Posted by: reachdev | March 17, 2014

Grow Where You Are Planted

In order to get away from the bitter cold and neck deep snow of Minneapolis, I spent last week in sunny Florida. Being able to bask in the warm weather and walk along the beach got me thinking about how nice it would be to live somewhere warm, somewhere without subzero days and sixteen hour nights, without snow shoveling and glare ice that makes for treacherous driving and walking. I dreamed about a life of beach combing and scuba diving and days spent by the ocean. They were beautiful dreams, but as the week advanced toward its inevitable end, I realized that these dreams would have to wait. I had work to do.

Lonely-Trees-5Vacation destinations are wonderful places to relax because they take us away from our everyday worries and plant us, temporarily, in paradise. It is so different from home that we desire this idyllic version of life. It is this very feeling upon which vacation time-share companies make their living. The challenge is that we only see the “sunny” side of the area. If we had to live in that paradise every day, year after year, it would grow tiresome, just like home! Growing up in the military, I’ve lived in many places in my life, and every one of them had their good and bad side. No place is perfect although each destination has its “paradise” time of year.

So, although I loved my time in Florida, I realize that my life is at home in Minnesota. My work is rewarding and I enjoy my friends and clients. I can put up with many winters yet to come and use Florida as a well-deserved break in the middle of the long cold winters. I shall look for the good wherever I am and grow where I have been planted.

Posted by: reachdev | March 5, 2014

The Director’s Chair

After 11 years of leading a youth theater group (10 of them as director) I’ve hung up my beret and am moving on to other projects. As I tie a bow on this portion of my life, it seems fitting to reflect on what this experience has taught me. While working with children (ages 10 to 18) can be challenging, if a person keeps his mind open, he – meaning me- can still learn a thing or two.directorchair03

Give people time to grow. It is easy to form judgments of children that can color your perception of them for their entire lives. For example, there were two brothers that I initially met when they were about 6 and 8 years old. These boys were wild and fought all the time. It seemed that they were determined to wreak havoc on every rehearsal with their antics. While they weren’t consistently involved in our production, I was able to see them grow up into very courteous and thoughtful young men who are a joy to be around. Based on this and other experiences, I have learned to suppress my initial reactions about a person and allow them the time to learn and grow.

Creativity comes from competency. As our cast would go through their six weeks of rehearsals, we would find that after about two weeks, they had their lines down and knew where to move on the stage. Then we would go through a two week period where we would experience little or no growth in their characterization. The feeling quite often was that we wouldn’t get much better so why don’t we just get this show on the road! But then an wonderful thing would happen about 10 days before opening night. The actors would start to come up with entertaining and interesting bits for their characters to do. What we found was that until they had lived with their part for a period of time, they really couldn’t make the necessary improvements. These improvements were much more appropriate than those that they had come up with early in the rehearsal process. So I’ve learned that we have to spend a lot of time to develop real competency in an area, then valuable creativity can take place.

High standards increase the value of praise. Countless times during my 11 years with these children, mothers (never fathers) would approach me with the advice that I should praise the children more often so as to raise their self-esteem. In the nicest way possible I would tell these parents that when a child did something that I saw as praiseworthy, I would tell them so. And I would. I wish adults could see through BS as well as children do! Self-esteem doesn’t come from being told that I did well, when I didn’t. It comes from improving oneself and having that improvement recognized by someone we respect. I was a demanding director because I knew the actors could do better. When I eventually told them that they did something well, they knew it was true and not some hollow compliment. There is nothing wrong with being tough, but when someone accomplishes something, you better be just as vocal with your praise!

There are many more things I learned from this experience. Maybe I’ll find time to tell you more, but not today.

Posted by: reachdev | February 24, 2014

From An Old Dog

old-dog-new-tricksThroughout our lives we are taught through the use of proverbial sayings. From an early age we hear such wisdom as; “Money doesn’t make you happy.”, “Too many cooks spoil the broth.” and of course, “The early bird gets the worm.” We are supposed to derive some kind of life lessons from these proverbs that will help direct us on our journey. Unfortunately, some of these proverbs can stifle us by teaching us the wrong lessons.

Take for example the old saw, “You can’t teach an old dog, new tricks.” It’s hard to know the truth of this proverb. Is a dog ever too old to learn something new? And if it is true, what does it matter? People aren’t dogs! You and I aren’t dogs and we don’t need to let this idea limit our ability to grow and learn. Yet in working with adult learners we constantly run into people who use this concept as an excuse to remain stagnant in life.

Recent studies have shown that people who continue to learn and have new experiences tend to stay sharper and be more optimistic about life. So commit yourself to lifelong learning. It will do you as much good as physical exercise and a healthy diet.

Posted by: reachdev | February 12, 2014

Do It Anyway

These inspirational admonishments were originally written in 1968 by college student, Kent M. Keith. He called them the Paradoxical Commandments . They became much more famous in the 1990’s when an abbreviated form was attributed to Mother Theresa because she had them written on the wall of her children’s home in Calcutta. I have found them to be useful during those times when I’ve felt my efforts to be unappreciated or degraded. I hope you will find them strengthening – as I have.


Posted by: reachdev | February 5, 2014

No Need to Run the Gauntlet

pb-111019-grenada1-rs.photoblog900During a recent program on professional presentations one of the participants mentioned that she had taken a course earlier in her career that had similar objectives but a very different training philosophy. When pressed for details she told of a speech class where the instructor encouraged the audience to interrupt, challenge and otherwise annoy the student-presenter. The objective of this process was to “toughen up” the student in an effort to enable them to handle the worst possible presentation situations. While the goal is laudable, I don’t think much of the method. I call this “gauntlet” training, and it is evidenced by instructors that found it useful for their unique learning style. Fortunately, the masochistic learner is rare and this training style has gone by the wayside.

In 20 years of training professionals to get up in front of an audience and give a quality presentation I have never found it necessary to challenge them in such a fashion. Quite conversely, it is almost universally necessary to build their confidence so that they can communicate as clearly when presenting to a group as they do when speaking with one other person. This is accomplished by helping the student to focus on their strengths and convincing them that they come across as credible and competent. A training program and its instructor should be able to understand and respect the needs of the learner and aid them in their progress. There’s no need to “run the gauntlet” in order to develop our professional skills.

Posted by: reachdev | December 31, 2013

Closing Our Knowledge Gaps

Closing-the-knowledge-gapEarlier today I was washing my hands next to a young father who was helping his 3 year old to do the same. In the middle of their task the boy asked, “What is that hole?” The father was taken aback but soon answered, “That’s a drain.” Moments later the boy took it a step further, “What’s a drain?” Getting into the proper mode the father said, “It’s where the water goes when we wash our hands.” As the dad lowered the boy to the ground and turned off the sink the lad continued his questioning, “Why does it do that?” Now the father decided to take it to a new level, “The water goes down the drain to a place where they clean it up and we get to use it again.” As they dried their hands the conversation stalled and I thought the father had gotten the best of the exchange, but as they turned to walk out the boy asked, “So where does the water come from?” I had to stifle a laugh, and didn’t get to hear the dad’s answer but I had the feeling that the interrogation was far from over! The exchange did get me thinking about my own knowledge gaps and of those with whom I work.

While these capability or knowledge gaps are obvious when we speak to a toddler, they are not always so apparent in us or to most other adults around us. However, they are obvious to someone who has expertise and experience that outshines our own. For example, I have a friend who has done some fine work in the area of organizational goals and strategic planning. Whenever I need him to help me with what seems a difficult client problem, he listens carefully, asks a few pointed questions and then outlines two or three excellent suggestions for solving the problem. And they are solutions that I hadn’t even considered! While he would never say it to me, I’m sure he saw the problems I brought to him as pretty elementary. The nice thing about our relationship is that he comes to me with questions about selling, and I am able to help him with some creative solutions.

So as we look forward to this new year of 2014 here are a couple of suggestions I would make for someone who wants a better future. First, understand where your capability gaps are. You can learn this by talking to peers, supervisors, mentors or your coach. Second, decide to develop yourself in these areas or find others who you can consult with that will fill those gaps for you. What you cannot do is ignore these issues. Your knowledge gaps are noticed by those that come to you for solutions.

Posted by: reachdev | July 1, 2010

It All Comes Down to the Individual

All forms of media assail us with governmental solutions to our country’s economic woes; TARP Funding, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, etc. are all attempts by our leaders to create jobs and light a fire in our economy. Unfortunately, history indicates that universal solutions, be they the recovery act of 2009 or the WPA of the 1930’s, are only a short-term bandage on nationwide economic woes. The jobs that are “created” do not last and the cost (increased taxation & federal debt) must eventually be paid for by other workers.
What then is the solution? I contend that it is founded in individual creativity, effort and leadership. Let’s look at a few examples from our home base of Minneapolis and St. Paul.
Lawson Software – Started in the early ‘70’s by brothers, Richard and Bill Lawson in a spare bedroom in Richard’s home. Lawson now employs 3700 people worldwide with $700 million in sales.
Medtronic, Inc. – It was formed as a partnership in April 1949 by Earl Bakken and his brother-in-law, Palmer Hermundslie and set up shop in a Minneapolis Garage. 50 years later, Medtronic employs over 41,000 people and has worldwide revenues of $15 billion.
Carlson Companies – Starting in 1938 with an idea and a $55 loan, entrepreneur Curt Carlson founded the Gold Bond Stamp Company in his home town of Minneapolis. Now it is a worldwide powerhouse of the hospitality industry employing nearly 150,000 individuals.
Add to these astounding numbers millions of small 1 and 2 person businesses begun by individuals that saw a need and decided to fill it with their own creative solutions. From these examples we can see that productivity increases when the individual woman or man decides to be more productive. Our responsibility in spurring the economic recovery is to work diligently and creatively to increase our organizations profitability and effectiveness. From this new jobs will be created and our economy will begin to grow again.

Posted by: reachdev | March 4, 2010

Managers – Don’t Ask for the “Deck”!

Along with many other professionals, I have noticed a disturbing trend toward voluminous PowerPoint decks by presenters of all stripes. This lends itself to presentations in which the projector never goes dark and the viewer is forced to watch slide after slide of bulleted text. The audience merely follows along as the notes are read to them, often with the “presenter” turning his or her head to look at the screen as they do so. This is, of course, a boring and tedious experience for the audience and has given rise to the term, “Death by PowerPoint”.

As I work with professionals they almost universally agree that this is a terrible way to present any topic and they affirm that they hate to do it or have it done to them. But they also tell me that they are often trapped into giving just such a presentation because as part of the review process, their managers expect to be given the presentation “deck”. What this indicates to the person preparing the presentation is that they must use PowerPoint (or another slide-based program) as the core of their finished product. This leads to slide heavy content which is more presenter’s notes than it is visually appealing.

What should we be doing instead? My advice would be to prepare your presentation in a written form on something like Word. When you come upon a concept for which you have an important and illuminating visual, create a slide for it. If the audience needs something to take with them, develop a hand-out based on your notes (including the visuals) and give it to them. Therefore, if managers would just ask for the “notes” instead of the “deck”, it would certainly be a step in the right direction!

Posted by: reachdev | December 29, 2009

Count Your Blessings

One of my favorite traditions this time of year is to watch all of the classic Christmas movies in our collection. I really enjoy them because they seem to portray the best nature of people. The challenges of George Bailey in “It’s a Wonderful Life” show how friends will come to our aid in times of real need. Young Susie Walker teaches us the power of belief, “I believe, I believe, I know it’s stupid but I believe!” as she get her dreams fulfilled in “Miracle on 34th Street.” And the power of persistence is evidenced in “A Christmas Story” as Ralphie schemes to get his Red Rider BB gun. But this year I was most taken by the classic, “White Christmas”, and the scene when Bing and Rosemary sing, “Count Your Blessing.”

As I listened to the song, one I had heard numerous times before, it struck me how important this concept is to our own personal happiness. We tend to take for granted all that is positive in our lives, such as our good health, a family that brings us joy, friends on which we can rely, or a warm home on a cold, snowy night. Perhaps it is because we have so much and have enjoyed it for so long that these pleasures become commonplace and they escape our consciousness. But the moment one of these “blessing” is lost we will find our whole being aches for its return. So, as we face an unknown and possibly precarious future in the new year of 2010, I encourage you to look at what you have rather than what you lack, and ease your mind by counting the many blessings in your life.

Posted by: reachdev | December 1, 2009

Dealing with Disappointment

It is said that bad news comes in threes and that seemed to be true for me during the past week or so. The first instance was a call from my oldest son with the news that he had not made the college baseball team, something that was very important to him. The next day I received a rejection letter from a publisher regarding a manuscript they had been reviewing. Finally, a client sent me an e-mail to let me know that a couple of training programs that we had been planning were being put on the back burner for a few months. Now I realize that none of these were traumatic or earth shattering, but all were disappointing nonetheless. And when they came in such close proximity, it seemed to take the wind out of my sails.

How then, do we respond when this “veil of tears” deals us one disappointment upon another? I know for me that I let is get me down for a couple of days and that my weekend was less joyful that I hoped it would be. Others however, might find that it affects their confidence or their belief in their abilities. Some might take it so far as to quit a particular endeavor and live with their disillusionment forever. Unfortunately, these choices don’t cause us to grow and become more resilient in the future. Or as my father always said, we lose our chance to “build some character”. Instead, give the sting of frustration some time to lose its edge, analyze your options thoughtfully and make a logical decision on how to move ahead. You may find that your path is still correct, but you need to give yourself additional opportunities to succeed. In the words of Thomas Edison, “Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.”

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