Solving for simplicity…

“Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that’s creativity.”

Charles Mingus

There is such beauty in simplification.  However the natural order of things seems to be focused on making things more complicated.  In business it seems to be how folks justify their efforts and contributions.  I know I’m guilty far too often of this.  

It is fun to solve complicated problems, those are the things that stir the heart and engage the mind.  Though in recent years I will fully admit that true joy has come from finding ways to make the complex simple.  Maybe it comes from being a father and needing to find ways to explain things to my kids.  Perhaps it is wisdom that comes through experience and hard knocks.  Regardless, bringing clarity and focus through simple and uncluttered thinking adds so much value to life. 

Here are some sample questions to reflect when thinking through how to make the complicated simple:

  • What is the single most important thing to focus on?
  • What is the easiest way to solve this problem?  Fastest?  Best?
  • Can I explain the solution is on a single page?
  • What are the questions that WILL be asked?  How can I answer them as directly as possible?  

 

Losing is a choice…

“When you reach an obstacle, turn it into an opportunity. You have the choice. You can overcome and be a winner, or you can allow it to overcome you and be a loser. The choice is yours and yours alone. Refuse to throw in the towel. Go that extra mile that failures refuse to travel. It is far better to be exhausted from success than to be rested from failure.”

Mary Kay Ash

Winning is a choice.  But then, so is losing.  

I was watching game four of the World Series between the Red Sox and the Dodgers on Saturday night.  In the bottom of the 6th inning the Dodgers scored four runs to take a 4-0 lead in the game with only 9 outs remaining for the Red Sox to try and come back and win the game.

The night before the Dodgers had won the game with a leadoff home run in the bottom of the 18th inning to win the game 3-2!  (the longest game in World Series history).  So a 4-0 lead going into the top of the 7th inning was a commanding lead.  But the Red Sox players are professionals and they are winners and they didn’t panic.  They chose to overcome.  The Red Sox scored 3 runs in the top of the 7th, and then another run in the top of the 8th to tie the game.  

Then in the top of the 9th they went on a rampage and scored 5 more runs to move the score to 9-4.  But did the Dodgers give up?  No way.  They lost the game but not before scoring two more runs in the bottom of the 9th.  Final score 9-6.  I love that neither team quit.  They just keep slogging it out. 

My point is this.  At any point someone could have decided “this is too much, we can’t win, I need to quit and rest myself for another game.”  But that isn’t what champions do.  They win, they persevere.  They rise to the challenge and if they lose, they get up and they try harder.  Failures quit.  Winners don’t make that choice.  

Someone has to win a game in the end, but no one has to quit…

Focus & Clarity

“If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself.”
 
Henry Ford
 

There is a great deal of satisfaction that comes when you are part of a team.  The energy that comes from working with others towards a shared vision is palpable.  Success becomes the result, not just a goal or a thing to be achieved.  

Without teamwork I would argue that while a specific task or objective might be achieved, the true opportunity is left unfulfilled.  Teamwork unlocks the magic of what could be. 

Why then do teams get off track?  Lack of a crystal clear vision or goal and clearly aligned team and individual objectives that bring focus and clarity to the work at hand.  Without this there is always going to be some sand in the gears so to speak.

If you haven’t read “Measure What Matters” by John Doerr I highly recommend it.  One of the best books I have read on creating focus and clarity as a team.  Truly exceptional.

 

Make your words count…

“It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open one’s mouth and remove all doubt.”

Abraham Lincoln

I rarely regret saying too little, but I have often thought perhaps I have said too much.  Reading this quote makes me think and reflect on the quality vs. quantity question.  Far better to make the words count than just have them add to the count…

Pause… And think…

“You will continue to suffer if you have an emotional reaction to everything that is said to you. True power is sitting back and observing things with logic. True power is restraint. If words control you, that means everyone else can control you. Breathe and allow things to pass.”

Warren Buffett

Take a deep breath…  Pause…  Will how I react now to whatever this situation is carry more impact a year from now than the actual situation itself?

I want that tattooed on the inside of my eyelids.  (no, not really) But having a “pause & think” button would a great skill to further develop.  When I think of the times when I have reacted more emotionally, or when I see others do it, it seems to happen when people “need to be right” as opposed to being focused on “doing what is right.”

Perhaps working to always separate yourself from the need to be right and only focusing on doing what is right can be the “pause and think button” we need in life and leadership.

 

Finishing strong today sets up tomorrow…

“Starting strong is good. Finishing strong is epic.”

Robin Sharma

When you think about it it is easy to start strong.  There is excitement for something new, a focus on starting a new adventure, etc.  But after a few weeks or months things slow down.  The pace drops off.  That’s when the real work, the real power of focus begins.  

Without a strong finish, everything else is really meaningless.  Well, maybe not meaningless, but certainly greatly diminished.  The power of a strong finish doesn’t just impact whatever the current project or initiative is though.  It sets the tone for the next one.  It builds a platform of performance that you and your team can use to leverage for the next time.  Finishing strong today isn’t just about today, it is about the future.

Be the change…

“Act the way you’d like to be and soon you’ll be the way you’d like to act.”

Bob Dylan

There is such power in these words.  Changing your behavior is hard, but much easier if you have a clear picture in your mind of what, or who, you want to be.  Then you just have to do it one simple step at a time, one day at a time.  

Rome wasn’t built in a day, nor is the person you were born to be.  You have to decide to make the changes, and then just do it.

 

Simplify one thing at a time…

“The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak.” 

Hans Hofmann 

What are the unnecessary things in your life?  I struggle with taking on too much, always have.  But then life is crazy and stressful and I have no one but myself to blame.

Like all things it isn’t about changing EVERYTHING. Just change ONE thing.  Eliminate one unnecessary thing.  See how it feels.  Then find another one.  Do it again.

Does your garden need to be tended?

“You are a product of your environment. So choose the environment that will best develop you toward your objective. Analyze your life in terms of its environment. Are the things around you helping you toward success – or are they holding you back?” 
 
W. Clement Stone 

A beautiful rose is a product of its environment.  The best seed won’t grow into its potential without the right soil, the right amount of water, the right sunlight, the right amount of intentional tender loving care.  

No one is surprised if a garden looks ragged and overgrown when it isn’t cared for.  Why should your life or leadership be any different?  What part of your environment needs to be adjusted for you to achieve maximum potential?  

Does your garden need to be tended?

Are you living life itself?

“We find greatest joy, not in getting, but in expressing what we are. Men do not really live for honors or for pay; their gladness is not the taking and holding, but in doing, the striving, the building, the living. It is a higher joy to teach than to be taught. It is good to get justice, but better to do it; fun to have things but more to make them. The happy man is he who lives the life of love, not for the honors it may bring, but for the life itself.”

R.J. Baughan 

This is very broad and profound and each sentence is worth mulling over and evaluating how one chooses to live their life.  I’m going to take a couple days and really dig into each of these and see where I “score.”  The  last sentence is so great.  “The happy man is he who lives the life of love, not for the honors it may bring, but for the life itself.”

Are you a happy man (or woman)?

How much do you care?

“Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.”

Leo Buscaglia

We never know the impact we have on another persons life.  The littlest things can matter the most.  When I read the quote above it jumped out that all of those things demonstrate care and concern for another human being.  Showing that we care can change somebodies world.  We don’t know what anyone else is truly going through and how we can impact their lives by demonstrating care.  We might never know, and that is okay because to live an intentional life of caring is our greatest calling.  

Life is not transactions…

“Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does.”

William James

This quote reminds me of the dangers of carrying a transactional viewpoint on people, life, and work.  The problem is that it is just so easy to get caught up in the activities of life and forget that we aren’t here to simply transact. 

A transaction is nothing more than an exchange of something I have, for something I want and the worldly measure of success says that if we get more than we give we have won.  But when you focus on giving, on providing more value in return than you have received, you open the door to really making a difference in the lives of others.  

Below is one of my favorite videos of all time and it does an incredible job showing how every person has a story.  Everyone should be treated with dignity, honor, and respect and you might never know the impact your smile could have on their day.  

What you do matters, and the difference it makes to another person might just mean all the difference in the world…

 

How much change, and when?

“A bend in the road is not the end of the road… Unless you fail to make the turn.”

Helen Keller

How do you know when you need to change?  How much change is necessary?  I really like this quote because it makes me think through those two questions.  When you are driving a car on the interstate your changes are subtle and slight.  A big change in direction can be accomplished with just a few degrees of adjustment on the steering wheel and very little pressure because the change is happening over a great span of distance.  But if you are driving across town, and come to a ninety degree turn, you are turning the steering wheel through multiple rotations to accomplish the change in direction that is necessary.

Life and leadership can be a lot like these examples.  Sometimes the changes needed are minor adjustments that end up making huge impact over time.  Other times the change needed is immediate and drastic and must happen NOW.  Know when to make the right type of change decision is key.  Because if you don’t, as Helen Keller said, you will fail to make the turn…

Spend your time wisely…

“If you love life, don’t waste time, for time is what life is made up of.”

Bruce Lee

How much time do we waste every day?  It seems that in todays world everyone is busier than ever.  But being busy does not mean that we aren’t wasting our time.  How many hours do we spend doing things, being extremely busy, but when we look back we can’t see that any value was derived from the time we spent? 

Do we tell ourselves that we are “busy” because that is an easier pill to swallow than to take a hard look at our time and see if we are being effective in how we spend it?   Are we busy doing the right things?  

Act like there is no other choice…

“The absence of alternatives clears the mind marvelously.”

Henry Kissinger

How do you create this environment artificially?  When there are truly no alternatives it is magical how intense and focused one can be on the task at hand. The challenge is that to live in this environment all the time isn’t reasonable.  There are always going to be times when there is a plethora of alternatives.  The leadership challenge is to pick the right one and then ACT like there aren’t any other choices…

Struggle builds strength…

“Strength does not come from winning. Your struggles develop your strengths. When you go through hardships and decide not to surrender, that is strength.”

Arnold Schwarzenegger

Given the author of this quote the first thing that I thought of of course was the physical process of working out and strengthening your body through exercise.  In order for the muscles to be stronger they must be used and strained; only then will they grow back stronger.  Think of the ‘day after’ feeling when you have had a great workout and your body is sore.  That soreness is the body rebuilding after “hardship” and an indication that strength is building.  What a great feeling.

Why don’t we approach life the same way?  We want everything to be easy.  As a rule people desire no hardships, no challenges, no struggles.  In today’s Instagram world everything has to be staged and we envy those with “perfect” lives.  We never see the private struggles and when those struggles happen to us far too often there is a victim mentality vs. leaning in and embracing the suck knowing that you will emerge on the other side far far better.

You have to tear down the entrenched positions of the moment so you can be prepared for the future.  If you are struggling today with anything think of this reframing question.  Instead of “why me?”  Think, “what am I being prepared for?” Struggle builds the muscle of life.

 

Reasons vs. Excuses…

“It is easier to move from failure to success than from excuses to success.”

John C. Maxwell

Excuses are devoid of action.  They reflect a lack of accountability for results which becomes a fertile ground for failure to take root.  The only way to break free from failure is to understand the reason that something failed and then create an action plan that you own and are accountable for.  The plan still might not work, but there can’t be any excuses, you have to own the outcomes.

When it comes to delivering results the difference between simply understanding a reason something happened, and making an excuse, is accountability and action.  

What will you accept from yourself?

“Essentially there are two actions in life: Performance and excuses. Make a decision as to which he will accept from yourself.”

Steven Brown

Does the world happen to you?  Or do you happen to the world?  I’ve written about that before but it is such an important part of how one approaches life.  One is an internal choice, but the other is a choice as well; a choice to be a victim of the external world.  

You make these decisions one choice at a time…  Which choice are you going to make tomorrow morning?

How much do you care?

“If you want to be the best leader you can possibly be, no matter how much or how little natural leadership talent you possess, you need to become a serving leader.” 

John C. Maxwell

How easy it can be to forget this when working to accomplish some task.  The results take priority over people and the focus is on what is getting done, not who you are serving and how it gets done.  

Servant leadership requires more than lip service.  It means more than results from some project or initiative.  It means to serve others.  Period.  It doesn’t mean easy, or soft leadership.  It means that you have to genuinely care about those that you serve and make sure that they are empowered for success.  Sometimes this means that they are not in the right role, or even the right organization.  That is okay.  Because if you truly care, and serve them, you want them to be the most successful that they can be.  Which requires genuine care, consistent support, candor, and feedback.  

You have to care about your team more than you care about yourself and they will know this based on how you serve them.  

Climb the wall!

“The brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough. They’re there to stop the other people.” 

Randy Pausch

If you haven’t read the Randy Pausch book “The Last Lecture” I HIGHLY recommend that you do so.  It is easily one of the most compelling and inspirational books I have read in my life.  I haven’t read it in a number of years but it is going to the very top of my queue to reread starting this weekend.  If you are interested there is also a video of his lecture that is well worth the time.  You can check that out here.

I believe the ability to overcome obstacles and achieve despite the barriers in front of you is one of the most critical to long-term success in life.  Whether you call it grit, determination, or perseverance it is a fundamental element that those who are successful (and defining success is for another post…) seem to have as a deep core character trait.  It is an attitudinal element that manifests through behavior.  Those that have it seem to live life with an “over, under, around or through” ethos that allows them to overcome any of the brick walls that life throws at them.

How do you approach the walls in life?  Is it with defeatism or an intense focus that allows you to drive and show just how badly you want something?

Why don’t you try?

“What good is an idea if it remains an idea? Try. Experiment. Iterate. Fail. Try again. Change the world.”

Simon Sinek

How many great ideas just whither up and die because they never see the light of day?  I know I have had some great ones (well I think they were anyway) that have lived only in my mind.  Why does this happen?  Is it fear of failure?  Prioritizing the wrong things?  Not making the experimenting with new ideas a focus area?  

There can be tons of reasons of course.  But what would happen if you dedicated an intentional amount of your time to focusing on bringing new ideas, great ideas to life?  Keep a running list, prioritize that list by impact and what really excites you.  Decide to try one new idea each year, quarter, month, whatever schedule makes sense.  But decide to try.  If you don’t decide to act then you never will.  

What is the worst that can happen?

“Whatever the dangers of the action we take, the dangers of inaction are far, far greater.”

Anthony Charles Lynton Blair 

What decision are you delaying while waiting for more information?  How much data or insight do you need in order to make it?  Will you ever have enough information to be 100% sure it is the right decision?  

Perfect information and insight doesn’t exist.  If we only made decisions when we had enough information to insure that our course of action was 100% infallible then nothing would ever get done.  However, what is the impact to those around you when decisions aren’t made and action isn’t taken?  Slowness and inaction because the accepted norm and indecision becomes a disease.  It creeps through an organization or group and paralyzes all potential for progress. 

Ask yourself this question the next time you are faced with a key action decision.  “What is the worst possible thing that can happen based on this decision to take action?”  Once you understand the risks, and can mitigate for them, no decision seems quite as daunting.  

Why are you running?

“Every morning in Africa, an antelope wakes up. It knows it must outrun the fastest lion, or it will be killed. Every morning in Africa, a lion wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the slowest antelope, or it will starve. It doesn’t matter whether you’re the lion or an antelope – when the sun comes up, you’d better be running.” ―

African Proverb

What really gets your attention?  What brings everything into focus and ignites within you the ability to hit the ground hard in the morning and run your very best game?  

When I think of this message I think of how awesome it is when there is a burning focus to life that brings clarity to everything else around me.  Without this focus, during the seasons where it is unclear, life just isn’t quite as rich. 

Do you know why you are running today? 

Who gets the credit?

“It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.” 

Harry S. Truman 

Who should get the credit for any accomplishments that we make in life?  I’m convinced that not once in life should I get any credit for anything that I have “accomplished.”  God has blessed me beyond measure and the opportunity to work with, serve for, and help amazing people is an incredible reward.

What happens when we focus our attention on doing the right thing and focusing on making a difference?  Instead of putting the effort towards what we “get” instead we should focus on what needs to be done, regardless of any credit that is due….   Reframing the “credit” due is incredibly freeing.  So much of our society today is all about the individual reward and recognition instead of focusing on doing the right thing.

What would you do differently if the “credit due” didn’t matter?

The magic recipe for success…

“It’s not the X’s and the O’s, but the Jimmys and the Joes that make the difference.”

Unknown

This quote has been used in college football for years.  Finding the original author proved to be impossible.  It has been attributed to Barry Switzer, Jimmy Johnson and many others.  Leaders who knew that no matter how brilliant their plays might look on the chalkboard, if they didn’t have the right talent on the field to execute it, the plays wouldn’t work.

I have been blessed in life to work for teams and players that could perform exceptionally well in almost any business.  Frankly, they could be successful at any plan, product or initiative.  Having an opportunity to serve alongside players like this is incredibly motivating and humbling.  They elevate the game of everyone around them.  But it is more than just pure energy and commitment.  The magic happens when the players fit the game plan AND the plan is the right one for the game being played.

Winning takes combining both great plays and great players.  You have to have the right talent in the right place.  You can’t ask a 6’4″, 220 pound wide receiver who runs a 4.35/40 to be your left tackle and expect to win.  Nor can you ask your 6’5″ 312 pound offensive tackle to go run a post route down the field and expect him to beat the coverage.

As Jim Collins wrote in “Good to Great” (still one of my favorite books of all time).  “First who, then what.”  You have to have the right people.  The bottom line is that if you don’t have the right talent you can’t win.  Period.  The joy of working with exceptional people is almost indescribable.  Their will to win, their effort and intensity, their sheer energy that is exuded all the time.  With the right people you know that almost any game plan can work.  With the wrong people, no matter how great the plan, it is doomed to failure or mediocrity at very best.  Sustainable greatness comes from marrying the right talent to the right plan and then executing relentlessly.  

So here’s the question.  Do you have the magic mix of the right talent, in the right place, at the right time to win?

 

 

You can’t grow if you are comfortably numb…

“We find comfort among those who agree with us – growth among those who don’t.”

Benjamin Franklin

Why do we dislike it when people don’t agree with us for some reason?  Is it because we want to be right?  We want to be liked?  Perhaps it is because we have a personal stake in whatever it is that is being disagreed with?

When people disagree with us are they doing so because they are right and we are wrong or is it because the ideas and knowledge we have at the time isn’t shared and equally understood?

I would argue that it isn’t about being right or wrong,  it is about the ability to understand that we only see the world through our own unique lens and in order to make meaningful change and embrace growth you must get outside of your comfort zone and see the world differently.  That means you must make it safe for people to disagree with you.  Without making it safe for others to disagree, making it known that you want to see the world differently, you will never get a broader view and a chance to grow.

For some reason I kept thinking of the last line from the Pink Floyd classic “Comfortably Numb:”  “The dream is gone, I have become comfortably numb.”   I think that is what happens if you are surrounded by people that only agree with you.  You become numb to growth and lose the ability to see the world from different perspectives and angles.

Don’t become “comfortably numb…”

Complaining is an investment in negative energy…

“Watch yourself about complaining. What you’re supposed to do when you don’t like a thing is change it. If you can’t change it, change the way you think about it.”

Maya Angelou

I love how this quote frames out there are only two paths forward from a complaint.  Change it, or change yourself.  That’s it.  Once you have invested the energy (think about that for a minute…) into complaining about something you only have two action oriented choices.  Of course you could continue to complain and wallow in misery but that’s your own choice if you decide to do so and generating a positive return from that energy is practically impossible.

I’ve found that approaching this with the perspective of an investor can be incredibly impactful.  Ask yourself; “is this investment of my precious energy and time into complaining about something going to result in a positive action or outcome?”  If the answer to this questions is “no”, then why would you continue to invest in something with a negative return?   Change the situation or change yourself.  If the answer is “yes,” then the automatic next question is “so what are you going to do about it?”

 If you are going to use the finite energy you have in life to complain about something will you take the next step?  Will you own the reason for the complaint and do something about it?  Easier said than done of course.  But most things worth doing are…  

Winning is a habit…

“Winning is not a sometime thing; it’s an all time thing. You don’t win once in a while, you don’t do things right once in a while, you do them right all the time. Winning is habit. Unfortunately, so is losing.”

Vince Lombardi

Winning is contagious, it spreads like a wildfire on a dry and windy summer day.  But losing is contagious too.  I am sure that you have been on both winning teams, and losing teams.  The difference in behavior and attitude is remarkable.  As a leader the key to building a winning team is to find wins and build on those wins.  Find the little things that are wins on a moment by moment or daily basis.  Create the momentum that allows a team to lean in and seek new and greater ways to grow.

You can apply this strategy in your self-leadership as well.  Reflect on your day and ask yourself “what were my wins today?”  Far too often, for me at least, it is easy to spend the time and energy thinking about all that you have to do, or all that you didn’t get done.  Instead, spend some time focusing on the wins that you did have.  You might find yourself building and reinforcing a habit of winning.

 

Are you satisfied?

“The minute you’re satisfied with where you are, you aren’t there anymore.”

Tony Gwynn

There is a fine line between satisfaction and complacency; and complacency is the enemy of growth and change.  If you are satisfied with 90% today, then will 75% be good enough tomorrow?  Being satisfied becomes a downward spiral if you don’t guard against it with almost religious fervor.  

Great things become great because someone was never satisfied with the results and continually sought for ways to make it better.  They never settled and were complacent about the results.  

The question is, if you are doing something, and are merely satisfied with the outcome, should you be doing it all?

Every day is a job interview…

“Every contact we have with a customer influences whether or not they’ll come back. We have to be great every time or we’ll lose them.”

Kevin Stirtz

I’ve long believed that you have to treat every day as a job interview.  You have to show up and put your very best foot forward.  This absolutely applies when thinking about how you approach your customers.  Every interaction and touchpoint is an opportunity to build a relationship that lasts and keeps them coming back for more.

There is a reason that companies like Chick Fil A, Publix, and Apple are so successful.  They understand this mantra and even when they don’t get it right (and no company gets it right all the time) they take steps to fix the situation.  These companies all have a culture of putting the customer experience first and building what they do around the experience they want to deliver.  It works and they make it a priority down to the smallest details.

By the way, customers don’t have to be the people or companies that you sell products and services to.  It could be the people that you work for and serve in your organization. As a leader it could be the people on your team…  You do want them coming back don’t you?

If you think about every customer experience as a job interview how would it change what you do today?

 

 

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