October 1, 2010
I recently had the pleasure of hearing David Brooks speak about politics and his career as a journalist (now for the New York Times). He was both funny and insightful.
Mr. Brooks spoke on many subjects, but I was especially piqued by his observations about one specific character trait that makes President Obama unduly effective in his role as leader – extraordinary CALMNESS.
The story he tells about Obama’s calmness is as follows (paraphrased):
When Obama debated McCain in the 2008 presidential election, each man took turns at the lectern. Both could be seen writing notes onto the provided notepad. An observer later collected those notes. McCain’s notes were jotted words topical to the debate. Obama’s notes were six extremely straight drawn lines.
I deeply appreciate those who have mastery of calmness because I am personally a hyperactive, difficult to sit-still person. Yet I recognize that calmness is an essential ally in gaining mastery over new material or terrain. It is easy (and natural) to panic when a situation seems overwhelming and futile. However, panicking never breeds success.
Having pushed thorough to higher knowledge and performance many times before, I know that every obstacle must be overcome to achieve success. As I continue to push myself professionally and personally, I often find myself in over my head. At those times, I must channel calmness to proceed. My personal mantras (long view advice) for learning new things and tackling more demanding challenges are as follows:
- Breathe deeply through your nose (channel straight lines) – it helps to retain focus and minimizes irrational thoughts about quitting.
- Break down the problem – try simpler versions to validate the strategy or idea before incorporating into more complex scenarios.
- Ask for help – consult someone more knowledgeable and learn from them.
Although #2 (teach oneself) enables deeper learning, don’t wait too long to seek #3 (learn from another), because of #1 (irrational thoughts).
Would you benefit from channeling straight lines?
December 6, 2009
It’s easy to benchmark size when rating performance – it is visible and typically easy to measure. Yet other less accessible attributes can contribute importantly to success: agility, competence, experience, focus, knowledge, patience, skill, strategy, etc. Because these other attributes are less visible and are harder to assess, we often choose to measure on the basis of a simple benchmark like size.
In June, I got agitated about “how much playing time?” my son received at a tournament (see Applied to Soccer). Although my long view leadership advice in that post has merit, I now realize that on a systemic basis, I oversimplified my son’s soccer situation. There was more to learn and assess…
In the case of sports, bigger players benefit from their size on two counts: 1) they are physically more powerful and 2) youth coaches often select larger players over their smaller teammates on the reasoning “you cannot coach size,” and give them more opportunity early (for example, more playing time on game day).
However, having more diligently watched the dynamics of my son’s development as a soccer player a few more months, I now realize that being small (for a longer duration) is only a near-term disadvantage in terms of opportunity (passed over for the boys who have grown bigger earlier). In subtle ways, smaller boys, like my son, benefit from their size disadvantage over the long-term because they cultivate their game differently. For example, my son has impressive knowledge of the tactics and strategy of the game. His skill, agility, and speed are his primary tools for success (different emphasis than his larger teammates). When he finally achieves improved size parity within the next few years (he has more growth left than those who have grown early), perhaps like Lionel Messi, he will still be reasonably competitive due to his quiet mastery of the less visible attributes of the game?!
Today’s observation is simply a personal reminder to engage in long-view thinking everywhere when learning:
- Expand observations,
- Increase knowledge, and
- Cultivate more complex thinking for improved accuracy (include more attributes in mental models).
As a result of my agitation, I paid greater attention to the team dynamics, learned much, and now realize that it is all part of the beautiful game.
Nevertheless, I wish my son increased joy (and playing time) as he auditions for a different team in a slightly less competitive league. 🙂
Are you constantly expanding observations, increasing knowledge, and cultivating more complex thinking everywhere?
November 1, 2009
To celebrate my blogging success thus far (today’s post is my 50th), I am creating a tribute to the long view advice “if you like something and it works for you, stick with it.”
There are many things that fall into the works-for-me category: my husband, my friends, this blog, yet I choose to celebrate this milestone with a post about my long-term love affair with my Terry Bicycle Pro Racer Skorts.
I bought my first Terry skort about ten years ago. I loved the fact that I could act pretty unladylike yet still look ladylike! I have been collecting them ever since at a rate of about one per year. At this point, I have a terrific collection of brightly colored prints that are fun, uplifting, and playful. To date, I have eleven skorts (including a plain black one, not shown in the photo whirl). I share this whimsy, not because I need to have them validated by others, but rather it just happens to be a great example of something that works so well for me that I am planning to continue.
Skorts are versatile. They provide more coverage than just shorts, a zest of femininity, have great flexibility during spring/summer/fall, and they wash and wear like iron (my oldest one still looks great!). I wear them to work at my computer, ride my bike, rock climb, weight lift, run errands, and/or blog. I do avoid them for professional venues (except themed events such as a beach party). At the high end, I even wear the black one with a nice sweater, bling and heels – violà – dinner wear! 😉
The combined knowledge that I receive many compliments and that my teenage daughter tells me regularly that skorts are ugly and horribly out-of-style, ever encourages me to carry on with my non- mainstream skorts. Could it be any other way?! Although, I’m the only one at my rock climbing gym to wear skorts, everyone can readily identify me from the others: I am “Skort Linda.” Have you seen me?
After I purchased my first few (those early years), the fact that I did not really need any more (they last forever!) caused me to decide to wait for the post-season sale to purchase. I abandoned that strategy the year that Terry ran out of my size in the color I wanted most. Although I purchased the next size up that year, I don’t wear it because it is too big. Thus, I now buy immediately (at full price) when Terry Bicycles releases their new spring colors. Afterall, I have a collection and I can always work in a new color. 🙂
While I await the 2010 collection of Pro Racer Skorts…Are you keeping what works for you?
October 10, 2009
I was recently involved in a recruitment dance at a small biotech ready for manufacturing scale-up. The organization had some very interesting and valuable technology and was looking for someone with mastery in manufacturing scale-up (me). Initial impressions suggested an excellent match to my skills, interests, and passion.
I talked to the organization a few times over the course of several months. Although I was in no hurry to find my next full-time professional adventure, I was delighted to be considered for the position and was eager to get traction if there was to be a successful match. At my last meeting, I met with a recently hired executive that assessed my ability to fit into a start-up culture. He emphasized and reiterated the urgency of the scale-up effort, suggesting only weeks remained before a crucial deadline. How would I handle that pressure? I answered his questions truthfully: I am not a miracle worker, but I am extremely competent with a track record of success even under crisis conditions. He thanked me for my time and promised to get back to me by end-of-day and no later than end-of week. A week came and went and there was no follow-up, so I sent a brief email requesting an update. What followed was a series of emails trying to set a time for a phone call. By the third email, it was quite apparent that my candidacy for the position was not a priority.
Although I am confident that I could have helped them technically, I finally realized that I was not a culture fit for their organization because I was frustrated that their actions were incongruent with their words. How could they claim excessive urgency for technical scale-up deadlines yet be so delayed in getting back to candidates necessary to meet the deadline? This example, was one of several examples of inconsistency that could be rationalized singly, but together created a sense of pervasiveness.
This journey got me to thinking deeply about the importance of congruence and consistency. I began to notice it everywhere. In fact, I categorize three broad types of incongruence:
- Harmless/Intentional Incongruence that is part of comedy. In this context, incongruence works because it is intentionally funny. An example is the intentional incongruent dialogue and props in the performance of Monty Python’s Spamalot. Similarly, my accompanying photos are funny because they are incongruent.
- Annoying/Incomplete Design Incongruence that is an omission of an overall review of the customer experience. An example is the mixed use of manual and sensor-based equipment in the ladies’ restroom at my local mall. The toilets flush by sensor, the soap is dispensed by sensor, and the towels are provided by sensor. However, the water is delivered from the faucet by turning the knob. I no longer recall how many times I (and others) have felt like an idiot waving my hands under the faucet trying to make the water come out then realizing that I need to turn the handle! This situation is just an annoying omission, no one really thought about how a customer would experience the facility after several sensors have been presented – we expect sensors for all interactions.
- Damaging/Short View Incongruence that results from mixed messages. An example was my opening story.
Congruence is an important long view attribute because it creates predictability, reduces uncertainty, and increases credibility – people know what to expect and how to behave. My long view advice:
- Create priorities and communicate them profusely.
- Strive for consistency and congruence in your messages (story) and be aware of the potential for misunderstanding.
- Be intentional with your actions; actions speak louder than words.
It was emotionally hard to call and decline the technical opportunity with that small biotech because I had already imagined success on their behalf and I felt invested. However, because I sell process confidence* (requires congruence), I declined the opportunity. I wish them a successful future and I will keep looking for the right fit for my next adventure!
*Note: see my superpower statement at Entrepreneurial Athleticism
Does your story match your actions/behaviors?
June 23, 2009
- Relativistic comparisons: “How people feel about their situation is highly dependent on comparison to others. Thus, in order to achieve good staff (team) morale, it is important to consider how to minimize negative comparisons now *and* in the future.” (Relativistic Comparisons, blog topic from last week).
- Loss aversion: “Our aversion to loss is a strong emotion…one that sometimes causes us to make bad decisions.“ (Dan Ariely, Predictably Irrational, Ch. 7, pg.134, see his YouTube video explaining the difference between gain and loss perspectives)
These traits lead to key long view leadership principles:
- Learn the strengths of the individuals of your team and leverage individual strengths to achieve team goals. Be fair from the perspective of your team. Be clear on expectations, reward excellence, and avoid marginalization.
- Strike a fair balance between competing goals and demands of multiple masters. Be fair from the perspective of your customer (whoever pays for the service is the customer). Be clear on deliverables, achieve excellence in customer service, and respect tiered pricing.
- Have a plan that considers likely contingencies to ensure balance. (Do not assume that you can achieve balance under fire.)
This past weekend, I found myself observing these leadership principles in a very different domain than technology development. I felt them as a soccer mom.
The goals of a U14 (under fourteen) Class 1 (highly competitive league) are twofold: win games and develop players. A soccer team fields 11 players at a time, but carries a roster between 14 – 17 kids to allow for substitution (rest and injury). The coach’s leadership job on game day requires allocation of playing time to effectively win games and develop players. Players sitting on the bench do not develop (get better), but playing the strongest players improves the odds of winning games. This creates the inherent tension between the two goals (win games vs. develop players) with “playing time” being the valued (and measureable) scarce resource.
My son’s coach is an excellent well-trained soccer player with outstanding credentials. During training, he provides excellence in drills, discipline, and development feedback. At game time, although he is well-intentioned to achieve balance between the competing goals, he can become loss averse with respect to winning – can’t we all?! Given the much stronger aversion to loss, it is no surprise that long-term needs for gaining player development become subverted for short-term loss aversion during games. Without discipline and planning, the long view suffers…
Although my son is an excellent soccer player, combining speed, agility, and accurate ball placement, he is small of stature and is considered less aggressive than some of the other boys. He follows the expectations set by the coach and works hard to receive as much playing time as possible. He is loss averse to playing time both because he recognizes the vicious cycle of dis-improvement and because he feels “unfairness” (relativistic comparison) when the other boys receive substantially more playing time. With each successive “loss” of playing time he is further marginalized, thereby jeopardizing his love and passion for the game – a serious long view consequence of many small seemingly insignificant slights.
This past weekend resulted in an acute amplification of the phenomena…
My son’s soccer team traveled over a hundred miles from home to play a several day soccer tournament. Since not all team members could attend the tournament, extra players were recruited to “guest” at the tournament for the team. The team had 16-18 total players available for the tournament games. My son averaged 12.5 minutes of playing time per game (25% of 50 mins/game) with ZERO in the semi-final. Guest players each received substantial playing time (>75%) in all games including the semi-final.
It was a very unpleasant 2-hour ride home after the loss in the semi-final. Although I am confident that my perspective differs from those who received adequate playing time because they did not suffer marginalization – they have the perspective of “gain” whereas I have the long perspective of “loss,” a line was crossed that prompted me to write this blog post.
From my perspective, there was an omission of long view leadership principles when substantial playing time for the guest players led to permanent team members playing ZERO in the semi-final (scarce resource allocation):
- Marginalization was allowed. Receipt of ZERO playing time in a semi-final is a vote of “no confidence” and is severely marginalizing in the context of the guest players receiving substantial playing time (relativistic comparison of scarce resource allocation).
- Tiered pricing was not respected. Although everyone incurred (equivalent) travel expenses, the guest players, who received “free” coaching and tournament entry (those fees were paid by the team) were treated the same as paying players. It would be reasonable (to me) to defer to those players who bear the costs of the salary, expenses, and tournament entry to ensure principle #1.
- Planning was insufficient. If principles #1 and #2 are compromised, then #3 is insufficient. Planning is the big differentiator for long view leadership success – if you plan for contingencies you can and will overcome instinctual tendencies.
I don’t want my son to lose his love for this game, which leaves me with the question on how to move forward and regain the positive when I do not have any real influence. Although I it would be helpful if the coach could:
- Acknowledge error to my son and commit to move forward positively.
- Explain to my son that the team fit is no longer correct and then offer to help place him on a team that will value him (before we pay the $1400 fee for the fall season!).
I am not sure that will happen spontaneously. I would love to be able to Teach Concepts, Explain Specifics, and Gain Acceptance (Relativistic Thinking), but I am not the one with the relationship with the coach.
Can a 13-year-old navigate this effectively? What is your perspective? Do you have advice?
May 27, 2009
I just finished reading, “The Time Paradox: The New Psychology of Time that Will Change Your Life” by Zimardo and Boyd. It hasn’t changed my life, but it definitely gave me insight. Irrespective, it is a worthy read.
Before I began reading, I took the online Zimbardo Time Perspective Inventory (ZTPI) and discovered that I am an off-the-scale futurist scoring a whopping 4.92 in the future perspective. On all other time perspectives, I am at or below average.
The description of the “Future-Oriented Person” closely describes me (dominant in concern about long-term consequences, able to sustain the unpleasant for future benefit, health conscious, goal-oriented…) – how scary is that?! Perhaps that explains WHY I have a blog titled the LONG VIEW!
The basic point of the book is to get Futurists to be more Present and Past/Presents to be more Futurist – we all need balance. Indeed!
The good news for me is that Futurists tend to be very successful in business because they are well equipped to deal with the complexities of the modern world. The bad news is that Futurists tend to have less joy because we undervalue pleasure – work first, then play (if there is time).
The best news is that I didn’t need the book to get me going to achieve balance! Over the past many years, I have been actively working to Be Present much more – to enjoy the process, the road, the flowers along the road, and my traveling companions. The authors reinforce that great leaders are engrossed in the Present.
Some of the most interesting threads in the book revolve around the clash of time perspectives and how differences give rise to conflict. For example, Presents tend to be “in the moment” proceeding with what is interesting to them, viewing punctuality, specificity, and conformance as limitations. Futures on the other hand, value punctuality, specificity, and conformance. Understanding these differences and cultivating balance can lead to less conflict. ☺
Are you working to achieve balance? Is joy on your priority list?
May 18, 2009
Rachel Alexandra, a girl horse, won the Preakness Stakes, the 2nd leg of the Triple Crown of Horse Racing this past Saturday! It hasn’t happened in 85 years.
Part of long-view thinking requires identifying, being present, and breathing-in moments of inspiration to launch and sustain transformation. The achievement of Rachel Alexandra is one of those rare inspiring events.
Rachel Alexandra’s accomplishment reminds me of similar inspiration…
I was paying attention (and cheering) when Title IX was passed into law (1972) and when Billie Jean King trounced Bobby Riggs in the tennis “Battle of the Sexes” (1973). At that time, I imagined the transformation of our world to largely what we have now – women participating, competing, and being taken seriously in many, many sports, just like the men.
In 1977, I was the first girl in my high school to be allowed to take weight lifting for P.E. credit instead of the expected volleyball. I recall that the coach agreed to give me an “A” if my cumulative total for the three defined lifts: squat, dead lift, and bench-press, was three times (3x) my body weight at the end of the program. The boys needed a cumulative total that was five times (5x) their weight for an “A.” Although it was probably a fair accommodation considering that boys are stronger than girls, I wanted to be taken seriously. I set my goal at 5x in three lifts.
In class, I was partnered with Todd, the skinny kid who also weighed only about 100 lbs. and who didn’t really care about weight lifting. Although we had different outlooks and viewed each other suspiciously at first, we found common ground. I was grateful for his collaboration to help me achieve 5x. Together we learned excellence in technique and worked hard. At the end of the term, we both achieved 5x and the rest of the class took us seriously. ☺
I am grateful to have been inspired by the birth of equal opportunity athletics and to have participated in nurturing and sustaining the transformation.
Woohoo, Rachel Alexandra, you go girl!
How are you inspired?!
May 1, 2009
There is just something about gadgets that I love. I love the innovation and the potential for transformation that they represent. With each new gadget, I buy into the story that it will somehow improve my life: save me time, make my experience more joyful, or reduce the tediousness of tasks.
Emerging technology represents the same potential for transformation, yet must be nurtured to successful commercialization. Processes need to be developed ensuring that robustness and customer satisfaction are built in.
With the love and devotion that I give my gadgets, it is such a disappointment when a favored gadget fails. Yesterday, one of my favored gadgets, the Max Stealth Tire Minder pressure gauges, failed. My car had a completely flat tire – not a little low, but completely flat! Naturally I assumed that I must have picked up a nail on my last trip. Maybe because I wanted to believe that my Tire Minders were robust, it never occurred to me that they failed (even though it happened once before a few years ago). So, instead of pulling out the compressor, I dutifully pulled out the jack, collected the tire wrench and changed my tire. Although I couldn’t see the failure point on the tire, I took the tire to the shop this morning to get it fixed. My tire dealer assured me that the tire was fine, but my super-hooty-doo tire stem pressure gauge indicator was the culprit. Aargghh, the indignity of it all – I believed in them, loved them, and told all my friends how neat they were – I feel betrayed!
I sold myself the storyline that I saved time while still ensuring that my tires were properly inflated (saves gas!). Each time I filled up, I didn’t have to drag my pressure gauge from the glove compartment to check my tire inflation. All I had to do is just walk around the vehicle and look for the “yellow” indicator to see if a tire was low.
As it turns out, all that accumulated time that I saved not using the regular tire gauge evaporated with the time it took to change that tire, take the tire to the shop, and then wait to have the shop “fix” it. Was it worth it? Well, the fellow at the tire shop told me that he sees lots of failures and fine print indicates that they are warranted for a year. I bought them exactly one year ago, when I purchased my tires – how did they know a year was up?! Even though Tire Minder is neat, it is not robust enough to create my satisfaction over the long view.
There’s always a positive, I think my neighbor got some good laughs watching me change my tire. I was challenged to break free the lug nuts with my short little tire iron that came with my sedan, so there I was jumping up and down on the tire iron (putting all my weight into it) to get them loose. My neighbor took pity on me and brought over his long lever arm tire iron. It worked much better; I think I need one of those! 🙂
That being said, I will continue to try new technology and innovations, because over the long view that is how we achieve progress. This story just provides another reminder of the importance of building robustness and customer satisfaction into innovative products (and emerging technology) to ensure successful adoption (and commercialization).