Time for Tough Questions

One of the things that is exciting for some of us about this virus that has completely upended our lives, is how it has forced us to ask questions. I’m a big believer in asking questions, among other things, and I appreciate that we’ve all been stopped in our tracks to really consider some of the finer points about how we’re living and working. Asking questions is interesting because they can lead you to other questions, to consider things you’ve never thought about, and sometimes they help you realize that you had it right all along.

As much as we stop at the beginning/end of a year or on our birthdays to consider how the past year has gone and what we want from the year ahead, I don’t think that most of us really take the time to invest in it to the depth that we have with this virus either personally or professionally. No, asking questions and taking time to consider doesn’t mean that you have to do a full stop on life or work. Just like you would never stop eating for an extended period of time until you’ve reconsidered and decided on a new diet, or you wouldn’t stop sleeping (or trying to sleep) just because you can’t find a pillow that really works for you, asking questions doesn’t mean everything has to stop.

So here we are, with many of us at a full stop, and others of us knowing that at some point in time when the craziness settles down it will be necessary to ask some tough questions. Questions about why we’ve always done things a certain way, or why we didn’t think of that in the past, or why we weren’t prepared, or what we could have done better; tough questions that don’t necessarily have easy or immediate answers. These are also questions that can help us all lead a better life going forward, a life that is more considerate of each other and our impact on each other.

It’s time to get out the hard questions like what do we really want out of life, are we really investing in the people that mean the most to us, are we living and working in ways that make the most sense for us and the planet, what is the best use of our time and resources, how can we support each other better, how can we better protect each other, and do I have enough fun in my life? Maybe they’re not new questions to you, but I hope that you’re thinking on them a little more seriously than you might usually. What questions has this virus prompted you to ask?

Art, Stories and Love

Our world is going through a profound period of loss right now, including many legendary people, too many to give proper homage to all of them. But this week the world lost one of my personal favorites, someone that I’ve loved since I was a child: Tomie dePaola. He was an incredible writer and illustrator of children’s books, over 260 of them. One of the things I love about his work is that he brought to life so many incredible cultural stories including “Legend of the Indian Paintbrush,” “The Quilt Story,” “Legend of the Pointsettia,” and “Night of Las Posadas.” He also ventured into challenging topics such as getting old and death that are things that children struggle to comprehend. I’m thankful for the many words, images and stories that Tomie told throughout his life, and my life is richer because I read his stories.

One of the themes that’s consistent throughout his work is that he included hearts in his book and signed his first name with a heart. Regardless of the holidays you celebrate, the culture you connect with, or the stories that resonate with you, we can all connect with the idea of love. Love connects us with invisible bonds that can stand the test of time, and become unbreakable when we truly tend to them.

In this difficult time we’re facing it’s giving many of us the opportunity to strengthen our love bonds. My partner and I were saying the other day that there’s no one we’d rather face this with than each other. I hate that the tragic events of the past few months (starting with the crash of Kobe Bryant and 8 others in January and continuing with this virus) have been the motivations behind encouraging not just my family but other families around the US to get better connected and share their love with each other in whatever ways we can. Yes, science and caring for our communities will help us get through this challenge and all others we face in the future, but what will make the difference between thriving in the future and being scarred enough to be held back will be love.

We can’t bring the thousands of people that we’ve lost to the virus or other causes back to life, but we can choose what we do with our futures. The world needs more people like Tomie dePaola to share stories and love, and their unique gifts with the world. Each of us has a talent or contribution to make, and it’s easier than ever to do so thanks to the internet and availability of other resources. While you’re home and the world is recovering, I encourage both you and your kids to share some love with the world. Maybe that means doing some planting in your yard to care for the earth and cheer up your neighbors. Maybe that means posting pictures of creative drawings and art projects on social media to spread smiles. Maybe that means baking food for a first responder. Maybe that means doing tons of reading and learning so that you can help rebuild our world. Maybe it means telling someone that you’re thankful for them. Maybe that means being a good listener and being supportive to someone who’s struggling right now. Maybe it means writing down the stories you want shared with future generations.

What stories (whose stories) are you thankful for?

Success with Dr Seuss

This week we celebrate the birthday of one of the most unique and successful authors, Theodor Geisel, or Dr. Seuss. He’s one of the many authors I was raised on, and is one of the few authors that has survived the test of time and his stories are still being read to children today. Today I thought we’d take a look at some wisdom for business owners and entrepreneurs from Dr. Seuss.

Dr. Seuss is well known for his rather unique and crazy stories. Many have a plot that is easy to follow along with, many have a very educational purpose to them, and many of them have a lyrical quality to the words that makes it not only entertaining, but also memorable. The first key to his success was in choosing story telling. Story telling is something that people have done practically forever, and is something we’ll continue to do, in both life and marking. The second key to his career success was in how unique yet appealing his stories and story telling style were. They weren’t so strange and different that they didn’t fit in with what people could understand or be interested in, but they were different enough to stand out. The third key was the lessons told through the stories. Yes, entertainment for entertainment’s sake has a purpose, but when you create entertainment with educational and lasting value, you greatly increase your chances of success and longevity.

So Dr. Seuss started with these stories that were memorable, readable, educational and unique, and it built from there. One of the big keys to staying a success in business is to knowing what to do next. Dr. Seuss continued to publish books throughout his life (doing what he did best), but added to that with getting those books onto TV specials and series, feature films, and Broadway musicals. If that wasn’t success and recognition enough, he also won awards for two of his books, and in celebration of his life, a day was named in his honor: National Read Across America Day on March 2, his birthday. No, not all of these are appropriate for every business to try, but every business should be able to find a way to connect with people outside of their core product/service, raising both awareness of their core offering as well as create new revenue streams.

One final insight I’ll add from recently reading over some of the quotes and books that Dr. Seuss wrote or said, is that he really worked hard to keep it positive. Yes, he often raised serious issues or problems in his stories (Christmas being stolen or the destruction of habitat), but along with that he showed that if we so choose we can very often turn things around. Dr. Seuss showed great belief in each of his characters, and that can also instill in the reader a sense of confidence and capability as well. One of the greatest things you can do as a leader is to show believe in your employees, support and cheer for your employees, show respect and consideration for the customers and clients you work with and the other businesses that you share the world with.

Dr. Seuss lived through some seriously challenging times and talked about some serious topics in his stories. Life, and business, isn’t all happy, perfect, easy or predictable/dull. There are adventures to be had, excitement to be shared, celebrations to throw, creativity to be explored, and challenges to be faced. I hope that we as leaders can learn from leaders like Dr. Seuss and do the best we can with every opportunity we’re presented and share our best self with the world, making it a better place for us having been here.  Are you building a business that can leave a legacy like Dr. Seuss did?

Everyone Needs a Hero

Today the US was given the opportunity to listen to the President’s yearly State of the Union address. Whether you like the President, voted for him, liked his address or even follow politics, isn’t really the point of this post, so if you did or didn’t listen today it doesn’t matter. In the address the President pointed out several individuals who had done some incredible overcoming, or were facing a big challenge and based on past performance would likely fight hard to win. After the address I heard someone say that “everyone likes a hero” which got me thinking about heroes and success.

I don’t think we should ever grow out of the need to have someone (or many someones) we look up to and can learn from. It starts really early when we’re kids, needing adults to look up to and learn how things work from. We do learn independence as we grow into adulthood, but by now we’ve hopefully discovered that when we learn from the experiences and knowledge of others, it’s much easier to avoid the issues and mistakes and failures they’ve experienced.

So what about those extra special people? I’m not talking about most modern day “influencers,” I’m talking about people like Abraham Lincoln, Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela, Billy Graham, Martin Luther King Jr. and of course characters like Superman and Spiderman, people who would get the “hero” label. These people will never be able to be replicated, their legacy will last for many generations (if not eternity), and they’ll always be bigger, bolder, stronger, wiser, or kinder than the average person.

I think we all need a hero, someone who is dead or alive, that will inspire us to do more with this life or be more. We don’t look up to them with true hope of becoming like them, but rather with the idea that each day we’ll improve a little more, because if they can do what they did, surely we can do a little better with our lives.

Do you have a hero? If not, maybe it’s time that you find a hero you can look up to and help inspire you.

Beyond First Successes

Yesterday was the official remembrance of the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., but many people started talking about him in the days before the holiday and will continue to do so for the rest of this week. As I thought about what to share in this post today about success, there were many thoughts that came to mind. Dr. King certainly is a great example of someone who was successful, but not in the financial regard that many people automatically assign to the word success. Instead, he was one of the few who not only was successful about getting his message out there, it’s a message many people not only remember but can repeat words from, some 50 years later. All of those are incredible feats in and of themselves, but as I was thinking about what to write today I thought about the topic of legacies and about the words that most of us know from his ‘dream’ speech and the other things that I was reminded of or learned over the past few days of reading and hearing about him and his work.

While the ‘dream’ speech is certainly a legacy to be proud of, there was a ton more to this man than just one speech. He was a husband, father, minister, black man, friend of many, resident of Georgia, student, Nobel Peace Prize recipient, courageous soul, and person who stood up and said something when injustice was reigning strong. What I’ve seen these past few days is a great reminder that like success, Dr. King was more than just one thing. Yes, most of us are exceptionally good at one thing or best known for that thing. But success in that one area or through that one avenue is only part of the story. We are much more than just that one thing. Dr. King is more than just his ‘dream’ speech.

I do hope that this year is one of great success for all of us, whether that success is with health, family, work or finances, or some/all of the above. Maybe it will be like dominoes, that when you knock one down, the rest fall so perfectly in line after and it all just works out as you hoped and planned. But don’t let your focus on one thing so distract you or hold you back from the rest of your life. Don’t rest on the joy and victory of one success, continue on pursuing greatness for the rest of your days as well.

The End of a Decade

During the holiday season we often slow down and live a little differently with more gatherings and celebrations and time off, which is in many ways one of the best ways to end a year because it gives us time to focus on what should be most important in our lives but we don’t always have (or make) time for during the rest of the year. As we transition to not only a new year but also a new decade this week I was reminded that our slow times are busier and fuller than the lives of people 100 years ago, and that they could never last a day in our shoes. I know it can be frustrating to reach the end of another year and not be where you wanted to be, but maybe reflecting on this can give you some peace about what you have and haven’t accomplished over the past year and decade.

For obvious reasons, this year change seems bigger and more important, as if the change to a new decade is somehow different from the usual calendar turn, which it really isn’t. But at the same time it does seem fresher and more of a clean slate than we usually get. The interesting thing about clean slates is that it infers that there’s something to clean off the slate, and that’s certainly true for the decade we’re finishing. It used to be that we could come up with a list of things that happened and that list would be fairly brief, but now there isn’t one list for everything or everyone because, as we talked about before, there’s so much more going on in our lives now than there used to be. I can’t remember everything from the last decade of my life, let alone everything and everyone that happened in the world. And I think that’s OK. It just puts more pressure on us in our already crazy lives to try to remember it all.

So given that, how do we review the past decade of our world and our lives? I think we just review what and who we do remember because that’s what has stuck with us. In taking time to think about the ways we’ve grown, the people who are and aren’t part of our lives, the mistakes we’ve made, lessons we’ve learned, ways we’ve helped, the fears we’ve faced and conquered, and the milestones we’ve reached, we give ourselves the opportunity to choose to build on those experiences and people, or fully let them go with the decade as it ends. And if you can’t remember anything, well, maybe your goal this coming decade is to live a more memorable life.

What are your thoughts on the decade that is ending?

Setting a Good (Business) Example

School is in full swing, all after school activities are busy with practices, games, performances and other activities, and the weather is taking a definite turn towards autumn tomorrow if the weather people are correct. The idea of school was established many years ago so that kids would get not only a foundational understanding on what it means to be an adult, but also get an introduction to all the topics they may have to know about as an adult and things that may help them decide what they’re going to do with the rest of (or many years of) their life. School was established with the best intentions, a way of socializing the next generation, exposing them to things their parents wouldn’t be able to do alone and giving them a solid starting point to life.  And I believe that the idea of school is a good and necessary one.

But still today there are people who don’t make it through school, who aren’t able to learn based on the current format, who aren’t being prepared for what comes next. Does the current iteration of school need to be replaced? In many ways I say yes because the world has shifted in many ways from what it was when the current school practices were decided upon. In many ways schools aren’t preparing the next generation to go out and live in this world. But thanks to the internet and some more inventive educational organizations, there are ways to fill the gaps until something can be properly discussed and thought out.

The next question of course is what else is falling outdated and therefore failing others? What opportunities do we have that we may or may not be taking advantage of? What are we trying to shout to the world through our social posts, TV shows, movies, and events? What are we telling the world through the marketing, promoting and sponsoring that we do?

The good news is that the business world has a much easier time of making changes than the established school system does, because each individual business has the ability to take a look at what they’re doing and decide it’s not serving them the way they hoped it would, decide what’s outdated and not helping them move forward, decide what types of training and support are best for their teams, and most of all decide whether the story they’re telling to the world is the right one for them or not.

We have 3 months left in 2019, what face is your business showing to the world? What contributions are you making as a business to the world and your ideal customers/clients? Is this the business that you want to enter into 2020 with? Don’t despair because there are only 3 months left in 2019, instead ask questions, accept facts, and make changes so that the business you have going into 2020 is one that’s making a positive impact on the world, contributing to communities, partnering with other like-minded businesses and maybe most importantly, is one that you’re proud to run.

A Coach for the People

This month I read “Trillion Dollar Coach: The Leadership Playbook of Silicon Valley’s Bill Campbell.” This book is a look at the principles and practices and leadership of Bill Campbell who started by being a sports coach and moved to become one of the greatest business coaches, working with Apple, Google and other big businesses. The book shared about a man who had a really big heart, lots of smarts and great people skills. Everyone who knew him had great things to say about him, and even after his death his practices and teachings live on in the companies he worked with.

The core of the book and what Bill was all about, is people. Bill was all about teamwork, communication, openness, honesty and trust. He recognized that it all comes back to people: that people are what make or break a company, sell a product/service, help a customer, or buy a product/service; that to care about people you have to care about people; and that it’s not always about the problem but about having the right people on the team to get things done.

Much of what was shared through this book emphasized that it’s not just about having people to fill spaces or do a job, but about having healthy teams, healthy relationships, healthy lives and healthy communications. It’s not about perfection or getting it right all the time or not having disagreements or not having weaknesses, but about doing what’s good for the community; creating a culture of safety, clarity, meaning, and impact so teams can thrive; having dependable people on your team; keeping everyone on the same page across departments; and creating victories for today and tomorrow.

When it all comes down to it, what Bill knew and taught throughout his life was that while teams are essential and invaluable, everyone is their own person, responsible for how they live their life, how they give back, how they love, how successful they are, how they communicate, what kind of leader they are and what difference they make in the world. Each person Bill came into contact with was challenged to be their best, give their best and love the best they could.

As we head into the last months of this year, I would challenge you to not (just) focus on getting products and services out the door to as many people as possible, but to be a people person, to genuinely care about the people you connect with and to make each person’s day that you connect with a little better.

9/11 Reflections, 18 Years Later

This week we’re switching things around and the regular business post will be published on Friday this week, to give me the opportunity to share some more family and relationship focused reflections today. Today is 9/11. 18 years ago 4 planes were used in a terror attack that devastated the lives of all Americans and countless others around the world were also affected by the actions of people who had a hatred towards what the US represents or has done.

If I’m honest it’s not something I can really understand. I don’t have a hatred so deep of something or someone that I can understand the willingness to make a plan to kill thousands of people, let alone little children.  I can’t imagine putting into action a plan that will definitely cause destruction, especially unknown destruction.  I understand the concepts of controlled burns when it comes to fire prevention, or about sacrificing one structure to make sure the others around them, and the people in them, are safe.  But I can’t understand the reasoning behind taking over planes and flying them into buildings where people live and work intentionally.

Each year we see footage and hear stories of the men and women who were there, of the fear they experienced, of their willingness to head into the zone even though they didn’t really know what they were heading into or what really happened.  I can remember all those years ago seeing it on TV for the first time and not really believing it.  But with report after report of loss of life and the many pictures and videos that were shown, I quickly knew that this was a reality and that not only had lives been lost but more men and women were putting their lives on the line for those who might be trapped.  It hurts to know that even today not all of the families have gotten to give their lost loved ones a proper burial, that some never really got to say goodbye.  It still hurts to know that people wanted to hurt people in this way.

But what I’ve been struck by today as I’ve watched some of the footage and read some of the stories of men and women who were killed or willingly put their lives on the line is about life.  We don’t often stop to think about the over 20,000 people who were saved because the first responders did their job.  We don’t think about their relief as they returned to their firehouses and found their brothers and sisters of the heart who had returned as well.  We don’t think about the gift of life that was given to people because people fought to bring the plane down over Pennsylvania instead of letting it get to the intended target.  We don’t think about the boys and girls who are alive and now looking at their 18th birthday without a parent that they never knew.

But the fact is they’re alive and so are we.  Yes, we should pause and grieve for the lives lost.  They are people who will never live to grow old or spend time with their families or have (more) kids or make an impact on the world in the way they thought they would.  But they would not want their legacy to be one of hatred, anger or grief.  Many gave their lives so we could be free and live our lives.  Choose to support those who put their lives on the line then and still today.  Choose to have hope for tomorrow.  Choose to make the world we share a better place, a place that tragedies like 9/11 will be fewer and farther between.  Choose to live today.

Taught by Toni Morrison

This week the world lost a great thinker and writer, Toni Morrison. She won a Nobel Prize for her literary work and has received other awards and recognition as well, she’s been an editor and a professor, and was a mother. Her words and spirit have spoken to many generations and groups of people, so today I thought we’d take a look at what made her so well liked and successful (even if that may not have been her goal) and what we can learn from her life and success.

It all starts with words. Toni is known for her culturally relevant and forward thinking, and her words were always accurate but sensitive. She did it all when it came to writing, including editing the works of others, and many of the tributes that have been shared have echoed how her words have stuck with them, and that her words made them realize how important, valuable and powerful words can be. As a business owner one of the most powerful tools you have are words, and too many businesses today aren’t providing sufficient words, both written and audio. They aren’t speaking to their people, let alone speaking in a passionate, persuasive and informative manner.

She told a story. One of the things that we’re really been talking about in business over the past few years is the value of telling a story, and how our customers can relate better to us when we tell a story. As powerful as her stories were, the words she chose were words of truth, words that spoke to the situations, experiences and emotions of the African American culture she so often wrote about. Go ahead and tell stories in your business and to your customers, but don’t waste your time or theirs with false stories or tales that go nowhere. Keep it relevant and accurate to who you are, who your customers are and what you’re all about.

Finally, she knew what it was to nurture and love. In one interview she talked about some famous authors who had one breakout hit but ended their working years doing menial labor jobs. She questioned what happened that they weren’t able to continue to bring greatness to the literary world, and that’s something that we have to question in business as well. Why do some companies start out so well and peter out? One of the reasons is because they don’t take the time to nurture and care for their customers and provide an experience that customers want to come back to and want to tell others about.  No one has had a bad thing to say about Toni Morrison(although not everyone has loved her work), would people be equally positive about you?

Toni Morrison lived 88 wonderful, engaged and filled years, years in which she chose to make an impact one word and one relationship at a time.  Are the words and actions you’re taking in your business building a similar legacy that will last as long as she did and beyond or are you working on a one-hit-wonder?