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Saturday, May 6, 2017

How to Get Taken Seriously



     Warren G. Harding looked like a leader. He was handsome and dignified, never hard to get along with. He moved with little effort through the ranks of Ohio politics, became a compromise candidate for president.
     He was elected in a landslide on his promise to return the country to normalcy after the hardships of World War I. He died in office after three mediocre years and often is classed among the worst presidents in history.
     Numerous scandals erupted because of Harding’s inability to evaluate his appointees.
     Stephen Hawking is an entirely different story. He looks like a very sick man, which he is – severely limited physically by ALS, able to communicate only by computerized means.
     And Stephen Hawking is deep into the most fundamental questions of our physical world. He is a cosmologist, and yet has the celebrity of a rock star. He works brilliantly in studying and writing about the universe – gravity, black holes, why the theory of General Relativity must be unified with Quantum Theory.
     And people hang on his every word.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Too Much of a Good Thing . . . Not a Good Thing


     I have revered my long-ago friend Dick as the best salesman of my experience, and he was. Dick never lost his enthusiasm and he never gave up.
     But Dick had a serious flaw: He never gave up . . . when he should have.
     My most illustrative Dick story is about a string of fatally over-optimistic decisions he once made.
     He had bought a house, mortgaging it through a bank that was persuaded by some flexible assertions related to current vs. potential income. When the inevitable came about, Dick and his wife were out of a home, but still had some ready cash.
     Dick immediately started up two sales-oriented businesses with the money. Then he met a guy who was running a no-hope race in a presidential primary. Dick leaped on this “opportunity” and became the full-time campaign manager for the “candidate.”
     The two infant businesses dried up and blew away. As did the candidacy. And the boodle of money.   

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Leader, Doer -- Take Your Pick


     I heard an experienced project manager talk about how to build a solid project plan:
     “You’ve got to get down to the working surface, and build your estimates on actual facts, history and judgment. Otherwise, your plan is going to have big holes in it.”
     Totally right on the substance. Excellent project management . . . so far. Project estimates must arise from actual facts and relevant experience – to the extent possible.
     Whose facts? What experience? This is where the speaker’s narrative took a turn that seriously undercut the value of his advice. He described the many hours he had spent in researching and preparing estimates for one project.
     He applied his own personal experience? He invested his own time to produce detailed estimates?
     The context was that of a complex, good-sized challenge with a number of team members and stakeholders.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

DIY Job Satisfaction

Calm, empathetic and endlessly patient
 
    You can have a lot of fun when your job is to make something or do something all by yourself, or maybe with a competent, compatible partner. If it’s not just you, it’s just the two of you.
     Either way, you get to put your hands, and your attention, right on the work. You earn the joy of personal accomplishment; you can contribute mightily to the quality of your own result. It’s right out there, with no mistake – you’re the one who did it.
     It’s hard to duplicate the level of satisfaction you feel. But that’s not all.
     When you make it your business to turn out quality results, other people notice. You earn admiration, and you build an enviable reputation.
     In management, not so much. When you’re a manager, you operate in a different universe. Management’s job is to equip and help the people who make things and do things.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Failure Is Optional



     Don was the very model of a salesman – the most thorough practitioner of positive thinking I have ever met. “Misery is optional,” he’d intone.
     When someone did something really mean, Don never criticized, really. He’d ascribe it to attitude. He’d shake his head and say, “Some people just don’t want to be happy.”
     Don wasn’t much into blaming, either. When he failed to make a sale, he sometimes apologized to the person who had turned him down: “I apologize for my failure to show you how this (product/service) would make your life so much better.” Or words to that effect.
     He was a true believer. Once, when he was doing the rounds with a new salesman, it came up to noon . . . and the guy wanted to interrupt for lunch. Don was dumbfounded.
     But the most important enduring memory I have of Don is about failure. He refused to believe in it. When someone turned Don down, however firmly, he never considered that the final word. In his mind, he just hadn’t succeeded yet. Had the rest of his life to get there.
     This doesn’t mean he would hound and harass people until they gave in and bought or agreed, or did whatever it was Don was after. It meant he would keep his eye, and his mind, open for opportunities to offer new incentives to the prospect.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Creativity: Outsmarting Geometry

   
     Phil used to drive Sister Joachim nuts in sophomore geometry class. There we were, the rest of us, straining our brains – and patience – to do the QED thing. Not Phil.
     Phil would almost instantly come up with the correct answer, totally without the correct process. Some kind of genius was Phil, and utterly lacking in any ability to explain how he did it.
     Sister would get quite annoyed, but the great thinkers of ancient Greece and Rome would have been pleased. Phil was proving them right. They dismissed the possibility that humans could work out solutions to puzzles.
     People simply were God’s conduit, they believed, so people did not create art or anything else. They discovered.
     I never explored the concept of divine inspiration with Phil. He became a cop, and I marveled one time at the stark simplicity and effectiveness of a police maneuver he described. It was how to gain control over an unruly citizen, however big and mean the person might be.
     While no witness to the move would be able to detect what the officer was doing, there would be instant submission by the troublemaker.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Listen Up



     If you think you’re not a good listener, you’re probably wrong.
     Listening researcher Kevin Murphy asserted that in his book “Effective Listening: Hearing What People Say and Making It Work for You.”
     Murphy questioned a sample of 20 top managers, “all business leaders whom I had known to be truly tuned to their employees’ needs and goals“.
     “Are you a good listener?” was Murphy’s question. What was the result?
     “More than 75 percent of the good listeners I surveyed answered no. Why? Because the better you listen, the more you learn about how little you know.”
     So the good listeners were harder on themselves than the independent experts were. Unhappily, the opposite also is true. In general, studies show that most people think they’re good listeners – and most people are wrong.