Stories Matter

A classic Mini Cooper once owned by Madonna is selling for $75K. But it doesn’t drive any differently than one for $15K. A modern Fender Stratocaster guitar made to look like a 1960’s model (they call it a relic) sells for three times more than a standard one. However it isn’t likely to make you a better musician. A hotel with “real” ghosts can charge 20% more. But the beds would feel the same if there weren’t any (ghosts). A welcome sign outside Hot Springs, Arkansas boasts “The Boyhood Home of Bill Clinton”. But there are a lot of other things to do.

Stories are important to us. They shape our worldview and determine how we feel. Look around you right now. Every physical element of the space has a story...some resonate with you more than others. Some remind you of another story, some create a story of the type of person who might have have made it, or the one that put it there. Some tell you a story of cheap, unimaginative or lack of enthusiasm...and make you feel uninterested, or even angry. Some tell you a story of craftsmanship, laborious design and attention to detail...and makes you curious and glad to be there. Of course, another person doesn’t see it that way. They find the vanilla one, the one you didn’t care for, much more interesting. The story was different for them. But there was a story. And it connected with them.

You have a story. Does it resonate with the people you seek to change? If not, can you change the story? Can you get Madonna to borrow it for a minute it? Or, perhaps you need to find new people? Or both.

The Wrapper Matters

Of course it’s not the most important thing. The content inside, the craftsmanship, artistry, service, the ingredients and how they are put together...the dance makes it remarkable.

But the building, the packaging, the sets a stage...creates an expectation of what might be. How much time did they put into it? Was design at all important? Does it lead me to be curios? Would we miss it if it were gone? Or is it just another box with different colors, a building without nuance, more vanilla when we already have so much.

Sure, the chocolate inside, the customer service, the click beyond the home page might be remarkable. But how were we to know? Craftsmanship at the front door matters too.

The Performance Business

No one goes to a U2 concert expecting anything less than their very best effort…maybe even the best one ever. It’s remarkable entertainers pull this off so often…pouring their heart into it, night after night. Same goes for dancers, magicians, actors and circus performers. The entertainment business is built on the rule that the final act, the one everyone sees must be remarkable. All of the work, practice, preparation, filing down takes place beforehand resulting in the best moment for the audience at a given point in time. Successful artists simply care more about the delight they seek to create than the hardship (and monotony) of getting there. And it’s expected.

Everyone should be an artist. Everyone should use emotional labor to cause delight for someone. And everyone should consider themselves in the performance business…every time they enter the stage and interact with someone. But we fall short…we don’t see ourselves as performers on stage. We see ourselves doing a job, going to class, or fulfilling family obligations. We do the work to get through our day, hoping to meet spec and check things off our to do list.

Imagine what the world would be like if everyone approached their job, class, interview, study group, or family time as a performance. Imagine the unexpected delight, the captivation, the excitement and the learning that might be created…if everyone made each performance the best one ever.

Is this tiring, hard and sometimes embarrassing? For sure. That’s the cost of performing at the edge and more importantly, creating new ones. But the world needs that. And it’s what your audience deserves.

Why Learn Excel?

To help you pass the class? To help you seem smarter to your boss? To help you make your parents happy?

What if? This is the true power of Excel and all of the other spreadsheet programs. VisiCalc and Lotus 1-2-3 were the predecessors and they changed the world of presenting the What If idea. Prior to spreadsheet software, most of these calculations were done manually on ledger paper. Changing any one value to see how it affected the outcome required a healthy amount of erasers, calculator tape and time. Anyone old enough to recall that drudgery immediately understands the revolution of this software. But in the end...the power was in the ability to create information from raw data (a presentable idea) and cause a fraction of the time.

Alas, Excel is merely a computerized created to make calculations more efficient. You can live without it for sure. But if you’re in the business of presenting ideas and creating change (and almost everyone is), it’s very likely a spreadsheet will make your life much, much easier.  One more’s a common worldview that proficiency with a spreadsheet means you're smarter. And this is a powerful advantage in gaining acceptance of an idea and making change. People trust smart people and are more likely to listen to what they have to say.

Learn and use Excel to change the world. Learn the =sum function to pass the test.

Why Some Teachers Fail

Teachers fail when they can’t get a student enrolled in the idea, not when they can’t get students to understand the concept and pass the exam. Too often teaching starts out with the what instead of the why. And even the Why gives people trouble. The real why is rarely immediate. The real why takes imagination, experience and isn’t easy to see...otherwise we wouldn’t need teachers. The real why has nuance and feeling...and it isn’t easy to test.

Great teachers create a vision and an outcome so compelling, students can’t wait to go there. Great teachers enroll their students in an idea first, then engage them to create a path to achieve the outcome. 

Turns out, when a person wants to go somewhere badly enough, they’ll find a way. Sometimes their own way, but they will get there.

Bonus: The same principles apply to Leadership. Managers know the plan and understand the prescribed steps necessary to achieve it. Their job is to follow the plan and do it with the least amount of resources possible...Do it exactly like this and you’ll be valued. The leader on the other hand uses imagination and vision to see an outcome people desire. Then they engage and challenge a group to get there.

The Interview and Unexpected Delight

These might be the most important interview questions which should be asked if you’re serious about a hospitality culture.

How have you made your guests and colleagues smile? How have you caused unexpected delight?

Because in the end…this is the promise you’ve made to everyone.

Read Email 2nd

It’s the official season of creating new goals, habits and self-improvement. Here’s one I adopted a few years back…read email 2nd.

Many people have a habit of reading email (Facebook or the newspaper if you’re old enough) as a first step to start off their day. The problem with consuming “news” first is that it steals your time. Time which could be better spent on creating something, leading change, learning or somehow moving things forward. There is virtually nothing that can’t wait another thirty minutes…unless you’ve overslept by two hours.

Imagine what you might accomplish if you reserved the first thirty minutes of your day for creation vs. consumption. You might become a better writer, marketer or poet. You might finish that model ship. You might enjoy meaningful conversations with your children. You might do something far more important…first.

Try it for thirty days straight (that’s what it will take to form a habit). If it doesn’t change your life for the better, go back to Gmail.

Happy New Year!

Earning More...the Value of Leadership

You can earn more by doing more and faster while meeting spec. The industrial era created value through higher productivity. The fallacy of this approach for the worker is it will only lead them so far…until someone else or some other more productive method replaces them. The other option for higher pay is based on risk and being accountable when things don’t go well…leadership.

Taking responsibility deserves a premium. The pressure of leading change and being accountable requires special skills, no matter if it’s for a team of three or four thousand. The value of the outcome and the risk associated with the journey should be the basis of the payment, not the authority to tell others what to do. 

A Leader's Job Description

  1. Create a culture of remarkable work…in the organization, in the department or the team. Treat each product, craft or service as an opportunity to create a legacy.
  2. Protect the group’s core values (the culture) by choosing team members wisely.
  3. Lead the charge of solving interesting problems as they arise and teach others to do the same.

Price and Trust

The two pricing strategies in their most simple forms…

Charge the highest price a large enough group will pay to maximize return.

Charge the lowest price we can afford to build life-long, loyal, raving fans.

One is based on trust and growing a fan base. The other on extracting the most from a fixed group.

Either will work for a while financially. But only one is designed to cause delight and earn trust…for a person to reflect on the sale, “Wow, I would have paid more for that”.

Underneath the market research and margin analysis, it’s an either/or philosophy. And you can only pick one…choose wisely.

Some Thoughts on Leadership

Leadership- to create a culture of causing delight and change (improvement)

Why Lead?- What would be missed if you were gone? What do you hope to change? Who will you enroll to go with you? What is your legacy?


  • Take responsibility- This might not work
  • Establish a hospitality and change oriented culture
  • Are highly intuitive. They notice things (that need to be changed). And can see an outcome which will cause delight.
  • Care enough to try something that might not work.
  • Recognize they can’t do it alone.

Leaders are people who inspire and enroll others on their journey. They are...

  • Artists- Not all artists are great leaders. But all leaders are artists. They are emotionally engaged in their work...beyond the transaction.
  • Craftsmen- they create something (from nothing) and take responsibility for things that might not work.
  • Improvisors- they seek the discomfort of handling the unexpected and enjoy the exchanges along an unknown path.
  • Innkeepers- they are in the hospitality business...causing delight through pleasant surprises and serving others in a meaningful way.

A List of Things That Didn't Work

We all have this list…the things we were so enrolled in at the time that we took the leap. And then we stopped. Perhaps we ran out of money, out of time, out of patience. Or perhaps we didn’t find others to come along. Or maybe we found a new, more meaningful idea to pursue.

The important point is that work was begun…a new idea was considered. Without this attitude, this choice, change does not happen and nothing improves. Thankfully, people try things. And occasionally a meaningful change occurs…something to be thankful for.

Today is good day to reflect on all of the meaningful work you’ve done…even if you haven’t finished it yet. And perhaps more importantly be sure to thank others for their efforts as well.

Happy Thanksgiving 

Create vs. Consume

Change happens when we create...when new things get done.  We have more tools than ever before to connect, invent, solve problems and learn. Yet change is often left to the few, the more educated, the more powerful and those with better jobs. Simultaneously, consumption and the resulting distractions are at an all-time high. What was once reserved for TV hour at the end of the day has morphed into a constant and immediate flow of noise. Entertainment is fine, actually necessary, to keep the mind fresh…and to make life fun. But the consumption creep we are experiencing is a bad trajectory. People are learning less, making less and doing less at the expense of being entertained and informed. Too bad there’s so little signal…and so much noise. 

If you’re not busy creating something original, making something (that might not work) and leading change you’re wasting a wonderful chance…and we need you. 

Go create…and leave the consumption to those other people.

Why Learn About Prepositions?

To get good grades?

To pass a test?

Not really…to spread ideas and create change.

The ability to effectively communicate orally and in writing gives you a significant advantage in being heard, trusted and invited into the conversation. There is plenty of meaningful work, creation and invention coming from people who aren’t proficient communicators. But imagine what the world might look like if their ideas spread…if the stage was larger. Imagine how they might inspire and teach others to do the same. Turns out being seen as smart has more to do with moving the idea along than creating the idea in the first place. Make no mistake, competency is a powerful world view.   

Choose yourself for a spot on the stage where you can make change happen. Learn to communicate well...practice a lot.


...isn’t something that is done to you. It’s something you do for yourself. After about the 8th grade it’s a choice. The only requirements for learning are an open mind and pride…an attitude of improving self worth. That’s why we were all so good at it when we were three. We hadn’t created all of the other barriers yet.

Some Thoughts on Meetings

Meetings are very expensive mostly due to the time commitment from the participants. So in order to be respectful, it’s imperative to carefully determine if you should ask people to prioritize this meeting above something else.

Definition- for the purposes of the following suggestions a meeting occurs when two or more people set aside time to interact directly with one another (in person, on line or telephone).


There are only two reasons to have meetings:

1. to receive immediate input from another person or group about a compelling idea

Creative session- no defined boundaries or established outcomes…just idea flow

Urgent Group Decision Making- A sprint style gathering to provide mission critical information and obtaining immediate feedback which will affect the outcome of the mission.

2. to create change through teaching and inspiration (Presentation)

Otherwise, you probably don’t need a meeting. The information can be shared (and input collected) more efficiently in other ways.

If you decide to have a meeting, consider making these declarations...

  1. On Time Start- Arrive 5 minutes early or don’t come.
  2. Preparation- Have an agenda with clear, time defined topics. Attach any background information which requires feedback or needs to be reviewed in order to make a decision. Everyone commits to enough preparation so ideas can be presented succinctly (strive for 30 seconds or less). Any ideas that require analysis or review of more than one minute must be shared in advance (define a standard for how far in advance).
  3. Sprint- Come prepared to sprint, not to relax. Consider standing up. and remove all distractions (phones, text, email, etc.). Think of the meeting as really hard work.

If people leave the meeting looking forward to the next one…you know you have a successful meeting. Otherwise, you need to change the content or style…or eliminate the meeting altogether. If you eliminate a meeting and no one misses it or the mission doesn’t suffer…it was a good call.

School Should Be For...

  • creating generosity and making change.
  • developing leaders who know how to solve interesting problems…to change something for the better.
  • inspiring people to be generous, to connect with and to serve others

School should not be for…

  • memorizing the Bill of Rights
  • getting a really good ACT score
  • creating the facade that a degree entitles you to a great job or higher salary
  • developing a famous athletics program

If the activity, curriculum or program doesn’t directly facilitate the development of generous leaders who can solve interesting problems and affect change…it should probably be changed or removed. 

What does success look like…

If there’s not a waiting list (or at least a demonstrated desire) to enroll in the journey, i.e., the class, with a teacher or the school…there’s work to be done. If it’s not being talked about…change it. Start by asking…What is the for? And for Whom?

The World Needs You change it.

The human condition is a gift. The chance to be creative, imaginative, angry, persistent and happy should not be wasted or lost in a life of meaningless wandering. Rather each of us has the opportunity and the power to change make a dent in the universe. But most people settle in because they take "changing the world” too literally. They believe that short of a Nobel prize the effort is wasted…better to leave to someone else...someone smarter, more powerful, wealthy or more creative. The truth is that all big, world stage, changes start small with someone taking a leap and acting on an idea. And almost every time these little steps are not calculated to end up as world changers…at least not the entire world. They begin as adjustments on a much smaller stage, the neighborhood, the school or department. Eventually some of these small steps get traction and spread to a bigger stage. But many don’t…and that’s okay. One smile is as meaningful as a million. 

So go ahead…make a ruckus in your slice of the world. Who knows what will happen next.

I Players

They are the opposite of team players.

  • They…
  • see themselves differently than everyone else
  • focus on the transaction that benefits them
  • are entitled by tenure or expertise in a specific task
  • have tunnel vision- can’t see beyond themselves and their transactions
  • believe they are indispensable

What would be missed if they were gone...beyond their specific task, beyond the transaction? Would the culture change?

Are they placeholders for a potential upgrade to someone who cares about the greater good, the whole organism.

If you care about culture, the fulfillment of team and individual dreams and about happiness you must avoid I players. And this is precisely why you should hire on attitude, approach and caring about more than yourself.