Ramblings of a Creative Mind

Thoughts on Work and the World from an Executive Mom


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Building Bridges

Bay Bridge WowI was recently in San Francisco and was fascinated by the new Bay Bridge.

Now, I’ve crossed the old bridge many times.  It did what it was supposed to do – get me from here to there.  This new bridge didn’t seem like anything remarkable; in fact, I barely noticed the change at all… until late in the evening.  As I looked out the window of my hotel, I saw it… the lights.  They were glorious.  I was struck by how dynamic that bridge was: functional and beautiful.  It made an impact.  So I went online to learn a little more.  Now, it still goes from here to there, but did you know that this “epic transformation… into a global icon” does a few other cool things too?

  • It holds two Guinness world records (not the beer, though that may be almost as cool in certain circles);
  • It took six years to complete;
  • It is built to withstand major earthquakes and is, in fact, a lifeline route;
  • It offers panoramic views of the city; and
  • For the first time, it meets the needs of many with pedestrian and bike lanes.

It got me thinking about work.

When you’re new to an organization or are working with a team or client, you’re constantly building connections and forging relationships to “get you from here to there.”  We’re building bridges.

Everyone has their own style.  Each team has its own dynamic.  Each project has its own deadline.  Oftentimes, we are so caught up in “our” style, the dynamics of the team as they exist today (or did in the past) and the deadline that we don’t pay as much attention as we should to those bridges we’re building.

Yes, those bridges – those relationships – are functional.  They help us learn the ropes, motivate the team or achieve the goal.  But a bridge is much more than that.  It’s our connection from the past to the future, from where we were to where we want to be.  It’s a place we will turn to again and again… a place that will be familiar and somehow new.

Like a bridge, a relationship can be functional and fun.  It’s dynamic.  It can:

  • Set records;
  • Span years;
  • Save your life;
  • Be a great adventure; and
  • Help people meet many needs.

That will only happen though, if you invest as much (if not more) time, focus and care into building lasting relationships as you do in the short term projects and personal objectives.  And frankly, I believe your style in leadership and teamwork is pretty darn important too.  Your teammates will get things done when focused on a goal.  How many of those people will be there – years later – if you don’t invest in them as well?  How many people will be there if they don’t feel respected?  Don’t feel valued?

At the heart of each of us, we want to feel loved – feel appreciated – feel valued.  We want to have a meaningful impact on the lives of those we touch and the things we are working to achieve.  We want to know that other people care.  We want to build deep, real relationships: not with people who ask passing questions and forget your answers, but instead with those who invest their lives in seeing you succeed and thrive, professionally and personally.

Yes, bridges and relationships can be built that get you from here to there.  How solid are those bridges though?  Are you sure they will stand the test of time?  Or are there warning signs that you may be ignoring?

In my quest to learn more for this piece, I read about the Quebec Bridge.  It was an engineering marvel, but there were warning signs along the way that were ignored.  It didn’t end well, collapsing in 1907 and costing lives.  It could have been avoided.  The problems could have been corrected.  It could have dazzled.  It didn’t.

What bridges are you building today?  Are they strong?  Can you do more?

What bridges did you build years ago?  Are you maintaining them?  Will they be more?


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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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A Boy and A Blue Balloon

Close up of a blue balloonThis morning, I had the honor to be a small part of something special.

After rolling out of bed before the sun came up, I was pretty tired.  So were the hundred or so fellow travelers I shared Southwest Airlines Flight #150 with this morning on the way to Sacramento.   Engrossed in our smartphones, on auto pilot, we picked up our bags and began to exit the plane.  That’s where the magic began.

As I stepped out the door and onto the jetway, I glanced up and saw a blue balloon taped to the wall.  Odd, but not remarkable.   Then, there was another.  And another.  In fact, the jetway walls were lined with bright blue balloons – far too many to count.  Confused, I stopped.  So did everyone else. I heard our flight attendant bristling with excitement, lining up the pilots and prepping them for photos and the surprise.  And there, nestled amongst it all was a sign – “We’re honored to help!  Yay, Mason!”  As my dazed companions and I got moving again, I was struck by the bright smiles on the faces of the flight attendants, the crew, the passengers… and me.

I have no clue who Mason is.  I don’t know his story.  I overheard that he was headed to Orlando, so I think he is a child, but why is he going there? What made this trip so special that a team pulled together to create a thing of such joy for him, for themselves and for all of us who were brief witnesses to the moment?

The background of his story may be bright or perhaps tragic.  At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter.  What hit home for me is how someone on that flight crew cared deeply about someone they barely knew, had an idea and led others with love.

The notion of love in leadership may be controversial.  As we build our careers, we focus on learning the ropes, connecting the dots, generating the ROI and building a great strategic plan.  Those are all necessary components to any great business.  But where is the love?  Where is the emotional connection that is so fierce, so deep and so passionate that it leads you to chase dreams, move mountains and inspires others to follow?  Data, metrics and business plans provide a framework for any good enterprise.  Companies and leaders become great though when they inspire people to believe, to get uncomfortable, to go out on a limb and to give.  We have to take that risk and bring love into the equation.  It’s love for the company, it’s culture, it’s team and its customers.     It’s spending the time to get to know someone else’s dreams, what they want to achieve, and then committing full force… being there to help them achieve that dream.  It’s investing in what’s in it for someone else.  It reaps greater rewards for the giver than you can ever accrue for.  Even more, it reaps rewards for your team as they invest emotionally.  They go father, reach higher, work harder and smile wider.  They’ve shared the joy.

I still don’t know Mason and his story.  I think it’s better that way.  What I do know is that Mason was a king this morning, and whatever mountain he may need to climb, he is stronger today and has a hundred strangers cheering him on from the sidelines.  I’m among them.

Traveling on business has its perks.  Frequent flier programs can get you a window over an aisle, free wifi and sometimes, a front row seat to greatness.

How can you lead your life with love today?  Who will be your Mason?


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Lessons from a Field of Dreams

Pondering the joy of baseball

Pondering the joy of baseball

I recently joined – I should say that Jake recently joined – a Little League team.  (Go MARLINS!)  Now, this is not the first kiddie sport that I’ve signed him up for.  Swimming was fun and frankly a little scary when he was 18 months old.  L.A. Sports Kids was adorable because the kids were so little, and everyone got a medal.  So Little League seemed like the next natural step.  I love baseball and adored the Reggie Bar, so this would be perfect.  Who doesn’t love cute little kids running around the bases and picking flowers when they should be watching for a pop fly?

Well, come to find out that Little League is a heck of a lot of work.  I did not know what I was getting myself in for.  When you’re the coach’s wife, AKA the equipment coach, snack center, pack mule and fundraising maniac, it gets to be a bit much.  No one tells you exactly how much time you have to invest during the week to watch your kids pick flowers… I mean, catch a pop fly – kind of.   No one tells you that it means the end of sleeping in on a Saturday morning or lazy Sundays spent in the back yard.  And no one tells you that it means hauling a cranky kid out of bed, getting him on the field and watching him have a meltdown in the middle of a game.  He wants to quit.  Sometimes you want to quit.  I hate to admit that in the first month of Little League, I found myself cranky: complaining about the time investment, the amount of equipment I had to cart around, the politics of the Little League staff and dealing with the parents that didn’t seem as committed as I was, or were perhaps not carrying as much of the weight as I felt I was with the team.

And then one day, something magic happens.  Your kid swings at the ball, connects, and it flies more than 10 feet from the tee.  And something inside both you clicks.  The sun shines bright, you hear the laughter in the air and 12 rookies start to become a team.  I cannot describe the feeling, but many of you know exactly what I feel.

Little League has taught me a few lessons these past 5 weeks, and I’m sure I will learn a few more.  Here’s what I’ve learned so far.

1.  Nobody starts at the top.  No matter how smart your child is or how good they were at soccer, baseball is a whole new ball game.  There are rules to be learned; etiquette to follow.  And no matter how well you plan your drills, no drill reaches everyone.  Each child learns in their own way.  What works for one child might not work for yours.  And each child has certain unique talents that you need to find to strengthen the team.  And so you run new drills.  Practice new skills.  You practice again, and you do your best.  You get back at it until you find what works.

2.  Getting better takes time.  Greatness doesn’t happen overnight.  Before Little League, my son connected every time he swung at the ball.  I was sure he would be a slugger.  Now, with a real bat, there is an awkwardness in his swing that I’m trying to understand.  He wants it to happen now.  Heck, I want it to happen now.  But we will only find the answer with time and a lot of hard work.  Both he and I have to have the patience to be in it for the long haul – keeping that long term goal in sight, and taking small steps each day to get there.

3.  Everyone on the team plays a part.  So, there is always a kid on any team that is a natural.  On the Marlins, that’s Brandon.  At five, that kid can clock the ball out of the park – as far as “out of the park” is for a 5 year old.  And that’s great.  But Brandon can’t win the game for us if our defense is weak, if the shortstop misses a grounder or the first baseman is too busy looking at dandelions to catch a ball.  The team has to work together towards a common goal.  Sure, someone will always pull a little more weight than the others.  That’s just the way life works.  But everyone needs to be performing at a solid level for the team to get a win.

4.  The folks on the sidelines matter – a lot.  As the Marlin parents, first we were grumpy.  Now, we live and breathe Little League.  And it’s not just the coaches.  It’s all of us.  We all got jerseys and caps.  We all scream our guts out for each and every kid – whether they are on our team or on the opposition.  (They are 5, after all.)  Kids gets discouraged when something is tough.  They want someone to swoop in and save them.  But they need to learn to do things on their own and be accountable.  And with us on the sidelines, they do it in a safe place where they have help to turn to when, or if, they need it.  They have people who will lift them up when they do miss the ball and need a little encouragement.

5.  Stick with it, and you will have a moment of sheer beauty.  Jake has been struggling, but he had a moment of brilliance last weekend.  After a rough run on first base, he moved to the pitching mound, and a big kid slammed a ball right at his head.  Jake glanced up just in time, caught it perfectly, turned and lobbed it straight into Brandon’s mitt on first base.  It was a thing of beauty.  It happened in a moment, and that moment was earth shattering.  I cried.  And then, he did it again.  One achievement led to another and another.  And suddenly, that batting got a little bit better.

Now this is a work and a marketing piece.  What does this all mean for you and your business when you are out in your offices, mentoring a new employee or lifting up a coworker who is having a rough time?  What does it mean for your team?  I’ll leave that up to you.  For the record, I am still cranky with losing all of my “private time,” and I can’t wait for another Saturday under the sun, sitting on the grass and watching my radiant child in the sunlight.