“Hope is not a strategy.”

–  The title of a book by Rick Page that I first read in about 2002…

…and it’s been the title of a dozen or more books and / or articles since then.  Actually, even before then.

As a guy that Buckingham says is long on strategy, I have to agree with the statement — as long as we’re contemplating it in the very narrowest of settings.  In a negotiation, in a budget, in a business plan, hope is not a strategy.

It is, however, a real thing.

And it’s a thing worth having.

About a year ago, the world was (as Starky, my maternal grandfather would have said) “Going to hell in a handbasket.”  COVID, quarantines, panic, work-from-home mandates, layoffs, closures, reactions, over-reactions, resistance, and you-name-it-whatever-else-is-highest-in-suckitude were splashed across headlines and dominating feeds across the globe.  Without hope, what would we have done?

Almost twenty years ago, New York City was under siege, the Pentagon, and save for the bravery of a few private citizens the White House or The US Capitol would have been in flames.  Helplessness, overwhelming loss, anger, vengeance, and fear gripped our nation like a vise.  Without hope, what would we have done?

A little over 2000 years ago, give or take, things were falling apart in a garden just outside of Jerusalem.  Things in Rome were influencing a movement to squelch a voice that was creating a stir among the people of the world.  One could argue that Thursday night and Friday all those centuries ago was about as dark a time as the world might ever face.  Without hope, what would we have done?

So today, when a deal goes squirrely, while hope might not be a strategy, it certainly is a real thing.  When a relationship goes bad, hope is a fairly decent component of “Plan B.”  When the money seems short or the meeting goes south or the boss seems particularly dopey, hope is, and always will be worth having.

Unless we’re willing to give up.

Presuming we’re not willing to give up, let’s lean in to hope.  Let’s lean in to hope that is based on something worth believing in.

Hope without a reason is a fool’s game.  “Blind” hope tends to be a last resort.  The kind of hope I’m suggesting is well-documented and lays a pretty good foundation under whatever strategy we might build — in business, in relationships, in life.

Friday’s DD was first written 17 years ago, and will be repeated for the 17th time this Friday.  This Good Friday.  Because no matter how rotten things looked on that Thursday night and into that Friday, something amazingly good was about to happen.  In that series of events lies the reason to hope.

Over the next few days, let’s find it.  Let’s find hope.  It’s a real thing.  And it’s a thing worth having.

Easy or Simple

“It’s almost always easy to know the right thing to do.  It can be a real bi*** doing it, though.”

–  Dick Heston (1933 – 2002), my dad, a farmer and factory worker and still the smartest dude I’ve ever known

Easy and simple are not synonyms.  They just aren’t.  They might be related, but if that’s true, they’re second cousins, once removed or something like that.

In the grander scheme, easy means “with little or no effort.”  Simple, on the other hand, means “straightforward, clear, without static.”  (Definitions courtesy of The Dictionary of Heston)

Want some examples?

At Work…

…it’s easy to cut costs.  It’s simple to stop doing costly things.  Option #1 is really easy.  It’s why public companies do 5% across-the-board reductions in force when they miss earnings.  Had they done the simple thing, dropping a line that was expensive to produce and ship but that the market wouldn’t buy, 5% of their folks would probably still have jobs.  It’s easy to raise prices, increase quotas, or freeze wages.  It’s simple to seek and understand value, base forecasts on the voice of the market, or pay more for better talent, even if it means carrying fewer headcount.

As Leaders…

…it’s easy to make unilateral decisions behind closed doors, without a lot of input.  I mean, after all, we’re the boss, right?  On the other hand, it’s simple to invite more voices into the conversation and listen to what they have to say.  It’s simple to get their input, even if we don’t let them have a vote in what we decide.  It’s easy to work through time that should be spent with friends or family.  It’s simple to know when to get up and walk away from the desk.

In our Faith…

…it’s easy to say we believe.  It’s simple to base what we do and say on what we Believe.

Need a ribbon to put around this?

Easy is easy because it’s the path of least resistance.  Easy often means we’re avoiding the obvious in the misguided belief that if we take the easy path, the obvious stuff will somehow go away.  It won’t.

Simple is usually obvious.  It’s also often really, really difficult to execute upon.  Simple, to Dad’s point, can be a real….well, you know.  (I don’t wanna be gratuitous…)

How do I start pursuing “simple?”

Grab a sheet of paper, and draw a line down the middle, all Ben Franklin-like.  On the left, put the heading “Easy” at the top, and then don’t write anything down under it.  On the right, under the heading “Simple,” make a list of three simple things, and under each of them the first two steps toward doing them.

Things like:  Asking lost customers why they left.  Asking new customers why they came on board.  Firing the employee who has become a cancer in the team.  Stopping participation in gossip.  Calling a supplier and requesting a creative way to save some cash.  Asking the big Client to work with you to adjust their rates because they haven’t seen an increase since you founded the company 23 years ago.  Asking for help from someone who is clearly much better at a thing than we are.  Admitting we’re wrong on Strategy A.  Doubling down on Strategy B.

*Warning:  When we devote time to executing on simple, we’ll learn a lot.  And sometimes we’ll learn that it’s not as simple as it seemed.  The easy thing is to throw our hands up and revert to what we’ve always done.  The simple thing is to step away.  Take a breath.  Take a walk.  Ask for input.  Look at it from a different angle, and then move forward.   


The Way We Ought To See It

“I’ll take fifty percent efficiency to get one-hundred percent loyalty.”

–  Samuel Goldwyn (1879 – 1974), Polish-born American film producer, founder of Paramount and other production studios

The meeting began in the usual fashion.  “The way finance sees it,” says the CFO, “we’re not bringing enough to the bottom line.”  “The way production sees it,” said the COO, “pricing is too low!”  “It’s easy to see we’re under-investing in digital channels,” says the CMO.  You get the picture.  From where “they” see it, it’s someone else’s problem.

Funny thing is, there’s only one view that really matters.

How do your customers see it?  How do the Clients for whom we all work see it? What’s the perspective of the people who write the checks that make our existence possible?

So much is written today about efficiency, effectiveness, data-driven analytics and return-on-___________ metrics.

The funny thing is all those things matter.

As long as they’re viewed through the eyes of the source of the revenue we generate.

If we’re inefficient, what does that look like to the customer?  How do our customers feel about the value we provide, not just the price we charge?  What is the intent of our customers when it comes time to renew, refer, re-trench or re-commit?  How will we know?

The funnier thing is all we have to do to know is ask.  Ask early.  Ask often.  Ask genuinely and listen intently.

Ask when you lose a deal.  Ask when you win a deal.  Ask how the customer found you.  Ask why the customer left you.  Ask where they went.  Ask what’s going on in their business and what kind of help we can provide.  Ask where they did business before they began with us.  Ask why they started with us.  Why they stay with us.

Armed with those answers, our financials, our production reports, and our marketing strategies get pretty clear pretty quickly.

The way we ought to see it is simple.  We ought to see it the way our customers see it.

When we know whether we have their loyalty and how we earned it, the choices become crystal clear.




Purposeful Purpose

“The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.”

–  Mark Twain (Samuel L. Clemens) (1835 – 1910), American humorist 

Ever wonder whether he meant “find out” or “figure out?”

I have.

And then I realize that sometimes all the effort we pour into figuring things out gets in the way of the things that are right there for us to find out.

Perhaps I’m nitpicking semantics, but I really don’t think so.  It’s a logical segue from a series of posts on Faith back to our usual business / leadership / difference-making approach.  I like to think of it as being purposeful in finding our purpose.

Going someplace with this, Heston?


The best interview question I’ve ever been asked is, “What kind of work is both effortless and energizing for you?”  It’s a brilliant question, and I guess that cultural deficiencies keep many companies from asking the question or caring about the answer.  This approach goes hand-in-glove with Buckingham’s Strength-Based Leadership concept, and it’s why the best teams and organizations become the best.  They focus on putting people in a position to play to their strengths as much of the time as possible.

Remember the “Shooters Shoot” post?  Or the difference between being short-staffed or poorly-staffed?  Selecting and deploying talent is a blending of art and science.  If Susie is born to teach, and we don’t put her in a mentoring or teaching role, we’re not only missing out on maximizing Susie’s contributions to the team, we’re sucking the life out of her workdays.  If Pat is blessed with exceptional selling skills and we promote Pat to be the sales manager — we might be killing our momentum, not to mention Pat’s passion for the company or the work the company does.

How do we know what our purpose is?  How do we know what our employees’ purposes are?

Remember “effortless and energizing.”

At dear old Fairfield High School, everyone knew that you went to Allen, Brad, or Susan if you needed help in math.  Science?  Jay or Wellsy.  English?  That was me, Richard, Peggy, Clark, or Jeannette.

In other words, the team typically knows where to go within the team for whatever “secret sauce” they need at a given moment.  They look to the people who are effortlessly energized by the task at hand.

It’s one of the primary reasons we ought to include the team in our interviewing and hiring decisions.

What’s our alternative?

Weak leaders spend all their time trying to get Joe to be better at things he’s not good at.  (Yes, people came to me for help with English, and I just ended a sentence with a preposition.  Sue me!)  “If only Bill was a better closer!” the sales manager says.  “He’s such a good presenter.  Why can’t he close deals like Mary?”  Except Mary might not be a good presenter.  Why not pair Bill and Mary together and leverage both sets of gifts?  Trying to force someone prone to math errors to be a better auditor is like putting someone with two left feet in the dance team’s front row.

A CEO I know had a dream to be a brain surgeon like Dr. Warren.  This now-successful technology CEO achieved amazing grades in science, was blessed with amazing deductive skills.  The guy has off-the-charts memorization talent.  But his hand-eye coordination is in the bottom quartile of all people.  Not just brain-surgery applicants, mind you, but everyone.  We once used a tennis ball to make sure that we didn’t interrupt one another during meetings.  If you had a point to make, you raised your hand, and the person talking tossed you the tennis ball so we’d know who’s turn it was next.  It lasted for about six minutes until we realized that our CEO couldn’t — catch — the ball.

As for his dream, apparently, hand-eye coordination is way up there on the prerequisites list for putting sharp objects into people’s brains.  He was fortunate to have a mentor who steered him towards his purpose — leadership in the business world.  Not only are more people alive today for that choice, but hundreds have had better careers because this guy found his purpose.  Purposefully.

As leaders, we’re called upon to not only purposely find our own purpose.  We’re Blessed with the responsibility of helping our team members find theirs.

If our goal is to provide that second, best day — how much more successful will we be?

Faith At Work III

“How do you finish a three-part series on an amazing book without giving away how the book ends?”

–  Steve Heston, dopey blogger, staring blankly at a computer screen for a couple of hours…

“Faith does not magically change our circumstances and make everything happy; it merely bends the light to show us what’s really there.  It’s the prism we need to see hope when all seems lost, to survive the furnace of suffering, to grow despite the pain.”

–  W. Lee Warren, MD in the epilogue of “I’ve Seen The End of You; A Neurosurgeon’s Look at Faith, Doubt and The Things We Think We Know”

I called a member of my extended family last night.  He’s a career HR executive — and a danged fine one.  He’s also a loyal subscriber to the Daily Difference and he is inspirational to me in the steadfastness of his Faith.  “I’ve always wrestled with this Faith at Work thing,” he said.  Turns out as an HR executive and a fiduciary of companies, counsel advises against talking about Faith all willy-nilly at work.  Whodda thunkit?

I also researched a long-forgotten concept Warren calls out in the book:  Hobson’s Choice.  It’s defined as a “free choice where only one thing is offered.  Because a person may refuse to accept what is offered, the two options are taking it or taking nothing. In other words, one may “take it or leave it”.

After staring at the screen (literally — I had to look like I was a mannequin or something!) I realized that Cuzzin’s point and Hobson’s choice gave me the path I needed to connect the dots.

It’s not about Faith at work.  It’s just about Faith.

When all seems lost, when the furnace of suffering is cranked up, and when the pain is seemingly unbearable, we can either choose to get through it or succumb to it.  As Warren calls out in the book a number of times, succumbing is usually grotesque and horrific and it tends to affect those who love the one who chooses nothing most more than it does those who choose it.

There are some days that work absolutely sucks.  There are some days when something outside of work absolutely sucks.  We can either get through, or we can opt-out — choose nothing; essentially freeze, die a little, or shut down.  Faith is what gets us through.

There are some days that being a spouse sucks.  That being a parent, sibling, friend, or just a person — sucks.  There are some days that it’s easy to wonder why we even bothered to get up.  Faith is — or at least can be…no, make that SHOULD be the reason.

Why Even Think About Faith At Work?  Because Someone is Watching

Someone who works with us is watching today, to see what we’ll do when the deal goes bad.  Someone who works for us is watching today, to see what we’ll do when the verdict comes in on the wrong side of the case.  Someone who buys from or sells to us is watching today. Someone we don’t even realize is watching is, in fact, watching; to see what we will do next.  Even when we don’t know what we will do next.

Warren’s central question addresses the collision between what we believe and what we know.  So, what do we believe and why do we believe it?  In order to really live in that belief, it will serve us well to divorce ourselves somewhat from what we “know.”

There’s a great recurring line in the book about what we can see being the only thing that’s real.  (Evidently, that’s valuable training in Surgeon School…)  But here’s the deal — in Warren’s words:  “If you have to lay eyes on everything to believe it or put your finger in the holes of it like doubting Thomas, you won’t know what to believe when it’s too far away to see or touch.”


(I just used the word “epilogue” twice in one post.  That’s what staring at a screen for two hours does to your rational mind, evidently, but I’m going somewhere with this.)

Good Friday is a week away.  For 17 years, Good Friday DD’s have led with this quote from St. Thomas Aquinas:  “To one who has Faith, no explanation is necessary.  To one without Faith, no explanation is possible.”  

As you read this post, on this topic, it occurs to me that either no explanation is necessary for you, or that none is possible.

In either case, I hope you’ll read the book.  And I hope you’ll let me know whether it made a difference for you, whether at work or wherever else it might resonate.


Faith at Work II

“Did I really believe, or did I believe I was supposed to believe?”

–  W. Lee Warren, MD in his amazing book “I’ve Seen The End of You”

Yesterday I promised that we’d go deeper into what we know versus what we believe.

This is a good place to start.  I’m going to save the hard-line Faith angle for tomorrow (it’s a week from Good Friday, after all…).  And, while the headlines for this series read “Faith At Work” the fact of the matter is belief is fundamental to whatever we do or choose not to do.

So, what do we believe?

For sales and marketing types, if they really believe, the sky is the limit.  But if they believe they’re supposed to believe, and they’re getting fed the company line, seasoned with crap and fantasy, the limit is much closer to the ground.  About knee-high, as a matter of fact.  For leaders (CEO’s, GM’s, functional leaders, parents, coaches, mentors) what they believe about the people they lead has a way of playing out pretty close to the picture they’ve framed in their minds.  That’s pretty danged cool if they believe the team can go further than the team believes it will go, and pretty danged miserable if their belief is going to drag down a perfectly capable set of folks.

In the business context, and in the greater context (Hey, I didn’t say I was gonna save it all for tomorrow…) knowing why we believe is at least as critical as whatever we believe.

Regardless of what we know, what we believe is, ultimately, our True North.

Warren’s book deals with about as frustrating and nebulous concept as most Believers will ever face.  It’s captured in this quote from yesterday’s post: “How can I pray for God to heal someone of something that no one ever survives?  How do I ask God for something He never does?”  

Where will we find our “Why we believe?”  How will we keep it at the forefront of our minds when it gets tested?  When we’re exhausted?  Defeated?  Desperate?

The question plays out in our souls and in our careers.  In our relationships, with others, with ourselves and with God.

This book is transformational, whether your Faith has an uppercase “F” or whether it ties to your favorite sports hero, politician (does anyone really have faith in those jokers anymore?) or other “role model.”

And if all we’re doing is believing we’re supposed to believe, the book becomes mandatory reading, not just transformational.



Faith At Work

“So what happens when the things you know and the things you believe smash into one another like (the unstoppable force hitting the immovable object)?

–  W. Lee Warren, MD in “I’ve Seen The End of You; A Neurosurgeon’s Look at Faith, Doubt and The Things We Think We Know”

If you are a person of Faith, you’ve been standing in this very busy intersection at some point in your life and career.  Maybe at multiple points.  If you are a person without faith, you’ve at least spent time in the crosswalks at this intersection, and you’ve probably been caught standing there during rush hour at least a few times.  Whether you believe that prayer is always a viable answer or that prayer is a colossal waste of time, you’ll relate to a question Dr. Warren asks us (and himself) on page 39 of the book:

“How can I pray for God to heal someone of something that no one ever survives?  How do I ask God for something He never does?”

I’m halfway through the book, and I’ve taken 12-15 pages of notes.  I’ve cried twice.  I’ve stopped, dead in my tracks, and just thought for ten minutes at a time.  And there you have proof of my point in yesterday’s post, reading makes us better.

Faith At Work?

I’ve been Blessed to speak as part of a couple of large Faith At Work forums.  It’s been humbling because the other panel members have been much more worthy of their seats than I have been.  One common theme for us panelists after the events, whether at a church in suburban Milwaukee or on a university campus in Nebraska, is some level of fascination with the questions raised at those events.  “Won’t we get in trouble with HR if we talk about faith in a corporate setting?”  “Isn’t it best to keep the two separate?”  “Doesn’t one cloud the other?”  “My MBA professor says that data overrules anything else, and no decision should be made without relying solely on data.  Do you disagree?”

Look, 90% of the decisions we make at work are habitual or instinctive.  (I made that statistic up, and I stand behind it!)  And no work task on earth, based on Dr. Warren’s description, is likely more habitual or instinctive than a neurosurgeon looking at an MRI of a”GBM,” a Glioblastoma multiforme — a terminal brain tumor.  Strike that.  An always terminal brain tumor. The title of the book comes from Dr. Warren’s reaction when his scope shows him a GBM.

And, while I’m not done with the book yet, I can’t imagine a better backdrop for us to examine the question of whether or not Faith at Work is a good thing, or whether it’s even a thing.  I’ll save that specific angle for later in the week.  In the meantime, it ain’t just about Faith.  It’s about our approach to dang near anything.

What if I’m not willing to consider the Faith angle, Heston?

Then go back to the question in the quote at the top of this post.  What happens when the things you know and the things you believe are in direct, “unstoppable vs. immovable” opposition to one another?

Like when your forecast says you can’t miss, but you do?  Or when your forecast says there’s no hope but you make the quarter anyway?  Like when you just know you’re going to pass (or flunk) the final exam, only to wake up the next day having failed (or passed) it?

Let me propose this:  Ask “Why?”  Why are we so sure we know the outcome before the outcome occurs?  Why do we believe what we believe?  We oughta ask ourselves and others more questions that start with “Why?”

A mentor of mine often quoted Machiavelli:  “You’re either for me or against me,” he’d say, flamboyantly.  He’s gone now, but I’ve learned it’s one of few flawed concepts he espoused and I wish I could ask him, “Why?  Why does it have to be one or the other?”  Heck, if he could tell me, maybe I could fix politics!  (Was that the dopiest thing I’ve ever written, or what!)

Whether it’s about Faith at Work or just work-at-work — shouldn’t we delve deeper into what we “know,” as well as what we “believe?”  Haven’t markets changed over our careers? Heck, I’m reading this book on an App on a tablet, making highlights and sending snippets out from a beach chair, an airplane seat and my sofa!  Those folks at Borders Books just knew that would never happen!  It’s not just what we know, either.  Haven’t our beliefs evolved over our careers?  And if the answer is “no” to that question, then this book might be even more for you than the rest of us Difference Makers.

More on this topic tomorrow.  And Friday.  In the meantime, buy and read this book.  Faith or no, you will not be sorry.  At 51% of the way through I’ve Seen The End of You,  I am already a better leader than I was 72 hours ago.  I’m already a better Christian than I was 72 hours ago.

Reading makes us better — and reading this book is making me better, faster.




“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies . . . The man who never reads lives only one.”

     – George R.R. Martin (b. 1948), author responsible for “A Song of Ice and Fire,” the precursor to Game of Thrones 

GOT changed my view of modern TV, inasmuch as I went from “It’s a complete waste of time,” to “I can’t wait for the next episode of…”  First it was Thrones.  Now it’s Yellowstone.

But that’s not the point.

Last week, 52 of us, including 17 high school seniors who completely restored my faith in the next generation, our group included The Youngest of The Three and her two closest friends.

But that’s not the point.

It was an amazing trip, full of sun, deep-sea-fishing, 4x the calories one should consume in each day, fireside parent chats late into the evening, and a ton of time reading.

But that’s not the point.

The three 15-year-olds maximized their time in the sun and sea, and pool and spa, and they did girlie things until later-than-they-thought-we’d-allow.  And, they each read books.  Like, for multiple hours each day.  They even talked about the books they were reading.  Without touching their phones.

I think that’s the point.

Reading unleashes something in us, and when we share what we read, it unleashes something bigger in more than just us.

Toward the end of the trip, I started a book recommended by my friend, “big brother” and attorney, Jim.  He said it was amazing. He undersold it.  It’s impacting me in a way I can’t begin to describe, yet.  But the Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday Daily Diff’s will take a shot at it.

Reading makes us better.

That’s really the point.

Get your Amazon account pulled up because I think you’re going to want to buy it.  I hope I do this book justice — but even if I fail, reading it is making a humongous difference for me.

It was a good Spring Break.  Strike that.  It was a really, very, very good Spring Break.  Thanks for giving me the time to do some relaxing.  And some reading.


Bonus Post – Filters

“Humans see what they want to see.”

–  Rick Riordan in “The Lightning Thief”

Sunrise this morning on the beach.  It’s funny what a view through a different filter can do for the mind.

Oh.  Yes!  The boys won the state championship Friday night, followed by a late-night of celebrating, a full day of packing and dropping the world’s largest Labradoodle off at his “aunt’s” and a couple of airports on the way to the 2021 Spring Breakapalooza in South Florida.

Filter #1:  The water is perfectly still this morning.  The view is spectacular.  The freeing effect on the mind is noted.  With my journal, my note pad and my morning-quiet-time reading materials, I’m “seeing” differently, and not just because the ocean has replaced the familiar countryside back home.

One of my first thoughts is that it shouldn’t — doesn’t — require a time zone change, replacing prairie with ocean or a bump of 47 degrees to change the way we think to start the day.  That’s a decision.  Granted one easier to make in a new surrounding, but not unavailable even if the scenery doesn’t change.

Filter #2:  It’s over quickly.  A couple of tables over is a young family, kids about 5-to-8 years old.  Still asleep are our 17 high school seniors.  As the family at breakfast squabbles over the things a family squabbles with when their 5-to-8-year-olds are tired, sunburned, and hungry — I bet they’d benefit from the filter of realizing that the next 10-to-13 years will go by in a nanosecond.

I got it wrong more than I got it right, probably.  All of us maybe do.

Last night though, watching a group of young adults celebrating the final Spring Break of their High School years, we realized that these are neat young adults and that somehow they made it in spite of us.

It’s all little sh**, really.  And it’s over in a heartbeat.  Best we consider our filters along the way, instead of only in the rearview mirror.


  1. “The bond that links your true family is not one of blood, but one of respect and joy in each other’s life.”

–  Richard Bach (b. 1936), American writer and author of Jonathan Livingston Seagull

Watching the boys this week has been a clear reminder of what makes teams special.  The bond between teammates.

We see it in extraordinary leadership teams.  I’ve been blessed to be part of two or three that will still, years later, drop whatever any of us are doing for anything that any of the others need.

We see it in military units that have been through trials together.  Yes, some of them literally lay down their lives for one another, and that bond remains for the special units long after combat ends.  The Greatest Generation is perhaps the greatest illustration of the concept.

As a dad, what’s unfolding this week in the Iowa Boy’s State Basketball Tournament will be something that stays with me for the rest of my life.  Supremely talented, the group of boys that includes our son is showing clear signs of so much respect for and joy in each other’s lives — that no matter what happens tomorrow night, it feels like a bond is being established that will transcend basketball.  One that feels more like family.

“Trust, Family,” is the rallying cry of this team, and they’re living it as they close out their time playing together.  Whatever our rallying cry is, living it is worth doing.  For each other.

The Daily Difference will take Spring Break, and return on Tuesday, March 23rd.  In case you want to see the boys try to close out this tournament with a win, tune in the Waukee Warriors tonight at https://ihssn.com.