5 Steps to Making Improvements

It’s easy to decide to change.   The challenging part is actually taking action.

Sometimes we want to take action, but we’re immobilized because we don’t know where to start or what the next step is that we should be taking.  Below are some steps I’ve taken at work this year to change my contribution so I could start using the talents and skills I possess to better serve my customers and have a more fulfilling work experience.  These steps have worked well for me, so I thought I’d share them with the readers of this blog, in hopes they will do the same for you.

Step 1.  Identify what skills you have that you want to develop and use more, and begin improving your knowledge in this area.

For me, this was in the area of data visualization.  I enjoy turning data into useful interactive information that helps business people make better decisions.  Therefore, I began reading and learning about best practices and techniques to do this well.

Keep in mind that the process of building your skills and increasing your knowledge is an ongoing process of learning.  As you move through the other steps, you’ll continually be coming back to this step.

Step 2.  Identify a need that your skills can fill or a problem they can solve.

Here is where you begin looking for opportunities where you can apply your skills to solve a real problem.  For me, this was in the area of displaying our operational data in a visual format that was clear and easy for business people to access and understand.

Step 3.  Begin applying your skills to create a solution to the problem you’ve identified.

This is where your knowledge gets stretched and where you rapidly grow your experience and begin to master the skills you’re applying.  Once you start applying your skills, you realize, there’s a lot you don’t know, so you learn as you go.

I dove right in and started using a tool called QlikView to build applications that displays our data in a clear interactive format that would give people a view of our business, through operational data, that they’ve never had before.  I often refered to books, the Internet, or other colleagues for information and insight in order to solve the numerous problems I encountered.

Step 4.  Share your initial solution with others and get their input. Make changes based on the input you receive and then present those changes back to them.

Once I had an application built, I showed it to the business users.  While they liked what they initially saw, they had suggestions of what they really would also like to see that I hadn’t included.  I went back, made those changes, along with some others that were sparked during our conversations.

This is an iterative process.  Continue until your solution is complete.

Step 5.  Go back to step 1 or 2 and repeat the process.

Once I had created a solution for one area of our business, I looked at other areas that would benefit from similar measurement and visualization tools and repeated the process as described above.

This has been a great year for me at work, as I feel I’m making real contributions that are positively impacting my organization and helping people get more clear answers than they’ve ever had before.

If there’s an area in your life, be it professional or personal, that you want to make a change, try employing the steps listed above.  They provide a flexible guideline that will create order and direction.

The only thing required from us is action.

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Challenging Assumptions

I love going to lectures and presentations to hear people talk about topics I’m interested in.  However, I’ve always lamented the fact that the towns around me didn’t offer such events.  My thinking has been that I need to move to a bigger city if I want to be closer to this kind of experience, because the region I live in just doesn’t support lectures and speakers.

That’s what I use to think… until starting looking.

A couple of weeks ago I got online and really started  to investigate to see if there were any types of lectures going on in and around the area I live.  I was surprised at how many opportunities there are every week to hear people speak on a wide range of interesting topics.  I found people talking about planets in the solar system, art history, world events and a whole bunch of other interesting topics.   (I know those topics probably sound kind of geeky, but I like them.)  I have no shortage of interesting events to attend!

I was amazed at how much is available and how false my assumption was.  It caused me to wonder what other false assumptions, beliefs, and mindsets I’m carrying around and how they might be limiting me.

Have you ever held a belief or assumption, only to have it proven false?  These assumptions can occur in many areas of our life, including:

  • Relationships
  • Career
  • Personality ability
  • Religion
  • World View

I think it’s good to challenge assumptions that hold us back and determine whether or not they are really true.  It keeps us from getting stuck in a rut that limits our growth and potential.

Start to challenge your potentially false assumptions with investigation and action.  You may find many of them to be false barriers keeping you from the life you want.

A Grieving Friend

I have a friend that lost his wife to cancer this summer.  It was very quick from the diagnosis until it was over.  The loss left my friend stunned, scared, and hurting.  He is still struggling with the grief.

As we were texting earlier this week, he was sharing with me how some people were telling him he should be better by now and others are telling him he should be back to normal.  My heart ached for my friend when I read his text that said, “I don’t know.  It just hurts.”

I’m sure these people meant well, but I couldn’t help wonder how many of them have ever experienced the loss of a spouse, and how many of them would be going home to their spouse or loved one after talking with my friend.

It’s so easy to give advice about an experience we’ve never had based on how we think we’d handle the situation if it happened to us.  The truth is we have no idea what someone is dealing with, unless we’ve gone through it ourselves.  Even then, how each person handles a situation can be quite different.

I’ve never lost a spouse, and I’m not a grief counselor, so I don’t know the perfect way to respond to someone who’s grieving like my friend is.  For me, I’m trying to show compassion by doing the following:

  1. Check in regularly via text, email, phone, or whatever the grieving person’s preferred method of communication is. Be sure to do continue doing this after it has become “old news” to everyone else.  Chances are it still hurts for the grieving person.
  2. Acknowledge that the situation sucks, because it does. I’m not saying to wallow there and make it worse.  Just let the grieving person know you’re aware of that fact.
  3. Just be quiet and listen.  Let the conversation go where the other person takes it.  Don’t worry about needing to say something to fill the silent pauses.  Just be there with your ears and heart engaged.

Ultimately, I want to be a blessing to my grieving friend, because I know that’s what I’d want from my friends if I were the one grieving.

The Power of Commitment

This week I celebrated my 21st wedding anniversary.  As I’ve ben thinking back on our 21 years, I’m reminded of the power of a commitment.

Being committed to something is far more powerful than simply being “in” something.  When you’re “in” a marriage it implies there’s a way out and that you can give up at any time when things get difficult, boring, or old.  There’s really nothing solid keeping you “in”.

However, when you’re committed to something, you’ve decided in advance that there is no getting out when things get tough.  Commitment means you’ve already decided that instead of looking for exit strategies, you’ll look for solutions and strategies to successfully overcome issues you face.  Difficulty, challenge, or boredom do not signal an upcoming off ramp, but rather remind you it’s time to double-down on your efforts.  Why?  It’s because you’ve made a commitment to do so.

This is true of commitment to a number of situations, including:

  • A marriage
  • Parenting
  • Mastering a challenging new skill
  • Establishing a good habit or replacing a bad one
  • Getting in shape
  • Achieving a worthwhile goal
  • Building a good relationship
  • Becoming a person of character and integrity

When you’re committed to something, it changes your vision.  You start to see opportunities to do better and overcome obstacles, instead of excuses why can’t.  You see the bigger picture you’re striving for instead of the immediate circumstance you may be struggling with.  With the vision of commitment, you know where you’re going and more importantly, why.

Are there any areas in your life you need to be committed to, rather than just being “in”?  Better yet, are there any areas where you need to recommit to do something you’ve let slide?  Spend a few minutes thinking about these questions, and then make, or re-make, any necessary commitments you need to make.  Doing so will enable you to start tapping into the power of commitment today.

Taking Opportunities to Connect (Part 2)

This week I was again reminded of the desire people have to connect with one another.   My church is kicking off small groups for the fall and winter and the group I’m leading had their first meeting on Wednesday evening.  There were 6 of us and we all hit it off really well.  This is going to be a fun group!

As a way to get to know one another, our group opened with 2 short questions that each person responded to.  Those 2 questions were:

  1. What is something you enjoy doing
  2. Why are you in this group?

From the answers to questions 1, it is obvious that our group likes getting out doors and hiking.  I see a potential group hike in our future!

There was a strong theme regarding the 2nd question that had to do with connecting with others.  People in the group, including me, were interested in connecting with a smaller group of people and establishing relationships that went beyond the busy Sunday pleasantries of, “How are you doing?  I’m fine.”  We are all interested in getting to know people and to be known as well.  That is one of the best reasons for joining a small group that I can think of.

I’ve been part of several small group settings including:

  • Groups at church
  • Professional groups and workshops
  • Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace
  • The Dale Carnegie Human Relations course

It’s amazing to me how much people open up when they’re in the company of others with similar interests.  What’s even more amazing is once a safe environment is established:

  1. People are willing to honestly share what’s going on in their lives.
  2. How supportive people are to others in the group.

People are social creatures and were made for interaction with others.  Although it’s easy to shut ourselves off from others and go about our days without connecting with others, I think this is a bad plan.  Long term it leads to potential loneliness and a life lacking the richness that is often provided through connection with others.

How are you doing at connecting with others?  I encourage you to look for opportunities to connect with others in the days, week, and months ahead.  In my opinion, life is more enjoyable when we invest in the lives of others, and they do likewise with us.