Today The Lesson I Learned Is: Is That a Banana In Your Pocket or Are You Just Excited To See Me? (140725)

Every day when I come home, my cat, Rainee, runs to the door to greet me. I don’t have treats or toys for her. I’m not always in the best mood (sometimes coming in after a long work day). There is no particular reason for her to be excited and talkative when I arrive but she is right there chatting and rubbing around my legs every time I arrive.

She knows the sound of my car and the cadence of my footsteps. Sometimes she is at the door before I have turned the corner in the parking lot. Often, she is in the window meowing at me as I cross the lot to our apartment.

It is one of my favorite parts of the day. Seeing her on the window sill, pacing, waiting for me to hurry up the stairs, makes me smile and bound up three flights to receive my “Welcome Home” greeting!

Obviously, I don’t know what is going through my cat’s mind or what she really feels, but it must be the other emotion cats feel besides ambivalence…

Sometimes I am granted a double dose, too. If Nicole is home, then both Rainee and she are there to embrace me when I walk in. It is absolutely one of the best feelings in the world (people with young kids probably understand this). It is comforting to know someone is excited to see you every day.

I try to remember to return the favor. If I see Nicole pulling into the lot, I will wrap up what I am doing and go to the door, often with Rainee in tow.

I think this is a secret tip to keep romance strong in a relationship or to kindle family bonds with children or siblings.

So today’s lesson is: Just show up. Be at the door with a smile and a hug for the people who make your life easier or better. It is a great way to let someone know… they are Home.




Today The Lesson I Learned Is: Vegans Are SO Crazy… right? (140724)

Nicole and I had dinner at The Mitten, one of our favorite local pizza places with amazing vegan options. At one point, our friends became curious about our vegan pizza, so we offered a sample.

They cautiously tried a few bites before polishing off the last few slices. As they ate, they commented on every texture and flavor, ultimately deciding vegan pizza is not so bad. They would be willing to eat it again, in a pinch.

This happens a lot to vegans (people who consume no animal products). The veggie-curious will go out on a limb and try the crazy vegan food once, usually after explaining how they could never adopt a vegan diet themselves.

Because we are polite, vegans almost never point this out, but the funny thing to us is the food we eat is the same food as everyone else with the exception of 1 or 2 missing ingredients. Vegan pizza is just pizza with soy cheese instead of regular cheese, or tempeh instead of pepperoni. The bread, the sauce, the mushrooms, green peppers, tomatoes, olives, etc… are not special vegan versions.

You have steak, a baked potato, and green beans. I have a baked potato, green beans, and a side salad. Almost every vegan meal is just a normal meal with 1 or 2 ingredients missing or added. The longer you are vegan, of course, the more curious you become about food and the more exotic food you are willing to try but this, again, is no different from other foodies.

Anyway, if you are out with your vegan friends, I promise they will be excited to share their treats and prove vegan food is safe and just as delicious as other food (because it is pretty much the same food, just missing meat and dairy). If you do try a vegan bite, though, here is a tip to seem gracious and civilized to your veg-friendly friend… don’t act like you’ve never had food before.

(And, just to be clear, we’re never really offended; we all did the same thing the first time we tried our vegan friend’s food, too.)




Today The Lesson I Learned Is… Will You Ever Find Your Passion? (140723)

My grandmother is in her late 80’s and my father is 64 (as of July, 2014). I am 42 and my youngest brother is in his early 20’s. That means between us we have nearly every stage of life covered. I had the most surprising conversation with my dad about this.

Dad mentioned how strange it feels for him to be looking at the next 20 years of his life and wondering what retirement might look like, while his mother looks at the next 5 or 10 years of her life knowing they are her last years. 

It was sobering for me. I said, “Wow, Pop. I hadn’t thought about it, but sure, I see Sitto (“Grandma”) has probably got things wrapped up and is just, I guess, waiting around until… I have to say ,though, it’s hard to imagine you retired, not working; you have always worked. I’ve never known you any other way. Since we’re talking about it, I’m in a weird spot, too. At least a third of my life is behind me now, you know? Poof! Gone. Never coming back and I feel like I don’t know what I did with that third. Some good stuff, some dumb stuff, but…I’m in my 40’s now… and I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up! I feel like I still haven’t found my passion or I can’t pick just one. I don’t know what to do next.”

I expected fatherly wisdom, some sage advice, but Dad surprised me. He looked at me and said, “I don’t know what I want to be when *I* grow up!” We stared at each other for a second, then both started laughing.

I guess the lesson here is there might not be a straightforward answer to those “Why are we here?” types of questions. My father, if he accomplishes nothing else in his life, will be renowned for being a good man who touched many, many lives and helped a lot of people. Of course, like all of us, he has no idea how great an impact he has on the world.

There are a lot of things he wanted (and still wants) to do, different places he would like to see or live, new things he wishes he had time and energy to learn and a whole bunch of things he would like to have done differently. Everyone hopes not to have many regrets but I have no doubt I will have plenty of things to look back and wonder how I could have done them better (I already do!). The main thing, I think, is to remember personal happiness can only come from the same instruments we have to perceive and navigate the world–our mind and senses.

Or put differently, true happiness comes from inside.

To find your passion or figure out what you want to be when you grow up, perhaps you must first accept you already are what you want to be and that, really, it doesn’t matter if you grow “up”. The point is to just keep growing.



Today The Lesson I Learned Is… It’s All Personal! (But Don’t Take It Personally) (140722)

“Today the lesson I learned is…” has been an interesting ongoing experiment (over 50 posts now!). It is often challenging to come up with a new lesson; sometimes I really have to dig to find out what I learned today!

I have some loose rules. Whatever I post has to be relevant to the day. I really do come up with one every day (although I allow myself to run a day or two ahead just in case, so the post from “today” is usually a lesson learned within the last 24 to 36 hours).

After I write my post, I do a quick re-read and edit one time, so any mistakes I miss are here in their shining glory. This is me, imperfections and all. The post has to be something that is not just a “fun-fact” I learned, but an actual life lesson or insight I can apply to make myself a little better, smarter, or wiser. Finally, the lesson has to be widely applicable; for the most part I try to find a lesson *I* learned that *WE* can learn from. That means, I generally avoid hot topics like politics, religion, and sex unless specifically asked a question or provoked to respond to something (this is also my social media guidance; I wish more of us adopted that idea, but I digress).

Even though, this is a blog, the content is still personal to me and I sometimes forget I am broadcasting whatever I thought about today to anyone who clicks the link.

This week, I was reminded of that twice. Once from my mom, who commented on post 140720 (by the way those numbers are the date: yy/mm/dd). This has to be my favorite comment of all time, of course; I felt immediately embarrassed and proud that my mom reads my blog!. The second was from my friend and peer, Chris (last name withheld since I didn’t ask permission), who shared the blog with his friends and let me know he liked it.

I am excited that lots of people are sharing the content and the blog has been picking up steam on LinkedIn, Twitter, Tumblr, and other places–and I’m sure some of my former blog followers have tagged along as well, from other countries. It’s humbling and exciting to watch it pick up again with my new theme and daily focus.

So… thanks a bunch. I really appreciate it, and the lesson today is that really getting personal but not taking criticism or lack of interest personally turns out to be a decent strategy to live, love, lead… and learn!

Here’s to the next 50, 500, or 5,000 posts!

(Hat Tip to Chris “now if you only did one on me every day, that’s a powerful read”–ha ha– careful what you wish for! I can find a lesson in anything!)



Today The Lesson I Learned Is… Why Your Company Is Broken (140721)

What would sales at your company look like if your employees had no fear of making the wrong decision? If they knew no matter what you would have their back and if they made a judgment, they were covered, even if it was a bad one? Do you suppose they would feel more confident in going after sales, or less?

How would your team’s culture be affected if you empower every employee to resolve a customer’s issue with a discretionary, no-questions-asked, $100 a week budget (or $200, or $500)? If you can solve a customer issue with less than $100, then just do it. Would that result in more or fewer customers and sales? How would your employees feel about being able to solve a problem at the drop of a hat without seeking approval, filling out and submitting a form, or calling a over-stressed department head?

What if your employees didn’t worry that their jobs are on the line if they do not sell X number of widgets, but only if they do not excel at customer retention or provide incredible training for every customer that buys a widget? Do you think that would help them sell more widgets anyway?

Have you noticed that when you raise a goal, then employees work to meet it but stop just about wherever you set the goal post? Then you raise it again and they work to meet it again (but stop just about there)? Then again, and again… Employees do not excel too far beyond goals. Wouldn’t it be great if you never had to raise goals and employees simply always do their best?

I think one reason employees do not breeze past goals is because there are goals–there is an artificial limit right there in front of them. There is a big sign that says, “If you do this, then that’s good enough for now, but don’t try too hard; we are just going to raise it again anyway.” Worse, having goals also means there are repercussions for not meeting goals.

What I have learned is that fear is intrinsic and always implied in most workplaces. It permeates the culture and gums up the wheels of success instead of greasing them. Fear is a funny thing; it works in both directions, driving you forward (like running from a bear) and driving you backward (like recoiling from a spider).

Setting a goal with either implicit or explicit pressure to reach it (whether spoken aloud or not, the “or else…” is always implied) will drive your team forward (because they don’t want to lose their jobs). It will also will drive them backward (because they know the reward for reaching the goal is only that it will be raised again and they will have to hit a higher goal–this always pays diminishing returns for them).

Companies (or teams), I think, are broken by fear. The trick is to remove the fear by removing what employees are afraid of. What if you freed them up to delight both themselves and their customers in ways never covered in the employee handbook or duties and responsibilities document? What if your company looked like the first 3 paragraphs of this post instead of the last 3 paragraphs?


Today The Lesson I Learned Is… A Mother Makes Us Brothers (140720)

I was sitting with my mom and 2 younger brothers after dinner, chatting with other family members. The conversation turned to which of us three brothers would be the first to settle down and have a kid.

There was a lot of joking, good-natured ribbing, and laughing, as usual, and mom lamented that none of her boys were going to give her a grandchild. She joked with my uncle’s wife, “It’s because I was not strict enough with them while they were growing up. I didn’t raise them right, to find a nice girl and settle down, and now I have no girls to raise!”

My uncle’s wife looked at us and then turned to Mom. “You know,” she said, seeing the three of us boys laughing and getting along (as we usually do), “If my kids turn out exactly like your three boys, I would consider myself an amazing mother. That would be a win; I would be so proud if they were that good, I swear!”

It’s easy to forget what my parents have done to raise three boys to be as much like the Three Musketeers as three brothers. I wouldn’t trade my brothers for anything in the world, and I have no doubt it was mom and dad’s commitment to us getting along respectfully and lovingly, and being able to rely on each other (as well as mom and dad). I am certain it is my parents’ precedent that makes our family bonds so strong.

3 things my parents did that I think worked:

     1. They set expectations for respect and put the responsibility appropriately on the shoulders by age and maturity. I was, and am, always expected to be a role-model for my little brothers.

     2. They never let us talk bad about each other (or anyone in our family). Period.

     3. They always encourage us to talk to each other about things we would not normally talk to mom and dad about (although there is very little we feel we can’t talk to mom or dad about).

There are many other things, of course, but it would be an exhaustive list. Those were just three things that came immediately to mind.

Brothers will always be brothers, but I think a father and mother are the only thing that can turn siblings into friends and heroes for each other.


Today The Lesson I Learned Is… How To Run A Business (140719)

I was listening to an episode of the James Altucher show and he shared a story about the sitcom Arrested Development. It turns out that show was so successful that it won six Emmy awards and is generally considered one of the best comedy shows of all time (I missed it; I have never seen an episode but will check it out!). Yet, it was canceled after only three seasons.

As James tells it, the show’s success, and the success of most of HBO’s current shows comes from a unique approach to creating these shows: intense focus on the talent. All of the actors on Arrested Development, for example, were professional comedians and the writers wrote for the talent rather than for the executives at Fox who produced the show. Because of this choice, there was a running joke that the head writer never really moved into his office. He was certain the show would be canceled after every episode.

Finally, he was right, but the important part of the story is why Fox canceled the show. For the most part, the producers left everyone on the show to do whatever they wanted during the first season. After Arrested Development won its first Emmy, however, the executives at Fox stepped in to “fix” one of the best shows on television. You see, after all the accolades and attention, there were suddenly conversations that centered around the idea that “now that people are watching, let’s be sure we are not doing anything to mess this up, no more experimenting or taking chances; it’s too important now.”

The show quickly fell apart and only lasted another season and a half (until it was picked up by Netflix several years later for a fourth season). How do you “fix” a show that is already winning awards and gaining an audience? The people in charge thought the smartest thing to do was to take a show receiving incredible critical acclaim and strip it of everything that was making it work…

The bottom line is this: if you want to run a successful company (or team, or project, or anything), then here is how you do it:

Hire talented people and give them whatever they want.

The failure of companies, teams, and projects begins when we forget why we hire people in the first place: to make it better. When we remove trust and barricade talent in policies and traditions, we take away their ability to do the thing we tasked them to do.

How many times have you or your company failed to meet goals because you failed to allow the talent to be talented? How many ideas were rejected this year (or never brought to the table) because of fear of rejection, retaliation, or refusal to try something new? The irony, of course, is nearly every company touts the need to embrace change, revel in ambiguity, and leverage innovation to create success. Of course, reality looks about as far from the truth as the Cowardly Lion looks from Superman.

One more hat tip to James Altucher for the poignant advice: If you want to be successful, then hire talented people and let them run. Give them whatever they want. Free and trust your most talented players to be talented and see what kind of crazy, magical, and yes, even scary, things start to happen.



The Lesson I Learned Today… How Can I Get Away With It? (140718)

I read an interesting debate between a few vegans and one non-vegan via FaceBook (so not a real debate). Reading the back-and-forth, I was reminded of 2 things:

1. You can not argue with a zealot. Watching these two sides trying to one-up each other was like watching a two-headed llama decide which way to run from a lion. Neither side could agree on any point. Both cited questionable statistics and both sides found a study, book, movie, or article that negated a popular media claim (not a peer-reviewed literature claim) from the other side.

The thing is, when someone has decided to hold their opinion no matter what, then there is no longer a debate to be had. If I am unwilling to budge on my viewpoint regardless of any evidence, logic, reasoning, or fact you present, then there is nothing to argue. You are only wasting your time and energy.

2. When you are wrong, the only question you are really defending is, “How can I get away with it?”. When there is unequivocal proof or insurmountable logic weighing against you, the debate has stopped and only bickering and subterfuge has begun. For example, if I know it is morally and ethically wrong to steal from Mahatma Gandhi, but I still insist on finding ways to justify it, then we are not debating anything. I am just trying to find a rationalization to steal. I might say, “But stealing is okay if no one realizes the item is missing!” That is not debating whether it is okay to steal. Instead, I am answering the question How can I get away with it? How can I convince myself it is okay to keep doing what I want to do? I may even find a report or study that shows some people have to steal to survive. I might point out statistics about Robin Hood. I will follow any desperate path to keep getting away with it. Maybe I will even go so far as to refuse to acknowledge that somewhere, deep inside, I am aware I am wrong but it is less painful to justify my ill intent than it is to change my habits or traditions.

The lesson here is simple: two wrongs do not make a right.

If you find yourself taking a viewpoint no matter what, just end the argument. Admit you are willing to be 100% wrong to keep your viewpoint and acknowledge it no longer matters what anyone else says or thinks about it. You will save everyone time and might make the world a little better by freeing others to consider more important issues instead of helping you get away with it.



The Lesson I Learned Today… If You Can’t Say Something Nice… (140717)

Today, I had one of our company’s vendors visit me to see how they could help my team sell more of their product.

It was the funniest thing. There were customers present and every time the vendor was trying to tell us how to position our product in a conversation to help maximize sales, she would lower her voice so customers couldn’t hear how we “manipulate” them. She would disclose, in hushed tones, things like, “Instead of telling them they are saving $5, tell them they can save 20% on one of your $20 items. That way it doesn’t sound so bad.”

I made a point to speak loudly every time I responded. “Why would it sound bad? They ARE saving $5.”

My assumption is when customers walk into our stores, they know we sell stuff, and they come to our stores to buy stuff, so there does not have to be any hushed tones or secret practices to trick them into doing what they came here to do.

As a general rule, if you feel like you have to speak in hushed tones or stay out of earshot, then whatever you have to say should probably be kept to yourself. Either you are willingly trying to do or say something slimy, or you have the wrong outlook about what you are doing or saying.

Regardless, if you are not lowering your voice for the sake of being polite, then it is probably good advice not to speak at all.


The Lesson I Learned Today… Are You “Helpful” or “Helping”? (140716)

I have a team of very nice, eager, helpful salespeople. They are really good people who try to help every customer that walks in.

The problem is many of us do not know being helpful is not the same as actually helping. You see, in our efforts to want to seem nice, we try to please others by doing exactly what they ask (which is not always doing exactly what they need).

So, if a customer says, “I want the cheapest widget you have”, a helpful salesperson will say, “Sure, here it is. Will that be cash or charge?” A salesperson who is actually trying to help will pause and ask questions, “What will you be using that widget for the most? What happened to your last widget? Have you used a higher quality widget before? If you could design your own widget, what would it look like?”

We do not have to use a sales context, though. If your friend who has been drinking says, “I’m good to drive; give me my keys”, then giving him the keys would be very helpful to him. Actually helping him, however, might look different. “Sorry, pal. I think you’ve had a few too many. Why don’t I call a cab? It’s on me.”

Consider two different doctors. Doctor A says, “The tests came back. I’m afraid it’s cancer. You need to start chemo right away.” Is he helpful or helping? Doctor B says, “The tests came back. I’m afraid it’s cancer. Let’s talk through your options. We can do chemotherapy, which is highly effective but it’s risky and physically damaging. There is holistic therapy, as well. The science is out and there is no proof of efficacy but some people have anecdotal evidence that it works and it is much less physically damaging. We can also operate and try to remove the cancerous cells but that is an invasive process and if we miss any, the cancer might return. You choose what you think is best for you and I will help you navigate whichever path you want to take.” Now, was he helpful or helping? Which doctor would you trust?

Helpful versus Helping even applies to mundane things. Today, Nicole wanted to visit a restaurant where we most certainly would have some sugary bread sticks (she gave up sugar this week). In this case, I had to ask her if she wanted me to be helpful (take her to that restaurant) or if she wanted me to help (offer to eat elsewhere or at home and support her commitment). We ended up eating at a different restaurant and avoiding the sugar. It was a good decision that helped us both!

Everybody wants to be helpful; it is our nature to protect and support our tribe and we like to be perceived as being nice, and good, and generally approved of. Sometimes, though, we should ask ourselves if we are just being helpful or if we are actually helping. Once we know the difference, we can really do good things for each other instead of just being nice to each other.