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.


First Principles

You have to crawl, before you walk… and walk, before you run.

This is only one of many examples in life, where one must master the fundamentals, before moving onto something more advanced.

But we are too often sidetracked by the new and the shiny, on our way to becoming disruptive innovators.

We forget that in order to be successful, we first have to remain true to our First Principles, our core mission, our raison d’etre, before attempting the fancy stuff.

Because if you can’t do the bare minimum of what defines you as a person, as an employee, or as a professional – you’ve failed before you’ve started.

Remember: before going out to conquer and change the world, make sure you’ve taken care of the basics at home, first.

Establish trust in doing the core things required of your position.

Then, feel free to disrupt and innovate, when you’ve proven that you’ve kept the main thing, the main thing.

Go, and be you.


It’s Not You. It’s Us.

Relationships are tough.

There’s the understatement, of this, or any, century.

When they’re good, they’re great.

When they’re bad, they’re intolerable.

Yet – we seem to overwhelmingly tolerate bad relationships, even when it’s blatantly obvious that the relationship is uneven, or when it is unhealthy for us, or when we could do much better, by just getting up, and walking away.

Why is that?

It’s because all real relationships are composed of contact, experience, and time.

When a single occurrence of an interaction between two people (or two companies) occurs, it is just a transaction (contact). However, what begins to build relationship between the two parties, is a series of such transactions (experience) over a prolonged period (time).

It’s the way friendship works. It’s the way love works. It’s the way family works.

What makes bad relationships difficult to walk away from, is the sunk cost we have in our experiences, and in the amount of time we devoted to cultivating the relationship.

Let’s bring the conversation back from the touchy-feely, and into the concrete, day-to-day world of vendor relationships.

Why do we put up with bad vendor relationships?

Because we need the vendor. Or we don’t know any better. Or we’re forced to use them by rule or dictate.

But I’m guessing, more likely than not, it’s because we have invested too much time, and emotional investment, in the relationship, to simply walk away.

Your vendors know this. They count on it.

Pull Quote 29

A wise friend of mine once told me: need never made a good bargain.

If you want to have healthy vendor relationships, you have to be willing to walk away, when the relationship no longer provides more benefit than pain, or when better alternatives outweigh the overall good that the vendor relationship brings.

This is always easier to see from the outside, than it is if you have a personal investment (prestige, standing, ego) in a bad vendor relationship.

Life – and career – is too short to put up with poor service, neglect, and victimization.

You have to be willing to say: It’s not you. It’s us.

Go, and be you.


You Do Know Why We’re Here, Right?

One of the “occupational hazards” of working with a blogger is the real possibility you might be obliquely quoted or referenced in a post. Today is one such day, though I will protect the anonymity of my colleague.

Recently, we started working with a collaborative workgroup package, one of the handful of unicorn startups you’ve probably read about.

Our impetus behind using the package, is to close a hole in our customer service footprint, a hole that many service organizations also suffer – the gap between recording incidents in your internal ticketing system, and responding in real-time to customer service needs, that require an immediate response.

As I was explaining our use case to a colleague, they said: “You realize that our users will want to use this all the time?!?

Yes. Yes I do. That’s why we’re doing it.

This exchange underscores an attitude that I’ve seen at many, many service organizations, particularly IT shops: the feeling that we don’t want to be bothered with user problems.

And every time I run across this in the wild, I think: You Do Know Why We’re Here, Right?

Pull Quote 28

In this specific case, this person has only been exposed to a particular brand of customer service; albeit a not-very-friendly-to-customers brand of customer service.

Our challenge, which is by no means unique, is to re-wire our thinking about customer service, particularly customer service as practiced at a learning institution.

The school doesn’t exist for the IT department; the IT department exists because of the school.

Many companies have mission statements, but few who work there can rattle them off on command.

Your true “mission statement” is to serve those who depend upon your services and abilities. Your people should be able to ascertain what that mission statement is, by simply looking at how you go about your work, serving others.

Know why you’re here.

Go, and be you.


Comfortably Numb


Count the number of times per day you encounter the following:

That’s the way we’ve always done it.

It is what it is.

We can try, but it won’t do any good.

Those words you’re hearing? That’s surrender.

The only proven way I’ve found to counter surrender, is through a series of wins.

Small successes at first, to be sure… but building up to bigger and bigger victories, as people learn to trust in your ability to deliver.

Doing what you say you will do. On time. On budget.

The old saying goes “nothing breeds success, like success.”

What this really means is that people gain confidence, through seeing performance and achievement occur, right before their very eyes.

So – when you encounter an environment where skepticism is the norm, and pessimism is the standard operating procedure, come in with a goal of attaining one small success in the first two weeks. Another goal of attaining a bigger success in the first thirty days. Still another goal that is larger still, to be achieved in the first ninety days.

Success will breed success, and you will win people over.

The key objective is to change the dialog, from defeatism to optimism, by building one success atop the other.

Don’t say trust me. Don’t challenge the status quo day one.

Meet people where they are. Show them a pathway to success.

And then, lead them there, one win at a time.

Go, and be you.


When to Be Strategic

Strategy 2

In due course of any given day, we are busy at work, knocking off the tasks on our to-do lists.

Yet, rarely do we stop and ask: Am I working on the right problem?

This is not meant to be a trivial or flippant observation. We may be very hard at work, and producing copious volumes of output.

But – are we actually doing the proper things that need to be done, or merely, those that are the most expedient? Are we cognizant of the Strategic, as well as the Tactical?

Why is this important?

Because everything you do in your organization begins – and ends – with your strategic initiatives. Every conversation. Every decision. Every assignment. Every project.

It is the superstructure that gives shape to your culture, to your management, and to your financial planning.

And yet – we are continually swamped with the immediate, with the needful now. We are daily disintermediated by the crisis of the hour – which leeches and robs us of our drive, focus, and energy needed to accomplish our ultimate goals and targets.

So – how do we keep the main thing, the main thing?

  • By communicating to our colleagues and direct reports, explicitly, our strategic initiatives;
  • By daily discriminating between what is tactically within our strategic objectives, and removing anything that detracts from our core mission;
  • And by constantly monitoring our activities, to insure we are holding true to our strategic plan.

Organizational politics, economics, and unforeseen crises will test your resolve.

It is incumbent upon you as a leader, manager, and educator to keep strategy front and center – at the water cooler, in the board room, and in the classroom.

Go, and be you.


He’s Pining for the Fjords

Pining for the Fjords

Q: When is a technology dead?

A: When you can pry it from your user’s cold, lifeless hands.

Now: it probably isn’t that bad at your school. Or, maybe it is.

I spent the better part of the day today going through boxes and boxes of old IT gunk – everything from SCSI II cables, to Centronix Printer Cables, to Bubble Readers.

Conversing with someone who is fighting tooth and nail to keep his blackboard and chalk. Gently coaxing another who is unshakable in their belief that we should continue replicating hundreds of CD-ROMs, rather than uploading one copy of our video to the cloud. Discussing why we need to keep stringing VGA and sound cables to our smartboards and projectors, rather than implementing a single cable HDMI solution.

Hundreds of small battles fought per day. Wondering if the war can truly be won.

The simple fact is: we are all comfortable with a certain baseline of technology, and our ability to wield it effectively in the classroom, or in the boardroom.

Beyond that: someone may have to die, in order for change to truly take hold.

Pining for the Fjords

So. We can boldly declare obsolete technologies to be Dead. Deceased. Gone to meet their maker. Singing with the Choir Eternal.

Pining for the Fjords.

Or – we can pragmatically realize that we must meet our teachers and staff where they are in their technological mastery, and focus instead on the goals of our teaching and instruction, rather than the uniformity and currency of our technology platforms.

Go, and be you.


Unreliable Narrators

Unreliable Narrators

I have long claimed that one truly is well on their way to becoming a mature professional, when they can readily spot unreliable narrators.

An unreliable narrator is usually someone in literature, film, or theatre whose credibility – or at even, perceptions and perspective – is compromised. In actual real life, we’re all unreliable narrators; our attitudes and perspectives are constricted to our limited – and biased – personal experience.

Unreliable narrators are generally not deceitful or deceptive. But, their opinions and internal dialogs are informed by incomplete information, past experience extrapolated inappropriately, and, sometimes – by pure naiveté.

And, because someone is an unreliable narrator in one regard, doesn’t mean that they aren’t reliable sources in every other area.

So – how do you know when you’re dealing with an unreliable narrator?

The best advice that I can give is: trust your own direct experience, over the related experiences of others. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take advice from others – only that your direct observations and experiences should trump all else.

You should also corroborate others’ experiences and perceptions against those of the person you think may be an unreliable narrator. If their experience squares with yours, odds are you’ve got a handle on the actual facts on the ground, and can either accept – or discount – the narrative coming from an initially suspect source.

Ultimately, time and experience will allow you to hone your skills at identifying bias, and impaired opinion.

We’re all unreliable narrators – at least to someone. Be objective, transparent, and authentic in your interactions with others, to minimize your bias.

Go, and be you.


Recognizing Opportunity


Sometimes, being successful as a software developer has zero to do with having great talent.

Sometimes, being successful is simply being lucky. Being in the right place, at the right time. Having skills and talents that are needed at just that moment. Knowing the right people. Getting in early.

But most times, it involves you recognizing opportunity when it is staring you right in the face.

If I had to choose something (aside from being conventionally handsome, naturally) to have as a career skill, it would be to have an innate ability to recognize opportunity – and the courage to act upon that opportunity – at all times.

This is silly, of course – because it presupposes that recognition has no basis, other than having some sort of Eureka! moment, without having any context whatsoever.

The ability to recognize opportunity is actually possessing mastery over multiple domains; and, understanding how those domains may be applied in new, and useful, ways.

Technology innovation sometimes drives opportunity recognition. But without mastery over the problem set being solved, there is no there, there – technology innovation is mostly a necessary, but not sufficient, precondition of successfully acting upon opportunity.

Today, the technology land grab is in wearables (Apple Watch, FitBit, Pebble), Mobile, and the Internet of Things. New platforms are the seedbeds of opportunity. But, without a clear understanding of how these technologies may be successfully staged to solve a real world problem, you’re at less than zero.

And even when you have the skills, and the recognition, to act first – and act fast – success is still not guaranteed.

RadioShack was the first retailer to broadly market personal computers and cell phones. They are now bankrupt. Palm was the first – and initially most successful – maker of personal digital devices. Now dust. Microsoft marketed one of the first smartphones – currently an also-ran in the mobile space.

It’s not enough to recognize opportunity. You have to be committed to do something with that knowledge.

Go, and be you.