Author of "This Is Rage" and "Endless Encores"

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Rediscovering Civility

By on Sep 27, 2021 in Blog | 0 comments

Last month I wrote briefly about the fallacy of the upper hand. The responses I received from people navigating similar bouts of forced will remind me how not normal our lives remain. Over the past year and a half, many employees have learned to work remotely, and to some the routine of working from home is now its own form of normalcy. At the same time, we are increasingly returning to the workplace and trying to adjust to the structure of sharing a space with colleagues and strangers for a third of each day. To assume everyone can walk back into the workplace and public spaces without some enhanced focus on conduct seems to me naïve. Human beings are certainly adaptable, but I worry that we might be presuming a level of adaptability that confuses the comfort zone of individuals with the smooth functioning of collective interests. You’ve no doubt heard about the outbreaks of passenger rage on commercial flights. They are not as isolated as we might want to believe. Covid-19 has taken away a lot of daily practice from our interactions. It’s not just that it is easy to forget how different it is to interact in person than it is to communicate through electronic platforms. Talking into screens is not a fully rendered substitute for being together. We have developed habits in our physical solitude that have taught us to be effective in doing what is expected of us, but some of those habits may not make the most of opportunities to emerge with a broader purpose. We may find it easier to behave in certain ways when we are alone than when we are together, and bridging those geographies may not be as simple as flexible switching between environments in what many now label as hybrid work. There is more to the next generation workplace than where we do what we do. There is a mindset I think we need to share—a set of shared values—that seems to me more traditional than circumstantial. If we want to adapt to new paradigms for interacting, perhaps the rules governing those interactions are agnostic to place. It seems critical with the perpetual noise around us that as we...

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The Upper Hand

By on Aug 30, 2021 in Blog | 0 comments

Think you’ve got leverage? You might. Now think hard about whether you want to exert it. The success of a business reveals itself over long periods of time. The same is true of a career, even more so. At any given time, circumstances may go your way. Cheesy television shows that gloss over the true workings of business may suggest this is the time to seize control of a weakened opponent, play the hard angle of opportunism, lower the boom on the boomless. Certainly that’s one way to play the game. You’re a property owner and the market is tight. You can play hardball with potential tenants. Maybe that works and they sign the lease without much choice. Are you 100% sure that’s a great idea? You’re a well-educated graduate entering the job market where positions that capitalize on your skillset are abundant. You are offered a very fair salary at an employer where you can grow, learn, and evolve your talent. You ask for 50% more. Maybe they say yes because they have a job that needs to be done right now. Are you 100% sure that’s a great idea? You’re a broker of commodity supplies suddenly in demand for construction or renovation. Longtime customers ask for your support in quickly completing a needed project without breaking the budget. You tell them you’d like to help, but new customers are willing to pay three to four times what you’ve been paying for the same materials you have stockpiled in inventory. Maybe you get the new asking price from your original customer and your margin soars. Are you 100% sure that’s a great idea? Here’s my take: You’re blowing it. In all three of the above examples, the true price of hammering home your isolated moment of glory far exceeds the devil’s bargain you might be invoking. You are sacrificing the establishment of trust. You are shredding the notion of loyalty. You are establishing a set of ground rules where the nanosecond leverage shifts, you are going to get swatted with a mirror version of the upper hand you thought was so nifty. Think I’m wrong? Think business is just a cycle of gamesmanship where everyone longs for effective...

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A Childhood Friend Passes

By on Jul 26, 2021 in Blog | 0 comments

I said a final goodbye to a longtime friend recently. He was intensely private and not at all a fan of social media so I won’t name him here. I do feel the need to write about him, so I hope I am in-bounds handling this in the abstract. We actually lost him during Covid, but the logistics of his memorial had to wait for travel arrangements. He wasn’t a Covid victim, perhaps just the timing. He had other medical issues that lasted all his life. I have known this person since we were 11 years old, which I believe makes him the longest-standing friend I have maintained. I didn’t do a great job of maintaining that friendship, but luckily I did visit with him right before Covid. He gave me a reasonably rebellious book right in line with his lifelong wit and irritation with the unreasonable. I gave him a copy of my last book. We never got to discuss either. The medical condition that haunted him dates back to our earliest conversations. He never wanted anyone to feel sorry for him, but if you were in his circle, he wasn’t afraid to talk about it. It was a neuromuscular disease and although his entire life would be linked by operations and treatments, he refused to let his life be defined by it. It was existential. He understood existential. Several years ago I wrote a tribute to Jerry Lewis when he died. I had been involved as a supporter and volunteer of the Muscular Dystrophy Association since childhood and strangely always felt a connection to Jerry. I remember discussing this with my friend in childhood. He had a mixed reaction to MDA. He appreciated all the donations that Jerry inspired to invest in research, but he was troubled by all the photoshoots and poster children. This friend was sufficiently progressive but never woke. When I wrote my piece on Jerry he wrote to me after a very long stretch of absence, almost out of the blue, a brief email to me that began: “So I don’t get a mention in the Jerry Lewis post? I cried when he died. Loved him as a funny man.” He then went...

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The Telephone: A Basic Operating Manual

By on Jun 22, 2021 in Blog | 0 comments

As we return to work and the workplace in the new order of normalcy, I am reminded of the many bad habits we may have acquired in the discomfort of isolation. Foremost among these vices is the spreading disease of poor telephone conduct. A phone is hardly a phone anymore. It’s an email device, a web browser, a camera, a texting platform, and an app launcher. Yet its initial (if not primary) function we still call a telephone. Perhaps it is time we relearn how to use it in that regard. Call me ancient, but let me suggest that manners still matter in human contact on both ends of the line. Unless we recognize the contact name or Caller ID on the screen, few of us will answer a phone anymore. No matter what number you file at the DoNotCall.gov registry, your phone rings continuously with garbage sales calls and bot inquiries. I think that is where bad manners begin, with poor intention. I once had a boss who never answered the phone, and this was in the days before cell phones. He used to say, “If it’s good news, they’ll call back. If it’s bad news, I don’t want to hear it.” I think that’s another form of bad manners. I also don’t think it’s true. Sometimes good news gets reallocated. Bad news swept under the rug can swiftly convert a minor misunderstanding into a corporate crisis. Sometimes we need to answer the phone whether we like it or not. Mobility doesn’t give any of us license to rotten phone behavior. I have written before about returning calls, but now I am getting into the basics. If you didn’t grow up with a landline or have forgotten the etiquette associated with polite calling, here is a laundry list of reminders you may want to paste on the back of your mobile case. Do not leave your voice mailbox full. You may be getting a call with a job offer. I may not call back. Record a greeting on your voicemail, however short, and your name. How else do I know I called the right number, particularly if you told it to me wrong. Speak clearly into the mouthpiece....

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5 Brief Quotes That Keep Me Thinking

By on May 25, 2021 in Blog | 0 comments

Are we turning the corner on a new day of reinvention and reinvigoration, or are we swapping one set of enormously complicated challenges for another? I’ve been think about that a lot as Covid-19 vaccinations are welcomed by increasingly more people and the doors to a rejuvenated nation continue to open at an encouraging pace. Still, it’s hard to ignore that much of the conflict that existed in the pre-Covid world remains in the post-Covid world. The economy is rebounding with optimism in investment, yet income inequality is as deeply embedded in our interactions as it has ever been. High profile convictions for the abuse of power have been handed down, yet racial injustice remains in the daily headlines. International travel is resuming, yet lives are being lost in battles across and within borders. We remain too often divided, and find little in the way of broad consensus that will adequately address sustainable remedies. Has the world learned anything from Covid-19, or are we picking up where we left off? On days that are difficult to explain, I find myself looking to tiny bits of wisdom that keep me inspired and focused in good times, bad times, and when I can’t tell the difference. Here are five fragments I keep top of mind that I hope you will find perennial and inexhaustible. “A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.” — Jackie Robinson Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball. He had every reason to be a pessimist given the treatment he endured, yet he was a fighter of the most noble order and seems to me a true optimist. He had a gift that he transformed into a cause. He led by example. He teaches me there is no other way to lead than by example. “It’s kind of fun to do the impossible.” — Walt Disney Walt Disney was another optimist, but in a different way. He focused on pushing the imagination to unimaginable bounds. He knew beyond all financial gain that our aspirations live in our dreams, and that our stories are mirrors of our souls. He teaches me there is creativity in all of us, and...

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Air, Water, Food

Air, Water, Food

By on Apr 26, 2021 in Blog | 0 comments

There’s no time like the present to set goals. Here’s a framework I use for myself and those I manage or advise. I generally try to classify projects into three levels of priority before I consider adding resources to anything on deck: Air, Water, and Food. In the unlikely event everything classified under Air, Water, and Food is done and behind us, I might move onto the next realm of importance, but generally, if it’s not Air, Water, or Food, it is going to get a very low priority, I’m stealing broadly from Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, but suppose you were an astronaut in orbit and the red light in the capsule appeared. How do you set priorities? Largely by survival. Without air, you have seconds to live. Without water, you have days to live. Without food, you have weeks to live. Everything after that is discretionary. Whether you are setting high-level goals or project priorities, try ranking your options into these categories. What is Air? In a services business, it might be customers. In an e-commerce business, it might be secure uptime. In product development, it might be an innovative, competitive technology solution that is worth marketing because it will surprise and delight customers. “Air” initiatives are the items on your to-do list that if not attended to immediately may cause a business to be gone very soon. Sometimes they are obvious. Take the examples above. If you don’t protect your customers in a services business, you don’t have a business. If you don’t have a product worth selling, you don’t have a business. If you are selling online and you are not safely live to the world, you don’t exist. It’s relatively easy to see the obvious examples of Air, but sometimes they are counterintuitive. I often write about People, Products, Profits—in that order. Are people, or the talent that drives your company, Air? The answer is absolutely yes—we cannot accomplish much of anything without the right team, but none of us has the unlimited capacity to hire everyone we want. It is precisely because talent is Air that it takes discipline to know which people you need now and which may have to wait. Your budget...

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