What Can We Learn From Others?

What Can We Learn From Others?

“Keep the window of the mind open to let the fresh thoughts come in like fresh air.”— Debasish Mridha

One of the delights of our walks around our woods and grasslands is being surprised by dragonflies. These are amazing creatures both in their beautiful colors and in their means of locomotion.

I am not the only one inspired by dragonflies. Five years ago I attended a talk by Elizabeth Turtle. The idea she was presenting was to build a dragonfly-like drone and have it fly about on Titan, one of the fascinating moons of Saturn. This idea was competing against others for the opportunity to go to Titan.

Titan is interesting! It is the second-largest moon in our solar system – it is bigger than the planet Mercury. It has a subsurface ocean of water. It even has rain, although it is a methane rain. We expect to find that Titan has the building blocks of life similar to earth.

I see why Elizabeth Turtle wants to go there.

Seeing the dragonfly on our walk, I remembered that I needed to check on the mission to Titan. And I found that the dragonfly idea won. The dragonfly will fly with the launch scheduled for 2026. Also, Elizabeth Turtle is still on the mission. There is a lot to do to prepare for a billion-mile journey to be able to sightsee around a place no one has ever been before.

We can learn so much from others, perhaps especially from those with specialties outside our sphere.

Look at the pictures of the Dragonfly Mission, and you will see some of what we can learn from dragonflies.

Consider the people expanding our knowledge of the solar system, and see the benefits of patience, persistence, and planning.

Who will you learn from today?

Yours in the calm pursuit of excellence,


Alan Willett

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How Can You Be Sure You Did Your Best?

How Can You Be Sure You Did Your Best?

“Success is the peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to become the best you are capable of becoming.”— John Wooden

The question she asked was “How can I know I have done my best to achieve the result if the result was not fully achieved?”

This young engineer was quite disappointed that after diligent effort, there was an underlying flaw discovered in the software she created. She said, “I have failed!”

We walked through a few questions to understand what happened and to see if she had “failed” as she thought she did.

Alan: Did you do all the steps to fully understand what the software was supposed to do?

Engineer: Absolutely. We know exactly how the software is supposed to perform.

Alan: Did you examine the base of materials you were starting with to understand whether they were adequate?

Engineer: Yes. I personally reviewed the materials. I interviewed people who created them.

Alan: Did you create designs and code to your personal high standards of quality?

Engineer: I did, and I also reviewed parts I was unsure about with others.

Alan: How many defects escaped this process into testing?
Engineer: Only this one.

Alan: The root cause of this one defect was what?

Engineer: A defect that has been buried in the source code for years. This new situation revealed it.

Alan: So your work discovered a previously unknown design flaw that could affect other parts of the system?

Engineer: Um. Yes. So you’re saying I should examine this further to make sure other parts of the system are not negatively impacted by future changes

The conversation went on from there. We explored how this defect went undetected for so long as well as how to detect this type of defect earlier. Further, we explored how to ensure this defect was not impacting other parts of the system now and in the future. We determined how to make the overall system better.

It is not how hard you work that defines success. The effort is only a part of the overall definition.

Success is about results, but again that is only part of it. People get trapped in that one metric. This young engineer was distraught because of that simplistic, misleading, temporary metric.

 You have done your best if you can say with confidence these four things:

  1. I am working with the mindset to create excellent results.
  2. I have used a disciplined approach in executing the process I know produces good results.
  3. When results are not what I expected, I see what I can learn so that I improve my execution and results for the future.
  4. The results of one event are not the events of the long term. I use the knowledge I gain to improve my own process and the overall system.

At the end of the conversation, the engineer knew that she had been fully successful in the first three elements and now had a plan to ensure number 4 was also achieved.

Yours in the calm pursuit of excellence,


Alan Willett

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Take Care Of Things While It’s Still Just a Sprinkle

Take Care Of Things While It’s Still Just a Sprinkle

“Doing things at the last minute reminds us of the importance of doing things at the first minute.”— Matshona Dhliwayo

The hammock had been left out in the backyard and I noticed that a light rain had started. I didn’t want to have to run outside right then. It seemed much easier to just leave the hammock where it was and bring it in the next day by which time it would have been dried out by the afternoon sun.

As I was thinking out loud about the wisdom of procrastination, my wife said, “It can always get wetter.” This phrase was a reference to a hike we had taken a few years before.

On that hike, it had also started to rain and the initial light sprinkle was fun and refreshing. But about half an hour later, the skies opened up and let loose a downpour. I grumbled, “Well, at least we can’t get any wetter.” Which is, of course, when I rounded a corner and stepped into a foot deep mud puddle.

So, despite my reluctance, I followed the wisdom I had learned on that hike. I went and got the hammock, hung it in the bathroom to dry, and it was dry enough to be put away before the evening was over.

Meanwhile, that initial light rain was the precursor to a week of torrential downpours.

Consider this for yourself and your teams. Do you have any lingering little things left undone that could become bigger problems? Take care of them while it’s still only sprinkling.

Yours in the calm pursuit of excellence,


Alan Willett

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Ideas are Like Seeds

Ideas are Like Seeds

“Even if a farmer intends to loaf, he gets up in time to get an early start.”— Edgar Watson Howe

The farm I grew up on has been in the family for over 150 years. My sister and her partner now run it with their children.

I learned a lot from farming and I still do. In fact, business, in general, learns a lot from farming as the words permeate much of the business language.

Ideas are like seeds. You need to plant many to get some to grow. Do not expect your ideas to appear immediately in someone else’s speech. The seeds need watering and care. You do not want to dig up a seed to see what is happening! You need to give it time to grow.

Prepare for droughts. That is why farmers work as hard in off-seasons as in harvest time. This is why sometimes farmers actually sometimes hired rainmakers. That is why in business the term rainmaking is so commonly used as the metaphor for creating new business. This is why farmers work to keep a reserve of seeds and supplies. Droughts happen.

Make hay while the sun is shining. On the farm, when the hay is ready and the sun is shining, farmers will work dawn to dusk. Actually, with the advent of lights on tractors, one of the worst inventions my father used to say, they often work late into the night.  This is also true in business. When things are going well in generating business, you need to take full advantage.  

Maintain your equipment. When you can’t work in the fields, you still need to work.  Maintain your equipment. Prepare for the next chance to get out there and get things done.

Your work is fun if you treat it that way. My siblings and I had lots of fun doing our work from dawn to dusk. We had somewhat competitive games putting hay bales into the barn loft. We would pay vigorous games of ping pong in between jobs. I still treat work that way.  I hope you do as well.

Yours in the calm pursuit of excellence,


Alan Willett

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I have seen leaders show great endurance in leading marathon projects. They are putting in marathon hours. The sweat sheen on them and their teams is obvious, even heroic.

Do You Need a Win?

A client wrote to me recently with a note that said simply “I need a win.” Have you been there, where it feels like you have faced a sudden losing streak and quite simply there is a need for a win? I have. I expect Elon Musk is looking for one with Tesla.

The Reader’s Edge

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ANNIVERSARIES ARE IMPORTANT MARKERS

"Ritual is important to us as human beings. It ties us to our traditions and our histories." — Miller Williams, Poet My wife and I just celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary. Even though real work of building a life together happens in the minutes and hours between...

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ANTICIPATE INFLECTION POINTS

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PATIENCE, PASSION, PERSISTENCE, PROGRESS

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Making the Leap

Paradigm leaps take need, courage, and sweat. You will notice a different look and feel to the newsletter this week. Earlier this year, I became unsatisfied with a few key things and decided to make some changes.

Improve Your Intake Engine

Improve Your Intake Engine

“An expert is someone who has succeeded in making decisions and judgments simpler through knowing what to pay attention to and what to ignore.”— Edward de Bono

We had a wonderful weather weekend which led to some extensive yard work. My back let me know that I had overdone things and I found myself hobbling around the house a few hours later. Luckily, I have an expert massage therapist in my family and I immediately scheduled a session.

During the massage, I realized how much I have improved after receiving the massage. My massage therapist was key to this improvement. She gave me good advice on how to work with her so that she is better able to target her interventions so I am able to get the benefits I’m looking for.

I realized these lessons are the same ones my best clients have learned.

The following are the key steps in boosting your “improvement intake engine”.

Take clear notice when something isn’t working. My back pain was obvious and I have learned to take it seriously. However, some of my clients were accustomed to ignoring early symptoms and waiting to ask for help until larger problems developed.

Be aware that the symptoms are not the root causes. In becoming great at receiving massages, I have learned to start by being clear about the symptoms. I have also come to understand that addressing the symptoms is not the same as addressing the root cause. My back pain was made much better by work that integrated the whole body, not just the back. Problem symptoms in complex projects require a similar systemic approach.

Invest in experts who can help address underlying causes. I no longer think about a massage as a frivolous expense. It is an investment which results in more flexibility, more energy, and generally more fun in life. Why struggle to solve problems alone when there are experts who can get you to your desired state much more quickly?

Invest in experts who will help even more with prevention. As I listened to my massage therapist, it became clear that the real root cause of my back pain was not doing too much yard work, it was doing yard work with bad body mechanics. Experts can help you understand your system in new ways and that understanding will help prevent future problems.

The most advanced level of getting expert advice is seeking performance upgrades. Many of my clients have started at the “back pain” level of problem. However, after working all the way through prevention, my best clients work with me on performance upgrades for themselves and their organizations.

How well versed is your organization in using experts to improve your engines of performance?

Yours in the calm pursuit of excellence,


Alan Willett

You may also like:

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I have seen leaders show great endurance in leading marathon projects. They are putting in marathon hours. The sweat sheen on them and their teams is obvious, even heroic.

Do You Need a Win?

A client wrote to me recently with a note that said simply “I need a win.” Have you been there, where it feels like you have faced a sudden losing streak and quite simply there is a need for a win? I have. I expect Elon Musk is looking for one with Tesla.

The Reader’s Edge

The exceptional leaders are voracious consumers of information. They listen to audio books, they read books, they seek out others to hear their stories. The things they read spans multiple genres, time periods, and cultures.

ANNIVERSARIES ARE IMPORTANT MARKERS

"Ritual is important to us as human beings. It ties us to our traditions and our histories." — Miller Williams, Poet My wife and I just celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary. Even though real work of building a life together happens in the minutes and hours between...

LEADERSHIP ON FATHER’S DAY

"Welcome to Sherwood!" — Robin Hood Father's Day was a delight for me. My family treated me a number of fun things. I was served breakfast in a hammock. I was treated to a delicious cold milkshake at a local ice-cream shop. My daughter and I have a plan to go buy some...

SUDS MAY SPILL, BEER SHOULD NOT

"I have never had to face anything that could overwhelm the native optimism and stubborn perseverance I was blessed with. " — Sonia Sotomayor One of my best clients and I were enjoying the start of our day at a local coffee cafe. We covered a range of topics and one...

PERSISTENCE, PREY, AND IDEAS

"Language is the means of getting an idea from my brain into yours without surgery. " — Mark Amidon The Washington DC zoo has this very interesting roulette-style wheel located just past the cheetah exhibit. You spin the wheel to find out if you caught your prey, your...

ANTICIPATE INFLECTION POINTS

"A strategic inflection point is a time in the life of a business when its fundamentals are about to change. that change can mean an opportunity to rise to new heights. But it may just as likely signal the beginning of the end." — Andrew Grover There are a wave of...

PATIENCE, PASSION, PERSISTENCE, PROGRESS

"Even though it is not always easy… being a planetary scientist is one of the coolest jobs on the planet!" — Elizabeth (Zibi) Turtle   Imagine exploring Titan! And to be clear, I am not referring to the planet Titan of Thanos (Avengers), I am referring to a...

Making the Leap

Paradigm leaps take need, courage, and sweat. You will notice a different look and feel to the newsletter this week. Earlier this year, I became unsatisfied with a few key things and decided to make some changes.

Leadership, Milestones & Markers

Leadership, Milestones & Markers

“Remember to celebrate milestones as you prepare for the road ahead.” — Nelson Mandela

My son Jacob celebrated his twenty-fifth birthday this year before the onset of the current pandemic. We celebrated that milestone with many friends in our community dining room. Everyone shared cake, friendship, and fun.

With the ongoing need to social distance and stay at home, how to celebrate milestones has become less clear. Our need to mark special moments hasn’t dimmed but many of our traditional ways of doing so aren’t available.

Yet, in our local community, a couple engaged to be married figured it out. They arranged a zoom wedding attended by over 100 people from all around the world. The bride and groom held the ceremony at a spectacular waterfall. The couple, officiant, and witnesses wore masks and maintained social distance. They then walked and danced through the middle of our village while people banged pots and played musical instruments.

It was joyous and fun.

Many of many clients feel like their projects have been derailed and thrown into ambiguity. Our work now is to redefine milestones that create a guidance system for everyone involved. We need to make sure the milestones are:

  • Compelling.  It is rare for someone to like “make-work.”  The milestone must have significance for the organization and the individual.
  • Clear and concise.  I hear from many people that their email load has doubled.  Get to the point.  Make it clear.
  • Achieveable.  Yes, stretch goals are fine.  However, we are finding that during this time it is important to have a dual set of goals. Define minimum success measures first. Follow those with stretch goals.
  • 1 Short term milestone.  What will you get done in the next two months during the lockdown?
  • 1 longer term milestone.  Beyond the lockdown, define what the starting line will look like?  What needs to be done to be ready to return to “live” performances?

When you achieve each milestone, you as the leader must be prepared to mark the achievement with something meaningful.  Thank everyone who contributed. Perhaps do virtual “high-fives”. Tell jokes. Stay positive.

And let’s be like the wedding couple, by being creative, positive and dancing towards the future.

Yours in the calm pursuit of excellence,


Alan Willett

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Within the Rush, Find the Joy

I am always amazed about how busy this time of year is!

There is a rush to finish the business year well. At the same time, there is an emphasis on family togetherness and taking stock of personal achievements.

It can be difficult to find time to focus on joy.

When you are focused on speed, do you call for the help you need?

A friend and I looked over what needed to be done and estimated it would take us at least two to three full days. Next I called in our local fence repair experts.

What Can We Learn From Others?

One of the delights of our walks around our woods and grasslands is being surprised by dragonflies.

Warning: Rapid Perspective Changes Ahead

Soon after watching the sunrise in a city very near Death Valley in California, I was talking with one of the residents.

Vroom Into the New Year

Now is the time to get started in the world of work again, and you want to get started fast!

Untangling Impossible Problems

The task before us seemed impossible. The trumpet vine had grown vigorously on our trellis for twenty years.

Three Things I Learned on the Inspired Leadership Show

One of the delightful things in being interviewed is that I always learn something new. Angie and Kelsey’s show is so dynamic I learned many things.

The Reader’s Edge

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The Power and Problem of Achieving Your Biggest Goals

Three different clients of mine achieved their most powerful goals this past week. For two of them, the big achievement was followed by a big emotional letdown. It was not at all how they had expected to feel.

The Big Ideas Summit

I had the extraordinary experience last week of finding myself on “higher ground.” I had a better view of the value-based consulting I have been doing. More importantly, from this higher vantage point, I was able to visualize better how I can make more positive impacts in the years to come.