Illuminating the pathway to success

Month: April, 2009

Timing Is Everything

Today started out bad and got steadily worse.  I woke up at 5:30 a.m. (that’s right, a.m. in the middle of the night) feeling sick and couldn’t go back to sleep.  Not a good way to start the day.  Since we were leaving the mountain to do some errands in the valley, I checked outside.  It had snowed about three to four inches of wet, heavy slush.  We slogged through the mess to get everything finally loaded, only to have to go back home and get the stuff we forgot.

We finally go on the road a half hour late.  While driving along, I heard a horrendous noise from the back of my truck and finally recognized the unmistakable sensation of a flat tire.  This is where things went from bad to worse.

I got out to see the tire flat.  I have a spare and it had air.  No problem.  Except it’s one of those spares that gets stored under the truck by some Rube Goldberg mechanism that mechanical engineers can’t even figure out.  So I got  out the owners manual.  Twenty minutes later I had the spare on the ground.

To jack the truck up, I had to lay in the icy slush to position the jack.  Then use a multi-part tool to twist the jack.  Of course that kept falling apart.  Finally I got the truck jacked up, the lug nuts off and was ready to change the tire (40 minutes elapsed time thus far.)  I tried to take the wheel off, and it was stuck.  Not just stuck, but like welded on with corrosion or something.

I called the dealer.  He suggested I climb under the truck and kick the tire.  “What if it falls off the jack?” I asked.  “Won’t I be killed?”  He admitted I would, but didn’t seem to concerned.  So he said, “Just use a mallet and knock it loose.”  Here I am in the driving sleet, soaked to the skin and freezing my cojones off.  “Where exactly would I find a mallet here on the side of the road?” I asked.  “Oh,” was his only response.

Long story short, I called a friend who called one of his friends who was closer to where I was and the guy came with a gigantic sledge hammer and we got the wheel to break free and got the spare on (elapsed time 1 hour 45 minutes.)

As we were about to leave, he said, “You know, I’ve always liked the look of these Tundras.  How do you like yours?”  I’m sure you’re way ahead of me here.  Had he asked yesterday, I would have given him a glowing report.  I’ve loved that truck from the day I bought it — until today.  That whole spare, jack, tire-iron setup is about as piss poor as it gets.  There wasn’t much objectivity in my answer.  “Like anything,” I told him, “when it works it’s great.  When it doesn’t . . . ”

When you’re asking questions and getting feedback on anything, beware of extenuating circumstances that can skew the answer (for better or for worse.)  Make sure what you’re getting is the real deal.  Asking questions, after all, is like everything else.  Timing is everything.

Go Where The Fish Are

I spent several hours the other day at the Henry’s Lake Fish Hatchery in Island Park, Idaho watching the spawners coming up the ladders to spawn.  It was fabulous.  The wildlife biologists have gathered over 4.5 million eggs this year — as many as they can feed with their limited budget.

But there was another side to the whole fish thing I found fascinating.  The area was swarming with eagles and pelicans.  Why?  Because after the fish spawn, they’re hammered and they lie in the shallows regaining their strength so they can return to deeper water.  I watched as the eagles and the pelicans swooped down from above and caught their unwary and unlucky prey.

As I sat and thought about it, I decided it wasn’t unlike business in some ways.  If you’re going to feed yourself, you’ve got to go where the fish are. I know some businesses are so arrogant they wait for the fish to come to them.  But those that are serious about success find out where the fish are and go there.

It doesn’t matter how good your tackle is, how well prepared you are personally, how good your fishing technique is, how many books you’ve read, how many lectures you’ve attended, how long you’ve been fishing, etc., etc., etc.  If you don’t go where the fish are, there’s very little likelihood of success.

Ask yourself if you’re fishing where the fish are.  If not, make an adjustment.  I assure you it will make a big difference.

On Continuing Education

If you’re a doctor or an accountant, or some other professional, you know what continuing education is.  It’s the additional education the licensing board requires you take each year to make sure you’re current in your field.  In business we don’t have such a rule, although maybe we should.

It doesn’t take very long to become outdated in your skills.  The way technology is affecting how we do business, just going a year without updating your skills could put you clearly behind the rest of the field.

Consider what you know about all the new technology.  Are you ready to take advantage of all the tools available?  Or are there some areas where you’re a little fuzzy?  Take time today to make an honest evaluation of where you are relative to being current.  If you’re not 100% current, make an adjustment.  It’s never too late.  Start today and you’ll be glad you did.

Being True To Who You Are

I talked to a close friend who spent 20 minutes in the camera store the other day trying to find someone help him.  (Good thing he’s the honest type, not given to “helping himself.”)  During his wait, and while growing increasingly frustrated, he noticed the company mission statement on the wall by the door to the back room:  “Our mission is to provide the very best customer service to every customer who enters our store.  We will do this by meeting them promptly, call them by name, and meeting all of their needs, thereby ensuring customer loyalty and satisfaction.”

How do you think my buddy felt?  He wanted to take that sign and . . . well, you know.  Suffice to say the customer service that day didn’t do anything to promote satisfaction or loyalty.  In fact, it almost ensured my friend would never return.  Had they not had his flash, he wouldn’t have stayed around as it was.  

But even worse than that, what do you think my friend said to everyone he knows?  It’s obvious he told me.  How many other people did he tell?  That’s right.  Everyone he knows.  And they’re going to tell everyone they know (just like I’m telling you.)

The moral to this story is, just writing something down and reading it to your employees doesn’t make it so.  Having a mission statement is part of creating a culture.  But it’s not a “fire and forget” type of thing.  You have to constantly monitor what’s happening and upgrade where appropriate.  You have to see that what you think you’re giving the public is what they perceive they’re receiving.  Because if the two don’t match up, you’ve got a bigger problem having a mission statement than you would have by not having one.

So if you’re going to have a statement, make darn sure you live up to it.  And for heaven’s sake, don’t put it out where everyone can see it until you’re certain you’re actually living it.

Weigh Your Options Carefully

Apparently, at one of the anti-tax “tea parties” in Texas, people were shouting, “secede.  Secede.”  Which would have been bad enough, but then the governor raised the stakes by not quashing the idea out of hand.  While this whole thing is an over-reaction on the part of disenfranchised citizens, the whole idea intrigues me nonetheless.

Now before you get all up in arms thinking I’m advocating the secession of Texas from the union, let me state categorically that I think that would be a bad idea for everyone involved and I don’t think they should do it.  But here’s what I like as it relates to business:  We have a problem.  We need to find a solution.  I see so many times where ideas growing out of this need for a solution are quelled before they even get a chance at consideration.

The point I’m making here is I’ve seen good ideas grow out of hair-brained suggestions on so many occasions I don’t dismiss any idea as too crazy or too far out there.  I think it’s in everyone’s best interest to consider every option on the table, and say, “How can we twist this or turn it so it make s some sense?”  Often times the crazy idea morphs into a good idea.

So while I think secession from the union is a radical, crazy idea from the fringe, I also think exploring all the options is a good idea.  I think by twisting and turning this idea something might just grow out of it.  At the very least, it shows you’ve turned over every rock and considered every option (even the crazy ones.)

The likelihood of coming up with a good solution after considering ALL the options is much better than the solution you’re likely to come up with after just considering the sanitized options.  Don’t be afraid to explore the fringe.  (By the same token, don’t get sucked into the fringe.)  But don’t be afraid to look at what’s behind the curtain.  Viable, acceptable options may be lurking behind the fringe ideas if you just take a look.

Many things are too crazy to seriously engage in.  But almost nothing should be thrown out as too crazy to consider.  Doing so will broaden your horizons in a way nothing else could.   Again, many outstanding ideas grow out of taking a crazy, unacceptable possibility and morphing it into something that is.

You Didn’t Forget What Day It Is, Did You?

That’s right.  Another year has come and gone, and it’s time once again to pay your uncle.  Fortunately for you, he only wants between a fourth and half of what you made last year.  But you can take comfort knowing that your selfless contribution blessed the lives of several people who didn’t work last year (including those on capitol hill.)   It also allowed our elected representatives to enact several new programs to bless the lives of our employment-challenged brethren that –  even though they’ve done without them up until now — will make them very comfortable.

Pat yourself on the back today.  I hope you feel like you did a good thing.  God bless the working man (and woman, of course) and God bless America.

Preparing For The Interview

The other day, a man I know well asked for some help preparing for an interview.  He owns his own business and is very successful by any standard of measure.  His problem is he’s not a great interviewee.  Even though he’s been successful in his career, he lack the confidence to sit in front of an interviewer and sell himself.

We started the process by setting up a video camera and conducting a mock interview.   Once the interview was complete, we watched it, stopping the tape from time to time to talk about what just happened.

There was something magical for this man about seeing himself on TV.  When I first told him, “well, you were a little stiff,” he didn’t agree.  After watching the video, he said, “Wow!  I had no idea I came off that stiff.”

We then spent a great deal of time talking about what constitutes a good answer and what constitutes and unacceptable answer.  One thing this man had never considered is what is the interviewer looking for with this question? Questions are often asked by an experienced interviewer that provide insight into an area you might not have even thought about  —  an area that may have had nothing to do with the original question.

Discussing these things helped this man present himself like the professional he is.  I think it shows great insight and great self-awareness for someone who’s successful in some areas to seek help in an area where he might need some help.  Our egos often get in the way of asking for help and we crash headlong into things that could have gone much more smoothly with a little help.

If you haven’t been interviewed on videotape, you owe it to yourself to watch and see how you interview through the eyes of the interviewer.  This one thing will help you make more positive changes in the way you present yourself to people than any single thing you can do.  Get a camera and a tripod today and get started.  It will not only help you prepare for future interviews, it will help you in all your presentations.

Scalability Problems

One of the problems I often see as entrepreneurs try to bring their ideas to fruition is a problem with scale.  Just because GM works with however many hundred thousand employees (or maybe it doesn’t?) that doesn’t mean it will work equally well with you and two high school kids in your garage. Now, I’m not saying you and two high school kids couldn’t do it in your garage.  What I’m saying is you and your friends would not be able to do it profitably.

The same holds true the other direction.  You have a successful business that involves you and your young friends.  You want to grow the business to the size of GM.  Can you do it?  Sometimes, sure.  But not always. Scientists understand this principle perfectly.  They do experiments on a small scale (for obvious reasons) and then try to scale up.  Often, what worked miraculously at the small scale fails huge when scaled up.

So as you look at your business, ask yourself this question:  Is this failing because of scale (or anything like that?)  Or, if the business is succeeding, ask, “Can we effectively scale this project up?”  Then the whys and why nots.  If you do that, you’ll save yourself a lot of grief.  Because many times, the problems we face are not problems of viability, they’re problems of scalability.

Let The World Know You’re Alive

I watched this winter as a business that had historically been closed in the winter decided to remain open.  This is a thriving business with a large, loyal clientele.  Because of the business they’re in, there should have been little difference between summer and winter levels of business.  

The problem was, nobody knew they were open.  They didn’t advertise.  They didn’t do a mailing to let their customers know they had decided to remain open.  They didn’t even hang a huge banner on their building saying, “Open This Winter.”  Nothing.

So what would you predict happened to their winter business?  Of course.  It was in the dumper.  

The risk you run in all this, is that you begin to make judgements based on what just happened.  You start to say, “Well, winter really isn’t  a good season for us.  We just don’t have the traffic to justify staying open.  Summer’s good, but not winter.”  Or maybe you go down this road:  “No, we tried it.  It just didn’t work out.  We were open all winter and hardly did anything.  It just wasn’t worth it.”

While those statements are all true, they ignore the fact that the “trial” period was horribly skewed towards not working.  In other words, “We gave it a half baked effort and it didn’t work.”  That’s certainly a more accurate statement than the first few.  It at least leaves the door open to try again, giving it your best effort.

The moral to this story is that before you say, “That didn’t work,” you need to  be sure you gave it your best effort.  Nothing works if you don’t put anything into it in the first place.    It’s like the old saw, “It’s funny.  The harder I work, the luckier I seem to get.”  ‘Nough said.

Take Criticism With A Grain Of Salt

I had a conversation awhile back with a young man who was thinking of going to medical school.  This is a bright young man, talented and focused.  There’s no question (at least in my mind) that he will not only excel in medical school, but that he will also be a very good doctor.

His detractors told him it was a bad idea.  He wouldn’t like it.  He wouldn’t be successful.  He wouldn’t be happy.  I told him just the opposite.  I know he will be successful, happy and that he will enjoy it. Long story short, he decided to go, got into a prestigious school, and is on his way this fall.

No matter where you go, no matter what you do, there will be people who tell you you are great and that you’ll do well, and those who would like to keep you down where they are (and where they will always be.)  Who do you listen to when the “free advice” starts flowing?  Much of your personal success in life will depend on who you listen to.

The problem comes when we try and decide who to listen to.  Your mom (and often your spouse) thinks you’ll be successful and whatever you do.  So we often discount those opinions as not very credible.  On the other hand, maybe we’re too quick to discount them.  After all, these are people who know us better than anyone.  And they love us.  Why would they lie to us?

Our friends are honest with us and we can put complete trust their opinions.  Or can we?  Just because you’re my friend doesn’t mean you don’t have a hidden motive when you offer advice.  Maybe you tell me I wouldn’t be a good doctor because you know that if I go away to medical school, our paths will diverge and things will never be the same between us.

The bottom line is be very careful who you listen to.  Don’t put a lot of weight into detracting voices.  Above all, listen to your heart.  Somehow, if you do that, you always know what’s best for you.

Always follow your dreams and visions.  What’s the worst that can happen?  You could be unemployed?  So what?  Go do something else if this doesn’t work.  Don’t allow yourself to be held hostage by fear of failure.  Get in the fight.  Do your best and see where you end up.  You only go around once.  Make the most of it.  Don’t let someone else’s negative opinion keep you from realizing your dreams.


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