Ideas As Currency II

“Nothing is more dangerous than an idea, when you only have one idea.”

–     Emile-Auguste Chartier (1868 – 1951), French philosopher, author and pacifist

Yes, I just quoted a self-described pacifist….I know, weird, right?  Still, if we’re going to be difference makers, where ideas are our preferred currency, his point is worth taking very seriously.

I’d argue that if you only have one idea, it’s probably more about desperation than ideation.

It doesn’t have to be a “the heavens opened up” moment, either.  Having more ideas can / should be done very intentionally.  How?

Ask until there are more ideas.  Change the context until there are more ideas.  Don’t engage in any “How?” discussions until there are more options to consider.  “Huh?” you might be saying…

“What if it was illegal or immoral to pursue this idea?” we can ask.  “What would we do then?”

“What are the top three reasons this idea might fail?” we can ask.  “What would our response be in each of those three cases?”

It’s less about the answers to those questions than the conversations that take place in addressing them.  Ideation is about throwing a lot of paint on the canvas until we have a picture we can justify hanging on the wall.  Ideation is about taking on change with no ramifications, no consequences, no downside, because all we’re doing is spit-balling a rigorous game of “What if?”

If we only have one idea to consider, we ought not to consider it.  Our currency is devalued in that case.  Putting more ideas in play removes the bias, reduces the danger, and increases the commitment to the new idea we ultimately choose.

Editor’s Note:  It also has a side benefit.  It creates contingencies, even if we don’t realize it at the time.

Make it a great weekend!

Ideas as Currency

“There are few minds in a century that can look upon a new idea without terror.  Fortunately for the rest of us, there are very few new ideas.”

–     W. Somerset Maugham (1874 – 1965), British writer, philosopher

“I can’t understand why people are frightened of new ideas.  I’m frightened of the old ones.”

–     John Cage (1912 – 1992), American composer and music theorist

Ideas are the currency of Difference Makers.

And new ideas are scarier than heck!

While these two quotes may seem to be in conflict, like Cage’s musical creations, there’s tons of harmony here.

New ideas are few, therefore they’re extraordinarily valuable.  New ideas are new, therefore, human nature is to fear them, resist them.

In a compressing market?  What got you here won’t keep you viable.  In an evolving market?  Those who challenge the status quo will evolve more quickly than competitors.

Dealing in the currency of ideas requires two commitments:

  1. We’d better make it safe to fail.
  2. We’d better be willing to fail quickly and redirect as needed.

These two commitments require two disciplines:

  1. When considering new ideas, we can’t limit ourselves to one.  The key is to consider multiple concepts and blend, combine or eliminate based on the broader view.  We layer too much risk into an already scary space (change), if we fall in love with an idea before we consider alternatives.  (More on this tomorrow, by the way…)
  2. Failing quickly still requires taking time to learn from the errors.  If we fail quickly without gleaning knowledge and experience, we’ve wasted the opportunity.

Ideas are the currency of Difference Makers.  Entering the scary space where new ideas can take root increases the value of our currency.



Ask & Listen

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”

–     George Bernard Shaw (1856 – 1950), Irish playwright and influencer of Western culture

“I know you believe you understand what you think I said, but I’m not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.”

–     Classic tee shirt from my youth, loosely attributed to Robert McCloskey (1914 – 2003), American writer and illustrator

So, how do we correct the illusion that communication has taken place? How do we makes sure, absolutely, positively sure that what you heard is what I meant?

We ask.  And we listen, intently and actively.

“Did you / does that mean…?”

“Why is that / isn’t that the case…?”  “What caused that / prevented that…?”

“How did that feel (for you, for your team, for your boss, for your customers…)…?” (This is a big one!)  

“Can you help me understand…?”  “What would have to change in order for us to ______?”  “Are we on the right track together?”

“What one thing would you / wouldn’t you change…?”  “If we only accomplish one thing together, what would you want it to be?”

Regardless of our role we should be asking these and other questions.

The point is, we ask to go deeper, “seeking first to understand.” We ask, because unless we do, the illusion wins out, and the ambiguity grows. Reality and clarity are our friends, while illusion and ambiguity are not.


Jake & Elwood on Playing Offense

Elwood:  “It’s 106 miles to Chicago.  We got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes.  It’s dark, and we’re wearing sunglasses.”

Jake:  “Hit it!”

–     Dialogue in this scene from the movie, “The Blues Brothers”

Yesterday, we referenced playing offense as one of four intentional behaviors for difference makers.  What does that mean, really?

There are at least four keys to consider in playing offense.

First, we need a game plan.  That plan should be based upon our strengths, both as individuals and as a team, and aimed at specific outcomes that serve as mileposts to a greater outcome.  Wyatt, (the Middle of The Three Heston Kids) has become enamored with Aaron Rodgers’ unique ability to pull off “Hail Mary” passes.  It is cool, but Hail Mary’s are last-gasp, desperation-based plays designed to overcome either a flawed game plan or a poorly executed one.  Great game plans in our businesses give us instant feedback so we can assess how we’re doing measured against the greater goal and ideally, they make the Hail Mary plays unnecessary.

And that brings us to measurable.  Einstein said “not everything that counts can be counted and not everything that can be counted counts.”  In other words, we have to choose our measures carefully, and some might be at least a little subjective.  Employee engagement, client loyalty and cash flow are critical measures that both count, and can be counted.  Momentum, energy, market response and others should be watched and measured, with the understanding that the metrics might be softer, and that the filters through which we see them might change as the business unfolds.

A third element is being flexible.  I like the metaphor of off-ramps on the interstate and alternate routes in our map app.  Maybe it’s actually going to be 113 miles to Chicago.  Maybe there’s an accident on the Kennedy and we have to take The Ike, and maybe that affects our arrival time / delivery date.  That’s why cars have signals and break lights, and why drivers have free will to decide.  The only thing worse than a bad game plan is one that is so rigid it leaves no room for instinct, experience and common-sense to help us feel our way along.

Finally, we need an action orientation.  Jake and Elwood could have debated the wisdom of the sunglasses.  They could have done a calculation on whether they had enough gas or smokes.    That would have wrecked one of the best scenes / lines from my favorite movie and besides, paralysis by analysis kills more teams and companies that multiple errors of aggression.  It is impossible to design a perfect game plan.  We will never have all the information we’d like to have prior to stepping on the accelerator.  We will be tempted to wait, consider, plot, noodle and contingency-plan ourselves into a mind-numbing state of inaction.  No!  Based on what they knew they had and where they knew they needed to be, Jake and Elwood decided to “Hit it!” and so must we.  (After all, they were (and we are) “on a mission from God!”  They couldn’t wait, they had to trust and go!)

How far is it to your destination?  How much fuel is in the tank?  How clear is your vision?  If our intent is to play offense, and we’ve got a game plan, it’s likely that all that is left is for us to “Hit it!”

4 Intentional Behaviors for Difference Makers

“Intentional living is the act of making our own choices before others’ choices make us.”

–     Richie Norton, author, blogger, speaker

Intentionality is a fantastic tool for cutting through the static.  It’s a clutter reducer.  Intentionality brings clarity and speed to the party.

Here are four behaviors that will expedite positive, meaningful change in any organization, if communicated well (intentionally) and executed on with the REELAX Leadership Model at the forefront:

1)  Change The Conversation

Ask different questions.  Seek different answers.  (Those are two different things, by the way!)  Invite different opinions.  Get beyond the data and leverage real insights.  Take the opposite perspective on something you believe deeply and build a case.  (It’ll give you a different view as to why you believe, not what you believe…)  Lead the team through an exercise titled, “What If We’re 100% Wrong, What Would We Do Then!?”

2)  Play Offense

My mom, an otherwise amazing lady, was a “disaster lurks around every corner” kind of mindset.  Granted, with that approach, we might limit our big losses, but we also might miss most of our best opportunities.  If our team is constantly focused on not losing, we owe it to them and to ourselves to play the game to win the game.  We can’t lose what we don’t have.  Therefore, we ought to try to win what we want!

3)  Honor Outcomes over Processes and Transactions

Outcomes.  That’s why we get out of bed every morning.  Difference makers understand that processes can become the problem, and that markets and businesses evolve over time.  If we’re just focused on the next transaction, we’ll likely miss the opportunity that comes from seeking bigger-picture outcomes.  Example?  Are we taking bad deals, “transactions,” at the expense of sustainable, life-giving growth?  That’s a transactions-over-outcomes trap worth avoiding.  And, if “we’ve always done it this way,” or “we don’t do it that way,” gets in the way of “hey, what if we tried __________” that’s honoring process over outcomes.  That’s icky!  Honor outcomes — and the quality and frequency of great outcomes ratchets up pretty quickly.

4)  Be A Learning Organization

Build networks.  Invite insight from unrelated sources.  Interview a wildly-successful-but-out-of-market competitor.  Take a class.  Teach a class.  On “Bring Your Children To Work Day,” ask the kids what they would do if they were faced with _______________.  Loan an executive to The United Way.  Hire interns and ask them to really engage, deeply.  Call the last three leaders who left your team, buy them lunch and ask them what you could have done differently to make it better for them.  Do the same with the last ten clients who’ve left.  Ask, record and share the two or three differentiators that made your three newest clients sign up with you.  Remember your favorite childhood story and review it with your business in mind.  You get the point, right?  Every single day — see how deeply we can drive the learning, on an individual and team basis.

Not the only four, but four behaviors that, intentionally and relentlessly executed upon, become cornerstones for winning companies.  When we intentionally approach our days with these behaviors as foundations, markets don’t shift without us being ready.  Clients / employees don’t surprise us by leaving.  When we intentionally change the conversation, play offense, honor outcomes and learn, learn, learn — we separate ourselves from the pack in a very meaningful manner!


3 Reasons HR Should Always Report to the CEO

“There are only three measurements that tell you nearly everything you need to know about your organization’s overall performance:  employee engagement, client satisfaction and cash flow.”

–     Jack Welch (b. 1935), longtime, wildly successful CEO of General Electric

“It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do.  We hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.”

–     attributed to Steve Jobs (1955 – 2011), co-founder and twice CEO of Apple

While Jobs carries cult-hero status even years after his death, bashing Welch has become popular these days, which baffles me.  It’s been 17 years since he had the wheel, and during his time, GE not only spun off cash and stock growth that was the envy of most companies, and he also produced a culture that spawned dozens of world-class CEO’s and senior executives.


Because he knew people came first.  If your company is ginormous (technical term), Human Resources should still report to the CEO.  If your company is tiny, the owner / CEO should still have direct responsibility for the people part of the puzzle.  Because…

1) If there’s a problem, the right people will fix it.  It may stem from a flawed process.  Bad marketing.  Inadequate cash management or some other accounting issue.  Behind each of those issues lie real human beings, and the CEO needs a direct line to the firing, hiring, developing and promoting decisions in the company.

2) If there’s not a problem, the right people will maximize the opportunity.  In good times, some departments, or individual’s might tend to coast a bit.  The CEO needs a direct line to the people decisions that permit a company to maximize opportunity when it presents itself.

3) Employee engagement is a hot topic, and it ain’t gonna cool off anytime soon.  I’m not particularly impressed by Glassdoor® or any other public forum where people can go air their dirty laundry anonymously.  I think we should air our dirty laundry with conviction, at the “family table,” so-to-speak.  Still, the best, and lowest cost recruiting there is comes from Albert in Accounting, who recommends Sandy for Sales.  The best employee retention comes when Sandy reminds Albert of all the great things he told her about the company when she hired on.  Don Clifton and Marcus Buckingham had in right in “First, Break All The Rules;” when we’re connected, engaged and devoted to our teams at work, great things happen, individually and in the broader picture as well.

Technically, I guess I could have titled the post “The Reason…” instead of three.  The reason?  People first.  And if the people are going to really be first, the CEO has to have direct access to and accountability for the people people.


Success Is Inevitable — Unless We Give Up

“Champions know that success is inevitable; that there is no such thing as failure, only feedback.  They know that the best way to forecast the future is to create it.”

–     Michael Gelb (b. 1952), author and speaker on innovation and creativity

“…no such thing as failure, only feedback.”

Annnnnnnnnnnnnnnd, he dropped the mic.  (Editor’s Note:  I don’t know if he actually drops the mic at this point.  I just know he should…)

When we’re born, we don’t know failure.  Watch an infant who’s just learning to walk.  Instinctively, they know they’re going to get up and waddle over to that basket of neatly folded laundry and tip it over, maybe just…not…right….now…

They press up, they take a step, the fall.  (Since they don’t know failure, it’s feedback:  “Felt like I was leaning a little left there,” they say to themselves, instinctively.  “I’ll adjust…”)  They press up, they take a step, maybe a step and a half and they fall…  Rinse.  Repeat.  Pretty soon, they’ve rambled across the floor and are playing joyfully among the recently neatly folded t-shirts.

They don’t know failure.  The only know feedback.

We wreck them as parents; “Be careful or you might fall!”.  Our education system further wrecks them.  Their peers, also wrecked by their parents and the same system, wreck them even further.  “Dude, epic fail!” they say as the skateboard goes one way and the kid the other…  They laugh derisively, and maybe Junior doesn’t get back on the board…

And finally, when they / we get into their / our careers, they / we start something new with a clear picture of what failure looks like, but a missing perspective on success.

The differentiator is in those that refuse to see the wind.  (In the Bible, (Matthew, Chapter 14) Peter sees Jesus walking across the water, towards the disciples’ boat, which is being tossed about in the storm.  Acting on Faith, he steps out to walk toward Jesus, and even after a few successful steps “Peter sees the wind,” freaks out and begins to sink…)  Champions refuse to see the wind.  They know that success is inevitable.

When we embrace as feedback what we’ve historically considered to be failure, we rise above the rest.  We become the Abe Lincoln, Thomas Edison, George Patton, Muhammad Ali, Michael Jordan, Serena Williams or Michael Phelps of the moment.  We inspire those around us and we raise the bar for everyone.  We change the game by leveraging the feedback.

Success really is inevitable, as long as we press up, steel our resolve and take another step forward, our eyes firmly fixed on the prize.  Success really is inevitable.  Unless we give up.

Actively Thankful…

“It took your Aunt Marilyn a lot more time and effort to make that ceramic baseball player for your birthday than it’s going to take you to sit down and write a thank you note, so you sit down right now and you write it.”

–     Pat Heston (1936 – 2006), my mom, Olympic quality worry-wart, glass is half empty pessimist and perhaps the most thankful person every born

Man, did she nag me about this stuff. And, man, do I miss that nagging!

That said, the ceramic Little Leaguer sits on a table in the corner of my office to this day (that’d be 47 years now, for those of you scoring at home), and I still try to send at least three or four handwritten notes each day.

It’s one thing to say, “Thanks.” It’s another to be thankful.

The discipline of actually being thankful is one of those investments that pay incredible dividends in comparison to just “saying” thanks.

It’s a verb.

It’s a verb that easily gets passive, especially if we let the pace of life get in the way. As we begin a new year we ought to re-examine just how active we want the verb to be in our lives, and to examine how committed we want to be about making it more active, even as the season passes.

It’s also a mindset.

Traffic on the way to the mall Friday? Maybe it’s a chance to turn up the radio and listen to that song you haven’t heard in months.  Someone droning on and on during a conference call? Maybe it’s a chance for you to bring clarity to the matter at hand, to somehow leverage the gifts you’ve been given to return focus to the conversation. Illness? Maybe a chance to look around a quiet room and realize that no matter how crappy you feel, that there are comforts in the room that someone else would almost die to have. Loss of a loved one? Maybe a chance to celebrate a life well lived…

You get the idea.

We live in a country that isn’t getting much right these days. Politics rule while governing should. Partisanship takes precedent over doing the right thing. The media makes stars out of people who were yesterday’s punch lines. Mandy Patinkin hasn’t been on TV for years, but The Kardashians are on every five minutes.

But, we live in a country where we got to vote for the idiots who are dorfing things up. Most people don’t get to choose. We get to choose what channel to watch awful TV on. Some people can eat for three months on what we pay for cable. We get to drive in our cars to one of several theatres to see any number of bad movies of our choosing. Some people don’t have shoes, let alone a ride to wherever they want to get to.

As screwy as things are here, here is still a place that people from almost everywhere else are gaming the system to get in to. We have much to be thankful for, methinks.

When we commit to establishing a mindset of thankfulness, and we commit to making “thanking” an action verb, I wonder how much better things will feel in general, and I wonder how much of a light we become for those around us who are struggling today, with either the mindset or the action.



PIT Stop

“Don’t just do something!  Stand there!”

–     Dick Heston (1933 – 2002), my dad, a wise man

Sometimes we’re too active.

A “pit stop” is a good way to get fuel, new tires and better traction for a race car driver.  It’s a good way for us business types to get the same things.

Set aside time each day to:

Plan — to make sure that your activities for the day match the desired outcomes.

Ideate — ideas are the currency of difference makers.  Look at things from a different angle and ask, “What if I…” or “What if I didn’t….?”

Think — too often we’re just acting, or worse, reacting.  Taking a few deep breaths and “standing there,” as Dad would say, gives us time to connect our brains with our bodies, and that’s a worthwhile pursuit.

Head to the PITs once a day, and see if it makes as much of a difference for you as it does for me…

3 “First Things” Before the “Big Thing”

“You can’t swallow an elephant, but you can chop him up.”

–     Alfred E. Perlman (1902 – 1983), President of the New York / Penn Central Railroads, in a 1957 interview on how best to run a railroad…

Mixed Metaphor Alert!  Painting, eating and elephant, running a railroad….all woven in to this DD post…

I’ve always wondered the origin of the “one bite at a time” analogy, so I looked it up.  At the same time, I was reminded of Dad and Grandpa Stark frequently saying, “That’s no way to run a railroad…”  So, Heston, you might be thinking, what’s the danged point, already?!

OK, OK…  I randomly looked up 50 articles for CEO’s from last week, and 46 of them were “New Year’s Resolution” themed.  It makes sense, because the beginning of a new year is a logical time to think big, grandiose dreams and focus on big-picture outcomes.

And, we ought to remember that the big picture is the product of thousands of little brush strokes.  Which means we ought to decide where we’re going to put our first brush strokes as we begin the new year.

  1. Does your team know what you want them working on today?  Right now?  They probably know that you’d like ___% growth this year, or _____ new deals this quarter, but do they know what should be at the top of their priority list today?
  2. Does your team know how you’ll measure the progress along the way to the bigger goals you’ve set for the year?  Do they know how to connect the things they’re doing today to assess whether they’re getting closer to or further from the outcomes they’re pursuing?
  3. Does your team know where they fit in with the other teams?  Does logistics have clear insight to sales’ pipeline?  Does conversions know the timing of potential deals coming down the chute?  Does finance know the pricing dynamic in the market and are they frequently in conversation with the people closest to the market to get a head start on addressing market changes?  Does procurement know….

You get the point.

The best way to get to December 31 in a happy manner, is to get to January 8th with some means of measuring progress.

This time of year, it’s easy to get all wrapped up in the big, hairy and audacious.  That’s a very good place to have part of or focus.  Here, now, is an even better place to have a lot of our focus, and as long as we connect the two — the big picture and the brush strokes — our paintings get prettier, faster, and turn out to be masterpieces.