Year end led to quite a few commentators, pundits, and random other people taking a look at how poorly others…never themselves it seems…were in their predictions for year end business matters. How far off were they about the price of oil, the ending stock index values, the value of this or that company, the success of one or another product, service, or even entire company. It seems that the year ended with large numbers of results that were nowhere near what was expected when the year began.

Everyone commenting has a plethora of reasons for why results are so far off from predictions. Mostly they focus on random things that happened that no one predicted. It turns out in their estimation it had nothing to do with poor planning, poor execution, more successful competitors, or a variety of things that they could have included in their original thinking about what was to come. It was due to random elements rather than lousy thinking.

Werner Heisenberg, one of the pioneers of quantum mechanics, captured the reality of what happened quite well. “In the strict formulation of the law of causality – if we know the present we can calculate the future – it is not the conclusion that is wrong but the premise.”

We find ourselves once again in the time of predictions for the coming year. Again we face a year of all kinds of random events that will impact the predictions in ways unforeseen. In spite of seeing how poorly their acting on the calculations about the future turned out…actually not always poorly since sometimes big mistakes do lead to unpredicted positive results…many will still act on these new predictions without looking at the basic assumptions they sit on.

It’s not just the assumptions themselves that need to be evaluated. Being prepared for what might come also means considering that once your assumptions are set they still can be wrong – really, really wrong. How would it have changed your thinking, and planning, if at the beginning of 2014 you had taken a serious look at the implications for your business of oil at US$50 a barrel? Would you have been ready to rapidly take advantage as soon as you saw the precipitous drop in price begin? Would you have been prepared with plans to cut quickly and so preserve cash or perhaps ramp up rapidly to take advantage of extra consumer spending ability.

As you enter the new year, be warned. As Heisenberg said, it’s the premise not the conclusion that should concern you.

As we end one year and enter the next…take a deep breath. Relax, reflect, and rejuvenate. Take a clarity break, enjoy the holidays, contemplate the year to come.

Start 2015 with a clear vision, the resolve to accomplish it, and the clarity and strength to communicate it clearly and follow the path that turns vision into reality.

But mostly, as we enter the new year….

Pay Attention • Add Value • Have Fun





The world oil price is crashing. Supply has increased dramatically at the same time as people have learned to use less. For many consumers of oil in any of its forms this has been a nice windfall as the year ends. For others, including those countries and companies dependent on high oil prices, it has been a disaster.

The economic and political result of this has global implications.

Watching this happen over the last few months has been an interesting experience. So many were so secure in their predictions of high and even higher oil prices combined with continuing high usage that they were totally unprepared for the rapid fall. So many were so sure of the world necessity for buying their oil that it never occurred to them that they could be replaced by other sources. So many tried to stop the future from coming in a failed attempt to maintain their position of wealth and power.

The same thing has been happening in other industries and with other belief systems. It amazes me how this can be in spite of everyone noticing the world changing event called the internet that has burst upon us all. They seem to think this was an anomaly, a one time event that interrupted their calm and predictable world, never to happen again.

And yet, we all know that these days the one thing predictable is change. And more change at a rapid pace. And then an even more rapid pace. And still, so many go forward ignoring this in their thinking about the future, in their planning, in their predicting what is to come and how it will affect them and their business.

Effective leadership requires taking the blinders off and thinking about the worst things that can happen…and how you will respond and take advantage of them. What if the prices collapse in your industry. What will you do? What if a terrorist detroys your place of business. What will you do? What if a totally disruptive technology takes over your industry. What will you do?

Not only will this get you thinking and planning for how you will respond and survive the event, it also gets you thinking about how to improve your business as you work to address possible disasters that might be just over the horizon. You’ll find out some things about your industry, your business, your people that you never realized and maybe come up with some new and disruptive ideas of your own.

Get ahead of the unknown coming at you. Become the distruptor rather than the disrupted. Be prepared for whatever might come. Get ready to flourish while many fall by the wayside.

Local Vision

The last Benari missive, Global Vision, was just what it sounds like, some thoughts on focusing globally and on Yohei Sasakawa who has done so and thus improved the world. Today I find myself thinking about the impact of focusing locally and how important it is to not forget that improving the world needs to include helping each person as an individual.

This morning I was part of a two person panel with Bob Madonna at a meeting of The MidAtlantic Consultants Network. The title of the event was Are You Comfortable Referring Others and Why? Bob and I wound up trading stories and ideas about meeting people, developing relationships, referrals, breakfast, and airports. We threw in some networking horrors and bad experiences as a counterpoint to the success stories. It has become a podcast so listen here and enjoy our stories.

I spent some time discussing my random nature, rapid movement, and how this impacts the way I connect with people and the records I keep. Bob chimed in with a few stories of his own of a similar way of acting. We disabused the audience of the need to be structured and rigid and assume you needed to follow a strict process to be successful at developing and maintaining great business relationships.

At the end someone came up to me and shared how happy he was that he had decided to come to hear the program. He then proceeded to tell me how I had changed his life.

It seems he is like me in many ways and has been making himself uncomfortable by forcing himself to abide by some rigid networking methodologies he heard were what you had to do to be successful. Since being uncomfortable isn’t the best way to make others feel comfortable and interested in connecting with you, he was having limited success.

During the program he hadn’t heard a word from either of us about structure other than a few thoughts about writing some things down so you remember them. Instead he heard about how to act like a normal person interested in whoever you meet and be comfortable and natural in your interactions with others. No special sauce, just an honest interest in learning about whoever you’re talking to while not pushing yourself and your needs into their face.

He was excited that he could be himself and be successful, probably more successful at establishing relationships good for business purposes. I was so pleased that I had agreed to speak to this small, local organization where I could have such an impact on someone in such a short time.

Local focus where you can help people one at time. Local focus where you can interact in personal ways that reach people deeply and leave them better off than they were before you met. Local focus as a counterpoint to global vision. Helping the world improve one by one on your way to having a large effect as each person you touch goes off to touch others in a better way leaving those they touch better off than they were before.

Whatever your resources you have the ability to make a difference. Sometimes I notice those in positions of power and authority get so focused on the global that they forget the individual. It takes thinking about both to have the biggest impact. One without the other is weaker than both together. The best leaders know how to share and implement the global vision in a way that touches each person individually. Just like successful networking it all starts by thinking first of them and allowing their success to drive you forward. When all are driving forward together…think what that will do for your organization.

Steve Smolinsky, left, and Bob Madonna, discussing effective business networking at the December 8, 2014 MACN meeting.

Global Vision

Oddly, after writing the last missive about my stress from the technology upgrades and migrations that are going on in my life, Old Brain…New Tricks, I encountered an even more stressful situation on my trip to Tokyo a few days ago. So as to not bore those of you who peruse my personal blog notes on my travels and my random thoughts along the journey, I won’t repeat the story here but suggest you take a look at US Airways Cancelled Me!

Luckily I did manage to get to Tokyo where I am participating in the Global Alumni Meeting of the United Nations – Nippon Foundation of Japan Fellowship Program. This Fellowship Program is dedicated to creating a community of world leaders working to improve the conditions of the world ocean while fairly and peacefully addressing the myriad issues surrounding ocean use and policy. I have the great honor and fun of leading part of the event.

We’re celebrating the 10th Anniversary of the program. Almost the entire alumni of the program have managed to get here from over 50 countries. It is an inspiring group showing how with a positive global vision a leadership group from countries often at great odds with each other can come together in comity and produce results that integrate nations and people for the common good of all.

The Nippon Foundation is a wonderful organization. It is dedicated to the mission of social innovation to achieve a global society where all support each other to reduce the burdens and challenges they face. Talk about a huge global vision.

These days the Chairman is Yohei Sasakawa, son of the founder and first Chairman Ryoichi Sasakawa. The vision created by Ryoichi Sasakawa and now carried forward by Yohei Sasakawa has improved the lives and conditions for not just large numbers of people but also for the nations of the entire world. Think about the imagination and strength of conviction it took to dream so big and then create an institution dedicated to fulfilling this vision, a vision that will take an unknown number of years, decades, perhaps centuries to come to completion.

I have had the great honor and pleasure of spending time talking with Yohei Sasakawa. What stands out most in speaking with him is his deep belief in the vision of creating a better world for all.

We talk about vision in the business world all the time. Rarely do I run into business leaders who have created a vision of great breath and reach. Even rarer are those who have so internalized this vision that it truly guides all they do and sets a path for years to come.

There’s an interesting thing about vision. Businesses tend to achieve the vision that guides them. Have a small vision and achieve small things. Have a big vision and achieve big things. This doesn’t mean that you always achieve all you hope for but it does mean that the bigger you dream the more you are likely to achieve.

The bigger the dream and the more you live it, the more it captures the imagination of those whose help you need to reach it. Channel Yohei Sasakawa. Dream big. Paint a picture that causes people to catch their breath when they think about it. Live it, breath it, share it widely.

Who knows, you too might wind up creating something that improves the entire world. Now there’s a vision to inspire your people.


Nippon FoundationYohei SasakawaYohei Sasakawa


Due to the ongoing attempt to move all my technology into the cloud and integrate it fully with my various social media activities, I have been quite stressed over the last couple of weeks. This is happening at the same time as work proceeds on getting my soon to be video channel read to launch. More stress. Much of what the various people working on these activities are doing is well beyond my area of competence…or even understanding. Yet more stress. For reasons beyond me, I agreed to get all this moving a few weeks before I will spend a week in Tokyo for the United Nations – hopefully with email and access to various documents and such working so I can keep all my activities going and my clients happy. Need I say, immense stress?

All this stress has me thinking about old brains learning new tricks and the impact it is having on me.

I have the great good fortune to have an exceptional person helping me drive all this forward: Laura Walton, Founder of Talk Show Connections. She combines exceptional technical knowledge and ability with amazing expertise in ensuring executives with no video experience star in great videos for marketing and other purposes. And she figured out that treating me like a three year old in the process is exactly right.

In spite of Laura’s support and the extensive time she and the others have put into my project, with so many moving parts – as you certainly expect – it is taking awhile to get everything updated and integrated while various video and channel creation activities are going on and I am continuing to think, create, and re-design in the midst of it all so am causing changes and delays. Thus my stress.

I’ve realized that the stress comes from several different places. One is what I think of as the normal business stress created by working to get a complex system performing perfectly. I’ve been dealing with this as I normally do so it doesn’t worry me much. Another stress comes from participating in a business activity where I know little about how it works and have to totally depend on the experts. Again, this is what most of my consulting with senior executives entails so I have learned to ignore the stress created by not knowing and trust those who know for the technical details.

Then there’s that other stress, the one that comes from realizing that I have to learn a collection of new skills that fall far outside the kind of things that lie in my comfort zone. I am not very technological both by background and by inclination. Now I find myself being coached and educated about all kinds of nitty gritty details about my systems and social media that often make no sense to me. Me, Mr Big Picture now turned into Mr Tiny Detail.

It is stressful.

As part of my personal therapy to overcome my stress, I decided to write about this instead of the usual leadership or management issues you usually see here. Thank you for helping with this. Perhaps you’ll read a few words helpful to you in decreasing your stress.

The mere activity of thinking it through and turning it into a reasoned (hopefully) overview of what is going on has the amazing ability to defuse the stress significantly. Not totally, as knowing leads to lessening but not erasure.

Lessening leads to the ability to more calmly consider the situation and focus on the end result and how absolutely wonderful it is going to be instead of focusing on the aggravation of the journey. The mind needs to retreat from the focus on the difficulty and the fear of the unknown that the stress feeds on so it can rationally consider the situation and evaluate the value…which is immense in this case.

Once able to think more clearly and understand the underpinnings of the stress and irrationality of giving in to it, the physical discomfort it causes jumps out. The mind and the body feed each other. It’s either a destructive loop or a virtuous loop. The choice is yours.

So mind moved towards calmness and body tenseness identified, I took a very, very long walk through the woods, up and down the hills, around the countryside of Birchrunville. A clarity break. The mind soars, the body relaxes, the stress dissapates.

I return energized and enthusiastic about what is to come. It’s hard to remember what created all the angst that led to this story.

Rejuvention is a wonderful thing. A better future awaits.


Ernesto Sirollo is an amazing man. For decades he has roamed the world helping budding entrepreneurs find the resources they need to launch successful businesses. Mostly he operates in remote locations working with local people who never thought of themselves as entrepreneurs. He helps rural farmers in Africa improve their farms so they can produce enough to both feed their families and sell and so improve their farms further…and their lives, helps craftsmen turn a personal love and expertise into a thriving business, helps fisherman figure out how to get a premium price for their catch.

He’s figured out how to help regular people take what they know and use their own resources to turn it into something better that leads to increased production, better sales and marketing, and thus, increased income and all that leads to for those in marginal economic situations.

Some years ago he wrote a book, Ripples from the Zambezi:Passion, Entrepreneurship, and the Rebirth of Local Economies. This book describes his experiences in Africa. In a recent article by Sally Helgesen in Strategy + Business, The Entrepreneurship Coach, she shares some of Sirollis’s ideas and his three essential messages about economic development.

“First, all effective development ideas need to come from local people rather than ‘experts,’ no matter how well-meaning or informed these experts might be. Second, most efforts to motivate people are fruitless; rather, those trying to help local enterprise must wait until entrepreneurs ask for help, then connect them with the resources they need. And third, entrepreneurs should never be encouraged to act in isolation on their dreams, because doing so will increase their chances of failure and cause them to question their own capacities.”

Forget the experts and ask the local people, those who know most about what they want and need. Forget about trying to motivate those who aren’t interested and focus your efforts on helping those who want help. People don’t succeed on their own but need to build a team around themselves.

As I read these three simple ideas for building successful entrepreneurs, it struck me: these are the same mistakes so often made in the business world. Bring in experts to give you the solution…without involving those who know most about what’s going on and what they need, waste lots of effort on motivating everyone rather than building a crew of people who are looking for and welcoming support. Praise and reward an individual for something which required a team to do.

This leads to a very simple idea: listen. Forget all the consultants, just listen to your people. They know what they need. They know what is working well, and what isn’t. They know when they need help. And by listening and addressing what you hear and then supporting and enabling them to get the advice and tools they need to succeed, they will. No outside motivation required.

Much wisdom remains hidden and unspoken for a simple reason. You never asked.


Last missive, Open or Closed, accidentally used Election Day in the United States as a lead in to what I really wanted to write about: the impact of doubt versus certainly. If you haven’t read it or don’t remember it, go back and read Open or Closed before reading further.

Here we are, exactly a week since the election. I find myself again starting off with thoughts about the election. By now the entire world knows that all the pollsters and pundits should be out looking for work. A zillion polls and pseudo intellectual discourses on exactly what was going to happen and why…and none of them were close to the final results. Even on the eve of the election, forecasts for the very next day were embarrassingly inaccurate.

Pollsters have been refining their methodology for years. They have the latest technology slicing and dicing the electorate every way imaginable. There are reams of statistics from past elections to aid them in building their predictive models. They have the best political minds (or so those minds claim) to add a last bit of seasoning to the mix.

And still they were embarrassingly inaccurate.

I’ve heard a number of the pollsters explaining why they were wrong. I suppose they are trying to convince future customers it wasn’t their fault the electorate did what they wanted instead of what was predicted. I wonder if they understand that now that the election is over pretty much no one cares what they say in their defense.

They blew it.

Predicting the future is difficult no matter how much current and historic data you have to feed into your algorithms. Who predicted these were coming: Ebola? The rise of IS in the Middle East? Google or Facebook?

Once they began to develop traction, the difficulty of predicting lessened, lessened but did not disappear or even approach certainty. The whims of the universe are always out there, sometimes with huge effect, sometimes with small effect. Always with some effect.

Yet I run into executives who seem to think their predictions of the future are certain. They act on their predictions without regard for countervailing facts or noticing that as they move forward the world around them in changing. Changing rapidly.

I see projections by people who haven’t bothered to put some worst case/best case parameters around them. Something happens and they are totally unprepared. Totally unprepared is just as bad if business suddenly takes off as if it falls off a cliff. No one knows what to do in either case.

Reminds me of something I read recently: Open or Closed. Doubt leads to conversation, questioning, the search for more and better information, and most importantly, keeping your eyes open and your brain thinking…and preparing for whatever may come. Certainty now, certainty leads to waking up finding your world has changed and you aren’t sure what to do.





Open or Closed!

It happens to be Election Day in the United States the day this goes out. I would be remiss in my civic duty if I therefore didn’t start by reminding you that your vote does count. And…if you don’t vote, you don’t get to complain about what happens. Saying they are all the same is really a sign of Confident Ignorance on your part. Confident Ignorance as saying they are all the same really means you haven’t spent any time thinking about the candidates and discovering what they really believe and have done, but have bought into the mass of punditry based on personal bias or economic gain.

I always find it interesting that the majority of Americans live in the center of the political spectrum. As a country we’re moderate people who really would like to see competent elected officials working together to come up with solutions that we all can accept. Not too much this way or too much that way.

Then there are the rabid partisans who occupy the ends of the political spectrum. The take no prisoner crowd. The compromise is losing crowd. The my way or the highway crowd.

There turn out to be many less of these rabid partisans than most people believe. They just scream the loudest and suck up all the oxygen in the debate. And their methods are destructive rather than constructive. The rest of us suffer the consequences.

Who votes? The rabid. Who sits home? The rest of us.

Make a difference. Get out and vote. Even if you feel it’s the lessor of two evils, at least you’ve moved us away from the worst that can happen. And these days, every little bit helps.


You can’t see this, but I just sat and looked at what just flowed without pause into this missive. It really isn’t what I was thinking about when I sat down to write. And yet, it turns out to be a great introduction to what I actually wanted to share.

Cliff Story, he of Story’s Garage, is quite the Philosopher Mechanic. When I take my SAAB to visit his little cinder block garage sitting in the woods surrounded by dead SAABs, we’ve gotten into spending a bit of time figuring out how to make the world a better place.

A few days ago he shared this with me: “Doubt is a conversation; certainty is a closed door,” Bill Maher. Yes, it was in response to my last missive, Beware the Confident Ignorant.

As you expect, this led to our discussing how in the business world so many problems come from those convinced of rightness of their ideas in spite of everything, even much evidence to the contrary. When you run into someone coming from a position of certainty, there is no conversation for how can you discuss something with someone convinced they have the final answer?

Doubt now, doubt is a wonderful thing. Doubt opens up the opportunity for thoughtful discourse. Doubt leads to the opportunity for sharing of ideas, for looking for new and different information, for a coming together of people to build a common understanding.

Doubt often leads to growth while certainly often is a dead end.

Beware certainty, in business or politicians. Beware those who are so set in their beliefs that they are unwilling to hear other viewpoints. Beware those who in their arrogance have closed their minds to the ideas and interests of others.

Josh Billings once said, “it ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble, it’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”

These days political discourse, media, the internet, and millions of private conversations fall into the last part of that quote. People are acting on things they know for sure but which just ain’t true. Even worse, many are in positions where their acting on things that are incorrect leads to bad results not only for them but also for the rest of us. And, yes, this is happening in your organization.

At Cornell University psychologists David Dunning, Stav Atir, and Emily Rosenzweig spend a lot of time researching the phenomenon of why those with the least knowledge are often the most confident in their ideas about things they know nothing about. It turns out that incompetent people…those with the least knowledge and expertise about a subject…cannot recognize how incompetent they are.

This is called the Dunning-Kruger Effect as it was first documented in research David Dunning and Justin Kruger published in 1999 in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. When you think about it, it makes sense. After all, as Dunning says “for poor performers to recognize their ineptitude would require them to possess the very expertise they lack.”

While this winds up being an ongoing joke in the Lie Witness News segment of the late night show Jimmie Kimmel Live, the effect on your organization is no laughing matter. Poor performers exhibiting the Dunning-Kruger Effect will have absolute confidence in the totally wrong decisions they make. It will never occur to them to get advice or second opinions before making decisions that can lead to disastrous results.

My guess is as you read this most of you are recalling things that people in your organization have done that to you, with greater knowledge in the area, were inconceivable. Those of you with children who have just gotten their drivers licenses live if fear of this every day. The brand new driver is totally secure in their complete ability to drive while you hope they survive accident free long enough to actually gain the expertise to be a competent driver.

How can we recognize our own ignorance? How can we address the problem in others? It’s not easy.

First off, practice saying “I don’t know.” These seem to be among the hardest words for most people to say. Not only does saying these words lead to gathering ideas from others, some of whom might just have the necessary knowledge, but it also leads others to understand that it’s okay not to know everything. No one does.

Test everything. Think about how your idea might be incorrect. Think about what else you might do. Think about how your idea can lead to failure. Consider the down side of you decisions. Keep your internal devil’s advocate sitting on your shoulder.

Ask other people their thoughts on the subject. They might have just as many misconceptions as you but the process of discussion can clear up lots of things. At the very least, it might lead to the decision to go find an actual expert in the topic and get their opinion before acting on misconception rather than accurate information.

Be aware that we all suffer from Dunning-Kruger Effect to some degree. It’s hard not to. We all have beliefs not based in fact that come from our families, culture, religion, poor education, screaming talking heads, self defined internet experts, and lots of other places.

Fight back. End the Dunning-Kruger Effect.


Read the article by David Dunning that got me thinking about this: We Are All Confident Idiots.


Six Second Ad

Some time ago, in Find Your Words, I talked about the value of distilling your business down to three words. Just doing the exercise of finding three words to express who you are, what you do, and how you do it will lead to deep discussion and insight about your business. The simplicity of these three perfect words will change how you think about, and run, your business.

In the October 20 Wall Street Journal, Michael Sprague, Executive Vice President of Sales and Marketing Kia Motors America, talks about the need to stay flexible and embrace rapid change if you want to get your message out. Actually, staying flexible and embracing rapid change in everything are requirements for success these days.

What particularly caught my attention was Sprague’s mention that “it used to be that video ads needed to be 30 or 60 seconds. Now with online video, some want them to be six seconds long.”

Six seconds. Not much longer than it takes to say your three words. My thoughts about presenting who you are, what you do, and how you do it in three words converging with what it takes to create a successful marketing video.

Three words – Six seconds. The simplicity of it is amazing. The difficulty of effectively presenting your entire message so simply is immense. The effect it will have on how you and others think of your business, products, and services is transforming.

Reaching for such simplicity and brevity forces you to distill everything you are and do down to their very essence. Get rid of the obfuscating verbiage, extensive and unnecessary detail, random words and images that just fill up space and time while confusing everyone. Find the basic essence that lies at the heart of everything that goes on. The basic essence that is inviolate, that guides all decisions, all actions, all messages.

It’s so much easier to make it longer. The effort to prune it hard is worth it. It’s much more powerful when it’s short.

Be powerful. Share your essence widely.

There we all were, in our own kind of private space, standing around squashed between the pool tables being blasted by ridiculously loud music in a room at the end of a huge bar with the rest of the place mostly populated by 20 somethings dressed way down. A small amount of barely edible bar food was placed on one of the tables. Gloppy chicken wings, cut carrots and celery with some sort of dip, soggy tortilla chips with a small amount of something greasy on top of them. The only drinks available were beer or bar wine. You get the idea.

The event? A Networking Event hosted by four companies looking to do something nice for existing clients and land a few new ones. The people there? Business people of varying levels but all well beyond being 20 somethings. All of us screaming at each other while dripping food all over and hoping not to spill something on those crushed up against us.

The hosts? In the spirit of protecting those who apparently know no better, I will just say that they included a huge global consulting firm, a huge global insurance brokerage, and a couple of regional firms that seem to do things in the financial and IT realms. I can’t be sure because I never saw anyone from any of the host firms.

The conversations? Difficult. The noise I mentioned. With a bit of screaming I managed to share some stories with a few people I knew and chat with one or two bankers trolling for potential borrowers. Every single conversation I was in included some amazed discussion of the venue, the food, the noise, and the fact that those who just wanted a Makers Mark on the rocks had to fork over 8 bucks.

Quite a few people were wondering who set this up and what they were thinking. Hardly showed the hosts in their best light. Actually, since I never saw any of them, the light didn’t matter.

The good news is that I got introduced by a friend who was there to someone who desperately wants me to contact him as his company can use my help. One of the bankers discovered that Benari uses his bank and asked if I had ever been to their holiday party. Upon hearing that I hadn’t he got a card from me and promised to invite me a really nice party with excellent food and a bar to match. As he said, “nothing like this.”

I cut out early with someone and we went to the nearby Capital Grille where we sat at the bar with excellent glasses of wine, some of their home made potato chips, and nice background music that allowed us to have a conversation without burning out our vocal cords.


Stay Fresh

We all have habits. Habits make many things easier. We manage to drive home from the office without much thought, automatically turning here and there as required. You have a favorite area or even seat in an auditorium that you automatically aim for upon entering. Watching a good bartender make a complex drink without measuring a single thing always intrigues me. Their body has learned exactly how long to pour this or how big a shake of that make the perfect drink. To make it easier for your favorite bartender, you might have a drink you always order.

Habit also have the unfortunate effect of locking us in, making us comfortable, stopping us from exploring new things and ideas. New things, things that might be better that what we’ve become habituated to. New things that might lead to improved operations or decreased costs. New ideas that might lead to a new product or service.

Paloma Picasso recently said in WSJ Magazine that she resists habit. Her method? Travel. As she says “travel has always been a way of stepping out of habit. If you’re in a different place, you do things differently.” She goes on to mention that her father Pablo Picasso never did anything geared to habit.

In the same article Michael Kors, the fashion designer says his most consistent habit is contradiction. Iced tea is a constant in his hand, he often travels to the same places, and he sketches with the same tools he’s use since he was a teenager. But, he has the attention span of a gnat that leads him to want to balance the habits with the cutting edge new. The habits to get the work done with great skill but the cutting edge new for the ideas and inspiration.

The problem for many is that they have the habits but never look for the cutting edge new. They are stuck in place with habits running their life and never manage to find a different place where they are required to do things differently.

The rut wins out over the peak.

From the same WSJ Magazine article, tennis star Maria Sharapova mentions that responsiveness to change is what sets the great players apart. Success comes from adaptation, actually, not only from being able to adapt but from being able to anticipate the need to adapt. Habit drives the basic moves but responsiveness and adaptation are what make a good player great.

And so it is in business. Many are good at what they do. Few are exceptional. Many let habit guide the way their business operates, the way they make management decisions. Few see everything they do as an opportunity to improve things. How many times have you heard…or said…”that’s the way we do things here”? Habit run amok even in the face of mediocrity, or even failure.

Stay fresh. Listen to Paloma Picasso, Michael Kors, Maria Sharapova. Use your habits wisely but don’t let them run your life, or your business. Travel widely, search out cutting edge new, be responsive and adaptive.

Surprise your bartender. Ask for something different.

bar drinks


On Stage

A few days ago I spent half a day in front of a video camera. Three cameras to be exact. Behind the cameras were their operators, the script editor, the producer, and a few hangers on. An interviewer sat next to me to guide my stories down the right paths.

When first asked to create a video channel, I wanted nothing to do with it. A little creative pressure and appeals to my ego leavened with explaining how much fun this will be brought me around. The final convincer was telling me that not only would I wind up with new business but perhaps I’d even be able to raise the fees.

Fun, more business, higher fees. How could I resist?

They didn’t tell me about how much work it is. Getting started involved an amazing process of interviewing me…more like psychotherapy actually…and then extracting interesting and amusing stories from these interviews, the multitudes of things I’ve written, and whatever else I remembered to share. All this went into a rough script. Rough because the script was really just a collection of bullet points to remind me of things I wanted to share. Most importantly, everything needed to carry a message with it somehow related to improving leadership, management, and business success.

What intrigues me the most is the personal value I’ve received so far. Being guided through a one on one conversational process of delving deeply into what you believe, why you do things, what you know, what you do, what your actions lead to, and how this all impacts both people and business was enlightening. All was structured in a business context but clearly surfaced things that guide all aspects of all my interactions with others.

Most interesting was how it clarified what I’ve often said, everything I do runs together. Business experience feeds life outside of business and life outside of business fees business experience. To the extent you are able to bring all parts of your life together you wind up expanding your abilities and being better at all you do.

I didn’t realize how the process would help get my thinking in order, remind me of events and ideas I wanted to share, improve my stage presence, and lead to my becoming much better at subtlely and not so subtlely incorporating the points I wanted to make into stories about events I’ve experienced in my extensive travels, with my clients around the world, during my Wharton adventures, and from my random activities outside of business.

The initial video is now going into editing. We are working on formatting the channel and doing the multitude of things necessary for the launch (right after New Year) to be spectacular. I’m talking to clients about their sharing a story, thinking about capturing my future travels, and wondering what I’ve gotten myself into.

I’m feeling a bit re-energized (those of you who know me probably wonder why I would ever need more energy) and am convinced my neural pathways have changed for the better.

All because I was willing to agree to do something that I initially thought was silly and too time consuming. I broke through my mindset and tried something different. And am all the better for it. It reminds me of the wisdom of the saying we’ve all heard many times: try it, you’ll like it.


Be Adorable

Yesterday someone called me adorable. During a business conversation.

My immediate reaction was to be both quite pleased and taken aback. Quite pleased because it’s always fun when a wonderful woman says such things to me. Taken aback because it was during a business meeting. Even more taken aback because me…adorable? I think of puppies and small children as being adorable.

After a few seconds of reflection I asked her what she meant by adorable as I couldn’t remember anyone ever calling me adorable, even my mother when I was a small child. Certainly not in a business context. It was intriguing as I began to understand what she meant by adorable. It reinforced my belief that too often we jump to the wrong conclusion due to cultural misunderstanding.

Language, or more directly the meaning of the words, flows from cultural background. Different cultural background, different meaning. Different meaning, misunderstanding. Misunderstanding…need I go further?

As we talked about adorable I discovered she meant something that I would never have put in the adorable box. Adorable was her word for describing something she had noticed about me. It is her way of describing my ability to connect with a variety of people with wildly different backgrounds, experiences, and education. Most impressive to her is my ability to travel the world and fit in wherever I find myself.

We went on to discuss how this comes about. Observation and listening, modeling behavior, openness and friendliness, helping out. Stepping into their world rather than expecting them to step into yours.

It got us thinking about the importance of being adorable. The importance of being open to others coupled with the flexibility to really hear their them and understand their world while staying true to yourself and always walking your talk. Quite a difficult thing for many. It’s so much easier to stay in your bubble and expect others to adjust.

Soon we were sharing stories of the value of this skill in business, and other, interactions. We talk about how odd it is that so many don’t understand the power of connecting on a personal level and the good things that come from it. Conversely, we shared stories of the leaders we know who don’t have a clue how poor they are at really knowing what their people are thinking. They completely miss the power of adorableness.

I am technologically incompetent. I mention this so you will understand why immediately following talking about adorableness we used her computer to do a call with AT&T. Part of the reason for our meeting was for her to order me a new iPhone Super and do a whole collection of things I don’t understand including ensuring I could keep my grandfathered unlimited data plan. We huddled around the computer in a loud Wegman’s, her doing the talking, me kibitzing since I have no idea what the two of them were talking about.

We wind up with a perky AT&T lady who keeps laughing at our side dialogue while she does whatever she is doing to make all this work. We have one problem after another including that AT&T has no way to ship the phone to an address that includes C/O as in care of someone not me since they won’t ship it to my post office box and UPS is unwilling to stop leaving packages sitting in my driveway which doesn’t seem the best place to have my new iPhone sitting…especially if I am away for a few days. (customer service in both these cases is a story for another post)

Finally they get it all straightened out. We are ending the call with everything done successfully. I am relieved and amazed. As she says goodbye Ms AT&T is laughing as she says… “you two are just so adorable'”.

Be Adorable

Pay Attention • Add Value • Have Fun

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