If a large branch falls in the woods and there is no one around to hear it, does it make a sound?  If I empty the dishwasher and there is no one in the house to recognize my significant contribution to the stability of the home, does it count?  Yes, my contributions count and the branch does make a sound.  The significance is in the events and not whether or not there was an audience.

If you as a worker in the animal care industry find that you are making significant contributions but are unsure if anyone hears or cares, I’d like you to know that we do care and we want to hear.

We want to hear your story, what brought you to such a noble profession, what made you stay when things around you made you feel less than secure, and what made you decide to be world famous at what you do.

Through the trainings that we offer we have the fortunate opportunity to hear people’s stories.  And I must admit they are humbling and amazing and funny and we want to hear more.  Just recently I spoke with a woman who was a chauffeur prior to coming into our industry. Another gentleman was a chef looking for something different. There’s also the story of the son who got into the industry because it was part of the family legacy.  I believe people want to share their stories because it makes them more real. I believe we need to hear each other’s stories because it makes us more real and in doing so we care a little more.

I recently met with a lab animal group that had come under some significant pressure from animal rights extremists.  Just asking them why they stayed at their job blew me away.   Here are some of their replies: “Because I didn’t want to stop caring for the animals” … “the people protesting what I do still deserve the benefits of our research” and … “the people that I work with care about me and we need each other”.  What great testimonies of commitment to purpose.

These are the stories we need to hear. These are stories that make us real to each other and spur us on to continue pursuits of excellence and dedication for the noble thing we do.

There will be branches in the woods that fall and no one hears, and there will be times you make significant contributions to the world around you with no audience.  May this be of one of many forms of encouragement to keep doing what you do, keep creating chapters to your story. It still matters!  And some day maybe you will have the chance to share your story with others.

I remember as a child my mom would always tell me to stop always asking “why” and just do what I was told.  I believe she was on to something that most parents understand.   There are times when you just need to do what you are told and trust, especially as a 5 year old child.  On a visit with my God Son who at the time was 4 we had the most riveting conversation all based on the word “why”.  Never in my life had I been asked so many “why” questions, “why doesn’t Spiderman run out of webs, why does Kryptonite make Superman lose his powers, why don’t you live in Atlanta …… why is the sky blue?

I believe as we get older there is a transition point where the ban on asking why is lifted and we slowly emerge into a world where it’s okay to ask why.  This can be a scary and challenging place for some.  Asking why has the potential to challenge assumptions and reveal answers that may be difficult at times to answer and embrace.

There are problem solving techniques that require asking why to uncover the root cause of a problem.  There are times when we ask why out of frustration because we have no other recourse of action.  There are times when we ask why to get better understanding and clarity of purpose.  All are legitimate reasons to ask why.

Have you ever been given a task and wanted desperately to ask a why question?  “Why me, why this way or why now” Or have there been times when these why questions have been asked of you?  There is a time and place to ask why.  Maybe not in the middle of a crisis requiring immediate action but certainly there should be space for why questions in the course of our day.  Consider this:  If you want clarification or deeper understanding, you may have to ask”why”.  If someone asks why of you, it’s often because they want clarification and deeper understanding.  As shocking as it may be, sometimes our communication is not always as eloquent and thorough as we would hope.

As a progressive leader encourage those around you to ask the “why” questions and embrace the questions when asked of you.  The more clarity and purpose you can provide to your staff the better chance of their success, your success and the success of the organization.  Should you not currently be in a position of leadership, let this be your permission to ask those why questions, your supervisor isn’t my “mom”;) it’s okay to ask.

One of the great things about doing something over and over is that the more you do it the less you have to think about doing it.  It becomes automatic, almost natural.  A habit is defined as an acquired pattern of behavior that often occurs automatically.  We sometimes form habits without any intention, yet there are other times when we develop habits out of intention and necessity.

It’s just as easy to form a bad habit as it is to form a good habit.  It is often said that doing something at least 21 times solidifies a habit.  Whether that is true in every case is up for debate.  The reality, however, is that the more you do something, the more likely you will repeat it.  If you’re going to be consistent at something makes sure it’s something that is going to move you into your desired direction.

As we move into another year and think about how we want to make adjustments and improvements in our lives either at home or at work, creating good habits to sustain improvements is essential.

Here are a few tips that may help you if you are looking to create good habits in the New Year.

  1. Write it down – What do you want to achieve?  Write it, post it, type it and keep it in front of you.
  2. Consciously execute – You may choose to do it daily or every other day.  Whatever the case, don’t miss opportunities to put into practice the new habit.
  3.  Keep it simple – If you’re not a runner don’t expect to run a marathon after a month of practice.  Start small and work your way up.
  4. Be consistent – When you practice your habit do it the same way all the time (and make sure you do it correctly all the time.)
  5. Have an accountability partner – They may not practice the habit with you but will encourage you when you succeed or if you slip up a bit.
  6. Bonus Tip- Don’t beat yourself up if you slip.  If you get off the wagon, dust yourself off and get back on.

Look to create good habits this year.  And take some time to see if those around you could use a partner to help them develop good habits, too.

“Time flies”!  Whether you’re having fun or not, time really doesn’t wait for any of us.  In looking back on a year that seems to have flown by there are so many things that I have reflected on.  The most significant is that over this past year, we at ACTS have been able to connect with so many people all over the world in ways that I never imagined possible.

As you read this article just before the holidays I want to say thank you to all the good people that we have had the chance to connect with over the past year.  Thank you for the opportunity to share our passion and expertise with you.  Thank you for sharing your passion and expertise with us. Thank you for reaching out to us, thank you for stopping by our booth, for visiting our website and for joining us on Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter.

We do what we do for people like you in our industry.  One of our mantras at ACTS is “Trained people perform better”.  It’s a pretty simple statement but it keeps in front of us the idea that people, above all, matter the most. It’s our desire to provide the best training we can, to not only ensure the highest quality of animal care but also to empower people to do be their absolute best.

Sometime it is very easy to look into the future and think about all the things that are to come, which is a good thing, but we want to stop and reflect for a moment and take the time to Thank You for helping make this year memorable.

It’s my hope that you will be able to take a moment during this crazy and exhilarating time to reflect back on your 2011 and take the opportunity to thank those people who have helped make a positive impact in your life and career this year.

So from all of us at ACTS we want to wish you a wonderful holiday season and a prosperous and empowered 2012!

Keep it Simple

There is profound beauty in the simple.  A lone flower bursting through an early spring snowfall, a group of geese flying south for the winter or a single rose on an otherwise ordinary bush.  The power of simplicity should never be lost in anything that is to be done.  Some of the most lasting and powerful messages are conveyed through simple means.

When designing presentation for any size audience the ability to communicate a powerful message simply, is a skill we should all strive for.  I have been guilty of trying to make my presentation “intellectual or slick” in an attempt to impress those that have opportunity to hear me speak.  However, what I have learned time and time again, my attempts at anything other than simple often come up short.  Sure I may have used big words and impressive charts and graphs, and even threw in a few timely and sometimes humorous videos to impressed my audience, but and the end of the presentation I still see that many in the audience have not taken away any information of significance.

What I have found is that for me to be at my best and to convey powerful messages during a presentation, I have to keep it simple.  What are the 3-5 points that I want my audience to take home?  To many points can make in difficult for me and the audience to stay focused.  What is the best imagine or case that I can use to convey each of those points.  Can I create a compelling story at the conclusion of my presentation that reinforces my points and leaves a lasting and powerful message with my audience?

If my goal is to be profound, to say words or convey ideas that will make the deepest impact in to my audience I must keep it relatable and I must make it memorable and I must keep it simple.

Have you ever sent an email to someone that is right across the hall from you when it would have been better to just walk to their office, down the hall? Have you ever received an email notifying you of a meeting cancelation just as you were preparing to go? Have you ever sent an email devoid of greeting or signature to convey a feeling? How about sending an email that you were supposed to forward but instead you hit the “reply all” button? Maybe you’ve sent an email to clarify a process or procedure. Email is truly magic and it’s hard to imagine life without it. Yet just a few years ago (well maybe more than a few years ago) we didn’t have email and for the most part we got along just fine. Email has made communication more accessible, timelier and more far reaching. An email can be sent from my office to colleagues around the world in the time it takes me to finish writing this sentence. There should be no doubt that email is a powerful tool that speeds the time of business, keeps us closer connected and is relatively easy to use. Quick communications, reminders, clarification and many other forms of communication are used quite successfully with email. As with any powerful tool, it should be used appropriately. I would even dare say we should probably be trained to use email to its greatest benefit. Imagine being like me and having a top of line food processor yet only use it to make pesto. Taking the time to learn all the many valuable uses of email will give us a better grasp of the tool to use it to its fullest benefit. Even the best of us can at times use email inappropriately. The list below includes a few selected gems on the effective use of emailing: • Don’t send an email when a face to face conversation would be better • Don’t send an email if you are too angry to craft it carefully • Don’t send an email without checking for spelling and grammar • There’s no shame in having an email proofread, sometimes 4 eyes are better than 2. • Don’t send an email to the wrong person, check your addresses. • Email in its simplistic form, is an extension of you, don’t try to be someone you’re not • Email can be a huge time trap, dedicate certain times of the day for reading and replying. Take the time to master the art of email; it can be one of the most powerful tools in your communication arsenal.

We often hear talk about the importance of effective communication as the cornerstone to communication.  It is true that all of our communications should be effective.  But to add more clarification to what effective is we must go one step further and consider understanding.  Communication on any level can be extremely complex and filled with so many nauseas that it is surprising we ever get it right.  Fortunately we do more often than not.  And it is here that understanding plays the greatest role in communication.

Many times even our most honest attempt at being an effective communicator meet some unanticipated road block, however because we have put the time into the development of the message we are trying to communicate, some amount of understanding is achieved.  To be effective in communication implies you have consider the message that needs to be sent,  considered and chosen the right method of communication, verbal or written, and aware of the receiver and know how to best connect with them.  This is good and should be practiced and considered in any form of communication.  Now we have to do it all with the intent of understanding.

Communicating for understanding implies that we know communication is a fluid activity and space needs to be created to allow for questions, clarification and in some cases redirection.  When we communicate for understanding we are satisfied with our efforts to convey a message when the receiver has acknowledged clarity and comprehension of the message.  In theory this process seems almost intuitive and quite elementary yet in practice it becomes a seven headed monster.  Communicating effectively and for understanding takes time.  Time that we may feel we don’t have.  How many times have we said something like, “I should have proof-read that note before sending it” or maybe “I could have approached them at a better time” or even “I shouldn’t have mentioned that”.

As we grow and learn we will constantly have to work on communication because it is ever changing and there will be times we don’t get it right.  In communicating for understanding we are reducing the number of times we get it wrong and increasing the times we get it right.

So what do you think? Have any comments or questions? Feel free to ask us any questions on TwitterLinkedIn, or just send us a quick email. Also, be sure to engage in the conversation on Facebook!

AuthorCaroline Thompson

Communication in its most basic form is intended to accomplish two functions.  The first is to convey information and the second is to get that information to its intended audience.

If my house is on fire and I don’t tell anyone then my house will continue to burn.  If my house is on fire and I run out side and proclaim to my neighbors that my house is in fire I may get the help I need.  If my house is on fire and I call the fire department in Manoa, Iowa (I live outside of Philly) they may not be able to provide the help I need.  If my house is on fire and I call my local fire department I have the greatest chance of getting help putting out the fire.

Now let’s look at this same scenario from a different perspective.  If my house is on fire and I call my local fire department and tell them about my lovely cat Roxi and her latest antics with the neighbor’s dog my house will continue to burn.  If my house is on fire and I call my local fire department and tell them there’s smoke coming out of my kitchen window I may get some help but they will probably need more information.  If my house is on fire and I call my local fire department and tell them that my oven caught on fire while making a roast and the kitchen wall is beginning to burn I will most likely get the immediate help I need.

Crafting the right message to the right person is critical in any form of communication no matter the gravity of the communication.  Dissecting communication to very basic components and recognizing the importance of each of these components is essential in effective communication.

We will consider four basic components and what role they play in our communication.

The Messenger:  This is the person that is delivering the message.  The messenger may be the originator of the message or may be task with delivering a message created by another.  In cases where the messenger is aware of the message being delivered it is their responsibility that the receiver gets the message and understands the message

The Message: The information that needs to be conveyed.  This can be a routine communication regarding a work assignment or something weightier concerning work performance.  Regardless of the significance of the message it is important to craft the message in a way that can be best understood by the receiver. The content of the message should determine the mode in which the message is delivered

The Mode: How the information is conveyed is critical.  The mode is the mechanism by which the information travels.  There are specific mechanisms we use for communication but most fall under three basic categories; verbal, nonverbal and written.

Verbal communications would be any communication that happens face to face, over the phone or some other mechanism of communication including two-way radios or web conferencing.  Written communication would be letters, email or even instant messaging or text messaging.  Although we don’t often consider the gravity of nonverbal communication it is particularly important in face to face communication that our non verbal message is consistent with what our verbal message. Using the proper mode will greatly improve the probability that your message will be understood by the receiver.

The Receiver:  This is the end of the line, where the proverbial buck stops.  It is the receiver that needs to understand the message received.  The receiver whether a person or a group, will be the recipients of the message.  Consideration of the receiver is critical in every component of communication.  How the message is crafted, who delivers the message and the mode in which the message is conveyed should be influenced by the receiver.

Making communication works takes good effort.  Not considering these basic components of communication can lead to misunderstanding.  Although this is a basic look at communication, consideration of the messenger, message, mode and receiver when crafting any communication will put us on the path toward more effective communication.

So what do you think? Have any comments or questions? Feel free to ask us any questions on Twitter, LinkedIn, or just send us a quick email. Also, be sure to engage in the conversation on Facebook!

AuthorCaroline Thompson

We are constantly bombarded by the need to innovate in the workplace and in our lives. With significant changes facing the laboratory animal care industry, and the need to continually provide the highest quality of animal care and research excellence, we must learn to innovate; the pace of business demands it. Like any art form, innovation requires disciple, patience, consistent effort and a lofty goal. For most of us innovation doesn’t come naturally but with the proper instruction and a good measure of determination we can become effec-tive innovators in the places where we work and live. The first step to innovation is discovery of the freedom to envision. Allowing yourself the time to think, to imagine, to envision, to take your mind to the place where you ask yourself what if? Albert Einstein said that “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For while knowledge defines all we currently know and un-derstand, imagination points to all we might yet discover and create.” Forget about what has been tried in the past and didn’t work or had marginal success. Our imagination is often the only place where we can take off the governors and negative thinking and explore a world of no limitations. Although this may seem like a luxury of time that many of us can’t seem to afford, imagination is truly the first step and probably the most critical step on the road to innovation. In the book Innovation, Tom Gorman wrote “A lot of skill, imagination and judgment always goes into innovation, and that’s what makes it one of the most exciting and challenging pastimes in any industry.” Imagination, the realm of daydreaming, is one of the greatest assets in the work place if you can challenge that time and energy into daydreams that leads to greater efficiencies and effec-tiveness of your organization. Can you feel it, can you imagine how you will feel when that problem has been solved. Walt Disney said, if you can dream it you can conceive it. Practice seeing the invisible and feeling the intangible. Spend some times living in that imagined reality then start the process of moving towards making your dream come true.

Create Your Reality! Now that we have seen it in our minds what the future might hold, what must we do to see it become reality. A tangible thing that once only resided in the confines of our neurons and dendrites. Thoughts become things! It is not uncommon for many to lose the battle right here. It all was so grand in our mind but here is where the rubber meets the road, doing something and believing it can happen. Recently I overheard a colleague utter those two words that always make me cringe “That’s Impossible!” I was tempted to grab him by the collar and tell him of course it’s impossible if you don’t believe it’s possible. What is im-possible: impossible is that thing that no one can do until somebody does it. Send a man to the moon and back, run the perfect mile, or create a hand held computer were consider to be impossible until they became reality. Now what was once considered impossible is routine and ordinary. So what problem are you trying to solve? What challenges are you facing?

Now we apply disciple to the process of innovation, making our ideas a reality. The steps of going from A to Z are not always a linear process. The temptation to find the most direct and quickest path to our goal is compelling as we long to reach for our new reality. However, the most direct path might lead to more of what we have seen in the past, failed systems and practices. Sure the new product or service might meet a short term need but in a short period of time the original problem will manifest itself again. The discipline of creation means that we may have to test ideas several times before we are sure they are going to lead to the desired outcome. As much as this time takes disciple it will also take more of that same freedom that was apply to times of imagination. It’s a time of new ways of thinking and being. Because we are creating a new reality don’t allow the past to limit what the future can look like. In the book Jonathan Livingston Seagull, Richard Bach portrays the story of a seagull that wanted nothing more than to fly faster and faster. Day after day he would try many different techniques to help him fly faster. Many times his creations ended in disap-pointment and even injury but with discipline and consistent effort eventually he was able to fly faster than was thought possible opening up a new world to him. An imagined world that became his new reality, through discipline and consistent effort. What new realities do you want to create? What problems are you trying to solve?

It almost seems counterintuitive in the face of a fast paced world to say slow down when it comes to the pro-cess of creation. But it must be said: Slow down in the process of creation. Take the time to ask all the right questions, consider all the possibilities, acknowledge all the limitations real and imagined, and challenge all assumptions. Now begin to create that new reality.

The process of innovation will take time and it will take more creativity and disciple than we may have em-ployed in the past. Innovation requires a Yes We/I Can attitude. And a courage that acknowledges the ob-stacles and challenges but moves forward in spite of them. One of the greatest obstacles to innovation is the fear of failure. How often have we not even attempted something because we thought of the possibility of failure? In T. H. Palmer’s most popular poem we are reminded to keep trying unit we succeed. “Tis a lesson you should heed. Try try try again if at first you don’t succeed”. Many of the most famous innovators of our time have reminded us that failures are most often the necessary steps to our greatest achievements. Dr. Edwin Land once stated “An essential aspect of creativity is not being afraid to fail” and the famous Linus Pauling reminds us that “the best way to get a good idea is to get a lot of ideas”. Innovation requires the im-plementation of many ideas until you come up with the one great one.

Isaac Newton the English mathematician and physicist said “If I have ever made any valuable discoveries, it has been owing more to patient attention, than to any other talent. The value of patience in solving any challenge or problem can never be over estimate. Patience is the glue that keeps the process of innovation together and on pace. Seeing the vision, considering the possibilities, testing and testing different ideas, dealing with small successes and failures are all part of the process of innovation. And this process can be-come derailed at many different places on long the tract. Yet patience says hold on just a little longer, try one more time, you are almost there. Patience sees the impossible and continues to hope. Patience hears the word no and gets excited because it knows that just a few more no’s and there will be a yes. Patience keeps the goal in mind. An important note that must be mentioned when considering the role of patience in the innovation process is that patience by no mean implies inactivity. What problem or challenge is ever solved by not doing anything? The patience that we are speaking of is an action word that is applied to the process of innovation, to keep it moving to become the new reality.

So what problems are you trying to solve? What challenges are you dealing with? Do you have any goals that are going to challenge you to move beyond the comfort of the way things have always been? Do you have goals that will challenge you to do things a little different than they have been done in the past? Do you have goals that might require innovation (imagination, creativity, and discipline) to achieve. Where can you be innovative? As stated earlier, the pace and needs around us are demanding innovation. We may not be natural risk takers, the thought of failure at any level may be incapacitating, and taking time to just imagine and envision new realities may seem laughable, but the process of innovation can become a tool and an art form that when appropriately applied can lead to new discoveries and processes that never before were im-agined. Our innovations may never rival the creation of the personal computer, the light bulb or even open heart surgery, but it may change the way our employees approach their work, the way research excellence is advanced, the way humane care is provided to animals and the way we embrace life and the world around us. We owe it to ourselves, the people around us and the animals we care for to innovate. Starts today… create your new reality.