Tuesday, 29 July 2008

Sunday, 27 July 2008

Make It Up, and Make It Happen

I'm listening to David Allen's seminar, Getting Things Done — Fast. It's fairly easy listening for such a densely-packed body of work. I've been dipping my toe into the GTD world for a year or two, but (as with most methodologies) it requires a lifestyle change to actually work. Lifestyle changes usually only happen at points of forced reflection, which sound a lot like, oh shit, how I'm handling this just isn't working at all. My new job right now is like drinking from the firehose, so it's time to get serious about GTD.

One thing Allen said stuck with me today, because it also came up in Tony Robbins' tapes (yes, when I listened to it people still used cassettes). It was this:
There are only two problems.
1) Not knowing what you want.
2) Knowing what you want, but not knowing how to get it.
Aimless drifting is incredibly easy when you have no goals, or dreams, or rabid yearnings. Some people find their goals early and easily, while others—like me—almost need a vision quest to find lasting value in any particular endeavour. What I've found is that action begets action, so while I'm engaged in things I like doing, new things pop up, or old things in a new light. I've long considered Benjamin Franklin the most grindingly dull of dead American Puritans, but his lines were bourne of a life of activity: "The man who is waiting for something to turn up should start with his shirtsleeves."
Frustrated, blunted ambition is often a result of not connecting point (A) where I am, with (B) where I want to be. It's like coming to a river and being so overwhelmed by the volume of water that I never start looking for stepping stones.

The putative solution to the twin problems was,"make it up, and make it happen." Allen expands: You're It. Anything that goes on in your world, from the pile of paperwork on your desk to the half-forgotten promises to do something you never really felt like doing, is Yours. Get in the driver's seat, because no-one is going to present you with a laundry list of values for your life, or plans to manage the next 24 hours, and you wouldn't take it if they did.

I've begun to see more and more that life is in action, and values, ethics, themes, and desires are not causes, but effects; the heady aroma that rises from a busy life. They come from a deep place and ooze out only through activity, revealing to yourself and to the world who you really are.

We enjoy ourselves only in our work, our doing; and our best doing is our best enjoyment.
— Hermann Jacobi

Friday, 25 July 2008

Monopoly Money

A couple I evicted from a room downstairs left it, after a habitation/infestation of seven months, in a state few experience outside the trenches of the Western Front.
There were six large bunk beds, five of which were covered in garbage in various states of decay, but none nearly so advanced as the trash under the beds. The kitchenette and washroom floor were slick and mildewed, and strong oaky notes with a lingering hint of gooseberry rose from the carpet in the anteroom. A thick layer of dust sat on the floor, and clusters of mould meandered up the walls.
I led the ground assault, spending hours removing those pieces of refuse larger than a matchbox and peeling thinner garbage from floors, walls, furniture and bedding. The mechanized division was next; a gun for hire was sent in to dissemble and remove every stick of furniture. Then came the napalm drop—armed with a mop, a strong back, a glove, and an extremely accommodating sense of smell, I blitzed the floors. The mop bucket proved ineffectual, and I rinsed the mop in the shower and toilet both, flushing away the ugly dark color of purified neglect.

After one day and three air fresheners, I moved in.

When the dust settled, dark hardwood floors reflected twin closets, a high ceiling, and a quiet and spacious room. The hallway leads to a small entranceway, with a kitchenette and washroom far away from the bedroom. The Inn's storage rooms are full of extra furniture—the pack-rat spirit is alive and well and living in Toronto—so I was able to appropriate two leather-ish divans, Art Deco lamps, a tall mahogany mirror, an unused queen bed and new duvet, drawers, and fans (I'm the manager and I can grab what I want to). I now rest in freshly-laundered sheets and feel like a guy who lives in a hotel. Yes, my life very much resembles Monopoly.

Saturday, 19 July 2008

Now I'm THAT Guy.

I find myself suddenly catapulted into responsibility.
After a lifetime of pursuing maximum freedom at minimum cost, I'm now responsible for the following things:

Hiring people
Firing people
Evicting people
Motivating people
Telling people when to work
Telling people to stop doing what they're doing
Owning up
Following through
Managing stock levels
Managing staff levels
Managing cashflow
Quality control
Building overhauls
The business' public image
Maintenance planning
Staff reporting protocol

It's that last one that sounds the scariest. It's the short way of saying: If one guy doesn't write down what he did and what has to happen next, the other guys won't know it happened until something goes wrong. That happened a LOT, and still happens too much, and there's cascades of blame to go round every single time it happens. People don't like being blamed for anything. Especially when it wasn't their fault and they can't do anything about it now. Hence, Staff Reporting Protocol, the wide-eyed, youthful first stage of choking bureaucracy.

I never wanted to be That Guy. The person who wears deliberately neutral attire. The imported-beer-drinking, form-enforcing, under-sleeping, over-working, beige-coloured package of bourgeois respectability. The man who fakes a grin of camaraderie through pointless, interminable stories. The eternal subjugator of personal preferences to business responsibilities. The scourger and lasher of pyramid-building peons. The creature of habit; the grey flannel suit; the company man.

Friday, 11 July 2008

Check Out The New Guy

I've been listening to presentations made by Scott Berkun, a former program manager at Microsoft. He's been making the rounds promoting his latest book on innovation and also Making Things Happen: The Art of Project Management [chapter sample PDF here].
He says that leaders are not often the smartest, or the best, or the most attractive, but rather have the clearest grasp of priorities and a willingness to take responsibility. I've found that the staff here are happy when they know they are doing the single most important thing, they're doing it now, they won't be interrupted for three hours, and then they'll check in and participate in the next decision. After months of complaints in one ear and pipe-dreams in the other, the clarity is probably something of a relief.
I thought that it would be a liability being promoted from the ranks, but it seems to have a few advantages. People believe me when I talk about changes I'm making to cut down on complaints. Moving shifts and rooms around based on what I know of the staff has, through simple actions and cost-free perks, improved morale and customer service. And following through quickly on promises has won me trust and made me a useful guy to have around.
This new job is offering up far broader ways to look at subjects that I have before. Myriad topics mix together and a solution emerges. A combination of graphic design and Behavioral Psych 101 resulted in new front-desk forms. Unconditional Positive Regard and GTD seems to make me look both nice and efficient. Maybe all those years of pouring ideas into my head were more practical than I thought.

Monday, 7 July 2008

Swords into Ploughshares

They shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.
Isaiah II

550 tons of yellowcake, a concentrated uranium ore, has been shipped from Baghdad to Toronto. The aging stockpiles, forgotten remnants of a bankrupt nuclear weapons programme, are being repurposed for use in power stations.
The drums of radioactive material were documented and sealed by UN officials more than a decade ago and were untouched. After being repackaged the ore began a three-month journey, shrouded in secrecy, through several countries before reaching Canada.

About 15% of Canadian electricity comes from nuclear power, and 50% from hydroelectric dams. The refined product, worth more than $20m, will power Toronto and the surrounding cities.

Sunday, 6 July 2008

Ménage à try

I'm trying my hand at management. I've just been hired as the manager of the hotel/hostel ('Inn') I'm staying at. I've been working here for a while—a few shifts a week—to pay the rent, but lately it developed into something completely different.
The problems are twofold. First, I'm still maintaining the freelance design work which has sustained me for years, including a new Toronto agency which sends me nothing but urgent work. And second, the Inn has never had a 'manager'-manager, so the systems are largely improvised, outdated, and inside people's heads. There's a culture of putting out fires instead of implementing good, preventative systems. The left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing. My first few weeks will be dedicated to simply increasing the transparency of our processes.

In seven weeks I fly to London. I haven't booked my return flight yet, but I hope to spend five days in England and three in Paris, plus a day either side to deal with jet lag. No itinerary yet, though it's a safe bet museums will feature largely.