The Show Will Start in Five Minutes

Have you ever been lied to? My wife and I were lied to when we saw Hamilton in Chicago, and it was perfect.

It happened when my wife was waiting in the long line for the restroom during intermission. Afraid to miss any part of the show, she was nervous when she heard over the loudspeaker, “the show will start in five minutes, please return to your seats.”

After hearing the message, she was ready to get out of line. However, as she started to leave the line, the bathroom attendant stopped her and told her she should stay in line and promised her the show would not start without her. She stayed in line, and a few minutes later she heard the same message over the loudspeaker, “the show will start in five minutes, please return to your seats.”

It was ten minutes later that she returned to our seats. She had enough time to tell me about her experience as I watched dozens more people continue to return to their seats. My fuzzy math calculates at least fifteen minutes had gone by since the original five-minute warning had gone out over the loudspeaker.

As the last handful of people found their seats, the show resumed. Everybody got what they needed, and everybody had a wonderful evening at the theater — even though it involved telling a lie. If a situation ends in a way where all parties benefit, then the infrastructure you used is working well.

What is infrastructure? In this case, infrastructure included the systems and procedures in place to ensure everybody was able to use the facilities and return to their seats in a neat and orderly fashion before the next act.

Infrastructure in a law firm can be a bit more complicated. However, the same little-white-lies often take place in order to help the firm operate more smoothly. The benefits of these little-white-lies can only be judged as a success if all parties benefit.

Yes, this can be a slippery slope. When is it a benefit to massage the way you say something, and when is it simply being out of integrity with yourself? Only you can answer that question, and now may be a good time to think about where your personal boundaries are on the topic of massaging the facts.

Imagine a lawyer in a firm insists on entering his time in a peculiar way. It may be beneficial to suggest to him that it cannot be done that way (even though technically it can be done that way). This may give you the opportunity to show him a better way which meets his needs – a way that also helps the rest of the infrastructure continue running efficiently and cost-effectively. If everybody ends up happy, is it wrong to have misrepresented the truth? How do you judge?

There are many who would choose to simply “spin” the story rather than say something that is just plain false. There are others who dig in to the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Where do you fall on the spectrum? What justifications do you use?

We at Attorney Computer Systems do not condone or advocate saying something that is simply not true, however, we are also in the business of building and maintaining efficient infrastructure. If you need us to tell somebody that they need to return to their seats because the show is about to start, then we will help you do just that if, and only if, it benefits everybody involved. This way everybody can have all of their needs met and still enjoy the show.

Worry Less. Practice More.

Puzzled by the Puzzle Pieces?

“It’s an elbow.”

“No, it’s a necktie.”

“What about this? Is this a leg?”

“No, it is the edge of a table.”

These are the types of arguments you have when putting together a puzzle with your wife. Well, these are the types of arguments I have when putting together a puzzle with my wife. It is easy to think you know what you’re looking at when you are staring carefully at an individual puzzle piece — it is just as easy to be completely wrong.

How do you react when you’re completely wrong about something?

First, let’s agree that when we are putting a puzzle together, we can see both the big picture and we can see all of the individual pieces. The trick lies in how well you can quickly, methodically, and calmly get all of the little pieces assembled so they create the bigger picture.

We have likely all put a puzzle together, so we can also agree that the best way to bring the bigger picture into focus is to first assemble the pieces that obviously go together. While people may use different strategies, each one involves starting with something that is known and gradually allowing the puzzle to form the picture. Inevitably, we also know we will get stuck at some point along the way.

How do you react when you get stuck?

Frustration is the number one reaction I see when someone learns they are wrong when they were convinced they were right. Frustration is also the most common reaction I see when someone gets stuck at a particular part of the puzzle. I also see people blame the puzzle, blame themselves, or even blame somebody else when they get hung up on these unpleasantries.

We use the same “puzzle process” in our lives and in the workplace. Our goals, plans and projects are the big pictures we are trying to piece together. The same frustration occurs when we encounter unpleasant obstacles. Our reactions, however, are more important than we realize.

What happens if you get frustrated when you are trying to piece together a puzzle at work or in your life? You may think this frustration is temporary, but are you seeing the bigger picture? Do you realize how that frustration bleeds into and affects other areas in your life?

Fortunately, there are two other feelings that bleed into other areas of your life – peace and confidence. These feelings are a much better alternative to frustration. Easier said than done, but worth your time and effort to try and achieve.

The next time you’re hit with a wave of frustration, try these methodical steps to bring things back towards peace and confidence:

1. Remember there is a bigger picture made up of smaller pieces.
2. Remember the smaller pieces are hard to understand by themselves.
3. Remember all the pieces you need are in front of you — none are missing.
4. Remember you can only put one piece into place at a time. The next piece.
5. Find a piece, any piece that you can put into place now.
6. Smile and repeat.

The work you do is important. Equally important is how you do the work you do. At Attorney Computer Systems, we are professional puzzle solvers. We are in your offices observing how you work on your puzzles, and helping you solve the mystery of how things fit together. Over the years you have taught us how important it is to be worry-free. You have taught us when somebody feels good about the work they do, they do good work and inspire good work from those around them. Therefore, let us take a moment of our time to remind you – one piece of the puzzle at a time. When you worry less, you practice more.

Do You See the Forest from the Trees?

My mother loved Christmas Trees. Some of my earliest memories include her love for the intricacies of each ornament, the details of the strings of lights, and her attention to detail regarding how each item on the tree should be placed. As my mother got older, her eyesight worsened, and her love for Christmas Trees changed. In her later years she no longer would obsess over each and every detail on the tree. Instead of concerning herself with each ornament and string of lights, she enjoyed looking at the tree from the other side of the room.

Even though her eyes were not able to see like they could in her younger years, she enjoyed seeing the tree all lit up. One may say that with poorer eyesight, she was finally able to see the entire tree as one whole instead of just a collection of smaller details.

Christmas Trees are a unique example of how we collect details. We bring together all the things in our life and in our work and we hang them with care. We put them on display for others to see and enjoy. In this process, we can take enjoyment from making sure each ornament is carefully selected and placed on our tree. We carefully choose the lights that decorate our tree, and we find a place to proudly display our arrangement of details.

For those people who do not create their Christmas Trees to show off to others, there is still a satisfaction in putting together something meaningful for yourself and those around you. In a way, these decorated trees become a physical collection of our decisions, our preferences, and our styles.

These same decisions, preferences, and styles can be seen on display in our work and personal lives as well. It is easy to get wrapped up in all the small details. In fact, it is important that we do so because we are creating something brilliant. We are creating a masterpiece with all these details as they complement and contrast each other.

It is important to pour ourselves into creating something we feel moved to create. It is important that we put our heart and soul into the passions that move us. These are the details and the care that my mother was putting into the creation of her perfect Christmas Tree.

However, it is also important to take time to recognize that these details are creating something larger. It is important to take a step back and look at the whole tree – to enjoy how well everything came together; to recognize that the good and the bad are part of the same whole; recognize how the trials and triumphs add color and excitement to the decorations of the trees.As you step back and see the whole, you’ll notice yourself experiencing an appreciation for all that you and those around you do each and every day. You’ll discover a compassion for yourself which will steady and calm you as you go about your business, both at home and at work.

Do you see the whole? Do you see the importance of being able to develop this new type of eyesight? This is the type of eyesight my mother gained when she lost her regular eyesight, and it was a gift. Being able to pull back away from the closeness of everyday details to appreciate what it is you are creating, to appreciate what and who you have in your life, and to appreciate how brilliantly everything fits together when you can see it all at once is a gift.

If gaining this type of sight requires me to lose my sight, then sign me up. I know I want to be able to see the forest from the trees because I’m told the sight of the forest is breathtaking -simply breathtaking. Until that happens, I will busy myself with the details of my daily work knowing that it all comes together to create a masterpiece. Thank you, Mom, for teaching me this lesson. Thank you.

A State of Simply Service

Winter in Michigan can be rough, especially if you are trying to ascend to the top of an ice-covered slanted driveway to get up to your hotel lobby in time to make it to your dinner meeting. Thankfully, this was not me, rather it was a woman who vented her icy frustration at the hotel clerk as soon as she finally made it inside the hotel lobby.

Me? Well, I was simply enjoying the nice fireplace in the lobby soaking in the sights of this beautiful, family-owned hotel in Ann Arbor. The yelling and venting from the frustrated woman was killing the ambiance of the place, or so I thought.

The clerk at the front desk did not flinch, despite the barrage of passive aggressive insults and accusations. In fact, the clerk not only absorbed the woman’s anger and frustration, she calmly assured the customer she would handle salting the driveway to make sure no additional customers had to slip and slide their way up the sloped walk.

Out of a backroom, I saw an older man (who turned out to be the owner of the hotel) walk past the clerk with a bucket of salt. He must have mentioned to her that he was going to take care of salting the drive, and then he calmly did so.

Now, you probably think I’m going to talk about how wonderful it is that the owner of a nice hotel is willing to do menial tasks such as salting a drive. You probably think I’m going to point out how exceptional the clerk at the front desk was in handling the angry customer. The fact is, these types of things happen every day in cities all over the world by a diverse array of people. It is not special, and that is what makes it exceptional.

What struck me about watching this exchange was how normal it seemed. Each person in the scene played their part. They played the part they were given without deliberating, arguing, or calling undue attention to themselves. They saw something that needed to get done, and they did it. Period.

What I witnessed was simply service.

Instead of drawing your attention to many different types of examples of service, I invite you to look at yourself. I know that’s what I did after seeing this scene. I invite you to ask yourself how often you’re in a state of simply service.

You see, there are many types of service we can perform. For the sake of this discussion, we’ll talk about only two. The first is simply service. That’s it — simply service. The second is selfish service; this type of service is all about the person doing it and nobody else.

Selfish service can be sneaky. You may start something from a place of simply service, but before you know it, you’ve converted it into selfish service. Here are some ways service can be tarnished into the selfish variety.

Let’s say the clerk who was absorbing the customer’s anger and frustration felt put upon or inconvenienced after the problem was handled. Oops, now her service is selfish service because she made it about herself. What if she decided to email her colleagues and tell them all about how wonderfully she handled this irate customer? Bummer, again, now her service is ruined.

How does taking simply service and turning it into selfish service ruin things? It ruins things because of the friction it causes inside of yourself which spills over into friction between you and everybody around you. Need a couple more examples?

The owner of the hotel was performing simply service. He saw a thing that needed done and he found himself doing it. He could have ruined his simply service. He could have used his actions to prove a point to all the employees about how everybody should work as hard as he does, and good things will come their way. He could have complained about how somebody should have salted the drive hours before the incident and the customer would never have been frustrated in the first place. He could have even used his good deeds as a story to inspire the team. Any one of those things would have tarnished the service.

Simply service is a wonderful feeling. You do a thing because it needs done, then you mentally put the thing down and forget about it. Flowing through service without the mental luggage attached to it will make you feel lighter, more peaceful, and will be contagious to all of those around you. However, the moment your mind grabs onto this, you’re sunk. Smile. Relax. It’s simply service.

There is value in simplicity. There is creativity in simplicity. There are complex answers waiting to be discovered the moment you disburden yourself through simplicity. Your service is a gift you give to yourself — the gift of simply service.

Cut Through the BS — Get the Right Tool for the Job

Life is like a busted mailbox. Actually, that’s not true, but having your mailbox busted is not fun. My mailbox gets busted frequently because I live out in the country with beautiful dirt roads which go on for miles and miles. Perfect for me, but bad for my mailbox.

The first time my mailbox got smashed up, I decided I was going to fix it myself. How hard could it be? I just needed to buy the mailbox and the post, dig a hole for the post, and attach the mailbox – voilà! Well, not exactly. As it turned out, the post I bought was about two feet too long. Ok, easy fix. Saw off two feet and voilà! Well, not exactly because I only had a hack saw, some other smaller thing that was probably another hacksaw, and some other saw that did not look like it was meant to cut through a wooden post.

My options were to drive twenty minutes to the hardware store to buy the right kind of saw I needed or see if I could get the job done with one of the other saws I already had in front of me. Looking at the post, I decided this was a small job and there was no reason to waste time and money to buy a tool I was going to use only once, so I set about to using the hacksaw to get through the four-inch thick post.

After an hour of fiddling with the post and attempting all sorts of inventive ways to cut through it, my neighbor drove by, saw the look on my face and decided to help. He brought over his wood saw and the job was done in one minute. The mailbox looked great, and I was grateful for the help.

Two years later my beautiful mailbox was on the wrong end of an oncoming car again — boom. No problem, I’ve replaced a mailbox before, so I drove to the hardware store and bought another mailbox and another post. When I got home I realized the post was about two feet too long. After a few expletives directed at myself for not remembering the lesson from the last mailbox, I had a decision to make: find a new neighbor with a wood saw since the last neighbor moved away, try to use the saws I had that I knew would not work, or drive to the store and invest $14.99 in the proper tool for the job.

I decided to go to the store and buy the proper tool for the job. With the right tool in hand, I made quick work of installing the new mailbox and had time left over to sit on the porch and admire my handywork. (I build infrastructure for law firms, not mailboxes, so give me a break and let me enjoy my moment.)

As I sat on the porch I realized how my clients do the same thing with their infrastructure, their data, and many aspects of their firm — they think they’re saving time and money and they hack things up thinking they’re making things easier. They’ll say things like, “we’re not that big of a firm, so we don’t need to build something custom.” Others may say, “we like to export things to Excel so we can blah blah blah.” With all due understanding and patience, my friends, you’re possibly using the wrong tool for the job the same way I was fumbling with my mailbox like a clumsy animal trying to start a fire with two rocks.
What do I mean by that? Let me say it this way – when I had the right tool for the job, I was calm, I was thinking clearly, I spent less time, and the entire solution to my problem was uncomplicated and flowed effortlessly. This is the way we want to live in all aspects of our lives, and our work lives are not the exception.

If this is true for you, then start by identifying the trouble areas in your firm. Is it the billing? Is it how time is being captured? Is it in document storage or retrieval? Before you try and think of the solution, clearly define the problem. Secondly, how would you like your experience to be altered? Would you like certain information displayed in a certain way? Are you looking to have certain types of tasks be done in less time and with less effort? Are you convinced that a certain aspect could simply be done better? If any of these are true, go and talk to somebody who has made a profession out of fixing these things. Let them show you the solutions, the right tools, to accomplish those things.

Simplifying and finding the right tool for the job is true anywhere in your life. There is beauty in simplicity. There is value in having things work the way they should work. Sometimes you just need a simple tool. A simple tool, but the right tool for the job.

Trust me, just go out and get the saw, you’ll be happy you did.

The Cure for Zombie Syndrome: Add Brains

Recently I was using my phone to find a store and realized I was standing in front of the store I was trying to find. Literally standing right in front of it while looking for it on my phone. Wow.

Ever have one of those moments? The ones where you’re using the flashlight on your phone to try to find your phone? The ones where you’re ON your phone telling someone how you’re scrambling trying to find your phone? The ones where you’re so focused on your GPS that you actually miss what you used your GPS to find?

Modern mobile technology is great. Wireless phones are mini-miracles that allow people to tap into a hive of endless information -the power of The Matrix in the palm of our hands. But the tunnel vision created by sapping all of our awareness to a small point of focus has led to a new phenomenon: Zombie Syndrome.

Zombie Syndrome, as I hereby name it, should not to be confused with Cotard Delusion –the mental illness in which the afflicted sincerely believe they are a zombie. Instead, we are talking about people using their own free will to turnoff all awareness of the world around them and going through their day in a zombie like state of disconnection. This often happens after one sacrifices themselves to the tech, relying on the device to indicate when to do certain functions including “look up.” There are cases of people walking into traffic or off ledges because their phones were the only things they were focused on.

We at Attorney Computer Systems are certainly not ones to discourage the use of technology. That being said, it is important to recognize its limitations. My GPS can tell me exactly where the store is in relation to my phone;the software and hardware have that much reliability.However,for technology to be truly valuable we need to blend ourselves with it. The technology can give us the information, but it is still up to us to interpret the information and synthesize it with our everyday experiences. Yes, experiences, that is what makes us human after all (and not zombies).

Instead of viewing technology as something you conform to, rely on, and cannot live without, may I offer an alternative way to view our relationship with this technology? Technology is a trusted advisor, but you are the one who is being advised–you have an active role to play as the boss of this relationship with technology.

As the boss of the relationship, ask how technology can serve you. What can technology do to help make your decisions more informed? What can technology do to help remind you of your commitments and obligations? What can technology do to help you choose a route to take when you’re trying to find a store?

What I’m suggesting is that you remember the simple fact that you, yes you, are the sentient being here that is using technology. You are the master in this relationship and you should retake your power over technology. In short –WAKE UP. Wake up and think about the information you now have at your fingertips.

Gone are the days where you sit there feebly hoping and praying that your technology is going to work for you this time. Gone are the days where you blame your technology for getting you lost on your way to visit a client. Today is the day we can start thinking again!

It is when we have this type of relationship with technology that technology becomes truly valuable. If you want a report done a particular way, then create the demand for the report to be created the way you want it. If you want to take the scenic route to your destination, then you take that scenic route because your GPS cannot enjoy the scenery anyway –it’s just a darn piece of code stuck in a tiny box.

Many people talk to me about how they believe people are addicted to their devices. I disagree. I think the people who have a compulsion to get lost inside their devices simply have the desire to get lost in something–they prefer getting lost in a tiny device instead of taking charge of themselves and their surroundings. While that may be their choice, it does not need to be your choice. You can choose to have a healthier relationship with the technology in your life.

Why am I so passionate about this topic? Because I’m like a relationship counselor who specializes in people’s relationship with their technology. If you have an unhealthy relationship, it is my advice to seek some help.

The next time you see somebody like me wandering around the street looking at their phone, use their misfortune as your reminder to wake up. Wake up. Wake up. Then smile because you have a world of wonderful technology just waiting to serve you today.

Avoiding “Pizza Infrastructure”

To those that know Chicago, Giordano’s is an institution. The best stuffed pizza ANYWHERE. But that creates a problem for them, because these stuffed pizzas take a LONG time to bake. They’ve solved that problem though…well, kinda’ sorta’.

If you call ahead and there’s no wait for a table, they’ll start baking a pie for you before you arrive. If there is a wait, they’ll still bake your pie in advance, but you will have to wait until you get there to “pre-order”, then your pie will be baked while you are waiting for your table. This is a win-win – you will not wait as long at your table, and the restaurant will turn more tables and make more money.

So, what could go wrong? Plenty, as it turns out: there is a near complete lack of communication.

When you get to Giordano’s, there are two very clearly marked lines: “Get on Waitlist” and “Pre-Order” Simple, right? Nope. Not at all.

These two signs are where the communication ends. Which line do you get in first? Is the “Order Pizza” line just for carryout orders? It seemed to be for Pre-Orders, so I got in the “Waitlist” line first figuring I would go to pre-orders after I had a spot in line – WRONG.

I ended up waiting in three lines because I initially got into the wrong line. The ordering infrastructure at Giordano’s would be beautiful IF there were clear instructions. Without the instructions, the lobby becomes a jumbled mess of confused people who are all waiting for their taste of legendary pizza.

No matter your reputation or how good your product is, the best infrastructure can quickly become the worst without clear, concise communication. So how do you avoid “pizza infrastructure”? I’m so glad you asked!

Communicate Expectations Clearly
Building a strong infrastructure that accomplishes meaningful work and gets your product to the customer in a way that keeps the customer happy is your objective. It’s the ideal, and it is completely achievable. Yeah, you can’t please everyone 100 percent of the time, but that doesn’t mean you can’t establish a highly efficient infrastructure that meets almost everyone’s needs, wants, and desires.

Communicating everyone’s expectations as well as what they can expect from a process is where it starts. You need to keep your steps simple, the tasks for each group no larger or smaller than their output can accommodate, and you need to ensure that end users and customers always know when and where they can expect delivery of their order. If you don’t have this down, even a fantastically organized system is going to breach down into anarchy eventually.

Establish Reliability
The mark of any good process or infrastructure is easy repetition over time without the need for major overhaul or adjustment every quarter or 6 months. Good infrastructure solves problems and does not generate more of its own as time passes.

A reliable infrastructure is one that uses processes and protocols for providing goods and services continuously without generating additional problems and issues that need to be resolved. If you feel like all you are doing is “putting out fires” and practicing reactive maintenance on your business process, you don’t have a reliable infrastructure.

Take the time to establish clear communication and stress test your infrastructure prior to deciding about its reliability. It’s much easier to make changes during the initial phase than it is to try and change your processes after they have been established for a while.

Be Flexible
In the wise words of Prussian military strategist Helmuth von Moltke the Elder, “No battle plan ever survives first contact with the enemy.”

If you want your infrastructure to work the way it should and keep your team and your clients happy, you need the ability to think on your feet and adapt to changing conditions in the market and in customer preferences on the fly.

You can construct the best workflow imaginable on paper addressing (to your mind) every potential contingency. Then the first day you start operating using that workflow, five unexpected contingencies come up and your plan must now integrate them, or your infrastructure is rendered impractical.

Make all the plans you can to deal with potential hiccups and problems, but recognize you need a flexible system that is able to sustain continuous operation. Without flexibility, your infrastructure will increase everyone’s frustration and hurt your business.

Total Integration Is Critical to Success
Once you establish a process that addresses your needs and the needs of your clients, you must ensure it’s implemented across your organization. Granted, not all departments or stages of the development and production are going to operate ideally or even well under one infrastructure, but that would be true of any new system you adopt.

Clear communication, reliability, and flexibility are going to be your infrastructure’s greatest assets; don’t forget about them. Communicate clearly what you expect, ensure the process is reliable, and be flexible when specific differences or obstacles are presented by different stages of your production chain. Make infrastructure happen the right way, and you won’t have to deal with the pitfalls of a “pizza infrastructure”.

The Stories We Tell

There is a bridge in Dexter, Michigan that has an unusually low clearance, and therefore, people are constantly ruining trucks by going where they shouldn’t. Lots of pictures and videos end up on Facebook and lots of people chuckle over the idiocy of those who stupid enough to get into such a predicament. But a few months ago, the sign was changed warning of a lower clearance – for whatever reason, there had been an error and the true clearance was even lower than originally posted.

When we experience or witness something that amuses or frustrates us, we make assumptions, without any clear understanding of the true cause. For example: the sign says low clearance, that guy ripped the top off his box truck, he must be an idiot. The problem is that we don’t really know he’s an idiot, we just know that something happened which makes him LOOK like an idiot.

We tell ourselves “stories” to explain things we don’t necessarily understand. You can’t stop doing that, it’s human nature. You can, however, be aware of the fact that YOUR story may be wildly inaccurate.

When was the last time you assumed something or someone? How often do you jump to conclusions without all the facts? How often does that come back to bite you?

You can’t be entirely to blame – our brains are hardwired to do this because it’s easier to manage our thought processes. With millions of brain cells working around the clock, it makes sense that we rely on shorthand whenever we can, even when it’s detrimental to the human experience.

Nonetheless, being aware of the problem can help you overcome it. In most cases, knowing that the issue is there is the first step towards figuring out a solution.

Unfortunately, learning to undo the instincts of making assumptions and decisions about people is not going to be as easy as flipping a switch in your brain. Thankfully, though, it won’t be an impossible task, as long as you know what to do.

First, you want to understand why we tell ourselves these stories and how often it happens. Chances are that you’ll be surprised with how many times each day we make decisions about others without knowing the whole picture.

When someone is rude or impolite to you, do you assume they are a bad person?

When someone cuts you off in traffic or drives slowly, do you imagine that they are an inconsiderate driver?

It’s so easy to make the worst assumptions about people and run with it. For whatever reason, our minds can latch onto negative ideas so much faster than positive ones (think about how quickly people leave bad vs. good reviews online). Thus, reversing course and changing your perspective will take some conscious effort, at least at first.

Hopefully, with enough repetition, you’ll be able to train your mind to look at the brighter side of things and stop assuming the worst.

But back to understanding the issue. Each time you make an assumption about someone, take note of the situation. What were your initial impressions of that person? Why did you make that particular decision regarding his or her personality?

You don’t have to do this each time, but the more often you think about it, the more you’ll realize: we do this a LOT; and it’s usually a negative portrayal (i.e., this person is stupid or rude).

So, what’s the next step? Once you realize how inherent the problem is inside of you, what can you do to solve it?

One way you can start telling better and more positive stories is to start giving the benefit of the doubt. The phrase “innocent until proven guilty” is a perfect encapsulation of this mentality, and it will help to bring more positive energy into your day.

Instead of assuming someone acted a particular way out of stupidity, spite, or a general abrasive personality, imagine why you would do such a thing. You’re not an idiot, and you’re not a bitter, vindictive person (right?), so what circumstances would cause you to act such a way?

Think back to the bridge story from before. Imagine you were driving a truck and the top half was ripped off by a low bridge. How would you feel? What would be the aftermath of that event? Would you get fired from your job? How would that kind of accident ruin your day?

Along those same lines, what if you knew the height of your truck, you thought you’d be safe because the sign said there was enough clearance, and then you still got into an accident? How would that affect you?

By putting yourself in those situations, you can start to realize a lot of different variables can sway everyone’s outward appearances and impressions. In fact, you can even think about it from a different perspective, such as:

How many people have you unintentionally pissed off with your behavior?

How many strangers think you’re a rude or stupid person because of something you did?

When you consider how quickly you make assumptions about other people, it’s hard not to think about how many people have those same assumptions about you.

Overall, by flipping the script as it were, you can start to look at these situations more favorably and start telling better stories. Until you get the complete picture about a person, why are you going to judge so harshly? Wouldn’t you like to get the benefit of the doubt from others?

When you expand on this idea and look at it from a broader perspective, you can start to see that these little stories can have a monumental impact. When you begin making negative assumptions about people, you can start to see the world through a pretty dark lens. However, by changing your perspective, you can make sure that a little light shines through instead.

Value & The Placebo Effect

Imagine there are two types of value: inherent and perceived.

Inherent value is the actual characteristics of an entity — like the type of steel alloy used to craft a golf club, or how many years an attorney’s been practicing law. These are hard numbers or facts that communicate concrete, tangible worth.

Perceived value is more complicated, because it’s open to interpretation. It’s how much the market is willing to pay for commodities today versus tomorrow. It’s weather Harvard or Yale was a better college choice. Perceived value is implied value, that while incredibly significant, can’t be measured or qualified as easily as inherent value.

Perceived value closely aligns itself with the Placebo Effect — the idea that an entity which contributes “nothing” can have a positive effect on an outcome.

In recent weeks, I learned how the Placebo Effect can make you choose one brand over another. I’ve also seen how the perceived value of my presence on a job site delivered much more inherent value than I’d anticipated.

The Placebo Effect and Brand Loyalty
Want clear skin? Use Clearasil. The branding stuck with me. And I’ve used Clearasil pads for my face since I was a kid. That’s another small coincidence my wonderful wife and I share — we both swear by Clearasil.

But the other day, our store was out of Clearasil pads — and so were we. So we wound up picking up the competing brand, Stridex.

One look at the ingredients on the back of the package and you’ll see these pads are basically made from the same thing. However, my wife doesn’t believe Stridex pads work as well as Clearasil.

As much as I hate to disagree with my wife, I know that both products are pretty much equal. Logically, there’s no difference. However, somewhere inside me, there’s a trigger reaction that wants to agree with her — Clearasil must be far superior to Stridex. Otherwise, why would I use them all these years?

I kept thinking about it and then realized something: there is one difference in these products. The Clearasil pads have a scent of rubbing alcohol. The Stridex pads do not.

The smell of alcohol makes my wife and I think we’re cleansing our faces better. While the ingredients are exactly the same, we literally feel a difference between products.

For better or worse, Clearasil clearly has a placebo effect on my wife and I. This realization inspired me: how can this same type of value be created in the workplace?

The Value of The Placebo Effect in Business
One of my clients recently upgraded Worldox from GX3 to GX4. This is a standard update, and the procedure is usually done remotely. Why? It’s just cheaper to send your computer systems out for the upgrade then to bring me in and actualize the labor.

This client insisted on me being there. I was transparent about the expenses and cost of my in-person services — and the client still chose to bring me on-site.

We finished the job and before I left I had to ask why they wanted me on location. Travel is fantastic, and we’re flexible about where and how we perform work for our clients — I was just curious why.

Here’s the reason they gave me: “When our people see you walking around, they feel better. Knowing you are here and overseeing the update makes them feel less worried.”

With all the reasons you’d prefer an on-site visit to a remote workflow, I hadn’t stopped to consider the value of my presence.

The Placebo Effect in Action
Some value is obvious and inherent. Perceived value is created — through presentation, observation and the placebo effect. How can you put this placebo effect to work in your professional practice?

Remote teams can hold regular teleconferences. Sure, all your communication about work can be in IM and emails. But when you have an all text workflow, there’s no personality. Video chatting and conference calls can build your company culture. Create total integration between people and their co-workers.

If you’re the boss, but your business needs help, don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty. If a sales model isn’t working, burn it to the ground and start from scratch. Pick up the phone and do some outreach. There is a time to delegate and a time to act. Even if your individual effort doesn’t make a huge dent in the problem, your actions can inspire your team. Be flexible about solving problems.

The Value of Brevity and Specificity

Did you ever tie a ribbon around your finger to remember something? Before we had smartphones, emails and countless other digital ways to set a reminder, a ribbon around your finger was the best way to remember something. Of course, this ornate yet abstract act isn’t specific enough. It tells you to remember — but doesn’t specify what. Even though the visual is effective, the point is lost.

When you communicate information — informally to friends, internally at your company or externally to clients — you must balance brevity and specificity. You want to be brief, get to your point and continue your conversation. You need to be specific, and communicate valuable information to your audience, so you don’t end up confusing them and wasting their time.

I was thinking about the flexibility of information exchange and how to effectively communicate with these traits in mind. A day or so after writing a note to myself, the whole thing clicked, and I had to share my thoughts with you.

Set Travel to Four
I was going through a stack of notes when I saw a small piece of paper with my handwriting. It said:

“Set Travel to 4”

Other than making me feel particularly Star Trekkian, I was confused with my note. Set travel to four? What was the four? Where and why was that related to travel?

I checked out the note against my calendar. I realized the note meant I needed to drive somewhere at 4:00 p.m. ET instead of the originally schedule 5:00 p.m. ET. I updated my calendar, disposed of the note and that was that.

Or, at least, it should have been. If you’ve read my blog before, then you know how I think. There is a lesson in just about everything — and this note was no exception.

Brevity for Brevity’s Sake is Far from Brief
My confusing note reminded me of a problem that I sometimes have: brevity for the sake of brevity. I’ll attempt to shorten up my train of thought to the least amount of words as possible. But, instead of crafting a concise message, I wind up with more questions than answers.

Chances are I was in a rush when I wrote that note, or at least multi-tasking. If I’d taken a moment or two longer to be more specific, the note would be much more useful. What if I’d wrote any of the following:

“Reset Travel Time to 4”
“Travel Time 4pm ET”
“Travel @ 4pm ET, not 5”

Any of these wordings clearly speak to what the note meant. Aside from including the date I was set to travel, there’s not much more information needed.

While brevity is a good thing, specificity is just as important. Just by adding a few words to a simple statement, your message can crystallize. Sure, you want to say the most valuable and relevant information in as few words as possible. But if you try too hard to condense your message, you may end up confusing your audience.

Too Brief or Not to Brief?
So, when should you be brief, and when should you be specific? There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. However, I feel there are some guidelines you can use when communicating information, sharing your message or otherwise balancing brevity and specificity. Check out these tips and feel free to let me know what you think.

Use Strong, Clear Words to Create Meaningful Brevity. When you can get your point across with correctly chosen words, everything you say means more. People only have so much time to spend and interest to give. Being brief means being transparent. Communicate the most important information upfront. Make an impression.

Provide Information, Examples and Specific Points of Valuable. Backing up your message with data creates reliability. Using specific information to answer your audience’s questions positions you as a thought leader on your topic. Whenever specifics contribute to what you have to say, include them in your message.

Avoid Words for Words Sake. No one wants to read through an article full of fluff or sit through a lecture that’s all vaping. When you have your audience’s attention, use that time wisely. Treat them with respect. Provide useful information, helpful insights and your expert opinion.

What’s Brief to You Might Confuse Others. When you’re talking about your business, a hobby, or anything else you’re passionate about, you speak from a place knowledge and authority. For instance, you could choose to briefly gloss over well understood topics in your industry, and then focus on advanced concepts. However, if someone listening to you doesn’t have any background on your topic, they might not follow what you have to say. Brevity should never alienate your audience. Use specific information to educate the people around you and bring them to your level of conversation.