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

New Questions for Old Shoes

An old pair of sneakers were discarded in a small wastebasket at work.  Anytime someone popped their head around the cubicle they’d ask my neighbor, “You’re throwing your shoes away?”  The question pickpocketed productivity since it only had one (glaringly obvious) answer.  I was reminded of how BAD we are at asking questions and connecting socially.

shoes

The intent, I understand.  We use the first accessible variant as a “way in”.  We want to break the ice with questions about a black eye, hickie, cast, flat tire, divorce etc.  There is nothing wrong with using the obvious bridge to cross the moat…except for the fact that our abundantly hollow question may be agonizingly unpleasant to the recipient.  “Hey, you broke your arm?”  “How’d you get that black eye?”  “I heard you are pregnant?”

THE CHALLENGE:  If you ever feel the need to question the obvious as a means of kindling a conversation, try to come up with a new angle.  Instead of, “You’re throwing your shoes away?”  You might consider something like:

(1) What was the best adventure you’ve ever had in these shoes?
(2) How many pairs of shoes do you own?  What do you think the average is for most people in America?
(3) Tell me about the day you purchased those sneakers?  How much did you pay?  Was there an alternate brand or style?  What was the deciding factor?
(4) How much would you give me if I can sell these on eBay?
(5) If these shoes could talk, what would they say?

You get the idea.  Putting a twist on the “obvious question” demonstrates that you are unlike the previous 99 people who just asked the same exact thing.  This practice will lead to more meaningful conversations and rich relationships.

For more ideas about asking the right questions, you might enjoy this post.

Photo by Tom

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!

Google’s Frenemies

This line, “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer” is so worn out it hurts.  But there is wisdom here. This quote has stood the test of time (not that I know its origination or anything – so don’t believe the hype).

My personality type lends itself to getting along with anyone. I look for the best in people. I give lots of second chances. My good friend Travon described this tendency as finding the “bird with the broken wing.” I nurture the bird until it is ready to fly again. It helps that I know how to apply a little saliva and that I understand concepts like popcorn payoff and quadrilateral leadership. The last time I considered someone an enemy was in Jr. High School (Don’t worry Helga, I forgive you…wherever you are). I keep a handful of close friends and the rest are neutral. It is very liberating to live life like this.

THE CHALLENGE: Think of yourself like the Google search engine. Type “search” into Google and what is the first result? Yahoo Search! Crazy right? I can type “Bing” in a Google search bar and with the click of a mouse, mosey on over to Google’s competition.

I can type in “Google conspiracy”, “Google lies” and even go way out on a limb with “Google is the devil.” Guess what? There are results for all of these. Why would a company allow the risk of slandering it’s own reputation?

Google doesn’t care and neither should you, I know I don’t! For as much as we rely on Google, we sure haven’t learned much from it. She is the perfect example of holding both friends and enemies close by.

“When you don’t care about your reputation you tend to have a good one.”
– Nassim Taleb

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!

Goal Punching

“Moving Petty Officer” is a phrase that all Navy recruits learn immediately upon arrival to Boot Camp.  It is used throughout a Sailor’s career.

This is one of my favorite phrases in the military. It shows not only a willingness to carry out orders, but demonstrates closed loop communication and immediate action.

Recently, my daughter slugged me in the arm and said “punch buggy white, no punch backs!”

I found it fascinating that she learned this game (and not from me). This is one that children have passed on for generations now.

I wonder why it catches on. I wonder why children adopt it. For some, maybe the initial appeal is to avoid pain.  For others, to inflict pain. I must admit, it was always fun to hit my older brother as hard as I could knowing that I wouldn’t get hit back.  That is of course until he spotted the next Volkswagen, and I would have to pay a huge price in the currency of bruises.

Reminiscing aside, this little game teaches a critical principal. It teaches immediate action in response to stimuli, much like a new recruit responding to a senior Petty Officer.  Conscious thought is dismissed while instinct and/or habit take over.

The challenge: think of an area of your life where procrastination deters your achievement of a specific goal.

The action: set up a visual cue in which the moment you see it, you can take immediate action without any additional thought.  In other words, set up your own “punch buggy“. You can use anything.  For example what if each time you sat a traffic light you tried to memorize something, repeated a positive affirmation, or called a loved one?  The visual queue can be anything.  A basketball, wheelchair, beard, school bus, emergency vehicle or yes…even… road kill!

The follow-through:  now don’t think about it!  Just act! When you see your queue, take immediate action. Make the goal small enough so that there are no excuses. Get in and out just like a a game of punch buggy. Be stealthy!  It needs to be just enough to get you started.  You just need to get a taste of what it is you’re trying to achieve. The small habits will grow and the fire will spread.  Good luck!

What Color Flag do You Throw?

My love for the game of football has influenced the way I think as a leader.

Although the colors of flags vary from league to league and have changed over the years, every modern day NFL fan will recognize the yellow and red flag. 

Yellow flags are thrown by the officials to indicate a penalty. Red flags are thrown by a head coach in order to challenge a play call. 

A keen observer will note that penalties occur on nearly every down.  The officials must be judicious. The essence of the game would be lost if penalty flags were thrown too frequently.  The fans would complain. There would be no entertainment value. The players would lose motivation. The game would not sustain itself as a business. The stands would be empty, the TV turned off.

Officials are required to use their best judgment. They must allow some leeway to let the players play.  They must preserve the integrity of the game without overshadowing the fun of the game. They must determine where the line is drawn between competition and outright violation of the rule book. 

While yellow flags may be unlimited, red flags are just the opposite.  Red flags can change the outcome of the game.  There are several rules surrounding the red flag (which I will not cover). In general, coaches are allowed only two per game and at the cost of a  timeout for any unsuccessful challenge.

Before a red challenge flag is thrown coaches must trust their own instinct, the word of the players, and/or receive guidance from assistant coaches with access to a live television feed.

If we apply this to leadership (including parenthood), what can we learn?

Are you the type of leader that mercilessly penalizes every member of your team with no room for error or forgiveness?  Do you put team members on report? Do you bench them? Do you outright fire them?  Is your production compromised because you are too busy throwing yellow flags?

Do you view yourself as a coach or a referee? Do you penalize at the expense of your player when a little coaching would have done the trick?

How often do you throw the challenge flag? Do you challenge your player’s integrity and intentions?  Perhaps your challenge is positive in nature, like always helping them strive to reach their highest level of performance. Do you challenge bad play calls made against your team members?

Before throwing a flag, consider how it is going to affect the REAL game.  The one on the field…the one we call life!