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.

I Have Owed You This Letter…

“I have owed you this letter for a very long time but my fingers have avoided the pencil as though it were an old and poisoned tool.”

  • John Steinbeck (1902 – 1968), American writer and 1962 Nobel Prize Winner for literature

Perhaps more famously, Mark Twain said, “If I’d have had more time, I’d have written a shorter letter.”

If impact matters, and if making a difference is a goal, I ask only that you look at your mail when it arrives today. How many hand-written letters will you receive? How many did you send?

The power of a hand-written letter or note is almost immeasurable, especially when it is written to thank someone, tell them of a memory you share, acknowledge their efforts or input on your behalf or to simply tell them how much they mean to you, and why.

Yet we avoid the pencil as if it were poison.

My old rule was 6 per day. From 1995 to about 2008 I tried to send 6 per day, and probably averaged 4.5. As I re-establish the discipline, I probably send five per week now, and with Twain’s permission, they’re shorter and take a bit longer to write. Getting the message honed down takes time, and it feels really good.

Why did I start again?

Back in November, 2021 (the 16th, in case you’re keeping score at home) The Wall Street Journal ran an article on the value of reconnecting with old friends. It speaks to medical, emotional and sleep-related benefits. It speaks to bringing civility and closeness to an ever divisive and separated time. It was a powerful reminder, especially when about a week later a dear friend’s wife passed away unexpectedly. He became letter #4 – and we hope to see one another later this year, after six years of being “out of touch.”

There is value in writing the letter. There is magic for the one receiving it.

A former mentor. A friend whose path went a different way than ours. Someone we coached with. Someone who coached us. A teacher. A cousin. Someone with whom we had a falling out that never got resolved. Someone who might not remember us, but who made a mark on us that is worth picking up the pencil and letting them know they made a difference…

We have owed some letters for a very long time. Let’s take the time to write a few short, but meaningful notes that will make a difference for those who receive them. In doing so, let’s see if it re-connects us with the best of who we are.

The Calendar

Twelve months, either 365 or 366 days, right?

So, as we begin the first full week of the last month of a quarter, how will we treat today differently?

Should we treat today differently?

Maybe. Maybe not.

24 years ago today, She married me and is still married to me, so that seems significant. But, should we treat someone very differently on the 24th anniversary of a commitment than we should on any other of the 8,766 days during which they lived that commitment? Maybe. Maybe not. (A card and flowers are part of the day, for we romantics…who might also argue that a card and flowers would be appropriate on any of the 8,766 days…)

“I gotta make the month!” “I gotta make the quarter!” “Earnings calls are next week!” “I forecasted this deal. I’m toast if it goes sideways!”

Them there are some tidbits from the reality buffet.

Won’t we be better served though, if we set up every day to advance us a little further than math says we ought to?

If the month has slipped away, how can we adjust so that next month compensates? If the quarter is at risk, what actions must we take to put the next quarter in the “done deal” category? If our forecast is off — how quickly can we acknowledge it and adjust course and speed so that can re-forecast more better.*

If every day, we do our best; we plan our best, we execute our best, we focus, we flow and we stay in the moment, how much more better* will our months, our quarters, our deals and our 24 years be?

  • “more better,” for new readers, is officially a technical term…

Fake, Make, Break

“Fake it ’til you make it.”

  • A time-honored saying that once made sense but now is just plain dopey

I’ve been trying to hire a sales pro for almost eight months, and a candidate recently tossed this line out as one way they’d “get by” while learning a complex bidness. The glib attempt at humor didn’t make the candidate’s case, it broke the candidate’s candidacy.

It might have worked in a time when buyers were less aware. It might even work in a pursuit that doesn’t involve understanding strategies and complex business models.

More likely today — it’s “fake it and you’ll break it.” Break the trust you need. Break the deal you’re counting on to make the month. Break the benefit of any work you did to prepare for this moment when you can least afford to break it.

The point? Transparency counts. Buyers come to the game with more knowledge and perceptions than ever before. They may not intend to ask trap questions, but it’s likely that they’re gonna ask a few questions for which they already know the answers.

If we try to fake it, our credibility is shot, our deal is lost and our reputation is sullied. Instead, if we own our knowledge or experience gap, and say, “Great question, I don’t know the answer but I’ll get it for you,” we’re “real,” and probably still in the game. If we say, “Why do you ask?” we may find out that the context prompts something on our knowledge or experience base that gets us back on track.

Let’s don’t fake it. Let’s take it as an opportunity to get better every day, and make a difference.

The Diff Returns? At Least Semi-Daily…

Some things have a different effect at different times. Not writing this blog for a few months was, admittedly, a nice break. But, as I discovered during a prior hiatus, after more than 17 years, The Daily Difference is a part of who I am — and I’m less than the full me when I go without it for too long.

So, let’s give it a spin again, shall we?

One of the motivations has been the events of the past ten days. A horrific event in a Texas elementary school during a week that all three of The Three were home (maybe for one of the last times?) hit me right between the eyes and in a different manner than I expected.

A transition in our Friday Morning Lion Chaser’s Group to a really direct study of a really direct topic got my juices flowing, too.

Finally, an editorial in the June 1st Wall Street Journal lit the fuse.

Author David Bashevkin‘s point (and the headline on the piece) is that “thoughts and prayers do help.” Social media, its suckitude advancing by the second, has been a popular place to bash those who offer “thoughts and prayers” (especially prayers) in times of tragedy. The haters think it’s insulting — saying “is that the best you can do?” — while Believers know that, “Yes, yes it is the best that we can do.”

But it’s not all that we can do…

In 1865, at the height of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln, in his inaugural address said, “Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away.” Lincoln has also been quoted often, “I have been driven…upon my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go.” Lincoln didn’t just pray, though, he worked hard — really freakin’ hard — to correct the things he believed needed correcting.

Should we speak out against wrongs, real or perceived? We should. We must.

Should we act in the interest of what we believe is right, within the bounds of decorum and seeking improvement over perfection? We should. We must.

Should we also offer encouragement (thoughts) and seek divine intervention if we’re so inclined (prayers)? We should. We must.

I hope you’re half as glad the Daily Difference arrived in your inbox this morning as I am to have penned it. Let’s be in touch, and as always, please, join the conversation.

Quality is Relative, Excellence is Less So

“We are what we repeatedly do.  Excellence, therefore, is not an act but a habit.”

–  Aristotle (384 BC – 322 BC), Greek philosopher

Not until Ricky Bobby had anyone captured the essence of excellence as Aristotle did.  (Candidly, the quote seems a little loosey-goosey for a Greek translation, but it’s consistent with some other things attributed to Aristotle, but I digress.)

Whether we’re a big, hairy, American winning machine, a waiter in a small-town diner, or a white-collar, client-facing business type — excellence is not just a habit, it’s an attitude — and perhaps most of all, it’s a decision.

There’s a video of Russel Wilson, an NFL quarterback with a broken finger (and therefore he can’t play — turns out fingers matter when throwing a football among 300-pound dudes trying to harm you) going through his entire pregame routine, knowing full-well that he wasn’t even going to be in uniform for Sunday’s game.  Wilson decided long ago that he was going to be excellent, and he maintains a ruthless, almost maniacal commitment to the habit of excellence.

Today, we’ll all be faced with a dozen or more decisions.  We’ll have to decide to be “just ok” at something, or really excellent at something more important.

The good news is, the choice is not an either / or, it’s an “ok, and” call.  Just ok, or average, or meeting the basic requirements of some element of our work is just fine.  Unless the decision takes place in the intersection between being excellent or average in the larger scheme.  An excellent quarterback might throw the ball away if his choices are 45% get sacked, 45% throw and interception, or 10% make an amazing play and look like he did it on purpose.  An excellent quarterback, in other words, might choose to intentionally be bad at a play, in order to be excellent in his role.

Think of yourself under pressure, under the gun.  The time is running out, the deadline is upon you.  The deal hangs in the balance.  Have we practiced this moment?  Have we role-played it in our mind, with our teammates, and in front of the mirror so many times that we know what we’ll decide and we know what we’ll do and we know what we’ll say and how we’ll say it?  Or will we “wing it,” and try to throw the miracle pass to a place where three defenders are hoping we’ll try to throw the miracle pass?

Today, someone may ask you to compromise on a value or a principle.  Excellence is knowing that you won’t and how you’ll make that decision an asset instead of a liability.  Someone might ask you to cut a corner, skip a dry-run before a big Client engagement meeting or “just wing it,” because “you’re the best presenter in the team!”

Decisions will be made in those moments, among them, the decision to be excellent — consciously, purposefully excellent — and we ought to cling desperately to the foundations upon which our success is built.

Repeatedly be excellent.  Make it a habit.  Decide to make it a habit and a reality.

Coming Out of The Tunnel in Pittsburgh…

“The light at the end of the tunnel isn’t an illusion.  The tunnel is.”

–  Unatributted

I still remember my first business trip to Pittsburgh, PA.  It was about 2001 and on day one, we drove out of the tunnel from the airport to downtown in brilliant sunlight.  To say the view was breathtaking is an understatement.  A couple days later we came through the same tunnel on a pitch-black but starry night — only to see that the view had been upgraded by the stadium lights and the decorative light on bridges offset by the peace of the Three Rivers converging there.

On every trip I’ve ever made to Pittsburgh, a colleague, a fellow-traveler or a passer-by has disparaged the city, even though they’d never traveled there.

I could understand if he didn’t like the tunnel — until he emerged from it.

In selling for a living we’re tempted to sprint toward the light — to escape the tunnel and “break out.”

In reality, it might not even be something we need to emerge from, it might not even be the “tunnel” we perceive, so the smart money builds a process that gets us all the way through, instead of choosing to stay underground, in the dark.