Archive for May, 2011

The power of acknowledgement in creating wealth cannot be over-emphasized. A simple story from a mentoring client will help illuminate. Bob (not his real name) is a commercial banker. He wants to both grow business and advance his career. One on-going thread running through our discussions is differentiating the creation of wealth vs. accumulating money, more on that later. Bob has a new associate, Carl (again, not his real name) who essentially is in training and comes from a sales background. Carl is very aggressive about closing the deal and has a strong focus on winning.

Buried Treasure

Bob decided to do some prospecting and ended up calling on someone with whom Carl had already spoken. In fact, Carl had met or called this person 5 times and felt there was no chance of getting a sale from this prospect. Bob met with the prospect, a CPA with 5 employees, and simply asked if she would be willing to share how day-to-day life is going in her firm. They ended up talking for 1.5 hours! As Bob listened she went from day-to-day issues to talking about where she’d like to see her firm be in the long run. Bob now has a meeting planned where she will discuss the SWOT (strengths-weaknesses-opportunities-threats) analysis of her situation and he will help her refine it. He has yet to mention one product the bank offers! There is little need. She’s engaged in commerce. The reality of her financial needs will surface as the conversation progresses and Bob’s bank simply becomes a tool for helping this client grow her business and add to community.

Carl has been humbled and is walking around quietly confused with his tail between his legs. Bob’s strategy is to keep Carl apprised of the conversation with the CPA but hold him at bay by insisting he just observe and write lessons-learned in terms of how acknowledgement supports growth and how its absence can be damaging.

Lessons Learned

There are many lessons to be learned from this situation. Here are a few:

  • A sales transaction is simply an exchange of a good or service for money. The relationship ends once the exchange is over.  The relationship has to be re-established for the next sale. Also, commercial banking products are a lot like project management tools and bottles of cooking oil. Everyone has them. In a sales-driven environment people will switch for a penny-a-bottle difference.  Acknowledgement creates value which differentiates you from the competition.
  • Acknowledgement creates interdependence which leads to:
    • A feed forward relationship (trust-based) that is free of skepticism and runs much faster than a feedback relationship.
    • Success feeding on itself, leading to growth.
    • Health. A great deal of stress is removed since a safety net of relationships can be built. This, in turn, lowers suspicion and skepticism. The fight-or-flight reflex is calmed. When only sales-driven the stress returns immediately.
    • A dynamic relationship where spontaneity increases leading to more options for the future.
    • An increased probability of reading the all-important weak signals so essential to adapting and making necessary changes along the way.

One CAN be sales driven and accumulate money. There is a catch, and it is a big one. To succeed it is essential to be the 800-pound gorilla, e.g., Wal-Mart, since loyalty is absent. For the rest of us to sustain it is better to focus on helping others to get what they want, embed our rewards in the transaction, and nurture the relationship. Acknowledgement is a key tool in that process.

This blog closes with the challenge from the previous blog. How much time are you willing to spend acknowledging others? Who would you pick? Why?  And I’d like to add one more question, “Why would they want to work with you?”

Many people assume that most any business can become a big business.  But if that’s true, why is it that 95% of all businesses in the United States never reach a million bucks in annual sales?

Surprising as it may be, most businesses simply don’t have what it takes to grow significantly.  In fact, only two or three businesses out of a hundred will ever grow past the Mom & Pop stage – past the owner’s immediate span of control.

If you’re a small business owner with visions of growth, these facts can be a little unnerving, and more than a little disheartening.  What these facts tell us is that if you want your business to grow into a substantial enterprise, you need to do something that roughly 25,000,000 other business owners have been unable to do!

So where do you start?  You start by confronting the brutal facts.  You start with perhaps the most important question a business owner can ask:

Is the market sufficient?

Two factors comprise the market, demand and attachment.

  • Demand is about quantity – how many people want what you’re trying to sell.
  • Attachment is about quality – how much do people want what you’re trying to sell.

For a business to grow significantly, there must be high demand or strong attachment, preferably both.  Although it’s a little unwieldy, here’s a question that gets to the core of market evaluation:

Do enough people care enough?

Sometimes, the answer is no.  Last year about this time our company released an online service called ReallyEasyHR.  The service provided a complete small company HR program for $30 a month.  It was a great service and a remarkable value.  But guess what?  Nobody cared.  It turns out that small business owners have virtually no interest in spending even a few dollars a month on HR.

I believed ReallyEasyHR was going to be successful.  And I suppose I could berate myself about how wrong I was.  But here’s the thing:  You don’t know how the market will respond until you start trying to make sales.  The hard truth is, until you ask a prospect to fork over some cash, it’s all just guesswork and speculation.

That’s true in small companies like ours and it’s also true in huge, wildly successful organizations.  Not so long ago the brain trust at McDonald’s looked at emerging demographic trends and saw what they thought was an opportunity.  People were living longer and the older adult population was burgeoning.  In response, McDonald’s spent $300 million to develop and launch the Arch Deluxe, a sandwich positioned as “a more sophisticated burger for the adult palate”.  The Arch Deluxe was a complete flop. As it turned out, people didn’t want a sophisticated burger from McDonald’s.  Which just goes to show you that some of the smartest people on the planet can be flat-out wrong when projecting demand.

Demand is one thing your company can’t grow without.  Unless enough people care about the product or service you’re trying to sell – and care enough to go out of their way to buy it – survival is unlikely and growth is impossible.  So here are two important reminders for owners who want to grow their businesses:

  1. You won’t know if there’s enough market for your product until you offer that product for sale.
  2. There’s a chance you’ve overestimated demand, so don’t go all in.  Make sure you live to fight another day.

In my next article, I’ll offer some thoughts on the other factor of market potential, attachment.

In our last post we dealt with situations where we didn’t want to intervene because we questioned the impact on our personal safety of doing so. Now we will look at some situations where intervening and trying to get a person to change their behavior would be safe, but might not be the wisest choice.  We must always ask ourselves if a person’s aggravating behavior really justifies our getting personally involved in a possibly confrontational situation?   Like everyone else, you have a threshold of tolerance for bad behavior by others.  Can you just ignore the behavior this time?  Can you perhaps even use the situation to your advantage later?

Example #1:  You casually mention to a new hire an idea you have regarding cost savings.  You then learn that the new employee took that idea to your mutual boss and presented it as her own.   The boss loves the idea and publicly thanks the new employee for the great idea at the next all-hands meeting.  Assuming it would be safe to confront your colleague about the unethical behavior, should you?  Does the action rise to the threshold for you to confront the person?  Probably not.  Unless it was a HUGE cost savings for the company, you will only appear petty and selfish.  Instead, I would work into the next private conversation with that person, somewhat jokingly, that I am happy to provide additional career – enhancing ideas for her and then watch her reaction.  If she has any ethics at all she will apologize and then she’ll tell the boss that the idea was mine.  And then she owes me a major favor.  THAT debt is worth something in the big scheme of company life!

Example #2:  You are entertaining business clients. A group of 8 people seated near you at a restaurant are noisy and keeping you and your clients from enjoying a quiet evening.  They are often laughing loudly and seem oblivious to the tables of people near them.  Do you:

  • Confront the people and ask them to quiet down because, after all, you deserve a nice dining experience with your business clients?
  • Complain to the restaurant manager and ask him/her to talk to those people?
  • Begin hinting loudly to your clients and colleagues that “some people should consider the effect of their behavior on others nearby”, hoping they get the hint but secretly daring those hooligans to say anything in response.

My first choice is none of the above.  Ask to be reseated elsewhere, someplace away from that group of happy revelers.  They are obviously enjoying themselves (birthday, anniversary party, etc.) and we strongly support low-stress, happy occasions with friends and family.  Either let it go, join them, or move to a different table.   Your business clients will be impressed at your patience, tolerance and flexibility.

Example #3:  You are driving to work, in the right lane of a 4-lane highway and another driver slices into your lane in front of you, a little closer than you are comfortable with.  You didn’t need to hit your brakes but it aggravated you and you honked your horn.  A mile up the road, you and that driver are side-by-side at a traffic light and his window is down.  You want to say to him “Wow, such a nice car and it doesn’t even include turn signals in the basic package”.  You could do that.  But, it is likely to cause the other driver (especially if it is a guy and he is not alone) to confront you.  And once that happens, he will be defensive and your chance of changing his behavior drops to zero.  So don’t even bother.

My response?

  • If the other driver was trying to get over to an exit off the roadway and just didn’t take the time to signal his lane change, and he didn’t really endanger me, I will let it go.  In fact, he may begin a conversation at the traffic light with “hey man, sorry I cut you off back there.  I was about to miss my exit here.”  I have had that happen several times on the road.  And if he had waved to me to acknowledge me or thank me for not hitting his car, then I have no real issue with him at all.
  • On the other hand, if he was just being a jerk and couldn’t care less about me, then my disapproval will fall on deaf ears.  But I want him to know that I saw his stupid behavior and I choose to let it pass.  So at the light, I will look right at him until his eyes meet mine.  Then I’ll smile and look back to the front and shake my head side-to-side in the universal international expression of disbelief.  I make your point, he knows his silliness didn’t go unnoticed, and no words are needed. [Note: In Germany adding an index finger tapping your temple says “you are an idiot” and can cause a fight.]

So let’s assume we have decided we are going to confront someone about their behavior.  We have decided that it is safe, it is worth our involvement and we believe we can (and should) get the person to change.   In the next post we’ll look at some time-tested techniques for getting other people’s attention, building rapport with them and getting them to actually change their behavior so they cause less stress for you!

Copyright: Solid Thinking Corporation

Flexible Focus #53: WA JAPAN Project

by William Reed on May 12, 2011

I felt sorry for myself because I had no shoes, until I met a man who had no feet.

~Jewish Proverb

In the first article of this series, we introduced the Mandala Chart as a tool for continuous improvement, an art of flexible focus, a way of life. Yet what does one do when lives and livelihoods are swept away in a single hour, leaving a trail of destruction by an unimaginable force?

The dramatic destruction of the earthquake and tsunami which struck Japan on March 11 were reported worldwide on television, as day by day estimates of the dead and the missing climbed from hundreds to thousands, to tens of thousands. And yet while the after effects threaten to bring the world’s third largest economy to its knees, somehow the Japanese people have risen in the spirit of their own proverb, Seven times down, Eight times up.

People around the world have marveled at Japan’s inner strength in the face of adversity, yet it cannot be explained solely by stoicism, determination, or experience. Many countries have experienced calamity, and many of them have rallied in crisis, but even so the way people have responded to the current crisis in Japan has caused people to think deeply on the life lessons to be learned from it.

Most of this has focused on the orderliness and cooperation, the calmness, dignity, and sacrifice observed, as if nature’s force had brought out the best side of human nature, rather than it’s worst.

Many living in Japan who were spared the worst which they witnessed, feel a deep moral calling to help, to do whatever we can at whatever level to lighten the load. Likewise, many people around the world who watched the calamity on television feel a deep desire to help, and yet lack the means to make a personal connection.

We started the WA JAPAN Project to provide a bridge across which people can contribute and feel connected to the culture, as well as develop a deeper appreciation for Japan’s Inner Strength, through the power of calligraphy, poetry, and art on 10 Meanings of WA, the character which represents Harmony, Pliancy, and the country of Japan itself.

Readers of this column will be familiar with how the Mandala Chart is designed to help you achieve abundance in the 8 fields of life: Health, Business, Finance, Home, Society, Personal, Study, and Leisure. To live in abundance in 8 fields of life is to feel connected at the common edge. By serving those on the other side, you honor that connection by sharing something of your own.

Heraclitus, the pre-Socratic Greek philosopher whom some consider to be the Lao Tzu of the West, said that hidden connections are stronger than obvious ones. Through your connection of understanding and appreciation, and through your contribution and generosity measured by your intent, you will create a kizuna connection 紲 or literally the threads 糸 that bind the world 世

Poetry and calligraphy are a way to connect with yourself as well. The brush strokes are connected in space by an energy line known as the kimyaku 気脈 which exists in poetry as well, as the energy and emotion which bind the words and carry the deeper meaning. The calligraphy, poems, and artwork we created for the 10 Meanings of WA are special, because they are connected to the crisis, and were inspired by the remarkable energy at the roots of Japanese culture, the same energy which is helping them to cope and to have hope, to survive and again to thrive.

We sincerely hope that you will visit the WA JAPAN Project Page, make a contribution in any amount of your choice, then follow the links and download the 10 Meanings of WA, an ebook of our calligraphy, poetry, and artwork, in full color and beautiful design.

We have arranged it so that you can decide the amount of the donation, so that more people can participate in our project, and we hope to attract the support of thousands of people, who will help us reach our target of raising ₤30,000, or about $50,000 for the Japan Earthquake and Tsunami Relief Fund.


My experience with life in any business environment is, that these three words empowerment, essence and engage, are the most powerful. They support and enhance personal and professional growth for both you and the business within which you are employed. The degree to which you are engaged with your work and your environment from an empowered perspective is the degree to which you will experience fulfillment and healthy dynamics within the workplace.

In my initial interviews with clients, regardless of their position, I ask: “What are you afraid people are going to find out or decide about you?” In quick order, even top executives will share aspects of their humanity that they are afraid will be found out. They’ll say something like “I’m afraid people will find out that I’m a fraud, that I’m unworthy of my current position; I don’t know as much as people think I know; I’m barely able to cope with the responsibilities I have; I sometimes doubt my capacity to do my job effectively. The list is endless as each of us has our own unique set of truths about ourselves that we want to keep secret.

The next question I ask “What do you do so people don’t find out that you are a (in this case) a fraud, unworthy of your position and the responsibility that comes with it?”

Bound by Ego

The answers to this question reflect a set of survival strategies, which over time become unconscious mechanisms that in a nutshell we call our personality or our ego. As you can see, our ego is fueled by fear-based precepts that have you believe that you flawed and have to act and be in certain ways in order to avoid being found out. Being found out, for most of us translates into being rejected, humiliated or annihilated. It takes an incredible amount of effort for our ego’s radar system to constantly be on the lookout for potential slips that could incur being found out.

Imagine the amount of attention you put towards this protective process I call your survival mechanism. It’s much like your computer that is set up with a virus detecting software. It has to be on alert 24/7. In the case of us humans, though we are alert for not only what might be coming in, but more importantly what we might be putting out.

In the business environment too many of us are working and being from our egoic self. What else is there, you might ask?

Free of Ego

Imagine if you will, a moment in your life when you are not operating from your fear-based strategies. What’s that like in your body? What’s the quality of the experience you are imagining yourself in? Sometimes it’s challenging for people to remember a time because it’s rare for them to not be stressed, fearful and on alert. However, most people will eventually remember a time or at least begin to sense into what it might be like. When they do they describe the qualities of being in that moment as, light, relaxed, free, creative, playful, fearless, engaged, connecting, open, flexible. This list too is endless as there are so many adjectives to describe this state of being without fear. We know this place; we just don’t visit it often enough.

The next question I ask my client is: “What would shift in your relationship to your work and your work environment if you were to coming from freedom, creative, relaxed, . . . instead of stressed, overwhelmed, intimidated, . .? The answers always astound the person answering. “I’d be more accessible to my direct reports, I’d be more engaged in their projects; I’d be less controlling and would delegate more easily. I’d be more fun to be around and I’d support people in being innovative. I wouldn’t be so stressed; I’d also be more willing to leave the office earlier, spending more time with family, friends and myself.

Wow! So by imagining being in a state that is not fear-based all sorts of possibilities show up that may have seemed otherwise impossible.

Once an individual is aware that they actually can choose to choose differently in how to be who they want to be in their work environment they then can begin to exercise muscles that will help them generate from this newfound freedom, fun and flexibility.

The 4 Questions to Ask

You would think that once experience and revelation has occurred that people would actually empower themselves to choose to begin the process of shifting from fear-based choice-making to what I call essence-based choice-making. This brings us back to that essential dilemma of wanting what is desirable, at the same time wanting to avoid what is undesirable. For those committed to bringing spirituality into business there will be the conflicting commitment of wanting to avoid repercussions. Again, those four basic questions need to be asked:

  1. What are you afraid people will find out or decide about you;
  2. What do you do in order to have them not find that out
  3. What qualities arise when you remember your vision of having the desired outcome; and
  4. What would shift if you were to be that now? What choices would you make and what actions would you take in alignment with that choice?

This line of questioning consistently brings the individual in direct alignment with their essence of being, and empowers them to engage in actions that will bring about the desired outcome.

I totally understand how terrifying it is to consider being in your essence, especially in the workplace. Rarely are we seen or acknowledged for our essence-self. However, we are not our survival strategies, they change as our circumstances change; we are not our ego either. If that were true we would never ever experience those moments when we know ourselves beyond or fear and limitations. It doesn’t make it any less scary.

This brings me back to my original introduction when I defined spirituality as the practice of faith-leaping; exercising muscles that allow you to consider the possibility of shifting from the perspective that life is scary, to, life is a daring adventure or it is nothing – as Helen Keller said. Engaging with your life as a daring adventure requires thoughtful presence to what it is you’ve come here to do and to be.

At some point you will realize you don’t have a choice but to begin to get those muscles in shape. It isn’t a matter of if, it is a matter of when you’ll empower yourself to engage in living into your essence of being and living your life totally on purpose.

Project Reality Check #21: Acknowledgement

by Gary Monti on May 10, 2011

Acknowledgement can increase the speed and accuracy of your project and business interactions. Being grounded in honesty it has an added bonus of creating an atmosphere where people can risk being spontaneous and open. This is especially important when discussing difficult matters, not just the “high five” accomplishments. In contrast, lack of acknowledgement leaves people wondering where they stand causing a waste of energy and destabilization of the relationship.

Acknowledgement shows others they are worth the time and effort it takes to think about them. It has proved invaluable when having to evaluate team members, stakeholders, or vendors whose performance has not been up to par…well at least the ones who value the relationship. It keeps the focus on behaviors important for successful continuation of ongoing work.

Providing acknowledgement says,

“Working interdependently with you is important to me.” That open recognition goes a long way towards potentially deepening the relationship by the development of trust, which in turn can increase commitment. Loyalty is promoted.

For those who don’t care about the relationship, the effort spent acknowledging them still has a benefit by bringing into clear focus the need to modify or end the relationship.

Nuances and Weak Signals

Acknowledgement promotes the sharing of nuances, important when building success. It is like an added bonus. Let me explain. Nuance is about the little things; the little things that can make all the difference in the world. In complex situations nuances go by another name: Weak signals.

Successful weak signal analysis (WSA) is one of the holy grails associated with complex projects. WSA is essential on any complex project since it helps determine as early as possible signs of pending success or failure. This information helps the PM change approach in order to enhance the former and dampen the latter and do it in a cost effective way.

The hunt for and analysis of weak signals can keep a project manager up at night causing loss of focus and the development of tunnel vision. The loyalty and trust promoted by acknowledgement encourages others to help the PM stay on track with eyes wide open. The odds of success go up accordingly.

Think of the trusting clerk with whom you’ve built a relationship. How do you feel when they steer you in the right direction regarding a product with which you have little familiarity but need to work correctly right out of the box? That feeling is the payoff, or should I say one of the payoffs. After all, it just feels good to treat people right.

A Challenge to you!

I’d like to put a challenge out to the reader. How much time are you willing to spend acknowledging others? Who would you pick? Why? Keep your thoughts and associated actions in mind for the next blog where we’ll go deeper into the benefits of acknowledgement along with the damage that occurs when it is absent.

The Amazon Outage: 3 ways to avoid disaster

by Marc Watley on May 9, 2011

Even if your business doesn’t run on Amazon’s infamous on-demand IT services, you’ve no doubt heard about the recent failure in their Virginia datacenter. As I originally began writing this post – 48 hours after the outage occurred – scores of widely-used social media services like Foursquare and Quora were still down in addition to many other businesses. Exactly. No fun. (My music-tinged brain immediately conjured up images of red-faced, smoking-headed CIOs, syncopated to Adam Freeland’s “We Want Your Soul“, “…No simcard. No disco. No photo. Not here.”) Imagine being responsible for IT at one of these companies during the outage? Yeesh. Hats off to you guys for getting back online so quickly.

Now then, nearly two weeks post ze outage, the question remains on many a CIOs mind: what to do to prevent being affected by future outages? Are Amazon’s and other on-demand services going away? Of course not – their services are simply too valuable for today’s business. Spare-room-based startups and established shops alike use (and will continue to use) these services. The Economist reported in a recent article: “…the global market for cloud services could grow from $41 billion last year to $241 billion by 2020.” That said, options do exist to prevent exploding noggins and grey hairs during an outage. Perhaps not necessarily drag-and-drop simple, but not insurmountable either.  A few suggestions to ponder:

Amazon. Now with fewer calories.

One option to consider would be to migrate your core web services from Amazon EBS (their storage service around which the outage occurred) and diversify to other Amazon services – or to alternative services providers, perhaps keeping some services active at Amazon. Michael Krigsman wrote an excellent article for ZDNet about the outage, offering insight from a CIO perspective and sharing how some Amazon customers escaped calamity by employing diversification strategies.

Move. If you wanna.

You may love the low prices, but I’m sure it wasn’t just me who was reminded of the tried-and-true adage “you get what you pay for” when the outage occurred. (Though in fairness to Amazon, and as has been noted in numerous articles regarding the outage, these types of incidents are actually quite rare.) A rather obvious option would be to consider making a move away from Amazon altogether. This may be something you’ve been thinking about anyhow, and if so, be sure to spend the time and investigate your options. (BTW, if your concerns are specifically around storage strategy and exploring alternatives to Amazon EBS, I’d invite you to chat with my good mates over at P1 Technologies.)

Disaster Recovery

Needless to say, this is the option folks know but don’t really want to hear (and I know you knew I’d be going here). Why? Disaster recovery (DR) is neither a quick or simple initiative, as you likely know. It takes many many hours of planning and asking tough questions – principal among which is, naturally, how long can I afford to be down? The answer to this question – understanding your Maximum Tolerable Downtime or MTD – is an important one: if you’re running, say, a social media, gaming, or music service and using on-demand datacenter services, uptime is more than critical – it’s everything. Even a brief outage would mean disaster…hours of downtime might mean irreversible business failure. No users. No ads. No traffic. Not here. If you haven’t yet gone down the DR road, now would be a fantastic time to begin. And by now I mean right now.

The moral of the story here is that datacenter outages – while very infrequent with trusted players like Amazon, Verizon’s Terremark, Rackspace, and others – do and will occur. The key is to be prepared well in advance so that the effect on your business is minimal to none; have a sound strategy and diversify your core datacenter services. Spend time investigating options. Plan, plan, and plan some more, and be sure to have DR initiatives in place. And as I always say, don’t be afraid to ask for help, especially from professionals who can walk you down the road to smart recovery.

What..still here? Daylight’s a-burnin’ my friends!

Week in Review: May 02 – May 06, 2011

by admin on May 8, 2011

Use a Manifesto to build your brand, grow your list & sell more books

by Roger Parker on May 2, 2011

If you’re a business owner or an author using a sample chapter of your book, a report, or a tip sheet as a list-building incentive, consider replacing it with a manifesto. A well-written manifesto can do a better job of helping you build your brand and grow your list, paving the way for you to sell more books.

Manifestos are better list builders because they take a stand. Because manifestos strongly advocate a position, and are usually passionately written, they operate on an emotional level, tapping into the power of commitment. Read more…

Project Reality Check #20: Beware of Addiction to Agile

by Gary Monti on May 3, 2011

Can Agile cause damage?

Yes.

Is Agile a good method?

Yes.

How can both statements be true?

Let’s look.

First, let me say I have a great respect for RAD, Extreme Programming, Agile, etc., because the methods reflect acceptance of and dealing with a common reality. Read more…

As the Paradigm Shifts #D: Dignity, Denial and Detachment

by Rosie Kuhn on May 4, 2011

Whether self-employed, employed by organizations, whether retired or unemployed, we all engage with companies and organizations that support us or we support them. In our interactions with these organizations, what we are wanting is to experience qualities of dignity, first and foremost. This means being treated as a sovereign individual of value, worthy of respect. I want people to communicate authentically, with curiosity and interest. Read more…

Flexible Focus #52: A sense of Significance

by William Reed on May 5, 2011

Stephen Covey provided the world with a significant dimension of perspective when he proposed the Time Management Grid in his book First Things First (1994), using a 2×2 Matrix juxtaposing Urgency vs Importance. Though it has now become common parlance, it was revolutionary at the time when Covey made this distinction, and plotted it in four Quadrants. Read more…

Leader Driven Harmony #23: Five Stressful Behaviors and How to STOP them – Part 3

by Mack McKinney on May 6, 2011

In our last post we looked at two scenarios where, even though other people were causing us stress, we did not ask them to stop because we could not do so safely.  Here is the last scenario before we move on to subject of “is it worth your time to intervene”?  What would you do here? Read more…

In our last post we looked at two scenarios where, even though other people were causing us stress, we did not ask them to stop because we could not do so safely.  Here is the last scenario before we move on to subject of “is it worth your time to intervene”?  What would you do here?

Scenario:

A lay-off recently occurred at your company and a week later one of the terminated people comes to the receptionist’s area at the office.   You come back from lunch and walk into the situation.  He is obviously distraught and is yelling about the unfairness of the lay-off he mentions that he now has no reason to live.  You know the guy, he seems harmless enough and you just want to end the disruption his ranting is having on the employees.  He has two young children and you just want to take him next door for a coffee and give him a chance to vent awhile.  Should you ask him to stop disrupting the office and offer a shoulder to lean on?

Answer:  Absolutely not.  Doing so would be unsafe for you and your coworkers.  When he 1)  showed back up at the office and 2) mentioned “no reason to go on living”, he crossed a line.  Anyone who seems unstable, no matter how small or harmless looking, must be considered dangerous even if you know them personally.  Crime stats are filled with disgruntled former employees who return to the company and attack former bosses and coworkers.  Quietly lock the door to the work area, have somebody call the police immediately and encourage your people to leave the area where the guy is screaming.

Something like this actually happened to me twice as a manager at a major corporation back in the 1990s.  The first time was when we terminated a PhD in electrical engineering in my organization.  He was odd, lazy and didn’t get along with our other technical staffers so at the end of his 6 month probationary period, we let him go.  He then called a company manager at home, very drunk, and mentioned that he was thinking of returning to the office with a machine gun and killing everyone there.  He asked to meet the manager and talk about his grievances.  The manager correctly declined the meeting and immediately called our security who called the local cops.  The police went to his apartment and had a chat with him and then his photo and a description of his vehicle were posted at every gate to our facility.  Nothing further came of it and we didn’t press charges.

The second time was during a contract in the Arabian Gulf during the build-up to Desert Storm (aka Gulf War 1).  I was leading a team of 105 Americans working on ships and one of them began acting strangely.  He provided (unarmed) pier security on the night shift (6 PM to 6 AM) to prevent pilferage and he complained to coworkers that when he returned to his hotel room each morning, his belongings had been moved around.  He said that the CIA was routinely searching his room!  Nobody else took him seriously but when he started leaving razor knives on storage crates every 50 feet down the pier “in case somebody jumps me” his behavior started to stress the other workers.

These same coworkers warned me that they considered him mentally unbalanced so I asked him to join me for a friendly, private walk-and-chat.  He told me that, beyond any doubt, the CIA was “after him”.  I told him that, were I him, I would take that as a serious threat and I added that maybe the CIA had him confused him with some other person.  He obviously had not thought of that and while he was pondering the ramifications I told him I thought the best thing we could do was to get him out of the Arab Gulf immediately.  He agreed and was on the flight to Amsterdam the next evening, and then home to California’s Long Beach Shipyard.  In this case, I was forced to intervene with an unstable person because I was responsible for the job getting done and the person’s behavior was stressing the rest of the team.  But always do this gently, with kid gloves. Do not be confrontational.

OK, assuming a person’s behavior is causing you stress and you have decided you can intervene without risking your personal safety.  But should you?  In the next post we will learn some proven techniques for determining what type of stressor we are dealing with and how to then get them to stop stressing us out!

Flexible Focus #52: A sense of Significance

by William Reed on May 5, 2011

Urgency vs Importance

Stephen Covey provided the world with a significant dimension of perspective when he proposed the Time Management Grid in his book First Things First (1994), using a 2×2 Matrix juxtaposing Urgency vs Importance. Though it has now become common parlance, it was revolutionary at the time when Covey made this distinction, and plotted it in four Quadrants.

Quadrant 1 is Firefighting, both Urgent and Important. Quadrant 2 is Quality Time, Important but not Urgent. Quadrant 3 is Distraction, Urgent but not Important. Quadrant 4 is Time Wasting, neither Urgent nor Important. To give serious consideration to this matrix is to realize that an unacceptable proportion of your time and life energy is actually being wasted, and that there may be far too little Quality Time in your experience. This insight alone should give you pause, and motivate you to devote more energy to living on the right side of the matrix.

Additional Degrees of Freedom

We have already examined the limitations of the 2×2 Matrix in Flexible Focus #25: Assessing your situation with a Mandala SWOT analysis. A 2×2 Matrix can alert you to an insufficiency, cause you to reevaluate your priorities, or alert you to a missing element in your life. However, life is multi-dimensional, and most things in life do not easily fit into a 2×2 square.

What if you added even just one dimension, and looked at life as a 3×3 matrix, as a Mandala Chart? This alone gives you nine degrees of freedom instead of 4, and if you care to explore it further, the B-style Mandala Chart is 8×8, with 64 degrees of freedom. To anyone who values flexibility and freedom, by any measure 9 degrees of freedom is better than 4, and 64 degrees of freedom is better than 9, unless you prefer simple choices with everything fixed.

Additional freedom brings with it greater appreciation for flow and serendipity, lesser need for control, and a higher tolerance for ambiguity. The important thing is to determine what makes life better, more meaningful, and what serves to answer the bigger question of Why?

In Search of Significance

As shown in the illustration, there are 5 basic questions, which correspond to the five elements of Chinese philosophy, as well as the energy dynamics of our perception: What (Wood, Visual), Who (Fire, Auditory), When (Earth, Kinesthetic), How (Steel, Logical), and Why (Flow, Energetic). There is a sequence here, which is easy to remember if you think that Wood feeds Fire, which burns and returns to Earth, which hardens into Steel, and the whole process Flows.

You see this process at work in companies whenever new ideas are presented. Wood feeds fire, hence the question to ask after What you can do is, Who can help you do it? Unfortunately, many companies respond to new ideas with the cutting edge of steel, How can it be done? How can we afford it? How could it possibly work? Steel cuts wood, and How questions kill ideas as fast as they appear.

Companies and individuals who understand this process move forward and thrive, whereas those who don’t retract, shrink, and shrivel, eventually losing their creative edge. How has its place, but must wait its turn. This is why accountants and engineers should not call all of the shots.

Popular psychology tends to focus just on the first three, Visual, Auditory, and Kinesthetic, but this is only three of the five dimensions of our consciousness. The 3×3 Mandala has nine squares, adding a degree of subtlety to the five elements. To reach the level of significance, you need to ask quality questions, which are really quite fundamental, but seldom asked in earnest.

So what does a 3×3 Mandala look like, which reaches into the dimension of significance, rather than just urgency vs importance? The 3×3 Mandala of Quality Questions is simplicity itself. In three rows from left to right it reads: HOW TO, WHAT, WHY ME, then HOW, WHY, WHO, then HOW MUCH, WHEN, WHERE. Everything centers on WHY, which is the center and anchor point for your inquiry.

Through a Glass Darkly

Although the Mandala Chart is usually represented as a 3×3 Matrix, a flat board of 9 squares, this is merely a convenience to represent the concept on paper. The Mandala is often represented as a circle, or an all encompassing sphere representing the Universe, and everything contained in it.

In searching for a sense of significance, you might picture the Mandala as a crystal ball in which we can see our future, our present, and our past, albeit in misty or mystical form. The Mandala is a looking glass, and in it we see through a glass darkly, a phrase which originated in the King James Bible, but has been used in film, television, music, and literature, precisely because it reflects our experience. Only by looking deeper can we see more clearly and understand the real significance of our existence.