Category Archives: life lessons

What’s your game?

I’ve recently observed a corporate department in action and thought here on SuperBowl Sunday to write up some thoughts concerning my observations.

In many ways all corporate groups (leadership) fall into two categories: Owners or Stewards.

Owners are spotted as they give off signals such as, “well it’s my way or the highway!” We know them from their commanding presence and the strong feeling that their group understands issues better than others. I wish it were true that this were an obvious thing, but life is such a mystery at times, that even those who are Owners many times, right along with Stewards by the way, really live so close to the forest that the trees or evidence is not seen. It is the human condition we all live in and for a good sample of this refer to Dr. M. Scott Peck and his book “People of the Lie”.

Stewards on the other hand live out their lives with the idea that they own nothing, but are servants of their customers. Politicians do a great job of convincing us that they are Stewards, well at least while they are on the campaign trail eh? I recall like it were yesterday hearing in person the great insurance magnet, W. Clement Stone saying that this was truly his key to success. He relayed that early in his life he had learned to keep this principle constantly in mind as he conducted his business affairs and that it had yielded the highest value, quality product for his customers.

I’ve no mind to make any specific person an object lesson today, but to say I grieve at the attitude of people that believe they are the Owners. They have no idea of the disservice they bring to our world. These that are so convinced that they alone know and understand the problem, have in fact closed their mind to needs of others and are firmly lost in their ideal to succeed.

Its time we look more intently in the mirror. It’s time we take the time to consider what we project to others and it’s time to consider whether we have poison in our passion.

Suggestion: It’s been said that before you judge a man, walk a mile in his moccasins. A path to being a Steward is for us to put ourselves in the place of others. This is no small feat in the age wherein we are so caught up with the huge amount of input coming our way for every direction. Evidence of this struggle is seen as top executives seek out courses in meditation and centering themselves.

Lastly, it takes a strong cup of persistence mixed with a little positive attitude to be a steward. It seems to me that at times Owners wear teflon. Stewards on the other hand take a thrashing. This was documented over 2,000 years ago when a young Jew named Jesus spoke to leadership about what should done about people that decided that a good way of handling a Steward was to put them to death. It’s also found in the statement, “please don’t shoot me, I’m just the messenger!” At the end of the equation it costs more to be a Steward. It is The Road Less Traveled and we can expect only to stay focused and not to lose heart over beautiful plans and work when they go unreceived.


No, this is not a commentary on folk who like to discard clothing, it’s a gripe about the way 4-way flashers are used in public.

First, so you understand my point of view, understand that I’m on the opinion that flashers were put on cars to say, “hey I’m on the highway, but for some reason I’ve come to stop, so you best be real careful around me!”  I also agree that a school bus or large truck carrying hazardous materials should be able to use flashers near rail crossings to say, “hey, I need to come to a complete stop, to protect my load”.

This first major issue we have with flashers is that every state, province, country has the right to write different laws about 4-way flashers.  Example:  in Pennsylvania it’s the law that if you drop 15 miles below the posted limit you can put your flashers on as to say, “watch me, I’m not doingi the normal thing here!”  I’ve also heard that other states have laws which state, the only usage of flashers is for stopped or emergency reasons.  Ha!  Then you get a whole boat load of folk that want to argue, “what’s an emergency!”  (As this seems then to be abused as well).

My gripe is simply founded on 2 issues:

1) If flashers are suppose to be for stopped vehicles, then what is the meaning of people using flashers when they have just slowed down due to a rough conditions?  To me this is a contraction.  Are you stopped or are you slowing down?  It would seem in other parts of legal code, we don’t allow for such double meanings.  A stop sign is a stop sign, and you don’t perform a rolling stop or you can count on getting pulled over by the police.

2) My most grievous item on flashers, is that in rain storms, placing one’s flashers into a flashing mode for mile after mile, is fairly dangerous.  I don’t know about you, but in a tough rain storm, flashing lights reduce my vision ability, as it is a constant distraction from the norm.  Now here I would be willing to give an inch and say if you drop your vehicle suddenly down below the posted limit, it would a good thing to announce that by either pressing repeatedly on your brakes to flash vehicles behind you, or for a small amount of time until the car behind you catches up it would be o.k. to temporarily use flashers for a small period.

I do think FLASHERS are a good candidate for the country or the world to come out with a common usage policy and end the local laws, that may be unknown to others.

In practice I will not be using my flashers unless I’m stopped on the side of the roadway, in the possible path of on coming traffic, as I want others to know I have a situation that has me stopped or coming to a near stop.  I will continue to use my brake lights to warn vehicles behind me that I’m slowing down.

I know this is a small item in life considered to bigger problems, I’m just exhausted by those who are driving mile after mile with flashers on when the vehicle behind them has already understood and has slowed themselves.

I believe in the age old inspiration which says:  THINK

Oops, yeah been just a bit lazy. . .

Howdy friends!  I’ve been such a busy person lately, I’ve failed to keep up here with blogging on my observations and thoughts.  I can truthfully say that I’m not lazy, just a bit too consumed with ensuring many little details of life are being addressed.

I finished up the end of July on a wonderful project in Philadelphia for Shire (pharmaceuticals).  They are a great team of professionals and they needed my services to help them effectively take their in progress project and bring it home through some additional, careful planning and focus.  It was a project where one can lose sight of the goal as the components were just so numerous and diverse.  During the project life they had also made a very large change to their scope, so this brought in an additional layer of complexity.  For a small, medium business they also had set their goals on a very large scope of work to accomplish, so there was little rest along the way for the team to keep up the enormous drive needed in such a project.

The project does remind me that in HR systems, it is very key to partnership with the right people.  For many years, I’ve just been a team leader and let project managers worry about the big stuff like building partnerships, but since now I’ve also worked for some 4 years full time as a project manager, now I can observe the importance and delicacy of partnering.  What we may fail to admit is that no one person or discipline has all the answers to the complex items that come our way.  It is also to say that our particular discipline may lack particular skill sets needed for multi-dimension projects.

I’m uncertain why we feel so proud to admit our need of others, but it is a key to finding success in today’s adventures.  If I’ve seen a major failure in companies today, it’s that they fail to observe other successful companies or projects.  We got so thrilled to finally be working on a special project, and pulling together the plans, that we fail to say to ourselves, “why not go to another firm and ask questions about lessons learned?”.

Another issue we have is our own “pain points”.  We become so familar with those things deterring us, we get locked into just trying to address these items.  This is why hiring an outside firm to help us accomplish goals, has a way of paying huge dividends.  An outsider can see many times the bigger picture and can help bring to the table the idea that people need to broaden their horizons.  It’s funny how we get locked into our own thinking and can’t see the forest from the trees.

Well, keep up the great work and let me know if you have any comments, ideas on this front, as at the end of the day, I love to see breakthroughs.

Do you have Status Quo Bias?

This blog is a reprint of something I’ve written inside the walls of IBM (where you may not be able to go as you are likely not an IBM employee).  I hope you enjoy the thoughts. . .

A great book on the market is the book “Nudges” by Richard H Traylor and Cass R. Susstein. Both men appear to be professors for the prestigious University of Chicago. The book is a wonderful exercise into the thought patterns of people and they propose a basic philosophical approach called libertarian paternalism.

Now before you choke on those two last words, please note the authors used those words in a cautious way, knowing that in today’s world those two words individually carry a lot of baggage with them that we as people may reject based on the “guilt by association” principle.

The authors sum up the simple idea that libertarianism stands for “freedom of choice”. This is powerful thought which we as Americans have a long history of choosing as a tenant of the good life. Paternalism here is more of a calling to be responsible for whatever is within our personal direct control. Put another way, the authors call us to see that we are truly architects of choice.

This makes a great deal of sense in the work that I do for IBM as I am rated in my ability to be a thought leader as it pertains to our customers. This for me is the enormous change I have seen happening from my yesterday certification as a professional consultant where I studied team work, professional messaging and how to assemble a powerful point of view to answer questions for my customers. The change for me is moving from being a software expert to someone who brings value to the customer by helping them see new possibilities and ways of doing business due to the global reach and expert research provided through the work of IBM. I would say this is a daunting task as it means I must constantly be thinking and absorbing the moving marketplace. On the other hand Traylor and Susstein are only concerned about what really works when you are trying to help people make decisions.

Traylor and Susstein have some deep insight into the fallibility of the human mind and constantly demonstrate this idea through exploration of the two sides of thinking: a) our intuitive model of thought and b) our more studious side where we find ourselves intellectually ascertaining the more scientific approach. They have a lot of fun exploring assumptions, myths and basic instructions on how to improve our way of thought.

One of the interesting readings is from William Samuelson and Richard Zackhausser’s (1988) work where they make the observation of the “status quo bias”. “Most teachers know that students tend to sit in the same seats in class, even without a seating chart. The status quo bias can occur even when stakes are much higher, and it can get us into a lot more trouble.

For example, in retirement savings plans, such as 401(k)s, most participants pick an asset allocation and then forget about it. In one study in the late 1980s, participants in TIAA-CREF, the pension plan of many college professors, the median number of changes in the asset allocation in the lifetime of the professor was, believe it not, was zero. In other words, over the course of their careers more than half of the participants made exactly no changes to the way their contributions were being allocated. Perhaps, even more telling, many married participants who were single, when they joined the plan still have their mothers listed as their beneficiaries.

Status quo is easily exploited. Many years ago American Express wrote Susstein a cheerful letter saying that he could receive, for free, three month subscriptions to the magazine of his choice. Free subscriptions seemed like a bargain, even if the magazines were rarely read, so Susstein happily made his choices. What he didn’t realize is that unless he took some action to cancel the subscriptions, he would continue to receive the magazines, paying for them at the normal rate. For about a decade, he has continued to subscribe to magazines he hardly ever reads. He keeps intending to cancel those subscriptions, but somehow never gets around to it. . . .”

Here we are in the midst of Innovation and Collaboration and what has Status Quo Bias to do with our team? When we look at some of the positive sides of innovation and Collaboration the truth is smart folk see there is a great deal of distance between where they are today and where they’d like to be. A fellow colleague put it to me this way, “Al I believe in the end result, I’m just stuck with where my team is at today.”

I’ve seen this same frustration in another blog presented by Gia Lyons when she asked, “Why is it so hard to get smart people to share?”

Traylor and Susstein have some thoughts here when they discuss how inertia is a very powerful force in people’s lives.

How is it with you? Are you still stuck in the status quo? Are you waiting to be rescued?