Monday, October 31, 2005


Starting to work on the three speeches for the Toastmasters International Speech competition.

The Man Who Listened Well
Listening can be a gift and a reward more precious than gold and better than money. I learned that from The Man Who Listened Well.

Star Stuff
I used to get in trouble for being arrogant, bossy, obnoxious, irritating, intolerant, insufferable, loud, unruly, and disrespectful of authority. I still have all those qualities. I guess they're natural talents. But I don't get in trouble for them anymore.

Changing the World
Why are you here? It must have something to do with being a Toastmaster. The mission of a Toastmasters Club is to provide a mutually supportive and positive learning environment in which every member has the opportunity to develop communication and leadership skills, which in turn foster self-confidence and personal growth. Are you here to improve your speaking? To become a better leader? Maybe you like the camardarie of the supportive and positive learning environment? Probably all those things. But that's not really it, is it? I think I know the real reason. You want to change the world. So do I.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Back from El Paso

I should have also mentioned that I was going to the Toastmasters District 23 Fall Conference in El Paso, Texas. Of course, I thought that I would be able to continue posting from there, but it turned out my motel had a dial-up connection and I didn't have the right software loaded on that computer for dial-up. That happened to me in DC, too. Maybe next time I'll have it figured out! Anyway, had a great time at the conference. Learned a lot, made new friends, and deepened old friendships. Also laughed a lot because the highlight of the conference was a humorous speech contest. Have I recommended Toastmasters before? Let me do it again. We learn communication and leadership and have a lot of fun doing it.

Toastmasters International

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Book Signing - Saturday, November 26

I am registered for the New Mexico Book Co-op sponsored bookstore and have a book signing scheduled. The details are below. I'm sure I'll be mentioning this again!

Book Signing
Doing the Right Thing and Achieving All Your Goals at the Same Time
by Marianne Powers

Saturday, November 26, 2005, 5:00 PM

New Mexico Books & More Store
next to J.C. Penny on the lower level
Cottonwood Mall
Albuquerque, New mexico
Store open from November 20 to December 31, 2005.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Doing the Right Thing from ebookstand

Here's the place to order my book direct from the publisher: Doing the Right Thing and Achieving All Your Goals at the Same Time at ebookstand

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

New Mexico Books & More Store

If I ever get the registration in the mail, I will also be selling my book at the New Mexico Book Co-op sponsored bookstore, called New Mexico Books & More Store, at the Cottonwood Mall in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The store is open from November 20 to December 31 this year. If you're in Albuquerque, please stop by! From their website at New Mexico Books & More Store 2005:

New Mexico’s publishers and authors are banding together again and will have a bookstore at Cottonwood Mall during the holiday season this year. Last year we sold over 3,400 books in 40 days. We will have the same space as last year, right next to J.C. Penney on the lower level. This will be one of the largest bookstores in New Mexico featuring New Mexico books. The purpose of this store is to bring more attention and more sales to local books.

Monday, October 24, 2005

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People at Amazon

The second management book I read was this one. I like it because he explains how to be effective and happy in your life and your work by having and using personal principles to guide your actions. I think it is an elegant philosophy. It is simple and beautiful. Being good is good for you and everyone around you. I must admit I never did understand the diagrams. If you have as much trouble with them as I did, don't worry about it, he tells lots of stories, too.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

In Search of Excellence at Barnes and Noble

It will be a few weeks before my book is available but I thought I would practice linking to specific books.

This is the first business management book I ever read and still one of my favorites. I have read it cover to cover three times. I like it because of the what it says about what motivates and inspires people. It is a trifle long, but the nuggets inside are real gold.

In Search of Excellence: Lessons from America's Best-Run Companies
In Search of Excellence: Lessons from America's Best-Run Companies

Saturday, October 22, 2005

It's More Books!

Since the book had already been set up to print, they did want money ($80) to change it, and time. The money might have been okay, but I didn't want to spend the time! It is only 1/16" off, after all. And I noticed that The One Minute Manager cover is off by the same amount. They also gave me the option to change the cover anytime for the same amount. So, I approved the Proof Copy and production has started! In two weeks, I will have 52 copies of my own and the book will be available through,,

Do you have something to say? I highly recommend print on demand!

Thursday, October 20, 2005

It's a Book!

The proof copy of my book came today and it is beautiful! Since it is digitally stored and printed on demand, they sent an actual book for the proof. It felt awesome and wonderful to hold my very own book in my hands. The cover is a stiff, glossy white. It felt beautiful. The inside pages are a crisp, bright white as promised. The cover text is not quite centered, being closer to the spine than to the edge by 1/8 inch. I asked if it could be moved without further charges. We'll see. But it is beautiful anyway!

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

International Speech

Every year, Toastmasters has an International Speech Contest. People all over the world compete in their Clubs, then their Area, Division, District, Region, and finally the World competition. Every year, there is a new World Champion of Public Speaking since you can only win once. The contests start in February and finish at the World Championship in August 2006. It will be in Washington DC this year, my home town. I will be working on several speeches for the International Speech Contest. Even if I don't get very far in the competition, at least I will have some very good speeches put together!

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Oestreich Associates

Here is a man who sees the truth about himself and those around him with compassion, understanding, and courage. And his site is beautiful: Dan Oestreich

Monday, October 17, 2005

Tom Peters Slides

Tom Peters puts his slides up on his blog for people to see and comment on. I like this set. My favorite quote from it is from Jack Welch:

"You can't behave in a calm, rational manner. You've got to be out there on the lunatic fringe."

It's near the end of this set of slides:

Another major revision of my Leadership50 PP. I spent the entire 8-hour São Paulo flight revising. I'm quite pleased, actually. Take a look ...
Tom Peters posted this on 09/29/05.


Sunday, October 16, 2005

Food for Thought

Changing Another by BNET's Don Blohowiak -- A friend recently sent me this thought: When you plant lettuce, if it does not grow well, you don't blame the lettuce. You look for reasons it is not doing well. It may need more fertilizer, or more water or less sun. You never blame the lettuce. Yet if we have problems with [...]

Saturday, October 15, 2005

In the Office - Part 3

Don't get me wrong. My boss is a genius. I know because I gave him the WRAT. That’s W-R-A-T, Wide Range Achievement Test, not a rodent. He scored off the scale. But he’s also a child psychiatrist. Imagine a genius with a kid's sense of humor.

He likes Ren and Stimpy and Beavis and Butthead. So you can imagine what I have to put up with. He found out that I have a strong gag reflex. So he would come up behind me and start to drool, then suck it back in. Gag! Another doctor (an adult psychiatrist) told me to just ignore him and he would stop. “Oh, sure,” I said, “after he drools on my head a few times!”

Or take this kind of abuse: One time I was standing there, trying to talk to him.
He started looking in my ear, looking really intently. Then he started waving to another doctor who was standing on the other side of me (an adolescent psychiatrist), as if he could see him through my head, as if there was nothing to block the view. Then the other doctor looked in my other ear and started waving back. Then they straightened up and looked serious, walking around me. “Hmmm,” he said, “What do you think, doctor? Lobotomy?” Then, in unison, they said “How would you tell?”

But sometimes he’s cute. He loves animals. He has two dogs, and a cat, and 30 guinea pigs! They’re like family to him, and to us, too. That’s why when two of them of the pigs got married, one of the ladies in the office sewed a wedding dress and a tuxedo for them. Oh, you don’t believe me! Well, I have pictures. This is Matilda and Melvin.

Friday, October 14, 2005

In the Office - Part 2

This is a picture of our boss. This was taken at a medical school graduation party. It was a formal event. He's the one with the really skinny legs second from the left.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

In the Office - Part 1

I want to tell you about what we have to put up with in our office. But don’t worry, the people that I am about to describe know what I’m going to say about them. We have a meeting once a week and everyone talks about how their week went, what bugs, what makes us happy. So they have already heard everything I’m going to say here today.

Rest assured, no coworkers have been harmed in the making of this speech.

We have some people who come in all cheerful. Good morning, everyone! How are you doing today! I hate that. What’s up with that? Other people come in in stealth mode and go straight to their cubicles without talking to anyone.

We have some people who are really energetic all day, papers flying out of their cubicles. It’s really exhausting. For the rest of us, anyway. Other people work quietly. I think they’re working quietly. They might be asleep. Or maybe they’re just on the internet.

We have resolved all our conflicts by talking openly with each other, with compassion. But we found out we could still stir up trouble by getting the people down the hall involved. We thought about inviting them to our meeting but we were doing too much therapy already.

We do have to talk to them, though, because that’s how we find out what’s going on. We have to keep our contacts open so that we know when anybody gets permission to buy something. Then we can rush in a request because we know there's money.

We were a little worried about some of our people. We thought we might have some people that might be, well, you know, stupid or lazy or maybe even crazy. So we gave them all achievement tests, efficiency tests, psychological tests. It turned out well, though. We found out we’re all crazy. That was a real relief, because some of us thought we might have to straighten up.

Oh well, I might as well tell you. Stupid/smart, lazy/energetic, crazy/sane. I’ve really only been talking about one person. Me. Because I’m all those things. How about you?

It’s really not our fault though. You know that any company’s culture comes down from the top. Let me tell you about our boss...

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Humorous Speech Saturday

I represented Challenge Toastmasters in the Area Humorous Speech Contest a few weekends ago and placed second. I will be competing the the next level (Division) contest this Saturday. My speech is about the people in the office. I don't really talk about anybody in particular, say any names, or tell any stories that can be identified. Not about my coworkers anyway. But for the next contest, I asked my boss if I could tell stories about him (I've known him for 20 years). He said okay. We'll see how this speech turns out.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Greg Burton and Recovery 2.0

I was perusing some articles online and found a friend of mine referenced in one. I was wondering what he has been up to lately. He's been working on Recovery 2.0. Here's the article:

Monday, October 10, 2005

Book and Cover Proofs

I put my book in the format that ebookstand specified on their website ( I reread it about 100 times. Sue Mazonne ( read it for me. I e-mailed it to them. They sent me back a proof in Adobe Acrobat format. It was perfect, except for a few mistakes of my own that I didn't catch before I sent it. They graciously agreed to fix those and I approved the second electronic proof. I will be getting the paper proof next week, they say.

For the cover, I laid out a design in Word but it had to be in .tiff. So they recreated my design in their software and sent that back for my approval as a .jpg. That was an extra charge (about $120). I could have done it myself if I had the right software (and some practice). But my book spine is so narrow I thought it would be better if they guaranteed that it would all come out all right!

Sunday, October 09, 2005


Even though I narrowed down my choice of publishers to about one by deciding that I had to have white paper, I still wanted to make sure they were okay. I googled them to see if anybody was saying anything bad about them (nobody was). I searched to see if any of their books are available there (168 of them). And I astutely noticed that they advertise on Writer's Market's e-newsletter (which means that Writer's Market thinks they're okay). So I felt really good about them.

Not to mention that the price is really reasonable: $449 for my 97-page book, which price includes 52 copies of the book. And I get return e-mails usually in 5 minutes or less when I have questions. They're good!

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Print on Demand

All I wanted was white pages inside my book. Who would have thought that I would have to research over 50 print-on-demand (pod) publishers to find one that prints on white paper? It turns out the almost all the pod publishers use the same printer. It is Ingram's printer, Lightning Source. Ingram is a (the?) wholesale bookseller. For some reason, Lightning Source has decided that books 5.25 x 8.25 and smaller will be printed on cream (creme) colored paper. The paper quality is the same as the white paper used in bigger books. It's not the pulp paper that mass paperbacks are printed on. But it's not white. Anything over 5.25 x 8.25 can be printed on white paper. Weird, huh? So, my choice for a print-on-demand publisher was ebookstand. They are one of the very few that use a different printer that prints on white paper.

Friday, October 07, 2005

To the Publisher!

My book has gone to the publisher. After I get and approve the proof, it will be 2 weeks to publication!

Wednesday, October 05, 2005


Now that you’ve read the book, you know the secret. Everything I have written about knowing, thinking, and speaking so that you can do the right thing and achieve all your goals, you already knew. You have practiced it in your life with someone. Someone that you cared about.

In every situation now, imagine that the other person is not a stranger, not an acquaintance, not a coworker, but your best friend. Think of them and speak to them with the same care, compassion, and belief in their ability to succeed. Treat every person you meet the same and treat them well, not because of who they are, but because of who you are.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Chapter 21


When I first started working, every facet of my job was laid out for me in minute detail. I worked for an insurance brokerage. I worked in a big room with nine other people, but I didn’t have to worry about what anybody was doing but me. I typed residential homeowners policies. Other people typed other kinds of policies. They had to be perfect, because they were legal documents. The policies were pre-numbered so my supervisor had to log every one that was messed up (black marks for me). She checked them all thoroughly. I didn’t have a computer and a correcting typewriter wouldn’t have done me any good because there were two carbons, so I had to concentrate and be very careful.

That first experience helped to make me very meticulous about my work. But I also learned to focus only on what I was doing. They had it planned that way. They had mapped out every task for maximum efficiency, like an assembly line. As you can imagine, it was pretty boring. If I had still been there when they brought in computers to do the work, as they did a few years later, I doubt that I would have minded losing my job to automation. Of course, I didn’t know how to do anything else there, just that one thing, so there would have been no other job for me.

I have never worked in an environment that structured again, but I have often acted as if I did. Most of the time, that has seemed like the higher good -- to concentrate on what I was doing, not to worry about what other people were doing, and that is also what I wanted from the people who worked for me. But I have learned since then that people do need to understand how their job affects other people’s jobs and the whole process.

Even when people are doing jobs so different that they can’t be cross-trained or do each other’s work for a day, I have come to believe that everyone in the company should know something about everyone else’s job. And the closer that job is to their own, the more they should know about it.

Many of the conflicts that I have been involved in and that I have seen other people involved in over the years have occurred because someone didn’t understand what responsibilities and problems another person had. In the past, it has often seemed to me that other people were favored with a lighter workload or easier work than I was and I have often resented it. But when I was a consultant and a truly neutral observer, people often told me things like that about each other, and it was almost never true. It’s just that if you don’t know what someone is doing, they don’t seem to be doing anything.

Another consideration is that jobs do change from time to time, even if they have remained the same for many years. There have been transcriptionists, I suppose, as long as there have been tape recorders, all of my life, at least. But someday soon someone will get voice recognition to work consistently and then what? It’s better to be valuable to your company or your industry in many ways instead of just one way.

I participated in a game at a company retreat one time. We broke up into teams of five. Four of us were blindfolded and one person was not. That person knew what the task was and had to get the rest of us to do it without telling us what it was. Those of us who were blindfolded started out kneeling on the floor. Our leader put the end of a string in my hand and said, “Hold this.” I held it. I could hear her telling the others the same. Then she came back to me and told me to pull the string taut. I did. “Good,” she said. “Raise the string about an inch, keeping it taut.” “A little higher.” “Okay, hold it.” She gave similar instructions to the other people. She told some to go a little higher or a little lower, to pull tighter. She had us each slowly raise our strings. At one point, we had to get up off our knees and stand up, keeping the string at the same height and keeping it taut. I could feel pressure on the string, but I didn’t know what it was. It took about 10 minutes for us to accomplish the task. Then we took our blindfolds off.

The four of us who were blindfolded had raised a cup of water about four feet off the floor by the four strings that were tied around it. We did it again with our blindfolds off. It took about 10 seconds. I was really impressed that we had lifted a cup of water without spilling it, by strings, blindfolded, without even knowing what we were doing. I was so fascinated by the fact that our tiny actions could add up to that just by trusting the person who was guiding us and doing exactly what we were told that I missed the point. It came to me later.

I used to think that people couldn’t help me because they weren’t me, they didn’t have the intelligence, experience, and/or skills that I did or care about the work as much I did. As a co-worker of mine once said, “I wanted it done right, so I did it myself.” But I have finally noticed that most people do care about any work that they “own” and will complain about the same thing when other people try to help them with it. Most of us, it seems, have been taught to own just our piece of the work, whatever is within our immediate control, but we need to own the goal. I know now that it doesn’t matter much how well I finesse my part if the project is a failure.

The only way we can own the goal is to know what it is. We need to understand how our work contributes to it. We need to be able to see how other people’s work fits into it. If we know that, we can be another set of eyes and ears collecting information that the other people who share our goals need. We can help keep things moving in the right direction, we can be on the lookout for strays, we might even avert a disaster by being able to respond immediately to an unforeseen event.

It is not enough that managers know what is going on and talk to other managers. Everyone needs to know what is going on. I was talking to another manager once, telling her about a problem that one of my team had discovered in an area that was not her immediate responsibility and what we were going to have to do to correct it. It wasn’t going to be an easy fix.

“Don’t you wish they would just mind their own business?” she asked me.

“Well, I really needed to know about this problem,” I said, “and, anyway, everything we do is her business.”

Teach everyone to do everything so they can all learn new skills, so they can recognize an opportunity to help each other accomplish their common goals, and so they don't get in each other's way.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Chapter 20


Standard procedures are great for almost any work you do with other people, as long as you are willing to throw them out. When everyone has agreed on a way to do something, tested it, refined it, and put it in practice, the work can be done by anyone. Training and, therefore, the way the work is done are consistent. The output is the same no matter who does the work. Everything doesn’t fall apart because the person who does that work is sick, on vacation, or leaves the group or the company. Still, one of the most important things about maintaining standard procedures is being able to adapt them quickly to current conditions, which means reviewing, revamping, and recreating them when necessary.

A sure sign that a procedure needs to be reviewed is when the procedure makes it easier to make a mistake than to do something right. You can see this most clearly when you are training new people, but you can also see it with the people who are experienced in the procedure. If people make the same mistake over and over again, it could be because that is the most logical or intuitive way to do it. People can learn to do something illogically or counter-intuitively, but it is a constant struggle.

The medical office software we used for years required that you put in the guarantor information first. The guarantor was the person that the statement would be addressed to and the one who was responsible for the bill. The information sheet that we used to have people fill out also had the guarantor information first, to make it easier for us to put the information in the computer. But people often put in the information about the patient first. Apparently, that’s the logical thing for most people. So, we rearranged the form, because we got tired of trying to follow the arrows they drew all over the form when they realized they had filled it out incorrectly.

In that situation, we had to make it a little harder for ourselves, in order to make it easier for the patients. Usually, our software makes things easier for us. It has defaults so that the usual answer is automatically filled in, required fields that you can’t skip or default, filtered fields that require one of a limited number of answers, and pop-up reminders that some action is required when you enter certain data. In the beginning, I didn’t set those up, because they weren’t necessary if everyone did everything perfectly. Now, I use all the tools and techniques that my team and I can think of to make it easier for us to do it right.

Sometimes, we can think of a way to prevent mistakes in a certain procedure, such as making it a required or filtered field in the computer, but our software isn’t programmed to do that and having custom programming done would be too expensive for us. Then we have to set up checks or audits to make sure that the required information is entered correctly.

We also try to help people remember what needs to be done. We do that by letting them know each and every time that it is not correct. It is not a punishment and there is no penalty except that they have to correct the error. The person who is checking or auditing the work just returns it to the person who did it every time and so does anyone who notices a mistake when they go to add the next referral or claim. Even though we know it’s just an oversight, we don’t fix it for them. We don’t wait until there are a certain number of errors before we say anything. And we don’t tell them that they “always” make that mistake sometime after the fact.

When our efforts to make it easier for everyone to do it right fail or there is no method that will work for everyone, we make it the responsibility of the individual to do whatever will work for them. To figure that out, they have to know exactly what mistakes they are making, in what circumstances, and how frequently, and they need to know as soon as possible, preferably before they get into the habit of doing it incorrectly. People don’t usually enjoy being shown their mistakes (me, neither). But most people say they would rather know at the time, when it is just a small thing, when they can fix it, and when they can try to keep an eye out for it in the future, especially if someone tells them because they want them to be successful (me, too).

We tell people when they have errors or omissions, every time, at the time, and let them fix them. We are willing for people to make the same mistake or ask the same question 100 times. It hardly ever takes 100 tries for someone who is doing the work (and correcting the mistakes) to get it right. So, if the same mistake keeps happening over and over again, we start thinking about what is causing it. We think about alternative ways of accomplishing the goal and things we can do to make it easier to do the task correctly and harder to make the mistake.

When the same mistake happens over and over again, it is an indication that there is a problem with the procedure, not with the people.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Chapter 19


It always seemed to me that I did everything right the first time I was shown how to do it. Now that I am being more realistic about my “perfection”, I know it wasn’t true, but that was what I thought was expected of me and that was what I tried to do. I always wrote down my instructions, in detail. It was a point of pride not to ask my trainer to tell me or show me anything twice. I could usually get through the task by following my instructions. After a while, I would usually even understand what I was doing. Like most people that I have observed, though, I never looked at my instructions again after I could remember them, or thought I could remember them. So, it often happened that there was one step I missed or did incorrectly. If that one thing prevented the task from working, I would go back and find it. Otherwise, it has sometimes been years before I realized I was missing something every time I did that task.

I remember one complete failure when I tried to do something after having been shown how to do it one time. I was walked through the procedure for dialing into a server at the air force base and downloading some information. I watched the screen as the person instructing me did it and wrote down every single step. She checked what I was writing down and made sure I had it right. After showing me one time, she left me to do it on my own, but I wasn’t worried. I dialed in to the server and starting typing in the commands exactly as I had written them. The thing I forgot to do was wait for the computer to respond to a command before I gave it the next one. I just kept typing one thing after another. In about five minutes, I had locked up the server. My boss had to call the base and have it shut down. It was very embarrassing, because I believed that I should have been able to do it after having been shown one time, and so did my trainer.

I have tried many different ways of learning, and of teaching people: telling them, showing them, letting them do it themselves with instructions, audio tapes, video tapes, manuals, and figure it out yourself. I believe that different people learn more easily with a method that matches the way they learn, although I have not usually known the person I was teaching well enough to know what that was. Because what I was teaching was usually on a computer, I have most often used a screen projected demonstration with verbal instructions while the trainee was at another computer and could duplicate what I was doing, to combine the greatest number of modalities as possible at one time.

No matter what method I used to teach someone, what ultimately seemed to make the biggest difference in the success of my teaching was my confidence that I knew the topic well enough to be able to do it myself and my confidence that the person I was teaching was capable of learning it. If I believed those two things, and if my student and I were both willing to stick with it, we succeeded.

The first thing I had to learn was to adapt to each person. I didn’t always have the tools to provide each person with their optimal learning experience, or know what that was, but there were things I could do. Most of the time, it seems to me, people try to relate what they are learning to something they already know. By listening and observing, I could usually figure out where their model had failed and what other model would serve better. The next obstacle to overcome was their anxiety about not being able to learn what I was trying to teach. If they were too anxious, they really wouldn’t get it, because, in their anxiety, they would even forget the things they already knew.

I learned that I had to calm way down myself. I had all the time in the world. I had nowhere else to be but there. They were the most important people in my life. This was the only thing on my mind. When they learned it, it was going to be the most fun thing they had ever done. I took all the blame (and rightly so).

“I’m so stupid,” they would say, “why can’t I get it?”

“You’re not stupid,” I would tell them, “You’re very smart, look at all that you know. It’s just that sometimes I don’t explain very well, but let me go back and try explaining it a different way.”

After they thought they understood, or sometimes even before, we would get to the practice part. People often seemed to feel, like I had, that they ought to be able to do something that they had been taught the first time they tried it. But that was not the goal. The goal was to learn the skill, not to learn it the first time they heard it. There were always people that seemed to be able to do it right away. But that didn’t really matter. We weren’t testing for or offering prizes for that. It was irrelevant.

The things I was teaching them were things they were going to use every day. It wasn’t going to matter that it took them two days instead of one, or even if it took them a week to learn it. Once they had learned it, you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between the way they did it and the way someone that had picked it up right away did it. I knew from experience, they were going to be just as fast and accurate and self-assured once they had done it enough. And even though I considered myself to be very smart (and still do) and even though I had been the one to teach them, I knew that it wouldn’t be long before they would be better at it than I was.

I was sitting with someone that I was training one day and she was having trouble remembering all the steps in the task I was teaching her. A few times, she even forgot a few that she had remembered previously. She turned to me with a disgusted look on her face. I thought of all the things I could say to her, but it seemed shortest and best to say, with confidence, “You know, this is going to seem really easy once you’ve done it a few hundred times.” She laughed and went back to practicing.

When there is a teacher and a student, and something that needs to be taught by the one and learned by the other, it is the teacher who has the obligation to figure out how to make that happen. The student’s only job is to keep trying, to ask for help when he needs it, and to look for another teacher if this one can’t help them. If nothing is taught and nothing is learned, it is the teacher who fails, not the student. The teacher fails if he doesn’t find the right method for the student. The student only fails if he gives up.

It may seem like it works the opposite way, if you went to a public school like mine when you were a kid. It may seem like the teacher is only required to teach in a prescribed way, the same way for all students, and it is the student who fails if he doesn’t learn. Because that’s what they say, the student failed. But the student does get a tutor or special classes, in recognition of the fact that the student can learn the same things if they are taught differently. Our public schools have just developed that way. They teach using a method that works for most students and only individualize the lessons when they have to. It may be an efficient way to get everyone through the required 12 years of school with the minimum expenditure of resources, but it stigmatizes and demoralizes those that it fails, instead of just acknowledging that no one-size-fits-all teaching could ever work for everyone. If your goal is to teach everyone who needs to know and is willing to learn, that philosophy of education will not help you.

You need to give those you teach many tries to get it right, as many tries as it takes for you to figure out how to teach them. And you need to let those you teach know that they have many tries to get it right, so they don’t get anxious about having to do it right the first time or the second time. One hundred is a good number. You know you will find the right way long before you get to the hundredth way (and you probably don’t know that many). They know they will learn it long before then. And, a year from now, when they have done it correctly 10,000 times, it won’t matter how many tries or how long it took them to get it right.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Chapter 18


I sometimes think that all the disappointment, hurt, and anger in the world comes from someone not meeting expectations, either someone else’s or their own. The problem is not that people let you down or that you don’t accomplish all that you ought to accomplish. The problem is that you keep wishing for what you think should be instead of accepting what is.

It’s true that we couldn’t function very well without expectations. When I’m driving to work, I expect that people will stop at red lights and go on green. I expect that other people will get help from me and that I will get help from them during the day. I expect that my family will be there when I come home.

There is nothing wrong with that. Like a dance that we all know, our expectations of ourselves and each other helps us to move easily and gracefully through our day, each adding to the performance and not getting in each other’s way or stepping on each other’s toes.

But what if one of the things I expect to happen doesn’t happen? It should happen. But it doesn’t. I am stopped at a stoplight. My light turns green. I know the other light has turned red. I expect the other drivers to stop. But I look before I go, because I know that sometimes people run red lights. If I don’t look and someone does run the red light and runs into me, it won’t matter very much to me why. I will be hurt just as much if she ran it because she was too idiotically impatient to wait for the next cycle or if his brakes failed. It will be better for me (and them, for that matter) if I accept that sometimes people don’t do what I think they are supposed to do, whether it is because they won’t or they can’t or even because they didn’t know they were supposed to.

I used to have expectations of the people that worked for me. I expected them to come to work every day on time, do what I told them to do exactly how and when I told them to do it, and revere me as the perfect boss that I was. Whenever they did not meet my expectations, I got mad. If they criticized me, I was surprised, hurt, and mad. Anyone who didn’t meet my expectations was defective. The only possibilities were that they would be able to overcome their flaws, at work at least, or they would have to go.

You might think that I would have had trouble keeping people, but I don’t think the turnover was high for an office like ours. What I wanted was perfection. There were actually a lot of people who seemed to want to deliver perfection, even if it was just one person’s version of it. But it was very hard on all of us. It was hard on me because I was disappointed and angry much of the time. It was hard on them because they never could entirely succeed at being “perfect”, though some of them tried very hard. For the ones who weren’t interested in being “perfect”, of course, it was very bad. And we were all on the wrong path anyway. What I thought of as perfection was really just “my way of doing things”. We would have been closer to achieving perfection if I had listened to them as much as they listened to me, if we had all thought about how we were doing things, and if we had learned how other people did them so that we could constantly get better.

I still have expectations of the people who work for me. But if they don’t meet my expectations, I know that being disappointed or angry is just my aversion to admitting I might have been wrong and having to come up with a new plan. Whether the plan is mine or is developed by a group I belong to, my expectations are what I think will work. If I am right, everyone can and will do their part, the parts will accomplish the whole of what we want to do, and we will achieve our goals. If I am wrong, not everyone can or will do their part or the parts will not accomplish the whole, and we will have to review our plan and come up with a new one. That’s the way it is. Getting angry will not change the way it is. It will only waste time and energy.

Sometimes someone won’t meet your expectations because what you expect is not just too difficult for that person, it is too difficult for the situation, or doesn’t accomplish the goal. That happens most often when you decide what other people can or will do without talking to the other people. But sometimes even when the people involved think something will work, it proves to be impractical when they try to implement it. For those times, you don’t need to change just your expectations of a person, you need to change your expectations entirely.

I used to expect that people in the call center could enter hundreds of claims a day and not make any mistakes. I used to get mad at them if they didn’t meet that expectation. I told their supervisor that he should get better people and make them do their work correctly. When I came back to that company a few years later, I had learned that the problem was not that they made mistakes. The problem was my expectation that they wouldn’t. I knew that I didn’t need to find better people, I needed to change my expectations. I still wanted the claims to be paid correctly. So I audited the claims to find and correct any errors. That worked better than getting mad at people. Eventually, our software was enhanced so that it didn’t allow most of the errors we had been making. That worked even better.

As difficult as it has been to rethink my expectations or change plans at times, avoiding those things has always just added that much more time to the process. It is much less painful for everyone if I don’t cling to or try to enforce my expectations. If I adapt quickly, it almost seems as if it was part of the process of figuring out the solution and not a problem at all.