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One Simple Act of Generosity

Be A Link In the Chain

I want to share a powerful story with you that had great impact on me recently. It really got me thinking about this season, the season of giving, and how it can bring together people of all kinds, regardless of their backgrounds or economic status.

When I ordered coffee at my local drive-thru recently, a stranger in the car ahead of me generously paid for my coffee drink.

I was so touched that on the spur of the moment, I did the same for the person in line behind me. When I drove up to the cashier, the barrista leaned out the window and told me that I was the 40th person in-a-row to pay it forward!

Of course, “pay it forward” is the idea of repaying a good deed by doing good for others instead of for the original person. It’s a simple enough concept, but it’s so seldom seen these days.

Hundreds Changing Hands.

In this case, that same couple bucks was turned to do the good work of more than a hundred dollars. The small gesture made a difference for at least 40 people. Who knows how far the chain extended that day? After all, there’s no telling what happened after I drove away from the coffee stand.

Though drive-thru coffee may not be your cup of tea, you can still use this idea to make life a little better for someone else. Simply extend a bit of kindness with no strings on it. For centuries, people have been doing just that for friends and strangers alike.

Where Do Kind Acts Come From?

A lot of people mistakenly think this idea started with the Hollywood film Pay It Forward from the year 2000. The movie was immensely popular, about a young boy and his big idea to change the world through simple acts of kindness. The movie topped out at #4 at the box office and netted $55 million worldwide at the box office, but it went on to make big ripples around the globe.

To trace the movie’s plot to its source, you’ll find that the screenplay was adapted from a novel by Catherine Ryan Hyde. But the concept didn’t start with her. You’d have to go farther up the chain than that to find the idea’s origins.

Back in 1980, “pay it forward” showed up in a special edition Marvel comic that teamed Spider-Man and The Incredible Hulk. The story traced the path of a $5 bill from a loan by a retiree to someone down on his luck, following the five-spot’s round-about route, returning to the elderly man by way of the two superheroes.

But “pay it forward” didn’t start with Marvel Comics either. An author named Lily Hardy Hammond wrote about the idea in her book In the Garden of Delight, published in 1916. She said, “You don’t pay love back; you pay it forward.” Even a hundred years ago, the idea wasn’t new.

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote an essay in 1841 called “Compensation.” He said, “The benefit we receive must be rendered again, line for line, deed for deed, cent for cent, to somebody.”

Still, this isn’t the beginning of the chain. Ben Franklin proposed the “pay it forward” idea in a letter in April 1784. He told a friend, “When you meet with another honest Man in similar Distress, you must pay me by lending this Sum to him; enjoining him to discharge the Debt by a like operation… I hope it may thus go thro’ many hands, before it meets with a Knave that will stop its Progress.”

Would you be the Knave? Perish the thought.

From Stage to Cinema in 2000 Years

You might think that someone as smart and influential as Benjamin Franklin originated the “pay it forward” idea. It sure sounds like him. In reality, the idea predates modern civilization, making its first appearance (that we know of) in Ancient Greece.

The concept was the key to the plot of a classic Greek comedy, dating back to 317 BC. The play was called The Grouch (okay, it was called Dyskolos), written by someone named Menander. The script was lost for centuries and rediscovered in 1957.

I’m sure in the future some Broadway director will turn the ancient play into a big budget action film, spawning a line of polyethylene superhero figures, a comic book, and maybe a series of theme park rides. For the time being, it’s just a nice story about a grouch whose life is touched by an act of kindness.

Now, it seems to me I’ve seen something like this before. Didn’t I? Ah yes, I think it was my hometown stage production of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Maybe this year I’ll buy a couple extra tickets and give them to those two young adults in line behind me… and ask them why they keep calling me “Auntie”.

Productivity Tips You Need To Know

by Pamela A. Scott

I just got back from three days of workshops led by people who are very successful in their fields.  Here are some words of wisdom that may help you and me reach their level of success.

1. Use a spreadsheet to capture ideas of the moment while you are working on other projects.  This is how it works for Jeanette Cates.  She cuts down on distractions by having a spreadsheet file on her desktop. When she is working on a project and gets a thought about a different project, she flips over to the spreadsheet file and notes the idea.  At the end of the day, she reviews the ideas she captured and plugs them into her schedule.

2. Use spreadsheets to keep your lists on.  One page is your daily to-do lists, another page is your daily tasks, another can be improvements you need to make to the filing system, and another sheet is reserved for expenses.

3. If you do an activity three or more times, automate it. Create a template for that type of report to speed you up the next time you prepare one.  Or go to sites such as rentacoder.com or scriptlance.com and find a software geek who can create a simple program for you to automate the task. Learn More »

Fire, Ready, Aim

by Pamela A. Scott

I was talking with one client this week about the climate in his office. The economic slowdown is having some impact, he said, but they’re still doing business and keeping people billable.

Fire, Ready, Aim“There’s some tension, for sure,” Fred said. “You listen to all the dire media reports and news of layoffs at other firms–people are wary. On top of all that, it doesn’t help when my office manager, Susan, screams at staff when anything goes wrong.”

Say more, I asked.

“Susan’s interpersonal skills are definitely lacking,” Fred said. “She sees things only from the financial side. If a project goes over budget, she lights into the project manager (PM). She really adds to the tension around here.”

Looking at the situation in a little more detail, we realize Susan doesn’t have the same perspective as the PM. She comes from a financial background. She looks at things in black and white—we made money, we lost money.

When they go over-budget on a job, Susan screams at the PM. He or she is the one responsible. And Susan is the one who has to report the bad financial news to the owner. She doesn’t like being in that position, either.

Of course, the PM knows it isn’t that simple. The PM realizes his success depends on the relationship with the client. Sometimes he’ll do something extra to please the client and realize it will hurt the project budget.

At other times, the PM may not have budgeted enough time for tasks in the project.

Regardless of the situation, Susan screams at the PM (which others hear) and huffs back to her office. No communication takes place.

As Fred and I talked, we decided Susan needs some coaching. Her behavior is unprofessional and disruptive. Fred can’t let her continue to get away with it.

Here is the plan for Fred coaching Susan. Learn More »

What’s Wrong With These People?

by Pamela A. Scott

I heard it again today: “What’s wrong with these young people? They want to be project managers right out of college!”

What is Your Career Path?Let’s assume there is really nothing “wrong” with the young people. They have high expectations, and many want the big job right away. That expectation is unrealistic.

It is particularly galling to Baby Boomers who had to work their way up the ladder.

The most important thing you can do to set realistic expectations for new grads is to develop career paths in your organization. You know what they are in your head. Now it’s time to formalize them in writing.

What are the career paths in your business? Typically, you might have the following tracks: technical (never leave the cubicle), project manager, management, business development, and expert.

Along each of those tracks, you have the stages of development or professional levels. In some industries (and apparently in some online games), the levels are apprentice, novice, journeyman, expert, and master. Regardless of what you call them, each level should have criteria that must be met to reach that level. Learn More »

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