2017 in Review (#104)

Sometimes, what we need is a reminder of what we already know rather than learning something new.

Because many of you (myself included) are on vacation this week, I thought that, instead of writing a new post, I would highlight the top Friday Forwards of 2017 and give a quick summary of each.

The Human Element: In many ways, our focus on technology and Artificial Intelligence (AI) is causing us to lose our ability to effectively communicate with and relate to each other as humans. It doesn’t always feel like progress.

18 Summers: This post affected a lot of parents. Many wrote to tell me that it inspired them to make similar plans with their family.

BS of Busy: Saying we are busy has become a cultural crutch. Being busy doesn’t make us happier or more productive.

Bad Week: The story of how Dr. Mary-Claire King was able to push forward during the worst week of her life, leading to a medical breakthrough that has saved millions of women’ lives.

Freedom to Fail: Important lessons from a soccer coach on how we all need to have room to fail, learn from our mistakes and grow.

Beautiful Day: This is the story of a man who created a wonderful legacy for his family.

Tri-It: Reflections and lessons learned from running my first Olympic Triathlon, including why you should practice on stage.

RV Reflections Part 1 and Part 29 lessons learned about life and business from a 10-day RV trip with my family though Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons.

Burning Bridges: Why it’s never a good idea to burn a bridge, even when you need to walk away from a relationship.

Carpe The Diem: The improbable story of how my son and I ended up together at the greatest Super Bowl in history after I decided not to be a hypocrite and take a chance.

Quote of the Week

“Any idea, plan, or purpose may be placed in the mind through repetition of thought.”

Napoleon Hill

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Freedom to Fail (#95)

We all need room to make mistakes. The goal should be to learn from them and move forward, without repeating them. An example of restricting that freedom is Volkswagen’s diesel engine debacle. According to many company executives, former CEO, Martin Winterkorn, was demanding, authoritarian and abhorred failure; he also fostered a climate of fear.

A key part of Volkswagen’s aggressive growth strategy was a new diesel engine that would deliver low emissions and high efficiency; the automotive Holy Grail, if you will. The problem was that, as the engine came into production, it didn’t meet the goals Winterkorn had publicly stated it would. Too afraid to bring this failure to their boss, the engineers used their collective ingenuity to cover up the problem, leading to billions of dollars in losses and damage to the brand.

A great example of a leader embracing failure can be found in Ray Dalio’s best-selling book, Principles. In it, Ray speaks about an expensive oversight that an employee made at his hedge fund and his decision not to fire the person. Ray believed that firing the employee would encourage others to conceal their mistakes out of fear.

Instead, Ray used the experience to create a “mistake log” where all mistakes were reported and logged company-wide so others could learn from them. Now, making mistakes is not a fire-able offense. However, failing to report a mistake is.

The concept of failure is a nuanced one with many cultural implications. But ask any successful person and they’ll tell you how failure and learning from it contributed to their success. Sadly, so many parents today are robbing their children of this valuable experience.

Sure, these “helicopter” parents may be well-intentioned, but they are grossly overreaching. Because they can’t handle seeing their kids truly be challenged, uncomfortable or, god forbid, fail at something, they interfere in every area of their lives.

I strongly believe that this explicit and implicit discouragement of failure poses a serious and growing threat for the development of an entire generation. And I’m clearly not the only one.

My youngest son’s soccer (“football,” for those of you outside the U.S.) coach, Sean Napier, sent a strongly-worded note out to parents last week, which I applaud. Sean’s words are an important reminder for both parents and business leaders of how we need to cultivate an environment that fosters failure, growth and self-discovery. It’s also a great example of how an organization can set clear standards and guidelines for acceptable behavior.

I hope you enjoyed the weekend games. I want to take this opportunity to remind you about the conduct of parents on the sideline during games. This is a huge topic within youth sports and particularly with youth soccer. Unfortunately, on more than one occasion this fall, I have received negative feedback regarding the ‘coaching’ that is coming from the parents within the X group. This is something I feel very strongly about; there should be zero instruction coming from the parents side. Words of encouragement are welcome, but that is it. I am usually focused on what is happening on the field, so I do not hear it. There is no reason for any players on any of my teams to feel uncomfortable playing in front of their parents or teammates parents because of negative comments or instructions coming from that side of the field. Moving forward, there will be a zero tolerance policy with regards to this. If I hear any instructions coming from the parents side, I will have the referee stop the game and ask you to leave. This is not the World Cup; the boys are 8 and 9 years old! You pay a lot of money to have me coach your son; please leave the coaching to me.

I was at the field early yesterday watching games from the parents side and some of the stuff I heard being shouted onto the field was nonsense. I am guilty at times of over-coaching during games, but I try and help them through guided discovery and asking questions.

 If a player is constantly being told what to do by a coach or a parent from a sideline, or constantly yelled at for their mistakes, is the player really taking anything from the experience?  Coaches and parents who find it necessary to shout instructions to individuals or coach their team through the entire match are eliminating one of the most important aspects of a players development, the ability to make mistakes. Allowing players to make mistakes on their own, without the threat of immediate backlash from a coach or parent, or without the ability to blame someone for shouting the wrong instruction to him or her, is one of the critical elements to any players growth in the game. Players need to make mistakes on the field in order for them to realize what needs to be done the next time around in order to see a different outcome.

 I came across this analogy which I think is pretty accurate…

  ‘A GPS system is great for getting from point A to point B, but most of the people who use a GPS tend to pay a lot less attention to where they are going.  Many people end up relying on the GPS to the point where they cannot find their way without it, even when they have been on the same route multiple times. In a similar manner, coaching from the sidelines can hinder players from developing the crucial ability to make their own decisions and think for themselves.

For drivers who do know where they are going, the GPS can be a real annoyance, cutting into the songs on the radio and interrupting conversations with the passengers to tell the driver information they already know. At worst it is a distraction that might prevent the driver from concentrating on the road.

Now imagine if your GPS could not be turned off, and that it always presumed to know where you were going without ever asking you. Let’s further suppose it didn’t appreciate you exploring a side road or detouring to that espresso stand, and got increasingly loud and angry if you failed to follow its directions. “Take the next right turn …” “When possible make a U-turn” “Recalculating route …”  “When possible make a U-turn …” “Recalculating rout …”   “HEY DUMMY, YOU’RE GOING THE WRONG WAY!”

What would driving be like if you had a GPS like this?  It would be a lot like trying to play soccer while people on the sidelines were constantly yelling at you.

Bottom line: If we want our young players to develop and have fun, we need to learn to shut up and let them drive.”

Quote of The Week

“The greatest successes come from having the freedom to fail.”

Mark Zuckerberg

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Preventative Maintenance (#89)

Despite there being over 40 million flights per year, it’s rare for an airplane to crash or fall out of the sky. A main reason for this is this is that the airline industry is focused on preventative maintenance.

There is an understanding that the costs associated with being reactive is likely to be catastrophic, both in terms of loss of life and money. Therefore, planes and parts are routinely inspected and replaced before they go bad.

This concept of preventative maintenance and being proactive is something we teach our account managers here at Acceleration Partners. Instead of just waiting for a client to bring up an issue or comment on a trend, we encourage them to proactively address it before the client does.

It’s understood that waiting until the client brings it up is too late. The cost of inaction is always more expensive than addressing a problem proactively, whether that’s a financial cost or damage to the relationship or reputation.

With hurricanes Harvey and Irma dominating the news and compelling millions to evacuate, this topic of preventative maintenance comes squarely into focus. While there are heated debates about the causes of such devastating storms, its undeniable that the world is warming and the seas are rising. Yet, the increased likelihood of more catastrophic natural disasters is often ignored or overlooked, despite repeated warnings from experts.

A perfect example is the White House making a statement on Wednesday that, “This is not the time to talk about climate change.” Then when is?

It’s almost impossible to get state or federal governments to act on preventative measures. Politics, budgets and special interests all come into play; debates happen yet nothing gets done. Sadly, no one gets elected or becomes a hero by protecting us from the future. The glory is gained from the firefighting.

Then, a disaster like Irma or Harvey strikes. Suddenly everyone bands together. Budgets open up and unlimited funds are made available to clean up the mess. Heated discussions over the debt ceiling subside. This nonsensical cycle of focusing on the problem after it occurs—at an extraordinary expense—simply continues.

Contrast this approach with how the Dutch have managed to keep Amsterdam, a city that sits several feet below sea level, from flooding year after year. As this well written article outlines, the Dutch have developed a world-class flood prevention model with the goal to be able to survive a 4,000-year storm. They’ve also done an incredible job of getting everyone on the same page about the cost of inaction.

In other words, they are maintaining the planes before there is a crash.

This all circles back to the concept of Urgent versus Important. If we don’t take care of the important, we will be forced to deal with the urgent. Shouldn’t it be most important to protect against the realities of global climate change and rising sea levels?

Our inability to act in a preventative way keeps forcing us to deal with urgent situations and devastating consequences. It leaves us all hoping and praying that the worst-case scenarios don’t come true.

Today, we are in desperate need of leaders who can make decisions proactively around important issues as opposed to just reacting with urgency.

I never thought I would say this, but we need to learn from the airline industry.

Quote of the Week

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

Benjamin Franklin

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Sharing Belief (#83)

Having people in our lives who share their belief in us is incredibly important; it’s the underpinning of great leadership, good parenting and many religious foundations. Motivational guru, Tony Robbins’ entire career and platform is based on helping others believe they can do more than they thought possible.

That said, belief must also be coupled with reality; reality of what it will take to achieve the desired outcome. One without the other will likely lead to failure, disappointment and even unreached potential.

For example, I can tell my daughter that I believe she can get into Harvard or become an Olympian, but that should be accompanied by an explanation of what that will require in terms of passion, skills, effort, commitment and time. She must know that, if she really wants something, no one else can or should do the work for her.

Belief grounded in reality is critical. It’s also something I think many micro-managers and “helicopter” parents get very wrong.  Telling someone that you believe in them and then doing the work for them at the first sign of struggle doesn’t allow them to gain the experience of learning from their own mistakes, which is an essential element of success.

Recently, I had the opportunity to hear John DiJulius, a best-selling author and one of the top customer service gurus in the world, give a keynote speech. Like many successful people and entrepreneurs, John shared that he was diagnosed with ADD and struggled in school when he was younger. Fortunately, he had wonderful parents who told him how much they believed in him.

John’s experience came full-circle with his own son. At the age of 10, John brought his son to a national wrestling tournament as he had beaten everyone else in his age group in the state of Ohio. In the double elimination event, John’s son lost his first match 15-0 to the top ranked boy. The match even had to be stopped several times because John’s son was crying. He lost the second match in 15 seconds. It wasn’t pretty.

On the flight home, John’s son asked about returning the next year to compete. John told him that, if he was serious about doing so, it would require a higher level of training and dedication than he’d ever committed to before, all of which he outlined in detail. John was also clear that, while he believed in him, he wasn’t going to hold him accountable for doing the work. His son had to want it for himself.

John admitted that he honestly did not think his son’s zeal for competing the following year would endure. But, to his surprise, his son fastidiously followed his training regimen. When they returned the next year, his son not only won his first six matches, he also beat the same kid who he’d lost to in the finals the prior year and won a national championship.

When John asked his son how he mustered the will to do what he had done, his reaction was simply “because you told me I could.” In relaying the story, John expressed guilt that he had doubted his son’s ability and dedication to compete at that level; he just thought he was giving him a good pep talk. Had he not conveyed his belief in his son, the outcome of that national championship may have been different.

Let’s all remember the power of inspiring others to do more without actually doing it for them. Be there to root them on and then stay out of their way as they learn to believe in themselves.

If you want to see John’s story for yourself, you can watch it here (minute 6 is where he wins).

Quote of the Week

“Sometimes you have to believe in the belief others have in you until your belief kicks in.”

John DiJulius

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Having Doubt (#74)

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to spend time with one of my favorite people, the scholar and public speaking guru, Conor Neill. Conor has helped many people drastically improve their public speaking abilities by teaching them how to develop a confident, compelling message, leaving their listener with no doubt that they are an expert on their subject.

Our discussion quickly turned to the growing entrenchment in rigid ideology around the world. Conor connected this to the concept of faith and shared a story about a devoutly religious friend of his who was open to all questions and criticism about his beliefs.

This friend spoke with Conor about the importance of having faith in the face of doubt. His premise is that, if you have only doubt, you’re cynical. On the flip side, if you do not doubt, then your beliefs begin to border on fanaticism, even fascism in the most extreme cases.

This is a powerful concept and, in many ways, explains the dynamics undermining the very divided political environment in the U.S. and around the world. Today, people seem less open to dialog and respectful debate, or even trying to understand an alternate perspective. Instead, they’re defaulting to rigid ideology or even anger when their core positions are challenged.

Exacerbating this situation is the fact that many of us get a majority of our news from social media; platforms that curate the information we receive based on our past behavior, stated preferences, and our peer set. This creates a strong propensity for “confirmation bias” as we are exposed to stories and opinions that support the views we already have—some of which are unsubstantiated rumors or outright lies (e.g. fake news). This is a very dangerous phenomenon that we all need to be more aware of.

While we need vision, conviction, and confidence to be successful, we also need to balance that with doubt, healthy skepticism, and humility.

Here are a few more benefits of having doubt and openly contemplating it with others:

  • It keeps us open to new ideas and perspectives
  • It keeps us humble and motivated (overconfidence is often often a precursor to failure)
  • It causes us to question more and to test our own assumptions more carefully

Quote of the Week

“We should be unafraid to doubt. There is no believing without some doubting, and believing is all the more robust for having experienced its doubts.”

Justin Holcomb

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Stressed Out (#68)

Every day, people all over the world wake up stressed. Some will be worrying about how they’ll find food or shelter for the day; others will be thinking about a presentation they are giving for the first time; and there are even those who will be legitimately stressed about coordinating the management logistics of their multiple multi-million dollar homes. Regardless of the reason, they’re stressed out.

At his speaking engagements, one of my mentors and coaches, Warren Rustand, often offers a $10,000 reward to anyone who can leave the room and return with a can of stress. His rationale behind this compelling offer is that “stress is an internal response to an external force.” It’s something we bring onto ourselves in reaction to what’s going on outside of us.

Stress emanates from pre-historic times. By boosting our adrenaline and fueling short-term improvements in attention and memory, it’s a biological purpose is to temporarily trigger our flight or fight response. The operative word being “temporary.” The problem is that most of us are functioning in stress mode far longer than our bodies are designed for, and its making us increasingly sick and unhealthy.

According to my good friend Dr. Heidi Hanna, a leading expert on stress, the biggest issue with our current stress epidemic is that most people don’t fully understand what exactly is stressing them out. She explains that “In today’s hyper-connected society, we have access to more stimulation and information in one day than we are wired to process in a lifetime.  Because the brain is hard-wired to constantly crave more, most people struggle to disconnect and recharge even when they have time to do so.”

To reduce stress, she suggests building in time to regularly recharge throughout the day by meditating, breathing deeply, and taking the time to reflect on things you are grateful for.

Recently, Warren and Heidi teamed up for a fascinating video discussion on stress. Warren’s belief is that a main source of stress stems from uncertainty in our lives and that we can improve our stress levels considerably by focusing in on three seemingly unrelated areas to stress:

  1. Clarity of Vision (Why). Understanding what we are here to do; our purpose.
  2. Certainty of Intent (How): Clarity about our actions and goals in service of our purpose.
  3. Power of Values (Who): Understanding what our core values are; our core values relate to number one and number two, and allow us to make key decisions more easily.

At the end of the day, the way to prevent or alleviate stress is to be more aligned in our lives, have greater clarity about our actions, and believe that we have control over each and every situation. That feeling of not having or being in control is frequently the greatest cause of stress. While not a quick fix, taking these steps will help to reduce the pressure from external sources of stress and make us happier and more productive.

Quote of the Week

“If you ask what is the single most important key to longevity, I would have to say it is avoiding worry, stress and tension. And if you didn’t ask me, I’d still have to say it.”

George Burns

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