Unforced Errors

Nothing in professional life is more frustrating, than dealing with problems at work.

That is, of course, unless you are dealing with problems of your own making, that weren’t problems to begin with.

Without “going topical” – or political – it’s safe to say, that unforced errors are front and center in conversations and gatherings around water coolers across the country these days.

What causes us, as leaders and as professionals, to commit damaging – and sometimes fatal – missteps, when these kinds of errors are almost 100% avoidable, by their very definition?

  • Overconfidence.
  • Hubris.
  • Haste.
  • Expediency.
  • Tone-deafness.
  • Failing to recognize our fallibility and – often – our mortality.

Over the years, I have seen the potential for, and realization of, unforced errors almost every working day in my life as an administrator.

Projects scheduled for execution, during times when there is no margin of error should things go south. Skunk work projects created with no backup or documentation, but deployed in mission critical initiatives. Decisions made without the knowledge or consent of stakeholders involved or affected.

In almost every case, these issues could have been avoided through the intentional practice of reflection, consideration, consultation, and communication.

Reflection – is what I am about to do, in the best interest of those involved?

Consideration – have I anticipated the consequences and fallout over what I am about to do or say?

Consultation – have I discussed the action I am about to undertake, with the constituencies who have an interest in its outcomes? And, have I taken into account their perspectives and opinions, in the formulation of my action plan?

Communication – have I transparently and properly communicated the purpose and intent of the action I am undertaking, so that the benefits, risks, and rewards are clearly understood by all involved and affected, and have I created a space in which communication of unconsidered affects, or dissenting viewpoints, may be heard and accommodated?

Even with careful attention to the practices listed above, one can still find themselves embroiled in self-made dumpster fires.

We’re human.

Sometimes, it is our unguarded moments and throwaway comments, that are the rocks upon which careers and lives are dashed.

Even so – if we are present, intentional, and disciplined in our approach and daily practice as professionals, we can – at the very least – be responsible, accountable actors in our decision making, and its outcomes.

As my grandfather used to say – “no need to borrow trouble – there’s enough to go around as is.”





It’s What Plants Crave!

To comment upon how our world is now the dystopia that Mike Judge predicted in his 2006 movie, Idiocracy, has become passé.

And frankly, too sad for words, really.

Even so – Idiocracy remains one of my favorite movies, for pointing out the absurdity of taking the ludicrous, to its maximum – and idiotic – extreme.

Take for example, the scene where President Camacho’s cabinet is scratching their heads over what is killing the world’s plants. Spoiler alert: it’s their use of Brawndo (the bizarro world version of a hyper-macho sports drink), to feed their crops – rather than using water.

Why feed plants Brawndo? Because Brawndo’s got what plants crave! Electrolytes!

So, so funny. And – so, so sad.


Because you’ve been in this meeting before.

Maybe you’re even in it now.

When you work with the same group of people, in an insular setting, and over a protracted period of time, you become metaphorically “nose blind” to the world in which you are actually working – enabling an environment where echo-chamber assumptions can be uncritically used, to make crucially critical institutional decisions.

Idiocracy’s people of the year 2505 had been pummeled with a constant marketing barrage, insisting that a salt-infused energy drink was the very thing plants craved. There were no dissenting voices to say otherwise.

Your team may have a similar brand of enterprise Kool-aid that you’re drinking, leading you to believe in a world view that is entirely out of step with actual facts on the ground.

If you think that you have developed an undiagnosed case of institutional nose blindness, put down the Brawndo. Open a window. And let some fresh air in.

Leadership. It’s what people crave.

Go, and be you.


Obsolescence Happens

Whether planned or not, Obsolescence Happens.

It always seems to sneak up with you, when you least expect it – even when you know it’s coming.

  • That fleet of Smartboards you have dozens of, can suddenly no longer have their firmware updated, because those models are no longer supported by the vendor. And just when you needed the very feature, that the new firmware will allow you to use, too.
  • Your “lifetime warranty” switches, that you bought years ago – now made meaningless – because the vendor no longer makes them. Sure – you can update for a price – but lifetime meant the lifetime of the switch, not yours.
  • You upgrade to the latest and greatest WiFi standard access points, only to find out that your controller needs to have its firmware updated to support them – but by doing so, disables all of your old WiFi standard access points. You can either upgrade your old access points, buy a new, separate controller – or, simply cry into your pillow.

The fact is, any hardware you have in house is going to be obsolete at some point, no matter how well you maintain it, or try to stretch out its lifetime.

Even if it never gives you a minute’s trouble.

Fleet replacement planning is one of the least “sexy” things technology administrators do – but impacts day-to-day sustainability, and success, as much as any other activity.

If you haven’t already put into place a technology / fleet replacement plan for your pcs, infrastructure, and hardware systems, make time to do it now. Or tomorrow. Or, the day after tomorrow.

Because when Obsolescence Happens, it will happen when you can least afford for it to happen. Better to choose your time and place for updating your technology, before the terms are dictated for you.

Remember: need never made a good bargain.

And neither did unexpected outlays of cash, to keep your critical systems running.


The Last Mile

Of all the challenges a service organization faces, completing the “Last Mile” is easily where most fail in their engagements:

  • You spend hours running hundreds of feet of cable, but don’t terminate the end point. Net effect dead in the water.
  • You spend thousands of dollars on infrastructure, but don’t charge classroom devices overnight, making lesson plans useless for the day. Net effect: dead in the water.
  • You do all the work to correct a service call, but don’t communicate what what you did, or that you are finished, to a customer. Net effect: dead in the water; or, might as well be.

No one will remember the regular season the Mets had this year; only, how they finished. No one will remember “Deflategate” – but they will remember all the Superbowls that the Patriots won.

The same is true for those of us in service occupations – customers are interested only in how well you finished, not the herculean effort you expended to get there

To finish strong, one must complete all the last mile work. This makes all the difference in how successful – or unsuccessful – you will be perceived.

Because if you don’t finish the last mile, you may as well not begin the journey at all.

Constructs, Culture, and Conversations

Stepping into a new role, in a new place, in a new city, is always a daunting prospect.

Even more so, when one doesn’t have a plan for where to even start.

Fortunately, I’ve bounced around enough, to have crafted a standard approach to getting up to speed quickly and efficiently, and becoming productive immediately upon hitting the ground in a new engagement, project, or position.

My approach centers around three Cs: Constructs, Culture, and Conversations.

The first thing I do in any new engagement is understand all the systems involved, the Constructs, if you will, of the project. This includes everything from understanding accounting systems, the budgeting process, identification of funding sources, and the underlying infrastructure in place to support the enterprise. This is foundational to getting off to a solid, fast start.

Next, I try and suss out the Culture that drives the motivation, purpose, and goals of my new environment. Unless I can understand the ecosystem and attitudes of my colleagues and customers, I stand zero hope of being an effective advocate, or coming remotely close to fulfilling the reason behind me being here. I definitely have ideas behind the type of Culture that I thrive in; but, one must understand where people are, first, if one is ever to move them in a direction other than where they are going. Trust me: operating in a small, liberal arts college in the Southwest is a significantly different prospect that working in a Yeshivah in Brooklyn. Culture eats Strategy’s breakfast, as they say.

Finally, I try to craft processes and strategies to build an ongoing Conversation about the goals and aims that I hope to accomplish. This might take the form of a Scope of Work; perhaps, a Strategic Technology Plan. It might even manifest itself in a series of events, or community building exercises. These narratives become the framework for how we discuss the work, and build toward a sustainable dialogue that informs all stakeholders about the overall goals we are striving toward, so that each and every subsequent decision and conversation is driven by the overarching Conversation we have built.

The Three Cs are simply my fluid approach to engagement management, and are very open to changeable interpretation on the fly, as conditions dictate.

The key to sustainable success is communication, meeting people where they are, and understanding the ground upon which you stand.


The Best Laid Plans

I miss hunkering down to knock out a 300-word literary gem every day, and I miss the intentionality of setting aside soak time for self-reflection. I want to be a more proactive thinker, rather than the reactive drone I’ve been of late.


This past Spring, I started a new Blog: 300 Words, 2 Minutes.

My stated intention was to write – and produce a podcast of – 300 words per day (about 2 minutes of spoken content, hence the name. I know, right?).

For a while, I was able to do it.

I was knocking down 300 words of written content like nobody’s biz, and keeping a relatively decent daily stream of content posted to SoundCloud, Stitcher, iTunes, and YouTube. All good in the neighborhood.

And then – the demands of my paying gig simply made even this small commitment nigh impossible to maintain.

I kept assuring myself that I could get it back on track. I still have many great ideas for posts that remain in my noggin, but ready to commit to what the kids used to call the blogosphere (that is, if you were a kid ten years…

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Being data-driven is great. Customer Service Theatre is not.

Are your customer data collection instruments actually improving customer experience, or are you simply providing a mechanism for collecting information for punitive action against those being measured?


Is it just me, or has every interaction with every customer service entity devolved into a funnel for customer service surveys?

In fact, on at least two customer service calls I’ve made in the last two weeks, I’ve been proffered a survey, before I even get to contact a rep.

Something’s wrong here.

In fact, I suggest that the overuse of customer service surveys is akin to the misuse of antibiotics in fighting infections – after awhile, a certain immunity builds up, and before you know, surveys are totally ineffective.

Don’t believe me?

Go to a dealership, and buy a car. Before you leave the lot, you are asked to rank the interaction for J.D Power and Associates. Anything less than a perfect ranking is a black eye for the dealership. So, you are instructed that by your salesperson, and asked to vote them a 10. Teaching to the test, as…

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An issue we all struggle with, from time to time, is being asked to do “homework.” 

You know – you ask for assistance, and instead are given a perfunctory task to perform first – that has nothing to do with the problem resolution itself, but rather delays resolution because of bookkeeping or process, at the expense of customer service.

Or, you’re placed in the middle of a question and answer thread, where you’re not the domain knowledge expert – who may actually possibly be known at some point in the conversation – but are somehow relegated to being the message bearer and relay, rather than communication being sent to the people who can actually solve the problem immediately.


Solving this issue is straightforward – directing the people fobbing off these tasks on you to the fact that their approach to the process is delaying satisfactory resolution.

The key is to frame this helpful reminder constructively, and in a non-accusatory way… because odds are, the people running you ragged may be totally unaware that they are doing so.

But – some do do this by design, as a power thing. Different post, for a different day.

Go, and be you.


Commit Me

It’s mind-boggling, how much energy we spend on unanswered questions… pending decisions… the uncertain future.

It’s the metaphorical equivalent of sitting in your driveway with the engine on, your foot stomped on the gas pedal, all the way to the floor; furiously burning through everything in the tank, but going absolutely nowhere.

Truly, many problems are entirely outside our span of control, perhaps leading us to believe all we can do, is offer up some semblance of the serenity prayer, and simply hope for the best.

Look at the people you know, who are successful. Who achieve. Who get things done.

What trait makes them so effective at what they do, while others seem to sputter and fall?

They are able to commit. And, to reap the immediate benefits that commitment brings along with it.


When you wholly commit  – to a course of action, to a strategy, to a purpose – your decision making power, authority, and focus amplifies, by definition. That’s because all the mental energy and head space that you were formerly devoting to indecision, may now be brought to bear in actually doing.

The aphorism, “Don’t let the Perfect, be the enemy of the Good Enough” gets at the heart of the power of commitment. We can freeze ourselves in place, searching for the ultimate, most perfect solution – or, we can move ahead with something that is effective and workable and acceptable – and getting one step closer to achieving what we desire, in our lifetime, rather than never.

The unmade decision is often our biggest regret. It represents opportunity lost. It represents energy lost.

And it represents future lost.

Evaluate your options. Listen to trusted advisors. Consult the Oracles. Search your feelings.

But most importantly: Decide. Commit.

Go and be you.


You Didn’t Respond… Are You Interested?


One thing’s for certain, when you’re in charge of an IT department:

If you don’t control your vendor relations, they will control you.

We get dozens of cold calls and pitches, each and every week, from vendors of every stripe and walk of life.

Most are professional. Many are not.

The communiques that get most under my skin go something like this:

“You Didn’t Respond to my previous x emails… can you let me know if you have any interest in my product or service?”

Asked, and answered.

If we haven’t responded by now, we’re not gonna.

It’s not a question of being a jerk to vendors, or potential vendors. It’s a simple matter of survival.

My job is to further the institutional mission of my employer. Anything that detracts from that mission is non-essential and extraneous.

That especially includes answering unsolicited pitches and cold calls.

Not every pitch requires, or deserves, a response. If I’m interested, I’ll respond. If I’m not, I won’t.

It’s really that simple.

What especially irks me, is when vendors blast every email address at our place of business, asking for the “person responsible for X.” Without fail, this generates a few armloads of inbound junk mail, from well meaning colleagues trying to direct them the “right way.”

My advice to our people in this regard is as follows: I will treat anything from a vendor that they pass along to me as a personal endorsement, with the requisite ownership and accountability that such an endorsement carries.

It effectively keeps the volume of pitches down to what we would buy, what we would consider buying, and things that we actually need.

This approach isn’t anti-vendor. It’s pro us. A stratagem for keeping the signal-to-noise level at a level where the truly useful opportunities aren’t lost in the blaring din of unvetted cries for unsolicited attention.

Exercise your agency. Take ownership of your vendor conversations. Don’t let misplaced obligation rob you of the drive and focus your employer demands and deserves.

Go, and be you.