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Do You Confuse Perception & Reality?

perception is reality

So which do you see?  Two faces or a vase?  If you said, “I see a candlestick holder”, okay, you still get a point.

If I asked you, “Which is more correct?  The two faces or the vase?  Which is more real?”, you’d say something like, “Don’t be foolish, Dave.  It’s both.  I see the two faces and I see the vase.  They’re both real.”

So why is it when leaders receive feedback they disagree with (i.e. “Hey, as a leader you don’t do this well”), you may hear the leader say, “I know, I know.  Perception is reality.”

And when you hear that, the subtext is often, “If the feedback providers just knew me/my situation better, they wouldn’t give me such harsh feedback.”

However, the truth is that it doesn’t make a difference: Others’ perception IS a leader’s reality.  Period.

Unless the leader deals exclusively with the quantitative, which can be reliably measured and verified by disparate people, how people perceive you is your reality.

Who is to say that I’m not friendly?  That I’m not hard-working?  That I’m not rude?  That I’m not a micro-manager?

Is there really an objective, independent measure for each of these?

And truly what I think is not as important as what others believe.

If they believe I’m kind, then I’m kind.  If they believe I’m a jerk, then I’m a jerk.

And anyway, it’s a Pyrrhic victory asserting or trying to prove I’m not a [insert cringe-worthy noun here].  And do I truly want to fight that fight?

So, see a hard-working, motivated leader, and they see a steamroller.

Guess what, I’m both.

But what I think, will do little to change what they think.

Their perception is your reality.  It needs accepting.

So what to do?

Lead such that your behaviors and actions are unequivocal, living contradictions to their perception.

It will take consistency (over months, not days) and commitment.  You may not win over all of them.  But you will likely convert some of them.

And in truth, what other option do you have?

Posted by at 5:30 pm | Categories: feedback, leadership, leadership style, management | Tags: , , , , ,


You’re Not Alone: Everyone Fakes It Sometimes.

Congratulations!  You got that promotion!! That job you had your eyes on for so long is finally yours.  What a rush!  Your partner/spouse is thrilled!  Your parents are thrilled!  Even the dog seems happier to see you when you come home.  Life. just. couldn’t. get. any. better.

So why do you feel so much like a fraud?
And why are you worried people will find out you don’t quite know what you’re doing?

Answer #1: You totally knew what you were doing in your former job. You were good at it. You could do it with your eyes closed. Sometimes you did. But this job is new. You know a fraction of what goes on. But you’ll figure it out. Hopefully.

Answer #2: You hear the thoughts (a.k.a. voices) in your head that tell you you’re in over your head. That you’re drowning.  That you’re a fool for taking the promotion. That everyone will see right through you.

Answer #3: You’re your own worst enemy. Your standards are high, and highest for yourself. That’s good, because those standards got you here. They got you this promotion. That’s bad, because you hate to fail, and you’re completely aware of that possibility, right here, right now.

But there’s hope.
Because even though the above 3 might all be true, there are some footnotes to each:

Footnote 1:  Yes, it’s true, you don’t quite know what you’re doing in your new job.  But let’s face it.  You probably weren’t fully prepared to take on this new role.  Did you get any coaching for it?  When you hear the word “grooming”, do you think only of a hairbrush?  Chances are most others in your company had it just as bad, and felt the same way you do when they got their promotion.  But note to self: make sure your direct reports don’t have it as bad as you when you promote them.  Develop and coach them before they step into that new role.

Footnote 2:  Everyone hears voices, but it’s okay if they’re your own.  And best if there’s only one of them.  That being said, many high-potentials have had a constant companion voice in their head, judging and evaluating them.  It’s kept them on track, on time, and on goal.  So consider it an old friend.  Just keep in mind that it (i.e. you) can see things that others don’t.  This promotion is not one of those dreams / nightmares where you show up at a cocktail party without any clothes on (not that I have those types of dreams).  So no worries; you’re not as exposed as you think you are.

Footnote 3:  If you’re your own worst enemy, well at least you know you’ve made it this far, when others probably would have wilted a long time ago.  So good for you.  You also know that although you may be tough on others with your high standards, you’re toughest on yourself.  Does the expression “no quarter” mean anything to you?  So it’s survival of the fittest in your head, and you’re still standing.  You just may want to show yourself some compassion every now and then.  I know that will seem and feel a little weird, but you may appreciate it, and your direct reports will certainly appreciate it.  Particularly if you extend a bit of it to them as well every now and then.

So in summary, you may feel like a fraud, but no worries.  Most people do when they take on a new role; it comes with the territory.  And people can’t see through you, and can’t hear those voices that tell you you’re an amateur as you try to make it through the first few days and weeks.  And your high standards will help you get through this.  True, you may lose some sleep because you want to excel right out of the gate, but with some compassion for yourself, you’ll recover well should you stumble every now and then.

And for those who have yet to get that promotion, one recommendation:  Take your manager out to lunch, and ask him or her:  “How do you spend your time when I’m not in your office?”  That one question will give you greater insight into the world at the next level (particularly the parts you never see), and may, just may, diminish some of the fraudster feelings you will certainly have when you get your next promotion.

Posted by at 9:11 am | Categories: career, experiential learning, high potential, leadership, leadership development, leadership style, management, management development | Tags: , , , ,


Frankly, Why Do You Even Think You’re Right?

We recently replaced a 13-year-old dryer: it took 2 1/2 hours to dry a regular load of clothes.  The only problem was, the newly acquired dryer took just as long.  The manufacturer sent out a technician to investigate, and he solved the matter in minutes.  After a few questions, he confirmed there was heat in the dryer, and then went outside to check the venting.  “Your dryer’s fine.  It’s your vent that’s blocked.  Probably condensation buildup in the venting pipe under your house.”  (FYI: Our dryer is in an interior room, and the vent conduit runs from the dryer, under the ground floor, to a vent outside.)

I felt like such a thickhead.  Why hadn’t I checked the vent?  I did when we had the problem with the dryer’s thermostat.  So why didn’t I check this time?  Because I knew it was an old dryer, and so it was definitely wearing out………..which of course was all wrong.

Consider the following:

The above is the classic Mercator projection, which has its origins in 1569 and with the Flemish geographer and cartographer Gerardus Mercator.  Some readers will recognize it as the map they saw on the wall in their elementary and middle school classrooms.

Now, all maps have distortion.  You can’t represent a sphere (3 dimensions) on a piece of paper or flat surface (2 dimensions), and not have distortion.  And each projection has different types of distortion.

So, a question:  How big is Africa?  Check the map above, and what’s your answer?

Now consider this:

The above is the Gall-Peters projection, an equal area projection.  In this projection, although the shape of the continents and land masses are distorted, their relative sizes are preserved.  So, indeed, Africa is that big.  You can fit 3 USA’s or 3 Canada’s into all of Africa.  Go back to the Mercator projection (the 1st one above), and look at Greenland and Africa.  You can fit 14 Greenland’s into Africa.

My assumptions about my “broken” dryer and the Mercator projection in particular, demonstrate that we hold idiosyncratic, fixed mindsets or worldviews we’re unconscious of.

When we confront something that conflicts with that worldview, we have the possibility for insight, knowledge, and therefore, growth…but only if we’re open to it.  We can hold steadfast in our view (“It’s 13 years old; time to buy a new dryer.”  “North America is bigger than Africa.”), or we can remind ourselves that our worldview may not be perfect or accurate.

Still not convinced?

Take a look at the image below.  What is this?

Somehow it just doesn’t look quite right, and yet there is no true “up” on Earth.
Literally, our worldview is pretty hard to shake.

Posted by at 8:53 am | Categories: critical thinking, decision-making, leadership, management | Tags: , , , ,


What I Learned from Hurricane Matthew & 9/11

Hurricane MatthewIn 2001, I was in Manhattan during 9/11. Fifteen years later in 2016, I was living in Savannah (but did not stay) during Hurricane Matthew. Both were very different events, with entirely different causes, and entirely different implications and outcomes. But combined, they’ve left me with a few reflections on people, leaders, and just life in general:

In times of crisis, people come together for help, support, encouragement, and hope. Differences seem to fade. In the days after 9/11, no one asked you what your political party affiliation was; it was irrelevant. And no one cares in these days after Hurricane Matthew. As after 9/11, people are seeking a sense of normalcy, a return to safety, a life more predictable, and a reassurance that all will be better soon. And often they find that in reaching out to others and sharing their experiences: “Where were you when….” “Who do you know that….” “Did you hear about….” “I’m grateful that….” It is both interesting and sad that such appreciation and concern for each other is heightened after tragedy, only to diminish eventually against the backdrop of daily life and its attendant busyness and chatter. Unfortunately, we do seem to need a tragedy every now and then to remind us of our shared humanity.

A leader’s legacy is often forged during a crisis. Love him or hate him, Rudy Giuliani will forever be associated with being mayor of New York City during 9/11. Few people who were in Manhattan will forget the images of Giuliani walking in the streets of Manhattan 21giuliani-600immediately following the attacks. Three hours later, he was conducting a press conference with then-governor George Pataki. When asked about casualties, Giuliani responded, “The number of casualties will be more than any of us can bear ultimately.”

South Carolina governor, Nikki Haley, made the call early prior to Hurricane Matthew to evacuate coastal residents. Before, during, and after the storm, she held news conferences, keeping the public informed as to what it could expect. As with Giuliani, she knew she couldn’t promise safety but she did provide through her actions and words needed composure, timely and useful information, as well as an honesty coupled with an optimism that we’d get through this.

Life in General
A few weeks after 9/11 after a day’s work, I was driving up the hill from our town’s train station, just north of New York City. Jen, my neighbor, was walking up the hill; so I stopped and offered her a ride home. She got in, and we chatted a bit, and then I remembered something: “Didn’t you work in the twin towers, Jen?” “Yes, I did.” “And didn’t you work near the top floors?” “Yes, that’s right.” I paused, and the fact that she was sitting next to me now was hard to believe. “So, um……..” There was a pause in my voice, but she knew what I was thinking. “So you’re wondering why am I sitting here with you right now?” “Um…..well….yes, I am,” I said. “I slept in late that day.”

Hurricane Matthew was no Hurricane Katrina, but it was deadly and it was devastating. In Savannah and nearby areas, many people’s homes flooded. Two homes in my immediate neighborhood had trees fall on their roofs. Many more houses in the surrounding 20161016_100326neighborhoods suffered similar fates. Thousands of trees are down in the Savannah area, and many homes are seriously damaged. Yet all of my family eventually returned to Savannah after the evacuation, safe and sound. No flooding in my home. No trees hit the roof. So eventually one asks, “Why?” “Why was my home spared, and others’ not?” “Why do I get to return to my daily routine rather readily, whereas others will take much more time?” Those are interesting questions to ponder, but the answers are quite elusive. Instead, I think the greater significance is found in our daily focus: We take the continuity of our lives for granted and as a given, when in fact, it’s really more “I’m here because I slept in late that day.” Somethings are just random, and more often we need to stop, just stop, and enjoy that we are here, now.

One thing I am sure of is that these two events will likely not be the last tragedies I experience in my life. More will probably come, at some point. If so, hopefully it will be at least another 15 years. Throughout it all, though, I am reminded of the power and the deep meaning of friends and family and even strangers coming together to support, console, and encourage one another. And so as the Harper family gathered around the family dinner table this past Sunday, I reflected on how grateful I was for us to be together. As we approach the holiday season, I hope you and your family will share similar warm moments.

Posted by at 4:41 pm | Categories: experiential learning, leadership, self-actualization | Tags: , , , ,


Does Your Leadership Influence Travel at the Speed of Light?

James Webb Space Telescope: Influence at the speed of light

The James Webb Space Telescope

In October 2018, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) will be launched on an Ariane 5 rocket from French Guiana.  According to NASA, “JWST will be the premier observatory of the next decade, serving thousands of astronomers worldwide. It will study every phase in the history of our Universe, ranging from the first luminous glows after the Big Bang, to the formation of solar systems capable of supporting life on planets like Earth, to the evolution of our own Solar System.”

More powerful than the Hubble Space Telescope, JWST will be able to see what the universe looked like 13.5 billion years ago.  Practically speaking, that means when JWST captures those first images, the light hitting its sensors will have traveled 13.5 billion years to get to it.

How far has that light traveled, you ask?
Some quick math:
Light travels at 186,282 miles per second.  That’s per second.
In terms of per hour, light travels at 670,615,200 miles per hour.
Or 5,878,612,843,200 miles per year.  By the way, that’s 5.8 trillion.  I couldn’t read it, either.

So regarding the JWST, the light that will reach its sensors in 2018 will have traveled for 13.5 billion years, covering 5.8 trillion miles in each of those 13.5 billion years.  I believe it’s a slight understatement to say that the light will have traveled a far distance to get there, and that the universe is somewhat large.  (Click here for a hypnotic journey through the scale of the universe, from the infinitesimal to the galactic.)

Thankfully, your organization is not as large as the universe.
Unfortunately, though, your influence as a leader doesn’t travel at the speed of light.

As you move up the organizational hierarchy, and experience an increase in title, salary, and span of control, you also experience a decrease in the direct influence over that span of control.

We’d say there’s an inverse relationship between your position and your direct influence: As the first gets “bigger”, the second gets “smaller”.  No doubt, Einstein had a formulafor that.

And it’s something that newly promoted leaders often struggle with.  In their new role, they’ve lost the influence they previously had.  Sure, they can make decisions that willaffect a lot more people.  But their ability to get those same people, the people below them, and the people below them, etc. to do something will diminish considerably.

And that can be confusing for the leader.  More power, more authority, but less direct influence.
So what’s a leader to do?

The newly promoted leader should build JWST’s.  Just as the JWST was built by scientists to perform tasks that they cannot do, in places where they cannot be, the leader must “build” his direct reports to carry out the leader’s mission.  Direct reports are the vehicle for the leader’s influence over her span of control.

In short:
Develop the skills and capabilities of your direct reports so they can expertly convey your influence.
Provide them direction, purpose, and mission.
Then “launch” them, get out of their way and their trajectory, and let them do what you’ve developed them to do.

If your influence is waning, don’t blame yourself, and don’t blame your direct reports.
Examine to what extent you’ve adequately developed your direct reports; then provide them the necessary skills and capabilities to be as influential and effective as you need to be.  For their influence is ultimately your influence.

Posted by at 11:27 am | Categories: influence, leadership, leadership development, talent development | Tags: , , ,


Is “Grit” the New Buzzword?

These days it’s difficult to avoid hearing reference to it; “grit” seems to be the new leadership, management, student, child “must have” ability, trait, skill, etc.  It’s easy to nod our head, and agree it’s important, just as we did for “emotional intelligence”.  But what does “grit” actually mean?  In a recent article,  Bravetta Hassell, associate editor at Chief Learning Officer, provides an interesting perspective and research:

Posted by at 9:30 am | Categories: leadership, learning, management, Uncategorized | Tags: , ,


Take 15 Minutes to Save Your Job

Take 15 minutes, and save your job, your department, and possibly, your company.


You won’t need your smartphone, laptop, phablet, email, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Periscope, text messaging, or IBM’s Watson for this.

Just your head, a pen, a piece of paper, and 15 minutes.

Now, think of the key roles in your team, department, and/or company.

Got them? Good.

Write them down in a column on the left hand side of your piece of paper.

To the right of each key role, write the name of the person who currently occupies that role.

Now draw this diagram (you don’t need to draw it in color):

4-Box Model

For each person in a key role, write his/her name in the appropriate quadrant.

Now review the following:

4-Box Model with descriptions

Are all the people in key roles at least on the right hand side of the 4-Box Model?

If so, congratulations.

If not, why not? What will you do to correct that?

Here are some ideas for all four quadrants, with one major footnote: I’m assuming you have already earnestly attempted to remove obstacles and have provided development and coaching for the people in key roles.

Again, given the major footnote, it’s likely time for a courageous conversation about exploring opportunities where there’s a better fit with their skills and capabilities.

Again, given the major footnote, it’s probably time to stop waiting for Godot. Stop coaxing and hoping for small miracles. Note that performance standards need to be met, and rest accountability for that with the individual.

Solid Professional:
Spend time with them. Ensure the current role continues to be engaging, or at minimum, satisfying. Be on the alert for boredom in the role. Seek ways to enrich and supplement the role. Be vigilant if the role needs to be expanded.

Future Leader:
Spend time with these high potentials. If you don’t, your competitors would love to and will likely take advantage of that. Provide opportunities for significant growth and skill development. Broaden their capabilities. Expose them to diverse aspects of your organization outside their current role, including exposure to senior leadership (if not already a part of their role). Develop their influencing skills and executive presence. Provide coaching before (i.e. in anticipation of) their next promotion.

So the next time you’re in the car, on a train, a plane, or in the tub or shower, take 15 minutes (okay, it’ll be a long shower), and think about what to do with one of your most important resources, your people in key roles.

Posted by at 1:28 pm | Categories: high potential, leadership development, succession planning, talent development, talent management | Tags: , , ,


Give Them the Gift of Experiences

GiftsThis past Christmas, my wife and I decided not to give gifts to each other. For previous Christmases, we each had said “no more gifts”, but one of us would ultimately violate the mandate and end up buying the other something.

Well this year we each said, “No more gifts”, and we actually kept to it. Instead, we “gave” ourselves several dinners out, just the two of us, during the holidays, which was great.

Personally, I really don’t need much more stuff. But more importantly, I know that having more stuff doesn’t substantially improve the quality of or happiness in my life. I may get a bump in happiness by the novelty of the item and the fact that it does something nothing else quite does (e.g. my Palm Pilot back in 1997), but that bump tends to drop off very quickly.

Instead, when I look back on the things that are meaningful and truly memorable, they’re experiences, not stuff. The most positive memories are about great times, adventures, challenges, family moments, etc. Similarly, the most painful memories involve personal and family loss, setbacks, missed opportunities, etc. Frankly, there aren’t many “things” that I can think of that have the same poignancy that experiences do.

The same is true with your leaders and managers. Sure, compensation and benefits are important; if you don’t have those right, it’s hard to attract and keep superstars. But assuming you’re competitive or close to competitive with those, throwing on extra comp and/or benefits will tend to have only a momentary impact. Ask most people what were the defining factors in their career, and they’re not likely to say, “The bonus I received 5 years ago at Christmas” or “The time when I finally earned that extra week of vacation.”

They’re more likely to tell you about the time they assumed the leadership of a meaningful and important (to them and the organization) challenge or project. They’ll tell you what it meant to them to have the faith and trust of senior leadership. And what it meant to be accountable for their success.

Will they tell you about the setbacks and the scars and bruises they suffered along the way? Absolutely. But those only add to the feeling of accomplishment for still being on their feet, for having risen to the challenge.

So as we start the new year, think about your high potential talent, and think about the challenges your organization confronts. Surely there’s a good fit between the skills and needs of your hi-po leaders & managers and the strategic needs of your organization.

So save yourself the time of having to wrap up some flashy thank-you gift, and instead give your leaders and managers the more meaningful gift of a personally tailored, appropriately challenging, and organizationally significant experience.

They’re way better than a gift card.

Posted by at 8:28 am | Categories: experiential learning, high potential, leadership development, management development, talent development | Tags: , , ,


What’s Your Leadership Presence Smell Like?


On a recent weekend afternoon, I was out for a jog on a stretch of 2-lane road.  With no shoulder or sidewalk to use, I was running against what little traffic there was.  From about 30 yards and traveling at about 45 mph, a car approached.  And it slowed as it began to brake.

The car was still a ways away when suddenly and out of nowhere, I was engulfed in a cloud of the most pungent perfume / cologne, causing a smelling salts reaction.

I eventually regained my composure, and resumed my jog as the perfume-cologne cloud dissipated.  However, a few seconds later, the braking sedan slowly passed me on my right.  For a second time, my nostrils and brain were flooded and overwhelmed by the perfume-cologne cloud.  There were two people in the car, and I had pity for one of them.

Once I was able to think and run straight again, I wondered, “Why the double-barreled assault?”  Why did I experience the perfume-cologne cloud bomb twice.

And then I remembered Mr. Armstrong and my 8th grade physics class.  Obviously, someone in the car had drenched him/herself with the smelly stuff.  Once travelling in the car, both the person and the perfume-cologne cloud had velocity and momentum.  When the car braked, the seat belt restrained our pungent passenger.  But there was no such seat belt to restrain the perfume-cologne cloud, which continued to travel, unrestrained, towards me.  Hence the first wave to hit.  Then when the car, with its partially rolled down windows, slowly passed me, I was overcome a second time and with greater intensity.  Thus explaining the double dose.

As I recovered my steps and continued the jog, it occurred to me that our leadership reputation is very much like the perfume-cologne cloud:  It arrives before we do.

As much as I like to think that my influence as a leader/manager/person is directly connected to me, it is in fact connected first to my reputation.  Before I interact with people, my reputation will precede me.  And when I say “reputation”, I don’t mean the “reputation” we used when we were in middle school.  I mean the reputation that is reliably and repeatedly confirmed by the history of my interactions with others.  Before I even open my mouth in a conversation, meeting, presentation, etc. the history of my interactions with others will have arrived well before me, and will have made an impact well before my physical arrival.

It would therefore serve me well to know what the sum of that history is, what my leadership reputation is.  Because whether I like it or not, it will precede me, and will affect my ability to connect with, collaborate with, and influence others.

The reputation built off of our interactions with others is a common blind spot, which is ironic since it’s built on the daily interactions we have with others.

Effective ways to mitigate this unique blind spot include 360 feedback assessments, as well as validated (with a strong emphasis on validated) personality assessments.  Both can help a leader know what his leadership reputation is, and moreover, help the leader enhance the “aroma” of her leadership presence.

As in my jogging incident, your boss, peers, and direct reports will get a double dose of your leadership reputation: once before you arrive when they anticipate you, and again after you arrive when they experience you.  Therefore, it’s best to ensure your leadership presence always smells great. So with that said, would yours pass the sniff test?

Posted by at 3:16 pm | Categories: culture, influence, leadership, management | Tags: , , , ,


3 Ways Leaders Can Avoid the VUCA Vortex

VUCA vortex

Last month we spoke of the VUCA vortex: the volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity that are challenging today’s leaders.

We also noted several trends in leaders lives, namely: Significantly increased spans of control and responsibility; increased workloads and expectations; and an ever-commuting lifestyle based on mobile technology.

Here are 3 things leaders can do to limit the fury of the VUCA vortex.

1) Focus more on the Important, and less on the Urgent. The late Stephen Covey (author of the The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People) accurately observed that we tend to focus on what’s urgent at the expense of what’s important.

Responding to all emails, text messages, pressing needs of others, etc. are examples of being orchestrated by what’s urgent. In contrast, succession planning is important, but not urgent. If I don’t work on succession planning today, the company will still be here tomorrow. For now.

At some point, the company will be undermined because I did not tend to succession planning months/years ago because I didn’t feel its importance.

So we need to get clear on priorities. Some urgent work is important. So obviously do it. But much of the important work we need to do is not urgent. So we mustn’t lose sight of it.

Which brings us to the next point.

Most leaders lack the time during the day to do all they need to do. So work readily flows into evenings and weekends. Hence the ever-commuting lifestyle. Mobile technology permits and facilitates our ever-commuting. But at what cost?

Although there is no magic pill, effective delegation goes a long way to returning some sanity to the work day. In many cases, it’s the only way to prevent a leader from drowning in his work and responsibilities.

Once you’ve identified the Important work you should be doing but aren’t, you’re in a better position to detail the work you should be delegating.

Determine what can be delegated. It’s likely that some of it will serve as good stretch assignments or developmental opportunities for some of your direct reports.

Which brings us to the third and final point.

As just noted, an effective leader will free up time to focus on the Important work by delegating some of her less significant work. However the leader may assert she would love to delegate more but can’t, because her direct reports just aren’t ready.

Sometimes it’s due to recent seismic changes in the complexity of the leader’s responsibilities and work, and sometimes it’s due to the fact that she was not tending to the Important work of developing her people. Unfortunately, in both cases there’s no shortcut to delegation.

In order to delegate effectively, the leader will have to put in the extra time, effort, and work to develop her people so they can capably assume the new responsibilities. For leaders who have been through this ordeal of “just-in-time-development”, doing it once is enough of a reminder to stay committed to talent development.
The volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity of the VUCA world are here to stay, with all the attendant Darwinian implications. Staying relevant as a leader is a top priority.

So focus more on the Important, less on the urgent, and continue to develop your people so you can delegate effectively, which lessens your load and helps you remain focused on the Important.

Posted by at 4:22 pm | Categories: change, leadership, leadership development, management, management development | Tags: , , , , ,

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