Don’t Be Afraid to Ask

70 MDA3My1GSVJTVC5qcGc=You have not because you ask not…

-The Holy Bible

I’m learning that the secret to success, to winning the business, to getting what you want, is simply to ask for it.

When we did our vacation on the Carnival cruise ship, I saw this very clearly.  I knew from past experience to carry cash at all times.  The tips on the ship are covered, but beyond that, you need to have some small bills ready to go.  As we got off the bus at the cruise terminal, we were directed to the Faster to the Fun section where our bags were loaded to be sent immediately to our cabin.  The guy who was stacking the bags on the cart then told me:

“Give me your bags and I’ll be sure to get them right up to your cabin.  You can go up there and change and have lunch.  AND, if you want to show your appreciation, you can take care of that right here now with me.”

So I handed him a tip.  Right away.  Not just because I was going to, but he ASKED me for one.

At the end of the week, on a bus carrying us from the cruise terminal back to the airport, the driver came on the PA system:

“My name is Jose.  I’ll be driving you back to the airport.  I’d like to get to know all of your names.  Simply write them down on some dollar bills and you can hand them to me when we arrive at the airport.”

So I gave him a tip.  As soon as I got off the bus.  Not just because I was going to, but he ASKED for one.

Even though people think Americans are pushy and in-your-face, most of us really aren’t.  We rarely ask for what we want assuming people know what we want.  When we don’t get it, we get pissed.  What would happen if we actually ASKED?

Last week I went to Lowes to buy a heavy-duty fan for my barn.  The air doesn’t circulate well out there.  I like to keep it somewhat cool since my cats stay out there and keep the mice out.  The fan I wanted at Lowes was out of stock.  All I saw was the display model which I hooked up to test.  The clerk told me she could order it.  I’d have to travel to East Nashville to pick it up.  I almost agreed, then I said:

“Can’t I just buy this display model?”

She didn’t think so but called a manager and sure enough I could!  Brand new, fully assembled, and right then and there.

I asked and they said yes.

Most of us hold back asking because we fear rejection.  Keep in mind, in most cases, when somebody says NO, they say NO to your idea, not you.  They aren’t rejecting you personally.  Get over it.

I’m really working hard on this idea now.  Will you join me? (noticed I asked!)

The Value of Respect

respect different opinionOne of my favorite comedians of all time was Rodney Dangerfield.  His favorite line was “I’ll tell ya…I don’t get no respect…” and then he’d launch into a story which always ended in some sort of self-deprecating humor.

Aretha Franklin?  Of all the songs she’s famous for, the one you always associate with her is 1967’s Respect.

Let’s just say by some miracle this year, the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars win the rest of their games and run the table all the way to the Superbowl Championship.   I guarantee every player will begin his interview in the winning locker room with something along the lines of: “see nobody respected us and look at us now…”

Respect is something we all crave.  What does it really mean?  Respect says that others take us seriously.

From the first time we get sat at the “kid’s table” at a family gathering to the time we’re deliberately left out of a critical meeting at work, we desperately want to be taken seriously.  If right now you find your motivational level at work, home, elsewhere to be waning, ask yourself if it’s because of a lack of respect.

  • Has somebody laughed at a suggestion you made at work?
  • Have you been asked to leave a meeting because some confidential information was going to be passed along?
  • Are people going around you and speaking to your boss instead of you?
  • Do people listen to somebody else when you’ve given them that exact same information?

If any of these are yes, then you are probably suffering from a lack of respect.  How do you fix it?  The key is improving your credibility.  Here are some suggestions (and they follow one of my many triangle models:

Technical Skill Improvement:

  • Become an expert in your field
  • Assess the viability of what you know and practice now.  Find new areas to grow.
  • Read about and research your current field.  Look for the new trends.
  • Get an advanced degree or certification in your field.

Critical Thinking Skill Improvement:

  • Practice systems thinking.  Read Peter Senge’s book The Fifth Discipline.
  • Get used to looking at systems and processes rather than just results.
  • Quit finding blame and look for root cause instead.

People Skill Improvement:

  • Make a commitment to communicating clearer.
  • Take some personality assessments and figure out how you’re wired (so you can relate better to those around you.
  • Quit assuming everyone is out to get you.  Find something positive in others and build on it.

If you’ve neglected any of these areas, it’s possible you’ve built yourself a poor reputation.  The only way to fix it is to commit to improving it.  Don’t announce it, just do it.

Respect is hard to earn and easy to lose.  The list of the respectless is long, from Lance Armstrong all the way to the U.S. Congress.  Once lost, it’s hard to rebuild.  One thing for sure though, without making the effort to improve it, you’ll never get that respect that you desperately need.

Nobody Cares as Much as YOU do!

Who cares.A few years ago, I found myself stuck in a two-hour wait to clear U.S. Customs and Immigration at Montreal-Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport for my trip home after a week teaching workshops in Canada.  Normally this process goes quickly but the overhead pager warned passengers of the delay because of “Budget issues in the USA.”

When I finally made it through the pre-screen, then baggage scan complete with a thorough frisking (my titanium hip always sets off the metal detector), and into the Customs and Immigration area, I noticed that the staffing levels were the same as usual.  Why the huge delays?  These folks were moving at deliberately slow speed.  I fly through there quite a bit and it usually moves quick.  Agents were getting up and leaving, moving back to their post slowly. delaying getting to the next customer, etc.  It was then I realized that the current furlough meant a lot of these folks were losing income – much like all other U.S. Federal workers.  They were mad so they took it out on the passengers, many of whom were missing flights.

I spoke to a DoD manager recently and he told me they are being asked to track what is NOT getting done to show how devastating the furloughs are.  When tasks aren’t done, they can’t be given to anyone else to do.  They have to prove how the furloughs are hurting productivity.

Here’s the problem in both scenarios:  The customers and passengers don’t care about the furloughed workers’ problems.  They need to get their business done or get to their destination on time.  While we understand about the furloughs (my wife is a Fed who will be furloughed 11 days),  nobody should care about the customer, passenger, or patient as much as YOU should.

I used to do a fair amount of contract training.  I don’t anymore. Typically my fee on a contract workshop was about 20% of what the client is actually billed for.  I knew this and sometimes it bothered me since I’m doing 100% of the work.  On the other hand, the client didn’t know this and frankly, it’s irrelevant to them.  For these gigs, nobody should care as much as I do and I always gave 110% to that company.  I could of course “phoned it in” and gave minimal effort, but I took too much pride in my work.

I’m sure there are times Jimmy Buffett isn’t in the mood to do “Margaritaville” in a concert but he realizes for some folks a Jimmy Buffett concert is a “bucket list” item.  Nobody cares as much for his audience as he should…so he delivers “Margaritaville” like it’s the first time he’s ever sang it.

Year ago when my wife was the head of Materials Management at Bethesda Naval Hospital, she would take her purchasing agents up on the ward to meet the patients.  She’d tell them that when they felt worn out, unappreciated, or just lazy and didn’t push an order through, it was the PATIENT that suffered, not them, the doctors, or the nurses.  It made a huge impact on them.

This week, if you feel unappreciated, angry, apathetic, or just don’t give a crap, remember that it’s not about you.  Nobody should care about your customer, client, patient, or passenger as much as you do.  If you can’t handle that, it’s time to move on and do something different.

My experience in Canada that night hammered that home and I’ll not forget that lesson any time soon.  Nobody cares as much as you (or I) should.

What Do People Expect When They Experience YOU?

A few years ago, I spoke at a conference in Poing (pronounced Po-ING) Germany speaking on leadership at a conference for printing companies.  I was really excited to travel there as I heard lots of great things about Germany.  From what everyone told me, here’s what I was to have expected:

  1. Neatness
  2. Order
  3. Punctuality
  4. Great food
  5. Great beer
  6. Nice, but not overly-emotional people

So what did I experience?

Neatness – the streets are meticulously cleaned.  No trash or cigarette butts on the ground.  People pick up after their well-behaved dogs.  What little graffiti I saw was more like artwork and less of gang-banging thugary type I saw when we lived in the DC area.  Freeways are pristine.  No potholes or raised bridge seams to ruin your alignment.

Order and punctuality – when the bus is schedule to leave at 8:30 AM, the bus is rolling at that time.  The doors have already closed.

Great food and beer – check.  Check.

Nice, but not overly-emotional people – Germans seemed friendly but certainly not overly-interested in getting into your business.

It was a great experience!   Kind of nice when what you’ve heard and what you expect all come to fruition.

What do people expect when they get the chance to deal with you?

I had a co-worker once who, without fail, called in sick on the Tuesday after a three-day weekend.  We expected it.  Nobody gave Cindy a task with a deadline for that day.

My grandmother was always on time, if not early for any family event.  She planned months in advance.  We always knew Grandma Jean would be on time.

When people hear your name, what do they associate with it?  Is it positive or negative?

In a way, YOU are a brand.  People have expectations of you.  When people buy a Mac, they expect to be dazzled and have the thing last forever.  They are usually correct.  When people buy a PC, they expect it to last about a year or so and then get bogged down with viruses and spyware and have its performance slow to a crawl.  They are usually correct.

It’s all summed up in the brand.

I’d like to think when people contract with me for a workshop, they expect to be informed, entertained, and impressed.  I work hard to deliver that experience.  That’s my brand.

What’s your brand?

If you’re not sure, why not take some time this week to ask some trusted advisors who will tell you the truth?  If you like the answers they give, then think of strategies to grow that brand.  If the feedback is negative, better start working on fixing that brand!

Preparing for Creativity

Brain Drain on Warning Road Sign.Have you noticed the lack of creativity in Hollywood?  This year’s new movie list makes it pretty obvious that Hollywood is running out of original ideas.  We are regularly served sequels of existing movies or the latest trend of “rebooting” a franchise, which means there are now multiple generations of Spiderman, Superman, The Incredible Hulk, etc (Which also shows a lack of creativity since these superheroes were popular back when I was a kid, in the 70s!)  Of course during the previews of these movies, you’ll be see the list of sequels that will be offered during the Holidays and then there’s that ONE BIG movie that will premier next Summer, which will either be a sequel or a somewhat original idea that will lend itself to a slew of sequels.  Hollywood is running out of original ideas (and has been for some time now.)

What about you?

If you’re feeling a bit stale and uncreative as I’m starting to, maybe it’s time we cultivate some new ideas.  Much like the process of planting a garden, cultivating new ideas requires some steps.  Here’s the first:

Create some space to grow the new idea.

The first thing we do every year is dump the old soil out of last year’s planters and put in some new soil.  Then we carefully created a space for the small plants.  Very simple.

Our minds are a bit like those planters.  Without some type of stimuli, we have a tendency to get stale.  I was finding less and less time to do some thinking because in my case the “soil” in my brain was challenged less by books and more by Facebook.

So I decided to cut back on Facebook.  I dumped a bunch of people off the list and just cut it back to family and immediate close friends.  I think I just got tired of reading my friends’ posts that either passive-aggressively complained about people:

“It would sure be nice if people would just hold onto their coats instead of stuffing them in the overhead bins like a bunch of monkeys”

…or just bragged about stuff:

“Excited to be working with a new client in Hawaii this week!”

Then I realized I was no different.  I was using Facebook to brag, complain, or just be nosey about what my friends were up to.  Every time I had a moment to pull out my phone, I was checking my Facebook app.  Then I’d look around and see other travelers with their nose in their phone doing the same.  Nobody talks to anyone anymore, the phone is an excuse to be left alone.  When I thought about it, I realized the “soil” in my brain had no capacity for new thoughts.  So I deleted my account and removed the app.

It was hard at first.  I had this massive urge to remove my phone from its holster and log in.  I suddenly didn’t have the account to check out when I was writing curriculum and needed (or thought I needed) a distraction.

I’m better now.  With the Facebook brain drain tempered, I’m more productive.  I installed the Kindle app on my phone now and will use the time I stand in line to read a book.  There is a new-found urge to forge REAL friendships and cultivate them in ways other than just “Likes” and photos of cats with silly captions.

This week, take a look at what your capacity for growth is.  Maybe it’s time to remove some of that old soil and prepare to plant something new.  I’m working on it.  Will you join me?

Even MORE Ways to Cultivate New Ideas

HabaneroCultivating new ideas is really a three-step process.

First:  Clear some space to make room for growth

Second: Feed your brain

Third:  Ask the right questions to draw out the ideas

Which leaves just the final step:  Figure out what to do with all those ideas.

Habaneros are my favorite pepper.  We grow them in our garden every year.  Now if you’ve ever tasted a Habanero, you know that they must be used in moderation.  The one time I made the mistake of taking a bite of one, I suffered the consequences of a severely scorched palate for hours.  Once while sitting in the Senor Frog’s bar in Nassau, I saw this poor drunk kid enter a “Jalepeno” eating contest not realizing the pepper he was slipped was a Habanero.  He didn’t show his pain at the time, but I’m sure the hangover he had the next day was memorable.

So in my case, there are four uses for the cultivated Habaneros:

  1. Discard the ones that aren’t perfect.
  2. Keep some for use right now.
  3. Pickle a bunch for use throughout the winter and spring.
  4. Give some to friends and neighbors.

Your new ideas can be managed in similar fashion:

Take a look at the massive amount of new ideas and discard the ones (for now) that are too expensive, impractical, or just too outlandish to use right now.

Grab the best ones and put them into use right now.  Think about who you need to influence to get the ideas approved and surround yourself with the expertise needed to get them moving.

Develop a database of some sort (I use Evernote) to keep those good but not ready for implementation ideas readily accessible.  I keep a weekly blog and have now since 2007.  There are some weeks I have more than enough ideas and so I’ll store the extra ones for the weeks where I just draw a blank.

Give some of those ideas away.  If you’re mentoring someone, this would be a good opportunity to offer an idea and let your mentee run with it.

Creativity seems to be in shorter supply these days.  Don’t allow yourself to follow this trend.  Take time this week to put your strategy in action to cultivate new ideas

MORE Ways to Cultivate New Ideas

86 MTI0Ny1TRUNPTkQuanBnCultivating new ideas is the cure for putting forth a string of retreads.  We’ve seen it in Hollywood and you’ve probably seen it in your own organizations.  It’s not easy – hence the shortage of new ideas, but with a few personal changes, you can certainly come up with something new.

With the first two steps of clearing out space and feeding your brain, you can then set out coming up with your new ideas.  Here are some suggestions for you to get started:

Challenge assumptions: Most of us start with a standard set of assumptions.  It could be this is keeping your grounded in like solutions.  Take a moment to try different ones. (Maybe my audience has already heard this topic.  How could I say this differently and tie the concept to a modern problem?)

Reword the problem: Stating the problem differently often leads to different ideas. To reword the problem, look at the issue from different angles. You might come up with new ideas to solve your new problem.  (What happens if we don’t solve this? vs. we just can’t seem to solve this problem)

Use a  different media: We have many different ways to process information but most of us use the same ones consistently.  Rather than verbalizing the issue, try drawing a picture, create a poem, or put something together using modeling clay.  Sometimes these oddball processes yield different results because we’ve broken our normal pattern.

Mind Map your ideas: Put a key word or phrase in the middle of the page. Write whatever else comes in your mind on the same page. Begin a free-flowing brainstorm that will link connections to that central issue.  This is my personal favorite.  It NEVER fails to deliver new ideas and perspectives.

Get someone else’s perspective: Ask different people what they would do if faced with your challenge. Try to pick people who have no clue about your industry.  Use a group of teenagers and tell them that all ideas are “on the table” and up for use.  Try to explain your problem to someone who has no prior experience with your industry such as a senior citizen.  These different perspectives plus the act of explaining your issue in new ways should help you get new ideas.

Don’t get discouraged if these methods don’t produce results.  You may have to go through the first two steps and make SURE you’ve created space and fed your brain.  No matter what, please don’t allow yourself to go into those old familiar grooves you’ve already gone through.  The idea is to cultivate – and that takes work!

How to Cultivate New Ideas

Cultivate an ideaCultivating new, creative ideas is analogous to planting vegetables.  The first step is to clear out some space in some new soil.  It often means getting rid of the old.  I suggest we look at what’s really useless in our life and not adding value and getting rid of it. Only then will we have space for something new.

Even when we start seeing vegetables starting to grow in the garden,  the work isn’t over.  We have to make sure we’re taking care of those young plants.

Coming up with new ideas is more than just removing junk (like some social media and other time-wasters) from our lives.  We have to add water and fertilizer, which for our purpose is new, positive, practical, and useful information.

Reading:  I’ve always been a fan of reading.  A few years ago I even did a reading challenge with subscribers to read one book per week for the year.  I only made it to 33 but really learned a lot.  I kind of slacked off this year but now have finished 14 books so far.  Lots of good ideas in there!  If you think reading doesn’t benefit you, just watch a documentary where prison inmates are interviewed.  Some of them sound like college professors even though most never finished high school.  How?  All they do is read!  Spend your day reading and you’ll receive a great education.

Watching:  Normally I turn the TV on every evening. I find it easy to get hooked on programs such as CSI, Bones, House, Dallas, and even silly shows like The Big Bang Theory.  This past week though we started watching programs on National Geographic and on Smithsonian.  There was a fascinating program on the other night on how the brain makes decisions.  This is relevant information I can apply to my business.  Other than providing good video clips for my workshops, The Big Bang Theory gives me as much mental nutrition as a pork rind.  Just this week while on the road, I actually made an effort to turn the TV off completely.  In just two days I’m amazed at how I’m able to focus on working on projects!

Listening:  I like to work with music on in the background.  Last week I experimented with listening to different types of music on my Spotify channel.  I tried soft techno and even classical.  Made a big difference in my ability to focus as I finished up some projects.

So enough about me.  What are you doing to fill in the gaps in your mind?  Now that you’ve removed the junk, I hope you’re not adding more junk back in.  New and creative ideas don’t just appear.  They take work.  So far this process is working for me. I hope you’ll give it a try too!

Get the Monkeys Off Your Back

Monkey on your backRecently I met with a client who was in a high state of anxiety.  I knew how to diagnose it since, because of my recent decision to fill my brain with good information, I learned about anxiety while watching a show called Brain Games on the National Geographic channel.

Anxiety is the fear of what MIGHT happen.  Anticipating an unpleasant event can cause more harm than the actual event.  If you’ve ever waited to see the dentist, saw a cop on the side of the road as you passed by while speeding, or heard the phrase “wait till your father gets home!” then you’ve experienced anxiety.

My client was concerned about several possible unpleasant futures.  As he described them to me, I couldn’t help but picture them as annoying, creepy monkeys climbing all over his back.  We spent over an hour identifying each “monkey” and devising a strategy to get rid of it.  By identifying each one and coming up with a plan to address it and attack it, the monkeys began disappearing and his anxiety seemed to lessen as well.

  • Burying problems and not addressing them won’t make them go away.  The anticipation of a bad outcome is often far worse than the event itself.  What are you anxiously anticipating?
  • A possible job loss?  (work more efficiently or send out some resumes)
  • A drop in income? (start identify expenses to cut and ways to supplement income)
  • A problem relationship? (confront the person and get the issues out on the table)
  • A bleak professional future? (see a career coach and get a new plan in place)

Pair up your anxiety with a solution.  You’re a victim only if you choose to be.  Some folks believe may believe we evolved from monkeys but it doesn’t mean we have to carry them around with us.  Take some time this week to kick the monkeys off your back and take control of your own destiny.

The Power of Clarity

Absolute Clarity Words Bow Arrow Perfect Focus Aim TargetingAlice: “Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
Cheshire Cat: “That depends a good deal on where you want to go.”
Alice: “It doesn’t much matter where.”
Cheshire Cat: “Then it doesn’t matter which way you go!”

Through the Looking Glass – Lewis Carroll

One of the key 13 drivers of motivation is CLARITY.

In my experience, employees lose their motivation when they can’t see the big picture or destination of either their job or their organization.  In some cases, organizations have created this.  Henry Ford was said to have quipped “Why, when I ask for a pair of hands is there a brain attached?”  Today, high performing employees have a keen sense of strategic direction or they go out of their way to find it.  Younger employees seem to be entering the workforce with a driving desire to find out the big picture, deciding only then if they want to be part of it.

It’s no wonder that CLARITY is a big driver of motivation.

How does this affect us on a personal level though?  It might be more evident than you think:

  • My life doesn’t seem to be going anywhere.
  • This relationship doesn’t seem to be going anywhere.
  • My career doesn’t seem to be going anywhere.
  • A year has gone by and nothing has changed for me.
  • Same old S***, different day.

Being career-driven isn’t the answer here, but having a sense of goals and the big picture is.  If you have ever uttered the statements above, may I suggest the following?

  • Adopt the mindset of a child – ask “why” often.
  • Set some SMART goals each year, then put in a plan of action to accomplish them.  Make sure they are tied to some sort of end-state you desire.
  • Spend some time thinking about what your ideal state would be.  Describe tangibles and intangibles.

Having CLARITY is the key to planning a positive present and future state.  Take some time this week personally to work on yours.  If you’re a manager, make sure you do what you can to clarify the big picture.  Your employees will be very grateful!