Monday, October 7, 2013

What’s YOUR Pixie Dust?

My kids are all grown up now (gulp), so it’s been a while since I read Peter Pan, but I have to say:  I always loved the story.  The thought that you could sprinkle a little pixie dust on something and it would magically work, always intrigued me.

I thought about this the other day when I was on my way to lunch with Jake, one of my partners, because I swear that one of our supervisors has pixie dust.

Jake was wondering what it was that made it possible for this great supervisor, let’s call her Sue, to leverage her abilities so that multiple folks, working all at the same time on different assignments, always get their jobs done and done right.

While we were talking, I realized that Sue and her team could produce an incredible volume of work with really very little time involvement on Sue’s part.  Others, in her same position, have been unable to be this effective.  

So what’s the difference?

Pixie dust.

Sue sprinkles pixie dust on everything that she touches.  Just like Tinkerbelle leaves a trail of pixie dust behind her, Sue leaves a comment here, a compliment there, a suggestion here, and by spreading her pixie dust as she goes, her subordinates can fly.

Her ability to approach her team in ways that inspire them to get the job done is her pixie dust.

Dan Sullivan of The Strategic Coach coined the term “Unique Ability” many years ago to describe the one thing everyone has that allows them to be incredibly productive, energizing and impactful on the world around them.  

I write about Unique Ability in my book, Say Hello to the Elephants.

Well, now that I’m old and soft (except for my physique, which is now svelte like a rock star)I prefer to call this “pixie dust.” Emotionally, pixie dust is the phrase that really describes just how special your Unique Ability is.

I believe that we all have pixie dust. If you think about your day, where do you shine?  What can you do that produces superior results and impacts people in a way that others cannot replicate?

This is probably your pixie dust.  

I know that you have pixie dust, and you have to find it if you want to leverage that unique thing to make yourself happier and more prosperous.  

Successful people have identified what their pixie dust is and have used it to help them in their vocations.  

I have my own pixie dust, and it has helped me live a life that is magical.  Not to be cheesy (okay, I’m going to be cheesy), but pixie dust has allowed me to fly.

Pixie dust is your unique, intellectual capital. It represents the confluence of what you know and deploy in a way that others cannot.

So how do you find your pixie dust? Here’s step one

Sit down where it is quiet and list all the things that you do.  Separate these things into four categories:

Things I do well.
Thinks I’m okay at.
Things I do very well...and...

OMG! I’m so good at this it would make your head explode!

That fourth column is where you will find 
your pixie dust.

If you need more help finding your pixie dust, check out the Unique Ability chapter in Say Hello to the Elephants.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Broken Promises

For those of you who know me, it is no secret that I am (well, really, I have been) fat. I wasn’t obese, but I have been heavy for as long as I can remember. I am big boned, according to my unconditionally loving mother.

It’s true. I am big boned.

I was also fat.

In the past two years, though, I have lost a bunch of weight by changing the way I eat.

This is the time where you should congratulate me for my hard work …

Oh, geez. Stop. Now I’m blushing.

Okay, in all seriousness, I have been thinking about why I have been able to sustain a two-year journey toward a longer life. I had tried to do this many times before, but never with much success.

So why now?

All over the world, people are unable to break bad habits. The eat poorly. Smoke. Watch Housewives of Orange County.

I think I’ve stumbled onto the secret to breaking those habits …

All of us tend to make promises that are extremely hard to keep.  For years, I promised myself that I would lose weight. And I promised myself I would lose a ton of weight. I also promised I would stop smoking every single cigarette I ever wanted to smoke between now and eternity.

It always started well and ended poorly. I would break the promise I made to myself over and over again and feel like I let myself and my family down.  

Then I would eat a hot fudge sundae and smoke a ciggy to make myself feel better.  

The feeling of letting myself down begat more negative results. I was putting a negative vibration in the cosmos, which then bounced back to me in a way that was amplified.

I used to lose 5 pounds and gain back 7. I would break a one-pack-a-day habit and then replace it a few weeks or months later with a pack-and-a-half-a-day habit.
So why the new (and smaller) me?

Here is what I changed (at least so far).

First, I do what Kathy Kolbe taught me years ago. I COMMIT … to very little.

I have decided that the only way to change a bad habit is to be present in the thought about that commitment for one day only.  

Today I diet.


If I choose to diet, I will; if I don't, then I won’t.

This seems a lot less overwhelming to me. And if tomorrow I choose not to diet, I won’t freak out that this is my choice for me, for one day.  I can always choose to diet the next day, if I choose.

Small victories lead to big accomplishments. Small losses are seldom the “ball game”.  I am two-sizes smaller today than I was in October of 2011. (So I guess in my case, a small victory led to a big accomplishment in the form of a smaller man.)

I am not going to guarantee that I stay that way forever. The only thing I can promise is that I CHOOSE to be that way TODAY.

Your homework: Try giving yourself a break. When you want to change something, try promising yourself one thing and one thing only. Say, “I will change that something today but guarantee nothing tomorrow.” You may choose, guilt free, to continue on your course or to change your daily commitment to something else. You might find that the day-to-day accomplishments really become the habit that replaces those things in your life that you would like to forget.

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Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Deep Thoughts on Thoughtful Disagreement

 (and I Dare You to Disagree)

I confess that I hate when people disagree with me. For me, the stress of thinking that I might be incorrect gives me the willies. Admitting I might be wrong?  


I also confess that I have shut people down here and there. Being a big cheese at my place affords me the opportunity to do just that.

But is this the right culture to promote if we want to learn and grow?

It sure doesn’t seem like the pundits or the politicians are interested in intellectual debate.

We have all seen it … The conservative commentator strongly suggests a point of view. The liberal commentator suggests the conservative is incorrect.

Actually, strike that. It’s not quite precise. One commentator directs a finger in the other’s face, indignantly pointing out that his opponent just crawled out from a rock. The other replies that his accuser became a Ph.D. by fraudulently submitting plagiarized papers.

Pretty soon the discussion dissolves into a shouting match. Intelligent discussion is lost as two seemingly intelligent people resort to ad hominem attacks! Nothing new is revealed but the limits people will go to discredit another, even if one's initial assertions are worthy of closer examination.

Yet the act of thoughtful consideration does not make someone a wimp. It makes them either different or more resolute. A now stronger position can be framed if you can support your position and take into account more perspectives than your own.

Consider Warren Buffett. The Wall Street Journal recently reported that at the last annual Berkshire Hathaway meeting, Buffett invited an unusual guest to sit on a panel of experts who could ask Buffett and other board members questions about the company: Doug Kass, who holds a short position in Berkshire stock. In other words, Kass is betting against success of Berkshire Hathaway.

Inviting a dissident was unconventional, to say the least, but in doing so, Buffett was able to better understand Kass’s reservations and, as a result, use this understanding to strengthen the messaging, address objections from other shareholders (and potential shareholders) and reduce skepticism of the company.

We can all take a lesson from Buffett, but some of us (clears throat), solidify our stubbornness as we grow older rather than use our wisdom to create richer degrees of understanding.

 Here is what I am trying to make a habit of doing: If someone brings up an opposing view, I take a breath. (They say deep breathing reduces stress. In fact, I am taking a long series of breaths as I write this.) With as confident of a voice I can muster, I mutter with as much enthusiasm as I can feign: “That's interesting. Tell me why you think that way?”

Then I shut up, or at least I attempt to shut up. Listening with open ears is powerful in promoting discussion and thoughtful disagreement. I listen carefully to any seeds of truth uttered from the speaker. Then I ask myself: If I viewed the issue from their perspective, is there anything that can be learned to change and strengthen my position? Might my attitudes change and bring me closer to the results that I wanted to promote in the first place?

If not, at least I let someone have his or her day by being heard.
Try participating in some thoughtful disagreement this week. I guarantee you it won't be as painful as you imagine. You might also gain some new allies.  

Washington: You listening?
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Wednesday, May 15, 2013


Ned was not doing well.  And it wasn’t the “Someone-posted-something-political-on-Facebook” kind of not doing well.  His professional life wasn’t going as planned and he felt unsettled.

As he was sitting in my office, he explained that his old partner offered him a role at his previous firm, but his position would be slightly different. His old partner wanted him to start a new division in the company. He asked me for advice. He was excited about the prospect of creating a new beginning, but he wasn’t sure how to evaluate the opportunity.

It struck me that his head was full of possibilities about how this new division could work, but his vision was not cohesive. He had a lot of random thoughts.

(So do I. Like, I wonder if I should throw a surprise birthday for my dog because…what if dogs do know about birthdays, and his has gone unnoticed all this time?)

But I digress.

People say that when one door closes, another opens. I’m not sure if that is true. Sometimes doors just close. In fact, most of the time, when a door closes, that’s all that happens.

But I digress again.

What I do know is that when you walk through a door, you are walking away from something. Evaluating new possibilities can be difficult because it requires that you consider changing the status quo. And because the status quo is comfortable, many of us don’t want to walk away from it.

So this is my process for evaluating new opportunity:

Imagine possibilities.
Evaluate results of those possibilities.
Consider resources required to produce those results.

Imagine what the business could do.  

Think about the possibilities stemming from your new opportunity. What is the vision? If the opportunity is related to your business, who would you serve and how would you create that service or product? 

In short, muse.  Wonder!  “What would happen if?”  “Wouldn’t it be nice to …” Do not stop at what is “probable.” Consider everything that is possible under the sun. You see, you cannot possibly know what is probable because you do not have a full picture. When you start from the probably, you often undershoot what is possible.
Evaluate the results.

After you think about what is possible, consider what the result of those possibilities might be.  Ask: “If I do this or that, what is the result it will cause?”

Now, consider whether those results align with what is really valuable to you and whomever else is involved in realizing the possibility.  

Doing stuff always causes something to happen. The problem is that folks often have a fuzzy idea of what the results will be. And, truth be told, sometimes they do not want the results.  Results obviously have a money impact.  Results also effect relationships.

I have a friend who thought she wanted to be a sitcom writer.  When she thought about the possibility of being a sitcom writer, she imagined sitting in a writers’ room with a ton of comedians, laughing all day. But when she really considered the results of “making it” in the industry, she realized several things: She would work long hours. She would not have a flexible schedule. She sure as hell wouldn’t be able to pick her kids up from school every day.

And none of that aligned with her top value, which was her family.

In Ned's case, creating a plan that results in outcomes that his ex-partner does not value will cause problems down the road. This is something Ned needs to consider before diving in.

Finally, consider the resources.

Once you have established the possibilities and understand whether the anticipated results are consistent with the values of everyone involved, then consider the resources needed to realize those outcomes. Contrary to folks thinking, great outcomes just don’t happen because they make you happy.  It takes resources.  How much money, manpower and know-how is required to get to the goal? And more importantly, is it worth it?

I call this three-part process of imagining possibilities, evaluating results and considering resources, “The Planning Triad.” And here’s what I like about it: It gives order to chaos. A new opportunity is usually an abstraction. Until you can give it some sort of organization, you will likely feel unsettled. But once you apply The Planning Triad, you can begin seeing the opportunity as a concrete option. Then, and only then, will you be prepared to decide whether you want to walk through that door.

Thought of the week:  Next time a new opportunity comes your way, use the Planning Triad---Yep---Write those three elements on a sheet and make notes about each.  You will find that it will help you realize your goals. 

Friday, March 1, 2013

Plans and Life Scripts - Part 2

Last time I gave an overview of a few books that are changing the way I think about thinking.  And things I think I’ve thunk. 

 Now that you’ve expanded and changed your attitudes, you have an opportunity to try on some new perspectives.  Beware that new perspectives often feel like trying on a new pair of shoes.  They might feel stiff.  They might prove a bit tight. They may give you a blister and send you to the Dr. Scholl’s aisle.  Often, however, they gradually form to you in such a way that you never want to take them off.  New behaviors, or even old ones, will yield differing results as the context—your attitudes—change. 

Intention is not actualization.  As my friend Kathy Kolbe, founder of the Kolbe System, relates, attempting and committing are two different things.  New behaviors cannot realize better outcomes without having the techniques necessary to actualize those outcomes.  Our attitudes block our willingness to learn and accept new techniques.  We simply cannot see ourselves doing this or that.

Still believe an old dog can’t be taught new tricks?  You’re going to fail the quiz at the end of this blog post.  Seeking to learn new things can be difficult.  Committing to learn them is the ability to permit your Adult to overrule your Child and Parent as they throw roadblocks on your road to improvement.  Kathy would caution us to understand how our instinctive construct can bring energy to the form and shape of our efforts, which is a conversation for another time.

So, how can you plan more effectively?  First, think through how others perceive your company.  Where do these thoughts and attitudes come from?  Are they true?  Do they HAVE to be true?  Can you visualize a different state for you and the company?  Are there certain prejudices you bring to the table from your Child or Parent that have limited your view?  Probably just a few dozen or so.

Next, and with a more expansive and examined view of your attitudes, what goals and actions might move your company to new possibilities?  What choices might come up and what eventual outcomes are desirable?  Can you choose the actions that would get you closest to your desired outcomes?

Finally, to achieve those outcomes, what capabilities need to be employed, improved or acquired?  Sometimes you have what you need and off you go. Sometimes you need help and then some practice to acquire the techniques necessary to get there. Utilizing the correct resources to get there is always required.  Not everything can be solved by a Magic 8 Ball—in my case, it’s not for lack of trying.

All the while, monitor yourself to prevent your willful blindness promoted by your inner Child or Adult to impede your progress.

It is amazing how synchronistic the interplay of the three books seem to be. Is it just random that I would be reading these three books at the same time?

Are you ready to start some effective planning? Time to crack that whip!

Related Posts :
Broken Promises
Plans and Life Scripts
The Planning Triad

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Plans and Life Scripts

Whips ‘n’ Things, Part One

Since most of you have already read and discussed 50 Shades of Grey, I’ll fill you in on the other books I’ve been reading lately. All right, I’ll admit I haven’t read Grey yet. I’m waiting for the movie.


For now, my mind is spinning thanks to three business books I’m in various states of finishing:

The Sandler Success Principles: 11 Insights That Will Change the Way You Think and Sell by David Mattson and Bruce Seidman

Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

Willful Blindness: Why We Ignore the Obvious at Our Peril by Margaret Heffernan


A person’s life script often determines the way he or she reacts when faced with problems and choices. The Sandler Success Principles explores the concept of The Child, The Parent and The Adult to explain how our attitudes are formed very early. The book uses comparisons to Transactional Analysis to explain how and why people make buying decisions and why we, as folks attempting to sell our product, tend to get in our own way.  

The Child and The Parent are the earliest inputs telling us what we like, what we hate, and instills the values that shape our lives. These scripts replay over and over again in our minds, filtering the emotions and attitudes that form our behaviors, and explaining why I still can’t pass up cotton candy at a carnival.

 The Adult is the rational and examining part of ourselves. It can enable or disable the natural instincts of us all so that we are not relegated to living a hard-wired life. We can will our Adult to grow, change, be selective, and to operate with or in spite of our inner Child and Parent.


Willful Blindness makes it apparent that the scripts we have imprinted in our minds lead us to be blind to many things. Thinking, Fast and Slow reveal that the scripts reside in our fast-thinking mind and can prevent us from applying constructive filters as we engage the "effortful mind." 


Attitude, behavior, and technique are the factors that make up effective planning. If you’re missing any of those ingredients, you’re left with a half-baked loaf of bread. Not unlike how some women describe men younger than 35.


Let’s define each factor through David Sandler goggles. Attitude relates to beliefs, outlook, and expectations. Behavior relates to goals and action plans. Technique is the way skill sets are brought to realize the goals that are shaped by our attitudes. It would be pretty foolish to plan to fail, but that is what so many business owners and individuals do when they are not attentive to each element.

What are the attitudes that you bring to the table when you plan? Do you really believe in the project or company you are thinking about? What are the limiting assumptions that you are bringing to the table? Can you imagine the company or yourself in a different reality?


Engaging your Adult in a “What if?” kind of exercise might open you up to new possibilities. Over the next few days, observe your thought processes and the scripts that accompany them. You may find doing so gets you to a completely different place. I’m hoping eventually this will take me to a place called Aruba.

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