Thursday, July 31, 2014

#790 Thelma

I recently facilitated a retreat where part of the day involved watching Simon Sinek's TED Talk about starting with why*.  I also shared the map of Indiana and made the point that if you know the why or the goal (i.e.: the metaphorical "Indianapolis"), you can get there by going north, south, east or west.**

Someone asked the question:  "It all seems so obvious.  Start with defining the goal then go there.  Why don't more people do it?"

I had two answers.  First: because it is hard.  It may sound easy to know why you want to do something, but it really does take some reflection and digging.  

But my second answer probably stops more people:  it requires collaboration.  Trying to define a common "why" requires time on task, and you can't do it independently.  More often than not, people go off and do their own thing (set their own goals) vs. spending the time to work with others and come to a common understanding.  

It may be easier just to jump in the car and start driving, but the journey will be more rewarding if you take time to coordinate with your travel partner.  Thelma needed Louise and you need someone too.  No one has an awesome road trip driving alone.  

-- beth triplett

* See Blog #598, January 20, 2014
** See Blog #29, June 30, 2012

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

#789 tune in

I was walking down the street in Washington DC and someone touched my arm to get my attention.  Apparently he had been trying to call out to me, but I did not realize it.

Earlier that week, I found myself turning to answer multiple people, but then I realized they were talking on their phones instead of to me.  It seems that everyone in the city wears Bluetooth ear pieces or headphones.  A whole world of conversation was going on -- but electronically, not face to face.  Except for the person I described who was insistent, I did not communicate with a human for hours.  Eventually I tuned out all the chatter, believing that it was not directed to me.

What has become background noise for you?  Have you tuned out messages that your colleagues, children or friends are trying to tell you?  Does the majority of your communication occur over broadband instead of coffee?  

Your life will be richer if you make your next conversation face to face instead of ear to ear.  

-- beth triplett

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

#788 lost

As I was getting in a hotel shuttle to go to the airport, the driver asked me: "Did you bring your own pillow?"  He was inquiring because it is his theory that no one leaves with their pillow -- everyone forgets them.  He went on to tell us of all the things that people leave behind, and how they need a whole room to store the orphaned items.*  

His question made me more aware of the leaving-things-behind phenomenon that occurs with regularity while traveling.  Just outside of TSA screening, someone left their boarding pass and passport.  Undoubtedly they set it down to put their shoes or jewelry back on, and in the process of gathering their Ziploc bag, luggage, coins, computer and such, the most-important-documents remained on the table.  The supervisor got out a log and entered them on it before stowing them away for safe keeping.

At the gate, a flight attendant came running down the jet bridge with a child's backpack that was left in the overhead bin.  It was too late to reunite the young traveler with his possessions, so once again a log came out and away the bag went.

All of us are travelers, whether we are physically going between places or just on the journey of life.  Are there things on your trip that would be good to lose along the way -- habits, grudges, bad memories, fears?  Or things like the pillow that may be best to leave at home -- preconceived notions, bias, self-doubt?  What is like the passport that you should take more care to protect -- relationships, integrity, courage?

Getting out of your routine -- whether by true travel or in our own home -- can be a great way to rethink the baggage you carry around.

-- beth triplett

*eventually items are sanitized and donated to a shelter.  The hotel also donates torn sheets & towels to the humane society!

Monday, July 28, 2014

#787 pull the plug

There have been several events this summer that have been impacted by weather.  It is often a tough decision to know whether or not to set up and hold the program, or whether to call it off due to the predicted rains.

Those who are most invested in the event make the call.  They have put months of sweat equity into planning the event, they stand the most to lose financially if it is cancelled and they clearly will be the most disappointed if it is called off.  

Those who are least invested in the event are the ones who are deciding whether to attend or not.  They look up at the sky or at the Weather Channel app on their phone, see that it is raining or sure looks like it could, and decide to make other plans.  If they were in charge, they would pull the plug early and move on.  Many probably suspect that the event isn't even being held.

More often than not, if the event is held, it hosts a fraction of the attendance that would make it spectacular.  A few die hard fans watch from their cars or brave through the mud with umbrellas, but it isn't really the fun festival that the organizers envisioned.  

Similar things happen all the time where the most invested are making decisions that are different than the least invested would prefer.  The IT department buys a sophisticated software system that the end users hate.  They don't buy a simple program that the end users would really use and could benefit from.  Companies invest in expensive professional development for staff, but don't provide them with basic supplies to do their job.

If you are a decision maker, think of what those impacted would want you to do.  You may move heaven and earth to make the concert happen, but the audience would rather be home and dry instead.

-- beth triplett

Sunday, July 27, 2014

#786 the nose knows

It's not enough that retailers are tracking us in the aisles and our phones are tracking our buying habits.  Now it's the nose that is being targeted.

In an attempt to appeal to all the senses, retailers are now installing diffusers to make an impression on consumers.  Scents vary from colognes in clothing stores, "clean cotton" in appliance stores, caramel popcorn in stadiums, spring rain in airports and even customized scents for special events like the Olympics.

Scents are becoming big business.  The global scent market grossed $200 million in revenue last year and it can cost up to $25,000 to develop a specialized scent or "olfactory logo".  But companies are investing as it not only drives sales, but the customer perceives that it shortens waiting time (thus its use in banks, airports and places with lines).  

We have long targeted what the eye sees; we have paid attention to the tactile nature of fabrics we touch, often played music as part of the sensory experience in our environment, and provided food or drink for clients to taste.  Scent seems to be the last domain.

What scent would represent your organization?  Is there a message you can create through smell, whether overtly or subtly in the background?  Think about what your nose knows and how to manage the environment for all your client's senses.

-- beth triplett

Source:  New type of branding makes 'scents' to retailers by Alexia Elejalde-Ruiz for the Chicago Tribune in the Telegraph Herald, May 4, 2014, p. 9B.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

#785 the handle

If you think about work like pulling a wagon, then vacation becomes a chance to stop pulling it.  Many people who take time off are able to do so.

But there are others, who even though they aren't pulling, can't quite seem to put the handle down.  

They may not answer emails, but they read them.  They may not call in the office, but are regularly checking to see who called them.  They bring work to read on the plane or a laptop to "get a few things done" while they are away.

Before summer is totally gone and the structure and routine of fall return, take some time to put the handle down.  All the way.

Take a lesson from the hit song in Frozen and "let it go".  Even a short break can do wonders if you truly disengage.

-- beth triplett

Friday, July 25, 2014

#784 hide and seek

One more implication of Major League Baseball's fascination with technology: they are using it to enhance the fan experience.  MLB is testing the use of beacon software which allows your smartphone to transmit a location signal to them.  The app determines precisely where you're sitting and can direct you to the nearest concession stand -- or better yet, to the stand with the shortest line.  It can track your purchases and function as a built-in loyalty card, rewarding you when a cumulative purchase quota has been achieved.

The technology in stores allows retailers to send you coupons for the section of the store you happen to be shopping in at the moment.  Grocers can link your electronic list to the store and have your phone signal you when you're near something that is on your list.  And no more headsets for walking tours in museums; your phone will automatically know where you are and provide you with information for the piece you are viewing.

Is it helpful or creepy?  A great use of technology or too Big Brother-ish?  Will it equate to "cookies" for bricks and mortar stores and give those retailers knowledge that right now only on-line sellers enjoy?

No matter how you answer those questions, industry leaders predict that the beacons will become commonplace within a year.  If you know when your customers or donors are nearby can you capitalize on that?

-- beth triplett

Source:  Nowhere to hide by Harry McCracken, Time, March 31, 2014, p. 20

Thursday, July 24, 2014

#783 data drawings

Yesterday I wrote about Major League Baseball and their obsession with measuring every nuance of the game.  

Illustrator Craig Robinson married his love of baseball with his artistic talents to put a new spin on baseball numbers.  He took hundreds of data points about some of the lesser known baseball facts and created beautiful infographics to depict them in a book.

An example:
How many points do MLB hats earn in Scrabble:

Another example:  If players actually stole the bases they stole it would be 2,757 stolen bases x $89.99 = lost value of $284,102.43.  The leading base stealer would have a total value in the range of a Class 4 felony.   

Robinson has been able to take data and give it meaning through infographics.  If your organization is going to collect data, try to find a way to give others a context of what that data means.  Infographics speak much more to people than a page of data.  As we become more visual, our numbers need to follow suit.  

-- beth triplett

You can see more of Robinson's baseball infographics at:

Source:  Flip flop fly ball by Craig Robinson.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

#782 micro measures

Is there one statistic that baseball does not capture?  I doubt it.  The sport that is stat-crazed has taken it even further as Major League Baseball has gone even more high tech.  Now cameras will be placed throughout the field, allowing fans to track every nuance about catches, hits and plays throughout the field.  It's no longer just pitches that will be micro-analyzed; now you'll now that a player hit the ball at X speed, it went X feet and traveled at a specified angle. 

This, of course, will lead to geometry-in-action as fans calculate where a ball will land, how fast the player ran, the speed of the throw to first and whether or not the umpire got the call right.  It is a math geek's dream game, and MLB hopes that it will allow average fans to become "more invested in their favorite player's performance."  

Think of all the new categories for the Hall of Fame.  It's no longer about hits leader or RBI leader, but fastest steal, quickest release from the glove, jump speed off the base, percent efficiency in which the fielder reached the ball, time of the first step of the fielder after the ball was hit.  Literally, they are tracking all of this.

On one hand, the new metrics will allow teams, players and fans to add a whole new dimension to the game.  On the other hand, it becomes so granular that the big picture is lost.  It doesn't really matter about how fast the throw travels to the base; what matters is whether or not the runner is safe.

In your organization, don't get so lost in measuring the small stuff that you fail to place enough weight on the numbers that really matter.  All stats are not created equal.

-- beth triplett

'Tech' me out to the ballgame by Frank Seravalli for the Philadelphia Daily News in the Telegraph Herald, March 9, 2014, p. 9B

Baseball brings new tech to the plate by Daniel Roberts in Fortune, April 28, 2014, p. 18

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

#781 delightful

One of my admissions counselors received a note from the parent of one of her recruits.  The mom thanked her for taking care of all the details in the admissions process and assisting with his transition.  I am sure that it will be on Emily's bulletin board for a long while.  

She (obviously) shared the note with me, and hearing about it made me feel good too.  It's always nice to hear that families are happy with us...

...and we so rarely have it in writing.  Even though Emily will work with hundreds of students this year, it will likely be the only note of thanks that she receives -- not because she doesn't deserve them, but because no one takes the time to send them. 

Think about all the support people who impact your lives and how infrequently someone (you!) take the time to send a thank you note to them for it. 

The nurse that comforts your child when getting shots.  The clerk that goes the extra mile to serve you.  The service technician that actually explains what he did.  The teacher or paraprofessional who took some extra time with you.  The vet who showers love on your pooch.  The person in another office at work who always comes through for you.

It is rare enough when handwritten thank yous are sent for anything these days, so you can really make someone's day if you take the time to send one to an unusual suspect.  Make it your challenge to be that one who actually does it, instead of just thinks it.

-- beth triplett

Monday, July 21, 2014

#780 leniency

It's no wonder that most people don't follow deadlines or believe any marketing hype anymore.  How many times have you heard: "sale extended" or "a limited time offer" that doesn't seem to have a limit.  Our hardware store ran an "11% off this week only" sale for three weeks in a row.

Even the PR News fell prey to this tactic.  Quoted from an actual email:  "The entry deadline is today (July 11) for PR News' Digital PR Awards.  If you can't submit by tonight at midnight ET, you can enter by next week's final deadline on July 18."  Huh?

Why don't they just say the deadline is July 18 and stick with it?

I feel like the same thing happened when I applied to be a peer reviewer for an accreditation team.  The deadline was May 15 and notification was due on June 15.  When I did not hear back, I inquired as to my status.  "We extended the deadline and got so many applications that it will take us until August 20 to decide," they said.  Why did they extend the deadline if they did not need to?  Do I get extra brownie points because I applied on time -- the first on time, not the second one?

My office is guilty of this tactic too, but hopefully not in such a blatant way as these examples.  

Before you extend your fabulous offer, think about whether you wouldn't be better off just living with what you've got for this round and then creating a whole new incentive for the next attempt.  If one deadline becomes soft, it's hard to develop the credibility that is needed to make future deadlines firm in the client's mind.

-- beth triplett


Sunday, July 20, 2014

#779 time to reconsider

Are those who are anal about time missing out on too much?

I think about the time I "waste" by being early.  On-time for me often means arriving first at a meeting and then waiting for the others to arrive.  Is there a better use of my time?

I am always at the airport -- even ours with its one gate -- in plenty of time to do screening and make the flight.  What else could I have done besides sit in the boarding area?

A few years ago I piggybacked with my sister and joined her at a conference.  She went to a keynote until 5pm and then caught a 6:15 flight.  I, on the other hand, was at the airport at 12:30 instead of the beach for a 3pm flight.  Am I the crazy one or is she?

Those who are on time are often left waiting for those who are "time challenged".  I wonder who is making the best use of their time.

-- beth triplett

Saturday, July 19, 2014

#778 for granted

Have you ever noticed that we lead much of our lives assuming that things will go right?

People whiz down the highway on a motorcycle without wearing their helmets.

We give a weak goodbye to loved ones, assuming that we'll see them again next time.

Travelers get on airplanes assuming that they will land and sleep in their rooms without ever checking for the emergency exit.

We know we should have survival kits prepared and rendezvous locations for the family, but most never translate the idea into action.

At work, cross training and preparing a training manual always get pushed to the back burner.

How would we act differently AFTER a negative experience?  Would we wear the helmet if we had only known what would happen in an accident?  Hug each other when departing?  Check those exits and make those disaster plans?  Do some training so people aren't left in the lurch?

I am not advocating that we live life under a cloud and anticipate doom.  But insurance is more than buying a policy...can you do a bit more to take a bit less for granted?
-- beth triplett

Friday, July 18, 2014

#777 the unknown

When I see the number 777 (as in this blog number), I think of planes -- specifically the "triple seven" Malaysian Air jet that is still lost at sea.  As of this writing, the plane has been missing for four and a half months, and the search radius is still thousands of square miles. In light of the tragedy that has just befallen yet another Malaysian Air jet plane, I am sure the speculation about the original Flight 370 will resume.

When the plane first went missing (March 8), its disappearance dominated the news.  Everyone was talking about it and hypothesizing on what could have happened to the jet.  Then coverage and interest faded away -- until yesterday.  

A friend commented that "we are not a society that likes the unknown."  We paid rapt attention to the news when there was hope of closure, but then it became easier to ignore the issue rather than grapple with its unresolved nature.  We have become accustomed to using our smart phones to instantly get answers and it becomes unsettling when there are things even Google doesn't know.

At times, the desire for closure and definitive answers cause people to settle for a resolution, accepting a plausible theory as the final word.  Rather than face discomfort by searching for a year or more, we often call something unsolvable and move on.

But the Malaysian government has pledged that the search will continue until evidence of the plane is found.  Australia has also committed $56 million for three submersibles to spend a year scanning the ocean floor.

Are there mysteries in your organization or in your business plan that are worth a longer time of ambiguity?  Should you continue to try new areas, refine your search, experiment with new methods and infuse your efforts with a healthy dose of persistence -- rather than jump at an early answer?  Maybe you could take a lesson from the quest for Flight 370 answers and pledge to keep looking.

-- beth triplett

Source:  Malaysia is sending in more ships to search for jetliner by Keith Bradsher, The New York Times,, July 6, 2014.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

#776 it looks easy

The trumpet has always been my favorite instrument.  I love the big bands with trumpet solos, brass bands with plenty of horns and even a drum and bugle corps that can produce the same sound.  As much as I have enjoyed this music for many years, until the other day I had never touched the instrument.

I was at a fine arts fair that had an "instrument petting zoo" -- instead of animals they had all sorts of instruments available for you to touch and try to play.  What a great idea!  So, of course, I went straight for the trumpet and tried to blow a few notes.  Wrong!  No blowing is involved -- I was told to make another sound, and I experimented mightily, but nothing came out.  If I couldn't even create a noise, it gave me a whole new appreciation for those who make beautiful music with it.

Is there something in your organization where people could benefit from the opportunity to have hands-on experimentation?  Do you make something where others could see what it really takes to operate the machinery?  Can you do a technology petting zoo to allow people to play with new programs and appreciate those who have mastered them?  Maybe your food service people make cooking look easy or facilities makes it seem like a piece of cake to turn over a room set up -- what if you let others try?

Those who do things best make it look easy.  Everyone can benefit when they see for themselves that looking easy is really hard to achieve.

-- beth triplett

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

#775 job symphony

The IBM Service Center in town classifies their jobs in three categories:  rhythm, blues and jazz.

Just as the name implies, employees in the rhythm level do basic tasks and repeat them.  Employees on the blues level are allowed more autonomy and have the ability to infuse judgment and some improvisation into their work.  Those on the jazz level have no "sheet music" and are considered experts who can improvise all of their work.  The concept allows people from all three categories to work together in groups to support each other.

Are there elements of the IBM classification system that you can adopt for your organization?  Perhaps instead of clerical staff and administration or line workers and managers you can create more broad groupings that allow people to see themselves in a larger context.  Maybe you can align job expectations like is done with the rhythm section, where those hired know they will be doing tasks over and over.  It may allow you to recruit junior "blues" members if they know that the "jazz" level is possible for them.

As I have written on numerous occasions, language matters.  If you have job categories with no meaning you are missing out on an opportunity to illustrate how your symphony plays from the same music.

-- beth triplett

Source:  Tom Coffas, IBM Dubuque Service Manager as quoted in the Telegraph Herald, 6-22-14

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

#774 free pass

I have always had staff members who did not want to participate in certain office rituals that we had.  They don't want their birthday celebrated.  They would prefer not to attend certain meetings.  They don't want to come to the all-day retreat.  They don't want to join in social gatherings outside of work.

I used to say "too bad" and require people to partake, but I have changed my tune on that as the years have gone on.  If the reluctance is coming from a senior leader or someone in a major position, their lack of interest is usually a signal of larger fit issues and I try to address those rather than mandating participation.  

But if it is a part-time person or someone in an ancillary role, I no longer force them to attend.  Over the years, I have concluded that the negative energy they bring with their reluctance sucks the energy away from those excited about being there and in the end does more harm than good.  I did not always feel that way, but I have come to peace with it and now believe it is best for the group overall.

I recently had this conversation with a colleague who has a new group of reports -- and someone who would rather remain on the fringes.  "The fight isn't worth it," I told him.  "I know it is counter to all the team building I preach, but it is true."

Two take aways for today:  1) Old dogs can learn new tricks.  Leadership styles and how they are promulgated can/should/do evolve over time.  2) Think twice before you make something "mandatory."  If someone chooses to pass on something, you may be better off without them than with their negative karma.

-- beth triplett

Monday, July 14, 2014

#773 wisdom

I have been invited to be a guest member of the board of a national association that I chaired over twenty years ago.  The guest position was created to allow the organization to bring a voice and perspective to the board that is desired, but not present through the elected members.  

When I shared this invitation with a friend of mine, her comment was "when did we become the elders?"  I had not thought about this appointment in that way, but I think "elder" (at least in my case) is a very appropriate way to describe the role.

Elder is most commonly used in church settings as a person valued for his wisdom and sought for counsel due to age and experience.  Several of the descriptions of elders ascribe teaching as part of the role: "Elders must be able to teach and to preach sound doctrine and rebuke those who are teaching error so that false teaching doesn't creep into the church."*  It sounds like a role every organization needs.

Think about how you can incorporate a guest experience or something equivalent to elders into your organization.  Are there past leaders who would be willing to share context and perspective with your current team?  Do you have long-time staff members or volunteers who could share more wisdom than they are currently doing?  What about previous donors who know what your organization was like "before"?

Take advantage of that accumulated wisdom and ask someone to share it with you.  If they're like me, they will be delighted to be in a redux role.

-- beth triplett

*Wikipedia Elder (Christianity) attributed to 1 Tim 5:17

Sunday, July 13, 2014

#772 chores

When I purchased my home, it was brand new.  The appliances were spotless, the coat of paint was fresh, the sod was green and there were no dust bunnies in the back corner of the closet.

Six years later, that is not the case.  Sure, there are things that are better than when I moved in, but the baseboards have nicks and the lawn has bald spots. The patio door track has accumulated grime.  Underneath the washer and dryer are fuzz balls and pet hair.   

A house, like an organization, must continually be attended to or it will entropy and decline instead of improve.  There is no sitting still.  You can make enhancements or fall behind.  Like with spring cleaning, you must occasionally address things in depth -- not just sweep the surface -- or deposits will build up in the background and eventually take a toll.  

Not all your attention needs to be monumental.  I am sure there are improvements I have made that would be unnoticed by the next owner (the first towel racks, light bulbs and mailbox).  There are other enhancements that add value (trees, a fence, a patio).  

Size and scope don't matter as much as regularity does.  Just as you pay continuous attention to your surroundings at home, you'll be well served if you commit to a routine to provide regular attention to your organizational house too.

-- beth triplett

Saturday, July 12, 2014

#771 three strikes

A friend of mine had a son who was in his first year of Little League.  In one of his first times up to bat, he was out on a called strike.

"He didn't even swing at the ball!" exclaimed his mother.  "How could he be out?"

The player did not understand why he was out either, not because he was arguing with the ref or thought the ball was outside the strike zone.  

He was out because the rules had changed from the level of play he was in during the previous summer.  In T-Ball, you can swing at the ball for as many times as it takes to hit it. In Rookie League, the coach pitches until you hit it.  A called strike is a concept for the bigger leagues, and was one that was not explained to the new players.

Does your organization have things like a called strike -- something the experienced people know but fail to explain to others?  Are there ways you can make the transition from one level to another easier for those who must do it?  Do rules and norms change depending upon the seniority of people?

We often take for granted that everyone knows "the way things are done around here", but in reality they do not.  Before you call someone out on metaphorical strikes, make sure you take the time to explain the expectations and highlight the rule books for the newcomers.

-- beth triplett

Friday, July 11, 2014

#770 grousing

An actual headline from our paper this week:  "Senate majority could rest on the sage grouse".  

Upon further reading, I learned that under debate is whether the sage grouse (a chicken-like bird) should be placed on the federal endangered species list or whether there should be local efforts to protect it. This is a hotly-contested issue in Montana and Colorado, where Senate elections are looming, and it's no surprise that Republicans and Democrats have opposite views on what the solution should be.  

If you peel back the onion a bit further, it becomes more clear that the real concern is not the bird itself, but its habitat, which spans 165 million acres -- land that can also be used for energy exploration, hunting and housing developments.  Should there be federal prohibition -- meaning actual preservation of the land -- or should there be local control which allows flexibility in interpretation of "efforts to protect".  

The author of the article predicts that the philosophical hot button of national vs. local control will define who voters choose in the next election -- which could shift who controls the Senate.  Thus the headline.

But it is far more complex and interrelated than federal vs. local or environmental issues vs. economic ones or whether the bird should be endangered or not.  I fear that this is going to become one of those frenzy issues where you have to take sides, instead of having a conversation.  

The next time you find yourself in a situation where the premise is equivalent to the fate of Congress resting on an obscure bird, stop and cry "foul".  You owe it to yourself to understand more of the layers and competing interests that are at play.  Don't put all your opinions in one basket until you learn more.

-- beth triplett

Source:  Senate majority could rest on the sage grouse by Nicholas Riccardi for The Associated Press in the Telegraph Herald, July 6, 2014, p. 3A