August 30, 2011

For the love of what game?

I was talking with a friend a while ago about a funeral he recently attended. He was struck by how much the family and friends of the deceased commented on the man's love for the game of golf. At the funeral, his clubs surrounded him, his favorite golf visor was placed in his casket to be with him for eternity, and all of the conversations in the room were centered around golf.

He wasn't a professional golfer, just a regular guy who had a passion for the game. He lived and breathed golf. This is what his entire life story had become. The pursuit of the game of golf.

My friend made the observation that each of us must ask ourselves and those around us who we most love and care about what our own life story is all about. What would be the summary of our story? What would be the plot and central theme? Would it be a comedy, a tragedy, or simply boring? What stories would be shared?

If we are okay with the answers we hear, then we push forward and keep living life as we are. However, if the answer to the question is not one we are proud of, we should start making changes today to write the story of our life we want people to remember.

This is not about changing the perception of what we do. We can't fake it. In the end, all that will remain to speak for us will be the actions we took while we were alive. We can't spin the conversation once our time here is over, so why should we spin it now?

Live the story today as you want it to be told.

August 23, 2011

An interview with the Resistance

I recently had the opportunity to interview the Resistance. It shared some interesting things about getting great work done and gave its thoughts on who you can blame the next time you feel you are unable to succeed.
"You cannot make it. Every force on heaven and earth is working against you.

That being said, you can blame anyone or anything.

Here are a few examples to help you get started.

Blame the president. (It doesn't matter which one.)
Blame the government. Any of them will do.
Blame your parents.
Blame the church.
Blame the neighbor's dog for keeping you up all night.
Blame society.
Blame your boss.
Blame the economy.
Blame your customers.
Blame your competition.
Blame your family.
Blame your friends.
Blame the cable company.
Blame your banker.
Blame your teachers.
Blame good.
Blame evil.
Blame the city you live in.
Blame the traffic.
Blame the haters.
Blame your fans.

Blame any external source you want.

You can even blame me.

But please, whatever you do, don't blame yourself. Blaming yourself might only lead you down the crooked path of thinking you can make remarkable things happen, and that you can actually make a difference. Action only leads to pain, but I can provide you with comforting words and lull you to sleep, if you will listen and blame others.

Trust me, once you start blaming, finding somewhere else to place the blame will become much easier. For now, don't worry, just blame. Don't work. Blame.

You can't make it anyway, so why even try? Just start putting the blame where it belongs."

So, who are you going to blame today?

August 16, 2011

The last 20%

The Pareto Principle has been discussed, written about, blogged about, and lectured about in meetings and MBA courses. The reason this might be the case is because it is often fairly accurate. The rule claims that "80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes".

There are countless interpretations of this rule, and here is another.

I venture to say that 80% of the value that you seek to gain from pursuing a remarkable vision is found in the last 20% of the work. The last 20% is the attainment of the why behind what you do. It chisels you, it makes you stronger, and it makes the victory that much sweeter.

How many times have you given up when you were 81% of the way into something? How many times have you been within a days row of the shores that your ships were sailing for, only to call it quits when it comes time to row? And yet, if you were to push forward the remaining 19%, you would realize the impact that you seek.

The reason that people fail to continue, is because the last 20% is the hardest, most expensive, most challenging, most demanding part of the journey. You're tired. You're nearly broke. People call you crazy. It hurts.

Steven Pressfield introduced us to the resistance in War of Art. The resistance dwells in the last 20%. Make no mistake, when you cross the 80% mark, you are taking enemy ground. And the enemy will react with violent opposition. You are the unwelcome one.

The last 20% may take everything that you have, with no guarantee of success. The last 20% is where you begin to ask yourself if all the pain and discomfort you are facing is worth it? This is the time when most ordinary people will compromise on the original vision. At some point, you will be tempted to simply quit because the results you have achieved to that point are good enough.

The truth is, the results found at the 80% mark are not good enough. Not for you. You are not an average, ordinary person. You can get it done, if the cost is worth it to you. Even though by all other measures your pursuit would be considered a success, in the back of your mind, you will always wonder what would have been had you kicked it in that last 20%.

Decide before you begin what you are willing to accept as victory, and then make it happen. Don't sell yourself short once the journey gets difficult. I favor what Seth Godin has to say about quitting. He illustrates the importance of deciding what the conditions must be in order for you to quit before you even start.

If you have not decided ahead of time how much pain or cost you are willing to endure, then you will be at greater risk of being influenced to give in simply because the pain you are experiencing in that moment appears to be greater than the value you hope to achieve.

While it may be extremely painful in the here and now, the pain is temporal, and the last little bit is what it takes to realize the full value of your most meaningful work.

August 11, 2011

The other side of the coin of empowerment

The other day, I talked a bit about your responsibility as the empowered person. Essentially, if you have been given permission, you must make the difference that you feel is necessary to make, because it is yours to own.

On the other side of the coin, if you are the one giving permission, you must be cautious when decisions are made that you don't totally agree with. Losing your cool for even a second tears apart the confidence of your team, and will ensure there are long lines of people waiting to get your approval on every action except the most common and safest courses of action.

Fear is what prevents people from making the difference and doing what is right. Big change cannot be made in the absence of risk. You need people willing to push as hard as they can to the edges, working to see the vision you have cast reach fruition.

This isn't to say that the person who has been empowered should not be coached, taught, and mentored. In fact, this is also a responsibility of the person giving the power. If someone makes a mistake, explain to them what happened, forgive them, and move on. And, even though a mistake was made, end the conversation celebrating the fact that they made the decision and moved forward because they felt the course of action they took was the right thing to do.

If you don't do this, if you react out of anger or frustration, people will become afraid of making the important decisions, and you will completely hamper your potential and theirs.

If you are the one relinquishing power, trust your team, focus on the hard work you have to complete, and take advantage of the teachable moments.

August 09, 2011

One side of the coin of empowerment

If you are the person that has been empowered, that has been given the permission to make the decision and ask forgiveness, then there is no reason to not make the difference you want to make. If you are working on something you care about, you feel the action you want to take is the right thing to do, and you have the freedom to make the decision, just do it.

Something you think requires permission is really something no one would have ever thought to question before. Often, the person that empowered you has enough of their own critically important work to complete. In other words, they don't really have the time to make all of the minute decisions, which is why you were hired in the first place.

Incidentally, when you ask permission, you send up red flags. Committees are formed, meetings are scheduled, and people who have little to no stake in the project become involved. Sadly, this causes the important work to either get so diluted that it becomes powerless, or worse, it never gets done at all.

There is no excuse for not doing things the way you feel they should be done. Own it.

Please note, there is a difference between doing the right thing and just throwing stuff together out of a lack of care or respect. As the empowered, do not for even a second think that you have been given the freedom to be lazy and push something out the door to get it off your plate. The difference is obvious, and this attitude not only hurts you, but it hurts the entire team as well. This attitude diminishes trust.

If you are empowered, change the game, take ownership, and make remarkable things happen.

August 03, 2011

A few drops at a time

The summer months on the west coast of Michigan are breathtaking. The tides that roll onto the shores of Lake Michigan are captivating and invite hours of play, relaxation, and serenity. The whole world could be falling apart, but on the beach shore, nothing else matters. Time holds little meaning as you scan the outer reaches of the water searching for the end of the world, but it is not found. These moments will change you.

While making our pilgrimage to the shores of Michigan this year, my two-year old was playing happily on the beach, creating castles in the sand and then destroying them in the fashion of an overgrown lizard that falls upon on a coastal city. However, after a while, he noticed something missing. Water. Of course, what sand castle is complete without a bit of water?

Eyeing the lake before him, he knew exactly what he must do. He grabbed his pail and swaggered down to the rolling waves of the lake shore. Clearly, he was a man on a mission. He dipped his bucket into the cool water that surrounded his ankles and hoped to emerge with a bucket full of the precious lake.

What he caught instead, at least from his perspective, was a tidal wave that crashed upon him like a tsunami! I quickly grabbed him from the waters and placed him on the sandy beaches, safe from the treacherous and mighty waters. He had learned an important lesson that day. That is, to respect the waters and to respect the power that they harness.

I needed that lesson too. It is important to respect the power that can destroy you, for the foolish and prideful that ignore this power will perish.

It was interesting, however, to watch him the rest of the afternoon. He clearly wanted to fill his bucket with the pure and crystal clear water of the lake. He eyed the lake, and would contemplate what was necessary to achieve his objective. The first few times, he would hold out his bucket to me and ask that I assume the risk for him.

Certainly, this is what parents do. We are, at least in the eyes of our young and sometimes naive children, wiser, stronger, braver, and better equipped to handle these challenges and obstacles. Dutifully, I scooped up the water and returned it to his place of waiting.

After a few buckets though, he realized that he must make another attempt at this on his own. To make another go. To chance it. Surely he could not be defeated by mere water, he must have been thinking to himself. Armed with greater respect and a dose of fear, he grabbed his bucket and cautiously made his way to the water. He bent over, and upon seeing a wave rolling in with speed and determination, he dropped his bucket and ran for the shore screaming in terror!

Another lesson learned, once we are struck by fear, it becomes more difficult for us to finish the mission that is ours to complete. Even when we are surrounded by those that will not let us fall, when the conditions are in our favor, we will constantly recall that fear, and will lose those precious moments when we can make our move.

Finally, he devised a strategy for filling his bucket. I thought this was creative, although not terribly efficient or effective. However, I know adults that are less creative and will give up more easily than he will! His strategy was to get just close enough to the shores where the water would rest for a few fractions of a second just after the waves crashed on them. There he would wait in anticipation. When the water arrived, he would grab his shovel, scoop up the water, run to his bucket, and dump the water in.

Of course, by the time that he got back to the bucket, there was nothing left in the shovel but a few drops of water, but this did not stop him. He has determination like a busy ant moving against all constraints. He has his mission, and he knows he must finish it, even if it is but a drop at a time.

If you know what you must do, it is your responsibility to find a way to conquer your fear, even if at the beginning it is only a drop at a time. Perhaps, the war may not be won by a grand victory, but over time with perseverance and patience. Eventually, through small victories, we will learn how to respectfully navigate the waters, and gain greater efficiency.

Be respectful of the power that can lead to your demise, learn from your past failures, be creative, overcome fear, and complete the mission that is yours to complete.