Training to be an Angel

I’ve always been training for something. It started early. My mother called it ‘potty” training. Today, the more progressive term is toilet training. Mom claimed it took me a long time. I was a slow learner. Not sure when I learned, but suspect it was when I decided it was preferable to use the “potty” rather than sit in wet and dirty diapers. The lesson was probably instilled more by my suffering, than my mother’s pleadings.

Effective training is grounded in experience, not lecture, books or even observance. I was trained to ride my bicycle by trying and falling, not watching my friends ride. Water skiing and other physical skills required the same. Learning cursive took practice. I still remember the drills of writing each letter over and over.

I thought I had been trained in college to be a chemical engineer, but my real training came when I began working as an engineer. I found that the academic world had little resemblance to the reality of a chemical plant or refinery. Only experience could complete my training.

Sometimes real world practice is too dangerous, so experience is gained with simulated reality. Pilots training in a simulator can learn to deal with a variety of virtual problems, but will only become experts after years of flying. Things happen that weren’t programed in the simulator. Sully Sullenberger never practiced losing both aircraft engines and landing his plane in the Hudson River.

My father and his brother were in the Marine Corps and didn’t refer to their boot camp experience in loving terms. It was tough, but nothing could fully prepare them for the shock of combat.

And so it goes. While we are always in training, we try to select training that relates to our goals in life. This curriculum is designed by our ego. Training on skills that will make money, influence people or allow one to drive a car, and so on.

The curriculum intended by God has a different focus. He gave us a textbook and a teacher. Many have read the textbook, but have found following the instructions too hard. It’s not easy to learn love, forgiveness, gratitude, compassion, kindness, listening, humility and empathy. Like many others, my ego’s curriculum was all about me.

God’s curriculum can require us to experience human suffering and tragedy. It reminds us that the best aspects of our humanity emerge when we must sacrifice to help others. This was evident in the response to hurricane Harvey. Love was the force that caused thousands of people to take risks to help everyone affected. All people were aided, not just the ones who voted like us, looked like us or believed like us. The help was unconditional. It was a training lesson to become an angel. Difficult experiences are rehearsals for our place in heaven.

I don’t appreciate that God allows tragedy, pain and suffering. He could prevent these things, but chooses not to. I think He wants us to work through the situations ourselves, with His support. That’s how we learn.

Though some people complete God’s training while still on earth — people like Mother Theresa — most of us are not great students. We want to take the easy road and wait for God to do the hard work, fix us, and then graduate.

I like the thought by Charles Handy, from his book, Waiting for the Mountain to Move.
“It reminds me of Kierkegaard’s story of the traveler in the hill country who came to a village to find his road onward blocked by a mountain. So he waited for the mountain to move. Years later he was still there, old now and white-haired, still waiting. Then he died.
Kierkegaard’s point is that God doesn’t move mountains, we climb mountains with God’s help. Don’t therefore look for Him, or His agent outside. Look for him inside, in you, and using His eyes find new bits of you which you never knew were there.”

God is helping find my strengths to cope and succeed. He wants me to change my perspective about what is really important in life, love and relationships, not financial success, fame or materialism. I will grow stronger and achieve more, because of life’s challenges. Just like those responding to Harvey, I will discover hidden strengths and virtues that I never recognized before.

God is trying to train me to be an angel. I can’t be a good angel without the right experiences here on earth. I may still be a slow learner, but I’m finally beginning to get the picture!

 

Disruption

My wife and I recently traveled to New York City for a long weekend. The flight to La Guardia was uneventful, but the taxi ride to the city was harrowing. In addition to the reckless driving, the cab didn’t have working air conditioning. This would normally not be a problem, but New York was having a heat wave. The temperature was 92 degrees. Although hot and sweaty, thankfully we arrived safely at the hotel. As always, we observed that New York cab rides are always a hair-raising adventure.

Our next cab escapade was a trip to visit Daun’s family. Daun was the flower girl at our wedding, 52 years ago. The driver snaked his way through the crowded city streets until launching onto the Riverside highway. He must have pushed the accelerator to the floorboard as he weaved in and out of traffic. Maybe he was trying to set a new city speed record. We arrived at Daun’s apartment uninjured, but out of breath

I wondered why most taxi rides are so traumatic. I understand time is money for the drivers, but is the maniacal driving necessary? I decided to try the competition and used Lyft for the remainder of the weekend.

We were going to the Met, so I opened the Lyft app on my phone. A map appeared showing the locations of all the Lyft cars nearby. I requested a car that could carry six, since we were travelling with friends. Within two minutes a shiny new suburban arrived, driven by a Russian gentleman. It was raining so he got out and helped us all into the car.

The trip was smooth, with a driver that navigated the city like I would at my age. The chauffeur was interesting and polite. Even though it was raining hard, he helped everyone out of the car. I opened my phone, entered a tip, rated the driver and the transaction was done. So simple and efficient. All with my pre-registered credit card.

All the remaining rides that weekend were pleasant with newer cars and polite and safe drivers. One driver was from Senegal. He told me about a friend who, five years ago, purchased a medallion, which is required to drive a Yellow Cab in the city. He paid 1.1 million dollars for it. Today he would be lucky to sell it for $200,000. He recently filed for bankruptcy.

Lyft and Uber have entered the market. The transportation model has been disrupted, changing the balance of supply and demand along with the service level.
I will never use a Yellow Cab in New York again. Yellow Cab must adapt to this new reality or continue to decline.

Virtually all business segments have or will experience disruption. Some will adapt, others fail. Sears is failing, while Amazon is prospering. I recently bought a garbage disposal cheaper on Amazon, with free shipping, than I could get at Sears. Retail generally is facing downsizing and financial pain.

Drones are being used to assess damage after storm events. Drones are faster, cheaper and more efficient than onsite insurance adjusters.

Hotels must contend with Airbnb. Smartphones and email have significantly impacted volumes at the US Post Office. Fracking has disrupted the global oil business. Artificial intelligence and robots are replacing traditional jobs. The popularity of ETFs and index funds have impacted the mutual fund industry. All organizations must be vigilant to spot emerging disruptions and adapt.

I serve on the board of the nonprofit, Interface-Samaritan Counseling Centers. We provide counselling to people who can’t afford to see a private practitioner. Disruption to our service model is coming in the form of telemedicine. With telemedicine you can see a counsellor on Skype or Facetime from the comfort and privacy of your own home. Doctor on Demand, started by Dr. Phil, and Better Help are two organizations offering this model.

Fortunately, our Executive Director, Steve Duson, spotted the trend early and, along with generous donors, is developing our capability for telemedicine. Those who don’t embrace this option may see their counselling business decline.

Disruptions occur in nature, society, life and in business. It’s important to be resilient, adaptable and flexible. Now that I’m retired, I at least don’t stay awake at night worried about upcoming business disruptions. But I can anticipate unexpected disruptions in my personal life.

Keep your eyes peeled, because disruptions are in your future.

 

Fine Print

I’m a moderately enthusiastic fan of the television show, America’s Got Talent. Some of the performances are quite good, but to keep the show more interesting, the producers allow some terrible acts to perform. The audience starts booing and then one or more of the judges hits the red button, producing a piercing buzz, eliminating the contestant from the competition. Apparently, this is the show’s strategy for injecting humor.

Surprisingly, the most annoying part of the show is not these bad auditions, but the continuing reference to the “fact” that the winner will win one million dollars. The judges constantly chime in saying things like, “You could be the winner of one million dollars!” Or, “What will you do if you win the million dollars?”

Until a month ago I believed that the winner would receive a check for one million dollars. Then I noticed the fine print during the closing credits. The million dollars would be paid out over 40 years at $25,000 per year. What, you must be kidding! This is a deception of major proportions. After taxes the winner will be able to indulge in a daily Starbuck’s coffee for forty years.

I wonder how the winner takes the news? Old performers may never collect the full prize. Maybe just winning is reward enough, but this is an example of the surprises that can lurk in fine print.

Fine print is ubiquitous and most of us don’t bother to read it. I suppose this is what the advertisers hope for, since the fine print usually casts a negative light on the promotion or product.

Sometimes I am surprised by fine print I didn’t know existed. We have a home warranty which claims to cover failures of appliances and other devises in our home, including “pool equipment.” Turns out many of our home breakdowns are excluded by the fine print.

When the pump operating our pool’s bottom cleaner went out, I investigated only to learn it wasn’t covered. Just the pool filter pump was covered. When we had pipe leaks, the coverage was for up to three feet of pipe, no more. When our $7,000 air conditioning unit went out, the coverage allowed $2,000.

Next time you receive the ads from Macy’s, CVS or other retailers, scan the fine print. I’m always amazed at what’s excluded from their “40% off everything sale.” But I guess I should be accustomed to fine print by now. It’s part of the American business landscape.

Sometimes not understanding the possibilities inferred in fine print can be life threatening or financially damaging. Take, for example, the fine print on Ft. Bend County maps: “This subdivision is adjacent to Baker Reservoir and is subject to extended controlled inundation under the management of the Corp of Engineers.” Did any of the subdivision developers disclose this in their sales material? I doubt it.

So we must all live under the threats from fine print. It takes me back to the time when the mantra was, “Let the buyer beware.” Still worthy advice today.

But products, promotions and contracts are not the only things containing fine print. People have fine print and warning labels too. They are often subtle and rarely in writing. We must discover a person’s fine print from observance and experience. I will reveal some things when asked, but keep other aspects hidden. People might hold it against me if they knew all the fine print.

We all create a book of life. For some people we only see the carefully constructed cover, with others, a few chapters. But books have footnotes, which contain the fine print. In my book, some of the footnotes read: Doug can be passive aggressive. He is not very good at expressing sympathy. He has a fear of making mistakes and being embarrassed. He avoids conflict by agreeing when he often doesn’t.

Then there is the problem of a perceived strength that needs a footnote. My claim of being confident may need a footnote. “Doug’s confidence often comes off as arrogance.” My belief that I am a strong person may need a clarifying footnote, “He often appears opinionated, rigid and inflexible.” There are many things I believe are true about myself, but others, I’m sure, perceive differently.

I have become more and more committed to transparency and am likely to share my footnotes and ask for feedback on traits misperceived by me, but obvious to others. Self-awareness is critical to being an authentic person and one who can be trusted. If I am open about my fears and weaknesses, people can help. If I am a closed book, no one will know where I need support.

Some people will like my complete and open book, others will put it down uninterested. If I hide it, I won’t ever know who would have honestly loved the book. So I work toward transparency and try to avoid judgment when I discover other people’s footnotes.

We are all perfect in our imperfection. I delight in reading everyone’s book, footnotes and all.

Living a Musical Life

I’ve always been goal oriented. Significant goals like obtaining a graduate degree, marriage, children and financial security were on my list. But my obsession with goals trickled down to the more trivial aspects of my life as well. Things like perfect attendance in grade school, purchasing a new car, exotic vacations, impressive homes, achieving top job performance ratings, and writing 200 blog posts.

My theory was, goals provided the direction and motivation to achieve the things I desired in life. This was reinforced in my corporate life where management by objectives (goals) was the fashion. My mentor, Peter Drucker, father of modern management, had been stating this since the 50s. Corporate visions were also reinforcing. What is the ultimate goal for the company’s future?

My mantra was, “Keep your eyes on the prize.” My focus was on the future and how I would shape it. What can I do today that will help me achieve my goals? I felt that life was a journey, and I had to be vigilant about staying on course if I wanted to be successful and happy. Goals were the guiding lights on my path. Through the years though, I have learned that controlling the future is impossible. Both you and your goals must remain flexible; there is simply no way of knowing where life will take you. Because at best the future is an illusionary hope

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My plan upon graduating from college was to be a successful engineer. If you had suggested my true passion would be human resources, I would have laughed. It was the furthest thing from engineering that I could have imagined. But life is like that, you learn to follow where your heart leads you.

My preoccupation with goals left me oblivious of the moment. A simple example: When I was working, my goal was to get to work on time. I travelled the same route for years but couldn’t tell you the cross streets I passed or most of the businesses along the route. Granted, you must pay attention when driving, but there are moments at stoplights when observations of my surroundings would have been safe. But I didn’t care, my goal was to get to work. Until I arrived at work, I was conscious of little else.

The notion that life is not a journey was exquisitely articulated by contemporary philosopher, Alan Watts. I recently ran across an excerpt from one of his books and it struck a chord. Watts believes:

“The universe is best understood as music; it doesn’t have a destination. Because music is an art form, it is essentially playful. We say you play the piano, you don’t work the piano.
Music differs from travel. When you travel you are trying to get somewhere. In music though, one doesn’t make the end of the composition the point of the composition. If that were so, the best conductors would be those who played the fastest, because that’s the end.

Same way with dancing. You don’t aim at a particular spot in the room because that’s where you should arrive. The whole point of dancing is the dance.

In school you go through the system and eventually go out to join the world. Then you get into some racket where you’re selling insurance. You’ve got a quota to make, and you’re going to make that. And all that time that “thing” is coming. That success you’ve been working for.

Then you wake up one day about 40 years old and you say, ‘My God, I’ve arrived. I’m there!’ And you don’t feel any different from what you’ve always felt.

Look at the people who live to retire, to put those savings away. And when they are 65, they don’t have any energy left, and so they go rot in some senior citizens community. Because we cheated ourselves the whole way down the line. We thought of life by analogy, with a journey — a pilgrimage which had a serious purpose at the end. And the “thing” was to get to that end, success or whatever it is, or heaven after you’re dead.

But we missed the point the whole way along. It was a musical thing, and you were supposed to sing or to dance, while the music was being played.”

Watts is a bit cynical and his view is not true for all people, but it did make me think about how I view life. Goals are still relevant, of course, but the highest priority is to learn to live in the present, not the past or the future. I know I’ve squandered countless beautiful moments, but I’m learning to appreciate those moments and marvel at the miracles and people that surround me. Now I begin my days aware of the present, with an attitude of love, forgiveness and gratitude, and my life is richer. I’m enjoying the dance of life.

I hope the music doesn’t stop anytime soon!

 

My Artificial Life

My early years were spent in rural Nebraska during the 1940s. It was a simpler time. Life was as nature designed it. No artificial sweeteners, computers, smart phones, video games, app stores, virtual reality, robots, movies with theatrically fashioned digital effects or artificial intelligence.

Our command over nature was limited, so we lived in harmony with its rules, not ours. Reality was what we could see and experience in person. Today, reality is harder to discern. It’s becoming a virtual world, where many things are contrived, artificial or fantasy.

I was first drawn into this virtual world by the computer based game FarmVille. Introduced in 2009, it was the No. 1 game in America for two years before fading. I managed a virtual farm, progressed through ever higher levels and solicited help from my virtual farming neighbors. Like all games there was an implied competition with other players. The goal: achieve the highest level and build the most elaborate farm.

The conclusion: endless hours wasted on a mindless game, with no redeeming qualities. I didn’t contribute in any way to the world’s food supply. Perhaps diverting me from the realities of life was the game’s objective.

But FarmVille wasn’t the end of my adventures into the virtual world. I discovered Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and texting. Everything is digitized. You can inform your closest one thousand friends what you are doing at any time, day or night.

What I choose to reveal is a tightly edited version of my daily experiences. Reality would be boring, embarrassing — or worse. When people post very candid and emotional items on Facebook, I suspect they are looking to connect; to receive the support conferred by the number of emojis and sympathetic comments they receive from their “friends.” Commentary on politics, religion or women is a good way to be “unfriended.” I try to avoid anything that might upset my friends. It’s the whitewashed version of my life and opinion. It’s my artificial life.

Always competitive, I quickly discerned these aspects of Facebook. Having more friends than my other “friends” was one measure of winning. My goal was 1000. I’m close to 900. Whenever eating at a restaurant, I always “checked-in” to let people know I was a food connoisseur and could afford to dine out frequently. I’ve finally stopped doing that, much to my wife’s relief. She was embarrassed by all the immodest posts.

While on vacation I post Facebook pictures of the “fabulous” locations I have visited. I’m always hoping for at least 50 “likes.” Likes are indicators of my “friends” interest in my life! It’s all ego and vanity.

My travel commentary always details how wonderful the trip has been. Actual facts, such as my being deathly seasick for two days or the argument with my wife do not make the post. Frankly, most of these posts are narcissistic and elitist. They don’t accurately reflect the reality of my life. You won’t really know me if you just follow me on Facebook, and I won’t know you.

Although I don’t engage in much texting, many people do. When walking through the airport recently, I observed that almost half the people were looking down at their smartphones, many were texting.

Since I’m not texting, I enjoy people watching at an airport. The grandparents hugging their grandchildren as they are departing. The excitement in the eyes of a child ready to board their first flight. The man running to catch his flight. I always wonder where people are going and why.

I also enjoy the internet posts of texts gone wrong. For example:

Him: Look honey, I love you but I don’t think this is working anymore.
Her: Are you breaking up with me?! After TWO YEARS you’re breaking up with me over TEXT, because “it’s not working!”
Him: Oh, sorry, I sent this to the wrong person!
Her: Thank God, you scared me babe!
Her: Wait, what. WHO WERE YOU GOING TO SEND THIS TO??!!
Him: F..K

With texting I miss 70% of the message, including body language and tone. I never see the look in their eyes or other unspoken signals when they receive my message. A deep personal and candid relationship is difficult to nurture through texting. Social media is often antisocial.

Empathy, compassion, love, gratitude, forgiveness and kindness are best expressed and strengthened by face-to-face relationships. Although social media and other digital platforms have some redeeming value, it’s impersonal, a distortion of reality.

Foolishly, I once thought that wealth was measured by net worth. I’m now understanding that true wealth is experiencing all the wonders of people, nature and life — real life — not the digital substitute. Losing myself in a screen is usually mindless, reducing time for thinking, creativity or serving others. I’m beginning to think it’s softening my brain and sucking the humanity out of my life!

Time to return to the real world.

 

A Slice of Ordinary Life

In America, most people don’t live a life of quiet desperation but, rather, lives that are quite ordinary. Not that an ordinary life in the United States is unpleasant, to the contrary, it is paradise compared to life in many parts of the world. Activities I view as ordinary, such as shopping for food in a supermarket, would be seen as a unique and luxurious experience for someone in the third world.

Nevertheless, my life is made up of a series of “ordinary” activities. These activities fall into several definable categories. Driving, eating, sleeping, watching television, engaging in social media, and shopping are some of the ordinary activities that devour my time.
Occasionally, extraordinary events pop into my life. My wedding, the birth of our children, a longed-for promotion, a special vacation, the kindness of a friend, or the expressed love in a relationship. But these times are relatively rare, so can I find fulfillment and happiness in a mostly ordinary life? Yes! I believe there is great joy in the ordinary life. It’s a matter of perspective.

I was recently reminded of the possibilities embedded in the ordinary during my monthly ritual at the barbershop. Getting a haircut is potentially one of the most ordinary events imaginable and consumes a meaningful portion of life. The engineer in me estimates that I have spent the equivalent of more than ten months of my waking hours getting haircuts.

If I am going to spend thirty minutes plus travel time getting a haircut, it must be with a skilled barber. Good barbers are hard to find, so when I discover one, they are with me for life. This dedication began very early in my life. Around age 11, I adopted my father’s barber, Mac. He cut my hair until I graduated from college. Years later, when visiting Phoenix from California, I brought our son Paul to Mac for his first haircut. Mac was special; I remember him fondly.

In 1979, I returned to Houston from Toronto. I dreaded the challenge of finding a good barber. In those days I was in corporate and went for a haircut every two weeks. Must stay sharp. I believed my image was important, which depended in part on my barber.
I quickly struck gold at a barbershop about a mile from our house. I landed in the chair of Willie Barrera, the owner of West Memorial Barber Shop. Thirty-eight years later I am still Willie’s customer, even though I now must drive 12 miles to get to his shop.

Willie’s barbershop has been staffed over the years with his sons and a niece. It’s truly a family business. The only job that changes occupants is the shine man. Currently it is a man named Perry. Over the years several men have had the job of keeping customers’ shoes looking great, but I think Perry may be the best yet.

The shop’s interior hasn’t changed since I began going almost 40 years ago. The cash register is still operated by hand. On the walls are depictions of various hairstyles that, I guess, were popular in the fifties.

Like me, Willie is much older now. Most of his hair is gone, and he has a hunch in his back from leaning in to cut hair for so long. He has suffered two broken ankles and lost part of a finger while repairing his car. Only once has Willie not been there because of an illness. He is dedicated to his craft and satisfying his customers.

And his customers’ loyalty is legendary. A man stopped by the shop recently and handed Willie a fifty dollar bill. He said, “Willie, I feel guilty that over all the years coming here I only gave you two dollar tips. Maybe this will help make up for that.”

A barbershop is a man’s haven where interesting conversations take place. We talk about politics, business, hair, sports and sometimes the eccentric customers that patronize the shop. Occasionally Perry will jump in when asked a question. It is also fun to overhear the conversations of other customers.

The conversations are often ordinary, like when Willie told me about the new pants he bought. They were too long. Rather than spend the twelve dollars for altering, he hemmed them himself using his mother’s old peddle operated sewing machine. He said, “You know, twelve dollars is definitely worth saving!” I had to agree with him.

And so it goes, each visit; different conversations. I’ve been going there so long it’s like visiting relatives. My relationship with Willie is close and precious, not ordinary. Persons aren’t ordinary, and relationships turn an ordinary life into something amazing.

Willie, just celebrated his 50th wedding anniversary and recently turned 70. I am 76. Until Willie retires, or I die, he will be my barber, and I will continue to delight in my visits to his barbershop.
If I immerse myself in every moment and open my heart, the ordinary will be extraordinary!

The Land of the Living Dead

Yikes, a boy who can see dead people! The movie, The Sixth Sense, starred a boy who could see dead people that didn’t know they were dead, and only saw what they wanted to see. He discovered his calling was to help them resolve the issues that kept them from moving on to a better place.

Sounds like employees in some of the merged companies I have worked with. To see these employees you needed a “seventh sense,” or an ability to see living people whose spirit had been sacrificed as a casualty in a merger-induced culture war. It’s the land of the living dead. Employee casualties don’t know their own state as spiritually dead. Leaders with a “seventh sense” can help them get to a better place.

Having lived through several mergers I can attest that one of the outcomes is culture war. The conflict may consist of a few minor battles or turn into a full-blown World War. You know how it starts. The executive teams from the two firms about to merge have dinner at a five-star restaurant and emerge, proclaiming that they get along fine, ergo the cultures are a compatible match. This is about as insightful as dead people who don’t know they are dead.

Most executive teams embarking on a merger assume:

• people are flexible and adaptable,
• the business case is so compelling that culture won’t be a factor,
• people that don’t fit in will be replaced or leave, and
• that culture couldn’t possibly be an issue

The legal and financial due diligence prior to a merger is the easy part. Important as these elements are, integrating the two cultures is the most critical factor in ensuring a successful merger. Therefore, no merger should proceed without a thorough understanding of the existing cultures, where the friction points will be, and plans for creating a new culture. Is cultural due diligence critically important? Yes. Is it typically done? No.

So, be warned, if your firm merges with another firm, a culture war is coming. The weapons won’t be guns and bombs but rigid thinking, ingrained habits, value conflicts, insensitivity, distorted views of reality, power politics, and resistance to change.

Culture is built on two fundamental elements: one, the values we embrace and act on as individuals and as an organization, and two, the goals of the organization and the strategies and plans developed to achieve those goals. The values adopted by organizations proscribe how employees are expected to behave, make decisions, respect authority, communicate, treat customers, and work with colleagues. The goals and strategies determine what we “do” within the context of the firm’s values.

So, culture is not just “how we do things around here” (values), but also “what we do around here” (goals and strategies). Corporate values are the higher order aspect of culture. They tend to be permanent. Goals and strategies, on the other hand, will change over time–sometimes rapidly, especially in the digital and information age.

For example, two firms that have merged may have a common expressed value “to insure employees have an opportunity to provide input to decisions that will impact them and the business.” One firm chooses to “do” this by establishing a vast committee structure while the other uses e-mail and informal meetings. This will be viewed as a cultural conflict. In another merger, the financial staff may primarily drive one organization; while in the other firm, marketing holds the most power. Power imbalances also produce cultural conflict.

To create the desired new culture, equal attention must be paid to the communications of values and goals and strategies. In addition, it is important to have participation by employees from both firms in defining the desired culture and establishing goals and strategies. Once goals, strategies, and values of a productive culture are defined and communicated, issues such as the organizational structure and employee priorities will be clear. When negotiating a peaceful settlement to the culture wars, first determine if value conflicts are the cause for the fighting or simply differences in strategy, goals or execution tactics. Resolving value conflicts can be the most difficult.

I was an employee during the Morgan Stanley/Dean Witter merger. The values of the two firms were quite different. Perhaps the most significant one was how to deal with conflict. At Dean Witter, there was little conflict because everyone was expected to follow orders, without any push back. At Morgan Stanley, divergent views were welcome. Employees were expected to express their professional opinion on the issues, but with respect to the people. This conflict in values was so severe that people were fired for being perceived as insubordinate to Dean Witter leadership.

If the impasse is on strategy, the focus should be on the business assumptions underlying each firm’s strategy. Generally, this is an easier fix than value differences. The problem is usually disagreement on the assumptions about the industry segment, the key business drivers, market outlook, and customer expectations. Understanding and testing assumptions is necessary for developing a consensus on strategy.

Without careful attention and energy to create an integrated culture, employees will have lost their old culture and now exist without a new one. This drifting state will produce low morale and reduced productivity. Employee spirit will be a casualty of the culture wars.
The land of the living dead is an ugly place. Be a peacemaker.

The Final Minutes

I’m not a big sports fan, but I do enjoy watching some athletic events, especially those involving our grandchildren. In professional sports, my favorite is basketball.

I vaguely understand the athleticism required, having endeavored to play basketball in the eighth grade. I was six feet tall then so the coach logically thought I might be a natural. Well, I don’t like disappointing, but I clearly wasn’t what the coach hoped this six-foot eighth grader would be. I was mostly a bench warmer. I decided my position was probably something like assistant pencil sharpener to the score keeper.

But I do enjoy a good basketball game. The primary attraction, other than being wowed by the athletic skills, is the fact that in many games you aren’t sure who will win until the last minute or two. It’s exciting and keeps you on the edge of your seat.

A great example was the August 20, 2009, game between the Houston Rockets and the San Antonio Spurs. The Rockets had lost the last seven games to the Spurs and were trailing in this game 66 to 74. There were 48 seconds left. The crowd was leaving.

Then the impossible happened. Tracy McGrady scored 13 points in 33 seconds and the Rockets won 81 to 80. WOW! More proof that it’s not over until the buzzer sounds. The unexpected is always possible.

Sports metaphors are getting stale, but I can envision my life as a basketball game. Most games run a little over two hours. There are 48 minutes of playing time, a 15 minute half-time and timeouts, foul shots, etc. Let’s say a total of 120 minutes.

Compressing my life to 120 minutes and assuming my life expectancy is age 86, each year is equivalent to 1.4 minutes (120/86). Therefore, at age 76, I have 14 minutes left in my game.

Half time was at age 43, which is often the point in life where you realize the game may not end the way you had dreamed. Many men suffer a midlife crisis when contemplating their life’s progress. It’s often a time to rethink your life’s strategy, your goals and to redefine what winning really is. Just as in basketball, having a coach or mentor during half time is helpful.

Although my ideas about winning have evolved, I was fortunate not to have experienced a crisis. Now I believe that success and winning are less about money and more about serving others with love, forgiveness and gratitude.

So I’m playing in the second half with only 14 minutes remaining. But just like in basketball a lot of things can happen in 14 minutes. The game isn’t over. Significant achievements can be completed by the end of the game. This is the perspective I choose to maintain.

It isn’t so much about the start of the game or the adjustments made at half time, it’s how you finish. I want to finish strong, knowing that even if there are only a few seconds left in the game a lot can happen to produce a beautiful ending.

I love the complimentary close that ends many of the emails sent by Mike Fienberg, co-founder of the KIPP Academy school system. He reminds me to “Plow on.” And plow on we must to ensure we make our very best mark on the world. The game isn’t over yet!

Plow on, Doug

 

 

Snowflakes

I was born in Omaha, Nebraska, so I was exposed to snowflakes early in life. I didn’t think much about this white icy fluff, except when a lot of it fell on the hills surrounding our home. Then I could sail on an endless white blanket, riding my toboggan down the slopes. For a boy of eight it was heaven.

My sister and I would have snowball fights and build at least one snowman each winter. But snowflakes are very delicate. If they hit the warm roof of our house or suffered a hot weather spell, they would melt. Snowflakes only survive under a very precise environment.
Interestingly, snowflakes and people have a few things in common. Each snowflake is born from nature, is unique and very beautiful. The beauty is often hard to detect because snowflakes are so small. But, like humans, if you get close enough to truly see them, their beauty became apparent.

Today some young people are labeled snowflakes. Very sensitive to their environment, they want protection from the harsh realities of life. Like the Wicked Witch of the West in the Land of Oz, they are afraid they might melt if their sensibilities are challenged.

Controversial figures are denied speaking opportunities on college campuses, and if they are given a podium, often booed. Trigger warnings are suggested for books that contain content that might challenge or upset their thinking. Snowflakes live in a world where the truth is what they want it to be. Many have been sheltered and subsidized by their parents, protecting them from many of life’s realities. Like a snowflake they are delicate and easily melt when facing the heat.

When I go to the gym I use weight training to provide muscle resistance. This makes me stronger. No pain, no gain. As a child I played in the dirt and ate food that had fallen on the floor, which exposed me to a variety of bacteria. This exposure strengthened my immune system, making me more resistant to disease. Embracing diverse points of view bolstered my ability to think critically.

Steel is tempered through heating and cooling to improve hardness, strength and decrease brittleness. To become strong when facing the challenges of life, like steel, I have been tempered by the fires of life.

Snowflakes will not be the warriors that win our wars. They won’t become the strong leaders of our businesses and political organizations. They can’t take the heat. In fact, they fear the heat!

I’m not sure why snowflakes have become more widespread in society. It may be overly protective parents shielding children from the possibility of failure, pressuring schools to give more “A’s,” awarding trophies to every child or reducing the rigor of school curriculums. Parents often defend a child’s behavior no matter what the offence. The parents insist their children are geniuses, and it’s never their fault. School bullies are so debilitating for many children, it can tragically result in suicide.

In contrast, Stacy Brown-Philpot, TaskRabbit CEO, related an incident from her youth as chronicled in the August 5-6, 2017, issue of the Wall Street Journal.

She still remembers running home to escape a group of grade-school bullies, only to have her grandmother lock her out of the house, telling her that she would have to get through it on her own. Ms. Brown-Philpot says, “I had to stand up for myself and fight.”

Ms. Brown-Philpot, now 41, lost that fight with a punch in the face, but she learned a valuable lesson. “You have to learn to get through it yourself because there are going to be times in your life when there’s going to be no one else around but you,” she said.

Men and women of strength and character became that way by facing life’s challenges with courage and persistence. They have what is referred to as “grit.” They never give up! Strength is developed from resistance, not submission.

In achieving my small measure of success, I developed independence, confidence and the unwillingness to give up easily. These characteristics aren’t developed in a protective bubble. I faced my fears, embraced challenges, took risks, failed and tried again and endeavored to be open to ideas that conflicted with my preconceived beliefs.

If you are a snowflake, don’t move to Texas. You won’t fit in! I never want to be a snowflake. I want to be a rock that people can depend on. I won’t melt under the heat.

As Nietzsche’s declared, “No one can build you the bridge on which you, and only you, must cross the river of life.”

Ancient Love

Ironically, Harvey emerged from the cradle of human civilization, just off the coast of West Africa. Small and fragile like all newborns, he fought the forces of nature to survive, growing slowly until reaching the Caribbean. Suddenly the atmospheric forces conspired to bring Harvey to life, and he hit southeast Texas full force as a Category 4 hurricane.

I was anxious, contemplating the damage to cities that would be directly impacted. My worst fears were realized. Rockport and nearby areas were completely destroyed. Although saddened, I took comfort in the fact that Houston had not received a direct hit. My relief was short-lived. Harvey had bigger plans for Houston.

The nightmare began late Friday, August 25th, ushered in by unrelenting heavy rain. We had been invited to a friend’s surprise 67th birthday party, originally on Saturday. Fearing the worst, the party planner changed both time and venue just two days before. It was wise, given the weather forecast, and an early indication of Houstonians’ flexibility.

Within 24 hours, the venue had changed to the Centennial Gardens party room in Hermann Park. We arrived to find an exquisitely decorated room, striking flower arrangements, a violin quartet, and nearly 100 guests being served by a polished catering staff. It was hard to believe what had been accomplished in so little time.

But, really, I should not have been surprised. If you need something done, just ask a Houstonian. They have grit, persistence, perseverance and big hearts. Wonderful traits – traits that would serve them well over the next several days.

It was only on Saturday when we really realized what a good decision it had been to move the party to Friday. At first, I rationalized a good outcome, noting how often Houston weather professionals were wrong. But in this case, I was wrong. We soon became prisoners in our own home, wondering just how bad it would get.

For the next few days we remained glued to news reports of the unfolding tragedy. Texting and Facebook soon became the communications lifeline to our friends and loved ones.

There are so many stories of tragedy, hope and love. One involved an 18-year-old mother of a child, who was pregnant with her second. She had evacuated her flooded apartment that she had just recently moved into. She was crying, having lost everything, with no place to go. I couldn’t help but feel confident that somebody would soon appear to take her in.

Another incident also remains with me. A formidable, tattooed and tough looking man, probably in his early 30s, was frantic and pleading with rescuers to help find his father. He had not been able to reach him by cell phone. Someone stepped forward with a satellite phone, enabling him to reach his father. His father was fine. Learning this, he broke down sobbing, repeatedly telling his father how much he loved him.

Similar stories streamed in for days. Though it was saddening, there was a silver lining. The silver was the wings of angels — ordinary people who went to extraordinary lengths to serve those in need. Our community banded together, stepped forward and, in so doing, saved thousands.

What seemed like magic was actually love: ancient love, primeval love — not modern love. Modern love is all about romance. I will love you if you behave like I want. I will love you if you fulfill my needs. I will love you if your opinions and political views match mine. I will love you when times are good but may divorce you when times get rough. Modern, romantic love is often conditional. It comes from the ego, not the soul.

Ancient love is old. It was revealed to us 2,000 years ago by Jesus; the second great commandment: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” This was the love of the saints, those who worked tirelessly to help and serve others. No one was turned away, and the afflicted represented every slice of humanity.

With this type of love, there are no conditions, small print or qualifiers. No exceptions for race, age, politics, appearance, social status or sexuality. It’s love from the heart. Love from the soul.

Why does it often take a tragedy to bring out ancient love? We demonstrate heartfelt love during these difficult times. There should be no reason we can’t show this love all the time.

With all the divisiveness now plaguing our country, wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could regularly treat each other as we’ve witnessed these past few days. Harvey was a wakeup call!

Blessings, Doug