Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Solving problems

Solving Problems

Bob Sutton is one of my favorite business thinkers, from his promotion of Rules for Building a Civilized Workplace to 17 things I believe.  I took his class while I was working towards my management certificate at Stanford and still use the practical guidance (infinitely better than Jim Collins, who’s First Who, Then What maxim devastated our engineering department).

January 2015  will probably be the most difficult and consequential month I’ve faced in over a decade.  Five business, residential, and personal questions will be decided, right or left, with permanent consequences.  By February 1, life will settle into one form or another, but different from what it’s been in the past few years.

I solve problems with analysis and energy, hard work and attention to the changing opportunities at hand.  (or, as Biz Stone,  cofounder to Twitter, summarized: Timing, perseverance, and ten years of trying will eventually make you look like an overnight success.)

But these five feel resistant to the normal approaches: simply assembling the fact and presenting them clearly, listening to different viewpoints and accommodating dissonant voices has not worked.  Frustrated, I’ve needed to go from branch to root: thinking differently.

Tough-mindedness:  A colleague is arguing a series of hypotheticals to get their way, rather than recognize simple facts.  While their exercise is persuasive, the outcome being imposed simply doesn’t reflect reality.  I’m coming to see that some people, some situations, simply can’t be negotiated.  The caution is that taking a hard line burns future bridges: I need to be firm in non-confrontational ways.

Avoid pompous jerks whenever possible. They not only can make you feel bad about yourself, chances are that you will eventually start acting like them.

Strength:   Related to being Tough-Minded, there is an endurance to stay focused and not give up trying to find a solution.  Many times. strength is seen as the ability to hang in, to take the hardships in stride, and to be stoic and uncomplaining.  But  there is also a planning strength, keeping the optimism, momentum, and will to try.  The fundraising, the negotiations, need both sorts of strengths.  The caution is that the two people issues may require yet another: the strength to accept what won’t be changed.

You can have influence over others or you can have freedom from others, but you can't have both at the same time.

Soft skills:  Those with power can solve problems by political and economic strength, authority and intimidation.  Those without power utilize softer skills: leading by example, building coalitions, persuading by stages.  Closing my fundraising is not a matter of ticking the boxes.  I need steady patience and human insight, understanding the aspirations and motivations that lead people to invest.  The caution is that I may miss my window if I rely on unfamiliar methods.

The best test of a person's character is how he or she treats those with less power.

Trust the Experts:  The UK government has empowered a clerk to make the left-right decision of whether I stay in the UK or get escorted to the border after the 10th.  Government policy is to reduce net inward migration to ‘tens of thousands’. so the clerk is looking for reasons to say ‘No’.  My immigration advisor knows the rules and tells me what I need to secure my ILR.  The caution is in how far to trust expert advice that don’t make intuitive sense.

If you are an expert, seek-out novices or experts in other fields. If you are a novice, seek out experts.

Stay positive:  A course of action is being demanded, one that I doubt is healthy.  Confrontation results in threats; capitulation feels easier than conflict.  But I know that I will regret giving tacit support to a bad idea, and that I will be pulled into sorting the costly mess that could result.  I need to press ahead with a process that generates and supports better alternatives.  The difficulty is that I could run out of time before it can complete.

Err on the side of optimism and positive energy in all things.

Avoid cynicism:  I have not found the way to have a difficult, necessary conversation with an errant colleague.  their behavior may be thoughtless or deliberate, but it raises my blood pressure each time I encounter a new example.  I need to have a say; the fear is that the resulting rift could be permanent.

You get what you expect from people. This is especially true when it comes to selfish behavior; unvarnished self-interest is a learned social norm, not an unwavering feature of human behavior.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Christmas gems

DSC00571 (976x1300)Half of my family lives in Boulder, CO;  my son studying at the University and my parents living coincidently nearby.  My daughter and I flew in for a few days visit between Christmas and New Years, ready with cookies to exchange and life’s stories to trade.  Everyone is doing well: it’s great to share memories and plans, get some advice and encouragement, and to share meals and events.

And some fun together!

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The Denver Art Museum is hosting Brilliant, and exhibition of Cartier’s finest bespoke works.  The French jeweler has been around since1847, and the exhibit traces its early establishment by Louis-François and its long association with royalty and celebrities.  The works are intricate and expansive: arrays of matched gemstones set into filigreed silverwork.  Necklaces, tiaras, rings and bracelets glisten in the cases; special portions cover the influences of the Far East and Middle East on related pieces.

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DSC00566 (1300x958)I liked the ‘mystery clocks’, the hands suspended without visible connection to the clockworks.

My daughter has a retail background, and aided my engineer’s eye, curious about how the tiniest of gems could be attached to the intricate pieces.  There are impossibly tiny silver baskets and prongs that anchor each individual stone, a later portion of the exhibit illustrates the design and crafting processes.

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The collection of emeralds, a portion devoted to men’s creations, rounds it out; it’s a lovely exhibit, well worth making time for.

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I breezed through a showing of colorful works by Raoul Dufy downstairs and the outside sculptures, then lunch together in the café to compare perspectives.  We topped that with Champagne brunch at the Greenbriar Inn the next morning, highly recommended regardless of the season. 

It was a wonderful visit, a reminder that family holds many of the true gems in life

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