Going Home

As part of my work, I travel at least once per month. I have the great fortune to spend time with friends and family during those trips, which lessens the impact of being away from home.

Being able to see, and/or stay with family while on the road keeps me closer to them, now that I live so far from them. I’ve been able to watch some of my nieces and nephews grow up.

In my travels, I’ve seen and done things I had never dreamed of. I’m truly blessed to have had the opportunity to experience so many amazing places and to meet so many wonderful people.

Still, none of these compares to the feeling of going home. The pace of my days, when traveling for work is typically hectic enough to keep home sickness at bay, but the night before my homeward journey is usually a restless one. I can hardly contain my excitement about going home.

Traffic, airport security procedures, flight delays, etc., can hardly dampen my spirits on my return home. I know that somehow, I’ll be home soon.

Today is one of those days. After a fruitful work trip and a couple nights with family, I’m headed back to the warm, sweet comfort of home.

I wonder if my fellow passengers are as excited as I am.

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What Didn’t You Do Today?

Michael Hios

Procrastination

Procrastination is one of the most self-destructive shortcomings of human beings. There are few easier ways to derail success than to put off a task that should be handled immediately. It’s rarely justifiable and almost never beneficial, yet so many of us continue to do it.

There are many reasons why we put off tasks, but all procrastination can be boiled down to two causes; laziness and fear.

Ten-toed sloth

This one is the simplest to explain and is probably the most common. The lawn is getting tall and the neighbor is starting to shake his head every time he glances toward your house, but you just don’t feel like hauling out the mower, gassing it up, repeatedly yanking on the starter cable and pushing that thing around for a couple hours so you let it go. “Maybe tomorrow,” or “I’ll do it later,” helps us capture a few more hours, or days, of leisure but what happens when your yard looks like a blighted, abandoned property and/or you get a letter or a fine from your Home Owner’s Association? Now the grass is so high that the mower can barely move through it without stalling. The process that would have taken an hour or two now takes 4 and you’ve taken a year off the life of your lawn equipment or maybe even broken it. In the end, delaying the inevitable and putting off a rather simple task has a higher, calculable cost. Was it really worth it to be lazy?

Scaredy-cat

Fear is a complex emotion in that it impacts our minds and bodies in very different ways. It manifests itself in many forms, but in relation to procrastination, there are two categories: fear of the task (confrontation), and fear of the outcome (failure).

Conflict avoidance is a very deep force. Our fight/flight instincts are at the core of our being and so when those instincts are triggered, we often lose rationality. For some people, fear-induced procrastination hinders simple, but important tasks, like dealing with a customer service issue, or addressing inappropriate employee (or children’s) behavior. This type of procrastination can be the most destructive, because it typically impacts more than just the person engaged in putting off a task and the consequences can be very severe. Conquering this type of procrastination usually involves leadership, coaching, or even therapy. It’s difficult to break bad habits caused by deeply-seated emotions, so it can take a long time to overcome.

Being afraid of an outcome is far less rational. Worry is something that most of us feel from time-to-time and it has no bearing on the result unless it contributes to procrastination. Not doing something because we feel we might fail is failure in itself. The fear can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. We fail at 100% of the things we do not attempt.

Fear of failure is more easily addressed. Success breeds success and it’s easy to demonstrate how addressing issues and tackling tasks when they are small leads to quicker and better results. Sometimes, when a project is bigger or more complex, having a mentor or coach is helpful or even necessary, but it can be successfully addressed by breaking it up into smaller, manageable pieces. Small wins can provide the confidence needed to generate momentum and break out of the habit of procrastination.

What are your thoughts on procrastination?

Has putting off something until later had a positive or better outcome than if you had addressed it sooner?

What do you do to break out of the habit of procrastinating?

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K.I.S.S. – (Keep It Simple, Stupid)

English: Altshuller G.S.: TO FIND AN IDEA: INT...

English: Altshuller G.S.: TO FIND AN IDEA: INTRODUCTION TO THE THEORY OF INVENTIVE PROBLEM SOLVING. Novosibirsk: Nauka, 2nd ed.-1991. ISBN 5-02-029265-6 (in Russian) p.p. 94-95 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Human nature has a tendency to admire complexity but reward simplicity.” — Ben Huh

K.I.S.S – Keep It Simple, Stupid. It’s a harsh and curt acronym, but at the same time, it’s elegant in both its candor and its simplicity. Much of what we do in life is problem solving. In the domains of my professional experience; Information Technology, Business Analysis, and Management, problem solving (or as I call it; “Opportunity Management”) is essentially the bulk of my curriculum vitae.

In the process of problem solving, we humans often devise complex schemes to work around issues. I have personally created solutions that would cause Rube Goldberg to scratch his head. In the process of analysis, it’s easy for a creative mind to get carried away with design. Experience and success (and more importantly, failure) have afforded me with the wisdom that the simplest solution is usually the best one.

Over the past 20 years, I’ve collected a few tips for helping to keep it simple:

  • Thoroughly document the problem and the solution: by creating a textual and/or visual representation, it becomes easier to spot complexity and flaws.
  • Assume a User/Customer perspective: changing mode from solution architect to end-user allows you to see the problem and the solution from a completely different angle.
  • Build in a feedback loop: make certain that the testers and users have the ability to easily provide comments and suggestions from the very beginning. Extend this to mechanisms for improving your solution in near real-time if possible.

Simplicity in design aids in decision-making, speeds up delivery, provides scalability, and ensures usability. Regardless of the problem, keeping the solution simple typically delivers the best and fastest results.

What do you think? Do you have any tips for keeping things simple?

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Spring Cleaning

forgetmenots

The exact origin of the dreaded ritual known as “Spring Cleaning” is unknown.  Wikipedia cites several different possibilities, each of them fairly reasonable.  Regardless of how it began, it’s a permanent fixture in our culture and can have a great impact on our lives.

During the spring cleaning of our home, we open the windows and let the fresh air in while we dust, sweep, wash and wax the various surfaces and items in our house.  We organize and clean out our files and important documents. We also take time to collect the items that we haven’t used in more than a year and either donate them to charity, place them on FreeCycle, or toss them out.

All of this cleaning and organizing provides us with a clean home, a sense of accomplishment, gives us some entertainment (when we find things we haven’t seen in a while) and helps us eliminate the clutter that makes us unproductive.  If this is not a perennial ritual in your household, I highly recommend it.

Although the tradition is well entrenched in our society, it doesn’t seem to have been widely extended to cover the digital aspects of our lives.  When you consider it, in these days, many of us store more digital files than we do physical ones.  It only makes sense to consider including our electronic assets in the process.

Recently, we have expanded our spring cleaning to include our email, social media, data storage devices and cloud storage accounts as well as our online store accounts.  I was surprised by the volume of old, useless, and/or duplicate files spread across the various storage media.  I was more surprised by the outdated information contained in many of our accounts.  Some of the information was sensitive and was erroneously stored in non-sensitive containers, which, if compromised, could have led to serious consequences.

This year, I discovered 20-year-old email messages. incorrect address data in online accounts and stale profile information on some social media accounts.  I also found some old digital photos of friends and family that brought back some very fond memories.

I now have a current inventory of my valuable electronic assets.  I know where all of my important data are located and am certain that they are reasonably secured. I’ve even managed to generate some smiles and laughs in the process.  If you are not applying spring cleaning to your digital life, you have no idea what you’re missing.

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Do What You Love? Maybe Not.

Michael Hios

Michael Hios at Bryce Canyon doing what he loves.

Many years ago, I was told by a successful musician (who was paraphrasing, of course), “Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.” I took those words as gospel and tried very hard to turn my passion into work.

I love music. It’s a significant thread in the fabric of my life. My father is a musician. His father was a musician, so you could say that it’s in my blood. There was a time in my life when I strove to be a professional musician. It was a very fun, rewarding, and frustrating time in my life, during which I learned many valuable lessons. The most valuable knowledge I gained during that period is that there’s no more efficient way to kill the passion for something than to make work of it.

From a macro perspective, with my hard-earned experience, it’s easy to see how that famous musician felt the way he did. He was talented and lucky enough to have the success (and thus, the finances) to pay people to do all the things that are necessary for a stage performer to work. He didn’t have to pack up and transport his gear. He didn’t have to maintain, repair, tune and tweak his equipment. He had a Manager to handle all of the business aspects of his work. That’s not to say that he never did any of these things. He reached a point of success that his rewards helped him to leave behind and forget the pain of these necessities. What are the chances of becoming so successful?

This is not a cautionary tale, warning against the futility of chasing dreams. Every person should pursue the things in life that bring them joy. If you can become successful enough at it to make a living of it, you are very fortunate. At some point, most of us will realize that while we derive happiness from those activities, they rarely provide us with the financial resources to allow us the freedom to live off them. When that epiphany comes, don’t be discouraged. Instead of “doing what you love,” flip the adage on it’s head.

LOVE WHAT YOU DO

While it may not be possible to do what you love for a living, there are things you can do to make your work fulfilling.

Use Your Skills

According to the Society for Human Resource Management, employee engagement is a critical component of overall workplace satisfaction. When we are “engaged” in our work, we are far more likely to be happy with our jobs. According to the SHRM 2012 Employee Job Satisfaction and Engagement Survey, the #1 aspect most important to employee job satisfaction is “Opportunities to use skills/abilities.” This job component ranked 2 points higher than compensation and 1 point higher than job security in their survey. Content employees realize that it’s important to feel like they are utilizing their personal assets to contribute to the mission of the organization.

Love Your Co-workers

If work was always fun, it would not have been called “work,” it would have been called “fun.” Performing a job that you don’t love is easy when you’re surrounded by good people. If you work in a place where you feel connected to your co-workers, your days can seem much shorter. Considering the fact that full-time workers spend most of their waking moments with co-workers, it’s easy to see the benefits of bonding with them.

Love Where You Work

This one isn’t so easy, but it’s not impossible. Try to find an organization whose mission espouses your values. If your goals are aligned with the company’s goals, you already have something in common. Look for a company with a leader who is committed to ensuring that the mission is accomplished daily and is engaged enough to empower the team to be successful. Seek out organizations where the CEO constantly, consistently, and transparently communicates with the staff. (Coincidentally, “Communication between employees and senior management” was #4 on SHRM’s list of most important job satisfaction aspects, but that’s a blog post for another time.)

Here’s a good example of someone who loves where she works (HootSuite) and a good tip on using technology in your job search.

If you’re lucky and good enough to do what you love, you deserve the happiness and fulfillment that comes with that. If not, you can still make your days enjoyable and fulfilling by loving the things that you do.

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The Role of Marketing Analytics in Small Business

The Marketing Metrics Continuum provides a fra...

The Marketing Metrics Continuum provides a framework for how to categorize metrics from the tactical to strategic. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

With record expenditures in the area of Analytics occurring, and a steep rise predicted over the coming years, “Analytics” has been officially indoctrinated into the “Hall of C-Level Buzzwords.” Like most buzzwords, there is always some confusion over the actual meaning and its proper place in business.

My career in Information Technology started, in earnest, working as a Systems Integrator for MRP/ERP systems at (mostly) small businesses. At the time, “ERP” was the latest buzzword and I worked with many clients whose implementations were doomed from the start, simply because their purpose, scope, and capabilities were just not understood by the executives who were dictating their implementation. Small businesses often lack the resources to withstand failures and delays in such large-scale projects, so it was painful to watch (and more so, to participate in ) some of them.

At the time, IT was still very attached to Finance and was starting to gain a foothold as its own independent group within organizations. The CFO always seemed to be the most interested in technology and typically drove the projects, which, at least in my experience, primarily benefitted Finance. Today, we’re seeing IT crossing more into the areas of Marketing, which is exactly where the heart of analytics beats. The history of IT within organizations and the tendency of some C-Level executives to misuse buzzwords and get caught up in sales hyperbole make it important for small businesses to understand what Analytics actually is and can do for them.

Data Analytics isn’t something you can buy and plug into your business and watch run. It’s neither a marketing program, nor a panacea for an ailing marketing plan. It’s a way to connect the dots of information gathered about your customers and prospects to produce a predefined set of information for use by marketers.

The results of an analytics program should be driven by Marketing and there needs to be some predefined goals in order to produce the best results. Simply handing off volumes of data to analysts to look for trends can be like asking them to stare at the clouds and tell you what animals they see. There should be a concrete plan for what information is expected and how it will be used. That plan should be clearly communicated to everyone who touches the data.

Data Analytics is not the end of the Marketing Funnel and it’s not the start of the Marketing Plan. It’s best used to help reshape and guide marketing activities. It is, in effect, a tactical tool employed by smart marketers. Small businesses need to empower their Marketing Team with these tools, but require them to first define the use cases in order to ensure success and elicit the best ROI.

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Tough Times

Sometimes, a picture truly is worth a thousand words…

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