Thursday, September 30, 2010

What About the Furry Coach?

When I awake each morning I can look on top of a bookcase in my bedroom and see a football sitting point down atop a heavy crystal flower vase. I think I stuck the football in there simply because it kept rolling off the shelves.

The sight is a wonderful juxtaposition between things that are very dissimilar.

Believe it or not, making observations like that, putting the unlike together, makes us smarter. It causes our brains to have little “aha” moments. Here’s something else that’s kinda wild: when we have moments like that the areas of our brains that light up using a functional MRI are same areas that light up when people use drugs. Our brains love the activity.

Try this: Pick five nouns…any nouns…let’s say….coach, book, steel, telephone and box. Then, pick five more words based on the senses…let’s say….sweet, stinky, furry, screeching, nearsighted. Now…match up the two groups and see what you get.

Furry Coach, Stinky Book, Sweet Steel, Nearsighted Telephone and Screeching Box.

Any of the phrases might have made you smile, even laugh. (The Furry Coach got me ‘cause I know someone like that.)

But, the phrases could be the starting points of ideas that could develop into products, processes, or new ways of doing things.

The simple act of creation is a wonderful human trait and a source of joy for our brains. It makes us smarter.

Try it.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Best or Bum

Are you proud of what you do?

If you had to sign your job, would you?

During tough times there seem to be two attitudes that dominate: First, I’m going to do the best job I can do so I stand out as someone who deserves to be here. Second, I’m going to do as little as possible for the most money I can get because I might be gone tomorrow.

Come to think of it, the tough times deal doesn’t matter…those are the two basic attitudes about work, anytime.

Which are you?

Monday, September 27, 2010

A Classroom for 5-Year Olds

This past weekend my place looked like either a classroom for 5-year olds, or a strategic planning session….and, in a sense, it was both.

I spent the weekend with flipchart pages thumbtacked to walls, taped to the backs of sliding glass patio doors, lying on the floors and tables, and even taped to the refrigerator door.

All the pages contained ideas, plans, areas on which to focus, areas to dump, goals and action steps. I've got drawings that look like a 5-year old drew them; arrows and circles and triangles, smiley and frowny faces, and one monster with a tongue sticking out and cuss words surrounding him.

I try to spend at least one weekend a year planning what the next 12-18 months will be like in my business. The exercise is fun, hard, exhilarating, sad (some of the areas I’m getting out of have been great to me and will mean seeing some good people I like less often), and sobering.

All the mess from the weekend is now boiled down to a few lines on a 3"x5" index card that I keep in my pocket at all times.

The average American spends more time planning their vacation than they do their work life. Lack of planning is why a lot of folks are in dire straits today.

Whether you have your own business or not it’s easy for the craziness and stress of life to pull you off track; this exercise gets you back on the track in the direction you need to go to have the life you want.

Pull out a piece of paper and try a short version of the exercise. Draw a circle in the middle of the paper and inside the circle write, “December 31, 2011.”

Who and where will you be?

Friday, September 24, 2010

A Book In Time

When I walk through a bookstore I feel like I have on Velcro clothes. Books just leap off the shelves and stick to me. I’ve worried that my love of books was a type of addiction. It’s almost impossible for me to walk through a bookstore and not buy a book.

But, I could be addicted to worse things, right?

The other day I was in Barnes and Noble and found 50 Psychology Classics on the bargain table. It’s great! Short, 4-page summaries of books ranging from William James’ The Principles of Psychology (1890) to Daniel Gilbert’s Stumbling on Happiness (2006).

The back of the title page showed me that there is a 50 Self-Help Classics and I’m getting ready to order it from

My trip to B&N also rewarded me with a couple of novels, one of which I’ve finished.

It’s a sad fact that waaaay over half of Americans never read a whole book after they get out of high school/college.

Any successful person will tell you that you must keep feeding your mind if you want to succeed.

I look around my home and think, “So many books, so little time.”

What are you reading?

Have a great weekend. See you Monday.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Are You An Actor?

On Monday and Tuesday nights I recorded some of the TV premiers; NCIS, NCIS: Los Angeles, Lonestar, and I caught some of The Defenders last night.

With the exception of NCIS I didn’t watch any of them all the way through. After about 10-15 minutes I deleted the others and turned The Defenders off.

At least in the short term my actions didn’t matter to the actors (if lots of people aren’t interested the shows won’t last too long).

But, the actors got to do exactly what they wanted to do, act.

Think about it, very few people stumble into acting like some folks stumble into selling, or fixing stuff, or standing at a counter and serving customers.

Acting is tough. You’re putting yourself into a situation in which the audience can quickly reject you if they don’t appreciate what you’re doing. If you are going to succeed as an actor you’ve got to want it….baaaaad.

I like that focus. I might not appreciate the story, characters, or production (went to see George Clooney’s new movie, The American, yesterday and was lukewarm about it), but I truly admire the persistence it takes to be an actor; even a bad actor if they try to stay with it.

Music and musicians are the same as actors in terms of focus, dedication and persistence.

So, think about your media habits like this: You are spending your time listening to and watching people who are doing exactly what they want to be doing in life.

Are you?

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

And Now, In the Starting Position!

What do you think about first thing in the morning?

Does it seem that you wake up with worries of the day on your mind, or are you recalling a pleasant, positive memory?

When most of us wake up our minds are running us...we are not running, or directing, our minds. So, we get what we get and our moods and days reflect that.

What if you had a short, positive ritual that you started every day with?

It could be a prayer, a favorite song you listen to (I'm partial to The Stones'' "Start Me Up" on football Saturdays), a fragrance, a taste, someone you call, a view, a $100 bill; it could be whatever you deem positive.

Millions of people have simple, structured ways to begin their days so they get off to a positive start.

They are directing their minds, not letting their minds direct them.

How'd your day begin?

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

What Will You Learn Today?

Still thinking about sitting on the back deck of the new fraternity house and the realization of a dream

When I thought about all the times I’d imagined the moment on Saturday, and the work that went into making it a reality, I asked myself out loud, “What did you learn from this experience?”

If we don’t learn from our successes…and more so from our mistakes…then we’re fools.

I meet people every day who seem to have stopped learning and growing. And they are content with that.

I’m lost when it comes to those kinds of people.

What did you learn yesterday that can help you today?

Monday, September 20, 2010

40 Years to Reality

Actually seeing the realization of a dream is an incredibly powerful experience.

For decades I’ve dreamed that the fraternity I enjoyed for 40 years would have a home close to the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

At about 5:30 on Saturday afternoon, as I sat on the deck of the new fraternity house—a block from campus, a block from downtown Chapel Hill, and surrounded by three sorority houses—I watched the young guys who are the current members enjoying an after-game party with their girlfriends, families and friends. Music and the sounds of football games on TV floated out the doors and surrounded alumni who were renewing friendships.

A friend pointed out that I should take the time to enjoy the experience before moving on to new challenges. They were right.

Look around you. EVERYTHING you see that is man-made is the manifestation of an idea someone had. EV-ER-Y-THING!

If there is a dream you want to see become a reality you must constantly hold it in front of you and do something every day to make it a reality.

There will come a day when you, too, are able to enjoy watching the celebration party.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Step Up and Take the Hit

I’ve always preached that the best way to deal with procrastination is to put a reward on the other side of the thing you’re putting off and the desire for the reward will pull you through the task.

I still believe that that method works. But, there are some things we put off that are so onerous that there may not be a reward readily available that is big enough to balance the task.

There’s something I have to do that I’ve been putting off and I can’t think of a balancing reward. I’ve tried. Nothing I can think of is helping. And the very grown-up attitude that my life will be better, or I’ll be a better person, sounds pretty hollow.

This morning I came to the realization that I’ve just got to Cowboy Up and do it and keep moving.

Sometimes you simply have to do your duty, or take your whipping, or swallow the medicine.

That’s not a happy thought to end the week and start the weekend with, but there it is.

What have you been putting off that you can’t find a balancing reward for? What is it that you simply need to step up, get it done, and move on?

Have a great weekend. See you Monday.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Cigars or Drums...What's the Choice?

Had dinner last night at a meeting of a great cigar club in Hickory, NC.

Ok, so unwrinkle your nose. The guys were great, the food was good and the cigars were outstanding!

The president of the Carrillo Cigar Company talked about his business and his evolution in the industry.

Ernesto Carrillo, Jr. was a talented Cuban drummer as a young man in Miami and New York in the early '60s but he gave up music to return to Miami to run his father's cigar company.

I asked him if he still played the drums.

He said, "No, music and cigars are very similar. They both take total dedication. I chose cigars."

Increasingly, I'm realizing that my energies are divided among too many things; it's time to focus.

Are you focused or spread too thinly? Do you have the courage to make the type of choice Ernesto made?

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

What Hard Road Are You Travelin'?

Van Morrison’s song, “Someone Like You” has a couple of lines that tend to resonate during difficult times.

“I’ve been travelin’ a hard road,” “I’ve been carryin’ a heavy load.”

When I heard the song the other day those two lines jumped out at me. We often travel those hard roads and carry those heavy loads because of life events, responsibilities we believe we have to take on, or simple chance.

Or, we simply choose the hard road or heavy load. For whatever reason we don’t take the easy way. Some people do it because they don’t know any better. Others choose the difficult path because it’s more of a challenge.

Whatever the reason, the heavier, harder way can wear you down and push you to the point of finally asking, “Isn’t there an easier more positive way to do this?”

Asking the question is a good thing. It’s life’s way of pointing out, “Ok, now you’re ready to learn the lesson.”

What hard road, or heavy load, are you experiencing that….maybe…it’s time to ask, “Is there another way?”

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Hire People Who Play

“Hire people who play at what you have to work at.”

The quote came from a CD I was listening to yesterday. I had a real life example of the strategy this morning.

I have a couple of projects I’m working on and I just can’t get revved up to get them going. But, this morning I thought about them in a little different way and all of a sudden my energy level jumped.

I realized that I didn’t have to do some of what is slowing me down. I can do part of the project to get it going and I can hire someone pretty cheaply to handle some of the more onerous parts.

If you’re running into an obstacle and you can’t hire someone to move it for you you might want to delegate the task, if possible. Or, you could come up with a great reward that you get if you complete the task. Or, you could try to see the task in a different light (ex. You’re doing it to help someone, teach someone, or do it as your good deed of the day).

We all have stuff we need to do but don’t want to do. The key is to do whatever you can to get it close to “Need to do and want to do.”

So, whataya have?

Monday, September 13, 2010

Don't Tell Me You Were Working!

The average American worker is interrupted 6-8 times every hour and it can take 10-20 minutes to get back in the flow of work after an interruption.

Recent research showed that Intel executives received approximately 300 emails a day. Microsoft workers took an average of 24 minutes to get back to work after answering an in-depth email interruption.

Here’s the problem with interruptions; we’re smart people, so handling the interruption is not the problem. The problem is getting back in the flow of work.

Try these suggestions: Rearrange some things on your desk, it sets a new work space. Take a short walk. Drink a glass of water. Go to the bathroom. Listen to a song. Go over a bit of the work you were involved in before the interruption (I find that to be really helpful. It’s almost like getting a running start to get back to work.)

Whatever shortens the amount of time it takes you to get back in the flow is what you need to do.

Friday, September 10, 2010

What Good is Pink Eye?

I’ve had a case of pink eye for about two weeks. It was “impressive” according to the doctor I saw last week and, at this point, has eased off into the “annoying” category.

While I wouldn’t wish anything like this on anyone (except whoever originated the case I have) I will say that I’ve had a couple of life lessons presented to me.

First, we absolutely take some of the most important things in life for granted. Yesterday, while presenting a seminar to 300 people in Greensboro, my eyes started to get squirrely with mucous and I felt like I was looking at them through a dirty window. Like me, you probably take clear vision for granted. Don’t.

Second, there are lots of issues in life that you can’t hurry. I keep thinking that if I could get some stronger medicine this thing would clear up faster. But, would I put stronger medicine in my eyes and take a chance on damaging them? Probably not. Some things take time. Let’em.

I’ve spent so much time lying on the couch and in bed giving myself eye drops (and getting the drops EVERYWHERE BUT IN MY EYES!) that I’ve had time to think about the two lessons related to my pink eye and apply them to other areas of life.

Why don’t you do the same?

What do you take for granted in life? And what are you trying to hurry along that will take its own sweet time?

A weekend is a great time to ponder. Have a good one.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Is It True?

What’s bothering you?

No, I don’t mean that little rock in your shoe or the fact that you dropped a little bit of egg on your shirt this morning. I’m talking about deep down stuff; how you feel about you and others and the world kind of stuff.

Most of us are dealing with some of this stuff in one way or the other. God bless you if you don’t believe you have any of this gunk to deal with.

Byron Katie is a speaker and author who teaches a method of self-inquiry known as "The Work of Byron Katie" or simply as "The Work."

Katie’s method of getting at the tough stuff of life consists of using four questions to find out what’s going on and what you can do about it:
- Is it true?
- Can you absolutely know it’s true?
- How do you react when you believe this thought?
- Who would you be without the thought?

Take one of the difficult issues in your life and run through the questions. Now, do it again with the same issue. And one more time. Using the process a few times starts getting at the deepest issues of what drags you down in life.

What you may realize (and be ready to be surprised) is that a deep worry—a weight you’ve carried for a long time—may be based on an assumption, miscommunication, error in judgment, or mere accident.

The first question is the key: Is it true?

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Are You Just Taking Up Space?

For those of us who run on Old-School schedules today is the first day of the year.

Summer’s over, Labor Day Weekend is done, the next big holiday is Thanksgiving.

What’s on your agenda? What big and small goals do you have on your list?

You say you have nothing on your list?

Then how will you know you’re here? Other than sucking up oxygen and taking up space, how will you know that you’ve lived?

Monday, September 6, 2010

Your #1 Chance to Keep Working

Labor Day Monday.

If you are working today take a moment and give thanks for your job. You might not like it, but you're working...unlike millions of other Americans.

Labor Day was created as a day to honor working Americans.

New studies show that we continue to be some of the most productive workers in the global economy.

However, recent research also shows a rapidly growing gap (income and opportunity) between what I'll call "more knowledge" and "less or no knowledge" jobs. You can forget blue-collar and white-collar jobs. Some of the new opportunities that would have been called blue-collar in the past, jobs on manufacturing lines, require computer skills and a talent for higher-level thinking; knowledge jobs.

If you aren't learning something on a regular basis that helps you in your job you're already falling behind.

In our culture we are still conditioned by the school schedules we and our kids follow to see the fall as a beginning; of the school year, of college football, of new opportunities.

Make this fall the beginning of a new time of learning for yourself.

If you map out a simple plan to learn something new this fall and get back in the habit of challenging your brain cells they won't the the only things with a better chance of working.

Friday, September 3, 2010

What Can You Learn from a Hurricane?

Here in North Carolina it seems that we dodged most of Hurricane Earl.

I’m sure that some of the folks who boarded up windows, drained their waterlines and left the islands are annoyed that they went to all that trouble.

But, if the hurricane had struck and those folks had been safely sitting 100 miles inland they would have been glad they made the efforts.

Recent studies show we do not like to spend time and money preparing for disasters…it’s a gamble, the disaster may not occur. But, we’ll spend lots more money and time cleaning up the mess after the disaster occurs.

Life’s like that. There are usually a few things that, if we invest in them, will pay off down the road. The investments are usually effort, time, money and emotion. The working out/better health connection is one of the easiest to recognize.

It’s a pain, though, to make those sacrifices and too often we don’t want to do it…and we pay for it later.

What’s the line, “Pay me now or pay me later.”

You can’t go back and invest in the past so that it pays off now or in the future. But, you can ask, “What in my life, if I invest now, might pay off in the future?”

If you are working today I hope you’ll end up with Monday off. Have a big weekend and be careful out there.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

What Are You Up To?

Met a 70-year old Maine transplant yesterday who has lived in NC for 20 years.

He talked about how so few people today have goals in life. “It seems like they drift from job to job or interest to interest and don’t have anywhere they’re really going,” he said.

He pointed out that when he was young he set a goal of being a fireman or policeman and he became both in his career.

He said, “If I decide that I’m going to go through that wall over there I’ll do it sooner or later. Might take awhile, but I’ll make it.”

I tend to be a goal-setter so I clicked with his life philosophy, and I thought about what he’d said the rest of the day.

And he’s right.

Most people have vague desires…to be happy, make some money, have good kids. But, they don’t have specific goals. Targets get you moving and help align forces to help you get there.

Our conversation also made me feel a little sheepish. I’ve run into a period of my life in which I don’t have specific goals as I have in the past. I’m really struggling with figuring out what’s next. And that’s rare for me.

Time for me to make some decisions and set some goals.

How about you?