Posts Tagged ‘truth’

A life of generosity lived with an open heart. I will miss you, Ken Myszkewicz.

October 31, 2016

A friend of mine was murdered six days ago. He was 43 years old and left behind a wonderful wife and son. And amidst the heartbreak and the tears, my friend left life as he lived it – focusing all of us who knew him on the capacity each of us has to make life better.
ken-myscewic

We first came to live in our town in 2001 – my wife’s grandmother was nearly 90 years old, and we decided to move close to her so if she passed away we wouldn’t wish we had been with her – we would have actually been with her. This was prescient, as she did pass away six months after our fateful decision to be with her.
I’ve always been a big fan of cycling, and I brought my bike with me when we moved – an “exotic” Pinarello I bought with part of my signing bonus when I got out of business school in 1990. One of the first things I did once we got settled in our new home was to go out for a bike ride – Southeastern Wisconsin is an awesome place to ride a bike – miles and miles of country roads and beautiful scenic farmland.

So there I was, I’d just finished one of my first rides and I went to a convenience store in town to get something to drink. I was sitting on my bike and noticed a guy across the street walking by, see me, do a double-take, and then make a beeline for me. He introduced himself, and then proceeded to ask about the bike and offered a load of suggestions about routes as well as let me know there were Tuesday/Thursday “no drop” rides leaving from the Trek factory in town. Before I knew it we’d exchanged contact info. My wife remembers me coming back from that chance meeting excited to have had such a warm welcome to the cycling community.

That guy was Ken Myszkewicz.

Those “no drop” rides in hindsight are where Ken’s character were revealed, time and again. I’m a bike nut, but I’m not a cycling athlete. I love riding bikes, and I did show up on more than a few of these rides. The group would head out for two hours of riding, and the pace would pick up along the way. I would generally be at the back of the group, my eyes focused on the hub of the rider in front of me. As the pace increased and as I got tired, tunnel vision would develop, and about all I could see was that hub.

Cycling is a surprisingly mental sport. When you’re tired, and all you can see is that hub, staying “on the wheel” of that person in front of you becomes your mental obsession. It’s your lifeline to the group. Fall back too far and you won’t be able to speed up enough to get back on the wheel, and you’ll be riding by yourself.

There’s even a term for this – “yo-yo-ing” off the back of the pack. Fall behind, work your way back up. Fall behind again, work your way back up again.

And “no drop” rides are where the pack keeps its speed to the point where no one falls off the back. It’s humane to the less capable, justifiably annoying to the better cyclists.

On my first group ride there I was, 20 miles in, and at the back. Yo-yo-ing. And as hard as I tried, I was starting to fall back. With my tunnel vision I didn’t notice a rider look back, and then slow down and move up behind me. Moments later I felt a firm hand on my lower back, and it pushed me forward. Right up behind the wheel of the rider at the back.

That was Ken. No words. Just help. And while he had a legendary reputation for being able to set a pace for a ride that would leave the entire group scattered and exhausted, he chose to take his abilities, and his heart, and direct it to helping others stay in the group. It was a choice.

Ken was a legendarily competitive cyclist, who founded more than a few cycling teams and who raced and won just about every kind of cycling race that exists: road, cyclocross, endurance, mountain biking. He worked at Trek – how much better does a job get if you’re a cyclist?

When he found out I was nuts about cycling and that Greg Lemond is a hero of mine, Ken made sure to get Greg to sign a photo when he stopped by the Trek factory.

At the service I met people he made better by helping them keep up. The people he made better by setting a pace on competitive rides that caused them to dig deeper for strength and mental toughness than they could have on their own. He made people better by simply showing up, at races, at rides, at school events. When I spoke with others who knew Ken this generosity of spirit is what each and every person I spoke with remarked on.

Ken was both a man of few words, and amazingly skilled at conversation. He could remain silent in a group, and offer one-word answers and what one might describe as even grunts if he thought the subject was mundane or frivolous. Yet he could also engage you in a conversation for hours if the topic was worthy and you were game.

When we first moved to our town, for about five years we would host a holiday party. At the first year the party ended at about 9, and everyone left, except Ken. He grabbed a beer and continued talking for the next two hours. It was a good, thoughtful conversation. If it had been anyone else we would have thought “why won’t this guy leave” – but this is where Ken was at his best. We took it as a compliment, that this was Ken’s way of letting us know he was comfortable and felt welcome. With the crowd gone, it was just him and you. For the next few years we would plan these parties knowing there would be the time we told guests the party would end, and then there would be the time when Ken would leave. We’d plan for at least an hour. This paid dividends. We got to know Ken’s wife, Kim really well, and this cemented the friendship our children had with their son, Tyler.

ken-and-family

Of the hundreds of photos we saw yesterday, every single one had Ken, his wife Kim, and their son Tyley with big, beaming smiles. Every one.

These weren’t forced. They were genuine reflections of the hearts that produced them.

The searing loss for me is that it’s precisely too late to let Ken know how much I valued who he was. And yesterday at the service I saw hundreds of people who Ken had made a difference in their lives, and they couldn’t let Ken know either. Because making a difference in someone’s life most often is done in a way that neither party notices at the time. Ken changed lives because of who he was on a daily basis and he never helped people to be noticed. There were no heroics involved.

And my life was changed by Ken in ways I only see and appreciate through the pain of his loss and a broken heart.

At Ken’s service yesterday the most telling, awe inspiring moment happened when another cyclist stood up and asked “How many of you have had Ken show up and push you back up to the group?”

And more than 100 hands went up.

Ken was an awesomely accomplished cyclist, won more than his share of races. He was a fiercely competitive person. But the difference he made with his life was not what he won, but the choices he made to help. 1000s of times. The choices he made to live his life.

The very wise and kind pastor who oversaw the service yesterday closed it reminding us that the daily generosity Ken practiced is what we should focus on in our own lives. How we can  do more, every day.

For me, I will look more generously to find those who are”yo-yo-ing” in life and be that person who shows up with a firm hand, to help push them forward.

Ken is gone now. But he left us all an example about how to live a life.

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Truth is relative and changes with perspective

June 4, 2009

My post about ambiguity and alignment provoked some really interesting comments, which I wanted to circle back to.  One comment in particular got my attention

It was an observation that truth is relative and it changes with perspective.  At a certain level that makes sense to me.  Truth can seem to be defined by the winners of the battles, by the dominant doctrine, by the loudest voice. 

The person commenting also observed that because of the relative nature of truth “good people can make poor choices at the crossroads.”

And this brought me to realizing that not only is truth relative, it quickly gets intertwined with morality.

In startup companies I think this is super important.  We’re battling the dominant doctrine of the market, striving to fight or become the loudest voice, working so hard to win.  And we’re doing so under enormous, constant pressure.  Keeping hold of what you believe is true and right can be difficult when it seems like survival is the order of the day, every day.

So you might find yourself in an environment where the pressure is explicit and relentless to place your company’s interests ahead of your customer’s, or your investors.  What is true then?  Well, the Entellium duo felt it was true that if they missed their revenue forecast they’d be fired, and made some really poor choices at that crossroad.  The truth was certainly relative for them.

But the more I talked to my friends about this “truth is relative” conundrum, the more I seemed to be saying there is no real truth.  I was explaining it away.  And it shocked me.  My initial reaction was that the last place you want to go is to say there is no absolute truth.  But actually the more I think about it that’s where I do end up.  The truth in your daily life is completely relative, it’s not absolute.  Except that what it’s relative to is what’s true to you.

When I was at LSI Logic in the early days as a product manager I remember going on a sales call at the end of the quarter to help a salesperson close a huge deal.  We found ourselves seated across from the purchasing manager, who was the wife of the founder,  reviewing the terms of our proposal only to hear her ask for a gift.  She said “I’d like a Gucci purse”.  I heard it as a non-sequitur.  Maybe her birthday was around the corner.  I tried to keep the conversation moving, but it quickly dawned on me that the gift was separating us from this order.I looked over at the salesperson, and we exchanged nervous, and puzzled looks.   

The salesperson and I ended the conversation as quickly as we could, got up and left, I called my boss (using my spiffy “car phone”) and relayed what had happened.  I was in a turbulent state of mind.  We needed this order, and I just made the call to walk away from it.  He was disappointed, really disappoint we lost the deal but supported the decision to walk.  I was relieved to be in a company where we shared this same sense of right and wrong.

I’ve told this story a lot, to me it’s a pure ethics example – it’s the one I put on my business school applications (they all had a question like “Describe an ethical dilemma you’ve encountered and how you handled it”). 

Except I’ve repeated it to people I have first hand experience with and know to be people of solid integrity and had them say “Hmmm…not sure if I wouldn’t have just gotten the purse, and the order.”  And it made me realize I made my choice based on my personal “truths” and these people would have made different choices for their own.  And each of us would have felt like the choice was aligned with our morals.

Another friend told me this topic sent her to look up the meaning of “moral relativism” – that moral/ethical propositions are measured relative to their circumstances.  More important, that only personal subjective morality expresses true authenticity.  Your personal sense of truth = the authentic you.  The other person looking back at you in the mirror.

That means you have to know that person in the mirror really well to remove the ambiguity in what happens at the crossroads.  You need to have an intimate and unabashed knowledge of what you yourself believe to be true about yourself.  If you lack that, well the easier it will be for you to be seduced by or succumb to the loud voices, the accepted doctrines, the winners of the battles.

Bad news should travel faster than good news

February 11, 2009

I love this phrase. It was a core principle of Rob Glaser’s at RealNetworks, and I think I must say it to myself or repeat it to someone nearly every day. It’s simple, true, and universal. It applies to work, life, relationships, everywhere.  It’s a core principle that cements the relationship with my partners.

I also love noticing how other people have internalized this principle. The CEO of one of my companies is an incredibly experienced and pragmatic executive who articulates the essence of this phrase another way: that bad news and good news are just different types of data, and just data.  You can’t make good, sound decisions with only half the data. In fact, you will consistently make poor decisions with half the data.

She creates a culture on her teams of “no cost to sharing bad news, and the more rapidly the better”. There’s a second-order benefit too. By treating bad news as data, you build trust within the team, and you shift the focus off the news, and onto what can be done, and how should the team or person respond.  This is easy to say, and really, really hard to put into action.

It also helps you appreciate good news more lucidly. When an executive only tells me what’s working well, the great forecast, the customer wins, part of my mind spins up, wondering “what’s he/she not telling me, because nothing ever goes well all the time.” It gradually deafens my ability to listen to the good news.

Conversely, when someone walks me through what’s gone wrong or what he/she is struggling with, when we get to the good news, I listen so much more closely, because it’s so much more credible. It also tells me a lot about the executive. I know I’m having a real conversation, that I’m not being sold to. 

But this isn’t just about work, it’s about life.  For example, putting into action with your children follows a similar trajectory.  Once my children entered school, and report cards started coming home, we applied the same approach the CEO at my company has with her team.  My children have been told that “this is just a collection of data that will help you and us understand where you need to apply your attention in the next grading period” and “Let’s not focus on the grade itself, but on whether you and we feel you’re working to your potential”. 

My two oldest are in 10th and 8th grade now, where grades matter a lot, and not surprisingly these two children respond quite differently to reviewing “the data”.  The oldest has found it easier to respond matter-of-factly while her younger brother has been less comfortable engaging in a discussion.  There are some likely “birth order” effects going on here, but those aside, he’s struggled to not be defensive…and it’s not about raw intelligence; both of them are at or near the tops of their classes.

So, last month when reviewing the interim grade reports, my son’s math grade had really taken a tumble, it was clear that he was struggling.  But he so didn’t want to examine why.  He wanted to focus on the courses where he was doing well, and pushed back in ways only a 14 year-old can do about applying some objective scrutiny on the basis of his math grade.  But, I guess he listened more than I realized.

A few days later, he walks up to me and says “I’ve got a big math test coming up, and I think I need help with some of this, I just don’t get it.”  We spent the next two nights working together going through the finer points of the standard, point-slope, and slope-intercept formulas with him. 

It was a lot of work, but the transformation was palpable.  He seemed to have turned this corner and saw/felt the benefit of not judging the data, but using it.  By the time we were done, he was confident and relaxed for his test, and he did just fine, better than he expected.

Then again, of course he did, he got to look at all the data.