The First Question You Ask In A Crisis


Things move quickly in high tech. The competitors never sleep, the clients need it yesterday, and the platform you’re working on is often shifting. We hired a new salesman who used to be a firefighter. He watched us running around, super stressed out and offered a piece of wisdom from his former job. “When we arrived at the site of a call, the first thing we asked was, ‘Will there be a loss of life here?’”

It gave us perspective. What we were doing was important to us and our clients, but likely no one would die if we didn’t deliver ASAP. Besides, if you ratchet back the tension, people work better and creativity flows more easily. We hung our salesman’s old fire helmet in the hall to remind us that when things get hot, it’s good to keep a cool head.


How to Defrag Your Mind

When disk space was not as plentiful as it is now, we had to periodically defragment our disk drives in order to get larger chunks of usable space, like pushing all the books to one end on a bookshelf to create contiguous space. Our minds are blasted with messages every waking hour and we find ourselves distracted by alerts, alarms, and notifications because we can’t trust ourselves to remember. Here are three ways to defrag your mind, in order to make room for the important stuff and increase your ability to focus.

  1. RECENTER. If you don’t have a meditation practice, just closing your eyes and taking a few deep breaths is helpful, especially before an important meeting or working on something creative. This signals the body that it is time to pay attention to something new now.
  2. REAFFIRM MEANING. Why are you doing this? Does it move you toward some larger goal? What is your intention?
  3. REVIEW. After the task, or meeting, or creative session, are you complete (for now)? What is your next step?

The benefits of taking these few minutes are manifold.

  1. You’ve let go (at least temporarily) of things that inhibit your efficiency.
  2. Your work becomes more meaningful, and therefore so does your contribution.
  3. By thinking about your next step (no matter how small) you haven’t lost momentum. You can pick up where you left off. 



You’re Not Alone

I saw Alan Mulalley give a speech to some engineering students while he still worked at Boeing, the biggest employer in the Seattle area at the time. He told them that 10% of the people design the aircraft and 10% of the people build them. So what do the other 80% of the employees do? They communicate between Engineering and Manufacturing. When you watch an exciting movie or TV series, do you hang around to watch the credits? How many people made it possible for you to live every aspect of your current life (with its running water, smart phones, and parking spaces)? What are you doing to make life better for others?


Be Irrational

In order to get fresh thinking, sometimes you have to be irrational. Chuck the old logic and imagine life beyond the present circumstances. Henry Ford said that if you asked people what they wanted, they’d tell you, “a faster horse.” What if there was no horse at all? What idea are you hanging onto that is limiting your creativity?


Don’t Quit Too Soon

We had just started up a scree field, a chute of loose gravel where, for every step you took, you’d slide back a half step. Sometimes life feels like a slog, where the progress is slower than you’d like, but remember, the odds are in your favor. Stick with it, and like an airplane flying into a headwind, you’ll still get to your destination. Don’t quit too soon.


Face Forward

A pilot friend of mine once told me, “Runway behind you does you no good.” It’s useful to look back to see how you got here, but that is not necessarily a predictor of what’s ahead. Keep your eyes on the horizon. Everything is in front of you.


3 Ways to Navigate Through Life


There are 3 ways to navigate through life. In boating terms, you can drift (and hope you end up where you want to go), or motor (power through), or sail, noticing the tides and winds and working with them to get to where you want to go. Sailing may seem less direct, but the journey is as important as the destination. Which way is the wind blowing today? How can you work with it?

Borrowing Genius

   Diego Rivera - Detroit Institute of Arts

 Diego Rivera - Detroit Institute of Arts

Henry Ford did not invent the assembly line (any more than Steve Jobs’ MacIntosh was the first GUI). These men saw something in a different context and borrowed the ideas for their own applications. Ransom E. Olds held the patent for the assembly line. But Henry Ford, inspired by the “disassembly” line of the Swift Meatpacking business, where pig and cow carcasses moved past workers to be butchered, inspired him to create the first moving automotive assembly line which would help him step up production on his wildly popular Model T. What idea has caught your eye recently? How could you apply it to what you’re working on?


What Are You Going To Do About It?

A friend relayed a story about telling his doctor that he felt horrible every time he ate pasta. His doctor said, “Quit eating pasta!”

It reminded me of getting a medical work-up because I thought I had an ulcer. My gut hurt but all the tests were negative. I had been in a protracted argument with someone and I was giving away my power by not taking action. I was awaiting his permission and even though I was free to act on my own, I wanted his agreement.

I said to the doctor, “I’d hate to think that every time I get upset, my gut is going to hurt.” He asked me, “What are you going to do about it?”

I took action (without anyone’s consent) and my gut was instantly cured. I’ve since learned that when I’m not true to myself and can’t hear my intuition, the truth is in the body.



My father passed on his love of all things mechanical and believed that his daughter needed her own set of tools as she headed off to college. He grew up in an era where nothing was wasted and little was disposable, so he attached an old hatchet handle to a hammer head with a couple of nails. Today there is a special tool for every possible endeavor, but this hammer is still in use. It reminds me that often, problems can be solved with what is at hand. And if not, perhaps you need a new perspective and a little ingenuity.


One Thing Can Change Your Life

We have people mining Big Data in order to serve up exactly what we want. Siri and Alexa learn our preferences based on our past behavior and choices. But what if you want something new, out of the box? Instead of deepening the ruts in your life (the neural networks of your usual thinking and beliefs) how about creating new tendrils that might take root? Consciously choose differently. If you always start up the stairs with your right foot, deliberately choose to start with the left. Stir your coffee in the opposite of your usual direction. Like flicking one vane on a mobile, the whole thing goes into motion. The smallest action cracks open the door to new possibilities.




What are you hungry for? It may not be what you think. I have enjoyed extravagant meals in France and Italy - food to delight the eye, dazzle the palette and satiate the most gluttonous appetite. They were memorable but not the most appreciated. The best meal I ever had was at a mountain hut at about 11,000 ft. We’d been hiking and scrambling on rocks all day and were starved. We lined up our mess kits to receive a large spoonful of instant mashed potatoes, mixed with canned corned beef. As it plopped onto my aluminum plate, I received it with blissful joy. Dessert was a tropical delicacy that I never fully appreciated at home, a fresh orange. That night we sat around a candle in the hut, drinking mint tea, and planning the next day’s adventures.

The list for the best ingredients to make both a great meal and a great life are:

  • HUNGER - Allow yourself to desire. All things are better when you hunger for them. Instant gratification doesn’t gratify for long.
  • CREATIVITY - Work with what you have. You have the ingenuity to do great things with what is at hand.
  • GRATITUDE - The world is brimming with good things. Look for them and be amazed at your good fortune.

Firing Yourself

I started to hate my job, but I couldn’t leave because I needed the money. I could feel the increasing conflicts in my body. Migraines. Back aches. My anger and frustration should have told me that I was way out of balance with my values and ethics, but I saw the problem as “them” rather than me. I was causing myself misery by staying in a toxic environment and choosing a salary over my peace of mind.

When you have a lot invested in a career, sometimes it is hard to change direction. If you can’t find a way to better align with what you spend your days doing, the universe will do it for you. I got fired. I was set free of a horrible situation that I didn’t have the courage to leave on my own. A year later, the CEO and several VPs were sued for insider trading. The stock price plummeted. I didn’t feel avenged as much as grateful that I was no longer working there.

Toleration is not a passive act. To put up with a bad job, or a bad relationship, takes energy. As you invest your time and intelligence, what’s your ROI? Is it time for a change?