Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Smart people and yes men

I work with some really smart people. I really mean it by all measures and indications they are highly intelligent and gifted at grasping complex concepts and situations. They can crunch data with the best of them. I've posted in the past on what they do with this data which is related to today's post.

These really smart people who like to manipulate the data have one more trick up their sleeves. They like to hire "yes" men. It only stands to reason they need to limit the number of people they surround themselves with who are independent thinkers with the gumption to express their opinions and press their case. This makes them very uncomfortable. These people hire experts and tell them how to do their jobs.

I am working to hire a person in our marketing department and my instructions are. First, its totally your call. Next, you need to find some one who can make it happen. Tell them what you want Lester and come back in 90 days and it will be done. From my perspective these projects are very involved and have a high degree of complexity and cross department interaction that pushes the job beyond the grunt level. It is a leadership position that requires keeping a varied group of contributors on the same page moving in the same direction. The next instruction goes like this. But, Lester we have plenty of people around here who know what needs to be done. We don't need to hire anyone who wants to create any plans or strategy. This is code for we don't need someone who can think. I am thinking this is probably not going to be a real strong leader.

In other words Lester don't hire anyone who is going to question my instructions, like you do. I added the last part.

How did these guys with such fragile ego's get so powerful? Sometimes I think their intelligence and discipline is a disadvantage because they do have the ability to carry enormous amounts of information in their heads. They are quick thinkers, fast on their feet and impressive communicators. I think they fall into a trap of feeling that because they can think it, remember it and communicate it faster than others they in fact have better or maybe the only ideas. Perhaps they begin to think after years of this experience they are the only ones with any creativity.

Or maybe their just too weak and insecure to share the spot light and risk knowing that someone else in the room can think and create solutions. I can promise you this, the business suffers with people like this in the leading roles. Their not that smart. A solid team of committed people with time and adequate resources to solve a problem scares the hell out of them. That's fun to watch if you can shut get Einstein to sit down and shut-up.

Thanks for reading.

PS, no yes men allowed on this blog. Oh yea, and I think our resident genius thought I was one. Surprise!!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Having a bad day, watch this

It doesn't get any cuter than this folks.

Have a great day. By the way I just offered this guy a half a million for his house if he throws the moose in for free.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Don died today

No joke he really did. Don worked for us as a sales rep for 10 years or so. He was in his mid 50's and basically, I am told, went home from work and pretty much dropped dead an hour later. Don was a crafty expert sales person who did the job with half the work, in half the time and made twice the money most of our sales people do. Knowing Don he would probably be quite pleased with that tribute.

The sales director found me at Kentucky Fried Chicken stopping for a fast dinner before an evening meeting. He asked me to wait there for him and drove over to give me the news face to face. I called my boss in New York and broke the news to him, he committed to fly down for the service, thanked me for the call and asked me to keep him posted. We all expressed our shock, surprise and regret at Don's passing. There was a flurry of phone calls in a burst of urgent energy as we sat there in the car, in the KFC parking lot. Then it was quiet. We are all about the same age, Don and us.

This happens, its happened before, it will happen again and we know the drill up until we get to the quiet part. Once we've done our duty, offered our help and condolences what do we do next when the news is so fresh?

We went to dinner at the mall, to a place with a bar, this day truly qualified as a tough one. We shared stories about Don, his talent, his peculiarities, wondered about his family then slowly drifted off to more general and comfortable topics. We finished dinner and went our separate ways. I bought two pair of shoes 25% off at Dillards as if to say, how convenient that Don died on shoe sale day and I needed some.

I was fourteen when my mother died. It was Saturday, I was home alone. I knew something was wrong because the hospital had called looking for my dad after he left for his regular visit. I heard the creaky garage door open and my dad burst in the back door coming from the hospital and he shouted out "your mother's gone, she's dead" this had happened to him before. I was in the bathroom and he was crying, I had to be strong. I hadn't seen her in weeks, but I made the calls to the family for my father that day. I can only imagine now what they thought and felt with me, a child, making those calls. They were nice.

After that I went to George Frishe's house with another guy to fool around with George's drum set. My dad said it was OK, Mrs. Huth the neighbor lady and some other people were at the house by then. I told my friends my mom had just died. It got quiet for a time then we went on. It was weird, but it was something to do when I didn't know what to do.

What do we do when someone we are close to dies? I think something pretty mindless and easy with people to quell the fear and the pain. Like play the drums, buy shoes or write a blog post and pretty soon it passes and we know what to do again.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, July 21, 2008

What are your motives

I spend a lot of time trying to figure out why people behave the way they do. But I don't do it directly I do it indirectly. Here's the scenario I spend hours doing research coming to a carefully considered conclusion based on the data and my wealth of professional experience. Are you with me? I present my findings to my boss or the management team or the HR people and they come to a completely different conclusion rejecting my findings often with little discussion.

My next step is spending minutes (if I'm lucky) or weeks trying to figure out how I got it wrong. What am I missing? Where did I turn the wrong corner? What part of my brain is missing that brings me to these crazy conclusion? Guess what? It ain't me it's them. I'm not trying to figure me out I trying to figure them out. Things don't add-up but it's not me with the bad calculator it's them. The batteries are fine the brain waves are flowing perfectly and most of all the intentions are pure.

The difference is not the interpretation of the data or the assessment of the situation. The difference is motive. I would say goal but the word goal lends credibility and respect to an area were its not warranted. In my book the application of goals in a business setting has to do with the good of the whole most of the time, in most healthy organizations. What I'm talking about is motive or the application of one's own desire and self interest ahead of all else. Any decision or conclusion that starts with the "what is best for me here" thought is driven by personal motives not organizational goals. I call is management malpractice.

A few weeks ago a dear friend of mine who I have known for almost 20 years informed me that there is something I have no clue about. I asked what? He said most guys in jobs like yours think about themselves first and the business second. He knew what a foreign concept this is for me having never approach my corporate responsibilities from this vantage point. With my awareness now heightened I can see motive thinking all around me. Suddenly really goofy stuff makes sense in a stupid and irresponsible way. It's not me, it's them, yep.

There's more motive based decision making out there than you realize. People build an entire career with it. Just take a minute to notice and you'll be quite surprised by what you percieve. Start looking at things through the motive filter and a whole lot of stuff starts making sense and you clearly see it ain't you it's them.

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Padraig Harrington won the British Open today for the second time in a row. He played one incredible round of golf today given the conditions. With all of this taking place in the motherland of golf it reminded me of one of my favorite Robin Williams bits which I have linked here.

It would have been fun to see Greg Norman win. Last night he was the man to beat and today Harrington stepped up and beat him. Sounds familiar. It was a great achievement for Greg and tons of fun to watch.

Enjoy the video.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

My best teachers

Just a quick note. The people in your life who bring your greatest challenges are your best teachers. They are in your life for a reason and you are truly blessed to have them. Trust me I know I've learned from some of the best.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

I didnt think it was going to turn out this way

I didn't think it was going to turn out this way. How much time do you spend mulling this thought around in your head? Remember this can include serious self examination of life events or being irritated about not getting the pickles you explicitly requested on your tuna sandwich.

I thought things would be different this weekend. Well, what things in life do turn out like we think they will? Virtually none. But we have a mechanism for dealing with this. Dan Gilbert wrote a wonderful book on this subject titled Stumbling on Happiness. In this book Dan details his research into happiness and how we fool ourselves into thinking we are getting what we want and this is making us happy.

This is because we can think and dream and we're the only animals that can do this. This means we can anticipate outcomes and create elaborate movies in our heads detailing how wonderful things will be. We envision the house, the cars, the promotions, the perfect wedding, the perfect tee shot, bowling a 300 game the idyllic retirement. We can conjure up anything in our heads and make it a perfect creation.

How can real life ever match the perfect creation of our mind. And what would life be like if we couldn't dream in really big and wonderful ways. How would we know what to strive for?

Trouble comes when real life does not match what we have imagined. Some people manage this better than others. We all drop the ball here from time to time.

I think the happiest people I know are big dreamers who also fully appreciate the realities of life. They are unfazed when things don't workout just has they planned. Many are delighted by the surprises. I recently went through a period when I felt privileged and joyful to go to work in the morning and simply have the opportunity to use my talents to solve challenging and interesting problems. It was the same frustrating and aggravating job but I was able to see the purpose and the richness in the experience. I was able to adjust and adapt when things didn't turn out as I had envisioned them.

I think the simple concept of going with the flow is grossly underrated. Along with take things as they come, roll with the punches, things will work-out, ride the wave, etc. There is value in these statements. In the end how much do we really control? Scary thought isn't it? According to Dan Gilbert things will workout just as we imagined, because we revise is dreams and plans after the fact, others would call it living in the moment, still others would refer to just getting by. Call it what you want but I can tell you it feels peaceful when I can get there.

Thanks for reading.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Mountain hiking, two perspectives

I love the mountains so as life would have is I live close to the ocean where the land is as flat as a silver dollar for as far as the eye can see. There is nothing better than a spectacular mountain vista. When I discovered skiing out west I quickly learned riding the chair-lift up the mountain was the fastest and easiest way to enjoy the view from several peaks in one day. The beauty and recreational opportunities in the mountains are endless.

I read a story in the paper today about some guys who went hiking in the mountains. They started early, packed their gear, brought plenty of water, maps, navigational aids and some other stuff. This was kind of a bonus hike because their trip had been unexpectedly extended. But they were making the best of it and being extra careful not to get hurt this close to the end of the trip. There had been only one injury so far and that member was able to rejoin the team.

Starting before sunrise they were climbing some new terrain hiking up the first ridge they expected to see a settlement below but found only a valley and another ridge before them. They climbed the second, third and fourth incline as well with the same result. Fortunately, the fifth assent was the charm and when they rose above the ridge the village came into view nestled into the dusty and rocky terrain. The men determined either their maps were wrong or they had been given incorrect GPS coordinates for the trip. They saw some fellow mountain adventurers on the road below as had been planned and heard objects flying overhead. They heard a few popping sounds at a distance but their concern passed quickly. Eight hours later they were back at their camp safe, hot, tired, dirty and dusty. They all hoped this was the last hike for a while, they were anxious and more than ready to get home. Unfortunately, word came later there would be time for one more walk in the mountains.

These hikers weren't in the Rockies. They weren't a bunch of young studs out for a week of fun in the wilderness soon to head home to cushy professional jobs. It was a Marine patrol of 12 men serving in Afghanistan. They were on what they hoped was their last mission sprung on them while they were cleaning their weapons and packing there gear getting ready for their chopper ride out on their first leg of the long ride home. I get upset when I can't get a tee time within 30 minutes of my desired time. These Marines have been doing this for 14 months each time facing the risk of death or life altering injury. They were carrying 30 to 50 pounds of gear, including weapons, ammunition, communication equipment, explosives, medical supplies, food and water. Rather than wearing the latest in high performance outdoor apparel they were wearing Marine fatigues and body armor or maybe better described as mobile sauna suites. It's hot there.

The impressive part of this is the commitment and professionalism these young men bring to their duty. If we saw these "kids" mostly in their late teens and early twenties, at the mall we would think they were disruptive twerps. In Afghanistan they are focused, disciplined, obedient, committed, respectful and oh yea incredibly courageous professional young men. Each trusting the other to watch their back, to help them stay alive. This awareness helps me better understand the military culture and why so many of our finest citizens are so deeply committed to our military services. It doesn't get anymore noble or personal than this.

These young men have earned my respect and admiration and I don't think I'll ever look at a mountain in quite the same way now.

Hats off to Michael M. Phillips, and his front page story, The Last Patrol, in the Wall Street Journal, Saturday, July 5-6, 2008 this was a wonderful piece of writing from the front lines. This story reminded me of what the Journal used to be but that's another story.

Thanks for reading.

Friday, July 4, 2008

If you think anything is possible, you're right.

There are people in this world who transcend seemingly impossible limitations with incredible joy, courage, grace and dignity. I offer the following video as an example.

If you're unfamiliar with Professor Steven Hawking here is a link to his website.

Thanks for reading.