Paul Gebel

The Flower City CrossFit (@flowercitycf): Food & Fitness Challenge

sumall_community_growth_water_flowers_gardeningThere is something magical about being part of a community who routinely sets goals and holds itself accountable in attaining them. Having come up through the ranks as a junior officer in the military, spending time as an analyst within a large strategic management consulting firm, and slogging through 3 years of a sales career on 100% commission, I have seen a lot of approaches to setting and achieving goals. The CrossFit community is different than anything else that I’ve experienced before.

On the topic of goals, James Clear recently posted his reshaped vision for them in the context of tactical increments within a system, rather than large, overwhelming ocean-boilers. There was also a viral Slideshare going around, regaining some old momentum, about timehacks and increasing productivity. And while I thoroughly enjoyed and applied a few concepts from each, I think that there’s a communal aspect that goes unnoticed in most goal-planning exercises.

Whether dissecting systems, organizing hacks, meeting monthly “client builder” numbers for smiling-and-dialing, goals fall short without the world that they’re impacting. We set goals to improve ourselves, certainly, but we humans are not wired to enjoy success by ourselves. We strive for individual achievement in order to bring pride/glory/satisfaction/self-actualization to the families and communities around us.

I – like most CrossFitters – think a lot about goals. I think about working on my hip extension to drive under my squat cleans faster. I think about those three, strict, unbroken handstand pushups (HSPUs) that are just out of my reach. I think about my stretch goal – the 500 lb. deadlift – a lot, and I work all the time to measure my progress towards it. But all of this would be meaningless to me if it just lived in my old gym logbook that I carried around for YEARS as I migrated around the LifeFitness machine circuit after my obligatory 30 minute elliptical ride.

The thing about the goals I’m setting now that really matter that makes them different – is that everyone else in my community knows and cares about my goals too. Half-baked sales goals imagined up five minutes before a mandatory sales-builder meeting meant nothing to me, therefore meant nothing to those meant to hold me accountable. But every morning at 5am when I walk in to the box and warm-up with my HSPU work, my cohort will always swing by to ask how many I’m up to, take a picture of my form to help adjust, or just plain encourage me while I’m cranking them out.

That’s where the magic happens.

Goals are fantastic. Systems that they live in are important to understand. Maximizing their efficiency through effectiveness hacks are geeky and wonderful. But all these things are nothing without other likeminded, driven people around you, striving towards their own goals, aware of yours and encouraging you along the way.

When I hit my 3 HSPU goal, I’ll film it and post it here, and you’ll see a bunch of bleary eyed 5am’ers cheering me on when I get it done. Find a mentor. Find a meetup group. Find a networking group. Find a community that resonates to you and that has these two crucial ingredients:

  1. Other human beings who have their own well-defined goals
  2. A sense of confident vulnerability where you are allowed (and expected) to try and fail, as long as you get up and keep going

In the meantime, here’s someone else ripping out a 500 lb. deadlift.

What are your goals – fitness, faith, family, finances? Are you making progress towards them, or are you stagnating in your growth?

Is there anything I can do to help?


Good design is …

Good design is knowing which characteristics of your Web site or product are the most important, and which ones you are willing to give in on. If you are clear on the goals, success will always come from planning enough time in your schedule to think through the trade-offs of a wide set of alternatives. Consistency is a potential means for success, but not success itself.

Scott Berkun

Berkun provides five great ways to help decide on how consistency may help – or hinder – your goals in designing an interface. Sometimes designers find it expedient to reuse content or standardize an experience, because they as the designer are able to map a more cogent pathway. The end user, however, may find themselves trying to learn a system of interpretation while gaining no further value other than the interpretation itself. Here are the five rules of thumb, in Berkun’s own words:

  1. Begin by reusing existing controls or concepts in your sketches and prototypes unless your goals include changing a specific user task or behavior, start with as much consistency as you can. Reuse of working concepts is good. Style guides are of great value here in helping you to reuse as much existing knowledge and good design work as possible.
  2. If your sketches and prototypes aren’t working in user studies or other evaluations because of the failure of existing concepts, try to grow an existing concept to cover the new situation you have. If you change the behavior of a control, apply that change everywhere the control is used. If you change a concept, consistently apply that change.
  3. If you can’t extend what you have to solve the problem, go and design a new widget or concept to solve your problem.
  4. If you have to use special cases (local optimization of a widget that isn’t used everywhere), make sure it’s the best trade-off you have.
  5. Always ensure that user success at tasks takes precedence over abstract design consistency.

Malcolm Gladwell’s “David and Goliath” Questions the Nature of Power and Advantage

dg[Ecclesiastes 9:11,12] 11 Again I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to those with knowledge, but time and chance happen to them all. 12 For man does not know his time. Like fish that are taken in an evil net, and like birds that are caught in a snare, so the children of man are snared at an evil time, when it suddenly falls upon them.

If you have followed Gladwell through “Blink”, “The Tipping Point” and the rest, you’ll be expecting something unexpected when you pick up “David and Goliath“. Of course, you’ll find exactly what you came for, but in “David and Goliath” more so than any of Gladwell’s other books, there is a recurring nod to the somewhat supernatural, spiritual or otherwise intangible nature of the axioms that he brings to light. Perhaps more accurately, he brings out something elusive in the falsehood of the misplaced axioms which we take for granted. In summary, he challenges our thinking in the following veiu

  1. Power and strength are always desirable
  2. Weakness and disability are always undesirable
  3. The more advantage you add to disadvantage, the better things will get

Gladwell spends a good deal of time walking us through the “Inverted U-Shaped Curve”. The curve demonstrates that at the very low end of weakness, poverty, disability or resources, we can add power or advantage and see geometric gains in positivity. However, after the plateau at the top of the curve, those very things that we perceive to be good – money, power, individual attention – will actually start counteracting the very thing that we try to accomplish.

In typical Gladwellian style, we walk through vignette juxtaposed on vignette, until we see a patchwork quilt of very compelling evidence on the principle. The Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s in America, the Three-Strikes referendum in California, the bombing of London in World War 2 – all make appearances. But my favorite parable is the eponymous history which opens the book.

David, as Gladwell says, did not accept the conventions of the single combat duel. He did not accept that he needed armor from Saul, because he never intended to fight according to the “rules”. And the giant, for all his might, is slow, probably visually impaired (“…that you come to me with sticks?…“), and is expecting to take bodily blows to his 100+ pounds of armor. David sees the one vulnerable point in his unshielded forehead and strikes. Goliath stands as much chance of survival facing David’s sling as he would facing a modern .45 caliber handgun. But the world looks in awe at how this “weak” shepherd prevails. How the underdog wins. But David doesn’t think he is an underdog. And he doesn’t fight like an underdog.

So what do we do with the evidence of this hard-to-see principle in action? Like most of Gladwell’s work, it’s difficult to take these principles practically and turn them into a quick tip. But I find myself encouraged. I think I’ve taken away a better appreciation of how the world works. How the “powerful” are only as powerful as the “weak” let them be. And how those in leadership have a high calling. Whether a parent in the home or the leader of a nation, those in power are charged to inspire and protect. But not to over-protect. The axiom is hard to deny.

In one of the most powerful compare-and-contrast vignette pairings, we see Mike Reynolds of “Three Strikes” fame compared to Wilma Derksen, who you’ll never have heard of. Both have had children violently taken before their times. Reynolds over-applies the punishment and rule of law and creates a tyrannically lumbering judicial experiment that is hard to definitively prove effective. Wilma forgives her daughter’s assailant, when she could have become a beacon of child-predator prevention. In the end, her forgiveness and willingness to give the situation over to God preserves her family, her community and her conscience. Reynolds, as portrayed in the book, remains consumed with grief, unable to find any solace, reason or closure – even though his “Three Strikes” referendum accomplished more hard-hitting penalization of crime than any other law in America. “…The race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong…”

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t include the original passage for your own edification. Take a read through the account of David and Goliath with a fresh set of eyes. See if you can see a David who was never really an underdog versus a Goliath who didn’t stand a chance.

[1 Samuel 17: 31-50] When the words that David spoke were heard, they repeated them before Saul, and he sent for him. 32 And David said to Saul, “Let no man’s heart fail because of him. Your servant will go and fight with this Philistine.” 33 And Saul said to David, “You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him, for you are but a youth, and he has been a man of war from his youth.” 34 But David said to Saul, “Your servant used to keep sheep for his father. And when there came a lion, or a bear, and took a lamb from the flock, 35 I went after him and struck him and delivered it out of his mouth. And if he arose against me, I caught him by his beard and struck him and killed him. 36 Your servant has struck down both lions and bears, and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them, for he has defied the armies of the living God.” 37 And David said, “The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.” And Saul said to David, “Go, and the Lord be with you!”

38 Then Saul clothed David with his armor. He put a helmet of bronze on his head and clothed him with a coat of mail, 39 and David strapped his sword over his armor. And he tried in vain to go, for he had not tested them. Then David said to Saul, “I cannot go with these, for I have not tested them.” So David put them off. 40 Then he took his staff in his hand and chose five smooth stones from the brook and put them in his shepherd’s pouch. His sling was in his hand, and he approached the Philistine.

41 And the Philistine moved forward and came near to David, with his shield-bearer in front of him. 42 And when the Philistine looked and saw David, he disdained him, for he was but a youth, ruddy and handsome in appearance. 43 And the Philistine said to David, “Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks?” And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. 44 The Philistine said to David, “Come to me, and I will give your flesh to the birds of the air and to the beasts of the field.”45 Then David said to the Philistine, “You come to me with a sword and with a spear and with a javelin, but I come to you in the name of theLord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied.46 This day the Lord will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down and cut off your head. And I will give the dead bodies of the host of the Philistines this day to the birds of the air and to the wild beasts of the earth, that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel,47 and that all this assembly may know that the Lord saves not with sword and spear. For the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give you into our hand.”

48 When the Philistine arose and came and drew near to meet David, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet the Philistine.49 And David put his hand in his bag and took out a stone and slung it and struck the Philistine on his forehead. The stone sank into his forehead, and he fell on his face to the ground.

50 So David prevailed over the Philistine with a sling and with a stone, and struck the Philistine and killed him. There was no sword in the hand of David. 51 Then David ran and stood over the Philistine and took his sword and drew it out of its sheath and killed him and cut off his head with it. When the Philistines saw that their champion was dead, they fled.

3 Reasons GTD (Getting Things Done®) + Evernote Is Your Next Inbox

Full disclosure: I’m an avid Secret Weapon user. My thoughts here are mainly an expression of standing on their giant shoulders.

Getting Things Done (GTD) has become a business cult of formerly information-saturated executives, entrepreneurs and stay at home moms. The simplicity of the organization and the regiment of the process make such intuitive sense that it is difficult for me to imagine organizing my tasks and information in any other construct. However, there is a way to impose a tool on the system that accelerates the process and allows much more depth and context to the system.

For Evernote users, this has become a welcome organizational framework for all of the data and is great for turning non-context  driven data into useful, actionable tasks. There are limitless variations that can be taken on this theme, but the most important decision for me came in this simple approach: “Few Notebooks, Many Tags”. This will seem like gibberish to the Evernote Luddites, so the meaning might be more clear in the practical application.

GTD SimplifiedFirst the notebooks set-up. I have two “stacks”. They’re called tasks and files. The first question you ask in the GTD process is, “Is it actionable?” If yes, it’s a task. If no, it’s a file. The sub-notebooks in files can be as large as necessary. Some examples in mine are cookbookrolodex and fitness. There are a dozen or so, and I have very loose rules around what does where. There isn’t any action associated with them, and I’ll likely find what I need by tag as opposed to notebook. Secondly, the files. There are two kinds in the GTD system: Action Pending or Completed. The system doesn’t allow a heroic approach to task labeling. If it’s a project with multiple tasks required for completion, tag it with the project name, but every task gets it’s own note in Evernote.

There are a couple reasons this system works. First of all, I trust Evernote. This whole thing falls apart with my email client as the backbone, because I don’t trust that tool as a consistently available, reliable system of storage and organization. Second, Evernote is a blank slate. Every GTD user has their own take on the system. Little modifications to files. Little personalized touches on the categories. Evernote is designed to get out of your way and just allow you to store information in contexts that make sense. And third, this works, because of the community. The not-so-silent partner in taking on the GTD framework (regardless of the Evernote implementation) is the user groups. You’ll find them on LinkedIn, blogs, the GTD forum, the GTD Blog… It’s the amazing part of this undertaking. The help-desk is ubiquitous.

The Five Phases of Consulting: Decision (5 of 5)

Iniitation > Discovery > Analysis and Decision > Engagement and Implementation > Decision

The final step in a well maintained consulting relationship is Decision. Not “decision” in the management sense of the term – but rather Decision to extend the process, continue to dig deeper into process improvement, or to terminate the existing project. Many times, this is the hardest phase for a consultant to maintain the lateral relationship of the situation. It is easy to vacillate between two extremes. On the one-hand, the client may become reliant on the consultant’s leadership in the project and organization. This is an unhealthy direction for future consulting opportunities, because the organization will begin to view the consultant as a surrogate manager. Once that line has been crossed, it is very difficult to recover to a place of lateral support.

Secondly, a the other extreme presents the hazard of over-separation or even resistance – passive-aggressive or overt. Instead of over-reliance, the conclusion of a project may have revealed vulnerabilities or gaps in process that the client feels the need to take care of internally. In either situation, it may be the most beneficial decision to terminate the contract relationship in order to preserve the client as opportunities to open different doors in the future may open.

If the door remains open for follow-on work or re-engagement in areas of the organization that were previously out of scope, there is always the possibility to continue within the organization for a long time! Throughout the lifecycle of the consulting engagement, the consultant is in a struggle for balance. Balance in the project’s scope, schedule and budget – yes. But even more, the consultant is required to balance the relationship. Maintaining trust and credibility, while never becoming so essential as to become a proxy manager.

The Five Phases of Consulting: Engagement and Implementation (4 of 5)

This week we’ve been going through a generic consulting process laid by master consultant Peter Block in his third edition of Flawless Consulting. Before we jump right into Engagement, it’s important to pause at this mid-point to consider just why process is so important in the first place. Problems can be solved on an ad-hoc basis, and an expert advisor may be able to add value through simple observation and reporting. Process informs a client of your value as a consultant and provides structure to the value you’re adding. In a way, the medium is the message. The value isn’t necessarily in the epiphany of process improvement or market capitalization. The value is in the discovery, consensus, and as we’ll see now, the Implementation. To see where we’ve come, the process we’ve mapped out so far looks like this:

  1. Iniitation
  2. Discovery
  3. Analysis and Decision

In the Engagement and Implementation phase, the process takes us through the execution of the plans developed in Analysis. The reason to separate this from the last step, especially in defining scope, schedule and budget, is to set expectations within the responsibility matrix. (You’ve set this up for your project, right?) The execution post-analysis may actually be the full responsibility of the project sponsor on the client’s team. Or in very sophisticated project settings, the consultant may remain deeply involved. Regardless of the level, it is important for the implementation to be a smooth – but very deliberate – transition from the Analysis phase.

The biggest risk of scope creep presents itself in this phase, so getting this right before it’s begun is critical to project hand-off and – more importantly – client satisfaction.

The Five Phases of Consulting: Analysis and Decision (3 of 5)

So far, our fearless consultant has gone through the process of Initiation and begun the patient, deliberate task of Discovery. The third phase of the consulting process moves into what is traditionally considered “planning.” Analysis is lumped in with Decision at the end, because the goal of this step is to manage and deal with risk. Risk may present itself in the form of financial loss, degradation of the organization’s culture, or missed business opportunities. In the initiation and discovery, there was a foundation building process. In the Analysis phase, the walls start to go up.

It may be helpful to include the client in the Analysis process, but it is usually a function of observe, interview and collect. If the consulting need is of any importance at all, there is going to be a significant amount of data to collect. The value that the consultant adds to the process here is mitigating opportunity cost. By focusing on all of the data, there is little value gained and few decisions possible. But by choosing to ignore less valuable data for the sake of high-value data, the process begins to take shape towards a real actionable goal.

It is in this Decision step that the consultant shapes the appearance, limits and impact of the final product. The deliverables are decided on, and the client is at the table for the conversation to help decide, “What is the goal of the project?” If there is no goal, and the tasks assigned to the consultant are just tasks that are not getting done for business right now… then there is no consulting going on. The consultant has become a line manager or augmented staff. But by observing and orienting towards the problem hand and collecting the right data, the consultant can help make the decision regarding what the project is going to accomplish.

The Five Phases of Consulting: Discovery (2 of 5)

Yesterday we described the foundational process of Initiation. Today we take a look at the forensics of how a consultant uncovers the requirements and methodology for approaching a client’s problem. This is a somewhat more subtle task than the straightforward Initiation. It’s an easy mistake for the consultant to overrun the Discovery and attempt to begin solving the problem immediately. Though sometimes the problem seems so apparent and the process so straightforward, it is a temptation to begin without the dialogue involved in the Discovery step.

The Discovery is really what sets the consultant apart from the line manager, outsourced contractor or temp worker. If outsourcing or staff augmentation is the task at hand, that is a great way to initiate a relationship in a trial run. But that is merely surrogate management – not true consulting. Discovery is where the consultant begins adding value, and there are a few simple ways that the success of Discovery can be measured. In the course of the process, the consultant should demonstrate the skill to be able to answer some thoughtful, planning questions.

  • Who will be involved on the project team?
  • Who is the consultant’s project manager? Who is the clients? Who will be each of their project champions or sponsors?
  • Which methods will be used for analysis and decision to measure the success of the process?
  • What is the knowledge management process to gather data, process information and synthesize information?
  • What are the triple constraints? (i.e. Scope, Schedule, and Budget)
  • Will the process be executed by the consultant or by the client through a scripted process?

In reality, this is the work before the work. It is an uncovering, dialoguing and documenting phase that cannot be overlooked. The hazards of stepping right into Analysis without conducting proper Discovery is lack of buy-in, unchecked scope creep and will ultimately risk the peril of mistrust between client and consultant. In Initiation, the conversation is across the table. The client and consultant are looking eye to eye establishing ground rules and expectations. In Discovery, the conversation moves (figuratively) around the table, dialoguing and discussing to consensus and looking in the same direction.

The Five Phases of Consulting: Initiation (1 of 5)

When a consultant approaches a qualified prospect for gaining approval for the work to be done, initiation is an often overlooked or minimized step in the process. I suspect that the reason lies in the fact that independent consultants do not always make the best salesmen (in the noblest sense of the term), and vice versa. As Zig Ziglar so aptly put it, there are really only ever five reasons, real or perceived, that a sale can go awry. The five basic obstacles are: no need, no money, no hurry, no desire, and no trust. From the very first exploratory meeting through every phase of discovery, the consultant should strategically qualify or disqualify each of these five obstacles.

In a traditional retail or B2B sales-based role, the obstacles may effectively be tactically removed. That is, a customer may create the illusion of one obstacle in order to camouflage another, and the salesman is required to detect this misdirection. For example, a customer may lead the conversation towards a meager budget obstacle, when a lack of trust is the real issue. These kinds of conversations still may take place in the consultative process, however the difference between a sales approach and a consultation is that one has a customer and the other has a client, respectively.

What is the difference between a customer and a client? The customer is always right.

A tactical conversation eliminates the obstacle for the success of the sale. A strategic conversation eliminates the obstacle for the success of the relationship. A successful consultant deals strategically with clients, and the process towards successful change needs to be one of compromise. Sometimes it involves the consultant discovering that they are not actually the right one to work on the project that the client thinks they need. The level of maturity needed to have an initiation meeting lead to that conclusion is probably the single largest test of the quality of a consultant and the biggest distinguishing trait from a salesman. A successful initiation will lead to three fundamental points of agreement.

  1. What the client’s expectations are
  2. What the consultant’s dependencies and constraints are
  3. What is required to kick off the project

The initiation is the foundation on which the whole project and larger relationship will be based. With a poor initiation phase, there is little chance of succeeding through Discovery, Analysis, Implementation and ERT (Extension, Recycling, or Termination).

Can we please stop calling Post-Trauma Stress a disorder? (OPINION)

I recently heard a hero of mine speak. His name is Chris Johnson, and he works for a local agency doing the Lord’s work called CDS Monarch’s Warrior Salute. He introduced a renewed effort of the organization and also kicked off the campaign driving toward a first-of-kind Serve. Honor. Support. Symposium, which – if you live anywhere close to Rochester – I suggest you attend. But in the course of his speech, Chris said something profound. I don’t know if he is the first to say it. I don’t even know if the reasoning is clinically sound. But it certainly struck me as a new concept. Simple, but striking in its clarity.

Chris said, and I paraphrase, that we should stop categorizing the post-combat human brain processes as a disorder. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) has become arguably the most talked about, studied and treated effect of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. What the human mind does to repair, reframe and sort through everything it has had to deal with while in a combat setting is not a disorder. In fact, it is the brain attempting to make order of the chaos through which it just passed, and in many cases there is not enough mental, emotional or spiritual bandwidth available to one person to get through it alone. As human beings, we are not designed to function alone.

There are certainly many ugly sides to this re-ordering process. Morally upstanding soldiers come back and begin drinking beyond their capacity. Formerly tender husbands come back and alienate or abuse their spouses. Drugs. Depression… Suicide. Post Trauma Stress is an incredibly powerful force, and regardless of a servicemember’s rank or job speciality, no one comes back from war unchanged. However, observing the mess of the the aftermath and calling it a “disorder” does our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines a disservice.

So let’s focus on our local providers who help these heroes, be they non-profit, federal, state or local. Let’s recognize that there is real help that is needed to sort through the chaos. But the function of the brain, and really all of life, is an exercise in preparing for and responding to stressors. Some are good. Some not so good. But Post-Trauma Stress is just stress. By realizing that we can address it as such, we can see through the intensity of the depression or the volatility of mood, not as disorder, but as a fundamental re-ordering which we have the tools, clinical history and means to help heal.

If you’ve been touched by Post-Trauma Stress, or know someone who has, maybe you would be inclined to volunteer to help. Two agencies in the Rochester, NY area that are doing just this (and can use your time and talent) are:

CDS Monarch Warrior Salute

Veterans Outreach Center