Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Legacy Grandpa left

A man of honor, integrity, passion, focus, consistency, vision, peace, love, strength, humility and a gentle soul. An upright man of prayer, tower of Godliness and a foundation for many a life. A pleasant personality everyone wanted to sit around. Diplomatic communicator, privately and publicly sought after counselor and motivator,  teacher, overseer and the glue that bound cracking relationships. A soldier for a cause in every literal sense of the word, with a ministry in every area of his life, especially for the needy. Fearless without hesitation, doubt or indecision in execution of duty. Modest hero to many with an international sphere of influence. God's ambassador recalled from lifelong duty back home to rest in the arms of our Lord who deployed him. These were part of the words that formed the brief eulogy I gave at my grandfather's funeral this week while struggling to hold back tears of the memories of a man I spend the bulk of my childhood years with. This for a man who lived a full life, finally bowing to illness at the age of 92 years, having served in the Salvation Army from entry level to the rank of Major at retirement after more than 30 years of service, only to still continue serving another similar time frame within the community after retirement, mostly pursuing his natural passion of never turning away someone in need who knocked on his door. His purpose was confirmed as having been well executed by many who attended the funeral with testimonials of his selfless nature and genuine concern for others echoing all around the venue. One person said no one remained the same after an encounter with my grandfather. He was a practical man who did not say what he did not or could not do. He was there where the need was and was always willing to help a situation improve. Grown men, grandfathers in their own right, reminisced the days they were taught in school by my grandfather before he went into full time ministry, with many speaking about how he had influenced and shaped their lives for them to become the men they are. They as well, aiming to be like him in the way he helped others around him. What an extraordinary man who remained resolute in his cause until his dying days, while also praying for his whole family by name every evening even during the sickness that would ultimately take his life. He still kept a heart for those in need. The needy are always with us and sometimes it feels as if one has done enough for them and can rest, or at least do a comparison to those who are doing nothing for the needy and feel vindicated in relenting from assisting. I still do not know how he did what he did, because I fall short of that standard he set. What an easy legacy to talk about but how so difficult to carry and sustain.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Managing string pullers

Puppetry has been used since the 5th century BC and was mostly practiced in Ancient Greece and the Greek word for puppet is nevrospastos which literally means drawn by strings. A puppet is an inanimate object or representation of a person or animal that is moved either by strings or by a hand. There are many forms and types of puppets including string drawn, hand, glove, sock, finger and shadow puppets among others. A puppet has no life, voice nor movement of its own and its actions are solely based on the person pulling the strings for a string drawn puppet who determines what the puppet can do. It is mostly used for educational or entertainment purposes among others with an audience watching and enjoying the show.

What strings?
I have often heard and still hear of people being called puppets in one way or another when they are deemed incapable of making their own independent decisions or they act to please certain people. This is one way of demeaning someone who is weak in autonomy and independence. And so they are spoken of as if they have someone pulling the strings behind the scenes and determining how they act and decide. While watching a puppet show recently, I thought about how pervasive string pullers are in any person's life. Comparing life to a performance where friends, family and even strangers are watching, one can either do things that make people clap and congratulate, or leave people shocked and wondering what just went down. These actions are based on various types of environmental stimuli which can be likened to string pullers. Think of marketing campaigns, billboards on the freeway as you drive, musical advertisements playing in the background while you shop or the pop up adverts as you browse the web. These are all string pullers that can determine your actions if you let them. Other types of string pullers include culture, peers, religion, role models, trend setters, magazines, opinion leaders and books. They all play a role in a person's life depending on internalization, to the point of making people buy products, eat certain types of foods, drive particular cars, drink, act and react or associate with certain brands and people the way they do. I decided to title this post "managing string pullers" and not getting rid of them, because I view them as inevitable and even a necessary part of life which needs to be managed properly. As a person is an autonomous decision making entity having the freedom of choice, there is always the option to accept or reject the effect of string pullers and environmental influences that come into one's life. Unlike a puppet, which does exactly as its master wants, much to the amusement of everyone around, a person can say yes or no, yet this will not stop the same or other competing string pullers from trying to gain acceptance and influence within one's life.

Strings and goals
There are positive string pullers and negative ones and it is important to identify them appropriately after which one needs to manage and align string pullers in line with personally desired outcomes in life. Aligning string pullers with one's goals is very important as it facilitates achievement of those goals. Sadly, many a people have ruined their lives while others are watching on the sidelines, much in the same way that a puppet performs for a crowd through allowing the wrong string pullers in their lives or even failing to identify bad string pullers and managing them in line with desired path. One cannot simply allow each and every string to be pulled in whichever direction without having a say or at least rejecting some string pullers. The self help book 7 Habits of highly effective people, speaks about how successful people should manage string pullers to achieve their desired ends and is also a string puller in itself. It speaks to a mindset change by prescribing what successful people should allow and not allow in their life. My encouragement is for you to increase your exposure to progressive and positive string pullers which compliment and align with your goals, while limiting or cutting out negative ones that inhibit and thwart those same goals. Detach yourself from string pullers which are not in tandem with your life goals, while attaching yourself to those that will catapult you to your destiny. Have a review process to carry out independent assessments of the impact these influences have on your life and be able to make the right choices for your life. How do you view the impact of the above or any other string pullers you have faced in your life and how do you manage them?


Monday, July 14, 2014

Lessons from Brazil 2014

The soccer World Cup is the biggest soccer tournament in the world held every four years since 1930, excluding 1942 and 1946 (due to the World War II). A total of 32 top qualifying national teams, members of the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), the sport's global governing body, compete over a period of a month to become World Champions for the next four years. The World Cup for 2014 was held in Brazil with Germany becoming the World soccer champions.

The Lessons
The soccer World Cup is an interesting tournament not lacking in drama, action, suspense, jubilation and tears. I took away several lessons one can draw from this tournament some of which are listed below.

  • Do not bask in past glory, someone can always take your place. Spain came in as incumbent champions and cup holders and left during the first round of the tournament. It came as a shock both for Spain and many of their supporters as they would have expected them to go further in the tournament. Opponents are studying you and finding ways to displace you from that hard earned position, keep your game plan on point.

  • Never underestimate the underdogs, they can surprise you. Not many people are living anything to chance in a competition. Yes they may be called underdogs, but all the more reason they have a point to prove and become champions. Do not sweep competition under the carpet, but deal with issues that can make you second best. Avoid complacency and continue to push even harder.

  • You cannot always do it all alone. Soccer is not a one man show, pass the ball and sacrifice your own glory for team glory. When team effort is required, pass the ball and you will win. Some things are best done within a team setting and the sooner one realizes this and allows others to shine rather self, the better. It is not always about me.

  • Respect authority and play fair. Referees are there to ensure fair play and lack of discipline leads to red cards and failure to play. If one is not disciplined in whatever they do, they can fail to accomplish their mission by losing resources, people or opportunities, if not even going behind bars. Discipline is key if one is to stay in any game. Try to remember and comply with the "no biting" rule.

  • Always acknowledge your opponent and respect them for giving you a game, there is no game if the opponent does not show up. Before a soccer match, players exhibit sportsmanship by greeting each other, and after the match some players exchange jerseys. During the match, players help each other up when they fall, even though they are opponents. Being opponents does not mean you do not need each other.

  • You have earned your current success, don't be apologetic. Play as if you deserve to be at the tournament, or you will be booted out. The fact that you are where you are, is due to hard work and effort. Someone said it is not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog that matters. There will always be a bigger dog in a fight and one may be afraid, but being in the fight  means you have something to say and contribute so give it your best shot.

  • Do not procrastinate. If you cannot score in the game as a team, you may lose in the penalties fragmented. The goalkeeper is alone without defense during penalties, but this is because the team did not score earlier. There is pressure that comes later when scoring chances are missed earlier as you now have no way out. Always capitalize on opportunities if you can and score to avoid sudden death.

  • It is not over until the whistle goes so keep pushing until the game is over. A goal 2 seconds before the match ends is still a goal and can stop you from progressing to the next round or even deny you the trophy. As long as you are alive, your life can take a turn for good or bad. Continuously manage your efforts to ensure that your outcomes go the way you want them to or someone else will do that for you.

Well done to Germany for winning the World Cup 2014. Now over to you to play your life match.


Sunday, July 6, 2014

Kaizen your life

The Japanese are well known for their persistent focus on refining and improving processes and systems to ensure optimal function. They have therefore over the years coined several terms which are used in business and in the personal lives of people in Japan as well as across the world. Some of the words the Japanese have coined include Kaizen,(continuous improvement), muda (wastefulness), Anzen (safety), Nemawashi (ensuring buy-in), Kodawari (continuous pursuit of excellence) and Genchi Genbutsu (go and see for yourself). Most of these Japanese business terms are key principles used within the Toyota Production System where they are applied religiously to ensure consistency in all areas of operations. Below is each term in brief detail to get more insight.

Muda - waste, uselessness, idleness or wastefulness and is used to identify ways of dealing with waste. Muda is identified within the business and is reduced or eliminated if possible. Variations of muda include Mura (inconsistency) and Muri (unreasonable request).

Anzen - safety within every area of operation to reduce injury or fatality in business. It is a conscious effort and awareness as well as the responsibility of everyone within a business to ensure that hazards and unsafe practices are eliminated, while unsafe areas and materials are handled and managed correctly.

Kodawari - the uncompromising and relentless pursuit of perfection. If something works and is efficient, it is continuously repeated to ensure consistency as well as customer satisfaction.

Genchi Genbutsu - personally going to see an activity before one makes a decision going forward. The belief is that you can never fully understand something until you have gone to the place where it is happening and seen for yourself how it is done on the ground. That is when you can gain a full understanding in order to contribute to improvement.

Nemawashi - Nemawashi literally means going around the roots and is the concept of laying the ground work for change. It is a consultative process of creating alignment with stakeholder interests during change to ensure that decision makers are kept advised of the route a proposed change is taking, such that when it is finalized and formalized, they will easily support the change.

Kaizen - developed after the World War 2 in the process of rebuilding Japan, Kaizen recognizes that change does not always happen overnight in big drastic actions, but can occur through small continuous improvements over time until a process is perfected to its optimal level. It refers to multiple continuous changes towards excellence.

It is unavoidable to see that all the above terms apply to normal personal life as much as they do to business. We live our daily lives managing waste and loss, be it time, financial or any other resource we own (muda). In whatever we do we ensure our safety and that of others around us (anzen), and we try to gain an understanding of things we have an interest in, sometimes through trips to places like museums, cultural heritage sites and other places of interest (genchi genbutsu). Most people are relentlessly pursuing perfection in their areas of work and passion (kodawari) and others are trying to improve in general by making continuous changes sometimes in form of annual new year resolutions (kaizen) or dietary changes. I struggle to choose a favourite among these terms as they are all pervasive in what I do, but Kaizen seems to appeal the most to me because it cuts across all the other terms as well. The whole point of this post is to Kaizen your life through continuous improvements, as it is said one can never stop learning. Which one is your favorite Japanese term or most pursued and how have you pursued it in your own life?