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Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The Entrepreneurial Spirit In The Fall

Part of an entrepreneurial spirit is the belief that you can do anything. Following that belief is the belief that if you can't do it today, you'll be able to teach yourself by tomorrow.

So, when I discovered that my son loves pumpkin pie I thought to myself, we need to make a pumpkin pie for him to eat. The air is crisp and smells like fall and it's perfect pumpkin pie weather. However, this couldn't be just any pumpkin pie made with canned pumpkin. Oh, no - this had to be a pumpkin pie made from a real pumpkin, fresh from the patch.

The only problem with this was I've never made a pie before in my life. So I got online and found a recipe with instructions on preparing the pumpkin and got to work.

I may not be a professional pie and pastry chef (yet) but it doesn't mean that I couldn't if I worked hard enough at it.

The end result, I have to say, was pretty amazing. But don't take my word for it. Judge by the expression on his face.


Thursday, October 25, 2007

Dealing With Difficult Personalities

I spoke last week to a group on dealing with difficult personalities. I'm not sure if they chose me for that topic because I'm a difficult personality or because I'm good at doing it. But in either case, I thought I'd share my notes.

Dealing with difficult personalities (DP) is an art form. There is never one consistent way it can be done. In math 2+2 always equals 4, but with personalities, sometimes 2+2=4, and sometimes 1+1+2=4, while other times it's 1+3=4.

The first thing you have to learn about DP's is an understanding of general concepts and applied knowledge. You won't be learning a formula that is always the same. You'll be learning some general concepts and then how to apply knowledge from one situation to another.

The second thing you have to learn is that a person with a DP is not someone that is broken or wrong, they simply don't fit in with the majority of opinions or personalities in your small group acting the way they presently do. This is caused primarily by 3 situations - cultural differences, personal insecurities and/or inner turmoil. Understanding what the source of the problem is will help overcome the problems caused by the DP.

The final thing to learn is a basic understanding of how individuals form small groups where these DP's become a problem. There are 4 steps to the creation of a small groups. First proposed by Bruce Tuckman, the stages are:

  1. Forming - people get together, meet and create the group
  2. Storming - people voice personal ideas and opinions and push the limits of the group
  3. Norming - people set the boundaries and establish norms
  4. Performing - the group begins to function effectively

Understanding this process will help place an importance on effectively dealing with the DP earlier instead of later. If you wait weeks to deal with a problem, the group stays in limbo between Storing and Norming and never reaches Performing, which makes for a frustrating and ineffective group. By handling the problem earlier, the group can quickly move to the Performing stage, which is the desired result.

Now with a basic understanding and some background, here are the 3 steps to dealing with difficult personalities.

Establish and understand why there is a problem:

  1. cultural - they don't understand what is socially acceptable
  2. insecurity - they feel insecure and it causes them to react socially unacceptable
  3. inner turmoil - they are going through a rough time in their life which has modified their normally socially acceptable behavior.
    Do this by perception and assumption or research by asking them directly.

Formulate a plan:

  1. immediate - done to the group when something potentially harmful to the others in the group has been said or done. This brings an immediate correction to the individual. It has the potential to be harmful so it must be handled correctly and with care.
  2. private - used for most issues - This method respects their self esteem and personal security.
  3. public - if it has a general application that everyone in the group can benefit from if a generic correction is made. This doesn't involve singling the DP out, but addresses the entire group with a corporate issue.

Execute the plan:

  1. Always keep their self-esteem a top priority
  2. Always keep the performance of the group the very top priority. More important than the individual is the group. Don't let the group take second place to the individual. This empowers the individual to continue to cause problems.
  3. Ask yourself, "How will this plan effect the individual / the group?" Think of all of the potential outcomes and prepare for the worst of them. If the worst doesn't happen, then things are better than expected.
  4. Make notes to yourself before confronting. In confrontation, the person being confronted will often want to distract you from your original points, which causes you to be ineffective. Making notes makes your actions deliberate and keeps you on track.
  5. Preface your comments with anticipated objections so you diffuse responses. Giving disclaimers doesn't weaken your position. Instead it provides assurance to them on the front side of things and helps lay the ground work to overcome any misunderstandings. By saying "I don't want you to think we don't like you, but here is the problem..." You have reduced the potential for the individual to become hostile because they are feeling attacked. You have just reassured them that you like them, which implies you wouldn't attack them.
  6. Always reassure them in the end - Restate all of your prefaces again to remind them everything is going to be okay. Something like "I don't know if that came out right, but I want to assure you again that we like you we just don't want this problem anymore."

Remember these things:

  • If your stuck - ask for help - find someone who can independently provide insight into the problem.
  • Difficult personalities are the leaf, not the root of the problem. Try to get to the root.
  • Dealing with people is an art form. Always look for the best way to solve this problem and don't just repeat what worked last time.
  • You can eliminate most problems by setting the expectations for the group in the forming stage. Then when a problem arises, you can refer to the ground rules of the group.

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Monday, October 22, 2007

The Greasy Spoon Review: Conway's Red Top

It's been almost 2 years since I've done my Greasy Spoon Review, so I thought it was about time to clog the arteries and visit another greasy spoon in Colorado Springs. Besides, I've been working hard to lose weight and I can afford to eat a little carelessly every once in a while.

Conway's Red Top is a typical burger joint with some distinctive throw back decorations to the 1970's. The booths had that great dark wood railing that shouted "I've been watching greasy burgers be devoured here since 1974.

The sign out front features their name sake "Red Top". I must say I was a little confused about this at first, because I was expecting a red roof and not a toy top. Fortunately neither have much to do with taste and the top is kind of cute.

The menu had lots to choose from, but going for the full experience, I knew immediately upon reading the description what I was going to order - the Chili Cheese Burger. When the waitress asked me if I wanted the half or the whole, I paused only to convey the image that I am not a greasy burger eating, fat slob like her other patrons, but instead am a sophisticated connoisseur of tasty foods. Then I said, "Bring me the whole"

You can see from the picture that the whole was definitely whole. Covering the whole dinner plate and more than covered with chili and cheese, I ate and ate and ate, but couldn't eat the whole thing. Of course the order of onion rings and the chocolate malt may have contributed to that as well.

My wife and youngest son are drinking their chocolate shakes. I like it because they serve it right in the metal cup and don't even waste the energy to pour it into another glass. Plastic cups are for sissies. Real greasy spooners drink right from the frosty metal cup.

My Review:
The atmosphere, which always plays an important part in the greasy spoon experience was average. While the decor was old and worn (a plus) it didn't have specific character. Other than the original 1970's booths, there wasn't much that stood out. No gaudy art work or bowling trophy was to be seen. While you could smell and hear the sizzle of grease on the fryer in the back, you couldn't see the food being cooked, which is always a plus in my opinion.

The menu was varied with chicken, burgers, fries, rings and "frings" which is a great idea including a 1/2 order of fries and a 1/2 order of rings. There was dessert, but honestly, you're a monster if you can eat it all and then ask for dessert.

The service was great. Our waitress was friendly and knowledgeable and had a good sense of humor, which always adds to the experience.

Overall, I'd give Conway's Red Top 3 greasy spoons.


Sunday, October 21, 2007

Remodeling Project Update: Did It Myself

A couple of months ago, I mentioned my DIY project involving extending a wall and building some cabinets in a dead space. After two and a half months and an estimated 60 hours of man-time, I finally finished it up this past weekend.

Here are some pictures.

Before: You can see the wall above the fireplace is shorter and there is a dead space to the left that is filled with a hutch.

After: The wall above the fireplace is expanded to hold our new 42" flat screen. The dead space with the hutch was filled in with custom cabinets. The top has two niches containing art, the third contains the A/V components. In the middle is our family's fish tank on the left and a pull out DVD storage on the right. Below are 2 cabinets for storage and the lower right contains the sub woofer speaker.

The pull out DVD storage cabinet.

There is definitely something to be said for the sense of accomplishment you get for doing it yourself.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Why I'm Not A Newspaper Reporter

I had a great lunch with fellow blogger and author Barry Moltz yesterday. However, I quickly came to the conclusion yesterday that perhaps I was not cut out to be a newspaper style reporter with interview questions or perhaps even one of those bloggers that gives you "10 questions with..."

So, I've decided to come up with the 5 reasons why I'm not a newspaper reporter, based on my lunch with Barry yesterday.
  1. I get sidetracked too easily and only remembered once that I wanted to ask some questions to blog about today.
  2. I forgot to bring pen and paper.
  3. We spent more time talking about our families and personal lives than we did anything blog worthy.
  4. I got wrapped up in phone calls and talk radio on the drive to lunch and I forgot to prepare a list of question to ask. (back to the sidetracked too easily issue I think)
  5. I forgot to ask the one question I actually did come up with yesterday.

Good news is, I had a great lunch, enjoyed the conversation we did have and am very excited about the possibility of him coming back in June to speak at our luncheon.

Also, his new book, "Bounce", is on Amazon now, but not for sale yet. Can't wait.


Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Lunch With Barry Moltz

Being the "good professor" that I am, I'm taking the time to post this blog in the middle of the mid-term exam I'm giving to my students. As stressful as a mid-term was as a student, I had no concept of how boring it would be for the faculty.

After this, I'm on my way up to the Denver airport to meet Barry Moltz for lunch. I'm a big fan of Barry's and my wife has even criticized me for going to meet with him just because I'm a fan. In reality, I'm meeting with him to discuss the possibility of coming to Colorado for our Small Business Awards Luncheon as the keynote speaker and I'm simply taking advantage of him already being in Colorado for another speaking engagement.

So, on my hour drive north I'm planning on coming up with a list of questions for Barry that I can post tomorrow. I'm thinking something like, "If you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be?"

Okay, maybe something more like, "Your new book, titled "Bounce" is coming out soon. How do you hope it will impact the entrepreneurial community."


Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The Devil Is In The Details

There is truth the statement "The Devil is in the details" on many levels, but for me the truth is that Satan himself, pitchfork and all, is the mental image I get when I look at the stack of boring paperwork facing me and the drudgery of follow up that I have to do to wrap up last weeks event.

Top it all off with an accreditation review this afternoon, where for 2 hours I get asked question after question about the details of process and procedure. It's almost like being a kid again and telling your mom that you actually made your bed by neatly pulling up the sheet, then the blanket and then finally the comforter, when in reality, you just flopped the comforter on top and hope she doesn't see the lumps underneath. (unless Jim from the accreditation team is reading this, in which case I not only neatly made my bed, but I also starched the sheets as I ironed them)

I read this article for some insight as to how to survive the details. Hoping for at least some inspiration, the only thing I came away with is the thought that the author probably is one of those retentive Nazis that irons his underwear and has no concept of joy without details.

My final answer is one that we all know. You can enjoy the big picture or you can enjoy the details. If you enjoy the big picture, you can even train yourself to tolerate the details, but in the end you revert back to the big picture. Point being, I have a killer headache all because of the details and I'm now thinking about filing for workman's comp because I've injured my brain from spending so much time looking at details - no not really.

All I want to do is go home, lay on the couch, and see the big moving picture hung on my wall as I close my eyes and sleep.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Birthday At The Melting Pot

I've been heavy in the business topics for a while and wanted to drift to personal life for a bit.

We went out to celebrate my sister-in-law's birthday last night and had a blast. Brought the video camera so I could vlog about it here.

Happy Birthday Teri!!!


Thursday, October 11, 2007

Life Got Busy - Then Today Happened

I've been a little slow on the blogging this week. To put it lightly, life has been running on turbo for the last 10 days.

I've been pulling 12+ hour days for a while so I could get ready for our Small Business Conference, which is an event that we pulled off yesterday. We rented the ballroom and 4 break out rooms at the Crowne Plaza hotel, had 2 key note speakers, 12 breakout sessions, vendor booths and about 5 hours sleep the night before.

On top of that, there was some more bad / sad news that I haven't been writing about, but my wife has over here.

Last night I collapsed into bed at 11:00, and I don't think I moved until 7:30 this morning. However, I must have woke up on the right side of the bed, because today is a great day. I started my day off right, then got some stuff done at work and then took my lunch break to go visit the Colorado Springs Country Club , break in our new membership, have lunch with my wife and even hit a few balls at the range too. After hitting a few balls, she suggested we make a tee time for Sunday afternoon, which was the second best offer a guy can get from his wife ;)

As we walked back to our car, I snapped this picture and was reminded of another reason we moved to Colorado.

The 18th green at CSCC.

Now I just have to get ready for our Baldridge Accreditation Review on Tuesday, which is the biggest review (audit) of the year. But with a day like today, what's the worst that could happen? I might hook one into the trees. It's all in your perspective.


Monday, October 08, 2007

Fill My Eyes With That Double Vision

I went to the eye doctor today for my regular checkup to learn my eyes are normal as ever.

I don't really mind eye doctors that much. I mean it's not like I'm seeing the proctologist. However, when they get out those dilating drops and want to put them in my eyes I'd rather hear the snap of a rubber glove. I can't stand anything touching my eyes.

Knowing what was in store, I planned ahead and took my laptop with me so I could get some work done while waiting for the drops to take effect, and I knew that when I had to increase the size of my document to 250% to see what I was typing that the drops had taken effect.

The doctor proceeds to shine a light in my eyes that seems like I'm staring into the center of the sun and makes my eyes hurt and water like crazy. And as if that wasn't enough she gets out some kind of magnifying glass which lets her see inside my eye, but also magnifies the light to the equivalent of walking out of a cave and staring into the center of the sun. But, the real fun begins as I try to drive back to the office with my sunglasses on, those hideous eye doctor sunglasses tucked behind my sunglasses and avoiding every reflection off of every piece of glass along the way so I don't become blinded by the glare.

Why has no one developed drops that instantly reverse the dilation process? I asked the doctor - she said there aren't any. I'd pay double my co-pay to get them. Instead, an hour later and I'm sitting at my computer straining to read as I type this post, and impatiently waiting so I can start working again.


Thursday, October 04, 2007

Trim Tab Analogy: Making Minor Changes

Being a person that loves analogies, I had to pass this one along.
When I heard Stephen Covey speak a couple of weeks ago, he mentioned trim tabs. Unless you've spent much time on a boat, you probably aren't familiar with trim tabs , so you can click here and educate yourself if you want.

On a boat, the predominant way to steer is by moving the rudder. This causes the boat to turn left or right, changing the course of the boat. The changes made are usually major ones and involve setting a new course or maneuvering to avoid an obstacle. For these types of changes the rudder is the perfect tool.

However, once a boat is headed on a course, moving the rudder too much can cause problems, like getting off course. Trim tabs however, are used to stabilize the boat and balance it so it moves smoothly through the water. For example, when driving the boat at the lake if someone gets up from the left side and sits on the right side, the weight in the boat shifts and causes everyone to lean to the right because it is unevenly weighted. After a while, this becomes a little uncomfortable, so I make an adjustment to the trim tabs and the boat balances out even again.

From a business perspective, we often think we need to grab the wheel and adjust the rudder every time something changes. We make drastic changes to our plans and our direction because of this and often find ourselves on a totally new course that we never intended to go on and spend a lot of energy dealing with consequences we weren't prepared to deal with.

As a business owner, you are at the helm. You have control of the boat, and you decide how to react to change. I think small business owners are so concerned about making a mistake and missing what will later be called an obvious signal, that they over steer using the rudder at every little shift they experience. Be cautious not to a make major reactive change to something that can be solved with minor adjustments to the trim tabs and retain balance.


Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Doing What You Were Created To Do

When I was out running this past weekend, I remembered this story that my friend Ryan told me when we were training to run a marathon. I have no idea if it is true or not or even if it was based on some legend, but it still inspires me, so I thought I'd share it. I can't remember every detail as I was half delirious when I heard it, so I'm filling in the holes in my memory with what sounds good.
There was a young Lakota Sioux who loved to go out and run through the hills. Some times he would run for hours at a time. He loved to run because it was what he felt he was created to do.

As he ran mile upon mile his body would grow tired and he began to wonder how he would ever make it back home, but he kept running anyway. On one particular run he was growing tired and thirsty as the hot sun beat down on the rocky ground making the temperatures rise. Nearly ready to quit, he heard the screech of the red tailed hawk echo off the hills around him and he squinted into the sun to see it's silhouette soaring far above with it's wings spread.

He thought how nice it would be to have wings like the hawk so he could fly home and began wondering how much easier his life would be if he could posses the abilities that the great hawk had. If his eyes were strong enough to see a field mouse from hundreds of feet in the air life would be easier he thought. If I could soar on the wind instead of run step after step stumbling over rocks on the ground, life would be easier. But then, with the wisdom of the tribal elders, the young boy realized that he was not created to be a hawk and soar on the wind, or see from such a great distance. He was created to run on the ground.

His body grew more and more tired as he contemplated this and he continued his journey. After many miles, his body near exhaustion, he spotted the hawk again, circling above, and called out to the creature and asked for its help to give him strength to keep running.

His body ready to quit, he threw his head back, held his arms out and closed his eyes, drawing on the power of the mighty hawk above. For miles he ran like this, feeling the energy grow within him and his strength somehow returned. He was able to finish his journey.

He realized that while he would never fly like the hawk, he could draw on the inspiration of the hawk to do what he was created to do, running as one with his surroundings.

My friend told me this story as we were both feeling exhausted on one of our 14 or 16 mile runs. So, we decided to stretch out our arms and throw our heads back looking skyward. We never closed our eyes for fear we'd get hit by a car or trip on something, but regardless it somehow gave us strength to continue and finish our run.

To this day, and on this day I'm not nearly as fit as I was then, when I feel like stopping when I'm running, I still, for a few seconds stretch my arms out and look up for strength. And to this day I still feel stronger, realizing if I draw on the inspiration around me I'll never quit.

So, with whatever you find yourself struggling, find what you can draw inspiration out of and let it empower you to continue your journey. I'm always amazed at what you can accomplish after you think you can't continue any more.

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