Some against the grain advice: If you’re determined to win, then don’t be scared to fail

I’ve coached my sons on the baseball field for the past 9 years so it was really strange not to be out there this Spring. It’s often said that baseball is a game where hitters can be in the Hall of Fame if they can only limit their failures to 60-70% for 20 years. It’s true that the highest batting average in Major League Baseball is Ty Cobb’s .366 – meaning he failed 634 out of every 1000 times he went to the plate!

Ty Cobb (left) with ‘Shoeless’ Joe Jackson

Failure isn’t limited to baseball….basketball greats are acquainted with it as well.

I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.

Michael Jordan

Marty Osborn made the same observation about football: “In a football game a team will run about 60-70 plays. Of those plays, 90% fail. That’s right. Only 10% of plays will really work. It’s those 6 or 7 plays that will be the difference between winning and losing.”

If we take a step into the world of organizations, it’s clear that there are lots of things we do every day that don’t work:

  • That meeting that did NOT go as planned
  • A project you poured weeks into doesn’t get approved
  • The sales lead you thought was ready to sign the contract goes another direction
  • And many more!

So, what do you do with all that failure? I’d propose you embrace it!

Success has been defined as the ability to go from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm.

Anonymous – referenced in How to Say a Few Words by David Guy Powers
(not Winston Churchill as I thought!)

The next time you strike out and are disappointed by what was a sure thing, pick yourself up and try again…with enthusiasm!

Who knows, the next time you’re at the plate, you may hit a home run…

Photo Credit: Louis van Oeyen, photographer. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (058.00.00)

Why are leaders covering twice as much trail to get to the same summit?

One beautiful Saturday, my family headed out to take a hike up one of the nearby extinct volcanoes. My wife and I had hiked it over a decade ago with our infant son so we knew that it was worth the trip. The route we chose was completely wooded for 95% of the way and we had a teenager and tween in the crew who were looking for immedicate gratification. They were pretty vocal about their lack of interest in hiking (between their sprints up and down the trail). Finally, we arrived at the top and everyone quietly sat down and enjoyed the view.

Puy Pariou

The fact that my wife and I, the leaders of our little expedition, had already been to the top of this mountain gave us the energy to encourage our ‘team’ that it was worth the trip.

“Leaders must be close enough to relate to others, but far enough ahead to motivate them.”

John C. Maxwell

Recently, I’ve been working with business leaders who are trying to get their teams to ‘hike’ a pretty significant mountain. It requires the leaders to run ahead of their teams by looking into the future and working on strategy, then circle back to the team to get them on board. That means the leaders are doing twice the work of the team…and that’s exhausting!

If you’re a leader, and you haven’t (mentally) been where you want the team to go, maybe now is a good time to take a few hours off the treadmill and make sure that the future is clear for you so you can take others there.

If you’re being led (and we all are in some area of life), take a minute to thank the leaders that are running back and forth between the future and today!

photo credit:

Social distancing got you down? Here’s how to take one of your worst experiences and make it one of your best!

Ever since I lived with 2 guitar players during college, I had wanted to learn how to play acoustic guitar. My fiancée (now wife of 21 years) had purchased a guitar for me as a gift, I had taken lessons, and I couldn’t play a chord. Finally, I had put my guitar in a closet, irregularly pulling it out, longingly looking at it, and usually beating myself up for my failures in learning.

After seeing an ad on facebook, I decided that June 2016 was the month I would learn. I had purchased an online class from Tristan de Montebello and planned to start it after getting home from a business trip on June 17, 2016.

June 18, 2016 is a ‘date which will live in infamy’ for my family. That’s the day I decided to play soccer with my sons and their friends in the cul-de-sac in front of our house. The day an 11 year old kid faked me out well enough to send me tumbling over the soccer ball. The day my kneecap took a direct hit on the asphalt…and broke in two. Ouch!

After a few days waiting on the couch, I had surgery and wasn’t allowed to bend my knee for 6 weeks. It would have been really easy to have a pity party, tell myself that this was just another roadblock to learning and given up. I definitely had my share of feeling sorry for myself but, for some reason, I pressed on, finished the class, and began playing a few songs for kids at our church.

photo credit: Quốc Bảo at

Almost 4 years after these experiences, I have a 4 inch scar and a guitar I can pick up and play between virtual meetings at home during a global pandemic

Speaking of that global pandemic, did you think this was going to be a time you finally read that book, reconnected with that former client, or made progress on that objective that was so hard to complete with the interruptions of the office? If you’re anything like me, there’s been a significant conflict with those intentions and reality. After 28 days of ‘isolation’ I was sure I would have written several articles and posts that are on my list and maybe even made progress on a book manuscript.

Until now, I’ve accomplished none of those things. The urgent is STILL crowding out the important! So, I’m challenging myself to spend just 20 min a day on some of these important professional goals (knowing that I’m likely to be interrupted by my even more important family). How about you? Have the urgent tasks (or even the pity parties) taken far too much of your time and attention? This week, try to find just 20 min a day (or 25 if you’re a believer in the Pomodoro Technique) and make progress on one thing. You may find you can make one of your worst experiences one of your best!

Three Secrets to Avoid Drowning When Drinking From a Fire Hose

In 2010, I worked with a company that used a popular video called Did You Know? to help its employees understand the pace of change.  Some of the facts from that video included…

  • If MySpace were a country, it would be the 5th-largest in the world (between Indonesia and Brazil)
  • There are 31 Billion searches on Google every month.
  • Today, the number of text messages sent and received everyday, exceeds the total population of the planet.
  • By 2013, a supercomputer will be built that exceeds the computational capabilities of the human brain.

A 2020 version of the same facts would read:

If the original statistics were shocking, how much crazier are the 2020 versions?

These numbers are a great example of a quote I recently read:

The pace of change has never been this fast, yet it will never be this slow again. 

Justin Trudeau, Canadian Prime Minister

That is a sobering reality about the future when many of us already feel like we’re drinking from a fire hose today!

But wait, there is hope! Here are a few strategies for ‘firehose drinking’:

  • First, remember that no one is immune from the effects of change. Even if they are dealing with different changes, everyone around you is dealing with the same pace of change.
  • Take some advice from Benjamin Franklin: “Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today.” It’s not going to get any better next week or next month so do it now!
  • Finally, if you know the pace is rapid and accelerating, don’t hesitate to take the occasional step off the treadmill to catch your breath. Thousands of people have completed marathons using the Run Walk Run method…and finishing is what counts!

Pro Tip: When you want to introduce a change, take a few minutes to decide if you really need to introduce another drop into the the hose. Is there something else that can be finished first? There’s a limit to how much change any person (or organization) can take!

The ball is in your court! Which strategy will you use to deal with the pace of change today?

Need to ‘pour’ change into others? Here’s how to find out if they’re already ‘full’ first!

The 4 year old takes the pitcher of water in both hands and with as much focus as she can muster, tilts the pitcher and aims the stream of water into the glass. The last thing she wants to do is make a mess so she’s being really careful. It looks like she’s going to make it until the last second when a surprise ‘slosh’ of water jumps out of the pitcher and it’s more than the glass can handle. Water overflows from both the glass and her eyes.

photo credit: pixabay

I feel bad for the the little girl in this story and I made her up! We often work with leaders in organizations who are much like her. They really want to do the best for their team. They don’t want to make a mess so they are very deliberate about the changes they implement. Then, slosh! One unplanned change (new legislation, mandatory software version, employee turnover, etc.) causes their team to go into ‘change overflow’ mode.

In this recent post, I mentioned a major company whose employees “had to deal with approximately 250 changes per year.” If you’re implementing a change, how do you know the amount of changes those around YOU are facing? Organizations have a limited capacity for change. It’s like giving a patient medicine…essential at the recommended dosage limit, but beyond that potentially hazardous!

I’d propose that it’s worth your time for a quarterly review of the changes going on both inside and outside your organization. Just a quick list developed in a team meeting is enough. After a couple of times, you’ll be able to start seeing trends. How did we deal with the past quarter of change? Are there any lessons learned for the future?

You could even translate the feedback into an understanding of your organization’s ‘ability to absorb change’. Are we a yellow in change capacity because of recent benefits changes? Maybe we’re a red because of an unplanned change in import/export laws?

Within a year you’ll have a great feeling for the capacity of your organization to change and you’ll begin leaving some bandwidth for those unexpected ‘sloshes’!

A visit to Costco France…was it worth the almost 4 hour drive?

School vacations in France.  A time to unplug and get out of town for a few days before jumping back into school and work with both feet!  We had only been in France for about 5 weeks so we weren’t ready for an epic trip and we were missing some American staples (Mexican food, bagels, …) so why not take a trip to Paris and explore the American food scene there?

The day before our trip, the fine folks at the SNCF (French Rail) decided to strike so our planned train trip became a car trip.  A bit of a bummer BUT, we could use that as a reason to visit the American amusement park just outside of Paris known for its special brand and ability to bring people in from all around every weekend.  That’s right, we were heading to Costco!

Ahhh…a slice of America in view!

We were at the Greenville, SC Costco at least every 2 weeks to buy milk, Nesquik, giant bags of chips, and gas.  Since the trip to Costco France was long and we were still waiting on our container (and our Yeti), there were some things we couldn’t easily buy (looking at you refrigerated items…).  However, we were excited to check out the store and see if it was worth a return trip once we were in our permanent apartment.

As soon as we pulled around the traffic circle and saw the enormous building, it was clear that we were ‘home’.  Work was underway to put in a gas station but no timeline was available. 

After parking (in the massive, American sized, parking lot) we got a cart.  Not just any old European cart that takes a Euro to get it and you can’t steer worth crap.  No, a real cart with back wheels that only move in a straight line!  Yes!

One important difference to note before we got inside. Our dear Costco on Woodruff Road took about 10 minutes and cost us less than 50 cents in gas to visit (not including the membership fee – a gift from Michelin). The Costco in France…

  • ~75 Euros in gas
  • 75.60 EUR in tolls
  • 3h 45 min in the car
  • …and that was before we bought a thing!

Thanks to our friends at the SNCF, those were sunk costs for us but still, something to consider before making a visit.

Do you hear the angels singing?

A few of the ‘Costco standards’ that we saw throughout the store:

  • Person at the front door in a red vest with a clicker to track the number of guests
  • Bunch o’ deals and TVs just after the front door
  • Samples!
  • Massive quantities of chocolate chips, toilet paper, and real American peanut butter
  • Cash registers galore

There were certainly some things that we were hoping to find that we couldn’t – Log Cabin syrup (but they did have 100% maple syrup), Kind and/or Lara bars and skim milk are a few examples.  That being said, we were pretty excited with lots of the things we DID find!

Christmas decorations? They’ve got you covered
  • Boxed Mac and Cheese (not Kraft but still…)
  • Bacon (we’re coming back for you)
  • Mozzarella sticks (coming back for you too…)
  • Brownie Mixes
  • Tortilla Chips
  • Pancake Mix

After the shopping was over, it was time for a visit to the food court for some real, honest to goodness Costco pizza!  They had Pepsi (just like in the US) but they continued the French tradition of ensuring you don’t drink too much sugar by limiting you to one serving of Pepsi.  Come on French government, if you’re going to allow people to smoke everywhere like chimneys, let the rest of us drink as much Coke as we want!

As we were walking out, there was a standard display of Michelin tires greeting you followed by the classic Costco receipt checker (unfortunately, our kids are too old to solicit the smiley faces any more).  After loading up the car, it was time to head home but fear not outpost of amazing, American sized stuff in the middle of France, we’ll be back!

Is it raining cats and dogs? No, that’s a storm of change and it’s heading your way!

Our family recently relocated from the US to France and has been experiencing A LOT of change!

  • Live out of suitcases for 58 days and counting? Check.
  • Two first days of school in two different countries? Check.
  • 10 different cars in 4 months? Check.

In the middle of all of this change, I read this interesting article on our bandwidth to handle change and was shocked by these two sentences:

photo credit: pixabay

“Consider a leading global wealth manager whose employees, we recently found, had to deal with approximately 250 changes per year. These included operating model changes; new leadership structures; new productivity procedures in areas such as travel booking, digitized financial planning, and HR; new enterprise resource systems; agile ways of working such as sprints; and new legal and risk requirements and compliance procedures.

Holy smokes, 250 changes per year!  I bet that’s true for most of us.  Just take a minute to think about it… benefits changes, staffing changes, position responsibility changes, organizational changes IT systems, physical moves, etc.  The article doesn’t clearly state this but I would guess their research doesn’t account for changes outside of work like kids moving grades, aging parents, new neighbors, etc.

I know it’s true that I fail to account for the ‘other’ changes going on when I am pushing ‘my’ change effort. With this newfound understanding, I want to start thinking about capacity for change like a bucket of water. When the bucket is full, it doesn’t matter how much effort we put into a great communication plan or training module, there’s just no room!

How full is your bucket? What about the bucket of the people you are working with?

The superpower of focusing on the amazing versus the annoying

The setting sun made the sky look like a painting and several groups of people watched from the summit of the mountain. As soon as the sun slipped below the horizon, most of the groups began packing up their blankets and cameras, ready for the short hike back to the parking lot. A hearty few stayed at the top and prepared to spend the night in one of the darkest places in the Carolinas.

Sunset over the mountains in the ‘greatest state in the land of the free’ (Tennessee)

As I started cooking my dinner, a colony of bats flew overhead, eating their meal on the ‘fly’. The night closed in and the stars started peeking out. The couple beside me started playing country music on a small speaker…and I don’t like country music! (bluegrass on the other hand…) A family camped on my left and the daughter gave everyone within hearing distance a play by play of her trip away from the tent. WAIT! Didn’t I come out here to get away from annoyances like bad music and oversharing?

After a few minutes of focusing on the negative, I realized that I could choose to focus on the amazing (the Milky Way emerging) or the annoying (see previous list). It doesn’t seem like choosing and focusing is a superpower but it was for me that night and I’d propose that it can be for you too!

  • Got a million things to do? Set a timer on your phone for 20 minutes (my variation on the Pomodoro Technique) and try to finish just 1 of them. The momentum will carry your forward to the next thing (and the next, and the next…).
  • Surrounded by negative people? Find just one thing to compliment and go out of your way to focus on it all day long. You’ll feel better about where you are, even if the environment doesn’t change
  • Really hate your situation? Take some advice from former Secretary of State Colin Powell – “Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier”. Finding just one thing to focus on and be positive about can completely change your perspective.

After a breezy, star-filled night, a group of college students traipsed through my campsite about 5:30 am, preparing to watch the sun rise over the North Carolina mountains. Once again, I had to decide if it was more important to be annoyed by the intrusion or watch an amazing, daily event that we often take for granted. I chose to focus on the amazing that morning.

Sunrise over the Appalachian Trail

What will you choose to focus on today?

Don’t wipeout…catch a wave of change and you’ll be sitting on top of the world!

Imagine you’ve spent a nice day building a sandcastle at the beach.  After several hours, you’ve got something to be proud of but you know that the rising tide or just one big wave will wipe out all of your work.

Now imagine that you’ve spent a nice 10 years building a career.  After  years of hard work, you’re proud of where you are and what you’ve done.  But what’s that out in the ocean?  It’s a wave of change…and it’s coming straight for your ‘sandcastle’!  You worry it will wipe out all you have worked for and woosh….suddenly you’re in a new role in a new department and you’ve got to start all over.

This article on approaching change like a skill instead of an event got me to thinking about some of the companies I’ve worked with.   Employees at newer and smaller companies expect and even welcome changes…at the expense of their sandcastles getting destroyed on a regular basis.  On the other hand, employees at older, larger companies have gotten used to building their sandcastles on the shore of the lake…where there is no tide and only the occasional pontoon boat makes a ripple. 

If you’ve built your sandcastle at the lake over decades with detailed ramparts and moats, a wave of change (which will inevitably come) is a huge disaster!   How will you ever get all of those grains of sand back in place?  It feels like a hopeless cause…and that’s a good thing.

Wait, what!?  How can the destruction of my years of hard work be a good thing?  Well, I have a dirty little secret to pass along…your castle was probably outdated!  I know turrets and moats were all the rage 20 years ago but since then we’ve created security cameras that can warn you when there’s any motion outside…and installing one of those in your sandcastle would take A LOT of work.  Even though the change is painful, it’s an opportunity.

Like those famous sandy philosophers, The Beach Boys, said, “Catch a wave (of change) and you’ll be sitting on top of the world!” It is a difficult thing when something that you’ve worked hard on suddenly changes.  If you can treat those changes as opportunities, you’ll see the waves of change NOT as sandcastle destroying opportunities but a chance to learn something new…surfing!

Buzz Lightyear can help your organization move toward “infinity and beyond”!

Since 1995 (how can that be!) the Toy Story movies have given us a window into the ‘secret life of toys’. The movies are very effective at reminding us of the simple joys of childhood using some very adult storylines. This group of friends learns they can count on each other through thick and thin as they work through jealousy (Toy Story), abduction (Toy Story 2), and betrayal (Toy Story 3). Pretty heavy stuff for a ‘kids’ movie!

The cast of characters spans the toy world and includes some common personality traits that we see all around us. Rex, the dinosaur is always anticipating the worst. Slinky, the dog, is laid back and calm. Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head are a classic ‘old married couple’. However, when it comes to organizational change, two characters are great examples of typical responses you may see:

•Woody, the cowboy, does NOT like change. He’s happy with the status quo, thank you very much, and doesn’t see any need to do things differently. His motto could be ‘if it’s not broken, don’t fix it’!

•Buzz Lightyear, Space Ranger, is the face of change. He’s never met a problem he couldn’t solve or a challenge too difficult. His personal motto, “To infinity, and beyond!” shows us that he’ll always be reaching for the stars.

If you take just a minute, I’m sure you can identify at least one Woody and one Buzz in your team…maybe even by looking in the mirror! How do you use these mindsets to help you make a change?

If you’ve got a “Woody”, recognize that you may never have them fully supporting your change. You can help them see the benefits while also appreciating their perspective and trying to move them to ‘neutral’. However, if you can get a skeptic like Woody to support your idea, expect many others to follow!

“Sheriff, this is no time to panic.” – Buzz Lightyear

A “Buzz” can be a challenge as well. They may be so passionate about moving to ‘the new thing’ that they steamroll everyone in their path. Harness their energy by helping them see everyone’s perspective and the challenges ahead. Then use them as sympathetic evangelists of the change throughout the organization.

When it’s time for a change in your organization, take a look around you to find both Woody and Buzz. Once you’ve identified them, you can use their unique strengths to help your change “reach for the sky”!

photo credit: