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Planting a tree, you may never enjoy the shade from.

Planting SeedsLast week as I was leaving the gym an older lady was standing in front of her car in the parking lot with the hood open. I approached her and asked, “what’s wrong?” She was visibly upset and had no idea what to do, nor could she begin to tell me what was wrong with the car. The steam rolling from the upper radiator hose was obvious to my trained eye. “It’s the upper radiator hose,” I said. She asked if it was possible for her to drive it to the dealership about 20 minutes away. Knowing there was no way for her to drive that far with the car in this condition, and seeing that it was an easy repair, I told her I would run down the street and buy a hose, quickly replace it, and allow her to get to work–hopefully on time.

The auto parts employee got an ear full as he asked for the year, make and model. “I’m helping a lady broke down in the gym parking lot.” To him, it must have been “Yada yada yada!!” Yes, they had one in stock and then he tried to up-sell me, no doubt as a product of all the training he received during his employment asking, “Clamps? Antifreeze? Heater hoses? Is the radiator OK?” Truly, the treats of a know-it-all employee.

I asked him if he had heard a single word of the story. “I’m just helping a lady who broke down in the parking lot,” I repeated. Then without hesitation I explained, “The training you received is secondary” to the story your customer will tell. The questions you ask are not meant to be a script, nor a sales pitch. They are a way to learning the root cause of their problems and a way to provide them with a solution.” In the end, the parts were less than $15 and I was (somewhat) quickly on my way back to the gym.

Once I arrived back to her and the car, my repairs took only minutes. As she thanked me, she asked, “What should I do if anything else happens to my car?” I thought for a minute.  “You need a learn-it-all mechanic.” The simplest metaphor I could think of using to explain at that moment was that of two different employees at an auto parts store. One of them is a ‘know-it-all’ and the other is a ‘learn-it-all,’ and the ‘learn-it-all’ always will do better than the other one even if the ‘know-it-all’ employee starts with much more innate capability. “You must find a learn-it-all type of mechanic,” I told her.

The truth is, we’ve all been given different amounts of resources (talent, coordination, financial means, etc.) Life has so many distractions, expectations, and responsibilities. Our country was formed by a spirit of cooperation–everyone helping each other. It’s less common now, but there was a tremendous amount of bartering (exchanging) goods for services or knowledge for knowledge. It’s a practice that may yet prove useful in the future. However, whether or not that’s true, giving of yourself to advance another’s ambition or need improves the human condition on the most fundamental level.

Paying forward in the drive-through at Starbucks is noble, but planting seeds for trees of which you will never enjoy the shade is a true blessing. I pray that the auto parts employee one day understands our transaction was not just a sale as I also pray that that lady’s car never gives her another moment of trouble…..

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Use your Turn Signal and Communicate

This morning on my way home from the gym, when I was a block away from my house, I pulled up to an intersection to turn left. Oncoming traffic that was turning left across my path never signaled to turn. Not one person turned on their blinker to let me know they would be turning across my path. Truly this a was clear lack of communication!

Laziness, relative lack of enforcement, a little confirmation bias on my part, yes probably.

Naturally this is a large generalization, but it’s one that keeps weighing on my own experiences in business. I believe, like our lack or willingness to communicate in business, our car culture in America makes driving a thing we take very much for granted, and it makes people less than courteous as a result.

I have found that the root cause of most business problems simply comes down to lack of clear communication. Not defining a plan to others is not showing direction. Not following procedure is like not turning on your blinker. Not having standard working procedures is like not have a turn signal at all.  Often business situations involve communication between two or more people from different positions, in different roles and with different goals and objectives just like cars on the road.

I am not perfect, but I use my turn signals all the time. I also work hard to improve my communication in business. Streamlining procedures, teaching others to follow protocols and returning emails.

Effective business communication like good driving etiquette can help me, as well as you. Today and every day, improve the little things like communication with others and like using your turn signals.

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Sphere of Influence

who's cup of coffeeEveryone needs a sphere of influence. Not to influence others as much as to be influenced by others. Influence can work both ways; it has a halo effect, so association with others of influence, such as leaders, “movers and shakers,” or celebrities, extends your sphere of influence. I would like to share with you the types of influencers that I keep in my sphere.

 

  1. A VP or key sales person within a trucking or logistics company
  2. The owner of an auction company
  3. A soda or beer distributor route person

Never before in the history of business has there been so much change. The only constant in business today is change, from customer demand, to technology, to new products and services. Trucking and logistics companies are the first to feel a shift in the economy. They are the first to see a slowdown in manufactured goods and the supplies to manufacture these goods. They are also the first to see new business trends and are able to gage their growth before others even notice. Case in point, while visiting the small town of Centerburg, Ohio I spoke with the UPS driver that was dropping off goods to a company with which I was doing business. In a conversion, the driver told me about the fastest growing company in the area. It was an internet-based sales company with two employees that moved a 40ft UPS trailer of goods per day. Funniest part of this story was, none of the employees of the small town customer of mine knew of the internet company that soon grew larger than them. The owner of this growing internet company soon built a 100,000 square foot building in the small town of Centerburg. Trucking and Logistics people are great for your Sphere of Influence.

Auctioneers are the best storytellers ever because they learn so much from the customers they do business with.  If you take time to listen to them you will also learn these lessons, and that’s why they are a “must” for your circle of influence. Auctioneers are the first to hear of a business that may be failing or not paying taxes. They learn firsthand by the ones closest to the goods being auctioned how people once made their money and how they subsequently lost it. Auctioneers see trends in business models up to a year before other insiders get traditional “data.” They work hand-in-hand with all the banks and internal revenue systems. An Auctioneer is another perfect person for your sphere and I have one in mine.

Last but not least in my Sphere of Influence is a drink distributor route driver. This group of people are hardworking networkers.  Drink distributor route drivers service all types of businesses from convenience stores, to bars, to mom & pop restaurants. They see how much product is moving and the trends in consumer confidence. They drivers interact with not only the owner and managers of these businesses they call on, more importantly they interact with the employees who are face-to-face with the consumers. When the economy is growing, consumers buy more beer and soda and these drivers understand it and have great insights to the workings of many types of business that you can tap into—if they are in your Sphere.

There is no defined scale on how to measure the sphere of influence—fill yours with the kind of people who help tip you off to trends that are meaningful in your Sphere. “An Auctioneer, a VP and a Driver walk into a coffee shop…..” What happens next is up to You.

Creative Expression

Creative Expression by Troy Selberg

CreativeWhat is Creative Expression and how can we find it? As an adult, we may have learned to cover up or set aside much of our inner life, in order to get along with others and do our jobs. But if we want to be more fully alive and creative, it can really help to understand and stay in charge of our thinking and feelings. As author and entrepreneur Seth Godin says, “What you do for a living is not be creative, what you do is ship.”

In motorsports, to finish first – first you must finish – but perhaps we should add while obeying the rules. Before the start of a new season, NASCAR publishes a sets of rules–a lengthy tome of technical regulations, spelling out in detail every rule that covers the construction of a race car. It is up to the fabricators, engineers and craftsmen to define and work within the rules (or gray areas!) to get every ounce of speed and durability from their hand built machines.

I’ve had the pleasure of working with many gifted and high-profile individuals over the years and I’ve had an ongoing curiosity about why some people are more creative than others. I’m puzzled about whether creativity is a general skill comprised of traits and attributes that gives one the ability to apply highly creative thinking to any project regardless of domain or discipline? Or is creativity specialized, giving individuals creative-thinking skills and proclivities that apply only to one domain, no different than a Super Bowl winning coach wants to recreate that winning team over and over again?

Through my experiences (AKA watching and doing case studies), I have found that, to be creative, individuals must first internalize their culture, knowing the rules, the mores, and the conventions. But if they are only traditional and stick to those conventions, creativity never takes place, cultures don’t move forward, and nothing changes. Yet change simply because an individual wants change doesn’t produce lasting improvements and contributions either. It’s the synergy between having the rebelliousness to go where others haven’t gone while recognizing and keeping in tact what’s a valued contribution to the culture and task at hand.  Those individuals also possess a great amount of passion around their work, pursuing it until they experience an internalized sense of satisfaction with the finished product.

Creative individuals greatly enjoy life to the fullest, their openness and receptiveness giving them a great appreciation for culture, the arts, music, and sports. Creative individuals sincerely enjoy playful attitudes, having fun, jesting, and know the value of laughter and keeping situations and environments light and free from unreasonable drama. They know their strengths. They also are extremely focused on new accomplishments and challenges, regardless of past successes, realizing, as writers testify, a new, blank page awaits them every day.

Therefore, creativity is a culture, a passion of loving what you do by solving problems. It’s giving your employees purpose in their lives, at work and with their families. Transforming the workplace to invite openness and fun. Make accountability enjoyable but receptive. The perfect workspace isn’t what leads to brilliant work, but in my experiences, it’s a great start…

Southern Comfort

That Ol' Rocking chairLiving in the deep south of the 40’s and 50’s challenged people to carve out comfort and ease from the harsh and rugged physical and mental challenges of life. Mostly living off the land and without “modern” conveniences, forced them to be efficient and creative in meeting the basic needs of day-to-day living while enjoying the simple pleasures and treasures of life.

It is said, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure”. It is also said, “life is what you make it”. So then, I guess in a way, it’s all about attitude and perception. For many who lived in rural areas in the south, it was looking at the run down shacks that they lived in and yet seeing how blessed they were to have a roof over their head. That gave them comfort! It was having a meal of fat back, molasses, and corn bread and realizing that the one who prepared it did so with love and care for them, and all the time realizing that their toil and labor, however humble, will provide for them and their family.  That gave them comfort! It was setting on that old front porch in that squeaky rocking chair at the end of the day, rocking back and forth. Rocking their bodies to rest and their minds to lull and ease. That gave them comfort!
If you’re ever riding by my place one afternoon, you will see my rocking chairs, and if you stop to visit, you can release your feelings and emotions evoked by what you experienced during your day, perhaps some discomfort. Nevertheless, where ever it is that you find yourself, ponder and just shift your perception, see if you can feel the “southern comfort” as experienced by many living and rocking their troubles away in rural North Carolina in the 40’s and 50’s. After all, “it’s all about attitude, gratitude and perception”.