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Ideas, Ideas – Popping & Fizzing Like Soda

ideaWhen asked which is more important: the ideas or the prose, Jack Kerouac growled in return, “Ideas are a dime a dozen.”  Well, kind of rude, but true, so true.  How many good ideas die from lack of nurturing, development, exploration – or are killed due to cost or avarice?


Movies and books love to use the killing or obstruction of an idea as a main plotline.  It makes for good storytelling, that is certain and we all probably have a story or two of our own to tell about a lost, bad or half-baked idea.  Our lives are driven by our own ideas, ideas of people close to us, and even ideas of people we’ve ’ever met or who are long dead.  The idea of ideas is the subject of so much legend because there is tremendous possibility in ideas.


How do we know when an idea is worth pursuing?  What keeps us from pursuing an idea that ‘has legs’?  The answers to these questions are numerous and dependent on whom you choose to talk to as far as scope.  And most likely all valid, at least for the responder – which leaves it up to you to decide if the answer is valid in your case.


When you decide that you have an idea that you want to pursue you want to consider if you have any fixation that will create a barrier.  Functional fixedness can come from cultural assumptions (a rural person is naïve) or from long-term knowledge (knowing cars because of shop class c1982).  Your mental set, which is a natural leaning toward patterns and/or mechanized thinking (think riddles, which trap us in the expected) is another kind if fixation.  Fixations can have a poor effect on ideas.


Is your idea fully formed?  You can utilize divergent thinking, which is expansive and the main element of brainstorming to create options and a full framework for your idea.  Look at your idea from all angles and facets; think about its originality and flexibility.  But if you stay in divergent thinking mode, you will never move to the next step which is to plan how to execute your idea.


You can apply convergent thinking to drive your idea toward a solid meaning.  Review all the points that came out of your divergent thinking and consider if they truly apply to the intent of your idea and will help drive it forward.


Once you develop your own process to vet your ideas, then you put yourself in a better position to take action on them.


[My thanks to Dennis Cass, author of Head Case: How I almost Lost My Mind Trying to Understand My Brain for the technical speak used here.]


© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations


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March 4, 2013 · 8:29 am

Darn Skippy

languageHow salty does the language get in your work place?  What is acceptable within your work group, by your boss, among senior managers?  Some places make allowances for the momentary need to blow off some steam with an utterance of s#*t and others not so much.  Some will tolerate faux swearing like fricking and even these words could get you called into HR or your boss’s office in certain organizations.


I went to a very interesting, helpful and funny presentation on Monday evening for a group that is associated to a church and the presenter said a** and fricking several times.  Now these don’t offend me, but I was surprised due to the setting and the professional nature of the meeting.


I guess it’s the use of that word, professional, that made me do a double take and wonder if I just heard what I thought I heard.  I’ve been meeting with this group for several weeks now and hadn’t heard anything even as salty as darn it up to this point.  Purportedly ‘professional’ means that we are above such coarse language and able to express ourselves with decorum at all times.  Bollox to that, people are people.  But there is a time and place for everything and one must be aware of varying sensibilities.


Median age within the office plays a part in the acceptance meter, with a younger skewing workforce being more accepting of a few well-placed curses and older workers turning interesting shades of red at anything slightly off-color.  I imagine that there are some offices where the air is turned blue, but these would be the rare exception and probably never visited by outside people.  My mom went to college when I was in high school and she had to do a role-play skit for a communications class which she rehearsed for the whole family.  It was a phone call and I don’t remember much else except that she ended the skit with a mild expletive and my father became incensed.  He argued that it was never appropriate in a business setting to sink to such a level.  I believe that mom kept the ending that she planned.


Fast forward a few years to my first office job where I was asked to fax something and I didn’t really have a clue how to do so at the time.  I had a false start and ‘shoot’ came softly from my lips.  Immediately from the other side of a cube wall came, ‘what did you say?’.  I got flustered; I knew that I didn’t slip up and say my usual word in such times.  It turned out s#*t was the sanctioned word in that room, with that particular group of people.  Good to know.


The point is to know your circumstances and be aware of the appropriate limits.  Your right to purge frustration doesn’t supersede someone else’s right to avoid what they consider filth.  Unless you can keep it in your own head.


© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations


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March 1, 2013 · 9:10 am

Measurability Measures

(Measure twice, cut once – old carpenter saying)

measurabilityBusiness is dependent upon certain tenets to continue: maintaining, or better, growing is one.  Shrinking is usually a bad sign – unless it references your cost of doing business.  Knowing if a business is healthy requires metrics or measurement of some type.  Financial input and output should be tracked, employee development, sales volumes, and other aspects depending upon your type of business.


Measuring progress is critical to understanding, but must be a balanced part of your business diet.  All diets are best when balanced, and if you compare information about your business to a type of diet then you should make an effort to keep things balanced.  If businesses focus too intently on one aspect, for instance short term earnings, the portion of effort applied to this facet of the business can become bloated in respect to the other aspects of the business.  The health of the business is dependent upon this diet.


“When an institution becomes the sum of what it measures, it risks valuing only what it measures.”

~Steven Harper


Businesses usually develop rules around the metrics or measurements that they track.  An employer has a responsibility to evaluate the rules that are created: to ask why the rule is important, what is the impact of the rule on cost, quality & customer service?  As an employee, you can prudently assist in your organization’s effort to create a healthy business with a balanced diet or perspective of all business and organizational aspects whether tangibly measurable or not.


© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations


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February 28, 2013 · 8:28 am

Creating Understanding

understandingCommunication is a beautiful thing, except when it isn’t.  Which is unfortunately frequent.  Something came out wrong, a word or phrase was misunderstood, or any variety of things can derail clear communication.  Communication breakdowns, conflictions of interest or expectations cause all sorts of difficulties both large and small.


Think back on the last several conflicts that you are aware of or participated in in some fashion.  What did it take to turn the encounter into a constructive situation?  Without some type of intervention it is possible that there will be an escalation of hostilities at some later point whether overt or not.


It is preferable to communicate clearly and create understanding from the start than to have to take action to repair any rift and then try to get momentum going forward.


“That is the one thing that I’ve learned, that it is possible to really understand things at certain points, and not be able to retain them, to be in utter confusion just a short while later.  I used to think that once you really knew a thing; its truth would shine forever.”

~Lucy Greeley


My reaction when I read this quote was wow, I never thought about it quite like this before but she’s got a point.  If we once knew something, aren’t we less likely to rethink it later?  Scenarios like this play out daily and could easily lead to a lack of understanding, especially if the other person is suffering from a similar confusion of retention.  How often do we find ourselves in a group hoping that someone else will ask for clarification on a point, but not step forward to be that someone?  The leader of the group should pick up on this mass confusion, but if they do not and no one in the group speaks up suddenly the original intent of the gathering is moot.


Whose responsibility is it to get things back on track?  Plenty would say it is the leader’s sole responsibility but why other than refusal to accept part ownership?  I would pose that it is the responsibility of everyone in the gathering to ensure understanding and successful completion of the communication.


© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations


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February 26, 2013 · 9:28 am

Challenge Your Self-Defeatist Notions

challengeWe all have them, these thoughts that start ‘I can’t’, ‘I’m not’ and go on to describe some feature of ourselves in a negative light.  Sometimes these are echoes of past voices, sometimes amalgamations of bits and pieces of our growing years.  Wherever they originate, they are self-defeating in nature.


If there is something that you would really like to do and your own immediate response is to tell yourself why you can’t do it, stop right there.  Ask that defeatist thought why not – why can’t I go after that promotion, go back to school, take that vacation, etc.  Uh, well, hmmm, because I said you aren’t worthy because that’s what I’ve always said.  Listen, I’m protecting you from potential failure here, why are you suddenly questioning me?


Because I’ve matured to a point where I’m not so sure you are protecting me, that’s why – because I am starting to think that you are an outdated and unhelpful notion that should be challenged, that’s why.  Maybe once I spend some more time fleshing out my idea I will find that there are valid reasons to change it or not continue.  But your rubber stamp ‘Can’t’ isn’t valid.


© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations


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February 23, 2013 · 9:27 am


DSC03125My siblings used to get frustrated with me because I could keep my Halloween candy and just eat it in small amounts.  I was able to figure out fairly early on that I didn’t enjoy getting sick from the candy, but that certainly didn’t mean that I didn’t love candy.  Check out this post from the Passionate Problem Solver’s blog:  Skills for Success, Delayed Gratification


I admit that I hadn’t thought about the subtle differences between self-esteem and self-acceptance before reading this post on the Job Box Report: The Power of Self-Acceptance.  I heartily agree with Rachel and would add that I find self-acceptance much easier as I get older and gain broader experience in the world.


An interesting read with a different perspective on the way that groups interact: The Six Thinking Hats by Edward DeBono.  “Thinking is the ultimate human resource.  The main difficulty of thinking is confusion.  With the Six Hats method the emphasis is on ‘what can be’ rather than just on ‘what is’, and on how we design a way forward – not on who is right and who is wrong.”


“It is up to us to give ourselves recognition. If we wait for it to come from others, we feel resentful when it doesn’t, and when it does, we may well reject it.”

~Bernard Berkowitz


Keep yourself mentally awake, from Forbes: 10 Brainteasers to Test Your Mental Sharpness



© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations


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February 21, 2013 · 8:42 am

What’s Your Agenda?

agendaYes, you do have one – whether it is a well thought out 5 year plan or near utter abdication from making any active plans or most likely something in the middle of these extremes.  Whenever you do anything, you have a reason, one that hopefully you have put some thought into.  Stringing the reasons for each of your actions together becomes your agenda even if you intended each to be a separate and distinct action.


There is usually a theme or two behind your actions such as interest in making a lot of money, consistently shirking responsibility, eagerness to learn, fear of being singled out, and so on.  Even if you haven’t put much thought into tracking your agenda, the people around you probably have done so.


I’ve been known to say that the agenda goes to the bold.  By that I mean that if a situation doesn’t appear to be led by anyone it becomes an opportunity for you to show your capabilities.  Especially if part of your agenda includes being seen as a leader.  Leaders step in to resolve when something seems to be floundering or worse when there is some type of a vacuum.  Conversely, if you don’t define the theme of your actions, then whoever of those around you is bold enough may take the opportunity to name your theme, thus branding you within the organization.


So unless part of your agenda is to allow yourself to be co-opted into someone else’s agenda, by all means get busy figuring out your own agenda.  Your agenda must be realistic and suited to your temperament, skills and set you in the direction that you want to go.


Here are some ideas from Chris Kyle to get you started, How to Craft a Successful Career Plan.


© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations


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February 19, 2013 · 8:59 am

Call Centers & Customer Service – Are These Synonymous?

DSC03105I have worked in customer service in various ways for much of my professional life, whether officially in a Customer Service department or not.  Customer facing positions all have a customer service facet whether you are physically facing the customer or interacting with them on the phone or electronically and regardless of the department in which you work.


It seems as though most people think of call centers – rows upon rows of small cubes with a person hooked up to a phone, churning calls – when customer service is mentioned.


When I am the customer calling in with a specific question or issue, I rarely feel as though I’ve been provided a service at the end of the call, rather it seems more like I’ve been checked off as another task of that day. Responded to x number of customer calls today – check.  (Note that I did not say resolved.)


Admittedly, I have not ever worked in a call center therefore I can only speak from the position of a customer and not from both sides of this equation.  I would think that call centers should be one form of service provided to customers, at least were originally developed with this intent.


At some point in their development businesses need to have customers in order to thrive, whether those customers are the general public or business to business interaction.  Preferably a high volume of repeat customers since there is plenty of evidence that it is more cost effective to retain an existing customer than to continuously find new customers.  Customers require attention designed specifically to address their needs, hence Customer Service.


Customers do not like to be treated like a number.  People who work in Customer Service have experience as customers themselves upon which to draw.  Further people who stay in Customer Service throughout their career usually have high empathy and a true interest in problem solving.


I don’t have a conclusion to the question that I posed in the title, do you?


© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations



February 15, 2013 · 8:48 am

Changing Relationships to Time

timeChildren have this ability to spend long moments choosing just the right color from the crayon box for their latest masterpiece, or idly tracking an ant’s progress across the sidewalk.  Or whatever task might suit their current fancy.  The ideas behind now, later, in 3 sleeps are too abstract for very small children.


When school starts a set schedule is introduced, but it is usually someone else’s responsibility to keep track of the time and stick to the schedule.  Mom or dad takes care of the morning routine until the hand off to the teacher for the school day and back to mom or dad for the remainder of the day.  The idea of keeping your own time may be introduced by giving the child a watch, but ownership to stay on schedule isn’t handed over.


My parents had an early digital clock that was designed like a rolodex with the numbers on plastic pieces that would flip.  We spent entirely too much time trying to watch the exact moment when the next number would flip over.  But it was Sunday, or vacation, or we were waiting for mom’s ‘minute’ to be up until we could do whatever we had asked to do.


Somewhere in late grade school or early high school ownership of the schedule is handed off to the child.  Sometimes because the child wants this responsibility, but more often just because – the child is suddenly expected to understand how the passage of time affects their adherence to a schedule that the child has little control over.  The child starts to get rated on time management having been taught how to tell time, but not given any lessons in creating a structured schedule except by osmosis.


Missing due dates for homework, not being prepared for a test become the consequences that the child faces, with perhaps a teacher and one or both parents peering over the youngster (or more likely at this point, teenager) asking why.  Did the teenager understand the assignment?  Did he or she write it down?


The adults never seem to ask questions about the teenager’s understanding about time and scheduling.  Did the teenager take into account assignments from other classes, after school activities, a job, any other variable that could affect the outcome like a tiff with a friend or a big dance?


In college I took a Stage Movement class (teaching actors to understand how body position and movement can affect character and how to translate actions for the stage) and one ay many students were struggling with an activity.  The instructor started asking how many of us had crawled as babies, which made us laugh.  Then she explained that there is a correlation between crawling and your understanding of body movement.  She had us all get down on all fours and crawl around the room for the remainder of the class period to pick up that movement knowledge that some had missed.


How many of us ever consciously thought about our relationship to time – how it affects our world, how the quality of time changes depending on the day ahead or the task at hand?  We might need to go back and crawl to relearn how the structure of the passage of time affects all that we do.


© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations


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February 14, 2013 · 9:22 am

Concrete Answers in a Subjective World

Concrete-BlocksWe like to be told explicitly what is expected of us, it makes it so much easier to exceed expectations.  But we like to have choices; ability to exercise free will is a keen wish.  It is like we are all saying, ‘I am responsible for my choices, but x’s expectations weren’t concrete enough therefore I am not responsible for my inability to achieve my goal.’


“People always wait too long for other people to change their situation.”

~Kenwyn Smith, professor at Wharton


I am known as a forthright, determined person, but in an unfamiliar situation I will hold back a bit until I can get a feeling for what is going on.  I try to find that balance between learning and leading.  I want to learn what you have to show me.  But ultimately, I will take it upon myself to fill in any blanks that I see to be able to apply the knowledge to my situation.


At the same time, sometimes it is necessary to take action before one has enough information.  Create a plan, and define expectations, based on what is known.  So many accomplishments over the course of our history would never have been if the people involved said no, we don’t understand enough yet.  I love that part in the movie Apollo 13 when the engineers have to make a new filter for the craft based on the odds and ends that the astronauts would have access to.


We don’t have such dire consequences to consider within our normal realm so we can make that attempt.  Regardless of the outcome, we will learn something useful, I promise.


© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations


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February 13, 2013 · 8:55 am