The Power of the Unexpected

Greetings.  Our middle daughter Carly, who is currently in the ninth grade, has a new favorite joke that she loves to tell to family and friends.  It goes like this:

There were two muffins in the oven.  The first one turns to the other and says "It sure is getting hot in here."  To which the second responds (with a sense of astonishment) "Look, it's a talking muffin!"

Now I know it's not the deepest or most sophisticated joke you've ever heard.  But it is a joke you can tell to anyone…unless they have a clear aversion to muffins or to talking muffins in particular.  More importantly, it becomes even funnier as Carly tells it, because this simple joke causes her to crack up with each new telling.

Which causes me to think about this joke in a whole new light…or maybe a couple of new lights.  First, there's something wonderfully contagious about laughter and we probably don't have enough of it in our companies and organizations.  

Laughter that breaks the ice in challenging situations.  

Laughter that connects people and helps to build teamwork and collaboration.  

Laughter that energizes us to stretch and think in new and more compelling ways.

Laughter that demonstrates our shared humanity in good and difficult times.  

Laughter that is simple, honest, positive, a bit goofy and only offends the relatives of talking muffins.

Second, we need to continually surround ourselves with people who are quick to spot the "obvious" that most of us fail to notice.  People who are less concerned with the essential challenges we face and way more focused on the unique talents we might have for solving them.  People who can readily recognize and encourage the remarkable abilities or their co-workers and our organization. People who, by their nature, can quickly spot something different and unexpected that also happens to be meaningful.


We win in business and in life when we take a totally different look at something that seems obvious.  And when we use that unique vantage point to create a world of new possibilities.


Having a Bad Day?

Greetings.  A few moments after the New England Patriots barely defeated the Baltimore Ravens to win the American Football Conference championship, star quarterback Tom Brady said during his first post-game interview:  

"I sucked pretty bad today but our defense saved us."  

It was a simple and very honest admission by one of the best players in the history of professional football.  An admission that no matter how talented we might be, or how well we prepare, sometimes we just have bad days.  But if we are lucky, our teammates cover for us.  It's essential insight for our companies and organizations as we try to innovate, accomplish more with fewer resources and work to deliver greater value to those we have the privilege to serve.  

We'd all like to be perfect every day.  But sometimes things don't work out as we've planned.  And that's just one of the reasons we need each other more than many of us are willing to admit.  Because our collective genius is a lot more powerful than our individual abilities–even on our best days.


We win in business and in life when we always look out for each other. And when we are able to admit that we've had better days.

Cheers and have a great and collaborative week ahead!

What’s On Your Walls?

Greetings.  Almost every company or organization talks about the importance of customers.  Of becoming more "customer-centric."  Of listening to the "voice of the customer."  Of "partnering with customers" to deliver greater value.  Of "walking a mile (or at least 1.5 kilometers) in the customer's shoes" to understand their world and what really matters.  Of bringing the customer "into the tent" to collaborate on new ideas and innovative ways of working together.  And some are actually taking this change seriously.  But many rarely back up their words with actions, and the walls of their offices, factories, distribution and call centers, and other workplaces quickly give them away.  Because companies focused on customers typically cover their walls with pictures of the folks they have the privilege to serve.  Pictures that provide a constant and powerful reminder of why they are in business and what it means to make a difference in the lives of customers.

It's not a hard and fast rule.  But it is a quick indicator of our commitment to customers.  And a simple way to keep reminding our own employees–i.e., the ones who serve our customers and should also merit our strongest commitment–that we are, in fact, a customer-centric organization.  Yet more often than not, my wanderings through the hallways of companies leads past interesting art, photos of new facilities, pictures of remarkable processes, charts showing progress, and motivational posters.  But very little that has to do with real live customers.

Wouldn't it be a lot more motivational to surround ourselves with pictures of our customers?  Instead of being surrounded by posters of a mountain, the sea, perfect waves of grain and sand, or a total stranger proclaiming "achieve," "collaborate," "innovate," "focus," "sharpen the ax" and the like.  Because if we can't get fired up by seeing our actual customers, why should we even come to work each day?  

The clever folks at Capital One are always asking: "What's in your wallet?"  Maybe it's time to starting asking: "What's on your walls?"

Picture frame

We win in business and in life when we never lose sight of our reason for being.  It's something that is quite easy to picture.


Winning With Values

Greetings.  I don't write about sports very often even though I am a serious sports fan.  And I rarely use sports analogies in my work even though I believe that sports offer important lessons for success in business and life.  And I rarely ever quote the coaches of top teams even though they are often exemplary leaders with important things to say.  Maybe it's because I realize that a significant percentage of readers and participants in my seminars and speeches are not sports fans and I don't want them to dismiss my ideas because they can't relate to sports.

But the remarkable story of the Butler University Bulldogs, who play tonight in the college basketball championship game against UConn (i.e., the University of Connecticut), is worth noting for several important reasons.  Because it's a story about values, leadership, teaching, teamwork, grace and skill under pressure, and the genius in everyone.  And that should be of interest to practically everyone who tunes in to this blog.

It seems that the heart of Butler's success in basketball over the past several years has not been a star player or players–though the team is not lacking for talent, but rather a set of values that are known affectionately as "The Butler Way."  Five core principles that frame the way that players are recruited, coached, developed, and educated as team members and as people.  And that frame how they interact with each other and everyone around them.  These "core" values are passion, unity, servanthood, humility, and thankfulness–and they provide a clearer and more compelling framework for success than one might ever imagine seeing for a basketball team, corporation, or any organization doing work that truly matters. But more importantly, they are lived by everyone who has anything to do with the basketball team.  And they are embodied by a coach with such high integrity that there is never a question about how to behave.

Passion.  Unity.  Servanthood.  Humility.  Thankfulness.  And whether or not the Butler Bulldogs win tonight's game, they have changed our understanding of how to compete in basketball or any other highly-competitive "arena."  And, in the process, they have created a legacy of what it means to unlock the true genius in each other.


We win in basketball, business, and life when we follow a set of values that matter.  And when we challenge ourselves to believe in the real power of teamwork.

Cheers and enjoy the game! 

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.