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With Just A Little Bit Of Effort (Marshall's As A Lesson In Life)

Screenshot of the Marshall's homepage by me

So we're in the shopping center and we go to every other store except Marshalls. Target doesn't have it. Kohl's is an embarrassing place to shop. H&M, tried that. Forever 21, no luck.

What's the worst that can happen? I think. I want to get a pair of sunglasses first, but can't.

Marshall's is the kind of place my mother would take me to shop. She'd say, "they have great value, stop being such a baby."

And I hate to admit it, but she's right.

They have really gorgeous clothes. They're good brands. They are tasteful. We like it.

Here's the problem though: They make themselves look like a junk store.

That logo is awful.

The layout seems to lack a strategy. For example there are home decor accessories just next to the shoes. And clearance is all over the place not centered together in the back.

It's driving me bananas, and yet the clothes are so good!

We wound up leaving the store with nothing in our hands. I wanted to wash them.

And as I left I thought, if only they would try just a little bit harder.

They already have the stuff all purchased. The retail folks are already in place.

But it's like someone gave up and said, screw it, I'm going to make as much money as I can off this thing and walk away with whatever.

That is a ridiculous way to operate, if it's true. But come to think of it, don't we all do something like this?

We invest a lot of time and effort in stuff, but not all of ourselves. Something like 50 or 55%, when we could go to 65% and see an incredible difference.

Turn up the music just a little bit and it makes you work out so much faster. 

Turn up the a/c and you sleep a whole lot better at night.

Why not invest just a little bit more in whatever it is you choose to do with your life? The rewards are waiting there for the taking.

* All opinions my own.

The Essence of Social Media Is Ruthless

A tree hugs below the ground for survival - it focuses, literally, on its roots. Then it can reach up.

If you want to know why corporate does social media badly, one word:


The lack of this essential quality.

Social media is about a ruthless, relentless, unforgiving, hyperfocused, super-specialized filter that you apply to every piece of content.

It is branding on speed. It's faster, digs deeper, and pulls in the whole of your personality.

It has no mercy on those who "just love" their own words.

Unless you are ruthless when it comes to your content focus and your vehicles for delivery, you will fail. No matter how much content you put out. 

* All opinions my own. Photo by me.

What If You Make A Mistake And Look Stupid?

Recently I was on the road and felt suddenly dizzy.

At first I thought it was nothing. My daughter was with me. I looked at her and kept driving.

The second time it hit I pulled off the road and asked my daughter to go and get me a Snickers. I hadn't eaten the entire day.

She got me a Snickers and a Coca-Cola. I ate the candy bar, feeling absolutely disgusting, and drank some of the Coke. These are normally treat foods, but in that moment they felt like bad medicine.

I got back on the road and the dizziness started again. So I pulled over into a McDonald's parking lot. I thought maybe I hadn't eaten enough.

"Quick, get me a fish sandwich and some fries," I begged her. I was reminded of the famous "McDonald's emergency" of my youth, when my mom sneaked me out to get exactly the same thing. (This is a family joke, how the craving for McDonald's in a Jewish family rises to the level of 911.)

Well that didn't work either.

Fifteen minutes later I was in the backseat. I was a little short of breath. My left arm hurt a little bit. Oh no, the left side! I thought to myself. That's the heart attack side!

I thought about my grandmother who had a heart attack in her early forties. My uncle who had the same.

I am dying, I thought. It's a heart attack or a stroke.

I wanted to call 911, but I was scared. What if it wasn't necessary? Then I'd look really stupid, for calling by mistake.

"Call 911," I said to my daughter.

I made that decision in the end because that fear of looking stupid was overridden by my mental image of dying.

I imagined the funeral, and there I would be looking down from the sky, at my family who had lost me because I was afraid of calling 911 and looking stupid.

So the paramedics came and...thankfully nothing was wrong. Except that I'd been stressed out lately, and for the first time in my life, I had what is called a "panic attack."

The paramedic told me to take up meditation and study Buddhism.

So it was a mistake. I can live with that. It's better than a heart attack.

It made me think about something, in general: How about the positive risks we could take, but avoid?

How much of our lives do we spend trying to avoid looking stupid?

How many ideas literally gone down the drain, because others might laugh?

How many friendships, marriages, business relationships never get off the ground because someone is afraid of rejection?

How many training opportunities go unused because of that thought, it's too late for me to learn.

What a shame, what a freaking shame. Especially when you consider all the people who do make fools of themselves, and nobody cares.

What is that joke I heard the other day,

"In your 20s you care what people think about you. In your 40s you stop caring what other people think about you. In your 60s you realize that nobody ever cared about what you did at all."

It's a great freedom to make mistakes and be stupid. That's what learning is. You just regress and become a kid again. You're flying blind and hoping the world will catch you.

It's OK. It's all OK.

At the end of the day those times we stuck our necks out and took the risks, are the times that we remember as the most meaningful.

Would I go back and call 911 again? Absolutely. Too many people are embarrassed to call, brush it off, and lose their lives, and their families and friends lose them.

Life is too short...take the risk of looking stupid, stay alive, and live it to the fullest.

* All opinions my own.

5 Reasons You Should Never Stop Trying

1. Because living a "checked-out" life is more miserable than one where you're trying to succeed.

2. Because even if one relationship, job, or cause is doomed to failure, you can find something else with a chance of success.

3. Because chances are you could be more successful if you tried a slightly different approach.

4. Because you have quiet cheerleaders all around you who believe in you and want you to succeed.

5. Because when good people give up, bad people gain power by default. And everybody suffers in the end.

Remember Jack?

* All opinions my own. Photo (by me) is of the cover of Entertainment Weekly, 4-11-2014 edition.

The One Survival Skill You Need In Today's Workplace

"Jump" by David Yu via Flickr; Creative Commons Share license with attribution

There are a host of excellent articles out there about how to become a senior executive. One especially good one is "The Secret: How To Become A Fortune 500 CEO," by Steve Tappin.

Here is his 30:30:30:10 rule regarding how to spend your day. The basic idea is, if you want to rise up the career ladder, you have to think like a CEO first:
  • 30% = get your basic work done
  • 30% = networking
  • 30% = strategizing for the future
  • 10% = just relax
And he has a bunch of other tips.

What they all have in common is one skill: the ability to learn "working smarter" not harder.

Most people think they go to work to demonstrate their mastery of a subject.

But to be successful at work today, you have to in effect perform successfully at your task while simultaneously learning how to improve on it.

So it is patently untrue that you should spend all of your time slaving away.

Rather your goal should be to learn how to master your job so that it can be done very quickly, leaving the rest of your time open to gain additional skills and then contribute more than what you were hired to do.

* All opinions my own.

Is It Really True That "It Pays To Praise?"

Photo via Flickr by John McStravick

In my last post I criticized the boundary-crossing relationships between boss and employee that trendy management literature headlines seem to promote, using as an example an interview with Whole Foods co-CEO John Mackey that appeared in BBC News about Whole Foods.

Whole Foods' decentralized, team-driven, front-line focused culture is aligned with management literature that trashes managers themselves as essentially "overhead." See Gary Hamel's classic, "First, Let's Fire All the Managers!" Vineet Nayar makes a similar argument, that bosses are basically useless and should get out of the way.

Which sounds very good, if you're not a boss. And delivers ROI, and employee satisfaction, says the evidence

But what about the exploitiveness of it? To call store workers "team members" but put them on probation till they are voted in by their peers means they are on trial in every respect. All the time. To have people make minimum wage, or vastly less than senior executives, use their ideas and then fail to compensate them accordingly.

Sure, a flat hierarchy "works" for both boss and employee in the sense that it reduces conflict before it even begins. But is that because of high cultural cohesion or because the worker has few options other than to leave or sue when there's a problem?

What is "agreement" where one side has all the power?

Good management allows for power on both sides. In this setting, hierarchy is acknowledged but in a way that also acknowledges the rights of those lower down on the career ladder. Disagreement can be articulated by the worker and there are institutional mechanisms for honoring that and working through it.

Under this structure, which I would characterize as mature leadership, there is no false promise of equality. Rather there are distinct roles: peer, supervisor, manager, executive, CEO. Each has its freedoms and its responsibilities.

It instills a sense of process and fairness. In that sense it is healthier for the worker.

Under a mature leadership structure, being a manager and being a subordinate are two separate roles. Rather than commingling the two and abdicating the managerial role, the boss takes their job seriously and offer real feedback, positive and negative. 

It is the act of receiving that feedback that promotes employee engagement, notes Marcus Buckingham in Discover Your Strengths. Whereas being ignored causes employees to check out.

In "Show Your Employees Some Love: Why It Pays To Praise," which I cited in the last post, global business consultant Justin Bariso talks about the importance of offering feedback that is positive and not only negative.

I used Bariso's headline as an example of the incorrect impression new managers might get from reading popular literature - that they should somehow let their employees walk all over them. But as he noted in a comment on my blog, whatever the headline sounded like, the substance of his piece did not convey this idea.

Rather, he is arguing that managers should remember to balanced negative feedback with good. It has been his experience in Germany that employees get a lot of criticism, but not praise when they do things right.

In addition, offering praise where warranted means that criticism will be taken seriously when it is necessary.

He does of course make an important point. Managers, especially old-fashioned managers, tend to focus on what's not working, because if it's working, what's to talk about? I myself have experienced this as a subordinate, and as a manager have definitely fallen into that trap.

It does pay to praise. Not in a blanket way, not in a false way, but in a very targeted and customized and timely way: Baraiso's point is apt. His approach stands in counterpoint to the attitude that "we have work to do, and it's a waste of time to be sitting all day (with our employees) talking about nothing."

At the end of the day, great managers retain great employees and address the problem of poor performance. Lousy managers don't bother to do their job and make the rest of us look bad. If we fail to notice, fail to give feedback, and fail to give praise where it's due, talented employees can and will find another boss who does appreciate them.

Yes, it does pay to praise.

* All opinions my own.