Archive for April, 2008

Recommended Reading: The 4-Hour Workweek

The 4-Hour Workweek

I was going to write a big, wordy review of Tim Ferriss’ book, “The 4-Hour Workweek,” but honestly, that’s not my thing. I do however want to tell you about this book because I love books that blow my mind wide open and make me think differently.

Here’s why I liked it:

  • Ferriss debunks the myth you have to be rich to live the life you want.
  • Why wait for some undefined future retirement to start enjoying life? Life is happening now and he offers specific ways to get the most out of it.
  • I won’t lie; I waste time during the day: checking email too much, surfing the web, whatever. You probably do too. This book challenges the 8-hours-plus-a-day-butt-in-the-chair rule and made me have big new thoughts about how I could really be using my time.
  • He acknowledges that you will have fears when considering your dreams and proposes a sound plan for working through them. It’s very similar to how I coach people so of course I like it.
  • The book gives detailed information on how to dream—creating “Dreamlines” which are exciting things you want to do coupled with timelines, costs and plans for doing them.
  • Ferriss offers great questions such as “What excites me?” vs. “What do I want?” Can you feel the difference when you ask yourself the former?

Even if you’re not ready to chuck it all and travel the world, this book is filled with thought-provoking and practical advice about how to take charge of your worklife in order to have a life. Four-hour workweek aside, wouldn’t be worth it if you could go from a 60-hour workweek to a 40-hour workweek? Worth checking out.


April 23, 2008 at 1:10 pm Leave a comment

It’s a Total Cluster!

When I was a corporate citizen one of my favorite and most-used words was cluster&*#$ (rhymes with fustercluck). I, along with many co-workers (with much credit to Justin Foster), developed a colorful vocabulary to describe the escalation of problems and associated emails, meetings and actions one experiences in the corporate world when it all goes bad.

FYIs usually come in the form of emails and are used to inform a superior or other relevant party that a problem (such as a Minor Cluster) may be brewing. They usually do not require further action, but in some cases the recipient may choose to respond with a Little Sit-Down.

Little Sit-Down
Describes the conversation that happens between two professionals when there are issues to be addressed. It’s not usually an acrimonious meeting, but is a bit stronger than a FYI. You might say something like, “I need to have a Little Sit-Down with Jones in advertising to get on the same page vis-à-vis the Widgets-R-Us account.” (It’s my sincere hope you don’t really talk this way, but you get the idea.)

Minor Cluster
A Minor Cluster may follow on the heels of an FYI or come out of the blue.  Somewhere, someone screwed up enough to cause a ripple of angst within the company. A Minor Cluster may result in a Swirl, various Sit-Downs, another FYI, or all of the above (common).

A Swirl is the frenetic-but-unproductive activity that usually follows a Cluster of any type. Swirls may include some or all of the following: executive requests for impossible-to-gather information, 5 p.m. meetings, quickly implementing Cluster fixes only to pull them 30 minutes later, multimedia finger-pointing, crazy idea generation, breathless emails, closed-door office meetings and my favorite, being asked to do something that takes 3 months in less than an hour (i.e. magical thinking).

Total Cluster
A Total Cluster has an especially strong correlation to a Come-to-Jesus (see below). When a Total Cluster happens, the proverbial crapola has hit the fan. A Total Cluster is always followed by a mad flurry of activity to fix the problem, much Swirling and usually more than a little CYA activity as well. There will be some kind of unpleasant fallout from a Total Cluster. You know you’ve hit the cluster hall-of-fame when someone says, “We don’t want this to turn out like another <insert name of cluster event here> again.”

The conversation that happens with the responsible party after a Total Cluster. If this is a client/vendor relationship, the vendor will be put on notice to not do this again or else. There will be a high degree of mea culpa-ing and talk of “make goods.” If the talk is between internal groups, there will likely be blaming and finger-pointing, which may include evidence presented via Excel or PowerPoint. The ideal outcome of a CTJ is that the parties can get past the anger to have a true meeting of the minds (MOM) to resolve the issue and ensure it doesn’t happen again. Sadly, this does not always happen.

Smart corporate denizens will arrange to have a Heart-to-Heart (H2H) with one key person from the “other side” after a Come-to-Jesus (or even before). This is where the two individuals privately air any grievances and attempt to repair the relationship in order to move forward. The Heart-to-Heart is not used nearly enough and can be very effective in heading off future Sit-Downs, Clusters and Come-to-Jesus events. The key to the H2H is to be honest and forthright and willing to see the situation from your compatriot’s point of view.

Tips for Staying Sane in the Face of a Cluster

1. Stay Calm
Do not buy into the hysteria around you. A good rule of thumb is the more intense people get, the calmer you should strive to be. If you need to, take a moment to step outside, have a momentary freak out and then take a deep breath and calm yourself. Not only is this just good for your state of mind, but you’ll be much better equipped to come up with viable solutions to the problem at hand. Plus people will think you’re amazing under pressure.

2. You are not the cluster.
Even if you are unfortunate enough to be at the center of the latest tempest, remember that these events do not define you. This is simply a bump in the road, and no matter how big the bump, it will pass. 

3. Fall on your sword.
Mistakes happen, do your best to clean up the mess, fall on your sword as needed, and move on. Taking responsibility is a much better tactic than denial. You might still be in hot water, but people will respect you for taking responsibility. Just don’t overdo it, martyrdom is going too far and makes others uncomfortable.

4. It’s just clothes.
This is what one of my mentors used to say to remind me to have perspective. We worked for an apparel retailer and ultimately no matter how important we thought our work was, we were just selling clothes. This may not work if you’re an emergency room doc, but it does the trick for most gigs.

5. Remember that you’ll have a funny story later.
Clusters are almost always hilarious in hindsight. It could take a couple of years, but at some point this is going to make a great story.

Have your own cluster or vocabulary word to contribute? Comment and share.

April 14, 2008 at 1:57 pm 1 comment

Bosses Gone Wild

Bosses Gone WildBack in the day when I was but a young online marketing ingénue, I was living the idyllic life, working for a mentor I adored as part of a smart, cohesive and fun team (at least that’s how I remember it). Then, my first corporate reorg occurred and I found out effective immediately, I would be moving to Team X and reporting to my new boss, I’ll call him “Tad.” Tad was the new exec on the block and had a reputation for “shaking things up” and “straight talk.” Little did I know at the time that this is code-speak for this guy is a megalomaniacal jerk.  

Team X and Tad had a different vibe. Tad lead his team with a unique mix of bombast, intimidation, and manipulation with just a dash of sexual harassment to keep things interesting. Tad’s favorite thing to do was call the team together and yell at/lecture us on obscure sociological topics for up to 3 hours at a time (I’m not exaggerating). Fun. Needless to say I did not respond well to this management style.

One day, Tad tracked me down and called me to his office. I managed to avoid him most of the time since I worked in another building. Then, with his office door open, he tore into me about some perceived mistake I made. To top it off, he then proceeded to deliver a pandering lecture that was supposed to “help” me “get” whatever he perceived I wasn’t getting. All of this within clear earshot of all my coworkers and lasting for a couple of hours. To this day I still cringe at the thought of dodging the spittle while sitting there enduring his tirade and trying not to cry (I didn’t thank god). I was humiliated, angry and ready to walk right out the door.


That’s not a question I could ask much less answer at that time. I spent a lot of time feeling victimized by Tad and eventually threatened to quit my job if I wasn’t moved to another manager (not a recommended move unless you’re really ready to walk). There was practically a take-a-ticket machine at HR for Tad by this time so it came as no surprise to the powers-that-be. But why did Tad’s tirades make me feel so bad?

Because I believed him.

I was insecure and intimidated by him and others around me. I believed I was not as smart as the rest of Team X so Tad’s tirades felt like a knife in my heart. This is an important distinction—it wasn’t Tad’s words that were cutting me, it was my THOUGHTS about his words.

What if I hadn’t believed Tad? What if I completely believed that I was smart, talented and that nothing bad would happen to me no matter what he said? I’ll tell you what would’ve happened—it would’ve been a much shorter meeting. If I didn’t believe what Tad is saying, I wouldn’t have attached to it emotionally, which would have allowed me to use my rational mind to extract myself from the situation—and would’ve made me a much less attractive target for his tirade. (People like this pick up insecurity like a scent and will go for the jugular every time.)

Here’s how it could’ve gone had I not believed what he was saying:

Tad: Bridgette, you totally screwed up the TPS report.

Bridgette: Hmmm, can you give me more specifics about what you expected to see?

Tad: Well, you should’ve attached the cover sheet to the TPS report thusly.

Bridgette: Ok Tad, I’ll make sure to do that next time. Later.

I can tell you that I wouldn’t have hung around for hours of verbal abuse. When I believe I’m worthy, there are a million ways to handle this situation, most of them involving a very short conversation. When I’m emotionally attached, I shut down and become stuck.

I couldn’t change Tad (turns out Tad couldn’t change himself and was eventually fired), but I could’ve changed my thoughts about the situation. When you don’t believe something is true, it’s impossible for someone else to attack or victimize you. What they are saying will literally seem bizarre or even laughable to you—it’s just not real. Try it and see what happens.

April 7, 2008 at 4:14 pm 2 comments

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