How not to answer: “What is your greatest weakness?” at an interview.



Interviewer:  And what is your greatest weakness?

Candidate: My Honesty.

Interviewer: I don’t think honesty is considered a weakness.

Candidate: I don’t give a damn what you think.




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Gorden Ramsey and the Karate Kid walk into a bar…full of Marines

If you want to lead you must first learn to follow. Ben Franklin said that.

And if you want to be a Corporal in the Marines, you have to be a Private first.

How about a famous Chef? You’ll peel potatoes long before you’re the next Wolfgang Puck. And you’ll learn to wash dishes and make gravy for a Gordon Ramsey before you ever run a kitchen.

That’s just how it works. Follow first, lead second.

But in business we hire college graduates to manage because they have a degree. Why is that?

At last count there are a trillion-and-six books on leadership. There are countless coaches, and seminars, and gurus teaching the art of management.

Do you know what they have in common? They’re geared for people who never practiced following. They’re designed to replace doing with reading.

 “But I had a job all through College” you argue.

Oh? Did you take a job to learn the art of work – or for Friday night beer money? Because just showing up isn’t enough. Did you work with the goal of being worthy of promotion? That’s what Marines and Chefs do. They do time learning to be worthy of leading.

Follow a leader, and you learn to lead.

In The Karate Kid, Mr. Miaggi didn’t teach Jersey Shore to block kicks. He taught him to move his hands. Peeling potatoes and washing dishes are the kitchen equivalent of wax on.

“Yes, Sir” and cleaning latrines are the Marine equivalent of wax off. Until Daniel-san learned to follow, he could never hope to lead or succeed. It wasn’t until he obeyed that he became the best…around.

Companies which hire from within, selecting grunts who prove they can follow, are well run and successful. A business degree is no more qualification to manage than a uniform makes a Marine, or a cookbook makes a Chef. It isn’t the title – it’s what it took to get the title that’s important.

Corporals and Chefs are leaders because of the steps it takes to become one.

If you must read a book on leadership, find one that teaches you to follow and get that part down. Only then will you be fit for command.

And if you want good managers, find your best followers and train them to lead.

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A tragedy was unfolding at the booth behind me:


Waitress: And what can I get for him, Chicken Tenders?

Mom: No, he doesn’t like those.

Waitress: Hamburger?

Mom: Uh, no; he’s a picky eater. Do you have a kid’s quesadilla?

Waitress: How about a grilled cheese? It comes with carrots or fries.

Mom: No, he doesn’t like crust, and he won’t eat vegetables.


Meanwhile, at another table just across the room:

Mom: Chicken Tenders will be fine. Can we have carrots instead of fries?

Waitress: Sure.

Little Boy: Aw, mom. I don’t like carrots.

Mom: Yes, you do.

Whenever I meet a kid who’s a picky eater I assume it’s because someone told him he was. Not necessarily to his face, but the kid might have heard mom say “He doesn’t like vegetables” – and believed it.

This isn’t a parenting lecture.  It’s about how we live up to expectations. We also sink to them.

“He doesn’t eat vegetables” later on becomes: “He’s not good at math,” and guess what then? You have a kid who can’t count the calories in a Whopper meal. And he’s learned to say what else he can’t do.

“I’m not good at names” is a common, self-defeating, adult version.

You know why you aren’t good at names? It’s because you say you aren’t. You’re psyching yourself out.

In the morning of a new fence job I tell the guys: This is going to be a nice fence—and that’s what it turns out to be.

 And when there’s a rocky day ahead I say: This is easier than it looks. Turns out I’m usually right.

But oddly, when I happen to say: This is gonna’ be hard—I’m also usually right.

I read once how to carry a full cup of coffee. If you think to yourself: “don’t spill it” you’re still using the words …spill it and you’re open to suggestion. The real trick is thinking: easy, easy, easy – or something else phrased in the positive.

 Be careful is better than don’t slip. Do well beats don’t mess up. Use the affirmative saying when it’s an option.

So if you want a resolution this year try this: Say optimistic things.  You’ll be surprised how often they become reality.

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Marketing: Less is so much more

Get your five-second degree


It seems like everyone’s in marketing these days, and that makes sense. We’re all peddling our wares 24/7 so we might as well use the moniker. The only umbrage I take with it is that many marketing experts couldn’t advertise their way out of a paper bag.

Good for those of us who can, I guess, but I’d like to see if I can make things easier for the novices.

As in any field, there are simply tons of buzz words and jargon to try to pick up and understand. But like most other fields, the buzz words and jargon just muddy the water. Just to get you in the mood, here’s a quick sample:

  • Positioning
  • Organic
  • Branding
  • Buzz
  • Alignment
  • Viral

Those are all great words, and I’m sure that in some situations they can be very helpful in conveying a message, but here’s the thing: marketing is so much simpler than that.

Let’s learn by example.

As you drive around Denver you will see what may be the most perfect marketing piece ever created. Denver Water has a billboard with a man’s hand holding a very small garden hose sprayer. The tag-line: Use less.

If you want a five-second degree in marketing, here it is: A picture is worth a thousand words.

Denver water has written their message “Please Conserve Water,” and taken the words away. No matter how fast you drive past the sign you get it. Maybe not right away, but within seconds that light bulb goes on. You are visualizing the message they want you to get: Use Less Water.

I drive on I-70 every day and see another variant of the sign, a hand turning off a very small spigot. Just past that sign is another billboard, this one for a casino. I guess this casino has some new slot machines called “Pharaoh” or something like that. A picture of the machine is on the left with some text about slot machines; the casino logo is on the right along with some more text about the casino; and in the center is the smallish statement “Tell your Mummy about our new slot machines.”

The problem with this billboard is that you can’t read everything.  The “Tell Your Mummy about our new slot machines” is on the right track, but probably too long. The point of the phrase is to be clever, right?  – And to associate mummies with Pharaoh slot machines – and ultimately to get you to the casino floor.

That’s what the billboard should be: A picture of the slot machine with the word “New,” the Casino logo to identify the owner of the new slot machines, and the catch phrase put as simply as possible: “Tell Your Mummy.”

That’s it, just: “Tell Your Mummy.” The rest of the phrase, “…about our new slot machines,” a waste of space. Who cares what they ‘tell their mummy’ about? You’re just being funny, not giving real directions.

Here’s some rationale behind these changes: Consumers who care about new slot machines already know where your casino is, you just want them to 1) remember your name and 2) that you have new slot machines. Your actual message is also very simple: 1) Our casino, 2) has new slots, 3) clever short phrase. Everything else has to go.

So there you are. In one mile on westbound I-70 you can learn everything you need to know about marketing. Take a look at your own advertising and try to trim it down a bit. Give your audience credit for knowing how to find you, and for having the intelligence to make leaps to understand what you’re saying. Figure out your message, make it as short as possible, then stop. You’ve finished.

Marketing is brevity. An image is best if you can paint one like Denver Water did, but words will do as long as you remember the billboard and Use Less.

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The secret to customer satisfaction

It’s not a trick or a gimmick


After fencing for 21 years, I’m considered an old timer in my industry.  I’ve seen new companies sprout up daily – rarely lasting more than a season or two – started by former industry workers who think owners have it so easy. They often approach me to learn the secrets, and the question I’m most often asked is: “How are you so good at keeping the customer happy?”

I give them the secret:

  1. We tell the customer exactly what’s going to happen.
  2. We tell them exactly when it’s going to happen.
  3. We do what we said we’d do.

There’s no trick and no gimmick. The key to customer satisfaction is setting the right expectation before the sale.

This starts with, and is largely determined by, the salespeople. While it’s in their personal interest to sell the moon, if your company makes only hardboiled eggs, then you’re sure to ruffle some feathers. Your sales staff (and you, in most cases) must be willing to risk losing sales in order to be upfront about your product’s shortcomings.

So there’s the dilemma. If you have to choose, do you pick massive sales or happy customers? Those who deal in manufactured goods have it easy in this respect – every package contains the same item – it’s the trades and service providers who have trouble managing expectations. Customers are buying a company and an expectation.

So who are the unhappy customers?

Unhappy customers are always disappointed customers. I thought it would be bigger (or brighter or yellower.)  When Mrs. Jones thinks she’s buying A and you give her B, it’s all going to end in tears. If you want to keep her happy, you have to be sure that you and Mrs. Jones share the same expectation – and that you give her nothing less.

At my firm, we’re a little bit dishonest. We try to show samples from the lower end of the spectrum. It’s like the saying “under promise, over deliver,” but we actually under-under promise. The beauty is that when the material comes in at a lesser quality than we’d like, it’s still as good as the sample and everyone is, if not happy, at least satisfied. And when the customer gets more than they expect (better than the sample – the standard thing) they become evangelists.

Running a business is easier when you don’t worry about callbacks and complaints. It took me a lot of years to learn, but the only way I’ve found to achieve this state of bliss is to dedicate your company to 1) Being completely honest about what you’ll deliver, and 2) Delivering it when you said you would.

I’d like to mention that I doubt having overly specific contracts and swaths of fine print is the answer. While it ensures expectations are documented, everyone feels pressured to meet the minimums rather than doing the best they can do.  When I say “Set Expectations,” I’m talking about hand-on-the-shoulder eye-to-eye communication between you and the customer. It’s fine to write it down after, but you need to have “the talk” in person.

I doubt there’s a way to make every customer happy every time (I still can’t do it), but setting expectations and meeting them should be the target we’re aiming for.

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Sales for dummies: Enough about you

What can you do for me?


Several months ago, I learned Word Press to remake my own website because I was tired of waiting for help when I needed to update content. After I finished creating it, I realized that my layout was flat, colorless and boring.

So I advertised for assistance to fix the website I had nicknamed “Nebraska:” I need some help making my website “pop.” I built it myself, but I don’t know that much about the Word Press features. If you want to see it before you respond, it’s: www. My

Within two hours, I received a ton of responses: 37 to be exact.  But here’s the thing – only one of them mentioned my site or my specific problem:

Your site is already well-built; I like the humor and the layout.  To give it some “pop,” the first thing that comes to mind is the color scheme.  I would integrate some of the graphics on the book cover into the site. I can give you a full list of ideas. I typically work for $20-$30 an hour and have my designs ready for review within a couple of days.  I can send you a couple of links of professional sites that I have created and currently maintain if you are interested.  Thanks,

This person spoke to my issue specifically. He said what he liked, and he made a suggestion. He answered pertinent questions that I didn’t ask, knowing it was information I’d need to make a wise decision.
The other 36 responders did something entirely different – and wrong. They talked about themselves and their qualifications, listing websites they’d built, and they dropped client names like Josh McDaniel dropped home games:

I saw your ad on Craigslist and understand you are looking for Website Design and Development work.
I have created lots of Landing Pages / Websites for many companies/ end-users in the past year. Please have a look at my recently developed sites with logos: (list of 16 recognizable companies). I hope these sample sites gives you fair idea about our designs. Please tell me how we can proceed further.
I look forward to working with you.

Who they’ve helped before is of no interest; I want to know that they can help ME. I understand their strategy: reply to every job hoping to get a small percentage of them. This wide net approach may help a corporation increase overall sales, but an individual salesman needs to target a single fish if he wants any chance of eating.

Sales is all about matching up your solution with their need, and you can do this only by caring enough to listen and understand. Have you ever walked up to an ice cream truck and heard the guy say: I’ve been selling cones for 30 years, or, I’ve sold rocket pops to the mayor? Nope. He wonders what flavor I want and makes a recommendation. He already understands why my raggedy kids and I have been chasing him for the last six blocks – I have a need. This is sales 101, and it applies whether you’re selling hot air balloons, insurance or ice cream cones.

This principle applies to getting a job as well – which I’ll assume all the Craigslist responders were trying to do. Your first words should address the customer (interviewer’s) needs, explaining how you understand what they’re looking for. But first, you’ll have to find out what their needs are. And you can’t do that while you’re yammering on about yourself.

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Be Your own Great Boss

We all dream of being our own boss, but only some of us have made it a reality. For those who haven’t made the jump yet: Come on in, the water’s fine.
If you want to beat the odds and have your small business succeed though, it will depend entirely on you. Here are the 10 things you have to do well:

1. Sell. Not just your product, and not just to your customer. You are selling yourself to investors, your plan to your employees, and your expertise to everyone. Unless you know how to sell ideas, you aren’t ready to be on your own.

2. Deliver on time, what you promised, every time. The surest way to lose a customer is to under deliver.

3. Market effectively (and wisely). Your message is critical. What are you selling, math? So are all the other accountants. What you need to sell is convenience, or speed, or accuracy, or a friendly face. Find out what you really sell in addition to arithmetic, and make that your marketing message.

4. Prioritize everything. If you think you need to run out and buy fancy equipment, you’re probably wrong. Take the accountant, for instance: all she really needs is a pencil and her knowledge. When she’s made a sale, she can buy a calculator (to make the next job quicker). After the next sale she can buy a business card (to make getting customers easier). Decide what the minimum requirements are for you and stick with those until you begin making money.

5. Produce your paycheck. This depends entirely on how much you can accomplish. Find ways to be more productive without sacrificing quality. (Remember: If there isn’t time to do it right the first time, you’ll always find time to do it over.)

6. Spend wisely. You will be swamped with calls from people selling everything from copiers to seminars. If you stick with the essentials, you’ll see you don’t need most of what they’re peddling.

7. Adapt. Things happen. You have to overcome the obstacles and deliver what you promised to deliver.

8. Recognize opportunity. This one takes practice. Legitimate opportunities rarely show up at your door with a sign on. They’re found when you recognize a need and find a way to fill it. Say your flower shop is next to an architect and you notice a courier comes by every day to pick up plans. You have a delivery van. Go talk to them, maybe you can deliver their plans while you’re out.

9. Manage time. You have work to do. Unless you can find a way to be efficient, you’ll have some needlessly long days ahead of you. Priorities come into play here.

10. Sell. Have you heard this one before? Read every book on sales that you can find, and practice, practice, practice.

Self-employment can be a rewarding experience, but it can also ruin you. Prior to sinking your life savings into a startup, find out if you can do it with half as much. You probably can. Lots of successful businesses have started with $100 and an idea. That being said, a small business can be remarkably easy to start – provided you stop dreaming and start doing. And stay smart.

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Why We Won’t Be Talking Politics

If I were in politics, reporters would have a field day. “I see, Mr Sneed, that you support restricting payment for dental losses – so why is it that in 1975 you left three molars under your pillow and collected $1.50?”

They got me. I did used to believe in a tiny winged woman who paid me to lose teeth.

Here is a partial list of other things I’ve believed at some point:

  • Santa Clause is real (When I was 9)
  • I know everything about driving  (16)
  • I know everything about women  (18)
  • Might makes right (20)
  • Homosexuals are going to hell (22)
  • Anyone can get ahead if they try hard enough (24)
  • Politicians are selfless (25)
  • It matters what wine you drink with pork (28)
  • America is a Plutocracy (40)
  • I know nothing about women (42)

Some I still believe, and some are complete nonsense, but at the time I knew each to be true as the sun setting in the west. There’s a booming tattoo removal industry for a reason. When you’re 22, you’re sure that a snake-wrapped skull will always look good on your forearm. It won’t, but you don’t know that yet.

Our strongest opinions also were inked sometime in our youth, and we stick to them only because they stick to us. My belief in the destiny of gay people wasn’t one I chose – I learned it before I could think for myself. Just like I learned that Kennedy was killed by the mafia, and the government leaked Area 51’s location so that no one would think to look for Area 52 (which is still true – probably.)

In a time when Left is Left, Right is Right, and never the twain shall meet, I live right on the border. I believe I’ve finally reached a point where I’m not a zealot for anyone’s cause. I see merits to the views of the right, and I get where the left is coming from, too. But even when I can’t grasp why you think what you do, I know it isn’t because you’re always wrong – it’s because I filter what you’re saying through my own tattoos.

As I get older, I find I don’t want to associate with people who are fervent about politics – especially those rabid types who were born into a party and, by God, they’ll die in it.  It makes me think they haven’t learned anything about life.  And that’s a shame.

I see how one can become xenophobic, or homophobic, or Islamaphobic. I understand the fear of God and the freedom of atheism. I’ve felt crushed dreams and the desire to blame.  I understand vegans and cattlemen, global warming and SUVs.

No one knows the right answer, so the best we can hope for are politicians who understand that the best decision they can make, the best policy they can promulgate, is one which is easy to correct when a better way is found. We should hope for a leader who is smarter today than he was yesterday, and one who’s willing to change his beliefs when new information is learned.

Anyone who wants to change my mind on a political issue would do well to create a rational, calm argument – and present it gently. Rabble rousers, fanatics and those who think my views will be reversed by force and volume are wasting their time.

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Hit Them With The Carrot

When it comes to motivating employees, save on your stick budget and just hit them with the carrot.

That may sound glib, but I’m serious. Here’s a specific technique that’s effective for both discipline and motivation – two things so intertwined they might as well be one. Let me stress that the tool you’re about to get needs a light heart and parental attitude; even though the goal is a serious and important one.

The first step (after identifying the problem employee) is to have a brief conversation in that person’s workspace. Doing it there is less intimidating and more nonchalant than your office (the less chalant, the better).

Now, without naming a particular issue, mention something about how office-wide morale seems to be slipping and you have to discipline someone as an example.

Follow that immediately with: “From now on, whenever someone lacks enthusiasm, they’ll have to go to lunch with me. It won’t be fun, but I have to nip this in the bud.”  You’re hinting that this employee is the sacrificial lamb and not the one at fault, keeping it less adversarial.

The tone of your voice is important here. You want to be exaggerating “stern authority figure” with a touch of smile so that you seem to be almost kidding.

A free meal is a bit of a carrot, of course, but you’re making it out to be a stick. Lunch is the perfect place to ignore the work problem. Instead, connect on a personal level. Enjoy a nice lunch as almost equals – as long as you maintain the boss/employee distinction.

As you drive back to work (you’ve wisely chosen a place far, far away), you need to ask if the employee has “learned his lesson.” Do it in the fake stern voice with a fake stern face. This broaches the real reason for lunch in a light and friendly way.

You now have the time and opportunity to say: “But seriously, is everything alright at work?” and find out what the problem is.

Your employee’s lack of effort might be as simple as feeling unnoticed. But you’ve just spent two hours together, and that means a lot. If it’s a different reason, you can solve it right then because the lines of communication are as open as they’ll ever be.

From then on, you two will have a special rapport, and you’ll be able to motivate that employee with a simple “Do I need to take you to lunch again?” in your artificially stern voice.

This is childish and silly, right? Well, so is just about every issue managers deal with – and that’s unlikely to change any time soon.

Leaders lead, and sometimes that means taking out your teeth. Punishment can be dealt so that leniency isn’t seen as weakness. As long as they know that underneath the faux stern is real stern – the point will be gotten.

This isn’t right for every situation or every employee – and it may not work more than once per staff member – but I urge you to try it. As long as the employee knows you’re willing to hit them with it, a carrot can be your most effective tool for both motivation and discipline.

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We Still Have Quality, We Just Don’t Have Patience

On my credenza sits a tulipwood box made in 1738 by E.S. I know the date and builder because he carved these facts into the base. Several weeks ago I pointed out the craftsmanship to an unimpressed visitor who explained: “Well, they had a lot more time back then.”

It’s easy to believe the dated box in my office was built in a slower era, and that quality and craftsmanship are in short supply only because of our hectic lives. Easy to believe, but wrong.  To begin with, we have the night time. None of us remembers life before Edison’s miracle bulb so we forget that night is a recent luxury.  While it’s true our forefathers had great night vision, their ability to work after dark still depended on the fullness of the moon.

Not only do we have twice the workable hours, we have more days.  The Colonial farmer (and everyone was a farmer in 1738) could expect to live for 46 years. Today’s man is just reaching his prime at 46, and nearly ready to take life seriously.

And remember: Colonial man was a farmer – and all that that entails. He built the farmhouse, the barns and the mill, cleared the fields of tree and rock, plowed, cared for the animals, harvested the crop, and hunted to supplement the larder. The tools our ancestor used he made himself – there was no big box store just down the lane. And before he could make the tools, he had to build the forge and workshop to make the tools in.

Oh, and none of that happened on a Sunday. He had 10 hours a day, 6 days a week, for 46 years. Math-wise, that’s 145k hours. A man today who doesn’t have to hunt or farm, or go to church, has 16 hours for 72 years – or 420k hours.

We live three times longer than the man in 1738 and have a lot less to do, so the question is: Where did the quality go, and why?

I think we never lost the ability to produce quality; what we really lost was patience and ownership.

E.S. patiently built a toolbox to protect the tools he made himself. He cared for them because time was too valuable to waste, and the tools too valuable to lose. He felt the true ownership that only comes from creation.

Today we can buy a $10 hammer any day of the week. As the price goes down, so does the quality since the hammer doesn’t need to last beyond this nail. We don’t have a personal connection to the hammer, so its short life doesn’t bother us either. And before you go thinking I have a vendetta against cheap hammers – maybe you think one killed my pa or something – I don’t. The hammer represents everything else we buy.

As a general rule we give up quality for quantity. By accepting a cheaper hammer, we can afford a cheap saw as well, even though we know that neither is built to last.

And we want instant gratification. In 1738, a farmer who was planning to build a barn would cut the timber years in advance to let the wood season. He planned ahead and waited. That doesn’t happen today for either makers or users. Shareholders and customers won’t wait for wood to season any more than I’ll wait for a homemade pizza. Totino’s will be ready in 20 minutes and, although I know it’s just better than cardboard, I’m willing to trade quality for time.

And that’s the dilemma we face as business owners. Should I pay a worker for two hours to make a quality product when he can make a decent product in one? The economics of capitalism say no, at least if the marketing department does their job and sells our decent wares. As a consumer, is it worth the price and time doubling to get a better pizza?

Whatever discussion we have of quality, let’s leave time out of it. We have plenty of time to do a job correctly. The proper question to ask is: Is it worth it to me and my brand to do something the right way just because it’s the right way?


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And That’s Why We Always Leave A Note

Timothy Treadwell loved grizzly bears.


This New York born romantic summered along Alaskan salmon streams, filming himself at the wildest, free-rangiest petting zoo on Earth. Most of his videos show him trembling with excitement as he explains why a furry, 900 pound assassin is nuzzling at his pocket. “I understand the bears,” he’d giggle moronically, “And they understand me.”


Biologists and Park Rangers, people who actually understand a thing or two about bears, warned Treadwell that fondling the overly clawed omnivores was dangerous. “They’ll eat you Timothy” the biologists said. “They’ll eat you” hinted the annoyed Rangers. Then, in October of 2003, the thinkable happened. A bear ate Timothy Treadwell.


Some quick-witted REI types will point out that there’s a lesson here: you can’t trust a grizzly bear. But that isn’t really useful, is it? I mean, we all already knew that. I wouldn’t lend a bear $2 ‘till payday, let alone have him over for a weekend bbq. There’s a better lesson here, a life and business lesson, which is: We should learn from the experience of others.


Think back to our primitive past. When the first cave man picked up a pit viper and died moments later in what appeared to be intense pain, the entire neighborhood understood the world just that little bit better. “Don’t pick up the pit vipers,” they’d laugh, “or you’ll end up like Richard over there.” Cavemen had an odd sense of humor. And if they had pencils or an alphabet, one of them would have written a book detailing the demise of Dick the Bold. There is no mistake that hasn’t already been made  –  and written about.


We humans have evolved as the dominant species because we can learn from each other. That and we have opposable thumbs. Unlike Timothy Treadwell, who had thumbs but not common sense, most of us don’t have to be mauled to know that a bear is not a toy.


Obvious, I know, but why then did Timothy become breakfast?  Why do we all keep making the same mistakes?


In Timothy’s case it’s because his ignorance was shrouded by success. The first time he snuggled up to a bear and survived, he confused blind luck with knowledge. For the rest of us, we forget that there isn’t anything new under the sun. We don’t have to repeat the mistakes of others.


Young people are especially prone to avoidable mistakes, but by no means do they have a monopoly. It’s worth the time it takes to do some research – whether you’re thinking of getting a tattoo, or starting an employee training program. Don’t look at just the benefits; learn the detriments too, and make a decision based on facts and experience – even if it’s someone else’s experience.


Bookstores are overflowing with 2,000 years of wisdom. Whatever you can think of to do, someone else has already tried it. Read their story and save yourself some time, grief, and possibly internal organs.

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Yar Matey

Have you ever seen a nautical movie and dreamed of living a sailor’s life? We dream that silly dream because we don’t really understand how hard their job was.

No matter how cold and wet you were (very and always), you still had to do the back-breaking work – and on a terrible diet, too! Imaging being 100 feet up a telephone pole during a hurricane, except the pole is attached to a skateboard and your job is to tie ropes together. No gloves, no shoes, and wet, cold rope. And all you had to eat that day was bread that required soaking in water just to make it digestible.

You did this every day for two years. Your home when you weren’t working (8 hours per day) was a dark, moldy corner at the bottom of the ship. Oh and when you wore through your clothes? You made your new ones from ruined sails, or a roll of fabric you brought on board when you left Boston a year ago.

Surprisingly, sailors usually went about their work with pep in their step.

If it was possible to get a crew to want to work under these conditions, how hard can it be to get Cindy from accounting to stop annoying everyone and just do her job?

Of course they used the stick a lot back then – a whip in fact. And it was perfectly legal. The Captain had authority like no other boss, but surprisingly, the stick was an ineffective motivator.

A crew that felt hard done by could retaliate by working at a ‘normal’ speed.  (they were just as petty in the 18th century as we are today, after all). If you’ve ever “showed them” by doing an absurdly thorough job  to make a 10 minute task take 3 hours, you know what I’m talking about.

Or the crew could also really embarrass their Captain by being methodical when docking (a job that requires split-second timing) and cause the ship to smack into the dock or another boat. And the Captain couldn’t punish someone for doing his job thoroughly, now could he?

All this in mind, the first officer (who was really the chief motivation officer) needed to find better ways to pep up his crew. One way was singing.

Recentstudies (and this one) have shown that singing works (Marching To The Beat Of The Same Drummer Improves Teamwork (Association for Psychological Science, 28 January, 2009) and Is there a dark side to moving in sync? (Science Daily, USC Marshall School of Business, 11 January, 2012)), and so does marching and chanting.

While hauling up an anchor chain, for instance, a song was worth two men. The rhythm of the tune and camaraderie it encouraged, got everyone to work in unison – and nothing lightens a load like cooperation, something no whip can force.

To apply this principle today, your office doesn’t have to sound like a pirate bar on a Friday night. Any type of cooperative task works – even if it’s taking a walk or doing a community crossword puzzle. According to studies, the team bond forged during these tasks remains when the employees go back to their desks.

Sailors have an expression: when they wanted to do something quickly, they did it “with a will.”

The role of a leader is to get his crew to act “with a will,” and if it takes a song, sing. Eat together, or sit around and just talk – almost anything works as long as it’s fun and requires participation.  As the leader of a team, it’s up to you to get that team pulling in unison, and you can use proven psychology to your advantage. If you aren’t in charge yet, use this technique to become the de facto team leader and soon the title will follow.

Unfortunately you can’t beat your employees anymore, so you need to get them to sing instead and they will want to pull “with a will.”

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What Not to do at Subway

A couple years ago I took my daughter to lunch. I won’t say where but, if you want a hint, its name is a way to get around (and, oddly enough, they sell a meat/bread product named for a different form of conveyance).

This was my first time here and I was nervous.  Everything looked good, but the smell of fresh baked goodness was driving me crazy. Could I order just the bread? Do they serve butter? Unwilling to risk embarrassment, I ordered a ham sandwich.

The rest of the encounter went like this:

Me: ½, on white.

Him: Ham you said?

Me: Yes. But that’s too much meat. I only want half of that.

Him: I can’t do that, sir.

Me:  Ha ha, but seriously, that’s too much ham for me.

Him: I still have to put it all on.

Me: I’d rather you didn’t.

Him: Sir, it comes with this much ham.

At this point, I saw a problem developing.

Me: I’ll pay for all of it. I’m not trying to get a cheaper sandwich – I only want half of the ham.

Him: But then you won’t be getting what you pay for.

Me: I’ll worry about that. Just throw half of the meat away.

I’m in my problem-solver pants now.

Him: I can’t just throw meat away.

Me: Then keep it. What do I care? Take it home and feed it to your cats. (He struck me as a cat guy for some reason.)  I just don’t want all that ham.

Him: That doesn’t sound right. I HAVE to put all the meat on. Why don’t you just take it off after I give it to you?

Now he’s problem solving.

Me: I could do that, but then it’ll have mayonnaise on it. Why don’t you just not put it on in the first place?

Him: Sir, you’re making a scene. Do you want the sandwich or not?

Me: I don’t think I do.

My request seemed reasonable at the time.  I was, after all, the customer, and it isn’t like he was Henry Ford and I was asking for a white Model T. As I drove away with my laughing hysterically daughter, I wondered if my company also does this. Do we make it hard for a customer to do business with us?


Our internet contact form was a nightmare. When someone wanted an estimate, we’d ask for more than just their email address. And if any of the info, their phone number for instance, didn’t fit the xxx-xxx-xxxx  format, they had to start over. Why?


The marketing people said that data is king and the more we know about Joe Customer, the better we can sell to him. Granted, that’s probably true, but we made it hard to contact us – and God only knows how many people threw up their hands and x’d right off of our webpage. They couldn’t get less ham.


Not anymore. I now try to make everything easy for customers because, when I do, I don’t have to worry about selling them anything. They’ll come back on their own when they’re good and ready. If I get their phone number great, maybe I’ll call them – but they emailed us and probably prefer an email response anyway.


My goal though, right now, is to make it easy for them to get whatever they want, right now.

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What a Bear Mauling Can Teach Us (besides humor)

Timothy Treadwell loved grizzly bears.


This New York born romantic spent his summers camped along Alaskan salmon streams, filming himself at the wildest and free-rangiest petting zoo on Earth. Most of his videos show him trembling with excitement as he explains why a furry, 900 pound assassin is nuzzling at his pocket. “I understand the bears,” he’d giggle moronically, “And they understand me.”


Biologists and Park Rangers, people who actually understand a thing or two about bears, warned Treadwell that fondling these heavily clawed omnivores was dangerous. “They’ll eat you Timothy” the biologists told him. “They’ll eat you Timothy” hinted the annoyed Rangers. Then, in October of 2003, the thinkable happened. A bear ate Timothy Treadwell.


Some quick-witted outdoorsmen will point out that there’s a lesson here: you can’t trust a grizzly bear. But that isn’t really useful, is it? I mean, we all already knew that. I wouldn’t lend a bear $2 ‘till payday, let alone have him over for a weekend bbq. There’s a better lesson here, a life and business lesson, which is: We should learn from the experience of others.


Think back to our primitive past. When the first cave man picked up a pit viper and died moments later in what appeared to be a lot of pain, the entire neighborhood understood the world just that little bit better. “Don’t pick up the pit vipers,” they’d laugh, “or you’ll end up like Bill over there.” Cavemen had an odd sense of humor. And if they had pencils, one of them would have written a book about it. There is no mistake you can make that hasn’t already been made – and written about.


We humans have evolved as the dominant species because we can learn from each other (and we have thumbs.) Unlike Timothy Treadwell, who had the thumbs but not the common sense, most of us don’t have to be mauled to know that a bear is not a toy.


Obvious, I know, but why then did Timothy become breakfast?  Why do we all keep making the same mistakes?


In Timothy’s case it’s because his ignorance was shrouded by his success. The first time he took a kissy-face picture with a bear and survived, he confused blind luck with knowledge. For the rest of us, we forget that there isn’t anything new under the sun. We don’t have to repeat the mistakes of others.


Young people are especially prone to making avoidable mistakes. It’s worth the time it takes to do some research, whether you’re thinking of getting a tattoo or starting an employee training program. Don’t look at just the benefits, learn the detriments too and make a decision based on facts and experience, even if it’s someone else’s experience.


Bookstores are overflowing with 2,000 years of wisdom. Whatever you can think of to do, someone else has already tried it. Read their story and save yourself some time, grief, and possibly skin.

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Are You There God? It’s Me, Tim Tebow

God, apparently, is a Broncos fan. That’s good news because ever since Elway left (and someone thought Josh McDaniel was a football coach) we’ve needed the help. Of course, to be completely honest, I don’t believe much of what I’ve written so far.

Let me be upfront about this: God doesn’t care who wins a football game. If it turned out that he does have a favorite team he’s going to lose a lot of out-of-town Christians, and He’s a better businessman than that. God also doesn’t care if you get that promotion, if your business succeeds or if you win the lottery.

That’s not to say there is no correlation between Tim Tebow’s faith and the Broncos’ ridiculous winning streak though.

In Matthew 17:20, Jesus explains to a couple of disciples why they are having trouble casting out a demon:

Because of your unbelief: for verily I say unto you, if you have faith as a grain of mustard seed, you shall say unto this mountain, remove from here to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you.

Jesus doesn’t mean they don’t have faith in God, but that they don’t have faith in themselves. The mustard seed is the underdog of seeds, but because the mustard seed believes it can grow, it grows to be the biggest of all the herbs. With that kind of faith, Jesus says, you can move a mountain or beat da Bears in overtime.

Tim Tebow prays for victory (or strength, or whatever), and each time the prayer seems to be answered it isn’t because God wants Tebow to win, it’s answered because Tebow believes it’ll be answered. He has the faith that Jesus was talking about in the mountain parable.

Does that sound familiar? It should. You’ve probably heard this quote from Thomas Edison:

“Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right.”

Thomas Edison and Jesus are saying the same thing, and it applies to everything we do.

If you think you’ve had faith before and it didn’t work, you may have confused “faith” with “hope.” Faith is hope on steroids. If you’re looking for a promotion, feel free to “hope” you get one soon, and eventually you might.

If you have FAITH you’ll get a promotion though, and BELIEVE enough in the power of whatever you pray to, you’re more likely to get it. Why? Because of the changes that you’ve subconsciously made in your attitude as a result of your faith. Your belief that you are promotion ready will affect the things that you do, and it’s those changes that make you promotion ready in reality – not the prayer for a better job, or the belief in a supernatural being.

Tim Tebow believes so strongly in God that it affects everything around him. Christians will tell you that it’s the God part that makes the difference, but it isn’t. It’s Tebow’s belief that all things are possible if you believe they are. It’s his mustard seed belief in himself – the same faith that anyone, regardless of religious preference, can use to make themselves more confident and willing to tackle challenges.

Positive thinking doesn’t always work, as we’ll see the next time the Broncos lose and the quarterback is asked “Did you lose because you didn’t pray hard enough?” But it works well enough that you can’t find a quote anywhere that contradicts Thomas Jefferson:

Nothing can stop the man with the right mental attitude from reaching his goal; nothing on earth can help the man with the wrong mental attitude.” 

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