Tag Archives: life lessons

Snowing Our Ignorance

It’s snowing here in Central North Carolina. Again. Is that unusual? Well, the area usually gets less than 6 inches of snow a year and we’re about to get 4 or so. We also got a few inches several weeks ago. When we got a dusting (and to my Yankee friends I know that 6 inches are pretty much just a dusting) of snow last year – maybe half an inch – the area came to a complete halt and schools were shut for 4 days. You can imagine what 4 inches will do. Fortunately, by the weekend it will be near 70 degrees so the accumulation shouldn’t be around very long.

Photo by Catherine Zaidova

Other than venting about the golf courses being covered in white, why do I bring this up? Because it’s symptomatic of something which has business implications. Increased snowfall, extreme temperature changes, and other weather phenomena are indicative of something going on. It’s pretty clear that something has changed and yet there are those who turn a scientific and factual issue into a political one. Folks, you can call it climate change or you can call it Fred but no matter what you call it, it is real.

You know, of course, that we don’t do politics here on the screed and my point isn’t that we need to acknowledge that the weird weather everywhere is the result of climate change. The point is that any businessperson can give their own interpretation about what they see going on in the market and in their own enterprise. The problem is that sometimes their interpretation conflicts with the empirical evidence – the facts. A single data point isn’t a reason to change your entire strategy, but when you have enough data points to produce a reliable trend, attention must be paid.

There are some very famous studies that were conducted by Stanford in 1975. They showed how people’s opinions are often unmoved by facts. One need not go a heck of a lot further than your own Facebook feed to see one person trying to change another’s mind using some fact-based evidence and failing miserably. The cold weather and snow here remind me that you can deny the facts but that denial won’t keep the snow from falling. Question the sources of information, question the interpretation of information, but once those questions are answered, don’t deny the facts. You still will have to shovel up the aftermath regardless. Make sense?

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Filed under Reality checks, Thinking Aloud, What's Going On

50 Years On

As I sat down to write this morning’s screed with Dr. King’s birthday on my mind, I realized that it’s been 50 years since that horrible year of 1968. I was 13 at the time and if you’re younger than about 55 today you probably have no memories of the almost non-stop bad news. It’s hard to believe but things seemed even more screwed up and polarized that they do today. The day Dr. King was shot is one of my indelible memories and the killing of Bobby Kennedy two months later snuffed out a small glimmer of hope that Dr. King’s legacy might come to fruition soon. It took another 40 years for that although there are valid arguments that we as a country are still waiting in many ways.

With that, what follows is my post on celebrating Dr, King and his message from a few years ago. It’s about listening, something many of us don’t do often enough. Maybe you can give it a try this week?

Today is the day we pause to celebrate Dr. King’s birthday.  I went back and looked at my post from two years ago, which was about dreams – specifically one of Dr. King’s dreams becoming a reality.  That was sort of focused on what he saw – his vision.  Today I want to focus on one of the great man’s best qualities that influenced how he acted to make that vision real.  I think it’s applicable to business.  No, it’s not going to be another ethics rant (although those are never out of style in my book).  Today, it’s about the most important skill I think all great businesspeople – and great leaders – possess.

To me, great leaders serve to fulfill the needs of their people.  For Dr. King, it meant endless meetings with various groups to understand their concerns and explain how broadening civil liberties to be more inclusive could help meet them.  For those of us in business, it means paying more attention to the concerns of our customers and co-workers than to our own agenda – these folks ARE our agenda to a certain extent, along with the underlying needs of our businesses.  In a word – listen.

Everyone wants to feel as if their ideas and thoughts are being heard if not acted upon. Without someone hearing them, acting on those concerns is impossible. Listening, then speaking, brings trust.

I know this isn’t a new thought in this space but it came to mind on this day thinking of Dr. King.  If you go back to the early days of Dr. King’s involvement in the civil rights movement, it’s pretty clear that he was a reluctant leader. He was drafted to lead and was kind of unsure of himself.  As he listened to the members of the community and other clergies, he realized that he was simply a voice for the community and their agenda became his agenda.

Many of you will be familiar with Stephen R. Covey, who wrote that we ought to “seek first to understand, then to be understood.”  I think Dr. King if he read pop-psychology, would have appreciated that.

What are you listening to today?

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Filed under Helpful Hints, Growing up, What's Going On

Snow In The South

It snowed here in North Carolina last night. I awoke to find maybe two inches of the white stuff. Having lived almost my entire life in New York and Connecticut, my immediate thoughts were “how pretty” and “no big deal.” Then I remembered where I was. We got what I would call an overnight accumulation here last February (under an inch, seriously), and it closed the schools for four days.

In my mind, there is about a foot/inch ratio which applies to the level of hysteria and inconvenience here. An inch of snow here is the equivalent to a foot up north. The local TV stations have been nothing but the weather for the last day and the excitement in the reporters’ voices as they stand by some highway pointing to a dusting is palpable.

There is, of course, a business thought or two in all of this. One is that of perspective. My perspective on snow is very different from that of my neighbors, most of whom rarely have ever had to deal with it. Don’t let your own perspective corrupt your ability to get inside that of your partners, vendors, and customers.

Next is emergency planning. Despite the rarity of snow here, many of the roads were pre-treated with brine before the snowfall to help keep the roads clear. That means the authorities have both the equipment and the knowledge (brine actually works better than rock salt and is way more cost effective than clearing the snow later) to be proactive. They had a plan. Can you say that you have a plan, the tools you’ll need, and the knowledge required to handle most emergencies that happen in your business?

I’ll probably just hunker down today and let nature take its course. It’s a sunny day with the temperature back above freezing so the snow won’t be here long. Nevertheless, it’s been here long enough to remind me of a couple of business truisms. You?

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Filed under What's Going On, Thinking Aloud

Don’t Be Eeyore

And we’re back! Happy New Year to each of you. I hope whatever time you were able to take off was fun and, more importantly restorative.

Eeyore as depicted by Disney

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is the time of the year when we’re inundated with ads for resolution fulfillment. You know: weight loss, smoking cessation, and products and services that will help you to achieve whatever new goals you’ve set for yourself during the upcoming year. In many cases, people make these resolutions to raise their happiness quotient. They are trying to have their reality exceed their expectations, which is one traditional measure of happiness. Improving the reality – bringing it up to or exceeding whatever expectations they have – improves happiness.

There is another way to go about this, of course, and that’s to lower expectations. Think of Eeyore, the gloomy donkey. He expects that a sunny day will become rainy and that a rainy day will result in floods. His expectations are low and so he is rarely disappointed.

Some folks think that way about their businesses. They have low expectations so that they’re not disappointed with the outcomes. The issue with that is that both in business and in real life it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. We expect next to nothing or to be dissatisfied with things and when we get very little or aren’t satisfied, we’re actually kind of OK with it since we didn’t expect anything otherwise.

So if you’re the resolution-making kind of person, maybe you can make one more: not to be Eeyore. I believe that our expectations affect our decision-making. If we don’t have any expectations at all we’re paralyzed. Having negative thoughts will depress you and low expectations are premised on negative thoughts. You don’t need a Debbie Downer in either your personal or professional life and you certainly don’t want to be one.

Please don’t misread this as encouragement to throw caution to the wind. Jumping off a roof, either literally or figuratively, because you have a high expectation that you can fly is just nuts. But don’t be Eeyore. Things are going to go wrong from time to time. Learn from it and keep refining those lofty goals. You might not achieve every single one but it’s also about the journey, right?

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Filed under Reality checks, Thinking Aloud

Most Read Of 2017 – #2

Here is not actually the second most read post that was written in 2017. Why not, you ask? Because the second most read was actually published last week. Called  “You’re On Your Own,” I didn’t think I should run it again so soon. You can read it again (or for the first time) here. This next post, actually the third most read, was published on May 24, the day after we sold our family home of the prior 32 years. It provided me with a chance to reflect on both the mixed feelings I had as well as something any of us in business can take away.  Originally called “A Little Bit Better,” I hope it makes your business life just that.

We closed on the sale of Rancho Deluxe yesterday. I lived in that house for 32 years (almost to the day) and it holds a lot of happy memories. The pictures you see are the view from the yard when we moved in and the day we moved out. As you can see, quite a bit changed. While the core of the house is pretty much how we found it, we added on a few times and changed the old kitchen into office space when we built the new kitchen/family room.

The core of the house itself is over 100 years old and, as with most older homes, wasn’t without issues. Over the years we replaced the furnace (twice!), the roof, fixed sills, removed asbestos, and landscaped. There were also hundreds of little fixes and improvements. We did all that without tearing down the original structure as so many in our town have done. We like to think we left it better than we found it.

That’s really the business point. We often get pulled into situations or projects where there is a lot of history that predates you. One approach that many people take is to just blow everything up and to start over. That ignores the good in what’s been done already. It can also cause a backlash from the people who invested their efforts to get things to where they are when you walk in. The challenge, both with old houses and old business situations, is to leave things at least a little bit better than you found them.

That’s not to say that some things are beyond saving. Sometimes a situation is in such disrepair that gutting it and starting over is the prudent and less expensive course of action. I think, however, that we often get more focused on a solution that may be more expedient and different as opposed to better.

Think about the things on which you’re working. Are you making them better or just patching things up so you can cross them off the list? Is the team happy with what’s being built or are you painting things a color that everyone hates but which was on sale at the store?

I’ll miss the old place while at the same time not missing the almost non-stop series of items on the “to-do” list. It protected us from hurricanes, blizzards, countless minor storms, withering heat, and freezing cold. I always felt that we had to protect it a little. I’m walking away knowing it’s better than I found it and hopefully in good hands for the next 32 years. Can you say the same about what you’re doing?

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Filed under What's Going On, Thinking Aloud

The Ninth Candle

Last night was the first night of Hanukkah. You’ve probably seen a version of the candelabra that is used to hold the candles that are lit each night of the holiday. You might not, however, have noticed that while the holiday goes for 8 nights there are spaces for 9 candles in the candelabra, called a Menorah. The ninth candle is our business topic today.

That candle is called the shamash in Hebrew, which translates to “helper” or “servant.” It’s not like the other candles in that it sits either higher or lower than the others in the menorah. It’s used to light the other candles, and although it burns just as brightly and sits in the same candelabra, it’s different.

What this brings to mind is how those of us who have grown up into managers and executives become very much like the ninth candle. We’re servants and helpers. Our job is to help the other members of the team to do their job, much like the shamash enables the other candles. Where we get into trouble is when we forget that. The people who actually do the work don’t serve us. They serve the organization, its goals, and customers.

Think about the best boss you’ve ever had (and I hope you’ve had some great ones!). My guess is that they were clear communicators who respected you as a person and as a professional. They probably never talked down to you when you didn’t understand something and were always pushing you to be your best self. They were also willing to get you whatever you needed to do your job, to the extent they could whether that’s a better computer or a pencil. They were also unwilling to let a weak team member jeopardize the entire team so they were clear about standards and held everyone to the same ones.

As you pass by a menorah (whether it’s a real one or a picture) this Hanukkah, remind yourself that while you may be the boss, you’re also a shamash, a ninth candle that’s a part of the team. You might sit higher up but you’re really there to help. Make sense?

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Filed under What's Going On, Thinking Aloud

Bad Coaching

Most of us seek advice of some sort. It can be as simple as reading product reviews before we make a purchase or a restaurant reservation or as complicated as hiring a business advisor or a life coach. It’s information that adds to our own opinions as we make decisions, and one of the most important life skills is figuring out what’s good information and what’s not.

I thought of this while I watched this video from the European Tour. It’s 4 minutes of that tour’s golf professionals giving advice to a series of amateurs. The advice ranges from the nutty to the idiotic and every one of the amateurs follows it to the best of their ability. It’s silly stuff, ranging from stretching your eyeballs as part of your warm-up to piling grass on the ball to swinging blindfolded to throwing the club.

Here is the thing that resonated: the amateurs hung on every word of this bogus advice because it came from credible sources, tour pros. It reminded me of several clients I’ve had who had been given demonstrably wrong information from consultants or companies that positioned themselves as experts. Unlike the golf example, this wasn’t done as a joke and it did have negative consequences for my clients.

So here are a few things to think about. First, do your due diligence. Make sure the person giving you advice is qualified to do so. Not that there aren’t smart young people, but it’s less likely that a person with two or three years of business experience will have the broad perspective of someone with twenty or thirty years.

Next, avoid generic solutions. Good advice is tailored to the recipient. Golf pros who give the same lessons to everyone are generally horrible teachers. Your business is as personal as your golf swing, and any advice you get must be tailored to you.

If your advisor talks a lot more than he or she listens, dump them. In the video, some of the amateurs question the “tip” they’ve been given but the pro keeps chattering away, ignoring the questions.

I think that’s all good advice!

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Filed under Consulting, Helpful Hints