9 Sure-Fire Ways to Give Yourself the Finger and Wreck Your Business

You might be giving yourself the finger and not even know it. Don’t look back and realize all you needed was to get the other four in line with the one in the middle.

In 2000 we were building a fast-growing fulfillment and logistics business. I was a minority partner and had expressed my concern that we should get some backing. The majority partner felt no need to do it, even though we had an angel investor who wanted a very reasonable piece of the action.

We had some pretty nice names on our customer list, Sun Microsystems, TAP Pharmaceuticals, Johns Manville, Seagate, and a host of other not-so-large companies. After I landed a huge contract with Microsoft my partner came into my office and said, “See, aren’t you glad we didn’t take on an investor?” I replied, “No, in fact, if we don’t get one soon, we could go out of business.” The angel investor brought back an even sweeter deal my partner refused to take.

The business had grown by 420% in three years, yet even with a great profit and loss statement, we had to sell the business within nine months of landing the Microsoft contract. It was a bitter lesson. Even in a great business with wonderful growth, when one part of the business is out of balance with others, it can sink you.

Giving Ourselves The Finger

For us, it was cash flow. We had great profit on paper, but it was stretched out all over the business, and we learned the faster you grow, the less cash you will have in your bank account. It’s the most common killer of businesses.

But there are plenty of ways to spike your business, most of which will sneak up on you by looking like a plus, when they are really a minus. It’s all about balance.

Contrary to common belief, most businesses don’t go under for lack of customers. In fact, it’s almost always the opposite. The number one reason businesses fail is because they grow too fast, or more specifically, some element of the business outpaces the others. Unbalanced growth will put you out of business faster than anything else.

Krispy Kreme has been selling donuts since 1934. In 2000 the company went public and grew 840% in just three years. The stock peaked around $50 per share and then in 2003, started a free fall because the market was over-saturated with Krispy Kreme donuts. In 2009 the stock was at $1.09. The company’s production had outstripped the market demand.

Imbalance Has No Bias

I’ve seen this “unbalanced growth” issue with companies of every size. It respects no boundaries. A real estate agent can get in trouble with too much marketing and not enough cash flow. An Internet store can get in trouble with too many customers and too few suppliers. The entire airline industry is despised because of its focus on profit and a complete abandonment of customer service. This has resulted in huge growth for Southwest Airlines, which balances profits and customer service.

Ways to Give Yourself The Finger

Here’s just a partial list of things that, if not in balance with each other, can put you out of business:

Cash flow – never too much; feel free to be out of balance and be flush!

Staff – very costly to have too many OR not enough–balance!

Production – too much is expensive; too little hurts quality and/or growth

Customers – too many will cause all kinds of bad decision-making

Suppliers – production can be halted by a simple missing part

Cash flow – the #1 way to be out of balance

Facility Space – don’t bite off more than you need (or less)

Products – most often, too many can kill you; rarely, the issue is not enough

Leadership – stop micro-managing, allow & require others to decide things

Culture – “Culture eats strategy for lunch.”–Peter Drucker

Management – gut the management layers; rely on self-management

Cash flow – yes it’s on here three times; it’s that important

Cashflow Finger - the good one

Are You Paying Enough Attention?

What is your imbalance? We’re always fighting one–it’s never not an issue. No matter where you are in the business cycle, you have too much of something, and not enough of something else. And it’s not always easy to see. Take leadership as an example. Too much micro-management and not enough distributed decision-making causes good people to leave, leaving behind unmotivated “responders” who do only what they are told. It could take a year or more to wake up to that.

Grow, Baby, Grow!

Fast growth by itself is never a problem. You can grow incredibly fast as long as you make sure all aspects of your business are growing in balance with each other. But remember, lack of cash flow will put you out of business faster than any other type of imbalance.

By the way, all of this applies to your personal life, too. Read The Power of Full Engagement.

Watch Your Shop

Only the paranoid survive. Don’t give yourself the finger. Stay vigilant, stay balanced, and you can grow as fast as you want. Keep growing!

Article as seen on Inc.com

Pivotal Labs Finds Success With Self-Managed Teams

Pivotal Labs doesn’t talk about not having managers or use the term “self-management”. They just do things this way because it works so much better.

For Pivotal Labs, the only reason to have a process is to get a result. Productivity is the mantra, and it’s all based on three simple, core values: “Do what works,” “Do the right thing,” and “Be kind.” But wait, where are the managers? Oh, that’s right, there are none.

Addition, Not Subtraction

Pivotal Labs never tried to reduce or get rid of managers or create “self-managed teams.” Instead, CEO Rob Mee, who co-founded Pivotal in 1989, based his culture on extreme programming, and designed the most efficient project team structure for getting things done fast and well. It’s focused on “balanced teams,” and managers were never part of the mix. And it worked.

Today, Pivotal has over 2,000 staff members in nearly 20 locations around the globe. Clients like Twitter, Mercedes, GE, Philips, Humana, and Southwest Airlines lead a Who’s-Who list of companies that have benefited from Pivotal’s commitment to results over process. And their technologies and tools touch billions of users every day.

Pairs, Teams, and Generalists

Pivotal Labs structures their workplace very simply, with teams of people working on projects together. Pairs of programmers switch out almost daily to work with other people and on other projects. Cross-functional pairs can also be comprised of user experience (UX) and user interface (UI) designers, product managers, and engineers. Rejecting the specialized assembly line method, there is an emphasis on everyone learning how to do everything. Mee says, “At Pivotal, every developer works on every level of the system, from HTML and JavaScript to Ruby and down to the database. The argument that specialists will be better at a particular layer of the system if they’re allowed to focus on it doesn’t really hold water.”

Shaping Cultures, Not Just Building Apps

The company’s success speaks loudly to that belief, and others have taken notice. Pivotal has been credited for shaping the cultures of some of Silicon Valley’s most influential and valuable companies. This is a result of their own belief that building better software is as much about creating a better culture as it is about creating new products. So companies regularly reach out to Pivotal not just to build an app but also to get help with rebuilding their own software development cultures.

Productivity Drives the Absence of Managers

Pivotal Vice President Drew McManus says, “Few software companies truly operate as self-managed workplaces. Putting agile development principles into practice is harder than it looks. It’s not about Ping-Pong tables in the break room, but about productivity. Rather than providing Ping-Pong or other games as a ‘perk,’ they are used as strategic breaks from staring at computers by employing other motor skills. People are happiest when they are being productive, and productivity drives everything we do here.” Which is why they don’t have managers.

The idea isn’t new. In the late 1950s, Bill Gore created his company, W. L. Gore and Associates, to produce Gore-Tex fabrics and other great products. Today, Gore’s revenue is north of $3 billion annually, and it has over 10,000 staff members. Gore called it the “Lattice Organization”-if you need something from someone, go get it. Pivotal Labs didn’t study Gore, or any of the thousands of other companies running without managers. They focused on getting the best result as fast as possible, and simply arrived at the same conclusion: most corporate layers slow things down without adding value.

Empathy-Based Teamwork

But Pivotal isn’t a rugged individualist culture, either. They don’t hire programming “unicorns,” working in the middle of the night propped up by caffeine, headphones, and Doritos. If you can’t program in pairs and work as part of a team, Pivotal won’t hire you. Again, Rob Mee addresses this myth. He says the most important thing they hire for is “empathy.” “Collaboration is the most important thing we do, and it doesn’t matter how smart you are if you can’t relate to how other people think.”

Janice Fraser, director of innovation practice, says a group of people built the concept of balanced teams together in 2010. “For the best outcome, ownership should be with the team, not with one person,” she notes. As a result of the work environment they’ve built, McManus says, “Pivotal’s best sales tool is the tour, because they see people working without managers. Large corporations say, ‘I want this. Come show us how to do this.'” They’re not just writing software, they’re helping change organizational structures from traditional top-down hierarchy to teams without managers.

Conversations, Not Communications

Every company struggles with communications, but Pivotal approaches it differently. Fraser says, “Our organization is built to create conversations, not just communications. Word of mouth is the best way to communicate. So we give people lots of landing spaces and encourage interaction.” To put feet to creating conversations, Pivotal provides free breakfast every morning and everyone takes lunch at exactly the same time. They also work from “stories,” not architecture, which also facilitates conversations. “Our office sounds like an bustling caf,” says McManus. “Face to face conversations are encouraged. Pivotal Tracker also triggers conversation. Live interaction saves us a lot of time. It happens ad hoc, so we have very few meetings.”

Part of building a culture of conversation is ongoing “AMA” (ask me anything) sessions with leadership. And sideways communication is facilitated by software they developed called Feedback, short tweet-like shout-outs with timely responses. All of it is designed to eliminate latency between identifying an action item and completing it.

Trust Is Everything

Fraser sums up Pivotal’s unique culture, “Think about who else will be affected and get them involved. We all strive to act like grownups. Balanced teams works on the principle that the right decision is made by the right person who has the right information at the right time. It’s all about trust.”

That’s real leadership. And all without managers.

Article as seen on Inc.com

At Nearsoft, No Managers and Complete Freedom Create Responsibility, Not Anarchy

Leaders at Nearsoft believe that when you give people complete freedom, it makes them even more responsible, not less. It’s counter-logical, but actually very intuitive.

Superman Need Not Apply
Nearsoft in San Jose, CA is a fast-growing software development company with nearly 200 developers in the U.S. and Mexico. Roberto Martinez and Matt Perez, the co-founders, aren’t the kind of heroic activists who get featured on the front of business magazines by force of will, command and control, or by building an emotionally charged personality cult. They’ve figured out none of that is a good idea for building a great company in the emerging work world of the Participation Age.

Managerless Responsibility
Nearsoft promotes self-management and runs their company without any managers. Everyone decides for themselves what needs to be done. Roberto says, “Lack of control is the illusion people have. But when you give people true freedom to make decisions, become leaders, or solve problems, it makes them more responsible, not less. This is a very powerful statement. Everyone at Nearsoft is completely free to take care of the important things.”

Nearsoft is an early adopter to the idea that the last 150 years of top-down management was a bad idea when it worked and an even worse idea in a technology-driven world where participation and sharing attract the best people.

In 2006, Nearsoft built their company around two simple but profound assumptions: everyone is an adult and should be treated that way, and everyone wants to be responsible, not just a very few who are “in charge” of others. Julio Gonzalez, head of operations says, “At Nearsoft, leaders encourage everyone to ask questions, not permission. Trust in their desire to be responsible adults is key to our success.”

Managerless, And More Organized
Nearsoft has done a great job of grasping that the profound things are almost always simple. Nothing is complicated in the way they have built their company. But that lack of complexity is many times mistaken for lack of organization. Matt Perez emphasizes the point, “We have a governance structure. That fact that our company is very flat and democratic actually means we are MORE structured than the traditional management model. We have very clear processes for everything we do.”

Ownership By Decision-Making
Clear roles and well-defined processes are consistent with self-managed companies in every industry. The difference is that instead of having roles, responsibilities, and processes foisted on them by top-down command and control structures, the staff themselves determine who will do what and how it will get done. Development of roles and processes by those who will have to carry them out, guarantees ownership of the result. Traditionally managed companies only hope for such “engagement”.

Julio adds, “We even have people get together and form leadership teams to discuss any topic they want, and make decisions. Our entire profit-sharing structure was changed from the bottom up because people took initiative to meet and decide how to make it better. We simply facilitated the process.”

Values Actually Mean Something
Nearsoft runs on five core values: leadership, commitment, teamwork, long-term relationships, and being smart and getting things done. And they have two corresponding principles: transparency and honesty. These are not filler for annual reports, but values that everyone at Nearsoft believes in. Most companies have similar lists, but Nearsoft makes all their decisions based on whether they are aligned with these five values. Very few companies like Nearsoft truly function on an everyday basis from a list of values.

When There is No Manager, Few People Leave
Consistent with all self-managed companies, Nearsoft has extremely low employee turnover. Matt says, “One guy left to be a manager at a traditional company and was miserable. He’s back, because here, even though he isn’t a manager (no one is), he has responsibility and authority. There he was just a spokesperson for upper management. Another woman came back because her employer made her get permission to pick up her mom from an appointment. Here everyone is an adult and doesn’t need permission to take care of their families.”

Work From Anywhere
Part of being an adult is deciding where to work. Sometimes working at home is best and other times coming in to the office to collaborate is more effective. Nobody manages that, the teams decide for themselves according to Nearsoft’s working from home manifesto. Nearsoft adds to that trust in adult behavior by giving everyone the option to work from anywhere in the world for up to a month, twice a year.

Employee engagement is an ongoing buzzword problem with most companies. Nearsoft advances the idea of self-management as a key to solving that problem. And thousands of companies like them, in every industry, are moving quickly in this direction.

Give People Their Brains Back
Nearsoft’s story is a powerful lesson for all companies. If you want to grow quickly, increase profits, reduce unproductive middle management layers, and keep your best and brightest people, you might want to give them their brains back and require that everyone become a self-managed adult at work.

Article as seen on Inc.com

DaVita: a 65,000 Person Corporate Village, or Just a CEO’s Nutty Dream?

What if a global business was not a soulless profit machine, but a community, a “village” where everybody had a brain, made important decisions for the corporation, and promoted and lived in community? Could it work? It already is, and we can all learn something important from them.

In 1999, a company called Total Renal Care, a kidney dialysis provider, was nearly bankrupt. In October of that year, Kent Thiry took over as CEO and started the long road back, taking a very different course than traditional turnarounds.

Instead of a classic top-down, heavy-handed strategy, Thiry and his leadership team set a seemingly crazy course to build a more democratic company where everyone helps to make the important decisions together. Instead of telling everyone where the company needs to go, the leadership invited everyone to lead, and to work together to figure out how to right the ship. They call it the DaVita Village, and people aren’t employees, they are teammates or citizens. Sounds really squishy, but the results are dramatic.

Much of what they do flies in the face of classic MBA teaching, including how they changed their name. In 2000, thousands of teammates worked on it together and decided in a vote to become DaVita, which means “he/she gives life”. It is one of a fast-growing number of companies discarding over 100 years of management theory to try something new—asking everyone to participate together in building a great company, not for the CEO, but with him, as co-leaders, not followers.

And it’s working. DaVita’s revenue has exploded from $1.5 billion in 2001 to $12.5 billion last year. By every other measure DaVita is the kind of huge success that proponents of old-fashioned management claim can’t happen without strong, top-down command and control. Thiry and his team have rejected the classic approach, and instead created a wildly successful company by believing that the principle of shared decision-making involving everyone, will be better for the company, the customers and those who work there.

A radical new direction requires changes in core beliefs. David Hoerman, the chief wisdom officer at DaVita, says, “Our beliefs drive our behaviors, which drive our results. When we all share the same beliefs, the right behaviors follow that benefit our patients, our business and beyond. We call each other on our behaviors that don’t align with those beliefs.”

That is a key statement. DaVita has seven simple core values: Service Excellence, Integrity, Team, Continuous Improvement, Accountability, Fulfillment, and Fun. These values aren’t uncommon. Management teams regularly develop such a list, but that is exactly why they don’t have any impact, because management developed them. At DaVita, these seven values were developed by and voted into existence by the teammates. This is a simple, but dramatic departure from the norm, and explains why these values are held so deeply at every level. The simple principle DaVita employs is that those who are most affected by a decision should have a say in that decision. And when they do, they will own the outcome. In this case, everyone owns DaVita’s values because they were voted on by the people.

To encourage ongoing participation and decision-making, DaVita has a Voice of the Village call for the whole company every six to eight weeks, to listen, get ideas and feedback, and give advice on things that affect everyone. They also have online vehicles for the same purpose.

Hoerman says leaders at DaVita focus on serving others and supporting their teammates in developing their own ability to make decisions. Again, leaders say this all the time, but it’s usually lip service. Not at DaVita. “My job as a leader here is to create an environment where our teammates can step up as leaders and make good decisions.” The art of leadership is to know how few decisions the leader needs to make.

Why is all this involvement of the people who work at DaVita so important? Because the simplest way to get everyone engaged is to promote ownership, and decision-making is the principal way a company can motivate people to own their work. Vince Hancock, another leader at DaVita summed it up well, “Ownership is really important here—nobody washes a rental car.” As a result, Hancock calls DaVita “a shockingly egalitarian place.”

Hoerman says leaders at DaVita focus on serving others and supporting their teammates in developing their own ability to make decisions. Again, leaders say this all the time, but it’s usually lip service. Not at DaVita. “My job as a leader here is to create an environment where our teammates can step up as leaders and make good decisions.” The art of leadership is to know how few decisions the leader needs to make.

Why is all this involvement of the people who work at DaVita so important? Because the simplest way to get everyone engaged is to promote ownership, and decision-making is the principal way a company can motivate people to own their work. Vince Hancock, another leader at DaVita summed it up well, “Ownership is really important here—nobody washes a rental car.” As a result, Hancock calls DaVita “a shockingly egalitarian place.”

DaVita’s lesson is simple, but not easy. They call their culture The DaVita Way—and together, they’re dedicated to building a healthy village and caring intensely about each other, their patients and their communities. At the core of this intense caring is encouraging everyone to bring the whole, messy creative person to work, own their decisions, and participate in building a great community. To make that happen, DaVita leadership allows and requires decisions to be made where they are carried out, and then they get out of the way.

While others are still relying on a few heroic activists to tell everyone else what to do, DaVita is inviting everyone to participate. Giving people their brains back is working for DaVita, and is a way of leading all companies could learn from.


Article as seen on Inc.com

How To Get Off The Treadmill and Never Have a Bucket List

There is a good explanation for why we get stuck trying to simply make money and rarely get around to building a life that matters. We are constantly fighting to balance two opposing daily realities: The Tyranny of the Urgent vs. The Priority of the Important.

Two Opposing Realities
Almost universally we let the Tyranny of the Urgent keep us from paying attention to the Priority of the Important, and as a result, we will never get off the treadmill.

The Tyranny of the Urgent
The Urgent things fly at us all day, everyday, causing us to live reactively and defensively as we hold life together as best we can. The Urgent things are tyrannical—they try to rule over us. Like small unruly kids, they scream and yell, poke and prod, and are relentlessly in front of us.
We don’t have to go find the Urgent things—they find us and rule over us. Overtime we resign ourselves to the notion that this is normal because everyone else around us seems to be doing the same thing. Welcome to the Treadmill.

The Treadmill of Making Money
One of the most Urgent daily tyrants is the need to make money to cover today’s bills. Think about it. That great-looking house, those shiny objects, and that expensive hobby quickly turned into a relentless liability to your cash flow.

Early on this taught you that the “clear and present danger” in life is not having enough money. So from the start you went in search of making money, with the idea that “later” your focus could shift to Making Meaning. But overtime you’ve gotten used to this pressure and have forgotten the excitement of pursuing a life of significance. You might now actually think the goal is itself just to make money.

See how the Treadmill has trained you?And because everyone else is doing it, it seems normal and natural—just the way it works.

But, it’s a dead end.

The Priority of the Important
In stark contrast to the Tyranny of the Urgent is the Priority of the Important. The Important things sit quietly and patiently in the corner and whisper,“I’m really Important. I can help you Make Meaning, not just money. Let me know when you have some time.”

The Important things require us to be proactive because they almost never seem urgent—things like thinking about what next year should look like, and what I really want out of my work and my life. We don’t make money today doing those kinds of things, so they don’t seem Important, and they’re definitely not as urgent as paying the bills.

Which do you want? Riches you don’t have time to use, or Wealth that allows you to live the life you really want? If you focus on the Tyranny of the Urgent and save the Important things for”later,”your best hope is that you will make money, and never as much as you could or should. But if you focus on the Priority of the Important now, you’ll be on the road to real Wealth:freedom. And freedom is the best evidence I can come up with that you are off the treadmill.

The Treadmill vs. A Life of Making Meaning
The Tyranny of the Urgent keeps us focused on making money—the classic treadmill. The Priority of the Important helps us focus on Making Meaning.

Don’t get me wrong. You have to make money. The problem is that we lose focus on why we want to make it. People who focus on making money rarely make a lot of it. People who focus on something bigger than making money, who see money as simply a resource, are much more likely to make a lot of it.

We all know this and are nodding yes. But right now we don’t have time to start proactively designing our future. We have urgent, pressing needs that must be taken care of first. Once we have those covered, we promise ourselves we’ll dive into building a life of significance. Except later never comes. The saddest statement in life is “I wish I had…”, but the second saddest is, “Someday I’m going to…”

Free Beer Tomorrow
The sign in the bar gets us to come back a couple days in a row before we realize tomorrow never comes. When I was in my twenties, a wise old sage said to me, “Chuck, life has a built-in problem. There are three resources, time, money, and energy, and unless we make it happen, we will never get all three at once. When I was your young age, I had all the time and energy, and no money to do anything about it. When I was in my forties, I had all the energy and all the money, and no time to do anything about it. And now in my later years I have all the time and all the money, and no energy to do anything about it.”

No Bucket Lists!
Later never comes. Go get time and money while you have the energy to build a great life. A bucket list is a dumb idea. We have to proactively figure out the very few Important things and people that matter, and prioritize them to the top of our to do list. Once you do, you will find that they take care of a lot of the Urgent things holding you hostage.

What are you doing this all for? Figure that out, then actually live life for that.

Carpe freaking diem already.


Article as seen on Inc.com

Successful People Are Peacemakers, Not Peacekeepers

If it weren’t for people, my business would be perfect. Business is sometimes simple; dealing with people is hard. Peacemaking fixes that. Peacekeeping makes it worse.

At any given time, one-third of us are bugged about something someone is doing at work, and Accenture says a stunning 35% of people who quit do so to avoid confronting an interpersonal issue.

There are two ways to deal with an issue: now or later (“never” falls under later). Successful people do not live passively, just hoping stuff will work out. They understand the golden rule of relationships—peacemaking beats peacekeeping every time.

Peacekeepers don’t want to make waves, rock the boat, or risk tension in a relationship. So instead they let a lot of small issues just pile up until there is no choice but to dump the truck. Instead of dealing with each “border skirmish” as it comes up, they ignore them until they find themselves in World War III. Peacekeepers are more concerned about present peace than long-term relationships.

Peacemakers understand that dealing with issues as they arise keeps them small, keeps the slate clean, and builds an environment of trust where no one is waiting to be blind-sided by someone blowing up at them. Peacemakers always have the other person’s best interests at heart, and are willing to confront small tensions in order to ensure no big ones can fester and explode.

Here’s a short list of common things we tend to ignore in order to keep the short-term peace. See if you find one you’re ignoring right now:

You’re micro-managing me.

You lack initiative (or productivity).

I’ve screwed up (being vulnerable).

Nobody respects you, they just fear you.

You’re too much of a victim at work.

You’re very productive, but a lone ranger.

You’re more interested in beating the other guy than producing.

Here is why I chose Tom for that project and not you.

You’re gossiping, please stop.

We have to let you go; here’s why.

Peacekeepers find someone else (usually a manager) to deal with their problems. In our company, no one is allowed to talk to anyone else about interpersonal issues they are having with someone. If you have an issue with someone, you need to deal with it, not pawn it off on someone else, which we view as gossip. The rule: If you are not part of the problem or part of the solution, it’s gossip. Be an adult and talk to them yourself.

Here’s seven steps to Peacemaking:

1) Where? For a difficult conversation, pick a neutral location, not your office. And don’t discuss hard things over food. Work through some possible anxious moments without other distractions.

2) Motive? Do you want them to respond and change, or do you want to squash them? If you get excited about how this conversation could help that person grow, you will approach it differently. And you won’t go in angry “for the kill”, but empathetic “for the change”.

3) Clarity? Be clear about the issue, and stay focused on it. Choose one thing and don’t be pulled off of it by the conversation. Successful people confront one thing at a time—pick your battles.

4) Listening? Don’t assume. Ask questions and be prepared that they will have a completely different view of the situation than you. You might change your whole “spiel” once you listen.

5) Your Responsibility? Did you play a part in causing the issue? Or is your responsibility simply to be Outside Eyes and give them a different perspective than their own? Own up to your own stuff.

6) Fear? Peacekeepers fear not being liked. Peacemakers focus on how the other person might benefit from the discussion, and also understand that putting it off to be liked now is probably going to make it a bigger deal later.

7) Continue? Maintain the relationship—sometimes you can’t, but do your best to share the issue in a way that allows you both to leave the conversation with dignity and continue talking later. Nobody is supposed to win or lose, we’re supposed to grow.

Successful people are Peacemakers, not Peacekeepers. It may be harder in the short run, but it’s always easier and more beneficial in the long run.

Article as seen on Inc.com

The Degeneration of the Handshake, and Why It Matters to You

Is the handshake devolving? Is there a business opportunity here for those paying attention? Just maybe — on both accounts.

The handshake originated as a sign of mistrust. The modern handshake is said to be traceable to medieval knights who physically shook the hand up and down to shake loose any weapons. But in the centuries that followed it turned into a sign of trust and friendship, and was also regularly used as congratulations for promotions, weddings, or winning something. But is all that changing?

The rise of the impersonal greeting.
Since the 1960s I’ve watched an evolution, or maybe devolution of the handshake — not sure. Each new “style” seems less and less personal. In the 60s I saw clever new ways to touch hands and fingers before or after the handshake. Then it became a quick hand slap with no clasping, and sometimes some clever finger snapping while not touching. Then came the elbow shake — no hands involved. It didn’t last long. Then the high-five took over and has evolved into a victory slap of some sort. (There was a low-five for a while, but it took too much energy.)

More recently athletes developed the chest bump, which requires no involvement from the hands or even the arms. Those of us walking around on the streets couldn’t get the timing right, so we resorted to the fist bump, which even the president uses a lot. Now greetings have become so impersonal that you see athletes jumping to touch back-to-back — you don’t even have to look at each other. (Do not try this on the subway with a stranger — again, timing is very important.)

Does it mean anything or say anything about where we are as a culture? Maybe; maybe not. Could be that it’s just a way to relieve boredom with the way things have always been done. But there might be a warning in it for us businesspeople. I’m not sure where it will go from here, maybe to a version of greeting that requires no touching at all. Oh, wait a minute, I think we call that “the internet.”

The most impersonal handshake — digital.
I run across people all the time on the internet who are convinced they don’t have to be human first; that if they make a data contact, that’s enough.

I connect with almost every real human who asks to follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn. Maybe I shouldn’t, but it seems friendly, and we might actually get to know each other. I’ve got great relationships on a number of continents from becoming interested in what others do on the Web.

Friendly person — not.
But almost every day now I get “Sales Guy” trying to contact me (not connect — that would be too personal), by disguising himself as “Friendly Person.” Today I accepted an invite on LinkedIn, and within a few minutes I got this message, which is similar to ones I get every day:

“Thank you for connecting with me on LinkedIn. When would be a good time to hop on the phone and discuss the potential business opportunities between our two companies?”

To which I replied:

“After we build a relationship, which doesn’t seem likely.”

What makes people think they can say hello and then start selling me something? If you meet a person in a bar and ask them to marry you right there, what are the odds they’ll accept? (If they do, you deserve each other.) Relationships take time to develop. The more impersonal your connection with me, the less likely I am to buy anything.

Hugging, not bugging.
Which brings me to the point of this rant. As an entrepreneur who’s started and built ten businesses, I’ve found the following axiom works really well to build your business:

The closer you get to a hug, the more likely you are to sell something.

Please don’t digitally shake hands with me from 1,000 miles away and expect to sell something because you’ve found a door to my computer. Which brings me to the second axiom that seems to work in the emerging world of the Participation Age:

Serve, don’t sell.

Meet me where I am, not where you are.
If you manage to find a door to my computer, your first interaction should be to figure out how you can be interested in me and what I’m doing, and how you can serve me. Hint: It almost always has nothing to do with your stupid product.

Simple rules: Don’t contact people, connect with them. Don’t sell them, serve them. Build a relationship by meeting them where they are at, not where you want them to be. Someday, if you do, they might actually need one of your widgets and come running to you to buy it, because you are their friend.

Take the long, patient road to my wallet that goes through my heart. We’ll all be happier.

(Feel free to refer people to this article who don’t get it — glad to explain it to them.)

Article as seen on Inc.com

3 Reasons Why You Should Only Have One Goal The Rest of Your Life

If you don’t have a vision for your own life, you’ll become part of someone else’s vision for theirs.

There is a lot of discussion about being intentional about living a life of purpose. Most of us are only intentional about working hard and making money, but when it comes to the big picture of a life well-lived, we just hope it all works out. Random hope is not a strategy. To have a life of purpose, we have to live on purpose. Here are three reasons why you should take the bull by the horns and make life happen for you, not to you.

Making Money is Not An Empowering Vision
My first book was titled Making Money Is Killing Your Business because people who focus on making a lot of money as their main business goal, rarely make a lot of it, but people who have a reason to be in business that is much bigger than just making money, are more likely to make a lot of it.

Making money is not motivating by itself, simply because money is only a resource, a means to an end, not the end itself. The Industrial Age Factory System taught us the lie that if you just made a bucket load of money, you should be happy. But chasing money is not motivating by itself. We need something much bigger to keep us going, especially during those times where making money is not happening.

A Goal Realized is No Longer Motivating
The dirty little secret in life is that the joy is not in the acquisition, but in the pursuit. When you got your first stereo in high school, you were immediately looking for the next, bigger, better one. The same goes for cars, houses, and stuff in general. Once we have it, we want something else. Some luxury sports cars have an average ownership of under four months—once people have them, they are no longer alluring.

As human beings, we are most motivated by the process of building a great life, not by acquiring stuff. The bumper sticker from the 80’s—“He who dies with the most toys, wins”, proved to not be motivating. Researchers say happiness is not about having money, but having a good reason to have it. Happiness is very closely related to having something that gets us out of bed every morning that is bigger than making money.

We Are Made to Do and to Be Something Significant
I don’t mean we’re all supposed to solve world hunger, but we’re all motivated by being able to look back and say, “This was a life well-lived.” To do that, we need to focus on the few things we value that we can actually impact, and build a story around putting our hand to that, not just paying our mortgage and surviving.

Something You Can Never Check Off As Complete
If making money is not an empowering vision, and a goal realized is no longer motivating, we need something long-term that will motivate us to make even more money and never be completed. We call this your Lifetime Goal, or The Big Why. The one thing that separates a Big Why from any other type of goal you have ever set, is that it can never be checked off as completed.

Being a great parent, working with disadvantaged kids, helping single moms, building a non-profit, encouraging veterans, or yes, solving world hunger; none of these can ever be checked off. And all of them give making money a new meaning. Now you have to make money because it will be one of the resources (along with time and energy) that help you realize your Big Why. It’s not really about a Giant Why (solving world hunger), but about a Continuous Why (something that motivates you that you can never complete). Remember, the joy is in the pursuit, not in the acquisition.

Years ago Alan Wyngarden came to me and said, “I know I have my Big Why.” I asked him how he knew that, “Because it has me. And I know it has me because now that I’m clear about the big things I want to do in life that I can never check off, I shoot out of bed in the mornings, and every single decision I make is passed through the question, “Will that help me get to my Big Why?”

Alan went on to convert all other short-term goals (business and personal goals for the year or quarter) to “waypoints”. Sailors only have one goal—the destination, and all the X’s on the map are just points along the way. When you finally articulate your Big Why, all the reachable objectives that you used to call goals now simply exist to get you to that one goal that can never be checked off as completed. Instead of focusing on getting the next bigger house, you are asking yourself how that house will serve you in living out your Big Why. Making money is now a means to an end, not the empty end all by itself.

People with Big Whys have a reason to make a lot more money, and ensure that they have the Time and Energy to live them out. You already have a Big Why, you just need to take the time to bring it to the surface and write it down. And when you do, you will run through Survival, right past material Success, and straight to a life of Significance.

You get what you intend, not what you hope for. Find your Big Why and live it out!

Article as seen on Inc.com

Time Away From Business Is As Important As Time Working In It

Surveys show 76% of CEOs, owners and founders don’t take time away from the business. The sad irony is that nothing will hurt their ability to grow a successful business more than working in the trenches every day.

My wife and I just spent a month in Tuscany, an amazing part of the world. Our three businesses are built to run when we’re not there. For founders, CEOs and owners of every business of every size, time away from the office should not be an after thought, but a major, regular, and very intentional part of your schedule.

Get Out of The Way, And Get Away
Ricardo Semler owns a billion dollar business and is actively involved, but never in the day2day decision-making. Lyric Turner built three great local businesses specifically because, and only after, she got out of the day2day and moved 2,000 miles away. I’ve built 10 businesses from the ground up. In the first five, I thought I was a Business Owner, but later I realized I was only an Income Producer, because I was too necessary to get away.

Owning vs. Being Owned
The ability to get away regularly is a big part of building a business, not just an income. An Income Producer thinks they own a business, but in reality it owns them. When they look in the mirror and ask the boss for time off, they just get back a blank stare.

In my sixth business I was determined to be intentional about building that business to run when I was not there. I adopted the mindset that I would not call myself a Business Owner until the time when my business didn’t own me. I decided I would identify myself only as an Income Producer until it produced time right along with money.

The 50% Rule
Most of us only get money from our businesses, if that, because we assume a business can only produce money. In my sixth business, I learned every business can, and should, also produce time. I work with business leaders around the world and I now regularly challenge them to have at least 50% of their time a) unscheduled (that’s the easy one), and b) unavailable to solve crises (that’s the hard one). That’s real leadership. Every business leader should strive for this as a minimum.

It could take three to seven years or more to get fully there from startup, but you should be seeing incremental progress every year. The first year of my sixth business I worked almost seven days a week. The second year was six days a week, but by the third year I was getting Fridays off here and there. By the sixth year, I had every Monday and Friday, the last week of the month, and a month a year to get up in the morning and say, “What should I do today?” That’s 72% of the work year that I’m no longer managing, so I could focus on leading—very different things.

“Time In The Margins”? Really?
I hear business leaders talk about “getting time in the margins”. The use of the word “margins” shows that we don’t think time away from the day2day is a central feature of owning or running a business, but something you only get when nothing important is going on. We shouldn’t get “time in the margins”, we need it as a core principle of leading a business. It’s necessary for being great leaders and for having the energy to push our companies forward.

The Business Owner’s Game
Stop hoping you’ll get time and put it in your business plan right along with making money. The key practice is learning to play The Business Owner’s Game teaches you to do only the things you should do, and nothing else. It’s the simplest, most powerful thing you can do to become a leader.

I take as much vacation as I feel I need to stay fresh and productive, which, for me, isn’t a lot. When you are a business owner and your business is producing both time and money, you get to decide how you will use that time. The difference is choice. Do you get to choose what to do with your time? If not, you might want to call yourself an Income Producer until you get there.

You get what you intend, not what you hope for. Intend to become a true Business Owner and get control of your schedule so you can have the Freedom to lead.

Tuscany was great, by the way.

Article as seen on Inc.com

Riding a Bike In Tuscany Taught Me Why People Don’t Set Goals

“Are you lost?” “No, I just don’t know where I am.”

I learn a lot riding my bike. We’re in Tuscany for a month and today was the sixth day of riding. Twenty glorious days to go. The first day, and every day since, I simply decided which direction I was going (north, south, toward the hills, away from them, etc.), then got on my bike and went.


Living For The Moment
I have spent hours each day blissfully unaware of where I am, just riding through the countryside, impulsively going left, right or straight as it seemed right for the moment. The future and the past don’t play into the decision. I’m just “living for the moment.”
But each day I have to find my way back to our fairly remote, countryside villa south of Lucca. The first day it took an hour to find home on these winding roads (even with a digital map), where I could easily have done it in 20 minutes if I knew the area. Each day since it has gotten easier.

“I Just Don’t Know Where I Am”
Every day my wife, Diane, and daughter, Laura have asked me, “Were you lost?”, to which I always reply, “I’m never lost, I just don’t know where I am.” Today, I was going through the process of finding my way home, and on an unusually straight stretch of road with time to think, I realized that I get a little perturbed right around this time in every ride, because now I’m actually trying to get somewhere.

That’s when I figured out why people don’t set goals. Because they answer the question the way I did—“I’m not lost, I just don’t know where I am.” On that same late stretch today where I was now trying to hone in on the villa, I realized that I actually do get lost, and I do it once on every ride; when I’m trying to get home; when I finally have a goal.

Measuring Progress Requires a Goal
In Alice in Wonderland, Alice asks the Cheshire Cat which direction she should go. He responds wisely with the question, “Where are you going?” Alice says, “I don’t know”, to which the Cat replies, “Then either road will do.” And off she goes, enjoying her adventure.

When I have nowhere I need to be, I’m simply on a glorious adventure with no constraints, no rules, no timelines, and no pressure to perform. Nothing to measure in the long run. I truly am not lost, I just don’t know where I am. But that’s okay, because I have nowhere I need to be.

But as soon as I ask, “Where is home?”, I’m immediately lost, because now I have somewhere I need to be, and at first I don’t know how to get there. My stress level goes up a bit, and I start getting frustrated that I missed a turn, or have to backtrack, when minutes before, I would not have seen any of those activities as missteps. I’m now “failing” (we should call it practice or learning) where I used to have no measure of such a thing.

Too often we see that kind of pressure as negative stuff. But something else comes into focus as soon as I ask, “Where is home?” Instead of just wandering around, for the first time, I’m immediately measuring progress toward some potentially positive future goal.

Living On Purpose
All six bike rides getting home have come with a big sense of accomplishment by just finding our remote villa. The same is true on a grander scale with chasing my own personal Big Why, which is To Live Well By Doing Good. Things worth accomplishing always involve a challenge, some stress, and clear measurement of progress.

But utter clarity on where you are going and what it looks like when you get there, makes all that worth it. We can live reactively and any road will do, or we can live on purpose, design our future, and become intentional about getting somewhere. We get what we intend, not what we hope for.

“Where Are You Going?”
Nobody’s lost until they have a destination in mind. We shouldn’t ask people if they are lost. It’s a negative question that assumes incompetence. We should instead ask them if they know where they are going; where they want to end up. That’s an interesting challenge that just might change their lives.

Some people work hard at being confused because when they are confused, they are not responsible. “There are so many good choices of where I could end up, I just don’t know which road to take.” The ability to measure progress is sometimes threatening, but a man still finds his destiny on the path he chose to avoid it. You will end up somewhere, the question is whether by default or by choice.

He who aims at nothing, hits it every time.

Off to bed before a big ride tomorrow. Getting home is the biggest challenge I expect to face.

Where are you going?

Article as seen on Inc.com