The Idea Dude


Thursday, December 31, 2009

One minute to midnight

New Year for many means a new start, closing an old chapter, a time for resolutions, a festive point of the year. For me, it has always been anti-climatic. Perhaps, it is because no matter how hard we wish or hope, hardship in December tends to follow its course in January. Resolutions are quickly broken. Winter is a little harsher and the reality of January sets in. Whatever was tough on 31 December, didn't magically disappear on January 1 or 2 or 3 for that matter. Humbug.

Until last year.

An opportunity save a tiny life changed all that. A gift to both the boy and me. Looking back exactly one year later, it is one of those moments where 30 seconds either way would have surely meant he would not see a day in 2009 and for me, it meant each New Year would continue to be a humbug event. I still shiver every time think of that defining moment.

New Year's eve will never be the same again. It has become a reminder to me to be grateful and humble. Yes, we are indeed the masters of our destiny and yet our ship is dependent on the favorable winds of fortune.

I still strive for success, financial security, worldly goals and other aspirations. But I am now reminded more so on this day, that the most worthy thing I can ever do is how I can save or change a life.

Each day dawns and presses upon me the stresses of the day. I forget the best questions I should ask before I rise from my bed.

  • Whose life can I make a little easier today?
  • What kind words can I convey that will sooth a soul?
  • Which words of encouragement can inspire actions that exceed expectations?
  • What gesture will strengthen a relationship?
  • Which burden can I lessen by lending a patient ear?

In the hustle and bustle, I forget that,

  • Smiling is irresistible
  • The best gift is a hug
  • A kiss is never given in vain
  • Find good in others is the prelude to praise
  • To be grateful for small mercies
  • True giving has no reservations

Today, I am reminded of these things. Every minute of our lives should be lived as if it is one minute to midnight. We cannot choose our destiny, but we can choose the legacy we leave behind.

Tomorrow we can say Happy New Year! Should we not wake up each morning and declare Happy New Day!

  • If you had one breath left, what would you say?
  • If you could gaze on one last thing, what would it be?
  • If you could receive one last kiss, who would it be?

If you had only one minute to midnight, how would you live?

Monday, December 21, 2009

Making people take the stairs

How do you get people to take the stairs instead of the elevator? How do you encourage people to throw their trash in the bin instead of the floor? It turns out if you can't pay people to do it, at least make it fun.

The Fun Theory initiative by Volkswagen did just that. It's a competition to encourage people to come up with ideas of how to make things mundane, well, just more fun. Some of the ideas are indeed wonderful, like making stairs look and sound like piano keys making it fun to use them instead of the elevator next door.

Parents understand this concept very well. It's easier to make a chore into a game than simply make their kids do it. Of course the caveat is once the novelty has worn off you have to find new ways to keep them engaged.

But it did make me think why most managers are not trained to think this way. When I ran software teams, there was only one objective to be a successful leader (note, I used the word lead and not manage on purpose). The objective to create situations where the team could and would initiate the tasks themselves because of the following reasons:

  • Passion - the overwhelming desire to want to do something because of a force within
  • Creativity - the result of a challenge that is often extremely difficult or seemingly impossible
  • Fun - the sense of achievement and the execution of the task that makes you smile no matter how tough it may be

Of course to do so, you have to empower and part of it means making sure they understood and were aligned with your intent. The primary reason we hate letting go? they may do something contrary to our intent. If they are aligned, you can be sure they often come up with even better solutions than you could think of on your own.

My job then? was to Inspire, Initiate and Imagine...

Their job then? was the same to Inspire, Initiate and Imagine...

It's takes a lot of guts for a master to become the apprentice but if you reach that point, you have either lost your job to your protege or made your company infinitely more powerful.

Looking out the window

This is my first official break from work this year. I'm staring out the window onto the slopes of Mont-Saint-Anne, one of the most beautiful mountains in Quebec. Not having touched the keyboard for 3 days is definitely a foreign experience, confirms my condition as a workaholic.

I have noticed how times have changed. Just a few years ago, arriving at a hotel, the first thing the kids would check was if they had a television in the room. This time, the first question was do they have Internet access. I resisted for 2 days amidst protests, you would have thought we were putting them on bread and water.

Today they are out tubing at Valcatier while I catch up on email, checking out iTunes accounts etc. It also means I get to catch up on my blogging that has fallen the wayside. Not that I didn't want to. I had a ton of thoughts but there never seem a good time to quietly put them down concretely. You may say I'm too much of a perfectionist to be a good Twitterer. Saying something flippant and off the cuff is not my style unless it is a bad joke to annoy my kids.

Skiing, even as badly as I do, is an amazing pastime when you get to do it on a large mountain. For an hour (because I'm particularly slow), you get to see the world seemingly frozen in time. The snow damps all noise and if you happen to stop at a spot all by yourself, the silence is pretty amazing. For that moment you can imagine what it would be like to be the last living thing on earth.

The slopes are relatively empty this year as are most restaurants. I hope for the sake of the locals it is because we are a little earlier this time, getting here before the peak season. Perhaps it is a sign of the economy being tougher than we all care to admit.

Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Making your blog memorable - step 3

People love stories because stories stick. They are tangible and the details are concrete.

A 5 year old can tell you how many pieces of candy he has left because he gave 2 to his friend and dropped 3 during his Halloween trick or treating. But he couldn't probably remember the mathematical equations that support his logic.

Urban legends are novel and unexpected but invariably they happen to people just like you or me and the events no matter how far-fetched are real.

We remember fables and parables because they are a) stories and b) contain real objects and people.

Even though someone may love your blog post, it may not be memorable enough to repeat it. Notice how viral stories are always simple. The Mentos experiment for example. Everyone knows what a Mentos mint is and what Coke is too. If it were about mad scientists sprouting chemical formulae, regardless of how wonderful the effect was, the story would not carried because the message bearers would simply forget the details.

Step 3 is a natural progression of the earlier two steps I talked about, keep our messages simple, unexpected and now in Step 3 concrete.

Experts have a hard time convincing the masses unless they are talking to peers because they have transcended the concrete. For them, the interesting part is how to take a thousand concrete events and predict them with one abstract theory. Unfortunately, the rest of us on the other side of the fence can't make the mental leap to their level of abstraction because we neither have the experience, knowledge or perhaps we really don't get excited about the same things as they do.

Next time we blog, we should ask ourselves are we explaining our experiences or conveying our message with Mentos and Coke or using complex scientific formulae that may make us look smart but at the end of the day far less memorable.