Trust the Designer

When I was a teenager I wanted to learn to rock climb. There were a few problems with this. One of the biggest ones is that I had no idea how to rock climb.

Sure I was pretty good at climbing things. Everyone grows up climbing trees. But I had taken climbing things to a bit of an obsession. I could scale some of the walls of my high school with reasonable ease. Going up seemed to be easy. Doing it safely was another matter.

Learning how to do something I’d never done before wasn’t necessarily new to me. Living in an area with few mentors on the subject I turned to the place where I could find good mentors on the topic, books. I read a lot of books about rock climbing, learned and practiced the necessary knots, and felt I had a pretty good grasp on the subject. Enough of a grasp that I invested a couple hundred dollars in gear and headed off to a cliff near our house with a buddy.

We had a great time rappelling.

When I came back from the adventure dad heard about what I was doing–probably from mom. He knew I was of the age where you don’t always see the risks you take in the choices you make. He engaged in a conversation to help me see those risks. It went pretty well, except that we disagreed.

He became more insistent.

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So did I.

When he asked me how I was sure I was going to be safe I told him I was using the equipment the way it was designed. Because I had taken the time to learn from books one of the things they covered was the math and engineering behind the equipment.

I didn’t pursue rock climbing as a serious hobby. Dad was right. There were some things that weren’t in the books that I was going to need a mentor to help me figure out. What I did do with the gear and with my interest was done safely though, because I trusted the designer.

What’s the Larger Lesson?

My current profession involves people using technology. In that space I’m often needed to play the mentor–a role I love–as people learn to stretch their skills and enjoy a more effective work flow.

Sometimes the people I work with don’t want things to change. They’ve grown comfortable with their work flow the way it is. This is a human condition. We’ve talked about this before on this blog. NOCZ isn’t just a cool looking acronym. It’s real.

How can we help people who don’t want to change, change their perspective?

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I go back to my discussion with my dad and ask them not to trust me, but trust the designer.

“Your workflow was based on the way the software was designed a few years ago. Things have improved since then, and I’d like you take the risk to trust the designer.”

It works. Mistakes are still made. Lots of mistakes. That’s where the mentor part comes in. It’s not helping to coach people from making mistakes (software these days is pretty durable) it’s coaching them in a way that encourages them to keep trying to find a way that’s effective and works for them. Once they’ve adapted to the new work flow the response is usually one of gratitude and appreciation.

Why do I do this? Because the older work flows are going to need to be retired out of necessity. The software will change and the current work flow will not be supported. I’d rather encourage change while there’s a long runway to practice and the user can feel like it’s their choice instead of it being something that happens when the user isn’t prepared for it.

I’m glad dad was right and taught me that people needed mentors. I’m glad I didn’t want to be wrong and in my defensive attitude expressed the value of trusting the designer. Combining both of our perspectives has lead to some wonderful experiences and helped me to add more value in the world.

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Rejected a year later….

In 2018 I made a career switch. I finished my time with the United States Army and began looking for a job as an IT Project Manager, because the role most closely matched my skill set, my training, and my degree.

I followed the formula of finding mentors, updating the resume and LinkedIn and applying for 2-3 positions a day. Some places wrote me back to tell me when I was no longer being considered a candidate. Most never provided any feedback. Eventually I landed a great position that is the start of a promising career and so I figured that phase of things was behind me. Then I got a letter from a position I applied for in August of 2017. 17 months later they told me that I did not get the position I applied for.

First off, let’s give the company credit for writing back. Most didn’t and the place where I currently work had to involve my manager initially rejecting my resume because it’s so “non-traditional.” He’s come to learn that my non-traditional experiences have allowed me to quickly adapt and be significantly functional.

I did find the situation humorous, but wonder what the talent situation was like at the company. I do hope they don’t have issues with maintaining a talent pool to be successful. I wouldn’t have applied had I not believed in what the shop did and the products they produce. I also hope I didn’t burn any bridges as I did write a bit of a tongue-in-cheek email in reply. Email is bad at conveying humor, so I’d like your (yes, you dear read) opinion on my response and any suggestions on how I could have worded this better. Here’s the exchange:

FROM: PETER

SUBJECT: Software Producer / Project Manager / Product Manager – COMPANY NAME

Jacob Roecker,

Thank you for your application! We are a growing company that is constantly on the lookout for new talent. That being said, we hire based on the needs of the company and we are always accepting applications. If we need an additional candidate for the Software Producer / Project Manager / Product Manager and we like your resume, we will contact you to set up an interview. Thank you for your patience. 

The COMPANY NAME Team

Here’s my reply:

Peter,

It’s good to hear from you.  

My records show I applied for the position in August of 2017.  That’s over a year ago.  In the meantime I did a 7 month internship with an agile software development company in Boise where I served as the Director of Leader and Organizational Development managing 5 different project managers and several million dollars worth of projects.  A

fter the internship I’ve been working on an SAP S4 implementation where I was in charge of the system integrations (including international integrations in China and Mexico).  I’ve also finished publishing my fourth book and graduated with honors in my Masters in IT and Project Management.

It strikes me as odd that it takes more than a year to reply back to a position especially since I’m the sort of person who can pack a lot of experience in a single year.

As your email states, if you need an additional candidate, please let me know.  I’d be happy to continue the dialogue.

What do you think? Too harsh? Leave a comment below.

Mispronunciation and Mentorship

I have a non traditional passion for language.  I love the shapes of letters and the obscure words of the English language.  On Tuesday I read the Anatoly Liberman‘s etymology blog on the Oxford University Press’ website.  On Friday this blog is used to highlight fonts.  English is wonderful.  It’s wrinkles are well earned and from this author, they are well loved.

Each day we read scriptures together as a family.  We have four kids ranging from 17 (happy birthday Eliza!) down to 9.  This means we have a lot of different reading abilities.  Even among the older kids.  The language of the scriptures are wonderful.  The vocabulary is generally older than other English texts and it includes a lot of words adopted from it’s original Greek, Hebrew, and Reformed Egyptian.  This means there are a lot of unfamiliar words and mispronunciations are prone to happen.

Because of my love for the wrinkles of the language I tend to be pretty good at pronouncing some of the more difficult names and words.  When opportunities emerge to lovingly correct my children I’ve noticed I have one daughter who will apply my prompting for a better pronunciation as an opportunity to learn that pronunciation.  She usually succeeds.

The other will use my reading of the word as an opportunity to avoid the challenge of learning the hard word.  Once it’s spoken (doesn’t matter by whom), she moves on.  It’s as though she sees the goal to be having it spoken once in the setting as if there was someone recording our reading.  But home is not a place for perfect recitation.   There’s no one here recording us.  It’s just us.  It’s a place of learning.

Both of these habits are illustrative of larger lessons in life.

When my one daughter prefers to move on instead of trying the word herself I feel she’s missing out on an opportunity to learn.  On the other hand, her sister is significantly more apt to learn new words at a faster pace because she’s willing to experiment until she gets it correct.

What’s the larger lesson for this in life?

brown book pageWe often find ourselves doing things outside our comfort zone.  In some of these cases we have live mentors physically present.  In others our mentors are the written or spoken records left behind.  When our mentors are present we often don’t want to disappoint.  We want to demonstrate that a certain task can be done, but we don’t always want to show our struggle to get to that point.  Mentors are more than managers we report to when the task is done.  Mentors are those that help us learn to master the task.

 

How you feel around your mentors demonstrates how you feel about them.  If you find yourself apt to practice applying their teaching then you see them as a mentor.  If you find yourself focused on the finished product then you’re seeing your mentor more as a manager.

Mentorship is about helping others through journeys great and small.  Lessons are found in accomplishing the great tasks of life or even the small ones like learning a better pronunciation.

Apply Your Core Knowledge

Everyone knows something and in order to know something they must have studied what they know.  There’s a wide variety of ways people acquire information and knowledge.  I work with some extraordinarily smart individuals and some of them hate reading.  They find themselves suffering through the four-page zone.  I have another friend of mine who’s a helicopter pilot and is terrific with advanced mathematics but finds himself performing best as a tactile learner.  He’s in his 30’s and always carrying his fidget spinner.

All of these people are high performers.  But sometimes their quirks appear to be their Achilles heel.  As life forces us to get stretched outside of our comfort zones it can be easy to hyper-focus on the problems in front of us instead of focusing on the formulas we’ve used for years to overcome similar problems.  I’ve recently found myself coaching people through this sort of situation and my starting point in the conversation is to ask them about their hobbies.

Hobbies are different than our academics.  All too often necessity has forced us to use multiple-choice tests in academic settings.  They’re a great format for getting people to pass because you’re giving them choice that includes the single right answer.  They’re also terrible because they’ve programmed us to believe in life that we’re looking for a single right answer.  Those who believe in the single right answer syndrome have never had someone they love asks them if an outfit makes them look fat.

The outward expression of our hobbies varies, but the inward process is very much the same.  At first glance, every hobby appears to be a study in that particular discipline.  This isn’t an untrue statement, but it’s not a complete one.  More importantly, a study of a hobby is the study of oneself.  To the individual practicing a particular discipline, the hobby will reveal certain things about themselves that they enjoy learning.

Golf is an apt example.  It involves a very brief interaction with the ball and a metal striking surface of a club.  The contact occurs over a very small surface area and yet the ball can fly towards its target and land over 200 yards later.  The mechanics are amazing, but it’s also a fascinating field to study oneself.  The discipline involved to learn to adjust one’s muscle coordination to impact the angle and speed of impact of the ball.  Golf is not just a study of physics and strategy, it’s also very much a study of oneself.

LARPing will strike most individuals as a bit of an odd past time, but it’s not too far off from the same motivation that has turned Halloween into one of the most popular holidays.  Those who participate in LARPing find themselves developing skills in crafting costumes and writing out scenarios for your characters.  Unlike a book where the reader is only a passive participant, LARPing requires the participant to explore their own emotions and problem-solving skills when faced with the obstacles of the scenario.  While it shouldn’t replace reading, it should be easily recognized as a scenario-driven activity that trains its members.  Its environment may be fantasy, but its exploration of the human condition is very real.

From a leadership perspective, you don’t have to enjoy the same hobbies, but you need to well versed in what’s respectable about each one.

It’s been interesting to see this same thing play out in the home as well.  My oldest boy loves Minecraft and will spend hours watching videos about how to play and build complex things.  Every few months I try to have a conversation with him about his learning patterns for the game and get him to realize that if he applies those same learning patterns to other subjects in his life he’ll be just as successful.

I was a terrible student in high school.  Now I have a Masters in IT & Project Management.  During my 18 months finishing up my bachelor’s at Utah State University I was awarded the Man of the Year award.  What changed?  My parents would attribute it to becoming more mature, but having lived through it the reason seems to be a bit more tangible.  Once I was out of school I had time to think about how I liked to learn.  In college, I chose classes that would allow me to apply my techniques for learning and be successful.  

Now, it’s easier to do new and hard things because instead of following someone else’s prescription for learning I can apply my own.  I know it’s effective and I know it’s fun.  When it needs mentors I know how to find them.

When you take the time to look at the things that are part of your core, that you love to learn take the time to look at how you learn those things.  The how is more likely going to be your method for all your learning and if you can take the time to write it down you might just see how easy it is to follow.

Cost-Effective Mentoring

We’ve all had mentors growing up but don’t often think about our own transitions to becoming a mentor.  When freshly stepping into any role there can be a lot of wasted effort.  In this post, I’d like to share a couple of insights to help make that transition smoother.

Learn About A Person’s Past Mentors

In both jobs I work at I get to interview candidates for available positions. One of my favorite questions to write is “We’ve all had mentors to help us grow in life, can you tell me about a valued mentor, and how they impacted your life?”  I love the question because it’s so universal.  We ask it of all the candidates and the responses are perfectly helpful to make an informed decision.

First, it’s important to remember that the job interview’s purpose is to close the gap between what you already know about an applicant from their resume/LinkedIn etc. to what you don’t know.  The questions are supposed to be revealing enough to close that knowledge gap.   In response to this question, an applicant will usually tell about a time when they were humbled and overcame the obstacle in their life.  In their narrative, they usually reveal the situation, the challenge, the mentor’s attributes, and the plan of action to overcome the obstacle.  This provides me with several key insights to distinguish the applicant among the others applying.

Firstly, I get to understand what work environments they’ve been in in the past.  Secondly, I get to see what sort of situations they’ve found challenging.  Then I get to learn what type of mentorship they respond to and how much effort they put into overcoming the challenge.  Calling someone a mentor who does the work for you isn’t mentorship.  Mentorship is the process to increase the person’s capacity to overcome their own struggles.

We don’t often choose when we enter the mentorship role.  It’s one of those things in life that’s thrust upon us.  How do you know you’re mentoring?  When someone asks for help and you’re the person who responds.

Know How to Read People & Ask Questions

That request for help will sometimes be overt and other times it’ll appear in a person’s body language.  You can see people physically struggling with their responsibilities.  Whether they need external help or not asking them what’s going on will help them communicate their challenges so they can create their own solutions.  This is probably the most cost-effective mentoring situation.  Too bad that’s not the only way life happens.

It’s Not Your Job To Do The Work

I’ve seen plenty of young mentors be asked for help and want to help and end up doing the work for the person needing the assistance.  While there is a time and a place to step down and be a catalyst, that style of response can become a slippery slope that doesn’t lead to the person being more capable going forward.  Generally, it leads to burn out. 

You’re Always Mentoring

Jacqueline Van Pelt, PMP recently shared some of the insights she’s garnered from her mentors over the years.  One of them was the idea that each interaction with people is like training a horse.  Either you’re training them or their training you, but there’s never not a moment where training doesn’t occur.

Develop Your Style

Since every situation involves some amount of learning and from different levels, mentoring is likely occurring from multiple levels as well.  This means that everyone has or will be a mentor.  It’s not a rare occurrence.  It’s a common one.  The lack of mentoring isn’t for a lack of possibilities.  In my opinion, it’s because we aren’t taking the time to develop our style.

Like anything else developing one’s mentorship style follows the same learning pattern as many other things in life.  You need to increase your awareness of the subject, evaluate the available information, and incorporate the parts that allow us to improve.  Some part of this process should feel like you’re doing it the hard way.

My own style has developed the hard way over many years.  I can see mentoring opportunities on a daily basis and leverage them to help others confidently move to the next step in their development.  Somewhere along the way I’ve moved past the point where I just help them through their challenge.  Now, when I interact with others I work to help them through their challenge in a way to make it memorable for when they need to mentor the next generation.

3 Pillars of Mentorship

The leaders we remember in life are often those that didn’t supply their assistance for a singular instance.  Sure they where there when we needed them, but they were also there throughout the time we needed them.  There’s quite a few mentors that have impacted me that I struggle to articulate one particular thing they did that made the impact.  I was sitting down with a friend the other day and finally found the words to what I was missing.  

Jason, when I spend time with you I always feel more capable to tackle the problems I face in life.

Jason isn’t the first person who’s done this.  The true mentors I’ve worked with have managed to carry themselves in a way that empowers others.  So how do we get to the level where we’re doing this with others?  I’d like to propose three essential pillars to mentorship.

Honesty-In some way we all lie to ourselves regardless of the evidence (I’m not going bald, my hair is just taking a vacation).  When we commit to telling ourselves the truth we have more confidence in our demeanor going forward.  We become known for our integrity and build trust.  Trustworthiness attracts those who need help.  This is one reason why when things are hard people turn to their scriptures.  They trust the experiences and words of those books.

Listening-As human beings we are always communicating.  You can’t not communicate.  Regardless of how good your poker face is you’re always telling someone something by the way you sit and respond to what you’re hearing.  When you’re listening don’t try to jump in and talk.  Recognize that you’re already saying something.  If you’re having trouble believing that someone who is silent can’t control an audience, I’d like to challenge you to study Teller, from Penn and Teller.  Teller has been publicly silent for years, but does a tremendous job garnering the focus of audiences of all sizes.  

Self Development-What are you doing to make yourself better?  What are you studying?  Believe it or not this will have an impact on how you see the problems in the now of life.  Our brains are chemical machines that have limited capacity.  Self development keeps them elastic and broadens your ability to relate to your audience.  We’ve all thought little of the mentors who use the same solution and experience as a reference for every problem.  (Every solution doesn’t need a hammer).  Self development is the way to ensure you don’t become one of them.  An efficient way to start is with audiobooks, or with a free podcast, or just reading a book about something you like.

The mentors in your life who made a difference made you feel like you were more capable to tackle your problems.  What are you doing to be that type of mentor to the people in your life?

Feel free to share this with one of your mentors.