Preparation meets opportunity (again and again)

Zig taught us years ago that success is when preparation meets opportunity. Often times, we think it will look like this…

Try for anything—a new job, your first book, riding a bike, losing weight, learning to code—and you’ll quickly learn the Single Intersection Theory is dead wrong.

Almost anything we attempt will look far more like this…

Intersection upon intersection. Rise, dip, rise, dip. It’s all a dance.

Until we learn to stick out the dip, success will always be on the horizon as a far-from-here intersection. Look around, though, you’re probably living proof of the Many Micro-success Theory in this very moment.

Learning to see (and celebrate) our success in each day is the way forward.

Decisions and choices

We spend our days making decisions. What shoes to wear, when to walk the dog, where to eat, do I want another cup of coffee?

Granted, many of these are decisions we must make—you’ve got to wear *something*. But I wonder what would happen if we stopped considering the all options in a decision as viable and picked ahead of time. Would this clear the way for making better choices on the things that matter?

Which restaurant? The first alphabetically, thank you very much. Which shirt? The next in line is fine. What should I have with dinner? Well, I only drink water and white wine after 4 p.m., and only have herbal tea after 8.

All these guardrails build up a resistance to decision fatigue, and this brings to mind a few questions. With all of my decisions taken care of, would leaving my brain to ponder only the important choices change my contributions?

Would my writing improve? Would you feel less tired? Would we grumble less, grin more?

Ultimately, I think we’d get a lot better at making the right choices if we gave up on a lot of our decisions. Decisions are the easy things that flood the funnel, but choices are what matter.

We spend our days sweating decisions. What would happen if we said no to everything small thing not already decided and focused on real change, real (self) charity, real choices?

Why I ‘soft-balled’ the Starr interview

Earlier this week, I got the chance to sit down with Judge Ken Starr. The story went up and I was proud of the work and the team that came together to pull this off. Then I got some emails, texts, phone calls and even some in-person comments about the interview. In effect, these people said:

You blew your chance.

You didn’t ask the questions that needed to be asked.

You let him get away with it.

You soft-balled him those questions.

(Yes, I took some of that word-for-word.)

A week ago, Starr was dismissed as Baylor’s president by our Board of Regents and (just hours before our conversation) he stepped down as chancellor. Starr remains a professor at Baylor Law School.

Before our team got to his house, Judge Starr did an interview with KWTX Channel 25. Before he sat down with me, he did an interview with GMA. As we packed up gear, I crossed paths with his next interviewer — the Waco Tribune-Herald. That morning, Starr announced his resignation in a presser with ESPN.

All in all: he was tired. But that’s not why I “soft-balled” him in our interview.

Because I didn’t softball him. Instead, I talked to him like a human.

Going into that interview. I had some tough questions prepared. I wanted to break a story. I wanted to bring out the truth. Then I learned Starr hadn’t slept in days. That he hadn’t been able to eat much either. I felt for him. And then someone brought up his wife.

I hadn’t thought about her.

Our conversation started and I asked about Mrs. Starr. He was appreciative. I could tell it was a different kind of question than what he expected. Next, I asked him about what he would have changed in hindsight. He launched into a prepared speech. It was obvious he had practiced. It was obvious he was coached — his media handler was ever present with her watchful eyes and attentive ears.

This wasn’t what he wanted to talk about. This was what he was told to talk about.

Then the students came up in conversation. That’s when I changed my mind on where to take our conversation. It was mid-interview. If you watch the video, you can see me shuffling through my legal pad of questions, looking for the questions that would lead to deeper conversation. I realized I wasn’t going to get the deep, breaking story. If I had kept up the angle I started with, it would have been a conversation with a parrot. My story would have looked like every other news outlet’s.

Starr wanted to talk about the students. And that made sense for me — at the time and now, still — to ask him about. After all, I was reporting for the student paper.

Lots of outlets have made mountains out of molehills in this episode. Lots of outlets have let rumors drive their coverage. Lots of outlets have made those “deep, breaking stories” out of non-stories and speculation and hear-say.

Sure, the purpose of a journalist is to dig and find the real story and ask the tough questions. We comfort the afflicted and afflict the comforted. But what happens after we bring that affliction to those who are comfortable. Do we keep kicking? Or do we look for humility and humanity and recognize that everyone is going to make mistakes? If we find that humility and humanity, what do we do then?

Personally, I found humility in Starr. So I chose — again, mid-interview — to let our time be driven by the story he really wanted to get to: his love of the students and how he’d miss them.

Many students at Baylor rejoiced in his firing. Many were filled with remorse. Some find it necessary, some saw it as backhanded.

The internet — You know, the hords of people who didn’t really even know who Baylor was 10 years ago but now all of a sudden have exhaustive opinions on everything we do? — made it known that they approved of his dismissal.

Mine and Starr’s time together was not an easy thing for him. In fact, he might say it was the toughest. He waxed and waned in holding back tears as we discussed his beloved students. In his final answer, Starr couldn’t hold them anymore. After he was de-mic’d, he made for the exit to collect himself. Moments later, I saw him dash by the door — his face was bright red and he was wiping tears. A few minutes went by and he came back in for goodbyes.

“Guys,” he said, with rosy cheeks, puffy eyes and a towel on his shoulder. “You broke me. You broke me.”

I’ve learned a good deal in all this about Starr. His nature is to work quietly behind the scenes. His nature is to get his ducks in a row. His nature is to do a big reveal and prove what he and his team are capable of. I’ve learned in other interviews he was indeed trying to accomplish that. Working tirelessly to make Baylor safe. Trying to right these wrongs. To his fault, though, he wasn’t as public about that work as he should have been. And now this work is cut short.

Yes, there are tough questions that need to be answered. Yes, there is deeper truth to the mere crumbs we’ve been given. Yes, there needs to be more transparency, more conversation, more people held accountable.

And, if you listen, that’s what Starr is asking for.

I’m on Judge Starr’s side. But that doesn’t mean I’m not on the side of the victims. Because, after our time together, I think they’re one in the same.

The web of business

In the midst of the 2012 campaign season, the president made a statement about legacies, business and community. 

To successful business owners, the president noted: "You didn't build that."

He's right. You didn't. We did.

Sure, you put in a lot — I mean, a lot — of hard work. But who buys from you, who you know, what they said, how they helped, who they introduced you to or said nice things to about you — the "we" — did a large part of that.

Because business isn't about hard work (though that is a major part). Business isn't about luck — even when sometimes it seems like it is.

Business is about the web of networks we carry and how we connect our ideas to people, people to their own ideas and on and on.

Without inspirations, without clients, without mentors, without this web there wouldn't be business.

So it makes sense to find out who inspires you. And where their inspiration comes from (or came from).

Find this out. So we can build something else together.

(H/T to Austin Kleon)

Everything is a story…

…so we should do everything with specific intention.

OK. Not everything. You don't need a master plan for laundry night. But story is a far bigger part of my life and your life than ever before.

From the way we answer (or don't answer) the phone to the signature in an email. Anyone interacting with your understands you, your company, your mission a little more.

The long, fully-encompassing signature (with address, email, phone, title and disclaimer) says you're a professional and wish to be treated as such. No emojis, please. No funny cat photos, please.

Even if that's not the case — even if you're the biggest Steve Martin fan on the planet — it looks like the exchange is business only.

But this isn't about changing your email signature. It's about spider webs in the corner of the front lobby ("We weren't expecting you"). It's about having a client take the hotel shuttle bus ("You're not all that important"). It's about a form letter versus a handwritten note ("You're like everyone else we do business with").

It's about everything.

Because everything you do as a company, as a service, as a nonprofit, as a freelancer — everything everyone does — tells a story.

Pins, points and pizza

When we're selling — and we're always selling — it's tempting to take the easy route. To not make a remarkable product and, instead, make a marketable product. To bend to consumer whims. To think social media, TV or a Yellow Pages ad will do the job in our place.

And the sad thing is: these tactics work. But they're gimmicks. Same as…

  • black v-necks
  • neon lights
  • "with more"
  • "new and improved"
  • pens, pins and points
  • donuts and coffee
  • Happy hour(s)
  • email marketing
  • social media
  • FREE pizza
  • a free chapter
  • SEO
  • Siri/Hey Google
  • buzzwords

Here's how you tell the difference between a gimmick and true marketing:
    Does it make the customer's life better or the seller's?

Gimmicks are just trends with ulterior motives.

Shoot straight with people because that builds the most important form of capital in the new Connection Economy: trust.

Personally connecting

Alison Broadhead, Jumeirah Group's CCO, told Harvard Business Review the hotel chain is focussed to "stay different." They're carving each location around the specific city it's in. For a stay in Rome, you'll be renting space in a historic building blending the old with modern comfort. But in Port Soller, it's all about the beach views.

Perhaps it's less about "staying different" and more about providing individualised focus. (Certainly, staying different is important, but focussing on individualizing the process for an individual automatically implies it will be different.)  People are fed up with being considered one of the masses.

Artisans did this work for centuries. Making shoes specific for each customer's individual foots.

And then we made the factory and billions of shoes were pumped out exactly the same — no matter that no two foots are alike. (It's easier. It's cheaper. And there's less room for human error.)

But now we're seeing a revolution of the artisanship. Work that is personal and connecting. Work that is designed to be individually focused.

And that's only a good thing.

Because when we work in a massive factory producing for the masses, it's impersonal. But there is nothing more personal than working for, with and as an individual.

Provoking with new face

I spend a lot of time talking and writing about diversity. I hate walking into a meeting, a class, a business where everyone looks like me.

If I’m being honest, a large reason I push for diversity is because when everyone looks like me, I feel replaceable. But, more important, when everybody looks the same, comes from the same culture, is treated the same by society, we get such a small keyhole view of the world.

“That which I gain from another is never instruction but only provocation,” said Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Get new people on the bus who will challenge, poke and bring discomfort. Their views help fill in the gaps.

It’s not just a race thing. It’s a gender thing, it’s a religion thing, it’s a geography thing, it’s a passion thing, it’s a raising thing. It’s a humanity thing. Each person is different. Let’s give each a voice.

Fill the room so that, at first, no two people can relate to each other. The story that gets told will only get better.

[HT to Harold Bloom]

Leaving the factory

“I dedicate this song to the working man, for every man that puts in 
Eight or 10 hard hours a day of work and toil and sweat 
Always got somebody looking down his neck 
Tring to get more out of him than he really ought to have to put in” 
-Johnny Cash, “Oney

This man in Johnny Cash’s famous “Oney” works every day with an oppressive middle, micromanager over his head down at the factory. The character is on his day of atonement — er, retirement — and is leaving behind the factory and Oney, who is said to have helped make the man who is today.

But the story’s subject has something up his sleeve: years and years of muscle building to “give old Oney his.”

I bet you’ve got an “Oney.” Probably not a person, though it could be, but something looming over you. Keeping you at a grindstone you don’t want to be at. Maybe it keeps you answering emails. Maybe it scares you from writing that novel. Maybe it keeps you from the girl (or guy).

Cash’s character waits until 4:30 p.m. before his retirement to take care of Oney. That’s probably 50 years of the man’s life wasted in a factory being a cog and squirming under someone’s thumb. And 50 years too late.

Not so with us.

Who cares what time the clock says it is. Now, it's 4:30. Time to give your Oney — your Resistance, your nagging Fear — a hard, proverbial right hook and clock out forever.

Go do the art you were made to do. Without Oney.

Cause you don’t need him holding you to the fire.

Doing ONE: Passion > money

Leonardo da Vinci said he felt predestined to figure out flight. His work — his obsession — produced journals upon journals and a plethora of inventive ideas to bring humans to the skies. Because that’s what kept him up at night. That was his ONE.

Orville Wright’s first-grade teacher said she would catch him tinkering with bits of wood during lessons. Orville was practicing his ONE. He’d say, I’m building something to take my brother and I to the skies. Less than 30 years later, they’d do just that.

Finding one’s ONE isn’t the same as finding that sock that’s been missing. Finding one’s ONE is truly one of the three greatest things in life (next to love and legacy).

Yet, we see da Vinci and Wright as outliers. They figured it out, but I’ve got a job to do, a family to feed and a mortgage to pay.

But in choosing to sacrifice our ONE for a paycheck, we’re teaching kids, wives, husbands and everyone watching that MONEY > PASSION.

No wonder so few kids grow up to change the world. We teach them from an early age to not take risks, to not challenge what’s established, to find the white-picket-fence-and-cottage life and do everything to keep it.

Screw the picket-fence home and "safe" American dream. Take to the skies. That's where you belong.