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The Ripple Effect

By Peter Lyle DeHaan , PhD

I’d been thinking about it for quite some time. However, that little voice inside said, “Today is the day.” It seemed simple enough. I was going to move my computer monitor on my desk: a whopping eighteen inches.

Six years ago when I set up my office, I spent a lot of time finding the optimum configuration, the epitome of efficiency. Yet over time, things changed. New technology arrived, additional elements were added, and the scale of my business increased. With each change, it was never a good time to consider the overall flow and function of my workspace. My immediate goal was always the same: find a place for it now and make it work as quickly as possible. It’s sad but true that even as a promoter of all things productive, I allowed my workspace to deteriorate into anarchy – well, not true anarchy, but there were days when chaos was the rule rather than the exception.

One of the changes that occurred during this slide into disarray was switching from a laptop to desktop. The desktop monitor didn’t fit my desk like the laptop had. If I placed the monitor in front of the monitor stand, it was too close. If I set the monitor on the stand, it was too high. In the immediacy of the moment, I set the monitor to the left of the stand, with the intent to figure out a better solution when things slowed down. That was three years ago.

This “temporary” position of my computer monitor caused me to sit at a contorted angle whenever I worked on my computer – which is most of the time. This was not ideal for my posture or comfort. I estimated it would take about fifteen minutes (which I rounded up to an hour, just to be safe) to remove the monitor stand from my desk and slide the monitor to the right.

“Today is the day,” my inner voice proclaimed. After I processed the morning email, I slid under my desk to investigate removing the monitor stand. Five minutes later, it was detached and sitting on the floor in the middle of my office.

Ahead of schedule, I eased the monitor across the desk to its new home. Carefully, but intentionally it crept along with the help of my firm yet steady hand. However, after six inches, only one third of its journey, it came to an abrupt halt. The cable seemed caught.

I was wrong; the cable had no more slack. What should I do? Go to plan B (which was yet to be determined) or retreat to my original configuration? Although finding a longer monitor cable was an option, I sought instant gratification and didn’t want to waste time searching for something that might not exist or be hard to locate.

Just move the computer, I concluded. However, to do that I needed to first move the printer, but that opened up space for stationary bins, which was another “someday” project. I could use some of the bins that held past issues of my magazines; after all, I didn’t need to keep so many copies in my office. I’d simply move the extras to storage.

That effort, unfortunately, prompted me to recount my inventory of past issues (no need to keep too many copies), throw extras away, and reorganize my archives. A half hour later, I was back in my office. One thing led to another and then another. Three hours into the project and things were scattered everywhere, with scarcely room to move.

I finally got the computer hooked back up and working, but I couldn’t work. Things were in too much disarray. By the time I was done, six hours had passed; I’d relocated every item on my desk (and moved a few things twice), rearranged most of my file cabinet contents, made multiple trips to the garbage, reprioritized my pending work, disconnected an unneeded gadget, cleaned up some wayward wiring, and even cancelled some phone services I wasn’t using. Whew!

That was two weeks ago. It took several hours, but the results are worth it. I’m now more efficient and effective. I’m writing this article two weeks ahead of schedule, my backlog of jobs is no longer overwhelming, and I feel in control of my work, rather than controlled by it. Did all this happen merely because I relocated my monitor? Indirectly, yes. Moving the monitor had a ripple effect, one I’d feel – and appreciate – for a long time.

Some people – and even some businesses – never experience this ripple effect. They just go from day to day, month to month, and year to year without ever giving a thought to the incapacitating office evolving around them. Things are squeezed in here, hooked up there, and stacked on top, until routine work becomes an illogical series of unneeded steps or wasted activity. Their work becomes harder, but change seems harder still; taking time to make things more efficient is inconceivable.

The converse is people – and even some businesses – who make changes often, seemingly for fun or out of compulsion. They spend hours restructuring their office and do so every week! They make this investment so often that they’ll never realize a payback on it. They experience the ripple effect frequently. Some might say they’re making waves!

Another kind of ripple is far more important. We produce the ripple by the words we use and the things we do. These ripples affect others, too. Sometimes our ripples are positive; other times they aren’t.

We all known people who are chronic complainers; they’re negative and pull others into their foul moods. They’re unhappy and they try to bring others down to their level of pessimism. They have a negative ripple effect; the ripples they generate produce an undertow. We need to take care around such folk or risk being sucked in and pulled down.

Sadly, some people produce no ripples. They have no impact on others, whether good or bad, positive or negative. I’m not sure how this happens. Surely at some point, they must have had a ripple effect, but now it’s gone. These people aren’t much fun to be around either. There’s no movement, no influence, nothing. They inanely move from project to project and from day to day, in rote subsistence. No ripples.

Other people make positive ripples. That’s who I want to be. I want to have a positive effect on those around me. I want my ripples to motivate, encourage, inspire, and support, to be anticipated and appreciated. We all know people – and businesses – like that, too. They’re the ones with smiling people around them, inspiring others to achieve more as they spread their ripples in all directions and for the benefit of all.

Today is the day; go make some ripples.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is publisher, editor, author, and blogger with 30 years of writing and publishing experience. Check out his book The Successful Author for tips and insights.

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Business Articles

Beam Me Up, Scotty

By Peter Lyle DeHaan , PhD

It was a lazy summer afternoon, a Friday. Things were a bit slow at the office and upper management had all left to get an early jump on their weekend. I, being a front-line manager, did not have that luxury. Besides, I had work to complete before the weekend.

My first clue that something was amiss was revealed by increased activity in the hallway near my office. There was more movement than usual and at a higher volume. People were running, not walking. Snickering and subdued shrieking was predominate, rather than reserved talk and business-appropriate laughter. It seemed that an impromptu game of tag had materialized.

Concerned my staff had instigated or was somehow involved in this revelry, I quickly went to investigate. To my relief, the perpetrators were from a different department. Even so, my stern look of disapproval was respected enough to send them scurrying in other directions. I did not know if they merely retreated in order to find friendlier confines to resume their childishness or if a wave of common sense and decorum had suddenly overcome them. Regardless, they vacated my area and I felt sufficiently removed from any possible ramifications for their actions. I returned to my office and to the project at hand.

Several minutes later, the next clue of impropriety came via the overhead paging system. It was being used, not for “official business,” but rather for the personal enjoyment of the restless minions remaining in the building. They paged a rookie to call an extension; I recognized this to be a non-existent number. I smiled, envisioning a frustrated greenhorn dutifully dialing a number that would not work. Certainly, the conspirators were watching from some hidden vantage point, gleefully snickering at their co-worker. This repeated a few times and when their victim became aware of their scheme, they paged him with a legitimate extension—one of an uptight secretary, who would have no tolerance of their Tomfoolery. Now wise to their prank, the resourceful trainee, reciprocated with a retaliatory page of his own. This soon escalated to a “paging” war, drawing in more people, with increasingly ridiculous and outrageous announcements.

A final page stopped the misfits in their tracks, leaving them first chuckling and then bemused. In a reasonable impersonation of Captain Kirk, one employee accessed the overhead paging system and with deadpan seriousness announced, “Beam me up, Scotty; there’s no intelligent life down here.” I stopped working, smiled, and then laughed. Noticing it was now after five, I got up, turned off the lights, and went home. My work could wait for another day.

I’ve had a long fascination with Star Trek, repeatedly watching episodes from the five series, the cartoons (yes, there were Star Trek cartoons), and the eleven movies. Among other things, Star Trek looks to a promising and exciting future. Many societal problems are either resolved or greatly minimized in the future according to Star Trek, providing a mostly utopian existence where evil is restricted to outside the Federation, rarely to raise its ugly head amidst the crew of the Enterprise. Star Trek also has a realistic underlying basis in scientific fact and sound theory, albeit stretched a bit thin at times (the transporters are perhaps the biggest scientific leap). Plus, with good plots and cleverly intertwined story lines, it makes for good drama.

However, it is not optimism for the future, realistic scientific prognostication, or compelling story lines that have given me the most pause for consideration, but rather it is the lessons Star Trek provides in leadership. Entertainment value aside, I have also looked to Star Trek as a study in effectively and dramatically leading people and managing staff. What lessons could I learn from Captains Kirk, Picard, Sisko, Janeway, and Archer? How do they elicit such devotion and dedication among their crew?

I am not the only one thus intrigued. In the book, Make It So authors Wess Roberts and Bill Ross (ISBN 0-671-52098-9), share “leadership lessons from Star Trek The Next Generation.” They cover relevant topics such as focus, urgency, initiative, competence, communication, politics, honesty, interdependence, and resiliency. While the book makes for good business reading, it is even more rewarding to watch each chapter’s referenced episode, focusing on the specific leadership citations.

While the book draws its conclusions from specific episodes, my preference is general observations based on the collective Star Trek saga. Before doing so, we should note that Star Trek’s military-style command structure is not typically found in the business world and therefore total employee obedience and unquestioned employee allegiance are not realistic real-world expectations. Nevertheless, here are some leadership ideas:

Demonstrate Loyalty

Although Starfleet personnel are trained to obey their leaders, the Enterprise crews show extreme loyalty to their captains. Why? Because the captains show extreme loyalty to them. This loyalty is earned, not commanded or demanded. Each captain was willing to go to great extremes and take excessive risk for the sake of an injured, wayward, or stranded crew member. When leaders put everything on the line for a follower, the follower is much more inclined to do the same for the leader and to more fully embrace their common cause.

Take Blame; Share Credit

A true side of leadership is to shoulder the blame for an erring, but otherwise worthy subordinate, while being sure to shower accolades on those deserving it. Conversely, cowardly and ineffective leaders try to make themselves look good by assigning blame to others and taking credit for what they did not do.

Tap into Expertise

Starfleet captains (and all leaders) often put together ad hoc teams for specific missions, mixing senior officers with junior members who possess a unique skill or training. These junior staff are given a great opportunity to rise to the occasion, performing at a higher level and with increased confidence and self-esteem. Employees who prove themselves in this way are promotable and can be groomed for even greater responsibility.

Celebrate Unconventional Thinking

A repeating theme in many Star Trek episodes is a seemingly unstoppable, irreversible impending disaster. There appears to be no escape and no plausible solution. Yet one of the crew, in a moment of creative thinking, extraordinary deduction, or brilliant intuition will find a unique solution and save the day. Star Trek captains delight in this and so do effective leaders. Plus, as unconventional solutions are rewarded and recognized, their producing behavior is reinforced and encouraged. Quite simply, great leaders inspire their charges to innovate

Be Worthy of Imitation

Each captain and every effective leader possesses qualities that are admirable and laudable of emulating. These positive traits draw both crew and staff to their leaders, compelling them to emulate the example they see. When leaders have no one following them, then perhaps there’re not admirable enough to be followed or have some other character flaw.

Get Real

Each captain is tough—when he or she needs to be. However, they also have a human side that those in their inner circle or close proximity are able to witness. This provides a connection that can transcend rough spots in relationships and times of stress.

A Final Thought

It took me way too long to realize the ultimate reason that Starfleet captains are such successful leaders. Quite simply, that’s how the writers made them!

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is publisher, editor, author, and blogger with 30 years of writing and publishing experience. Check out his book The Successful Author for tips and insights.