A Better Version

“A year from today you’ll be one year older. The question I have for you is, ‘Will you be a better version of yourself?’”   This is the question a speaker asked the audience of a business conference many years ago.

She went on to challenge everyone – “Next year, same time: Will you be a better spouse? Will you be a better leader? Will you be a better owner or employee?  Will you be a better parent? Will you be in better health? Will you be a better person?”  

You get the picture.

It was and still is an excellent question. It challenges the fallback mentality of maintaining the status quo.  Staying the same.  Not possible.  If we are not deliberate in defining areas for growth, and goals for growth, we’ll likely fall into “coasting” mode – status quo.   And there is no coasting in life.  We’re either growing or dying, as a longtime friend often put it.

My wife and I were in attendance that day, and unbeknownst to the speaker, that question has continued to have a tremendous impact on my life. In many ways, it has been the driving factor behind our company’s mission – Building a better versionhelping individuals and teams build better versions of themselves to present to their families, workplaces, and communities.  

Let’s start with the person in the mirror. In what ways can you challenge that person to be better? Start now by thinking about what’s important. Define that better version – one year from now – and start the journey.

Imagine if we all did this. If we all chose to challenge ourselves to become better versions…imagine the impact on our workplace, on our community, on our lives.

As Andy Stanley states in his Your Move podcast tagline, Better Decisions, Fewer Regrets.

A better version.

Bowling Ball Battery

I’m not a mechanic by any stretch.

Years ago my wife and I were driving to Maine. Our car had been having some issues…the battery cells were constantly drying up.  Probably means something to many reading this, and it likely did at the end of our adventure to me.  Anyway, this was one of our broke stages in life – been through a few – so money was really tight. I got pretty adept at popping the battery top and filling the cells as needed, which is why I kept a water jug in the car.  Again, not likely a good thing.

As we were making our way north you could see steam coming out from under the hood. That was the indication to stop and refill the cells. We did this several times along the way.  At one point it had been raining for a while and I had already used up all the water in the jug. So, upon entering a rest stop, I literally stood under a leaky part of the building’s gutter, holding the water jug up in order to catch enough water to refill the battery cells. It was awesome!

The final stop was particularly disturbing to Amy.  First, you should know that each time I stopped, the steam was stronger, and the pressure in the cells was greater – in that, whatever water was still in the cells would kind of bubble out as I popped off the case. I didn’t think much of it…until the last stop.

I popped the hood. Amy was still sitting in the passenger seat.  A few moments later, Amy saw water, acid, something wet, spew out from the hood. She could not see me as the hood had me blocked, but you might imagine what she was thinking. It didn’t look good from her view. Mine either, though I did anticipate the eruption and was clear of the fallout, at least my skin was, mostly.   My clothes eventually had nice little holes throughout the sleeves and some on my pants.

We called it at that point. Probably more like Amy called it, and I relented. We got ahold of a local mechanic and somehow got the car there. When the mechanic called us back to the car to take a look - I’m telling you straight – the battery was shaped like a bowling ball!  I don’t remember what he said, but I suspect it was pretty bad. 

Eventually, we got it fixed, got to Maine, began making some money and replaced the car. Good times!

My question: Was this a bad day or an exciting adventure?

My answer: Though it could have turned bad…we both saw it as an exciting adventure (and learning experience!)

Have a great adventure soon, and be safe, enough.

That's Your Job!

One of my past careers had me in the role of a salesperson for a waste/recycling company. It was my second career job, about 4 years out of college.  As a salesperson, my responsibility was to call on commercial businesses and gain the contract for their municipal waste and recycling removal contracts.  It was a messy business. Figuratively and literally. I did it for 2 years.

Near the end of my tenure there, I had a defining moment with our Operations Manager – I’ll call him Dave since that’s his name.  Dave was not my direct boss, but certainly, he held a much higher position of authority.  We got along fine, yet our views were often different. As a field guy, my customers complained to me a lot about inconsistent pickup, recycling container rejections, driver issues, etc.  This didn’t always sit well with Dave.  I think he was fair, but also very loyal to his crew. 

At one particular occasion, I was complaining to him about something related to having to go to the customer site and verify why we had rejected the recycling container – as contaminated.  This was not the first time I would be digging in a recycling bin to render it worthy of pick up.  I had had enough and let him know about it by whining and complaining to him.  I didn’t grasp it at the time, but his response was epic in my leadership journey.  He said to me, “Mike, that’s your job!”

Maybe it was, maybe not. But, ultimately, it was my responsibility to keep the customer happy, and I could complain that the driver who rejected the bin was unfair, too picky, whatever. Didn’t matter, and the driver, nor anyone in operations, was going to go out and clear the bin. It was my customer, and it was my responsibility, right or wrong. Fair or not. Someone had to be responsible, so it might as well be me.

I don’t know if he was imparting this great life lesson of responsibility to me or just being an #$%.  I did go clear the bin and, though I brooded over his words for a long time, I eventually gained the real message:  Take ownership.

Divots

A few weeks ago our family was on vacation – 18th annual trip – to the Canaan Valley, WV.  One of our traditions is to visit the Purple Fiddle in the booming town of Thomas, WV.  While we were walking along the sidewalk, approaching our destination, I noticed the rain rolling off the rooftop above resulting in little divots along the sidewalk.  I’ve walked here dozens of times and never made the connection between the divots and the rainfall.  Not a big moment in history, but it made me think and wonder about the power of consistency.

Those little raindrops, which I’d hardly felt on my own skin, managed to dig holes in cement. Yikes. There’s so little power in a drop of rain, but consistency clearly gives it exponential power.  Holes in cement. Imagine if I stood there for decades…I’d be pretty tired and stiff, and full of holes.

Just look at the Grand Canyon – its depth carved out by the Colorado River, and it’s width by rain and snowmelt. That’s some pretty powerful impact over time.

There’s a business concept often referenced along this thinking called Kaizen.  Wikipedia defines it this way:  Kaizen, Chinese, and Japanese for "'continuous improvement". When used in the business sense and applied to the workplace, kaizen refers to activities that continually improve all functions and involve all employees from the CEO to the assembly line workers. It also applies to processes, such as purchasing and logistics that cross organizational boundaries into the supply chain.

Another concept, shared in a book called The Slight Edge, shares something similar.  As in the Kaizen definition, it speaks of “continuous,” but also, “small.” Improvements, actions, or “hits” don’t have to be big or grand; they just have to be consistent and purposeful. 

The major factor here is consistency.

Base hits win games.

Consistent “touches” win sales.

Smiles build relationships.

A mile at a time builds endurance.

A marathon is not 26.2 miles; it’s 1 mile 26 times, plus that nasty little .2! Who added that?!

Chunking

A few days ago I began writing an article dealing with commitment, marriage, and more.  It’s a subject that’s very important and so I really wanted to do a quality job.

So, I went about it…started as I always do – with an idea, a few sentences to lead me in and an open screen.  As I began writing, I was interrupted by something. Doesn’t matter what it was. But it does matter what I did. I let the interruption in.  Then I was on a roll (downhill) and got further distracted by choosing to re-visit a huge billing error with our doctor’s office, while still working on my article.  This issue had been dragging on for a few weeks with many unfulfilled promises of resolution. Very frustrating. I figured I’d be on hold a lot, as I had been in recent weeks. This wouldn’t deter my writing, I thought, because the hold times were usually pretty long.  And so I went forward with multiple hold times, new numbers to call, rinse, repeat, and so on.  This happened for at least an hour, with no resolution even as of now.

Finally, I finished my article, though I had that nagging suspicion it wasn’t my best.  I handed it to my wife for her edits and, most important, her opinion.  When we had an opportunity to discuss it the next day, she said she was confused at some of the content, plus she had a “look.” That was code for – “yeah…this one’s not your best.”  No worries – I immediately read the code and said, “I’ll scrap it and do it again.”  She was right.

To be really honest, that’s the first time one has gotten to Amy that we went and scrapped entirely. First time.  Usually, there are edits, and occasionally the edits are more than grammar, but it’s always gotten to Amy with good enough content to further develop. Not this time.

What went wrong?  You already know.

It was a job done, but not done well. It became about quantity, and not about quality. Where did the quality suffer and transition into quantity? Easy. I never got in the zone because I was multi-tasking while writing. Not a good thing. Plus, while I was not on hold with the billing department and back to writing, was I really writing? Physically, yes; mentally, no. I was carrying the frustration of a lousy customer service experience into my writing. No focus.  Wasn’t really there. And even if the experience was good, it still would have depleted my creativity and focus because they are two completely different actions – requiring different mental and physical elements. Going back and forth kills effectiveness – kind of like highway versus city mileage. 

Chunking is my way of defining and devoting like-minded activities together and not confusing two or more at the same time. Writing is a “zone” activity for me. In order to get it right, I need to be fully dedicated, totally focused, and in “the zone.” One chunk at a time. If you’re selling – sell; don’t write or enter data in CRM or research online. That should be done before or after selling – calling, knocking, asking, and listening. If you’re meeting with your client, your employee, or a family member, same thing – chunk it. Devote your time and attention fully, and you won’t miss something that being out of focus blinds you to. That blind spot can be very costly.

Chunking comes down to this – it’s the difference between getting the job done versus getting the job done right.