Mindfulness and Taking Stock

Mindfulness

Mindfulness

This past week was a good and difficult one.
One of the hard bits was working to get five + days of work done in three, as I had scheduled Thursday and Friday off to celebrate my anniversary and birthday. I work to do this every year and have been pretty successful to date, although banishing work from my mind is always a challenge as an entrepreneur. Still, it was good to get away from the screens and focus on each day and the moments each held, along with the commemoration activities.
I focus on this set of events for a couple of reasons.
First, I wish to celebrate life and relationships, and this is another way to mark them as memorable and life-giving.
Second, this particular birthday gives me pause. I am now the age my father was when he was consumed by cancer and died. That, along with the near approaching anniversary of the death of my younger brother in two weeks, I am particularly aware of being present in each moment and how this manifests itself in my “normal activities”…..”normal activities” being the usual, rather mundane things of every day.
You may be thinking (if you’ve read this far..), “Why is he writing about this on a business blog?” A fair question…

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If You Read One Article About Ideas, Read This One!

BOOKS: Ideas Bound

BOOKS: Ideas Bound

I have long had the habit of reading more than a book at a time…

Since the advent of the Amazon Kindle, however, this has become something that is second nature. I don’t think it odd, and, with the ready access to who-knows-how-many books and samples I carry around, it just “is”! Much lighter, and a bit easier to keep track of where I am in each one….

This has allowed an enhanced creative journey for me. I read several kinds of books, according to my mood and focus…right now I am in the midst of:
…along with a couple of physical books (I have an enormous number of them that I either haven’t read yet, or return to regularly…):

Your Job and Your ONE THING

Job

The Job

“It’s not just a Job….It’s an Adventure!”

That was a marketing tag line for the U.S. Navy a number of years ago. A frequent comment among my fellow sailors at the time was “Is this the job part or the adventure part?”

The whole of these two concepts came up to me recently in a conversation I had with a mentor of mine. We were going over his long career, and he mentioned that he felt he never really had a JOB. I asked him what he meant, and he shared that his idea of a job was something that you pretty much had to drag yourself to, every day, like it or not. There was not much life in it, and any correlation between it and the conviction that he was doing something good, right, and worthwhile was nonexistent, or, at best, extremely minimal. He felt that all that he had done never went to the level of being a JOB for him.

After about four hours of dialogue and catching up (I hadn’t seen him for over 4 years…), I drove away mulling over this idea.

Did I ever have a JOB, by this definition?

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What Are You Really All About?

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blind men and elephant

The blind men and the elephant

Remember the old fable about the blind men and the elephant? Each one of them touched a different part of the animal and conjured up a description of it that was wildly different from the others’, based on their personal experience.

Stay with me….

I have had an experience like this with my business recently. Instead of being blind, though, it’s more like I was up-close-and-personal with my section of the elephant. All I could see clearly was the bit right in front of me. In my desire to really get a good look at where I am and where I’m going, I tried stepping back a bit, but really only got a wider view of the broadside of the elephant, though. I needed to back WAAAAAAAY up to really see it as an elephant….er, as my business.

I am fortunate. I just got back from almost two weeks’ worth of vacation on a lovely tropical island. Lots of beach time, lots of “spare room” for my mind to unwind, and little to no “screen time” to distract me (THAT was nice!). It took most of the vacation for my mind, at all levels, to unwind and back-off enough to not only see the elephant, but discern if this was the elephant I wanted and have been working for / toward for years.

This is humbling, and an eye-opener…

One consideration I confronted was “What do I consider success?” This is a tougher-than-you’d-think question. It is beyond revenue, recognition, client-lists, board and committee memberships, or mission statements. It is “What am I about?” and “Why do I do this…..really?

This requires me to go deeper into my reason for being. If I truly believe the importance of mindfulness and the present moment, this must be reflected by my business. As a consultant (which holds for any small business owner…), I really AM my business. So, again, what am I about?

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FOCUS: Of Course You’re Reliable! RIGHT??

Are you Reliable?

Are you Reliable?

The far end of reliability is taking things for granted, right?

You hop in your car, perform some kind of ignition action, and you just EXPECT the car to start up so you can go do what you need to do. You head into the barbershop or salon you’ve been frequenting for awhile, sit down for some kind of hair-related operation (maybe with the same barber or stylist you’ve been seeing the whole time…) and EXPECT to look a certain way when you leave. You flip a light switch in your living room and you EXPECT a light of some sort to go on.

It’s when you perform these actions and what you expected DOESN’T happen that you become intensely aware of reliability.

Each of these examples involves an inanimate object, but the same expectations and certainty are what define reliability in relationships as you build trust. In his book on trust, Charles Feltman defines reliability as “the assessment that you meet the commitments you make, that you keep your promises.” You make commitments in two ways: in response to someone else’s request (or, if they’re higher up the food chain than you are, it might be a direction or command…) OR by making an offer to someone. When the other persons accepts your offer they usually consider it a commitment on your part.

Requests can be the problem. Crystal clear communication is crucial here, because if you don’t have all the information you need AND you walk away with the request, the requester will assume you’ve committed to do exactly what they asked…..only you won’t be clear on the specifics, so you chances of success are, shall we say, variable. Sadly, many requests are the only-slightly-less-generic version “go do stuff with that thing and get back to me whenever…”

YIKES!
Feltman writes that you can increase real reliability through what he calls The Cycle of Commitment – basic elements that make for clear, complete, and direct requests:

  • CUSTOMER – Who’s doing the asking here? Who’s the request actually FOR? Never assume anything that looks obvious, here. When someone says something like, “We need to do some research on this” you desperately need to know who the research is for, so you can get to specific expectations about the research and also know to whom you go for further clarification or if you have concerns.
  • PERFORMER – Who’s going to do the work? Is it you? Are you qualified? Do you have the resources (time, talent, funds…) to fulfill the request? Is that clear to you AND to the requester?
  • ACTION – Just what EXACTLY does the customer want you to do? Can you actually do it? What measurements for the action or deliverables will be the outcomes of this action?
  • TIMEFRAME – When does the customer want it to be completed….Oh, and ASAP is not at all helpful.  Get a solid date, since ASAP may mean by the end of the week to you and by the end of the day to the customer.
Make sure you have complete clarity on each of these elements and your chance at success AND demonstrated reliability are significantly enhanced.

So, that’s what it looks like when others are making requests of you, but how can you help others by making your requests more effective?

Be Direct. Direct requests have a much better chance of clarity than indirect requests. Many people often “soften” their requests (making them indirect in a way…) because they feel that direct requests are impolite in some way. Granted, different cultures have different standards and mores surrounding the acceptable kinds of language used in making direct requests, so you need to be aware of that factor, however, what appears to work best in what I will call “typical” European and North American cultures, what seems to work best include the phrases:
  • I ask that you…
  • I request
  • Will you (please)…
  • (Please) do this….
 Less direct request, which are less clear and therefore less direct, include the phrases:
  • I want or I need…
  • Why don’t you…
  • …needs to be done.
 None of these is a real request, but most understand the intention.

Ridiculously indirect requests, which are usually not even perceived as requests, can include phrases like:
  • My coffee cup is empty. (Secret request: Get me more coffee.)
  • The conference room is a disaster. (Secret request: Clean up the conference room.)
  • It’s almost eleven o’clock. (Secret request: Get me the printed slides for the 11:00 team meeting.)
See how helpful being very indirect ISN’T?!

Of course, how you respond to a request is just as important as getting the request right if you’re demonstrating reliability. Once the Customer makes the request, the Performer (you, in this case…) need to respond. Here are the possible responses:

  • COMMIT – “Yes, I’ll do it.” To them this means, “I will do exactly what you’ve asked me to do. Here is where real clarity about the request is critical. If the request is vague or missing information, it is up to you to ask for it.
  • DECLINE – “No, I can’t (or won’t) do it.” This let’s the customer that you aren’t available to do whatever she’s requesting…..she needs to find a different resource. Sadly, in the workplace, many times “No” isn’t an option….however, saying “Yes” is truly setting yourself up for failure, so consider how “No” could be framed.
  • COUNTEROFFER – “I can’t do that, but instead I can do…” This is one way “No” in the workplace could be framed. Create something that MIGHT work. A counteroffer opens a negotiation scenario between you and the customer. This should end in either a commitment or a declination. Leaving things hanging in midair is the same as failure.
  • COMMIT-TO-COMMIT – “I need to check on something (resources, time, etc.) before I can get you an answer. I’ll get back to you by…” You might need more information. Regardless of the reason, be sure to designate a time at which they WILL get a firm answer.
Lastly, there’s the old favorite, the Drive-By Request. Seen mostly in offices, this type of request is the most easily tossed-off and the most likely to fail.

I remember vividly chasing my manager down the hall pleading for more information and clarification as she receded into a conference room and shut the door. As many of these requests are, it was a “short-fuse” request and I could either wait for her to return to her office AND lose precious time, or get hot on the request and HOPE that I hit at least SOME of the actual target. I usually did the latter and paid for it painfully. So, You can live with the stress of unclear deliverables or the stress of waiting for clarification so that success will be more likely. If possible, get together with this customer and go over the Cycle of Commitment with her…..for example, ask her not to assume “Yes” to a Drive-By request. Instead, she should give you a chance to respond to the request and get all the particulars. Everyone involved is much more likely to be happy with the result.

So here are some ways build your reputation of reliability:

  • Make sure you can actually do what is asked of you BEFORE you respond to a request.
  • If the request is unclear, ask for clarification and any missing bits of information.
  • If you are offering to do something, be sure they understand what you CAN and CANNOT do.
  • Listen to people to determine if they are making EXTREMELY indirect requests of you. Are they just talking, or are they creating a framework of expectations that are clear to them and vague to you? Decide which it is, and respond.
Reliability is more than just consistency. I know people who consistently make questionable choices…..that’s not the kind of reliable I’m looking for!

Still Waiting For That Expert “Top Ten” List?

Top Ten

Top 10!

It’s not all that hard to be different, because you are.

I made an observation recently in a meeting about the tension we have in each of us to both fit in and be utterly unique. This applies to individuals (this is America, after all…individuals are a huge, almost obsessive focus of our attention…) and to our businesses and relationships. As a professional, I explain this to colleagues and clients this way: When, for instance, there is someone out there looking for a real estate agent, you don’t want them to think, “I’m going to call XYZ Mondo Real Estate!” You want them to think, “I’m going to call Janine at XYZ Mondo Real Estate!” You really want to have that kind of relationship with your VACC (Visitors/Audience/Customers/Community). Even though you may be part of a much larger organization or collective, YOU want to stand out.

I have an identical challenge. I have inhabited the digital and social media environment for some time. I know from observation and experience that certain kinds of articles and posts get more “juice” than others, and humans like to categorize and organize information quickly. In his book “Thinking, Fast and Slow”, Daniel Kahneman describes the two systems with which our mind works. First, sensory inputs are fed into System 1. System 1 takes the inputs and makes initial sense out of them. System 1′ s analysis is then fed to System 2. System 2 is the primary component of what we consider consciousness. The processing by System 2 completes the analysis of information within your mind. System 1 works on the economy of effort, and System 2 is the sense-making system. System 1 is much more likely to be intuitive, make quick, easy judgment and classification, and use short-cuts. System 2 digs in, uses much more “fuel” and gets tired as a result (hence the brain’s desire to use System 1 as much as possible.). The book is a TERRIFIC read, by the way, and my explanation here is paltry when compared to the richness to be found there when considering how our minds work….

Getting back to my thread of purpose here, the untold numbers of articles, “listicles” and posts that may be found across the Internet may or may not help you in your profession, but our minds crave that kind of quick-and-easy, how-to, tips-and-tricks writing. I have published a few articles in that vein when I felt that it was the best way to present the information and that it would be most helpful in that way. The bulk of my writing, as you have probably noticed, does not follow that format. I prefer to cover topics referring to the cognitive work in which we, as entrepreneurs, professionals, business owners and intelligent citizens, need to engage in order to be intentional and successful in our endeavors. Once a month I do a post featuring a collection of the five best articles I read that month, but I try to ensure that works within my particular context and message….a large part of which is “Think, Consider and be Authentic” (there’s a reason I call my blog “Authentic Voice“….).

This is not necessarily the most popular way to approach a Business Blog. My focus is more about our humanity, our strengths and limitations, what is important in our lives and business, and taking to account that our work is to support our lives, and not the other way around.  Being human, and treating others as human, not only exposes you as authentic but allows the building of the kinds of relationships with those around you, and your VACC, that will result in the kind of success worth gaining.

I know that this kind of writing may not be to the taste of many people….like I said, our minds are wired to consider information in the most economical way possible, so using our System 2 is harder, and almost no one likes “harder.” My hope is that you find great value in what I write and that you derive good from it. If you find a single item from any of my articles that lifts your business, improves your relationships with your VACC, and allows you to work through a business or individual challenge, then I have succeeded.

There are likely other topics you would like to see more about. If so, leave a comment here or visit my Social Sapiens web site and tell me via the contact form…or even give me a call. We are truly reaching for the same kinds of things together.

FOCUS: Is It Destiny or Just a Feeling…or WHAT?

Decisions and Discernment

Decisions and Discernment

How do you arrive at the thing or things to focus on every day?
There are innumerable items that float through my brain every day, usually just at the time the alarm goes off (if I’m lucky and don’t wake up early…). Living in a particularly woodsy area of the Pacific Northwest, I liken them to looking out my window and seeing all of the trees and such swaying in the wind. I can’t count them all, but they all attract some bit of attention and, at the same time, join in a constantly moving vista that can leave me a bit awestruck and frozen first thing in the morning. They are pretty as trees, but when translated into the metaphor of all the items and actions vying for my attention and prioritization, it’s overwhelming.

Some things are easy. Morning routine (everything to the point where I’m ready to “go to work”, whatever that looks like today…), followed by checking my calendar AGAIN (I’ve already looked at it a couple of times to triple check when my first meeting is, if there is one…). Like you, some days have more than others. The days that have one or no meetings are more difficult, really. Relatively “open” days require me to inspect the pile of things to do and, minding my own best times for productivity and creative work, prioritize and dig in accordingly. Not always easy.

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