Friday 24 June 2011

Create the Plan, Work the Plan, Change the Plan

The importance of planning has been drilled into me throughout my career. For example, I remember the leader of a merger I was working on insisting on each track team having a plan, even when the information required to build it was not yet available.  I can hear him saying, "Create a plan, work the plan, change the plan." He probably would have agreed with Lewis Caroll's observation: "If you don't know where you are going, any road will get you there."

When I first presented my change plan to him, he proceeded to poke holes in it, looking for small cracks that would expose weaknesses that hadn't been addressed (even if the information to close the holes was not yet available). It was part of the process of building a good plan, and at the time, a primary contributor to my stress level. 

The habit of planning is now well ingrained in me. I tend to jump into planning mode as soon as I have a project to lead. Until a plan is created, I carry around a tension that gnaws at me. I feel like I am on the starting line, adrenaline pumping, looking ahead, hand gripping the gear shift, revving my engine...and then revving my engine again. It is exhausting and doesn't get me anywhere.

A plan leads to motion and action. If it doesn't take me where I need to go, I change it based on what I have learned. And what I have learned builds my knowledge and experience for future plans. 

Here is my 'write a book' plan as it stands today, which is in its fifth revision. As I 'work it,' I expect it will continue to change. If not, then I'll disappointed because the changes will lead to a better plan and a better book. One thing for sure; it will keep me in motion. You can't get to the finish line if you don't leave the starting line, no matter how revved up you are.

Friday 17 June 2011

The Importance of Being Connected

Anyone with a mobile phone or tablet will tell you that it doesn't take long to lose connection. Once I stopped formally going to work a few months ago, my connectivity dropped abruptly. Overnight, my email traffic declined by at least 90%, calls were rare, and interestingly, return calls took longer to be made. This is natural and was anticipated. What I didn't realize was that I was contributing to my low signal.

It's not like I was going through a 'dead zone.' I was still keeping up with friends and colleagues; however the frequency was a lot less. I was compensating by reading other people's stimulating conversations through the internet and magazines, but that was not as stimulating as being in them. Personal note: participation is the best stimulation.

How had my drop in connectivity affected my progress as a book writer (I have decided to call myself an author only after I have finished writing)? The main impact was fewer sparks of insights and triggers of past realizations. It's like a dimmer switch that has been turned down; the place is the same but you can't see as many details around you.
Over the past week I made a point of reconnecting with some people I haven't spoken with since I started my sabbatical. It was electric and felt like I was still in my former dynamic work zone. The dimmer switch had been instantaneously turned in the other direction. Not only was I having fresh and engaging conversations, I was also exchanging ideas, reflecting on alternate perspectives and considering options that were new to me.

I now appreciate that regardless of what you do or where you are, you must stay connected - it's an accountability. Life is a lot brighter and more fun  when the lights are on. For me, it will help me be a better book writer too. I would love to hear your feedback.


Friday 10 June 2011

Doing the Reading

I read an amusing quotation the other day in a Seth Godin blog post:

"A guy asked his friend, the writer David Foster Wallace, 'Say, Dave, how'd y'get t'be so dang smart?' His answer: 'I did the reading.'

As part of my 'doing the reading,' I have been devouring (and posting to) LinkedIn Change Management group discussions. There are seven juicy ones, of which four focus on sharing best book recommendations and perspectives on what is missing in existing works. They have been eye-opening. My goal of being 'relevant' won't be met if I cover already well trekked ground.

First realization: there has been a lot of ground trekked. Someone once commented, "You know, there are a million books on change management out there." Actually, he was not far off, give or take a few. Of the 297 recommendations I have read, 153 separate books have been suggested. Within this mini-library, fifteen of them account for 47% of the votes (not quite 80/20, but close enough).

I must remember that these recommendations are mainly from change practitioners, which is not my target audience of leaders looking for practical help. That being said, the list does point to a few resources that are the most valued and most likely 'relevant'. 

There is a thread through the comments that accompany the recommendations. Most reviewers comment on the simplicity and practicality of these resources. The essence of most comments is captured in this one: "Thinks about the practical readible by non-specialists anecdotes that make reading so much more fun, simple to read with very practical examples, engaging, refreshing and down to earth."

The comments on what is missing in the marketplace are the same as those that compliment the best book recommendations. Could it be that people are not aware of the existing books that hit the mark or that they are very aware of the ones they have bought that were lacking? More reading required.

My path is clearer. I must make sure I don't lose my way.


Friday 3 June 2011

Learning on Learning

I received my first advice on learning at a young age. I was six and visiting my mom's home town of Nackawic, New Brunswick. She grew up in an Irish family of 15 on a small farm. Their life was like a Canadian version of 'The Waltons' US TV show.

My older brother, Steve, and I were 'city boys' who had zero farm credibility. It made it hard for us to blend in with our local cousins. One day, my cousin Ed, who must have been around 18 at the time, invited me to go see his pigs. I was dressed like a city boy in white shorts, red and white striped shirt and red sneakers. Once we got there I saw two huge hogs (not pigs like Wilbur, the only pig I thought I knew). Ed was a fun guy, with a carefree smile and mischievous eyes. I remember him looking at me and laughing about how my mom was going to give me heck for muddying my shoes, which by now were covered in a thick and smelly muck.

Ed then said, "Phil, in life you need to learn from the best so that you can be as good as they are. It costs more but it's worth it." Then, with a characteristic smile and wink, he said, "Now take hog killing, for instance. I hired Harry to come over and show me how to do it. I had never done it before and knew he was the best in the county." Then, he went over to one of the hogs and pulled it closer to me. He went on, "I hired him for an hour and asked him lots of questions as he killed one of my litter. Today, I am as good a hog killer as he is." He dramatically emphasized "as he is" with a swift and accurate turn of his knife. I remember looking down at my clothes and shoes  that were now splattered red. Let's just say that in addition to his powerful lesson on learning, Ed was also right about my mom giving me heck about staining my clothes.

I remembered Ed's words of wisdom this week when our son Sam and I learned how to re-string a guitar. We watched an expert on Youtube demonstrate the best way to attach the strings and then applied the steps to Sam's guitar. The first string wasn't the greatest and needed to be restrung a couple of times. The second was better, the fourth snapped and startled us, the fifth was good and the sixth snapped and didn't startle us (we were used to it by then).

Sam remarked that he never wanted to re-string a guitar again in his life. "It's worth the 25 bucks to have the guy at the music store do it," he said. Thanks to Ed, I felt differently. I explained that we would get better at it and before we knew it we would be experts too. We replaced the two broken strings and then I restrung Charlie's (Sam's brother) guitar perfectly.

I realize, thanks to cousin Ed, that I also must become a proficient writer, in addition to providing excellent content. Time to start learning from the experts.