Obsessions are Necessary

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Photo source: http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Ultralight_Trike_01.JPG

I have recently started an obsession with flying ultralight weight-shift aircraft (also called trikes).  I am early in my obsession so I have started with internet searches and reading materials.  I have never piloted an aircraft before so this is all new to me, and fascinating.

Obsession is usually thought of as a negative thing.  Merriam-Webster defines the word as

a persistent disturbing preoccupation with an often unreasonable idea or feeling.

The words “disturbing” and “often unreasonable” make this sound like a horrible thing.  Webster even goes on to use stalking as an example of obsession.  While this may be the way we generally think of the word, obsession is what has created greatness as well.

Let’s remove the negative connotation from the definition and our new definition becomes

A persistent preoccupation with an idea or feeling.

Now that’s better.  My obsession with trikes is not hurting anyone, if anything it is providing me with motivation to work towards a goal.  Unfortunately, this hobby is expensive to get into and costs money to enjoy.  Additionally, it requires knowledge and training that I don’t currently possess.  Therefore, I need to have a strategy on how to get into it.  This strategy gives me purpose and planning.

Innovators and leaders in history have been obsessed people.  Obsessed with the ideas of success or accomplishment for the betterment of mankind or science.  Wouldn’t you say that Martin Luther King, Jr. was obsessed with equal rights?  Could you agree that the Wright brothers were obsessed with flight or that Henry Ford was obsessed with producing an affordable automobile?

Our heroes are often obsessed people.  But they are obsessed with things that we consider noble.  We must learn to channel our obsessions into productivity.  Taking obsession to fruition is a process that must be planned, paced and produced.  As leaders, we must get other people to buy-in to our obsessions.  We must demonstrate our passions to inspire others to be passionate with us.  This doesn’t take anything magical, it simply takes commitment and the right touch.

I hope that I can be as passionate about how I can help others as I am about my future hobby.  Right now my wife doesn’t think my obsession is a good idea, but I have a strategy for that, too.  I know that if I can inspire her to support my obsession then I can do anything.

What are you obsessed about?

How can you channel your obsession into a positive outcome?

What are some techniques you use to get others to believe in your obsession?

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Seeing Through the Fog

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It was a foggy morning on my way to the office today and it made me think.  There is a lot of fog in what we do every day.  Ships have run aground because they couldn’t see the shore.  Planes have trouble seeing runways for landings.  Even in the wild the fog can make it difficult for prey to see predators and predators to see prey.  So how can we navigate through the fog that obscures our vision every day?

What does fog do to our vision?
It reduces the amount of detail we can see.
It reduces the distance we can clearly view.

How can we clear the fog?
The fog we experience every day comes in the forms of poor communication and lack of information.  We may have the information we need, but we are typically bad at relaying that information to those that need it thereby reducing the amount of detail others can see.  Lack of information limits our field of vision.  As project leaders we need to constantly be in the pursuit of information and passing the information effectively to others.

Create the Plan
It is important to have a plan to navigate through the fog and then to eliminate it.  Here are a few pointers.

Actively seek information not just at the start of a project but throughout.  New information may be discovered and some information may become outdated.  Make sure you have a plan on how to actively locate information when your view is obstructed.

Create a communication program to get the word out to the rest of the team.  Talk about what you learn and find ways to get it to the team effectively.  Emails, newsletters, meetings, one-on-one talks are all different ways to get the word out.  Pick some tools and learn how to use them well.  Don’t make it complicated.

Communicate outside the team to solicit for information and to let others know what you are doing and how you are doing it.  This communication will help others find you in the fog and will lift the fog for others on why your team is necessary and will be successful.

What are other sources of fog?

How else have you lifted fog for yourself or your team?

Keeping the Message Simple

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We often try to send too much information at one time.  We have a lot to say, so why not say it?  The issue is that saying too much at one time dilutes the real message, the important message.  Boil down what you have to say and make it compact.  Compact is memorable and memorable is what you need to get the message across.

Put Some Thought Into It

Simplifying a message is not easy, so don’t try to wing it when the time comes.  Give it a lot of thought and make sure that your message can’t be misinterpreted once it has been delivered.  I am not a fan of the long mission statements that are typical of most organizations.  The simple ones are the ones that create action.  General Electric had a good one; “We bring good things to life”.  Toyota is currently using “Moving Forward”.  But this doesn’t apply to just mission statements.  Think of your message and make it simple.

A Picture is Worth 1000 Words

Let’s just hope they are the right words.  Using pictures or symbols can be very useful, as long as they can’t be misunderstood.  The wrong symbol or a poor picture can jumble the message and leave it without definition instead of solidifying what you have to say.  If you can’t find the right picture, leave it out.  Don’t confuse the message.

Explain the Why

If I can understand why you want something done, it helps me to make decisions if you weren’t explicit about something with your message.  When delivering your message (a project goal, a team strategy, a company mission/vision) make sure that people understand why this is the message.  Don’t let people guess.

Make it Personal

We learn through stories.  Almost all religions teach through parable.  There is a reason – they are easy to remember and they connect.  Stories connect to people in ways that lessons do not.  We teach our children with fables (I bet you know the story of the grasshopper and the ant, and its lesson).  We learn our lessons from tall tales.  Give people a story to illustrate your message, even if it is made up.  Don’t lie, let them know it is fiction, but deliver your message in a story.

Repeat, Repeat, Repeat…

There are several ways to repeat a message: put it on a letterhead or at the end of an email, put signs up around the office, pepper it into a speech, use it as a reminder when things go off topic.  You don’t have to go around and be a broken record, but you need to give people reminders that the message is there.

Making a message simple is, in itself, not so simple.  It takes planning, thought, and a lot of work and repetition.  Have fun with the process.

How else can you keep your message simple?

What are some tag lines you can think of?

Napping on the Job

 

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Build in time to take a rest.  This is often neglected in managing projects.  Here are five good reasons you should build in the time.

A better outcome. 
Time away from a project will allow people to think about it from other perspectives.  As we do other things we can make associations that we wouldn’t otherwise make, allowing us to approach projects with new points of view that might result in better solutions.

Recharging = Rejuvenation. 
Separation makes the heart grow fonder (or at least helps to prevent burnout).  Giving team members a break from the project will help them to stay passionate about it.  Just make sure to provide the flexibility to come back to it sooner than scheduled in case inspiration strikes.

Down time can be fun time. 
If you can’t give “time away” then give “time at play”.  Create some time for the team to be together without working on the project.  This helps to build personal relationships which will strengthen the team and will affect the success of the project.

Focused work doesn’t seem so bad. 
We are all on the time crunch.  Burnout can happen easily.  However, if you can schedule the time away, it provides a time for members to look forward to or be recharged from, allowing for a more focused approach when the time calls for it.

Make it a milestone. 
Scheduled breaks based on milestone accomplishments provide for celebrations of successes and reward time for goals met.  Taking some time to celebrate and recharge is crucial for long projects.

Taking a cat-nap isn’t all that bad, and in many cases will improve the overall results of your project.  Additionally, as a project leader, it will help you keep your team on task and motivated.  You need to take care of your people, not just work them to the bone.  Keeping this in mind will make you the type of project leader that people like to work with, making you and your projects more successful.

Happy napping!

How do you recharge your teams?

How can you apply “naps” to your projects?

Finding Your Motivation

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt has been a while since I wrote something and it is high time I get to it.

I went for a run yesterday, in a new place, on a hot day, away from home.  There were times on my run that I was discouraged because I knew I should be running faster, not as winded, or simply was hurting.  But when I reached areas that were different I found myself motivated to keep going.  Below is a list of five things that I find motivate me.

A Change of Scenery

A new perspective can give us a sense of everything being new, and when you need motivation new things can give you that.  When we start a new project or join a new team we naturally have motivation.  We are excited about the new thing and we jump in to contribute, even if it is similar to something we have done in the past.  A change of scenery can be something as simple as rearranging the office so that you look at things from new angles, where the office just doesn’t feel familiar anymore.  Changing the scenery gives me a sense of new beginnings, even if it is the same old thing.

Accomplish Something…Anything

Whenever I complete a project (and, yes, cleaning my house is a project) I always feel motivated to keep going.  This can often spill into other aspects of my life.  I enjoy playing guitar, so learning a new song is a fun accomplishment for me.  I feel good about myself and that drives me to keep going.  When I need to work on my car, even the routine maintenance of changing oil or brake pads, I feel motivated because I saw something to the finish.  Let’s face it, our projects at work are often longer-term and that can get old.  You sometimes just want the project to be over and you become complacent and even satisfied with mediocre results.  Find another aspect in your life where you can accomplish something by seeing it through to a satisfactory ending and you just might find yourself with a renewed interest in what you have going on at work.

Music = Inspiration = Motivation

I enjoy all different kinds of music (except country music, you can keep your twang).  I find something inspirational about music and different music with different emotion puts me in different moods; reflective, passionate, excited, even depressed.  Listening to music can put us in a different frame of mind that can give us new views on old topics.  We may even get inspiration which provides the motivation we need.  Put on some music at work, or listen to you iPod with earbuds if you are in an open office.  If you can’t do either of those things, make sure you have something on in your car on the way to and from work to give you the boost you may need.

Physical Activity

It takes a while (give it at least a couple of weeks) but exercise is a great motivator.  Whether you choose to do something mind-numbing and simply zone out or reflect, or you choose to do something engaging like a team sport, letting your mind work on other things or giving it a break while you challenge yourself physically is a great motivator.  I feel recharged (mentally, anyway) after a great workout.  I feel even better when it is something that throws accomplishment in there, like a sport.  Keeping the body refreshed helps the mind.  Studies have shown those that suffer from depression symptoms see a relief from those symptoms during and after physical activity.

Support Systems

I have a great wife that listens to me talk when I have something to say.  She admits she doesn’t hold on to most of it because she doesn’t have a point of reference to most of what I am talking about, but she listens.  This gives me a sounding board that I can at least hear my thoughts out loud.  When talking to her I often find my perspective shifts or I can come up with different ideas than what I had before our conversation.  If I wasn’t motivated to work on something before we talked, I usually have a little more “go get ‘em” after.  Your support system can be anyone that will listen to what you have to say and give ideas when you need them.  Parents, friends, neighbors, the guy on the street corner (not recommended), anyone that will give you a shoulder to lean on and help you get up when you are down.  It is too difficult a society to try to stand on your own.  Be sure to reciprocate when it is your turn to support others.  You just may find that to be motivational as well.

So yesterday I when running (physical activity) in a new place (a change of scenery) while listening to my iPod (music).  After the run I felt I had done relatively well (accomplishment) and then talked to my wife about my run afterwards (support system).  So, I felt adequately motivated to get back in the saddle and start writing again.

We all fall off of our responsibilities sometimes; the trick is getting back to it.

 

What are some things that motivate you?