Friday, February 27, 2015

Wax On... Wax Off...

"Don’t wish it were easier... wish you were better"
                                               ~ Jim Rohn 

This past Sunday, the weather was a bit wet and dreary.  It was a perfect afternoon to curl up with a good book and a warm mugful of hot chocolate and stay indoors.

After about 90 minutes of reading, I decided to put my book down and turn on the TV to see if there was any college basketball being televised that afternoon.

As I was flipping through the channels, I happened upon Karate Kidthe start of an old movie, The Karate Kid.

Without getting too much into the plot of the movie (I’m fairly certain that most of you have already seen the movie), there are a sequence of scenes that I absolutely love.

The main character Daniel, as played by Ralph Macchio, has come to a quiet old Japanese neighbor Mr. Miyagi, as played by Pat Morita, to teach him the art of karate as a way to protect himself from his bully tormentors at school and in his neighborhood.

Mr. Miyagi agrees to become Daniel’s Karate teacher on the condition that Daniel does everything Mr. Miyagi tells him to do without question.

But instead of immediately teaching Daniel karate moves and techniques, Mr. Miyagi has Daniel complete several tedious chores including painting his mile-long fence, washing and waxing his dozen or so classic American cars, and sanding his wooden deck and walkway.  Each task is to be performed in a particular way that Mr. Miyagi specifies.  For example, the wax goes on the car in a circular motion with his left hand while the wax is rubbed off in a similar fashion with his right hand.

Wax on... wax off...

By the end of a month-long period, Daniel is tired of being Mr. Miyagi’s personal work slave and decides that it was time to quit before he ever gets started with the actual karate.

It is only after his confrontation with Mr. Miyagi does Daniel finally come to realize that all those chores specified by Mr. Miyagi were actually training Daniel by causing him to make repeated motions over and over and over again.  Perfecting each stroke while building up the muscles (and muscle memory) needed to perform each action, quickly without thinking.

As boring as it might have seemed to young Daniel, these so-called chores were actually training him with the basic building blocks needed to master the complexities of karate.

Accomplished musicians know these techniques only too well.  Concert performers have often repeatedly played musical scales tens of thousands of times prior to learning complicated music pieces.

Same thing applies to professional athletes who are at the pinnacle of their profession yet practice longer and harder than they ever have before in order continue to improve.  It’s not uncommon for professional basketball players to shoot a thousand free-throws each day... boring as it may seem... just to prepare themselves physically and mentally for a game-time performance.

Recently, someone from my office went to a class to learn how to use Microsoft Excel.  He spent two full days learning basic and intermediate skills from a teacher using a power point presentation in front of the class.

When he returned to the office a few days later, I asked him if he felt more competent when it came to using Excel spreadsheets.

He responded that although the class was informative, he really wasn’t given any hands-on training.  All of the instruction came from the teacher’s lecture with the class following her with a workbook.

I responded by saying that I agreed that this probably wasn’t the best way to actually learn how to use Excel. 

The best way to learn Excel is to actually sit down and use the program... repeating the same things over and over until you master the basic functions and then slowly adding new knowledge and skills to those things that you have already become proficient at.

This is how we get good at something.

We do it... we do it some more... and then we do it yet some more... until we can do it in our sleep.

This is the way we learned to read and write... learned our multiplication tables... learned how to play an instrument... and learned how to speak in a foreign language...

There is no magic pill that will impart knowledge and skills upon us... cramming simply doesn’t work over the long haul...

Learning comes from doing... not thinking about doing.

Once we become proficient, then we can expand our knowledge base by adding more and more to what we already know... at the same time... we need to remember to practice those things we already know so we don’t forget how to use them.

We need to not only absorb the knowledge but we also need to be able to access that knowledge when called upon.

Unlike the days of our forefathers and mothers, today we have an unlimited amount of knowledge within the palm of our hands.  Knowledge aggregators like Google, Yelp, and Wikipedia have given us the ability to find vast amounts of information within seconds.

The truly successful person today and in the future will be able to take this information and use it to create something completely new and innovative.

Real knowledge will not come from simply acquiring the information (a skill that most 8 year-olds can do today), but rather knowing how to use the information once we have it. 

...but here’s the rub...

Just because we’re competent today... we can’t afford to rest on our laurels... because there are two forces working simultaneously against us.

First... unless we continue to exercise the knowledge and skills that we currently know... we will ultimately lose the ability to recall it... use it or lose it...

If a musician were to only play their instrument once every five years... eventually they’ll lose the ability to play... it’s not like learning to ride a bike or learning to swim... we need to continue practicing what we already know just to keep our skills sharp.

Second... there are new pieces of information and knowledge becoming available to the world each and every moment of each day...

What worked 20 years ago won’t necessarily work today (especially if what you know is based on current technology)... we need to continue to push ourselves to continue to learn new skills and keep ourselves up-to-date with our base of knowledge.

The leaders and innovators of the future will not only know what to do... but have already spent countless amounts of time actually doing it... perfecting what they know and pushing the boundaries.

They will not only be smart... but they will be competent as well.

There is never a time to rest on our laurels... we must continue to refine what we know and push ahead to learn those things that we don’t.

Thank you for your support of OptiFuse where we try to work on the little things to ensure that we get the big things right...

Friday, February 20, 2015

The Opposite of Love...

"The opposite of love is not hate... but indifference..."
                                         ~Elie Wiesel

This past week I had a rather heated argument with my long-time general manager Lourdes. Anyone who might have happened to stop by our offices that afternoon would 
Spathave heard shouting and screaming emanating from my office as well as some choice cussing and swearing.

In the end they would have heard doors slamming... followed by even more shouting but now with a door between us.

Other employees at our office know better than to wander into the fray during these brief spats... as it would have just escalated the situation and put them in an uncomfortable position taking one side or another.

Now some managers reading this account might have their own solution to these little "episodes".

They might simply put their foot down and rid themselves of this problem once and for all.  Their philosophy is the time worn, "my way or the highway".

By employing this type of control, a manager instills a sense of discipline and control over their realm. 

These managers tend to rule by fear; in that if you are too out-spoken or too disagreeable, then you are simply not a team-player and should be replaced with someone who is...

The great irony is that most of these same managers wonder why they don’t get more employee participation and creativity.  They tell their subordinates that they want them to be problem solvers and work autonomously... but their actions and deeds run contrary to their words.

When someone does speak up... management looks at this as a sign of dissension and insubordination.

Lourdes and I have been working together now for almost 20 years and have been friends for nearly 30 years.  We have shared the good times, the bad times, and the times when we thought it was all over... time to turn off the lights for good.

At the end of the day, we might have strong disagreements... but we’ve never broken the trust of not caring about each other.

Throughout our friendship, we’ve both made some good decisions and bad decisions... we’ve both had some good ideas and bad ideas... we’ve both been right... and we’ve both been wrong...

The scariest thing I have to do each day as a leader is to allow the people I care deeply about, the freedom to make decisions that I believe in my heart are wrong and would never make for myself...

Sometimes things turn out great and other times not so great...

It’s not that though I have all the answers mind you... because I don’t.  Frankly, I make more mistakes than anyone at OptiFuse... mainly because I’m charged with making more decisions than anyone (but that’s why I get the big office).

Strong leaders understand that making mistakes are a part of the growing process.  If and when a mistake is made, a good leader takes the opportunity to make the mistake a valuable lesson.

There are four valuable outcomes from making mistakes: 
  1. There is the opportunity to learn from the mistake.  What went wrong?  What was a potential alternative that could have been implemented that would have prevented the mistake?
  2. Did someone take ownership of the mistake?  We all make errors in judgment but do we stand up and say... "yeah... this is on me" or do we quickly try to cast blame on others?  Good teams members acknowledge their mistake as their own. Owning up to mistakes revels a lot about one’s character and mental makeup.
  3. Can the mistake be fixed?  Having someone acknowledge that they made a mistake is just the first step... the second step is to try and have that person do something to fix the problem.  Doing nothing, or trying to hide the mistake often just compounds the problem.  When I think about some of my worst customer service experiences, I don’t think about what initially went wrong... I think about the non-caring attitude by the person who was responsible for the mistake in the first place.  Had they tried to do their best to remedy the problem, I most likely would have been accepting of their honest efforts to atone.
  4. What can be done as to safeguard against making the same mistake again?  One sure thing about life is that we will continue to make repeat tuition payments to the "school of hard knocks" until we finally learn our lesson and stop doing what caused the problem in the first place.  There is also an opportunity in this way for others to learn from our mistakes as well.
The reason Lourdes was so angry at me that day was because she saw that I was about to make the same mistake again and wanted to stop me.  I, on the other hand, believed that the parameters had significantly changed so that this new idea was unlike any other that I had made in the past.

The more she protested... the more I wanted to move forward with my idea.

Many times this happens within an organization... two forces believe in their hearts that they are right.  They aren’t thinking about themselves... they are trying to do what they believe is right for the organization.

This is what is currently happening in Washington, DC.  There are two factions that truly believe in their hearts that they are doing what is right and just for America. 

Maybe I’m just being na├»ve by saying that I believe that our last two presidents... being as different politically as can possibly be... both feel a great love for America and believed that they were doing everything in their power to make our country a better place to live... same goals... just a different path.

Lourdes and I weren’t vehemently arguing because we just wanted to be right and prove our point... but rather because we both felt a great passion for our company that we’ve work so hard to grow over the years. 

In the end, we both wanted to only do what we felt was best course of action for the greatest probability for success...

Leadership sometimes means that you need to listen when others speak.

When you speak you are only repeating what you already know... when you listen you might actually learn something new.

After a short time, Lourdes and I allowed our emotions to simmer down.  It was then we were both finally ready to listen rather than try to force our will upon each other.

In the end, a compromise was reached where we both believe that our company would be best served.

Our entire team loves what we are building together at OptiFuse... and it doesn’t scare me when we fight for what we believe in even if it means that we are angry with one another for a moment...

I’m far more fearful of the day when we run from the battle because we simply don’t care any longer...

When we give up... the game is over.

Thank you for your support of OptiFuse where hopefully you are the beneficiary of the battles being waged on your behalf...

Friday, February 13, 2015

Separating From the Herd...

You better lose yourself in the music, the moment
You own it, you better never let it go
You only get one shot, 
Do not miss your chance to blow
This opportunity only comes once in a lifetime

              ~  Marshall Mathers aka Eminem

A few weeks ago, I was cleaning out some old messages from my Facebook account when I stumbled upon a post from my friend Jim Riffel.

His post simply read... "I have fulfilled a life-long dream and completed and published my first novel, A Coach at Heart".

I met Jim over 35 years ago when we both arrived on the campus of San Diego State and independently decided to join the same fraternity.  Although I don’t regularly visit with Jim, I frequently see him at college basketball games where we are both season ticket holders.

Jim studied journalism at school and had once planned to go into sports broadcasting but ended-up becoming a writer for the local newspaper and an Associated Press correspondent.

And although I rarely read fiction books, I decided to support my friend by buying his book and reading it.

After perusing the first several chapters, I soon realized why I don’t read much fiction, but I was determined to finish the book, which I did a few days later.

As it so happens, this past week I once again saw Jim and his wife during the half-time break of a recent basketball game.

I told Jim that I had read his book and I could see in his face that he was elated.

Continuing, I went on to say that I truly enjoyed his strong effort and the historical context in which he placed fictional characters (a lot like the movie Forest Gump).

After which we said our goodbyes and headed back to our seats to watch the second-half of the game.

As I was driving home, I couldn’t stop thinking that I should have been a better friend to Jim and instead of giving him a wishy-washy review, I should have explain how proud I was to know someone like him... a published author.

The fact remains, that no matter what I thought of his writing style, he did it!

He wrote his novel... he didn’t think about writing a novel... he didn’t tell all his friends and family he was going to pen a book... he actually sat down and wrote... and wrote... and wrote some more.

His pages didn’t sit hidden away on the hard-disk of his computer.  He published it.  Amazon sold it.  People (like me) bought it and read it.

No matter what I thought of the book... he accomplished something great by actually doing it...

Just like writing a book... each significant accomplishment in our own lives can be broken down into three parts... a beginning... a middle... and an end.

Each of these stages is equally important.

The Beginning

Each beginning comes from some unfulfilled dream.

Maybe it is our dream of getting a college degree, learning a new language, trekking in the mountains of Nepal, saving for a first home, or perhaps writing our own novel.  We all have dreams of things that we want to someday accomplish.

Today is the day to start.

Starting something new is hard.  The resistance to change is relentless and will do anything in its power to put up roadblocks in front of you.

Resistance gets its ultimate power from fear.  We fear failure.  We fear success.  We fear missing out on something else because we are focused on what is in front of us.  We fear what other people will think about us.

We believe that movement causes collisions... but in truth... the world is in constant movement... and the best way to avoid collisions is to keep moving rather than standing still (think for a moment what would happen if you decided to park in the middle of the freeway... ).

The best way to overcome the resistance is to just start moving in a direction toward you goal... start today... start right now...

The Middle

So you’ve started... now it’s just one foot in front of the other.

There will be setbacks... there will be times when you know that you’re heading in the wrong direction so you’ll need to make a course correction... but you’re still moving.

Other things are moving around you... there are distractions... there are things that are screaming at you for attention...

Resistance is ever present... starting was easy as compared to the middle...

The middle means that you need to restart every day anew.  It means that you need to overcome roadblocks, mental blocks and tests of will.

It is the part that becomes mechanical because we stop pushing ourselves to expand our horizons and our boundaries.  We think that we’re moving forward... but in reality... we’re just running in place, expending a lot of energy but not really going anywhere...


When do we know that we are actually done?

There is the tendency to delay shipping just to make that one last revision... but that one revision turns into two... then three...

Pretty soon good isn’t good enough... and your thoughts are invaded by self-doubts and "what-ifs".

This is when fear has its greatest hold on you... because it’s now or never time...

First telling ourselves that we can jump from the high dive and setting out to do so is important... finding the motivation and willpower to climb each step of the ladder is attainable as we just put one foot in front of the other... but now we’re standing at the end of the diving board looking down at the water far below and we’re petrified.  Now is the time to actually jump.

This is the moment of truth... the moment when we allow others to judge us and our work. 

The remarkable thing is that we’re so caught up in what others think... that we don’t even realize that we’re seeking approval mostly from people who have never done what we’ve just done...

Why do I care what other people think of my marathon time... chances are they’ve never even run a marathon... so why should I care what they think?

Anyone can be a critic... an arm-chair quarterback... a supposed expert in something they know very little about... but we have actually done it and this is what separates us from the herd...

...and next time... we’ll do it just a bit better than the last time... because we now know that we can do it... and we’ll push ourselves to go a little further than the last time...

Thank you for your support of OptiFuse where we support the dreamers... the people who are working toward their goals... and the ones who know how to finish what they’ve started. 

Friday, February 6, 2015

Navigating Hostile Waters...

This week we once again have the opportunity to hear a new voice with our guest blogger Janet Thaeler.

Several months ago, I was introduced to Janet’s blog, newspapergrl, and have been an avid reader ever since...

Late last year, we had the opportunity to meet in person and decided that perhaps we could do "guest appearances" on each other’s blog...

 I went first... now it’s Janet’s turn...

* * *

How to Safely Navigate White Water Communication at Work and Home

I’ve been really angry at work only a few times that I can remember...

The first time it happened, I actually got into a heated shouting match with our company’s graphic designer that I was working with to help with the relaunch of our company’s new website.

Our target demographic for this site was young mothers.  I had done extensive research and had all of the details mapped out with clear examples of what I wanted.

My designer disagreed.  He wanted to create a generic website that appealed to everyone.  He explained that he was the expert and that I should feel honored that he was giving me free "consulting".

"Boring", I declared!...

I knew in my heart, that if we were going to be noticed... we would need to find a way to appeal to our target market... young women. 

Yet... I was new in my position as director of marketing... and since he had done some other work for the company prior to my arrival, he thought that he could force me to accept his ideas and abandon mine.

In some of our previous meetings, he bullied and belittled me... so much so in fact... that I began to dread working with him and often canceled meetings just to avoid confrontation.

He saw my weakness and exploited it.

I told myself that this time was going to be different.

Our meeting started cordially enough but soon we started to argue.

This time I stayed my course... I knew I was right and I wasn’t going to be bullied any longer.

The fight soon escalated as we began shouting loudly at each other so much... of which could be heard throughout the building.

Finally the company president (and my immediate boss) interceded... and demanded that we both stop immediately... as we were disrupting the entire office.

At that point I found myself embarrassed and self conscious.

Why doesn’t he defend me I wondered?

He hired me to do a job... now he won’t back me up.

Now I find myself becoming angry at my boss as well as the designer.

My confidence is no longer as I begin to feel dejected and beaten.

In the second situation I found myself angry at work, it was during a preliminary meeting with a potential client to discuss a possible new product.  

The meeting is approaching 90 minutes as he ranted and raved about his revolutionary new baby mattress and why it’s so amazing.

The client continued quoting studies, rattling off statistics, and offering testimonials from well-known people... which isn’t bad... however interlaced with his diatribe were several pointed disparaging comments about women... especially about the mothers who were going to actually use his product.

With each judgmental comment he made, I found myself getting angrier and angrier.  I wanted to speak up but I remained silent.

Trying to remain professional, I offered up my own comments and suggestions to him regarding his product, but he will have none of it and continues his own course unabated and commented that my ideas had no merit.

He was doing all the talking but not listening... and it frustrated me to no end... almost to a point of tears. 

As I was sitting there listening to him babble on and on, I conjuring up childhood memories of trying to express a new idea to my older brothers... who would just tease me until I was so humiliated I couldn’t even think logically...

As my mind came back to the meeting at hand, I come to the realization that I can no longer sit by idly while he continued to criticize the very customers he was trying to attract.

I’m now so upset that I must confront him.

With my pent up anger, I now boldly challenge what I believe is his misguided thinking, and his patronizing of all mothers. 

And when it’s over (it did finally end), I head off to seek the refuge of the women’s restroom... crying as I knew I had let my emotions get the best of me.  

Perhaps in hindsight, I probably should have excused myself calmly and said I had another appointment and just abruptly ended the meeting... and walk away... but this wasn’t me... and I couldn’t let it go.

My final example of displaying anger at work came when I was working with a group of developers in a small office. 

My colleagues all preferred to work in the dark with their only lighting coming from their computer screens.

Unfortunately we all worked together in an open space. 

While at work, I found myself getting so down.

One day I realized it was because I needed light. I couldn’t work in the dark any more so I spoke up. 

A war ensued. 

The lights on, the lights off. 

Then one day when I turned the lights on and my coworker yelled, "F you!" from across the room.

To make matters worse... he was not only a co-worker but he was also a relative of mine!

At family gathering, I would often see this individual with his wife. We weren’t exactly close friends but we were still family.

Now I have him swearing at me over something so benign as overhead lighting!!
Recently I had the opportunity to meet an author by the name of John R. Stoker, who spoke to me during a television interview.

He gave me a copy of his book, Overcoming Fake Talk, and I agreed to read it.

The book sat on my desk for several months before I found the courage (and time) to read it.

Before actually reading the book, I assumed that the "fake talk" he was referring to was more about lying or being superficial.

What I discover however, was that "fake talk" was really about trying to understand our emotions, especially negative emotions like anger, jealousy, and fear.

There are certain triggers that cause these negative emotions to surface in us that cause us to act out in ways that are outside of our normal character.

Once those triggers are activated, negativity, anger, and blame began to swell deep inside of us.  We stop listening and instead start formulating responses when we are given the opportunity.

For me, that trigger was disparaging or belittling comments directed at women... especially mothers... maybe because I was a young mother and I felt those attacks were directed squarely at me.

We’ve all heard the expression... "he’s just pushing my buttons".  Well there is now some scientific evidence that this really does occur.

Understanding what our triggers are helps to allow us to control our negative emotions and navigate through difficult situations.

There are two natural responses to our emotional triggers; flight or fight.

Neither gets you what you want.  One avoids confrontation and the other escalates it.

Yet there is a third response... one not based on emotion but rather logic.

While one side of your brain is trying to rage out of control, the other side must work equally as hard to keep your composure under fire.

It starts with controlled breathing, allowing more oxygen to flow to the brain, the measured formulation of correct words to express yourself, and the ability to ask questions to clarify and learn rather than accuse or blame.

Being able to control our emotions, even in difficult situations takes hard work and practice.  

Even after so many improvements and with so much more confidence I still often find myself reacting in the moment rather than stepping back and assessing the situation in a calm and collected way.

I start recognizing ahead of time when things start to go "below the line" which happens "when individuals are not thinking rationally or are just interested in defending themselves."

When conversations start going below the line or as John describes as a downward spiral, here is one way through: you remain steadfast logical instead of emotional.

With the clarity of 20/20 hindsight, I am now able to look back at my conversational disasters of the past and replay them with new outcomes learning from these mistakes as not to repeat them in the future.

Just like a river guide who sees the color of the water and knows what to do, I start seeing anger as a queue that I’m not communicating well.

And hopefully I can become a guide of at least my own tongue. 
 * * *  
Janet Thaeler is a influencing PR and marketing maven based in Ogden, Janet-smileUT. Her blog can be found at www.newspapergrl.comJanet wanted to be a newspaper reporter until she learned about the hours and pay so she decided to become a blogger instead.  She still reads newspapers.