Driven To Develop

Walk the Walk but Don't Talk

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They say that the best way to inspire others is to model it and I have to agree. Modeling something is like magic; while people may be amazed or wonder how you do it, they will attempt (although sometimes only in their minds) to imitate. (Yes, I know Penn & Teller do a great job of explaining magic to us…so let’s not breakdown my analogy too far).

There is someone I know who is an amazingly good at his job. He probably puts in more hours than anyone else I know and he does it because he sincerely loves what he does. And it is infectious; everyone around gets caught up in the passion for the work and strive to do better. It’s a virtuous cycle of benefit to the entire group and he does it out of honest joy. Now imagine if he were to point the fact that he works so many hours. What do you think everyone would assume about his motivation to work so hard? Sure some may miss that detail or even chalk it up to him being informative but for some, it will plant that seed of doubt. That question of, “Does he do this just so he can hold himself up for doing it?”

When you live out a behavior, you inspire those around you. But when you speak of it, even if only to inform and truly not to brag, you lessen the effect of that example.

Be Accessible

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Have you ever heard of having an “open door” policy? More than likely. Have you ever found that to be a lie? Sadly, more than likely. Often times companies, or individuals, like to claim that they have this policy but aren’t truly interested in being accessible. They believe that given sufficient access, folks would consume all their time and no work would get done. Not me. I love to tell people that I’m always available and then watch their eyes kinda bug out. This breeds trust in the people that I give that information to; they know they can have access to me anytime they may need it. This doesn’t mean that I’ll drop everything to talk with them any time they ask but I will make room for them and allow them to help prioritize their needs in the queue that is my job. Also, that allows me to push the responsibility on to them and trust that they’ll only contact me when needed and not for frivolous things. People don’t like to be a bother and aren’t looking to waste your time so I don’t need to filter them thru anything to be sure they’re not wasting time. They seem to do that on their own. Granted, there are always exceptions and some that are more likely to take advantage but those are edge cases. And we all know you do your best not to mandate to exceptions; just treat them as exceptions and deal with them.

Controlling Emotion and Mindset

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Emotion is always a reaction and, therefore, cannot be intentional. Mindsets can be either reactionary or intentional but intentional is typically better. I say typically because if you were to see a snake in the woods, being reactionary can be a life saver. But that’s not what we’re discussing here…

This reactionary bias causes the feelings to cloud what makes most sense or what might be the logically correct course of action. So how can you control your mindset if you can’t see past the emotion? We cannot prevent our emotional reactions or control ourselves having certain emotions but we can consciously choose how we act beyond the rise of the emotion. This is the emotional meaning of a situation rather than the invocation of the emotions themselves. By controlling this, we control the associations that we have with the context that spawned them and can even increase the likelihood of future contexts creating the emotions we want rather than the ones we don’t.

By thinking thru the situation we experienced and the emotions that it brought on and then rationalizing thru the situation and our expected outcomes, we increase the potential for us to feel differently the next time we experience the same situation. It’s a mental hack! Even more interesting is that we can set ourselves up for this before we head into a situation. It’s called priming and it’s been shown to be HUGELY effective in altering the emotions we feel in a situation regardless of whether or not the situation was emotionally charged.

Always More Efficient

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What is something you should do less efficiently so that you can do it more thoroughly?

We are always working to be more efficient - we attempt to multi-task (yes, I know it’s a myth that we truly can but that doesn’t seem to stop folks from trying), we optimize our schedules, we plan our meetings to the minute, we are looking to squeeze every last drop out every minute we have during the day. But at what cost? Often times, we are so focused on being efficient that we miss important details. We lose the opportunity to truly connect and go deep because we’re so focused on what is coming next. We should be working to squeeze every bit of connection out of those meetings. Focusing on what we can do really well regardless of the extra effort it takes. We should be more concerned with the value we are providing than the schedule we are keeping.

This next week, I am intentionally going to focus on at least 1 thing that I will be less efficient at so that I can be more thorough. Do you know what it is you would focus on?

Profits for Good

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“Capitalism” is typically a word that evokes images of a fat business man on a pile of other people’s hard work and money. It’s not a pretty image and certainly not one that most folks want to be associated with. No one wants to think the profits of their efforts feed some singluarly greedy entity, personal or corporate. However, the reality of business is that it REQUIRES profits to maintain it’s ability to run and provide the opportunity for folks to work and provide for themselves and their families. So how do we break out of that mold? Can business be both good and profitable?

Conscious Capitalism

I’ve recently become aware of Conscious Capitalism. It was started by John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods, and Kip Tindell, CEO of Container Store, as a movement towards a more holistic view of corporate responsibility to a larger audience and a deeper purpose. Basically, profits are not evil but should be focused on the environment that produced them as a way to grow the business. To illustrate this, we have the Stakeholder Model - whereas typical business focuses on the shareholder and customers as the main stakeholders in a business' success, we believe in the larger perspective of stakeholders. The employees who provide value to our customers, industry that we are working in, the suppliers who provide us with the goods we need to produce value, as well as the community we live in. Without any one of these critical stakeholders, the company would be decreased and less effective. These are the relationships that we should focus on and be investing in. By focusing on this larger perspective, we are able to feed back significantly to the ecosystem that we live in.

For me this was a “duh” moment. Of course there’s a broader perspective (there usually is if you are paying attention) and it was great to have a framework and vocabulary to match the things I have believed and been living for a while now. Let me explain…


One of the founding ideas of Improving was that we would be THE place that people want to work. A place that you can find fullfillment and success in what you do. A place that focused on people and relationships first and foremost. This was a VERY different philosophy than what I had come thru previously in my career. At Improving, we cared about our customers and their success as most businesses do but there was more. Our suppliers would come and hang out with us (one in particular spends mornings at our office to have coffee and chat about family and life). The vast majority of the user groups in the area used our facilities and were given pizza and drinks for free. We spoke at a significant number of conferences and attended them in packs. We fundraised for the local community and found ways to contribute time and money to the types of charities I’ve come to believe make a difference. Most of all, people cared about each other. They truly and honestly were involved in each other’s lives both inside and outside of work. I don’t want to paint things too perfect, they’re not. We have our share of challenges and are always looking at ways to be better but we have a perspective for what could be and now we have a model for speaking to that. It’s been cool to see how the things laid out by Conscious Capitalism are what have been built into Improving from the start. And to see that something that sounds idealistic can be a reality and, even better, a success.

Time for Work

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This is a perspective I’m currently exploring and so I’m arguing both sides. You’ve been warned.


When we need time for something it must be taken. It cannot be replaced or given back or returned, we consume it and it’s gone. Often times when you need that extra time to get something done, like a meeting or conversation, we steal that time from our families. We steal from them because they love us and will forgive us. We don’t seem to steal that time from the people we work for/with. But why is that? Our drive to perform or excel, to be perfect at work, overrides our drive to be the same at home. When I take that extra hour to have another meeting or to finish conversation or do another report, I’m stealing from my son or my wife. This is an emotional representation rather than a factual one to be clear but that doesn’t make it any less accurate. Perceptions are reality.


I was made for this. The gifts I have been given, the talents that I possess, the knowledge that I have acquired…all align to what I am doing. I am fulfilling my purpose. I was made to work and by living up to that potential I am setting an example for my family. The provisions that we have are because of this effort and we can enjoy them as the blessings that they truly are. When I take the time to make sure a job is done right I am showing my children how to be diligent in their work.

You can’t steal what is given freely. If I put a basket of pennies somewhere with a sign “Take as many as you need” and you take them all, it wasn’t stealing. Often times our families give freely, where our employers do not, and that’s not stealing. This is where the recent trend of “unlimited” vacation time has started to shift that mindset but that’s a different post…

Balance is NOT the goal

You cannot balance two things that are fundamentally unequal. It’s like closing one eye and holding up a yellow M&M until it’s the same size as the sun in the sky. Now they’re the same, right? Looking at something thru a single dimensionality is a farce and by no means a measure of that thing. Size alone doesn’t make them the same any more than me spending more time at work than home makes one more significant than the other.

Excel Is a Cul-de-sac

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In my recent transition, I’ve had to become even more intimate with Excel as a tool of my job. Previously I’ve used Excel in crazy ways, as a data source for an ODBC connection or a pass thru between disconnected services, but now it’s something to run the business on. That’s a knife that cuts both ways though.

The Current State

Excel is an extremely useful app and the learning curve on it is fairly low. Things you would typically do are easily found via Google and most C-level folks have been mashing up formulas for a good hunk of time. I can safely say there are some companies of significant size that are run off of Excel spreadsheets that are passed around via email (don’t even get me started on the lack of Dropbox use). It works fairly well and, while seemingly creating only a small amount of overhead, gets the job done. But there’s a big problem underlying this behavior.

The Problem

New people. Ok, so the new people aren’t the actual problem but they surface the start of the problem. When data is pulled from a source system into Excel it can be sliced, diced, and manipulated until it says what you need it to but that’s it. It’s done. And it was almost always manual. Rarely is the manipulation reproducible by anyone other than the person who just did it because that would require the use of macros and VBScript and stuff that only developers really grok. Strike #1.

Manipulated data is dead in Excel, like those dead tree requirements docs we have all decided were a less than ideal way to do things. You can’t pull new data into the existing spreadsheet and have it follow the transformation to add to the output. No, instead you pull new data and start back at square one. Strike #2.

Did you want to use that data in some other system or feed it back into the one that it originally came from? No joy here. The data cannot be consumed in as easy a fashion as it was put into Excel. Sure you can get a developer to monkey up an ODBC connection like I did before but that’s not something most executives are going to be able to pull off. Maybe they’re able to string together a set of Excel sheets that refer to each other and use the data between them but that’s a tangled and fragile web. And given the prior two issues, we know what sort of overhead maintaining that is going to be when it comes time to update with new data. Strike #3.


I’m not against using Excel, heck, I do it on a pretty regular basis. I’m against it’s overuse; the crutch that it becomes when folks just want a one off thing (until it isn’t), for just a few people (until there’s more), and won’t need again (until they do). When you need something more, step up and move out of your comfort zone, find a tool that supports what you need and isn’t a three strike offender.

Wisdom Not Just Knowledge

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Sites like quora are time sinks for the virtual wisdom they provide. They’re like brain candy. Don’t get me wrong, I love candy too, but it’s no substitute for a good meal. People are more interested in collecting knowledge and parading it around as wisdom rather than acting upon it to discover the true nature of that knowledge. Experience is the only true impartation of wisdom. Everything else is just academic.

Scrum as Cake Analogy

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I’ve used this analogy a couple of times when explaining agile adoption, specifically Scrum, to folks so I wanted to put it here for reference.

The Analogy

Imagine for a minute that you’ve never baked a cake before but you want to learn how. I give you a recipe to follow, it’s my grandmothers recipe and everyone agrees she makes killer cake, and it’s simple so I know it’s a good one for you to start with. You take a look at the recipe and say, “I actually don’t like to use flour so I’m going to skip that”. Then you mention that vegetable oil isn’t really something you use so you’re going to substitute cooking spray instead. You mix things up, bake it, and the cake comes out a mess. You throw your hands up in disgust and announce that cake baking is horrible and doesn’t work. Was there anything wrong with the recipe? Or was it just your inability to follow it that created the outcome you got? Who’s responsible for the failure?


Going by the book allows for an understanding of all the pieces; how they operate, what their intent is, and why they’re important. You can’t simply start replacing bits and pieces without all that understanding or you’re likely to spoil the outcome. Scrum works. Scrummerfall or Waterscrum or whatever kind of duct-tape and bailing wire setup you’ve cobbled together may, or may not, work. But that’s not the fault of the process that you’ve cribbed from. To be fair, I do understand that there are challenges that each environment presents. We can’t always get the support we need to make everything happen but let’s lay the blame where it belongs; us not the process. The whole purpose of Scrum is to make these things visible so you can deal with them and get moving on the things that create real value.

Working Body Means a Free Mind

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I spend a vast majority of my week positioned squarely on my butt. It’s a sedentary life, which is why I’ve had to start working out again, but it’s one that I love and get paid to live. Not that I’m not phyically capable of working to earn a living, it’s simply that someone values my mind more than my body at this point. I’m ok with that but I’ve come to realize that these two things aren’t as separate as I used to think. I have things I do to keep both in line and they have become way more important as I’ve grown older (and hopefully wiser).

No, this is not another post about exercise - at least not by the standard definition of that word. It’s more about the things we need to do to exercise our minds and to have “quiet times” for that. I love being outdoors and my favorite activity of the week is mowing the lawn. It’s a time for me to do some rote work that frees my mind up to wander and explore. It’s prayer time, reflection time, an opportunity to process and expand on the ideas banging around inside my head. My wife likes to tease me about it being the loudest quiet time imaginable.

I realized that this time has allowed me to clarify a lot of my thoughts. It allows me time to think thru what is going on in my life and work. I can exand ideas and game-film interactions that I know are coming so that the best possible results can be achieved. Realizing all this led me to a few other interesting thoughts…what would it take to cause me to hire someone to mow? It’s time that I value greatly and would have to replace in some other way to achieve the same level of thoughtfulness so it’s trade off would be a big one. So then, what else can I delegate to allow me to continue mowing? At this point, I’m not willing to outsource my family or my job so I guess I’ll have to keep thinking about it. While mowing, of course.