Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Inger's Grip

I have had the chance this summer to visit a number of my old neighborhoods across the country. Early in July, I made a quick detour from a consulting gig in Milwaukee to visit my old haunts in Appleton Wisconsin and visit old friends. I will save the story from the local butcher shop for another essay, but to say the least it felt great to be “home.” Just last week I made a quick weekend trip back to my boyhood home of Murrysville Pennsylvania, seeing some old pals and telling old stories at some of our favorite spots including The Pond (in Latrobe) and Dicks Diner. Another great trip! This essay comes from a poignant moment on the third of these “homecoming trips,” from a visit with my family back to Baltimore Maryland.

At a mid-point in my career at Coke, I was sent up to Baltimore to take over a key role “in the field.” It was there that I met Cathy (featured in the previous essay on this blog) among a number of other friends that I hold dear to this day. Jennie and I made our home in the city of Baltimore, where our son Bryson was born, and grew to love the quirky, blue-collar nature of the city. Regardless of the cities significant challenges, dramatically and violently portrayed in the riots earlier this year, I continue to have a very soft spot in my heart for “B’More!”

During our visit, we spent a better part of a day in our old neighborhood, seeing the hospital where Bryson was born, stopping in at an old market where we used to shop, once again feeling “back at home.” Later in the visit, Marie and I had a few hours to ourselves when Jen and Bryson were on a college tour, so we hit the water taxi and made our way to the Inner Harbor. For those not familiar with Baltimore, there is a lot happening in the Inner Harbor/Harbor East/Fells Point/Canton sections of Baltimore. Certainly since we lived there in the mid-nineties, there has been a massive transformation with new hotels, buildings, condos, etc. being built all along the waterfront. When we visited, the area was alive with visitors, residents and business people making it an exciting time to be in Baltimore.

Marie and I made our way towards Camden Yards into the Otterbein neighborhood to see our first apartment on Welcome Alley. When Jen and I first moved to Baltimore, we rented a narrow row house that was literally on an alley between the Inner Harbor and Camden Yards. Marie and I found the old row house and alley in good repair, and the visit brought back vivid memories for me from the fall of 1996. As we wound our way back towards the harbor, with my mind filled with images from almost two decades past, we came to a street corner and met Inger.

There are a number of busy street corners between Camden yards and the Inner Harbor and at one of these corners, we found ourselves standing next to a middle aged blind woman with a long white cane. I asked if she needed any help at the crossing and without a hesitation she took my forearm into her strong grip and we crossed as the light changed. After we crossed, she shared her name, Inger, and asked mine. I introduced Marie and she shared that she had a son, and not knowing exactly where Inger was going, we started walking towards the water arm in arm. As I mentioned, Inger’s grip was very strong, and at times it felt like she had the lead. She know the neighborhood well and was heading to the bus station, a well known route to her, and she was describing the different corners, the tall curbs where you needed to be careful, the busy hotel driveway where cars came and went… in many ways Inger was walking us to the bus station, not vice versa! A few blocks later, we parted ways at her bus stop, each thanking the other for the time and the help.

Marie and I didn't say much at first, both being pretty blown away by the encounter. It was poignant, unplanned and totally unexpected! We had no idea when we went looking for a memory from Welcome Alley that we would return musing about Inger, her poise, her confidence, her humor and her grip. I think back to that walk today as I am writing this essay, wondering how Inger is today, confident that she may be leading others across busy Baltimore intersections, safely guided by her strong steady grip!!

Monday, August 10, 2015

"Dive in and figure it out"

“Dive in and figure it out”

Let me start this essay with an admission; I love working with friends and I have had the pleasure to work with my good friend Cathy across a number of roles and companies over the past 19 years, what a treat!  Cathy works with me today as I am building my consulting practice and I always count on her as a trusted adviser, work partner, and close friend.  The following story comes from a “run of the mill” interaction from earlier this summer.

I have been doing a lot of speeches and presentations over the past few months, and I have been “re-sharpening” my PowerPoint (PPT) skills in the process.  While I am nothing more than a novice, the presentations are pretty functional and have been well received.  To see a little more about that, take a look at the “Public Speaking” section of my website, www.levisayconsulting.com.  I was in the middle of working on a revision for an upcoming speech a few weeks back and I hit a proverbial “pothole” in the process.  I had a PDF version of a document that I had used for another consulting assignment, and I wanted/needed to incorporate a few pages into the PowerPoint speech template.  While stumped at the limit of my PowerPoint skills, I immediately called Cathy looking for help.

After a brief explanation of my dilemma, she asked me to send over the PDF doc and she would take it from there.  When I asked her how she was going to do the PDF-> PPT conversion, she was open to say that she didn't know but that she would “dive in and figure it out.”  “Dive in “ she did and a bit later that day, the PDF was part of the PPT presentation and the speech when off with great success.   While the speech has come and gone, Cathy’s quick response, and that spirit of “learning by doing” has stuck with me over the past few weeks.

So often we are intimidated by starting new things, craving to be immediately competent/proficient at some new skill/technology without putting in the time to “dive in and figure it out.”  Think outside the work world for a second and imagine that you wanted to learn to play the piano, or take on the challenge of learning a new language.  While tempting to think that you could sit down at the keys and play Chopin or Debussy in your first sitting, the reality is that you would start by sitting at the piano and learning individual notes, practicing scales, learning to read music, etc.  The simple truth is that competency/proficiency take time, and that road requires work and time.  Malcolm Gladwell is famously quoted in his book Outliers that "an extraordinarily consistent answer in an incredible number of fields ... you need to have practiced, to have apprenticed, for 10,000 hours before you get good."   While I am not here to debate the specifics of the “10,000 hour rule,” I do want to suggest that success takes work and excellence takes practice, and that it all starts by taking Cathy’s advice to “dive in and figure it out.”

 Think about the challenges/opportunities that you are facing today in your professional or personal lives.  Rather than wishing/hoping for some quick fix or easy path to success, my advice is to get busy “starting.”  It may be messy, it may sound a bit out of tune, it may not go well at first, but you have to start somewhere!  To close with the famous quote of Goethe,  Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.