Archive for August, 2011

New Fuses

August 17, 2011

No sooner had I finished Long Fuse, BIG BANG than I came to realize which fuses I should be lighting. The business I want to launch in a year will need significant understanding and experience with a number of technologies that I am familiar with but not competent in, yet. When I stepped back and thought about a conversation with a young colleague from a business I have done work for in the past, I came to realize there was a lot I could do if I built solutions for the client who knows me best. And if I worked with this young colleague, we could do the job better.

This morning, or rather late last night, I came to realize that the concept I was thinking about could be approached in a much different way. Instead of building a solution for the one client, I could build a platform that would allow that client to collaborate with all his suppliers, and also with the people who work for him. When he is doing estimates, he could use their experience on the jobs they have done in the past to validate the estimates he is proposing to his clients. The crews know how much effort things are likely to take, and whether enough materials have been included. They don’t need to know about pricing, just effort estimates and material requirements.

So this morning, when I really woke up, I had another insight into the solution I am going to propose for this client. Instead of building a comprehensive business management tool, I’m just going to build the estimating system he has been asking for the last year or so. It will be a database running on a server so he can connect to it from wherever he is. People in the office will be able to look things up for him as needed. When he has estimates developed sufficiently, he’ll be able to share access to the database with his suppliers, so that they can put prices on the materials he has included in his quotes.

All of this provides a way for me to stretch and learn how to integrate all the pieces. I’ve done some of them in the past, but never on my own server, and never as a web-based application. And as it turns out, my wife and I are doing a number of big home improvement projects ourselves, so I can figure out how to build a good estimating tool by doing estimates for the jobs here at home. If the solution works for me, it might be ready to show other people. And if it works locally, it might be something other businesses would want to subscribe to. That would generate some cash flow and build my reputation with possible investors for the next company I want to start.

But I need to do this the right way, and actually launch it as a business, rather than the hobby-style of enterprise I’ve played around with since retirement. I need to build this business with the intent of selling it in a year or two, so I can move on to the next business with some specific experience behind me.

I love getting ideas just as I am falling asleep. They get better after I write them down, and often improve when I sleep on them, and write again in the morning.

When was the last time you got up to write something down because you couldn’t sleep? Did the ideas improve when you slept on them? What changed when you wrote about them in the morning?

Moving On

August 15, 2011

I just finished Long Fuse, BIG BANG and came to the realization that my big idea isn’t ready for prime time. I don’t understand how the underlying technologies would work. I don’t know how to convince people I have a solution they would need. The list is much longer, but the insight is useful because I realize there is something else I can do instead.

A friend has a business I have helped in the past, and there is an opportunity to do a project for him, at no startup cost for him unless the solution actually works. The technologies I would need to understand to get his solution to work are the same ones I will need to master for my own business idea. The people skills I will need to learn for his business and the relationships his solution will support will help me out on my own project.

But I’m going to do my project later. I need to light a couple of other fuses first. My bang will be much bigger if I just work out the kinks on some smaller projects first.

Where does that leave this blog? I’m not sure yet, but I thought I needed to put a stake in the ground and declare my intentions. Constructing Change is going on hiatus for a bit, as are Deming Habits and the Failurist Manifesto. The tutorials for Things never really went anywhere, so I’m going to drop that entirely.

So where does this leave me when it comes to blog topics? How about starting up a business using the FastTrac methodology from the Kauffman Foundation. I took the course last fall with my wife and went through five iterations of my business idea before settling on the one I’ve been developing all spring and summer. I can sit in (quietly) on the class this fall and start up my new business plan, and write about it here. Of course, I won’t give away any trade secrets or spill any beans, but I think writing about my FastTrac experience would be very helpful to me, and hopefully for some of you as well. You could even sign up for the class, if you ask me where it is being held.

So that’s all there is for today. It’s about four weeks until class starts so I can start going through the book to refresh my thoughts on the subject. Unfortunately, all my notes will be handwritten, in one of those composition books I’ve spoken about in the past. But there will be plenty to talk about here – the process of starting up a business. Maybe more people will follow me if I’m describing something most people could do, if they just had a good book to guide them.

We’ll start in earnest tomorrow.

Long Fuses

August 12, 2011

I’m most of the way through another great book about our resistance to change. Eric Haseltine has had a widely varied career, so his insights in Long Fuse, BIG BANG: Achieving Long-Term Success Through Daily Victories are very timely. In the back of my head, I think I knew I needed to be lighting what he describes as long fuses to create the big bangs I can envision. I just seem to get distracted by all the fuses I keep lighting, so many of them go out when I don’t pay regular attention to them.

Lately, this blog has been one of the fuses that has been lit, burned out, been lit again, and burned out again. I had a pretty good run, that included a vacation to three different states and required I write some of my posts on my iPhone. Since I’ve been back and have my entire technology arsenal available to me, the motivation has ebbed. What’s wrong with me? I’ve lost all the momentum I had built up.

Part of the reason I’ve neglected all the habits I worked so hard to establish is that my wife is in what passes for a quiet time in her year. The choir she directs is off for the summer, so she can stay at home an extra day. There have been projects we have been ignoring for months or years even, that we actually got started last week and finished this week. And we lit a couple of fuses on other projects that should be finished early this fall.

So it isn’t as if I was goofing off. I was just doing some things for others rather than doing things for myself. I have to admit I like the idea of finishing our kitchen, and getting solar panels up on our garage roof, but those aren’t as personal as the work I had been doing for myself. I was more focused on what I needed to do when she was still doing the choir. Now she is home more and I get more time to do things with her.

And that is what frustrates me a little. When she was only here half of the week and only had time to spend with me on her weekend, I could pretty much do whatever I wanted the rest of the time. I was able to watch a movie in the afternoon if I liked, or sit on the porch for hours reading a really good book. But lately, she wants me to do things we agreed we should do for the house or with each other. Is that fair?

Well, it just woke me up to what things will be like when I get my business going. The volunteer work I have been doing for the local fiddler’s fair is not very difficult but it does require I get out and talk to potential sponsors. I’ve never done anything like that before. It turns out I may actually be pretty good at it. But what I am not good at is doing my habit building regardless of whatever else is on my daily agenda. It turns out I’m lazier than I realized. I’m not as good an example for people as I thought.

Or maybe I am. I want things in my future to turn out differently. I think I could possibly coast along for the next thirty years and not do very much at all, other than the things I’ve been doing the past four years – since I retired. I’ve read a lot of books, written down a lot of ideas, talked about starting a business, written up a dozen or more business plans, done some consulting work for others, but not really finished very many things.

I’ve lit several hundred fuses and only tended to a half dozen of them. What was I thinking?

I guess I wasn’t thinking at all. I didn’t think of all those little projects I was starting as fuses that would contribute to a larger big bang sometime in the future. I knew they were all things that needed to get moving, but I didn’t see them as part of a bigger picture. Or rather, I didn’t see them that way until now.

Will this change the way I do things this weekend, or next week? Will any of my plans for big things make much progress if it is still summer? Will any of this matter in the end?

I think it will. That’s what one part of my tool does for me. Anything I define as a “habit in progress” has a list of all the days I planned to do something about it, with a number for how much time I actually spent doing it. A lot of things take less than a minute, but I keep track of them. Other things are more complicated, like writing these blog posts. And viewed as a group, they can be pretty daunting, because there will be over a hundred of them when I get back up to speed.

And that is the point. All those habits I’m trying to develop are just fuses for something bigger I want to do. The routines are the same idea, just not on a daily basis. I was in a zone of sorts before the vacations started and I left my laptop at home, but many of the habits stuck even when the tracking wasn’t there. There is hope for me.

Will there be any hope for others? Will my example of discipline and faltering give anyone else a reason to join me on this quest? Am I discovering my fundamental problem is that I am human, and that I have faults, and that I will fail more than I succeed?

You bet I will, and I bet you will, once I figure out how to explain all this to you and your friends. This is going to be so much fun. I can’t tell you how much fun it will be because it would scare you away. That’s why I need to go back and tend to some fuses that have gone out. If you are patient, I will have some of them lit in places where you can see them and maybe even light a few of your own. It will probably change while we are figuring it out, but isn’t that the point?

Ah, that makes me feel so much better. Now back to the morning routine.

See you all tomorrow. Let’s see if I can break my earlier streak of 60+ days in a row.

Doubts Vs Aliens

August 9, 2011

Over the weekend, I saw Cowboys vs Aliens and wondered if my glasses were fogging up. It was as if the lamp in the projector was going bad. Even the daylight scenes were somewhat dim. In the end, I enjoyed the movie, but wonder if it would have been better if the image had been clearer.

Are doubts the same kind of hinderance to our progress? Do we start second guessing ourselves when the usual suspects challenge our attempts to change? Is that why new ideas keep us addicted to the status quo? Is there any hope for our future as individuals when the news media is so happy to drasticize every negative thing that happens because we all love watching a train wreck, even when we are on the train?

Years ago, my wife and I went to a financial planner and she helped us get started on serious savings through my 401k at work. Then she retired and we got a new planner who wasn’t quite so focused. Then the second person retired as well, and we got a third person who actually wanted to talk with us more than once a year. When the market went down a while back, we had some losses but not as bad as the overall market. When the market started coming back, we were ahead of the game, thanks to dollar-cost-averaging.

Why can’t we connect continuous improvement in our personal lives to the big things we want to do with those lives? I have a “habit in progress” in my planning tool that says Work on business plan. Before I went on vacation back in June, I did something on my plan every day, even if it was just a few minutes. Since I got back, I haven’t done anything. Maybe I need a technique like dollar-cost-averaging in my method, but wait – that would be the discipline I am trying to develop.

So many things get in the way. Right now, it’s a volunteer project I signed up to do before I realized how much time and distance would be involved. The project is good practice for me, but it’s taking time away from what I should be doing, which is getting my business plan ready to take to the bank.

But sitting here writing another random blog post isn’t going to move any of my projects forward. Time to get out of this chair, go for a walk, and then go out and meet the world.

(Pause)

So why didn’t that inspire me? I wrote that last paragraph and nothing happened. Is it doubts about actually being successful with my volunteer project, or the aliens I haven’t seen yet. I made six calls yesterday, and more than half of the people I talked to were positive about buying an ad in our program. One even said she wished other groups would put together such a nice package when they asked her for money.

I should take that as a sign I’m headed in the right direction. I should accept the minor achievement of getting 500 words down in less than 20 minutes and move on with the other things I need to do today.

Wouldn’t you do that if the bulb in your projector needed replacing?

What Are You Hiding?

August 8, 2011

On the wall above my external monitor, taped to a picture I took of a bicyclist during a 24-hour record attempt, there is a small piece of paper that I printed after some research on the Internet. I found it because I had heard something in a movie, Akeelah and the Bee, that is frequently attributed (wrongly) to Nelson Mandela. The attribution doesn’t matter, because Malcolm Gladwell echoed the same thought this morning, as I was reading an archive article from 2002.

The original author, Marianne Williamson, wrote Dream of This, in which she said:

  • Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
    Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
    It is our Light, not our darkness that most frightens us.

    We ask ourselves – Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?

    Actually, who are we not to be?

    You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people do not feel insecure around you. We were born to manifest the Glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us, it is in everyone.

    And as we let our light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fears, our presence automatically liberates others.

What Malcolm quoted from a study by Carol Dweck was this:

  • Students who hold a fixed view of their intelligence care so much about looking smart that they act dumb, for what could be dumber than giving up a chance to learn something that is essential for your own success?

This quote was in What The Dog Saw on page 368, in an essay titled The Talent Myth. Much of it is about what a focus on talent did to derail Enron, but I saw a different point. The connection to Marianne Williamson was part of what he was getting at, how we frequently make ourselves look silly to lower the expectations people have of us. I’ve done this all my life, so maybe the title of this post should be “What Am I Hiding?”.

The thing is, having an opposable mind, and being uneasy about showing how smart I am end up being a horrible combination for someone who wants to create a new business. The part of me that might attract investors gets sabotaged by the part that is uncomfortable having to live up to his potential. I think that is why I frequently say things to strangers that come across badly: I have no filter for keeping my cute comments to myself.

But that isn’t the point of my post today – my point is to ask those of you who have been reading my posts if you are hiding behind something people think about you that is wrong. But even that isn’t quite it. I want to unleash the power of humankind by helping lots of people do their best, by giving them a way to liberate the self they hide from the rest of us.

Am I crazy to want to do this? Maybe, but so what? Maybe I need to act a little crazy to get visibility for my cause, not for myself but for the people who won’t listen unless I appear a little crazy. Should that be a question or a statement? Is writing this down as I think of it a good idea?

I see kids in the local middle school once a week, at an after school program for Lego Robotics. These are smart and sometimes fearless kids who could do just about anything, only some of them are already listening to what other people think. They have talents no one appreciates, but do what is asked because no one has asked them to do things that are impossible. By the time they get to high school, they will have accepted the view others have defined for them. They will have forgotten how to listen to themselves, because everyone told them to fit in.

Maybe I should ask my sister if she thought I fit in while I was in high school. I don’t think I did. I was consciously one fad behind everyone else. When penny loafers went out of style, that was when I wanted them. When everyone went to the next new thing, I picked up what they left behind. I did this by choice, because I knew I was different from them. But rather than set trends by leading, I thought I could blend in by appearing to be out of sync with everyone else.

The problem was that I was probably light years ahead of everyone even back then. I was probably seeing into the future but not knowing what to do about it. So I did poorly in high school, barely graduated, and went to a two-year technical school rather than a community college. It was the right place for me to go, and set up a nice career, but I doubt anyone would have expected a graduate from an unaccredited trade school to have the kind of success I have had. I did very well, but it took me over 40 years to realize what I was really capable of doing.

I don’t think other people need to take all the detours to find their passion. I think there are easier ways to reach our potential, but they all start with acknowledging that we have potential, accepting that we are “powerful beyond measure.”

The counter shows that I am already over 900 words, without too much conscious effort. How is that possible? I get inspiration from an article by a great author and spit out a thousand words in 40 minutes. This is too easy. There must be more to life than being able to write without thinking too much about it.

And of course there is. That is what the rest of the day will be about. That is why I am going to change the schedule and move “Write blog post” earlier in the day, because this is easy. The hard stuff will be a little easier if I’ve already done an hour of writing to clear out my head.

I know this won’t make sense to anyone, but I think we all have an allotment of mistakes that we are given when we are born. If we just go ahead and start making them, we can get through them and start doing the fun stuff that is also good. If we shy away from even trying something we are likely to fail at doing, we will be trapped behind a barrier others have erected to keep us from threatening them. Whenever someone says, “that’s impossible,” ask them if they think it is impossible for them or impossible for you. Maybe they just don’t want you to make them look bad. If you let them, don’t complain, because it was your decision to accept their opinion. But if you feel like challenging their opinion, and your own, I might have some ideas that could help you.

Start with The Talent Myth from July 22, 2002, on Malcom’s web site archive. You don’t work for Enron, or McKinsey. Go be yourself. I’m just starting to realize I can do the same.

Starting Up Again

August 7, 2011

No one has commented on the fact that I have taken more than a week off from my daily blogging. I can’t blame you. I was exhausted from vacation recovery and my wife and I did a bunch of projects around the house. And I got paid for a big job I did earlier this year, so I got distracted about what version of MacMini Server to buy. I’m not sure I am quite ready to get back onto the “habit building train”, but I have a few things to report about the books I’ve been reading. There were two of them.

The Opposable Mind by Roger Martin turned out to be one of the best books I’ve ever read. If I had been able to read it forty years ago, when I was just going into the USAF, my life might have turned out quite differently. But it was published in 2009, so I didn’t have the insights it has given me in the past few weeks. If you find yourself in a rut or headed for a detour in your life, I would suggest you buy a copy on Amazon and start reading it. Many of the other books I would suggest you read will make a lot more sense if you have started cultivating the opposable side of your brain. Six Thinking Hats and 7 Levels of Change make a lot more sense if you see them as variations on an “opposable mind”.

What The Dog Saw is a collection of essays by Malcolm Gladwell that originally appeared in the New Yorker. I started downloading archives of his stuff from his web site (www.gladwell.com) and have just refreshed my collection of PDFs. The book is a different experience than the downloads. Everything is together in something you can carry around with you, and you can write on the pages if you like, or put those cute little “stick-it note” flags that help you find passages you liked.

One flag I left for myself was on page 97, in an article called “True Colors” that was published on March 22, 1999. The phrase I highlighted was about what Vidal Sassoon did to revolutionlize hair styling back in the 1960’s. The last sentence is what made me realize how tough my job is going to be.

  •  If a revolution is not accessible, tangible, and replicable, how on earth can it be a revolution?
    Malcolm Gladwell, What The Dog Saw, 2009
    Originally published in The New Yorker, March 22, 1999

Is writing this blog making my intended revolution accessible, tangible and replicable? I think it is, but maybe it doesn’t look that way yet.

  • My blog is open for everyone who has a computer or mobile device with access to the Internet. Is that accessible enough, or do I have to be in print as well?
  • All I have done is post five dozen thoughts about what I intend to start doing in a small, rural school district. How tangible is that?
  • Has anyone started following my thread about “Composing Change”? Would the steps I’m defining there make it replicable?

I suppose we will find out tomorrow, when I hope to get a new streak going. One post after a break of 9 days is not enough. There needs to be more.

So, let’s agree this is enough for now. There are other articles by Malcolm and others that I think could inspire you. If anyone is interested, I need some encouragement to keep me going. Anyone want to let me know if I still have occasional readers?