Look for the stairs, not the elevator

In 1857, the first commercial passenger elevator was installed in a 5-story department store in New York City. It was immediately popular. Even today, most people, upon entering a tall building, search for the machine transformed by Elisha Otis.

We look for the elevator in life too. We search for tips, hacks, shortcuts, and the quickest way. The problem with this approach is that everyone else is too. Everyone is looking for the easy button. And so we all line up at the elevator, trusting the easy way is the best way.

There is no tip to get around the hard work. There is no secret to firm abdominals. There is no hack to promotions and no Amazon Prime two-day delivery for real education or certifications you will be proud to earn. No easy button for relationships or shortcut to experience.

Don’t wait in line at the elevator for something that doesn’t exist.

Take the stairs.


Make Time For Boredom

“Boredom can be important. That’s when you have to figure out what you want to do.” – Gretchen Rubin, Happier at Home: Kiss More, Jump More, Abandon a Project, Read Samuel Johnson, and My Other Experiments in the Practice of Everyday Life

I can remember sitting in the backseat of the car, playing with a few crayons, and I was bored. The road-trip from New York to Florida took several days, and at 7-years old, those three days felt like lifetimes. My parents had provided me with a few crayons and a Star Wars figurine. The excitement was over in 5 minutes and the boredom set in. After the crayons melted beneath the rear window, it became really bad.

Today is different however. We are no longer bored. Between smart phones, tablets, Outlook calendars, Snapchat, and televisions in every waiting room, we no longer feel the pangs of boredom.

We’ve lost the space. The space and unencumbered time to think, to mentally and physically breathe, and to wonder and imagine.

Make space today. Block a few hours in the calendar for boredom. And imagine once again.


How we learn to despise goals and change

The dog cowers when his master raises a hand. Although a well-trained retriever of two years, the animal’s skin quivers when his owner shows displeasure or introduces new training. With displeasure comes pain and the dog now associates all training with torment and fear.

We too can learn to cower. Set enough goals, raise your standards, or change your life, and you will fail. Some learn to motivate ourselves through fear, like the dog, and it works…for a time.

Others learn to self-motivate by being better than yesterday, by seeing small amounts of progress, and preparing and giving their absolute best.

Choose to berate yourself over failure and you will soon see goals, change, and learning opportunities as pain and avoid all further contact.

Choose instead to be better than yesterday, to celebrate small steps forward, and give your best.

How will you treat yourself?

Whitewash-A Perspective on Life

Tom Sawyer skipped school to swim and the next day his aunt assigned him the job of whitewashing the front fence as punishment. In Mark Twain’s classic tale, Tom persuades his friends to trade treasured objects, like kites and tin soldiers, for the chance to help with the fence.

How? He assigns value to the task by describing just how lucky a boy is to be able to whitewash a fence.

What are you able to do today? What jobs do you view as tedious, menial, or even boring that others would give their prized possessions to be able to do?

Whether it’s a stable job that pays well, the opportunity to parent children, or your own version of whitewashing the fence, how you choose to embrace it (the job or this life) means everything.

Want to go deeper on the subject? Take a moment to watch Lisa Kristine’s TED talk on modern-day slavery. It is 19:21 minutes and I promise you’ll think differently afterwards.

What will you whitewash today?


While touring a cofferdam earlier this week, I was astounded by the engineering feat of creating a dry area the size of several football fields at the bottom of a major river.

Cofferdams are built in bodies of water to provide a dry area for construction, such as bridges and dams.

First used by King Cyrus of Persia in 539 BC to capture Babylon, cofferdams are a powerful reminder of value of a question.

The Euphrates River protected the Babylonians from invaders. Upon reaching the river’s bank, King Cyrus asked his generals why the river couldn’t be moved. Dirt and rocks were then moved to shift the river’s course and the cofferdam was born. And it began with a question.

What river are you up against? What question(s) could you ask to shift your mindset (and those around you)?

Questions like:

Why is it this way and what could be different?

Why not do it another way?

What if I’m wrong?

How could we think about this differently?

Why can’t the river be moved?


Bargaining on the Price

Think back to the last time you told yourself you were going to do something and it didn’t work out. For whatever reason, the thing you wanted didn’t happen (a job, a friend, an achievement, a health goal, etc.).

Rudyard Kipling gives us unique insight into the problem of the unattained. He wrote, “If you don’t get what you want, it’s a sign either that you did not seriously want it, or that you tried to bargain over the price.”

I done this…bargained with myself over the price. For me, this bargaining comes in the form of the little voice in the back of my head. It says things like, “Do you really want to wake up that early?”, “This is comfortable, why change it?”, or even “You deserve this, so you won’t have to work that hard.”

That voice sounds like me. But it isn’t me.

It’s the way we bargain with life, the choice we must make every day.

Will we hit the day or let the day hit us?

Do we want it or do we want something else?

Will we bargain or will we work?

I bought a Barbie

I had failed. I’d purchased the perfect Barbie for my daughter’s eighth birthday and she almost cried. She’d wanted an American Girl. Luckily my wife came to the rescue. She’d listened to what our daughter had asked for and had the right doll wrapped in pink paper next to the cake.

People leave organizations when they do not feel appreciated.  And while most companies have recognition programs, many people do not “feel” the appreciation.

Why? It’s the Barbie versus the American Doll.

Directors and managers frequently do not listen to what their people want nor to the incentives they respond to. Just like I thought “an 8-year old girl equals a Barbie”, many managers think “an employee equals a quarterly award”.

What if they don’t feel appreciated by the quarterly award (or weekly award or gift certificate or time-off award)?

You can get a lot of things wrong in a company. You can fail at strategic planning, quality, vision, document control, meetings, customer engagement…and survive to fight another day. But if you fail at building a sense of appreciation and engagement within your team…there is no other day. Because they now either work at your competitors or (even worse) they work for you in a disengaged manner, dreading Mondays, loving Wednesdays, and living for Fridays.

Don’t buy the Barbie. Build a meaningful appreciation model. Here’s a book to help you begin.

“I tell it like it is”

In life we choose. We choose to be thermometers or thermostats. The mercury-filled tubes on the thermometer tell the temperature. The latter adjusts to the environment and responds accordingly. The first reacts, passively reflecting their reality. The other leads, determining what will be…creating a new reality.

One is more valuable than the other.

When someone says ‘I tell it like it is’…it sounds good. It almost sounds authentic. But often it’s used for saying inappropriate words at the wrong time. Or overbearing pessimism. Or simply a cover for being jaded.

Be a leader. Speak and act like a leader.

Don’t tell it like it is. Change it like a thermostat.

“Being positive in a negative situation is not naïve. It’s leadership.” – Ralph Marston

Removing Patina

Patina (Merriam-Webster)

a :  a usually green film formed naturally on copper and bronze by long exposure or artificially (as by acids) and often valued aesthetically for its color

b :  a surface appearance of something grown beautiful especially with age or use the beautiful patina of this antique table

These two definitions of patina are remarkably close in message. With metal, the green speaks to delicate weathering and significance (the Statue of Liberty comes to mind). With other items, such as antiques and organizations, the quality increases value (why else would Bolten label each beer “since 1266?).

Removing patina is expensive. Imagine if we paid a team to clean and burnish the Statue of Liberty to the color of new copper for every sunrise? The cosmetic industry is also founded on the principle.

Lessons also exist in patina. We all know what happens to a company which forgets the lessons of accidents. Exxon knew the value and swore to never forget Exxon Valdez by implementing a culture of disciplined management called OIMS, or Operations Integrity Management System. OIMS is their patina.

Organizational patina comes in the form of processes, people, experiences, and in the end, culture.

So when you change, as a person or as an organization, don’t discount the patina. It is there for a reason, it is valuable, and it is beautiful.


Failure is now impossible

“Financial and commercial crises, or ‘panics,’…with their attendant misfortunes and prostrations, seem to be mathematically impossible.”

–U.S. Comptroller of the Currency (in 1914 after the Federal Reserve Act was signed into law)

The Federal Reserve was the answer. The economic panacea to end all recessions and bank failures. Then came the Great Depression.

Other crises and recessions would occur. In those moments, we’d remember, change a few laws, and promptly forget again.

Here’s a 2006 article about why banks no longer fail. “Why Don’t Banks Fail Anymore?

In 2008, 25 banks would fail in the Great Recession, followed by 440 others from 2009-2012. Wikipedia Source

In your organization, where is failure impossible?

What’s been overlooked because it’s “safe”?

What process was dangerous and now “hazard-free”?

Is it worth another look?