How to Make a Big Pot

I was chatting with my son, who is a potter, about what it takes to make really big pieces on the wheel.

Last year, he’d often come back from class to report that the piece he had thrown had collapsed. Week after week he’ spend two hours at the wheel and have nothing to show for it.

That’s not happening to him this year and I asked him why: is he being less ambitious with his projects or has he just gotten better?

He said the answer was pretty simple: speed.

Last year he would try to get a piece from tall to tall-and-wide really quickly – in two or three minutes. A new teacher this year explained that the process needs to take closer to 30 minutes. The simple fact is, the clay cannot transform and stretch that fast.

We often ask ourselves whether we are able to change as if it’s a binary thing. More often still, we notice our pace of change and feel it’s not fast enough.

Of course, change is possible, we just need to recognize how slowly or quickly we can stretch and transform.

Old habits, old mindsets, old attitudes, old limitations. They’ve made themselves part of our psyche and part of our personal story. We took years, maybe even decades to build them up. Should we expect that they’ll just fade away after a few minutes, weeks, or even months?

Our biggest barrier to change isn’t ability, it is attitude: the willingness to stick with things long enough to have  our efforts bear fruit.

Don’t let your results after a few days, weeks or even months dictate what you can accomplish. Your change, your stretch, your transformation – they’re all happening.

The trick is to understand, and to embrace, the pace of what is possible


Why isn’t this working?

…asks the helpful critic.

Why has this project lost its mojo?

Why aren’t we wowing our customers?

Why do we keep missing our deadlines?

Why hasn’t the tough decision been taken?

Why aren’t we getting to the heart of the issue?

Good to raise the question. Much better, though, to realize that every single one of these questions offers an opportunity for leadership with a big and small “L.”

Leadership is not about authority or seniority or permission. It is about stepping up, taking the risk that others won’t, taking a point of view, putting yourself on the line.  It’s about saying the things you wish someone else (your boss, your colleague, the young new member of your team) would say.  It’s about grabbing the agenda, or ending the meeting early, or even walking with a new sense of purpose.  It’s about changing something in your own behavior in a way that shifts the structures and the attitudes of everyone around you.

We know you’re smart enough to ask the tough questions. What we need more of is the courage to lead.

I am the decisive element

My wife reminded me of this powerful quote from Goethe, via Gretchen Rubin’s Happiness Project blog.  It’s worth returning to daily.

I have come to the frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element. It is my personal approach that creates the climate. It is my daily mood that makes the weather. I possess tremendous power to make life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration, I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides…

Happy Friday.

What do you look for when you hire?

Attitude, enthusiasm, and good manners.

Lots of people are smart.  Lots of people have gone to the right schools and have worked in the right jobs.  Lots of people know how to answer when you ask how many tennis balls fit into a phone booth or why railroads tracks are often built next to rivers (two favorite consulting interview questions I actually got years ago, meant to test analytic ability).

Attitude, to me, is a combination of humility, perseverance and a willingness to learn.  So many smart people are taught that (a)They have all the answers; (b)They’ve been asking the right questions.  The difference-makers understand that they’re good at a bunch of things and that they (everyone, really) have an awful lot to learn, often from the most surprising places.

Enthusiasm is about the energy you bring to tasks, big or small, about willingness to start things and see them through to the end.  Plus it’s generally a lot more fun to be around enthusiastic people since their enthusiasm is contagious – so the spillover effects for the whole team are huge.

And good manners is a great proxy for being brought up right, for treating everyone around you with respect, for caring about the important things more than what’s on the surface.  So much of life is about relationships, and someone who walks through the world with a respect that comes from a deep and genuine place will build those relationships successfully.

Sure, this isn’t the complete list of traits, but if any of them is missing, it’s probably a non-starter.

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Be a Sawgot (SWGTD)

Are you a “sawgot,” Someone Who Gets Things Done?

If you’re not now, what would it take?

With an ever-shifting economy, and all of the challenges in the job market, I can think of few skills more universal than being a sawgot.  Because when it’s crunch time and something absolutely needs to happen, the people in charge look at each other and say, “OK, we need our ace right now.  The game’s on the line.”  And you want to be that ace.

Being a sawgot is about a mindset and an outlook: having the humility not to ask “why am I doing something that’s not in my job description?” and the wisdom to know that moment you’ve become the kind of person who reliably makes problems go away, you’ve become indispensable.

This is particularly valuable early in your career, when you’re looking to stand out.  If you work in the kind of organization that creates opportunities and moves quickly, the sawgot’s ability to move a project forward, on time and without (visibly) breaking a sweat is the kind of thing that gets you noticed (and if it doesn’t get you noticed, go work somewhere where it does).

Speed, accuracy, an ability to ask the right questions to get enough clarity to do what is being asked of you…these are the starting point.  There is also a trove of really basic skills that you just need to have – and which there’s no excuse not to have mastered by now.  You:

  • Create clean, attractive, simple slides in Powerpoint: few words, great images, tell a story (this implies some facility with Photoshop).
  • Generally “do stuff” with ease in Excel (this includes formulas and pivot tables and some data analysis and text-to-columns and Lookups).
  • Write clearly, concisely, quickly, and at the right level of detail
  • Manage projects against deadlines, and get things done early
  • Never let things fall through the cracks
  • Know how to create content for the web (including poking into the code here and there if you need to) – and are comfortable creating and sharing multimedia quickly and easily
  • Reliably create narratives from a set of inchoate inputs / sources
  • Know just a little bit more than your boss about what’s new and useful in the world, including but not limited to the online world

The skills allow you to dance at the party, but the sawgot’s ATTITUDE gets you in the door.  You don’t want to jump into so many things that you cannot do your day job, but if, right now, you’re not working on one or two things that you’d describe as, “this is outside of the scope of what I do, but it really matters that our team/group/organization/company gets this right,” then it’s time to put up your hand and say, “how can I help?” or “why haven’t you asked me to help?”

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