Friday, July 20, 2012

Do Not Take My Advice...

Like many people these days, my friend Chris is going through a bit of a rough time.

Although he still has his job as a sales manager, he’s had to take a pay cut, not once, but twice in the last 4 years.  His wife, Nancy, has maintained a part-time job as a reading specialist in the local school district, however each day she reads in the newspaper about the looming cuts to the school district’s budget and wonders if she’ll have a job come September.

Consequently, Chris and Nancy have had to make some deep cut-backs in their expenses.

They can no longer take two-week family vacations in the summer, they eat at home more often than not, and their children are no longer considering applying at private colleges due to the ever-increasing tuition expense.

They purchased their modest home many years ago so fortunately they don’t owe more than what the home is worth nor are they behind on their mortgage.

They have saved very little for their retirement thinking that their home and the ever-rising real estate prices would provide a comfortable nest egg when they retired.

I had known Chris since college but I really didn’t know much of the details of his life up until now.  Now over a few beers, the story unfolded before me.

Chris wasn’t looking to me for a loan or a job offer but rather he needed a friend who he could talk things out with...and I was happy to oblige him.

Now most people in my position would listen to Chris’s story, perhaps digest a few items, and start lecturing him and giving him advice on what he should and shouldn’t do to get himself out of this mess. 

In fact, twenty years ago, I was probably that same person...very little listening...plenty of advice...

In 1997, I had the opportunity to join an organization called the Young Entrepreneur’s Organization (YEO - now renamed to just EO).

YEO (EO) is a global business network of more than 8,000 business owners in 121 chapters and 40 countries.  The organization fosters learning from one’s business peers to create both professional and personal growth in its members. 

Within a given chapter, Individual business owners are placed into small, non-moderated, groups of 6-12 people who meet on a monthly basis called forums. 

Within the forum, new ideas are created and developed; problems are discussed, and members are coached and held accountable by the other forum members.

Due to the typical "large personalities" of entrepreneurs and business owners, care needed to be taken to limit advice given by others.  Everyone around the table had their own methods and management styles which many times maybe clashed with others. 

Therefore before joining a forum, all members went through a rigorous training to teach them Gestalt Language Protocol (GSP).

The mainstay of GSP is to never give someone advice but rather speak from personal experiences.

For example, a question may be raised by a member as to how to talk with the bank about extending their line of credit. 

A typical person, one who gives advice, will respond to the question by telling the person that she should call every bank in the area and try to start a competition among the banks for their’s as simple as that...this is what you need to do to solve your banking problem.

However a person speaking from personal experiences would respond to the person asking the same question in a completely different way. 

They might perhaps respond to the question by stating, "I have no idea what you should do in your specific circumstance, however, when I was faced with a similar problem myself, I made a lunch appointment with my banker and brought along current financials and future projections to discuss over banker was very open to hear what I had to say and ended up working with me to increase my credit seemed to work for me...but your situation is a bit different than mine so it may or may not work for you..."

The differences in the two approaches are subtle but profound.

In one instance, you are the boss telling someone else what to the other method, you have some pertinent knowledge that could be useful to someone else.

The key is that the final decision will be made by the person with the original problem.  If you tell them what to do, then the decision is no longer being made by them, it is being made by you.  If the solution fails to achieve the desired results, then it was your fault not theirs.

Some people like this approach because they never have to be responsible for their own decisions...they can always blame the person who gave them the original bad advice...

One of the best ways to stay away from giving advice is to stop using the word "you" and replace it with the word "I". 

Think in terms of "I needed to I did..." rather than "you need to you should..."

This is especially important in a group environment where there could be several conflicting pieces of advice from different members of the group...arguments could arise within the group as to which piece of advice is better to solve the given problem.  If everyone just spoke about their own experiences, then the person with the issue can amass a variety of potential ideas without needing to select any single piece of advice.

Returning to my friend, I told Chris that I too have had many occasions to fret about my uncertain future so that I could definitely relate to his plight.

I explained to him that what helped me through these tough times was remembering what I had rather than what I didn’t have.  I pointed out that regardless of how his future unfolded...he had plenty to be thankful for. 

Unlike so many people in the world, he and his family were healthy, they had a roof over their heads, and food in their pantry and drank clean water.   They had reliable transportation, access to healthcare, and live in a relative safe neighborhood.  His children attend good schools and participate in local sports and scouting programs.

They may need to give up a few luxuries in their lives but that it was probably a good time to assess what is essential and what is extraneous in their lives.  Perhaps they might not even miss the things that they needed to go without...

I didn’t have any specific advice for him but told him that I would be happy to be his "sounding board" should he ever need someone to talk things out with.

I think that he left a bit more relaxed knowing that everything was going to be okay and that yes...he had a lot to be thankful for...

Don’t we all...

We are equally thankful for your support of OptiFuse where we try to help our customers to find solutions for their overcurrent protection problems.

Friday, July 13, 2012

The Naked Soul...

"All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players"  
~  William Shakespeare

Up until this Spring, I had only been invited to one wedding in over ten years (and the one I was invited to...I happened to be the best-man). 

I suspect the reason for this phenomenon is that most of my good friends are already married or on their second (third...fourth...etc.) marriage - which usually comes with much less fanfare and much smaller wedding ceremonies / receptions reserved for immediate family.

It seems this year, however, that the floodgates of wedding invitations have burst opened. 

The answer is relatively simple...the offspring of my friends and family have now reach the marrying age and thus the frenzy of invitations.

Last Saturday I had the opportunity to attend one such blessed event. 

The groom was a young entrepreneur whose company’s board I had once served on and later developed a mentoring relationship with.  Over the years I have watch him grow and develop into a savvy businessman and a quality human being.  He is insightful, respectful and a deep thinker.  He would much rather listen than speak and his actions are always considered and measured.

The ceremony was a perfect in every sense.  Every detail was carefully planned and executed to precision.  Nothing was left to chance...each and every element were deliberate and carefully thought out.

After dinner, several toasts to the newlyweds were made by a host of friends and family.  One toast was of particular interest to me.  It was made by the groom’s best man, who had known the groom since grade school.

During his toast, the best man narrated several embarrassing stories about wild adventures that the two of them had shared while growing up.  He spoke of the reckless escapades and of the near death experiences that they had narrowly escaped.

I could hardly believe my ears...who was this person that he was speaking of? surely couldn’t be this young man...he is way too conservative for any of those tales to true...

After several of the reception rituals, first dances, cake cutting, and speeches, I found my way to the table of the best man and several of the groom’s childhood friends.  I was on a quest to seek answers to many of the questions now in my mind.

I asked the best man how much literary license he had taken with the truth in regards to the stories he had just told.  He (and others at the table) assured me that all of the narratives were indeed true and that nothing was embellished.

Here is a person I thought I knew well...a person of whom I had a 10-year relationship with...a person who personified restraint and control... but had lived a complete other life...

Did this person have a complete personality transformation with the coming of age or did he simply adopt a second that could be changed and adapted to fit the present situation?

Several years ago I met an incredible filmmaker, Nic Askew, who through his short black & white films has attempted to paint a portrait of the human soul.  Through his intensive interviews, he metaphorically strips away the clothing of personality to expose the true inner self of his subjects captured on film. 

The subjects of his films don’t communicate through simple reporting...rather they relate their message through the sharing of themselves, of events that shaped their lives, and of people who have touched them deeply and helped to forge the person that they’ve become.

I am in awe of Nic’s talents as a filmmaker (and musician) and of his innate ability to reach the very core of the human experience.

We are born into the world naked, both physically and spiritually.  There are no filters... no sugar-coating the truth.  If we are hungry we cry until we are fed...when we are tired we sleep...we don’t wait to use the restroom.  We are dependant upon others for our very survival.

As we grow older, we are taught that it’s important to adopt the norms, rules, and customs of the society in which we live. 

Some of these conventions are absolutely necessary to keep the peace and order of a free, just and safe world.

One cannot simply ignore red lights at intersections because they don’t feel like stopping or because it inconveniences them.  The laws and regulations of society are the boundaries in which we need to live our lives.

However within those legal limitations, we can exercise the freedoms to be individuals, to think independently, pursue our own happiness, and to explore the creativity that lies in each of us.

We can also choose to be a taker, a liar, a manipulator, a narcissist, a fake, and or an insincere person.

As in most things present in the world, there are few absolutes...few things colored in black or white but rather a varying degree of gray.

On one end of the spectrum are people who employ their individualism in an outwardly fashion not caring what others think of them, displaying their unique eccentricity and their own sense of style. 

They communicate openly, aren’t afraid to show emotion or outwardly display love.  They don’t put on performances but rather they are more comfortable to be themselves than the person other people think they should be.

They live in the present.  They do not live nostalgically the glory days of the past nor are they waiting for the better days that lie ahead in the future. 

They alone are responsible for their own actions and thoughts.

On the other end of the spectrum are people who are a bit more guarded.  They develop sub-personalities and multiple personae to help them to adapt to a variety of social and business conditions. 

They are unaware of the truth as the truth is constantly changing based on the circumstances of the moment.  When caught in lies, they will take to the offensive to attack others or create a defensible position to justify their behavior.  Rarely do they take responsibility for their own actions.

These people are masters at manipulation and using others for their own betterment.  They enjoy trying to control others and live by the adage "the end justifies the means".

They are self-absorbed and believe that the world revolves solely around them.  They are often critical and envious of others as to make themselves look better at the expense of others.

Enough is never enough, wanting more is their endgame.

They are constantly begging for forgiveness rather than asking for permission.

Between the two poles of the spectrum lies a continuum where most of us are found.  At different times in our lives we move from one extreme toward the other.

Stripping away our defenses and exposing our naked soul comes with a high degree of risk but with risk comes reward...the reward of being an authentic person living an amazing life...

Thank you very much for your support of OptiFuse where we try each day to do a little better than the day before.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Strike Three...You're Out!

Last Saturday afternoon, I received a phone call from my friend Jeff... 

He explained that his company has season tickets to the San Diego Padres and that the customer he was planning to take to the game Sunday had just backed out.

"I have an extra ticket if you want to join me", he offered.

I do like baseball... but the real reason I said yes was because I hadn’t seen Jeff in about six months.  I thought that the opportunity to spend some quality time catching up with a good friend was a fantastic way to spend my Sunday afternoon.

The weather the following day was perfect for an afternoon baseball game.  Not a cloud in the sky and a slight cooling breeze off the ocean.

We agreed to meet at a local pub in downtown San Diego to have some lunch before game time. 

After lunch we walked over to the ballpark and found our seats plenty of time before play began. 

As the San Diego Padres players were announced, I couldn’t help but think to myself that I had no idea who these players were.  I considered myself a fan of the team but many of my favorite players had been traded or released to save money and reduce payroll expenses.  I now only recognized one name as a player who was a regular starter but one year ago. 

Despite a relatively new stadium, perfect weather, a new lucrative TV contract, and playing in the sixth largest populated cities in America, the Padres’ payroll expenses ranked a paltry 30th out of 30 teams.  They were currently in last place in their division with the second worst record in the entire major leagues.

This particular day, the Padres were playing their division rivals, the San Francisco Giants.  In contrast to the Padres team, the Giants hosted a lineup that consisted of seasoned veterans, top prospects and perennial all-stars. Their payroll ranked in the upper 25% of teams and they were currently in first place in their division.  They are perennial contenders and have a rabid fan base who support their team.

On that day, Giants fans appeared to outnumber Padres fans four to one... this in the San Diego team’s home park!

As the away team, the Giants batted first.  The young Padres pitcher walked the first two batters of the game and gave up a home run to the third and fourth batters.  The home team was down 4-0 while fans were still finding their seats.

The game progressed with the Giants playing good solid defense and providing timely hitting while the Padres committed several errors in the field and left several men in scoring position.

At the end of the game, the score was 8-1 in favor of the visitors.  The Padres had a low-budget team and it showed.

My ultimate reason for being at the game was to enjoy the day with my friend, win or lose, but I couldn’t help but feel embarrassment for the team being fielded by San Diego that day. 

The Padres organization has cheapened their product to a point where very few people are interested in buying it anymore.  Their primary concern is no longer about putting out a quality product but rather keeping their expenses at a minimum.

The organization has revenue sources but they refuse to spend it on bettering their product. Despite the new ball park and great weather, they are quickly losing their fan support.  Their pursuit of short-term profits has driven current and potential customers to seek other homes for their entertainment dollars.

I couldn’t help but think to myself, as I drove home that afternoon, about other companies who have decided to go the cheap route.  Their pursuit of short-term profits have quickly watered down the brand that has taken, in many cases, generations to establish. 

Brand loyalty comes from trust.  Trust that the product and/or service will meet or exceed our expectations in terms of quality, consistency, performance, and service levels.

I happened to be shopping at Costco the other day. 

While on my way back to the food section, I noticed a sign that advertised Calvin Klein polo shirts for $14.98 each.  I thought that this was clearly a misprint so I went over to the display table and picked up a shirt. 

The first thing I noticed was how thin the material was.  I then notice how the stitching was uneven and how loose threads were abundant.  The shirt I was holding should have been priced at $14.98.  It was made cheap and it looked cheap.

Calvin Klein has broken the trust that has taken decades to establish.  It sold its soul for mass-market short-term profits.

There are countless multitudes of other companies who have done exactly the same thing as the San Diego Padres and Calvin Klein. 

They have traded their good brand name in exchange for short-term profits.  Times are indeed tough, but this is no time to start alienating long-time customers by providing cheap products and/or services.
Certain companies have resisted the temptation to cheapen their brands... I can’t remember ever seeing a cheap Mercedes or not being able to return an item to Nordstrom’s or having a tough steak at Morton’s.

Now mind you, there is nothing wrong with looking for good value.  There is a world of difference finding a high quality product on sale and buying a cheaply made product at a low price.

There are some companies who have adopted a tiered approach with a different product offering for those customers looking for varying degrees of quality.

Marriott hotels, for example, offer low-cost options (Fairfield Inn / Springfield Suites) for those traveling on a budget, medium-cost options perhaps for business travelers (Courtyard / Renaissance) and high-end options for luxury travelers (Ritz Carlton / JW Marriott).  The service levels and amenities are consummate with the particular value level of each hotel.  At no time however, are certain minimum standards compromised... even at the lowest levels.  This would jeopardize the good name that Marriott has sought to create over the many years.

When it comes to brand loyalty, cheap never wins over value.

This is a principle that more companies and people need to remember in a time where every penny counts and where the barriers of entry for competition are being lowered each and every day.

The season is over for those who choose short-term profits over long-term customer loyalty.

Quality never compromises.

Thank you very much for your support of OptiFuse where we will never compromise in trying to find better ways to service our customers.