Holding back, letting go

January 20, 2017 Leave a comment

This quote from W. H. Murray always fills me with resolve.

“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favour all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamt would have come his way.”

What “go-to” quotes keep you coming back ?

The Focused Growth Acid Test

January 7, 2017 Leave a comment

In my last startup we struggled for some good number of months to figure out what our corporate values would be. The values were intended to serve as a moral compass when it came to hard decision making, or when the data didn’t point us in a clear direction. The one value we struggled with mightily was “Focused Growth”. Opinions on the Executive Team were split; some loved it, but others didn’t understand how focused growth could possibly be a value.

Our struggles with “focused growth” reminded me of a conversation some years ago. Marv came to me and said he wasn’t able to keep up with the workload, and I needed to hire more people or else he would fail. I sent Marv back to the drawing board to retool the processes that were sucking the hours out of his work day. Similarly, I was nearly fired once for suggesting that rather than “doing more with less” that we simply do less. My premise was our business had outgrown our processes and we were constantly scrambling to keep things together.

Image result for do more with less

In both examples business processes were allowed to evolve without discipline and without thought to the eventual consequences unfocused growth. Focused growth isn’t a thing; it’s a way of looking at the world. Our struggles to create a set of meaningful corporate values pushed me to think about how we could apply a focused growth methodology to basic business processes.

Hence the Focused Growth Process Vetting Model. Ask these four questions anytime you’re evaluating a process, changing a process, or getting ready to throw people into a process:

  1. Do people love the process ?
  2. Is the process simple?
  3. Will people follow the process if I’m not actively enforcing it?
  4. Can I increase the workload 5x without hiring more people?

If the answer to ANY of these questions is no, then the process is wrong and it must change. “No” fails the Focused Growth acid test.

Focused growth in process design is another way of asking  “is it simple, scalable, and sustainable?”. We’ve been using this model since mid-2014 and it works. I’d love to hear your thoughts and especially your own experience in applying focused growth to process design.

Best regards,


Jan. 2017


What to Do on Your First Day Back from Vacation

September 2, 2014 Leave a comment

Especially relevant as I’m coming back from a four-day. Especially relevant for an Org with a changing focus. Especially relevant to all senior leadership all the time.


April 16, 2014 Leave a comment

I was plowing through some archived material last week and I came across this piece I saved about a year ago. I don’t think I wrote it myself, but I can’t find any attribution. Regardless, this piece captures my own thoughts pretty well. We’ll ascribe it to Anonymous until someone else claims ownership. Enjoy.

“I have recently spoken and written about staff retention, about growing your team and about strategies for keeping hold of those most valuable of resources. Over the weekend, I started thinking about strategies for coping with the unfortunate, but inevitable, loss of a star player from a team.

We all have go-to members of our teams that embrace challenge and opportunity with gusto, professionalism and that achieve exceptional results, often in the face of adversity. We don’t ever want to face the possibility of losing a superstar but, as I said above, it is inevitable that opportunity will come knocking and some will be tempted away.

Rather than having the departure knock the organization backwards and be an emotional hit on us personally, we must prepare for the eventuality.

My thoughts on the preparation needed are:

1.  Communicate openly and candidly – Be prepared to discuss your team member’s futures and have their best interests foremost. By doing this, you will never be surprised by a potential exit.
2.  Seek help from the team to identify and train the up and coming superstars in the organization. This will ensure succession.
3.  Stay connected even after the individual has left. Stronger networks benefit everyone. You never know who you might find from a recommendation from your ex-employees.
4.  Look after your people while you have them. They will repay you in spades.

What would you do to prepare?


April 3, 2014 7 comments

I had a professional first a few weeks ago; after 25 years of working life I resigned from a job. I’ve been merged, acquired, leveraged, re-org’d, and RIF’d in one combination or another a dozen times; but I’ve never quit a job. It was a pretty big decision, and here’s what was behind it:

Six months ago I began to feel a professional restlessness. My situation was good; the company was thriving, and the owners were kind and generous with me. Was I having a string of bad days, or were the feelings really valid? Two months of serious self-examination landed the conclusion that yes, the feelings were indeed valid; I wasn’t just having a bad day. I needed change; needed to feel hungry again, needed to feel a little scared again, and needed to feel that ambition was being fulfilled. I was in danger of becoming stale. That’s when I made the decision to leave my position.

Extended restlessness, frustration, and dissatisfaction are a liability to the organization. We’ve seen too many valued colleagues march themselves into an emotional rut under the excuse of “sucking it up”. But sucking it up is a short-term tactic, not a career strategy. I resigned because I didn’t want my own restlessness to devolve into bitterness, cynicism, and mediocrity.

Leaders need to recognize the signs of incipient restlessness in themselves and in their employees, and to act on those signs before restlessness turns to feelings that debit rather than credit the organization. Your company, your clients, your colleagues, and (in my case) the patients deserve your very best.



March 18, 2014 1 comment

In my last post (My First TED) I reported that “American Made” manufacturing guru Jennifer Guarino crushed five bad assumptions about manufacturing. Here are Ms. Guarino’s five, with my own note about why:

  1. Technology has taken the place of skilled labor. Wrong: Technology assists skilled labor.
  2. Lower costs = higher profits. Wrong: Higher quality = higher profits.
  3. College degree is the best bet for success. Wrong: Critical thinking and grit are the best bet for success.
  4. There is no dignity in trade work. Wrong: All work is trade and craft work.
  5. Manufacturing has left us forever. Wrong: Some manufacturing has left us temporarily.

I can’t cite any global statistics that support Ms. Guarino’s statements. As with most insurgencies, the conventional indicators often obscure what is happening on the ground. Regardless, personal experience attests to the empirical truth of what she says. I believe a renaissance in American manufacturing has been in progress for at least 15 years. The facts are there for anyone interested enough to look for it. The emergent and evolving south and east Asian economies are driving up the cost of outsourced labor. Politicians are incentivizing companies to re-shore. Consider also the cultural factors associated with the rise of social media, the popularity of local-grown food stocks, the resurgence of the American automotive industries, and the emergence of high quality, high-pride American made products. Most important though is the relentless entrepreneurial drive that characterizes the American Mittelstand. I can’t prove it; but I feel it, I see it, and I believe it. And all revolutions start with ” I believe”.

Do you?

My First TED

February 17, 2014 3 comments

Whenever a new TED video comes out I always get energized by the brilliance of the ideas and the passion of the speakers. So when TEDx Baltimore went live on Jan 31 I thought it would be a great way to rub shoulders with the people that are changing the world. I wasn’t disappointed, and I learned some valuable lessons about the world-changing business.

First off, kudos and thanks to Sarge Salman, Curator. The venue, speakers, and infrastructure were first rate, and the whole set-up promoted maximum interaction between speakers and attendees. Wow!

Here’s some memorable take-aways from my first TED.

  • Chess Champ Jennifer Shahade told us the decision trees for chess get so complicated so fast that the real cognitive discipline is recognizing when to analyze and when to work from experience and intuition. This has big implications for anybody whose job description includes decision making.
  • Civil rights advocate Haben Girma explained how persons that have lived with challenges are uniquely qualified to advocate. Without a shred of self-pity Haben explained that because she could neither see nor hear, until she was able to advocate for herself she was excluded from being able to choose. “Think of all the chocolate cake I missed”.
  • Social services iconoclast Molly McGrath Tierney  challenged her own industry by explaining that all well run industries are self-protecting machines, and true innovation and progress sometimes requires a complete dismantling of the old system.
  • Nick Cienski shared his call to raise awareness and fight human trafficking armed only with mountaineering skills. His message: use the tools you’ve been given, and figure it out.
  • “American Made” manufacturing guru Jennifer Guarino crushed five bad assumptions about manufacturing. This talk covered so much important ground so quickly it really deserves a whole separate post. Trust me; there is a nascent renaissance in American Manufacturing.

Nineteen speakers covering a huge range of topics, and yet six common themes emerged:

  1. It’s not about you. It’s about the idea, what the idea did to you, and what you’re doing with the idea.
  2. Anyone can change the world, but nobody starts from that point. Everyone starts alone and from zero.
  3. Changing the world always starts with changing yourself.
  4. Nobody thinks they have the tools, but they eventually realize that they actually do.
  5. Everyone feels a call to action.
  6. Once you act on that call; once you take action, providence provides.

So if TED is all about “Ideas worth sharing”, this is my TED to you. Do it.

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