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September 24, 2009

Roll With The Changes

Going back to the 2008 Presidential election, change has been in the air and in our vocabulary.  Candidates from both major parties promised some sort of change, and I think that one reason Obama won is that he seemed like the bigger change of the two.

It's interesting now that our legislators and much of the general public is getting very tentative about change.  Healthcare reform is a huge change and should be scrutinized carefully.  But, it seems now that almost any sort of change is running into resistance even though that's what the majority of the electorate voted for.

Working with change is the subject of this post (not healthcare reform).  Many organizations and groups I am working with are struggling with changes.  People often talk about the needs for change as it is easy to identify problems with the status quo.  It's much harder to embrace the changes that address those problems.

And, in the dynamic environment we live in today, change is a constant.  In fact, you have to accept changing conditions as the status quo.  I think that the best leaders are the ones who are the catalyst for change and who build their organizations to incorporate changing conditions into their normal work expectations.  Change isn't an irritant that causes you to do or learn something new.  Instead, change is an exciting element that keeps you always thinking and on your toes.

I was first exposed to these ideas back in 1987 when I first read Tom Peters' Thriving on Chaos.  That book is a bit out of date now, but it opened my eyes up to a different way to manage people and organizations.  I still think about things I learned from that book.  It taught me that you could empower the people who worked for you to respond to customer and market demands dynamically.  This is key for many organizations and still applies today.

The CEO needs to be the catalyst for change.  If the CEO has trouble dealing with changes or is slow to react to market changes, it will stilt a company's growth.  Instead, the CEO should be pushing for rapid reactions to market conditions and customer requests.  Procedures and approval processes are all subject to regular improvement.  If the CEO models this, it will trickle down.

One thing that empowers employees is knowing that anyone can come up with new ideas that will be embraced by the organization.  This is critical for a strong company culture.  You want to leverage the ideas of the people who are closest to the product, process, market, or customer that you are dealing with.  This is regardless of rank or status.  Of course, new ideas have to be vetted before they are implemented.  But, they should always be considered.

An environment where positive changes constantly occur is one that is more engaging for the employees.  Change should be thrilling and shouldn't be loathed.  It keeps you mentally sharp.

If you are having trouble accepting change, I recommend the clean sheet of paper approach.  Throw out everything historical that is holding you back.  Make no assumptions based on the way things have always been done.  Instead, think of how things would be if you were starting from scratch.  Once that's clear in your mind, you should make that your goal.  If it's the optimal solution, you need to get there.  And, you need to blast through the roadblocks that are hanging on to the status quo.  Don't accept "we've always done it that way" as a reason for continuing.

If your organization is still resisting change, shake things up.  Switch where people sit in your weekly meeting, change the time or agenda of regular meetings, and move around desks or offices.  Be the catalyst for new thinking and adopting change.  Or, you'll be left behind by your competitors who do.

September 23, 2009

Sleep No More

I've seen something really different.  I was lucky enough to get a sneak preview of the site being used for the production of Sleep No More, put on by the American Repertory Theater.  Sleep No More is an inside-out version of Macbeth with a Hitchcock aesthetic.  I'm sworn to secrecy on the details, but I'll try to give a taste of what to expect.

First of all, why did I have to tour a site?  Isn't a play put on in a theater?  Maybe so, but not this one.  The site of the production is the Old Lincoln School in Brookline.  And not the auditorium in the school.  THE WHOLE SCHOOL.  The entire building is transformed into a 50-room immersive landscape where the characters of Macbeth live their lives.  The lines of the play aren't Shakespeare's text.  Instead, there is an explosion of material to fill in gaps so that each character has something to do and say the whole time.

Audience members can come and go throughout the whole site as they wish.  You can touch the sets and get close to the actors.  You can explore as you wish, and I imagine that different people will have different strategies for experiencing the production.  Although I've seen the location, I still don't know exactly what to expect.  It's all very hush hush.

You can get an idea of what to expect by reading about the London production that was smaller and simpler in 2003.  This production is put on by the same company, Punchdrunk, that specializes in these immersive theater experiences.

Here are some quotes from an interview with the director, Felix Barrett:

RH: What is the role of audience members in Punchdrunk’s work?

FB: Punchdrunk’s core belief is that the audience is the center of the action. In most theaters, you switch off your body and it’s just your brain watching. With Punchdrunk we flip this notion. We bring the body back to life. The audience can’t be passive. They have to go out there and find the action for themselves. The audience enters into the building in small groups. It’s up to them to decide where to go. No one tells them what to do. They have complete power to decide which journey they take, so each audience member has a different experience.  And each audience member is also given a prop that makes them anonymous – they become ghosts, haunting the space and the story.

RH: If there were one thing you would want audiences to know about Punchdrunk or Sleep No More,what would it be?

FB: We’re asking audiences to come with a sense of adventure. The more curious you are, the more you’ll discover. There are many secrets hidden within the building. We need our audience to go hunting. You may arrive with a group of friends, but once everyone’s inside, it’s better to go hunting alone. How often do you have the chance to be a solitary audience member with one performer? It’s a magical moment. The more courageous you are, the more delights you will find.

Here's something else to both whet your appetite or confuse you.  To see how this relates to the show, you'll have to come see Sleep No More (October 8, 2009 - January 3, 2010).

September 21, 2009

The Pats are 1-1, but I am 0-2


I've been making weekly bets on the Patrios games, vs. the point spread.  So far, I've lost them both.  The Pats just barely beat Buffalo as big favorites (11 points).  And, they lost to the Jets while being favored by 3 1/2 points.  As the loser, I've been updating my Facebook and Twitter profile photos with pictures featuring the winning team's caps.  I was traveling immediately after the Buffalo game, so I only had a photo of the cap.  Today I actually bought a Jets cap (not easy to find in Boston) and took this photo.  No one said I had to smile!

I've got a bet on with another friend for the Falcons game this Sunday.  I am still in search of a Baltimore Ravens fan for a bet on the October 4th game.  Let me know if you want to take up this bet with me.  I'm a glutton for punishment, I guess.

I've been disappointed with how the Patriots have played so far, but there is room for some optimism.  I think that their offense has underperformed more than their defense, and it's easier to imagine the offense playing a lot better.  So, they should improve, although they games may turn into shootouts.

The next two games, vs. Atlanta and Baltimore, are at home.  These games will define their season.  These are two good teams, both undefeated so far.  If the Patriots play well and win, they can consider themselves a good team, too.  If not, it will be puzzling mediocrity.

September 11, 2009

Grow up, Seymour

I always liked Richard Seymour as a New England Patriot.  Even when he held out for a new contract, I thought he did it the 'right' way -- not complaining to the media and doing as much as possible to avoid distracting the team.  He's an excellent player.  I was shocked when he was traded to the Raiders.  Although I think it was a great trade for the long-term, it certainly hurts the Patriots a bit for this season.  I hope they can use the freed up salary space to sign other players, like Vince Wilfork.

But, I don't understand why Seymour doesn't report to Oakland.  If he doesn't want to play for them (or move his family), he has one option -- retire.  As Rodney Harrison pointed out yesterday, that's the downside of making so much money as an NFL player.  You lose the freedom of controlling where you can play.  But, as Harrison said, you do that in exchange for a lifetime of financial stability.  As someone who was unceremoniously dumped by the Chargers before the Patriots picked him up, he knows what he's talking about.  And, it's a reasonable opinion.

So, Richard, you don't have a lot of options.  You can try to get Oakland to agree to not put the franchise tag on you at the end of the season so you can get out of there.  But, if they do, you'll make something like the $17M guaranteed to Julius Peppers this past year.  Not exactly slavery.  Since Oakland traded a very valuable draft pick for you, they may want to keep that option open.  Oakland, however, can put you on 5 days notice (if they haven't aleady).  Once that is over, you lose the entire season.  No money, no playing time toward your NFL pension.  And, you have to play in Oakland in 2010 anyway for the 2009 salary.  If you get close to that brink, you'll certainly burn a lot of bridges with Oakland's players and fans, making this year even worse for you.

So, show up and play for your $3.6M.  Maybe you could show Oakland a bit of that Patriots class that you had here for so many years.  That might make your time there a bit better.

Or, you can retire.  You've made a bunch of money, so you don't have to play football.  That's your choice.  Just be a grown-up and face up to the facts.

Something else we've lost since 9/11

Everyone's thinking back to 9/11/2001 today.  Hard to believe that 8 years have passed.  As is the case with many people in Boston and New York, I know quite a few people who lost family members and friends during that tragedy.  It's hard to forget the feelings of fear and helplessness that we all had then.

The other thing I remember was how the whole country came together in the wake of the tragedy.  It was America at its best.  People stepping up to help out in any way they could.  We all united behind President Bush, including those of us who didn't support him.  The very large majority of the rest of the world also supported us.  I worked at a transatlantic firm in 2001, and I remember the heartfelt words of support we received from our European colleagues.  It made the world feel smaller and closer.  Unfortunately, in the US we've lost that feeling of pulling in the same direction.

I am all for vigorous debate on the issues.  Health care reform is a huge change.  Although I generally support President Obama, I have concerns about health care reform -- I am worried about how we will afford to cover everyone and how we will stop the rapid growth of health care costs.  But, the debate has been about death panels, funding abortions, health care for illegal immigrants, etc.  None of these points are in the bill.  If there are loopholes in the bill that cover these, then let's debate those.

But, when the President addresses these matters point blank to Congress and is called a liar by a member of the House, that's way too far.  And, when that House member then tries to raise money based on this improper behavior, it shows that we've lost our way. 

Even scarier is what I heard on Fresh Air yesterday.  The hatred and lies that these far right wing lunatics spew is thinly veiled racism.  The fact that they have a large audience should scare all of us.  We'll never get anything done here without fact-based political debate.  And, the hate-filled anarchistic vitriol in the name of 'America' is what fueled the biggest terrorist attack in the US before 9/11, the Oklahoma City bombing.  It's the furthest thing from the tolerance that is the basis of American freedom.

We should all speak out against this type of slanted lie-filled lunacy.  And, set an example by engaging in a fact-based debate on the issues.  Thank goodness I live in Massachusetts where even the Republicans are reasonable!

September 03, 2009

Putting Your Hat Where Your Mouth Is

Football season is about to start.  And, hope springs eternal for most fans.  Things look good for my New England Patriots, although questions remain about their defense.

I've started to arrange a series of bets relating to the Patriots games this season.  For each game, I will make a bet with one person, using the point spread, for the Patriots.  The loser will have to wear the winning team's hat in their online profile (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.) for one week.  I'll post the results (and the pictures) each week.

I've got someone to take this bet for Week #1 vs. the Buffalo Bills and Week #2 vs. the New York Jets.  I am on the lookout for a Falcons fan and a Ravens fan for Weeks #3 and #4.  If you are interested in taking on a bet for those weeks, let me know.

Go Pats!

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