No windup

I do four kinds of exercise: play squash, run, swim, and do yoga. A more accurate portrayal is that I mostly play squash, and do the other three every so often. This week, though, because of the warmer weather, earlier sunrise, and jetlag, I’ve run four times in 8 days.

One of the things that’s beautiful about running is that there’s almost no windup and wind-down: no place to drive to, no plan to make, no excess anything on either side. In 45 minutes set aside for a run, 40 of those minutes are spent running. Get dressed, lace up your shoes, and go.

Early yesterday morning, tired and cranky, I was wondering why I had dragged myself out of bed to run two days in a row. I had finished tying my shoes and I was standing at my back door looking for some way to stall (what I would have given for a fifteen minute drive to the gym!) It felt like there was a physical barrier I had to push through to get myself up and out the door. I walked out of my house, walked onto the street, kept walking for one more block, started the music on my phone, and finally had no choice but to start jogging slowly.

Similarly, earlier this week a colleague and I found ourselves with only 35 minutes at the end of a long day in which to get some important work done. Neither of us seemed up for it and I almost suggested we not bother. We chatted and stalled for a little, and we nearly got pulled into email on our open laptops. But then we began.

In both cases – the run and the 30 minute conversation that should have taken two hours – it was easy to be fooled that I needed more windup, more buffer, more something between me and the work.

Then I get out there and reconfirm what I seem to need to relearn each and every time: that the windup is nothing more than stalling; and that the correlation between how I feel beforehand and how the work goes is nearly zero.

At their best

It’s difficult, in the swirl of the day-to-day of getting things done, for everyone in your organization to fully see each other.

What you can look out for, though, are moments of greatness, those glimpses of someone shining in ways only they can shine, delivering something that is truly exceptional.

This reminds us what to look out for, and it reminds us how to get noticed.

“Exceptional” “shining” and “greatness” don’t need to be flashy.

You can be exceptionally responsive, exceptionally amazing at hitting deadlines, exceptionally quick to help out a colleague.

You can shine at research, shine at learning new skills, shine at building relationships of trust that allow your organization to hear real feedback.

You can be great at collaboration, great at giving constructive feedback, and great at helping colleagues be courageous.

Go above and beyond in ways that make a real difference, expect that in yourself and in others, and always be on the lookout for glimpses of people at their best.

 

TGIM

“It’s almost there. Today’s Thursday,” I hear a fellow passenger say to her friend as we all walk off the train. Yet another person counting the seconds until the weekend.

(At that moment, she had 115,200 seconds to go.)

On and on we tromp down the endless treadmill, until, perhaps, we step up and step off.

It is especially rare to wake up one day and muster the courage to jump off alone. The treadmill’s moving too fast, and we might hurt ourselves when we jump.

What gets us there is the slow, consistent work of finding like-minded people to dream with, to experiment with, to discover what a different world might look like. We draw our courage from them, as they do from us.

When the moment finally does come to leap, we are surrounded by a community trust, that catches us, shows us the way, and cushions the fall.

Happy Monday to you.

15 ways you can reach me

Today a friend apologized to me for not seeing a Skype text I’d sent him last week (no problem). This got me thinking about the incoming communication tools that I have, all the ways people can reach me.

  1. Work email address (Outlook)
  2. Personal email address (Gmail)
  3. Blog email address (Gmail)
  4. Blog comments (WordPress)
  5. Spam/shopping email address (Yahoo)
  6. iPhone text
  7. WhatsApp (including a few groups)
  8. Twitter (DMs, RTs and mentions)
  9. Skype calls + texts [oh, and I’m testing Viber]
  10. Facebook (and I don’t use the messenger app)
  11. LinkedIn messages
  12. Work phone + voicemail
  13. Cellphone + voicemail
  14. Home phone + voicemail
  15. [Local cell phone while traveling abroad]

Fifteen different communications tools, and I’m not that active on any of the social media platforms. Nor does this make any reference to my going out and seeking news, updates and information (blog RSS feed, Twitter feed, Facebook feed, LinkedIn Feed, etc.).

This feels like an insane list. I guess Facebook and Google want to consolidate everything for me so I’m not jumping between platforms, but I don’t trust either enough to have that feel like a good solution.

Is this just the way it is, or am I missing something?

I’m curious: how many ways can you be reached?

(p.s. Eric Schmidt wrote a piece for Time about email, which includes the maxim “Clean out your inbox constantly.” I totally disagree. Where do we draw the line in terms of our incoming communications streams, and when are we supposed to do real thinking and work if we’re triaging 15 (20? 30?) feeds all day long?).

Your questions grow up with you

Do I want to be a superhero or drive a firetruck?

Do I want to be a teacher, a doctor, a lawyer or a veterinarian?

Do I want to be a salesperson, an entrepreneur, an investment banker or a professor?

Goldman or Morgan? TFA or Robin Hood? Charter school or public school? Facebook or Google?

Until, eventually:

What kinds of problems do I want to solve?

How much direction do I need?

And how much do I want those around me to need?

What kind of approval do I seek?

Do I like creating new things or polishing others’ great ideas?

Do I work best with people who are highly structured or more free form?

Do I thrive or crack under pressure?

Do I want a workspace that is quiet or loud?  Open or closed?

What happens when I’m in the spotlight? What should?

How do I manage my time to be most effective?

How hard can I work in a sustained way?

Am I a starter or a finisher?

Do I process information best alone or in groups?   In conversation or in writing?

How important is culture to me?   Values?

What does leadership mean to me?

How do I make others shine?

The sprint at the end

The sprint at the end of a project does get you there.  It focuses your and your team’s energy, keeps the pressure on, and is an occasion for heroic efforts.  It can work.

Except.

Except it only really works when you guess right about where that finish line is.  It only really works when you time everything just right, so that you cross the finish line just at the moment when your and your team’s energy is about to run out.

Meaning that, once you hit maximum velocity you’ve closed yourself off to discovery, closed yourself off to noticing, a good ways down the path, that you need to make a turn, you need to double down, you need to shore up for a longer haul.

That tortoise was on to something.

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.