The March 26, 2012, Wizard of Id comic strip cracked me up.  Rodney, the soldier, is about to do battle with an enemy soldier.  As swords are drawn and they are about to engage, Rodney looks at his opponent and says, “Well, this is awkward.”  The two of them suddenly realize they are Facebook friends.

Anachronisms aside, the strip reminds us of the exponential reach of our networking tools, both offline and online.  Now the two worlds can work together to facilitate more connections in more ways than we ever dreamed possible.

That reality behooves us to apply the highest degree of courtesy, ethics, and consideration to everything we do, in both worlds.  As I have shared before, today the virtual world is just as real as the “real” world.

The old saying, “It’s a small world,” is becoming truer every day.  Let’s keep that in mind in all our words and deeds.

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Personal and professional growth are nonnegotiables to me.  I cannot think of a time in my life I honestly believed I had no opportunity for additional growth.

Personal growth involves areas such as maturity, emotional intelligence, relationships, spirituality, self-awareness, hobbies, and family.  Professional growth involves areas such as career pathing, industry standing, succession planning, certifications, technical knowledge, professional associations, execution, and job skills.

Last time I checked, when any organism stops growing and changing, it dies.  That is not on my agenda—at least as long as I can prevent it.

In my consulting work, I once sat on a panel for a company that was strategizing and hiring for business growth.  As a panel, we interviewed several job candidates.  I will never forget one candidate.  I will call her “Freda” (not his or her real name).

Freda was very confident about her professional prowess, so much so, I detected arrogance.  As the interview progressed, Freda implied she needed no additional professional growth because she was already perfect.  I picked up on this and asked, “Freda, what mechanisms do you have in place, either through other colleagues, mentors, or introspection, that help you to assess your performance and your abilities, so you can continuously improve yourself?”  She seemed baffled by my question and responded, “None.  I just never saw the need.”

Trying to give Freda the benefit of the doubt, I rephrased my question in different ways practically begging her for a different answer.  Sadly, her answer did not change.  That was the moment in the interview I knew I could not recommend hiring Freda.  And we did not.

It boggles my mind that a professional person would take this approach.  Sure, we all have our blind spots (Lord knows, I have mine!), but this one was massive and fatal.

If you were interviewing yourself, could you recommend hiring you?  What mechanisms do you have in place, either through other colleagues, mentors, or introspection, that help you to assess your performance and your abilities, so you can continuously improve yourself?  Do you believe in personal and professional growth?  Are you committed to making yourself the best you can be every single day?

Are you still growing?

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As promised in yesterday’s post, I now offer my take on exactly what we learn from Stephan Pastis’ comic strip, Pearls Before Swine.

The two key observations I made yesterday were, 1) Pastis chose to integrate himself into the strip playing himself as a comics character, and 2) Pastis had his characters invent the new sport of “panel walking.”

As I observed yesterday, Pastis took thinking outside the box to a whole new level, in more ways than one!  I give him very high scores for creativity and innovation.

Here are the things we learn from all this:

1—Just because no one else ever did it before, doesn’t mean you can’t.

I’m sure Pastis knew other cartoonists had not yet integrated themselves directly into their own comic strips as actual comics characters and I’m sure he knew “panel walking” did not yet exist.  But he didn’t let that stop him.  He didn’t say, “No one has ever drawn ‘panel walking’ characters before, so I’d better not either.”  He did not allow himself to be boxed in (pun intended?) by his peers.  Indeed, he chose to rise above his peers.

2—Breaking with convention isn’t automatically bad.

Although I don’t know Pastis personally, what little exposure I have had to him suggests to me he is a fine professional and a gentleman.  I am certain he would tend to follow all the conventional rules in most conventional circumstances and contexts.  Nevertheless, Pastis obviously chose to break with convention in the execution of his craft when he genuinely believed he had something of value to offer his readers.  Although we should always be willing to give due respect to context and convention, we should never view breaking with convention as inherently bad.  The decision to break with convention just might be the start of something new and marvelous for everyone.

3—Never limit yourself!

Pastis did not limit himself.  His original professional position was that of an attorney.  But he did not stop there.  He continued to feed his passion for cartooning, and eventually achieved the level of success he now enjoys.  If Pastis can do it, you can too.  I am so saddened when I meet people who choose to impose limitations on themselves as to what they can or cannot do.  Tragically, I see this all too often.  Please don’t do that.  Remember—You will never become all you were intended to become until you try.

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Stephan Pastis is a cartoonist who writes the syndicated comic strip, Pearls Before Swine.  If you want to enjoy a hilarious collection of animal and human relationship scenarios, you will love the strip.  Today I added Pastis’ blog to my links in case you are interested.

I have been reading the strip for many years, so it is difficult for me to identify exact times.  That said, at some point in the life of the strip, Pastis did two different things that were groundbreaking and funny.

First, I began to notice at a certain point Pastis integrated himself as a comics character directly into the comic strip to interact with the characters.  For example, the angry rat could go into Pastis’ office and berate him for some of the recent plots he had written.  At times, these cagey creatures would conspire to get Pastis into some serious trouble through all sorts of crazy circumstances.  Occasionally, Pastis would show up as his own cartoon character just to explain something about the strip.

Second, I will never forget the day a few of the characters bravely figured out they could engage in a new comics pastime they labeled “panel walking.”  They would intentionally position themselves into all sorts of otherwise out-of-bounds areas on the comics page as they appeared to run, walk, crawl, or jump on top of or underneath the actual comics borders of each panel, sort of the way a rock climber navigates a dangerous mountain face.  I could be wrong, but I believe Pastis was the first cartoonist ever to do this.

I have to say I am incredibly impressed with Pastis’ creativity and innovation.  He took thinking outside the box to a whole new level, in more ways than one!

So what do we learn from this?  Well, that is exactly what I want you to think about.  In tomorrow’s post, I will give you my rendition.  I invite you to share yours.

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If I had a dollar for every time I admonished my kids as they were growing up, “be nice,” I would be a very rich man today.  But I did it without being paid because I knew being nice did pay in many nonmonetary, but more important, ways.

Forrest Lucas launched Lucas Oil Products in 1989.  The company now sells almost 200 products in 27 countries.  In a recent interview with Fortune magazine, Lucas made a telling observation about leadership (Eng, Dinah. “How I Got Started: The Making of an Oil Empire.” February 27, 2012, pp. 23-27).  He was reflecting on his observations of many different people in high-level positions.  In so doing, he was watching for common traits.

“All the guys who made it to the top were nice people.  So it’s part of my philosophy to be nice.  I don’t have a single rude person working for me” (p. 24).

Lucas so believes in this philosophy, he simply won’t have a person in his employ that is rude.  I resonate strongly with Lucas.  I have always observed the best leaders make you want to follow them just based on how they treat you.

Obviously, being nice doesn’t mean we don’t hold our direct reports accountable.  Being nice doesn’t mean we don’t make tough decisions when necessary.  Being nice does mean we treat each other with respect and dignity regardless of the situation.

I once knew a department manager who had to fire an employee.  He did it with such dignity and respect that the departing employee was practically thanking the manager for firing him.  That’s what being nice can accomplish.

Remember the old saying about catching more flies with honey than vinegar?  We need some of those old sayings today more than ever.

Being nice still works.

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