If You Have to Correct, Be Decent About It

11 07 2014

Correction with graceThree years ago, I changed departments within my company. I accepted the new assignment, welcoming the chance for advancement as well the challenge of learning a new skill set. I’ve learned a lot in the past three years.

I work in Information Technology. IT is a field that is characterized by regular innovation and obsolescence, multiple problem-solving opportunities and, if done well, precision. I work in the Quality Assurance department of our company. It is the task of my very able colleagues and I to assure that the product we deliver to our clients (Fortune 500 companies and others) is of the highest quality and functions flawlessly. In a word, our work has to be perfect. Or as close to perfect as is humanly possible.

This means that the regular requirement of my job involves inspecting the work of my colleagues and calling them over to my desk to go over what they’ve submitted, praising wherever possible, but also pointing out errors and mistakes, how to correct them and improve the overall quality of their work.

We have an office full of winsome and intelligent professionals who take their work very seriously and are sensitive to any shortcomings in what they produce. I’ve watched as some of them look crestfallen —furrowed brow and all—when I’ve brought an error to their attention. I try not to be calloused when dealing with people. Ask those who know me. They’ll tell you. Especially when I have to look in the eyes of the one I am critiquing. I fall all over myself, feeling bad that I have to take some sunshine out of their day.

Real correction is not a picnic. Real, meaning when you have to look square in the eyes of someone and smell their perfume, cologne or even their breath.

I must tell you that this has given me an entirely different perspective on the often irresponsible practice of criticizing another human being who doesn’t happen to be in the same room, out of earshot and eye contact.

I try to critique those for whom I’m responsible with as much grace as is humanly possible. I have to look them in the eye when I do it. It’s really easy to be a critic when those who are the target of your criticisms will never be within breathing distance. That’s like shooting fish in a pail. No challenge. No intelligence needed. And often, given the nature of the criticisms, no intelligence involved at any stage.

Maybe this should be the benchmark for our often glib and sloppy criticisms of people and stuff. “Death and life are in the power of the tongue” (Proverbs 18:21) the Scriptures inform us. Can you look the person in the eye? Would you….?

Think about it: How quickly would I criticize someone (a politician, a performing artist, a minister, a member of my circle) if I was required look them in the eye when critiquing? Just like I have to do each day with my co-workers. I’ve found that showing genuine appreciation wherever possible creates life. In others and in me. And it makes the corrections a lot more palatable.

As a man named Paul once wrote, “…speak the truth in love.”

Image Credit





Giving People A Superior Experience

8 07 2014

3 day Uyuni trip San Pedro to Uyuni, salt flat photos locosA few years ago, I read something from renowned editer and author Sol Stein in his excellent book, Stein On Writing. He wrote that the correct intention for a writer was “to provide the reader with an experience that is superior to the experiences the reader encounters in everyday life.” I was really struck by that because, like many others who write and enjoy it, I do so “because I have something to say” or “need to get something off my chest” or “have a passion for this or that.” Stein’s point is that the focus of our writing is to enhance the life of the reader, give him or her something better than the predictable, workaday experience they currently enjoy or endure. It’s not about me.

I had to ask myself, “How do people experience my place in their lives?” Being honest I had to admit that at times my involvement in the lives of the people I live and work with have energized them. And at other times—being brutally honest—I’ve drained them. Usually the drain part comes when it’s all about me. And the energizing quality comes when I forget me and seek to “provide (name) with an experience that is superior to the experience (name) encounters in everyday life.”

Be honest. How do people experience you?

The world was changed and moved in a seismic way by the work and thinking of the late Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple Computers. When Steve passed away, I happened to be reading Leander Kahney’s excellent book Inside Steve’s Brain. The one thing that emerged very quickly from my reading was that the experience of the user was one of the absolute core values of Steve Jobs and Apple. Still is. Millions of dollars and countless thousands of work hours were and are spent to provide Apple customers with a superior experience in their interaction with modern technology. Jobs examined every aspect of the experience of an Apple customer and, with his outstanding team, honed it endlessly to ensure that the complex was simplified and that the experience of the buyer—even down to the opening and assembly of a new computer—was superior to anything else out there. Jobs’ solution to the problem of pirating of music (through illegal downloading) was to provide such a superior experience for one visiting the iTunes Store, that one would be willing to pay for the tunes and files they wanted, rather than pirate them. A superior experience as a curative for a moral and economic problem. Brilliant.

Challenge for the day: Ask yourself how people experience your presence in daily life. Be honest and willing to make adjustments, shifts in thinking, learn new stuff, whatever. You may be surprised how people jump out of the woodwork when they see how their lives are enhanced just by being with you—a superior experience.

Image Credit





Poke the Box!

4 01 2014

poke-the-boxThis past year, I discovered Seth Godin.

You have to check out his writings (blog and books) and watch his videos.  I am currently reading Poke the BoxFirst introduced to his unique view of life, marketing, innovation, the labor force, creativity and status-quo-challenging thinking when a friend sent my wife Seth’s book Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?

Seth has the unique, almost Einsteinian approach to thinking, problem-solving, analysis—the wonder of a child coupled with razor sharp wit, graciousness and complete lack of pretension.

The essence of Poke the Box?  Try stuff.  Do something.  Push buttons.  Get your crayons out and create.  Pay no heed to the voices that say you can’t bring something meaningful and marketable to the marketplace and the human condition.  Again, Seth points out that there are lots of people who make plans and can follow orders, but not many willing to unilaterally start stuff.

Sooooo…..

Go start something and see what happens!

Image Credit

Currently spinning:  The Best Yet (Switchfoot)





Bill Gates on Self-Esteem

18 10 2013

Bill Gates

“The world won’t care about your self-esteem. The world will
expect you to accomplish something BEFORE you feel good about
yourself.” (Bill Gates)

Image Credit





Steve Jobs on Aesthetics

16 10 2013

Steve Jobs on Aesthetics

“When you’re a carpenter making a beautiful chest of drawers, you’re not going to use a piece of plywood on the back, even though it faces the wall and nobody will see it. You’ll know it’s there, so you’re going to use a beautiful piece of wood on the back. For you to sleep well at night, the aesthetic, the quality, has to be carried all the way through.” (Steve Jobs)

Image Credit





A Place For Everything

28 08 2013

organizedtoolsI’m a very organized male.  I have many weaknesses, but disorganization is not one of them.  (My friends say I’m a retentive.)  Time is something that none of us gets back once we squander it.  And disorganization is a big time-eating monster.  When you are unable to find what you’re looking for, time is a casualty.

Being a messy is very costly.

There’s an old adage that goes “ a place for everything; everything in its place.”  This is a real key.  How many times have you gone to your local Wal-Mart or Home Depot to buy something you know you had around the house somewhere, only to find out when doing a thorough cleaning that you had three or four of the thing you were looking for?

Disorganization also costs money.  I bet that got your attention.

Our public and collegiate libraries have very specific systems for classifying books—the Dewey and Library of Congress decimal systems respectively.  Why? So patrons can get the materials they are looking for with dispatch and little stress.

You can implement the same kind of thinking to de-clutter your life and take better care of your stuff, your money and your time.  And as a corollary, your life.

Here are some suggestions that have helped me.  Perhaps they’ll help you.

  • Allocate drawers and specific spaces in your house for your tools, clothes, cooking utensils.  Try to keep each thing with its family.  Sockets with sockets, chisels with chisels.
  • Make files for nearly everything.  Emails, news articles, documents, spreadsheets.  Files are indispensible.
  • If you’re a collector, alphabetize your collections by author or artist.  I do this for my library and music.  You can also classify by topic.  I have different sections of my library—over 3000 books, currently being downsized—and can point borrowing friends right where they want to look to find exactly what they’re looking for.
  • Use your smart phone, a PDA, or a day planner to organize your days and appointments.  If you use Microsoft Office Outlook, you can use the calendar to remind you with messages for upcoming appointments.  As far as day planners go, if you like bulk, go for Franklin Covey.  I used one for about sixteen years.  Moleskine and others have scaled-down versions that are very helpful.  Check out your local Staples or Office Max for a whole lot more.
  • Use spreadsheets.  Microsoft Excel has all sorts of neat features that allow you to keep track of everything from your stocks to collections to family budgets.

In coming posts, I will share more specific tips.  You will find you get a lot more done in less time and have less loss as you get things in order.

Have at it!

Image Credit





Factors In Success

17 08 2013

outliers_gladwellLast year I read a remarkable book, Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell.  I am stunned by the results of Gladwell’s investigation into the hidden causes of success.  It is one of the most fascinating and upsetting books I’ve read in a long time.  Upsetting in a good sense, that is.  It upsets commonly cherished ideas about how people attain success in life.

In his book The Road Less Traveled and Beyond, M. Scott Peck argues that one of the characteristics and problems of our age is what he calls simplism.  Simplistic thinking fails to take into account that life is complex.  There are many variables that make up the people we live with and the challenges of our time.  The rub is that the variables are not always apparent.  It takes probing, time, patience and labor, for thinking is work.  Really.

The strength of Gladwell’s work is the way he demonstrates that, for example, 1) Bill Gates was not just a computer genius who came on the scene in the 1970’s and through sheer brilliance became the richest living American, 2) Asians aren’t necessarily “better” at math than Westerners but are more patient and their numbers nomenclature more user-friendly, and 3) that some recent airline disasters have more to do with overarching cultural distinctions vis-à-vis authority and power distance rather than simple “pilot error.”

I’m not writing today’s post as a spoiler for Gladwell’s book.  You owe it to yourself to get your hands on it and read carefully.  When I finished the book, I was struck with the reality that I am far too quick to pass judgment on the issues of the day, on why some fail and some succeed, even on theological issues—the area that I’ve given the most attention to since the early 1980’s.  Rarely are all the facts and evidence on the surface.

We are all composites of the influences and environments in which we were raised and in which we now spend our lives.  We are not simply our genetic makeup, products of our DNA.  More often than not, there are hidden factors that figure into the success of some, the failure of others.  Timing often figures in as much as raw ability.  We can thank Malcolm Gladwell and those like him (Scott Peck, Geoff Colvin, etc.) for digging deeper and giving us the full picture.

Here are a few brainteasers with which to bait yourself:

  • What cultural and economic tides are coming in right now that I can make the most of?  In other words, can I discern the signs  and trends of the times?  My friend Christopher Hopper has written extensively on the emerging wave of self-publishing.  You can read about that here.  It most certainly will be a force in the literary world in the days to come.  But it needed a level playing field, courtesy of the World Wide Web, to function and in which to be established.
  • What current politically hot issue engages me the most and do I have solid, consistent thinking and evidence to support my position?  Democrats routinely chide pro-life evangelicals for being oxymoronic—at once militantly anti-abortion and also vehemently pro-war (or pro-death penalty).  Are the criticisms valid?
  • Am I patient enough to thoroughly research problems and find meaningful solutions? Peck again.  You must be patient and resist the urge for simplistic, easy answers.  Thinking is work.  Are you up to it?

Digest Gladwell’s book.  It is a very important contribution!

Image Credit