All In?

“Does it matter which order?”

  • Unattributed

In a career spanning nearly four decades, it’s easy to lose count of the number of strategic planning sessions that have come and gone. In every one, the exercise has been “Mission, Vision and Values.”

This week, the question has come up, “Does it matter in which order we address these topics?”

One could argue that the Mission is the “true north.” It’s a succinct statement about the purpose of a corporation or an organization. Purpose is important, right? (Duh, Heston!)

One could argue that the Vision is the “true north.” It’s an over-arching statement of what drives a corporation or an organization; a word picture of that thing a founder or leader sees in their mind when they think “big-picture, long-term.”

One could argue that the Values are the “true north.” They guide the behavior, the decision-making and those “ethical intersection” conversations that are going to happen at some point along the way.

The key, I’ve come to believe, and to see played out this week is really two-pronged. First is the alignment of the three. In whatever order. Most importantly is for leadership, staff, customers, constituents — stakeholders, fill in your word of choice here — to be all in on all three.

That’s where the magic happens. Mission and vision may well evolve as markets change and as the execution model of the business change. Competition might impact mission and vision. Values, though, are really hitting home with me this week as being the closest thing I imagine to “true north.”

Whether corporate, departmental or individual — and whatever our mission, vision, and values, are we “all in?” And how does that shape our approach to each day and each task at hand?

Speaking of “all in,” check out this organization, which is an amazing place for all of us to make a difference. A lasting, multiplying difference.

If you feel compelled to support with a tax-deductible gift, let me know, and I’ll put your name in the hat for a gift of appreciation, which I’ll draw on September 1. And look for more news on the Mission, Vision, and Values, (or Values, Mission and Vision) of this amazing cause.


“It is in the roots, not the branches that a tree’s greatest strength lies.”

  • Unattributed

Where are your roots? Post-COVID, in the heart of the “great resignation,” it is worth asking, where are your roots?

And, are we taking care of them?

This week I’m sitting down with a room full of amazing people to set strategy for an amazing cause — more on that in the next few days — but our role is to set strategy. To plot a course. To maximize the opportunity and to make a difference for an alarmingly under-served part of our population, one that holds tremendous promise in a tight job market and an evolving work-life-whatever balance challenge.

This week I’m also onboarding a new player to a team. I get to coach, almost full time, and I get to read her pick-up, how she translates the interview process to the game she’ll be playing when the lights come up. I get to draw out her questions and ask mine and we get to lay a foundation together upon which she can do great things.

This week I’m traveling. With my journal. With my Bible. With my Kindle App and four or five books that have the potential to trigger me to be a better advisory board member, a better leader – a better version of me.

It’s over-booked. It’s crazy-stressful-packed-with-potholes and buried treasure. It’s exhausting. It’s also exhilerating.

This week, I’m a little more Blessed than I was last week — and I was pretty Blessed last week. And it’s because my focus is on my roots. Strategic, Coach, Reader, Thinker, Curious, Intentional Difference Maker.

Three Meetings

“A conversation is a dialogue, not a monologue. That’s why there are so few good conversations; due to scarcity, two intelligent talkers rarely meet.”

  • Truman Capote (1924 – 1984), American novelist, playwright, screenwriter and actor

It wasn’t intentional.

There was no planned theme for communication, dialogue, quality, or closeness. It just evolved.

Capote says that two intelligent talkers rarely meet. Yet this week, I “met” with an exceptional columnist, who re-introduced me to a great comedian and thinker, who reminded me of another one. This week, I met with a couple of Clients who “get it,” and who are transparent, vulnerable, fair-minded and tough — and invested in the business we do together. Finally, I met with a a young leader who let me in, while holding me accountable and inviting my experience and insight into his pressing need and our shared circumstance.

If Capote was right, I’ve had an exceptional week. I guess, even if I leave myself out (seein’s how “intelligent” is the filter he proposes), I’ve been in the company of half a dozen or more people who made a difference for me, by inviting me into a dialogue, an arena to think, and a foundation from which to act.

Decent week. Lucky guy.

Eggshells or Omelettes

“Lack of candor blocks smart ideas, fast action, and good people contributing all the stuff they’ve got. It’s a killer.”

  • Jack Welch (1935 – 2020), American Executive and long-time CEO at GE

Yesterday, we talked about walking on eggshells, and how it is fundamentally chipping away at the quality of our discourse.

While Welch-bashing has become popular 20 years after his retirement (and two years after his death) as GE deals with the mistakes of his successors (and global market shifts), Welch was a great leader who built companies, careers and strategies for success.

All based on candor.

Instead of walking on eggshells, what if we focused on conversations that drove outcomes? What if we focused on the omelette versus the eggshell?

“Pat, that change you implemented to the proposal made a huge difference! Can you show the rest of the team how you reached that decision?”

“Jim, you’ve tried that three times now, and it’s failed every time. What are we learning? Can we agree that we’re not going to make that choice again?”

“Wow, was THAT a Rule #5 violation! Let’s go back to the moment we made the decision and dissect what we got wrong, and what we might have done better…”

“That deal came in 20% better margin than we expected. Let’s do a win review and see what pieces of it we can take forward to replicate the outcome…”

Direct, precise, actionable dialogue that says, “you / we were right,” or “you / we were wrong.” In either case, “what can we learn? How can we get better every day?”

Better than fretting over feelings and egos, outcome-led discussions — steeped in candor and transparency — will help us get to better destinations more quickly.

Seven Words or Timeless Commentary?

“Now everyone is walking around wondering what they can say and censoring themselves, as a result, lowering the standards of discussion and thought.”

  • George Carlin (1937 – 2008), American comedian, actor and social critic

As Andy Kessler points out in the opening paragraph of “Inside View,” his Op / Ed piece in the July 18th Wall Street Journal, these words were spoken, accurately, fifty years ago this week in one of my favorite cities by one of my favorite thinkers.

In the past four weeks, I’ve intersected with two of my generation’s great thinkers and writers; Carlin and Rick Reilly. Not ironically, they’ve got me thinking and writing again.

Carlin was arrested in Milwaukee 50 years ago this week for his (now legendary) “Seven Dirty Words” riff. I won’t link the text (seein’s how The Diff is at least family-intended, if not always family-friendly) because Carlin’s point is captured in the quote that leads off this post.

It seems we can’t talk about anything with anyone anymore without creating a stir, a ruckus or a stink — if not an outright rift.

If that were true 50 years ago this week, one can’t help but wonder if it might be true 50 years from now, and that makes me wonder, as my grandfather often wondered out loud, “What the hell kind of world are we leaving our kids?”

Kessler’s column, while always a good read, is particularly compelling this week, because it points out that Carlin was often on the “opposite” side of the social commentary — from the perspective of either side of the social commentary, because he was a thinker. He pointed out, as Kessler reminds us, that while we might have unlimited choices at the ice cream store, we’re apparently limited to two in the sociopolitical landscape.

We’re better than that, people! We’re also smarter than that. Yet, in a 280-characters-or-less world, it is clear that we’re not just limiting our letter-count, we’re limiting our thinking. Perhaps we’re actually limiting our capacity for thought. Continuing to quote Carlin (and from Kessler’s column), “Thought and discussion depend on language and, when you decrease its base, then you decrease the base for rational discussion and thought.”

I mention Reilly in the same context as Carlin because I believe this cultural phenomena of walking on eggshells is a pervasive trend even in matters of less magnitude than freedom of speech. Reilly, while also a social commentator, is primarily known as a sportswriter*. Yet, he can tell us why he is still a “Phil fan,” and not yet a “Tiger guy.” He can do it without blindly endorsing one or convicting the other. He tells poignant stories by citing facts in a compelling manner. He can explain why he believes what he believes in a way that draws in readers, even if they don’t share the same perspective.

In other words, he expands the base of our thought by using language to describe, not taint; to tell the story, not shade it so that we lose sight of its core.

Should we speak with forethought? Probably, at least most of the time. Should we limit our first thoughts so that we lose track of what we believe, feel, or are willing to fight for? No. And we shouldn’t judge people whose passion outpaces their word choice. We should engage them in an effort to know and understand “Why?”

Perhaps the second half of the word “forethought” is the key to reversing a trend at least 50 years in the making. Let’s exercise thought. Let’s make room for other perspectives and ideas. Let’s engage in productive candor and consider why we think what we think, why we believe what we believe.

There is only one thing that I truly Believe. There are other beliefs I hold and have held, and those all are, and by definition need to be open to scrutiny, if not by others, at least on my part.

Let’s lead the charge to raise the standard, instead of taking the easier path to hide in the invective-addicted crowd.

*Rick Reilly is so much more than a sportswriter! I use the reference only to cast the perspective that the topic need not be controversial to compel us to think and engage in meaningful dialogue.

The Bus, Art and Science

“The good-to-great leaders understood three simple truths. First, if you begin with “who,” rather than “what,” you can more easily adapt to a changing world… Second, if you have the right people on the bus, the problem of how to motivate and manage people largely goes away… Third, if you have the wrong people, it doesn’t matter whether you discover the right direction, you still won’t have a great company.”

  • Jim Collins, in Good To Great; Why Some Companies Make The Leap, and Others Don’t

“But what if you have the bus pointed in the wrong direction?” you might ask.

The right people will figure that out pretty quickly, and as long as the bus driver isn’t tone-deaf or unwilling to listen or collaborate, the team will get it pointed in a better direction, and accelerate it on that new path.

Getting the right people on the bus, then, is critical.

So, is recruiting art, science or somewhere in between?

There is science involved, of course. But if we select for “fit” first, it’s very rare to find someone who’s a great fit, who cares about the others on the bus but is also incapable of learning the skills necessary to contribute.

No, we should not hire people without medical degrees and experience to be surgeons. For most of us, our businesses don’t involve scalpels or risk of paralysis or death, though. No, we should not hire career sales pros to hammer code in a software company, or career coders to carry a bag and make quotas. Conceptually, that essentially covers the a significant part of the “science” piece.

So, if the skills and experience are aligned, how do we decide who to put in the seats on the bus?

Let’s hire for “want to,” and then dig into “can do.” Let’s lead based on creating an environment where success is the most likely outcome, and then coach to the tasks, skills and activities that are part of winning game plans.

Nobody Knows, Redux

“…but what about destruction that we all face, what do we do when it all goes to waste, can you tell me how the story goes? No one can tell me. ‘Cause nobody knows…”

Yesterday was a weird day.

On the one hand, nine months of recruiting for a key role, without success, had me thinking I was going to have to settle, violating my “better to be understaffed than poorly staffed” operating principle. Then, late in the day, a really neat candidate and I came to terms. I think multiple lives and careers just got better, presuming all the paperwork clears the process.

After dang near a year of recruiting and literally dozens and dozens of interviews, I was starting to wonder “what do we do when it all goes to waste…?”

On the other hand, a CEO I know at a different company made what must be about his 72nd consecutive horrific decision. I’ve been wondering for over a year about the destruction that the 300 or so people affected by decisions 1-71 would face if #72 happened. And then it did.

But nobody knows. Until we get to “next” we never really know. Each decision, good or bad, is an opportunity to move on. Each moment calls for us to do the best we can. It’s what we do next that helps us keep moving forward. We might not know, but we get to decide what we do, even when we don’t know for sure what we ought to do, or what the outcome might be, or if someone in a position of power or influence has #73 teed up and ready to launch.

In our roles, we are charged with doing the best we can, and with doing what has to be done — NEXT.

When the new hire comes on board, how will I make sure they have the best possible environment for success? How will I pour into them so that none of the efforts go to waste? How will I set expectations that are so clear we will move forward together with a shared understanding of progress? To these questions, I….we…know good answers.

In the case of the 300 or so people hit with the 72nd consecutive Rule #5 violation, how will they respond? How will their company’s Board of Directors respond? How will the habitual Rule #5 violating CEO respond? Nobody knows, at the macro level. At each individual level, though, we can at least decide what we will do next.

We can’t tell you how the story goes, but we take steps to try to write the chapter that we want to see, next, by deciding what we will do, and how we will respond, next!

Objective Economic Analysis

“Objectivity is the delusion that observations could be made without an observer.”

  • Heinz von Foerster (1911 – 2002), Austrian-American scientist, physicist and philosopher

There are two things I’m really grinding on this week.

One is the art and science of forecasting a business. The other was referenced in Monday’s post on the ugliness in the world of professional golf.

In the case of the latter, it occurred to me that if someone could simply do an objective economic analysis of the PGA vs. LIV Tours matter, we might be able to remove the emotion that is ruling the narrative and perhaps move away from the personal attacks that have become prevalent within that narrative.

In the case of the former, and this has been the $64 question for as long as there have been revenue teams, it seems that if we could simply do an objective economic analysis of the business, it’d be easy to forecast it precisely.

In both cases, there are three problems with objective economic analyses.

The first is the “objective” part, as call out by our old friend Heinz, above. There are literally dozens of biases that we could dive into, but I like the way he baked it down; “…the delusion that observations could be made without an observer.” When there is a human element, there will be human tendencies and biases in play. Humans use words like “always,” and “never.” They think in terms of “we do (or don’t) do it that way…” As a football buff, I can cite statistics that tell you Aaron Rodgers is the greatest quarterback of all time. And, almost every football buff who’s not predisposed to my perspective can cite statistic to support a half-dozen other QB’s as the GOAT.

The second is the “economic” part. It’s rarely, if ever, as simple as “just math.” In the past 28 months, we’ve seen a new set of “unprecedented” economic events that have led to dramatic shifts in almost every business.

Here’s another real-life example: In early 2008, I presented a “perfect” forecast (or so I thought), and was asked by our CEO “what could make this forecast go bad, Heston?” “That’s easy,” I replied, “the only thing that blows this number is if the Client exits the North American market completely, and there’s no indication whatsoever they’re considering that. In fact, they’ve made public statements and disclosures indicating the opposite is true.”

That was on a Thursday at 11 AM. The forecast was committed to The Street on Saturday. My Client exited the North American market (completely) on Sunday night. Gulp!

The third problem ties closely to the first one — it’s the analysis part. If an observer influences an observation, so then, does an analyst influence an analysis.

The good news is, that this is why machines will never fully replace people. The bad news is, that it’s the gap that CFO’s, investors and well-intentioned leaders will always try to fill.

So, what do we do? As business people, as golf fans, as human observers of and participants in life?

  1. Ask better questions. Curiosity tends to produce better conversations.
  2. Listen more deeply to the answers. Empathy and understanding work dang near every time.
  3. Avoid absolutes. “Always” and “never” are rarely really in play!
  4. Think in terms of ranges. Not averages, but best, worst, and likely case ranges.
  5. Constantly seek the “why?” If we understand the “Why’s” we’ll never be too far off of the whats.

Role Models and Changing Times

“They say it isn’t about the money. (It is.)

  • Rick Reilly (b. 1958), Hall of Fame Sportswriter, 11-time Sportswriter of the Year and Best Selling Author of over a dozen books*

This Daily Diff is not about the money. It really isn’t. It started off as a post about meeting a role model and how that meeting has changed my feelings toward another one. It’s morphed into a public stand for what I believe is wrong acting on the part of another role model.

Rick Reilly is my favorite writer. Has been a role model to me for more than 30 years. When Rick writes something I read it. I got to meet him Sunday night, as he rolls out his new book So Help Me Golf. Phil Mickelson, whom I got to meet in 2003 at the US Open at Olympia Fields, has been my favorite golfer for almost 30 years. Make that had been, or, at best, “might still be…”

Reilly who’s written biographical books, great comedy and golf novels, and who’s been up close and personal with most of the great athletes (pick a sport, any sport) across almost three generations, has also been a “Phil Guy.” Make that “might still be…”

Spoiler alert: This may turn out to be a quite-a-bit-longer-than-usual post… I hope it’s worth it!

Sunday night, Reilly signed copies of his new book for me and one for The Eldest of The Three, with her newly minted Journalism degree. And, he told a roomful of fans some very, very funny stories. He also answered some of the usual questions you’d expect from a bunch of middle-class white guys in a Country Club ballroom.

When the Q & A shifted deeper, he also plunged in on a serious topic for golf fans, and for anyone remotely interested in human rights or matters of right versus wrong.

Reilly penned an OpEd in Sunday’s Washington Post (linked vs. recounted). I’ll take a stab at metaphorically summarizing it: professional golf is in the blender right now, and the ingredients are gonna make a crappy smoothie; bitter, tainted with blood, greed, cluelessness, desperation and a complete lack of give-a-damn about enabling a despotic regime to keep being, well, despotic.

The technical term is a “shit show.”

Essentially, the new Saudi Arabian-backed LIV Tour is paying a few dozen pro golfers a career’s worth of money (Mickelson reportedly is getting $200 million dollars right now, after earning “only” $93 million over 30+ years on the PGA Tour). The money is guaranteed. No cuts. No sponsors. Just a big, fat check in exchange for looking away from the killing of journalists, gay people and the overt oppression and mistreatment of women, in order to try to sportswash their heinous history of mistreating people who don’t align with their “way.” Remember, 75% of the terrorists that killed nearly 3,000 people, on 9/11 were Saudi nationals.

These are the guys buying these golfers, firing a shot across the bow of the PGA Tour that Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer essentially started (or at least validated). Saudi / LIV allegedly offered Jack more than $100 million and Tiger more than $500 million to join them, but Mr, Nicklaus and Eldrick T. Woods took a stand — one that Mickelson, Dustin Johnson and others wouldn’t or didn’t take. Sure, Tiger just became a billionaire and Jack is worth close to half that, but Phil and DJ aren’t living paycheck to paycheck, and they signed on board with the bad guys – claiming, boasting and pleading with people to believe that “it’s not about the money.”

As Reilly so clearly says in the Post editorial, make no mistake, it is all about the money.

But this post is not about money. And it’s not about golf.

This post is about impact and legacies — and, as every Daily Difference post should be, it’s about making a difference.

Rick Reilly has impacted me for more than three decades, and tonight I got to meet him and get a book signed and hear the man talk about things that are important to us. His legacy landed home for me, and it will be honored for its candor, humor and pointedness. For me, his impact became more impactful, more personal.

Phil Mickelson has impacted me for almost three decades, and I was thrilled to meet him at the 2003 US Open at Olympia Fields in Chicago. He was warm and gracious and thanked me when I said, “Every time you’re on TV, I bet your dad is really proud of you.” I wonder if Phil, Sr. is still proud, and I wonder if he or anyone can help me figure out what to feel when a hero unwinds before your eyes. For me, Lefty’s impact became less impactful, less personal.

Difference Makers stand firm for the greater good. I think my favorite golfer got it wrong and my favorite writer got it right.

Mistake or Choice?

“You can never make the same mistake twice because the second time you make it it’s not a mistake, it’s a choice.”

–  Indy Beagle, in The Monday Morning Memo (August 2, 2021)

It occurred to me on the golf course today.

I love the game.

The game does NOT love me back.  I’m not sure if it’s a love-hate relationship or a hate-hate relationship, but I am NOT playing again until Thursday night.  Just sayin’…

On Wednesday, I played with a good friend and mentor who just simply plays…the…game.  He doesn’t try to overpower it.  He doesn’t try to outthink it.  He just hits the ball (incredibly straight).  He plays the next shot. Then he does it all over again.  Rinse.  Repeat.

The majority of us that play golf, that aspire to get better but don’t, that grind, no matter how much we love it, could learn from a beagle on a website and an every-week-e-mail guidance.  Or from my friend, but I digress…

The second time we make a mistake, it’s a choice.  Not a mistake.

The best golfers in the world have incredibly short memories.  The best sales people in the world have very shot memories.  The best leaders in the world have pretty short memories, and a strong desire to learn from, but not repeat mistakes.

The second time is a choice.  That’s worth thinking about before we choose.