Noah-isms: “At Least Two Right Answers”

Greetings.  We all know that innovation is about finding new and better ways to solve problems, capture opportunities and deliver greater value to customers.  But is this also a sound premise for taking a test in middle school?  

On a recent quiz in his sixth grade science class, our son Noah and his classmates were asked a series of questions about the environment and the keys to protecting it now and in the future.  It was a fill-in-the-blanks assessment that required quick thinking or at least quick recall in order to race through the questions successfully. The kind of "beat-the-clock" quizzes we all dreaded as kids before they became the unique value proposition for most TV game shows.  And while these tests do not always produce the most complete learning, they often yield some interesting insight.

Such was the case with a question about the biggest threat to urban environments around the globe…a question that Noah answered by creating a brand new word:


A word that really gets at the heart of the challenge that many cities face as they grow too fast.  Too many people and too much pollution.  And forced to fit a one word answer into a relatively small space, it must have seemed–under the keen pressure of the moment or the lack of time to check his responses–almost perfect or at least slightly clever.  A moment of semi-partial brilliance in a sea of canned replies.  And a moment that would lead to a great conversation at home the next evening.

"Aren't there at least two right answers to almost every question?" Noah pondered as he snarfed through bites of pasta and salad.  "Especially for questions that aren't very simple."  Like big questions they ask in school or the big questions that most of us deal with every day in our companies and organizations…

Questions about science, history, politics, and culture.  Questions about strategy, the things we offer, how we work together, the need for innovation, the customer experiences we provide, and so on.  Questions that really matter.

"Yes," I replied even though I knew that math and science teachers, as well as the crazed folks who invented the SAT exams, where generally looking for one specific answer.  "The questions that matter most deserve at least two answers because our first answer is rarely the best that we can do," I continued.  "And they deserve our very best thinking too!"

"And sometimes they involve putting two of our very best ideas together to create something even more valuable."

"Kind of like popullution," Noah wondered.



We win in business and life we realize that there is always more than one answer to a problem or opportunity.  And when we acknowledge that we can always be better at the things that matter most.


Noah-isms: “The Most Important Dream”

Greetings.  On a recent dog walk around the neighborhood, our son Noah asked me what my "most important dream" was.  It was an interesting question and one that sparked my curiosity.  "I'm not really sure," I replied–quickly trying to unlock my memory.  "I have had a lot of very interesting dreams," I suggested, "but I'm not sure which one is the most important."  "You know," he continued, "the dream that changed your life the most.  The one that you did something about.  Like dreaming about meeting Mamma, or having children, or getting a dog, or starting your own business, or making the world a better place, or something like that."  "I guess that I did dream about every one of those things," I answered with a smile.  And all of a sudden I began to understand the even bigger idea that he was getting at.  That each of us has a special power to dream an important dream and then be so inspired that we make it come to life.  Rather than simply letting our dreams fade with the harsh sound of the alarm clock or the pressing demands of an urgent priority.

That we could be the superheroes of our dreams.  With the special powers to make them happen against all odds!

And even if you can't remember your most important dreams from when you have been asleep, you can definitely recall your dreams from when you've been awake. That is, if you have ever taken the time to dream.  To recall the dreams that once (or more than once) captured your imagination but somehow never came to be. The moments when you dared to envision a more perfect world, a more impactful enterprise, a more engaged and collaborative workplace, a more meaningful and complete life, or a more significant contribution to a problem worth solving.

So what is your most important dream for your company or organization?  And, how willing are you to use your genius and the brilliance of those you work with in order to make it come true?  To create a clear and inspiring vision, craft a clear and innovative strategy, and then act to bring the dream to life.  With a keen sense of focus…and a dog at your side.

Noah Studying

We win in business and in life when we are invited to recall our most important dreams.  And when we strive to make them come true.


Noah-isms: “Change and Unchange is Good”

Greetings.  During lunch at Panera this past weekend our son Noah asked if his mother and I would ever get divorced.  It was an honest question from an eleven-year-old who sees that the parents of several of his friends are no longer together. "No, Mamma and I will be together for as long as people eat chocolate," I replied. A comparison intended to allay his fears that divorce was a likely event for people with children.  "But why do people get divorced anyway?" he wondered, "and, why will you and Mamma stay together forever?"  "I don't really know the answer for other people," I responded, "because being married is a lot of work and sometimes people feel that they've tried their hardest and they need a change.  But I can say why I think that Mamma and I will always stay together (or at least until the world runs out of chocolate) and I guess it's all about what we've decided is most important in life for us."  

"And what's that?" he continued.  

"Being close and caring about each other no matter what," I suggested.  "Putting family first and always being in each other's corner.  Being together as a couple. And sharing a set of core values as a guide to getting through life's little (and big) challenges and frustrations.  And making a commitment to learn, change, and grow together."  

"So I guess you'd think that change is good but unchange is good too," Noah suggested in his very clear and insightful way.  "You change and you don't change together."

Which started me thinking about just how important this idea is to the success of companies and organizations of all types.  The notion that some things need to change in order for us to be successful for the long haul.  These include the things we have to offer, the value we deliver to customers, the way we find and inspire our people, the way we leverage new technologies, the way we expand to unlock new market opportunities, and the way we learn and share knowledge and possibilities.  And the equally important notion that some things should never change in order for us to be successful for the long haul.  These are the "core values" on which we build our business and base our most fundamental decisions.  Values like honesty and integrity, a commitment to the highest quality, a determination to support and bring out the genius in all of our people, a passion for innovation, an unwavering focus on the needs of our customers, a passion for the importance of learning–and any other core beliefs that are essential to who we are and what we hold dear.

Change is essential.

And so is "unchange."

Noah Boat
We win in business and in life when we embrace the necessity of change and unchange.  They might in fact be the two most important things we ever learn from the experience of living or from the words of a young man growing up too fast.

Cheers and wishes for a week ahead filled with change, unchange, and plenty of chocolate!

Noah-isms: “The Best Things Don’t Expire”

Greetings.  This weekend marked a wonderful event in the life of our family as our daughter Carly had her Bat Mitzvah.  After a year of studying Carly read and chanted from the Torah (Old Testament), bringing her wonderful smile, warmth, creativity, and voice to a tradition that started very differently in Biblical times and today is carried on by Jews on nearly every corner of the earth.  It is an experience that's all about "coming of age" and becoming an "adult"–surrounded by family, friends, and the community.  And a remarkable moment that is filled with many hopes, dreams, and expectations…but not likely to include the regular cleaning of one's room.

As part of the service, Carly gave a short speech about her part of the Torah which happened to be the story of Joseph as a young man.  Many of us know him as the fellow who: (a) had the most stylish (and multi-colored) coat in the Bible, and (b) was the star of a very popular and long-running Broadway musical.  But it turns out that Joseph wasn't the nicest young man in the Holy Land, regularly boasting to his eleven brothers that he was the best and the brightest.  So Carly spoke about the importance of being kind, considerate, and making a difference in the world without calling attention to yourself.  And she shared her honest, caring, and humorous thoughts about sibling rivalry and the value of family.  It's really a great case of the eventual power of "servant leadership" and teamwork in bringing about change.  But in his early days Joseph so enraged his brothers that they first thought to do away with him and then settled for selling him into slavery in Egypt.  He would eventually rise to a position of great power and become a nice guy, but that's a story for another day.

And as part of the modern custom Carly received many wonderful and thoughtful gifts from family and friends to mark the occasion and her passage to adulthood. But the one present that really caught my attention was a book of coupons from her brother Noah who will have his Bar Mitzvah in two years.  It said on the cover: "COUPONS THAT DO NOT EXPIRE" and it included the following:

  • A coupon for breakfast in bed
  • Two coupons for back massages
  • A coupon to play with his PSP (game system) for an hour
  • Another to play with his PSP for an hour and a half

And a final coupon that would allow her to take any one thing from his room for an entire day.  All to be used whenever she chose to.


We win in business and in life when we honor and give new meaning to important rites of passage.  And when we realize that the best things in life don't expire.  Things like family, friends, community, an ancient book, a commitment to make the world a better place, and coupons for a back massage or to use our best stuff.


On Veteran’s Day

Greetings.  Several of the regular readers of this blog fondly recalled the post on my Dad that I wrote last Veteran's Day and suggested that it might be meaningful and fun to republish it for newer subscribers.  So here it is–the very first "encore" appearance of a post in the 15-month history of the Surrounded by Geniuses blog.

Originally published on November 11, 2009… 

Greetings.  The weeks before Thanksgiving are a great time to pause and think about all we have to be thankful for.  And even in today's challenging economic environment, this simple "exercise" seems to put most things in perspective.  So when the topic came up on this morning's drive to school, our ten year-old son Noah was quick to point out that he was thankful for his family "because family is the most important thing."  And he added that on Veteran's Day, he was "really thankful for Grandpa" who at the young age of 85 is a very important part of our lives.  He then recalled a story that is part of our family's history and our collective good fortune, because none of us would be here today if Grandpa had not made it through World War II alive.  

Grandpa, a.k.a. "Fast Eddie," or now he prefers "Not So Fast Eddie", enlisted in the Air Force to fight in World War II at the age of 17.  He would become a Tech Sergeant and radio operator on a B-24 stationed in southern Italy.  From there, he and his crew would fly and survive 47 bombing missions over Germany, Austria, Romania, Czechoslovakia, and Yugoslavia.  I mention "survive" because this was an assignment fraught with danger.  After slightly more than a month of flying, his plane–the "Forever Amber"–would become the lead plane in their ten plane squadron.  A distinction earned when the other nine planes were shot down.  But the flight of greatest interest to Noah has always been the one in which Grandpa made the wise decision to go to the bathroom.  To do this, he would have to leave his seat right behind the cockpit and head back to the catwalk of the plane's bomb bay.  Moments later he would return to his position only to find that his seat had been blown away by enemy fire.  Needless to say, Grandpa was very relieved that he had relieved himself.

"I'm very thankful that Grandpa had to go to the bathroom," Noah would conclude at the end of the latest telling of the story.  "That was genius!"

"I'd have to agree," I replied.

"Because if Grandpa hadn't peed he would have died.  Isn't that right?" he continued.  

"I'd have to agree again," I responded with real gratitude.

"And you wouldn't be here, would you Papa?  And I definitely wouldn't be here!  And that makes me always thankful for Grandpa."

That, and the fact that he's a wonderful grandfather.

Grandpa Photo
On this Veteran's Day here in the U.S., and on similar days in whatever country you live in, please take the time to show your respect to those men and women in uniform who sacrifice so much to protect us and defend the freedom we hold dear. And even if you don't always agree with the conflicts they fight in, always let them know that you honor their service above self.

We succeed in business and in life by being willing to do whatever it takes to protect those we choose to serve.  Maybe we can learn more than we ever imagined from those who are willing to put their lives on the line–knowing how fine the line is between life and death.

And heartfelt thanks to my Dad, the call of nature, and all of the veterans and active duty military personnel around the world who serve us.  May the year ahead bring you closer to peace.