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Friday, September 29, 2006

Ridiculous Vocabulary

I consider my vocabulary to be fairly well developed. I give my father the credit for handing me Reader's Digest magazines as a kid and having me read Word Power. However, I have also learned to turn it off and on. For example, when I meet with the stereotypical construction worker, I talk on their level and don't use "ginormous" words so I look important or more educated or whatever might be the underlying motivation that some people in meetings I've been attending recently have.

For example, here are some words I've heard at meetings from this week alone:
Unveneered feedback (not in dictionary, but I like it anyway)

Perhaps this is in your quotidian confabulation, or perhaps you share my perturbation. Either way, I hope you cognize my pith, which is don't try to impress people with how you say it, impress them with what you say. Emotion and compassion speak much more loudly than the thesaurus.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Left Overs with Success

In the words of fearless A-Team leader Hannibal Smith, "I love it when a plan comes together."

I spent last night reassembling the sunroof to my 4 runner. Surprisingly it wasn't as challenging as I thought it was going to be. It's funny how success at something makes you more eager to try again. After finishing the job I told my brother-in-law, who helped me through the process, that I always thought messing with the interior of a car was a very hard job, but after doing this, I'd try just about anything.

In business, I think this is why it's so important to set up your employees for success. You can't patronize them with success, but you can certainly give them a challenging task and then support them as they succeed and encourage them as they struggle. Think of a workforce full of employees who weren't afraid to take risks because they were confident in their own ability to make the project succeed. It would have a definite effect on the bottom line and at the same time make them more independent with their confidence.

After sitting in the front seat, my wife said with amazement the sunroof worked and she couldn't even tell we'd done anything to the inside of the vehicle. I love words of affirmation.

By the way, those of you who took the Vegas odds, those bookies are amazing because as the picture shows I had exactly 4 parts left. I was accused of fixing the game, but in all honesty, it just came out that way. I have not idea where they came from and they don't' seem to go to anything of importance, but there you have it... 4 parts left over.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Vegas Odds on Auto Repairs

Stick to what you're good at. That's advice I give continually to entrepreneurs thinking about expanding or diversifying.

Physician heal thyself. That's advice I perhaps should have given myself.

Last Saturday I got together with my brother-in-law to repair the sunroof in our 4 Runner. It seemed simple enough. Though neither of us have much experience in such repairs, how hard can it be to install a new part and be on our way. An hour... two tops and we should be done.

Four hours later we had removed both sun visors, every dome light, all the handles / hanging hooks, the seat belts, the entire headliner (that material that covers the roof of your car) and the entire sunroof assembly. Running out of space in the garage, we began to bring parts into the living room. Use your imagination to ponder my wife's happiness level at this point. Yet, we still had not correctly diagnosed the problem.

Finally we figured it out, called the dealership, ordered the part and it comes in today. I'm feeling a little anxiety about putting the whole thing back together. Vegas is actually taking odds on how many extra pieces I'll have left when we're all done. Last time I checked it was a 4 piece spread. I'd take the points and bet heavy.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Small Group Dynamics

I love small group dynamics. Like an engineer staring at a box of tinker toys, I just get my thrills out of observing people in small groups.

We just started having people over to our house as part of our church "life group" and aside from great discussion and participation by everyone, what I have enjoyed is watching different people react in the group.

An instant reaction of any time is often unguarded and uncensored. As a result, what you see is straight from their brain or heart and directly to the world. A truly uncensored reaction gives such insight into what motivates, influences and hinders an individual. This insight is useful when connecting with that individual. If you understand what motivates them, you can motivate them. If you understand what influences them, you can influence them. This is what leadership is all about.

In business, a management team is essentially a small group and therefore subject to small group dynamics. To get the most out of your team, you have to understand how small groups work.

For instance the 4 stages of small groups are:
  1. Forming - the group assembles for the first time
  2. Storming - the group struggles to assimilate everyone into the rules of operation
  3. Norming - the group accepts the rules of operation
  4. Performing - the group begins to accomplish what it was created to do

If you get frustrated in the storming stage because one individual seems to be struggling with a particular group parameter, you may alienate the individual by forcing the rule on them and not letting them resolve the issue them self.

Jerry Hampton, small group facilitator, writes some great answers to FAQ's of small groups. Everything from when to start and the day of the week to hold meetings to when and how to kick someone out of your group.

Friday, September 22, 2006

5 Love Languages for Business

I got into a discussion with my students this afternoon about what motivates employees and how as a manager we must figure that out if we want to be successful managers. In the middle of the discussion, this parallel came to mind and it seemed to work well so I thought I'd share it.

Remembering from Gary Chapman's book, The Five Love Languages, the languages are:
  1. Acts of Service
  2. Gifts
  3. Physical Touch
  4. Words of Affirmation
  5. Quality Time

I think the key point made in the book was to figure out yours, your spouse's, child's, or who ever else's love language you need to improve a relationship with and begin showing them love through their preferred language.

In business terms, your employees, boss and co-workers each have a love language. If you want to improve your relationship with them and / or motivate them you need to figure out their love language and begin to use it for that purpose.

Let me translate this into business terms.

Words of affirmation are easy to see the connection. Simply recognize them in groups as doing a good job, or take them aside in private and tell them you've noticed their improvement.

Gifts can be a raise, a bonus or even tickets to the game or concert. It can also be something as simple as taking them to lunch at your expense.

If you employee's love language is acts of service, show them you appreciate them by saying, "Hey, you've really been working hard, why don't you let me finish that report for you and you can go home early today." or try borrowing their car keys and going out to wash their car for them and tell them you've noticed their hard work and wanted to say thanks.

Quality time is perhaps a little more distant in the business world, because you can't say, "Honey, let's shut the TV off tonight and just talk." Works well at home, not so much at the office. What you can do is take time to mentor them. Show an interest in their work and catch them outside of the office in the elevator or at lunch and have a meaningful conversation about it. Better yet, don't talk about work, but talk about their family and how their recent vacation was.

Physical touch... let me caution you here. Many law suits have been filed over this, but I still believe it can translate into the work place. Appropriate physical touch can be a two handed hand shake or standing slightly closer to the person than you normally would. Though no physical touch occurs, which is a good thing according to the corporate attorneys, you can still give a work appropriate equivalent of it.

So, if you want to motivate your employees or get in good with your boss figure out their love language and give it a try.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Changes in Weather

In the last 7 days I've had a complete weather journey. From hot and humid to cold and snowy, I've seen it all.

In Humid Houston, I almost melted in the sweltering heat and humidity. I did manage to see some sights and have fun and have my legs chafe horribly as I walked around. I hate it when that happens.

Then I went to Iowa and Missouri. In Missouri, where we were supposed to play golf, it rained the entire day. So we detoured our golf plans to go see the house my dad is building. We walked around and got our shoes muddy. At least it was cooling off.

I woke up Sunday and the day was absolutely beautiful. 70 degrees, no humidity and the golf course was ready to be played.
Here's my dad hitting his approach shot off the cliff and onto the green below.

A few days later, back in Colorado, I woke up this morning to wind and clouds. When the clouds parted it revealed the most awesome sight I've seen in a while. Pikes Peak covered in snow. The weather man is calling for 4 - 8 inches in some parts and as much as 1 - 2 feet in others. Everyone sing with me... "Let is snow, let it snow, let it snow..."

Now to top off my weather journey before I woke up this morning I was having the incredibly real dream about tornadoes. I was running and hiding anywhere I could from hundreds of tornadoes in the sky that were destroying everything. I haven't looked up what my dream means, but I'm sure it has something to do with the brownie I ate last night at 11:30.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Answers.com: The encyclodictionalmanacapedia

I remember where I was when the space shuttle crashed, when the twin towers were hit and where I was when I learned about Google. I wonder if I’ll remember I was walking around the exhibitors at my conference last week when I learned about Answers.com.

A unique website and software combination that provides information on over three million topics such as technology, marketing, accounting, legal, administration, management, et cetera. For example, I want to bend some wood so I can make my own drums. Ask Answers.com "How to bend wood" and they give you an answer. Ask them "What is a hurricane" and you get an answer for that.

Not to be confused to Google, which only provides links to what you are trying to figure out, Answers provides the actual answer and gives you information on where the answer came from. Some answers are better than others, and some are a little more googlesque. With some really convenient features like “Alt+clicking” on a word to have an “information bubble” pop up without having to open a new window and a free, downloadable toolbar offering other useful features, which the company reps claimed they will keep pure by not adding spy ware like Google’s tool bar I’ll use if for a while and see if it sticks or if it fades like many other Internet fads that seemed to be the next greatest thing. Remember go.com? The little stoplight? That was supposed to be the greatest thing, now it’s on the trash heap with countless other Internet fads.

Only time will tell. Until then give it a try and see what you think.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Franchising: Some, but not as much assembly required

If you want to own your own business, but can’t ever come up with that really great idea for what type of business to start, franchising might be that great idea. An ever increasing number of Americans are deciding to forgo the labor of building from scratch and instead are buying the basic components of what it is going to take to become an entrepreneur.

By the end of this decade, over 50% of every retail dollar spent in the US will come from a franchise. Why is the number growing? I’ll give you two reasons. The Department of Commerce estimated over 80% of independent small businesses fail in the first five years, while the International Franchise Association estimated that only 5% of the all franchises fail in their first five years. That sounds like enough of a reason for me.

Franchising can be defined as a business, licensing its trade name and operating systems to a third party while retaining some level of control over the operation in exchange for payment. An important thing to understand, according to Micheal Seid, is that “McDonald’s does not ‘franchise’ hamburgers. They franchise a business system.” I like to think of it as buying a prefab home. You still have to do some ground work and hook pluming and electrical to it, maybe paint some walls and decorate, but you aren’t starting with a bunch of 2x4’s and pounding every last nail.

So, do you want a piece of that action? Don’t worry about not being able to find the right franchise for your budget and lifestyle. With 760,000 franchised businesses contributing 1,500,000,000,000 (1.5 trillion) to the US economy, you could spend the next 1,041 years deciding which opportunity is right for you, if you reviewed two franchises a day… every day… until the year 3047.

So how do you wade through the eternity of opportunities? There are great organizations like Fran Net and Fran Choice that act as a broker between you and the franchisor free of charge to you. They can put you through personality surveys, and a series of other tools that will help match you with the right franchise. They will then help introduce you to the franchisor and walk you through the process. They are free of charge to you because the franchisor pays them a commission for placing a franchisee with them. Essentially, it is outsourced marketing, so be aware the “broker” wants you to buy into a franchise, because they need groceries to feed their kids and their wife really wants to go on a cruise next February. However, if you keep that in perspective they can be those two oversized vehicles cruising down the highway, each carrying half of a house so you can finish the assembly. There will be some assembly required, but not as much as starting from scratch.

Monday, September 18, 2006

There's No Place Like Home

After a long trip where the days actually seemed to have flown by, but somehow I now feel like I've been on the road for a month and I'm officially ready to be home.

Having spent 4 days in Humid Houston, I flew to Omaha on a delayed flight and drove to Des Moines, Iowa to sleep from 3AM to 7AM so we could drive to Iowa City. Reaching exhaustion, I cheered for all I had as the Iowa Hawkeyes found their legs and defeated the in-state rival Iowa State Cyclones. Go Hawks!

If there is one thing I have reassured from this trip it is that I have no desire to be one of those corporate guys who travels 25% of the time. Trips like these are okay a couple times a year, but dear God, how do people travel one, sometimes two weeks a month. I miss my family, my bed, my house, my everything.

Fortunately the plane is boarding right now and I have to cut this short to make it on my flight.
I'll give some highlights later this week from my trip.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Press Release Outline

I started this blog over two years ago to improve my writing skills. While my writing has improved, one thing I have still not conquered is the ability to write a press release. So today, when I realized I was too tired to stay awake through a workshop on financial projections, I decided I'd mosey (hey I'm in Texas, I can mosey) on over to the "PR in a Box" workshop.

From the workshop and Michael Runzier of Intuit here are the 10 steps to writing a quality press release.

  1. Think Like a Reporter - reporters want to write stories that will interest their readers and keep the editor off their back. It's not a reporters job to help you succeed. So look for elements that will capture reporters and readers' interest.
  2. Do Their Homework - Make a reporter's job as easy as possible. Provide the facts, figures and experts they'll need to make a strong story.
  3. Be Timely - Reporters are often on deadline. If you news is outdated when it gets to an editor, it's destined for the trash bin.
  4. Think Global, Write Local - Taking a national story applying a local perspective is a great way of garnering coverage in your community.
  5. Put the Headline First - Summarize your story in a concise headline that compels an editor to read further.
  6. Put the Sub-head Second - This is your opportunity to provide a little more detail.
  7. Put the Opening Sentence and Lead Paragraph Third - Make them short. The first couple of sentences should summarize the news in your press release.
  8. Write Your Story as an Inverted Pyramid Fourth - Put the important stuff at the top of the story, such as significant facts. Don't' try to be suspenseful and save the vital information for last.
  9. Put the Rest of the Story Fifth - This should expand and explain the statements made in your headline and lead paragraph. Use quotes or data here to add credibility.
  10. Put the Boilerplate Last - This is standard language at the bottom of your press release. One to two sentences that describe your organization and its information such as web site, etc.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Houston Humidity

Continental calls is "Express Jet", but if you translate that correctly it means "small metal tube without enough room to stand, stretch or even cross your legs, staffed by the big jet rejects, the ones who would like to tend to people sitting in first class, but somehow have become so grumpy with life that they are forced to ride these tiny tubes instead." That won't all fit on the airplane, so they paint "Express Jet" instead.

Why do I look this bad?
One word Hu [gasp] mi [gasp - gasp] dity.
As I ran for 60 minutes around the downtown area of Housont, breathing felt like I had my lips wrapped around the exaust pipe of a car while it was submerged under water. My self portrait above shows just how nasty and wet I was when I finished. If only my lovely wife would have been here to give me a big slimy hug when I got back.

On a serious note, it was amazing how much the humidity hindered my ability to breathe and run like I am able to do in Colorado. You can't see the humidity, but you can sure feel it. It got me thinking about what things in our life are like humidity. Humidity is the invisable killer of our ability to perform to the level we should. This "humidity" is made up of things like fear, insecurity and pride and I think I have a pretty good list of things in my life that need to be "dehumidified".

Last night, after I stopped sweating, I went to Sambuca, a great resturaunt which has live jazz music. Not only was the food great, but so was the music. Here's a clip of the band playing a little Dave Brubeck. Not the best video quality, but the sign on the wall that said "No pictures or video" made it a little harder to get a quality shot.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Jet Set & Jet Lagged

This week I become a jet setter. I leave Tuesday morning for Houston, Texas where I'll spend 3 nights at the Hilton Americas for the national conference for work. Friday I'll climb aboard a late flight to Omaha, Nebraska to meet my father so we can drive to Iowa City, Iowa to watch the black and gold Iowa Hawkeyes stomp the wind out of the Iowa State Cyclones in the newly remodeled Kinnick Stadium. "We're gonna fight, fight, fight for Iowa..." After the game, we'll drive south to Missouri to swing the clubs and enjoy a couple of days golf before driving to Kansas City, Missouri on Monday to catch a flight back to Denver, Colorado so I can make it back to work on Tuesday morning.

Whiz - Bang - Boom, my next 8 days are going to go incredibly fast, and I plan on making the most of it.

As I was packing this evening - underwear... check, toothbrush... check - I decided it would be fun to do some photo blogging - camera... check, batteries and charger... check. I'll be posting regularly, though probably not at regular times this week. I never sleep well when I'm away from my wife, so stay tuned to find out what effects way too much hotel conference food combined with sleep deprivation have on my writing skills.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Jason Ward - A New Hero

Earlier this week I mentioned this story about Jet Blue Airways where a man wearing a t-shirt with Arabic words saying "We will not be silent" was told he would have to change before boarding. In the end a Jet Blue employee gave him another shirt to wear over the offensive shirt.

Just for kicks I decided to email Jet Blue and find out what they had to say about it. This was my email
Has, or will Jet Blue institute a policy against wearing clothing that makes a statement which maybe offensive or concerning to other passengers? If so what will it be and if not, how will Jet Blue handle such situations in the future?
I wasn't sure what kind of response, if any, I would get when I finished typing the message and as I clicked "send" I anticipated the auto responder message to drop in my inbox telling me how grateful Jet Blue was for my question and sometime within the next 90 days I would get a response. Instead I waited, and almost forgot I sent the message, until three days later I got this message back from them.

Dear Matt,
Thank you for giving us an opportunity to address the situation reported on DemocracyNow.org and other sites. Currently, we are working with the TSA to understand the situation. We are gathering information and our initial findings tell us that the request to have him remove his T-shirt was not made by a JetBlue Crew member. We are confident that this investigation will help us all better understand the events of that day.

JetBlue has no policy regarding messages on apparel. We are a family-friendly airline. Anything offensive or vulgar will be discussed with the individual in a sensitive and respectful manner.

Our fundamental responsibility as an airline is to provide safe and secure travel for all of our customers. This requires us to be sensitive to the concerns of all of our customers, while also upholding the rights of the individual. We value diversity, among our customers as well as our crew members. We take our responsibility seriously, and should there be an opportunity to improve our effectiveness, we will take the appropriate action.

We appreciate your interest in this matter as well as your understanding of all our customers' needs. We remain available should you have any further questions or concerns.

Jason Ward
Director Customer Commitment
JetBlue Airways
Still the skeptic, I googled Mr. Ward to see if he really existed. Not only does he actually exist, but he is a bit of a celebrity in his field. As he has been on the lecture circuit with the likes of Malcom Gladwell, Colin Powell and Chip Bell. Sure my response seems to be a bit of a cut and paste job from others who wrote with similar questions, but it does appear he put his personal touch into at least part of the letter.

I've never flown Jet Blue, and despite that, Mr. Ward took the time to reply to me with an answer to my questions. Mr. Ward, you're my new customer service hero.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

I Never Knew - Did You?

In the middle of trying to figure out why the rear break lights on the family van wouldn't get brighter when I step on the break pedal, yet it would light up when the headlights went on, I was digging around in the glove box for the manual and poking around in the fuse box trying to eliminate a blown fuse as the cause of the brake problem. I noticed a little trap door in the back of the glove box. Being the eternally curious person I am, I pulled open the door to find another door inside this door. Now my curiosity is beyond sparked. I pull on that door half expecting a genie to pop out and grant me three wishes (the first of which would be make my brake lights work). Much to my disappointment and my disgust I didn't find a genie, but instead an air filter that I never knew existed, secretly tucked away quietly in the most illogical place to put it.

As you can see in the picture above, not only was the filter disgustingly dirty, but a very large and somewhat scary cluster of crud, lint, hair, dust, dirt and God only knows what else was matted on top of the filter. I almost got sick thinking my family had been breathing that for the last six years.

After some research, I discovered what I was looking at was a "cabin air filter". Evidently our model, and many others have an air filtration system completely separate from the air filter you usually have checked and changed when you change the oil. This filter cleans the air that blows out of the vents when the air conditioner and heater is running.

A quick trip to the local auto parts store, $15.96 later, and I replace the old nasty filters with new, clean filters. I start the car and turn on the air conditioner and felt like I had started a tornado fan. Instantly a rush of air came blowing out. I think I almost got a little wind burn, but fortunately I was able to fight the rush of wind to get my hand back on the control knob and shut it down.

I tell you this not only to get the "That's disgusting" reaction, but also to save you the horror of driving a car for six years before you discover there is actually a cabin filter in your vehicle too. I encourage you to get out your manual and read to see if you have one and if you do, change it immediately.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Oral History

About 10 years ago, I had the idea of sitting down with my grandparents and a cassette recorder and taping a conversation where they would tell me about their life growing up. I have always loved hearing people talk about their lives and especially those who are now elderly and have lived in times that I can only learn about from history books.

The great depression is one thing in a book, but entirely another when someone who was there and lived through it can tell you what it was like. It brings about an entirely new dimension to the history. Knowing that I wouldn't be able to remember with 100% accuracy what the story was or even come close to capturing the tone of voice with which it was being told, I figured a recorded session would be the way to go.

My purpose for doing this was to have the oral history of my family to pass on to my children and future generations. Evidently my idea was either very ingenious, or not very original, because the Library of Congress partnering with NPR has started Story Corps. Story Corps is a project that records the oral history of average, every day Americans.

Click here and you can hear some of the stories recorded. Perhaps you might even want to share your oral history with America.

Listen to a few and then share with me what you learned that you couldn't have learned by reading a text book.

Friday, September 01, 2006

The Arab Scare: Is History Repeating Itself Again

As I look at our society today, I begin to recognize a pattern that I remember learning about in history class. Back in the late 1400's Europeans began to accuse individuals of being "Servants of Satan", a.k.a. witches. They would then drag these individuals into rooms where a confession was tortured out of them. After obtaining a coerced confession, the individual was put on trial with their confession as evidence and they were executed as a result of their connection with evil.

This repeated itself in England in late 1500's and early 1600's, but with more reasonable results where only roughly 20% of the accused were convicted. The other 80% were able to provide counter evidence that the accusations were false. However a dramatic swing occurred later where up to 90% were convicted and this morphed into hangings and burning at the stake which we all equate with the witch hunts.

Fast forward now to the late 1940's and early 1950's. A new epidemic called the red scare erupts where American society becomes afraid of communism and begins to, under the leadership of McCarthy, begin to purge society of anything associated with communism. Even the Cincinnati Reds changed their name to the Redlegs to avoid any association with communism. People had fear, and it began to dominate their actions as false accusations were made against anyone who didn't think like McCarthy thought.

Fast forward again to today's society. The "Arab scare" is beginning. The world is making accusations against anyone who remotely fits the profile of a terrorist. Fortunately we aren't burning at the steak...yet, but I think a reasonable connection can be drawn between these historical events if you watch how the world, and particularly Americans are reacting.

To clarify, I'm not in support of this trend of fear or opposing it either. I'm simply making an observation about how history appears to be repeating itself. On the pro-Arab scare side you could say that we have to do it to protect ourselves from another 9-11 attack. We are saving lives by generalizing who a terrorist might be, even if it is without cause, it has to be done to preserve our society. On the anti-Arab scare side, you could claim discrimination, ignorance and the inability to learn from history's mistakes (assuming you view the red scare and witch hunts as mistakes).

Either way, I find it interesting to observe how our society become gripped with fear about such incidents as this. A simple T-shirt stating "We Will Not Be Silent" caused passengers of Jet Blue airlines to become so upset the airline had to make the man wearing the shirt to put another shirt over it. Evidently a person wearing this t-shirt is able to blow up planes, but as soon as you cover it up with another shirt, like kryptonite to Superman, the supposed terrorist's ability to detonate a bomb disappears. I wonder if Homeland Security is aware of this anti terrorist tactic yet.

On a side note, I have an email into Jet Blue to find out if they are implementing a policy regarding this. If I get any response I'll post it.