How to REALLY Keep your Exercise Resolution

I’m a regular power-walker. Out-the-door before 7, back before 8. I do about two and a half miles each day – half flat, half hills. More on weekends if it’s cloudy. I allow myself one day a week to skip my AM walk. Usually Friday; never Monday. I started in my 40’s, and have kept it up for more than a decade.

Here’s what I’ve learned about exercise…

It MUST be a Morning Routine

Exercise is not about discipline, not about strength, not about willpower. Exercise is about routine. Change yours to include 30 minutes of walking in the morning. The routine will change your life.

“I’m NOT a morning person…” (Already with the excuses?) No one is asking you to host a TV talk show. You don’t need to be “on.” You need to get your ass out of bed.

Mornings are the only time you truly have control over your day. Once your day starts, you will be overcome by events. You’ll go after work? Liar. You can do more exercise after work should you choose (and eventually you will, like I did with my yoga practice), but as a minimum, you must commit to a routine of regular AM walks.

No One is “Motivated”

I hear this all the time, and it irritates the hell out of me. “I’m just not motivated to exercise….” What is it about Americans that we feel entitled to be “motivated” before we do anything? I’m completely unmotivated to clean the bathroom, empty the dishwasher, paint the house trim, or pick up dog poop. I also have zero motivation to be at work on time, but I do it anyway.

Anyone who sticks with an exercise routine has accepted that they will never feel motivated to do it. Ten plus years, I still don’t feel any more motivation than I did day one. Is it easier? Yes. Do I enjoy it? No. I tolerate it. There’s no joy; it’s not fun. As a grown-up, you need to accept that not everything you do in life is enjoyable. I accept that exercise is an unpleasant chore, and it’s a chore that only I can do. If I could hire someone to do it for me, I would.

Think of your AM power walks like the bus. No one is motivated to take the bus. But, if the bus is the only way to get to work, and your choices are 1) take the bus or 2) live under a bridge, you’ll change your schedule, and find a way to take the bus.

Forget an Exercise “Buddy”

Another piece of worthless advice given annually by skinny bitches on talk TV. You want a buddy? Get a dog. You and your chubby friends are NOT good motivators for each other (see above). What is more likely to happen is that you will talk each other out of going, or worse, talk each other into indulging your mutual bad habits (“Sandy was late, and I just wasn’t motived, so we went to Starbucks ….”)

It’s difficult enough to keep your own routine. If you attempt to intertwine it daily with another adult, you will fail. Focus on your time, your schedule, your needs. If you truly want a buddy, hire a trainer. They’re always happy to take your money, whether you show up or not.

Don’t Waste Time Looking Good

Every January, I see a big increase in the number of people on the trails, in the gym, and at the studio. When I attempt to predict who will still be there in March, my first cut are the ones who are dressed well.

People with real exercise routines aren’t interested in looking good (see: lack of motivation); they’ve expended all their energy just getting there. They’re dressed in shitty sweats, ripped tee shirts. Myself included. I roll out of bed, use the bathroom, and immediately put on the shorts, tee shirt, socks, and the hoodie I laid out the night before. Sneakers, ponytail, hook up the dog, and out the door. No makeup. No teeth brushing. No coffee. No cell phone. No internal bargaining. No distractions. No excuses.

The folks you see out at 6 am look just as shitty as you do, and they’re not interested in chatting. They’re tired, grumpy, and want to get it done so they can start their day.

Don’t Bring Anything with You

Poop bags are attached to the leash. No cell phone, no keys. Water? Plu-eeze! You’re not going to dehydrate in 30-60 minutes. Coffee, nope. Have it when you get back.

Why take nothing? Because it’s distracting. If I take my phone, I’m checking every single beep. If I turn off the beeps, I’m checking anyway. If something comes in, I’m tempted to respond. Keys? Don’t need ’em. Why take the chance of losing them? Water, coffee? I don’t want to carry anything.

Anything you take with you is a distraction. The longer you’re distracted, the longer it takes. Don’t dawdle. Get it done.

++++

Now the good news: Once your routine is established (which takes about two weeks, couple months to seal it in), exercise will become easier. Easier is not enjoyable, however, easier is just a less painful. Other good news: As your body becomes more fit, it calls you toward foods that are less detrimental to your health. It will also call you toward longer walks, and bigger hills. This is about a lifestyle, not a goal. Honor your body, not your ego.

Most importantly, be mindful of negative self-talk. Replace “I’m so fat, and out of shape,” with “I’m out here doing it, not just talking about it.” Replace “I’ll never be able to climb that hill,” with “I’ll take the hill little-by-little, and stop whenever I want to catch my breath. It’s not a competition.” And, finally, replace “I can’t wait until I’m thin, and I don’t have to do this anymore,” with “I’m committed to a lifetime of health, and I start every day renewing that commitment.”

Happy Wandering!

Copyright 2021 Pierce/Wharton Research, LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this post shall be reproduced without permission.

11 Things that Are Better Because of Covid

We are changed by every failure, set-back, disaster, or crisis we encounter. Covid is the most profound of events because it has affected each of us personally, and our communities and nations globally.  No one has escaped. No one is immune.

As vaccines are distributed and the smoke begins to clear, we need to ask, “What is the gift?”  Here’s 11 of ‘em…

~ 1 ~ Our Neighbors

I’ve met more of my neighbors in the past eight months than I have in the past eight years. People are home. They have time to chat.  The want to chat…! Pre-Covid, I would be socializing with my co-workers at after-work happy hours, but that’s not going to happen when you’re on Zoom. 

There’s little doubt we will see our social lives shift from work-centric to community centric. Maybe that’s why we’re all moving someplace else….

~ 2 ~ Our Technical Prowess

We’re using our laptops, pads, mobile and Bluetooth devices more effectively, and for things we never did before.  This is important because technology doesn’t improve without user feedback.

User feedback allows technologists to improve software quickly and more meaningfully.  Be prepared for a big leap forward in our quality of connectedness.

The great thing about technology is that the more people use it, the better it gets.

~ 3 ~ Our Cooking

Tearing up your own lettuce at .89 cents a bunch isn’t as burdensome as once thought. Kids are cooking real meals, planning menus, using fractions, and everyone is wondering why we weren’t doing this before.

Don’t get me wrong: I love eating in a restaurant and having people bring me stuff. But, I also realize that eating out used a lot of my disposable income that probably could have been spent on investment, not, literally, consumption.

~ 4 ~ Our Savings

Not eating out, not commuting, no coffee snacks, dry cleaning, happy hour(s), multiple vehicles, soccer fees, miscellaneous mall trips….Perhaps Wall Street is doing so well because there’s not much else to buy?

For those who have escaped lay-offs and can work virtually, the cost of going back and forth to an office is abundantly clear. And, after a year of gitn’ er done from home, it’s doubtful anyone is going to cough up a big chunk of his/her net income just to commute into an office again every day.

~ 5 ~ Our Employers

Employers now realize they actually need their employees! They’ve become obnoxiously pro-family – almost to the point of being anti-single — and many (sheepishly) admit that their 1950’s insistence that everyone be on-site every day was more about tradition (and control), not so much about collaboration and teamwork.

The more people work virtually, the better they will get at it. 

Virtual work has its advantages (and challenges), and not everyone is going to survive (or thrive), in a cyber office. But, make no mistake, those without the self-discipline to meet deadlines and the responsibilities of a virtual team and managers who cannot manage virtual teams or projects will soon find themselves on the shelf (next to the thermal Fax machine).

~ 6 ~ Our Weight

At the beginning of this pandemic, I saw a big increase in people on the hiking trails and local jogging routes.  Many were clearly new to exercise.  A few months in, some potatoes have returned to their couches, but not all. 

Exercise isn’t about motivation; it’s about habits. And bravo to those who have changed theirs to reflect a commitment to their health.

~ 7 ~ Our Compassion

Racial inequities, disconsolate healthcare workers, grieving families, food lines that stretch for miles.  Pain has a unique way of stripping away all the bullshit and exposing the true essence of humanity.

Covid has been an accelerant of social change.  With sickness and death all around, we’ve been forced to see parts of ourselves and our lives, and others, in a way we never did before.  We’re all better for it.

~ 8 ~ Our Supply Chain

While military logistics plays a huge role in vaccination efforts, companies like Amazon, Walmart, Kroger, CVS – millions of restaurants, processors, growers and the myriad of private delivery services pivoted in a way that could never have been accomplished by a government bureaucracy.

Urban warehousing, drones, and delivery-o’-everything will improve to provide for our just-in-time toilet paper needs.

~ 9 ~ The News

At first, everyone was grappling with how to produce a show using just video.  But, they figured it out, and it has a lot of advantages.

Because there’s no need for the guest to physically be there, we’re able to hear voices, insights, and opinions that probably would not have made it to the “lame” stream media. Audio and video quality that would have been unacceptable 12 months ago isn’t even questioned now.

More of us are actively seeking unfiltered information. We want to hear exactly what was said, not some politically spun version of alternative facts.  That doesn’t mean anyone will change her/his mind, but it’s good to know that real information is out there, and lots of bona fide journalists are, too.

~ 10 ~ Our Homes

If you drive for a living, and you would need a different vehicle than you would for occasion use.  The same is true for the home office.  A small bedroom was fine for the random WFH day or to check email on Sunday.  Eight-to-nine-hours-five-day-a-week-and-weekends.  Now, you’re under house arrest. 

The connected home, IoT, learning centers and the need for multiple home offices will force a change in residential architecture. The need for both functional and attractive family “business” centers has just begun.

~ 11 ~ Our Government Services

Yeah, I said it.  Bravado and bluster are part of America’s global bad rep’ (We’re #1!), But, when people are sick, dying, afraid, and the economy is in shambles, you begin to recognize that integrity, hard work, and statesmanship is the social compact we really entered into.  We pay taxes for leadership, macro- planning, infrastructure, and services that cannot be provided by the private sector. I’m happy that Amazon can deliver my socks.  I think I still want the CDC or NIH to be in the public health business. 

Finally, I think this pandemic has ended the, “Teachers don’t work very hard,” fantasy.

This has been a difficult year for everyone – no one has escaped loneliness, sadness, and at times, the overwhelming feeling of hopelessness.  Perhaps a moment to reflect on the good that has come from this can help ease these pains. We will never return to where we were, but now that we can see where we’re going, it looks to be pretty okay….

Happy Holidays!

Copyright 2020 Pierce/Wharton Research, LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this post shall be reproduced without permission.

How Would YOU Caption This?

This cartoon and it’s original caption, “Describe what you can bring to this company,” has gone viral on Twitter and FB. I’ve collected a few hilarious – and a few very pointed – responses off the various feeds, and I would like to hear….

How would you caption this?

~Well, you are the most qualified, but I’m not sure I want to get a beer with you.

~I don’t disagree with your recommendations, but you need to tone down your presentation. You don’t want to sound bitter.

~We are ready to begin the inquiry into the sexual harassment complaint you filed.

~If you work really, really hard and prove yourself, we might consider hiring you full time.

~I’m not sure that the team will respond to your management style.

~The most important thing is we hire someone who reflects our culture and values.

~I’ll have the turkey wrap, and make sure there’s enough cookies and water for the afternoon.

“~~my life debating Republicans in committee each week.” – AOC

~I’m not sure you have the leadership skills for this job.

~We’re looking for a team player. Are you a team player?

~If all you bring is your gender and skin color, then you aren’t worth very much.”

W2 or C2C?

One of the questions I get asked most often from those considering contract work is whether to work as a W2 contractor or should they incorporate so they can bill corp-to-corp (C2C).  The answer is – it depends – and it mostly depends on you.

If you are going to contract long term, or you have a particular expertise that you sell, eventually you will move from working as a W2 Contract Employee to working as an Independent / Incorporated contractor or consultant.  Being independent means that you could be billing on a 1099 basis or you could be incorporated and use your corporation to bill the agent or client corp-to-corp (C2C).  Being independent means you are viewed as a business, which is a separate legal entity from yourself. When you’re independent, you have all the privileges and responsibilities of a business owner. “Responsibilities” is the key word here:  If you choose either 1099 or C2C, you will take home a lot more money than you would as a W2 Employee. But if you are not prepared to handle the responsibilities of being self-employed, mo’ money mo’ problems.

Whether you are a sole proprietor, in a partnership, or a principal of a corporation, if you are deriving “Schedule C” income, you are responsible for obtaining business licenses, paying business taxes, keeping accurate records, maintaining general liability, and other types of insurance.  If you’re working as a vendor, you may need to purchase and maintain your own tools, equipment, prepare your own contracts, invoices, and track your payables and receivables. Some clients will provide you a 1099 form for taxes; some do not. Sometimes they’re accurate; sometimes not.  Regardless, you are responsible for an audit trail of your gross receipts and expenses, maintaining bank records, and insuring you adhere to all applicable laws. You need to be prepared to prove everything if there is a discrepancy, and there will be.

When you are independent or incorporated, you are a vendor. Instead of a job description, you have a statement of work (SOW). The SOW details what you are to accomplish for the client, a time frame for doing so, and what the payment and acceptance criteria are. SOWs can be very general or very specific. Its specificity varies by the complexity of the project and your relationship with the client.

When you are a vendor, the client cannot dictate the means by which you complete your work.  So, if you wanted to assembly your PB&J in a different order in your kitchen that is your prerogative. The client can only accept or reject the work.

Most importantly, if you are billing as an independent or incorporated contractor, you do NOT have the same legal protections as you would as a W2 contractor. You are a vendor, just like the Crystal Geyser guy. If the customer decides to go with Sparkletts, Crystal Geyser doesn’t file for unemployment. If the delivery truck gets stolen, Crystal Geyser doesn’t ask the customer to buy them a new one. Similarly, like the Crystal Geyser vendor, you also have an implied warranty with your service.  If something goes wrong, your service is defective, you drop your Pepsi on someone’s laptop, it’s not a “My bad!” you are financially liable for that expense.  If your work is on the critical path of a project, be sure to talk to an insurance agent and your client to ensure you have the coverage you need.  If you own things – like a house – and want to keep it, you’ll need to incorporate.

You want to run a business?  Make big bucks?  We live in a litigious society. Don’t take chances.

Unlike W2 workers, your client will pay you every 30 days just like they pay all their other vendors. But, what if your client doesn’t pay you in 30 days? What if they pay you every 45 days or 60 days?  Or not at all? How long will you keep working without being paid?  A week?  A month?  Two months? How will you collect if they don’t pay?  What if they claim your work is defective, and they refuse to pay?   Similarly, who pays for your travel expenses? Are you putting them on your credit card and waiting for reimbursement? What if they don’t reimburse you or take months to do so? I’ve worked in big corporate offices my entire life: You’d be amazed how many rich companies don’t pay their bills on time.

If you can’t say no, can’t write a contract, could never see yourself suing someone, or all this sounds just too unpleasant for you, don’t waste time billing as an independent or incorporated contractor. I’ve listened to lots of stories (mostly from women I’m sorry to say) who thought they could handle this kind of relationship, and ended up being taken advantage of by someone who was really, really going to pay them as soon as <crisis> passed.

I can assure you that no one is more unpleasant than someone who owes you money.

When you bill as an independent contractor, you’re running a business. Why are you taking out a cash advance at 24 percent to pay your bills while your client (or worse, agent!) heads out to dinner with a full tank of gas in his BMW?

I can assure you that no one is more unpleasant than someone who owes you money, but when you truly work for yourself, you can’t put up with excuses. Other people’s bills and emergencies and sick kids are NOT your problem. Always track your hours and tasks; always keep copies of your work.  Be prepared to withhold work until you are paid for it.  Be prepared to walk off the job if you’re not paid on time, and be prepared to sue.  If you have a tough time sticking up for yourself, can’t handle people’s anger, or you’re afraid of being “mean,” being independent or incorporated is absolutely not for you.

++++++++++++++++++

Capture

Excerpted from: The Temp Job: A Survival Guide for the Contingent Worker. Copyright 2017 Pierce/Wharton Research, LLC.  All rights reserved.  No part of this post shall be reproduced without permission. info@piercewharton.com.

The Vol-en-Told Analyst: Three Things NOT to Do

So, your <checkwriter> has determined you can’t afford an analyst for your technology project.  Instead, they want you to do it. (You? Have they met you?)  After Googling “business analyst,” and “elicit” you realize you’re even more clueless than you thought.  Worse, your PM and development team just asked you what the team should start working on….

I can’t teach you to be me, but I can tell you a few things I definitely would NOT do…..

Don’t Become Immersed in Current State

Resist the temptation to become (another) subject matter expert (SME). Chances are you’ve got lots of people in the weeds.  Ask them about the swamp; do not get in there with them. You’ll learn along the way…

Too often novice analysts (and insecure project managers) focus on mastering (and tirelessly documenting) the current state – as if having a Visio now makes it okay to finally get rid of it!  Business process owners are also guilty of the “let me show you ….” instead of providing an answer to your question. Steer clear!  If not, you’ll find yourself burning week(s) learning and flowing out someone’s job when all you really needed was agreement on a data set for the cloud architect.

Unless current state flows and docs are a specific deliverable in the project’s SOW, don’t waste time documenting system’s past. Focus your efforts on eliciting the information you need from your SMEs to define, build, and document future workflows, future components, future interfaces, the future.

Don’t Be Afraid to Assign Deliverables

One of core responsibilities of the team’s analyst to provide the infrastructure and artifacts needed by the appdev (and devops) team so they can build (and test) software.  That doesn’t mean that the analyst is the only person who has to write stuff down.

Every team has a different division of labor, and each analyst has a different style and approach.  Style notwithstanding, we can all agree that I cannot do a Vulcan mind-meld with the DB architect.  I need a schema and component diagram (regularly updated) regardless of how busy you are. Similarly, business process owners aren’t exempt from writing stuff down, either.  I need a list of the exact data points everyone wants retained.  Another demo of “how I do it now,” isn’t a deliverable.

The beauty of a Waterfall effort is that there are clearly defined inputs and outputs. The Gantt is not forgiving.  It shows everyone in the room if a gate is open/closed, and who/what is keeping that gate from closing.  The beauty (and curse) of Agile is that it’s much more flexible. Things requiring more discussion, bigger decisions, “grooming and refinement” can easily be re-prioritized in favor of backlog items upon which there is violent agreement.  As an analyst, you offer insight and best practice advice, but at the end of the day, deliverables codify key business decisions. I can’t make those for you.

Don’t Forget Whose Side You’re On

Whose side are you on?  The Development Team. Period. Why? Because that’s the team you’re actually a part of, and they’re the people doing the work (for you.)

If you’re new to being an software analyst, you will quickly see that your seat in the development team is to articulate the client/business vision.  That doesn’t mean you’re the client.  Conversely, when you sit in client meetings, your role is to be a relentless advocate for the development team.  But, that doesn’t mean you can make decisions or agreements on their behalf.  Being the “creamy filling in the Oreo,” can be difficult.  Empathy, and helping others to have more of it, is an essential skill.

The reality is that no matter how smart you are and how much you’ve thought about something, you’re going to make a mistake or mis-assumption.  Analyst’s mistakes are built into the code, seen in public – sometimes in really big meetings.  You can’t let your client blame the “stupid developers,” when you know full well your poorly written acceptance criteria was the cause.  If you throw your team under the bus – even once – you will quickly regret your lack of courage.

Final Thoughts

There’s a certain amount of frustration involved in the analyst psyche. You’re usually on a steep learning curve, and time is not endless.  You have to accept ambiguity (sometimes a lot of it) and push forward despite unknowns. Learn to say, “I haven’t gotten there yet,” “That was my mistake,” and “We can do it, but it will take more time and money,” and you’ll be just fine.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Copyright 2017 Pierce/Wharton Research, LLC.  All rights reserved.  No part of this post shall be reproduced without permission. info@piercewharton.com.

Where are my RFP Responses?

In one of my management classes, a group activity was to prepare a Request for Proposal (RFP). The purpose of the RFP was to hire an event company to create and manage a 300-person company picnic. No other specifications were given — kind of like real life.

The teams set to work creating the RFP. Most assembled a list of basic information for the vendor such as a date, number of people, and budget. A few of the groups had specific requests such as a special theme or specific venue. After a half-hour of discussion, the groups were beginning to disband, all except for Detailed Dina’s group. Detailed Dina was the project manager for her team, and she was not going to be so sloppy.

Keeping her group well past the time allotted, she insisted that the RFP include a questionnaire, which asked for references, sample menus, descriptions of other events done, for whom, when, what was the cost vs. the final budget of these events. What type of picnics had the vendor done before? What kinds of themes? For how many? She also asked for credit and banking references, and a list of their subcontractors. Dina assigned each team member a portion of the RFP, and then offered to assemble the final product herself (so it was up to her quality standards). An hour after everyone else left, Dina was satisfied and exceedingly proud of herself. She demonstrated collaborative leadership, and was a team player by taking on the task of assembling the final RFP. Dina was confident her outstanding RFP would result in a superior picnic.

The RFPs were farmed out to the vendor groups. Among the ten RFPs presented, the teams needed to choose five to meet and three to respond.

After all the presentations and discussion were completed, Detailed Dina’s RFP was not selected. Aghast at the slight, Dina demanded to know why no one selected her event. The answer was simple. There were other clients, and her application was too much. Said one team, “I know it’s a game, but it was just so ridiculous….” The instructor tried to mix it up bit. Everyone knew that Detailed Dina has no interested vendors; therefore, whomever bid on her contract was guaranteed to win the business. Wouldn’t that be easier than competing against so many others? Would any team trade creating three proposals for her one?

Lesson #1

First, Detailed Dina made an amateur mistake: She refused to scale. It’s a picnic, not a shuttle launch. Dina was so fixated on her emotional need for data because she felt that more data would help her to secure a quality vendor. Unfortunately, this project wasn’t about data, it was about teamwork and goals. Dina lost sight of the goal, which was to form a relationship with a vendor (which she failed to do), and then manage the relationship (which she was unable to do), for the company’s benefit (which never happened).

This project wasn’t about data; it was about teamwork and goals.

And, while Dina was adamant that she had a far superior RFP, and was friendly and collaborative with her team, no one could argue that if this were real life, her leadership was a failure. Bottom line: They needed a team to do this event, and she was unable to assemble a team.

Lesson #2

This story is also illustrates the shift in the American labor market. You’re hiring a <jobtitle> to do <somethingforyou>, you’re not marrying the guy! Because Dina was in a position to choose and pay the vendor, her attitude was one of entitlement. They needed to “prove” themselves to her.

Your hubris is counter-productive to building a team

And, while we all seek qualified vendors (and it’s natural to feel a little entitled when you’re writing the checks), remember that you’re not the person actually doing the work. If you’re an employer, your attitude needs to be one of partnership, not entitlement. You’re hiring someone because you CANNOT do the work yourself. Your hubris is counter-productive to building a team.

The Conclusion

Dina was surprised by the silence that followed the easy offer of her business.

Dina immediately offered explanations of the rationale behind the formulation of her RFP. The teams quietly discussed the trade-offs of a relationship with Detailed Dina. With fewer clients it could be less work – initially – but since this was a “fixed-price” bid, what was the risk that Detailed Dina would be a difficult client who needed lots of attention, extras or changes? How would that effect the time they spent on this class project?

I think we all know what happened here.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Excerpted from: The Temp Job: A Survival Guide for the Contingent Worker. Copyright 2017 Pierce/Wharton Research, LLC.  All rights reserved.  No part of this post shall be reproduced without permission. info@piercewharton.com.

How Perfectionistss Ruin Quaity

Capture
In the early days of software (when every application came with manual), I took a class for technical writers.  Our first homework assignment was to write directions for how to make tea.  Several of my classmates had questions such as what kind of tea? Was it in a bag or loose?  The instructor said he would provide no other details except for the original task: Write directions for how to make tea.

When class re-assembled the following week, the instructor asked the students to turn in their homework.  He shuffled through the responses and chose several to present to the class. Before presenting, he requested the class hold all comments and questions until after all the submissions were reviewed.  Then, he placed the first page of Paul Perfectionist’s directions on the projector. “That’s mine!” You could see him visibly puff up. Because his directions were first up, they were likely the standard.

Paul had put together an exhaustive set of detailed directions. No detail was too small, no action overlooked, no exception left out.  Paul wrote step-by-step how to unwrap the box of tea, what size pot to select for boiling water, how to turn on the faucet, how to put water into the pot, how to turn on the stove (or light a stove, if necessary), how to set a timer for boiling water.  He created a branch for the benefits of a tea kettle verses a pot, how to choose a cup, how to lay the tea bag in the cup.  He had an alternate scenario for loose tea, including explanations of tea balls, strainers, and cozies…a couple shots of images for tea…all-in-all, there were more than five pages of directions for making tea.

The instructor continued with the next set of directions, which was also lengthy, but not nearly as exhaustive as Paul’s.  The instructor slowly continued on replacing page-after-page of instructions offering no comment on any of the efforts.

I’ve spent a lifetime as a teacher and corporate writer; I knew where this was going.  I sat back and began to look around the room. I could see some of the students’ body language had already changed. Shoulders hunched, furrowed brows — they looked confused, worse ashamed.  Had they misunderstood the assignment?  Was this more complicated than they originally thought?  Self-doubt descended like a fog.

As the presentation continued, the directions became significantly briefer.  One student (who had asked about loose or bag), wrote “One bag = 2 Tbls,” which I recall thinking was exceedingly clever copy for tea packaging. I remember Paul rolled his eyes when I complimented the writer on the usefulness of that line, “That doesn’t even tell you how to make tea!” he scoffed.  The last submission displayed was, “Add hot water. Enjoy.”

The projector went off. The lights went on.  Paul was beaming with pride.  “So,” the instructor began, “Which of these directions do you think is the best?”

“The last one,” I said quickly and with conviction.

“I agree,” the instructor responded.

Now, if you thought that Paul had a “ah-hah!” moment, you have little experience with the detail-obsessed, perfectionist disorder.  On the contrary, Paul was PISSED OFF!  Without a second of reflection, he launched into a full-scale attack on his classmates and the instructor.  The others didn’t understand the complexity of tea, and that’s why he detailed out every approach to it. These brief responses indicated his colleagues were lazy and didn’t want to do the homework.  It’s clear they took a short-cut in the assignment, which is why they wrote so little. Paul assured everyone that he had spent a lot of time working on this, and making tea was much, much, more complicated than we really knew.  No one had even thought to include images!  What if someone didn’t know what a teabag looked like!

My personal impatience with the narcissism of perfectionists notwithstanding, I gleefully threw coal in his furnace and offered that I wrote no directions at all; rather, I documented an audience assumption that tea – a staple of every kitchen in every culture – is something the audience or purchaser would already know how to make.  It’s not an enchilada.

Other real-world rejections of Paul’s work quickly followed: Tea does not come with directions now, why would we need them in the future?  No tea company would ever create collateral or change packaging to accommodate five pages of directions. No one buying tea would ever read a five-page insert if they did. Another pointed out that Paul’s directions (literally) included a section on how to boil water! Knowing how to boil water was the same reason light bulbs didn’t come with directions. Ha-ha. The class chuckled, the fog of self-doubt lifted, and there was a sigh of relief from those who had not crafted lengthy directions. Paul, however, was not amused.  He insisted that it was possible some men could not know how to boil water or turn on a stove (although most women were likely to know this, he conceded). Then, finally after all his other defenses were exhausted, Paul played the “safety” card (aka: the Hail Mary of all corporate disagreements), and strongly asserted that without directions someone might burn themselves or ingest the tea bag, which could result in a law suit…

The Lesson

Paul was a student in a class of colleagues, so the ability to critique his work is assumed.  That is rarely the case in real-life. Imagine if Paul Perfectionist were a manager, lead or (heaven forbid) stakeholder?  Given Paul’s predilection toward perfectionism, if he were someone’s boss do you think he would be open to a less-detailed approach or would he just see that as sloppy?  What are the chances that a peer – never mind subordinate – could call Paul out on his emotional need for detail?  Even if some courageous person did tell Paul he was being ridiculous, do you think the rest of the group would jump in and support their colleague’s “sloppy approach” compared to Paul’s exhaustive completeness?  Lastly, with so much ego and emotion displayed by Paul, even if the group felt that Paul’s directions were expensive or might result in a negative outcome, how likely is it that they would coalesce to fight actively against him?  Or do think it’s more likely the group would just “deal” with Paul because they have families to support and just don’t have the energy to argue with him anymore….?

Paul and Polly Perfectionists exist in every business. What all these perfect people have in common is the same narcissistic misconception that they – alone – can assure quality.  We euphemistically call them “bottlenecks” or say they need “special hand-holding.”  In private, we call them high-maintenance PITAs, and tell colleagues to circumvent them because do nothing but cause spin and churn.

Perfectionists are the most destructive of leaders and teammates because they talk non-stop about quality, but they don’t listen to quality. Quality is not a person. Quality is not a checklist. Quality is a process.  A quality processes requires a team, and the perfectionists of the world never have a good one because teams require honesty, communication, and trust.  Perfectionists don’t understand that state of being.  Their lives are filled with fear, suspicion, and distrust.  It haunts them at work; it strains their personal relationships. A Paul Perfectionist may run a team, but he rarely considers himself a part of that team because – qualitatively – he is sure he is above the others and perfectionism is not a flaw.

Excellence is a value; Perfectionism is an insecurity.

Everyone should take pride in his/her work, everyone should have input, but when I see over-engineered and voluminous solutions, I don’t think, “Ahh, so smart!” Rather, I corner my teammate(s) 1:1 and ask questions.  Inevitably, I’ll hear “Yeah, we had to do <whatever> because <controlfreakperfectionist> is a PITA, which is why we’re <late/over budget/short staffed>. Avoid them if you can….”

Over the course of my career, I have been amazed at the number of high-priced consultants and internal project teams who churn away days and weeks of expensive time adding linguistic dandruff to presentations, plans and proposals whose only goal is to sooth the emotions and ego of someone who is sure they’re adding quality.  CapEx budgets become bloated by stakeholder reviews and timelines are delayed all because no one going to jeopardize the financial stability of their family by telling Paul Perfectionist that we don’t need five pages of directions on how to make tea.

The Conclusion

The instructor cornered Paul during break and tried to talk him down, which was not easy because perfectionists are quite sure that you aren’t smart enough to see the world as clearly as they, and who are you to criticize their drive for perfection anyway?

The instructor explained to Paul the purpose of the class (and education, in general) was to challenge pre-conceived notions. Audience is the most important consideration in any communication, and Paul did not consider his when writing his directions.  Although Paul reluctantly agreed that perhaps boiling water was a bit much, he would not relent on the other stuff.  Besides, even if fewer directions were acceptable, more paperwork and detail is always better. I mean, this is tea, sure, but in real-life, in business, there would never be a time where more documentation or direction would be worse, right?

The instructor asked Paul to keep an open mind, and then politely turned to another student who had been patiently waiting.

Paul never came back to class.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Excerpted from: The Temp Job: A Survival Guide for the Contingent Worker. Copyright 2017 Pierce/Wharton Research, LLC.  All rights reserved.  No part of this post shall be reproduced without permission. info@piercewharton.com; Follow on Twitter and Facebook @TheTempJob

Grits


Dear Grits:

I admit that I misjudged you. I always thought Farina was better, but that was my cultural bias. Now that we’ve spent more time together, I realize you’re so easy and versatile not to mention delicious, and at 145 calories per cup I can eat you without fear of being caught by Oatmeal or Quinoa. ..and, let’s face it, no one likes Oatmeal…always on the way to the gym, so smug and superior…Quinoa isn’t much better, ruining salads everywhere, so Grits, it you and me baby! I’m so glad we met !!

PS:  Don’t tell anyone about the sugar and syrup!  That’s our little secret 😉

 

Copyright 2018 Pierce/Wharton Research, LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this post shall be reproduced without permission. info@piercewharton.com.

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑