that I have learned the joy of asking for help. It is not the asking that I enjoy. It is the camaraderie that results in working on a project together.

My fierce independent streak has put me in dangerous situations.

For example… Several years ago, I purchased a large air compressor for my shop. We’re not talking about a nice portable unit that is meant to be moved. No, this is a full-scale, 5′ tall, behemoth typically used in a mid-sized production shop. (Why? Because I could. But, that is a different topic. )

The point is, it’s big. And quite heavy. When I bought it, it required 3 of us to load it into my van. Those other 2 people did not follow me home to help unload it. They had other customers to serve.

At home, I realized the folly of what I was attempting to do even as I was sliding it out of the van – by myself. I knew this could easily go wrong. In my head, I was already playing out the worst case scenario of being pinned underneath this thing, wondering whether I’d be able to hang on long enough to yell out to the mail carrier who was due to arrive sometime in the next hour.

OK, let’s be honest. It’s not an independent streak. It is shear stubbornness.

Obviously, since I am now telling the story, it worked out in the end. There were no trips to the emergency room.

I’d like to say I’ve learned my lesson. Don’t do stupid stuff. But, I’d be lying. I still get myself into dangerous situations. However, I am getting better at asking for help.

It is not avoiding danger that has helped me change. It is a realization that it’s more fun to do things with another person.

Just last night, I drove to a friend’s house to have him help me replace the side view mirrors on my truck. I could have managed it alone. Maybe.

The real reason I made the trip was to spend time with my friend. The side benefit was that the new mirrors are installed. Correctly. The first time. (My friend is an avid car repair hobbyist.)

What it has taken me way too long to figure out is the joy of treating projects not as a way to accomplish a task, but as a means to spend time with another human being. The task itself becomes secondary to the pleasure of the interaction.

Next time you find yourself laden with boxes, burdens, or tasks, reach out to another person and invite them to join you. You’ll both benefit.

You might or might not accomplish the task you originally set out to accomplish. Either way, you’ll enjoy the process more with the company of a friend.

Involved Detachment

Photo of blue sky through trees.
Photo copyright ©2018 David J Crone. All rights reserved.

In one of the gyms I used to go to, there was a sign prominently displayed in the weight room that read, “Go heavy or go home.”

In another context, I frequently heard the saying, “Play to win or don’t bother playing.”

Each of these sayings has their place. If you are a naturally competitive person, then both of these probably strike you as being obvious. You likely feel wholehearted agreement.

One problem with these concepts is that in the wrong circumstances, they can induce substantial unnecessary amounts of stress.

Another issue is they might cause you to give up early. Maybe you look ahead toward the finish line, realize there is no way for you to win this particular race, and therefore stop trying. Give up on this one, move on to the next race, maybe you’ll have better luck there.

These sayings do not fully incorporate the level of influence factors beyond our effort have on the outcome. I’m not talking about making excuses when things don’t go our way. I am talking about accepting the reality that there’s often more involved in the decisions others make than simply the amount of effort that we put into trying to sway them one way or another.

I recently spoke to a group of recruiters for an organization. Their key metric is the number of people they are able to get to sign on the dotted line. The majority of their training is based on classic sales methodology, with “getting to the close” being a key component.

The problem is that they were becoming overly obsessed with that metric of closing the deal. Each person they were recruiting was seen as critical to their success in their job as recruiter. When they were unable to seal the deal with a particular individual, they viewed it as failure. They took it personally. It was creating an enormous amount of stress on the individuals.

I can relate.

I have this same experience in my own business. I tend to view each prospective client as critical to the success of my business. When a prospective client tells me, “we’ve decided to go a different direction” (a frequently used phrase instead of simply saying, “no”) it is easy to take this personally. Being a one-person service-oriented business, the product I am selling is, essentially, myself. As a result, failure to close the sale takes on a high degree of personal rejection.

Do you enjoy rejection? I sure don’t.

The attitude shift that has helped me the most, and that I shared with this group of recruiters, is the concept of Involved Detachment.

What does that mean?

It means going heavy and playing to win… while detaching yourself from the outcome.

It means giving it your absolute best shot, doing all you can to convey your value proposition. And then once you’ve done that, let it go. You’ve done your part, now it is up to them.

This is still very much a work in progress for me. There are good days, and there are not so good days.

It is easy to view an opportunity as being impossible to win. As the level of the events at which I work has elevated, so has the level of the people I am being compared against for the time slot. While it is pretty cool to be considered alongside some of these people, it can also be intimidating.  I view many of them with such high esteem that it seems pointless to even bother submitting my proposal.

But, just as there are factors beyond my influence for which another person might be chosen, there are also factors beyond my control which cause a client to select me over the others being considered.

Got that? It is not my job to tell them “no”. There is a reason that they chose to contact me in the first place, to include me in their search.

My job is simply to understand as much as possible about the client’s goals, put forth what I have to offer as clearly as possible, do it well, and then let it go.

Where can you apply this concept in your life and work? In what areas are you being overly concerned with the outcome? Are you quitting before you even start?

Practice involved detachment.

Do your part. Do it well. Then let it go.