Friday, February 26, 2010

Flowers, a poem by Wendy Cope.

Post 435 - Wendy Cope Cope was born in Erith, Kent, in 1945. Following her graduation with a degree in history from St Hilda's College, Oxford, Cope spent fifteen years as a primary-school teacher. In 1981, she became Arts and Reviews editor for the Inner London Education Authority magazine, Contact. Five years later she became a freelance writer and was a television critic for The Spectator magazine until 1990.
In 1998, she was voted the listeners' choice in a BBC Radio 4 poll to succeed Ted Hughes as Poet Laureate. With Andrew Motion's term as Poet Laureate coming to an end in 2009, Cope was again widely considered a popular candidate. However, although Cope did not explicitly say she would turn down the role, she has stated that she believes the post should be discontinued.

Her poetry is perhaps best known for its humor and wit. The joke has often been centered on men from the point of view of the single heterosexual woman. This is most famously used in ‘Bloody Men’ (from Serious Concerns, 1992):

Bloody men are like bloody buses –
You wait for about a year
And as soon as one approaches your stop
Two or three others appear.

Flowers by Wendy Cope.

Some men never think of it.

You did. You'd come along

And say you'd nearly brought me flowers

But something had gone wrong.

The shop was closed. Or you had doubts -

The sort that minds like ours

Dream up incessantly. You thought

I might not want your flowers.

It made me smile and hug you then.

Now I can only smile.

But, look, the flowers you nearly brought

Have lasted all this while.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

How to manage your emails.

Post 434 - I get hundreds of emails a week while many people I know get hundreds of emails every day. Here are some thoughts about how to cope with that overload and some tips that'll increase the chances that your emails will be read rather than trashed:

* Delete redundancies. If a reader senses repetition, she's likely to start skimming or stop reading altogether.

* Use specifics. Replace adjectives and adverbs with numbers or examples. Rather than "This large mistake is costing us lots of money," it's better to say, "This mistake is costing us $1 million a month."

* Stay on topic. If a sentence doesn't relate to your main point, delete it.

* Remember that many people read their emails on mobile devices. Keep in mind that an email with only ten sentences looks like a lengthy message on a Blackberry screen.

* Don’t write emails when you’re angry, upset or otherwise not yourself. And always avoid sarcasm.

Forwarding emails to share information with others helps build relationships and cultivates networks. Here are three tips for forwarding:

* Be selective when choosing your recipients. The person on the receiving end should think, "He knows what I'm interested in," not, "Oh no, another tasteless joke from him."

* Don't forward funny emails to large groups of people. Just because you think something is funny doesn't mean everyone else will. Avoid the risk of giving offense by being discriminating in what you send and to whom.

* Be considerate of other people's time. If someone doesn't respond to your forwarded message, take the hint and remove them from your list.

Many cold-call emails go without a reply. Whether you’re contacting someone about a job, or prospecting for a sale, or building your network, David Silverman suggests the following four ways to improve your chances of getting the response you want:

* Don't send a generic email that's all about yourself. Personalize it by focusing on what you and the recipient have in common. Mention the group you found her through on Facebook or LinkedIn or something specific you know and admire about her company.

* Demonstrate value by saying exactly what you're offering the recipient. Be upfront about what you can give her and why she should respond.

* Always include a call to action. Specify what you want her to do: email you back, reach out to set up a call, or forward your email to someone else.

* Keep your emails clear, articulate, typo-free, and to the point.

When emails or voice mails go unanswered, we're sometimes left wondering what we did wrong. Here are three tips from Peter Bregman for handling the silence:

* Don't take it personally. Often there's a logical explanation for the silence - the company hasn't funded the position yet, or your colleague has no new information to share. Don't assume you did something wrong. Remember, other people may have other priorities.

* Don't pester. In today's hectic world, sometimes all people can do is to handle crises and keep up with other top priorities. If you're neither, you're unlikely to improve your chances of getting a response by pestering them with repeated follow-up emails or phone calls.

* Once you've sent your follow up, assume you won't hear back. If you do hear back, it'll be a nice surprise. And if not, you won't have wasted your time and energy stressing about it.

A full inbox often means unopened messages, backlogged responses, and unnecessary stress. Gina Trapani suggests the following ways to clear your inbox and your mind:

* Read your email in batches. Don't just scan for urgent messages and leave everything else for later; that's how you eventually get buried. Check your email at set times during the day and immediately file messages into one of three folders: follow-up, hold, or archive.

* Using the "two-minute rule," if it'll take less than two minutes to respond (this covers most of my emails), respond right away and get rid of it. Don't let those easy-to-respond-to messages fill up your inbox.

* I suspect we all get messages from mailing lists that are no longer of interest. Tune your spam filter and set up rules that get as much of the useless stuff out of your way automatically as you can. Then identify those lists that add value and unsubscribe from the rest.

Always remember, there's no such thing as boring information; there's only boring presentation.
Amazing information + terrible presentation = sleep.
“Who cares” information + great presentation = WOO HOO!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Thoughts about a happy marriage.

Post 433 - “When you’re in love, you can’t fall asleep because reality is better than your dreams,” according to Dr. Seuss. Yet, it can be very hard to stay awake and alert, focusing on the big picture, when you’re in a long-term relationship. Barbara and I have been happily married for 40-years come next Sunday, so this is a topic where I have some direct experience. Hopefully, those of you who are currently married, or are considering getting married, will find the following observations helpful:

* First and foremost, keep the doors of communication open. Always take the time to talk to each other about what’s going on in your separate lives, your life together, finances, family, everything that’s important. There are no secrets or out-of-bound areas in a good marriage. Once people stop communicating, their marriage begins to break down. When they’re no longer communicating, one or both spouses seek out other people to communicate with. This is how affairs often get started - because people are lonely and need someone to talk to. Never ever give your spouse a reason to feel lonely.

* Spend time together. Schedule a "date night" at least once a week. Make it a special time that you spend together where you can enjoy each other's company exclusively. Get a baby-sitter. Shut off the cell phones and actually spend time alone together.

* Make time for the physical side of your relationship. Don’t make excuses that you’re too tired, or stressed or whatever. There’s really no excuse for not being intimate with your spouse. This is one of the main cornerstones to any marriage. Once you lose this intimacy, your marriage is sure to follow.

* Never criticize your spouse or make them look bad in the company of other people. Remarks like this, however harmless they may seem, have a way of becoming a habit. This often starts off as a joke, but the next thing you know, it becomes nasty and bitter. Always look for kind things to say about each other.

* Blame is never good. If your partner's at fault for whatever reason, they probably already know this and could do without you pointing it out to them. This isn’t a good thing for their self-esteem, or for your relationship.

* Make sure to tell your partner every day how much you love and care for them, and how thankful you are to be together. Surprise them with an unexpected romantic gesture at least once a week - a rose or favorite chocolates or wine or a love note you made just for them – you get the idea.

* When problems arise in your relationship, sit down together and think it through. Make notes of what you think is wrong and why, and you’ll usually be able to see where the problems are coming from, which connections have broken down. And once you can see the problems, you can usually figure out how to go about fixing them.

* If you consciously decide from the beginning that your relationship will be successful and that you’ll never get divorced, no matter what, you’re much more likely to work at making your marriage work. Marriage is an ongoing process, not a finished product, and all marriages need hard work in order to stay healthy.

* We all need dreams and goals to aspire to, otherwise life can be pretty mundane. If you and your partner can continually set goals together, then you both have something to aim for. This creates a stronger bond between you and gets you working towards a common goal.

* And lastly, don’t forget the words of the poet Natasha Josefowitz, who recently observed, “A woman marries a man thinking he’ll change. He doesn’t. A man marries a woman thinking she won’t change – and she does.”

Monday, February 22, 2010

How to give employees helpful feedback.

Post 432 - "Feedback is the breakfast of champions," according to management guru Ken Blanchard. I get a lot of questions from friends and clients about how to give feedback to the people who work with them. Here are some tips to consider:

* Focus your conversation on business outcomes. Explain what the company needs — talent development, sales growth, improved service — and frame your feedback about improved ways to reach those outcomes.

* Always give regular and consistent feedback to employees who work for you and give it often. When feedback is reserved for annual or semi-annual reviews, it's rarely received well. If you give feedback regularly, you'll be more practiced and your people will be more accustomed to hearing it. There should never be any surprises in a formal review.

* Identify the specific behavior that needs to change. State clearly what you want the person to do differently. Give illustrative examples that help the receiver understand exactly what you mean.

* Talk about the behavior, performance or attitude rather than the person.

* Think about your own learning style and contrast it with the other person's learning style. Are they visual, verbal, or tactile? Do they learn by reading and writing? Do they have language and cultural complexities? This will help to avoid the pitfall of explaining in a way only you would understand. Other people aren’t always like you!

* If you're giving feedback in a volatile situation, make sure you can recognize your own emotions, and take the time to calm down before giving feedback.

* Always start with at least two positive observations. This will start the meeting off on a good note.

* Give constructive feedback in private, never in a group. You wouldn't want to receive it in front of your staff either!

* Look at the person directly when you talk with them. If you avoid eye contact, they may think you're hiding something.

* Don’t apologize for bringing up anything that needs correction. Don’t say, “I’m sorry to tell you this, but ...”

* Give constructive feedback in an honest and diplomatic way. While pinpointing where you're not satisfied, be specific about what you want to see done and agree on a due date for follow up. The point of constructive feedback is to teach a new skill that remedies a deficiency.

* When you're done, ask if there are any questions. Always provide the opportunity to seek further knowledge or assistance.

* In the case of a particularly troublesome session, check in with the person involved before you leave for the day. You want to make sure they're not going home unhappy or disappointed.

The bottom line is that feedback changes behavior and behavior changes attitude. So make sure your feedback is actionable. Quantifiable feedback is the key to significant and lasting behavior change.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Thoughts on Time, a poem by Allen Curnow.

Post 431 - Allen Curnow (1911– 2001), one of New Zealand's major modern poets, was born in Timaru on the South island where his father was an Anglican clergyman. He was educated at the universities of Canterbury and Auckland before preparing for the Anglican ministry at St John’s Theological College where he eventually decided not to be ordained. He subsequently worked as a journalist for the Christchurch Sun and then taught English at Auckland University. His early works reflect the influence of his study for the Anglican ministry, as well as his childhood experiences. His later work demonstrates his ties to the New Zealand landscape and “the sense of isolation experienced by one who lives in an island colony.” Curnow’s received the New Zealand Book Award for Poetry on six occasions, the Commonwealth Poetry Prize in 1988, a Cholmondley Award in 1992, and in 1989 was awarded the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry. He was made a CBE in 1986 and received the Order of New Zealand in 1990.

Thoughts on Time by Allen Curnow.

I am the nor'west air nosing among the pines
I am the water-race and the rust on railway lines
I am the mileage recorded on yellow signs.

I am dust, I am distance, I am lupins back of the beach
I am the sums sole-charge teachers teach
I am cows called to milking and the magpie's screech,

I am nine o'clock in the morning when the office is clean
I am the slap of the belting and the smell of the machine
I am the place in the park where the lovers are seen.

I am recurrent music the children hear
I am level noises in the remembering ear
I am the sawmill and the passionate second gear.

I, Time, am all these, yet these exist
Among my mountainous fabrics like a mist,
So do they the measurable world resist.

I, Time, call down, condense, confer,
On the willing memory the shapes these were:
I, more than your conscious carrier,

Am island, am sea, am father, farm, and friend,
Though I am here all things my coming attend;
I am, you have heard it, the Beginning and the End.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The causes of happiness.

Post 430 - I read in today’s paper that a Columbia University study spent ten-years rating the health impact of happiness on more that 1,700 people. The researchers concluded that happy people are more likely to have less heart disease than grumpy people. So this suggested consulting wikiHow to find some of the causes happiness, which is the subject of today’s post.

In the 1970s, researchers following people who'd won the lottery found that a year after they'd hit the jackpot, they were no happier than the people who didn't. They concluded that we each have a baseline level of happiness. No matter what happens, good or bad, the effect on our happiness is only temporary and we tend to rebound to our baseline level. Some people have a higher baseline happiness level than others, in part because of genetics. However, it's also largely influenced by how we think. So improving our attitude towards life will increase our happiness permanently. Here are some starting points for doing just that:

• Follow your instincts.
In another study, two groups of people were asked to pick out a poster to take home. One group was instructed to analyze their decision carefully, weighing the pros and cons. The other group was told to listen to their gut. Two weeks later, the group that followed their gut was happier with their posters than the group that analyzed their decisions. Obviously, many of our decisions are more important than picking out posters. However, these findings suggest that the next time you have a decision to make and you've narrowed down the options, you’ll be happier if you follow your instincts and go with the one that feels right to you.

• Make enough money.
If you make enough money to meet your basic needs for food, shelter, and clothing (on average, about $40,000 a year), research shows that any amount you make beyond that will have little effect on your happiness. Your comfort may increase with more money, but comfort makes people bored rather than happy. That's why it's important to push beyond your comfort zone to encourage your personal growth. “Happiness and misery depend not upon how high up or low down you are - they depend not upon these, but on the direction in which you are tending.” according to the Victorian novelist, Samuel Butler. For the lottery winners mentioned earlier, lots of money didn't make them any happier. Once you’ve got enough money, your happiness isn’t significantly affected by more money, but rather by your level of optimism.

• Stay close to friends and family.
Today, people follow jobs around the world looking for increases in salary to make them happier. But relationships with friends and family have a far greater impact on our happiness than our jobs do. So the next time you think about relocating, consider how much more money it’ll take to compensate for the loss of happiness from moving away from your friends and family. If, however, your relationships with your family and friends are unhealthy or nonexistent, then choose a location where you'll make about the same amount of money as everyone else. Research findings suggests we feel more financially secure (and happier) when we're on similar financial footing as the people around us, regardless of what that footing is.

• Find happiness in the job you have right now.
Many people expect that finding the right job or the right career will dramatically change their level of happiness. However, happiness research makes it clear that our level of optimism and the quality of our relationships eclipse the satisfaction we get from our jobs. People with a positive outlook will make the best of any job, and don't depend just on their job to give their life a sense of meaning. They find it instead in their interactions with the people they care about. The capacity of our jobs to make us happy is relatively small compared to our outlook on life and our relationships with other people.

Some other tips?

* Smile. When you smile, whether you feel happy or not, your mood will be elevated.

* Don't hold grudges against anyone. Forgive, even if you can't forget.

* Don't stew over past mistakes. Learn from them and then move on.

* Don't get hung-up on material things. As Aeschylus reminded us thousands of years ago, "Life is a brief encampment."

The key thing to remember is that we’re in control of how we see the world and it's a mistake to depend on external factors or other people to make us happy. If you’re unhappy, it's your job to change how you view the situation. If you’re unhappy at work, don't blame the boss or your coworkers. Instead, change your outlook ... or move on!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Rules of Life according to Bill Gates.

Post 429 - Here are the rules of life, as explained by Bill Gates some years ago in a presentation to high school students:

Rule 1: Life isn’t fair - get used to it!

Rule 2: The world doesn't care about your self-esteem. The world will expect you to accomplish something before you feel good about yourself.

Rule 3: You will not make $60,000 a year right out of high school. You won't be a vice-president with a car phone until you earn both.

Rule 4: If you think your teacher is tough, wait till you get a boss.

Rule 5: Flipping burgers is not beneath your dignity. Your Grandparents had a different word for burger flipping: they called it opportunity.

Rule 6: If you mess up, it's not your parents' fault, so don't whine about your mistakes, learn from them.

Rule 7: Before you were born, your parents weren't as boring as they are now. They got that way from paying your bills, cleaning your clothes and listening to you talk about how cool you thought you were. So before you save the rain forest from the parasites of your parent's generation, try delousing the closet in your own room.

Rule 8: Your school may have done away with winners and losers, but life has not. In some schools, they have abolished failing grades and they'll give you as many times as you want to get the right answer. This doesn't bear the slightest resemblance to anything in real life.

Rule 9: Life is not divided into semesters. You don't get summers off and very few employers are interested in helping you find yourself. Do that on your own time.

Rule 10: Television is not real life. In real life people actually have to leave the coffee shop and go to jobs.

Rule 11: Be nice to nerds. Chances are you'll end up working for one.

Seems like a good list to me. However, on another occasion, Mr. Gates said, “Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.” Since Microsoft is one of the most litigious companies in history, perhaps we should take Mr. Gates’s counsel in that instance with a grain of salt!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

How to make effective presentations.

Post 428 - According to Dale Carnegie, “There are always three speeches for every one you actually gave. The one you practiced, the one you gave, and the one you wish you gave.”

I’ve given literally hundreds of presentations over the past 40-years and here’s some of what I’ve learned. I also include some tips I picked up from Diane West, President of 2Connect, a San Diego based company that offers a variety of services to meet people’s presentation needs.

The key points of making a great presentation are:
* Knowing what you want to say.
* Believing what you’re saying.
* Being convincing and compelling in how you say it.
* Providing valuable information.
* Providing useable information.
* Providing timely information.
* Being completely prepared and rehearsed.
* Projecting a positive attitude and a willingness to engage with the audience.

Here's a short list of why presenters and presentations fail:
* Bad choice of words.
* Not enough vocal variety.
* Inappropriate hand gestures.
* Weak body language.
* Lack of passion.
* Lousy attitude.
* Speaker isn't relaxed.
* Reading or memorizing, rather than speaking from the heart.

Also very high on this list are boring, busy, crowded PowerPoint slides.

Gestures to avoid when making a presentation:

- Don’t cover your mouth - this suggests you’re hiding information, or not convinced of what you’re saying.

- Don’t press on the bridge of your nose. This is sign of fatigue and stress, the equivalent of saying, “I don’t want to be here.”

- Avoid fidgeting with a ring during a presentation - this indicates emotional sensitivity, agitation or boredom.

- Don’t massage your throat. This suggests you’re having difficultly accepting someone else’s premise or argument and it can alienate your audience.

- Don’t put your hands on your hips. This comes across as an attempt to increase your presence, show dominance or attract attention.

- Don’t hide behind objects or hold items between you and the audience. Standing behind a chair, holding an object close to your body or crossing your arms indicates defensiveness and insecurity.

- Don’t lock your ankles. Locked ankles are a sign that things are getting too difficult for you.

- Don’t point at someone while looking at them directly. This comes across as aggressive and authoritarian and, in some cultures, it’s insulting.

Good communicators use energy and enthusiasm to persuade their audience. Great communicators know they also need to explain what all the excitement is about. Next time you need to share something important, be sure you convey enthusiasm, but also clearly explain what’s at stake and answer the question "What does it mean?" Lay out what the issue, initiative, or problem is - and be clear about what it isn't as well. Use examples only if they help to make your point and support your claims. Then, define what you want to happen and establish clear expectations. Don't lose or confuse your audience with too many details - save these for written handouts.

A presenter’s biggest gift to an audience is to deliver a clear, concise message. Yet, audiences are often left wondering what the key message actually is in the sea of information provided. To make sure your message is crystal clear, use the 30, 15, 5, 1 strategy.

Simply put, if you have a 30-minute presentation, what would you cut out if you only had 15 minutes? What else would you cut if you only had five minutes? And, what if you ran into someone in the hallway later and only had one minute to share your information - what would you share that would intrigue them enough to give you more time? Using this strategy allows you to:

1) Crystallize the essence of your message, even if you have 30-minutes to present.

2) Effectively manage the most common “what if” scenarios (projector breaks down, time runs out before you've completed the agenda, someone needs to leave the room and asks for a high-level summary before they go).

3) Easily summarize your message for those critical hallway conversations.

Here are three ways to handle disruptions:

1. Be prepared. Know your audience before you walk into the room. Will they be receptive or hostile to what you have to say? Are they likely to be outspoken or sit quietly? Knowing what to expect helps you design a presentation that prevents disruptions before they happen.

2. Be flexible. If someone interrupts or heckles you, don't ignore him. By acknowledging the interruption, you're reminding the audience that you're the one in control, not the disrupter.

3. Be resolute. If the disruptions continue, ask people to hold their comments until the end. If that doesn't work, ask the audience to voice their opinion: do they want you to continue? Peer pressure can be a powerful way to silence disrupters.

Finally, Jim Rohn reminds us that, "You cannot speak that which you do not know. You cannot share that which you do not feel. You cannot translate that which you do not have. And you cannot give that which you do not possess. To give it and to share it, and for it to be effective, you first need to have it. Good communication starts with good preparation."

Monday, February 15, 2010

Learning how to love.

Post 427 - Thornton Wilder once wrote, "There is a land of the living and a land of the dead. The bridge is love."

When I started to study at UCLA in the early 1970s, I was fortunate to hear the late Dr. Leo Buscaglia speak about the power of love. He was invited to present to our MBA class even though he was a professor at USC at the time. Given my scientific and business background, I hadn’t given very much thought to subjects like this before. Indeed, graduate school was the first time I’d ever been helped to think about who I was, what I believed in, and what I really wanted out of life. I still remember the impact of Buscaglia’s ideas and his sincerity and energy in presenting them. Here are some of his quotes that stick with me still:

“Love is life. And if you miss love, you miss life.”

“One can’t give what he doesn’t possess. To give love you must possess love.”

“Love is always bestowed as a gift - freely, willingly and without expectation. We don't love to be loved; we love to love.”

“The opposite of love isn’t hate - it's apathy. It's not giving a damn.”

“Love always creates, it never destroys. In this lies man's only promise.”

“Love is always open arms. If you close your arms about love, you ‘ll find that you’re left holding only yourself.”

“Love yourself for who you are, no matter who that may be. It's the funny and odd things about us that sometimes makes us the most loveable.”

“What love we've given, we'll have forever. What love we fail to give, will be lost for all eternity.”

Everyone should have someone in his or her life who says, "I’ll love you no matter what ... if you fall on your face, if you do the wrong thing, if you make mistakes, if you behave like a human being – I’ll love you no matter."

"Connectedness and kindness are all we leave behind at the end."

Originally published in 1972, Love: What Life Is All About, by Leo Buscaglia, is a wonderful book and one that I recommend to everyone who’s in a relationship, or has children. It’s short, funny, and easy to read. It’ll confront your beliefs and make you think. You may or may not agree with Dr, Buscaglia - but you’ll enjoy his presentation and it’ll help you clarify and develop your own ideas about love.

Buscaglia says, "If someone desired to know about automobiles, he would, without question, study diligently about automobiles. If his wife desired to be a gourmet cook, she'd certainly study the art of cooking, perhaps even attending a cooking class. Yet, it never seems as obvious to him that if he wants to live in love, he must spend at least as much time as the auto mechanic or the gourmet in studying love."

Friday, February 12, 2010

From the Irish, a poem by Ian Duhig.

Post 426 - Here's an unusual poem for Valentines Day. I hope you like it.

Ian Duhig was born in London in 1954, the eighth of eleven children born to Irish parents with a liking for poetry. He's won the National Poetry Competition twice, and also the Forward Prize for Best Poem; his collection, The Lammas Hireling, was the Poetry Book Society's Choice for Summer 2003, and was shortlisted for the T.S. Eliot Prize and Forward Prize for Best Collection. Chosen as a New Generation Poet in 1994, he's received Arts Council and Cholmondeley Awards, and has held various Royal Literary Fund fellowships at universities including Lancaster, Durham, Newcastle and his own alma mater, Leeds. He considers poetry to be "the alchemy of mind and heart."

He says, "I do mock poetry and take it seriously at the same time, but anyone who is passionately attached to a football team will have similar mixed feelings."

From the Irish by Ian Duhig.

According to Dineen,* a Gael unsurpassed

in lexicographical enterprise, the Irish

for moon means 'the white circle in a slice

of half-boiled potato or turnip.' A star

is the mark on the forehead of a beast

and the sun is the bottom of a lake, or well.

Well if I say to you your face

is like a slice of half-boiled turnip,

your hair is the color of a lake's bottom

and at the center of each or your eyes

is the mark of the beast, it is because

I want to love you properly, according to Dineen.

* The Dineen family were famous as poets and historians in County Cork in the south western part of Ireland. They provided a succession of hereditary poets and historians to the Clan MacCarthy and occasionally to the O'Sullivans, two clans who disputed ownership of the region for many centuries. Tadhg O'Dineen, poet to the Earl of Clancarty, was a prominent member of the 17th century school of Irish poetry.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Learning to make good choices.

Post 425 - Life is all about choices. “It is our choices … that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.” - JK Rowling.

Autobiography in Five Short Chapters by Portia Nelson.

I walk down the street.
There's a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I fall in.
I'm lost ... I'm helpless.
It isn't my fault.
It takes forever to find a way out.

I walk down the same street.
There's a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I pretend I don't see it.
I fall in again.
I can't believe I'm in the same place,
but it isn't my fault.
It still takes a long time to get out.

I walk down the same street.
There's a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I see it's there.
I still fall in ... it's a habit.
My eyes are open.
I know where I am.
It's my fault.
I get out immediately.

I walk down the same street.
There's a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it.

I walk down a different street.

Charlie Munger, the Vice-Chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, keeps a file of foolishness … filled with flops and the fatal fumbles that brought them forth. Rather than following the conventional wisdom of identifying and imitating the shrewd decisions that have led to business successes, as chronicled in such best sellers as Good to Great, In Search of Excellence, and Made to Last, he’s spent his time identifying and avoiding the inane decisions that have led to business blunders.

This might be a prudent strategy for everyone to follow. We could assemble our own file, and then refer to and use it systematically when making important choices.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Harnessing your emotional intelligence.

Post 424 - Emotional Intelligence describes the ability to identify, assess, and manage your own emotions and that of others, either individually or in groups. Research suggests that the higher you rise in a company, the more Emotional Intelligence (EI) matters. EI abilities rather than IQ or technical skills are the discriminating competencies that predict who's likely to emerge as the leader in a group of very smart people. For example, in a study of more than 515 senior global executives, the most successful had the strongest emotional intelligence scores. A recent Harvard University study revealed that 90% - 95% of one's success in organizational leadership positions is attributed to EI and only 5% to 10% to IQ.

The EI model was quite a hit when it was introduced by Daniel Goleman in his 1995 book, Emotional Intelligence. Goleman focused on EI as a wide array of competencies and skills that drive leadership performance. He defined it in terms of self-awareness, altruism, personal motivation, empathy, and the ability to love and be loved by friends, partners, and family members. Goleman outlined four main dimensions of EI:

1. Self-awareness - the ability to read one's own emotions and recognize their impact while using gut feelings to guide decisions.

2. Self-management - controlling one's own emotions and impulses and adapting to changing circumstances.

3. Social awareness - the ability to sense, understand, and react to the emotions of others while understanding the dynamics of social networks.

4. Relationship management - the ability to inspire, influence, and develop others while managing disagreement and conflict.

Goleman's book was later criticized because it didn't provide useful guidance about how to improve your EI. In this regard, Emotional Intelligence 2.0 by Travis Bradberry and Jean Greaves is a book I highly recommend. “Emotional intelligence,” says Bradberry, “is another kind of smart. It’s having an awareness of your emotions, tendencies and the experience of others and then using that awareness to proactively manage your response to situations and people so you can avoid pitfalls and create better opportunities.” Bradberry and Greave's book allows each reader to test their emotional intelligence (they call it EQ) using a pass-code that provides access to an online test (so avoid used copies as the pass-code will have already been used). The test tells how well the taker manages their emotions, and pinpoints the specific skills they should focus on to improve.

Bradberry suggests that readers take the test and then practice three skills to help them improve in the one competency area where they scored lowest. The book presents a menu of 66 skills, all derived from extensive research conducted on how people actually increase their EQ. The beauty of the book is these skills are intuitive and easy to apply. Each technique is only 2-3 pages long, making it something you can read in the morning over breakfast and then focus on for the rest of the day. The catch is that you have to keep up this new way of doing things for three to six months before it becomes habitual. Because, as we all know, old habits die hard.

Emotional intelligence is important because

- 70% of us don't handle conflict or stress effectively.

- Just 38% of us can accurately identify our emotions as they happen.

- All signals entering our brain pass through the limbic system (the
emotional seat of the brain) before entering the cortex (the intellectual
seat of the brain).

- From a sample of thousands of leaders, research shows that CEOs on average have the lowest EQ scores in the workplace … but the higher the EQ, the better the CEO's performance.

• Strategies for increasing self-knowledge include actions like identifying physical cues for emotional states before you’re emotionally flooded.

• Strategies for increasing self-management include breathing properly … to make sure that enough oxygen is going to your brain.

• Another strategy is to monitor your self-defeating “inner talk.”

• Strategies for increasing social awareness include watching the body language of others, and practicing active listening.

• Strategies for increasing relationship management include being open and curious … find something new to notice about others. Ask questions about their thoughts and reactions (What do you like to do when you're not working?).

Self-knowledge doesn't necessarily translate into behavior; you have to isolate and practice EQ skills. So it's important to start with small steps and then practice your new skills frequently.

Friday, February 5, 2010

I loved you first, a poem by Christina Rossetti.

Post 423 - This poem is in keeping with my theme this week on the role of love in sustaining ideal relationships. Christina Rossetti was born in London in 1830 and was educated at home by her mother. Her brother was the famous poet and painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti so her house was a regular meeting place for the group of artists later known as the Pre-Raphaelites. Rossetti began writing at age seven, but she was 18 when her first published poem appeared in the Athenaeum magazine. Despite a lifetime of illness, she continued to write poetry. Her most famous collection, Goblin Market and Other Poems, was published in 1862 when she was 31. She died of cancer in 1894.

She once wrote, "When I am dead my dearest, sing no sad song for me, Plant thou no roses at my head, nor shady cypress tree. See the green grass above me with showers and dewdrops wet, And if thou wilt, remember, and if thou wilt, forget. I shall not see the shadows, I shall not feel the rain, I shall not hear the nightingale sing on as if in pain. And dreaming throughout the twilight that doth not rise nor set, Hap'ly will remember, and happily will forget".

I loved you first, by Christina Rossetti.

I loved you first: but afterwards your love
Outsoaring mine, sang such a loftier song
As drowned the friendly cooings of my dove.
Which owes the other most? My love was long,
And yours one moment seemed to wax more strong;
I loved and guessed at you, you construed me
And loved me for what might or might not be –
Nay, weights and measures do us both a wrong.
For verily love knows not ‘mine’ or ‘thine;’
With separate ‘I’ and ‘thou’ free love has done,
For one is both and both are one in love:
Rich love knows nought of ‘thine that is not mine;’
Both have the strength and both the length thereof,
Both of us, of the love which makes us one.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Building an ideal relationship.

Post 422 - The main difference between a good and an ideal relationship is that the latter equips us for life, and allows us to be a better person in the world. Sometimes we choose partners who make us feel good only when we’re together. If this kind of wonderful intensity is the only thing present, it doesn’t continue to make us feel more and more alive in the longer term. Eventually, the relationship turns in on itself rather than developing into a partnership which illuminates the world anew.

Why do we fall in love with one person and not with another? I believe there are three basic ingredients for romantic attraction: intellectual, emotional and sexual, and all of these need to be strong enough if we’re to make a good connection and build a lasting relationship. However, what makes a relationship good isn’t necessarily what we feel towards each other, but what we create of each other.

An ideal relationship makes our life larger, not smaller. When both parties grow and experience things they wouldn't have known about or sought out without the other person's influence, then the relationship contributes positively to each individual’s journey through life.

An ideal relationship isn’t without arguments (arguments probably allow both parties to evolve faster than any other type of interaction).

We don't worry when we’re not together and we have the most enjoyment when we are together.

There’s no place in our relationship for questions about perfection, love and fear.

There’s no fear of acceptance of our flaws and drawbacks.

We feel like we were born to be with the other person, yet we wonder why it took so long to find them.

We don't have to ask for anything - it just comes.

We don't have to make an effort to give - it just goes.

We’re friends as well as lovers. As we get older, we find that friendship is more enduring than passion.

We can grow together because we feel free together. As Leo Buscaglia wrote, "A loving relationship is one in which the loved one is free to be himself -- to laugh with me, but never at me; to cry with me, but never because of me; to love life, to love himself, to love being loved. Such a relationship is based upon freedom and can never grow in a jealous heart.”

If all the compromises we make in a relationship (such as giving pleasure to our partner as opposed to receiving pleasure) aren’t often reciprocated or we constantly feel we’re getting short-changed and resent our partner for that, then it’s a good time to change the relationship in some way (e.g. confront our partner with our discontent and seek something better) or to find another relationship.

The corollary is that if we ever feel we’ve given as much as we wish or can, and yet that’s insufficient to sustain the relationship, then it's probably time to move on.

The ideal relationship brings the best out of us, not as a requirement, but rather as an effect. We have this ultimate connection with another person, which is also a channel for the exchange of energy. In an ideal relationship, passion generates lots of positive energy. However, even when we’re challenged by the other party, this negative energy can be positively channeled too. Although it may cause discomfort initially, it helps us to overcome inertia so we can grow and change in a positive way.

There really isn't an ideal relationship that fits everyone; its how you deal with the imperfections of the relationship that makes it ideal.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

How to sustain a fulfilling relationship.

Post 421 - These ideas are taken from “A Journal for all Relationships,” a new book by Vince and Sally Huntington, to be published later this year. The Huntingtons are psychotherapists and are licensed as Marriage and Family Therapists. Together, they hosted a radio show in San Diego for 10-years where they were able to empirically test and formally research their observations on what defines a fulfilling relationship.

They found that true love, once found, continues only with the exchange of promises to: “please meet my needs by helping me have good feelings and help me not to have bad feelings.” As long as this exchange continues, they say, the feelings of love will continue.

However, relationships are complicated by our shifting needs for togetherness on the one hand, and autonomy on the other. Running from or trying to avoid one extreme or the other can be confusing to sort out. A major challenge is to be able to openly tell your partner when either loneliness or feeling smothered begins to rule your life. They say people don’t ‘fall out of love.’ They simply misidentify the natural shifts which take place between one extreme or the other of this wonder of human existence. So it’s vital to learn the shifts of that person who brought you the love you share.

They’ve also identified six critical areas which need to be well understood and consciously catered to for loving relationships to continue to be fulfilling. These relationships cease to be nourishing when:

(1) Basic trust is taken for granted but never actually defined.

(2) Communication fails (she/he just doesn’t hear you) and anger begins to rule.

(3) Family presence obstructs the life style of the relationship (parent pressures, ill child, siblings, step-parenting, etc.).

(4) Money styles clash (savers versus spenders).

(5) Sex and affection are misunderstood, are out of sync, or out of control.

(6) Couples forget that they’re individuals and unconsciously or unwillingly lose their individuality in the marriage.

They suggest a key question for each party in the relationship is to ask themselves: "Can I be in a relationship with this person without losing who I am?" If the answer is no, then it's time to move on.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Some reflections on how to love.

Post 420 - I watched the movie Elmer Gantry the other night and took note when Burt Lancaster said several times that "Love is the morning and the evening star" (which is presumably a reference to the planet Venus). It reminded me that I've never written about love - that which "makes the world go 'round," according to a once popular song. Even if love doesn't make the world go 'round, it certainly makes the ride worthwhile. So here are some thoughts on this topic:

Freud, when asked what a normal person should be able to do well, said "to love and to work." He also said that the best cure for a neurosis was to fall in love.

You’ve got to learn how to love before you learn how to live.

Love isn't love until you give it away. The love you give away is the only love you keep.

The best relationship is one in which your love for each other exceeds your need for each other.

Love doesn't consist in gazing at each other but in looking outward together in the same direction.

Love is like playing the piano. First, you must learn to play by the rules, then you must forget the rules and play from your heart.

When someone loves you, the way they say your name is different. 
You just know that your name is safe in their mouth.

A wise lover values not so much the gift of the lover as the love of the giver.

Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic.

What we need to learn in life is how to love people and use things instead of using people and loving things.

Let's hope that we're all preceded in this world by a love story.

1 Corinthians 13 is a very famous romantic blessing that's often used at weddings:

1. If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.

2. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.

3. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.

4. Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.

5. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.

6. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.

7. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

8. Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.

9. For we know in part and we prophesy in part.

10. But when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears.

11. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.

12. Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

13. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

And for all you contrarians, I remember a bumper sticker in the early '90s that said, "Forget love, I'd rather fall in chocolate!"

Monday, February 1, 2010

How to change behavior.

Post 419 - What if a well-informed, trusted authority figure said you had to make difficult and enduring changes in the way you think and act? If you didn't, your time would end soon - a lot sooner than it had to. Could you change when change really mattered? When it mattered most? Yes, you say? You're probably fooling yourself. The scientifically studied odds: nine to one against you.

As an example, the root cause of the health care crisis hasn't changed for decades, yet the government and the medical establishment still can't figure out what to do about it. Even though 80% of the health-care budget is consumed by five behavioral issues: too much smoking, drinking, eating, and stress, and not enough exercise.

Changing people’s behavior isn't just the biggest challenge in health care. It's also the most important challenge for businesses trying to compete in a today’s turbulent world. So, I’ve listed below some of the things we know about changing behavior:

Change is constant, normal and inevitable. However, growth is optional.

The only one who really enjoys change is a wet baby.

The more things change, the more they stay the same. History does repeat itself.

None of us can change our yesterdays, but all of us can change our tomorrows.

If you want to change the world, the place to begin is with yourself.

We can only change ourselves – no one else.

We can't change the cards we're dealt, just how we play the hand.

Yet, if you’re not the lead dog, the view never changes.

There are 293 ways to make change for a dollar, but most people prefer to change a little bit at a time.

Paradoxically, big fast changes are often easier than small ones.

People don’t resist change as much as they resist changing.

Disgust and determination are two key contributors to change. It helps when people are uncomfortable with the status quo.

The two most commonly used strategies, coercion and rationality, are largely ineffective in changing behavior.

Bad news by itself doesn’t energize people to change.

The cumulative weight of specialization and experience make it difficult for people to change.

To be persuasive, the reasons for changing must be simple to understand, easy to identify with, emotionally resonant, and evocative of positive experiences.

It's always important to identify, achieve, and celebrate some quick, positive result for the vital emotional lift that it provides.

Quantifiable feedback is the key to radical and lasting behavior change.

It’s best to start small. It’s always easier to plant a large garden than it is to look after it.

Woody Allen had a comedy routine about the first landing of UFOs on Earth and our first contact with an advanced civilization. Allen wrote that most worries about planetary takeovers involve aliens that are light years away and centuries ahead of us in technology, bringing devices we can't understand or communicate with, which enables them to control everything. Not to worry, Allen said. If we can't understand or communicate with their systems, we'll just ignore them, doing our work the way we always do until they leave in frustration. Instead, he argued, the advanced civilization that we should really worry about is one that is just 15-minutes ahead. That way, they'd always be first in line for the movies, they'd never miss a meeting with the boss... and they'd always be first in every race.

Rosabeth Moss Kanter calls this the "15-minute competitive advantage" - changing in short fast bursts rather than waiting for the breakthrough that transforms everything. If every 15-minutes, you learn something and incorporate it into the next speedy step, you'll continue to be ahead. And a few time periods later, transformation will be underway.