Hold the Salt

Business lore cannot decide who it wants to attribute the “salt test” to. Some say Thomas Edison, others Henry Ford, not to mention household names like General MacArthur and a host of others.

What is the “salt test” anyway? Essentially, the salt test was a simple method devised to examine the character and personality of a potential employee.

It looks like this… Henry Ford takes you out to dinner, a small price to pay since you’ve applied for a key position in the company. Ol’ Henry keeps an eagle eye on you as the server delivers your requested meal. Your mouth waters as you reach for the salt. (NO! DON’T DO IT!) You proceed to smother your food in that all white ionic compound otherwise known as common table salt. You take a taste. Mr. Ford asks how your food is. You smile and provide enthusiastic feedback, “Delicious!”

You continue your attempt to dazzle. But, it’s too late. You’ve forfeited the job.

Henry Ford knows that premature salt application would indicate a person’s narrow thinking and inability to analyze fresh data. The action might also show a lack of appreciation for the host or a shortage of trust in the cook’s ability.

THE CHALLENGE: Leave the salt alone! Examine your self-talk. Do you season your language with negativity?

“I can’t”

“I’m too”

“Why bother?”

“I’ll never”

How much of this negative dialogue acts as premature seasoning?

When you meet people do you really listen? Do you learn their name? Do you care about what they are saying? Or, are you projecting your own judgements upon them?

As you go throughout the day, pay attention to how often a limited view is imposed on yourself or others. You may be surprised at the frequency at which we season our situations prematurely.

Digging for Cables

In most situations, I’m a quiet guy. Somehow my dad nicknamed me “chatterbox” as child. The safety of my own home is probably the only time I lived up to such a name.

To this day I still hear people around me say, “watch out for the quiet ones, once they snap they’ll kill you.” Can’t say I’ve ever lived up to that.

In part however, I think there is some truth to the idea that the quiet folks tend to have a little more “clack” to their thunder, a little more “cold calculation” as words erupt like lava from a once stagnant volcano.

But it’s not just the quiet ones we need to be wary of. I think we ALL have an underground cable that if split will electrocute whomever dared to grasp the shovel.

I’m saddened with how quickly people go digging for cables. They long for contention and discord as if severed relationships were the rule and not the exception. They speak truth with no restrain, intent to hurt, intent to cause damage.

THE CHALLENGE: Brutal honesty (even if a skewed opinion) is often the shovel that will get you zapped. Brutal honesty has merit, but lacks sustainability. In dealing with those around you, look for the signs posted “warning, underground cable.” Stay away, dig somewhere else. Every personality has some territory that can be explored freely. Use tact. Use love.

As for your own cables, keep your signs posted. Avoid rust and decay. Sometimes we victimize ourselves when boundaries aren’t declared early and firmly.

Photo by: Ira

A Question For the Ladies, a Tip For the Gents.

My son was enjoying an animated film this afternoon. “Hey, Dad, watch this part – these two characters GET in love.”

BrockSky

I knew what he meant and I gently corrected him. I appreciate how some words get twisted coming out of the mouth of my (now) six-year-old. It makes me smile and sometimes teaches a lesson.

Falling in love just happens. A void of emptiness gets filled with a magical chemistry. If you’ve felt it, you know what I mean. All of a sudden that special someone occupies your every thought and motivates your every action. You can’t sleep at night and you look forward to the next opportunity to chat or be together.

Then, over time, love matures. It evolves into something “different.” If you have a long time companion, you’ll know what I mean. If you are not careful, boredom and complacency may set it. My love grows deeper as the years pass by, but the “magic” feeling takes some work.

“Love is like a friendship caught on fire. In the beginning a flame, very pretty, often hot and fierce, but still only light and flickering. As love grows older, our hearts mature and our love becomes as coals, deep-burning and unquenchable.” ~Bruce Lee

Let’s call this process “GET in love.”  Falling in love is mostly passive, “getting” in love is active. This is where the work comes in. This is where you ask your lover for a hint at how you can best make their heart skip a beat. Maybe you already know the answer. Are you doing it?  How often?

To the great husbands and fathers out there, I salute you – keep it up!  Truth is, some of you gentlemen might not want to ask for a hint because you’ll get smacked in the face with Waldo. Let me save you some trouble, or at least offer a few considerations born out of observation (and sadly, it doesn’t take a whole lot).

(1) If your heart and eyes are elsewhere, reign them back in. This includes flirtatious behavior with so-called “friends.” As a matter of fact, that friend might be cancerous to your marriage.  If you’d rather spend more time with someone else than your spouse, that’s a problem.

(2) Are you a deadbeat dad? Do you read to your kids? Do you have one-on-one time with them – daddy daughter dates? Do you help with the homework? Do you teach them hard work? Manners? Cleanliness? Or, is your video game more important? Maybe you’re more in love with watching sports or nurturing a bromance.

(3) Do you help around the house? Do you take out the trash? Help with the dishes or laundry? Do you wash the car? Do you offer to pump the gas? Do you hold the door open? Do you go out on dates or is romance dead? Would you rather pay for the date or the meal?

QUESTION: Ladies, what would you add to this list?  Give the men out there a hint…what can we do better?  Leave a comment and pass it along.

People Will Say “Amen” to Whatever

We tend to accept the idea that the cup is “half full or half empty.” Our actions however, often suggest otherwise.

We live in a “thumbs up, thumbs down” – “like, unlike” – “repeat, skip” – “share, block” society. The cup seems to be either completely dry or running over. Go look at online reviews. Yes, there are plenty of negative Nancys, but the number of five star appraisals are overwhelming! I understand being optimistic and grateful, but can we make a little more room for middle gray? Not everything is a brick! Not every performance deserves an applause. Not every sermon merits an “amen”. Not everyone deserves a trophy. “Created equal” does not mean “performance equal.”

THE CHALLENGE: Consider all the times you hit “like, share, repeat, subscribe” etc. What drives this action? Is it habit? Are you seeking a pat on the back in return? Are you bored or lonely? Is it laziness, why not leave a comment instead? Are you truly trying to add value in the world or are you stuck in a thoughtless stupor saying “amen” to every mosquito that buzzes by? Don’t thoughtlessly contribute to the “everyone’s a winner” mentality. Rather, challenge yourself to actively support those who fight for the starting job!

Paper Text

Do you remember when business cards were in vogue?  Okay, maybe you still use them (but not for long). How about Trapper Keepers or My Pet Monster?

Who doesn’t periodically reminisce on trends from the past? So many things have come and gone. I wonder why they have to go. Why were my favorite cartoons not good enough to catch on? Why don’t my kids know what a G.I. Joe is? Why did music change so radically? Is this because of contract obligations, licensing agreements or the rising generation’s need to be original? I guess I will never know.

Long before the digital age we used to “email” by putting pen to paper. We had pen-pals! Life was so slow that we would actually write strangers (sometimes across the globe)  as part of our school work. It would take many days or even weeks before getting a response.

Our “text message” used to be a physical note passed during class when the teacher wasn’t looking. Sometimes the note was exchanged in the hallway or slipped into someone’s locker. I’m not sure if the youth still do this, but I imagine the great majority of communication is via smart phone.

Today (during a meeting) I received a text message.  It was a photo of a study guide and an emoji – thumbs up.  My response was also an emoji – baby bottle. Except to the senders, both messages were vague, cloudy and superficial…ESPECIALLY mine!

I later wondered what this communication would have looked like in an “old school” format. If we put pencil to paper and passed it along, I believe the message would have been much different. The “smart” phones that we rely so heavily upon do a really good job at keeping us “not-so-smart”. We get so used to taking shortcuts that we often slice off the horn of our entire message! On the flip side, sometimes we replace “chat” with “text“. Though, these should never be confused. Our time evaporates typing a lengthy message that would otherwise only take a few seconds to speak.

Class notes were somewhat ideal, given their era. In general terms, they required two way communication. The receiver was usually happy to receive the memo. The message was sufficiently succinct. Dialogue was often very open – just consider all the blushing faces when the teacher would snatch a note off of someone’s desk!

THE CHALLENGE: If applicable, think back to your school days. If notes were as easy as text messaging is now, who would you ping? What would you write? Do you wish there was someone you had sent a note/message to but didn’t?

Next time you are in a meeting, think about who you might want to message. If the gathering happens to be with a group of strangers you can skip the whole business card thing and just ask for their number. Tell them you might reach out for their opinion during the lecture or conference.

Forget the “status updates.” Forget the spam! Nobody cares about “the weather.” What clear message can you send? How can you add value? If this were a handwritten note, would it be different? How so? What meaningful dialogue can you start? Consider that our present text messaging age will eventually be a thing of the past, something future bloggers will reminisce over. Will you wish you had established a friendship with someone while you still had frenzied fingers?

Maybe the opposite is true. For you social butterflies, maybe you need to cut back. Almost every note passed now is “caught by the teacher.” The teacher is social media.  The teacher is your profile. The chalkboard is now digital and our names are on it. Are your kids wondering why you pass notes all day instead of paying attention in class? Where is your middle ground? I challenge you to find it and exploit it!

Photo by hundrednorth

Plump Popcorn Payoff

Try this… ask the next person you see to slap you in the face. That’s how it feels to pay for a bucket of popcorn at the movie theater. You’ll spend a small fortune! This is one example where I wouldn’t recommend paying for the date.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and assume that you’ve popped some corn. Too easy, right? But what if the goal was to pop 100% of the kernels. Now it becomes an entirely different challenge. There is always a collection of headstrong kernels that adamantly camp at the foot of the bag. If you attempt to pop these, you run a most assured risk of burning the rest of your tasty snack.

It’s easy to stop here. Your carton or bag appears to be topped off. Why not just eat what you have and get full?  Nobody gives those stubborn kernels an afterthought, so why should you? Just toss them!

But what if we are talking about people? Doesn’t each corn kernel pop at a different time?  Each piece responds to a predetermined level of moisture within the shell. Most people “pop” together – give or take. Just think about grade school. Some students were kept back a grade, but most progressed. Each culture has a set of benchmarks that most folks satisfy such as marriage or moving out of mom and dad’s house.

THE CHALLENGE: Let’s say you are a leader, a manager, a supervisor, a parent, a friend or a coworker to a stubborn “kernel”. Don’t toss it in the trash, it does have the potential to pop. Your task is to create the right conditions. The groundwork is there. We all have the “moisture” inside. Find a way to make more heat. Remember not to burn the rest of your stash. Too much training on the same topic will burn the initial crop of plump poppers. The remainder however, these stubborn kernels…demand one-on-one leadership. Go mentor! Go lead! Make heat! Get the payoff!

Photo by clindstedt

Quadrilateral Leadership 

“If you are curious, you’ll find the puzzles around you. If you are determined, you will solve them. ”

Erno Rubik, noted for the quote above, created the Rubik’s Cube.  I bet you’ve played one. Perhaps you even own one. Did you know that there are 43,252,003,274,489,856,000 (43 quintillion) ways to scramble a Rubik’s Cube?

Humans are like cubes.  At birth, we start off as a “clean slate”, all squares are in perfect order (even if your mom told you that you soiled too many diapers and wouldn’t stop crying).

Over time our squares become scrambled. This goes back to my middle gray concept. Look at the person to your left and right, they are all knotted, twisted, snarled and jumbled….so are you…so am I.  We are all scrambled in a different order and to a different degree.

No scrambled cube can be solved with a single twist. Mankind’s impatience naturally bleeds over into our leadership philosophy. I have observed countless leaders, managers, couples, parents and coaches who expect to *solve the cube* without spending *time with the cube*. Worse still, sometimes they yell at the cube as if to say, “go solve yourself“. Some will try to take the forbidden shortcut by removing and replacing all the stickers, not knowing that replacing a corner sticker will make the cube entirely unsolvable. This means there is no room for verbal, mental or physical abuse! This is a pathetic short term solution and a failed long term resolution.

THE CHALLENGE: Stop pretending that everyone’s cube should look like yours.  Stop pretending that anyone else’s cube can be solved overnight.  Stop pretending that your own cube won’t get worse before it gets better. Be patient with yourself and with others! My goal as a leader, my goal with this blog, is to turn the cube of anyone I can influence just a turn or two in the right direction.  That’s it.  Simple as that.  One turn and I’m satisfied.  Two turns and I’m thrilled.  You have a whole life to live and a whole bunch of people to meet who will help get you “squared” away.  Thank you for allowing me the chance to put a couple of matching squares back together.  Many of you have done the same for me!

Three Up, Three Down

It is easy to view the world in black and white.  But remember, somewhere between black and white is a whoooooole bunch of gray.  That is where I fall into ranks.  Lets face it, we all do.  Everything we do gravitates to this ashy pigment…of…gray.

Yes, we may show strokes of brilliance or reach the darkest abyss.  But even then, odds are that someone has done it better and someone has done it worse.  Examine your strengths and weaknesses, do they not offset one another?  This puts you back to the mediocre middle.  Welcome home, I saved you a seat.

Once per year the Navy evaluates its Sailors using language where there are not enough actions (in existence) to match all the lofty adjectives.  No big deal, I liken this to the back cover of a novel.  Everyone is just trying to sell their book.

During the evaluation cycle, Sailors take part in a “mid-term counseling.”  This requires self reflection and open dialogue with the chain of command.  Normally, three strengths and three areas for improvement are identified by the counselee.  This inevitably reminds the Sailor of their existence in the gray zone.  As a matter of personal opinion, I think this is one of the most brilliant things the Navy does.  Sadly, I have yet to meet a Shipmate who *truly* takes this process seriously – but I’ll save that for another time.

At the close of a recent event, I was asked by the facilitator if there were any obvious areas for improvement.  I gave some “minor suggestions”.  His response was an appreciative acceptance with a follow-on call to action.  He said, “Do me a favor, send me an email including three up and three down.” (That is to say three strong points and three areas for improvement)

This facilitator, also a Sailor, was the first person I’ve heard use the term “three up and three down“.  Perhaps I’m late to the party and this is common lingo.  Nevertheless, I am left to suppose that it was originally harvested from a mid-term counseling session.

Next time you need some feedback on your performance or ideas, consider this strong negotiating tool.  It requires the sender to purge or reduce existing bias and evaluate using a two-point perspective.  Who knows, it might just propel you to reach a lighter shade of gray.