motivation

“I Like Solving Problems…”

I’ve had multiple conversations with people about what they want to do and this line keeps coming up. People, generally, like solving problems. Our preferences for types of problems differ but the spirit remains.

Why aren’t we tapping into more of that in our conversations with our teams?

95% of meetings I’ve attended looked like a guy watering a lawn. Grass = staff, water = information. Except the staff could have lived without the information most of the time. The exchange was entirely one direction.

Something, something, Harry Styles pun.

Ask your team for problems. Small ones. Weird ones. Elusive ones. Challenge the rest of the team to propose silly solutions in the following meeting. Solutions you’d probably never consider or aren’t even physically possible.

A former mentor and fellow author loved to say “Involvement breeds commitment” and I always liked that, though I think it just breeds engagement. That engagement can lead to commitment if the environment is right and the culture is true.

Recently, I asked my 10 & 11-year-olds for solutions to an old engineering textbook problem; a ping pong ball rolled into a tube in the center of a gym floor that was about the same size as the ball. How do you get the ball out with the items present in a gym?

My youngest says “Use a vacuum!” – Do you see a lot of vacuums in gyms?

“Stab it with something.” – Like what? And that would ruin the ball.

My oldest says “Pee in the tube, the ball will float out!” – We have a winner. It took him less than 30 seconds to find a quick solution whereas adults frequently struggle to think of a plan that doesn’t involve equipment and time.

Let’s tap the natural tendencies in all of us and become the scientists and artists we were as children, and still are today. Let’s acknowledge everyone has a burning desire to create and contribute to a better tomorrow.

“Be Quick, but Don’t Hurry”

John Wooden was arguably the greatest basketball coach of all time. While leading the UCLA Bruins the guy won 10 National titles in 12 years, including seven in a row. You don’t get to that status without dropping some serious wisdom along the way.

And that brings us to our title; one of Wooden’s best pieces of advice.

*Quickness is decisiveness manifest.
*Quickness is confidence made of form.
*Quickness is controlled, elegant.
*Quickness is the hallmark of a professional; someone fully focused on the requirements of the moment.
*Quickness is keeping your actions to what you can control and nothing else.

*Hurrying is desperation manifest.
*Hurrying is a product of fear.
*Hurrying is unrehearsed, impromptu, inelegant.
*Hurrying is erratic, panicked, disconnected from the moment.
*Hurrying is what happens when we fail to give the future its due respect and consideration.

We’ll never avoid needing to hurry. We can’t prepare or plan for everything life will throw at us. But we can aim to be quick in situations we can reasonably anticipate. We can build models and tools to help us become quicker. We can analyze our own actions to find ways to get closer to the moment when it comes around again.

Next time you find yourself saying “hurry up” consider if there’s an opportunity in the future to make that moment one of quickness.

As an aside I’ll offer you this fun bit of info. Like all great pioneers, Wooden attempted to form a system to explain his path; the Wooden Pyramid of Success.

Even if you’ve never heard of Wooden you may get a sense the Pyramid is familiar somehow. That would be Ron Swanson’s Pyramid of Greatness from Parks & Rec. I can only imagine the fun the writer’s of the show had in putting this together.

A quick word on how to Know Yourself

Ethan Hawke breaks down something pretty cool in this short Ted Talk and in the interest of time I’ll pull out the quote that stunned me.

“We’re here to help each other, but first we have to survive, and then we have to thrive.

To thrive, to express ourselves, we have to know ourselves. What do you love?

If you get close to what you love who you are is revealed to yourself and it expands.”

And there it is.

I don’t see enough people embracing what they love. Maybe they don’t know what they love because they’re afraid to get close to it because it may not be cool.

Maybe they avoided it earlier in life because it didn’t fit into who they thought they were or the mold they were trying to fill.

The happiest people we’ve ever met, whether wildly successful or not, knew exactly what they loved and let that love reveal themselves to themselves. It’s far easier to say no and to say yes when you know who you are and you’re sure of it.

What do you love? How did it reveal yourself to you?

“I Intend To”

Bureaucracy is a bitch.

What few people realize is that as an upper level exec, in a lot of too many organizations, there’s virtually no natural incentive to approve… well, anything. If you don’t approve requests or initiatives, what can go wrong? You don’t get some (rare) praise for accomplishing something – big deal. But if you approve something and it goes wrong??

As a young Community Manager, if I had a broken hot tub that needed a $1.6k repair and it was over my $500 spending limit, I’d need express written approval.  No biggie, right? I’ll just email my boss and get an answer.

After multiple follow ups, weeks later, there’s no answer beyond the yawning chasm of silence. Why wouldn’t they just tell me ‘no’ if that’s what they wanted? Because not answering the question meant they were the safest they could be.

See, there’s risk in saying yes to things. What if someone comes along later and says you screwed up by approving that thing which could have been done cheaper, better, differently, etc…? What if I get yelled at? What if… something something bad feeling?

I wasn’t alone. A LOT of my cohorts’ bosses did the same thing. Ignore, brush off, delay, deflect, slow roll, forget – anything to not have to take a stand on something that should be easy because the fear was always at their neck that they’d get ripped for it. They wanted express permission from the owner before they’d be ok saying yes. What point was there for their existence then? We could just get the permission from the owner if that’s all it was.

When the issue finally reached crisis level, the owner had the foresight to implement the system that Simon mentions at the 33 minute mark in this video: “I Intend To.”

The way it worked was, if we needed to do something and couldn’t get an answer, we’d fire off an email with “IIT:” in the subject line. If we weren’t told NO within 48 hours, we were free to do it. It changed the onus from getting approval to bosses having to say NO if they felt something shouldn’t be done.

As you can imagine, things improved immediately. Bosses who didn’t have good reasons to say no, besides their personal fear, could tacitly approve something without lifting a finger. Oh happy day!

And don’t get me wrong – I don’t mean to say there shouldn’t be checks and balances and proper vetting of capital requests. By all means, I’d include how many bids I’d received, what the nature of the issue was, what the repair proposed was, why that was a rational way to proceed and what the timeline would be. I’d proactively try to answer every question I could get to make sure it was in line with our company’s values and goals.

Bottom line or TL;DR: There’s all kinds of benefit in empowering your people as opposed to teaching them to subsist on compliance. Your people aren’t the problem, your environment, your culture are the problem.

Eliminate bureaucracy, breed commitment by increasing your team’s involvement.

 

Drain. The. Swamp.

They can be a little distracting...

They can be a little distracting…

This has been a reoccurring theme for me lately. Why are you there? What is your mission? The sum total purpose for your existence in this place, at this time, is to do… what exactly? Some helpful questions to ask yourself periodically to help avoid alligators: 

  1. What am I doing here? Why am I in this position? To accomplish what?
  2. What am I uniquely positioned to do here that no one else can do?
  3. What efforts can I undertake to make the most progress towards my stated goal?

Anything else is lateral drift, mission-creep. Don’t get bogged down in the reptile wrestling of minor things: Office gossip, admin squabbles, paper cuts, petty territorial disputes, the opinions of people that don’t know any better and don’t ultimately matter.

Remember what your purpose is. Drain the damn swamp. Alligators attack? Try to use one hand to fight them off and keep one hand on draining that swamp – it’s why you’re there in the first place.

Dan Pink: The Puzzle of Motivation TED talk

This is an absolute classic and one that has helped me decide what kind of work I most enjoy doing. The three keys towards fulfilling, cognitive work, are (summarized briefly):
*Autonomy – Do you control a majority of your time at work and what you’re working on?
*Mastery – Are you doing something you can get better at?
*Purpose – Do you feel like you’re a part of something larger than yourself?

These have been guide posts for me for the last three years since I first saw Mr. Pink spell out what I’d long suspected. My quarterly bonus of thousands of dollars as a Regional Manager wasn’t nearly as motivating to me as was the joy of helping one of my Managers succeed, or creating some new metric/model/marketing platform that would help propel our success. Sure, I love money, but I love my team and the thrill of winning a lot more. Especially when I get to create and collaborate in order to get there.

Give this a view and really check your current motivations for why you do what you do. Are you propelled by your bonus potential, or possessed by your passion?

The 9 Questions Leaders Ask

A friend recently commented on a post where I stated that great leaders ask great questions. In fact, I believe that to be the bulwark of their mission. But what kinds? Here are a few from the top of my head:

  1. Who are we and who do we want to be as an organization? Everything flows from this question and its importance shouldn’t be overlooked – and it begs the next one…
  2. What does that look like in practice? If we’re going to do it, we should have an idea of what we’re aiming at.
  3. What does success look like in this instance? How do we know if we’ve achieved our mission? If we don’t know there’s not much point in pursuing it.
  4. What traits does an organization possess that we aspire to be? Who are our role models? Is there someone doing it incredibly well already? What do we want to adopt from what they’re doing?
  5. What’s the craziest thing you’d do if you owned this company? Often times asking questions without the limits of rational conditions gets the mind to say things it wouldn’t normally. Pick at the thread and trace it back to the underlying point of the statement – see what it’s trying to say.
  6. Does this fit our mission? Southwest airlines is famous for being “The low cost airline” so their CEO famously stated they wouldn’t  add salads on a flight from Vegas to Seattle as it didn’t fit the mission. What are we doing that’s outside our mission?
  7. Why are we doing this and not something else? A number of factors pop up that make us do things: pride, ease, cost, budgets, etc…. this can be a great moment to educate our team by explaining the thought process of what we do and why.
  8. If you were a client/customer would you buy this? How would you feel about the policy/practice? It can be a good reflection to see how our decisions affect others and if we’d be OK with them. It may seem small internally, but it always resonates outward.
  9. What’s our guiding philosophy say in regards to this proposal? A leader is never done wondering if their current practices are in alignment with the companies goals and ethos.

Ultimately, I think the leader is tasked with keeping forever in mind the ultimate goals and philosophy of the organization and further charged with keeping them sacred – to make sure that everything taken on comports with that world view. Or, if confronted with a new situation that compels change of the founding philosophy, to make the hard changes and sell them to the rest of the team.

As always, nothing important happens without meaningful communication.

So what which questions do you think your group should ask, often?

Not Quite Ready to Live…

Not Quite Ready to Live...

I’m not sure why it feels this way, but I’m sure it’s not just me. In fact, it was Ralph Waldo Emerson who actually said it first, and hell, that was what, 130 years ago?

Sure, there’s the tired expressions like “life is what happens when you’re making plans” and “life is the journey not the destination.” True to both of those, though not very useful in ridding us of this annoying tickle in our brain stem – the one that nags us that we’re just not LIVING, you know?

I think what Emerson meant, and what bothers me most, is the recognition that the “living” we’re never doing, is the kind that forces us to meld our highest desires and our most basic actions.

We want to be productive, but ‘damn it! the Oscars are on!’ We want to be more connected to our friends, but we can’t put down our smart phones for the person in the room telling us about their day. We want to get further ahead in life, but we neglect to take the steps to make it happen on our own.

Obtaining the authentic kind of living, the only true happiness available, is a process that requires nearly reckless independence from the rest of humanity. It requires that no one else set the docket for your day or your life besides you – even if that means you’re out of the loop on a lot of trivial things.

I don’t mean run off to a cabin in the woods (it’s been done before), I mean one has to reject a whole slate of obligations, or observances of custom in order to pair it down to what ultimately matters. To give those things, and little else, the total time and attention to live an authentic life.

Who gives a damn if you’re fast approaching 40 and there’s not a suitable candidate for a spouse in sight? Are you happy with your life? Do you do the things you’d ultimately love to do and say to hell with the rest? Do you work to make yourself the kind of person you’d like to be? REALLY like to be?

I can promise you this: If you are truly happy – No bullshit, actually, infectiously, enthusiastically, forest-fire-of-confidence-happy, then you won’t have a problem finding a spouse. Or a job. Or a friend. Or a good time on a Friday night.

Because you’ll make those things happen on your own. You’ll decide for yourself what a good time is and won’t have it decided for you by some televised guidos with a penchant for fist-pumping. Unless you like fist pumping, in your heart of hearts, in which case go nuts.

I think the “getting ready to live” is the idea that one day, we’ll just wake up and ‘want’ to; do all the things that are good for us, or what others would like us to do, or what we think we’d like ourselves to do. That doesn’t happen – it just results in more waiting for us to magically align with something we think we want or are told we want.

Don’t wait. Don’t think your going to wake up with a series of immutable desires that compel you to; work out, fall in love with accounting, or go to church three times a week.

Do: focus on what you love and what an actual life you’d die for looks like, and what steps exist between you and that life.

The happiest people around never hide their passion, and give few damns about what anyone ultimately thinks. No way that’s a coincidence.