Micro Management (#181)

This week, my youngest son’s school held their Insect Fair, where students invent their own “insect,” including its backstory.  What was different about this year’s event compared with the previous ones for my other two kids was that the parents never saw the kids’ creations prior to the reveal at the fair.

After seeing far too many projects being turned in that looked like the work of professionals (aka, parents) and not elementary kids, their school transitioned to having all major projects completed in their classroom.

The school has also stopped giving kids homework before 5th grade because teachers were having a hard time figuring out which kids had truly mastered concepts and which hadn’t. Many parents were unwilling to let their kids’ homework be turned in uncorrected and/or with mistakes.

I give a lot of credit to the school for making these changes and for being cognizant of the current micromanaging parental culture that has necessitated it. It’s clearly paying off.

One of the major differences I saw from this year’s student creations was that they were far more colorful, creative and inventive than previous years’ parent-assisted models. The backstories were also far more imaginative.

My son’s own “Fire Bug” lived on a diet of people, fire and sushi, and he was excited to tell us about it. More importantly, it was his team’s creation, something that they were noticeably proud of.

If you’ve ever had a micromanaging boss, you know how demotivating that heavy-handed approach can be. Instead of being able to make your own mistakes and learn from them, the expectation is that everything must be completed to perfection. As a result, you become more focused on avoiding mistakes and not doing something “wrong” rather than on being creative and generating ideas that your boss might not have expected or come up with themselves.

One of the most disturbing trends I see today in our achievement-oriented culture is the value placed on getting things “right” instead of on creativity and learning from mistakes.

In fact, just last week I learned from an expert on generational differences and communication styles that individuals born in the “Gen Z/post-millennial” generation (loosely 1995-2010, McKinsey & Company) prefer to be told explicitly what to do as opposed to being left to figure things out on their own.

This generational insight left many Gen Xers in the room (born between 1960 and 1979) questioning whether these preferences are something that should be nurtured in the workplace – especially if an organization is looking to develop emotionally intelligent leaders who understand the value of delegation, empowerment and decentralized decision-making.

For example, one of the motivations behind a benefit we launched in the US at our company, where we pay employees to stay offline from work, was to incentivize and encourage delegation, one of the hardest leadership skills for someone transitioning from an “individual contributor” to a “manager” to acquire.

In many cases, team members were working while on vacation, not because they were told or expected to, but because they’d designed too many critical systems to run through them. They hadn’t empowered their team to step up.

Whether you are a parent, teacher or leader, promoting independence and the development of others is one of the greatest gifts you can give. Here are a few tips to help you make this shift:

  1. Give your team the freedom to fail.
  2. Focus on what was learned from mistakes made, not the mistake itself.
  3. Focus on values, not rules.
  4. Focus on getting the best out of someone, not the best for them.

While my son and his team’s Fire Bug may not win any prizes, I hope the experience will build his confidence and lead to more important wins in the future.


Quote of The Week

“The ‘result’ of micromanagement is perhaps tangible in the short run, but more often causes damage for the long term.”


-Pearl Zhu



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It Will Pass (#180)

I recently heard someone say something to the effect of “If you are really happy or really sad right now, don’t worry, it will pass.”

This concept represents interesting philosophical and mathematical principles around regression to the mean and the concept of normalization. Here’s a recent example to explain this a bit more.

This week, my wife and I finally replaced a trash compactor in our kitchen that has been broken for almost seven years. Reflecting back to when it originally broke, I remember thinking at the time what a huge inconvenience it was going to be not having a usable trash compactor. Then, when we learned that it was pretty much unrepairable, we were faced with ordering a new one.

But we didn’t. Life got in the way and other things pulled at our attention. Eventually, not having a trash compactor became normal. We’d adjusted to the new reality of using our broken trash compactor as an overqualified and undersized trash can and having to empty it more often.

In fact, the only reason we ordered a new one this week is because it’s part of a larger project this summer to fix everything that’s broken in our home. This includes a new closet door that has gone unpainted and that’s been missing a handle for five years, both of which I’d stopped noticing years ago.

My feelings of annoyance and frustration at not having a trash compactor eventually passed. In the larger scheme of things, living without this appliance wasn’t the big deal it felt to be at the time.

The “this too shall pass” concept also applies to things that initially make us really happy. Most of us can relate to that dopamine surge we experience after buying something new (new car, new home, new trash compactor, etc.). But over time, that new thing simply becomes a regular part of our existence and no longer provides the same level of excitement it once did. It too passes.

Why does this matter? While these are simple examples, they represent those longer-term decisions we all make in life and business though a short-term perspective. When we look at things through a “zoomed in” lens, it can be easy to give them too much significance– positive or negative. Often, what we really need is to zoom out to look at the bigger picture.

By doing that, I believe we make better choices, especially in the moment, overreact less and create a more sustainable state of happiness.

For example, is a few weeks of enjoying that new leather smell really worth the additional years of monthly car payments or the unfavorable feelings you’re likely to have when you open the bill each month? Are those extra features you “had to have” at the time of purchasing a new TV something you’ll even notice or use in a few months’ time? 

Maybe, but more likely not.

Something I’ve tried to get better at is sitting with something for a few weeks and then seeing if it’s still bothering me or making me extraordinarily happy. If those initial feelings of delight or discontent have passed, I know it really wasn’t all that important.

The reality is, time will always pass. By acknowledging this, you’re better able to use your time and energy more wisely and achieve sustained happiness.

Things going really well? This too shall pass. Something really bothering you? This too shall pass.


Quote of The Week

“The ability to discipline yourself to delay gratification in the short term in order to enjoy greater rewards in the long term, is the indispensable prerequisite for success.”


-Brian Tracy



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Trough & Peak (#169)

I often joke with my kids that most of the challenges they face are “First World problems,” and they’ve learned to remind me of the same thing.

This phrase is a healthy reminder to be grateful for all the things we have and can do in our lives. It’s also about understanding that, in the grand scheme of things, what we identify as “problems” often really aren’t.

Not only can situations remind us of this, but so can people. Sean Swarner is one such person.

At the age of 13, Swarner was a happy-go-lucky eighth grader playing a baseball game when he heard a pop in his knee. The next day, all his joints were swollen. A few days after that, he was diagnosed with stage four Hodgkin’s lymphoma and given a prognosis of three months to live.

He immediately began aggressive treatment, adding 60+ pounds to his small frame as a result of various steroids.  While his friends were focused on trivial things, such as what shoes they wore and how popular they were, Swarner was focused on fighting for his life. He borrowed a visualization technique he learned from his swimming training and would imagine a microscopic spaceship flying around in his body with chemotherapy guns killing all the cancer.

A year after his diagnosis, Swarner beat the cancer and was in remission. He refocused his efforts on being a kid and playing sports, including returning to competitive swimming.

After being in remission for 20 months, Swarner went in for one of his regular check-ups. It was then that he learned that doctors had discovered a new, completely unrelated cancer in his body called Askin’s sarcoma.

Not only was Swarner the only person in the world to have been diagnosed with both Hodgkin’s disease and Askin’s sarcoma, but the latter has a six percent survival rate.

Given just 14 days to live, Swarner was started on treatment, the goal of which was to extend his life as long as possible. However, the chemo was so intense that he was put into a medically induced coma for each cycle and the radiation was so severe that he lost the use of one of his lungs.

Miraculously, Swarner beat cancer again, even though he does not remember anything about being a sixteen-year-old. Understandably, he wanted to enjoy the lost years of his youth. In college, he focused on having fun and decided to become a psychology major to eventually help other cancer patients.

Then one day he decided that, to really help and make an impact, he needed to scream hope from the highest platform in the world: Mt. Everest.

With only one lung, Swarner became the first cancer survivor to summit the peak. Ironically, an illness forced him to stay behind at camp on the day his group attempted the summit, which they weren’t able to reach due to inclement weather. After recovering from being ill, the weather cleared and Swarner was able to summit on his first attempt.

Since Everest, Swarner has gone on to become the world’s first cancer survivor to complete the Explorer’s Grand Slam—scaling the highest point on all seven continents and then hiking to the North and South Poles. On his last trip to the North Pole, he carried a massive flag with names of thousands of people touched by cancer. He’s now preparing to run seven marathons, in seven days, in seven continents.

In sharp contrast to last week’s Friday Forward, Swarner’s father always told him that he didn’t have to be the best, he just had to be his best, a core value that he’s carried with him into adulthood. Today, Swarner leads people on trips to Mount Kilimanjaro through The CancerClimber Association, a non-profit he founded to help those touched by cancer learn how to focus on hope. These experiences help young people gain confidence through overcoming adversity and challenge.

Incredibly, Swarner considers himself lucky. Lucky for the knee injury that likely saved his life – twice – and for the serious illness that kept him behind on Everest and allowed him to summit.

By choosing to focus on living rather than dying, he is an inspiration and a testament to the human spirit.

Not surprising, his life story has recently been made into a documentary titled, True North, which my youngest son watched intently. I’d also recommend listening to the emotional interview I did with Sean Swarner on my Elevate podcast. Our conversation has forever changed my perspective on what it means to keep climbing and own your reality.


Quote of The Week

“Want to feel wealthy? Take away everything money can buy and look at what you have left.”


Sean Swarner


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Success Disease (#163)

If you’ve been following Friday Forward for a while, you had to know this post was coming…

Earlier this month, the New England Patriots (a professional American football team for those of you outside of the U.S.), won their sixth Super Bowl championship, cementing them as one of the greatest professional sports dynasties in modern history.

Think about a business having this level of success. Naturally, it would attract more talent and have money to spend. The Patriots, however, don’t have this luxury. In fact, the inverse is true.

The amazing thing about their victory and sustained dominance is that they play in a league (NFL) designed for parity and competition. The league’s hard salary cap, where each NFL team has the exact same amount of money to spend on players’ salaries, is structured to level the playing field. And, come NFL Draft time, a highly competitive event where newly eligible players are picked by round, the team that most recently won the Super Bowl picks last within each round.

In a 32-team league, the Patriots have been in just over half of the last seventeen Super Bowls. Those numbers mean that the Patriots have fallen in the bottom- to last-place during draft picks. Yet, they still find a way to win year-after-year.

Imagine if Google and Apple had to pick last for talent each year?

There will undoubtedly be many history and leadership books written on the collective success generated from the pairing of Patriots’ coach, Bill Belichick and quarterback, Tom Brady (B&B). Both are sure to be immortalized as the best in history in their respective positions.

In dissecting the Patriots’ winning formula, historians are likely to pay special attention to Brady and Belichick’s fanatical attention to detail and to the Patriots’ prioritization of team and winning above individual superstars. However, perhaps the single greatest factor in the Patriots’ success, and the one likely to be studied by leaders for generations to come, will be the Patriots’ immunity to “Success Disease,” a concept coined by legendary coach, Bill Walsh.

According to Walsh, Success Disease makes people forget, to different degrees, the effort, focus, discipline, teaching, teamwork, learning and attention to detail that brought “mastery” and success in the first place. With success, especially repeated success, comes heightened confidence, followed quickly by overconfidence, arrogance and a sense that “we’ve mastered it; we’ve figured it out; we’re golden.” In turn, that hunger is diminished and even eliminated.

Renowned confidence expert, Peter Atwater, has even uncovered connections between confidence and architecture. It’s during times of high confidence when great castles, college buildings and sports stadiums were built. In the case of empires, these buildings almost always precede the beginning of their demise.

The problem, as Walsh sees it, is that mastery requires endless remastery. Success is a process, not an end destination. Few winners realize this, which helps explain why repeated success is so difficult. In his writing, Walsh recounts how, after his team’s first Super Bowl victory, they lost twice as many games in the next season—even with the same personnel.

Warren Buffet has even shared that one of his biggest challenges is helping his top people—all wealthy enough to never have to work another day in their life—stay interested enough to jump out of bed in the morning.

It seems as though the key to sustained success may just be believing deeply that you don’t have it.

This is where the Patriots really shine and why they are so rare. Collectively as a team, they are known for enjoying their victories and then quickly getting back to work on the next season. They simply don’t look down from the top of the mountain for long. After the champagne has been sipped and the parade is over, they bring themselves back to base camp and begin looking up at the next peak.

Of course, some players will choose to use their newfound success to sign lucrative contracts elsewhere. Not surprisingly, that new team often gets a less motivated and more expensive player than a year earlier. This is why few, if any, of these players have ever gone on to reach the same level of personal or team achievement with their new team as they did when playing for the Patriots.

I know many are tired of hearing about the Patriots’ continued dominance, however, their formula for success can teach us all a great deal about how to sustain it and avoid succumbing to Success Disease.


Quote of The Week

“There is nothing that fails like success.”


G. K. Chesterton




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Life Hacks (#161)

These days, everyone seems to be looking for a shortcut or a “hack.” Apparently, things like “growth hacking,” “social media hacking,” “biohacking” and so on are all the rage. It appears everyone wants to find that magical shortcut that will lead them to getting more output with less effort.

And, of course, hacking “experts” and gurus are on hand to help! The number of seminars, webinars and pitching services focused on the “hack economy” are unprecedented.

Recently, I came across a great post about useful hacks by Morgan Housel, a partner at Collaborative Fund. He wrote about attending a three-hour session with a social media consultant who walked attendees through a slew of social media-related “hacks.” However, although she talked about things like when to post and why to create hashtags, Housel notes that the trainer never actually talked about the most important component: creating good content to post.

As someone who writes a lot, I understand exactly where he’s coming from. Good writing takes time, creativity, patience, determination, perseverance and careful editing. In other words, it’s work.

With this in mind, Housel provided a list of hacks that he finds useful. You can check out the full list within his post, but here are a few of that I really relate to:

Marketing hack: Make a good product that people need.

PR hack: Do something newsworthy.

Writing hack: Write every day for years.

Learning hack: Read a book. When finished, read another.

Work culture hack: Trust people and pay them well.

Investing hack: Give compounding the decades it requires.

Savings hack: Lower your ego and live below your means.

Career hack: Work harder than is expected of you and be nice to people.

Organization hack: Clean up your mess.

Fundraising hack: Make a product lots of people will pay for with decent or better margins.

Scale-to-a-million-users hack: Make a product a million people need.

Making college more affordable hack: Go to an in-state public school and work full time.

The takeaway is, rather than focusing on what you can “hack,” it’s a far better use of time and energy to follow tried and true principles of productivity and achievement. Here are five of my favorites:

1. Follow the 80/20 Rule. 20% of our inputs are responsible for 80% of our outcomes. Therefore, it would stand to reason that the ultimate “hack” is to identify and spend time on what has the potential to provide the greatest outcome. The rest is a distraction.

2. Separate Urgent from Important: One of the most important productivity concepts that goal-oriented individuals understand is the difference between those things that are urgent and those things that are important.

3. Give consistent effort and have patience. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Things worth doing take time and consistent effort towards the goal.

4. Create a Stop Doing list: To do more of the right things, you need to also stop doing the wrong ones.

5. Last, but not least, if you do something, do it well. Two of my favorite Friday Forward stories are about how world-class photocopies launched the career of one of America’s top venture capitalists and how a plumber showed a client what commitment to excellence looks like.

History is a great teacher, showing us time and again that qualities such as focus, patience, practice and a commitment to excellence will always trump a hack in the long-run.


Quote of The Week

“You can’t produce a baby in one month by getting nine women pregnant. It just doesn’t work that way.”


Warren Buffett




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Missing Out (#155)

I have always been intrigued by Jason Fried, the charismatic thought leader and creator of the very popular blog, “Signal versus Noise.” He’s also the CEO of the popular project management tool Basecamp, which is used by millions across the world.

A Chicago-based company, Basecamp has only 50 employees, all of whom work remotely on a 30-hour per week schedule. What’s more is that within this work structure, Basecamp generates over $25M in revenue each year and is very profitable.

Jason wrote one of the leading books on remote work titled, REMOTE: Office Not Required. To date, Basecamp has also turned down unsolicited offers from over 100 investors.

Certainly, Basecamp could grow faster. Many might argue that they are missing out on an investment market that is willing to pay a jaw-dropping amount to acquire software companies like Basecamp with recurring monthly revenue.

There is no question that, if they wanted to, Jason and his partner could make hundreds of millions, retire and financially set up future generations for decades to come. Yet, that viewpoint comes from the FOMO mindset, or “fear of missing out.”

FOMO has become a major psychosocial phenomenon due to the presence of social media and our ability to see what others are doing in real-time. Rather than being content with what we have or even realizing that we are happy with what we are doing, many of us benchmark ourselves against others and assume that the grass is greener. For some, FOMO is a debilitating condition that is exacerbated by scrolling for hours through Instagram and Facebook.

Jason Fried does not live within a FOMO mindset. In fact, in his upcoming book, he coins the term “Jomo” The Joy of Missing Out.

Jason doesn’t pay much attention to what anyone else is doing or thinking. He reads the paper once a day. He has no long-term goals for himself or his business. Everything at Basecamp is designed in six week sprints; if something can’t get done in six weeks, they don’t build it.

Jason and his team focus intently on what they are doing now, discovering what is most important to their customer and doing the best job they can to deliver that. They aren’t driven by an arbitrary growth goal. Years ago, they even decided to stop selling a few of their ancillary products. They felt their flagship Basecamp product was world-class and other complementary products were not. Less was more.

While Jason’s JOMO mentality and company philosophies are not for everyone, they contain three very healthy principals that we can all learn from.

  1. Intrinsic motivation: Jason not only displays this himself, he works to cultivate it in others by removing traditional carrot-and-stick motivators. He rallies his team around doing great work, rather than by demanding that they look at what their competitors are doing or acting on market/investor pressures.
  2. Living in the present:The biggest manifestation of JOMO for Jason is simply not worrying about what came before or what will come after. It’s about enjoying the present and taking the time to “think”.
  3. Tuning out the noise: Developing a remote workforce. Not taking investment. Being profitable for 17 years. None of these were historical blueprints for creating a great software company. Yet, by tuning out what the market touted as the “right path” to business success, Jason’s been able to build an enormously successful company that reflects his values.

The next time you are worried about “missing out,” perhaps reflect on JOMO and what you might gain from not knowing what others were, are or might be doing.

Often, ignorance really is bliss.

Quote of The Week

“That fear of missing out on things makes you miss out on everything.”


Etty Hellesum



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