A bird does not sing because it has an answer.  It sings because it has a song.

22 February 2010

A Handful of Updates

  • OmniFocus is working well for me. I have kept my email inbox clean for over a week, I am confident that everything that really matters to me is recorded in a useful way, and my creativity is on the rise. I'm doing less and getting more done. If you are looking for a software-based system to help keep you on track with all of your projects and commitments, I encourage you to take a look.
  • Still seeking a balance between using social media effectively and drowning in it. What's working for you?
  • Super excited about the two instructional design contracts I'm working on, and realizing this is something I am really good at and really passionate about. If you know of an instructional design project that may be a good fit for me, I'd love to hear about it.
  • I'll be presenting an education session on Selling for Geniuses this coming Saturday at the Women in Aviation International Conference. It will be participative and fluid -- I have no idea how it will turn out except that it will deliver value to the people who attend. I'm looking forward to it!

17 February 2010


"Discipline" has been a recurring theme in my world recently, most notably in the servant leadership workshop I'm developing for a current client, but also in other arenas of my life. It's an interesting word that means different things to different people. Sometimes it even means different things to the same person, and that's the experience I'm having right now.

A particular theme that comes out of the philosophy of servant leadership is the relationship between the word "discipline" and the word "disciple." Religious connotations aside, a "disciple" is someone who is both a leader and a follower; both a learner and a teacher. Discipline, then, is the practice of living these different yet interconnected roles.

I remember, not very fondly, a teacher I had in high school who seemed convinced that teaching was the opposite of learning. She was closed to all input from students, particularly when the students pointed out egregious discrepancies between her lectures and the text about which she was speaking. Remember what they say about horse training. If you want to train a horse, what's the first thing you need to know? More than the horse.

My teacher's approach to leadership was not one of discipline or discipleship, but rather one of unbending authoritarianism. By standing firm in her position regardless of new information, she lost the respect of her students, the control of her classroom, and most critically, the opportunity to expand her own world with valuable new learning. (It's worth noting here that the students in question were college-bound honor students, and most of the other teachers in the school were outstanding role models of discipline.)

I have certainly been known to fall into the "know-it-all" trap, insisting I'm right no matter what or who contradicts me. Perhaps you have too. "Expertise" confers some benefits. We've enjoyed the benefits of getting the right answer since we first started school. It feels great to be right, and for that reason, it can be easy to get carried away in a brilliant monologue. But all that speaking cuts us off from listening, and thus from the learning that might go with that listening.

Neither will your life be fulfilled only by listening, though. Lifelong learning expands our horizons and enriches our lives, but it is no substitute for action. Pure listening can be treacherous, too -- if our minds become so open that our brains fall out. Balance is key, in this as in all things. The more we can remain open to new experiences and integrate that learning into productive activity, the greater our discipline and the more effective our leadership.

What is your experience of discipline? What does the word mean to you, and how do you apply it in your life? Where is it really working for you, and where is there room for improvement?

15 February 2010

Whose "department" is it?

Today I went to the department store that has heretofore been my favorite, to return a recent purchase. The reason for the return was that the garment had, in one washing, shrunk to become a good two inches shorter. I felt that, considering its rather handsome price, the thing ought to have performed better. I asked for a refund, and fully expected the transaction to be simple and quick.

The young lady at the desk informed me -- and looked a bit stricken as she did so -- that the store does not accept returns of anything not in the exact condition it was in when purchased. She agreed with me completely that this was not a reasonable policy, but was powerless to do anything about it. Her manager made his decree via phone from his office.

She assured me the manager would come out to speak to me directly if I asked, but was somewhat doubtful as to whether it would make a difference. We decided to call him out, and when I explained my problem in a tone that clearly expressed perturbation, he relented and gave me my refund.

What can we learn from this situation? Here's what this experience tells me about this store:
  1. The customer is considered to be in the wrong when making a return.
  2. Money is not to be refunded, even when the product is defective.
  3. Uncomfortable conversations about customer-unfriendly policies are left to the front-liners, who must take the heat but are powerless to resolve the problem.
  4. Managers play "bad cop" from behind closed doors.
  5. Only angry customers get satisfaction here.
This kind of systemic, customer-hostile company policy makes me question the wisdom of shopping at this store, when they are competing in the same market space as, for example, Nordstrom, and in the same geographic space as, for example, Walt Disney World. I've had better service in stores that sell comparable merchandise for lower prices. If you were me, would you go back?

It's been said that it costs ten times as much to attract a new customer as to retain a current one, and yet policies and systems like the ones described above persist in many companies. Where does your company spend its money? What do you do to retain your best customers, and what policies do you have in place that may be driving them away?

04 February 2010

Making It All Work

Many of you, my faithful readers, know I am a huge fan of David Allen, productivity guru and author of the world's best productivity book, "Getting Things Done." His most recent book, called "Making It All Work," was recently released in paperback, and I'm about 30 pages into it.

The promise of this latest book is to guide wayward believers like me toward being able to use the "GTD" system more consistently and more completely. To that end, I've also obtained and started using a computer application called OmniFocus. Optimized for those of us who use Macs, and sporting a matching iPhone app, this program is designed around the GTD principles and intended to support the process of capturing and processing "stuff" to improve productivity.

I'm quite happy so far with how it's all coming together, although I've only been at it for a couple of days. If I don't provide regular reports of how it's working, as well as suggestions as to how it may apply usefully to your life, poke me and ask lots of questions!

Meanwhile, if you are like most of us, overwhelmed with incoming data and struggling to extract meaning from it so you can respond appropriately, you owe it to yourself to read David Allen's books. Very few books about "time management" have spawned a multinational movement, and his have done exactly that. Products, services, Internet communities, and every imaginable tool, toy and accessory have evolved in the wake of GTD. Much of what I recommend and coach with my clients is GTD-derived, and I use the book in my 8-week Strategic Action Mastery development course.

If managing your energy and priorities more effectively is on your list of goals for 2010, drop me a line. I can help.