The Right Prescription

One of the greatest challenges we have with obstacles in our personal and professional lives is making them visible. There’s a book for that on my book list. There’s also lots of books at Amazon about what to do to remove the obstacles. Usually these books contain some overarching framework and several anecdotal examples that illustrate the author’s point. Annie Duke’s Thinking In Bets helps to adjust to the uncertainty of information when making decisions, but what do you do if the system you have for creating options isn’t yielding good results?

The answer is to change it! But how often is that easier said than done?

The military has a huge amount of rigidity built into its culture. It excels at teaching this rigidity in the basic training of each of the services. For the Army, basic training involves learning to fire a rifle. The experience of firing a rifle is new to some of those who join, and even for those that have fired before the type of rifle and shooting expectations for the Army are different from their previous experiences.

Completing the rifle portion of basic training is a non-waiverable requirement. The guy who enlisted to play the bugle in the band has to qualify the same as someone likely to be closer to the front lines. Getting folks trained to where they can pass is the responsibility of the Drill Sergeant.

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Jenny loves to shoot. Jenny became a Drill Sergeant. When someone who knows how to shoot is around people who can’t it can turn into a rather frustrating situation. I remember (over 20 years ago now) when I was in basic training if you couldn’t shoot you’d often get an earful. Somehow, Jenny came up with a different strategy that I think has broader application in than just on the firing range in the military.

When a soldier couldn’t shoot, Jenny would run through the basic troubleshooting steps. How’s your steady position? Are you breathing properly? Are you squeezing the trigger instead of jerking it? How’s your sight picture?

These are the questions to ask to assess the obstacles facing the soldier. Applying corrective action in one or more of these areas will likely solve the majority of problems, but they don’t solve all the problems. Basic training for a volunteer army doesn’t disqualify candidates like you might think. It tries to take those who are willing to volunteer and get them to the point they are capable of volunteering. There’s a lot of investment made to get those willing to become those who are capable.

Some people issues aren’t fixed by the responses to the questions above. But those are all the question the organization provides. That is, until Jenny gets there and sees things differently. Jenny started looking at their prescriptions.

What she found was that some soldiers would get their prescription glasses issued with the prescriptions reversed, the wrong prescription, or missed realizing that they needed glasses. The issue for some people was just straight vision related.

We’ve talked a lot about perspective taking. Here’s a case where it literally was the answer! But it’s also the answer to a lot of what we do in life. Sometimes when we’re working with someone who’s consistently missing their work targets the answer is to take them aside and help them get their prescription checked.

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Organically-Sourced Polyester

I enjoy finding phrases that don’t make sense. Hence the flapper words from a previous post. Organically sourced polyester would be one of those phrases.

Another one of my favorites is when a local gives you directions, sure they know the roads better than you, but they don’t understand the way you see the landmarks.

Go down Maple Street and two miles before you get to the old Jones’ house turn left. 100 feet later you’ll be right there!

Sure that sentence shows a mastery of the road network in the area. But it does so using some rather un translatable reference points. If you don’t know where the old Jones’ place is, you’re probably not going to get to where you want to go.

We can take a lesson from this when we mentor and coach our team mates. Take the time to consider their perspective and what they know. Use references they can relate to and help them get to where they’re going.

Who would have thought that a post titled Organically-Sourced Polyester would have been useful after all?

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Lindsey Stirling and the Violinist

I once asked a violinist what she thought about Lindsey Stirling.  It was after a holiday meal.  I thought it was a polite question. I had no idea that the road our conversation was going down would take such a sharp turn up the steep hill to passionate in less than a second.

By the time I realized where we were I had conversational whiplash.   I listened to an otherwise mild mannered violinist leak unkind thoughts towards someone else who made their living with the same instrument.

What I thought they would have in common they did not.  Sure both instruments look the same.  The other half the the conversation quickly advocated that to the trained ear they do not sound the same.  I noticed this too.  Lindsey Stirling’s playing doesn’t sound like the violin solo in Scheherazade.

I took my boys to see Lindsey Stirling in concert in Munich a few years ago.  That concert showed how Lindsey offers something different than just a precisely excellent performance.  During her concert she repeatedly offered messages of hope and courage for those dealing with depression, anxiety, and eating disorders.  She made the evening enjoyable.

Her music was a part of the message, but her message was much more than her music.

How often do we see a part of something and miss viewing it as part of a whole?  Lindsey’s marketability is her message and her music is a part of her way of expressing that, but if you only pay attention to the music and what it’s lacking it might be very easy to miss the greater picture.

I had the ability to politely share this with the violinist over dinner.  I felt like I learned to help her see more than what she had seen before.

I hope I can be receptive when people try to help me see the larger context in my life.  Seeing only a part of something is a human condition and I’m just as prone to it as anyone else.  I only hope I can be a better learner than I am today.  If you choose to help me, please be kind.


Your Access

Each generation has made comments about the media available for youth of their day and complained about its appropriateness.  My mom tells stories of the Beatles were chided in their day.  Comic books came under attack as well and the late Stan Lee lead the charge against censorship of that medium.

In concert with things that are appreciated by youth there also seems to be a derision by those who don’t take the time to understand the other person’s perspective.  Thus we end up with The Brady Bunch building several episodes around the generation gap, and younger generations getting labeled as the worst ever.

It seems a bit odd that I have to spend a blog post on this because it should be obvious.  Those comments about kids these days and _______ media aren’t the norm.  In fact their quite opposite.  We have more access today to good content than at any other point in human history and our kids are pretty good at selecting it.

They’re not perfect and nor are we.  We all make mistakes as we learn to appreciate the finer things in life like the documentary about the font Helvetica or the etymology blog from the Oxford University Press.

Your access to good content has never been greater in all of human history.

What are you doing with it?

The Young & The Ignorant

On a recent trip to Walt Disney World my family and a few friends were able to enjoy the ride Soarin’.  The ride is a flying simulation with a very large screen that takes guests across different landscapes around the world.  Among the landscapes and scenes the ride takes you to include India’s Taj Mahal, Monument Valley in the United States, and Egypt’s Pyramids. The ride’s duration is only a few minutes, but it’s a delightful presentation of the beautiful things created by both God and man.  As we were walking out of the ride I turned to my wife to ask a question.  She gave me the ‘don’t talk to me’ look.  Later on I found out why. She was listening to the couple talking behind her.  Of course they were talking loud enough it was hard not to.  The guy was explaining that he understood why all the things were part of the ride except for “that random-a– castle in Czechoslovakia.” Let’s discuss this for a moment.  First, this is the random castle from the experience:
This is Neuschwanstein Castle.  It’s not in Czech.  It’s in Bavaria To further the experiment I have a mental exercise that I do where I try to understand how the other person came to their conclusion.  I try to find logical potential reasons for them to consider their beliefs to be valid.  This is based upon the idea that we believe we’re right and we believe that we’re logical creatures–though we’re also terribly fallible.  This particular set of statements about the castle being random and in Czech has me a bit puzzled.  So this post is dedicated to asking how could someone come to that conclusion? Here’s what I can imagine:
  • The castle is in Bavaria and built by a king with little influence outside of his kingdom.  Had it been built by Charlemagne or Napoleon or someone else with greater significance maybe it would be better known.  Ludwig just doesn’t make it into American History Books.
  • A lack of knowledge of where the castle is can be further caused by the problem of it not being associated with a major historical figure combined with the reality that many of the maps this couple have seen in their lifetime are digital.  As kids I grew up with the printed cartoonish maps of the world that included major landmarks.  As things have gone digital fewer of these may be available for people to consume.
  • There’s no movies set in the castle.  That sounds minor, but we’re visual creatures used to consuming visual media.  There’ very little popular visual media (outside of tourist videos) that include the castle.  Things might be different if the castle were used more as a location in movies.  As much as the Mission Impossible series have used world locations this hasn’t been one of them.
  • Bavaria is a backwater state in Germany.  My friends from Northern Germany would often comment about how backwards Bavaria is about some things.  Imagine there was a king of West Virginia, and that right before losing the kingdom he built a castle.  That’s the way my friends in Erfurt made it sound like Neuschanstein castle was.  It’s often used as a symbol for Germany, but it’s really part of the backwater state in the country.
  • There’s not much exciting about the castle.  When you go, it looks good, but the experience isn’t Disney.  It’s about the king and how hard he made people work (for very little pay) to create the castle to satisfy his desire to impose his rule as near to God-like as possible.  There’s some discussion about whether or not he was actually murdered.  Why?  Because a king who acts that way might have made more than just a few enemies.
  • There’s lots of good reasons to believe that Czechoslovakia is still a country, but most of them fall apart as soon as one cares to look and I doubt our young characters in this post had ever had the need to look.
While I didn’t follow up with the young couple to actually discover what there reasons were, reviewing these potential reasons helps to humanize how such a situation could happen.  How can you use an exercise like this to help you relate to others.

Everyone’s Right

Youve been there before. You’re in a meeting and someone is very passionate about how they see a situation. They escalate their volume. Soon there’s a misunderstanding and someone else matches passion for passion, but they don’t share the same perspective.

Two people may walk on a path but their destinations aren’t always the same.

It’s entirely possible to pause a conversation that is going badly. During the pause I remarked how both people were right and encouraged them to see it from the others perspective.

It worked.

I only hope someone is around to pause the next meeting where I become passionate.