Friday, August 23, 2013

The Meaning of Life...

There are 59 national parks in the United States comprised of 51.9 million acres in 27 states as well as the territories of American Samoa and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
The National Park Service was founded in 1916 through the Organic Act during the Woodrow Wilson administration "to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and wildlife therein, and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations."
Although there are many famous and well-visited national parks such as Yosemite, Great Smokey Mountains, Zion, Everglades, Grand Canyon and Denali, Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming was the first tract of land in the world to be set aside as a protected National Park.
Yellowstone National Park was created in 1872 and is made-up of 2.2 million acres which is larger than the states of Delaware and Rhode Island combined.
It is home to pristine old-growth forests, breath-taking rock formations, countless rivers and streams, and famous geothermal features such as "Old Faithful".
The abundant wildlife in Yellowstone includes black and grizzly bears, bison, elk and mule deer, moose, bald eagles, and grey wolves.
This past week I’ve spent a lot of time exploring Yellowstone and the surrounding area... a total of 515 miles of it... while traveling at roughly 15 miles per hour... on the seat of a bicycle...
While gazing at the incredible scenery, I’ve had a lot of time to think about several things... thoughts that I’d like to share with you...
Small Town People
I live in a very large fast moving city.  People are cordial... but rarely go out of their way to say hello or help one another. I suppose that they are too busy trying to get from one place to another to give courtesy and hospitality much thought.
People in large cities are typically strangers to one another so there is little personal connection.
During this past week, I’ve had the opportunity to chat a bit with some of the local residents of some towns along the way... towns like Ennis, Livingston, Gardiner, Cook City and Silver Gate. 
These are people that seem to me to be very hard working... but a bit slower and more meticulously than many of my city friends.
They appear to have a certain pride in their work... whether it’s making acoustic guitars in Bozeman, MT (Gibson Guitars) or making sandwiches and fresh lemonade at the Silver Gate CafĂ©.   The people I met want to do whatever it is they do in the best way possible... a job worth doing is a job worth doing well...
There were several times during my rides when cars would wait patiently at a stop sign (or simply at a corner) allowing several cyclists at a time to pass. Often they would wave and wish us well with our ride. Never once did I hear a car honk its horn or try to intimidate others on the road...
Just not things that you might experience in a large city...
I’ve been to a lot of different places in my life... but it’s rarely the places I remember... but rather the people I met along the way.
Electronic Communication
It might be hard to imagine in 2013, but there are actually entire communities in the U.S. without cell-phone or internet service.
Most of us have grown so accustom to our electronic "leashes" that the thought of losing service for a few days causes terror among seemingly rational adults.
There were several times on this tour where riders pulled off to the side of the road to check e-mail or make a phone call, just because they happened to catch a random cell site signal for a few feet. Many of the riders, unfortunately, just couldn’t allow themselves to be out of touch with the digital world.
I actually found it to be very liberating to be completely devoid of news, email, and phone calls for a few days.
It seems that the people who got the worst of it (in my small world) were the people who expected an immediate answer from me (I forgot to add an out-of-office message telling people that I was unavailable for a few days... so I suppose I only have myself to blame).  
Perhaps it’s because we are so wired today, that people become highly annoyed when their calls and e-mails aren’t returned within a few hours... or perhaps that says something about the level of customer service we try to provide... allowing people to have those high expectations of fast answers.
I’m certain that I’ll have a lot of apologizing and explaining to do once I return to the office.
Finding the Meaning of Life
Maybe it was the majestic beauty of Yellowstone or the solitude of riding long days on roads-less-traveled, but I talked with several people this past week who seem to be on a personal quest for the meaning of life.
After pondering the thought for several miles it became very apparent to me that life isn’t about finding a meaning... 
We were all born onto this earth... and one day we will eventually leave it.
Our meaning is simple...
Make the world a slightly better place than it was before we were born.
Yes, we can change the world in big ways, such as inventing great technological advancements or donating billions of dollars to philanthropic organizations doing good works...
... or we can leave our mark on the world one step at a time by being kind, courteous and polite to others.
... we can offer up our time to help those less fortunate or those who have been cast into the shadows of society (elderly, people with special needs, or those suffering from illness or affliction).
... we can set good examples by being a trustworthy friend, loving spouse and/or parent, or teacher to those who are willing to learn.
... we use some of our valuable time to listen before speaking, ask lots of questions trying to understand other people’s perspective, and take a moment to really look at the world around us looking for ways to help.
When we were children... we were taught "Stop... Look... Listen" when crossing a street... funny how this seems to apply to more things in life than street crossing...

The meaning of life isn’t found in the mountains of Nepal, the great plains of Africa, or the valleys and vistas of Yellowstone. We don’t need to trek to all ends of the earth to find meaning...
The meaning of life is mostly found in our own communities, in our own homes, and in our places of work.
The answers to living a fulfilling and meaningful life are found between our own ears... and in our hearts.
Thank you very much for your support of OptiFuse, as I apologize in advance if you were trying to reach me this past week...

Monday, August 19, 2013

Unconventional Motivation...

"The first responsibility of a leader is to define a vision... the last to say thank you."
~ Peter Drucker
When I was about 14, my father came home from work one night, smiling from ear to ear.
I was the eldest of five kids.  All seven of us (plus two dogs) lived in a small 3-bedroom post-war tract house just south of San Francisco.
My father was a delivery driver for a large airfreight company (similar to what would be a modern UPS or FedEx driver) who worked 10-hour days to support his family.  Mom stayed at home with the kids.
Although he worked long hours, he always somehow managed to be home each night for dinner at 6:30... like clock-work.
Around the dinner table each night, we each took turns reporting to each other about our day... youngest to oldest... dad always going last.
Dad sat at the head of the table that evening smiling like "the cat that ate the canary".
Each of us were left wondering what was the news that he had to report when it was his turn.
When his turn finally came, he proudly told us...
"Today, before I left for my route, our local office received a phone call from the president of our company... he asked that everyone at the office to be present including the drivers... we were all thinking that he was ready to give us some really bad news... like we were going out of business... but that’s not what happened...
As it turns out... our company president... in front of the entire office... was calling to congratulate me!!...
It seems that one of my smaller clients... turns out to be a huge national account... they just happen to run a smaller office in San Francisco...
When they were having some problems with their overnight shipping, I suggested to the local shipping manager that they use one of our expedited services... the local shipping manager liked the idea so much that he presented the idea to his corporate office.  The customer has now signed a multi-million dollar contract with our company to do all their overnight shipping...
So our company president called to personally thank me for a job well done... in front of everyone... !!"
My father could hardly contain himself...
My mother... the one who had to make our budget stretch each week, asked whether or not this "congratulations" came with any type of monetary reward... being that the company just landed a new multi-million dollar account...
Dad replied, "No... but he did ask me if I ever thought about transferring to the sales side of the business instead of driving".
As it turned out, my father never pursued the idea of becoming a sales person and ended up staying put as a truck driver (for another 25 years). 
I saw my father recently, and we starting talking about forks in the road (he had read last week’s blog)... he recalled fondly of that day that he was given those accolades and thought about the "what-ifs".
What really struck me... was that he still remembered that day (and so did I... knowing it was truly one of the happiest moments of his life). 
It was just a short 3-minute phone call... and 38 years later we both still remembered it.
The experience also reminded me just how much a few words of praise from a respected leader could have a lasting effect on someone’s life.
My father (as well as the millions of people before and after him) go to their job each day and work hard. They trade their time and talents for a paycheck at the end of the week.  Most people work because they need to... not because they want to...
It is indeed a quid pro quo arrangement... you do something (work)... we’ll do something (pay you).
However... this is strictly the minimum level of performance... and doesn’t necessarily consider the efforts that actually exceed all expectations...
Motivating employees, students, athletes, and children to always give their best efforts isn’t simply a system of rewards (quid pro quo)... whether it is money, trophies, grades, and/or other types of incentives... sometimes the greatest motivation comes from unexpected places...
Sometimes it’s perhaps a kind word of encouragement, better training or tools to make the job easier, autonomy (trust), recognition or accolades... mostly I have found that people tend to work their hardest and best when they feel as though their direct actions make a difference in the organization.
I have found that people tend to work a bit harder when they believe that they are working together as a part of a team.  Teamwork provides camaraderie, competition, and sense of accomplishing something bigger than one person can possible achieve on their own.
Together they can share their experiences both of winning and losing (lesson learning).
Great leaders have a knack for selecting, training and uniting members of the team; preparing them and focusing their efforts toward overcoming whatever adversity lies in front of them.
The members of the team need to believe that their individual efforts are instrumental to the overall success of team. They can’t be on auto-pilot when their teammates are expending the extra effort.
Leaders are able to effectively communicate the end goals, define the obstacles in front of them, and with the help of the team members, create a winning plan of action.
Proper preparation makes for successful execution.
Everyone understands their job and how properly performing their piece contributes to the success of the team.
Team leaders celebrate victories, recognizing and rewarding those individual performers who displayed special efforts. They also take time to review to help understand what made their efforts successful and what lessons can be learned going forward into the future.
Great leaders are nothing without a great team behind them... 
I’m not really sure if the president of the freight company that my father worked for was a great leader or not. I only know that on that particular day, he possibly forever changed the life of one of his employees... 
I can’t help but wonder if my father worked just a little bit harder in the days that followed his phone call experience.
I certainly I know I would have.
Thank you very much for your support of OptiFuse, where our great team is standing by ready to help your great team...

Friday, August 9, 2013

Fork in the Road...

A while back, while I was riding my bicycle around town, I had the choice to go one way or the other to get to my destination.
As I approached the fork in the road, I needed to make a decision.
So I did some quick calculations in my head...
...what was the difference in mileage between the two? many hills did I need to ascend for each route?
...what were the roads like in terms of ruts and pot holes?
...did I need to stop at a store for additional fluids?
...did I need to stop at a rest room?
The entire episode took me no more than perhaps a minute or so to decide.
So when the road forked up ahead... I went right instead of left...
Day in and day out, we all make similar small decisions that in some way effect our lives...
...where should we go on vacation this Christmas?
...who will I invite to go to the game with me this weekend?
...should I tip my server a few extra dollars for being courteous and attentive? many additional miles can I go before I need to change the oil in the car?
...what is the next book that I’ll start to read?
...should I continue getting the newspaper delivered when I hardly read it?
Our days, nights and weekends are filled with simple questions just like these...
Questions that are typically answered in a matter of minutes or even seconds... questions that have no right or wrong answers... questions that aren’t necessarily life-altering...
We make a quick rational decision based on our available information at the time... then there is an outcome... positive or negative... and we move on as there is another decision waiting just around the corner...
Being able to make good decisions is just a matter of practice. If we make a lot of decisions... we’ll get a few right and a few wrong... but hopefully we’ll learn from our mistakes and try to make better decisions the next time.
Making a good decision doesn’t always mean that we’ll have a good outcome.
We might decide to take the shortest route home from work because we are planning to have dinner guests that evening (good decision)... however on this particular day, there is a major traffic accident that gridlocks the roadway making us more late than if we had taken the longer route (bad outcome).
Bad outcomes do happen... even when it was a good decision...

We can’t afford to second guess our decisions allowing ourselves to become angry or frustrated.
The outcome, many times, is beyond our immediate control so we need to accept whatever outcome occurs, even if we think that we did the right thing and made the right decision yet a bad outcome occurred.
So many people get themselves stuck because they are afraid of making a wrong decision.
They are at a fork in the road and they can’t make a decision to take one path or the other so they do nothing and just let time pass.
They become paralyzed with the fear of possibly making a bad choice. They are filled with emotional "what ifs".
They go back and forth... never fully committing... delaying action until the time is just right... setting the bar so high that it’s nearly impossible to attain.
Every choice needs to be a perfect no risk choice.
The big problem with always waiting for the perfect no-risk decision is that opportunity could come knocking... and knocking... and knocking... but the person behind the door is overcome with so much fear that they decide that it is much safer not to open the door rather than risk failure and explore the possibilities and opportunities that lay before them.
Soon opportunity stops knocking, gets frustrated and goes to the next door...
Then our fear turns into regret, anger and cynicism... we become angry at the world for not allowing us to be successful... when in fact the choice was ours all along.
When we choose to choose... we’ll be rewarded with two possibilities... success or an educational experience.
We find our greatest achievements by doing... not thinking about doing.
I have definitely failed more times than most... mainly because I have tried more times than most... every time I fail (and I will indeed invariably fail)... I try not to beat myself up... rather I try to smile and tell myself that I have just successfully made another tuition payment to "the school of hard knocks".
It’s not that I like losing...
I just really like playing the game and losing from time to time is invariably a part of the game... no matter how hard I try and how much effort I put forth... no matter how much I’ve analyzed the facts and numbers... no matter how much help I’ve received from others...
That afternoon I decided to veer right at the fork in the road while on a bike ride for no other reason than I felt a slight head-wind coming from the opposite direction. My new route would take me through the rolling country hills of the south county.
I was riding along well enough when a large peloton of riders began to pass me. It was then I decided to join the group as so to get back to my starting point a bit faster (riding in a group always allows bikers to ride faster and with less effort due to the draft created by the front riders).
At first I was a bit uncomfortable riding with such a large group, but my fears subsided as the miles wore on.
As I slowly worked my way to the front of the group, I decided that it was my turn to take the lead and do some of the hard work out in front... but as I moved to overtake the front rider, I saw another rider coming up on my left to take the lead from further behind causing me to drop back into the pack.
Unfortunately for me, there was no longer any space for me and my bike and I ended up hitting the rear tire of another bike causing me, in a split second, to lose control of the bike and crash into the ground.
In the moments that followed as I lay there on the ground on my back... I couldn’t help myself from thinking that if only I had decided to veer left instead of right at the fork in the road...
Too late for that I suppose... another tuition payment was made... but what an education those payments have provided me!
Thank you very much for your support of OptiFuse, where we are so happy that you’ve decided to take a chance in choosing us to be your overcurrent protection solution...

Friday, August 2, 2013

Death by Meetings...

"The least productive people in the world are usually the ones who are most in favor of holding meetings."
~Thomas Sowell 
Before I started OptiFuse, I worked in what is commonly known as "corporate America".
As in most large companies, I often found myself in meetings that appeared to last forever and seldom seemed to accomplish much of anything. I’ve come to tolerate these meeting under the premise that these meeting allow people to be heard, share important information, and contribute to the overall welfare of the company. 
As a classic example, at the company I was working for, each and every Monday, our entire sales staff, consisting of 10 sales engineers, 3 regional managers, and one district manager (plus his assistant to help take notes) would meet to discuss the sales efforts, review the results from the previous week, and be given directives for the week ahead of us.  During the meeting, each of us would be required to give a 10-minute report on what we did during the previous week and what we hoped to do in the upcoming week.
During those times when I wasn’t the presenter (my 10 minutes), I often found myself daydreaming, doodling, or staring out the large window.  I had no real interest in other people’s reports nor did they have any real interest in mine... but our management believed that we needed this weekly meeting in order to build teamwork and learn from each other’s wins and loses (and perhaps try to create a bit of competitive spirit among us).

It was during one of these meetings that I had a breakthrough moment... an epiphany as it was.
I was there sitting in a meeting with our regular 15 participants. As I scanned around the room, I began calculating the per-hour rate of everyone in attendance... based on what salary I imagined them to have.
A work year typically has about 2,000 hours (50 weeks at 40 hours per week). Therefore if someone is being paid $60,000 per year, their hourly wage is $30 per hour... simple enough.
As I went around the room I added together what I thought was each person’s annual salary, multiplied by 1.3 to cover the cost of taxes and benefits, and divided the total by 2,000.
After some basic math, it suddenly occurred to me that this meeting was costing the company about $1,200 per hour or roughly $3,600 for the 3 hours we were all suppose to be there.
Now you might say that $3,600 isn’t a whole lot of money at a big company... but realize that $3,600 is only the starting point...
Now we need to figure that those 15 people represented 45 hours of actual productivity... things that actually make the company profits...
A good rule of thumb is that each $1 spent in a salesperson should bring the company back about $5 in profitability (20% cost of sales).
Therefore our meeting now has a cost to the company of $18,000 in lost profitability as well as $3,600 of actual cost for a total of $21,600 for each 3 hour meeting.
Breaking this cost down to a per minute basis... equals $120 per minute...
So let’s look at a few details of the meeting itself...
  • The meeting started 12 minutes late:
    12 minutes - Cost - $1,440
  • First few minutes talking about the football game on Sunday:
    5 minutes - Cost = $600
  • The projector wasn’t set up in advance so everyone waited 9 minutes while the projector was connected to the laptop computer that had to be booted up:
    9 minutes - Cost = $1,080
  • Two people argued a fine point of detail while the others sat around twiddling their collective thumbs:
    15 minutes - Cost = $1,800
  • Time spent on topics that only pertain to the particular salesperson plus perhaps the sales managers: 
    100 minutes - Cost = $12,000
  • Time spent on subjects that have no direct outcomes or deliverables:
    60 minutes - Cost = $7,200
Our meeting cost the company thousands of dollars but what exactly did the company get for their money?... more productivity?... more sales?
Typically the larger the meeting... the less efficient the meeting becomes... the more money and resources are wasted.
Now I’m not advocating the end of all meetings... meetings are an effective way to communicate among a group of people and it certainly beats e-mail ping pong.
As with everything in business... we need to consider our return on investment (ROI)... on our time and money.
Thinking of meetings as an investment rather than an obligation, a savvy management team can maximize their resources and minimize the waste.
Meetings are indeed necessary in many situations including disseminating important information, problem solving, brain-storming, collaborating, and debate.
Here are the essentials of an effectively run meeting: 
  • Any scheduled meeting must have a well-defined written objective and a clear purpose and with specified outcomes.
  • Only invite those people necessary to complete the meeting’s objective. If some people are needed for only a part of a meeting (for example to give a report)... then they should only attend that part in which they are needed.
  • Always have a written agenda with a specific time allocation for each agenda item. The meeting should have a beginning time and an ending time and should begin and end promptly.
  • Assign one person to act as time keeper making sure that strict adherence to the agenda’s time table. Organize intermission breaks at specific times for longer meetings, but restart the meeting promptly.
  • Make sure to send the written agenda to all participants prior to the meeting so they can properly prepare bringing all of the needed materials with them and be prepared to discuss action items rather than waste everyone’s time bringing everyone up-to-speed with background information. Have people comment on the agenda before the meeting.
  • No participants should be engaged in any other activity other than the meeting... this means no texting, no checking e-mail, no internet surfing.
  • The moderator should limit one-on-one dialog to less than one minute and encourage them to continue the conversation after the meeting as not to waste other participants’ time.
  • The meeting moderator should be held responsible for making sure that the room and the necessary equipment is set-up prior to the meeting’s start.
  • The moderator is solely responsible for making sure the topic stays on course and isn’t "hijacked" to another topic of discussion.
  • The moderator should assign one person the task of taking detailed notes as to the what, who, when of each action item discussed and agreed upon. These notes should be distributed to each meeting participant within an hour of the meetings conclusion for follow-up.
Many times it is far more effective to have multiple shorter meetings with fewer people rather than one big long meeting with more people. In this way, only the people who are necessary are there... instead of a multitude of people waiting patiently for their part of the agenda to come up.

Meetings aren’t going away anytime soon... but with the right planning and focus they don’t need to be the big waste of time that so many of them have become.
I’ve actually never heard of anyone actually dying from attending a meeting... they only wished that they were dead...
Thank you very much for your support of OptiFuse, where we believe our customers’ time is valuable and shouldn’t be wasted...