Monthly Archives: February 2013

Maxims for work and life

A maxim is a thought intended to provide motivation for one’s actions. I’ve recently come across two sets of maxims…one set for the business world, another for personal life. As I pondered each list, it made me think that I should have a set of maxims of my own, intended to serve as a life guide and to motivate me to take purposeful action on a daily basis.

The first set of maxims are those of Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon. Elizabeth Greenfield has summarized them as follows.

1. “Base your strategy on things that won’t change.”

Selling lipstick, tractor seats, e-book readers and data storage are all part of one big plan with three big constants: offer wider selection, lower prices and fast, reliable delivery.

2. “Obsess over customers.”

Early on Bezos brought an empty chair into meetings so lieutenants would be forced to think about the crucial participant who wasn’t in the room: the customer. Now that ­surrogate’s role is played by specially trained employees, dubbed “Customer Experience Bar Raisers.” When they frown, vice ­presidents tremble.

3. “We are willing to be misunderstood for long periods of time.”

Many of Amazon’s expansions look like money-losing distractions at first. That sometimes sends the company’s stock price skidding and evokes analysts’ scorn. Bezos shrugs. If the new initiatives make strategic sense to him, a five-to-seven-year financial payoff is okay.

4. “There are two kinds of companies: those that try to charge more and those that work to charge less. We will be the second.”

Lots of retailers talk about holding down costs and passing the savings to the consumer. Few do so as intently as Amazon, where “frugality” is one of eight official company values. The ­reward for putting up with cheap office ­furniture: a $90 billion stock market valuation and 35% revenue growth.

5. “Determine what your customers need, and work backwards.”

Specs for Amazon’s big new projects such as its Kindle tablets and e-book readers have been defined by customers’ desires rather than engineers’ tastes. If customers don’t want something it’s gone, even if that means breaking apart a once powerful department.

6. “Our culture is friendly and intense, but if push comes to shove we’ll settle for intense.”

Data reigns supreme at Amazon, particularly head-to-head tests of customers’ reactions to different features or site designs. Bezos calls it “a culture of metrics.” With dozens of these gladiator-style showdowns under way each week, there isn’t much time for soothing words or elaborate rituals of social cohesion.

7. “If you want to be inventive, you have to be willing to fail.”

Early on the company hired a lot of editors to write book and music reviews—and then ­decided to use customers’ critiques instead. A foray into auctions flopped. Bezos regards such stumbles as a part of life, as long as Amazon can learn something useful.

8. “In the old world, you devoted 30% of your time to building a great service and 70% of your time to shouting about it. In the new world, that inverts.”

Amazon’s ad budgets are surprisingly small for a retailer of its size. Bezos believes old-fashioned word-of-mouth has become even more important in the digital age—so he prefers low-key process improvements that are meant to get happy customers buzzing. One favorite: Amazon’s war on clamshell packaging, so toys and other shipments will be easier to open.

9. “Everyone has to be able to work in a call center.”

Complaints can be devastating in the age of viral tweets and blogs. Bezos asks thousands of Amazon managers, including ­himself, to ­attend two days of call-center training each year. The payoff: humility and empathy for the customer.

10. “This is Day 1 for the Internet. We still have so much to learn.”

Bezos first made that observation in 1997, in his initial letter to Amazon’s shareholders. He hasn’t budged from it. At Amazon’s new headquarters two of the largest buildings are Day 1 North and Day 1 South. In interviews Bezos still talks about the Internet as an ­uncharted world, imperfectly understood and yielding new surprises all the time.

Whenever you read articles about Bezos or Amazon, it is clear that these maxims guide their culture, their decisions, their initiatives and their interactions with each other and with their customers. Amazon’s dedication to these maxims has made them the undisputed leader in online retail sales.

The second set of maxims, intended for one’s personal life, come from Martha Beck’s book, The Joy Diet. Her book describes ten maxims that will enhance your daily life.

• Nothing: Do nothing for fifteen minutes a day. Stop mindlessly chasing goals and figure out which goals are worth going after.

• Truth: Create a moment of truth to help you unmask what you’re hiding—from others and from yourself.

• Desire: Identify, articulate, and explore at least one of your heart’s desires—and learn how to let yourself do want what you want.

• Creativity: Learn six new ways to develop at least one new idea to help you obtain your heart’s desire.

• Risk: Take one baby step toward reaching your goal. The only rule is it has to scare the pants off you.

• Treats: Give yourself a treat for every risk you take and two treats just because you’re you. No exceptions. No excuses.

• Play: Take a moment to remember your real life’s work and differentiate it from the games you play to achieve it. Then play wholeheartedly.

• Laughter: Laugh at least thirty times a day. Props encouraged.

• Connection: Use your Joy Diet skills to interact with someone who matters to you.

• Feasting: Enjoy at least three square feasts a day, with or without food.

Ms. Beck left a life in academia driven by her “inherited purpose,” what her parents and upbringing drove her to do, to pursue her authentic purpose of writing and counseling those seeking joy and purpose in their lives. Her list of maxims are derived from her own life experience but are well-suited to us all.

I wanted to share these two sets of maxims with you here in the hope that they will be catalysts for you; that you will thoughtfully consider them and adapt them to your own work and personal life. Obviously, businesses vary and the maxims for your business should be tailored to your particular organization and its place in the market. But, as individuals, we are much the same and have similar needs for purpose and significance. Therefore, Beck’s maxims will be helpful to most anyone who chooses to follow them.

I hope you will consider these two lists and that over time you will choose to adopt those that work for you or that you will develop your own maxims for work and for your personal life to guide your thoughts and actions. Such maxims for the basis for meaning in life. And isn’t a sense of purpose meaning what we all desire in our work and in our personal lives?

Wishing you grace, peace and simple abundance…and a purposeful life filled with meaning.

Your personal manifesto

The idea of a personal manifesto has been rolling around in my mind the past couple of weeks. A personal manifesto is a written statement of one’s intentions. When I ran across the manifesto shown above, I decided to share it here and keep it on my desk as a template and an incentive to write a manifesto of my own. Why? Read on.

We hear a lot about “intentional” living in the media these days, about being purposeful in our actions, learning to say no, and clearing our calendars of unnecessary activities. But if we are truly going to be intentional, what will guide our actions? What will we use as a benchmark to determine whether or not we have been successful in our quest to be intentional when we review our actions at the end of any given day?

For-profit and non-profit organizations alike invest significant time and energy developing vision and values statements to guide their management team and their employees in making decisions and taking actions that move the organization in the intended direction. As individual human beings, why should we not do the same? Don’t we need a purpose statement and a set of stated intentions to guide our lives as well? Isn’t the nurturing and development of our personal lives at least, if not much more, important than our contribution to the organization we work for? The truth is that having our personal lives aligned with a purpose and a manifesto of our own will allow us to contribute all the more to the organizations and activities in which we choose to invest ourselves.

Having spent a fair bit of time over the years facilitating the strategy and planning process for organizations, both as a consultant and as a member of the management team, I have begun work on my own strategy and plan. In my case, I started with a purpose statement which I shared on the WHO IS RONNIE B? page of this blog. Next on my personal development agenda is getting a solid draft of my manifesto written. It will undoubtedly change and evolve over time just as happened with my purpose statement. When it starts to gel, it will feel right and I’ll know I’m on track.

As I visit and work with people regarding the idea of life purpose, it is obvious that this is a topic that many are interested in but few have invested much time bringing to life for themselves. What about you? Do you have a life purpose statement that clearly describes who you are as a person? Do you have a personal manifesto?

Having a well thought out life purpose statement has been life changing for me. That may sound foo-foo or pie-in-the-sky to you but those who know me well will confirm what I’ve said here. So try it. What have you got to lose? Feel free to use my purpose and the manifesto above as guides to get you started and follow the 3-21 formula. When you have something written that you feel good about, I’d love to have you share it here if you are willing. Sharing it with others will bring it to life within you.

Wishing you grace, peace and simple abundance…and clarity of purpose for your life.

Bad bosses are a dime a dozen

Have you ever worked for a bad boss? Maybe a better question would be have you ever worked for a good one?

I find it interesting that nearly everyone working in an organization of any size aspires to a management position. Why? What drives this desire to be a manager?

Looking back over several decades in the workplace, experience suggests that many of us have been conditioned, directly and indirectly, to equate success with winning a management role. Thus, being promoted to a management position becomes our goal. So, starting as individual contributors, we work diligently to prove our worth and to show that we have the stuff that makes for a good manager. We put in long hours, do what’s required, often including giving up a life outside of work, and presto! We get promoted and are now in charge of a group of people, most of whom are also aiming for management jobs.

Unfortunately, the reality is that not all of us are well-suited to the requirements of a management position. But the desire to be a manager at all costs coupled with the far-from-scientific-approach used by most companies in selecting new managers, leads to a plethora of bad managers…not bad people, just bad managers. This is where the Peter Principle comes in…the Peter Principle holds that every employee within a hierarchy eventually rises to his or her level of incompetence. Incompetence = bad boss.

In her article Maybe Management Isn’t Your Style, Peggy Klaus says, “Studies have shown that poor managers can cause good employees to leave and, ultimately, can seriously reduce productivity in a workplace.” She goes on to say, “You can point to any number of reasons for this situation: insufficient training, poor communication, etc. But I say a bad boss is born each time someone goes into management without knowing whether he or she is truly suited to the role. When people are offered a managerial job, they may become intoxicated by the idea of more power and a bigger salary. Refusing such an offer can seem out of the question.”

Ms. Klaus gives us an example in Phil. Phil is a sales star who is asked to move into a management role. It was a move that ended in disaster for Phil and his company. Read Ms. Klaus’s article for the full scoop on Phil.

So, what should you do when you are offered a move into a management position. Klaus gives this advice.

Reflect on your motivations, then ask yourself these questions: Do I enjoy working with people, helping them to grow and to become successful? Do I handle uncertainty well, and do I mind making decisions without knowing the entire picture? Do I communicate well, in good times and bad? Do I have the time to take this on? If your answers are yes, then you could well have the makings of a good boss.

On the other hand, do you need for everyone to like you? Want immediate and constant reinforcement? Feel nervous about having legal and financial responsibilities for others? Balk at the idea of evaluating or firing someone? Then it’s possible that you’re just not cut out to be a boss.

Every great company is made up of great individual contributors and great managers. It’s not a cardinal sin to admit, to yourself and to others, that you know you are at your best as an individual contributor. If your boss is worth his salt, he or she will applaud you for being so self-aware and comfortable in your own skin and will see that you are rewarded accordingly.

On the other hand, if you genuinely believe that you have the makings of a good boss per your responses to Ms. Klaus’s questions above, by all means go for it! Companies the world over, including yours, are in desperate need of good bosses!

Wishing you grace, peace and simple abundance…and the courage to find your “best place” in the world of work.

How to work better

Isn’t it amazing how some people can relay so much wisdom is so few words? I wish I knew who wrote this so I could give her/him credit.

Imagine your workplace, your service club, your church, or your home for a minute. What would it be like if everyone involved, including you, lived this list? Now that’s change worth striving for and it begins with you and with me…right now, right where we are. Let’s do it!

Wishing you grace, peace and simple abundance.

Double-loop learning

The path to successful achievement of a goal is rarely a straight line. I often characterize it as being like driving bumper cars; you move toward your objective until you run into a wall or another car then alter your course and continue on your way until you encounter the next obstacle, adjust your course again…and repeat until you get to your destination.

There are two ways we can react to obstacles that block our path to success. One is to look at the external and/or technical reasons for failure to make the desired progress. The other is to thoroughly examine everything about ourselves, our plan and our progress to date. Is the goal the right goal? Are our beliefs and assumptions correct? Is our methodology or process sound?

The first is the most common approach and is called single-loop learning. The second, while less common, is by far the most effective approach to analyzing your situation and to ultimately reaching your goal.

Chris Agyris, a long-time professor and business theorist at Harvard, did much research on how organizations and people react when obstacles block their path to success. This led to his discovery of single- and double-loop learning.

Secret Ingredient for Success by Camille Sweeney and Josh Gosfield describes Agyris’s theory  in more detail and provides examples our how a now successful restaurateur David Chang, tennis great Martina Navratilova, and indie rock bank OK Go used double-loop learning to overcome obstacles and achieve success.

Sweeney and Gosfield suggest that with double-loop learning, we must “…question every aspect of our approach, including our methodology, biases and deeply held assumptions. This more psychologically nuanced self-examination requires that we honestly challenge our beliefs and summon the courage to act on that information, which may lead to fresh ways of thinking about our lives and our goals.”

After providing brief stories of those who have successfully adopted the double-loop learning approach, Sweeney and Gosfield go on to say, “No one’s idea of a good time is to take a brutal assessment of their animating assumptions and to acknowledge that those may have contributed to their failure. It’s easy to find pat ways to explain why the world has not adequately rewarded our efforts. But what we learned from conversation with high achievers is that challenging our assumptions, objectives, at times even our goals, may sometimes push us further than we thought possible.”

What important goal are you working toward? If you are feeling stymied and are finding progress difficult, give double-loop learning a try by using the blank-sheet-of-paper approach. On a blank sheet of paper, go back to the beginning. Write out your goal. List your assumptions, actions and progress to date. Now, beginning with your goal statement, go through each item you’ve listed and vigorously challenge the validity of each one. Be as objective as you can. Act as if you are an outside consultant who has been asked to come in and review the stated goal and the plan for its achievement. This will allow you to challenge the motivations, beliefs, and assumptions you’ve made a little more easily.

Once you’ve completed this analysis, you will likely recognize some needed course corrections…corrections that will get you moving again. It takes courage, patience and persistence to backtrack and start again whether you have to go all the way back to the beginning or to a point somewhere in the middle. Course corrections are common for high achievers. They know that the path to success is seldom a straight line. The better you get at double-loop learning; the better you will get at smoothing the path to your goals.

For more on single-loop and double-loop learning click here.

Wishing you grace, peace and simple abundance…and a joyful journey as you move toward your goals.