Monday, January 26, 2015

What is the Formula for Attaining Success?

In “Ordinary Average Guy”, Joe Walsh sang how he picks up dog poop, takes out the garbage, and is boring.  Wait-a-minute, isn’t this the same guy that in “Life’s Been Good” sang about his gold records on the wall, his Maserati going 185 and fame and fortune?  Joe Walsh –   That does not make sense, or, does it?  There is a saying that successful people are really only ordinary people that do extraordinary things.  At the end of “Life’s Been Good,” he does talk about how being lazy takes up all his time.  For some reason, I think that we have the perception that highly successful people are different from us.  Truth is, to use the cliché; they still have to put on their pants one leg at a time.  Is it possible that I can derive a formula for success to help all of us?  Ordinary, average (lazy man) + something extraordinary (playing guitar and writing good songs) + a little bit of luck (being in the right place at the right time) = SUCCESS!
an ordinary average guy?!?

In March 2014, CNN money reported that in the United States there were 9.63 million millionaires in 2013.  In January 2014, CNBC listed how many millionaires each state had living in them.  New Jersey, the state where I live, ranked second with 242,647.   I am not one of them…yet. There have been many books written over the past decade that talk about average citizens that quietly save their money (not the majority) that in some cases have been diligent enough to become millionaires.  They are the average, ordinary person that could potentially live next door to you, not living the celebrity life styles that we grew up watching that were showcased in Robin Leach’s Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, or anyone in today’s reality TV shows that have celebrities or wealthy housewives in them. 

Success can be measured in many ways, yet money seems to be the easiest scorecard to read.  Keep in mind, many of the financially independent people in this country came from humble beginnings, and maintain their same values.  For example, I had the pleasure, for a short time, of having a business experience where I worked alongside some millionaires.  These people were not flashy, did not engage in self-promotion, and were not celebrities, but had done some extraordinary things that led to their financial successes.  One of them found his way to fortune as a young man when he had no experience, and was working at a series of low paying jobs while his debt increased.   The interesting thing is that if he were sitting next to you today, you might mistake him for nobody special, yet he is very wealthy and has helped to make many people financially independent (defined as having enough passive income to cover all of one’s expenses).  

Napoleon Hill said, “Great achievement is usually born of great sacrifice, and is never the result of selfishness.”  One successful person, I know, had to make a choice once regarding attending a family wedding or a key event that would help in the pursuit of his goals.  He sacrificed going to the wedding.    Most of us will take on a little extra effort, but most of us would not be willing to sacrifice something of importance even if the results would put us in a better place.  Maybe we need to update our formula and add in a function, the function of doing what it takes = Putting in extra effort + Making personal sacrifices.  So the formula now becomes:  Ordinary, average + something extraordinary + a little bit of luck + f(Doing what it takes) = SUCCESS!

While in many ways, I would like the successes of these people (especially financially) and the others that I admire for their successes, however, up to this point I have not been willing to make the sacrifices to their levels.  It is, after all, all about the choices that we make. While I might not have financial freedom at this point in my life, I do have success relating to raising my family, where we have provided a positive, nurturing environment and instilled good values in our children.  SUCCESS = something extraordinary (Family Focus) + a little bit of luck (meeting Debbie, healthy kids) + f(Doing what it takes…to provide for my family) and, of course, being just an ordinary, average guy.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Fire Drill of the Moment – Is Everything a Crisis?


Not too long ago, I dropped Rebecca off at school where we were greeted by a mob of students.  “That’s strange,” Bec noted, “I wonder where everyone is going.”  That night, she told me that the school had an early fire drill.  A few days later, klaxons went off at the office I work in…yes, you guessed it; we were having a fire drill.  This is an important rite of passage and an important process to learn what to do in the case of an emergency.  In a world gripped in the reality of terrorism, or random acts of violence, it is extremely important to know how to react in an emergency situation, whether in the case of a fire or lock-down mode, where to head for safety or the locations to meet in case of disaster.  We are rightfully learning to react quickly and intelligently.

In an age of instant gratification, fast food, and hyper-quick camera cuts on television and movies, have we all developed a fire drill mentality?  At work, the imaginary bells start ringing with an emergency assignment – time is of the essence and ten minutes later as you go running in with your spreadsheet printout, the perceived crises has been averted or forgotten and they greet you with blank stares.  At a club or organization, where you talk things through and plan events…all-of-a-sudden the alarms sound and everyone is in a panic as something unexpected happens.  Usually, cooler heads prevail and the situation is averted.  I have run projects over the years where someone will mention one minor negative thing to a manager that has not been closely involved in that project; that manager reaches for the fire alarm and all hell breaks loose - meetings happen, panic sets in – you would thing the end of the world is happening.  24 hours later, things progressed as planned…and the fire drill is forgotten.  Even in a social setting, someone can ask a question and “Whoop, Whoop, Whoop”, the bells toll and everyone whips out their mobile devices to get the answer – gone are days of just talking things through.

More often than not, we simply react and there is no thinking involved – we are confronted with some type of stimulus, we react then ask questions (ready, fire, aim).  It has become engrained into our brains to simply respond as quick as possible.  How can we combat this practice, which in some cases distracts us from our goals, places focus on unnecessary activities or just wastes our valuable time? 
  • Step back and take a deep breath – We all get caught up in the “hurry, hurry” moment.  We need to learn to stop and take take a step back to understand what is going on before mindlessly doing
  • Learn to ask better questions – Once we have caught our breath, it is important to fully understand what the issue is, or in many cases, why there is a perceived issue and the originating source
  • Open lines of communication – In the heat of the moment (pun intended), we forget to provide information and feedback.  This is important to lessen the chance of the fire drill
  • Identifying risks upfront – At the beginning of any project or event, vette out the potential risks and how to mitigate them so if one of them rears their ugly head, everyone knows what to do (yes, there is always a possibility of missing one or two)
  • Make sure we have all of the information BEFORE reacting

Most importantly, leave fire drills to the professionals.  Support your local fire departments and the firemen that risk their lives for the safety of us all.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Do You Hear What I Hear?

“We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.” ~ Epictetus

Epictetus, the Greek philosopher, definitely had sage words about the importance of the listening portion of a conversation (an informal exchange of ideas using words).  I realize that at some point in my life, either I or the person I have been talking with was guilty of doing one of the following:

  • Been so excited about something or some event that they monopolize the conversation (also known as diarrhea of the mouth) and if it were not for stopping to take a breath, the other person would not get a word in edgewise
  • Heard someone say something that they could not hold back and cut them off to answer 
  • Someone says something and in your mind you begin to think of an appropriate answer while they are still talking?  Then, when they stop talking and you are ready with your answer, you realize that you did not hear the point they were really making?
  • Spoken to someone that is more interested in what is on his or her phone then paying attention to you? 
  • Talked to someone that constantly interrupts what you are saying, because, maybe, they see themselves as THE expert 

I know there was a time in my life where I thought that every conversation included a portion that today I call “I know a little bit more than you.”  This meant that when someone told a story, related an incident, or told a joke, the next person (me, in many cases), needed to engage in the game of one-upmanship or I can top that.  It did not matter if I was familiar with the topic or not, I used to be eager to play this game.  Of course, in the case of telling jokes, everyone wins because sharing a joke is always fun.  When no jokes are involved, engaging in this game has the tendency to make one person look as if they are trying to appear smarter than the other people do.  I remember visiting an uncle in Florida and in my mind, it was game on from the moment I said “Hello.” I am grateful my father used a firm hand to help correct this misunderstanding on my part.  As I got older, I was able to recognize when I was doing this.  A conversation should not be about proving who is smarter.

So, why is listening so important? 

  • We all have active minds, and it takes discipline to remain focused on the person speaking. 
  • When meeting a new person, stay in the moment and be attentive will help in making a connection. 
  • Listening to others’ words, opinions or feelings, shows you care about what they are saying. 
  • Provides a better way to communicate because you can relate their responses to the point you might want to make.

As Teddy Roosevelt stated, “No one cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.”  When you listen, it has the tendency to draw people into the conversation and besides for showing that you care, it makes them feel more involved.  Something we all can work on this year…

Monday, January 5, 2015

Lessons from the Pickleball Court

"Everything rises and falls on leadership." ~ John C. Maxwell

I believe that this past weekend I was able to see John C Maxwell’s quote in action and gained some valuable leadership and management techniques in action.  Was I in at a business conference?  Was I in a classroom?  Was I reading a book on this subject?  No, I was deeply engaged on the Pickleball court.  Who would have thought?
OK, I guess that I should briefly explain this game.  The basics, as listed on the official US Pickleball website (
1.       A fun sport that combines many elements of tennis, badminton and ping-pong.
2.       Played both indoors or outdoors on a badminton-sized court and a slightly modified tennis net.
3.       Played with a paddle and a plastic ball.

Looks simple enough, so where are the lessons?  Below are some of the tenants of leadership and management as reference points:
1.      Vision: A leader has vision.  In this case, one of the guys in one of my groups of friends was looking for an activity that we could all participate in.  He took the initiative to make this happen.
2.    Gathering followers: A leader knows his audience and has the ability to talk up the idea to likeminded people.  In this case, Jewish men over 50 that no longer know what running is.

3.  Vetting Process / Research & Development: It is always good to test any product before bringing it to the market place, to ensure that the correct materials are available and that there is a demand.  The leader, in this case, set up a prototype, a game with a limited number of participants and a court that he was able to MacGyver together.
4.  Communication: This is where the leaders spreads the word, gathers support and gains followers.  As if this was one of Nathan Detroit’s floating crap games, the leader covertly tells everyone in our group where and when we will be meeting.  On the court, communication between players must exist, usually consisting of lots of “oys”, grunts and prayers that no one gets hurts.
5.    Teams: A team has two participants, where the players must work together towards a common goal of minimizing movement, while attempting to beat the other team.
6.    Know your limitation: All members of a team should know their strengths and weaknesses.  When certain body parts, that are usually silent, make a loud popping sound, you are finished.  Fortunately, only one man went down from a pulled muscle, but he did fall like a seasoned professional and confirmed he is allowed to come out to play with us next time.
7.     Help out team members: If someone has troubles, all of the group should support in times of need.  Our fallen man had good support, help and advice in his time of trouble – “Sit down and rest”, “You should walk it off”, “Get back up, you’ll be OK”, “Put ice on it”, “Don’t put ice on it”, “You should not ride the bike tomorrow”, “At least he didn’t break anything”…
8.      Barriers to success: It is inevitable that something will come up to derail our combined objectives.  In this case, flat balls with no bounce.
9.    Mitigating factors:  A group with a strong “Why” and passion about their goals will always figure out how to overcome risks. The promise of new, better, bouncing balls next time will do the trick.
10. Enjoying the journey:  A group that is working together should have fun.  A group is more productive when they enjoy what they are doing instead of feeling as if it is work.  In our group, that meant a happy group of sweaty middle-aged men trash talking about kicking butt next time as we all hobbled out to our cars.

What did you learn this weekend?