Posts Tagged ‘purpose’

Why should you read this post?

Because this little crash course in effective writing is the collective intelligence of thousands of people just like you.  It is a living document and benefits from ongoing improvements suggested by our students.  Their suggestions and observations, especially in the final section, make us all much better writers.

Clear, sharp writing is almost a lost art.  And it is sad because to get along in life you must be able to explain yourself clearly.  Texting and its shortcuts and abbreviations let us communicate simple thoughts quickly but texting is not suited to explaining complex issues, refuting others’ positions or reporting on a technical approach.  In business if you cannot craft a grammatically correct, well-written document that people find pleasing to read, you will always be working for someone else who can.  Heck, if you cannot write, you may not be able to get a bank loan for your business or even get a letter-to-the-editor published in your local newspaper!

Once you get the basics right, it also helps to write in a flowing, friendly style that makes people want to read what you write.  But why are some documents, even long and involved ones, easy to read while others are difficult to get through?  It turns out there are five key considerations in writing: Purpose, Audience, Content, Style and Mechanics. In discussing the first four considerations we will give you some basic rules for creating effective, efficient papers of all kinds (especially the fear-inducing technical reports and business studies).  Then in the “Mechanics” section we will help you avoid the wince-inducing writing errors often found in popular articles and papers.  The goal is to prevent readers’ getting balled up finding annoying mistakes, and to instead relax, understand your points and enjoy reading the things you write.

Why should you listen to us?  Our company, Solid Thinking, teaches short courses in building Concepts of Operations or CONOPS.  These documents are combinations of systems descriptions and user’s manuals, brought into one document for use by end users and systems engineers.  CONOPS are hard-hitting documents that provide continuity for multi-year (and multi-million $$$) systems development projects, ease reorganizations of major enterprises, and help describe the operational uses of things.  CONOPS are read by senior people who have little patience for long, meandering, wordy documents so we have learned to write crisply and succinctly.  You will find references to CONOPS throughout this document but in each case, the lesson also probably applies to any written document.

We also teach Project Dominance courses which are basically Project Management courses on steroids.  Project Managers are constantly writing and reading, editing and enhancing documents.  Our courses teach people to sort out, structure, organize and manage major projects of all kinds by helping them make the best possible use of the talent on their project teams: young and old colleagues, rookies and grey-beards, scientists and business managers – – – everyone has something to contribute.  And crisp, clear, unambiguous writing by each person on a team can save time, avoid frustration and help achieve the workplace harmony we all seek.

Note that this paper uses masculine and feminine forms interchangeably.  Some people like it, others don’t.  Also, a friendly warning: Please do not edit this paper.  Editing will cause you to focus on the minutia and you will miss the learning value.  Just relax, stay at the 50,000 foot level, read for meaning and content and resist the perfectly human urge to improve everything.  But if we have entirely forgotten something really important or we have gotten a concept or technique completely wrong, please tell us in an email.

In our classes we find that just about everyone gets something beneficial out of this paper.  But if you are working in a large company or in a government organization (Federal, State or local), or you plan to someday, you will really benefit from reading this paper and applying the no-nonsense lessons.  Now let’s get into the meat of effective writing!

Purpose

Decide on the ultimate purpose of your document and make the main points up front. Make your key point in a single sentence, succinctly and in plain English, in the first part of every section/book.  Then support your conclusion/results with as much detail as needed to meet the objective of the report (inform, persuade, support, etc.).

Is the report intended to inform a sponsor (via documentation) about work recently completed?  Is it intended to persuade a sponsor to support a new idea or to award a follow-on contract?  Or will the report be used by other people, perhaps people in the sponsor’s chain of command, to secure funding for additional work?  Perhaps all three uses are foreseen for the report: it is usually safest to assume as much and then write for a technical audience but introduce each major section and key point with layman-language.  After the main point has been made, support your contentions with text and graphics and with the appropriate technical depth.

This writing technique of main-point-first is the reverse of how many scientists and engineers tend to write.  Most judge each other professionally on the thoroughness of their reasoning and on the extent to which they thought-through the various aspects of any given problem.  Consequently, when they write down their solution to a problem, they tend to present their solution using progressive-discovery.  This involves disclosing a little bit of information at a time, to lay the groundwork for their assertions and arguments.  This is supposed to convince the reader of the author’s qualifications and reasoning skills before the assertion or conclusion is unveiled.  The hope is that the reader will then be more inclined to accept the writer’s conclusion or position. Here is how this typically unfolds: First the scientist or engineer defines the problem they faced then they discuss aspects of sub-areas of the problem, weaving a web of complex interrelationships.  Then they discuss key issues associated with each aspect they uncovered.  Next come the assumptions they had to make (because nobody ever has a 100% complete data set) and then the trade-offs they made and why they made certain choices.  Lastly they describe the various conclusions they could have reached, and only then do they tell you their actual conclusions.

Why would people write this way?   It is human nature.  People inherently fear rejection of their ideas so they lay a supporting foundation prior to springing their solution on the audience. This minimizes the chance of initial rejection.  But if an entire section of a technical report is written in the discovery-style, it will inevitably have an unintended consequence: managers, technical and non-, who are reading for conclusions will be forced to wade through the entire document to understand the writer’s main conclusions.  Similarly, scientific and engineering professionals from disciplines other than that of the author must also wade through the text, and the often-unfamiliar acronyms, to get to the nuggets.  These readers will also find the detail too tedious.  Do not do this.  Use an “elevator speech” to state your conclusion up front and then support it as needed.

Always be clear, blatantly so if possible.  Whenever your chosen approach will result in clear benefits to the customer or user, say so! If faster processing will display results faster, or higher fidelity information will aid decision makers, or fewer boards will lower acquisition and life cycle support costs for your system, say so and do it up front in the section where you also present your conclusions.  But do not exaggerate: whereas engineers are likely to omit key competitive discriminators in technical reports (a serious mistake), marketers are likely to lean too far the other way (almost as serious), sometimes embellishing the benefits of a study’s findings.  To a technical reader, this may appear as an exaggeration of the facts, a “sales pitch” at best and dishonest at worst.  One way to highlight your competitive discriminators, without alienating the technical reader, is by quantifying the benefit and couching the description of the finding/result in terms of the benefit to the user. You can also write about how your approach reduces program/technical risk or reduces program cost.  An example might be in the case of a redesign effort that permits an assembly to be built using two processor boards instead of three.  One way for your team to subtly take credit for the positive aspects of this redesign would be as follows:

“While not required in the government’s Statement of Work, our team wanted to decrease the board count and believed it would be worth the 15 man-hours spent in redesign.  Our initial calculations were born out in the cost reduction assessment that followed our redesign: dropping from three to two boards in the receiver will have four major benefits – – – the initial acquisition cost of the prototype will be reduced by $3K (and each subsequent system will be $2K cheaper); we will save at least 110 man-hours in software development for the prototype because we eliminated a very complex board; one entire module can be deleted from the user’s maintenance training sessions; and a chapter can be removed from the course manual we will write as part of our contract.  Perhaps most importantly for the users, the system will now be much easier to configure and maintain.”

Remember a business or technical report may be initially written to inform but 80-90% of the time a technical report will be eventually used somewhere as a proposal to sell an idea.  Often this reuse of your report will take place without your knowledge or involvement and a later audience may be very different from the original one for whom you wrote the report.  Since the intent of a proposal is to persuade or convince someone to take an action, write every report with that possibility in mind.  Write the opening part of every document and every section with the assumption that the audience will be relatively unfamiliar with the subject matter.  Then dive as deeply as needed into the technical discussions.  Just remember the old Sears© slogan: “Something for Everyone” (technical and non-).

Next week we will discuss the critical importance of knowing your audience.  Mess this up and you’ll be writing for . . . well . . . nobody.  And we will briefly discuss content and style.

Copyright: Solid Thinking Corporation

Mack McKinneyMack McKinney is on a personal crusade to eliminate conflict and stress in our lives. Mack’s mantra is “People treat you like you TRAIN them to treat you!” His company Solid Thinking Corporation teaches creativity, concept development, relationship management and high-performance project leadership to major US corporations and the US government
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Week In Review : Nov 28 – Dec 4, 2010

by Magesh Tarala on December 5, 2010

Social Media and Tribes #22: Pink and Grow Rich – My thanksgiving gift!

by Deepika Bajaj, Nov 29, 2010

Deepika has released her e-book “PINK and Grow RICH“. If you believe you have to characteristics of a leader or you see yourself as a person who has one reason for not being who you could be, this is a must read for you. more…

Chaos and Complexity #12: Terrorism

by Gary Monti, Nov 30, 2010

Terrorism thumbs its nose at best-practice, top-down approaches. And terrorists are good at it. They create large force multipliers extending beyond the battlefield. They are always looking for tipping points.Terrorists work to make things chaotic (if not random) and committed security team members work to build the bonds needed to trap the terrorist and keep things safe. That is complex behavior. At times the best that security teams can do is reduce the chaos to complexity. This means trade-offs are inevitable. more…

Getting off on the right foot with a neutral business valuation specialist

by Steve Popell, Dec 2, 2010

Collaborative divorce is a splendid out-of-court process that can assist the spouses to communicate more effectively and to negotiate more productively.  If the parties make the necessary commitment to the process, they have a much better chance to maintain human decency, protect their children, and to help the entire family to get on the other side of the divorce decree in one piece. more…

Flexible Focus #30: The 8 frames of life: Home

by William Reed, Dec 2, 2010

Home is the 4th in the 8 Frames of Life of the Mandala Chart. Yet, broken homes, dysfunctional families, domestic violence, and broken hearts are pandemic in our society, an outward reflection of an inner conflict. The Mandala Chart is a comprehensive compass for life, and provides helpful perspectives on themes surrounding our Home. more…

Leader driven harmony #1: Communication by Handshake

by Mack McKinney, Dec 3, 2010

This Series is about life and business and the first topic should be of interest to anyone doing business anywhere –the business handshake. A predictable, firm handshake is an important tool in business, in fact, in life, in general.  A handshake is over in a few seconds yet it helps us reach a number of conclusions about the other person. more…

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Week In Review – Sep 5 – Sep 11, 2010

by Magesh Tarala on September 12, 2010

The trap of entertainment!

by Himanshu Jhamb, Sep 6, 2010

It is common practice to get together and bitch about things because it is entertaining. What good does it do? It will be beneficial to everybody if we can engender something positive in these conversations. more…

Character and Personality #10: A simple honesty

by Gary Monti, Sep 7, 2010

What others observe with a leader who shows integrity regarding the character and personality traits discussed in previous blogs is a simple honesty. While the need for this simple honesty increases, achieving it is a daily challenge. You can achieve this by practicing moral and emotional integrity. more…

Social Media and Tribes #11: Leverage the language of the tribe

by Deepika Bajaj, Sep 8, 2010

During her recent visit to Spain, Deepika had a new observation of what a Tribe is in the context of Social Media: A Tribe is a set of people who communicate in the same language in any given conversation. Language is important for nurturing and maintaining your social media tribes and so leverage language to empower and engage your tribe! more…

Flexible Focus #18: Engage visual thinking

by William Reed, Sep 9, 2010

A picture is worth a thousand words. Similarly, it is simpler to have a set of pictures to help keep our Mandala in focus. In this article, William has assembled images that can help you recall and recreate new ideas around the central theme. more…

Forget Project management. Let’s talk Project leadership!

by Himanshu Jhamb, Sep 10, 2010

There is a difference between managing a project versus leading a project. Leadership is out there… it screams responsibility and accountability. It is about reaching out and getting what you need to get the job done, fearlessly. This give an introduction to the genesis of this series. Over the subsequent posts, Himanshu will share his journey of how he transformed the way he did things in various areas… and will share the challenges, the fears & the situations. more…

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Week In Review – Jun 20 – Jun 26, 2010

by Magesh Tarala on June 27, 2010

3 Steps to making the Outsourcing choice

by Matthew Carmen, Jun 21, 2010

It is now rare to find a company, of any size, that hasn’t outsourced some portion of their IT functions.  This could be as small as an application or as large as the company’s entire IT department.  If you’re considering outsourcing within your own organization, Matthew’s article will help you think through the next steps in detail.  more…

Leadership and Mythology #7: Zeus, Greed and Change

by Gary Monti, Jun 22, 2010

Being greedy can lead to disastrous results. Nurturing your network and cultivating abundance is critical for sustained success and peace of mind. Greed and its consequences show up in Greek mythology. The lessons are quite relevant today especially in a complex, chaotic business world. more…

Social Media and Tribes #3: Mob mentality

by Deepika Bajaj, Jun 23, 2010

Contrary to popular conventions about the Web opening minds, people are more likely to read information or participate in social groups that reinforce what they already believe. A tribe can show dramatic increase in the undesirable action compared with doing nothing at all, because it demonstrated that lots of others engaged in the behavior. But if your message to your tribe is right, you can make positive change happen.  more…

Flexible Focus #7: Inside the lines

by William Reed, Jun 24, 2010

Thinking outside the box is a synonym for creativity. Although this metaphor has captured the popular imagination, the real challenge is to engage in applied creative thinking that solves real problems. Just like tennis is a game that is played entirely within the box, the most exciting and productive creative work is often produced and performed inside the box. In this article William explains how to use the Mandala chart to expand your thinking and stay within the lines.  more…

Author’s Journey #27: Building relationships with your readers

by Roger Parker, Jun 25, 2010

It is increasingly obvious that the whole point of writing a book is not to sell books, but to build long-term and profitable reader relationships. Consider your book the core of your long-term self (or business) marketing plan. In this scenario, your book becomes the hub of a relationship-building strategy that begins long before your book appears and continues for years afterward. more…

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Week In Review – May 2 – May 8, 2010

by Magesh Tarala on May 9, 2010

Can we avert failures in our life?

by Vijay Peduru, May 3, 2010

This article reminds me of one of my high school teachers. This was his famous refrain: if a rocket destined to the moon is off by a fraction of a degree, it will not reach its destination. You can change your destination only if you change your direction. Nothing happens all of a sudden. There is no overnight success. Take small steps in the right direction every day. more…

Leadership Cancers #8: Anticipation

by Gary Monti, May 4, 2010

Wow, Gary… or should I say “The sage of Active Garage”? Performing action without becoming a servant of the desired consequences has been a subject of discussion for the longest time. This is a very nuanced concept and can be easily misinterpreted out of context. But understanding and putting this single principle to practice can bring you peace of mind and take your performance to new heights you have not experienced before. more…

Are You Preventing Your House Sale?

by Guy Ralfe, May 5, 2010

One of my teachers insists on learning the art of quitting. You got to listen to this Kenny Rogers song on this topic. While quitting is an essential art, it is equally important to not shut the doors of opportunity. When you don’t give into emotions and think strategically, you can leverage every thing that comes across your way for your ultimate benefit. more…

Pillars of Success

by Robert Driscoll, May 6, 2010

Based on movies, TV and what we read in the media, we have a pre conceived notion of what a hugely successful CEO is. You cannot be more wrong. Robert has captured the essence of one CEO’s practices for success in this article. more…

Author’s Journey #20: Choosing the right incentive to build your List

by Roger Parker, May 7, 2010

One of your most important marketing and promoting decisions is choosing the right incentive to offer as a bonus to visitors who sign up for your e-mail newsletter or weekly tips. It’s not enough to offer great information delivered at consistent intervals via e-mail. In this article, Roger has listed a great array of incentives you can provide your readers. more…

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Week In Review – Mar 21 – Mar – 27, 2010

by Magesh Tarala on March 28, 2010

Everything is so amazing and nobody is happy

by Vijay Peduru, Mar 22, 2010

Have you taken a moment to reflect how amazing it is to be living this time and age? There are so many gadgets and tools that increase our capacity phenomenally, but we often end up complaining about trivial things about them. Watch a short humorous video in this post and that will help you realize that we are very lucky indeed! more…

Leadership Cancers #2: The insanity of multitasking

by Gary Monti, Mar 23, 2010

The human brain is similar to a single core microprocessor. Multitasking in either case involves context switching which is expensive. But is it effective? Multitasking should not be confused with some tasks we can perform simultaneously, like chewing gum and walking. In this post, Gary argues that high value tasks or tasks that have high impact when something goes wrong, are not conducive to multitasking. Don’t agree? Well, have you read about the impact of texting and driving? Or next time you go to a meeting, try working on your laptop and listening to the conversation at the same time.

One of our readers Avi commented that multitasking is related to picking up tasks in a “wait” state. While it is true that this enables efficient use of time, it does not mean that you can do multiple tasks at the same time. If task A takes 40 hours, you cannot expect task B to be fit in at the same time. If task A hits a roadblock and cannot progress, task B gets worked on. Do read Gary’s response too. more…

Past is NO way to the Future

by Guy Ralfe, Mar 23, 2010

Ever dealt with a financial advisor or read an investment brochure? Their standard disclaimer is that past performance is not an indication of future performance. While knowledge of the past definitely is valuable, we should be aware that the future will not mimic the past. Now, apply this to your life and your actions; don’t let the past hinder your future performance. more…

CAPEX-Free IT: How to refresh your technology, deliver stellar IT, and keep your CFO happy

by Marc Watley, Mar 25, 2010

Money is tight everywhere. According to most surveys and reports, CAPEX spending in IT is going to increase slightly this year at best, if not remain flat. Resources are down to 2005 levels. So, how do you do more with less.  With the advent of virtualization and cloud computing, there are numerous options to pay as you go. When implementing this strategy, do it the Kaizen way. more…

Author’s Journey #14: How to get others to help you write your book

by Roger Parker, Mar 26, 2010

In this post Roger describes three basic approaches to getting others to help you write your book. They are:

1. Paying for Help
2. The Network Approach
3. Social Media Approach

Read the post to understand what they are and how to leverage existing tools. As always, your choice should be determined by your goals and your resources. more…

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Week In Review – Mar 7 – Mar 13, 2010

by Magesh Tarala on March 14, 2010

Before you fight them… Choose them wisely!

by Himanshu Jhamb, Mar 8, 2010

Not all customers are created equally. While some are very rewarding to work with, others are a drain on your resources. We need to pick them wisely and conserver our resources to fight the good fight. When you see your competitors taking on high maintenance clients, remember Napolean Bonaparte’s quote: “Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake”. more…

Change Management #7 – Products: A tip to assure Darwinian survival

by Gary Monti, Mar 9, 2010

In this concluding post of the seven-part series, Gary draws a parallel between Darwin’s theory of natural selection and product management. Gold plating requirements and succumbing to feature creep will ensure failure and end up the dodo way. But following the natural selection way will ensure survival. more…

Once I make a commitment…

by Himanshu Jhamb, Mar 10, 2010

You are measured by your ability to keep your commitments to others. This is possible only if you possess the integrity. It is easy to understand the concept of integrity in physical structures and Himanshu provides a couple of examples in this article. Just like the lack of integrity will cause a structure to collapse, lack of integrity in your life will cause it to collapse. The bollywood actor’s dialog may help you maintain your integrity – he says “Once I make a commitment… I don’t even listen to myself”. more…

Dancing for your Tribe

by Guy Ralfe, Mar 11, 2010

First off, hearty congratulations to Guy for taking the leap in to entrepreneurship. We wish him the best in his new endeavor.

Reflecting upon how he was able to make the transition to his new career, Guy credits the power of networks for his ability to make such a drastic change. Luck does not come calling, but is a factor of who you associate with. Associating with the right tribes and creating an identity that is portable across tribes, is essential component of success. So, get started and make some noise, tweet, call someone – get out there and pick your opportunity – Dance for your tribe! more…

Author’s Journey #12: How to create a content plan for your book?

by Roger Parker, Mar 12, 2010

Before you can write your book, you need to create a content plan for your book. Mind mapping makes it easy to identify and organize your ideas. In this article Roger explains how he used a three step process to successfully create a content plan for his book using Mindjet’s MindManager and Microsoft Word. more…

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Taking your organization through change requires the skills of a samurai knowing when to make changes, when to leave things as they are, and staying centered through the entire process. Do this in an ever-changing environment with moving targets!

Like a samurai you can use the principles of martial arts and Zen, combine them with complexity theory, and develop an approach to changing your organization.

The Samurai

The word “samurai” has interesting roots. It means, “to serve.” More specifically, it means to serve something or someone higher than oneself. The samurai looks at the broader picture and chooses specific actions accordingly. To aid in this they practiced many arts with some samurai being great poets and artists. They worked to understand the principles of life beyond fighting. This led to even-tempered decision-making. This approach is critical when making organizational changes, some of which may be enjoyable and others painful.

Martial Arts

Martial Arts can teach us something about technique when changing an organization. Methods vary with circumstances but evolve from solid principles. In Aikido there is a proverb that goes something like this, “When you come upon a rock; be water and flow around it. When the ground is shifting; be a tree and establish roots.” This knowing when to flex and when to hold your ground is critical. In World War II Henry Kaiser revolutionized shipbuilding by restructuring the manner in which Liberty ships were designed and assembled. He turned naval construction on its head. Once new methods (flexing) were established and integrated they were pushed to the limit (holding ground). The time to build a ship was reduced from 245 days to 45 days with some being completed in less than a week. Some of those construction methods are still in use today.

Zen

So how do you pick from all different ways to organize? What order should they be used in? There are so many methods and types of advice one can get overwhelmed. The key is establishing and keeping an eye on your goals and values and choosing the appropriate method.

Zen offers some good advice: Be immovable. Now, this doesn’t mean be stubborn. It also doesn’t mean being stuck. What it does mean is be imperturbable. Have all decisions reflect movement towards desired goals while keeping values in sight. For more on this see a previous blog, Change Management – Leadership: An Executive Map, Compass and Navigation Method.

Complexity Theory

Now you can take a tip from complexity theory on how best to organize: let the people do it themselves. With everyone understanding the goals and values do something very interesting: take the organization back-and-forth between equilibrium and disequilibrium. When things are moving well – let them be (equilibrium). When a change is needed shake things up by pointing to the challenges and let the team decide how best to organize or reorganize (disequilibrium).

Andy Grove used a two-step process at Intel.

  1. He instilled the belief that change is needed and left the organization alone so the stress would build.
  2. When the stress was high enough he would then lead people through “The Valley of Death” to achieve the next chip design. (Adapted from “Surfing the Edge of Chaos,” Richard Pascale, et. al.)

In the next blog we will look at some deadly misconceptions regarding technology and change and how to remedy the situation. If you are as interested as I in these topics send me an e-mail at gwmonti@mac.com or visit www.ctrchg.com.

Gary Monti PMI presentation croppedThrough his firm, Center for Managing Change, Gary Monti has over 30 years experience providing change- and project management services internationally. He works at the nexus between strategy, business case, project-, process-, and people management. Service modalities include consulting, teaching, mentoring, and speaking. Credentials include PMP number 14 (Project Management Institute®), Myers-Briggs Type Indicator certification, and accreditation in the Cynefin methodology. Gary can be reached at gwmonti@mac.com or through Twitter at @garymonti
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Measure for Success

by Guy Ralfe on January 20, 2010

I don’t see myself as competitive but thinking about it if someone draws a line in the sand, I have to jump over it. My boss decided that we all needed a challenge to get us through the winter. He offered to everyone in the company an entry to Boston’s Run To Remember – 1/2 marathon. Not being a runner but seeing the line in the sand I signed up.

I asked a few questions to get an idea of how to train and how to build up to this race. I was told “…you need to get into the habit of running about 35-40km (about 21.5-24.8 mi) a week” and then build up on speed after you have established a base in attaining distance.

I had never run more than 10 km before, and to be honest if I recall most of those 10km were walked, how was I going to achieve this? Well I put on my trainers and set off aiming for 35 km in the first week. After a mammoth effort I managed just over 10km on my first run. Suddenly 35 km didn’t look so far but finding another 3 hour slots in the week was going to be the challenge. Getting daily email reminders from my boss on how far he had run, quickly helped overcome that problem, and surprisingly, after my first week of training I managed to log a respectable 37.5 km. Now that was some two months ago, and it has gotten a lot colder up here in the north east. What started to happen was that I began not keeping accurate records of what I was running so I began telling myself stories about what I had done to feel better, not what I had left to accomplish. The result was that suddenly I was not able to keep up the required standard.

Lately I have been trying to build up speed since all I had been focusing on was distance. (to you athletes out there I am not a runner yet so no laughing at my shared statistics) From discussions I heard someone mention that you need to be in the 4:50 min/km pace for this type of a run. So I sported a watch and off I set. In my mind, I was thinking that I must be getting close to the 5 min/km mark. Well after a good fast run the watch must have had a problem, I was averaging 5:32 min/km. I was suddenly aware how weak my training program was and that the performance metrics for running were both speed and distance. After some work I have now been able to break the 5:00 min/km mark for my training runs.

So just yesterday I went for a run in Copenhagen, it is flat with no hills and I felt like I had flown. At one point I sprinted alongside a cyclist to keep the pace elevated for 2 minutes – my time must have been close to 4:50 min/km. After looking at my watch I only managed 5:01 min/km. I was really upset and shocked, but I also learned a very clear lesson that us humans cannot be objective for our own sake.

We must know what we are going to do, what the criteria (metrics) are that define the standard if we are at all going to compete. Let’s not fool ourselves we compete all day every day. We need to ensure we stay ahead of the pack to succeed and realize our ambitions.

This is a great video emphasizing the point of knowing what the standard is and measuring against it.

(Click to Start Video)

Here is a brilliant blog post Don’t Do Your Best that gives more insight into the limitations we commonly set ourselves when saying we will do our best.

And from a business perspective here is a an insight to what it means to Run the Last Mile of the Race.

Know your ambitions, personal and business, set the criteria you are going to measure against then go out and perform. And if nothing else measure your performance!

Guy RalfeThis article was contributed by Guy Ralfe, co-founder of Active Garage and co-author of the upcoming book ProjectManagementTweets. You can follow Guy on Twitter at gralfe.
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What Are You Waiting For?

by Robert Driscoll on January 14, 2010

As we enter this jobless recovery in 2010, it won’t be big business that will pick up the economy.  Once again, it will be the small business entrepreneurs.  News agencies and financial firms follow what the CEO’s of major firms foresee for 2010 to see when the light at the end of the tunnel will become visible.  What many people don’t realize is that small businesses employ over half of all private sector employees and generated 64 percent of net new jobs over the past 15 years.  It is small businesses and entrepreneurs who will bring us out of this slump.

While the days of working for one employer during your professional career are long over, big business continues to squeeze more perks out of their employees to cut expenses. Almost a third of Fortune 1000 companies have now frozen their pension plans in an effort to control expenses. US wages and salaries rose at record lows according to the Labor Department in 2009.  Over the past 12 months, wages and salaries only rose 1.5 percent making it the lowest increase since the figures started to be collected in 1982.

Wages for non-managerial workers have fallen by 1.4 percent so far this year, according to an article in USA Today, and are on track for even further declines. The official unemployment rate has reached 9.8 percent, and when one takes into account discouraged workers and people who are underemployed, it is at 17 percent, possibly higher.  And for 2010, while more employers state that they will be hiring more employees, it’s nothing to write home about as it’s not much higher than 2009.

With the marketplace now changing faster than ever and forcing businesses to adapt more quickly, more employers will have to rethink their hiring efforts as they look to their employees to be more flexible as well.  This request from big business employers to employees for flexibility will be: increasing and decreasing work hours depending on demand; the continued request to do-more-for-less; continue to learn new skills.  How do you think employees are reacting to this?  According to a survey of 2900 companies done by Careerbuilder.com revealed that nearly a quarter of them rate their organization’s morale as low.  So what can you do during these tough economic times?  You can be thankful that you have a job and suck it up or you can make a change.

Recently a good friend of mine told me that he was considering quitting his corporate job in the northeast and moving to the mid-west to help a family member of his grow his small business and take it to the next level.  While he would initially be taking a pay cut, the opportunity for growth and exceeding his income today is enormous, but he worries about leaving his “comfortable” corporate job.  He called me to ask me for my opinion.  I told him that there are risks in working for a small business, or for that matter, helping to start one, but in today’s uncertain economy, there aren’t any more uncertainties working for big business as there are working for a small company.  The difference, I told him, is that there will be nothing more fulfilling than creating something that is his and being in control of his financial destiny.  I asked him what he’s waiting for and when he’s leaving to start his new journey.  I hope it’s soon.

So ask yourself, “Am I happy?” or, “Is my career/job fulfilling?” If not, then what are you waiting for to change it?

robert_driscoll_color This article was contributed by Robert Driscoll, co-founder of Active Garage. You can follow Robert on Twitter at rsdriscoll.
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