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?

Blinded by the light

Dr. Orin Gelderloos would remind us (students) in his field biology course to keep the sun to our back when identifying birds in the field.  Looking toward the sun would distort the image and lead us to an improper conclusion.

Facing the sun in business or in life may result in a distorted image as well.

  • Get blinded by your most recent win, and you might start to believe your own hype.
  • Get blinded by the most recent defeat, and you might just believe that you are a failure.

Balance, perspective, and don’t take yourself too seriously.

Ideas and Outcomes

Do you have an idea?  Do you want to make the most of that idea?

Divorce yourself from the “idea” and instead attach yourself to the outcome.  Ideas can be jealously guarded, sometimes to the detriment of the outcome.

But when you are focused on the outcome, your idea becomes malleable…in fact, it should be so malleable that when you are done beating it about with trusted colleagues, it doesn’t even resemble the original idea.

When you really focus on the outcome (whatever that outcome is) you won’t give a tinker’s damn about protecting “your idea,” because your idea becomes far too large for just you.

Take those moments of inspiration, set aside your ego, and see if you don’t come up with something truly remarkable!

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

It Won’t Work, So Get Started

Plan A almost never works.

Plan B only works in text books and movies.

Plan C – may be getting you closer…

…but it’s more likely modified Plan G based on tweaks from the field operations, that missing piece of data from finance, and the painful, albeit necessary, lessons from Plans A, B, C, D, & E

But it starts with Plan A. So get busy implementing the plan that likely won’t work, but is the only way to get to the plan that will work.

Zax, Onychophagy, and Owling

We are the best

We are the BEST!

WE ARE THE BEST!!

Tell somebody who cares…really.

If you have the best zax in the world, I don’t care; I’m not trimming roofing slate.

That you can help overcome onychophagy, is of no interest to me, I’ve never had a problem biting my nails.

Help me with my owling problem? Sorry I don’t own any sheep.

Your message is important…to somebody…

The truth is most people don’t give a tinker’s damn about your product or service.  That’s why you need to spend an inordinate amount of time finding those who not only give a damn, but are just waiting to hear from you right now. If you advertise, use an appropriate outlet. If you email or direct mail, don’t just develop a great list, constantly maintain this list.  Use social media? This hasn’t made marketing easier; it has only made marketing more accessible.

Say it loud, say it a lot, say it with wit and creativity, but say it to someone who cares.

I’ll get you my little pretty…

A flying broomstick to get her anywhere she needed to be in an instant, a crystal ball to peer into her rivals’ plans, and some wicked-scary flying monkeys.  Let’s face it, on paper, the Wicked Witch of the West vs. Dorothy? No contest.

So how was she beaten by a simple Midwestern girl, a gutless lion, a dim scarecrow, an empty tinman…and a little water?  She let her guard down and forgot that even she had an Achilles heel. One mistake and…

Powerful or not, we all have buckets of water that will take us down in a heartbeat; pride, jealousy, arrogance, vanity…the key is to recognize and stay away from those buckets.

You might be a little lost, short on courage, lacking some knowledge, and feeling a little empty, but there is great wisdom in recognizing your inadequacies and planning accordingly.