Tag Archives: Skills

When did Built to Last become Planned Obsolescence?

I could do a bit of research and find out the actual answer to my question from a marketing or product development standpoint, but that isn’t my objective.  (If you know, please do share.)  I’m more interested in this question in an esoteric manner; we seem to have started this idea with products, quietly and slowly (washers and dryers used to be built for 15-20 years, now 8 seems to be the norm yet they cost comparatively more!) and the idea has spread to other parts of business and life.

End of Child Labor is Progress (Cotton mill workers,1909.Lewis Hines, National Child Labor Collection-Library of Congress.)

End of Child Labor is Progress (Cotton mill workers,1909.Lewis Hines, National Child Labor Collection-Library of Congress.)


Now progress is different than planned obsolescence – I learned to type on an old manual typewriter (my pinky fingers will never forget the force exerted to depress those keys was nearly beyond their power) and am thrilled to now use Word on my laptop to create.  That is progress, new inventions to improve upon old process.  Calligraphy and quill pens are now lovely in living history settings and used for artistic expression, but we will stick with our gel pens, thanks.


And as for applying the concept of obsolete to people, well skills might get a little stale, but not a person.  A person who has learned how to navigate a changing world always has something to offer.  We might have to slow down our hurry just a bit, sit down and have a chat, and then cull through the conversation for the good stuff.  But there will be good stuff; solid knowledge on making a life, earning a living, solving problems.


Older people might not know their way around all of these devices, but should your GPS break most would be capable and happy to show you how to read a map.  To tell you a story or two about the area where you find yourself.  How it once was, how it came to be what you see before you.  Sometimes this means a place quite different as the story progresses, but since nature is cyclical sometimes it means returning to something similar to what it was before.


One of the answers to my question might be, ‘that’s progress’.  Hmmm.  It seems to be more about pure commerce to me, which is what it is; but then we should carefully consider what parts of the world to apply the concept.


© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations



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Order from Chaos, or Getting it to Make some Sense

You are just back from vacation.  It was lovely and fun and restful and all of the things that vacation is supposed to be.  But now your thoughts turn to going back to the office and what you will most likely find.  Some level of chaos.  This post would apply equally well to being a late-comer to an existing project, or being brand new to the office.  Unfamiliarity, of any kind, looks just like chaos.

what you felt like on vacation - you want to retain that...

what you felt like on vacation – you want to retain that…


I used to work with someone who had very rigid ideas about how something, anything really, should be done.  It boiled down to her way or wrong.  That is pretty common, but additionally she was the type to complain bitterly about what you had done ‘wrong’ to anyone and everyone – but you.  She was also a person who was frequently absent from the office for a variety of reasons.  The unspoken rule got to be to do the bare minimum on her work in an attempt to avoid the bitter recriminations.  We only did that much because we couldn’t leave her customers just hanging.  And this only applied when she was out of the office; if you got a stray call that belonged to her and she was in the office then you apologized and forwarded the caller.  I hated to do it, but I had to talk to her most every day and rarely to any of her customers.  Office survival.


Anyway, I wrote about preparations for vacation here – Vacation, Ahhh.  Even still, and despite having very competent co-workers as back up people, coming back in is an adjustment and has some element of chaos.  Just start slowly.  Look for the familiar so things start to make sense again.  Are there emails that you can group together and knock off all at once?  Can you trade a little vacation trinket for intel on the happenings around the office in the past week?


The same holds true for the newbie to a project or an office; keep your ears and eyes open and some little thing will start to look familiar.  Little victories of understanding start to expand your comfort zone.  Particularly look for the person or persons who seem open to interaction and also are pretty knowledgeable about the process.


Getting back into a groove, or getting into a new groove is tiring because your brain is so busy making associations of new to known.  Celebrate the little gains, build on them, and it will feel a lot less like chaos fairly quickly.


© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations

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Some Random Thoughts on Networking… Please Add Yours

I went to a networking event recently, held quarterly by a LinkedIn contact.  It was my first time in attendance because I am putting pressure on myself to network more, and farther outside of my comfort zone.  I will benefit, but it does take energy.


My thoughts:

  • It doesn’t matter if you are an introvert or an extrovert, you don’t live in a box so you need to figure out how to keep your contacts fresh.
  • Most people have as many and possibly the same reservations that you have about going.
  • Follow up matters – but is also dependent upon your intent for starting the contact in the first place.
    • How many people do you know that just go through motions because they have been told that they must?
    • One person I know went to coffee with a new contact and was frustrated when the new contact didn’t seem to understand the point of the coffee meeting follow up.  (Hint: it isn’t a coffee klatch.)
  • You need to spend a couple of moments before the event getting your thoughts together about your own expectations for the event.
    • If it is your first event, your objective can be as simple as getting through the event.  Be yourself – your most vivacious self that you can muster.
  • Some people will be there just to collect cards – these are probably the folks who had the most yearbook signatures in high school and a lot of trophies.  Don’t spend too much time with them.
  • This is social, so have some fun.  But remember appropriate behavior for the occasion.


Ultimately, networking should help each of us to find people to expand our community.  What do you have to say?


© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations, All rights reserved

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Be an Emulsifying Agent

I was just baking cookies, can you tell?  In cooking, or chemistry (which is the same basic idea, but you do not want to eat what you produce) an emulsifier is an ingredient that helps other ingredients become a cohesive new entity.  Like cookies from eggs, flour, sugar and other ingredients – like chocolate (the best one).  Without the emulsifying ingredient you wind up with a bowlful of wasted stuff that refuses to combine properties and become something new.


I wrote a bit differently about this early on, The Right Ingredients.  Also prompted by baking cookies.  Inspiration can come from any direction at any time and be applied in unusual ways.  But I digress.


This same principle can be applied to teams, groups, or pairings in the office.  Sometimes a team doesn’t seem to coalesce because no one is acting like the emulsifying agent, each person is too determined to retain their own distinct properties.  Yes, yes we all must make sure that we are known – personally branded in today’s parlance – but what if being known as stand-alone also means getting a rep for standing in the way of team success?


It is quite possible to be known as a highly capable individual and also as a collaborator, or team player (bzz-bzz goes the buzz word bee).  These are not mutually exclusive traits.  Your skills and experience combined with the skills and experience of others on the team could lead to awesomeness.  But you can’t act like oil to their water.


Reach out, share, exchange ideas.  Offer a little something of your skill or experience and let the mixing begin.  I’m going to go have a cookie or two.


How about sharing a little something here?


© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations


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Promises, Promises – The Follow Up Trap

More than once I have called someone back to complete a request and had the person on the other end of the line express astonishment that I called back.  Gratifying for me, but disturbing too.  If the opportunity to gain kudos is just this easy, why aren’t more people doing this simple thing, follow up?  Oh my, in the interest of complete disclosure I must also admit that I have been the person who hasn’t followed through on something too.  Though I constantly work on myself to keep this to a bare minimum.


The excuses (er, reasons) we don’t follow up:

  • Forgetfulness, plain and simple – completely gone from the memory banks, or just a wisp of a thought that ‘I told X that I would do something, I think…’
  • Fear – So-and-so didn’t really mean that I could call to make an appointment to (learn / discuss / ask…) about Y
  • Didn’t really ever mean to – be honest, the offer to do something, be somewhere or whatever was made in the moment with no intention of completion

And so very many more that you would stop reading if I tried to list them, and really there isn’t any point.  But if I’ve gotten you to consider some of your own reasons why you get trapped, then I’m glad.

public domain crab trap

public domain crab trap


The maxim that the road to hell is paved with good intentions came about and has lasting power for good reason.  (Except for the last point above.)  We become so disappointed with others when they let us down, but can we look in the mirror and hold our own gaze steadily on this topic?  Probably not, for we know (thanks to another maxim) that to err is human.


But we can also decide to do better each time we have a ‘next time’.  We can understand our triggers for forgetfulness – if you ever ask me about something that requires follow up in a space where I cannot or do not write it down, then beware that this is one of my follow up downfalls.  I have learned to ask you to help me to remember with an email or some other prompt.  (Particularly if you have a smartphone because I do not – archaic, I know.)


We can disable the fear with the thought – another maxim, our ancestors know us so well – that nothing ventured is nothing gained therefore we shouldn’t decide for the other person whether they meant it or not and go ahead and make the request.  Politely follow up once or twice, and then forward this post on follow up to them…


Sometimes all it takes to be successful is just this little thing called follow up.


© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations

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Separating Out Thought Strands for Clarity

It would be such a relief to come to a resolution or to gain some understanding in one or perhaps several nagging corners of our lives, wouldn’t it?  Clarity on the issue and ‘what would happen if I do x versus y’.  But this relief will only come with the unsnarling of the various complications that are revealed when we track the particular strand of thought.


Imagine if we could actually isolate a thought strand and follow it through it’s whole length, teasing it straight and clear of the spots where it intersects with other strands so that we could really examine it without having to consider anything else.  ‘But if’, ‘what about’, and all other contingencies could be swept aside, to be slowly added back in later; after your head is clear on the main issue.


thinkingHow many times have you thought that you had a solution to something, went to tell someone and been stopped cold by, ‘did you consider…’?  I came at this issue in a different way earlier this year; We Want Linear, We get Billy from the Family Circus.  We crave simplicity, but we are complex and we have created a complex world.  There is nothing for it, but to roll up our sleeves, find a relatively quiet spot and carefully think through one problem at a time.  One step at a time.


Messy, inconvenient, tedious – I know.  It would be so much easier if someone would just come up with a formula for each of our more common difficulties (like a vlookup for getting along with coworkers) where we just plug in our particulars in the right part of the formula and voila – instant solution.  But wait, remember that we like to be treated as individuals and not just a number?  Snap, now we have to decide – formula or individuality?


Individuality usually wins out because the thing about those formulas is that they have snarls of their own.  Daggone it.  Maybe someone is working on a real pensieve, the thing Dumbledore used in the Harry Potter books…


© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations


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Consternated, Bewildered and Confounded

We must be getting smarter than previous generations.  How else to explain it, the severe lack of use for these words – consternated, bewildered and confounded?  We live in a hard to navigate and complex world that folks from a couple of generations ago would describe as downright consternating, if not wholly bewildering.  And yet, we have almost entirely ceased to describe ourselves and our surroundings in these terms.


It couldn’t be that we have reduced our vocabularies to short, easily texted words, no not that.  It must be that we have grown in our ability to understand complexity, that we are no longer ever perplexed, at sea, baffled, befuddled, or bemused.

public domain old movie still

public domain old movie still


Except, I must say that I have my moments when I am baffled, when something is unclear.  When I would be caught with the cocked-head dog pose if someone took my picture.  Maybe I am alone in my consternation, left behind while everyone else figured out the keys that protect against bewilderment.  I text – yes I learned when my children were in their teens or I wouldn’t have heard from them.  And I confess that texting long words is tiring.  My fingers find it perplexing, even.  They cannot keep up.


Rules about the appropriateness of texting while at work can be bemusing.  Or is your employee handbook silent on the topic?  It must be ok by default then, confound it.


Are you ever befuddled?  What causes it?  I hope you never find yourself at sea without a paddle, unless you have a motor that is.


© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations


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Forget About Fix It and Forget It

I wonder if the copywriter who came up with ‘fix it and forget about it’ thinks about how that phrase has permeated our modern over-booked lives.  I don’t even remember the product that prompted the creation of the phrase, do you?  (I Googled it and got a series of cook books, didn’t keep searching.  So join in and make this a conversation if you know.)


Well, the phrase is apt for cooking, but not a good fit for most other parts of life and certainly not a good career strategy.  I have seen it applied too many times as a career strategy though.  Yikes.  It often goes something like this:

  • Get some schooling – degree, certificate, what have you
  • Get a job somewhere
  • Get regular promotions
  • Retire

By the way, this isn’t a plan – it resides somewhere closer to the wishes, hopes and dreams department but sometimes people have trouble telling the difference.


No, fix it and forget it jobs are those ones that leave you in a series of tiny cubicles until you aren’t in the workforce anymore.  (And just a note for you foodies out there, I know that you don’t think this is apt for cooking either, that it only applies to one pot meals for busy families, not carefully planned experiences.)  It means doing the bare minimum, marking time until the end of each work day, never raising your hand for special projects, not taking the initiative to learn new things.


Abraham Lincoln, known to be a strategic thinker, public domain-Matthew Brady, 1862

Abraham Lincoln, known to be a strategic thinker, public domain-Matthew Brady, 1862

Since this blog is all about thinking, I’m not sure why a fix it and forget it type might even be reading this, but you never know.  Plus the phrase got stuck in a groove of my head and this is a way to exercise it out.  (I have no idea why it popped in and stuck around, perhaps I heard it on the radio like those songs that loop in your head sometimes after you get out of the car.)


Maybe I have been thinking about copywriters since I read a review of a new book coming out that is based on the ‘a diamond is forever’ DeBeers campaign from 1947 (written by a woman, Yes!) that lives on.  Anyway, the United Negro College Fund had a point; a mind is a terrible thing to waste.  So don’t fix it and forget about it, use it.


© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations

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When Should a Person Know What They Want to be When They Grow Up?

It seemed so easy to answer this question when we were 10 – as the Daily Prompt post title suggests, there was a very short list of possibilities for our future career and the choices mostly had some charm or glamour to them.  We would do something interesting, perhaps noble.  Our choices were infinite, within that small realm of known careers – not affected by aptitude, finances, training, or all the little practicalities that popped up in the intervening years.


public domain, dancers at the Calla Travis School of Dance, 1936

public domain, dancers at the Calla Travis School of Dance, 1936

I was going to be an actress and a writer when I was 10.  But there was also this series of books about young women who were recruited in college to be operatives for the CIA or FBI – that was exciting.  I had several really awesome teachers and professors who opened my mind to new ideas, and to the thought that I might want to be that kind of educator.


My generation was incessantly told that we could be anything that we wanted, no limitations brought on by socio-economic standing, race, gender that previous generations had encountered; we were almost paralyzed by the breadth and depth of our choices and most of us ended up doing something quite ordinary and pedestrian (yet worthy, as regular readers know, I strongly believe that any vocation is honorable).  Finding work that allows us to participate, to contribute within our family and community brings life into a very different focus than answering the question at 10.


If we each asked all of the people that we know how they wound up doing what they do to earn money, I imagine that few will provide a deliberate path to their current work.  So is it any wonder that in job loss one of the stumbling points is this renewed grappling with the question of ‘what do I really want to be?’ now that the path forward is wide open again.


We each want to be valued in all facets of our life, and in the work portion we would like to earn enough money to be comfortable plus just a bit more.  Some people would like to do something simple and others love to be challenged.  Luckily there are a wide variety of tasks that we could do, we just need to figure out how to decide which is best for us and how to connect to the place(s) that would offer us opportunities.


So it seems that the answer to my opening question is, it depends.  What is your answer?


This post was written in response to Daily Prompt: Ballerina Fireman Astronaut Movie Star


© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations

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Structure – Limiting or Freeing?

What is your relationship to structure?  Late last year I posted a piece about personal styles of organization, Chaos is a Style, but I’ve been thinking lately that we don’t go deep enough when we talk about organization.  Organization is an overlay concept of structure; if you aren’t aware of the structure, how can you effectively organize?


public domain, house frame

Structure is first imposed upon all of us because we get a finite amount of time per day – nature is egalitarian in that we each get the same total minutes and hours.  After that, the forms our personal structure might take are endless.  So what do I mean by structure?


You move from waking through your ‘day’ (I put this in quotes because some people are awake during night hours, living opposite of most of the rest of us) until you decide to end your ‘day’ by going to sleep.  Some people don’t bracket their day with sleep, for whatever reason so we are back to the imposed structure of a 24 hour period for a day, one bleeding into the next without the break of sleep.


Then we get to the myriad activities, thoughts, events, tasks that fill these waking hours and the method that we use to move from one to another.  Some of these activities formulate patterns – the number of times that we eat in a given day, a work schedule, planned appointments – all of which start to fill in the details of our daily structure.  Organization is the method, or methods, that we choose to use to manage the structure that our days take on.


Personally, I have this mix of the creative – which requires unplanned mental and physical space to fully evolve – and logic – which prefers discipline and detailed planning for greatest efficiency and comfort.  Some days this is a tedious mix, but mostly I see this as a tremendous benefit since I can then relate to the style and structure of so many other people.


The structure of your day can be imposed externally by nature, by obligation (work, school, etc.), by your personality type.  It is interesting to me, and perhaps one germinating factor in this post, that the word and concepts of fluidity have come up over and again in my various experiences in the last few days.  Types of structure can go from fluid to rigid; again affected greatly by the broad points that I made in the start of this paragraph.


What you do with the structure of your days, your life, and about controlling the structure your life has taken on, to the extent that you can deeply affects your feelings of contentment, happiness.  Your awareness level of the structure in your life; decisions that you make as to the effectiveness of your current structure, is where the title today comes in.  If you don’t put some thought into the sort of structure that you operate best in, then you can build a life that feels all wrong.


Creativity and fluidity usually appear hand in hand.  Water is the best representative of fluidity, but it still requires some external structure – pitch or grade to allow flow, gravity, varying solid surfaces – what would the Grand Canyon be without these additional factors, as one example we are all given for the amazing effects that water can impose.


On the opposite side is rigidity; complete inability to adapt, change, or even bend to conditions.  All people have some need for structure, but rigid folks have such a strong desire for days upon days that follow a precise pattern ad nauseam.


Most people fall somewhere in between complete fluidity and complete rigidity; usually exhibiting a combination of these characteristics based on the activity.  More detailed structure is welcome in one situation, but intrusive in another – limiting or freeing.  Lack of clear structure can be frightening when in a crowd, but welcome on a Sunday afternoon.


Have you given any thought to how structure affects you?  To the types of imposed structures that give you the best opportunity to shine?


© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations

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