Weekly Highlights #11: Wildlife, Plan.txt, Ignaz Semmelweis

Grateful for…  thriving in the midst of wildlife. This week, early in the morning, a gigantic raccoon climbed over our fence when our dogs were outside.  This resulted in about 15 minutes of barking, numerous awake neighbors, a substantial set of scrapes, but no fatalities (raccoons are tough!).  Our dogs are Rhodesian Ridgeback mixes, 95 and 85 pounds respectively–so they live to hunt.  After the initial excitement and a round of hydrogen peroxide, we put our dogs in their kennels for a timeout.  I really enjoyed seeing our male dog–Makai–with a distant, happy look in his eyes as he sat in his kennel, clearly smiling about the adventure, despite his wounded nose.

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Miniature version of the animal that was in our yard.  Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

And, a tip: if you need to break up animals, spraying them with water works well.

Thinking about… “us” and “them”.  I joined an internal consulting team in my company for a workshop on change last week.  I was new to the group, and it was striking how often our group used words which will build a wall between us and our teammates:  words like “client”, “project”, “expert” or “assessment.”  Those word choices matter.  But, more fascinating, was that we didn’t notice those word distinctions as we were using them.  The line between “us” and “them” was completely subconscious–an interesting lesson on awareness in teams.

Experimenting with…  a “Plan.txt” file on my computer.  The idea is this: a simple text file, saved on my desktop, that has my plan for the next two weeks.  Basically, it’s a to do list on a scrap of paper…  except it’s the digital version.  The benefit is 1) it’s tough to ignore, since it’s always in view whenever I’m on my work computer, and 2) it’s flexible–allowing me to easily adjust as necessary.  Enjoying it so far.

Interesting reading… I recently read a pair of interesting articles of quantitative analysis, shared by Seth Godin, the first on healthcare and the second on shoes.  I particularly enjoyed this one, which is a translation of the work of a doctor–Ignaz Semmelweiss–in the Vienna Obstetrics Hospital in the mid-1800s.  Fascinating to read about the human cost paid in making a life-saving discovery.

Enjoying… some fun parody Twitter accounts: Thoughts of Dog and Bored Elon Musk.

Have a great week!



Book Review: Switch–How to Change Things When Change Is Hard

I recently read Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard, by Chip and Dan Heath.


Highly Recommend: this was a spectacular, engaging book on leading change.

Here were my biggest takeaways.

  • Change is emotional. What looks like laziness is often exhaustion. The authors use the analogy of a rider (who responds to reason) on an elephant (who responds to emotion).  To make change happen, you have to “engage the elephant”–speak to people on an emotional level in a tangible, memorable way.
  • Environment really matters.  What looks like a people problem is often a situation problem.  The authors open the book with a story about movie theater popcorn.  Simply decreasing the size of the popcorn container dramatically decreased the amount of popcorn people ate.  This was a funny story–but it illustrates the impact of context on people’s actions.
  • Clarity is essential.  What looks like resistance is often a lack of clarity.  If you’re trying to change an action, you need to be incredibly clear and specific about exactly what needs to happen, or precisely what you’re asking for.

Key quote from the book:

When change works, it tends to follow a pattern.  The people who change have a clear direction, ample motivation, and a supportive environment.”

Two Models for Change

Reflecting this week on the challenge of change.

I was having a discussion with a senior leader about what group of teammates should lead  an organizational change.  This is who we we’re looking for:

“It’s part Engineer, part Pied Piper, part Cruella de Vil, part oh I’m running out of analogies but part that guy or gal that does the thankless spreadsheet based tracking work that no one recognizes.”

The unstated assumption: Change is hard. Finding someone to lead it is even harder.

And that’s the way most organizations think about leading change.  In this model, change is tough: you need to fight hard and keep struggling in bring it to life; it takes ingenuity, grit, and determination.  The key question is this: do I have someone with with the skills and capability to lead this change?

But I think it’s also worth reflecting on areas where change is easy.  

Every year, across the country, millions of people get married, have children, earn graduate degrees, switch careers, change cities, and start new projects.  These are huge shifts–with ambiguity, difficulty, and substantial cost. And yet, they happen–every year, for millions of people.

Why?  Because in this moments, people want to change.  They think the change makes sense; it’s something they have an emotional connection to.

And, for most people, most of the time–if we really want something, we find a way make it happen.  

We know the same thing happens with organizations.  Recently, my office made a substantial change, that affected the behavior of every employee every day, that had 95%+ adoption with zero enforcement.  

We changed the dress code to be casual, to allow jeans.  It happened immediately. Easy.

In this model, change is natural: it follows directly from our intentions.  When we want something enough, we change.  The key question we have to ask is: Am I framing this shift in a compelling and meaningful way?  Am I being honest about the things I say that I want? Am I taking the actions consistent with my intentions?

It’s worth considering both models.  Change isn’t always hard.

May this be encouraging as you make the shifts you’re planning!

Weekly Highlights #10: Clouds, Memos, Change, Parks

Grateful for… gray days at the ocean.  I spent a few quiet minutes taking in this scene this week, and I really enjoy the calm and beauty of the waves on days like this.

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Overcast day on the Pacific

Experimenting with… memos.  Writing is becoming more fashionable, since being highlighted by Jeff Bezos and others who have worked at Amazon.  I participated in a work memo experiment recently: here are a few tips.

  • Take a top down perspective:  Whenever you are writing in a business context, lead with the key concept before explaining how the solution was determined.  This is a simple structural point, but essential for clear writing.
  • Frame the discussion:  Using a few simple phrases to guide individuals through the memo makes a huge difference.  Phrases like “This project has three parts…” or, “Second, we looked at the process in place”, can help the reader understand your narrative.
  • Think about the dialogue: As you write, consider your audience, their familiarity with the topic, and their point of view.  In a business situation, there will certainly be questions–ranging from simple to complex.  Write this dialogue into your memo so that the reader sees their questions being addressed.
  • Use visual design.  This sounds simple, but adding a heading, logo, and a few simple aesthetic elements can help the reader digest your information.

The best business book on writing I’ve read is The Pyramid Principle, by Barbara Minto.

Thinking about… change at workI’ll be thinking more about this over the next few days.  Two things on my mind:

  1. Change takes time.  We require time to absorb shifts in our lives.  As an individual, as a leader, I have to be careful to give myself the time and space to process change.
  2. Change takes motivation.  When we have an emotional connection to what we want to shift, change happens–even though it’s difficult.

Watching…  this set of videos, highlighted in Outside Magazine, of the national parks–particularly Haleakala National Park in Hawaii.

Have a great week!


Weekly Highlights #9: Adventures, Interesting Stories, & Declarations

Grateful for…   small adventures.  Over the July 4th holiday, we decided to go camping, for the first time as a family.  We bought and laid out all the gear, talked the kids through the process, set expectations, and made the arduous trek to our camp site…..  in the backyard.  And it went great!  The parents slept better than expected, and the kids are still talking about the rainbow unicorns and cement mixers on their sleeping bags.  When we got donuts holes from the “camp store”-slash-supermarket in the morning, it felt like an adventure.  Seems like an easy next step to take on the mountains 🙂

The mountains await!

Thinking about…  interesting stories.  My wife and I had a few old friend visit recently.  It was so good to see them–but, we found as we went through the evening, the stories just weren’t as fun as in years past.  You see, we all used to be in the military, where we had intriguing tales of great and crazy soldiers, a huge and flawed organization we knew well, and the ridiculous situations that ensued.

Now, many of us are in our corporate settings, trying to have a career and figure things out, dealing with the boring minutia and huge uncertainty of work.  And so the default is no story at all:  who wants to hear about these mundane details?

So – here’s what I came up with.  Interesting stories have….

  • Common ground.  I need to take the time to set the stage of a common experience.  For me, most people haven’t worked in healthcare, or technology, or the military.  But everyone has been on a team, dealt with bureaucracy, found themselves in a crazy situation at work.  I should take the time to build shared understanding.
  • Worthwhile purpose.  It makes a difference to state a relatable goal–one that everyone can behind.  Even if it’s humble (e.g. “…and I was just trying to make it through the week…”)–this little practice creates a shared understanding.
  • Human details.  Often, I have gotten in the habit of leaving out those little quirks in the telling.  I should be better about noticing and appreciating them.
  • Twist of plot. A good plot twist needs a setup (…I was expecting…) and a change (…instead….).  So – it requires me to share an understanding of what was supposed to happen, along with the vulnerability to admit that I was surprised by what really occurred.

The big takeaway for me: keep working to tell good stories. It’s takes a bit more time, but it’s the effort!

Article I enjoyed…. from Steve Blank, on why advice is incredibly important.  Really well said.

Quote I appreciated…  is from John Adams.  Writing to his wife, following the signing of the Declaration of Independence, he wrote this:

“I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.

You will think me transported with Enthusiasm but I am not. — I am well aware of the Toil and Blood and Treasure, that it will cost Us to maintain this Declaration, and support and defend these States. — Yet through all the Gloom I can see the Rays of ravishing Light and Glory. I can see that the End is more than worth all the Means. And that Posterity will tryumph in that Days Transaction, even altho We should rue it, which I trust in God We shall not.”

I reflect a lot on the value of believing in a worthwhile story, making a commitment, and following through–so I appreciated rereading these words on Independence Day.  I hope they encourage you to uphold your own declarations this week.

Take care!



Weekly Highlights, #8: Independence, Simplicity, Azimuth Check, & Encouragement

Grateful for… dependence and growth.  Last week, we took our kids, age 2 and 3, on their first hike where we didn’t carry them in our backpacks.  It was a short 1.5 mile loop in the mountains–they stopped to point at every wildflower, and insisted on holding the dog’s leashes the whole way.  Incredibly fun to watch their independence.  At the same time, my daughter is going through a stage where she needs a big hug to pee in the potty–rather than her diaper–and I’m going to cherish this phase for as long as it lasts.

Hiking in the mountains!

Thinking about…  The under-estimated value of simplicity.   I recently led a large session for about 500 operational leaders at my company.  A big lesson for me was the importance of a clear, simple message.  If someone can’t remember your message, they can’t act on it–so simplicity is essential.

A season for…  checking in with my goals.  June is ending; the year is halfway through.  So I’m going to take the time this week to do a quick “Azimuth Check” with my resolutions for year.  Here’s what I’m thinking about:

  • Read:
    • My 2018 New Year’s Resolutions
    • My 3 year Resolutions
    • My 10-year Vision
  • Consider:
    • What were the big wins over the past 6 months?  What could have gone better?
    • What did I learn?  What did I read?
    • What will I recommit to for the second half of the year?
  • Act
    • Find a visible place to display my commitments
    • Schedule vacation and optional travel
    • Be grateful for the last six months

Quote I appreciated…  This is from a letter written by Charles Krauthammer and shared on Twitter shortly after his passing:  I thought it was a beautiful piece of encouragement, given to a person going through a difficult time.

“I’m fully aware of terribly discouraging [it] is to have put in twice the effort for gains that seem so meager at the beginning.  But I can assure you that it can be done.  And then it is rewarded.”

Have a great week!

Weekly Highlights #7: Progress, Stress, Emotion

Happy Thursday!

Here’s what I’ve been reflecting on for the past few days…

Grateful for…  PROGRESS.  A few months ago I’d talked about the idea of “signposts” in planning–that is, finding a way to have a visual reminder of your plan and your progress.  We implemented this for our kids recently:  a chart system for behaviors we want to encourage, and a practice of adding a sticker every time they’re successful.  It’s been amazing, and is a good reminder that we all have to find our motivation.  Now, you can hear kids clamoring to be well behaved, because, as they put it,  “I WANT A TACO!!”.

We all need to find our motivation.

Enjoyed…  Kelly McGonical’s TED talk on how to make stress your friend.

I took two big lessons to took from the talk

First, our belief about stress is a big part of how we experience it.  If we believe that the symptoms of stress are a sign that we are preparing to rise to the occasion, we’ll have a healthier, more effective response.

Second, at it’s best, stress can cause us to reach out for help, to open up, to connect with others.  And, when we do this, we won’t experience stress as harmful, or negative.


Quote I appreciated…  This is from Atul Gawande’s commencement address to the graduating class from UCLA’s medical school:

“When people speak, they aren’t just expressing their ideas; they are, even more, expressing their emotions. And it’s the emotions that they really want heard. “

I hope these ideas encourage you for the week ahead.  Take care!