Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Full of Hot Air

For about 50 weeks out of every year, our quiet little campus maintains “business as usual.” Our faculty members teach, our students learn, our facilities and processes hum along in the usual manner that befits an institution of higher learning.  For two weeks out of the year, the campus becomes far more exciting. 

Stark County and specifically, Canton, Ohio, is the home of professional football. We value our gridiron heritage and we celebrate it with great pomp, abandon and enthusiasm once every year for about ten days in late July and early August. Our campus has the very great privilege of hosting a couple events that bring tens of thousands of visitors to our campus for three days for a food festival and hot air balloon launch. Except to call it a launch is woefully inadequate; there is music, there is food, there are fireworks and pretty girls; skydivers and vendors and booths; it’s a celebration on a grandiose scale.

As you might imagine, preparing the campus for this event is no small task. The university grounds staff start weeks in advance tidying and weeding and washing windows. The kitchen workers prepare to feed hundreds of pilots, passengers, alumni and campus friends and dignitaries over the three-day event. Armies of volunteers from the community raise tents and haul in generators and direct traffic. It’s really quite something. All of this just to watch hot air fill a nylon envelope and raise baskets of humans skyward where they can delight in the beauty of our community from on high.

Hot air is a powerful force that is able to lift hundreds of pounds of gear, passengers and a basket heavenward. Hot air is a beautiful site as it fills the brightly colored folds of the balloon’s envelope. 

Hot air, in one context, as in “he/she is full of,” has gotten a bad rap in my opinion.  Clearly, hot air can act as an energy source and can power a vehicle. I believe the secret is in the vehicle design and how the air is channeled and used for a positive, not negative effect. 

Does the hot air in your organization simply hang like a fog that dampens creativity and innovation? Or, does the “hot air” in your organization put the wind in your sails? Can it raise the organization to new levels? Do you focus your “hot air” for the good of your organization?

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Riding in the Bed of a Pickup Truck

Risky behaviors! You know what I’m talking about. Those little activities you may have done as a young person. Diving head first into a pond when you couldn’t see bottom. Riding in the bed of a pickup truck to the football game. Blowing up tin cans with M80s in your backyard. All of these are risky activities, and some have more inherent dangers than others.

What is the attraction to risky behavior? Is it the thrill of potential heights we might reach or the danger of the crash-and-burn? Do we get an adrenaline rush when we participate in such activities?

Risk – it is an interesting concept. When you avoid all risk, your organization could stagnate. Take unnecessary or foolhardy risks and you could lose it all. How can you balance risk in your organization?

What skills, tools and information do you need to take calculated, smart risk to grow your business? How do you know when and what you should risk?

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Mighty Ducks, “Loon”-y Tunes and Canadian Geese

Long before the folks at Disney brought us the cinematic hockey franchise, I have had a general fondness for waterfowl. I had a pet duck when I was in high school; I like Canadian geese; I know I stand alone or at least in a very small group, in my appreciation of them and my admiration of their beauty. 

Here is what I like about them. The flock sticks together. Have you seen them in the spring and early summer raising their young communally? The adults arrange themselves on the perimeter and keep the babies together in relative safety. One or two adults stand as sentries while the rest of the geese feed. The sentries raise an alarm in the event of danger. Sadly, if you are the danger; you could wind up chased several yards by angry geese until the flock is safe. Being chased by geese is not fun!

When flocks of Canadian geese fly in their famous vee formation it actually serves to improve aerodynamics for the entire flock and eases migration. The lead animal breaks the wind resistance like the leader of the peloton in a bicycle race. When the leader tires and the pace slows, a new leader emerges and takes the lead place to the benefit of the entire group.

Waterfowl are loyal. Loons, Canadian geese and Mallards mate for life. They form bonds and stick together through difficult times. I once saw a Mallard drake mourn the loss of his mate, she had been killed by a car and he sat by her body for days before abandoning her. I admire that kind of loyalty.

So I guess the question is, do you have a strong flock mentality in your organization? Is there loyalty and camaraderie among your “corporate species?” Do you use the strengths of the group to complete the required tasks? Would your organization benefit from following the ways of the goose?

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Strange Weather, La Nina and Global Warming

I live in Northeast Ohio and we have had some strange weather in the past year. We had a near record-breaking number of continuous days with snow last winter. Winter turned to summer by jumping from freezing temperatures to blazing hot temperatures practically overnight. We have had rain and rain and rain and more rain. Something seems off.

Discussions of the weather invariably lead to discussions of what is causing these strange trends. The discussions range from talk of La Nina, a weather phenomenon courtesy of the west coast of the U.S. to the wrath of Mother Nature to Global Warming. The controversy surrounding global warming can, in itself,  lead to heated and vocal debates. I don’t know about meteorological events; I leave that to our veteran, local TV weatherman and Kent State Alum, Dick Goddard. 

May I propose thinking globally for a moment on another subject? In the future world of work, all trends point to an economy dependent upon organizations working across geographic and political boundaries. The world is becoming more flat and interdependent than ever in the past. We get food from South America, cars from the Far East and Europe. Global demand for products leads to thinking globally.

 In the future, instead of sending jobs off shore we will work together to provide goods and services both locally and around the world.  Are you prepared to adapt to the cultures and values of a global client base and a global workforce? I propose a new definition to “global warming”. I say, let us consider “global warming” to be the willingness to conduct business across the world. Does your workforce have what is takes to accept the challenge?  Is your organization “warming” to global business?

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Red Rover, Red Rover

Playground, the very word conjures up memories of childhood; memories of fresh air and sunshine, of tag and kickball. 

I was in grade school in the late 50s and early 60s when children played with minimal supervision. They were allowed to explore and experiment without the interference of overprotective parents and school administrators worried about litigation. 

Back then, we played interesting and almost savage games at recess. While reminiscing, the game that came to mind was Red Rover. On the surface it is an easy game with two opposing teams lining up opposite each other about 25 to 30 feet apart. You demonstrate team work and solidarity by holding hands and forming a human chain. One team then persuades/taunts the opposing team to launch a player across the gap. They call by name by yelling “Red Rover, Red Rover let …come over!” The chosen one tries to break the chain by bodily slamming into the arms of the opponents.  The challenged teammate runs into the fray and either gets the wind knocked out of him/her and must stay on that team or breaks the chain, thus claiming championship over that team.

Is your workplace like a game of Red Rover? Do you invite someone to come to your team only to knock the wind out of them? Do you ever run headlong into the barriers presented by another “team” in your organization?

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Coin Toss

At the beginning of the Super Bowl, the referees and the team captains perform the ceremonial coin toss. The official shows both sides of the coin to the team captains before they “call it” to demonstrate the validity of the coin.

“Two sides of the same coin,” that expression started me thinking about its meaning, So I did some research.
The expression, “two sides of the same coin,” is an English idiom meaning two very different or opposite characteristics of the same thing. I began to wonder how that phrase applied to my own situation. If I am experiencing a loss or a failure, is it just because of the side of the coin that I’m on? 

What would happen if I flip the coin? Will I find a new solution that will be more satisfying, productive or profitable?

If every challenge or decision we face is a coin, do we look at both sides of the coin before we land on one side or the other? Do you know how to flip your coin?

Friday, May 20, 2011

Better Living through Chemistry

In a previous life, I taught college level chemistry. One of my favorite classes to teach was Intro to ChemistryIntro to Chemistry is considered to be a developmental course. That means it teaches chemistry at its very basic level to adults who never took chemistry in their entire high school career.  I might add that some of these adults had been out of high school a very long time.

Since the name of the class included the word chemistry, many of my students were trepidacious, to say the least. To put my students at ease, and, to keep all of them from dropping the class in the second week, I tried to begin each semester with non-threatening material. The topic I settled upon was the Scientific Method. No math; no theory - just five easy steps you can use to solve problems related to science or your life. 

Here is a short explanation of the steps of the Scientific Method.
  1. You make an observation of a phenomenon.
  2. You develop an explanation of the phenomenon. (Note: We call this an hypothesis.)  
  3. You experiment to gather more data about the phenomenon. This information will either support your explanation or it will prove it wrong. 
  4. If the data from the experiment supports your hypothesis then you ask your scientist friends to test your experiment, too. If your colleagues see the same results, then your explanation becomes a theory.    
  5. After many, many, many of your colleagues get the same results, the theory becomes a scientific law.
So after that entire prelude, here’s the meat of this entry. When we make an observation, do we accept it as true or do we question, question, question? Are we skeptical of the mainstream media? Do we look deep and seek the facts and the truth or do we accept the sound bites we hear on the news? Will skepticism or acceptance make your organization grow?

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Old Wives' Tales

Beginning with aboriginal tribes and throughout history, the beliefs, folklore and mores of groups have been passed from generation to generation through oral history or tribal knowledge. The term “tribal knowledge” has been adapted to the practice of modern Six Sigma methodologies. It is defined as the unwritten knowledge that is known within the tribe but is often unknown outside the tribe. I am wondering if, in addition to tribal knowledge, we also have tribal behaviors in our organizations. I will share an example from my own life growing up. As a young child, during a severe thunderstorm with much lightening, my mother would have her seven children put on their shoes. I was living in a dorm in college when I learned that this was not a common practice outside of my family. Perplexed about this custom, I asked mom why we did this. My mother explained that while growing up, my grandmother practiced the same ritual with all her children. She did this because her family would frequently live next door to natural gas storage tanks due to the fact that my grandfather’s occupation was drilling natural gas wells. In the event of a lightning strike, my grandmother and her children would be prepared to “run from the house” thus explaining the practice of putting shoes on during a thunderstorm. My mother was simply carrying on the “tribal behavior.”
 What “tribal behavior” is part of your organization’s culture? Is the behavior essential to your organization’s operations? Or, is it simply being done because “that’s the way we’ve always done it?”

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

It's What You Know

Part Four:  Our last spotlight is on the relationship of the knowledge worker and time management, problem solving, strategic planning and critical thinking.

The knowledge worker will not just manage time; he bends it to his will. With wireless devices and worldwide communication, the knowledge worker will have no concept of being “at work.” The eight-hour shift will have no meaning. She will work in an “on demand” style and will manage portfolios of projects with deadlines that merge and then diverge with collaborators from various physical locations around the world. The knowledge worker will be strategic in the way he completes day-to-day tasks. Critical thinking will be at the core of many tasks encountered by the knowledge worker. Knowledge workers will be all about solving problems and sharing schema, ideas and plans to solve a variety of problems.

What new and exciting ideas may come from the knowledge age?

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Workin' Nine to Five

Part Three: Next we will examine the relationship of time management, problem solving, strategic planning and critical thinking and the industrial worker.

The industrial worker is keenly aware of time management. For the industrial worker, time rules supreme. Time away from the task is detrimental to the final product and negatively impacts the paycheck. Strategic planning and critical thinking are the domain of the management team. If the strategy impacts the industrial worker, it is often without her consent. The industrial worker will deal with a problem that directly relates to his ability to perform the task, but cannot see or has no desire to solve a global problem. When creating the industrial age, did we educate our workers to avoid thinking for themselves?

Note: the final part of this series will conclude with a discussion of the same skills and how they relate to the knowledge worker.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

How're You Gonna Keep 'Em Down on the Farm?

Part two: In the second part of this series we will look at how our selected skills relate to each worker.

The agrarian worker and time management, problem solving, strategic planning and critical thinking.
The agrarian worker doesn’t manage time; time manages the agrarian worker. Once planted, the planter does not have control over how fast the seed grows. The seed-to-harvest cycle is outside the control of the agrarian worker. However, the agrarian worker knows very much about strategic planning. Planning and harvesting the crops to ensure survival of farm and family over the non-productive winter months makes strategic planning of major importance to agrarian work. Problem solving is an important skill, but not as important as the two previously discussed skills. Critical thinking is most likely the least used by the agrarian worker.

Do you agree?

Note: Look for part three of this series that will examine how the skills discussed in this segment of the blog are related to the industrial worker.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Knowledge, Skills and Abilities, Oh My!

Part one: This is the first of a four-part series of blogs that will examine, compare and contrast the knowledge, skills and abilities of the agrarian-age worker, the industrial-age worker and the knowledge-age worker. Let us consider the following competencies: time management, problem solving, strategic planning and critical thinking.

As an introduction, let us consider key characteristics of the three workers:
  1. The agrarian worker had a temporal focus. Completion of the work required the passage of time. The crops didn’t grow over the course of one eight-hour shift; it took months. The harvest may change, but the location of the harvest stayed the same; the agrarian worked the same plot of ground year after year, and even generation after generation, but planted different crops on a rotating basis. Workers were connected to the land and the crop (i.e. product) and saw the seasons and cycles of life as the natural unfolding of the universe; respect, wisdom, history and folk lore were cherished and endowed by the passage of time.
  2. The industrial-age worker has a task-centered focus. Completion of the work requires the completion of the individual’s task, with the task being repeated many times in the eight-hour shift. The task and the location stay the same year after year. The worker has a place in the line and cannot move the task to a separate location because the act of un-sequencing the task will negatively affect everyone’s task downstream on the line. The worker is connected to the line and views the task as primary and unconnected to the other tasks performed in the process of completing the product. The industrial worker sees time as a commodity (time is money) and has a narrow focus on the impact of the task as it relates to the whole. Problems are local and solutions to problems cannot be generalized across the organization.
  3. The knowledge-age worker will have a 10,000-foot view of the work. This worker will see connections and webs. The work will be project-based and will dovetail with other knowledge workers in local and remote locations. Work will be done anywhere, any time. Work will be performed on-demand and out of sequence but all the pieces will still fit together for the final product. The work will be more cerebral in approach; ideas and knowledge will be more important than location. Connections to the work, the concept and the project at hand will be the supreme concern.Loyalty to the concept or the idea of the project will remain intact as the workers move from project to project. The knowledge worker will make connections about how their knowledge can have impact across systems, geographic borders and academic disciplines.
What is your organization doing to prepare for the knowledge worker who will be entering your workforce?

Note: Look for part two of this series to further examine how selected the skills are related to the agrarian worker.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Corporate University Brainstorming Meeting on Feb. 24

We thank everyone who attended this morning's brainstorming meeting.

We appreciate your direct, honest input and  feedback. We don't know about you, but it seemed that we had just gotten started when it was time to finish. Would you like to continue the conversation? If so, please do so in this electronic format.

We pose, once again, the last few questions from this morning. We invite your ideas, comments and responses. It is our hope to continue this discussion in an ongoing fashion; we invite your participation in shaping the training offerings through The Corporate University to respond to your needs.

Consider the following:
What do you think your professionals will need to develop their skills and abilities one to five years from now?

How will your workplace look and how will it be different one to five years from now?

Are your workforce plans changing substantially when you look ahead to 2015? 

Thursday, February 17, 2011


The change of the seasons; the circle of life, the cycles of business: does everything old become new again? Is there chaos in the cyclic nature of life or is there comfort? If we want to know where we are going then we should look at where we have been. When I compare my life as a baby boomer to that of my parents and grandparents, it gives me pause. My grandparents saw the world move from an agrarian society to the start of the industrial age; my parents saw the miracles of the industrial age as the new technologies of electricity led to time-saving devices; I remember the first hand-held calculator (that really only fit in your hand if you were a giant); I marvel at the changes my children will see as technology becomes even more mobile because of wireless technology. As the devices we use become portable, will the workforce become portable as well? My grandparents, like the crops they grew, were firmly planted in the land. My parents, standing along the assembly line, had security and stability without mobility in their employment. When the onset and rapid change of technology dawned in my professional life, change and obsolescence became the norm. As the wireless age of work approaches, what will the youth see in their careers? Will they be techno-gypsies moving from assignment to assignment or will they stay home and work through the Internet? Will their horizons expand globally? What are your thoughts?

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Continue the Dialog

During this morning's brainstorming meeting we discussed many aspects of professional development, training and investing in human capital. We appreciate your direct, honest input and  feedback. We don't know about you, but it seemed that we had just gotten started when it was time to finish. Would you like to continue the conversation? If so, please do so in this electronic format.

We pose, once again, the last few questions from this morning. We invite your ideas, comments and responses. It is our hope to continue this discussion in an ongoing fashion; we invite your participation in shaping the training offerings through The Corporate University to respond to your needs.

Consider the following:
What do you think your professionals will need to develop their skills and abilities one to five years from now?

How will your workplace look and how will it be different one to five years from now?

Are your workforce plans changing substantially when you look ahead to 2015?