Where Winners Spend their 2%

I don’t know if you remember but for close to a decade, starting around the mid-2000s, people couldn’t shut up about Steve Jobs. This seemed to coincide with the release of the iPhone, YouTube, and social media, which makes sense.

All of the content seemed to herald Jobs as Tech-Jesus. The iPod was the second coming of the WalkMan, but better, and iTunes seemed to have solved the music industry crisis brought on by Napster and P2P sharing sites. Truly, Steve was a god among men. I was unmoved by all of it.

Maybe it was because of where my head was at the time but it all seemed a little fan-boyish to get so wrapped up in a dude that owned one outfit. And they were making a cell phone? Without a keyboard? Way to waste a billion dollars, my dude.

Except it was everything. But I never appreciated why before I saw this video.

My biggest takeaway was Steve discussing how they looked at Information Technology and how companies were obtaining it. All of them spent around 2% on IT, but they differed in where the bulk of those purchases went. Not-so-successful companies spent it on management productivity. Successful companies spent on operational productivity.

What does that mean?

It means that regular joes were focused largely on incremental improvements to how they already did things. A better email client, server, PCs, etc… Successful companies were focused on applications that could do repeatable and automatable things for them. The second requires more effort than buying something off the shelf. Applications had to be made and coded at a time when that wasn’t an easy thing to do. Steve focused on applications when the vast majority of people had never heard of the term.

The iPhone dominated with the advent of apps. Your phone could do things now. Your phone could execute tasks that tangibly made your life better. For at least three years, you couldn’t go a month without someone telling you about the next killer app you needed to download. What could the Blackberry do? Bang out long-winded emails with ease? That was about it.

This especially resonated with me as that’s where our focus is; automate and create custom functions that add continuous value. In our business, competitive advantage looks like high renewal rates and lower operating costs, and the best way to get there is with great systems.

RIP, Steve. At least one of your movies was really good.

Intention = Better Improvement

When people ask me what they can do to move up in their career I ask them
what they got better at this past year. Oftentimes, the answer is a blank
stare.

There are certain things we get better at with just routine and repetition.
Back in my teenage years, I got pretty sick at spinning a pizza in the air or
backing in a car while working as a valet. Reps were enough to get you most of
the way to greatness.

At a higher level, in most professional settings, fewer tasks get better
with muscle memory. Instead, it’s the personal toolkit that needs to be grown.
And the only way to grow the toolkit is via intentionality. Showing up is
essential, but not enough on its own.

The onus is on us to do the work to identify skills and know-how that can
contribute to the team’s success. Then we have to go out and get them; no one
is going to tell us or push us to improve. The good news is it’s easier than
ever before. We can perform brain surgery with eight hours of prep time and
YouTube if we wanted to.

What skills can you acquire this year that will transform your effectiveness
and grow your abilities and confidence?

p.s. If you’re a regular user of Excel, I can’t recommend the Index/Match formula enough. It’s insanely helpful and only takes a few minutes to master if you put your mind to it.

Hat tip to my buddy at CultishCreative.com for inspiration this morning.

“I Like Solving Problems…”

I’ve had multiple conversations with people about what they want to do and this line keeps coming up. People, generally, like solving problems. Our preferences for types of problems differ but the spirit remains.

Why aren’t we tapping into more of that in our conversations with our teams?

95% of meetings I’ve attended looked like a guy watering a lawn. Grass = staff, water = information. Except the staff could have lived without the information most of the time. The exchange was entirely one direction.

Something, something, Harry Styles pun.

Ask your team for problems. Small ones. Weird ones. Elusive ones. Challenge the rest of the team to propose silly solutions in the following meeting. Solutions you’d probably never consider or aren’t even physically possible.

A former mentor and fellow author loved to say “Involvement breeds commitment” and I always liked that, though I think it just breeds engagement. That engagement can lead to commitment if the environment is right and the culture is true.

Recently, I asked my 10 & 11-year-olds for solutions to an old engineering textbook problem; a ping pong ball rolled into a tube in the center of a gym floor that was about the same size as the ball. How do you get the ball out with the items present in a gym?

My youngest says “Use a vacuum!” – Do you see a lot of vacuums in gyms?

“Stab it with something.” – Like what? And that would ruin the ball.

My oldest says “Pee in the tube, the ball will float out!” – We have a winner. It took him less than 30 seconds to find a quick solution whereas adults frequently struggle to think of a plan that doesn’t involve equipment and time.

Let’s tap the natural tendencies in all of us and become the scientists and artists we were as children, and still are today. Let’s acknowledge everyone has a burning desire to create and contribute to a better tomorrow.

Radioactive Cats, Communication, and What We Routinely Get Wrong.

We’ve been talking to people from around the country, in various industries, and one result has been remarkable – we barely understand each other. We’re using the same words but mean different things.

We expect different common words and pronunciations based on region. But what about a benign word like “invoice” – something you wouldn’t think be up to interpretation?

On more than one occasion we’ve had a whole meeting only to realize we had two different conversations. We realized at the end we were speaking past each other and needed to define common terms. All parties thought it was a successful conversation up until the point something cracked and we realized we hadn’t understood each other at all.

Most communication is pushed out in our “personal” dialect; the words and phrases we intrinsically understand. Because those words are the same as someone else’s words we assume they mean the same thing we mean. That makes sense; we interact with the world via the same tools we use to understand it. However, it’s worth remembering the words of this old dude who wrote Pygmalion:

I thought about this when reviewing a notice I came across recently; it went something like this:

DO WHAT WE SAY! We’re very serious.

Consequences that you’ll face if we don’t get the thing we told you to give to us the way we want it.

Something vaguely legal sounding. Blah blah blah. Repeating something else from another part of the note.

More things about stuff you don’t care about. DANGER!

Blah blah blah without proper grammar or punctuation. Very outdated process for collecting the thing and information – you can only do the thing this way. Another not really related piece of information that’s super easy to misinterpret. This probably shouldn’t be in this notice at all and if it is, definitely shouldn’t be in this section since it’s divorced from the first two sentences above and is likely to be overlooked but we’ll say it was there and your fault for not having absorbed it.

Mess around and find out. We WILL cut you.

Yours sincerely,

Not a human being

This is normal and it comes from an honest place. The person that wrote this desperately wants you to know all of it. They’re throwing their best pitches at you; all the classics. Bold. ALL CAPS. Underlined italics. Different fonts. Highlighter. Different font color. Changeups with various combinations of the above. It’s a technicolor whirlwind of sound and fury that fails to achieve its purpose.

It doesn’t fail for a lack of effort but from a lack of proper consideration for the reader and for the purpose of the communication. It succeeds in checking a box that says “send notice that says X.” But it doesn’t communicate. More on that in a moment.

It reminded me of the Yucca Mountain problem. How do we store nuclear waste for 10,000 years and effectively warn future humans to stay away? Think about it for a minute.

Languages are constantly evolving and changing. Symbols we use to signify danger may not be interpreted the same way in 500 years. A circle with a line through it doesn’t have any intrinsic meaning to a human who has never encountered it.

Weathering and other conditions can erase or erode warnings left in hundreds of years, let alone ten millennia. Even warnings of danger and mystical curses could be ignored like they were when we cracked open the burial tombs in Egypt in less than half that time. Artists and scientists have come up with some cool ideas but you can see where most of these could easily fail.

Maybe something uninviting? I’m already curious.

My second favorite suggestion had nothing to do with the nuclear waste tomb. It looked instead to what has remained a constant in the human race for all of recorded civilization; our love of cats. Seriously. The idea is to engineer cats to change colors when exposed to radiation and then spread the customs and knowledge that if a cat changes colors it’s time to leave the area. They’re called Raycats and I’m totally into it. It’s not the easiest solution but it does have the benefit of being totally badass and I don’t even like cats.

The prevailing thinking seems to be the kitchen-sink approach; put up signs in stone in every known language, creating the most uninviting surroundings imaginable, and hope to god that’s enough to dissuade future people from letting their curiosity get the best of them. Good luck.

This is the sign they chose.

My favorite idea is born out of reframing the problem.

Stated problem: How do we communicate to future people that this area is home to deadly stuff? That’s a tough one.

Restated problem: How do we keep people from messing with this area for 10k years?

The answer to the second problem is to do nothing. You’ve already placed it in the middle of an actual desert and buried it under thousands of feet of rock and lead. Without any marker or indication of the tremendous effort put into the place, why would anyone bother to excavate? Erase it from existence and let time be your friend. But I digress…

When we want to communicate something the onus falls on us to ensure we’re thinking of how our message might be received. Will it be understood the way we mean it? Most messages don’t have the ability to transmit more than a couple things in a meaningful way so use your bandwidth wisely.

Who is this for?
What do we want them to know or do?
What’s the easiest, way to communicate that?
Is this message urgent, important, or some combination of the two?
Could our message be easily ignored, misunderstood, or confused?
Should this be two separate messages? More?
What’s the most effective method to transmit the message?
Are we using terms and language our user understands?
Did this communication simply check a box or did it do its honest best to transmit information from us to them?

Thanks for reading. On your way out, exit through the gift shop:

Defend the Brand

Seth Godin’s blog post today “Defender of the brand” was a salient reminder of what we’re aiming to do. In the piece, he reminds his readers that a Marketing Officer’s first duty is to ensure the brand experience is one of quality. All the ads in the world are meaningless if the execution of the business is poor.

In my experience, the best advertising, amenity upgrade, or value-add is an operations system that works well. Many people take their systems for granted but spend five minutes talking to the person answering the phone and you’ll see that isn’t the case. Tap on any area of the business and you’ll find ad hoc patches pasted on by an insufficiently supported front-line staff.

I’ve met too many people that think focusing on the surface details will be enough to make a difference. Sure, superior finishes, polished marketing, remarkable design will all have a positive impact. However, without an enjoyable, engaged staff that feels supported and heard, it won’t mean much.

The student housing business is full of bright shiny underperforming assets and always has been. It’s not all metal, glass, and stone. It’s also hearts and minds.

Want to get the best performance out of any business? Here’s the recipe:

  1. Listen and support the people doing the work. Make their lives as easy as possible; solve their problems with them. Their problems are your problems.
  2. Let those people help your customers have an easy/fun experience.
  3. Rinse, repeat.

Do this ruthlessly. Over and over again. Defend the brand by ensuring what the brand stands for is a quality experience.

Hurt People, Hurt People: Oscar’s Edition

Last night, at the 2022 Oscars, Will Smith overreacted to an admittedly lame and toothless joke from presenter, Chris Rock, and nothing has made sense since.

I was watching this happen with my youngest son who loves Will Smith. LOVES. We’ve seen the MIB trilogy multiple times, iRobot, hell, even Wild Wild West. He thinks he’s the coolest. I’ve been a fan since Parent’s Just Don’t Understand and I still think he’s an exceptional human being.

And then he lost his shit in front of the world over a dated joke and assaulted someone. At first, we thought it was a scripted bit when the audio cut but then we read his lips as he urged Rock to keep his wife’s name out of his mouth. It was clear this wasn’t a bit. What the hell?

Why?

I think Will Smith was cooking for a while before we got to that moment. I don’t think it was this joke that did it and I don’t think it was Rock he really wanted to slap.

Earlier in the evening, there was a joke about Will & Jada’s open relationship (see below) and I think that got him stewing.

It’s a throw-away line and they appear to take it well but if you saw the Red Table Talk where Jada destroys Will, in the most public way possible, you know it’s a raw nerve.

Tell me this isn’t the most hurt human being you’ve ever seen.

From watching this video this much is clear: Will Smith loves Jada far more than Jada loves Will. Will knows it and has had a choice to make; stay and experience that loss repeatedly or leave and lose the love of his life for good.

I think Will Smith is a guy who doesn’t like losing. I think he can’t accept the fact that he lost her, possibly through no explicit fault of his own. Unwilling to accept that and move on he’s living in a halfway existence where he can fool himself into thinking things are ok until he remembers that he’s pretty far from ok.

And this brings me to the title of the piece. I think it’s evident from his acceptance speech moments later that Will Smith is in a lot of pain. We can’t know the full nature or extent of that pain but I think it’s safe to say at least some of it is tied to his relationship with his wife. This is a guy who is going through a lot and I don’t think it had anything to do with Rock, the joke, or even winning the Oscar.

Hurt people, hurt people. We saw Will have a human moment and do something hurtful to someone that meant him no harm. If we’re honest with ourselves we’ve been there, too. Maybe not slapping someone, but certainly doing something hurtful to people who didn’t deserve it because we couldn’t cope with the pain we were experiencing.

How it ended.

Everyone in the audience desperately wanted to forgive Smith. As social animals, we’re eager to reestablish the status quo. However, to do that we need an apology. We need the person to acknowledge their transgression and perhaps offer an ounce of explanation for why they did what they did. Will didn’t do that.

Instead, he attempted to offer an explanation about “protecting” people and how somehow this action was tied to the role for which he was nominated as though it was perhaps some “method” exercise. He could tell halfway through that the audience wasn’t having it. He manages to remember where he is and what’s happening and apologizes to the Academy, though not Rock. It was something of an apology and repaired some of the damage but it wasn’t what we were hoping for.

I told my son that Will screwed up and that a quick apology is the best course of action. Admit what you did was wrong. Seek to repair the relationship quickly. Take time afterward to examine how you got there. With that advice in mind, I’ll offer what I would have said if I had walked up and slapped a grown man in front of the world.

“I’d like to apologize to everyone and especially to Chris Rock for my actions a few minutes ago. To anyone who knows me, that wasn’t me at all. I don’t know entirely why I did it and I’m ashamed and embarrassed. I’m going through a lot right now and I don’t know what else to say except that I’m sorry. Thanks to everyone that helped me win this award… yada yada yada.”

Some have pointed out that Rock’s joke was a cheap shot at a woman who has Alopecia, and thus, should have been out of bounds. I don’t know that that information was widespread public knowledge but if it was known, it was a bridge too far. Further, it was a bad joke in general and Chris admits as much. I also heard Rock made a joke at the 2016 Oscars which may have already established a bit of animosity between the couple and Rock. Fair enough, though both feel like reaching to help justify Will’s actions here. We can still love and respect Will Smith while acknowledging that he screwed up, twice. I hope he patches things up with Rock and gets to a better place soon.

Finally, the academy says violence is never tolerated and their code of conduct shouldn’t have allowed Smith to stay in the building. There’s a push by some to see Smith stripped of his Oscar. That would be a terrible tragedy though it may be the right thing to do. I think if Smith had offered a heartfelt apology at the start of his speech instead of searching for a narrative that would justify his actions the likelihood of losing his Oscar would be minuscule. However, given how things ended I don’t know what happens next.

What do you think? Should Smith be stripped of his Oscar or Academy membership for assaulting Chris Rock?

How to Speak

If you’re a reader of this page you know I like to cite videos for things I’ve recently learned and today’s post is no different. I recently listened to a course by the late Professor Patrick Winston of MIT and I was impressed by one piece in particular.

Quality of Speaking
[Q= (K, P, T)]

Patrick Winston

Q = Quality
K = Knowledge – The sum of the Speaker’s knowledge
P = Practice – How much practice does the speaker have in delivering this knowledge?
T = Talent – the X-factor, their innate charisma, presence, etc…

These are listed in order of importance or influence on the result. Knowledge is maybe 50% of the equation. Practice is worth another 35% and Talent brings up the rear at about 15%. What’s that mean exactly?

It means a speaker who knows very little, with little practice, but who has maxed out on Talent is only going to do half as well as a speaker who knows thrice as much and has less talent. However, we’ve all prayed for death when subjected to a dull speaker who knows everything about a tired subject so I imagine there’s a minimum threshold for talent required to clear a qualifying bar for reasonable quality.

Later in the video, Winston relates a conversation with some smart associates where they revealed what they were looking for when hiring a candidate. Their conclusion was:
1. Vision
2. That they’ve done something

It makes enough sense. You want someone that has a philosophy that propels them forward, these are usually referred to as self-starters. Further, it would be best if their vision has been so propulsive as to cause them to complete something in their career. What have they made or remade, before meeting you? Are there better indicators of future success than these?

The rest of the video is fine too, especially if you give regular Powerpoint presentations to groups of people. A few nuggets of wisdom:
Don’t put your hands in your pockets.
Don’t thank people for coming, it’s like they did you a favor.
Don’t read off the slides – I hope we all know that one.
Make sure your final slide is something useful/interesting and not something trite like “The end.” Your speech will likely go on for a bit while the last slide is up so make sure you make the most of what you have posted there.

“Be Quick, but Don’t Hurry”

John Wooden was arguably the greatest basketball coach of all time. While leading the UCLA Bruins the guy won 10 National titles in 12 years, including seven in a row. You don’t get to that status without dropping some serious wisdom along the way.

And that brings us to our title; one of Wooden’s best pieces of advice.

*Quickness is decisiveness manifest.
*Quickness is confidence made of form.
*Quickness is controlled, elegant.
*Quickness is the hallmark of a professional; someone fully focused on the requirements of the moment.
*Quickness is keeping your actions to what you can control and nothing else.

*Hurrying is desperation manifest.
*Hurrying is a product of fear.
*Hurrying is unrehearsed, impromptu, inelegant.
*Hurrying is erratic, panicked, disconnected from the moment.
*Hurrying is what happens when we fail to give the future its due respect and consideration.

We’ll never avoid needing to hurry. We can’t prepare or plan for everything life will throw at us. But we can aim to be quick in situations we can reasonably anticipate. We can build models and tools to help us become quicker. We can analyze our own actions to find ways to get closer to the moment when it comes around again.

Next time you find yourself saying “hurry up” consider if there’s an opportunity in the future to make that moment one of quickness.

As an aside I’ll offer you this fun bit of info. Like all great pioneers, Wooden attempted to form a system to explain his path; the Wooden Pyramid of Success.

Even if you’ve never heard of Wooden you may get a sense the Pyramid is familiar somehow. That would be Ron Swanson’s Pyramid of Greatness from Parks & Rec. I can only imagine the fun the writer’s of the show had in putting this together.

A quick word on how to Know Yourself

Ethan Hawke breaks down something pretty cool in this short Ted Talk and in the interest of time I’ll pull out the quote that stunned me.

“We’re here to help each other, but first we have to survive, and then we have to thrive.

To thrive, to express ourselves, we have to know ourselves. What do you love?

If you get close to what you love who you are is revealed to yourself and it expands.”

And there it is.

I don’t see enough people embracing what they love. Maybe they don’t know what they love because they’re afraid to get close to it because it may not be cool.

Maybe they avoided it earlier in life because it didn’t fit into who they thought they were or the mold they were trying to fill.

The happiest people we’ve ever met, whether wildly successful or not, knew exactly what they loved and let that love reveal themselves to themselves. It’s far easier to say no and to say yes when you know who you are and you’re sure of it.

What do you love? How did it reveal yourself to you?

The Test of a Leader

Retired USMC LtGen George Flynn

Retired USMC LtGen George Flynn has a test for leaders and it’s insanely
simple.

“If they ask you how you’re doing they actually care about the
answer.”

How many people above you have asked how you were and not cared a whiff? How
many haven’t even asked how you were doing? In my experience, it’s most. And I
think that’s why we’re so passionate about the leaders we’ve had in our lives
that have truly cared about the answer to that question. 

 

In another quote, LtGen Flynn says “The cost of leadership is
self-interest.” I don’t think you cease to have self-interest, but you check
it at the door when thinking about the well-being of your people.

Who was the last person you asked about their day? Did you care?