Choke points

Lately I’ve found Google Maps to do a pretty good job of predicting how long drives are going to take, with traffic.  That’s a huge plus in terms of planning, predictability and figuring out the best routes, and I’ve wondered for a while why traffic data has been available but estimated drive times have consistently been way off the mark.  My one remaining feature question is why Google or other maps applications don’t let you input the time you will be driving to get an estimate.  Obviously there will be idiosyncrasies on any given day, but they have all the data to tell you what normally happens on a given route at 5pm (though perhaps it’s not worth the trouble to store it all).Google maps

All this said, I do find occasionally that there are still big glitches, like yesterday when I drove to the airport for what was predicted to be a 38 minute drive on a route I never take – and which would have been 38 minutes had it not been for a tiny half-mile stretch on one exit that alone took more than 15 minutes.  That 50% variance on the drive to the airport makes a big difference.

That got me thinking about the pace at which complex work gets done in organizations.  The obvious, big piece is about the overall flow of traffic: how quickly does your organization move in its default setting?  This has to do with culture and norms and expectations, and I’ve never worked anywhere where we couldn’t do things faster most of the time.

However sometimes the slow doesn’t come from the overall pace of thing but instead comes from choke points, snags where everything grinds to a halt even though the general pace of things is otherwise brisk.

When these choke points happen, the first thing we need to do is name them.  “Hey, we got stuck in this situation – this always happens to us.”  Just that conversation – saying out loud which situations get you stuck – will itself be powerful.

And once that moment has been named and recognized, there are two (likely intertwined) things we can do.  The first just builds off the naming and says, “It’s really important for us not to grind to a halt here, so we’re going to consciously ignore the thing that has stopped us (the approval we need, the great counterpoint someone has made, the risk we are running, the unwillingness to make a big final push with a hard deadline) and just decide to finish.”  The active, shared decision that acknowledges a good reason to stop but says, “let’s push on apace” could itself teach everyone involved whether the stop sign was there for a good reason.  And it might have been.  Or not.  If you try it a few times you’ll find out.  (Results will vary).  Key to making this work will be a real postmortem that brings in all the relevant folks, to get everyone to discuss what happened and what was good/bad about taking this new approach.

The second, deeper intervention is to use choke points as opportunities to have courageous conversations about what is really going on, to address deeply held beliefs or behaviors that are holding your organization (and its people) back.  These conversation involve taking risk, being open to loss, confronting deeply held beliefs about what behaviors help your organization succeed. They’re called “courageous” for a reason.

Either way, it all starts with the decision that being ground to a halt, repeatedly, is no way to get from here to there.

A week

It hasn’t been a great winter for running for me.  Between the cold snowy weather, late sunrises and general busyness, I’ve just not gotten out there that often.

That didn’t stop me from deciding, this past weekend, to take my one free daylight hour and head out for a 7 mile, very hilly run in 25°F weather.  Brilliant, I know.  Usually I feel like most of the effort is in just getting out there, and after I start things get easier.  This time, between the cold and the brutal hills (I think there was maybe 1 mile of true flat road on this run), I spent the better part of an entire run talking myself into finishing the run.

Even in that context, one moment stood out.  The last mile of this run is practically straight uphill, and steep, and I was at the base of the steepest part of that incline.  I had psyched myself up by convincing myself that this section of the last hill was short and steep, and the strategy had been working as I trudged along with my head down.  Then, reflexively, I looked up to discover that the hill was about three times as long as I’d pretended it was.

At that moment I had an overwhelming urge to stop.

The interesting part is that being out of breath or feeling a huge burn in my legs didn’t demotivate me, but seeing how far I still had to go did.

And so, switching gears, I wonder: how do we really go about making changes in our lives? (Alternately: why do New Years resolutions fail?).

I’d propose that the thing that holds us back is that “looking up” moment, when you see how big the hill you want to scale is and decide that it’s just too darn big, too hard, too much, so you don’t start.

Despite being a believer in big audacious goals, when it comes to the hard work of personal transformation, I’m most successful when I start small.  If I want to cut out eating sugar, if I want to meditate daily or be more generous or ignore my inbox for an hour a day or give myself more whitespace for reflection, I’d much rather set myself a clear one-week goal and start on it today.

You can do anything for a week, easily.  And by committing to just a week, you don’t have to engage in the meaningless anticipation of what this undertaking will mean for you – because, let’s be honest, until you do it (whatever IT is) you really don’t know what IT feels like.  The powerful part is that a week is long enough to start getting used to a new habit: it’s long enough to change how salty your think food should taste (try it, it’s true).  It’s long enough to discover whether mornings or evenings work better for you for _______ [YOUR NEW ACTIVITY]; long enough to discover why, really, it’s hard not to check your smartphone right when you wake up or right when you go to bed or every time you step into an elevator.

Just one week.

Don’t allow the sight of the big hill keep you from starting to run.  Give it a week, start today, and see how you actually feel when you behave differently.  Then decide how big this is going to be for you.

Gifts – The Icarus Deception

The other day I received a massive, 40 pound box full of goodies from Seth Godin.

I was one of the 4,242 people who happily jumped in to support Seth’s Kickstarter project to fund his next book, The Icarus Deception.

Of course, for $111 I didn’t just get the book.  And I didn’t just get 8 copies of the hardcover book (to give away), which itself would have been a steal.  Those 8 books took up a tiny corner of this massive box, which also contained two copies of V is for Vulnerable, a alphabet book for grown-ups, with wild, wacky, beautiful illustrations by Hugh MacLeod, about leaning in, creating art, and having the courage to ship; a delicate, hand-made mug by Lori Koop, with a hand-written note from Lori that reads “Seth asked me to make this for you….this is my art. –Lori;”  an LP (yes, as in a record) whose contents I have yet to discover….I just need to get my hands on a record player; and a totally massive, 11 x 16 inch 800+ page full-color book that, impishly, has a bunch of rubber ducklings on the front cover.  It is a collection of Seth’s best online writing from 2006 to 2012, and it’s literally the heaviest book I’ve ever laid my hands on.

Icarus Kickstarter goodies

My experience of this whole thing is joy.  I can see Seth smiling as I smile; I’m wowed by the beauty and the irreverence of each and every piece, as well as the chance that each of them gives someone else – not just Seth – to shine.   And the whole undertaking is, literally, delightful – my high expectations are blown out of the water; even with inklings of what might have been in the box I was surprised time and again.

It really is possible to delight our customers, to thank our greatest fans, to make them feel special not out of a sense of obligation but because you want to and you can.

And going back to the massive, 800+ page book, I also think back to my many experiences of sharing Seth’s advice with others – whether on publishing or on courage or on pushing through the resistance.  Yes, tons of people get it and live it.  And then there are the folks who  say something like, “Well yeah, that’s interesting and that probably works for Seth because he’s Seth.”

When I take this book, which physically holds just a small portion of what Seth has produced in the last six years, the only thing I can think is: he’s Seth because he produced all of this.  He’s Seth because any bit of advice he’s giving is something he’s already been doing for years; he’s Seth because he ships; he’s Seth because he’s not afraid to take risk, to show up, to fail, to shine, or even to look a little silly.

Finally, as homage to all of this (especially the silly part) here’s a little video that gives you a sense of the mega-tome.  Of course it’s not just heavy, it’s also beautiful and it will transform the conversations you have around your coffee table.  And it will remind you not of what Seth can do, but of what you can do if you show up fully every day.

Six types of blogging days

  1. “This is such a great idea!  People will love this!  I’m a wonderful blogger!  It’s so easy!”
  2. “What the #*$%# is wrong with my  #%*$%$ computer!!”
  3.  “I’m not used to writing here/at this time of day.”
  4. “Gosh I thought this post was going to be easier to write.  This is taking forever and it’s still not there yet.”
  5. “Is this post good enough?”
  6. “I have nothing to say.  I’ll never have anything to say. It’s all been said before.”

The hard part is: you have to post on all of these days.  And the dirty little secret is that no one, not even you, can tell which is which.

Keep at it.

(p.s. this post isn’t just about blogging)


POTSHOTTER  noun \pot-ˈsho-tər\

1 : someone who primarily or exclusively provides criticism

2:  a person who critiques, tears down, weakens


What could be easier than sitting back and describing how something could be better?

“If I were in charge, I’d…”

“This thing is a mess, I can’t believe they let this happen…”

What could be harder than leaning forward and making it better?

Leaning forward, putting yourself on the line, coming up with your own ideas that might be right and might be wrong, getting into the messy thick of things….that’s the hard part, the real part, the valuable part, the part that scares the pants off of most everyone.

Good posts, bad posts, and the dragon

I have a confession to make: yesterday’s post wasn’t really finished.  I simply ran out of time, and even though I wanted to give it another read, to tweak it some, to tighten it and make it a little punchier, I just couldn’t.

So I published it.

And you know what?  I bet you didn’t notice, because my own inner critic screams a heck of a lot louder than you do.  And if you did notice, you probably didn’t care all that much.

I just finished Stephen Pressfield’s manifesto Do the Work (available for FREE on Kindle), the second book published by The Domino Project.  It’s an entire book about the Resistance, a malevolent force (an actual dragon) out to fight you to the death, to stop you in your tracks, to keep you from producing great art and for sharing your gifts with the world.

It will take you about two hours to read this book, and I promise it will stick with you for the rest of your life.  Every time you start to hesitate, to hold back, to put off something even a little bit, you’ll know that dragon is out there leering at you, snickering in the knowledge that he might win another round.

That dragon was telling me not to post yesterday, was telling me the post wasn’t good enough.   Tomorrow it will tell me that I don’t have a post in me, or if I do come up with something, it will tell me that what I do have to say isn’t good enough or insightful enough or clever enough to make it worth reading.

My ace in the hole is that I’ve already shipped.  I do it every day. I know how to win this battle.

And so do you.  Fight on!

(Here’s the link again to Do the Work, free on Kindle, in case something or someone held you back from getting it the first time.  Pressfield is the real deal, the author of 8 books, and he knows of what he speaks.)

Tax day

In the U.S., the taxman cometh tomorrow.  Most of us scramble to make the deadline, but we make it.  We get the forms signed, the extra work done, we dot our i’s and cross our t’s before time is up. The deadline is firm, so we deliver.

Why not create another deadline for yourself, right now, but instead of filing your taxes you’ll ship something really important that you’re stuck on.  If you already know that you push off your own deadlines, make them more like tax day:

  • Set up a meeting in which you promise to present your new findings
  • Decide you’re going to talk about this thing in a speech you’re giving next month
  • Email 10 friends right now and say “I’m writing something really important that will be ready on May 1st, can I send it to you and get your feedback?”
  • Tell your boss today that you’d like to meet with her about this in 10 days
  • Post on Facebook or Twitter that you’re getting this thing done next Friday, no matter what
  • Promise to stop eating – sweets, milk, dessert, breakfast cereal – until you send off your first draft

Deadlines are powerful, so go ahead and make one right now for something important to you.  Once it’s out there, I know you’ll deliver.

Oh, and don’t forget to mail in your taxes tomorrow.