Human Engineering Skills

“15% of one’s financial success in life is due to your technical knowledge and about 85% is due to your skill in human engineering.”

– Dale Carnegie

I love when smart people say what I’ve been thinking in a much more eloquent way than I ever could (I guess it’s a long time until I get some quotes of my own…). I’ve been at a training all week to get certified in one of my favorite approaches to life – Crucial Conversations – and our trainer led with this quote on day one.

I’ve always believed that for most jobs (at least the jobs I come across in my world), there are many technically qualified people. It’s not hard to find people who have the technical skills to do what you need done – marketers, trainers, writers, accountants, volunteer managers, sales people. It’s much harder to find people who have the personality and people skills to blend with your team. But “human engineering” sounds WAY cooler than people skills, so that’s what I’m going to go with from here on out.

Hiring for human engineering skills and then training for technical knowledge isn’t a new concept. Nor is the importance of said people skills. I do think, however, that we often lose sight of its importance because it’s an intangible and we don’t know how to ask for it in a job description or posting. Describing it as the “X Factor” isn’t helpful, nor is the “It Quality.” Yet, we somehow know those people when we see them. Carnegie seems to almost quantify it and make it sound quasi-scientific with the term human engineering – like it’s an actual valuable skill rather than some touchy-feely business you can’t quite put your finger on.

Crucial Conversations builds on this idea. Through these concepts, we can identify successful human engineering skills that result in better handling of difficult discussions. And I would certainly make the argument that knowing how to handle difficult situations is what separates the good human engineers from the great ones (and increase their own financial success – thanks, Mr. Carnegie!). I’ve always admired people who can say almost anything to anyone, regardless of the situation, and walk away with everyone feeling better about where they ended up. I absolutely think those are skills are worth paying for – knowing how to get to the heart of the issue, speaking candidly and establishing mutual respect. They’re more rare than we think and it’s time for the market to recognize the necessity of those skills and pay up.

I’ll have more to say about Crucial Conversations in the future, but for now, check out the book and get yourself to a training if you can. Developing your human engineering skills is well worth the investment, and if Carnegie is right, that investment should come back to you in no time at all.

Book Reports

Why Not Me?

Over Thanksgiving break, I had the opportunity to do a lot of reading, and one of the books I read was Mindy Kaling’s Why Not Me? I love smart and funny women and tear through books like Bossypants and Yes, Please, as well as Kaling’s last book, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? These women tell wonderful stories and are funny as hell. But the thing that makes me adore them is that they work hard. They don’t expect things to be handed to them, and through their hard work, they develop incredible bonds with the people around them. That sounds pretty great to me – working hard with people you trust and enjoy. They also sneak in really smart observations in the middle of their witty story-telling. It’s like they’re tricking you into learning!

I was tricked into learning about confidence and entitlement in the last chapter of Kaling’s book. She revisits a question she got at a panel and didn’t feel like she addressed well at the time. A teen-aged woman asked Kaling about confidence and where she found hers. In retrospect, Kaling felt she gave a generic answer about her family and her parents believing in her. And while that was true, she expanded on her ideas about confidence and where it comes from.

Kaling is a hard worker and is proud of it. And because that hard work, she talks about feeling entitled. Not the kind of entitled we’ve come to associate with “kids these days who don’t know the value of hard work.” but the kind of entitlement that comes from being a good person and working your ass off. We are all entitled to basic decencies from the second we’re born, and sometimes that’s harder for women, and women of color, which Kaling also addresses. But past the basic decencies,  you have to earn your entitlements. Being entitled is a concept we’ve come to view as wrong, and I think Kaling’s approach is refreshing. Sometimes, it’s okay to feel entitled. And in her words, confidence comes when you “work hard, know your shit, show your shit and then feel entitle.”

And to me, that’s a beautiful concept.

Book Reports Libby

Lean In: Part II

So, I am even later to the party than Catherine…I just finished Lean In. I really didn’t want to read it – I have a thing about doing stuff that everyone’s doing (what’s the opposite of trend-setter?), so I really resisted. But Catherine lent it to me so I kind of felt obligated. 🙂

I don’t know if it was because I was all primed after attending my weekend leadership conference, but that book lives up to the hype. Well-written, poignant and inspiring, I plowed through it, recognizing all the mistakes I’ve made over the years. But I also was excited to have someone put (articulate and intelligent) words to thoughts I’ve had for such a long time. There were so many things that resonated with me, but one in particular was how she talked about the myth of having it all.

Earlier this weekend, I attended a night out with some moms and I caught myself saying, “I do nothing well.” How is that helpful? Who am I competing with? Why do I do that to myself? I have made choices in my life that now have me working both in and out of the home – my part-time status allows me to bring home a few pieces of bacon, fry them up in a small pan and pay lots of attention to my two men (the big one and the little one). It’s an ideal situation for our family, as well as a way for me to have intellectual challenges and adult conversations. No matter what, though, I know there is always someone doing some aspect of what I do way better. But what I realize is that they are also probably falling short in some aspect, at least in their own minds.

Sandberg reminds us to be kind to ourselves and each other; we should also be supportive of each other whenever possible. This is not a competition, ladies! We all do what we have to do. Think about how much further we’d get if we could all not only lean in, but also lean on each other…

– Libby Bingham

Book Reports

Modern Romance (and Our Old Friend, Choice!)

I just finished Aziz Ansari’s Modern Romance. As a devoted Parks and Recreation fan, it was on my must-read list and it definitely didn’t disappoint. He looks at our approaches to dating through the lens of modern technology, and while I’m not currently in the dating pool, I still recognized myself in lots of what he was talking about. Of course you would expect Ansari’s fantastic sense of humor to be prevalent throughout the book (and it certainly is), but I wasn’t prepared for all the research and science he uses to inform his thinking and back up his observations.

I wrote about choices last month and the difficulty I have with options. It turns out I’m not alone (not too shocking, I suppose). Ansari’s writes:

Barry Schwartz is a professor of psychology at Swarthmore College who has spent much of his career studying the annoying problems that come from have an abundance of options. Schwartz’s research, and a considerable amount of scholarship from other social scientists too, shows that when we have more options, we are actually less satisfied and sometimes even have a harder time making a choice at all.

Ansari then goes on to talk about the concepts of “maximizer” and “satisficer” which are the ways we deal with all these options (both of which were new to me, but apparently not the rest of the world…or so my husband tells me). A maximizer is someone who wants to seeks out the best of all the options available and a satisficer (a combination of satisfy and suffice) will be happy with something that’s good enough. And we can be both of these types of people, depending on the situation. Ansari points out the trouble we have today with all the different ways we can meet and select people thanks to technology, but these ways of dealing with all choices rang true to me in other areas of my life as well.

For instance, I love to try new restaurants, but usually when someone else is making the decision. I’m too overwhelmed by all the options and the important thing to me is the company, so I’m pretty willing to go someplace that’s good enough. But having said that, I am a karaoke maximizer. There is no “good enough” experience. You either play to win and bring the house down or you don’t go at all. I am constantly on the look out for the best karaoke song for the situation (and ballads are always a no-go. Sorry, Celine Dion. She’s great, but no one wants to hear that out at a karaoke bar. You’re welcome, world.)

There are only so many hours in the day and so much brain space we have to give, so we’ve got to decide where we want to maximize and where we want to satisfice. I’m glad I chose to spend my time on Modern Romance. In addition to my new vocabulary word, I definitely laughed out loud at some of the text message exchanges Ansari found in his focus groups and stand up acts. Those alone are make the book worth the time.

Book Reports

Lean In

I’ve gotten sloppy again in my reading. I’ve been spending this summer focusing on working out, taking care of myself and keeping more connected with those people who inspire me and feed my soul. And while I certainly don’t regret any of those choices, it does mean I’ve spent less time reading. But like so many patterns in my life, travel means reading and a recent trip back home to Minnesota was no exception. I had a chance to catch up on some books I’ve been excited about (and purchasing a few more to add to my ever-growing pile. I better get on that!).

As I mentioned in a previous post, one of those books was Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In. I know I’m a little late to the party (I usually am when it comes to books – and new technologies if we’re being honest), but I had also put this one off for a bit after reading about the passing of Sandberg’s husband, Dave Goldberg. I knew one of the chapters of her book outlined the importance of having an equal partner, and the cruelty of her partner being taken away from her in such an unexpected way after preparing for a lifetime together seemed like it might be more than I could handle. It’s always hard to hear about the passing of another’s loved one, but his passing in what seemed to be the prime of their lives together seems incredibly unfair (I know, I know…life is never fair. But sometimes it seems exceptionally unfair.).

That said, I’m glad I decided to read the book anyway. Obviously I don’t know her at all, but after reading her book, I’m interested in learning more about her. I want to listen to her TEDTalks and read more interviews with her. The titles of her chapters reflect the sort of advice I’ve found helpful in my life and can always use more of. What’s interesting about Sandberg is that she weaves together her own experiences with countless studies and mountains of research. Early on in her writing, she admits to being most comfortable with science and less comfortable sharing her own experiences, but I think we can all relate to that. Science is facts, and you can’t argue with facts, while our opinions and our experience leave us vulnerable to others’ judgments. And while the facts certainly help strengthen her case, it’s Sandberg’s willingness to share of herself through her stories that makes this book so readable. She comes across as the smart, funny and honest big sister, cousin or friend we’d all like to have in our corner. And we know we’d be fiercely loyal to her in return. Her words are simple, though powerful reminders of what we need to do for ourselves and others to lift us all up. We need to sit at the table, seek and speak our truth, and most importantly, talk about it.

I’m already making a mental list of the people to whom I need to recommend or buy this book for – assuming they’re a little behind the times like I am. That to me is always the most powerful indicator of a good story – one I can’t wait to share with others. And assuming you’re more on top of it than I am, I’d love to hear your take on her story as well!

Book Reports Libby

The Year of Magical Thinking

Last week I received a call from a friend, the mother of my son’s friend. Her son, who had just turned seven years old, died. He got sick, was hospitalized and while in the care of doctors, had a brain hemorrhage and died.

On so many levels, for so many reasons, I am heartbroken.

I am doing my best to navigate the murky waters of being a friend and, at the same time, a reminder of what she and her husband have lost. I am trying not to be sad all the time. I’m talking to people in order to process it while trying hard not to make this about me.

A friend of mine – who lost her mother to a long bout with brain cancer – recommended to me that I read Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking, a book looked upon as a classic take on mourning.

The book was hard to read; Didion lays all her emotions bare. And while it does not specifically address the death of a child, many of the things she goes through are universal. One thing stuck out to me: it was just an ordinary day.

That phrase is terrifying – there is no advance notice of death. Even if someone is sick for a long time, the actual passing is still difficult; without time to process, it’s devastating. You cannot prepare.

It can also be a comforting phrase – this means that every day is a special day when you spend it with people you care about. It’s an opportunity to make a memory, build a relationship, or share an experience. And in mourning, the most ordinary of things are the things you remember – and miss – the most.

I will continue to be sad, but I will also stop lamenting that every day is not a rainbow of fun, sunshine and candy. I will embrace the ordinariness of the everyday, because I have commonplace, I have mundane, I have one more day.

– Libby Bingham

Book Reports

Summer Reading Lists

For many of us, the summer reading list goes back to the days of elementary school. Whether the books were assigned by next year’s teacher, your library had a program or you were motivated by personal pan pizzas (thanks, BOOK IT!), summer is synonymous with getting lost in a good book. As an adult, summer vacations aren’t necessarily the two or three months they used to be, but beaches and planes also present some good reading opportunities.

The Washington Post recently published “A summer reading list that will help you professionally,” which got me feeling guilty about my own pile of books waiting to be read. I’m currently about halfway through Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers on the Decision Not to Have Kids, a collection of essays pulled together by Meghan Daum. It’s an incredibly thoughtful look at the decisions we make around children – not just about not having them, but also about why people choose to have kids. It’s a deeply personal conversation and I think it’s impossible to explore one side of the coin without looking at the other. I’m enjoying the different perspectives and the conversations it brings up among my friends.

My other books waiting patiently to be read this summer…

What’s on your summer reading list this year?

Book Reports Libby

Dead Wake

I was at my cousin’s wedding and my uncle was discussing the new Erik Larson book about the sinking of the Lusitania in 1915. As a fan of Larson (Devil in the White City, In the Garden of Beasts), I was excited to read his latest book, Dead Wake. I read it in just a few days – as per his style, the true tale gripped me from the get-go. Larson tells his stories from the perspective of those who lived them. By researching passenger biographies, ship manifests and captains’ logs, Larson paints a picture of all the people involved in this tragedy, from the youngest of the ship’s passengers to President Woodrow Wilson. Admittedly, I did not really know the story of the Lusitania – only that it was sunk by a German U-boat and that its sinking is what brought the U.S. into the First World War.

But the story is so much more than that – a story of technology, of communication (or lack thereof), of luck and of hope. Mostly, though, it is a story about decision-making: the many opportunities for things to have gone another way, if only a different decision had been made. What if those passengers had taken another ship on another day? What if the British intelligence agency had shared information more readily? What if the U-Boat captain had gone in a different direction? What if the ship had been using all its power instead of conserving? It’s a tragic story, but also fascinating when you consider how many decisions each of us makes on a daily basis – which of those, even the most mundane, have saved us from unbridled success and which from personal tragedy? It is enough to paralyze one into inaction, or propel one into reckless behavior. How you weigh information and what you do with it is the most important part of writing your own story. What’s your next chapter?

– Libby Bingham

Book Reports

Thanks for the Feedback

I’ve been a little behind on my reading, though not on my collecting of books to read (yes, I still read actual paper books – not sure if I’ll ever be able to give them up). The pile seems to be growing bigger and bigger, thanks to recommendations, interesting articles and finding new favorite authors. Based on a great recommendation, I’m currently reading Thanks for the Feedback, by Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen. I’m about a third of the way through, so I’m sure there will be more gems to come, but the very premise of the book is one of the more fascinating ideas. Often with feedback, the focus is on the person giving the feedback, but Stone and Heen suggest that we’ve been approaching this wrong – the focus needs to be on the receiver of the feedback. In fact, the subtitle of their book suggests it from the start: “The science and art of receiving feedback well, even when it is off base, unfair, poorly delivered, and, frankly, you’re not in the mood.”

I love this for a couple reasons. Sure, we could all be better at giving feedback. We can improve on our word choice, have better timing and think more about where the other person may be coming from. And we should do those things. Focusing on the receiver of feedback doesn’t let us off the hook for giving feedback in positive and constructive ways. However, what resonates most with me about this approach is the fact that how I receive the feedback is something I have a say in. I can’t control much about how feedback is given to me – it comes when it comes and how it comes. But how I react to it, interpret it and absorb it is entirely up to me. And I do see how I can be better at that. What a powerful perspective. No longer am I totally at the mercy of the person offering me the feedback – I now have a say in how the conversation goes and what I choose to do with the feedback. And I’m getting tools to do it more effectively.

The book goes on to talk about what triggers us into shutting out feedback or not really hearing what’s being said, and I can’t wait to read the rest and learn more about the strategies and suggestions offered. In the meantime, I’ll be on the lookout for feedback and ready to welcome it, hopefully feeling more prepared to sift through it and embrace what resonates with me.

How to be Awesome Libby

Life Was Tough

This weekend I went camping with my family. We usually do a car camping kind of thing (drive up in the car, pitch the tent, open up the bundle of wood we bought at the camp store, go a few steps to a pump for water, fire up the camp stove to make mac ‘n cheese, sit and sip cocktails in the nice firelight)…fun! Not this weekend. This weekend we had to hike half a mile – in the rain and mud with all our stuff – to stay in a cabin with no running water, an outhouse halfway up the hill, collecting and processing our own wood…a different kind of fun, to be sure, but easy it is not.

It’s amazing what we take for granted. I’m not saying our problems are not important and that we should all shut-up and stop complaining, but it is very interesting to compare the trials of having to wait in line for self-checkout with having to hike .25 miles to the spring every time you need water. It kind of helps put things into perspective.

This is something my husband and I have done on several occasions on our own, and we’ve taken our son a few times as a carry-in-a-pack age baby, but this is the first time he’s come as a real kid. We were interested to see how the unplugged experience would resonate with our digital native boy. There were some negotiations regarding the bringing of his laptop (I won with the logic that he’d have to carry it himself), but ultimately, we were all device free. During the day, we did “chores,” hiked around, looked for crayfish, ran screaming through the woods (one of us); at night, we read books, told jokes, played UNO, checkers and Yahtzee at night. It was exhausting, but delightful.

The book Joey and I are reading together is Farmer Boy, the second in the Little House series. It is an historical fictional account of a nine-year old boy who lives on a farm in upstate NY in the 1860s – the story focuses on all the chores (morning and night), work on the farm (animals and plants), daily routines of bathing, cooking and going to school (when he doesn’t have farm work to do, of course). Joey and I are both exhausted by the end of every chapter! It has led to a new appreciation on his end for zippers, Gore-Tex, toilets and the refrigerator. He even has changed his morning refrain to “I can’t wait to go to school today!”

These reminders – both in theory and practice – have served to reframe some of my thoughts on my own daily routine (laundry, dishes, dinner…) and as a result, I have found peace in the daily minutiae. A shout-out to the men and women of the past, who worked so hard to feed, clothe and care for their families – all their hard work, struggles and lack of “downtime” have made it possible for me to look at their daily chores as recreational activity, for me to read to my son at night, and then blog about it.

– Libby Bingham