Sunday, April 15, 2007

Do the best that you can, ALWAYS!

The glorification of the slacker mentality in the 1990’s was one of the greatest disservices Hollywood ever put on the public. Yes, it may look cool. Yes, it may look good not exerting much effort or trying to achieve anything, but the truth is far different. Those who don’t do their best hurt themselves, and will pay a price for it.

In reality, we all should do the best we can, always! It’s not always easy. Sometimes we make mistakes. Sometimes we begin, rationalize reasons that we can’t succeed and quit. Other times we try and fail.

It’s easy to quit. It’s easy to put a “get by” effort into something. It is much more challenging to push yourself to the limit and beyond of your capability.

When Teddy Roosevelt was leading the troops in Cuba, they complained about not having the resources they wanted to accomplish their mission. He challenged them to, “Do what you can, where you’re at, with what you have.” His leadership changed lives.

During the darkest days of World War II, more civilians were being killed in Britain than British soldiers in the field. The rest of Europe had fallen, and the U.S. had not yet joined the Allies. Sir Winston Churchill lifted the morale of the people repeatedly in his speeches to the country. His charge to, “Never quit, never quit, never quit, never quit, never, never, never, never, quit”, provided the inspiration to hold the country together until help could arrive. The result changed history.

During Apollo 13’s mission to the moon, a tragedy happened in space. For days, hundreds of people worked to find a way to successfully return the crew to earth when logic said that it was impossible. Mission director, Gene Kranz, emphatically stated to his mentally and exhausted team that, “Failure is NOT an option.” When anyone expressed that something couldn’t be done, they were driven to think creatively and make it happen. Again, an individual doing the best he could inspired others to do better than they thought that they could. The result was miraculous.

In most efforts, there is always something else we can do to improve our effort. We should never leave anything that we can do to improve our performance undone. The pain of regret one has after realizing that he could have succeeded with just a little more effort is one of the most painful experiences of all.

Even if a situation looks hopeless or impossible, we should ALWAYS do the best that we can. Who knows when that extra effort may result in an extraordinary result?

© 2007 Richard V. Battle

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Play it as it lies

Golf is a game that is simple in concept, but more difficult in execution. Hit a small ball the least number of times into a hole in the ground eighteen times. In some ways, playing golf can be similar to life itself.

As developed long ago in Scotland, one of the unyielding rules is that once you hit the ball to start a hole you may not touch it until it reaches the green. The exception is if the ball is lost or in an unplayable lie, which requires the player to count a penalty stroke.

The famous story of pro baseball players and pro golfers discussing who played the more difficult sport illustrated the game’s relentless rules. The baseball players chided the golfers because they hit a rapidly approaching ball that moves in various directions. The golfer’s non-chalantly replied that the baseball players were correct, but that the golfers had to play their foul balls. Case closed.

Some time since the game began players have added two variations, which relax the rules and make playing the game easier. The first is known as the mulligan and allows the player to hit a second shot if the first one is unsatisfactory. Analogous to the popular “do-over” today, players are able to avoid a penalty for their mistake and feel better about the level of their play.

The second modification is to permit a player to “bump” the ball on the ground in order to create a more favorable lie to strike their next shot. Although some players stretch the definition of a bump to their advantage, merely touching the ball at all creates an advantage.

I’ve played golf strictly by the rules, and have utilized the two techniques above. As you might guess, my golf scores are better when the match allows me to bend the rules as discussed.

Life can be like the rules of a game like golf. The rules are written for all to play by and are communicated in order to forewarn the players of how to play and the consequences of violating the rules.

We all make mistakes in life, which is like hitting a poor golf shot. Sometimes, life deals us a second chance or a mulligan, and hopefully we hit a better second shot. However, sometimes we have to take the penalty stroke and add it to our score card without relief. No one would argue the pain that comes with a penalty.

Similarly, in some matches the players agree to allow each other to bump the ball while it is in play and the game is easier for all. Unfortunately, in life it is rare that we can modify the rules dealing with our families, relationships or work in order to get a more favorable lie before we continue play.

In 2006, a group of high school students were told that if they left class to protest what they viewed as a social issue, that they would be denied admittance to their prom. The students marched anyway and then were faced with the promised discipline. They and their families were so incredulous that they sued in order to re-gain a favorable lie. They were denied and learned a difficult lesson. Their disbelief that a penalty would follow their disobedience of authority told me that they had lived their entire lives up through high school by bumping the ball and hitting mulligan’s every time they disobeyed a rule. They had never suffered a penalty previously or they would have taken the notice of one more seriously.

In life, we have to play each shot “as it lies” after our previous shot or action. We might receive an occasional mulligan or second shot, but we should always play it with appreciation instead of entitlement. If we do so, we will prepare ourselves more completely, play or live better and will suffer less disappointment when we aren’t allowed to bump the ball or take a mulligan.

© 2007 Richard V. Battle

Monday, March 19, 2007

Things Aren't Always as They Appear

“Believe nothing of what you hear and half of what you see” is an adage that was drummed into to me growing up. When I saw Forest Gump in 1995, I knew that I couldn’t believe the half of what I saw anymore without discerning if it were really true because of the ability to alter images via a computer.

In spite of experiencing the truth of this expression repeatedly, our human nature is to believe what we hear and see. In the 1930’s, people believed Hitler’s claims to desire peace because that is what they wanted to believe. Present day dictators issue similar statements desiring peace and have people believe them because that is what people hope will happen. Time will tell if it is true or not.

Contrary to what we hear and see, the truth is often times different. Appearances can be deceptive. Two examples illustrate this point.

First, several years ago I spoke at a Bankers conference. Each speaker was given a pen, which I immediately filed into my desk drawer because it didn’t appear special. Toward Christmas, I thought about giving it to a customer as a gift. One day while shopping at an office supply store, I observed the pen under a glass display case. I inquired about its cost believing it to be a few dollars. To my surprise, the Mont Blanc ballpoint cost more than $ 100. Needless to say, I began using the pen and affirmed the lesson about appearances.

Second, on a trip to Nassau in the Bahamas, we took a city tour. While approaching one of the two hilltop forts, which were built to protect the island in the 18th century, I thought that their appearance was odd, but familiar. The guide mentioned that the forts were designed to look like a ship. Since pirates normally attacked at night, the island’s defenders would hang lights in the fort, which made it appear like a vessel at night. The pirates would attack, and as they approached what appeared like a ship, they would crash on the island’s reefs. Then the defenders would storm out of the fort and defeat the pirates. Their deception worked so well that the forts never experienced an actual attack.

Businesses use deceptive appearances to their competitive advantage in many ways. Facades are created similar to the sets on a western movie. On the outside, everything looks substantial. But, behind each door is a vast emptiness. In other words, they are a mile wide and an inch deep.

Weak companies spend fortunes to appear strong in an effort to compete and survive or attract a buyer. To the unsuspecting buyer, they look like their competitors. Often times, the buyer doesn’t realize the difference until the company closes or is acquired by another business.

We need look no further than at our neighborhood electronics store for examples. An entire area of the store displays new generation televisions that look alike to us, which makes us focus on who has the lowest price. Because of the recent influx of new manufacturers, experience tells us that sooner rather than later many of the providers will be gone. The low price that we experienced during our purchase may be of little value if we need warranty repair and the company providing the warranty is no longer in business to honor it.

During the early part of the 20th century, there were more than 600 manufacturers of automobiles in the United States. While most of us don’t remember Hudson, Studebaker, Tucker or Stanley, they were among those companies.

Our hearts wish to believe what we see now, which is what many in the world want to convince us. In reality, we should trust our experience, which tells us that if wishes were horses, we would all be riders.

© 2007 Richard V. Battle

Monday, January 08, 2007

Change is Like an Ocean Wave

You can ride it to success or it will wash you away

It is interesting that we live in a world that changes yet humans generally dislike change. We live at a time where change has made life significantly easier for us, but we are nostalgic for the good old days. We take things for granted that our grandparents dreamed about and dream about things that they couldn’t comprehend.

Before you think I’ve gone too far, let me clarify that I’m talking about techniques, tools and tastes and not principles. Thomas Jefferson said it best, “In matters of principle, stand like a rock; in matters of taste, and swim with the current.”

Since we know that change is constant, why do we resist it so? We can be our own worst enemy when we stand in the door of an inevitable change and try to stop it. We can think we forestalled the discomfort of the change and maintained the comfort of our current situation, but others can see our actions for what they are.

I made a sales presentation of a product that changed technology from paper information delivery to an electronic system years ago to a woman business owner and a middle aged male manager. The owner seemed receptive to the concept that would significantly improve her business and just as interested to see how her department head would react to a dramatic change in processes.

His reply to the presentation, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks”, did not surprise me. He demonstrated no interest in changing his routine regardless of the benefit. I responded, “I thought that the only dog that couldn’t learn a new trick was a dead dog”! My sudden quip earned an affirming smile from the owner, but his reaction was markedly cooler.

Sometimes change is gradual and we have more time to adapt, and sometimes it can be sudden. Two examples of sudden change illustrate how we benefit in spite of our reluctance, and that examples can be cited throughout history and not just in the recent past.

When I was in college, computers were rare. Upon graduation, I obtained a list of all of the computer installations in Austin from the chamber of commerce, which fit on the front and half of the back of a legal sheet of paper. Only two installations were not government related. No one dreamed of a personal computer.

The best tool that an individual had for complicated mathematical calculations was a slide rule. When the personal calculator was introduced in the mid-1970’s, the death knell for widespread slide rule use was sounded. Once multi-function units appeared, slide rules were relegated to closets.

Growing up, I viewed an abacus as an ancient math tool. Today, people view the slide rule in the same way. To illustrate change, I’ll ask people in my presentations if there is anyone under 40 who knows what the slide rule that I display is? No one ever does and many look at it as if it were deposited on earth by an alien or as ancient as the abacus.

A simple example of rapid change that happened in the past occurred in the delivery of the mail. Before the completion of the transcontinental railroad, mail delivery from the east coast of the United States to the west coast took weeks.

The idea to speed delivery using a relay of horseback riders between St. Jo, Missouri to Sacramento, California reduced the time to a matter of just over a week. The service was an instant success. People rejoiced at the ability to receive information faster than previously.

And then, just as people got used to the idea of the Pony Express, it was gone. Eighteen months after it stormed onto the scene, it was replaced by the transcontinental telegraph, which delivered information even faster, cheaper and with less risk of loss of life.

The Pony Express company, riders, employees and customers had to rapidly adapt to begin new businesses, careers and use the “latest and greatest” mail delivery system. Those who did thrived; those who didn’t were left behind.

In order to succeed in life, we have to continually learn, anticipate change, recognize it at the earliest possible moment, and adapt in order to ride it like the wave in the surf. Failure to do so leaves us vulnerable to being left behind like those didn’t want the Pony Express to die.

© 2007 Richard V. Battle

Sunday, December 17, 2006

It's Never Too Late to Make a Difference!

I’m amazed at how our culture communicates two messages that negatively impact individual achievement and the contributions of those individuals to society. The truth is that we will determine our accomplishments although their full impact may not be made known during our lifetime. Let’s examine the two messages and several examples of individuals who succeeded because they didn’t succumb to them.

First, young people are targeted by relentless marketers with a message that if they haven’t achieved what their parents have in early adulthood that they have failed. The pressure to buy large homes, new cars and all of the material items necessary to achieve that lifestyle in a short period can cause a variety of challenges.

Second, past failures are used as a hammer to keep people from attempting further achievements. An example we often see is in political campaigns where a candidate’s past is scrutinized looking back twenty to thirty years where one incident is given as a reason that someone shouldn’t be elected. Often overlooked is that same individual’s exemplary behavior and consistent achievement in the many years after the one blemish.

The results are discarded dreams, lost opportunities and a future without the positive contributions of the person dissuaded from persevering. Who can calculate the negative impact of one person’s decision to give up prematurely?

Colonel Harlan Sanders, who founded Kentucky Fried Chicken, was modestly successful in business and experienced more than his share of failures as he reached his 65th birthday. While others his age slowed down and looked to pursuing relaxation and personal satisfaction, he pursued his dream of providing the finest fried chicken available. His vision and perseverance resulted in success beyond his wildest dreams and KFC still impacts countless people long after his lifetime.

Moses was around 80 years old and minding his own business in the desert when he was called to lead his people out of Egypt. Despite his reservations, he obeyed the commands given him. In spite of many obstacles from within and without, he led his people for 40 years and delivered them to the doorstep of their promised land.

Ronald Reagan was a long time Hollywood actor whose decision to turn his passion for America’s future into a career of public service late in life, changed the world. He became governor of California at 55 and was later inaugurated as the oldest person to become president at 69 years old. He surprised many by not only serving two full terms, but also continued to influence the world well into his 80’s. Regardless of one’s view of his politics, he was example of optimism and contributing his talents to others long past the time many of his peers retired.

We all face life one day at a time, and often it is challenging enough to do that. However, it would be premature to think that our opportunity to do something that will impact others has passed. While we may not start a successful business, become an acclaimed religious leader, or two-term President of the United States, we may have an unseen mission over the horizon if we’re prepared when it comes. In the meantime, it is imperative for us to live and learn to build the lifetime of experiences that will enable us to accomplish whatever lies in our future.

© 2006 Richard V. Battle

PS - Thank you your readership, kinds words and sharing this column with others this year. I would like to wish you and your a Merry Christmas, happiest of holiday seasons and a wonderful New Year!

See you in January!

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Avoiding Self Inflicted Wounds

We go, and go, and go. We rush, and rush, and rush trying to get everything done that we want to get done.

While we aim and work toward our goals, we face obstacles and distractions that threaten our success. It is easy to overlook the possibility that we can shoot ourselves in the foot and harm our own efforts with self-inflicted wounds as much as any outside threat.

How can this be so you ask? The answer is simple and seems so benign that it makes it a more vicious threat to our well being than if the enemy were more apparent.

It begins innocently, and if not cut off, can grow into a habit and then into our character. It takes a strong effort to eliminate it from our core behavior. Once others see us exhibiting this characteristic, it then takes an even a stronger effort to convince them that we have purged it in order to repair our reputation.

We all can find ourselves putting things off until a more convenient time. If exercised occasionally, little harm will occur. If we regularly delay completing our responsibilities, others will know us as a procrastinator.

My daughter began testing the pleasure of putting off responsibilities one day when I asked her to pick up her toys. “I will” she said, and began to pull out additional toys to play. It was only when she repeated her response to my next request to pick up her toys that I discovered what she was really doing.

Deciding to eliminate procrastination as a possible character trait in her, I was prepared the next time we had a task for her to do. “Please clean up your room, I asked.” “I will” she replied.

“I will is no substitute for I did” I replied. “Please, do it now.” She complied, and I reinforced how nice it was to have completed a dreaded task and to be free from doing it later.

I have managed many people over the years, and the procrastinators are the most difficult to lead and help achieve their peak performance. They always have an excuse for being late on every task to the point that I could write a book listing excuses. If they only realized that the only person that they were fooling with their excuses was themselves.

In addition, they are often perplexed when they aren’t given additional responsibilities. They are blinded to the fact that their tendency to procrastinate makes them less desirable for promotion. Finding a way to get the job done on a timely basis is a much more attractive characteristic to earn a promotion than always being late and having to be pushed to accomplish required job functions.

A friend who runs a business in Hollywood that caters to the entertainment industry tells me that it is difficult to get his employees to understand the importance of showing up on time for work. An individual’s delay can negatively impact an entire team, and if the team fails in delivering a quality experience to the customer the entire business can be threatened.

“Never put off until tomorrow, that which can be done today”, is just as applicable today as when it was first stated. It is amazing how much more productive we can be if we will complete something at the first opportunity instead of deferring it until a later time. A simple example of how we can improve effectiveness is in handling mail or e-mail correspondence. How simple it is to look at something once and process it instead of putting it off until later.

In leading a team, I used a phrase to inspire confidence and motivate action that stated, “I can, I will, I did.” As I explained, we must first develop the confidence that we can complete a job. Second, we must commit that we will complete the job without fail. Finally, if we follow through on the first two steps, we will realize the success of accomplishing our goals. Success breeds confidence that further success will be achieved.

If we can minimize the number of self-inflicted wounds that reduce or delay achieving our goals, we will realize substantially greater success. If we eliminate or reduce procrastinating in doing the things necessary for our success, we will reduce the number of self-inflicted wounds.

© 2006 Richard V. Battle

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Run Through the Tape

With the end of the year in sight, those who have been successful have a tendency to relax and enjoy the fruits of their labor. They feel that they can start up again at the start of the New Year, and want to be well rested.

That kind of thinking is dangerous for the individual and business. For once the exertion of effort necessary to be successful is withdrawn, it is never as easy to resume the activity or realize the same level of success. I have seen individuals; organizations and businesses suffer the consequences from this in spite of applying every known technique.

The primary analogy I want to use in order to explain this phenomenon is a track race. Regardless of distance, every race begins with a burst of energy and then the racers implement their individual strategies for winning. Often the person who takes the lead and sets the pace doesn’t end up winning the race.

At the finish line of every race a ribbon like tape is stretched across the track, approximately chest high. Every runner knows that whoever reaches the tape first is the victor.

What happens if the leading runner slows down to hit the tape first, but doesn’t plan on going past it? This results in another racer passing the leader because he doesn’t slow down his efforts until after he has run through the tape. The similarity in business is to the worker who slows down at the end of the year with the plan of renewing his effort at the beginning of the next year or race.

In track, every runner is coached to focus, concentrate and race all out until they have run through the tape. Only then, is it acceptable to slow down to determine if they were victorious. In the business world, the person who runs through the tape will not only succeed more in the current year, but position themselves better to begin the New Year on a path to success and reveal to management that they are an exceptional employee.

For those in sales, it is always more difficult to begin creating a new pipeline of prospective customers than it is to work an existing pipeline. Running through the tape provides that existing pipeline of prospects for the sales rep to successfully begin their New Year.

Even if you’re not in sales or in a business that directly reward production, the principle applies. As previously stated, but worthy of additional emphasis, the employee who maintains their successful habits, is a team player, and helps the business by running through the tape with their efforts all year long will be highly valued in any organization.

Whatever your endeavor, I encourage you to always give your best effort. Don’t let the habits of others deter you from focusing your energy on accomplishing your goal or dream. And, regardless of the adversity or setbacks you experience, NEVER QUIT until the tape has been broken and the race is won.

© 2006 Richard V. Battle