The Magic of Limitations

“If you go back a few hundred years, what we take for granted today would seem like magic – being able to talk to people over long distances, to transmit images, flying, accessing vast amounts of data like an oracle. These are all things that would have been considered magic a few hundred years ago.”

– Elon Musk

I learned an important lesson a few years ago from a design leader working at Apple. He said the more constraints you have, the more magical your designs tend to become. This post is intended to take you through what I’ve learned thus far as a result of that encounter and hopefully allow you to see life’s limitations as a springboard of possibilities.

Growing up I loved the concept of magic and owned a few magic kits. I never got to put my magic to work in front of a large audience until a traveling magic show came to perform at our elementary school. Every teacher was asked to pick a student from their class to be in the show. I was selected and I have to admit I was apprehensive as I have always been quite introverted. I did however love the idea of being able to try out a newly learned trick and finally having an audience, even if it was the entire school.

That morning I met with the magic company so they could teach me and the others who were chosen how to perform all of the tricks for the show later that afternoon. I was paired up with another boy to do an escape from a large trunk. The trick was they would put the other boy inside of the trunk, lock it, and I would stand on top of the trunk to “ensure he couldn’t escape.” The magician placed a hula hoop attached to a curtain around us so the audience couldn’t see us for a few moments and then “magically” the boy inside the trunk would appear on top of it. I would also magically disappear. What the audience didn’t know was the trunk did lock as a volunteer from the audience proved, but on the inside was a small lever that allowed the person inside to unlock it. Luckily the trick went off without a hitch, I disappeared, and my schoolmates were amazed or at least entertained.

I’m in my mid-thirties now so it has been quite a few years since that show but even in my professional years, I’m still intrigued by the concept of magic. Most companies who offer their customers an experience have used the word magic in their products. Disney is one of the most famous companies that like to make its customers forget their problems by bringing them back to their childhood as soon as they enter the gates. Disneyland has even branded itself “The Magic Kingdom” and it is hard to walk away from your experience at one of their parks or media properties without feeling the magic. Where things get interesting in the professional world is when you limit yourself because time and time again I’ve found those constraints to be what drives some of the most creative things I’ve done.

Magical Web Design
When you give a web designer 1280+ pixels to design a desktop-centric website they won’t hesitate to fill the page with features and content because they have the space to do so. If you however give that same designer 640px (iPhone resolution etc) they tend to stop and reconsider every pixel because they are now space constrained. The less space you have to work with, the more difficult it is to meet the user’s needs.  Those consuming your design will expect magical things to happen with each interaction because interacting with a smaller device, say a phone, is oftentimes more difficult for them. In the webspace, it is interesting because if I was to ask you to think of the last website you went to that you would describe as “magical” you might have a difficult time, right? However, if I was to ask you to tell me about a time when you interacted with your smartphone and it did something “magical” you would have no problem thinking of an example.

The best example of this principle is when I first used Shazam on my smartphone. Being able to hold up my phone within the proximity of a song playing and have it tell me the artist and song title was magical. Another great example was I tried Uber for the first time a few weeks ago and I have to say that experience was also magical. If you are not familiar with Uber it allows you to get transportation, often within a few minutes, right from the tap of a button on your smartphone. You can see how long it will take for your ride to arrive, where it is on a map, and as soon as you get out of the car you are instantly billed and asked to rate the interaction.

Magical Writing
I’ve always been someone who loves to write, but often find myself jumping from idea to idea rarely publishing most drafts. I have found the projects with a deadline, or often, a sudden deadline are those I tend to finish. The reason why projects with deadlines likely get finished as compared with the others is you will be held accountable for meeting that deadline, or in other words, you now have a fixed constraint. When writing try and give yourself a deadline to finish or give yourself rules like not being able to use the backspace key to free write your first draft.

Magical Video Moments
In the past when I’ve had to create videos it is usually designed to educate and entertain the audience. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve created something I thought was fantastic only to be told to “cut the length in half.” I’ve heard things like “people these days don’t have time to watch a five-minute video” or “it has to be a minute or less.” What is interesting is although I initially liked the unedited 5-minute video, time after time the final video tends to be better because of the constraints I was provided.

General Creativity
“We need to first be limited in order to become limitless.” – Phil Hansen

One of my favorite examples of someone who has been able to leverage a constraint in life to make something magical is Phil Hansen who “developed an unruly tremor in his hand that kept him from creating the pointillist drawings he loved. Hansen was devastated, floating without a sense of purpose. Until a neurologist made a simple suggestion: embrace this limitation…and transcend it.”

Embrace the Shake | Phil Hansen | TED Talks

Your Magical Findings
Have you found life’s limitations have helped you create magical moments? Tell me about your experience.

Obstacles

My son was at a trampoline park a few months ago and I took this picture because it made me think of a concept I learned in a gamification class from Mario Herger last year.  As humans we love challenging ourselves with obstacles.  Often times we find obstacles so engaging we will intentionally give ourselves challenges in order to see how far we can push ourselves, as well as how we compare to others when presented with obstacles.  Sometimes we enjoy obstacles so much we will find overcoming such obstacles is the most rewarding part of what we are looking to accomplish.  The designers of golf courses create sand traps in locations of the course that create obstacles to make a difficult game even more difficult.  When the kids in the photo were given a foam pit to jump into they found merely jumping into the pit wasn’t fun, or challenging enough so they built a foam wall to try and jump over.  In life do you have a foam wall to challenge you? If you do have a wall is it challenging enough to push yourself to heights you didn’t know you were capable?

Who Would Want to be Normal?

MINI: NOT NORMAL.

Last week I was talking with some coworkers about a 2013 initiative we are taking on.  I forget how I got on the subject but it was something to the effect of me being tired of doing things the way they have always been done which made me think of a recent Mini Cooper YouTube video I had seen.  I showed it to the group who seemed to like it and I’ve since used it in other meetings before brainstorming new ideas or initiatives.  For a while it sort of spawned a new catch phrase where we say things around the office like “eh…that is so normal.”

My favorite part of the video is when it says “normal can never be amazing” and “who would ever want to be normal?”  As you go about your work, if you feel passionate about what you are working on, chances are that work won’t be normal, it will be amazing.  Every time I see a Mini I now think of the video (so probably great marketing to BMW’s credit).  If you walk down the hall people will see you and likely think about what you have done for them.  Will those people think your work is amazing?

Here’s to you doing amazing work in 2013…

My Fascination With Amazon

amazonwarehouse2_401657
Via Imagur.com

For the future of retail, I’m sure you are looking at Amazon like everyone else is.  I’m convinced the Internet will continue to disrupt traditional retail.  Bezos is one of the most brilliant minds of our time, some say the next Jobs.  I have tremendous respect for Bezos.  Just a few of the things he’s done…

  • Started Amazon before anyone even started thinking about e-commerce at scale.  He is willing to take enormous risks at any cost.  He left a high profile Wall Street job to start a company that few believed in.  An e-commerce bookstore in ’94?  He is a visionary.
  • Started with books, expanded quickly to nearly everything.  The strategic risks continue.
  • Bought Zappos, has left them alone. Is letting Tony continue to work his magic.  Wants to bring more of the Zappos culture to the rest of Amazon.
  • Saw ebooks coming, thanks to Jobs/iPad.  Pivoted and developed the Kindle.  My wife and I love our Kindles.
  • Gives the Kindle/Fire away at cost, or next to cost and makes money on services/goods from using the device.
  • Loses money on shipping (Amazon Prime etc), will do anything it takes to win your business (see this).
  • Robotics.  He didn’t just invest in Kiva, he bought the entire company!  If you haven’t seen this video, it is a must.
  • They use psychology to encourage you to make more (and better) purchasing decisions.  They are masters.  Look at me when I did Christmas shopping.  They know people will do shopping for themselves and used my own data to temp me.
  • Analytics/Algorithms.  Amazon has the best recommendation engine.  Google has to be worried about this.  You don’t go to Google to search for products, you go to Amazon.
  • He isn’t done.  Amazon is still going strong.  He still has more tricks up his sleeve, you can bank on that.

I’m sure I missed lots of things.  I have my eyes on Bezos (I personally think Amazon’s stock is overvalued though!).  He will win continue to win until someone disrupts the great disruptor.  Whoever that will be, it won’t be easy.

What Working in a Seafood Department Taught Me About Life & Business

Flickr: mattieb

When I was in college, I worked at the Safeway in Bowie, MD. I did lots of jobs in the store, but I think I learned the most while working seafood. I liked working in seafood most because it was like running my own business. Most days and nights, it was just me behind the counter, and I had a small corner to sell seafood all to myself.

Sometimes it Stinks

One of the things I learned while working in seafood is it stinks. I would work and then put my shoes in a plastic bag I kept in my car’s trunk so I wouldn’t smell up my car. When you work more than 30 minutes in seafood you smell like seafood; there is no getting around it, I’ve found. Whether the seafood is fresh off the truck or not, seafood has a unique odor to it, and after working with it for a few hours, you will too. Similarly, in life, if you are around someone for long enough, you will start to take on characteristics you may or may not like. Be careful who you surround yourself with.

Another thing that working in a sometimes smelly department taught me about life is no matter what you do life is going to stink for you or others around you at one point or another. I am convinced there is a communal mood across the masses. There is the saying, “it must be a full moon?” When working retail, I interacted with hundreds of people a day. Depending on what you believe, whether the law of attraction or the law of “full moon,” moods across the masses, for the most part, seemed reasonably consistent. I don’t know that the law of attraction always works because I think we’ve all had days where you are in the best mood and ready to really tackle life, and as soon as you interact with a few people, you see a pattern of moods across the office, coffee shop, or home life. You can’t control the mood of others, so don’t let them affect yours.

If it Smells Fishy, Don’t Buy It

There is a saying in life that “if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is,” and similarly, in life, if something smells fishy, don’t do or buy it. Trust your gut. I don’t think I need to say much about this, rely on your instincts, they are usually right.

Sometimes You Need to Take a Step Back

One of my favorite business interactions was also while working in the seafood department. As a young college kid on weekends, I was usually scheduled to come in at 7 am and set up the seafood case, which meant putting fresh crushed ice in the case, laying out trays in rows, and finally putting the product on the trays with proper signage. One of the weekends, the District Manager was in the store and had a brief interaction with me as he was inspecting the case I had set up. I felt pretty proud of myself and the job I had done setting up the case that particular day, so I asked how he thought it looked. How he responded might seem like common sense, and I think it is, but as I’ve found over the years, what is common sense doesn’t always mean we do it. He responded by motioning for me to come over and stand next to him about 20 feet away from the seafood case. As I stood next to him, he said “Jeremy, what I do isn’t all that hard, and I’ll teach you a secret, business is all about taking a step back every now and then.” He next said, “you see that hole where you don’t have any product in that tray over to the bottom right of the case?” I immediately replied with, “yeah, I am running low on that,” to which he said, “yeah, so break that tray up into two types of product so there is product everywhere the customer looks”. He said, “customers won’t buy a product they can’t see, and they don’t and can’t buy those metal trays…they aren’t for sale…our seafood is”. As basic as a concept as it is, taking a step back resonated with me, and I’ve used that simple “secret” the DM taught me throughout life from that point on.

Jeremy’s Theory of Supply & Demand

This one has always intrigued me. Seafood isn’t the most popular thing people think to buy when they are in a grocery store. There can be a negative connotation to it for some. Trust me, if you are a young college kid trying to interact with college-aged customers (of the female type), being behind a seafood counter doesn’t work to your advantage. I am convinced if you can sell seafood you can sell just about anything else. One of the things I saw first hand was what I’ve called Jeremy’s law of supply and demand. I took economics in college, and you probably did too. You probably didn’t learn about Jeremy’s law of supply and demand though did you? My law of supply and demand says that c + c = $. That is one customer + one customer = cash money and lots of it. I could literally go an entire hour without any customers, and all the sudden one customer would order something, and almost instantly others would appear. It was odd, and it was very consistent. I would get that flood of customers, and then the business would die off again. I don’t know if you’ve seen this concept in life, but it always fascinated me.

I contemplated majoring in psychology in college. I always loved my psychology courses. I always wanted to try an experiment where I paid someone to have a cart full of products who played the role of an actor who came by my counter every five minutes. My hypothesis is that my seafood sales would at least double but I never got to put my theory into practice. I think the reason why customers attract other customers is for many reasons like the common peer pressure tactic many marketers use but I also have another theory. I think in part, people don’t approach a certain area of the store because I am standing behind the counter, and it is awkward for some to approach. I have always wondered if part of the reason people are more likely to approach a department when someone else is already there is it helps to ‘break the ice’ in some unconscious way. If you have a business and can try putting this theory into practice, I’d love to hear what has worked for you.

OK, so you are probably thinking, “OK Jeremy, great…and crazy Seafood business theories…but what about everyday life…how does this theory work in real life?” I’m glad you asked, I have an interesting video that demonstrates this theory in about 3 minutes. In the video, you will first see a guy dancing all by himself in an audience. In the first 30-45 seconds, another person joins him, and every 20 seconds or so after that more and more people start to join him until it becomes a viral event. In life, there are a few people who will do something despite what others think, and it takes just a few people to join that person to create a movement very quickly. If I took more than a few semesters of psychology, I probably would have learned what theory can be applied to these types of events, but for now, I’ll pretend I’m the only one who has ever thought of this.

Sasquatch music festival 2009 - Guy starts dance party

The Future of Work

At one point or another most of us have to work.  Some volunteer their labor but most of us are working for our wages.  I might have blogged about this in the past but when I was in kindergarten I rode the school bus to and from school like most kids.  I remember sitting on the bus one morning going to school thinking “wow, this is incredibly monotonous.”  OK I might not have known the word monotonos at six but I remember thinking another twelve years of school seemed like forever.  I’ve never really liked monotony, I don’t think many people do, but for some reason I seem to be particularly sensitive to it.  Once I have done something, I don’t tend to want to do it too many other times. I seem to be pretty good at looking at patterns and making connections based on what I observe, more so than most I think. Maybe that is why at six I already saw the road ahead of me. My son Tyler is the same way from what I’ve been able to see so far. We were working on a Batman activity book one time which had a bunch of batman characters every few pages and the goal was to spot which picture of six didn’t match the others. He could spot the picture that didn’t match the others incredibly fast. I think it is how we are wired or something, it is odd but cool.

When Routines Are Bad

IMDB summarizes the movie Groundhog Day by stating the main character played by Bill Murray goes through life as a weather man who is “reluctantly sent to cover a story about a weather forecasting “rat” (as he calls it). This is his fourth year on the story, and he makes no effort to hide his frustration. On awaking the ‘following’ day he discovers that it’s Groundhog Day again, and again, and again. First he uses this to his advantage, then comes the realisation that he is doomed to spend the rest of eternity in the same place, seeing the same people do the same thing EVERY day.”

In life a lot of us are living like Bill Murray, we’re living each day like the previous and we’ve become masters of our environments so we can almost predict what will happen before it happens.  This is when life starts getting monotonous, unchallenging, and to some demotivating.

When Routines Are Good

Routine can be a good thing and I think Flannery O’Connor said it best in The Habit of Being, letter to “A” by saing “If you do the same thing every day at the same time for the same length of time, you’ll save yourself from many a sink. Routine is a condition of survival.”  We’ve become adapt at minimizing risk and the unknown to make us more successful, or so it would seem. I have all sorts of habits like putting things in the same place, parking my car in the same place, learning what makes people happy and repeating it, avoiding repeatedly what makes people angry. We all do this, many times without even thinking about it.

The Future


Here is where the topic is going to get even more interesting.  In the future of work I am seeing incredibly efficient processes as compared to what we have today.

 

 

Robots

A Day in the Life of a Kiva Robot

I’ve become obsessed with robotics recently. Everywhere I look I see human jobs being replaced by robots. I won’t weigh in on whether it is a good thing or a bad thing that robots are “taking” human jobs, my only thought on it is “like it or not…it is inevitable…and often times fascinating.” Kiosks, phones, robots, manufacturing, 3D printing, and more are all ways humans are getting squeezed out by more efficient, less costly, and non unionised robotic work forces. Each generation seems to face new innovations and with change comes the need to evolve or get passed over. In the future of work, creative people willing to adjust quickly will rule.

I’ve started noticing people are trying to get creative work over the “grunt work.” Here’s the odd thing though, thanks to all of our more “efficient” processes, the grunt work is going away as well. Work as we know it is quickly changing.  It is at times more difficult to be creative when templates, systems, standards or processes limit creative freedoms.

Globalization

Killed by Tech via @equalman

I find the global economy fascinating and I think we are only seeing the beginning of a distributed economy. Technology is changing nearly everything.  In the future, and arguably to some extent today, if you want a job done you can outsource that task to the masses on the Internet. Instead of competing with people in your geographic area for that project, we are now all competing with one another in the future. Reputation and keeping your skills up will be even more critical than they are today.

Your Turn

What do you think?  How will we be working, or not working in the future?  Let me know in the comments.

What Ceramics Class Taught Me About Life

A Geek in Ceramics Class

When I was in High School I took two semesters of ceramics.  Yeah you read that correctly, ceramics!  I actually really enjoyed it.  I made figurines, pots, mugs, faces, and monsters.  I made some great stuff that probably got thrown away before it ever made it home.  One of my best friends was in the class which made it all the more fun.  The pottery teacher was an artsy type (go figure) and used to talk about the old house she was fixing up as we sculpted our bowls.  She got to wear the best outfit of all the teachers, a t-shirt, and jeans and because she basically got paid to teach us to mold mud, her clothes were almost always dirty.  This story will pick up, I promise.

One morning the teacher walked into the class a little late while we all sat on our stools perfecting our muddy creations remarking “weren’t the trees simply amazing this morning?”  Now I don’t know if there was a little extra something in her coffee mug to make her extra inquisitive but the statement was so odd to a bunch of 17 and 18 year olds that it made most of us all stop what we were doing and look at her to see what she would say next.  She then quickly went on to list a few other things she had seen on her drive to school.  “I mean wow…not just the trees, but the birds, the clouds, the sun, the sky” she remarked.  I think one of the students made a smart remark back to her like “uhhh nooooo I didn’t see the stupid trees today.”  She seemed perturbed by our lack of interest.  She went on to further explain herself: “you guys have lived almost a quarter of a century and you don’t notice the things that matter…the beautiful things…the things all around us that go by quickly and if you don’t stop and pay attention to them you won’t ever notice them” she said.  For some reason unlike most of the other students what she was saying made perfect sense to me.  It was a great two minute rant from a teacher.  It wasn’t great because it was an abstract concept I hadn’t thought about, but because I hadn’t really thought about slowing down and enjoying my surroundings until that point.  Don’t get me wrong, everyone stops and “smells the roses” every now and then but I took her rant a step further.  Almost literally from that moment on I didn’t take too many things for granted which sounds silly but it is true.  You know that scene in Office Space where Peter is hypnotized and is in a state of complete relaxation?  It was almost like that.  I started to see life differently.

Why Enjoying Life Matters

If enjoying life isn’t important, I have to ask…what is the point of life?  No really…what is the point of life if you don’t enjoy it?  Everyone has bad days, weeks, months.  Heck, I’ve even had a few bad years, but at the end of it all I have really enjoyed life.  I don’t know what the road ahead has in store for me, but I’m finding the older I get the less focused I am on the destination and the more focused I am on the journey.  There are lots of people who have mid-life crises where they suddenly realize they are halfway through life and they haven’t really gotten out of life what they anticipated.  There are probably even more who on their death beds that have regrets.  They haven’t lived the life they wanted to live.  Even worse, there are some who spend their entire lives living someone else’s life, or a life they didn’t enjoy.  The biggest regret I think I would have in life is regretting to live life to its fullest.

I have written about it in the past but I see loads of zombies.  I see people who live their lives with their heads down.  They don’t notice the sky, the birds, the clouds, or the trees.  They don’t notice the things that matter.  I read this poem a few years ago and kept it around because it said things that made a lot of sense to me.

“Have you ever watched kids on a merry-go-round?  Or listened to the rain slapping on the ground?  Ever followed a butterfly’s erratic flight?  Or gazed at the sun into the fading night?  You better slow down.  Don’t dance so fast.  Time is short.  The music won’t last.  Do you run through each day on the fly?  When you ask: “how are you?” do you hear the reply?  When the day is done, do you lie in your bed with the next hundred chores running through your head?  You’d better slow down.  Don’t dance so fast.  Time is short.  The music won’t last. Ever told your child, we’ll do it tomorrow?  And in your haste not see his sorrow?  Ever lost touch, let a good friendship die cause you never had time to call and say “hi”?  You’d better slow down, don’t dance so fast.  Time is short.  The music won’t last.  When you run so fast to get somewhere you miss half the fun of getting there.  When you worry and hurry through your day, it is like an unopened gift thrown away.  Life is not a race.  Do take it slower.  Hear the music before the song is over.” – Chain email

10 Things Ceramics Class Taught Me About Life

  1. As my High School teacher recommended, you can enjoy your surroundings while driving into school, but you can’t take your eyes off the road for long before you crash and lose track of where you are going.
  2. You can learn something from any situation you choose, or life chooses for you.  I took ceramics thinking I would create some pots and other useless things…OK I did…but I took away a really important life lesson.  My ceramics teacher probably has no idea the impact she had from a rant she made one day in class.
  3. Making things in life, like ceramics, are better when done with friends.
  4. You can have lots of ideas but few people will buy your art until it is fully baked from the kiln.
  5. That scene in Ghost where you are Patrick Swayze who comes back from the dead to meet a young Demi Moore at a pottery wheel.  Yeah no…that won’t happen to you…no…it won’t…ever.  Sorry.  The good news is a true love will love you when you are there and when you aren’t…like in Ghost.  True loves love forever.
  6. Step outside of your comfort zone every now and then.  I’m not usually the artsy type but when I give new things a chance I usually tend to enjoy it.
  7. Some of the best things in life take time.  Slow down and don’t be afraid to create something slowly.  Everyone knows the saying that good things come to those who wait.  Often it is true.
  8. My teacher was crazy and probably did have something in her coffee, but man was she cool.
  9. You can make whatever you want in life.
  10. Look around you.  Enjoy life.  Enjoy every bit of it.  Wake up!  Don’t be a zombie.  Do what you want.  If life isn’t giving you what you want…go get it.

Collaborating Without Trespassing

Photo Credit: http://bestlawn.info/organic/does-organic-really-work-t4659.html

From the time I was capable of pushing a lawn mower, I was mowing my parent’s lawn. At first I would mow a strip of grass and my dad would critique how straight I stayed with the previous row until I eventually got enough experience and strength to mow the entire lawn. When we moved to Maryland we had a front yard with a fair amount of grass that we shared with our neighbor in the front yard. At first we mowed our own lawn from the property marker near the sidewalk to the fence which separated our front and backyard. My parent’s yard was sometimes longer, and more healthy than our neighbor’s property. In other instances throughout the year our yard was also shorter and less healthy than our neighbor’s. With inconsistent approaches for caring for our lawns, we had very different results depending for the amount of care we each put into it. One day our neighbor asked us if we would be willing to take turns cutting and caring for each other’s lawns each week. This allowed us on some weeks to only cut the grass in the backyard, as well as have a nice consistent look across both of our front yards. Our neighbor edged his lawn so he edged ours, he knew more about fertilizing, he aerated, and other lawn care best practices we previously hadn’t done or been knowledgeable of. Our lawns never looked so nice and the consistent look and feel across both yards really helped make the neighborhood shine.

When I entered the business world I quickly realized that it wasn’t just property owners who tended to primarily look out for their own areas. In business each “silo”, or business unit tended to think about their needs first, and rarely did they want to willingly collaborate with others. The result of silo’d business processes led to times where I learned we were working on something another team had already been working on, was about to work on, or even a few times when another team had already done what we were doing. I learned about “turf wars” where people didn’t allow others to encroach onto their areas of responsibility within the business. Silo’d businesses aren’t fun to work for because they are highly competitive instead of collaborative, and it seems everyone is in it for themselves. I don’t want to spend too much time writing about the problem, or the impact of silo’d thinking because most of us have lived or worked in a silo’d and uncollaborative environment.  Think about your religious institution, business, education, or even personal lives.  If you have ever tried to do something big, you’ve likely stepped on someone’s toes.  I want to spend the rest of the time writing about how to change or create a more collaborative work environment if you are at a company with a silo’d approach to business.

Recommendation #1: Set Boundaries
Make sure you have property markers in your business. You wouldn’t buy a home or property unless you know what you own versus what your neighbor owns. If people don’t know what areas they are responsible for, they will encroach all over everyone’s areas of responsibility which will cause massive amounts of conflict.

Recommendation #2: Communicate Boundaries
Once you have property markers, share them in a very public and accessible location so team members can never say “I didn’t know they were responsible for that”.  There is an old adage which says it is easier to ask for forgiveness than permission.  The adage is true, but what it fails to advise is the end result.  You may get what you are looking to accomplish done, but if the impact is so great that others stop trusting you, the only strategy you have left is to continue the same adage.

Recommendation #3: Clarify Boundaries When Appropriate
Once you set the expectation for who is responsible for what area(s), create processes to get clarification if something isn’t clear. Many times there are “gray areas” in areas of responsibility which also leads to conflict. Responsibilities cannot always, nor should they always be “black and white” but if you have turf wars because your employees claim a responsibility wasn’t clear, look to clarify and define responsibilities when it makes sense. Don’t let fuzzy areas and confusion last too long within your organization.

Recommendation #4: Communicate Intent
If you intend to encroach on someone else’s turf, inform the property owner. You wouldn’t go into someone else’s house without knocking. Don’t encroach on someone else’s area of responsibility without asking if they can accomplish what you need first in a timely manner. The business process owner also will need to be able to meet your requirement, unless it conflicts with a larger strategy.

Recommendation #5: Respect expertise
I’ve visited several large companies and one thing that always intrigues me is corporate cultures. I admittedly don’t know much about Cisco other than a few visits I’ve made but have to say they have really impressed me each time I’ve been there. Working at Cisco, and attending an “Executive briefing” are likely two separate experiences, but each time I am there I tell others the same thing: they respect one another. I’ve been in all day and half-day sessions where different groups from within their organization come in to present. Each department is highly respectful of one another’s area of expertise. It is refreshing and something most companies lack based on what I’ve seen.

Recommendation #6: Reward, hire, promote, and fire based (in part with) on how collaborative team members are
If you set boundaries but promote, reward, and hire employees who encroach onto other employee’s areas of responsibility in a hostle way, it encourages others to do the same within the team. I know of several instances where leaders within companies “steamroll” other departments in order to quickly accomplish what they are looking to do. Always try to avoid doing this, and more importantly, never encourage that type of behavior. Steamrolling others is a way to get something done quickly but when you need those who you “ran over” in the future, how willing do you think they will be to trust, and collaborate with you?

What are some areas of opportunity in your business for better collaboration?  What recommendations do you have?

Fight Back!

I’ve given some career advice in the past, and love talking to others about tips we each have for getting work done at work.  Having problems working at work, or getting work done might sound like an odd problem to talk about, but you would be surprised how difficult it can be sometimes. At any company large or small you are going to encounter “red tape”.  People will want to put their stake in the ground and fight for their turf (right or wrong), or fight for change not to happen, even if the change makes total sense for the company (many only think about themselves or their respective area).  Advice I often find useful is to fight back in the face of adversity.  So many people give up when they face adversity and being the reality TV lover that I am, I’m always looking to learn from what most see as mindless (OK some of it is) TV.

One of the reality TV shows I never miss is Hell’s Kitchen.  Many don’t watch the show and often cite the fact that they don’t like how Chef Ramsay yells at the contestants.  I don’t necessarily like it either, I think some of it is for TV, but one thing I have noticed is there seems to be a method to his madness.  He will yell at the contestants calling them words like “wankers, donkeys” and other belittling terms.  I find some of what he says hilarious but yes mean and absolutely disrespectful. If you model that type of behavior you won’t stay employed and you certainly won’t get respect.  Unstable leaders results in unstable teams.  Stressed leaders result in stressed teams.  I could go on but very frequently a team will model the behavior of its leadership.  One thing I have noticed is Chef Ramsay scolds someone and then he carefully watches their reactions.  Some cry, some give up, and every now and then someone will fight back.  I’ve noticed he doesn’t like those that fight back with disrespect, little do, but when contestants fight back with resilience, time and time again he will accept failure if it means he is able to keep someone who wants to continue in the competition.  Then there are times when there is someone who fights back with no respect and as you can see in the video below, that didn’t go well for him, and it will never go well for you.

Similarly in business I’ve noticed people will give up when they are reprimanded and choose a different career, quit the company, and in even some cases, stop believing in themselves entirely.  Never stop believing in yourself and always fight back in the face of adversity.  How you choose to fight back is going to be different for everyone but if you truly believe in yourself and what you believe in, one would hope it is worth fighting for.  Fight back but always fight fair, even when others aren’t.

Hell's Kitchen Season 6 - Joseph Fights Back

Indie Game The Movie

Indie Game: The Movie Trailer - WATCH NOW at IndieGameTheMovie.com

Growing up I didn’t get a Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) until I was in Middle School, and when I did I was instantly addicted.  I remember having to wear bandages on my thumbs because I played it so much.  Mario, Mike Tyson’s Punchout, Contra, Tetris and a few others were my favorites.  I have many passions and the tough part about being a passionate person is you can’t pursue every passion.  When I was little like most boys I saw a garbage truck, I was amazed by it, and I think being a garbage man was the first profession I remember wanting to pursue.  For a while I fell in love with planes and wanted to be a pilot until I came to the stupidly obvious realization that if I didn’t like roller coasters, I probably wouldn’t like flying a plane.  After being in a small plane a few weeks ago I think being in control of something and being out of control are two different things, but being afraid of being out of control directed me away from pursuing becoming a pilot.  I love ice cream and when I was in college I started out as a Small Business Major because I wanted to create my own ice cream business.  My senior year of High School I fell madly in love with computers but I fall madly in love with all my passions.  Upon graduating my parents bought me a computer and from that point on I consumed every computer book imaginable.  After a few years of pursuing a small business management degree I realized my love for computers was even more strong than that of ice cream, which is really saying something, so I changed to computer science.  I started going down a path of trying to become a video game developer but life ended up taking me in another direction.  Not a bad direction, it has been a very good direction, but that is the thing about life, it has many directions.

So with all that said when I saw the Indie Game Movie trailer back in July, I couldn’t wait to see the full movie.  On June 12 the movie was released and I bought it that same day.  If you are a geek, you like video games, and you want to see a beautiful documentary, you must see the film.  Head over to http://buy.indiegamethemovie.com/ and download your DRM free version (1080p, 720p, clean version, team meat commentary version) or you can stream it directly from the site for $9.99.  The trailer was great so I had high expectations for the film, but I have to say it really exceeded my expectations.  There is definitely some strong language in the film so if that bothers you I would recommend you watch the clean version.  I talk about passion a lot and the people making these indie games put so much time and effort into them that it really impressed me.  You get to see their trials and tribulations, as well as their wins.  It is a beautiful movie and I hope you get the chance to see it.  Let me know what you think if you do get the chance to watch it in the comments.