Four-Letter Word

"It always seems impossible until its done." Nelson Mandela

Back in 2008, I signed up to run the Colorado Relay with co-workers and friends to raise money for charity. If you are unfamiliar with the race, it's an epic run through the mountains of Colorado that covers 200 miles and approximately 12,000 feet of elevation change. 10-person teams have to cover the territory and each runner on the team has to run 3 separate legs in a 24-hour time period. It may sound brutal, and that's good because the fact of the matter is, it is brutal!

Since it was my idea to sign my friends up for the race to begin with, I thought it was only appropriate to accept the responsibility for running the toughest leg, Georgia Pass. Kicking off right outside of Breckenridge, this leg is 13.5 miles long and includes in ascent of 2,500 feet and a descent of 2,000 feet at the end. Most of the run is on a singletrack trail through the woods with nasty switchbacks and obstacles along the way. This particular year was more challenging because there was significant snowfall the week leading up to the relay.

I knew this was going to be a tough leg when the race organizers declared, "We are unsure of the snowfall at the top and whether it's safe to run, therefore we're sending a group of Marines to the top to give us an assessment." All that was going through my mind was that the Marines were hardly a good test for whether something was doable or not, and I was ready to drop to the ground in a fetal position and begin sucking my thumb. It turns out that the Marines thought it was fine so we were cleared to run.

In total, it took me 3.5 hours to finish the leg, which is approximately double what it takes me to run a half-marathon. It was by far, and still is to this day, the toughest mental and physical challenge I've ever experienced. There were definitely moments I didn't think I was going to finish, and those moments would get temporarily blocked as I stumbled on ice-covered stones on the trail.

The only strategy that worked for me was to think in small increments.

Every half-mile, I'd celebrate the small win and would remind myself, "You only have to make it the next half-mile." I repeated this over and over again until I staggered out of the woods, slightly injured and completely worn out.

I'm sharing this story because I heard a segment on the radio that reminded me of that running experience. The DJ teased the spot by saying, "Coming up next, a four-letter word that makes people more productive at work when they use it!" Of course, during the 2 minutes of commercials I tried to exhaust my working knowledge of every four-letter word I knew. (To be honest, it was kind of therapeutic to cuss out loud and for no reason in the comfort of my car with no one to hear me.)

The DJ interrupted my cuss-a-thon with information about Leslie Sherlin, a psychologist and neuroperformance specialist. She has done some research that shows that using the word DONE in the workplace helps you more productively get through your to-do list. A neurochemical shift occurs in the brain that releases Serotonin, which is known as the body's feel good chemical. Here's a link to the full Fast Company article.

Finding more opportunities to use the word DONE at work increases your own productivity ... and you get a cool, little natural buzz, too!

So how do you do that? One obvious but effective way is to break your projects or tasks up into bite-size chunks. Just like my run on Georgia Pass, you can make your way over the mountain by celebrating small victories and then targeting equally small wins for the future. I've always believed in the expression, “Think big, start small, iterate fast.” It really applies here.

One thing I've noticed in my executive career is that people are tougher on themselves than I normally need to be when providing feedback. They forget to pause and celebrate their small victories. In some cases, they become so overwhelmed with the mountain they need to climb that a simple fall puts them in a state of surrender. Is this the case with you? How do you approach big projects or tasks? Do you think about them a half-mile at a time? If not, try it today. Try using the word DONE, and see how it makes you feel. Look, here's your first DONE of the day ... you are now DONE with this missive. Didn't that feel good?


Chris Laping is Co-Founder & CEO of People Before Things, LLC, a boutique consultancy that helps executive and project leaders prepare people for technology change. He has also written a bestselling book, People Before Things: Change Isn’t an End-User Problem, which explores the role leaders play to pave success in change and transformation. To join the conversation, follow @CIOChris and @pplb4things on Twitter.

Read more

Brilliant Jerks

“We don’t devote enough scientific research to finding a cure for jerks.” —Bill Waterson

I came across a meme this week that really got my attention. Admittedly, I usually ignore stuff like this, but I opened up LinkedIn and there it was—staring me in the face and practically begging me to read it. Perhaps you’ve seen it, too. It’s a photo of Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflix, with the quote, “Do not tolerate brilliant jerks. The cost is too high.” Before I go much further, I don’t personally know Reed nor have I ever worked at Netflix. (You see, this is the reason I don’t usually care about memes—it’s hard to confirm they’re true.) As I researched the quote on Google, I realized there was quite a negative stir in the marketplace regarding Reed’s term. The truth is, I don’t care. And I don’t care if I’m late to the party on this conversation. I love the phrase, and I think it’s 100% true.

It was 2006, and I was new to consulting. The company I worked for attracted a high-tech startup as a client. My role as a Principal was to manage delivery, keep our customer happy, and provide leadership to the project team. The client’s chief executive, TJ, was my point-of-contact, and I was to collaborate with him on an important initiative. Talk about a brilliant jerk!

From the day we walked into his office, he treated us like trash. He never once made eye contact. Frequently, when any of us asked him a question, he would flip his hand in the air while saying, “I don’t see why that’s important. This is what I think is important …” To make matters worse, he made a clicking noise between sentences that was meant to be audible punctuation. As it related to the clicking, he once told me, “People can’t keep up with me so I help them understand when I am shifting to another idea.” Apparently we were all dipsticks and lucky to have someone as sensitive as him worrying about whether we were keeping up!

TJ was really innovative. He and his company had an interesting product which could disrupt the entire payments industry. His team of engineers were some of the smartest people I’ve ever met. There were many times I had to pinch myself because I wasn’t sure how I could add any value to what they were working on. But TJ was a brilliant jerk, and no surprise, his company never experienced a breakthrough moment.

As Kristine and I have been launching our new company, we’ve been focused on growing something that’s built on values. Very early in the process, we decided on a “No Assholes” rule that would be applied to our clients and anyone we hire. I know that may seem crass, but imagine how it feels to be demoralized by people who believe they are intellectually or financially entitled to treat others poorly.

Another reason we’re focused on this value is I know I haven’t always done well on this front. I have to admit I had a blind spot for this from time to time and was routinely lured by intelligence or creative talent. As a leader I ended up learning tough lessons about jerks. Sadly, they hurt everyone around them.

Patrick Lencioni, one of the most important thought leaders in organizational health, warns all leaders, “Keeping a relatively strong performer who is not a cultural fit sends a loud and clear message to employees that the organization isn’t all that serious about what it says and believes.” I wish I read that quote back in the early days of my leadership roles.

Have you ever worked with or been impacted by a jerk? Is there a slight chance your own actions and behaviors might be similar to that of TJ’s? You probably don’t need me to tell you that tactic doesn’t work. Tolerating jerk-dom is like a speeding ticket waiting to happen. Brilliance and creativity can be a speeding car that appears to get you from point A to point B really quickly. However, when you get a ticket, go to court, pay a fine, and attend traffic school, it turns out you didn’t save any time at all.

I hope you make it a great week. Avoid the jerks. You don’t deserve to be treated poorly regardless of someone else’s intelligence. More importantly, don’t be one—it’ll get you nowhere and really fast!


Chris Laping is Co-Founder & CEO of People Before Things, LLC, a boutique consultancy that helps executive and project leaders prepare people for technology change. He has also written a bestselling book, People Before Things: Change Isn’t an End-User Problem, which explores the role leaders play to pave success in change and transformation. To join the conversation, follow @CIOChris and @pplb4things on Twitter.

Read more


“The greatest test of courage on earth is to bear defeat without losing heart.” —Robert Green Ingersoll

In my corporate career, I remember how big changes rocked my world. Maybe I was lulled to sleep by the security and comfort of steady employment. Maybe I gripped my job description a little too hard, like a toddler holding a blanket. Because just like that—I’d open my inbox and some announcement would rattle me; uncertainty ensued.

Our personal lives can be like that, too. I remember driving to the gym on a snowy Saturday afternoon in 2008. The roads were fairly empty, and I was probably going faster than I should. With the way the sun was reflecting off the snow and ice, my vision was impaired, and I ran into the back of a car sitting at a red light. I didn’t see the car; I didn’t see the light. My airbag deployed, burning my lower arms and breaking my hand. I remember sitting there wondering, “What just happened?”

Launching a company is a lot like driving on snowy roads with the sun glaring in your face. However, instead of experiencing the rare accident every 7 years, you feel the stress of daily fender-benders. And unlike the corporate world of big announcements hitting your inbox and rattling your confidence, startup life is more defined by messages you DON’T receive. This silence could mean there is a lack of interest, someone doesn’t want to tell you “No” directly or that your work is at the bottom of someone’s priority list.

Are you experiencing uncertainty now? How does it make you feel? Is your confidence shaken? What are you doing about it?

Here’s what I’ve learned in my corporate and (short) startup career: uncertainty breeds courage.

In the moment, it of course doesn't feel that way. In fact, it usually feels like watching lightning in the distance and counting the number of seconds before hearing the thunder. However, if you carefully recount the details of your own uncertain moments, you can probably see how it made you stronger and more resilient.

Kristine and I got some really good advice early in the process of building our company. It helps with uncertainty and is applicable personally and professionally. Are you ready? “Get to NO—faster!” Yes, "No" stings. Yes, "No" usually means rejection. "No" is never easy. However, if you kick the can down the road (of life) too long only to get to “No,” you’ve wasted a lot of time!

Think about wasted time in romantic relationships. You might have known it was doomed from the beginning, but the uncertainty of going through life alone delayed action. Then, one day you (finally) woke up and, “No” was in your face! Lots of time was wasted. Maybe the same type of thing happened at work. You put in a lot of extra time and effort and hoped your boss would notice. One day, you walked into the office and “No” showed up with your morning coffee.

It’s okay—I promise you, it’s okay! You will build courage and courage is needed to do things you never imagined possible.

So, take control of the situation and get to NO faster. Make this the week you put uncertainty in your rearview mirror. Don’t waste time wondering what might happen in the future. Rather, simply ask “the other person” a “Yes” or “No” question. If the answer is "No," celebrate the fact you’re wasting less time. By the way, if the answer is "Yes" ...just think about it!


Chris Laping is Co-Founder & CEO of People Before Things, LLC, a boutique consultancy that helps executive and project leaders prepare people for technology change. He has also written a bestselling book, People Before Things: Change Isn’t an End-User Problem, which explores the role leaders play to pave success in change and transformation. To join the conversation, follow @CIOChris and @pplb4things on Twitter.

Read more