Category Archives: Commitment

Serve others first…

Tim Ferriss asks a question of most of his podcast guests:

“If you had a billboard that millions of people would see every day, what would you put on that billboard?”

Tim’s guests have given answers ranging from the comedic to the serious.  Some have talked about a cause that is their passion, or an inspirational passage they’d like people to see.

Each time I hear the question, I come up with the same three words:

Serve others first.

Serving others first means:

  • taking others’ needs and desires into account before our own
  • looking out for their best interest first
  • our decisions are more thoroughly considered because we’ll be taking time to think about how our decisions impact others
  • trying to make someone else’s job easier and more rewarding
  • showing someone gratitude for the work they’re doing
  • minding our manners (as my mom used to say when I was a kid)
  • listening to, and respecting others (even if we disagree with them)
  • looking for ways to improve a situation rather than making things worse
  • being the first to forgive.

It’s easy to focus on our own interests and challenges first.  It’s easy to think everything happening in the world is directed toward us, personally.  This “me first” mindset is hard-wired into our DNA…our DNA is selfish about 99.99% of the time.

The tougher path?

It’s the one that leads to serving others first.  It goes against our wiring, which takes significant effort.

None of us will be perfect on this path.  We’ll stumble, and we may even wander a bit.  But, we can be a blessing for others along our journey, and that’s what we should be seeking.

The good news is that following this path gets easier with practice.

Photo by Adrià Crehuet Cano on Unsplash

 

The Value of Goodwill

How much is your goodwill worth?

The accounting definition of goodwill describes it as the established reputation of a business, quantifiable by taking the fair market value of the tangible assets of a company, subtracting that amount from the full purchase price, blah, blah, blah.

The accounting definition is important, but the goodwill I’m interested in is your personal goodwill, which is measured with the answers to these questions (in no particular order):

  • Do you have a personal reputation as a good person?
  • Are you a person who can be trusted?
  • Are you reliable?
  • Do you work with others based on honesty and integrity first, above all else?
  • When people describe you to others, do they do so fondly or derisively?
  • Are you a person who people want to be around?
  • Do you repel people, or gather people?
  • Do you have a track record of acting fairly in all situations?
  • Do you serve others first?
  • When the proverbial chips are down and everything is going wrong, can others rely on you to rise above the chaos, identify root causes, and get to work solving the problems?
  • Are you known as the person who runs from trouble?
  • Are you the one who looks to blame rather than solve?

The answers to these questions will matter more to your long-term success than any college degree or career accomplishment you may achieve.

Your actions and attitudes will show people your answers more vividly than anything you say.

It’s easy to say words like honesty, integrity, trustworthiness, or empathy.  The real test is how you act and what you choose to do, whether or not other people are watching.

Show me a team of people who don’t value their own personal goodwill or that of their teammates, and I’ll show you a team that fails 99 times out of 100.

The most important choices you’ll make in life are the ones that either add value to, or take value away from your personal goodwill.

Choose wisely.  Your happiness and success depend on it.

Photo by Jukan Tateisi on Unsplash

Premature Judging

Should a new home construction project be judged when only its blueprint exists?  How about when the site has been prepared?  What about when the materials like wood, rebar, and electrical conduit are delivered?

Should we wait to judge the home build until the framing is complete?  Should we wait until the walls and roof are added?  Or, wait until all the windows are installed?  What about the paint and other finishing touches on the house?  Should you wait for those to be completed?

Can you judge the success of the home build before it’s finished?

When making chocolate chip cookies, do you judge the success of the cookies while mixing the ingredients?  How about when the chocolate chips are poured into the batter?

What if the recipe called for real butter, but you only have that non-diary butter substitute that’s supposed to be healthier than butter?  Are your cookies doomed at that point?  Should you call-off the project and declare it a failure?

Assuming you’ve made it past the butter/non-dairy butter issue, is it right to judge the cookies after they’re spooned out onto the cookie sheet, but not yet baked?

Just before placing those filled cookie sheets into the preheated oven, is that the time to re-evaluate the entire cookie-making process to determine if it’s failing?  Should you call a meeting to discuss whether the cooking temperature listed in the recipe is the correct one for your cookies?

Houses and cookies are obvious examples of “projects” that have a lot of moving parts.  They build from a set of raw ingredients, mixed with time and effort, into a completed item.

What about less obvious events in our lives?  When’s the right time to judge these for success or failure (using whatever measures you’ve chosen)?

  • new job
  • new business
  • new business strategy
  • new information system
  • new software development project
  • new friends
  • new marriage
  • new workout regimen
  • new hobby
  • new home

The easiest approach is to prematurely judge, declare failure and decide who to blame.  Failure is comforting.  The status quo is easy.

The new thing is never easy.  Creating something new is almost always uncomfortable.

When we judge too early, failure soon follows.

By the way, the cookies were amazing, but not until they came out of the oven.

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

That’s all great. But, what does your customer think?

  • “We had an awesome meeting yesterday. We finalized our growth plans for next year.  We’ll be presenting them to the CFO next week.”
  • “That conference was amazing. The speakers really hit the nail on the head about what’s coming in our industry.”
  • “We finished all the employee reviews before the deadline. We start every year with this fire drill!  I’m glad that’s behind us!”
  • “This new software update will finally fix our scheduling problems.”
  • “The year-end financials are done, and our tax filing is happening on time this year.”
  • “Our new branding colors are excellent. They really pop on our mobile app!”
  • “The holiday party committee met, and we’ve got our recommendations for the venue and party theme this year. When can we meet to finalize the plans so we can put money down on the venue?”

What do all of these have in common?

They’re all statements I’ve heard, or said, during my professional career.  I could’ve rattled off 30 more sentences just like these.  All would have represented important activities, milestones, discoveries, inventions, process improvements, or events within the companies I’ve managed (or owned).

But, none of them represented what our customers think.  The customer, in this case, is the person or company that’s paying us for our products and services.

None of the sentences describe us communicating directly with our customers or our prospective customers.

None of them focus on why our customers use our products and services.

None provide a greater understanding of how our customers relate to us.

None help us understand how important we are (or aren’t) in their life.

Are we just a faceless machine that delivers something our customer needs at this moment?  Are we merely a utility to them?

If we disappeared tomorrow, would they miss us?

Do they know who we are as a company?  Do they know anything about our values?  Do we know what our values are at this company?

Do they care about our branding colors, or that we’re having a nice holiday party this year?  Probably not.

Even when we fail to ask, our customers have powerful ways to tell us how we’re doing:

  • When they continue paying us, we know that they value what we’re doing today. They haven’t found anyone else who does it better, cheaper, or both.  They haven’t found anyone that they think cares more about them than we do.  We’ve won today.
  • When they call or write to complain or ask for something new and improved, we can infer that they care enough to ask. They trust that we’ll listen.  Our response lets them know whether their trust is well-placed, or not.

Winning today is nice.  Winning tomorrow, next week, next month, and next year is far more important when it comes to customers.

While we take care of all the tasks associated with keeping our organization afloat, it’s easy to forget why our organization exists in the first place:  to serve our customers and attract new ones.

The customer is the only reason we exist.

Something to keep in mind the next time you put off calling your customer back until after you’ve finalized your company’s holiday party plans.

P.S.  This riff about customers applies to our internal customers as well.  After all, our internal customers are often the ones who deliver service to our external customers.  If we fail to serve our internal customers, you can easily guess what’s going to happen to our external customers.

 

Photo by Tyler Nix on Unsplash

No Matter What

  • “I’m going to do this, no matter what.”
  • “I’ll be there by 5pm, no matter what.”
  • “We’re having this party, no matter what.”
  • “We’ll finish this project by the deadline, no matter what.”
  • “We will hit our quarterly numbers, no matter what.”
  • “My family will always come first, no matter what.”
  • “My career will always come first, no matter what.”

No matter what doesn’t compromise.

No matter what won’t be distracted.

No matter what knows its priorities.

No matter what gathers allies but has the power to alienate.

No matter what takes no prisoners in pursuit of its objectives.

No matter whats are easy when we’re young, protected, and naïve; but hard to uphold in the wilds of real life.

No matter whats morph, adapt, and may even be forgotten as time passes.  But some remain unchanged for our entire life.

What’s on your no matter what list?

How many no matter whats do you say out loud?  Which ones do you keep to yourself?

Do you define your no matter whats, or do they define you?

Maybe it’s time to find out.

 

Photo by Zoltan Tasi on Unsplash

Come on in, the water’s warm!

Back in the day, we used to grab our boogie boards and take the bus down to Seal Beach (in California).  It cost 25 cents each way.  Perfect for a budget-minded 6th grader and his buddies.

Side note:  nobody thought it was the least bit strange for a bunch of 6th and 7th graders to go to the beach on a public bus without their parents…my how times have changed in 40 years.

That first step into the waves was always the coldest.  It never failed that a wave would break right on shore, just as we were trying to slowly enter the water.

We always knew that the moment the water hit our stomachs, we might as well just dive in and swim out through the waves.

Within about thirty seconds, we were used to the water temperature.  We didn’t think about it for the rest of the day.  All we were thinking about was catching the next wave and buying a hot dog and a Coke for something like a dollar at lunch time.

We humans have an incredible ability to adapt.  Sure, we feel the shock of a new challenge deep in our gut at first.  We’ll wonder how in the world we’re going to deal with this new set of problems.  But, give us a little time, and we have what it takes to not only adapt, but to overcome.

The only question is whether we choose to adapt.

It’s our choice.

We decide whether we’ll dive into the cold waves and paddle out, or retreat to the warm safety of the beach.

The beach may be safe, but the waves we’re trying to catch are out in the water.

Time to dive in and start paddling.

Photo Credit:  That’s our grandson, Charlie.  He’s riding his first wave on a boogie board, at Beach 69 on the Big Island, a few weeks ago.  He turns 4 this weekend.  Cowabunga, Charlie!

 

Anything You Write…

“Anything you write can be fixed, except for the pristine perfection of the blank page.” –Neil Gaiman

Our future is the ultimate blank page.  The cursor blinks patiently, endlessly.  Waiting for us to write something.

That cursor doesn’t care what we’ve written in the past.  It doesn’t really care what we’ll write in the future.  Still it blinks…waiting.

Writers sometimes talk about writer’s block.  The intimidating view of a blank page that beckons them to write something…anything.

I agree with Seth Godin, that there’s no such thing as writer’s block.  Rather, there’s fear that what I’m writing won’t be as perfect as I want it to be.  It won’t be accepted by my readers.  It may be shunned, castigated, or otherwise flamed by someone I don’t even know.

So, my lizard brain protects me by making sure I don’t write a thing.

The same is true in life.  What we write into our life today may not be perfect.  It may not make sense to anyone.  It may be wrong.

That’s okay.  As Mr. Gaiman says, we can fix it.

Today’s page will be written, whether we do the writing or not.

What will you write today?

 

Photo Credit:  Bob’s computer screen before and after writing this post

 

The Dodge

Here’s a paradox about productivity:

I’m often most productive when dodging the thing I’m supposed to be doing.

I always know when I’m avoiding a task, even if tell myself I’m not.  That task that seems undoable, requires multiple synchronized steps, requires difficult decisions, involves lots of other people who may not be “on board,” or the task with a nebulous benefit way out in the future.

It’s easy to dodge these challenging tasks and focus on the simple stuff.  That list of to-dos I can knock out in an afternoon.

I know I’m not doing the tough thing, but at least I’m being productive.  Nobody can accuse me of being lazy if I just keep moving.

This is the curse of staying busy, while not accomplishing anything.

I can dodge all I want.  I can tell myself stories to justify my delay.

It doesn’t matter, the tough task will still be there, waiting.

Here’s another paradox:

When I finally face the tough task, the one I’ve been avoiding, it usually starts to look a lot easier.  The next indicated steps begin to show themselves.  The unwieldy becomes doable.

The dodge makes the tough task appear bigger than it really is.

It comes down to fear.  Fear of the unknown.  Fear of the difficult.  Fear of embarrassment.  Fear of failure.  Fear of success (yes, this is a thing).

What if this task is harder than I imagined?  What if it owns me?  What if I can’t do it?  What if someone sees me fail?

The answer to all these questions is, “So what.  Get started anyway.  Stop dodging and start doing.”

“Knowing what to do is very, very different than actually doing it.” – Seth Godin

Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash

 

 

 

Iteration is Everything

Iteration knows none of us know.

Iteration recognizes our first try isn’t our only try.

Iteration feeds innovation.

Iteration is fueled by our commitment.

Iteration is the only path to knowing.

Iteration overcomes our Resistance.

Iteration makes the mysterious familiar.

Iteration makes the impossible possible.

Iteration makes mistakes.

Iteration requires failure to find success.

Iteration sheds light on the darkness we fear.

Iteration is the journey to greater understanding.

Iteration always gives us another try.  The question is:  Do we have the courage to try again?

 

Photo by Tommy Lisbin on Unsplash

 

 

The Book on Pushups

Surely, reading a book on pushups is the best way to learn how to do them.

The proper techniques.  The most effective forms.

When should you do your pushups?  How often each week?

While doing your pushups, what should your mind be doing?

What’s the proper number of pushups per set?  How many sets should you do?

What are all the available variations of pushups?

Why should you do pushups in the first place?

Are there any risks associated with doing pushups?  What about the rewards?

What if the author also provides weekly blog posts and podcasts about pushups…or YouTube videos of people doing pushups?

All of this is helpful. None will match what you learn by doing your first pushup.

That first one will be awkward.  It’ll shock your system.  It’ll be much harder than you imagined after seeing all those happy people doing them on YouTube.

Your technique will be terrible.  Your body will scream in protest.  Your wrists will ache, your shoulders will burn, you’ll probably feel muscles in your lower back you haven’t felt in a while.

Now that you’ve done that first one, what about the next ten?  The next hundred?  Will you make this a habit?  Will you do pushups every day, every-other-day?

Maybe you’ll decide they’re too hard and just skip them altogether…

It’s the same with most things in life.  Reading about it, talking about it, or watching it provide only one dimension of understanding.

Doing is an entirely different thing.

Doing brings the risk of failure, the risk of embarrassment.

Doing requires discipline and endurance for the journey you’ve chosen.

Doing requires personal drive and motivation to push through the awkward (and sometimes painful) beginning.

It’s easy to sit on the sidelines of life, casually watching and listening to what everyone else is doing.  But, the most important choice each of us can make is the choice to step into the game.

Step in and do the thing you’ve been watching.

It’s the only way to truly learn.

 

Photo by Lopez Robin on Unsplash