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BrainI once attended a talk given by famous composer, Twyla Tharp. For those who don't know, she's also an outstanding author and I've used both her books in my graduate classes. At one point in her presentation, she called a college student up on stage and gave her a simple instruction: to sit on stage with her head down on her knees and no peaking. The young woman overthought it and kept peeking, believing something was going on she should know about, each time being chastised by Ms. Tharp. After about the third time, the frustrated choreographer simply stated:

"Once again, your education is getting in the way of your learning."

Out of an amazing speech, this phrase is the one that stuck with me. For one, it is typical Tharp (for anyone who has ever read her books), and two, it is exactly the criticism I have of much of modern education and why I teach the way I do. I would rather my students learn than be educated.

This month, HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS of graduates received diplomas, proving they have been educated. But NOW is when their learning begins. I received my undergrad degree around a quarter century ago, and I thought about the books I've read SINCE graduating... the ones NOT assigned by some professor but ones I'd picked up on my own.

So, graduates, here is your next reading. Your assignment is life; more specifically, using your life to make a positive mark on this twirling sphere. Here are the books (in no particular order) which have changed my life (note, you can just click on the title and the link will lead you to the book purchase):

Thank You For Arguing (Heinrichs): We live in a world of argument and disagreement. Now, more than ever, it pays to know how to argue INTELLIGENTLY. Heinrichs does an oustanding job of dissecting the art and science of rhetoric. Read this book and you will be light years beyond your future colleagues.

The Radical Leap Re-Energized (Farber): I've read and assigned many books on leadership over my career. I can honestly say, this is the ONLY book to motivate its readers to DO SOMETHING. Using an engaging story format, Farber cuts past the theoretical crap of leadership to its core. You will not be the same person after reading this book.

Dear Office Politics (James): You're all going to be embroiled in political games at work. You may as well learn to identify it and deal with it effectively. James manages the globally popular site, www.officepolitics.com and leverages the wisdom of her advisors to share workable strategies for handling the underbelly of cubicle-world.

Outliers (Gladwell): Virtually anything written by Malcolm Gladwell is worth reading, but this is his "magnum opus" primarily because it cuts to the heart of a concept every graduate should know and understand: cause and effect. If you can understand the true root causes of everything from greatness to disaster, you can harness that knowledge to do amazing things.

Simple (Siegel and Etzkorn): This is a newcomer (just released last month), but I fell in love with it immediately. Our world is overly complex. From government to healthcare to [insert your business here], we've added countless layers of complexity. This tome identifies the complexity, calls it out for what it is, and provides a simple three-pronged strategy for dealing with it. Simple is not easy, but if you want to add value to your new employer, graduates, this is a great way to do it.

The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs (Gallo): You WILL be giving presentations throughout the rest of your life. If you have serious hang-ups about speaking in front of an audience, get over it now. The late Steve Jobs is the undisputed master of effective presentations. Gallo dissects his presentation style and points the reader to countless YouTube videos to prove his point. If you're going to learn to speak well, this is the best resource I've seen.

Accomplishment Trifecta: Race Through The Forest, GUST, SWAT (Yours Truly): I've made a life and a brand out of accomplishment. I'd be remiss if I didn't include my own books in this mix (not because of more book sales, but simply wanting to share what I've learned). Knowing how to design, sell, and implement your accomplishments will be key to your success. In a world where "you're only as good as your last project," you'd better make darn sure your last project ISN'T your LAST project.

Certainly these are not the ONLY books I'd recommend you read. Walden by Thoreau, Seven Habits by Covey, Whack on the Side of the Head by von Oech, anything by the Heath brothers... all great reads. But if you truly want to get out of the starting gate head and shoulders above your peers, this is your starting point.

Life's A Fitch: A Lesson in the Birds and the Bees

Today, it is man against nature.

Nest_openerThis week, robins followed the number one rule of real estate (Location! Location! Location!) and believed the top of my garage door opener would be the optimal spot to go condo. The problem with their logic is I like my garage door opener in working order, and I do not want bird poop on my cars IN the garage. Hence, I shut the garage door when they were gone, checked to ensure no eggs had been laid, and promptly dismantled their home renovation project. And they came back. And I dismantled. And they came back. And I dismantled. They don't seem to be getting the fact I don't want them.

Concurrently, bees have been making a home near my daughters' swingset in the back yard. Now I'm well aware of the bee crisis, but with a swingset out of commission, my kids might do the unthinkable: stay indoors and bury their heads in electronic devices. Against my ecological best judgment, I went to Home Depot to purchase spray to evict the bees. The clerk seemed aghast I would consider doing such a thing. She suggested I contact a bee keeper to find the hive and eradicate the bees naturally.

"Do you have the name of a local bee keeper?" I asked.

"Well, no," was her response.

"If I give you my address, will you do the phone research and call around and find one and get them there tomorrow?" I countered.

"I can't do that, sir."

"I'll take the spray."

She shrugged as I grabbed two cans and skulked off toward the cash register.

To top off my week, I've been appalled by Abercrombie & Fitch's CEO Michael Jeffies' comments about marketing to skinny people only. As the father of two growing young women, I go out of my way to impress upon them that their identity is not about body image, and that beauty is more on the inside than the outside.

But then I started connecting the dots. Michael and I are both guilty of excluding a group who want to be part of our "club." The difference is, the birds and the bees operate under instinct; humans operate with feelings and emotions. And the birds and the bees don't have money to spend on rent; people have money to spend on clothing.

There will always be "target markets" in business. Conversely, there will always be "undesirable customers." We'll never be rid of the difficult client whose calls go unanswered and whose emails sit dormant because we just don't have the energy to deal with them. (Don't gasp; you know you do it, too.) The taboo "birds and bees" of business marketing is you NEVER specifically call out those you are excluding. In project management, we list our stakeholders, but we never say, "Oh, yeah, we're NOT doing this project for those bean counters and pencil pushers in Accounting." Your accomplishments will always get further in the positive. If your business is going to "reproduce," ignoring the birds and the bees will be a huge mistake. Acknowledge them. Deal with them. Give them alternatives. But (and I say this with experience of one who has now been chased by both birds and bees in one week) don't piss them off. I'm grateful Mother Nature doesn't have a Twitter account.

One solution would have been to pump that hideously toxic Abercrombie & Fitch "fragrance" all over the garage and the swingset, thereby killing the entire environment for a 50-mile radius.


The robins have now found an alternative spot on my property for their nest. They can stay there. And I'll probably call around for bee keepers next week, even though I don't have time. After all, I'd like to think I'm at least one step ahead of Michael Jeffries.

Hop On The Bus, Gus

Megabus_double_decker_frontviewOn my trip to Chicago last weekend, I decided to try something different for transportation. I'm not a fan of air travel for shorter distances, and driving seemed a ridiculous option since parking my car would have cost a prohibitive amount just to let it sit there for three days. My wife suggested I try the Megabus, and since the tickets were pretty inexpensive and it had free Wifi, I figured, "Why not?"

Because I could access my online community during the ride, I decided to have a little fun with the whole experiment, so I began a "log" of my travels on Facebook:

Hour one of my captivity on the Megabus. My captor is friendly enough and the other prisoners are empathetic. The cabin vibrates like a cheap motel room bed with a roll of quarters at the ready. Slow going. Must stay strong.

Hour three of captivity on the Megabus. Stopped in Iowa City to take on more prisoners... er... passengers. Now a VERY FULL bus.

Hour four on the Megabus: instead of taking the more streamlined I88 toll road, they are prolonging the experience for us. The college girl in front of me burst into unexplained maniacal laughter. The pressure must be getting to her, poor thing. They won't crack me that easily.

Hour five in my Megabus Purgatory: for the first time I truly feared for my life. I used the "facilities" in an experience best described as imagining one's toilet mounted on the chassis of a 72 Chevelle going 70 MPH with no shock absorbers There were illegible etchings on the mirror, no doubt the warnings of terror scrawled by the weak.

Entering hour #7 and the prisoners are restless. We've hit the snail traffic on I55 which plagues all equally. It is a cruel Chicago trick to be this close and yet so far. Must hang on to the end of my sentence... trip, I mean.

At first blush, someone from Megabus would probably cringe over this commentary; however, the discussion generated from my friends and colleagues was priceless. For some, they had never heard of the Megabus. For others, they knew my penchant for overexaggeration in these circumstances and enjoyed the humor.

The bottom line: I got people to START TALKING about the Megabus. Some even told me they'd never considered it before, and said they'd be willing to try it. Overall, the experience was pretty simple (especially compared to air travel) and, while a bit slower than driving, allowed me to get a lot of things done in six hours I couldn't have completed with both hands on the wheel.

My question to you in your quest to accomplish great things: what are YOU doing to compel people to START TALKING about your accomplishments? Positive or negative, the communication is important... to you and to them. But the trick is to motivate people to START TALKING. From there, you can manage the conversation, but there's nothing to manage if they don't start.

(On a very positive note about the customer service of Megabus, they responded to my Tweets very promptly. I was highly impressed, and I even downloaded the Megabus app to my mobile. I will definitely consider it for further Chicago travel.)

And for the record, my Facebook post on the way home:

I will behave on the Megabus. 
I will behave on the Megabus. 
I will behave on the Megabus. 
I will behave on the Megabus. 
I will behave on the Megabus.

SOBCon 2013

Sobcon2013I remember my very first SOBCon in Chicago. I went back at looked at my post from the day after. The magic is still there six years later (including sentiments from Steve Farber). Those who have gone most or all of the years in Chicago are all a little older... a little wiser... and a little more worn. We've all had personal and professional challenges to deal with since that first SOBCon. There were many fresh faces this year as well. New promise. New hope. New business needs. New friends.

Maybe I should back up a little for the less-informed among us. Yes, there's a little irreverent wordplay involved with SOB. It originated when Liz Strauss, the world's greatest community-building maven, began designating Successful Outstanding Bloggers. From there, it's evolved to Successful Online Business. When Liz and Terry promise an event where you will be surrounded by people who won't let you fail, they really mean it.

This time, I'm not going to be verbose and list every single speaker and every single sub-event. But here are a few of the main take-aways from the event:

  • Google is king. Get over it. If you're going to be an online business, you'd better get comfortable with things like Google Analytics and Google+. Yes, tools and search engines will come and go. There will always be new shiny toys. But for now, if you want people to find your business, you'd better bow to the Google throne.
  • Business is about service. Service to others. To customers. To employees. To suppliers. If you're not serving, you're not leading. In an era of attention-seeking antics, it's really not about you. Your ego doesn't mean jack squat to the person next to you.
  • Authenticity is the greatest form of value. Once you peal back all the layers of branding, the customer better find something real. If it's an act, they'll buy once and probably move on.

These seem so obvious, don't they? Well, so is a lot of business. Have we really created anything truly new in business principles in the past 30 years? We know how to do this stuff. But sometimes it's comforting to be surrounded by people who are really practicing it and who want to share the "how" of their success.

Liz and Terry, thank you from the bottom of my heart for another great event. I know this year, of all years, took a lot out of you both emotionally and physically. I'm so grateful for all of the friends I've made from SOBCons over the years. But for you two and your vision and leadership, I'm most grateful and indebted.

One more thing. Messages you're supposed to hear are funny sometimes... they tend to find you again and again whether you want them to or not. A message may take multiple forms before it penetrates your heart and your head. After hearing about authenticity and service all weekend, what would appear in my scripture reading this morning, but this:

3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. (Philippians 2:3-4 NIV)

I See Posers

As a consultant, it's not hard to find posers in the workplace.

"What's a poser?" you ask. Fair question. The term itself can be ambiguous.

At it's core, a poser is an individual who doesn't walk the talk. He wears the title of leader but doesn't actually lead. She holds a lot of meetings but never accomplishes much. He has the expensive Italian suit on the outside but inside is barely out of diapers. She uses a lot of buzzwords, but her voice drowns out her message.

You know who I'm talking about. We call them fakes, frauds, charlatans, imposters, quacks, pretenders, cheaters.

The next logical question is how do we combat the posers when we uncover them? It takes leadership. True leadership. Extreme leadership.

Radical_Leap_ReenergizedI've talked about Extreme Leadership before. Steve Farber, who coined the term, is the undisputed master Extreme Leadership. I've blogged about his books before. Over the years, I've had the privilege of getting to know him fairly well. And he's the real deal.

So what makes Extreme Leadership different from generic, run-of-the-mill leadership? Well, technically nothing. Except that we've watered down the term leadership so it has all the strength of non-brand Kool-Aid. Think about it. How many people do you know who claim to be leaders, but their view of leadership is scaring their "followers" into compliance?

And that's the core difference between posers and leaders: fear vs. love. Farber's Extreme Leader Mantra is "Do what you love in the service of those who love what you do." That one phrase completely reshaped my view of who I am and what I do. As a project manager, I'm no longer afraid to turn down client work for certain organizations in town. Why? Because they are so entrenched in fear, there's no room to love what they do, let alone what other people do.

Also, the Extreme Leader

  • Cultivates Love
  • Generates Energy
  • Inspires Audacity
  • Provides Proof

Each of these would take multiple blog posts to explain, but in many respects, they don't need explanation (or at least they shouldn't).

I want you to try some exercises for me over the next couple of days:

  1. Read the headlines of the newspaper, cover to cover. Look for stories where posers are generating news out of fear. Think about how an Extreme Leader could turn the situation around.
  2. Read the emails in your own inbox. How many of those emails are being driven by love vs. fear? How would an Extreme Leader respond to those emails?
  3. Think about YOUR daily interactions with friends, colleagues, and family. How often do YOU operate out of a base of fear instead of love? Are YOU the poser? (Wow, that's a tough one. The WORST poser is the one we see in the mirror.)

If the way things currently operate fatigue you, maybe it's time to take up Extreme Leadership. I'm leading a full-day workshop at Drake University next Friday. Space is very limited, but there are still spots left. Click here for more information and registration.

Hope to see you there!

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