FOUR QUESTIONS I ASK MYSELF ABOUT 2014

December 12th, 2014

Very soon, 2014 will be history.  Now is a good time to assess how you did.  If we never pause to assess our performance, we might forfeit valuable lessons.  With that in mind, here are four questions I challenge you—as I challenge myself—to ask concerning 2014:

1—How did you do in your business performance?  Reflecting upon all the professional roles you have held, how did you perform?  Did you do your job with energy, accuracy, enthusiasm, and insight?  By reflecting upon your business performance, you can bask in some well-deserved affirmation of the highlights.  You can also reengineer your business approach where some fine tuning might be needed.

2—How did you do in your ethics performance?  Did you stand tall and true to your ethics regardless of the cost?  By reflecting upon those times when your ethical commitment was put to the test and it stood strong, you can rejoice in your victories.  You can also rethink your approach to ethics if you found yourself coming up short for any reason.

3—How did you do in your leadership performance?  Did you exercise strategic and sound leadership in every situation that demanded it?  By reflecting upon your various leadership situations, you can affirm your leadership where it was tested and found to be solid.  You can also identify those situations that may have revealed some leadership deficits and begin seeking ways to improve and refine.

4—How did you do in your personal performance?  Did you exhibit maturity, passion, strength, and wisdom as you managed your attitude, money, opportunities, relationships, loved ones, spiritual or religious convictions, physical fitness, emotional and mental fitness, and overall wellness?  By reflecting upon your personal performance in these areas, you can take comfort and joy where you know you brought your best self to the table.  You can also take a hard look at any of those areas in which you know deep in your heart that improvement is needed.

These four questions are revealing.  If you enjoy your answers, I am happy for you!  On the other hand, if you are unhappy with the answers to any of these questions, then some thoughtful, soul-searching realignment is needed.

Now for the especially exciting news: you have the power to make the needed changes.  Remember—our failures are only meaningless if we do not learn from them.  Let us learn from them so we can make 2015 the best year ever!





DON’T KNOW THEM

December 11th, 2014

Social media continues to be an important part of most people’s lives and relationships.  Harlan Lebo shares some of the latest research on this trend (Digitalcenter.org.  The 2013 Digital Future Report: Surveying The Digital Future, Year Eleven, p. 106):

As online social networking continues to increase, a large percentage of Internet users said that going online is important to maintaining their social relationships.  . . . —now 56 percent of users.”

Social media can be an enhancement to our in-person relationships, but it can also simply help us to connect quicker with people we do not know in person or may never meet in person.  The realm of relationship possibilities enlarges significantly.

Social media occasionally puts us into new, unusual, or awkward positions.  How we relate to people online can often be very different from how we relate in person.  It is a lot to ponder.  On that note, I think one of the funnier sayings I have heard was this one:

Twitter makes you like people you don’t know, and Facebook makes you dislike people you do.





A TIME FOR CRAZY GOALS

December 10th, 2014

Two Toronto engineers, Todd Reichert and Cameron Robertson, were on a quest to build the world’s first human-powered helicopter—and they succeeded!  Experts had repeatedly concluded that a human-powered helicopter was an impossibility.  Reichert and Robertson somehow missed that “fact.”  Sometimes it is not knowing specific information that can indirectly fuel your success as David Noonan describes (“Impossible Flight” Scientific American, November 2014, pp. 78–83):

The two Canadian engineers are not helicopter designers, which is why they were ignorant of the scientific papers dooming them to futility.” (p. 80)

Sometimes this kind of counterintuitive execution is exactly what is needed to break barriers and achieve new milestones.  While I am never one to endorse foolishness or a general disregard for common sense, on the other hand, how will we ever discover anything revolutionary if we assume all our current “facts” or “presuppositions” are perfectly correct?

Similarly, how will we ever know whether a goal is genuinely realistic without putting it to the test or even getting a bit crazy about it?  Just because something is perceived to be impossible does not automatically mean that it is impossible.  Were that the case, then we would not have certain things in existence today such as tubeless tires, computers, robots, electron microscopes, stealth bombers, kidney transplants, and motion detectors to name a few.  Moments of greatest accomplishment were often preceded by unusually overwhelming challenges:

When Reichert talks about the reasons for his and Robertson’s success, he goes beyond technology.  He talks about their commitment to doing the impossible or at least trying to.  ‘You have to set crazy goals,’ he says, ‘because that’s what motivates people.’” (p. 83)

Hey, if you aim for Pluto but only land on Mars, that is probably still a lot further than you would have traveled otherwise.





DUMB ENOUGH TO BE SMART

December 9th, 2014

Very few people would say that it is smart to be dumb.  Intelligence is a highly valued commodity.  Who among us has not gone through one day being grateful we had some smarts while more often wishing that we had more smarts?

On the other hand, sometimes it is a knowledge lack that indirectly leads you to success in your quest for knowledge.  Sometimes being dumb results in being smart.  Such was the case for two Toronto engineers, Todd Reichert and Cameron Robertson.  They were on a quest to build the world’s first human-powered helicopter—and they succeeded!

Experts had repeatedly concluded that a human-powered helicopter was an impossibility.  Reichert and Robertson somehow missed that “fact.”  Sometimes it is not knowing specific information that can indirectly fuel your success as David Noonan describes (“Impossible Flight” Scientific American, November 2014, pp. 78–83):

The two Canadian engineers are not helicopter designers, which is why they were ignorant of the scientific papers dooming them to futility.” (p. 80)

The team’s success also illustrates the power of a small team resolving a problem versus the big-company bureaucracy-laden behemoths resolving a problem.  Big companies can do a lot of things, but their sheer size is not a guarantee of success and it certainly was not so in this case:

[Reichert’s and Robertson’s success], after so many before them had failed, demonstrates that in an era dominated by large teams of engineers working for huge companies such as Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman, a small, nimble group can solve the hardest problems.

We need to appreciate big companies’ prowess, as long as we do not accidentally equate bigness with omnipotence and omniscience.  However, we need equally to appreciate the small teams, the small companies, and even the team of one.  No one has a corner on the knowledge market.  Knowledge is available to be pursued every day.  The more important question is are you dumb enough to be smart?





CHRONOLOGICAL AGE DOES NOT A PHYSIQUE MAKE

December 8th, 2014

One of the healthcare and wellness dynamics experts are increasingly studying involves chronological age versus physiological age.  Just because you are 40 years old does not mean that you are 40 years old.  Some 40-year-olds have the physiology of a 30-year-old, and some 40-year-olds have the physiology of a 50-year-old.  It all depends on your genes and what you chose to do (or not do) with what you were given.  Whether humorous or tragic, the saying belies the truth:

If I had known that I was going to live this long, I would have taken better care of myself.

Physiological age makes a big difference in every facet of our lives.  For just one example, consider the challenges of cancer.  Claudia Wallis summarizes three leading reasons that cancer risk increases as we age (“Never Too Old for Chemo” Scientific American, December 2014, p. 34):

First, we experience more cumulative exposure to the things that mess with DNA, . . . Second, older cells are more vulnerable to this damage—or less able to repair themselves.  . . . Third, the various housekeeping systems—such as the immune defenses—that keep our tissues healthy begin to break down with age.

Precisely because this is true, how a person chooses to handle personal health and wellness is a powerful factor in physiological age.  Nutrition, lifestyle, exercise, attitude, sleep habits, and spiritual convictions all play into whether our physiological age matches our chronological age, advances ahead of it, or recedes behind it.  Sticking with the example of cancer, Wallis reports that oncologist Lodovico Balducce and geriatrition Holly Holmes:

generally agree that chronological age alone is a poor indicator of how someone will respond to cancer treatment.  What is more revealing . . . is the patient’s physiological age.

In other words, whether we are talking chemotherapy or any other stressor, the higher your physiological age, the less ability your body will have to withstand them, and the lower your physiological age, the more ability your body will have to withstand them.  We could endlessly describe many additional examples in which the person’s physiological age becomes the determining factor in a stressor situation.

Remember, your personal life and your professional life will never take you further than your wellness can carry you.  I don’t know about you, but I want to go as far as I can in my personal life and my professional life.  That is why I make wellness a priority.  I hope you do too.





FUN WITH FRUITCAKES

December 5th, 2014

Who among us hasn’t enjoyed a good laugh revolving around the notorious fruitcake?  It seems fruitcakes are a love-hate relationship; you either love fruitcake or you hate it, and I think most of us hate it.  A Harris Interactive survey revealed that 80% of Americans consider fruitcake their least favorite holiday gift (“Traditions: Haters Gonna Hate” Bloomberg Businessweek, 11/24/14–11/30/14, p. 26).  A prior EBay survey found that 31% of fruitcakes are regifted.  Now there’s a vicious cycle!

On the other hand, NASA spent years evaluating fruitcake as a standard ration for astronauts.  Apollo 17 was stocked with the fruity snack.  But hey, if all this gives us a good laugh during this holiday season, then so much the better.  We can all use a good laugh occasionally.  I shoot for at least several a day myself.  Many have observed the positive effects laughter can have on your overall health and wellness, including the author of an ancient proverb (The Message, Proverbs 17:22):

A cheerful disposition is good for your health.

On that note, I especially appreciate how Father Cyprian (one of the monks at the Assumption Abbey in Ava, Missouri) pokes fun at the abbey’s fruity creations (Donald Bradley, “Where Fruitcake Is Everlasting” The Kansas City Star, December 11, 2013, pp. A1, A8):

Every day this crew makes 125 fruitcakes.  The sale of more than 30,000 cakes annually provides the abbey its revenue stream. . . . For years before starting fruitcakes in 1990, the monks made concrete blocks.  ‘We had to change the recipe slightly,’ Cyprian joked.  ‘And fruitcakes are easier to stack.’” (p. A8)

Well, I hope you don’t think too long about that one upon your next bite of fruitcake.  Then again, maybe you should if it means it will give you a good belly laugh!





THAT’S A GOOD QUESTION

December 4th, 2014

Jeff Clarke is the CEO of Eastman Kodak Company.  Reflecting upon his life lessons, he shares an important one related to leadership (“How Did I Get Here?” Bloomberg Businessweek, 12/1/14–12/7/14, p. 72):

Keep your ratio of questions to statements 10 to 1.

If you are honest, you realize that you enjoy the sound of your own voice more than someone else’s voice.  Therefore, Clarke’s life lesson might be difficult to implement.  (It is for me!)  In spite of that difficulty, force yourself to implement it.  This practice will improve your leadership for several reasons:

  • As a leader, you must keep your finger on the pulse.  Listening to others answer your questions does that.
  • As a leader, it is easy to inflate yourself, thereby losing your effectiveness.  Listening to others answer your questions reminds you that you do not have all the answers.
  • As a leader, you will build relationships faster and more effectively when you allow other people to feel that they have been heard.  No one feels heard without being invited to speak.
  • As a leader, you don’t learn much when you are talking.  You learn the most when you are listening.
  • As a leader, by virtue of asking questions, the implication is that you expect your team to answer with integrity and courage, regardless of what they think you want to hear.

All this reminds me of a leadership lesson I learned many years ago:  The smartest person in the room is not the person who has all the answers.  It is the person who knows what questions to ask.

As a leader, you will do a lot of talking.  Just be sure that you are asking some good questions too.





JOB SECURITY SENTIMENTS IN 2014

December 3rd, 2014

Money magazine did a reader survey exploring the question of how readers are feeling about their job security over the previous 12 months.  The good news is that the sense of job security is better now than in the previous year.  Here are the results (“How Has 2014 Stacked Up?” December 2014, p. 28):

24%—Feel more secure in my job.

63%—Feel the same or uncertain.

13%—Feel less secure in my job.

The year was jittery for that 13% who feel less secure in their jobs.  No one enjoys being in that position.

On the good news side, seeing an increase to 24% for those who feel more secure is an improvement that we will be happy to receive.  Overall, I think this emanates from the fact that the economy is continuing to move in a positive direction.  The recession is officially over.

Hopefully, in another year, these numbers will be even better.





HERE IS HOW PEOPLE ASSESS 2014

December 2nd, 2014

Money magazine did a reader survey exploring the question of how readers are feeling about the last 12 months.  One question was simply are you better off now than you were a year ago?  Here are the results (“How Has 2014 Stacked Up?” December 2014, p. 28):

24%—Doing worse.

22%—No change.

33%—Doing a little better.

21%—Doing a lot better.

The year was a painful one for the 24% who claim that they are doing worse.  No one likes to see that happen.

On the good news side, over half (54%) affirm that they are doing a little to a lot better, with only 22% saying no change.  Overall, I think this emanates from the fact that the economy is continuing to move in a positive direction.  The recession has been officially over.

Hopefully, in another year, these numbers will be even better.





WHY I AM NOT GIVING UP ON HIGHER EDUCATION

December 1st, 2014

The degree debates continue as they always have.  Without a doubt, higher education institutions, specific industry segments, and talent management professionals must thoroughly assess how best to equip students and workers to ensure that the job candidate pipeline is vibrant.  Sometimes academic degrees are a part of that process and sometimes they are not.  Other avenues of job-specific training are also a factor both before and after the candidate is hired.

Simultaneously, businesses are less willing to train on the job than they used to be and they expect more job candidates to show up ready to roll from day one.  Unfortunately, this attitude is shortsighted as Peter Coy reports (“Job Training that Works” Bloomberg Businessweek, 11/24/14–11/30/14, pp. 6–7):

The gulf between what companies need and what workers have to offer remains huge.  In most fields, companies have steadily reduced the amount of on-the-job training they provide, says Chauncy Lennon, who leads a $250 million New Skills at Work project for the charitable arm of JPMorgan Chase.  . . . In 2011, an Accenture survey of U.S. employees found that only 21 percent had received employer-provided formal training in the previous five years.  ‘A lot of small businesses have this fear that “If I train my people, I’ll lose them to ExxonMobil.”  Our research shows the opposite.  If you don’t train people, you’re definitely going to lose them,’ says Emad Rizkalla, founder and CEO of Bluedrop Performance Learning, an online education company.” (p. 7)

Immediate continuous efforts to fix this disconnect are needed, especially given that September’s job numbers showed about 5 million open jobs while 9 million people were searching for jobs.  When all the pegs are square and all the holes are round, then a realignment of resources is required.  In this case, what is needed is a realignment of talent and jobs.  Granted, many different approaches exist on exactly how we perform that realignment, but I remain convinced that throwing academic degrees out the window is not one of them.

I certainly concede that an academic degree’s value can vary depending on economic conditions.  For example, Robert Reich cites numerous reasons why a college degree may not pack the punch it once did (“Is a Diploma Really Worth the Cost? You Need College, But It Gets You Nowhere” The Kansas City Star, November 27, 2014, p. C7):

Millions of people in developing nations are now far better educated, and the Internet has given them an easy way to sell their skills in advanced economies such as the United States.  . . . The demand for well-educated workers in the United States seems to have peaked around 2000 and fallen since.  . . . The starting wages of college graduates have actually dropped since 2000.  . . . Although a college education is now a prerequisite for joining the middle class, the middle class is in lousy shape.

For all the good or bad that we hear on the value of higher education, we must be careful not to be blinded to some fundamental undeniable truths:

  • College and graduate degrees will always be substantial formal credentials by which untold numbers of decision makers will evaluate you.
  • The academic degree assures you and society that you have acquired a specific body of knowledge and expertise.
  • The content, wisdom, and insight you acquired via a degree program will stick with you for the rest of your life, continuously adding value to every aspect of your professional and personal life.
  • The more competitive the economy becomes, the more competitive you become by virtue of having a degree.
  • Once you have earned an academic degree, no one and no circumstance can ever take that accomplishment away from you.

The above arguments are important because increasingly we are hearing despairing, doom-and-gloom, capitulating voices decrying the sheepskin’s value.  These voices affirm that the logical, practical, and economic justifications for earning a degree no longer exist.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Even Reich, after his lengthy delineation of reasons that degrees may be less valuable than they used to be, affirms that the person with a degree will still have an edge:

Given all this, a college degree is worth the cost because it at least enables a young person to tread water.  Without the degree, young people can easily drown.  . . . A college education can give young people tools for leading full and purposeful lives, and having meaningful careers.

Additionally, I have always been impressed by the unemployment statistics.  Anyone can argue the relative merits of pursuing higher education or choosing not to pursue it.  Pros and cons certainly exist.  Nevertheless, for the person who desires to improve his or her odds significantly of being gainfully employed, higher education is an extremely serious factor.

The seasonally adjusted October 2014 unemployment rate for persons not having a high school diploma is 7.9% (Bureau of Labor Statistics).  Having a high school diploma drops that rate to 5.7% and some college or a two-year degree drops it further to 4.8%.  Pretty good trending, would you not agree?  Finally, if we look at people having a four-year degree, a graduate degree, or a doctoral degree, the unemployment rate is a low 3.1%.  Not bad, given our rough economy.

Higher education’s value is especially clear when you consider the range of these numbers over the level of higher education.  Look at the two ends of the spectrum: less-than-high school (7.9%) versus a four-year degree or higher (3.1%).  Consistently, regardless of the measured time, the unemployment rate for a less-than-high-school-educated worker is two to four times larger than for the college-degreed worker.  This is why, when people seek my counsel about career planning, higher education is always one of my main emphases.  Education pays.  Degrees still rock.

Regardless of how good or bad the economy is, regardless of how many individual academic and career disasters can be cited, and regardless of how loudly the antidegree segment howls, you are still in a better position having a degree than not having a degree.

Why not make higher education a priority in your life and in the lives of those you influence?  That priority will positively affect your life, your career, and our society.