Thursday, July 28, 2011


It’s the loud screeching noise you hear when someone is trying to talk to you over an old CB radio.  Or even better, it’s the earth shaking squeal that comes from the monitors as an amateur artist attempts to belt out their favorite tune.  How embarrassing it must be when you are warming up your vocals and the sound guy just can’t get it right so your audience is blessed with the ever so annoying sound of feedback.  It’s an awful noise, one that leaves people yearning to slam their heads into a wall somewhere.  Feedback is no fun.  Feedback is the product of insufficient work.    Feedback is also a reality of work.  As professionals in a company we are given feedback and we have mid-year and end-of-year performance reviews.  Each company does it differently, but all companies have some kind of system.  And like the nasty noise that causes masses to shrivel in pain, this feedback is awful as well.

Feedback and sharing opportunities for someone to grow are not in and of themselves bad.  People need to learn where areas of opportunity exist and address them accordingly.  This is a universal understanding, yet, the method in which businesses go about this put a rather ugly scowl on my otherwise beautiful face.  Recently I had a conversation with a teary-eyed woman minutes after her performance meeting with her manager.  She is one of the most giving people I know, she’d do anything for anyone.  She is all about making things convenient for others.  This carries into her work very well.  She is not analytical though, nor is she one to call people out for not knowing something they had been given training on previously.  Parts of her goals include these things that she isn’t best at.  I looked into her red eyes and saw discouragement and personal hurt.  She took her meeting and performance review personally, as should any good employee.  She lamented at how her manager only talked about things she was not good at or things she needed to improve on.  She was discouraged because none of the things she had improved on or even done above and beyond her responsibilities were recognized.  She was not praised for her good, but only reprimanded for her opportunities for improvement. 

I’m 5’10” and weigh a good 180lbs.  I’m faster than anyone my age or older at any time on the basketball court.  I am stronger than most my height, too.  It makes no sense for a coach to come in and really work on my post moves and talk to me about defensive rebounds.  Because I’m quick, as soon as a shot goes up I take off to the other end of the floor for an easy outlet pass and bucket; works like magic every time.  If the coach wanted me to work on my post moves because he wanted me to play center and really develop my area of weakness, post moves, it’d be a waste of time.  I’m not going to be good as a center, that’s not my strength, my strength is being strong and fast, taking it at people in the paint and drawing fouls.  For those of you sports enthusiasts this makes perfect sense.  The parallel here with my sad, sad friend is that focusing on strengths rather than weaknesses is the best way to improve production in any business. 

If you have someone who is good at A and bad at B, don’t try to make them good at B, it takes away their time and effort from A.  So as B’s quality raises A’s drops and what you get is a mediocre all-around employee.  Why not focus on the strength instead of the weakness?  Pair someone who is strong in B and weak in A with the other person and let them both thrive at their strength and complement one another in weak areas.  Employers spend so much time trying to make people better at things they are naturally not good at instead of focusing on what they are good at.  Companies would have more effective and satisfied employees if they weren’t oppressed by their weaknesses but rather applauded for their strengths.  If someone is good at wood chucking, like our wood chuck friends, let them chuck wood, as much as a wood chuck would chuck wood.  Focusing on positives gains more respect and response from people anyway, and that carries into employees.  Feedback hurts the ears and morale, say no to bad feedback and say yes to empowering employees, then sit back, relax, and watch your company thrive.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Dear Mr. Stern (not Howard)

9% of professional athletes (football) remain millionaires after 5 years of retirement. This is the figure I was told. I am sure it is close, if not accurate, and many other professional sports athletes fall in line with this figure. There was a NBA player that made millions playing a game. Yes, not inventing something, or curing some complex social dilemma, but playing a game. He is now bankrupt. Over the span of less than 15 years he made several millions and is now bankrupt. This means he was spending more money than he made, much like our nation currently, but that’s another conversation, and declared he couldn’t pay his debts any longer. This is an all too familiar story. I’ve often thought of writing Mr. Stern a letter giving him my 2 cents on how to boost his revenue while also making college basketball worth getting yourself attached to. I think I’ll get some of these thoughts out here and now, maybe you’ll see them on ESPN soon.

I think the above-mentioned unfortunate circumstances are only symptoms of a greater disease deep within our culture, especially and most specifically affecting those of lower socio-economic status. For the sake of story let’s go with the name of Melchizedek, random name, yes, but one that has stained itself into my cerebral cortex. Hopefully this story will brand itself to that wrinkly muscle in your head because of such an absurd name. For the purpose of my wrists and fingers not callousing over we shall refer to Melchizedek henceforth as M. M was born in the inner city of a major metropolitan. The inner city struggles and growing up fatherless put M in an interesting situation, M has never been taught about masculinity, respect, or values. M values what he sees and hears in his environment. M values money because he sees people with money get set free. M has several options here, sell drugs, steal, drop out of school and work full time, etc to make this money. M happens to be gifted as an athlete, he jumps like he’s part of one of those crazy animal planet/discovery specials on gazelles you see on TV. M has great hand eye coordination and is naturally quick witted. Someone puts an orange leather sphere in his hands early on and M spends his time practicing and playing basketball from the time he is a child to when he grows into his adolescent years. Some smart coach sees M playing one day and pulls over to talk to him. They chat for a while and M begins playing for his school and embarrassing anyone who gets in his way on that hardwood floor. Good for M! Go M Go! The coach is a paid professional; he makes money being a basketball coach if he proves he is successful. The measures of this success are quantified with victory and wins. M is horrible at Math and his grades are slipping. Coach talks to M’s math teacher and begs him to go easy on him, for the sake of the school’s basketball program. Teacher concedes and lets M coast. M helps Coach win a state championship 3 out of his 4 years in high school. Colleges like M and offer him a full ride scholarship to their nice fancy school. This school is prestigious for its basketball program and winning is what is important. M is allowed to coast through his first year of college. M does so well in college he is nationally ranked and projected to be drafted into the NBA. M is 18 and played one year of college basketball. M’s dreams come true and are a success story, a flower coming out of concrete, one of the inner city boys that made it out. M is a millionaire.

Remember M and his math problems? He has no clue how to handle this amount of money. He is not prepared to handle this much public scrutiny and attention. He was never taught about handling himself in public, with media in your face. M blows his money quickly and still hangs around the wrong guys, the ones who will influence him and use him. M gets into a lot of trouble and builds quite the reputation for himself in spite of his freakish athleticism and God-given talent. M is no longer wanted. M is bankrupt. This story seems to play itself out a lot. This story of M has quite a few holes in it though, did you catch them? Where was his education? Can you blame him for not knowing how to handle millions as an uneducated kid? Where was his accountability? Can you blame him for being arrogant and thinking he is invincible? The system failed M. The system is never looked at though.

Mr. Stern, I’d propose to you a new system, one in which you help young men, college athletics, professional sports, and your and my beloved NBA. I say set in place a degree, an associate’s degree at the very least, for those young people who will go professional. I would implement this to be a two year degree for several reasons. It still allows a young athletic kid to come into his respective sport and dominate accordingly, while entertaining the masses with his mythical gifts. It allows players to play for a college for more than one year. College has no consistency in sports, one and done has killed any sort of following for a team, outside of alumni following. In this degree require courses on financial responsibility, public relations, public speaking, general psychology, anatomy, physical therapy, and some kind of course that would teach universal discipline and responsibility. Assign each rookie a mentor, who would be a retired or currently mature player. You can still have your young stud that will turn a franchise around, but you can benefit from this young stud not embarrassing your league or professional sports all together. Not only do you benefit yourself, but you benefit guys like poor M. M would learn how to manage the life of a professional athlete before it overwhelmed him. M could retire and use his influence as a professional athlete to inspire kids to not drop out of school and the importance of a well-rounded education. M could possibly change the face of children from similar socio-economic circumstances.

I say change the system of professional athletics and the road to getting there. I think changes like this last longer than treating media outbreaks or other embarrassing outbursts as they inevitably happen.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

A Great Deception

I had lunch with a friend today and we got on the topic of work and how he is not really happy or fulfilled in his current job. He began to talk about schooling and things he needed to add to himself to become something. I read on a social media website recently someone lamenting on how he is trying to become like salt of the earth. This is in reference to Jesus teaching some Jewish folks that they are the salt of the earth back in the day. Did you catch the quick switch in auxiliary verbs there? Are and be got switched a bit. Jesus doesn’t tell these Jewish folk that they should be the salt of the earth or that they need to learn to be or try to be the salt of the earth, he simply says, “You are the salt of the earth (Matt 5:13).” I read a quote from a very wise psychologist recently, “You already have everything you need to be everything that you need to be (Dr. Greg Sipes).” There is a common theme in all three story lines here. I am fascinated with multiple story lines sharing a common theme and seeing humanity united by them. My favorite movie is Crash because of this. The mutual refrain shared here is the general idea that one is created and made and exists with all he or she needs. Life is less about learning to add and more learning to subtract and accept who you are rather than try to mold yourself into something you are not.

Now, obviously, this is not to throw out education at all. Education is of utmost importance. It is just how you focus those educational ventures and changing the way you think about learning that matters most. The content of what we learn must change. I once met a very wise man who said something that several years later I am still thinking about. I hear “new” and “cutting edge” authors or speakers say things that I remember this man saying years ago. He is a small man, standing no taller than 5’ on a good day. Don’t let the size fool you though, his wisdom far exceeds his stature. He said that when Adam was in the garden (referring to the biblical account of creation) and was hiding from God because he was naked, that God never once actually inquired about his nudity, rather, he inquired as to who told him he was nude in the first place. There are a ton of implications that impact your larger perspective and theology on life that could make that little thought a series of writings, but the point I’ll focus on is that he implies that maybe he was deceived into thinking he was nude, deceived into thinking he wasn’t what he should be or even worse, he was something he wasn’t meant to be. Maybe that has been the curse form the beginning? The curse of not believing in ourselves and how we were created. I stopped myself short of turning the radio station yesterday because I was tired of hearing a familiar melody. I decided to listen to the song and see what it was about. I’ll go ahead and expect your judgment on this one, I’ll anticipate you making a funny face and thinking me to be odd. Lady Gaga’s Born This Way was the jam that enticed me. Even as crazy and strung out as she is, she may be onto the truth, affirming people for how they were created. If you can bare sticking with me after my Lady Gaga parallel please continue reading.

Glad you made it in spite of me and Gaga. We are taught things as children because our brain is developing and we must learn to harness these advances in our development. As a grown up, after all that education and learning we find ourselves in interesting positions. We continue our education into what we think we believe we should and end up taking jobs that just fit our education or experience. Years down the road we become restless and we are taught our restlessness is wrong or immature. At a certain point I would say doubt and such is unhealthy and not helpful, but until you reach a point of educating yourself on, well, yourself enough to be confident and sure then restlessness is an itch that must be scratched. I’ve had that itch lately and have scratched it. I’ve been meeting with a career counselor and uncovering what and who I am; this includes what profession I (my personality and natural abilities) best fit in. This has been groundbreaking for me, groundbreaking because it is more confirming than novel. I am learning that I am exactly who I thought I was long ago, but just never developed those strengths enough to realize it. I now have all this other baggage I’ve picked UP along the way I need to shed in order to become the lean machine I should be. Once I’ve shed all this, or unlearned these habits, I can develop the natural strength that is already there.

I give the advice to reach out to my career counselor to my friend today at lunch. I tell him he needs to get himself torn down to what he is so he can develop that. I told him his natural strengths and abilities if developed properly would set him apart from everyone and make him a unique treasure in a droid filled marketplace. We all went to college, we’ve all had jobs, we’ve all learned how to use social networking and make our resumes pretty. What sets us apart though? What sets apart is our unique individuality. We are not taught to be unique though, we are taught to conform and to fit. You see what good that has done us right? I know more people that are unhappy in their job than are satisfied. It can’t be because the companies they work for are run by the devil and they are forced to watch reruns of Glitter (that awful movie with Mariah Carey). It is because they are in the wrong place doing the wrong thing. They are filling the space of someone out there who would fit perfectly into that little job. The deception in the professional work force at the very least (maybe even in the world holistically, depending on your world view) is that you need to learn to fit into something rather than finding something you were made for. Instead of learning to mold a square into a circle just to fit through that whole we should just find a circle shaped hole that we fit in. This may take time and education and painfully restless nights, but wouldn’t it be well worth all of that to find something you at your core enjoyed?

If the professional world were filled with more people who were confident and doing what they were made to do, our businesses would be healthier, our employees would be happier, and our marketplace all together would be shining in spite of a gloomy economy.

Thank You (Justin?)

A scholarly gentleman in his fifties opens up a birthday card only to hear Hannah Montana tunes blast out. The inside reads, “You rock little girl! Happy 13th birthday!” This is quite an odd card to receive from his daughter and son-in-law on his fifty-something birthday right? Well, maybe not. It’s interesting how your own little quirks catch on and influence your spouse over time. I’ve always gone down the random path of giving greeting cards. Now my wife and I always give out random cards to people on occasions.

Maybe I have been emotionally and mentally scarred by my experiences at greeting card stores with my mom as a little boy. We’d spend what seemed like years standing under the glow of florescent lighting on those ultra-shiny floors. My mom would sort through card after card after card looking for one that said exactly or at least painfully close to what she intended. Her sentiments were great and always have been, she always wants to say the right thing to make the person feel special. How unrealistic is it to think that a stranger, who doesn’t know me or my intended audience, is going to write the perfect thing I intend to say though? So why bother picking one out. Why not just make your own or be as random as possible? Just a random little thought I had while trying to pick out a Thank You card yesterday for some guys that were kind enough to meet with me on Tuesday morning. Even the Thank You cards were all wrong and either over the top or just plain cheesy. So I picked one up that said, “Thank You, here’s a piece of folded paper.” Then I wrote a nice little hand written note on the inside expressing my gratitude. With email being so frequent and used by everyone, we are desensitized to its messages. A thank you email doesn’t mean quite as much as a hand written card. It seems to be about the time invested to me. I can now manage my entire life (basically) from my phone so shooting off a short email to someone is convenient, but does it truly receive all my attention as I write it or am I doing it as a robot because it is the nice thing to do?

Doesn’t it mean more if someone in this age of convenience takes the time to sit down and hand scribe a note? For goodness sake our schools are taking away cursive writing and shutting down other programs because of technology and its conveniences. I would think that to go against the grain and do what is inconvenient and not something you frequently come across would carry more weight than an email. It’s kind of like seeing an Ariel Atom 2 fly by while walking downtown. If you don’t know what that is, check it out here. This is a beast of a sports car that is pretty rare to be seen. Because it is an infrequent happening to run across one of these, when you do it is memorable and you tell others about it. That same logic can be applied to thank you cards. It is important to let people you meet with or potential employers, clients, or partners know that you appreciate their time. So when meeting with professionals it would behoove one to be thankful and make yourself register at the front of someone’s mind by going against the grain and doing the infrequent and inconvenient. Setting yourself apart from the pack, in an overly crowded marketplace is about the only way to make a worthwhile impact, otherwise you are just another piece of paper. Next time you meet with someone be sure to take time and be different. This not only shows them you are appreciative and grateful as a person, but also benefits you by making you more unique than the next guy.

I’m not saying you should send a random Justin Bieber birthday card to a company to make a statement, but maybe I am. It’s all about standing out. Being sure to write thank you notes after meetings could be something that gives you a quick first step on the competition.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Professional Mentors

I met with a gentleman recently to discuss career possibilities.  I’ve been on the journey to find what I should do with my life as far as a career for about a month now and trying to reach out to as many people as I can.  He tells me that guys his age don’t have a problem giving advice or helping younger guys out at all.  Two sides to the coin, one it’s probably an honor to them because someone wants their advice and two young people can learn from others who have gone down paths that they are thinking about.  So what stops young men from seeking out help?  Pride and a lack of humility, we think we can take on the world ourselves and feel ashamed to admit we need help or have no idea what we are doing.  So why is it that we, the next generation business guys, are so afraid to put ourselves out there?  Who knows who you’ll meet; why not give it a try?
Is doing so even necessary or beneficial?  Do I have to?  Well, if you are asking those questions you may be one who enjoys the bright red lights and inhaling dust, because you are likely to be left behind the pack trying to play catch up for the rest of life.  For those who want to be front runner, those who want to be successful and cannot stand the thought of having to fit a mold or doing and saying all the right things.  For those of us who are tired of all the bureaucratic red-taped filled homogenous culture we are offered, we must seek other paths.  If we do not want to be like them, then why let them set our learning curve or training agenda?  If it is freedom you seek then the only way that it happens is by revolution.  Calm down there sport, I’m not asking you to go all Braveheart on anyone; this is a personal revolution, a revolution against the unfortunate character flaw of our generation.  We are a passive group, an entitled group of young folk who have been spoon fed too much.  We must awaken from our lethargic ways and change how we think and act.  We’ve got to stop being afraid to fail.  When I was a firefighter I was taught many things, some quite useful in the corporate world, like being able to break out a window, so you can jump out of it (only kidding).  Seriously, I was taught this little mantra, “little risk, little reward, big risk, big reward.” In our professional lives we won’t benefit much from not taking risks.  And in this case, taking the risk of reaching out to a business or person that you admire or respect has very few risks, because like my friend said before, most people love the opportunity to impart some of their wisdom to us young bucks. 
I say I believe mentoring (in several different capacities) can change the world and I mean it, I truly believe it.  The more willing we are to seek out mentors and wisdom from others the more we become teachable and the more we learn.  Being teachable is an aspect that we all must be willing to gain.  Being teachable will allow more space for success down the road also.  We have so much to gain from others experiences as well.  We cannot realistically expect to experience so much or even the same as any other individuals in our culture or business.  Humans learn by experience and unless you are independently wealthy and can go experience the world as a hobby, we need to leverage others' experience for ourselves by diving into that wealth out there.  The more we seek mentoring they more we will be willing to mentor the next generation because of how it impacted us.  This is not only about us as you can see, it is about the ones coming next.  Mentoring can be a game changer, the question is are you willing to allow it to.  Are you ready for change?

Friday, July 15, 2011


I’m reading a buddy of mine’s blog and he begins to discuss something that reminds me of many conversations I’ve had with many different people about our country and its future within the global marketplace. There are several things that need to be unloaded before we begin to dive any deeper. First of all, what is globalization? Why is it happening? What implications does it have for me personally, and you? Globalization is the increasing unification of the world’s economic order through reduction of international barriers, or so says the all-knowing Wikipedia. What that means in a nutshell is that the world is growing and no longer do the people that help it spin well find themselves in a small region or country or even continent. The largest evidence of globalization’s affects can be seen in a short video taking the viewer on a tour of some of Detroit’s bad areas of towns. These bad areas have been negatively impacted by the global marketplace. Detroit used to be a bustling city. The largest market there, and in Michigan in general, was the auto industry. Michigan continues to have one of the worst economies in the States right now because of the auto industry fall out. After watching the video and reflecting on the state of Detroit one must ask, how did this happen? How did things get so bad? Well, the auto industry was something we had and were good at. We had men and women who screwed widgets to zigzags with high school educations getting paid 60 or 70 thousand dollars a year. At the time, it was a testament to the American Spirit to rise above things like education or lack thereof. Somewhere over the pond where life is not as nice as it is here in America, someone figured out they could build cars too. They could build cars and hire employees to connect zigzags and widgets all day for $8,000 a year. That worker was so happy and motivated to get this job that they busted their butts and filled their brows with sweat to excel and be efficient at what they do. That very same work ethic carried into the machine shops where these parts were made, so the cost of parts went down. This strong work ethic and appreciation for opportunity caused these products and work to be done efficiently and ultimately produce a very reliable product. The overhead on this overseas business is much lower than its American counterpart. Companies began to realize this and ship out their services. They could pay less and get more; you really can’t blame them can you? This same story can be applied to many other industries, and if you pay attention, is creeping into some of the most secure, or at least we thought, fields. Companies can now send an x-ray to another part of the world now and get back an analysis at the same rate and possibly even faster and definitely cheaper than they can here. Many many jobs are going overseas and this is a reality my generation especially has to begin thinking about in order to make it.

Instead of chanting U-S-A-U-S-A-U-S-A! and wearing the most gaudy patriotic cloths you can while having passionate discussions of how all these foreigners are taking our jobs, let’s slow down a bit and think this through. Our jobs? The American people seem to have a big problem with entitlement. We are not guaranteed anything, especially someone to pay us money to provide a service. A change in attitude may do us well. Instead of them taking our jobs, maybe we should look at it as the best person, or most qualified candidate gets the job, regardless of international location. If we really think about it, it does make the most sense for any business to get the most efficient and reliable product for the least expensive price. If an employee costs $35,000 a year and we can replace them with a machine that provides the same product or service at a cheaper price to the company than maybe that product itself will be more inexpensive for the consumer. It’s this beautifully simple circle of commerce. Unpatriotic, anti-American, or the throw-back term "communist" are much easier to throw out than to stop and analyze the situation holistically. Ultimately, America cannot operate the way it does now. No one can remain the same without being duplicated. Most times when there is a blueprint laid, someone else comes along and tweaks that design and improves it. The last becomes old and the latest becomes progressive, it is an evolution of sorts for the marketplace.

Maybe you don’t like globalization or you think it’s not right or fair. Well, with all do respect, we need to wake up and accept that it is here to stay and do something to prepare ourselves for today and the future. Have you read Who Moved My Cheese? I’d suggest you do. It is a very short, yet clever, book that talks about dealing with change. We can deal with it and adapt or sit around with our arms crossed thinking how unfair it is. The reality is that those who do not deal with change well will be left in the dust, their jobs will be taken from them, and they will have no one to blame but themselves. The government takes a lot of heat for creating jobs in our poor economy. President Obama blamed technology for making it more difficult than he thought to create jobs (ATM cited as the villain). I say that this responsibility falls on ourselves though, as individuals. We want jobs, right? In China or India a child gets schooled some then pays for it. Because a family is paying for school the children take it seriously and excel. These kids want something better for themselves and their families so they achieve scholarly success. In Indiana right now we have one of the worst school systems in the nation. We are cutting programs left and right. While we shut doors to schools new students are thirsting for education overseas. Professional athletes were able to float through high school just to get a scholarship to a college, to spend a year at and go pro. Now this uneducated person gets paid millions to play a game. No wonder kids don’t have any motivation for school! The media teaches them they can basically just achieve mediocrity and a passing grade just to get through so they can drop out and make millions. Education isn’t that important, money is. Our schools are cutting some of the programs that set people aside and develop the most important part of our brain for the future, our right hemisphere. There is a revolution happening in the marketplace and right-brainers are taking over. It is innovation that wins the bread now. We need educated innovators to excel at something. We need to change. Instead of blaming globalization maybe we should blame ourselves for just accepting what has been given to us. We’re a spoiled people and our good fortune to live in such a great country like America works against us at times because we just accept what appears as greatness comparatively while the rest of the world looks at us as a blueprint and plans on how to improve and progress.

The hope for our generation in this global economy is innovation and change. Are you willing to do the hard work and discover that change, discover the path to success in a global economy? We cannot expect to stay the same and achieve different results, some crazy German called this insanity. May we not be insane, may we be innovative people, may we embrace globalization and learn to thrive within it.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Throw Back Thursday: A Look back at an old Post: Friendship

A two syllable word has become powerful, mystical, and yet allusive at the same time. A word that can bring color to the fair cheek of a little girl or tears to a grown man has become one tossed around like a hot potato. Life moves so fast that we never stop to question even the words we use, why we use them, and if we understand the implications of them. What is this word? Friend or any form of it, i.e. friendship, friendly, etc. I’ve often asked myself and others if friendship is something based upon circumstances, but recently have been challenged to delve even deeper and further back into this curious word; a word so powerful it can bring about the full gambit of emotions.

Who are your friends? What is it that makes them a friend? What must be done to attain the capacity of friend? These are all valid questions upon the voyage of this discovery.

A friend is someone that you are involved in a relationship with that is intimately connected with you on a platonic level. The intimacy of the relationship truly depends on each parties level of trust and respect within this relationship. What about time investment? Is it a large investment that pays out over the rest of your life, like childhood friends, or continuous investments on a regular basis, like a school friend? Intimacy, frequency, and humility are the key materials it takes to build and understand friendship. Intimacy and frequency can have differing levels at a static practice, but humility is absolutely key. Wait a minute, am I missing something? As much as you may think this question should be posed as open ended, it is, in fact, rhetorical. Most would say that there needs to be a bond, something or someone that bonds them, an experience or some sorts. The core dilemma in that element lies in its uncertainty. Experiences or circumstances change, as well as people and items. Friendship is such a complex thing to deal with because analysis typically is done so externally. Friendship is so complex because it is an attempt to bond two beings that have completely unique characteristics. Maybe friendship will never be understood completely because it ultimately comes down to something spiritual, something beyond our psyche. It comes down to two souls connecting in such a way they become bonded. While I attempt to explore some aspects of friendship I will not offer arrogance and say I have it figured out.

I have had the hardest time with understanding friendship these last 4 years of my life. Growing up in a city where you were born you know all the same people and meet new people through the people you know. I had that rug uncomfortable pulled from beneath my feet in March of 2006 when I decided to move to Indianapolis. I had no connections, thus no connecting points, to even begin with. I had to start with a clean slate. I think this was a painful process, but as I look back, has aided me in my understanding and attitudes towards friendship. I suppose naivety lead me to believe that friendships were based upon a common bond, like school, sports, mutual friends, clubs, or some other tangible factor. External elements always change, we have no control over it as the nature of the world is change. Change is inevitable. Unfortunately for many something as intimate as a friendship is based upon an ever changing element, some external bonding mechanism. This is not to say the mechanism or bonding element is evil or bad in itself. These elements simply help in the process of creating a bond. Circumstantial bonds are relied so heavily upon that in the aftermath of change are broken hearts, relationships, and deep seeded emotional trauma (whether or not we are willing to admit to it). If Mortal Combat were a reality and someone could actually reach through my chest cavity and rip my heart out there would be issues immediately. Beyond even your physical reaction and natural physics and anatomy you would suffer from mental anguish almost as painful. Your mind understands that you need a heart to live, thus crudely ripping it out would result in distress because you are missing something necessary for life. The same is true of friendships. Too many friendships are left in the wastes of our pasts because mentally we believe there is an element, physically, that is necessary. The necessary element is a bond based on circumstances or tangible, inevitably changeable factors. It makes sense then that one would freak when the essential, or so they think, is taken away. “I just wish things could be like they used to be…” At first I thought there was some cruel joke being played on me because everyone of the people I considered friends would say this to me, almost in unison, in pitch, tone, and rhythm. I used to allow this to bother me too. I would analyze myself looking for whatever wrong I had done to change everything. What could I do to get things back to the way they used to be. I quickly learned that my search was pointless and quite empty. I began to ask, “Why would you want things to go back to the way they were?” I am now engaged, growing exponentially in my faith, full of joy, peace, and happiness. I have finished school, advanced professionally, given back to the community, and obtained so many other treasures from pure experience of things changing. Why would I want to give all that back? I can say the same of many of my friends. Why would we want things to go back? If the understanding is our friendship is based upon a certain bond and that bond has changed then it is understandable why we would want to get back. I’d like to challenge the thinking that it is one inert element that creates and sustains friendships. Excepting change and looking at our experience of friendship as the bond rather than the elements that made the bond would lead people to such freedom in the relationships they find themselves in.

Can we even find ourselves in friendships and relationships though? Magically we awake to being surrounded by friends that we just happen to stumble upon…is this reality? Relationships are intentional. Friendships take work. I think there are plenty of acquaintances we can have based upon the frequency in which we see or experience people and circumstances. It takes effort to allow intimacy. This intimacy is what makes a friendship different from a stranger you see frequently in the local coffee shop. Maybe this frequent common bonding element will aid in the beginning of a friendship, but the reality is that it will take work. Frequency cannot be the cornerstone of a friendship. Frequency is inevitably changeable. Any house built upon a shifting foundation will fall, much like a friendship built upon or understood to be built upon irregular happenings. I used to be the single, available, always involved guy at the local church community I help start. I was very frequent in circumstances, in circles, and gatherings. My frequencies lead me and others to believe we were friends. There are two people from that community I still speak to or consider friends. Obviously frequency doesn’t build friendship. However, if the mentality that frequency does is there then it is destined to fail and leave emotions open to pain. “We used to hang out all the time man, are we still friends?” Or even better, the attitude taken that if a person does not have an increased frequency then somehow his friendship is questioned. Frequency cannot and should not determine a friendship.

Seems to me that even these two, frequency and bonding elements, factors are at the forefront of friendships but fail to be sturdy for construction. What is it then that makes friendship? It is an internal element, the one only you and I can monitor or control. We have a sense of control when change occurs within ourselves. The madness that comes from external change does not exist when one changes from within. Friendship is based upon an individual. This appears to be a quirky explanation for a relationship that includes more than one person. Is a person willing to accept another person? Does this connection between souls, unexplainable in nature, warrant a personal response? If the answer is yes then the individual work begins. Effort, respect, and trust are key to friendship and each comes from within an individual. When these changeable elements transform we are left with nothing but ourselves. Within that self there is a decision making process that must be worked through. Will I allow this connection to be lost over things I cannot control or will I control myself and the elements I can in order to see to it that it works? It is easy to kick and scream about frequency and elements changing, but what happens when you realize that those don’t matter anyways? We aren’t involved in the same community any more, so what, what are you going to do about it? I have different priorities, thus different frequencies, what are you going to do about it. Can you reaching and change me? Can you change my personal choices or elements? The answer is no, so why would you allow yourself to become distressed by them? The reality is that friendship takes work, hard work. It would be easy and convenient if all of our friends were based upon like circumstances and frequencies, but then they would not allow for change. Are we willing to allow change in our friendships? If so do these changes just make friendship more difficult or tear away at the very essence of what it is? The answer to this question will reveal who a friend is or is not. If you miss that friend, stop wishing things were the same as they were, stop wishing away change. Make the call, make the effort to keep that connection you so miss. The reality is that this unexplainable connection of beings takes work when things change, which is unavoidable, thus work is also obligatory.

May you be a good friend. May you check your presuppositions about friendships at the door and not allow changeable circumstances to be the foundation you build on. May you reconnect the friendships you miss. May you accept change and work diligently to have friends and healthy friendships.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

People Process

Hi-ya! I harness my inner Mr. Miyagi. Wax on, wax off. I definitely feel worthy of wrapping a bandana around my forehead. I have achieved a belt in karate! Sweet success!

Wait a second, that’s the wrong kind of belt. This wasn’t karate at all. I earned my Lean Six Sigma Green Belt last year. I do still want an actual green karate belt to hang on one of the walls of my office though; a framed certificate just doesn’t have quite the same pizazz as a karate belt. One of the many things I learned in this journey to achieve this certification is focusing on process. That went well with my already deep commitment and confidence in Theory Y management. In the 60s Douglas McGregor developed the X and Y management theory while at MIT School of Management. These theories are the bread and butter in management, organizational behavior, and human resources. At a very high level Theory X says employees are inherently lazy and do not like to work or achieve, Theory Y says employees are inherently good and want to work and achieve. The fusion of my Theory Y and Six Sigma certainties leads me to one conclusion: processes are the problem, not people.

Holding or not holding to this opinion has very large implications. It is the puppet master of how you react professionally. Within an earshot at all times throughout my day you can hear the angry rumblings of people dogging each other. Because we are professionals this is obviously said while on mute or after the call is over, but none the less, still professionals blaming each other. This opens up some dangerous rabbit holes. Having the thought of another person or co-worker as being stupid, lazy, rude, etc. leads one to build walls and create barriers around themselves and take something professional personally. The personal and professional tango so much that at some points you cannot tell one from the other. It causes a constant frustration and a history and opinion to be formed against people. "Jane is this," or "John is that." No matter what they try to accomplish they are marginalized because of who they are, not what they are doing or trying to accomplish. Dead ends are easily reached going down these cognitive paths. Frustrations boil inside and carry into our homes as we personally hold something against someone in a professional environment.

What if we made a switch? Why not poke and prod processes instead of people? By creating and maintaining the discipline of focusing on process we can relieve ourselves of unnecessary malice. We can free ourselves of such frustrations making room for more efficient and positive work. There have been studies done that show happier people live longer, healthier lives. The idea that you can separate work completely from home life is somewhat of a myth. We are given 24 hours in a day. If you are a healthily functioning individual then you spend 8 of this day working, 6-8 sleeping, which leave you about 10-8 hours where you are free and living your personal life. Work makes up 1/3 of your day. Being miserable one third of your day can have a huge impact on the little time that you are not working. You don’t sleep well, which causes you to not live well personally. You are frustrated at work and you bring it home and take it out on your spouse. There are plenty of reasons to shoot for the goal of not being miserable at work. So what makes work so miserable? Frustrations and stress. Each day has its own challenges, it is unrealistic to think you will not have stress or frustrations, however, you can manage the unavoidable frustrations or stress by not taking professional matters personally. If someone calls you requesting something absurd, instead of defaulting to thinking, “They are stupid,” maybe it would be healthier to try to understand why they make this request or to identify a need for training. Looking at someone’s behavior as only a product of their training or processes we can easily help us avoid falling into the personal offense trap. It’s professional, we all have a goal, we are all working towards something. We have different procedures and methods of attaining these goals. We all want to do well. We all want to achieve. The frustrations that come with work should be seen as systematic issues not personal ones. People are not the problem, processes may be. If we can buy into the ideology that people are good and want to achieve success on their own then we can truly change the morale at our work places. If we are positive and not tied into knots over things because we believe it is not the people, but the processes, we can influence the next guy and alter the face of the professional world. We can represent professionalism with a genuine smile instead of a professional smirk.

Conflict Management

It’s never a good thing when your manager asks to meet with you privately as soon as possible. It’s also never good when your manager walks into a private meeting with a scowl and note pad. It’s never good when they start the conversation with, “there’s no easy way to say this…”

I squirmed around uncomfortably in my chair as I anticipated something awful, something that would ruin my day. It could be anything. Was I getting laid off? Did I make someone upset? Was I failing to meet goals? I waited impatiently as my manager seemed to move and speak in slow motion for some kind of big weight to drop and crush me. As soon as she finished I began to laugh. I laughed a little out of relief, but mostly I laughed at how we arrived here. The story isn’t really all that necessary to tell, but the underlying theme is one that all professionals must wrestle with, conflict management or conflict resolution. Management and resolution are different, because sometimes a conflict cannot be resolved, sometimes you just have to manage it and move forward the best you can. In my professional experience I have seen far too many instances of conflict only being the elephant in the room. Conflict gets swept under the rug as individuals’ true feelings find asylum underneath passive aggressive behavior. Passive aggressive behavior is quite destructive and is an unhealthy response to conflict that at some point will grow to reveal itself. Many old parables speak of agriculture, letting the weeds grow with the crop because as everything grows the weeds will be exposed. The same is true of conflict; it always reveals itself in one form or another.

Is there a way to confront conflict without being “confrontational?” Sure, you don’t want to be that guy who always calls people out and deflates the overall sense of progress in an environment. While that is understandable, confronting something has more to do with the intangible ideology that dictates your actions. These prescriptive thoughts do manipulate movement beyond even the best man-made facades. A fake smile is always fake. Saying, “Have a great day,” when you don’t mean it is never comforting. I had an interesting experience getting my hair cut recently. The girl must have been having a bad day, which is totally acceptable as everyone has a bad day here or there. She was professional, did her job correctly, said all the right things, and even tried to sell me product. The problem was the glaring near explosion she attempted to cover with professional jargon. As the shears ran across the back of my head I hear something that made me want to just jump on out, even half way through a haircut. I’m a guy who really cares about my hair and the precision at which it is cut, so it is unordinary for me to be willing to evacuate a half done job on my dome. “Do you ever get so mad, you just black out?” Thank you ma'am, I have heard enough. Wow, I was a little concerned for my safety. After talking myself into being a decent human and not running at the first sign of instability I decided to stick around, get my hair finished, and have a conversation with this obviously troubled young lady.

“Hello! Welcome to Such and Such!” She didn’t even raise her head to notice someone walked in, she just responded to the bell signifying a new customer. Yes, she said hello, check. “Have a great day!” She rattled this off as she was walking away from her station. She wished someone a nice day, check. I must admit I looked pretty good after braving the storm of the angry lady with sharp scissors. She followed directions and provided what the customer desired, check. She met the steps appropriatley. What was this blacking out in anger thing about though? I was really interested in it. Well, long story short, a girl broke one of her clipper guards. She was so angry she blacked out, which is probably something she could seek counsel on. The poor conflict management allowed this pressure to reside in her that overshadowed all of her professionalism. She did a good job, but was not very nice. The unresolved or mismanaged conflict affected a completely separate circumstance. This internal pressure cooker was showing itself to be a pretty ugly thing. Conflict management or lack thereof, overshadowed her following procedure and even accomplishing a goal.

This leads me back to my conversation with my manager. Apparently someone misunderstood something I said and took it to mean something totally different. So he went to his boss and on up the ladder it escalated. Several business days later, after hours upon hours spent by people with other responsibilities, and all was solved with an email. It is tough in our technologically advanced work place to say something happened based on a misunderstanding because everything is documented. I assured my manager what she was coming to me about was nothing more than a misunderstanding spun out of control, walked back to my desk, and forwarded her two emails. In these two emails it was documented quite clear what was said. Someone read into words, put a tone to it and ran off into the abyss we call corporate passive aggressiveness. There was an obvious conflict, a misunderstanding in words written over an email. This is where the proper understanding and management of conflict would fit in an effort to solve issues and save time. The gentlemen should have just come to me and ask if he misunderstood, maybe even told me my tone came across wrong. Instead of doing that, because confronting someone is so taboo in the work place, he allowed a little seed of misunderstanding to grow into a large issue. This large issue caused countless emails and time invested by managers who have other responsibilities. Instead of confronting the minimal “problem” it grew into something else. We all shared a laugh at the end of the day when all was said and done. But maybe we all laughed out of frustration. Maybe there was a underlying understanding that if the conflict would have been managed correctly in the first place none of this would have happened.

We see this in our work places all the time don’t we? At the core of each blown up problem is really a small misunderstanding or conflict that goes unresolved, grows into something that influences other factors, and becomes something that it is not. How many conflicts do you let grow more than they should. How many times do you pass up a way to professionally confront a conflict or manage it in a way that it doesn’t grow anymore? There is ancient wisdom that prescribes that all anger should be put to rest before sundown. I’ve learned that the longer a conflict is allowed to go unresolved or confronted the worse things get. I think the wisdom behind this old advice is an acknowledgment of this very idea. Letting conflict go unresolved or mismanaged can cause great damage in our personal and professional world. This week or even today, let's focus on embracing conflict management rather than making it a taboo issue that lives in the shadows. Let's change and improve our professional environments by working together to learn to manage conflict better.