Friday, December 19, 2008

Look, nobody died!

A long time ago I heard a quote, "Nothing ventured gained." That was the first insight I remember regarding risk taking.

Another quote that came later was "Behold the turtle, he makes progress only when he sticks his neck out."

These thoughts helped me become a risk taker, but I find as a teacher and nurturer that others are not so easily persuaded. So I've found two supplemental insights that often turn reluctant risk-takers into habitual risk-takers.

The first supplemental quote is "Look. Nobody died!"

The second is similar, "Look, the Universe as we know it didn't end!"

The reluctant and timid often overestimate the impact of their mistakes. They almost think that someone will die if they goof up. And by their logic, if carried to its natural conclusion,life on Earth as we know it might cease!

But we aren't really that important.

So, take the reasonable risk. Probably no one will notice or care. (Regardless of the outcome.) No one will die. The Universe will continue. Give yourself permission to stick your neck out!

(I shared some of these thoughts with my wife, and her contrary response was, "Well, no one has died YET!)

Thursday, December 18, 2008

If you measure me in strange ways...

As a teacher, part of my job is assessing students. When I was a data processing manager part of my job was giving annual performance reviews. I am still on both ends of the measurement activity: I measure others, and I get measured.

I have three main opinions about assessments. The first is taken from a fellow educator Robert F. Mager. He wrote a famous book called Defining Instructional Objectives. In the preface of his 1984 book he says, “If you’re not interested in measuring the effectiveness of your instruction, you’ve just finished reading this book.”

This quote instructs me in the importance of measuring things. If you measure things, you end with data that can be analyzed. You are freed from simply relying upon you gut feelings, which are sometimes arbitrary. Measurements give you a way of measuring improvement.

But measurements are often misused, so I have two adages to protect me from misusing measurements. The first is this, “If you measure me in strange ways, don’t be surprised if I act strangely.” Some things are hard to measure, like what makes a good computer programmer? Someone thought that good programmers wrote a lot of programs, so they tied pay raises to lines of code written. Guess what happened? Yup, programmers started acting strangely, and their programs got really, really long. See if you can find strange behavior born of strange measurements in your world.

My second saying to protect myself from misusing measurements is this, “What you measure often improves, so be careful what you measure.” Here’s an example: many people want to lose weight, so they keep track of their weight. They may even reduce their daily food intake enough to lose weight. Unfortunately much of their weight loss is water and muscle. A better measurement would be losing fat. If the weight loss is fat, then you save your muscles. Saving your muscles keeps you from undermining your bodies ability to burn calories and keep you strong.

So those are my three rules-of-thumb for dealing with measurements. Used well, measurements help you find your personal best, help you move up in the pack, and help you know if you’re improving or not.

Now have fun looking for ways you’re being measured, ways you’re measuring others, and how both may need improving.

One final thought.
As I was driving to work yesterday thinking about the topic of measurements, I thought about how God measures me, or what He wants from me. What came to mind was an Old Testament verse, "He has shown you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? But to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God." Justice, mercy, and a daily walk with God: those are measurements worth aspiring to.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Sometimes... Good enough is!

Back in my earlier days I used to be a bit of a perfectionist. Way back in grade school I remember staying after school rewriting a letter to the California state capital requesting information for my state report. The unusual part of this story is that it took me over 30 attempts. The letter was in ink and cursive. I wanted it just right. My teacher was impressed, but looking back, I wished I'd have known a great secret:

Sometimes, good enough is good enough!

Many years later as a computer programmer I had a boss who helped me learn this. I liked to create nice looking computer reports, but sometimes we needed to to what we called a "quick and dirty." With various time constraints I learned that not every project had to be my best work. There wasn't enough time.

My boss explained that sometimes we could only give our client a Volkswagen. We couldn't afford to give them a Cadillac.

Put in more common terms, When you're hungry, fast-food will do. You don't need gourmet, you just need some food.

I shorten the lesson learned to this: Sometimes... good enough is!

This little lesson helps me maintain my sanity since I can be prone to over-achieve, over-do, or over-obsess. Relax. I've learned to take a deep breath and decide up front: Do I need the Cadillac version, Volkswagen, something in-between, or just a skateboard?

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The tyranny of the urgent.

Life is short. There are important things to do, but the “urgent” things often attempt to crowd out the important. Outside of work these conflicts are easier to manage. I’ve found a couple of ways to divert an attack of the urgent.


Lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part.

I have this saying on a small 3 x 5 postcard that I keep behind me on my personal workplace bulletin board. Just because somebody asks you to do something, doesn’t mean you have to do it. "No" is an option. I’ll often say, “Let me think about it. I’m in the middle of something important.” Or a real show stopper is “Can you put that request in writing. That way I’ll know just what you’re asking for.” Usually that works, but not always, so I have a plan B:


If you want it bad, I’ll give it to you bad.
If you want it real bad, I’ll give it to you real bad.
How bad do you want it?

Anyone who has read my blog for long knows that I’m a bit of a smart-aleck. That personal attribute carries over into real life, or vice-versa. As a result I’m able to use the above quip fairly effectively without being offensive. It often helps me fend off unreasonable requests.


I do however get called upon to drop what I’m doing and do something urgent, but not important. I may try a bit of negotiation, but then I do it. I do have bosses, and they have bosses. Reason only goes so far. ;-)

But… I’ve found that because I use the first two options, I end up doing less of the third.

Another result of fending off unrealistic urgent requests is that I have time to do what’s important and be available to those who genuinely need my help. Sometimes my urgent help. But it’s not automatic. I have learned to manage “the tyranny of the urgent.”

Monday, December 15, 2008

Personal Proverbs... When in a hole...

Personal Proverbs... Words to live by... Favorite sayings... or General Systems Laws...

Potato, Potato.

These are the short sayings by which I navigate life...

When in a hole, quit digging.

This pithy remark is useful, especially for men. We have a tendency to say the wrong thing. You know... Open mouth; insert foot.

But then we make matters worse. We keep talking. Guys! Listen to me. Don’t keep talking! You know you're in trouble. You can see it in their faces. You're in hole! Just remember this:

When in a hole, quit digging.

Quit digging? You don't understand? (Okay, this is for my guys out there: Shut up. Zip it.) It will only get worse if you keep talking. You’ve already put yourself in a hole, so quit digging it deeper.

Cough, look across the room and pretend you see something. Change the subject. Ask if anyone has seen a good movie lately? Or... back away slowly from the group... muttering if needed... "Bathroom..." or "Another beer..." or Nothing at all.

When in a hole, quit digging.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Shhh... God whispers!

God speaks my language. He speaks your’s too, but you have to listen.

Once upon a time, God spoke to a man named Elijah. Elijah was bummed out, running for his life, and hiding in a cave. Then something amazing happened… God spoke…

Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.

God whispers. Are you listening? Am I?

My racquetball partner of three years moved away, but yesterday she was back in town so we played. It was sooooo fun. (I won the first three games, then she won the last two.) We played almost two hours of indoor racquetball. Just like old times.

As we were parting ways in the parking lot, she mentioned to me that her other local former racquetball partner was still interested in playing me.

I had turned the offer down some months ago, but then… a still small voice… I remembered my own post from several days ago about the man on the roof in the flood. The man drowned because he missed the opportunities God sent his way. He wasn’t listening. But now… I was…

Hmmm… I’ve been looking for a racquetball partner, and a friend of a friend wants to play… Duh! I said, “Sure, e-mail me her e-mail address, and I’ll play.”

I may be slow… but I am listening. I'm listening for the still, small voice of God – the Whisperer. The one who speaks my language.

Some of my fellow bloggers sometimes say, “…it must be a sign!” I don’t look for signs, but I do listen for whispers. Maybe some see signs, others dream dreams, others read the Bible and listen. Some do all of the above. But God knows how to speak your language.

Here’s a final example. A man named Nathanael came to see Jesus…
When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, "Here is a true Israelite, in whom there is nothing false."
"How do you know me?" Nathanael asked.

Jesus answered, "I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you."
Then Nathanael declared, "Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel."

Whoa? What happened? Jesus says a few words to Nathanael, and Nathanael is converted. What happened? Jesus spoke Nathanael’s language. I don’t get it, but Nathanael did.

God who formed the ear knows how to speak. God who formed my ear knows how to speak to me. (And you too.) Shhh… listen…

Happy Sunday!