Monday, August 31, 2009

Chest Out in Front Like a Shield

Did you read yesterday's blog on being flexible? After I wrote and posted it, I thought about it some more. It led me to think all day today about how the prepared mind will seize upon an opportunity. More importantly, by insuring everyone's aware what you're looking for, and that you're flexible, you can have opportunities land right in front of you.

I include a quote in my email signatures from Randy Pausch, Author of The Last Lecture that's quite pertinent here, "If you lead your life the right way, the karma will take care of itself. The dreams will come to you." That's the crux of what I mean.

The idea is simple. If you pursue your dreams and let everyone know how your methods, thought process, value proposition is unique, the right opportunity will find you. What's more, you can take those opportunities that aren't right for you and recommend someone else for them.

Your ability to be able to reject or accept opportunities that come to you speaks to your confidence, your ability to push out your chest like a shield. You know how this feels. If you're buying a car and you've fully researched what you want, how much it's worth, and where you can buy it for the price you want to pay, then you can walk into an auto dealership fully confident that you'll get exactly what you want. What's more, everyone there will feel your confidence and respect you for it. They'll likely cater to you as a result of it.

Your career and new business search are no different. If you research your field enough, your mind is prepared, you walk and talk with confidence, then the whole world will listen mesmerized and you'll have the opportunity you seek, not as something you'll seek out, but presented to you.

So, drink the cool-aid and jet out your chest! It's time to show confidence.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Flexibility Outside of the Gym

I met with a senior executive at a local health science company this past week. I told him about my plans looking for employment in health care and my BHAG deadline of September 14.

I also shared the hard truth that my leads have dried up over the past few weeks.

He had one response, "be more flexible."

I didn't think much about this until I started my drive back home. I happened to have some time on my hands since it was a longer drive. I turned off the radio, made sure all of the windows were up, shut off my phone and reviewed our conversation.

Throughout the drive time that one phrase kept repeating in my head. I've operated with the singular thought of being employed by September 14. I'd believed I would be, but was beginning to have doubts. Then the idea hit me. It was so simple.

I've decided to enter health care since I like developing solutions that better people's quality of life. What's more, I know there are many changes coming down due to the passage of ARRA. I also know I bring the most value to a company where I can act as the agent of change, whether that's a change in organizational structure or solutions the company provides. ARRA provides just such an opportunity for me to use my people-centric organizational, team building, and motivational skills in a health care organization.

However, health care is not the ONLY industry where these variables are present. Health insurance, insurance general agency, health sciences, health science tools, medical device manufacturing, even entertainment provide similar opportunities. I just have to be open to the idea of working in any of these. I have to be flexible.

Having a singular thought brings focus to one's efforts, but flexibility reveals options.

Friday, August 28, 2009

How Green is Your Grass?

Is the grass greener on the other side of the fence? Should you care whether it is?

I recall coming to a realization when I was going through my MBA program. My goals had changed from when I attended school in undergrad. After the initial few weeks of adjusting, I wasn't concerned about my grade. I was interested in and concerned with how much I understood the theories and concepts so that I could put them to use as quickly as possible.

That realization helped me see immediate results at work in how I managed the teams and what results we were able to achieve. The new vocabulary and skills, espeically with regards to financials and results-focus, helped bring a new level of energy to our efforts at work.

In school, I was no longer concerned with what grade I received and how I compared to the other people in the room. What mattered was how quickly I could understand a subject and how well I could put it to use.

In other words, I was concerned about how green I could make my grass and what amount of time I took to get it there.

A funny thing happened in this whole process. Not only was I able to immediately demonstrate the value of my education at work, I excelled in school. In fact, I received one of the highest business school national recongnition awards: Beta Gamma Sigma. In the case of our school, it was awarded to the top 90 percentile of students.

What's the message? The grass can be as green as you want it to be on your own side. Focus on excelling at what you do and all else will fall into place.

Randy Pausch, Author of The Last Lecture, put it well when he wrote "if you lead your life the right way, the karma will take care of itself. The dreams will come to you."

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Dare to Plan

How much planning and thought do you put in weekly on achieving your goals?


I continuously meet folks that are searching for a new job, trying to drum up new business, or studying to enter the market in the near future. Many of them have a good idea of what they want to do and where they want to be financially, professionally, or academically five to ten years from now.

When I ask these same people what are doing this week to reach those goals, I almost always get the same blank stare. In fact, I've been challenged a few times recently and realized I'd fallen off the "planning wagon. " It seems many of us tend to think well when considering what we want to do mid to long-term, but we don't consistently plan our monthly, weekly and daily activities to insure we reach the end-goal the way we want.


In the words of Napoleon Hill, we all need to "plan the work and work the plan." I'll be specific. We need to do this for every week and day. Franklin Covey has a drawn out method for determining your long-term goals and reviewing them weekly to plan out what steps you'll take this week to get closer to your goal. Each weekly plan is prioritized and the list is re-evaluated daily. The priority is based on what will derive the biggest value.

In other words, what can you do today that by the end of the day will help you come closer to and feel better about reaching your goals? Do these first. Likely these are also the things that we dread doing. For sales and marketing it's making the 5 to 10 calls a day, meeting 15 to 20 people a week.

You may find that you have too many things to complete today. Then cut down your list. It's better to have and complete five high priority tasks today then having 15 tasks and completing ten that are mixed high and low priority.

This concept applies to not only your personal and professional goals, but to how you prioritize and manage your projects for your company and clients.

So, how are you planning your day?

Friday, August 21, 2009

Madness to Live Free

I recently read a blog entry by Tim Tyrell-Smith on his site Quixoting, commenting about a line from the movie Zorba The Greek. The entry is titled "A Man Needs a Little Madness." I highly recommend reading the blog, then going out there and renting the movie. If you have some time, pickup the book of the same title by Nikos Kazantzakis. Incidentally, if you want to watch the segment of the movie that Tim's referring to, watch it here on YouTube.

I posted a comment on Tim's site for his entry that I'll republish here:

I loved reading this book and watching the movie when I was in my twenties. I recently saw it again in May of this year and carried the "madness" quote as part of my email signature for a short while.

The line speaks to me as taking risks and acknowledging the madness of trying something new that may end in disaster. This is the same madness that will make you look back and laugh at the failed efforts, knowing full well you gave it your best and took risks. It is madness that will help you get up, dust yourself off and try again at reaching your goals.

This is the same madness that pushed Thomas Edison to experiment 10,000 times before he found the right filament for the light bulb, without ever quitting or losing confidence.

It's the same madness that pushes the likes of Warren Buffet to continue to invest in stocks even when everyone else is bailing out.

It's this madness that we should all possess to reach our dreams and truly live free.

Health Care System Parallels

I've been learning about the current health care reform from various blogs, Wikis and news articles as I prepare for entering the health care industry. I've paid particular attention to EHR / EMR / PHR system development discussions.

As I learn more about these systems I realize the parallel that exists between them and those in other industries, such as Real Estate. First, let me give you a watered down definition of the EHR systems that I found on Wikipedia. An EHR is "an individual patient's medical record in digital format that is capable of being shared throughout different health care settings." More succinctly, it's a patient's summarized and digitized medial records.

As you can imagine, there are are many concerns with digitizing these records. For one, their digital storage must be secure to insure HIPAA compliance. However, they must still be portable so that they can be shared with various providers as well as the ultimate record owners, the patients. They must be severable so that a patient may make any personal updates and keep for personal reference. Also, individual data consumers will need to be able to make changes to these records and share or synchronize them with other data consumers or health providers. So, the line of responsibility for the records' security as well as accuracy quickly becomes blurred. What's more, synchronization between the myriad of providers and data consumers can be challenging, to put it mildly.

These only scratch the surface of the questions and issues that must be answered as new standards are defined, adopted and implemented in the systems to come. There are many other complex issues that I won't mention but you can read about in this Wikipedia EHR entry.

Many of these issues are those faced by other industries that are also highly regulated, where personal information must be securely stored and shared, such as banking and real estate. One of the projects I undertook a few years back aimed to digitize and share the processes and documents for a real estate transaction going through an escrow office. For the typical 30 to 45 days escrow period many appointments must be coordinated and documents exchanged. Many of these documents contain sensitive information, including personal financial data and social security numbers. So, the safekeeping and tracking of the information is paramount. What's more, the information must be severable so that anyone involved in each sales transaction would be able to keep separate records of it, make changes to it and synchronize it with other data consumers. Given the multitude of individuals involved in a real estate transaction, synchronization is a challenge and sometimes quarrelsome.

Sound familiar to what I mentioned about EHR? It is.

I'm in no way insinuating that real estate data and health data are of the same value or sensitivity. Nor do I mean to imply that a solution in one industry is equally applicable in the other. However, once the current administration has decided on a particular health care reform path, it would behoove HIT executives and technologists to consult with industry leaders outside of health care who've struggled with many of the same questions for lessons learned and best practices in converting paper-based processes and systems to a digital, secure format.

What I propose is that we don't try to re-invent the wheel, but to take an existing one and improve on it.

Four Legged Round-Table

Have you ever sat around a round-table with four legs? It seems awkward, especially if you end up by one of the legs. You loose some sitting space, not to mention that each leg is usually thin, though not excessively. However, if one of the legs breaks off, the whole table is unusable.

Compare that with a round-table that has a single post in the center and usually four "feet" at the bottom of the post. The single post is usually very thick and, therefore, stronger than any single leg on a four legged table. What's more, if one of the "feet" on the bottom of the post break, the table is still usable, although a bit unstable.

How different is this from our workplace? I argue, not much. the table is our business and what services or products we deliver to our clients. The business relies on its people for delivery and support of services and products. You can think of individual business units as the individual legs of the table. Often we work in environments where our business units are silo-ed from others and we end up supporting a small part of the business and holding up our own end of it. What's more, many of our efforts may end up getting duplicated, such as subject matter expertise or domain knowledge. Think of how product development may work independently of Marketing and Sales and how each may require separate project managers and subject matter experts.

The organization falters when any one business units does. However, if we learn to become interdependent, we begin to act as the single post with multiple feet. By interdependence I'm referring to the sharing of information, strategic direction, resources' domain knowledge and responsibility across the business units. In this way should one business unit falter, the others can continue to support the business and, possibly, redistribute the workload and responsibility to other business units. What's more, many duplicated activities will be reduced, resulting in a total cost savings to the organization.

The analogy of the business unit applies just as well to individual contributors in a smaller company and how well they work in teams or independently.

Ask yourself then, which model would you prefer to implement?

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Something Wonderful is Happening

With everyone talking about the condition of the economy, the current levels of unemployment, and the continued pessimism in the media, it is hard to recognize that something wonderful is happening among the ranks of the unemployed. This is the fourth time I have been forced to find work within the past ten years, but this time is the first time I can remember when others have been willing to do so much to help me and to help one another. And I don’t mean the government.

For the first time in recent memory, those among the ranks of the unemployed are making a concerted effort to combine talents to maximize the impact they can have in the job marketplace. Personal referrals have long been the primary means of matching people with positions, but those matches were always made by those who were currently employed- or by those they hired to make the matches. What is amazing about our current environment is that it is the unemployed themselves who are doing most of the work in matchmaking. Job clubs and networking groups are proliferating in record numbers, and tools, like LinkedIn, are growing with unprecedented rapidity.

In fact, a friend of mine, Nick Schaffer, has coined a term for this new spirit of cooperation: Windmill Networking. In essence, this concept builds on the fundamental premise that, in order to be successful, one must first help others to be successful. This philosophy has been around for years and has been espoused by business thought leaders like Harvey McKay and others. Neal takes this basic principle and applies it to the current business climate and the tools we have to implement it‑ primarily LinkedIn. His approach to networking is proactive, forward thinking, and selflessly pragmatic. You can learn more about Windmall Networking at (http://windmillnetworking.com/blog/), or, if you are patient, Neal’s new book will soon be available on Amazon. Both are worth reading just to gain Neal’s perspective on “career insurance.”

Another pioneer of this new spirit of cooperative (and productive) networking in my local area is a gentleman named Tim Tyrell-Smith. Tim is especially remarkable because he has a very nice job, has a family and, it could be argued, he does not “need” to network. Yet Tim spends countless hours every week producing a remarkable blog (http://blog.spinstrategy.com/) and developing helpful tools which he shares for FREE! Why? Because Tim knows he has a rare gift for clearly articulating sage advice, the rare discipline to consistently do so several times a week, a generous spirit, and a very wise perspective on his long-term success.

Many others are also spending countless hours in service to help those who are looking to find honorable and satisfying work. They lead seminars, make presentations, host events, design and distribute materials, and provide coaching in an altruistic effort to help former and future coworkers. I can think of three specific gentlemen who volunteered three hours of every Monday night for the past seven years to help their fellow man, and have inspired hundreds of others to contribute their time and talent as well. I also know a doctor who has been employed for three years, and continues to organize and lead monthly networking events for people looking for positions within the Healthcare field. Heaven holds special rewards for people like this. I can say it has been my honor to become colleagues, if not friends, with some of these very fine people.

It is truly an exciting time to be looking for work- and not just for the usual reasons!

There is one other distinguishing factor that makes this current economic ‘event’ a remarkable one, but I think I’ll save that for a later discussion.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Innovative Statistics

It seems an oxymoron, but statistic analysis can be exciting through innovative and eye-opening presentation. I recently read about Hans Rosling, professor of global health at Sweden’s Karolinska Institute. After reading about his work and noting that some of his presentations were on YouTube, I checked them out.

WOW! That was my first thought. You should watch the "Hans Rosling: No more boring data: TEDTalks" on YouTube. You too will have the same reaction.


After watching this, I thought about the previous post on this blog, Missing the Forest for the Fire. In that entry I wrote about our new economy and argued that the recession was a necessary cycle to help clear the ground for new ventures. in fact, this fits in with our new economy of thrift and creativity, which had no room in how we conducted business just a year ago.

This is the key of the post today: creativity. Hans' method of analyzing and displaying data is creative. He's not looking at any new data. It's always been there. He has simply developed a new tool for bringing that data to life.

It is this same creativity that's helping us leave the recession behind us. We'll certainly find new ways of conducting business, with or without any new regulations. In the end though, business is still business. Our creativity comes into play in how we can benefit from this new environment.

So, ignore the nay-sayers and think creatively on how to manage your business, gain new clients, develop new products and services, or your job search approach. Soon you too will see a reference to your creative methods posted in blogs across the world.

Missing the Forest for the Fire

I bet you're thinking I meant to title this entry "Missing the Forest for the Trees." However, I'm referring to a forest fire. One in particular.

Last year I took a week-long camping trip with family and friends to Mammoth Lakes, specifically to Lake George. We went on many hikes when we were there. One of them took us a full day and past an area that reminded me of the devastation that destroyed a part of Mammoth forest.

We went through an area of Mammoth Mountain that was burned as a result of a lightening-induced forest fire in the 1980's. The ground was still mostly barren. It was frightening and awe-inspiring at once. The destructive power of the lightening was evident as you saw mostly barren land for acres, but what inspired me were the new trees that had taken hold and were growing again. There were plenty of them. They stood at about three to six feet, in sharp contrast to the older trees that rose to 30 or more feet above and around the effected area.

In fact, the new trees were more spread out, accentuating the contrast. I realized how this was beneficial. Should another lightening strike, the forest wouldn't catch on fire as easily nor spread as quickly.

The reason for including this blurb here, a year after I witnessed it, is that our current economic conditions remind me of that renewing and rebirth in the forest. We've certainly witnessed a forest fire as devastating to our economy and lives as that in Mammoth was to the trees. In fact, in both instances much survived the devastation. Just as in the forest, there are many signs of a rebirth in our economy, as pointed out in the Newsweek cover story "The Case for Optimism" published last week. These include the rise in prices for metals other than gold (gold prices rise in recession, while others drop), the drop in Libor rate (signaling that banks are lending to each other again), or the rise in cost of moving freight (signaling the resurgence of international trade), among others.

These are all good bits of news about what many of us are already witnessing in the front-lines of the economy, at our places of business.

The insinuation in all of this is that recessions are not only necessary, but a good thing. I'm of the firm belief that economies enter recessionary periods since there's too much "deadwood" or inefficiencies. We'd become lazy and opportunistic in our methods before this latest recession. So much so that we thought we no longer needed to rely on basic economic principles of savings and rational investment. So be it.

But our latest recessionary burn only means that we'll have new fertile ground to build new businesses with new ways of generating revenue and jobs. I've written in the past about what these conditions mean for executives and how our way of doing business will resemble grassroots efforts focused on local economies. Now we have good news from the professional writers and researchers at Newsweek to confirm what we already suspected.

So, enjoy the vast new opportunities the economic "forest fire" has provided us. Think of all the possibilities now before us, then pick yourself up and do something about it!

P.S. Don't forget to set a goal, including tangible results attainable in a short and pre-defined timeline...and make it big. Remember, you want to set a BHAG!!!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Have Faith

What's true faith?

Soren Kierkegaard, in his book "Fear and Trembling" write on the subject of faith, though he focuses on faith in God. He uses many variations on God's command to Abraham to sacrifice his son. Many of us would surely resist and, in fact, reject a god asking us to kill our sons, but Abraham's faith was strong enough that he realized there must be just cause and reason for God to ask for such a sacrifice. Of course, God spared Abraham's son's life after God witnessed Abraham's true faith.

You may or may not be religious or buy-in to this story. Even if you are religious, you may or may not take Abraham's story literally. In either case, such strong belief beyond reason is admirable, though it borders on insanity.

Why is this important? Well, because once we set a big goal, one others doubt and deem impossible, we hear and see many obstacles that aim to detract us from reaching it. In fact, many of the pleas to change course may seem rational, but it's that "gut feeling," the true faith in a destiny that will keep you correctly aimed at your target.

I recently wrote about setting your BHAG. Since then, I've heard from both promoters and detractors. It seems the detractors object the loudest and seem to sound most reasonable. When people learn I KNOW I'll be employed by September 14, they ask me why did I choose this date. I didn't choose this date, it just felt right to me. I've heard objections in the form of "it's too aggressive a goal," that I should plan for alternatives if I'm "unable to meet the goal," or that in this economy you can't set goals.

My response is an unequivocal "watch me!" I can feel the goal's validity, though others' rational thoughts may point the opposite. I know it in my bones to be true. There are no alternative plans since there's no need for them.

My recommendation for you is to do the same. Have faith in your dreams, no matter what obstacles are thrown your way or how impossible they may seem to attain. Forget the detractors and focus on your belief. Whatever you believe, your mind will work to find your road to reach it.

Just have faith!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Cornering a Business Downturn

Have you ever attended a car racing school? I had the opportunity a couple of years back and I learned some very good lessons that apply to life as well as the roadway. One of the first lessons you learn is about cornering or negotiating a turn. The basic method goes like this: you slow down before coming to the turn by letting go of the gas and, this is key, AVOID using the brakes. Then as you reach the half-way point on the turn, you start accelerating to insure your placement out of the turn.

Before I explain the extension of this lesson to business, let's consider the three points above more closely. As you're speeding down a straightway, you are accelerating. You continue pressing the gas until the very last moment before the turn starts. Then you let go of the gas so that you don't lose control and hit the wall or spin out of control. Now, you have an option. You can press the brake down gently to slow you down more, but that creates two compromises: you give up the momentum you just built up on the straightaway and you might risk spinning out of control. Both of these mean you loose your position on that turn.

Once you reach the half-way point in the turn, you slowly press down the gas. Why? Because you want to create a sling-shot effect and come out of that turn hard enough to push you ahead on the race. You press it down as quickly as you can, but not too fast to break traction. You want to push the limit, but not loose control. You want to give it so much gas that once you round the corner, when you're out of the turn, the car's momentum takes you within a few inches of the edge of the road or the cement barrier. All of this is to insure you get an edge on your competitor.

Now let's see how this idea applies to business. Think of the turn in the road as any reason your business has to slow its pace like the start of our current recession. The gasoline that feeds the engine is the dollars you spend that run your business. These are dollars for your facilities, supplies, R&D, sales efforts, acquiring, training and retaining staff. The acceleration then is the speed and direction of your business growth. Lastly, the positioning on the track is similar to that of your business with respect to your competitors.

During a slow economy, as you approach that turn, your organization has to take measures to reduce its momentum. That may mean reducing office expenses, work hours, or even staff. However, you don't want to unload too much, nor eliminate your R&D dollars and training investment in your staff. To do so would be like hitting the brakes and loosing all the competitive momentum you've built up over the years.

By continuing your R&D efforts, retaining and training your staff, while making strong sales strides, you'll insure your company doesn't loose its competitive position in the downturn. However, just as in negotiating a corner, you still need a little something else to help you pass your competitors in coming out of the downturn.

This is where acceleration comes in. By acceleration I mean the increase in your company spending on R&D dollars, staff acquisition and related training. So, when do you do it? I admit, It's easier to know when you've reached the half-way point on a corner then the half-way point in a business downturn. Nevertheless, you can look at the reliability and strength of your sales pipeline data to determine how much and how quickly the clients will buy. Though this method may provide only a coarse guideline, it can still be reliable.

What I've described here focuses on a company, but the same analogy applies to an individual contractor or employee in search of the next opportunity. Simply focusing all efforts on finding the next client or employer is not enough. You must also invest in yourself through training, certification, education or whatever else you'd like to call it.

You must extend efforts in personal "R&D" where you're acquiring and practicing a new knowledge set. This may mean attending conferences, classes, or acquiring a new certification to demonstrate your expertise. Once you've acquired the new knowledge set, you can then volunteer your services to gain the experience on applying and speaking more intelligibly to it.

Naturally you're asking whether we're at that half-way point in the recession. Should we increase our spending now? I think the answer is yes if you believe the Chapman University Economic Forecast team's predictions.

So, are you poised to gain the advantage over your competitors?