Sunday, October 11, 2009

Check me out on YouTube

I'm in Thailand at the moment, for three weeks of backpacking. To capture the experience, I've bought a minicamcorder and am making short vlogs about the sights, sounds and experiences I'm encountering. So if you're interested:

http://www.youtube.com/user/tiamat84

Friday, October 2, 2009

Great Expectations

At the moment I’m in the midst of a project where things seem to be going awry with every turn. Approaching a point where both sides are feeling resented about the whole situation and formalities are being thrown at each other. All coming down to: “In our opinion, this isn’t what we agreed upon and you have it wrong.”

Where two parties are feeling this way, both are sharing part of the blame - obviously. It is when one party doesn’t want to reconcile, that it turns nasty. When the want of a solution is being exchanged for the want of an argument, the problem isn’t the absence of a solution anymore, but the bigger problem of having the argument.

How did this happen, I’m asking myself. Different expectations are what it all comes down to. Now it is becoming apparent that on the other side there is no realistic idea about the work involved with the project. Their assumptions are way off, trivializing our efforts and exasperation at the idea that more time is needed.

We were on a tight deadline to begin with, but we could make it if everything went exactly as planned. Of course, they didn’t and now more work is involved. Unfortunately the impression is still that we’ll get it done in the same time regardless. Like… no. So it’s up to me to go out there again and try to coax and reason for more time. Wish me luck!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Power Up! Your Presentation

This morning I gave a presentation at my former job, for old times' sake and fun. The cool thing is: they recorded my presentation together with my slides and placed it online for the world to enjoy.

So if you want to take a look:

Click here!

(presentation is in Dutch)

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Paradox of Busy

2 weeks ago I was rock-bottom. Yes, truly. I felt completely out of control, not on top of things and scared stiff by the amount of things that needed to be done. I felt busy, busy, busy, I felt responsible and needed: "It will all fall to pieces if I don't finish this or that on time!" However much I was feeling stressed out, I did feel as if I had a purpose.

Now the storm is over. I'm back in charge and everything is back in order. I'm now feeling the complete opposite of myself 2 weeks ago. I took the advice to heart about protecting my time, focusing on priorities and delegating things that can be delegated. As a result, everything is running smoothly, everybody is confident about what needs to be done and I'm on schedule for all my projects.

Wonderful! Or so it should feel. But it doesn't! I feel useless! A slack! Puzzled by this paradoxical feeling, a time-management concept hit me: the tension between urgency and importance.
In our current work ethic urgency often gets misunderstood as importance. We all know days where time just seems to fly by, but at the end of the day we ask ourselves: "What did I actually do?" Those are Urgent days. Of course some of the things you've done were important, but I can guarantee you that a large portion of your day consisted of unimportant stuff. It felt urgent, but in reality it was just something distracting. Urgency is also something external: something breaks down, people fall ill, budgets get cut, a deadline needs to be moved etc. Urgency triggers a fight or flight reaction so to say: we are triggered into taking action.

Urgency overrules Importance. It's human. Also, when I applied some crude mathematics, it became even more clear. Let's say we give scores to the different categories of the matrix. The higher the score, the better it is to spend time on this category:
See what happens? Spending time on non-urgent matters is 'statistically' not preferable. When we concern ourselves with non-urgent but important matters, there always looms the impression that we are concerning ourselves with non-urgent and unimportant things, the worst category to spend time on. The safer option therefore would be to spend time on urgent matters, be they important or unimportant.

But I refuse to give in! I'm not going for safe. I'll keep trying to keep those urgent matters under control and focus on my important but non-urgent work. Because by doing so, I'm making sure my important, but non urgent work won't creep up on me and suddenly become urgent!

Friday, February 13, 2009

Off-road

From what I have seen these past few weeks, we have an incredibly competent and diverse team of professionals on board at my new job. Still, sometimes things go off-road. The last couple of days I have been really busy with dragging one of these out of the dirt - a very nasty and dirty business.

It reminds me a lot of similar occasions in former jobs. The tricky thing with dragging something out of the dirt is making sure you cause as little friction as possible. Like a car that is stuck, too much spinning and too much friction cause only harm and no good. You dig yourself in deeper and deeper, until only a display of real power will be able to drag you out: a tow truck. Tow trucks however, are expensive and take time to arrive. Time and money you don’t always have.

Making a correct assessment of how deep you are stuck is therefore essential before any intervention. Unfortunately we tend to assess risks lower than they actually are, when we are in the face of an emergency or urgency: “I don’t have the time and money for a tow truck – I have to get out now!” So we set out and try to get out ourselves, with disastrous results. We’re digging ourselves in deeper, more time and more money is seeping away and by the minute it will become clearer and clearer: “We need that truck!”

The thing I’m currently working on has fallen prey to one of those infamous bad assessments. It seemed pretty straight forward, it looked like no big deal, but it is becoming apparent that the devil really is in the details. And with time pressing heavily on us, those details are costing us dearly. We simply don’t have the time to be extremely thorough on the last details. But every time we are in contact with the client it’s all about those details.

And they have every right. We made a bad assessment – now we have to deal with it. This basically means that over the weekend I’ll be sifting through the project again, again and again. Monday. Monday it will all be over – hopefully…

Monday, February 9, 2009

Are you scared?

Change is a force of nature: its impact is hard and unstoppable.

No wonder change is a fearful concept for most people. Changing takes effort, it forces adjustments, and brings uncertainty and insecurity. Who would opt for that - willingly?! Therefore, most changes force themselves on us. Sometimes by our own doing, but just as often, without any of our own interference. Relationships end, family members die, babies are born, cars crash, companies fold, departments reorganize, new competitors enter the market, innovations make current technologies obsolete. Change just happens.

Resisting change is therefore futile, but still quite understandable behaviour. When moving through change, a common change management model is the concept of the unfreeze-freeze. First, the current situation must be unfrozen, then the situation must be altered to fit the new desired situation and as soon as this happens, that situation should be frozen again and voilĂ ! The change has occurred.

Unfortunately, that only happens in fairy tales. Oft-times "unfreezing" isn't a gentle defrosting experience on a low wattage in the microwave, but a solid heatwave blasting through. Leaving us charred and vulnerable. How would you react to that? Like anybody would in times of trauma: with denial and resistance. When you or your company is the one forcing change, you should be well aware of this. You are making the change, you are seeing the direction you are heading, you are ready to mould the new situation as soon as everything is unfrozen. But for everybody else you are an unstoppable trauma that is washing over them.

So be humble. Be honest. Be understanding. Help people to see where this is heading. Don't resist or deny the resistance and denial of change that will occur. Because than the pot is calling the kettle black. Realize, that just like they must come to terms with the change, you should adjust to their resistance. Because if you don't, the only thing this change of yours will become, is a big lump of defrosted goo.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

From Good to Good Enough

I’m a child from Generation Y. Born in Orwell’s ominous year 1984, I belong to a generation which, according to the media, has known only prosperity, opportunity and security. We are demanding, independent and have high expectations of what we’ll accomplish in life (up until the current Great Recession of course). Happiness is supposed to be our middle name, with all this wealth, health and boundless opportunity surrounding us.

Nowadays there seems to be a taboo on the darker sides of life. Every day we have to: “Be more!”, ”Be better!”, ”Be great!”, “Be rich!”, “Be good!”, “Be the best!”Everything around us screams in our face to Be some superlative. But I’m not great. I’m not rich and I’m not the best. Can’t I just Be, without the add-ons?
Why do we have to always move from good to great? I would like to sometimes just take a step back and go from good to good-enough. Take a break; take the lesser in things in life as they are. Or maybe be like the carpenter in a sketch by Rembo & Rembo:

A man passes a garage door with a note on it:
“Lookin for work? Knock on the door.”
The man knocks and waits.
An anxious looking carpenter opens the door slightly.
“Yes?”
“Ehh.. I saw this note on your door and well.. I’m looking for work.”
“Ah yes, the note. It’s just that, unfortunately, I’m not here today. Maybe tomorrow. Tomorrow, I might be here.”
And he closes the door, leaving the man completely puzzled in front of his door.

Every once in a while, I think it’s good for everyone to say to the world we’re not here today, but that we’ll be back tomorrow - maybe.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

How e-learning helps

E-learning is usually all about results. “How much will performance increase after everybody has done the course?” “What kind of tangible effect can we see after someone has finished?” These are very real questions, with hopefully real results in the end. But there is one other result which you’ll get when you start with e-learning: a thorough examination of what you are trying to ‘teach’ with e-learning.

During almost every course we develop, we see that clients start to struggle with their content. They thought they had it all figured out. It was supposed to be an easy breezy affair, this e-learning course. But most e-learning courses are about mimicking real processes and situations. At the start of an e-learning project clients will say: “Well, there are 14 processes which we would like to present to our learners. We have them all here, in these charts. Look, this is the decision tree we have made in Visio. Just go into this new application we have build, capture the steps and make it into e-learning.” Fair enough.

But then theory has to be become practice. Real processes need a start, middle and end; they need to be fleshed out. Every step will be held to the light: “Is this going to be in the e-learning or not?” “Is this step in the process really carried out this way?” We see this all the time with software application training. Software applications always seem to be in a state of near-completion. Several of our projects have been on hold for a long while, because applications which we need to screen-capture, aren’t ready. And even if the application is ready, we always ask: “Why does someone have to do this?”

We are well aware that making something into a process or ‘structure’ is hard. Thinking up ways how people will do things and how a software application is going to facilitate this, requires a lot of testing and thinking. But it leads away from the most prominent question learners will have during an e-learning course: “Why do I have to do this? Why am I sitting in front of a computer looking at all these processes unfolding on my screen?” We, as e-learning developers, try to be the voice of the learner: “Tell us Why! We understand it must have been hard work to flesh out these work processes, work flows and applications, but why exactly do we need them?”

And it’s here, that you can find the difference between good and bad e-learning. Good e-learning focuses first on the Why and second on the How. The How is the blood, the Why is the heart that pumps it around. That is why e-learning helps: we make you think about your Why’s again.

Friday, January 30, 2009

How I stopped worrying and learned to isolate issues

I think of myself as a chaotic kind of guy. I’m quick to grasp things, to switch between ideas, to generate loads of ideas and concepts - quite handy really. Unfortunately, it also scatters my thinking and not only the thoughts themselves, but also my worries. I jump from worry to worry. Take an e-learning project for instance. In our projects we have to deal with graphic design, instructional design, scriptwriting, technology, subject matter experts, project managers and what not.

It’s easy to fret over any of these elements. And with a scattered mind like mine, it’s even easier to jump from issue to issue and fret about the whole lot simultaneously. Fretting however doesn’t solve anything - nobody needs to be told that. But while we all know fretting doesn’t help, many of us can’t seem to find something that does help, so fretting is our basic response.

Luckily I’m beginning to see a way which does help: isolation. The problem with worries and issues always seems to be that everything is connected to everything. This interconnectedness of everything is the daunting thing about most issues, the paralysing factor. It makes you feel powerless to act. You stop acting and start fretting.

Isolation is the key to turning this behaviour around. Yes, everything is interconnected, but just act like it isn’t. Define areas which can be addressed individually. Appoint people who are concerned with particular areas and keep them there. Specify responsibilities. Be strict. If you don’t, it won’t be long before people start crossing their responsibilities. Of course they probably think they are helping out with the best of intentions, but what happens is that everything is becoming connected again. People will start to jump from area to area, from worry to worry and paralysis will again be everybody’s part.

So don’t think yourself patronizing, belittling or inflexible when you introduce the concept of isolation, by using boundaries and restrictions. You’re really doing everybody a favour.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Looking out is the only way to truly look in.

Are you busy? Are you passionate about the things you do? Are you caught up thinking about what you could improve, how you can tweak your performance, your product, your processes? As a professional you should. But mostly we are only doing so by looking in, by absorbing ourselves completely. Of course there is a lot to find and do in the crevices of your mind, but try to look out for a change.

Try to step away from yourself every now and then. Imagine yourself hovering just above your body and observe. Don't judge, just observe. Don't ask Why yet, but How, What and When. How are you impacting the things around you? How are you reacting to impulses? How do you talk when you are relaxed? How do you use your hands when you talk? How do you walk? What happens when you are asked to do something for someone else? What changes when you become stressed? What makes you angry? What makes you laugh? When are you happy? When are you anxious? When do you become tired? You'll be amazed by the patterns and behaviours you can find by observing yourself this way.

Patterns and behaviours which are the data you need, to ask yourself Why questions: Why do I become stressed? Why do I feel like I can't contribute to a conversation? Why do I feel happy when doing certain things? Why am I good at certain tasks, but not so good at others? Why am I always feeling tired? Your body and behaviours never lie to you, listen to their answers. But never forget: don't judge! Accept.

And be accepting of others.

From Reaction to Action

Halfway week 4 - the end of my first month is dawning.

After an exhausting first week of getting to know everybody, settling in and coming to terms with the whole getting-up-early-routine, this job is suiting me like a glove. Mostly because I’m feeling and acting very different from how I did in my first job. The last couple of days I have been pondering the question: “But in which way am I different than?” Early this morning it hit me: it’s all about action versus reaction. I am not reacting any more, I am acting.

Before, I had many reservations towards taking action. I’m a very social kind of guy. I empathize with people a lot. Sounds nice, but as a result I have a tendency to become a reactive person. Someone who’s constantly busy with thoughts like: “Oh dear, what would someone think if I do this or that?”, “Will somebody feel bad if I decide something?”, “Should I wait for them to do something, I don’t want to be pushy”, “If I don’t hear something, it’s probably all right”. All very considerate of course, but you know what they say: “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”

From day 1 (ok.. maybe day 3) at TinQwise I have almost stopped doing this. I’ve become active. And my initial fear: “When I stop being reactive, won’t I lose my empathy and considerateness?” has proven to be completely false! My new attitude is tremendously helping the things I’m doing. Instead of thinking: “What would they think about this or that” I just ask immediately. Instead of “Should I wait for them to do something” I start and inform everybody to jump on board – and they do! Willingly! No more “If I don’t hear something, it’s probably all right.” I’m on the phone with everybody as soon as something is changing.

And lo and behold, we are making tremendous progress, everybody knows where we are, everybody is happy and more over: everybody is working their butts off. All because I initiate and take action. What a liberation!

Monday, January 5, 2009

Impressions of a First Day

I'm here!

My first day at my new job at TinQwise. And it's weird! It's familiar and strange, exhausting and tiring, exciting and scary all at once. Nothing different is to be expected of course - you have to be realistic about these things. I'm sitting here behind a different desk, on a not so comfortable chair (I miss my Herman Miller!), in a new building with a different view, strange smells, different temperature and not to forget: different people!

Over the last couple of months I have come to meet many of them during my infrequent visits. But now they're my colleagues. Now I will see them 5 days a week, now I am going to work with them - now everything is for real.

It's strange to experience how small things make such a huge difference. A small office with one other guy now, instead of a wide open space. Music on in people's offices. A constant stream of chatter and laughter drifting down the hall. Everbody lunching together! They are all small things, but all together they make it so clear: I'm here now.

Starting anew.

Bring it on!