Archive for the ‘Methods’ Category

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?

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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?

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?

3 – Develop Your First Impossible Thing

July 28, 2011

If you are reading this and didn’t get here from 2-Find Your First Impossible Thing, stop reading and go back to 0-Ask If You Are Ready. None of this will make sense if you jump in with no preparation. Read the earlier posts to understand why you would want to be here at all.

Just to review where you are:

  1. You have a child’s composition book you are using to “compose a change” for yourself
  2. You have set it up with an index and summary pages
  3. You have created a list of more than 15 things that interest you that appear to be impossible
  4. You have selected one of them and are ready to develop it as practice for developing what you are really passionate about

If this isn’t already fun, I don’t know what I can do to help you. We’re going to get serious now, so here are some entry criteria to make sure you have a suitable “impossible” thing to work with.

If you answer Yes to any of these questions, go back and get another thing. But answer these on the page you already defined. Just use the numbers, rather than copying the questions. No point in wasting paper. Sometimes, the exercises I will give you will be intended to fail, because they really are impossible for you at this point.

  1. Does the impossible thing require more than $100 of startup funding?
  2. Does the impossible thing require new materials or techniques that are unknown to science, engineering or manufacturing?
  3. Would doing this impossible thing cause bodily harm to you or anyone around you?
  4. Would doing this impossible thing cause family or friends embarrassment or shame because people know they know you?
  5. Is there any part of this impossible thing that requires fraud or deception?
  6. Would doing this impossible thing be perceived as an illegal activity, even if it wasn’t?
  7. Would doing this impossible thing be perceived as immoral by your grandparents, even if your friends think it would be just find or even cool?
  8. Would you want to have to explain this impossible thing to your kids?
  9. Does this impossible thing seem boring now?
  10. Have you lost your passion for this idea?

If the impossible thing made it through these filters, you can keep going. Otherwise, to back to your list and find another.

Repeat the steps above until you have something that is mostly impossible but not illegal.

Since the answers above are half of your first page, go to the next page to do the second part of the exercise.

  1. Write down three things that haven’t been done that would be necessary for the impossible thing to be possible.
    If they are hard work, get over it. You’re about to do the hardest work you ever did in your life.
    This is just practice.
  2. Pick one of the three things that haven’t been done and write down five things that other people are already doing that would make it easy to recognize things that haven’t been done.
  3. Pick one of the things other people are doing and write down three things you would have to do away with to be ready to do what other people are doing.
  4. Pick one of the things you would have to do away with and write down seven things you would have to do better so you could recognize what you would have to do away with.
  5. Pick one of the things you would have to do better and come up with five things that would be the right way to do it.
  6. Pick one of the things that would be the right way to do something and come up with nine things that would be the right thing to do.
  7. Go back to the top of the list and read through the things you wrote and the things you selected.
    Draw a line across the bottom of the last list and answer this question:
    – Am I ready to make a commitment to doing this impossible thing?
  8. If the answer is Yes, continue on to the next exercise.
    If you have any doubts at all, go back and find something else to work with. The next exercise will be even harder.

Until I hear back from at least one person that they have gotten to this point, I am not going to add any posts on this thread. Unless there is someone who wants to follow me on this journey, there is no reason for me to go any farther.

Anyone up to the challenge?

2 – Find Your First Impossible Thing

July 28, 2011

If you didn’t come here from 1-Start A New Notebook, go back to step 0-Ask If You Are Ready.

We are going to jump in head first, and see where this takes us. You did step zero and 1, didn’t you? I will trust you if you will trust me. Let’s get started with some real work.

  1. Go to page 1 of your notebook. You probably closed it a few second ago, because the previous post told you to, but open it back up to page 1.
  2. At the top of the page, write this title:
    My List of Impossible Things
  3. Turn to the back of the book, to the index we started in step 1. Write the page number of the new topic you started, and the title you gave it on that page. You’ll do this every time you start a new topic, which might be tomorrow or only a few minutes from now.
    Are you done? Okay, here’s the next step.
  4. Go back to the list on page 1 and start writing down things that you think are impossible for you to do. Some examples might be:
    – learn to play the piano confidently enough to give a recital to family and friends
    – sing happy birthday for my parents when they turn (insert the next major milestone like 40, 60, 100)
    – go back to college and get a meaningful degree
    – support my kids in their efforts to attend college
    – get a better paying job
    – get a promotion because I deserve it
    – (and so forth)
  5. If your list goes onto the next page, write -2 at the top of the page to remind you this is a continuation of the previous page.
    If your list goes beyond two pages, write the title on the new page, with the appropriate number, and reserve the following page as well.
  6. Continue this until you have at least 10 seemingly impossible things. If you run out of ideas, see if these help you:
    – what have you heard other people say was impossible for you to do
    – what have you heard other people say was impossible for them to do, that you think would be fun/rewarding/life-changing
    – what things that are commonly accepted to be impossible that are of interest to you
  7. While you are doing this, feel free to be totally open to new ideas. You aren’t looking to do all the ideas you write down. You are looking for ideas that will inspire you enough to fill up this book and perhaps a dozen others. If the ideas are illegal or immoral or violate community standards, there will probably be some resistance from friends, family and maybe law enforcement. But if writing something down gets it out of your head so you can get to the idea that was trapped behind it, put it down on paper. The best idea might be out there on page 3 near the bottom. Wouldn’t it be sad if you stopped at the bottom of page 1?
  8. When you think you have run out of ideas, number enough pages to give you three times as many ideas.
    By this I mean, number six more pages if you only have the two pages you started with.
    If you filled up more than four pages already, you are going to have a lot of fun. Figure it out for yourself.
  9. Go back to the first impossible thing on page 1 and evaluate it against the following criteria.
    Use a scale of 1 to 5, where 1 is low and 5 is high:
    – how much passion do I have about learning how to change using this impossible thing?
    – how much do I already know about this thing?
    If the sum of the two scores above is less than 5, go to the next thing on your list.
    If the sum of the two scores is more than 9, go to the next thing on your list.Do not dwell on what you pick for your first item. This one is practice. Until you know how this part of the method works, you won’t be able to find the thing that will really fill up your notebook. When you find that one, you’ll know you need to start a new notebook for it.
  10. Do not spend more than 30 minutes on step 9.
    The point is not finding the best impossible thing to do.
    The point is finding something between 6 and 8 that you can use to do the next exercise.
    If you get a 6 but think there is an 8, do not look at more than five more things to find it.
  11. When you find the  thing you want to take forward for the next exercise, do the following:
    – go to the index and write it down
    – go to the next blank page at the beginning of the book and number that page, then write in the title of the thing
    – go back to the index and write in the page number
  12. When you have your first thing on a fresh page, you can go to step 3.

The Opposable Mind

July 28, 2011

Last evening, I started a new book, The Opposable Mind: Winning Through Integrative Thinking, by Roger Martin. Though I haven’t gotten past the first chapter, the premise definitely makes sense to me. He quotes F. Scott Fitzgerald on page 1:

  • The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to fuction. One should, for example, be able to see that things are hopeless yet be determined to make them otherwise.
    The Crack Up, 1945

When I saw this book and read the back cover, I thought the concept of opposable mind was obvious. I’ve been doing it for years. An the business I am going to build will help people develop their “integrative thinking” skills in a number of ways, which I hope will be an addition to what he will be discussing in his book. I think I’ve had an opposable mind for my whole life, but never thought of myself that way. I imagine that if I had known I was thinking that way, I might have told people why I was taking a contrary stance to theirs. They might not have seen me as a rebel, but as someone who was contributing something different to a conversation.

If you are wondering how I plan to do this, let me offer just a few hints:

  1. The 7 Levels of Change gives us a way to look at situations from at least 7 different points of view. I think there is an 8th Level – make a commitment to change, and possibly additional levels of stasis, which might be though of as negative levels of change. For example, if Level 1 is doing the right things, then Level -1 could be doing the wrong things. A lot of human behavior is easier to understand if one thinks of them as a spectrum of stasis and change.
  2. Six Thinking Hats gives us six different ways of looking at situations that are different from 7LoC. What are the facts? What emotions are involved? What do we need to worry about? What makes us happy about the opportunity or threat? How can we come up with new ideas? What do we need to do to organize things? When we have the ability to put on each hat in sequence, we have options that we never saw before. How many of us go through life wearing a Black Hat (Devil’s Advocate) and never acknowledging that the Red Hat (Emotions) may be holding us back in different ways? Would we be more flexible if we had a hat with seven colors, the last being “status quo/apathy” or our resistance to wearing any hat at all.
  3. The Pareto Principle also known as the 80/20 Principle, tells us that 20% of the effort in most efforts will deliver 80% of the value. And if we focus on the 20%, 4% of that effort will deliver 64% of the value (.8 x .8 = .64). But how often do we think about the value we are going to get from activities, much less think about the value before we even put them on our agenda? If we organized the agenda items we might put in our daily calendar, and put the important things first, would we deliver better value at the end of the day?

These are a few of the ideas that are already part of my tool. It is already working for me, but I don’t know if anyone else would be willing to try using it. That is where the thread about Composing Change comes into the picture. I went through many months of handwritten tracking of things I was doing, things I wanted to do, and things I thought mattered before I recognized that I could build a tool to help me manage everything. Those lists I was keeping in separate composition notebooks blended together in the tool I have built. The habits I realized I wanted to develop became one leg of the stool; the goals were the second. Where goals and habits meet is on a day you can start all over again and try to do something different, and then see where you succeeded and failed. I’ve never seen a daily planning tool that helped me manage short-term projects as well as behavior changes. In a few weeks, if there is a new release of FileMaker Pro, I will be able to offer the rest of you a chance to try out what I am doing. But invitations to that party will be based on what you have been doing in your Composing Change notebooks. If you aren’t willing to do the pre-work to get into a program, why would I believe you were ready to change?

But I’m off track again. We started talking about a book that offers examples of how people can hold opposing points of view and still get things done. Then I suggested there might be dozens of ways we might guide those opposing thoughts. And I finished by saying I would let you try out my idea if you do a handwritten version first.

For people who start reading this blog after this date, I’m sure this will be very confusing. They might have to go back to the beginning to make sense of it all. But so what, I say, the stream of ideas will keep moving. It doesn’t matter where you get into the water. It will always be refreshing.

1 – Start A New Notebook

July 27, 2011

If you didn’t come here from 0-Ask If You Are Ready, go there first. This is not a post you should just jump into.

As I write this post, it is summer and stores are already offering deals on school supplies. Take advantage of this opportunity and go to your favorite office supply store and look for the “composition” books kids use in school. I like the ones from Wal-Mart that are 9.75″ by 7.5″. When we were in Wal-Mart the other day, the sale price was $.40 each, so I bought 20 of them. I already had dozens but the price was too good to pass up. I may go back if I am near that store again and get some more. You can never have too many blank notebooks.

Here is how to start a new notebook for the method I will be describing in the posts that follow:

  1. On the cover, write the topic the book is about, and the date you are starting
  2. Inside the front cover, write your name, address, phone number and email. If you lose the book for some reason, you want the person who finds it to be able to contact you so you can get it back. Though the book may never leave your desk, this is just a good thing to do. It reminds you who you are.
  3. On the first page, repeat the purpose of your notebook, which is the big problem or question you are trying to answer.
    Under the purpose or title, add a statement that says “Index at back”.
  4. Go to the last page and write “Index” at the top, to the right of the red line. Write “Page” to the left of the red line.
  5. Go back to the beginning of the notebook and turn the page so you have the first two blank pages in front of you.
    Write 1 in the upper left corner of the page on the left, and 2 in the upper right corner of the page on the right.
    Write the date underneath the page number on the left.
    In the future, when you start a new page on a new day, add the date. Otherwise, just put the page number.
  6. Close the notebook and take a deep breath.
  7. Go to the next blog post, and find out what is in store for you. It might be really fun.

0 – Ask If You Are Ready

July 27, 2011

This is the first post in a series of posts that may become a small self-published book. The first step is very simple.

  • Ask yourself if you are ready to make a significant change in the direction your life is headed

If the answer to this question is positive, then go to step 1.

If the answer is unclear or negative, go back to reading my blog and return here when you see a need for change.

Listening Versus Hearing

July 27, 2011

Last evening we had dinner with friends, and they had invited some other people as well. The conversations were quite interesting, and I tried to listen based on some ideas I got from Click, the book I am reading about “the forces behind how we fully engage with people, work, and everything we do.” The authors are the same ones who wrote Sway, and the two books together are quite powerful. If you read The Starfish and the Spider first, which is not what I did, I think the results would be even more significant. But I digress.

This morning as I was doing my startup activities, I realized that I didn’t have a mission statement. And then I realized that I need to make “listening” a big part of my mission statement when I write it. That led to realizing that I need to make “hearing” even more important than listening, because I realize the two are different. Listening could be nothing more than paying attention to what the other person is saying while you are figuring out when you can jump in and take the conversation in a direction that is more interesting to you. Hearing would then be listening to what the person is saying but also what they are leaving out.

That made me realize I wasn’t listening to those of you who have been following my blog for the past few days or weeks and have no idea what the big picture is about. So based on the lack of feedback I am getting, I am going to create a new category where I will post specific things you can do to learn more about the big picture I am talking about. This post will not be in that category, because it isn’t anything that will advance your personal progress toward a significant change in your life.

So, if you are interested in the bigger picture, check out the new category for Composing Change. The instructions will start there, and they will be numbered for ease of use.

Thanks for the comments you have offered thus far. Consider the new category a prototype of a book about getting started. I’m offering the job of editor to all of you who want to make the real book a winner for others.