09. Wishing You Bad Luck

 

In your mind, have you ever hoped that someone would have bad luck and fail? Have you ever said it to someone out loud? Looked them right in the eye and wished them to suffer a hardship. Would you say it to a 13-year old? I can tell you about one man that did exactly that. He looked a 13-year old in the eye and wished him bad luck. It was Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts.

Welcome to Swimming in the Flood; a podcast where we develop the resilient leader’s mindset by navigating difficult currents in business. My name is Trent Theroux.

You should know that I revere the body of the Supreme Court. Not just how it’s presently constituted, or with who’s a liberal and who is a conservative, but rather the Court as an independent branch of government. And more so, the individual brilliance of the jurists. Their collective wisdom and their ability to cut directly through an issue to its bare essence is a great model for resilient leaders to learn from.

Justice Roberts gave a commencement speech to his son’s middle school graduation which was highly bizarre from the typical, “you can change the world” speech. He said, “I hope you suffer betrayal, because that will teach you the importance of loyalty. I hope that you will be treated unfairly, so that you will come to know the value of justice. And when you lose, I hope every now and then your opponent will gloat over your failure. It is a way for you to understand the importance of sportsmanship.” Wait a minute! I thought everyone got a trophy these days? Or at least a medal.

This is sage advice for every youth. As much as we want to insulate our children from exposure to harsh realities we need to set their expectations that Sir Thomas Moore’s Utopia is still centuries away. Is bad fortune is coming? It might be just around the corner. Do you as a resilient leader wish bad luck to your team?

I’m going to go off on a tangent here. My family is a board game family: Life, Monopoly, Sorry, Risk — you name it we play it.  Since my children Max and Haley were young we had one rule about board games: Loser cleans up the game. Winner watches. For Max as a three year old that was a hard outcome, particularly when his eight year old sister was dancing around the room gloating. There were tears and frustration, but in time the game was cleaned up. And he cleaned up often.

Justice Roberts said in his speech, “I wish you bad luck, again, from time to time so that you will be conscious of the role of chance in life and understand that your success is not completely deserved and that the failure of others is not completely deserved.”

I’m not one of those parents who threw the kids a bone and let them win a game once in a while. They needed to earn the win. Don’t worry, I wasn’t using Albin’s Countergambit on the chess board or blocking his shots in basketball because I was two feet taller.  (Wait a minute. I did do that. Sorry Max.) For board games, we played age appropriate ones so each had a reasonable chance to win.

Something wonderful happened when Max was thirteen. He beat me at Monopoly, two days later he beat me at Stratego and at the end of the week he beat me at chess. After each win, Max’s victory dance grew larger, louder and more elaborate. After the third win, my house looked like a Mardi Gras parade with all the trumpeting and the confetti and the beads. Wait he was thirteen, there were no beads. All through the parading, Max was gloating. I was seething (inside). But most importantly I was the one cleaning. What goes around comes around.

I think I did a fair job of teaching my children that we don’t always win. That, in fact, we will lose more than we win. As resilient leaders, we need to prepare our teammates for the prospect of losing…of defeat. We should not sugarcoat why we lost either. Direct conversations with your employees about the shortcomings of your enterprise will prove highly beneficial in their development. In your development.

Justice Roberts was right in his speech. “Whether I wish these things or not, they’re going to happen. And whether you benefit from them or not will depend upon your ability to see the message in your misfortunes.” In some circles, wishing someone bad luck is a call for hope. In the theater they say, “Go break a leg.” I gave a speech earlier this month and right before I went on stage someone said, “Break a lip.” That was hysterical. I walked on stage with a little giggle and had to compose myself.

I am now going to give you my unscientific, non-peer reviewed, resilient leader theory of bad fortune. Are you ready? Got your pencils out? Here it is: The Agony of Defeat. You heard it. The Agony of Defeat. This theory has been endorsed by at least one Slovenian former ski jumper.

The theory is based on the iconic theme from ABC’s Wide World of Sports. Before ESPN this was our only window into sports competitions around the world. I was glued to this every Saturday at 5:00. You may remember Jim McKay’s dulcet introduction. “The agony of defeat” was shouted by my friends at every strikeout, lost board game or wipeout on our bikes.

Vinko Bogataj is the man in the Agony of Defeat video. On 7 March 1970 a light snow had begun falling at the start of the competition, and by the time Bogataj was ready for his third jump on the Heini Klopfer hill, the snow had become quite heavy. Midway down the inrun for his jump, Bogataj realized that the conditions had made the ramp too fast. He attempted to lower his center of gravity and stop his jump, but instead lost his balance completely and rocketed out of control off the end of the inrun, tumbling and flipping wildly, and crashing through a light retaining fence near a crowd of spectators before coming to a halt. Bogataj suffered a mild concussion and a broken ankle in the spill.

The video, in 1970 terms, went viral and was known the world over. Bogataj became a man associated with his defeat. But, the defeat did not stop him from soaring even higher than as a jumper. In 1991, he reached the top of the podium as the coach of world champion ski jumper Franci Petek. During an anniversary special for ABC’s Wide World of Sports, Bogataj received the loudest ovation of the event including a standing ovation from Muhammad Ali.  People knew of Bogataj’s defeat and applauded him for standing tall. Are you the type of leader who can stand tall, stand above the rest in your Agony of Defeat moment?

Business books are littered with stories about entrepreneurs who failed only to succeed on a greater level. Reid Hoffman founded SocialNet in 1997. The site was a networking platform and a dating site which failed. A decade later he founded LinkedIn.  Reid said, “It’s most important to get your product above the noise so people can encounter it. If you’re not embarrassed by your version one release, you released it too late.”  I’m still embarrassed of the first released tape of me singing. I’m even more embarrassed of the second one. Anyway, Brian Acton was a vice-president of engineering for Yahoo. He interviewed for jobs at Facebook and Twitter and was rejected by both. A few years later, Brian launched WhatsApp which grew to be one of the biggest messaging platforms in the world and sold the company for $19 billion to….Facebook.

This is critical for resilient leaders.  What can we take from our agony of defeat moments and build on? And trust me…there will be agony of defeats…just like my last card game with Max.

Max and I now play card games during which he will constantly question my manhood. All the while I’m using the agony to question why I bothered bringing him into this world in the first place or worse, continue paying for his college!

Folks, thank you for listening to Swimming in the Flood. Resilient leaders face challenging currents and it is tough navigating, but with one tack or another we can get there together.  You can find more podcasts and videos on my website at www.trenttheroux.com.  Music today is from Bensound. If you enjoyed today’s show, please tell a friend, leave a comment…subscribe. I would be happy to discuss speaking at your next conference or event. Just write to me at info@trenttheroux.com.  I look forward to getting together next week. And from me to you I wish you some bad luck. See ya.

 

 

08. Dizzying Choices

Have you ever ordered a Vente Pumpkin Latte with eight shots of espresso, seven pumps of pumpkin syrup, a pump of maple pecan sauce, almond drink warm, light caramel drizzle, light cinnamon dollop topping….wait there’s still more… light foam, salt topping, autumn sugar topping, extra vanilla powder, extra pumpkin topping and light whip? Have you ever ordered this? What type of selfish bastard does this to a poor barista?

(Music) Welcome to Swimming in the Flood; a podcast where we develop resilient leaders and navigate the difficult currents in business. My name is Trent Theroux.

This was an actual Starbucks order made by a man in New York City. Do you think he could tell the difference between seven pumps of pumpkin syrup or six? The passive-aggressive in me would love to have been the barista, “psst…let’s piss this guy off. Only give him five pumps of pumpkin. Let’s see if he goes postal.” I struggle to believe that our palates are so refined that one derives pleasure from the precise measurements he requested. I think he likes showing off. I think he derives pleasure from holding up the line so the others can see him order the “light cinnamon dollop topping.”

It serves Starbucks right to have lines backed up if they allow these types of orders. In fact, Starbucks strategy elicits this exact type of customer experience. They want customers to try to create new products and combinations to help them foster growth of same store sales. It’s a simple strategy poured out one overpriced, over-ordered cup at a time.

Resilient leaders face many challenges among which is how to retain current customers and secondly how to attract new customers.

One of the most common strategies for growth is to create new products. I saw a billboard on my drive to work this morning advertising Orange & Vanilla Coke. Someone described the taste to me as having an orange creamsicle without the brain freeze. Here’s a rundown of the new products and some marketing gimmicks Coca-Cola has made in the past thirty plus years. 1982 introduce Diet Coke, 1983 introduce caffeine free, 1985 introduce new coke (we could have a whole podcast about that), 1986 introduce cherry coke. Then a long break. 2001 introduce coke with lemon, 2002 introduce vanilla coke (revamped and reintroduced in 2007), 2005 introduce coke zero, 2012 comes coke labels with names (never once did I see a Trent) , 2013 coke labels with song lyrics, 2014 coke-cola life with green can labels, 2018 4 new flavors of diet coke with minimalist styled silver cans. Now, the creamsicles. That is a tremendous amount of effort to maintain relevance in a declining market.

The resilient leaders of Coke face two concerns here. First, carbonated beverages are dying. How do we keep cash cows on life support? How often can we hit them with the paddles? Clear. Second, how do we hone in on what the markets want and provide more of it?

There are companies that take the exact opposite approach of Coke. Companies that will analyze their product offering to determine which Stock Keeping Units (SKUs) are under-performing and endeavor to remove those. Clorox comes to mind. Ten years ago they performed an analysis and determined that 30% of their SKUs were under-performing sales volume and profit targets, 30%. Clorox undertook a process to establish a glide path for the under-performing products. Cross functional team met monthly to evaluate each of these products. Each was given a color code. Green represented that they were exceeding targets, yellow represented that they were within 5% of target and red represented that the managers shouldn’t buy milk with a long expiration date. After three years of product rationalization, more than 90% of Clorox’s SKUs met or exceeded volume and profit targets. Retail sales per SKUs grew by more than 25%, and net customer sales per SKU nearly doubled. The more they focused, the more they were able to better allocate their corporate resources.

I’m going to go off on a tangent here about Clorox. A few months after my daughter was born I was given an assignment. Looking back it may have been the first assignment I was given since conception so I didn’t want to make a mistake. My assignment was to go grocery shopping. Jennifer wasn’t feeling well and the new family needed supplies. She gave me a grocery list and directions to the supermarket, which I was pretty thankful for the directions. I took my list and along with the cart started to make my way through the supermarket. Shopping for a family was very different from shopping for myself. Only a year earlier as a bachelor, I would have walked into a supermarket moseyed to the frozen food aisle, picked out a pizza on sale, paid and left. Maybe take some toilet paper on the way. Nothing too complicated. The next day, I would figure out what to eat then…and if I needed more toilet paper. But now, I’m trying to figure out diapers and produce and family size servings of chicken stuffing. This was exhausting. But nothing compared to the second to last aisle. I have been going up and down each aisle picking out everything on the list, cross referencing against the coupons I was given or matching brand names. The second to last aisle would change all that and make me wish to be stuck in the center of a horror movie, or a convention of ex-girlfriends arguing about my inadequacies. The last item on my list was laundry detergent.
I turned into the second to last aisle which had a large sign reading laundry detergent. I was looking for laundry detergent. All was good…until…I looked at the laundry detergents (plural). My mother always told me that I thought my clothes were cleaned by the laundry fairy. I’m pretty sure she was being sarcastic, but I was a little slow on the uptake as a teenager. Now I was faced with a wall of laundry detergents from which to select. Quick show of hands. How many different types of laundry detergents would you expect to find at your local supermarket? Hmmm? I’ll give you how many I counted in a minute. Their marketing frustrated me. Did I need color safe? Did I want all purpose? Food stains? How about cold temperatures? Grass stains? Combined with fabric softener? Should it have a teddy bear on the label? Maybe a NASCAR Chevy Monte Carlo? Liquid? Powder? Family size? Economy package? The choices seemed endless. My mind couldn’t take the overload.

Maybe it wasn’t just the laundry detergent…it could have been the new baby…or the new baby that doesn’t sleep…or the new house we just moved into…or the new furniture to furnish the new house…or the new marriage…or maybe I just wasn’t qualified to decide which laundry detergent would satisfy my family’s needs.

The answer to my previous question is twenty-seven. There were twenty seven different varieties of laundry detergent to choose from. I counted them all. Then, I read the labels on the back of each to determine the differences. I read them and took mental notes and here’s what I learned. Over 95% of the ingredients were exactly the same. 95% of these bottles contained the exact same materials. Fraternal twins don’t have that high of a genetic match! It was the same crap in different bottles. I spent over forty-five minutes in this section of the aisle to determine that it didn’t matter what I bought. They all would work the exact same. If I could only convince Jennifer of that. Hmmm…Still I didn’t want to bring home an incorrect brand.

I am now going to give you my unscientific, non-peer reviewed theory on minimizing SKUs. Are you ready? Got your pencils out? Here it is. Cheese and Ham. You heard it right. Cheese and Ham. It was endorsed by at least one 1930s punch drunk pugilistic wiseguy. Here is how it works. In the early 1990s, my office was in an old industrial revolution age mill alongside a raging river. The original guard shack was converted into a lunchtime commissary managed by Frankie No-Last Name, just Frankie. He was a lower weight class boxer back in the 1930s before someone threw a punch to the side of his head and – hey, you want a pickle with dat. Every day he would have three sandwiches available for you to choose from, Ham and Cheese (the everyday staple). The second sandwich varied by day Tuesdays was turkey, Friday was tuna. The third sandwich was cheese and ham. He would call these out to you. “Hey Frankie, whatta you got?” “We gots ham and cheese, we gots tuna and we gots cheese and ham.” It cracked us up every day. Cheese and ham. He actually wrote out in order ham and cheese, tuna, cheese and ham. The cheese properly spelled with a Z. Frankie thought that too much variety in life wasn’t a “good ting.” Limit their choices, but give them good food and they will be satisfied.

There was a great joke from the old sitcom, All in the Family. Meathead asked, “If everything today is new and improved, what was it before old and lousy?” That joke was made nearly 50 years ago and is still pertinent today. Everything doesn’t need to be new and improved to be of value. Sometimes resilient leaders need to accept that the products you brought to market are strong and don’t need to be tricked out like a car in Pimp My Ride.
Hey Frankie, why don’t you give me the tuna along with a coke and no pumps of pumpkin spice syrup? “And yeah, I want a pickle with dat?”

Folks, thank you for listening to Swimming in the Flood. Resilient leaders face challenging choices and it’s tough navigating life’s currents but with one tack or another we can get there together. If you like this podcast check out some of our previous ones. You can find more podcasts and videos on my website at www.trenttheroux.com. If you enjoyed today’s show, please tell a friend, leave a comment…subscribe. I would be happy to discuss speaking at your next conference or event. Please write to me at info@trenttheroux.com. I look forward to getting together next week. See ya.

07. Mastering Your Brand

Have you ever been branded? Felt the hot iron pressed into your flesh. Was the logo more triple bar ranch or Nike swoosh? Maybe a harder question. Have you ever branded yourself?

(Music) Welcome to Swimming in the Flood; a podcast where develop the resilient leader’s mindset by navigating difficult currents in business. My name is Trent Theroux.

The Masters golf tournament just completed in fine form with Tiger Woods winning his 5th green jacket. More impressive to me than Tiger’s momentous win is how August National has positioned itself to be the finely manicured backyard of heaven itself.

The Masters projects itself as the idyllic Eden of golf. The have very specific rules about what the spectators and media can do. No cameras, no cell phones, no folding chairs, no running these are some of the rules for the patrons. Yes, patrons not spectators. The media must call the people who are spectating the event Patrons. The media cannot call the thick grass “rough” but rather “the second cut.” Front nine and back nine are out. It’s first nine and second nine. These rules are intended to set Augusta National and the Masters apart from every other golfing event in the world. And, it is enormously effective. It’s so effective that people – and I’m talking a lot of people – want to have their ashes spread over the course when they die. How often does that happen at a Best Buy?

The Masters is prodigious in the development and protection of their brand. For the most part so is every other corporate entity. Millions of dollars are spent developing a precise brand that it compels companies to defend the brand’s honor. And, the Masters is no different.
Gary McCord is a golf analysis for CBS Sports. Gary’s job requires him to walk with the players and provide on course analysis. During the Masters, after watching several golf balls roll off a green and backwards into a water hazard, McCord commented that it appeared the greens were so slick that they might have been given a bikini wax. Hysterical, right? The Masters committee didn’t think so. They banned McCord from the broadcast and the course…that was in 1994…twenty-five years ago. Twenty-five years of protecting their brand.

I’m going to go off on a tangent here. I had lunch with a gentleman named Mike Tranghese. Mike was formerly the President of the Big East conference and sat on the board of the College Football Ranking Board. A big guy in sports. He was telling our table a story about an opportunity he had to play Augusta National with a close friend, Dave Gavitt. Gavitt was a long time coach of Providence College basketball (Go Friars!) and the founder of the Big East conference. At the time, Gavitt was the President of the Boston Celtics. Tranghese and Gavitt played their round at Augusta and offered to their host to tip the caddies. The host told them that money was not allowed at Augusta. It was one of the strict rules. They couldn’t give the caddies a tip because it was charged directly to the host. Gavitt suggested that he send the caddies some Boston Celtics gear as a thank you. The host accepted and said that he would hand the gear to the caddies when it was received. Gavitt called his assistant that night before dinner and instructed her to send two of everything with Celtics logos down to Augusta. Two playing jerseys, hats, sunglasses, long sleeve, short sleeve, sneakers, sweatshirts, sweatpants…you get it everything.
The package arrived the next morning and was delivered to the caddies. The caddies loved the gear. A couple of weeks later the host sent Gavitt a copy of the Augusta Chronicle, the local newspaper. On the front page, above the fold was a story about two drug dealers who were arrested the night before. There was a picture of both of them in handcuffs being escorted by police. They were Gavitt’s caddies and they were dressed head to toe in Celtics gear!

What made this story hysterical to me is that they were wearing Celtics gear. A storied brand besmirched by a drug story. But, equally amazing is no mention that they were caddies at Augusta National. That’s good brand management!

Let’s take a turn from corporate brands to something else. Tom Peters, the author of In Search of Excellence, coined the term Personal Brand in 1997 by challenging leaders to become a little like big corporate brands. Strong corporate brands have enormous intrinsic value. But, Peters argued that you can create your brand on a local level.

So, what is your personal brand? We know Steve Jobs – black turtleneck & jeans. Tom Wolfe always adorned a white suit – even after Labor Day. Tiger Woods wears red on Sundays. We recognize these leaders by their trademark uniforms. But personal branding is more. It is the unique combination of skills, experience and personality that you want the world to see. As a resilient leader what brand do you want to portray? How do you want the world to see you?

I am now going to give you my unscientific, non-peer reviewed, resilient leader theory on mastering your brand. Are you ready? Got your pencils out? Here’s it is. Be Carl Spackler. You heard it. Be Carl Spackler. This theory has been endorsed by at least one fuzzy, precocious little gofer.
To understand the theory you first need to understand who Carl Spackler is. Spackler is the assistant greens keeper at the Bushwood Country Club and is famously portrayed by Bill Murray in the movie Caddyshack. Spackler is in need of a good bath and a clean tee shirt. But, he is uniquely identifiable in the movie. His obsession to eradicate the course of the gofers, not the golfers as he originally understood, is a testament to drive for perfection – or insight to insanity. What makes Spackler’s personal brand unique and appealing is that he does not bend to the norms of the snobs around him. He understands his role on the golf course and it true to both his brand and his character. How often have you witnessed a leader change positions like the wind? I have. And, you can too in the next presidential election. A brand endures the whims of noise around us. Carl Spackler is the type of guy that doesn’t get ruffled by outside influences. He just goes about his day eating any Baby Ruth he can find.

This is critical for resilient leaders. What skills, experience and personality do you want the world to see?
I met a gentleman a few months ago named Phil Gerbyshak. Phil is a sales trainer who led a seminar I attended on better uses of LinkedIn. I met Phil a couple hours before he spoke, without knowing that he was going to speak. The first impression I had of Phil were his distinctive orange glasses. They were bright. They were fun. They let me know instantly who I was talking to and gave me immediate insight as to his character. When Phil stepped in front of the audience, I was already sold. I was sold before he started speaking because of the way he projected his personal brand when we met.
As Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon, once famously said, “Your brand is what people say about you when you are not in the room.” Phil is not in the room and I am telling you that his brand stuck with me – two months later It makes me wonder how my brand sticks. What do people say when I’m not in the room? I guess I’m hoping that people don’t call me a Cinderella story.

Folks, thank you for listening to Swimming in the Flood. Resilient leaders face challenging choices and it’s tough navigating those currents but with one tack or another we can get there together. You can find more podcasts and videos on my website at www.trenttheroux.com. If you enjoyed today’s show, please tell a friend, leave a comment…subscribe. I would be happy to discuss speaking at your next conference or event. Just write to me at info@trenttheroux.com. I look forward to getting together next week. See ya.

06. Execute Them All

Have you ever witnessed an execution? Watched someone walk down the green mile? Was it gruesome and sickening? Were you in the audience? Were you the one pulling the levers? Or were you strapped into Old Sparky?

Welcome to Swimming in the Flood; a podcast where we navigate the difficult currents in business and life. My name is Trent Theroux.

I’m looking at the top row of my bookshelf which is holding ten business management books. Of the ten, six have the word execute or execution in the title. There are over 2,000 pages about execution on my bookshelf. Why so many? This is a small bookshelf. How many books and pages are there in my town library 20,000, or in the library of congress 2,000,000?  Two million pages about execution. It’s almost ridiculous. Just for some perspective. Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity is only 17 pages, and that includes the mathematical formulas. Einstein theorizes and wins a Nobel Prize on the space time continuum in what is tantamount to a pamphlet compared to the tomes collecting dust on my bookshelf. Or the thousands I don’t know about in the library of congress.

Are each of these authors right? The authors on my bookshelf have all have written about ways to execute a strategy, but are they really different?  One of the books on my shelf is titled Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done by Larry Bossidy, former Chairman and CEO of Honeywell and Allied Signal. He wrote, “Execution has to be a part of a company’s strategy and its goals. It is the missing link between aspirations and results. As such, it is a major – indeed, the major – job of a business leader. If you don’t know how to execute, the whole of your effort as a leader will always be less than the sum of its parts.”

Wow! Just wow! That is seriously profound. I wish I could have watched him execute someone. Bossidy’s track record of success at Allied Signal in the aerospace industry during the 1990s was hugely impressive. Allied Signal had 31 consecutive quarters of earnings-per-share growth of 13% or more. Under his tenure, the stock was an 8-bagger (Peter Lynch slang for: it grew eight-fold).  

Larry also wrote, “An environment of fast growth can cover a multitude of sins, but an era of slow growth will magnify every shortcoming of every person in the business, especially the leaders.” Another very true statement.

I’m sure that you’ve watched some executions go horribly wrong. And when they do people get fired, laid off, businesses close. My first job out of college was working for Bank of New England in the mortgage foreclosure department. If you have heard of BNE don’t worry you are not behind the times. It went bankrupt in 1991, just a month after I left. (No snickering please…its wasn’t me.) In 1985, BNE was involved in a case which went to the Supreme Court challenging a law prohibiting interstate bank holding companies.  BNE won the case then went on a buying spree. They bought Connecticut Bank & Trust, Connecticut Trust & Safe, Hartford Trust, Phoenix Trust, Maine National Bank and some smaller ones over a five year period. The year I arrived at the bank it was rolling, having earned a $74 million profit. The next year when I left they lost $1.2 billion. The question is why?

Their strategy to acquire banks made them a national player and rival to Bank of America and Citibank. Where they failed was in executing the integration strategy, particularly in the lending departments. Their failure to control their lending practices led to numerous bad investments in real estate. Now, this was the time of the historic Savings & Loan collapse. Real estate plummeted in 1990 leading to a minor recession and BNE got caught in the wash. On the plus side, my foreclosure department was humming.  

I’m going to go off on a quick tangent here. The foreclosure department had an incentive plan which offered paid days off based on the number of houses we could foreclose. During normal times, we might have been able to earn 1 or 2 a year. During the recession, I was earning 2 per month. I’m a scoreboard-oriented guy and this plan was ripe for the picking. Foreclosures became a numbers game devoid of any emotion…for me. The pitch was simple. We prepared the documents, got the court orders, sent a U-haul and Marshall Tucker and his band, and can’t you see the house belongs to the bank.  

If you think I’m sick for doing this job…oh well, if I’m in for a little of this story it might be all the way. I will apologize for my youthful ambition in advance. This was the era of dot matrix printers. I would print tombstones with the foreclosee’s name and the eviction date and post these on the walls of my office. But, that wasn’t good enough. I had a large map of New England on the wall facing me. With every foreclosure, I would go to the map and affix a smiley face sticker on the town where I just took back a house. By the time I left the bank you would have thought my office was the happiest place in the world based on all the smiley faces.

I worked hard at my job to get the extra days off. I was good at my job. And, the management of the bank made my job easy because they did not execute their strategy properly. They were giving house loans away to boost their balance sheet. And, in the end it was tragic for the bank…and more so the poor people whose houses I reclaimed.

Quick show of hands. How many of you worked for a company that failed to execute a grand strategy? My magic mirror shows me that quite a number of you have your hands raised. There is a small manufacturing company near me that struggles with execution. Tell me if this sounds familiar to you. The president walks into a meeting and outlines a change in strategy and what she wants implemented. Then walks out to handle another pressing item. Two weeks later she is frustrated that the changes did not get implemented the way she envisioned and makes yet another change. Sound familiar?

That’s similar to the executioner flipping the switch for just a few seconds…buzz…you got ringing in your ears and a little shock. That’s not execution. It is closer to getting a weekly shock therapy treatment from Nurse Ratched.  

I am now going to give you my unscientific, non-peer reviewed theory on execution. Are you ready? Got your pencils out? Here it is: Blue’s Clues.  You heard it right!  Blue’s Clues.  It has been endorsed by at least one floppy haired host in a striped shirt and baggy khaki pants. Blue’s Clues was the revolutionary children’s show that aired on Nickelodeon in the 90’s and 2000s. The show’s format was to have the live action host, Steve, follow his dog Blue through the house uncovering three clues about what the dog wanted to do. Simple right? And for those of you with children in their mid-teens to early twenties it should sound familiar.

Here’s how it relates to execution. The show was designed to let children solve a puzzle from three clues. Most preschoolers struggled with the puzzles when they watched the show for the first time. However, the brilliance of Nickelodeon was that they showed the same episode every day for a week! By the end of the week the children gained the confidence to solve the puzzles on their own. In their test marketing children were even shouting to Steve where the clues were! By repeating the message the children knew what to expect and how to perform.

Blue’s Clues is a great divergence from what I see in many management teams where the strategy is delivered and left for the unprepared to execute on their own.  Strategy is only one component in the organization’s heartbeat. The consistent and persistent follow through in the delivery of the strategic message is critical to achieving the strategic goals. One and done is the same as over and out.

I encourage you… if you’re going to be an executioner…be a good one. Get the job done right. Work hard enough to have your employees shouting out the answers to you…or scream when it’s mail time. Like on Blue’s Clues. I love mail time.

Folks, thank you for listening to Swimming in the Flood. It’s tough navigating life’s currents but with one tact or another we can get there together. You can find more podcasts and videos on my website at www.trenttheroux.com. Music today is from Bensound. If you enjoyed today’s show, please tell a friend, leave a comment or subscribe. If there is a topic you would like me to explore shoot me an email at info@trenttheroux.com. I look forward to getting together next week. See you.

 

05. Walk the Runway

Have you ever walked a runway? Strutted down the catwalk, paused at the end, glared into the audience, pivoted and sashayed back? Was your fantasy walk more like Victoria’s Secret or Zoolander?

Welcome to Swimming in the Flood; a podcast where we navigate the difficult currents in business and life. My name is Trent Theroux.

Quick show of hands: how many of you have paraded around in your underwear while being under the careful examination of harsh critics? My magic mirror shows me that a few of you freaks out there have both hands up.

The National Football League’s combine recently completed. This is an event where strapping 21 and 22-year old men line up in their underwear to be ogled by mostly other men holding stopwatches. They run fast, they push weight, they jump high, and they took the Wonderlic. The Wonderlic personality test is a popular group intelligence test used to assess aptitude of prospective employees for learning and problem-solving in a range of occupations.

For all of its stripped-down pomp and circumstance this is a job interview. Although I must say that I was not required to bench press more than a paperclip when I interviewed for my first banking job. These athletes subject themselves to a battery of tests and exams to determine whether that have the appropriate skills to adapt and thrive through the mental and physical.

I’m going to go off on a tangent here. When I was 10 years old, I played my one and only partial season of football. On uniform day we were ushered into Bristol High School’s gymnasium to receive and try on our uniforms. The coaches organized us by number. Because I couldn’t tell the difference between a tight end and a split end, I was given a number in the 90s, signifying that I was a football flunky and should only be used for kindling wood at the bottom of a pile.

I entered the gym and was issued my pads and uniform then ushered to an open area for me to try them on. I was a chubby ten-year old and positive body image was not one of my strong suits. All the boys stripped down to their underwear and were told to put on their uniforms. I looked into the bag they gave me and found shoulder pads. I put these on and instantly felt bigger, stronger. The pants were white and Capri length. They fit well enough after I let out a draw string on the front. I recognized the knee pads and promptly put my feet through the opening and pulled them up. There were two pads which resembled Ruffles potato chips. They had ruffles on the top of them (and holding them made me realize that it was two hours until dinner and I was getting hungry) I found two openings on the inside front of the pants. They were to protect my thighs.  Another pair of pads had a U-shape to them. I was cheating off number 81. He put these on his hips. He was #81 because he was a receiver. Or in 10-year old terms – very skinny. There was one last pad in my bag. It was long and thin. Maybe two inches across and about eight inches long. It didn’t take a dummy to know where that pad belonged, and I demurely stuffed it down… the front of my pants.

I walked over to one of the coaches to inspect my uniform and the first thing he did was slam both his hands down on my shoulders. It felt as if trying to bury me like a croquet wicket into the ground. Other guys were getting the same treatment by the coaches, so I didn’t feel too distraught. He got on his knees and slapped both of my knees, both of my thighs and on each hip testing that the pads actually existed and that I didn’t really think I was wearing ruffles potato chips. Coach then turned me around and with the back of his hand smacked me in the middle of by butt. Then he repeated. My butt at that age could not be missed.  My Uncle Rick used to call me the Crisco Kid. The coach turned be around and asked where my butt pad was? I told him that I didn’t know. Maybe my bag came without one. He asked if I was sure. “It’s about two inches wide and about eight inches long.” I turned red.

“Son, you’re ten years old. You need protection there, but not 8-inches worth. That pad is meant for your ass crack.” Needless to say, my all too brief football career was not going to lead me to the NFL combine.

Job interviews all have interesting nuances, but there is one commonality, one unique identifier, the single thread: the interviewee.

 

I am now going to give you my unscientific, non-peer reviewed theory on interview etiquette. Are you ready? Got your pencils out? Here it is: Spritz some perfume.  You heard it! Spritz some perfume. It has been endorsed by at least one wild haired German physicist. The concept is analogous to the second law of thermodynamics. When you spritz a bottle of perfume, the molecules disperse throughout the room. The essence of the perfume is felt throughout the room. The same should apply to interviews. Your essence should permeate throughout the room. You should not remain bottled up. What for? The NFL combiners are there to strut their stuff in front of stodgy coaches and a national ESPN2 audience. And, so should every job interviewee. Boldness is a virtue. Spritz yourself.

Here is a suggested question you can ask your potential employer at the end of the interview: “Do I have the job?” Barbara Corcoran, who you may have seen on Shark Tank, told a story about a writer who was interviewing for a position with Barbara. The woman was introverted during the interview but finished by asking point blank, “Do I have the job?”  Barbara was stunned. It conveyed the message that I respect my time and so should you.

Here are some interesting facts about job interviews from a study prepared by JobVite.

While the average job interviews were forty minutes, 33% of respondents indicated that they know within the first 90 seconds if they will hire the candidate. Why? Here are some of the non-verbal reasons for not hiring.

  1. 67% responded failure to make eye contact.
  2. 38% lack of a smile.
  3. 37% quality of voice and overall confidence.
  4. 33% for bad posture.
  5. 26% because the handshake was too weak

Did you notice what I didn’t hear in that list? People who spritzed perfume. They listed characteristics of the people not comfortable in their skin, people who are not confident that they should be hired, the meek.

The meek may inherit the earth, but they will not get the open position. My mother told me that when I was called out for having the butt crack pad in the wrong spot that I should have danced through the locker room and laughed it off.  I’m not sure that was the right advice for a 10-year old, but I am definitely a little bolder now.

We need to be if we want to attain the great jobs we seek. I am willing to walk the runway…in my underwear… particularly if I’ve spritzed myself with a little Voyage by Nautica for Men. Are you?

Folks, thank you for listening to Swimming in the Flood. It’s tough navigating life’s currents but with one tact or another we can get there together. You can find more podcasts and information about my speaking engagements on my website at www.trenttheroux.com.  If you enjoyed today’s show, please tell a friend, leave a comment or subscribe. I look forward to getting together next week. See you.

04. Where is the Blame

Have you ever used another person’s voice to tell a story? Invoked someone else’s speaking pattern and accent for effect? Why? Is it because you are a gifted impressionaro or is there another reason?

Welcome to Swimming in the Flood; a podcast where we navigate the difficult currents in business and life. My name is Trent Theroux.

Quick show of hands how many times have you used someone else’s voice in a story where they did something wrong to you? My magic mirror shows that a lot of you have your hands raised. Why do we do that? Why do we relive an event through another person’s eyes?  Is it to make ourselves look better to our audience?

This classic human behavior is called mirroring. Mirroring is a subconscious action. It’s a kind of universal signal that helps us survive and relate to others. We do it with social actions as well.  Notice someone wearing a new and interesting hair style and before long many people wear the same style. It’s mirroring. It’s the only quasi-intellectual reason I can use to explain twerking in nightclubs.

Scientifically, we possess a neuron that recognizes faces and understands expressions. Maybe you’ve noticed that you feel happier when you are with funny people or you feel more despondent when you are with grouches. In a study published in the Journal of Individual Differences, extroverts were found to mimic others more because being liked by others is a higher priority compared to introverts.

So why do we impersonate someone we perceive has wronged us? I know you’ve used this tone before, “And so she said to me I didn’t eat your fries. I told her that if she eats my French fries one more time I am going to pull that wig right off her head.” Ugh. There’s a reason I don’t do voices. But, we all do this in some form or another. We blame others and we do it in their voices. Jamie Foxx would say we should blame it on the Al – Al- Al – Al-Alcohol. Michael Cain blamed it on the rain. Milli Vanilli blamed it on the rain. And we all know how that worked out.

The New Orleans Saints lost a heartbreaking game in the NFC Championship to the Los Angeles Rams. Every news outlet covered the “pivotal call.” A Rams defender intentionally committed pass interference against the Saints late in the fourth quarter and the referee did not throw a flag. Saints fans were apoplectic. They swore that the refs cost them the game and a visit to the Super Bowl.

I don’t see it that way. Often, it’s easier to blame someone else than look at yourself as the probable cause of the failure.

You may recall from the game that the Saints were up by two touchdowns. They had the number one offense in the league and were ahead by two touchdowns. They didn’t lose because of a blown call. The lost because they let the other team back into the game. They systematically failed to control the balance of the game and allowed the Rams to make it competitive.

The Saints, Head Coach, Sean Payton, acknowledged in the press conference that he was responsible for the loss. It was his decisions earlier in the game that created the pivotal situation and the opportunity for outside influence. This admission served three purposes which I consider to be very useful for business managers. First, he refocused the conversation away from a blatant mistake by the referees to his individual failure in an attempt to take the air out of the notion that the game was decided…that the Super Bowl was decided by one call. Second, he let his players off the hook from the emotional distress they would feel from losing a heartbreaking game. Before the start of the playoffs, Saints tight end, Benjamin Watson, announced his retirement effective at the end of the season. The blown pivotal call cost him the grand opportunity of playing in the Super Bowl as his final game. Coach Payton attempted to assuage a modicum of the pain by accepting the loss. Third, and most important, Coach Payton followed the greatest management axiom, “Your team gets to revel in the win and you, the manager, are always responsible for the loss.”  That’s the way it works when you sit in the big chair. If you don’t understand that by now, you need to change seats.

I am going to give you my unscientific, non-peer reviewed theory on management responsibility. Are you ready? Got your pencils out? Here it is: Ask the man in the mirror. You heard it! Ask the man in the mirror. It has been endorsed by at least one royal pop star wearing a single sequined glove. The concept is that we first need to see what we did wrong in a situation before we adopt someone else’s voice to tell a story. We need to hold ourselves accountable above and beyond what we expect from our teammates.

This was an exceptionally hard lesson for me. Many of you know that I was in a violent boating accident. When I was pulled into the boat that struck me, the passengers were screaming… at me. And cursing. I had no feeling in my legs and left arm. When they let me go, I collapsed onto a table. Then they realized the severity of my injuries. They could see the red blood soaking through my white t-shirt. Two of the men got close to my face to console me. Their breath reeked of stale beer. Beer cans were strewn throughout the floor of the boat. My resentment for them was instantaneous.

I blamed the captain for mutilating my body. I wanted him to suffer as badly as I was suffering for as long as I was suffering. I mean how could that bastard not see me in my bright yellow kayak? I felt complete rage for being put in a wheelchair.

I carried that fury and anger for many years. Ten years to be precise. Ten years after my accident I started my charitable foundation to provide durable medical goods for those with spinal cord injuries. I met people who suffered a similar fate to me yet did not have a drop of malice in their hearts. How could they be so understanding? So compassionate? It was unfathomable to me and made me question my own values. Maybe I was the one who was wrong.

I sat on the coastline one morning and looked over the spot where the accident took place. It happened at night. In the dark. Unknowingly, I put myself in harm’s way. Yes, the captain didn’t see me, but I was the dumbass who created the scene by being near the channel. I finally accepted blame for the accident and absolved the captain of the guilt. It took me years to ask the man in the mirror. Ten years.

I have now found that the best way to move forward in life after a setback is to get a good look at the man in the mirror. Michael Jackson had it right, “I’m starting with the man in the mirror.  I’m asking him to change his ways. Sha-mon make that change.”

Folks, thank you for listening to Swimming in the Flood. It’s tough navigating life’s currents but with one tact or another we can get there together. You can find more podcasts and videos on my website at www.trenttheroux.com.  If you enjoyed today’s show, please tell a friend, leave a comment or subscribe. I am also willing to take comments and suggestions. Just drop me an email at infor@trenttheroux.com  I look forward to getting together next week.

 

 

 

03. Time Well Spent

 

When was the last time you were locked in a cell? Held there against your will. How did you spend your time? Was it productive or filled with anxiety?

Welcome to Swimming in the Flood; a podcast where we navigate the difficult currents in business and life. My name is Trent Theroux.

Quick show of hands. How many of you have been in a meeting that you didn’t want to? Looking through my magic mirror I can see a lot of you with hands up. There are endless studies, blog posts and rants about the proper way to run a meeting. Which means to me that there are an endless number of managers who are holding their employees prisoner in meetings. Set a time limit. Create an agenda. Work toward outcomes. These seem simple yet meetings often go off the rails. I believe that these types of managers are narcissistic. They put the ME in meeting!  I’m sure that everyone can name a manager like this. But has it ever been you? Are you the one that the blogs and posts and studies have been about? None of us would ever admit that we were. But take this test. The next time you are running a meeting view the prisoners around you. Are they getting itchy? Ready to scream Attica! Attica!

I might go off on a tangent here. My wife, toddler daughter and I came home on a Wednesday night. We owned a two-family and the downstairs tenant met us on the stoop. She said that the police were there looking for me. Now, I was an Eagle Scout growing up. Of course, the police wouldn’t want anything more from me than a donation to the Police Auxiliary League. I called the station and the dispatcher was shocked when I told him that I was home and would be willing to wait for a patrolman to come by.

Thirty minutes later, two patrolmen showed up at my front door and I invited them upstairs into our apartment to speak. Can you imagine my utter surprise when they told me they were not raising funds for orphan children or the police athletic league, but rather were informing me that I had an outstanding parking ticket from five years ago? Apparently, I had parked in a handicapped spot in the long term parking lot at the airport. Because the lot was at the airport the laws are enforced by the State Police and my failure to pay led to a bench warrant for my arrest. I was willing to pay them right there for the ticket, but they told me no and that I would have to settle it with the judge in the morning. Handcuffs are not fun. They hurt. And, I have very tender wrist skin. The policemen were kind and allowed me to be cuffed with my hands in front on account that I called them to come get me. That, and I was crying.

They processed me and put me in my own cell. It was about midnight, but I wasn’t tired. However, I was cold. The put me into the cell wearing only a tee shirt and jeans. Maybe the veterans know that you’re supposed to wear a long sleeve shirt for these events. Sitting on the metal bed I started to whistle to pass the time and found the acoustics were incredible. My whistling reverberated through the compact room. I was able to whistle a beautiful version of both strings and woodwinds of Beethoven’s 9th. Prince’s “When Doves Cry” came off as if I was wearing purple myself. I whistled away for several hours until my nerves relaxed, and exhaustion overcame me.

The next morning, they opened the cell door and put me into the hall for transport. They cuffed me next to a man who had a neck tattoo that resembled Edvard Munch’s Scream subject. He glared at me and asked, “You the dude that been whistling all night?” The screamer seemed to be pulsating on his neck. Dear God, I was going to get shivved on my first night in prison because I didn’t pay a parking ticket. Before I had a chance to respond and accept my fate, the police ushered us out to the courtroom.

I am going to give you my unscientific, non-peer reviewed theory on being held prisoner. Are you ready?  Got your pencils out? Here it is: Whistle while you work.  You heard it: whistle while you work. It’s been endorsed by at least six bearded, diminutive miners that I know of. The concept is that sometimes we need to accept that we are not in our ideal working or living environment. We can complain to coworkers or bitch to family, but it doesn’t get us out of the present situation. Sometimes we are held prisoner.

Let me give you another example. The Reverend Doctor Martin’s Luther King Jr had many notable impacts on the world, I am most impressed with his Letter from Birmingham Jail. “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” This well-articulated and passionate plea still resonates the world over.

King wrote this from his cell and said, “What to do when you are alone in the dull monotony of a narrow jail cell?” He was right. How often have you tried to compose a letter or email only to be distracted by beeps, pings, knocks? It’s frustrating and unproductive. The Nobel Prize winning story One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich was written from a Soviet prison. I am not advocating that you commit a felony or misdemeanor to earn yourself prison time so that you too can produce enduring thoughts. No. Here’s a more practical example: I took a three-hour flight recently to a business conference. I was in the middle seat. On my left was a woman who had a movie playing on her iPad. On my left was a man who was staring at his cell phone intently playing Candy Crush. Me, I had my journal, a thought leadership book and the Wall Street Journal crossword puzzle. I was ready for the flight. I don’t mind being held prisoner for three hours on a flight. In fact, I look forward to the seclusion. I whistle while I work. Movie queen was watching a Julia Roberts double feature. Candy crush man spent the entire flight crushing candy. And I was making the most out of my prison cell.

If we want high-level thinking, we need to find our own cells. A place where we can quietly think and focus. Try this for me. When you’re next driving home from work turn off the radio. I know this is going to be hard. Drive in silence. Allow your mind to wander. You’ll be amazed at where your deep thoughts lead you if they’re given time to roam.

Remember, just keep whistling.

Folks, thank you for listening to Swimming in the Flood. It’s tough navigating life’s currents but with one tact or another we can get there together. You can find more podcasts and information about my speaking engagements on my website at www.trenttheroux.com.  If you enjoyed today’s show, please tell a friend, leave a comment or subscribe. I look forward to getting together next week.

 

 

 

02. We Will Miss You

Have you ever fired a customer? We spend countless hours and thousands of dollars to increase our business every day. But the question remains. Have you ever fired a customer?

Welcome to Swimming in the Flood; a podcast where we navigate the difficult currents in business and life. My name is Trent Theroux.

A pioneer of flight and icon of business, Herb Kelleher founder of Southwest Airlines passed away this week. There are many Herb stories, some raunchier than other. I would like to share with you my favorite Herb story.

One woman who frequently flew on Southwest became known as Pen Pal because she filed a complaint after every flight. The complainer didn’t like the lack of assigned seats, she didn’t like the lack of food, she didn’t like the jokes told by the Southwest attendants. In one egregious letter she enumerated all of her complaints. The customer service department didn’t know how best to respond and they sought help from Herb. Kelleher read the letter and swiftly wrote back, “Dear Mrs. Crabapple, we will miss you. Love, Herb.”

There are two great concepts in this story. First, the fact that the leader of a large domestic carrier took the time to write to a customer. How many of your employers would take on that responsibility themselves? I’m not sure how many. I can’t pretend to know how many letters Herb wrote or how many he read. This may have been the only one. But, the fact that he stood up for his employees and his company speaks volumes for his character and courage. Second, and my point today, is that he was prepared to fire a customer.

It seems almost antithetical today that we would fire a customer. Companies spend hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars cultivating customers, seeking to develop long standing relationships. Tossing one away feels fraught with unintended consequences. This letter was written by Herb nearly two decades ago, before the proliferation of social media. I’m curious if Herb would have thought differently if it happened to be Perez Hilton writing the letters?  Knowing that media whore it would have been front page news. Herb also had this going for him. According to Michael Porter’s Five Forces model, the power of buyers is predicated on their level of concentration. Mrs. Crabapple was one single buyer in a market of hundreds of thousands. Her voice, and her power, were weak to change the industry, much less affect the bottom line of Southwest Airlines.

So, at what point should you be willing to fire a customer? Now, before you start making your corporate hit list take it to a personal level first. What are you willing to fire in your life? Let’s start with items around your house.

The hysterical LetGo.com commercials are spot on in defining the challenges of firing something. I remember one commercial where a guy is hanging off a cliff holding onto his bowling ball and he’s unwilling to release it. A second stuck guy snaps a picture of the bowling ball and post it. Instantly, a rock climber appears and takes the ball from him. There are points in our lives and business where customers and items outlive their purpose or their value. How many times do you think that guy moved while owning that ball? Me? I have crap in my house that’s been moving with me since the 70s. I bet you all can name five things you own that you’ve said to yourself, “why am I moving this to my new place?”

I’m going to go off on a tangent here. My Uncle P passed away 13 years ago. He had no children, so I became executer of his estate, which for those of you who haven’t been charged with this responsibility, is quite a bit of work. My uncle died suddenly so we had to organize and pack his entire house up. His partner put some items into boxes and labeled other with masking tape. Wrapped in newspaper and labeled Mr. Buttman was some twenty-pound rectangular stone. I opened the package a month later and found a type of art, I guess. The stone is 18” high and 8” across.  Carved in the stone is a roman centurion. He’s wearing his plumed helmet, has a toga draped across his shoulders and his holding a spear. Mr. Buttman is facing away from me but looking back and is completely nude! There are two round reasons why my uncle’s partner named him Mr. Buttman. The question I am asking myself at this precise moment is, “Why is Mr. Buttman in my house?” In the 13 years since my uncle’s death Mr. Buttman has moved with me three times. I have never once brought Mr. Buttman out of the closet so why is it that he keeps making the moves? The stone has no art value and certainly no sentimental value. Yet, for some reason Mr. Buttman lives! What is he still doing here? Do you have a Mr. Buttman in your house? Someone who’s traveled under the radar for years just taking up space?

Today is the day for change. Today is the day I start practicing my new unscientific theory on this subject. Are you ready?  Got your pencils out? The theory is: Let It Go. Let It Go! It has been proven to work by at least one Disney Princess in an ice castle. The theory states that we need to have the courage that everything we collected in our lives – both things, customers and people are not always worth keeping.

Have you ever fired a friend? If we measure people against the standard of purpose and value then we all may have a friend that we need to fire. I’m sure that we can all identify someone that we can say, “Why am I friends with this guy?” There was a 2016 Harvard study that concluded that having solid friendships in our life helps promote brain health. Friends helps us deal with stress, make better lifestyle choices that keep us strong, and allow us to rebound from health issues and disease more quickly. If that is correct then the converse might well be true. Bad friends cause stress, make us weaker and lead us to health issues.

It’s human nature to desire bonding, relationships, and communication with others. When people become friends and remain friends, they do so because they enjoy each other’s company, or they have common goals and interest that have brought them together. Alternatively, we see that without common goals and interests, why are we friends.

Here’s the rub. The friends I’m talking about are not the ones you see and talk to on a regular basis. They are the friends you make on social media. Friends here is a very loose term. You become friends with someone on Facebook because you were at a party and talked to someone for ten minutes. They found you and friended you. You accepted because their name was fresh in your mind. Sound familiar? Where are the common goals and interests? If that friend, (can you see my air quotes), spews thoughts and ideas that are negative to you – how do you respond? I’ve often felt harassed by Facebook friends who seem to have nothing better to do than rant and complain about the increasing price of milk and impending Armageddon. Do you have friends (air quotes) like these? I guess I’d ask you why? Last year I went through my account and eliminated several people who fit into this category and I will tell you it was refreshing. I took a lesson from Herb and fired some customers.

Herb is one reason why I’m a Southwest Rapid Rewards member. Truthfully, I also like the no baggage fees as well.

Folks, thank you for listening to Swimming in the Flood. It’s tough navigating life’s currents but with one tact or another we can get there together. You can find more podcasts and videos on my website at www.trenttheroux.com. You can also find information about my speaking at your corporate event.

 

 

01 Clean Curtains

Hey folks, let me ask you a question – are your curtains clean?  Now, before you scamper off to the living room to inspect, the answer might be a little different than you think. Welcome to Swimming in the Flood; a podcast where we navigate the difficult currents in business and life. Let’s take that question again. Are your curtains clean? Carl Sandburg wrote a poem titled Clean Curtains. It starts:

NEW neighbors came to the corner house at Congress and Green streets.

The look of their clean white curtains was the same as the rim of a nun’s bonnet.

 

I connect the metaphor of clean curtains to New Year’s resolutions. Each year many of us post our fanciful new year’s resolutions for the world to see. How well do you do with yours? Do you make them every year or by the time May comes around did you forget what you started? We make resolutions in business as well: our budgets. If you’re a publicly traded company, you are giving guidance. If you’re a smaller business, you are making projections for the coming year. How fastidious are you are monitoring those resolutions?  Sandburg continues:

One way was an oyster pail factory, one way they made candy, one way paper boxes, strawboard cartons.

The warehouse trucks shook the dust of the ways loose and the wheels whirled dust—there was dust of hoof and wagon wheel and rubber tire—dust of police and fire wagons—dust of the winds that circled at midnights and noon listening to no prayers.

We all face the dust of hoof and wagon wheels in some way. The noises of life are distracting and often inhibit us from keeping our curtains clean. Sandburg concludes:

Dust and the thundering trucks won—the barrages of the street wheels and the lawless wind took their way—was it five weeks or six the little mother, the new neighbors, battled and then took away the white prayers in the windows?

Doesn’t that sound a lot like our resolutions? Was it five weeks or six that they lasted for? You are not alone with this problem. We have it in our lives and we have it in our business. We cannot expect measure against the budget in the middle of March and see that we are on track. If we are, it’s for reasons that we didn’t expect. We need to monitor our progress against budgets from the first week of January, from January 2nd. Did we hit revenue today? What was our price mix and volume today?

Talking about budgets makes me want to go off on a tangent. I was interviewing for my first big job as a Corporate Controller. The owner invited me and his CPA to his dinner club. It was an Old Italian dinner club in the center of Federal Hill in Providence. The interview was going fine. I was answering most of the questions with statements I studied in the week before the interview. But, while I was responding to each question I had one lingering thought in my head. Was my white shirt still clean? Stupid question, right? But I should tell you that I’m a slurper when I eat pasta. My mother would get after me when I was younger and threaten me that I would embarrass myself on a date if I didn’t control my slurping. As I’m looking at these two gentlemen interviewing me I realized that she was right. But, I couldn’t change my eating habit. Plus, the penne in vodka sauce was scrumptious!

Right at the height of this anxiety a gentleman from the next table leaned over and asked, “When you’re building a budget do you build it from the top down or from the bottom up?”  Who was this guy?  And worse, my fork was loaded with penne and it was sitting on the precipice of my lips. I didn’t have the will power to put down the fork. The CPA introduced us.  “Trent, this is Richard Oster. He is the president and CEO of Cookson America.” Chewing, – not slurping – my pasta I quickly realized that this is the CEO of a Fortune 500 company. There aren’t that many of these guys around. Like 500 or so.

I finished my pasta, wiped my mouth, prayed that my white shirt was still clean and said, “It depends. I’m sure you would prefer it to be top-down. I bet your employees would prefer it to be bottom up.” Mr. Oster laughed. “Good answer, kid.” And returned to his table. It wasn’t until a decade later that I thought the entire question may have been a setup by the Owner.

Sorry for the tangent. You’ll learn that about this podcast. We head off on a tangent here and there and then the tide will pull us back. We were talking about the problem of maintaining our resolutions and budget. It’s a problem we all confront. I am now going to give you my best idea on the subject. Ready? Eat your broccoli. You heard me right. The way to adhere to our resolutions it to eat your broccoli.

The Eat Your Broccoli Theory has not yet been peer reviewed by the Behavioral Sciences community, but I am expecting it shortly. Let me explain. When I was a child, I hated broccoli. And like most good mothers, my mother still put it on my plate. When she did I would eat all the chicken and pasta first then stare at the broccoli as if it would sprout wings and fly off my plate. One night my mother had enough of my complaining about how the broccoli was going to kill me or make me fail my social studies test. She told me that I was not going to leave the table until I ate all my broccoli. I didn’t budge. But, I didn’t eat my broccoli either. My mother instructed my father to make sure that I didn’t move until the broccoli was gone. Now, he really didn’t want any part of this, but he knew better than to complain about parenting. There are disputes in my family about how long I sat at the table. I would say it was four grueling hours.  My mother would say it was two minutes. My father, who had much better things to do, will say it was only ten minutes. Ten minutes before he got tired and ate the broccoli himself.

Here’s the point. I am still served broccoli today. However, I now eat the broccoli first while it’s hot and get it out of the way. The best way to manage our resolutions and keep our curtains clean is to perform the acts early and often. Fight the urge to stray early and you will find that you have plenty of time later to manage the tasks where are more pleasurable. Eat your broccoli, first! And, you will find it far easier to keep your curtains clean.

Folks, thank you for listening to Swimming in the Flood. It’s tough navigating life’s currents but with one tact or another we can get there together. You can find more podcasts and videos on my website at www.trenttheroux.com. You can also find information about my speaking at your corporate event.

One last item. I must confess. I kinda like broccoli now. Don’t tell my mom. See you next week, folks.