Sunday, September 30, 2012

#121 civil engineering

My personal mission statement could be the same as the American Society of Civil Engineers:  "[We] conceive, design and build the infrastructure that supports our community and its economic prosperity."

I hope that my work accomplishes what the ASCE purports as their mantra, and I think that we would be better off if most people routinely took two of its main elements to heart:

1.  "and build"  I like the concept of not just coming up with the idea, but delivering on it.  This isn't a lofty thinking exercise; ASCE gets things done.  Execution is important to them, and to me.

2.  "supports our community"  The work isn't about individual gain or internal purposes;  this phrase advocates thinking about the impact on others and how you can help. 

If you build in ways that support your community, we would all prosper.  Building bridges of civility.  Building partnerships and networks.  Building alliances and friendships.  Building physical buildings and tangible programs that foster economic health.

Who knew that civil engineers had so much to teach us, but I believe that they do.  Engineering civil societies is a great goal for all of us.

-- beth triplett

Saturday, September 29, 2012

#120 legacy

The Los Angeles Times recently reported that reruns of I Love Lucy -- a show that has not aired a new episode in over 50 years -- are still contributing about $20 million in revenue to CBS each year. Wow!

I wonder who the agents and executives were that first handled the logistics for this show.  I am sure that they had no idea that they would be benefiting their network five decades later, but clearly they are.

The timing seemed ironic to me as today is our Homecoming, where we are honoring the golden reunion class of 1962.  Over five decades ago some admissions counselor recruited those students, a faculty member taught them and countless others made an impact on their lives.  I am sure those staff members did not think of the benefits these alums would be having on the institution half a century later, but they are.  One alumnae announced a $1 million gift this weekend, and who knows what other influences class members have made throughout their time since graduation.

We never know the meaning of our work or our time with others.  Whether it is playing a role in orchestrating one of the most successful shows of all time, or shaping a young co-ed's future, or even offering a simple gesture of kindness at a pivotal moment, we are making more of a difference than we know.  All of us are leaving a legacy.  Try today to make it a golden one.

-- beth triplett

As reported in the Telegraph Herald 9/22/12; LA Times article by Joe Flint

Friday, September 28, 2012

#119 the prize inside

Today, my admissions staff will spend their lunch hour eating personal pizzas and playing board games in the Board Room.  They achieved one of their interim goals, and this was the reward of their choosing.

I learned a long time ago that the best incentives are the ones people pick for themselves.  NEVER would I have thought little pizzas and Apples to Apples would motivate Millennials, but apparently it does.  Other incremental goals reap rewards for them such as breakfast, a Starbucks run, two hours off, coming in one hour late or Dairy Queen treats.  Who knew?

When the ultimate goal is achieved at the end of a long road (annually), it is especially important to have those middle milestones that give more timely praise.  It's fine to celebrate at the end, but the ultimate achievement is much more likely if the motivation is stoked throughout.  

The timing and meaning are more important than the monetary value of any acknowledgment.  Pick a measure that's important to you and let your staff pick a reward that's important to them.  You may be surprised by the result of what they choose -- and the results of what they accomplish.

-- beth triplett

Thursday, September 27, 2012

#118 energy efficient

I'm a morning person.  Always have been, too.  Even in college I would be the one who got up at 4 a.m. to study before the test instead of staying up until 4 a.m. pulling the proverbial all-nighter.  Once the sun goes down, I am like a bear wanting to hibernate.

What is your best time of day?  Hopefully you can answer instantaneously -- you're aware of your peak functioning and you schedule around it.  If not, I encourage you to pay close attention for a week or so and undoubtedly a pattern will emerge.

One of my "rules" of time management is to Acknowledge Your Energy Level.  If you are dragging and mentally drained -- no matter what time of day that is -- try really hard not to have to do your more demanding tasks at that time.  It will just be counterproductive.  If you are wiped out after a rough morning, don't do your serious thinking that afternoon.  There are always low demand tasks that need to be done; paying attention to your energy level will signal when it is most effective for you to do them.  And the converse is true -- if you're at your best in the morning like me, then it is worthwhile to head to the office an hour early and do the paperwork and serious tasks with full energy and uninterrupted time.  Others are much better off staying late or even working from home after the kids have gone to bed.

By establishing your natural preference and building a routine to maximize it, as well as making interim adjustments based upon the tasks and energy of the day, I believe that you will be able to accomplish more in empirically less time.  I rarely do paperwork at home or in the office on weekends because I have learned how to capitalize on my time in the office vs. just being present there.

You've got a natural rhythm.  Listen to what it is telling you.

-- beth triplett

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

#117 tweet tweet

Remember when "tweet tweet" was something only the Rockin' Robin said?  Not any more. After my entry about our tree planting tradition and the #Tree (see #104), a former colleague offered to give me a full lesson on Twitter.  Since he lives six hours away from me, I got my own tutorial -- via the site that allowed me to see his computer screen from my desk by just clicking on a link that he sent me.  I was impressed (intimidated?!) before we ever got started.

From my own chair, I could see his cursor whiz across the screen, opening up multiple windows and sites, from SocialBro to HootSuite to Tweetdeck to Bitmark. He showed me how he can post tweets from his multiple accounts -- Facebook for home, work, hockey league, dad's golf league, etc. and Twitter accounts from another dozen sources.  There is a wonderful dashboard system to keep track of your multiple accounts (as if I needed to know how to do that!), sites that show how you rank in your town as far as influence goes -- or whether your lack of retweeting makes fun of you on Klout. It struck me as ironic that a simple communication vehicle -- designed to boil the essence of a message down to 140 characters -- has spawned such an elaborate empire around it.  
I am all for instant communication, but when the estimated life cycle of a tweet is 18 minutes, it seems that something is getting lost in the process.  In contrast, when cleaning out my Mom's house, we found a whole box of letters that my dad had written her 60 years ago.  The shoebox of treasures for future generations will be virtual, if it's even there at all.

There are times when tweeting is the perfect thing to do [Happy Yom Kippur @Stacey77 and to all my Jewish friends #Jewish #holidays], but there are other times when the 140 characters on paper makes all the difference [a thank you from a candidate].   Choose your communication method with intentionality #advice.

-- beth triplett

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

#116 it works for me

The pace of work has been a bit hectic lately, so I rely more and more on my written to-do list to keep track of the details.  My to-do list actually is several lists, and has evolved into a system that works for me.  Perhaps you can adopt some elements to work for you:

1) the main list -- written on a small index card and kept at-the-ready of all things that I need to do today.  I try to avoid any small pieces of paper; if I need to do something (return a call, deliver something to someone or work on a major task) -- if I am to do it today it makes the list.

2) a do later list -- actually a separate place where I keep track of all the things that I need to do later (ie: not today). It helps me to have them written down so I don't forget them.  Once each day I look at this list to see what needs to migrate to the Today list, but otherwise it doesn't divert my focus.

3) a pending list.  This for me has been one of the key elements to my organizational success.  So many times people do one step in a process and cross the item off the list, even though it is not truly complete.  (Examples:  something is ordered, but not yet here.  Someone else is asked to provide information, and even has agreed to do so, but has not yet given it to you.)  This is a place where I can write the things where the ball is not currently in my court, but where the accountability remains.  If the person/company does not follow through, it will be back on my to-do list as an action item later.  I don't want it on my list now since the action is "pending" and there is nothing I can do at the moment, but I don't want it off my radar screen either.

4) a do-at-home list -- which is a 5x7 index card folded in half that I keep in my purse.  One half lists all the things to do at home (eg: wrap birthday present, winterize garden, iron) and the other side tracks all the errands I have to run outside the home (eg: buy dog food, deposit check, buy birthday card).  When I am out I can easily glance at the list and see if there are things I need to do without making another trip.

Keeping track of all the tasks in your home and organizational life is no small chore.  But it's worth the time and attention to develop a system that facilitates your productivity and preserves your sanity.  Five minutes a day spent floundering = 30 hours/year in lost time!  Think of the other wonderful things you could do with that gift.

-- beth triplett

Monday, September 24, 2012

#115 freedom

About a block from my house is a park-in-progress; right now it is a road leading up to an undeveloped giant field.  I am sure when the park is "open" one of the first permanent fixtures there will be a "No Dogs Allowed" sign (as is the case in all the other parks), but for now my fine city doesn't officially mind that I bring the pooches there.

So I did.  And, oops, I happened to have dropped the leashes.  I wish that you could experience even for a moment the unabashed glee that these two dogs had being totally free to run.  And I do mean RUN.  They were furry bullets whizzing by, making gargantuan circles.  The sound made me feel as if I was at a horse track as they raced past me.  It was the rush of adrenaline from true freedom. The whole romp lasted five minutes or so, but I am sure that it was the highlight of their weekend.  

I understand the need for parameters, boundaries and rules.  I get that we need to create "fences" of protocol for our employees to operate within.  But I also wonder if we wouldn't be better off if we let go of the leashes once in awhile. 

Some companies do this with "skunkworks" or allowing their staff to have projects of their choosing for a small percent of their time.  Others allow flex schedules or free reign on dress codes.  Others just let employees take that risk and do something as seemingly crazy as running sans leash.  However you do it, a little freedom is a good thing.  Try to let go every once in awhile and see what happens without the fences.

-- beth triplett

Sunday, September 23, 2012

#114 chemistry

I will spend today making a two hour drive to meet a candidate for a second interview.  Some may think I am crazy to give up six hours of my weekend for such a purpose, but there is no more important task in my world than hiring the right staff.  

I learned this concept of face-to-face assessment from one of my former bosses.  The first I spoke to him was when he called me up one afternoon to see if I was "free for dinner" --and then flew from St. Louis to Detroit to interview me that night!  His belief was that hiring was all about chemistry and there was no way to assess it via the phone.  He later arranged for me to have a layover in St. Louis on my way back from another interview so that he could make me an offer in person before I had a chance to "get away".  The chemistry was right to this day.

Over the years, I have taken his advice to heart and done many versions of the face-to-face visit.  I have driven 3+ hours each way to meet a candidate in a diner; gone to lunch with prospective candidates in their home city, and flown people in with 24 hours notice to meet with us.  I also like the "speed interviewing" type of 45 minute conversations at a coffee bar before deciding to bring someone in for a full interview -- you can tell a lot about fit in that short time.  (If it is a senior position where fit with you is most important, you can pre-screen and only vet to the group candidates who are acceptable to you and save potential conflict later.)

And, like today, I am a big believer in the second interview.  Rather than hypothesizing about answers or having that lurking doubt out there, I find it better to ask the person face-to-face and resolve any questions directly.  This will happen again today; hopefully, as been the case with my other encounters, I will know what is the right thing for me to do.

The time to make a good hire is ALWAYS less than the time to rectify a bad one.  If you're in the position of making that personnel decision, you'll never regret investing in face-to-face.  Even on a Sunday.

-- beth triplett

Saturday, September 22, 2012

#113 too much

A wise mentor once said, "Too much of a good thing is still too much".  I believe she was exactly right.

If your schedule is booked so tightly, even with things that you enjoy, that there is no time to tend to leadership coaching (see #112) or developing relationships -- it is probably too much.

If you continuously say "yes" without regard to the impact on your time, health and sanity -- it is probably too much.

If you don't take time for yourself or to smell the proverbial roses -- it is probably too much.

Just because something is a good thing, doesn't mean that it is the right thing.  If your weekend has you running at the same pace as during the week, it's time for a reassessment.

Make your commitments in a context that considers more than if it is worthy or not.  Ask yourself if it is too much, and if it is, give yourself permission to decline with a smile.

-- beth triplett

Quote from Sara Boatman

Friday, September 21, 2012

#112 a refresher

I have talked to two experienced people in the last two days that were unfamiliar with or had forgotten about Hersey and Blanchard's Situational Leadership model.  I thought a refresher may be good for everyone.  This simple concept has helped me with supervision more than any other single idea.

There are books, websites and conferences on this -- so forgive the oversimplification -- but essentially the idea is that you start a leadership (supervisory) relationship by DIRECTING.  This is very counter intuitive as many new leaders/managers, myself included, are very tempted to jump right to the DELEGATING part.  Especially if the new person is experienced and/or there has been a time when the position is vacant, managers are often very relieved to have the new person on board and begin to toss tasks their way from the beginning.  Bad idea.

As the theory goes, effective relationships move from right to left along a bell curve from Directing, to Coaching, to Supporting and ONLY THEN to Delegating.  Think of it as a train following a track.  If you try to go from Directing to Delegating, you jump the track and a "train wreck" occurs.

Certainly the idea is to progress through the sequence; a manager has little interest to prescribe or review every single task, but the effort put in to do so in the beginning will reap rewards later.  Even if the new person comes with 20 years of experience, they need to learn "your track" and the protocol and practices of your place.  They too start with you in a Directing role.

By now it should occur to you that following this model requires a commitment of time.  It is much easier (or so it seems) to delegate from the start or to skip a step or two in the in the middle.  This is why after decades of supervising new staff, I still pull out the wallet-size model in my planner and review it each time I make a hire.   Whether you are supervising interns, student employees, recent graduates, seasoned professionals or even someone just in a new role, I encourage you to utilize Blanchard's model as your map.  It is the best route I know to supervisory success.

-- beth triplett

Model from

Thursday, September 20, 2012

#111 vs. what?

Many people incorrectly believe that because a new semester has started, my work slows down a bit. Actually, the reverse is true. Because the enrollment numbers are now final, there is a slew of reports to complete, analysis to be done and attempts made at understanding enrollment patterns. This month is actually one of the busiest of the year.

None of the numbers mean anything unless they are put into context by contrasting them with something else. Knowing that headcount is X means little unless you understand how that compares to budget projections and how that number contrasts with last year. Having the enrollment-by-major is just data; it doesn't become information until there is something to put it into context with another comparable statistic. Too many times reports are presented that only have one number without a reference point, and it does little to advance understanding.

The same concept is true with qualitative concepts. One of the most profound questions I was ever asked was "How do you do your job differently than others with your job?" This led to a robust discussion about how my student life background influenced my enrollment work, which led to a reorganization on campus and infusion of new objectives. Travel also serves as a contrasting data point of how life is "different" in Place X vs. the things we take for granted in our hometown. People record steps toward goal achievement for the same reason: Did I gain or lose since last time I stepped on the scale? Did I run more or less (or faster or slower) than in the last outing?  

Try to cultivate the habit of asking questions or presenting information in a context vs. in isolation. I'll bet that your understanding will be much more robust.

-- beth triplett

#111 vs. what?

Many people incorrectly believe that because a new semester has started, my work slows down a bit. Actually, the reverse is true. Because the enrollment numbers are now final, there is a slew of reports to complete, analysis to be done and attempts made at understanding enrollment patterns. This month is actually one of the busiest of the year.

None of the numbers mean anything unless they are put into context by contrasting them with something else. Knowing that headcount is X means little unless you understand how that compares to budget projections and how that number contrasts with last year. Having the enrollment-by-major is just data; it doesn't become information until there is something to put it into context with another comparable statistic. Too many times reports are presented that only have one number without a reference point, and it does little to advance understanding.

The same concept is true with qualitative concepts. One of the most profound questions I was ever asked was "How do you do your job differently than others with your job?" This led to a robust discussion about how my student life background influenced my enrollment work, which led to a reorganization on campus and infusion of new objectives. Travel also serves as a contrasting data point of how life is "different" in Place X vs. the things we take for granted in our hometown. People record steps toward goal achievement for the same reason: Did I gain or lose since last time I stepped on the scale? Did I run more or less (or faster or slower) than in the last outing?  

Try to cultivate the habit of asking questions or presenting information in a context vs. in isolation. I'll bet that your understanding will be much more robust.

-- beth triplett

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

#110 service

One more thought about Carnegie and libraries.  The Carnegie libraries were the first to have open stacks -- previously books were kept behind counters and patrons had to ask for the books without first browsing them.  The design of the Carnegie facilities made books and interactions with them much more accessible. 

Many services have evolved from a closed model to an open one.  Early stores kept products behind counters, away from the customers.  Printed photos were often sequestered in files and not retrievable directly.  Textbooks in college stores were in the back room or basement; now they are out on open shelves.  In a previous era, gasoline was pumped for you; today there is no more telling the attendant to "fill 'er up".  Formerly food was only served to you in restaurants; now there are even self-serve yogurt bars in addition to soft drink stations, smorgasbords and Mongolian grills where people mix their own dishes.  Shoes were hidden in the back room to be brought out only one or two pair at a time; now big box warehouse stores have thousands of pair out on display.  The tellers were the only ones to dispense cash; now it is rare for people to enter a bank instead of the ATM drive-through lane.  And, of course, all the information that is instantly available on the web used to be removed from us and stored in books, libraries or reference materials.  There was effort in access and retrieval, whereas now there is virtually none.

I think about how we have evolved from service to self-service in so many contexts.  Is there really no value added by the assistance someone provided in the retrieval?  I don't think so.  Schwans gourmet food wouldn't be the same delivered in a box by UPS instead of your friendly salesman in the yellow truck.  1-800 Flowers is great for the sender, but not as much fun for the recipient as the florist truck pulling up.  I like having an academic advisor for my freshmen instead of on-line registration.  The sommelier can choose the wine for dinner anytime.

Think about the mix of service and self-service in your organization.  If the person or system providing the information isn't adding something to the process, your clients would probably appreciate automation or direct access instead.  But if you can distinguish yourself by truly enhancing the delivery of the item or information (perhaps by making an experience out of it or going beyond what automation could do), then I suggest you capitalize on that.  If you can add meaningful value, you should add it.

-- beth triplett

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

#109 treasures

Yesterday, I wrote about utilizing nuggets to start a staff meeting.  At our gathering last week, the nugget was about the history of libraries and the influence of Andrew Carnegie on building them across America.  Mr. Carnegie donated money to establish 2,509 libraries across the world, including nearly half of the total libraries in the United States.  He  believed in helping those who were willing to help themselves, so only gave to communities that demonstrated on-going financial and human support for the facilities.

I love the concept of rewarding personal responsibility, and if I were in the position of having billions to give away I undoubtedly would apply similar conditions to the funding as the Carnegie Foundation did.  But it got me dreaming about what cause I would champion. Carnegie had libraries, the Gates' have taken on malaria and education, Oprah is helping young girls in South Africa, Jerry Louis aligned with muscular dystrophy and Danny & Marlo Thomas support St. Jude.  Where would your foundation focus?

It is staggering to think of the difference that these philanthropists have made in our world.  I recently received a solicitation from St. Jude with a very compelling chart of 5-year cancer survivor rates since 1962 when the research center was founded.  Overall survival rates for childhood cancers have gone from less than 20% to 80% today.  For leukemia, it has gone from 4% to 94%!  Such possibilities and hope they have provided to families.

We may never have the funding of Carnegie or Oprah, but it does not mean that we don't have time, talent or treasure to offer to causes that matter to us.  Think of what your foundation would fund and take some steps to benefit that organization today.

-- beth triplett

Monday, September 17, 2012

#108 mix it up

Each of my senior staff meetings start off with a "nugget" -- a brief lesson or moment of inspiration about something to think about.  Think of it as an oral leadership dot!  We rotate responsibility for these each week, which provides us great variety in topics.  We have had nuggets about Tom's Shoes, financial planning, lessons from Starbucks, color wheels, Jewish holidays, prayers from AA, traditions, and, my favorite, about how parents make better managers (which was presented in front of our childless president and me -- the giver still hasn't lived that one down!).  

Nuggets are a great way to share responsibility for each meeting and to spend those first few moments getting the cobwebs out of everyone's brain.  It allows us to start slowly and get into the groove before we dive right into the discussion topic.  And, just as it occurs with me writing leadership dots, it makes the giver a bit more conscious of what is happening around him/her in preparation for giving one.

In other settings, I start the meeting with a numbers analysis, and we rotate responsibility for that too.  When you teach, you learn, and really crunching the numbers helps people become more familiar with the nuances of them.  The shared ownership of conducting the meeting also helps with personal development as the number-sharer also has to communicate tactics for the week in response to the status of the numbers.  It creates understanding, urgency and commitment.

I delegate many parts of meetings to others in the group.  Senior staff rotates locations to a different part of campus each meeting.  The person who does the nugget also has to choose the location.  This wayfaring has allowed us to see different offices and parts of campus that we would never have seen otherwise (departmental conference rooms, the planetarium, residence hall lounges, ceramics studio, theatre green rooms, the costume shop, etc.)  Even if you are not on a campus with such a plethora of meeting location options, mixing it up in any way it helps to stimulate new thinking.

My Friday afternoon meeting members share responsibility for a "glucose assignment" (aka treats), so named because of a scientific journal article that someone routed which illustrated that glucose levels drop in late afternoons and suggested that I bring cookies to prevent such a crisis!  We have taken care to avoid glucose level decreases ever since.

Meetings often get a bad reputation because they are the same old, same old -- without variation of content, location, presenters or agenda items.  Get others involved in making the meeting productive and it will set a whole new tone for the rest of the agenda.

--- beth triplett

Sunday, September 16, 2012

#107 comfortable

Three food scenarios:
>> The raspberry lemonade pie I brought to the staff picnic was one of dozens of desserts there.  No one ate it.  They ate cookies, cupcakes, Rice Krispie bars and food that was familiar to them.  No one was there telling them about this fabulous pie (as happened in the bakery when I bought it).

>>Our new chef experimented with food on the cafeteria line such as spinach & artichoke chicken, gnocchi with pesto cream, sauteed tilapia with cucumber relish, eggplant curry and jasmine rice.  He selected these items for our visit programs, and I already heard that students wanted more hamburgers and pizza.

>>Our president has all the new students to her house for dinner.  When she asked several students what they wanted her to serve, the answer was tacos.  Everyone is happy except the president, who has tacos nine nights during September.

My pie, as well as the upscale menu items, surely are delicious, but people want things that they know. Comfortable is really comfort + able.  With food, as with most other situations, we need to acknowledge the comfort part before we can hope for people to be able to get comfort-able with change.

-- beth triplett

Saturday, September 15, 2012

#106 speak the truth

As I mentioned in yesterday's blog, Dive Lunches are about more than the food.  For years, I have been using non-traditional methods of meeting with staff as a way of building relationships and trust.  The aim of these conversations is to create candor, not best friends.

In their book Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done, Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan are big advocates for promoting informality as a vehicle to achieve candor.  As they present it, informality encourages questioning, allows for more direct conversations, supports risk taking and "gets the truth out."

Think about ways that you currently meet with your employees or teams and see if there aren't other vehicles or venues for doing so.  Some examples include:
> Walking (even directly after work hours) with one employee.  Trust me, many robust conversations ensue and coaching is easier on a trail than across from a desk.
> Several offices in the division each fielded a bowling team and competed against each other in just-for-fun leagues.
> Eating in the cafeteria provides exposure to many who may just serendipitously join you for a meal and conversation.
> A large table in the cafeteria can establish a routine where colleagues know to gather for lunch as they are able.  We had many "Seinfeld-type" discussions about "nothing" at those tables that led to many laughs and on-going jokes.  This included such outcomes as a taste test of red licorice vs. cherry vines vs. twizzlers, and other such frivolity.
> Off-site lunches with just one other person are a great listening tool.  Take a staff member to lunch and learn more than you ever would inside the confines of the office.
> I know of offices that are participating in a weight-loss competition as teams -- including the requisite "trash talking" and providing temptations to the opposing squads.  In addition to the slimming down, it is providing great bonding for the employees.
> Include a "VIP Food Pass" as part of a holiday raffle, where the winner is invited to all the food events (birthdays and other celebrations) in another office. 
> Participate in community service and do a project as a mixed team. 

Whatever your strategy, try to create an environment where informality is encouraged, then listen to what it has to say.

-- beth triplett

Friday, September 14, 2012

#105 dive lunches

Once each month, several of us from work eat lunch at a local establishment that is off the beaten path.  We call these "dives" but others may call them Ma and Pa diners, greasy spoons, bars or other similar terms of endearment.  It started as a way for me to keep in touch with a colleague that transferred to another division at work, but it has since grown into a rotating group of a dozen or more people who have participated in one of our field trips.  

What makes our "Dive Lunch" crew special is the mix of participants.  Our regulars include the president, president emeritus, a retired faculty member, a couple of the vice presidents, directors, assistant directors, faculty and people from four of our five divisions.  We have even been joined by the chair of the board of trustees when we went to a dive she recommended!  It is our own mini-version of a cash mob (as most of these places literally only take cash).  

The wonder of Dive Lunches goes well beyond the food -- even though we have found that to be surprisingly good.  These meals instill a camaraderie and build relationships that would never be fused inside a meeting room or office. There is a sense of experimentation, creativity and risk taking as we try places none of us have ever visited before.  There is a bonding and shared experience that carries over into working partnerships.   

The next time you're ready to head to the same old place with the same people, think about inviting someone new to go on an adventure with you.  We've found that those who break onion rings together do projects well together!  

-- beth triplett

Thursday, September 13, 2012

#104 #traditions

Yesterday was our university's convocation -- the ceremonial start of an academic year.  The faculty wear regalia and walk in procession; the new students are awarded a symbolic tassel to remind them of their goals, and last year's professor of the year gives an inspiring address.

Many schools do a similar event, but what sets ours apart is the tree planting ceremony that follows.  For 106 years, each incoming class has planted a tree and each senior class has named their tree. The trees are christened with names that reflect their times; last year was "Whomping Willow" in reference to Harry Potter; in 2010 it was the UniversiTREE to commemorate our transition from college to university. 

Today, the oak was named "Hash Tag Tree" by the class of 2013.  Another sign that the times they are a 'changin.  I have never once in my life called the # symbol a hash tag.  It is the pound sign (as per instructions of what to press on all the phone surveys) or a number sign (as in this is blog #104).  What the heck does hash tag mean?

I immediately left the ceremony and got a crash course in Twitter from one of my many staff members who is young enough to be my child.  He was patient and helpful, and when I left his dual-screen computer that allowed us to post and view his Twitter feeds, I felt like I "got it".  Right after that I was at a senior leadership meeting where the same topic came up, and ironically I became the one explaining what a hash tag was.  (Don't tell them I am a fraud!)

I was struck by the ironic twist that a 106-year old tradition was infused with a piece of modern culture that was so new (to me) that it needed an explanation.  I thought it was a great model of how to do what Jim Collins and Jerry Porras advocated in Built to Last: preserve the core (tree planting) and stimulate progress (#Tree).  We need to create more environments where we can honor the past and still allow for enhancements to occur.  Think about that intersection in your organization -- how can you celebrate a tradition in a way that speaks to today?

-- beth triplett

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

#103 in reverse

I have dedicated my career to education and believe wholeheartedly in its worth.  I know that education provides many valuable lessons and transforms student lives in ways that few other experiences can.

Much of education is measured by the compilation of credits.  Students take classes, earn credits and move forward to the next grade.  Obtain 128 of the right credits in college and you graduate.  Mission accomplished -- yeah!  If you never pick up a book again, you still have achieved your goal.  

What education doesn't do well is teach students the concept of negative progress. Most things in life are not like credit accumulation, where once goals are earned they remain yours.  Instead, life is more like weight loss or savings -- you can continue on a steady path and achieve your goal, but if you don't continue the behavior that got you there, you will lose all results that you have obtained.  You can't methodically exercise and eat right; achieve a weight loss goal and then celebrate being "done" and expect the results to stay with you as a diploma does.

It is a valuable life lesson to learn that reverse can happen, and understand how to prepare for it; to know that success is tenuous and that behavior needs to be sustained to preserve it.  Education would do well to celebrate the journey more than the destination and to help its students master the lesson of persistent, lifelong effort rather than focus on the episodic endings.

-- beth triplett

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

#102 remember

A friend of mine was recently talking to a history major (from the "purple school", I need to add!) who did not know what started America's involvement in World War II.  I wonder if someday the tragic events of September 11 will be forgotten as easily as this man forgot Pearl Harbor.  Let us hope not.

It is hard for me to believe that 9/11 was 11 years ago; I remember many of the events like it was just last year.  My boss at the time was out of reach on a remote fly fishing trip, and he commented later that he missed the raw emotion of the event.  He was not with other sobbing people at make-shift vigils; he didn't spend the good part of the week glued to television sets watching the evil deeds over and over and over; he didn't know the eerie silence of no planes overhead.  I am glad that I was not immune to experiencing this important part of our nation's history.

I put a flag in my living room window right after the tragedy, and that declaration of pride remained there until I moved seven years later.  I remember the first time I tore myself away from the television to venture into the commercial world; the craft store was handing out free red/white/blue ribbons that I wore for months.  My radio station still plays the Star Spangled Banner every morning at 5:30am, 11 years after it started the tradition on that fateful day.

The positive side of 9/11 was the incredible surge of patriotism that it inspired in many Americans.  I hope that you use today to remind yourself of that spirit, and to stop the partisanship that has embattled our country almost ever since.  Take a moment to reflect today and pledge to become a patriot again.

-- beth triplett

Monday, September 10, 2012

#101 apples

A colleague and I recently conducted a training for student employee supervisors.  
At the end of the workshop, we gave everyone apples.  A real apple for the short term and a felt apple to serve as a reminder during the rest of the year.  An apple for the teacher. 

In our view, a key role of being a supervisor is being a teacher, no matter what level of employees you supervise.  The student employee supervisors need to teach life lessons, such as promptness, attire, confidentiality and work ethic.  But staff supervisors need to make it part of their daily work to teach employees about the bigger context, latest trends, threats to the organization, how to push themselves further and where to apply initiative.  

The most successful people I know lead their lives with equal parts as teacher and as learner.  Never stop trying to improve, and never stop sharing your knowledge to help others improve too.  Follow that advice and you'll be rewarded with more than just a shiny Red Delicious.

-- beth triplett

Sunday, September 9, 2012

#100 100 days

Franklin D. Roosevelt was the first to use the 100-day mark as a measuring stick for his administration, and ever since, media and politicians have used this timeline as a standard for assessing the effectiveness of a president.  During FDR's first 100 days, he passed 15 major bills through Congress, including the Tennessee Valley Authority, Civil Works Administration, Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. and Civilian Conservation Corps.  It was a welcome response to the calamity facing the nation, and set the tone for decades to come.  It also set the bar high for future presidents, as their first 100 days is evaluated against the sweeping legislative success in the early stages of FDR's first term.

I am not sure why 100 days was chosen as the benchmark -- maybe because it is a more sexy sound bite than "three months".  The measurement is now used in other settings: 100 days until the election, 100 days of summer, 100 day challenges, 100 day countdowns until Christmas (which is September 16 if you're keeping track), and 100 day projects or exhibits.  Google "100 days" and there are enough entries to keep you reading for that length of time.

What I will say about my first 100 days is that it hasn't turned out at all like I expected.  For years, I have been putting off writing a blog because I had it in my head that the work had to be linear -- I needed to organize things first and then write it.  As it has happened, so much of what I have commented on is from current events and daily observations -- things that I didn't even know existed when I started.

And that brings us back to the theme of this whole thing -- that little things are like dots that can be connected together to make a whole.  I hope this blog has in some way inspired you to focus on starting something -- making that first dot is the hardest one.  The other 99 have come with relative ease, and dare I say, even enjoyment.  If you've learned one thing from me in these 100 days, I hope it is that little things do matter -- and do quickly add up to make an impact.  

-- beth triplett

Saturday, September 8, 2012

#99 purple

Yesterday we said farewell to one of our most talented employees -- who we lovingly say was "poached" by the guy to whom this blog is dedicated (see entry #1).  As with any departure, there was the goodbye gala, cards, hugs, tears and a mad scramble to finish all the last minute details.

What set this exit apart was a little gesture that I hope communicated how much we love Tricia.  As part of her responsibilities as a graphic designer, she took on the role of brand monitor.  And that included abhorring the color of our main competitor.  She would give people the evil eye if they wore it to work or even suggested it appear in print.  

So yesterday, every single person in the entire division came to work clad in purple in her honor.  We got a lot of funny looks as we went to meetings or people saw into the office where everyone there was in the same hue. Tricia took it all with good humor and the gesture was understood.

Note that it cost us not a cent.  Oftentimes the most meaningful things we can do are the ones that show we listen.  Whether in fun or in recognition, once again, the little things are what make a big impact.  Pay attention to those nuances that can make the people in your life feel heard.

-- beth triplett

Friday, September 7, 2012

#98 nuances

Say the word "nuance" aloud and hear the similar root to "new." I do not believe that anything is completely new anymore.  Newness today is created in altering the nuances of items or situations.  There are no wholesale inventions or changes; subtle or slight degrees of difference are created when things are tweaked, elements deleted or existing concepts are combined in different ways. There may be limitless variations of the methods, but almost everything today is a modification of something else.  

A hotel allows your reservation to sync with your Outlook calendar. Starbucks offers pumpkin spice lattes. The iPad allows you to translate all your concepts to Spanish.  The dry cleaners provides pick up and delivery to your office.  The beer comes in an aluminum bottle.  Version 3.0 has a few more bells and whistles than version 2.0.  

All these are enhancements that serve to differentiate one product from another, or even one service from its earlier self.  I think you'll be more successful if you stop searching for that silver bullet or big idea and focus instead on the "newances" you can provide that provide value to you or your organization.

-- beth triplett