jim@millikenproject.com

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Friday, April 30, 2021

Grammar Abuse, Grammar Addiction

     "I'm silently correcting your grammar."

     That's what it says on my new coffee cup, and that’s what I do. Can’t help it. I'm commenting (to myself) about the stylistic quality of what I'm hearing in this conversation we're having. I'm commenting in detail, all in my head.
 

     An obsession with the rules of language arose in me early, and has sent down deep roots over the ensuing decades.

     I'm the son of an editor. I wrote well from an early age. I was successively an English major, a newspaper editor and a management/writing instructor. I designed and delivered a daylong training session for working professionals called “A Grammar Refresher.”

     You don’t easily get over such a history.

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Holding My Chin and Shutting My Mouth

     Holding my chin while I’m trying to think deeply may not be necessary, but it seems to help. 

     When I’m trying to listen, on the other hand, shutting my mouth is more than helpful. It’s absolutely essential. So is clearing my mind, and so is focusing my attention – sort of like deep thinking. All that is a lot of work, so we don’t experience a great deal of it around us.

     Here is how it works: When I am in conversation and, shutting my mouth, put my hand to my chin, I am signaling my partner in that situation that I am thinking (maybe deeply) and focusing my attention.

     If, at the same time, I continue looking at the other person, they will tend to conclude that I am taking them seriously and paying attention to what they’re saying.

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

The Essential Contrarian

      If you don’t have a contrarian in your group, go find one.

     Contrarians are those people who  doubt everything, question beyond reason, keep pushing for more explanation. They stretch out discussion when you just want to get some damn thing done.

     The contrary spectrum runs from skepticism to all-out opposition. Wherever the bothersome person is on the spectrum, responding with anger or dismissal – which is really tempting – is the wrong way to go. And don’t ignore it – some staff members will be listening, and you should be, too.

     Contrarians aren’t always just plain negative, but sometimes they really are. When that is so, they need to go find work elsewhere.

      Mature managers know how to handle the entire range. They understand the importance of listening before acting, seeking to understand what drives a person’s beliefs. Sometimes complainers benefit from explanation, sometimes they just need a respectful listener.

  

Monday, April 1, 2019

Succeeding When You Don't Know What to Do

     Unknown unknowns are in the very center of Project Management. 
     Project management is the process of making something new. When you do that, you may be just assembling familiar pieces in familiar ways. That’s the simplest activity on the arc that graduates through levels of familiarity (process management, really) into areas of creativity at increasing levels of risk.
     Risk is the possibility that what you attempt won’t work, and failure can sometimes carry a high price. So project work often is launched and conducted tentatively. The sponsoring organization bases its approach on wishing and hoping more than on managing, particularly managing risk.
     Timidity puts real project success out of reach, and many organizations assume that’s the way it has to be.
     Successful organizations, on the other hand, accept a certain level of failure. They learn from their failures, and apply the learning to a broad pattern of success. Their failure is a purposeful, controlled component of their success. They know they can’t grow without it.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Real Leaders, for Good or Ill

   

     I saw this college classmate, Dick, every day back then, but he was not a close buddy. Dick was a member of the football team who rarely got into a game. Academically, he won no honors, as far as I know. He held no important positions. He was not prominent in any way.
     Yet, I’ll never forget him. All these decades later, the message of his example remains strong in my mind. The message: Integrity matters.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Communicate Like a Manager


    
     Don was a substantial person, in body and in manner. He was sure and solid.
     Burt was knowledgeable and precise. He always was on time, always accurate.
     Cove was commanding and demanding. You knew he was in charge, and he brooked no disrespect.
     Dick was reliable and supportive, respectful of people’s ideas.
     If you were going to assemble a pretty good manager, you could do worse than start by combining those four guys. Putting them all together would have been impossible, of course, not least because none of them would have put up with the others for very long. Independent judgment was a common characteristic of their management style.
     Each of them had his limitations, too.
     Don didn’t communicate well. Burt couldn’t manage larger issues. Cove was thin-skinned and prickly. Dick was poor at strategic thinking.
   

Monday, November 19, 2018

Bungling the Branding

    

   What you call something matters. It can matter a lot.
      “We don’t have time to help you build your monument to yourself,” they told the project manager.
     “Monument to yourself” is a brand, and not a good one. A brand establishes an identity; attitudes and assumptions gather around it. Organizations spend a lot of time, thought, money and effort to establish and maintain their brands.
     The “monument” brand is an example of what happens when you don’t make the effort. It influenced the attitude of the news staff of a small daily newspaper. Their managing editor had been tasked with managing the newsroom’s work on a special edition.
     Since the edition was his ego trip, they reasoned, why should they extend extra effort to accomplish it?