Word games

I ignored. I refused. I resisted. I gave in.

This week I finally fell victim to Words With Friends, the online Scrabble-like word game that has preyed on the minds of virtually everyone who has ever strung together a sentence. It wasn’t that I didn’t think I would like it; on the contrary, I love word games–especially Scrabble. Simply put, I was afraid of it. I knew my competitive nature and my love of words had the potential to form a deadly combination. After all, look what happened to Alec Baldwin.

I was right.

Words with Friends has taken over more of my hours than I care to admit. I currently have eight separate games running simultaneously. Thankfully, I don’t have to work this week, so I still have a few more days to get this pseudo-addiction under control. On the bright side, I think it has brought some positive results, as well.

  1. WWF stimulates not only my vocabulary, but also my strategic vision. Just as important as the word itself is where you put it.  (That’s the only reason you’re winning, Nick, and the game is not over.)
  2. I’m learning a lot. Though I’d love to be able to say I’m kicking you-know-what and taking names, I’m playing at least one game in which I am very clearly the underdog. Tempting as it may be to only take on opponents who feed my ego (i.e. opponents I can beat), my current game with BigSix8 will ultimately make me a better wordhound and strategist as I watch and learn. For the record, I intend to beat him in a rematch.
  3. My kids and nephew play WWF. They actually got me into it, and playing against them gives us one more connection point. In fact, when my son played a word worth 81 points last night and my winning tally was in jeopardy, my proud mom side overrode the competitor in me (for a minute) and I couldn’t stop smiling. And I told him so.

I don’t want to make too much out of a word game, but I don’t think it should be written off as completely silly. We all choose how to spend our downtime, and this is light years ahead of TV. It makes me think.

This may not be the absolute best use of my time, but I can think of a lot worse. Besides, I’m on vacation.

Les vacances

My apologies. I should have mentioned earlier that I am on vacation during this week between the Christmas and New Year holidays. I still intend to eke out a few posts, but they won’t be as regular as usual. Next week I’ll be back on a more disciplined schedule.

In the meantime, however you celebrate this time of year, I hope you find peace.

And thanks for reading.

Stocking stuffers

 

 

 

 

 

I hang up stockings at work for everyone in my department. It started one year on a whim with the simple intent of bringing a bit of festivity into a world full of cubicles. Almost immediately, surprises began appearing anonymously–fun, creative, clever surprises. There was no pattern. There was neither a single contributor nor a single recipient. Everyone played. Everyone smiled.

What began as a humble idea grew into a tradition. I bring stockings every year. Though there has never been a word of discussion about it, people fill them. And although I adore the treats I find throughout the month, I love even more the fact that people are doing this for each other, on their own. No mandate, no expectation, no obligation.

It heartens me to see others spontaneously bringing joy into others’ lives, even in a small way. All they need is an outlet. If it’s in your power, provide it.

May your days be merry and bright.

~~~

Thanks for the Nerf guns, Jason! Let the darts fly!

Show and tell

Last week I spent a great day visiting the Herman Miller company. Part of a small group of people looking for ideas for our new corporate offices, I had expected to see a showroom full of desks, chairs, tables, and filing cabinets presented in a myriad of configurations. Instead, we met with company officials and learned their story (great company, by the way), visited the factory, toured one of their office campuses, and met with people whose job it is to help clients manage change in their organizations. We left without seeing an office showroom.

At least, that’s what my colleagues thought.

Actually, we had spent the day immersed in showrooms. Every functional area of HM’s offices uses a different furniture family. The modularity of the components allowed for many different configurations, with each person configuring his space slightly differently. Not only did we get to see the furniture, we also got to see it in action. What better way to demonstrate the utility of the components than to see people actually working with them in place? What better way to demonstrate their modularity than to see the way each person has chosen to set up his own office? At the end of the day, I left with loads of ideas, inspired by this real-life showcase.

Way to go, Herman Miller. Showing is always better than telling.

Decision-making

More and more, I believe that true value of management is the willingness to make a decision, any decision in some cases. I don’t think that people necessarily want someone else to tell them what to do, but perhaps they want someone else to shoulder the responsibility for it. Or maybe they don’t want to risk being wrong. Or it might be that they simply don’t feel empowered to do it themselves.

Whatever the reason, I’m convinced that one of my most important functions is to be the go-to person who will decide what to do. In most situations, there isn’t a clear right-or-wrong answer, and I don’t know which path will yield the best results any more than the person asking me. I try to make an educated guess and chose a solution. One thing is certain: nothing will get done until we try something. A decision-maker is just willing to stick her neck out to make it happen.

Here are some observations I’ve made over time.

  1. The first decision is the hardest to make. They get a lot easier after that.
  2. A bad decision is better than no decision. You can learn a lot from a bad decision, but you gain nothing when you do nothing.
  3. If it doesn’t work, make adjustments.
  4. As soon as people see you’re willing to make a decision, they’ll ask a lot more often.
  5. You can’t make every decision every time, and you shouldn’t want to. Help the people around you understand why you do what you do. Lead them, coach them, mentor them. We need more decision-makers.
  6. Learn from your mistakes.
  7. Learn from your mistakes.
  8. Learn from your mistakes.

If you think this post isn’t for you because you don’t manage people or you don’t have that kind of job, you’re wrong. We need decision-makers in all walks of life, at work and at home and in school. If you’re a parent, think of it this way. How often have you had to answer a question for your kids or decide the best way to handle a situation? Chances are, you’re flying on a wing and a prayer. Your kids think you know everything (until they hit 13), and even though you feel completely unqualified, you suck it up and choose a path. When it doesn’t work, you try something else.

Nike has it right. Just do it.

The spirit of giving

Christmas used to be my very favorite time of year. I loved everything about it, but most of all, I loved the spirit that seemed to pervade…well, everything. Maybe I was a victim of my own naivete, or maybe I’ve just grown up since then, but I’m no longer so enamored of this time of year.

For those of you who read my post Welcome, December, you know I haven’t totally shed the joy of the season. My heart still skips when the calendar turns and occasionally I find myself unintentionally humming carols. And I really love to sit, late at night,  in a room illuminated only by the lights of my Christmas tree and a crackling fire, just soaking up the atmosphere.

If only those treasured moments could stave off the onslaught of overprogramming, commercialism, and obligation. Alas, six days before Christmas I find myself scurrying about, impervious to price tags or sentiment, trying to make sure I have everyone covered. When did Christmas become quid pro quo?

Of all the seasonal foibles I could name, one sucks the joy out of the season for me more than any other: the phrase “buy for.” You’ve heard it often. She’s so hard to buy for. I only have three left to buy for. Whom do you have to buy for? We have to buy for 14 this year. What are you going to buy for me, Mom?

Gifts are supposed to be given from the heart, whether bought, shared, or handmade. Nothing in phrase buy for indicates a desire to give or the joy of delighting someone. It reeks instead of obligation and to me, that’s not giving. There is absolutely nothing wrong with buying a gift–after all, that’s the traditional method of acquiring something to give–but when the focus is put on the buying and not the giving, you might as well just call it a holiday transaction.

If you don’t understand what I mean, consider this shift in phraseology:

She’s so hard to buy for.  =>  I don’t know what to give her.

Those two statements convey completely different sentiments. Only one of them embodies the spirit of giving. Call me crazy, but I don’t want to be bought for.

It just takes a few questions

It’s official! I’m a “real” writer now that I’ve published my first independent article under my own byline. My kids laugh when they see me flipping through the magazine one more time just to see my name under the headline. I don’t care. It took me a long time to even realize I had this dream, let alone to pursue it. I’m not sure where it will ultimately lead, but I now feel as if I’ve placed myself firmly on the path.

The path, such as it is, offers a lot of benefits I didn’t anticipate. The writing itself, fulfilling an assignment, even just playing with the words—those are the elements I love and that I welcomed knowingly as I jumped into freelance writing. What I didn’t count on, however, was the people.

What a gift! Each person I’ve interviewed for my writing assignments has been passionate about his or her business. Each has been really interesting. I have left every interview session feeling privileged to have gotten to know a bit more about the person and the company, even when the company wouldn’t have garnered a second glance from me outside of the writing assignment.

All it takes is asking a few questions to unlock people’s passions, and when their eyes burn with intensity and their voices can barely contain the flow of their words, I feel myself drawn in gladly. It awakens my hunger for knowledge. It heightens my appreciation for the world around me. Who knew that so many fascinating people populate this community—every community? The trick is finding the right questions.

I love this freelance stuff. And not just because of the writing.

Because I’m the mom

Thirteen years ago today, I became a mother. I’ve learned a lot in the parenting years, and many of those lessons apply to my communications career. Actually, they apply to just about any career. Parenting parallels exist everywhere in life.

Here’s one of the best: Because I’m the mom won’t work forever. In fact, in my case, it didn’t work long at all. What I’ve found is that I can use that phrase to strong-arm grudging compliance, but it does nothing to earn respect or teach values. Because I’m the mom doesn’t explain why, and it certainly doesn’t build a foundation for the child to make intelligent, logical decisions of his own in the future. At best, it hopes that he will make an appropriate connection on his own to understand the reasoning behind whatever decision was at hand.

Before you get up in arms, let me say that, as a parent, there are certainly times when obedience without question is necessary. All I’m saying is that overplaying that card doesn’t offer any life lessons and can even foster a cry-wolf mentality. At the time of the decision (or decree, as my kids often see it), it may not be appropriate to engage in discussion about it, particularly when the outcome is not open for debate. Later on when the matter is settled and tempers have cooled, however, there is ample opportunity to explain the values and logic driving it.

Although I describe this as a parental philosophy, I think it goes far beyond application in the home. I neither foster loyalty among my employees nor set them up to make their own sound decisions when every time I ask them to do something a certain way, I tell them it’s because I’m the boss. That kind of behavior ultimately leaves me ineffective as a manager–my employees become simply more arms and legs, not more brain power. I need a band of thinkers, of people who know what to do and get it done without being given a clear set of instructions at every turn.

Yeah, sometimes because I’m the mom (boss) works. It keeps my daughter from giving her $20 bill to a friend just because, it forces my son to do his homework without debating the validity of the assignment, and it allows me to get critical information without question for a presentation my boss needs for a confidential project. It gets things done right now, but if I don’t back it up at some point with logic, it won’t help me the next time around. Think about it.

~

Happy birthday, Jake!

Snoopy’s Christmas

I’ve struggled with my posts lately. I have the sense that they’ve become more esoteric than helpful–blah, blah, blah, more of the same. I need to shake things up and get interesting again.

Sometimes that means backing off for a little while to gain a new perspective. I simply can’t stop writing, so from time to time when I need a thematic break, you might just see something fun and different pop in here. Like now.

This song is one of my favorites of all time. I don’t care if it’s about a cartoon dog; the goodwill-to-men sentiment chokes me up when I’m not belting it out at the top of my lungs. Listen to it. Have fun with it. Tell me what you think. Better yet, tell me what zany favorites you hide away on your own playlists, and tell me why you love them.

C’mon, do it. Put yourself out there; I did.

(And don’t forget to crank up the sound.)

Start with the basics

While traveling last week, a colleague asked me a question about how to connect with one of our European offices. They had gotten off to a rough start with each other (something along the lines of Hi! I’m from corporate and I’m here to help and the usual gymnastics that follow), and he was going to visit in person to start over.

My first thought was, I don’t know much about the culture in that country; my impressions are fraught with stereotypes. I don’t know that I can offer much advice. The more I thought about it, though, the more I realized that the advice I was inclined to give had very little to do with specific culture or business practices. It had to do with people.

Here’s what I finally told my colleague:

Just being there in person will make a huge difference. Listen a lot and take care of the easy things fast–even while you’re there, if you can. Find out where their pain points are and make suggestions for things YOU can do to help, even if only in a small way. Then do what you say. It will likely take time, so don’t give up.

I finished with a few personal observations about similar situations which I had navigated. In the end, connections are about people. Showing up in person, being willing to help, and following through on promises made work together to build credibility. And credibility, trust, is the cornerstone of any solid relationship, regardless of culture or location. Start there and fill in the rest.