Things I Can’t Stand

I can’t stand this commercial.

It is a sad example of how isolated and disengaged we are becoming due to spending too much time with our heads down in a “Smartphone.” Moreover, it communicates so much more with its depiction of a single female who is clueless to her surroundings. You notice she lives by herself and goes to the park, the store, the dentist and the movies without interacting with other people. Finally, she’s sitting on a park bench and she runs out of data. She sighs, puts her phone down and looks around; this is supposed to be a negative thing.

Running out of data is the best thing that could happen to her!

First, we are becoming a society of zombies with our heads down and disconnected to our surroundings. I see it all around me; sadly, even in my own households at times. Go to any restaurant on any day and you will see a people at dinner, not talking, with their heads down in their Smartphone. At work, the same. People with their Smartphones on the desk, ready for the Pavlovian “ding” to hit; their attention quickly moves away from whoever is talking and down to their phone.

I think this commercial from Microsoft is ludicrous too. Yet, I see people like this everywhere!

I can’t stand coworkers in meetings with their heads in their phones reading emails and I absolutely hate it when coworkers who bring their laptops to meetings and never raise their head to even show that they remotely care about what you have to say. I do not get it. Don’t attend the meeting if you think it is of no value to you. It is far worse to read emails for the hour in front of everyone than skip the discussion altogether.

Second, I can’t stand this commercial because of the message it sends about women. The woman in it is obviously single and her only companion at most times is her Smartphone. I guess that’s all she really needs; her Smartphone and her dog, right? Single, successful professional women with their heads in their Smartphones are the market du jour these days. This is the same demographic that watches Reality TV shows like “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” and is on Facebook 24/7 seeking affirmation and validating each other by “liking” everyone’s postings.

How horrible is that!

There are dozens of articles across the web and in magazines about single women; why they cannot find men and why they are better off. I do not know about you, but I do not think she is “better off.” I think she needs to look up, be present and soak in her surroundings. She may notice that life is happening all around her at all times; heck, she may even get a date.

Like the woman in this commercial, too many of us are not active participants in our own lives. We are voyeurs to others’ lives; watching, comparing ourselves and commenting about them. We waste time and energy reading emails, surfing the web, watching mindless TV and not listening to our family, friends and coworkers.

I can’t stand it.

Modern Jackass

I was out the other day with my wife and one of her best friends. We were planning activities for their joint birthday party; a scavenger hunt and a topic for a future blog post. Anyway, we were all laughing and her friend brought something up about some guy she knew and how full of it he was; Modern Jackass, they both shouted in the car in unison!

For those who do not know what a Modern Jackass is, the NPR show This American Life coined the term to describe “a person who talks expertly about something he/she actually knows nothing about.” We laughed and agreed how he, along with many people we come across in work and life, take one piece of information, fact or data point and talk about it as if they are experts on the subject. We discussed the topic the rest of the afternoon.

Shoot forward to the middle of a work day…. I am having a conversation with a co-worker about a subject that I know more than one fact about, but nonetheless, am no expert on when it struck me; Modern Jackass! Ahhh! I am a Modern Jackass!

It gets worse…

I was Monologuing too! Yes, like Syndrome in The Incredibles (One of my all time favorite movies,) I got on my soapbox and monologue’d about the situation, the problem as I saw it and the people involved. The other person in the discussion did the same and I guess it was cathartic or something. Still, I felt like a jerk.

Two big “fo pas” one should never conduct at work, right there, by me….at the same time! What killed me was how easy it came to drop in default mode, act like an expert due to my position in the company and start talking about stuff I really had not fully researched or understood.

I see this happen every day, all around me and especially in the work world. I have read blogs and articles that point to a general fact that people talk more about things they know the least amount of and this goes hand-in-hand with psychology studies that show people seek out sources of information that support their point of view. My wife is a Social Worker and has said this for years.

Together, these make a righteous pair…

Don’t be a Modern Jackass and do not monologue. Ask questions, more questions and even more questions. Learn the facts before stepping on a soapbox and preaching your self-proclaimed expertise. Your co-workers will think you are an arrogant jerk and all around know-it-all. This is not becoming for anyone. We know it’s true.

Every problem, puzzle or situation has more than one side to the story. It has multiple, complex sides that deal with politics, money, emotions, ego and each person’s personal sense of value. Blogs and career sites across the web tell us to listen more and talk less as an essential quality for career success.

Do not underestimate this poignant fact. Yes, you can know the answer, be direct, kick-ass, take names, make it happen and get it done. But, you won’t have much support from co-workers internally when you screw up…and you will. We all do at one point in our careers and when that day comes, there will be nobody to get your back; they will all be under the bus talking about what a jerk you are etc.

You can see I am monologuing right now…

What direction are you headed?

I have a dear childhood friend who knew the path he wanted to take the minute he graduated college. In fact, his path was set in high school; go to the college your parents attended, join the fraternity your dad was in and follow the career path of the family business. My buddy even married his college sweetheart he met the first week of school as a freshman. 27 years later, he is still going strong down the same road.

I used to envy him. He had everything so well figured out. He never feared a thing because he knew the direction he was headed. It did not matter if it was a well worn path that his dad and other members of his family took or that it was one of least resistance, creativity or excitement. He looked ahead and never back. I truly respect him for that.

I, on the other hand, have taken a “road less traveled.” My path has been one of ups and downs, lefts and rights and sometimes I have had to move in reverse and change direction altogether. It has been exciting and frustrating all at the same time. I have made great money in lousy jobs and have been underpaid in roles I loved. I have quit, been fired and have been recruited away. I have been a “road warrior” and a desk jockey and everything in between. My path was not predetermined for me; parts were well worn by some and others I forged on my own.

When I was interviewing with the CEO of the company I work for today, he asked me a question that forced me to look back and comment. Did I have regrets? Did I wish I had turned right instead of left? Did I make a mistake exiting one lane too soon and not staying on the road longer? Maybe I would have moved up the mountain faster, higher and found what I was looking for all along.

Maybe… Who knows… To paraphrase a comment I have read; life is about choice.

We are the sum of our choices and most of them are made for us. You can’t choose when you’re born. You can’t choose where you’re born. You can’t choose your family. However, you can choose your work in the world and the path you take. Careers are made by results and relationships. Whichever direction you take, always deliver. Do what you say and say what you do. Enjoy the scenery, forge professional and personal relationships and nurture them. You always need your network when you least expect it.

Your career goes by fast and it will surprise you when you least expect it. Somewhere along my trek, I discovered my strengths and everything changed. Like a rookie NFL quarterback who finally sees the game slow, I saw it too. I thought Marketing was my calling, that is, until I discovered my skills for Operations and “fixing problems.” It started by turning around a handful of struggling teams, then a division or two and finally a small company.

It was easy and fun; I was hooked. I was an “Ops guy.” Go figure…

Did I have regrets? Yes. There is no question that I have second guessed my career navigating numerous times. I told him so. Yet, I have to honor the path and the lessons learned. I have gained tremendous knowledge and insight throughout my career and somewhere I stopped living in fear and started seeing the whole field.

Careers never stop changing and growing. They evolve and morph and are the sum of the choices we make. My career is not unlike that of my friend. It may have had a few more bends, curves and hills to climb, but is mine and still going strong.

What are you great at?

What are you great at?

I asked it dozens of times over the last four months to prospective job candidates. Not a typical interview question, yes. Still, I was surprised that I received only one thoughful answer. Most candidates were stumped and recited phrases from the job description; verbatim. Others told me what they thought I wanted to hear. A few, had no idea.

The struggling economy is creating fewer quality jobs; that is a fact. So, the job market is hyper-competitive for choice positions. I had a great one to fill and I figured I would be able to get top talent. I eventually hired what looks to be a tremendous person. Time will tell. Still, this is not about him. It is about the nameless herd who wanted my new job, but could not get passed “go.”

We want to like our jobs. We want to be fullfilled with our work in the world. Yet, all too often, we hate it. We find ourselves running away from a _______________ (insert job, company, relationship etc.) instead of moving towards one. In the sprint, we do not stop and think where we are going; we just want to get away from the present or past as fast as possible. So we hit “repeat” and end up back where we started. Once the excitement and “new car smell” of the position goes away, the emptiness creeps back in; we get bored, stagnant, unhappy and feel lost.

Why? …because we seek our work to provide fulfillment or happiness that it is incapable of delivering.

Now, if you think being great is about following your “passion.” You are wrong. Self-help career books, blogs and other online peddlers of “tips and tricks” for getting what you want are full of bullsh*t. The truth; only a lucky few pursue their passion AND make a good living at it. The reality is that doing what we love is not the goal. Doing what we are great at is what we all should aspire to achieve. The old adage about catering to your strengths holds true.

Your work in the world should be about the value you bring and how you can make an immediate and positive impact. Nothing else matters. We are all great at something. The question is can you make a living doing it? There is no wrong answer. If you can, wonderful. If you can’t, no worries. It does not matter. You are not your job and it is not you. Recruiters and hiring managers know that. They want to know what you are great at. Candidates who can clearly tell and show them what they are great at…and more importantlt how that relates to the job, get it.

When do you know you are great at something in work?

When it becomes automatic for you; it is that thing you do that comes easy. The speed of the game slows and you see the whole field right in front of you. You are “wired that way” and you cannot help yourself. It skews your perspective because you can do it, see it, fix it, change it, play it etc. with ease while others around you struggle to get the basics. If you can figure that “thing” out, everything else will be easy.

What if you are great at something that you cannot make a living at?

Then it may be your passion instead and is that something that keeps you sane, happy and “charges your batteries.” Your work in the world becomes secondary to your passion or greatness. Plenty of people pursue their passion while working a day-job to pay the bills. Either way, knowing what you are great at makes you stand out from the crowd; you are taller, stronger and more confident.

So, what does this have to do with getting a job? Easy. Figure out what you are great at and draw upon it for your work in the world. If you are great at relationship building or helping others, pursue roles that leverage your strengths. The probability of you being great in those jobs is high and your professional satisfaction will be higher. More importantly, once you figure it out, you can network and show others and link it to the job you want. If you can see why the position you want needs someone like you and are able to communicate that, you will tower above all the others wanting the same role.

So, what are you great at?


Young Josh: “I wish I were big.”

In the 1988 movie, “Big,” Tom Hanks plays a 13 year-old boy, Josh Baskin, who goes to a fortune-telling machine called Zoltar Speaks and wishes that he were “big.” The next day, He wakes up as a 30 year-old man; he looks big, but is still the naïve teenager inside.

Most growing companies are like Josh Baskin. They wish they were big too so they can get all the spoils of growth, prosperity and abundance the big companies have; just not with the bureaucracy and politics. When resources are tight (as in all small companies,) projecting size and acting big is achieved not by adding people first, but through implementing technology and process. People will follow.

I once led a team of 10 Field Managers who supported 65 customer locations with 150 remote systems across the US. Each manager was in charge of implementing, training and servicing customers. We were a high-performing, cross-trained team that looked like Tom Hanks but possessed Josh Baskin inside. How did we act “big?” By leveraging free technologies and built support systems with partners to blanket our customer base and provide exceptional service. Tools and processes that companies of any size can use to run fast, be nimble and maximize resources.

Remote Connectivity applications (i.e. GoToMyPC) to create a scalable “hub & spoke” infrastructure allowing every manager instant access to each system in seconds.

Instant Chat software (i.e. Gmail Chat) to quickly communicate between each other; problem solve and identify immediate ownership for the issue.

Web-base Call Forwarding and 3rd Party Answering Services to provide 24 hr. Tier I support for all customers. We combined these with processes for scheduling, prioritization and accountability which powered us to resolve customer issues quickly.

Select Partners to extend our reach when we could not physically be onsite in less than 24 hrs. Not all problems were software based; sometimes hardware repair or replacement was required. Working with trusted partners allowed us be “onsite” when we were unable to be there.

The sum of the parts was greater than each individually and the results proved so. We won the award for Best Customer Service in our field of specialty by a Consumer Reports-like organization that serviced our industry. The big companies we competed against were large and slow. We were lean and fast; but to our customers, we were “big.” They just did not know that Josh Baskin was inside.

How Does Your Company Make Money?

Do you know how your company makes money?

A few years ago, I found a small book publishing business for sale. The author had written and published numerous books and now wanted to sell his business so he could concentrate only on writing. Having no experience in this business prompted me to meet him and learn more. So, I dove into his financials and discovered a world of publishing exepenses, stocking fees, inventory costs and even “payola” with the large booksellers. However, what I really found out was how he made money.

He thought he sold books through retail channels. In actuality, he made money creating small “quotable” books for large private institutions, organizations and universities for distribution to members and alumni. Forget the books he sold at Borders or Barnes & Noble. He made his money, 75% of gross revenue, on one simple product that accounted for less than 20% of his overall expenses. The majority of his overhead, costs and debt were tied up in a retail distribution model that lost money.

Most businesses begin with a narrow and deep focus; deliver a specific service, sell a simple product, create a singular customer experience that stands out from the crowd and provides value. It brings them success, growth and profit….and somewhere down the line, they forget where they make money. They acquire customers who want things customized. They offer new services that have nothing to do with their core competencies. They sell new products their customers do not want and they dilute the customer experience with too much complexity. All of this requires added resources; more space, more infrastructure, more people and more co$t.

This is usually the point where the new CFO comes in and pulls the curtain down and shows everyone that 80% of revenue STILL comes from the original service, product and customer experience which accounts for 40% of expenses. Sometimes it is more obvious; 80% of revenues come from the top 20% of customers. All of the other customers and “stuff” add no value and often, destroy it. So, they shrink; fire customers who cost more than they bring in, “de-layer” organizational structure (i.e. layoffs,) shutter products and sell non-performing assets…only to start over again.

High-performing businesses rarely take their “eye off the ball.” They align every individual, resource and activity together and focus them all on that one key notion; where do we make our money.

The Analysis Paralysis Conundrum

In business, we have more information at our fingertips than ever before in today’s connected world.  The vast array of analytical tools, spreadsheets, databases, customer surveys, consumer polls, point of sale systems etc. give us more data than we could ever need to make the basic of business decisions.  Should we turn left?  Should we move straight?  Do we sell X?  Do we charge Y?  What is our next move? 

Yet, with so much analysis at hand, why do so many smart business people sink in their own quantitative assessments?  You see it every day in businesses across the country; big, small, hi-tech, low-tech, industrial, commercial etc.  It does not matter.  When the decision is not obvious or easy to make, fear sets in and we analyze again, and again, and again…

I have seen the smartest and sharpest leaders scared straight by the lack of an obvious, “no brainer”  decision when the analysis showed nothing.  DO IT AGAIN!  That is the strategy.  We test again, recalculate again, let the “pilot” continue longer and never “pull the trigger.”  Making business decisions are far clearer when analysis is not viewed as THE answer, but a means to get to it.  One must break it down every situation by its core components; people, process, technology.  Analysis will almost always reveal that one of these is the leading edge of the right answer. 

Do I get closer to my customers by implementing a CRM solution? (Technology)  

Do I reduce costs by consolidating duplication of work? (Process)

Do I fire my customers who cost me money and reallocate my resources around ones who do? (People)

Do I build my Client Services team around my clients who make me money? (People | Process | Technology)

Often, the right answers require a little analysis and a lot of focus on what is important.