Monday, December 31, 2012

#213 moments

The world lost many souls this year, one of the most notable being Neil Armstrong.  When I mention the name, most Americans instantly think of "walking on the moon".  How strange it must be to have your life defined by something that occurred in a matter of minutes.  An enormous amount of preparation, and 151 minutes in Armstrong's case.

Jesse Owens, the decorated runner, once described the experience of an Olympian as " a lifetime of training for just 10 seconds."  So many people are remembered by something that happened in a relatively short amount of time.  Ben Stein has impressive credentials and a lifetime of achievement, but he has remarked that he knows his obituary will read "Bueller, Bueller" in recognition of the 10 minutes he spent as the boring teacher in the classic film.

Your whole lifetime doesn't have to be memorable.  The whole year doesn't have to be stellar.  The whole project doesn't have to be perfect.  Tonight as we bring the year to a close, take a moment to reflect on the moments/deeds/memories/loves that stood out.  The pieces can define the whole if they are powerful enough.

-- beth triplett

Sunday, December 30, 2012

#212 towering achievement

As one of my staff members reflected on the year, she described it as "gray".  "Nothing really big happened," she said.  

But when I looked at her year, I saw a collection of little wins: process improvements, staff training gains, outreach efforts, a record of accuracy and service, etc.  I feared that if she did not take satisfaction in these achievements her staff would not see their significance either, setting everyone up for a "gray" year next year.

The analogy I used to describe this to her was that she had a bunch of little boxes.  Her job as a manager was to tie a ribbon around them and make them into an impressive tower of gifts.  Big wins don't need to come in big chunks or be a silver bullet.  Small, continuous improvements can add up to produce significant benefits as well.

-- beth triplett

Saturday, December 29, 2012

#211 discipline

Why is the first violinist usually thin?  

Could it be that the same discipline needed to practice enough to make First Chair is the same discipline needed to exercise and eat right?

What do you need to practice, practice, practice and what by-product will that commitment produce for you?

-- beth triplett

Friday, December 28, 2012

#210 take stock

Think about yourself or your institution and how you operate.

Are you like a money market: slow and steady growth, with little risk and little return.

Or are you like a blue chip stock: relying more on your reputation than on your current performance.

Or perhaps you are more of a high risk stock:  taking big gambles, but having high return.

Two thoughts about this:
1) It helps to have your personal comfort level aligned with that of your organization.  If you're not comfortable taking big risks in your own life, it will likely make you nervous if you work at a place that rolls the dice could risk losing it all.

2) If you work in a money market type institution, you may be doing well in literal terms -- balancing the budget, making progress, etc. -- but with the economy and inflation, it is likely that you are actually falling behind if you are only incrementally growing.

Whatever your path -- personal and professional -- be intentional about being on it.

-- beth triplett

Thursday, December 27, 2012

#209 lighter than air

When I first heard this I thought it was a joke, but apparently it is true: helium is going to become hard to come by. Not only does this impact the balloon enthusiast, but it has far more serious implications. Helium is used in MRI machines, welding, nuclear reactors and space shuttle fuel tanks.

Helium is the second-most abundant element in the universe (after hydrogen), but a combination of factors has led to the shortage.  Believe it or not, last year's warmer-than-usual winter is a contributor; natural gas production and prices were down so the helium by-product was reduced as well.  Demand for helium is growing and global production cannot keep up; thus the shortage.  And the government is involved as well; nearly all of the world's helium supply is found within a 250-mile radius of Amarillo, Texas and the U.S. Federal Helium Reserve there controls much of the supply.

So who is at the end of the production food chain: the casual balloon consumer.  Soon the days of bouquets of balloons from the party store will be gone; either helium won't be available for that use at all or it will be priced beyond what someone will pay.  Forget about balloon arches at prom, release of hundreds of balloons at football games or use of the latex decorations for countless events.  It is doubtful that the next generation will be able to conceive how frivolously helium was used as it is now.

I mourn the pending loss of plentiful helium balloons.  It only takes one to cheer up a person or add sunshine to a room.  And I wonder what whole new industry will replace it.  Will there be gizmos to easily allow balloons to float down from the ceiling? Will clowns instead hand out stickers, candy or removable tattoos?  Will Macy's again fill their floats with air and suspend them from trucks (as they did in 1958 during another shortage)?  Will party stores go out of business without the lucrative sideline of balloon bundles?

Whether you're six or 60, the next time you see a helium balloon, pause and soak it in.  It is one more aspect of today that may not exist in the future.

-- beth triplett

Also: and 6/25/12

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

#208 good tidings

One of my favorite, funniest memories occurred when visiting friends many years ago.  I only saw them at Christmastime, and my memory of where they lived was sketchy due to just annual visits.  This was in the pre-cell phone, pre-GPS, pre-navigation systems on your phone era -- and I got lost.  Really lost.  So lost that I had to stop at a store, call them, describe where I was, and then write down the directions to follow in order to get there.  

Once I turned onto their circle, I saw the whole family outside -- with flashlights -- guiding me into their driveway like it was an airplane landing strip.  We still laugh about it all these years later.

I will visit them again this holiday; no batteries required.  Just tell Siri that I want navigation to their address and, wa-la, she will guide me there.  It will be infinitely more efficient, and undoubtedly less fun.

High tech is wonderful, but so is high touch.  Now that the madness of Christmas Day is over, try to add some low key time with friends into your schedule.  The annual get-together can make enough memories to last for the year.

-- beth triplett

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

#207 appreciation

I recently heard the parable about a dog with a bone.  The dog was given a big bone.  He began wagging and was quite happy with his feast.  He then trotted off with it and came upon a pond.  While holding his bone, he looked in the water and saw another dog with a bone.  Not realizing it was his reflection, he grabbed for it, and as a result lost the bone he had.

This Christmas, wag your tail and appreciate the bones that you are given.  Merry day!

-- beth triplett

Monday, December 24, 2012

#206 greetings

As this Christmas season comes to a close, I wonder if Christmas cards are becoming another lost art.  I was struck by the limited selection to purchase at Hallmark this year; instead of shelves with boxes to fit every personality style, I had a hard time finding one that seemed like "me".  Apparently others had a similar struggle and gave up, or maybe they did not even try.  

I received fewer cards than ever this year, and of those I did about 75% of them were photo greeting cards.  It strikes me as a bit ironic that in this era where more photos are shared than ever -- via  blogs, Facebook, Instagram, Flickr, Shutterfly, Snapfish and the like -- more people are opting to share just photos for their holiday greeting.  

I contrast this with my Millennial admissions staff, who was adamant about hand-signing and hand-addressing nearly 800 cards to their prospective students.  I would have guessed that they would have been the first to opt for an electronic message, but apparently they recognize the rarity of the handwritten greeting and wanted to make an impression on those we are trying to court.

Whether you sent your greetings via Tweet, photo card, traditional Hallmark-esque card, Facebook or in person, I hope that you take some time before the season ends to wish those who are important to you all the best in the coming new year.

-- beth triplett

Sunday, December 23, 2012

#205 pyramids or batons

The topic of collaboration came up at our recent Cave Day meeting.  As we probed more deeply into what individuals meant by this term, it became clear to me that there are (at least) two distinct styles of collaboration.  One is like a Cirque du Soleil acrobatic pyramid--everyone is working together and they are all doing a similar function simultaneously.  The other is more like a relay race, where people are working more or less independently, but all rely on each other to complete the race (project).  

If you have a different expectation as to which kind of collaboration will occur, you may be disappointed in the teamwork and effort of others.  If you forget that you are in a relay race and only focus on your portion of the laps, you may fail to pay attention to the baton hand-off and set the team behind.

Collaboration takes many forms and people play different roles as part of a team.  Spend some time clarifying how you expect your team to function before you climb on the back of someone who is trying to run a relay race.

-- beth triplett

Saturday, December 22, 2012

#204 count on it

I had dinner last night in a place that prominently displays a chalkboard boasting they have served 2,217,936 burgers since April, 1977.  This is not a big fancy chain, rather little restaurant with a total of 28 tables plus a bar.  Yet, they have somehow managed to sell about 175 burgers a day, every day, for the past 35 years.

More notably, what they have done is make the intangible tangible by quantifying it.  They could say we've sold "a lot" of burgers, but that is far less impressive than putting out there for every patron to see that they have sold more than two million.  If they have served that many burgers, then your subconscious thinks "it must be good".

Organizations could take a lesson from this little eatery.  Most enterprises are not especially good at keeping track of their volume/results/inputs and thereby lose an opportunity to quantify impact in an impressive way.  Just like numbering your blogs, it helps to put a number on how far you have come.

-- beth triplett

Friday, December 21, 2012

#203 plowed in

The much-anticipated blizzard did in fact come, and dumped about a foot of white stuff in my yard. I dutifully was out in the morning and shoveled my driveway and sidewalks.  

Just as I was admiring my handiwork, the snow plow came by and blocked my egress with another large, back-breaking pile.  Grr!  And then the thought occurred to me that he was just doing his job.  His job negatively impacted my "job".  

I wonder if there are similar situations that occur in my actual workplace.  Are there things that I do that have an adverse effect on other people or offices?  The impact may not be as immediate or visible as the plow blocking in my driveway, but they may be there nonetheless.

Take a moment to consider your processes and timing.  Ask questions and seek feedback before making procedural or policy changes.  Think about who is the recipient of your work and who is the next step in the implementation.  Don't unintentionally plow in your colleagues, even if you do so in the process of just doing your job.

-- beth triplett

Thursday, December 20, 2012

#202 the end

As I write this on Wednesday night, we are under a blizzard warning.  When I pulled into my driveway at 6pm, we had zero snow on the ground.  Depending upon your source, we are due to receive anywhere from 8-19 inches of snow by the end of day Thursday.  

What if the snow never stopped?  Is this what the end of the world would look like -- going from nothing to more than a foot of snow overnight?  According to the Mayan calendar, this would be my last blog entry as the world is to end tomorrow (12-21-12).  Maybe instead of fire and brimstone the end would be cloaked in snow and ice??

I admit that I am a skeptic about the Doomsday predictions.  Our calendar ends every year on December 31 and yet (obviously) the world never ends on those days.  So I doubt that these words will be my last.  

But what if they were?  What if you knew tomorrow was THE day -- what would you do?  Can you follow the advice of Tim McGraw's lyrics and "live like you were dying"?  Can you do something today that makes yourself, your organization or the world a better place?

Do more with today than just shovel snow.

-- beth triplett

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

#201 cave days

I don't really like the word "retreat".  It conjures up either literal images of armies retreating and being pushed back in defeat, or the more modern day images of sitting in long meetings with flip charts posted throughout the walls.  I do, however, believe in the power of going off-site and changing the environment in order to do some strategic thinking or more intentional planning.

So we call our version of deep thinking "Cave Days" -- as in going away to hide in a cave to escape the daily distractions.  I spent yesterday afternoon out of the office at such a Cave Day experience --clarifying the transitions and processes of a new staff.  The informal environment allows people to be more focused and candid and, as a result, we were able to have discussions that could have never occurred sitting around a table in a meeting setting.  By dedicating a significant chunk of time to this topic, it signified the importance of it.  I hope it also heightened everyone's commitment to achieving results and then implementing them.

I encourage you to think about the key things you need to discuss and commit to a Cave Day-type environment in which to process them.  Sometimes we need to alter our routine in an effort to alter our thinking -- and changing when/where we broach the topic can have an immediate impact on that.

-- beth triplett

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

#200 gardening

It is natural that as people advance in a field, they often spend less time on the practice of their discipline-specific talents and more time on general organizational matters.  One CFO candidate said to us: "I used to spend the majority of my time on finances, but now that I am CFO I spend half of time time with people, human resources and organizational issues."  This is true for most people who grow into a supervisory role.

The problem is that many times the people who become supervisors have lots of formal training on their subject matter expertise, but little to no training on being a supervisor.  How did any of us learn to be a good supervisor?  Most create their own style by crafting lessons from how they were supervised -- modeling what to do and not to do based on what was done to them.  Others attend a workshop here or a seminar there to pick up tidbits, but it seems like a lackadaisical approach to something of such importance.

I think part of the problem is that many supervisors see their primary job as still doing their content area, when in reality I believe their #1 job is supervision.  As head of enrollment, my primary responsibility is to hire/train/evaluate/motivate/provide resources for my staff so that they can increase enrollment.  The head of facilities is primarily a supervisor of a large crew of people with the knowledge and ability to keep the facilities in top shape.  The head of a company is to set the vision and tone and work with his/her direct reports to infuse it into corporate-wide operations.  

Supervision isn't something that happens after you do your "work"; if you are a supervisor it is your work.  The more attention you pay to that portion of your responsibilities, the more effective your results will be.  I am reminded of a quote by Will Rosenzweig, Founder Republic of Tea:

"A real gardener is not a person who cultivates flowers, but a person who cultivates the soil."

Pay attention to your soil more than to your flowers, and your garden is more likely to flourish.

-- beth triplett

Monday, December 17, 2012

#199 the industry

There is a body of literature calling for higher education to change and a host of research saying that change happens through people.  So, many moons ago, I wrote my dissertation about whether there was an intersection between these two -- in other words, was higher education doing anything to educate its faculty and staff about the academy as an enterprise.  The answer, not surprisingly, was no.  Millions of dollars are spent sending the history professors to history conferences, the financial aid administrators to financial aid workshops, presidents to presidents summits, etc. but little is done for campus-wide training about the needs of higher education as a business.  If you asked most employees on a campus what they do, they would say "I work in admissions" or "I teach art" or "I am an accountant at X College", but their first affinity isn't naturally to higher education, or even to the education sector.  I imagine the same is true in most large organizations.

It is a lost opportunity that more isn't done with mid-level managers and beyond to help them understand the bigger picture and conditions under which their organization and industry is operating.  A more robust understanding of the challenges could lead to initiatives, opportunities, and new ways of conducting business.  By keeping people in discipline-specific silos we are only encouraging greatness in that area rather than the interdisciplinary collaboration that will be necessary to have true innovation.

Take a step back today and think about your organization from a more macro-level.  What are the environmental and social factors that are influencing your work?  What is looming on the horizon?  What is happening beyond your isolated organization that should matter to you?  It may be a great way to start the new year by involving people from all levels of your organization in a discussion about the industry.  Have them do some homework and really think about the business they are in.

-- beth triplett

Sunday, December 16, 2012

#198 timelines

A great icebreaker exercise (that also works well for groups where some members know each other) is to do a timeline.  Give participants about a yard of adding machine tape if you can find it, or just do so by pretending that each is crafting a timeline of their life.  Most timelines run from birth to present.

Have participants indicate (or draw) three or four "dots" of things that would be noted on their life's timeline -- beyond the obvious.  So instead of indicating the birth of a child, one may put "falling out of a tree when I was 7 years old because that's what led to a career in physical therapy.  Or "volunteering to do canvassing for an election", because it led to a position on the city council.  Or "taking Mrs. Weiler's English class in high school" because it gave me confidence to write.  Etc. 

When finished noting the dots, participants either share with each other or with the whole group.  It's a wonderful way to do some self-reflection, to recognize the impact of little things on our life's outcomes and to learn more about each other.  Think about your timeline -- what dots would you draw today?

-- beth triplett

Saturday, December 15, 2012

#197 naming

Our university works with a grant-writing consulting firm. A group of their employees known as "The Red Team" provides a review of our proposals before submission.  Think about the alignment of expectations and reality that is achieved through that name.  The Red Team = red marks on the draft.  You expect them to make marks, instead of being disheartened by it.  You know it is their job to make corrections, instead of feeling that it is personal.  The simple naming of this process goes far in setting the clients up for what happens in reality.

Think about unpopular processes that your organization must conduct.  Is there a way to increase the esprit de corps of the people performing them by giving them a name that gives license and credibility to their task?  Can you help align the perspective of those receiving the service to know what lies ahead?

Words and names are powerful tools.  Use them to your advantage.

-- beth triplett

Friday, December 14, 2012

#196 idea files

I have two spiral notebooks -- one full and one in progress -- that I use to collect exercises to use in training workshops that I conduct.  When I need a certain participatory activity on a topic and I am stumped, I can refer back to these notebooks and see if something triggers my mind.

The notebooks are full of ideas from a random collection of sources: workshops I have attended, magazine clippings, items from newsletters, emails I have sent to colleagues in response to their questions about training techniques to use for X scenario, emails from friends helping me in reverse, book reviews, copies of letters from my sisters describing what they have done, and an assortment of other random inputs.  The notebooks have been invaluable in many situations.

I encourage you to start a notebook/file folder/electronic document that provides a mechanism for on-going capture of ideas in an area that is relevant to you.  Maybe it is sales promotions, orientation activities, interview questions, recognition techniques, baby shower activities, presents/themes for children's birthday parties, samples of great direct mail, construction layouts or decorating tips.  Having your own "trigger file" at the ready can be just what you need to get past that block and onto the productive, creative path.

-- beth triplett

Thursday, December 13, 2012

#195 icons

Regular readers will remember that I was eligible for a free upgrade on a perfectly functional phone (#157), but I declined.  Until last week when my phone's plastic keys decided that they no longer needed to connect electronically to the corresponding letters!  So, like millions of others, I got a new iPhone.  And, to fully capitalize on this technological marvel, I had my dogs purchase me a new computer as a Christmas gift, so now I am modern and integrated (oh yes, and poorer). 

Since I had been living in the dinosaur age, I had no need to shop for any accessories.  Now I see that an entire industry has emerged while I was sleeping.  There are more peripherals and decorative accompaniments to "i"-everythings than I can assimilate into my brain.  I went to download a basic calculator app and had a choice of 9,000+ options.  For a world that didn't even think it needed a tablet, Apple surely discovered a subconscious desire.  Any of the initial jokes around the name of the iPad now seem ludicrous -- say "pad" and no one is thinking of feminine products like they were when it was introduced. 

"App" has become a commonplace word in our vocabulary; there must be an app for everything imaginable.  I think about the demand there must be for app developers.  People are rapidly becoming accustomed not only to electronic access to everything, but to EASY access to it.  Our world is being delivered through icons.

When you think about your work and what you contribute, how would it be represented in an app icon?  If your organization is the tablet or phone -- full of a litany of apps -- what is the key element that YOUR app contributes to the overall array of applications that others bring?  The "i" revolution is modeling the trends of specialization, personalization and choice that are seen throughout other elements of life.  How are you identifying your gifts in a succinct, "iconic" way and specializing in something that integrates well and contributes to the overall functionality of the whole?  If you're stuck on your answer, I'm sure there's an app to help you clarify things for you!!

-- beth triplett

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

#194 chess

We recently had a candidate on campus who framed decision making in an interesting light.  He said that the hard part about making a decision isn't making the decision; it is looking ahead at the chessboard to understand the implications of the second and third move.  Understanding the consequences of making the decision -- or of not making the decision -- are what constitute the hard part of the process.

During the course of my day, I am asked to make many decisions.  For the most part, I am equipped with enough information to have the context required to make a choice.  But in those cases where the decision isn't clear or when I don't really understand the nuances of the options, I am not shy about saying that I need more time to "ponder". 

The world is moving fast and we all need to act quickly.  But decision making, like chess, is a game that requires thought.  Don't act so fast that you fail to take time to consider the impact of your choices.

-- beth triplett

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

#193 doing it for love

Last week at a concert, guitarist James Hersch related the story of how one of his former teachers (Mr. Brown) told students "what the world needs out of you is what your heart loves best."  This led James to pursue a career that combines music, storytelling, inter-generational contacts and service.  James now passes along this wisdom to a generation of students as they wrestle with alignment of interests and vocational choice.

It is a similar line of thinking as the Hedgehog Concept in Jim Collins' brilliant book Good to Great.  With the alignment of what you are deeply passionate about, what drives your economic engine and what you can be the best in the world at -- the intersection of these three conditions form a focus that allows for extraordinary success.

What a great thought -- that what matters most in pursuing our career is what matters most to us.  So often the pay scale, job title or even just an employment vacancy coerce us into accepting a position for all the wrong reasons.  We can also be seduced into staying in a job because it is easier than risking a new career path or trying to find another job that makes our heart sing.

Find some time in the hustle and bustle of this season to pause and reflect on what your heart loves best.  Then commit to giving it as a gift to yourself in the coming new year by incorporating it into your life's work -- existing job or new, hobby or paid position -- but in one way or another aligning your love and your life.

-- beth triplett

Monday, December 10, 2012

#192 crystal balls

It was ironic that yesterday's blog was about surprise.  I think most people where I live woke up to a surprise yesterday -- a couple inches of the first snow.  The morning paper read:  "little or new accumulation here."  The day before they predicted "snow flurries" for today.  They were wrong.

I wonder if the meteorologists woke up to a surprise too.  Did they go to bed thinking there would only be a dusting and wake up with a gasp as I did upon seeing the winter wonderland?  Think of how many times the actual weather wasn't what you were expecting; does the same happen to them?  Do they keep a secret tally of how many forecasts they got right and how many times they missed?

We spend a lot of time and energy on weather forecasts and in the end we always get what Mother Nature wants instead of what the meteorologists predict.  Some of us also spend a lot of time on sales forecasting, stock market predictions, construction time/cost estimations and the like.  For any activity that involves gazing into that proverbial crystal ball, know that the images there are fuzzy.  Don't have a false sense of security or certainty based upon a prediction.  Remain flexible enough to handle things when reality and guessing don't match.

-- beth triplett

Sunday, December 9, 2012

#191 surprise

The notion of "surprise" is top of mind lately as we have been going through a round of interviews for our chief financial officer position.  All of the candidates have asked what it is like working for our boss, and one of the first responses my colleagues give is that she does not like surprises. 

Surprises often infer unhappy surprises -- learning that something bad has happened or a crisis has emerged.  Why don't we think of surprises as being good things -- we had more people come than expected; a donor made a large contribution or a customer a large purchase; revenue was up; someone wrote an unsolicited testimonial; a project was approved when we did not expect it to be; a grant was funded; your true love unexpectedly popped the question.

When we experience no surprises, I suspect it is because we aren't taking enough risks or generating enough initiatives.  Change is replete with elements of surprise -- some not so good, of course, but not all surprises mean negative things.  Take steps in your work to ensure that catastrophic elements are minimized or eliminated to the extent that is possible. I also encourage you to develop a comfort level with the unknown.

Yes, you want to be informed about what may be coming down the pike so you can prepare as much as possible.  Just remember that good things may pop around the corner too.

-- beth triplett

Saturday, December 8, 2012

#190 go green

It's a December Saturday and many will be heading out to do their holiday shopping.  When Santa's elves check their lists, chances are good that a gift card will be among the purchases.  According to research conducted by the Plastic Jungle*, the market for gift cards in the U.S. is a staggering $90 billion annually!  

A Consumer Insights study** reports that the average value of the cards is $42, meaning that approximately 2,142,857,142 of the non-recyclable plastic things hit U.S. landfills every year.  (Assuming that they are all redeemed which about 10% aren't.***)  I cringe when I think of how many iTunes cards alone will ride on Santa's sleigh.  

As if the traditional use of cards isn't enough, Target has recently started a practice of offering $5 Target gift cards with the purchase of two of selected items.  So another landfill-bound piece of plastic is produced instead of just offering an immediate five dollar discount or sale price.  Sure the gift card is designed as an incentive for people to come back, but what Target shopper doesn't routinely shop there?  You can bet that the company is counting on you to lose/forget/fail to use the gift card that they baited you into through your initial double purchase.

So this holiday season, I encourage you to go green -- literally.  Whenever possible, give the universal gift card; it's called cash.  Cash may not be as sexy or feel as acceptable as a cute little gift card, but it is the ultimate in reusable and recyclable.  It works in any store.  It deposits in any bank account.  It allows people to shop around and find the best deal instead of being locked into one store.  You can bet that cash doesn't remain unused in a drawer or wallet.  Likely it isn't lost either.  Minimize the plastic-mania and tie a greenback around a sprig of holly.  Trust me, they'll love it as much as any piece of plastic.

-- beth triplett

*  January 24, 2011  Study: Americans sitting on $30 billion in unused gift cards by Daniel Terdiman
***  January 9, 2012  Billions Wasted by Brad Tuttle

Friday, December 7, 2012

#189 infamy

Today is the anniversary of the day that will "live in infamy" as so proclaimed by President Roosevelt.  I was at the Pacific National Memorial on this date 44 years after the Pearl Harbor attack.  To walk across the submerged USS Arizona and to know that the souls of many crew members remain there is a profoundly moving and memorable experience.  I believe the National Park Service has done a commendable job of conveying the horror of the day's events as well as the heroics that occurred.  Anyone who has actually been there will recall memories every year on this date.

But for most Americans, the day that will "live in infamy" is just another date on the calendar.  The attack happened over 70 years ago, long before most living people were born.  Those who were alive in 1941 could tell you where they were when they heard the news and it often brings back vivid emotions.  But a declining number know that today is Pearl Harbor Day, and even fewer know what events the day triggered.  

You can already see the diminishing impact of 9-11; only a decade later it becomes more like a regular day with each passing year.  Unless you live in Oklahoma, you likely can't tell me the date of the Murrah Federal Building bombing (4-19-95) even though it was the largest act of terrorism on the mainland before September 11.

There are some events and days that should live in infamy.  National tragedies to be sure,  but on a more micro-level there are dates that are organizationally or personally significant and should be commemorated each year.  Think about the dates on your timeline -- which ones deserve annual acknowledgement?  Help your relatives and colleagues and neighbors hear the stories about these days, feel the emotions and know the significance of the dates that altered the events after them.

-- beth triplett

Thursday, December 6, 2012

#188 the rhythm of traditions

Today is St. Nicholas' feast day.  When I was a kid, we set a pair of shoes out on the steps and then "magically" St. Nick came to fill them with tangerines and mixed nuts in their shells.  It was a tradition that officially started the holiday season at our house.

The holidays are full of traditions, each as individual as the family who hosts them.  They act as a type of pillar that delineates the passing of the year and anchors us to the past with a sense of comfort.  When every year we do this it gives a sense of simultaneous stability and anticipation.

Families aren't the only ones who can create traditions and pillar events.  Organizations can start, foster and renew pillar events for their groups and employees.  There is so much new in organizational life, that having an annual holiday tradition or events that occur during the year provide a rhythm for those who work there.  Could you be counted on to bring in sandwiches for an impromptu picnic on the first warm spring day?  Buy ice cream the first time the temperature hits 90?  Have an annual office pool for when the first inch of snow will fly?  Wear those gosh-awful holiday sweaters for an annual photo (and post a gallery to show how staff change over the years)?  Celebrate your founder's birthday?  Recognize National Take-Your-Dog-to-Work Day (June 21)?  The list is endless.

Don't let your work and routine revolve around externally imposed deadlines. Add some traditional pillars to keep the morale energy flowing and to create momentum of your own.

-- beth triplett

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

#187 united

I saw the movie Lincoln for the first time over the weekend, and I am sure it will not be my last.  You know the story before you go, but Spielberg does an excellent job of showing the tensions on both sides of the 13th Amendment issue and on resolution of the Civil War.

After watching the movie, I appreciated democracy maybe more than I ever have before.  Lincoln depended on Congressional leaders of his day to cross party lines and abolish slavery, a practice that was deeply emotional and directly tied to commerce.  I contrast that with the partisan stubbornness of the current Congress and their inability to put the good of the nation at the forefront.  I have no doubt that if today's media were present in 1865, the amendment would have been labeled a "fiscal cliff" and leaders would have been more hesitant to express their true voice amidst the media hype.  

In addition to the slavery issue was the reuniting of the nation after the bitter war.  Over 600,000 lives were lost and entire cities were burned to the ground.  Most of the casualties were men and boys whose labor would have been directed to help with the restoration of the country.  In the movie, Lincoln tells Ulysses S. Grant to tell the Southern soldiers to "return home" after the surrender, but for many on both sides there was no home to return to.

Yet, somehow, the country came together, the cities were rebuilt and "government of the people, by the people, for the people [did] not perish from the earth."  The movie should be mandatory viewing for everyone in any organization today.  It is a testament to the power of a compelling vision that transcends any one person.  

-- beth triplett

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

#186 the key

For the first time since I was a teenager, I don't have a key to 937 Superior Street on my keyring.  No more mothballs (see #74) or hangars (see #97) -- my Mom's house (aka where my dad spent his entire life and I lived until college -- the house that has been in our family for three generations) has been sold.

For the most part, this is a very good thing.  Still, it is weird to think that someone else will be moving in there.  I know every nook and cranny of that place.  The secret rock that hid the key; the rafters of the garage; the "cubby hole" storage space under the steps; the secret door that disguised the fuse box in the basement.  Now, someone else will be in on my secrets and even create their own.

I see parallels between the new family moving in the house and the new employees joining our staff.  They catch on quickly to the layout and the obvious things, but it takes some time or one of us to show them the next layer of the place.  They will recognize some flaws that had become so much a part of the environment that I failed to see them any more, and they will make some cosmetic changes of their own.  We will keep the same foundation and, for now, the same walls, but it won't be the same home.  Hopefully in the end it will be better; just as our organization will be better for having the new staff among us -- even if they do want to redecorate with vibrant new colors.

All the memories from the past can live between your ears and don't need to literally exist between the walls.  The key to moving out or having others move in is to embrace the potential both bring. 

-- beth triplett

Monday, December 3, 2012

#185 final

I am a big college basketball fan and enjoyed watching Coach Rick Majerus throughout the seasons.  He was a very large and colorful man, and sadly, he passed away on Saturday.

What I remember most about Coach Majerus was when he took his Utah team to the Final Four in 1998.  A reporter asked him what was the best part about being in the Final Four and his answer always stuck with me: "a parking place."  Huh?  Turns out that Rick had a propensity to illegally park right outside the door of the Utah arena.  Throughout the years, as the chief of security was writing parking tickets, he had jokingly told Majerus that he could legally park there if he made it to the Final Four.  So, for the coach, the best part about the Final Four experience was the reward (and likely gloating rights) that came from cashing in on the chief's promise.

To me, it is just another example of how people value different things and are motivated by different rewards.  Set the goal high, promise the parking place and be happy when you have to deliver it.

-- beth triplett

Sunday, December 2, 2012

#184 the old way

As a journalism major, I still subscribe to the daily newspaper and relish the content it provides.  Sunday mornings spent reading my phone or iPad just don't have the cache that comes with the newspaper and breakfast.  

But I am surprised that USA Today and most major newspapers still dedicate a full page (or more) to listing the daily New York Stock Exchange daily stock values.  This seems so antiquated.  Do people really still care about yesterday's stock information when the current values can be texted to their phone (even by USA Today)?  The one line of quote isn't enhanced by being in print -- as is a feature story, photographs, etc. -- it's the same High, Low, Last, Change line in either format.

I guess it is an indication that some things have lasting value and everything doesn't have to be modernized.  The trick for your organization is knowing which things are which.  It pays to ask before you decide for others what is important.

-- beth triplett

Saturday, December 1, 2012

#183 anticipation

What tasks out there are worse thinking about vs. actually doing?

I think about how I put off gathering my tax receipts and doing taxes -- but once I start, it never is as bad as I remembered it to be.

Drinking bottles of "chalk" always makes the anticipation of certain medical tests worse than the procedure itself.

The finger prick before giving blood often hurts more than the actual donation.

Studying for the DMV license test and waiting in the endless line is usually more aggravating than taking the actual examination.

Getting bundled up to go for a walk in the winter always feels like more work than the walk itself. 

And thinking about what I should write about as a blog is much more demanding than the actual writing!  Today I am half-way through a year of writing blogs, and I still feel clueless until I actually sit down and open the blogger program, and then words magically appear.

Intellectually, I know all this.  But I still allow the procrastination and angst to eat up more energy than it should.  I need to move my "butt to seat" (see #124) more quickly so I could remove my butt from seat more quickly too!

Resolve today to spend less time dreading and more time doing!

-- beth triplett