2014 Was a Dot Year

Timeline_of_My_Life-596x300This illustration is of someone’s life timeline (not mine). Have you ever been asked to draw one? This exercise allows you to share a quick overview of your life with a zigzagging line. Dots are labeled with a year (or age) at key points where the line bends to a new direction, where key changes occurred: moves and marriages, births and tragedies

2014 was a dot year for us.

There have been other dot years for me: ‘55, ‘64, ‘72, ‘78, ‘82, ‘85, ‘89, ‘90 and ‘97. Some of these represent changes in geography (‘55, ‘78, ‘85, ‘90), others show key changes in family relationships (‘64, ‘72, ‘82, ‘89) and in careers (‘78 and ‘97). Each of these numbers has a story to tell, though not here. Available on request. 🙂

All three of these kinds of change—geography, family and career—occurred last year. We moved to SLO, had engagements and a wedding, and I left Intel to begin consulting and teaching. Somehow it is fitting that the next course I teach at Cal Poly’s College of Business is “Managing Change.” To my list of instructor qualifications I will simply add: “2014.”

In business we love clean, crisp, quick changes. We prefer changes that are compactly described and efficiently implemented. And yet the human adjustments to these changes—the “transitions” we might call them—are often overlooked. These are the messy HR issues, the complicating and (we think) unnecessary distractions to corporate change. “We’re doing this, here’s why. Get over it.”

And yet these transitions are precisely the area where change management efforts often fail. Productivity lags in the wake of many changes. Costs increase to backfill for increased employee turnover and to provide remedial training. To overlook human transitions in a corporate change initiative is to make the change into a cure that is worse than the disease.

Good companies will manage human transitions. They will help employees understand what stays the same (i.e. what is not lost) and what is different (what is gained). They will help employees regain control, refresh their competencies in new settings, and understand the rationale for the change.

So now to take some of my own advice. What is continuous with the past and will never change? And what will I need to celebrate as past, to remember sweetly and to which I bid good-bye? What new shapes will my competencies take and in what new contexts will these old skills find new expression? And what is the narrative that makes sense of this all (why did we do this?)

The deep things at the center cannot change, and do not change. These include: Relationships with God and family, friendships built on affection, service and shared history, and my vocation/purpose as a facilitator for thriving people and teams. I cannot control how any of these change because of others’ decisions, but from my standpoint these are the wire strands at the center of the cable, the ones that do not break.

Yet much around these things is changing. We will worship in a new place; we have a new son-in-law, and very soon will gain another; we will build new family traditions, new geo centers and new memories (Christmas in Roseville has became Christmas on the Central Coast for 2014).

My brothers, cousins, in-laws and all the kin in radiating ancestry boxes linked by marriages and births, these are forever yet also changing. Like form-shifting specters, there’s a different shape at each glance, but the center holds. We still share love and prayers with friends from the years, and then also we meet new neighbors around the corner from our unfinished house in Serra Meadows.

Everything is the same. And different. And that’s OK. The narrative / rationale is that we are closer to kids and in an area where we seek to apply our old selves in new ways. But really, still, how much has changed? The center holds.

What will be the angle of the line that leaps into the future from the 2014 dot? We will get a bit of 2015 under our belt and then let you know.


Error Is For the Little People


This saying is often true, which makes it both funny, and not.

We laugh at first because it changes the second part of Alexander Pope’s famous quote from 1711. We expected “To err is human, to forgive divine” and instead we got a revised and snarky saying about less-than-divine managers. This is humor based on surprise and biting commentary. We love to take the powerful down a peg and ascribe a manager’s success to politics and low virtue.

Corporate leaders and managers might allow some self-deprecating laughter at this, but it does not last long. If you care about organizational culture, this is a truth that hurts. Dishonest dodging of blame for error becomes an unintended consequence in environments where evaluating performance is mostly about punishment and fear.

Error is the gap between performance and expectations, and is all too human. Both the original saying and the altered one agree on this, but then they differ, one telling us something about the Deity the other about corporate leadership. It’s like the Deity to remedy the error, but it is like a manager to find someone to blame for it. The former is to personally own and repair the gap, the latter to distance oneself from it.

This sets up the managers’ choice: You can own it or blame it.

Blaming can masquerade as a kind of messianic bravery. It looks quite active and tough—it looks like you are fixing things—but your kick-butt-take-names swagger breeds fear and lying. Employees can sniff out your avoidance of responsibility for the gap. And based on your example, they are not likely to own the issues any more than you are.

When you own the gap, something different happens. You work the problem and regard your performance as part of the analysis, including your prior decisions, communications, and your commitment to develop others. You are on the hook for this as leader, both in terms of where it went wrong as well as where to go from here. Your sentences cease to begin with “you” and start with “we.”

Never has my estimation of a CEO been higher than when my leader owned up to missing an opportunity that would have put our product in millions of devices around the world. The resultant corporate new trajectory, now bearing fruit in the marketplace, was engaged with enthusiasm because the CEO was bold enough to be honest about his own role in the error.

Consider this: If something needs to be fixed, that something might be you. And now, since you are trying to build a culture of honesty in your organization, you get to lead by example. Your personal identification with the error, your leadership in repairing the gap, can build a trickle-down trust for your org.

So manager, take heart. When I first saw the funny sign, I also laughed because I knew the situations where the joke was painfully true. Yet I also knew that this does not apply to all managers. I’ve worked for several who owned the key issues in the workplace, and who were with me in growth, improvement and ambition.

It can be done. If you pull it off, people will still laugh at this saying, but they will not have you in mind as an illustration of it. Even better, they may think of your legacy as an example that refutes it.

Learning to Lose

I reached my goal today—180 pounds.  This was more than just the loss of 30 pounds, but rather a story of what was gained—I feel better, my clothes fit better (actually need to buy smaller sizes now), I am in better shape than I’ve been for years, and I have more confidence that I’ll be around to see my grandchildren’s wedding days.  (Need grandchildren first—another story).

But even more than these gains is what I learned about learning to change my behaviors.  Well… learning IS behavioral change, but I gained new insights into how that happens, at least for me.  I knew that this would have to be more than just a confined project to lose weight over a short time-span; I needed to change the way I eat and live forever, otherwise it all comes back.  So how do I learn to do that?

Someone in the café at work noticed my slimmer frame the other day (such comments are nearly daily now) and asked breathlessly “how did you do it?”  My answer mentioned no miracle food, fad diet or some infomercial product.  It was a matter of eating less and moving more, and to this news my colleague was crestfallen.  Sorry, no tricks or shortcuts here.

But if there is a trick, it has to do with how we learn and change.  I will say a few things about how I learned to lose after I tell the story of the loss itself.

OK, So I Lost It


After painting the family room, but before the loss.

My weight fluctuated between 205 and 215 for the last several years.  I got there slowly after a rail-thin adolescence, then a few pounds after marriage, and amending in growth spurts over the years.  I gained an average of a pound per year, I figure – weighing somewhere in the 170’s in the 70’s and then the 210’s in the 2010’s.

The desire for less heft had been with me for a time.  I hid my girth as best I could—my best abs workout was keeping my gut pulled in.  We were into “portion control” for several years, eating half the burger from Islands at one meal, the other half out of the box later.  Not much happened.

Late Spring of 2012 it started, prompted by the following series of events:

  • Introduced to juicing, thanks Tessa.  I was surprised how good it tasted:  Apples, beets, kale, carrots, pineapple, peaches, celery, etc, with some lemon juice to smooth any hints of garden-taste.  About three dinners per week.  Inspiration added by the film Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead, the story of a guy who turned his health around with a radical juicing regimen he calls “rebooting.”
  • ImageMy Fitness Pal, an app for my phone recommended by an Intel health coach.  Computes a recommended daily calorie intake based on current age, weight, activity level, weight goal, intended rate of loss, etc.  It becomes a diary of intake and exercise and you can look up the calories of what you’re eating.  Coincidentally, Nancy had discovered the app while prowling the iTunes store the same day as my appointment with the health coach.
  • Daily logging of calories and exercise using the app.  Each day was a game, each food a strategic decision.  That slice of bread?  120!  Do I have room for it in my numbers?  My 45 minute walk today?  That added 300 calories to my allowance!  My allowance was 1370 per day if I did not exercise, more if I did.
  • Exercise, realistically pursued.  I ran track in High School, so prior returns to running were idealistic, and then discouraging.  This time I just walked at first, later I did a walk/run, then eventually ran it all.  Trips to the gym were light on weights at first, then increasing.  Because it built my allowance in My Fitness Pal, it soon became an advantage to do some exercise nearly every day.
  • Encouragement.  I was encouraged by the downward trend of my weight,a zImageig-zag line ofdaily ups and downs, eventually more down than up.  My body would almost seem to level out at a “new normal” for a while, then bust through the floor one day to zig-zag at a lower altitude.  I was also encouraged by co-losers:  Nancy, first of all, whose partnership in the same effort made food decisions easier, and then some coworkers (Jeff, Ann and Jon).

But the most encouraging thing of all is to feel the way I do now.

Learning to Lose


A slimmer Dad with Tessa and Roberto at Cal Poly SLO

It’s more about the heart than the head.  This was so much more about excitement and encouragement than any grim force of will.  And if the numbers-tracking thing seems much more head than heart (it is data, don’t you know), it’s my use and response to those numbers that make it a heart-thing still.  The bathroom scale can be a discouraging measure, but I had a daily chance to meet numbers on calorie intake.  Daily progress heartened me.

It was a matter of heart that I felt so much better, and that I could sense some better odds at being around a few more years than before.  It was a matter of wanting to feel and look better.  These ambitions are always more effectively fueled by passion than by will.

It’s more about yes than no.  In the weight loss game, I think most of the strategies are about “no.”  No to food, and no to the couch.  But this always felt like a “yes” to me.  Yes to enter the new numbers, yes to what I could eat within the allowance, yes to the fun of finding a sandwich that was 500 calories instead of 1500.  Yes to a walk that would build my allowance.

Will power always eventually failed in the face of chips, cheese and salsa—my favorite snack.  Will power failed in its strategy to get me not to think about food.  Ironically I think more about food now than ever before, though in a new way.  I now manage food rather than succumb to it.  I will say yes to it when I want to, maybe not now, or if now I will enter its numbers and subtract something else.

I have wrested the initiative from hunger and food and moved it to me.  In the process I have replaced the hunger cues with my own proactivity.

In a way, it’s a game.  If it sounds that way, it’s intentional.  I admit that gaming is a risky metaphor that brings up imagery of insincere politicking, mere pastimes or entertainments.  Discard those meanings, please.  Instead, I refer to adventure games filled with story.  Speaking metaphorically, I move as if on a quest for “points” and measure the moves to get to the next level.  In this way, picking up 400 calories for my daily count by running for 50 minutes is like seizing the silver ring of Gondor or something.  And then I move into the day with stealthy skill, going for the win.

The game made me aware, more a player in my diet than an unwitting consumer.  On seeing my progress and marking each day, each level, each meal like a puzzle, encouragement piled up and I found new behaviors.

That, dear ones, is learning.  As my use of the app starts to fall away, the new behaviors are sticking.  I know what to do, or maybe I tally the numbers just in my head.  I don’t need the app to tell me about the 2000 calorie dinner at Chili’s—I just don’t want it.  Oh, yes, I do at times just give it up for a night; in fact it’s not unhealthy to do so.  The body is prepared for those exceptions, especially when someplace like The Cheesecake Factory.

Or facing the Thanksgiving turkey.