You have a perfect resume? Don’t call me.

You have a perfect resume? Don’t call me.

Posted: 08 Dec 2015 07:44 AM PST

The moment for me came more than twenty years ago.  A hot, humid summer day when I found myself sitting on a street curb in Richmond, VA, sweating through my suit and questioning my own self worth.  I felt terrible.  Three weeks prior I was on top of the world, convinced I was embarking on a successful and profitably journey.  But here I was completely broke, living in a dirty motel, and embarrassed at the extent of my failure.  What happened next was a defining moment of my life.

This moment recently flashed through my mind while working with a class of honors-level college students.  The students had completed a research project for my company and presented their findings to the instructor and me.  Great ideas!  Powerful presentations!

A number of the students approached me after the class and asked for an internship.  Their resumes were impressive: High GPA’s, plenty of extracurricular activities, and a shining history of achievement.

Yet something about these kids turned me off.  Why was I so uninterested in hiring them?

Then it occurred to me: they were too perfect.

If you’re seeking a job at a big company with a big HR Department, I suppose your resume has to be perfect.  I know of HR Departments with computerized filters that automatically kick applicants out of the candidate pool if one’s GPA is too low or if there aren’t enough key words pointing to accomplishments.

In my opinion, those resume filters are bunk.

You know what I want to see on your resume?  Failure.

Show me how you’ve taken a risk and fallen flat on your face.  How you signed up for a high level Math class and got an F.  How you started a business that hemorrhaged money.  How you toed the line at a marathon and never made it to the finish.

Then show me how you bounced back.  How your failure was a blessing in disguise that taught you a valuable lesson.  Prove to me you have that rare but priceless attribute: Resilience.

I fear if you’ve always had straight A’s, always were Prom Queen, always won your races, and always gave your mother something to brag about, you are a fragile porcelain doll who’s going to shatter the first time you’re dropped.  Additionally, if you can’t point to times you’ve failed in life and bounced back from them I fear you can’t take a punch.

Years ago I took a class on how to interview people for TV and radio programs.  The instructor’s top suggestion: When interviewing someone, get them talking as quickly as possible about his/her failures.  It’s one’s failures in life – and how he/she bounced back from them – that makes the most interesting story.

Your failures are interesting.  How you bounced back from them is an inspiration.  Share those moments with your audience.  Yes, some computer might kick your resume out of the running but the most exciting opportunities and the people driving them will come running in your direction.

Oh, and back to that street curb in Richmond, VA:  My first-ever sales job.  After breezing through the hiring and training programs I hit the streets to sell a real product in the real world.  Three weeks in I’d made more than 500 in-person sales calls, had been rejected every single time, and had been physically thrown out of more than a dozen places.  I had no money left and no reason to believe this job would get any better.

For some reason, though, I stuck with it and in my fourth week I sold ONE item.  My fifth week I sold three items.  By the tenth week I’d rocketed to the #1 sales position in the country.

Sticking with that difficult job ultimately earned me a taste of success, lifelong friendships, and a career path that’s taken me around the world and supported my family.

Fail fast, fail forward!

Endurance: A Dirty Word?

This may sound crazy from a guy who’s spent the last 20 years competing in endurance sports, but I’ve come to the conclusion that endurance is overrated.  As a matter of fact, I now realize there are times in my life I should have considered endurance a mark of shame rather than a badge of honor.

Let me explain:

Years ago I was looking for a way to stay in shape and decided to run a marathon.  Like many others, I considered the marathon to be an admirable fitness goal.

Since my running background was minimal, I bought a “Marathons for Beginners” book and eagerly followed its advice.  90% of the book’s pages stressed one point: Build your endurance.
Begin with short runs and slowly over time build up the distance of your runs until you can shuffle along for the entire 26 miles.

I followed the plan and after a few months I was sufficiently trained to go the distance.  The marathon was grueling but I finished and got the t-shirt.  You know what else I got?  A serious case of achilles tendinitis and a strong aversion to ever running again.

The constant, repetitive motion of training at about the same pace and at about the same intensity for so many miles burned me out, both physically and mentally.

“But Ben,” you argue, “learning to endure hardship is a valuable lesson.  Life isn’t all sunshine and rainbows, and learning to suffer in one part of life teaches us to suffer in other parts of life.”

Indeed!  I agree with you.  Learning to face adversity, stick to one’s guns, and fight through hard times is important.  In my experience, though, we often face adversity and fight through hard times sooner than we should.  Is success – and one’s happiness –  90% dependent upon one’s ability to suffer?  Or is success mostly dependent upon one’s ability to learn and adapt?

Training for that marathon, I made a fatal mistake that I’ll bet you’ve made, too, in some part of your life:

First, I focused on endurance.
“I’ll push myself to survive one more mile on this week’s run than I did on last week’s run.”

Second, I focused on speed.
“OK, now that I can run 26 miles let’s see if I can run it a little faster.”

Third – and last – I focused on form.
“If I run with better posture maybe I won’t hurt my achilles tendon.”

The problem:
By focusing on endurance first, I’m suffering through most of my runs and forming terrible habits before I pay attention to what’s more important: speed [i.e. efficiency] and form.

The solution to avoiding the endurance death spiral: REVERSE the order of focus.

1.  Begin with FORM.

How can I run more effortlessly?  Where does my body need to be stronger and more flexible in order to run smoothly, lightly, quietly, and happily?
(Think of how a world class runner moves: On the balls of her feet, shoulders back, head up, core steady, minimum bounce…  vs. the “shuffler” at the back of the pack: hunched forward, eyes cast to the ground, heel striking, and jarring her entire body.)

2.  Next, and only after my form is very good, add SPEED.
How can I maintain that perfect form while moving faster?

3.  Finally, and only after I’ve mastered steps one and two:  build ENDURANCE.
How can I maintain that form, move quickly, and cover a longer distance?

Running is only one example.  The same principal – first master technique, then move to speed, and as a final step focus on endurance – applies to nearly everything else in life.  Think about times in your life that you’ve:

  • Started a new job,
  • Entered a new relationship,
  • Taken on a new responsibility,
  • Begun a new activity.

In most cases, we learn through repetition.

Learning through repetition is OK, but make sure the “reps” you’re performing are done properly!

Here are some hints you’re on the wrong path and how you might push back to get on the right path:

Scenario:

Your sales manager gives you only a half-day of new product training and then says, “Now go hit the streets, champ!  Try to sell this product to at least 30 people every day.  Eventually you’ll figure it out.”  [What he’s not telling you but he is thinking: “You’ll either figure it out or go down in flames of failure.”]

Push back:
Before you spend too much time pitching your new product to 30 people every day, ask your sales manager if you can shadow a top performer and observe his/her tricks of the trade.

Scenario:

Your new swim coach orders,
“Get in the water and swim today as far as you can.  Tomorrow we’ll swim even farther.”

Push back:
Before you start grinding out hundreds of laps with that awful form, read a couple books and do some video analysis on your form.  Figure out how to stop fighting the water and instead move effortlessly through it.

Scenario:

You find yourself suffering through countless time-wasting meetings.

Push back:
Research best practices for minimizing meetings and making them more efficient.  Share your research with your colleagues and encourage them, along with you, to try a better way.

No writer or coach I’ve ever encountered better emphasizes this “form over endurance” philosophy than Terry Laughlin.

Terry is the founder of a swim coaching method entitled Total Immersion.  Even if you’re not a swimmer, I encourage you to follow his blog and read his books.  Coach Terry is constantly extolling the value of good form, and you’ll find countless ways in his teachings to apply those principles in other parts of your life.

(Terry: If you’re reading this, THANK YOU for teaching me how to replace ugly, brute force with something more graceful, sustainable, effective, and enjoyable.  Without your guidance, my endurance sport journey would have ended long ago.  Here’s to another 20+ years of kaizen!)

Oh, and one last thing…

If you ARE interested in improving your running form and improving your fitness, here’s a feat I’ll argue is more beneficial and gratifying than shuffling through a marathon:  Run a 5K in under 21 minutes, and do it barefoot.

Why 21 minutes?

Almost impossible to lack strength & flexibility and still run that fast.

Why barefoot?

Almost impossible to run with bad form in your bare feet.

Would the Navy SEALs approve of your job screening process? Probably not.

Earlier this year I found myself standing in one world and gazing out at another. The Hotel Coronado is a magnificent beach resort and I was there for a business conference, while next door lies the mother of all proving grounds, the Navy SEAL training center.

Lounging on the beach in front of the resort, you’ll catch glimpses of your neighbors, the SEAL candidates, training like animals. SEALs have a reputation for dishing out the world’s toughest job screening process and developing one of the world’s most elite and accomplished Special Forces.

I’ve never known a SEAL personally but while in Coronado, I had the chance to meet a few. We ran into them while out one night, and it was an honor to speak with them and hear their stories. These guys were respectful, well spoken, and – here’s my age showing – young!

First question I asked them:
What are the minimum fitness requirements to qualify for a Navy SEAL tryout?

I braced myself for what was sure to be a deluge of impossible standards. But these guys rattled off a list that wasn’t all that exclusive:
Swim 500 yards in 12:30,
42 push-ups in 2 minutes,
52 sit-ups in 2 minutes,
8 pull-ups,
1.5 mile run in 10:30.

Granted, these are tough challenges but every gym in America has a handful of people who can meet these.

Next question:
During which part of Hell Week do most candidates quit?
(Hell Week, in case you aren’t familiar with it: Imagine a week of extreme physical and mental challenges wherein you’re constantly wet, cold, sleep deprived, covered in sand, screamed at by your superiors, awoken with the sounds of gunfire, forced to do miles-long ocean swims in frigid water, scramble through inhumane feats of strength… All with the ever-present opportunity to quit at any time with no hard feelings. Drop out rates are as high as 90%.)

Again, I imagined these SEALs describing in vivid detail how one torturous event or another was the ultimate obstacle that destroyed candidates’ dreams.
Yet what they told me I’ll never forget:

“You know when guys quit? When we’re just standing there, when we’re taking one of our precious breaks in-between events. During the breaks, the trainers will tell us all about how the next challenge is the worst. How it will hurt. How it will break us…
Letting those words seep into your mind, allowing those words to instill fear about what’s to come… That’s when guys drop out the most.”

The SEALs went on to describe how shocked they are to see who makes it through Hell Week and who doesn’t. In baffling disproportions, the champion college athlete, the big muscle dude, the elite scholar/athlete, and the Cross Fit freak are bailing left and right while the smaller, less fit, soft spoken kid who doesn’t wow you at first but absolutely refuses to give up stands tall and becomes a SEAL.

The lesson these SEALs taught me was becoming a SEAL isn’t about what you portray on the outside; it’s about what you bring on the inside.

I suppose most of us will go our entire lives without matching the intensity and sacrifice of a SEAL, but what are the lessons we can apply in our own lives?

First, how can you radically improve the way you recruit, screen, and hire the people on your team? To what extent are you choosing your team based on who’s got the best pedigree or who’s smoothest in the interview?
Like the SEALs, perhaps you’ll reach a higher level if you lower the bar for candidates, and then screen more closely to find which candidate has – on his own without a parent or powerful friend coming to the rescue – faced and overcome failures.
(That reminds me of a terrific CEO for whom I once worked. His nephew was a young Harvard graduate and wanted to work for his CEO uncle. The wise uncle wisely refused to hire him. Why? In the CEO’s words, “You haven’t failed enough yet.” I love that ☺)

Second, how much confidence do you have in yourself? How often do you compare yourself to the competition and say, “Oh, clearly they’re smarter/faster/more beautiful/better connected/stronger… I’m not cut out for this.”
It’s human nature to eye up others. It’s human nature to have moments of self doubt. But just like those few Navy SEAL candidates who choose to ignore the doomsayers during Hell Week, remind yourself that self doubt will sabotage your success faster than any external obstacle.

A special Thank You to the Navy SEALs who so kindly shared their experiences with me. Keep inspiring all those resort guests at Hotel Coronado!

Not a goodbye, just a new chapter

United Airlines lists it as 498,377 miles.  In the six and a half years I’ve worked at GlobalEnglish, that’s how many miles United’s friendly skies have carried me.  Those flights have taken me to places I never imagined visiting, places such as Vietnam, Brazil, India, Italy, Thailand, Denmark…  even St. Louis :)

It’s easy to quantify miles traveled, revenue generated, number of meetings held, or number of nights on the road, but pointless to quantify without considering the sole reason for all that activity: IMPACT.
What difference did we make?

I’ll remember my clients who landed jobs, earned promotions, won deals, and gained confidence by mastering the English language.  I’ll remember the communities combating crime and poverty by investing in their young people.  I’ll remember the executives who fought for their people amidst budget cuts.  I’ll remember the customers who hosted me in their countries and introduced me to their cultures.  And I’ll remember the amazing team with whom I worked, the team that built our company from a tiny start-up to a multinational force worthy of acquisition.

GlobalEnglish, you are growing up!  Now you’re part of a massive organization whose product offerings dwarf the tiny niche that we served, and I am cheering for you to leverage that size to deliver an even more meaningful impact.

Last week was my final week with GlobalEnglish.

I’m not sure yet what the next chapter will be, but my #1 hope is that I’ll again be honored to serve a customer base as friendly and a team as professional as the one that we developed at GlobalEnglish.

498,377 miles and six years taught me these lessons:

  • The human relations principals Dale Carnegie revealed a century ago work anywhere on Planet Earth.
    If you’re not familiar with them, print them out and post them next to your computer.  They will serve you better than any tourist guide book or culture notes.
  • No one cares what you’re selling until they understand how you can help them.
    Approach your customers with an offer ONLY after you are convinced what you offer is better than what they’re doing today.  Better to research, understand, and serve ONE customer than to scatter an insincere, irrelevant message across a hundred customers.
  • Say and write Thank You.
    Executives the world over are fighting every day for their employees, their customers, and their vendors yet they’re almost never thanked for it.  Make the time to say Thank You, and do it with sincerity.  (By the way:  A quick “thanks” doesn’t cut it.  Write the Thank You and tell the person exactly why you’re thankful.)
  • Smile.
    When you’ve missed your connecting flight and you’re caught in airport hell, be kind to the customer service agent who’s behind the counter.  It’s not their fault, and they can perform miracles for those who treat them with patience and respect.

To my GlobalEnglish customers and colleagues, THANK YOU!  You have overwhelmed me with your kindness and well wishes.  I am humbled.

You all made a tremendously positive IMPACT on me and I’m forever grateful for it.

To all my RideWithBen blog readers, I assure you this blog will continue.  No matter what the future brings, this blog remains a nice way for us to stay in touch.

You want to learn another language? Not so fast..

We Americans are often chastised for our “language ignorance”. It’s easy for us to forget that 94% of the world grew up speaking another language. On one hand we’re lucky; we were born into that tiny 6% of the world population that never has to learn another language to survive the global business world. On the other hand, we miss out on the enlightenment that comes with experiencing other languages and cultures.

Does this mean we Americans need to rush out and learn another language? A group of economists who’ve researched it claim that learning another language is a preposterous strategy.
The hard truth these economists uncovered, and as someone in the language business I can confirm, is that learning a language is a long, difficult, time consuming, expensive process that often ends in failure.

For example, economists have calculated that the average U.S. high school graduate will have spent about 1/12 of his entire schooling in foreign language classes (at a taxpayer cost of $8,000), yet upon graduation, fewer than 1% of high school students say they can speak another language well.
Not only that, but economists have calculated that the ROI on all that language training is disheartening: Speaking a language other than English increases one’s market value only 1% to 5%.

The one exception economists found to this gloomy report: learning English. They report, “Learning English is everything for those who don’t grow up as native speakers.” For this group, learning English propels one from hopelessly unemployed to highly desirable.

In my own travels overseas, I’ve seen time and again how desperate people are to learn English and how much credence this single skills brings to those who’ve made the time to master it. It’s not unusual for me to meet business people overseas who, in addition to the same work and family obligations you and I face in the states, are studying English up to eight hours per week and spending up to half of their salaries on English lessons for themselves or their children. And those with superior English skills always have stories to share about how this skill alone has made all the difference in their careers.

No single skill instantly transforms one’s life from rags to riches, but English comes close.

To all of you who do not speak English as your first language yet can still read this blog, I want you to know how impressed I am with you. You’ve achieved an incredible feat and you deserve whatever success comes your way as a result of it.

So, a question for my fellow native English speakers:
Should we be making similar efforts to learn another language? Well, that’s one way to expand your global communication skills but are you willing to make such a serious commitment?
And remember, if you’re among the 99% who struggled through years of high school French (or German or whatever) – at a cost of $8,000 to your local taxpayers – and thereafter could barely ask where the bathroom is, how well do you think you’ll perform now that you have a family, a career, and no one forcing you every night to do your homework?

May I suggest another option?
As opposed to learning another language, learn to speak better English. By better I don’t mean Shakespearean English, expanding your vocabulary, or learning to write like a lawyer or a doctor.
I mean simplifying your words, improving your diction, and slowing down.

On occasion I enjoy an opportunity to use the Spanish I’ve picked up over the years. I love the language! It’s rewarding to see the delight and surprise in a Latin American when I can connect with him/her in Spanish.
But you know what lights up their faces just as much? Speaking simple, clear English.

The reality is there are far more people worldwide learning to speak English as a second language than there are people who are native English speakers. (Heck, that’s the case in China alone!)
Chances are that if you’re in a business setting, the majority of your colleagues or customers speak some English already. But they’re still learning, and this is the #1 issue that we native speakers fail to recognize.

Just because your new friend in Asia, EMEA, or Latin America has introduced himself in English and said, “How are you?” in a clear tongue, we Americans quickly and wrongly jump to the conclusion that we’re speaking to an “English equal”.
Believe me, speaking general English (greetings, talking about family, ordering food at a restaurant) is not even close to the language mastery one needs to survive a business setting.
Do not judge your audience’s English with a yes/no box. The majority of the people you meet overseas are somewhere in the middle, and the second you resort to the same level of comfortable English you’d use at home, you are making a big mistake.

Despite what the commercials tell you, learning a language takes a long time and the overwhelming majority of those who begin the journey never finish it, especially when that language is not the make-or-break life changer that English is.

Instead of draining $500+ on a box of language CDs you’ll likely never finish, take that same money and invest it in a presentation skills class. In every city across the country there are communication experts who are happy to coach you on how to speak clearly and how to give a better presentation.
In one weekend you will learn more about how to communicate with a global audience than you will learn in months or years of foreign language lessons.
Even better, you’ll learn communication tips that benefit you in every scenario, from giving clear directions to your kids to giving a TED talk in a major city.

English is the global language.
If you’re among the 6% who grew up a native speaker, thank your lucky stars and learn to respect your global colleagues by speaking a better version of the language you already know.
If you’re among the other 94%, I applaud you for making the effort to learn it, and I encourage you to remind Gringos like me to speak the clear, simple, easy-to-understand English you deserve to hear.

Chris Horner didn’t win the race of his life in 2013, he won it 25 years ago

Chris Horner may not be a name you recognize, but mention his name to a cycling fan and you’re sure to hear a gasp. Chris is a very special athlete.

This past September, Chris Horner won the “Veulta a Espana” or Tour of Spain, one of the three biggest races in the cycling world. It’s right up there with the Tour de France and arguably an even more challenging race course.

Last month my work colleagues and I had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to ride with Chris and then host him for a corporate speaking engagement. Throughout the day Chris regaled us with stories about becoming a professional athlete and what it’s like to compete at the highest levels. Interesting stories, but there was one in particular that gives us a glimpse into what it really takes to become a champion.

Long before Chris was a world champion, he was a poor teenager barely scraping by. He worked construction, live in his sister’s basement, and sacrificed jut about everything to fund his cycling dreams.
One day, he struck gold by getting an invitation to visit one of the greatest cycling coaches ever. Nothing formal, just a cookout at the coach’s house where Chris could meet the coach and his #1 protégé, Greg LeMond, who at the time had just become the first American to ever with the Tour de France.

Chris was ecstatic. The chance of a lifetime to meet the world’s greatest coach and the world’s greatest cyclist?!?! This was his to be the turning point in his day to day struggles.

Soon after Chris arrived and before he’d even bit into his hamburger, the world famous coach approached him, glanced him over, and said, “You’ll never make it in this sport, kid.”

Coach had never seen Chris race. For whatever reason that was simply the coach’s first impression.

Now, let me ask you, how would you feel if, as a teenager, your life’s dream was instantly crushed by the leading authority in the field? I now how I’d feel: like garbage. Can there be a harder kick to one’s ego?

Most of us would have left the party with our tail between our legs and gone into something safe like college, and even the super confident would be a little discouraged. But not Chris.

In his words:
“As soon as that coach spoke those words, I threw down my plate of food and walked out. I was ANGRY, very angry. I spent the whole drive home telling my girlfriend what an idiot that coach was and how I was going to prove him wrong.”

And prove him wrong he did.
Within a few years Chris earned a professional racing contract, and he has spent more time at the pinnacle of his field than most of us spend in mid-level management.

And that Vuelta a Espana that Chris won a few months ago? He was a just a month shy of his 42nd birthday at the time he won it, making him by six years the oldest cyclist to ever win a Grand Tour.

Chris used that anger as fuel. Not for a minute did he doubt himself. And after more than two decades racing, he crushes pro racers, many of whom weren’t even born at the time he had that run-in with Greg LeMond’s coach.

The question, kind reader, is how convinced are YOU that the company you represent or the passion you pursue is the BEST match for you? When you get rejected by a key prospect, when a “person of authority” questions your dreams.. How do you respond?

If the doubt you hear from others prompts you to doubt yourself, there’s one promise I’ll make: You are not going to become the best.

Which of life’s paths are you convinced you can perform better than anyone? Is it to become a champion athlete? A leading CEO? The world’s best parent? An impactful volunteer?

I once heard that if you have a dream so big that just thinking about it makes your heart beat stronger, that’s a “seed of greatness”. It was planted there for a reason, and it’s your responsibility to develop it into something earth-shattering.

Whatever that seed is, when you feel its excitement growing within you, pounce! Embrace it, nurture it, and think of a young, half-starved Chris Horner taking a stand that fueled him to become a world champion.

Thank you, Chris, for a ride and a story I’ll remember always.

 

The Numbers Are Wrong! Stop Freaking Out and Focus your energies here instead..

The reports were wrong, but the people who mattered didn’t know that. The people who matter? My customers. These executives represent some of the world’s largest companies and have entrusted my team to deliver an important service to thousands of their employees worldwide.

Every month my company proudly sends our customers a “usage dashboard” that summarizes the service’s performance within their organization. But this month, there was a glitch in our database and the reports mistakenly read ZERO. Zero as in their investment over the last month delivered absolutely no return whatsoever. Zero is a disaster. Zero means my customers (and I!) are going to be on the hot seat with their bosses.

“Uh oh,” I thought. “My phone is gonna blow up today with some angry customers.”
Our tech team sprang into action to fix the reports while I waited… and waited… until 24 hours later when still not a single client contacted me.

If I know anything about my clients, it’s that they’re a savvy group. They’re diligent and committed to success.
So why no response to a report that should have set off flashing alarms?
A little research taught me a lesson that’s poignant for us all..

Looking back through several years of correspondence, I saw a startling pattern:
Sharing numbers with our clients generates far fewer responses and sparks far fewer conversations than sharing stories with our clients.

Over the years, I’m guilty of bombarding my customers with tons of reports. Most of them are pure numbers: how many people are using the service, number of courses completed, attendance rates, etc.

On other occasions (though admittedly not as often as I should), I’ve shared stories. Stories about how their employees are using our products on the job, about how their employees accomplished something noteworthy as a result of our service, about best practices we’ve learned from other clients.

The numbers give the customer an idea of how their investment is doing, but the stories bring the program to life and give the customer an opportunity to learn something new. And looking back on it, doing the research to uncover those stories and sharing them with my customers has been among the most gratifying parts of my job.

A perfect illustration of an industry that, in my opinion, is too extreme with its numbers: banks. If your bank, mortgage company, or stock broker is like mine, every month you get a deluge of numbers. Page after page of miniscule details that illustrate your account’s performance.
Same with annual reports. Open up one of those and it’s jammed with charts, all of which seem desperate to portray an upward trajectory.

Now, perhaps you’re more attentive than I and you read every page of those reports. I give them a three second glance and toss right in the garbage what must have cost a lot of money to produce. The reality is that work, family, and health deserve my attention more than poring over a complicated report created by a financial wiz.

If you really want to capture my attention and build a brand, Mr. bank president or Annual Report author, toss the other 27 pages of charts and numbers (or at least add a few pages!) and include a story or a bit of advice. Tell me how your most accomplished executive uniquely manages her time. Three tips on how I can maximize performance. An inspiring story about how one of your clients overcame a major obstacle and what the takeaway is for the rest of us.

Think about your own business. Are you trying to impress your clients with numbers? Or are you making the extra time to add some color in the form of a story about the people you help?

In today’s world of big data, numbers are sooooo easy to report on. We can geek out for ages on numbers but honestly, how many numbers do you really need to get your point across? And how proud will your clients feel about their partnership with you if all they have to share and appreciate is a bunch of figures jammed into a spreadsheet?

Fortunately, my clients are patient and they quickly received revised reports that show their investments are delivering results well beyond zero. But a little lesson of what happened – or rather what didn’t – when our monthly data went haywire reminds me that the communications which prompt the most response tell a human story, not a numeric one.

Your 2014 Ladder of Success: Reverse It

I had every intention of blowing out the year with a message to you about MORE. How you can achieve more. Become more. Earn more.
What better way to launch into the New Year than a clear strategy to climb the ladder of success?

Well, I heard a story recently that messed all that up. Instead of reading about how you’re going to crush your 2014 goals, you’re going to read about ice cream.

Shane Claiborne is a brave guy. In college, he passed up spring breaks and internships in favor of volunteering alongside Mother Teresa. He scraped together enough money to travel to Calcutta, India where he served in a missionary that “gives wholehearted and free service to the poorest of the poor.”

Calcutta’s poverty is extreme and something I’ve seen firsthand during travels there. Homeless, orphaned children as young as five or six survive as street beggars. One of their few bright spots is an occasional meal at Mother Teresa’s missionary.

One day, Shane learned it was one of the boy’s birthday so he snuck the boy an ice cream cone – a treat so extravagant that the youngster had likely never before tasted it. “Happy Birthday, kid,” whispered Shane. “Now keep this quiet because I don’t have enough money to buy everybody else one.”

At that moment, what do you think Birthday Boy did?
“Hey gang!” he shouted, “We have ice cream!”
The ensuing stampede had Shane running for cover and dreading a sea of disappointed faces. But Birthday Boy’s next announcement turned the tide.
“Now listen up.. We have only one cone, so we all get one lick.”

The kids formed a line, at which point Birthday Boy proceeded to share his cone with the others. Last person to get a lick: Birthday Boy.

That boy’s ice cream cone was equivalent to the most lavish holiday gift you or I can imagine receiving. But when life showers us with blessings, what’s our first reaction as to how to enjoy them?

If we could rekindle just one instinct within ourselves, what better than the good will so purely displayed by one of the world’s neediest children?

I’m not proclaiming we denounce worldly possessions and dash off to Calcutta. But as Mother Teresa told Shane, “There are Calcuttas everywhere.”

Shane Claiborne’s story reminds me that the best things in life happen when we bring the best in life to others. I probably read this somewhere on a bumper sticker but the quote is apropos: The highest calling in life is not to lead but to serve.

Finding opportunities to serve others is easy, and therein lies my holiday wish for us all:
In 2014, let’s focus less on climbing the ladder of success and focus more on descending it. Serving your family, your community, and your customers reaps more rewards than anything that serves you.

Special thanks to Todd Durkin, whose recent blog included some terrific ideas on how you can serve others:

• Surprise your mail carrier/ salon stylist / housekeeper with a $20 Starbucks gift card in a thank you note.

• Write a positive Yelp review about a local business you appreciate.

• Donate blood. Remember: a pint of blood can save up to three lives.

• Get involved with a philanthropic activity your church is sponsoring in the community.

• Write an inspirational note to 10 friends or family members and thank them for what they do on a regular basis.

• Sponsor or “scholarship” a friend, family member, or co-worker for a conference, event, fitness class, certification or workshop this person really wants to participate in but can’t afford.

• Or, host a special class or workshop at your business and donate 100% of the proceeds to a charity of your choice.

• At least once a day compliment someone you know.

• Smile at every stranger you see. A smile can make someone’s day.

• Leave gratitude notes for your family / co-workers / friends to find when they would least expect it – inside a lunch box, taped to their computer screen, on the bathroom mirror, inside their luggage, in the pocket of a jacket, etc.

…and one of my favorites from Corporate Visions CEO and Ironman Triathlete Joe Terry.

Wishing you a Happy Holidays! May your 2014 be filled with opportunities to serve.

Profound Change & Bigger Profits: Closer than you think?

What do an economics professor and your company’s profits have in common? Not much, and that’s why your profits likely aren’t what they should be.

Ever hear of a guy named Steve Levitt? Dr. Levitt holds degrees from Harvard and MIT yet freely admits, “The only reason I made it through college is the schools didn’t want to hassle with flunking me.” Proof he isn’t joking: He holds the record at his high school for the lowest ever math score: 2%. Yet Steve Levitt found a way to work around his math struggles and has become one of the world’s most famous economists.

After graduating, Dr. Levitt took a job as a professor. There he lived in anonymity until he started experimenting. “What if I take a completely different approach to economics?” he asked himself. “Instead of living in a world of numbers, what if I applied my skills to the world of association?”

“For example, instead of writing papers about the possible impact of currency fluctuations in Timbuktu (boring!), what if I study the association between drug dealers and McDonald’s workers? Unique names and inner-city academic performance?” (strange but interesting!)

Taking a different track, something his fellow economists considered idiotic, Dr. Levitt is now a global celebrity. Perhaps you’re among the 4 million+ worldwide who’ve read the book that spawned his fame, Freakonomics.

Last month I attended a conference where Dr. Levitt spoke about the most ignored opportunity that businesses have to change their fortune: experimentation.

Dr. Levitt: “One area where the academic and scientific arenas excel is experimentation. Professionals in those fields are challenged to ask different questions and seek different solutions. In business, it’s the opposite! The business world is so resistant to change. But we’ve found that even the tiniest experiments within a business make profound differences in bottom line profits.”

Real life examples that prove Dr. Levitt’s statement:

• A bike share business in Denmark was suffering many thefts from its bike cages.
The experiment: Hang a big poster of an eye inside the cage. (Weird, right?)
The result: 62% decrease in thefts.

• Wal-Mart’s sales were falling despite massive increases in marketing.
The experiment: Increase the size of its shopping carts.
The result: 50% increase in sales.

• Target’s shipping costs were skyrocketing.
The experiment: Sell detergents in concentrated formulas, thereby reducing package sizes by 75%.
The result: 110,000 tons less plastic and cardboard waste, 400 Million fewer gallons of water shipped, 500,000 fewer gallons diesel fuel.

• My own problem from years ago:
No realtors referring me business even though our bank’s rates were the lowest in town.
The experiment: Stop advertising low rates and start educating realtors on how to sell more houses.
The result: Quick bounce from no results to leading mortgage provider in town.
(A special thanks to my #1 mentor, my dad, for that one but that’s a blog for another day!)

So here’s my challenge for you:
Immediately after reading this blog, take five minutes and brainstorm five low cost, simple experiments you can run in your organization. Not large scale changes that require massive planning, just small scale experiments you can run on the side.

Sample questions to ask yourself:
• How can you show more appreciation to your customers?
• What offers can you make that your customers will find compelling?
• What’s another way you can deliver your products to your customers?
• Whose business is a good complement to yours? How can you work together?
• What’s a problem your customers face that you can help them solve?

C’mon, kind reader, try something new! Prove to Dr. Levitt and to yourself that your business is not the norm, that you are willing to experiment your way to bigger profits.

Potato Farms and Glaciers: Alaska’s Unexpected Surprises

50 years ago my dad, Giff, and his friend, Bill, took a path less traveled. While their high school friends found summer jobs or went off to college, these two hopped on a bus and traveled 4,000 miles to the great wilderness of Alaska.

As the story goes, they ended up in a roadhouse bar on the outskirts of Anchorage with no job, no money, and no connections. (This was loooong before Facebook!) Miraculously, they found work on a potato farm and proceeded to have the summer of their lives.

For as long as I can remember, Giff and Bill vowed to return to Alaska. But as anyone with a job or family can appreciate, life gets busy and dreams fade. However, nothing slingshots a dream into reality like encouragement from your wife to “just do it”, and that’s exactly the green light Giff and Bill recently were granted. They quickly booked their trip and lucky for my brother and me, they invited us. (Four word instructions from our mom and Bill’s wife: “Bring them back alive.”)

Alaska is everything you imagine: breathtaking vistas, pristine wilderness, grizzlies roaming the mountains and salmon swarming the rivers. The two highlights for me, however, were nothing I anticipated.

Highlight #1 came in the form of an old, beat-up delivery truck.
Fortunately for my dad and Bill, Alaska’s landscape hasn’t changed much and they retraced their steps to the potato farm where they worked all those years ago. Parked (permanently) on the farm was an old delivery truck that was probably last road worthy when these guys were driving it in 1961. Upon seeing it you’d have though Giff and Bill had come upon the Holy Grail.

Watching these two celebrate their discovery and relive a great memory, I found myself asking questions: “What are you doing today that 50 years from now you’ll celebrate? What adventures are you living that will inspire you or your family to revisit them decades later?”

The potato farm reunion reminded me that a great life experience never gets old.

You know the expression “moving mountains”? Well, highlight #2 was witnessing exactly that. Taking a boat ride along the coast, our captain pointed out a glacier in the distance. From afar, the glacier was unimpressive. It looked like an ordinary pile of snow between two mountains. Up close, though, gazing upon that massive glacier proved our first impression was completely inaccurate.

If you’ve not seen a glacier creeping toward the sea, imagine an 800 feet high mass of ice that stretches for miles in all directions. Now imagine that huge mountain of ice acting as if it’s alive. It moves and you can hear the ground crunching underneath. It cracks so loudly the blasts echo like a cannon. And every few minutes, a chunk of ice weighing thousands of tons breaks from its face and crashes to the sea to create a massive tidal wave.

I used to think a bulldozer was a powerful machine. After paying homage to a glacier, I realize man made machines are tiny ants compared to the forces of nature.

Glaciers move at a snail’s pace but they’re living proof that slow, consistent, unrelenting pressure creates more long lasting change than anything else.

My two lessons from Alaska:
1. Live an adventurous life.
2. Respect slow, deliberate pressure akin to a glacier more than the promise of fast & easy.

Alaska truly is the final frontier. Go! Explore! Live!