Without hot water

We spent the Labor Day long weekend without hot water thanks to our neighborhood power utility requiring maintenance. It is hard to describe that moment of joy when hot water was finally switched on at about 10pm on Monday.

Of course, we got by. That was never the problem. But, the joy of just turning the tap to find hot water gush out of the shower or tap was real. It reminded us that access to hot water is a real privilege. I am grateful for that privilege.

It also reminded me of how I always feel thankful for good health when I fall sick. I am learning to be thankful for good health when I am healthy, too. I hope you are, too.

And, while we’re sending in our thanks for all these wonderful things, let’s also take a moment to thank the people who fill our lives with happiness. If they’re far away, send them a note. If they’re close by, give them a hug.

Yes, life is the longest thing we’ll ever do. But, that doesn’t mean it isn’t short either. Most things in life have this mystical paradoxical nature to it. Time passes by quickly. Let’s be thankful. Let’s make it count.

Early warning systems

I had a horrible record of listening to my own body while growing up. This manifested itself in a very predictable pattern of illness – I typically went 6-8 months without falling ill thanks to my willpower and then followed by getting completely knocked out for 1-2 weeks. This was because of my tendency to work in bursts, burn myself out, and then need recovery. My tonsilitis inflammation rate, for example, was a joke. I used to have one very painful week every 3-6 months (happy to share that it is down to one in the last 2 years now). Folks who have tonsils prone to inflammation will probably understand that tonsil inflammation is one of those illnesses that has obvious triggers and many early warning signs.

I have been actively working to avoid this tendency over the past few years as it signifies many of the things I am working to change about myself – consistency vs. sporadic bursts, embracing my introversion, learning to listen to my gut and then understand when it is right and when it isn’t.

So, after two weeks of intense activity with far too much social stimulation, I had all sorts of early warning signals go off when I woke up on Sunday morning. My throat has been feeling funny, my stomach feels like it has gone for a toss and I just feel like I need a break. Here’s the best part – I would barely have noticed this 4 years ago as all these signals are relatively mild. My natural instinct is to power through them. This was supposed to be my week of returning to the daily work-out routine, for example. My focus would have been to just get that done no matter what.

Thankfully, I know better now. Getting the work-out routine done would be efficient but I am almost completely certain that it would mean I would fall sick within the next 3 days. I am now working to respond to these warnings – sleeping as much as I can, eating regularly, drinking warm water, and pacing myself. I’m not sure if I heard these too late or acted on these too late as yet but I’m certainly going to give prevention my best shot.

Good leaders understand and leverage early warning systems. They do so by really understanding the teams they lead and the systems they manage. Careful observation always gives us an idea of the leading indicators. The best hunter gatherer chiefs always knew when bad weather was on its way. The birds and animals made certain noises that foretold it. These chiefs just needed to pay attention.

As leaders of our own selves and within our own families, it is entirely our responsibility to develop early warning systems. An explosive argument with your spouse or significant other almost certainly didn’t occur because of what you did just now. It was an accumulation of many annoyances. With better early warning systems, we can work to prevent issues before they occur.

The onus is on us to observe, pay attention, and then respond.

You attract people by the virtue of who you are

One of the most interesting aspects of going back to school after reading many books on human behavior is that you feel you are in a human laboratory of sorts. For a start, you meet more people in 2 weeks than you’ve probably met in 4 years of professional life. And, as a bonus, you have a very high school-esque atmosphere as everyone is keen to understand who their friends might be.

Since friendship offers incredible insight into human behavior, I thought I’d share my notes on a few observations about friendship –

1. We are the average of the five people we spend most of our time with. Friendships matter. (glad we’ve gotten that out of the way)

2. Schools are one of the best sources of great friendships. While some work environments manage to create strong friendships, it isn’t uncommon to hear people describe their friends either from high school, university or graduate schools. I think friends are one of the education system’s biggest gifts to us.

3. Friendship in our early years is almost entirely a product of proximity. As we grow, it becomes entangled more by choice. And, the entrance of choice means we get to see our own magnetic fields in action.

4. We all have magnetic fields that either attract or repel people. These magnetic fields are almost entirely driven by a combination of who we are (comprising of our values and what drives us) and the strength of our personality. Depending on who you ask, we can either be bloody boring, absurdly cool, too serious, too uptight, too flaky, etc.

5. That brings us to the next important truth – everyone is not going to like you. No, you can never be universally popular. In fact, shooting for popularity is probably a problem in itself.

6. If your magnetic field isn’t getting you the sort of friends you’d like to be surrounded with, you either need to change your friends or change yourself.

7. “Cool” exists in every social group. There is always a certain sub-section that is cooler. This group is the envy of most nerds and geeks. However, in my experience, the cool kids are left behind almost without exception. That’s my way of saying – make sure you pay attention to the nerds and geeks. You might just end up working for them.

8. You can be intentional about friendships. But, you’ll have to learn to do so without trying too hard. All human relationships are two way and the other person has to respond too.

9. Trying too hard is a field-killer. It obscures who you are because you pay too much attention to fit in. Don’t fret – just keep an eye out for like-minded people and you’ll generally do just fine.

10. Some people manage to present different faces to different people. If you’re not skilled enough to play that game, don’t try it.

11. If you aren’t really clear about who you are and what you stand for, don’t worry. It comes through when you start doing work. The work you do is a by-product of who you are and how you approach life.

12. Finding excuses to let yourself and your work shine through are critical as a result. That’s why many friendships build when working on projects. Don’t underestimate the power of extra-curricular activities.

13. As with life, patience is critical. Great relationships often take a while to form. That’s okay. A great personality can help speed up the process but, unless it comes naturally, it is probably not worth the bother. It is character that is going to sustain a relationship. There are few more accurate signs of good character than long-lasting relationships. It is definitely an infinite game.

14. If possible, actively seek folks who have different backgrounds and points of you. This is only possible once you feel relatively secure about who you are and where you come from (hence, communities of expatriates typically cluster). If you feel you are ready for this, give this a shot. While it is guaranteed that people with similar background will have many shared experiences, you will be amazed by the sheer number of like-valued people you find when you venture outside.

15. And, one last thing, be yourself. If you don’t know what that means, work hard to understand who you really are by working to understand what your values are, what drives you, and how you approach life. It is only once you possess a sufficient amount of self awareness will you be happy to be by yourself. Often, it is when we’re perfectly content to go on a journey by ourselves that we find the best group of travel buddies.

Lovelace nurses and identity – The 200 words project

Here’s this week’s 200 word idea from Switch by Chip Heath and Dan Heath..

The Lovelace hospital in Albuquerque faced an 18-30% turnover of nurses. This meant a high staff replacement cost, low morale, and high risk to patients. Kathleen Davis, VP of Operations, decided the way forward was by “Appreciative inquiry” – to change the organization by figuring out what’s working. So, with consultant Susan Wood, they interviewed 100 about what was satisfying in their jobs.

Most nurses were feeling beaten down and overworked but their tone changed when asked what was working – they were all very loyal to nursing. They loved being ‘nurses’ – it was their identity.

So, Lovelace’s management introduced “Extraordinary nursing” awards, changed their onboarding programs to focus on building this identity, and conducted workshops to help nurses improve their nursing skills. Nurse satisfaction scores increased. The results followed – they improved retention by 13% and patient satisfaction with nursing went up.

Here’s to testing appreciative inquiry in our lives as well..

Appreciative inquiry
Source and thanks to: www.EBSketchin.com

‘To discover why nurses choose to stay at Lovelace – and to gather insight in such a way that the process in and of itself contributes positivity and minimizes negativity.’ | The purpose statement of the Lovelace inquiry statement

“You may not like us..and that’s okay. “

Every great brand takes a stand for what it believes in. When it does that, it says – “You may not like us.. and that’s okay.” Apple and Harley Davidson aren’t mass market products but they sure are authentic. There is a certain consistent beauty present across their products that comes from that authenticity.

It isn’t too different for us as individuals. When we stand for what we believe in, we also say “You may not like me.. and that’s okay.”

Until we do that, it is impossible to be authentic.

And, without authenticity, it is impossible to be happy.

“I will be doing it. Will you join me?”

You want to go the gym. It would be great to have company. Good news – your friend would like to go to the gym today. That’s a perfect opportunity for the – “Let’s do it together” line. Of course, tomorrow arrives and you receive a message first thing in the morning that your friend has another commitment and won’t be making it. Lying in bed, you decide not to go too as you are tired and need some rest.

Engaging buddies on important commitments is a great idea. It just fails because the “Let’s do it together” line implies shared accountability. Shared accountability is an oxymoron.

A better way forward would be to say – “I will be doing it tomorrow. Will you join me?”

This changes the dynamic in 3 ways –
1.You take responsibility and make a commitment. This ensures that both you and your friend take the commitment seriously.
2. You’ve made a decision that you will go either way and that your friend is a welcome addition. If you only want to do something because your friend wants to do it, it is time to question if what you plan to do is important enough in the first place.
3. The ball is in your court to keep the commitment. If you lack the integrity to do so, it is time to get into the habit of keeping your own commitments.

This isn’t a post about changing the language. Language is a by-product of intent. And, our intent better be strong. There’s no other way of ensuring we consistently get past the resistance.

What if I fail?

That toxic force, the fear of failure, thrives on being avoided. It kills initiative, destroys happiness, and encourages inaction. And, yet, it prefers we don’t talk about it or think about it.

So, the next time you feel its power, ask yourself – what if I fail? Write down your thoughts as you answer the question.

What if the person turns down my hand of friendship?
What if that company says no to my cover letter?
What if that group rejects the idea?
What if I try and lose?
What if she says no?

It is not that bad. It is never that bad. Sometimes, it is even fantastic and liberating.

Sure, we need boundaries. But, I’d argue that we could do with more risk and less status-quo today. We live better lives when we drive and embrace change. And, when we live better lives, we make the world a better place.

And, even if we did fail in that attempt, it’s okay. We’ll learn. We’ll get better. We’ll try again tomorrow.

Show me your schedule

A friend of mine has an hour set aside every week for a priorities check. During this hour, she goes through her past week’s schedule. This schedule is color coded with every event tagged to her various priorities. She adds up the hours she spends on various activities to get to the time spent per priority. If she is spending less hours on her top priority in comparison with the next two, she knows it is time to change tactics.

If there is a better way to check on our ability to prioritize, I don’t know of it yet. I plan to incorporate this idea into my life as well.

We are what we do. And, our priorities are never what they say are. Show me your schedule… and I’ll show you your priorities.

No panacea

When I hosted my blog on Blogger, many stopped to let me know that WordPress was better. It had better search indexing, better this and better that. So, after many years of deliberation, I switched. After around 20 hours of effort that involved troubling a close friend, we were finally up.

In the 5 months that have passed, I have actually had more troubles with WordPress than I had with Blogger in many years. The first was not WordPress’ fault. In the process of migrating, I lost 80% of my feed readers. The next few definitely were. The latest issue is around my mobile site heading to some weird Russian site on Android devices. I’ve deactivated the mobile plugin and am hopeful that will solve the problem (please let me know if it doesn’t).

That’s not to say WordPress was a wrong decision. All things considered, the decision making process was sound and I am convinced it was the outcome of a good process. I am focused on the process and not the result. Yes, it has had it’s issues but it only goes to illustrate a key principle – there is no catch-all solution to all problems. There is no panacea.

Every move you make opens up new sets of problems. That’s just life. Don’t go in expecting all those past problems to be solved. Some of them might well solve the old problems but the chances are high that new problems have been created. C-suite executives know this too well – they execute one change program after the other to remove problems that never seem to go away. The problem is, perhaps, not in the program but in the expectation.

There is no panacea. There will always be challenges. The sooner we embrace that, the better for us.

You have to make the effort

People who are good at directions are those who make the effort to memorize directions.

People who do well in school are those who make the effort to attend classes and follow up.

People who remember names are those who make the effort to make associations that help them remember names.

People who sustain long relationships are those who make the effort to stay connected.

We choose either to make excuses or to just make the effort. There is no hack that will help. You just have to decide to do it and then, do it.

And, of course, you’ll feel useless and fail as you progress. But, as Ben Horowitz likes to say, that’s how we get made.