Blind spots

“All I want from tomorrow is to get it better than today…”
— Bruce Hornsby (or Huey Lewis — whomever you prefer)

“You’re only human; you’re allowed to make your share of mistakes…”
— Billy Joel

One of my favorite books is The Sword of Shannara by Terry Brooks.  For the benefit of those of you who’ve never read it (spoiler alert: if you’ve never read it and want to, I suggest you stop reading this paragraph and move to the next one, because what I’m about to say doesn’t get revealed until near the end of the book), the book involves a magic sword that has the ability to reveal truth.  When the sword’s magic is invoked, both the wielder and the recipient are forced to confront the truth.

There are many times that I wish I had a Sword of Shannara.  I can think of many people who would benefit from its magical power.  And I put myself at the top of that list.

An incident that occurred last night served to remind me of the blind spots that I have.  I don’t care to talk about the incident (the details aren’t important here, anyway), except that I felt as though I’d taken a big step backwards.  It’s not the first time that I’ve taken a step back, and as much as I try to avoid it, I suspect that it will likely not be the last.

We all have blind spots; it’s a part of being human.  More often than not, we aren’t aware that those blind spots are there — hey, there’s a reason why they’re called “blind” spots.  There is no magic sword to reveal those blind spots.  The best mirror we have for those blind spots is each other, in how we behave and react around one another.  If someone is smiling, laughing, or nodding his or her head around you, you’re probably doing something right.  If that person is frowning, yelling, or criticizing, then probably not.

As much as we try to do our best, inevitably, we will stumble somewhere down the line.  I admit that I’m probably still dwelling on it — I probably wouldn’t be writing this article, otherwise.  I’ll eventually get over it.  All we can do is to recognize our blind spots — once we recognize that they’re there — keep an open mind, learn from our mistakes, and keep moving forward.

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The checklist manifesto

Some time ago, I came up with a new presentation idea that I tentatively titled “The magic of checklists.”  The idea is to demonstrate how checklists can improve tasks in any organization.  I have a number of ideas regarding this presentation, and I’ll expand upon them in a future ‘blog article.

As preparation for this idea, I assigned myself some homework.  My friend, Greg Moore, recommended a book to read: The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande.  I borrowed a copy from the local library and started reading.

The book (which I’m still reading) is turning out to be an excellent read: so much so that I’m considering purchasing my own copy, instead of just relying on the one I borrowed from the library.  (This way, I can use a highlighter and scribble my own notes in the book.). Yes, it reinforces my ideas about using a checklist to improve upon workplace tasks.  But I’m also discovering that there is so much more.  Reading this book has enlightened me on numerous ideas that had never occurred to me.

The book hits upon numerous concepts, each of which is worth an entire presentation in their own right.  Among them: the importance of communication, organizational structure, teamwork, crew/team resource management, keeping an open mind, empowering a team, following instructions, making adjustments, and doing the right thing.  (Since I’m not yet finished with the book, there are likely a number of other concepts I haven’t mentioned that I haven’t yet come across.). When I first picked up the book, my initial thought was, “how much can there be about a simple checklist?”  I’ve since learned that a checklist — any checklist, no matter how small — is not simple.  And while a checklist is an important tool, it is also a big part of an even bigger process.  All the ideas I listed several sentences ago are all part of that process.

I’d like to relay a story I came upon in the book.  David Lee Roth of Van Halen was famously known for canceling concerts if his instructions for leaving a bowl of M&Ms with the brown ones removed in the dressing room were not followed.  Many people — myself included — decried him for these seemingly cockamamie instructions.  However, there was a method to his madness.  It turned out that this was a test.  If that instruction hadn’t been followed, then it was possible that another critical instruction — like, say, installing bracing to ensure the stage didn’t collapse — had not been followed.  (And before you think instructions like these can’t be missed, they can, and they have — sometimes, with disastrous consequences.) It goes to show that there is always more to the story.

Once I finish reading this book and can organize my thoughts, I’ll put out another article and another presentation (hopefully, coming soon to a SQL Saturday near you).  In the meantime, I highly recommend this book.  Maybe it’ll change your perspective the way it has changed mine.

Two books that influenced my life

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
— Martin Luther King, Jr.

“Hold me now; it’s hard for me to say I’m sorry; I just want you to stay…”
— Chicago, “Hard to Say I’m Sorry”

I play the piano in a Catholic church every Sunday morning.  (I consider myself spiritual, not religious.  I have some thoughts regarding my own faith and beliefs; this might be another article subject for another time.)  This morning’s scripture and homily had to do with forgiveness.  As the good Father was going through his homily this morning, for whatever reason, two books that influenced my life suddenly came into my mind.  While these two books are only partially related to forgiveness, they nevertheless made me think about how life should be lived.  I credit these books with teaching me about life’s lessons and helping me grow.

The first book is How To Stop Worrying and Start Living by Dale Carnegie.  Although Dale Carnegie wrote this book back in 1948, all the principles about which he wrote are still applicable today.  Anyone who’s taken the Dale Carnegie training courses will recognize the principles outlined in the book (I, myself, have taken the Dale Carnegie course; if you have an opportunity to take the course, I recommend it highly).  In his book, he talks about how worry can make you unhappy, adversely affect your health, and cause stress in your life.  I’ll admit that I don’t always stick to his principles (I’m human, after all), but his principles make perfect sense, and they make for a good fallback whenever things aren’t going my way.

The second book is Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom.  When Mitch discovers his old mentor, Morrie, is dying from Lou Gehrig’s disease, he makes it a point to visit him each Tuesday (hence, the book’s title) until Morrie succumbs to the disease.  With each visit, Mitch’s old mentor teaches him about life’s lessons, leaving Mitch a changed man.  It’s a good read that provides a good perspective about what life is about.

These are two books that, I believe, can make the world a better place, and I recommend them highly.  Hopefully, they’ll influence you the way that they influenced me.