Uncommon Sense

When I am investigating something for business or personal interest, I look for a variety of sources that provide appropriate context, expertise, and research background. I have some “go to” resources (not Wikipedia or influencers), that are eminent experts or have studied the works of Nobel prize winners and noted scientists.

To be clear, as we navigate through our COVID world, I am not an expert in medical science, I have seen too many confusing and contradictory statements, and the trust level is extremely low with people’s decision-making.

A friend sent me this anonymous sarcastic post that was made in response to a Gavin Newsome comment about COVID on Instagram in early December:

This coronavirus is the strangest virus I’ve ever heard of. It’s very dangerous the way it spreads. It is so mysterious the way it lurks in schools but then dies at Home Depot. It can wreak havoc in churches; praying people are exceptionally vulnerable! Although it’s mind-boggling how it vanishes when people stand close together holding signs, destroying businesses, homes, property, monuments, etc. Yet, standing to watch a marathon or a concert triggers its wrath.

It is sneaky. It can spread when buying clothes at Kohl’s but not at Target. It is non-alcoholic. It can’t spread when you are buying beer. It lives for two days on Amazon boxes, you must wait 48 hours to touch them, but It can’t survive on Dunkin Donuts coffee cups, so enjoying a hot cup of joe is safe. It is the most curious thing, how it lives on basketballs, baseball bats, and ballet bars, but dies on WWE ropes and Walmart shopping carts. It is spread by hairstylists, dog groomers, and dentists, but not by bank tellers, cashiers, and fast-food workers. It’s so smart. It won’t bother the first 10 people, but it knows when the 11th person shows up so be careful if that’s you. It even knows what you want vs what you need. If you want a massage or your nails done it is very active on the prowl and not even a mask can stop it but If you need a plumber, it is weak, and a mask will keep it away. It also seems to be most dangerous after 5:30pm so businesses must start to close before the virus comes out and wreaks havoc upon the populations. Whoever heard of such a smart sneaky virus?!?

I have many friends that are restaurant owners and business owners that would gladly reopen and accept the responsibility to keep their staff and customers safe. How do I know this? Because that is how they ran their business pre-COVID. These people will not take unnecessary risks with anyone’s health. They care deeply about people and I am proud to have them as friends.

Let’s dive a bit deeper into the decisions made by those that are, supposedly, tasked with taking care of the population.

First, every health expert around the world says we should take care of our sick and elderly first. Why then are so many people dying in nursing and personal care homes? Obviously, we missed something, or the system has totally failed us. We saw major deaths in Ontario and Quebec first and apparently the rest of Canada has not learned. In the US, according to the AARP, 39% of deaths are from nursing, personal, and long-term care homes for seniors. And this does not include those that are dying from being alone and unable to be with family. The emotional cost is staggering.

How can we be so wrong in protecting our most vulnerable? We have not learned from these same experiences that occurred around the world. How is this possible?

And yet, we have bureaucrats and elected officials making sweeping decisions that imply most reasonable citizens will make bad decisions putting the populace at risk. I know restaurant and store owners that care deeply about the safety and well-being of their staff and customers. These people will NEVER do something that puts someone at risk with COVID.

So, our leading health professionals say that a lockdown is necessary. We enter the lockdown for “2 weeks to flatten the curve” and the numbers still rise. Except that this is not the real story.

The people that succumbed to the illness now were the same age range and vulnerability that were affected prior to the lockdown. And yet, schools closed to in class learning. Goods were identified as essential and non-essential. This decision alone told many owners and employees that their company, and product, was non-essential. The job is essential to the person doing it so that they can feed their family and live their life. And suddenly, the government says, “not quite” and here are a few bucks to help you through this difficult time.

I get a bad taste in my mouth on this. My mother-in-law turned 90 just before Christmas. We could not go to a store to buy a card, a book, or a small present. Yet we could buy her booze, marijuana, and smokes. In what world does any of this rationally make sense?

And shop online? We did. And most customer service was abhorrent. Or non-existent. And the VERY LAST THING I WANT TO DO IS MAKE JEFF BEZOS ANY RICHER!!!

This guy took away benefits from part-time staff at Whole Foods. And he offshores his revenue so that the money is kept for his shareholders. While this is legal let’s consider the impact. Amazon earns money in countries by providing a service. Taxes should be paid so that schools, hospitals, and roads can be built. But no, our government allows the practice to continue, calling Amazon essential. You cannot make this stuff up!

Our elected leaders chose not to close this loophole, but we can have by-law officers give tickets to small business owners who asked the right questions to gain permission to operate, only to be sideswiped from some “Roger Rulebook.” Check out this story: https://www.winnipegfreepress.com/special/coronavirus/health-order-enforcement-horribly-out-of-tune-music-school-owner-says-573535912.html

But wait…there’s more! How about all the politicians and senior leaders who traveled? I don’t believe these are all supposed to be fired, but how can the hypocrisy get any worse?

Our church did everything safely to allow us to worship in person. We adapted – very carefully and very safely. And then we were told we could not get together. So, we didn’t. What is the spiritual and emotional impact of being told “you cannot get together, even monitoring all health risks, because we said so?” No reasonable answer provided.

In March, the US Director of the National Institute of Health was on 60 Minutes saying wearing a mask was not required. The mask really didn’t do anything. And now it does? So, I investigated and went to a website of a mask producer and here is the disclaimer:

“Masks are not designed or intended to prevent, mitigate, treat, diagnose or cure any disease or health condition, including COVID-19/Coronavirus.”

Now, I am not a conspiracy theorist and I am not recommending some form of anarchy towards wearing masks. But, I am confused and do not understand why we are being forced to play a game where the goal posts continue to be adjusted, seemingly at a whim.

Finally, I want to thank our front-line workers. After spending 12 days in hospital in October (non-COVID) I can tell you that all the nurses and health care aides want improved support, processes, and clear direction much more than a certificate for doing their job. These people are amazing, and I cannot imagine the added stress that bizarre and ever-changing rules from bureaucrats and politicians cause them. And yet, they care deeply about their patients and I am grateful for their efforts. Finally, some common sense.

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Lest We Forget

With the recently announced COVID-19 Code Red status in Manitoba, there were not many people out and about prior to and on Remembrance Day. From news reports, it is evident that the Royal Canadian Legion’s annual Poppy fundraising efforts have been dealt a major blow.

Please donate if you can and there are several ways to do this: https://www.legion.ca/remembrance/the-poppy-campaign/donate-to-the-poppy-fund

Why do I ask this? It is to ensure we remember our past and current veterans. Their duty of service, whether active or reserve, is an important aspect to the vibrant history of our country and how we are viewed so positively around the world.

I am not a war monger. There has been evil incarnate in the world a few times where our troops had to enter the fray on behalf of Canada. These evil people had to be stopped. Thankfully, they were.

There are still “bad guys” out there that talk about doing evil deeds against certain countries, Canada included because we are allied to other countries. These are targeted efforts against us, not full blown wars, and require different types of skill and support. It is good to coordinate with our allies for these types of situations.

I want us to remember the real reasons we need to thank our veterans – not just on Remembrance Day, but every day. I submit that our veterans did not sign up to fight to simply give us freedom and an easy life. No, I contend that they fought to give us the freedom and ability to tackle the hard things that are necessary for improved overall quality of life.

Wait a minute, Kist! Have you lost your mind?

No, and here’s why.

God gave man free will. This is why people can make bad choices. Because we have the ability to choose.

Veterans winning wars also gave us the freedom to choose. And we still don’t always make good choices. The freedom provided to us by our veterans should allow us to do the hard things. We must do the important work that is hard to do. Only when we do the hard work can we truly move forward as a country.

Let’s consider the lessons from a US veteran and his five lessons of fortitude:

  1. Seek perspective: No self-pity. Bring grace, humour, and grit. Perspective will tell you that you might have been through worse so you know you can do it. Put hardship into perspective. TK believes: context is essential. You have more strength than you think to apply to approach the next hard task.
  2. Do something hard: suffering must be dealt with. Challenge yourself willingly. Marines say, “embrace the suck.” If it is hard – good – now get after resolving it. TK believes: Vince Lombardi said “I firmly believe that any man’s finest hour, the greatest fulfillment of all that he holds dear, is that moment when he has worked his heart out in a good cause and lies exhausted on the field of battle – victorious.” This applies to anything in life that is hard.
  3. No plan B (defined as mediocrity or excuses): The candidates that become US Navy SEALs are the ones that didn’t give themselves an option to quit. They had contingencies to enact, but there was no option other than to make the grade. A quitter is someone who gives up on himself. TK believes: Do not justify quitting on yourself. Dig deep and find the meaning for what you are doing and give it everything you have.
  4. The right sense of shame: Shame is accountability. Live your own truth – coddling does not forge self-esteem. In SEALs you don’t want to be “that guy.” TK believes: Know that you did all you could for the greater good. Don’t be the one that is the weakest link because you gave up.
  5. Sense of duty: Feeling shame paves the way to do the right thing. The recipe is simple – Be on time. Do the work. Work hard. TK believes: Work as hard when no one is looking as when all eyes are on you. Be known as the person who will never be outworked.

The freedom we gained by the commitment and sacrifice of our veterans should serve as the best foundation to do the hard work. After all, they set the standard by giving their life. The very least we can do is not let those lives be trivialized by shoddy efforts.

If it is to be, it is up to me.

Happy Thanksgiving!

In our current world it is far to easy to be a chronic complainer. Full disclosure – I do complain from time to time. However, I also make a conscious effort to recognize what I am grateful for on a consistent basis.

And since this is Canadian Thanksgiving, it is only appropriate to share my list:

  • I am grateful every day for my wife, sons, daughter-in-law, and Trappar.
  • I am thankful for my immediate family – sisters and brother, nieces and nephews, and their pets.
  • Our in-laws have been absolutely fabulous for us – thanks for coming in to our life with your wonderful daughter – who knew you could make such a connection in Bismarck, ND?
  • And I am grateful for my wife’s family. They have put up with me for more than 30 years 😊
  • While I am not in regular contact with all my cousins, aunts, and uncles, I think of moments when I have been thankful to have them in my life.
  • I have been blessed to have many friends and I continue to meet people I enjoy spending time with. And I have life long friends – I am still in contact with them and we always have a terrific time together.
  • Being asked to coach high school football is something else I am grateful for. I do miss the kids and we are having fun, not winning, with flag football in prep for spring league.
  • I have wonderful clients. They have provided challenges and opportunities and I am proud to work with them to help them get better tomorrow.
  • I am part of a wonderful world-wide profession – Certified Management Consultants – and my colleagues across the country, and in different countries, have helped me grow professionally and expand my thinking. Having the opportunity to participate in committees and boards has also helped me develop leadership skills. Thanks CMC!!!
  • Through MacKay CEO Forums I have met fascinating chairs and business leaders. I am grateful to have joined this group and proud of how we are helping to populate the world with inspiring leaders.
  • I am grateful to have the ability to enjoy wonderful walks every day with Trappar. Even when he decides to chase a rabbit or chow down on some goose droppings.
  • I am grateful that I was brought up in a loving and Christian home. I know about God’s love for all of us and this is a gift for everyone to share.
  • I am honestly grateful and humbled when people read my posts and comment – thank you!
  • And I am thankful for so much more…

My good friend Steve wrote a book on gratitude and works with leaders and their companies to build off gratitude. This is where I learned about keeping a gratitude journal. When a day is a challenge, I will often read a few past entries and realize that I have a lot to be thankful for. This always serves to pull my head up and shoulders back so I can get back into the work that is necessary.

It takes time and some discipline to keep this positive attitude. Tracking everything you are thankful for can be more powerful when you do it regularly, and not just on the second Monday in October.

Try it. Before you go to bed, write three specific things you are grateful for. Do this every day. You will fall asleep with a smile on your face and joy in your heart.

Oh yes, I am very thankful that I am having turkey leftovers for a week. Seriously, I love turkey and all the ways we use the bird for a week.

I can’t wait for Christmas!!!

Last Man Down

I finished an amazing book called “Last Man Down.” It is the first person account of a Deputy Chief of a Fire Department of New York (FDNY) station who was in World Trade Center North Tower on a rescue effort right after the WTC towers were hit on 9/11. He then got caught inside when the tower collapsed. It is an amazing story of leadership, perseverance, and heroics by so many people on September 11, 2001.

The title reminded me of Simon Sinek’s “Leaders Eat Last.” Great leaders sacrifice their own comfort–even their own survival–for the good of those in their care.

Different perspectives. Different examples. A first time author. A famous and skilled author and business leader. Similar points of view about leadership and what it means.

Deputy Chief Richard “Pitch” Picciotto is a 20+ year member of FDNY with a wife and two kids. He started September 11, 2001, the way he does most every work day. He got into his station early before the shift change so he could get a sense of the types of activity that the previous shift had experienced. He could also check on the new shift as they arrived, so he had a good “feel” for the mood and attitude of the station. And then the first plane hit, and his day got literally turned upside down.

I am not going to provide a book report. There are some outstanding leadership lessons, and organizational lessons that popped out quite strongly. Quick back story – I did not read the book hoping to get these lessons. I started to read on 9/11 due to the fascinating story and these points just popped out. Maybe there are some areas that you recognize in yourself or your leadership team and this assessment might prompt consideration for change.

  • The leader has done the job and therefore, knows the foundation. You build on your foundation.
  • The leader continues to grow in their knowledge even as they progress higher in the organization. “Pitch” kept studying fires and related topics with his colleagues. When he was in the collapsed north tower, he looked at many scenarios based on his in-depth knowledge of fires, ripple effect, and rescues
  • The leader makes the tough call. He raised his voice a few times, but only selectively. Otherwise he tried to remain calm to portray the same sense to everyone that was trapped with him.
  • When he believed he could get out, he saw that the physical situation was extremely dangerous. A 100+ story office tower had collapsed and was unstable. He did not want to send another fire fighter to do something that might result in serious injury or death. So, he picked the spot, selected a couple of men, and then proceeded to find a safe route out of the rubble to safety. The route was marked so others could follow – coming out or going in to retrieve people.
  • He was compassionate. He genuinely cared for those that were with him. He wanted everyone to get out safely.
  • He provided updates as he knew them so that people understood the situation and the next steps.
  • He fought city hall before this event because of budget cuts that impacted the safety of the firefighters and potentially the citizens they are protecting. He describes some of these in the book. He did what was right for the overall mission – not just what the ivory tower approved. Sometimes being a careful rebel can help.
  • In his formative years as a firefighter, he sought out mentors, the experts, the old guard that knew how to do the job. While confident in his ability, he took his time and learned without being presumptuous.

Here is a direct quote at the end of the book that sums things up very well:

“And how I feel is this: we are all born leaders. It’s what drives us to do the job in the first place. We’re leaders I our families and leaders in our communities. We give a shit. (And we buy our own toilet paper!) And we refuse to let the cowardly bottom lines of our administrators get in the way of our bottom line – saving lives, watching each other’s backs, doing what needs to be done. And so, to those mentioned here, and to those whose names I carry in my heart, I am grateful. You may not know it, but you all had a hand in hauling my ass out of that stairwell and down to safety. Without you, I am nothing.”

I am not telling you what to do as I do not know your individual situations. I would hope that you find value in these observations. Your choice whether action is required. In a tough situation, are you prepared to make the tough call?

Would you be “the last person down?”

Walk with Purpose

My Dad used to encourage (sometimes with “the look”) us to walk with purpose. This recommendation always began with the classic head up, shoulders back, chest out posture that made you stand up straight. Next it was your stride. Purposeful and direct. Walk with pride in yourself. No dawdling. No shuffling of the feet. It wasn’t military direction; in hindsight it was basic and good advice.

I was reminded of this a couple of times this week as I watched people of all ages:

  • Youngster, maybe grade 3, walking with her head down staring at a phone;
  • Young adult, probably late teens/early twenties, crossing a busy street, shuffling and with his head down looking at a phone;
  • Middle-aged woman walking her dog, shuffling on the sidewalk as Fido was straining to explore off the sidewalk. You guessed it – on her phone looking down.

Not sure why I am surprised anymore in this age of cell phones (I won’t call them smart phones given the behaviour noted above). We have a family joke when someone is walking and is so enthralled in their phone, whatever they are looking at, that they must be a “surgeon on call.” With apologies to real surgeons on call.

I have often wondered if these “distracted walkers” are also “distracted workers.” Do they walk with purpose when they arrive at work? Do they work with purpose all the livelong day? Or is their non-purposeful walk a marker for their work attitude? I don’t ask to be critical. I seek to understand if their walking is a representation of their level of engagement at work.

The good folks at Gallup have been tracking engagement of employees for several decades and the level has remained constant at around 30-ish % in the US. Seven out of ten employees are not engaged. According to Gallup, disengaged employees have 37% higher absenteeism, 18% lower productivity and 15% lower profitability. When that translates into dollars, you’re looking at the cost of 34% of a disengaged employee’s annual salary, or $3,400 for every $10,000 they make. Gallup estimates this is a loss to the economy of $350 billion each year.

Shame on leadership for not addressing the real reasons for the disengagement. Oh, there have been millions of dollars spent annually to track the level of employee engagement and to implement a wide array of programs to increase the scores. There must not be enough honest assessment about the results if the Gallup tracking has remained constant for so many years.

With this data so constant over the years, leaders need to take a good look in the mirror and be honest with the environment in their organization. Are you accepting the results of your employee satisfaction survey? I worked for a company where senior employees in the organization were afraid that any poor scores would be searched out by HR and they would face some form of repercussion. I was stunned when I learned of this. With this admission, and if it is extended to all other organizations, the level of engagement might be a few points lower.

Wow, what a cost to the company and economy. And what a sad way to live.

Life is exciting. And it is what you make it to be. Each of us has the power to change our attitude and become optimistic and grateful for the opportunities we have and the positive impacts we can make.

William H. Johnsen said, “if it is to be, it is up to me.” We now have our direction and encouragement. Live long and prosper.

P.S. I wish WordPress would walk with purpose. Maybe I would have an answer to my question about the tool. I have been waiting two weeks for a “we’ll have one of our experts get right back to you” response. Either (a) they have no expert or (b) their assessment tool (AI?) did not select the right key words from my question to find the right expert. I believe the answer is (a).

The Ripple Effect

As a youngster I really enjoyed dropping pebbles into the puddles on the street after a rainstorm and watching the ripples spread. Looking back, who would have thought that the “ripple effect” would become a metaphor for so many aspects of business and life.

According to Merriam-Webster, the definition of the ripple effect is:

a spreading, pervasive, and usually unintentional effect or influence.

Well, 2020 is certainly showing us that the ripple effect is alive and well in business. Both problems and opportunities result from the ripple effects of COVID-19 directly on an organization’s direct network and supply chain. There is also a compounding effect in the suppliers to your suppliers and the customers of your customers. Magnify this extra consideration because the impacts are being felt around the world.

A colleague from the U of Winnipeg sent me an interesting article on the ripple effect from COVID within the Canadian office rental space market. The article actually formed the basis for an assignment to my strategic planning classes. I am keen to see how they complete their analysis and how many ripples they uncover.

Good strategic planners know how and how often to conduct environmental scans, search for customer insights, and track competitor moves to uncover clues about possible trends or upcoming events/changes in their market. And if not in their direct market, can yours be impacted by the ripple effect from another?

Too often I have seen a focus on SWOT that is:

  • too subjective
  • viewed through corporate rose-coloured glasses
  • not in tune with what is really happening in their direct and adjacent markets

Executives can fall into the trap that they know what customers and competitors are thinking simply by a couple of brief conversations. Discipline and digging is required to ensure the right data is being captured as part of this internal analysis (SW) to assist with capturing the external implications (OT).

Using “what if” scenarios is another useful tool to help planners identify the magnitude of impact resulting from a significant event. I prefer to use large scale events because the thinking in anything slightly beyond the current normal state is “we can handle something like that, and it won’t impact our operations.” A couple of examples are:

  • What if your biggest customer finally accepted that you are substantially better than your competitors and is giving you all their business, which will double your business overnight?
  • What if all your customers each reduced their purchases from you by 10 to 20%?

Working though all elements of your company value chain for these scenarios is a good, structured approach to assessing the real impact of each scenario and the ripple effects created inside and outside your company.

Great planners also seek insights from front line staff that have direct contact with customers and suppliers. Very often, these regular conversations have direct information, or enough hints are dropped, that the staff person’s spider sense is tingling about a coming event. Sometimes it is the hint of a price increase that will spur other thoughts and lines of questioning to determine the full extent of the pending event.

With the right employee culture in place the information is collected and proactively sent to the planner. If you do not have engaged employees, valuable insights may be left to wave in the wind, never to be included in important decisions. This is a valuable assessment leaders should employ to determine the level of internal trust that exists in their organizations and how much they need to encourage employees to come forward with key information.

Successful planning is not a “one and done” annual occurrence. Discipline and consistency are required to track the ripples and see where they lead. Only with regular insights being captured and shared can a great planner see around the corner or under the rock that is under the rock.

After all, if a big rock is dropped into your industry will you be ready to respond to the ripples or will you be quickly pushed to the edge of relevance?

P.S. I have had wordpress issues for almost a week. I am still waiting for one of their experts to respond and help me solve them. Oye Vay!!!

Just a little bit more…

You'll often hear about "doing more with less" or "squeezing a bit more" out of our employees or equipment. Sometimes this is justified when there are clear signs of less than optimal effort being delivered. Other times it smacks of medieval tyranny and power "just because" a manager can play the hard-ass.

As I have said before "all generalizations are false...including this one." Broad brushing these phrases and applying without measure, assessment and context can have disastrous results. 

So, how should a leader assess when to push for more and when to pull back. 

Let's consider a couple of non-human examples first:
* In Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Phaedrus talks about various aspects of quality. He also ties in the concept of tightening and the need for a mechanic's feel. If you do not tighten enough, the fastener will loosen and damage or serious injury can result. If you tighten too much you run the risk of stripping the threads and causing extra work to fix this. You are searching for the Goldilocks amount "just right."

* In horse racing, you will often hear the announcers, or other experts, talk about when to "use the whip." If you whip the horse too soon you may tire out your steed and lose out. If you whip the horse too late  you may not be able to make up for lost ground. And if you use the whip when your horse needs a bit of encouragement, a good jockey knows when and how much to give the horse.

In both cases, one looks for the "just right" time and effort to add to the situation to enable a quality result.

People can talk. We should be able to answer how much we can give. "I'll give it a 110% effort, coach. Thanks Timmy, I knew I could count on you." 🙂

Yes, this is an oversimplification, but the question remains "how do you encourage just a little bit more from your people?" Here are some thoughts to consider:

* Ensure everyone in your organization knows what you stand for and against. They need to know the quality of the values of their employer.

* Ensure that everyone knows how their role fits into the delivery of your product or service and how it can impact the strength of the customer relationship.

* Check-in regularly to confirm alignment. Just doing the first two items noted above and then leaving everyone alone does not capture the fallibility of people, processes, and technology. You must check-in to see if fine tuning and adjustment is required. Remember not to tighten with too much torque!

* Ask the people on the front lines where improvements can be made. My good friend the Reverend Deacon Diane and I talked about this the other day. We both believe many great ideas come from the people that do the task every day. 

* In a recent edition of Zig Ziglar's message for daily living he wrote:
"One other factor in all of this is that the example the employer sets, as far as his own personal attitude is concerned, does make a difference. The employer can complain about how difficult it is to get good help, or express appreciation for the fact that he does have good help. In the process, he is making his employees feel they are important, that their jobs are important and that their performance is appreciated. That has a bearing on the bottom line, doesn't it?" A simple, yet timeless, message from someone who lived every day with care and love.

Yes, this post is another self-reflective approach. But we can only control ourselves and our actions. And everyone's situation is different:
* the work you do
* the skill and talent of the people in your organization
* the leadership qualities throughout your organization
* your perspective on what needs to get done and how hard you can encourage extra effort...safely!

I have had two issues with my laptop, still less than a year old, and Dell resolved them both quickly and efficiently. This is honestly some of the best service and support I have ever experienced. One issue was mechanical (the fan needed to be replaced) and the process to confirm the precise issue and recommended solution was excellent. The second was a software issue caused by a Windows update. This issue was solved because the tech had seen it before, knew the drivers that needed to be uninstalled and reinstalled, and did it very efficiently. 10/10 in both cases. Dell is always known for great support and I can attest to this.

Contrast this to our experience with a roofer. Oh, our roof was not done; it was our neighbor's while we were on vacation. We lock our back gate and the roofer could not get into the back yard to collect the garbage they let drop into our yard. I sent an email with pictures to the roofer just to show what we came home to. No response. 

These two contrasting examples show who wants to give a little extra effort and who doesn't. Guess who I will buy my next laptop from? Guess who won't do our roof whenever it needs replacing?

I believe the immortal words of Yogi Berra sums up what extra effort can look like when he was talking about one of the best players of all time, Joe DiMaggio. "I wish everybody had the drive he (Joe DiMaggio) had. He never did anything wrong on the field. I’d never seen him dive for a ball, everything was a chest-high catch, and he never walked off the field."

Now, hop to it!

Marathon of Hope

September 1, 1980, just outside Thunder Bay, Ontario, Terry Fox took the last step of his Marathon of Hope. He now had cancer in his lungs and he was physically not able to continue.

He had already run 5,373 KM. This is about 3,339 miles for those not familiar with metric. This is equivalent to just over 125 marathons – a marathon is 26.2 miles. Terry ran for 143 days, which is nearly a marathon per day. He wanted to raise $1 from every Canadian. He raised $24.17 million, and the population of Canada was around 24.5 million.

Sadly, he passed away less than a year later on June 28, 1981 at 22 years of age.

It was the apostle Paul who once likened life to a race, declaring, “Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.”

It is crystal clear that Terry Fox embodied this quote.

Now, I am not trying to guilt anyone into doing something  on this level of grandeur and impact just for the sake of it. I am NOT holier than thou. We must celebrate Terry Fox for his accomplishment and the legacy he left with us.

My main point is that action needs to be taken.

During my business career, I have seen too many studies, reports, and annual plans that sit on the shelf holding up a hardcover set of Reader’s Digest Classics. No action taken on the studies, reports, and plans. And probably not reading the classics, either.

While you must always have a plan you do not need paralysis by analysis. Oops, we missed that customer…we’ll get them with our next plan.

I remember a sessional prof back in business school. In our strategic planning course we were tasked with creating a new business with a classmate. After our dreaming, thinking, and creating our plan for presentation, we got feedback from the prof. His most impactful statement was:

“You will be faced with many decisions during your careers. Get good information, and make a decision. Get off the fence. Quickly. Sitting on a fence can be painful.”

Think about Terry’s situation. 125 marathons in 143 days. And the pain he was in? I cannot imagine what he went through.

He had focus and this led to his fundraising and awareness success.

And yet there is a word to the wise from legendary Coach John Wooden:

“When success turns your head, you face failure.”

Terry Fox kept his eyes forward. He looked to where he was going. He knew his past, accepted what he was dealing with (cancer), and had the perseverance to keep moving forward. He knew his measure of success and he achieved it. $1 million per Canadian.

Only one thing was going to stop him…and it did.

What is holding you back? This is a question each person needs to ask and each company needs to ask on a regular basis. Most importantly, we need to answer the question –  for ourselves and in our companies. Focus is a critical success factor.

Instead of watching four hours of mindless TV each night, there are options. Read a book, study a course, start a hobby, and you can even bake an apple pie for your husband (world’s best crust – thanks honey!).

Please do not mistake what I am saying. We don’t all have to solve cancer. We can make positive contributions to ourselves, and to our families, friends, communities, professional associations, companies, and life in general.

I know we cannot smile through our COVID masks (unless you have the see through plastic version), but your eyes can smile when you talk to someone. And yes, you can have a smile in your voice, too. These small actions can make a difference to someone having a rough day.

A positive mental attitude may also help you think of the solution to the problem at work. Put that into your performance review!

We can be here for a good time, even if it is not a long time.

In our own way, each of us can start our own marathon of hope. Don’t act like things are hopeless. Be hopeful, and take that first step towards your goal. Your success will be however you define it. And the journey will be worth every step you take.

What could you do if you didn’t know you couldn’t?





It’s not about you…it’s about me


Do you recognize me?

I’m your customer.

Yes, the one who buys your product.

Oh, I see. You are having a hard time remembering if we ever met, aren’t you?

You see, I am probably known by some “customer ID number” that is all coded just for your company. I know it helps you keep things running smoothly, or so you think. Easy to look up on your shiny new customer relationship management system. Ooh, a CRM.

Well, you know what they say – “garbage in…garbage out.” If you don’t have the most current and accurate information about me, your customer, then it is going to be really hard to know me better, isn’t it?

Yah, in this era of big data you like to group similar customers together so you can spot “trends” and “buying patterns.” How is that working for you so far?

When was the last time you actually talked to me or one of your other customers?

I knew it. Pretty close to never for the management, right? Oh sure, you do “focus groups” once in a while and because your management team are all marketing geniuses you make these broad conclusions based on a small sample and limited interaction and “think” you know us all.

Don’t “think”…”KNOW!”

Do you remember the Odd Couple TV series when Felix explained to the judge why he shouldn’t assume:


Why do you make so many assumptions about me? And most of them are made as if you are the customer. David Ogilvy, ad pioneer, famously said, “The consumer is not a moron, she is your wife.”

So, I guess you never heard that before. When you look at the advertising and promotions that you use to try and get me to buy more or to get more customers I believe you think I am a moron. You probably turn the channel when the commercial comes on. Your kids do their best to get away from those awful digital pre-roll ads of yours.

And who talks like your tweets? No normal human being, that’s who. And if I hear you say something is “awesome” one more time…”To the moon!”



I like Alice’s moxie.

So, what do you think you should do?

Well, I have a couple of considerations for you because I am not going to give you all the answers. You need to do some work, too.

  • build a customer culture. My friends Chris Brown and Sean Crichton-Browne from Market Culture have a dandy tool to help you establish how customer-centric your employees think you are.
  • look for anomalies. The big data does not always give you the insights that you really need about me. I can be 32 years old, single, professional, and involved in quilt-making. My friend is also 32 years old, but she is married with two kids, and currently staying at home with her newborn. Grouping us in an age demographic called “millennials” makes no sense to me. Our priorities are different and one of us doesn’t really need your product. What do you say?
  • ask your staff what they know about me. It is a lot and I bet it isn’t in your CRM. Take a look, I’ll wait…
  • make sure your partners know how you me to be treated. If I go somewhere for your product and I get treated poorly (like last week at a major wholesale club store) I just might not go back there. If I don’t and I cannot find your product at another store I will get your competitor’s. Will I ever come back to you?
  • and finally, use a real agency to create your ads. Give them deep insights about me. See the previous bullets. And do NOT think you can make your own creative. You aren’t one.

There, see how easy that is?

Isn’t it better to have a relationship with me like this? I like it when you know my name.


Huh, I’ve never seen that before…

Over a nice lunch with a dear friend, he shared the challenges with the sewer line entering his home. Something was blocking his line, coming off the main line on his street, and he would get some flooding in the basement. After several contractors, city inspector, and major sewer contract experts had reviewed the situation and tried to ascertain the problem, my friend found a couple of them standing around one day outside his home with perplexed looks on their face.

When he asked, “So, what did you find?” The response from everyone was “I’ve never seen this before.” There was a total of at least a hundred years of experience in this profession. And yet…

As we discussed, we reminded ourselves of other situations where technical experts in different professions have said things like:

  • “Hmmm, it should work” when referring to a glitch on the computer
  • “Hmmm, it should work” when the mechanic tells you on the phone what he did and what resulted when you got your vehicle home from the shop
  • “It’s not doing it on my end” when someone is checking the same program you are running
  • “It shouldn’t be doing that” and yet it is – typically for both cars and computers

If the experts cannot solve it, how am I supposed to? I am mechanically “declined!!!”

This always brings me to question how we set up our technical experts for success. Yes, you must train them on the technical aspects. But, like a good doctor, a good tech must have an excellent bedside manner.

Empathy – trying to place yourself in the other person’s shoes (or seat or computer, etc) so you can try to help “from the customer’s perspective.” Please remember it is NOT about you as the tech expert. Your role as Ms. Fixit is to listen first and then chart a path to fix.

Prescription without diagnosis is malpractice!

Possible solutions I see for the tech support/expert:

  • Ask questions from a position to understand – not to prove you are right/smarter/better than the user
  • Listen – with both ears
  • If in person, look in the person’s eyes to gain a sense of the level of frustration
  • No condescension…please
  • The customer doesn’t need to know “if the flamberjam has to connect with the Johnson rod to drive the flywheel.” The customer wants to trust the expert can really fix it. Long technical descriptions to justify your existence are not required

And there are always more that pop up during my morning stroll with Trappar. While he chases the ball, my mind is whirring. Well, more like a pinwheel on a moderately breezy day. But I digress…

There is never an end to discussions about customer service and how it can be improved. Can we please remember that the people we are training are people and that they are dealing with people?

This goes for all other means of contact with your customers, including chatbots.

I had an issue with a previous cell phone and syncing it with a previous laptop. The Samsung chat person told me to connect it to another laptop. Why would I have two? The person just couldn’t get it through their head that I only need one. Painful!

I am not sure how my friend’s situation has resolved itself. An extraordinary project was created to solve the seemingly unsolvable problem. A lot of work. Certainly there was a caring arm offered from one of the key contractors because they wanted to solve it. I hope the solution wasn’t “Something we’ve never done before.” Who knows how that turns out?

Sadly, once it is all said and done – much will have been said and little will have been done.