A Rose by Another Name Actually Does NOT Smell as Sweet… The Power of Holistic Design

Black Rose

With all due respect to Sir William, I have to say that he got this one wrong. Sure… technically a rose gives the same olfactory experience no matter what it is called. There obviously is nothing about changing the name of an object that also physically alters that object. That being said, a change in name does alter a person’s expectation and thus affects how that person experiences the object. For example, I enjoy drinking Sprite and like everything about the carbonation and the sweet citrus flavor. However, I once picked up a glass of clear liquid that I thought was “water” and then took a drink to find Sprite instead. I nearly choked- and was surprised and negatively impacted by an experience that didn’t match my expectation. It was the same Sprite that I have always enjoyed and that would show no difference in a technical analysis or a blind taste test… but it was different to me because it fit into a different context in my mind.

I heard an example several years ago that has stuck with me and that really illustrates this point. A research team placed a consumer study on chocolate pudding and gave three different pudding protptypes to three distinct groups of people to assess which was the most “chocolatey”. One group received a pudding sample that was light, almost tan brown in color, the next group a sample that was a medium, typical brown, and the final group a pudding that had a dark, rich brown color. The study showed that the ratings of the flavor of the pudding correlated directly with the color of the pudding- the darker the color, the more “chocolatey” the pudding. As you may have guessed, each pudding actually had the exact same flavor and differed only in color. All differences were driven 100% by the color and the perception that these colors represented. The truly amazing part of the study? Not only were all of the puddings the same flavor… the flavor was actually “vanilla”! Not a single panelist noticed that the pudding was not even chocolate at all. It looked like chocolate and was named chocolate, so the panelists “tasted” chocolate. I love this story as it very clearly illustrates that design elements that we sometimes take for granted because they aren’t driving “real” performance can actually have a dramatic impact on a person’s perception of performance. Perception truly is reality and it is imperative that we consider this in designing our products, services, and experiences.

1) Insted of merely delivering “performance”, deliver “A Performance”! As I have said before, I am a big science fiction fan and I grew up at a time when Star Wars became my favorite movie series (the original not the new ones!). When you think about what made Star Wars successful, what comes to mind? The epic struggle of good vs. evil. The flawed characters who transformed into heroes. The amazing space battles, new worlds, and special effects. All of these of course were the heart of what made Star Wars great. But now imagine Star Wars without the epic John Williams soundtrack. The music is such a critical part in driving the experience of Star Wars- from the fanfare at the beginning, to the thematic music that moved the stories and characters along, to the very last celebratory notes to close the trilogy. While the soundtrack is not technically a part of the story itself, it is critical to the overall experience and the movies would have had an entirely different impact without it. To me, the holistic design elements that we drive into our innovations are analogous to the soundtrack to a movie. An iPhone camera would work the same if it didn’t make the camera “click”, but that click makes it feel more like a real camera. Dandruff shampoos don’t need to “tingle” on your scalp, but that is a powerful signal that the product is working. As we design our innovations, it is more than just driving a functional benefit… it is about composing a holistic experience.

2) Focus on the whole “journey”, not just the destination. A lot of products that we use and make are designed to deliver some sort of end benefit. We want clothes that are clean, cars that take us from point A to point B, and food that quenches our appetite. However, our enjoyment of the end benefit is almost always more driven by the experience in using the product than on the end benefit itself. You can get clean teeth without a minty flavor, but it is less refreshing. A Harley doesn’t need to have that distinctive engine roar, but it makes the whole ride more enjoyable. An example- When instant cake mixes were first designed, the design team found a way to make an instant cake mix in which you could “just add water” and bake it… and the resuls showed that the cake tasted at least as good as cakes made from scratch. The team gave the mixes to a bunch of moms, and asked them to try the product and to evaluate it. Consistently, the moms rejected the product. Baffled, the researchers asked “why?” Was it the taste of the product? Were the directions too confusing? No- the moms felt like it no longer felt like baking and that they didn’t feel the enjoyment of delighting their families. What was missing? The moms thought that they should at least need to crack some eggs and add them to the mix. This one simple step, while technically unnecessary and actually adding time and complexity, added to the experience of baking and became a critical design element. What are the “cracked eggs” in our product experience that may not seem important on the surface, but ultimately are critical to the overall experience?

3) Make design a part of the process from the start and not just at the end. There often is a temptation in doing product design to get the “real”, “functional” performance elements done first and then to add the “fluffy”, “experiential” design elements in later. Essentially, first make it “work” and then make it look “pretty” at the end. This is a huge missed opportunity, and innovation is must better served if design elements and design minds are enrolled from the start. Even in projects that are on the very front end of innovation where it is tempting to lock ourselves in the lab and to focus on the technical detail, we can benefit from having design involved from the onset. Often we can design performance benefits that are noticeable in lab testing or among the team, but can be missed by our consumers. While our projects may be our top focus for 40 hours / week, for our consumers they are just one of hundreds of experiences that they have on a given day. Design can help direct consumers to our new benefits through intentionally integrating signals and cues that emphasize performance. What should “clean” smell like? What should “fast” sound like? What does “healthy” taste like? If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck… perception truly is reality and we should put as much energy into designing in the signals and cues of performance as we do to the technical nitty-gritty of performance from the onset of our programs.

If you go home on Valentine’s Day and tell your significant other that you brought her a dozen “skunks” or you give her a bouquet of black roses, she will not enjoy the aromatic benefits of the roses you bought. In designing our products, services, and experiences, EVERYTHING matters and we should focus on each element of the entire journey. Make your product epic, and compose a symphony of impactful and memorable delight.

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All- I wanted to take a moment and thank all of you who have been following this blog via email and through the various sites in which I am posting. You may have noticed that I renamed the site “innovation on purpose”… It seemed like a more fitting title after a month of figuring out what would my focus would be. When I started this last month, I had no idea what to expect, and it has been truly humbling and exciting to interact with so many of you from every continent around the globe (except Antarctica… maybe I should write about exploration and igloos!). I’ve appreciated all the feedback and conversation and would love to hear any additional thoughts, ideas, or questions that you have. Thanks again for joining me on this ride- I look forward to continuing the journey!

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Check out my book, Agents of Change, available in paperback and eBook additions on Amazon.com

How does LUCK play into successful INNOVATION?

Luck in Innovation

Here on this St. Patrick’s Day as March Madness is about to begin, I have been thinking about the role of “luck” in the innovation process. Looking back at the history of many major innovations, often the end result was at least somewhat attributed to “luck”. Comments like, “we were lucky we ran that extra experiment”, “fortunately, we launched at the right time” or “we thought we had made a mistake but then something amazing happened” are commonly found in the stories of breakthrough new products. Often there were a variety of successful companies all simultaneously working on the same ideas with teams that, on paper, had the same skills… but one team had an amazing success while all the rest were left with monumental failures. Was it merely a matter of “luck” and good fortune, and if so where does this “luck” come from?

There are several classic stories that reveal some major innovations that happened somewhat serendipitously.

  • Chocolate Chip Cookies: Ruth Graves Wakefield was the owner of the Toll House Inn and famous for her homemade cookies. One day, she ran out of baker’s chocolate so she improvised and tossed in some chunks of semi-sweet chocolate that had been given to her by Andrew Nestle. The chocolate failed to melt in the cookies and the rest, as they say, is history… she ended up with the first batch of chocolate chips and the first ever chocolate chip cookies. The cookies became an instant classic at the inn, and Nestle gave her a lifetime supply of chocolate in exchange for her cookie recipe. Nestle then launched the first Toll House Semi-Sweet Chocolate Morsels in 1939.
  • Kleenex Facial Tissues: In 1926, the head of Research & Development at Kimberly Clark was a severe hay fever sufferer and was responsible for the company’s Kleenex brand disposable cold cream removal cloths. He began using the cloths as a “disposable handkerchief” and was impressed by the benefit that the product provided. At the same time, researchers at K-C were becoming intrigued by the number of letters they were getting from consumers saying that they were using the product for the same purpose. They ran a quick research study and placed advertisements in a Peoria, Illinois newspaper highlighting the now two possible uses of Kleenex, cold cream removal and disposable handkerchiefs. The results showed that over 60% of responders were using Kleenex for blowing their nose and K-C correspondingly changed how they were advertising the product. By 1930, sales had doubled and Kleenex remains the world’s top facial tissue!
  • Ivory Soap: Ivory Soap had been a key product in driving Procter & Gamble’s early success as a soap and candle company. In early 1878, P&G launched an upgraded product know as “white soap” as an effective and affordable product to delight their consumers. Several months after launch, a researcher responsible for making the soap forgot to turn off a machine when he went off to lunch, and when he came back, the batch of soap was “puffed-up and frothy.” The soap technically still worked as effectively as before and was shipped out into market. Consumers instantly noticed that the soap now floated and began demanding that they wanted more soap with that benefit. When leaders at P&G discovered the source of the anomaly, they decided to take the researcher’s “mistake” , which essentially was extra air in the soap mixture, and to intentionally make it part of the product. This became a key part of their commercialization strategy (“If you can’t fix it, claim it!”) and the floating soap became a key driver of the company’s success.

Is there an element of “luck” in each of these stories? Of course… all of these stories included some form of accidental discovery that brought them to life. That being said, in each example, the key leaders made choices either to enable or to leverage this “luck” to make it successful. Wakefield had to be willing to improvise with her chocolate chips and Nestle also had to invest in this new idea. Kimberly-Clark had to pay attention to the letters from consumers and to choose to reposition a product that had already been successful. P&G could have discarded the batch from the start, fired the researcher, or “fixed” the floating soap rather than leverage it. In each example, someone made a conscious choice to turn mistakes or accidents into a new idea. But for each of these stories, there are millions of examples where an amazing “lucky” occurrence happened and was either ignored or even punished. So what are some principles so that we can be the teams with the horseshoes and rabbits’ feet rather than the ones with black cats and broken mirrors?

(Bear with me on the metaphors… A lot of basketball, pots of gold, and Guinness on the brain…)

1) Hire some gamblers and give them some chips. It is somewhat easy to say that if we want to create more “luck” in our innovation process, that we should hire some successful “gamblers”. Innovative organizations are usually good at hiring risk-takers who have the passion and capability to push the envelope, and who can accept that losing from time-to-time is inherent in taking chances. But when we bring these “gamblers” into our organizations, do we entrust them with “chips”, give them some time, and set them free in our “casinos”… or do we micro-manage their spending, their time, and their bets? It is one thing to hire the gamblers, but if we want them to hit the jackpot, we have to give them the freedom to gamble as they see fit.

2) If you want to make more shots, you need to take more shots. Michael Jordan is arguably the best basketball player ever to take the court and has more than a whole highlight reel of game-winning shots in key moments. However, for every one of these shots he made, he missed several more and actually made far less that 50% of the game-winners that he actually attempted! So did MJ stop shooting? No, of course not- instead of focusing on the shots he missed, he focused on the ones he made… resulting in one of the most successful careers in NBA history. He once was quoted as saying, “I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”. Amazing innovations do happen… and rarely they may even happen on the first shot. But for truly amazing accomplishments, there are typically a series of failures for every success. Net, the more shots you take, the more you make.

3) Follow the “rainbows” and look for the “pots of gold”. Often the success of new ideas is largely about being in the right place at the right time. That being said, while this may look like “luck” on the surface, often it is a combination of experience (intuitively knowing where the “right place” is), research (knowing the trends, not only of your industry but also of the broader landscape), and insight (combining this experience and research into a new idea). Even more importantly, once you know where the rainbow should be, having the courage to find the rainbow and chase the pot of gold- not knowing what you will actually find (e.g. some crazy, fighting leprachauns!)- is the critical step. How many times do we ignore the “rainbows” in our industries until we learn that a competitor got there first and found the “pot of gold”, because we were too hesitant to be the first to take the risk and chase the uncertain fortune? It is critical to look for and to find the rainbows, but even more critical to have the courage to chase the pot of gold.

4) Expect to win with every bet, and don’t give up with every loss. If you are in a culture that punishes failure and only rewards successes, that values only results but not experimentation, or that demands perfection over striving for amazing… then “luck” often is squeezed out of the equation. If, however, taking risks, challenging paradigms, and accepting (and even encouraging) failure is an accepted part of culture, then individuals will inherently place more bets… and more bets leads to more wins.

5) Take time to walk around the “forest” and don’t focus too early on the “trees”. Often, teams will try to optimize their probability for success by narrowing scope early in the innovation process. On the surface, defining the “box” early may appear to simplify via driving focus and minimizing choices. In reality, closing off degrees of freedom too early often adds limitations and makes work more challenging. In fact, having too intense of a focus on a specific objective is actually prohibitive on bringing in new insights and in finding “lucky” discoveries. Google has a successful concept of “20% Projects” where they allow employees 20% of their time to innovate on ideas outside their day job… and they estimate that 50% of their initiatives come from these projects! If you want to find a “lucky” discovery, you need to spend some time with stimuli and with people outside of the specific objective to bring in fresh ideas and to not lose the forest for the trees.

There will always be an element of luck and serendipity in the innovation process, and that is part of the excitement of the innovation career. The fallacy is, that this luck is entirely out of our control and cannot be influenced or exercised. We can make our own luck by bringing in gamblers, by taking more shots, and by accepting that in taking chances… sometimes we will lose. In the examples above with Nestle, Kimberly Clark, and Procter & Gamble, the “lucky” stories are intriguing, but the truly amazing fact is that each of these companies are still going strong a century later. Clearly they have found a way to have “luck on their sides” in a repeatable and consistent manner.

Enjoy the games over the next week. As March Madness ensues there will certainly be a Cinderella team who makes a stunning buzzer beater to shock the world. When this “Cinderella Story” happens, will it be a lucky shot? Or will it be the right team, in the right place, at the right time… “Changing the game”?

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Check out my book, Agents of Change, available in paperback and eBook additions on Amazon.com

Working on PURPOSE. What is Your “It’s a Wonderful Life” Effect?

Wonderful Life

Purpose.  I will admit that even 14 years into a successful career, I still find myself spending a lot of time reflecting on “what I want to be when I grow up”.  It is not that I am unhappy or even dissatisfied.  It is just that I sometimes am overcome by a nagging feeling that something is missing… that there is more that I could be and should be doing.  Now, I’m not saying that I need to quit my job and enroll in the coast guard, start an orphanage, or join the circus.  All of these may be worthwhile endeavors (although I have no concept of what my circus act might be), but I don’t necessarily need to do something that drastic.  What I am saying is that I want to be more deliberate going forward with how I take the talents, interests, and experiences that I possess and invest them into the world around me.  While that could of course require a significant career change, it could also mean optimizing my time in my current career, or supplementing my “day job” with activities where I can utilize my interests.  For example, I have had a strong desire to write a book for as long as I can remember, but have never been able to find (i.e. make) the time for this commitment.  While I can’t commit to quitting my job and fully investing in this endeavor (bills to pay, mouths to feed, etc.), I can invest at least some time in pursuing the interest… and that, in fact, is how this blog was born.

At the end of the day, I personally am in the process of figuring out 1) what is the “purpose” for which I was made to serve, 2) where are there opportunities for me to better invest my time in serving that purpose, and 3) what choices must I make to pursue said opportunities.  Essentially, how do I start NOW and deliberately choose the “right” path forward.  If as you read this, you feel a similar nagging or yearning, here are some of the principles I personally am using as I “work on purpose”:

1)      To know where you’re going, you have to know where you’ve been.  While I am a big proponent of living in the moment and aiming for the future, I believe it is critical to reflect on and to extract insights from our past.  This is not about “those who ignore their history are doomed to repeat it”, but rather about understanding the experiences, talents, and successes of the past so that you deliberately can repeat it.  What are the times in your life that made you the most proud?  What talents do you enjoy and have invested your time in growing and nurturing?  What experiences have had a profound impact on your life and how can you share those with others?  What “daydreams” have you consistently had over time that have not yet been brought to reality?  Take some time to map out the areas of life that have truly made you proud, inspired, and successful and compare that with where you are today.  What elements of the past have you let fade away and how can you bring those back into your present and future?

2)      Understand your “It’s a Wonderful Life” Effect.  First, if you haven’t seen the movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life”, you should stop reading and go watch this film.  Without getting into all the details, the premise centers around a desperate man, George Bailey, who is at the end of his rope.  He has reached a crossroads in life where he feels as if he has failed to live up to his potential and that his future is hopeless.  George is actually contemplating taking his own life, when he is visited by his “guardian angel” who gives him an amazing gift… the gift to see how the world would be different had he never been born.  All the lives that he would not have changed, the fortunes that he would not have improved, and the happiness that he would not have created.  In essence, George Bailey was able to see the unique impact that he alone had brought to the world and gained a new understanding of his purpose in life.  As you look back on your life and on your career, don’t just look at your “results” from your participation- think about how different the world would be had you uniquely not been a part of it.  What value to the projects, organizations, and individuals did you add that exclusively exist because of your presence?  And even more importantly, as you look forward, what are the areas in which you can make a unique contribution and disproportionately put your energy toward as opposed to places that largely would be the same if someone else did them.  What has your “It’s a Wonderful Life” Effect been so far, and how do you want that script to read in the future?

3)      Be hot or be cold… don’t be lukewarm.  One of my favorite biblical verses essentially says to not waste time with mediocrity- Either be “all in” or “all out”, but don’t just meander through life in the middle.  As you go to work every day, do you feel inspired or do you feel like you are settling?  Do you feel like you are growing or are you coasting?  Are you making a difference or simply making do?   Now, this is not to say that every minute of every day should be awe-inspiring… it is still work. And on a day-to-day basis there will still, for most of us, be some less than thrilling responsibilities to which we must attend.  But in the big picture, are you excited about the “mission” that you are pursuing or are you just surviving from paycheck to paycheck?  In the moment, it is easy to be tempted by comfort, safety, and security.  To quote C.S. Lewis from the Screwtape Letters, “Indeed the safest road to hell is the gradual one — the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.”  Figure out what amazing purpose that you have been designed uniquely to do and pursue it.  Get in the game, or find a new game- don’t get to the end regretting spending all your time on the sidelines wondering “what might have been”.

4)      What intentions currently are keeping you from your purpose?  This sounds simple enough… so what might be stopping you from working against your purpose?  Ask yourself these questions:  1) If money were no object, what would you do?  2) If status were no object, what would you do?  3)  If your perceived expectations of the significant others in your life (parents, spouse, siblings, friends) were no object, what would you do?  It happens far too often in life that we make choices to do what we deem is responsible or is expected of us and neglect the choices that might truly make us happy.  To be fair, often there are real and significant obstacles that exist once you have started down life’s path… such as financial obligations, dependent relationships, and security.  However, sometimes we make these obstacles bigger than they really are.  Is the “extra” money that you make actually buying happiness or merely buying “stuff”?  Are the evenings you invest in striving for a future promotion worth sacrificing your hobbies and interests in the present?  Does all of the time and effort preparing for an eventual retirement cause you to miss out on enjoying life today?  At the end of the day, how you invest your time is a choice- if you don’t feel like you are truly living your purpose today, what are the choices you can make tomorrow to take even a small step in the right direction?

5)      Look for open doors and walk through them.  Opportunity knocks more often than we realize.  If you look back on the major milestones of your life and career, how many of them had an element of serendipity about them?  For example, during the spring of my junior year of college I was looking forward to a summer on campus doing research and teaching chemistry classes (not to mention all the other perks of living on a college campus).  I happened to get invited to a lunch with a member of the Board of Trustees who wanted to meet some students studying science and engineering.  I honestly put little thought into the meeting and was not overly excited in going… but I was in college and, hey, “free lunch”.  I ended up sitting next to the Board Member, had a great conversation, and ultimately gave him a resume.  Two months later, I was an intern at the company in which he was the Chief Technology Officer and 14 years later I remain there today.  What are the “free lunches” you pass up because you are too busy or too focused on the crisis of the day?  A professor in business school once advised that at least once a year we all should do an extensive career search just to see if a perfect job is out there.  Best case, you find your dream job and live happily ever after.  Worst case, you realize that where you are today is actually the best place for you.  Opportunity knocks often, but will only meet you if you are willing to open the door.

Some of you may be in a place already where your work and your purpose are already one in the same- that is truly an amazing place to be and I would love to hear some examples of how you got there.  For others, you may be looking for subtle or even drastic changes to more deliberately pursue your passions and interests to make a broader impact on the world around you.  This is a call to reflect on what that purpose might be and to make active choices to pursue it, even if just with one small first step.  Don’t choose a path for your career and your life by chance or by accident… choose it on purpose.

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Check out my book, Agents of Change, available in paperback and eBook additions on Amazon.com

Don’t CAPTURE the Moment. EXPERIENCE it.

lightning in a jar

Have you ever sat in the audience of a small child’s dance recital?  If you picture the stage, it is one of the cutest, most entertaining events that you will ever witness.  There is a colorful explosion of costumes- some that fit really well and some that obviously were made for a child at least a foot taller.  Some of the aspiring ballerinas are confident and happy to be on the stage “showing their stuff”, while some try to hide and fade into the background.  A few of the stars and starlets are so conscious of shining for the crowd that they find center stage, pose, and smile from ear-to ear, while at least one little boy is so oblivious that he stands calmly and proudly with his finger two inches up his nose.  It really is quite an experience and one that should be cherished and treasured.  Now… picture the same recital but this time instead of looking at the stage, look at the audience.  It is beyond comical.  Mothers standing awkwardly in the aisle with more camera equipment than most Hollywood film crews.  Fathers sitting in the crowds, not watching the stage, but trying to watch their daughters through the two inch by 3 inch view screen on their iPhones.  Teachers trying to figure out the logistics for taking pictures after the event in a session that takes three times longer than the recital itself.  Truly, there often is a far greater production in the audience than there is on the stage!

So why do we do this?  Why do we visit something as majestic and awe-inspiring as the Grand Canyon and instead of soaking it all in, we instead fill up our camera’s memory cards?  Why do we take dozens of pictures of store-bought birthday cakes that we will never look at again?  Why do we rush to post our “pride” on a social media site (in 140 characters or less) before we hug our sons and daughters?  What is it that we are so afraid of or what are we trying to accomplish?  At the end of the day, I believe that we are trying to capture the moment so that someday in the future when we have more time, we can go back and enjoy it.  I think it is a desperate attempt to slow down the crazy pace of life and compensate for the lack of brain space that we have available to process the moment by trying to store it in a mental “external hard drive”.  This is crazy of course, as there really is no substitute for the moment itself, but it is a compensatory behavior to help us try to find a concrete keepsake from an important event… it is because we fear that we will otherwise lose the moment forever in the tornados of our busy lives and minds.  Essentially, we often let our fear of forgetting an amazing experience lead to us to behaviors that do not allow us to actually enjoy the experience itself.

I sometimes am envious of people who lived in the times before all of the technology we have today… when life was slower and there was more time to think, enjoy, and reflect.  I sometime wish that we could throw away our cell phones, laptops, and iPads and spend more time fully engaged in the moment (although, I’d like to keep the modern luxuries of indoor plumbing, grocery stores, and toilet paper!).  But that is not the world in which we live, so we need to find ways to allow ourselves to fully engage and experience important moments in our lives.

And while the examples above are easily brought to life in the “real world”, these issues are at least as big of an issue in the workplace as well.  How many meetings have you attended where the team’s primary focus was on capturing action items and next steps rather than on contributing to debates and discussions?  How often do you attend a meeting where one person is talking or presenting, while the other nine people are investing more energy in their computers and phones than on the meeting itself?  How common is it for individuals to attend a team meeting just so that they can check a box and document progress rather than investing the time in actually contributing to progress themselves?  This lack of mental investment and commitment and this spirit of capturing follow-ups rather than truly experiencing and participating in debates not only is wildly inefficient but ultimately hinders true innovation.  We often feel like our ability to multi-task and to attend a meeting, write a summary, and answer emails- all at the same time- actually makes us more productive because of all of the extra activity that we can capture.  In reality, our true contributions are drastically reduced by doing multiple things with partial effort than by investing in a smaller number of things in which we can fully invest.  While we may have a documented “portfolio” of progress, illustrating that we were contributing to many innovation projects, we are not able to truly invest the time in actually driving the big innovation that we seek.

So what can we do differently…

1)      Can we spend 95% experiencing and 5% capturing?  Whether on vacation or in a meeting, clearly there is still a need and desire to create a snapshot, document, or keepsake to recall the event itself.  But we can discipline ourselves to actually first engage in the activity and capture it at the end rather than focusing on capturing something so that you can try to experience it later.

2)      Turn off our “capturing” devices and turn on our brains.  If we have a camera or computer in our hands, we are going to use it.  Keep it in the bag until the event is over, and invest our full selves in the event.  Full engage while in the moment and keep distractions out of sight and out of mind. 

3)      Be choiceful with your time- if you can’t invest your whole self, don’t attend.  We often feel like we are doing ourselves and our teams a favor by trying to do 3 things at one time.  In reality, we are often compromising everything… slowing down all 3 things and actually diminishing the innovative potential of each activity.

Life is moving way too fast and there is often far more to get done than there is actually time to do it all.  It can be overwhelming, and it is easy to feel fear that life is going to pass us by.  Benjamin Franklin once said, “You may delay, but time will not, and lost time is never found again.”  The passage of time is inevitable and no matter how hard we try, all moments will pass us by.  We cannot capture a moment, so let’s have the discipline to fully invest and experience in the key moments of our lives.  Let’s allow ourselves the license to sit back and enjoy the full splendor of life’s “dance recitals” and worry less about trying to capture them in an album.

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Check out my book, Agents of Change, available in paperback and eBook additions on Amazon.com

Squandering our Most Precious, Non-Renewable Resource… TIME

melting time

I do my best to be responsible with resources in my life.  I drive a fuel-efficient car, I recycle all of my cans and bottles, and I do my best to conserve water.  For these tangible items, it is an easy choice to make a deliberate choice to be efficient because it is clear that “stuff” can run out.  But my most valuable resource, one that is entirely finite and disappearing at a consistent rate, is one that I waste far too often and regularly take for granted.  This resource is one in which I can largely impact and invest how I best see fit, but that I often incorrectly treat as if it is out of my control.  This resource, which is our greatest gift but that disappears forever once used… is TIME.

For me, time management is easily my greatest weakness and an area in which I desperately want to improve.  Don’t get me wrong- I get a lot done.  I have managed to navigate a pretty successful career, to start raising three amazing, young kids, and to still achieve some personal accomplishments along the way… but it isn’t pretty.  I am blessed to have a high capacity, through a combination of God-given talents, work ethic, and sheer will.  I am cursed, however, with a low efficiency, through an over-ambitious nature, poor prioritization, and low discipline for distraction.  So while I manage to accomplish a lot, it comes at a price.

That price comes in many forms.  Clearly there are physical ramifications, such as sleep deprivation, poor exercise/eating habits, and increased anxiety, but the total impact can go far deeper than what shows on the surface.  The over-extension that results from a high capacity/low efficiency cocktail can impact my ability to be fully invested as a husband and father.  By stretching myself too thin and trying to do too much, I may check more total boxes at work, but not allow the time to make sure that the 1 or 2 truly important projects get my best attention.  Additionally, by always stretching beyond a reasonable means, I am always deficient or behind on something, which can lead to feelings of failure or even depression- despite all of the positive things that might be getting done.  And what’s worse… this “cocktail” is intoxicating, and it is hard to break this addiction of over-extension once it starts.

Below I am outlining some of the principles of time management that I have learned over the years.  Some of these I successfully practice, some I have tried but have not maintained consistently, and some I have not yet had the discipline to implement.  I am committed to working to break my own poor time-management skills, regain the control that is rightfully mine, and to stop the late night “binges” that I currently employ to get my important work done.  I hope there are some things here that are helpful, and would appreciate any further perspective that any of you might have in helping to best utilize the critically important resource of time…

1)      Set one to three over-arching goals at the beginning of each year and actively prioritize time against them.  This seems like an obvious one, but it is not only critically important but incredibly difficult to do.  Why else does almost every New Year’s Resolution fail?  I had a success here last year when I decided that I wanted to complete a triathlon to help me get back into shape.  I didn’t own a bike and had never swum competitively (so why I chose this particular event as a goal is another story in itself!), but proactively prioritized my time to get this done.  I signed up and paid for the triathlon, bought a bike, and blocked off the necessary time on my calendar each week to train and prepare. (I also told several people I was doing it to help make it “real” beyond just a goal in my mind.)  Essentially, I committed and invested and thus was able to successfully complete my goal last summer in Pittsburgh.  However, for this one success I could tell the stories of 10 failures… this takes a lot of discipline and choices, but when done successfully helps to insure that you can do the things that are truly important to you.

2)      Set realistic goals each and every day and be deliberate about not only what you WILL do, but also what you WON’T.  Setting big goals for the year is important for the “big picture”, but doing so each day is what ultimately enables success.  Waking up each morning and deciding the tasks that you critically must complete that day is the first step in insuring you address your most critical goals.  That being said, deciding what you will complete is actually the easy part… it’s deciding what you will not complete that is the real challenge.  For me, I can easily highlight my priorities each day and set out to achieve them.  However, I am not good at proactively choosing to not do certain activities, and thus allow the new events of a given day to distract me from my key goals.  I have often gotten to the end of the day wondering how I failed to complete the only task that was truly important.  It wasn’t the failure to set the right priorities, but rather a failure to have the discipline to avoid things that can get in the way.

3)      Learn to use a big 2-letter word… NOIf you are around small children often, you know that they are the masters of this… “No, No, NO!” rolls easily off their tongues if someone tries to turn their energy from what they want to be doing.  But somewhere along the way, we tend to lose either our ability or our license to exercise this concept that we so easily had mastered as children.  In the workplace, we often feel so much external or self-inflicted pressure to say “yes” to everything that we take on too many responsibilities… and the truly important ones end up lost in the mix.  Simple in concept, but hard in execution… we have to use more 2-letter words to focus on what is really important.

4)      Learn to ignore the CLUTTER.  This is a big one for me- I have a tendency to put off working on the big things until I can clear some of the smaller, distracting ones out of the way first.  For example, “I will put that presentation together as soon as I clear out my email inbox” is something I tell myself in the hope that it will help me focus.  The reality is that there never is a time in which the “clutter” is eliminated and I ultimately end up either compromising the quality of the “big thing” or, more likely, end up giving up an evening at home to address it.  There will always be clutter that can’t be totally eliminated… so it must be allowed to fade to the background.

5)      If you aren’t going to add or receive true value from a meeting… don’t go.  I could spend every minute of every day attending meetings if I accepted everything that came across my desk.  “Let’s have a meeting” is commonly the proposal to address an issue, but more than often these meetings fail to produce a solution… often because we jump too quickly to the perceived “action” of a meeting without the forethought of an agenda.  I recommend avoiding any meeting that does not have a clear and stated objective- there is very low probability that a meeting without a clear agenda will be a good use of time.  And if there is an agenda, I look to determine if there are topics that either require my unique perspective or expertise or will help provide me with knowledge to further my own work.  If I am going to be redundant or if I am going to be getting information that may be interesting but ultimately not useful, I try and avoid the meeting and to use the time more productively.

6)      Keep one calendar for your life… not a separate one for work and home.  This is another concept I strongly believe in, but don’t effectively practice.  There is a lot of talk about work/life balance as if there are two separate things.  In reality, in today’s world the line between where “work” ends and “life” begins is blurry (if not non-existent).  Being connected through iPads, Blackberrys and Computers 24/7 means that we are never truly disconnected from work.  And even if we could disconnect, the stresses of work will inherently have an impact at home and vice-versa.  For me, I have always tried to keep things separate and the result has been that I have far too often compromised my home life and my family.  Work produces a lot more “urgent, but not important” requests that can easily trump “important, but not urgent” items at home.  When I have been able to maintain my calendar holistically, it has been far easier to make choices that are better in the long-term rather than defaulting to doing what is best only in the short-term.  There isn’t “work life” and “home life”- there is just “life”, and we should manage our time as such. (Matthew Kelly has a great book on this topic called “Off Balance”)

7)      Never forget that PERFECT is the enemy of AMAZING.  For the perfectionists out there, this one may hit home more than some of the others.  To complete a “masterpiece”, the first 80% of the work can take 20% of the time, while the last 20% of the work can take 80% of the time.  When we want things to be perfect, investing the time in every last detail does take a lot of extra time… and for the truly important projects, the time can be well worth it.  The trouble comes when we treat every project, even the small ones, with the same quest for perfection.  If we demand perfection out of ourselves in everything that we do, we are taking a lot of extra time and capacity that could be invested in bigger and more important endeavors.  For most things, “good enough” really is “good enough” and we should stop at the 80/20 principle.  This allows us to still get the little things done, but to allow us to invest our time making our big priorities “Amazing”. (If you find any typos or grammatical errors in this post, assume I used the 80/20 editing principle!)

8)      Don’t entirely delegate your calendar. Despite the fact that time is our most valuable and precious asset, we often abdicate the responsibility of managing it to someone else.  Don’t get me wrong, there are an immense amount of benefits in following a good program manager or partnering with an administrative assistant to manage the logistics and details of our complicated schedules.  Personally, I have been truly blessed over the years to partner with some amazing people who have been key to my day-to-day survival at work!  That being said, while there are a lot benefits at the micro level, we need to maintain ownership at the macro level to insure success.  How much time do we want to spend each week on the things that are most important?  What time must we hold onto for ourselves no matter what “crises” emerge each week?  If we don’t own this time for ourselves, then there will always be someone or something that is more than willing to take it… and we will lose control of our most treasured resource.

9)      It’s OK to schedule “spontaneity”.  This one is counter-intuitive and is another area in which I struggle.  While I accept that my life is far busier that I like, I truly value having the time to be spontaneous and to do something exciting and unplanned.  On the surface, it sounds ridiculous to “schedule spontaneity”, as it feels like an oxymoron.  However, at the pace of life today it is becoming increasingly difficult to have time magically open up to do something outside the demands of work and home.  Essentially, deliberately blocking off some space on our calendar to walk the halls and chat with co-workers, to call a friend or colleague we don’t see very often, or to have a night out with a significant other or our kids is a way to insure that we make the time to do it.  We don’t need to pre-program the time and can be spontaneous within that window, but blocking of the time insures that there is even a window at all.

10)   Don’t answer emails if you don’t want to engage further.  I once read that for every email you send, you get 8 in return.  I don’t have any hard data to support that but it feels about right- when I feel like I am making progress in responding to the flood of email, I actually end up creating a typhoon of work for myself.  As I look at my emails on a given day, the majority are either “information only”, can be better answered by someone else on the distribution, or can be easily solved with a 30 second conversation.  In these cases, I try to have a “one touch” policy and either file it, forward it, follow-up in person, or do nothing.  In all cases, when finished I delete it and forget about it.  I reserve my emails for the issues and conversations that can truly benefit from an exchange of data and perspective- often for working issues with individuals and teams outside of my office and/or time zone.  Email can become a 24-hour, 7 day/week job if we respond to everything.  Be selective, communicate to your teams that you prefer conversation to email, and don’t be afraid to push “Delete”!

Again, the majority of these are tools that I am aware of and support… but I unfortunately don’t consistently practice what I preach.  This is my biggest growth area and I am committed to trying to improve and to invest more time in the truly important places in my life.  Just taking the time to write this blog is in part an effort to make my need for time management “real”, and to start making better choices with my time (so I don’t, say, write a blog on time management at one in the morning!).  Life, as they say, is short and gets shorter everyday.  William Penn once said, “Time is what we want most but use worst.”  Let’s take the most precious resource that we have at our disposal, and be deliberate about investing it wisely each and every day.

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Check out my book, Agents of Change, available in paperback and eBook additions on Amazon.com

 

 

Are you investing or spending your weekends?

“If you only had 48 hours left to live, would you spend it like you normally spend your weekends? If not, why spend 2/7th of your life wasting your free time? After all, free time isn’t free. Free time is the most expensive time you have, because nobody pays for it but you. But that also makes it the most valuable time you have, as you alone stand to reap the profits from spending it wisely.”
― Jarod Kintz, I Should Have Renamed This