It’s Toasty in Here

BuildingZen resumes with a blatant plug. Some of you know I am an active member of Toastmasters International. I can’t praise the organization highly enough for a program that fosters self-confidence, self-awareness, poise, and personal growth.

Toastmasters is another way you can build your zen. It doesn’t matter whether you’re an introvert like me. There’s something about stepping up to a chapter’s podium that brings out one’s inner ham.

(For the curious, I’m on the line between INTP and INTJ. My professional achievements are consistent with both archetypes’ personality traits.)

Some employers know the benefits of Toastmasters. For example, a few managers at Boeing have made Toastmasters participation a development goal for the associates who report to them.

Leadership is more than just your job title, as anyone who’s worked in a Lean/Toyota Production environment can attest. Selling the next process improvement, based upon genchi genbutsu or 5 Whys findings, requires skilled communication.

So does selling yourself to a potential employer. The extemporaneous “Table Topics” segment of a Toastmasters’ meeting is great practice for handling those out-of-left-field interview questions.

Mid-career or in transition, certain skills atrophy from disuse. Don’t let that happen. Toastmasters can help you stay sharp at a very affordable price; it’s the equivalent of one less latte a week.

Find a club near your home, school, or work. Take control of your destiny today.

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“Dude, you broke my cube!” is my muse. Yes, it’s a valuable intelligence tool for opportunity seekers—enabling one to scout the scouts, to use sporting vernacular—but it’s also educational, enlightening, and entertaining.

Take, for example, the oddball interview questions that its members report:  “Star Wars or Star Trek?”  “How many ridges around a quarter?”  “If you were shrunk to the size of a pencil and put in a blender, how would you get out?”  “If I gave you a Rubik’s Cube and told you it had to be solved by tomorrow, how would you respond?”

The first question’s a no-brainer. Taking both trilogies as canon, Star Wars was a family or office feud with collateral damage on an epic and catastrophic scale. Billions died while a few gifted individuals worked out their differences. Heroes of Star Trek’s many iterations, however, saved the day through teamwork, innovation, initiative, strategic alignment, tolerance, creativity, camaraderie, compassion, and a can-do attitude. Just lose the TNG-era technobabble. Please.

On the surface, the second and third questions sound like fun. One harkens back to Monty Python and the Holy Grail—specifically, the bridgekeeper’s question about the air speed of an unladen swallow. The other is a physics question that even a history major can answer.

Last but not least, the Rubik’s Cube question ties together a high-school memory and a Matthew May seminar separated by several years. Please note that the above-mentioned interview question describes a non-specific directive.

One day in study hall, a friend solved a Rubik’s Cube in less than 2 minutes. He then scrambled the cube’s faces, tossed it to me, and asked me to solve it in less time.

So I did, by about 20 seconds.

As my friend looked on in horror and gasped the title of this post, I pried the cube apart and quickly reassembled it. To this day, I still don’t see why my friend was so stressed. I solved the puzzle, per his request, on time and without damaging any mechanisms.

Flash forward to Elegant Solutions training in 2008. Matthew May wrote two Roman numerals on an easel pad and then asked the class how to turn one into the other. Speaking of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Bridgekeeper May sent four unsuccessful volunteers back to their seats.

I was one of those four doing the walk of shame.

What was the answer to his question? I’m not telling, since May probably still uses that teaching tool. His solution is so simple that, to this day, I’m amazed I’m the same person who once solved a Rubik’s Cube by prying it apart. It’s a lesson in audacity, creativity, and how both are constrained or liberated.

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Selling The Dream

I’ve discussed strategic alignment recently, but I haven’t covered why I remained with the same employer for 10 years. If you witnessed the tangible fulfillment of the company’s mission, vision, and core values, then you, too, would want to be a lifer.

When I was a temp, I lived down the street from one of the company’s residential construction sites. Yes, I helped expedite the permits, draft the site plans, and leverage jurisdictional relationships, but I also saw a vibrant neighborhood arise from what had been the barren remnants of an old dairy farm.

It’s 11 years later, and I still live near that subdivision. For nine years, I’ve been on the other side of the hill from it. For nearly four years, I walked through it every day en route to the carpool. Two of my health care providers bought homes there.

I’ve mentioned that the moment of truth for any business’ mission, vision, and core values is its ability to deliver its product. This is true. I’ve seen it up close and personal, and it’s what sold me on working for that company.

Nothing quite compares to the pride, the sense of accomplishment one feels from having been a part of a team that enabled 14,000 families to live in clean, green homes. Even better is the sense of accomplishment from having played a small part in the construction of 6700 of those homes.

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Where I’ve Been Lately

It’s good to be back. I’ve been honing presentation skills through Toastmasters, brushing up on the PMBOK, starting to learn MS Project, helping friends and colleagues with their construction permitting questions, and collecting more stories about building one’s zen.

I’ll share one or two of those stories with you on Tuesday evening, but, first, a re-introduction is in order.

Don’t call me a professional in transition. I’m a rock star between gigs.

The Previous Gig: 10 years enhancing unit and organizational capacity for a pre-sale production homebuilder, ensuring 23,000+ timely deliverables for 6700+ new homes in 96 subdivisions of 6 counties while also mentoring as many as 8 permit technicians and coordinators. I became such a subject matter expert that I transformed procedures and processes for a half-dozen local permitting agencies, even helping one develop its online portal. I learned new processes and then advocated them, once doing just that to help the organization build 100 homes in 67 days ahead of a seasonal construction moratorium—and thus rescue $26.5MM in gross revenue.

I practiced and advocated strategic alignment in that organization before I was even hired. Or, as one of the VPs observed at the time, “Now I’ve seen everything. I just saw a temp teaching another temp and a direct hire.”

You say you want a revolution? Well, you know (all apologies to Mr. Lennon), we all want to do it Lean. Processes I developed, managed, and/or advocated cut company paper use by 73%, enabled total capture or re-capture of task and project information, and optimized tracking and management of $70MM in disbursements.

What I Do and How I Do It: Optimizing group achievements through bias for action, positive relationships, strategic alignment, continuous improvement, elegant solutions, and project transparency.

Cutting to the Chase: I can do all this for you, too. Call me.

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