Tag Archives: See I Told You So

For Auld Lang Syne

Should old acquaintance be forgot? – Robert Burns

Poet and lyricist Robert Burns collected folk songs from across Scotland, updating and revising them and reintroducing them to the nation and the world. In 1788 he transcribed an old song into a poem and then back into a song that is now known the world over. Auld Lang Syne is sung on the last day of the year as the New Year is about to begin.

A literal translation of the phrase “auld lang syne” would be “old long since.” It means “long ago”, or “days gone by.” The song begins by asking a question, “Should old acquaintance be forgot and never brought to mind? Should old acquaintance be forgot and auld lang syne?” In other words, as we reflect on the year gone by, should we forget those times, relegating them to the foggy memory of the past? Or should we instead cherish the things that have happened in the days that have now gone by?

Usually our attitude toward the New Year is to rejoice in the new beginning and to resolve to forget the difficulties and hard times of the past twelve months. The old year holds moments of joy and pain, but we tend to focus only on the hard times, the suffering, the misery of the human condition, and we look optimistically toward the New Year dawning. The great truth in this old folk song reminds us that remembering days gone by is not about the things that happened, but about the people who were there with us in the middle of it.

For all that we have faced, endured, overcome, and even where we have failed, we must carefully look back to the past and have the determination to call to mind the good times as well as those good things that always find a way to come out during the bad times. We are able to do this because of the simple yet profoundly true statement, “It’s not what you know, but who you know.” The lesson of auld lang syne, of remembering the old year and celebrating the new, is that even when it felt like we were all alone, we never really were.

We all have friends, family, co-workers, and acquaintances that know us and love us just as we are. There is an old proverb that reminds us, “There is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” It isn’t about all the things we know how to do; it is about the people who love us.

As we focus on this New Year, let us remember the challenges of the past, the difficulty and hardship, the blessings and moments of joy, laughter, and contentment, and especially the people who made a difference in our day to day existence. Most of our memories are remembrances of moments spent with the people we love. These people are the reason we get up and go to work each day, and the reason we smile when the sun isn’t shining.

Let us not believe for a moment that our best days are behind us, or that our friendships of long ago are gone, having disappeared into the past. Let us remember while we look to the future. It is uncharted and unknown so we must walk by faith and not by sight. The good news is that there are people we love and who love us who are here with us as we take these fresh new steps into 2012.

I hope then that all of us might be able to build on the lessons of the past year as we step into the new. The things we have learned and especially the people we have learned them from are not to be forgotten. Should old acquaintance be forgot, and days gone by? No! Let us remember those days as we look forward with hope to the New Year.

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Dealing with Drought: What to Do When Business Dries Up

(As with most of the articles appearing here, this was originally written for a company newsletter.)

Never miss a good chance to shut up. – Will Rogers

For some reason we are uncomfortable with silence. If we are in a room full of people and no one is talking you can feel the tension rise. When other people are around we don’t like quiet. In fact, even when we are on the phone, if the person on the other end stops talking we will either blame the slow computer we are working with, shuffle papers noisily, or make that irritating stuttering sound to fill the void and let that other person know that we are still on the line.

Who knows how many times a day we resort to small talk to prevent the looming silence? And the number one topic to discuss when engaging in the conversational art of small talk is the weather. We talk about the weather more each day than perhaps any other subject outside of work related discussions.

In these parts they have a saying, “If you don’t like the weather, wait a minute and it will change.” Now we know that’s a lie. It hasn’t changed for months. It is hot and dry, on the verge of being hotter and drier than it has ever been before. Small talk now has become serious! We are reminiscing about the Great Seven Year Drought of the 1950s, having to go further back in time to find times that were worse than they are now. Before long we will be remembering the Dust Bowl (and no, that isn’t a football game).

I heard one story recently about a little boy who was born in West Texas in the early 1950s. A little while after his fifth birthday he was outside playing one day. He suddenly came running into the house screaming as if he was being chased by a swarm of bees. What was it that frightened him so badly? It had started to rain on him and he had not seen rain ever before in his life. As the big wet drops began to hit him he had no idea what was after him, he just knew they were everywhere!

This month we will break records, we will be hot, we will pray for rain, storms, even hurricanes if that means some relief from the drought. The weather, once small talk, now dominates our thoughts and fuels our worries.

So what do we do when things start to dry up at work? When we have a different kind of drought? When our customers are going out of business, letting people go, or underbidding jobs just to have work? What can we do to help?

The first thought that we have in hard times is a natural instinct to push harder, work harder, and try to find new business, new customers, new ways to do business. The good news is that can mean we become more efficient, reform policies, and get creative about how we do what we do.

The bad news is that when times get lean we tend to start to panic. What we see as driving to earn more business can come across as us being pushy, demanding, and a downright busybody. What we see as making calls to customers to check on things can be perceived as pestering. What is even worse, when we stress, we stop using the good business principles we all know and we begin to over react and think that the war will be won and relief will be found if we just sell it cheaper, lower our prices, and, in the words of the George Strait song, “Just give it away.”

If we fall to the level of believing that success in business is all about having the lowest price then we should quit and go work for Wal-Mart. Giving things away does not earn business, it just tells our customers that we had too much mark up. It also tells them that they can expect these new lower prices all the time, even when times get better – and they always will get better, that is the cycle of business.

When we experience a drought, we can talk all we want about the weather, but sometimes we need a little silence. Our customers do not need to hear us talking all the time. They need to know that even in tough times we are here for them, will work with them to find solutions to their problems, and that they can count on us to be fair and do what is right. And no matter what anybody says, it isn’t ever about lowering prices; it is about building up relationships.

Yes, it is hot and dry. Yes, times are tough. Yes, we should all be praying for rain. And in the midst of the small talk, we need to remember that we are not here to take orders, we are not even here to sell things; we are here to make ourselves an invaluable resource for our customers. That means we whether the weather with them, and that’s not just small talk. When the drought ends, if we have been there with them and for them the whole time, they will stick with us. We will understand it better by and by when we finally see those showers of blessing.

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Dealing with Mr. Know It All

People who think they know everything are a great annoyance to those of us who do. – Isaac Asimov

Do you live or work with someone who knows it all? If you do, you know that they know it all because they tell you every chance they get. They are the most well informed idiots on the planet. The truth is that they do know a lot. But they usually know a little bit about a lot of stuff. So while they have a vast field of available information to drone on about the depth of what they actually know is really very shallow.

The difficulty in dealing with a know-it-all is that no matter what you are discussing they believe with all their heart that they know more than you do. Contradicting them leaves them no choice but to correct you, and then to educate you by telling you more than you ever wanted to know about the topic under discussion.

The real problem is that with all the information we have available to us today with the internet, several hundred thousand channels of hi-def television, digital recording devices, and smart phones anyone can become an instant expert on any subject. But we have been deceived. We believe that to know something is the same thing as understanding it. We think because we have collected a set of facts in our head and can regurgitate those facts to others that this means we know what we are talking about. We have forgotten that knowledge by itself is actually not good for very much at all other than to puff our heads up.

There is an old proverb that tells us that “Happy is the man who finds wisdom, and the man who gains understanding.” Knowledge, on its own, is just information. A machine can be programmed to find and relay information. But when we take knowledge and add it to wisdom and understanding, then we really will know what we are talking about. This is not simply because the facts line up and are true, but because wisdom and understanding give us the experience to say what matters, when it matters.

The word wisdom refers to our perspective. To be wise is to see things the right way. To have the advantage of time, age, experience, and even failure to draw from as we look at a situation or circumstance. Age is no guarantee of wisdom though. There are plenty of old fools out there (no names please) and also quite a few young people who are “wise beyond their years.”

The word understanding refers to discernment. To understand something is to comprehend it. Face it, just because we know something does not mean we comprehend it. Comprehension involves critical thinking skills, and the only thing Mr. Know-it-All thinks critically about are those whom he condescendingly looks down upon as being intellectually inferior to himself.

Another proverb exclaims to us, “Get wisdom! Get understanding! Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom. And in all your getting, get understanding.” So how do we get wisdom and understanding? Ask questions. To gain a proper perspective we need to question our present perspective. To gain understanding we need to work hard at comprehending. And frankly we need to learn to keep our mouth shut until we have a right perspective and comprehend the topic at hand, except to ask questions of the wise and understanding who are around us.

We need to use people as a resource instead of a sounding board. Too often we would rather tell someone all that we know than to listen and learn from them what we need to know. And lest we be deceived, we are not fooling anyone. When we spill our guts with pride and fail to listen we usually have taken the roll of Mr. Know-it-All and owned it.

We need to listen more than speak (you know what they say about why God gave us two ears and one mouth). And we need to ask lots of questions. There is no such thing as a stupid question, although plenty of stupid people ask questions! But in asking we should be seeking to know the truth, to learn, to comprehend, to gain a better perspective.

So how do we deal with Mr. Know-it-All? We must grin and bear it. We have to put up with him because he is there every day. We all know his face and the sound of his voice. When you started reading this article you were immediately able to call a face to mind, the face of your Mr. Know-it-All. So why must we grin and bear it?

Grin because deep inside we can actually laugh at the person who proves their ignorance by saying so much. And bear it, because as soon as we try to correct them we will open a flood gate and will likely have a difficult time escaping the deluge that threatens our own sanity.

Next time you run into Mr. Know-it-All, stop and remember that the only difference between you and him is wisdom and understanding. And a wise and understanding person knows that you do not have to tell someone everything you know all the time!

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Ground Hog Day – Again

The secret of your future is hidden in your daily routine. – Mike Murdock

Today is February 2, 2011. It’s Ground Hog Day. According to superstition and tradition if a large rodent climbs out of his den and sees his shadow he will be frightened and run back into the den to hide – then we have six more weeks of winter. However, “Puxatony Phil”, one of the more famous official weather predicting ground hogs, did not see his shadow today. So spring is right around the corner. We can only hope!

Today is the coldest day on record in decades. And it will be colder tomorrow. The State of Texas is experiencing rolling blackouts. The power grid cannot keep up with demand for keeping things warm. Temperatures are in the teens and the wind chill is at or below zero.

Since it is Ground Hog Day we must mention the famous (or infamous) movie starring Bill Murray in which he gets caught in a time loop and lives Ground Hog Day over and over and over. Some people love the movie and watch it every year, others can’t stand it, and some have never even seen it! I’ll spare you quotes from the movie, but there are some lessons to be learned from the sci-fi concept of living the same day over and over.

Many of us do just that, only the date on the calendar does change. Our lives seem to fall into a routine. Day in and day out people get asked, “How are you?”, and they reply, “Same stuff, different day.” At times the days of the week blur together. At other times the time seems to drag.

It is always better to be busy; at least then the time seems to pass more quickly than if we have nothing to do. Then again, boredom is usually just a lack of creativity, motivation, or incentive. But whether times are busy or slow, and whether we will readily admit it or not, we tend to seek out routine. Routines are easy. Change is difficult, requires thought and deliberation, and means that we have to step out of our comfort zone.

The truth is that routines are not bad in and of themselves. When we face daily routines we have an opportunity to make sure that we are being as efficient and effective as possible. What we forget sometimes is that just because something is routine doesn’t mean that we cannot explore the possibilities of change, or improvement. We should always be looking for ways to do things better. That means we should never allow the current “policy” to work as a barrier to progress.

Policies form a valuable framework when built on past experience, but to see policy as a road block that prevents exploration, experimentation, and expansion misses the whole point behind a policy! Policies police the way we do things to ensure efficiency – at least they should anyway. And policy makers should always be ready to change as new and better ideas are shared from those who know the routines best.

The real danger to watch out for with routines though is that we tend to allow our routine to devolve into a rut. What’s the difference between a routine and a rut? A rut has been described as a grave with the ends kicked out. A rut goes nowhere. To be stuck in a rut means that there is no progress, no hope, no improvement, just resignation, surrender, and then despair.

How we deal with routine says a lot about our character. Pushing on, striving to improve, to do better, to become more efficient – this kind of response means that while we know that our days may be routine our outlook isn’t.

If we find ourselves getting bored we may need to vary things a bit. The first thing we need to change though is our attitude. If we see routine as a negative then we will miss the lessons we need to learn and the hidden challenges that remain below the surface, indiscernible to the uninterested.

A day to day routine should mean that we meet each day as a challenge. It is an opportunity to think about why we do what we do and to ask questions about how we can do it better. Workers need to feel free to think through the policies we rely on and offer suggestions for improvements. And management needs to be open to those suggestions, understanding that those workers who are on the frontlines facing these routines on a daily basis are our best resource for making improvements, increasing productivity, and expanding business.

So, while it is Ground Hog Day, again, let’s not dread daily routine. Instead, let’s decide to learn from the past, look to the future, and leave the possibilities open for change. Then, shadow or not, winter or spring, hot or cold, each day is a new opportunity with the potential to be better than the day before.

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I Can See Clearly Now

Is the glass half empty, half full, or twice as large as it needs to be?
~Author Unknown

One morning recently during my drive to work I had an eye opening experience. Eye opening may not be the best way to describe what happened so let me explain. As I was headed down the freeway trying to change lanes so that I would not miss my exit, a sneeze snuck up on me. You know the kind. No warning, no tingling nose or itchy eyes; I just sneezed. I didn’t even have time to cover my mouth. Then as I recovered from the sneak attack I looked up and could not see clearly. No, I did not sneeze all over the windshield, but when I reached up to rub my right eye suddenly it was obvious why I could not see. The right lens had popped out of my glasses when I sneezed.

Some people need glasses when they are reading, working on the computer, or driving. And then there are those of us who need glasses to see the end of our noses. With one lens out my eyes were so out of focus that I could not see past the steering wheel unless I closed my right eye. So there I was still in traffic, still trying to change lanes, still trying to get to work in one piece, driving with one hand on the wheel, one eye on the road, and one hand frantically “looking” for the lens.

Thankfully I found the lens sitting in my lap. It had not fallen on the floor or between the seats. So I picked it up, made the lane change, exited the freeway, and at the stop light I took my glasses off to see what had happened. I expected that the screw had fallen out of my glasses and caused the lens to pop out, but the screw was firmly in tact. In fact, there was nothing wrong with my frames at all, except for the missing lens.

The light turned green and I put my glass (they can’t be called glasses when you only have one lens, can they?) on and closed my right eye again. At the next light – and this was the first time ever in my drive to work that a red light was a good thing – I took my glass off and tried to push the lens back in. It would not go. I wondered where I had put that little screw driver the last time I had to repair a pair of glasses. It was at home somewhere in my study. The light turned green. Glass on, eye closed, drive on.

At the next light I tried again to force the lens back into the frame and this time it popped in. YES! I put my glasses on, took them off to clean the smudges off the right lens, put them on again, and waited for the light to change. It did. I drove on and as I turned my head to look to see if I was clear to make my turn, out it popped again. I actually caught it this time, and then drove the rest of the way to work with one eye closed. It is interesting how closing one eye while driving affects depth perception. Even more interesting is trying to focus your eyes with one lens in and the other out – while driving.

Once I arrived in the parking lot at work, I tried again to put the lens in and this time it did go in and stayed in (so far). Once I was back home I found my little screw driver, checked everything out, and tightened everything up. Then I wondered, as any writer does, what I could write about from this experience? I mean, it is not every day that you sneeze and blow a lens out of your glasses rendering yourself practically blind while behind the wheel. Surely there is a lesson here, right?

As I thought about it, one word came to mind – perspective. The way we look at things determines how we think, how we feel, and how we respond to circumstances and to other people. If our perspective is off, then our decision making will be affected and our judgment will be biased. Just like looking through a pair of glasses that is missing one lens, a skewed perspective obscures reality. In fact there are several lessons here, lessons about not making assumptions, not jumping to conclusions, or not making a hasty decision. There are also lessons about how we view other people.

Too often we do make up our minds about people based on first impressions. It reminds me of a co-worker who once asked me if I did not like him. I asked why he thought I did not like him and he replied that he just had a feeling that I would not like him. He had heard something from someone about me that led him to believe that I would not like him. My reply was that he was a new employee and I did not even really know him, so how could I dislike him? You have to know somebody to not like them, right? Otherwise you have not made an informed decision.

Ah, there is the catch. Sometimes the people we do not like are just people we do not know. We make assumptions about them and instead of getting to know them we decide that we do not like them. It is childish, when we think about it, to let a wrong perspective warp our view of someone.

The best example I can think of about this happening I have to borrow from one of the very first Andy Griffith Show episodes. In the episode Opie is asked to contribute to a charity fund drive for needy children. He gives a few pennies. When word gets back to Andy he is flabbergasted. How could his son be so selfish and stingy? He tries to talk to Opie about it and learns that he is saving his money to buy a gift for his girlfriend at school. Andy takes this to be further evidence of Opie’s selfishness. After all, what would the town’s people think when the sheriff’s son would not give generously to the needy children’s fund?

By the end of the episode we learn that Opie was saving his money so that he could buy his girlfriend a warm winter coat. She did not have one and her family could not afford one so Opie took it upon himself to save the money and buy her a coat. Andy was ashamed to have thought that his son was selfish and that he did not care about those who are less fortunate. You see, Andy had the wrong perspective. He assumed things to be true about his son that were not true and as a result he caused himself, Opie, and several others in town a considerable amount of grief over the matter.

How often do we do the same thing? We have the wrong perspective and start to think things about others that simply are not true. We make decisions about how we will relate to this person and interact with them based on these things. It is a house of cards. The danger is not in the cards collapsing but in the way that our personal and working relationships are harmed by things that are not even true.

Before we make up our minds about someone, we need to be sure that we have the right perspective. We need to make sure that we are seeing the truth, seeing things the way they really are, not the way we assume them to be. Most certainly we should not judge someone based on what we have been told by others (i.e. gossip). After all, any one of us would look fantastically strange to someone standing across the room who happened to be wearing a pair of glasses with only one lens.

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