Archive for October, 2008

Letting go

In yoga class this morning, we did a partner exercise where another person helped us stretch. My job was to lie on the floor with the soles of my feet together and let my feet be gently pushed towards my face. All I had to do was relax and let go.

It was the hardest part of class.


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Yesterday, the monkeys went to bed about an hour apart. I put them both to sleep and found that it was much easier to put one kid to bed than it is to put two kids to bed. Even though Monkey #2 was wailing most of the way down.

Bedtime always seems more about processing the monkeys than playing with them, and walking one monkey at a time through the routine is just a lot easier. I can carry them around if I need to. They appreciated the individual attention and so didn’t fight me about tooth brushing and face washing. I suddenly wasn’t trying to do three things at once.  

Lot’s of the things that I do with the monkeys are actually better with two than they would be with one. Like playing in the park or going to the zoo. They feed off of each others’ excitement, engage each other, and keep each other on their toes. What’s more, some activities, like painting and other crafts, seem more worthwhile to get into when there are two kids enjoying the fun. But sometimes the facts remain: two is harder than one.

I’ve been thinking a lot about scalability at work as we grow our company. 10 people was easier to manage than 20. 30 was easier again, because by then we had to get systems in place. 50 people brings new challenges. We’re no longer a very small company but aren’t really big either. For every system and procedure, there always seems to be an exception.

Like having more kids, there are some things that get better and easier when you’re bigger. We have a deeper bench of talent. A broader range of interests and expereince. But the systems and the procedural stuff, like bedtime, are ever more challenging.

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A friend of mine is reading a book to help him understand his three year old. One of the main points, at least from the introduction, is that 3 year olds often don’t know what they want. And they want exactly what they want, even if they don’t know what they want. (If you think that sounds confusing, it’s because it is. Trust me, I live with two of them.)

The result: kids who are constantly changing their minds about what they want and then getting angry when they don’t get what they want. In our house, it has a particular manifestation that, I have to admit, I think it is pretty funny: the do-over. When something doesn’t go as a monkey wants it to go, he simply reverses his steps and repeats the transaction according to his preferred script.

Yesterday, Monkey A wanted to get out of the stroller himself. Of course, he didn’t tell me that, so I helped him out of the stroller. After screaming about this injustice for a minute or two, Monkey A took matters into his own hands. He climbed back into the stroller and climbed out all by himself. That really showed me.

They like to get me involved in the do-over, too. If I come downstairs without them when they wanted me to wait, or in front of them when I should be behind them, they’ll try to forcibly push me back up the stairs so we can do it over again, according to their script. Funny. Sometimes annoying. But remarkably consistent.

I’ve been noting this behavior for a few weeks without quite understanding it. Then the other night, right before bedtime, we got into a battle of the wills over the monkeys putting away their toys before going to bed. I wanted them to, they didn’t want to. I may have yelled a bit. It didn’t help the situation.

After getting them to bed, I realized my folly. If only I had made clean up a game, instead of an ultimatum, we would have gotten a lot further. And bedtime would have been more fun for both of us. All of the sudden, I wanted a do-over. I managed to prevent myself from waking them up to try it again, and waited until the next night to try a better strategy, replaying the interaction according to the script in my head. It went much better. No fighting and they cleaned up most of their toys.

Unlike my monkeys, most of us don’t have partners, colleagues, or clients who will allow us the ‘do-over.’ We can’t just hang up the phone, make the call again, and say the right thing the second time. We can’t impose our desired script on other people. And with adults, it isn’t so easy to erase a prior interaction by just having a new one that works better.

What we can do, though, is do it differently the next time, the next day, in the next hour. Paying attention to when something isn’t working and consciously trying to to make a situation go exactly as planned next time is actually a pretty good strategy, and not just for 3 year olds.

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When you’re a monkey, everything looks like a tree.

Image thanks to A. N. Erlandson.

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