Monthly Archives: July 2013

Outrage Overload

The Age of Enlightenment, also known as the Age of Reason developed in the 17th and 18th centuries in Europe and America (the fact that history as taught in our schools has a decidedly European and American bent is a topic for a different blog, but a worthy topic.)  We have moved from that age through the Industrial Age and now are in the waning years of the Information Age.  What to call the current age?  Well, outrage, umbrage, discord and conflict/confrontation are so prevalent that this might become known as the Age of Outrage.  People in general seem to be mere moments away from boiling over about any number of touchy subjects – and the list of touchy subjects just grows without resolution on any of the older items.

public domain

public domain


What is an office worker to do?  We have this notion that emotions don’t belong at the office, but we spend many hours toiling a few feet away from a number of other humans.  It would be nice to have a cordial and also meaningful relationship with all of them since we see them a great deal more than we see our own family.  We already know to stay away from the two oldest items on the touchy list – religion and politics.  (And how sad and ironic that something which was meant to be inclusive, religion, is so divisive.)


I have my own list of subjects that get my dander up, certainly.  But the tagline for this blog is Reasonable Expectations.  Hence why I started the count of named Ages with the Age of Reason (besides starting with the Iron Age would have made for a long, boring list) because I think that this could help us before future historians do dub this the Age of Outrage.


public domain - Understandably angry about conditions for women in India

public domain – Understandably angry about conditions for women in India

Outrage is a response of powerlessness, where reason is a considered decision for growth.  Outrage is complaining on steroids and complaining (kvetching, whining) is pointing out something that you think is wrong but waiting for someone else to come along and fix it.  But fix it the way that you think it should be fixed or the complaints just escalate.  Some offices are so full of complaining that you can practically see it in the air, until the big boss walks through and then there isn’t even a hint.


Reason identifies a problem, tracks it to a root or roots and then sets about coming up with potential solutions.  (This isn’t the use of reason as in an alternate word for excuse, rather sound judgment and good sense – thinking, application of knowledge and logic.)  Reason offers a path to a better place, a place where the touchy subject no longer holds any power or sway because we know how to correct, prevent or avoid the cause.


Outrage started out as a reasonable tool to gain the fickle attention of the public – all of us in the general populous who are stretching the hours of our day to fit in all of the necessary components – who might otherwise distractedly nod agreement, yes worthy cause please just catch me later.  But now the outrage is such a kneejerk reaction to every touchy thing, and the list of these must come on a scroll that rivals Santa’s naughty or nice list, that it is harder and harder to even get that little acknowledgement of agreement for a worthy touchy issue.


We need a reset, to solutions – reason.  Starting with common ground, identification of root causes using facts which aren’t filtered through any bias.  We’ve tried more outrage as a means to get attention to the growing list of worthy touchy subjects and it led to overload and dismissal.


© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations

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The State of My Year (To Date)

thinkHow could I resist today’s Daily Prompt, Daily Prompt: The State of Your Year.  Since this has been a year of transition for me, it is a great idea to review and take stock.  Am I in position to ‘gain traction’ (sorry for the buzz phrase); what have I done well, what can I improve?


I’ve mentioned before that in our house, growing up, analysis was not only encouraged, it was expected.  But it must be appropriate analysis, I have learned as I have matured, or it leads to analysis paralysis.  You have to pick the parameters of your analysis, define your expectations, and determine the appropriate controls – which all sounds much more complicated than it really is.


My favorite question to ask myself (and to consider when I’m interacting with others) is ‘what is my intent?’.  Knowing where I want to wind up helps me better to decide how to get there and whether or not I’m taking the right path.  It also helps me to decide whether a goal is worthy or should be changed or scrapped.  (I don’t understand people who pursue a goal that is no longer valid out of a dogged determination to finish what they start.)


Anyway, back to my year.  I have learned a great deal this year and met quite a few interesting people – none of which would have happened if I had continued on my previous track.  That track was getting pretty mucky and odious, but it was familiar and so I admit to waffling on next steps until some of them were decided for me.


Some of the things that I have learned, or re-learned this year:

  • Skills necessary for job search rarely match skills needed for most jobs
  • Being open to new experiences doesn’t mean that you won’t also have to mourn what was expected
  • Memorizing is hard when you haven’t done it for a long time
  • Surviving something that you feared is very freeing (I’ve had to learn this one a few times in the past decade, I’ve got this one down – do you hear that Fate?)


This has been a year of the unexpected for me, but I think that I have mostly managed it with the right attitude.  We do only get one life and there are sweeping changes and snail-paced days mixed into it, but as Studs Terkel told Rick Kogan when he was 93, “I’m feeling interested in life.”  I think I’m in good shape, at least in the interest respect.


© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations


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Fugacious Moments, Opportunities for Enlightenment

I enjoy history and gardening so I have been reading Founding Gardeners by Andrea Wulf happily for the last few days.  She is reintroducing me to George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and James Madison and making them more fully fleshed out people through a common interest in plants and gardening.


The Founding Fathers, public domain

The Founding Fathers, public domain

Anyway, she uses the word fugacious and as you know I love adding a new word to my vocabulary and then using it here.  In botany fugacious means falling or fading early, and in general use it means fleeting or transitory.  Hmmm, I’m impressed in her use of language already and then she finds a means to use this word that doubly helps to tie her passion (botany and gardening) to her theme.


My mind is turning to those chance moments that can open up whole new vistas in our lives.  The stuff that makes for great book and movie plots, but more importantly quietly improves the lives of many.  Beyond serendipity which is the chance encounter that can bring on a better mood or a bit of much needed confidence boost.  More that instant when you stumble into something that profoundly affects you, speaks to something elemental deep in you.


People who create foundations after an emotionally disabling experience come to mind, but also the person who assigns themselves as the welcoming face for new employees or students because they well remember the disorientation that newness brings up.   Sharing a little trick that you’ve learned which makes an odious task more bearable.  Offering a kind word to a stranger who is clearly in the midst of a bad moment.


Fleeting means there and then gone, but if you capture it in that moment and disperse it somehow, imagine what it might become.


© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations

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Formal Learning Meets Life Long Learning

(This post is my take on the Daily Prompt Back to School.)


I keep a long quote, spoken by Merlin, which is from The Sword in the Stone by T.H. White that I won’t reproduce in entirety here, but starts out telling us that “the best thing for disturbances of the spirit is to learn”.  Merlin goes on to expound about the way that life ages us and difficulties peck at us but our response should be to “learn why the world wags and what wags it”.


Clearly I keep this quote because it speaks to me.  I was raised to seek out knowledge and this was nurtured by my own personality as well as by engaging and inspiring teachers throughout my school years.  I understand that others may have had very different experiences which have made their achievement of knowledge through formal learning very impressive indeed.  I build nearly every day upon that foundation of learning that was started very early for me, not often in a formal learning setting.


public domain: Socrates & Plato

public domain: Socrates & Plato

Though I did just go back to school this past spring to earn a certificate in Project Management.  And last fall I took my first credit class, in Supply Chain, in more than a decade.  It is very helpful to combine knowledge gained on my own and through doing with knowledge gained through formal learning.  With the weight and importance placed on testing and metrics, it is not surprising that somehow formal education is considered ‘better’ and more worthy than knowledge gained on one’s own.  But is it appropriate?


There are a number of people from the past whom we revere, rightly, but who were mainly self-taught in some manner or who expanded well beyond the parameters of their initial core area; Abraham Lincoln, Mark Twain, Will Rogers, Danny Kaye… I wish some women would come to mind, but I know that there are many more people of both genders.  Would these people now be rejected because they didn’t have lots of letters after their names to prove their worth?


I gain great benefit from learning, different kinds of benefit when I curate the information myself or join a formal class, but always there is great benefit in continuing to learn.  This is why I keep this quote close to mind always.


© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations


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Putting a Name to a Face

I’ve read the tricks for association – Dale Carnegie and those much more recent.  I don’t have much difficulty remembering faces – except this time of year when some people’s faces tend to be less pale and their hair is the opposite, both due to sun exposure.  And of course if you see someone out of context; say someone from work out for an evening of fun.  These changes are a bit jarring for anyone’s ability to recognize and identify.


I’m going to admit something here, because I think that I am in the majority on this, my biggest problem is that I’m not quite ready to really hear when I am being introduced to someone (or introducing myself)  and so while my eyes take in their features my ears let their name slip right out the other side.  Oops, yet again even when I long ago figured out this was my main problem with the whole name to face thing.  I mean, like years ago.


I tell myself in the car on the way over, I’m going to take a deep breath and center myself before I walk in.  I tell my ears to be ready to listen and capture the names.  But time after time, a couple of people into it and I realize that my ears aren’t doing their job right.  I can’t practice association if I don’t catch the name from the start.


A person’s name is important – even if they aren’t too fond of it, they want you to remember it.  I know this, but I just can’t seem to convince my ears.  And when it is an event that includes name tags, my ears just completely abdicate to my eyes.  But name tags get crumpled or written in faint ink, or covered by something.  Or go on the jacket which winds up on a chair.


Enough about me, are you with me?  Do your ears try to convince you that the noise level in the venue is too high, or the variety of sounds are just too distracting?  Do you just love events where the planner has stationed a person with kindergarten teacher perfect handwriting at the door to write the name tags?  In bold black marker.


© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations


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Need a Treatment for Mental Sludge?

There is a whole section of shelving in auto parts stores that show gas treatment products to help to clean your engine if your car is acting kind of sluggish.  I’m a little skeptical myself on the validity of these products, because as a woman I think skepticism about car operations is just healthy.  Although I have at rare moments found myself more knowledgeable than some males on the inner workings of some automotive systems.


sludgeAnyway, sludge is the accumulation of the muck (technical term) that seems to be a requisite accompaniment to the product you need – like gas- to operate a machine like your car.  For whatever reason it is not possible to provide you gas for your car that has been completely filtered of impurities (muck) either during processing or transport or storage.  But enough about cars and gas, let’s move to your brain.


Sometimes your thoughts can be humming along and you can really tear through your to-do list.  Your brain gives you the information that you need just as you need it, excellent.  But then there are the times when your brain answers almost every need and request with, ‘huh?’.  When the memory or information that you need seems to be buried under sludge.


Our brains start to learn early on to filter or outright ignore information as it comes in.  But sometimes we need to evaluate the way that we are processing this information – info that we don’t really need gets gathered (sludge) while sometimes useful bits get filtered out.  We need to flush out the sludge and retrain our brains on what to keep, especially during or after changes in our lives like a promotion, new job, move, etc.


For instance, let’s say that for a previous job you memorized a whole series of numbers that you used on a regular basis because it was more helpful than looking them up several times a day.  But you haven’t needed to use them in quite a long while.  These numbers have become sludge.  Unfortunately we can’t delete them and then perform a disk defragmentation on our brains, but with some work you can erase your mental path to these numbers.


Give yourself something else to do for a few minutes and then ask yourself what you remember about this post.  It will help you understand better how your brain currently filters and saves info.


© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations


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Mining the Interim Stages for Nuggets of Gold

photo credit: Wikipedia

photo credit: Wikipedia

When something happens that changes the expected trajectory of our lives – a big move, a job loss, health issues – sometimes there is an in between or interim stage that we might have a tendency to disregard or throw away because it doesn’t fit into our view of our world.  I’m hoping to get people to think differently about this tendency with today’s post.


Many of the people that I am meeting these days are in an interim stage.  Interim stages can be equated in some manner to waiting rooms, perhaps why we don’t pay much attention to what happens while we are in one.


But as a side note, there can be interesting mini-stories found in waiting rooms.  The father of my boys (also known as my former husband, but the words that we use can help to formulate our emotional state – so the relationship now filters through these boys) went back to school and took a psychology class.  Since it was a lower level class, some class assignments required participating in the experiments of psychology majors, being a busy father, husband, worker, student he signed up for ones that appeared easy.  He came home after a particular one quite amused.  He went to the appropriate place, signed in and sat down to wait, which turned out to be the point of the experiment.  Now, waiting is not something that he has ever done willingly or graciously so I can only imagine the observer’s notes as he started to fume and fuss.  (By telling you that he was already amused in relating the story to me shortly after, it shows that he is also someone who recognizes the bones of a good story.)


Waiting is not a desirable occupation certainly, but why do we persist in thinking that an interim period is only about waiting for our real life to pick back up again?


It is true that if the interim stage is caused by job loss or a health issue that money will most likely be tight, so some favored activities might have to be dropped or radically adjusted.  But if you get creative, maybe not – there might be a way to indulge in the activity in a different manner – volunteer to be an usher to see a program, or perhaps barter a service to get someone’s extra ticket.  If we get creative, there can be free or low cost options.


And if we reach out to expand our social sphere during this interim time, there will certainly be enrichment from all the wonderful new people that you will encounter.  Interim periods don’t have to be about waiting or be wholly made up of chores, they can be delightful interludes that give us new acquaintances, skills and experiences.


How did you spend your time in your last interim period?


© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations

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Absorb, Assess and Analyze

After keeping pace, firing on all cylinders, digesting information and bringing forth coherent responses my brain has been stuttering along at ‘duh’ the past couple of days.  I’m going to blame the cumulative effect of the heat and humidity.  Or perhaps just a bit of what Herman Melville termed a ‘silent grass growing mood’ necessary to internalize information, which is oh, so necessary for writing.


We are told that the earth is bombarded without let up by all sorts of space debris, which mostly burns up or what have you.  Modern life does the same to our thought capacity, but perhaps not so modern.  I found out over the weekend that Sir Francis Bacon gave us the phrase that knowledge is power back in 1605.  Interesting that this concept goes back so far into history, and yet not really.


But knowledge is much more than exposure to information, we must internalize that information; absorb it and then start to figure out where it fits in with the knowledge that we already hold through assessment and analysis.  Sometimes absorption is quick, sometimes laborious and at others – like for me at this moment, it gets backed up because we expect too much.  Like when you overtax a sponge in the attempt from keeping a spill from expanding past the kitchen counter to the floor.


It starts with knowing what you are trying to learn and why.  If it is for someone else, that hampers absorption right off unless you can figure out an angle that makes learning meaningful for you.  And you are not going to be interested in pursuing the rest – assess and analyze – to make it your own, admit it.


© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations


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How Your Bosses (and Their Bosses) Process Ideas

You have another great idea, you are certain that this one ‘has legs’ as one or another senior boss has a habit of saying around the office.  You try not to think about the discarded ideas that you have put forward in the past because this is really the one that will get you noticed, make your year.


Once upon a time your boss got excited about all kinds of ideas, before he or she was business-itized, out of necessity you understand; at least in respect on how to assess a new idea for viability.


I’ve written previously on the topic of bringing forth your ideas as Filling Gaps.  But not from the angle of the higher up.  Even if you have not ever seen the business world from this angle, it behooves you to familiarize yourself with the concepts if you want to improve and move up.  Going higher up the hierarchy in your company means paying greater and greater attention to the ability of your team to provide value that is tangible (i.e. bankable) regularly, as in every quarter.


“I broke multiyear projects into pieces that delivered important capabilities every quarter. The tempo of business is measured in three-month cycles, and quarterly operating and sales results are the basis for many (maybe even most) business decisions. When you show the CEO and other executives that you are getting things done in 30-, 60-, and 90-day cycles, you build credibility, and the executives approve your projects and budgets.”

~ Mike Hugos, What I Learned My First Day as a CIO


So look at your idea from this perspective.  You may have to tweak it so that you can play up the aspects which will help your boss to achieve this goal of tangible improvement.

© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations

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Travelling for Work

The economic malaise has mostly put the kibosh on travelling for work, a boon for many because most of us aren’t fond of business travel.  But I keep hearing that business travel is on the upswing.  We should all be prepared to accept the challenge of a business trip as a great chance to grow.


I remember the first trip that I took for work, thinking back now the expense must have been hefty – 3 of us travelled from the office in the Midwest to Pittsburgh for a same day meeting, with the sales fellow flying in from his home office on the east coast to meet us, and then on to the customer’s office together.


This meeting was with a large customer, one that had the potential for increased business so the face to face meeting made sense from a big picture perspective.  Each operational discipline was represented and I now understand that the objective was to build rapport and make a strong showing to this customer that they were an important account for our company.


At the time, I had just taken over this account from another rep, I didn’t know the right questions to ask therefore I didn’t know the reason for the meeting, the objectives, or much of anything else.  I went in pretty blind, but trusting that I was one part of a strong group.


It was true that I was an unseasoned member of a very seasoned team – each member of this team would later become an ally, a mentor, in some manner a guide to me as I learned more about the corporate world.  This was my opportunity to see each of them up close and in a different setting.


I’m not sure that I contributed much more than another body in our show of force, but I learned.  I showed a willingness to go beyond my comfort zone that became a building block going forward.  Based on this experience, I would say to jump on a chance to travel for work.


Additional thoughts:

  • Accept the challenge if it is offered – get a sturdy understanding of the expectations, though
  • Change your filter, but don’t lose it – people have slightly looser rules outside the office, but there are still rules and you will see them back in the office
  • Be a sponge while on the outing – look at dynamics and process – but store some questions for later

I admire folks that travel all the time for work, I think that I would find regular travel wearying – and would have need to leave myself a note on the night stand telling myself where I was in case I woke up disoriented.


© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations


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