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Don’t Go There

Honduras. It shares borders with Guatemala, El Salvador, and Nicaragua. “It has one of the highest murder rates in the world,” according to the US Department of State. “Criminals, acting both individually and in gangs, in and around certain areas of Tegucigalpa . . . engage in murder, extortion, and other violent crimes.”

This isn’t about fake news. It’s about characterizing an entire country based on the actions of a few. In the world of fallacies, we might call this a Hasty Generalization.

I booked my flight.

The goal was not to put myself in harm’s way. The goal was to simply get on the ground for four days in Honduras to see if the characterization of this nation was reasonable.

I landed at Toncontin International Airport, approximately 6 miles from Honduras’ capital, Tegucigalpa. My first stop was Riviera, a restaurant that’s been making yucca con chicharron (fried pork belly or fried pork rinds over cabbage and yucca) for 70 years.

Honduras 1

It was delicious.

I checked into the Hyatt Place in Tegucigalpa, all the while conscious of confirmation bias, knowing that I mustn’t simply search for information that confirms my preexisting beliefs or hypotheses. This was hard, as my first impressions of Tegucigalpa (and the surrounding areas) were favorable.

For four days, I traveled around Tegucigalpa. I felt safe. Secure. The Honduran people are like many of us, just trying to enjoy a better life.

This is a recurring theme in my travels. Had I trusted the news, I’d never have gone to Colombia 11 years ago, or Croatia, or Cambodia. At this rate, I should probably book flights to North Korea and the Congo.

The takeaway is this: when you hear people speaking categorically about a person, a business, or a country, know that their credibility should be questioned. Rarely can something be entirely bad. And sometimes the only way to prove it is to conduct your own research.

Los Angeles, Chicago, Detroit, New York City . . . they each have dodgy areas. And so does Honduras. There are murderers, drug-dealers, and folks bent on extortion. But to suggest that something is entirely bad based on the actions of a few is unreasonable.

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Be Uncompromising

Many Americans are familiar with the story of Henry Ford and his drive to produce the V-8. As the story goes, “When Henry Ford decided to produce his famous V-8 motor, he chose to build an engine with the entire eight cylinders cast in one block, and instructed his engineers to produce a design for the engine. The design was placed on paper, but the engineers agreed, to a man, that it was simply impossible to cast an eight-cylinder engine-block in one piece.”

Ford’s reply was simple: “Produce it anyway.”

A story that some may be less familiar with is the story of the Burj Al Arab. I’ve been there twice, and each time I’ve marveled at the achievement it represents. The Burj Al Arab is the iconic structure standing approximately 1,000 feet off the coast of Dubai, UAE.

burj al arab

Completed in 1999, the Burj al Arab was the tallest hotel in the world for several years. However, when the vision for this self-proclaimed 7-star hotel was conceived, the ruler of Dubai was told it was impossible.

It was to be a hotel that looked like the sail on a yacht, and it should appear to float atop an island. In the words of the guide who showed us around the property, “The lead architect was perplexed. He said, ‘I cannot create land. An island is not possible.’”

The ruler of Dubai simply replied: “You build it. Or I’ll find somebody who can.”

burj3

Sure enough, just as Ford’s engineers found a way to build the impossible V-8, the architect (along with an army of engineers) found a way to construct an artificial island that could support a hotel consisting of 70,000 cubic meters of concrete and 9,000 tons of steel.

There is a lot of emphasis placed on compromise, but it seems to work best when people are trying to avoid conflict or when they have shared goals. If you fancy yourself a dreamer, a visionary, or an entrepreneur, consider the cost of compromise. Sometimes it is essential to be uncompromising.

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Prepared to Pivot

It was a simple plan. Fly to Malaysia, get collected by a family-friend, and drive to her place in George Town.

But there was a problem. When I landed at the airport in Penang, my friend was not there. It was 11:30 p.m., and I was curbside. Had it been less humid, I still would’ve been sweating.

An hour passed. Most of the passengers from my flight had already gone. There was an announcement over the Airport’s P.A.: “The airport will be closing in 30 minutes.”

Already, I’d noted fewer taxis. And while I didn’t know much about the airport, I knew that it was approximately 30 minutes away from the capital, George Town. I knew little of Penang (and Malaysia in general), and I hadn’t any way to contact my friend. What was at first curious started to become concerning, especially as I heard the announcement: “The airport is now closed.”

Moments ago passengers were exiting baggage claim, greeting loved ones, and securing transportation. Now I could hear moths banging against light fixtures. But there was one taxi remaining. Two German tourists were loading their gear into the trunk. I dug deep to resurrect my three years of high school German. “Entschuldigung, entschuldigung,” I said. “Sprechen sie Englisch?”

Fortunately, they spoke some English. They agreed to let me share a taxi with them to George Town. Upon arrival, since I hadn’t a place to stay, and since it was now almost 1:00 a.m., and since the local hotels were fully-booked for Chinese New Year, my new German friends agreed to let me share their hotel room as well.

Upon waking, I learned that the hotelier spoke little English and that the hotel was without Internet. I hit the streets, and over the next three hours I determined that most of the local businesses (including Internet cafes) were closed because of Chinese New Year, and they would remain closed for the next few days.

I pivoted.

Pivoting requires one to move decisively after gathering as much information as possible. I listed over a dozen options (ending my holiday was not one of them). The most viable was to take a bus to Thailand. So I did. And 9 hours later I was enjoying a can of Singha on the beach in Phuket.

The takeaway is this: I had a plan. (I planned to see Malaysia. I planned to stay with my friend.) Tenacity is important, but we mustn’t try to force a round peg into a square hole. In travel, just as in life and in business, assess whether you are advancing an agenda or forcing it. If it’s the latter, be prepared to pivot.

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Start a Tradition

In 2003, I enjoyed New Year’s Eve at a surf camp in Fiji.

While I’m still a horrible surfer, I inadvertently established a tradition that has brought me great pleasure: beginning the New Year in a new country.

It began in Nadi, Fiji. I was solo. Just me and a rag-tag collection of would-be travelers. As the hours to the New Year drew close, two Fijians scaled a palm tree, grabbed a few coconuts, mixed the coconut water with rum—and voila—it was party time!

The following year brought Edinburgh—along with heaps of Scots in kilts, toting their homemade whiskey for warmth. I was on Princes street, flanked by the old world and the new. (On one side was a medieval castle. On the other, a Baby Gap).

By the time I met Michelle, I was several countries into an established tradition, one that she could now be part of.

And with Portugal, Dubai, Buenos Aires, Sicily, La Paz, Barcelona, Tokyo, Singapore, and Maldives now under our belts, people rarely ask us what we’re doing for New Year’s. Instead, anyone who knows us simply begins with “So where are you two going this year?”

Indeed, traditions abound. Some develop accidentally. I have four friends from college, and we’ve managed to make one trek to Las Vegas every year (with rare exception) for the last 23 years. The question isn’t, “When will we see each other?” The question is “Which month will we be going to Vegas this year?”

Some traditions are cultural. My wife’s family gathers at the cemetery every year to clean their ancestors’ grave sites . . . to pay respect to those who are no longer with us, to honor them by making sure they are not forgotten.

Some traditions are religious. I was raised a Buddhist. Each year my parents would take my brother and me to the Vista Buddhist Temple’s Obon Festival. I’d marvel at the muscular Japanese men, wielding wooden mallets at mounds of rice resting atop a wood block. They’d pound the rice until it became pasty and began to resemble what would become mochi. (When my mom asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I told her I wanted to be one of those guys . . . the guys who swing the wooden hammers.)

People enjoy traditions for all sorts of reasons: to celebrate child birth (the Red Egg and Ginger party comes to mind), to celebrate love (via Valentine’s Day or anniversaries), or to honor those who’ve served (Veteran’s Day or Memorial Day).

Many of our traditions have been passed down from one generation to the next. We grow up looking forward to these traditions, planning for them, knowing they are good for us, knowing they make us better.

What’s of note, though, is that you may certainly create your own traditions. I know some triathletes who do a birthday swim every year: 100 x 100 yards. That’s 10,000 yards (not a big deal for a swimmer, but it’s a fairly sizable swim set for most triathletes).

Every year my dad—a competitive and talented cyclist—rides twice his age. I remember accompanying him on his birthday ride when he turned 58. We’d gotten to mile 57, and I was thinking, “Okay. It’s almost time to turn around. And then only 58 miles to go.” But my dad, always eager to push himself, said we should ride a few more miles before turning around, just in case our route wasn’t measured correctly. I figure we rode at least 120 miles that day. (Last year my dad turned 70, which means he rode 140 miles . . . if not more . . . on a hot day in August.)

While habits are performed daily, or weekly, or monthly, traditions are different. They are over-arching annual goals that our habits help advance. A well-chosen tradition should make you better.

Consider creating a tradition this year. You’ll be glad you did.

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Surprise Yourself

I don’t like surprises.

It’s not that I don’t champion spontaneity. It’s that I see my day as a closed-energy equation, one where I’ll need to allocate my energy stores in order to perform optimally. If I don’t know what’s going on, then allocation becomes sub-optimal at best.

There is a scene in Pretty Woman, where Julia Roberts’ character describes herself as a “fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants kinda girl.” Well, that may work for many. But I am not a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants kinda guy.  In fact, if I had a playbook that identified the rules in my life, this would be one of them.

Of course, as is often the case, there are exceptions. There are moments in life—when you’re with your significant other, or spending time with your kids, or sifting through a work-related problem or a health-related issue—when surprises make you smile. These moments give you a reason to keep going.

The other day, for instance, I awoke exhausted and unmotivated. I struggled to read a few pages from a sports biography, brushed my nose when I was endeavoring to brush my teeth, haphazardly applied sunblock, and made my way downstairs.

As I drank my espresso and ate my oatmeal, I seriously considered skipping my swim and run session in favor of going back upstairs to get a few more hours of sleep. After all, my wife and dog were up there. And they looked (and sounded) comfortable.

But I reminded myself that the decisions I make when it’s early in the morning—when it’s dark and cold—those decisions shouldn’t be trusted as much as the decision I made the night before, when I was clear-headed. When I had a plan. When I was motivated.

So I trudged on, got into my truck, and reached the pool just after 5:30 AM. I was still exhausted.

They say a car uses a lot of energy to start. But it relies on far less energy once it’s rolling.

Well, I’d used a lot of energy that morning just to get into my jammers and onto the pool deck. But once I got into the pool, and once I did a warm-up of 500 yards, I started to feel pretty good.

Half way through the workout, the whiteboard indicated that we needed to do another 500. This was not all out. Just a 500. So I swam, with effort, but I didn’t go anaerobic or hypoxic. Typically, if I were going hard, I’d come in around 7:05-7:10.

When I hit the wall, my time was 6:51. (I didn’t believe it at first, but after conferring with my Garmin, I was convinced). Wow. I was officially surprised! And it was not on a day when I felt rested. It was not on a day when I exuded motivation. I hadn’t even gone all out!

Michael Phelps would likely hang up his Speedos if he ever swam a 500 in 6:51. But I was absolutely stoked!  It was a reminder that, indeed, most rules do have exceptions. And if I can be a party to these sorts of exceptions in sport, then bring ’em on!

To permeate a quiet confidence, to know that your happiness cannot be taken away from you, not today . . . that is the benefit of a breakthrough. That is the benefit of a stunning surprise in sport.

I suppose you can’t plan to surprise yourself. But perhaps if you take a chance, take a risk, push yourself—perhaps you speak up at a meeting, or organize a family getaway, or learn a musical instrument, or a foreign language. Perhaps you find a trail, or a pool, or a bike. If you take a chance . . . if you put yourself out there . . . it’s exciting to see what can happen.

Believe in the power of you. Allow yourself the luxury of dreams. Make the time to pursue them. And you might just surprise yourself.

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Heroes

I like to romanticize the hero. He dons a cape. She flies an invisible jet. It is not a flea but The Tick!

The truth, though, with due deference to Comic-Con fans, is that the real heroes are first-responders, fire fighters, police officers, and members of the armed forces. They are people who put themselves in harm’s way to protect us, to assist us, or to save us.

But there are other heroes. Few organizations classify their strongest assets as heroes, but we should aspire to be the workplace hero.

“Calculation never made a hero.” —John Henry Newman

“A hero is no braver than an ordinary man, but he is brave five minutes longer.”     —Ralph Waldo Emerson

Workplace heroes share common characteristics.

Ownership

Heroes of the office ooze ownership, also known as accountability. They don’t pass the buck. They consider excuses an abomination. And they are most empowered when something goes wrong and they take responsibility for it.

Commitment

Workplace heroes do not simply start something, only to let others finish it. If it means staying later, listening longer, or starting over again, they do what must be done. They know the difference between delegation and fulfillment.

Heart

Heroes execute from the head, as well as their heart. They bring passion into the workplace. This is consistent with the Dicky Fox message in Jerry Maguire: “If this is empty (he points to his heart), this doesn’t matter (he whacks himself on the head).”

Consider ownership, commitment, and heart. How might these characteristics compel you to become the workplace hero?

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Work Ethic

“I shine ’cause I grind” is the chorus for a Crime Mob song that is on my playlist. On especially tough days, I’ll click my iPod to that song, and I’ll repeat the chorus over and over: “I shine ’cause I grind, I shine ’cause I grind.”

Like most things, you have to look for the motivation. But sift through the verses of this song, and you find the line: “I got an aura about myself, and that’s greatness.”

It’s funny, but I still remember the look on my colleague’s face when I told her (after a long training run) that it was a mental victory. She was perplexed. And I proceeded to explain that I wasn’t motivated to train that day. (This was exercise, not business training, but both have a lot in common.)

Her response was perfectly warranted: “But you LOVE to train!”

Sometimes we forget that people bear witness mainly to our actions, and rarely do they get a glimpse of the inner battle, the war declared between body and mind. Sure, there are almost always moments during training that are “perfect.” They are Ferlinghetti’s rebirth, a renaissance of wonder. You’re weightless, in flight, one with the Earth’s rotation.

But often it is a battle to get out that door and onto the track, or the bike, or the pool deck.

Like many things I know are good for me—eating broccoli, watching a TED Talk, cleaning the house, bathing—sometimes I’m simply not in the mood.

And that’s where you must have strategies in place in order to set yourself in motion. Momentum, as they say, is a cruel mistress.

“Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” —Thomas Edison

“A professional is someone who can do his best work when he doesn’t feel like it.” —Alistair Cook

So what is your plan?

Visualization

Ask yourself, “How will I feel once I’m finished?” (I even go as far as “feeling” that sense of fulfillment and accomplishment before I’ve begun).

Motivation

Watch motivational YouTube videos. There are so many videos (2-3 minutes each) that might compel you to start moving.

Transformation

Try to change from the outside in. Get all of your gear on so that even if you don’t feel like an athlete, an entrepreneur, a CEO, a top-performer, you look like one. (Of course, if these things don’t work for you, do not ever underestimate the power of caffeine.)

I stand by this quotation: “Luck is the last dying wish of those who believe winning can happen by accident. Sweat, on the other hand, is a choice.” If you are at the top of your game (as an athlete, or as a parent, or as a professional), or if you are striving to reach the top of your game, then you likely have something in common with those committed to performing optimally. You are consistent. You do what you need to do, especially when you don’t want to do it. In other words, you shine ’cause you grind.

And because you do, “You got an aura about yourself, and that’s greatness.”

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The Negotiator

I am an expert negotiator.

Sure, I may pay full price for a car. I may get gouged for a water heater or a new air-conditioning unit. And I certainly lose most of the negotiations with my wife.

However, when I negotiate with myself, I always win.

Let me explain.

I train (exercise) everyday (with rare exception). Before I begin, I’ve already begun the negotiations. “Next item up for business: you planned to run 6 miles. Are you going to run 6 miles?” And then the process begins. It’s like an epic courtroom drama, the slick defense attorney vs. the conservative prosecutor.

Once I begin the run, the negotiations continue. Of course, the moment I sense a twang in my right knee or a ping in my left foot, it’s like a new exhibit has been entered into evidence.

“The dictionary is the only place that success comes before work. Hard work is the price we must pay for success. I think you can accomplish anything if you’re willing to pay the price.” —Vince Lombardi

“Whether you think you can or whether you think you can’t, you’re right.” —Henry Ford

Sometimes I can convince myself to complete the 6 miles. Other times, I’ve negotiated a new outcome, one that realizes itself at around 3 or 4 miles. The evidence is almost always compelling: “You don’t want to get injured. Better to play it safe.”

While I think this process is healthy, it’s important to be conscious of one thing: do not allow your negotiations to become one-sided. In other words, if you’re regularly negotiating downwards (turning a 50-mile ride into a 30-miler, a 4,000 yard swim into 2,500), you must make sure to also negotiate upwards. On the days when you feel good, extend your bike ride, add an extra 20 minutes to your swim session, or run a couple extra loops around the block. And make sure this mindset transcends the treadmill and finds its way into your professional life. Negotiate upwards at work by minding the power of questions, daily goals, and self-talk:

Questions

Ask yourself carefully-crafted questions. “What can I do to increase productivity today?” “What can I do right now to help meet this quarter’s revenue goals?” The answers to these questions will help compel you to go forward.

Daily Goals

I like to jot these down in the morning, and if I’m spending a lot of time in front of a computer, I’ll put a Post-it Note or two onto the monitor to keep me focused on that day’s goals. Also, I’ll make an effort to visualize the attainment of these goals during morning meditation. Clear awareness of your daily goals should help you negotiate upwards, as daily goals should promote purpose.

Self-talk

Be mindful of your self-talk. As Lao Tzu noted, “Watch your thoughts; they become words. Watch your words; they become actions; Watch your actions; they become habits.” As you negotiate throughout the day, nudge your self-talk toward affirmation and optimism, employing language like “You can do this. Dig deep. Just make one more call.”

It’s okay to be an expert negotiator. But a real expert should be good at getting the most out of every negotiation.

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Remember “The Magic of Thinking Big”

Originally published in 1959, Dr. David J. Schwartz’s entrepreneurial bible should warrant residence in your library. And while many of us have read his seminal work, The Magic of Thinking Big, we may not review it as often as we should.

“You are what you think you are.” —David J. Schwartz

“Don’t blame others when you receive a setback. Remember, how you think when you lose determines how long it will be until you win.” —David J. Schwartz

Here are three highlights from his work:

Rid Yourself of Excusitis

Schwartz writes about his amputee friend who is an excellent golfer: “One day I asked him how he had been able to develop such a near-perfect style with just one arm. I mentioned that most golfers with two arms can’t do nearly as well. His reply says a lot, ‘Well, it’s my experience,’ he said, ‘that the right attitude and one arm will beat the wrong attitude and two arms every time.’ The right attitude and one arm will beat the wrong attitude and two arms every time. Think about that for a while. It holds true not only on the golf course but in every facet of life.”

Build Confidence by Managing Your Memory

Schwartz argues that “Your brain is very much like a bank. Every day you make thought deposits in your ‘mind bank.'” Schwartz likens negative thought deposits to fertilizing weeds, and he offers this plan: “Just before you go to sleep, deposit good thoughts in your memory bank. Count your blessings. Recall the many good things you have to be thankful for: your wife or husband, your children, your friends, your health. Recall the good things you saw people do today. Recall your little victories and accomplishments. Go over the reasons why you are glad to be alive.”

Vitality Is Essential

Schwartz writes: “In everything you do, life it up. Enthusiasm, or lack of it, shows through in everything you do and say. Life up your handshaking. When you shake hands, shake. Make your handclasp say, ‘I’m glad to know you.’ ‘I am glad to see you again.’ A conservative, mouse-like handshake is worse than no handshake at all. It makes people think, ‘This guy is more dead than alive.’ Try to find a highly successful person with a conservative handshake. You’ll have to look a long, long time.” And about smiles, Schwartz writes: “Life up your smiles. Smile with your eyes. Nobody likes an artificial, pasted-on, rubbery smile. When you smile, smile. Show a few teeth. Maybe your teeth aren’t attractive, but that’s really unimportant. For when you smile, people don’t see your teeth. They see a warm, enthusiastic personality, someone they like.”

One way to inoculate yourself from small thinking is to devour success literature. Consider adding The Magic of Thinking Big to your daily ritual.

0 comments on “Like Stone”

Like Stone

On the front cover of this month’s The Costco Connection is Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors. She is pictured up close, in focus, donning a black leather jacket and blue jeans. Behind her, in soft focus, is the 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV.

If 19th century feminist Lucy Stone (1818-1893) saw this, would she be surprised? After all, Stone was the first woman in Massachusetts to earn a college degree (she attended Oberlin College in Ohio), but when asked to write the commencement speech for her graduating class, she refused. Her speech would have to be read by a man. Women were prohibited from giving a public address.

The uncompromising Stone searched until she found a venue that would provide her with an opportunity to speak publicly. Her brother allowed her to speak from the pulpit of his church in Gardner, Massachusetts. And the topic of Stone’s first public address? Women’s rights.

Too much has already been said and written about women’s sphere. Leave women, then, to find their sphere. —Lucy Stone

To make the public sentiment, on the side of all that is just and true and noble, is the highest use of life. —Lucy Stone

In the study of success, in the study of legacy, we can learn from Lucy Stone.  What did she do to effect change?

Persist

When the Bible was quoted to Lucy Stone in defense of gender inequality, she (according to Jone Johnson Lewis) “declared that when she grew up, she’d learn Greek and Hebrew so she could correct the mistranslation that she was sure was behind such verses!”

Takeaway: In business as in life, when we know our truth to be THE truth, we mustn’t acquiesce. We must go over, go under, or go around. We must find a way, for truth can become compromise, and compromise can become apathy. Stay strong. Persist. And remember, as declared by Ralph Waldo Emerson: “My life is not an apology.”

Champion

To walk a righteous path but not know where it’s leading . . . is a mistake. To champion a cause, however, indicates a defined goal or objective. Stone championed women’s rights, something she focused on until the end. In fact, as she lay dying, she uttered these four final words to her daughter: “Make the world better.”

Takeaway: In business as in life, we can spend much of our day simply fighting to keep our head above water. We wrestle with our life-preserver in an effort to stay afloat; meanwhile, we make little progress toward our objective.

  1. Make sure to have an over-arching goal; in other words, champion a cause for your company or for your life. (Answering all of your emails, returning voicemails, and attending the morning meeting with Client X and the afternoon meeting with Colleague Y might be the professional equivalent of flailing your arms to keep water out of your nose so that you don’t drown! Only you know if what you do each day is helping you progress toward attaining your over-arching goal.)
  2. Once you have your over-arching goal, you can begin with the end in mind. Certainly, your day will require allocation to maintenance. But make sure to set aside time for growth as well. Remember, maintenance is what you have to do to stay afloat. Growth is what you must assert if you ever want peace.

Would your business benefit from a nudge in this direction? ABS Professional Services consultants are eager to meet with you. Reach out to us today. Let’s have a conversation about your needs.