Increase Your Salary Potential By 50 Percent (and it’s not certification)

The average lifetime earnings of graduates with Bachelor’s degrees is $2.1 million according to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 1999 dollars. In 2017, that’s $3.1 million with inflation.

Warren Buffett, a multi-billionaire famous for cautious investing, told students at Columbia University to expect 50% more in lifetime salary projections…if they did one thing. And this one thing had nothing to do with the school they attended.

First, Buffett offered $100,000 to any student willing to pay him 10% of all future earnings. He’d done some quick math and “valued” each student at $1 million. At an average earnings of $3.1 million, that’s a safe bet.

Then he gave the students the secret to increasing it by 50%.

“…learning communication skills. It’s not something that’s taught…by having better communication skills, it’s another $500,000 in terms of capital growth value. See me after the class and I’ll pay you the $150,000.”

Communication skills, such as public speaking, negotiation, active-listening, writing, and delivering persuasive presentations, are essential for professionals in nearly every field.

What would Buffett pay you?


When To Burn That Bridge

I have two colleagues with a certain expertise.

With nearly every email, and regularly in meetings, they know just the right words to use and actions to take.

They burn bridges with wild abandon.

Their secret to burned-out shells of relationships? They pride themselves in their ability and find comfort with “getting things off their chest.”

A How-To Guide:

  • Don’t agree with a topic or decision? Shoot off an 8-page email to the highest-ranking executive in the business unit.
  • Read something that can be taken the wrong way? Take it personally and insist everyone is out to get you.
  • Send something and you didn’t receive a response within a day or in a way you approve of? Time to light a match.

But there are times to burn bridges. (I lit one up myself a couple weeks ago.)

Here are three things you should think about before lighting the match to the bridge.

  1. Balance the cost: What is gained by the way you interact or respond? What will the cost be to your team (think bigger than yourself)? Is the issue really deserving of this level of response and emotion? Is the relationship worth more than this single issue?
  2. Know your values: If the situation goes against your values, get involved sooner than later. Burning bridges with people and organizations conflicting with your moral compass is a “must-do”. Strike the match.
  3. Get a 2″x 4″: Pick up a long piece of wood. (No, not for the side of their head.) Put it down on the bridge and walk across. Even if you were right about the issue, there is no shame in repairing the floorboards.

When do you burn bridges?


Depersonalizing Failure

I was sprawled in the middle of the road, my right knee bleeding onto the asphalt.

At 0430 a.m. the running trail was still dark. I had failed to see the curb in the middle of the road and tripped over it, scraping my knee and hands in the process.

I began to rationalize the incident.

Who puts a curb there? Where were the street lights? I’d forgotten my headlamp, but I was in a hurry. My alarm had malfunctioned.

And so it went.

When others fail, we learn. We say, “I’ll never do that”. We look out for curbs that others trip over.

When we fail, we instantly rationalize. It’s not our fault we were speeding, the cops needed to write more tickets that month. We went bankrupt because of the economy, not because of poor decisions we made, right? We blame. We see fault everywhere but in ourselves.

And often the lesson is missed.

To learn from failure, we must depersonalize failure. It’s why learning to fly in a flight simulator works so well. The risks, to the student’s health and ego, are reduced by the environment. It’s also why advances in virtual reality technology, like crane operator training, are so exciting.

My knee still carries the scar from the fall. But by depersonalizing the event, I was able to learn (wear a headlamp) and stop the rationalization.

Be Honest, It’s Not Important

I’d prepared the best way forward. After the incident where the worker’s hand was caught in the machine, I’d investigated and found the perfect machine guard. So I wrote up a business case for the guard and presented it to the boss.

He said we didn’t have the money left in the budget.

I knew what he meant to say…he really meant, “It’s not important.”

Yet as safety professionals we do this too. And by “we” I really mean me.

Every time we say, “I ran out of time” or “I was too busy” or “Something came up and I couldn’t get to it”, we should stop.

Because what we’re saying is, “It’s not important”.

And that’s OK sometimes. Just like not everything can be a priority, not everything is truly important.

So be honest with yourself. How does it feel when you say it? Does it conflict with your values or does it feel alright? If it conflicts, then make it important and deprioritize something else. If you’re OK with it not being important, let it go. Delegate it or simply delete it.

Machine guards? Important. But that treadmill in the corner collecting clothes? Maybe it’s time to be honest.


Losing Hurts (twice as much)

Losing is powerful.

Studies show people perceive losses twice as powerfully as gains (Amos Tversky/Daniel Kahneman).

For example, losing $100 hurts at least twice as bad as earning $100. Or imagine being told you’d won a significant amount in a lottery and the next day finding out they’d called the wrong person! The pain would very likely “hurt” at a higher level than the elation of winning.

How can you use this idea in the coming year to break through to the next level, to achieve a goal you’d previously discounted?

What if you went into your next year, quarter, or promotion period as if your boss was going to take away your current position or title if you didn’t perform well above average?

What would happen if you gave someone a check for $300 that they could cash if you didn’t achieve your goal (finish a degree, lose 10 lbs, earn that promotion, etc.)? (This idea is catching on; take a look at

What could losing do for you? 



Are We Predicting Rain?

“Predicting rain doesn’t count. Building arks does.” – Warren Buffett

Late last night, I landed in Florida in the middle of a storm. Upon touchdown, cellphones throughout the plane rang and buzzed with flood watch emergency warnings.

They’d called it accurately. Lots of rain and flooding.

Good job, right?

We do this in EHS as well. We’ve begun to sound like sirens. We call out for more investigation, more data, more tracking, and more analysis, all with the promise of injury and incident prediction.

But like a rain storm, if you’re not building arks, it doesn’t count.

You see, predicting rain is the easy part. So is pushing the button to send out a federal emergency warning.

Are we ready to do the hard part and implement hazards controls?

Are we ready to build arks?


“Not My Circus, Not My Monkey”

In Polish the phrase reads “Nie mój cyrk, nie moje malpy” and means “not my problem.”

It serves as a warning that we shouldn’t take on the world’s problems.

But this isn’t about monkeys. It’s about brick walls.

Far more dangerous to your success than other people’s problems, obstacles appear before all your big goals. And the closer you get, the taller, meaner, and scarier they appear. After seeing the brick wall for the first time, you may be tempted to say, “It isn’t meant to be.”

Randy Pausch has another viewpoint. He writes, “The brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough. They’re there to stop the other people.”

So when you see that wall, smile. It’s not there for you. Or your monkey.


I Waited Too Long

On a recent evening walk with my family, we passed through an RV park where a couple was just pulling in for the night. We said hello and struck up a conversation about their recent travels. As they’d been on the road for 18 months, I asked the man what his favorite part of the trip and if he’d do anything different.

He said, “Key West was my favorite stop and yes…yes, I’d do it differently.”

Pausing, he continued. “I waited too long.” His wife nodded solemnly. “I worked and worked until I got old. Then we started traveling.” He rolled his eyes. “Next time, I’d begin much earlier.”

The error is called sequencing. Thinking we must do this, before that, when the timing will be “perfect”. College, first job, then a stable job, student loan payoff, then kids, then a house, then….

And so it goes. Until, “I waited too long.”

Warren Buffett agrees. Buffet said, “I always worry about people who say, ‘I’m going to do this for ten years; I really don’t like it very well. And then I’ll do this…’ That’s a lot like saving sex up for your old age. Not a very good idea.”

What are you waiting for?


Where Should Safety Managers Spend Their Time?

A senior safety director in my organization frequently says that safety professionals in the field should spend 50% of their time in the office and the other 50% on job sites. Some would argue time in the field should be increased, while others see no way to reduce their current 90:10 office /job site ratio.

What about managers? Where should they spend their time?

Read any management book on the subject for advice on the subject. In summary, managers should spend time thinking and planning the team’s work, doing the work required to align resources, and analyzing what is/is not working.

I ask a lot of safety managers what they do and how often they do it. They spend a lot of time on email, in meetings, conducting inspections, reviewing investigations, and handling personnel issues (from appraisals to training to hiring).

What’s missing? Strategic planning/prioritization and analysis.

Without a strategic and deliberate plan for the year, prioritization is relegated to reactive response. A daily schedule driven by the email inbox is a sure method to burn out even the best of teams.

Analysis also suffers in many managers’ schedules. Not only analysis of injuries and incidents (too often only accomplished to satisfy a program requirement and lacking actionable plans), but analysis of what’s working, who’s working on what, and where the team’s time is being spent. Without this knowledge, what exactly is being managed? If the manager isn’t looking for what works and what doesn’t, who is?

Managers can no longer simply be the most senior employee. Our teams deserve managers who plan, do, and analyze.

What more on the subject? Pick up a copy of What Got You Here Won’t Get You There by Marshal Goldsmith.


The Price Is Right (Maybe)

The television game show began in 1956 and still airs today. Contestants on The Price is Right guess retail prices of products from cans of soup to cars and vacations.

The show works because most people do not have a good idea of what the prizes cost. From the flashy cars to the cruises, most players end up wildly incorrect about the prices.

But it’s not just television.

We see others with high-level careers, mansions, luxury cars, the latest purse or watch…and we compare ourselves to them. Too often, we neglect to ponder the price. Not the retail price per se…but the price in terms of study, sacrificed social time, multiple failures, hours worked, the loss on privacy, trade-offs in relationships, or even strained physical and mental health.

Psychologists call this imbalance the Comparison Fallacy. We too easily look past our own talents, priorities, and goals and become distracted by the accomplishments of others.

Yes, the benefits may appeal to us, but are we willing to pay the price? If not, then wish the person all the best. If, on the other hand, the cost (work, study, sacrifice) aligns with your goals and values, then redouble your efforts and get busy.

Is your price right?