Friday, October 30, 2015

A Few Good Men (and Women)...

The millennials have landed at OptiFuse.

Today is our second blog installment written by one of our new team members at OptiFuse, Jonathan Soler, who also happens to be a founding member of the millennial generation.

We feel incredibly fortunate that Jonathan, a former active-duty U.S. Marine, has decided that his next "tour of duty" would be at OptiFuse.

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Some people spend their entire lives wondering if they made a difference... but the Marines don’t have that problem...

It’s had been about three days since our platoon had a full meal. 

We aren’t quite Marines, yet we have surpassed the status of maggots, which is and of itself, quite an accomplishment.

You see every Marine goes through the gauntlet of the Crucible, a grueling three-day grind that pushes our bodies and most importantly our every existence to its breaking point. Sleep deprivation, 45 miles of hiking all while carrying a 55 pound rucksack (backpack), and having to coherently traverse obstacles every inch of the way.

And to think... we actually volunteered for service...

The Crucible is the culmination of a three month grind to breakdown Crucibleand mold young men and women into U.S. Marines.

Unbeknownst to the recruits, there is something far more compelling that is developing in their midst, camaraderie: a mutual trust and friendship among people who spend a lot of time working together as a team.

Though these young individuals come from all walks of life, they have grown to tolerate one another and more importantly help each other strive to reach new plateaus and successes.

This may not sound like a very inviting experience to embark upon, but the end result is irrefutable: success through teamwork.

Some of you reading this account may have walked this very path and fondly recall the experience firsthand. In the end, we all stood proudly in triumph when we earned the title of U.S. Marine.

Notice the word "we" because success was no longer measured by our own individual victories but by the overall success of our team.

Without a doubt, each one of us had individual successes that can be directly attributed to personal dedication to self-improvement including: physical fitness, the study of military history and/or developing our own leadership skills.

One thing was clear though, we never lost sight that the end goal was always the improvement in the effectiveness of our platoon, company, battalion... the Marine Corps.

My long walk through the crucible occurred some time ago and I am hard pressed to recall the last time I was in an environment where colleagues worked in unison with a single goal in mind which was to succeed as a team.

That is until this past year when I had the opportunity to meet Sara Whyte and Evyn Hewitt. 

Sara, Evyn and I were hired simultaneously as Regional Sales Managers at OptiFuse after graduating college. And although we attended the same university, each of us ended up at OptiFuse through different paths.

The first several weeks at OptiFuse were trial by fire.  Jim Kalb sat down in front of the new team and told us to tighten up our seat belts because the next several weeks and months are going to get intense.

That was an understatement...

Let me preface this by saying that neither I nor any of my team members are electronic engineers or for that matter, possess a technical degree.  

For three weeks, the three of us sat in a classroom with our instructors, 8 hours a day, attempting to drink water from a fire hose! We covered a broad range of materials including but not limited to: Electronic theory, short circuit calculations, short circuits versus overload, product specifications, OptiFuse’s history, sales techniques and presentations, competitive analysis, and the list goes on...

It goes without saying that, we covered a great deal of material in a very compact time frame in order to help us become proficient and ultimately find success in our careers.

What do you suppose happened during this intense training cycle?

You guessed it, Sara, Evyn and I grew very close as teammates with one objective in mind which was to become ambassadors of OptiFuse. Each day we worked through the various problems and issues, helping and supporting one another to grasp new concepts that all of us were experiencing for the very first time.

At first, the three of us were strangers living in a unfamiliar new world, but by working together as a team we survived OptiFuse’s own version of the Crucible and have coalesced into a cohesive unit.

Our success is no longer strictly defined as wins of the individual but as a member of an elite team.

Is there a perfect recipe for team building that we can all put into practice?

I’ve now had the opportunity to experience two different types of "boot camp" where I witnessed first-hand the transformation of individuals converging into a team... but even with this experience I don’t pretend to know this answer.

One thing is certain however, there are many examples that exist of creating successful teams through trials and tribulations.

For example, Navy Seals undergo intense training cycles where they are literally brought to the breaking point and at the end are considered among the world’s most elite fighting force.

In the corporate world, there is plenty of evidence that team building activities like solving complex problems over the teamcourse of weeks, even months, creates successes that are out of the reach of individual workers going it alone. These team building activities help to promote trust and good-will among the members of the team which ultimately helps to create success for everyone.

One of the other byproducts of successful teams is the idea that members of the team help to keep their teammates accountable to themselves and to each other. In this way, there is constant improvement among the individual members which can elevate the overall success to new heights.

I am uncertain if I share the same resolve or experiences as other millennials but one thing is for certain, I witnessed firsthand the effectiveness of the team building process that I underwent in earning the title of U.S. Marine.

I had a successful career in the military and the vast majority of awards and accolades that I earned can be directly attributed to the young men and women that served by my side.

Today I have been graced with membership in another outstanding team... a team that shares the same spirit and dedication that I fondly remember while in service to this great nation.

It is my sincere hope that I can serve this new team proudly and help to make it the best it can be...

...Semper Fi

Jonathan Soler
Regional Sales Manager

Friday, October 23, 2015

Attitude is Altitude...

It seems as though it is almost a daily occurrence to hear or read something about the coming of the millennial generation and what it might mean to the generations who came before them.

Over the next three weeks, I have asked the three newest members of the OptiFuse team, to draft a blog relating their experiences of being a member of the millennial generation and what success means to them. 

Our first millennial Blogger is Evyn Hewett, a recent graduate of San Diego State University.

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Your attitude determines your altitude

                                        ~ Zig Zigler

I have been drawing and painting since I was a child.

I always enjoyed taking an idea, combining it with some creativity, and turning it into an image on a piece of paper/canvas.  After 20 years of drawing, I’d like to think I’ve become fairly good at it. But by no means was I the most talented kid when I was in grade school.

Often you hear people speak about raw talent and how some were just born with it. This type of thinking dates all the way back to ancient mythology. Masters of their crafts were rumored to have "gifts from the Gods." You see this type of thinking especially with drawing. 

When I first began my quest to become an artist, I recall thinking, "I can’t do this... all I can draw is a stick figure!" 

I wondered how people could possibly draw an exact portrait of an actual person. All the minor details made it seem impossible to emulate. But I was passionate about learning the craft. 

I remember fondly that while still in elementary school, I literally begged my parents to take me to the art supply store so we could buy step-by-step drawing books.

Fortunately for me, my parents saw the passion I showed early on for art and not only took me to the art store but enrolled me in an afterschool arts and crafts class.  This was the perfect opportunity for me to improve my skills.

Our first art lesson was to draw our favorite thing and stand up to share it with the whole class.

As we went around the room, I watched as my classmates shared their drawings of dragons, lions, tigers and elaborate portraits of their parents or pets. Soon after I saw the first few drawings, I immediately realized these students were lightyears ahead of me in terms of artistic ability. 

I was so nervous when it was my turn to share. I stood up and showed the class a picture, a very poor attempt of a soccer ball. A wobbly circle, more egg shaped than round, with black and white octagons on it.  Not a pretty picture (no pun intended).

My first attempt at drawing was a disaster and I was so embarrassed that I wanted to make a mad dash from the classroom and never come back. 

Fortunately for me, my parents had already prepaid for a months’ worth of art classes so the following week I was forced to returned to class.

After my experience that first week, I was determined to learn as much as I could and practice what I already had learned. 

Several years after that epiphany moment, I realized that I had learned three valuable lessons from that art-class experience.

First, I needed to stop focusing on everyone else.

Personal growth, in my experience, comes from competing against ourselves painting1 and not necessarily others. By setting goals, stretching ourselves to learn new things, and practicing deliberately will yield the greatest results.

We need to identify our own weaknesses and work to make those weaknesses our strengths. We need to push ourselves to become the best person we can be... without worrying what our competition is doing.

Secondly, if we truly want to grow and become better at something, we need a knowledgeable teacher, mentor or Painting2coach to help provide us with the know-how it takes to continue learning. 

After the original art class was completed, I asked my parents to hire another teacher to help me learn more. Every Tuesday and Thursday after my homework was done; an art teacher came over to our house and helped me develop better drawing skills. Over time, the teachers changed so I could learn new skills from a variety of teaching styles.

Lastly, we need to put in the hours of practice. Learning new skills like art don’t come from reading a book. The painting3skills come from long hours of practicing. To really get good at something, we need to work hard over a long period of time.

Each month, I had the opportunity to go to an art supply store and purchase a new step-by-step drawing book. For the next month I studied it intently and continuously practiced what I had been instructed to do in the books.  Just reading the books themselves would not have improved my drawing skills... deliberate practice was the key to my success. 

All these lessons interwove and helped me develop constructive learning habits as an artist. I had put myself in an environment where I had the tools to succeed. 

After several years of learning and practicing, I started to notice that my skills were starting to get better.  I still had not achieved all of the goals that I had initially set for myself, but there was definite progress as I became more proficient at drawing.  All my hard work was starting to pay dividends.

Seeing how the process of goal-setting was working, I started applying this process to other portions of my life and noticed marked differences in my skills whether it was in sports, school or any other activities.

We have all heard the many examples where a less-than-average talent works exceptionally hard to overcome the odds to become great at their respective field. A person with average natural talents and a great work ethic and an endless thirst for knowledge can often surpass those individuals born with immense talents but squander those "God-given" talents with a subpar work ethic.

John Wooden, arguably one of the greatest coaches of all time, was never one of the best players on the court when he was playing.  He was slow and lacked athleticism.  

He should have been a failure when it came to the game of basketball, but he consistently worked harder than anyone on the court and learned everything he could about the techniques and strategies becoming a consummate student of the game of basketball. While playing at Purdue, he was named an all-American three times despite all of his physical limitations.

He took those same qualities that brought him success on the court and made them the cornerstones of his program at UCLA when he entered the ranks of coaching.

John Wooden began his coaching career at Dayton High School where it’s John Woodenrecord that first year was 6-11. This was the only time in his 41-year tenure that one of his teams played to a losing record. 

While at UCLA, the Bruins won their league title 19 times in 27 years including an incredible 10 NCAA Championships in a 12-year span.

Success is a result of hard work and practice. 

As a member of the generation known as millennials, I understand that the world has changed from that of earlier generations. 

Technology is threatening an upheaval of the way we all think and what we all do...

...yet it is still the time-less principals of knowledge, hard work and practice that will ultimately define our success in the future.

Thank you very much for your support of OptiFuse, where a hard working team is standing by ready to help customers reach their goals.

Evyn Hewett
Regional Sales Manager

Friday, October 16, 2015

The Power of Yes...

As a birthday present to myself... I’ve decided to take the week off...

Today our guest blogger is Billie Attaway, a previous contributor to the OptiFuse blog.

Billie and I go back many years while studying entrepreneurship at MIT.  Like myself, he is a lifelong learner and serial entrepreneur.

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It really doesn’t matter what it is for. Do you like being told NO? I can’t think of anyone who does. Yes-No

Our family members don’t like it, our co-workers, our friends, our customers, no one likes to hear the word NO. 

In most instances people do not like telling others NO. NO is one of the ultimate negative words.

Now don’t get me wrong there are legitimate times where NO is appropriate, especially when someone is being unfair or trying to take advantage of us.

Let me share my personal experience with NO in one of my companies. 

Our telecom company grew 1,200% in six years and it was a ride! 

While talking with my Operations Manager one day, I heard the Customer Service Representatives (CSR’s) behind me talking with customers and end users. 

In that short conversation with my Operations Manager I overheard the NO word used three times.  For some reason it got my attention and I asked what was the basis for our CSR’s telling our customers NO?

Much to my dismay the reasons were legacy decisions we had made and not updated or rethought.  Here were, for the most part, good customers and end users that were being told NO without any real reason.  These people that were supporting our growth and referring business to us. 

The Managers and I met for a huddle a little later that afternoon and I asked them all to bring examples of why we told our customers NO. I then asked for educated guesses at how many times we had to tell our customers NO.  I was surprised to learn that on a 100 calls in a week as many as twenty callers were told NO. 

Now some of those calls were simply things we could not do, but many of those calls were things we could act upon.

After hearing the examples I asked them what it would cost if we just said YES, to fix the problem or to make the customer/end user happy.  After some discussion we discovered in almost every issue it would cost less than $100 and in most cases a much smaller amount to solve these issues. 

Added to this cost was the CSR’s having to explain why the answer was NO and in some instances the dreaded "It’s Company Policy" was used.

I have to admit inwardly I was a little ashamed of myself for not catching this sooner. 

With the growth we were experiencing this is one area we had not updated.  We had a huddle meeting of CSR’s the next morning and I heard their thoughts and concerns. 

As soon as everyone had voiced their thoughts I made a decision on the spot that any employee of the company could use their judgment based on our core values and make a decision of up to $250 to make a customer/end user happy... questions asked!

Just document the credit or consideration and forward a note to the controller as to what happened and why. 

The change was amazing. 

The CSR’s all smiled and said I had just made their job easier and were all happier that they were empowered to make the customers happy.

The customers and end users were happier and this happiness (now don’t go singing Kum ba yah on me) was reflected in other parts of the company as well.  

This change did several things:
  1. It added raving fans to our customer base, which made it easier to get referrals and add more clients.
  2. It added profitability to our company as we grew from $6,000,000 in sales to $9,000,000 in sales in one year.
  3. It freed up one of the constraints that allowed us to grow without adding more CSR’s.
All of this flowed through the organization and when the company was sold these increases in profits and savings earned a 7.5 times multiple of EBITDA.  All of which added substantially to the monies flowing to the shareholders of the company (most of which were the employees)! 

A very nice ROI!

So what can you do in your company to empower your employees and get them to tell your customers YES?

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Billie Attaway has built and sold many businesses.  He was named the Entrepreneur of the Year by Ernst &You once for one business, a finalist a separate time for another business and placed on the Inc. 500 twice.  He is currently a Business Coach, Top Grading Authorized Agent, and a Gazelles Mastering the Rockefeller Habits teacher and lives in Charleston SC.

Friday, October 9, 2015

God Does Not Hate You...

"As I’ve stated so many times before...God doesn’t play dice with the universe"

                                       ~ Albert Einstein

Over the past few weeks, I have found myself sleeping in a hotel bed far more often than my own bed while gallivanting about the country.

Not that I’m complaining...

I take full responsibility for the design of my own life... if I didn’t want to be away from home... I simply would opt to stay put.

However, staying put is simply not in my very nature. 

Like so many other people in this world, I am an explorer, wanderer, Delayedand an adventurer.  I truly enjoy meeting new people, spending time with old friends, and seeing places generally reserved for magazines and post cards.

As a frequent traveler, I often find that things on the road are not quite as comfortable or convenient for me as perhaps I might have found at home.

As it so happens, I recently found myself drenched in a few thunderstorms where raindrops were as big as marbles, stranded in an airport when my connecting flight was cancelled due to mechanical failures, and subjugated to the wails of a newborn baby from the seat behind mine (now a middle seat juxtaposed between two large men) on my rescheduled flight.

While these occurrences are somewhat unfortunate and quite annoying to me at the time, I have slowly come to realize that certain events are simply unforeseen and unavoidable.

Weather, in the short-term at least, is truly an act of God.  There is snow, sleet, rain, lightning, hail, tornadoes, sweltering heat and bitter cold happening somewhere on this earth at all times, every day.

There is nothing I or anyone else can do to accurately predict or control our exterior environs.  Weather happens.

Yet, there are a seemingly large majority of people whose outward disposition is predicated by the current climate.

As mentioned above, I recently found myself under siege by a thunderstorm making its way across the sky.  I was not alone during this attack, as several of my fellow citizens were forced to take refuge under the same storefront awning to avoid a soaking.

While waiting for the cloudburst to cease, I listened to my fellow citizens rant and rave how this storm had so inconvenienced them. By the tone of their voice, they somehow believe that God has singled them out for individual punishment not unlike the trials and tribulations suffered by Job during biblical times. 

These were important people who had things to do and places to go.  This downpour was a great inconvenience to them.

The reality is that some water fell from the sky in the same way it has since the beginning of time.

As I stood there silently listening to their complaints, I couldn’t help but think that it wasn’t necessarily the rain or the delays that it caused, that upset them so... it was the fact that the situation at hand was simply outside of their immediate control.

Somewhere along the way in life we’ve been taught that if we do something there will be a predictable result.

The Latin term for this type of transactional event is referred to as "Quid Pro Quo"... literally translated as... "This For That".

Sir Isaac Newton took this concept to a new level when he formulated the laws of motion. He taught us that for every action, there is a definable and predictable reaction to the original action.

If we insert enough coins into a vending machine and press a button, a product will be dispensed.

If we place our hand on a hot stove, our hand will be burned.

If we go to college and complete a degree in computer science, then there will be several companies offering us a job upon graduation.

Certain people find great comfort in the idea of a scientific response of action and reaction, do something, and get a predictable result.

Now imagine those same people doing something and getting a completely different result...

These are the people who booked their flight months in advance... arrived at the airport early... only to discover that their flight had been canceled.  They seemingly did the right thing... but yet they somehow got a bad result.

Such is life... it happens all the time... bad things happen to good people...

There was an interesting experiment that I once participated in...

Inside a bag, there were 5 marbles which were identically shaped.  Four of the marbles were white and one was black.

Before drawing a marble from the bag, the participant was asked to choose the color of the marble that they would select.

Since there was a 4 to 1 chance of drawing a white marble from the bag, the proper declaration should be "white".  This is a good decision.

If the participant happened to select the one black marble, the decision was still good, the outcome, however, was bad.

If the black marble is placed back into the bag and the experiment is re-run and the black marble is once again selected, then a bad outcome occurred twice.  Doubly bad.

The black marble is once again returned to the bag.

Before the third pull, the participant now declares, based on the two previous pulls, that they will change their decision and select "black" as their choice.  This is a bad decision.  Yet when they draw a marble from the bag it is once again "black".

This was a good (fortunate) outcome to a bad decision.

With a good outcome from a bad decision and the fact that 3 black marbles had been selected in the previous 3 draws, the participant then continues to opt for "black" in subsequent draws... of course meeting the eventual fate of mathematical probability... losing 4 out of 5 times over the long haul...

The outcomes in the above experiments are based solely on probability... we can make a good decision or a bad decision and with each decision a good or bad result will follow.  In the end however, the result is completely out of our immediate control.

So why is it then that we personalize bad results when we know in our hearts that we made the right decision?

The bad results are many times just a matter of probability, a random act of God, or sheer misfortune.  It’s not personal.

Additional, why do we then start to make bad decisions based on a few random outcomes?

Just because I arrived at the airport early and found no lines at TSA and my flight was running 15 minutes late... doesn’t mean that in the future I should show up at the airport 20 minutes before my scheduled departure and still expect to make my plane.  That’s a bad decision based on a previous good outcome and if I continue this practice I will surely miss a future flight.

In the end, we can’t control outcomes.  That’s left to mathematics and God.

We can only control the decisions that we make and our reactions to the results that follow...

Thank you very much for your support of OptiFuse as we work to ensure that all of your outcomes with us are good ones.

Friday, October 2, 2015

A Brand New Season...

The secret of change is to focus all of your energy not fighting the old, but building the new.
                     ~ Socrates

A few Sunday’s ago, I met my friend Tom down at a local restaurant for lunch. 

Tom’s profession is that of a middle-school teacher; however his real talent lies in keen observation and then connecting what he sees around him into original thoughts and hypotheses.

While at the restaurant, it was hard not to be distracted by the dozen or so TV screens littered along the walls, footballeach showing a particular football game.

I’ve never known Tom to be a big football fan and I am completely indifferent as it pertains to the NFL, so when Tom told me that school and football had an interesting connection, I couldn’t wait to hear his thoughts.

Tom went on to describe where both school and football shared a unique concept in that they start anew each and every fall. 

"School and football are complete ’do overs’ each year... everything that happened last year doesn’t count going forward.  The slate is completely erased", Tom explained.

"If your team had a good year last year... then there may be some expectations of a repeat performance... but last year doesn’t count going into the new season. 

On the flip-side, if you did poorly last year, all previous sins are now forgotten and forgiven as you start out with a fresh new year in front of you."

I injected into our conversation that a few years ago, I heard Benjamin Zander, conductor of the Boston Philharmonic Symphony, give a talk about teaching young kids to play music. 

At the music conservatory where he also teaches, every child in attendance is tested and re-evaluated when the school year begins each fall.  The student is then placed in a particular level based on their current skills rather than chronological age (for music only, not core classes).
Once the student is assigned a particular level, they are assigned a grade of "A-plus".  Going forward, it’s then up to the individual student to maintain their A-plus by working to improve their skills throughout the year.   
Beyond sports and scholastics, I tried hard to think about other everyday situations where we are given an opportunity to take a "do over".

I often find that most things in our lives are fluid and continuous, meaning that although there may be a distinct beginning, there is no real end... it just goes on and on.

We wake up each morning in the same house, next to our same spouse, and then head off to work in our same job doing the same thing.

Most of what we do in life is about making small incremental adjustments rather than throwing everything out and completely starting over again.

Completely changing your life is a difficult thing to do for a variety of reasons: 
  • The fear of the unknown - it’s better to live in the misery of what you know rather than venture into the unknown.  These people live with the constant fear of "it could be worse".
  • Inertia - The scientific definition of inertia states that a body will remain at rest or in constant motion along a straight line unless it is acted upon by an external force.  Change is predicated by our willingness to do something.
  • Martyr Syndrome - We rather be the victim of our environment than to change our situation.  By being a victim, we abdicate control of our lives to someone else instead of taking full responsibility.
  • Rationalization - Each day we tell ourselves "rational lies" that help us to accept our current situation.  My life isn’t as bad as the next person... they’ve really got it bad... so I shouldn’t complain. 
It’s only after we somehow find a way to overcome our internal resistance do we finally decide to make a change.
Often, even if we do decide to make a change, the change is only incremental rather than monumental.

We trade the big house for a smaller one (or vice versa), however that the new home is simply on the other side of our familiar town...

We accept the new job but we are still doing essentially the same thing as we did at the old job, but now someone else is paying us...

We have a new spouse, yet there are new things that our spouse does to annoy us and things we’ll find faults with in our new "soulmate".

We may have changed certain elements of our lives... but at the end of the day we haven’t done anything to change ourselves, our attitudes and/or beliefs.

Unless we choose to make a conscience effort to change ourselves, we will continue down the same path as we’ve always gone and continue to be upset that the path leads us to the same spot as we were before we made the change.

While wholesale change is good in some instances, there is also a strong counter-argument that creating change for no apparent purpose or out of boredom can be a major setback to our well-being. 

A farmer wouldn’t necessarily pull up his crops after a few weeks just because the plants weren’t producing or because he was bored... he’d give the plants some time to mature and start producing results before making any changes.

I often wonder if much of the restructuring in corporate America occurs simply because the company’s leaders are devoid of any real ideas to create better results. 

Creating change for change’s sake is simply a ruse to create a diversion that takes away people’s attention from the lack of true results and helps to buy the leaders more time. 

There are definitely instances where riding out the storm is more prudent than making a quick change... leaping from the frying pan to the fire... or throwing the baby out with the bathwater (or whatever cliché you’d like to use)...

Although it might well work in sports or academia, perhaps it’s not necessarily a good thing to constantly be starting over from scratch and/or making wholesale changes just because we are simply bored.

To be or not to be... that is indeed the question... if we only had the right answer.

Thank you very much for your support of OptiFuse where we are in the game for the long-haul.