Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Beauty of Kaizen

If I cast my mind back several years, things were simpler. The worst case scenario was that I might fail in my career - so I just made sure I put plenty of hours in to succeed. The doubts weren't fun, but the effort paid off and over time it became easier to have fun with work. Outside of my career having fun was easier. I think it's because I wasn't doing much that I could fail at. (e.g. It would have been pretty difficult to fail at watching TV.) As soon as I started pursuing a vision of something new that I wanted, I started to experience doubts that I'd never make it. In my case I think it boils down to focus: *Trying isn't normally fun - only succeeding matters.* But trying is most of the journey, something doesn’t seem right if  the steps that get me to my goal aren't important or fun. How can I enjoy trying? How about a goal to constantly increase the beauty of the steps themselves?

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Kind of like a Japanese tea ceremony. It's only tea, the Japanese could have rushed all the steps that lead up to the tea itself, but they don't. In The Monk Who Sold his Ferrari (Robin Sharma) I learned a concept I really liked called Kaizen, which means never ending daily improvement of oneself. So I'm talking about applying Kaizen to making each step beautiful. This could be applied a lot of different ways. For example, to the interactions I have with the people I meet. The plans I make - and how well these plans treat the people they involve. How new concepts are learned. The way ideas are crystallized - captured refined and communicated. It's savouring each bite rather than rushing to get to the end. Keeping sight of where I am right now, and who's there with me and recognizing how precious that is.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Made to Measure

Mass produced or custom built? I think given the choice most people would opt for a custom made product built by an expert they trust. The obvious reasons are: better workmanship to develop a product that's tailored just for you. But I think it's more than that, I think it also comes down to the freedom the individual is given to exercise their skill. Start reducing their level of freedom and they may lose control over the process - quality drops. (maybe that's why they call it quality "control" ;-)

Take the example of a touch-less car wash vs "hand washed" alternatives. Hand washed usually results in a much better result, because the person doing the cleaning can check the work and focus more of their energy on problem areas. They are also smart enough to switch to other techniques, cleaning products, etc based on the specific situation. The auto-wash has no control, it's programmed to follow the same steps for every single car, it does what it was told, and that's that. You're expected to take it or leave it and you're probably ok with that because it's cheap and it's just a car.

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This line of thinking can lead to an interesting question about careers. As competition becomes increasingly fierce, the room for compromises in quality is small and getting smaller. But how do you avoid unacceptable compromise when you're not calling the shots?

I've outlined a few suggestions below, but the common thread that runs through all of them is that they focus on what you can control:

Expand your role
Simply try calling some of the shots (ask for more responsibility) and see what happens. You may be pleasantly surprised that your input is welcome. This works (I've tried it!)

Search for new opportunities
Invest the effort necessary to work for companies that share your values and commitment. Employers that are looking for proactive people to exercise their unique expertise (and control) to deliver outstanding results.

Start your own enterprise
Finally, there's the option to start your own business and search for customers who love your unique and uncompromising style!

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Friday, February 11, 2011

Just For Money

"The love of money is the root of all evil" or so the saying goes. I learned this lesson when I was a kid. It was taught in schools and television and it was a fairly simple concept to grasp. I mean seriously, did you ever watch an episode of Batman where the bad guys ultimately got away with the cash? I didn't.

That said if we weigh how often we heard "money is important" compared to "money isn't everything" I think most of us would quickly agree on which side the scales would fall.

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So why is this an issue? Isn't financial planning a good thing. In short, yes it is. But there's a problem. When you start a business you're often advised to do something you love doing (i.e. don't just do it for the money) and you're also told to plan carefully (i.e. think about all the boring stuff esp. the money!). Quickly the planning turns into obsessing and the next thing you know money has become the most important aspect of your business and your primary measure of success. It's around this time you may start to understand why people say the one sure way to hate doing what you love is to get paid to do it.

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From personal experience I think this happens because at the beginning of a business (love affair stage) you're doing what you love doing but in many cases you aren't seeing a lot of action from paying customers. After a while the doubts creep in … am I really any good at this? My friends and family seem to think  so … but if I was really good … wouldn't I be making some money? And if you're not careful you may end up thinking about making money more than thinking about ways to take your craft to the next level.

It's necessary to have a balance. Money is important and I'm not advocating giving everything away free of charge. Business plans are good, as is having food on the table and a roof over our heads. But perhaps success cannot or should not be measured by how much money you make. Perhaps a better measure is the people you reach and the lives you might change for the better through genuine interactions. (i.e. come from the heart)

I think it's better to put your craft first, keep doing what you're doing because you love to do it and preserve the passion and inspiration that are at the core of successful businesses. People who can do this are often amongst the most successful, because they're in it for others just as much as themselves. If you must judge your work then don't use money as a measure (often leads to damaging compromises). Keep in mind it's possible you're not making anything because you're still making a name for yourself rather than it having something to do with your potential for success.