Monthly Archives: October 2013

Too Much on my Mind to be Nice Too

I was scrambling about the other day trying to find something that I knew I had and just couldn’t remember where it was at (I no longer remember what it was at all) when I came across an article about the hazard of an overfull brain to the pleasantries of life.  Eureka a small part of my brain said!  Stick to the task at hand the rest of my brain said.


Anyway, let’s assume that I completed the original task because it isn’t really important to the story anymore.  What is important is that I was brought up to be polite, always, everywhere, no exceptions.  (It turns out that there are valid exceptions, but we’ll address that some other time.)  You who are over a certain age know what I am talking about.  My mom went to great lengths to teach us manners.

photo credit: Wikipedia, Emily Post - the mother of American Etiquette

photo credit: Wikipedia, Emily Post – the mother of American Etiquette


So much so that one Thanksgiving she invented an elaborate system of signals to my brother and I to point out any indiscretions on our parts but then proceeded to tell the whole table about the system thereby negating the system itself.  (It was a pain to learn it all too…)  I think that she got embarrassed making all the signals, and then we got confused.  Well, everyone thought it was amusing at the time.


I digress again.  The article gave me absolution, of a sort, when I forget the niceties when I am laser focused on some issue or solution.  This is something that I am constantly on myself about to improve.  I know people who never fail to be accommodating and spot on polite and I am impressed and slightly shamed at the same time.


I don’t mean to say that I am rude when I am in this focused mode, I just forget my pleases and thank yous.  Until later, sometimes much later.  I might forget to wait my turn, too if it is really urgent.


Unfortunately, I don’t remember anything else about the article – where I saw it, the title, who wrote it.  But it was based on scientific research.  You’ll just have to take my word on it.  I don’t mean to be impolite, my thoughts are just too focused on the task at hand.  Let’s just say the solution part of the brain isn’t paying any attention to the polite part at that moment.


Please tell me that I am not alone in this – you know what I am talking about here.  If you are a person who never fails to be polite, regardless of what is on your mind, do tell how you do it.


© 2013 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved


The Clutter in my Mind

Do you have those days when you have meeting after meeting – and the ‘action items’ that always seem to come after – and then you get back to your desk to find you have more voicemails than time to get back to the people plus a line of team members who have been lurking in hopes to see you between meetings to get an answer or follow up on previous action items?  And then you go home and don’t have time to make dinner plus eat it before there are other activities to do/attend/lead/prepare for?  And then fall into bed and your brain laughs at you – sleep, I’d love to, but you haven’t given me a moment to myself today so I have a lot to mull over here and this is the first moment that you’ve given me so we are definitely not sleeping yet.

photo credit: Wikimedia Commons, Interior of a storeroom

photo credit: Wikimedia Commons, Interior of a storeroom


Whew, hope you followed me through that long, run-on paragraph.  Most of us would rather be busy than idle, particularly at work.  Idle time at home is often bliss, but at work it is frustrating.  Crazy busy is a completely different level – the one that leads to stress diseases and burn out if it is sustained.  I’ve been bouncing up into the level between good busy and crazy busy.  (Glad I haven’t been crazy busy since an SAP implementation project a few years ago now.)


I don’t have a name for this level but I find that it leaves a lot of clutter in my mind – the half formed idea to resolve an open question from a meeting two days ago that died because I didn’t get back to it in time, indeed I piled other half formed ideas on top of it from other meetings.  Now the desiccated idea is just taking up space in my mind.  Alongside a hyperactive to-do list that changes every other minute.  And barely formed thoughts on future tasks that are strewn about like Legos waiting for an unsuspecting barefoot walk through the room.  (For those of you who have never lived with a Legomaniac, this is like stubbing your toe only it is the bottom of your foot.)


In Toastmasters contests, there is a minute of silence while the judges think about the just completed speech and write their notes before the next speech is introduced.  Imagine how nice it would be in the office to have fifteen minutes to a half hour to at least start to flesh out thoughts and ideas that come out of meetings before your load in something completely new with the next meeting?  It would be refreshing, yes?


I finally get the point of study hall in high school – I thought it was supposed to be social time (and I never was lucky enough to have any of my friends in the same study hall hour), sometimes doing a bit of work but mostly just pulling out a book and reading.  Now I get that it was time for students to make a bit of sense, organized our thoughts around what we had learned that day.  Make it our own, connect the dots.  Prevent this clutter in our minds.


Wouldn’t it be nice if we got study hall time at work in between meetings?  As for home, we are each on our own to manage that clutter in our minds.  Share if you have a good method.


© 2013 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

Fair and Equitable

photo credit: Wikipedia

photo credit: Wikipedia

I don’t much believe in astrology except that I am very interested in balance and I was born under the sign of Libra – which is represented as a scale.  Coincidence, perhaps.  Fair and equitable are worthy objectives when searching for a solution to anything within a group.  But blasted hard to achieve sometimes.

Mainly because these are very subjective words – how a person defines fair is very much dependent upon factors in their life that have little or no bearing upon the current situation.  Or perhaps upon the definition of the word fair in the dictionary.  I can’t control this, and can only account for it minimally in crafting any solution.

Does this mean that I should not attempt to be fair and equitable?  Absolutely not.  Even if something is difficult to achieve, it is often a worthy goal.  Fair and equitable is always a worthy goal.  (And not worth tracking how often you achieve – but perhaps worthy tracking what didn’t work with a particular group and why…)

Like right at this moment is it fair that the dog is standing on the outside of the sliding doors looking beseechingly at me, wanting to come in, while I type?  Yes, it is – I don’t want to lose my train of thought and it isn’t overly cold, there is no rain and most likely another dog out on a walk will be by shortly to distract her.  That’s my call, you may make a different determination of fair in this example.

Generally the best thing that a person can do is to decide what rules, based on their own experiences plus current circumstances, constitute fair and equitable.   If you don’t know what these look like for yourself, how can you possibly begin to apply them in larger settings such as within a group?  Yes this takes thought and effort.  Yes it can be uncomfortable.  But you will have a stronger position if you put the effort into clearly defining your own position.

Then you can build on your own general definition to determine what is fair and equitable within the context of different situations and groups.  You can take into account the make-up of the group itself, or the specifics of the situation.  Are there extenuating circumstances?  Is this on-going or one-time?

I’m going to go let the dog in now.  What does fair and equitable mean to you?

© 2013 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

I Have a Dumb Phone

We had dinner the other night, several friends and I, and in comparing stories it came up – as it often does – that I am one of the last people in the US that doesn’t have a smart phone.  Oh wait, it needs the quotes – ‘smart’ phone.  You see, I just don’t see how people justify the extra cost.  I don’t see why these phones are called ‘smart’.


I had a smart phone for work.  First a Blackberry which I did come to rely upon to keep me up to the minute on office goings-on when I was away.  And then an IPhone which I never cared for – the touch screen just isn’t for me.  For personal use I have stuck with my little old dumb phone.  Not quite the old brick phones – but mundane enough that I have been told on more than one occasion by the young people who work with my carrier that they never carried that model.  I then quietly point out their logo on the front of my phone.

How do you like my low tech solution to cover up manufacturer and carrier?

How do you like my low tech solution to cover up manufacturer and carrier?


Back to the dinner conversation.  It was suggested that I write a blog post comparing the smart and dumb phones.  Hmmm, I thought.  No, I’ll start the post and then see if any readers would like to finish it.


So here it is, your chance to tell me one – significant – reason why it is a better idea to have a smart phone.  Why I really MUST upgrade immediately, what I am missing out on.  How your phone has made your life easier, more something than it could be without that phone.  And the, in my opinion, oversized monthly bill that comes along with that phone.  Justify that chunk of change for me, please.


Keep in mind that I am not even teetering on the brink of getting a new phone and been considered a lost cause on this topic by many.  But I promise to read any responses with a most open mind.  (Which doesn’t mean that I might not be compelled to ask follow up or clarifying questions.)


© 2013 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

Accumulating Small Triumphs

Big wins are fabulous, splashy feel good moments, but give me a succession of small wins any week and I’ll take that option every time.  Don’t get me wrong, I am not averse to big wins – indeed, bring one on, I could use it.  The thing is that the excitement and joy fade away into the everyday and then you are left with a nice photo.


We like to see our lives as a progression forward and toward something better.  The big wins then should give us a jump to a higher plain where we will then stay and continue to progress upward from that point.  But the truth is usually that the big win is a spike and then we come back to where we were previously and continue our progression after the interruption.


I haven’t even gotten into the other side of things, those difficulties – both large and small – that impede this progress.  I’ve mentioned before that over my life I have tended more toward the melancholy so these difficulties always loomed larger than any triumph in my perception.  Except in these last few years.  The difficulties are still there but I have consciously changed my perception.  (As I began to write this post in my head, my computer refused to start properly on the first try and I had to force a shut down all the while afraid that I would lose details of the idea with the delay.)


Look at what people accomplished without all of our modern machinery! 1875 August Menken photo credit: Wikipedia commons

Look at what people accomplished without all of our modern machinery!
1875 August Menken
photo credit: Wikipedia commons

If triumphs and difficulties left some sort of mark, sort of like the graphs in black and red that show earnings up or down of the center line, as we look back objectively at our lives these would probably be pretty even.  But in perception, I have found that if I make an effort to be aware of the small triumphs and give a moment of thanks then everything gets colored differently – and better.


We had many difficulties and challenges in the office last week but we ended on a small triumph which made it all worthwhile.


© 2013 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

Creating Small Successes on LinkedIn

We think of success in these very narrow terms, specific to an end goal that usually involves improved finances as a component.  Success in this case is an ongoing strengthening of position as opposed to an end goal.  Success is also gaining better understanding of a system or process, bringing us closer to a goal and not just arrival at an end.  A broader and deeper definition of success enriches our ability to achieve meaningful success.


I am not an early adopter of much of anything, including social media.  LinkedIn was the first social media site that I joined, about 5 years ago, at the invitation of a business contact that I respect.  I created a basic profile and left it to its own devices; accepting invitations to connect from business contacts who found me and occasionally seeking out contacts.  I did no research into the power or potential of this platform.


Then I decided to get my profile to that 100% distinction (LinkedIn is smart, expecting to hook competitive spirit with this feature); and promptly returned to benign neglect, still not making an effort to understand the intent or possibility of the site.


When I found myself on the hunt for a job, I turned to LinkedIn as a resource.  I had incentive to figure out what this LinkedIn could do for me.  It was recently pointed out to me that most working people have very basic profiles and only unemployed people have robust profiles.  Perhaps, up to a point.  The professionals who have clued into the power and potential have taken the time to either hire someone to write a stellar profile or have sat and spent time researching and clicking around within all of the features.


It seemed to me that the LinkedIn Groups feature would be an important part of this search.  I had joined a couple of groups during my early days on the site and received the weekly update emails.  I ignored the emails and did not make any effort to understand the how and why of these groups that I had joined because someone had said it was a good idea.  (Lemming behavior, I admit it.)


I moved into group participation in the same way that most people enter a pool – slow acclimatization starting with a foot or a toe.  I belong to about 15 groups, some industry specific, some directed to my profession, some for job seekers, and a handful of regional and local groups.  I found that I would get bigger bang for my buck in the smaller, more focused groups, until I had built up enough activity to have impact in larger groups.


I have made comments, always aware that my activity is traceable and visible to anyone checking me out like recruiters or potential employers, on group discussions where I felt that I had something to add to the discussion.  I have also started discussions, both using someone else’s outside content and also posing my own original questions.


This was a good exercise and then one day I decided to take it to the next level.  I had participated in a discussion where someone I saw as an expert (and a person it would be good to meet) had made insightful comments and I reached out to him using the reply privately option.  He responded favorably, I read his profile and took his invitation to connect as a challenge.  Once he accepted, I realized that this was a whole new avenue to connect with people that I would like to have as contacts.  I now have a good size showing in my ‘met through LinkedIn’ tagging of my contacts.


I count this as a success and know that at some point I may use this group of people to leverage mutually beneficial future activities, whatever they may be.  I recommend to all that there is real value in learning LinkedIn and taking advantages of this platform.


© 2013 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

Whose Job is it Anyway?

The result of the problem (incident, challenge, situation, happening, occurrence, negative event, etc.) lands splat in the middle of the team.  Does everyone stare at it?  Or perhaps everyone immediately finds busy work somewhere else?  Maybe a couple of people circle in closer for a look at least until a supervisor moves in at which point everyone fades back?


The supervisor picks it up and starts to ask questions – what is this?  Who knows something?  Do the hands start to form into pointers, poking this way or that?  If you get caught too close to the problem when the supervisor moves in, you become ‘it’ and that isn’t a desired position.


But why not?  Turn things on their ear, at review time, and almost everyone on the team is likely to put that they are a ‘go-to’ person for the department on their review somewhere.  When I read that as a manager, I immediately start to sift through my memory to see where they stood for those unclaimed problems.  At what point did they jump in?  How proactive were they with follow up and resolution?  Did they know the point at which it should be escalated?  Did they bring in the appropriate people from other departments to address it thoroughly?  Did they solve the underlying problem to prevent a repeat incident?


I think some people might be more willing to get in there and claim a problem to solve if they realized that it is like being a mini project manager.  You don’t have to do all the work, you must move the project from problem to resolution.  This doesn’t mean all by your lonesome.  You can bounce ideas off of co-workers, your manager.  You can enlist the aid of the appropriate people in other departments.  This becomes a chance to grow.


What happens to unclaimed problems at your office?


© 2013 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

Lessons Last Week Lined Up to Reinforce

Socrates & Plato are still teaching us.  (photo credit: Wikipedia)

Socrates & Plato are still teaching us. (photo credit: Wikipedia)

We pack our early years with schooling and then often let our learning muscles get a little out of shape.  (And then you have to learn PowerPoint, uh-oh.)  Life has a tendency to provide us with plenty of opportunities that reinforce lessons we have previously learned, if we are paying attention.  I had two chances last week, that I noticed.

I like the idea of mindfulness, but it just isn’t possible to practice 24/7 – if you have found a way, please share.  I probably missed a few things that I saw as mundane at the time and not something with more substance.  And I am usually in the mindset to look for depth, patterns and opportunity.  Do you remember to look beyond, or deeper into the immediate task sometimes?

An important role for a leader is to help people recognize their own abilities to resolve situations and to provide tools and space to practice these skills.  I’m deep in learning mode right now, there are many things that I don’t know in detail.  My team knows the details and it is my responsibility to make sure that they have what they need to complete the tasks and keep things moving.  My responsibility is to offer alternatives to keep things moving, and encourage.

Being prepared means many things – practicing, familiarizing, and centering.  I had a chance to do a speech for Toastmasters in an unfamiliar space.  I had the speech itself cold (although I hadn’t practiced some changes well enough and left them out) but I didn’t take an opportunity to go stand up at the front and familiarize myself with the space.

I know better, we spent plenty of time on blocking (figuring out where to stand and move in a scene) in my theater days.  Blocking will change based on the space that you are working in, so in theater we block in the practice space and re-block once we move to the stage.  If we do a good job, we won’t look awkward when we have an audience.  I probably had some awkward moments in my speech that could have been avoided if I had just gone up to the front of the hall when I got there.

Then there is centering – taking that moment to get right in the head.  Don’t do it at your peril.  Do it half-way and pay the consequences.  This is particularly a lesson that many of us have to relearn, sometimes daily.   I did it half-way.

It was a mistake, that impression that many of us got in school that lessons only had to be repeated if we weren’t smart enough.  Repeat lessons come along to give us an opportunity to refocus, that’s all.  A chance to improve.

© 2013 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

The Details of the Day

(I recently enjoyed reading The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro, so a nod to his title that I’ve played off of here.)


It is the details of a thing that either serve us well and move our plans forward, or that trip us up.  Back in school, if we answered that the civil war happened sometime in the 1800s we most likely were marked wrong on a test and asked for more detail if it was a class discussion.  While vaguely correct, the level of detail needed for accuracy is missing in this broad answer.


Impressions stick with me – the patterns of a process, reactions of a person or a group – but not details.  When I need to remember something, I search in my memory for any placeholders such as what day it was, who might have been there, where I was located.  If I can recreate the scene to a moderate level of detail, I have a better chance of retrieving some specifics.  I rely upon notes to dig deeper and bring back greater, finer details.

Claude Monet's 1882: The Church at Varengaville, Grey Weather, photo credit  Wikipaintings

Claude Monet’s 1882: The Church at Varengaville, Grey Weather, photo credit Wikipaintings


In my family, I am the de facto keeper of memorabilia – all the physical prompts that open the flood gates of ‘remember when’; the pictures and trinkets of our past.  These are talisman to bring up those impressions of large, small, important, and mundane activities and moments of life.  What we each produce of this memory and then share can become a more complete recreation of the original since we each have different sensibilities which trigger what and how we will remember something.


In business, I have honed the note taking that I learned in school (and diverge from my regular method at my peril) to develop a pretty good practice which records the right level of detail for retention and reference later.  The notes help me to get from that overall impression level of detail into more complete who, what, where, when, why particulars.  When I am really on my game, I sift back through the notes as soon as possible to develop the next level of associations – what goes with what.


I have a habit of writing call notes that has served me very well in personal as well as professional business.  I learned this habit the hard way when faced with retractions or changes to agreements and could only go back to my own impressions of the previous interactions.  Now when I can say that I called on this day and spoke to this person and was told this specific thing would happen, I am more likely to get the result that I expect.


Impressions of events are fine when sitting around at a family gathering and bringing out the old pictures to indulge in ‘remember when’.  But we all need to have methods of retaining finer details when it comes to moving our plans forward and keeping them on track.


© 2013 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

Truth can Mean Pain, Discovered Avoidance will be Excruciating

Sometimes post ideas come from the most fleeting of thoughts and I have to be quick to get the essence of the idea down in a notebook that I carry.  (I was just at a conference where they reminded us all that science has found we forget about half of what we hear/see within 24 hours, and the forgetting just goes on exponentially from there.)

I meant to write down the occurrence behind this post idea, but it is lost.  Certainly this is a lesson that I tried to teach myself many, many times in my younger years.  I was steadfast in my practice of avoidance for too many years.  Foolishly, ridiculously so.  Until I finally saw the pattern.  And realized that truth can have power.


The movie quote, “You can’t handle the truth.” (Most men I know can practically recite the whole movie.  This quote is Jack Nicholson’s character in A Few Good Men) seems to sum up the way that many of us relate to the truth.  For whatever reason we create all sorts of alternate reality scenarios and often these get tripped up in one way or another and we are faced with myriad consequences.  Mostly unpleasant ones.

On the other hand, when people expect defensive behavior on your part you can regain control of a conversation when you tell the truth.  It has taken the wind out of more potential rants than I have kept count, people were actually disappointed because they had clearly practiced words for a protracted argument.  My simple, ‘I’m sorry, I didn’t realize my action x would lead to issue y for you.  How can we fix it?’ stopped them up.  Of course, even better is to go to them when you know something might affect them, and I learned this too, finally.

Your right now self might be tired, but your future self has other things to do than to clean up after you.

© 2013 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

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