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.