I’ve been very busy with speaking and presenting at different events this year alone. As a speaker, I value great feedback especially when I know that I can take it to improve myself. While events and conference organizers provide feedback forms in both paper-based and online formats, I make it a point to ask attendees for their personal feedback after my presentations.
At the last PASS Summit in Charlotte, NC, I spent some time at the Community Zone to engage attendees in some conversation. Both first timers and alumni have their own different perspectives about the event. I was specifically interested in what the first time attendees had to say so I scanned name tags to see if they were indeed first timers. Conversations after conversations, my question simply boiled down to a single theme: How was the PASS Summit experience for you? The responses were similar, ranging from “Great” to “Wonderful,” but that wasn’t what I wanted to hear. I knew for a fact that these would be the common responses. That wasn’t the goal. The goal was to find out what specific details led them to saying it was a great experience.
I like asking WHY questions (Michael Hyatt wrote a blog post about 7 Suggestions for Asking More Powerful Questions.) Apart from the fact that I’m just really curious, the WHY questions lead to more WHY questions. This triggers the one answering the question to really think about and articulate their response. It also engages the individual in a conversation. Let’s be honest, we all feel like we have something to say. We sometimes just need an opportunity to be heard. That’s what I try to accomplish whenever I ask for (and provide) feedback. When I asked the conference attendees why they consider it a great experience, they started telling stories about their experience on how they felt being at home in a group of complete strangers. For the event organizers, this is a more detailed feedback about knowing that the feeling of community is something of importance to the attendees. Of course, my curiosity didn’t stop there. I asked what specific event that made them feel that way – Community Zone, speakers, SQLKaraoke, SQLRun, etc. These are just a handful of events happening within the context of the main event. Everyone of them made the attendees feel like they were a part of a bigger community.
Unfortunately, these types of detailed feedback go unaccounted for. Feedback forms are not made equal. What’s worse is that a lot of feedback forms are designed to capture scores and not engage in conversation. The challenge I see here is that it is difficult to automate the process of capturing meaningful feedback in free text format. Imagine trying to read every single comment from thousands of attendees. Even businesses who try to capture feedback from their customers have this challenge (Aaron Bertrand (blog | Twitter) provided some insights on the PASS Summit feedback for speakers.) What’s more important is to think about gathering (and providing) feedback in a way that engages conversation. Sam Walton, founder of Wal-Mart, was known for visiting stores and asking employees how they feel about the store and asking for suggestions to improve operations. While he could have afforded to pay consulting companies to design and implement the perfect feedback form, he opted to have a conversation. No scores nor numbers, just conversations and stories that he took from those he talked to.
Beyond scores and ratings, providing and gathering feedback should be a conversation. And when the conversation starts, meaningful insights emerge. No amount of business intelligence technologies can substitute for the insights gathered during meaningful conversations. What’s more, relationships are built which, for me, are the most important factor in the overall feedback system.
“Be the one to stand out in the crowd.” – Joel Osteen
This is the fourth in a series of blog posts that talk about success. I had the opportunity to ask the registered attendees for SQLSaturday Philippines to vote for a particular topic that they like best. Since I usually talk about professional development for IT Professionals at the PASS Summit, I provided a list of topics from presentation skills to landing your dream job. This was the one that got the most number of votes: What Your College Education Didn’t Teach You About Success.
I know that I’ll be criticized for what I’m about to say here but here goes. One of the things that schools subconsciously teach students is the idea of conformity and compliance. I’m OK with instilling discipline and developing character but conformity and compliance are certainly not what we need to become successful in today’s modern economy.
This was the fourth slide in my presentation about what our education doesn’t teach us about success: BE DISTINCT OR GO EXTINCT. In my freshman year in the university, I’ve learned a word from my Social Science professor that eventually shaped the way I define who I am. The word DEVIANT is described as a behavior that is out of the ordinary. When I learned about that word, it got me started into a habit of constant personal evaluation, trying to understand why I do what I do. For instance, in a previous blog post, I talked about how I was tagged as a nuisance by people around me. What I didn’t realize is that those who thought I was a nuisance wanted me to conform to their definition of who I need to be. After all, it’s easier to follow rules than to analyze why those rules exist in the first place (that’s what I’ve been taught in the army reserve anyway.) Now, don’t get me wrong here. I’m not advocating breaking the rules or anything. There are moral and spiritual rules that are absolutes and there are rules that are relatives. The moral and spiritual rules are not to be disputed. Only those that are man-made that sometimes need to be constantly evaluated because we humans do change as well as the circumstances that surround us. For instance, schools – even at the university level – still implement standard means of testing retained information using multiple-choice questions instead of allowing students to explain why they came up with an answer. I still remember when one of my engineering professors forced everyone of his students to use PowerPoint to report on a particular topic. But how can we stand out from the crowd if everyone is doing the same thing? If you are looking to get ahead in school in your career, what is everyone else doing and is it helping them get ahead? Here are a few things you can consider.
- Work according to your strengths. We are all unique individuals. Even twins are not exactly the same. If you want to stand out from the crowd, it is important to know what your strengths are and work according to them. What I find unfortunate is that schools force us to do things that are way outside our strengths zone. If you haven’t heard about the parable of the animal school, I strongly recommend that you have a look at it. If you are working according your strengths, it is much easier to stand out from the crowd because you are expressing your uniqueness.
- Step out of your comfort zone. This seems scary especially when you’ve already gotten used to doing the same thing over and over again. It’s not natural to take risks because we are wired to to protect ourselves and survive. And when we are trying something out for the first time, we feel the fear of the unknown because we don’t know what the outcome will be. But since almost all of us don’t want to step out of our comfort zones and take risks, doing so immediately makes us stand out from the crowd.
- Constantly re-evaluate the current norms. What might be abnormal today would end up being totally normal in the future. Remember the times when phone landlines were the standard way of communication? Mobile phone users were ridiculed back then. Now, even kids have smart phones. What about the time when travelling by means of flight was totally unheard of? Now, it is estimated that 61 million passengers have travelled via US commercial airlines last year just in the US alone. Norms will constantly change so it is important to constantly re-evaluate them and adjust accordingly.
- Dare to be different. We’re all afraid to be different. It’s the reason why I blogged about facing our fears. But being different makes us stand out from the crowd. It has its own set of risks, though. You’ll be an easy target because everyone will notice that you’re different. People will criticize you just because you’re different. They’ll even criticize you because you are making them feel uncomfortable. But instead of focusing on the negatives, focus on the positives. Being different does have benefits.
Here’s an example I could think of that applied all of these concepts in my career. As a consultant, I get involved in dealing with different customers on a regular basis. To stand out from the crowd, I took stack of my key strength: I’m a teacher-at-heart. I use that as a key differentiating factor whenever I’m called in to do a consulting project. I don’t just provide a solution, I teach my customers whenever possible how I came up with a solution and why it is the most effective one. But doing so means stepping outside of my comfort zone because I’m not engaged in consulting projects to teach, I’m there to solve problems. I sometimes even go as far as preparing a presentation specifically for them to understand the basics of why I did what I did. It’s not easy. But that helps me stand out and my customers remember what I did for them.
Question: Do you think being different will help you become successful? What would you start doing today to stand out from the rest? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
A couple of weeks ago, our family went to Niagara Falls for a long weekend getaway. One of the highlights of the trip was a visit to Marineland, a themed amusement and animal exhibition park. As my kids were looking at the list of things to see inside the park, one thing caught their attention – the Dragon Mountain. This was a steel roller coaster located at the north east side of the park. What we didn’t know was this used to be the world’s tallest roller coaster. But my kids insisted that we try it out and so we did. Those who know me well enough know that I don’t really like theme park rides. It’s a subtle way of saying that I’m afraid of riding roller coasters and tall ferris wheels. Now, don’t get me wrong. I dig rock climbing and scaling tall buildings. I was the first in my batch to do the lizard rappel as part of my army reservist training back in college. I still would jump at the opportunity to skydive. I just don’t like theme park rides. But I didn’t tell my kids. So, when I was making every excuse I could think of to not get on the roller coaster, my wife took the hint. But since both of my kids needed adult supervision, I have no choice but to ride with my youngest. As the over-the-shoulder harness was being locked in, I could feel tension in my legs and the pressure pressing against my shoulders. There was no turning back.
We all have fears. There’s no sense denying it. However, when fear causes us to avoid challenges that will help us fulfill our dreams, we need to take action. Bill Cosby once said that, “In order to succeed, your desire for success should be greater than your fear of failure.” So, if you need to face your fears, keep these 4 things in mind:
- Admit your fears. There’s no sense in denying you’re afraid. Admit what your afraid of, accept the fact and move on. Didn’t I mention that I was afraid of riding roller coasters? I didn’t pretend that I wasn’t as the train started its ascent towards the first loop. I could feel my heart pounding as I hear the wheels of the train rolling across the tracks. But I’m already in the train and there’s no turning back so I just have to take it all in.
- Set expectations and get your facts straight. Before we hopped on to the roller coaster, I watched how the train went around the tracks. There were two vertical loops and two tunnels to pass through. In my mind, I already knew how the ride would feel like even before the train started moving. Now, I don’t know how fast the train would go so I guessed based on my observations. These information helped me set my expectations right. I realized that there really was nothing to be afraid of.
- Envision success. Our success depends a lot on what we see – and what we don’t. If we see a lot of failures, we become afraid to accept and take challenges. That’s why the Holy Book encourages us to think about (or envision) good things. I knew there would be tunnels in the track and that tunnels would be really dark. What I did was to close my eyes as we approached the tunnels and thought about how it feels like as we approach another loop. No scary thoughts. By this time, we’re almost at the end of the ride. And, just when I was enjoying the ride…
- Share your experiences. We like to tell our success stories. But not our failures. When you’ve been thru an experience where you needed to face your fears, tell your story. We want to hear from someone who knows what it felt like to be afraid but persisted anyway. As we headed towards the park’s exit, I told my kids that I initially was afraid of the roller coaster. I didn’t pretend like I was ready for the adventure. I was honest about my fear and told them as it was. They were surprised with what I told them because it was nothing like what they saw. Didn’t I mention that I enjoyed the ride as it was about to end? That’s what they saw in me, not my fear. And, they realized that it was OK to be afraid.
I recently had to put this into practice. I realized that most fears are simply frightening stories that we tell ourselves that we keep rehearsing until we believe them to be true. Try changing the stories you tell yourself and start seeing your fears slowly diminish.
How do you face your fears? You can share your experience by clicking here. Remember, it’s OK to share your experiences
“Intellectual growth should commence at birth and cease only at death”
– Albert Einstein -
This is the third in a series of blog posts that talk about success. I had the opportunity to ask the registered attendees for SQLSaturday Philippines to vote for a particular topic that they like best. Since I usually talk about professional development for IT Professionals at the PASS Summit, I provided a list of topics from presentation skills to landing your dream job. This was the one that got the most number of votes: What Your College Education Didn’t Teach You About Success.
You may have figured it out if you’ve been reading my blog posts: I’m a strong believer in continuous personal growth. I believe that healthy organisms grow. We humans were created to grow. That’s why my personal mission statement is anchored on that premise: to help people and organizations grow and develop their full potential. If we are not growing, we are not healthy.
This was the third slide in my presentation about what our education doesn’t teach us about success: CONTINUOUS GROWTH IS REQUIRED. Schools teach students how to answer questions, take tests and finish a degree. Statistics even confirm that almost half of college graduates (I don’t know if the numbers are true or not but the economic side effects do say so) never read another book. If you ask students what they do after taking an exam or completing a semester, they’ll probably say “have fun” or “party out.” Now, there is nothing wrong with having fun or partying out after having a stressful semester. It’s just that we almost stay in these states more frequent than we should.
I like both reading and teaching. Both activities force me to grow beyond what I know and to go outside of my comfort zone. I remember reading all of the required books for my class even before school starts. I also remember reading the Reader’s Digest in grocery aisles while my mom waits in line to pay for the groceries. And, yes, I remember skipping college classes (I hope my mom doesn’t read my blog posts) to be in the library and looking for required reading materials that our course mandates. When all of my classmates are out looking for the required reading materials, guess who they ask first? My home office is filled with books. My tablet and phone both have the Amazon Kindle app with dozens of books that I read while waiting for my next flight or even waiting for food in a restaurant. I have committed to continuous personal growth that allowed me to excel in the things that I love to do.
In order to be successful in life, we have to embrace the fact that growth is required. And it’s not just one time growth. It’s continuous growth. Learning is never ending process. If there is one thing to take away from this blog post, it is to make a commitment to continuous personal growth. Here are several ways you can get started on the road to continuous personal growth.
- Envision where you would want to be in 5/10/15/20 years from now. Begin with the end in mind, as the late Dr. Stephen Covey wrote in the all-time best seller The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. If you know where you are going, it’s easier to work towards it. I remember telling myself when I was 8 years old that I wanted to be a consultant (even when I didn’t even know what that word meant at that time) and help people solve their problems. And, that’s exactly what I am doing now.
- Have a personal growth plan. I blogged about my high-level personal growth plan last year. When I made a commitment to pursue continuous personal growth, I knew I needed a plan. Reading books and learning new stuff is not enough. I need to create a structure to follow so that I can have and maintain focus.
- Put it in your calendar. If it’s not in your calendar, it is unlikely to happen. I “try” to put the activities in my personal growth plan in my calendar. If I need to learn something new, I schedule the time to study. I still struggle with this because I don’t like the idea of having a full calendar. But while it is hard for me to do, I see results come out of it. My first attempt to be religious about putting my growth activities in calendar was when I was preparing for the Microsoft Certified Master certification. After that experience, I try to keep my personal growth activities in my calendar.
- Enjoy the experience. One reason why college graduates stopped reading books after school is because they find school to be boring. I hated history when I was in school. I didn’t understand why we need to learn history and how relevant it can be in my field of work. But when I started to realize how history affects businesses and technology, something that I’m interested in, I began to appreciate it. In fact, I started to use a bit of history in my technical presentations. When we enjoy the process of learning and growing, it becomes easier to stick to our plan.
Question: Have you committed to continuous personal growth? What are your strategies to fulfil that commitment? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
- Expect stress, so prepare for it. Doing something new always introduces stress, whether it’s as simple as cooking (especially if you don’t know how to cook, like me) or as complicated as performing your new role as CEO. It’s OK to feel stressed about it and that’s normal. However, if you let stress take over, you won’t be able to function well. That’s why preparation is key. Having spent more than 3 years in Singapore, I knew what it felt like riding (but not driving) on the left side of the road. I started imagining myself driving behind the wheel, being on the left side of the road and feeling the shifting gear. The mental preparation paid off when I hopped in to the car and turned on the ignition. What I didn’t do was prepare physically. I should have slept well on my flight to the UK to get my body clock in-sync with the local time and not feel sleepy. Unfortunately, I’m still trying to figure that out even though I’m a frequent traveller.
- It’s OK to start slow and make mistakes. Highly driven individuals always feel like they’re on an adrenalin rush. They want things done quickly, efficiently and correctly. So, don’t be surprised when your colleagues or boss can’t deal with inefficiency. They’ve become so used to doing their task efficiently that they expect you to do the same. But taking on new challenges requires a different mindset. You need to be patient with yourself because you’re in learning-mode. You will make mistakes and you will get frustrated. But the last thing you need to do is be hard on yourself. Rarely do we make it right the first time. Remember the time you were learning how to write your name? How many sheets of paper did you end up tearing? In my case, I felt like a new driver again. I stopped in the middle of the road a couple of times because I accidentally switched to the wrong gear while I make a turn. While I’m good with the clutch, my instinct just kicks in and try to reach for the switching gear with my right hand instead of the left and everything goes haywire. After getting back to my normal driving mode, I laugh at myself thinking like I was a kid riding a bike on training wheels.
- Build on the things you already know. I actually used this point in my presentation about Windows Failover Clustering. One reason why most people don’t take on new challenges is because they feel overwhelmed with things that they know nothing about. I hear this a lot from people who get promoted on to a new management role – the technical support guy who is now appointed as the new team lead, the sales guy who just became the director of sales. What they don’t realize is they actually know a few things. They just need to build on them. The sales guy can sell the company vision and the tech support guy can use his analytical skills to fix a teamwork issue. Knowing that you know a few things builds confidence when tackling on a new challenge.
- Observe, pay attention, learn and adjust accordingly. It’s easy to switch back to what we have gotten used to. But to be successful in facing a new challenge, flexibility is a must. Observe what others are doing. Pay attention to even the smallest details. You’ll be surprised at what you’ll learn. When I reached the freeway/highway/motorway, I wondered whether the speed was in kilometers or miles per hour. The on-dash GPS was telling me the distance in miles but the speedometer didn’t give me any hint. I kept glancing at the GPS because I knew how to correlate the speed and the distance traveled (yes, I was doing what I call the driver’s math of figuring out the speed just by using known values when the speedometer doesn’t give you any clue.) When I figured out that the speed was in miles, I realized that I wasn’t shifting gears properly. I knew how to shift gears in kilometers per hour but not miles per hour. Fortunately, the car I rented displayed a number that told me which gear I’m supposed to be on at a particular speed. But that number was very difficult to figure out because it was very small. I had to figure it out while driving by observing it while I change gears. That small detail helped improve my driving.
- Understand what is at stake. It’s easy to give up when the challenge is overwhelming. I bet we can think of a thousand different (even valid) reasons for throwing in the towel. But when we understand what is at stake, we instantly find reasons not to give up. Is the future of your company dependent on you completing the task? Is your job on the line? I felt like giving up after several miles on the road because of the mistakes I made while driving. I thought about finding the nearest branch of the rental car company and just return the car. But I realized that if I don’t focus on driving, I might end up in an accident. And I certainly wouldn’t like that to happen.
- Seek out the right people. I thought I was the only one who tried to drive around in the UK with a different driving background. I talked to some of my friends who were there and realized that there were four of us. Suddenly, I no longer felt alone. We shared stories about how we felt and the different bloopers that we got ourselves into. And, we laughed. Facing new challenges isn’t such a bad idea after all if you know that others are in the same boat. Never face new challenges on your own and be sure that you are hanging out with the right people.
- Celebrate small successes. After a few days, I’ve already gotten the hang of being on the right side of the car and on the left side of the road. I went from feeling like a student driver to a professional one. I knew how to switch lanes properly when approaching the roundabouts. With that in mind, I was now able to stop along the way, taking pictures and enjoyed the scene. What started as a stressful attempt to drive in the UK has now turned into a pleasant experience. Every new challenge that we face will have its small victories. Know when to stop to celebrate them. Pat yourself on the back for taking the risk and facing the challenge. The small victories you celebrate today will be your stepping stones for your success tomorrow.
Are you facing a new challenge? Realize that it can either break you or it can make you a better leader.
Our thoughts lead to actions. Our actions lead to habits. Our habits lead to character. Our character develops our future.
This is the second in a series of blog posts that talk about success. I had the opportunity to ask the registered attendees for SQLSaturday Philippines to vote for a particular topic that they like best. Since I usually talk about professional development for IT Professionals at the PASS Summit, I provided a list of topics from presentation skills to landing your dream job. This was the one that got the most number of votes: What Your College Education Didn’t Teach You About Success.
Planes have attitude indicators. Yes, I myself was surprised when I first heard about it. Also known as the gyro horizon, it’s an instrument that informs the pilot of the plane’s orientation relative to the earth’s horizon. When the plane is climbing, the nose of the plane is pointing above the horizon. When it is diving, the nose is pointed below the horizon. Most pilots will say that the performance of the plane is dictated by its attitude. In order to change the performance of the plane, pilots need to change its attitude.
This was the second slide in my presentation about what our education doesn’t teach us about success: ATTITUDE DETERMINES ALTITUDE. Unfortunately, our education system is more concerned about test scores and IQ than emotional intelligence (EQ) or even attitude development. I bet that if you ask a lot of successful entrepreneurs, leaders and business people, they will tell you that their attitude has been a major contributor in their success. Our attitude is the only thing that we get to control 100% of the time. While we don’t have any control of our circumstances, we have full control of our attitude. It’s a matter of choosing which attitude we carry around with us that will determine how successful we will be.
I have to admit that choosing the right attitude is not easy. I wasn’t all that positive in the past. I complained about almost everything, saw myself as way better off than anybody else I knew and blamed others for the misfortunes that I experienced. It took me a while to realize how my attitude is affecting my career and, eventually, my future. My drive to be excellent at everything I do compensated for my bad attitude but it wasn’t long until the bad attitude finally caught up. As I was in the middle of my failed startup, my wife gave me a wake up call. She told me that unless I start changing my attitude, things will only be heading further south. I had to make a choice. The process was painful. It was like unlearning all of the stuff that I’ve learned throughout the years. But I was determined to go thru it. Years later, I was trying to figure out how I managed to go thru the process so that I can share it with others. It’s not that I was smart enough to learn about a process I followed that helped me overcome a bad attitude. I was clueless back then. But here are three things that I did to help me develop a positive attitude:
- WRITE. I wrote down the things that I don’t like about myself. Now, this is a tough exercise. You need to be very honest about yourself - what you like and don’t like. I knew I was complaining about almost everything so I wrote that on top of my list. I was determined to revert that bad attitude into a positive one. I also knew that I was blaming others for my misfortune. I had that item next in the list. I didn’t resolve all of my attitude problems at the same time (it’s probably the reason why some of them still show up every once in a while.) I just wanted to resolve the ones that I think are that bad. As I wrote them down, I thought of an alternative attitude that would replace the bad ones. The bad ones have to be replaced by good attitudes. I wrote those down as well. You could also type it on your mobile device or tablet if you prefer that.
- SAY. I believe in the power of confession. There’s a reason why the Bible talks about the power of our words. Successful sales people understand this concept in that they constantly speak positive words to themselves especially when trying to close a major deal. I practiced the power of confession daily by telling myself the good attitudes that I need to replace the old ones with. It may feel uncomfortable at first but you’ll get used to it. But what’s good about it is that you are now starting to reinforce your belief with your words.
- ACT. I needed to put my belief into action. I needed to practice what I wrote down and told myself. They say actions speak louder than words. I have to act according to my belief. I used to complain about almost everything. I replaced that with gratitude. I felt uncomfortable at first, like the time when I was saying positive confessions to myself. I became grateful even with the smallest things. I thanked people around me. I thanked those who contributed to my success. I still do. Every once in a while, I check my LinkedIn, Facebook (yes, I have a Facebook profile now), Twitter accounts, email archives, etc. to find opportunities to thank others for what they have done for me. I’m not saying I no longer complain. However, gratitude is now my dominant attitude as compared to 15 years ago.
Having a great attitude is key to success. It’s so important that Dr. John C. Maxwell, America’s leadership expert, wrote an entire book about it – The Winning Attitude. But it doesn’t come easily. I still have to work hard at it every day, choosing to start my day with a right attitude. Now, I’m one of those who claim that having a great attitude has contributed a lot to where I am right now.
You might also want to read:
- Self-Discipline Series: Taming Your Thoughts
- It’s all about perspective: An amazing result of the power of positive thinking
Question: What one attitude that you want to change today to become a better person tomorrow? You can leave a comment by clicking here.