Friday, November 21, 2014

The Merits of Storytelling...

The world is shaped by two things... the stories that are told and the memories that they leave behind... 

                       ~ Vera Nazarian
                          Dreams of the Compass Rose

This past weekend I found myself at the grocery store. 

As I was going into the store, a young man dressed in his Boy Scout uniform approached me and asked me if I wanted to buy some popcorn for only $5.

While I hesitated for a moment, there was a another man walking into the store just behind me and the boy shouted out, "Hey mister, do you want to buy some popcorn?" 

The man pretended not to notice and kept going so the boy’s attention returned to me.

Wanting to help, but also knowing that I didn’t want to lug the canister of popcorn around with me as I shopped, I told the scout that I had some shopping to do, but that I’d buy some on my way out.

After my shopping excursion, I exited the store and looked around for the scout, but he was nowhere to be found, so I went home.

It wasn’t but a few hours later when my doorbell rang and there on my porch was yet another scout in uniform selling popcorn.

This time, instead of straight out asking me if I wanted to buy some popcorn for $5, he started by introducing himself. 

"Hi, my name is Evan Richey and I am a Boy Scout in troop 388", he said in a loud and clear voice.

He then went on to explain, in great detail, as to why he was selling this popcorn (to help raise money for his troop so he and the other boys could go on a leadership training camp this next summer). 

After his explanation about his reason for selling, he then took pride in describing the different types and quality of popcorn he had for sale. 

The boy then conveyed to me how Thanksgiving and Christmas were just around the corner and that even if I didn’t eat popcorn myself, the decorative canisters made a great hostess gift when visiting friends or relatives, going on to say that it was better than bringing another bottle of wine or worse, a fruitcake.

I ended up purchasing 10 canisters of popcorn from the young man that afternoon. 

As I put the tubs away, I had two simultaneous thoughts about the transaction that had just transpired.

My first thought was, of course... that I wanted to get this kid’s contact information so I can hire him as a sales person in 10 years.  He either had great innate sales talents, and/or he was well-coached by his troop leaders, teachers, or parents in the art of selling.

My second thought was a bit less apparent.  The boy used three different and separate opportunities to help paint a visual picture in my head.

First he told me his purpose for being on my doorstep.  He was helping to raise money to go to a leadership camp.  He described where the camp was... what they did... and what he was hoping to learn from the experience. 

His story helped me to think of my own experiences while away at camp many summers ago.  It helped me to picture my own kids and their scouting experiences, and helped me to think of what our future leaders might look like... like this kid standing on my porch.

Secondly, he talked about his product with great enthusiasm.  He explained that the popcorn was organically grown and that the flavorings were all natural.  This appeal made me believe that flavored popcorn was actually a good choice when considering snacking... (even if it really isn’t).

Third and most important, he explained that even if I don’t want the product for myself, that someone else might appreciate the gift.  Instead of spending my valuable time looking for something to bring with me when invited to people’s homes for the holidays, I had the answer standing right there on my porch.  It was right in front of me and all I had to decide was how many did I think that I would need.

Any other Boy Scout standing in my doorway that afternoon would have tried to sell me a product that I really didn’t want... but was willing to buy... only because I wanted to support scouting.   Purchasing a single item would have been simply fulfilling an obligation to the community in which I live.

This particular Scout, however, wasn’t content in going through the motions.  He knew that if he could help to paint a visual picture in my head, I would become emotionally attached to his offer.

He wasn’t really giving me a sales pitch... he was telling me a story.

Great brands are built, not necessarily on the merits of a product or service; they are built on the stories that are told and propagated about the brand.

For years, marketers believed that the best way to get noticed was to repetitively interrupt our lives with their advertising... shouting to us why their brand is better, faster, or cheaper. 

Here are the features... here are the benefits... it’s new... it’s improved... just try it and you’ll love it... limited time only...

They believe that the only way for it to sink in is to repeat the same message over and over again until we buy...

Today that approach simply doesn’t work anymore.

People don’t want to be sold... they want to be told a story... they want to visualize what it would be like to use the product or service... they want to feel good about the message... they want to include themselves in the story.

The great brands of today all have a story that they tell... be it Apple, Whole Foods, Google, Starbucks, Zappos, Amazon, Nordstrom, TED Talks...

We don’t buy from these companies because they have a unique product or service or the lowest price... we buy from them because they’ve figured out how to treat us differently... so we become loyal customers and we tell all of our friends to try it. 

We trust those brands to make promises and then hold them to keep their promises.

These company don’t have the need to shout and interrupt us... their brand speaks for itself (In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a print, radio, or TV ad for Google, Whole Foods, Zappos, Starbucks, TED Talks, or Amazon... EVER).  

They understand that they are not successful because they have better advertising... they are better because they provide something remarkable while telling a story that we can understand and relate to...

So the questions I’ll pose to you today...

What is it that makes you, your products, your service remarkable?

What are the passionate stories you tell... how will other people remember the stories that you tell them?

What do you want others to be saying about you?... your product?... your service?... your company?

How do you make a difference... not to everyone... but to someone who matters...

Will others love what you do so much that they’ll feel compelled to tell other people how great you are?

If not... why not?

Everyone has a great story to tell... what will yours be?

Thank you for your support of OptiFuse where we hope to one day hear your story.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Life Simplified...

"We are people, not the sum of our possessions"                       
                                          ~  George H.W. Bush

The months of November and December are typically stressful for most people...

Naturally there are the holidays... Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s... with people scurrying around trying to get from one place to another, scouring the stores for the perfect gifts and emptying their garages and looking for all of the decorations that they so carefully packed away last year.

...and add to that the winter weather conditions, the short days, and trying to finish up all of the projects at the office... and it’s no wonder why the last months of the year are so stressful.  

The biggest reason that the holidays create so much stress isn’t because there are so many things to do and coordinate but rather because there is so much to do and coordinate with a firm and fixed deadline involved.

No one celebrates Thanksgiving "sometime in November"... no, we all celebrate Thanksgiving at exactly the same time - the afternoon of the fourth Thursday in November. 

The time constraints are the root cause of the stress we feel during the holidays not the necessarily the workload.

I have come to recognize that when I am highly stressed, I don’t work at my optimum levels and starting dropping several of the balls that I work so hard to juggle each day.

Over the course of my 50 plus years on this earth, I have discovered three key elements in helping me to reduce the daily stresses in my life and allowing me more time to do the things that are more important in my life.

Those three basic components are: 
  1. Minimize
  2. Systematize
  3. Organize
Implementing these key elements helps me to actually create more time for the things I want to do and to spend time with people most meaningful in my life.


Since the end of the Second World War, we have become a nation of consumers and hoarders.

Our factories became more and more efficient... producing more and more goods... giving us an abundance of choices while reducing the acquisition costs.  The advent of the big factories gave us high-paying jobs and extra time to devote to hobbies and leisure activities.

The marketing companies on Madison Ave. told us all that we needed was a fast car, a big house, luxury vacations, and comfortable furnishings to be truly happy.  We need drawers of beauty products, closets full of designer clothing and shoes, and expensive memberships to gyms that we never go to in order to make us feel attractive.

Not wishing to be unhappy or unattractive, we bought and bought and bought... and when we didn’t have any more money... we borrowed some to buy even more...

We buy so many things, in fact, so we were forced to buy bigger and bigger homes to put all those things and then we need to work more to pay for those bigger homes and additional things.

Today we are over-burdened by how much stuff we have.  We have closets full of clothing we seldom wear, we have kitchen items that we rarely use, and we have three-car garages to store all of the things that we can’t even find let alone actually use.  

Our possessions have become an exercise in redundancy as we hoard more and more.

We have so many things that we can’t even keep track of the things we have.  

Minimizing means getting rid of unneeded stuff... things that clutter our existence...

Today is the day to start simplifying... to rid ourselves of unneeded "stuff"... today is the day we stop buying things that we may want but really don’t need.  Today is the day to have a garage sale... go to Goodwill... start an E-bay account.

Minimizing means that we stop buying more stuff to replace the stuff we just got rid of... no longer do we buy 3 of the same things just because those items are on sale... especially if we really only need one.

Less things = More time and more money


Each day our alarm clock rings at the same time... we have our breakfast... take a shower... brush our teeth... and drive off to work using the same route... go to our cubical... log on to our computer... go to lunch at our favorite diner...

Whether we are aware of it or not... we have placed a variety of systems and processes into our lives helping us to navigate our very existence here on earth.

The more we can systematize our lives... the less we need to remember.  Or in other words... the less opportunity we have to forget.

I have two packing checklists that I use on a regular basis when planning to leave on a trip... one for a weekend trip (2-3 days) and one for longer trips (5-10 days).  Before leaving, I use the checklists to make sure that I have everything I’ll need when I am away from home.

Mind you, I don’t pack everything that I might need... I only pack the essential items that I know that I will need... business cards, phone charger, toothbrush, passport, etc.

With the help of my checklist, I don’t feel the need to try and remember everything that I need to bring with me... and my stress level is reduced significantly before hitting the road.

I get my teeth cleaned the first week of the year and the first week of July, my eyes checked on Valentine’s Day and get an annual physical on my birthday in October.  I schedule these appointments a year in advance upon leaving the doctor’s office... I never worry about scheduling issues... there is a system in place to handle it.

I schedule a regular time slot to watch my favorite TV shows, my reading, to do the NYT crossword puzzle, my weekly Spanish lesson, my community volunteer work and of course, a time to write this blog each week.

Ironically, by creating repeating systems, I am actually able to create more freedom for myself while still staying incredibly busy.  

This is because I’m focused on the things I’m doing... not worried about the things I’m not doing.


At this point, you probably think that I live with an obsessive-compulsive disorder... but I assuredly don’t (and my wife will tell you the same).

Organization is simply knowing what it is that you have and where it is at any given time.

If you follow the first two steps - simplify and systematize, then the third step is easy... because there is simply less stuff in our lives to organize.

In organizing... remember this simple mantra... "everything has its place."

If we know what is where... it helps to make life manageable.

Knowing that you have something, but not knowing where it is (especially if you now need it), causes stress and creates anxiety.

This idea is not limited to physical items... it works the same for digital media as well.  With all the different devices and storage media that we have... it’s hard to know exactly where all of our files are at any given time.

Taking time to organize makes us more efficient as we no longer need to continually search for all the things that encumber our lives.

Minimizing takes away all the things we don’t us more space, time, and money.

Systematizing gives us boundaries in which in turn gives us the freedom to work within those boundaries.

Organizing makes us more productive and efficient.

Living a more simplified life brings us peace as we realize that life is more about the connections we make with people rather than with the possessions we keep.

Thank you for your support of OptiFuse where we believe that a simplified life gives you more rather than less.

Friday, November 7, 2014

The Secret of Empowerment...

"If you can’t fly, then run... if you can’t run, then walk... if you can’t walk, then crawl... but no matter what you do, you need to keep moving forward"
                ~ Martin Luther King Jr.

"What is it that motivates us to act?... why do we do what we do?"...

I was sitting at a small cocktail table at the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas last Wednesday night, listening to a conversation between John, an OptiFuse sales rep, and Dave, a product manager for a large automotive distributor. 

John and Dave had once worked together at a Fortune 500 company, but in the 20 years hence both have gone off into different career directions.

After several drinks, the conversation had become somewhat philosophical each of us taking turns expressing our ideals of motivation and leadership while reliving some of our success and failures of our long careers.

Dave started this particular segment of the conversation by announcing to our small group that there were only two types of people... those who were self-motivated to work hard and everyone else. 

John then added his opinion by stating, "today, most people want instant gratification... they no longer want to create relationships with their customers... they simply want to be order takers spending as little time as necessary to answers some basic questions and then move on someplace else... I really think that this is a byproduct of the Internet age where everyone’s attention span is 15 seconds."

As I sat there and listened to both men debate back and forth... my mind drifted back to late October in 1978.

I was sitting in a small make-shift work-out room behind the gymnasium at my high school.  Seated around me were approximately 40 or so high school wrestlers on the first day of practice.  Sitting in a big circle so everyone was facing each other, we each took a turn speaking to the group, starting with the freshmen and working our way to the seniors on the team.

This was an annual ritual that had reverence and pride.

In a loud voice, we announced to each other and ourselves, exactly what were our personal goals for that upcoming season.

In a somewhat muted voice, some of the boys said, "to try and win a few matches"... others said, "to try to make the varsity team"... others said, "to try to become the league champion"...

Finally, it was time for a few of the team captains to speak...

In a clear and loud voice they announced one after another that they would be a state champion... they wouldn’t try... they wouldn’t do their best... no... they would be... a state champion.

In a flash, you could see success in their eyes... they felt empowered... as though nothing could stop them from achieving their goal.

Empowerment is a word that many different organizations throw around haphazardly to try and motivate their staffs.

Leaders will tell their followers that they have been empowered to do their best... treat the company as though they were owners... and make a difference...

Yet these are the same leaders who don’t think twice about laying-off workers to make the quarterly numbers, firing someone for making a bad decision, or taking all of the credit for a job well-done.

For someone to truly be empowered, they need to feel safe.  They need to have the freedom and autonomy to operate without fear of retribution or ridicule from their leaders or their peers.  They must believe that the cause or end-result has merit (or in the case of a sales person... they must truly believe in the product and/or service that they are selling).

No one around the room that day laughed, snickered or offered a critical comment when a wrestler spoke of their goals that first day.  Each wrestler knew that if they were to achieve their individual goals that year, they would need the help and assistance of their teammates and their coaches to help train them... motivate them... and drive them to become a better wrestler.

Shortly after that first team meeting, the coaches would meet individually with each wrestler to discuss a plan to prepare the young man to achieve their goals.  During this meeting, the coaches typically asked the following three series of questions to each young man: 
  1. Are you capable - Do you have the intestinal fortitude to do all of the things that are necessary to get better?  Will you do the hard work? Do you have all the training you need?  Do you have the heart?  What are your strengths and weaknesses?  Where do you need help? - These series of questions cause the wrestler to take ownership of their goal.
  2. What exactly is your plan to achieve your goal? - Why do you think that your plan will work?  What do you need to make your plan work? What can we do as coaches to help you? What are the milestones that you would want to hit along the way? - These series of questions cause the wrestler to break down the larger goal into smaller segments allowing for better feedback while creating an opportunity for adjustments and fine-tuning along the way.
  3. If you achieve your goal, will it have been worth all the hard work? - Have you given much thought as to why you’ve chosen your goal this season?  What will you need to give up to succeed and do you think the sacrifice is worth the reward?  - This question is to attempt to have the wrestler understand their "Why" or purpose for setting this goal and will their passion overcome all of the resistance that prevents them from succeeding?
Now as a freshmen, you have never gone through this process, so your responses to the coaches’ questions are generally not all that well thought out, however by the time you were a senior, you had thought long and hard about your goals for that upcoming season and you had rehearsed your answers all summer long.

By the time you finished the interview process, you owned your goals... there was no going back... you had committed not only to the coaches... not only to the team... but you had committed to yourself and to doing whatever it took to achieve  the goals that you had set out to achieve.

Truth be told, the real goal of the coaches was not to create great wrestlers... but rather to create great leaders who know that they have ownership over their own lives.

It wasn’t about actually winning or losing... it was about the process of creating winners.

As my attention returned to John and Dave, I spoke.

"Guys... I need to respectfully disagree with your assessment... I believe that everyone has the power within them to become great leaders... I know this is true because I’ve seen it in action.

The key to empowering people is getting a person to actually believe that they can do it and then getting them to take ownership for their success or failure.

It’s our jobs as leaders to create an environment where people can gain knowledge, training, experience and feedback... so that they believe that they are competent enough to be successful... competency breeds confidence... and confidence begets empowerment... if you want people to succeed... then you need to lead them to success."

They looked a bit stunned at my response... but were soon nodding their heads in assent... while the topic of discussion soon turned to another important subject... the merits of an IPA versus a pale ale.

However, as I ventured back home today, I couldn’t help but give a great deal of thanks and gratitude to the teachers and mentors that I’ve had throughout my life.  These important life lessons were not learned from reading case studies in a book... but rather by actually doing... succeeding and failing along the way...

Thank you for your support of OptiFuse where we believe that there is an empowered individual in each and everyone of us and that we only need some inspiration and leadership for the empowerment to emerge.