February 2, 2009

The Advantage of the Box Top

Excerpts from my latest speech delivered on January 24, 2009 How many of you (by show of hands) have attempted to put together a jigsaw puzzle – you know, a 500 to 1,000 piece jigsaw puzzle? Whenever I ask this question almost every hand in the room goes up. I remember when I was a child. My mother and my brothers and I would go to the Woolworth’s – mom called it the five and dime – and we would pick out a jigsaw puzzle together. We would gather around the kitchen table and dump that box of pieces and spread them all out and turn them right side up. Then we would get to work. This was a special time for us. We laughed and joked a lot; we talked and we worked together to figure out that puzzle. Usually there was more puzzle than time and we would go to bed with a lot of work left to be done. During the following week we might pass that table and stick a piece in here or there or sort out like pieces and clump them together because they looked like they belonged together. It was a great, inexpensive source of both entertainment and bonding. We didn’t have a lot but we had a great time with what we had. This was a great learning experience for me and I thank my mother for providing both the experience and the invaluable lessons that this kind of family fun provided. Now, I have another question for you. How many of you (again, by show of hands) have attempted to put together a jigsaw puzzle – you know, a 500 plus piece puzzle – without the box top? Whenever I ask this question rarely does anyone raise a hand – generally the room falls silent and everyone looks around. Attempting to put together a large jigsaw puzzle is extremely complicated without the advantage of the box top. The box top shows you the picture of the finished product – the destination. It reveals to you the desired outcome. With the advantage of the box top you have a better chance of knowing where a certain piece may fit. Without the advantage of the box top it is often difficult to make great decisions. You experience more frustration and you might even tend to blow where the wind might take you. Most of the people that I meet are attempting to put together the equivalent of a 3 dimensional 1,000,000,000 piece jigsaw puzzle without the advantage of the box top. The jigsaw puzzle that I am referring to is life. And because the box top has not been crafted and articulated up front many do not know what to do with the pieces that come their way. They cannot recognize many of the critical elements that come into their lives because they just don’t know how to best use those elements. Many times the pieces that one needs to complete their personal jigsaw puzzle come into their lives and are not recognized because the final picture has not been determined in advance. In the case of that jigsaw puzzle one might pick up a green piece and not know whether it is the grass, part of a bush, a tree top or part of a green dress. The same thing happens in life. Sometimes a piece that is instrumental in getting you to your ultimate destination crosses your path and you are not quite sure how it fits because you have not taken the opportunity to put together your “box top” in advance. This critical piece might go ignored or set aside causing missteps and delay in achieving your ultimate goal. When you have your box top in front of you, you have a better understanding of where things fit when they show up. How many times do we go looking for that piece that showed up “at the wrong time” that we can no longer put our finger on? We may no longer have access to it because we were ill prepared for it when it arrived. That piece could be a person, an opportunity, a book, a tool or almost anything. If you have your box top in advance you have a better chance to know where the pieces that show up in your life fit in your ultimate puzzle. We have all met people that seem to have a greater vision for their ultimate destination in advance. These are the people that always seem “to have it all together” - the people who seem to always know exactly how to respond to things that come up in their lives. They can decipher useful information and opportunities in a meaningful way for themselves. They look like better leaders. Also those people are generally seen as more confident in most situations that arise - whether anticipated or not. The rest of us tend to be amazed at their ability to manage their life. The world recently witnessed a very public display of someone who had their box top well-articulated and digested. In our last presidential race we got the opportunity to witness one of the best run campaigns that has occurred in our lifetimes, and possibly in all of American history. Barack Obama had his desired destination laid out in such detail that, compared to the other candidates running for the highest office in this land, his message and direction far surpassed that of his opponents. He also was better prepared to respond to the shifting environment of the campaign because he did not have to continually shift positions in order to succeed at his objective. When new “pieces” showed up he could place them appropriately. He was able to maintain a consistent message even though there were curveballs thrown at him throughout the campaign. He was able to respond timely and appropriately to the many distractions, such as, the change in our economic climate and Reverend Wright without straying from the box top that he put together from the beginning. He set the tone for his campaign and his staff using his box top. My final question for you is, “are you attempting to put together the jigsaw puzzle that is your life without the advantage of the box top?” PS – Mom, I know you are reading this so I’d like to publicly thank you for this lesson and wish you a very Happy Birthday!

August 22, 2008

HD Leadership Requires FOCUS


We live in a world where somehow focus has become a bad word. Everyone is so proud of their ability to "multi-task" that we have all lost the ability to focus. And what makes it worse is that it is now an acceptable excuse for mistakes, "oh, I must have gotten that wrong because I was not focused on what I was doing."

This multi-tasking epidemic has invaded every aspect of our lives. For example, there is now Bloomberg TV where you can watch and listen to a "talking head", read the stock ticker and watch the news crawl all on one screen. If you are not into business ESPN does the same thing. We now have 200 plus television channels in our homes to bounce through whenever there is a brief lull. Successful music videos can only hold a shot for a maximum of .5 seconds or it is too slow to keep its audiences attention. We now eat our meals while we drive and talk on the phone while sending text messages and reading.

Now, I am not claiming superiority here because I am certainly guilty of most of the same things. However, we must admit the risks that come with a continuously multi-tasked life. There are more traffic accidents and more unnecessary mistakes in our work and homes. There are also increased bad decisions that tie to our impatience in acquiring the right information in order to make better decisions. I firmly believe that this practiced lack of focus has helped spur the epidemic levels of Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) among other ailments that we see too much of today.


I mentioned in the "Consequences" post that one of the stumbling blocks that will be incurred as you ascend up the HD Leadership Pyramism is that people may perceive your focus as arrogance or rudeness. Sometimes this is what focus looks like. I first acknowledged this concept when I was watching the 2006 U.S. Open (Tennis) Men's Final. Roger Federer defeated Andy Roddick in four sets. During a crucial point in which Federer was serving he reached his hand back and a towel girl gave him a towel. He used the towel to wipe his sweat from his racket and his face and without looking tossed the towel back in the girl's general direction. I initially thought, "wow, that was rude." I rewound the scene and watched it again and got my lesson. In order to be the best in the world at anything you have got to have a tremendous ability to focus.

Soon after that incident one of my employees was telling me a story about a friend of his who is a poker dealer in Las Vegas Poker. One day this friend was dealing at the private, high stakes poker table. Playing at his table this day was Michael Jordan and a couple of other high rollers. He informed me that his friend's perception was that Michael Jordan was rude and made no small talk and just played his hand. Again, Michael is a competitor. He did not get to be the best in the world at his craft by multi-tasking.

Finally, I used to own golf training facilities and one day had a discussion with a PGA pro whereas he told me the story of his brush with greatness. It was before an amateur tournament that he was competing in about 12 years ago. While on the putting green with the other amateurs he happened to walk by Tiger Woods who was also prepping for the tournament and simply said, "hey, Tiger, how's it going?" No response. Tiger simply ignored him. All this time the PGA pro is still holding onto something Tiger never even knew happened because Tiger was focused.

I use these examples from the world of sports because they are easy to envision and relate to. They are also people that we get to watch at work. Think about it. What other people work in a place where the general public will pay money to watch them do their jobs. You do see this ability to focus in other professions also, especially at the highest levels, for example, Public Speakers, Stage actors, Dancers, etc. Any of you who have been in a meeting with the highest levels of corporate professionals have witnessed this ability to focus. I would say it is a more critical skill to gain success than intelligence.

How many of us have seen the most intellectually gifted from our schools or educational programs turn out as less "successful" than expected. In my opinion, it is more difficult for an intelligent person to find his/her way in this world than a less intelligent person who decides early to focus, as in following in Mom or Dad's footsteps. With early displayed intelligence comes an overwhelming number of options. And since we do not do a great job of actually preparing children for success, the more intelligent of the brood tend to demonstrate capabilities at so many things that they may not have the "need" to focus. Whereas, the potentially average student, 2nd generation cop's kid might know from a very early age that he is going to be a police officer. The first child might end up a mid-management bureaucrat while the second one, chief of police. Imagine what all of the first college graduates in families must go through in navigating all the world's options.

So, we must DECIDE our direction. We must increase our ability to FOCUS on our objectives in order to get to where we want to BE. We must demand our own focus on our goals while operating in a "multi-tasking" world. Our High Definition Vision will be key to our success in this area. Later, I will discuss the role of your HD Vision in stimulating your reticular activating system (discussed later) and how it triggers your ability to FOCUS so you can achieve your objectives. I'll get back to that as we deep-dive into the VISIONING stage of the HD Leadership Pyramism.