Category Archives: Excellence


Inspiration is that magic elixir that enables us to be better. Without it, we would continue to just be what we currently are. It allows us to be cheaper, better and faster. It is how the better mouse trap is conceived and created. It is how we beat the competition at their own game. When we have it we can change the course of our business for the better. When we don’t we are forced to fall back on the plodding methodology of the current process. The good are always looking for inspiration. The great know where it is.

I was sitting waiting for inspiration to strike me so that I could start on my next article. I waited. And waited. And waited some more. Still nothing.

Regardless, I figured I had better get started. Since I was currently lacking it, I would examine it. What is inspiration? As usual, I started looking for it on Google:

noun: inspiration
the process of being mentally stimulated to do or feel something, especially to do something creative.”

Okay. I now recognized that there is a link between inspiration and creativity. However, I was still waiting for it to hit me.

Then I remembered that it was opportunity that knocks, not inspiration.

I decided that if I was going to be inspired enough to write something worthwhile, I was going to have to go look for it. It wasn’t just going to come to me. At least this not time.

Normally both current and past business events have a way of bubbling up within my psyche to enable me to look at them and share them here. Sometimes it is easier than others. Sometimes, not. This time however, no luck at all.

There are a great many things going on both in business and on the global stage, and in the past I have tried to capture some of these ideas and concepts, and both the current and past events associated with them. But none of the ones that I looked at seemed to resonate with me.

I don’t know if it was the World Cup entering the final stages (since I would not consider myself a real fan), or the NHL draft and ensuing free agency (since I would consider myself a real fan), but “it”, whatever it is, just wasn’t there. I would get a line or two into an idea and then become disenchanted, or uninspired.

This sad state of affairs is not the normal situation for me. Those who know me will be the first to say that I will usually have something to say about almost anything. It is far more difficult to get me to refrain from commenting than it is to get me to say something.

I am fond of quoting Ron White, the Texas based comedian, who once said when he was being arrested:

“I know I have the right to remain silent. I just don’t have the ability to remain silent.”

I think he has actually said it multiple times, since it has become a part of his stage act, but I think you get my point.

This time however, I just couldn’t find something that felt worthwhile to share here and comment on.

What I was missing here was that I was thinking that inspiration was something that came from without. It either “came” to you, or you went looking for it. In general, at least for me, I don’t think that this is the case. And, I think that for the most part it is probably not the case for most others as well.

We have a tendency to think that the event, action or activity that triggers our inspiration, is the source of our inspiration. I don’t think this is the case at all. It is merely a trigger. Something that causes us to take what we already think, know and feel, and bring it to the surface and recombine it in a new way.

Inspiration actually lies within.

Steve Jobs said:
“Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it. They just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while.”

I think too often we rely on external queues for our inspiration. We want to follow the process for something that by its very nature does not lend itself to process.

We in effect, are trying to schedule our spontaneity.

And what we should all know by now is that “the process”, actually almost any process, does not lend itself to spontaneity, creativity or inspiration. Process is designed to reduce risk and replace judgement. Both of which are required for inspiration.

Getting back to Steve Jobs for a moment. He was recognized as one of the most inspired people in business. He “knew” and “saw” how his products should be, well before they were ever created. He demanded that they meet his inspirational expectations. He anticipated and created markets, instead of chasing them.

But don’t confuse being inspired with being inspirational. By all accounts, Jobs was not a particularly inspirational leader. The quotes regarding his management style range from:

“…It is well-known that Steve Jobs could be arrogant, dictatorial, and mean-spirited….”


“…Steve Jobs is … a man who shouted down colleagues at meetings, was visibly impatient and dismissive of others’ contributions… and yet he is lauded as perhaps the most successful entrepreneur of his generation….”

I guess this means that you can act this way as long as you are right. But be wrong, just once, as Jobs inevitably was, and that behavior will come back to haunt you. This was seen when he was ousted from Apple.

As we know, he would eventually come back and experience even greater success.

So where did Jobs’ inspiration come from?

With a personality such as his, I think it obviously came from within. He made the connections intuitively and then drove the technologists, and the rest of his team to fulfill them. He was inspired, but he was not inspirational.

Every analysis and business review, seems to confirm this. He was an anomaly as a business leader. He did not lead his team. He drove his people. He demanded of his team. He invariably used the stick, instead of the carrot.

Most of us do not have the option of behaving the way Jobs did. But we can learn about inspiration from him.

He was able to make the intuitive connections that enabled him to see a better way of doing things. To see new products that would be needed and wanted, before others, including the prospective customers. To step outside of the current processes and procedures to make those quantum improvements.

It came from within him. The triggers were the current way things were done, and the current products that were being provided. He didn’t particularly try to make the current products better. He tried to make something else.

He looked at the way things were to establish a baseline. He looked within for his inspiration regarding what he thought they should be in the future.

I don’t really want to get to philosophical here. I was just trying to find the inspiration for a new article topic, and got to thinking about where inspiration came from. When I got to thinking about it enough, it then hit me, and voila, I had my new topic and article.

The Illusion of Choice

I find it rather interesting that I read a many different articles and books from many different sources, that become the genesis of many of my own articles. This fact isn’t really that interesting, unless you consider it interesting that I read things that consist of more than one hundred and forty characters, require a certain amount grammar and literacy capability, and don’t use emojis to convey how the author feels about the topic they are covering. What is probably a little more interesting is that I like to write about business, sales and leadership, and that I rarely find the inspiration for my articles in literary sources that are purporting to be specifically about business, sales and leadership. I seem to find my thought applications from other sources that resonate at a little more elemental and hopefully timeless level.

Such is the case today.

By and large I have found most business articles to be somewhat bland and derivative of other previously written sources. They are also somewhat ephemeral and short lived. There was “The One Minute Manager” and then “The Fifty-Nine Second Employee”. Really. They all seem to be related to the idea of “get rich” or “get successful” quick sort of scheme. After all, if someone actually wrote the definitive text for how to successfully run a business or organization and get rich and successful quick, what would all the other authors have to write about?

Some of my preferred sources can go back hundreds or even thousands of years. I think I have mentioned “The Art of War” by Sun Tzu, “The Prince” by Machiavelli, “The Book of Five Rings” by Musashi and the “The Art of Worldly Wisdom” by Gracion on multiple occasions. Fortunately, my inspiration today was not from these sources, although, come to think of it some of what Sun Tzu said could apply…. I’ll leave it to those that have read both sources to comment.

Today my ideas sprung from a few words by the man who was the coach of the team that lost, yes lost, the last national collegiate championship game for American football this year. For those of you that missed it, it was on TV. I bet you can find it on YouTube. Clemson scored on the last play of the game to defeat Alabama. (I make sure to define it as American football, as I do have friends in the rest of the world where “football” is something entirely different. It is what we in the states would call “soccer”. I don’t know why.)

You would think that there would be far more to learn from the Clemson coach, the winner of the championship, than from the Alabama coach, the man whose team lost it. After all, it was an upset. Alabama was favored and was supposed to win, and it fact, almost did. There may be much to learn from the Clemson coach, but those lessons may not apply to business, sales and leadership as well as what the leader of the Alabama team had to say. At least for me in this instance.

Coach Nick Saban, of the University of Alabama has enjoyed sustained success in his field, the likes of which has probably not been seen in decades. He is successful. He has already won a total of five national championships (across 2 different schools) and is annually expected to be a contender for the next championship playoff. He is the example and standard of what every other coach, school and leader wants to be and do.

But he still lost, last year.

When he was asked what he is going to change, and how much he was going to do different next year in order to win the championship, he responded with what can best be described as an old school response.

He said that he understood all the new offenses, defenses, systems and processes that are out there, but that he was not going to overhaul a system just because he had lost in this year’s championship game. He came in second out of three hundred and seventy-five schools, which when thought of in that way, wasn’t really too bad. Yes, the loss hurt, but there are literally hundreds of other schools and coaches that would have wanted to be there in his place. He understood what it took to get there, and he also understood what it would take to get back next year.

It was at this point that he made the comments that resonated so strongly with me. He discussed that having learned what it took to be successful, he learned that there are no short cuts. He referred to it as “the illusion of choice”. He said that so many people want to make the easy decision, or take the supposed easier road to success. A new process, or a new system were the quick cure. He said this was an illusion. If you wanted to be successful (in his profession) there really were no choices.

It required the recruiting of the best talent available. Alabama’s recruiting classes of new freshmen out of high school are routinely viewed as some of the best in the country. Think about the fact that every three to four years, he (like every other college football coach) has close to one hundred percent turnover of his team. But every year he contends for a championship.

It requires a work ethic that is second to none on his part, and it has to be transferred and translated to the rest of his staff and the players on the team. There can be no illusion that talent is enough. It takes hard work and dedication. There is a base line process and preparation that needs to be adhered to.

Many have heard me discuss my aversion to the perceived over-utilization of process that seems to be plaguing businesses today. Yet here I am praising it. Here process is used to prepare the team. They have practiced and been trained on how each individual need to prepare, perform and act as part of the greater team. A process is not used during the game or against the competition. If so the competition would quickly adapt and defeat it. There is a game-plan, but not a game process.

He assembled the best staff possible, that he vested with the authority to get things done and that he held accountable for those various aspects of the team (Offense, Defense, Special Teams, etc.) he had assigned. However he only held himself responsible for the outcome. He never blamed anyone else. It was his responsibility.

It was this litany of decidedly unglamorous basics that he pointed out were responsible for getting him and his teams (multiple, different teams) to arguably the acme of his profession. He pointed out and reiterated that there really was not choice if you wanted to be successful. It took talent, it took outworking the competition, it took everybody’s commitment and buy-in for the team succeed. There were no “get rich” or “get successful” quick schemes.

That didn’t mean that he wouldn’t change and adapt. He is also recognized as one of the best leaders at innovating and modifying his game plans when his team’s talent, or the competition called for it. He has noted that the basics of the game have not changed, but how you apply them can vary greatly in each situation.

As I noted, by design his team membership turns over every four years. He also turns over his leadership (coaching) staff with significant regularity. His assistant coaches are in high demand to become the leaders at competing college programs because of their success and what they have learned. No less than seventeen of his assistants have gone on to lead their own programs.

It looks like the players are not the only ones that are mentored, taught and become leaders.

Sun Tzu, from almost twenty-five hundred years ago, also talks about talent selection, training and preparation as immutable keys to an organization’s success. He is also quick to point out that flexibility and the ability to adapt to new and different situations, and to be able to take advantage of them while either in or on the field are also the keys to success.

It looks like the idea of putting well trained teams in the field and letting their leaders lead them is in fact an idea that has been around for over two millennia. It sounds to me like Nick Saban may be right when he says that if you want to be successful, and enjoy a sustained success, it really is an illusion of choice. While a new process or system may come into vogue, success is really built on the basics of talent, hard work, and planning, and then letting your leaders lead, and not relying on the illusion that some other process or system can be a substitute for one of those basic building blocks of success.


I saw an article in a local newspaper today, and as usual it got me to thinking. The article was about a high school that would not allow its National Honor Society members to wear their honor society sashes during their graduation commencement ceremonies. The school district decided that it did not want those graduating students who were not part of the honor society to feel excluded or lessened for not having been an honor society member.

Think about that for a moment.

Kids that excelled were not allowed to be recognized for excelling because of the way it might make those that did not excel feel.

Now I am sure that there are many twists and turns in this story that we have not been a part too. It is my understanding that the National Honor Society is viewed in some schools as more of a “club” due to its non-school requirements and activities. Even so, if only part of this story is true, what would happen in business if business was forced to behave in such a manner with those who excel?

Now before I delve too deeply into this topic from a business point of view, there probably are a few things that we need to remember. I think it is best for us all to remember that each and every business only wants the best, the brightest, the most gifted on their team. They have all implemented interview and selection criteria to make sure that no average person darkens their halls. They spare no expense in their never ending hunt for only the best talent.

Once each business has assembled their own veritable “Avengers” (the first one, where they save the world, not the second one where I’m not sure what they actually did…) slate of employees, they then require that each manager force fit them into a bell shaped distribution curve for their individual performance so that individual ratings and raises can be allocated appropriately.

Wait a minute. In some strange way that actually does sound a little like the high school in question.

Let’s get back to the topic and talk about recognition in business for a little bit. It is, or at least should be an integral part of any employee compensation or retention program. The problem is: How do you recognize those that have excelled without potentially demoralizing or alienating those that may not have done as well. I think that this can be an interesting question on several levels.

The first level is to make sure it is an organizationally acceptable practice to publically recognize individuals. All cultures have a tendency to impose their view of things on the world. I think in the US we are somewhat competitive, understand and accept the concept of individual recognition in a team oriented organization. There are other countries with similar views of things, as well as some that tend to take a little more “team” view of things as opposed to individual performance. Many of us look at it as a reason to work and strive that much harder in order to reap those individual gains.

This is particularly prevalent in many of the sales organizations. Sales incentives, sales rewards, sales trips and recognition are all part of the package. Many sales people, in addition to the compensation, see the opportunity to be recognized for excelling in front of their peers as one of the primary driving incentives for their work.

For the most part, this is how sales recognition works. There is a focus on achievement and those that excelled. There is minimal concern about the feelings of those that did not. All sales people are at the sales meetings. They all know if they achieved or not. If they did not attain the required threshold they had no expectation of being recognized in front of their peers. Their expectations were set long before the recognition was provided.

The advantage of sales in this sort of situation is that it is a very quantitative objective. You get the numbers or you don’t. If you get them, wear a nice suit when you walk on stage in front of your peers. If you don’t, try to sit toward the back in audience and remember it is bad form to make snide comments about those on stage.

However, that may not be the case in other locations or business disciplines. How do you recognize the best accountant? I mean really, how do you recognize them? Do they add their numbers that much better? This is where the recognition ideal starts to run into trouble. Just like the Russian judge in the ice skating competition that seems to have preordained the winners regardless of their performance, when you introduce a human factor or “judgment” into the recognition algorithm you open it up for perceived issues and abuse.

When a recognition program moves away from a quantitative approach to valuation, it begins to move away from rewarding for what is actually getting done and starts to enter the realm of rewarding for how things are getting done. How things are said becomes more important than the content that is contained in the communication.

There is in essence now a question of who gets to go up on stage in front of their peers. Some accountants may feel slighted because they actually added more numbers correctly than the accountant that was selected to be recognized. Others may feel slighted because they were associated with subtraction functions and everybody knows that only the addition guys get all the recognition.

It is in an instance such as this that a recognition program can in fact become a disincentive to those that are not recognized. If there is something other than a pure performance based criteria there will always be the suspicion that the Russian judge had preselected the winner.

Another issue associated with recognition can be culture. In some cultures individuals like to be recognized for the contribution, but they may not want to be recognized publically in front of their peers for their contributions. Some cultures prefer a more individual based one-on-one recognition. A direct word from the leader or a personalized congratulatory note on a job well done can be preferred to taking a bow in front of one’s peers.

This again is a good way to avoid the perceived snub or demoralizing effect associated with those not receiving the recognition. A simple acknowledgement or a small token of appreciation from the business leadership without all the pomp and circumstance (that’s a high school graduation reference in case you missed it) can readily serve as way to recognize those that have excelled.

It’s no secret that recognition is an important aspect of business and team morale and satisfaction. If there are going to be public recognition programs they need to be as quantitative in nature as possible. If all participants are aware of the recognition criteria thresholds, then there usually cannot be any issues generated by those that are not recognized.

Regardless of how unbiased or expert management may feel it is, when any sort of “judgment” is injected into the recognition process there will be a segment of the business or team that will feel someone else may have been unfairly selected. This can result in a set of responses and behaviors that are contrary to the desired culture of inciting achievement.

In looking at recognition based rewards for those disciplines where it is possible to implement quantitative thresholds, a public recognition programs as part of the rewards function could be preferable. Everybody knows how they have done with respect to their objectives and there should be no hard feelings for those that know they did not perform as well as others.

For those disciplines where it may be difficult to solely gage performance quantitatively, it may be preferable to look at more individual based methods of recognition. Those that are selected for recognition can receive it directly and those that are not will not feel excluded or lessened for not receiving similar recognition.

Very much like the high school students at the graduation ceremony who won’t be feeling bad because there will not be the public differentiation between them and the National Honor Society graduates who were not allowed to wear their honor society sashes with their cap and gowns at the graduation ceremony.


There once was a time when my kids thought I knew everything. I did not try to dissuade them from this idea. My wife however has never for an instant thought this way. In any event there came a time when my kids entered a stage of life where they no longer believed that I knew everything. I think there was a question in their minds as to whether or not I knew anything, let alone everything. This time in their lives was what is commonly referred to as being a “teenager”.

Fortunately they began to grow out of this stage. Curiously as they got a little older they also grudgingly began to admit that maybe, possibly I did know something. While they would never again believe that I knew everything, they would concede that since I may have “been there and done that” I could be relied on to provide them input when they had a question, and maybe at least I knew something. They were then free to either utilize or disregard the input I provided them. Surprisingly for them, and my wife apparently, my input proved to be relatively valid and they actually used it to their benefit more often than not.

They had learned to collaborate.

They had learned that despite the fact that they no longer believed that I either knew everything or knew nothing, they were interested in my input on their topic of interest. The most important thing that they had learned was that they didn’t know everything either. No one does. This is a lesson that I hope stays with them throughout their lives.

I find it interesting that not everyone seems to believe in collaboration. This may be as a result of the genesis of the word itself which has resulted in two somewhat conflicting definitions for it – one with a positive connotation and one with a decidedly negative one:

noun: collaboration; plural noun: collaborations
1. The action of working with someone to produce or create something.
“He wrote on art and architecture in collaboration with John Betjeman”
o Something produced or created by collaboration.
“His recent opera was a collaboration with Lessing”
2. Traitorous cooperation with an enemy.
“He faces charges of collaboration”

“The action of working with someone to produce or create something”. I have often said that I don’t have all the good ideas. I have also often said that my wife whole heartedly agrees with this statement. I think I have some good ones, but I don’t have all of them. This fact also applies to business.

As leaders we may be expected to have experience and judgment based on our “been there done that” past. We shouldn’t be expected to have all the ideas required to run a business. As leaders we should be expected to use our experience and judgment to recognize and act on the good ideas of others. This is where that collaboration thing comes in.

Leaders must work with their teams, not expect their teams to just work for them. They must encourage the interchange of ideas, not expect the team to just follow orders. Leaders need to encourage and expect the challenge from their team in order “to produce or create something”.

Almost all businesses that I know of have a hierarchical organization structure. Simply put that means that someone is the manager and others report to him or her. In most instances the manager will be held responsible and accountable for the performance of the team. And many managers do not like to be held responsible for decisions and directions that are not their own. They seem to ascribe to that “Traitorous cooperation with the enemy” definition of collaboration.

Without a collaborative environment, only the manager will be able to make decisions and provide input. The input and value of the members of the team will be severely curtailed. The result will be a weaker overall performance which is probably the one thing the manager who is responsible for performance doesn’t want.

A good example of this poor performance hierarchical structure can be seen in the performance of Korean Airlines during the later part of the last century. Malcolm Gladwell in his book “Outliers: The Story of Success” touched on the cultural issues associated with a hierarchical structure and the catastrophic results that ensued when it was applied to flying a modern jet.

I have actually flown KAL several times in the past. I am pleased that I didn’t get a chance to read this story until well afterwards. In the past KAL had a pretty poor safety record. They’ve gotten better in recent years, but going back to the last part of the last century, they weren’t very good. Korean Air had more plane crashes than almost any other airline in the world for the period at the end of the 1990s.

Korean hierarchical culture is thought to be one of the primary causes of this issue. Korean society is very hierarchical and respectful, and a lot of the accidents have simply come down to copilots not wanting to question the decisions of captains, given that they would basically be “insulting” them. It was a cultural phenomena where the members of the team did not question the direction or decisions of the superior member of the team.

There was in fact a crash in Guam where it was recorded that the copilot actually recognized the failure that the pilot had made and still did not question or act on the information.

Think about that. Jets crashed because members of the team flying the jet wouldn’t, or couldn’t question the decisions of the captain.

Modern jets are designed to be flown by two peers that collaborate in flight. There is still a “pilot” and a “copilot” and the responsibilities accorded those relative hierarchical positions, but they work together to fly the jet. Modern jets are too complex to be flown by a single individual, but that was the cultural phenomenon for KAL. To their credit KAL have recognized this issue and taken many steps to assure that the issue is avoided. They now require a collaborative culture in the cockpit if you are to fly one of their jets.

Modern business is also reasonably complex undertaking. It is also not unreasonable to think that it would be difficult for a single individual to pilot a complex organization alone in today’s market. There are too many variables and factors impinging on an organization to expect one person to be able to know how to deal with them all.

It may sometimes be difficult for the leader of an organization to ask for input or accept suggestions from the team. It is not a sign of weakness or lack of understanding. More so it is the sign of acknowledging that the team is comprised of talented members who are knowledgeable, may be closer to the issues at hand and therefore the potential solutions that are needed.

Individuals may have ideas, but in business it is teams that create solutions. As I noted earlier, no one individual can be counted on for all the good ideas. It takes a diverse team to come up with good ideas and a leader who can and will collaborate and is willing and able to recognize those good ideas and act on them. Asking for inputs and reviews builds both a stronger team and a stronger solution, which as we noted earlier should always be the leader’s goal.

I am pleased that my kids have learned these lessons about collaboration in such a way that when they grow up they could safely be expected to fly Korean Airlines jets or lead a business organization. Now if I could just get my wife to acknowledge some of my more obviously good ideas.

Are We Having Fun Yet?

Unlike the shows on television, business does not come with its own laugh track. You have to make your own. That doesn’t mean that business isn’t funny. It is. I mean both funny (ha ha) as well as funny (strange). There usually isn’t an audience around to tell you when you are supposed to laugh. You need to be able to figure that out on your own.

Perhaps I am a product of my time and generation in that I grew up watching many of the best observational comedians around. Bill Cosby, Richard Pryor, Jerry Seinfeld and the late great Robin Williams all looked at various aspects and idiosyncrasies in the world and brought out the humor and sometimes the absurdity involved therein.

I wish I had their eye for the detail and comedy that they found and related associated with everyday life. I don’t. Fortunately, I have found throughout my business career that I usually didn’t need their incisive eye for finding humor in the subtleties of business. The humor associated with business is usually never that subtle.

We all have the tendency to immerse ourselves in our problems and issues of the day. This is both a good thing in that it enables us to focus and concentrate on solving the problem, but it is a bad thing in that it has a tendency to enable us to take ourselves and our “issues” almost too seriously. When we do that we not only miss out on the humor associated with the work, we also tend to miss out on the enjoyment of the job as well.

I think the key here is that we all need to reserve a little piece of ourselves to be our own audience. We need to be able to be able to metaphorically stand off to the side and watch our own interactions. As we have seen on the afore mentioned television shows, it is the audience that will provide us with the laugh track and tell us when we are supposed to laugh at something funny, including ourselves.

Let me provide an example of how humor can raise its head at the most unsuspected of times.

A long time ago (in a galaxy far, far away it now seems) I worked in a business unit where there was a significant amount of employee dissatisfaction. The business unit manager was a little bit of an autocrat (…okay, a lot of an autocrat, being of an even older business school than me at the time), but it had seemed to be a style that he had had success with. After all, he had risen to the top post of the business unit. Even so he understood that he needed to address the employee satisfaction issue, so he took an employee survey. He wanted to know why the employees were dissatisfied.

There is an old proverb: “If you truly want honesty, don’t ask questions you don’t really want the answer to.”

There would then to be held an all hands meeting where the results of the survey were going to be reviewed and the dissatisfaction issue solved. At the meeting it was revealed that the number one issue associated with the employee dissatisfaction was “Management did not listen to employee input on issues.” It seems that everyone wanted to be involved in contributing to the solutions associated with the business directions and issues.

There was a general murmur of agreement from the crowd accompanied by many nodding heads. The crux of the issue had been identified. The group was now awaiting the response and resolution. We were about to get somewhere.

The unit manager then said: “I don’t think that management does not listen to the input of the team. I think we should move on to the next topic while we review this one off-line”

I think this is where I had my first audience laugh track moment.

I looked around to see what everyone else’s reaction would be to what we had just heard. To tell you the truth it seemed as though there was a mixed set of reactions. Some were nodding, some were scowling and some were just blinking as if they were still trying to process what they had just heard.

There have been other similar moments that I recall:

There was the time the manager asked me why I had made a decision and taken action before consulting with them. I explained than the manager had specifically stated that he wanted his staff to show initiative and take actions and that had been the impetus for my behavior. He then explained that he wanted his staff to show initiative and take action AFTER they had consulted with him as to what initiative to show and action to take. These things had to be managed.

I also can remember a co-worker lamenting that she did not feel that management took her or her opinions seriously enough. This is a feeling that many new hires or less experienced employees are apt to feel. Of course she made this comment from her cube where every available flat surface was covered with crystals, cast pewter unicorns and her collection of beanie-babies.

Business punch lines are not delivered with the intent of eliciting laughter. They are usually uttered in response to some unexpected yet related stimulus. Asking for input when input is not actually desired. Taking initiative when initiative may not be really wanted.

Business and the work we do are important. I understand that it is how we all make our living and support ourselves and our families. We need to take what we do seriously. It is just that we need to be somewhat more self aware in that we should not take ourselves too seriously while we are doing it. We should not stop having fun just because we are in the office.

I don’t think that we should point out these foibles as they occur for the purpose of embarrassing others or ourselves when they are committed. I think it is better to look at ourselves and enjoy what we do. In general I expect to have a good time at work. And in general, and I think at least partially because of my expectation I do have a good time at work.

Enjoyment means smiling, laughing and sharing with those around you, both at home and in the office. It doesn’t mean that you can’t be focused when necessary. It does mean that there are times and places where the unintentional and unexpected humor of the situation should be recognized and enjoyed.

Confucius, the ancient Chinese philosopher said:

“Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”

It is interesting in that it seems he had no discernable occupation other than to write proverbs, aphorisms and sayings. What’s not to love about that job? To me it sounds like a pretty good gig if you can get it. Of course he must have been pretty good at it as we are still quoting him all these centuries later.

It does make me wonder though, with all the good proverbs he wrote that have come down to us through the ages, how many bad ones did he write that we have never heard about? No one bats a thousand, and even the best baseball players only get a hit about a third of the time.

I am pretty sure to one extent or another we all enjoy our work. If we didn’t we would probably put in more time at trying to find something else to do. I wouldn’t say that I “love” my job as there certainly have been days where I have not only felt that I worked, but also felt that I have been worked over.

I do however realize that I have fun doing what I do. I believe the teams I work with have a tendency to recognize this and have fun as well. I think everyone understands that having fun does not mean not performing. It is always more fun to achieve goals than it is to miss them. As long we all understand that and continue to take the actions required to achieve our goals I don’t see any reason why we shouldn’t have some fun doing what we do.

Sometimes that means that we need to laugh with the others, at ourselves.

Complexity and Incompetence

Thank goodness for Spell Checker. I wasn’t paying full attention to what I was doing here when I started writing and initially misspelled “incompetence”. Talk about the potential for poetic justice on an article title like that.

 I have to give attribution for this topic to one of my friends in Austria. He was talking the other day and one of the things he said really resonated with me. So many times it seems that we like to think of our work as complex. Part of this business complexity definition desire may be based in how we may want to equate our self worth with the accomplishing of the difficult or complex, and part of it may be related to the positioning of an explanation if the goal is not attained. Either way, in reality we need to accept and address the fact that business is really not that complex.

 So much of business is built on the basics. Set a goal and then follow through. Create something of value for your customers. Say what you will do and then do what you have said. Treat the business’s money as if it were your own. Tell the truth. Ask questions. Read. Learn from your mistakes. The list can go on, but the components of the list are all equally simple and axiomatic.

 Those last few on the above list were proudly stolen from a wall chart that I saw regarding the basic rules for conduct in a kindergarten classroom – really. There were many others on the list that I thought were equally good an applicable (don’t hit, don’t hit back, etc.), but I didn’t want to go overboard here.

 I think you get my point. Many of the precepts that we have learned regarding basic human interaction (dating all the way back to kindergarten) form the foundation for conducting business. I have noted in the past that at its most basic business is about the interactions between people. Business is not done organization to organization. It is done person to person. It’s really not that hard. This brings me back to what my friend said. He said (and although I am quoting, I am also paraphrasing):

 “Claiming “complexity” as a reason for a business issue or performance is either the defining of a basic level of incompetence or the providing of an excuse for non-performance”

 I think he put it very well.

 The only piece that I might add would be to address our innate desire to make what we do seem important. On a base level it is difficult to equate doing something that is simple with doing something that is complex. We all want to succeed at the difficult or complex because we feel it has more value than succeeding at the simple. However in business, as with almost everything else, it is not the case.

 More specifically it is the ability to do something simple, and not to just do it (as the famous footwear commercial says) but the ability to do it very well, that makes it important. It seems all too often we juxtapose the goal of just getting something done with the goal of getting something done well, and then claim that the complexity was the cause for the performance difference.

 Complexity can neither be a reason nor an excuse for business performance. At the levels which business leaders must operate, there really can’t be that much room for complexity. Financially speaking, business leaders are not being asked to understand differential equations or Fourier analysis techniques. It is the simple concepts of Profit and Loss that we need to know. Are customers satisfied or not, and why? Are commitments met? It is the simple that needs to be our focus.

 It is interesting (at least to me) that I have had cause to cite Albert Einstein on several occasions in the past. Einstein is primarily associated with the development in physics of the theory of relativity, and other higher contributions to scientific thought. I seem to find myself applying him regularly to business as well. Maybe that is the definition of a truly smart person (Einstein, not me); they can be applied equally well to multiple fields.

 Einstein said (and this is a direct quote):

 “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”

 Remember, Einstein reduced the entire theory of relativity to a single, simple equation:   E = Mc²

 The inference here is that if the theory of relativity can be expressed so simply, there should not be much in business that should either be considered or expressed to be complex.

 Perhaps that is where the complexity issue lies in business. Business currently seems to embrace and value complexity. It seems that some people in business either can’t or won’t expend the effort required to understand issues well enough to make them simple. Linking this back to my friend it would appear that those who can’t get a good enough understanding of the topic are incompetent, and those that won’t get a good enough understanding of the topic are looking to use it as an excuse for their non-performance.

 I think the issue is becoming more and more pervasive in business as we have created entirely new sets of business vernacular to assist in complex explanations of simple topics and issues. For example, now instead of having a “strength”, we now have a “core competency”. The definition of competency (according to Websters) is adequacy. Instead of being strong we are now merely adequate? If it is not core, it must be peripheral. Is there even such a thing in business as “peripheral competencies”, and if so, why would you even have them?

 I have digressed, but only in such a manner as to illustrate that we need to understand and accept that the only complexity that leaders have in business is the complexity that they themselves create, accept and impute to the business.

 This sounds somewhat trite even to my own ear as I think it over. And I am sure that there will be many who will think that this is an over simplification of many of the issues facing businesses today. I am also sure that there can be several seemingly complex examples of issues that they will proudly point to and describe as too complex for simple descriptions and solutions.

 But I think I am going to leave the challenge out there anyway.

 I’ll would look to Einstein (since he seems to be generally recognized as a pretty smart role model) and respond by saying that if they can’t describe the problem in more simple terms then they probably don’t understand it well enough yet. I think my friend was on to something in that if people say that they can’t understand it well enough to make the complex problem simpler then it may be time to question their competency to do the work. If they won’t understand it well enough to make it simple, then it actually does sound like they are making excuses for their non-performance of the desired tasks, which would also entail a leadership intervention and action.

 Complexity is something we choose to have in business. We seem to have built up almost a myth around it when it comes to business. We have created new words and methods to make the simple sound, look and even be more complex, and I think business is suffering for it. If we started to look at complexity as a lack of understanding of the issue, an excuse, or even incompetence, I think that we would see things become much simpler, very quickly.

Business Without OCD

I play bass guitar. I would like to call myself a musician, but that would indicate that I have more talent for it than I do. I do appreciate excellent musical instruments though. I even own some. I was out on the web looking at custom made instruments when I came across a luthier (guitar maker) who had an interesting blog on his web site.

He asked the question about how difficult it must be to be in business (in his case making instruments) and to NOT have OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder). Obviously I was hooked and had to read further.

He brought out the (not almost) obsessive attention to detail that he felt about his work. He asked the question about how it felt when “good enough” was in fact good enough, even when you knew you could do it better. What came through was the pride he felt in the works he created. The compulsion he felt to not just get it done, but to get it done to the very best of his ability.

He questioned how hard it must be for other people to work and produce without that obsession with detail and that compulsion to do their absolute best at whatever they are doing. At this point he had struck a significant chord with me.

Please pardon the PUN, I couldn’t resist.

At this point I was interested  in his instruments. He seemed like my kind of guy. I read further. It was at this point that he went to a level that I just couldn’t go. He challenged his prospective customers to prove to him that they were worthy of his instruments. What could I say? I am really not that good a musician. I don’t know how I would have reacted if he had paraphrased the Soup-Nazi character on Seinfeld and said:

“No. No guitar for you.”

I did learn about what kind of pride in ones work, and the attention to detail that exists, and that how those things are key to creating the best product one is capable of. I’ll keep practicing and maybe I will get one of his instruments later.

It also reemphasized what I already knew about attention to detail and pride in ones work. We all know it, but on occasion it is still good to hear it again.

I just won’t ask my boss to prove that he is worthy of my output………