Can Data Presentation be a Matter of Life or Death?

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To my surprise and delight, “communication” topped the list of key skills for data scientists in a CEB Market Insights blog post I read this week.

The post covered the top 10 skills for data scientists and 2 strategies for hiring them. Yet “communication” felt like a lone outlier among a list of highly quantitative skills, like managing structured data, mathematics, data mining and statistical modeling.

But indeed, the Business Broadway study the post cited showed that “communications” recurred the most frequently across a variety of data science roles.

When Thomas Davenport and D.J. Patil named “Data Scientist” the sexiest job of the 21st century in Harvard Business Review, they cited an enduring need “for data scientists to communicate in language that all their stakeholders understand – and to demonstrate the special skills involved in storytelling with data, whether verbally, visually, or – ideally – both.”

As a communicator who pivoted into marketing analytics, it’s heartening to to see data showing there’s a role and need for effective communication and storytelling skills.

And having led communications, the field is dramatically improved by data that demonstrates what works and what doesn’t, and helps predict how various audiences might respond to different communications strategies.

Beyond enabling data-driven decisions, clear communications about data can literally be a matter of life or death. Two fascinating examples crossed my path this morning in an article by Dr. Jenny Grant Rankin called Over-the-Counter Data: the heroics of well-displayed information.

The first example was an early use of data visualization in the summer of 1854. In London, 500 people died of mysterious causes in a 10-day period. A Dr. John Snow made his data user-friendly. He took a neighborhood map and noted the exact locations where people had died.

This pointed toward a local water pump that was the culprit in the spread of cholera. With this clearly displayed data, Dr. Snow was able to convince authorities to remove the pump’s handle in order to stop the outbreak.

Another example took a much more ominous turn. The night before the Space Shuttle Challenger launched in January 1986, NASA engineers and their supervisors looked at charts and data on the rocket’s O-ring function. This is what keeps hot gasses contained. Based on what they saw, the launch was cleared for takeoff.

But the available data was not displayed clearly. It showed failed launches, but not successful launches. And this led decision makers to overlook a critical piece of information – the O-rings worked properly only when the temperature was above 66 degrees. The day of the Challenger launch was 30 degrees below that. It was “so cold it does not even fit on the graph.” It’s still heart wrenching to recall the tragedy that occurred that day.

While thankfully the work of data scientists is rarely a life or death matter, these examples underscore the need for clarity in communicating data. For what cannot be understood cannot be implemented.

What’s the Future of Big Data?

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Data is the raw material of the information age.

So says Alec Ross in his book The Industries of the Future.

An expert on innovation, Ross draws parallels between land being the raw material of the agricultural age and iron being the raw material of the he industrial age.

Essentially, big data will touch every aspects of our lives. “Big data,” he says, “is transitioning from a tool primarily for targeted advertising to an instrument with profound applications for diverse corporate sectors and for addressing chronic societal problems.”

Here are a few of his predictions:

  1. During the next decade, big data will enable people to converse in not just one another language but dozens. While I won’t give up on my Spanish studies anytime soon, it’s good to know that data-based help is on the way.
  2. As the world’s population grows, so does the need for more food. “Precision agriculture” enabled by big data will help solve this problem.
  3. Smarter financial systems can be powered by big data. It was surprising, and even a little shocking, to read how antiquated many banking systems still are today.

An important caution is to understand the limits of big data and the critical interplay between machine and mind. This comes in the form of spurious correlations that may result from ever larger and bigger data sets. “Not all the trends it finds are rooted in reality,” he says.

The solution? Including error bars with data analysis predictions. Error bars are “visual representations of how likely a prediction is to be an error rooted in spurious correlation.”

In addition to peering into the future of big data, Ross gives two great tips for “the most important job you will ever have.” How does he define that? Parenting.

What can parents do to help their children be ready to embrace the future?

Ross frames it in terms of languages. The first language is globalism. “Ironically,” he writes, “in a world growing more virtual, it has never been more important to get as many ink stamps in your passport as possible.”

And even though big data may eventually make the need to learn other languages obsolete, it’s wise to learn another language beyond English. The most practical choices, not surprisingly, are Spanish and Mandarin.

The other language to learn is technology. “If big data, genomics, cyber, and robotics are among the high-growth industries of the future,” Ross says, “then the people who will make their livings in these industries need to be fluent in the coding languages behind them.”

Other benefits come with understanding technology. Ross cites fellow pundits who tout the ability to better see patterns and to think in new and different ways. Studying technology is a valuable way to sharpen your critical thinking skills.

One of Ross’ points that I was happiest to see came in the introduction. Because his book explores competitiveness, he delves into the driving force behind competitive countries and businesses being the development of people.

He takes it a critical step further. “And there is no greater indicator of an innovative culture than the empowerment of women. Fully integrating and empowering women economically and politically is the most important step that a country or company can take to strengthen its competitiveness.”

Well said, Alec Ross.

Cut Email Time in Half with this Simple Trick

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Need a simple hack to motivate yourself to slog through your email backlog?

Here’s a great one from author and Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Charles Duhigg: as fast as you can, write a one-sentence reply to each message.

But don’t send them right away.

Just read and write a sentence in response that “expresses an opinion or decision.”

And if you can exercise control over the situation in your response, you’ll be more motivated to continue, Duhigg says in his book Smarter Faster Better.

Then you can can go back into your draft messages and add the rest of each message – salutations, specifics and signoffs.

This is a terrific example of two ways Duhigg says you can generate motivation.

The first is to “make a choice that puts you in control.” And “the specific choice itself matters less in sparking motivation than the assertion of control.”

The second is to “figure out how this task is connected to something you care about.” If you can “explain why this matters, then you’ll find it easier to start.”

Duhigg’s book is full of fascinating science behind motivation, teams, focus, goal setting, managing others, decision making, innovation and absorbing data.

You’ll learn “the secrets of being productive in life and business” – not only for yourself, but also for your colleagues and your kids.

If you’re looking for an interesting and insightful summer read, this is one to download on your mobile device or pack in your beach bag.

3 Ways to Push through Fear

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Here be dragons.

It’s been more than 500 years since Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo was the first European explorer to navigate the coast of what’s now California.

Yet dragons in the form of swells and currents confronted me every time I went stand-up paddle boarding this spring and contemplated venturing beyond the marina.

The conditions were never right. Or at least that’s what I told myself. The waves were too big. There were too many big boats coming and going. I didn’t know how to navigate the open ocean.

Yes, as a kid I’d made it though the shark level of YMCA swim classes. I still remember the trauma of having to do a back dive to pass one of the classes. And yes, time proved that I was correct that I’d never, ever again need to know how to execute a back dive.

But fast forwarding to the present day, it was getting a little boring paddling around the Redondo Beach marina, as scenic as it is. I mean, how many laps can you paddle back and forth past the sea lion barge before you want to venture further and try something new?

So my husband and I decided on a three-pronged approach. We’d take another lesson to get some coaching. We’d go in the early morning, when the water was calmer. And we’d be prepared to fail – in this case, to fall off our boards.

Here are three things I learned from this today.

  • Take the counterintuitive approach and relax. This is similar to when your car skids and you need resist slamming on the brakes. Instead, you should just lift your foot off the accelerator and steer into the skid. It’s not the intuitive approach.

“Paddle boarding is a weather sport,” our instructor from Tarsan Stand Up Paddle Boarding reminded us. So you have to go with the conditions. Move with the water. Stay relaxed.

And that’s the last thing I wanted to do. But breathing, focusing and staying in the moment helped. Before we knew it, we were past the small swells at the breakwater and out into the ocean. We did it. Amazing!

  • Try something, see how it works and adjust the approach on the fly. Our instructor gave us a few strategies. Stay low, with your knees bent. Kneel on your board if you have to. The paddle is a great stabilizer, plus it floats (who knew?). And think of your paddle as an extension of your arm.

Try leaning left. Leaning right. Padding straight into and over the swells. Wiggling toes when they go to sleep. Trying something to see what happens. Adjusting the approach as needed.

  • Go further every time. The best way to make progress is to keep pushing yourself beyond your comfort zone. Just try something new and see what happens.

It doesn’t matter if it’s your career, your family or your hobbies. More often than not, it will be like today – much easier that anticipated (or dreaded, in my case) and a whole lot of fun.

And who wouldn’t like more fun in their life?

Speak Effortlessly with a Compelling Opening

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Thrill your audience. Spark engagement with your ideas. Transform people’s views of the world.

That’s the promise of TED Talks: The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking, out this month by TED curator Chris Anderson.

And it’s also the new bar in public speaking. It’s no longer acceptable to under prepare, to meander or to bore your audience.

With so many people taking in a steady diet of TED talks to enlighten, educate and entertain themselves, the bar is sky high for anyone who speaks in public.

It doesn’t matter if it’s a keynote speech for an audience of a thousand or a tabletop presentation to your colleagues. Using the strategies in TED Talks will help spread your ideas.

Elements have come in handy for me in everything from town hall meetings and operations reviews at work to city committee meetings and inspirational talks in my community. Not to mention a decade of writing speeches and presentations for C-level corporate leaders.

Speaking effortlessly ties into my recent posts on grit and on sprezzatura, the art of making the difficult seem easy. In his book, Chris Anderson does a terrific job of outlining the hard work it takes behind the scenes to give a compelling talk. One that might change the world.

Take openings, for example. You have to grab people from the very first sentence. The opening words or a talk are similar to the way you need to think about headlines, subject lines and the first line of an email message. You only get a few words to pique people’s interest, or cause them to tune out.

This month I was presenting to a live and web-based audience in a town hall meeting. The topic? Our team’s annual scorecard – the priorities, initiatives, metrics and targets we’re striving for this year.

It had the potential to be boring. How to capture people’s attention? For that, I turned to the chapter on “Open and Close: What Kind of Impression Would you Like to Make?”

According to Anderson, “you have about a minute to intrigue people with what you’ll be saying.” He encourages readers to “script and memorize the opening minute.”

Here are 4 ways he offers to start strong:

  • Deliver a dose of drama. Anderson suggests asking yourself, “If your talk were a movie or a novel, how would it start?”
  • Ignite curiosity. Here you can ask a surprising question or give a little illustration that piques an interest to hear more.
  • Show a compelling slide, video or object. These capture even more attention when you reveal something surprising about them.
  • Tease, but don’t give it away. “Channel your inner Spielberg” and imagine what will make your audience want to learn more.

So how did I start my scorecard talk? My current work focuses on metrics and measurement. But numbers alone wouldn’t engage or inspire my colleagues.

I thought about how to link it with our bigger purpose. At our annual leadership kickoff meeting, our technology leader talked about the magic our team creates every day in marketing a storied, nearly 140-year-old company.

And there it was – the dramatic contrast of measuring magic.

“If you think you can’t measure magic,” I began, “I’m here to show you how we’ll do just that.”

Yes, the opening may have given too much away. But when a few people mentioned the magic reference to me later that day, I knew it had been a good way to start.

Equally important is how you close. And everything you do in between. I’ll explore those in future posts.

For a spine-tingling close, check out Brené Brown in her TED talk, The power of vulnerability.

Should Grit Appear Effortless?

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If you’re gritty, should you let it show?

That was the essential question in The Atlantic‘s article this month, Is Grit Overrated?

In it, Jerry Useem applies Angela Duckworth‘s research on grit to our careers.

Grit, the persistent pursuit of a passion, is key to accomplishment. Yet most people would be happy not to know how hard you worked.

Useem cites research by Chia-Jung Tsay of University College London. It showed that people prefer perceived natural talents over those whose striving and hard work is more apparent.

Why? Here Duckworth has a best guess. It’s that “we don’t like strivers because they invite self-comparisons.” And we can often find ourselves lacking.

Or perhaps it’s because the effortless and frictionless experience is desirable in all areas of our lives. This is especially true in the customer experience with our favorite brands.

Think of the level of technology we interact with on a daily basis. The networks that carry our communications. The electric and computing technology that fuel our cars. The social media that connect us around the globe.

We want and expect an effortless experience. Every time.

In addition to the complexity of our lives that demands an effortless experience, history and human nature play roles. “Make your accomplishments appear effortless,” is one of The 48 Laws of Power that Robert Greene penned.

Greene cited the Japanese tea ceremony and the contributions of Sen no Rikyu in the 16th century. The art of the tea ceremony was heightened by its seeming effortlessness. Showing the effort behind the work ruined the effect.

Greene also drew from the Renaissance court writings of Baldassare Castiglione, author of The Book of the Courtier in 1528. Castiglione advised members of the royal court to carry out their duties with “sprezzatura, the capacity to make the difficult seem easy.”

He went on to write, “practice in all things a certain nonchalance which conceals all artistry and makes whatever one says or does seem uncontrived and effortless.”

In our world of social media, where people appear to live perfectly curated lives, this takes some reality checks on the back end.

When the actor Rob Lowe took his oldest son to college, he advised him beautifully when his son expressed doubts about his ability to succeed. Lowe describes this in a tear-jerking chapter of his book Love Life.

“Dad, what if it’s too hard for me here?” his son asked.  “None of the other kids look scared at all.”

The elder Lowe’s response is something we should remind ourselves of every day: “Never compare your insides to someone else’s outsides.”

As you pursue a passion with perseverance and balance it with the appearance of effortlessness, remember this: It takes tremendous work behind the scenes to accomplish anything great.

Don’t ever give up. Keep your grit to yourself. And make sure your children understand the hard work that happens beneath the surface.

How Gritty Are You?

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Did you catch two great books that came out this month? Grit by Angela Duckworth and TED Talks by Chris Anderson were both released on May 3.

More to come on TED in a future post, and for the 6-minute version of Grit, watch the TED talk. Dive into Grit the book for more on the science behind the concept. This answered 3 key questions for me.

First, what is grit? Duckworth defines it as “perseverance and passion for long-term goals.” More than talent and intelligence, grit is what ultimately makes people successful in achieving their goals.

She said in her TED talk that “Grit is having stamina. Grit is sticking with your future, day in, day out, not just for the week, not just for the month, but for years, and working really hard to make that future a reality. Grit is living life like it’s a marathon, not a sprint.”

Are you curious to see how gritty you are? Test yourself on the Grit Scale.

Second, what can be life-changing about grit? You don’t have to possess natural talent or off-the-charts intelligence in order to do great things. In fact, “natural talent” may simply be the outcome of a lot of hard work behind the scenes that ultimately comes to appear effortless.

If you have passion for something and decide to persevere no matter what, you have an excellent chance of achieving your goal. So says the science in Duckworth’s studies.

Third, what does this mean for your life? It means you don’t have any excuses. You can no longer say you don’t have what it takes to accomplish a goal in your area of passion. You have to own up to the fact that you didn’t work hard enough.

Does that mean you should never throw in the towel on something? Of course not. There are times when you need to cut your losses and move on. Just don’t do it too soon. Give yourself time to move beyond the inevitable period of being bad at something new, with thanks here to Erika Andersen.

How has grit made a difference? A few years ago, my daughter was struggling in her first AP class in high school. She missed the deadline to level down to a regular class. A few academic advisors later told her they could move her to a lower class and suggested that she avoid future AP courses.

To my surprise (and delight), my daughter said no. She wanted to finish the course. And finish she did. She eked by with a passing, but not great, grade in the course. But she got a qualifying score on the exam, one that will give her college credit. And she went on to take other AP courses, with better grades and better scores. All because she chose to persevere.

You’ve probably faced times like those in your life and your career. I can think of more than a few. When launching a new way to work with social collaboration a few years ago, I had moments of terror. How would we do it? How would we manage through the inevitable mistakes? How would we make it successful?

The day our beta test launched, I decided I would start a blog. The purpose? To create a safe learning environment for others. To role model the use of the new platform. And to learn by doing so I could advise other leaders on starting their own blogs.

It wasn’t easy, admitting what I didn’t know. Making mistakes. Asking the community for help in how to perform seemingly simple functions, like creating hyperlinks. Or launching a project on Social Media for Innovation in partnership with Gerry Ledford of USC’s Center for Effective Organizations. But that’s how I learned.

A fierce level of tenacity existed among the people on my team at the time who were leading the project – Michael Ambrozewicz and Thyda Nhek Vanhook. And we had tremendous colleagues in our I.T. organization, starting from Frank Palase to Brian Ulm and many, many others.

How did we do? I knew we’d achieved success when people started talking about the platform in meetings. When I’d walk by a conference room and see a platform screen displayed on a monitor. When I worked with our CEO to launch his leadership blog. And when nearly 90% of our employees were using the platform to do their daily work more efficiently.

In those moments when you want to shut down and walk away from a seemingly unsolvable problem, what works best is to do the opposite. Take some kind of action. Any action. Get feedback from others. Adjust your path. And keep moving forward.

How do you persevere on your most important goals?

Leaping or Lagging?

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Leaping is my theme for 2016.

It was partially inspired by Tara Sophia Mohr from her book Playing Big.

What’s a leap?

It’s something that “has you playing bigger right now, is simple, and can be completed in one to two weeks, gets your adrenaline flowing, and puts you in contact with the people/audience/customers/stakeholders you want to reach through your playing bigger.”

So when I finished my April adventure yesterday, I wrote a blog post about what I’ve learned from blogging every day for the last month. I knew I needed to share it more broadly than my usual tweet, sometimes supplemented by a status update in LinkedIn.

Yet I didn’t want to do it. The tweet was easier. Been there, done that. The LinkedUp update was fine. Then it was time to try out InstaQuote for an Instagram post of the post’s image and title. Okay. Easy enough.

The bar got harder with Facebook. I’ve only shared a blog post among friends once before. I don’t want to be “that person” in social media. The one that people get tired of hearing from and quietly put on mute. To spare your feelings and theirs.

And then I remembered a great post about in Inc. by Chris Winfield. In writing about how to stop procrastination, he got to the root cause. Why do we procrastinate?

Because “we believe that taking action will cause us a certain amount of pain.

Yep. I was trying to avoid pain. Of potential ridicule. Of being ignored.

Chris recommends a powerful way to move beyond it. Ask yourself, “What can you do in the next three minutes that will move something forward? What’s one small action that you can take right now?”

It’s very similar to David Allen‘s system for getting things done. It’s all about clarity on the next action.

For me, it was a Facebook post. What’s the next action for you?

12 Things I Learned from Blogging Every Day for a Month

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At the beginning of this month, I started an April adventure. What was it? To complete each of my daily dozen tasks every day for an entire month.

Why did I do it? To experiment. To create change. To get more done. To make decisions. To enjoy life more.

Here’s what I learned. Most of it was from blogging every day for a month, the one activity I did faithfully every day.

1. It’s easier doing things on most days, rather than every day. Sometimes the day’s schedule precluded doing everything on my list. And some activities shouldn’t be done daily, like lifting weights.

Days when I traveled called for extra creativity. For exercise, that meant getting in some steps while waiting at the airport. It also meant packing lighter “athletic” shoes that would fit in my bag so I could use the hotel fitness center.

They were a pair of slip-on Keds that took up a sliver of space in my bag compared with my usual workout shoes. A podiatrist might disagree, but they worked for 30 minutes of walking on the treadmill. The longer-term solution? When I replace my current workout shoes, I’ll get a smaller, lighter pair.

The benefit of doing an activity every day is that you don’t have to think about it. That makes it easier to do on a consistent basis. But once it’s become a habit, it’s easier to do it on most days of the week, rather than every day.

2. To make a new habit stick, focus on just one each month. Some days had a breathless quality of racing through activities to check them off the list. Some were already automatic, like taking vitamins. But others required chunks of time, like blogging, reading, exercising and sleeping. Even doubling up on activities didn’t fully do the trick.

What will work better? Focusing on one area each month. That’s inspired by Gretchen Rubin‘s year-long happiness project. She focused on one area of life each month for a year. In the final month, she combined all of her newly established habits and rituals.

So I’ll take my daily dozen, with a few tweaks, and assign each to a month over the coming year. The month of May? It’s a tossup between healthy eating and sleep.

Four years ago, on Mother’s Day, I became a lifetime member of Weight Watchers after losing nearly 50 pounds. And while thankfully I’m not the person who regained all of the weight and more, I would not keep my membership (within 2 pounds of goal) if I went to a weigh-in today.

It’s a struggle, this constant vigilance and self-care. The words of a Weight Watchers leaders still ring in my ears, “It ain’t over ’til you’re over.” How true.

So this May will be the month of healthy eating. Back to the healthful simplicity of the “power foods” – fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nonfat dairy and lean protein.

3. Clarify what you most enjoy by analyzing how you spend your time. What do you most love to do? One of mine is writing. It’s usually a guaranteed flow state, every time.

My April adventure clarified this because blogging was the one activity I did daily (other than taking vitamins, which I’m choosing not to count because it was already a well-established habit and takes only a minute to complete).

Whether it’s writing a report a work, or an inspiration for a community charity organization or this blog, I love to write. So I’ll focus on areas where I can do more than that.

4. Celebrate progress. One of my purposes in blogging daily was to clarify the focus of this blog. It began as an exploration of the future of corporate communications. Then it evolved into a learning journey, with a focus on the data analytics aspect of a career pivot.

And while I didn’t fully crystallize the focus of this blog, I did make progress. I know what I can take off the list. While I’ll still devote learning time to reading blogs and books about data analytics, along with some online courses, that specifically won’t be the focus of this blog.

I’ll continue to write about learning in general. It’s something we’ll all need to do throughout our lives, regardless of the the specific subject.

In my work, I’m intrigued by the intersection between data science and communication. As I find a way to link the two in an interesting way, that may be the subject of some future blog posts.

5. The more effortless you make your goals, the easier is it to accomplish them. With WordPress on my MacBook, iPad and iPhone, I could draft and post to my blog wherever I was. My Spanish is app is the same – all I need is 10 minutes and I can do my lesson for the day. My library is with me all the time with my Kindle app. And so on.

This is where I was especially proud of my employer and the vision to connect people with their world, everywhere they live and work. (Opinions on this blog are mine.) This is a great enabler – perhaps the great enabler – of what’s the most important in each of our lives.

Other enablers? Keeping my yoga mat and workout gear in my car. Having my PFD (personal floatation device) stacked beside that for standup paddle boarding sessions.

6. Complimentary activities help you get the most out of your day. For me it’s walking on the treadmill and reading (or streaming favorite TV shows on my DIRECTV app).

Thinking about 3 things I’m grateful for in the last 24 hours while brushing my teeth (thank you, Shawn Achor).

Maximizing family interactions by sitting in the dining room while I’m reading or writing or whatever so when my teens stroll by and want to engage (yes, they can be like cats), I’m there. This works in an office environment with colleagues, too.

7. Don’t try to do too much. Yet doubling up on activities only works to a point. Sometimes I struggle with enjoying the present moment. Being fully there. Not racing ahead to the next thing that I feel needs to be done.

By consciously limiting the number of things and activities I commit to, I know I’ll do better in that smaller set of activities. Given my goal to blog daily, I feel the quality of my posts wasn’t always what I wanted it to be. I didn’t have time for research, for reflection and for revising.

But I did learn some helpful strategies. When I finished one post, I’d start a new draft post and jot down my ideas in a brief outline. Then when I re-opened it to start writing, the initial thinking was already done.

This goes back to the principle of taking small steps. It also relates to my Spanish studies. While I’m not devoting big chunks of time to it, I can spend a few minutes a day. Studies are showing this goes for exercise too.

8. If something isn’t working for you, let it go. I don’t have to do everything. If something isn’t a fit, I can let it go.

This is one of the reasons I’m excited to read Angela Duckworth‘s book on Grit when the pre-order downloads to my Kindle app on May 3. This guru of tenacity and perseverance says it can be okay to quit. Just not on your hardest day.

One of my daily dozen was 2 minutes of power posing, inspired by Amy Cuddy‘s book on Presence. I’d like to think it made me stand up and sit up straighter during the day, and to take up more space. Why? To feel more confident and live life more fearlessly.

But I don’t need to do it every day. I can save it for times when I have to give a big presentation or otherwise tackle a tough challenge.

9. Relationships with people are more important than checking tasks off a list. When my daughter or son wants to talk with me, I stop what I’m doing (as hard as that can sometimes be) and I listen and chat.

Here I’m inspired by Shonda Rhimes and her Year of Yes. Whenever her daughters asked her to play, she’d stop what she was doing to spend time with them. It doesn’t take long. But it means so much.

My daughter and I have had lots of chats this month – on the road and at home as she’s been choosing her college. It’s been a learning experience. Sometimes you don’t end up where you expected, but there can be a whole new world of possibilities. It all depends on your perspective.

10. Intense activity can’t solve all of your problems – or the world’s problems. There are still sad moments. Anxious moments. Frustrating moments. We live in a world that seemingly gets crazier and more unpredictable every day – with events that are beyond our control.

Keeping busy all the time won’t solve those problems. But it will help you make progress in your own life. And that’s what makes us happy.

11. We can still control an awful lot in our lives. Our minds – with thanks to Carol Dweck and her growth mindset concept. What we do – or don’t do – every day. How we show up and share our gifts. What we choose to do and who we do it with. Being clear about what we can control and what we can’t.

12. Love is all there is. My sister Katie shared this with my last year during a very sad time her family’s life. This was a favorite saying of her mother-in-law Sylvia, who was unexpectedly near the end of her life. It makes me smile through tears to think of Sylvia, Katie and the rest of the family.

But in the end, what could be more true? Love really is all there is.

As someone who’s all about achieving goals – sometimes with a relentless zeal that my immediate family enjoys teasing me about – this one made me stop and think. Especially this month as I figured out how to cram a lot in every day.

Life truly is about the people and the relationships.

And there’s always something to love about others. No matter who they are. It helps to remember that everyone is carrying a heavy load and traveling a difficult path, even if their life appears perfect on their Instagram feed. I’ve learned to be kinder to myself and to others.

Because love is all there is.

Getting Names Right

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There was a Michael on my team whom people often called Mike. There was a Tina who preferred that to her full name of Christina. And now there’s a Stephen whom people have called everything from Steven to Stephan.

As a colleague, I feel a responsibility to help others get these names right. That includes the pronunciation and the preferred form. Michael doesn’t go by Mike. Tina doesn’t want to be called Christina. And I assume Stephen would like to hear his name pronounced the right way.

Why is this so important?

Keith Rollag shares some interesting reasons in his book, What To Do When You’re New.

He cites Dale Carnegie, who once said, “A person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.”

And psychologist Gordon W. Allport wrote that, “The most important anchorage to our self-identity through life remains our name. One’s name, though only a symbol, is closely tied to one’s self-esteem as it is to one’s sense of self-identity.”

Rollag goes on to write that, “People are flattered when you remember their names, which creates something persuasion researchers call a ‘complimentary perception.'”

And he says that scientists have found that “we subconsciously prefer words containing the letters of our own name and even selectively pursue careers that sound like our own name (e.g., a disproportionate number of people named Dennis become dentists).”

Who knew? Perhaps this partly explains why, as a Caroline, I became a communicator.

Here are 3 ways to make sure you get names right:

Ask. When you meet someone new, ask for any clarification you need on their name. Did you pronounce it correctly? Do they go by a nickname? This repetition of their name will also help you remember it, according to Rollag’s chapter on remembering names.

Check. When sending an email or communicating via social media, check the correct spelling of someone’s name against their email address, social handle or signature line. And if you make a mistake, as I’ve done in transposing a first and last name, be quick to apologize and correct the error.

Model. If you’re in a meeting or on a call where someone is mispronouncing another person’s name, use that person’s name correctly during the course of the meeting. If that doesn’t work, you can let the person know one on one after the meeting wraps up.

How do you get names right?