Monday, April 27, 2009

SmartWool Rocks

Having never had a pair of running shoes that fit properly, I finally decided to visit a store which specializes in footwear. The obvious local choice was Playmaker's in East Lansing. A classmate from high school works there, so I asked for him when I went to visit.

Tony was happy to help, and after a few tries fitted me with a Brooks shoe. The fit was superb, owing in part to the narrow (B) width of the shoe. Something that had struck Tony was my recounting of the numerous blisters I had suffered while running. After finding the right shoe, he asked what kind of socks I wear when I run. "Cotton", I replied handily. He advised that I try a pair of SmartWool socks, and he threw a pair in with the shoes.

After running with the shoes and socks for several months, I can honestly report a 100% improvement. Until purchasing these shoes, I had never gone running without earning a blister. Since buying these shoes, I have never gone running and gotten a blister (my running journal is at

Last night I packed up my running bag, but couldn't find a clean and complete pair of my handy SmartWool socks. This seemed like a perfect opportunity to try the Pepsi Challenge between the cotton socks and the wool socks. It might be that my comparison was unfair, as I ran four miles last night (in wool socks) and two miles this morning. Perhaps the two runs were too close together. I don't think so, though. Although my feet aren't nearly as blistered as they would have been in the past, I can feel the distinct burn of rawness on the inside of my left foot.

My conclusion is that the SmartWool socks work exactly the way they are supposed to. By wicking moisture away from your foot, the socks are supposed to remain properly fitted to your foot and keep your skin comparatively dry. By the way, I have also been using these socks when I ice skate (I used to use polyester dress socks). They have worked as nicely for skating as they do for running.

A caveat: I have also tried using polyester socks for running. Believe it or not, they are also superb when compared to cotton socks. If you can get past the snickers when you run down the sidewalk in your black poly socks, give it a try. You may be surprised.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Stigma of Failure

Peter Drucker once observed that "There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all."  Per usual Drucker's wisdom is timeless and on-point.  Why, then, do we spend so much time performing tasks only because we have always done them?

The typical answer to this question is laziness.  We are too lazy to question processes, and thus to improve them.  Laziness certainly plays a role in perpetuating inefficient, antiquated processes but there are more powerful elements as well.

A couple of years ago I took a hockey class.  The coach lined up several cones, demonstrated a skating pattern, and then ordered the class to skate the pattern just as he had.  We complied, each carefully skating the pattern in turn.  When we finished, the coach chastised us.  "That was all wrong." he declared.  "Not a single one of you fell down, and if you didn't fall down, you aren't trying hard enough!"

There are a lot of reasons for failure, but the absence of failure does not always indicate success.  It may merely signify a complete lack of effort.

There are both good and bad reasons for failure.  Good reasons for failure include trying a new process, or improving an existing process.  A good failure is one that is endured when a person works outside their comfort zone.  Bad reasons for failure are lack of due diligence and inappropriate planning.

Organizations wishing to improve themselves must learn that failure for the right reasons is an action that deserves praise, not derision.  Too often, employees are paralyzed by fear of failure.  They spend inordinate amounts of time justifying their decisions, or worse, they choose not to make decisions at all.  They are so terrified of blame that they abhor all things new or different.

Companies wishing to succeed must be willing to change.  In order to facilitate change, these same companies must also be willing to accept some level of failure.  Changing employee perceptions of failure is a long process that begins with changing the question "Who is at fault?" to "What have we learned?"