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Mom Always Said ‘Take a Coat’

March 28, 2013

“So what are you guys doing for scouts tonight?”

“We’re going snowshoeing up American Fork Canyon.”

“Really?”

“Yeah. Unless there’s not enough snow and then we’ll hike the G. Let’s go. We need to meet at 7:00″

My son was dressed in typical 12-year old uniform; t-shirt, jeans and tennis shoes.

“Don’t you think you should take a coat?”

“Nah. It’s pretty warm outside.”

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This is the view from our front porch this morning. (Yeah, I know, I think that every morning.) The weather has been in the 60’s as spring has sprung.

“Don’t you think it will be colder up the canyon, and when the sun goes down?”

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“I think you should take a coat, gloves and a hat.”

“What if it’s too warm?”

“You can always choose to not wear them if it’s too warm. Kind of hard to get them if you don’t bring them and it’s too cold.”

I want to talk about two lessons from this experience.

The first lesson here is one that every parent has had to deal with: “How do you teach your children to be prepared?” As people managers we are often in the role of “experienced.” I’ve rarely been able to tell my developers or engineers about how to write code or configure a piece of hardware. We have senior developers and architects to provide that level of training. What I have been expected to provide is information about “Organizational Agility.” In other words, how to get things done in a large organization.

Sometimes, it’s as simple as saying “We’re going in to brief management on our rollout schedule. They are going to want to know what things might delay the schedule.” I’ve found that engineers don’t think in worst case scenario. In fact, part of the reason I enjoy working with engineers is they are invariably optimists. They are always confident in their ability to bring the project in on the best case schedule. (Part of the reason you don’t want your engineer briefing senior management by themselves.)

In one role, I was responsible for all changes to our data center during the monthly maintenance window. My role involved pushing the engineers to think about what other systems might be impacted? What was our rollback plan? How long would it take to rollback? I never actually told an engineer to take their coat, gloves and a hat, but I was thinking it.

My son eventually decided he’d take a light jacket, knit gloves and skipped the hat. I would have taken a winter coat, ski gloves and a stocking cap.

And here’s where the management training needs to kick in. Sometimes your engineers will not prepare as much as you would. If they are not in danger of dying. . .let them. They will learn more by being slightly unprepared than they will if they always do it exactly the way the manager wants.

In my son’s case, he was glad he took the jacket and the gloves, and was plenty warm enough.

The second point has to do with individual preparedness. As an Eagle Scout, I practiced the Boy Scout motto, “Be Prepared.” In business there have been cases where I forgot that early lesson.

I worked for a large non-profit in the IT department. I assumed that I was going to stay in this role for the rest of my career. I worked very hard to be successful. . .inside the company. I passed up opportunities to get outside training or industry certifications. Those certs didn’t really do much for me inside the company, and I didn’t want to take time away from the office, away from home, and sleep in a hotel for a week to attend a cert training that I didn’t need.

Well, even non-profits do layoffs. I found myself on the job market without my coat, gloves and hat.

Five miles up American Fork Canyon it looks like this.

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At that point it would be a little late to go looking for your coat, gloves and hat.

That was the position I found myself in. I shivered for awhile as I worked on getting my skills and certifications back up to where my peers were at. Had I achieved them while I was working, I could have done just what I told my son, “Just set them to one side if you don’t need them at the moment.”

So, mom was right. When you go out take your coat, gloves and hat.

Here are a couple of other pictures of American Fork Canyon that I took this morning. These are the Rocky Mountains, this specific group is called the Wasatch Range.

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