It's Your Own Fault!

The age of the Internet, with always-on ubiquitous connectivity to everyone, has created a friction-free path to exposing the worst of people: attacking others for their own failure. It's ugly and mean, but ultimately only smears the person doing the attacking. I saw an example just today posted to a support site for an app I really enjoy. The smear didn't just complain about the app, but used an expletive and called it the "worst ... app ever." Now, this is obviously an exaggeration. And the expletive just gave it a bigger barb to do greater damage to the indie developer who wrote the app. It worked. The developer was hurt by the attack, although he responded with grace and humility in the best way possible, and that's really hard to do. I already respected him. I now respect him even more.

That said, what's behind this is an attitude that may be missed, so I'd like to underscore it: many people today want to blame others for the consequences of their choices, but only when they don't like them.

So, in this case, for some reason, the customer bought the app but doesn't like it. I'm not sure why. I love it. But, to each his own. Regardless, even though he can easily get a refund from the Apple App Store, he chose to blast the developer and the app on Twitter. Instead of owning that he bought something that he doesn't like, or going on to the developer's (very active) support site to get help, he just slammed it on social media.

When I read it, I just thought, "Here's a guy who isn't willing to accept the consequences of his choices and expects others to agree that they are wrong and then fix them when he doesn't like it."

This isn't healthy. It hurts the one who is using it to feel better. It represents an abdication that cannot actually be made: your life is your life. Your choices are your choices.

"I am tomorrow, or some future day, what I establish today. I am today what I established yesterday or some previous day." --James Joyce (1882-1941)

When we try to blame our consequences (regardless of how harsh or challenging) on someone or something else, we give up our power. We convince ourselves that we cannot control the outcomes of our lives. Instead, we try to stay risk-free and "undo" the consequences that turn out different than we expect or want.

But, it never works. And therein lies the rub.

We know. Under it all, we know what we did, we know what we deserve as consequences, and over time it eats away at our character. Our integrity is stained by the cheating. Even if no one else sees it, we know. And we die a little each time.

Take back your power. Own your choices and their consequences. Succeed on your own merit.

Customer Success

When you apply this reality to customer success, you begin to see a few things. One of them is that the old adage "The customer is always right" is clearly false. This is the first principle I discuss in my customer relationship success program. While the customer isn't always right, it's critically important to show respect and humility. This is a first step towards success as a business, especially in the age of the Internet.

The Age of Deception

Have you noticed that trust is disappearing? As I sat on my back porch watching Una the yellow lab guide dog puppy and Daisy, our Brittany frolic in an effort to corner one of the squirrels, it struck me how far we've fallen as a society. There was a time when honesty was an unimpeachable virtue to be celebrated and developed. Today, it seems, there is far more interest in dishonesty that leaves the listener placated and believing what makes them most comfortable.

Truth seems unwelcome.

"I'm not upset that you lied to me, I'm upset that from now on I can't believe you." -- Friedrich Nietzsche

One of the reasons I find science so comforting has historically been my belief in its objectivity:

  1. make an educated guess (hypothesis),
  2. design an experiment to test the guess,
  3. verify the guess, disprove it, or alter it and retry.

Unfortunately, as has become more and more obvious to me recently, this idealistic perspective of science is rarely reflected in reality. Instead, the process goes more like this:

  1. make a claim of something desired to be true
  2. design an experiment to prove its truth to others
  3. modify, falsify, ignore, or destroy data that doesn't support the claim

This happens across the board and for people as diverse as religious leaders and hardened earth scientists. The interest in truth seems to be effectively nonexistent, while the drive to claim and prove has expanded exponentially.

"There are three types of lies -- lies, damn lies, and statistics." -- Benjamin Disraeli

This leads the honest to answer two foundational questions:

  1. Does it matter to me whether or not I am truthful? And
  2. How will I behave in the face of this deception?

As a person long committed to truth, honesty, and integrity -- perhaps partially the result of a youth often spent deceiving others in an effort to improve my standing with them -- I had to decide how I would respond. It took an adjustment to my traditional approach to relationships, which had been, "Trust until evidence of deceit is clear." Given recent experiences, living that way is no longer supportable. Now, it's closer to Ronald Reagan's famous line, "Trust, but verify." Which is to say, "Recognize that others will try to deceive for their own benefit."

I am mourning the passing of my naive outlook.

"Those who have failed to work toward the truth have missed the purpose of living" -- Buddha

"You shall not speak falsely to others" -- the 9th Commandment

"And, do not cloak (and confuse) the truth with falsehood. Do not suppress the truth knowingly." -- Quran, 2:42

The second decision is about my own words and behavior: do I want to compromise my strict commitment to honesty and integrity in the face of overwhelming evidence that it is often not the path to the outcome I might want.

"Clinton lied. A man might forget where he parks or where he lives, but he never forgets oral sex, no matter how bad it is." -- Barbara Bush

For this decision, I was aided by Earl Nightingale as I listened once again to his wonderful album, "Lead the Field":

"It’s possible to get rich without enriching others, but for most of us, it’s not the way we want to go. It’s nothing to take pride in. Why bother when there are so many positive, excellent, and productive ways to serve others?" -- Earl Nightingale

Yes. It's worth it to me. I want to be honest. I want to know I have done my best and done so with good intentions, honestly, and with complete integrity.

"Above all, don't lie to yourself. The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to a point that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others. And having no respect he ceases to love." -- Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov

What about you? How will you speak and behave? How will you respond to those who lie, cheat, and steal to get what they want, even if their intentions might be good?

My encouragement to you is to take on the discipline of doing what you say, of honestly seeking truth, and of altering your perspective to match that truth to the very best of your ability.

"If you tell a big enough lie and tell it frequently enough, it will be believed." -- Adolf Hitler

Be a person of character. Sleep is so much sweeter when we are!

What's Really Up With the Economy?

What's the most clear path to ongoing financial success for you? Creating value others desire to receive.
What happens when things turn sour (layoff, reduced business, financial challenges)? Being of value to others! Finding ways to communicate your value becomes critical. Knowing what your value is is the first step.

How does money really work? Where does it come from? What are your answers to these questions?

1) money comes from an employer

2) money comes from the government 

2) money comes from those to whom I provide value 

3) money comes from the divine

My challenge to you is to change the way money shows up in your world: money is tangible gratitude.

Think about it. What does it take for you to hand over money that is in your possession? Exchange for something you value, of course. For example, if your dishwasher dies (like ours did just recently) and you decide you want a new one, you'll be willing to pay an amount that aligns with the value you receive from having one. If the cost is too great, you'll elect to wait, to change the options, or reassess what matters.

Similarly, when someone is considering handing you money for some reason, whether for a used treadmill or for a month worth of skilled labor, they are assessing the value received against the cost. Are they grateful enough to make the exchange? Or not?

As you consider the current economic realities, ask yourself one question: are you creating enough gratitude to earn the compensation you seek? If not, find new customers or deliver greater value -- or both.

Leading a Church

Here's an important question for you to answer if you attend a church in any capacity: What does it mean to "lead a church?" The more I have stepped back to examine churches and their leaders, the clearer it has become to me that there is an epidemic of festering misconception of what it means to be a leader who claims to follow Christ. In The Myth of Christian Authority, I outlined an aspect of this confusion which is especially pernicious: insisting on obedience of church members in direct opposition to Luke 22:25-26.

In addition, though, there are additional disturbing aspects of the way that most of those in positions of oversight in churches that are rampant, the most prevalent of which is codependency.

Many churches rely on providing "support" to their members and others in their community as a source of identity. As Thom S. Rainer mentions in his article "The Most Common Factor in Declining Churches," churches have become more and more insular with the focus on the members and no outward focus. However, he doesn't go far enough in his analysis. Digging deeper, it is clear that the underlying issue is an unwillingness to allow the laity to shine and step into the fullness of their gifts, talents, and skills. Instead of growing members into their full selves, church leaders work to make them comfortable and "happy." This is what Rainer outlines as a focus within, but the underlying reason is that the people in the church are not allowed to be all that they were created to be. They are kept passive and content through the organization catering to their desires and whims, believing that it exists for them.

It doesn't.

At least, not in the way they are led to believe.

Romans 12:6-8 makes clear the purpose of the church: to encourage everyone to step into their gifts and calling, to develop the skill to align with their gifts, and to, in a nutshell, become all that they were created to be. When people are allowed and encouraged to shine, they focus outwardly since there aren’t enough ways to exercise those gifts internally to keep them fully engaged.

The moment the entire body is encouraged to step into that reality, the church cannot possibly look within; there is too much energy and drive as a result of full engagement.

Of course, it requires a recognition that the leaders are not in control. No human is. So, it's messy, but it's supposed to be! It's part of the growth for everyone to let go. But, it's scary and forces the leaders to let go of the illusion that they are dictating the future. It's an attractive illusion, though, and allows the leaders to feel important and powerful. But it's a lie.

So, if you are a leader, set the people free!

If you are a member of a church, expect to be guided into the fullness of who you are. If your leaders aren't doing that, be clear that you expect it. Call them to their bigger selves. Don't compromise on this, though. You are the one who is responsible and accountable for being all you were made to be. Anything or anyone keeping you from that is an obstacle to overcome. You don't need to be obnoxious about it, but be insistent.

Be free. Love yourself.

The Myth of Christian Authority

In his seminal book that serves as an accurate guide for those who want to understand how to navigate their work life, Robert Ringer focused on the three kinds of people there are in the business world: The person who is after your chips, and lets you know it; the person who is after your chips, but tells you he's not; and the person who is after your chips but honestly doesn't believe that he is. In "Winning Through Intimidation", Ringer describes the third type of person as the most dangerous of all. (As an aside, if that title bothers you, I strongly recommend you read the book! A revised version is entitled, "To Be or Not To Be Intimidated.") Ironically, I have discovered over the past few years that many Christian pastors and leaders are of this third type: they honestly believe they aren't after your "chips," but experience will prove that they are. Your "chips" may be any combination of your time, talent, and treasure, but they are the essence of what you bring to your service.

These are those men – and less often women – who will assure you that they have your best interest at heart. And, to be explicit, they actually believe they do. But, they don't. Over time and when viewed objectively, it becomes clear that what they interpret as your interest they see through their own interests. They want to be right, they want to be loved and accepted, they want to believe they belong in the role in which they find themselves, and, most unfortunate of all, they want you to fit the mold they have shaped for those they can be proud to call their own. All of these concerns of theirs form their truth and make it impossible for them to actually hold your interest ahead of theirs.

This is further complicated by the misrepresentation and misinterpretation of Christian scripture over the past hundred and more years. Many Christian leaders believe that they are "in authority over" those who attend their churches. However, scripture makes it clear that this is not so. On the contrary, the role of a "Christian leader" is twofold: on the one hand to be a "servant of all," and on the other hand to "equip the saints for the work of the ministry." That's it! Nothing in there about telling the sheep what to do!

In fact, sheep are notoriously difficult to herd! …and shepherds know better than to try to teach them any tricks. Sheep just don't do what you want them to do. So, smart shepherds focus on guiding them to fresh grass and clean water, allowing them to wander within relatively safe confines, and do what sheep do.

Unfortunately, many Christian "shepherds" aren't so wise. They use guilt and manipulation to coerce their flock into what they believe the sheep should and should not do. They exercise their "authority" over their flock, making demands of the sheep, and using the tools at their disposal to get the behavior they deem "holy". Ironically, this violates the core of the Christian gospel!

If you are a Christian leader, my hope is that you can honestly examine yourself and adjust your expectations and behavior as necessary (it might help to review Romans 12:3 and the verses following it. There's work to do in the church!). Serve the body, equip them, allow them to do what they do, to fail and to succeed, to eclipse your status, and even to make a mess.

On the other hand, if any Christian leader you know places behavioral expectations on you or other members of the church, run away! You must protect yourself! You have found a pastor who is not mature enough to step into the full truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ, for the gospel is grace. And grace, at its most basic, is this: there is nothing you can do to make God love you any more... or any less. There is nothing you can avoid doing to make God love you any less ...or any more. He loves you infinitely right now at this moment regardless of anything you do or do not do. It is impossible for you to diminish his love for you. It is also impossible for you to increase his love for you. It is out of your hands. It is grace, and only grace.

Thank God!

Farewell, Steve

Yesterday, just after hitting "publish" on my iPhone 4S recommendation post, I received the news that Steve Jobs had passed away at the too-young age of 56. I never met Steve, but his uncompromising focus on doing the right thing has influenced me. Today, Ken Segall (I read his blog religiously) shared the impact that Steve had on him, and I must agree, although I never had the experience of working directly with him.

Although I have been accused of being an Apple fan boy, my relationship with Apple is relatively recent and based on only one thing: my use of Apple products has given me a far more productive and pleasant experience than any of the environments I have used in over 25 years of daily technology use.

...and the reason for that is the insistence that Steve had on building products for people, not "users."

Yesterday, I was struck by how sad I felt when I learned of Steve's passing. I was rocked when I first saw the news, and found myself grieving far more than I would have expected.

Why?

I think one of the reasons is the rarity of Steve's insistence on building technology that works for people. Just reading the industry commentaries about Apple products shows this clearly. The complaints are universally about "speeds and feeds," complaining that this phone has a bigger, higher-quality display than the iPhone or that tablet is available in a 7-inch form factor, missing the only thing that matters: how the product works as a whole. This is why the iPhone is the most popular phone in the US and the iPad is really the only tablet that matters.

So, farewell, Steve. You have inspired me and I am grateful. My commitment is to apply what I have learned from your approach.

Thank you.

My Word is My Bond

I grew up in the Midwest, land of wheat and corn, lazy summer days by the pond, sleds and skis in the winter. As I watched men interact with each other, I learned one thing: the handshake of an honest man is worth more than any written contract any day. As I moved into my career, I was blessed to meet a group of brilliant engineers during my work with the InteropNet at the gigantic Interop trade show. These men and women were the best of the best, elite network engineers at the top of their game. We worked at the bleeding edge of technology, expecting -- knowing really -- that things would go wrong and we would fix them. As a result, engineers from competitive companies often worked together to fix interoperability issues (that is, after all, where "Interop" originated). This team was the Interop NOC team (NOC stands for Network Operations Center), and to this day they remain among my best friends and among those I respect the most in the world.

As a team, we operated under the "NOC moral NDA," an unwritten agreement that was stronger than any written word could make it. When we work together even now, years later, a simple, "this is under NOC NDA" is all we need to be assured of confidentiality. It's unquestionable. Take it to the bank, it's trustworthy.

Unfortunately, this is increasingly rare in the world today. It seems that many people are comfortable telling "half-truths" (which is another word for "lies"), breaking promises, breaching confidentiality, and generally playing roughshod with integrity. Regardless of any excuses that perpetrators may offer for this kind of behavior, it's all dishonest. And done once, it means that the perpetrator can no longer be trusted with any commitment, promise, or communication.

I don't think the short-term benefit of such a strategy is worth the long-term loss.

For your part, what does it cost for youth give up your integrity?

When dealing with others, I think Ronald Regan's strategy is the best I've heard:

Trust...

...but verify.

Promises, Promises

As I begin a new day, I am thinking about the power of commitments and agreements... When I make an agreement with myself or another, I create a reality that didn't exist before. The agreement creates a bond between present and future, intent and reality. What happens next? What happens next is a function of whether or not I keep the agreement and whether or not I'm moving towards its keeping. When I am active in the actions of a plan to complete my agreement, there is a sense of accomplishment and awareness of integrity.

When I am not active in moving towards my promise, I tend to hide from my commitment. I "forget" it, avoid it, and most often procrastinate in creating any plan to achieve it. While I may suppress my sense of integrity lost, it is there, gnawing at my self worth, reminding me that I am untrustworthy, and keeping me from moving forward in my life.

There is a false antidote to this struggle: I just avoid making commitments. If I don't commit to you that I will do or be something, I can't fail to deliver. Unfortunately, this means I leave behind in my wake an ambiguous mess of misunderstanding and confusion. "I thought you said..." "No, I never said that! What I said was..." Together with phrases like "I'll try..." "If I can..." and even "Sounds good!"

But underneath the outward assurance, inside you know. You avoided the commitment, created a sense of agreement to avoid conflict, and built a line of defenses based on waffle-words.

The problem is that we pay the price for this lack of agreement and commitment. We live life out of integrity and feel the weight of deception and doubt. We lose clear priorities. We have no clean lines.

So we look for others to tell us what to do. And we repeat the cycle: You will commit to only what you know you can easily accomplish. You hide from any possible failure by not promising more. You create a bastion of reasons. You're so busy. Family commitments call. Work needs you. Bad traffic. And on and on we go, spinning excuses and watching life tick-tock, tick-tock to the end.

And we die before our time.

Want to live? Take a risk! Commit to an accomplishment that means something to you. Commit it to yourself, someone important to you, or to God.

Then take the first step: figure out the first few steps on the path to getting there. Create review milestones when you'll correct your plan, expand it, and clarify it. Get to the end. Pick small promises at first. Take out the garbage. Sort the recyclables. Wash the dishes and put them away. And do what you promise. Create a habit. Then build on it.

Live your commitments. Everything else is noise and smoke.

Revelation and Transformation

Sometimes discovery sneaks up on me. I've been fighting lately. I had one of those "big" birthdays recently (one that ends in a "0") and have been doing a lot of self-examination and thinking about what's next in this random miracle that is my life. I've also been facing really difficult truths. Friends who have betrayed their commitments to me, customers who took advantage of my trust and keep promising payment that hasn't come, and the pain of mysterious gossip and slander that hides in the shadows every time someone is successful... and I am no exception.

Sometimes, it rears its ugly head and demands attention instead of the brush off I usually give it.

That just happened to me.

Two weekends ago I attended a conference in the mountains west of Golden. Called Men at the Cross, it was a time of introspection, reflection, challenging my deeply-rooted beliefs about myself, and examination of why I do what I do and am who I am. It snowed 6" (in May??!), I was challenged and took action I normally would have avoided, and faced authenticity from others that is exceptionally rare.

It was great!

As I reflected on the past few years during my time there, I realized that coaching others has its joys, but when I'm not careful, I miss those learning opportunities that show up for me. Such was the case that weekend. Fortunately, I was forced to slow down enough to examine myself and my life in order to see what I might have lost. It was an interesting process as I both went through it and observed myself going through it... There were times I stood off to the side and just watched, others where I lost myself in the process.

I decided to risk believing that the Father had something to show me. He did.

It is an incredible gift and blessing to see clearly, and I did see it. I guess it was time. I saw the stories I made up to myself in the process of trying to understand what was going on and why. I also got clarity about how to deal with it all.

Here's the deal: if you have something you want to say about someone, say it to them. If you are unwilling or unable to do that, don't say anything to anyone. Own your own stuff. Don't blame it on the person who happens to trigger the response in you. It's yours. Own it.

So, if you've got something to say to me, please say it. I promise to listen, whether I agree or not.

I'm going to own my stuff, too, confront those who have been believing gossip and slander about me, and I am going to move forward.

More on that move forward next time. Have you read Poke the Box and/or Linchpin by Seth Godin? If not, you really should.

That'll be next...!

Define Your Terms

In a scene from "The Princess Bride" that keeps running through my head these days, Inigo Montoya turns to Vizzini and says, "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means." http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G2y8Sx4B2Sk

It seems to me that much of communication suffers from the same issue: in a rush to reduce conflict, words have been watered down and their meanings changed to the point that one person says or writes a word intending one meaning while the hearer or reader interprets another. Then, communication doesn't happen.

So, it's time we review one of the first rules of good communications:

Before you say something important, define your terms.

It's easy to assume that your listener understands your words as you intend them, but we've discovered that more often than not, they don't. Often, it is very difficult to precisely define some terms, and it is those that it is best to address in your communications.

For example, I've lately been struck by the use of the word "love" in contexts as varied as Sunday sermons and teenage gigglefests. While I'm working on a series of articles about it that I'll post here in the future, right now I'll make the observation that many people would not agree on what it means. Is it a good feeling? A commitment? Physical intimacy? Or something else? How is it different from "like" or "devotion"?

Furthermore, it's not that any of these uses is wrong. It is simply that you, by using a word without clarifying what you mean by it, may deliver a very different message than you intend.

What words do you think are particularly troublesome in this way? How do you define your terms?

Creating a System

It's easy to wing it. It doesn't even matter what subject we're discussing; winging it makes it all seem easier. It really doesn't, though.

In the back of your mind you deal with the niggling sense that you might be forgetting something. Did you pack your socks? Turn off the oven?

And that's true of everything you do, from something as simple as packing for a trip to something as complex as building a new business.

For the more basic tasks of our lives, we typically have or make a list. When we go to the grocery store, we take a list of the items we need to buy. When we plan a trip, we have a checklist of what we need to pack... don't forget the swim suit!

But in business, leaders often put off building the list. In many cases, there is a lot of activity and the appearance of forward movement even though there are much more effective ways to do what you are doing. At least you're moving. It seems to be progress.

But, it's not. It's confusing activity with productivity, and it's lethal.

Build your plan first. Make a list. Then (and only then) go to it.

Do You Feel Valued?

Three weeks ago, I took a drive to the mountains. I love the mountains and always enjoy any opportunity to get up to the thinner and cleaner air. This time, though, I exited I-70 earlier than usual and pulled into downtown Idaho Springs. Idaho Springs is an old gold mining town nestled in a valley along I-70. You can see the old gold mine from the highway, and stopping for a tour is a common summer activity. The town also sits at the foot of Mount Evans, one of Colorado's glorious 14ers (mountains with summits over 14,000' in elevation), and is a starting point for hiking and mountain biking.

This day, though, I was there to visit with a new client; a small business with a broad reach worldwide. I love their offices! You turn into one of the storefront doors along Miner Street (effectively Main Street) and a broad, beautiful stairway opens before you. Upstairs, their offices have high ceilings and the feel of 100 years ago. The energy is productive and there is a lot of work getting done. The office dogs and owners greeted me as I ascended. We smiled at one another and caught up. Then, we got to work.

Whenever I work with them, speak with them, give them my best counsel for their business, or simply exchange a few emails, I feel valued. I know that they care about me and appreciate the expertise and value I am bringing to them and their business. And you know what? As a result, their business is going to improve. We're going to find ways to grow their customer base, to improve their office efficiency, and to increase their profits.

I'm sure that you can tell me similar stories about businesses you have visited as a customer, placed you have worked, and other companies you have contacted.

I'd be willing to bet that you also have stories about companies where you didn't feel valued. Companies who, although you are paying for their products or services, seemed intent upon making it clear that they couldn't be bothered helping you and, in fact, you were simply interrupting their day by being there.

Do you feel valued?

It's a good question, and one that's worth more than a conversation. It's worth finding out which organizations value people--and which organizations don't.

This idea came to friends at Newmeasures, an organization dedicated to improving organizational culture. A couple of weeks ago, they launched ifeelvalued.com to find out which companies value people. It's a great idea. Let's find out which organizations do a great job of valuing people... and which don't. Go visit ifeelvalued.com and put in your thoughts on companies you appreciate... and those you think need to be known as places to avoid.

And let me know what you think in the comments...

How to Succeed, Part 2

In the first installment in this series, I mentioned the first law of success in Zig Ziglar's terms: "You can get anything you want out of life if you just help enough other people get what they want." As you dissect that concept, you will begin to see how powerful it is. The value you generate to others will determine what you receive in life. There is a value that you generate for one person which is multiplied by the number of people you find who want it. As you grow the per-person value, your reward grows. As you expand the number of people, it also grows. While outlining this law in his famous record "The Strangest Secret," Earl Nightingale articulated it in this way:

Your success will always be measured by the quality and quantity of service you render. Most people will tell you that they want to make money, without understanding this law. The only people who make money work in a mint. The rest of us must earn money. This is what causes those who keep looking for something for nothing, or a free ride, to fail in life. Success is not the result of making money; earning money is the result of success — and success is in direct proportion to our service.

Most people have this law backwards. It's like the man who stands in front of the stove and says to it: "Give me heat and then I'll add the wood." How many men and women do you know, or do you suppose there are today, who take the same attitude toward life? There are millions.

We've got to put the fuel in before we can expect heat. Likewise, we've got to be of service first before we can expect money. Don't concern yourself with the money. Be of service ... build ... work ... dream ... create! Do this and you'll find there is no limit to the prosperity and abundance that will come to you.

Apply this rule today and you will begin to see a change for the better.

Rule 2 will become present in your life very quickly, then. In fact, it has been often on my mind this week and has come up in multiple conversations. Here's the story of one of them:

I met with a good friend for lunch this Wednesday. He's an Elder in our church, and I have served with him on the board of directors for a local non-profit. He is a wise and successful man. We met to talk business, challenges for some of the people we know, and the influence of spiritual truths on our lives. During our conversation, we shared our thoughts on helping two of the men we know. These men have been challenged in the job market that has emerged during this time of economic uncertainty, but they have given up. Their wives are working, but they are not. The stress on their marriages have them both on the rocks. Unless something changes, it's likely that we will see both of their marriages rendered asunder, kids damaged, and souls devastated.

All because they have been broken against the rocks of the second law.

Ironically, during the conversations with my wise friend, we talked about his response to the economic conditions. His story was much like my other wise friends, and went something like this: "When the economy changed, on of my primary sources of income stopped. Suddenly. Overnight, services that had been providing 30-50% of our income dried up. I had to find ways to replace it. I went back to school. Renewed my license to broker loans, and added that to my services."

Do you see the difference?

During the second world war, Viktor Frankl was taken prisoner first to the Theresienstadt concentration camp and later to Auschwitz. During his time in the camps, he came to a profound understanding of the strength of human consciousness in the face of difficulty and suffering. It was he who said, "Each man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life; to life he can only respond by being responsible."

And it was he who first pointed out, "Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom."

"...our power to choose our response." This concept is pregnant with potency. So many avoid this truth and hide from their responsibility by pretending that their lives are not their own; that somehow the faceless "others" dictate the direction of their lives. They seem themselves as powerless to make their own choices. Yet these thoughts are all lies... and they lead only to pain, suffering, and failure.

It is you who chooses. They are your choices. No one controls you, although many will work to influence you using a broad range of tools from their words to their threats and from there to the exercise of authority. Ultimately, though, as Frankl so thoroughly proves in his seminal work, "Man's Search for Meaning," it is up to you what you do and no one else is responsible, accountable, or capable of living your life or making your choices.

Recently, my friend and mentor Matt Furey has expressed this truth in this way: "You are not to blame for everything in your life—but you are responsible for how you think and feel about everything in your life."

This is the second law of success.

Why am I at Starbucks, Again?

It's another Saturday morning and I'm sitting in Starbucks working away while my two daughters dance at their studio nearby. As I often do, I find myself considering what has motivated me to visit Starbucks... again. Of course, Starbucks isn't the only coffee shop near here. There is WiFi at their studio that I could use, and it's not only the noise at the studio that has me choosing Starbucks, instead.

I was here last week, too. I sat at the bar, working on my Mac. The line was out the door, and I waited for an opening to order my usual venti Chai. The baristas whirled around behind the bar, filling order after order, mostly avoiding the seemingly inevitable collisions as they rushed in a coordinated effort to keep the coffee coming as quickly as they could.

They smiled and laughed, chatted with one another and their customers, and even in the face of an overwhelming crowd, maintained both their focus and their good humor.

I had sat at the bar there for a while, looking up occasionally to see if there was an opening. I had work to do and didn't want to spend the 10 or so minutes necessary to get my order into the process.

While pumping, pouring, mixing, and blending, one of the baristas made a comment to me about the zaniness of the morning. "You all are doing a great job! I keep waiting for the line to shrink, but the customers just keep coming and you keep everything moving," I said.

My comment was a compliment for their hard work. What she said in response underlines a very important success and business concept: "Oh! I can get something started for you. What would you like?"

Wow!

If you're not careful, you will overlook the remarkable value of the Starbucks culture: her first thought was how she could serve me. There was no resignation in it, no resentment, no sense that I was interrupting or disturbing them. Just a willingness to serve.

That sense continued after she delivered my Chai. No urgency to be paid. In fact, even in the midst of the rush, there was no sense of overwhelm or pressure.

As a result, I'm back today.

When I walked to the counter today and ordered my Chai, one of the baristas that was here last week looked up, "You missed it," she said, "it's quiet now, but you should have seen it just a few minutes ago." Then, turning to her colleague, "He was here last week when it was so busy for so long." They started to chat and laugh about the logistics of working around one another when there is so much to do. They included me in their conversation and as a result, drew me even more into their circle of influence.

I'll be back.

How to Succeed, Part 1

I read it again today. While sitting in my kitchen reading my daily dose of news, I once again read about how evil the wealthy are, how they don't deserve what they have, and how they "aren't paying their fair share." All untrue.

We certainly do need leaders, but since our current crop of political parasites do not have the fortitude to lead, it will fall to us to lead ourselves.

First, it's absolutely critical to understand the truth about money and wealth. It's the starting point. Without that understanding and mindset, nothing else will matter.

To explain, let me take you back a few weeks to a hotel conference room in Clearwater Beach, Florida. It was a Sunday afternoon. We were nearing the conclusion of a solid three days of coaching and instruction when my friend Everte Farnell stepped to the front of the room. He held us spellbound with his wealth secrets from the ancient wisdom he has been studying (more on that in the future on these pages), with one package of insights so clean and important that I will share some of it with you now.

First, it's useful to know that during these sessions I had experienced some intense one-on-one coaching in front of the room. So, during his talk, Everte looked directly at me and challenged my thinking. Then, he said something very important to the entire room: "We live in a cultural lie. Our culture is egalitarian. The lie is that everyone is the same, so if someone is more successful than someone else, it must be because they have lied, cheated, and stolen. It's not true! Everyone is not the same. Some are smarter, more skilled, and more valuable as a result. Believing otherwise will keep you in bondage for the rest of your life."

Can you see how easy it is to buy into the lie that everyone is the same? Of course, we are all human beings and we have inherent value as people, but that does not mean that what we have to offer others is the same as anyone else.

For example, is Steve Jobs more valuable to Apple than Gil Amelio? Of course! Amelio nearly killed Apple, while Jobs has brought it back and into a dominant role in the marketplace. Amelio is a very talented individual, but wasn't the answer for Apple. Jobs is much more valuable in that role.

The same is true of you. You offer unique and valuable skills and abilities. What are they? How can you tell?

This is the first secret. It's difficult for some people to accept. Regardless, it's true. Here it is:

Your financial value is exactly what another is willing to pay you for what you offer times the number of people you can find to pay.

There is no other measure of financial value.

The first secret of success is this (as put by Zig Ziglar so many times): "You can get anything you want out of life if you just help enough other people get what they want."

What can you help other people get that they want? The more valuable it is to them and the more people you find who want it, the more you will earn.

You really can get anything you want out of life if you just help enough other people get what they want.

Will you?

The Void of Leadership

I've been saying and writing about it for a while, and the rising din of those frantic to avoid the loss of power that seems to be building is making it clear there is an anger simmering. Why?

There are no leaders. There are controllers and authoritarians, kings and rulers, but no leaders.

In her exellent article "The Liberals are Losing It," Liz Peek describes the current state of panic within political circles because there is no leader. I disagree with her in one area: I don't think it's a "liberal" issue. It's an issue for all of the "career politicians." (A phrase which should be an oxymoron!) Those who seek to earn their livelihood from making laws, discussing policy, and "governing" are all waking up to the fact that they are not only distrusted, but disliked, denounced, and denigrated. We don't need politicians to tell us what to think and do. We need leaders to rally us around a common vision for the benefit of all.

It remains amazing to me that so many are being so easily misled. Many apparently believe that wealth is not earned. Apparently, they think, the way that one becomes wealthy is to steal from others.

At the same time, those people want to themselves gain wealth. They play the lottery, try get-rich-quick schemes, and maybe even try to "bend the rules" a bit to get more.

I guess because they don't succeed they think that those who do are cheating, lying, and stealing. Hollywood doesn't help, of course, and ironically, given the earnings of so many who work there!

Politicians today are fanning these flames. Jealousy and enmity serve the unproductive governing class. They keep those who could succeed from realizing their personal power and the path to success. By doing so, they keep the politicians and policy-makers in the money while appearing to "care" for those "who are less fortunate."

If they really cared, they show them the path out.

Starting with my next post on this topic, I'm going to do just that.

A Prayer for the Fourmile Fire

On Monday, the Fourmile fire raged. This photo was taken Monday afternoon near Gold Hill very close to the source of the conflagration:

Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, the fire overshadowed much of life in and around Boulder. Thousands of people were evacuated. 166 home burned. We had friends in the path of the fire. We knew many who were evacuated and waited to hear of their homes. Our friends Bob and Betty spoke with us on Wednesday morning. They are among the resilient who take the good with the bad in living in the mountains. Betty laughed as she said, "Well, we called the house this morning. The machine picked up, so we know it's not a puddle of plastic... yet..."

For them, the fire missed their home.

As the fire started and raged, a close friend of my daughters was evacuated. Both of my daughters dance with Sarah, and she texted them on Monday of her fear as the fire was very close when they evacuated. My daughter Rachel remembered a story that she had been told by her youth group leader Jamie. In the story, a pastor's home was threatened by a raging wildfire. His church members gathered around him in prayer as the fire raged.

When they returned to pick through the remains of the pastor's home, an amazing picture met their eyes. The black desolation stretched across the land from horizon to horizon. But there, in the middle, was an island of green surrounding the pastor's home, still standing.

With that picture of faith in her mind, Rachel prayed for Sarah and her family as the fires burned completely out of control across the hills. She asked God to do it again. She held that picture in her mind and prayed for the red-roofed home of her friend.

You see that home in this near-infrared image in the middle right surrounded by burned homes? Here's a closer view of that home, with it on the right hand edge of the photo:

The fire went around their home.

Asking, "Why?" is dangerous when there is nothing to be learned from the answer. In this case, the faithful prayers of a loving friend had an impact on the unpredictable path of a violent wildfire.

More about the idea of learning from the "Why?" shortly. For now, celebrate that sometimes amazing things happen.

Burning Above Boulder... The Fourmile Fire

Monday morning during our Labor Day weekend, I was sitting in my family room working on a new series for coaching business leaders when the light changed. I knew right away. The light which had only moments before been Colorado bright and streaming through the trees had turned an eerie orange. Fire.

But where?

I stood and walked out onto the back porch. White grey smoke was covering the sky to the south and moving east. I looked towards the mountains and the thicker smoke that direction. I walked to the front of the house to get a clearer view of the source of the smoke and that's when it was clear that the mountains were ablaze. What is now officially the Fourmile fire had ignited around 10am, burst through stands of trees dried by death from the bark beetle infestation of the past few years plus the typically dry summer weather of Colorado's Front Range. First reports were of a fire that was moving fast, pushed by the mountain winds, devouring trees and brush, buildings and propane tanks.

By midafternoon, the sky was full of smoke, and a glow of fire colored the cloud. That afternoon, I went to the nearby grocery store for food and took this photo:

The fire dominated the sky, the air, and our thoughts. We have friends who live up there.

By late in the day, the fire had grown to over 3,000 acres. The smoke created an eerie view of the bright Colorado sun as we headed for nightfall:

The evacuation notices were coming quickly. Friends were texting and tweeting their whereabouts. Boulder exhausted its firefighting resources within the first few hours and state and national resources were called in. Reports of exploding propane tanks, homes destroyed, the historic town of Gold Hill threatened, and livestock needing shelter were all filling the airwaves and the Internet.

We did what we could to help, but at the time it was mostly to stay out of the way and offer assistance to those that we could.

By nightfall, the orange fire was clearly visible along the ridgelines, although this digitally-zoomed photo from my iPhone doesn't do it justice:

We wondered what Wednesday would bring.

More in the next post...

How You Can Change the World

It's been beautiful here in Boulder for the past week. Cool in the evenings, sunny during the day, with the occasional thunderstorm to brighten up the afternoon. During this week, I've had a great exchange with Stephanie George, my brilliant friend who helps businesses to see their current business situation through objective eyes, offering business development and strategic consulting. One of her emails to me yesterday was so perceptive that I'll share it with you in its entirety in this post. Her insights are right on. The rest of this post (with minor edits for the change of medium) is from her:

I think that we also need leadership. The two quotes were right on and - they came from leaders. Leaders do not have to be the President alone, Leaders emerge at all levels. I think it would be refreshing for a bold, non-partisan heavy hitter to enroll some outstanding legislative leaders, the President, and the media to stop cramming fear and uncertainty down the public's throat.

Bad news sells better than good news, so the media may be challenging to enroll on a wholesale basis. Also, I don't think a pollyanna outlook would sell well.

It's not just a policy or a budget patch that we need to crank the engine and that's all that I've heard proposed from our legislative and executive branches so far (red or blue). There is no Unity. Remember "Together we stand, divided we fall"? That's what's missing. There is too much interest and money to be made in dividing up the sentiment and no one working to unify it.

A mortgage broker actually told me once that he didn't care if the market went up or down, as long as there was some sort of change, he would make money. His interest was not in seeing an overall rising of the tide or in others successes, but in keeping things off balance, because it kept creating opportunities for him to make money.

I think that Bush actually tried to connect everyone on the war - it worked immediately following 9/11 and in WWII, but when there is dishonesty as the foundation (WMDs anyone? then one after another different reason for making war was brought forth, none of them more substantial than 4th grade retribution), the rest of the construct falls apart. And when our leadership cannot be trusted, people lose confidence. As long as our bodies of leadership snipe at one another endlessly, it firstly, seems utterly arrogant and self-righteous, and secondly, does not engender faith in their ability as a corporate body to get on the same page.

I know that I have simplified foreign, economic and political policy in there. It's not a simple problem. However, on confidence:

I don't stand on there being THE ONE omniscient leader; all of our elected officials have the freedom be the leader that we need. However, they would need to give up personal hubris.

So, that's top-down confidence.

How about bottom-up confidence? Enroll and empower everyone to develop their own confidence. Probably creates a bigger tide than waiting for the top-down to get it done.

Educating everyone we meet that who they are is bigger than their circumstances; they are not defined as a possibility in the world by their checkbook balance or net worth or job or their diploma. Joy, confidence and happiness are not a function of any material detritus they manage to assemble in their lifetimes. Acknowledging one's own true personal power is at the source of confidence. It is not someone or some thing outside of us, it is in each of us. (Cue Marianne Williamson quote: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”)

Maybe we should bring back that old Skin Bracer commercial with Jack Palance telling us all that Confidence is sexy. That's it! We need a new marketing campaign for Confidence! Confidence is Sexy. (Editor: As I mentioned to Stephanie in a follow-up email, Palance had it right in City Slickers, too.)

I went through the Harn Museum of Art a week ago and they have on display a series of public propaganda posters from around 1924 - 1936. How about some National Confidence propaganda - lots of it - that is not one diva or guru's pocket lining? That's not tied to some partisan agenda? That doesn't come out of Obama's mouth or John Boehner's mouth?

What Should the Government Do?

This morning, one of my good friends--a brilliant and insightful business analyst you should know--asked me what I thought about the latest McKinsey Quarterly newsletter article entitled, "Where are the jobs." Given the questions that I have had on this, I'll share my thoughts that came from my response to her: he key job growth will come from small businesses, including innovations in retail (did you see this article about 4Food?). And the only way to get businesses in those sectors to grow is to free up money that is not being used to pay them right now: consumer's money and larger businesses' money that is used to buy products and services from these smaller businesses.

What is going to free those funds? Confidence.

Yeah, I know it's not the whiz-bang idea that everyone thinks we need, but it really is what we need. Confidence. It was the key difference between two speeches from a generation ago:

"The symptoms of this crisis of the American spirit are all around us. For the first time in the history of our country a majority of our people believe that the next five years will be worse than the past five years. Two-thirds of our people do not even vote. The productivity of American workers is actually dropping, and the willingness of Americans to save for the future has fallen below that of all other people in the Western world.

"As you know, there is a growing disrespect for government and for churches and for schools, the news media, and other institutions. This is not a message of happiness or reassurance, but it is the truth and it is a warning." (that was Jimmy Carter's infamous speech, that entirety of which is here... how familiar does that sound and how true (again) today?)

Compare it to this:

"If we look to the answer as to why, for so many years, we achieved so much, prospered as no other people on Earth, it was because here, in this land, we unleashed the energy and individual genius of man to a greater extent than has ever been done before. Freedom and the dignity of the individual have been more available and assured here than in any other place on Earth. The price for this freedom at times has been high, but we have never been unwilling to pay that price.

"It is no coincidence that our present troubles parallel and are proportionate to the intervention and intrusion in our lives that result from unnecessary and excessive growth of government. It is time for us to realize that we are too great a nation to limit ourselves to small dreams. We are not, as some would have us believe, doomed to an inevitable decline. I do not believe in a fate that will fall on us no matter what we do. I do believe in a fate that will fall on us if we do nothing. So, with all the creative energy at our command, let us begin an era of national renewal. Let us renew our determination, our courage, and our strength. And let us renew our faith and our hope."

That, of course, was Ronald Reagan's first inaugural address, and it's no less true today.

After that speech, the country went on a tear that lasted a couple of decades.

The facts are that creativity fuels innovation and innovation fuels the economy. Without confidence, there is no creativity.

What can the government do? Stop the spending, drop the taxes, create a predictable environment for innovation to be free to develop. Otherwise, the innovation gets spent trying to get around governmental interference.

What do you think?