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Take It To the MAX!

Why minimalize when you can maximize?

Why minimalize when you can maximize?

During a recent job interview, I was asked to describe my work approach. Reflecting on my desire to always do everything within my power to ensure success, I described myself as being “maximalistic”. In my mind, it was the opposite of a minimalistic approach to tasks. While minimalism is a fine principle of technical writing, it is not an effective work philosophy. Some people (I’m sure no one you know) are satisfied to complete only the bare minimum to call a task complete. In addition, such people often see challenges in every opportunity instead of opportunity in every challenge. These same people have a low locus of control meaning that they believe outcomes are based on primarily on external factors.

By contrast, someone with a high locus of control believes that outcomes are based primarily on their own actions. For me, it boils down to a matter of examination and action – when we know better, we do better. I’m talking about work, but this approach relates to every endeavor in life. If you’re only going to put forth the minimum effort, why do it at all? To me, minimizing your effort or settling for less than your personal best is downright disrespectful. Although we aren’t strong in every area, but we can always put forth a Herculean effort. For me, it takes far more effort to avoid issues rather than acknowledging them and identifying a strategy for success.

During the interview, I thought I was being clever, inventing my own term. As it turns out, the root word of my intuitive Maximalist term has been around since the early 1900s. Often used in association with radical theological or political philosophies, the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a Maximalist as “one who advocates immediate and direct action to secure the whole of a program or set of goals”. I smiled to myself in reading the definition because it summarizes my Knowledge Management adventures in a single sentence. Knowledge Management requires short-range and long-term strategic planning. The “program” is to ensure information is available to the right people at the right time in the right place. There are a myriad of case studies that show productivity gains, greater customer retention, improved employee morale, and a host of other benefits simply based on one’s ability to quickly find the information that they need and can trust.

Knowledge Managers are investigators, identifying information gaps, process flaws, incorrect assumptions, and duplicated efforts. Then, Knowledge Managers become salespersons, pitching solutions by proposing processes, methods, and tools to help others find the information that they need. Next, Knowledge Managers are collaborators, reviewing metadata, taxonomy, search, and content review techniques to ensure that stakeholders are appropriately involved. After that, Knowledge Managers are negotiators, establishing agreement about new processes and methods. Finally, Knowledge Managers are evangelists, excited to share the benefits of a new system and seeking feedback about ways to improve. Enthusiasm is contagious. It takes a Maximalistic sort of person – one who is willing to persist in cultivating organizational change – to be successful in any situation.


The Courage to Click

Be courageous and click

Be courageous and click

I recently had the privilege of speaking to a college class about knowledge management. As these students begin exploring career avenues, one inquired about LinkedIn and whether it is truly an effective method to connect with people. Without hesitation, I endorsed LinkedIn. After all, I had connected with colleagues, mentees, and mentors via the professional networking site. However, these students were actually asking about connecting with those whom you do not know as well. If you connect to a recruiter on LinkedIn, will they actually interact with you? Or are they using LinkedIn as more of a “push” to promote their company and related opportunities? Having recently been in a job search, I was impressed – no enthused – by the level of connection I accomplished via LinkedIn. That six degrees of separation theory that states everyone and everything is six or fewer steps away, by way of introduction, from any other person in the world, seems to be true. However, it takes courage to extend yourself and initiate that connection. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, it takes courage to click. It’s true that the person may ignore you, but as the worst case scenario, it also means that you have nothing to lose. What if, instead of being dismissed, that corporate recruiter, fellow alumnus, former professor, or admired colleague accepts your invitation and helps you along your career path? With that in mind, here are a few tips to help you be more courageous in your clicking:
1. Everyone has to start somewhere – This means that the powerful C-level executive; innovative entrepreneur; or sought-after speaker can relate to your current position. It is also intriguing to review LinkedIn profiles and see the progression of someone’s career as well as interesting commonalities. Don’t bombard the person, just see what you can learn by having visibility to their profile. Keep any messages brief and courteous.
2. Have information to trade – In considering a LinkedIn request, the person needs to have an understanding of your background. Strut your stuff! Be sure to develop a fairly robust LinkedIn page before trying to connect with others. The more information you post, the more commonalities your “guest” will find, and the more likely you are to sustain a relationship. A photo is an absolute must. Providing a visual image translates to your invitee viewing you as a real person and not just a digital apparition.
3. Don’t hide your job search – If you are open to new opportunities, be sure to indicate that in your profile. The only exception is if you are connected with a lot of current coworkers and don’t wish to “out” yourself on the job front prematurely. In that case, you can make more discreet connections, but explain in any initial messages that you are exploring new opportunities.
4.State your business – If you connect with a recruiter because you are interested in a specific job…say so! If you are trying to connect with those who currently work in your next position of interest…say so! If you have a common area of expertise or attended the same conference or course – state that explicitly. Otherwise, you force your intended network target to hunt for relevance regarding the connection. The onus is on you, not them, to explain your mutual interest.
I hope these tips were helpful…now get out there and click!

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The Personal Touch

Managing relationships effectively is the key to professional and personal success.

Managing relationships effectively is the key to professional and personal success.

In this era of Instagrams, tweets, and linking in, an entire industry has evolved to help companies develop social media components to their communication strategies. It seems that all of the Social Media strategists, Communication Consultants, Web Developers, User Experience Designers, and User Interface specialists pour their talent and energies into one simple concept: The Personal Touch.
User interaction is based on the collective need for an individual experience. Those who know how to tap into the power of The Personal Touch are destined to be successful, regardless of their field of endeavor. As quiet as it’s kept, humans have an innate desire to connect with others. Social media presents a myriad of techniques to accomplish this connection, but the fundamental need is the same today as it was generations ago when messages were relayed via Pony Express.
Do you remember receiving mail as a child? I donated one dollar to charity and was astonished a couple of weeks later (yes, it was a couple of weeks in those days) to receive a piece of correspondence bearing my eight year old name. I was flattered, intrigued, and more importantly, responsive. In her book, The Personal Touch, public relations expert Terrie Williams describes the need for everyone to connect with their audience. Having worked as a publicist for many celebrities including Bill Cosby and Janet Jackson, Terrie asserts the need to provide the most positive memory we can with each person we encounter. The method of the encounter varies, but the need is the same. One of my favorite artists is an independent singer/songwriter named Chinua Hawk. Not only is he talented, but he relays the personal touch. After his performances, he is always willing to sign an autograph, take a picture, or speak with a fan. Many people enjoy NASCAR for similar reasons. When you are able to engage with someone you admire, such an exciting and meaningful personal encounter increases their merit and amplifies their value. They are no longer just someone on stage, in a boardroom, or on TV – they now become YOUR whatever-they-are…fitness guru, comedian, etc.
As consumers, we are highly responsive to organizations who deliver products based on extensive research and analysis of the user experience. Whatever our professional role, we have to carefully consider our customers – whether they are internal or external, children or adults – and design systems that maximize their experience. As our economy grows increasingly global, we must realize that we are involved in a worldwide competition to meet the needs of our users. The one who connects with the consumer will win. In fact, the organization who designs with the user in mind creates a win-win scenario for their customer AND their company.
Technology does not replace The Personal Touch – it is another means of achieving an individual, custom experience. All business is about managing relationships. Everyone wants to be appreciated. Everyone wants to be understood. Everyone wants to be heard. Here are some things to consider in terms of infusing The Personal Touch throughout your relationships:
1. Parallel communication – as a courtesy, communicate with people in the same format that they originally contacted you. Unless specifically requested to do so, don’t respond to a call with an email or a call someone who stopped by your desk.
2. Identify additional commonalities – If you are geographically dispersed, try to have an informal means – team discussion page or instant messenger or skype to connect with people about other mutual interests such as corporate initiatives or charities. Such practices humanize you and lead to increased responsiveness because you become more than a name on an email line or a voice on a conference call. Last year, I was proud to support a colleague in a moustache-growing “Movember” event to raise awareness about men’s health issues.
3. Acknowledge others’ presence – In southern Africa, this philosophy is known as Ubuntu which means humanity to others. When you walk past someone, you don’t have to become best friends, but acknowledging the other person’s presence signals your self-confidence as well as your willingness to engage with the world around you. Years ago when Western countries began opening offices in southern Africa, Westerners would walk the halls and pass people without a nod or hello. This deeply offended the native citizens and set the stage for very poor initial labor relations. Once this principle was described and coworkers were acknowledged, everyone in these offices were more at ease.
4. LISTEN – From J.W. Marriott to winning coaches to Pulitzer Prize winners – many who are renowned in their field of endeavor attribute a lot of their success to the practice of effective listening. You cannot hear or consider the voice of the customer if you are talking over it. In personal and professional relationships, your willingness to be a sounding board for your coworker, your client, your spouse, or your child is the key to fostering an attitude of trust and confidence.
I’d be interested in your advice about the importance of the personal touch and how you employ these or other philosophies into your daily life.

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Adjusting the Expert Filter

DIKW ProgressionI recently read an article on KM World that questioned our overall progress with knowledge. There seems to be a lot of information out there. We are inundated with it. Yet, amid all the noise and distraction, how can we trust the information that we encounter? In this article (http://www.kmworld.com/Articles/Column/David-Weinberger/Progress-and-knowledge-87238.aspx), author David Weinberger made an excellent observation: “To become knowledge, something had to be filtered by experts.” The way that we involve experts becomes increasingly important as we refine our methodologies to promote information to knowledge.  As the diagram illustrates, there is a progression from data to information to knowledge to wisdom.

In reading the article, it occurred to me that the proliferation of content from a variety of sources means that the audience accepts a certain level of risk, depending on the source of information. David asserts that our collaboration and editing processes must change to accommodate the new waves of information that constantly crash around us. Frequency of tweets, for example, indicates interest in a topic, but not necessarily expertise. In order for a knowledge source to be trusted, an inherent practice of content validation must exist. In my technical communication training, the approach was to build several iterations of expert review into the document development cycle. The desired end result was a deliverable that was already vetted and validated – content that the user could completely and immediately trust because it had already been fully validated prior to publishing.  To me, the traditional methodology was to publish knowledge that had been fully filtered by experts. Any wisdom gained would hopefully feed into the data phase for the next deliverable. Hopefully. Because all too often, once a deliverable was published, knowledge workers were on to the next initiative. Wisdom was not always harvested and incorporated into the next data phase.

However, the new methodology moves some of those iterative revisions to the post-publishing phase. These days we are more inclined to post information and revise it multiple times, based on audience or user feedback. The expert filter still exists, but instead of making assumptions about what the user wants to know to deliver a masterpiece in the first edition, knowledge workers are learning to apply a more iterative approach on the back end. As a result, initial content may be sparse. There may be a few basic procedures and concepts introduced. Then, as the user community provides feedback, the experts are consulted and the deliverable is revised. It becomes a living document. The ongoing updates and conversations around content keep audiences engaged and reassure them that the most up-to-the-minute knowledge is being presented in the document they are referencing. This process is also beneficial for the expert because they can learn more from this direct user feedback and immediately apply it to the updated document as well as future projects. Everything becomes more comprehensive and collaborative. I believe this model also suggests a strategic partnership between those providing the knowledge and those applying the knowledge. It becomes a reciprocal relationship that benefits everyone involved and accelerates the pace of learning.

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The Most Critical Skill

key elements of listening

Key Components of Listening

In the midst of my job search, I’m fascinated by the variety of qualifications and expectations listed for various roles. Beyond knowledge of specific methodologies, experience, and software, I’m noticing an increased emphasis on soft skills.  Organizations are learning that the ability to be a self-directed, collaborative, flexible, and analytical problem solver who can manage multiple assignments is as important as your technical expertise. However, I believe the most critical skill is so intrinsic to others that it is rarely listed.

The art and skill of listening is the most critical for any job. I recently read a great article on LinkedIn, “Can You Hear Me?” by Beth Comstock, the Chief Marketing Officer at GE (https://www.linkedin.com/today/post/article/20130205150842-19748378-can-you-hear-me?ref=email) . In the article, she explained how an unexpected bout of laryngitis allowed her to “luxuriate in listening”. I believe that listening is a luxury we can all afford. Imagine the time and effort we could save by simply listening and ensuring that we fully understand a situation instead of reacting based on assumption. Imagine how much more effective our decision-making process would be if we focused on listening. Beth’s article spurred some thought as I did some additional research about listening skills. Many people have heard about active listening where we repeat or summarize what we heard. However, there are a few steps that must proceed or accompany listening. The Chinese symbol for listening perfectly reflects these steps:

  1. Eyes – when interacting face-to-face, we need to make eye contact to acknowledge the other person and give visual cues that we are listening.
  2. Undivided Attention – we need to focus on the speaker. This means turning away from a computer screen, paper, mobile device, or other distraction to assure the speaker that they are our primary focus.
  3. Heart – we need to observe how the person appears to feel about what they are saying. This means picking up cues in vocal tone and body language.
  4. King/Mind – we need to carefully consider what the speaker is saying instead of formulating our next comment based on a preconceived notion rather than what the speaker is currently conveying.
  5. Ear – we need to actually listen, advising the speaker if we are having trouble hearing or need to clarify a previous comment.

As much as possible, try not to interrupt. Allow the speaker to complete his or her thought. Instead of formulating your next comment while they are speaking, paraphrase their statement and use it as a bridge to connect to your own thoughts and inputs. Hopefully, when the speaker sees you as being engaged and focused on their comments, they will reciprocate and listen just as actively when you are speaking. Whether it’s a colleague or client, applying this critical skill set contributes to everyone’s success. The good news is that we have daily opportunities to practice and hone this skill.

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Don’t Force Me Into Your Format!

the pain of being forced into a different format

the pain of being forced into a different format

How many times have you gone to a fast or casual eatery and were interrupted mid-order with questions that you would have answered, had the server not interrupted you? You had ordered your salad and was requesting your dressing on the side when you were interrupted with questions about your beverage or bread. Is it just me, or does anyone else find this infuriating? As a teenager working in the food services industry, I was repeatedly trained about the importance of listening to the customer. I had to allow the customer to fully state their order, capture what they requested, then circle back to fill in any gaps. These days, it seems that restaurant workers are not as well-trained and as a result, are unaware of how much extra work is involved just to place an order. The reason? They are forcing me into their format. Although I have no idea about the menu layout on the register, these workers have become accustomed to their own logical order. The moment you step out of synch with what they anticipate – BAM! They force you back in line with well-intentioned questions that help them, yet throw you off course. WARNING: This takeout scenario may seem familiar:
Worker: Welcome to Happy’s – make I take your order?
Customer: Yes, I’d like your #1 combo with no mayo and..
Worker: what size drink with that?
 At this point, you have two options – continue with your original order according to the way you think or succumb to the worker’s format and  answer the questions in strongest malicious obedience mode, in the order in which they are asked. The second scenario continues like this:
Customer: Regular.
Worker: Would you like to upsize your meal?
Customer: No.
Worker: Will that be all for you?
Customer: No.
Worker: What else would you like?
Customer: No mayo, no cheese, and a wheat bun for my sandwich.
Worker: Does that complete your order?
Customer: Yes.

The issue with this scenario is that what began as an open-ended and customer-focused question quickly deteriorated to a closed-ended conversation with the customer feeding the worker information in the chunks and bits they request. That would be great – except YOU are the Customer! The worker should be listening to you. He or she should also you to fully express your expectations and requirements before responding and asking additional questions. This is frustrating for everyone because it hinders the worker’s effectiveness and forces a much longer engagement than necessary.
As frustrating as this scenario is on a small scale, apply it to a software or product where the users – multiple clients – are the customers. As technical and business specialists with a specialities – solutions consultants, project managers, business analysts, technical leads, UX and interaction designers, UI designers, instructional designers, content strategists, marketing communicators, knowledge managers, training consultants, online help authors and technical writers, we must constantly consider our client users. We are tasked with listening and providing multiple ways for our customer to achieve their desired result. We shouldn’t force the user to conform to our standard. Instead, the user perspective must shape our priorities, define our mission, and drive our goals. True usability and customer satisfaction is achieved when the user is blissfully unaware of our existence. When we listen carefully and align our goals with the customer’s priorities, they enjoy a seamless user experience. So the next time you initiate your next great project or plan your next fantastic deliverable, carefully consider your user and their preferred format moreso than your own. It makes a world of difference to everyone.

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CyberEtiquette 101

welcome to CyberEtiquette 101

Etiquette for a new age.

During last week’s Telepresence discussion with the Center for Information-Development Management group on LinkedIn, group member Doris expressed her challenges as a remote worker attending meetings. She often misses nuances of conversations that are barely within audible range. In addition, she welcomed the possibility of a telepresence, particularly during meetings so that she could have visibility around the room instead of single fixed focus.
Doris’ comments reminded me about the effort required from onsite and remote participants to make virtual collaboration, particularly meetings, professional and productive. With that in mind, I wanted to offer a few tips. Before you blow past this with some dismissive thought about how many years you’ve been involved with conference calls, web meetings and the like, think about how many times these basic rules were not followed and the resulting confusion and lost productivity.

For facilitators/organizers:
1. Send an agenda prior to the meeting: this allows participants to conduct any preliminary research and understand where they fit in the big picture.
2. Include ALL information within the meeting invite. For example, if the meeting is a combination web-based for visual and conference call for audio, list all information in the invite so people don’t have to scramble just to join the meeting.
3. Include information for first-timers. You never know whether someone’s laptop blew up since the last meeting, your company has switched to a different vendor, or if you have new hires who haven’t checked their settings. There are often ways to test the system so that you don’t spend the first 5-10 minutes of the meeting trying to bring everyone online.
4. Try new features. Most web-based meeting tools have provisions for chat, raising hands to ask questions, switching presenters so someone else can show their desktop, and even polling the audience throughout the meeting. You don’t have to make it a game show or circus, but it is helpful to learn about tools that increase participant engagement.
5. Be mindful of your remote attendees. There are often system delays with refreshing screens, some equipment is better than others. Periodically ask your remote attendees about visibility (“Can you see the screen yet?”) and as speakers change throughout the meeting, ask people to speak up or be certain to speak into microphone so that everyone can hear. Additionally, keep devices and equipment away from the phone or microphone. Finally, if you are meeting across time zones, identify which meeting times are most feasible and convenient for everyone.

For remote participants:
1. Test your connection/equipment in advance of the meeting. Be certain that you don’t need to upgrade your browser, change your settings, etc.
2. Announce yourself, not only at the beginning but as a preface to each comment.
3. Mute your phone unless you are speaking. Pets, remote sidebars, or hold music are a major distraction.
4. Speak up if you unable to hear. The earlier, the better. No one likes to give an extended discourse, only to be asked to repeat everything that they said.

For onsite participants:
1. Arrive early so that your placing items on the table won’t be a distraction.
2. Announce yourself before speaking so the remote participants won’t have to wonder who’s talking.
3. Keep sidebars to a minimum. The remote attendee can only follow one conversation at a time.
4. Put your phone AWAY! At the very least, turn the ringer off and don’t set it on the table. Buzzing phones can sound like the world is crashing down to a remote participant.

While you may be a meeting guru, be mindful of those who many not be as skilled in this area. With thoughtful consideration in exercising CyberEtiquette – we can make our meetings even more productive. I’m certain you can think about times that these guidelines were not followed and the embarrassment or humilitation that ensued. You’re invited to share your experiences where things did or did not go well…

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Looking Ahead to Telepresence

Sheldon as a robot


Remember when a conference call was cutting edge? Now it’s commonplace. How about that first webinar? It wasn’t necessarily a cinch to get in, but once you got in, you were relieved to participate without having to fly to a different city. As companies tried to reduce travel costs, the adoption of virtual meetings seemed to skyrocket. In every work environment, collaboration is critical to success. As a result, it is imperative to ensure that colleagues feel connected and clients feel engaged. Whether addressing people across the room or around the world, corporate leaders must carefully balance attention between everyone present. This blog will be my attempt to expand interaction among my own professional virtual community. Conversations and interactions among my colleagues have fueled my desire to foster a place where we can share ideas and encourage people with interests in technical communication, technology, and society. We will also explore tie-ins to social media, project management, and team dynamics. In coming weeks, I’ll focus on community, how the KM Chef came into existence and some tasty entrees I’m anticipating in 2013. In the meantime, let’s start with this appetizer: one of the latest developments in mobile video conferencing. I remember when an episode of The Big Bang Theory where Sheldon “robotized” himself. Could you visualize a robot version of yourself rolling around your company’s office like this? http://abcnews.go.com/US/wireStory/telepresence-robots-employees-beam-work-18100563.

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Write It Down!

Hooray! 2011 is here! It is during these first few days of the new year that many people make (and break) resolutions. I must admit that I have conflicting thoughts about New Years Resolutions. One part of me believes in renewal and that we should take advantage of opportunities to become our best self – you know the one: that person that we envision others trusting, enjoying and appreciating. However, I don’t think that we should necessarily wait for a new year to roll around. If we recognize the need to make changes in our lives, we shouldn’t wait until a specific day on the calendar, we just need be honest with ourselves and start as soon as possible. Regardless of when you begin working towards your resolutions – the key is to not only identify your goals, but to have a plan to get from here to there. Thomas Edison is credited with one of my favorite sayings “Vision without execution is hallucination”. We can desire something, but until we come up with a solid plan, it’s nothing more than a dream.

Often people have mental lists of dos, don’t, rules, and goals. Some people may have an extended sense of intuition and self-awareness that permits them to meet and exceed their unwritten goals with unwritten plans of action. The other 99% of us need to record our goals so that we can hold ourselves accountable and (even better) monitor our progress. One great example is my fitness quest. It’s not all about the numbers on the scale, but when I established specific, measurable goals regarding the number of pounds I wanted to lose, the number of miles I wanted to walk, how many minutes I’d run without stopping, etc. I am much more successful. I must admit that it was humbling to get on the scale, take my measurements, and record my clothing sizes. However, as I started shedding pounds – the differential between the current numbers and those initial numbers proved very motivational. It was proof that I was making progress. Sometimes, having a way to measure your progress and acknowledge the benefits of your effort – is enough to spur you on so that you continue to make great progress. 

The first step is to record your goals – WRITE THEM DOWN. Post them in a prominent place so that you can constantly reinforce and remind yourself of what you plan to accomplish. Next, consider the interim steps to get from stating the goal to reaching the goal. What is required? What timeframes are associated with your progress? How will you know when you’ve met your goal? It doesn’t have to be extensive, but you should monitor your progress periodically. You must also evaluate whether more or different effort is needed. You may also need to refine your goals as you gather more experience and information.

The management mention of SMART goals (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely) is helpful to every goal – whether personal or professional. There are several key factors that are critical to establishing SMART goals:

1. The goal must be within your control – as much as we’d like to, we cannot set goals for other people. We cannot control others, only how we respond to them. Getting your brother to act like less of a jerk cannot be YOUR goal. Your goal could be to not allow your brother to upset you with his behavior.  Winning the lottery is not a goal (although we’d like it to be).

2. The goal must include milestones – you must be able to periodically monitor your progress. Carefully consider the steps necessary to reach your goal and establish timeframes/deadlines for each step along the way. For example, you cannot reach a goal to work on a degree in 2012 without completing the interim steps of admissions tests, researching programs, completing applications, etc.

3. The goal must be meaningful to you – I believe that each person has gifts, talents and abilities that they can use to make the world a better place. However, if you are establishing goals because they matter to those around you or seem to sound good at the time, you are doomed before you begin. The goal must be something that makes YOU feel fulfilled. If the goal is not meaningful to you, you will only grow to resent it instead of embracing it.

With these tips in mind, I hope that you make 2011 a year where you soar to new heights. Begin with the end in mind. Focus less on rote resolutions and more on steps toward winning outcomes. Happy New Year!

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Hello World!

My New Year’s Resolution has morphed into a “before the year ends” resolution. The road to hell is paved with good intentions and I was well on my way as I vowed in January of 2010 create a web site dedicated to my professional passions. Time marched on. The task of creating this site kept getting pushed to the bottom of my priority list. I’d convinced myself that my lack of interest was the result of spending boundless time and energy in planning or maintaining other web sites. I told myself that checking out my colleagues’ web sites would be enough. After all, I have some pretty cool friends who share my love of things relating to user experience, taxonomy, SEO and content development. However, deep down I knew that pointing to the established sites of my cool colleagues wouldn’t completely satisfy me. I wanted to establish my own voice and presence. Also, the control freak in me delighted in the prospect of TOTAL DOMINATION! Well, at least in the form of this site – my own little piece of the cyberworld that I could control. Yet, spring became summer which turned into fall and the desired site remained elusive, always a tiny speck at the bottom of my action item list. But let’s return from Guiltsville.  It took me until the middle of December, but I’m excited about reaching my goal. After all, I planned to launch my site in 2010…I just didn’t say when. Maybe my next post will explore approaches to goal setting…