Tuesday, December 9, 2014

HRD's 'Dirty Little Secret' about Training

I was recently interviewed by David Lee, internationally recognized expert on employee performance. The topic was my book, The Dark Secret of HRD. We talked about how and why I came to write it and how organizations can transfer what is taught in the classroom to consistent performance in the workplace. Click here to listen to the interview on David's blog.

David Lee
David Lee is the founder of HumanNature@Work. He works with leaders interested in optimizing employee performance and customer service, through his work as a facilitator, consultant, trainer, and coach. He has worked with organizations and presented at conferences in the US, Canada, and Australia.

He is the author of Managing Employee Stress and Safety, Powerful Storytelling Techniques, and nearly 100 articles and book chapters on maximizing employee and organizational performance, which have been published in North America, Europe, India, China, and Australia.

His article, "Why Your Employees Are Just Not That Into You," the third most popular article at TLNT.com in 2012, is a must-read for any leader desiring greater productivity and engagement.

Post by Dennis E. Coates, Ph.D., Copyright 2014. Building Personal Strength .

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Intelligent Lifeform Exposes Himself to Deadly Radiation

Me, soaking in rays (photo Kathleen Scott)
Where I live, the coolest breakfasts in town (in my opinion) are hosted by Casa Garcia's Restaurant and Cantina. Here I am on a Sunday morning after a custom-filled omelet, sitting outside on one of their benches, enjoying the warm sun.

Actually, I was thinking that the solar radiation that had reached my cheeks had penetrated our planet's magnetic field and thin atmosphere. Most of the sun's deadly rays had been shielded and absorbed, and just enough made it through to give warmth to me and all the other lifeforms on the surface.

The radiation from our star is essential to life. It's the source of energy for plants and animals, and it allows water to exist in liquid form.

But sustaining life on Earth isn't our star's purpose. Actually, it has no purpose. It's simply a medium-sized star doing what stars do, blasting radiation, solar wind and occasional solar mass ejections into the space around it, all of which can destroy what we know as "life."

We're lucky that our planet has a massive hot liquid iron core that rotates far below the surface, creating a magnetic field in the space around our planet, which deflects most of what the sun sends our way. Much of what gets through is absorbed by our atmosphere. The little bit that makes it to places like Garcia's is enough to support life without destroying it.

As long as you aren't exposed too long. Stay out in the sun long enough, and your skin will start to burn. The rays might even disturb your DNA, causing skin cancer.

Mars wasn't as lucky as Earth. A smaller planet, it's smaller core cooled billions of years ago, ending it's ability to generate a protective magnetic field. The onslaught of radiation and solar particles blew away most of the atmosphere, and today only the tiniest remnants of carbon dioxide gas remain. Mars' surface is now an extremely cold, lifeless and deadly place.

This was what I was thinking when my wife took the photo. I know, I know, why can't I just enjoy being warm on a November day when the gentle folks in Buffalo are digging out from more than six feet of snow?

It's because I'm one of the intelligent lifeforms that now co-exist on Earth, and in my case I sometimes use my intelligence to think about stuff like this, especially when I can actually feel the rays bombarding my cheeks.

The sun, our oxygen-rich atmosphere, the abundance of water on our rocky surface, and our stable climate were not "put here" to make a perfect home for us humans. The Earth has been revolving around its star for about 4.5 billion years now, and the environment wasn't always ideal for life. We humans exist today because just the right conditions have accidentally come together after billions of years of Earth history.

In short, I'm lucky to be alive, breathing delicious air and feeling the warmth on my cheeks. I'm lucky to have been born, and I'm lucky I'm still alive. I've had several close brushes with death, and on this particular Sunday morning what I feel is, well, appreciation that I made it this far, far enough to reach Garcia's to enjoy a really great omelet.

I also entertained some radical thoughts about intelligent life in the universe, but you know what? That's another story....

Post by Dennis E. Coates, Ph.D., Copyright 2014. Building Personal Strength .

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Mars One - The Reality

Recall for a moment a few of the delicious pleasures of life...
  • Breathing in fresh air
  • Walking among the colored leaves of autumn
  • Having a good time with friends
  • Eating a burger tricked out just the way you like it
  • And washing it down with a craft beer
  • Browsing in a gift shop
  • Visiting one of the national parks
  • Going fishing with a buddy
  • Going on a date with your significant other
  • Visiting family
  • Watching the full moon on a clear night
  • Feeling the warm sun on your face
I'll stop here. You could easily add a hundred more delights to this list, things we often take for granted. These are a few of the things that the people who journey to Mars to establish a colony will never experience again.

It's one thing to consider this conceptually. It will be another thing entirely to experience these deprivations on a daily basis. Instead of breathing the autumn air, breathing stale air tainted with the stink of the crew and Mars dust. Instead of drinking a glass of cold, clear water, drinking water recycled from your own urine. And on and on.

Astronauts - International Space Station
Hundreds of thousands of people have applied to participate in a project called "Mars One," a private enterprise to establish a permanent human settlement on Mars. The main thing, however, is that Mars One will produce a reality TV show of the journey and what they do to create a settlement on Mars - if they make it to the surface. The idea is to go in crews of four starting in 2024. They say the technology can only get them there. That's why it's called Mars One - one way.

REALITY: Most of the technology needed to get them there doesn't exist yet. In 2015, the venture to establish a small settlement on Mars is not only science fiction, it's speculative science fiction.

By the way, the organizers and promoters of Mars One have no intention whatsoever of going to Mars themselves.

Still, there's an amazing amount of interest among the general public. This brief video documents the thoughts of five hopeful Mars One space travelers as they contemplate leaving planet Earth forever for a new home on Mars.


I don't know about you, but I wouldn't board a spacecraft with any of these "hopefuls." One says the journey would "give me another purpose for living." I wouldn't want to risk my life in close quarters with a young dude who is still searching for his purpose in life. Another volunteer described himself as "a turd in the toilet bowl of life." Okay...you get the idea.

To be kind, I can only say that these people must be thinking about some sci-fi movie they once watched. They seem utterly clueless about what wold be involved in space travel. All the well-publicized challenges and dangers aside, there is the rarely mentioned issue of months of weightlessness and Mars' low gravity and how this will cause bone and muscle loss over time. Or the onslaught of solar radiation and cosmic radiation. The problem of shielding people in the spacecraft has not been solved.

And on Mars' surface, there's no planetary electromagnetic field or a rich atmosphere (as there is on Earth) to protect people on the surface. And finally, there's the psychological impact of being deprived of all those cool things we sometimes hold dear and sometimes take for granted. Once the longing and regret become intense and persistent, there will be nothing they can do about it. I'm sure the star-struck volunteers are thinking about something else than the realities of space travel.

The question is, will watching things unravel onboard or on the surface make for good reality TV? The promoters of Mars One are betting it will.

Post by Dennis E. Coates, Ph.D., Copyright 2014. Building Personal Strength .

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Stained Glass Art - I Decided to Boldly Go Where No One Has Gone Before

Over 30 years ago, I...
  • Lived near a Tidewater inlet to the Chesapeake Bay in Seaford, Virginia.
  • Was a lieutenant colonel in the Army.
  • Ran 50 miles a week training for the Marine Corps Marathon.
  • Had two teenage sons.
  • Created this unusual stained glass piece.

It was the only stained glass art work I ever created. Today it's displayed in our master bathroom and looks great in the afternoon light.

My ex-wife was the real stained glass artist - not me. She was very accomplished and passionate about her work until the day she concluded that our culture would never value this aspect of art enough to appropriately pay for the hours it took her to create it. She could make ten times as much money cooking french fries at McDonald's. So she got rid of all her equipment and left all that behind her, never again to create anything in stained glass.

She didn't get a job at McDonald's, however. Instead, she went back to college, maintained a 4.0 average, and graduated from the College of William and Mary business school, magna cum laude.

But during the years that she worked as an artist, I sometimes assisted her in the menial set-up work.

Inevitably, I wondered if I should try creating something myself. I knew I would only do it once, so I decided to do something ambitious. I decided on an impressionistic, symbolic approach. This meant that instead of a few dozen glass pieces soldered together, I would have to use hundreds. The project took me four months to complete.

The image represents universal energy, whether on a cosmic scale or an atomic scale.

So over 30 years ago I put on my uniform and performed my military duties, and none of my colleagues knew I had created this unusual piece of stained glass art.

Today, I'm still pleased with the result. And I'm still fascinated by the cosmos.

Each morning while I'm shaving I see this image in the mirror. It reminds me that I have the potential to be creative, an essential inspiration because I'm challenged more than ever to exercise this strength in my work.

It's a testament to what an ordinary guy can do if he dreams big and doesn't give up.

Post by Dennis E. Coates, Ph.D., Copyright 2014. Building Personal Strength .

Friday, September 26, 2014

Obsessively Hard Work Earned Me an A in Typing

When I told a friend that I made an A in every course I took in high school, he asked me, "Which course did you take as a senior that turned out to be the most important to you?"

Good question. I had never considered it, so I thought about the courses I took, many of which prepared me for my courses at West Point, which challenged me on another level.

Finally, I said, "Typing."

He laughed. But I wasn't joking.

Typing was a skill course, attended almost exclusively by girls. I remember thinking (in 1962), well yeah, if you're going to be a secretary you better know how to type.

I was the only male student, but my thought was that I'd have to write for many of my college courses. Back then, there were no word processors or electric typewriters - only mechanical ones. So students weren't expected to submit typewritten work. But I figured a typewritten paper would be looked upon favorably by my professors. As it turned out, this assumption was valid most of the time.

Also, as the only male student in the typing course, I wanted to show the teacher and all the girls that I could do as well as they could, or even better.

The classes consisted of drills, and at the end of every hour, we were given a timed 5-minute performance test. All uncorrected errors were penalized by subtracting 5 words from the total words typed. The net total was divided by 5 to get the words-per-minute (wpm) score. To pass, a student had to turn in at least five 45-wpm scores. For an A, five 60-wpm scores.

I took this course so seriously that I practiced at home, doing drills and 5-minute tests. I didn't know it, but all this repetitive typing activity was wiring my brain for typing skill. By the end of the course, I had fully ingrained my ability to type. I could do it at very high speed without thinking about what my fingers were doing. I submitted at least five scores above 90 wpm without errors and of course got my A. My teacher thought I was some kind of typing prodigy.

Truthfully, I just worked harder at it than any of my classmates.

Now, of course, I type on a modern keyboard and my brain wiring for typing is quite well insulated after decades of doing it. I'm sure that most of the time I type faster than 100 wpm.

And this skill, more than anything else I learned during my senior year, has helped me be successful.

I'm not sure my other teachers or my principal, who introduced me at my valedictory address, would have appreciated knowing this.

Post by Dennis E. Coates, Ph.D., Copyright 2014. Building Personal Strength .