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Thinking Out Loud

Open Mind…..Open Parachute?

The quote “A mind is like a parachute – it doesn’t work unless it is open” can be attributed to many sources including people as diverse as Frank Zappa, Charlie Chan and Thomas Dewar.

Regardless of the source, it is a challenge to us on many levels. Listening is the key to an open mind, I believe. Actually listening not just hearing what is being said. After that it is taking time to process what you think you have heard into some framework you can question or utilise.

Questioning what you think you have heard is important. How often, in any situation, have you heard something that the person beside you did not hear or process in the same way? An easy example ( and a humorous one from comedian Billy Connelly) is the question from a parent to a child “Do you want a smack?” What we think we are saying (and what we hear) as a parent is a warning to stop whatever is causing the situation requiring control. What the child hears may be that same warning but other children may just hear the question as it was asked – to which they would probably answer ‘no”.

This is an oversimplification but it does illustrate the point. 

Back to our open minds. 

In business and in life we don’t have all the answers. We need to seek out a new way, a different way, a solution to a problem we have not encountered before. Maybe no-one has encountered this particular problem before so we need to reach further afield to find help. 

A closed mind says it can’t be done. My response is why specifically not?  Then for each of the objections/hurdles, I seek solutions one at a time. Going down that path might have lots of twists and turns but by actually going down the path we can learn and grow in ways we didn’t foresee at the start.

A closed mind says its been tried before and didn’t work. Again I want specifics. What exactly didn’t work? Can we learn and adapt from that particular part of the activity? Is it a different scenario this time around in terms of technology or other resources? 

As humans, we have been endowed with a brain. We should be using it to maintain its peak condition. That means keeping it open to new, different and challenging ideas, solutions, activities and processes.

Cultivating an open mind comes as a result of listening, critical thinking and reasoning.

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Thinking Out Loud

Reinventing Yourself

As you may already know, I produce a weekly podcast with a long time colleague of mine, designed to support mentoring of senior executives. Over the past 8 months we have been including special guests from outside Australia (where we are based) to discuss a broad range of topics that we and our listeners have found intriguing.

Two recent guests spoke about “Servant Leadership”. This was not a management term I had previously heard used so was particularly interested to hear two separate exponents talk though their experience with this style of leadership and share the difference it has made to their careers and lives in general.

It made me think about how we can make a complete change in our lives when we are sufficiently motivated. Naturally we all can recognise the health situations that may trigger a “reinvention” – weight, addictions, lifestyle, relationships. 

But what about reinventing yourself in a career? 

In my Human Resources Management days I used to quote statistics that showed people would have three complete changes of career in their working lives. This was true for me – I went from architecture to human resources to mobile repairs for old books. On each occasion I was reinventing myself but I didn’t think of it that way.

I was looking for a career/job that would satisfy me as well as allow me to contribute my skills in the best way I could.

This, I now know, is the basis of servant leadership. In essence it is about leading people by “serving” them in bringing out the best in them – their skillset, their contribution, their ethics – so that the team or project has a synergy beyond the individuals. 

It is not about always saying yes or being a slave to your team members. It is about serving the team/project by being the type of leader that continually finds ways to harness the best skills of each individual team member. 

The more I thought about my career history and the reinventions I had made, the more I found I had been exposed to “Servant Leaders”. These were managers who had taken the time to encourage me to explore new ideas, to find answers to existing problems without being constrained by “what had been tried before”, managers who listened and were prepared to learn from me or my experience in a different field. They all brought out the best in me for the particular task or project I was working on with them. 

So now when I talk to others about a career change or a reinvention of themselves, I encourage them to think of when and how they did this in the past (particularly when it was not job related), when they felt most appreciated, when they felt most inspired, when they felt most “full of life”. When these moments are identified it is easier to pinpoint what it is that might need change or reinvention. Sometimes it is not your entire career, it’s just a fine tuning of the existing one.

If you are thinking about a career change, feeling burnt out or even lost, angry and frustrated – have a listen to these podcasts and reflect on the experience being shared.

Inside-Exec.Com – Taylor Proctor

Inside-Exec.Com – Lyle Tard

Inside-Exec.Com
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Thinking Out Loud

Supermarket Scanning as a Second Language

I am not adverse to technology. I mostly enjoy new gadgets and the general improvement in our living that can be attributed to technological advances. I do not, however, profess to have technology as my first language.

Our first language, apart from the one we use for verbal communication, is our particular expertise or skill.This is something we forget when we are helping others in these areas of expertise as was evidenced for me today at the supermarket.
In the self serve area, I was methodically scanning and bagging, thinking of other things, as I do, when a message came on to the screen to say there was an unrecognised item but to continue, just place the item to one side. I looked to the screen and could see the last item I scanned recorded there so I continued to complete my items and move to the payment process. I needed to call for assistance as one of the early items I scanned had not recorded the reduced price. The attendant staff member came over and corrected this, then looked down at me and in an accusatory tone asked if I had an avocado in my items. I pulled it from the bag and she then said ” did you scan this barcode?” To which I responded in the affirmative. I was then informed in a very condescending tone that the system does not like the barcode on the avocado.

How would I, as an infrequent customer, know this? Only a staff member or perhaps someone who has gone through this process I was being exposed to, would know this. This is the first language of the supermarket employee not mine.

It was a timely reminder to “walk in the other persons shoes” before I begin to judge or express any frustration, particularly with my clients, when I am trying to impart information!

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Thinking Out Loud

Judging People By First Impressions

I learned a valuable lesson today.
Changing my morning routine to catch a later bus than usual, I dawdled in my preparation which meant the bus actually passed me as I was walking to the bus stop. Its a small community so the bus drivers do know most of the regular passengers and their routines. I was pleasantly surprised to see the bus waiting for me until I reached the bus stop but even more surprised when I saw the driver.
There are half a dozen regular drivers on this route. I always speak to them and thank them at the end of the journey with varied reactions from them. The reactions and their driving style has me place them in certain categories ….in other words I make a judgement of their character based on these limited interactions.
This morning’s driver, the one who waited patiently for me to get to the bus, is one I had categorised in the lower end of the pleasant scale. He never acknowledges my greetings or thanks and drives too fast for my comfort.
How often do we judge another person or situation based on extremely limited data?
This morning I learned my lesson. Here was an individual who does his job in a certain way but given a situation out of the normal course of events, showed another characteristic I had not given him credit for. He is still a very uncommunicative person but that is not how I should judge him…and I wont from now on.

Perhaps there is some truth to the adage of “giving the benefit of the doubt” in these situations.

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Thinking Out Loud

How Disappointing……

Taking some time today to think about how to handle disappointment.

I recently volunteered for crew at a two day event that I thought would be great fun as well as a learning opportunity. I didn’t make the cut and I’m quite disappointed. So how to handle this and move on with my day as well as remain eager to volunteer next time an opportunity presents itself?

Its hard.

I don’t feel like moving on. I want to wallow in self pity for a while.

But wait….where will that get me? How will that approach help?

We both know it won’t so why waste any more time on it. Writing this post is obviously cathartic and pushes me to take my own advice. Its not the end if the world, its not the last time I will have this opportunity and perhaps I missed out because being a volunteer rather than attending the event is not the best opportunity for me. I will keep telling myself this to help me refocus on what is important – the event itself, not the way I will be attending.
I’m not going to say it will be simple or quick to move forward but it is the correct approach for me to be responsible for my happiness – something I talked about in a previous post.
Now for a solace filled cup of tea!

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Thinking Out Loud

Managing Moments of Anger

I use the word “peeved” to express my anger. It gives me a sense of satisfaction plus diffuses my anger and let’s me let go of the situation.
Today I was peeved over a very small matter. I think its because I am feeling the effects of two weeks of a “night shift” sleep (or lack of it) pattern. This is self inflicted as I take part in a two week competition for flower arranging. I let today’s silly niggle spoil what should have been an enjoyable lunch as the culmination of the competition.
Seven days later………
Thinking about this a week later I am wondering how you go about changing your “state”?

How we react and interpret any given situation is up to us. In this instance I told myself what I thought was the case and then reacted to that. I perpetuated my interpretation and ended up spoiling what should have been an enjoyable day. What would the day have been like if I had addressed my interpretation of the situation earlier? Would I have found it was different to my interpretation, to the story I told myself and then justified?
What could I do to change my state and not let the day be affected by the incident ? I’m not suggesting we second guess everything in our day. I do think, though, that when we have a reaction that is not positive, we should think a bit more deeply and from another perspective.
When I get peeved over a small thing I should apply the 45 second rule. React a much as I want (privately) for 45 seconds – get it out of my system so to speak – then let it go and come back to the present.
I am in control of my happiness – I need to take responsibility for it as well.

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Thinking Out Loud

Who Makes A Mentor?

Watching some golf tournaments in the last few weeks, I am reminded of the value of coaches and mentors regardless of your level of ability or skill in a particular field.

What makes a mentor? Who can be a mentor? When do you need one?
All very interesting questions. For me, a mentor is someone (anyone) who shows by example or by talking about their experience, ways to face situations whether they be in business or life. We all have mentors – people who are an example of how to live or not live our lives. The not is just as important.

On the golf course and in business a mentor can be our second set of eyes, giving us another perspective on the situation or task. For golf professionals who have coaches for the technical aspects of their game, I see the caddy as a very personal and skilled mentor. They are there for the “show time”, not every day but at those times when a second set of eyes, a second view on the situation, might help with the approach (to coin a golfing phrase) to decision making and choices for optimum performance. Who would not want that kind of help?

I produce a weekly podcast with a colleague who is a mentor to CEOs and senior executives. We ask our guests do tell us their view of the definitions and differences between coaches, mentors and accountability partners. The responses have been wide and varied. To listen to these please visit Inside-Exec.Com.

We should all try to learn every day. We should all find some mentoring in those with whom we interact. We should all try to be a mentor to others.

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Thinking Out Loud

Meeting or Email?

I saw a coffee mug this morning that inspired my musing for today. It had printed on it “I survived another meeting that should have been email”. How often do you attend meetings and feel that nothing was accomplished or worse that your time was wasted?
It would be easy to roll out for you one of the ” 10 ways to make your next meeting productive” lists that proliferate on the internet but let’s be realistic. Even with an agenda and a time restriction, meetings get derailed. Email meetings can be focused but these also can go off on a tangent or get bogged down in details. Sometimes when the subject line changes, you lose the thread of the interactions.
What to do? How to choose the right answer?

One of the committees I serve on has one face to face meeting per year with three other meetings required by the constitution. The non face to face meetings have, in the past, been conducted as a teleconference limited to an hour’s duration. Last month we decided there was really nothing to be discussed that could not be covered in emails (a discussion we had via email) so we had our first designated “email meeting”. Minutes were still kept as a summary of the emails that went around over a 24 hour period. So, yes, it was still time limited, but it gave some of us with conflicting commitments the opportunity to still contribute to the discussion and decisions.

It seems to me, the time has come to really question the format of meetings and look to combinations of technology and organisational needs before making a set decision on how (and where) a meeting will be held.

P.S. I didn’t buy the coffee mug!!

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Thinking Out Loud

Have You Heard of the Focus 50 Routine?

Following on from yesterday I thought I would share my method for really getting tasks done. I was introduced to the “Focus 50” routine less than 12 months ago and am so pleased with the way it works for me, I wonder why I didn’t try it sooner.
The basis is 50-20-50. Fifty minutes of full focus on one task, twenty minutes break to move around or do some small task then another fifty minutes of full focus on one task (it doesn’t have to be the same as the first session). What I find is that this combined two hour block of timed focus gives me a boost of completed tasks I know I would not get done in a standard 2 hour session. It also allows plenty of time during a working day for all the other tasks that would normally creep in to make me feel busy but not necessarily productive.

I use my phone as the timer, turn it to airplane mode at the beginning of the session, set the timer for the first fifty minutes then start working. It still surprises me when the timer goes off – I am so engrossed in the task, knowing subconsciously that I will not be disturbed, that the time seems to go much faster than normal. Using a timer also means I am not distracted by checking how long I have to go!  If there are others in the office I do let them know I am doing a “Focus 50” so they don’t interrupt. The middle twenty minute session I usually get up and move around with some tasks that can be completed easily in that time and don’t necessarily need brain power (washing up is often included!!). The its back to the desk for another fifty minute focus session.
By doing this routine just twice a day I have dramatically increased my productive output across tasks in all sorts of areas. Combined with “free writing” which I will talk about another time, I feel I can really get things done!

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Thinking Out Loud

The Place For Anticipation In Business

I am just over a week away from one of my most intense competition periods in floral art (flower arranging). I’ve had two and a half months to prepare and now the rubber is hitting the road. To put you in the picture, by the end of the 2 week competition, I will have presented 38 designs for judging and driven over 2,100kms to do this.

I am not alone. The stalwarts of this competition are collectively known as The Tragics – a title we wear with pride.
So why do we do it? Why do we put ourselves through mental and physical stress (mostly sleep deprivation) for the sake of our hobby? Its the anticipation….. The adrenaline charge of a creative thought being turned into a work of art using plant material.

How can we get that same charge with the work we do? Well, some people do because they have a passion for their line of work. Others see work as a personal challenge they need to address. For me, the system that works is to approach my working days the way I would this two week competition. I have free time, buffer time and focus time.

For example – today has been buffer time. I worked on the supporting structure for one of my designs, answered emails and did some outstanding paperwork for the business. Tomorrow will be focus time. I have a set plan of activities that require my undivided attention and I will work on those exclusively – no distractions, no emails etc. The next day will be free time – I might just have a walk around the lake (that’s where the office is), read some non business literature, cook, meditate, see a movie….you get the picture.

Using this system has actually increased my productivity. I get things done rather than stretch things to fill every day and leaving the hard tasks until I have “clear time”. A word of warning though. The free day is hard if you are used to doing some work every day. You need to plan what you are going to do otherwise it will feel like a wasted day because you haven’t done any work or you will let some work sneak in!!

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Thinking Out Loud

Long Term Plans

Do you make long term plans? Do you have goals you have set for yourself that are 10 or 20 years into the future?

About 4 months ago I went to a personal and business development seminar where one of the exercises was to write down as many “goals” we wanted to achieve, being very specific about them.e.g. Rather than say financially free, we had to write down what financially free would mean – enough to pay the monthly bills with x amount left over or passive income of x amount etc.

Then we had to go down the list and put a time measure on them of 1, 3, 5 or 10 years.Today I found the page where I had done this…….a bit telling that I haven’t looked at it for 4 months……and had a read of my thoughts at that time.

A lot has happened in both my business and personal life in those 4 short months. Have my “goals” changed? Has the timing changed? The answer to both questions is no. I am surprised. Given the upheaval in my personal life I would have expected there would be some changes to at least the timing. Not so – the goals I identified are still goals and the timing, even the 1 year one, is still achievable.

What do I learn from this? That my perception (or the story I am telling myself) of the effect of changes in the last 4 months being detrimental is not correct. That I am still fundamentally on track to achieve the goals I set myself.

We should all take stock periodically to more accurately assess how we are going – not rely on how we feel about how we are going!!

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Thinking Out Loud

Recognition and Reward

Yesterday, for the first time, I had a day completely free of conflicting business priorities. With a long time colleague, I produce a weekly podcast for senior executives, covering a range of management issues and case studies. Recently she suggested we have a “celebration” day to reflect on the journey we have taken with the podcasts so far and to give ourselves a “pat on the back”.

We did just that. In the morning we went to a floral art demonstration (something I enjoy and she has not been exposed to), followed by a relaxed lunch and wander around a small village…….traditionally when we worked in different organisations we would meet for shopping and eating days!!.

We certainly talked about management issues but it was very much an exploration of general theories not a specific conversation about upcoming podcasts. By the end of the day, we were both relaxed and yet energised for our next sessions, with ideas flowing fast for the rest of the year’s activities.

It made me reflect on how often we take the time to recognise our achievements, even the everyday ones, and celebrate our successes, particularly the small ones. I can highly recommend a day here and there for this – pat yourself on the back and take some time to celebrate your achievements, whatever they might be. You will feel the benefits with a clarity of mind and purpose no amount of thinking at work can give you.