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?
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.
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.
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.
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.”
Have you ever been late for something important? Really late. So late that the people who were counting on you to be there are calling you in a panic, wondering where you are?
Been there. Done that. It happens.
It doesn’t matter what caused it. Once you’re late, nothing you say can undo the fact that you are late. Yes, you should apologize. Yes, you should say you’re sorry – and mean it.
But, after you’ve said it, the most important thing is to move forward. Put the past in the past and get on with whatever it is that you were supposed to be doing in the most expeditious way possible.
This was brought home to me again this past weekend. On Sunday, I had a big event. Things did not go according to plan. Let me tell you the story.
[I should pause here and point out that every event I work is a big event. It doesn’t matter if it’s 20 people or 2000. To the people who planned it and the people who are there, it is a big event. So I treat it that way. When you hear me say “it was a big event”, don’t be overly impressed. It might be my neighbor’s birthday party. Having said that, this story is about a bigger than average event.]
This particular event took place in a high school auditorium. If you’ve ever been involved in the technical side of theater, you know that there are components that require special skills and knowledge. Some things are safety issues, e.g. raising and lowering curtains, screens and other things in the fly space. Most theaters have rules about who is allowed to operate those mechanisms, for very good reasons. Then there are the lighting and sound consoles. While there are similarities, every installation has its own quirks that require specialized knowledge to properly and safely operate that equipment. Most theaters have these locked down, either by controlling physical access to the equipment, or through passwords, or both.
There were many complicating aspects with this particular event. The vast majority of events I work, it’s just me. I am a one-person roadie handling transport, setup, performance, and teardown. This particular event was complex enough on my end to enlist the help of a 3-person crew.
Because there were so many pieces to this event, and having a crew, I had a 4-page document with a detailed timeline and all of the steps that needed to happen at what time in order to make the show happen. For several weeks leading up to the event, I had exchanged a number of emails with the lead teacher (we’ll call him Bob) in charge of the technical side of the school’s theater. Everything seemed to be in order, ready for the big day.
It was going to be a tight schedule to make it all happen. The show was scheduled to start at 3:00. Doors to the auditorium were to open at 2:30. We couldn’t get into the building until 1:00. That didn’t leave a whole lot of wiggle room.
We arrived as planned, got into the school at 1:00 as planned, and started our setup. By 1:30, I noticed Bob had not yet arrived. No worries, I told myself, I’m sure he’ll be here soon. We had this all covered in our emails. When it got to be 2:00 and he still wasn’t there, I raised the flag with my client. Without Bob, we would not be able to pull off the event.
(If it had come down to it, I would have figured out a way to do some kind of performance. It just wouldn’t have been the one we had planned.)
My client started the phone tree and I went back to my checklist, jumping ahead, doing things a bit out of order, covering as much as I could to be ready to go back and catch up when (if) Bob arrived.
By 2:30, Bob still had not arrived.
It was at this point that I was exceedingly grateful for my crew, who are all friends of mine. They helped keep me centered, focused, and breathing steadily. (Thanks, guys!)
One of the added complexities of this show was that I had a 20-minute pre-show video. It is a fun introductory piece, a show before the show, full of little hints as to the show that is about to happen. It’s not really possible to cut it short. It needs to run in its entirety, because it sets up some things that happen later in the show. In order to start the show on time at 3:00, this video needed to start at 2:40.
Bob arrived at 2:41.
Let me state for the record that Bob is a super nice guy. He was clearly embarrassed that he was late. I hold no grudge against him. How could I? I’ve been there. I’ve been the guy others were counting on who wasn’t where he was supposed to be at the appointed time. I get it. These things happen.
It really doesn’t matter why he was late. Why is not important. I’ll say that again: Why is not important.
What is important is what you do when you get there. Bob nailed it. He jumped into action the minute he arrived.
We got the pre-show video started at approximately 2:47. Only 7 minutes late. Not bad, considering the circumstances.
Thanks to our numerous emails leading up to the event, Bob had the lights preprogrammed and ready to go. He just had to push the right buttons.
It was a bit awkward, but we then did my sound check on top of the pre-show video. Rather than go through the character voices I would typically do in my sound check, I simply spoke to the audience about live theater. This is what happens. Things don’t always go according to plan. You run with it. Usually when you arrive at a show, all of this stuff has already been taken care of. Today you get to see what it looks like behind the scenes. Thank you for your patience. Get ready to have some fun. The show will be starting soon. Excuse me while I go finish getting ready. End of sound check.
How would you have reacted in this situation? Whether you relate more to Bob, or those waiting for him, what’s your typical response when things go wrong?
Too often we find ourselves getting stuck in the “why” of something gone wrong. It is so easy to get lost in the injustice of it all. Who did that? Why did they do that? How could they do that?
To which I say, “Who cares?”
It happened. Move on. Eyes front. We have a show to do. Let’s get this rolling.
And now, ladies and gentlemen, please welcome to the stage…
“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.
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?
When is the last time a choice you made resulted in making someone else mad? Downright, name calling, temper tantrum throwing, angry.
Did you enjoy it?
Probably not. If you did, I’d be concerned.
Most of us do not enjoy making other people angry. More accurately, most of us do not enjoy it when other people are mad at us.
Right there, the last word in that previous paragraph, is the issue. “Us.” It’s all about us. We dislike making other people upset because of how it reflects on us. We want other people to like us. We want to be loved.
We seek approval, affirmation. If someone is mad at me, I must have done something wrong. Right?
Maybe. Maybe not.
When is the last time you were angry? Blood boiling, head throbbing, ready to punch something, angry? What was it about?
I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess that, ultimately, it involved you not getting your own way on some issue.
In those instances, I am also going to guess that once the dust settled, after some time had passed, once you’d had the opportunity to look at things from a broader perspective, you were able to see that maybe the issue, decision, statement, whatever it was that set you off, was the “right” thing. You still might not be happy about it, but you could see it was the best choice at the moment. Even if you were not able to say, “I was wrong,” you were likely able to say, “You were right.”
Leaders are often put into a position of making decisions that are unpopular. Sometimes these decisions make people downright angry.
Many times, the level of anger that results from an unpopular decision comes down to how the decision was made and/or is communicated. That is a deeper topic for another time. For now, let’s focus on the willingness to make a decision regardless of its popularity.
One of the guiding principles taught to me for making difficult choices as a leader is the 5 year rule. When we look back on this decision 5 years from now, will we still see this as the right choice?
The exact amount of time we project into the future isn’t all that important. Although, it should be long enough that you are beyond hurt feelings of individuals who are going to be impacted by the choice.
If we allow an unwillingness to upset people to stymie our ability to make a decision, we have failed as leaders. In the words of Neil Peart in the Rush song, “Freewill”, “If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.”
Do take the impact decisions will have on people seriously. Weigh the costs and benefits. Understand the full impact of the decision. Then make the choice. Even if it makes someone mad.
As a final thought, I leave you with this old groaner of a joke:
Johnny: Why are you so sad?
Billy: We shot our dog.
Johnny: Was he mad?
Billy: Well he sure wasn’t happy about it!
Here’s one I heard when I worked at OhioHealth: Watch one, Do one, Teach one.
The person who taught me this phrase explained that this philosophy was engrained in her as a nurse. To fully learn a new procedure, you watch it being done, you do it yourself, and then you teach it to someone else.
That last step is critical. It is what separates common practitioners of any craft from the masters. It is where most of us stop short.
Think about it. If you are going to teach something, there is a level of expectation that you know the material. It forces us to raise our game. We must have the confidence in our skills if we are to teach others.
I believe that is why so few of us teach; we lack the confidence in our own skills or knowledge. That is a shame. There are many people with much to give, who hide behind a cloak of fear.
A clear benefit to teaching others is that we learn more ourselves. One of my friends in college taught classes at another school. He was not the smartest person in our own classrooms. But, he was a good teacher. His own struggles as a student helped him as a teacher because he could relate to his students’ challenges. He shared with me how much he was learning by teaching. He also shared his joy in receiving high marks from his students.
You don’t have to be a master of the material to teach. Some of my most memorable teachers in school were those who, rather than spewing forth their vast knowledge from on high, invited us to join them in their own journey of exploration on the subject. Those shared explorations were far more interesting than sitting through boring lectures.
Now it’s your turn.
Watch one. Do one. Teach one.
(Side note: I take this concept of teaching seriously. I now offer one-on-one coaching for speakers and entertainers who want to better connect with their audiences. If you want your time in front of others to be more powerful, give me a call.)
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?
As a ventriloquist, I regularly practice in front of a mirror. My practice studio has a large one permanently mounted on the wall.
It is very helpful as I work on the character animation to be able to see how it looks by watching myself in the mirror. Each character needs to act and react, just like in a traditional play.
Sometimes, especially as I am developing a new bit, I will spend hours working on nuanced movement for delivery of a single line of dialog, looking for the precise motion to get the biggest reaction. If I have a joke that I know in my gut is a good joke, but it is not getting the laughter that I think it should, I go back to the mirror and work on the delivery, adjusting timing, phrasing, and gestures.
Dancers often practice in front of a mirror. The dance studio where my kids studied has a wall full of floor-to-ceiling mirrors. It was an essential tool for them to learn movement.
That wall of mirrors in the dance studio also has a curtain that can be drawn across the entire expanse. So does the mirror in my practice studio.
Why? Because at a certain point in the rehearsal process you need to shift from thinking of what is being reflected back on yourself and focus instead on what you are projecting to the audience.
You need to draw the curtain, turn around, and perform for the audience.
Many performers miss this critical transition. Mea culpa. Like many entertainers, I started performing as a way to get attention, to seek approval. The applause was the goal. It signified to me that I was doing something right, that I was valued.
I can tell you the exact moment when it dawned on me that I was spending way too much time looking in the mirror, seeking applause as a way of improving the reflection.
It was a game changer for me in my entertainment career.
More importantly, it was a game changer for the audiences I serve. Now when I walk onto the stage, my focus is entirely on them and what they are receiving rather than on what they are reflecting back.
This same concept applies to leaders. Some leaders are focused on the mirror. They stand looking into the mirror, with their team behind them. They see the team’s purpose as one of reflecting positively on the leader.
Perhaps you’ve worked for a leader like this. Perhaps you are one. It’s annoying.
A mirror can be a useful tool. It helps us develop our technique. The key is to realize that the mirror is not our target audience. We are not here to perform for ourselves. Entertainers need to perform for an audience. Leaders need to lead a team.
Use the mirror. Practice in front of it. Hone your technique. But, know when it is time to draw the curtain, turn around, and focus on the audience.