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What Is Success?

Wednesday, June 7th, 2017

https://www.flickr.com/photos/planeta/5306860886/Yesterday we considered the idiocy of postponing your career in an effort to “find your passion.”

The popular attitude is that if you do something you are passionate about then it will lead to success.

Of course, that depends on how you define success.

Most people believe that if they are successful they will also be happy.

Coincidentlly, a large percentage of them have also bought into the current attitude that equates success with money.

So it comes as a major surprise to many who have achieved financial success to discover they still aren’t happy.

Rather than my opinions, I thought you would find these stories more enlightening.

First, an unhappy $150K a year millennial woman at 26 to happy single momhood and $50K five years later.

I realized that higher pay didn’t equate to a better job fit for me. I do know that at the end of the day, life is so much richer than the number on your tax form — and that’s a lesson that’s priceless.

Not that there is anything wrong with financial success.

Ed Schweitzer moved his company into the future decades ago and has already accomplished in terms of good jobs what Washington claims it’s going to do by turning back the clock.  

Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories, a manufacturer of sophisticated equipment for the global power industry based in Pullman, WA, solved its people problem internally.

While others outsource, Schweitzer goes DIY. While others establish a tightly focused definition of work history and skills they’re looking for, Schweitzer focuses on fundamentals: “I like to hire smart people with good values and strong fundamental education,” says founder Ed Schweitzer, who started the company in his basement 35 years ago. Today, it employs just over 5,000 and has revenue of nearly $1billion.

Schweitzer also set the company up as an ESOP, meaning it’s employee-owned.

Even in Silicon Valley, maximizing financial success isn’t everyone’s preferred road, like Craig Newmark — the Craig in Craig’s List.

“Basically I just decided on a different business model in ’99, nothing altruistic,” he said. “While Silicon Valley VCs and bankers were telling me I should become a billionaire, I decided no one needs to be a billionaire — you should know when enough is enough. So I decided on a minimal business model, and that’s worked out pretty well. This means I can give away tremendous amounts of money to the nonprofits I believe in … I wish I had charisma, hair, and a better sense of humor,” he added in a completely deadpan voice. “I think I could be far more effective.”

When enough is enough.

A quaint concept by today’s standards.

Read the stories.

Think about them.

Then create your own definition of success—what you want, not what you’re supposed to want.

Image credit: Ron Mader

Ryan’s Journal: Interview With Amy Blankson

Thursday, April 6th, 2017

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Amy Blankson, author of The Future of Happiness, 5 Modern Strategies for Balancing Productivity and Well-Being in the Digital Age.

Happiness may be the root of everything we seek out in life.

We want to be happy in our family, our job and any other aspect of our lives. In fact the US Declaration of Independence states that, “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness” are unalienable rights when declaring independence from Great Britain.

Happiness probably means a lot of things to a lot of people — to me it means satisfaction. 

However rates of depression, divorce and suicide are all on the rise. I am sure we can all think of someone in our own life that takes antidepressants to help them cope with their days.

This is all happening in the backdrop of some of the highest rates of wealth, longer life spans and access to greater technology than any generation before. Why is this?

Amy Blankson seeks to answer this question and others in her new book.

A little backdrop on Amy; she is passionate, kind and curious. If you google her you will find that she has a well regarded Ted talk, is an alum of both Harvard and Yale, and runs a company with her brother studying the topics raised in this book.

I had the opportunity to interview her for this post and it was a real pleasure speaking with her. Our conversation ranged from what her influences are to parenting tips in the modern age. We share some things in common; she has three daughters as I will soon, she resides in Texas near my family, and she continues to ask ‘why’ everyday.

The book begins with three burning questions in the digital era, where are we heading? Would we be better without tech? What will happiness look like?

Now, before you think this book is something that advocates that you forsake all worldly goods and begin churning butter in the countryside, it’s not that at all.

Amy recognizes that for many of us we are the first generation to transcend two eras. The analog, with house phones and encyclopedias, to the digital age, where we have a phone in our pocket that can access every book ever written in the history of the world.

We are all different ages but we can all look at the moment when technology enabled us to have every answer at our fingertips, but also the ability to never truly break away.

Amy addresses the fact that work days seem to never end, with email always a buzz away. High school friends who you probably have nothing in common with are still keeping you up to date with the latest post.

But at the same time the person you share your bed with may be further away as you are both absorbed in your own screens.

These are scenarios that we all have to deal with on a daily basis and need to learn how to manage them.

This book is not another lifestyle book that promises to change your life in 30 days or your money back.

What Amy has accomplished is doing all the homework for you. She utilized hundreds of apps, used numerous wearables and tried all sorts of methods to figure out the best way to manage all the tech that we are surrounded with.

She provides very practical steps on how to declutter our lives in simple ways. For example, do you have a pile of old laptops and cords lying around somewhere in your house? Mine are about three feet away from me, the laptops will never be used but I have old pics that I want. My solution is to just store them and have them take up space. Amy’s solution is to take those laptops in, retrieve the data and purge the hardware. This is a simple process and it clears your life. 

Do you ever feel overwhelmed with the technology that is surrounding you? In the spirit of transparency, I am in my early 30’s, I work for a technology company and I feel overwhelmed. I feel that I must read every day to keep up with what is new. This is not age specific, it affects all of us. Amy addresses this and clarifies how we can manage our time.

This book is more than a simple help, it’s like you are listening to your friend that you trust. Amy is kind, thoughtful and funny both in her writing and in person. On a personal note I learned a lot from my brief conversation with Amy. She is a mother of three daughters and it was great to glean some wisdom from her experiences raising them.

I walked into this book with no previous knowledge of Amy and was pleasantly surprised with the outcome. She does a great job of showcasing practical steps, analyzes the topics from the standpoint of a social scientist and maintains the curiosity of the eternally inquisitive. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who has thought that there must be a better way to live this life. 

I asked Amy what her one takeaway would be from someone who reads her book.

She said it would be that our life is our own and we can make our choices. We are in control and we should not let technology dictate or overwhelm us.

This book is for the young professional, the parent or the student who would like to set a firm foundation moving forward.

Amy’s book will go on sale April 11th, you can pre-order or find it at your local retailer.

Image credit: Amazon

Ryan’s Journal: How Does Culture Impact You?

Thursday, January 19th, 2017

http://www.flickr.com/photos/charliellewellin/3413568618/I was thinking throughout the week about culture again. Obviously, that is a theme, but I was thinking about it from a self-centered perspective. How does the culture of a company impact me personally? I am sure you have thought similarly in the past as you have dealt with different organizations in your day to day activities.

I read a book recently by Tony Hsieh, “Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion and Purpose.”  This book is written by Tony Hsieh, founder of Zappos, and highlights the growth of a fledging company that was eventually acquired by Amazon for nearly $900 MM.

I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to see how a radical pursuit of culture can drive a company to immense growth. Now I have not had the pleasure of meeting Tony personally, but just reading that book made me feel like I could speak to him on a first name basis if I met him on the street.

One takeaway I had from the book was the fact that Tony truly wanted his employees to feel happiness and joy while they were at work. He did and continues to do this in a variety of ways.

He hosts epic parties, they have a relaxed work environment and they pay people to quit during the on boarding process. That last part may seem a bit radical, but they basically offer on boarding employees the opportunity to take a severance package if they don’t feel like they are a good fit.

This has a two fold impact; it weeds out those who probably shouldn’t be there and it prompts those writing a blog to mention it in their blog.

Even though Zappos has been around for a while and I am technically a millennial, I had never purchased shoes from the website before. I tend to be a tactile guy who wants to hold something in my hands before I buy, so the concept seemed at odds with my buying style.

After I read the book I decided that I needed to at least try out the service and see what I thought. I chose some shoes that I have worn in the past (I don’t want to dive head first here) and placed my order. Typically you get delivery in two days so before I knew it I had a box on my doorstep. I eagerly opened my box, discarded the paper and put on the shoes… and they didn’t fit.

So at this point I have a conundrum, I never order online for this very reason. Well the book did mention that they offered free returns as a part of their culture and that they actually preferred for you to call, so they could speak directly with you.

Tony has a 24/7 operation where you can call and place orders, make returns and so on. I decided to follow this experiment to its natural conclusion and make the call. This is the opportunity to learn how Zappos’s culture would impact me personally.

I made the call and explained the issue of the shoes being a bit too large. The person I spoke with was nothing but kind. He talked about the weather and things that were going on in his neck of the woods, which happens to be Vegas.

He also placed an order for a smaller size to be sent, as well as a return label so I could ship the other shoes back for free. Now this may sound like standard fare, but the entire call was relaxed, personable and memorable.

Now I am by no means a frequent customer of Zappos, but I know I can rely on them for a quality experience and they are no longer this faceless entity swallowing up my money.

At the heart of it, that is culture’s impact on you and I. We interact everyday with companies and people and we have a takeaway from those interactions.

Sometimes its not a science, its a feeling.

Image credit: Charlie Llewellin

Brain Research: Be Grateful — Feel Happy

Wednesday, November 25th, 2015

While people consciously think about being grateful on Thanksgiving, they would be wise to be grateful all year long.

studies suggest that practicing gratitude is important for your health, happiness, relationships, and self-control.

Happify, the company that uses information from studies in positive psychology to make you feel happier, provides an infographic to guide you.

Have a wonderful, happy Thanksgiving being grateful for what you have.

And join us Friday to share Ajo Fod’s learning experience at the Lean Conference earlier this week for which he is very grateful.

Ducks in a Row: the True Source of Happiness

Tuesday, May 19th, 2015


It’s been proven that the happier the workers the higher the productivity and creativeness.

So what really makes people happy?

Lawyers provide a good example, in spite of all the jokes.

Researchers who surveyed 6,200 lawyers about their jobs and health found that the factors most frequently associated with success in the legal field, such as high income or a partner-track job at a prestigious firm, had almost zero correlation with happiness and well-being. However, lawyers in public-service jobs who made the least money, like public defenders or Legal Aid attorneys, were most likely to report being happy.

I wrote What People Want one week short of nine years ago and after rereading it see no reason to update it.

As research continually proves, the basic human operating system doesn’t really change.

Flickr image credit: tico_24

AO OnDemand 2014: Kevin Longa

Tuesday, June 10th, 2014

kg_charles-harrisAs I was entering AO OnDemand 2014 and moving toward the main conference auditorium, I ran into Kevin Longa, a young entrepreneur I had met two years ago at a Hackers & Founders meetup.  We got to talking and I found him very pleasant; having just graduated from UCLA he was on a search for what next he wanted to do.  Keving found that deciding on whether to join a startup, go traveling to experience more of his Asian roots (he’s mixed) or continue his education was challenging and in some ways confusing.

Well, whenever I meet young people at that stage in life I believe it’s important to impress upon them that taking some time up-front to experience life in other parts of the world and with other people than usual is often a good way to get perspective and get started on the next stage of life.  I believe it’s important to actually take some time to experience life, before being continually caught up in the hustle and bustle of one of the most stressful cultures on earth—American society.

To my surprise he listened attentively to my pontification and later embarked upon a long trip to Asia while also shooting a documentary series encompassing the four passions of his life – food, entrepreneurship, travel and film.  He has now reached the point where he is in post-production with some of the work he has created and is continuously adding to his body of work.  And above all—he seems happy.

Encountering him now, two years later, was a great experience for me.  After his travels he received a scholarship to Draper University where he further immersed himself in the art and craft of entrepreneurship.  His greatest takeaway was how to think about problem solving, team building, adversity and loneliness as an entrepreneur, rather than hard skills such as law, market research or accounting.

There is no doubt in my mind that Kevin will be successful.  He has an ability to learn and to adapt to new situations in a way that’s unusual for a lot of people.  In addition, he has that quality that is absolutely necessary in an entrepreneur: tenacity. 

I’ve seen so many get out of the game just as they were about to break through.  The level of determination and sacrifice necessary to succeed is rarely stressed enough, but anyone who has succeeded knows that success would often elude us, without “stick-to-itiveness” and an almost masochistic ability to increase commitment when others would judge it hopeless. 

This is true regardless of industry and calling—the cost of entrepreneurship is high and fraught with failure.  People like Kevin will succeed because he works tirelessly, learning and pushing forward even when things are difficult. 

Ducks in a Row: Engagement isn’t Rocket Science

Tuesday, November 30th, 2010

Every boss at every level yearns to unlock the key to engaging their employees in ways that boost productivity, juice creativity and innovation, improve retention and have positive impact on the bottom line.

To that end they hire consultants and coaches, attend seminars, read books and discuss it with their peers.

They speak of those who are successful with reverence and pay large sums to hear them speak.

And they hear the same thing over and over from every source.

It’s as simple as 1-2-3

  1. Be happy.
  2. Take care of your employees.
  3. Create a culture in which they grow and thrive.

Consider some of the 1-2-3 giants, Zappos, Southwest, Virgin; watch Inc’s slide show on creating great culture.

Look at any successful company, department or team, large or small, and you’ll find the same 1-2-3 ideas being put into action.

The rocket science all bosses seek is the same—engagement is a function of them, not you—which is exactly why so many of them have a hard time with it.

To paraphrase an ex President, it’s the people, stupid.

Flickr image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/zedbee/103147140/

Wordless Wednesday: Check Your Happiness Quotient

Wednesday, July 7th, 2010


Test your own Authentic Happiness courtesy of the University of Pennsylvania

Flickr image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/juhansonin/349197857/

Quotable Quotes: Mary Higgins Clark

Sunday, November 1st, 2009

Mary-Higgins-ClarkI just finished Mary Higgins Clark’s memoir. Hers is a name you see everywhere, books, TV movies and on the big screen. The memoir is a fast read, a fascinating peek into the world that shaped this master storyteller and some excellent insights on just plain living.

“When a child comes to you wanting to share something he or she has written of sketched, be generous with our praise. If it’s a written piece, don’t talk about the spelling or the penmanship; look for creativity and applaud it. The flame of inspiration needs to be encouraged. Put a glass around that small candle and protect it from discouragement or ridicule.

I wonder if any adult—parent or teacher—realizes that young people never forgive or forget being humiliated.”

This really hit home. In high school I took a creative writing class; one assignment was to write a short screenplay from which our teacher would choose a few to critique in class.

He started with the one he thought was best and proceeded through the others. Mine was among those chosen and he tore it to pieces, not professionally, but with sarcasm and zingers. He ended the critique by asking how any student could be so arrogant as to think that the writing had any value whatsoever.

Needless to say, the so-called anonymity was a joke and everyone knew who the authors were and my humiliation was extreme. It was 35 years before I creatively wrote again, but never stories—that desire was totally dead and buried.

Higgins Clark shares two old definitions of happiness that should resonate with everyone and if they don’t then you need to take a hard look at your values.

“If you want to be happy for a year, win the lottery. If you want to be happy for life, love what you do.” and “Something to have, someone to love, and something to hope for.”

Definitely food for thought as you start gearing up for the holidays.

Finally, following up thread I started Friday and have decided to continue tomorrow, “It is not always how we act, but how we react that tells the story of our lives.”

I hope you will join me tomorrow to see why, in many cases, coping is a far more productive activity than fixing, both at work and in life.

Your comments—priceless

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Image credit: Mark Coggins on flickr

Happy Culture Helps Weather Recession

Friday, September 18th, 2009

Southwest Airlines, like Zappos, has a corporate culture that is head and shoulders above most and is the envy of their competitors.

Southwest’s culture is so important that the company walked away from a deal to buy Frontier Air Lines.

It is that culture has helped Southwest weather the current financial storm and it zealously guards that culture because it knows it is the true foundation of its strength..

As Gary C. Kelly, Chairman, President and CEO, said in the during the Q2 Earnings Call,

“Excluding special items, we reported a second quarter profit of $59 million and that was $0.08 a share. And I would say given the deep recession that that is a very solid performance and, of course, I’m very proud of our people on every front. We continue to manage through the economic crisis with a lot of change and all the while our folks are delivering a very high-quality operation and outstanding customer service, so I’m very, very proud of them.”

The call was primarily with analysts, although many investors probably joined it, and the introduction included the following statement,

“This call will also include references to non-GAAP results; therefore, please see our earnings press release in the Investor Relations section of our website at Southwest.com for further information regarding our forward-looking statements and for a reconciliation of our non-GAAP results to our GAAP results.”

So if you’re Southwest and known for a fun culture, how do you incorporate that into something as eye-glazing as explaining GAAP, AKA Generally Accepted Accounting Principles, at your annual meeting?

Easily. You just ask David Holmes, known as the Rapping Flight Attendant, to explain it.

Your comments—priceless

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Image credit: NutsAboutSouthwest on YouTube

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