Video: Speaking at Crowdopolis

June 22, 2012

On July 19th, I will be keynoting the inaugural Crowdopolis event in Los Angeles.  Want to know what I will discuss?  Check out this 2 minute video.  And if you want to attend, use this link to register and save $100.

How to Listen Better

March 5, 2012

Friday evening, on JetBlue flight #1696 from Orlando to Boston, we had a bit of a problem.

About an hour outside of Boston, the pilot got on the intercom and told us that the main braking system was not working.  Although the back-up system would probably work just fine, they were preparing us for the worst.

The pilot and flight attendants described the emergency procedures.  They were similar to the ones frequent travelers have heard 1,000 times before, with a few additions (e.g,, brace positions, etc).  But this time, as they walked us through what would happen, you could hear a pin drop on the plane.  Everyone was paying attention.

I was in seat 11F – the emergency exit row, window seat.  As such, I was designated as the person in charge of opening the emergency door if it was needed.  The flight attendant gave me instructions on how to open the door.  She also gave me the code word that the pilot would use if he wanted us to open the emergency exits.

Needless to say, I was listening very carefully.  I studied the charts on how to open the door several times.

Although I am on nearly 100 flights a year, I was listening in a way I never had before.  The truth is, I rarely pay attention to the emergency procedures when we are not in an emergency situation.

This got me thinking: Do I ever really listen?

  • Am I really hearing what others are saying?  Or am I only passively listening?
  • Am I focused on their words?  Or am I thinking about what I will say next?
  • Am I putting myself in the shoes of the other?  Or am I only interested in meeting my objectives?
  • Am I hearing what they are really saying?  Or am I too colored by my own perceptions and judgments?
  • Do I ask a lot of questions?  Or am I the one doing all of the talking?

These are simple, yet useful questions to assess how well I am indeed listening.  And guess what, I (like most people) could be doing a much better job.

Our plane did not crash.  The back-up system worked perfectly.  When we landed the entire plane broke out into thunderous applause.

I am sure that everyone who was on that plane will be listening more intently the next time the emergency procedures are read during take-off.  And maybe they will also listen to friends, colleagues, and family members just a bit more carefully.  Maybe.

P.S. Less than 24 hours after the landing, JetBlue issued a $100 travel credit to everyone who was on that flight.  JetBlue is a class act. 

P.P.S. No, the picture was NOT our flight.  

Getting A Good Seat on a Plane

May 15, 2009

Being a frequent traveler, I am always looking for creative ways to get the best seat on a plane.

Because of the extra leg room, the obvious selections are the exit rows.  That is, IF your seat reclines.  If there are two exit rows next to each other (e.g., rows 10 and 11), the first one (row 10) will typically not recline.  This makes the next row (in this example, row 11) much more desirable because not only does your seat back recline, but the the person in front of you can’t, giving you even more leg room.

Less obvious is how to book the best seat.  This is my favorite tip….

When booking my flight, I never select a seat in an empty row (assuming the plane is the standard 3/3 configuration).  I always book a window seat in a row where the aisle is already filled, but the middle seat is empty.  Why?  Because if the entire row is empty, a couple traveling together will often fill the aisle and center seat.  With the exception of one flight which was 100% booked solid, using this strategy has yielded an empty seat next to me on all flights…even on the most crowded planes.

I do prefer seats near the back of the plane.  Yes, it takes a bit longer to get off the plane (literally only a few minutes), but I have a much better chance of getting my carry on luggage overhead meaning it is less likely that I will have to gate check it.  Most planes board the back of the plane first getting you and your luggage on the plane earlier.  I prefer window seats because then I do not have to get up every time  others in my row want to use the lavatory.

I do, on occasion, upgrade myself to “economy plus” (and its equivalent).  For as little as $25, you can get extra leg room.  But more importantly, on crowded flights, these seats are often the last to get filled, since they hold them for customers who want to pay extra.  So once again, you have a better chance of getting an aisle or window (if only center seats are available in regular economy) and you increase the odds of having an empty seat next to you.

Possibly the most important step is to check in online as close to 24 hours before your flight departs.  In doing this, you can get seats that were not available when you booked your flight (the airline blocks the reservation of some seats, including some exit rows, until check in). And once again, you can select a row where the aisle is already booked and the middle seat is empty, nearly assuring you an empty seat next to you.

Happy travels.

Déjà vu All Over Again

October 20, 2008

Here’s an excerpt from a magazine I have.  The title is: A Gloomy Feeling

Wall Street was baffled. The market’s 18-month slide had brutally bent the Dow-Jones graph, ending with one of the worst one-day drops. The dollar loss on paper was actually three times greater than that of the ’29 crash.

The market’s prolonged drop has reflected a growing conviction that the Administration has not coped with a troubled economy. Recession and increased unemployment has left people with less to spend on everything.

The Dow-Jones average has decreased 36% in stock values. The averages, like the Dow-Jones, tell only part of the story. Since they are based on the prices of the blue chip, they hardly hint at the depth of the crash.

This is a far cry from the from the bull market bedlam of just a few years ago.

What is interesting about this article is not its content, but rather the date of its publication. This is from a Life magazine dated June 5, 1970. At that time, stocks plummeted 36% from 985 to 631.

Markets go in cycles. Since 1970, we have had several other economic downturns. Of course, knowing this does not reduce the pain that so many are feeling now.

Economies are, in many respects, self-fulfilling prophecies. When people feel the economy is bad, they stop spending. They start to pull their money out of the stock market. As a result, company profits decrease. Companies then lay off employees, who in turn start spending even less. And the downward cycle continues.

Unfortunately, with things are bad as they are, people become quite pessimistic.

Stay Positive

In troubled times, it is useful therefore to reflect on a study done by Sonja Lyubomirsky, a psychologist at U Cal Riverside. She studied the relationship between happiness and success and observed that, “Happy people were not necessarily happier after their success than they were before, but they tended to be happier than others who were less successful.” She concluded that, “Success is related to happiness – but as a consequence, not a cause.”

In other words, happy people attract success.

I am reminded of an old joke. What is the difference between a pessimist, an optimist, and an entrepreneur? The pessimist sees the glass as half empty. The optimist sees it as half full. The entrepreneur sees the glass as completely full; we just need to get rid of the excess glass. As an aside, a scientist would also say that the glass is completely full; it is half filled with water and half filled with air.

What do people value? It’s not the glass, it’s the water. The size of the glass is irrelevant. In fact, too much glass can be a detriment (as evidenced by the photo left).

Interestingly, I never thought of the stock market as an investment. I always viewed it as a gamble; a casino with (hopefully) better odds than Vegas. I can’t predict which products/services will be successful (neither can anyone else). And I have little say over what companies do with the money I invest.

My best investments are those that impact me directly – investments in my business, my education, my relationships, and my health. Those always pay dividends.

Now is the time to take control. Create your own self-fulfilling prophecy. Stay positive. Get rid of the “excess glass” in your life or business. And make the safest investment you can: invest in yourself.

Remembering Paul Newman

September 29, 2008

Although I did not know Paul Newman personally, I always admired him.  He was an Academy Award winning actor (I remember being enthralled by “The Sting” as a kid), a championship race car driver, a successful food business man (I love Newman’s Own dressings and salsas) and a philanthropist.

He achieved so much and impacted so many lives.

Did he have plans to do all of this?  I’m sure at some level he must have.  But in a recent AP article, two friends - Robert Forrester and David Horvitz – implied that he was (using my words) a bit more ”goal-free.”

“Even though he was a Hollywood icon…it was a rare moment in which Newman reflected on how he would be remembered after his death,” Horvitz recalled.  “Most of the time he didn’t think about legacy.  He was pretty much in the moment.”

Being in the moment is a cornerstone living goal-free.  Avoiding excessive planning is another cornerstone.

Forrester joked how “such planning wasn’t part of Newman’s nature. A sign famously hangs in Newman’s Westport, Connecticut, offices that reads, ‘If I had a plan I would be screwed.’”

According to the article, Newman “welcomed the opinions of others as he pursued the business and his philanthropic efforts.” Forrester explained how the actor “believed in the benefit of ‘creative chaos,’ where, as in a movie set, different people offer ideas about how a scene should be handled.”

I love this concept.  Everyone has a voice and is valued for their contribution.

And contribution is the one legacy Newman wanted.

He once said that he wanted to be remembered for “the ‘Hole in the Wall’ camps he helped to start across the world for children with life-threatening illnesses and to make sure that 100 percent of the profits from his popular food company, Newman’s Own, would continue to benefit such camps and thousands of other charities.”

To date he has donated over $250 million to charities and has impacted countless lives.

Whether or not Paul Newman lived goal-free is irrelevant.  What is clear is that he lived by high principles.  If we could all live like Paul Newman, the world would be a better place.

Remembering Dr. Michael Hammer

September 12, 2008

I just learned a few minutes ago that Dr. Michael Hammer, the father of business reengineering and author of the best-seller, “Reengineering the Corporation,” passed away last week at the age of 60.

I worked closely with Dr. Hammer in the mid-1990 when I worked at Andersen Consulting (now Accenture).  Dr. Hammer and his (then) side-kick, Steve Stanton, helped me and my team develop our Process Excellence Principles.

One of his contributions was a video he developed for us.  While in his office, we turned a camera on, and he rattled off the most amazing 30 minute speech, without any preparation or any retakes.  This video, cut into smaller vignettes, became a highlight of our day long training sessions we delivered to over 20,000 people around the world.

I also had the great pleasure of sharing the stage with him on a couple of occasions.  His speeches were awe inspiring and content-packed.  I have yet to see a presenter who has impressed me more.  I always thought of him a role model.

I remember one time I introduced Dr. Hammer as the “father of re-engineering.”  When he took the stage, he quipped, “I often hear that I am the father.  My wife wants to know, who is the mother?”

In some respects, I should thank Dr. Hammer for the life I have now.  I was one of the leaders of Andersen Consulting’s reengineering practice.  If it weren’t for Hammer, that great opportunity would not have been created.  That work gave me the chance to travel the world giving speeches since 1992.  But it was only after spending time with Hammer a few years later did I really find my love of the stage. 

I remember back in November 1996, someone asked me where I wanted to be in 5 years.  I responded, “I want to be the Michael Hammer of the next business wave.”  5 years later, nearly to the day, my first book hit the book stores and I left Accenture for the life I have now.

Thank you Dr. Hammer.

Commemorating September 11th

September 11, 2008

My friend, Shari Harley, wrote a beautiful article commemorating September 11th.  For her it is very personal since she worked in the Twin Towers at that time, but was not in the office that day.

She asks some very thought provoking questions:

  • How is the world different because I lived on September 11th when others died?
  • What have I done in the last 12 months to make the world smaller and to build community each time I get on a plane, walk in a store, meet someone new and have a conversation?
  • Where have I played small…said yes when I meant no…said no when I wanted to say yes…or didn’t say anything at all?

I encourage you, as she does, to think about the contribution you are making to the world.  Her article has reaffirmed my theme for the rest of this year: “significance.”

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Innovation Cafe

September 2, 2008

In today’s Wall Street Journal, there is a good article about South Bend, Indiana-based Memorial Hospital’s Innovation Cafe.  The article starts off…

Hungry visitors to Memorial Hospital here sometimes cross the street to its Innovation Café, lured by the outdoor patio with white metal tables and chairs. Inside, however, all they find is fake food and a blackboard listing “recipes” such as “Basic Ingredients for Innovation.”

The Innovation Café is an unusual teaching laboratory created by Philip A. Newbold, the veteran chief executive of this midsize community hospital and health system. He converted a failed delicatessen into a venue where staffers and outsiders can learn to craft new ideas.

In the middle of the article, there are some interesting facts and figures…

He persuaded his employer to become the first U.S. community hospital with an innovation research-and-development budget. The board committed up to 1% of annual revenue for innovation activities. That equals about $4 million a year. The hospital ended up spending just $195,000 in 2005, $622,000 in 2006 and $711,000 in 2007 on innovation efforts such as venture start-up costs and staff training. But the increase in related operating profit was as much as three times the annual expenditure.

These innovation incubators are a great idea. 

But, as the article mentions, the one challenge that can result is too many ideas.  That is why I am a proponent of combining this concept with an Innovation Center of Excellence and “challenge-based” innovation.  To learn more about these concepts, read my article in the European Business Forum. In fact, while you are at it, read all of my innovation articles.

Freedom in Bangkok

July 11, 2008

I am here in Bangkok and loving it. The people are so nice. The food is great. And the massages (legit ones!) are cheap.

I check email once, maybe twice a day. And I only respond to the urgent ones (like requests from TV stations and magazines here in Bangkok who want to interview me). I’m getting more work done in less time, because I can stay focused on the task at hand, rather than reading and responding to emails every 5 seconds.

I bought a cheap mobile phone and have both Malaysian and Thai phone numbers so that I can make local calls. But I don’t even carry the phone with me when I am out. It is for emergencies primarily.

This is freedom.

The 30 Day Challenge

July 8, 2008

How are you doing with the 30 day challenge?  For me, the first few days were tough.  What made it even more difficult was that my hotel does not have internet access in the rooms.  So whenever I want to access email, I need to go to the hotel lobby. 

I’m on day 4, and as predicted, I am no longer stressed about checking my email.  I set up an autoresponder that gives people my agent’s contact information if they need a response that is time sensitive. 

I’m off to Bangkok in a few hours…

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