Habit 2: Begin with the End in Mind

Steven Covey speaks a lot about mission statements while describing Habit 2. With all due respect, I see the vision statement as being more applicable here than a mission statement. And that may simply be a different understanding of what mission and vision statements are all about. I have been a part of developing mission and vision statements in several different settings. On of the greatest challenges in that exercise is to first get everyone on the same page in regards to the purpose of each type of statement.The_7_Habits_of_Highly_Effective_People

I have learned to lean on the following definitions from John Spence’s book, Awesomely Simple: “A mission says why a company exists, the vision says where we want to go, and values declare how we will behave along the way.”

To me, beginning with the end in mind is all about seeing this ideal place or condition where we want to be. Take a second to imagine what your professional role would be in and ideal, but realistic, world. Reality matters here. We must recognize that there will always be challenges associated with water quality protection. Technical expertise and innovative solutions will always be in demand. As will the ability to influence people. Our director likes to say, “nothing worth doing can be done without contentiousness.” I think this will always be the case.

So where do you fit in? Are you the leader (in thought and in application), or do you continue to have a “job” where boxes are checked and excellence in paperwork management is top priority – where compliance is king and today looks a lot like yesterday?

What would your company or organization look like if you created it from scratch. Would you have the same structure, the same positions, people, and culture? Or would it be better positioned to actually make a difference, rather than to serve the lowest denominator at the lowest price?

If we are truly interested in doing our part to see that the goals of the Clean Water Act are achieved, we need to be able to imagine what that looks like. Creating a clear, vivid, compelling vision of our future is critical to keeping us focused on a common definition of success. Once created, that vision of the end must be communicated to every member of our team, company, organization, association, and profession.

So where are you headed?  

Andy Stanley teaches, “direction, not intention determines destination.” If we pay attention, we can see where we may end up if we stay on our selected path. We may also see how that destination may differ from our intended End.

Is that really where you want to be?

Starting with an image of the ideal destination is the most logical step in getting us there.

What does the end look like to you?


This is the second of a seven-part series applying Stephen Covey’s The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People to stormwater management. The series was kicked off with a post on habit.

Habit 1: Be Proactive

Proactivity, according to Stephen Covey, is more than simply taking initiative. It’s about taking responsibility for our lives. It’s about us actually making things happen instead of waiting for things to happen to us (reactivity). Being proactive is the very first step we must take as we move from dependence to interdependence.The_7_Habits_of_Highly_Effective_People

If we are still blaming “they” for our challenges and problems, we haven’t come as close to being professionals and leaders as we may think. Leaders and those with character live and thrive within the realm of reality. They understand that the designer, contractor, inspector, regulator, or anyone else don’t get to decide our fate. We get to choose whether or not to build this project. We choose to do the work within all of the constraints that must be overcome. We decide if we are a check-the-box organization or truly committed to the protection of water quality. We choose how we treat people, and how much effort we invest into a relationship or into a SWPPP.

Our effectiveness is significantly affected by our decision to act or to be acted upon. How we frame the situation matters. John Miller, author of QBQ!,The Question Behind the Question, says that we can eliminate blame, complaining, and procrastination by asking the right questions. He suggests that the best questions begin with “what” or “how” (not “why,” “when,” or “who”); they contain an “I” (not “they,” “them,” “we,” or “you”); and they always focus on action. Covey gives examples of how one’s attitude can be transformed by asking, “What’s our response,” rather than “What’s happening.”

The language we use tells a story. Not only to those around us, but also to ourselves. How we speak to others isn’t nearly important as how we speak to ourselves.

John Maxwell tells us that two of the most difficult things for an organization to do is to get its folks to think, and to do things in order of importance. Both require proactivity.

Waiting to act until we are literally knee-deep in the mud  is an inefficient, ineffective, and distracting approach to managing stormwater. Rushing (or wandering) into a stage of construction or season of regulatory change without taking time to think, and prioritize, and be proactive is simply wasteful. Covey teaches that between stimulus and response, one has the power to choose. Some things that make us human lie within that freedom to choose. These are: self-awareness (being aware of our present situation); imagination (being able to think beyond our present condition); conscience (an awareness of how closely our thougts and behaviors are in alignment with our principles); and independent will (the ability to act based on these other influences).

Put off doing right things long enough, and sooner or later someone will come along and make you do it on their terms, which may not be in alignment with your mission, our interests, or even in accordance with good common sense. No need to wait around to see what will happen next.  we have the ability to make it happen now, on our terms.


This is the first of a seven-part series applying Stephen Covey’s The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People to stormwater management. The series was kicked off with a post on habit.


I don’t necessarily like to get up at 5:00am and go for a run. I also don’t like to deny myself or my family of things that we can’t afford, even if we happen to have enough cash on hand to buy them today. It’s hard for me to read at the end of a long day. Believe it or not, I don’t always like to take my personal time to maintain this blog.

Not all of these have been completely habitual in every season, but my family and I reap real long term benefits when they are.

The topic of habit has been popping up all around me lately. In blog posts, podcasts (Entreleadership, Andy Stanley Leadership, HBR Ideacast), and even in stormwater articles (here’s a good behavior-focused stormwater-related article by Jesse Poore). Some of these works reference The Power of Habit, a book by Charles Duhigg.  I haven’t read the book, but it’s on my list.



What I’m learning is that habit is powerful. It is stronger than fear – Example: the fear of public speaking can eventually be overcome by speaking, over and over again. Habit lessens the need for willpower, reserving it for more important things - Example: rather than using up all my willpower to roll out of bed, I simply get up because that’s what I do (in theory, on most days). That might save enough willpower to get the next blog post written before my day job starts. I have also learned that certain “keystone” habits can actually make our lives better in other, unrelated areas – Example: people with healthy eating habits also seem to do a better job with managing money for some reason.

My daughter shared with me that “practice makes permanent,” which allows for a potentially negative aspect of habit, one that I completely understand. Habits built around bad things can be very difficult to break (think weight lifting form, hitting a volleyball or golf ball, and chewing gum with your mouth open).

Duhigg describes the process of habit simply as CUE – ROUTINE – REWARD.  His framework revolves around the routine but also involves: identifying the routine; experimenting with rewards; isolating the cue; and having a plan. Changing an undesirable habit requires a change in routine.

In his classic, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey defines habit as the “intersection of knowledge, skill, and desire.” Knowledge is the why and the what to do; skill is the how to do; and desire is the want to do. All three are required to establish habit. Covey’s Seven Habits attempts to lead us from dependence to independence, and ultimately, interdependence, which is a line of progression the stormwater community would do well to follow.

My sister borrowed my Seven Habits book several months ago. She loves the thought, but can’t seem to maintain the habit of reading books these days (her occupation of wife, mother of six, and homeschool teacher, and runner have something to do with that). She returned the book recently, mostly unread. She has given up for now, but suggested that I take on the subject through media she does find time to read – StormwaterTools.

So, in her honor, beginning next week, I will address each of the seven habits and relate each one to our world of dirty water. Stay tuned.



“It’s cheaper to pay the fine.”

The short view: The cost of compliance exceeds the cost (and odds) of getting caught.

It’s obvious that an effective environmental protection program can be expensive. So is an effective safety program, an effective quality assurance program, and an effective marketing and sales program. Effectiveness on its own requires resources. Valuable and scarce resources can be saved or used in other important areas if  future overall value wasn’t a consideration. In personal terms, saving for college and retirement is not  required, but it is essential for long-term financial success.

Also, it is clear that regulators (environmental, public safety, internal revenue) rely on our estimations of the chances of being caught. And in the world of stormwater, even considering differences in the size, type, and location of the project, the chances of being caught are relatively low.  The chances of going to jail or even having to pay a fine proportional to the cost of compliance are actually pretty remote.

So, with effectiveness being so expensive, and the odds of having to pay a proportional fine being so low, why would any organization or entity choose on their own to protect and preserve water quality? Looking only at the short run, this risk of not committing is attractive, especially when only some of the potential downside is considered.

I’ll use MoDot’s recently proposed enforcement action to make the case for long term investing (the MoDOT settlement is pending and all actions are proposed).

The violations: Two of MoDOT’s hundreds of road and bridge projects were found to be out of regulatory compliance. MoDOT claims two big rain events led to the violations that happened about two years ago.  My guess is that EPA likely suspected problems on more than two and concluded systemic issues within the organization.

The fine: The $750,000 civil penalty is a big number to you and me. But it could also represent the total construction stormwater budget for a single large project (at 5%). Still an easily bearable cost for the short-termer.

The real costs:

  • A requirement to “implement a statewide compliance program that will ensure adequate management and oversight of construction sites and compliance with the Missouri construction stormwater general permit.” Some required elements of the new compliance program are listed HERE (scroll to Injunctive Relief).  These are recurring and long term costs to implement elements of any effective program. The argument could be made that MoDOT should have been spending this anyway, so its not a real penalty. I’ll just say that if you put off doing right things long enough, sooner or later a regulator will come along and make you do it on their terms.
  • MoDOT has been working hard for two years to ameliorate this pending enforcement action and bolster their negotiating position. Those spent resources can’t be dismissed.
  • Lost trust. It will take many years before MoDOT can expect others to believe their intentions are now in the right place. This will make future work more difficult and more expensive. Grace is precious, especially in a world where many of the things that can sink us are beyond our control.
  • MoDOT is a leader in environmental protection – whether they like it or not. Other practitioners rely on MoDOT as an example of how things should be done. After all, they are likely the largest developer in Missouri. The cost to and by others who have followed MoDOT’s lead, good and bad, is immeasurable but significant.
  • Overcoming an impression of irresponsibility. Why would I agree to increased highway taxes if I see those who manage them as being irresponsible?

We have a mission – we must engage in activities in order to fulfill that mission – some of those activities have the potential to negatively impact the environment – and

it is this potential that triggers environmental responsibility.

If we don’t address our responsibilities, it may become difficult to fulfill our mission. It takes true leadership to make the connection between mission and environmental responsibility.



An old maritime saying goes, “If you think safety is expensive, try having an accident.”

If you still think it’s cheaper to pay the fine, please talk with a responsible organization that has just received a wake-up call with a “token” monetary penalty.





’tis the season.

While in Atlanta recently, I was notified of the beginning of a strange season. The overhead message board said something about Smog Season beginning April 1st. I don’t think Hallmark is behind this particular shopping season because I didn’t feel compelled to buy candy or feel guilty about not sending a card to my mom. The timing of the marketing was also off, being so close to Easter.

The sign made me wonder how long it will be until that particular message will seem outdated, or otherwise a thing of our past: evidence of a time when we simply didn’t know any better. Hopefully, one day, smog season will be like cigarette commercials and the household use of lead-based paint and asbestos.

I agree with the transparency and the attempt to bring awareness to environmental issues, but I wonder sometimes if the messaging simply gives an impression of an expected and permanent condition.

Last year I went for a run beside Rock Creek near Washington DC. It was beautiful. But just as I started to imagine the fun my family and I could have in such a pleasant setting, I passed the permanent sign warning would-be waders of the combined sewer system overflow element of the creek. Some loggers here in Alabama post caution signs stating: “MUD ON HIGHWAY” in attempt to relieve themselves of any responsibility for managing their work. Dump truck drivers tell us they are not responsible for our broken windshield. A sign in a Mississippi welcome center restroom asks us to pardon their “BROWN WATER.” Like the faded “WATER ON ROAD DURING RAIN” signs, sometimes I wonder if we are actively working on a fix, or did the actual fix come when the sign was posted and expectations were lowered.

Reading a bit and talking with folks who Experienced a real season of smog, those living in Los Angeles, Atlanta, Houston, and Birmingham today are much better off than they used to be. But according to the American Lung Association, breathing polluted air can still increase the risk of asthma attacks, chest pain, shortness of breath and other serious health risks. The statement is true regardless of how badly we used to suck.

Same with stormwater. We have come a long way. We are so much more effective today. But, stormwater is still the number one carrier of pollutants to our Nation’s waters. And its management is still somewhat of a conspiracy or joke to some in the development world. It would be much easier to simply declare a “Turbidity Season” (or as some already do –  “The Wet Season,” whatever that is). Or maybe post signs declaring “SEDIMENT IN CREEK,” and hope the general public and the benthos will simply understand and accept this inevitable cost of progress.

Marketing to bring awareness to an issue, and to solicit assistance in mitigating that issue seems appropriate to me. Marketing as notice of our having given up shouldn’t be accepted in lieu of continued movement toward environmental excellence.

(To be fair, Atlanta’s Smog Season campaign seems to be more in line with the former rather than the latter.)


From the Urban Dictionary: Same – used to show that you agree with someone or just after anything someone else has just said.

I learned the response from my teenagers. The interaction goes something like this -

Dad: Wow, what a beautiful day. I love early springtime, especially when the Dogwood blooms start peeking out from the emerging foliage in the woods. It gets me excited knowing that warmer weather is finally here.
Teenager: Same (slowly nodding her head in agreement).                        

By her tone, mannerisms, and by first assuming positive intent, I’m pretty sure she genuinely agrees with my assessment of the pleasantness of the day and of the season. Her texting, tweeting, hash-tagging culture is simply conditioning her to speak in concise bites. There are some lessons there for stormwater professionals.

Communication is THE best management practice. Two of the most prevalent forms of communication in our world are in written and spoken form. Clear, concise, and relevant information is always preferred over fuzzy, bloated, rabbit trails when it comes to communicating work status or conveying expectations.  Sometimes stating “satisfactory” is, well, satisfactory, in terms of reporting. At other times, more information is needed.

I have been a part of discussions recently related to a suit where inspectors were criticized for not highlighting positives and corrections along with deficiencies in their reporting. I generally agree with the concept of documenting when repairs are made. But the fact is, the main goal of regulatory inspection is to discover and report problems. Sure, the process can be used as a means to prepare a case to defend yourself, but that can be distracting. Our purpose in reporting is not to spend the day filling out paperwork. It is to communicate which and when things need to be corrected.

One way to make the reporting process less time consuming is to keep it succinct. Maintenance – baffles in sediment basin #5; Implementation – runon at cut slope sta 215+00 rt; Implementation – topsoil, seeding and RECP at sw corner; etc.

If there is time, corrections can also be documented, after the fact: Corrected – basin #5 baffles; Diversion swale installed at 215+00 rt; Vegetation emerging at sw corner; or in real time:  Directional bore pit dewatering caused turbid discharge into creek [corrected by 2pm].

clear, concise messaging

clear, concise messaging

Knowing your audience and understanding what is appropriate and important for them and for the situation is key – communication is what the listener does.

So if you ever find yourself wondering whether your reports, letters, emails, comments, and blog posts are not being completely read or understood because you are a bit too chatty for the situation -



B-T-dubs (that means btw, or by-the-way),  If you’re interested in getting to the essentials of any message, try giving yourself a word budget and sticking to it. The habit has helped me with writing letters, emails, reports, and even mission and vision statements. I ask guest posters to shoot for between 400 and 600 words on StormwaterTools.com.  My personal goal is 500 words for each post. This one is clocked at exactly 500.



TS4 – a term sometimes used to describe a municipal separate storm sewer permit addressing urban discharges from transportation facilities. Its not a term used officially by EPA or supported by law, but it does get thrown around a lot.

State DOTs are in a unique position. They have typically been seen as co-permittees with the “real MS4s.” That arrangement works fine until the auditors come knocking and wondering why the DOT hasn’t checked all of the same boxes the municipality has. The tension and ridiculousness of what follows can truly be unbelievable. The awkward situation places the DOT and the regulator in a position for collaboration. They can now choose to explore solutions together, or not.

I have had the pleasure of working with and learning from several state DOTs about the implementation or the prospect of having an individual MS4 permit. I shared the following advice with the last state DOT I worked with. It is based on my own experience as well as the experiences of others.

  • A DOT is NOT a municipality.
    • In my opinion, a DOT just barely falls into the category of needing permit coverage.
    • The land use is different (and fairly uniform); the runoff constituents are different; the authority to regulate is different; the mission is different.
    • The point seems obvious, but many regulators and even some DOT employees don’t get the distinction at first.
    • The statement has to be said early and often during permit discussions.
  • A DOT should not commit to doing anything that it is either unable or unwilling to do.
    • Being unwilling seems harsh, but DOTs are asked to do things that simply are not in their interest or within their budget.
    • Like others have discovered, it is very difficult to back up on commitments, even if they are later found to be unreasonable.
    • The conversation boundaries should stay within regulatory boundaries (urban areas).  Statewide application is available later, but the intent of the law is to address urban runoff.
  • The DOT should take credit for ongoing positive work.
    • DOTs are doing good things for urban runoff.
    • Existing efforts should be used as leverage to eliminate things that don’t make sense.
    • DOTs should plan to always do more than what is required on paper.
  • Include the entire team.
    • MS4 responsibilities involve construction, maintenance, design, public relations, design, and others.
    • A single person or office should be careful with negotiating or making commitments on behalf of other areas of responsibility.
  • The goal of any MS4 program should be to have  a positive impact on the environment.
    • All obligations should be agreed to with this in mind.
    • Not all requirements will have clear environmental benefits.  Either eliminate those that don’t, or modify them until they do.
  • Keep as many of the specifics as possible in the management plan.
    • The plan is more flexible and informal than the permit.
    • The plan can and should be modified to fit the capabilities and gained knowledge over time.

To sum up generally; work within the bounds of reality; do meaningful things; do not agree to things you can’t do; and take credit for the good things you currently do.

Any tips to add?  Join the discussion in the municipal discharge (CMS4S) subgroup of EnviroCert.


On Being Naïve

Just because I’m not paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get me

One of the most confirming periods of my career resulted from having my character attacked. In a single week a couple of years ago I was labled naïve by representatives of two intense personalities on completely opposite ends of the socio-political environmental spectrum.

The first situation involved a person with extreme (and misguided) environmental views regarding work I was a part of. This “keeper” of a local stream was convinced of conspiracies, cover-ups, and intentions that I knew were not true. His position stemmed from his personal experience, bias, personality, and instincts. My position was based on similar personal factors (I am also human). But my base started with an initial assumption of positive intent – there was no concocted scheme to destroy the planet.

The environmental advocate wasn’t able to provide evidence that would convince me that the people involved were all bad. I failed to convince him of their general desire to do right things.  He reconciled the disagreement by deciding that I was simply too naïve to understand. I left the conversation wondering if he might be correct (but not too concerned about it – I had been called worse… by him, actually).

A part of an attorney’s role is to advise clients on matters that represent risk. Some lawyers can be so risk averse that communication and collaboration, two things that are so vital to our success, are rarely considered as viable solutions. I absolutely appreciate the role of an attorney, but as you may have guessed from my ramblings, attorneys and I don’t always see eye-to-eye. Our thoughts on open and honest communication are typically quite different.

A few days after my discussion with the nervous environmental advocate, I was discussing plans for future outreach with a group that included attorneys. The attorneys quickly began looking out for my interests by probing and warning me of the dangers of unchecked transparency. They were advising me from a position influenced by education, training, and duty. We couldn’t convince each other of our approaches to expectation management.

They came from a place of personal experience, bias, personality, and instincts (they are also human), and so did I. But again, I chose to first assume positive intent – not all environmental advocates are itching to sue me. The attorneys could not provide evidence to the contrary.

It didn’t hit me until a few days later that a few individuals on completely opposite ends of the political and social spectrum, who likely couldn’t sit in the same room without throwing up, had one common position - Barry is naïve.  I had finally arrived.

I cannot do my job without connecting with people. Ours can be a somewhat technical world, but how we treat people matters most. Influence requires some level of relationship – we must be willing to hang out with those who can potentially change the direction or outcomes of our work. That is reality.

Assuming positive intent first, is one easy way to get us closer to recognizing reality. I also think having faith in the general goodness of people leads to a happier and longer life… but maybe that’s just me being naïve.


Dancing with the Rain

There is something about being in the woods that restores my soul. And the deeper into the woods the better. I like sleeping outside.  I enjoy living in a tent every once in a while. I enjoy people, but I also appreciate getting away – either by myself, or with a few friends and family. I also enjoy the sound of rain… as long as it’s on my terms.

I don’t like the sound, or feel, or smell of rain on a camping trip. There isn’t much more miserable for me than living among wet and soggy clothes, bedding, and crackers. I don’t mind being cold, but being cold and wet stinks for me.

Apparently not so much for my son and his friends. I took a few of them camping recently and it rained nearly the entire 3-day weekend. They hiked and explored, canoed and kayaked, and almost kept a  fire burning continuously. They were as cold and wet as me and the crackers, but it didn’t stop them from enjoying the first few days of their spring break. One happily declared that we weren’t camping, we were tarping! They mostly slept in ENOs with individual tarp coverings, but also pieced together a decent community area surrounding my tent.eno camping

While the boys were out in their newly adopted element, I read, contemplated and enjoyed the peace of it all. As the rain subsided on Monday, I was able to get in a few runs with them as our gear dried for an easy break down later. It really wasn’t a bad weekend.

While watching the boys stand in a drizzle around the fire, I thought about us stormwater people. How many of us have actually seen our work being tested under the conditions for which it was designed? The normal response to rain is to seek shelter. But if your job is to manage rain and its runoff, you have already left the “normal” station. Why would we not get out in it?

We often seem surprised by the rain . We tell ourselves and others that if it hadn’t been so wet lately, or if last night’s rain had not caught us off-guard, we could have kept all of that sediment on site. We act as if we actually thought the rain would have ceased until we finished. We sometimes seem to be in denial about the very thing that keeps us employed.

The fact is, it is going to rain. We call ourselves experts in erosion “control” and sediment “control,” but even we don’t have the arrogance think we can control the rain. We know it’s coming whether we like it or not. The sooner we accept, and study, and innovate, and play in and with a full understanding that the rain is coming, the more effective we will be.

We really have no other choice than to embrace the rain. Besides, choosing to be wet and cold feels different than getting wet and cold on someone else’s terms. It’s kind of like choosing change rather than being forced. Commitment and compliance may lead to the same place, but each have completely different psychological effects.



Functional Fixedness

Candle Problem“The Candle Problem” was devised by psychologist Karl Duncker in the 1930′s. In the problem a table is placed against a wall. The participant is given materials shown in Diagram A: a candle, a box of tacks, and a book of matches. The goal is to attach the candle to the wall in a manner that prevents wax from falling on the table. Take a moment to think about your solution.


Most unsuccessful attempts involved trying to stick the candle to the wall with wax and/or tacks. The approach simply does not work. But after a few minutes, most people discover the solution (HERE) - the box holding the tacks becomes a candle-holder that can easily be attached to the wall.

Dunker decided that the problem was that participants became “fixated” on the box only serving as a container for tacks. Follow up experiments by Dunker and others showed that when the box and tacks were separated, people were much more likely to see the box as one of the materials available to solve the problem.

Stormwater professionals can also become fixated on function. With available space coming at a premium in a transportation setting or commercial development, we still refuse to see roadside ditches as being anything other than open-channel conveyances. We see mandatory tree wells and traffic islands as nothing more than surface plant containers. We see rooftop and parking lot runoff as nothing more than a by-product that must be “managed” or disposed of regardless of cost. We assumed that level spreaders and detention basins are only for reducing the peak discharge and energy of runoff. In construction, sediment basins are only for treating turbidity, vegetated buffers are only for trapping sediment. Sidewalks are only for walking.

We are often correct when we say we don’t have enough room or budget to adequately treat stormwater, when added to to all of the other functions our project must serve. But what if somehow we could combine functions, or create elements of infrastructure that are multi-use? Permeable sidewalks could reduce runoff; deep tillage under roadside ditches and slopes could promote pollutant capture; sediment basin bottoms could be managed to infiltrate turbid water; level spreaders could serve a construction function as well as post construction; detained runoff could buffer rates of discharge and sustain landscaping. That is the very definition of green infrastructure.

Green infrastructure created solely for the purpose of creating green infrastructure isn’t green infrastructure.

An interesting fact – when tested, 5-year-old children show no signs of functional fixedness. For some reason, we develop boundaries and our ideas become limited as we “grow up.” A career involving dirt and water has always been very close to child’s play for me. The challenge of finding new ways to utilize old elements in our projects can also be fun – almost as satisfying as playing with Legos.

But, if we must insist on being adults and calling it work, please remember that our clients, employers, customers, taxpayers, and society are all counting on us to create better solutions. Whether we have fun or not is really not their concern.


Daniel Pink’s book Drive led me to Dunker’s work and application of the concept of functional fixedness.