Jim Southwell

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Lazlo the Magic Kitten

I just sat dumbfounded for the past 5 minutes while my 8 year old read me a story she had written.  It was about a cat named Lazlo that’s magic, adopted by a family and causes a bunch of trouble.  What had me dumbfounded was the story was interesting.  It had real characters, a plot a challenge and a funny resolution.  I sat there and asked myself what I was doing at eight years old.  I suppose that I was building a go-kart or riding my bike.  But, I KNOW that I wasn’t writing a story that a 41 year old man would find fairly entertaining and mildly amusing.

Good for her.  Then she brought up my blog and told me to post something about it…  Good grief, I’m getting challenged my a eight year old to stay up on my blogging.  Next thing you know, my five year old will be asking why I’m not Tweeting more.

What’s in your tank?

I’ve been thinking about effort and capability lately.  One thing that comes to mind is the proverbial “tank”.  For example, I have run a few marathons in the past.  At the end of each, I felt as though my “tank” was empty.  However, I was talking to a friend the other day who has completed a few Ironman Triathlons.  For him, the marathon is almost a cool-down.  I’ve also read a bunch on Navy SEAL training, not that I want to be a SEAL but their training is fascinating.  My realization is that they basically do the equivalent to an Ironman each day for weeks on end with little to no sleep.

This made me think about my “tank” how to discern between being on empty and just being tired.  It’s obvious that the spectrum of effort and ability play into this.  However, I would bet that each time I’ve thought my tank was empty, there was a little bit more available.  It’s all about tapping into that little bit and being comfortable in that space that allows you to go further the next time.

I think we have many “tanks” (e.g. family, work, activity…etc).  Each certainly has the ability to get down to empty.  However, ask yourself each time that you think you’re there, “Am I really on empty?”.  My guess is that more often than not, you’re not really on empty.  Your brain and body wants to avoid pain and find comfort.  Don’t let it.  Seek out the challenge and settle in there, you’ll find that the discomfort goes away and what’s left is the satisfaction of going further than you thought you could.

Whether it’s reading that one more book to your kids at night when you’re dead tired or making that one more call to try and close a deal when you just want to go home or doing that one more rep in the gym when your legs are already quivering, you’ll feel better for doing it.

Time is Fleeting

I was at a party Sunday night for a friend turning 40.  It was the typically group of guys talking about mortality and this question came up.  “Would you want to know when you’re going to die?”

This is a old question.  I’ve always answered it with “NO!”.  I wouldn’t want to live every day knowing when I’m going to die.  However, as I vocalized my definitive statement, I heard myself.  “I woud never want to know when I’ll die.  Could you imagine living every day knowing you’re ticking off days…”  Something along those lines at least.

As I heard myself I realized the obvious.  Every day we are ticking days off.  We may not know how many are left but does that make these days any less valuable?  Why do we accept so easily that 1 of 100 days is a horrible thought but 1 of 10,000 doesn’t even raise an eyebrow?

It made me start to think about the value of time and balance.  Why should the days 20 years from now be more important than tomorrow?  I don’t think they should be.

Setting Expectations

Two thoughts for the day.

1.  Bad news doesn’t get better with age.

2.  Under-promising and over-delivering makes bad news better.

I ordered some shoes last week.  Nothing too earthshaking, just some new kicks for working out.  However, when I went to order them, they were out of stock.  Sure I was bummed but I understood and these shoes are unique (read: valuable to me).  The company was clear and set the expectation that the shoes would be in stock and shipped in two weeks.  Again, I was bummed but I understood and reflected on the value the shoes have to me.

Today, I get an e-mail that they are in stock and have already shipped.  They’ll be here on the 29th.  I was elated.  The company came through for me.  However, the elation wasn’t that I was getting them on the 29th.  It was that I was getting them sooner than expected.  Had the company today me they would ship in a week, I would have expected them this week.  I would have been frustrated that I was getting them three days later and I would have shared that with my friends at the gym.

Same day, same shoe just a different expectation.


I think most companies lose sight of their value to their customer and they start to set unrealistic expectations.  That leads to disappointment which make the vendor start to feel insecure and make loftier promises which are also broken.  Finally, the vendor is desperate and the customer has no faith in the vendor.  That’s when the competitor comes in with a clean slate.  You didn’t lose your customer to your competition, you lost them to your insecurity with your value to the customer and your unwillingness to set real expectations.

Dec 5

Winning and Losing

I belong to a gym in Seattle.  I won’t go into the details but it’s a small gym with a group of very aggressive people and some very intense workouts.  Yesterday’s was no exception.  However, yesterday we did a “group” work out.  It went like this.

We were in teams of three.  Each person taking turns on the rowing machine, 20” box jumps and burpees (drop to the floor and bounce back up, clap in the air).  Each person rotated on the minute to the next “event”.  This went on for six rotations.  This was about 18 minutes of balls out sprinting.  Now, the other difference was we were scoring this.  We counted calories burned on the rower and the number of box jumps and burpees completed.  My team scored 735 which was big…but not big enough.  The other team in the 6AM class scored 748.  We lost by 13 points out of ~700.  If we had each only rowed a tiny bit harder or gotten one more jump in during our turns, we’d have easily won.

"So what" you say?

As a person who was never really into team sports, something occurred to me.  When you can’t see the score, it’s hard to build the same drive as you would if you were looking up and seeing your team is down by 13 points.  I know that I could have muscled out a couple more points but I was just going as hard as I thought I could.  But sitting here today, I know there was 13 points more in the tank.

Again, “so what” you say?

Apply this to sales.  Rarely your customer is telling you where you stand against your competitor.  If they do, you’re likely suspect that there giving you the full story.  So, you end up working as hard as you can to ensure you win the business.  Or do you?  Do you work as hard as you would if you knew that one more revision of your proposal would put you over the top?  If one more business case would ensure the victory, would you write it?  Absolutely you would.  So, my point is always work as hard as you can, right?

Well, not really.

Remember that yesterday, there were two other people on my team.  I looked at their scores.  I KNOW there was more in their tank.  However, winning wasn’t really their objective.  It was just the workout.  That’s fine, it was just a silly competition for bragging rights.  No harm done.

But, back to work.  What do you do when people on your team have a different view of victory?  What about when people are measured on different things?  We lost yesterday by 13 points.  It could have been one or 100 but it was still a loss.  My team was measured the same, had the same view on “winning”.  The difference was simply motivation.

So, my point is this.  Organizations MUST align themselves.  Your customer isn’t going to give you a halftime score and you are certainly going to have to rely on your team.  It’s critical that everyone shares the same vision of success and is compensated/rewarded on that success.  It’s hard enough to create the motivation, it’s impossible when visions of success oppose each other.

Dec 2

On the road

This is my first attempt at a mobile post. Forgive me for having little to say. I just want to confirm the test. Keenan, this is for you…

Words Matter

I got coffee yesterday.  The barista was having trouble and it took forever for a simple Americano.  Her comment to me was “Thanks for waiting”.  Now, it was said politely and she was obviously frustrated.  However, it was wildly inappropriate given the situation.

Let me explain.

I had no choice but to wait.  I had ordered and paid for my coffee.  What was I going to do?  Leave and forget about the three dollars and my wild desire for caffeine.  Apparently she was thankful that I didn’t walk out of the shop and leave her with an Americano to pour down the sink.  Thanking me for my patience, good humor or not screaming at the top of my lungs for her to hurry up would have been appropriate.  Thanking me for waiting, wasn’t.

This instance is just one of many examples of us using language incorrectly given the situation or expected response.  My wife will run into old acquaintances and I guarantee that one of these will be used.  “How are you?  What’s going on? Let’s get together soon!”  The reality is that if they mattered, she would know how they are, what is going on and would already have plans to see them soon.  But the conversation flows as expected if one of these is used.  I bite my tongue and laugh to myself.  Words matter to me.  I usually use ones that convey what I want to say, not what I think the other person expects to hear.

I’m reading “Tribes” by Seth Godin right now.  It’s interesting but hasn’t really rocked my world.  However, something I read last night intrigued me.  Godin makes the point that if you have a class of students with a 15:1 ratio of students to teacher vs. a 30:1 ratio, the class with a 15:1 ratio will perform better.  However, if you have a class with a 15:1 ratio that HAS to be there vs. a class with a 30:1 ratio that WANTS to be there, the 30:1 class will perform better every time.  Now, I won’t dispute that as it makes perfect sense.

Let’s apply that to business.  You’re likely part of a “team” right?  How many of your team members WANT to be there and how many HAVE to be there.  Now, I suppose we all have to work to some degree but are we working where we WANT to vs. where we HAVE to?

I’ve thought about this in my own company and I would have to say that the majority of people feel they HAVE to be there.  In this economy, there isn’t another option.  My competitors on the other hand seem to have people who WANT to be there.  So, regardless of product, capability, market share…etc. we’re already lagging behind.  It’s a frustrating situation and one I need to resolve.  It’s starts with “my” team and moves on from there.  How do you make someone WANT to be there?  That’s the question I need an answer to.

Today I had two different people within my account tell me what a bad job I was doing for them. Both of the examples they cited were when I had acted in the best interest of their company over mine. Even after explaining this to both of them (separate instances) they felt as though they had been “wronged”.

What The Hell?

Every day I deal with people in my own company that lack common sense and a desire to actually accomplish something. Now, I have to be taken to task for saving my client money…it’s just another day in the salt mine I suppose.

I always wonder about people I see on the treadmill reading a magazine.  My simple question is “What exactly are you trying to accomplish?”.  I have no problem with people who use the gym as a place to relax.  However, I don’t have time for that.  If I’m going to workout, I’m going to work.  Simple as that.

I always wonder about people I see on the treadmill reading a magazine.  My simple question is “What exactly are you trying to accomplish?”.  I have no problem with people who use the gym as a place to relax.  However, I don’t have time for that.  If I’m going to workout, I’m going to work.  Simple as that.