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Month: December 2017

Onward, Systematically.

Many of us are glad to close the door on this year. Doesn’t mean 2018 is suddenly transformative and all will be rainbows and unicorns. Really, tomorrow is just another day. Somehow we make the transition into so much more.

I already outlined my three guiding words for this year. Our success with resolutions hinges on our success at learning new habits and breaking old ones that don’t serve us. Scott Adams encouraged us to think not about goals but systems as a mindset that helps us achieve our goals by using knowledge and process. Systems don’t allow us to talk ourself out of something like we can with goals and resolutions. “Thanks for the Feedback” by Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen talks about systems in relationships. Peter Senge talks about Systems Thinking. It’s a mindset.

Systems help us build new habits. They require less cognitive thought and willpower freeing us up to accomplish more. To focus more.

We can lament the passing of time or make the most of it. Either way it passes. Here’s to a year ahead filled with building good systems that fuel your success whatever that looks like for you. For me, it’s a mix of financial, emotional, physical and relational. It’s about moving forward purposefully.

What’s your mindset right now and what systems will you put into place next? Bring it on 2018. Let’s go.

My three new words for 2018

It’s time to take stock of how I did living my words for 2017 and introduce three new words for 2018. Not that this year’s or prior years really go away. It gives emphasis on what I should pay attention to as I navigate the year ahead. I said I’d reinvent myself this year and in some ways I have. Others not so much yet. It was a year of much newness I’ve embraced with gusto. Explore: I continued to wander around cities I go for business and ventured a bit beyond to others and into the French countryside for a decadently magical experience. Much remains to be explored. There is still room to be more exceptional and I focused much on communication this year – written and verbal. Always room to improve.


We live in the age of distraction and I find myself often distracted. Hey look, squirrel! We check our phones too much, spending too much time consuming sound bites rather than engaging in the kind of thinking that contributes to growth and creativity and richer experiences. I commit to being more intentional in my actions and the activities in which I engage including time with others where I am more fully present. I think this year will be one where more of us engage in a digital detox and take back our time. Life in analog is rich and the digital doesn’t always live up to the promise of more productivity and more time for what matters. Here’s to a year of living intentionally.


We often make things harder than they need to be because we don’t take time to connect the dots whether that’s in how we communicate and connect with others to how we work. And what we say. There’s an art to simplicity. Simple is simply hard. And it takes time. It takes more time to write succinctly. More time to edit for clarity and in the photo world, to select the absolute best work that says exactly what you want it to say. In marketing, simple is pure magic. It’s where engagement happens effortlessly because you took the time to demonstrate how you solve real problems better than anyone else. No matter how complex your product, you can distill it down to the crux of what you do. But it takes work. And I plan to engage in the elegant art of simplicity. It builds on being exceptional in all I do.


Connected with being distracted by all of the digital inputs and interruptions is a loss of focus. This is a reminder to get clear about priorities in all areas of life – work, ambition, parenting, friendships and fun. It’s deciding what really matters and pursuing it with gusto and grace. It’s about making a difference after a year that arguably left many of us so distracted and disillusioned. Let’s focus and make good things happen.

Meet me in the middle?

What ever happened to civil discourse? Where it was okay to disagree and argue in search of common ground? What ever happened to meeting in the middle?

Everything has become politicized and polarized. Facts are considered irrelevant. Science is stupid. Thinking is bad. Wealth is increasingly concentrated in the .1%.

Joseph Stieglitz talked about the dangers of the growing inequality. At some point – if not now – our systems are going to snap.

With our crumbling infrastructure – roads, healthcare, environment, education – we’re losing our edge as a great society. We’re at risk of losing our ability to innovate as country as we slide backwards with protectionism. Making it harder for talent to immigrate to the U.S. makes it harder for you to invent the next big thing if you can’t find what you need locally. And if we’re making this harder along with reducing investment in science and education, we’re hurting our ability to compete as a country going forward.

Just like in business when you lose your way, get complacent and take your eye off the proverbial ball, opportunities open for upstarts to win against you.

Also as a business, these dynamics contribute to potential instability in the markets and society that make it tough to forge a  stable, competitive path forward. At the very least you need to be vigilant about your strategy and nimble in order to change course quickly when necessary. That means plans need to be more malleable and long range planning shorter.

This isn’t a political blog but I would be naive to suggest that the current climate won’t impact your business, our jobs and how we all work. That along with technology changes most everything.

How is this impacting you now? What do you see on your near term horizon? Opportunities or challenges? For some, I believe this opens up opportunities to build new businesses to address this type of climate. It’s a matter of how you look at it. I advocate though for balance in society. Stability creates the space to innovate and test and thrive.

Us versus Them

How often does this come up for you? How often do different departments work symbiotically to achieve company goals? Or is it more about silos and protecting one’s turf?

Imagine how much more we could all get done with much less effort and angst if we truly worked together in a spirit of transparent collaboration.

Imagine how much more profitable your company would be if this were true? It’s hard to quantify the waste that political infighting causes both financially and emotionally.

Of course there aren’t many public examples of symbiotic nirvana. It’s rather rare.

What if you made that happen in your company? Imagine what an amazing place to work that would be and how gratifying. The elusive stretch goal? Why not shoot for it? It’s never too late to start. At least you can be one who doesn’t contribute to the problem.

Giving and receiving feedback well is one tool that can help and I’m just diving into this book on the subject.

Some days are better than others

Does that ring true for you? Your customers? Yesterday I stopped by Starbucks for a basic black coffee because I was out of beans at home. I walked out and later discovered it was full of grounds. A terrible cup of Joe. When I mentioned it this morning, they gave me a cup on the house. Fortunately it was fine. A coffee house needs to nail the basics and that’s simple, good coffee. I often wonder if Starbucks has forgotten that. They did good today though.

What do you do when things are not going your way? Do you wallow in self pity or pull yourself together and turn it around? Make some fresh squeezed lemonade? What’s your BATNA?*

While it’s easy to get caught up in the negative vortex, a little perspective shift can stem the downward spiral. You have a choice: let the wrongs of the day rule you or use them as an opportunity to improve. To turn the day towards your favor.

I talked today about neuroplasticity which is the mind’s ability to rewire itself based on changes to your environment, focus, thinking, injury, etc. Previously it was thought the brain developed when young and then was fixed. Taken a step further, you have the ability to direct your brain’s rewiring based on the concept of self-directed neuroplasticity where you change your brain based on where you focus your attention, whether that is your thoughts or time spent honing a skill.

Why wallow in self pity when you can directly influence your sense of happiness by choosing to do so? You can choose not to think of the wrongs of the day as things being done to you but just obstacles to overcome.

I will admit sometimes we want to be a grinch. To be cantankerous to get it out of our system. But make sure you get it out. I know I do this at times. It’s not always easy in the moment to recognize what we’re doing to ourselves and others. Yet the more you practice pulling your act together, the easier it gets. Because your brain will recognize what’s happening sooner and correct course even before you realize it.

As a business, your customers have bad days and may want to take it out on you. Rather than taking that personally, you have the chance to help them turn it around by injecting a little wow and delight into their day. It’s up to them whether to accept it. And a topic for another day but you also need to recognize when some customers are not a good fit for you or your team and actually cause harm in which case you should part ways.

Intentionally working on turning a misstep into opportunity increases your chances for more good days than bad.

*Best alternative to a negotiated agreement

Make time for real work

We live distracted lives. That’s not a secret. And research over the past few years has shown how our brains are getting rewired, we’re facing more anxiety and depression. More FOMO. We’re essentially skimming the surface as several studies have shown it takes 20 – 25 minutes to regain focus after each distraction whether that’s a text message, email or colleague buzzing by your desk.

We’re not creating value in this state of mind. Real value comes from concentrated focus. What author Cal Newport calls Deep Work. This requires finding uninterrupted time to focus. At minimum, 90 minutes. But it’s better if you can find 2 – 4 hour blocks of time.

While Nicholas Carr has shown how our brains are being rewired in the digital age, neuroscience shows that because our brains can be consciously rewired through focus on a subject over time. Called self-directed neuroplasticity, we can choose not to be so distracted.

When algorithms can replace much of the work we already do – and much of the thinking – it’s the value we create through deeper work that will keep us relevant. And that will differentiate you from others. Because it is hard. It takes intention. Vision. Discipline. All things eroded by digital distraction.

Check it out here. Not only will you create more value, you’re apt to live a more satisfying life.

Success in Real Estate

Years ago I had a dream of being a real estate investor. I tried buying and flipping houses looking at home after prospective home, estimating repairs, timelines, financing and net payout. I made numerous offers on viable homes and didn’t secure a single one. Someone always beat me out. Eventually I gave up when it didn’t seem viable.

A few years after that, bought a second home in Sunriver, Oregon, realizing a dream. The most inexpensive home in a great neighborhood. Except it was 2007 right before the crash. 10 years later, sold it for less than purchase price. On the one hand it was a great getaway. On the other, my timing was poor and it clearly was not a good investment. Could have rented really nice homes for less than ‘owning’ this one. Which required maintenance, repairs, oversight. And the opportunity cost was in part lost exotic vacations. Sunriver, though, is still a magical place.

The lesson is that investing is all about timing. Whether the markets or real estate. And no one has a crystal ball. Perhaps I should have seen the signs that we were at the top of the market. I was worried about being priced out completely.

When I hear ads to attend seminars for ‘house flipping systems’ and ‘building teams to make money in your spare time’ I am cynical. Especially in the Portland market which has low inventory and high competition for properties, particularly at the lower end. There is money to be made in selling the system and the dream. Realizing the dream after purchase is harder. Doable, but harder.

Because it takes fortitude, tenacity, grit and time. You need to identify the right product, buy at the right price and sell at the right price in the right time to clear a net profit. It’s that way with any business proposition.

It’s human nature to want overnight success. For it to be easy. But if it were, all of us would be tremendously successful. Each of us has our measure of what success looks like. Not all of it is monetary although that certainly opens up many doors.

Key is defining what it is and going after it with gusto and patience. Real estate is no exception. Looking at properties now, I am assessing the cost for renovation and how long it’ll take to recover the costs even if it’s my primary residence. Most all existing homes need updating in a few years. They need maintenance to stay in top shape. I’ve heard recently that lumber prices have skyrocketed because of new tariffs on Canadian lumber. Labor, too has increased with demand and it’s hard to get remodeling projects done affordably or in a timely manner. At least here in Portland.

The New York Times has a calculator for estimating the cost benefits of renting vs. owning based on many factors which is illuminating if you’ve never done the math. And the math doesn’t account for the psychological benefits of owning your own home. Of being able to make it exactly the space you want.

There are few signs that Portland isn’t going to decline anytime soon like some areas of the country did in 2008, yet we don’t know for certain. And if you’re investing in real estate to achieve a return in the short or long term, the math is important. But timing is even more important. And all of this takes grit and a certain tolerance for risk. There isn’t an easy risk-free path to success.


Default response

In the heat of the moment we revert to what we know, how we know to act and respond accordingly. We’re not in a state of mind to think holistically. To bring our best self. Unless we’ve trained our mind and body to be that best self.

That’s why it’s important to practice. To do the personal work to become who you want. To show up how you want to show up when things get tough.

Will you navigate such hurdles with grace and style or flail about attacking everyone in your way? And then regret it later?

This is hard work. You will not always bring your best self to difficult moments. I think, though, if you practice, if you make it your mission to take a little step everyday to get there, you’ll do that much better next time. You’ll be able to respond from a place of strength and experience better outcomes. You’ll recognize the situation and check yourself automatically rather than just reacting. Without practice we go with what we know; what is instinctual.

I often share an article entitled “The neuroscience of leadership” from 2006 that talks about how change causes physical pain in the brain and to make it stick you have to transfer the change from working memory to the basal ganglia where habits are stored. And that takes repetition and focus.

What’s your default response and what steps will you take to strengthen it?

We remember the worst

It’s human nature to think the worst and remember the same. We discount happy moments, take them for granted. We assume when change comes it isn’t generally good news. And when someone pays us a compliment it either comes with strings attached or isn’t sincere.

It’s why we think about the ‘good old days’. The way things were. The golden era. Except in the moment there were other ‘good old days’. It’s a moving target.

I venture to suggest that given the current climate of discord that there were better days. More civil. And there can be better days ahead too. It’s a matter of perspective and who wants to lose hope for a better future? And I still believe there are cycles we go through.

There’s big business in nostalgia. And opportunity in getting people to not always fear the worst in the face of change. Especially your teams and colleagues. How do you react to change? Glass half empty or half full? I suggest starting with the latter.

I’m currently reading ‘How to Think‘ by Alan Jacobs which dives into how we can’t think independently because we’re much influenced by our environment.

What comes up for you when you think about how you think?