Archives for July 2013

Time:Life’s Great Equalizer & The Great Suck of Meetings

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If I were to write a list of the the top 5 things in life I value, TIME would be on that list.

Time does not care if you have 5 million dollars in the bank, or $50.  Time doesn’t see your race, gender or ethnicity, introverted or extroverted.

Few things in business are “visibly agnostic” to what shapes opinions every day.  Everybody has a fixed amount of time

  • 24 hours in a day
  • 168 hours in a week.  Actually, I believe most people need 7-8 hours of sleep and this “off the table”, so let’s call it 112 hours a week.

If you’re like me……you start going down to minutes and counting up lost ROI of a minute.  Worth noting:

In DISC profile personality measurement speak, I’m 100% “D” (Dominance factor).  I’ve seen many “high D’s” on the profile score, but 100% D is not common.  This means that TIME is my most significant measuring stick.  It screams throughout this blog and in my life, people that don’t understand this sometimes struggle to connect, and I’ve written about it multiple times.

People are strange creatures, the 100% D’s are certainly tops of the list.  If you don’t have a “User’s manual” on your team, I would consider this job #1.

Time obsessed people tend to think that the “non-obsessed” are too cavalier with other people’s time.  That really is not fair, but is often the case.

One of the giant TIME SUCKS for people in the business world?  MEETINGS.

Meetings have a negative, well deserved connotation.  I’ve seen more than my share of finger pointing, tangents, and also some hearty belly laughs to understand how quick things can get off topic.  But if I could boil it all down to a simple “bucket” of time wasters, it’s this:

The MISSING, magical, ONE PAGE DOCUMENT that keeps people focused.  Not an agenda, which often comes to mind.  I think of it as an ACTION Document.  

Key Elements For Action Document

  • What is the problem?
  • Historical Context? (less than 3 lines, history is rarely critical but usually enlightening).  These 2 bullets should consume no more than 25% of page, MAX.
  • How do we propose fixing it?
  • How long will it take?  (Key milestones, achieved by WHO, what additional resources are needed?).  Some this the “project plan”
  • What’s the cost, but more importantly the ROI?
  • How do we measure the solution?

There is magic in 1 page.  It’s OLD SCHOOL, it’s painfully simple, and it works.  Just like the cocktail napkin, or the Flash Card or multi-colored pen, simplicity wins.

Why 1 page?  When there is no constraint on problem/solution thinking, what you will get is endless communication that strays from the topic at hand.

The key is to force people to be focused & prepared with the Action document BEFORE the meeting to work through a position.  This will not only save time; it will DEVELOP PEOPLE in the process.

Too often people are hesitant to work through an issue from A to Z and are more comfortable doing it in the meeting setting.  Every time I’ve seen this happen, I see lost productivity and less than ideal problem solving.

Lots of reasons drive people’s hesitancy to show up with the ACTION document.  Fear, lack of experience with the issue, etc.  Whatever the reason, if you force people to team up and problem solve in small groups, you will knock down all the barriers people create for themselves.

Meetings can be great opportunities to showcase talent, but they need to be structured against problem/solution/ROI, not a struggle to define the problem, as most meetings are.

Stick to the Action document and the meeting will be comprehensive to solutions and the future.

This gives the meeting leader, (the owner of the Action document) the greatest opportunity to shine and develop.

That should always be tops on the leader’s agenda.


From Lessons of Moneyball……”What’s the problem?”…..

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When $114 MILLION is Chump Change

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A-Rod & Cashman, a Saga of Bad Terminations

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The A-Rod Saga.  Once a surefire hall of  famer, now the poster child for a circus in sports.  It’s painful to watch, and must be more painful to be on the team.  $114mm left on the worst contract signing in sports history (with the benefit of hindsight of course).  I wrote in February 3 options for Yankees Management to deal with this saga.  Surprisingly, they didn’t listen!

You have to wonder, when does a massive sum of money, even $114mm become irrelevant?

Said another way, when do you know you are better off saying good-bye, even if it means EATING the cost?

Some sure-fire signs you’re better off parting ways….

  • When the cost of paying it (and keeping the player) is  less than the negative consequences of KEEPING the employee

  • When the intangible “value” of the brand is far greater than the cost of maintaining a contract

  • When the economic value and/or cash flow generated of franchise  is far greater than the contract at hand

  • When eliminating the contract (eating it) re-enforces “what’s right.”  The moral high grand.  A principled stand on values that are non-negotiable.  Can you put a price tag on your organizational values?

  • When removing a contract becomes the equivalent of removing 20lb ankle weights for a team running a marathon.

Substitute “contract” with “salary” to apply the A-Rod Yankees saga to any difficult employee situation.

Leaders need to be concerned about $’s and cents.  But they need to be MORE concerned when $’s and Cents trump what makes broader organizational SENSE.

No one individual trumps the greater good of the organization.  Or the Team.

Individuals matter.  Sometimes, in the case of the highest price individual, their cost is far greater than what the contract reads.

Superstars, by definition carry risk.  They can take you to a championship.  They can also take you down.  Thinking through worst case scenario before bringing superstars on is smart planning.

If you can stomach worst case scenario and have a plan to deal with it should it unfold, jump in!  If this scenario unfolding makes you ill, think twice!
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Charisma: A Dangerous Word in Leadership

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Charisma is a celebrated characteristic in society.  If you have Charisma, you have the makings of a leader, someone with the ability to influence (so they say…) Type “Charismatic Leader” into Google images and you’ll see many familiar faces.

  • I think of Steve Jobs, especially after coming back to Apple and saving them from extinction
  • JFK- For his boldness of declaring we will land a man on the moon
  • Howard Shultz – A guy that grew up in the projects in NYC, than built one of the great brands in our country’s history
  • Martin Luther King Jr. – The courage, impact on society, and sheer guts.  Any “top figure list” in our country’s history has to include MLK.

So now back to CHARISMA in the context of Leadership.

Charisma is a flat out dangerous word in business, particularly when it comes to selecting talent for key roles.

“We need a leader like her, she has charisma!”

Maybe you don’t hear it directly, but it’s often in the back of the decision maker’s minds as they evaluate and select talent.  It’s a trait that is highly influential, and at times, borderline irrelevant.

Why?  If Leadership were a product, than charisma is the Packaging.

Top Design Mag, 15 great examples of packaging design

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For a consumer products marketer, I can attest to the critical nature of packaging.  It can make a break a product’s chances to generate sales and stand out from the competition.  Bad packaging will hurt sales and vice versa.  Of course, the product itself certainly needs to deliver against expectations for long term success.

Leadership is different.  The flair/slick packaging of charisma is no doubt a surface level benefit.  Don’t misunderstand me, if you had a choice, you would rather have charisma than not have it.

The danger comes when organizations EQUATE charisma with effective leadership, making them one and the same.

There’s an axiom that is taught in all Stats 101 classes:

Correlation does not imply CAUSATION

Two things that move in the same direction do not mean they cause each other.

An easy way to illustrate the danger of equating charisma with effective leadership?

Think of the term:  “Empty Suit.”  No substance, all style.

Many have experienced the flashy, dare I say “charismatic” leaders but couldn’t seem to get things done.  They are great at creating hot air, poor at generating results and earning respect of the people they are there to lead.  While they fill a room with hot air, they are actually sucking the oxygen out of an organization.

Effective leadership is not style; it is about a deep CONNECTION with people, and the influence of people to generate real business results.

Results are what matter and they are generated with people.

Charisma can certainly be an enabler.  It can also be the slick packaging behind a product with little substance.

Jim Collins got it right in his classic Good to Great, describing Level 5 Leadership.

Jim Collins Good To Great

He defined a Level 5 leader as an executive in whom genuine personal humility blends with intense professional will.  Not the larger than life figures you think of when you think of great leaders.

Get beyond the packaging when looking for effective leaders.

Find Leaders willing to Get Dirt Under the Nails.

They are the ones that will earn respect of people, and results always follow.

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A Simple Primer on Organizational Culture

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“Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”   Peter Drucker

That mystical word, which according to Wikipedia is defined as:

Organizational culture is the behavior of humans who are part of an organization and the meanings that the people attach to their actions. Culture includes the organization values, visions, norms, working language, systems, symbols, beliefs and habits. It is also the pattern of such collective behaviors and assumptions that are taught to new organizational members as a way of perceiving, and even thinking and feeling. Organizational culture affects the way people and groups interact with each other, with clients, and with stakeholders.

Old School translation?:  

What’s acceptable behavior & what is not.  All in the context of achieving business results.

There may be no better explanation of “culture” and its impact on acceptable human behavior than a classic scene from the hit comedy series FRIENDS.  Can you think of a closer group of friends than this crew?  It seemed like nothing was off limits for these guys & Gals.  Except when Chandler brought home something that happened in his office:  The Butt Slap, by the boss.  Yes, his boss gave his signature sign of approval on Chandler’s first day on the job.  And he was shocked.  Then his Friends were shocked.

Take a look.

There’s a catch here however.  This was NOT shocking behavior in Chandler’s office.  It was appropriate behavior.  Check that, it was TREASURED.

If this behavior is odd and off limits for this closest group of Friends, where anything goes, how could it be treasured in his office?  Simple.  CULTURE.

Here you will see how Culture makes the difference…..

An extreme example, YES.  But make no mistake:

Culture is a powerful force for deciding how people play together as they try and win the game.

Culture matters.  It can cause even the closest group of friends to look at an office (from the outside looking in) and proclaim what goes on is well, “CRAZY!”

Want to build a competitive advantage?

Then work hard on defining what you want your culture to be.  Build a culture in the context of the business goals and VALUES.

  • Get the VALUES (behaviors) on paper.
  • Celebrate when they are embraced and demonstrated.
  • Root out the cultural miss-fits if they can’t fit in after coaching.
  • Don’t hire a cultural miss-fit.
    • Get multiple people to weigh in before hiring.  Take your time.  Skills are easier to assess than Cultural fit, you need to see them over a series of conversations…..

When a “cultural fit” is not there, you are enduring ankle weights on the person, and more importantly, your business.

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Beware of Self-imposed Roadblocks

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This week we capped off a long, 4 day meeting with dinner:  7 people around a table from both Marketing & R&D.  Everyone was tired, but also energized after making great progress laying out a foundation for future growth.

The dinner can be summed up with the following Pic.

Drinks and the "no business talk" money pot

Pretty basic, a couple of drinks and a few $ bills.  What’s so special about that?

The picture signified the night’s ground rule:

Talk business, and you put a $1 in the pot.  No Shop Talk!  $’s would get donated to charity.

Roadblock:  Shop talk off limits

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In other words, let’s leave the business behind for the evening.  The first 30 minutes I think we filled it with $3 or $4 bucks, minor slip ups, but the business found its way back in the conversation.  The pot however was working, all 7 of us made a concerted effort to avoid shop talk after the $’s started to mount and the “Gotcha’s” were penalized, even cheered.

Then something impressive happened.  One of our R&D managers reached into his pocket, pulled out a $10 bill and slapped it into the pot, with authority!  “I don’t care; I’m buying some shop talk!”  He proceeded to discuss with his teammate/partner an idea that’s been percolating for months, an idea they are both passionate on and won’t let go….

  • “It’s big, innovative, not out there, minimal risk!  What do we need to do to get traction?  How can we move forward?  When?  What’s it all look like?  We can balance it, not let it consume us” etc. 

How do you NOT admire PASSION that just doesn’t seem to die?

I still don’t know if the idea itself has any commercial potential that makes the energy worthwhile, and to be honest, it does not matter.

What DOES matter?  People.  Their passion.  Their drive to take risks, get things done and rally people around a future idea that can pay dividends.

The fancy word for advocates and leaders behind ideas?  CHAMPIONS.

Champions tend to be different from your average person.  They have a spark and drive to accelerate results, make things around them better, and usually have fun in the process.  Champions are worth celebrating, for their passion alone.  They are force multipliers in organizations.

Champions find a way over roadblocks, even when you deliberately put one up in front of them.

The other simple learning of the night?

Having a penalty pot for not talking shop certainly has its purpose.  It can force people to get to know each other on a more personal level, and that has huge value.

But let’s be real:  If you believe that magic can happen around the cocktail napkin for your business, don’t put up roadblocks around topics your people are there for in the first place.  It makes it hard for people to shine when there are roadblocks established.

Not everyone is comfortable breaking rules.  In fact, most people will play by them.  

Leaders have basic roles:  Bring people together.  Remove roadblocks.  Create an environment where ALL people want to contribute.

Thankfully, Champions find a way to jump OVER roadblocks, even when self-imposed.


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Taking Your Digital Relationships to the Real World

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A strange thing happens when you know someone only “digitally” and then you finally meet ITRW (in the real world):  You affirm or deny that the person you know on-line holds up closely to how you view them from cyber space.  Depending on which, you very well may enjoy your relationship that much more.  I have now met a few people ITRW where we started out as digital contacts.  In every case I’ve thought “wish I met them sooner!”  Unfortunately, I can only count these instances on 1 hand.

This past week my family, (both home and work families) had the pleasure of meeting Steve Johnson and Tina Walker.  They are a fabulous couple that are 2 months into a cross country road trip on 2 motorcycles.  You can follow their adventure @  My family got to know them personally, and my team at work was enlightened by their story and profession as well.

Their story is unique, their personalities opposite, and the memories will certainly last a while.  A digital relationship that was one on one, touched over 20 people ITRW, and hopefully that will continue for a handful of people.

3 Simple Thoughts For Taking Relationships to Real World

  1. If you can, do it at home, over casual food.  We had a simple BBQ and a bottle of Vino.  Something about simple food, lots of it and a great adult beverage to get to know someone, in a relaxed environment.  It’s my Italian bias coming out.  Second choice would be coffee.

  2. Take plenty of pictures.  Enjoy the moment.

  3. Set a goal to meet more of your on-line contacts ITRW.

There’s only so much 140 characters can do.

I’ve made a mental list of who I’d like to meet over time…

I welcome others to put me on theirs as well.  Worst comes to worst, you will eat well.

Life is short.  Relationships are what make it special.  No substitute for the Real World.


Kawasaki Ninja

Dominic on Tina’s Ninja & Helmet, Hope waiting for her turn with Grandma

Tina Walker and Steve Johnson @ Monogram Foods

Steve Johnson & Tina Walker @ Monogram’s Support Center/HQ

Monogram Foods

Steve, Tina & I @ Monogram Foods

Monogram Foods & Launchpad

Steve &Tina With Monogram’s Marketing Team, in The Launchpad

mkt team attit 2

Steve &Tina With Monogram’s Marketing Team, but with attitude!

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A World-Class Teacher Disguised as Investment Guru: Jim Cramer

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Jim Cramer Mad Money

Don’t be fooled by Jim Cramer’s “antics.”  This guy is an educating powerhouse, and he proves it on his Mad Money program nightly.  He’s a classic American Success story, a couple links below are attached to 2 of my favorite videos, his childhood stock obsession and what he learned by living in his car for 6 months.

It may be difficult to relate to a world class investor, but we can ALL relate to childhood memories and classic struggles.  And we can learn from those lessons, so enjoy.

School of Hard Knocks

  • A 4th grade obsession of keeping a stock ledger.  Measuring matters to get a feeling for ups & downs.  Get started Early!
  • As a vendor @ veterans stadium – The value of Market power/share, paying his peers NOT to sell ice cream against him.
  • Sounds like the outdated 4P’s of Marketing Model
  • The false intimacy of nicknames, getting attention and standing out

“I never quit saving.  How poor was I, yet I still put away money.”

  • He saved, even while living in a car for 6 months.
  • Got mono and jaundice liver, & still put $’s away….in the Fidelity Magellan fund
  • Resiliency – He kept every single college rejection letter in his trunk

Cramer’s Childhood Stock Obsession

What I learned  from Living in My Car


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A Twitter Anniversary on America’s Birthday

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I came across an interesting article about downloading your twitter archives, and viewing your first tweet, so I thought:  “That may be fun to look at on a day off.”

First surprise:  Independence day of 2011 marks the anniversary of my first tweet.  I had to hold back the sentimental tears.

First Tweet:  7/4/11

Happy Birthday America! Land of the free, where people start businesses, pursue their dreams, and tweet in peace!  No place like the USA…

I ran through my first month on twitter, July 2011.  Other observations?:

  1. Not much has changed.  My first month on twitter had nearly identical topics as today, 10,000+ tweets later
  2. Twitter clearly was the ground floor of the themes on this blog……


I laughed at some of these 2011 tweets, cringed at others, also surprised at a couple of observations from left field that turned out to be true.  I’ve pasted in a representative sample of my first month, typos and bad spelling included, and grouped them by category I tweet about.  Try downloading yours, it will be fun!

Business Principles: (Later to be marked by favorite Hashtags:  #Hustle #Optimism #Leadership, and later evolved into HustleorBust)

  • The second half of 2011 is now 4 days old…good time to review your goals and progress, make sure youre at least half way there.
  • Wonder how many people say:  “TGIM”:  Thank God its Monday!  LIfe’s too short for this not to be your goal.  Make it a great week.
  • It still amazes me, the best advice I ever recieved is rarely followed, especially by those that want to get ahead in life: “Start Early!  “
  • Friday is the best day of the week to open new doors….people start day dreaming, hustle is not high enough as weekend nears.
  • If your weeks game plan is not built Sunday evening, than you just need to #hustle a bit more Monday am.  Have a great week.
  • Its hard, but getting a workout in, a stop @starbucks and at the desk at 6am is the best legal headstart on the chase.  #motivation


Ideas & Shout-outs

  • 2 birds w/ 1 stone: 55 minutes on treadmill while listening to a podcast featuring @HarveyMackay. IPOD nano is awesome, great content better
  • Still the best daily read for consumer products and retail pros @KevinCoupe
  • @barefoot_exec love your story, just watched your videos.  Admire the impact you have made, especially with a child w/ special needs!

Big Picture Ideas,  Observations & Criticisms

  • Unemployment still over 9 pct.  Wonder if the days of 3 percent are long gone?  Thoughts?
  • Here’s an idea. Eliminate interest tx deduction. Discourage excessive debt and apply tax code mre evenly against consumption, not debt
  • Another idea. Allow grads to deduct student loan debt on taxes. This is requirement for country to compete, and kids have massive debt.
  • Moody’s reviewing US debt for possible downgrade, same geniuses rating sub prime mortgage backed securities AAA helping to start this mess
  • The “elusion of exclusivity” creates demand, #google played their #google+ launch smart. Witnessed multiple people celebrate their invite.
  • Amazed at the growth + size of #groupon.The economics work great for them, but I don’t understand how its sustainable for their customers.
  • Probably late noticing a hot #trend, seems like there is a self serve frozen yogurt shop on every corner, all have edgy #brands
  • #RIMM with its rock solid balance sheet, golden brand name and what seems to be unresponsive mgt, Looks like a case study for #HBR.
  • I’m not a financial wiz, but the #aapl balance sheet and p&l are mind boggling.  #Design + #Brand + constant pipeline = wealth creation

Attempt @ Wit & Humor

  • Wondering the % of #memphis population that is from #nj + #italian?  My guess is less than 2%.  Endangered species this would make me.
  • Call me old school but a pool at a ball parking is a bit much.

The Yankees

  • Would have been nice for the Core 4 to celebrate DJ 3K.  Instead you had the key 3.
  • The Yankee captain had a day for the ages!  @newyorkpost Report: Jeter is master of the dramatic –
  • A great moment:  @RobinsonCano lifting his home run derby trophy up with his father. You don’t need to be a Yankee fan to love that sight.

By far, the most fun is engaging with like-minded people vs broadcasting a thought.  Something about the simple thrill of sparking or jumping into a chat…

hustle or bust.  God bless America


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