Simply Better

“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”

–     Leondardo daVinci (1452 – 1519), Italian Renaissance man and master of many arts, sciences and other disciplines….simplistically…

More or longer words don’t make it more sophisticated.  More slides in the deck don’t make it more sophisticated.

If we’re spending more time trying to impress than we are to communicate, we add complexity to the equation, not sophistication and surely not simplicity.

Simplicity is our friend.  Complexity Human-induced complexity breeds misunderstanding and clouds expectations.

Simplicity – which is not a synonym for “simple” – adds sophisticated clarity.

I remember after my dad’s first cancer surgery I complimented his surgeon, Dr. Al-Jerf, on how amazingly efficient he was at an extraordinarily complex surgery.

He said, “What I do is simple. Another doctor found cancer inside your father. I removed it.”

I’m thinkin’ that’s why he’s so good.

In simplicity lies the answer.  Difference makers cut through the complexity to find the straight-forward way forward.

Manufactured Holidays

“All you need is love.  But, a little chocolate now and then helps.”

–     Charles M. Schulz (1922 – 2000), creator of the Peanuts (“Charlie Brown”) comics

Look, Easter, Christmas and our birthdays, along with Independence Day, Veteran’s Day and Memorial Day ought to be enough, right?

Wrong, I guess.

I’ve long been a cynic when it comes to “manufactured holidays.”  Lately, though, in a world gone too cynical even for this cynic, where everyone is against something and few stand for something, I’m a convert.

“I’m for love,” sang Hank Williams, Jr.  “I’m for happiness.  I’m for “if you don’t like it can’t you just let it pass?”  (The live version is saucier, and more to my liking…)

If Grandparents’ Day is a reminder for our kids to call their grandmas and grandpas, that’s good.  If St. Patrick’s Day is a reason to paint the Chicago River green and pretend we’re 21 again, that’s gotta be a nice release from the day-to-day, right?  Fill in the blank with a manufactured holiday of your choosing.  Why not make the most of it?

It sort of begs the question, “What if we treated ever day like a holiday?”  Like a gift?  ‘Cause every day really is a gift – arguably one we don’t deserve and can’t count on receiving.

As for this particular holiday, and any involving the Heston Women, chocolate does help.  There is chocolate for them today, as well as a heartfelt reminder that my life would kinda suck without them and, without the tall one, the boy in the middle. As he said when he was little, he “NO like chocolate!” so a vanilla cupcake for him, with that same reminder.

Look around today at your Valentines.  And, if alone today, remember those you love, have loved or who have loved you, and manufacture a smile.  Make a phone call.  Let someone know that they make / made a difference for you.  It’ll give them a real — not manufactured — smile, and a sense of worth, peace and happiness.  All of which are better, even, than chocolate.

And, if we want to get really wacky, what if we manufactured another holiday tomorrow?  Let’s call it, “Make The Most of Today Day.”  Would at least our part of the cynical world be a better place to live?  It might just make a difference.


“Please!  This is supposed to be a happy occasion.  Let’s not bicker and argue over who killed who!”

–     King of Swamp Castle, from Monty Python and The Holy Grail, circa 1975

And now, for something completely different…

Not sure why, but at about 3:45 AM today, I awoke thinking of Monty Python.  Silly stuff.  This scene stuck with me, and the concept of bickering came to the fore when DD time rolled around…

Bickering does not move the needle.  At least not in the direction we’d like…

There are two sources of bickering, in the business sense.

First, there are those who bicker over credit.  When something goes well, they want the kudos.  They might even deserve the kudos.  What I’ve learned over the years is, do enough good things, and do them well over the long haul, and the credit for those good things has a tendency to come home to roost where it deserves to rest.

Second, there are those who bicker over blame.  Blame is a loser’s game.  A sucker’s bet.  Blame keeps us from the most important part of losing — learning.  The fact of the matter is, it’s rarely just one person’s fault, and even when it is, what good does that information do us?  Now, as leaders, if we have people consistently gumming up the works, we have to correct, teach and ultimately, maybe make a call on whether we have the right players on the roster.  But blame?  Difference makers ain’t got time for that.

Who did, who didn’t?  Who won the deal?  Who messed up the delivery?  In the big picture, does it really matter?  If it does, let’s deal with it with positive intention.  If it doesn’t, let’s not bicker and argue on what may well be a happy occasion.

Credit tends to accrue for those who’ve earned it.  Blame tends to become self-evident.  Outcomes don’t hinge on either of those two considerations.  Outcomes hinge on how we use our time, and bickering is a loser’s game.  A sucker’s bet.

Forecasting Folly or Forming the Future

“Forecasting is very difficult.  Especially when it involves the future.”

–     Yogi Berra (1925 – 2015), Hall-of-Fame baseball player, coach and manager, and king of the malapropism 

They say it’s gonna snow 3 – 7″ tonight here in the Moines.  Or, maybe it won’t.  The forecast, you see, is very difficult, because it involves the future.

Forecasting our business isn’t like forecasting the weather, though.  It’s more important.

So, why do we use a stick instead of a carrot?  Why do we delegate, delegate, delegate and then punish, punish, punish?  If our forecast is the most important thing to investors, clients, employees and providers, why not take a collaborative approach instead of a “guess and blame” approach?

“But, wait,” we might be thinking.  “Sales people have to know their business!  The unit leader has to be able to forecast the performance.”

Both of those statements are true.  Yet forecasting isn’t just the role of the “meteorologist on duty,” it’s the role of everyone in the business.  The collective experience and wisdom of the team goes in to a forecast that is about forming the future rather than guessing about what might happen.

Getting it right requires at least four strong commitments.

  1. Transparency; being completely open and honest about what’s going on in the business — good, bad and confusing — is imperative if we’re going to forecast with any credibility.  And that sometimes means getting the “big uglies” out on the table without fear of reprisal.
  2. Shared Consequences; if we’re being transparent, we’ll know when a sales pro is sand-bagging or overly optimistic.  Making it everyone’s job invites open, direct communication and sharing the upside and downside of getting it right and / or wrong makes for a healthy team, business unit or company.  We also grow stronger team members when we’re all in it together.
  3. Scenario Planning; if / then discussions help us zero in on likelihoods and provide ample room to know what options we have when “life happens” along the course of our days
  4. Constant Focus & Prioritization; When our “true north” is our forecast, we make informed decisions about activities, responses, approaches and resources.  We decide in order to form the future, based on the forecast we’ve built, together.

Meetings: A 3 x 3 x 3 Guide

“If you had to describe in one word why the human race has not achieved, and never will achieve, its full potential, that word would be “meetings.” “

–     Dave Barry (b. 1947), American columnist, humorist, and man with a great understanding of the life-sucking-effect of bad meetings

Unfortunately, based on experience, I estimate that 93.789% of all meetings fit the description of “bad meetings.”  It’s like service in a restaurant.  It’s become so bad that we don’t notice, until we have a great server, and then we remember why we came.  Quick, write down a list of the great meetings you’ve been a part of in the last six weeks?  Done already?  That’s the point…

For the sake of this overly simplistic approach to the topic, let’s say a meetings is a scheduled interaction between three or more people.  We’ll skip the one-on-one’s for today.

Construct:  Meetings should be used to debate and decide, not to share information.  There are plenty of channels and tools for information sharing.  We share information in advance of a meeting so that we can debate it and decide based upon the debate in a meeting.

Let’s look at the 3 x 3 x 3 approach in the headline.

If You’re The One Calling the Meeting:

1)  Make sure the purpose is clear.  A good meeting has an outcome.

2)  Make sure the agenda maps to the outcome.  A good meeting has an agenda, set in advance, that guides the discussion.

3)  Make sure that everyone knows what preparation they need to do before the meeting and what their role in the meeting is.  A good meeting comes with clear expectations.

If You’re Invited to / Required to Attend the Meeting:

1)  Know the purpose and expected outcome, in advance.

2)  Insist on an agenda and an understanding of your role and what preparation you need to complete in order to be productive in the meeting.

3)  Do the pre-work.  Research.  Prepare.  And, then, when the meetings starts, engage and participate.  Map your thoughts and words to the outcome described in #1.

If The Meeting Doesn’t Have A Purpose, Agenda and Clear Advance Work:

1)  If you’re the organizer, cancel it.

2)  If you’re the invitee, decline it or request that it be postponed until you have what you need to make it a good use of everyone’s time.

3)  Seek the “Why?” answers with your teammates.  “Why don’t we know what we want to get out of this time together?”  “Why are we meeting at all if we don’t have an agenda?”


There’s a lot more to this topic.  I recommend Patrick Lencioni’s “Death by Meeting,” which I’ll be re-reading.  Read along with me, won’t you?


Sun Tzu on Our Calendar

“Know the enemy and know yourself…”

          –     Sun Tzu (544 BC – 496 BC), Chinese general, military strategist and “author” of “The Art of War

Know the enemy…  And, I’ll bet you a $6 latte that our calendar is public enemy #1 for many of us.

Warren Buffet’s calendar is the model.  Ours is likely the anti-model.

Going from meeting to meeting to meeting to meeting, back-to-back-to-back gives us a false sense of importance.  It’s busyness at it’s absolute worst and it tricks us in to thinking that we’re A) more important than we are and B) that we don’t have time for the stuff we want or need to get to.

Buffet’s calendar is, essentially, blank.  According to Forbes and other interviews with Buffet over the years, he spends 80% of his time reading.  His calendar looks like a brand-new journal the day before you start journaling in it! And no, he didn’t just start that when he became one of the world’s wealthiest people.  It’s how he became one of the world’s wealthiest people.

I met with one of our city’s most successful CEO’s earlier this week.  We set aside 45 minutes for a meeting he was gracious enough to have.  In 20 minutes, we’d covered everything that was important to me, a couple things that were important to him, and we’d uncovered one new thing that will be important to us both.  Then we took the other 25 minutes and we each used it for something that wasn’t the “next meeting.”  It was energizing and empowering for us both.

Buffet-izing our calendar likely won’t be easy.  There are real competitors.  There are internal challenges.  There are market events.  There are client issues.  There are sales presentations and networking events.  Yet there are also only 24 hours in today.   Look it up.  It’s true.  And some of those we ought to use for sleep, family, exercise, friends….  Do we really want to spend them in an “update meeting,” or a “meeting to determine that no one did anything since the last meeting but they feel compelled to give a 15-minute update on what they didn’t do so that it sounds like they did something meeting?”  You get it.  And since the number of hours we have available to us won’t change, day-to-day, perhaps we can look at how we spend them.

What if the calendar stops being the enemy?  What if it becomes an asset?  Isn’t a couple weeks of uncomfortably saying, “No, I can’t / don’t need to be / don’t want to be in that meeting…” worth having the time to make a difference?

Tomorrow, we’ll wrap up the week with a tip or two on converting our calendar to be an asset, not an enemy.  Until then, comment below.  Let’s make this one a conversation.  Let’s brainstorm ideas on knowing ourselves well enough to know our calendar well enough to make it our friend, and not our enemy.


What’s A Picture Worth?

“The greatest value of a picture is when it forces us to notice what we never expected to see.”

          –     John Tukey (1915 – 2000), renowned Mathematician

If a picture is worth a thousand words, that’s not our best play, because a thousand words is a LOT of words.  More words than could ever be necessary.

Let’s look at the value of a picture from two different angles, at least when it comes to persuasion.

First, what is a picture?

Physically, it can be a photograph.  It can be a graphic.  It can be a cartoon, a drawing or a scribble on a whiteboard. If we choose this route, we ought to be aware that the viewer of the picture may see something different than we intend (remember the Rorshach Test?), which leads us to the second, affiliated definition.

A picture can be a story.  A “word-picture,” if you will.  The physical definition requires little skill (after all, the word “scribble” is included, right?), but if we’re going to use stories at pictures, it requires practice, preparation and commitment.  For the sake of simplicity, simply consider the way one reads “The Night Before Christmas” to a three-year-old, compared to how one reads it to an older child.  The willingness to seek the three-year-old sense of wonderment in any audience is what makes us qualified to use stories as pictures.

Even if we use actual images, we had better have a story to tell that narrows down the interpretations of the audience.

Second, what good is a picture in persuading?

A picture is better than our “shoulds,” as we covered last Thursday.  No one wants to know why we think they should or shouldn’t do or not do something.  A picture though, helps it become their idea!  And when we show / tell them a picture that makes it their idea, that’s where the magic happens.

Editor’s Note:  Yes, I fully realize that I’m lagging in not using pictures, actual images, more in The Daily Difference.  Yes, I realize that relying too much on stories limits the effectiveness of The Daily Difference.  Feedback suggests the impact is real, and for you long-term subscribers, I hope you agree.  For you newer subscribers, bear with me.  Better is coming…  

Size Matters

“A man is about as big as the things that make him angry.”

–     Winston Churchill

I sorta hate this quote because it makes me realize how small I am sometimes.

I sorta love this quote because it tells me why.

I sorta wonder if we made a list of all the things that tick us off, if we wouldn’t see how few of them matter.  At all.

I sorta wanna go through today and not let anything make me mad.

Worth the effort?

Sustained Excellence

“When your remote control has fifty buttons, you can’t change the channel anymore.”

–     Chip and Dan Heath, in their 2007 book, “Made To Stick; Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die

This post is not about the LIII-rd “Big Game” last night.  This post is about The EE’s.

Referring to the REELAX Leadership Model, the EE’s are where sustained excellence is born.

An environment where success is the most likely outcome…  That one is steeped in strategy, process and transparency.  As leaders, when we create an environment where obstacles are removed, where execution is largely instinctive and auto-reflex induced, those with whom we compete will be on their heels and guessing at what they should do next while we’er just doing what we should do next, in a way that seems effortless and is energizing.

Expectations that are so clear they cannot be misunderstood…  When everyone knows their job, and (this is important) how it ties to the greater goal, the over-arching outcome we’re seeking as a team or an organization, and when everyone knows their teammates are completely reliant upon them to get their part right, it brings clarity in every instance.  It erases doubt and makes measuring a very simple exercise indeed.  Years ago, when I was being trained in the Anheuser Busch management system, I met a janitor at the Fort Collins, CO brewery.  I complimented him on how immaculately clean the place was, and he replied, “A clean brewery is an efficient brewery, and that’s one way we’re gonna get to 50% market share.”  If he’d have had a mic, he could have dropped it.

The New England Patriots, whether we like them, hate them or don’t care one way or the other — have been to nine of the last nineteen Super Bowls.  They have won six of them.  Same coach.  Same quarterback.  Same system.  You could say they have the EE’s pretty much nailed.

So, technically, I guess this post was kind of about the LIII-rd “Big Game” last night…

Sorry ’bout that…



Different From Anything Else

“It is, if nothing else, different from anything else on TV.”

–     Dan Wolken in his USA Today column, referring to Tony Romo, CBS’s expert analyst for Super Bowl LIII® on Sunday

On our best day, it would be cool to be as good at our jobs at Tony Romo is at his.  Watching a football game Romo covers is like watching the game with an NFL quarterback on the couch next to you, but there’s more.  He’s a fan.  He’s excitable.  He’s got a youthful charm and a boyish energy that makes a game between teams we don’t care about worth watching.  And, he’s amazingly accurate in what he talks about.  He describes the game as if he were coming out of the huddle, while still sitting on the couch next to you.  It’s really cool, even if you’re not a football fan, which is the point of Wolken’s column.

It’s not the point of this post, though.

The point of this post is the importance of being different in a homogenous market — and, look around, your market is more homogenous than you’d like it to be.

Procurement teams are built, and tools are developed to make every provider look the same.  No matter how different they are.  Sites that allow companies to combine their buying power are in the business of creating a homogenous comparison — even when doing so overstates or minimizes the value of some providers.

The reason Romo is such a good example of what differentiated companies seek is that his style, his value, his approach — it’s all virtually impossible to homogenize.

Maybe it’s our story.  Maybe it’s the way we tell it.  Maybe it’s being more selective in to whom we tell it and maybe it’s being more selective in choosing to whom we sell it.  There’s something we have or offer that no one else has or offers.  Let’s find it and leverage the heck out of it.

In the meantime, in a game between a team I respect but don’t like, and a team I simply don’t care much about, I’ll be watching, with the volume up, to hear the show that is Tony Romo.