Do You Look for Mistakes or Happy People?

Last month, I took a short vacation in Eilat while Mark went on a bike ride. I ordered some lunch in the lobby “bar.” (No, I don’t drink my lunch!) The bar manager took my order and we continued our discussion from the other day. How was my husband’s bike ride?

I said he had been wet in the rain, but he was happy.

The manager said something I thought was profound. “The general manager of the hotel came by earlier. I asked him what he was looking for.”

The manager said, “Happy people. I want happy people working in the hotel. They will create happy guests. I don’t need to look for mistakes. If people are happy, they will find their own mistakes. It’s my job to keep them happy.”

I was a happy guest. I didn’t see any unhappy guests the entire time I was there. 

Now, I’m not saying everything was perfect. Things broke. Not everything was ideal. But enough things were perfect that I could overlook anything that was not perfect. I asked for changes when I needed them. The hotel staff was happy to accommodate my requests. 

What about you? What do you look for? Areas of improvement or mistakes? Or do you look for happiness or the lack thereof?

I bet that manager was quite effective. I certainly enjoyed my time at the hotel.

Dear adaptable leaders, that is the question of the week: Do you look for mistakes or happy people?

What’s Hidden from Your View?


We often say we have two seasons, here in Massachusetts: Road repair and winter. I’ll add another season to that: falling leaves and acorns. We have a bumper crop of leaves and acorns in my neighborhood.

The leaves are not the problem.

You can see those little acorns in the picture I took, to the left of this post. The acorns are a problem for me, on my walks.

My rollator does not roll over the acorns. Nope, it sometimes stops short. That means I stop short, too. Sometimes, my ankle rolls on the acorns. I’m not so happy about those acorns!

I realized that several weeks ago before the leaves fell, we had plenty of acorns on the ground. I didn’t have trouble walking. What changed between then and now? The leaves. The leaves hide the acorns, making it more difficult to see what’s on the ground.

I bet you have plenty in your life that’s hidden from your view. You might have projects masquerading as interrupts. You might not see relationships you could change for the better. You might not see more possibilities.

Here’s an idea: when you start to stumble, or you get stuck or stop altogether, ask yourself, “What’s hidden? What could I uncover and then continue?”

I can’t uncover all the acorns. On the other hand, knowing they are there helps me walk better. I can choose a slightly different path. I can walk more carefully through deep leaves. If I were ambitious, I could take one of those loud noisemakers and blow the leaves to the side. (I’m not, but it’s a possibility!)

That, dear adaptable leaders, is the question of the week: What’s hidden from your view?

What Makes You Smile?

DragonOn a recent walk in my neighborhood, I noticed this dragon. Is this not a beautiful dragon? You might not be able to tell in this picture, but the dragon’s eyes are a laser-red. They glow. It’s so cool.

I smiled when I looked at this dragon. How could you not smile? In person, the wings flapped and the eyes looked as if they were following me. So cool.

Then I wondered: I smile about many things during the course of the day. I laugh at myself. I smile when I read some emails, especially about the lengthening of equipment I don’t have. I smile when I read some of the tweets I see in the Twitter stream.

I try not to be the kind of person who goes into the basement once a day and cracks a grin, just to make sure those muscles still work. I don’t mind if I have laugh lines. I have earned them.

How often do you smile, at home and at work? Do you smile enough to get laugh lines? Or, are you limiting your smiles, not smiling a lot?

There are reasons to smile. Smiling can change your brain. Smiling can stimulate your brain. And, we feel better when we smile, even if it’s a fake smile.

Maybe you don’t like this purple dragon. That’s okay. Find something else that makes you smile, and then smile a lot.

That, my gentle readers, is the question this week: What makes you smile?

What Do You Do When You Are Overwhelmed?

The past few weeks have been quite stressful for me. I had some international travel with terrible wifi so I could not finish some planned work, a close relative died,  a ton more client work, and more international travel. When my relative died, it was clear to me that I was not going to finish everything I thought I could. It was clear I could not meet my client commitments when I was in mourning.

I felt overwhelmed by all my work and commitments.

What was I going to let go? How would I adapt my work to fit my new circumstances?

I had some clients in that interesting beginning discussion stage. I may have lost one client, but the other is willing to wait for me.

I finished the workshops for everyone because they were all close to being done.

I am so far behind on blogging and newsletters I might never “catch up.” I put those words in quotes because I don’t believe you ever catch up. You make decisions about what to do next. At least, I do.

When you are overwhelmed, what do you do? Do you try to do “everything” even though it’s impossible to do so? Or, do you make choices about what you will not do or postpone? Or, do you imagine a new way of working?

I realized that for my Pragmatic Manager newsletter, I have some alternatives, other than new content.

I realized that for the Create an Adaptable Life newsletter, I can postpone the newsletter for another week or so. (If you subscribe, you received the newsletter early this week.)

I postponed finishing my program management book.

I made choices about what work to do now, what work to postpone, what work to not do, and what work I could adapt.

It’s unfortunate, and it’s necessary. There is no way I could work when I was sleep deprived, in the middle of grieving, or worried about how to manage my life.

You might be thinking, “Oh, this is a work-life balance issue.” There is no such thing as work-life balance. There is only life. I have to take care of myself so I can be effective in all my roles: consultant, wife, mom, and being my own person.

That meant I let some things slide. I might pick them up again later—I hope to—and if I don’t, I can reinvent how I do them.

How about you? If you are like most of the people I know, you have too much to do. You might not have my specific stressors, but you are overloaded. What will you keep? What will you postpone? What will you let go?

You don’t need to make yourself nuts with all your work. If you take care of yourself, you can then take care of the work.

How will you adapt to your new circumstances?

That is the question of the week: What do you do when you are overwhelmed?

What Do You Assume?

I’ve been traveling a lot lately. My rollator and I are seeing the world.

One question I hear a lot is “May I help you?” That question is often followed by someone grabbing the top bar of my rollator to “help” me up a ramp, or yanking the rollator open instead of using the easy-to-flip latch.

People mean well. They don’t realize the physics or how the rollator works. (For explanation, the top bar is a back support. No matter how hard you yank, the bar does not lift the rollator. And, the latch-flipping allows me to open and close the rollator quite easily. When people yank it open, the wrong side separates. Then I can’t fold the rollator and latch it closed.)

It’s a problem. I look like a LOL (little old lady) until people see me walk with my rollator. I have a terrific long stride. (Okay, long for me.) I move pretty fast when I’m not worried about falling over.

People see me and jump to a conclusion about my state. They see me and make assumptions. It’s natural.

That happens at work and in life for you, too.

A number of my clients have managers who proclaim, “You have too many meetings.” Maybe the teams and project/program managers do. And, maybe, just maybe, these people need to meet in order to determine how to solve problems, what to do next, or just because they want to connect.

Software product development is a collaborative game. So is much of life. We need to talk with other people to accomplish the work. If you assume that the meetings are not productive, that the information flows from one person “down” to other people—not around people, you might have a different assumption about the usefulness of meetings.

One way to surface assumptions is to change the question. Instead of “May I help you?” consider “How may I help you?” Instead of “You have too many meetings,” consider “How do your meetings add value?”

When you ask “How” in front of your assumption, you allow for other possibilities.

When someone asks, “How may I help you?” I can explain what I need. I might say, “No thanks, I’m fine.” Or, I might say, “I’m having a little trouble with this thing. Can you do…”

When someone asks, “How do your meetings add value?” you can say, “We use this meeting to prepare for next week’s work. We use that meeting to commit to each other. We use this other meeting to improve.” (BTW, separating the meetings and not trying to have all one big meeting helps people prepare for the goal of one specific meeting.)

We all assume things about people or work. Our assumptions are often wrong. That’s okay. If we allow for the possibility that the assumptions are wrong, we can choose another approach.

Dear adaptable leaders, that is the question this week: What do you assume?

Where is Your Leverage?

A couple of weeks ago, when I spoke at Agile Cambridge, I stayed at Churchill College, in Cambridge, UK. 

I have not stayed in a dorm room since I was an undergraduate, quite a while ago. These rooms are part of the B&B the college maintains for conferences, etc. They are nicer than the dorm rooms I remember. 

In my four years of living at school, one thing stands out for me: how warm the rooms were. It seemed as if we could open windows—a little—but the rooms stayed hot all winter. When they turned off the heat for the summer, the rooms were almost cool enough, but the windows were too small.

Schools limit the window openings for many reasons, primarily student safety. They don’t want students falling out of the window, and they don’t want strange people entering through the window. That means the dorm rooms are hot.

This room has a way to open the windows further than I remember. Churchill College is a relatively young school, opening in 1960. However, the buildings do not have that 1960’s (IUS) concrete architecture feel. They have wooden window frames, hardwood floors, and a warm feel to the rooms. 

Another thing they have is leverage for opening the windows. During my visit, we had sunny days—something I love. And, with the solar properties of windows, the room got quite warm. Until I learned how to open the window. 

Window.extension windowcrank

It’s one thing to try to lean out to the window and open it. It’s another to turn the crank on the wall. 

Leaning over to open the window can be difficult, especially for short people like me. You need to be the right height and have long enough arms. 

Many more people can turn a crank. The crank provides the leverage you might need.

Where in your work or your life are you leaning, trying to open the door or window? What if you could turn a crank? What would happen then?

Here are some ideas for crank-turners, places to apply leverage:

  • systems for managing your work, such as a kanban or other board
  • automation, certainly for tests and for other tasks you do often
  • building relationships before you need them

I bet the first two are no-brainers for you. But that last one, building relationships? I wonder if you considered that for leverage.

When you build relationships across your organization or across your profession, you can create more opportunities for collaboration, for influence, for learning. 

That, adaptable leaders, is the question of the week: Where is your leverage? What windows have you opened today?

What Do You Practice?

I was writing a series of draft blog posts about resource efficiency (optimizing for people) and flow efficiency (optimizing for projects). I wrote them fast, flowing the ideas from my brain to my fingers. I edit later. For me, this is the best kind of writing I do. It’s not about writing fast. It’s about writing well. I practice this.

I practice my weight training. There, the emphasis is not about speed but about how well I use my specific muscles and entire body. It’s the same with my walks every day—I want enough speed to create a bit of cardio, but it’s more important that I practice great walking (heel to toe, walking through my entire foot). Us dizzy people have a tendency to drag our heels to provide stability.

When I was a developer, I practiced different ways of coding, to see if my actions changed the design, performance or reliability. When I was a tester, I practiced different ways of testing to see if I could find problems faster.

As a project or program manager, I practiced listening. As a manager, I practiced being the best person I could be for my team. In these roles, I had to learn how to lead by serving the people and the project/program. What did I want to make transparent? What did I want to hide and why?

These are all examples of deliberate practice. I thought about what I wanted to learn or improve my skills and I practiced and reflected on my work.

We practice to gain expertise. We practice to enhance our strengths. Sometimes, we practice to avoid problems in the future (I put exercise in this category).

We optimize for different things when we practice. Sometimes, we optimize for speed, as in my writing. Sometimes, we optimize for accuracy as in weight training or something physical. Sometimes, we optimize for learning, as in my development and testing work. We learn from the reflection on that practice.

What are you practicing now? Are you optimizing for what makes the most sense in your deliberate practice?

That is the question of the week: What do you practice?

Do You Give Yourself Credit?

I like getting “credit” for my work. Not just the work I did, but the work I didn’t do.

When I write articles or books or whatever, I start by writing it “all” down. Some of these words are not useful. I look back at them and say, “What were you trying to say??” Sometimes I realize I need to remove sections or files. I put those in a file with the heading, “Stuff to use sometime.” I have yet to use them. I keep them anyway.

I get credit for every word I write even if I don’t use all the words. That’s what allows me to continue writing. I make progress, even if the words I write are not an obvious part of that progress.

When I wrote code or tests, I didn’t quite have the same perspective, but it was close. I counted everything that helped me learn more about the problem I was solving (writing code) or how to understand the product (writing tests) as something useful. I might not use my interim “products,” and I counted them anyway.

I felt better about myself. I made progress, partially by recognizing that I could make interim progress and get credit for it.

How about you?

Do you give yourself credit for interim work, or does it all have to be totally done before you can recognize your work?

What would it take for you to take partial credit and allow that work to inform your next chunk of work?

In my work with product owners and teams, I see this problem all the time.

The team asks for “complete” stories, what I would call feature sets. The product owner says things such as, “If it’s not all done, it’s not done.” The “It” here is a large story, what I would call several stories or feature sets.

When we set our expectations for completing all the work, it’s difficult for us to see progress. As humans, we like seeing progress. In Amabile and Kramer’s book, The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at Work, they report research that says we like to make small chunks of progress. When we do, we are more productive.

In order to see progress, we need interim milestones or deliverables. I like deliverables.

How easy is it for you to give yourself credit? Do you need to be all done, or can you give yourself credit for something and continue?

My dear adaptable leaders, that is the question of the week: Do you give yourself credit?

When Do You Change Your Mind?

I was in an airport recently. I was in the ladies room, headed for a handicapped stall. This airport had the handicapped stalls at either end of a long row of stalls. The stall nearest my entrance was occupied. I headed down the line to the last stall.

I was four stalls away when a woman rushed in and was all set to take the handicapped stall. I said, “Really?” and kept walking towards the stall. She said, “I’m in a rush.” I replied, “I am sure you are.”

She let me take the stall.

I suspect she realized it was nuts for her to take the handicapped stall when there were many regular stalls—in fact, there was one available adjacent to the handicapped stall. I appreciated it and said, “Thanks.” She changed her mind.

I hear many excuses for why people take handicapped stalls:

  • “I like the railings.” (Gee, so do I.)
  • “The seat is higher.” (Okay, that’s not a positive for me.)
  • “I have my kids with me.” (I realize that. And, you and your kids can use a regular stall. I can only use the handicapped stall. Besides, what are you teaching your kids?)
  • “I have to change clothes.” (Okay, I understand that. The regular stalls are small. How fast can you change? Can you know that a handicapped stall is available at all times when a handicapped person enters?)
  • “I thought the baby changing table was in here.” (For your 6-year old? Who can sit on the toilet and tell everyone about it? Do you think I can’t hear him?)

There are many excuses. And, I’m not talking about when the line goes out the door and down the hall, and we each take whatever stall is up next. Nope, in that case, you gentlemen are lucky we don’t invade the men’s room. I’m talking about the case when there are empty regular stalls and someone who is not handicapped decides to use the handicapped stall.

I bet some of the people have niggling doubts about their behavior. That’s why they give me excuses.

I don’t ask, except for the woman who tried to cut me off when it was clear she wasn’t handicapped. If I didn’t use a rollator when I travel, I would not look handicapped. Okay, maybe I would, but it would be subtle.

I rarely engage people in the ladies room. I try for a laissez-faire attitude. However, I don’t have the flexibility in the stall choice that able-bodied people have. I would like them to consider me when they act—especially when I’m right there.

I make excuses for myself when I doubt my actions. I suspect other people do, too. For me, that’s time to change my mind.

I often think about whether my actions are congruent with my values. I find I get angry (mostly with myself) when I’m not living according to my values. I suspect that when people feel they need to make excuses to me, they are not behaving in a way that is congruent with their values.

Doubts (or excuses) can be useful for us. They tell us when we are not being true to ourselves. We can listen to our doubts and select a different action. We can adapt. We can change our minds and then our actions.

I happen to believe that changing my mind, especially in the face of more information, is a feature. Some of our elected officials think it is a defect. Interesting, eh?

Dear adaptable problem solvers, that is the question this week: When do you change your mind?

(P.S. If you have a funny/interesting story, please share it in the comments.)

Who is First?

I went to the bank to get something out of our safe deposit box. The bank is “friendly,” meaning there are no queues so you can stand in line for the right person. (#Fail #1)

I first stood in line for a teller because both of the manager-type people were busy. The teller told me I would have to wait for a manager-type person. I had now spent 10 minutes waiting.

The manager-type people were seated at either end of the bank lobby. I poked my head into the first one and mouthed “I’m waiting for you.” I did the same with the other one. I sat down. (#Fail #2)

10 minutes later, a young man with a bank badge came into the bank. He milled around near where I was.

The first manager-type person’s customer left. He jumped into that office. I had enough.

I walked into the manager-type’s office and said, “I was here first.”

The manager-type looked astounded and said, “He’s an employee.”

I said, “I’m a customer. Don’t I come first?”

By this time, the other manager-type came over and asked what I needed. I explained, and in less than 10 minutes, I was done.

I explained my interaction with the other manager-type, and said, “I would be happy to provide her feedback, that when a non-local employee comes in, customers should come first, or they need an explanation.”

She said, “She’s the branch manager.” (#Fail #3)

Who is most important to you? I’ve seen this when I visit my doctors. A doc (or someone medical) enters as the administrator tries to check me in, and interrupts the admin. The doc asked if the admin had seen another doc that morning. I said, “I’m a human, and I am here to check in. Your question can wait.” The admin was astonished and the system had already logged her off. (#AnotherFail) It took another 10 minutes to check me in.

Hierarchy doesn’t impress me. Does it impress you?

Inside the organization, employees have to come first. The represent the face of the company. And, what about when the employees see customers when your business is customer-facing? Who comes first then?

Consider this for yourself. We had to make decisions as parents as our children grew. When did we pay attention to them first and when did we pay attention to our guests first? There is no one right answer for children. I often gathered them in for a hug and said, “I need to answer so-and-so first and then I can talk to you.” Yes, that was an interruption for me before they knew better.

In business, if you treat your employees right by creating a great environment, you can reap significant results. When you interact with customers all the time, you can use transparency. If the manager-type had said, “I have a situation and I need his guidance,” I would have had a different reaction. But to be told, “He’s an employee”? Fuggedaboutit.

When do you make these decisions? How do you make these decisions? Who is most important to you when? There is no One Right Answer. However you answer, someone has to come second.

That is the question this week: Who is first? I look forward to your answers.