Author Archives: Kenneth E Fields

A secret to getting things done from Walt Disney (and maybe the Egyptian Pharaohs too…)

Have you ever been in one of those meetings that seemed to last forever? You know the ones. You entered with optimism that this would be the meeting where that thorny problem got fixed. However, 30 minutes in, you’re doing e-mail or checking facebook or (gasp!) completing just one more level of Candy Crush.

Sometimes when I’m in meetings like that, I think of the generations before me who have suffered the same way. For example, they had to plan the wonders of the ancient world like the Pyramids. I can see the meeting now…

Imagine the number of meetings needed to build these!
  • Project Manager: So, what’s the right percentage of straw to put in these bricks?
  • Engineer: We commissioned a study that says bricks should be 50% mud and 50% straw.
  • Finance: You know, the straw market is strong this year. Is there any way we could we use less to save money?

There’s a clear antidote to meetings like this…doing.

“The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.” — Walt Disney

So today, instead of liking your cousin’s re-post of a cat video, find one clear action that you personally can do, volunteer to do it, and report back to the team in the next meeting. You’ll both feel and be more productive. And who knows, you may inspire someone else to begin doing as well!

photo copyright: Kenneth E. Fields 2006-2020

What do you hold in your hand today? It may be more important than you think…

A couple of years ago, I moved from a Chief of Staff role focused on research and development to a more far-reaching one in a newly created organization. This new role would allow me to see firsthand what it took to run a multi-billion dollar company from the executive suite. I readily admit that I was intimidated. There were lots of big names in the company who were making huge decisions…and they were expecting me to keep them organized!

I decided that I might need to find some different ways to work with this new team so, I took inspiration from a college professor, Kevin Treu. Dr. Treu always asked a ‘question of the day’ to start each class. I had successfully used that tactic in several training classes I gave. and decided that we would start each weekly staff meeting with a ‘song of the day’.

The first Monday morning of the year, I had the song Good Morning by the artist Mandisa playing as the team walked into the room. For a few weeks, I was met with some strange looks (maybe due to my taste in music) but by soon I had people making playlist recommendations!

Photo by Valentin Antonucci from Pexels

It’s always been challenging for me to focus on the capabilities that I do have instead of the ones I wish I had. In high school, my choir sang a song called “Moses” that included the line “What do you hold in your hand today?” That line has always challenged me and it’s my challenge to you.

Are you staring at a challenging project, a new role, or an opportunity to be ‘stretched’? If so, take stock of what you have…the experiences and unique mindset that you bring to the table. Then, pick one or two that you can start implementing. You’ll discover that what you already hold in your hand is more important than you thought!

Many thanks to Treyci Lilje for accompanying me on the journey and constantly reminding me of what I had in my hands.

Some against the grain advice: If you’re determined to win, then don’t be scared to fail

I’ve coached my sons on the baseball field for the past 9 years so it was really strange not to be out there this Spring. It’s often said that baseball is a game where hitters can be in the Hall of Fame if they can only limit their failures to 60-70% for 20 years. It’s true that the highest batting average in Major League Baseball is Ty Cobb’s .366 – meaning he failed 634 out of every 1000 times he went to the plate!

Ty Cobb (left) with ‘Shoeless’ Joe Jackson

Failure isn’t limited to baseball….basketball greats are acquainted with it as well.

I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.

Michael Jordan

Marty Osborn made the same observation about football: “In a football game a team will run about 60-70 plays. Of those plays, 90% fail. That’s right. Only 10% of plays will really work. It’s those 6 or 7 plays that will be the difference between winning and losing.”

If we take a step into the world of organizations, it’s clear that there are lots of things we do every day that don’t work:

  • That meeting that did NOT go as planned
  • A project you poured weeks into doesn’t get approved
  • The sales lead you thought was ready to sign the contract goes another direction
  • And many more!

So, what do you do with all that failure? I’d propose you embrace it!

Success has been defined as the ability to go from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm.

Anonymous – referenced in How to Say a Few Words by David Guy Powers
(not Winston Churchill as I thought!)

The next time you strike out and are disappointed by what was a sure thing, pick yourself up and try again…with enthusiasm!

Who knows, the next time you’re at the plate, you may hit a home run…

Photo Credit: Louis van Oeyen, photographer. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (058.00.00)

Why are leaders covering twice as much trail to get to the same summit?

One beautiful Saturday, my family headed out to take a hike up one of the nearby extinct volcanoes. My wife and I had hiked it over a decade ago with our infant son so we knew that it was worth the trip. The route we chose was completely wooded for 95% of the way and we had a teenager and tween in the crew who were looking for immedicate gratification. They were pretty vocal about their lack of interest in hiking (between their sprints up and down the trail). Finally, we arrived at the top and everyone quietly sat down and enjoyed the view.

Puy Pariou

The fact that my wife and I, the leaders of our little expedition, had already been to the top of this mountain gave us the energy to encourage our ‘team’ that it was worth the trip.

“Leaders must be close enough to relate to others, but far enough ahead to motivate them.”

John C. Maxwell

Recently, I’ve been working with business leaders who are trying to get their teams to ‘hike’ a pretty significant mountain. It requires the leaders to run ahead of their teams by looking into the future and working on strategy, then circle back to the team to get them on board. That means the leaders are doing twice the work of the team…and that’s exhausting!

If you’re a leader, and you haven’t (mentally) been where you want the team to go, maybe now is a good time to take a few hours off the treadmill and make sure that the future is clear for you so you can take others there.

If you’re being led (and we all are in some area of life), take a minute to thank the leaders that are running back and forth between the future and today!

photo credit: flickr.com/photos/alphaducentaure/11887177805

Social distancing got you down? Here’s how to take one of your worst experiences and make it one of your best!

Ever since I lived with 2 guitar players during college, I had wanted to learn how to play acoustic guitar. My fiancée (now wife of 21 years) had purchased a guitar for me as a gift, I had taken lessons, and I couldn’t play a chord. Finally, I had put my guitar in a closet, irregularly pulling it out, longingly looking at it, and usually beating myself up for my failures in learning.

After seeing an ad on facebook, I decided that June 2016 was the month I would learn. I had purchased an online class from Tristan de Montebello and planned to start it after getting home from a business trip on June 17, 2016.

June 18, 2016 is a ‘date which will live in infamy’ for my family. That’s the day I decided to play soccer with my sons and their friends in the cul-de-sac in front of our house. The day an 11 year old kid faked me out well enough to send me tumbling over the soccer ball. The day my kneecap took a direct hit on the asphalt…and broke in two. Ouch!

After a few days waiting on the couch, I had surgery and wasn’t allowed to bend my knee for 6 weeks. It would have been really easy to have a pity party, tell myself that this was just another roadblock to learning and given up. I definitely had my share of feeling sorry for myself but, for some reason, I pressed on, finished the class, and began playing a few songs for kids at our church.

photo credit: Quốc Bảo at pexels.com

Almost 4 years after these experiences, I have a 4 inch scar and a guitar I can pick up and play between virtual meetings at home during a global pandemic

Speaking of that global pandemic, did you think this was going to be a time you finally read that book, reconnected with that former client, or made progress on that objective that was so hard to complete with the interruptions of the office? If you’re anything like me, there’s been a significant conflict with those intentions and reality. After 28 days of ‘isolation’ I was sure I would have written several articles and posts that are on my list and maybe even made progress on a book manuscript.

Until now, I’ve accomplished none of those things. The urgent is STILL crowding out the important! So, I’m challenging myself to spend just 20 min a day on some of these important professional goals (knowing that I’m likely to be interrupted by my even more important family). How about you? Have the urgent tasks (or even the pity parties) taken far too much of your time and attention? This week, try to find just 20 min a day (or 25 if you’re a believer in the Pomodoro Technique) and make progress on one thing. You may find you can make one of your worst experiences one of your best!

Three Secrets to Avoid Drowning When Drinking From a Fire Hose

In 2010, I worked with a company that used a popular video called Did You Know? to help its employees understand the pace of change.  Some of the facts from that video included…

  • If MySpace were a country, it would be the 5th-largest in the world (between Indonesia and Brazil)
  • There are 31 Billion searches on Google every month.
  • Today, the number of text messages sent and received everyday, exceeds the total population of the planet.
  • By 2013, a supercomputer will be built that exceeds the computational capabilities of the human brain.

A 2020 version of the same facts would read:

If the original statistics were shocking, how much crazier are the 2020 versions?

These numbers are a great example of a quote I recently read:

The pace of change has never been this fast, yet it will never be this slow again. 

Justin Trudeau, Canadian Prime Minister

That is a sobering reality about the future when many of us already feel like we’re drinking from a fire hose today!

But wait, there is hope! Here are a few strategies for ‘firehose drinking’:

  • First, remember that no one is immune from the effects of change. Even if they are dealing with different changes, everyone around you is dealing with the same pace of change.
  • Take some advice from Benjamin Franklin: “Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today.” It’s not going to get any better next week or next month so do it now!
  • Finally, if you know the pace is rapid and accelerating, don’t hesitate to take the occasional step off the treadmill to catch your breath. Thousands of people have completed marathons using the Run Walk Run method…and finishing is what counts!

Pro Tip: When you want to introduce a change, take a few minutes to decide if you really need to introduce another drop into the the hose. Is there something else that can be finished first? There’s a limit to how much change any person (or organization) can take!

The ball is in your court! Which strategy will you use to deal with the pace of change today?

Need to ‘pour’ change into others? Here’s how to find out if they’re already ‘full’ first!

The 4 year old takes the pitcher of water in both hands and with as much focus as she can muster, tilts the pitcher and aims the stream of water into the glass. The last thing she wants to do is make a mess so she’s being really careful. It looks like she’s going to make it until the last second when a surprise ‘slosh’ of water jumps out of the pitcher and it’s more than the glass can handle. Water overflows from both the glass and her eyes.

photo credit: pixabay

I feel bad for the the little girl in this story and I made her up! We often work with leaders in organizations who are much like her. They really want to do the best for their team. They don’t want to make a mess so they are very deliberate about the changes they implement. Then, slosh! One unplanned change (new legislation, mandatory software version, employee turnover, etc.) causes their team to go into ‘change overflow’ mode.

In this recent post, I mentioned a major company whose employees “had to deal with approximately 250 changes per year.” If you’re implementing a change, how do you know the amount of changes those around YOU are facing? Organizations have a limited capacity for change. It’s like giving a patient medicine…essential at the recommended dosage limit, but beyond that potentially hazardous!

I’d propose that it’s worth your time for a quarterly review of the changes going on both inside and outside your organization. Just a quick list developed in a team meeting is enough. After a couple of times, you’ll be able to start seeing trends. How did we deal with the past quarter of change? Are there any lessons learned for the future?

You could even translate the feedback into an understanding of your organization’s ‘ability to absorb change’. Are we a yellow in change capacity because of recent benefits changes? Maybe we’re a red because of an unplanned change in import/export laws?

Within a year you’ll have a great feeling for the capacity of your organization to change and you’ll begin leaving some bandwidth for those unexpected ‘sloshes’!

A visit to Costco France…was it worth the almost 4 hour drive?

School vacations in France.  A time to unplug and get out of town for a few days before jumping back into school and work with both feet!  We had only been in France for about 5 weeks so we weren’t ready for an epic trip and we were missing some American staples (Mexican food, bagels, …) so why not take a trip to Paris and explore the American food scene there?

The day before our trip, the fine folks at the SNCF (French Rail) decided to strike so our planned train trip became a car trip.  A bit of a bummer BUT, we could use that as a reason to visit the American amusement park just outside of Paris known for its special brand and ability to bring people in from all around every weekend.  That’s right, we were heading to Costco!

Ahhh…a slice of America in view!

We were at the Greenville, SC Costco at least every 2 weeks to buy milk, Nesquik, giant bags of chips, and gas.  Since the trip to Costco France was long and we were still waiting on our container (and our Yeti), there were some things we couldn’t easily buy (looking at you refrigerated items…).  However, we were excited to check out the store and see if it was worth a return trip once we were in our permanent apartment.

As soon as we pulled around the traffic circle and saw the enormous building, it was clear that we were ‘home’.  Work was underway to put in a gas station but no timeline was available. 

After parking (in the massive, American sized, parking lot) we got a cart.  Not just any old European cart that takes a Euro to get it and you can’t steer worth crap.  No, a real cart with back wheels that only move in a straight line!  Yes!

One important difference to note before we got inside. Our dear Costco on Woodruff Road took about 10 minutes and cost us less than 50 cents in gas to visit (not including the membership fee – a gift from Michelin). The Costco in France…

  • ~75 Euros in gas
  • 75.60 EUR in tolls
  • 3h 45 min in the car
  • …and that was before we bought a thing!

Thanks to our friends at the SNCF, those were sunk costs for us but still, something to consider before making a visit.

Do you hear the angels singing?

A few of the ‘Costco standards’ that we saw throughout the store:

  • Person at the front door in a red vest with a clicker to track the number of guests
  • Bunch o’ deals and TVs just after the front door
  • Samples!
  • Massive quantities of chocolate chips, toilet paper, and real American peanut butter
  • Cash registers galore

There were certainly some things that we were hoping to find that we couldn’t – Log Cabin syrup (but they did have 100% maple syrup), Kind and/or Lara bars and skim milk are a few examples.  That being said, we were pretty excited with lots of the things we DID find!

Christmas decorations? They’ve got you covered
  • Boxed Mac and Cheese (not Kraft but still…)
  • Bacon (we’re coming back for you)
  • Mozzarella sticks (coming back for you too…)
  • Brownie Mixes
  • Tortilla Chips
  • Pancake Mix

After the shopping was over, it was time for a visit to the food court for some real, honest to goodness Costco pizza!  They had Pepsi (just like in the US) but they continued the French tradition of ensuring you don’t drink too much sugar by limiting you to one serving of Pepsi.  Come on French government, if you’re going to allow people to smoke everywhere like chimneys, let the rest of us drink as much Coke as we want!

As we were walking out, there was a standard display of Michelin tires greeting you followed by the classic Costco receipt checker (unfortunately, our kids are too old to solicit the smiley faces any more).  After loading up the car, it was time to head home but fear not outpost of amazing, American sized stuff in the middle of France, we’ll be back!

Is it raining cats and dogs? No, that’s a storm of change and it’s heading your way!

Our family recently relocated from the US to France and has been experiencing A LOT of change!

  • Live out of suitcases for 58 days and counting? Check.
  • Two first days of school in two different countries? Check.
  • 10 different cars in 4 months? Check.

In the middle of all of this change, I read this interesting article on our bandwidth to handle change and was shocked by these two sentences:

photo credit: pixabay

“Consider a leading global wealth manager whose employees, we recently found, had to deal with approximately 250 changes per year. These included operating model changes; new leadership structures; new productivity procedures in areas such as travel booking, digitized financial planning, and HR; new enterprise resource systems; agile ways of working such as sprints; and new legal and risk requirements and compliance procedures.

Holy smokes, 250 changes per year!  I bet that’s true for most of us.  Just take a minute to think about it… benefits changes, staffing changes, position responsibility changes, organizational changes IT systems, physical moves, etc.  The article doesn’t clearly state this but I would guess their research doesn’t account for changes outside of work like kids moving grades, aging parents, new neighbors, etc.

I know it’s true that I fail to account for the ‘other’ changes going on when I am pushing ‘my’ change effort. With this newfound understanding, I want to start thinking about capacity for change like a bucket of water. When the bucket is full, it doesn’t matter how much effort we put into a great communication plan or training module, there’s just no room!

How full is your bucket? What about the bucket of the people you are working with?

The superpower of focusing on the amazing versus the annoying

The setting sun made the sky look like a painting and several groups of people watched from the summit of the mountain. As soon as the sun slipped below the horizon, most of the groups began packing up their blankets and cameras, ready for the short hike back to the parking lot. A hearty few stayed at the top and prepared to spend the night in one of the darkest places in the Carolinas.

Sunset over the mountains in the ‘greatest state in the land of the free’ (Tennessee)

As I started cooking my dinner, a colony of bats flew overhead, eating their meal on the ‘fly’. The night closed in and the stars started peeking out. The couple beside me started playing country music on a small speaker…and I don’t like country music! (bluegrass on the other hand…) A family camped on my left and the daughter gave everyone within hearing distance a play by play of her trip away from the tent. WAIT! Didn’t I come out here to get away from annoyances like bad music and oversharing?

After a few minutes of focusing on the negative, I realized that I could choose to focus on the amazing (the Milky Way emerging) or the annoying (see previous list). It doesn’t seem like choosing and focusing is a superpower but it was for me that night and I’d propose that it can be for you too!

  • Got a million things to do? Set a timer on your phone for 20 minutes (my variation on the Pomodoro Technique) and try to finish just 1 of them. The momentum will carry your forward to the next thing (and the next, and the next…).
  • Surrounded by negative people? Find just one thing to compliment and go out of your way to focus on it all day long. You’ll feel better about where you are, even if the environment doesn’t change
  • Really hate your situation? Take some advice from former Secretary of State Colin Powell – “Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier”. Finding just one thing to focus on and be positive about can completely change your perspective.

After a breezy, star-filled night, a group of college students traipsed through my campsite about 5:30 am, preparing to watch the sun rise over the North Carolina mountains. Once again, I had to decide if it was more important to be annoyed by the intrusion or watch an amazing, daily event that we often take for granted. I chose to focus on the amazing that morning.

Sunrise over the Appalachian Trail

What will you choose to focus on today?