The Middle Ball

Dad had a bitchin’ office. Realize this is coming from the perspective of a 9-year old who still considered Batman figurines “cool,” but I’m going to say my opinion holds up. He had a computer (this was 1070’s technology, so it was the size of a small car), a speaker phone that looked exactly like the one from Charlie’s Angels, letter openers that looked like Excalibur, and tons of other cool “stuff.”  When Dad was on the road, which was often, we were not allowed in the office, but for little boys that just made sneaking in there all the more appealing.

And nothing was more appealing to us than one of the little gadgets Dad had on his desktop ~ you may know it as the “ball doo-hickey,” but it’s actually called Newton’s Cradle:

this one’s gonna hurt

It’s a simple toy with a group of powerful lessons in physics, all of which were lost on us at the time; we simply liked clacking the balls back and forth. Anytime Dad travelled we were in his office, either making prank calls on his office line or clacking the balls (insert appropriate Beavis & Butthead snicker.) One might say the activity was hypnotic…so much so, we didn’t notice one day when Dad came strolling back into his office, unannounced.

Even at 9 yrs. old, this was an “oh sh-t” moment for me. My little brother could always plead for immunity in exchange for his testimony, but I knew  I was cooked.

But, surprisingly, my Dad only chuckled when he saw me playing with the “Cradle,” and instead offered up this nugget of wisdom: “Boys, you know how you ask me what I do for a living? Well, the best way to explain it is this ~ I’m that middle ball.

Now, at the time, any story mentioning “balls” brought a chuckle, but as time progressed I realized the meaning of that particular metaphor ~ with very few exceptions, we all live the existence of the middle ball. Professionally, the decisions made by senior leadership are channeled through each of us as they cascade throughout the levels of the organization. With each of these actions comes a predictable reaction, again channeled through us as it is relayed back up the chain of command. Back & forth, day after day, a continuous and perpetual chain of energy and motion.

There’s no avoiding this jolt of energy, only a decision to be made on how you react; you have the ability to channel that energy in a productive or destructive manner. Change Agents and early adopters use the energy boost to get in front of the curve; resisters pull back or become saboteurs – either way, it takes effort. Not to be too simplistic, but as long as it’s going to require your effort and energy, why wouldn’t you choose the route of moving forward?

Consider your role the next time change is sent down from up on high; at some point in the process, the change will hit you, and the choice will be yours on how to proceed.

Be a good ball.

John “Whit” Whitaker is Founder and OH (Original Hardballer); like this post? Try this one, this one, or even this one….”The Middle Ball™” is pretty cool, yes?







Old Dog, meet New Trick

You look ridiculous
You look ridiculous

When was the last time you challenged your own routine?

Recently, in the midst of a Keynote delivery, I had the opportunity to pose this question to the audience, but added a twist ~ how would you advise someone else to challenge their routine? We do love to give advice, it’s much, much easier than taking advice, right? To my astonishment, there were still very few specific ideas that the audience could offer. “Do things different…” was one idea. “Listen to other people’s ideas…” was another. Key learning moment achieved – it’s hard to even think of doing things differently.

The reason for my query was to align with the message of our ability to tolerate ambiguity. Many of us, willingly or not, have become mechanical in our dedication to routine. As such, we are often ill-prepared to respond when change is thrust upon us.

In his book Hacking Uncertainty, Price Pritchett explains the importance of challenging our daily routines; “seemingly trivial changes” begin to build our tolerance for change. Flexibility begets flexibility, even if the change seems insignificant.

This is a tenet of true change management ~ don’t forget the people involved in the change. The processes involved in change can be managed, but the emotional response relies is decidedly individual and unpredictable unless we work to improve.

Find your opportunities to shock your need for routine. Don’t think too hard about the perfect challenge, and don’t set your sights on the unrealistic or unlikely. Find small, meaningful changes to chip away at your normal programming, and build your tolerance for the unpredictable.

Losing Hurts (times 2)

Losing hurts. Not only does it hurt us to lose, but apparently it hits us with twice the weight as would a victory! It’s true, did you know that?

In 2002, Dr. Daniel Kahneman (a psychologist by trade) won the Nobel Prize in Economics for a study on judgment and decision-making that included our (humanus erectus) skewed perception regarding winning and losing.

Spoiler Alert: We’re really not doing ourselves any favors.

The good Doctor found that losses carry twice the psychological impact as wins. A sad state of affairs, but it’s all part of our primitive hard-wiring.

Now consider how this tendency might further complicate our ability to effectively manage change. When change hits (and it does “hit” quite often), our immediate reaction is to go into defense mode. While we are deliberating the terrible things ahead, we are also fabricating “losses” with which we will certainly contend (insert *wink* here). While this instinct has served us well as a species in terms of survival, it creates a huge obstacle for us when dealing with change at the workplace.

This is bigger than I imagined (that’s what she said)

If you ever wondered where the term “self-fulfilling prophecy” applied, this is it – the potential “losses,” if not dismissed with a different mindset, will become  “a magnet…guided by our intention” (Pritchett, Hacking Uncertainty; 2012). That’s right, Ty Webb had it spot-on.

The wise man learns to allow the option of “winning” into the equation…(but remember to multiply it by 2.)



Ball 4 – Charlie Allenson

Continuing this mad experiment, I’m expecting great things from our next interview guest, Charlie Allenson. He’s a New York City consultant who teaches improv comedy techniques to improve business and communication skills. What’s not to like? He is HR Hardball™ member Charlie Allenson.

  1. First of all, what’s so damn funny?

The US government allowing chicken growers here to sell their chickens to China to be processed so the Chinese can sell them back to us for our consumption. Gives new meaning to the phrase, “Tastes like chicken.” Or does it? I’m thinking about going vegetarian.

“I dunno…the man said get in line.”

       2. How can the ability to improvise be taught? What about the stiffs?

Anybody can be taught to improvise. Even the “stiffs.” The exercises I use focus on active listening and paying attention – learning to be more self-aware of your own listening and mental processes. The more tuned in you are to how you listen, think and react the better you can “improvise” a better solution to a problem or answer to a question that occurs in a situation with a fluid dynamic.

       3. If LinkedIn had the ability to play a theme song whenever someone viewed your profile, what song would we hear when accessing yours?

Bruce Springsteen’s “We Take Care of Our Own.”

4. You see professionals from all walks of life ~ what nugget of wisdom would you throw out there for HR Hardballers?

Listen to others. Pay attention. Be inclusive. Don’t answer with your ego.  And as my dad used to say, “Never overlook the opportunity to keep your mouth shut.”

If someone wants to connect with you, where do they find you?,,


Culture Change makes for Odd Couples

The lines can be blurred when determining a true “culture” change vs. a change in business practices. Take McDonald’s (please) as an example ~ can they really pull this off? Fruit and veggies with a Happy Meal?

"do you smell a trap?"
“do you smell a trap?”

How could you possibly bet against the marketing machine that is McDonald’s, the same place that now offers Cafe’ Latte and Oatmeal? As reported in the Wall Street Journal (9/27, Julie Jargon), McDonald’s plans to have fruits, veggies, and salads replace french fries as an option in Happy Meals implemented in 20 markets (that comprise [you guessed it] 85% of sales) by the year 2020.

Nutritional information and an emphasis on healthy eating (again, this is McDonald’s) will be included on the packaging. Water, milk, or juice will be offered with Happy Meals (we may need a name change after this) instead of soft drinks. Up is down, right is wrong, human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria!…what’s going on here?

Is this truly an attempt at a culture change??? Or, would a more jaded eye guess this is a conscious business decision to appear a more thoughtful, friendlier fast-food giant?

  • Fact – McDonald’s is smart enough to respond to the world around them, i.e. they felt pressure; Corporate Accountability International is among those who have proposed healthy changes to McDonald’s (and others). Even if McDonald’s officially rejects the overtures (as they did), their Mommas didn’t raise no dummies -they responded.  There is certainly a wealth of Goodwill to be gained here, it seems to be the smart move to at least attempt such a shift in corporate modus operandi.
  • Another possibility? McDonald’s will change the core being of their culture…fruits and veggies are just the start; soybean burgers wrapped in lettuce are in the near horizon. The Hamburglar is out, the Tofu Kid is in.

But wait, the buying public knows full well that fruits & veggies are a healthier option. We buy and eat fast food because we want to buy and eat fast food. If I’m going to McDonald’s, it’s not to educate my children on the benefits of healthy food – it’s a convenience, period. In that case, it’s nice to have the option of healthier foods, but…have you ever tasted McDonald’s french fries?

McDonald’s is not built to carry this out – you can respond to your critics, but at some point you will ultimately respond to your customer. You can bet that reduced revenue will usurp any health benefits provided by rabbit food.

Time will tell – McDonald’s has scheduled performance checks scheduled at 3, 5, and 8-year benchmarks, the results of which will be monitored by a 3rd party. The results will be reviewed by a 3rd party organization, but I don’t put much water in this being a long-term change…my sources tell me Mayor McCheese has the committee in his back pocket.

John “Whit” Whitaker is Founder and OH (Original Hardballer); like this post? Try this onethis one, or even this one….go ahead, I’ll wait.