Taking vacations and holidays are the most productive things you can do.

It’s not a vacation unless you forget about work.

It’s not a holiday unless you leave your phone at home.

If you must check-in at work, you’re not on vacation.

If you feel guilty that you did not check-in at work, you’re not on holiday.

If you long for work while you’re on vacation, do something more interesting on vacation.

If you wish you were at work, you get no credit for taking a holiday.

If people know you won’t return their calls, they know you are on vacation.

If people would rather make a decision than call you, they know you’re on holiday.

If you check your voicemail, you’re not on vacation.

If you check your email, you’re not on holiday.

If your company asks you to check-in, they don’t understand vacation.

If people at your company invite you to a meeting, they don’t understand holiday.

Vacation is productive in that you return to work and you are more productive.

Holiday is not wasteful because when you return to work you don’t waste time.

Vacation is profitable because when you return you make fewer mistakes.

Holiday is skillful because when you return your skills are dialed in.

Vacation is useful because when you return you are useful.

Holiday is fun because when you return you bring fun to your work.

If you skip your vacation, you cannot give your best to your company and to yourself.

If neglect your holiday, you neglect your responsibility to do your best work.

Don’t skip your vacation and don’t neglect your holiday.  Both are bad for business and for you.

“CatchingButterflies on Vacation” by OakleyOriginals is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Your truth will set you free, but only if you tell it.

Every day, tell your truth.

Even if unpopular, tell your truth.

Especially if unpopular, tell your truth.

It’s not your obligation to convince others of your truth, but it is your obligation to share it.

Your truth is yours, and that’s enough. Tell it.

If someone doesn’t share your truth, you’ve done your part.

Your truth is birthed from your experiences, and that’s why your truth is unique and valid.

Your truth can be sharpened by listening to others’ truths, but you’ve got to listen.

If you don’t listen to others’ truths, yours will stagnate.

Stagnant truth is outdated truth.

Outdated truth is less useful than updated truth.

“the eyes of truth r always watching u” by TheAlieness GiselaGiardino²³ is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Work is 95% Noise

There’s a lot of noise at work.  I’m not talking about the audible noise you hear in your office or the chatter of your coworkers. I’m talking about the noise purposefully created to slather a layer of importance to things that aren’t all that important.

Corporate priorities are created at the company level to move the company in a new direction. There are regular presentations made by the leadership team to educate everyone on the new direction and help everyone think the initiative is important.  This takes a lot of time and energy.  Then, there are regular meetings held across the company to hear the sermon of the corporate priorities. How much does it cost for everyone in the company to sit through a one-hour sermon on corporate priorities? How much does it cost to do this quarterly or monthly? Because the cost is high and the value is low, corporate priorities have a high noise content.

Monthly reports on the status of the corporate priorities take a lot of work to pull together. These reports tell us how things are going at a high level but are not actionable.  Some initiatives are green, some are yellow, and some are red.  So what? After reading a monthly report of a corporate initiative, have you ever changed your work in any way? I didn’t think so, because the report is noise.

If your work brings about no changes, the work is noise.

If you complete a talent assessment for your team and no one’s work changes or no one changes teams, the talent assessment is noise. If you are asked to create a summary of your work experience to support a talent assessment and nothing changes after the assessment, the talent assessment program is noise. If you are asked to put together a succession plan and nothing changes, the succession planning process is noise. If you are asked to put together an improvement plan for your team’s culture and no one reads the plan or holds you accountable, the culture improvement program is noise.

If you write a monthly report and no asks questions about it, the monthly reporting process is noise. If you write a charter for a project and no one asks questions about it, the project definition process is noise. If someone sets up a meeting without a defined agenda, that meeting is noise. If no one writes meeting minutes, the meeting is noise. If there will be no decision made at the meeting, don’t go because that meeting is noise.

Work is 95% noise.

If someone asks for help, help them because that is not noise. When you see a problem, do something about it because that’s not noise.  When you see something that’s missing, fill the hole because that’s not noise.  When something interests you, investigate it because that’s not noise.  When your curiosity gets the best of you, that’s not noise.  When something is important to you, that’s not noise.  When something should be important to someone else, tell them because that’s not noise.

When the work is noise, don’t do it. But if you must do it, do it with minimal effort and do it poorly. Don’t start the work until two weeks after the deadline. With luck, next time they’ll ask someone else to do it. If you think the work is noise, it probably is. Don’t do the work until you’re asked three times. Then, do it poorly.

If the customer won’t benefit, the work is noise. If the work is new and the customer might benefit, the work is not noise. If you are unsure if the work is noise, ask how might customer benefit.  If you are pursuing something that will grow the top line, it’s not noise. If you’re unsure if the work is noise, ask how the work might grow the top line.

If it’s noise, say no.  That will free up your time to say yes to things that are real.

“Olive with her NYE hearing protection… Muffs on upside down work great!” by Bekathwia is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Some Problems With Problems

If you don’t know what the problem is, that’s your first problem.

A problem can’t be a problem unless there’s a solution.  If there’s no possible solution, don’t try to solve it, because it’s not a problem.

If there’s no problem, you have a big problem.

If you’re trying to solve a problem, but the solution is outside your sphere of influence, you’re taking on someone else’s problem.

If someone tries to give you a gift but you don’t accept it, it’s still theirs. It’s like that with problems.

If you want someone to do the right thing, create a problem for them that, when solved, the right thing gets done.

Problems are good motivators and bad caretakers.

A problem is between two things, e.g., a hammer and your thumb.  Your job is to figure out the right two things.

When someone tries to give you their problem, keep your hands in your pockets.

A problem can be solved before it happens, while it happens, or after it happened.  Each time domain has different solutions, different costs, and different consequences.  Your job is to choose the most appropriate time domain.

If you have three problems, solve one at a time until you’re done.

Solving someone else’s problem is a worst practice.

If you solve the wrong problem, you consume all the resources needed to solve the right problem without any of the benefits of solving it.

Ready, fire, aim is no way to solve problems.

When it comes to problems, defining IS solving.

If you learn one element of problem-solving, learn to see when someone is trying to give you their problem.

“My first solved Rubik’s cube” by Nina Stawski is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Why not now?

If you are anxious, you’re worried about what might happen. You’re living in the future.  If you are sad or angry, you’re reacting to what happened.  You’re living in the past.  Nothing can be accomplished when living in the past because the die is cast.  And nothing can be accomplished when living in the future because it’s all in your head.  The only time we have is now.

The only time to start is now. Even if your project is a short one, you’re in a day-for-day slip with your completion date for every day you don’t start.  And this is doubly true for long projects. If you’re living in the past, you block yourself from starting because the last project was difficult, you didn’t have the resources or it didn’t come out as expected, and you want to protect yourself from a rerun.  If you’re living in the past, you block yourself from starting because you don’t know how it will turn out, you don’t have all the answers, you don’t have sufficient resources, and you don’t know what you don’t know.  Acknowledge the problems with the past and potential problems with the future, and start anyway.

Starting starts with starting.

The only time to say something is now. If you’re living in the past, you block yourself from saying something controversial or thought-provoking because you remember how it went the last time someone did that.  If you’re living in the future, you prevent yourself from saying something radical because, well, you weren’t paying attention and missed your opportunity to change history. Acknowledge that there may be some blowback for your insightful comments, live in the now and say them anyway. And live in the now so you can pay attention and use your sharp wit to create the future.

If you don’t say something, nothing is ever said.

The only time to help is now. Living in the past, you block yourself from understanding the significance of the situation because you see it through old lenses. Living in the future, you block yourself from helping because you worry if the helping will help or worry the helping will get in the way of your future commitments.  If someone needs help, help them now. They will understand that the outcome is uncertain, and they’re okay with that. In fact, they will be happy you recognized their troubling situation and made time to check in with them.  When you live in the now, people appreciate it.  The time to help is now.

When no one helps, no one is helped.

When you find yourself living in the past, close your eyes, recognize your anger or sadness, and focus on your breath for ten seconds. And if that doesn’t work, put your hand on your chest and do it again.  And if that doesn’t work, tell yourself your sadness is temporary and do it again. This is a fail-safe way to bring yourself into the now.  Then, sitting in the now, start that project, say what must be said, and help people.

And when you find yourself living in the future, close your eyes, recognize your anxiety, and focus on your breath for ten seconds. And if that doesn’t work, put your hand on your chest and do it again. And if that doesn’t work, tell yourself your anxiety is temporary and repeat. This will bring you into the now.  Then, sitting in the now, start that project, say what must be said, and help people.

The only time to shape the future is now.

“HOW LONG IS NOW” by dr. motte is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Can you spot a good leader?

When the team can get things done without the leader, that’s the sign of a good leader.

If the organization bypasses the leader and goes directly to the subject matter experts, that’s because the leader trusts the subject matter experts.

When subject matter experts are trusted, they do amazing work.  Good leaders know that.

When a team leader tells you they made a mistake and take full responsibility for it, they make it safe for you to do the same.

When the team can write a good monthly report while the team leader is on vacation, that’s good for the company and the people who can write a good report on their own.

Good leaders know that they make mistakes and know you will too. And, they’re okay with all that.

When a leader won’t tell you what to do, it’s because she believes in you and knows you’re the best person to figure it out.

When a leader says “I don’t know.” they make it safe for team members to do the same.

When a team leader defers to you, that leader knows the limits of their knowledge and yours.

When a leader responds to your question with a question, the leader is helping you answer your question so you can answer it next time on your own.

Good leaders know that sometimes good people don’t know the answer. And they’re okay with that.

When a leader is comfortable with you reaching out to their boss without their knowledge it’s because that leader has told you the truth over the last several years.

Good leaders don’t celebrate failure, they celebrate learning.

When a leader asks you to use your best judgment, that’s a compliment.

When leaders show their emotions in front of you, it demonstrates that they trust you.

Judge a leader by the performance of people on their team.

“020 Row of Bhikkhunis” by Anandajoti is licensed under CC BY 2.0

When you don’t know the answer, what do you say?

When you are asked a question and you don’t know the answer, what do you say?  What does that say about you?

What happens to people in your organization who say “I don’t know.”? Are they lauded or laughed at? Are they promoted, overlooked, or demoted? How many people do you know that have said: “I don’t know.”?  And what does that say about your company?

When you know someone doesn’t know, what do you do? Do you ask them a pointed question in public to make everyone aware that the person doesn’t know? Do you ask oblique questions to raise doubt about the person’s knowing? Do you ask them a question in private to help them know they don’t know? Do you engage in an informal discussion where you plant the seeds of knowing? And how do you feel about your actions?

When you say “I don’t know.” you make it safe for others to say it. So, do you say it? And how do you feel about that?

When you don’t know and you say otherwise, decision quality suffers and so does the company. Yet, some companies make it difficult for people to say “I don’t know.” Why is that? Do you know?

I think it’s unreasonable to expect people to know the answer to know the answers to all questions at all times. And when you say “I don’t know.” it doesn’t mean you’ll never know; it means you don’t know at this moment. And, yet, it’s difficult to say it.  Why is that? Do you know?

Just because someone asks a question doesn’t mean the answer must be known right now. It’s often premature to know the answer, and progress is not hindered by the not knowing. Why not make progress and figure out the answer when it’s time for the answer to be known?  And sometimes the answer is unknowable at the moment.  And that says nothing about the person that doesn’t know the answer and everything about the moment.

It’s okay if you don’t know the answer.  What’s not okay is saying you know when you don’t.  And it’s not okay if your company makes it difficult for you to say you don’t know. Not only does that create a demoralized workforce, but it’s also bad for business.

Why do companies make it so difficult to say “I don’t know.”?  You guessed it – I don’t know.

“Question Mark Cookies 1” by Scott McLeod is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Trust-Based Disagreement

When there’s disagreement between words and behavior, believe the behavior.  This is especially true when the words deny the behavior.

When there’s disagreement between the data and the decision, the data is innocent.

When there’s agreement that there’s insufficient data but a decision must be made, there should be no disagreement that the decision is judgment-based.

When there’s disagreement on the fact that there’s no data to support the decision, that’s a problem.

When there’s disagreement on the path forward, it’s helpful to have agreement on the process to decide.

When there’s disagreement among professionals, there is no place for argument.

When there’s disagreement, there is respect for the individual and a healthy disrespect for the ideas.

When there’s disagreement, the decisions are better.

When there’s disagreement, there’s independent thinking.

When there’s disagreement, there is learning.

When there’s disagreement, there is vulnerability.

When there’s disagreement, there is courage.

When there’s disagreement, there is trust.

“Teamwork” by davis.steve32 is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Letting Yourself Be Inspired by Others

When you try something new, check to see who has done something similar.  Decompose their design approach.  What were they trying to achieve? What outcome were they looking for? Who were their target customers? Do this for at least three existing designs – three real examples that are for sale today.

Here’s a rule to live by: When trying something new, don’t start from scratch.

What you are trying to achieve is unique, but has some commonality with existing solutions. The outcome you are looking for is unique, but it’s similar to outcomes others have tried to achieve.  Your target customers are unique, but some of their characteristics are similar to the customers of the solutions you’ll decompose.

Here’s another rule: There are no “clean sheet” sheet designs, so don’t try to make one.

There was an old game show called Name That Tune, where contestants would try to guess the name of a song by hearing just a few notes.  The player wins when they can name the tune with the *fewest* notes.  And it’s the same with new designs – you want to provide a novel customer experience using the fewest new notes.

A rule: Reuse what you can, until you can’t.

Because the customer is the one who decides if your new offering offers them new value, the novel elements of your design don’t have to look drastically different in a side-by-side comparison way.  But the novel elements of your offering do have to make a significant difference in the customer’s life. With that said, however, it can be helpful if the design element responsible for the novel goodness is visually different from the existing alternatives. But if that’s not the case, you can add a non-functional element to the novelty-generating element to make it visible to the customer.  For example, you could add color, or some type of fingerprint, to the novel element of the design so that customers can see what creates the novelty for them. Then, of course, you market the heck out of the new color or fingerprint.

A rule: It’s better to make a difference in a customer’s life than, well, anything else.

Don’t be shy about learning from what other companies have done well.  That’s not to say you should violate their patents, but it’s a compliment when you adopt some of their best stuff.  Learn from them and twist it. Understand what they did and abstract it. See the best in two designs and combine them.  See the goodness in one domain and bring it to another.

Doing something for the first time is difficult, why not get inspiration from others and make it easier?

“two of a kind” by anathea is licensed under CC BY 2.0

The One Thing That’s Always in the Way

If you could get another good job at the drop of a hat, how would you work differently?  Would you speak your mind or bite your tongue?

If you didn’t care about getting a promotion, would you succumb to groupthink or dissent?

If your ego didn’t get in the way, would you stop following the worn-out recipe and make a new one?

If you don’t judge yourself by the number of people who work for you, would your work be better? Would you choose to work on different projects? How do you feel about that?

If you knew your time at the company was finite, how would your contribution change?  Who would you stop working with? Who would you start working with? Wouldn’t that feel good?

If you didn’t care about your yearly rating, wouldn’t your rating improve?

If you cared more about helping others, wouldn’t your talents (and the returns) be multiplied?

If your time horizon was doubled, wouldn’t work on projects that are important at the expense of those that are urgent?

If your ego didn’t block you from working on projects that might fail, wouldn’t you work on projects that could obsolete your best work?

If you cared about the long-term success of the company, wouldn’t you work more with young people to get them ready for the next decade?

If you cared solely about doing the right projects in the right way, wouldn’t you help your best team members move to the most important projects, even if that meant they worked for someone else?

If you cared about helping people develop, would you formalize their development areas and help them grow, or take the easy route and let them flounder?

If you didn’t care about getting the credit, how would you and your work be different?  Would the company be better for it?  How about your happiness?

If you declined every other meeting and just read the meeting minutes, would that be a problem? And even if there are no meeting minutes to read, don’t you think that you’d get along just fine? And don’t you think you’d get more done?

What would you have to change to work more often with young people?

What would you have to change so your best people could be moved to the most important projects?

What would you have to change so you’d dissent when that’s what’s needed?

What would you have to change to develop others, even if it cost you a promotion?

What would you have to change so you could ditch the urgent projects and start the meaningful ones?

What would you have to change so you could spend more time developing young talent?

What would you have to change so you could attend fewer meetings and make more progress?

What would you have to change so you could work on the most outlandish projects?

What’s in the way of looking inside and figuring out how to live differently?

If you were able to change, who would you start work with? Who would you stop working with? Which projects would you start and which would you stop? Which meetings would you skip? Who are the three young people you’d help grow?

If you were able to change, would you be better for it? And how about the people that work with you? And how about your family? And wouldn’t your company be better for it?

So I ask you – What’s in the way? And what are you going to do about it?

“Evie looking in the mirror” by Ambernectar 13 is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

What Good Coaches Do

Good coaches listen to you.  They don’t judge, they just listen.

Good coaches continually study the game.  They do it in private, but they study.

Good coaches tell you that you can do better, and that, too, they do in private.

Good coaches pick you up off the floor. They know that getting knocked over is part of the game.

Good coaches never scream at you, but they will cry with you.

Good coaches never stop being your coach. Never.

Good coaches learn from you, and the best ones tell you when that happens.

Good coaches don’t compromise. Ever.

Good coaches have played the game and have made mistakes. That’s why they’re good coaches.

Good coaches do what’s in your best interest, not theirs.

Good coaches are sometimes wrong, and the best ones tell you when that happens.

Good coaches don’t care what other people think of them, but they care deeply about you.

Good coaches are prepared to be misunderstood, though it’s not their preference.

Good coaches let you bump your head or smash your knee, but, otherwise, they keep you safe.

Good coaches earn your trust.

Good coaches always believe you and perfectly comfortable disagreeing with you at the same time.

Good coaches know it’s always your choice, and they know that’s how deep learning happens.

Good coaches stick with you, unless you don’t do your part.

Good coaches don’t want credit. They want you to grow.

Good coaches don’t have a script. They create a custom training plan based on your needs.

Good coaches simplify things when it’s time, unless it’s time to make things complicated.

Good coaches aren’t always positive, but they are always truthful.

Good coaches are generous with their time.

Good coaches make a difference.

Mike Shipulski Mike Shipulski
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