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Rough Drafts and Raw Ideas
by:  Travis R Wallace,
I use current and life events to relate communication strategies, innovation techniques and strategic planning to the masses in layman’s terms. These blogs represent a small taste of current and past topics for publishing and keynotes.
November 29, 2012

Your Business is in a Relationship

“A conversation is a dialogue, not a monologue. That's why there are so few good conversations: due to scarcity, two intelligent talkers seldom meet. “ - Truman Capote

From 2005 – 2007 I assisted one of my mentors, Dr. Pete Hamilton, with performing communication audits for various organizations. It was a great honor because Pete was on the original committee that used the International Communication Audit in the 1970’s. The audit was used to identify communication patterns within an organization. In a University, for example, the audit could be used to determine if one department only took in information but didn’t report back. In fact, one of the early audits Pete was a part of discovered just this. The department was identified as the athletic and the school indicated that they were aware that the athletic department functioned pretty independently. A few months later NCAA, independent of the study findings, placed the athletic program on probation for “lack of University control.”

What was great about this tool is that it provided a snapshot of internal communication patterns and could identify two-way symmetrical communication, basically a two-way conversation, or lack there of between areas of an organization down to the individuals. The downside, in my opinion, is that you could only see the communication pattern and not the type of communication. I view organizations as living, breathing entities and regard the communication, both internally and externally, on the same level as interpersonal communication, the type of communication we have between individuals. Just as there are meaningless exchanges between acquaintances, the approved two-way symmetrical communication within an organization could also be meaningless or even detrimental. I was interested in identifying the six criteria for assessing communication competence: adaptability, conversational involvement, conversational management, empathy, effectiveness and appropriateness. The second and third criteria could be postulated from the original audit but the other four had no indicators on a quantitative and very subjective on a qualitative level.

A second mentor, Dr. Shirley Drew, introduced me to interpersonal communication where I discovered the criteria I had been searching for, and together with Dr. Hamilton, they helped me structure what I felt was missing from the original communication audit. As a result, we were able to not only identify the communication flow within an organization, but could now quantify the type of communication. An added benefit was that we could now assess the external communication competency of an organization with its intended and unintended audiences.

Believe it or not, like it or not, your business is in a relationship so those of you that have a Facebook page for your company should click the relationship status button and rather than looking for “Likes” while posting information, your organization should initiate a conversation dialogue with your publics.

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November 29, 2012

Family, Friends & Sweet Potatoes

?”God gave us our relatives; thank God we can choose our friends.” - Ethel Watts Mumford

Granted, many people would interpret that quote as saying that we have to put up with our families, and I will say at times there are some of them that are hard to tolerate, but that isn’t how I take these words. I have friends that get on my nerves too and I their nerves, but that is because my closest friends I have chosen because they are like family. The holidays give us a special opportunity to realize just how close we bring our friends into our lives.

Friday after Thanksgiving, we had the opportunity to host for family and friends. We divided the responsibilities so that Kathy would start the turkey and some of the side items that we had on hand while I shopped for the other supplies and wine. The menu for the evening would be turkey prepared by a Martha Stewart technic involving white wine. broth and cheese clothes; green bean casserole with mushrooms; homemade cranberries with oranges and agave nectar; three types of sweet potatoes; both dressing and stuffing; mashed potatoes with sour cream and parmesan cheese; pecan bourbon pie; goat cheese roll appetizers; Champagne with the appetizers and Pinot Noir with the dinner.

The shopping was pretty uneventful for the first time since doing the junk drawer project. We were able to purchase the food items needed for a 17-person dinner for just under $200.00 and wine for about $130.00. Of course Kathy had already purchased the turkey, we actually had some ingredients on hand and our guests each brought wine and sides! The adventure this time occurred while we prepared dinner.

Let’s talk hot pad holders for a minute and lets just say that some should come with operating instructions. Especially for those of us that as we age are becoming more accident-prone and pain intolerant! Kathy has a hot pad holder that has a slit in the bottom. Despite the number of times I have used this particular item, I have never used it correctly and this time my thumb slipped through the slit just as I was taking hot bourbon pecan pie from the oven. Why is it that when you touch something hot you just cant let go? I was left with what had to be at least a 23rd degree burn that turned me from a 39 year-old rugby player to a 2-year old whimpering mess. I have fractured my eye socket, broken my nose multiple times, dislocated my shoulder, hyper extended my elbow, fractured my leg and a few fingers, suffered concussions, had my teeth loosened, etc. but nothing prepared me for the pain that was now coming from this major thumb injury. Kathy looked at me with a disappointing eye and suggested I put it under cold water. Only Maguire, her 5-year old son who was spending time with us in the kitchen understood what pain I was going through and demonstrated empathy for a moment before returning to his dragon drawing. For those of you out there that may encounter such a device as a slit bottom hot pad holder, you are to slide your entire hand through the slit so it attaches to your wrist then grip from the underside through the holder. If you fail to follow these directions then I suggest an ice cube followed by Polysporin and Champagne...a lot of Champagne!

After admitting that the burn looked worthy of a little wincing and giving me a hug, Kathy had a great idea. We should do a sweet potato cook-off because from the junk drawer we had a couple different recipes and could not agree on which one we should make. We agreed that we should make a traditional for the kid’s table but for the adults (and to continue the junk drawer adventure) we needed to make something a little out of the ordinary. Kathy chose to make sliced sweet potatoes with pecans, goat cheese and celery that her friend Karen had sent to us from InStyle magazine. I chose to make whiskey-glazed sweet potatoes with pecans, cayenne and apples courtesy of Guy Fieri. I have to admit, and the vote was unanimous, Kathy won this battle. Her creation was like a little bruschetta bite with very complex and complimentary flavors. She also cooked them to perfection. My dish was equal in complex flavors, however I did not cook it well and the sweet potatoes were still tough, the glaze was not well distributed and the apples started to get a little soft. We will have to try to make the dish again to see if it will make the cookbook. Her brother had to abstain from the voting however because he doesn’t like the texture of nuts and both dishes had pecans. I add this as something to consider when preparing for meals for guests.

The evening was a success despite the sweet potato failure on my part. We had a great time preparing the meal, discussing what dishes would be included, talking about traditions that we both have and setting the table for dinner. Kathy is such a great host. The table looked amazing, and the mixture of family and friends at the table was a pleasure and provided multiple topics of discussion from our respective dinners the day before to college sports (I was surrounded by Nebraska fans) to integrating kids and exes into relationships. I am thankful for my family, for Kathy and her family and for the friends that we share who are like family. La Dolce Vita!

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November 2, 2012

Life Happens...

"Life is what happens when you are busy making other plans" - John Lenon

After talking for a year about a concept I have to write a cookbook for couples that would not only provide recipes, but explain the importance of the time spent together in the kitchen and sharing a well prepared meal, Kathy had a great idea for us to blog about living the experience. She has a junk drawer of recipes that have been shared on emails and napkins from friends/family, recipes that have been ripped from the pages of magazines and recipes that have been pulled from the Internet. The concept we decided on was to grab a recipe or two from the junk drawer, assess the cupboard, make a grocery list and then prepare the meal together while we share a glass of wine and events of the day. Simple enough. November 1, 2012 was the day. An evening without the kids, athletic events, social events…nothing but a plan to start our project together and then Life happened!

The plan was in place. We would both leave work on time, meet at home to choose our recipes, workout, go to grocery store and start cooking by 6:30ish. Looking forward to the evening and realizing that I needed to go to the opposite side of town to drop off my daughter’s Girl Scout cookie order form at her mom’s house, I left work a little early. I dropped off the form, got to the house and reached in the drawer and pulled out a recipe for Fired-Up Ancho-Orange Glazed Chicken with Grilled Avocado Relish and a recipe for Skillet Green Beans with Orange then proceeded to workout while waiting for Kathy to get home. That is when it all started to become a typical day.

I received a call and had to run back across town for a minor emergency so I called Kathy on my way, explained that I had the recipes and would stop on the store on my way back and we would be ready to cook by the time she was done with her workout. We would still be on a decent time schedule; she had a great day at work to talk about. Life is a little delayed but good.

An hour and a half later I am walking through the grocery store, recipes in hand and no clue what we had in the cupboard or refrigerator but we live in an age of advanced communication devices so I call while walking through the aisles. No answer. Being a resourceful man I determined that the best course of action was to just buy everything on the list fresh so $38.48 later I was walking out with my bags and ready to get home and start our new adventure. Timing should be just perfect. Kathy will have finished her workout, wine would be poured…life is good.

Long story short, Kathy arrived home the same time as I did. At 7:30 in the evening we are ready to start our adventure! We discuss that in real life this is what happens and while we intended to do the whole process together, the adventure is about communication and working together as much as it is about the food. We decided that she would still workout while I did pre-prep…something I love to do anyway! We opened a bottle of 2002 Twomey Merlot to celebrate her day and our project and let it decant while I prepared the ancho-orange glaze, salted the chicken and cut some avocados.

At 8:20 we were ready to cook with much but not all of the prep out of the way. We poured our wine, toasted each other with “La Dolce Vita” and I took on the chicken while Kathy worked on the skillet green beans with oranges. The whole time we were able to discuss her successful day, shared conversation about my emergency situation, tried to understand what “lifting the oranges from their juice” meant and why you would leave the grill open while doing the chicken over medium heat.

Just before 9:00 we sat at the formal dining room table and the food was perfect. Chicken was moist with a great blend of spicy and sweet. The green beans were smokey with a hint of citrus. The Twomey was smokey, chewy with a hint of cocoa and berries. My culinary partner and love was as engaging and beautiful as always. The conversation turned to how we would continue the process and how often. We are going to try once a week and decided to blindly pull from the junk drawer. Some nights may be desserts only…a concept that her mom, Linda, confirmed would be a great idea.

We are all busy and too often our interpersonal relationships suffer, especially family and significant others. Pick a time each week to enjoy an activity together that will allow you to engage in conversation. For us, it is the kitchen. Cheers!

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October 29, 2012

Our Business Climate...

“Reasonable men adapt to the world around them; unreasonable men make the world adapt to them. The world is changed by unreasonable men.” - Edwin Louis Cole

One of the decisions that went into writing the current book I’m working on is the state of the United States business climate. As I wrote the introduction paragraph that this blog is based on, we were less than a month away from the 2012 Presidential election between Democratic incumbent Barrack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney. Unemployment level averages are at 7.8% and we have seen a number of businesses deciding to take jobs, and in some cases entire operations, offshore. According to the January 2012 study, Prosperity At Risk, a Harvard Business School survey on U.S. competitiveness authored by Porter and Rivkin, the jobs that we are losing are not just the “low wage” positions that many of our politicians discuss. In fact, production and research/development/engineering are the highest percent sectors of employment considering moves offshore. A more compelling statistic is that, “…multi-function activities moved as a group were more likely to be considered for relocation out of the U.S. than for movement to America.” (p. 9). Many respondents to this study suggested that the U.S. climate is okay right now but will continue to decline over the next three years. Some of the reasons given for this trajectory is the perception that the, “…United States is already weak and in decline with respect to a range of important factors: the complexity of its national tax code, the effectiveness of its political system, the K-12 education system, macroeconomic policies, the efficiency of the legal framework and regulation.” (p. 14). That is basically the equivalent of saying to the United States, “You are ugly and your momma dresses you funny.” These sectors are considered macroeconomic institutions and America has allowed them to degrade and have been strongly affected by bad policy and politics. The only good news for the United States with regards to these conditions is that they can be quickly upgraded if a decision is made to make “sound choices”. (p. 14).

On the upside, the same study revealed that, “America’s unique strengths in higher education, entrepreneurship, management quality, property rights, innovation, clusters, and capital markets were perceived as stable or increasing.” (p. 14). So you are ugly and your momma dresses you funny but you have a great personality! These areas are considered microeconomic institutions and are often grown organically overtime.

If the stances portrayed in the debates hold true, this Presidential election will determine if America will sustain the microeconomics and make the tough decisions to upgrade the macroeconomic conditions. We are presented reports showing some job growth leading up to the election, however we need to look at the sector that this job growth is taking place. They are, for the lack of a better term, the “low hanging fruit” positions that usually don’t sustain. There are policies in place that have fundamentally hindered true growth. One of these policies is the national healthcare program and a second that may take place is the increased taxes on those small businesses, such as roofing contractors, file as individuals because of their size and their non-corporate designation. By the date of publish, we will know who won the election and if the United States will make better policy decision. Politics alone will not set us on the correct path. We will need a collaborative effort between politics and the private sector. Politics alone can set us down the wrong path, that is why this electoral season is one of the most important for the growth of America since the 1980’s.

What does all of this mean? It means that the private sector will need to gear up to either take advantage of the opportunity to work with a positive policy framework, or be ready to succeed despite the political hurdles. We have to be prepared to think differently, generate new products and services, and upgrade our operations to facilitate these activities. Communication is the key component, outside of policy, that will set the private sector on the right course. Just as I will advocate in later chapters for our organizations to change the way they go through the concept to completion process, I believe it is time we enhance our organizational communication model. Are these changes unreasonable? To many yes because it is a transition from their comfort zone but to turn America around, it is time for the unreasonable.

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October 15, 2012

Proud Moment for a Father...

“Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.” – Benjamin Franklin.

I am a divorced dad. In addition to my “scheduled time” I try to be at their events, activities and available whenever something comes up that allows me a chance to be more involved. It makes the communication very difficult between my children and I. I’m sure that it will get harder as they get a little older but my main goal is to make sure they know how much I love them and for me to understand what they love in life.

As a communication professional I would assess it with the communication model of uncertainty. Uncertainty within interpersonal relationships exists as a “function of both quantity of alternatives for behavior and their likelihood of occurrence within a given situation” (Knobloch & Solomon, 1999). Interpersonal theory suggests that uncertainty can be focused on three different sources: The self - not able to describe, predict or explain own behaviors or attitudes; the partner – not able to predict other person’s attitudes and behaviors during interaction; and the relationship – participants experience doubts about the status of the relationship apart from the self or partner. What I discovered this past weekend is that to make the uncertainty go away, sometimes I need to forget the roles and “listen” more to what my children are trying to tell me rather than focus on trying to tell them everything. When Benjamin Franklin made his observation, I believe he was talking about the traditional teacher/student or even parent/child interaction. I realized this past weekend that the roles can very easily be reversed and the statement still holds true. Saturday, October 13, 2012 will go down as one of my proudest moments as a father.

My 9-year-old son, Gannon, joined the run club this year. I wasn’t exactly sure what that meant except that he would run with a group every Monday evening and that he was supposed to enter the Jared Coones Memorial 5K on October 13. I also knew that he was embarking on something that I really didn’t understand or how to help him because I HATE to run for the sake of running. I wanted to encourage him because I hope he gets the run bug that I never had but was also concerned because he does have asthma. I asked him if I could run the 5K with him. He smiled and thought that would be a pretty good idea.

I had a dream in my mind that we would run side by side and I would, as a father feels they always should do, give him advice during the race on pace, not tiring out early, pushing through the pain and kicking it in at the end. Remember, I was going to teach him all of this although I had never ran distance, hated running for the sake of running and he has been training for this every week for the past three months while I did the elliptical a couple times last week. Ask any of my rugby mates and they will tell you that conditioning isn’t my strength!

We started the race in the second wave. I took a picture of us, posted it on Facebook to let everyone share in this event…our first 5K. I was talking up a storm and Gannon listened but I could tell he was focused and was trying to figure out how to get around all these people in front of us. I started talking about pace and let him know that because my legs are so long I will kind of slow down to make sure he doesn’t get tired and we could go at his pace. The horn sounded and we were off. Gannon started passing people and I was running beside him and trying to let him know that we were all individually timed so actually getting ahead of everyone wasn’t the top goal. Did you know that talking during a run isn’t very smart? About ¾ of a mile in, I noticed that he was looking at me anxiously, felt pain in my ankles and realized that my breathing wasn’t going to match this pace. I told him to just go and I would catch up or see him at the finish line. He smiled and had the most beautiful stride I have ever seen as he started pulling away and passing people. I wish I would have been able to keep him in site to watch his enjoyment or would have paid more attention to him involving me while we were running together instead of trying to teach him.

When I got to the finish line, he was standing beat red, sweating and holding a bottle of water for me. He smiled and told me good job. He had waited 12 minutes for me! The tears in my eyes right now match the tears I had that morning and the swelling of pride in my chest is only rivaled with the day I watched him come into this world.

I’m sure he told me how much he enjoyed it, and he probably even tried to teach me what he was doing but until I stopped teaching and let him involve me I never learned what he loved.

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A R C H I V E / H I G H L I G H T S

A Library of Blank Pages...
originally posted: September 26, 2012

When Alexander the Great visited Diogenes and asked whether he could do anything for the famed teacher, Diogenes replied: 'Only stand out of my light.' Perhaps some day we shall know how to heighten creativity. Until then, one of the best things we can do for creative men and women is to stand out of their light.” John W. Gardner (1912)

I had a vision a few weeks ago and it is something that I will accomplish. I will build a library. I don’t want to just donate money to have my name put on the building nor do I think that the building should necessarily be new. In fact, I would prefer to find an old building and refurbish because the walls aren’t important. What is important is the content…and to start off, I want tabula rasa.

I envision sections, just like a regular library. There will be a children’s section with thin white books, paints, crayons and colored pencils. A section for science with leather bound books of lined pages, graphed pages and unlined pages. Other sections would be for fiction, ethnographies, communication studies, autism, architecture…the possibilities are limitless. The catch is that every page in every book will start off blank. This is a library of expression, of advancing each other’s ideas, of creativity and of research. The ideas, thoughts, pictures, diagrams, theories and dreams are put on these pages so that someone else may get inspiration and advance the thought.

A music teacher can walk into the section on biochemistry and advance an idea that a scientist may be struggling with and at a standstill. A parent of an autistic child may write about their triumphs and struggles that will then be read by another parent. Maybe the autistic child/adult may write from their perspective and give a researcher the insight that they have been missing. Isn’t that the dream? Isn’t this how great societies have always advanced?

The internet, linkedin groups, blogs and twitter touch on this but I am a believer that when you actually take up a pen, pencil, crayon or marker and have time to doodle and express thoughts and ideas in the any form you can…something amazing happens. A person’s mind works differently and when they express themselves in color or glyphs as opposed to words and phrases, it will make the next person look at the subject differently.

The academic in me believes that we should advance each other’s thoughts and research and share these things openly. Not everyone has time or resources to get published, go to school or speak in front of others but EVERYONE has great ideas. These ideas may be incomplete but they should be shared.

When I build this library, will you build the dreams? Can we, as a group of litigious, and often times selfish, people share our ideas openly with the possibility of only intrinsic satisfaction? How will we feel if an idea we wrote in a blank book for others to see inspires one of those persons to produce something that will get recognized or bring great wealth? What if your idea is advanced and can save the lives of many others?

Ironically, I was faced with these same things to consider when I decided to write this blog. What if someone that is in a financially better position than I takes this idea and builds the library or libraries in multiple cities? I decided it is worth the risk and if someone creates the library before me I will walk in, find my section and create.

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Making Cider...
originally posted: September 21, 2012

I have been very blessed in my life experiences. Not all the experiences were enjoyable at the time, and some were very hard to put into perspective as to the reasons for them happening, but they all have made me the person I am today.

I spent many weekends and weeks during the summer on my grandparents' farm and as a young adult (I use that term loosely) I moved in with them for a time. It was and always will be my happy place. My grandparents used to have an apple orchard on the farm. The breeze in the summer always felt cooler under the apple trees and the smell of apple blossoms and new fruit are still comforting to me.

One autumn, my brother and I were helping Granddad pick apples. My younger brother was getting tired and started putting every apple into the wheelbarrow, whether they looked good or not. Mainly to torment him I asked him if he realized that “One bad apple could ruin the whole bushel.” My Granddad smiled and said, “That isn’t always true, I want to show you something.” We pushed the wheelbarrow to the workshop and Granddad led us over to a wooden contraption with a crank. It was a cider press.

Granddad proceeded to take some of the “not-so-good” apples, cut out some of the really bad spots and then put them in the press. He had me turn the crank and my brother brought over an empty milk jug. As the apples were pressed, out the bottom came a deep brown liquid and eventually the jug was filled. The “bad apples” became the sweetest cider I had ever tasted. I walked away with many lessons that day from one experience. One lesson was innovation. The apples that we turned into cider could have never been sold as apples. In years past we would use them for pie or to feed the cattle but now we were able to sell cider, and honestly get more value per apple than the “good” apples. The deeper lesson I learned that day was in what we consider bad may just need a different approach or view.

If you are sitting in a meeting and trying to come up with a new product or service or plan, how often do you ignore an idea because you think it is bad? Maybe you don’t even propose an idea because you know it won’t be considered. Maybe you want to wait until you have it fully developed, but then that day never comes. That is why creative critique should be common practice in planning, tactical and strategy sessions. That “bad” idea could generate some sweet innovations if you put it through a “cider session”.

I have had great mentors through my academics and business but I think that some of the best lessons I ever learned were on my grandparents’ farm.

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