Monday Quick Tip ~ Necessity is the Mother of Invention

Image courtesy of Supertrooper/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Supertrooper/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Life Skill 101 advice for those of us who want to live a meaningful and profitable life is to “find a need and meet it.”  The world is full of opportunities brilliantly disguised as needs.

Life is exciting when need meets creativity.  The old adage is true: Necessity is the mother of invention.

One of my newly discovered fun websites is www.quirky.com where creative ideas are turned into useful products that help us in our daily life. (I “need” to win the lottery so I can buy all the stuff in the Electronics and Power section.)  Admittedly, we could argue all day about the need for an egg tray that lights up, but for the most part there are smart, simple solutions to the challenges we face.

What needs are you facing this week that have to be met?  You are already half way there, because you’ve identified the need.  Once we figure that out, our creative juices start flowing to come up with a workable, practical solution.

I once heard leadership author and speaker Mark Miller (http://greatleadersserve.org/) say in a workshop I attended, that “not every creative idea is a good idea.”  Once we have identified the need, the next step is coming up with an idea that actually works.

Most times, trial and error is the only way to find out what works and what doesn’t.  It seems obvious but it’s human nature to try to find a shortcut.  It strikes me as ironic that we try to find a shortcut on the way to designing a shortcut.

This week, get ready for some creative solutions to come your way.  Test those ideas to find out if there is a good one that actually works.

Who knows, you could be on the verge of the next million dollar idea that changes the way we live.

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Live Full to Die Empty

Die-Empty-3dMy Review of Die Empty: Unleash Your Best Work Every Day by Todd Henry

A disclaimer is in order.  I have been a Todd Henry enthusiast since I read his first book, The Accidental Creative: How to be Brilliant at a Moment’s Notice.  His regular podcast is on my weekly “must listen to” list.  I was thrilled when I heard the title and theme of his second book.    I’m what business guru, Ken Blanchard, calls a “raving fan” of Todd’s work.  Admittedly, I’m biased not just because we share the same first name.

Die Empty: Unleash Your Best Work Every Day is about how we can unleash our best work each day and increase the odds that we won’t regret the work we’ve done when we come to the end of our life.  It’s about living full so we can die empty.

What I Like Most

What I like most about Todd’s writing is his courage.  He doesn’t hesitate to call out the fluffy platitudes that we are fed in too many business and career books.  He doesn’t shy away from saying that success and our best work will require effort and self-discipline.  Those two things go against the grain of our comfort driven culture.  I was practically cheering out loud when he said, “You cannot pursue comfort and greatness at the same time.”

One popular fallacy Todd takes on that resonated with me was, “The Passion Fallacy.”  We are told countless times to just “follow your passion” and the money will follow you.  Besides the obvious impracticality of this advice, (How many of us actually do get paid for playing video games all day?) Todd points out that it is a selfish approach to finding meaningful work.  Eventually the passion dies down and we are left searching for a different obsession.

A better approach is asking, “What value can I add?” instead of “What can I get?”  When we pose the question this way, it correctly reminds us that we are not the center of the world.  We know that when we are the center of our own world, it’s a very small world…after all.

Challenge Accepted!

Another example of Todd’s courage occurs in the chapter titled, “Finding Your Voice,” which tackles discovering our unique expression of value through our life’s journey.  He challenged me when he wrote, “Great work results when you stop doing only what you know you can do and instead begin pursuing what you believe you might be able to do with a little focused effort.”  In the infamous words of television character Barney Stinson (Played by Neil Patrick Harris on How I Met Your Mother), “Challenge accepted!”

Todd’s writing tone is one we would find from a buddy who is sitting across the table having coffee with us.  It’s friend to friend encouraging conversation rather than top down pronouncements.  In addition, his stories are nicely balanced with practical applications and probing questions at the end of every chapter.

This is the type of book I can see myself rereading on a yearly basis to keep myself on track in fulfilling my life’s mission.

The message of the book is simply stated: “Don’t go to your grave with your best work still inside of you. Choose to die empty.”

May that be true for us all.

Monday Quick Tip ~ A Bird in the Hand is Worth Two in the Bush

Image courtesy of africa/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of africa/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I am all for taking calculated risks and stretching beyond our current limits.  However, I’ve discovered that there are times when taking the safe, comfortable, and known path is best.

The adage, “a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush” applies here.  It refers to falconry where the falcon resting on the hand is a more valuable asset at that moment than the two unknowns that we have no control over.  It’s a cautionary statement that warns us about going “all in.”

Here are some times when playing it safe is to our advantage as leaders:

  • Hiring from within the organization.  Hiring from outside is a crap shoot at best. If you hire from within, you have a better known quantity and quality.
  • In times of crisis.  When the plane is going down is not the time to change the location of the exits.  In that moment, the known path is best.
  • Immediately after the completion of a major project.  Our team member’s internal resources need some time to be renewed before we charge the next hill.
  • When followers feel that “there has been too much change around here.”  Their perception may not be correct but that is how they feel.  If they feel unsafe already, adding more change or risk can overwhelm them.

We move forward by taking risks and pushing the envelope.

The key is in knowing when to let the bird leave the hand so we can go for the two in the bush.

Timing is everything.

What risks do you need to pass by right now in favor of the safe path?

Monday Quick Tip ~ You Can’t Have it Both Ways

Image courtesy of Rawich/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Rawich/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

“When you come to a fork in the road, take it” – Yogi Berra

Life is a lot like the television show, “Let’s Make a Deal.”

Life forces us to make choices.  We can trade the benefits of one thing for the greater benefits of another.

The wise leader knows when to trade one thing for another.

We’d like to think that all of our trade-offs are trade-ups, but reality says otherwise.

Sometimes our choices are between “the lesser of two evils” as the saying goes.

We’d like to have a flea less dog or a hairball free cat. There is no such thing. Imperfection is a part of life.  As one of my friends used to say, “The fleas come with the dog.  If you want the dog, you’re going have to figure out how to deal with the fleas.”

That’s good life advice, too.  With our choices come consequences.  As leaders we have choices in how we use the resources we’ve been given: personnel, budget allocation, and time management.  We can’t hire everyone we’d like to or spend money on everything or be everywhere all the time.

Here are a few choices we’re faced with:

  • Superficial abundance or deep little
  • Comfortable familiarity or uncomfortable unknown
  • Laser-like focus or scattered distraction
  • Demanding excellence or low effort average

What choices are facing you this week?

What consequences are you willing to accept?

“While we don’t always get what we want, we always get what we choose.” – John Maxwell in The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth

Monday Quick Tip ~ Don’t Count Your Chickens Before They Hatch

Image courtesy of Gualberto107/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Gualberto107/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I believe in being cautiously optimistic.  Good expectations and positive visions of the future are part of our make up as leaders.  We imagine the projects we oversee as successful long before anyone else does. For the most part, it’s a strength.

But as with any strength, this can also be a weakness.

It becomes a weakness when we get ahead of ourselves and act as if it has already happened.  We take things for granted.  We assume too much and it comes back to bite us.

It is good to have tentative plans so that when the good thing we are expecting happens, we are prepared for it.

The other side is waiting until the good thing we are expecting has actually happened before we make any specific concrete plans about it.

In college, I was told by a friend that he would send $100 per month to help with expenses.  If I went to graduate school, it would be $150 per month.  I planned my budget accordingly.  In the 7 years of school, guess how much I got?  $100 total.  I got a dead chicken.

The chicken we thought was in the egg may be dead.

A healthy dose of skepticism can go a long way.  Experience is a painful teacher at this point. We’ve had too many things fall through at the last minute.

We can strike a balance by being cautiously optimistic. Don’t spend your Christmas bonus before you have it in hand.

Don’t count your chickens before they hatch.

What are you counting on this week that you may need to reconsider?

Monday Quick Tip ~ Don’t Cross the Bridge Until You Come to It

Image courtesy of Phonsawat/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Phonsawat/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

As leaders we are people of responsibility.

We plan.

We worry.

We take risks.

We think ahead.

We try to stay at least one step ahead of our followers.

I’ve discovered that my “futuristic” strength (See Strengths Finder 2.0 and Strengths Based Leadership by Tom Rath) has a downside in that I can sometimes imagine problems and challenges where none exist. When that happens, my energy is redirected and drained.  I lose focus on the present.

Planning and thinking ahead is important, but we live in the here and now.  We can live in the “there” and miss the “here.”

We can get so far ahead of our team members in our thinking that we miss what is happening in their lives now.

What’s the value in not crossing the bridge too soon?

We can be flexible and adjust as needed.  Conditions change constantly.

Things happen to us that are out of our control.

If we rigidly adhere to a plan, we may take a path that no longer meets our goals or the needs of our team.

Don’t cross the bridge until you come to it is a reminder to be adaptable enough to make adjustments as conditions change.  It’s also a reminder to not allow unnecessary worry to drain our energy.

There are times when leaders are like the captain of a speed boat that takes a direct line across the lake.

There are other times when leaders are like the captain of the sailboat that has no direct path, but adjusts as the conditions change.

What bridges are you crossing that you have not come to yet?