Small things often lead to big problems

Today, we will look at one quote from Benjamin Franklin, an early American philosopher, politician, and inventor (be patient, you might have to read this twice):

“For want of a nail, the shoe was lost; for want of a shoe, the horse was lost; and for want of a horse, the rider was lost; being overtaken and slain by the enemy, all for the want of care about a horseshoe nail.” 

This quote talks about three things in my mind that apply to us:

  1. Details are important Neglecting the minor items can ruin us.  Our work in heavily compliance-dominated business is all about the details.  I am always amazed at how many details covering months or years that are examined by the regulatory investigators without a problem.  Doing the small things right leads to compliance with the big things.
  2. The root cause is not always evidentThis illustrates perfectly the importance of getting to the root cause when investigating issues or problems.  Unless we do, the problem is likely to recur.
  3. Big things can be influenced by the most minor of thingsThat one detail we neglect is the one that will cause us problems.  Excellence cannot occur unless we do those small things well.

How about you?  Have you neglected a shoe nail that could lead to a bigger problem down the road?  Are we really looking for the root cause of our problems or merely accepting the first thing we see?  And, do we realize that much can hinge upon little?  What needs our attention today?

Today just might be our very best day yet!   Have a great one!

We should all be an “apprentice” at something

In the middle ages, skilled crafts were passed down through the ages from Masters to apprentices who eventually became Masters.  The process of apprenticeship to Master often required several years of careful and patient learning from the Master.  The Master taught the skills, then observed the apprentice practicing his/her own skills.  There was careful and close supervision in the beginning, but a slow transition to more and more freedom to the apprentice as mastery of the skills was demonstrated.  Eventually, the apprentice had to create his/her own “masterpiece”.  This work was often judged, not only by his/her own Master, but by others to ensure that the piece was worthy of the trade.  Once deemed worthy to be called a masterpiece, the apprentice graduated from apprentice to Master.

Each of us should be serving as either a Master quality practitioner or as an apprentice… or both.  We should be striving to learn something new — a new craft — as we progress in our careers, even if we have mastered one element or field or discipline.  We should be open to learning from someone that has demonstrated exceptional ability with the goal that we would eventually be considered a master ourselves.  Likewise, we should all be either actively involved or aspiring to serve as a “Master” teacher to one or more others.  The best way to really demonstrate your mastery of a craft is to pass it on.  Mentoring is one way to pass it on.  Being intentional about sharing your knowledge is another.

Business today is rapidly evolving.  We are in the midst of significant transformational change that requires that we keep up.   Thus, we need to be intentional about building our own skills, as well as, our team’s bench strength.  Serving as a “Master Practitioner” or volunteering to learn something new as an “Apprentice” is something each of us can do to strengthen our company and better prepare us as individuals and as a company for our future of adventure and intrigue.

All of us should be in the midst of our own “apprentice” journey in something.  How about you today?


Remembering why we do what we do

On a plane trip recently, I met a fascinating young physician traveling to St. Louis.  She has specialties in pediatrics, neurology, and oncology.  Simply put, her specialty is brain cancer in children.  She talked about “her kids” and how special they are.  She was excited about new advances in treatment and how kids are being helped every day by these advances.  She talked at length and with pride about her hospital, St. Jude’s in Memphis, Tennessee, and how no family has to pay for treatment… everything is completely covered by donations.  When she learned that I worked at Mallinckrodt, she spoke of how our products relieve the severe pain “her kids” suffer.  And, the importance of our products, and others, that allow precise imaging of the brain of these children. 

This terrific woman also spoke of serving children in underserved countries… Mexico, Honduras, Dominican Republic, Africa, and others… on her many medical missionary trips.  It was clear to my wife and me that this young lady spent 14 years in medical school, internships, and residencies not to live a life of luxury (by the way, she was flying in coach), but to serve others, especially children.  She also spoke of her own family and the focus on serving she learned from her mother.  It was clear that she was motivated to serve and save the lives of children.  After going our separate ways, I am still in awe of an individual obviously so talented, dedicating her life to children.  It was a pleasure, but humbling, to spend that hour with her.

This dedicated doctor was not motivated by title, prestige, education, or position… she was motivated by what she could do to improve the lives of “her kids.”  So, what motivated me to come to work today?  Am I here to improve the lives of others or am I here for any other reason?  What is that one thing I plan to do today to make a difference for someone else?  How about you?  We don’t all have multiple titles or degrees or the ability to cure brain cancer, but we do have the ability to help turn a bad day into a better one for somebody.  Do you accept the challenge?


Waiting for Montezuma

I had the privilege of vacationing recently at a beach resort in Mexico.  I had three events during the week that emphasize our continuing need to be aware of our surroundings.  Our colleagues in the environmental, health, and safety arena remind us constantly of this in our work setting, but this is just as important in our home and while we are away.  Let me recap these three events to illustrate:

  1. Look Down – As you are probably aware, it has been exactly 5 months since I had back surgery.  Thus, I am still extremely careful and must adhere to many precautions to protect my back as it heals.  At the resort, the concrete and tile walkways are slick… especially so when wet.  Despite my caution, I fell walking down a ramp.  I went from completely horizontal to completely vertical in 0.2 seconds.  My wife and friends were very concerned until it was clear that no harm occurred to my back.  The lesson was to look down and take small, choppy steps all the time to prevent further falls.
  2. Look Around – Later, while with my wife and friends, I decided to trick them.  While they were in a restroom, I lay down on the walkway to fake another bad fall.  Before they could come out, employees from the resort rushed over and began calling for help on their walkie-talkies.  Only after standing up and explaining did they relax.  Again, I was not careful to play my trick when no one else was around.  It did throw a scare into my wife momentarily, though.  I need to look around in the future before attempting such trickery.
  3. Look Up – We were told that the water everywhere in the resort was fine and safe to drink.  However, after a week of this, my caution had worn off.  In the airport on the way home, I needed a drink to take some medication.  I drank water from the faucet in the restroom to take the pills.  Immediately after, I looked up and saw the following sign on the mirror:

“Caution: Water from the faucets is not safe to drink!!!”

Oops!  My failure to look up before drinking has put me into a “waiting for Montezuma’s revenge” period.  So far, no problem.

So, it is good for us to heed the advice from our safety friends to survey our surroundings at all times to protect ourselves and those around us.  Thanks for your great work and have a great day!


Courage without composure

Today, we look at the leadership element:

                        Courage without composure leads to crisis and chaos”

Do you remember the Lion in The Wizard of Oz?  He was, after all, a Lion… yet he lacked the courage to perform even his most basic function in life… scaring people.  To make it even worse, it was clear to anyone that he lacked courage because he lacked composure.  Whenever he encountered anyone or anything, he immediately began to shudder and cower… attributes not at all like a true lion.  As a result, his life and everything around him was in crisis.  He was in chaos, not control.  Eventually, the Wizard helped the Lion realize that he had great courage within him all along.  All he needed to do was realize it and express it.  Immediately, his life became calm and he gained composure worthy of the King of Beasts.

We can be much like the Lion of Oz.  Things, people, events, or circumstances conspire to make us cower in retreat, rather than boldly face our adversary.  Instead of facing that individual or event in a manner of strength and confidence, we all these to make us run in fear.  We become individuals that avoid conflict, avoid people, or avoid any risks at all.  Can you see any of this in your own life?

For anyone to become a true champion – a Lion, we must possess AND exhibit a basic level of courage.  We need to be warriors, not worriers.  We need to hold our head up and face our adversaries.  Surely, this may not be easy, but unless we do, we can expect crisis and chaos in our work and in our lives.

So, catch your breath, hold you head high, and charge forward.  Good things come to those that do.

Thanks to you all for your dedication and diligence.  And, have a “top ten” day.


Drains in your water-tight junction boxes

 I actually heard a Maintenance Manager say once in a meeting, We either need to put high-level alarms or drains in our water-tight electrical junction boxes.”  True story!  This statement is so wrong from several perspectives.  First, this indicates that the water-tight electrical junction boxes are not water-tight.  Thus, they pose a serious electrical short or electrocution risk!  But, just as significantly, this statement indicates that the Maintenance Manager is avoiding the real root cause of the problem and has moved to remediation without correcting the real problem.  In short, he is avoiding the real issue because that may be harder to correct than simply applying a Band-Aid.

How often do we do the same thing?  For example, your car starts dripping oil in your garage.  What do you do?  You put a piece of cardboard under your car to catch the drips and ensure that you buy extra cans of oil the next time you are in town.  You do this instead of finding the source of the leak and getting it fixed.  Or, your teenager has suddenly had a change of behavior that is worrisome.  So, instead of learning what has happened, you go into “punishment mode” to force better behavior.  One more example… you have a completely dysfunctional team.  You make accommodations, you try new approaches, you allow some team members more latitude than others, you allow some members to carry others that are not doing their share, etc., etc.  Sometimes, despite your very best efforts, the root of the problem is something you know, but the fix is difficult.  A colleague recently told the story of one of his teams that was completely dysfunctional until they replaced one member (e.g., corrected the root cause).  This completely changed the team dynamics and performance of the team.

So, the moral of this story is that sometimes, identifying and correcting the true root cause is more work than simply drilling a drain hole in your junction boxes.  However, the ultimate fix could be worth the effort.

Have a fantastic and productive day!  And, don’t forget that this could be the day…  this could still be your best day yet!


Trained Helplessness

Do you know how to train an elephant?  When the elephant is very young, the trainer will tie her up with a strong rope to a tree or other immovable object.  The young elephant will struggle to get loose.  She will try every means possible to get away, but will eventually learn that she cannot escape the rope.  Whenever the rope is tied around her leg, no matter what she does, she cannot escape, so she merely succumbs to the rope.  The trainer can eventually, to the rope to any object (such as a small stake) and the elephant, even through adulthood, will not attempt to escape because she has learned that nothing she does will allow her to be free.  She has been trained to be helpless whenever she is tethered to the rope.

Trained helplessness can occur in humans, as well.  We become “trained” to believe that we are helpless to become free as long as we are tethered to certain things in our life.  For example:

  1. History – Some believe that a failure to achieve certain goals, positions, or responsibilities in the past means that none of these can happen in the future.  Not true!  Many (or should I say most) successful individuals have frequently faced failure, rejection, or negative events to thrive.
  2. Education – Some believe that their careers are limited because they lack a specific degree or discipline in school.  Certainly, there are some positions that require a degree or specific discipline.  However, there are many schools that offer night or weekend programs.  Additionally, a lack of degree might only be a mental tether and not one that could really limit your freedom.  It might be good to investigate.
  3. Family issues – Some are experiencing true problems at home that truly can inhibit their ability to break free of the rope.  However, I want to encourage you to believe that these issues will pass.  Though these problems may seem impossible or that they is no way to resolve them, time has a way of healing.  Having friends to share with or lean on is critical for finding your way through this current darkness.
  4. Financial concerns – Many believe that their current financial situation limits their ultimate ability to live confidently.  Certainly, financial obligations must be met.  However, working through these issues may require assistance from a trained financial advisor.
  5. Fear – It is true that many individuals allow fear to prevent them from reaching their full potential.  Taking that first step outside your comfort zone can lead to the pathway out.
  6. Health issues – Problems with your health or that of a family member can truly limit your ability to live and work freely.
  7. Hopelessness/Depression – Yes, there are individuals burdened by that feeling or hopelessness or depression that can severely limit their feeling of freedom.

Some of our ability to break away from the tether of “trained helplessness” can come from our own resolve or the help of coworkers, family, or friends.  Others need the assistance of trained professionals.

Please also consider how you might encourage a coworker, friend, or neighbor that may be experiencing one of these issues.  Supporting and encouraging each other could help more than you could ever imagine.

Don’t be an elephant!  Thanks for all you do and have a fantastic day!


Don’t miss that opportunity

 I received a note from a colleague after a posting on The Porch.  He expressed the following, “This is very interesting timing that you sent this today.  Yesterday I came across a picture that I keep on my phone.  I am from one of those small towns and understand completely some of the things you described below.  This picture is one of my favorites ever.  I found this on the wall of a Mennonite Dairy outside of Rutledge, Missouri.  We had a hunting spot just down the road from the dairy for many years.  We made it a practice to bring back some glass bottled chocolate milk from most of our trips.”

I really appreciated my colleague’s note and the photo below that he sent.  Please take a close look at the photo.  In our world today, we often fail to realize that taking advantage of opportunities that lie before us may require extremely hard work, personal sacrifice, or difficult challenges.  In a day of “instant gratification” or “just Google it”, we have not developed the patience or fortitude that is often required to take advantage of those opportunities that come our way.  For example, you don’t become an excellent golfer just because you want it and have nice golf clubs.  You have to work diligently and expend long hours to perfect the craft.  In the same way, merely wanting an opportunity to blossom doesn’t make it so.  Hard work, effort, and long hours may be required.  Please just understand that if you are willing to put forth the effort, there will always be a place where you can contribute.

Thanks for all you do!   Have a great day!