Curse of the Unread

It begins so innocently, even admirably:  A love of reading, a thirst for knowledge, a desire to share information.

It hooks you young:  First a couple of storybooks read by a relative, then a library card of your own.  Soon you’re not satisfied with just borrowing books; you want to keep them and read them whenever you want.

Grave of the Unread

Grave of the Unread

And the hunger, the driven feeling to acquire reading begins.  Soon, without suspecting it, you’re suffering from the new malady:  Page Plague Paralysis; American Hoarder Story.

It used to be so much easier to spot in someone:  They’d have books and periodicals all over the house.  My own library covered an entire wall.  But—-and here’s the key to information hoarding—-many are unread!

Now, however, with the creation of the computer and personal devices such as tablets and e-readers, the effect is much more insidious.  You pile up file after file of PDFs, e-newsletters, RSS feeds, podcasts, blogs, vlogs, all with greatest intention:  Someday you’ll want to read them.

You poor misguided creature.

I too was once a sufferer and still harbor remnants of my recovery as it progresses.  If my Kindle suddenly acquired the weight of the volumes I’ve downloaded, it would weigh more than the combined contestants of The Biggest Loser.  (Hey, Jeff Bezos!  How about letting us create more than one library of our Kindle books?  I’ve got more Jack Reacher novels in your cloud than emails in my inbox!)

Here are some tips for recovering from Page Plague Syndrome:

1.  Assemble all of the novels you’ve read and all of the non-fiction books you haven’t opened in a year or more.

  • (a)Place them in containers
  • (b)Donate them to the library or other nonprofit organization
  • (c)Take a tax deduction for donated goods

2.  With magazines, recycle everything older than 6 months.  Then try for 3 months

3.  Put all your PDF files into one huge, byte-consuming file on your computer

  • (a)Organize by date entered
  • (b)Everything you haven’t read that’s older than 6 months and which you absolutely  don’t need for research—-be bold, be masochistic—-and hit the (gasp) delete button
  • (c)OK, if you have’t the got the spine for that, transfer them to an auxiliary drive.

4.  Finally, ask yourself:  Do I really need all of the files I’ve saved in Evernote? How many have I “clipped” and forgotten?

Yes, my friends, you can recover from information hoarding.

  • Think of the space on your bookshelves that can now be adorned with pictures of your family!
  • Luxuriate in the free disk space you now have on your computer and/or tablet!
  • Realize that you can now can buy or download all sorts of….

Gahhh!

 

Six Start Signs

Start Sign

 

In my last post, we looked at activities to cease doing, to just stop because they interfere with being happy, content, peaceful, you insert the proper adverb.

But nature abhors a vacuum so you might also want to consider this list of ideas to start doing.  There are others you could add but it’s a start:

  1.  Start to express yourself,  possibly in writing, probably in private.  My Morning Pages and the writing I did after my first wife died were of immense help.  Letting off steam or emotion by writing or ranting to a web cam or voice memo can be very liberating.  Just make sure it’s not accessible to anyone.  Then erase it or post it once you’ve considered and edited the piece.
  2. Start discerning your calling.  Why are you here?  What are you called to do?  What gifts do you have?
  3. Start caring about something larger than yourself:  Some cause, some group of people, some organization needs help.  Help them.  Do what you can.  It will not only help them, it’s good for you in a number of ways:  You know they’re being helped, you know that you helped, it took your mind off your own problems temporarily, and reminded you that your life may look pretty good in comparison.
  4. Start taking time for yourself.  No wonder we feel overwhelmed sometimes.  We’re so busy doing that we forget just be.  Find a place that’s quiet and where you feel peaceful like a church, a library, or a park.  Go there regularly.  Clear your mind.  Let the light in.  You deserve it.
  5. Start moving!  If you’re not being physically active on a regular basis, begin.  Start slowly and keep at it.
  6. Start apps or classes in meditation or Tai Chi.  The cultures of the Pacific rim brought these practices to our shores and they have helped millions of people.

We frequently lead lives on someone else’s terms, usually involving our careers.  But we need to be spiritually, mentally, and emotionally refreshed.  We need to make sure we’re leading satisfying lives.  That usually requires change.  Change implies both starting and stopping.

Do you have another idea of something to start?

 

Stop Signs

I usually like to phrase ideas in affirmative terms, avoiding the negative.  But right now, I’m thinking of activities to stop because they’re not doing us any good.  They are, indeed, doing us ill because they interfere with achieving peace of mind.

Sign---Stop Sign

We unconsciously allow ourselves to be bombarded with baloney that is distracting, disturbing, and dismaying.

But, you query, what can we do?  What can someone, a person like myself, do to overcome this plethora of poop?

Humbly, I offer these suggestions:

  • Stop watching the news. It’s depressing.  Just skim over the basics of what you need to know on a local level.  Then, turn it off, especially if it involves the federal government.  Congress will just depress you.
  • Stop watching the market unless you’re a day-trader.  The up and down swings will drive you crazy and the market analysts on TV will only frustrate you.
  • Stop managing your own money:  We get too emotional about our money and that clouds our judgement.  Find a financial consultant, make sure they’re accredited and certified and all that meet with them regularly.  In between those meetings, forget about it.
  • Stop being plugged in all the time.  Anyone can do it for short periods of time. Really.  Just walk away from the computer for awhile.  Leave the tablet at home.  “Forget” to take your phone with you.  Yeah, it will feel funny the first few times but trust me, it’s really good for you.

Next time we’ll consider some ideas to start doing.

              What could you stop doing that would make your life better?

Honesty in Leadership! Woo-Hoo!

Just when I thought that we had lost all honesty or accountability in leadership, both qualities show up in the last month:  Two corporate types ‘fessing up and telling it like it is.

Well Done

Well Done

Example #1:  Andrew Mason was CEO of Groupon until he was recently fired.  Two of my favorite bloggers, Bill Geist and Harvey Briggs, have referred to his final communique to employees as the “best farewell letter ever.” Here’s the link to it as provided by Harvey by way of Bill.

Among other things, Mr. Mason says to his former staff:  “You are doing amazing things at Groupon, and you deserve the outside world to give you a second chance. I’m getting in the way of that. A fresh CEO earns you that chance.”

And remember, kids, this wasn’t a resignation; he was fired.

Lessons From Bad Bosses

There are some great movies about working for bad bosses. Check out Horrible Bosses, Working Girl, or the great 9 to 5.

Staff on Chess Board

Staff on Chess Board

I’ve been a boss and I’ve been bossed. I liked being the boss better.

It wasn’t an ego thing. My father was President of one of the banks in the small town where I grew up. He naturally commanded respect and, of course, I wanted to be like my Dad. Through him, I saw both the rewards and the disadvantages of being in charge. And there are plenty of both.

I confess to being a better boss than an employee and got to be very “black & white” about people to whom I was subordinate. I could forgive and work hard for bosses who had plenty of drawbacks but who were people who deserve respect. But I had no time for managers who were out of their league being in charge.
Ultimately it came down to whether or not I sensed that they respected us as subordinates and that their enthusiasm was for the organization, of which staff plays a key role. I hated toadies and suck-ups and bosses who liked toadies and suck-ups.

But you learn valuable lessons from every boss. From the good ones, you learn what to do and from the bad ones you remember what do to avoid.

Here are 4 “worst practices” I learned to avoid from observing and working for bad bosses:

  • I’m in charge; I’ve arrived: Once I was competing with someone else for a managerial position. I asked him why he wanted the job and he told me: “I don’t know. The money and the position, I guess.” He lasted in that job for less than 4 years. I replaced him and stayed for 10.
  • Now they have to do what I say: Sure, you may have a title that gives you authority but there is such a thing as malicious obedience. Sure, sometimes you need to be firm but, if you’re a good manager, those times are rare. As Michael Hyatt said in a recent blog post: “If you want their very best, you have to have their hearts. You can’t demand this or even buy it with a paycheck. You have to earn it.”
  • Why would I need advice from staff? I’ve got more experience than they do: Some managers feel that asking staff for ideas would weaken their own position, especially if you actually mean it and adopt the ideas. Wrong! Staff can have great ideas and will be even more motivated if you make the great ones happen.
  • You can’t trust employees: One of the worst bosses for whom I worked had this attitude. As a person he was shallow, narcissistic, and manipulative. In other words, poor managerial material. Sometimes employees will let you down or act dishonestly but I’ve always found those to be the exceptions.

Mutual respect and trust are essential to great manager/staff effectiveness and efficiency.

What have you learned from your bosses?

Best Persuasive Speech. Ever.

"Persuade" Definition

“Persuade” Definition

Persuasive communication is an art, but it can be learned.  It introduces a thought that may disagree with the beholder’s beliefs but does so with respect and honor wishing to help him benefit from accepting your idea, your product, your service.  It is a process that demonstrates your working hard to understand the value of their point of view and inviting them to reciprocate.  It was also one of Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits:  “Seek First to Understand; Then To Be Understood.

I think that our leaders in Washington would do well to remember that and to study a little Shakespeare.

Marc Antony’s speech to the Roman mob at Caesar’s funeral, in Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar, is the best example I can choose.  Anyone can benefit from the skill and subtlety of the writing and how it can be brought to life by perceptive interpretation.

Talk about the ultimate sales pitch:  Antony faces a Roman mob incited by Brutus and  the senate who justify the murder of Caesar by condemning him as a tyrant and would-be emperor.  The Romans are with them and approving in full voice when Antony steps before them, now in some danger himself.  He now stands before the Roman mob at Caesar’s funeral and denies that he is here to contradict the noble senators and just wants to bury his friend.

Then he very carefully, slowly, deliberately, skillfully weaves other meaning into his oratory and leads the Romans to exactly the opposite conclusion.

He skillfully moves from:

  • A type of penitence to
  • Agreement with the senate, followed by
  • Some seeming contradictions and then,
  • Some real questions.

Eventually, he senses that the mob has turned his way, he allows his tone to turn sarcastic and eventually invites the mob to to condemn the assassins as murderers of a beloved hero and the mob is with him.

Here are two examples of quite different interpretations of this speech, the first in a more classical presentation by the brilliant actor Marlon Brando.  The second is a more contemporary, bare-bones delivery by the Royal Shakespeare Company with a a cast that is, I think, African in origin and the phrasing is almost musical.

In both of these, I’ve included only the first few minutes but you will appreciate both the words and how they’re spoken.

Here also is the speech in written form, should you care to read it.

This speech also brings into focus some essential elements from which salespeople and public speakers would benefit.  In both cases, they are in the business of opinions of their audiences and sometimes wanting to change those opinions.

 

 

Challenge, Change, and Charles (Darwin)

Our lives are constantly buffeted by the winds of change.  Charted on a graph, that rate of change has accelerated to the point that the upward axis never seems to level off.  But every person can embrace the embrace the challenge of change by observing and learning from change in nature, at its most basic level, and the implications and inspirations those changes can have for us.

600 miles off the coast of Ecuador, straddling the equator, is the island archipelago of the Galapagos.  This island chain is famous because of one of its visitors, British scientist Charles Darwin who developed his theory of evolution and adaptability after visiting the Galapagos and reflecting on what he observed there.

Several years ago, my wife and I had a chance to visit the Galapagos Islands with some college students.  This is a once-in-a-lifetime trip that everyone should consider making because of the fascinating creatures you can observe there, many of them just inches away.

I saw at least 3 examples of how these animals evolved, adapted over the years to deal with an environment that is frequently harsh.

Darwin's Finches

Darwin’s Finches

First is the bird that was one of Charles Darwin’s main inspirations for his theory of how creatures can evolve:  The Galapagos finch.  The finches on different islands have different beaks, some pointed, some parrot-shaped, some coned, some shorter depending on their source of foods.

What We Can Learn:  Find a new approach.

 

Marine Iguana

Marine Iguana

Next is the marine iguana.  Prior to observation in the Galapagos, iguanas were thought to be exclusively land-based but some iguanas in the archipelago learned to use marine algae as a source of food, finding it on rocks or swimming into the ocean to find it there.  And the marine iguana’s feet have evolved to the point where they hold fast to rocks so when a wave recedes, the lizard is still there munching contentedly.

What We Can Learn:  Sometime you go with the flow and sometimes you just hang on.

Saddleback Tortoise

Saddleback Tortoise

Finally, there is the giant tortoise.  On some of the islands, the tortoise’s traditional food was unavailable either due to its disappearance or lower branches having been eaten by other animals.  The saddleback adapted by its shell growing a peak and being able to extend its neck to reach higher branches and leaves.

What We Can Learn:  Stick your neck out.

Charles Darwin is frequently misquoted as positing that “only the strong survive” when his theory proved that adaptability is paramount.  If we observe he constantly-changing  landscape of life and then assess what changes we need to make in our lives and skills, we can effectively deal with change and challenge.

 

Why You Should Consider Writing Morning Pages

Every morning (OK, almost every morning), I sit down and write 3 handwritten pages. No keyboard use here.  It’s an idea that originated with artist/author Julia Cameron in her book The Artist’s Way.  She recommends it as a potential cure for writer’s or artist’s block, that condition of inspirational constipation where it seems like nothing wants to come out.  Yeah, I know that’s gross but it’s true!

Actually, I’ve found it beneficial (and therapeutic) as a daily exercise, as great for working and stretching the mind as cardiovascular activity is for physical fitness.

Pen & Ink

Pen & Ink

There are at least 4 reasons you should start doing this:

    1. It clears your head and gets out the little things that are taking up “psychic RAM” as David Allen defines it.
    2. It’s powerful:  You are forced to come up with ideas even if it’s just griping and whining because you have to keep the pen moving.  Eventually, you’ll write something you can use.
    3. It’s therapeutic.  You can describe your fears, prejudices, aspirations, fantasies, and just plain weird things that you’d never share with anyone.
    4. It’s slow and low tech.  Since you’re using a pen and not a keyboard, your mind can’t race ahead too quickly.  You’re temporarily disconnected and that’s always good.

Julia describes the experience in this video.

Possibly my strangest post on these pages was an explication of the nursery rhyme “Jack & Jill.”  For some reason, I wrote down, “Jack & Jill went up the hill to fetch a pail of water.”  Then, it was off on a series of strange speculations about what was behind their ill-fated climb.

  • Was there a drought that required their fetching water from the hill?
  • Was this regular chore in a rural area where they had no running water?
  • Were they older than normally depicted and the hill a trysting place?
  • Was Jack’s “breaking his crown” referring to a skull fracture or was he perhaps royalty and damaged his diadem?

I think you get the idea.

But, in reviewing pages like these months later, I’ve found presentation inspirations, phrases, and other ideas that have been of great use for both work and personal life.

It’s free-form, free-association, free-thinking romp through the gray matter writing down any thought that pops in to my cranium.

I prefer using a fountain pen.  It hearkens back to a simpler time and is like painting words on a page.  I also use a particular type of paper from Levenger that has room on the left side for reminders, side thoughts, or space I can use to quickly label a longer entry for later retrieval.

It’s been a regular part of my morning for almost 2 years and I get a little uncomfortable if I skip it for more than a day, somewhat like the tension you feel when you haven’t worked out (assuming you engage in regular physical exercise).

Try it and tell me what you think.

Elevator Blues

This is sung to the tune of any good blues song you may remember:

Well I woke up this mornin’
And I didn’t know what to think.
The economy’s goin’ up and down,
Like an elevator on the blink.
The forecasts were both bright and gloomy
Like big scuffs on brand new shoes
Feels like there just ain’t no escapin’
From those Elevator Blues.

Up and Down

Up and Down

Now we’ve all had to learn new words
Like “fiscal cliff” and “default.”
And “debt ceiling” and “derivatives”
‘Til you just want to holler “Halt!”
Some businesses get propped with cash
While others have to lose
Man, I can’t stand how it hurts
To have these Elevator Blues

It seems folks don’t know who to trust
And who might let them down.
The government, big business,
And them brokers are all renown
At tellin’ all us one thing
But it ain’t their fault when we lose
Feels like there’s no escapin’
From those Elevator Blues.

I just wish that there was somethin’
I could count on for awhile
‘Cause “new normal” means “no normal”
And each step feels like a mile
But you just can’t give up hopin’
And you play to win, not lose
So you’ve got to keep on shakin’ off
Those Elevator Blues.

There’s a thrill ride at the Disney theme parks called the “Twilight Zone Tower of Terror.” The premise of this ride is a ride on an elevator in a haunted hotel that quickly goes out of control. After going up several stories, the elevator stops, then drops. Then it goes up a short distance and down a longer one. Of course, the ride up is slow and the drop down is quick and unexpected, and everyone on the car is in the dark. That’s been the story of how our government has handled America’s economic situation.

What have you done to make the situation any better?

  • Taken steps to make sure your financial stability is in order?
  • Worked with a financial advisor, someone who knows about managing money?
  • Written letters and/or emails to your congressional delegation asking the to work together, to stop shaking fingers and start shaking hands?
  • Do you vote in every election? Elected representatives rarely pay much attention to non-voters.

Admittedly, there’s not much we can do to make America’s situation better by ourselves but we must do what we can.

‘Cause you just can’t give up hopin’
And you play to win, not lose
So you’ve got to keep on shakin’ off
Those Elevator Blues.

Who Killed The Strategic Plan?

Academic experts and business school professors in increasing numbers have been announcing the official “death” of strategic planning.
“The emerging doctrine suggests that a continuous process of evolution must be adopted – and encouraged.”
Karl Albrecht (Futurist & Strategist)

Gravestone

Mr. Albrecht now refers to the process as “Strategic Conversation” because too often, the outcome of strategic planning is SPLOTS: Strategic Plans Languishing On The Shelf.
That ain’t the way God planned it.

We’ve all seen it and some of us have participated in it:

  • A group of well-meaning folks get together to discuss the progress and future of the Big Whatever.
  • We hear about where we are and how we got there.
  • We throw up ideas on future betterment.
  • Everyone goes around and vote for the best ideas, sometimes using sticky paper dots to mark our choices.
  • Finally, the facilitator congratulates everyone and produces a hard copy or PDF of the planned outcomes.

And, if the plan isn’t regularly reread and revisited? SPLOTS!
Thus the Strategic Conversation.

In order to keep the process alive and worth the effort, the organization should adopt at least these 3 specific tactics to ensure vitality and relevance:

  1. Set specific dates in the future to revisit the ideas.
  2. Choose specific criteria to judge the progress of the outcomes
  3. Identify every major activity of the organization with its corresponding segment from the plan so that people aren’t tempted to stray from the path by things bright and shiny.

That doesn’t mean that the plan can’t be changed. Every plan changes. But it means that the organization must return to the strategy and consider what and why the changes should occur. Sometimes this means abandoning part of the original intention (see previous post on planned abandonment).

Otherwise they’re all just good intentions and as the philosopher said long ago, “The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.”

Have you dusted off your strategic plan lately???? Hmm???