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August 2014

Three A's Signaling A Mental Checkout-2
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Three A’s Signaling A Mental Checkout

by Jasmine Bingham

A strong team has members who do their job well. When someone falls out of sync, it disrupts the entire project. Sometimes it’s unintentional, merely a transition issue. Other times, it’s very intentional, signaling a mental checkout. How would you know the difference?

I’ve been on both sides of this spectrum. I remember mentally checking out almost a year before I announced my resignation from a large brokerage firm. I began to hate my job.

The work I used to love had become a marathon of futility. I was running while being shackled by bureaucracy, propelled by the dangling carrot of achievement which, in reality, turned out to be merely money. I realized my role was that of “paid puppet.” Nevertheless, it was my job. So I still did what I had to do—and more—but now it was without enthusiasm. I felt like a robot, a mouthpiece.

On a positive note, it also made me brazen so I took some risks, made some good calls, and got great recognition from colleagues and clients. But it wasn’t enough to change my mind. My mental check-out was rooted in something much deeper. My frustration wore on my self-esteem and led to an inevitable resignation, with no regrets and no looking back.

On the flip side, I’ve seen others do the mental check-out and actually ruin projects I was deeply involved in.

A web design firm and an app design firm each embarked on two-week Mexican vacations after receiving large installments to finance development projects. This, despite launch dates looming just over the immediate horizon. Another example was sloppy and hasty artistic contributions on a publishing project. The poor quality of the work submitted was a shocking wake-up call to the other team members. In all these cases, a detachment and a lack of pride in their work were strong signals they’d already checked out of the project. As you can imagine, they were all terminated in short order.

When mental checkouts happen, they hurt both sides. No one really benefits from a lingering teammate who no longer wants to play the game. Mental checkouts leave a bad taste in everyone’s mouth because of the negativity and disruption to work flow they introduce. There’s nothing wrong with realizing you’re in over your head, or you actually don’t like what you’re doing. But if you stop participating, yet continue to accept a paycheck, you’re playing a dangerous game with your own reputation.

The bottom line is: it’s best to physically check out soon after you’ve mentally checked out. As an employer or team leader, it’s not hard to pinpoint those who mentally leave a project. Strong signals are there, if you watch for them. If you are the one feeling a mental checkout building, there are ways to improve your situation without burning bridges.

The three strongest indicators of eroding morale, for me, all happen to begin with the letter A:

Apathy is the first sign: resigned detachment; lack of enthusiasm; dearth of ideas. The root of apathy may start when someone realizes they’re not qualified. The ethical thing to do is talk to the team and let them know your limitations. There might be another role for you. However, there are too many people, usually subcontractors, who mentally check out yet continue to misrepresent their skills just to nab a quick payday.

Having been on the receiving end of this, I can tell you it’s morally reprehensible and you won’t fool anyone for long. Also, it’s a small world and you can be sure those who are burned by you won’t shy away from revealing your misrepresentation to others. If, on the other hand, you’re quite qualified but no longer care for the work, communication is key. Most companies respect honesty, even if it means losing you or giving you a new position. At least your reputation will remain intact, if not soar, because you’ve shown pride and respect for the project or the company.

Absence comes next: not showing up to meetings, or canceling them outright; scheduling vacations at inopportune times. If it’s a subcontractor, they may jump to other projects and become difficult to contact. If it’s a salaried employee, the best thing to do is have a sit-down meeting. If it’s a sub, the best thing to do is stop payments. As a matter of principle, sub-contractors should only receive a minimum up front, the bulk being the carrot dangling at the end of successful completion. While this isn’t always possible, I’ve found those subs not willing to take delayed gratification probably won’t be giving you any immediate gratification either. They likely aren’t qualified and don’t deserve the job.

When I mentally checked out as a salaried employee in my previous career, I continued to show up every single day. I swallowed my frustration and did my best because I was still getting paid. In hindsight, I should have talked to my bosses and requested a transfer. The problem with my situation was, I was sick of the industry altogether. I showed up in spite of not wanting to because I still respected my company, my bosses and the money they paid me. Only I felt the negative repercussions of my mental check out, not them.

Animosity rears its ugly head; becoming combative or defensive; showing a disrespectful attitude and escalating criticism of the work or the goals. Hiding frustration isn’t easy, but once certain words are spoken they can’t be erased from memory. When you feel yourself wanting to flip people off with words, you may as well keep your mouth shut and resign. Divisiveness erodes progress in any relationship. It’s like a cancer metastasizing right before your very eyes. When I look back on my own experience, I remember many heated arguments with my bosses. They knew I was frustrated, but they also saw me coming up with new ideas and generating lots of work. They thought I got over it.

Fast-forward to the subs we hired, however, and I remember their defensiveness whenever their work was questioned. I remember the blame game; their frustration with their own incompetence became a finger pointing back at us, as if we made the project impossible to complete. Well, that wasn’t the case at all. After their termination, all the projects they were working on were brought in-house and were completed beyond our expectations, by ourselves. All we lost was money and time. However, we made up for it with pride, great outcomes and, of course, a much savvier perspective for the future.

If any of these A-words are popping up in your head, you may want to take a hard look at your situation, whether you’re the salaried employee, the sub-contractor on a project, or the head of a team or company. When I finally announced my resignation, I felt the weight of the world lift from my shoulders. When we terminated the subs who mentally checked out on our projects, I felt that same relief. These resolutions were ultimately liberating and unleashed strong upward momentum.

In conclusion, there’s nothing wrong with mentally checking out; it happens. But how you deal with it says a lot about you. Do the right thing and physically check out as soon as you can.

Never burn a bridge when it comes to your employment and your reputation. These days, there aren’t that many new bridges being built.

Channel Blue by JZ Bingham, 5 Stars Foreword Reviews Juvenile Fiction
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Foreword Reviews Juvenile Fiction: 5 Stars For Channel Blue


Foreword Reviews Juvenile Fiction
Channel Blue: Riders of the Storm
by JZ Bingham | Jason Buhagiar, Illustrator
Balcony 7 Media and Publishing
Pub Date: April 30, 2014



Pulled in by standout illustrations, kids are introduced to life lessons such as perseverance, sportsmanship, and overcoming adversity.

For once, judging a book by its cover will serve teachers, students, and parents well.

Illustrated by Jason Buhagiar, JZ Bingham’s Channel Blue is as riveting in its text as it is in its animation-style visuals. The fourth in the award-winning Salty Splashes Collection, Bingham uses clever rhyming couplets to create a picture book about an alluring cast of surf-loving animals and the sea creatures under the waves.

The adventure story is superbly packaged in hardcover with a sleek front-cover design and truly beautiful illustrations, with layouts reminiscent of Disney storyboards.

On the morning of Heat Wave, a surf contest, cartoon animals Stump and Crump attempt to thwart the feline Beardsley so that their boss, Diggy, has a better shot at winning the Golden Fin trophy. The duo enlists the aid of dolphins and sharks as furry beach babes Oola and Kat look on to see which surfer will come out on top. Through Bingham’s metered verse, Beardsley overcomes a broken surfboard, rocks outside his cave, and sinister sharks to not only win the contest but also to exercise supreme sportsmanship in befriending his rival in the end.

“In spite of all his scheming and in spite of all his tricks,” Bingham writes, “the mighty Diggy hit a wall with quite a lot of bricks. ‘We made it, man. Here, take my hand.’ The bobcat took a stand. This humbled Diggy mightily. He grinned and took his hand.”

Pulled in by Buhagiar’s standout illustrations, kids are introduced to life lessons such as perseverance, sportsmanship, and overcoming adversity. Rhymes make the narrative fun to read aloud and will also benefit new readers as they work through Bingham’s mix of easy and slightly advanced vocabulary.

Bingham also packs in the action: the furry cartoon cast has a beachside dance party, snorkels through reefs, rides sting rays, conspires with sharks by moonlight, and surfs the white- crested swells. Meanwhile, Buhagiar adds intensity through highly expressive characters drawn to capture the drama and excitement of the Heat Wave competition.

Channel Blue will undoubtedly stand out on any bookshelf, and once cracked open, it will likely become a favorite at group story times or in the hands of a young beginner reader.

Amanda McCorquodale



channel-blue-book-review 5 Stars Foreword Reviews Juvenile FictionAvailable wherever books are sold and in select libraries. AMAZON | BARNES & NOBLE 

Business Lessons from the Red Queen, Randy Morkved, Balcony 7
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Business Lessons from the Red Queen

by Randy Morkved

Business, like chess, is a game of strategy in which the pieces are alive and in constant motion. To play this game well, we should remember the Red Queen, the chess piece that comes to life in Lewis Carroll’s, Through The Looking-Glass. She reveals to Alice, in the looking glass world, one needs to run with all his might just to maintain his position. It makes for one of the best business lessons of all. Here’s why.

That sure is how it feels “running” a business today. For example, how many countless hours does your team spend just on maintaining a social media presence? All that time is well spent, of course, but it doesn’t always yield immediate results. In fact, just maintaining a stable base of followers or likes means your doing something right. Viral spurts are few and far between in today’s social-media-driven market environment, and some companies rarely see actual sales conversions. But that doesn’t mean you stop trying. On top of the energy spent on crucial day-to-day matters, we hope to muster enough momentum to sprint ahead on occasion.

If an opportunity presents itself, we could make a strategic move to enhance our position on the chess board of our industry. But even if we do, will we ever win the game?

I came across a great take-away of Lewis Carroll’s Red Queen race recently, one that talks about evolutionary theory yet accurately describes the business world. The late evolutionary biologist, Leigh Van Valen, coined the Red Queen Hypothesis. In his abstract, written in 1972 for the University of Chicago, he compared Evolutionary Theory to game theory: “…each species is part of a zero-sum game against other species. Which adversary is most important…may vary from time to time, and…no one adversary may ever be paramount…no species can ever win, and new adversaries grinningly replace the losers.”

In my own industry of publishing, the Red Queen example is appropriate and timely, but I think you can find similarities in any industry. Within publishing exists a tiered structure, heavily weighted toward the top players controlling the bulk of content, in all formats. Prior to the ebook explosion, traditional distribution and brick-and-mortar stores formed an ecosystem in which everyone knew their place and great content was never in short supply. The double whammy of ebook proliferation and e-commerce convenience introduced a massive disruption to this ecosystem.

Enter Amazon, an adversary who evolved faster than the publishers themselves, by wisely embracing the digital, online future of both content creation (self-publishing and print on demand) and distribution (vast, online, direct-to-consumer sales). With a virtual superstore in place, this adversary grew from the sidelines to become a cornerstone in the publishing industry. Now, as we all know, we’re witnessing a power-play to rebalance each player’s role in the industry. One can argue the situation now facing publishers was foreseeable; but you know what they say about hindsight.

The dynamics of today’s business environment make comparisons to even ten years ago seem like apples to oranges.

It seems one important thing to consider is recognizing when the pendulum has swung too far. In this case, perhaps it finally has.

Did traditional publishers stop running and now have to play catch-up just to keep their place on the board? Or did they simply run in the wrong direction? Did they miss telltale signs of eventually being check-mated? Or did they simply mistake their adversary for an ally? How the players move around the chess board now will determine the next phase of dominance. At least, until the next adversary steps in to disrupt the board once again.

The chess game for any industry is rife with non-stop dynamics directly impacting a player’s position on the board. Stop running in place and take your eye off the other chess pieces, and you may find yourself face-to-face with the Red Queen, reminding you to keep running. But by then, it may be too late to keep yourself from getting check-mated. Importantly, in any organization, all weak links need to be identified and nurtured into strengths before a sprint for the lead can even be possible. The check-mate is often played by those companies who are able to offensively study the whole chess board rather than defensively focus on their next move.

The ever-evolving Internet adds yet another layer to today’s game of business, a layer in continuous motion under our running feet. Those who can balance themselves on this undulating board may advance to make their next move. Either way, the Red Queen will always be in our rear view, and always closer than she appears.

  • Do you have a Red Queen Strategy in your organization?
  • Have you identified where all your company’s energies are spent?
  • Are you maintaining your position as a result?
  • Do you know where your company lies on the chess board of your industry?
  • If an opportunity arises, are you ready to make your next move a check-mate?

Isn’t business a zero sum game? We, as leaders, entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, etc., do our best to identify organizational strengths that, if maintained, will keep us in the game. At the same time, we keep an eye on adversaries and trends so we can do things better or move ahead of the pack with the next best thing. But no one ever really wins, do they? Don’t we just jostle for the lead and try to keep it as long as we can before an eager adversary disrupts the board and forces us all to reconfigure?