Bad Grammar Doesn't Make You Sound Smart

"Can you set up a meeting for you and I?" 

That sentence should make your skin crawl. It's wrong. It's glaringly wrong. And almost everybody with a college degree makes it. I hear that mistake every day. 

People with less education don't make that mistake. They sometimes make its opposite. "You and me can go to that meeting." 

When people make the second mistake, some people call them ignorant. But when people make the first mistake, I think pretentious . And ignorant

It's easy to excuse the less educated person for using "me" when "I" is appropriate. It's much harder to forgive the overuse of the "I." 

To help people sound smart and unpretentious, here's a little trick. Say the same sentence, dropping the "you and."

Would you say "Can you set up a meeting for I?" 

No. No you wouldn't. 

Would you say "Me can go that meeting?" 

Maybe. If you're three. 

Practice this at home. Whenever you use a compound subject or object, mentally say it as a simple subject (the person doing the action) or object (the person the action is done to). If the correct object turns out to be "you and me," say it that way. No one worth impressing will think less of you. 

Thin-Slicing, Experts, and the Power of the Human Brain Help Capture Suspect Two Alive

The police in Watertown responded magnificently. But the most brilliant strategic move gets little notice from the press.

hannebery boat

For about sixteen hours, hundreds of law officers, FBI agents, helicopters, and satellites scoured a relatively tiny area of Boston suburbs for one wounded terrorist. At the same time, they kept the public relatively safe, off the streets, and out of the way of their manhunt.

But they didn’t find their man.

By seven o'clock, Col. Timothy Alben admitted they didn’t know where Dzhokar Tsarnaev was. They believed he was still in the Greater Boston area, but they couldn’t know for sure.

So authorities lifted the “shelter in place” request, allowing people to leave their homes with a powerful admonition: remain diligent.

Col. Alben made clear that there was no “all clear.” The world is a dangerous place, but Watertown, Massachusetts was beyond dangerous. Somewhere in that quiet neighborhood lurked a dangerous, desperate, wounded animal who knew how to shoot a gun, build a bomb, and throw a grenade. Tsarnaev had means and motive to kill anyone he encountered, and Col. Alben warned people not to give Tsarnaev the opportunity.

Lifting “Shelter in Place” Led To Tsarnaev’s LIve Capture

Malcolm Gladwell wrote about the human brain’s “thin-slicing” ability in Blink. Experts can spot tiny anomalies that technology, to date, cannot.

We often think of experts as highly trained, long experienced professionals. In truth, though, we’re all experts on something, and David Hanneberry is the world’s leading authority on the boat in his backyard.

Hanneberry’s mind had mapped every bulge, roll, and slack of the tarp covering the boat, which his step son described as Hanneberry’s greatest love, after his wife. When Hanneberry’s eye glimpsed a little flap of the canvas, he knew immediately something was wrong.

That one little ripple of canvas, which no algorithm on the world’s most powerful computer could have detected, led to a bigger problem in Hanneberry’s mind: blood where blood shouldn’t be.No doubt the blood lit up Hanneberry’s amygdala, the little almond-shaped nodes in the brain’s limbic system that triggers the flight or fight or freeze response.

Alert, curious, and cautious, Hanneberry spotted a cut line that held the canvas in place. Not torn or worn through, but cut clean with a knife.

He lifted the canvas and exposed the wrong of all wrongs: bleeding man in his beloved boat.

The Limits of Technology and The Power of People

Had the “shelter in place” ordered remained in effect, it’s very possible that Tsarnaev would have died in David Hanneberry’s boat. All the helicopters and algorithms never would have told authorities that the canvas was flapping wrong. Big data didn’t know how that canvas was supposed to flap; only Hanneberry’s brain knew that.

By lifting “shelter in place,” the police exponentially increased the computing power available to spot something wrong. It worked. Keeping people off the street was a great tactical move. Lifting the order when they did seemed to be perfect timing.

I doubt the police lifted the order to increase the number of eyes searching for Tsarnaev. But it worked brilliantly. And we now know the real power of crowd sourcing, thin-slicing, and the human brain.

Cross-posted from Hennessy’s View.

Why John Locke's Readers Love Him and What You Can Learn From It

I should have written this post ages ago. I owe the author. 

No, John Locke has never intentionally done anything for me that I know of.  Not consciously, anyway. 

Instead, John Locke has shown me how to be a better . . . person.

You might think John's a self-help writer, or maybe he writes about faith. Nope.  

John Locke writes action novels, and great ones. He develops some awesome characters, especially the hero of his action novels, Donovan Creed. Creed is an anti-terror assassin, but, no, John Locke isn't teaching me to kill. 


John Locke's teaching me to love people more.


The reason John Locke's readers have made him the most successful self-published author in history is simple:  he loves his readers first.

Here's how John shows his love to those readers:

John Locke Respects His Readers' Time:  I read a lot of business books. I end up hating most of them, even the ones that teach me something valuable. I hate them because they usually take 40,000 words to tell a 10,000 word story.  Being self-published, John Locke doesn't fill his books with extra words just meet some artificial word count quota. He just tells the story.  When the story's done, he puts down the pen and gives his gift to the world.  Even on his blog, John writes only when he has something you want to read.  Posts about once a month, and his posts are usually under 600 words. 

John Locke Helps Others:  How? Well, for one, he uses his fairly significant Twitter following ( to promote others people work more than he promotes his own.  In fact, it's hard to find a tweet of his that pumps his own books.  He uses his popularity to increase attention to people who deserve more attention.

John Locke Adds Fun:  How cool is it to know your work makes people smile? Well, that's exactly what John does for a living. Sure, he calls himself a writer. But writing is just a vehicle for his true mission.  His mission is clearly to bring happiness to people. My guess is that God smiles when we make others smile--less so when we amuse ourselves.

John Locke Cares About His Customers:  In How I Sold 1 Million eBooks in 5 Months, his book on self-publishing, John reminds me of Derek Sivers, author of Anything You Want.  John and Derek both believe in putting customers (readers) first. You can feel it in the Donovan Creed novels. You'll think that John wrote them just for you.  In fact, I sometimes feel jealous when I hear that he's sold millions of copies of his books. 

John Locke Writes About People:  He writes about both the ordinary and the bigger-than-life, but he writes about real human beings--their wants, their pains, their worries, their joys. On his blog, John promotes everyday heroes: Joe Paterno, Michael J. Fox, a guy in a Subway, and his mom.  These stories remind me how little I do for others--how many opportunities I miss to make life better. 

That last quality--writing about people--means the most.  You can't write about people unless you understand and appreciate people. This love of people drips from John's novels, even from the assassins' words.  The good characters in John's books give; the bad ones take. 

Some readers might get all balled up in John's use of language, adult situations, and violence.  Too bad.  His stories are fully human at a time in history when too much emphasis lands on other, less important, things.  

I will try to be more like John Locke.  And I can't imagine a higher compliment than that.


P.S.  You can learn a lot about John Locke from his fabulous book on his writing strategy:



Meditate on This, Why Don't You?

I was 18 and a college freshman. It was a Tuesday night in October. My 1970 Chevy Impala felt wide open in the fifty-degree air and the smell of freshly fallen leaves. I drove through Forest Park feeling the rhythm of the yellow street lights as I moved between light and dark. "Memory" from Cats came on the radio. I lit a Camel (no filter). I was free.


In America, we often think of independence as a collective thing. That's bassackwards, isn't it? 

Independence is individual.

July 4th is Independence Day--the day we celebrate breaking free from Britain.  We broke from a nation, as a nation. The collective celebration makes sense.

But we did not break free because of some philosophy about groups of people; our philosophy, embodied in the Declaration of Independence, is about the rights of individual human beings.

We do need other people. We are social animals. But we are free to associate, to work with, to help or ignore those we choose.  No human being has the just authority to force any of us to associate with any other.

Independence is about people.

We broke from England to experiment with governments of our own choosing.

Independence means that I have all I need to live my life as I see best, limited only by my intrusions into others' lives.

On Independence Day weekend, think about that. Take five minutes to meditate on the word "independence" and its personal promise to you, not to the collective.

Independence is earned.

Then take a moment and think about the threats to our independence. They abound. Our families can stifle us. The corporations we work for bind us. The debts we take on chain us. And governments at all levels shackle our bodies, hearts, and minds.

In 1838, a young French aristocrat toured the United States and wrote about his impressions. Toward the end of this two-volume collection, Tocqueville wrote about despotism in America, should it ever return. It's a sobering, staggering premonition. Here's a tiny sample:

Above this race of men stands an immense and tutelary power, which takes upon itself alone to secure their gratifications and to watch over their fate. That power is absolute, minute, regular, provident, and mild. It would be like the authority of a parent if, like that authority, its object was to prepare men for manhood; but it seeks, on the contrary, to keep them in perpetual childhood: it is well content that the people should rejoice, provided they think of nothing but rejoicing. For their happiness such a government willingly labors, but it chooses to be the sole agent and the only arbiter of that happiness; it provides for their security, foresees and supplies their necessities, facilitates their pleasures, manages their principal concerns, directs their industry, regulates the descent of property, and subdivides their inheritances: what remains, but to spare them all the care of thinking and all the trouble of living?

Happy 4th of July. And congratulations on your independence . . . if you can keep it.


Missing the Message for the Words

The SMS text message screamed in all caps:


photo courtesy of minaka

And that was only the beginning.  My cellphone vibrated with new revelations about Godin for the next seven minutes. 

What started all this? 

My friend – let’s call him “Jim” – just finished Linchpin by Seth Godin.  Jim was convinced that the book’s purpose was to inspire an overthrow of the US government and to replace it with a Soviet-style Marxist regime.

I admit that Seth alluded to The Communist Manifesto a few times in Linchpin.  I also admit that the book talked about an economic revolution that would change everything about the way we work and make a living. Not to mention, I’ve disagreed with Seth Godin in the past.

But I don’t believe Godin is a communist. 

Actually, I think Linchpin is profoundly anti-authoritarian.  Here’s why.

First, Godin doesn’t “call for” a revolution. Instead, he observes the revolution that’s going on all around us.  He recognizes that people no longer trust the factory system that created a century of unbelievable wealth and prosperity in the Western world.  He points out that the nature of work has changed.  He isn’t necessarily advocating that change, but dealing with it.

Second, Linchpin helps people break free from the chains held by their corporate masters.  Every tea partier knows that corporate welfare is even more dangerous than individual welfare. Every worker who’s left a massive corporation for self-employment or to join a start-up knows the feeling of liberation and release when you hand in your swipe card.

Third, Godin seems a little too happy about making money according to his rules, not the politburo’s, to be a communist.  In Linchpin, Seth’s actually telling all of us that it’s okay to break free from our corporate masters, to invest in emotional labor, and to produce remarkable stuff for ungodly amounts of income. 

In Jim’s defense, I  know from experience that Seth’s research and understanding of subjects isn’t always the deepest.   Like me and many others, Seth will run with an idea before validating it completely.

Still, I think Jim missed Seth’s points because some of Seth’s words, phrases, and references touched Jim’s hot buttons. Jim missed the message because of the words used to convey it.

Maybe I avoided Jim’s emotional response to Linchpin because I’ve been reading Seth Godin for years.  (It was Jim’s intro to Seth.)  Or maybe Jim’s right, I’m wrong, and Seth Godin’s a Marx-loving, Che cheering commie. 

Either way, I think Linchpin lacks the evidence for either of us to prove our positions.  Both of us interpret the book through lenses clouded by experience and emotions.

Now, go enjoy your weekend after you drop your two cents in the comment box below.

P.S.  If you read this, Seth, we’d all love for you to settle the issue.Smile

Who’s Lucky?

There’s a “special” school in St. Louis County. Its seniors graduated on last Friday.


How sad it must be for those kids. They’re not graduating from the district’s “normal” schools with their peers. For various reasons, they’ve been relegated to a school for misfits.

Seeing the building makes the bad feelings worse.  It’s a former grade school, crammed inconveniently behind a bank and a Taco Bell. Its Eisenhower era architecture stands out  amidst its Mortgage Boom surroundings like a dandelion on golf course. And the high school kids—some in their early 20s—appear freakishly large in the building.

The clown car impression intensifies inside the gymnasium. Its small, undersized basketball court barely holds the families of sixty or so graduates.

The scene was such a contrast for me.

I graduated with almost 600 other kids. Of them, I knew only a small percentage, really. At my high school graduation in the cavernous Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis – which I and all locals will forever call “The New Cathedral” – we sat in alphabetical order for the first time ever.  I had never met the two girls sandwiching me.  (One of them I would have remembered, trust me.)

I was lucky.  I graduated on time with my peers. I was never set back. I got by with a lot—a lot of misbehavior that earned expulsion for other kids. Like I said, I was lucky.

Or was I?

The ceremony at Fern Ridge High School moved me. Me and everyone around me.

Mr. Chris Oliver, an English teacher moving onto a new career after this year, served as the key note speaker. He talked about the wretched state of factory education in America, of course. He talked about the graduating seniors, too.

And he cried.  He paused to compose himself three, four, five times.

I cried, too.  It’s been a while since I’ve had a job that moved me. Chris’s job surely does.

Or did.

Chris said, “Fern Ridge should be a model for all schools in America.” I think he might be right.

At Fern Ridge, Chris was freed from the strictures of a “safe” curriculum handed down like divine instructions on granite tablets. Instead, this school expected him to use his skills and his heart to reach the students—students who have already rejected the factory model of education.

Chris was free, as he said, to “say something crazy” in his classroom.

That means Chris’s students were free to learn and to think. Fernies, as they’re called, do not memorize and regurgitate. 

After his talk, Chris kicked off a Fern Ridge tradition. Teachers stood, one by one, and read an original Tanka to a student.

More tears, but lots of laughs.

(You can’t read Tankas to every student in a class of 600.)

The administrators and teachers on the dais beamed throughout the ceremony. Why shouldn’t they? I said that this was no factory high school. The kids were no factory products. They were, as one of the Tankas described a girl in the class, round pegs in a square world.

America’s education system couldn’t hold these kids.  Most were too intelligent and passionate to make it in regular schools where conformity, anonymity, and banality earn non-descript praise from a faceless bureaucrat.

Education in America—regular, factory education—banished creativity, expression, and brilliance long ago.  Like all socialist schemes, public education “covers the surface of society with a network of small complicated rules, minute and uniform, through which the most original minds and the most energetic characters cannot penetrate, to rise above the crowd [source].”

Students with the courage to cut through that network of rules and stand above the crowd are sentenced to places like Fern Ridge,  or to Missouri’s Options program, where they can earn a diploma without corrupting the numb kids in the regular schools.

When my son accepted his diploma from the principal, I was proud, of course. I was even more humbled and a embarrassed. Not because my son graduated from an alternative school for kids who refused to conform, but because I didn’t.

Way to go, Ben.

Declare Victory

Politics creates incentives to shout, “we lost.” That’s why after every great debate, both sides rush to claim defeat.

Defeats help fire up the emotional base. Screaming, “We’re behind,” helps fundraising. 

Here’s why claiming defeat isn’t such a great idea:  most people who listen to you are not your base.  Nor or they your opponents.  Most people listening are concerned people trying to decide which side’s right and which side’s wrong.

When you declare yourself the winner, some will agree, some won’t.  When you declare defeat, everyone will agree with you.  Claim defeat often enough, and people will just call you a loser.

I Bet You Can’t Do It

I hope you can, but I doubt it.  If you think you can, please comment before and after.

tps_report[1]Go one work week without uttering a single acronym or abbreviation. No ASAPs, no TPS Reports, no MRIs.

Recently, two dozen people sat around a board room table.  I was one of them. After 30 minutes it was all I could do to stay in the damn room.

“We have acronyms for everything,” one woman said. 

Not to be outdone, representatives from three other organizations one-upped her.  “We have books to define all our acronyms.” “New people can’t even figure out what do with all our abbreviations.” 

And they all laugh.

I slapped the table.

“Would you people listen to yourselves?” I hissed.  “You’re bragging about being unintelligible.  Like it’s respectable to speak in gobbledygook.” 

Actually, I smiled like an idiot and continued the meeting.  But I wanted to fix the real problem.

Arcane speech kills understanding. Abbreviations hide meaning.  Acronyms scream “contrived.”

Go on a five day acronym and abbreviation diet. You can write ‘em, but don’t say ‘em. 

Don’t forget to tell us that you’re taking the challenge before you start. And tell us how you did when the week is up.

Give Them the Damn Toy

Mothers get it. Little Sarah wants her plastic Winnie-the-Pooh doll on the high chair tray next to her thick, yellow training plate while she eats.  Dad takes it away.  Mom sighs.

“What?” Dad says.  “It doesn’t belong there while she’s eating.  She’ll play and get food all over it.”

Mom rolls her eyes.

Little Sarah cries, “I want my Pooh!”

Dad digs in.

It ends in tears, of course, for Dad, anyway. Food lands on the wall. Dad yells and starts to clean. Mom gives Sarah the damn toy. Sarah giggles and eats.

Some firms care more about adherence to an arbitrary process than about results. Some bosses care more about the color of a whiteboard marker than about what the marker’s writing. Some brands care more about selling it to you their way than about making the sale.

Never compromise the magic of your process, your products, or your systems. But when a little concession means buy-in and emotional harmony, give them the damn toy.

Why You Should Ignore Critics

Some people who’ve learned ways to ignore critics still haven’t accepted the “why.”  My mistake. I should have been more pointed in my explanation of why it’s important to pay less attention to your critics and more attention to what you’re trying to achieve. And for whom. There are two kinds of critics. The first are your fans who want you to be even better.  The Harley owners who advocate for a longer clutch pedal, the Starbuck’s regulars who ask for free cups of water with their very sweet drink. Listen to these fans. And respond.  You don’t have to do as they ask, but you must tell them you heard and chose not to act.  They will remain faithful because they trust you and want you to succeed.

Then there’s the other kind of critic.  Enemies. They want you to fail. These critics are the Serpent. Their message is intriguing, often seductive. They get you all balled up in emotions. They lead you to suspect your allies and doubt your plans.  They pose questions that suggest you are failing—and offer useful advice. They warn you of division in your ranks.

It’s a trap.

Remember that the Serpent is the Father of Lies.  The Great Deceiver.  Arguing with the devil is useless.  He talks in circles, and all the while he pulls you further away from your mission.  You can argue with the devil, or you can work. You cannot do both.

When the evil critics scoff and mock, remember the exorcist’s advice to Father Karras:

He is a liar. The demon is a liar. He will lie to confuse us. But he will also mix lies with the truth to attack us. The attack is psychological, Damien, and powerful. So don't listen to him. Remember that - do not listen.

If you’re trying to change the world, the parts of the world that don’t want to change will talk about your failures.  When you form a powerful coalition, your enemies will talk about fractures.  When you speak the truth, the demons will call you a liar.

Don’t listen.

Instead, march on.  Talk to your advocates. Follow Patton’s advice: “When in doubt, attack.”  Keep moving.  Don’t listen to the critics.  As Winston Churchill said, “If you are going through Hell, keep going.”

Acting Outside the Box

For years we’ve heard about thinking outside the box.  It’s a cliché.   Like most clichés, overuse has muted its meaning.  But thinking outside the box was never rare. Almost everyone thinks outside the box.  Everyone wishes things were different than they are.  We daydream and we fantasize.  We gripe about this policy or that boss. Unconventional thinking was never scarce.

What is scarce is acting outside the box.

Hundreds, if not thousands, of people talked about ending racial segregation for years before Rosa Parks acted outside the box. Was she answering the call of civil rights leaders?  No.  She just wanted to sit down in the nearest open seat, and she did. Rosa Parks’ actions—not her thoughts—sparked a movement that ended centuries of injustice.

If an organization says it encourages thinking outside the box, be wary.  Thinking doesn’t rock the boat, challenge conventional wisdom, or spark revolutionary change.  Only acting outside the box does.  When a new architecture is needed, create it.  When a room just doesn’t work, rearrange it.

Create a company or organization that acts outside the box, and you can change the world.  Thinking won’t even change your costume.

3 Ways to Avoid Burnout

Burnout is when the gap between effort and reward is so great for so long that the people doing the effort decide to simply quit. They usually don’t quit their jobs.  They show up.  They look busy.  They just don’t care. They’ve reached that mildly agitated and apathetic state that Peter described in the movie Office Space.

That's my only real motivation is not to be hassled, that and the fear of losing my job. But you know, Bob, that will only make someone work just hard enough not to get fired.

From my experience, burnout is far more pervasive than many suspect, and it’s far more damaging than anyone realizes. I watch burnout put a company out of business years after the burnout happened.  I reached a conclusion about that incident that has yet to be challenged by experience: once burnout strikes an employee, that employee’s ruined for that employer. In other words, the only recovery is a new employer.

The answer for managers and businesses, then, is to avoid burnout.  Here’s how:

1. Work Regular Hours:  If you expect people to work from home, to check emails before bed, to work 14 hour day, you’re not only stupid, you’re a bad person.  Limiting people to 40 hours a week instills discipline and prevents burnout. Work will get done faster and will be of higher quality.

2. Reward Results: The heroes who spend three consecutive days at work to meet a deadline aren’t heroes, they’re sociopaths.  Fire them.  Reward the people who add value consistently. I’ve seen too many companies turn good employees into bad ones by rewarding 60 hour work weeks. If the person who spends the most time the office gets the promotion, people will fill the hallways evening and weekends. They will generate emails at 5 a.m. on Sundays just to impress you with their industry.  Yet your gross margin will drop. 

3.  Play: Dr. Stuart Brown says, “The opposite of play is not work, it’s depression.”  Play is natural, and it’s how we learn the most important things we learn in life. (The most important things keep us alive. We learn them before we get to kindergarten.) If you don’t incorporate play into your work, you guarantee burnout in your people. 

Burnout ruins lives and companies.  Fear it.

Build Trust the Old-Fashioned Way: Earn It

Have you ever looked someone in the eye and decided, in an instant, that you can trust him or her? 
What about a business?  Do you trust the companies you do business with? 
I think people do business with companies they distrust all the time.  Most of the time, in fact.  If we don't do business with people and companies we distrust, then:
  • Why do we have contracts?
  • Why do we review bank statements?
  • Why do we insist on warranties and guarantees?
  • Why do we put funds into escrow?

The answer is, we don't trust most of the people we do business with.   But some we distrust more than others.  This trust breaks down a couple of ways:

Trust in Intention:  Many of our business agreements involve future delivery of a good or service. As vendors, we believe that the customer has every intention of paying for the services we offer.  As customers, we believe the vendor honestly intends to deliver.  But we get it in writing because we know circumstances change.  When they took their vows, Mrs. Sanford believed that Governor Sanford would never betray and humiliate her.  Things changed.  But she trusted his intention at the time of the wedding or the would not have occured.

Trust in Representation:  The other kind of trust involves the representation of facts about the past or present.  This is a whole different ball game.  If Joe tells us he was at home watching "So You Think You Can Dance" last night, but we know that he was actually at a bar with a woman from Argentina, we call Joe a dirty liar. When we lose trust in a person's honesty about the past, we will not sign a contract for the future.

Why Is This Important?

Trust is at an all-time low.  Harvard Business Review recently devoted an entire issue to rebuilding trust in companies and institutions.

A Tremendous Loss of Faith

These charts show the level of trust among senior managers and executives toward other executives and consultants.  Since 2007, the men and women who run America's businesses have lost faith in the integrity of their fellows.

More importantly, they seem to have lost the second kind of trust.  They no longer trust other companies to tell the truth about what is or was.

Ethically and morally, we've always been required to tell the truth.  If we sign up to deliver something in the future (Trust in Intentions), then we deliver, even at great cost to ourselves.  If we represent the current state of our business, our capabilities, or our accomplishments, we speak only pure and verifiable truth.  But when trust is already low, the slightest hint of dishonesty, of false representation, will permanently destroy a person's reputation.  It will also destroy his or her business.

As we emerge from the current recession, look for integrity to be at least as important as capability when people and companies choose vendors.

Technorati Tags:

Satisfaction Brought Him Back

iStock_000008705997XSmall In 2008, an executive challenged his people to write down two or three “unmentionables”: issues that were brewing at the water cooler, but were too touchy to raise to management.  One person expressed his concern about a lack of understanding of the differences between selling to businesses and selling to consumers.  He used the standard abbreviations B2B and B2C.

The executive committed a compound faux pas.  First, he attempted to read the missives aloud to a group.  Second, he had no idea what the abbreviations stood for. After beginning with “Bee too . . .”  the executive started over, substituting “Zee” for “Two.”

Confidently, he announced, “Web tools that work for BeeZeeBee clients do not engage consumers in a BeeZeeSee program.”  He went on to read the rest of the paragraph amid sniggers from his direct reports and their direct reports.  He permanently lost credibility with the smartest people in the room.

The executive stopped learning long before this embarrassing episode.  Having achieved vice president, he figured he was done.  Nothing left to do but cost to retirement.  He lost his curiosity.

If you find yourself confused by a phrase or word, learn it.   Then learn its history.  Then learn at least two adjacent ideas.  If you don’t believe me, believe Seth Godin. If you cannot bring yourself to remain curious about everything related to the business you’re in, then get the hell out.  Lack of curiosity makes you look like an idiot and steals money from your employer.  Those who depend on you for leadership will lose their jobs because your department will cost the company money and opportunity.

Technorati Tags: ,,,

5 Rules for Teams

No, this isn't a knock-off of the the book with a similar name.  I haven't read that book.  I've read one book by that author and found it . . . ridiculous. For one thing, I am not a big fan of fables. Most fables preach. And they drip with cheesy dialogue. Instead, this post it about the five rules you should adopt for any company or organization you run. 1. Healthy Work Hours. I had a Captain in the Navy who said, "If you can't do our jobs in forty hours a week, you suck at your job." If your project plan or business model require 45, 60, or 80 hour weeks from people, you suck as a manager. Fix it, or you will be out of a job or out of business. People have lives.  You don't want people without lives talking to your customers, do you?

2. Push Happiness. Knowledge workers who are primed for happiness perform mental tasks fifty percent faster and eighty percent more accurately than equally capable counterparts who prepare by studying. If you make people work eighty hours a week, they probably won't be too happy, though. See how this all fits together?

3. Forget Evaluations. If you, as a manager, don't have cojones to tell people when they're doing great and when their begging, then you shouldn't be a manager. If your people don't accept your real-time evaluations, then maybe you don't know how to talk to people. Quarterly or annual evaluations, though, are a huge waste of time and money. They irritate people. They create unnecessary stress and worry. Don't have them.

4. Don't Grow On Purpose. Large enterprises die horrible, smelly deaths. If you're big enough to be mentioned in Built to Last or Good to Great, you're too big to survive. Big teams, big companies, and big charities end up abandoning anything like value and meaning. Usually. They have no choice. Beyond some limit, the enterprise does nothing but grow itself.  Dare to stay small.

5. Overpay for Talent. I'm not talking about paying the C-suite (if you're unfortunate enough to have one) 230X the average employee salary. I'm talking about paying everyone fifteen percent above the norm for what they do.

You don't have to give huge raises every year. You do have to overpay for good people. Overpaid employees know they're overpaid, just as underpaid employees know you're one step removed from a slave trader. Underpaid workers do the bare minimum until something better pops up on Underpaid employees treat your customers like crap, abuse privileges, and waste time. Why shouldn't they? You're abusing them by underpaying for their labor. All's fair.

I once lived near a gas station and convenience owned by a small company in St. Louis. I love their hot dogs, and the store was right on my way to work. I was there every day. About the time a QuikTrip opened nearby, my favorite station started going down hill. They'd be out of hot dogs. The coffee would be empty or three hours old. Lines would be long, customers crabby, and employees rude.

I asked Wanda, one of the weekend employees, what happened. She told me that people left to QuikTrip and another chain because they pay much better and there's always at least two people working. "When the QuickTrip opened," Wanda told me, "management panicked. They wanted to cut costs so they could cut prices. They reduced everyone's hours and eliminated raises we were supposed to get. So the best peopel quit. I'm only here because it's close and I work part time."

That gas station was later sold to another operator who tore it down and built a shiny new place where there's always at least two people working. The new company pays very well. The tightwad is out of business.

Overpay for talent. Make people happy. Happy people are more effective, more loyal, and friendlier to your customers. Simple.