Monday, April 16, 2018

The Importance of A Team

Somewhere in life, someone once said to me, “You need to downplay your strengths and develop your weaknesses.”  I was young at the time and took this as sage advice.  Of course, striving to develop a weakness into a strength made sense, but I was unclear about downplaying what I was good at.  If I was a solitary individual, reliant only upon myself, then yes, working on improving not so good skill sets would be appropriate for survival.  Last I checked, I am no Henry Bemis (from the episode Twilight Zone episode, “Time Enough at Last”), so I am surrounded in an active world filled with able people.

Based on years of grappling with this, if I have a strength in some area, I should work towards honing that skill set.  I know that there is always someone better in that area; however, within our subject matter expertise there is always room for improvement.  For some of the weaknesses…I think that I might not want to spend valuable time on something I might never become proficient in.  Using music as an example, I chose to teach myself the banjo.  I already know how to play guitar (rhythm not lead), so I have some knowledge / familiarity with that type of instrument.  If I decided to play euphonium, that would be a big challenge, as I do not currently know valve-based brass instruments.

If we can build on our strengths, how can we overcome our (real or perceived) weaknesses?  Let us now enter the concept of working in a team, where one person does not have to have ALL the answers, nor need to constantly attempt to learn things that are beyond their abilities (not to be confused with stepping outside one’s comfort zone).  With the right team in place, each member can leverage each other’s abilities, compliment skill sets, and provide a broader based team to tackle most obstacles.  While we know the names of Andrew Carnegie, Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, etc., the truth was that these iconic leaders surrounded themselves with people who had the abilities that they did not.  Henry Ford is attributed with making the statement, "I am not the smartest, but I surround myself with competent people."

I have been in Project Management for about 20 years.  I have had the opportunity to work with programmers, implementation experts, application specialists, and people with business area expertise.  While my background is Accounting, it was important to learn other related areas of business and technology.  By working in a team, with people who have various skill sets, I have been part of successful teams, both providing my skills and learning others.  Not to dissimilar from playing in a band.  The guys I play with play different instruments and have different, yet similar, backgrounds.  Together, by listening to each other and complimenting each other, we are able to produce something greater as a whole than as individuals.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Plant the Right Seeds

It is Spring…or so the calendar says.  Regardless, this is the appropriate time of the year to think about planting, putting down seeds, watering and fertilizing them for future growth.  There is a certain amount of pleasure we get when we put in the work and then watch the blossoming of our efforts grow into something that we can all enjoy.  This is a great time of the year to watch the sprouting and the natural re-invigoration of life around us.

The best results, of course, are based on the fertility of the environment that we are working in.  This is great for the physical landscape.  How about the mental landscape as well?  Let us update the above paragraph slightly by substituting “idea” for “seeds” to get the following:

This is the appropriate time to think about planting, putting forth ideas, watering and fertilizing them for future growth.  There is a certain amount of pleasure we get when we put in the work and then watch the blossoming of our actions grow into something that we can all enjoy.  This is a great time to watch the sprouting and the natural re-invigoration of life around us.

Virtually the same words, with similar actions and similar outcomes.  When we work together in a group, we share (plant) ideas between each other, take hold of them and they have the potential to become something wonderful (said completely from my optimistic point of view).  When the right time comes, we have envisioned in our mind the outcomes we desire.  That tinge of fear / doubt begins and then comes the second guessing: What if the weather is not good?  What if my idea is not good?  What if no one likes my planting? What if no one likes my idea?  What if I have the wrong seeds?  What if I have the wrong ideas?  I remember when Gab and Bec were younger and learning to play softball, we would teach the kids that when they went to bat, instead of standing there watching the pitches go by and striking out, to swing – we wanted them to go down trying instead of standing there like a spectator.  The same applies here as well, better to make the attempt and fail, (learning something out of the endeavor) rather than do nothing at all.

With planting seeds, we will never know the outcome if we do not try planting in different grounds to find out the best results; keeping in mind that certain plants grow better in different climates (think of how many palm trees you see in New Jersey).  Ideas are no different; for an idea to take hold, there must be a receptive audience (think of how many breweries exist in the middle of a dessert wasteland).  In either case, stay true to your visions and dreams, be bold and plant the seed to meet the vision, then enjoy the outcomes you have sown.

Monday, April 2, 2018

When Life Hands You Lemons…

Life is not fair!  While this might be a true statement, it is more about what I do with it that counts instead of the initial action that causes that feeling.  Someone else’s choices or decisions can have a rippling effect beyond what is in front of them.  I am sure that I am not the only one who was told something and then stood with my jaw opened wondering if what I was hearing made sense or even if the action was fully thought out.  That is from my point of view - not the point of view of where it came from.  Change happens, for better or worse.

16 years ago, I was working for a consulting firm.  I was at a client that I had a good relationship with – they had asked for my help on this specific project.  The project was two weeks away from ending when my manager called me up and said he needed to see me the next day.  I knew how well the company was doing (not!) at that point and knew what the next day was going to bring.  “You know that I have two weeks left here,” I responded.  It did not matter.  Like the number being pulled from the lottery bin, my number was called and I had two choices – mope the next few weeks away at what had befallen me or pick myself up, brush off the dust and take a bold action - I ended up having my own business for a few years.  It was the opportunity I did not know I was looking for but gave me the chance to do something different.  As Alexander Graham Bell famously said, “When one door closes another door opens, but we so often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door, that we do not see the ones which open for us.”

Truth is, as humans, we get comfortable with where we are.  We draw these circles around parts of lives and say to ourselves that everything inside the circle is where we are happy.  In reality, though, while that circle is clearly drawn in our minds, that circle is really drawn in chalk and like a pin to a balloon, easy to burst (or erase).  Nothing about our lives remain static for long, and as a flowing river, keeps on moving.  Epictetus once said, "It's not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters."  In the movie, Risky Business, the running joke was the line, “Sh*t happens.”  Yes, it does.  Sometimes on a monthly, weekly or daily basis.  We all have a choice to sit around bemoaning what happened or to use the opportunity to catapult us forward.