Balancing Comprehensiveness and Comprehensibility

I enjoy writing.

This statement likely doesn’t come as much of a surprise, seeing as I started, and have attempted to maintain, a blog since the beginning of the year (with mixed success).

Given my choice of profession, it is very fortunate that I enjoy writing, as the activity consumes most of my waking hours, sending/replying to emails, drafting reports, preparing presentations, etc.  It is also fortunate that I am at least somewhat talented in this area, or so I’ve been told.  Of course, this is not to suggest that I don’t have room to grow, as there is certainly ample opportunity for that.

In fact, despite regularly receiving positive feedback on my writing, this is also where I receive the majority of my constructive/developmental feedback, and it usually focuses squarely on the balance I’ve highlighted in the title of this post…balancing comprehensiveness with comprehensibility.

At first glance, the two terms seem similar enough.  However, while they sure look and sound somewhat similar, they are very much different.

  • To be comprehensive means to be ‘complete, including nearly all elements or aspects of something.’
  • To be comprehensible is to be ‘readily understood, intelligible.’

I’d suggest that my strength is the former, with the latter being a primary opportunity for development.  Improving on this point is enormously important, as in the business world, clear/concise/impactful (read comprehensible) content is highly prized.

In my effort to be comprehensive, comprehensibility often suffers, with the impact/message getting buried in the (very thorough) details.

To increase the impact of my writing, I’ve started focusing first on being comprehensible, ensuring that my most key findings or action items are clearly articulated and presented.

This last point, to me, is an important one.  The content alone, and the way it is written…no matter how comprehensive or comprehensible, isn’t the sole driver of how the information is received and processed.  Detailed (comprehensive) data, if presented properly, can be very much comprehensible (e.g., graphs, bulleted lists, bolded text, etc.)…just watch any TED Talk (or this one in particular).

Now that I more fully appreciate this point, I’ve started to see comprehensiveness and comprehensibility as less of polar opposites, and more as characteristics which can (and should) coexist.

From a Lean perspective, while it is possible to be both comprehensive and comprehensible (and we should strive for this), recognize that the customer (your reader) should outline the requirements for the work product and that their value definition should drive your approach, nothing more/nothing less!

In closing, I’d like to share a few quotes from men much smarter than me who were able to articulate this point in far fewer words.  Certainly more comprehensible, without sacrificing any comprehensiveness in my view either…an impressive accomplishment that I’ll continue to strive for going forward!

    • “Brevity is the soul of wit.”                                                                       William Shakespeare                                                                              (Polonius, Hamlet, Act 2 / Scene 2, 86-92)
    • “Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”  Antoine de Saint-Exupery

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Posted in Communication, Lean, Productivity, Professional Development | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Talk to the Janitor

I regularly work late in the office…and by that I mean the ‘AC shuts down and lights turn off’ kind of late in the office.

Staying late also means regular visits from the janitorial staff who work their way through the office at night to pick up the trash/recycling from the day.

Earlier in my career, when the janitorial staff would come by my desk, I’d briefly stop my work and acknowledge their presence, perhaps with a simple hello.  However, over time, as the same janitor started coming by day after day, we graduated to common pleasantries (e.g., how are you, can you believe this weather, etc.).

After several weeks and months of this, despite near nightly conversations, I found it rather depressing that I knew very little about this man and his story…in fact, I didn’t even know his name.

One day, I decided this needed to change…it wasn’t right to see someone everyday and to not know their name!  So I introduced myself and shook his hand.  He seemed a bit surprised at first, perhaps a bit shy…he didn’t speak much English, but we had a short conversation…his name is Julian.

From that point on, we continued to have longer, less superficial conversations.  I learned that he had two jobs to support his family, working as a janitor from 6-10pm and afterwards working the ‘night audit’ (until 7am) at a nearby hotel in the city.  Several months later, deep into the recession, I learned that he had lost his job at the hotel and that he was having trouble finding another job.  Limited English and limited education made a challenging job market all the more difficult.

After a few months, I started travelling again, so my evening conversations with Julian came to an end.

When I returned to the office, several nights in a row, Julian wasn’t there…one day, two days, a week, 6 weeks…I feared he had lost his janitorial job as well.  After 8 weeks though, as I heard the familiar sound of the trash barrels being wheeled around the office, I saw Julian.  It was great to see him again.  Even though our chats were quick, I always enjoyed speaking with him.

I learned even more about Julian in subsequent conversations, he had been in Colombia for the past 8 weeks, his home country, visiting family and friends.  He still hadn’t found another job, but he had decided to do something about it, he was enrolling in college, to study accounting and to improve his English…very inspiring!

The promise of America, the American Dream…we often hear about…but I suppose I had never really experienced it this closely.  In today’s economy, when most references to the American Dream are made in news stories arguing that it is disappearing for this generation, it was refreshing to see it firsthand.  Julian had made sacrifices to improve his family’s life and continued to do so, working the night shift and attending classes in the morning, struggling with homework…

While I enjoy chatting with Julian, to be honest, I hope that one night he doesn’t show up and that someone else is in his place.  I’ll certainly miss my conversations with him, but I’ll be far happier knowing that he has moved on to far bigger and better things, making a better life for his family.

And to imagine, I wouldn’t have learned any of this if I hadn’t said hello…

Do you have a Julian in your life?  Do yourself a favor, say hello, you’ll be glad you did!

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Posted in Networking, Work/Life | 2 Comments

You can do anything you want, but you can’t do everything…

Forgive me readers, for it has been more than two months since my last post.

While I could offer you a number of extremely good reasons why I haven’t written a new post since June 7th, I’ll spare you the excuses.

Strangely enough, it was precisely when I was thinking of the various reasons/excuses for why I hadn’t kept my blog current that I got the idea and motivation needed for this post (remembering a post over at Get Rich Slowly also helped). 

So, remember when I mentioned that I wasn’t going to offer reasons or excuses for why I haven’t posted in over two months (should be easy enough to remember, it was only two sentences back)?  How quickly I will have broken that promise…

The (Limited) Power of Willpower and Trying to Do Everything

I had (and still have) high hopes for 2011.  I knew it was going to be an exciting/busy year and I wanted to make the most of it by planning to accomplish several important goals, both personal and professional (e.g., passing Part II of the CMA Exam, running a half marathon, keeping my blog current, getting more involved in my community, etc.).  Thus far in 2011, life and work, as they always seem to do, have had their own agendas and priorities for me.

That said, I haven’t made as much progress on my goals as I had initially hoped.  And for a while, until recently, I was pretty upset about it.  Fortunately, I came across a post by Ramit Sethi from I Will Teach You to be Rich where he discusses the fallacy that we can do everything ‘if only we try harder.’

The truth, it turns out, is that willpower is limited.  We’re cognitive misers, that is, ‘we only have enough cognition to do a few things [at a time and] if we try to work on [too many things at once], we’re not going to do any of them.’  Yep, sounds about right.

If you had asked for my opinion on this a few weeks back, I would likely have fallen squarely in the ‘just try harder’ camp, suggesting that it is all a matter of choice and that if something is really important, you’ll get it done.  I feel better knowing that, deep down, we’re all wired to be cognitive misers (read: lazy), ‘aiming to expend the minimum amount of cognitive resources (willpower) required.’ 

Armed with this new mindset, I’ve reset my expectations for 2011 and have decided to listen to my own advice from February, where I reflected on the importance of ‘single-tasking’ when it comes to pursuing goals/change in life.

Now that I’ve fully recognized that I can do anything I want, if only I stop trying to do everything I want, I’m looking forward to a much more productive close to 2011.    

Your thoughts? 

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Posted in Goals, Productivity, Work/Life | Leave a comment

How to Use Your Return from Vacation to Drive Continuous Personal Development

Returning from vacation can be tough.

How often do we hear our friends and colleagues say that they need a vacation from their vacation

It’s sad (but true) that many vacations end up being tiring and stressful events, with overly packed itineraries, long lines at airport security and traffic jams. 

These aggravations are only compounded when coming ‘back to reality’ means returning to a job, routine or lifestyle (not to mention mountains of laundry) that isn’t satisfying, rewarding or fulfilling.

But it doesn’t have to be this way…

I’ve found recently that returning to ‘real life’ from vacation need not always be depressing; rather, it can be a positive time that inspires change and supports continuous personal development.

Having just returned from an excellent, week-long trip to Northern California (San Francisco to Big Sur), thought I’d share some of my thoughts on the subject of returning from vacation, ideas I plan to implement myself in the coming days and weeks. 

Break a Bad Habit / Start a New Routine

Coming back from vacation provides a clean slate…

Just because you were living a certain way before vacation, relying on a certain routine, doesn’t mean you need to return to it…especially if your routine was filled with bad habits.

Did you exercise more on your vacation, taking walks after dinner, going to the gym in the morning or exploring the sights on foot during the day?  There’s no reason why you can’t incorporate more walking as part of your new daily routine.

Were you more adventurous on vacation, trying new foods and visiting museums/landmarks?  Try becoming a tourist in your own hometown some weekend and try a few new restaurants.

Since coming home to ‘real-life’ provides a fresh start, it provides a great opportunity to begin measuring your progress toward new goals and habits, perhaps using Seinfeld’s ‘Chain’ and tools like Joe’s Goals which I detailed in an earlier post.

Rebalance your Personal Balanced Scorecard

Did your long flight or long days relaxing at the pool provide you with an opportunity for reflection?  Did you have time to think about what’s most important to you and how the way you spend your time aligns with those values?

If you did, the fresh start of returning from vacation provides an excellent opportunity to revisit your priorities and to rebalance your personal balanced scorecard.

After an enjoyable vacation, perhaps getting your financial house in order is your utmost priority, so that you can enjoy travelling more regularly, or maybe fitness has become more important to you after a few days on the beach in a swimsuit! 

Priorities change over time, so too should your personal scorecard.  With your priorities in order, you can rest assured that your goals and actions are properly aligned, helping you to be as successful as possible in bringing about the change/results you want to achieve

Use Photos as Powerful Reminders

While I’ve never had to fight a personal battle like that of quitting smoking, I’ve been exposed to a tactic for quitting which I think is broadly applicable. 

Many smokers choose to place a picture of their children on their last pack of cigarettes, to remind them of why they’re quitting…to help ensure that they have many more healthy days to spend with their families. 

To promote your vacation savings goals, why not wrap a photo from your vacation around your credit card, to serve as a reminder of what you truly value (travel) the next time you take out your credit card to buy something that doesn’t align with your goals.  Many personal finance bloggers have recommended such an approach for tackling debt as well. 

Or, if your travels have inspired you to seek early retirement, to relocate or to change careers, why not update the desktop on your work PC (or Blackberry/iPhone) to be a photo of your favorite vacation spot, to inspire you to stick to your retirement savings strategy or to research new job opportunities?

A picture really is worth a thousand words…use that power to inspire positive change in your life.

Your thoughts? 

How do you feel when you get back from vacation? 

Are you refreshed and reinvigorated, ready to take on new challenges and reach new goals?  Or are you just as burnt out as when you left for vacation in the first place?

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Posted in Getting Started, Goals, Work/Life | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Making Your Network…Work

Recently, I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to witness several strong examples of the positive impact that real, strategic networking can have. 

Being a part of these particular examples got me thinking a bit more about networking and what it truly means in the age of Facebook and LinkedIn.    

What Networking is NOT

Networking is not about creating and updating accounts on Facebook or LinkedIn.

  • Note: These sites can certainly be valuable tools, but only if they are used to help facilitate real, continued interactions with those in your network.

Nor is networking simply about ‘building your rolodex’ (yes, this was once a saying…and yes, these still exist) or accumulating business cards.

True Networking

True networking takes work, a lot of it.  It takes time too.  A deep, effective network isn’t built overnight.

Building an effective network requires regular attention and consistent commitment, beyond ‘working the room’ at cocktail parties and sending out a flurry of boilerplate ‘friend’ requests.

While the ultimate value of your network can perhaps be characterized by what you’re ultimately able to ‘get out of it’ (e.g., help finding a new job, getting advice, etc.), you can’t get to a point where you’re able to extract this value without having first invested a lot of time and attention along the way.     

Stephen Covey’s concept of the ‘Emotional Bank Account’ does a nice job of illustrating this point.    

Covey suggests that, just like with a real bank account, you can only start making withdrawals from it once you’ve first diligently made regular deposits. 

Though it can be reasonably argued that this type of thinking smacks of quid pro quo, that is, your primary motivation for helping others in your network is just ultimately to help yourself, I think it can still be used as a helpful framework. 

If you want your network to be a truly helpful resource when you need it most, you’ll need to make sure that you have ‘positive balances’ throughout, by first being a truly helpful resource yourself.  

Building ‘Positive Balances’

Be proactive. 

Reach out to a contact when you come across an interesting article that you think they might enjoy or when you meet someone that they might benefit from getting to know as well (and make the introduction). 

Small gestures make a difference and you don’t need to have all of the answers.    

What took me a matter of minutes in recent months, connecting a freshman Biology major that I met at an alumni event with a classmate of mine currently in Med School and referring a friend for a new job opportunity by posting his resume to an internal recruiting site, could significantly improve their situations… 

Maybe the freshman Biology major learns which classes will help her best prepare for success in the most competitive Med School programs or perhaps my friend will get the new job that provides a career path which is more in line with his career goals… 

I don’t know the first thing about Biology or Med School and I’m not in a position where I can influence hiring decisions…but to make a positive impact, I didn’t need to be.

Such regular interactions with your network, made without the anticipation of an immediate personal benefit, are exactly what build ‘positive balances.’

Expect a lukewarm reception if the only time you contact your network is when you need/want something.

However, if you’ve taken the time to build relationships and have a ‘positive balance’ in your ‘Emotional Bank Accounts,’ expect that those in your network will be eager to help you in any way that they can. 

Get to Work

If you’re looking to grow the value of your network, start by recognizing that it won’t happen as a result of a few clicks of the mouse on Facebook or LinkedIn.

Heed the advice which the Institute of Management Accountants used to promote their recent member conference…Log Off and Get Connected!

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Posted in Networking, Professional Development | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Seinfeld’s ‘Chain’ – A Simple Idea for Serious Results

I’ll begin this post by stating that I fully recognize that I’m about 4 years behind on this story, and since then, I’m sure that hundreds (probably thousands) of others have written on this topic…but I found the idea to be so simple and impactful that I wanted to spend a bit of time writing about it and the way I’ve gone about implementing it in my own life. 

How it all Started

In 2007, productivity blogger Brad Issac wrote on Lifehacker about Jerry Seinfeld’s Productivity Secret.  His description of the approach is included below, it’s very simple…

Get a big wall calendar that has a whole year on one page and hang it on a prominent wall. [Then], get a big red magic marker.

Each day you [meet your goal], put a big red X over that day. 

After a few days you’ll have a chain. Just keep at it and the chain will grow longer every day. You’ll like seeing that chain, especially when you get a few weeks under your belt.

Jerry’s ‘Productivity Secret’ can be summarized in four words…’Don’t Break the Chain.’

Why it Works

While such daily action might at first seem like a chore, it is exactly this type of consistent work that helps makes goals achievable.  The daily practice soon becomes a habit and results in a chain which your competitive side won’t want to see end any time soon!

Or, to borrow from Sir Isaac Netwon, ‘a body in motion tends to stay in motion.’  Once you put in the tough, early work to develop the positive momentum that will come from developing a weeks or months-long chain of activity, keeping up with the daily effort will become much easier. 

How I’ve Implemented It

I thought about using Jerry’s manual approach, which requires only a simple wall calendar and a red marker to get started.  However, the fact that I’m often on the road and that I currently have several daily goals/tasks that I want to track, lead me to research several online alternatives.

The best tool I’ve found for the job is Joe’s Goals.  It has a terrifically simple and clean interface that just plain works…no unnecessary features or fancy bells and whistles. 

It’s very easy to get started at Joe’s Goals too, quickly register with your email address and you’re ready to start adding goals to attain/habits to build (as many as you want, to track whatever you want).

As you ‘check off’ your daily goals, you earn points and start building your chain and momentum! 

While the tool is rather simple in its presentation, it is rather robust in its functionality.

Do you have tasks/goals that are specific to certain days of the week, are some of them more important than others, or do you want to lose ‘points’ for giving into bad habits? 

Joe’s Goals handles such scenarios with ease.

You can track goals that only apply to certain days of the week (like my CMA Studying), assign higher ‘point’ values to more important goals (like finishing Blog Posts) and lose ‘points’ for repeating bad habits you’re trying to break (like eating takeout too often). 

Though I just started using Joe’s Goals a few days ago, I’m already starting to see benefits in very small and simple ways…finally managing to consistently take a daily multivitamin, as an example.  Surely a mundane improvement, but it is progress nonetheless! 

I’m really looking forward to realizing the benefits to come in more substantive areas where I have long-term goals, such as studying for Part II of the CMA Exam. 

Jerry’s right, once you start building the chain, you definitely don’t want to break it!

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Posted in Goals, Productivity | 2 Comments

Certified Management Accountant (CMA) Exam – Background and Resources

In my last post, I wrote about the credentialing process that I went through in order to fill a perceived gap in my undergraduate curriculum (formal project management).

While my undergraduate degrees in Finance and Economics covered many foundational topics, including Financial and Managerial Accounting, my focus was primarily Investment Finance.  The Accounting courses that I took as part of my major focused more on the principles of External Financial Reporting and less on Management Reporting & Analysis (e.g., Budgeting & Forecasting, Detailed Cost Accounting, etc.).

With that, as a junior management consultant supporting process improvement initiatives across Corporate Finance and Accounting Departments, I felt that it was very important to supplement my on-the-job learning and Firm-sponsored training with the self-study responsibilities to come when preparing to earn a new professional credential. 

Given the subject matter that I wanted to learn, my research highlighted the Certified Management Accountant (CMA), a professional credential managed by the Institute of Management Accountants (IMA).

Included below are a few details which I hope you find useful in determining whether the CMA is right for you.  

What is it?

The IMA describes the CMA as an exam that is ‘designed to measure the advanced skills required to be an effective member of finance and accounting teams within organizations and to create value in today’s complex and challenging business environment.’


To apply for/attempt to earn the CMA program, ‘candidates must be members of IMA…pass both exam parts and fulfill the following education/experience requirements.’

  • Bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university AND…
  • Two continuous years of experience in management accounting/financial management

The CMA Handbook provides additional detail concerning eligibility requirements and the processes for both joining the IMA and applying for the CMA Exam.

What do the CMA Exams Cover?

Part I – Financial Planning, Performance and Control

  • Planning, Budgeting and Forecasting
  • Performance Management
  • Cost Management
  • Internal Controls
  • Professional Ethics

Part II – Financial Decision Making

  • Financial Statement Analysis
  • Corporate Finance
  • Decision Analysis and Risk Management
  • Investment Decisions
  • Professional Ethics

A detailed ‘Content Specification Outline‘ is available from the IMA.

Study Resources

During my research, it seemed that there were three primary companies providing CMA study materials.  My observations on each are included below for your reference.

  • Hock International – I’m using CMA materials from Hock International to prepare for the CMA Exams (successfully passed Part I) and have found the resources to be very clear and thorough.  They offer a wide range of materials to support all types of learning styles (e.g., traditional ‘textbooks’ and flashcards, practice questions/exams, online Q&A forums, classroom recordings, etc.).  Their materials are also available on/compatible with iPhones/iPads.  From what I understand, the Hock Materials are the most detailed and comprehensive in the marketplace (perhaps more than is needed to pass the exam in certain areas). 
  • Gleim – During my research, which included reading several reviews on CMA-related blogs/forums, it appears the Gleim resources are geared more toward those who already have a very strong Finance & Accounting background (education and professional experience), whereas the Hock materials are better suited to those earlier in their careers.  Without much academic exposure to the subject matter, or relevant work experience, several people suggested that you’d need to supplement the Gleim materials with a review of Management Accounting textbooks, etc.  As with Hock, Gleim delivers their resources across a variety of mediums (e.g., traditional textbooks, practice questions, audio recordings, etc.). 
  • Institute of Management Accountants – The IMA offers an Exam Support Package which ‘includes downloadable/printable multiple-choice and essay practice questions, along with an online assessment tool with multiple choice exams for Parts I and II.’  After many hours working through the questions I received from Hock International, I used the online IMA question bank to ensure that I wasn’t just memorizing how to solve questions based on how they were posed by Hock and that I was truly learning/understanding the core concepts.  I found the ability to review additional questions to confirm this point to be very valuable, though using the IMA resources alone, in my opinion, wouldn’t be sufficient to adequately prepare for the exam.        

Why the CMA?  Why not a CPA?

As I started researching potential professional credentials to bolster my Finance and Accounting knowledge, I naturally considered the Certified Public Accountant (CPA); however, I soon realized that it wasn’t the credential that would best fit my needs, for the following reasons…

Subject Matter – My interest in pursuing additional education was to become more familiar with topics related to Management Accounting, Reporting & Analysis.  While the CPA requires knowledge of the Business Environment (covered in one exam), it is much more focused (as should be expected) on External Financial Reporting (e.g., Regulations and GAAP Concepts, etc.) and the Auditing process.  As such, while the CPA is a world-class, highly recognized credential, it wasn’t the best fit for me at this point in my career, nor is it particularly aligned with the career path I expect to take.


  • Engagement Acceptance and Planning
  • Entity and Internal Control
  • Procedures and Evidence
  • Reports
  • Accounting and Review Services
  • Professional Responsibilities

Financial Accounting and Reporting

  • Financial Accounting and Reporting Concepts
  • Accounts and Disclosures
  • Transactions
  • Governmental
  • Not-for-Profits


  • Ethical and Legal Responsibilities
  • Business Law
  • Federal Tax Process
  • Gain and Loss Taxation
  • Individual Tax
  • Taxation of Entities

Business Environment and Concepts

  • Corporate Governance
  • Economics
  • Finance
  • IT
  • Strategic Planning
  • Operations Management

Requirements – While the CPA Exam largely covers topics outside my area of interest, if I had been interested in pursuing it, I wouldn’t have been eligible, given the education requirements of 150 semester hours of relevant university education (Master’s-level Accounting Coursework including Auditing and Taxation, etc.).  While it isn’t the right fit for me right now, I suppose I’ll never rule it out, as having a CPA is very valuable in a number of different fields, not just Public Accounting.

Hopefully this post helps to provide you with the information and resources necessary to determine if the CMA Exam is right for you.  Best of luck studying for the exam! 

If you have any questions, please feel free to leave them in the comments below. 

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Posted in CMA, Professional Development | Tagged , , | 18 Comments