Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Random Musings

Here are some random things I have been thinking about lately. I have been fairly busy and haven't had the opportunity to post as much as I would like so I am trying to get a few posts in one. I have started to carry a small notepad and pen in my pocket to help me stay organized and to record any random thoughts that I have. Hopefully this will help me be more efficient but I am worried it may lead to more discombobulated blog posts. Only time will tell.

I was listening to Where Have All The Leaders Gone, by Lee Iaccoca, in my car the other day and it spurred a few thoughts. The first thing that struck me was how different the tone of the audio book was from the first time I heard it. A lot of the beginning was Bush bashing. Don't get me wrong, I don't wave a proud Bush flag by any means but I see a common trend among many people to attribute all our nation's problems to him. Especially with the youth of our country. I think that approach is just convenient and easy, and it shuts down your mind from truly thinking about many of the issues we face. Plus in this audio book it made Lee sound like a crotchety old man for much of the first half of the book, even though many of the issues and concerns he shared are valid and valuable. Those observations aside, Lee made a few comments around happiness that really struck me, and I wrote them down (while driving) so I would remember them. Lee talks about how he makes it a practice to ask people what makes them happy? He goes on to tell how most people can't give him an answer. I think this question is very insightful. When I ask myself that question I realize it is not as simple as it first seems. You have to think and decide what you truly value on this planet to answer it. It kind of goes with what I wrote about in the last Money Tips post on my definition of rich. Lee quotes one of his friends (cant remember who it was) and he says something along the lines of "why would I want happiness, you can't buy money with it?!" I think that quote is hilarious and very indicative of the way many Americans view money and in turn happiness. I also connect this question to Atlas Shrugged and Ayn Rand's view of objectivism. Ayn Rand describes in her works that the endless pursuit of happiness is man's ultimate virtue. I think it is ironic that most people are striving to become happier and better their lives, yet they have a hard time defining what makes them truly happy. We all struggle with this to a degree and that is why I love the concept of asking the question. I plan on following Lee's advice and asking other people this question. I will be interested to see what conversation it spurs (or doesn't). What makes you happy?

In my new job I am implementing lean and continuous process improvement tools and techniques within the Air Force. It is an awesome experience and something that I will utilize my whole life. The new job has me interacting with a lot of mid and high level leadership on the base. I think this is one of the most valuable parts of the job. I don't want it to sound like I am making a political ploy for advancement with that comment because I am not. Those of you who have experience working inside the government machine know that how good you are and who you know matters significantly less than in corporate America. As a lower level officer your advancement is time in service anyways. I think it is valuable because I get to see a lot of different leaders interact in difficult situations. I get to learn from good leaders and from bad and I think it is helping to shape my leadership style and interactions with others. One thing that I have been hearing from leaders across the board is around the struggle for resources whether they be bodies, dollars, or time. The Air Force is in a very unique situation right now in our country's history. We are fighting multiple wars that are expeditionary in nature and have been at a surged operations tempo for multiple years in a row. Yet we are cutting people and budgets within the Air Force. The budget cuts are to revitalize the fleet of aging aircraft, however the manning cuts were directed by congress a few years back. In short we are doing more with less and less. Our defense budget is still the largest in the world, however the appropriate amount of resources for our soldiers is an argument for another day. Lean methodology is described as lean because the goal is to do less with less in the sense that you are working smarter and more efficiently with less resources, not doing more with less. This is not a concept that is ingrained in the military or government culture, so my challenges in shaping this culture are plentiful. I am constantly hearing people (most who outrank me) talk about how they just don't have enough bodies, time, or money. The funny part is most of the leaders resist AFSO 21 (Air Force continuous process improvement program) because they say they don't have enough time or resources to get involved. If you use a Covey example, they are not sharpening the saw. This describes scenarios in leadership and management that are very important but not urgent. Typically leaders get bogged down by urgent and important or more often urgent and not so important tasks. The story goes that a man comes across another man in the forest sawing wood. He asks how long he has been doing it. The guy replies that he has been sawing for hours now. The man asks why he didn't sharpen the saw. The other man replies that he didn't have time to sharpen the saw, because he had to saw all this wood. That story illustrates the way many leaders and managers view their daily activities. Since I like to keep things simple I made a little quote for myself that will help me remember to sharpen the saw, a Badskiism if you will. "As a leader there is one thing you will always have....not enough time, people, and resources." You will always be busy. If you do nothing you will still be busy. So why not invest some time in lean and continuous process improvement and develop a culture that solves problems and improves its processes. This is not just about the work environment, this is about how you go about your life.

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