Writer’s blecch: The season of blogging discontent

Here’s a little post just to get the juices flowing again.

It has been quite possibly the longest time between blog posts I’ve taken since launching this thing three years ago, and I’m not proud of that.  Between the demand of a nicely-diversified consulting practice, a good helping of friends and family, and a bit of angst with current events, I’ve just been un-mused.

It’s not that I haven’t seen strategic topics worth writing about.  I mean, here are the topics in my list.  Maybe you’d like them. The possibilities are endless:

  1. Maybe I could I pile onto the debacle that is unfolding at GE as CEO succession leads to a cost-cutting “renewal?” The title for that one might be “Ground the jets, it’s time to make a statement.”
  2. Or, perhaps it would be fun to wade into politics with a screed on how our demand for speed and 140 letter concise-ness in all things is leading us to be binary thinkers on pretty much any topic.  Maybe I could call it “You are either with me or against me so shut up.”  Or, better yet, “Antifa thinks you are un-cool so I hate you too.”
  3. Then, there’s the possibility to write on listening because, I mean, what better way to teach people to listen than to use a one-sided medium like a blog.  I might call that one “Listen to me while I talk at you.” Or, I could go with a Trumpier title like “I’m right-er than you.”
  4. Of course, there’s always fodder in the press about the economy, like how we are heading toward labor force Armageddon and how maybe a looser immigration policy might actually be good for economic growth.  We could call that one “maybe we should put a few more gates in that wall, after all.”
  5. Then, of course, there are other great business leadership topics that come to mind from time to time, like how too many people think strategy is–for some reason–sexy, but sales is greasy and grimy.  I could call that one “No business ever went anywhere without sales, but plenty of businesses have no strategy.”
  6. Or, maybe there is a chance to write on how men don’t have the monopoly on harassment in the workplace.  Maybe I can call that one “#Metoo and it’s no joke.” It’s unlikely that one gets written, folks. Too much water under that bridge.

There are plenty of options. But it’s just that I’ve been a bit overcome by the things I mentioned above, and perhaps a bit emotionally nagged by the onslaught of storms, mass murder, fires, a death in the family, and revelations of political and corporate malfeasance.  Indeed, I’ve been nagged enough to wonder whether commentary is really just another way of escaping responsibility.

Perhaps it’s not, but I needed to take a break.  I guess you could say that I had a case of writer’s blecch.

Hope your October is going swimmingly (well, at least not in a flood).

Mongolian Beef and the Moment of Truth

We all face moments of truth.  What do yours reveal about you?


This past Friday evening–at the end of what was a fantastic week–I decided to drop in on a local Chinese food restaurant for takeout before heading home to my family.

It was a regular drop in on a business I hadn’t been to in probably four months.  I placed a “robust” order to feed our family of 6, and then walked outside the restaurant to talk on the phone while my order was prepared.

When I walked back in, one earphone in my ear and the other dangling so that I could pick up my two sackfuls of Chinese goodness, the cook and proprietor of the restaurant pointed to the sacks and said “I made you a Mongolian Beef to make up for the one I missed last time.”

I was astounded.

“Last time,” as I noted above, had to have been four months ago.  I vaguely remembered, only after the cook pointed it out, that I had indeed arrived home one Mongolian Beef short of my full order on that trip.  I remember calling briefly and letting the shop know (without much fanfare…literally just “hey, wanted you to know we were short on this one…no big deal.”).

And the cook remembered better than me.

He, no doubt, had a moment of truth where his customer walked in, didn’t say a word about a past service miss, placed a big order, and then waited.  The moment of truth was that moment when he faced the choice of either to address a prior miss that hadn’t been remembered by the customer, or to just go with the flow and ignore it–banking on the customer’s ignorance.

On moments of truth

There’s a reality in customer service–all parts of business and life, really.  It’s that we all face moments of truth.  Moments of truth are moments that force us to reveal–at the very least to ourselves–who we really are.

It may be that moment when you ought to deliver hard feedback to a client but decide not to because it’s too, well, hard.

It may be that moment when you return that overpayment to your customer like it’s a hot potato because you are not about keeping your customers’ money.

And, yes, it may be that moment when you remember a customer issue from four months ago and go the extra mile to mitigate it when the chance, finally, arises again.

We all have moments of truth in our lives. Moments of truth are moments of truth because we quite often have discretion about which way we go.

We can choose.

We can hide from the truth and reveal that we are, in fact, cowardly (like in my feedback example above).  Or, we can face the music and see where it takes us.

The question we all should consider is this:  When faced with my moment of truth, what will it reveal about me?

We should all hope for the revelation of strength of character in such moments.

What do you think?

Can You Scare People Into Elite Performance?

The answer: You can’t be scared and elite at the same time.


This one might roll off the tongues of elite athletes, entrepreneurs, soldiers, and performers of all types. I will do my best to sum up.

During a recent walk with my wife, Lindsay, in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, we had a good discussion of what really holds people back from being great performers.  As we walked and talked, the topic of fear came up. You know fear.  Everybody does on some level.  Even for the most narcissistic among us, there is the subtle fear of being found out.  But for the rest of us, there is normal fear and anxiety that come with actually wanting to perform well.

My wife, whose history as a swimmer has put her in league with some of the most elite of her sport and whose current passion as a coach gives her constant concern with what can help her swimmers perform better, summed up some of her swimmers’ performance as being highly correlated with their fear of disappointing their parents.

In other words, they didn’t perform well because they wanted to–they performed well because they were scared of the consequences of not performing well.  To paraphrase our joint reaction to that, let me just put it in a single quote:

“Fear may be a great motivator for performance, but it will never be the great motivator for elite performance.”

That’s what we concluded, and in the midst of a long walk, the applicability of this insight from a sport with highly objective measurements–the clock doesn’t lie–to the world of business rang true.

I once advised a CEO who admitted to me that his go-to move was to induce fear.  Create fear, hold people’s feet to the fire, and they perform.  Oh, and if they don’t, then fire them outright and find someone who will.  It’s quite a philosophy.  It’s one that I absolutely see the merit of, but only so far as one is trying to go from bad to good.  In other words, a turnaround situation can be led via fear, but not a situation that is focused on extending and defending an elite franchise. Ultimately this CEO found great success in the turnaround, but not in the extension of success.


Because fear is a constraining motivation. In the immortal words of Peter from the movie Office Space:

“That will make someone work just hard enough not to get fired.”

And it does. Because when we are scared, we only focus on what it takes to get out of our fear zone.  That means we go fast enough and try hard enough to placate our parents or our boss.

Yes, placate. As in, just do what’s required.  We never get into the mode of doing what may be possible.

This may seem obvious in the world of 12-year-old swimmers trying not to bear the wrath of overzealous (let’s just say it, jerk) parents, but it applies to the workplace you work in (or lead) today.  If you only know how to instill fear in people, then they will only try to work until that fear is mitigated.

If you try to instill possibilities in people, then some of them will answer the call.  They will seek what is possible. They will become elite, and elite organizations can only be elite if at least some of their people are performing at an elite level.

Not everybody can be elite, but every person with the potential to be elite can be held back by a leader who only knows how to wield the constraining force of fear.

I’ve had the opportunity to work alongside truly elite athletes, and have been exposed to Olympians of many flavors thanks to marrying well.  I’ll characterize those elite performers in a few ways:

Some have seemed absolutely oblivious to their greatness.  I get the sense that Andrew Luck of the Indianapolis Colts has this quality.  They just do and things work well.  They answer the call because, well, it’s the thing to do.

Some have gathered their eliteness from the genuine joy of competition, from a combination of pure talent and a positive mindset. I always thought of 12-time Olympic medalist Jenny Thompson as this sort.  They answer the call because winning is fun, by golly.

Some are simply professionals.  They focus on every play as though others depend on them at all times.  I was fortunate to play alongside many men who had this kind of quality.  A few who come to mind are 13-year NFL veteran linebacker Chris Draft, longtime NFL linebacker Kailee Wong, and offensive lineman and coach Chris Dalman of the San Francisco 49ers.  They answer the call because it reflects a commitment to being great.

What you’ll notice is that I name no one who was elite by being scared.  I saw elites motivated by joy, commitment, even anger…

…But not fear.

In short, I’ll put it this way: You can’t be scared and elite at the same time.  

Elite performance results from confidence and the reflected belief of unconstrained possibility.

I’d love to know your thoughts on this one…

Real Talent Never Dies

In the death of an icon, we can see how real talent lives on.


Today is one of those days that kind of creeps up on you.  It starts just like any other day, and then includes the loss of an iconic figure.

Incomparable pop star Prince has died.

To call Prince iconic is perhaps not generous enough.  After all, the guy actually changed his name to an icon for a while.

That’s beside the point.  And, yes, I’m hoping to make a point here…

It’s this:  Real talent never dies.

Prince’s exceptional talents brought joy to millions of people over decades.  He pushed the boundaries of pop music; and he did so with an impressive style.  His talent was, to put it mildly, transcendent.

And that’s the thing.  Prince’s talents are still with us.  They have just been passed on to innumerable talented performers who are to this day riffing on the style and substance of Prince’s repertoire.

I think that if we look at performers in the world–whether it be in music, theater, or business–the really talented ones…the ones with a capital ‘T’ in their talent, contribute to a body of thought, action, and art that transcends their short stay on the earth.

Think about Mozart…

…or Beethoven…

…or Bach…

…or Shakespeare…

…or Poe…

…or Picasso…

…or for that matter Rockefeller, Ford, Morgan, and maybe even Jobs.

They are gone and here at the same time. Each has left pieces that have been picked up and appreciated by others.  They have left behind techniques, styles, and visions–crumbs of talent that lead others to a higher plane.

So did Prince.

Real talent never dies.  It leaves the world better off.  It brings others to a higher plane.  Perhaps we should all aspire to such things, but some of us actually get there.

So long, Prince.  I guess this is what it really sounds like when doves cry.

Christmas and The Real Meaning of Business

Finding “real meaning” in business gets personal, gritty, and small. 


‘Tis the season. Christmas season, I mean.  And, it has me thinking.

We sit on the threshold of a holiday that for most comes to symbolize the warmth of gift giving and the joy of a pause in life to reflect on gifts received.  Sure, it’s commercial.  Sure, it’s loaded with obligation to dangerously hollow things like no other holiday in the western world is.

But it sure is fun.

Driving along a few days ago, I was fortunate to hear an ad on the radio.  “Come, learn the real meaning of Christmas” it said.  It then went on to outline the extravaganza that a large church was investing the time, money, and people into to outline the “real meaning of Christmas.”  It was the “real meaning” that struck a chord with me.  I wondered what innocent bystanders (that is, people who are neither Christian, nor steeped in western “Christmas” tradition) would say the “real meaning” of Christmas is by observing the actions we take during the season.

Would they say the real meaning was entertainment?

Gift giving?

Celebration of the birth of a single individual so long ago?

Establishment of the basis of a world religion and interpersonal philosophy?

I suspect that the innocent bystander would attend the Christmas extravaganza and come away with a sense that Christmas is quite a show, but perhaps not a sense of the”real meaning” of Christmas.  They wouldn’t understand the deeper personal and metaphysical meaning of Christmas from watching a show any more than from seeing a Christmas tree…

…and, you know what?  That’s fine.  You know why?  Because real meaning comes from experience, not an extravaganza. A life changed through the Christmas story rarely (if ever) happens because “you said so.”  It happens through reflection and immersion and individual commitment and confession.

In other words, It’s what’s inside the box that counts…Not the wrapper.

And that, my friends, is where real meaning in the Christmas sense has applicability to real meaning in a business sense.

A legion of consultants, practitioners, executives, and managers have put their faith in the power of extravaganza to create change.  They–like the church in the radio ad above–put together light, sound, and live animal shows (ok, maybe not the live animals) in hopes of creating an emotional experience for their organizations or clients. They hire outside speakers, event planners, and communication experts to expound on the great position a company is in or the great new direction it will take.  They make it clear that a charged emotion is the key to alignment with strategy.

And they are right.

But they are wrong.

Because a charged emotion may be necessary to conversion, but it’s insufficient for sustained change.  All the focus is on the wrapper, and not on what’s inside the box.

So, if excitement about a clear vision delivered in a compelling way is the wrapper, what is inside the box when it comes to corporate strategies that actually steer an organization?

Well, personal meaning may come first.  Does the steering of the strategy touch on the personal hot buttons of the organization.  This can be purpose (what are we doing for the community, our customer, etc.?).  It can also be self interest (what’s in it for me and my career?).  It can also be about others (how does this strategy impact Milton down in the basement?).  Personal meaning comes in different flavors.  One wrapper can seldom hit on them all.

The second is probably leadership credibility.  If I see the extravaganza, it hints at credible change to come. A leader is born.  A changed organization, renewed purpose, or new challenge are all both frightful and compelling things. They need credible leadership.

The third thing inside the box may have to be an honest appraisal. And, this is where the wrapper of an extravaganza most often falls short. In the push to put a glossy finish on the strategic vision of a company’s strategy, we lose the factual appraisal that we just rode for miles in pain on the back of a donkey and gave birth in a stable after being rejected from the local hotel.  Our circumstances aren’t glossy.  They are as humble as possible.  Sometimes, we have to admit it once we are inside the box.

The fourth thing inside the box deals with what people have to bring…It’s the requirements.  Our glossy wrappers tend to minimize requirements.  They tend to underplay the difficulty of actually steering an organization in a new direction. They underplay the late nights.  They underplay the hard conversations.  They underplay the personal commitments that will be challenged, change, or even cancelled. In the Christmas story, we focus so much on the baby in the manger that we often forget the journey of the kings, or the sacrifices of the parents. Transformative change comes with requirements.  Those are hard to convey in a glossy wrapper.

And, finally, I’d have to say that from personal experience we all need to have a sense of the consequences likely from the strategic vision.  Glossy extravaganza wrappers are great at booming out a new vision, but awful at being candid about the consequences of that vision. The Christian tradition actually does this quite well, once you get past the secular Christmas wrapper.  Adhering to the true meaning of Christmas is actually hard. It was likely hardest for the man the baby in the that feeding trough eventually became. But, it was still hard for anyone who chose to actually follow.  In corporate terms, consequences belong inside the box. Not all will make it to glory in a given strategy.  It’s ok to say so…Humane, even.

In this holiday season that has become so overrun with glossiness.  Let’s not forget the dank and, yes, small circumstances that underpin the real meaning.  The thing that corporate strategies that actually create changed organizations have in common with Christmastime conversions that stick is a focus on the gritty, dirty, and simple realities inside the box at the expense of the glossy, gold plated wrapper on the outside.

Maybe your organization can benefit from some time inside the box.  If you are reading this…Maybe it’s up to you.

Merry Christmas.




Sometimes, new is the only way through


If you are reading this post anywhere near its publication date, you’re reading it on a new website that is the result of many professionals’ hours of toil.  Over the past months, I’ve taken the time to think through a new brand, a more articulated approach to WGP’s work, and a clearer expression of my vision for Wilson Growth Partners.

These are all signs of renewal.  Specifically, they are, I hope, the outcome of and a significant hat tip toward the clients who partner with WGP. And all of this has me thinking: There is a time for and a need for renewal of everything.

With apologies to the Byrds, King Solomon said it best when he said there is a time for everything. I thought it worth a few reflections on Ecclesiastes as this journey of client service I’m on has developed; I do this in the spirit of acknowledging that the trappings of the business I have—especially this blog and website—represent in and of themselves a renewal and redirection on my own journey, but not the depth of it.

I’m just going to pick a few of Solomon’s thoughts (from Ecclesiastes 3 for those looking for the richness of the actual text and not my meager writing here) and reflect for a minute on each.  Maybe you will gain from them as I have over the years.

For sure, the art of renewal is not knowing exactly when it needs to happen but knowing that it needs to happen in the first place. Without that knowledge, we all get bogged down by ourselves or by others.


…A time to plant and a time to uproot 

I’ve been in a few organizations over the years.  During that time, I’ve counseled dozens of managers who, despite their own rationalizations, knew that it was time to uproot.  They endowed their current circumstances and (perceived in almost every case) stability with mystical powers over their own well-being.  I have also, I confess, remained in a role for at least a year longer than it took to gain clarity that uprooting was due. So I understand the inertia of endowment.  Maybe this is you?

On the other side, I’ve witnessed aimless professionals floating through a litany of roles and companies, trying to find “it” while never allowing roots to form. They fall into a trap of seeking meaning, but they move too quickly—they want it all, and now, and they allow those wants to create an aimlessness that is as sad as the rootedness of those who stay too long. Remember, inertia also means it’s hard to stop moving.  Maybe this is you?

…A time to tear down and a time to build

Tearing down old edifices is hard. An edifice in your life might be as simple as the way things have always been done, or it may be an entire institution that simply isn’t working (and, yes, I mean companies, but also relationships, contracts, and any other untenable situations).  Renewal depends on the ability to tear down; it requires strength, but also the ability to look at old things in new ways.  Leaving a job or a company or a leader, perhaps particularly when you feel sorry for them because you know your departure will hurt their effectiveness, is still a form of tearing down.

More to the point, tearing down old processes and ways of working can be hard. For some, finding efficiency in an organization for those within it can be extremely difficult. But for others, it’s quite easy, and they can tear down old institutions with ease.

The challenge, however, is finding renewal through building; building is also hard.  For those who specialize in tearing down, cutting costs, restructuring organizations and the like, building is the hardest thing, and they lose the knack. Finding the time and place to build in our own individual lives can be equally hard.

…A time to keep and a time to throw away

Clutter gets us all.  It can be the physical clutter of paper, documents, or other things, or it can be the mental clutter of divided loyalties, missions, loves, and joys—both can be toxic.  Finding renewal through deciding what to keep and what to throw away may very well be one of the simplest and best ways of starting.

For a professional services firm like mine, the keep/throw away dichotomy can be defined through the clients we choose to continue working with vs. those we choose not to, and it can also be the topics we choose to do more of vs. those we choose to defer.

In operational excellence initiatives, a massively valuable starting point tends to be the 5Ss. That is, the first visible and engaging step in finding operational improvement is to Sort, Straighten, Sanitize, Standardize, and Sustain: decide what to keep and to throw away.  Oh, and do it visibly, so that others get it—if it’s good for the shop floor, it’s good for the rest of us.

In other words, what am I keeping today and what am I throwing away are great starting points for renewal.

…A time to be silent and a time to speak


Many of my posts, now that I look at them, can be categorized as arising out of an ethic—a strategic outlook—that revolves around self-respect.  This final piece of guidance on renewal that I’ll pull from Solomon is another of those: We all need to know when it’s time to be silent and when it’s time to speak up.  We all need to be clear on when enough is enough when it comes to behaviors we can no longer tolerate or ethics that have gone off the rails.

Related to the above, renewal depends on breaking the silence. The silence may be internal to your own heart or it may be very external, but the first step of the immortal 12-step process is speaking up: You must “Admit it.”

All of which is to say, if we are seeking renewal, we have to admit it; at the least we have to admit it to ourselves, but we might have to admit it to others also:  Solomon was right.

So what…

Renewal…True renewal, in a professional, personal, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual sense, is two-sided, and Solomon laid this out so eloquently so long ago.  You and I can find renewal through moving, changing, uprooting, and, yes, being born again. We can also find renewal through stopping, reflecting, growing roots, and, yes, dying a little bit here and there.

This professional journey—the one we’re on for only part of our lives—is highly responsive to how we renew it; a promising career can wilt from too much movement, and it most certainly can wilt from being planted in the wrong ground.

Sometimes, new is the only way through.

So, go and reflect on renewal now. Oh, and enjoy the new website and blog. Please leave a comment if you care to.

5 Experiences You Need

My career has been shaped by 5 core experience types. Perhaps those just starting out can get something out of these reflections.

I’m fortunate to have held many jobs over my lifetime (actually, growing up, I was “encouraged” to earn money). Fact is, things like shoes and gas cost money. I’ve held the following jobs in my short life (things that the Social Security Administration would know I’ve done…):

Farm worker (corn picker, potato grader, possibly not-so-legal farm truck driver)

Lawn mower

Roadside watermelon salesman

Retail sales associate

Ice delivery boy




Material handler

Loan processor

Investment analyst

Professional athlete

Production planner

Financial advisor

Cold caller



Venture capital analyst

Management consultant

Corporate strategist

It’s a lot.

Now, before you say what a friend of mine said last weekend—”You sure have kicked around a lot in your career,” you must understand that necessity is the mother of work. I grew up with a healthy ambition to play sports coupled with limited sources of funds. The seasonal reality of the sports I played meant that I would cycle through work and sports in a periodic manner—finding a new job every few months through high school and during the summers in college to keep money in my pockets.

I’m blessed because of it; it gave me perspective. So I figured I’d share a reflection on what I think are the best experiences I’ve had from that long litany. I don’t mean the best in terms of my resume—I mean the best in terms of roles that taught me how to want to be a better professional.

I’d argue that these are 5 experiences that you need in order to grow as an effective but empathetic professional.  This is all, of course, one man’s perspective.  They are:

1. Sales. Any kind of sales

You haven’t really lived until you’ve cold called. As a relative introvert (when it comes to work style), I absolutely hated the notion of reaching out to people by phone or door to door, but  I also got a lot out of having had to do so. Once you have called on people and endured a healthy, consistent stream of rejection, you learn that being an A student really isn’t worth much in the real world. The real world is messy.

It’s also healthy to have had to sell things that are easy to sell. I was fortunate to have had the opportunity to sell watermelons roadside during part of one summer in my teen years. It was a product that sold itself (although it never hurt to break open a melon and give people a taste).

As you get older and/or as selling gets more intricate and complex, the experience you gain from selling early on—the experience of influencing and dealing—becomes valuable in every environment. I’ve never seen a truly effective CEO who had no sales in his DNA. Do it. Sell something.

2. Personal service of any kind

Waiting tables is an example of a formative experience that anyone should have. When you provide a service in real time that people will reflect on, assess, and compensate in real time, you become attuned to other people in ways that I’m not sure you can find elsewhere.

There are all kinds of personal service jobs that fit here, ranging from the elite (concierge) to the important but more menial (shining shoes). What they have in common is the need to live up to another person’s standard at least once in your life. The value of that empathy, even if it’s merely learned and not intrinsic, is exceptional.

3. Work with a deadline

Having to work until the wee hours or through significant pain to deliver on a deadline is a formative experience. Learning to manage around deadlines as a writer, analyst, consultant, or delivery boy means learning how to assess a situation in terms of resource needs, capacity, timing, and costs.

Deadline work also teaches you to manage pain. Nothing taught me that better than football games. When you play ball, the game kicks off not matter what state your body is in, so you get ready, and you deal with the pain.  I always appreciated what I recall famous football coach Bobby Bowden once said about an injured player of his:

“He’ll be in pain, but we have a ballgame, and pain don’t matter.”

Deadlines can be tough.  Learning to answer the call regardless of pain is valuable.

I’m learning as I age that there are generational differences with respect to deadlines. I’d go so far as to say that there are some age cohorts in the workforce (ahem…millennials) who have, as a stereotype, significantly less appreciation for the urgency and precision that deadlines can demand. When those people mix with others that are more delivery oriented…they lose. Understanding what deadlines are and how to commit to and manage around them comes from critical experience.

4. Work that requires you to write

I first became a published author when I wrote an article entitled “Venture Capital in the Not-So-New Economy” while moonlighting for a consulting firm in 2001. I was volunteered to write a series of blogs (under deadline, surprisingly enough) for BusinessWeek Online while in graduate school, and now I write for fun. I have always found the absolutely necessary habit of stopping, structuring, and thinking when writing to be instrumental to my later career. Clarity of thought is a rare thing—I always strive for it, and sometimes I achieve it. Writing as a job and as a hobby is a fantastic developmental pursuit.

5. Work where there is no safety net

I still have in my file cabinet (somewhere) a two-year contract with the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers. There is likely no more pure meritocracy in the for-profit world than an NFL roster. You either produce, or you are cut. You tend to know where you stand right away, and  I certainly did—I lasted a few preseason games, and I was cut. I “failed.”

But that failure has made the rest of my career a cakewalk.

I spent more than 7 years as a client service staffer (that is, on the tip of the spear) at the world’s most renowned professional services firm. That firm is known as much for its brand and talent as for its “up or out” career development policy. There was, once again, a distinct feel that you either perform or you will be cut. While the environment was more humane than the NFL, this model was high pressure. It was a social contract understood by all. It made you sharp, and it created focus.

Once you’ve worked without a safety net woven out of bureaucracy, cronies, and obfuscation, you realize and recognize more and more of the bad behaviors that come from rent seekers and moochers. You also notice the really bad ones—the ones who tell everyone else that it’s a meritocracy while really just politically and financially feathering their nests. Their safety nets start to entangle their morals.

I’ve had the joy of diversity in the work that I’ve done. I’m so thankful that my life circumstances have afforded me the opportunity to work everywhere from a tractor to a delivery truck to a storeroom to a boardroom. I’m truly lucky.

I hope my perspective can be of help to you.

Always Do It Again Like the First Time…

Is the secret to life and professionalism finding the ability to lead, love, and perform with the fervor you once had?

Remember the first time you had to really perform in a meeting? Or the first time you had to give a subordinate a performance review? Or maybe the first time you were responsible for the sales call?

How about the first time you said “I love you” to a significant other and meant it?

Maybe you remember the first time you tried really hard to master a sport, or an art, or a language. You found a link between passion and performance. You went through pain or anguish or nervous uncertainty to get there.

Maybe these things don’t resonate for you, but still, there’s a first time for everything. And for those things we very much want to do well on, we do the work, we deliver with feeling. We, in short, find a way. The first time is hard won.

Unfortunately, for a lot of the things I just listed, there’s also a one hundredth time. For some performances, there is a ten thousandth time.

The Professional’s Call

This weekend, I had the opportunity to witness the performance of a virtuoso jazz musician in an intimate setting. I was able to see and hear the music flow from someplace within him that I couldn’t see. As is sometimes the case when we witness amazing talent in action, I struggled to understand how perfect the performance seemed, even when almost all of it was improvised (it was, after all, jazz).

During an intermission, the musician–acting as our host–told those of us in the audience an interesting anecdote about the great performer Burt Bacharach.

Bacharach is known for his performance of the song Alfie, a somber, meaningful song about life. Here it is:

Through some mental math, our host related that Bacharach, over his career, has likely performed Alfie more than 10,000 times. That’s 10,000 instances of a performer’s finding the same passion and emotion in an activity that he had the very first time. Our host explained that being able to perform every time with the passion of the first is, in a lot of ways, a secret to life.

A Lesson for Life and Work

The anecdote is a profound illustration of what it means to be a professional. It’s also, I think, a profound illustration of what it means to maintain curiosity, wonder, and passion within a world of banality and repetition.

Think about it. Can you imagine being able to experience the joy and wonder you felt during your first kiss during the goodnight kiss on your 30th anniversary? Can you imagine being able to say “I love you” today to your spouse with the same trepidation and sense of the future you had the first time?

What a rush!

A friend and mentor of mine once related to me that she knew she was doing well as a professional when she no longer felt nervous walking into meetings with senior executives; the act of leading meetings had become a rote exercise. I respect this point of view. I’ve lived through the maturation that she mentioned, and I’ve delivered the same insight to others. But while the maturity of professionalism is important, so is the passion.

I’ve witnessed countless professionals “going through the motions.”  They do endless meetings with no soul and no passion for vision or values. They work to their incentives like coin-operated machines. They look elsewhere for their passion and in the meantime demolish the hopes of their audiences. Except that their audiences are the people in their organizations or, in the worst cases, their potential business partners and customers.

We professionals, like the performers we really all are, must remember to go back to the passion (if not the nerves) of the first time if we are to deliver our own virtuosic performance on the hundredth or the thousandth time. If we seek to move others, we have to break out of the professional monotony that comes to us and deliver with feeling, and this matters whether you are a jazz pianist or a financial analyst.

Find an insight. Find something new in every repetition. Rediscover the first time you did it. Find the passion that comes with the first time—the hard-won first time—every time, and I do think that you’ll find at least one secret to life.

A Strategist’s Secret: Find Beauty Every Day

A habit of seeking out strength and beauty every day can make you a better strategic leader.

This is going to appear to be a soft article…after all, I’m writing on finding beauty.

But, I can assure you that the concept here applies to the hardest core, barest knuckled aspects of business as much as it applies to stopping and smelling the figurative roses.

The gist is this:  Through a combination of hurry and training, we get locked into the “things we do” every day.  We become so focused (or, I might say, unfocused) on problems–the ugliness and weakness–that we forget to appreciate the things of beauty and strength right in our midst.

You and I can be better leaders if we stop and acknowledge the strengths and beauty around us.

What a thing of beauty really is…

What I’m writing on today is a positive appreciation for winning practices and attitudes that are right under our noses. We actually don’t often have the discipline to look for the things of beauty that are right in front of us; and all too often that’s because we’ve been rewarded by others for finding ugly.

Finding ugly.

You know, like finding what other people are doing wrong…Finding out what’s broken…Searching out weaknesses and soft spots–All those things that good problem solvers finders do.

Oops.  You saw that correctly.

Problem finders often focus on the ugly.

Problem solvers tend to look for the sublime.

You know why?  Because our strengths tend to be what we use to overcome our weaknesses.

Strengths are possibilities.  Weaknesses are limitations.

Building a winning strategy in business and life by focusing only on what is broken or weak is, near as I can tell, impossible. Sure, strategic plans can start with break fixes, but if they end there, they will miss the upside.

Trust me.

Beauty is in your strengths.

But, what does it mean to find beauty?

Finding beauty means having a willingness to step back and appreciate the real capabilities that you, the people around you, and your organization actually have right now.

It might be the way that your organization processes material…

or serves customers…

or designs product…

or, and this is a good one, respects one another.

Evaluating capabilities–strengths and not merely weaknesses–is a critical step for any strategist.

Add to that the fact that positive framing of capabilities and situations is likewise a real strategic leadership strength; and you will find that a focus on beautiful strengths is a healthy thing for your relationships as a leader, family member, and friend.

Why this is hard

Too often, and for too many good reasons, we get distracted from finding the beauty of strong capabilities around us.

The good reasons?  Well, more often than not, we have a problem to solve.

While you are focused on achieving that bonus or making it to the next stopping point in your career, or–maddeningly–just following orders, you might be missing the beautiful things around you.

The talent you have.

The talent people around you have vs. what is available in the market.

The glory of a job you did well today.

You know… the little things.

I’ll give a great example of how distraction can rule our lives and remove us from recognizing beauty around us.  Some of you may have seen this before; but if not, I encourage you to watch it.

In this video, famed virtuoso violinist Joshua Bell decides to play in a D.C. subway station, just to see if anyone notices… Have a look. It’s well worth a couple minutes of your time.

I’m betting that more than a handful of the people who walked through that subway station were not only aficionados of classical violin, but were probably so much so that they could tell you how excited they would be to go to the symphony hall to see such a performer as Joshua Bell.

And, they each had the opportunity not only to see Bell, but to have an almost personal performance by him.  That’s something that many people would pay a lot of money for.

But they aren’t looking for the thing of beauty that is right in front of them.

It’s a remarkable and somewhat sad commentary on the pace of our lives that a virtuoso gets nearly zero reactions from everyone powering their way through the train station toward their next goal.

The same distractions apply to you while you lead your life…

Chances are you have strengths right in front of you that aren’t being used.

Chances are you’ve let “popular” notions of what talent or capability looks like (in the worst case–prejudiced or preconceived notions) cloud your vision of what strong capabilities are right in front of you.

Chances are, you’ve gotten yourself into a hurry.

A parting shot

I’ll leave you with a little bit of humor.

If you have never seen it, I encourage you to watch the “Double Rainbow” video here.

Now, There’s a guy who found a thing of beauty in his life.

Okay, so maybe you don’t have to get that excited.  Still…

…Go find your double rainbow today.

Find a thing of beauty today.  Find a strength to build on.  It might get you somewhere that a focus on ugly won’t.

That’s a core secret of an effective strategist.

I’d love to have you share your reactions and comments…

Leonard Nimoy and the Warmth of Spock

Spock, as portrayed by the late Leonard Nimoy, has resonated through the generations because he married two things that we never get right:  Perfect logic, and heart.  

Today is a sad day in the hearts and minds of many fans of science fiction, and particularly fans of the Star Trek franchise.

Leonard Nimoy, whose portrayal of the iconic half-human half-Vulcan character Mr. Spock, has died.

I won’t dwell on the life of the man, because there are plenty of tributes out there doing that. Here’s a fitting one from the New York Times. I appreciate the art he both portrayed and brought to the screen.  Many forget that Nimoy was also a writer and director in the series of Star Trek movies.

What I will dwell on is this:  While the character Spock is a shoo-in for the hall of fame of science fiction characters; it’s not on the strength of a couple of prosthetic ears and tricked-out eyebrows, but rather on a stunning mix of logic and warmth he was able to bring to the screen.

This is a character smart enough to decipher the most cryptic stratagems, ranging from the evil of Kahn to the songs of whales.

This is a character so dispossessed of emotion as to have uttered such remarkably useful phrases as:

“Insufficient facts always invite danger.”

Ridiculously applicable to strategic thinking…


“Change is the essential process of all existence.”

Directly applicable to organizational thinking…


“I realise that command does have its fascination, even under circumstances such as these, but I neither enjoy the idea of command nor am I frightened of it. It simply exists, and I will do whatever logically needs to be done.”

Directly applicable to leadership thinking.

And, there are many more quotes like this.  Just Google “Spock quotes” today for a smattering of tributes.

But, the one that stands out; comes from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn.  In that film, once Spock has made the ultimate sacrifice for his comrades and ship; he says to Captain Kirk:

“I have been, and always shall be, your friend.”

I believe there is one reason that Spock has so resonated throughout the years; and it isn’t his mind.

It is that he was a friend.

This quote is a good reminder that no matter how smart we are–how perfectly logical and coldly calculating we may be; we must connect with others to be truly effective.

Spock managed to do it.

Maybe as we push to a higher level of strategic and financial perfection, we should keep in mind that the people around us are what create resonance with our excellence.

Rest in peace, Leonard Nimoy.

May we all “live long, and prosper.”