These words get going again

Rambling. Even before the start these words were going to be rambling. These words being written today got going just in time to write. Today started off slowly. It was one of those days that just does not click. Maybe it was recovering from a slight back strain or just a poor night of sleep. Whatever the cause might have been things did not get going the way they should have to start the week off. That happens from time to time, but it cannot become the routine or things just end up being unpleasant.

Still rambling on. I’m listening to Monday night football on my Chromebook. The Denver Broncos are playing the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead. Opening the game in one Chrome tab and writing in another seemed to make sense. It seems like I can do more and more with my Chromebook. That has been working out in my favor. The whole writing thing for better or worse is about spending time engaging in the practice of writing.

My goal for tonight was to sit down and just write for 30 minutes straight without stopping, pausing, or reconsidering the nature of my efforts. I picked up a Boss Metal Zone M-2 guitar effects pedal from an eBay auction. At some point, I may have owned one of these pedals before. For some reason that is something that I cannot exactly remember. A long time ago, my original guitar setup was flooded out in a Kansas basement. All of the gear got wet and simply did not make it based on a combination of mold and water damage.

It seemed like a good idea after moving a couple of years back to get a small Marshall amplification stack for my office. A small head unit connects to two smaller speaker cabinets. In terms of a guitar amplification setup it delivers a nice warm clean tone that is ready for guitar pedals. Next week at some point it will be delivering the sounds of a guitar and a Boss Metal Zone M-2 guitar pedal.

The Quadrants of Doing

Over the last few months I have started using a new tool to be a better reflective practitioner. The tool is as simple as drawing evenly intersecting vertical and horizontal lines. The four quadrants include a daily reflection on what I should keep doing, stop doing, need to do, and what is taking up the most time. This simple exercise has helped me reflect on the totality of my daily efforts. I thought it would be worth sharing. It will probably evolve a little bit over time, but this is where it currently stands.

Keep doing: It is worth a few moments of reflection to think about the things that are working well. Those are the things that you should keep doing.

Stop doing: Instead of keeping a stop doing list I find it easier to think about the things that are not working well and how to stop doing them. You have to think about what it would take to move something from the stop doing list to the keep doing list.

Need to do: This is the hardest part of the list to maintain. It generally involves things that were put off for some reason. They did not make it into the keep doing or stop doing lists. They are the things that may go completely ignored.

Most time doing: It is very important to figure out what things are taking up the most time. We only have so much time to get things done. Sometimes things from the stop doing list end up consuming more time than they should.

Quadrants of Doing

That moment of choice

Brilliant acts happen. Terrible acts also happen.. Pretty much every flavor of act in-between happen every day. We take for granted the opportunity that each moment presents. Outside of the need to take action the big picture fades away to the mundane nature of our idiosyncratic routines. We go through the motions. Our routines make each moment that passes eaiser. That break out moment is harder to manufacture. That is the moment we have to hope for. Hope alone could be the spark. It could be the spark we need to take action. We have to break out of our routines and spark the inspiration we need to strive forward.

On Opportunity

The opportunities we need are everywhere. They happen every day. We make complex choices related to opportunities throughout our lifetimes. Some of those choices are made in the spur of the moment. Other choices we build up to more slowly. Regardless of the speed they are the choices that we make. They are the choices that define our paths. They set the stage for where we are going and what we are going to do. In some ways the opportunities we accept define our routines. They define the very patterns that make up the daily cadence of life. The cadence of work and life happens throughout our routines. We tend to get good or at least consistent at our routines. Quality occurs from precision during a definable and repeatable process. In other words, quality occurring from precisely knowing how to execute definable and repeatable tasks. Our daily routines are rarely exactly the same, but they are similar enough to have a definable cadence. Having quality days and producing quality work are two different concepts. Some folks might argue that quality of life is a key contributor to quality work.

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A few thoughts on the nature of history

Each day we make a lot of assumptions about the current state of things. We accept a certain amount of rigidity as we view the world. Society itself appears to be relatively consistent. It could be that the rate of change is hard to observe day to day. History is treated as a permanent concept. The parts of history we acknowledge are treated as fact. History is not considered to be something that constantly changes or is fluid. People in general do not have enough time to really dig in and review everything that happens during a given day. Having enough time to review things might not ever be enough. More things happen in a given day than we can possibly consume. The stream of information that is available is growing at an exponential rate far beyond what any one person can possibly consume. The internet is an interesting place. The rate at which things are discovered or could change is fairly prolific. That creates a scenario where maybe history could be a shifting landscape. That reality helps define just how important the sources of information are. We cannot accept of a view of the work that treats history like quicksand. We have to be able to stand on the shoulder of giants as we strive toward strengthening the academy.     

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On writing a stop doing list

The odometer on my Honda Pilot read about 17 miles for the trip. John Paul has been having a hard time going to sleep at night. That is a truly challenging obstacle to overcome. Three year children pretty much do what they want. Having a lengthy conversation with a 3 year old is an interesting experience. Several nights along the way have involved up to a thirty minute car ride. That could involve up to four laps around the neighborhood. It seems to happen more and more. At one point, I was listening to ESPN radio via my satellite radio and got sucked into thinking about what was being said. The sportscasters were talking about the civil unrest in Baltimore. My mood really has been very somber since learning about the situation.

This would be a good place for a solid segue. The topic under consideration is about to segue to the fine art of either making “to do lists” or “stop doing lists”. This segue should have been better. It should have been more elegant. However, I’m just going to transition away from a serious topic and write about both to do and stop doing lists. I may spend some time writing about economics and employment in the United States later this month. Managing time is the topic that I’m prepared to write about this evening before heading off to bed.

My interest in this topic was principally sparked by hearing Jim Collins talk about “stop doing lists”. I really would go see Jim Collins speak again. I can see why Jim gets financially compensated as a professional speaker. Hearing Jim Collins talk about business is an opportunity that I would seek out again at some point.

I really did enjoy hearing Jim speak at the 17th Annual Rocky Mountain Project Management Symposium. The Denver Convention Center is a huge venue. It really is a large building. I’m not really a fan of parking downtown, but this event was worth it. The last time I visited the convention center was to attend the Saturday portion of the 2014 Denver Comic Con. The parking at that event was way more chaotic.

In practice, writing a Jim Collins style “stop doing list” is actually a rather difficult thing to action. I could not complete that task in one sitting. I’m not sure it is something that really should be done in one sitting. It is probably something that would be easier with a handout or a guided framework of some type. I’m guessing that it is something that gets easier with practice. It is something that I started thinking about right after learning about the topic, but ended up stopping in the middle of the list creation process. I got stuck on the details during the creation process of the list. It is pretty easy to start making a list, but it is rather difficult to both figure out a plan to actually stop doing things and to make a complete list.

It will probably be easier to start recording my daily count of productive hours vs. trying to figure out what things I should actually stop doing. I spent some time trying to figure out what I considered productive. For the most part it boils down to either reading or writing. At some point down the road, I will probably end up developing a more nuanced operational definition of productivity. Of all the things that Jim Collins said during the course of a two hour presentation the idea of being productive for at least 1,000 hour a year resonated with me. That seemed like a goal that would be worth exploring.

Meanwhile — writing a minimum of 1,500 words per day has changed my approach to getting things done. Any and all available time that could be spent writing is going to have to be spent writing. I’m trying to focus on making sure that any current projects receive a full second pass. That has created a multiple day writing cadence of production and review. Writing much longer passages has changed the way I view investing in creativity. I rarely sit down and write 1,500 words in a single sitting. It seems like I write about 500 to 750 words then pause for a bit. I’m trying to figure out how to open up the flood gates and push my writing session to 1,000+ words at a time.

Earlier this week I made a special trip out to the Home Depot to buy a new light fixture. The installation process was actually pretty easy. My office now is being illuminated by three full size bulbs. My office is now very well illuminated. I realized that good lighting is an important part of staying focused. I did not realize what a difference the change in lighting would make. It has inspired me to make an investment. I’m going to invest the time necessary to write at least 1,500 words a day on 10 different topics. The topics have already been setup and it will be very easy to package them into a book.

My “stop doing list” should probably include a few items:

  • One of the items that I realized that I should stop doing recently was writing short items that could not be published. I need to focus on writing a chapter a day vs. trying to write a book in one sitting.
  • For the most part, I have just said yes to pretty much any tasking over the last year. On a go forward basis, I need to be more careful about what I agree to do. That should probably include both work and personal tasking.
  • I really do try to work everything in real time. That seems to be the speed of the parts of business that matter. However, I recognize that some things need to be prioritized.

In the end, I had to make a list of everything that I was doing. Making that list took a substantial amount of time. Pen and paper was the only way that list was going to get completed. I picked up a pad of yellow lined paper and started writing things down. It took an entire day to try to capture everything I was working on. The list was not something that I could easily just write down. It should have been easier to make a list of everything that I am working on. I change topics very quickly and move from document to document at a whim. That approach to getting things done is problematic. It is not a focused method of getting things done.

I could have posted the complete list, but that just seemed unnecessary. A highly condensed list of things I’m doing:

  • Teaching online business classes
  • Writing 3 conference/journal articles a year
  • Writing a book every other year
  • Writing daily weblog entries
  • Surfing online for high end computer parts
  • Listening or watching technology podcasts/videos
  • Reading biographical novels via the Kindle service
  • Reading public administration and project management journals
  • Traveling all over the country

I realized at the end of writing that list that it was not granular enough to make a “stop doing list”. At this point, my routines are pretty solid. Over the years, I have trimmed out most of the things that got me into trouble.

Writing has always been my passion project. I take the time to write. Right now I’m trying to figure out how to best manage my time. Throughout the last two weeks I have been working on developing a Jim Collins style “stop doing list”. I had not really sat down and auditing the things that occupy my time. Maybe that is an exercise that should have been completed on a regular cycle. Building a process to complete that assessment took some thought. It took about two weeks to capture all of the items that occupy my time. Some of the things that received significant time investments were surprising. In order to better facilitate my writing endeavors, I have to figure out how to better manage my time.

Jim Collins talked about capturing 3 hours a day of productivity. That idea really resonated with me. I’m still thinking about it two weeks later. Between working on things related to my salaried full time job, teaching online, and writing that should be relatively easy to accomplish. A problem arises when teaching online and working occupy almost all of my time in a given day. From time to time my full time job occupies huge amounts of the day. Working 20 hours a day on a project really does create chaos. It creates chaos in my family life and physically it is not sustainable. It happens, but you have to make sure it does not become an everyday thing. I try to really only invest that much time in things that will pay dividends. In the end, I wondered what Jim Collins really considers to be productive.

The next topics I will be writing about include 1) my Disneyworld experience, 2) the power of investing in people, 3) the importance of pracademics, 4) the intersection of technology and modernity, 5) omnichannel contact strategies, 6) runbooks, 7) strategic planning, 8) irregular operations management, and 9) executive presentations

On Transparency and Collaboration

Today is off to a great start. It could be related to the two shots of espresso or the power protein bagel. I ended up with an extra hour today. The airport was not very busy this morning. The line were short and traffic on the drive in was nonexistent. It could be the weather on the east coast or it could be a Wednesday morning in Denver type thing.

I plan on spending my extra hour writing about transparency and collaboration. Both of those values are becoming increasingly more important in the modern workplace. Closed door meetings and secret memorandums have gone the way of the dinosaur.

My stock speech on transparency and collaboration draws on several platitudes. They will become very evident in the following prose. For those of you who have heard this speech before, I’m not sorry that you are going to read it again. It was good for you then and it will be good for you now.

I have previously said, “We needed to provide information so our leaders could lead and our managers could manage. If you get that right, then the agents can be successful.” As a framework, making sure that leaders lead, managers manage, and the right level of accountability and expectations have been set for employees to be successful makes sense. It works. It works because people can execute a clearly defined path forward.

It would be easy to stand up in front of a room of employees that do not know what they are accountable for or what is expected of them and deliver the following concepts. It would be easy to deliver a path forward to that audience. That speech would go something like this:

In the time before now we muddled through. It was not clear what was expected of you in your current role. It was not clear what you would be accountable for at the start of the day. Those missing pieces have caused you to fall back on your work ethic and personal pride for motivation. The things you have done are appreciated. I appreciate the strides you have made on your own. You can expect a new level of partnership moving forward. Today we take the first step forward together. We will take that first step toward clear expectations together. We will all be better off because of what we will do together. We are stronger together united by a common purpose. A common purpose to move this department forward and set a new standard for the organization.

A simple philosophy will define our path and what we are about to do. We will let our leaders lead and our managers manage. Those two things together will be tempered by setting the right level of accountability and clearly defining expectations.

We will consciously make an effort to actively coach and develop to set the foundation. That endeavor will build and expand skills throughout the organization for a stronger overall team. Together we will plan to execute within that stronger model. Together we will ensure we have the right people in the right places at the right times doing the right things (Cleveland, 1999). That path forward will setup a successful foundation to manage planned and unplanned work.

The value of coaching and developing will becomes apparent as we become stronger together. The values of transparency and collaboration will guide us forward. They will guide us forward together as we take this first step together.

On Routines

Routines happen. People have them. People follow them. People notice them. Given enough time routines typically become rigid. Some of them become very rigid. A certain degree of routine related rigidity creates the potential for surprises. Those surprises could occur in a variety of ways. People will surprise you. Given enough time a surprise or two is pretty much inevitable. As we approach 2015, I have started to think all types of routines. They have been at the forefront of my consideration.

Clear Paths

A clear path forward would be a good place to start. I wrote the following rough draft during two different writing sessions. It is in desperate need of some work. It might be a false start, but a few strong revisions might fix it.

We are all a part of history. A history that always marches forward. A history occurs without approval or consent. A few privileged individuals will write the next chapter. Most of us are just along for the ride. The ride itself may not define us. However, our history does change the way we look at the world. In this moment, I hope that this treatise changes that view of the world. Two questions immediately stand out, “How will this generation be remembered?” and “Are the things that we have chosen memorable?” Ultimately, those are the questions that this treatise will endeavor to answer.

Some chapters in the grand history of the world are basically forgettable. Only a few highlights truly stand out. Now is the time for our generation to choose our moment. We have the capacity for greatness. Fragmentation has stolen any hope of collective action. The public commons has become crowded. It has become almost impossible to navigate. Grand ideas were mapped into plans. Some of them were executed.  Almost all of them have been forgotten. The great champions have been defeated. The weight of our obligations has defeated us.

Together we can take the first step on a new path. Proposing a framework at this point might seem foolish. As technology begins to intersect with modernity, we face a true and defining set of choices. This chapter of history could be a touchstone that defines the future. We the people must be better together. We have to be better together than we are apart. The fragmentation has to end. We have to accept the great challenges of our day. The greatest problems of the day need to be formally recognized and ultimately brought to resolution.

At some point along the journey, we the people delegated the responsibility of collective action to bureaucrats and elected officials. From the start America was a grand idea. A host of problems had to be solved for the project to work. The people were better off together than apart. Together they were able to build the infrastructure of civilization.

Responding to challenges defines the capacity of a society by exposing very real limits. Enough people collectively working together can and have challenged the very limits that threaten civilization. Imagine the effects of a sustained drought in the State of California. As an example, the capacity to deal with water shortages would define the limits of society. Those limits are what this treatise will explore.

Perhaps at this point introducing a theoretical framework would be helpful. It works like this — we the people have a social contract that is bound by our collective will to work together and the push and pull of our individual needs. The following example will be both defined and informed by those narrow optics of triangulation. Naturally, the expansion of examples beyond triangulation is possible.

This treatise represents one volume of thought. A volume that ultimately will rest on a shelf at the academy. It will rest on a shelf surrounded by an every growing body of thought.

Collective action defined the formation of a nation. Grand projects that put a true dent in the universe are a rare thing. The call to action is real. Now is the time. The time has been defined by the scale of our collective need. A need to solve problems before their weight collapses the very foundations of society.

Never forget

Over a decade later the events of September 11, 2001 still seems surreal. Everything that happened that day still stands out in my mind. At the time, I was living with about one hundred college age friends at the Sigma Phi Epsilon house. My room at the time was on the second floor near the main staircase. I woke up to people banging on doors telling people to turn on their televisions. My bed was near the ground in the back corner of the room near the television. I remember pushing the power button on the 30 inch glass tube standard definition television. I did not have to change the channel. I remember that the room was completely clean, the flannel sheets on the bed still smelt like the dryer sheet, and that the glass screen on the television was dusty. I remember reading the words scrolling across the screen. I remember felling disbelief, anger, and terrible sorrow. I remember everything about that morning. On this day every year, we have to remember to stand strong in the face of danger and never forget the events of September 11, 2001.