Tinkering in America

Observing the unique American life in his book, On Paradise Drive, author David Brooks says, “In America we have space-saving pop-up disk racks, prewaxed home dusters, turkey-and bacon-flavored dog biscuits, and self-propelled vacuums…built-in compass cuff links, and antibacterial toothbrush purifiers.  Behind each of these ingenious and highly unnecessary items there is some inventor, some tinkerer, some junior Thomas Edison dreaming of his patent-protected millions and his contribution to humanity.”

Brooks was echoing what Italian journalist, Luigi Barzini (1908-1984) said in the middle part of the last century.  Barzina said that upon arriving in the United States that he was struck with “our compulsion to tirelessly tinker, improve everything and everybody, never leave anything alone.”

Our nation has long been a collection of dreamers and tinkerers, optimists, and tireless workers.  Compared to our European counterparts, we work longer hours, get less vacation, and even when we are on vacation we are constantly monitoring our emails and responding to those important queries.  We just can’t leave work behind.  And regardless of pleas to work less and relax more…we’re not changing.  We are who we are; we are a nation that believes we can fix it – whatever it is.

We will fix the car, the bike, the company, the economy…it’s in our eclectic, mongrel DNA…but we should be careful that we don’t scrub this tinkering DNA out of our future generations.  Parents need to allow children to struggle, tinker, and find their own solutions.  And just as a child’s discovery of their God-given talents can be thwarted by well-meaning parents who don’t allow them to struggle, easy government handout programs for every malady or misfortune can also be an impediment to discovery.

So in the spirit of Luigi Barzina, tinker in your garage, tinker with your craft, tinker with some writing, tinker with other volunteers to find solutions, tinker with that new business idea, tinker and be satisfied that in the end, you may not find a solution but what you may find is your thought process is expanding…and then…who knows you may find some real “luck” and tinker yourself into some good old fashion, well-earned success.

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You should…

…worry more, trust less, find the worst in others, assume the most dire, focus on your failures, doubt yourself more, aim lower, be less enthused, try nothing new, believe you are destined for failure, and when all else fails – give up.

Sounds ridiculous when you put it that way – is there a way to put it where it sounds less ridiculous?

Quit

Tired of trying?  Tired of digging deeper…yet again?

Have no more tenacity of purpose, no more sticktoitiveness, no more “one more tries” left in you?

Can’t even consider another class, one more counseling session, one more revised business plan?

The answer is easy – quit.

That’s right, quit.  No more disappointments, no more frustrations, no more trying to find the right formula, the right words, the just-right solution.

Total surrender to the inevitable; mind, body, and spirit.

There is a reason we struggle with quitting and why it doesn’t settle well with us – it may be that “still small voice” reminding us we are not designed for quitting.   It goes against our very nature.

As difficult as “it,” whatever it may be, is…quitting isn’t the answer.  Quitting can be damaging and even damning to our soul.  As Douglas MacArthur said, “Age wrinkles the body.  Quitting wrinkles the soul.”

One more try…till we take our last breath.

 

 

Going Deep Can Be Game Changers

I think it was Andy Stanley who advised us to go deep rather than wide. In Stanley’s context he was referring to leadership – put your energy in one area or one individual and really focus on this to make a significant impact.  The opposite, or going wide, is trying to do a little with everyone and everything and the impact isn’t likely to be nearly as profound.

Put another way; focus on everything and you focus on nothing.

I was reminded of this (deep rather than wide idea) when my son shared with me the news that the non-profit where he works (Grace Centers of Hope (GCH)) was informed that they won a contest sponsored by Crain’s Detroit. This contest was for Best-Managed Nonprofit focused on the successful deployment of technology.

I’ll avoid the temptation of telling you how proud I am of my son (well, apparently not completely), whose efforts were integral in developing the technology at GCH that allowed them to win.  But here are a couple of thoughts I had after I heard about the award.

Thought One:  My son put in countless hours working on this – he was focused, hyper focused on this endeavor.   Could he go this “deep” on everything? Nope, that’s impossible.  In fact, much of our time in our jobs is spent going wide.  But the “game changers” are made when we can go deep on an issue…and the truth is the windows of time to go deep are likely limited.  A customer issue that needs to be addressed now, an employee that needs immediate attention, a  rapid change in the market – they don’t wait, you either recognize them and (deeply) address them or you let the opportunity slip away.

Thought Two:  If you are in management – create an atmosphere where new ideas readily incubate and can be discussed without fear of the heavy and judgmental hand of management (i.e., this is no time to be a boss).  Allow employees the latitude to take their skills and passions and go deep when they recognize that window of opportunity is open.  When your employees are free to follow through on their ideas; they benefit, the organization benefits, and the customers benefit.

Congratulations to Grace Centers of Hope and may you continue to foster new ideas as you carry out your mission.

Five years ago I wish I would have…

Most of us have a few regrets in our life, things we wished we would have done.  Sometimes they are big regrets or events that we passed on (usually for lame reasons).  But many times it’s the little regrets that pile up that lead to a life unexamined.

There are some classes at the local university that look interesting.

Maybe next semester…next semester never comes and you miss an experience that could have changed your career and your path in life.

How would you like to meet a new group of people at this event?

No, I have to get up early…lifelong friendships are never forged.

Join us for worship?

No, I’m just too tired…self-pity, rather than soul searching, begins to define your life.

I would like you to meet someone!

I’m pretty introverted and quiet…and a relationship that could have been…never is.

Consider those seemingly small decisions, those “no thanks, not this time” in the context of tomorrow.   What will you be glad you didn’t pass up in November 2012?

“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.” – Helen Keller

No Tweaks – Massive Action!

We met. We met again. We even met again and this time developed a plan.

Why then, has nothing changed? Because we tweak, we tinker, we make some minor adjustments and expect huge results in our life or in our company.

Let’s face it, change is difficult, darn difficult. We are all creatures of habit and creatures of tendencies, and to change those habits and tendencies means we have to, not just get out of our comfort zone, we have to jolt ourselves out of our familiar world.

Those serious about an “improved” path in their life, kicking the habit (whatever the habit is), or changing a corporate culture, cannot afford to nibble on the edges of change – it’s all out commitment – it’s massive action and no turning back.

Vision

Getting dressed in the dark doesn’t work well for me – what looks like a sartorially smart shirt, tie, pants, sport coat, and socks, turns out to be (in the light of day) a mismatched outfit just shy of the polished finish for which I was aiming.

Making business decisions in the dark is not a good practice either – the light of day may reveal less than flattering results on your decisions.

How much light is there in your office? How well can your employees see your vision?  Can you clearly describe your vision?  When the light of day is cast upon your decisions, will they illuminate a wise leader with vision or one that kept everyone in the dark?

“Where there is no vision, people will perish…” (The 29th Proverb)

 

Decide on Something

What’s worse than making a bad decision? Making no decision.

The idea sounds great! Heck, you are even gaga about the idea and ready to go with the exciting idea, until you hear an opposing view – and then you abandon the thought…sigh, you lose your excitement.  And then…you hear another view that supports your original idea, now you are gaga again!  Only to be brought down by…

Get off the roller coaster.

No plan is perfect, no idea is without its drawbacks, but in execution of the plan you will learn, adjust, and make even better decisions in the future.

Gather information, seek counsel, contemplate, pray and do what you have to do to come to a decision.  But whatever you do, be decisive, be bold, and be firm!

 

Three Questions

What is it that you or your company does really well?  I’m talking about that one thing that brings forth your absolute passion and where your God-given talents are obvious.

Next question: what do you or your company need to do to get more of that work?  If this is your passion and your calling in life, then you need to focus your energy on using this talent – more!

And the final question: what is it that you or your company needs to stop doing or chasing right now?

You have a limited budget, limited hours in a day, days in a week, weeks in a year, and years in a lifetime.  Use them all wisely.

Stand Out in a Crowd

It’s crowded, very crowded. Engineers, sales professionals, attorneys, you name it – everyone is looking for ways to differentiate themselves from the crowded group of competitors.

But how can you be different, and does it really matter in the market?  Do we need to be evermore shrill and outrageous to get attention and to stand out from the crowd? Once we stand out…then what?

Rather than having a shtick that might get you a second look, maybe the tactic should be to just be really, really good…exceptionally good.

Doing excellent work, providing the best product or service that you possibly can without excuse, can sometimes be so deafening that you drown out the noise of the competition.

Be different, be exceptional.