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lessons-learned

Baby Advice

I’m no expert, but here’s some baby advice for anyone about to have a child:

  1. Read the book “Baby Bargains” — it will pay for itself many times over with saving you money on what to register for and what to buy (it keeps it simple with a value recommendation and a luxury recommendation in each category
  2. What “Happiest Baby” DVD, because it will save you countless hours of sleep when you have a newborn, and no one with a newborn has the time to actually read the book
  3. The Baby Owner’s Manual book looks little silly, but it’s funny and has some great content — I really love how they explain bottle feeding for the dad
  4. You should know — newborn diapers have a stripe that changes color from yellow to blue or green to show when they have a wet diaper
  5. Take one of those 2-4 hour classes at your local hospital on how to diaper and other essentials (unless you’re already a baby expert)
  6. Ask other parents for suggestions on baby registry — there are so many things people register for that you don’t actually need
  7. Have someone professional trained double-check your baby seat installation — I hope you never have a car crash with a baby in the car, but if you do; you want to make sure it’s correct.  Most local police or fire departments offer this service scheduled every month or so
  8. As you get closer to your due date, don’t wait too long to have your home setup and your “go bag” packed and by the front door — we’ve had several fronts whose babies have come very early (1-2 months), so you don’t want to wait until the last minute
  9. Don’t buy used cribs or car seats — the safety of a new, modern item is well worth the cost of those new
  10. Sleep Sacks are so amazing — it’s good to learn how to swaddle your baby like a tiny burrito, but as they get bigger, sleep sacks save so much stress
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Engineer Grandpas are Pretty Cool

My grandfather, a NASA engineer who worked on telecommunications systems for many of the Apollo missions was always coming up with things I never saw anyone else doing.  Some of that came from having engineering education and skills, but much of it came from a willingness to learn new things — he was never intimidated to do something new.

2010_07_04_11_29_090001He loved telling the story of his father wanting to keep squirrels off his grape vines, so he
ran electrical wire through the trellis the vines were on, and put a button by his back door.  When he pressed the button, it would give the squirrels a zap and they didn’t come back to try new grapes.  (Apparently you could tell which squirrels were new to the neighborhood, because each squirrel tried to eat his grapes exactly once.)
When my father was in college, his 1960’s VW Beetle was having significant engine 2010_07_04_11_50_000003problems.  My grandfather didn’t want my dad worrying about the car when he should be focused on school, so my grandfather bought a mechanic’s book on the VW bug and over a weekend he rebuilt the entire engine in his garage and brought it back to my dad.  I heard this story while helping my grandfather adjust the spark plug timing on an old 1970’s Plymouth in his driveway — it was a fun afternoon learning how engines run.
My grandfather came over to our house when I was a kid to help us hang a bird feeder in our backyard.  Instead of some more boring options, he came over with a bow and arrow (pretty cool way to show up at your son’s house), fired an arrow over a tall branch with a rope attached, and used the line to hang the birdfeeder with an anti-squirrel dome over it, far enough from the tree that the squirrels couldn’t jump from the ground, tree, or branch to get to the food.  We had that birdfeeder for at least 15 years, and a squirrel never managed to get on it.
My grandfather installed counterbalancing weights on strings and pulleys for all his sliding screen and glass doors, so you could open and close them with a tiny touch — it wasn’t necessary, but it was a constant touch reminder that with a little effort, creativity, and patience, you can do some cool stuff (and this was long before you could Google, YouTube, or Quora search something).

Don’t get Stuck in the Past, Present, or Future

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized how each person has different tendencies.  Some of us are introverted.  Some are analytical.  In addition to personality axes like introverted vs. extroverted, thinking vs. feeling (see Myers-Briggs); people often have a tendency to either live in one of these times instead of balancing their time among them:

  • Past – Looking back at what has happened in your life, learning from mistakes and reflecting on what happened and what they learned about themselves through those experiences
  • Present – Engaging in the present, connecting with people and experiences as they happen
  • Future – Looking down the road and making plans, setting a vision and goals for your life

Each of these perspectives is important in moderation, but people sometimes get into trouble by being too focused one view — they can get stuck reliving the past (they miss life entirely, always looking behind them), living only in the moment (reacting to the present without looking down the road and making any plans) so life happens to them instead of creating the life they want, or only focusing in the future, so life passes them by while they make and refine plan after plan.  Don’t get stuck in only one of these — make time to look at all 3.

To quote the cinematic classic Spaceballs, which is almost partially relevant to this discussion:

Colonel Sandurz: Try here. Stop.

Dark Helmet: What the hell am I looking at? When does this happen in the movie?

Colonel Sandurz: Now. You’re looking at now, sir. Everything that happens now, is happening now.

Dark Helmet: What happened to then?

Colonel Sandurz: We passed then.

Dark Helmet: When?

Colonel Sandurz: Just now. We’re at now now.

Dark Helmet: Go back to then.

Colonel Sandurz: When?

Dark Helmet: Now.

Colonel Sandurz: Now?

Dark Helmet: Now.

Colonel Sandurz: I can’t.

Dark Helmet: Why?

Colonel Sandurz: We missed it.

Dark Helmet: When?

Colonel Sandurz: Just now.

Dark Helmet: When will then be now?

Colonel Sandurz: Soon.

Dark Helmet: How soon?

Life Advice from a Man of Many Skills

My dad was full of lots of great advice — he was raised by polar opposite parents, a reserved NASA engineer and a high-energy, life-of-the-party mother who was always a great hostess.  His wisdom comes from a diverse career that includes working at McDonald’s, selling microwaves when they were first available, selling real estate, teaching sixth graders, working in the tax industry (H&R Block), providing customer service at Home Depot, delivering car parts anywhere they were needed, and mentoring teenagers who made some bad choices early in their life:

  1. Prepare for big purchases long before you need them:  I remember going car shopping when my father when I was about 12 years old.  Our car was running fine, but my father wanted to know what car he would buy if one of our cars died suddenly on us; so he wouldn’t have to rush into a decision.  And I think he was excited to try to convince the salesmen that his young son was really the car purchasing decision maker, which was pretty amusing.
  2. Whenever I was competing in something, my father was quick to find ways for me to observe others to learn what to do, and what not to do.  When I was taking swim lessons, we’d go early and watch other kids jump off the diving board.  When I played sports, we’d come early or stay late to watch other kids play.  When we went to the boardwalk at a beach, we’d want other kids play carnival games to figure out if you could win and if so, what the trick was.  My father is also always quick to ask recommendations and tips from people, like waiters at restaurants (“What’s your most popular dish?  What’s your favorite?”)
  3. Think through the total cost of ownership of things — he loved to remind me that he thought dual exhaust was so cool when he was shopping for his first car, but his father reminded him that he’d have to buy twice as many mufflers when they failed.  And those 17″ allow wheels means your tires will just cost that much more to replace.
  4. There’s no such thing as extra credit in this house“:  You might think this means we didn’t have to do extra credit when it was offered in school.  You’d be wrong — this meant that extra credit in any form, when offered, was required; just like completing all our required assignments.
  5. Never be a afraid to try:  I remember several times as a child where my dad would encourage me to do something that seemed impossible to do or win.  In elementary school, there was an annual egg drop contest where kids would build contraptions to protect an egg that was dropped from an extended fire engineer’s ladder.  My father encouraged me enter both the standard category and the category where the entire egg-holding-contraption could only be made from toothpicks and glue.  It sounds like a crazy mission, but we created a football-looking thing with a little egg compartment, and I was the only kid to even try to make anything for that category.  It’s a great lesson to teach:  You can’t win if you don’t show up and try

Growing up, my dad loved to quote Mark Twain — it was frustrating at the time, but I appreciate him reminding me:

When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.

Work on your life, Not just in it

I was chatting with some friends recently about making time to reflect on your life, and making time to really connect with close friends, digging into each other’s lives.  It stuck me that the concept of ‘You need to work on your business, not just in your business’ (paraphrased) from The E-Myth is very relevant to both business and your personal life.  Gerber is making the point that entrepreneurs often get mired in the distractions of doing day-to-day things (operations) without making time to build a business (strategy, business architecture) — things like enabling the company to scale by defining strategic objectives/plans, processes, expectations, etc.

Just like that, it’s all too easy for me to live my life in a reactive mode, trying to work on the next crisis, both in my job at at home, without taking time to sit down, reflect, think about my priorities and objectives, and what types of mental models/worldviews are informing those goals.  In your life, don’t forget to make time to think about your life — whether it’s in a structured way (e.g. creatingyourlifeplan.comlivingforwardbook.com) or just taking time every month or quarter to reflect, journal, and dream about what you want to change in your life.  Companies are much better at strategic planning than most people are (though certainly not perfect Holacracy Bicycle Metaphor ).

Dad always said “Return Things Like You Found Them”

Growing up, my father had a few mantra that he would repeat over and over again for my sister and me.  One of them was:

Always return things to the way you found them

When I would borrow my Dad’s tools to take a part something (hopefully something that was approved for disassembly), he would always want me to put back his tools exactly the way he found them.  It wasn’t enough to put them back in an orderly fashion — he wanted them the way they were. As a child, I thought this was a little unreasonable — I mean, sometimes I would put them back so they looked nice and organized.  As an adult, I realize that when you lend something to someone, there’s an expectation that you return it just as it was. A few years ago, I lent someone a video game console that I wasn’t using.  It was a gift to me, and I took good care of it — I had owned it for several years and still had the original box, the instructions, and all the cables.  I didn’t think to tell my buddy the condition I wanted it back in, I thought that was implied in loaning it.  I was wrong — I got it back in working condition, but some of the cables I needed were missing (apparently he didn’t need them) and the box was gone.  Part of me was frustrated because he didn’t take good care of something I loaned him.  Another part of me was frustrated at myself because I didn’t explicitly state “I want all of this back in the same condition I’m loaning it to you.” Driving home, I realized that my dad was on to something with his lesson — I hope that as an adult, I take good care of the things people loan me, whether it’s a computer, a piece of luggage, or their home when I visit, etc. As a child, I thought my dad was just annoying particular about his stuff.  As an adult, I realize that he was (sometimes annoyingly) particular, but he was also teaching me to respect other people’s things — something I appreciate much more now that I borrow things that are much more valuable and have things of my own to loan others. Mark Twain was on to something with this:

When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.

Misadventures in Badge Printing: How Not to Issue 1,000 Badges

Several years ago, near the beginning of my professional career, I was a junior engineer helping with the design and issuance of new access badges for a campus of employees where I worked.  Thousands of employees would be getting new badges, they would wear it around their neck on a lanyard and it would have their name and picture on it, along with some other information and it would let them badge into the their work building.access-badge

The Project Manager I reported to, and the Security Manager (our client in essence), were focused on some parallel projects and trusted me to do a good job with relatively limited oversight regarding badge design, layout, and configuration.  I designed a variety of types of badges that denoted different types of employees, laid out all the badge information, configured the magnetic stripe encoding, configured the security groups for the access control system; and presented my leaders with my recommended approach.

Everything looked good, and we moved forward — the security office began issuing new badges to employees, scheduling times for employees to come to the security office to get their picture taken, hand in their old badge, and receive their new badge.  This badge issuance wasn’t cheap, as we were spending significant time for employees and security officers, as well as printing color badges on RFID badges (which at the time weren’t cheap).  After several days of badge issuance, with nearly a thousand badges issued, an employee came up to the security office and asked one of the security officers standing next to me:

Why is our company’s name spelled wrong on my badge?

I started at the badge while I started to realize the impact of this error.  I had misspelled one of the wordHead in Handss in the company division’s name, leaving out a letter.  I was horrified.  We had just spent a huge amount of time and money, and now I realized that my badge design had an obvious spelling error.

With great fear and embarrassment, I told the Security Manager and my Project Manager of my mistake.  Clearly we had to admit the mistake, buy more badges, ask those employees to come back, and ask the security officers to work more extended shifts to get this done.

What shocked me was how the security manager treated it.  I’ve seen managers scream at people for much less, but this guy took it in stride.  He realized the cost of this mistake, but also realized that I already felt horrible, it wasn’t intentional, and he reviewed and approved the badge design without catching the error.  I learned to spell check work products, but more importantly I learned that great leaders take the blame (and pass credit on to their people).

See this Snickers commercial for a similar misadventure:

Wait Time, or How Time Doesn’t Always Fly

A few years ago, we did a team building exercise at work which involved the group whiteboard_examplecollaborating on a vague project with no defined roles for any of us.  I think exercise was intended to show how different personality types could better collaborate, though I learned a very different lesson.

The group of about 15 people was given a vague task, and no leadership roles were assigned.  After what felt like roughly eternity happened, I jumped up to the whiteboard to start facilitating a discussion on how to tackle the challenge.  At the end of the exercise, the person leading the exercise asked me how long I felt like I waited before getting up.  I estimated something like 30 seconds.  I was quickly corrected that it was more like 3 seconds.  In the awkward (at least to me) silence of no one leading or coordinating, I jumped in to coordinate.  I regret not being more self-aware — I wish I could have let people who weren’t in leadership roles get to practice leading and facilitating.

My father, a career 6th grade school-teacher, always talked about the concept of Wait Time when I was growing up:

It can be extremely awkward when a teacher asks the class a question, and it’s met with nothing but crickets. Research has shown that in most classrooms, students are typically given less than one second to respond to a question, regardless of grade level. At the end of that second, some teachers break the silence by either expanding the question or providing the answer. Other teachers choose to cold call on a student for an answer, which typically results in a brief recall response or an embarrassed shrug.

This time period between the teacher’s question and the student response is called wait time…

The teaching concept of Wait Time talks about the need to allow enough time for people to think about a question and formulate an answer.  The concept of wait time should be applied both to letting someone answer and also ensuring that you don’t respond immediately, without thinking about what they said.  brian-regan

Brian Regan (a hilarious comedian) captured it well in his Me Monster bit, where people are trying to one-up each other, waiting for the other person’s lips to stop moving, so they can tell their story to impress everyone else.

Nobody likes the Me Monster, and nobody likes the person who can’t wait for a few seconds to hear what other people in the group think.

Turning around on the highway

This may be obvious to people, and it’s probably near useless now that everyone has a GPS highway-exit-rampin their car or on their smartphone; but if you want to turn around and go the opposite direction on the highway, you should take the second exit.  The first exit will likely turn to the right of the highway, while the second one will likely loop over or under the highway and let you go in the other direction.

Of note, the A exit is only first going in one direction, so don’t assume that A always becomes before B.

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