On the road again

“Stop worrying about the potholes in the road and enjoy the journey” – Babs Hoffman 

Hello everyone,  
My journey across America … I start my trip from Seattle to DC tomorrow. I’ll be heading down the coastal states and then across the lower half of the country, mostly on interstate 10, straight through Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and the rest of the southern states. Then I’ll swing up through the eastern parts of the Carolinas, Kentucky, and then West Virginia to DC. No, I am not running for president or participating in a political campaign or, for those of you who remember, following the Grateful Dead. 
I am starting on one of my cross-country BBQ drives. Back in the late 90s, I needed a break from work and thought … road trip! I love driving, I love BBQ, and I love hearing people’s stories. I’ve never met a Pit Master or an owner of a BBQ restaurant who didn’t have a story to tell. Since then I’ve traveled every road across America from east to west, and many of the north to south interstates as well. I think America is one of the most beautiful countries in the world and driving is one of the best ways to experience it, thank you, Dwight Eisenhower, for building the National Interstate System. 
Back in the day smartphones weren’t available, so I would find BBQ joints by asking local policemen or talking to people at truck stops. It’s a little easier today but still, the best places are hidden gems or up and coming restaurants that haven’t reached national acclaim. I’ve been to just about every famous BBQ restaurant you can name and yes, I have opinions on all of them. BBQ has become much more popular in the last 10 years which has only made these adventures more fun. 
I’ll answer a few common questions in advance … My favorite BBQ spot is Smitty’s Market in Lockhart, Texas and my favorite rib joint is Pappy’s in St. Louis, Missouri. My least favorite type of BBQ is the Eastern Texas Louisiana style, it tastes like candied meat. I’ve only had one true speeding ticket, but I’ve been pulled over more than a half dozen times for random “traffic infractions” otherwise known as, “I see a guy driving by himself in a car and he might be running drugs, let’s find out.” I get the combo platter and the sides just as often as the BBQ. I’ve driven cross country in as few as three days, and in as long as a couple of weeks. I try to make two stops per day, yes that’s a lot of BBQ but I’m tasting more than I’m eating. My record is six BBQ joints in one day – that wasn’t a great idea. 
I enjoy getting out of my bubble and meeting new people. As I said, everyone has a story to tell. The difference in life is the books you’ve read and the people you’ve met, and hopefully, I’ll meet some interesting people. Sometimes I get lonely and after a few days of driving, I find myself hungrier for a spirited discussion than for BBQ. I swap recipes and techniques when I can but that is easier said than done, Pit Masters are notoriously secretive. Nonetheless, I am super excited about this trip and I’m looking forward to another adventure. 
One thing I am adding to my trip this year is Tiki Bars. I love rum and the Tiki culture, so if you have any recommendations for either BBQ joints or Tiki Bars, please send them to me. 
This year I’ll be posting my pictures and thoughts about my trip on Instagram and Twitter. My account handle is @wonderingbuddha please follow me and forward my username to those you think might be interested. 
Let’s go be great! 

Relationship-Based Business

“Be at war with your vices, at peace with your neighbors, and let every new year find you a better man.” -Benjamin Franklin 

We are moving into our 10th year of being in business. It’s an exciting milestone and as I reflect on the last ten years; I am so proud of what we have accomplished. You are an important member of a team that is focused on providing groundbreaking, innovative, and meaningful consulting to our clients. We set out to improve the quality of the customer experience. We have lofty goals of making millions of people a little bit happier every day – our contribution to the world. 

We’ve learned that it doesn’t just require SDL Tridion skills, creative expertise or consulting skills, we’ve learned time and time again it takes great teamwork to achieve results for our clients. Teamwork is inclusive of our clients; our best accounts are the ones in which we become strategic partners with them. You can measure the health of a consulting company by examining the strength and quality of its relationships. 

When I think about goals for 2020, one is to improve our relationships, internally and externally. Go find a relationship that needs work and work on it. Make a difference in the little things and the big things. I always appreciated the saying… “people don’t care about how much you know until they know who much you care”. When I worked at Nordstrom, we sent thank-you notes to each of our customers, it was a little thing but a meaningful one. So, let’s show our clients and our co-workers how much we care.  
Let’s go be great! 

Ways to Improve Communication

“I urge you to please notice when you’re happy … and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is – Kurt Vonnegut 

Stop, Collaborate, and Listen.  

We chose happiness, we chose a positive frame of mind, we chose to see the best in one another… we have a choice. Sometimes those choices are hard. As intended or as perceived … it’s a central question in all human interactions. Which is the dominant frame of reference for you? When we perceive that a colleague has communicated or done something that is negative, do you react with vengeance or do you ask them what did you mean by that? Or why did you do that? 

How many times have you spoken with a colleague and they took what you said all wrong, not as you intended but quite the opposite? Think about that for a second, you made a well-intentioned comment, but the other person’s frame of reference caused them to hear your comment very differently… Happened to you before? It’s the basis of a lot of human conflict and comedy. Watching two people speaking past each other is the basis for many great dramas and comedy skits… “Who’s on first?” 
I have a few tips to share about how to improve the quality of your communication and hopefully reduce the number of times you find yourself in an unintended miscommunication.  
1. Assume the best in your colleagues, we are a company full of smart and happy people. If you start with this frame of reference the likelihood of miscommunication declines dramatically. 

2. “Seek first to understand before seeking to be understood” – Steven Covey. Ask why and listen, really listen to what your colleague intended to communicate. Often, conversations are really two people waiting for each other to finish so they can make their point. That’s not listening and rarely leads to resolution.  
3. Emails don’t convey tone very well. If you receive an email from one of your colleagues that triggers you, remember that it’s probably better to pick up the phone and apply tips 1 and 2. Sorting out miscommunications over email or worse yet exchanging hostile emails almost never has a good outcome.  
4. My mom always used to say if you respect someone, it means that you frequently re-look at your underlying assumptions about that person. For example, a colleague could be working hard to reply to emails quickly or be more attentive in meetings but because your underlying assumption is that they are always late, you won’t recognize they are working hard on making a change. Your frame of reference about your colleague is the lens that you’ll use to interpret their communication, make sure you’re up to date.   

5. A quote from Ruth Bader Ginsburg – “it helps sometimes to be a little deaf”. When being interviewed about her long and successful marriage, she said, “On the day I was married, my mother-in-law, took me aside and said she wanted to tell me what was the secret of a happy marriage.” Not every slight needs to be prosecuted or understood, oftentimes it’s better to let things slide and just choose to hear the best in what your colleague said to you.  
Remember all communication is a choice. A choice about what you communicate and a choice about how you interpret the communication. Choose happiness and to see the best in each other.  
Let’s go be great! 

The Power of a Smile…

Have you ever noticed that a smile from someone can just make your day?

When I was a phone operator at Nordstrom (I’ve had almost every job at Nordstrom), we used to talk about having a smile in your voice when you answered the phone. Have you ever noticed how much more approachable a friendly voice is rather than a grumpy tone? I personally want to talk to a happy person, don’t you? 

When I was a young manager at Nordstrom, I would walk the floor every morning and consider how to reorganize the floor to increase sales, merchandising based on the day, the weather or hot products, etc. One day my store manager walked up to me and said, “what’s wrong?” I was surprised… and she said, “you look angry.” I was not angry, just focused. I realized when I concentrate, when I’m focused, I don’t always smile because I’m thinking about things. It was a lesson learned for me and a reminder of the importance of smiling. 

In our business, as a consultant, our clients are looking to us to give them the ideas and the energy to change. To persevere through difficult transitions, to be open-minded about new approaches and new opportunities. No matter how compelling your argument, no matter how sound your reasons, absolutely nothing starts a conversation off better than a smile. So even when you’re busy, even when you’re concentrating and especially when you’re with a client, remember to smile. 

Have a smile on your face, a smile in your voice and use your smile to brighten someone’s day. 

Let’s go be great!

Accountability and Compassion

“You can waste your lives drawing lines. Or you can live your life crossing them.” 
Shonda Rhimes 

I’ve been thinking about these two concepts a lot lately. They are often in juxtaposition with respect to someone’s performance as a teammate or an employee. There are times when each of us falls short, misses the mark, or just lets their teammates down, it happens. The question that I wrestle with is why?  
I think the company is working really hard these days. We are winning business, onboarding new colleagues, and doing really great work for our clients. I think everyone should be really proud, we’ve focused on our clients and the teamwork is really impressive. I can’t count the number of very strong performances in recent weeks. It’s truly amazing and I am so proud of all of you. However, there have been some moments in the last few weeks when the team or individuals have faltered. In my case, no matter how well we execute, I can only see opportunities for improvement. But that is okay because I want each of you to be the best you can be at what you do.  
Hence, my concern about how do we hold one another accountable and also have compassion for the challenges someone may be facing. 
A few things for each of you to contemplate. You are responsible for holding each other accountable. The idea that “management” is the only party responsible for that is just silly. You are the management. We hired you because you’re Smart and Happy, which means I am expecting each of you to be leaders. You are expected to do great work and empowered to expect the same from one another. We are and will always be a flat organization because I believe that our success is based on great teamwork- not hierarchy.  
Teams need to effectively communicate; they need to be honest both in praise and in criticism. This is where the juxtaposition comes into play … the obligation is to communicate. If you see someone not living up to the Tahzoo standards, then say something. Don’t hold on it, don’t let resentment build, don’t tell stories… own it and say it. People know you care about them when you take the time to be honest and help make them better. You know someone doesn’t care about you when they just watch you fail.  
On the other hand, if you’re struggling, then say something, we are all here to support you. I say this all the time “never lose alone” and I mean it if you’re having a hard time call it out. What you can’t do is wait till someone offers constructive criticism and then unleash a torrent of excuses or an explanation about the problem you’re having. It’s not fair and in fact, how can we ever have a great team if when someone delivers a substandard performance, they can just provide an excuse. Each of you has an obligation to be real and transparent about what is going on for you.  
Think about this as a set of rules that we are going to run the company with…  
•    Everyone needs to be focused on delivering their best work at all times. 
•    We hold ourselves and each other accountable to that standard.  
•    We agree that if we are challenged in some way, we share that with our teammates so they can help.  
If we can focus on those three rules, our performance will improve, our teamwork will improve and we’ll find ourselves enjoying work because each of us is doing our best work, the hard work every day surrounded by teammates who are doing the same. This is the Tahzoo that I’ve envisioned, each of us finding our best selves by building a company that cares for one another and cares about our clients.  
Let’s go be great! 

Help, I need somebody!

“Help, I need somebody!”  

There are lots of books about holding people accountable, oftentimes these books focus on the clarity of the responsibilities, measurement, or structuring conversations that cut through the excuses. Yes, these are all important things to focus on. What I don’t like about many of these books is that accountability is more often a byproduct of great teamwork. 
*No one who is committed wants to let their teammates down.* 
So, let’s assume that you work with Smart and Happy people who are committed… but for some reason, they are struggling in their job. What should you do to help them? Here are a few things I’ve learned in my career that have helped me bridge the gaps in my teams: 

  1. I always try to put myself in the other person’s shoes. What is going on for them, what is their workload, what is the work that needs to get done and how does it fit with their skill set?  
  1. Is the issue a repeating problem or a pattern or is it a one off?  
  • If it’s a repeating pattern then is the issue systemic, a problem with the way the company is organized, or is it a deficiency in that person’s abilities?  
  • If it’s one-off, is there something going on in the person’s life that we all need to take into consideration? Are they sick, going through a personally hard time, etc.? 
  1. Are they open to having a discussion with me about the concern or do I need to involve someone else (maybe someone in leadership) to address the concern?  

I seek first to understand before I make any judgments. It’s easy to blame people and it’s easy to assign reasons for why they are not meeting expectations, but that is laziness and shows a lack of respect. 
My mom always used to say that if you respect someone, you’re actively examining your beliefs about that person and re-looking your underlying assumptions.  
Once I’ve taken the time to understand, then I take a hard look in the mirror and ask myself am I contributing to or causing the problem?  
Then teamwork should kick in… What can I do to help? Does this person need encouragement? Do they need additional resources? Do they have a personal issue that needs attention? Or in very few cases does this person need a corrective talk? 
If it’s something that is just really difficult for someone (we all have stuff we suck at (responding to email for me)) then how can we change the system to help that person be more successful? Anytime someone on your team is not performing or meeting expectations… it’s almost never an individual problem; it’s a way of working, a way of resourcing, or a way of supporting someone’s problem.  
Don’t be quick to anger, quick to blame, or worse yet- stand around and watch someone fail. We win together and we lose together. 
Be the kind of co-worker that makes everyone around you better. It’s why we have Kudos in the desk of Brad, our better selves should be expressed in the quality of our teamwork.  
Let’s go be great! 

Being a good consultant, like being a doctor

“Spring is the time of plans and projects.” 
-Leo Tolstoy 

My grandpa never met a stranger, he loved people and loved talking to them. My grandma used to say, “waking up, when his feet hit the floor his mouth started moving”. As a small boy when I spent time with them, we’d have coffee cake in the morning, and grandpa would talk and talk the entire time. My grandma trying to read the newspaper, growing frustrated would finally say, “Bernie, give your mouth a rest”. He’d be demurred for a few minutes and then start talking again.  
My grandma wanted to make her point a little more clearly one day hung a nicely carved plaque that said, “God gave you two ears and one mouth for a reason”. It was part of their routine and some of their playful banter that I experienced growing up.  
It left an impression on me about how to conduct myself. I love talking too, but I also enjoy learning and listening. It’s funny what you remember from growing up and how it shapes your life.  
However; this desk of Brad isn’t about my childhood memories. It’s about being good consultants and good advisors to our clients. 

As consultants, we talk way too much. We don’t ask enough questions and we aren’t taking the time to really get to know our customers and understand their problems. Yes, that is a pretty strong statement from me and may feel categorically unfair but it true.  
Over the last six months, I have been working with many of you in our accounts, involved in several workshops and new business pitches. I see these beautiful decks, I hear our smart thinking, our leading-edge solutions … it’s all great but we aren’t asking questions and when we do, they aren’t very precise.  
Being a good consultant is like being a good doctor. They need to figure out what is going on with the patient, what they are experiencing and where is the pain BEFORE they begin to diagnose the problem and solution. So, what does the doctor do? Ask a bunch of questions. There is a pattern to precision questioning, you start broadly and then drill into specifics.  
As you begin writing your next deliverable, preparing for a workshop, or creating a pitch deck, start with the questions that need to be answered. We are a collection of smart and happy people, no doubt we are hired for our expertise, but we are not educators or professors. We are consultants, we need to analyze the problem and then use our expertise and solutions to solve problems. If you can’t tie your work product to a well-articulated diagnosis, then you didn’t ask enough questions.  
Back to my grandpa for a moment, he was the best salesperson I’ve ever known and although he talked a lot, he asked a lot of questions. He used to say “interested, is interesting”. The reason he never met a stranger is that he took the time to get to know everyone. Let’s spend our time learning more about our customers and their challenges. No more preaching teaching and assuming we know the answers … A great consultant first and foremost, asks great questions.  
Let’s go be great! 

Beware of the Ides of March

“As we live, we can learn” – Ruth Bader Ginsburg  
Happy Birthday, RBG! 

“Beware of the ides of March” 

I am sure many of you remember this phrase from Shakespeare’s play, Julius Ceasar. First whispered by the Soothsayer, then falling into the dialogue between Brutus and Ceasar, finally, Ceasar dismisses the Soothsay as a dreamer and ignores the concern. In a moment of great foreshadowing by Shakespeare, the audience is warned of Ceasar’s peril. 

Today is the Ides of March (the 15th) and since it’s part of our cultural lexicon I thought I’d share some of my thoughts on the subject… 
I read a fascinating book a few years ago by Daniel Kahneman, Think Fast Think Slow, where he articulates how your brain naturally processes information in two different ways; quickly based on pattern recognition and training and slowly based on contemplation and absorption. Two examples would be reacting to the crack of a baseball bat and then deciding what college to attend. Our brains are powerful parallel processing engines that track vast amounts of information that don’t always reach the conscious mind. Did you ever wonder about the number of mathematical calculations that your brain makes when you throw a ball down the field to someone who is running away from you on a windy day?    
When you have an intuition about a situation or a person, how is that formed and what level of concern should you have? Great storytelling leaves clues for the audience to follow as the plot progresses. 
I wonder if in our lives we get clues, intuitions, or signs that we need to pay better attention too. Each of us has a perspective on divine providence, the fates or how randomness affects our lives, I won’t tip into a theological debate that’s for each of you to sort out. However, I am convinced that our brains are amazingly powerful tools, skilled at pattern recognition if, in a moment of mindfulness, you have an inkling, intuition, or an epiphany it might just be foreshadowing in your life.  
So, on March 15th or any other day, it comes to you “Beware of the Ides of March”.       
Let’s go be great! 

The Marketplace of Ideas

It takes all kinds of people. 
One of the things I enjoy most about Tahzoo is the diversity in thinking and talent within the company. We are truly a team of SMART and HAPPY people. Over the last few weeks, as we’ve onboarded new clients and projects, I’ve seen the best of our company has to offer. One of our most important company values is that we believe in the Marketplace of ideas.  
This means that each of us has an obligation, an imperative to listen to one another and absorb the great thinking that surrounds each of us. I am often asked what is the most challenging part of running Tahzoo? It’s creating space for all of the bright but very different minds within our company. We have engineers, creatives, strategists, mathematicians, writers, and analysts, imagine all the different perspectives that are brought to bear on our client’s problems?  
This also means that sometimes, well-intentioned, well-meaning teammates can have an entire point of view on how to solve a problem or approach a client solution. The point isn’t that the marketplace of ideas is supposed to sponsor conflict, quite the opposite the marketplace of ideas is that we hear one another with an open mind and work towards the best solution for the client. The only right solution is one in which the client’s business goals are achieved, not that your idea is adopted or that you’re proven right.  
It takes an entire team of skilled professionals to deliver solutions for our clients. Next time you find yourself advocating a position, take a moment to ask yourself if you’ve considered your teammates’ perspective, or rather spent your time trying to win an argument. We are all motivated talented people with a passion for our craft and our customers, let’s create space to hear one another and let the best idea be the boss.   
Let’s go be great! 

The Difference Between Average and Exceptional Experiences

“Don’t let the fear of losing be greater than the excitement of winning.” – Robert Kiyosaki 

We live in a time of change where the established patterns of consistency and sameness are being challenged. The new mediums of the web and social media are positioning everyone to contribute to the next big cause, the next cool band, the next great restaurant, or the next extraordinary customer experience firm. 
Good enough stopped being good enough a long time ago – So why not be great? Why not be worth talking about? Why not be exceptional
Average now equals mediocre  (i.e. not worth seeking out, not worth talking about, boring – you get the idea). Defending the image of an average is exhausting. Think about that… the difference between defending what you know is your best work versus something that is nothing special. 
We are in the business of helping people sort out the intersections between technology, marketing, and sales. We have important processes, tools, and talents to complete that task, and candidly we are good – but we can always push ourselves to be better. Do you know why our job is hard sometimes? We are in the business of helping our customers change. We are all agents of change… and people fear change. 
We need to help our customers deliver exceptional experiences. An experience that is worth writing about, talking about, and sharing. Average experience is the new mediocre; let’s help our customers be great
Let’s go be great!