The joys of technology

I have not written much for the past few days. As regular readers know, my old computer died a couple of weeks ago. My new computer arrived last week, and I’m still in the process of setting it up. Between that and having an auction the day after it arrived I just haven’t had time to write.

Part of the problem is that my old computer had Windows 8.1, and my new one is Windows 10. I’ve spent more time in “Helps” than I have in doing anything else on the computer! I was very comfortable working in 8.1, and 10 is more different than I realized. It’s turning into a learning curve, but I am making progress.

The very first computer class I took was MS-DOS which was offered by my employer at the time. Obviously, I’ve been involved in a large number of program changes over the years. They all required time to learn the new system, but in most cases the new system turned out to be an improvement. (Not every case!)

As I look back over how tech has changed my life and my way of working it’s really amazing. As a pastor in the early 1980s I wrote our church newsletter on an old upright Underwood typewriter. I used a lot of White-Out in those days. I replaced it with a word processor that showed two lines at a time. I got my first computer when they came out with Windows 3.1. I had taken a class in Windows Office so I ordered it for my computer. It came on 15 disks and took all day to install. (If I remember right I had to have more memory installed on the computer after that because Office took all the memory.)

Along with computer changes there have also been many other tech changes, of course. My first cell phone was a bag phone. That wasn’t anything to hang on your hip! My first Internet connection was free from a company offering Internet to rural communities. You connected through your phone line, and the problem was they only had one phone number. Once the kids got home from school you could forget getting on the Internet until about 10:00 PM. After awhile they offered about 5-6 different numbers you could call, but I think they also began charging something like $9.95 a month.

Each of the changes in technology have made me more productive even though each of them came with a learning curve. I don’t think any one doubts that tech changes will be even more dramatic and frequent in the future. The generations behind me with be doing things with tech that I could not imagine. Hopefully, these changes will be for the better, but there is no guarantee of that.

The one guarantee is that if one doesn’t change with the changes in technology that person will quickly be left behind. Companies that do not regularly upgrade their tech equipment will be at the mercy of their competitors. Workers who do not consistently upgrade their tech capabilities will soon be out of a job or will miss out on promotions because they were not ready for the requirements their new jobs would demand.



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Overcoming limitations

A young wife was cooking a meat loaf when her husband walked in. As she started to put it in the oven he noticed she cut the ends off the meatloaf. He asked why she did that, and his wife said it was because her mother always cut the ends off her meatloaf. He pressed her some more, and she admitted she didn’t know why her mother did that so she called her. Her mother said it was because her mother cut the ends off her meatloaf, but she didn’t know why either. She called her mother and asked why she always cut the ends off her meatloaf, and her mother explained that it was so it would fit in the only pan she had.

Many of us allow the size of our pans to limit the size of our dreams. We’re afraid to dream big dreams because we are so focused on our current limitations we do not believe we could possibly achieve those big dreams. As soon as a dream begins to enter our minds it is followed by all the reasons it’s impossible for us to achieve it.

  • We don’t have the finances.
  • We don’t have the education or training.
  • We don’t have the connections to make it happen.
  • We are afraid of what people will think if we fail.
  • And the list goes on.

Eventually, we stop dreaming and settle for cutting the ends off our meatloaf. A far better approach would be to find a bigger pan.

People have entered my life at various times and encouraged me to get a bigger pan. I had been pastoring a small, rural church for a number of years when I called a person in my denomination and asked what my future ministry might look like. As he ran through a list of options he mentioned that I might consider assuming the role he had. Lacking a seminary education I didn’t think that was an option, but he assured me it was. Within three years I did replace him when he accepted a new role within our denomination. He encouraged me to dream a new dream with a larger pan, and for the next 14 years I served in that role.

In yesterday’s post I shared how a coach helped me when I was at a crossroads. One of the options I was considering was furthering my education, but I was in my mid-50s and wasn’t sure it was feasible to do that. As she helped me think through the process I decided to return to school. I eventually earned both my masters and doctoral degrees finishing the last one at 61 years of age. I am so glad I sought out a larger pan that would hold a bigger dream.

If you’re being limited by a small pan, it’s time you found one that can hold your dreams. I would be glad to help you do that if you’re ready to break free of the things that are limiting you.

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How a coach helped me

A few years ago the organization I worked for hired a coach to train the executive staff on coaching techniques. Not only did we receive hours of training we had the opportunity to have our own coach for a year. Each month I would call her at a designated time and we would discuss whatever I wanted to discuss. At this time I was trying to decide between a couple of career options. I was torn between seeking another job or staying where I was and furthering my education. As she walked me through the thinking process I finally determined that I would stay where I was and further my education. After that I earned both my master’s and doctoral degrees. It was the right decision and one I’m glad to this day I made.

As a result of my experience and training I saw the value in coaching as a way to help people move forward with their lives. I’ve used it many times, both formally and informally, as I’ve tried to help people. Informally, I’ve coached people in simple conversations as we talked about things that were bothering them. Formally, I’ve contracted with people to serve as their life or ministry coach and spent extended periods of time trying to help them move forward in their lives or careers. In fact, my doctoral project was to coach a group of individuals to assist them in addressing challenges they were facing in their lives and careers. As part of our agreement they had to submit a two page paper sharing how that coaching helped or did not help them. Each of them responded positively to the experience.

Some believe that coaching is for people with problems, but that is not always the case. Coaching can help someone who feels stuck and isn’t sure how to begin to move forward again. Coaching can help someone, like I was, who is at a crossroads in their lives and needs help determining which path to take. Major corporations often provide a coach for their top leaders to give them someone to help them think through decisions they need to make.  In fact, approximately 50 percent of Fortune 500 companies now use executive coaching for their top leadership. There are many reasons to hire a coach beyond just to address problems.

While some coaches charge a lot of money for their services, most coaches are quite reasonable in their fees. However, no one should look at hiring a coach as an expense; it’s an investment in one’s future. In a 2001 study of executives who received coaching there was a ROI of 5.7 times the initial investment. A 2004 study done in one company found that out of over 100 managers who received coaching, over 78 percent improved their leadership effectiveness as reported by stakeholders in the company. These are some incredible numbers that prove the value of coaching.

I continue to offer coaching to persons who see the value in being coached. If you would like to know more about how I might add value to your life or career through coaching please DM me.


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Sometimes you just have to persevere

I have an auction Tuesday, June 18. Normally, I send flyers out to persons on my email list about a week before, post a listing and pictures online about two weeks before and send an ad to our local paper a week before. I’ve just about done all this, but it hasn’t been easy. Last Saturday my computer died.

My IT guy worked all morning trying to restart it. When that failed he tried to pull my files from the hard drive. That didn’t work either. I checked my back-up file on the thumb drive. Corrupted. What I was able to get off of it was very minimal. Virtually everything was lost, including but not limited to my auction mailing list. I ordered a new computer, but it isn’t scheduled to arrive until the day of the auction. That means I’m limited to using my laptop which isn’t nearly as convenient as my desktop.

Everything I try to do takes at least three times longer on the laptop than it did on the desktop. This is especially true when trying to type something. Writing this post has seen my cursor jump to different places on the screen 5-6 times already. I never know where I’m writing something unless I keep my eyes on the screen. I’ve tried everything the “experts” say to do to stop that from happening, but none of the suggestions has worked. Trying to insert pictures on the auctionzip webpage took forever. I had to create a new mailing list to replace the one I lost. Instead of five pages of mailing labels I now have 1 1/2 pages, and that took a couple of hours to create. When I tried to send my ad to the newspaper the laptop didn’t want to do it until I answered a bunch of questions to prove I wasn’t a robot. More time wasted. And it goes on and on and on.

Work is like that sometimes. Everything seems to be against you. Everything is a struggle. All anyone can do is persevere. You just have to keep going. Eventually you’ll come out on the other side, and when you do you will feel like a winner. You overcame every obstacle to accomplish what you set out to do!

Next week I’ll have the auction, and it promises to be a good one. My new computer will arrive and I’ll spend a few days getting it set up. Some of the files I lost I’ve used for 20 years moving them from one new computer to another one. Now I’ll have to create them from scratch, and I will. By the time my next auction happens I’ll have the new computer set up and ready to go, and I can look back at this as a bad experience but one I overcame. I encourage you to take that same attitude the next time everything seems to be against you.

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You need a great team

I believe it was John Maxwell I first heard say that if your dream is too small for a team your dream is too small.  Many small businesses began as a one-person show, but eventually the owner of a one-person business will learn that he or she is still an employee…and the boss.  Soon after that recognition comes another awakening – unless you can expand the business to include more people it will never be what you first envisioned it would be.  It will never provide you and your family with the life you wanted when you became a business owner.  It is the failure to develop a team that causes many small business owners to eventually give up and return to the workforce.  It makes no sense to deal with all the headaches that go with owning your own business if you are the only employee and are not making any more money, or often even less, than you were when you were working for someone else.

But, just adding people isn’t enough.  You have to be adding the right people.  Dave Anderson, in his excellent book, Up Your Business!: 7 Steps to Fix, Build, or Stretch Your Organization, writes “You can read books on strategy and attend courses on corporate vision but the fact is that without getting the right people on your team, nothing else you do will matter.  Your vision is worthless, strategy impotent, and values corrupt without the right people to execute them.”  Later in the book he adds, “A great dream with the wrong team is a nightmare because bold goals pursued by mediocre people still result in mediocre results.”  He spends the remainder of his book addressing good hiring procedures, the importance of ongoing training, setting high expectations for the team, and how to survive success by overcoming common temptations that successful companies face.

Adding team members is expensive.  If the owner does it right it takes an enormous amount of time.  The best people do not work for entry level salaries and benefits.  There is the cost of training new people in your culture and in whatever business you may be in.  It is very expensive to hire new people, but the cost escalates much higher when you hire the wrong people.  You have all the expenses the good people have plus you have the additional costs of lost business, a damaged reputation, and your own elevated stress levels while you try to contain the damage they cause.  Unless you begin to feel that you are taking too long to hire a new team member you probably have not taken enough time to do it right.

If you want your business to continue to grow you must be constantly developing team leaders.  You cannot wait until you need a new leader to begin searching for one.  The best companies always have people in the leadership pipeline at various stages of leadership development so when the need arises they can go to that pipeline and immediately bring someone in that is prepared to provide the leadership needed.  Without that pipeline a small business owner will often find that he or she is being held hostage by incompetent, mediocre people that the owner doesn’t want to keep but can’t afford to lose either.

One of the mistakes I made as a small business owner in my previous business was not hiring quality people when I had the opportunity.  It seemed like those people always presented themselves during our slow times, and by the time we needed them they had already found positions with other companies.  If I had it to do over again I would hire them and create a position if I needed to so that I could keep them.  I really believe they would have easily paid for themselves and would have put us in a much stronger position for long-term growth.

When I began my auction business I went to the best people I knew who worked in this business and asked them to work for me. When they accepted I knew I had a winning team who would enable me to achieve far more in this business than I could on my own.

If you want to read a very helpful book on the importance of having a quality team working for you I encourage you to read Anderson’s book.  It is one of the best on the topic I’ve read.

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Why change often fails

It’s the kind of problem that keeps small business owners up all night.  You know you need to make certain changes in how your business operates, but you also know the opposition that will come if you try to make those changes.  You’re not even sure the changes you are contemplating will produce the results you want, but you are certain that your business will suffer if you do not make the changes.  You try to determine which of your team members will be supportive and which will be resistant.  Some of the ones you fear will be most resistant are critical to the success of the change, so how can you get them on board?

One of my favorite books on change was written by John Kotter, a professor of leadership at Harvard Business School.  The title is Leading Change.  In the book he provides an eight step process for implementing successful change in an organization.  They are

  1. Establish a sense of urgency
  2. Create a guiding coalition
  3. Develop a vision and strategy
  4. Communicate the change vision
  5. Empower employees for broad-based action
  6. Generate short-term wins
  7. Consolidate gains and produce more change
  8. Anchor the new approaches in the culture of the organization.

Let me briefly touch on just the first one: establish a sense of urgency.  Kotter believes the failure to do this is one of the primary reasons most change efforts fail.  That has certainly been true for me.  Most of the changes I’ve failed to implement could be attributed to my failure to create a sense of urgency around the change.

People do not want to change until they are convinced the pain of not changing is greater than the pain they will feel when the change is implemented.  As long as they are comfortable with the status quo they will be very resistant to change.  One quick illustration.  Everyone knows that obesity and smoking are not good for one’s health, but how many people wait until they have a heart attack to begin to lose weight and stop smoking?  That initial heart attack creates a sense of urgency and suddenly they realize that they need to make major changes in their lifestyles if they want to enjoy a long productive life.  The same is true with any change that is needed.

Do not begin your efforts to introduce change with “what” until you have addressed the “why.”  Explain why the change is needed and the likely results if the change doesn’t happen.  If you can create the sense of urgency you are much more likely to get buy-in for your change efforts.

If you have not read Kotter’s book I highly recommend it before your next effort to introduce change to your organization.

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Success comes from within

At some time virtually everyone has dreamed of starting their own business.  There is something about owning a business that appeals to many people for various reasons.  They may believe they have a great idea for a service or product they want to offer people.  It may be that they see starting their own company as the path to a better life for themselves and their families.  For some, they are just tired of working for other people.  But, whatever the reason people want to start their own business, most of them never will.  Their daydreams never turn into reality primarily because they convince themselves they can’t do it.  Like the old saying goes, “If you think you can or if you think you can’t, you’re right!”  People who want to focus on all the reasons they can’t succeed or start a new business will find plenty of those kinds of reasons.  Let’s look at some of the most common ones.

  1. I don’t have enough money.  It is certainly true that one of the primary reasons many small businesses fail is a lack of sufficient capital, but are there other ways to get started in your business that do not require a lot of capital upfront?  Do you have to have a brand new van to begin a service business or can you start off with an old beater until you begin to make the money to upgrade?  Do you have to buy a store building to sell your antiques or could you begin by renting a booth in an antique mall?  It may be a slower way to begin, but it at least allows you to begin and this strategy doesn’t require a lot of capital and offers much less risk if you don’t succeed.
  2. I don’t have the education.  People with this excuse evidently believe that education is no longer available.  Guess what…I drive past college campuses and community colleges all the time and see their parking lots full of cars both day and night.  These are people who are getting their education, and many of them are second-career people who are learning new skills and gaining knowledge to begin something different in their lives.  I got my bachelor’s degree when I was 46.  I didn’t get a master’s degree until I was 58 and my doctorate when I was 61 years old.  You are not too old to get the education you need to live your dream.  It’s entirely possible that the new business you want to begin doesn’t require a formal education anyway.  You may be able to apprentice for someone in your off-hours to learn what you need to learn about the business you want to start.
  3. I don’t have the time.  One of the best lessons I learned was in a class I took my very first semester of college.  “You get done what you spend time doing.”  I first heard that in the mid-1980s and it has impacted my life ever since.  If time is a problem you may want to check how you spend your time.  How much of it is in front of the television?  How much of it is spent playing video games?  Spend one month and write down everything you do in half-hour increments and see how you are spending your time.  (If you think that’s not possible, I did it every day for four years!)  This is an exercise that will get your attention!  You can spend your time doing things or you can invest your time in ways that will make a positive impact on you and your family.  Your choice.
  4. I don’t have the experience.  Years ago when I was working in a factory we were being asked if we would work overtime in a different part of our plant.  We were told we had to have experience on that job before we could accept the overtime.  I said yes to the overtime even though I had never even been in that part of the plant.  That next Saturday when I reported to work the supervisor was not happy when he learned I had never done that job before.  I told him, “After today I’ll be experienced.  All someone has to do is show me once.”  I did the job and it went well.  If you don’t have the experience, get it and stop using that as an excuse.  Everyone has done everything they’ve ever done for the first time at some point in their lives.
  5. I just don’t think I’m ready.  Maybe not, but when will you get ready?  More important, what are you doing to make yourself ready?  If you’re doing nothing intentionally to get ready in five years from now you still won’t be ready.

What I really want you to see is that you can find plenty of excuses to keep you from moving forward with your life, but none of these are insurmountable.  What your success as an entrepreneur or small business owner really depends upon is what is inside of you.  How badly do you want this?  What are you willing to do to achieve your dreams?  What sacrifices are you willing to make now that will allow you to enjoy a better life later?   You can read more about this in my latest book Mistakes: Avoiding the Wrong Decisions That Will Close Your Small Business.

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