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June 10, 2013

Cramming Life
Filed under: People Skills — Tags: — nedpelger

Do you remember cramming for an exam back in your school days? Do you recall that stress of trying to get all that information lined up properly in your head so it could spill out onto the test paper?

As I read G.K. Chesterton in my prayer time this morning (check out that hair),

I came across his definition of cramming. In The Universe According to K.K. Chesterton, he wrote:

Cramming: the tendency of a man to give everything to what he is studying except time, patience and reverence. It is a great mistake to suppose that people only cram for examinations; they cram for culture, they cram for success in life, they cram for Imperial wars, and morally and spiritually speaking, they cram for the Day of Judgment.

I’ll leave the Day of Judgment to you, but let’s talk about cramming for success in life and work. Do you give time, patience and reverence for the most important things? Do you even know the most important things?

I challenge you (and me) to invest time to live an examined life. Think about what things will help you move from where you are to where you want to be. Make a plan, then devise some strategies for the various ways your plan will likely fail.

Remember, failure doesn’t really matter. Your response to failure does.

If you want some worksheets to help you devise a plan, download this free copy of  Joyful Living: Build Yourself a Great Life!


May 28, 2013

Groundhog Stew: Rites of Passage
Filed under: People Skills — Tags: — nedpelger

When my 12 year old grandson Clay spotted the groundhog in the meadow, we both rushed over to grab the .22 rifle and some shells. He sneaked to get a clear shot and made it count. So what do we do next?

I can justify shooting groundhogs in the meadow just to help avoid holes that could break the donkeys leg. But this was his first varmit kill. He said a prayer over the carcass. Then we moved into the gutting and butchering stage.

As we gutted, he got a bit rammy with the intestines, tore them and got a terrible wiff. That led him to deposit his recently eaten supper on the grass next to us. But he got right back to work. We eventually got the guts out and started trying to carve chunks of meat off the carcass. He worked at this for quite a while and got a decent little pile of meat.

When I told TBW and his parents that we were going to make groundhog stew tomorrow, the response wasn’t favorable. TBW was positive it would be dangerous and we’d get sick (where does she get this stuff?). Clay’s father, though, looked up recipes online and agreed to do the cooking.

We ended up with an excellent meal of groundhog, carrots, broccoli and onions, with lots of spices. It tasted like a Chinese stir fry. Why do I tell this story? A hunter’s first kill shouldn’t just be discarded. The rite of passage of killing, cleaning, cooking and eating produces a permanent lesson.

One of my past customers and friends recently taught me how to shoot archery. As I practice, I’m impressed how well the basics work. I’ll continue to make mistakes, but move toward competence by always coming back to the basics.

As you look at your construction skills and projects, consider the rites of passage that you’ve endured. Think about how you should be helping others with theirs. What are the basics that you should be coming back to in order to improve?

Today, you are right here. To journey to where you want to go requires a first step, then another, then another. As you take that step and contemplate the next, remember rites of passage and the importance of the basics. And please pass me more groundhog stew.


May 3, 2013

Engineers, Pigs and Mud
Filed under: People Skills — Tags: — nedpelger

Working in construction these days requires many interactions with engineers. You can’t swing a dead cat on a construction site without hitting an engineer. Though I wouldn’t want to hit an engineer, because they are universally loved and respected on construction sites. So the quote below surprised me.

The image was posted on an Imgur thread and had lots of comments. Most of the comments just agreed with the sentiment, while some razzed lawyers (Why do male attorneys usually wear tight shirt collars and ties? It keeps their foreskins from creeping up and covering their faces).

I liked this comment: Probably because arguments allow us to locate flaws and eliminate them, or come up with superior alternatives.

But thought this one was the truest: It’s not so much that we like arguing… It’s just that we like being right.

Hope you have a wonderful weekend and the satisfaction of being right. Just please look for that satisfaction at work and not with your spouse. Rule to live by: if you have to be a dick, do it at work and not at home.


April 29, 2013

A note on writing from CS Lewis
Filed under: People Skills — Tags: — nedpelger

I love reading CS Lewis books and letters. Everything from The Screwtape Letters to The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe to Surprised by Joy to The Pilgrim’s Regress to Mere Christianity simply captivates me. In perhaps my favorite of his writings, The Great Divorce, Lewis describes an afterlife that makes my current life make so much more sense.

All of us need to write to communicate our ideas. Whether it’s a few lines in an email or a letter trying to convince a Code Official of a favorable interpretation, we all need to keep learning to write better. With that in mind, I’m sharing a letter CS Lewis wrote to a young fan of his in 1956. He got thousands of fan letters and tried to write a thoughtful, hand written response to each one. Here’s his response from the wonderful C. S. Lewis’ Letters to Children.

The Kilns,
Headington Quarry,
26 June 1956

Dear Joan–

Thanks for your letter of the 3rd. You describe your Wonderful Night v. well. That is, you describe the place and the people and the night and the feeling of it all, very well — but not the thingitself — the setting but not the jewel. And no wonder! Wordsworth often does just the same. His Prelude (you’re bound to read it about 10 years hence. Don’t try it now, or you’ll only spoil it for later reading) is full of moments in which everything except the thing itself is described. If you become a writer you’ll be trying to describe the thing all your life: and lucky if, out of dozens of books, one or two sentences, just for a moment, come near to getting it across.

About amn’t Iaren’t I and am I not, of course there are no right or wrong answers about language in the sense in which there are right and wrong answers in Arithmetic. “Good English” is whatever educated people talk; so that what is good in one place or time would not be so in another. Amn’t I was good 50 years ago in the North of Ireland where I was brought up, but bad in Southern England. Aren’t I would have been hideously bad in Ireland but very good in England. And of course I just don’t know which (if either) is good in modern Florida. Don’t take any notice of teachers and textbooks in such matters. Nor of logic. It is good to say “more than one passenger was hurt,” although more than one equals at least two and therefore logically the verb ought to be plural were not singular was!

What really matters is:–

1. Always try to use the language so as to make quite clear what you mean and make sure your sentence couldn’t mean anything else.

2. Always prefer the plain direct word to the long, vague one. Don’t implement promises, but keep them.

3. Never use abstract nouns when concrete ones will do. If you mean “More people died” don’t say “Mortality rose.”

4. In writing. Don’t use adjectives which merely tell us how you want us to feel about the thing you are describing. I mean, instead of telling us a thing was “terrible,” describe it so that we’ll be terrified. Don’t say it was “delightful”; make us say “delightful” when we’ve read the description. You see, all those words (horrifying, wonderful, hideous, exquisite) are only like saying to your readers, “Please will you do my job for me.”

5. Don’t use words too big for the subject. Don’t say “infinitely” when you mean “very”; otherwise you’ll have no word left when you want to talk about something really infinite.

Thanks for the photos. You and Aslan both look v. well. I hope you’ll like your new home.

With love
C.S. Lewis


April 23, 2013

Monticello: A Beautiful, Innovative Failure
Filed under: People Skills — Tags: — nedpelger

TBW and I just toured Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s home, for the first time.  It’s one of the best tours I’ve experienced in years. The architectural beauty combined with the incredible innovation just tickled me.

Yet learning that Jefferson died owing the modern equivalent of $2.5M US and had to sell his slaves at auction was a jarring counterpoint.

Consider that the worst fate in a slave’s life was to be sold at auction. At the auction, families could be separated forever or they could be sold to the dreaded “Down River” to the feared Deep South.  So the somewhat humane treatment of the slaves by Jefferson during his life, allowing families to generally stay together and allowing slaves to learn to read if they desired, seems trumped by this final indignity.

Jefferson had one of the most brilliant minds in history. He provided much of the basic language that made the United States actually work, while  also operating as one of the best scientists and inventors of his day.  Yet he devoted tremendous energy to running his estate of Monticello and died in bankruptcy. What gives?

I found a few interesting take-aways.

  1. Timing always matters…a lot. During the highly complex barter economy of the day, Jefferson made many deals backed by the asset of his land  and estate. When he died, America was in a depression and all asset values were greatly diminished. He died at the wrong time (which is probably the way most people feel).
  2. Jefferson was a victim of his own success. One of the main causes of the asset devaluation was the Louisiana Purchase that Jefferson accomplished as President in 1803. By bringing a huge amount of land into the colonies at one time, the existing value of land dropped immensely. The scarcity factor was disturbed.  So he did good for others and bad for himself.
  3. A brilliant mind doesn’t always make a good businessman. Not that they are mutually exclusive, I’ve worked with some brilliant folks who ran excellent businesses. But many people assume that lots of mental horsepower guarantees business success. I’ve seen over and over that it doesn’t. Brilliance often seems to get in the way of keeping attention on the simple yet essential functions of productivity (profit) and timing (cash flow).

If you get a chance to tour Monticello, take it. You won’t be disappointed. In fact, I encourage you to invest a bit of time and energy to learn something that isn’t your business or everyday life. Take some time to broaden your perspective. But learn from TJ that you still want to stick to your knitting…and don’t die at an inconvient time.


February 22, 2013

The Exquisite Meanness in Construction
Filed under: People Skills — Tags: — nedpelger

Steve called me the other day with a great construction story. He runs a small electrical contracting firm and often works with a general contracting firm. They prank each other regularly, but Steve tends to be the more aggressive prankster.

Steve was working on a project for which he’d pulled an electrical permit, but knew the GC had done some work on the project without pulling a building permit. The building inspector who would have been involved is a real prick and would have made a big stink over the permit.

So Steve calls the GC and tells him the inspector was just on site and really steamed. Steve gets the GC worked up into a lather before he starts laughing and admits to messing with him. The GC responds, “Burn me once shame on you, burn me twice, shame on me. You will NEVER fool me again!”

Of  course, that sounds like a hard to resist challenge to Steve. A few days later, he’s working at an attorney’s office and shares the story with her. Coincidentally, the GC had done some work on her office that wasn’t permitted. The Attorney jumps at the chance to extend the prank and calls the GC and tells him that the miserable inspector stopped by and was furious when he noticed that work had been done without a permit.

The poor GC again falls completely for the story (never considering that Steve would enlist a client for his dirty work) and obsesses over the trouble coming his way. This time, Steve lets it simmer a day or so. Ah, the exquisite meanness in construction.

Hope your day is better than that of the hapless GC.


February 8, 2013

After School Special
Filed under: People Skills — Tags: — nedpelger

My son-in-law just had his first piece of writing published at NIB Magazine. As a piece of flash fiction, it only takes about two minutes to read. I encourage you to head over and read it. Please consider leaving a comment if you do.

The piece has a cool vibe, kind of reminds me of The Outsiders by SE Hinton. I know this has nothing to do with construction, but sometimes my mind wanders.

Speaking of a wandering mind, I’ve been trying to get a hotel addition project out for bids for the last week. I have everything I need except my own concentration. Sometimes I amaze myself with my ability to avoid the one thing I need to be doing. Alas, today is the day.


February 1, 2013

Friday Fun: Effective Counseling
Filed under: People Skills — Tags: — nedpelger

When I was writing Joyful Living: Build Yourself a Great Life! I worked with John and Sharon Charles as my editors. They also ran Abundant Living, a counseling ministry. They thought TBW and I would make great marriage counselors and I agreed.

Our first couple had a guy who worked as an electrician in construction, so I thought I’d have extra special insight. During our first meeting, they shared their problems (people sure do crazy-assed things), and we agreed on an action plan.

Two weeks later, they came back, complaining about a new set of problems and I asked them how they did on our action plan. I got blank stares. The next two week visit yielded the same response. Turns out I have little empathy if people don’t keep their commitments. Turns out, TBW and I were about the world’s worst counselors.

I love the video below. It shows my counseling philosophy. Invest the six minutes to watch this video and change your life!



January 31, 2013

Health Info Presented Beautifully
Filed under: People Skills — Tags: — nedpelger

I’m a big fan of life balance. Work and relationships go better if we take care of ourselves physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. On the physical side, staying in good physical condition makes a huge difference in life quality. So does avoiding sickness and disease.

Of course, it’s challenging to know what really works to try to stay healthy. Lex sent me this wonderful chart on health supplements with ratings from scientific studies and updated by approved visitor feedback. The chart shows which supplements have strong, conflicting or slight evidence for effectiveness. Click on it to make it readable.

I was pleased to see that the fish oil, green tea, dark chocolate and mulit-vitamin (including vitamin D) that I work into my diet seem to offer real health benefits. The Glucosamine that I take for joint lubrication doesn’t test well, but I knew that before and it really does seem to work for me.

As I get into my second year of healthier eating, I’m happy with the results. I feel better in almost every way. I also better enjoy eating, both the healthy food I eat at home and the not so healthy restaurant food I eat when we go out. Everything seems more like a treat. And I like treats.


January 22, 2013

A Killer Interview Question
Filed under: People Skills — Tags: — nedpelger

Most of us do lots of interviews, even if we don’t think about them that way. We meet with industry associates and try to relate and learn from them. If we’re managers, we interview for consultants, subcontractors and employees. Even casual random conversations have elements of an interview.

So what’s the killer interview question proposed by Publicity Hound?

“What single project or task would you consider your most significant accomplishment in your career so far?”

Let’s begin by you considering and answering that question? As I thought about it, my mind went to writing Joyful Living, but that didn’t seem to be it. Then I thought about building the Cloister Car Wash buildings, which were great fun and technical challenges.

But then I thought about the LCBC Church main auditorium in Manheim, PA.


I think that would be my most satisfying and significant project thus far. The fact that I get to go and worship in the building each week adds to that feeling.

So what project or task do you consider your most significant in your career thus far? Answer that for yourself and get in the habit of asking others. Then listen and learn.

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