March 1997. I receive a phone call from my former fiancé stating that our son Jeremiah, who was then in kindergarten, had been disciplined for talking too much by having duct tape placed on his mouth and told to stand in a closet. Thinking that she was surely exaggerating the situation, I called the school principal expecting to find out the real truth. When he started reading from what sounded like a prepared legal statement, I knew this bizarre incident was actually true.
Drifting Into the Alternative Universe
This article was orginally published at Strella Social Media on October 14, 2012.
A few weeks ago, I made a mistake of omission, which set off a chain of unforeseen events. It caused a lot of problems for my client as well as a few dozen unplanned hours of problem-solving for myself.
Initially, it did not appear that there would be much of a disruption to the client’s service. After this initial mistake, the lesson learned was quite simple and straight forward – I should have done my due diligence and communicated better from the onset. However, things began unraveling with new issues seemingly arising out of nowhere. In my frustration, I found myself doing something that I absolutely loath when done by others. I started using the “alternative universe” excuse.
“If I had been told to ‘B’, ’C’, and ‘D,’ then I certainly would have approached ‘A’ much differently and all these problems would have been avoided.” This was certainly a true argument, as many of the subsequent problems could have been avoided if the client had disclosed all of the relevant information. Still, this was totally irrelevant, as it’s impossible to jump into that alternative universe where all problems are averted.
This foray into the scientifically unproven domain has become a trend these days. You hear it often from the losing side of a sports contest, and most especially, in the political world. “If I had been in charge, we’d now be in much better shape…” or “things may be bad now, but they would’ve been so much worse if not for my brilliant policies…” These statements are made as absolute fact and as a way to divert attention from the reality at hand.
The truth is, we only live in this one reality and we have to own the decisions we make here.This is especially true for small business owners like myself who don’t have much luxury for academic exercises and hypothetical situations. Not all our decisions will be correct, but once made they must be embraced either as building blocks for best practices or lessons learned for the future.
Stirring Up a Hornet’s Nest (Literally)
This article was orginally published at Strella Social Media on January 23, 2013.
There’s an amusing little story that I’d tell my kids when they were younger. Although I did tend to exaggerate or embellish on some of the dramatic details, the core of the story is absolutely true and profoundly relevant to my small business services today.
When I was younger, I worked a lot of construction jobs, mostly exterior work that required me to climb up and down ladders most of the day. There was this one job in McAdoo, Pa. where we did extensive work over several months – a new roof, siding, soffit, guttering; the works! We practically remade the entire outside of the house, and it was a big house. If you are familiar with northeast Pennsylvania, many homes in that area are large, vertical, and have steeply pitched roofs.
One morning I was first to arrive at the job site. I started to set up when I was summoned by the woman next door. She was an elderly and kind person with whom I had spoken with several times before, but this time she had a grave look of concern. She pointed up towards the eave below the ridge of her roof where a huge bee hive had formed. She asked me what if I could do anything to help her. Now the older and wiser version of me might have referred her to a good exterminator or some other expert, but I was twenty-something with loads of bravado and a big ladder. So I simply said “I’ll see what I can do.”
To this day, I don’t know exactly what my plan was. I climbed the ladder with a broom stick and the intention to simply knock down the hive. But upon the first gentle poke, hundreds of hornets were stirred into action and for the first (and only) time in my life, I literally slid down the exterior of a ladder in order to escape.
My embellished version of the story has the bees chasing me for blocks down the street. But the reality was actually much worse. The bees swarmed and swarmed all day, causing us to lose a great deal of production because we were constantly looking over our shoulders. We were the talk of the neighborhood as people walked by all day to observe and talk about the swarming bees nest and the kind old lady next door was more stressed than ever, especially when a removal expert arrived but couldn’t do anything until the bees settled down. And I was the fool who had caused it all.
Today I run a web design business and specialize in a group of specific skills that I’ve work hard to perfect. Still, many people assume that if you’re an expert in anything technology related, you’re proficient on all technology issues. I’ve received requests to do work outside of my scope of expertise. On a few occasions I’ve accepted, either as a gesture of altruism or with the idea to meet a new challenge. These decisions proved unwise as modern day hornet’s nests were stirred, ultimately causing more harm than the good originally intended.
So the moral of the story is to stick with what you do best and learn how to say “no” in those situations where you’re not highly confident in the outcome.