Last week my daughter treated me to a day at COSI, the Center of Science and Industry, Columbus’ science museum. It was a belated Father’s Day gift and well worth the wait. The main attraction was a special exhibit: “Jim Henson: Imagination Unlimited”.
We both greatly enjoyed this exhibit, remembering fondly the many things brought to life by this singularly creative individual.
“Singularly Creative Individual”. That is exactly what struck me the most as we went through the exhibit. Yes, these creations all came from “The Jim Henson Company.” Clearly, Jim Henson was the driving force behind them. But the Muppets and all of the rest of these fantastical creations were not done by one singular individual. They were brought to life by a team.
If there is one thing that I took away from this exhibit it is the importance of colleagues, friends, and collaborative partners.
While the Muppets would not be what they are without Jim Henson, they also would not be what they are without Frank Oz and Jerry Juhl and Jane Henson.
It was through the collaborative genius of these colleagues that we have the Muppets as we know them today. “Sesame Street”, “The Muppet Show“, “The Muppet Movie“, and “Fraggle Rock” all exist because of the partnership and underlying friendship of these individuals.
During my time in corporate America, the best times were when I had that kind of collaborative, collegial working relationships. The kind of relationship where you eagerly celebrate your collective successes, while also being able to tell each other when they are full of crap.
I often find myself jealous of those who have been able to sustain that level of deep, connected partnership through decades.
Have you seen the biopic movie about Freddie Mercury, “Bohemian Rhapsody”? There is a scene where Freddie gets back with his “Queen” bandmates after a somewhat failed attempt at going solo. To paraphrase, Freddie says, “I had plenty of studio musicians who did exactly what I asked them to do. And that was the problem. I need you guys to tell me when I’m wrong.”
Like any partnership, I’m sure there were times at The Jim Henson Company when the team did not all agree. I’m sure there were spirited debates and challenging conversations. These were not well represented in the exhibit. But, put more than one creative person together in a room and there are bound to be disagreements.
And that’s OK.
True creative types thrive on different ideas.
Do you have a collaborative partner in your work or life? If so, celebrate!
Do you have the beginnings of such a relationship? Nurture it!
Find a friend. Find a person with whom you can give and take; push and be pushed.
To be a singularly creative individual takes more than one person.
That sign hung in the company fitness center. The message was meant to be inspirational to those who came to workout in the gym. I’m sure many took it the way it was intended. I wasn’t one of them.
For some of us, it was yet another implication that we did not belong there.
Have you ever walked into a gym and felt completely intimidated? Perhaps you avoid the gym altogether.
That’s a shame. Stick with me, though. This post is not about exercise. I’m not here to guilt anyone into (re)starting a physical exercise regimen.
Intimidation is not isolated to the gym. It happens everywhere. Do you remember starting a new job? Walking into a new classroom in school? Attending a social function where you felt less-than?
Have you ever wished you could play a musical instrument? Perhaps the guitar, the piano, or the ukulele. What’s holding you back? What is preventing you from starting?
I would venture to guess that at least part of the resistance comes from feeling intimidated. How could I do that? Look at that person there who is so good. I could never play like that.
Maybe that’s true. Chances are pretty good that you’ll never be able to play the guitar like Eric Clapton.
It is easy to feel it is pointless to pursue an interest when we compare ourselves to masters in the craft we are considering.
Pursue it anyway.
Start where you are.
Rather than be intimidated by those who are masters in your area of interest, see their current level as an indication of what is possible. Maybe. Someday. Instead of intimidation, use their example as inspiration.
Realize that “heavy” is a relative term. If you’re just starting out in the gym, a 5 pound dumbbell might seem heavy. Great! Start there!
If you’re just starting out on the piano, the C scale is pretty heavy. Great! Start there!
After you’ve mastered that, build the weight. On the piano, add the other hand. Two hands at once. Whoa! That’s heavy! Keep going.
Wherever you are in your pursuit, keep going. Keep adding weight. Make it heavier for you. Remember that what is heavy for you is different than what is heavy for someone else. And that’s OK.
Have you lost your spark? Is it a struggle to keep your engine running?
I have long had a love/hate relationship with gas fueled lawn tools. Specifically, those that have 2-cycle engines. Leaf blowers, edge trimmers (aka weed whackers), etc.
I love these tools when they are new. They fire right up when you pull the starter cord, run smoothly, and do their jobs. It’s easy to feel like Tim the tool man Taylor as you wield these things around the property.
After a while, though, they start to bog down. It gets harder to start them. They bog down when you pull the trigger to rev the engine. They conk out mid task and refuse to restart again until they’ve sat for a while.
Do you ever feel like that?
You start a new job, or even just a new project. At the beginning, it is exciting. You are jazzed. Each day is a new thrill. You happily go about your days and power through whatever lies before you. Bring it on!
Then, after a while, you start to bog down. It gets harder to get started in the morning. Some days you give up half way through the day and just can’t get going again.
Maybe you need a tune-up. Maybe you just need some fresh fuel.
At a friend’s encouraging, I spent some time this spring doing more maintenance than usual on my collection of gas-powered lawn tools. Each one got fitted with a new spark plug, a new air filter, and a new fuel filter.
As I replaced these on each of the tools, they showed a range of wear and tear. One was clearly way overdue for this tune-up. Another could have gone another year at least. Still another was somewhere in between. I replaced the parts across the board regardless.
Oddly enough, the visible signs of wear on the tool was not a good indicator of how well it ran at the end of last season. They had all reached a pretty consistent level of (un)reliability.
I expected this maintenance work to be complicated. It wasn’t. And the parts were cheap. It didn’t even take all that long to do.
If you’ve ever dealt with 2-cycle engines, you know that these tools require a special blend of gasoline and oil. You have to get the ratio right. Some are 40:1 and some are 50:1. It’s not hard. You start with one gallon of gas and add in the appropriate container of oil, which comes pre-sized for the blend.
The biggest challenge with this blended fuel is that it has a relatively short shelf life. Most manufacturers recommend using the fuel within 1 month. I don’t know of any homeowner who goes through a full gallon of this blended fuel in that short of time. Most of us don’t go through a gallon in a whole season.
From all I have read and heard, continuing to use the blended fuel beyond its recommended shelf life causes the most issues with these tools. Check it out yourself. What you’ll find is that the very first step people recommend for getting 2-cycle engines working again is to empty out the tool’s gas tank and add fresh fuel. Actually fresh fuel that you have just mixed, not the stuff left over from last year.
The other predominant advice from people who work on small engines is that ethanol is really bad for these tools. They all recommend using gasoline that does not contain any ethanol. That is difficult to find at the pumps.
So, having made the effort to do this maintenance, I also decided to spring for fresh fuel. And not just any old gasoline, I sprang for the premixed version that is now readily available anywhere they sell these power tools. No ethanol. And a rated shelf life of two years.
The result of all of this effort? My lawn tools are running great. They fire right up and keep running.
How about you? What can you do to give yourself a spring tune-up? Maybe all you need is some fresh fuel.
Remember the joy of new school supplies? Remember the excitement that came with a fresh package of pencils and erasers, a new notebook, a brand new lunch bag?
Maintenance doesn’t need to be difficult. I was amazed how easy it was to replace the spark plugs in my tools. What are some simple things you can do to generate a fresh spark in your work and life?
Harry Callahan, aka Dirty Harry, aka Clint Eastwood in Magnum Force
What are your limitations? Where do you draw the line?
Many years ago, when I was a low level executive with AOL, I had a conversation with my new boss where I laid out my limitations. I was based in Columbus, OH, with teams in both Columbus and Reston, VA. There had been increasing pressure for me to move to Reston. In my first meeting with a newly hired boss, I told him, “There’s something you need to know. I am not interested in moving. I will travel to the point of pain, but I’m not going to move.”
He reminded me of that conversation years later when I discussed taking a sabbatical (technically a leave of absence…). He asked, “What happened to traveling to the point of pain?” My response, “I’ve crossed the pain threshold.”
Side note: This second conversation is a great example of what made this particular boss one of the best I have had. He remembered things in great detail and did his best to accommodate his people’s needs, while still meeting the needs of the organization. The fact that he recalled my exact words from years before spoke volumes. Can your boss do that? Can you?
Business travel is one of those things I no longer enjoy. At least not if it involves airports. I’ll gladly drive 8 hours one way to avoid the hassles of air travel. This past January I drove to Olewein, IA, for a gig. That trip was 10 hours of drive time each way. Even in the middle of January, driving it was preferable to air travel.
That is my limitation. What’s yours?
It wasn’t always like this. I used to enjoy business travel. I enjoyed flying to San Jose’ every couple months to meet with the staff there who reported to me. I enjoyed the almost weekly trips to Virginia. It was exciting. I traveled so often I was on a first name basis with the woman in the Avis rental car booth at Dulles airport. (Hi, Marlena! How are you?)
Now? I get anxious just opening the airline ticketing web site. Ugh.
How about you? Is there something that you used to enjoy, but now dread? Has your line moved? Do you have different limitations than you once did?
Be aware of your limitations.
Feeling stressed? Maybe you’re bumping up against one of your limits. Maybe it’s a limit you didn’t know was there. Step back. Look around. Give it some thought.
If you’ve discovered a limitation, whether it is new or longstanding, what can you do to deal with it? Is there an alternative?
Sometimes all we need is a break. In my case, when I returned after my sabbatical, the pain of air travel had receded. It took years for it to return to its current level of abhorrence. And it is only when traveling for business. Vacation? Sure! Let’s go! Business? No thanks. I’d rather drive.
Take the time to look at your stress levels. Dig in. Look for the cause. It’s probably not what you think. You might think your boss is being a jerk. More likely they are asking you to cross one of your limit lines.
Know your limitations. Find a way to break through them, or a way around. Step one is the same: identification.
12 years ago, I walked away from my day job for the first time.
In the summer of 2007, I walked away from a corporate job. It was a good job. Corner office. Ridiculous salary. Great people.
Why? I couldn’t take it anymore.
Every day I went to work thinking, “This is it. This is the day they figure out I’m not worthy. This is the day they tell me they’re on to me. A big faker. Your services are no longer required. Pack your boxes. You’re done here.”
That feeling had been building for a long time. It was a slowly festering anxiety that continued to build day after day after day.
I now know it to have a name: Imposter Syndrome.
And like many who suffer from it, it was untrue.
It wasn’t until I started conversations with my boss about leaving that I recognized the falsehood. To paraphrase the conversation with my boss…
Me: It’s time for me to go.
Boss: Only if you let us take you out to dinner and celebrate all that you have done here.
It didn’t matter that I got great reviews every year during the annual performance evaluations. It didn’t matter that I was continuously given more responsibility and a steady stream of promotions. It didn’t matter that I always got my bonus. Always. Every day I walked in expecting to get the proverbial pink slip.
Can you relate?
Do you feel like you are faking it, hoping someday you’ll make it? Do you feel like you’ve built a fragile house of cards that is going to collapse at any moment?
It’s a horrible way to go through life.
Even stars are prone to this inner turmoil. In her iconic Oscar acceptance speech, Sally Field said, “You like me. Right now, you like me!”
This is often misquoted as, “You like me! You really like me!”
Ah, if only she had actually said that.
The misquoted version implies closure, a sense of finally achieving a sense of belonging, reaching a point of no return, knowing that you have finally made it and it can’t be taken away.
Instead, the actual quote captures the ongoing struggle.
“Right now, you like me.”
These words capture the still lingering angst that it is a temporary victory.
Right now you like me, but tomorrow I’m going to do something to screw it all up and we’ll go back to you not really liking me after all.
I wish I had great words of wisdom that would quell those inner doubts. I wish I could close out this post with a pithy phrase that would make it all go away.
All I can offer is that you are not alone. Hang in there. Keep going.
Chances are good that your fears are unfounded. Odds are that you really are worthy. People do like you. They really like you. Just as you are. You don’t need a trophy on the shelf to make that a reality.
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.
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.
So, what should we do instead? Allow me to suggest an alternate hashtag.
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.
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.
How do you spend your time when traveling for business?
Do you frantically check, recheck, and respond to email? Are you constantly on the phone, coordinating the latest project, or averting the latest crisis?
I’ve seen all kinds of crazy behaviors at airports. People who are clearly caught up in their own self-importance, who can’t let go.
I’ve been all kinds of crazy at airports and continuing onto the flight.
Long before the days of iPhones, I had a PDA. A PalmPilot, with its nifty stylus and hand writing recognition. I even had a portable keyboard for my PalmPilot.
This keyboard allowed me to write documents while on cross-country airplane trips without needing to use the heavy laptops of the day.
I remember when iPods came along. The ability to carry your entire music library in your pocket! What a joy!
Somewhere along the way, I realized that the quality of work that resulted from my vain attempts to be productive even during travel time was so low that it was essentially pointless.
I switched to carrying a thin Moleskine notebook and a pen for those flashes of brilliance that came along during travel. Those flashes happened often enough to justify the price of official Moleskine notebooks, yet infrequently enough that a single notebook would last a couple months.
The big ah-ha that came along with this shift was that I am much happier. I arrive at my destination with far less stress. While I can’t say that I enjoy travel by air, letting go of this compulsion to “make the most of the time” has allowed me to at least tolerate the travel.
Ironically, letting go of a need to “work” while traveling has actually turned out to be a more effective use of the time.
Using the travel time to do nothing, while not quite recharging the batteries, has had the effect of allowing the batteries to not drain during that time.
Try it sometime. Maybe even on your next trip.
Give yourself a travel day (and one to get back). Do nothing other than transporting yourself from point A to point B.
See if you don’t arrive in better spirits, able to accomplish more overall than when you were frantically “working” the whole time.
Do you panic? Do you completely freak out? Do you shut down?
I have a love/hate relationship with deadlines. I do my best work under the pressure of a looming deadline, and yet I hate that pressure.
Do you know people who are always prepared well ahead of time for everything? Me too. I hate those people.
OK, so “hate” is too strong a word. I simply don’t understand them. I’ve never been that kind of person. I procrastinate. Constantly. If I were told I must procrastinate, I’d find an excuse to put it off until tomorrow, or next week.
Then, as that new date approached, I would be the best procrastinator you ever met.
Or, at least that’s what I would tell myself.
I sing in the choir at our church. This is a relatively new experience for me. I was in a choir only once before. I didn’t enjoy the experience and it didn’t last long. This time it is completely different. I love being in this choir. So much so that when we have a week off from rehearsal, I miss it.
Our director is amazing. She is a highly skilled musician and an excellent teacher. But, what I most appreciate is her steadfast, calm, persistence as we struggle to step up to sing music well beyond our comfort level.
This year as we were preparing our anthems for Easter, it was clear we were being pushed in our musical ability. Our director is not a procrastinator like me. However, I definitely felt that we should have started learning these pieces much sooner than we did.
As the deadline of Easter Sunday drew near, it seemed like we would be better off starting over with something easy. But, she persisted. Calmly. Steadily.
Each week at rehearsal, our director comes in with her notes on specific spots that are particularly problematic in whatever we are currently preparing. Usually, this is a few well-spaced passages in the music. In this case, it was pretty much the whole thing.
And yet still, she persisted.
And we went along.
Slowly, steadily, it got better.
Easter came. We pulled it off. An Easter miracle.
It wasn’t perfect. But, it was certainly acceptable. Maybe even good. Perhaps a 6 or 7 on a scale of 1-10.
What deadline do you have looming? Are you in panic mode? Are you feeling like you should just throw out your lofty goal and start over with something easy?
Hang in there.
Be like our choir director: steady, calm, persistent.
In today’s rambling blog post, we’ll cover the following topics:
Leasing vs buying
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.
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.
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?”