Friday, May 15, 2009

You Don't Know His Story

It was Bike 2 Work Week. Despite this salient and relatively unknown fact, I was honked at twice for biking in a traffic lane during my commute this week.

In one, I was commuting south on Albert St. (Regina, SK) on my bicycle after work. I only have to go on Albert for a short segment, but it's to go over a bridge. It's a narrow two lanes going south and no shoulder.
As an individual trying to be as safe as possible, I wear a helmet and a bright, reflective vest. I also bike right in the traffic lane. It's the safest thing I can do, and the law. When a vehicle comes up on me, I'm pretty sure the message is that I'm owning the lane, that they're not going to "squeeze" by me and that I'm predictable. I'm going to follow vehicle traffic laws. That's just the way I like it.

On this day, however, I was startled by a red SUV that drove by me really tight and honked for a full second as they pulled level with me. Ironically, they had a bike rack on the back of their vehicle. It scared me and immediately flooded me with adrenaline. For starters, it was loud. It was also close and the driver was clearly being aggressive.

While I've reminded myself a hundred times that there's no rational reason to engage in a debate with drivers, my first, instinctual reaction was to fight back. I want to yell, "it's my lane!" or "it's the law!." Perhaps a little more appropriate for the venue, I could have shown how long my middle finger was. I'm an even-keeled, objective guy, but this was one of those interesting sensations where the space between stimulus and response was nearly non-existent. To my credit, I stayed cool. I envy the cyclist that can smile and wave at that point. The driver kept going (his point, apparently, had been made). It took me 15 seconds to right-size my thoughts and be more objective about the situation.
That's a good recovery, I think. While 15 seconds is still too long, it's not the same as steaming about it for the entire bike ride, or going home and being short with my wife and kids. I was able to fairly effectively roll with someone else's bad day and not let it affect mine. I'm writing about it to tell you what cooled me off after 15 seconds. I said "You don't know his story."

I don't know if he was rushing because he's just found out water is leaking into his basement, or that his long-lost father said he'd be at the mall cell-phone kiosk at exactly 5:38, or if a cyclist once stole his grandmother's purse. Perhaps he didn't mean to honk. His hand slipped at a very inopportune time, or his poodle chose that time to put its paws on the steering wheel. Sure, I can assume he's an a**hole, but that's the thing that will ruin MY day. No thanks.
The image above is pulled from the Ministry of Transportation in Ontario. A very good site for appropriate cycling techniques.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Just... around... the corner

There's a school of management thought that says that if you push hard enough, if you just get over this particular hurdle, things will get better or will get back to normal. Right now, though, there's some particular, special, urgent needs that require that we burn the midnight oil.

In my experience, it rarely gets back to the way it was, in fact, the "special" needs will likely just keep coming. The pace of work incrementally accelerates, it never goes back. The way the organization is functioning establishes a new normal, and the culture of the organization is incapable of reversing course without a lot of hard work.

I was contacted by a headhunter today. As this was the first time I've ever been targeted (because of my title, I think), my interest was piqued. Turns out, one of our Saskatchewan crown corporations needs a director that they can insert in an office that is under siege and under-staffed. In fairness, they are being very transparent in what challenges they face, and I appreciate that. However, the description also enthusiastically presents the promised land that is sure to come, if only they could get this one critical position to put in some hard work...

Yeah. Just around the corner, I'm confident the culture will change. Never mind that working like mad was encouraged and reinforced yesterday. Today we're done the project.

Hey, I'm all for changing culture. I think it's the right fight, but we can't just say we want it. We have to live it. I'm yet to be convinced that the best path to get there is to talk about how we're going to get strategic while we burn the midnight oil.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

The "Yes and" Rule

This is an improv rule with tons of value for everyday life. As I understand it, one of the fundamental rules for onstage interaction in improv is always agreeing with the premises others start. Instead of proposing a change in the plot that will take the story where you think it should go, you respond with "Yes and." You layer your ideas on top of ideas that are already there. This rule leads you down a path none of you anticipated or could have come up with alone. It also results in great humour.

We can benefit from accepting other's ideas and premises as we go through life, as well. If we're operating from a paradigm of trying to drive out our pre-determined outcome or we need to be in control, it's hard to say "Yes and." Rather, we filter the opinion or advice to fit our intended plan. Filtering, of course, means we just keep the pieces that align with our perspective. We discard the information that doesn't conform. That's unfortunate. We say "no" or "instead, how about..." instead of incorporating diverse perspectives and ideas.

As a supervisor, I typically have a notion of the recommendation I am expecting. With my desired outcome in tow, it feels unnatural to employ the "yes and" when something different is proposed. When I have employed this rule, we've discovered solutions that always surprise me and are better than anything I'd envisioned.

I'd like to propose that we establish a covenant between you and me right now. We agree to say "yes and" between us and with others when we're seeking a solution. I know it will result in some profound solutions. I think it might result in some humour, too.