Problem-Solving (#136)

Travelling overseas always gives me new perspectives and opportunities to reflect.

My wife and I recently returned from a trip overseas in which easy access to the internet via our smart phones made renting a car and finding our way around a new place a very different and less stressful experience than just 10 years ago.  Now, if you take a wrong turn, Google Maps puts you back on the right path in seconds. There are even apps that will translate a menu or webpage and you can always look up ratings for everything.

In contrast, when a friend and I took a backpacking trip around Europe twenty (plus) years ago, we were armed only with traveler’s checks, a Let’s Go Europe book, a hostel card and a Eurail Pass. We made our way through Europe with no real plan or easy way to communicate with home.

In many cities we visited, we arrived late at night without a place to stay. We had to sort our way through a new train system, city maps and foreign languages just to find a suitable hostel with beds available – all things that would likely be performed today by an app.

None of our challenges were life-threatening, however they did require us to get out of our comfort zones, figure things out and immerse ourselves in the local culture. In retrospect, the experience was invaluable.

I recently read through the journal that I kept during our journey and it was eye-opening. As I read through my entries, I kept thinking “What would my parents have thought if they knew these details?” I then realized that because they didn’t/couldn’t know, we were both better off.

Reviewing my journal made me further appreciate that, although technology has many benefits, it can also have its drawbacks.

My daughter has realized this as well. During our trip, she sent us the opening of a speech she gave while at overnight camp titled, “Disconnecting to Connect.” She spoke about the benefits of being offline for most of the summer which gave her a chance to really connect with those around her.

I then had the disheartening realization that, should any of my kids choose to backpack around Europe (or anywhere for that matter), the reality is that they will never have the type of experience that I did.

They won’t have to translate, learn currency exchange rates, manage a limited money supply because funds aren’t easily accessible, read a paper fold-out map, find a hostel or experience the adventures that can come with getting lost in a new place.

A phone call or tap of a phone app makes things so easy.

Technology will help them, but it will also deprive them of important growth opportunities, especially at such a formative time to solve problems on their own.

As we rely more and more on AI and machine learning, it’s very likely that our own problem-solving abilities will deteriorate – at a time when cognitive, emotional intelligence and interpersonal skills will be needed most to compete for the jobs of the future.

Problem-solving is also rarely an individual endeavor. It’s often done in teams, creating a shared sense of purpose and accomplishment.

One of the highest-rated activities to date at Acceleration Partners was our Amazing race through Boston three years ago. Teams could not use any technology. They were given a list of activities to complete in a given time-period, a fixed budget for transportation, a map and some clues about each location. Everyone had to interact and solve problems in real-time and had an amazing time doing it.

What I’ve learned is that, in the end, when we don’t learn to solve little problems, we find ourselves getting derailed by speed bumps and unable to tackle bigger problems down the road.

What’s needed is a shift in our mindset to embrace the challenges before us and see problems as opportunities to learn, grow, connect and interact with the world around us in new ways.


Quote of the Week

“The problem is not that there are problems. The problem is expecting otherwise and thinking that having problems is a problem.”

Theodore Rubin


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Fighting Words (#124)

A few weeks back, I wrote a Friday Forward titled, “Moment or Movement” that, at its core, was about personal conviction. I get a lot of thoughtful feedback each week about FF posts, but this particular topic resulted in a few caustic responses from people attempting to use my message as a reflection on my viewpoint on guns, something I never even discussed.

One note specifically was filled with conspiracy theories and anger. My gut strongly told me to just ignore it, but my ego wanted to engage in a civil conversation, both to clarify my message and understand their perspective and interpretation.

Alas, this attempt was futile and draining. To no surprise, the person was just looking to pick a fight and I was his target of the day.

A few weeks later, a candidate applying for a senior role at our company abruptly withdrew. When they were asked why, they replied that some aspect of my LinkedIn profile had convinced them that I was a “junior marketer” and a “narcissist who knew nothing about leadership.” They also told the interviewer that they should run from me and our company.

So much for not burning bridges.

I was pretty taken aback by the candidate’s comments, so I decided to reach out and ask for feedback, thinking there must be something I had missed. Instead of a thoughtful, respectful discussion, I received more insults and character accusations (even a diatribe on Tony Robbins) – all from someone who had never met me.

Clearly, something deeper was at play with this person’s own insecurities.

But as they say, things happen in threes, and I still had one more strike to go.

Last week, in front of a prominent news building in New York City, I came across a gentleman holding a sign that read “Israel 300 Nuclear Bombs, Iran 0.” While the wording was not hateful, he clearly had an agenda and was looking to engage those around him. I saw several passersby take the bait which resulted in yelling and swearing from both sides and the man holding the sign shouting “holocaust” as they walked away.

I had twenty minutes before my next meeting so, guided once again by both my curiosity and inclination for understanding, I decided to walk over and ask him his viewpoint. He started out with some factual rationale and then quickly descended into a conspiracy, hate-filled, anti-sematic tirade.

All I could do was disengage and walk away.

Observing him from a distance, I noticed that when no one engaged him, he stood there innocuously and grew bored. He even got tired of holding the sign and would take a break. But, when people engaged, he seemed to feed off the energy and would begin his hateful speech and insults again.

While there are certainly injustices in the world that we need to stand up to, we often engage with toxic people or energy vampires when there is little, if anything, to gain. Instead of making things better, it riles us up, causes unnecessary stress and can make us feel worse about ourselves, which is the desired effect.

Each of these situations left me feeling terrible; the after effects even hung over me for hours, spilling into my interactions with others. I ignored my gut and, instead, allowed myself to be drawn into irrational negativity.

Engaging with toxic people is not a game that can be won. The only way to prevail is to avoid the bait. I hope you can learn from my repeated mistakes and save your energy for people and causes that really matter.


Quote of The Week

“Toxic people attach themselves like cinder blocks tied to your ankles, and then invite you for a swim in their poisoned waters.”

John Mark Green

The post Fighting Words (#124) appeared first on Friday Forward.

Good Timing (#120)

Timing can be a big factor in success. Yet, we often ascribe positive outcomes to luck and assume it’s something we have no control over. It turns out, we do.

Over our lifetime and within a day, when we do things matters — a lot. The more we understand timing patterns and the science behind them, the more we can improve our chances of success.

This is the premise behind one of my favorite authors, Daniel Pink’s, new book When: The Science of Timing. In it, he breaks down his analysis of time into three sections: Beginnings, Middles and Ends. Here are some important learnings and highlights from each.

Beginnings. Beginnings are motivating; it’s why people have more energy around the first part of a year, quarter, month, week and day. At the same time, it’s difficult to overcome a bad beginning. For example, studies show that people who start their careers in a recession are often making less money than peers who started during times of economic boom – even a decade later.

Dan’s advice is, if we get off to a poor start, do whatever we can to start over or give the appearance of starting over. I can’t think of a better case for the importance of making a good first impression in everything that we do.

Middles. Middles are tricky. It’s the time when we tend to experience our lulls. Most would agree that we don’t do our best work in the middle of a day – and medical professionals are no different. Dan found the error rates for surgeries between 1-3pm can be two to three times higher than normal.

Middles, however, can also be motivating. A study on teams found they almost always came together with urgency right at the halfway point. For example, around day 15 of a 30-day project, someone on the team almost always said, “Oh my gosh, we’re halfway done. We’ve got to get going!”

The key to middles is using awareness to create urgency, whether that’s in a day, during a project or even within a lifetime.  It also helps to not be too far behind at the middle or the goal may seem out of reach.

Endings. How things end has a lasting impression on both our perception and memory of entire experiences. People who were mean early in their life are remembered more fondly if they were kinder at the end of their life; the inverse is also true. We’re also likely to remember a vacation in a more positive light if it ends well (good planning tip).

Years of hard work, reputation building and great memories can be undone or ruined with a poor ending— yet another reason we should always avoid burning bridges.

Dan asserts that society tends to take “what” problems more seriously than “when” problems.

Case in point. If parents were told that their high school-aged kids would do 20 percent better on tests if they wore a red hat, everyone would buy a red hat. Yet substantial research reveals that this same impact would be achieved if high schools started just one hour later. Yet, hardly any schools have acted on this data.

Timing will always have an element of luck, but we have the power to use timing to our advantage. As individuals and businesses, we can influence how well we start and end things and be conscious of not getting too far behind in the middle.

I was humbled and honored that Dan took the time to join me on my Outperform podcast to talk at length about many of these concepts.  It’s worth a listen below. His ideas and perspectives on timing and motivation can make us all better.


If you can’t see the embedded player above, you can listen to it on iTunes or Stitcher.

Quote of the Week  

“Greatness and nearsightedness are incompatible. Meaningful achievement depends on lifting one’s sights and pushing toward the horizon.”

 Daniel H. Pink


The post Good Timing (#120) appeared first on Friday Forward.

Having Confidence (#115)

(Podcast audio link at the end of the post)

About four years ago, I attended a fascinating presentation given by Peter Atwater to a group of CEOs.

Peter, a renowned expert on confidence, studies how changes in confidence affect our inclinations, decisions and actions. He looks at things like books, music, architecture and food preferences when researching social, political, financial and business mood.

A few days prior to Peter’s presentation, the house majority leader at the time, Eric Cantor, was defeated in one of the most stunning primary election upsets in congressional history. Peter addressed this election loss in his presentation, observing that it served as another data point showing historically low confidence levels on main street versus Wall Street.

He observed that other politicians who failed to give their primary focus and attention on their own “backyard” would be in trouble over the next few years. The same went for companies who weren’t paying attention to the shift in consumers’ moods or aligning with demand.

Fast forward to today and much of what Peter shared with that group has come true.

Confidence, he said, is a cognitive state of being.

It turns out that when we feel confident, our horizons and timelines expand. We have a more optimistic, global, big picture viewpoint and believe that the future will be better than the present. This has a strong effect on our decision making and timelines, often resulting in us making big bets on future-focused things.

As an example, Peter has uncovered connections between people’s general optimism and architecture. He found that these times of high confidence were when great castles, college buildings and sports stadiums were built, often right before or at peak confidence levels. Look around at today’s technology sector and you will find that almost every major player is building a massive new headquarters.

On the flip side, when we don’t feel confident, our horizon window narrows dramatically; we’re much more focused on the present and what’s right in front of us, not the future. We see things as riskier and concentrate on preservation, not growth or future-focused investments. We want tangible problems solved now, not large problems in the future. In Peter’s terms, we’re about the “me here and now.”

We see this phenomenon today in the “buy local” movement and the preference for political candidates who focus on issues “at home.”

An example that tapped into this sentiment is Keurig® K-Cup® Pods. This product has seen explosive growth due to its convenience and speed, much to the dismay of the inventor who regrets the long-term ecological disaster that his invention has become.

At different times in our life, our confidence levels go through peaks and troughs. To make better decisions, we need to be aware of how our mindset effects our decision making and understand whether we are at low point of confidence or a peak. Both extremes can get us into trouble.

If you can’t see the embedded player above, you can listen to it on iTunes or Stitcher.

Check out my interview with Peter on our Outperform podcast to learn more about his work and his projections around what political candidates, financial markets, products and business models will be successful in our current environment and upcoming years.

Quote of the Week

“Successful people have fear, successful people have doubts, and successful people have worries. They just don’t let these feelings stop them.”

 T. Harv Eker

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Losing Graciously (#110)

This past weekend, I decided to tempt fate and head to the Super Bowl once again, this time with my father and brother.  While the outcome was not what we wanted, we had no regrets. We saw a great game and had an incredible experience that we may not get the opportunity to have again.

We felt grateful to have been able to experience the game live and did our best to be as gracious as possible in defeat to the elated Eagles fans who surrounded us; their city had suffered long enough and their team won a hard-fought game. They more than deserved to be proud and celebrate.

Earlier this week I had an experience that was the exact opposite of this. I was forwarded an e-mail that was sent by a salesperson in response to learning that their company had lost a deal to a competitor. Their approach was to reply in frustration, speak poorly of the competitor’s product and make false assertions.

What they did not do was to seek understanding as to why their product was not chosen.

I strongly value and encourage competition. I also appreciate that, even in friendly competition, no one likes to lose. However, losing poorly is not the sign of a champion. It’s reflective of people and organizations who prefer to look outward, not inward, to justify their failures.

People and organizations who continuously blame external factors for their failures/loses rather than honestly examining their own shortcomings will simply repeat their mistakes and be blind to their weakness. It’s always better to ask what could have been done better and learn from that for future situations than blaming exogenous forces.

Had this person taken this approach, they may have learned about a key selling point of the competitor that they could leverage in their pitch next time. Instead, they made a bad situation worse for both themselves and their company’s reputation.

World-class performers don’t like to lose but they learn how to lose well and lose graciously. They study their failures and always look inward first. This is one reason we have made it a policy at Acceleration Partners that managers must complete a debrief form when we lose a client or make a major mistake. The author is asked to note specifically what they and the organization could have done better and share ideas for how we can improve going forward.

We’ve also gained great insights by asking potential prospects why they chose a competitor when we lose a deal—and we listen intently without judgment.

Furthermore, if you think someone made a bad decision, telling them that after they made the decision is futile and doing so will do more harm than good. Instead, be gracious in the moment and call back in a few months to see how it’s going with the person/company who went in another direction.

One of my favorite operating principles at Acceleration Partners is “Keep Moving Forward,” which we describe as:

We avoid the roller-coaster ride of highs and lows. We celebrate our wins, remain humble and move on to the next challenge. Likewise, we reflect on our failures, adjust, and move forward without wondering what might have been.  

None of us like to lose, but how we lose determines whether we increase our chances of turning the lessons of that loss into a greater victory.

Quote of the Week

“If you can accept losing, you can’t win.”

Vince Lombardi

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2017 in Review (#104)

Sometimes, what we need is a reminder of what we already know rather than learning something new.

Because many of you (myself included) are on vacation this week, I thought that, instead of writing a new post, I would highlight the top Friday Forwards of 2017 and give a quick summary of each.

The Human Element: In many ways, our focus on technology and Artificial Intelligence (AI) is causing us to lose our ability to effectively communicate with and relate to each other as humans. It doesn’t always feel like progress.

18 Summers: This post affected a lot of parents. Many wrote to tell me that it inspired them to make similar plans with their family.

BS of Busy: Saying we are busy has become a cultural crutch. Being busy doesn’t make us happier or more productive.

Bad Week: The story of how Dr. Mary-Claire King was able to push forward during the worst week of her life, leading to a medical breakthrough that has saved millions of women’ lives.

Freedom to Fail: Important lessons from a soccer coach on how we all need to have room to fail, learn from our mistakes and grow.

Beautiful Day: This is the story of a man who created a wonderful legacy for his family.

Tri-It: Reflections and lessons learned from running my first Olympic Triathlon, including why you should practice on stage.

RV Reflections Part 1 and Part 29 lessons learned about life and business from a 10-day RV trip with my family though Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons.

Burning Bridges: Why it’s never a good idea to burn a bridge, even when you need to walk away from a relationship.

Carpe The Diem: The improbable story of how my son and I ended up together at the greatest Super Bowl in history after I decided not to be a hypocrite and take a chance.

Quote of the Week

“Any idea, plan, or purpose may be placed in the mind through repetition of thought.”

Napoleon Hill

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