Change – something happening there

Change is not an email from leadership. It is a process that pushes limits, brings joy to some and frustrates others. It moves slowly. Leaders talk about it, often forgetting to model it. As time passes, vision can get cloudy and ownership questions can arise. And yet, change, or at least our ability to, is pivotal to the success of our connected future.

Vision: someone wants it. A person or a group see it, play with it, and are willing to work for it. Slowly actions influence more individuals and they want it too. Some appear to be excited by change yet lean back. Others reinterpret it or worse, misunderstand it. Bureaucrats fear it, unless its new bureaucracy. Keep your vision simple, clear, and always at the ready.

changeasaqualityLeadership: it’s about people. Good leaders add value, empower, and know when to get out of the way. They listen, observe, and reinforce the motivation to change. Great ones model it. Their persistence and their ability to challenge themselves inspire us. They make the rounds and visit the trenches. We trust them because we know they have not lost touch.

Stewardship: of the people. Someone must carry the vision. Leaders get busy. Stewards step up, volunteer, and jump in because they care. They’re in the trenches daily working to affect change. They speak up, work through challenges, consul, and celebrate with us. Not everyone gets change right away, yet with empowered stewardship change runs smoother.

Learning: leaning in and owning. Learning along the way is crucial to the success. People ask questions, generate ideas, and arrive at aha moments. When they talk, listen. If they need latitude, give it to them. It’s frustrating and fabulous all at once. Champion and celebrate moments along the way. If someone lets you down, flag it. Then, reflect, refine, and move forward together. If we can’t shift gears, redouble efforts, and leverage just in time resources, where’s the learning?

Support: undervalued yet essential. Leaders come and go. Stewards have other jobs too. Those who are getting it done, get frustrated. Build and identify your support network early. Revisit its effectiveness often and build multiple forms of support. We all learn differently. Email is great for some, videos are better for others, and some only change when there is one on one handholding. Without support, change does not happen.

We all see change a little differently and that’s OK. Just keep it simple, do your part, step up when needed, ask questions, learn what you can, and take time to reflect. And remember no matter how great change sounds, we can only affect so much at one time.

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Is your email a disposable asset?

It stands always ready, takes seconds to write, requires no effort to deliver, reaches one or thousands nimbly, and yet there’s no guarantee you will ever see it again. Sound great, expect for that last part.

disposabledefinitionYou rely upon a timely return with the information required. Yet, as the world gets busier, this becomes a bigger reliance. Once you hit send, you are on someone else’s time. They too need to get work done, reshuffle priorities regularly, and get too many emails. Why increase this reliance by sending someone a disposable asset?

You have two options, one depend less on email or two invest in improving the return of your asset. -pause to reflect- OK, option two it is. 

Are you giving or asking for something?

If you are asking for something, think of the other person. Make the email clear and as concise as possible. If you can’t say what you need in one or two lines, then people are going to need more time to think about it. More time equals a higher chance of a delay or being ignored.  If you are giving something away, fantastic! Givers are not so concerned about a reply. Plus, giving increases your email karma. Still, clarity is key!

Do you have a prior relationship with that person?

Family aside, if you didn’t email someone at your work, would he/she ever think about you or miss you? If no, see notes on clear and concise above; else, consider a more direct method of communication. Yes, it is more time consuming, yet relationship building pays riches over time.  When someone unknown emails you, do you jump to reply? To stay competitive today, we must produce. Being busy isn’t enough! If you depend on email, your relationships need to be dynamic.

Is there another way? 

Maybe the answer to your email query already exists online. Check meeting notes, prior emails, FAQ pages, or even the addressee’s social media. Take action by harvesting data or information where you can and don’t wait for it to come to you already assembled. 21st Century tools, plus human brain, and an ability to act means maybe you could work at Google.

Maybe email really works for you? Yet, ask yourself the following. Are your emails clear and concise? Does email interfere with work you need to do? Do you answer emails as they come in? If you answered yes twice, I suggest you rethink your email usage. Disposable assets don’t really help you get work done!

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Avoidance, too hard, someone else, too busy, & shredded carrots

Whatever you are thinking about, just go after it. Maybe it takes a lot of time, so what? The head often influences judgments regarding time. Don’t over think it. Break it into steps, create a timeline, get going, focus & keep at it, mix it up, let it marinate, and declare a finish line, then celebrate. Step #1, get carrots.

Note: the focus & keep at it step is really important! 

Develop a timeline! No, you may never be “done,” yet you need a finish line.  Always allow additional time for unforeseen complications. Planning is good, but over planning is bad. Step #2, peel carrots!

Get going! Don’t stop and hold meetings to talk about the decision. If you must meet, meet to support the decision. Do not let people criticize the decision and tell you how they never thought it was a good idea. Step #3, shed carrots!

Focus & keep at it! In order words, commit to the decision. You came this far, so follow through. You will need to push yourself. If others are involved, you will need to spend time keeping them focused. Step #4, prepare the marinade.

Mix it up! You will need to set yourself up for success! A poor craftsman blames his tools, so get the tools you need. Weather it is a Cuisinart food processor or people you trust, utilize them. The right tools make the mix better, aid with scalability, and lead to sustainability.  And remember, investing does not always mean money. Step #5, mix!

Let it marinate! Leave it alone and walk away if you hit a challenge. Life is a blend of choices. Sometimes you need to let those choices rest. Step #6, marinate.
Declare a finish line! You can’t finish what you don’t start. Hoping and wishing are not strategies. Yes, you can definitely over plan. And don’t stop to talk about creativity or second-guess yourself. Get it done. Step #7, celebrate!

cool celebration photo coming eventually

Shredded Carrot Salad
4 large carrots
2 Tablespoons of balsamic vinegar
2 Tablespoons of brown sugar
Marinate overnight or for at least six hours

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Things, struggling, done, & mediocrity

We all struggle with getting things done. There is just so much to do. Deadlines, lets come back to those. Done, in today’s vernacular, means lots of reflection and collaboration. Then there’s timing, which differs from deadlines. Too soon, no one cares. Too late, well no one cares. And lets try to avoid the prevalent culture of mediocrity. We hand things in because the next deadline looms. If it works, well enough move on! And creativity is great just don’t get too creative.  Will Rogers quote – Inspiyr @ Creative Commons

Lets just focus on the getting it done part. If you don’t start, well that’s not good. If you do start, you probably don’t start by thinking lets create something mediocre with a lot of rules and bureaucracy. You do some research. You find a whole bunch of relevant articles and many more non-relevant way more interesting ones. Most likely, “it” turns out to be more complicated than anyone thought. So, you collaborate with more people. You hold a few more meetings. Turns out, no one really gets “it.” Possibly it’s too soon or it’s just not ready yet.  Henry Ford quote – QuotesEverlasting @ Creative Commons

Done involves choice! Choose well, things will get done. Not everything, but some things. Look for signs, read tealeaves, or even check walls for writing. Yes, retreating to the comfort of answering email is much easier. Done means continually evaluating your pitch and make choices to more forward.

agreewithmeUnfortunately, there’s more. You will need a hard-edged belief. You will need a drive, one that challenges mediocrity. One that continually asks, “Is value being added?” There will be difficult conversations.  And, you must possess a willingness to fail. When no one is with you, then you are probably right. Dudley Field Malone quote - madingflick @ Creative Commons

Go slow. Take you time and be resourceful.  You will need to do your homework and sell, market, and promote hard to get “it” done. Look for passion and borrow some if necessary. Deadlines loom, but useful and forward movement counts too. If it is right, it will work; else why are you on the team?

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Change – Slow Boats – Willingness

Loose-leaf tea, Mandarin collars, century old eggs, congee, and tofu help me balance normality in my life. Yet, twenty years ago, I didn’t like them. I actively avoided them. And I certainly didn’t waste any time reflecting or writing about them. Life works to compliment our existence, but only when we are ready.


Images by A Girl With Tealynac, & Kake Pugh @ Creative Commons

Growing up in Cincinnati, Ohio, I saw not many of the articles above. Yes, there were Chinese restaurants, but tofu on the menu, I don’t recall. Leaves slipped from the teapot occasionally, but I would fish them out with my spoon. And Mandarin collars in the land of button downs, blue blazers, and prep ties, pleeease!

Proximity alone is not enough. I moved to Beijing two decades ago. Yet, with apologies to Dr. Seuss, I refused to eat century old eggs. If tea was served, I produced my own bag. When tofu was offered, I politely declined. I was confident in my new surroundings, just not crazy. Or so I thought.

Appreciation is key. Congee, alone is pretty boring. Cook it slow enough, add the right amount of water, set an egg in the right way, add some picked ginger, peanuts, scallions, add a dash of soy or chilli sauce, and voila, you’re in business. Yet, pleasures, likes, and vices all come from somewhere. It starts with a story here, a recommendation there, or an introduction from a friend of a friend. Rarely do we find them just waiting around for us. Appreciation plus willingness equals change, especially when the process is repeated over time.

Passion is crucial. It plays a starring role and is referenced continually. Someone shows us a way. We  talk, we learn, and we connect. To you, it’s a game of straining tea with your teeth and politely spitting. To others it’s the process. How leaves open, float and sink. What the flavor is like between pots. Or possibly it is not the tea at all, but rather the social dynamic of the undertaking. Passion with a dose of imagination brings creativity.

Risk, failure, and resilience feature prominently too. Not all century old eggs taste the same. You can’t buy a Mandarin Collar jacket off the rack. Well, not at Brooks Brothers. If you want something to work, it’s going to take energy. Visit a tailor, order a mystery dish, live on the edge and try some loose-leaf tea. Will you get it right the first time, probably not? For me, it’s always that third fitting at the tailor when you hit it big.  Yes, we possess a finite amount of energy, but what else are you going to do, with it?

I get it. Teas is for drinking, not grazing. Rice is great when fried, not as soup. And tofu’s lack of texture creeps people out. Remember it is not about you. It is about seeing greatness in small things. These small things restore normality in an ever-changing world, even if only for a short time. Change happens with or without you. So, why not enjoy the ride?

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Creativity reloaded – life, ex-pats, & outsourcing

I enjoy my life here in Hong Kong as an ex-pat. I work, I drive, I speak Mandarin, I cook, and I wash my own car. The Internet flows free and fast. Parks, beach, and hiking trails are minutes away, the food is fantastic, and it’s safe. What’s my guilty pleasure?  Outsourcing! I outsource all cleaning and sous chef duties Monday through Friday.

Every week, I meet fantastic people and families, ex-pats & locals alike, who all engage in outsourcing in one form or another. Some still cook, others outsource cooking completely along with the shopping. Some have drivers, yet no one works on their own car. Sure, we all wash a few clothes on the weekend, but rarely do we iron. We live in apartments with management fees. So drilling holes in walls is frowned upon. Painting is negotiated ahead of time. Replacing washers on leaky faucets or basic plumbing. “Please there are people to do that kind of work for us.” Moving house from country to country and packing your own boxes. “Shirley you jest!”

I am familiar with Reaganomics and trickle down theory. I am good as this, so I do only this. I leave the other things to those who are good at them or have no other choice. No doubt at work you are the creative force affecting change or keeping the organisation together. I get it, you may not be great with a needle, knife, iron, plunger, or wire cutter, so you outsource. Yet, what does this do to your creativity outside the office? Does creativity transfer across the discipline of life if you don’t get it out and show it off? I learned a lot helping my Dad with the car and being a sous chef for my Mom as took care of my newborn sister.

Why bother about creativity at home when products keep getting more complex? Average tinkers stand no chance against certified technicians. Manufacturers often replace instead of repair. Occasionally, they tell you what went wrong. Worse, they threaten to void the warranty if you crack open the case. And even if you wanted to fix something, would you have the tools? Circuit boards are all integrated. Engine compartments are designed keep us out. True story, few BMW owners know how to jumpstart their car because everything is tightly laid out and the battery is in the back. Of course, we have no garages, basements or workshops to store tools or just tinker around.

As life gets easier, you don’t need that much creativity. Google maps, I love ‘em, but where’s the fun? We don’t get lost. We don’t stop and ask random strangers for directions? We just go from point A to point B. And that’s a shame. We prefer to watch reality TV instead of being in our own reality. Let someone else take the risk and succeed or royally screw up. It’s safer and more entertaining. From bread makers to rice cookers, we add ingredients and get near perfect results each time. Sure, maybe you can live without great bread crust, but what of experimentation, innovation, and getting it wrong? . 

No, I am not advocating to end domestic outsourcing. We all work hard and will probably continue so, especially with Samsung building bigger smart phones. Yet, do get into the creative game. Yes, it’s more work. And yes, you will need to push a few comfort zones. Chances are, it won’t matter. Plus, you’ll get a a great story to tell.

And yes, I know Mandarin is the easiest of all the Chinese dialects. 

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Spontaneity, Mashups, and Meatless Meatballs

Leafing through the August 2013 issue of Food & Wine at the beach last week (yes, the beach), I happened upon Eggplant & Porcini “Meatballs” in Tomato Sauce. I scanned the ingredients and thought I had an instant quick dish hit on my hands. Bubba, my son, is is nearly eleven and is constantly hungry. We dashed to Jason’s, bought everything, and rushed home only to discover the eggplant needed to be roasted for an hour. Bogus!

Caught by my own favorite question, “did you read the directions completely?”

Cooking, like life, is all about organization, planning, and attention. Look for the patterns and try to assemble them where you can to save time. Now, fast forward to Saturday. I need to roast nut, usually almond & walnuts, for our weekly snacking. So, why not roast some eggplant at the same time? Sure, you might need to pay a bit more attention to roasting time and oven temperatures, but anytime I can multitask, I jump on it.

Roasted eggplant in hand, I got to work stripping off the skin.. True, I had no Porcini mushrooms, but I had Shiitake. The recipe wanted cheese, we went with Vegan Monterey Jack. Along with the basil, I chopped and married in a little Chinese parsley. Improvising, I tossed in a 1/2 cup of roasted walnuts for a little mouth feel.

Confession one, I skipped the tomato sauce.

Confession two, I would flash fry or saute the mushrooms next time.  I arrived at this conclusion through a feedback comment from Bubba, “too much mushroom taste.”

Folding and mixing, I combined all the remaining ingredients, bread crumbs,  eggs, and garlic. My only regret, I had no fresh chili peppers!. Arrabiata Meatless Meatballs, now that would be interesting! It was wet going in there and the faux cheese was not helping in the binding and adhering department. Undeterred I mixed on. Maybe a skimped on the bread? Or maybe I should have toasted the bread first? In my next revision, I might go with some corn starch.  Note to self, check with Mom, she knows things!

I dusted the balls as directed, but I didn’t really see the point. I find dusting very subjective? I never know how much dust is required. Into the refrigerator they went. After cleaning up, life distracted me and the balls ended up chilling for quite some time.. Honestly, I  thought, why not just pull them out as Bubba got hungry. If I had no other time to make anything else, there was always Bubba’s favorite, meatballs on a fork. And, he could actually fry them himself.

Instead of going with a 1/2 of oil for frying I used about 1/4. Note to reader, go with medium to low heat and pay attention. They burn easily! Ask me how I know? I used tongs to gently turn them in the pan as they lacked the cohesiveness of actual meat meatballs.

While I love bacon for breakfast, I thought, why not eggs over easy, with asparagus, and meatless meatballs. If you don’t have any asparagus, try bok choy. No bok choy, wing it. While experience may vary with equipement ruined, I prefer to think of it as there is nothing I can’t fix. And if you can’t fix it, spin it with a great story.

Eggplant & Porcini “Meatballs” in Tomato Sauce by Domencia Marchetti  in the August issue of Food & Wine.

Bubba’s verdict, “what if you added a little bacon?”

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