The Gift of Learning

“In University we are taught a lesson, then given a test.  In life, we are given a test that teaches us a lesson.”

–     Habeeb Akande, British-born writer of Nigerian descent 

My wife may be the best gift-giver on earth.  Strike that.  She is, in fact, better at planning, choosing, giving and buying gifts than anyone else, living or dead.

In transformative times like we’re facing today, the greatest gift we can receive is learning — as long as we’re open to learning and hungry for knowledge.

“How do you follow a quote from a Nigerian – British author who writes about “erotic Muslim-ism” and then start the post with a reference to your wife, you dipweed?” you might be thinking…

Bear with me.  No one taught us how to prepare for the COVID reality of today.  Heck, no one really taught us to be prepared for much of what happens today, even in the broader scheme of things.  Certainly not traditional schooling.  That’s been outdated for 25 years unless you’re gonna be a doc or a CPA or an astrophysicist.

In life, as crazy, naughty Habeeb suggests, we’re given a test that teaches us a lesson.

For Christmas, Jodi Heston gave me a subscription to Master Class.  Amazing.

I get to learn from Thomas Keller how to cook like The French Laundry.  From Doris Kearns Goodwin on how to write like, well, like DKG!  I get to learn negotiation skills from Chris Voss, who, if you’re ever taken captive by some faction of wackadoos or another, you want on the other end of the phone.

Most of us have more downtime than we had a month ago.  Some of that time, we ought to shut it down, maybe to reconnect with the grumpy, bored teenagers, clean out the junk drawer or — well you get the drill.

But why not also invest in learning, while we have the time?

Life is giving us a test right now.  Will we “get” the lesson? We ought to learn from this and be more ready for the next “this,” to make up for being so unready for this “this.”

Chris Voss’s negotiation skills class will pay for the subscription, halfway through.  I found it validates 80% of what I teach my Clients about negotiating, and it augments with 20% extra that will make a huge difference for me, and my Clients.

Whether it was the Tumi backpack, the Zero Restriction rain-suit, the three-day surprise golf outing with my seven closest friends, Mrs. Heston has a great track record.  The Master Class gift clinches the crown.

Invest the $180.  Invest the time to go through the classes that matter to you.  Put yourself in a position to learn a lesson and lead others into whatever comes next.

Challenging times dare the best of us to get better.  When we take the challenge, the Boom Sauce is in play.


Transformative Times II

“We are always one decision away from a totally different life.”

–     Unattributed

No one decided to contract the COVID19 virus.

That ain’t the kind of decision to which we’re referring.

For Difference Makers, it’s about the decision we make next.

These are transformative times.

Editor’s Note:  Today’s post has nothing to do with irresponsible media, panic-prone wannabees with social media accounts and not enough to do with their lives or how these times compare to the 1918 flu, the H1N1 coronavirus or the bubonic plague.  Today’s post is about what’s coming.  Next.  

Before about a month ago, very few of the people we know bought the majority of their groceries online.  On the other side of this, that number will be higher.  Much higher.  These times will transform the grocery business.  Before about a month ago, carry-out or delivery dinner was gonna be pizza or Chinese food, unless we lived in a huge city, in which case it was probably going to be pizza or Chinese food, with maybe a few other options.  On the other side of this, that trend will have changed, a lot.  Think of what those changes mean for the construction / design of grocery stores.  Restaurants.  (Bigger kitchens, smaller dining spaces?  Hmmmm…)

I have a good friend who’s in the online marketing business.  Visionaries like him have helped companies prepare for digital progression — and now, most companies — yours, mine, the ones we serve, the ones that serve us — will face a materially different template for business, a result of a forced digital transformation.

Imagine the impact on commercial real estate when giant companies realizethey really can have productive people working from wherever they happen to be.  Imagine the downward pressure on rents, business services (janitorial, business supplies) and the demand for specialized business services (microbial cleaning of commons spaces, business continuity and disaster recovery services).  Another friend is a senior executive with an automotive sales group — one that used steering wheel covers as a courtesy in their service department who now realizes they were sitting on a difference-making approach that might even become law if the big-government folks get their way.

It might be April 30.  It might be later than that.  I guess it’s possible that it could be sooner than that.  Someday soon, however, many of us are going to wake up and our cheese will have been moved — maybe to a different maze.

We are here, now.  In a transformational time, where do we want to go, next?






Break It Down – Transformative Times

“Don’t blame a clown for acting like a clown.  Ask yourself why you keep going to the circus…”

–     Unattributed, but I like it a lot, and will start using it quite a bit….fair warning!

Two thoughts, as I begin what will be a two-day series on “transformative times.”

First — Difference Makers find the simplicity in the complex, the calm in the chaos.

Second — there is a transformation, maybe more than one afoot (more on that to come…)

Let’s start with simplicity.

It’s there.  Really, it is.  I remember the eye-test, “The Old Lady and The Young Lady” illusion.  Most of us see one or the other, and once we’re told that both of them are in there, the harder we look, the less we see.

Yesterday, I led a conversation with a team that was just certain that there were, as one of them stated, “Any number of ways this could go.”  Of course, he was right.  Except that he wasn’t right at all.  At the level that really matters — there were only two, maybe three if we stretch, paths forward.

Let’s try an analogy.

You and I are at Erin Hills Golf Course just outside Milwaukee, WI.  After our round, we are sitting by the fire pit outside The Lodge sipping a Baker’s 7-year old, neat.  (Sometimes I write to torture myself….but I digress…)

We agree that we’re going to pick up the conversation on Monday, at noon, on the putting green at Ballyneal.

In these times, many would say, “How are you going to do that?  It’s an 11-hour drive!  It’s gonna take 10 hours if you fly, by the time you get to MKE or ORD and connect to either Denver or North Platte, and then drive from there!  Travel is a bad idea with the restrictions!  What if the golf course is closed?  Should you even be playing golf now?  What if the caddy contaminates your grips?  What if your grips contaminate the caddy?  Neither of you are members there!  What if you take the Dallas connection and the flight cancels?  It’s a 13-hour drive from there!  Cell reception is bad out there in NE Colorado, what if one of us is late and we can’t reach the other one?”

All legitimate concerns.  All sideshows at the circus, keeping us from the Big Tent of success.

None of those distractions materially impact the fact that we’re both planning to be on the putting green at Ballyneal, Monday at Noon, and it’s up to each of us how we get there, then.

When we maintain our focus on the end goal, the distractions stop being distractions, and we keep moving toward the end goal.

How do we know?  How do we know what the end goal is in professional, B2B Selling?

We ask!

Mister CFO, are you taking on this project to trim costs or boost revenue?  Madame CEO, is your end-game to sell the company, or grow it and sustain it as its own entity?  Hey, Pat Salesleader — are you trying to increase deal velocity or total contract value?  Sam Software Developer, is the goal to write code that is more efficient or that can tackle bigger processes?

When we calmly break it down until the simple kicks the complexity to the curb — most business is — wait for it — simple.

Last point in a longer-than-usual post.  I caught up with a client late Wednesday night.  He’s special and so is the company he and his partners founded 20-years-ago.  For that entire 20-year run, through the bubble’s burst, the recession of 2008-ish and now in day 20-ish of the COVID19 mess, his company has grown.  Profitably.  Debt-free.  Consistently.  Steady, significant steps forward.  Because they know who they are and what they do, and it’s all they do.  They’re too busy being awesome to get distracted.

Difference Makers find simplicity in the complex, and when transformative times come upon us, Difference Makers lead the transformation.

Keep it simple.  Break it down.  And get ready for the “Boom Sauce.”  (Blatant inside joke.  Sorry, not sorry…)



If We Don’t Laugh…

“And now for something completely different…”

–     The title of a 1971 “movie” by the cast of Monty Python’s Flying Circus

“Look, I came here for an argument!” “No, you didn’t!”  (It’s a great skit, I dare you not to click that link…)

There are times we just need a no-strings-attached laugh-out-loud moment or two.

These are among those times.  I have an associate who sends the best memes ever.  I literally laugh out loud at most of them.  My favorite so far isn’t one of his, though.  It’s the one that says, “Of all the stupid sh** I’ve done, if I die because I touched my face, I’m going to be so pissed!”

It’s a favorite line of my circle of knucklehead buddies when someone is worried about flying with their spouse, or the old “too many executives in one car” concern comes up in conversation.  Invariably, one of us says, “Look, of all the stupid things we’ve done, do we really think that if God wants us today, He’s not going to get us?”

It’s a serious time, and it calls for serious consideration.

It doesn’t call for being morose or self-important.

Reader’s Digest had / still has a feature called “Laughter, The Best Medicine.”  Dad would often read them out loud to the family, and we would, as often as not, laugh out loud.

I might stream The Book Of Mormon because even though it’s horrible and politically incorrect and flies in the face of some things that are important to me — I literally laugh until my ribs hurt every time I see it.  (Yeah, I know, I’m not stable….surprise!)

Jump in here.  In the comments below, name the funniest show, comedian, moment, saying or ____________ you remember.  Let’s spread a little laughter.






“We don’t function well as human beings when we’re in isolation.”

–     Robert Zemeckis (b. 1952), American film writer, director and producer, most famous, perhaps for Back to The Future

A mentor, coach and one of the truest friends I will ever know suffered a setback last week and has been placed in a rehab facility near our home.  I can’t see him.  Nor can his sons, grandchildren, other friends.

Everyone I know is either working from home, laid off or worried as heck about what comes next for them.  For those of us working, but from remote locations, people we work with every day are faced with different emotions, reactions, energy levels, patience, and tolerance.  Working from home, in isolation, means we won’t function as well as when we’re together.

“But, Heston,” you might say, “we have all these tools and technology today!  Who really needs to go into the office?  What benefit is there in being face-to-face?”

Well, candidly, we need to go into the office.  What benefit?  Functioning better, for one.  Feeling part of something, for another.  Community, connectedness, and camaraderie.

Seven people today told me that “it is what it is…”

There is no phrase that I dislike more than “it is what it is.”  I don’t believe that’s an informed perspective, or that it’s a particularly helpful viewpoint.  Harshly stated, I think it’s a copout.

That said, we are, in fact where we are, and to some degree wherever that is, it’s more isolated than we’re used to.

Now is an exceptional time to consider what we’ll do differently, next…

And, when we’re no longer asked to be in isolation voluntarily, what will we do about those we know who are isolated involuntarily?

We don’t function well alone.  Eve was created because Adam would have been useless by himself.  Friendships are built because we, plus our friends, are more than the sum of the people.  We’re a community.

Two to-do’s…

  1. When we’re no longer pressed to be in isolation — what behaviors will we change?  Make a list.  Share a few items from that list in the comments section below this post…
  2. Who are the people we know who’re isolated regardless of pandemics; who are discriminated against, marginalized, lonely, afraid or paralyzed by fear or hurt?  How will we reach out to them now, and “after” to make a difference for them?

We don’t function well in isolation.  How will we change the way we look at isolation when it becomes an option again?

In times of great challenge comes great opportunity to learn, grow, and change ourselves, or at least our approach?  What kind of difference will we choose to make when we come out of isolation?







Focus On Empathy

“Most importantly, focus on empathy rather than trying to create sales opportunities.”

–     The Management Tip of The Day, from the Harvard Business Review, March 29, 2020

When it comes to secular sources, the work and writings of Seth Godin, and the Harvard Business Review are two I can’t imagine sacrificing.

This is one example of why.  Ours is an opportunistic world and a capitalistic society.  There is a booming snake-oil market here for the ethically challenged.

Challenging times will bring out the worst in many people.  What the HBR article is pointing out, importantly, is that challenging times also provide the same opportunity to bring out the best in us.

Here’s a small sampling of questions to ask clients and prospects during these unprecedented times:

“What does this mean for your business?  For your family?”

“Which of your peers, friends in business have had the best ideas?  What have you tried that seemed to resonate best with your employees and customers?”

“Have your customers been supportive?  How are you choosing to communicate with them?  What stories are you hearing from them?”

“How can I help?”

On that last case, it’s not “How can I help?  Would you like to buy…..?”  It’s “How can I help?”  Full stop.  Period.  End of sentence.  (Technically, yes, I know it’s a question mark — you’re killin’ me Smalls!”)

The coolest thing about this approach?  It works in good times, too.  Of course, we get paid to create sales opportunities.  But when they’re driven by an understanding of what problem the buyer might want or need to solve, it’s a much more satisfying career!




Who To Believe?

“We’re not a very sharp species.  We kill each other over arguments about what happens when you die and then we fail to see the irony in that.”

–     Sam Halpern, featured in his son’s book / blog, “S*** My Dad Says”

Yes, it’s edited a bit.  Here’s hoping that’s discretion on my part and not a sign of growing up or anything weird like that.

Why this quote at this time?

In my home office, I have a TV.  I’ve realized that 99.7% of everything people are saying during this COVID-19 is (at best) conjecture and (at worst) complete BS.  In Journalism school (and no, that’s not the “BS” to which I was just referring) it was hammered into us:  Do NOT be part of the story!

These prima donna imbeciles and talking heads today believe they ARE the story, and I have no clue where to look for “Joe Friday, just-the-facts-ma’am” news.  Thank God for the Wall Street Journal.  (Oh, and for His Word, too…)

Blame is a sucker’s game, and too much of our society is about blame in this buffoon-riddled, social-media-driven world in which we live.  I sound more like my grandfather every day, but our kids believe something they see on TikTok, Instaface, SnapGram or FaceChat before they’d ever believe something the news networks report.  Wanna know what’s really scary?  The kids might be closer to correct than we want to consider!

People are getting ill.  It’s unprecedented, and if we’re prone to fear, it’s kinda scary.  I deliver the eulogies in my family and circle of friends, and it’s disconcerting that this COVID-19 thing could, conceivably, put me in front of groups of people remembering someone who doesn’t make it.  It’s even more disconcerting that we might not be allowed to get people together to honor the life of someone who doesn’t make it.

So, the point today?  We’re not a very sharp species, at least when it comes to the public face of events like these.

Behind the panic is a guy working to get me my docking station, extra keyboard, and two side monitors so I can be more productive today.  That right there is a first world problem!  It doesn’t minimize at all that he’s putting himself in the line of fire to make his co-workers better suited to serve their Clients.  A couple million healthcare and first-responder pros will head to work or are already at work doing what they do every day — attempting to save lives.  National Guard dudes and dudettes are being called up to help put together makeshift triage and hospital centers.  People are missing paychecks, kids are missing school (and, in many cases, school is the only source of nourishment they get!) while their (too often single) parents are missing shifts or are weighted down by more costs of caring for those kids.

It ain’t Trump’s fault.  It ain’t Pelosi’s fault — and trust me, those are words I didn’t think I’d ever type.  It’s not Bernie’s fault, Congress’s fault or the Senate’s fault.  It’s not the Supreme Court or the World Health Organization or CDC’s fault.

It’s where we are, now.

Pardon me while I turn off the TV.  I’m less than three hours into my day, and I fail to see the irony in our dopey species debating what should be done via talking heads, instead of doing what must be done.

Pray.  Buy local.  Use common sense.  Love one another.  Shut up and be kind.  (While we’re on the topic of irony, I’m now going to try to rationalize a post that began with a reference to “prima donna imbeciles” and ended with “be kind.”

I’m a work in progress, huh?

Presence During Absence


as defined by — (adjective)  without previous instance; never before known or experienced; unexampled or unparalleled

These are, in fact, unprecedented times.

As leaders, as Difference Makers, our presence might never have been more in demand than it is now.

Yet, conditions warrant that we be not present.  Physically.

The kind of presence that makes a Difference Maker, the kind that makes a leader, has precious little to do with physicality in times like these.

It’s about being available, focused, committed and engaged.  Whether from HQ, a sweet home office with built-ins and surround sound for conference calls, or the dining room table in a small apartment halfway across the country from your most remote staff member.

All we can do, for our clients, for our teams, for our families — especially in these unprecedented times, is to be present.  Available.  Focused.  Committed.  Engaged.

Unprecedented presence will get us through these unprecedented times.

Uncontrolled Intersections

“I don’t know why they put stoplights anywhere!  The best way to move traffic is a four-way stop sign.  Everybody knows when it’s their turn.”

–     Richard V. “Dick” Heston (1933 – 2002), my dad — farmer, philosopher & smart, smart dude

Frequently, when coaching leaders, I talk about uncontrolled intersections.  There are no stop signs, no lights, no “yield” signs.  They’re a crash waiting to happen.  In an uncontrolled intersection, it’s incumbent on one driver to assume control — IF they can, and of whatever they can.

We find ourselves these days, in an uncontrolled intersection of sorts.  No routine.  No “red, yellow, green” lights, no yield signs, no speed limits (maximum or minimum).  Technically, we’ve never been “here” before, although, one could argue that we’re not sure where “here” is.

That brings us to the matter of control.  It’s an illusion, as we’ve discussed many times in the past 16 years.

So, if someone is to assume control in times like these, it can be a slippery slope.

Dad, if he were still around, would slip into farmer mode — the one that ruled his life — wherein his reality was that all he controlled was prepping the soil, putting the crop in the ground and then tending the weeds.  All he could do is feed the calves and make sure they got their shots.  Everything else was up to — well, for the sake of not beating that drum too often for secular types — it was out of his control.

I’m a small-government guy.  I don’t like anyone in government making decisions that the market or private citizens could make.  Economically, it’s an easy position to take.  But, in times like these, it may not be as popular a position.  That said, I am who I am, and I can’t very well choose my spots on philosophy or principle.

So, WWDD?  (What would Dad do?)  If he was home (he was, after all, a farmer — hard to be away for extended time, right?) he’d stay home.  If I was away (2.5 million miles and counting…), he’d say, “Get home safe, or, stay where you are…”

He’d hope that every intersection we navigated had a red octagon at each entry point, and that common sense would rule the day.

This week, Three Three, their mother and I chose not to live in fear — and we’ve been “quarantined” on a beach for six days.  On Saturday, we’ll make our way towards home.  We’ll do our best at each intersection to wait our turn and look for oncoming traffic from TSA, the airlines, the other few dozen people on our flight and the other few hundred in each of the three airports.

We’ll make sure, as best we can, that there’s no one approaching from the other three directions, and we’ll make our way home.  As Dad would say, even without the stop signs, it’s still the best way to move traffic.

Be safe.  Not afraid.



Fear, Then A Spring-Break Hiatus

“We have nothing to fear but fear itself.”

–     Franklin D. Roosevelt, during a prior public event that caused deep concern

It’s either ironic or something else that during a week in which the DD was intending to focus on fear that we have one of the most major fear-based responses in the history of our country.

Today, more employers will send hundreds of thousands of people to “work from home” for the next several weeks.  Tonight, The Tallest of The Three will play in the State Semi-Final basketball game, in front of either 10,000 or about 85 spectators.  My Iowa Hawkeyes play at 1:30 CDT today in a huge building in Indianapolis in front of, essentially, Frank Garza.


Mrs. Heston often uses #dontliveinfear with The Three.

In business, we fear losing deals we don’t have yet.  We fear losing jobs we’ve never really liked.  We fear authority from people who never should have been granted it.  We fear making mistakes so much that we don’t push the envelope.

And now, we’re learning a new phrase, “social distancing.” (And I thought people were just uncomfortable around me.  Oh.  That’s part of it?  Never mind…)

Why are we afraid?  Because we don’t know what’s going to happen next.

What are we afraid of?  Something bad happening.

What can we do about it?  That’s where it gets really interesting.

We never know what’s going to happen next.

Bad things happen, sometimes in the middle of very good things happening.  Sometimes, bad things happen and we think they’re good things, only to find out they’re not….or were they?  It’s maddening, really, if we allow it to be.

So, where can we find 365 reminders to “be not afraid?”  It’s in my favorite book.  If you’re not willing to go there for comfort, remember this, please.  For Difference Makers, all that matters is what we do next.  If we’re afraid, perhaps we spend a few more minutes thinking about alternatives — but not so much time that we curl up in the fetal position and dread whatever might – or might not – happen next.

The Diff will go on hiatus until March 23, because, unless the panic cancels the Lumineers concert and they shut down an island in Florida, we’re going to take advantage of what might be the last time The Three have Spring Break during the same week.  If I get a compelling inspiration, and the interwebs ain’t broken — I reserve the right to toss a post out there, but consider the next 9-10 days at 9:01 AM CDT open on your calendar.

Be safe.  Not afraid.