Thursday, May 6, 2010

The score at the end of the second inning

Some of the crazy cleaning, moving and general shifting of "stuff" has slowed down, and it seems like a good time to take stock of where I'm at.

I had lunch today with a good friend, and we spent time exchanging stories about people we know both good and bad, not to mention taking stock of the changing business conditions his employer is facing. As I reflected on the former later (an odd turn of phrase), I was struck by how easily and quickly we grasp others, and how challenging it is to grasp our own essence.

When I used to do performance appraisals, I always hated the most common methods -- rating somebody on a list of fifteen generic characteristics never, ever seems to sum up who they are and what they have done or can do in the future. Similarly, setting annual objectives and then rating performance on those objectives doesn't work for me either -- our ability to set targets that are anything other than arbitrary is pretty poor, and even if you get that part right, things change during the course of the year.

I opted for a 3-4 sentence summary of a person's driving characteristics. I think in most people, a few things about them define who they are in large part, and the rest tends to be window dressing. For instance, one of the guys we discussed at lunch today (lets call him, Mr. X as my opinion of him is not favorable) was described as -- A guy who few people like, as he doesn't hesitate to stand on others to get what he personally wants. Is Mr. X smart, skilled, a good presenter, etc.? Yes, to most of those, but his essence is defined by this one bigger picture characteristic. Mr. Y, on the other hand, is a good guy, who will go out of his way to help out anybody who needs it, and works very hard at keeping a positive attitude despite having been trampled on himself (not by Mr. X, in this case).

Over the years, I think I became reasonably good at identifying and explaining to people what those bigger picture defining characteristics were.

Just try to do that on yourself, however! It's much more difficult, as we see things through our own window on the world, and most of us have a strong ability to latch onto feedback that fits with our existing self image, and roundly reject that which contradicts it.

I'm nearing the end of the second inning of my period of reflection (this game could go into extra innings, based on how I'm doing so far!), and have had a few such epiphanies of my own.

I'm very goal oriented. I think that is why I liked school (grades), sports (scores) and projects (easily recognizable measures of success). Extremely long slogs, and those tasks that don't seem to lead to a potential 'win' (defined in very broad terms), tend to frustrate me. I especially noticed this when running a business with a weak market and with expectations for performance set unrealistically high. I don't care if the business pundits say this is how to get superior results -- it is simply inhumane and unfair!

I like to learn new things, and see people or situations in new or different ways. I think this comes from a deeper desire I have to be creative. That probably explains my enjoyment of writing, travel, and other learning opportunities. I don't really like routine much -- unless I can make a game of it, or there is some way to make the routine new or different. That was why I always was a sucker for new acquisitions, new production processes and new products in business. I fell in love with the possibilities!

I abhor being criticized. Most people don't like it, but I'm probably at the far end of the scale. I can take a little, in small doses, especially if it is couched in some kind of help in improving. This is probably why I don't do well with most bosses.

I like to socialize, and need social outlets. I also value some alone time to think and reflect. I think this is a balancing act. Friends are important to me, and I want to be seen positively by them, and want to do right by them. I'll bend over backwards to help out even casual friends.

So that's a start, and he helps me close off some paths, and recommends others. So even though it might not look like much is happening on the surface, I am making some progress.

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