Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Life is full of obstacles, don't create your own.

There are a ton of quotes about setting goals in the stars, and hitting the moon, etc...and while they might provide some momentary inspiration, I think it's a poor strategy for actually reaching a goal.


Well, my friend Jason Surfrapp just wrote an article about a fitness program that he tried out, that illustrates the danger of pushing people into programs of radical change. In short, when it's hard to get a feeling of success, it takes much more will power than most people can muster to stay in the game.

The psychology of this is pretty simple. If something is only providing pain, and no pleasure, it's just a matter of time before you will abandon it. Who wants to work hard to be presented repeatedly with a message of "You failed"?

Sure, failure is part of any path of growth. But it shouldn't be built in to what you're doing. Whatever your long-term goal is, be sure the path to get there is built on a highway of simple successes. Failure may occur, but it shouldn't be designed into your program.

To be clear, I think there is a major distinction between your overall goal, and your plan (mini-goals) to get there. Difficult goal? Awesome. Daunting path? Questionable.

Maybe your goal is to run a marathon. But at present you can only walk down the block. Make your first mini-goals to walk two, then three, etc. If you're going to try to go from walking a block to running a marathon, which is an aggressive goal, it's just silly to make your program aggressive too.

When you try to do too much too soon, you're too likely to end up frustrated and back to your old ways. Conversely, success begets success.

In recent article by James Altucher, about what he learned from interviewing Tony Robbins, this point is made crystal clear. The idea of bring the target closer. It refers to Tony training the US Army on how to improve it's marksmanship.

By starting with the target at close range, the soldiers got confidence in hitting it. Slowly it was moved further and further away, until they were exhibiting outstanding shooting from a distance. But that success was built on the simple victories of shooting from close up.

Design your own goals in the same way. Feel free to make your overall goal audacious, so long as your path to getting there is reasonable. There will be enough obstacles to side track you, don't let your own plan be one of them.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Maybe you don't have a problem, just the wrong perspective.

As you may or may not know, I spend about half the year living in Europe. Yesterday was Independence Day in Poland. It was quiet outside. Except for a handful of shops, everything was closed. It's a scene normally seen in the US only on Thanksgiving and Christmas.

When I first moved here, it bugged me. I didn't like planning around these holidays when nearly all stores are closed. Why can't they just stay open? I lamented.

I was wrong. Frankly, it's awesome. Having a forced break in the action is a good thing. Having a dozen days a year when the excuses for chilling out are simply erased. How cool is that? Very cool I say.

In our hyper connected world the temptation is to run from one activity to the next. Day off? Better buy those things you could not get during the work week. It's a holiday, more time to get things done. Ugh. Stop it!

Activity is not advancement. Even if it were, what's the point of advancing if you've discarded everything in life worth caring about?

It  may not be a holiday today in the US, but the next time you have a day off, try just pulling the plug. Or do something completely unrelated to work or your normal routine. In short, take a break.

It's easy to be led into believing that a little more effort will solve a problem. Very often with a little distance from our routine, we may find we don't actually have a problem, just the wrong perspective.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Success is normally found in a pile of mistakes...

We usually see success when it's been polished up a little like a diamond. It's pretty, and everyone wants it. That's where the problem comes for those seeking success. Often they've been deluded by appearances that success starts out looking like the finished product.

Nope. Success, as I have written before, is messy. You'll bump into things, make mistakes that'll have you cringing with embarrassment at times. You'll waste time on dumb ideas, get distracted, and waste more time. But, that's all part of the journey. 

Eventually you'll be getting better at what you are doing. You'll look in your pile of mistakes and see some flecks of gold, or diamonds. You'll figure how you got them, and start improving the way you work. In time, you'll have a great understanding of what you are doing, and progress will come much easier. More gold and diamonds. Nice.

Just to give you an example, when I was trying to grow my old investigative business, we went through many iterations of trying to keep up with the dictated reports that were submitted by investigators. This was expensive due to the overnighting of tapes, and on occasion we had to spend a ton of time looking for a missing tape. Then a woman who was working transcribing tapes asked why I didn't have a medical dictation system.

The reason? I didn't know what it was. But the system allowed all that dictation to be done via telephone every night. No more audio tapes, no more daily inbound express packages. In retrospect it seemed crazy we hadn't looked into it. But we didn't know such systems existed. But fixing that mistake was easily worth over a $100k per year. A nice additional profit.

You can improve the process by doing plenty of studying beforehand, but as my example illustrates, you'll probably still screw up. That's good. Because your success is going to be in that pile of mistakes. Just keep looking. 

Good luck!

Friday, September 5, 2014

Whether you think you can, or you think you can't, you're right. - Henry Ford

A great quote by Henry Ford. There are plenty of other quotes about the role of belief in people's ability to accomplish things. 

In my experience, they are 100% true.

Now, if you can somehow trick yourself into thinking you can fly, that's not what I'm talking about.

However, there are many situations I have found myself in where I found myself delaying something or not doing it because I thought "I don't know how". 

Even after 53 years of living, I still play that game with myself. I'm convinced my idea for a podcast is sound, but I put all sorts of things in front of it, because of fear and a goofy internal dialog. 

It was no different when I started Omega nearly 18 years ago. Did I have a clue? No, I did not. But I just kept pushing myself forward. One more call, one more item on the list, until I was just doing it. If there was an inflection point, I have no idea what it was. 

The moral of my story. The best way to gain the "think you can", is to do it. Fail, but try. Try again. With every increment of effort you'll get better, and your confidence will increase. 

If you want to have your own business, then break it into "bite-sized" pieces. One at a time, try and master them. The process of doing that gives you not only the skill to start a business - it also gives you the confidence, the belief. 

Perhaps you truly can't today, but with effort inability will go away.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Real failure isn't a moment in time, it's an attitude in your mind.

In the movies, things are often painted with a nice black or white brush. We know what winning looks like, and we know what losing looks like. Success and failure are properly labeled so we can easily recognize them.

In real life, we might imagine such labels exist, but the reality is that they don't. Failure and success are often two different perspectives on an event. And even those perspectives are subject to change over time. 

For example, there was a company called Blue Ribbon Sports, known better today as Nike. In 1971, they were a tiny business that was losing their distributorship for ASICS running shoes in the USA. This effectively put them out of business. They had no product to sell. In that moment, it would be easy to look at this event and declare it failure. 

But founder Phil Knight managed to find someone to manufacture a new design, to create their own product - later known as Nike. If they had NOT lost the distributorship, they may have carried on as a distributor. While there's nothing especially wrong with that, it would have meant that you'd have never heard "Just Do It" as there would be no Nike. There's no way that a distributor would have the brand equity that Nike does. In essence, losing the distributorship was a major success. But it took a bit of time to see that. Most importantly, it took the will to keep going.

Such is the nature of much failure and success. What looks good in a given moment may not stand the test of time. Conversely, what looks like a complete failure today can be the genesis of a remarkable success. Keep that in mind before you become too downcast over a setback. Real failure isn't a moment in time, it's an attitude in your mind. Stay positive and just keep looking.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Why blogging every day is a risky, goofy idea.

"You should blog every day"

This is a piece of advice I hear pretty frequently that I think is goofy. 

Look, there's no question that developing something of a rhythm with readers is important. But the idea that you'll have something worthwhile to say every day is flawed. 

If you churn out some garbage just to make your deadline, you're violating the trust of your readers. And as a content creator, trust is about all you've got. Why would you try to create an expectation of daily content when you may be having trouble knocking out a weekly blog?

If, someone shows up to read your blog for the first time and you're content that day is weak, what makes you think they'll come back for more? Isn't it a better idea to develop compelling content weekly? Write an article based on questions you see coming in, and then refine it over a week to make it a real value add for readers. 

There's obviously no set recipe for success in anything. But if you want people to flock to your content, you'd better take the time to let it ferment, get edited, and released when it is ready to be savored by readers. Once it's out of the "kitchen" you'll be judged by it's merit and quality.

Personally, I blog when I have the time to write something I think is worthwhile. Perhaps most folks would procrastinate. I'd actually love to do something daily, but if I'm too busy with other things, on holiday or just am throwing up rubbish ideas, I'd prefer to wait. That's my duty to you, the reader. 

But what do y'all think? Is more better? Is frequency a concern? Please let me know your thoughts.

All the best from sunny Poland.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can. - Arthur Ashe

This reminded me of something.

I was at Sears buying a computer. It was October 1996. The reason I was at Sears was that it was the only place I had sufficient credit to buy a computer.

The computer and I journeyed home (I drove) to the crappy apartment I was living in. Whereupon I set it up, started designing my company's logo and making sales calls. 


It is so easy to get into the "I will when..." game. There were no marketing materials, there was no "company phone number" just me and a desire to get the ball rolling. That's it.

It took two weeks to get an investigative assignment. I heard NO NO NO NO NO NO................. Ad nauseum, but I survived.

A year in later 1997 we did over $2 million in revenue. 

Stop waiting for everything to be "ready".  Get started, in some way, now. Who knows how far you can go in a year.

Best wishes.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Straight up. Buy the book, help a child. Here's why...

   If you want to know the foundation of what allowed me to be successful. It's in the book. It's refreshingly short, and (from what I am told) enjoyably readable. Useful, short and inexpensive. Three excellent qualities for a book.

   There have been a few people that wonder about my "making money" off this book. Frankly, I made more money cutting grass when I was a teenager. It's really about sharing some information. If you truly can't afford it, send me an e-mail at and I'll get you a free copy. 

  Moreover, I'll donate the entire proceeds of all book sales this year to sponsor children in Africa via @SavetheChildren. If you're on the fence, buy the book and make a difference. For yourself, and a child. Click here, buy the book and make it happen. 

   Either way...Stay Awesome!

Monday, May 19, 2014

Falling off the leading edge.

Like many people I'm interested in what is new and exciting. From when I was a kid and they had "x-ray glasses" to now, downloading the latest and greatest app. The promise of productivity, convenience, or x-ray vision draws me in.

Of course, many innovations have brought tremendous boosts in what we can do, and how we can do it. Since you can now carry 10x more music than I accumulated on vinyl in the first ten years of my record buying life on a micro SD card, I'd say things have improved considerably.

But as we change and adapt some things have gone missing. Many stores have taken the opportunity to use technology to reduce the amount of staff in their shops and stores. Other businesses are dropping service levels to near zero based on a strategy that seems to be derived from data and an overwrought need to misuse it.

But what happened to fundamentals? One example, I bought a used SUV a couple of years ago. It was a late model and by no means inexpensive. Moreover, I bought it through the internet side of the dealership. A quick sale for the dealer, and with no hassle since I paid in full. In terms of processing the deal they were excellent. But did I ever get a thank you? Nope. A follow-up on how the vehicle was working out? Nope.

One small example of how you can align all the pieces of a transaction, and deliver, but fail to pick up the real bounce, which is making me feel like I matter. Gaining a customer as opposed to just making a sale. In a business as hyper competitive as car sales you think they'd be kicking out the differentiators. Nope.

While technology is great, the fundamentals are greater. The very stuff that people will glaze over and say "I know, I know" as you try to remind them of it. Well, knowing and doing aren't the same thing. Knowledge without action is pretty worthless. You can "know" how to paint, but until you make a painting the paint is only worth what it costs by the tube.

In the end, technological advances are only valuable to the extent they serve to enhance the fundamental operation of a business. The should make the same ebb and flow of ancient commerce smoother. If you are somehow persuaded that business is now changed and that people are just numbers, you are about to fall off the leading edge of technology.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Ponderous Product Packaging

Please don't sell me something in a package designed to thwart a rhino attack. 

Your product package should not be more durable than your product.

I bought the product because I want access to it. It's not going to be a museum display or put into a time capsule. 

It should be a requirement that a CEO be required to open every type of consumer product package their company ships with their bare hands while being filmed for a subsequent YouTube upload. Hilarity ensues...

Joking aside, the reality is that the package is part of the product: our gateway to using it. When the packaging is poorly thought out, it's an awkward beginning to the relationship with a customer at best. At worst, it creates a mood where your product is being set-up to be judged harshly.

Don't let ponderous packaging ruin your product.


Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Lions and Tigers and Retweets, oh my!

   The messages just keep on coming. "RT my name", "RT me", "RT my Facebook page". 

   Why, oh why, would I do that? 

   For one, I doubt you'd gain much in followers from me RTing your name. Second, I probably stand to lose a few people who would not feel like seeing a stream of unexplainable tweets flying around.

   In short. It isn't going to happen. I value the people who stick around to see what I'm going to post too much to just throw out gibberish. Therein lies the key to growing "your following", post something worth retweeting. Engage with people, talk to them, post good content.

   Of course, I do retweet. If you happen to be interested, here is what I recommend: tweet a quote you think fits with my "theme" with my handle @alphabetsuccess in the tweet more or less as follows in this example:

   We have it in our power to begin the world over again. - Thomas Paine #quote via @alphabetsuccess

     In case you're wondering why: The old style RT, that starts with "RT" is a visual stumbling block to reading the content. People tend to gloss over it. My observation is that leading a retweet with RT is guaranteed to inhibit engagement. Also, while I could re-work the tweet/quote you are counting on me having the time and inclination to do it. The more you "set it up" the better your chances. 

   If the quote is really good, and I don't already have it, I'll add it to my database. If I do, your handle will go right along with it. Never forget a friend. :-)

   There are no guarantees. But what I have outlined will dramatically improve your odds. 

   Happy tweeting!

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Good enough never is.

   This weekend I was in Eskilstuna Sweden for a basketball tournament. So one night we ventured out for some food, in this case Chinese food at Ming Palace. Being a somewhat cautious person, I did some checking on TripAdvisor beforehand to see what was decent. The place in question was 4th on their list.

   As it turns out, 4th place was good enough to be pathetically mediocre. The food  was served quickly, and it wasn't over or under cooked. But it was devoid of any flavor. All served under the watchful eyes of the owner who never once inquired if we were enjoying, or had enjoyed, the food.

   How can that be? Well, I suppose that the standard of Eskilstuna isn't especially high, being a town of roughly 100,000 people, it isn't a likely spot for a top chef to hang their hat. Perhaps because of that, the restaurant had several customers who seemed to be contentedly grazing away. There isn't enough competition to force the Ming Palace to "up their game."

   But let's consider it from another perspective: there is NO competition. In other words, here is a place with a facility that is already open, and is actively serving clients. They are already doing 97% of the job it will take to make the place a star. All they have to do is put a little love into the food. If it was well seasoned, they'd probably be jammed with people. 

   At a minimum I'd bet a fair sum that an addition 5% effort would yield at  least a 20% increase in business. But I suspect it won't happen. They are probably puttering along OK, paying their bills and taking some time off every year. Business is good, or at least good enough. Right? Wrong.

   For now, the owners are safe. The little eco-system of this Swedish town is allowing them to survive on what they are doing. But what if one of their competitors decides to bring their "A" game? All of a sudden they might be having very little business and struggling to survive. They might even be forced to close.

   Such is the danger in playing the "safe" game of good enough. It provides an elusive veneer of comfort. They might be doing a little less business than before, but they can cut expenses, turn the heat down a bit. Slowly strangling a business that could thrive if someone would just look at it with a fresh set of eyes. 

   Don't be tempted to play the game of good enough. Bring your best game every day. Don't settle for being a little better than others. If the competition is poor, play hard anyhow. You never know when someone will show up ready to compete, so you need to be at your best. 

   Don't be lulled into complacency; good enough never is. 


Wednesday, May 7, 2014

To the most rockin, amazing group of people in the Twittesphere!

   What can I say. I'm honored every day by all the retweets, favorites and comments. You guys are a motivational FORCE!

   Just wanted to take a moment and say THANK YOU! I spend a fair amount on Twitter, and you make every single moment worthwhile. 

   Much love to you all. Stay awesome.

   Upward and onward!

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

When you put profit before principles you'll end up with neither.

   Bought a printer for your computer lately? I did. About a year ago I got myself a Brother MFC-6490CW. Sounds pretty impressive, and it even looks pretty impressive. But looks and sounds is about as far as it goes. When it comes to printing? Oh Brother!

   For the purpose of context, I do not print many things. If I generate in excess of ten pages a month, I'd be amazed. The occasional document and boarding pass. That's about it. 

   In light of that, I expected a long and happy relationship with my large impressive printer. But it stopped printing a few weeks ago. The printer indicated that it was out of blue ink. Fair enough. But as I wanted black printing, I didn't think that was much of an issue. However, I have come to find that many printer companies now force you to install a new cartridge to proceed regardless of whether you'll be using any of that color ink.

  Previously you could sort of fudge your way through having to buy one until there was almost no ink of any type left. The old way made sense. The printer did its best to sort you out with what it had "on-hand". Not any more.

   For those who may be unfamiliar with the economics of the printer business, it is a low profit business on printers but high profit on cartridges. Thus the new "engineering" to force additional cartridge purchases. It's a sort of document extortion. 

   This blog is part love letter to an inventor, or printer executive that wants to take over the industry. People want a printer that prints, even when the inks a bit low. Ideally that'll be a very sporadic condition. I'm virtually certain you can charge more, way more, for a printer that screams "I'll be ready when you need me!" 

   In the interim, I managed to unearth an old laser printer from the closet. One manufactured before someone led the whole industry into a "profit before principles" mindset. How regrettable that nobody stopped to think that when you put profit before principles you'll end up with neither. 


Monday, May 5, 2014

Don't worry about your pride, worry about your principles.

   Just about fifteen years ago I held my first press conference. It was at RIMS, which is an insurance conference my old business attended every year.

   Everything was carefully coordinated, there was catering, and a wonderful room near the entrance so it would be easy for the media to attend. Except they didn't. Exactly one journalist was there. If I hadn't been an advertiser in their publication, the number would have dropped to precisely zero.

  Unsurprisingly my initial reaction was to be a bit depressed. Thankfully I quickly reframed the incident in my mind. Business was strong, my family was good, my health was excellent, and furthermore, I hadn't compromised myself in any way to pull off the event. Thus, there was nothing to be ashamed of in the lack of attendees.

   It illustrated a very important point: principles matter, pride doesn't. Valuing your principles means doing things in the right way, being honest, sticking to your commitments even when it is painful to do so. Pride revolves more around feelings. Principles are fixed, pride is fickle.

   So when you are considering the success or failure of a situation, evaluate your adherence to principles rather than your sense of pride. Why does that matter?

   When we are afraid of failing, that's usually our pride talking. Our worry over who is going to roll their eyes at our efforts, or ridicule our performance. By that standard, my first press conference was a dismal failure. But was it?

   Even though there was virtually nobody there, I learned some valuable lessons (always book too small a room...crowded always is more intriguing than empty). There's more, but that alone was enough to make it worthwhile.

  Now, I always try to remember whenever I feel fear creeping up: Don't worry about your pride, worry about your principles. 

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Don't Hire Anybody!

   If you have a new business, it's pretty common to start thinking about hiring someone to help with the seemingly endless tasks you are presented with. Don't. Do NOT do it. 

   Eventually, you will have to hire people, but try to put it off as long as possible. While you might think there is an element of sadism involved on my part there are reasons...

   First, you need to be able to present someone with a clearly delineated job. That's very hard to do in the beginning. In a start-up, many days end in a blur. But patterns eventually emerge in your work wherein you could explain a list of items to another person, you have the beginning of a job for someone. It takes some time.

   Second, by doing things yourself in the beginning you gain a massive amount of knowledge. That helps in the operation of any business and it also gives you valuable empathy for the person you'll eventually have doing those tasks for the business.

   Third, hiring is: easy in, hard out. Searching for your first "employee" is kind of exhilarating. You meet lot's of eager people ready to make a difference. Then you pick someone. But sometimes you blow it. You pick the wrong person. If hiring is fun, firing is the opposite. Firing people is a major buzz killer. The longer you wait, the better delineated the job will be, and the greater the chance for success in hiring.

   Fourth, hiring people costs money. Unless you have been massively funded or were born into big money, you'll find cash has a quick evaporation rate. Employees are helpful, but they are also expensive. Be sure you are absolutely clear on how you're going to specifically benefit from having this person. Have enough clarity to explain the hiring to an investor, even if you have none. 

   With some luck, you'll grow and clear these hurdles. You'll hire lot's and lot's of people and live happily ever after. But applying this logic to each position will keep you lean and focused. That's a very strong quality for any business to possess.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Beware of the quagmire of quantity.

   We are often lead by our wants and desires. We'd like to have a holiday in a particular spot, some new clothes, a better body, better sex, you name it, we all have our "list".

  But often we don't want the "thing" in question, we want how we think it will make us feel. We imagine that we'll be transported. Therein lies the trick. We might get that feeling, but only if getting access to what we want remains somewhat elusive.

  For instance, earlier this week a woman in the UK was treated at the hospital for having a "two-hour orgasm". Crazy right? But I think of all the hullabaloo on magazine covers for "ultimate pleasure" and then it turns out, like most anything, that getting the quantity right matters.

   Or consider the time I was on my first safari in Namibia. We all trundled into the jeep and sped away. The first zebras we saw were breaktaking. As the trip continued we saw more and more animals, but lots of zebras. By the end of the trip we'd see movement in the brush, and the inevitable conclusion, "It's just more zebras".

   It can even apply to the wonderful feeling we get when someone slips us a love letter. It's grand and we savor the moment. But if they start sending note after note, leaving messages, and calling all the time, we quickly lose that lovely feeling. Then the word "stalker" jumps into our mind. All because the quantity was wrong.

   Quantity counts, up to a point. After that point we start rapidly reducing the value of what was previously so valuable. Beware of the quagmire of quantity.

Monday, April 28, 2014

A tale of scale.

  In the past four years I have had the need to sell two houses. One in Stockholm, and the other in Florida. One sold, the other didn't. This is a tale of scale.

  To many people the image of Sweden is probably of a chilly place with somewhat grumpy socialists marching across the frozen landscape. Florida by contrast is a wonderland of palm trees and happiness. But I digress...

  When I contacted my broker in Sweden, he came by, we discussed the market conditions (a bit mediocre in 2010) and signed an agreement. Since I was on the road a bit we arranged for the house to be shown in my absence. 

   In Florida, I also contacted a broker I knew and arranged for the house to be listed. Market conditions were a bit better in 2012, so I was optimistic about the prospects for the house. This house was also being sold with me being out of town.

   Two houses, both in desirable settings, were being sold in roughly the same manner, at least from my perspective as the seller. 

   Where things became very very different was in the approach of the broker. 

   My broker in Stockholm takes very few houses to sell. But they ALL get sold. He puts his time and effort into it, and the listings are exclusive to him. 

   He took a decidedly average house in a nice suburb and had it sold well above our expected final price within a matter of a few weeks. 

  Why? Because he is focused on very few things professionally. He takes in listings which he is confident he can sell, and then puts his efforts into making that happen. In this case he even, at his own expense, detailed the property. 

   By contrast, the broker in Florida has many many listings, all in the MLS. He's a good, hard-working guy, but he's focusing on running his business, rather than the individual listings his firm has.. His money is in having enough inventory that some houses move and they take a cut. He is, in a word, scaling. 

   In fairness, they did put some effort into it. But the focus of the business is too spread out. The effort to market the house was just not sufficient. It sat and sat, until the market just sort of forgot about it and I had it removed from the market after several months.

   The moral of the story, is that while scale might sound very appealing, it doesn't work for all businesses. For me as a client, I was much better looked after by my broker in Sweden. 

   Client's don't care about your market share, or your reach. The internet reaches everyone. We want to be looked after. In a business involving such an intrusive process as selling a home, being another number feels lousy. Having the home not sell, worse.

   I even wonder if scales works for the big broker. The smaller operation is less visible, but also less stressful, highly profitable (virtually no overhead) and he has the luxury of turning away business. The larger operation is a machine with a lot of moving parts. All of which must be kept working for the business to survive.

   In businesses that are totally data driven, with wafer thin margins, scale is a necessity. But in businesses where humans matter scale can be a stressful, counterproductive mistake. 

   To me, the equation looks pretty simple. Sometimes scale just doesn't work. Grow at your peril.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Forget your weaknesses, increase your strengths.

  We get the message over and over, "work on your weaknesses". Nonsense. Do you think Michael Jordan should have studied Spanish instead of practicing basketball? Or maybe Michelangelo should have spend time learning more about banking from the Medici family? Maybe, or more likely, probably not.

   When I was in high school, my parents were very keen for me to study engineering. A fine idea, except for the fact that I wasn't even remotely interested in it. I liked business, and frankly, making money. Learning more about how airplanes stayed aloft wasn't in my circle of interests. 

   Now to listen to many gurus, I should have worked on my weaknesses. Why? So I could be bored and disenchanted with school? Possibly knowing more about certain things would have served me in some way. Except I didn't care then, and I don't care now. I can buy the books, but I'll always read something else ahead of them, and they'll sit unread for the rest of my days.

   I've taken the liberty of indulging my strengths. As a result, I've had a very nice business career, and a ton of fun. It's not to say that I haven't done considerable learning and growing along the way, but I think pushing myself into directions I wasn't interested in would have done pretty much nothing for me. 

   Truth be told, if you want to be really amazing at something it takes a focused effort. I'm no "super star" but I've done well, and I don't think it would have happened without having been extremely focused on business. Because I had a keen interest from an early age.

   Furthermore, I could read something every day and not come close to knowing everything about the things I am interested in within my field. You just keep banging away trying to stay a few steps ahead of the competition. 

   If you look at the top people in virtually every field, they got there through a keen focus on one item. Yo Yo Ma is an amazing cellist, Warren Buffet is a remarkable investor, Wayne Gretzky was a phenomenal hockey player. Focus, focus, focus. 

  Given the limited amount of time available to all of us, I say focus on your strengths. It's enough work just to maximize them.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Success occurs in a blinding flash of the obvious.

   Many people imagine that there are some secret handshakes and special software programs that lead some people to be more successful than others. In some instances, there is probably some amazing alchemy that occurs and a new business and fortune are born. I've never seen it, but it's the stuff of legend.

   But, on the side of town where the other 99.9% of business is conducted, it is the obvious that delivers success. Being completely committed, saying thank you, keeping notes, all the sort of things which would appear routine. Maybe they should be, but they aren't. People goof up all the time on the most elementary issues. Probably because they don't seem to require training and instruction, so they're just assumed to be "handled." Nope. It doesn't happen.

   Because everybody thinks they'll happen, they don't. The note about the clients' sons karate tournament doesn't get jotted down, the handwritten thank you for an order is carelessly forgotten. The bathroom someone forgets to clean. All seemingly trivial, but they aren't. These are the fundamental levels you have to execute on to win.

   Sure it's awesome to have a new way to analyze client data, to have a new gizmo that goes "bing". But if you don't execute on the basics, they're won't be any data to analyze. Your competition will do a better job on what clients actually care about, and walk away with what you long assumed to be yours.

   A friend of mine told me after I wrote 'Alphabet Success', "Tim, most of this stuff is common sense." to which he added, "I have put the nine acronyms on the wall so I don't forget them". Perhaps not so common after all.

   It's not that I'm a genius. Quite the contrary. But in watching sport teams, and businesses and people I observed one common phenomena about success. The basics, the obvious things, are what matter. 

   Care about people both inside and outside the business, make it easy for staff to do the important work, be forever grateful to everyone who buys from you, to people for showing up for work, for all the key elements of your business. Say what you'll do and then do that! 

   Through whatever method possible, be sure you are fundamentally sound on the "obvious" before embarking on a quest for nuance. The right logo won't help a crappy company. A good looking suit won't overcome a lack of knowledge. 

  What will make you successful won't be the topic of a TV series, it won't be retold as a fireside tale by teenage campers, and it's not going to be the subject of a spell-binding novel. 

   Success occurs in a blinding flash of the obvious. Now go see how "obvious" you can be.

NOTE: The phrase "blinding flash of the obvious" was lovingly stolen from Tom Peters. Because it was the obvious thing to do...Thanks Tom.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

You only pay for the kindness you don't give.

   John, an insurance salesman walked into the offices of a medium-sized construction firm. He'd been looking forward to this meeting, as he'd always wanted to get their business. He had heard the company had been around for many years.

   The older woman at the desk asked if she could help him and he confidently blurted out, "I have an appointment with Mike, the owner." She replied, "It'll just be a minute, please have a seat." More or less ignoring her he stood looking out the window of the office. She then remarked, "Mike's on his way up." He silently continued looking out the window, thinking about the commissions he'd make on this sale and that it'd be a great down payment on a new Porsche.

   Mike arrived, and invited the salesman to his office. They got along quite well, and shared stories about some of their mutual acquaintances. John then gave a flawless pitch on the benefits of obtaining insurance through his firm. Mike was clearly impressed. He told John that they'd be very interested in his offerings.

   Just then, Mike's phone rang. He answered, and just stood listening. "Right, right. OK, I see." he quietly said. He then hung up the phone, and turned to John. "I think we're going to have to pass John." he informed him. John was stunned. Everything had gone so perfectly. He then asked Mike, "I thought you were interested. What happened?" 

   Mike then replied, "The woman at the front desk is my mother. She's been the owner of the company since my father died years ago. She told me you ignored her and informed me that I could not, under any circumstances, buy anything from you." John recalled his casual indifference with deep regret. He started to say, "But, Mike, I didn't..." John cut him off, saying, "There's nothing left to say, thanks for stopping by."

   He then silently escorted him to the door.

   Moral: You only pay for the kindness you don't give. 

   Alphabet Success, your personal step-ladder to success.  To buy, click here. 

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Internet, where big business gets in touch with it's inner sociopath.

  After engaging a little on Twitter yesterday I ended up at a site called There you'll find a half hour video that, while geared to user interface designers is easy enough for a lay person to follow. The video is an examination of the tricks used online by businesses to upsell us and or trick us into unwanted products and/or services.

   The most devious user of this in their presentation is Ryanair (a European discount carrier). As a former customer I was well aware of the numerous permutations they put you through in an effort to shake some change out of your pockets. If you are unfamiliar, the default on nearly every booking selection is for you to buy something. You have to opt out of darn near everything. Mind you all this is a conscious design decision on their part. They are purposeful in their effort to trick you into buying things you do not need. 

   While I understand "business is out to make money" Ryanair's tactics seem positively sinister compared with Southwest Air (US-based discount carrier). While Southwest has plenty of extras on offer for you to click on, but at no point do they attempt to hoodwink you into an inadvertent purchase. The two airlines have somewhat different business models with Ryanair being almost completely al la carte. But that hardly excuses the larceny on their website.

   This leads to my more fundamental question, have we become so jaded by the web that we are now willing to excuse what would have previously been inexcusable behavior?

  Imagine if the behavior of a physical store was the same as their internet site. What if a clerk walked around putting things into your shopping cart based on what you had already selected? Or perhaps added insurance on durable goods without asking first? My suspicion is that you'd be outraged. On the internet, we just seem to accept it. Odd. 

   Moreover in the "life as the Internet" concept, if the cashier rang up your purchase (including the "staff suggested" items) you are almost incapacitated in your ability to return the purchased goods. Would you stand for the same behavior in a live situation as you do in a web situation? If not, why not? Aren't the situations just different implementations of the same transaction?

   Has the web desensitized us to bad behavior? It certainly seems the rules have changed, and for now, many businesses seem to be getting in touch with their inner sociopath. That's reprehensible, but I am even more disgusted at the bleating acquiescence of the masses. 

   From now on, try to follow a simple rule: If you wouldn't tolerate behavior from a bricks and mortar merchant, don't tolerate it on the Internet. We have a voice, but we must open our mouth if it's going to be heard. 

    Alphabet Success, your personal step-ladder to success.  To buy, click here. 

If you want to improve your self-worth stop giving other people the calculator.

   Measuring your own value is a very difficult proposition. On one hand you need to hold your own counsel, but a bit too much of that and you'll veer off course into a quagmire of arrogance. 

   One thing is for sure, if you leave it up to others to give you your value, the "price fluctuations" will make you crazy. Friends and family are awesome, and a very important part of life. But in the end, the person who has to live in your skin is you, not them. 

   Set your goals and standards, and as long as you make progress toward them, give yourself a cheer. If you veer of course, figure out why without beating yourself into oblivion. The path is never straight, at least in my experience.

   Be happy, appreciate both your victories and failures. And remember, if you want to improve your self-worth stop giving other people the calculator.

    Alphabet Success, your personal step-ladder to success.  To buy, click here. 


Friday, April 18, 2014

How'd that book get here?

   In the summer of 2000 I was driving to some sales calls. As usual my mind was wandering  It came to a sudden halt on the idea of writing a book. The thought of sharing the things that I learned along the way was interesting to me. While I had read and enjoyed many business books in the past, I wanted to do something different. 

   As I thought about it, the idea was increasingly appealing. However, I felt many "success" books gave you a bunch of information that, while valuable, was not easily remembered. After a bit of thinking I decided to use the alphabet so I could break down the "lessons" into nine acronyms that would make remembering them easier. An idea was born.

   Later that day I sat in my office and wrote out the following outline:

ABC - Always Be Committed  
DEF - Don't Ever Forget (to say thank you)
GHI - Getting Highly Inspired
JKL - Just Keep Looking
MNO - Make Notes and Observations
PQR - Pursue Quantitative Results
STU - Start Teaching and Understanding
VWX - Value with X-factor
YZ - Yellow Zebra

   While the book took over ten years for me to get around to writing, editing and finishing, the alphabetic outline survived. The reason is simple. In the time between then and now, my opinion didn't change. Learning has to be memorable.

   Will the book "make" you a success? No. That'd be a silly commitment to make. Will it make you better prepared to succeed? Absolutely. If success were on a shelf, my book is a step ladder to give you a hand getting there.  You'll have to put work into it, but that's true of any approach to improvement. What's more, I think you'll be able to easily recall the essence of every chapter due to the acronym anchor provided for each one. 

   Now you have the challenge of taking action. Knowing about my book won't make you better, but reading it will. I did my part. Click here to do yours: Buy the book, be better.  



If you want a new tomorrow, then make new choices today.

   It's fun to imagine a bright new tomorrow, but a bit harder to alter today to steer toward that tomorrow. There are so many things we put time into that we find to be "normal". Our friends, our family, our food, our work, the list goes on and on. If today is out of kilter, it usually took a bit of time to reach that state. 

   My most recent example is food. After quitting smoking a few years ago, I have managed to put on weight like a mother expecting quadruplets. Clearly my exercise is not keeping pace with my fork. In fact, it's not much of a competition. The fork is doing an end zone dance after scoring repeatedly. Choices...

   Having been a competitive athlete most of my life (even when I was smoking) this is all a bit new. But I'm determined to make sure it becomes a novel memory, the "tubby era" or something like that. 

   It won't be wished away. If only, right? 

   It is going to require some coincident choices be made pronto, like the decision to write this and put some psychological pressure on myself. A start, but the fork also needs to be put under a strict probation, and exercise needs to move to the front of the cue. 

   The hardest part is breaking all the little routines that have developed to ensure that the plan doesn't become a lining on the bottom of a bird cage. To that end, I'm out the door to exercise (torture myself) at the gym.

   It won't be easy, but I can't accept the future looking like the present. So I have to make new choices today in order to change tomorrow. 

    Alphabet Success, your personal step-ladder to success.  To buy, click here. 

Monday, April 14, 2014

Humanity is underrated, but it outperforms.

 A few years ago I was at Joe's Stone Crab on Miami Beach. A friend and I were sitting at the bar waiting for a table, as Joe's doesn't take reservations. So we chatted at the noisy bar and had a couple of drinks. 

  After a while the wait seemed to be a bit too long, even for Joe's which can be a little slow in getting around to seating you. Aside from a few serious Miami players, everybody waits, so it's just part of going there. That said, I decided to ask the maitre d' for an estimate of when our table would be ready. 

   Once I managed to break through the throngs of people I got the maitre d's attention and we located my name on the list. Upon which he informed me, "I called your name about ten minutes ago."  Having no reason to doubt him, I said, "Oh, well I guess I didn't hear you. Do we have to start over? What's the process?" While I didn't want to sit another ninety minutes, there was no point being pushy with someone who deals with pushy people in 15 second intervals.

   He looked at me for a second, and then said, "just stand over there" and motioned to the side of the vestibule. We did as instructed. Within seconds we were whisked away by "Bones" who is the a long-time fixture at Joe's. He took us to a nice table, handed us menus, thanked us and departed. The perusal of the menus began.

    Within a minute or two our waiter arrived and asked about our drink order. We asked for a couple glasses of white wine as well as some water. A few minutes later the waiter returned with a bottle of white wine. I mentioned we had just wanted a couple of glasses. He then explained that the wine had been sent to us by the maitre d. I was floored. I couldn't imagine why.

   After inquiring, Bones returned and explained, "We have people miss the call for their table all the time, and it ends up with an argument and them making a fuss. You were so calm and respectful, we just wanted to say thank you." Wow! It still floors me. What an impression.

   Here it is, over ten years later, with over thirty years of patronizing the restaurant and that's still my defining moment at Joe's. Many great dinners, and fun times, but that memory is right at the top of the heap. It's the reason I still go there every time I am back in Miami, and will continue to do so. 

   The point is that a single gesture, made with such humanity, has incredible power. Joe's is a Miami Beach institution. If I stopped visiting, I don't think there would be a noticeable difference in their revenues. But it is because they have that humanity that the restaurant continues to be "the place" to for anniversaries and birthdays in Miami. Your customers aren't units, they're people. When you relate to them as people, that makes a pretty huge impact. 

  When you're planning for success, don't forget the simple premise that people matter greatly. In fact, they probably matter much more than many more "sexy" ideas. 

   Humanity is underrated, but it outperforms.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Inspiration gives you a start, endurance gives you a victory.

   We all love an exciting new idea. Something that gets us PUMPED UP! The adrenaline gets flowing, and we're ready for action. This seems like the moment when our future is decided. Well kind of, but not really.

   Such moments are not all that rare, and if that were the magic elixir for success, there would be a whole lot more of it happening. If inspired people all went out and remade the world, the place would look much different I suspect. 

   What happens is people get really fired up, and then most of them calm down and go back to what they were doing before. There are obviously exceptions but, in general, the inertia of life pulls them back into their old pattern of behavior. 

   There's a second element, which is essential to make inspiration more than a wisp of thinking that passes by, which is endurance. Once inspired, if we begin working toward realizing the idea in our mind, and keep on working toward it relentlessly, then some magic happens. We start moving toward what we had previously only imagined.

   I'm not aware of any success stories where inspiration alone did the job. You need a large quantity of endurance to make success out of inspiration. Endurance doesn't make for a great headline or spectator sport. It's the slow grind late at night, throwing out mistakes and trying again and again. Trying over and over to translate inspiration to reality. 

   That's the nature of success. There is the glory of the idea which makes for compelling copy and a dramatic storyline. The rest of the process can be tedious, boring and at times, heartbreaking. It's not easy to make something new appear in the world. But there are few shortcuts, it's just putting in the time and slogging away until the idea starts to come together.

   Like I said: Inspiration gives you a start, endurance gives you a victory.

    Alphabet Success, your personal step-ladder to success.  To buy, click here. 

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Don't underestimate the power of being underestimated.

   In 1950, in the final round of the World Cup, Uruguay faced the presumed winner Brazil.  The Brazilian newspaper O Mundo had printed an early edition on the day of the game with a photograph of Brazil and the caption "These are the world champions". The Brazilian players each had limos with their name on them to escort them away from the game after their victory. A victory that was in the eyes of virtually everyone, a forgone conclusion.

   Among those not so convinced were the players of Uruguay. They were enraged by the smug attitude of Brazil to think they could easily take a victory. To frame this, you must imagine one pre-game locker room filled with the Brazilians who were relaxed, awaiting to dispense with their inferior neighbors. In the other locker room were the Uruguayan players with every reason to prove them wrong. All this was unfolding on Brazil's home turf in Rio de Janeiro. 

   With everyone expecting a victory, including the FIFA organizers who had prepared solely for a Brazilian victory (even preparing medals in advance with Brazilian players names on them), the teams took to the field. At the end of the game, Uruguay had prevailed with a score of 2-1. The had beaten Brazil in their own backyard, against what were considered insurmountable odds. Why? Because they held the power of being underestimated.

   Clearly, being underestimated is not, on it's own, enough. But letting your opponent enjoy the feeling of an advantage is a powerful tactic. Anyone who thinks they have victory before the game begins is taking a huge risk. It leads to both an undue lack of mental preparedness as well as providing the competition with an added incentive to win. 

   When it comes to talking about the competition in business, life, or sport; let the them do the talking, while you are busy "doing". While they promise the moon, you prepare to deliver it. Let them have a high opinion of themselves. I've even hinted agreement with my competition's hype, if only in words. But when it comes time to "play", hold nothing back. 

   Let them discover, to their surprise, the power of being underestimated.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Innovation requires communication. The case of the reverse twisting buzznut.

   When I was in my third year of university I decided to launch a business wherein students would submit a resume to my database (pre-Internet) and I would in turn market their resumes to companies based on their selection criteria. Not a wildly different model from or other career sites today.

   There was just one problem. In 1985, there weren't a whole lot of people thinking about databases, there was no to compare myself to, and in general few people understood what I was talking about. Thus the innovation dilemma. Great to have a new idea, but people don't generally buy things that they don't understand.

   Fast forward a year, I was out of money and patience (not that either were especially abundant previously) and simply folded up my tent and went on to other things. But the lesson of those days did remain. When you invent or present the world with a new idea, you better be able to very simply explain the concept, because people aren't going to hang around for a class on the subject. 

   The easiest explanations are those that allow the audience to reference an existing idea. If, for instance, I mentioned that I had an amazing new type of donut, you'd have an image and usefulness in your mind already. It might not be exactly what I was doing, but it would likely be close. But if I said I had a reverse twisting buzznut to help with your laundry, you'd be understandably in need of further information.

   The reverse twisting buzznut might be awesome and filled with benefits. But until the potential buyers understand the product sufficiently to become "actual" buyers your cash is going out the window. The idea will only make it when someone emerges with the resources and skills to get the message out effectively. 

  If you happen to be an innovator, you must also be a communicator, or have access to one. In most instances it would be best if it is a different person. The innovator/inventor inherently understands the product/service, and that's not usually a great starting point for explaining it to others. 

  Without communication, innovation will languish in isolation. A lonely reverse twisting buzznut sitting dusty on the shelf.



Sunday, April 6, 2014

Persistence, patience and the elusive squirrel.

   Patience and persistence are two widely admired characteristics. Rightfully so, as they contribute to a broad array of accomplishments. There is just one problem, on their own, they are pretty useless.

    To illustrate my point, my old dog "Patches" loved to chase squirrels. He held on to this passion into the final years of his life. Moreover, he wasn't just passionate about the chase, he truly wanted to catch them. It consumed him to even see a squirrel in our yard. He demanded to be released to pursue his quarry.

   In fourteen years of diligent pursuit of squirrels, never giving less than his absolute all, he caught exactly zero squirrels. So much for persistence and patience. On their own, those two attributes have great potential; for comedy. To be effective they must be tied to intelligence. In that regard, Patches was sadly lacking. A lovely dog, but dumber than a bag of hammers.

  If you want your persistence and patience to pay off, you need to add a nice healthy dose of thinking to interpret the feedback you get from your efforts. By using that feedback you can adjust your efforts and continually get closer to your goal. 

   Sometimes, we just need to switch races. By all means, put in an effort. Just be prepared to use the feedback you get honestly. Be willing to accept that you're doing a "Patches" and putting a lot of effort into a losing idea. 

   Maybe you're just not meant to catch squirrels. 



Saturday, April 5, 2014

Hey, gotta a few minutes? The incredible force of consistent action.

   If you ever decided to join a gym, and were a little too "excited" the first day, you have probably experienced the difficult reality that you can't change a few years of idleness with an hour of spirited exercise. Not to mention discovering muscles you had forgotten about.

   A better, longer lasting approach is to bring new habits into your life that are a change, but not such a dramatic one that you may not stick with it. Because sticking with it is what will get you to your goal. 

   It could be writing for ten minutes, or walking around the block. Pick something you won't need to do much to put into your schedule. Something "bite sized" that moves you toward your goal.

   Just be sure that whatever it is, you do it every day, without fail for about a month. By then you'll be on cruise control. It will be automatic. While you may not achieve your goal in that month, you will likely have made progress toward it. You can always upgrade your efforts as you go along. But just keep at it.

   Excitement is no match for persistence in achieving goals

   Best wishes! This approach has worked for me, I hope it works for you too.