Learn to Play the Doglegs

River_HeaderIt is essential to understand that I have never played a hole of golf in my life.  Not one.  That does not mean that I have not been close to a golf course.  In fact, I generated bid packages for the irrigation systems for almost all of the major Jack Nicklaus golf courses in Southeast Asia during my years at RainBird International.  I even walked some of those courses.  Nevertheless, I have never swung a golf club.

Those of you who play golf know what a dogleg is.  It is a bend in a fairway that makes a hole more difficult to play.  In life, a dogleg is when something occurs that causes a major setback to a plan or initiative.  Doglegs present serious impediments that threaten success.  (Dan Rockwell on Leadership Freak calls them zigzags.)  Professional and personal, these setbacks can seem devastating.  They can be expensive, they may be emotionally charged, and they are often personally humiliating.  Learning to manage these events is essential for success and survival.

I come to my appreciation of doglegs through personal experience. Several years ago, my wife and I developed a tactical plan to move from Southern California to the North Olympic Peninsula in Washington State.  It was a complicated plan, insofar as we knew that we wanted to find and purchase the property six to eight months before moving and we did not have a lot of capital with which to work.  We knew the acreage we wanted and what the basic characteristics of the structures needed to be.  We also had in mind our long-term goal of one day opening a bed and breakfast as a retreat for classical musicians.

We began by engaging a real estate agent in Sequim to coordinate the search.  We also launched the refinance of our California home to cover a down payment and eight months of double mortgage.  We were barely started when we saw the dream property advertised.  We scrambled a trip to Sequim and it was absolutely bespoke except for one thing.  The main house was utterly soulless and unlivable, so we had to walk away from it.  Two weeks later, the appraisal in California came back so far below expectations that the bank literally would not speak with us.  Talk about getting smacked down at the get go.  We were completely demoralized and toyed with the idea of throwing in the towel.  But our real estate agent in California hooked us up with another banker and we started the process again.  And while the second appraisal was much more in line with reality, the payout was going to be substantially lower than the plan called for.  By that time we were already on our way back up to Washington to actively house hunt, albeit with reduced expectations as to what we could afford.  Unsure if the loan would close in time for a down payment, we pulled money from an IRA just in case.  On the ground in Sequim, we looked at many properties until we found it.  It had our family and our long-term vision written all over it, the price had just been dropped into our range, and we were first in line for the deal.  We were even able to get the money back into the IRA without penalty.

It was right about then that I had my epiphany about “playing the doglegs.”  If we had quit when the first disappointments happened or decided to wait until a more propitious time, we would probably never have made the move.  In fact, both of those early setbacks turned out to be critical to our success.  The “dream” property would never have worked, but it sharpened the specification for what we really wanted.  More important, the refinance obstacle forced us into a lower price range that in turn allowed us to find the right property.  It would never have been on our radar if we had remained on the original financial plan.  And believe me, before the saga was over there were to be several more doglegs to play.

That epiphany has coalesced into a core concept for me, one that has helped me since then through challenging projects both at work and at home.  It has caused me to think about the specific mindset that enables us to play the doglegs, along with some of the techniques that have worked for me.

Have a vision for the destination.

Before starting any initiative, it is especially important to understand the characteristics of the end state.  This is as true in life as it is in BI.  What are those essential qualities that will embody success?  What are the non-negotiable items?  By understanding those, you will understand what can be left by the wayside when the course takes an unexpected turn.  In our case, this meant understanding that the end state needed to support the B&B, be wheelchair friendly, and accommodate both grand pianos.  These were the non-negotiable requirements.  We were able to let go of the requirements for the extra acreage and a barn when we had to reduce the purchase price.

Work through your emotions quickly.

Particularly on important personal projects, emotional responses are inevitable when life takes a change of course.  These include anger, disappointment, frustration, and fear.  These feelings are real and valid, but they become our worst enemies if we dwell on them.  The best way to work through our emotions is to remember that the goal or end state is more important than the specific path we take to get there.  It is likely that there are many paths to that end, not just the first one we chose to take.  It is why having a vision is so important.  Emotions will make us afraid to act and cloud our knowledge that it might take several tries – several tacks – before being able to move forward again.  So first, focus on the vision.  Then breathe in, breathe out, and sit back down to rework the plan.  Do not wait.

Have a Plan B. 

Even when one does not expect difficulties, one should always have a Plan B, sometimes even a Plan C.  This provides an instant fallback when the dogleg springs.  In fact, a Plan B can help avoid the emotion stage altogether.  Having a fallback allows an individual or a team to react quickly when time is short.  Our Plan B in the story above was to have the IRA money available if the refinance did not close in time.  In either case, I would have funds for the down payment and funds to pay back the IRA before the end of sixty days.

Accept and embrace change.

Change is inevitable, but we tend to fear it because it is destabilizing. What if I lose my job?  What if we lose our retirement savings?  We need to be flexible in the face of change, recognizing again that there are many ways to get to our destination, each path offering different challenges and different opportunities.  Moreover, the destination may not be where we believe it to be at all.  In our example, giving up some of the things we wanted not only brought us to the right place, but also resulted in a better overall financial plan. Change turned out to be good, even though we could not see it at first.

Have a network in place.

Having a strong support network in place is crucial to any major undertaking.  I am not talking about the project team.  I am referring to your network of advisors and colleagues to whom you can go when you wind up in the hazard.  On a BI project, I need to know that I have a database expert or a program management colleague to whom I can go when I get stuck.  For the move, having access to three top-flight real estate agents, a banker, and several dependable contractors facilitated our success.  By nurturing those relationships ahead of time, we were able to count on them at the doglegs.

Bank what you learn right away.

Never wait for the end of the project to profit by what you learned from the last dogleg.  The same one could double back on you again.  Get your next Plan B ready.  Re-examine your vision.  Check your network.  Recognize where it could go wrong again and be prepared.

There is a certain Zen to this, and it took me awhile to get the hang of it. Practicing these skills over time delivers important benefits.  These include:

  • A more robust solution:  Because you have addressed the doglegs in a thoughtful and consistent manner, you will have discovered a way to a better solution.  It won’t be haphazard or patched over.
  • Increased trust from your colleagues:  Because you did not fall apart at the doglegs but led the team through the change, you will have demonstrated that you are cool under fire and not afraid to recognize when the plan was wrong.
  • A sharpened personal craft:  It is not the adversity that makes us stronger, but how we address it and what we learn from it.

I have not seen my last dogleg.  In fact, I am in the midst of a Big Billy Goat dogleg as I write this article.  But every day I find a new way to adjust the plan and move in the direction I need to, taking Dan Rockwell’s zigzag course toward a successful conclusion.  I think Winnie the Pooh (A.A. Milne) said it best. “Rivers know this: there is no hurry. We shall get there some day.”

Do you have a dogleg success story to share?  What techniques do you use to play your doglegs?

Memory is Expensive

Memory_Header

Now and again, one needs to step away from the practicalities of work, consulting, travel and running a business to celebrate something utterly wonderful and unexpected.  What I am going to tell you about is a living, breathing organism that moves along the road of life in the direction of the Twilight Zone, but not in the manner in which Rod Serling wrote. It is a source of awe and of good, of amusement and surprise.  It returns value in a myriad of ways.  And while I doubt that it is unique, I suspect that it takes a unique set of factors for something like this to flourish. Those factors are in evidence here.

As many of you know, I now hail from a small community on the northern tip of the Olympic Peninsula in the state of Washington.  And while my wife and I have been coming here off and on for nearly thirty-five years, we only settled here fourteen months ago.  In a small community, that makes us newcomers and to a great extent, still outsiders.  That does not mean that folks are not cordial.   Quite the contrary is true.  If I am out walking the dog, I need to be prepared to wave to every passing vehicle because the folks inside will be waving to me.  If I step into the bank to make a deposit, I need to allow time not for a line of people ahead of me, but for a line of conversations.  The pace here is different, some would say slower.  But it is also more personal and it takes time to really build those personal relationships.  Does that sound like one of my main themes?

As part of my local networking, I joined the Sequim and Dungeness Valley Chamber of Commerce.  After all, while there may not be much Business Intelligence work here right now, I pay a business tax like everyone else and there will eventually be local clients.  Besides, it is always good to be networking, right?  Not long after joining, I was perusing the membership directory and came across the Sequim PC Users Group (SPCUG).  I went to the web site and it looked pretty interesting so I parted with twenty-five dollars for the membership fee and signed up.  The next day, Tom (the President of SPCUG) called me to welcome me to the group and tell me about what they do.  That evening, I had a call from Steve, another one of their members.  Like I said, this is a small community.  Folks talk.

Essentially, SPCUG is a not for profit organization that collects and refurbishes old computers, which they then donate to a variety of places including senior centers, disadvantaged families, low income seniors, and the like.  They also help out at the Sequim Senior Center with computer training and equipment maintenance, and offer a series of Saturday classes at Sequim High School.  In the past, they’ve helped agencies like the Boys & Girls Club, Sequim School District, North Olympic Foster Parents Association and more.  These folks do a lot for the community.

The most astounding aspect of SPCUG is the bi-weekly Monday morning breakfast meeting at Ely’s Café.  The meeting officially begins at 9:00 but if you want a seat at the table, you need to be there by 8:30.  The meetings I have attended so far have exceeded capacity.  The PC Outlaws (officially the planning committee but it seems to encompass everyone) consists of the most amazing confabulation of retired folks I have ever come across.  It is mostly men, but there is at least one intrepid retired businesswoman who is a regular.  And while I myself am pushing sixty, I am the youth in knickers at that gathering.  The mean age seems to be mid to late seventies.  But hold on to your hats and glasses, folks, this is where the magic really happens.

The agenda opens with reports from what they call the Tech Shop, where the computer refurbishments take place. This is followed by reports from the Special Projects Teams.  Then the fun really begins.  Steve (who moderates the meetings) sends out an advanced copy of the agenda with links for us to pre-read.  Here is a sample of topics from a couple of past meetings (with the links).

This is just a sampling.  Where the discussions go from these raw agenda points is even more extraordinary.  These folks are all tech savvy; most are much more so than I.  The privacy search engine topic meandered into a discussion of the Tor network.  (I now have DuckDuckGo as my default search engine on my Linux Mint VM, along with a Tor network connection.)  The XP retirement agenda point evolved into a discussion of the relative merits of Ubuntu versus Mint, with excellent points being made on both sides. During the course of the BitTorrent discussion, Vuze (a BitTorrent client) came up.  At that point, Dick chimed in with a completely lucid technical description of how Vuze works.  “Are you saying that you are a BitTorrent user, Dick?” asked Steve.  “No, I’m saying that I’m a Vuze user,” responded Dick.  By the way, Dick was born in 1920.  You do the math.

During one of the discussions, someone asserted that “memory is expensive.” And while this was not his intended meaning, it struck me at the time what a fitting tag line it is for this group and the value it delivers on so many levels.  Memory is expensive, both to attain and to retain.  It requires deliberate effort.  Consider the following:

  • Memory retained:  These are people who clearly remember their own roots and are now remembering to give back to the community. They devote many hours of their time each week to these pursuits.
  • Memory created:  It takes effort to create memories, so ponder the impact on the children at the Boys and Girls Club and in the Sequim School District of the computer equipment and training that they receive as a result of SPCUG. The club’s efforts make it possible for another generation of children to have its own seminal experiences, hopefully to be thankfully recalled later in life.
  • Memory nurtured:  Most important, SPCUG activities are keeping its members own memories sharp, slowing immeasurably their passage on the twilight road.  They are not just doing, they are learning and applying new things every day. That is what is most impressive of all.

I mentioned earlier that SPCUG might be the product of a unique set of factors.  Sequim is a small community making it easy to find others with shared interests. There is also a higher than average proportion of retirees here, many of whom chose to move from other parts of the country to share the high quality of life (the mountains, the ocean, the light, and the clean air).  And they are generally well educated, have been successful in life, and have a strong sense of value.  Somehow, the group seems eminently bespoke for Sequim.

It strikes me that the habit of staying engaged in both activity and learning are not new to the members of SPCUG. Rather, it seems to be the extension of a habit already ingrained that keeps them out ahead of the pack.  They are certainly out ahead of me in so many ways.  While I blogged about Internet security (Here’s Looking at You, Kid) on June 3, coincidentally just before the NSA data collection began making headlines, I had no knowledge of privacy search engines or Tor.  Nor had I concerned myself with data encryption.  And what about BitTorrent?  I think I may have used it once about five years ago. More than a couple sets of eyebrows went up when I confessed that I did not use it.

I used to think that the best way to stay sharp was to hang out with younger people who are working on the “bleeding” edge.  SPCUG has turned that thinking on its head.  What they have taught me is that I need to be on, and stay on, the bleeding edge myself.  That is the high price of memory:  memory retained, memory created, and memory nurtured.

So my hat is off to SPCUG.  You have inspired me, motivated me, and invigorated me.  You have also written this blog post for me.  And for any of my readers who should happen to get out this way, I hope you will join me for breakfast at Ely’s some alternate Monday morning.  I guarantee it will do you a world of good.

So what inspirational story do you wish to celebrate?  What do you do to keep your memory sharp?