Dominate Your Profession Like An Elite Soldier

4 08 2014

key1Many people are happy to seek comfort and contentment in their career path – and that’s fine.  The simple life has served people well. Others however, will settle for nothing short of total domination.  Extreme doers, extreme achievers, go-getters that are not satisfied racking up “participant” ribbons. Some people seek total domination in their profession.

How do you achieve a goal of total domination?  How can it drive career success? Look to the best and do what they do. Personally, I have been lucky to have been influenced by friends and associates that have been elite soldiers.  They have provided me with undeniable examples of how to dominate.

Shortly after college, I decided to leave my hometown and try a new adventure.  I had no plan, no job prospects, no clue.  I just packed my stuff, got in my car and started driving to Southern California for the allure of living a beach life.  On the way there, I stopped for a few days to party with friends. Late one night after too many beers, I sat with a friend of mine and he asked me, “So what are you going to do?”

“I really have no idea,” I replied. “I’ll figure it out.”

He quickly responded, as though he was preparing this statement regardless of my answer. “I’ll tell you what my Dad told me,” he said. “Whatever you do – be the best at that.” Pretty simple advice, awfully hard to do, and a fantastic way to explain the goal of domination. If you are the type of person that’s driven to excel, then you can’t aspire to be good at your job – you need to shoot to be the absolute best of anyone that does that job. My friend who gave me that advice? Mr. Kevin Key – widely regarded as a top operator of the US Special Forces. He dominates.

Dan CollinsThe next piece of advice for dominating your world comes from a guy that I actually hired to be my boss. I had met him in professional circles and could tell that he was a business bad-ass. He had something I didn’t, and I knew I needed to learn. Ornery, stern, gruff – those words would be appropriate to describe Mr. Dan Collins. Other accurate words would be vigilant, relentless, intellectual, and effective. Mr. Collins works 12 hours a day every day, and he has for the past 40-something years. He never calls in sick and rarely takes vacation. He not only challenges people to be better, he demands that you excel. This is the man that has probably given me more good advice than any human on the planet. But one phrase might encapsulate “domination” more than any other: “Do what others can’t or won’t.” Find a way to achieve what normal people are unable or unwilling to do. Easy right? Yeah sure. And no shocker here – Mr. Collins was also a member of the Special Forces in his youth. An elite soldier and a dominating business man.

hicks1The last advice was not given, but rather shown to me by my good friend Darren Hicks, a retired Navy Seal now serving as his company’s CEO. A friend of mine for over 20 years, when we talk on the phone the pace is fast, we get to the point, and say goodbye. Meetings at his company are quick, direct, efficient, and over. Sales calls are performed with candor, critical communications, and a focus on defined action. Hell, when I spend leisure time with him, we drive to the lake, unload the car, fill the boats with gas, drop in from the dock, and get out in the chop! Momentum. Pacing. Action. Efficiency. The advice? “Don’t waste time.” While other people are hanging out by the water cooler, you could be on the phone taking their customers. You could be bringing extra value to your company. You could be dominating.  Just like Mr. Hicks.

And in that spirit, this article has gone on long enough. Get back to work. Go dominate!

The Most Powerful Word is…

21 05 2014


In a recent sales-geek conversation, the topic became “power words.”  You know the ones that sales people like to throw around:

Solution, Leverage, Partner, Profitability, Demand, Engagement, Value, Endorsement

And yes, many of those do have an impact when trying to close a deal.  In life however, I believe that there is one word that has the most impact on us – in any situation.  (Insert drum roll here.)  The word is “if.”  Simple.  With just two letters and one syllable, “if” has more effect on our lives than any other word.  Let me give you some examples:

  • I could lose weight if I ate healthier.
  • My sales could be higher if I made more calls.
  • I would get better grades if I studied more.
  • We could separate from our competitors if we provided unique value.
  • I would stay connected to my friends if I called them more often.
  • My credit score would be higher if I stopped spending.
  • I’d have more opportunities if I networked more.
  • My community could be improved if I contributed time and effort.
  • I would have a better reputation if I focused on being a good person.
  • I would feel better if I exercised more and got more sleep.
  • My boss would appreciate me if I worked harder.
  • I would feel more accomplished if I followed through on my plans.
  • People would trust me if I kept my word.
  • I could learn to play an instrument if I committed myself.
  • I would be smarter if I read more.

Addressing the “if” is the best way to change your situation and create a positive impact on your life.  And the great news is that the “if” is controlled by you!

So what’s your if?

And what are you gonna do about it?

How To Be The Catalyst Your World Needs

17 02 2014

bruce lee kick

“To hell with circumstances, I create opportunities.” – Bruce Lee

There are two kinds of people in this world – those that wait for things to happen, and those that make things happen. You know those people, the ones that make the party more fun, make the company more successful, make the team win – those people. Are you one of them? If so, you need to realize the responsibility in your hands. Without you, nothing happens. The world is a boring place without a catalyst.

Or perhaps you wish you were a mover and a shaker who built a reputation for taking action and achieving great results. Well, you can be. Here is a collection of advice to help you become the catalyst in your world, capable of creating your own opportunities:

  • “You don’t learn to walk by following rules. You learn by doing, and by falling over.” Richard Branson. Reading books and blogs, attending classes and seminars, listening to speakers and watching videos are all good ways to educate yourself – but to be a catalyst and create change, you have to start walking.
  • “It’s easier to ask forgiveness than it is to get permission.” Grace Hopper, US Navy. You may have heard this one before, and it’s one of my favorite pieces of advice. Catalysts don’t wait for approval. They do what they think is right regardless of their title, position, or status. Will you have some explaining to do if you’re wrong? Perhaps. But what if you’re right?
  • “So what do we do? Anything. Something. So long as we just don’t sit there. If we screw it up, start over. Try something else.” – Lee Iacocca. To be a catalyst in your world, just assume no one else will do anything. Lead the charge, encourage the people around you, and demand action.
  • “We don’t have a suggestion box.” – Chad Forrester, charity founder. I love this quote. It’s great to contribute with words, it’s more valuable to contribute with action. By allowing your colleagues to act on their ideas and passions, you get their best efforts. True catalysts empower other people to take action and help the cause.
  • “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”  Henry Ford. If you constantly respond to circumstances and requests, then you are limited in your ability to create. Look back at history – creating something truly new and impactful is the mark of achievement for the names we will remember most.
  • “I did not mind the public criticism. That sort of thing has not changed any program I thought was good.” Branch Rickey. When Mr. Rickey brought Jackie Robinson to Major League Baseball, he faced tremendous scrutiny and criticism. But he demolished the color barrier because it was the right thing to do, not because it was popular. Catalysts act with conviction, regardless of the potential public backlash.

Jackie Robinson and Branch Rickey

  • “To hell with circumstances, I create opportunities.” – Bruce Lee. Sure, there’s this problem.., that person.., their business.., this city.., etc. It is easy to justify your lack of action based on your situation. Catalysts view situational difficulties as challenges to overcome – not as excuses to remain stagnant.
  • “Move fast and break things.” – Mark Zuckerberg. True catalysts are some of the least patient people you will ever meet. If the speed of their action causes things to get smashed in the process, so what? Catalysts don’t intend to maintain the status quo, they intend to demolish it. They get started, get going, and take action!

So what are you waiting for?

Have an Impact

14 10 2012

“Hey kid, did you see the game yesterday?”  A simple question – and that was all it took.

Summer of ‘85.  Oakland, California.  Just a few months shy of my 12th birthday.  My parents allowed me to travel by myself from Reno to stay with our family friends that had season tickets for my favorite baseball team, the Oakland A’s.  I could not have been any more proud of myself, out in the world, wearing my big boy pants, tasting a new freedom I had never known before.

I convinced my parents’ friends to take me to the ballpark early to get autographs.  Walking down the steep steps toward the field, I could see the players warming up, joking and laughing with each other.  The guys I worshiped and watched on TV were there right in front of me. “No way…” I thought, “they are real!”

Hordes of kids huddled at the edge of the field, shouting, pushing, and fighting to get to the front.  Every now and then some lucky kid would get to have that chance encounter with a player they idolized.  With pen in hand, their little arms stretched out as far as they could reach, a player would sign their name and move to the next kid, not stopping, not interacting.

I noticed one man, a little bit older, sitting alone on the bullpen bench down the left field line.  I knew that guy – he used to play for my Dad’s favorite team, the Dodgers.  “That’s Dusty Baker!” I thought.  He was nearing the end of his career and probably not as popular with the kids as some of the team’s new stars.  I walked over to him cautiously, “Mr. Baker, can I have your autograph please?”

“Sure kid.” He replied like a man who had done this a million times before.  Unable to speak, I handed him my beat-up old notepad and a ballpoint pen.  He signed the page.  “Thank you,” I mumbled nervously, and began to walk away.

What happened next is something I will never forget.  I don’t know why he did it.  Maybe he knew I was a true fan, decked out in team colors down to my green-and-gold striped socks.  Maybe he appreciated that I broke from the crowd surrounding the new players to find the elder statesman.  Whatever the reason, he proceeded to spark a conversation.

“Hey kid, did you see the game yesterday?”

Stunned and wondering in disbelief – did Dusty Baker just ask me a question?

Nervously I replied:  “Yes I did. I was here for the game.”

“Good one huh?”  We spoke about the different plays and the final score.

Then he asked me if I played baseball and gave me some tips.  He wondered how I knew who he was and I told him my Dad was a Dodger fan.  We talked about the game that was about to be played that day.  He spoke to me like I was a real person!  We probably only talked for a few minutes, but it felt as though time had stopped completely.  I said goodbye and then floated up to my seat – I swear my feet never touched the stairs.

At that time, Dusty Baker was probably about the same age I am now.  I couldn’t have appreciated the deeper meaning back then, but now I can reflect and understand the magnitude of what transpired.  Dusty Baker had an impact.  Instead of dismissing me, he took a few moments from his day to give me a memory for a lifetime.

As we grow older it is important that we understand the effect we have on young people.  As parents, teachers, managers, or just as the most experienced person in the group, we all have the opportunity to have an impact on someone’s life.  How do we do it?  Here’s what I learned from Dusty Baker:

  • Ask.  Although sharing your story is valuable, it is also important to ask what someone wants to learn.  Find out what your mentee is interested in, where they are struggling, or how they are feeling.
  • Listen.  It can be tremendously frustrating to be dismissed by your elders.  By just giving someone the opportunity to talk you empower them and build confidence.
  • Give.  Your advice and mentorship requires a selfless attitude.  Give just to give, don’t expect anything in return.

There is a big difference between having a big name and having a big impact.  From what I can tell, Dusty Baker seems to understand this.  After his career ended, he went on to be a big-league manager, and has been named Manager Of The Year three separate times.  He is currently the manager for the Cincinnati Reds.  He is a Board Member for the “Positive Coaching Alliance,” an organization that promotes character-building in youth sports.

In recent months, Mr. Baker was hospitalized due to an irregular heartbeat and a mini-stroke.  After being released from the hospital, he joined his team on the field for the playoffs.  Here’s to your good health Mr. Baker.  Thank you for that brief moment in time.  You certainly had an impact.

Be The Man

30 07 2012

Relaxing on a Saturday afternoon, listening to some great music in the backyard, I uttered out-loud a simple contemplation: “I wish I was in this band.”  Upon hearing the statement, my daughter, just shy of 5-years-old, looked me straight in the eye and replied: “Dad, be the man that you are.”

Black Joe Lewis and The Honeybears

It took me a second to absorb it.  Did she really just say that?  Did she really just think that?  Stunned and a bit puzzled, I took a big mental step back and thought about what she said.  “Be the man that you are.”  With one quick response to a simple Saturday musing as I listened to Black Joe Lewis and The Honeybears, she provoked a stirring of thoughts.  I was reminded of a quote I once read from 19th Century writer Ralph Waldo Trine:  “Do you want to be a power in the world?  Then be yourself.”

We try to be our best (or we don’t and we feel guilty about it), but if we do not find immediate success, then rather than stay the course, we may wish to be someone else entirely.  Wish for someone else’s good times, or fame, or wealth, or membership in a really cool band – it’s something we all have done.  What fools are we to hope for someone else’s greatness when we have so much untapped power inside ourselves?  This life, the one we breathe and drink and touch every day – well, this is the life we have.  This is our here, our now, our reality.  If we wish for dreams that can’t come true, then we may never tap into our true potential.

In addition, it is important to appreciate where you are.  Soak it in.  For better or worse, this is you, this is your life.  Are you where you want to be?  If not, you have the power to change it.  But as you’re trying to get there, as you take a slow walk down the path to glory, why not just appreciate life for what it is?  Why wish to be somewhere else or someone else?  Why not smile through the tough times and the conflict?  Find something good in it.  In everything.

A good lesson for me for sure.  And thank you to my daughter for reminding me.

By the way, that band really is sweet.  If you like old-school, throw-down soul, mixed with high-energy funk and back-woods blues, then by all means, check out Black Joe Lewis and The Honeybears.

Handling Criticism (the Booger Effect)

2 03 2012

Back in my single days I once told a girl I was dating that her perfume smelled terrible.  She couldn’t believe I would say something so rude.  I couldn’t believe she didn’t appreciate that I was trying to help (I mean seriously, this perfume was rancid).  Instead of being mad at me for my honesty, she should have been mad at everyone else that let her walk around smelling like that.

I was reminded of this situation while I was watching American Idol (go ahead and make fun of me).  One of the most compelling elements of the show is the moment of utter shock and disbelief when a contested is kicked-off for lack of talent.  Their friends, mom, and co-workers all told them they were great, super, awesome, wonderful, etc. – because they didn’t have the guts to present the cold truth.  If they had been honest, then maybe the contestant would have practiced harder, gotten a coach, or focused on another talent.  But no, they let them walk around with a proverbial booger on their face for the whole world to see.

In business, this happens all the time.  We are so inclined to say “good job” because it feels nice for everyone involved.  But the truth is that we don’t always do a good job, we don’t evolve, we don’t make smart decisions – because we are convinced that we have it all figured out.  And that unmentioned booger on our faces keeps us in mediocrity, unable to reach full potential.

I have a good friend and associate that recently told me: “If I say it’s white, you’ll say it’s black – I think you do that just to mess with me.”  Untrue.  I do it because as salespeople, we are so good at convincing that we can convince ourselves that everything is fine, that we are on the right course, that we are taking smart actions – even if we’re not.  It is critical that we open ourselves to criticism and counter-intuitive thought if we want to grow.

Numerous times throughout my career I have been informed of a booger on my face by people that I respected, and I often reacted with anger or frustration.  In looking back I realize that those people, and their willingness to tell me the unpopular truth, have had a significant impact on my life.  It may have taken a day or a month or several years for me to accept the message and do something about it – or maybe I never agreed, so I fought to change their perception.  Either way I benefited from their courage to tell me something I didn’t want to hear.

I know it feels better to hear “good job” and I know we love the people that give us a positive perspective of ourselves, but if you really want to grow, then you must give serious credibility to the people that are willing to criticize.  You should thank them for not allowing you to walk around with a booger on your face.  If you believe their criticism is misguided, then let that be a motivator and work hard to prove them wrong.

The Apocalypse is Real (for some)

13 01 2012

I have to admit I am a little intrigued by the whole “2012-Mayan-calendar-end-of-the-world” thing.  Not that I think it will actually happen, but I do love bold predictions.  I would agree that life as we know it (or used to know it) is ending.  Along with changes in human behavior come the end of things we once considered crucial to our existence.  Here are some things you have become used to that will soon see their own apocalypse:

Cash.  Forget about the Benjamin’s – cash is dead.  Why?  If you lose your wallet you lose your cash; making change is slow; you’re a target for mugging; you frequently need to find an ATM.   Debit cards eliminate those inconveniences.  Aside from garage sales, stadium parking and babysitters – you can use cards anywhere.  Devices such as the “Square” card reader will make it easy for anyone to accept cards for payment.  Eventually a “card-swipe” slot will be built into your phone.

Remote Controls and Keyboards.  There is a significant increase in devices that provide some level of voice-controlled interaction.  Apple’s “Siri” is the latest push in that direction.  You no longer need to type on your smartphone with “talk to text.”  Why not your TV?  I can hear it now – “TV, please play season 2 of The Jefferson’s.”  Oh yeah, movin’ on up!

Driving.  Google received the first set of patents for the first self-driving car earlier this year.  Why Google?  Because they used self-driving cars when building Google maps.  Cars already parallel park themselves, and isn’t that really the hardest part of driving?  The government can ban cell phone use while driving, but it’s never going to stop.  With a self-driving car you can strap in, log on, and relax.  You will be delivered safe and sound to your destination without ever needing to look up from your screen.

DVD’s.  Subscription based entertainment services like Netflix and Hulu are leading the assault on the shiny discs we were so enamored with just a decade ago.  Physical disc rental seems silly when I can just click a button (or talk to) my TV and watch anything I want.  The only thing stopping internet-connected movie services from completely killing DVD’s is that the movie studios haven’t figured out how to get a big enough piece of the pie to release their entire collections to online availability.  That will change too when each studio offers their movies for rental on their own “channels.”

Wires.  WiFi is the unseen King of the digital age.  We connect to our devices and to each other without plugging in.  Soon our devices will follow our lead and connect to each other without wires, and without requiring any set up.  They will still need a power source (for now) – but your TV, computer, stereo, phone, speakers will talk to each other through the air.  Jambox wireless speakers are a great example.

Flat tires.  Bridgestone and Michelin are both releasing tube-free, air-free tires.  Once something like that hits the market, competitors will certainly imitate and attempt to improve the design.  Not good for gas stations charging to pump your tires, but great for motorists who can avoid dangerous and tedious situations on the road.

Battery Chargers.  My watch never needs a battery because it winds as I swing my arm.  Can someone please figure out how to do the same thing for my phone?  Thanks.

What is the driving force for these changes?  Is Necessity still the mother of invention?  Maybe – but Convenience, Efficiency, and Low-Cost are certainly the father, brother, and sister.  As business continues to evolve in this new world it is important to ask yourself, “does my business approach provide convenience, efficiency, and savings?”  If not, you might soon be as obsolete as a stone-carved calendar.

Dealing with Disaster

9 09 2011

Gusting winds, dry plants, high temperatures – perfect condition for a wildfire, just add a spark.  First a single shrub, then a stack of brittle timber, then a field, then an acre, then a hillside, a forest, homes, lives – wildfires spread fast and devastate completely.

I cannot imagine the anguish felt by the people who lost everything.  I suspect the pain is intensified by the helpless inability to stop the disaster.  We spend our lives trying to be happy, trying to keep things “good,” and sometimes there are circumstances beyond our control that force us on a different path.  When tragedy strikes, it doesn’t care that you’re not ready.

I managed to remain unharmed by the blaze – nervous, unsettled, and inconvenienced – but unharmed.  I came this close to my personal catastrophe before being saved by a brave soul who fought for me when I could not.  That helpless feeling hung around my neck like a boulder throughout the ordeal.  Over and over in my mind, “What can I do?  What can I do?”  The more I considered the question, the more I gained clarity on the only thing I could do – learn.  What could I learn from this experience to apply to my life moving forward?  In order to be more prepared in the future, here is my plan:

Reduce stress

  • Know when to let go of your pride and ask for help.  Regular life is hard enough to deal with on your own – turbulent times are even tougher.  Forming a team is not a sign of individual weakness.
  • Get things done.  It really helps to ease your mind in tense situations if you don’t mentally compound the problem thinking of unfinished projects, unrealized dreams, and unspoken words.
  • Be prepared for emergencies.  Have a backup plan, learn CPR, search for local resources, know what things are important and worth saving, and communicate in advance with anyone that can help.

Feel better

  • Help somebody.  In any tragedy, you may struggle with your inability to help yourself, but you can redirect that desire and benefit someone else.
  • Proper communication and information are critical.  Even if you can’t do anything, you will feel better if you are informed.  News sources, websites, books, phone calls, groups, therapy are all available resources to help you understand the problem and find ways to deal with it.
  • Look for positives .  Tragic conditions can make it difficult to be optimistic, and sometimes it might be years or decades before you gain any positive perspective from the situation, but if you look hard and force the issue, you will find a way to unveil something useful in your life.

I would like to say thank you to all the firemen of this country – we are so much safer because of your selfless acts of heroism.  I wish you safety, strength, and comfort knowing your brave actions do not go unnoticed or unappreciated.  We are in your debt.

Austin fire department t-shirt

Got my back.

What We Can Learn from Sharks

29 07 2011

If the President, the Pope, the Dali Lama, and the Queen came to my house the first week of August, they would be offered a cold beverage, light snack, and a seat in front of the TV – as would any guest.  It’s time for Shark Week!!  7 glorious days of sharks, shark facts, shark species, shark ancestry, shark fighting, shark mating, shark migrating, shark jumping – and it’s all fascinating!  During Shark Week, everyone can learn something new.

Presented by the Discovery Channel, Shark Week fills and expands our brains with information and a new understanding for the beauty and intricacy of our natural world – yet I can’t help but think of the reaction you see in so many adults when a new concept is presented to them.  I’m always a bit shocked when I see a “grown-up” blatantly reject new information (admittedly, I have been guilty as well).

Do we grow to believe we know everything?  Are we offended by the implication that something exists that we don’t know?  The world around us is changing rapidly.  If we continue to reject new concepts and dismiss the developments that are shaping the future, then we risk becoming irrelevant or extinct.

My 6-year-old son is not only delighted by the information he soaks in during Shark Week, he is more than happy to share what he has learned at any time.  To break a silent moment, or in the middle of a completely different conversation, he might say:

  • “Hey dad, did you know that sharks can weigh as much as two tons?”
  • “Guess what – some shark fossils are 16 million years old.”
  • “Great Whites can jump out of the water to capture prey.”
  • “Bull Sharks can live in freshwater.” (He saves that for when we’re at the lake.)

You don’t have to be a kid to learn new things, but you must to be open to the possibility that you can learn.  Sharks are amazing creatures, examples of evolution at its finest.  Physically adapted over millions of years, sharks have survived and avoided extinction because they have evolved.  We must follow that example.

In honor of Shark Week, my son and I made this video about Great White Sharks.  Neither of us knew how to do this a year ago, but we believed we could learn.  Enjoy!

The Importance of Being Stupid

15 07 2011

“Experience is simply the name we give our mistakes.” – Oscar Wilde

I would like to blame my brother Brian.  Maybe, just maybe, if his mullet wasn’t so totally sweet, I might have avoided it.  But alas, inspired by the awesomeness that was my brother’s mullet, and powerless to fight the trend of my era, I proceeded to grow my own.  At the time it seemed like the right thing to do.  Looking back, it does seem pretty stupid.  Ultimately, no matter how much you are influenced by peers or circumstance, your choices are yours.

The mullet  is the split personality of haircuts – business up front, party in the back – evidence that I was struggling to find my identity.  However, as mullets go, I thought mine was grand.  For the record, there were no curling irons involved, just good fortune to have the right amount of natural wave.

This weekend, as I travel to my 20 year high school reunion, I think back on that decision and many of the other choices I made at an early age – and since.  Man, I’ve done some stupid things.  I have hurt people’s feelings, spoken before thinking, embarrassed myself, and failed to live up to people’s expectations – as we all have.  With a foundation of blunders and mistakes, I suppose I should feel bad about it, but I don’t.  The things that I did wrong, the really stupid things – they drive me forward and lead me to make better choices along the way.

So what can be learned from my personal stupidity?

Admit that you could be wrong.  Only after a history of “wrong” have I come to be a better listener, open-minded to the concept that I don’t have it all figured out.  This compels me to actively seek the right course of action.

Ask for advice and TAKE it.  I would like to take a moment to personally thank my good friend Mike Foote who cared enough about my well-being to firmly impress upon me that it was time to lose the mullet.  “Really?” I replied in confusion, “is it not sweet?”  Mike had the guts to tell me the unpopular truth – I had the sense to believe him.  It is not easy to tell someone when they are wrong, so give credit to those people, and really try to understand their perspective.

Consider your alternatives before making a decision.  There are many ways to start a project or solve a problem.  I’m a big fan of talking to people you trust, doing a little research, and writing “pro’s-and-con’s” lists.

Be prepared to make mistakes again.  “So what do we do?  Anything. Something.  So long as we just don’t sit there.  If we screw it up, start over.  Try something else.” Lee Iacocca

Forgive yourself.  Ultimately, you won’t know if a decision is bad or good until you evaluate later.  Don’t let the fear of being stupid prevent you from taking action, and don’t beat yourself up if it eventually looks like a mistake.  I would much rather deal with the regret of doing something stupid than the regret of never taking risks.

The mullet has become a symbol of my questionable judgment – but also represents my ability to recover, choose the right course, and be smarter moving forward.  As I now gaze upon my high school haircut and think about the other stupid choices of my past, I am optimistic that each mistake somehow shaped my present and my future.  The mullet is dead – the lesson lives on.


Big shout out to Reed High School class of ’91.  It was fun growing with all of you.  We shaped each other.  Looking forward to reminiscing this weekend!


Dream Big – Quit Sleep

10 06 2011

“You can say what you want about me but I’ve made the most of my time.” Vokab Kompany

Wild dreams.  Impractical hopes.  Unreachable desires.  Impossible ambitions.  Crazy ideas.  You’ve had them.  I have too.  That idea that you just had to tell somebody about but never got the reaction you envisioned, the “can’t lose” business proposal, the vision of your life that you would love to see.  Are you making it happen?  Is it just too crazy?  Too risky?  Too unbelievable?

“I’m going to be a rapper,” he said to me during our weekly one-on-one sales meeting.

I asked the obvious question:  “You’re what??”

“I’m going to rap – I’m going to make music,” Robbie pronounced with conviction.

“Okay man.  Good luck with that.  Now go make some phone calls.”

As much as I appreciated his enthusiasm, I needed Robbie selling, not rhyming.  And he did.  He came to the office, made his sales, and generated revenue.  He put in time each day, and then he went to his second job.  In the studio – writing, collaborating, practicing – doing the work and producing.  He focused on the dream and put some sweat into it, not waiting for luck and circumstance.

When I was 6 years old I was convinced that I was going to be a professional baseball player.  At about 16, I liked my chances in life better with a job and a car than I did trying to be a professional athlete.  And *poof* – the end of a dream.  So when Robbie came into my office and declared his improbable desire for music stardom, I was surprised, confused, doubtful, amused – and positively rooting for him.

Flash forward to today.  Robbie Gallo and Vokab Kompany have released two money-making albums.  Garnering publicity and attention via their loyal fan-base and a growing support within the music community, Vokab Kompany have branded their unique, dance party, hard-rocking, slick rhyming, soul-singing, good times musical show.  They pack houses, they rip stages.

The dream started small – very small.  Robbie invited me to his first “show.”  Robbie stood on stage with a boom box behind him and spit rhymes to a curious and entertained crowd.  It was a gutsy maneuver, and a respectable effort for the first-timer.  But Robbie knew that his dream had to grow, so he formed a partnership with local roots-funk band “Native Root.”  The collaboration consists of singer Matt Burke’s highly stylized smoothed-out vocals, Robbie’s lyrical flow, and a full band with drummer Alvaro Nunez, bassist Aaron Cheatham, horn-player Jesse Molloy, Geoff Nigl on the keys, Karen Mills singing backup vocals, and Spencer Sharpe ripping the electric violin.  They are a full-boat of talented musicians, creators, artists, and entrepreneurs.

If you’re keeping score at home, the dream-seeker list goes like this:

  • Have idea you’re passionate about – check
  • Do the work, even if it means long hours and loss of sleep – check
  • Take risks and make yourself uncomfortable – check
  • Find partners to help you grow your vision – check

The Business

Watching over the past few years as Robbie built a musical platform as an artist and entertainer, I noticed the parallels between the production, distribution, and marketing of music and the same principles of any business.  A good idea is not enough – not even close.  Your idea is as good as your ability to deliver a finished product to your audience.  Music is an unpredictable and quirky business, and a tough way to earn a living.  Getting started, the band maintains their day jobs, upholds family commitments, and manages a steady load of travel – and the business becomes that much tougher.  But they push on through, hoping for stardom.  Robbie shared the Vokab Kompany approach with me, and these tips work for any business.

1.  Idea creation

“Creative thought can pop out at any time – the trick is to capture it.  Always good to have a pen and pad close to you.  A lot of people get a creative idea when they’re a few minutes from falling asleep.  You wanna make sure you have something close to you to write with or you may miss a good concept.”

2.  Marketing materials

“Whether that’s a shirt, sticker, or some other promo piece, you gotta get people to rock it – and you gotta give it out for free, but make sure you give it to the right people.  The ones that are in “the scene” or go out a lot, or know cool things to do.  Other people will ask questions and then you have your successful marketing piece.  You also gotta be just as creative with your merch as you do your music. It’s a huge part of your branding and you want people to wear it or use it and be proud to.”

3.  Finding partners

“We search and we follow up on every lead.  As we begin to grow our brand the labels, mangers and agents start to take notice.  They’re looking for good material too, and one of the main things I’ve noticed is they’re looking for artists that work really hard.”

4.  Work your talent

“The format has changed, it’s not just about talent and you get signed.  You gotta have a lot to offer – a good record, a great live show, and a hard work ethic.  Keep building these and I believe it’s only a matter of time.”

5.  Drive adoption

“You need to give people a little time to become familiar with the album.  Most importantly is not to ‘rush’ the product or you may miss something that could’ve made that song better.”

And the crowd bobs their heads.  Feet stomp, arms raise.  Mic on blast, energy blaze.  Earth shakes, bass pumps.  Passion builds, people jump.  Bright lights, electric sights, the flow, the rhyming, the quick steps on time and, the sound hits, the curtain lifts, the band stands, the beat drifts, take the stage, lay your claim, the fans rage, they chant your name!  Dreamlike, unbelievable – and the hard work pays off.

I have watched Robbie and Vokab as they plotted this course, did the work, made it happen.  I have heard the sounds of their team, each bringing their unique style to the art they create.  Sacrifices have been made in hopes of success.  Rest has been replaced with raging desire.  The path to glory is in the willingness to completely commit – the willingness to Quit Sleep.

More Vokab videos:

Vokab Kompany on iTunes:


Will You Be Obsolete?

8 04 2011

Toothless and Taking Over

At my house we love Spongebob Squarepants and we usually watch it through Roku, commercial-free.  For some reason last Saturday we were watching it on a regular TV broadcast when a commercial came on and interrupted the show.  My daughter looked up from her doll and said “What’s that?”

“What’s what?” I replied.

“That,” pointing to the TV.

“The commercial?” I asked, wondering if I knew what she was talking about.

“What’s a commercial?” she asked.

It struck me that a kid today doesn’t recognize what commercial is, even though she watches TV.  We have unlimited access to a surplus of entertainment choices, yet only see commercials if we are ignoring our technological advantages.  What does this mean for advertisers and entertainment companies?  How will this affect revenue streams as technology continues to advance at a rapid pace?

Later that day at the park, three little kids were swinging on the swings next to us.  A kid no older than 8 took out his iPhone and filmed a video of his friends on the swings.  He pressed a few buttons and then announced that he uploaded the video to his YouTube channel and posted the link on his Facebook page.  The whole process couldn’t have taken him more than two minutes.  I was blown away.  His actions were natural and almost automatic for him, easier than remembering to say “please” and “thank you.”  Does he realize that his personal life is accessible to billions of people?  Does he even know what a “billion” is?  Do we really understand how “social networking” affects our reputations and relationships?  How will all of this progress 5, 10, 20 years from now?

That night at bedtime, my son was practicing reading one of his favorite books.  His little fingers struggled to turn the page.  As we waited patiently for him to find a proper grip, he broke the silence by saying “Loading..,” equating the experience to a slow webpage.  This guy is not yet 6 years old, he is missing several teeth, and he is more comfortable on a computer than a lot of adults I know.  What will it mean when his generation enters the workplace?  What current jobs will be totally obsolete?  Will he study things in college that are outdated the day he graduates?

All of these circumstances are glimpses into the future, and commentary on the present.  The rate of advancement in technology, business, and healthcare in the last 20 years has been significant. Building on that foundation, the next 20 years will see more extreme change than this planet has ever known.  Change is not coming, it is here.  Keep up or be irrelevant.

“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.” Charles Darwin

Believe or Be Lost

25 03 2011

I believe.  Every day I confirm that simple truth.  I believe that I control my own destiny.  I believe that I can be a better person.  I believe that good things happen when you open yourself to the possibility.  I believe that I don’t know everything – I believe that I can learn faster when I acknowledge this.  I believe that people are naturally good, although often misguided and confused.  I believe that people deserve a second chance.  I believe that you can show me how to live a better life.  I believe that smiling is so important.  I believe that positive energy is contagious.  I believe that teaching is the best way to learn.  I believe that we are all related to each other – I believe that some day we will accept this.  I believe that most people would be happier if they took some risks. I believe that all businesses are basically the same.  I believe that real entrepreneurs understand that partnership does not weaken their position or threaten their value.  I believe that mindset is everything.  I believe that “kids these days” are not any worse than we were – we just choose to remember the good stuff.  I believe that we often take each other for granted, and I believe we can change that if we learn to listen.

I believe that working hard will make you feel better about yourself than anything else you can do.  I believe that you can work harder than you are right now – I can too.  I believe that being trustworthy is the best thing you can offer your boss – in any job.  I believe my kids will accomplish things I never thought possible.  I believe that I am supposed to have a positive impact on people.  I believe that music is therapy, joy, and inspiration.  I believe some people think I’m slacking-off because I am always having fun – I believe they don’t know me very well.  I believe that celebrating is critical when you have success.  I believe that politics and government are not the same thing.  I believe that the words “cool” and “amazing” are misused.  I believe we are all our own worst enemy.  I believe that forgiveness is the highest form of nobility.

I believe that stereotypes are tools of the weak-minded.  I believe that transparency will earn you respect.  I believe that I will be successful if I focus and am relentless in my pursuit.  I believe that believing is step one, and that if you don’t believe in yourself no one else will.  I believe that confidence is misunderstood and that we are entirely too willing to allow ourselves to be meek.  I believe that we are all lucky to be here – that life is as great as it is tragic.  I believe that there is a negative and positive way to look at everything, and that your happiness relies on your perspective.  I believe that critics should spend more time creating.  I believe that paying someone a compliment can change their life.  I believe that “believers” do great things.  I believe that life is tough, and that it’s even tougher if you don’t believe in something.

Do It With Love

11 02 2011

There is a picture hanging on my  wall that I see every day, and every day it brings me a smooth mix of joy, sadness, and inspiration.  Few things get to me in this way.  So what is it about the man and this particular picture that stir such an emotional response?

It is strange to me that people don’t seem to know Sam Cooke.  We recently passed what would have been his 80th birthday.  They called him the “King of Soul.”  A pioneer, he brought soul music from church gospels to radio stations and concert halls.  He was cool of Elvis-proportions.  He defined the love song.  His music ranged from easy and free to haunting in passion and sorrow.  He endured segregation.  He stood up for his brothers and sisters.  His life was filled with accolades, fame, and wealth – but matched with sorrow, hardship, and tragedy.  His death was sudden, scandalous, and puzzling.

I can’t write the whole story here.  I highly recommend the book Dream Boogie by Peter Guralnik, especially if you are into music, American history, business, or mystery.

Personally, I am inspired by the man, and specifically this picture.  Posture relaxed, arms crossed, completely at ease and comfortable in his ability – yet, neck-strained, he gives it all he has, pouring his soul,  effort, and passion into his craft.  Sam was known as a perfectionist, obsessed with results – and it shows in his work.  He was also known for matching that effort with a fun-loving spirit, understanding that even in work there can be passion, optimism, and joy.

I look at this picture every day, and it always reminds me to work hard, have fun, and put some love into it!


“Bring It On Home To Me” is my favorite song.  Sam is teamed up with his good friend Lou Rawls.  You can hear the effort – and the passion builds as a new instrument joins each verse.  Turn it up!

And last but not least, can someone please make a movie about Sam’s life???  The Ray Charles and Johnny Cash movies were great – but neither of them have a story like Sam.  Universe, please give me a Sam Cooke movie.  Thank you.


Being Accountable in the New Year

7 01 2011

One week into the New Year and I can’t help but wonder – how many resolutions have already been broken?  How many people have the fortitude and discipline to live up to their own expectations?  How will we all hold ourselves accountable as the year progresses?

Me?  I’m a talker (as if you couldn’t tell).  My accountability strategy is to make promises to myself and share them with anyone who cares to listen.  I know that if I stray from my path and ignore my goals, I will be judged by the people that heard me promise aloud, so I will feel guilt and embarrassment if I don’t live up to my declared expectations.  To that point, what better way to keep myself on task than to list my resolutions publicly?

  • 20 Push-ups every day before I take a shower – it’s not a lot, but I will do them every single day.
  • Stay in touch with friends that have traveled far from me, and those I’ve left behind.
  • Be a more attentive father and affectionate husband.
  • Admit that I don’t know everything and try not to be a know-it-all.
  • Find a positive in negative situations – turn everything into a lesson learned.
  • Try things that I’ve never done, regardless of how uncomfortable it makes me.

    Austin Sunrise

One week in and so far so good.  I’ve got a different job in a foreign town with an unfamiliar house – and it is all a little scary.  Luckily, I am making friends and finding new people to learn from.  It has been a trying time to say the least, but I am positive, encouraged by new possibilities, and undaunted by fear of the unknown.

Why do I share these things?  Why choose to use myself as an example?  I do it because I am not special.  I do not come from a ton of money – not poor, but far from rich.  I mowed lawns, I packed boxes, and I waited tables – not glamorous by any assessment.  I graduated from college, but one that is a significant distance from the Ivy League.  I majored in a subject (English Literature) that garnered snickers and criticism.  I make mistakes, I am impatient, I often speak before thinking, and sometimes I have a short temper.  I have vices, I have broken the law.  I am not the tallest, not the strongest, and not the smartest kid in class.  I can be clumsy, forgetful, and preachy.  I have an ego (as if you couldn’t tell), I struggle to be a good listener, and I rarely read things as thoroughly as I should.

When I use myself as an example, I do it not because I am perfect, but because I am greatly flawed.  However, I don’t use that as an excuse or a crutch.  I move forward imperfectly, understanding that I can be better, do more, and learn as I go.  I use myself as an example because we are all flawed in our own unique ways – and we can all improve and evolve as imperfect creatures.  If I can do it, so can you.

Comfort Kills

3 12 2010

As this year winds to a close and we spend time with our loved ones and celebrate the season, I can’t help but think about the year ahead.  Call it a New Year’s resolution, call it a goal, call it a challenge – we are just a few short weeks away from the renewal of our annual cycle.  How will we approach it?  What will we change?  What will we accomplish in the coming year?

Each year represents a new challenge, and for me the challenge next year is huge.  So I do what I always do – I go in search of direction, inspiration, and resources.  This time the inspiration found me.  This week I have stumbled across 3 or 4 different articles about Richard Branson, and the timing could not be better.

Richard Branson founded Virgin Records and became a multi-millionaire.  A lot of people would have been satisfied with the success of their early endeavors.  Not Branson.  Did he get complacent, drink too many margaritas, and absolve himself of productivity?  Absolutely not.  Instead of basking in the warm glow of success, he throws himself on the fire.  He risks it all and starts an airline.  It too is successful.  Does he sit back and smile?  Maybe a little – and then he starts a mobile technology company.  Why stop there?  How about an innovative digital publication?  Still not satisfied??  Virgin Galactic – oh yeah – flights into space.

So why keep going?  What’s the point?  When will this insatiable Branson finally rest?!?!

There is a phrase that says something to the effect that “satisfaction is the death of desire.”  My paraphrased version is “comfort kills.”  The best musicians, artists, and poets are usually somehow tortured.  The best fighters are often the most hungry.  In a world where everyone works for a bigger piece of the pie, you must improve to compete.  You cannot become complacent, lazy, comfortable.  You must find a way to stay hungry.

I’m no Richard Branson – I do not own an airline, so I have a long way to go.  Therefore I am throwing myself on the fire.  The coming year will challenge me greatly.  I will be doubted and questioned – by others and by myself.  Announcements will be made, and I will be criticized as much as I will be applauded.  Discomfort will find me – and I will embrace it.  I will not look back and I will not apologize.  Great things come from chaos.  May we all find a way to make ourselves uncomfortable in the coming year.

Passion for Beer

8 10 2010

“Ah, beer. The cause of and solution to all of life’s problems.” – Homer Simpson

I moved to San Diego right after college and needed to find a way to make a few bucks while I searched for a career.  With a bit of table-waiting experience under my belt, I was able to land a job at the Karl Strauss Brewing Company in downtown.  Talk about your great times! I made a ton of friends (many of the life-long variety), earned enough money to cover the rent while I searched for a regular job type job, and got deep discounts on some fantastic beer.

Also during that time, I had the extreme honor and pleasure of participating in a beer-tasting with the man himself, Mr. Karl Strauss.  Always dressed in suit and tie, “Uncle Karl” personally led the tasting, describing the brewing process and unique qualities of each of the fine ales and lagers we sampled.  The more he drank the thicker his German accent grew, and by the time we were done I thought I would need a translator.

Although impressed by his ability to put ‘em down, I was primarily enamored by the passion he had for his craft.  Mr. Strauss was literally born on the premises of his father’s brewery.  He was the VP of Production for Pabst and remained with the company for 44 years.  This was not his job, it was his love.  He is not just the name behind the brewery, he is the inspiration.   Beer was in his blood – his profession was his life.

“My life’s work has been brewing and if I had to do it over again, I would pursue the same path, which is to say I have no regrets.” Karl M. Strauss, 1912-2006

Okay, we don’t all get to work at a brewery and talk about beer all day, but there is something you can find to be passionate about at your job.  I will always remember to bring passion to work with me every morning.  Thank you Uncle Karl for the inspiration.  And cheers!  I’ll raise one to you this Oktoberfest.

5K Fun Run

17 09 2010

It is with great pleasure and utter shock that I announce 5,000 views of this blog (and no, that does not count my own visits).  In the blog world that still makes me small potatoes (mmm, hashbrowns…), but that’s 5,000 more views than I had 4 months ago, and it’s an important-sounding number I can use to propel me forward.

I have learned a lot.  You might not be aware of this, but the “Internet” watches everything you do, and provides some fascinating statistics.  I know how many people read my blog every day.  I know which pictures you click on.  I know what links you follow.  I know what website you were looking at before you came to my page and what site you’re leaving me for.

Based on those stats and other observations, here’s what I have learned about You:

  • You love True Blood, Batman, Snoop, and College Football
  • You spend a lot of time looking at your computer on Sunday morning
  • A lot of you are “considering” starting your own blog
  • You love watching videos, especially if they are not too long

Just a short time ago I was a guy that knew very little about social media and the technology that makes it all work.  Here is what I’ve learned about Social Media:

  • Sites like WordPress, Google, Facebook, and YouTube are incredibly powerful tools for spreading your message
  • Technology is helpful, but people that are willing to show you how to use it are much more helpful
  • Without a Social Media platform, you are becoming less and less relevant
  • You don’t need to know everything to participate

This whole project has caused me to examine myself and give serious consideration to my thoughts and actions.  Here’s what I’ve learned about myself:

  • I can turn any situation into a positive by thinking about the lesson I’m learning
  • I would rather try and fail than not try at all
  • Teaching is one of the best ways to realize what you’ve learned
  • I love having an excuse to wear t-shirts on Friday

So after achieving this mini-milestone, here is what you can expect as we move forward:

  • Stories about some really interesting people I know
  • Opportunities for your involvement
  • A blog specifically about the Batman projects we have done
  • Drink recipes (it is Friday after all)

Thank you to everyone for reading.  Special thanks to those of you that have commented publicly or privately.  I will continue to try and make sure it doesn’t suck.


Speaking of milestones, Happy Birthday to my mom – Sandy White.  She turns 60 this week.  We might live thousands of miles apart and not talk as often as we would like, but I think about her all the time.  As a parent and as a professional, I always want to make my mom proud.  I love you Mom!


Great Idea

3 09 2010

I’m writing this thread from 30,000 feet on a flight to St. Louis.  I was inspired by SkyMall Magazine, which is my favorite part of flying.  They’ve got some crazy and awesome stuff in there.  So many cool, useful, and strange ideas.  And I wonder – why didn’t I think of the Digital Camera Swim Mask?  Couldn’t I have come up with the Bigfoot Tree Statue?  Actually, I’m sure that the Peaceful Progression Wake-Up Clock was my idea, but someone beat me to it.  And Lawn Aerating Sandals???  I could have built those in my garage!

You’ve had an idea.  You’ve thought of some invention.  We’ve all had them.  So why are we not all rich inventor types?  Because a great idea is not enough – not by a long shot.  You need product development, marketing, sales, customer service, artwork, meetings, clients, catalogs, employees, websites, strategies, people, associations, trade shows, flights – do I have to keep going?  The idea is only the beginning.

Browsing through the various SkyMall treasures, it made me think of the the great idea that is the reason I am on this plane – and on so many other planes before it.  Made me think of all the things I have seen and learned over the years – how many people I’ve met and how many places I’ve visited.  And this time I’m flying out to win an award, but none of it would have happened without one man and a great idea.

My boss Alan Davis invented something called the CompressT.  It’s a printed t-shirt shaped to look like something – a star, a guitar, a house, a pint of beer, or about 1,000 other things.  Companies, clubs, and groups, use t-shirts to promote their message at events, giveways, concerts, etc.  And shaping them as we do emphasizes the message.  But aside from the product, how did Alan get this idea off the ground?

As a smart entrepreneur, Alan knew that he couldn’t accomplish his goals on his own.  I’ve been in sales and marketing for a long time and that is one of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned.

  • Admit that you don’t know everything
  • Find people to help you
  • Let them use their talents to propel your vision

That’s not just how you develop a product, that’s how you build a culture.


Speaking of great ideas – how great is this?

%d bloggers like this: