Tuesday, November 1, 2011


Despite my last post about the Occupy Wall Street folks, I have to admit that the movement is impressive. I didn’t think this generation could walk away from The Real Housewives and organize a movement.

But what confuses me is the message. I saw an interview yesterday with a young lady who said that life isn’t fair. She wants money to be abolished! She wants us to all be equal and just “live.”

(I also saw many interviews where people just beat their drums in circles. I’m not sure what drums have to do with anything; I guess it was some sort of new-age auditory protest intended to spread peace. I don’t think it worked, though, because I almost had a violent seizure.)

Let me focus on what the lady said about everyone being equal. Man, that would be fun, wouldn’t it? For a day, at least, right? It would, also, be fun if unicorns existed and if all the candy in the Willy Wonka movie existed.

Alas, that is not the way the world works.

Almost 20 years ago, when my son began his illustrious but brief soccer career, everyone got a trophy or a ribbon—every single kid out there. If you played, you got a prize. All you had to do was participate. Soccer awards were the great equalizer. No matter who did what on the field, you could feel good holding a shiny trophy signifying that everyone was equal. Participating was enough.

But in the world of business, it’s not this way at all. Everyone does not get a trophy for participating. Business people are held to high standards, and only the top performers get awarded with clients, money, and the complete DVD set of the TV show Wired.
This doesn’t mean that everyone is a loser, with just a few winners. It means that everyone must work hard to find his or her unique talents, and then constantly push harder to refine them. It means that some people have greater capacity, intellect, or luck. These folks often get more that the others, but not because they cheat. They are awarded because they do things better, faster, cheaper, and easier—and because they make our lives better.

But the good news for those of us who have only mediocre talent: These people make our lives better. If everyone participated at an equal level, we might not even have the Motorola 400 circa 1984, much less the iPhone 4S. We probably wouldn’t have the Backstreet Boys, much less the Beatles.

You see, you can’t legislate equality because people are not innately equal. Sure, you can force equal benefits and equal pay, but you cannot maximize energy of the more capable by giving the fruits of that capability to others. The talented folks would just stop working.

The problem with trying to legislate equality is that the multiplier effect that comes alongside genius will stop. Jobs will not be created or lost. And the people who create breakthroughs will never get their opportunity. If this sort of cycle continues, guess what you get?


I have two suggestions for all the protesters. First, don’t be too proud to work. Sweep streets. Clean the bathroom. Earn minimum wage. Some money is better than no money, especially when your unemployment runs out. Remember, someone who was not too proud to drive a cab could someday become the owner of a cab company.

Second, don’t be stopped by the “no’s.” In the words of the great Rolling Stones song, “you can’t always get what you want.”

But if you keep going, even though you haven’t gotten what you want, you are bound to eventually hear a “yes.” Research successful people. Almost all of them heard more than their fair share of “no’s.” Rags to riches stories are common. Seldom do people major in being corporate president in college. (I went to school to be president of the universe, but that’s just me. Also, that didn’t work out to well.)

By the way, I’ll bet that if the vast majority of the Wall Street protesters were offered a six-figure, Wall Street income starting immediately, they would miss the next march … and the next drum circle.

Today’s Challenge: Think about the NOs you have heard in your life. Did they kill you or did they make you stronger? If they killed you then you must not be reading this. Otherwise, I rest my case!

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Tuesday, October 25, 2011



Wow. That felt good. I know you’re not used to saying “no,” so say it with me.: NOOOOOOOOOOOOO.

Felt good didn’t it? Like a long lost friend. Makes me wonder how we forgot this word in the first place.

I was reminded of the word “no” when I was watching the coverage of the Occupy Wall Street movement. What a crowd. Most way too young to even understand what they are chanting. Reminded me of the anti-war movement of the 60s, except these folks are protesting not having jobs instead of having to go to war.

When asked what they are protesting, the Occupy Wall Street protesters simply state that big business is no good. Big business cheats, steals, lies, colludes (great word), conspires, and generally screws the little people (but not in a good way). The protesters want good jobs, good pay, great benefits, and no or few taxes.

And they want it given to them NOW.

I just have one word for that: No.

It just doesn’t work that way. It never has. NEVER. Things that are given are never valued. That’s why buffets are never fully appreciated. There are too many options, and the options get taken advantage of and underappreciated, so we all end up weighing 400 pounds.

It occurs to me that always being “yes men” is how we found our way into this mess. We have forgotten to say “no,” and we expect a buffet of options to be presented to us at all times. In fact, it has become a favorite pastime of this great nation to sue if we ever hear the word “no”. (I’ve used it 12 times now and am expecting at least 300 lawsuits.)

I confess that I don’t say “no” enough. I don’t always say it to my kids. I don’t always say it to the television. I don’t always say it to donuts.

The truth is that Wall Street hasn’t said “no” enough. A few more “no’s” would have averted the Wall Street collapse. “No’s” would have prevented people from making ill-suited home purchases, which would have lessened the real estate collapse.

“No” keeps us safe, sane, and realistic.

Only in our most recent generations did anyone “expect” a great job with great pay and great benefits. I recall listening to some grad students telling each other that they expected to earn $70,000 just out of school. I heard this and my jaw dropped open. What happened to walking both ways, up hill, barefoot in snow? These grads had no experience and they were worth that money?

Not a chance, but they got it anyway because we live in a “yes” world.

Here’s the deal, if you never hear the word “no,” it’s impossible to demonstrate a commitment to anything. Nothing important happens without some degree of striving. For big thinkers and doers “no” is a test word. Can you get to where you want to go in spite of the “no’s” you hear in everyday life? If the word “no” stops you in your tracks, you just might not want it bad enough. If the answer is always “yes,” why even ask the question?

(Take a second. I know I just dropped a bomb of knowledge on you that will take you awhile to recover from.)

“Yes” stifles innovation and risk. “Yes” promotes the status quo. “No” begets creativity.

Maybe I’m wrong about all of this. Disagree with me please! JUST SAY NO!

Today’s Challenge: Make a list of things in your past that you should have said “no” to instead of “yes”—“no’s” that would have made your life better. Be honest now!

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Thursday, October 20, 2011

Procrastination: It’s Like Wearing White on Labor Day, but Worse

6:30 pm. Omg. When was the last time I trimmed my ear hairs?

6:48 pm: I think I need a little break. There’s definitely a wall that needs staring at.

7:11 pm: Staring at walls is not nearly as fulfilling as you might think.

Okay, I’m clearly procrastinating … I must right this blog. I must.

Procrastinating is evil. It’s also insidious, which makes it double evil. It’s a lot more dangerous than other evils (like wearing white after Labor Day) because it isn’t always obvious.

On face value, procrastination seems like one of the sillier things that we do to ourselves.  We could do the task at hand and get it out of the way and then be able to go about our business of plucking ear hairs and staring at walls. But it never seems to work out that way … 

Excuse me, I have to go lie down for a second.

7:53 pm: Damn you, procrastination. But it’s totally true … most of us put off these simple tasks (like writing a blog) so that they blow up and bigger and bigger and become a huge stress in our lives—so stressful, in fact, that we spend so much energy worrying about what we have put off that we don’t do anything productive with the time we have “freed up” by procrastinating.

(Really worried I’m not going to finish this blog. It’s making me exhausted … Think I’m going to watch America’s Got Talent. Be right back)

9:07: I can’t believe they voted them off!

Oh, right …  Procrastination continues to create pain for much longer time than the pain of getting it done in the first place. Dan Sullivan, the great mentor of The Strategic Coach, says that when you have something difficult you need to do, and you know that it’s going to be painful, you have two choices.

1)      You can either have a long, slow pain that will constantly be there, or
2)      You can have a fast, possibly worse pain—a pain that will then go away.

Procrastination ties into perseverance. We have to persevere and ignore the devil on our shoulder telling us to procrastinate. Things never take care of themselves, and they usually snowball into a bigger mess that takes longer to clean up than it would have by just doing it in the first place.

Man, I really want to finish this but I just realized I haven’t gotten the mail yet. One sec.

9:30 pm: You would never guess what came in the mail? My subscription to Field & Stream.  Love that new equipment section.  I can’t believe the innovation in duck calls.

Wait … where was I?

Today’s challenge: Persevere through the work you have in front of you. By getting it done today, you give yourself permission to have a great day tomorrow. Start with the first thing, get that done and go to the next. 

You have the satisfaction of taking something from point a to point b. You won’t have the constant feeling you get when you procrastinate. Get into the habit of doing this for yourself and for your clients. It might be painful at first, but it’s better than having constant pain. Feel the joy of progress!

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Monday, October 10, 2011

The Secret to Life...

Sandy Koufax
Before I start, let me issue a warning: If you aren’t a sports person, you might decide to skip this blog. But don’t. You are about to learn the secret to life.

Okay, now let me get started …

When I was a kid I dreamed of being a baseball player. As you may infer, that never happened. At least I get to write about it. (Small miracles, right?)

Well, I recently got to watch the moderated discussion between Joe Torre and Sandy Koufax on Fox Sports. Joe Torre is mainly known for coaching a second-rate team called the New York Yankees. Yeah, I said it. What you going to do about it?

Sandy Koufax, on the other hand, is known for many things. He pitched four no-hitters, including the eighth perfect game in baseball history. He had 2,396 strikeouts, won the Cy Young award four times, and, oh yeah, he was retired by 30.

Take that, Torre.

Sandy Koufax became something of an enigma. People thought he knew the secret to life, a personal philosophy that worked in his favor.

An interviewer asked him once who his biggest influence was. He said that it was his grandfather. He went on to say that his grandfather had a saying that he lived by.

And this is the secret to life, according to Sandy Koufax’s grandfather.

What was that saying?

Say no to drugs?

Live long and prosper?

I’ll be back?

No, no, and nope. (Great sayings, though).

The saying—his secret to life—was: “Be loose with your money and tight with your time.”

Imagine how cool it was to be Sandy Koufax. My grandfather never spit out wisdom like this. He mainly said things like “pass the peas” and “listen to your dad.”

“Be loose with your money and tight with your time.” Pretty cool.

So let’s talk about this “secret of life.”

We can all agree that time is finite, right? In our day-to-day lives and duties, time is finite for sure. We aren’t machines who can simply move faster to make more widgets.

We have no ability to stretch time. To make things last.

Therefore, we have to use our time well. If you work upwards of 12 hours a day, that’s a long time. Are you choosing the things you do with your time wisely? Are you working so that you can get out of the office faster, make more money, and provide value to your clients? Or are you constantly taking breaks to catch up on the Real Housewives of New Jersey, twitter, and Facebook?

(Love the real housewives, by the way … especially Theresa. She seems like a great cook.)

Now I’m not saying that everyone should be working every minute. Remember, I’m a huge fan of Ultradian breaks. In fact, I took a break between paragraph three and paragraph four.

Instead, I’m asking you to think about the moments you spend at your job and in your personal life. Are you making the very best use of your time? Or are you wasting an opportunity to be doing something better?

Are you getting the sleep you need? Are you spending quality time with the people you care about? Are you giving the people you work with 100 percent of your attention when needed? Or are you waiting for the next thing to happen, and not living in the moment?

Think about it. When you get really old like me (I’ve been 28 for the last number of years) and look back at the years, the stuff that you will regret the most is the time lost. You won’t regret the money you lost.

Time is our most valuable commodity. (Thank God it’s not being traded on the open market yet. I wouldn’t want time to be a part of our recession. How horrible would that be?)

I’ve been very fortunate in my life and would say that I’ve become pretty good with managing my time. I treat time with respect and try not to waste it. I joke about how much TV I watch and how lazy I am, but the truth is that I get a great deal of joy out of everything I do. Everything has a purpose for me, and this gives me a great deal of nourishment.

Can you say the same thing? And for those of you in your 20s, trust me when I say that you have no idea how little time it takes to get form 25 to 60 years old.

It goes by in a blink.

Today’s challenge: Consider adopting Sandy Koufax’s grandfather’s secret of life, if just for a day. Well, adopt at least part of it. Take the “loose with your money” part with a grain of salt. But “tight with time” … put that in the bank.

Friday, September 30, 2011

What Is Trust?

Over the weekend, I read a book that, in part, deals with the question: What is trust? And as I read the book, I was reminded of an article I read months ago about Chelsea Clinton’s wedding.

Chelsea had her wedding at the historic Astor Courts in Rhinebeck, NY. The article I read revealed that Chelsea used the house across the street from Astor Courts as a staging area. The newsperson that penned the article wrote, “There’s an awful lot of trust amongst the Clintons that the neighbors won’t talk about the wedding.”

That struck me. The Clinton’s went to a stranger for a favor and TRUSTED that they would be discreet. What kind of people would ever trust a complete stranger? The Clintons, that’s who.

The book I’m reading (The Rational Optimist:How Prosperity Evolves by Matt Ridley) talks about the fact that for human beings to excel and surpass other animals, we had to learn to trust.

I don’t want to get into a debate about evolution here, so let’s ignore apes entirely and say that we evolved from cavemen to the superior species we are today. We had to learn how to trust. The group of us who became what we are today actually started to trade, which is something that other animals do not do. Maybe these evolved cavemen would trade a banana for a stool. To make this trade, they had to trust their fellow caveman.

This concept of trust sets us apart.  

Now, or course, when you trade, you don’t always get something of equal value. But what it does require is an exchange where both parties are receiving something that is of more value than what they are giving. Let’s say, for instance, that you have blisters on your feet that hurt so bad you’d give anything for a stool. Let’s also say that I haven’t had a meal in days and am a skeleton of a man, so I’d give anything for a banana. I have a stool; you have a banana. It’s a win-win because we both want what the other has more than what we have.

So what is trust?

Trust is the belief that another person’s word is good. It’s the belief that I will, indeed, give you my stool when you hand over your banana. It’s the believe that when you give me your banana, I won’t turn around and say, “Hah! Sucker. Now I have your banana. Whatcha gonna do about it?”

Remember the movie Wall Street? Michael Douglas plays a famous character in cinematic history named Gordon Gecko. Gecko is right up there with Travis Bickle, Batman, and, of course, Ms. Piggy. Gecko is famous for giving some advice to college students: “Greed is good.”

But Gecko misses an important point. He assumes that there are winners and there are losers. He goes by the theory of zero-sum game. You are winning of others lose. You are losing if others win.

But that’s not what happens in real life. There are some zero-sum games, sure, but the reality of human society is that greed is good, but it’s never a zero sum game. We are giving something and we are getting something.

This relates to all of us. When we provide a service for a client, we are giving value. It may not even be material value. It might even be a feeling that we give people. (I usually give people the feeling of happiness … or the willies).

Maybe we fix their car or file their tax returns and, in exchange, we get paid and—if we do a good job—perhaps a kind word.

If you treat your clients like they are in a zero-sum game with you, you will eventually go out of business. But if you both trust each other, and if you work hard to make sure you earn trust by providing something your client truly values, your clients will always turn to you to provide value.

Today’s challenge: Consider the answer to the question: What is trust? Be impeccable with your word in your dealings with everyone today.

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Tuesday, September 20, 2011

I Heart Jury Duty (and NY, Which Is Irrelevant)

I'm the guy in the front row, 3rd from the left.
You know what I look forward to (other than going to work each day as a tax consultant)? I bet you guessed jury duty, didn’t you?

I’m a pretty exciting guy, huh? Jury-duty-loving tax consultant.

Jury duty is great. You get a lunch break. You get paid. $15! A day!

Also, it’s probably the one and only time where openly judging someone is completely socially acceptable.

Okay, so you are probably thinking I’m being a smart aleck. To be fair, in most cases, you would be right. It’s virtually impossible for me to refrain from making witty remarks. (In the interest of full disclosure, my wife would use the word “irritating” instead of “witty.” It’s just semantics though.)

But in all actuality, I love jury duty, and not just because it’s the closest I’ll ever come to being Matlock.

And herein lies my problem: Attorneys never pick tax consultants as jurors. Accountants listen to well. (Also something my wife would dispute.*)

Though I have been called to jury duty many, many times, I have only served on a jury twice. And both times, I have learned a ton.

The first jury trial I had the pleasure of participating in was a civil trial between General Motors and MTA. I felt like a badass. I was referee watching two titans duke it out. This was Mike Tyson vs. Evander Holyfield. Rumble in the courtroom jungle.

The jury had no sympathy for either company. There were two expert witnesses—one representing each side of the case.

The first expert—the fellow representing the MTA—wore a bright, plaid sport coat and a not-so-terrific tie. It was way too wide. (If you only take away one thing from today’s blog, let it be this advice: Always remember to wear thin ties and never wear plaid when testifying!) The expert was also a little argumentative and defensive, particularly when cross-examined.

He might or might not have known his stuff. I couldn’t tell because I was too busy being annoyed by his abrasive attitude. (And the stains on his tie – did he have soup for lunch?)

Then General Motors sent its expert to the stand. GM’s expert was wearing a smart, respectable, solid suit, not to mention a thin tie. He looked at the jury when he answered questions. He may or may not have known his stuff, but I was convinced that he did. He was in control. He was calm, and he didn’t try to fight with the attorney who was cross-examining him.

From this I learned how to be the better expert witness in everyday life. How you approach testimony in court is how you need to approach everyday life. Be more like the GM expert witness and less like Mr. Wide Tie.

(This blog is not affiliated with the MTA or General Motors.)

(I like both products.)

(Kudos to cars and buses.)

Being a good listener starts with small things – like listening to the waiter explain why your egg sandwich is taking so long. And the same holds true in dealing with clients, employers, and employees in business. When talking to an upset client, employer, or employee, remind yourself not to feel attacked. If you listen for the attack, you won’t hear the question, and you will respond defensively.

If you listen to the question, and then you think about what information the other person needs to better understand your position, and then calmly deliver that information, then you will respond more directly, and you will sound more competent.

Your client, your boss, your employee will think you are smart, even if you aren’t. Here’s something I know to be true: People will believe you are smarter if you want to help them and demonstrate that you can help them, even if you are not. By the way I am definitely not smart. You might think I’m smart because I’m a tax consultant, but think again. (I like jury duty for God’s sake.) But people keep turning to me for help, trusting my wisdom. It’s because I’m a good listener. It’s because I want to help them.

Today’s challenge: If you start feeling defensive, take a deep breath and remember to listen for the question. Respond calmly, with the intention of helping the other person understand your position. Answer to the best of your ability, and ask questions when you aren’t clear.

*Teasing my wife in my blog is one of the ways I flirt with her. I know that makes my romantic skills slightly questionable, but for the record, my wife is pretty darn amazing and she never nags. Well, hardly ever. At least not today. It’s 6 a.m., and she’s still sleeping.   

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Tuesday, September 6, 2011

What Is an Entrepreneur?

I have a question for you: What is an entrepreneur? 

And don’t worry … this isn’t a pop quiz. One of these days, I’ll spring a pop quiz on you, but today’s not the day. Always be prepared, though.

Let’s get back to my question …

What is an entrepreneur?

Entrepreneur: man, I love that word. (Cue the chorus of hallelujahs.) It’s so majestic. It just rolls of the tongue: entrepreneur. Please take a second to say that word out loud. Awesome, right?

Anyway, the classic definition of an entrepreneur is someone who starts his own business. And last weekend, I learned that a French economist named Jean-Baptiste Say first coined the phrase “entrepreneur.” Jean-Baptiste (we’re on a first names basis) lived from 1767 to 1832 and lived thru the French Revolution.

So what is an entrepreneur according to Jean-Baptiste? He says it’s someone who takes resources from a lower level to a higher level of productivity.

That’s different from someone who starts a business, isn’t it? I haven’t lived thru the French Revolution, and I don’t have a hyphenated first name, but I’m quite positive that Jean-Baptiste’s original definition is not the same as the classic definition. It’s not the same thing.

Your mind is probably spinning at this point. Questions must be going off like wildfire in your head. Is this true? Has the definition of entrepreneur really changed over time? If this is true, what else is true? Is the world really flat? Does Santa Clause exist?

Calm down. We can get through this together.

Now I’ve always thought of myself as an entrepreneur in the classic sense, but now that I know about Jean-Baptiste, it occurs to me that everyone out there could be an entrepreneur. You don’t have to start your own business. Everyone out there has resources, and everyone out there has the license to bring those resources to a higher level of productivity.

I think that deserves a full on “HALLELUJAH!”

Now, this might scare some people because if you are an entrepreneur, you have a degree of responsibility for using the resources at your disposal wisely. And truth be told, elevating resources to a higher level is a great responsibility. Some people would rather keep their head down and just punch in and out without trying for anything more.

But today, I challenge you to imagine what the world would be like if we were all entrepreneurs working at the highest level of productivity. I just got chills. I’m writing this outside in the snow so that could be the reason for the chills, but still … it would be an amazing thing and we would reach new levels that this world hasn’t seen.

So think about what goes on during your day. And when something is bugging you, ask “What is an entrepreneur, and what would he or she do?” And then start talking about the problem or solution. Talk with your supervisor, tell your friend, tell your significant other. Shine a light on it and start looking for solutions. That’s the only way to make it better, to be more productive. The very thought process of you looking for these opportunities will make you perform better. Got it, people? I mean … entrepreneurs.

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Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Brain Freeze: How Can I Make Better Decisions?

I’m a member of Vistage, which is a group of CEO’s who get together to talk about business issues and how to make better decisions. That’s right … I’m part of a CEO club. We’re dangerous, so watch out. We get together to discuss exciting things like organization, business strategy, business technique, and NASCAR.

(The last one wasn’t true, but boy-oh-boy … I wish it was. Now that would be a great club.)

One month’s Vistage speaker was Holly Green, former president of the Ken Blanchard organization. (Sidenote: Ken Blanchard is the author of The One Minute Manager, which, incidentally, took much longer than one minute to read.)

Holly now consults with major corporations on strategic planning, management issues, and how to make better decisions. She also has a master’s degree in brain technology. She explained to me (repeatedly) that this is not the study of robot brains, a fact that I begrudgingly accepted. I guess.

So apparently, brain technologists study how the brain sees things.

Lo and behold, I learned the most amazing thing. At any given time, we only see 10 percent of all the data that is available. Whoa. As I write this I’m only aware of 10 percent of what is going on around me. Tiny elves could be doing tiny elf things behind me, and I won’t be cognizant of it because of my 10 percent brain.

How much do you think secret service agents see at one time? 20 percent. 20 lousy percent! They’re trained in observation, and yet they still only get 20 percent. When they leave their presidential detail, their powers of observation quickly go back to 10 percent like all of us average Joes.

The most important thing that Holly said was that we do not believe what we see. Instead, we see what we believe. Okay, so this is a little bit like the Matrix. Let’s see if I can explain …

What we see externally enters our head, where our brains automatically select which pieces of data to concentrate on. Then we use a screen—or a filter—where we interject on attitude and make assumptions. From this, we make decisions about the data. In other words, the tiny amount of data that enters our head is drastically altered by the time we process it.

When I heard this it blew 10% of my mind.

It is crucial for all of us in business to understand that we only see 10 percent of what out there. Equally important to understand is that this 10 percent is colored by our preconceived attitudes.

This leads me to wonder: how can we make better decisions? I know I’m only going on 10 percent brainpower here, but I think I have a solution about how to make better decisions. It won’t solve the problem entirely, but maybe we can get up to 12 or 13 percent …

First, we have to understand that what we see is colored by our attitudes. Admit we have a problem.

Second, and I know this is hard, we have to admit that we have a problem. There are things we are not seeing.

And then, we should take a minute to look around and see if there’s anything else right in front of us. Simply ask: What am I missing that would help me make better decisions?

So what’s the moral to the story? If we all looked at the set of difficult facts we are confronting each day, took an Ultradian break, and then came back to revisit the facts … what else could we see that we weren’t seeing before? We might make better decisions. We might come up with better, more sophisticated, subtle, and understanding decisions. We will definitely differentiate ourselves from everyone else out there.

Today’s challenge: Remember that you should use more energy considering the missing 90 percent than you do trying to prove your opinions are right. From now on, I’m going to take a step back and see if I can pick up a different 10 percent and make better decisions. Guess what? Just did it. And, what can I tell you? I’m still 100 percent right about everything and willing to argue you with you about it until the cows come home. (I kid. I kid.)

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