Ramblings of a Creative Mind

Thoughts on Work and the World from an Executive Mom


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Three Questions to Ask Every Day

YodaI went to the garage a few days ago to find an old picture to post on Facebook for a friend’s birthday. Lame, I know. A lifetime ago, back in our irresponsible yet incredible youth, a dozen or so of us spent almost every weekend together. The crew was an elite group, living on the edge of invincibility in those glorious days before the reality of your own mortality kicks in. Digging through dusty boxes, I found piles of photographs of one particularly epic weekend.

I admit, I got lost in the memory. We were young, dumb, and divine. After way too many martinis, my friend turned to me and marveled that we had the audacity to call our get together a weekend when it was just one long day. Martinis, loud music and sleep don’t always mix. Then, he asked me in jest: “Who am I? Where am I? How did I get here?” We laughed until we cried, and I posted it on my Facebook page because I thought it was funny as heck.

Totally prophetic, I know. Yet that quote is still on my page and tagged as my favorite quote ever. Why? It holds up today. Born in the hazy days of excess, now I see it as a bit of a reminder. A challenge. Perhaps a dare.

Who am I? When was the last time you asked yourself that? If you try it, I’d wager that some easy answers surface quickly: your name, where you’re from, what you do etc. Sure, that’s true, but is it important? Does anyone really care if you’re from San Diego or South Dakota? Do you? Maybe the basics matter, but what matters more is what you stand for, what you believe, and what you’re passionate about. So who are you? Are you someone who is kind? Bold? Patient? Short-tempered? Do you try to control the world around you or do you give it space to breathe? Understanding who you are and what motivates you provides clarity of thought, vision, and purpose. It helps others get to know you but, more importantly, it helps you stay focused on the big things in life, letting go of the little ones that can pile up and drag you down.

Where am I? When you ask yourself this, your answer may vary. Perhaps you think about what stage of life you’re in, if your career is fulfilling, or if you’re where you want to be. For me, the answer serves as a reminder to live in the present. I’ve always been an overachiever. I feel guilty if I’m not working hard regardless of location, as if I should be doing something else besides just “being”. That’s all fine and dandy, but family is important. Really important. You can’t invest time in family if your mind is on work or your eyes are on your phone. It takes a team to create success, and that team is made up of the people at your office and under your own roof. Knowing where you are – and who needs you there – helps you live in the moment, and moments with those you love are too precious to miss.

How did I get here? Sometimes, this is the toughest question of all. There are days that you’re happy with life. Things are working out. It’s all good. Hard work, dedication, and perhaps a bit of bravery got you there. Other days? Well, those are likely the times you really don’t want to ask how you got there. Maybe you got passed over. Maybe you weren’t paying attention. Maybe you were afraid to say something. Maybe there isn’t a reason at all. At the end of the day – right or wrong – we’re accountable for the choices we make. We’re not victims of life. We make choices. Maybe someone did us wrong. Still, we were there too. We played a part, however large or small that part may have been. Whether well intentioned or just plain wrong, we made a choice and have to live with it. We’re on the hook.

So, almost 20 years later, one of my all-time favorite quotes remains: “Who am I? Where am I? How did I get here?*” I ask myself these questions often, virtually every day. I’m no longer young, dumb, and divine. I’m a little dated, good friends with hair dye, sometimes cranky, and attempting to age gracefully. I’m also raising a family, breaking down barriers, and giving back, so perhaps divine still fits.

At the end of the day, one of the ultimate measures of a person is their ability to take responsibility for the life that they lead, and the only way to understand life is to examine it. Stare yourself squarely in the eye. Find out who’s staring back at you. You’ll see things that make you proud and, probably, some things that don’t. Yet, is a life unexamined or misunderstood truly one you want to live? Isn’t it better to live bravely, make amends, or be present? Isn’t it better to be comfortable in your skin, to own all of your choices – good or bad – and be happy with who you are? I know that’s where I want to be. How about you?

*Props to Richie, the accidental prophet.

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Fighting the Chompys

Teamwork...

Teamwork…

If you have kids, I’m pretty sure you know who the “Chompys” are.  For those of you who are fortunate enough not to know, they are the baddies from the massively popular video game, Skylanders.  Disclaimer here: I am neither a Skylanders fan nor a video game fan, but I’m outnumbered by the men in the house who think games are pretty cool.  Deciding to choose my battles wisely, I caved on this one and allowed games into the house… but with rules attached. You can play on the weekends only, for no more than an hour and only if you behave nicely while you do it.The rules have been working pretty well, until this past weekend.  The boys found themselves exploring a new section of Skylanders and found a “chompy pit.”  Think Gladiator-lite: you battle these cartoon thingys and do it as a team.  Well, Boy #1 charged into the chompy pit using his super belch (not kidding) to drive the chompys away.  Boy #2 had another idea.  He was not up for the grand battle, but instead wanted to find jewels, move rocks and do other smaller tasks… earning more life force and strengthening his player.  But Skylanders is clever.  The game warns you when you are too far from the other player, and eventually if you don’t head in the same direction, you just get stuck: pulling against each other and going nowhere.  The volume in the house went up, and everything descended into madness.  General Mom declares the game is over, and now both boys are wailing over the lost opportunity.

Watching them face the chompys reminded me of teams in the work place.  Like many of you, I’ve been fortunate to work with passionate, goal driven people who want to make a difference in the world.  We have our eyes on the same goal.  We just have different ideas about what path to take to get there.

So everyone knows the corporate goal.  They’re fired up and onboard.  But what’s the best way to get there?  When you have a lot of talent in the room, finding consensus on the tactics or the path can be tough.  There are a lot of great tried and true ideas that are proven.  You know that they work, that they generate results and the team knows how to execute them.  Just like Boy # 1 who charged straight into the fray using the moves (ye olde super belch) he knew worked, the team can achieve its goal.

There are also new ways to get to your goal, new technology, new metrics.  Perhaps they’re unexplored or undefined.  They’ve worked elsewhere and may work for you, and you want to understand and test them, taking your time to plan, prepare and then execute.  So you do A/B testing, focus groups and research.  You’re finding more jewels, earning more life force and strengthening the plan, preparing yourself and then getting to the goal.

Now, your smart, passionate team is struggling internally.  Some head one way, wanting to stick with what’s known.  Others want to prepare.  And the entire team gets stuck, pulling against each other and not marching towards the goal.  So what’s the better way?  Rely on the way we’ve always done it?  Or go Blue Ocean, monitor, measure and then move forward?

Neither.  Both plans work.  It’s not about how you get there, but instead it’s about building consensus and doing it as a team.  As leaders, it’s our job to bring people together, to foster collaboration and open communication, to paint a compelling vision and then find a win-win solution that everyone buys into and commits wholeheartedly to.  Great ideas will come from a great group of people.  A leader demonstrates how the great ideas fit into the goal, and then helps the team focus and prioritize so they make the right decision each time.

So back to the Skylanders.  After my “Command and Control” leadership debacle, we decided to try again the next weekend.  Boys 1 & 2 came to battle again.  We paused the game, talked about what came next with me guiding the discussion, and they agreed on the way to win that was right for them.  Score 1 for the boys.

How will you help your team fight the Chompys?

P.S.  Major respect to any of you that can tell me which character in the picture has the Super Belch.  It is pretty effective!


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What Role Will You Play Today?

Cruising down the sidewalk

Cruising down the sidewalk

So this year, we bought our two boys matching bicycles which have been sitting in the garage, gathering dust, until this past Sunday when we took them to a local park to ride those beautiful new bikes for the first time.  They had their helmets on and their “happy’ cranked up to 11, so we were ready for a fun family day.

Of course, kids will do what kids will do, so once we got to the park, all bets were off.  Our 5 year old (Jake) loved it, but our 3 year old, Luke, wanted nothing to do with his bike.  So we took off his helmet, hauled the bike (now a ball and chain) behind us and started to enjoy a leisurely stroll instead.  A half hour in, Jake took a spill, so we stopped to tend his boo-boo. That’s when we met the Lady in Pink.  As we turned to scoop up Jake, I heard a very loud “Watch out!  Out of my way!  Coming through!”  I turned to see the Lady in Pink come careening through on her expensive bicycle at who knows how many miles per hour, narrowly missing my 3 year old.  In fact, she cut right in front of him – so close that the curl on the front of his forehead was ruffled as she zoomed past him and sped away.

My husband and I were in shock at first.  We scooped Luke up, made sure he was okay and got our little family on the move again.  And as the next few minutes passed by, I got mad.  Very, very mad.  The Lady in Pink is not a friend of mine.  Completely self-absorbed in her own actions, she sped unheeded on her way, absolutely oblivious to the fact that she just about caused an extremely serious injury (if not something much worse) to the innocent child in her way. The Lady in Pink could have slowed down. She could have stopped.  She could have changed lanes.  She could have done any number of things which would have been much more appropriate – and much more considerate – of the people around her.

Me?  I was hopping mad.  There aren’t words to describe how I felt.  As a parent, I instantly saw all of the possible outcomes – gravitating to the worst case scenario.  I immediately passed judgment on the woman.  She was massively irresponsible, and if I saw her again, I was going to give her a piece of my mind.  I even considered driving around the park to find her and tell her exactly what I thought of her and her bike.  We didn’t do that though.  We headed back to our car.  And as I packed up my kids for the short ride home, I started to think about the roles we’d just played – the Lady in Pink and me.

In business and in life, we all play the Lady in Pink at times.  Our society is changing rapidly, and as consumer behavior continues to evolve and companies see their margins eroding or business models at risk, we as leaders have to make decisions under pressure.  We may make fast decisions, ones with long term consequences that can affect the lives of our people.  There is nothing wrong with making a quick decision if needed, as long as we are aware of our surroundings and can take stock of the other options available to us – that we have an understanding of what the long term effects of a short term decision may be.  Even in the toughest times in business, there are always options if we look for them.  And there will always be those who stand on the side, perhaps unaware at first of the change that is whizzing their way.  When change is inevitable, we can choose to participate in the action, prepare in advance or stand on the side, watching it play out and judging others who do take action – whether that action is right or wrong.

I learned something on Sunday.  I was so focused on a singular event, that I missed the danger heading our way from the other side.  I am going to be more alert the next time we are on that bike path.  And, I am also going to stand up and speak my mind if I do run into a Lady in Pink again.  Next time, I am taking action.  I’m going to be part of the change I want to see on the bike path and in the world. And maybe, I can help the Lady in Pink slow down just a little bit, enjoy the view and understand that her actions have consequences, have meaning in the lives of those around her.  I hope I can help her begin to see.