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Do You Have the Heart For It?

Do you have the heart for it?If you were an artist, which would you choose: To create your own unique and inspired works of art (even if it meant scratching a meager living) or bring others’ inspiration to life as a well-paid, commissioned painter? In world of business, each of us makes this choice. The real question is whether you know it or not.

In high school, I was perfectly prepared to launch into a career as a starving artist. I could weave wonderfully twisted stories through oil pastels and water colors, but sadly discovered the business-side of “starving” wasn’t quite as glamourous as I’d expected. While some aspiring young artists make it in the big city, I had a change of heart. I knew it would be a long road to success (if at all), and most artists who could afford to put food on the table were commissioned. In other words, I’d have to paint others dreams to make a decent living.

While youthfully noble, I quickly inventoried my other skills and determined I would fair better in the world of technology — and actually enjoy it. So I pursued another of my goals in tandem and joined the United States Marine Corps. I became expert at  two things:

  1. Expert Rifleman: I was an expert marksman with an M-16 assault rifle, and could put a bullet in a man-size target 500 yards away in a 30 knot wind 9 out of 10 times. (Thankfully, I never had to use this skill in real life).
  2. Expert Technologist: I became expert with all manner of computer technologies, and got to work in some of the most challenging technology environments on the planet. (Thankfully, I got to use this skill a lot in real life).

Over the years, I’ve made my trade as a commissioned painter of sorts, painting beautifully intricate designs with technology for employers and clients alike. I’m especially proud of some of the things I’ve accomplished individually and as part of a larger team. My heart is always beating, leading me to new adventures.

Are You Lost?

I recently heard a speaker say, “The surest way to attract others is with a smile. Why? Because deep down, that lets others know you are passionate about what you do!”

Neither being your own artist nor being a commissioned painter is wrong. But as I look around, I see a world filled with people who want to be artists but are living off of the commission. They are desperately seeking fulfillment in a mismatched existence, falsely living the life of the other sapping their passion and joy. This ultimately leaves them impotent and dissatisfied.

Which choice have you made? Do you have the heart for it?

Are You the Boss?

Every one of your team members wants do good work. Most may not think of themselves as artists or commissioned painters, but that won’t stop you from seeing them this way. Take some time to look at yourself and your team. Seek out your hidden artists who want to be set free to create beautiful things for you and your customers. You may find that you’ve chained some too tightly, while others have unwittingly allowed themselves to become chained as a commissioned painter.

It takes a confident leader to recognize the signs, but it takes a true visionary to help others see the “right choice” in themselves. Do you have the heart for it?

 

Calling in Stupid?

“I don’t want to go to work today,” I groaned to my wife as I rolled over to slap the alarm clock for the fourth time. I didn’t go to bed until late, I tossed and turned all night and my throat is scratchy to boot.

“Then don’t,” she states flatly.

“I have to, because I’ve got this big …” I weakly respond.

Without moving a muscle, my wife flatly states, “Just call in stupid then…”

“I can do that?” I asked.

“Suuuurreee, everyone gets a free pass every quarter. You didn’t know?” as if to suggest I was on the outside looking in.

So I did… I called in stupid, and of course they bought it — hook, line and sinker! On top of that, they lowered my quota, upped my bonus and HR figured out they had goofed my compensation package (I had an extra 3 weeks of vacation coming to me)!

— Who was on the inside looking out, now!

Why didn’t someone let me in on this secret earlier?

You’ve probably ran into Stupid here or there in your life. One of my favorite comic strips, Dilbert, is Stupid epitomized and syndicated; you just can’t beat that for a good laugh if you’ve worked in the corporate world!

But if you bust your tail and work hard, meeting Stupid is infuriating. Why? Because it’s something you secretly want to do… Wouldn’t it be so nice just to pull those covers up over your head or play another round of Guitar Hero?

So, here’s the thing… call in stupid every so often. Cut yourself some slack and let your mind wonder… and the good bosses will get it. You can’t be on all the time, so don’t be — just be on when it counts!


FREE Download: 7 Secrets to Destroy Your Daily Distractions!Change starts here, with you! Throw aside assumptions and begin your journey to success today in the ChangeForge, a website, focusing on how to deliver results in the collision of business, technology and relationships. As the owner of ChangeForge, Ken Stewart is passionate about helping you solve business problems by helping to craft solutions which achieve business objectives through applying technology smartly, change management considerately, and motivational techniques genuinely.

Download his new free ebook, 7 Secrets to Destroy Your Daily Distractions: A Field Guide to Staying Focused Today!


Do You Know the Ultimate Question?

How did you answer questions before Google or Wikipedia?

For me, there was Encyclopedia Britannica, the local library and my Dad. If one of those three sources didn’t have an answer, there was little hope of ever finding an answer.

So the change was good right?

For you and me, absolutely! For the folks at Encyclopedia Britannica? Not so good.

My point is that the world around us changes and innovations are coming in exponential waves instead of every so often. We are dizzied and enthralled by the sheer amount of information being thrown at us.

So context is what’s important — importance as defined by you, dear reader, is what is most important. In other words, you are now the ultimate customer!

But if that means you are the ultimate customer, what does that make me? An ultimate customer as well! We all win, right?

Not so fast there, tiger… At the end of that question mark is a loaded weapon; if you are out there running a company focused on, selling something to or servicing that ‘ultimate customer’ you know how demanding it can be.

So how do you avoid EB’s fate? You need to be more like Google and Wikipedia, because it’s not about what you are selling — it’s about listening to what question your new customer is really asking.


FREE Download: 7 Secrets to Destroy Your Daily Distractions!Change starts here, with you! Throw aside assumptions and begin your journey to success today in the ChangeForge, a website, focusing on how to deliver results in the collision of business, technology and relationships. As the owner of ChangeForge, Ken Stewart is passionate about helping you solve business problems by helping to craft solutions which achieve business objectives through applying technology smartly, change management considerately, and motivational techniques genuinely.

Download his new free ebook, 7 Secrets to Destroy Your Daily Distractions: A Field Guide to Staying Focused Today!


Get the Message? Basecamp Eases Team Communication.

BasecampDo you spend any of your time trying to keep up with all of the chatter going on? Are you copying and pasting conversations from e-mail to some other repository – trying to keep everyone in the loop and keep you from going crazy?

I discovered that the messages function in Basecamp is a wonderful way in which to keep your entire team talking on the same page – literally. Last week in my technology spotlight, Basecamp Helps Me Get Things Done, I gave a brief overview of how easy To-Do lists are to manage in 37Signals’ Basecamp.

To help you keep track of all of the conversation, 37Signals has designed a very friendly messaging system:

  1. After successfully logging in to your Basecamp project site, navigate to your project.
  2. Click the message tab.
  3. Create a new message, choose any files you would like to upload, designate a milestone, and choose who to notify and subscribe.

That’s it. Now every project team member you selected is subscribed to your new message, and will be notified of the new message – as well as any updates to the message. Perhaps one of the best things I like about Basecamp’s messaging architecture is that once I receive an e-mail notifying me of a new message thread, I can simply reply right in line. Once submitted, not only is the message updated, but all those subscribed will also receive the update as well.

How is that for staying in the loop?

I can’t tell you how many times I missed a project meeting due to another commitment – and having a thread of back-and-forth like this would’ve helped me see exactly what I might have missed (or not missed).

I continue to be impressed with Basecamp’s ease of use and how it encourages collaboration through already adopted forms of communication like e-mail. With messages, it becomes easier to encourage or enforce connectedness for those teams busy taming the wild beasts of their corporate wilderness.

I participate in 37Signals affiliate program. If you would like to discuss Basecamp for your organization or personal productivity, I can be reached by e-mail at ken@changeforge.com or called at (864) 916-9536.


Ken Stewart’s website, ChangeForge, focuses on the collision between the constantly changing worlds of business and technology in an information-centric world. Ken serves on the board of the new Managed Print Services Association, an international industry organization seeking worldwide best practices for the managed print services industry. He is also the founder of Seeking the Son, and is always interested in connecting with you.


Basecamp Helps Me Get Things Done.

BasecampI recently rediscovered Basecamp, a Software as a Service (Saas) offering provided by 37Signals. I had used Basecamp several years back and had abandoned its use for more “enterprise-class” products – thinking they would offer more of this or that.

I found myself in my day-to-day life challenged to learn the software and bend my working habits around the software or product employed. I tried Microsoft Project, @Task, SharePoint and various other flavors of project management tools or dashboards. All were good products, and all failed me because of my lack of ability to adhere to their methodologies; I certainly don’t blame them for my failures.

So instead of me trying to mold my working habits around software, I started looking at it another way. David Allen contends that your system works when you can trust it; I couldn’t trust those other systems because I found them too cumbersome or complex for what I needed – for what my teams needed.

As I worked through my needs determination exercises from 4-6 months ago, I reviewed countless products – and every time kept coming back to Basecamp. The product didn’t clutter the landscape with fancy widgets or complex dependencies, opting for clean, concise and intuitive to pick-up.

Since then, I use it daily: the paid version for my office and free version for managing personal things – like this blog. I enjoyed what the solution provided so much, I chose to become a 37Signals affiliate.

To-Do’s Made Easy:

One of the things I enjoy most about Basecamp is perhaps the To-Do lists. This feature is available in all subscription levels – so I leverage the free version of the software to manage my editorial calendar as opposed to FriendFeed now.

I can quickly catch what’s coming up, what’s complete, and even what’s late.

Basecamp Helps Me Manage My Teams’:

I can sort my teams’ information as needed – by team member and by time. During weekly 1-on-1’s I can bring up a dashboard on my screen, run down the list of open items, dialog on what’s relevant and immediately update assignments on the spot.

While I don’t advocate managing by software, the collaborative method of the solution offers I and my team members an opportunity to both discuss whether expectations concise enough to be understood and completed.

When deadlines are missed, or project milestones aren’t achieved, following David Allen’s advice always works – trust your system. Basecamp helped me tear down the resistance I had to living inside of a so-called “box”. While I don’t have everything tied down just yet, Basecamp is letting me  gain oversight of the enormous number of projects and tasks in my life and start letting my brain rest.

Let me know if you would like to discuss Basecamp for your organization or personal productivity. I’m happy to help in any capacity I can, and can be reached by e-mail at ken@changeforge.com or called at (864) 916-9536.

Stop by next Friday as I review the Messages option within BaseCamp for both your teams and clients.


Ken Stewart’s website, ChangeForge, focuses on the collision between the constantly changing worlds of business and technology in an information-centric world. Ken serves on the board of the new Managed Print Services Association, an international industry organization seeking worldwide best practices for the managed print services industry. He is also the founder of Seeking the Son. He is always interested in connecting with you.


Dogfooding: Using What You Sell Is The Currency Your Customers Accept.

dogfooding Have you ever felt worse after hanging up the phone or walking out of the store, because when talking to the person representing the company from which you just purchased a product or service – they didn’t believe what they were telling you?

It’s not that they are intentionally lying; They are just showing you they are either apathetic or have surrendered.

… And let’s blame someone; The failure starts with those charged with executing on the mission of the company and honoring the covenants with their associates. (Ideally you would want everyone in the company to think the buck stopped with them when dealing with customers.)

Have you ever heard the phrase, “Eat one’s own dog food,”? Dogfooding, as it has come to be known, is a colloquialism which harkens back to an actor who claimed to feed his own dogs Alpo. Thus, if it was good enough for his dogs, it was good enough to feed your own.

In 1988, it made it’s way to popularity in an e-mail Microsoft’s Paul Maritz sent Brian Valentine, titled “Eating our own Dogfood”, which challenged Brian to increase internal usage of the company’s own products.

I’m a believer in using what we sell in our own business. After all, can’t you tell a story better if you have lived it!

Show your customers just how committed you are to not just talking the talk of a “solutions provider” but actually empowering your team to tell a POWERFUL story about how their company made their lives easier – and let them tell the customers they serve!

If we show our team we can solve their problems, wouldn’t it stand to reason they will be our most vocal advocates to our customers we can solve their business problems too – and not just try to sell them something because we have 10 left in a warehouse?

Image courtesy of TenSafeFrog.


Ken Stewart’s website, ChangeForge, focuses on the collision between the constantly changing worlds of business and technology in an information-centric world. Ken serves on the board of the new Managed Print Services Association, an international industry organization seeking worldwide best practices for the managed print services industry. He is also the founder of Seeking the Son. He is always interested in connecting with you.


Seeing is Believing: What’s Wrong with Telecommuting?

Telecommuting: Seeing is Believing If it weren’t for the fact that everyone loves seeing my happy and smiling face at work I think I could really get into telecommuting – well except for the fact that my daughter seems to think the world lives to give her attention…

That aside, where else can you work in PJ’s, wear bedroom slippers, and sip on a latte while relaxing from your arm chair? I don’t have bedroom slippers, so I suppose I would have to expense those. But other than that – I got this gig down:

I have remote software on all of the servers, remote software to access any desktop or notebook I need, a VoIP handset to talk, e-mail for managing the tasks, instant messenger (IM) to chat, and a BlackBerry for errands. I’m all set.

Seeing is Believing:

People don’t see me, and what most people don’t see they don’t believe. Sure, many of us ‘technologists’ get it. We are mobile professionals on the road – and we judge performance based upon the results – right!?

Do the Benefits Outweigh the Perception?

Many organizations, including government, has turned to telecommuting as a cost-friendly way to maintain increasing demand for results. The benefits of telecommuting are wonderful:

  1. Higher productivity: More relaxed attitude and less office distractions.
  2. Lower overhead: lower expenses related to facilities costs.
  3. Other perks: lower fuel costs for the employees can equate to a raise for a creative manager.
  4. The list goes on…

The perception, however, can be a much different thing.

Perception is Reality:

I would venture a guess that most of you reading this blog are technologically – well, shall we say – progressive. You thirst for knowledge, to connect, to create… Sadly, you make up a smaller percentage of the workforce.

Thus toots the train of thought many executives travel upon.

“It is not the spoon that bends …

… but you that bends around the spoon,” as the quote goes. In essence, you have to see your way around the wall that is common misperception regarding telecommuters: that is they are hard to manage, hard to communicate with, and can be lazy.

I like to think of myself as a progressive leader, and make no mistake, that is what it takes to buy into a modern day vision of the mobile worker. However, I was recently bitten by a telecommuter for a SharePoint project I am working on that had the makings of a nightmare.

At the outset of the project, I had spent over a week trying to connect, but due to schedules it took us quite some time. Then there was the business of setting access and signing contracts. After these items were settled in, it took us another few days to connect – and to my dismay we only connected via IM – well after business hours?

Well, we discussed this and that, and this developer had a seemingly wonderful grasp upon some of the nuances of SharePoint development. I was promised a statement/estimate of work, and thus we were off.

Then a week came and went – no statement of work – no visible results. Then another week began to pass, and I initiated contact only to find no response, no work, nothing.

So it is that I, the progressively-minded leader, was bitten. I should’ve heard the alarm-bells, no the sirens, of project mismanagement missteps across the board – but I allowed myself to deviate from my standard management practices – all in the name of telecommuting.

So, there is a lesson somewhere inside, or else I will just feel miserable having wasted 4 weeks of my project portfolio’s time.

Telecommuting; the Brutal Truth:

What was my mistake? Not remembering that telecommuting is no different than comparing wired to wireless networks. Both have their places, but telecommuting is simply a medium of transport. Have some faith in the fact that belief does not have to be determined by sight alone.


Ken Stewart’s blog, ChangeForge.com, focuses on the collision between the constantly changing worlds of business and technology. Ken is also the Director of Technology at Kearns Business Solutions.


The 1% – How Do You Define Yourself?

Liu Xang - HurdlesDoes your rule to deal with a single occurrence of misdeed adversely affect the other 99% of your customers?

How many of you have experienced the broad hand of “justice” due to a fellow associates selfish behavior? Have you not felt slighted because of a broad and over-arching policy that restricts everyone due to a few people’s negligence?

Now, think of how your customers feel when you implement broad and sweeping “policies” because of one moment of pain or exposure.

It is easy to become myopic – and see only the pain inflicted by one instance of wrong-doing.

In business we must resist striking hard and fast rules due to a moment of pain; we must forcibly calm ourselves and step away from the situation to allow our mind an opportunity to calm down, relax, and regain perspective.

All to often we find ourselves reacting to a situation rather than planning on how to proactively avoid it. Surely, sometimes painful or difficult tasks cannot be avoided – only endured. However, throughout the experience we must maintain our sights upon the greater vision of our goal; If we focus too intently upon the hurdle right in front of us we may just miss where to place our foot on the other side.

By maintaining the obstacle in front of us in the peripheral of our mind’s eye and focusing on the goal ahead of us can we prevent ourselves from be pulled back into the daily grind of act-and-react so many in Corporate Americans fail to see past – and help us keep the relative stress at bay.

So next time you are tempted to jump the gun and react – remember, your ability to clearly perceive the issue at hand and decide upon an appropriate response is a clear indication of your character as a person.

Do not allow this moment to define you, but allow yourself to define this as your moment.


Ken Stewart’s blog, ChangeForge.com, focuses on the collision between the constantly changing worlds of business and technology. Ken is also the Director of Technology at Kearns Business Solutions.


Are you part of the problem or part of the solution?

Nick Burns, Your Company's Computer Guy

When you think of IT, MIS, or any other acronymn used to describe the technology department of a company, what is the image that comes to mind? Does it resemble a Saturday Night Live skit Nick Burns, Your Company’s Computer Guy?

Many IT-types have bemoaned the fact that technologists have gotten a bad wrap. I wonder why that is?

Simply put, the stereotypical computer tech was always long on computer wisdom but terribly short on the softer skills in life, such as tact and social grace. I am not totally sure whether most computer guys had watched too much Gordon Gekko and fancied themselves all powerful, or if they just didn’t notice they were alienating their customers. Either way, the end result was the creation of our famous stereotype, Nick Burns…

As a manager, culture is one of the most delicate things to balance. Do you choose the talented player that can put points on the board and overlook some ‘minor’ team-fit issues? Do you sacrifice and choose a mediocre player that can get along with everyone and take direction?

That’s a trick question, to a certain extent. You choose neither. It is possible to choose talented players, but you can’t forsake the overall team concept. Combined, individuals can accomplish wonderful and extraordinary things. So don’t sell yourself short and let your ‘IT rooster” rule the roost. It won’t be as easy as pounding your fist, and you have to decide for yourself if your IT guy is your go-to-guy.

If you are an IT guy or gal, make sure you put yourself in a position to be the go-to-guy (or gal). By keeping customer service in the forefront of your mind and engaging in your culture you may not win employee of the year, but you could get a reputation for solving problems rather than being one.