When Inspiration Meets Motivation

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What inspires you? It doesn’t happen all of the time but we certainly know when it hits us, right? Inspiration is that sudden rush; that “ah ha moment” when a force brings clarity to a puzzle that you have been pondering for the longest time. Inspiration can come in many forms such as hearing a slogan at just the right time, with just the right music, when it feels like that moment was designed to play out only for you. Or you may have witnessed an act of kindness and now feel compelled to do something nice as well. Even a good movie can set off a spark in your brain that changes the path of your day… or life for that matter.

Are they the same? If dissected long enough, I’d say no. Inspiration tends to be an outside energy that you didn’t expect or anticipate. Motivation is in it for the relative long haul… assuming you are strong enough to keep it at the forefront of your mind. Neither is truly long-lasting, both diminish over time, and both take work to maintain. They are though, very necessary though to move you ahead in your sport, career, life, that they are worth studying. Without them both, you will surely find yourself struggling to get to that next rung on the ladder. You need both to succeed.

Many recent opinions on how to best direct you life focus on understanding your strengths and then capitalizing on them. Books such as Strengthsfinder by Tom Rath dedicate entire curriculums to educating yourself on what you do best and casting all else aside. I believe in this theory yet a strange thing occurs when an energetic person does something that they are good at – they get bored easily! Your motivational goal may be in place but without the inspirational spark, the mind tends to leave the selected path in search of other challenges.

How does one find inspiration? You can look for it but initially inspiration finds you. Like many other things in life, the road unfolds before you just when you least expected it to. Be ready for inspiration at any time so that when it hits, you can diagnose the scene immediately. Where were you? What lead you to that place in time? What factors provoked you to have a shift in opinion or feeling? Pay attention to inspiration so that you can go back and find it again. This is where motivation kicks in. Motivation is the drive to do something with your inspiration. So plan out a new goal. Recreate the inspirational setting. Lock it in all together and stay focused!

Found it? Count yourself lucky because most people don’t get inspired often and when they do, they aren’t conscious enough to act on that impulse. If you are doing something that you are good at, something that matters to you, AND you just got further inspired, then you can be confident that you are on the right track. Now get to work!

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Individual Moments of Awe

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I read a nice article in SUCCESS Magazine this month by Rochester’s own Melissa Balman from the UofR. She talked about finding solace in simple, small, often momentary beauty during your day – which can be carried into the rest of your daily life such as work or family time. These moments can boost your health, make you more productive, and even help you stay healthier.

She surveyed people in her network who listed their personal moments of awe or wonder such as:  Seeing a new leaf growing, watching a sleeping baby, the silence that you can feel after a winter snowfall, and listening to the perfect song at the perfect time.  They also say you can’t be angry and grateful at the same time so maybe a little more gratitude in the form awareness is all we need in this fast-paced world.

So I pass this poll along to you… what tiny thing do you appreciate in your life that makes everything else worth while?  For me yesterday, it was coming home from a long day at work and being happily greeted at the door by a loyal dog with a wagging tail.

Think about it…

Less Is Still More

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Ahh the new year.  So much hope and ambition bursts forth as the prior year falls to the wayside.  Many feel the need to make empty resolutions to improve parts of their life: “Get back to the gym, Spend Less money, Eat Healthier, Stop Drinking…” whatever your vice, we’ve all concocted a statement to help us kick-start yet another new beginning.  This is the one time of the year that the little angel on our shoulder gets to do all of the talking while the devil sleeps off his holiday party hangover.

The goal might come in the form of a casual comment made during a New Year’s Eve party or at a family gathering but most of us have no intention (or more importantly a plan) to make the resolutions stick.  If you have every been a member at a gym for an extended period of time, you dread going in January and February.  Why?  Not because you don’t want to work off the extra holiday pounds, it’s because the resolution makers are there during those initial months and it’s packed!  Yes, they will be gone come March but man, it’s not fun waiting for them to go.

So how many resolutions did you make:  Five?  Ten?  Did each facet of your life get covered such as: Personal, Career or Health?  Once you start adding them all up you will either be overwhelmed or more likely, guilty that you have such a big list!  The initial hurdle isn’t in your big list.  It’s a great idea to have such a wide selection to take stock of your life.  The problem lies in trying to focus on so many all at once.  You will never fully attain your goals when none of them has your full attention.  The best bet is to narrow your selection to only THREE and then keep the rest in a safe place for future reference. Trust me you’ll  need them later on because you WILL attain your first three goals.  Making any more than three important goals is useless and high level, successful people don’t bother to do it…  so cut yourself some slack and focus your list!

Once you have your three critical goals for the new year, having a plan is the only way to guarantee that you will obtain them.  We all set mini goals or have life goals but how many of those did you write down?  If you didn’t write any down last year, how many of them got fulfilled?  Writing down your ambitions might seem weird if you haven’t tried it before.  “I know them, why write them down?”  Because you need to look at them daily in order to keep them at the top of your mind.  Writing anything down – even if it is simple, brings it to life.  Try it!

Lastly you also need to check in on a regular basis to monitor your progress.  Daily is best but no matter the frequency, make it a habit.  Think of it as a cashier cashing out at the end of their day.  Be honest with yourself and acknowledge your progress.  You don’t deserve to NOT achieve your goal so don’t lie to yourself – not even a little.  It is critical that you take stock of whether you are above or below the next step on the path to your goal.

Are you ready to get focused?  Think about where you want to be come 2016 and start working on your plan!

Lessons Learned from Bonsai Trees

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There is an old saying that goes something like:  “You can’t force a tree to grow at a different pace than nature will allow, so why agonize over its given speed?”  Ponder it for a while.  So too it goes with your personal pace in comparison to the world that surrounds you.

After recently spending a week at the US National Bonsai Exhibition, surrounded by small trees that were up to thousands of years old, you can witness firsthand the simplistic power of that saying.  Everything has its own pace.  And don’t let the tree’s meticulous appearance or short stature lead you astray – they like we have a personal growth cadence.  The tree’s height and shape can be dictated by external influences such as their pot size, fertilizers, pruning or availability of sun but ultimately it’s up to them to determine the growth rate.  The vast horticultural techniques that a grower uses on a tree only determine its eventual outcome.

The environment that you live makes you feel comfortable or not based on the personal pace you were born with.  It shapes and determines your eventual place in the world; only you know if that pace feels right and is in harmony with your predetermined tempo.  A man may work uncomfortably on the hyper fast NY Stock Exchange floor for 20 years and end up in the hospital from high blood pressure.  This would be a case of having too much external influence pushing him along.  Likewise if you push a tree to grow too fast or slow and focus your attention too intently on it’s given actions, it won’t be too long before the tree reacts poorly.

The same man may also choose to become a monk, living in a tranquil setting.  Comparatively these drastically different external surroundings could affect his feelings in a positive manner.  Or… maybe this choice is found to be too slow of a lifestyle and the man wakes up to find that he is again uncomfortable.  Only he knows what’s right.

Looking closer at your day-to-day pace, you will feel varying levels of motivation or contentment for where you are in your life.  Sometimes you are “in the zone” and there aren’t enough hours in the day to accomplish everything you want.  On other days the world may feel like it is flying by while your feet are stuck in the mud.  The best path is to enjoy the day and not worry about where the hours end up.  If you want to get super philosophical with me, I doubt that water in a stream has anxiety over going through a rock in its path; it just flows around it and stays on its own course.

Some species of trees grow at rates far different from others thanks to Mother Nature and growers need to work with them using distinct and appropriate methods.  For example, you can’t ignore pruning on a fast growing Redwood bonsai while in comparison, a White Cedar variety requires very little attention.  In your travels you will come upon distinctive people as well that have a pace which is not average.  Do not try to change them and don’t waste your energy fretting over their differences from yours.  Everyone is unique.  Your personal goal should be to observe and figure them out so that you can adjust accordingly.

Are you still with me or did you get bored and move on because of the numerous analogies?  Next time you feeling out of sync or are mad that you are stuck in traffic, think about the little trees growing.  You are being pushed or slowed down for a reason – you might not need to be as far ahead on the road as you think.  No need to honk and pass on the shoulder, just relax and leave it to the road to get you to where you need to be!

Have you taken a Gemba Walk lately?

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If you are in charge of anything or lead someone other than yourself, you need to get walking… now! When it comes to Lean process improvements, I prefer concepts that are sustainable. There is no sense in reading all about a complex tool that you will never be able to properly implement at your company.   Simple and easy to understand are the way to go 90% of the time and since that’s where the low hanging fruit can be found, that’s where you should invest your time.

“Gemba” refers to the Japanese term meaning “Where the work is done”. Unless you are a “one man show”, that work isn’t going to be found at your desk, its out in your sales office, your manufacturing floor, your showroom;  anyplace that your clients are paying you to stay in business.  “Walking the Gemba” simply means that you are following the bread crumbs from one end of your business process to the other.  Along the way you are taking notes about the flow from the employees viewpoint but with your eye for waste.

What is waste? We can talk more about this in future posts but essentially you want to ferret out the following types of problems: If extra steps are being taken, if employees are not sure about how to proceed, if too much of an item is being made, if employees are waiting on another department for work… even if employees are being underutilized based on their skill-set.  Waste is your hard earned profit leaking out of holes in your ship that you don’t see.

Get it all down on paper, detail it up, ask questions and then ask more questions! A good leader must poke and prod to get to either a better understand of what their experts are doing or to unearth an undiscovered problem.  You have to depend on your coworkers for good information so always tread lightly and be respectful.  You are not looking to point fingers with this exercise, you are creating an outline to prevent future problems, confusion, and WASTE!

The well documented walk will solve half of the problems that you find and you may only find half of the total issues.  Wait that’s only 25%, what kind of improvement is this??  Don’t be discouraged.  They say that any documented problem is half solved so rest assured that you are making good progress.  After getting your issues down on paper, you can sort out the biggest offenders and then use Lean tools such as 5S, A3, etc to get them solved.  Don’t give up – follow through with your effort and plug the holes.

Routinely walking the  Gemba will start opening your eyes to finding waste.  Trust me it will get easier and easier.  Just don’t sit at your desk thinking about your business processes, get up and get to work!

It’s time to Celebrate!

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Celebrating success no matter how small seems simple enough – but in everyone’s daily rush to meet goals and correct mistakes it often gets forgotten.  I believe that without this crucial step in a leader’s daily plan, future projects will be less productive.  Compliments and rewards are valuable tools, the sparks that keep everyone’s fire burning – revealing their innate drive to contribute more than their share to the cause at hand.  Each project, every month, whatever the span of time being discussed, builds on the prior segment’s emotional success or lack there of.  Before you know it, each of those segments energy create your company’s culture.  Celebrate now and at every given opportunity or risk a stagnating future!

Point of View Awareness

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Your point of view is formed over time by the experiences that you encounter from day-to-day.  Before you know it you may have forgotten about how another person, culture or class lives their life.  Our world is so diverse that even with the Internet, you are likely to never even know where many others garner their inspiration from.  And perspective doesn’t just relate to other people.  Animals live a life from their own unique perspective; plants grow under specific environments… there is always another way to look at life.  Lets expand on this…

At work you may be sitting in a business meeting and feel that your opinion has a higher value than your coworker’s does.  Often times if the other person feels strongly that they too are right, it may be best served to fully listen to where their idea comes from.  Ideas backed by passion are typically not unjustified.  Is this easier said then done in a negotiation setting?  Probably.  But just being aware of yourself while the conversation is occurring is a valiant start towards understanding.  I am typically in a disjointed balancing act with my inner voice during a heavy meeting:  Weighing out the importance of listening, choosing words for my part of the conversation, holding back ego, and just as important – looking for perspective.

In another setting you may be upset with someone you have to deal with daily.  You may feel that they have done something to offend you or bruised your ego.  The damaging effect of living with this anger is not just a waste of your time but hurtful to your continued relationship.  I recently put off a necessary conversation for several painful hours while I tried to cool off and formulate the right words.  Time seemed to come to a stop before I chose the most appropriate time to review the situation at hand.  Only to have the stress bubble pop within seconds of starting an open and honest conversation.  Their emotional explanation and perspective not only changed my view on what had happened but helped them move forward as well.

If you enjoy studying human interaction, philosophy or life in general, you already know that one of the best instances to experience is an “aha moment”.  That time when you learn a life altering or perspective shifting lesson in an instant.  This week I stumbled upon one in an unexpected place.

A coworker let me know that through our company security cameras, they saw someone trespassing on the property and “doing something” near the employee entrance to the building.  Upon investigating I met a gentleman who had parked his trusty bike in the snow near the door and disassembled our plastic cigarette butt safety bin.  When I opened the door he paused in the 10-degree weather and nodded his head in acknowledgement.  At the same time he finished stuffing two big handfuls of expired cigarette butts into his tattered flannel jacket.  When asked what he was doing he stated that he was collecting used cigarette butts so that he could combine the remaining tobacco for his own use.

My security guard attitude immediately diffused and my perspective on social class shifted dramatically.  I thought that I was aware of the life that many less fortunate than me may be living through intermittent volunteering or working in a humble neighborhood.  I couldn’t have been further from the facts as it had never crossed my mind that someone would take the time to smoke used cigarettes.  Meeting this man reminded me that I am grateful for my life and fortunate to have a decent job.  It also taught me that perspective is both ever-changing and never 100% right.