Monday, September 30, 2013

A Book Worth Reading

Greetings All:

It has been a while since I have done a book review on my blog.  I have been reading a fair amount this year.  Two of my recent favorites are Matterhorn, A Novel of the Vietnam War by Karl Marlantes and The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown.  The first book follows a young Marine Lieutenant as he and his platoon fight the enemy, the jungle and each other.  It is a fantastic, graphic, heartbreaking and inspiring read.  The second book tells the improbable tale of the 1936 U.S. Rowing Team's epic triumph in Berlin.  Both are great reads and have plenty of life lessons.  I enjoy history. I cannot help but think I would have done a whole lot better in college had I majored in that subject.  Such is life, or to quote Marlantes, "There it is."

While history is great, I also place a priority on reading business & self-improvement books.  There is a ton to read.  Some are classics like Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich.  f you really want to go old school, check out Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations.    Ryan Holiday turned me onto it and he is someone who takes his reading seriously.  There are plenty of new authors out there.  For this post, I want to highlight a book I like and an author I like more.  The book is Stick with It Mastering the Art of Adherence and the author is Lee Colan.  For this post, I will refer to it by it's shortened title, Stick with It.  Actually, I should say authors as his wife, Julie Davis-Colan, is a co-author.  Something tells me Lee would give the lion’s share of the credit to Julie.  Lee is a very smart guy.

I first learned of Lee through the Books 24x7 email I receive about once a week.  One email this summer turned me onto another of Lee’s books, Leadership Matters.  It offered great suggestions about why leadership matters and not just at the office.  Lee’s company, The L Group, sends out regular emails.  I signed up to learn more about his philosophy towards business and life.  I'm glad I did.  When Stick with It Mastering the Art of Adherence came out, I grabbed a copy from the (awesome) Bettendorf Public Library and read it several times.  In fact, I racked up a $1.00 in fines keeping it late.  I like to "test drive" books from the library and if I like them, I will purchase them (usually via Amazon).  I was able to get both of the books and now have the freedom to mark them up.  I'll make sure I've got a full high-lighter as here's a lot to note in each of them.

His books are not lengthy.  I believe that is important.  Case in point:  My boss challenged me to read Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged.   I am sure I was assigned it at some point in college.  I’m equally certain I took the Cliff Notes path on my naval journey of sailing another “C.”  I have the audio book and it weighs in at a hefty 23 hours!  That’s a bit much.  Lee’s books, I assure you, are not that long.  This is by design.  Lee was kind enough to speak with me recently and he commented on the length of business books and how they have gotten smaller.  The idea, as Lee shared with me, is to communicate an important message in a efficient way.  His books do this.  

I think this is an important point.  I am not in favor of artificial limits on the size of books.  Meditations is a fraction of the size of Atlas Shrugged.  Both, in my opinion, are exactly as long as their authors wished them to be.  I think there are lessons you can apply from both these books.  Even though I am only early into Atlas Shrugged, I have taken away several good points.  With Meditations, I'll need to back up the truck to fit everything in I took away from that one.  (My personal favorite is to be wary of "...that poor thing called fame..." or words to that effect.)  However, most of us have a limited amount of time for reading.  Of that time, I would suggest that keeping a balance of reading is a good thing.  Of course, read for pleasure and I do not count TMZ as part of that group.  (It's like saying cotton candy is a side dish for dinner.)  The trick is to make a conscious effort to read something that will bring value to you AND is something you can immediately apply to your life.  To borrow a phrase from Tim Ferriss- Enter Lee and Jule's book.

The premise of the book is that while having a strategy is important, it's only half the battle.  The other half is the execution of that strategy.  How we execute it important.  However, often times failure happens from not fully executing to completion.  Or, put another way-we give up.  Lee and Julie utilize the term adherence as their definition of sustained execution.   If you take nothing else away from this blog (besides checking out their book), please make it their chart.  

Lee recently reported that this chart has been trade-marked and that is a good thing, as he should have ownership of it.  There is value in it.  It sums up their concept.  You have to focus on what your strategy is, as opposed to doing a number of other things.  (Example, if you want to grow your business by cold calling, cleaning your desk will not dial the phone.)  Competence, have a base knowledge in what you are doing.  (Back to our cold calling example, have a script and better yet, memorize it.  If you're selling snow-throwers, avoid calling Phoenix.)  Finally, there is passion.  Have a reason for why you are doing it.  (Cold calling ain't fun, I've done it.  However, if you believe in your product, then sharing your message with the benefits of the product, how it can make your prospect's life better, will help you make those calls.)  This is my takeaway from the chart.  Here's what Lee and Julie say:

"A good plan gets you in to the race, but adherence propels you into the winner’s circle.

When you consistently sharpen Focus, build Competence and ignite Passion, you plant the seeds of victory. Initially, you may not see tangible results, but rest assured, growth is occurring under the surface. As you stick with it, momentum builds, creating a self-reinforcing cycle of victory.

Focus provides the clarity necessary to make decisions that support your most important goals. It results in a clearly defined pathway to success. A sharp focus answers the “what” question – What do you need to do to execute your strategy?

Competence is used in the broadest sense of the term. It encompasses all the skills, systems, processes and tools a team uses to achieve its goals. The result is the ability to commit to, measure and hit your targets. Building competence answers the “how” question – How will you execute your strategy?

Passion creates a sense of connectedness. It creates a connection between teammates, a connection to our human need for meaningful work and a connection to each individual’s sense of value and contribution. Igniting passion answers the “why” question – Why are you executing your strategy?"
What I like about this approach is you can apply to both your work and your personal life.  Case in point, our cold-calling example.  Let's say you are an insurance agent and your salary is based heavily on commission.  Your strategy may be, not surprisingly, make more sales.  Your strategy may be to focus on professional women returning to the workforce.  Rather than agonize over women over 30 or over 40 (I know, I know, you're not supposed to ask a lady her age, but go with me here...:)) or if it should be lawyers, then doctors, or doctors in this or that zip code, how about this?  Pick up the phone and call all the numbers you currently have (focus) get a good script that stresses benefits to the prospects (See Bryan Flanagan's book, So You're New To Sales for ideas) and practice your pitch (competence) and believe in what you're doing.  (passion).  One of my favorite quotes is from R.W Emerson, "Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm."  I view enthusiasm as a combination of all three of these ideas.  
As far as your home, or personal life, this approach can work as well.  Let's say you want to start a tradition of more family time.  Your strategy is to spend more uninterrupted time with your family one weeknight.  That is the strategy.  Your focus is on Tuesday nights as there are no activities with the kids and you easily punt happy hour with your softball team at the local watering hole.  Your competence is pizza and board games, or $5.00 movie night, or whatever.  This is "how" you and your family will spend time together.  I suppose you could sit around translating Latin to English but Monopoly is a whole lot more fun.  And passion, well that is a no-brainer, it's your family.  But let's take this a step further, how you can lose family night.  Examples can include:  One parent has a business trip so the rest of the family opts out; One kid has a test the next day and needs to study;  One kid gets grounded for the weekend and sulks in their room, and oh, a million other real-life situationns.  Let's say after a couple of weeks family night dissolves away.  By practicing adherence, you can remember why you're doing this in the first place- to be together as a family.  You shift it to another night.  You shorten it, no game night but takeout from the kid with the test's favorite restaurant.  When mom or dad is away you pull up Facetime or Skype so she or he can check in on the fun.  Whatever works to keep family night going.  Whatever it takes to...stick with it.  The point is you take an idea and put it into practice.  With Adherence, you can develop habits, ideally positive ones.
I also see a value in using adherence to make educated, unemotional decisions on what is not working.  Adherence does not say keep cold calling forever if you are not making any headway.  (Remember our selling snow-throwers in Phoenix idea.)  It means an honest vetting of your strategy.  It means not giving up at the first sign of adversity but also not getting knocked from the donkey again after slamming into the windmill a dozen times.  
If you spend a fair amount of time developing a basic strategy, you should be able to use adherence to fit your needs.  I like to think of strategy as simply a plan wearing a collared-shirt and shoes with laces.  As a former boss told me a decade ago:  "You gotta have a plan.  It doesn't have to be a great one."  
A final point is fear.  We live in uncertain times.  As I type this, we do not know if the Federal government will be open for business tomorrow.  You can check out the news can get real depressed real fast.  I asked Lee about this and he shared these thoughts:

(Jeno's Question to Lee)

On page 162, you address fear as being "...the greatest enemies of passion."  It is sage advice to acknowledge fear but what about the constant fear of losing a job, a contract, a client, an industry (Yellow book anyone?).  How do you fight fear everyday?

Lee's Reply:

"Yes, worry wrecks our focus.  Research studies have revealed that we typically worry five times as

much about things that will never happen as about things that actually do occur. That’s a lot of wasted worry! If you’re this distracted, you cannot effectively live to up your potential. Worry will drain your energy and stifle your commitment. Every minute you spend worrying is a minute that you’re not committing.

One good way to combat worry is to commit to memory Reinhold Niebuhr’s “Serenity Prayer”: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and

the wisdom to know the difference.” Once you’ve accepted the things you cannot change, how do you change the things you can? Simply take a rational approach. Let’s say you have a new job and are worried about making a mistake. The worrying mind quickly jumps to a worst-case—and highly unlikely—scenario:

If you make a mistake, you’ll get fired. Rationally, you know this is improbable, but how do you prove it to yourself? It’s simple. First, you break down the chain of events that would lead to your firing. Then you assign a probability to each event; a rough estimate will do.

Your Worry                                 Your Estimate of the Chances

I will make a mistake at work.                  25%

It will cause a problem.                            10%

It will be too late to correct it.                  70%

If it causes a problem, 
my boss will be upset                              10%

If he is upset, he will fire me.                   5%

So what are the real odds of your being fired? Even though each individual probability is just a rough estimate, the total probability, which is the product of all these individual probabilities, is a good ballpark estimate:

Probability of being fired because of a mistake = 0.25 x 0.1 x 0.7 x 0.1 x 0.05 = .0000875, or .00875% (less than one chance in ten thousand)

Now, doesn’t that put things in perspective? This kind of rational ap­proach can help you get a handle on your worries. If the chances of your being fired because of a mistake are less than one in ten thousand, there’s really no reason to worry about it.

Take Positive Action! Life rewards those who seize the moment and take positive action. Action converts interest into commitment. The antidote to worry is purposeful action.

Andrew Carnegie said, “The average person puts only 25 percent of his energy and ability into his work. The world takes off its hat to those who put in more than 50 percent of their capacity and stands on its head for those few and far between souls who devote 100 percent.” This is especially true in our degree of commitment. When we fail to invest 100 percent in our goals, we compete against our own potential.

People naturally gravitate to those who are committed to achieving a goal. Total commitment manifests itself as bold action; in a leader this is recognized as genius and power.

I rely on the Bible to ask penetrating questions that illuminate the truth, “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life?” (Luke 12:25)"

End of Lee's reply.
Lee's answer is great way to approach life.  This musing by Lee sums up why I like his (and Julie's) writings and enjoy checking out the emails that the L Group puts out regularly.  You can sign up to receive them at their website:
Here is a link to a video they put out this weekend on why failure is not final, here's that link:
I hope you will take some time to check out Lee and Julie's work and see for yourself how it can help you in business and life.  Here are a couple of ways to order their books, either from their site or on Amazon:
The hyperlink to use for the book’s landing page is:

I would like to mention that I am getting no compensation for promoting their work.  I just happen to like what they put out and think Lee is a class act, especially after agreeing to speak with me based on an email request.  Do I consider their work the end all and be of business, of course not.  It's not a class at the Wharton Business School.  It is, however, a way to take a good idea, get comfortable with it quickly and then apply it to your life.  

As with everything I put on my blog, these are my opinions.  I'd like to know what you're reading that has inspired you.  Share it with me.  Better yet, start your own blog and send me the link.  I'll look forward to reading it.

We all have goals and a general idea of how to go about them.  Lee and Julie's book gives you a way to get after your goals by spending time on the execution and sticking with it.  Not giving up is perhaps the most important thing.  After all, if you quit, so does your strategy.  That is a shame, especially since quitting often happens tragically close to what otherwise would be a success.  As Johann Wolfgang von Goethe said,  "Difficulties increase the nearer we get to the goal."

Enjoy the book and the week ahead.  Be well my friends.

All the best,
The images displayed in this blog post are with the permission of Lee Colan.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The Last Train Ride

Greetings All:

Tomorrow is 9/11.  Just about anyone over 20 will remember where they were and what they were doing that day.  Those memories are even sharper.  As someone who was perfectly safe, yet a commuter into New York that day, I recall a great deal from that day.  I remember the commute in and someone talking about a plane hitting a building.  I remember walking up 8th Avenue and hearing a man ranting about some attack.  I dismissed him as a mentally challenged person.  Unfortunately, his comments were soundly sane.  I remember sitting in my office at AXA Advisors and fuming with anger and yes, fear.  Then my friend Ken came to my desk and in a quiet yet purposeful tone explained his plan to get out of the city.  It worked.  Several hours later we were in his car, heading home.  After catching a ferry then walking about three miles we made it back to the park and ride.  As the tunnels and bridges were closed, there was hardly any traffic.  I kept thinking about Mad Max as Mel Gibson flew across the screen in his stock car.

As the next 24 hours unfolded, it became tragically clear that there were many people who would not be coming home.  Some of the fallen were from the area we lived in and it was not long before people knew someone who had a relative or friend who was killed.  Cars in parking garages were unclaimed for days, tires marked with chalk.  Most were eventually picked up but not by the person who drove it that Tuesday morning.

There have been many memorials to those who died that day.  Some are national, some are state and some are local.  I have seen two local ones that I think were tastefully done and a honorable way to remember the staggering loss of that day.  The town of Livingston, New Jersey made a sun dial in a park from metal from the Twin Towers with a plaque.  I cannot do it justice in this blog post but here is a link to a story about it:

The other memorial that comes to mind on the eve of this anniversary is the Short Hills Train Station Memorial.  The photo below shows it.  It is simple dignity.  A plaque of bronze (I think) that mentions the name of the Short Hills residents who rode the train that fateful morning.  I do not recall the precise inscription but I recall it is a heartfelt tribute to friends and neighbors of Short Hills, New Jersey who left the station that morning, never to return.  It was their last train ride.

I saw the memorial a few years ago and was struck with what I class act I thought it was.  I still do.  The older I get, the more I appreciate the things that reflect personal connections.  There is a place for oratory, for big ideas, for grand schemes.  And yet, there is also a place for the local, the personal, the quiet reflection.  This memorial is that to me.

As we approach this landmark, please take a moment to remember those who died that day, the survivors, toddlers now in high school, widows and parents still mourning their loss.  There are first responders who can't stop coughing, who can't sleep without the visits from the demons of their dreams.  There is still unimaginable pain for many.  They mourn in silence.  For others, they have moved on yet they will never, can never forget what occurred on that bright, sunny Tuesday. 

Here is the photo of the Short Hills Train Station Memorial.  As I mentioned, it's a class act.

Be well my friends and thanks for reading.   God bless American and those in harms' way defending us.


Monday, September 2, 2013

Dead Last

Greetings All:

Happy Labor Day, of what is left of it.  I hope you were able to enjoy some of it with the people who matter the most to you, had some fun and got outside.  This weekend is the un-official end of summer and if this were an even year, the start of election season.  We're spared from that this year.  (Although as I have said before, elections come and go but the campaign never really ends so let's enjoy it while it lasts.) 

So back to the weekend, in particular, Labor Day, I participated in the Run with Carl 5 mile "race" today.  Here is a bit about the race from the website:

"Begun in 1995, the annual Labor Day "Run with Carl" is the primary funding vehicle for the Carl D. Schillig Memorial Fund. The Bettendorf Jaycees became the founding title sponsor of the Run with Carl and continue to provide support for event. In 2005, the Bettendorf Rotary became the Run with Carl title sponsor.

Carl Schillig, a student at Pleasant Valley High School, was 15 years old when he died in a car-pedestrian accident while participating in the Civil War Reenactment at the Village of East Davenport, Sept. 17, 1994.

Carl was active in numerous school, community and church activities. The memorial fund was established by Carl’s family to perpetuate his memory and enthusiasm for life by providing college scholarships to graduates of Pleasant Valley. The first scholarship was awarded in 1998. In 2002, the scholarship award was extended to include graduates of Bettendorf High School.
The scholarship is given to a student with a minimum 2.3+ grade point average who exemplifies Carl’s spirit through participation in school, sports and community and church activities.
Each recipient receives a $4,000 scholarship over 4 years, contingent on satisfactory performance."

This is truly one of those "good" causes and as a parent myself, I can only image the anguish of losing a child at 15 with his/her life in front of him.  Granted, I do live in a smaller area, but I am impressed with the number of people who turn out to support this cause, who knew Carl, or whose kids went to school with him and how his legacy lives on with this race.  I also like it how the local Rotary Club has stepped up to be a sponsor.  I suspect this frees up funds that would otherwise have to go to overhead.  This is the kind of community support, the "think globally, act (er, run) locally" that I appreciate.

It also is a good day to have the run.  Most people are off and it's early enough in the day that you can do it and still have time to do other fun things.  Like what, you may ask?  Well how about going to the mall.  Great fun all the way around, but alas, I digress, back to the race.

I signed up to run it and had no delusions about how well I would do.  I really do not run, more like lumber.  I tell people that when I run I listen to audiobooks because, "...when you run as slow as me, you don't need music."  I had no idea how true that was until today.

The race started about a mile and change from my house via the bike path so rather than drive, I walked, jogged over there.  I got there in time for the start, although I forgot to set the GPS app (Map My Run) so I was delayed getting "off the blocks."  I'd like to be able to say that explained why I didn't (ahem) fare well in the race.  The truth is that I can blame any technical issues I want, the bottom line is I am a really slow runner.  How slow you might ask?  How's this:  I came in dead last.

I kinda figured I was way, way back when by mile 1 I saw hardly any other runners.  (Usually I just follow the pack.)  In fact, at the point the race split between the 5 mile and the 5K, I made the wrong turn and lost about 30 seconds.  (and, no, that did not really matter either in my dismal performance if you view it from a pure "how'd ya finish" standpoint.)  And speaking of, here is the brutal truth:

I finished 333 out of 333 and 18 out of 18 for my age group at a time of 1:04:26.  I did get across the finish line before some of the walkers, so there is some solace there.

Full disclosure, I blame this on no "outside effects."  I elected to not imbibe in any adult beverages last evening, my ankle sprain is all better, it was not vicious hot or nasty cold.  I suppose I could have (and probably would have) sped up my run time by listening to music.  However, I had a great book on (The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown, the story of how nine working class boys from Washington State rowed their way to Olympic Gold and splashed cold water all over old Adolph's wrong and twisted logic about der "master race."  Nope, however I want to look at it, I was just plain slow today.

The race took advantage of the bike path and ran partially through my neighborhood.  I was glad to see and hear some encouragement from my friends.  They were most kind and polite not to point out that I was almost certainly "bringing up the rear."  As an added plus, it was nice to run along and see so many American flags flapping in the breeze, compliments of a local Boy Scout troop.

Truth be told, I thought of just calling it a day and running back to my house.  I had my shirt, my entry fee paid and besides, I needed to us the bathroom.  Then I decided that regardless of where I placed, I might as well finish.  Besides, rumor had it there were cookies at the finish line.

As the race hit the last third of the course, it was back onto main streets.  It was kind of neat to know that I had the whole course to myself.  The local law enforcement and volunteers on the course were genuine in their encouragement and I appreciated that the water station was still operating.  Although I was not thirsty and my bladder was not at all pleased with my decision to drink more, I was grateful for the earnest smile from the Walgreens' employee who handed me a cup of slightly warm, likely garden hose dispensed water.  It tasted just fine.

I was able to camouflage my last-place finish in the 5-mile run as the 5K runners and walkers fed into the finish area on a side street.  This did aide my ego a bit.  I recall kicking in what little speed I could muster to fly past a very nice elderly couple shuffling into the chute.

Clearly, running for speed is not my strong suit.  Still, I am glad I went out and did this "race" today.  It is for a super cause and I got a t-shirt out of the deal.  It also beat eating doughnuts and slurping coffee all morning (although I did have ice cream later, almost certainly negating any health benefits from the morning's jaunt) and lounging around the house.  On a serious note, it was a reminder that I've got a bunch of work to do between now and the half marathon.  I think for that one I will need to put on some music if I want to finish before sundown.  Oh, and I may want to re-think my "no stretching" policy, note to self.

So that's my tale of finishing dead last today.  Please do not view this post as some exercise in self-pity.  I am not sad or upset or even embarrassed.  I suppose this might be a form of maturing, to take honest stock of one's actions, the good and not so good.  As I close, I am reminded of one of my newer, favorite quotes from the playwrite, Samuel Becket:

"Ever tried, ever failed, no matter.  Try again, fail again, fail better."

Have a great week everyone.

Best rgs,