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


Opinions That Matter

By on Sep 19, 2019 in Blog | 0 comments

Be cautious with the advice you seek. Be more cautious with the advice you offer. I enjoy and appreciate seeking business input from all kinds of people on all kinds of topics, but lately, I’m noticing that much of what people offer is too off the cuff. I usually know a problematic opinion is coming my way when I spend several minutes framing the complexity of a souring issue, and the assessment I receive is preceded by this phrase: “Why don’t you just…” That warning prelude is often followed by a very simple response in a sentence or fragment encompassing very few words. Some examples of confounding suggestions: “Why don’t you just reduce your overhead?” “Why don’t you just hire someone else?” “Why don’t you just find a new supplier?” “Why don’t you just change the value proposition to your customer?” “Why don’t you just worry less about your brand?” All of these phrases were spoken in earnest, in a neutral tone without any particular agenda or adversarial intention. I said my thing and they said theirs. There’s another warning sign that preceded these suggestions—the words were delivered quite quickly, the “Why” being initiated almost instantly on the period ending my lead-in sentence. There is a word to describe this kind of give and take. It would best be described as “conversation.” It could also be described as “bar talk.” There’s nothing wrong with conversation or bar talk, as long as we realize that’s what it is. Banter is entertainment, not problem-solving. Words that pass the time are not thoughtful solutions. In matters of consequence, I find chit-chat troubling traveling in both directions. The easiest response to a “Why don’t you just…” suggestion is probably the obvious: “Uh, yeah, we thought about that and ruled it out… months ago.” A less polite response might be: “Buddy, can you take this discussion a bit more seriously?” If you are in a bar in the midst of bar talk with someone who has been drinking a few hours, be careful in selecting that response, or at least judicious in the tone you use to convey it. The lack of thoughtfulness in idea-sharing may come down to a matter of confidence and...

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Are Americans Happy?

By on Aug 16, 2019 in Blog | 0 comments

Uber drivers can surprise you. They can shake up your thinking. They can get you to pause and reflect differently on the day. A recent early-morning haul with an Uber driver to what I knew would be a long and unpleasant meeting did just that for me. The driver was an Ethiopian immigrant who had been in the United States for about a decade. He and his wife had come here for a better life. His two children were born here. At first he was quiet, presuming I didn’t want any conversation at this hour. When the freeway traffic slowed our progress, I started to draw him out a bit. I was glad I did. His basic sense was that America was filled with unlimited opportunities for anyone who wanted to work hard and apply themselves. The ability to make money here—legally and with relatively few logistical obstacles—was virtually unlimited. He actually loved being an Uber driver the past five years. He had control over his time, could spend time with his family, and while the income he earned was modest by American standards, he felt good about the quality of life it allowed him compared with his earlier years in Ethiopia, where money and opportunity were scarce. What he didn’t understand was why so few Americans he met were happy. To the contrary, he found most of the Americans he encountered unhappy. The people who rode in his car, no matter how well dressed or where they were going, largely seemed unhappy. The people he saw shopping in WalMart, with all the abundant product offerings on the shelf at such low prices, seemed mostly unhappy. When he took his children to school, which was free, most of the children and parents he encountered seemed unhappy. He wondered why. While he wouldn’t trade his life in America for any chance at a permanent return to Ethiopia, he shared that in his younger years, whenever he walked down the road, he would smile broadly and wave hello to everyone he passed, known to him or not. He said he tried that when he initially came to this country, but people looked at him like he was mentally unbalanced, so he...

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By on Jul 24, 2019 in Blog | 0 comments

I keep thinking I’m going to run out of things to write about The Beatles. I keep proving that notion wrong, at least to myself. I recently enjoyed the final night of Paul McCartney’s Freshen Up Tour. He played to about 50,000 fans at a sold-out Dodger Stadium, where I last saw him five years ago. In fact, I included the setlist of that previous concert in the appendix of my second book, Endless Encores. My key observation then was that Paul was as committed to his new music as he was to his historic catalog. That is what has allowed him not only to stay in the game for six decades, but to remain at the top of his own game—that constant hunger for reinvention. That is what has made him not just an artist, but a legend. I had a new observation this time, partly about us, and partly about much more than us. We are aging through time. These songs are becoming a constant. Our memories are a snapshot in time. These songs bridge those snapshots. We are temporal, driving the arcs of our lives. These songs are a continuum. We will not be here forever. These songs could be. These songs are ours to enjoy, but they don’t belong to us. They don’t even belong to Paul or The Beatles. They belong to the world. These songs are universal. They bring us together. They make us happy. They make us remember. We connect the dots of our life’s timelines from song to song, and in the moment of a single song played back at various points throughout those long and winding roads. I remember first listening to “Sgt. Pepper” as a child and it takes me back to the record store where I bought the album. I remember first listening to “Band on the Run” as an adolescent and I am back in the hallways of school. I remember first listening to “Here Today” and I am transported to that sad December day when I was in college and John was murdered. Each song fixes a moment in time that is never erased. Sometimes these moments get back-burnered for a while, but then the associated...

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A Gathering of Nothingburgers

By on Jun 24, 2019 in Blog | 0 comments

Shortly before my latest college reunion, one of my classmates wrote on our class Facebook page that she partially dreaded attending the milestone gathering out of fear it might cause her to feel she was somehow a nothingburger. Imagine that! Anyone else feel this way? Perhaps a truer question might be: Who hasn’t compared themselves to others and come up short? The real question is why at our age would it matter at all. Were I to enunciate the personal and career accomplishments of this particular individual, I can assure you of all the descriptors I might be able to call upon to describe her, the term nothingburger would miss the target by at least a solar orbit. Yet that doesn’t matter. She felt it, and following her enunciation, several dozen others shared the same sentiments. When I tell you these are highly accomplished people, I am not strictly speaking to their landmark achievements. I am speaking to their voices. I am speaking to their self-reflection. I am speaking to their commitment to family, friends, and strangers. I am speaking to their character. Someone on that Facebook thread also suggested that most of the truly important and successful people in our class don’t bother to come to our reunions. I guess that would put us into a debate of what constitutes importance and success. For me, this argument would quickly devolve into the equivalent of a left-leaning politico trying to convince a right-wing politico of their unfounded opinions, and vice versa. I don’t want to debate the definitions of importance or success, nor do I wish to admit by virtue of traveling to see some of the most interesting people ever to grace my life that I am somehow in a lower echelon of life progress. Let’s just say I am convinced that plenty of the most important and successful people in our class attended our reunion, and the ones who couldn’t make it or missed out will have an easy opportunity to correct this choice in slightly less than five years. So what exactly happened at this gathering of nothingburgers? There isn’t time or space in a single blog post to recap the full play-by-play of events, but...

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What’s a Good Day at the Office?

By on May 14, 2019 in Blog | 0 comments

She said a good day ain’t got no rain She said a bad day’s when I lie in bed and think of things that might have been – Paul Simon, Slip Slidin’ Away It’s the small things at work that can change everything, even if only for a moment. A good day is when I am surrounded by good people. A good day is when I participate in a conversation where I learn something. A good day is when a friend reminds me I am a friend. A good day is when we get to promote someone. A good day is when someone who used to work for me is promoted by someone else whom I’ve never met. A good day is when a customer writes or calls to tell us we’ve exceeded their expectations. A good day is when customer service completes an interaction that began with an unhappy customer with someone who will again trust our company. A good day is when we stop paying legal fees on a settlement that never should have been a legal matter. A good day is when a great former employee stops by just to say hi, then casually asks if we happen to have any openings that might be a good fit for a familiar someone. A good day is when one person stops by another’s desk, thanks them sincerely for almost anything, and acknowledges them for a job well done (bonus points for heartfelt gratitude expressed by managers and executives). A good day is when one employee apologizes to another for being rude without the prompting of Human Resources. A good day is when no one has any reason to complain about anything to Human Resources. A good day is when no injuries have occurred in the workplace for many, many months. A good day is when someone tells me they accomplished something they never thought they could do. A good day is when someone tells me a colleague helped them accomplish something they never thought they could do. A good day is when a collective brainstorm that seemed to be going nowhere for hours (or days, or weeks) ends with a big idea embraced by consensus. A good...

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Embrace Turbulence

By on May 6, 2019 in Blog | 0 comments

How many really bad things can go wrong in business in a single day? One or two? Five? Dozens? Dozens of dozens? A key employee leaves because a spouse is offered a job a thousand miles away. A key partner botches a supply chain handoff and your warehouse is empty ahead of an annual sale. You discover a critical hidden formula error in one of your financial spreadsheets that even your auditors missed. Your customer service lines light up for a problem with your competitor’s product being confused for your own. Sound like a normal enough day? Then why do we think of turbulence as extraordinary? Maybe a better question is how many things can go right in a day. Sometimes if you achieve one modest success you count your blessings and call that an outstanding day! A win is the welcomed exception. Problems are the norm. Just remember one of the key maxims in career longevity: If you’re a manager, problems are job security. If there weren’t problems in business, we wouldn’t need management. Lucky for us, huh? I was recently talking with a colleague about his desire to offer calm to his staff after a rough few weeks. He wanted to give a talk where his message and tone signaled that the bad stuff was behind them. I advised against it. How could he possibly know what fate might bring even later that afternoon. You never want to make a liar out of yourself with stuff you can’t control. Besides, the very notion of calm to me signals surrender. What is the stuff you can control? Attitude, anticipation, and readiness. It’s a question of urgency over fear. Fear in the form of debilitating anxiety may not be your friend, but urgency in the form of nimble responsiveness is always your friend. There is so little in our future that we can control, pretending it is otherwise is advancing the clock on the certainty of smack down. Complacency lets down your guard. Predictive, proactive realism keeps you sharp at all times. How many times have I heard hardworking but tired employees utter the phrase: “If only we can get through this [fill in the blank], we’ll be fine.”...

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