Impact

“Shooter’s shoot, Hes!  Keep shooting!”

–  Herb Justmann (1943 – 2021), my high school basketball coach and lifelong friend

Herb Justmann passed away peacefully in his sleep on Wednesday morning.  He leaves behind two of the most impressive young men I will ever know in his sons, and he leaves an impact on many, most personally for me and our son.

He always made sure we knew the why.

With Herb, we always knew the “Why.”  We do this because…  We’re running because…  You’re starting because…  I took you out because…  In leadership and coaching, if the team knows the why, they rarely will question the what, and if / when they do, it will be easier to answer or consider their input, because everyone understands the why.

He knew we were kids…

…so he found a way to make it fun.  I hated defense — my teammates would ask, “Hes, how do you know, you never played it…” — but somehow, someway, Herb made learning it and practicing it fun.  Is my memory romanticized by 41 years of distance?  Perhaps.  Still, I remember we laughed a lot in practice and on the bus trips, and even during the games.  We were pretty good, (Top Ten in the state) and it gutted us the few times we lost, but he never let us lose sight of the fact that it was a game. 

…yet he never treated us like children.

Some may have thought we were too friendly with our coach, or that he wasn’t enough of a disciplinarian.  They’d be dead freaking wrong.  We knew who the boss was, just like your employees do you if you’re in leadership.  He didn’t have to remind us, just like you don’t if you’re worth your salt as a leader.  He led.  And we followed him, growing as players and young men, and accordingly, some of our successes in our careers are tied to the example he set for us.  Did he light us up or give us a harsh look if we screwed up?  Yes, yes he did.  Did he yell at us?  You bet he did.  He was never demeaning, though, always constructive, reminding us of how much he expected of us, how capable we were, how much he trusted us, and how well prepared he knew we were — he treated us like we were men, members of something bigger, and so, we were.

He was himself, always and in all ways.

Long-time subscribers might remember a tribute to another friend of mine, whom I described as being “uniquely, terrifyingly himself at all times.”  With Herb, it wasn’t terrifying, it was simply predictable and, for me, refreshing.  This whole trend of tip-toeing around everyone’s feelings and giving every player a participation trophy is a crock of crap, for the most part, and it’s a crock that Herb didn’t have any interest in sampling from.  Again, though, never demeaning — never bad intentioned.  A throwback?  Probably, but if that’s true, he was a throwback to a time that was better.  End of sentence.  Just better.

He was loyal and he appreciated loyalty.

There’s probably not a lot to add here.  Herb Justmann was one of the most loyal people I will ever know, and he appreciated those who showed him, and others, loyalty.  I thought for most of my life that Dick Heston was the most loyal Brooklyn / Los Angeles Dodgers fan ever, but Herb trumped Dad in that category.  Loyal when they were good.  Loyal when they were less-good.  Same with the Hawkeyes.  Same with his family.  Same with his friends.

He made an impact.

Our son lit up when Herb was in attendance at his high school games, and he commented how much it probably meant to Herb when his team won the state championship last Spring.  Wyatt only met Herb a handful of times.  But he knew the impact the man had on me, and he experienced the way Herb poured into him during those few meetings.  Herb talked with him about his game, about the game, and in those 20-30 minutes of interaction — he made an impact on another generation.  It’s not a coincidence that Wyatt’s best high school game was played with Herb in the stands, just as it’s not a coincidence that many of my best moments have Herb’s fingerprints on them.

For nearly 17 years, this blog has been about making a difference — and intended for Difference Makers.  There is one less Difference Maker in the world today.  My prayer over all of us is that we might find a way to leave an impact something like the one Herb Justmann left at Heston House.

Shooter’s shoot, Herb.  And you shot the lights out, Coach.

 

This Is Not About Politics

“I come without explanations or solutions. I can only tell you what I have seen. On America’s day of trial and grief, I saw millions of people instinctively grab for a neighbor’s hand and rally to the cause of one another. That is the America I know. 
 
At a time when religious bigotry might have flowed freely, I saw Americans reject prejudice and embrace people of Muslim faith. That is the nation I know. 
 
At a time when nativism could have stirred hatred and violence against people perceived as outsiders, I saw Americans reaffirm their welcome of immigrants and refugees. That is the nation I know. 
 
At a time when some viewed the rising generation as individualistic and decadent, I saw young people embrace an ethic of service and rise to selfless action. That is the nation I know. 
 
This is not mere nostalgia; it is the truest version of ourselves. It is what we have been – and what we can be again.”

–  George Walker Bush (b. 1946), 43rd President of the United States of America, in a speech on September 11, 2021, at the United Flight 93 Memorial near Shanksville, PA

This is not about politics.  That’s why Bill Clinton was one of the first to tweet about the speech, and why anyone who’s heard it — left, right, radical, moderate — ought to heed its words.

This is about a shared future for all of us that live under the freedom that survived September 11, 2001 – even as we live more divided — and divisive — than we’ve ever been.

This is about hope.  It’s about coming together.  It’s about surprising ourselves and the people who expect us to stoop to a lower level or to engage in an effort to hurt others in order to make ourselves feel better.

It’s not about politics, and I’m not suggesting you follow 43, or Clinton, 41, Obama or Trump.  But there’s a lesson in here that points us to someone who can show us the way.

Supportive, loving, sharing, comforting, and embracing others during unimaginable hurt.  Inclusive, rejecting bias, loving everyone for who they are, regardless of pedigree, skin color, religion. Loving everybody, always.  Not dismissive but encouraging of young people, believing and pouring into the generation they can and will become.

“The truest version of ourselves.”

Who God made us to be.  Who we owe it to Him to become — and to get better at it every day.

Leave A Mark

“I love you, man!”

–  Jim Gordon (1946 – 2021), attorney, friend, father, leader, Purple Heart recipient — I could go on for hours…

I hope you’ll click on the link to my friend’s name.  The picture, as they say, is worth a thousand words — ironically probably about the number in “Gordo’s” obituary.  It’s long.  It’s irreverent.  It’s Jim.

I hope you’ll also forgive what may be a rambling post — I’ve written 2,000 words and edited it down to ~700 — still either too long or too short.  It’s a big life to try to capture.

Gordo passed away late last week, and in dying as he did in living, Jim Gordon left a mark of permanence, of depth, of difference-making value.  It is a mark I will wear proudly.

I owned my first home because of Gordo.  We were on the Board of The Make-A-Wish-Foundation, for which Jim once served as International Chairman.  Our closest running buddies were a banker, a home builder, and an extraordinarily wealthy software entrepreneur.  The four of them were sitting with me on the back porch of my rental home one day, pestering me to buy a house.

“I don’t want to live in town,” I said.  “I want an acreage with some trees, a creek, some elevation change….”

“Get in the car,” Gordo said, and off he strode.  Jim used a cane due to life-threatening injuries suffered in Viet Nam – and I still had to trot to keep up with him.

We drove out to an acreage.  11 acres.  Heavily wooded.  A creek.  Some elevation change.  “I’ve always wanted to sell half of this to someone who could really appreciate it,” Gordo said.  Doug, the banker, said, “I’ll lend you the money.”  Mike the home builder, said, “I’ll build the house.”  Dale, the wealthy software dude said, “I got nothing here, but I’ll come out for your parties!”

Before I knew it, Jim and I shared a tractor, an old garage, and the loving care for a few acres southeast of Lincoln, NE.  He planted five hundred new trees, I added a hundred more, a vegetable garden, and a tree house-ish structure.  I lived there, Jim lived there vicariously through me.  He knew I loved to clear trees and burn brush piles.  One day I returned from ta business trip to find four fire trucks, a lot of burned grass, and a tiny strip of green grass separating the burned-out area from the house itself an Jim frolicking about with my hose, keeping the fire at bay with the firemen.

“Stevie!  I almost burned down your house!  Thank God you’ve got 200-feet of garden hose!  Nothing to see here!  And your lawn will be BEAUTIFUL in a couple weeks!”

Jim counseled me one evening when a “situation” could have ended badly.  He was, after all, an attorney.  Jim encouraged me in a career change. He was, after all, a friend. Jim made my wife feel like she’d known him forever when she moved to this remote city to live with this guy she was gonna marry. He was, after all, a father of daughters and a lover of people.  Jim made everybody closer to everybody.  All the time.  His daughters were, are, always will be an extension of the light he shined.

Jim left every room he entered better when he left it.  He left every life better by touching it.  He leaves a legacy that is bigger than life, warmer than Santa Claus and indelibly printed on the souls of a community that spreads beyond borders, race, religion, socio-economic status.  Jim was Jim.  And I aspired to be one-tenth of what Jim was.

He was the same Jim tearfully granting a wish to a terminally ill six-year-old girl as when he was blustering away in a courtroom or a political debate.  He was an advocate for things that are right and good — Jim Gordon was, and remains, a Difference Maker.

Jim often said, “I love you, man.” Not in the Budweiser commercial punchline manner, but in a way that made it abundantly clear that he loved me, us, we.

Gordo, we love you man — clear the way, we’ll see you again.

 

Woulda, Shoulda, Coulda

“Be who you are, said the Duchess to Alice, or if you would like it put more simply, never try to be what you might have been or could have been other than what you should have been.”

     – Lewis Carroll (1832 – 1898), children’s fiction writer, most notably of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

The neighborhood knuckleheads just finished our Fantasy Football draft.  I’m projected to finish last.  I will wear it as a badge of honor, thank you.

But, that’s not the point.

As we sat here, at our computers, with a glass of brown or a bottle of beer as our guide — it occurred to me how little we really know about football.

Sure, we’re fans, and we “know” all sorts of things that may or may not be true.  For example, I just know that my favorite team is going to pound their cross-state rival into submission Saturday.  I just know it.  Except, I don’t know crap!

Sort of like when we criticize the boss.  Or the CEO.  Or the surgeon.  Or the airline pilot.  Or the general on the battlefield…  You get the point, right?

Unless we’ve sat in the chair, we simply don’t know.  We.  Simply.  Don’t.  Know.

The movie Draft Day is a wonderfully romanticized version of what it must be like to be an NFL General Manager — in a room with a bunch of other stale, pale and male middle-aged dudes hitching your career wagon to a small group of 22-year-old kids.

Picking talent is hard.

Developing talent is hard, too, but it’s an investment worth making.

Here’s how it works:  Once the team puts on your jersey, it’s your team, and you’ll get out of it something along the lines of what you put into it.  Of course, talent matters.  But if talent was the only thing that mattered, Duke would win every NCAA championship, Alabama would win every BCS Championship and UConn would win the women’s national basketball championship every year.  The Yankees would have won 87 World Series’ in a row and the British would have beat our butts back in the 1700’s.

“Woulda, shoulda and coulda” are the vocabulary of losers.

“I woulda hired Pat if I’d have had the budget!”

“I coulda hired Sal if I’d have altered the PTO policy!”

“I shoulda hired Robin, if only I’d have known then what I know now…”

In business, fantasy football, picking a foursome for the golf match — we simply don’t know.

So, in the moment, we do the best we can.  We teach, we mentor, we listen, we invest in the people on the roster.  We make cuts if we have to, and we pour into every member of the team right up until they ain’t on the team any more — and maybe even beyond that, depending on our wiring…

That’s the stuff of difference makers.

 

It is not lost upon me that the Fantasy Football analogy is flawed.  I can’t develop my talent, seein’s how I will never meet most of the players on my roster (I’ve met three of them, which is probably why I drafted them, which may be why I am projected to finish last…) and even if I do, they’ll understand pretty quickly that I ain’t no Vincent T. Lombardi.  It’s a set-up to the point.  Play the best game you can every day with the roster you have on that day — and make a difference for the players, fans, families, clients, customers and shareholders you serve.

Perfect vs Probably

In a perfect world, I’d have remembered the two-hour time difference during Daylight Savings time – the one that made me miss my publication deadline every day since Monday this week.

In a perfect world, I’d have had a plan for the uncontrolled intersection where family, work, Client, and my own expectations all came racing at one another without so much as a glance left or right.

In a perfect world…

Turns out, though, it ain’t a perfect world.

So why plan for perfect?

Why not plan for probable?

We moved what seemed like a large house worth of stuff into a small dorm room this week.  It made us all tired.  Why not plan for the probability that I wasn’t going to be up at my usual time, let alone my usual time Pacific Time?

There were literally seven deadlines all sprinting toward Tuesday at midnight.  Why not bump five of them – which was doable in plenty of time to beg permission instead of hoping for forgiveness. Until Wednesday AM, when I was left hoping for forgiveness.

In the real world, we have to focus on one thing at a time.

At least I think I got that right (for the most part) this week.   “The Great College Move-In of 2021” was executed with singular focus, relatively little conflict, and great success.

The Tallest of The Three is settled into a dorm room 1400-miles away from home – and as I type this post (from an airplane returning to a quieter home) – I am pretty sure we managed it well; he, she and even me.

It’s probably going to be all right.  It’s definitely not going to be perfect.

In our workaday lives, we’ll be faster, more nimble, easier to work with, and more successful if we plan for probable – and leave perfect to He who can actually pull it off.

The Commute

If you are seeking creative ideas go out walking.  Angels whisper to a man when he goes for a walk.”

–  Raymond Inmon, as quoted by Roy H. Williams in a recent Monday Morning Memo

There are times when the best way to find something is to look for nothing.

“The commute” has come to mean the time we spend getting from home to work, and from work to home.  With more and more people either not working, working from home (WFH) or working from “anywhere” it might be a good time to re-evaluate the commute and reassess its value.

I started my career in radio advertising sales.  “Drivetime,” the commercial blocks sold during most people’s commutes, were the most expensive ads one could buy, because (allegedly) more people would hear them.

The key to standing out in those ads was creativity – lest you sound like all the other ads and fade into the drone of the road noise.

One thing missing in these times is creativity.  Never before have more lemmings been incented to become more lemming-like, and that’s not a fertile environment for creative ideas.  As Immon says, and as The Wizard quoted in the MMM — angels whisper to us when we go for a walk.

This week’s DD’s will come through the filter of an extraordinary commute.  Later on Monday, we’ll begin a 1,400-mile commute with The Tallest of The Three.   His embarkation on a college journey will affect other commutes – one less driver for The Youngest She of The Three, fewer drivers to break up longer trips — and more importantly, one more topic to ponder whenever we’re out walking about:  “How’s he doing?”  Two of The Three are now “adulting,” or at least “college-ing” — and while it’s a stage we’ve long considered, planned for, and dreamed about, it is, in fact, a change.

In Heston House, these are times of great change.

In our businesses, yours, mine, and everyone else’s, these are times of great change — and times in need of creative ideas.

Let’s use our commutes — whether from home to work, from home to campus, from home to the grocery store or wherever we may wander — to listen for the angels who will whisper to us, if only we’ll listen.  And let’s deploy the ideas we have from those whispers to make a difference, in our homes, on campuses, and in our businesses.

 

 

 

 

On Average, Still Dead

“We must keep in mind the story of the statistician who drowned while trying to wade across a river with an average depth of four feet. That is to say, in a culture that reveres statistics, we can never be sure what sort of nonsense will lodge in people’s heads.”

     –  Neil Postman (1931 – 2003), American writer, critic, and philosopher

Yesterday on over-reliance on data, today on an equally dangerous pursuit…basing strategies on averages.

The use of averages denies context.  Not just the failure to acknowledge the human element — any context at all.  Averages are numbers used by procurement teams — probably seein’s how the procurement function seeks to strip all the differentiated value out of a buying decision.

Especially in the profession of selling, we have to be very careful with averages.  Perhaps Pat closes 25% of the deals in which Pat engages.  What if they’re the smallest deals?  What if the problem isn’t the number of deals Pat closes, but the number in which Pat engages?

Postman’s perspective sums it up well.  We can use averages (numbers, stories, lots of things) to rationalize what we want to believe, or we can dig until we find out what really matters.

 

 

 

 

Death by Data vs Deciding

“The inherent flaw in analytics is that data don’t take into account the human element.”

–  Brian Ferentz, Offensive Coordinator for The University of Iowa Hawkeyes football team, in a superb long-form HawkCentral podcast with Chad Liestekow

Data is a tool — and used correctly it’s a dandy tool.

It’s not an end-all, be-all — and with the exception of God, I’ve not found an end-all, be-all in my life or career.

Ferentz has been a polarizing figure of late, magnified by the fact that he is the son of the head coach at Iowa.  He’s a really smart dude, like many major college coaches, however, and he approaches his job in many of the ways we should approach ours.  Remembering, of course, that we’re human, too, and subject to a mistake here and there.

This quote / part of the conversation occurs at the 83:85 point of the podcast and the context is set around a decision made in a game by a legendary NFL coach, under whom Ferentz (dad and son) have mentored.  The data said, “Do this!”  The human element contradicted the data.

You know what, for those of you not interested in listening to a three-hour podcast with a coach — here’s the deal.  A few years back, in a game between New England and Indianapolis in the NFL, the Patriots were faced with a 4th down — and the play card, the analytics, the data — they all said, “PUNT!”  In fact, I think it might have been in the “Punt, you idiot!” column on the play sheet.  The other team’s quarterback though, was one Peyton Manning, who had already engineered a 20+ point comeback in the second half of the game.

“If we give the ball back to Peyton Manning,” head coach Bill Belichick said afterwards, “we lose.”

So, flying in the face of the data, New England went for it.  They failed.  Manning got the ball back.  They lost.  It was worth the risk to have a shot to avoid the inevitable.

The fact of the matter is sometimes we win and sometimes we lose.  The data will always be with us, but we also have to read the deal, the momentum, the market and the intangibles – and especially the people.  Remember, too, as leaders, we have to accept that armchair quarterbacks will second guess us, whether we win or lose.

Ferentz says, “You can put too much on the math, and also on the human element.  That’s a cop out for coaches, either way.”  His point?  Leaders get paid to decide — and we have to have the courage to decide based on all the inputs available to us – and then to own the outcomes.

 

 

 

Snippet Society

“I must be a mermaid.  I have no fear of depth and a great fear of shallow living.”

–  Anais Nin (1903 – 1977), American – French – Cuban writer

Then here’s to the mermaids!

Listening to sports radio on a short drive, a couple of the regular hosts were talking about how little depth there was in sports fans today — and then, they readily admitted they were part of the problem.  Difference Makers ought to ask, “Are we part of the problem?”

We live in a snippet society.  It leads us to think we know when we almost never really do.  We can Tweet or Post our way into the conversation, using confrontational or confronting language and hyperbole and feed the stupidity.  If we’re not careful, we become part of the vitriol and divisiveness that makes it more and more difficult to be productive and approachable.

The snippet society has created headlines without stories behind them.  The snippet society has made us sacrifice depth of understanding for the “rush” of evoking a response.

Why is that batter in a slump?  Millions of people who’ve never played the game pontificate on what he ought to do.  Why did that amazing gymnast shut it down during the sports’ greatest ten-days?  Millions of people who can barely walk on a sidewalk, let alone do a flip on a 4-inch wide slab of wood raised more than four feet off the floor.

Why did that Client cancel their deal?  Why did that prospect buy from our competitor?  Why did that customer stay with us even when we botched her order? Why is Pat always late on our assignments?  They must be dumb, uninformed, lazy or slow.  That’s what the snippet society tells us.

Here’s the truth…

We.

Don’t.

Know.

Unless we’re willing to ask.  To go deep.  And, scary though it may be, even when we ask, even when we go deep, we still might not really know.

But we will have gone deep.  We will have exhibited enough caring and effort to try to know and we will be better for the effort.  We will stop fearing the depth and come to loathe the shallows.

Shallow people criticize the slump, critique the mental toughness and assume to know the reasons for someone else’s actions.  Shallow people are boldly, brashly over-confident without bothering to seek the truth.  Shallow people miss one fundamental truth that Difference Makers keep near the surface; Everyone has a story.

Difference Makers go deep enough to know — or at least have insight into — the stories around them.

 

 

Evolution in Negotiation

“Something is better than nothing to a purely logical mind. Give the problem to a human, and you must deal with three million years of evolution.”

–  David McRaney, in his book, “You Are Not So Smart…”

The “problem” in question is the old “Ultimatum Game.”  You win a million dollars in the lottery, but there’s a catch.  You have to offer a complete stranger a share of the money, and if they say no to your offer, you both get nothing.

How much do you offer?

It’s Chapter 20 in the book, and it’s base learning for negotiators.  We might make a completely rational offer from our perspective and get nothing in return — because we’re negotiating with humans.  The fallacy in the all-or-nothing approach to negotiation is behind why so many companies are trying to procurement-ize* everything. “If we can get to a completely objective analysis of the product or service, we’ll just choose the best deal.”

Unless whatever we’re buying is a complete commodity — most of which are ruled by standards, by the way — there is no completely objective analysis.

Otherwise, no one would buy Mercedes Benzes, Tiffany jewelry, or Rolex watches.  My accountant must be better than your accountant, because he charges double the hourly rate, right?  Or, maybe my accountant is better than your accountant because I got the same deductions you did for 30% less in fees.  Maybe we just like the way our car gets us to work, our jewelry sparkles or our watch makes us feel.  Maybe we like it that our accountant gets us a better table at the charity function or plays at a golf course we like better.

What matters is knowing what matters to the other party — and trying to get them as much of that thing as we can, without sacrificing too much of what we want or need from the transaction.

The person on the other side of the negotiation is human, just like we are, and they’re probably not a lot more or a lot less evolved than we are.  So, let’s ask one another questions.  Let’s connect.  Let’s collaborate.  Let’s keep logic in its place and seek deals that make us both better.

 

*If you’re selling a value-add service or product — and you’re dealing with procurement on the buyer’s side.  Run.  Don’t walk.  Run.  Get out.  Focus on someone who wants to buy value, not minimize it.