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

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?





The Tiger Within

2 08 2013

louietigerNever in my life have I been more excited to see an animal than I was at that moment.  It had been two months since I laid eyes on Louie, my little buddy – two months of worrying, searching, and calling his name.  We posted signs with his picture, we asked the neighbors to watch for him.  Not a trace.

Wondering what happened, my mind would invent terrible scenarios.  Was he hit by a car?  Was he hurt and alone?  Did the coyotes get him?  Painful thoughts, but I knew they couldn’t be true.  Louie was too smart, too tough, too wily.

During his first year of life he became increasingly interested in being outside.  He chased bugs, teased dogs, and visited the neighbors.  At night he would return home to snuggle the kids to sleep.  That last night though, he did not come home.  He ran out the door like he HAD to get outside!  And he was gone.

Two months later, as the sun was setting, I was outside watering the plants.  The pain of not knowing was stinging me.  I thought to myself, “If I could just know that he’s okay, if I could just see him one time.  He can be a wild cat if he wants, I just want to know that he’s alive.”  Within 5 seconds of completing that thought, I saw something move in the bushes.  Startled, I took a deeper gaze – and there he was.  He walked right out in plain view and stared at me.  “Louie?”  I couldn’t believe my eyes.  “Louie!”  He ran across the driveway.  I called his name again and he gave me a long look that said, “I know you want me to stay here, but I can’t.  I’m wild.  If I let you pet me, you’ll try to take me inside – and that’s not something I can do.”  So he jogged across the grass to the edge of the sidewalk and turned his head to look back at me one more time.  Then he ran toward the park, and disappeared into the night.

I felt like a parent whose kid had just left for college.  I thought of people that I’ve worked with in the past – the ones that departed to take a new job.  I thought of friends that got married and went to live in their wife’s hometown.  Gone.  Off on an adventure.  Just like Louie.  This was no meek kitty.  He was destined to be wild!  As I reflect on the time he spent with us, I realize that he had been preparing for this the whole time.  He practiced and trained just as any risk-taker should.  Whether you are on a quest for a new job, starting a company, going to college, joining the Navy, or moving to a strange town in search of opportunity – here is what you can learn from Louie:

  • Climb trees.  Louie would climb as high as the branches would hold him, not for the thrill of it, but to get a new viewpoint and a change of perspective.  If you are going to try new things, you have to be open to unfamiliar concepts and outside influences.  Seek and accept a perspective other than your own.
  • Form a gang.  I noticed that Louie would linger in the streets in the evening when the other neighborhood cats were out.  You might think they would fight, but they never did.  They ran away from cars together, and played their own version of hide-and-seek.  They bonded for strength, just as anyone out on an adventure should find partners to help their quest.
  • Practice confrontation.  As much as he was a cuddler, he was equally a bad-ass.  His “play-fighting” was a lot more fighting than play.  I feared for the neighborhood squirrels.  In a comfortable environment, he learned to handle confrontation.  If you are going on an adventure, expect adversity – learn how and when to stand your ground.
  • Eat lizards.  Sure we fed him delicious, nutritional cat food that he could eat whenever he wanted.  So why did I always find him hunkered down in the yard chewing on a lizard?  And now, as he roams the wooded areas around our house, I am sure he finds plenty of (gross) things to eat.  On your journey, understand that nothing comes easy or quick.  You better learn how to sustain yourself until you achieve your ultimate goal.

I miss Louie – he was a great cat.  I don’t begrudge him for seeking a life of thrill and independence.  As with so many people that give up comfort in search of adventure, I can only respect that desire to unleash the tiger within.

tiger





Public Speaking: Nervous? Or Nailin’ It!

21 09 2012

“I think I might barf on my Jimmy Choo’s,” she said in despair.  “This sucks!”

That’s what I heard when I picked up the phone a few weeks ago while a friend of mine was suffering from a good old fashioned case of Glossophobia – the fear of public speaking.   She talked nervously into the phone from outside her event, just about to go on stage, and I was glad she called me.  I certainly did not want her to vomit on her expensive designer shoes!

Due to my extroverted or loud-mouthed nature, it is possible that people assume I am naturally able to talk to crowds of people without nervousness or fear – that is certainly not true.  I do get nervous, sometimes even feel a little sick to my stomach, and my forehead sweats like crazy.  So how do I overcome that fear?  And what advice did I give to my troubled, borderline-nauseated friend as she prepared to deliver her big presentation?

It was crunch time and I wasn’t able to give her complete advice, so I told her these three main points that can help anyone overcome their nervousness and fear before delivering a public speech:

  1. Remember you are there for a reason.  The fear of speaking to an audience comes from the feeling that you are going to embarrass yourself or disappoint that audience.  Always, always remember that they specifically asked you to speak for a direct purpose.  If you were not capable of providing value then you never would have been requested as a speaker – so have confidence in yourself.
  2. Engage the audience.  Just as the audience is the reason you may feel nervous, they are also your best friend in helping you overcome your fear.  All you need is one person to start nodding their head to make you feel strong in your presentation.  The best way to get that response is with direct eye contact.  Look at members of the audience straight in the eye when you talk.  If they don’t start showing some body language, then look at someone else until you feel a connection.  And don’t be afraid to involve the audience by asking questions, or let them ask you questions if it’s appropriate in the presentation.
  3. Slow down.  If you ever watch a really good speaker you will notice they are taking their sweet time, soaking it all in, relaxed, poised, confident.  If someone is rushing through a presentation then they sound like a nervous person, they feel like a nervous person, and might end up looking bad.  This is my personal affliction when I am speaking to a crowd.  I combat this by writing “Slow Down!” on my hand or on a piece of paper in front of me.

If you have more time to prepare for your speech, consider these tips:

  • Use images to build a connection.  I’m a PowerPoint fan, and often open with a picture that is engaging, whether it reminds the audience of themselves, or is something they can emotionally relate to – like kittens, grandparents, children, or bacon.  Images are powerful connectors for your audience and they add color and life to your message.
  • Keep it simple.  People will not retain everything you say, so don’t try to cover a wide range of topics.  You will be more valuable to your audience if you go deeper to fully examine two or three main points – and it will be easier for you to present.
  • Don’t worry about mistakes.  The audience doesn’t know what you intended to say, and therefore, will not notice if you forget a word or mess up a line – so don’t panic, just keep going.  Also consider speaking from bullet points instead of completely memorizing a string of words, so you have the freedom to roam around your subject.
  • You don’t need to be brilliant, just helpful for the audience.  I’ve seen it a thousand times, the “Let-me-show-you-how-smart-I-am” speech.  Guess what, we don’t care!  The audience is not there for you, they are there for themselves.  So consider the types of people listening, and make sure you provide content that is valuable to them specifically.
  • Say something different.  For the first few minutes of your speech, your audience is wondering if you will be any good – and they will lose interest if you are reporting old news.  If you want to win an audience quickly, say something they don’t expect.

Those are the basics.  I would also recommend watching speeches online to get a sense for how other people approach the craft.  Here is a wonderful example of someone doing it right.  This is my friend John Halcyon Styn, and he displays a perfect example of how to deliver a passionate, engaging speech.  He may have been nervous on the inside, but he planned, prepared, and definitely nailed it!

**SERIOUSLY – watch this video.  17 minutes of your life very well spent.

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Adam Yauch – Leaving a Legacy

11 05 2012

Flying down the highway, windows open, stereo on blast, Beastie Boys bumping – my teenage version of freedom.  The joy of good friends, weird adventures, and great music as the soundtrack to our youthful escapades.  If you were not in high school or college in the 80’s or 90’s then the Beastie Boys might not mean much to you, but you had your soundtrack too.  Yours might have been Springsteen or Elvis or the Beatles, but in my generation, we had the King Ad Rock, Mike D, and MCA.  The Beastie Boys meant rebellion, non-conformity, and pure unadulterated fun.

Last week I was saddened at the early passing of Adam (MCA) Yauch.  Always a shame when a life ends too soon, but in a moment of reflection my sadness quickly faded as I thought about that roadtrip, that party, that concert, those times in college – all those formative moments in my life colored by the sounds of Paul Revere, Sabatoge, Sure Shot, and Root Down.  I still know every single word of the album “Licensed to Ill” – a lot of people reading this do too.

So in that moment of sadness I found myself smiling.  I thought of a quote I’ve heard before:  “People will not remember what you said or what you did – they will remember how you make them feel.”  And that’s exactly what happens when you do something great, something risky, something that has a positive effect on other people’s lives.  You make them feel something – and that feeling never fades.

In that moment I began to reflect on my own life.  How will I be remembered?  How will you?  And beyond that, what did Adam Yauch do that was so special that his actions and his life impacted a generation?  What can we learn from MCA?

Speak your mind, don’t speak to everyone.  The music of the Beastie Boys is not for everyone – if it was, then it wouldn’t be genuine.  It had to be gritty, foul, raucous, and rebellious for certain people to relate to it.  If you speak softly to everyone then you speak powerfully to no one.

Find an uphill battle and start climbing.  How many times did the Beastie Boys hear “white guys can’t rap” or “rappers can’t play instruments” or “rap music won’t last”?  If you’ve got fans, you’ve got critics.  In his own words:  “They got a committee to get me off the block ‘cause I say my rhymes loud and I say ’em nonstop.”  In the path to greatness you will be met with naysayers, doubters, and skeptics.  Use it as fuel for your fire to accomplish something difficult.

Be true to yourself.  Early in their career, the Beasties might have been characterized as rude, crass, and juvenile.  In time, they used those rebellious attitudes to make statements for freedom and equality.  In either case, they pissed people off.  You don’t want to hear about kids partying and causing trouble?  Don’t listen.  You don’t want a rockstar to use their platform for pushing their beliefs?  Don’t follow.  It is the “do what I want” approach that turned these boys to men.  Be bold, be authentic, and celebrate it.

Party.  Speaking of celebration, I know we all are focused and driven and relentless and so on, but dammit, every now and then you gotta break the monotony and appreciate the fruits of your labors.  Sometimes you gotta turn it up and party like your parents are out of town to remind yourself why you work so hard.

Collaborate.  Not only were the Beastie Boys a group of guys that came together to make music – they literally finished each other’s sentences.  Their group approach to trading rhymes branded their style, gave them a unique sound, and changed the game.  Want to be successful?  Get some homies to help you achieve your vision.

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I watched the Beastie Boys on stage at Lollapalooza when I was in college.  I could not believe the way they moved the crowd.  I had never experienced thousands of people rapping in unison along with the artists on stage.  I had never heard bass that loud.  I remember what I was wearing, I remember what I drank, I remember the vibrations in the ground, I remember the friends who took that crazy journey with me.  And I will always, always remember how I felt.  Shout out to the Beasties for that feeling.  Shout out for the lifelong memories.  Shout out to MCA for the reminder to achieve something great.

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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.





Business Lessons from the Cub Scouts

28 10 2011

When we decided to sign up for Cub Scouts, I thought it would be a great way for my son to make some friends, learn cool things, go camping, and maybe even get a pocket knife – sweet!  What I didn’t expect was a business lesson.

The Cub Scouts raise money for activities and uniforms by selling popcorn and coffee.  Their sales team of little tykes does the heavy lifting.  As my son and I prepared for popcorn duty, I noticed his reluctance.  Sell popcorn?  On a Saturday morning???  “Dad, can’t we go fishing?” he asked, hoping to convince me to change my mind.  I laughed as he tried to make his first sale of the day.  0 for 1.

We picked up our supplies from the Pack leader’s house – a table, a money box, a sign, and of course, a ton of popcorn.  We set up as instructed in front of the Cups & Cones ice cream shop on a hot summer day.  Not liking our odds, I gave him some instructions and we got started.  I watched his little mind slowly understand the process, and I could not help but notice the simple business lessons he was learning – lessons that could be applied to any business.

  • Be nice.  He didn’t open with a sales pitch – he opened the door for people and said “Good morning.”  Only after they exited did he approach them – already having started the relationship by contributing something positive.
  • Ask the right questions.  He asked “Would you like to support the Cub Scouts?” not “Would you like to buy some popcorn?”  A sale is made when an emotional connection is created.  Don’t sell features – ask questions that mean something.
  • Play the percentages.  No matter how cute you look in your little uniform, people are still going to say no.  He didn’t just approach the people that appeared interested, he talked to everyone.  If you want to be successful, multiply your efforts and broaden your audience.
  • Be transparent.  When he opened the door for people they recognized that he was warming them up – afterall, he was standing in front of a table full of popcorn and a sign with prices.  One lady asked if that’s why he opened the door for her.  He said yes.  On her way out, she bought a $16 bag, the biggest we had.  You can’t gain trust if you try to hide your intentions.
  • Motivate.  He sold $100 worth of popcorn that day.  I told him how proud I was, and the Pack mother said he did a great job.  He was excited to do it again.  If people are working hard to help you achieve your goals, then show your appreciation, offer incentives, and give praise for a job well done.
  • People, Products & Process.  He had success by being personable, selling a quality product, and following a simple, effective process.  You might have good people and good products but no process that drives results.  Or you might have good products and a good process but the wrong people.  You must have all three to be successful.

Thank you Cub Scouts for showing us such valuable lessons.

Now, when do we get that pocketknife?








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