Category Archives: Innovation

Learn as much as you can…

Recently, I sat for an hour with a sales representative from Oracle. (One of those chance, accidental encounters). He knows his stuff.  He knew things, many things — things that I did not know. We talked about the Cloud, and “adding value,” and the challenges brought by new, unexpected competitors… We talked about a lot.  I think he appreciated insights I shared from recent books I’ve read, especially Team of Teams.  But, I know I appreciated his tutorial.  I learned things — things I did not know. Words and concepts that I’ve read about became understandable. He “explained” things in the course of our conversation, and I was grateful.

Which got me to thinking…

Who do you learn from?

This is not an unimportant question.

Narrow expertise is indeed valuable. But, ever-increasing broader knowledge is also valuable; maybe even more valuable.

Assuming we have acquired some level of basic knowledge, what happens next is that we tend to learn from people:

  • in our field
  • who think like we think

In other words, what we learn may provide a slight, continual, ongoing expansion of our capabilities and knowledge (this is good), but a failure to expand our horizons; a failure to learn from some one or some ones “outside” our normal viewpoints.

And, to fail to take advantage of that wider world of knowledge is not only a mistake, it could be increasingly a threat to your own future and that of your company. One of my favorite quotes is from Nassim Nicholas Taleb, from his book The Black Swan:

The library (i.e., your personal library) should contain as much of what you do not know as your financial means, mortgage rates, and the currently tight real- estate market allow you to put there.

It reminds me that our knowledge is narrow, and the available information out there is so very vast.

And, the more we learn — the more we read and learn from “outside” our normal interests — the better equipped we will be to make sense of this diverse, collaborating, so.many.things.meshing.together world.

So… a simple suggestion. Read something, pretty regularly, from an author you normally would not read, in a field you know little about. And find more “accidental, chance encounters” with people who could teach you about something you know little about. It might be a surprisingly valuable way to spend some of your time.

Randy Mayeux
Contributed by:
Randy Mayeux
Professional Speaker & Writer
Co-founder, First Friday Book Synopsis

Managing Yourself is Only Half the Battle

Being your own manager is only half the battle.

In the old days, as you learned a trade (a skill), you would work under a journeyman (it was pretty much always a journeyMAN), until you became a journeyman yourself. (And then, if you made it to the pinnacle, you would become a master).

Today, so much of our work is more “internal,” (i.e., “information worker” work), and more and more people, even if they work within an organization, have to be ever-more self-directed. (See Zappos’ move to HolacracyNo more managers at Zappos).

Recently the always helpful Laura Vanderkam wrote How To Be Your Own Manager: Developing An External, Strategic Perspective On Your Career, Just Like A Talent Manager Would, Keeps You Moving Forward. She wrote:

…as people move in and out of roles more frequently, we’re starting to have as many jobs on our résumés as an actor might have gigs. If you want to be a rock star at what you do, here’s how to be your own manager.

She has five recommendations. They are all good, but I especially like #s 4 & 5:

#4 – Coach Your Performance
#5 – Promote Yourself

But… here’s what I think. After you manage yourself, you now have the next, maybe tougher assignment. And that is to “Supervise Yourself.”

Remember the distinction:

a person responsible for controlling or administering all or part of a company or similar organization.

Person in the first-line management who monitors and regulates employees in their performance of assigned or delegated tasks.

Maybe, consider it this way: a manager makes sure the company is going in the right direction. The supervisors are making sure that the individuals are getting the job done; the right work done, and done well.

So, after you manage yourself, you then have to make sure the work is getting done—you have to supervise yourself, to get the work done.

And, if you have trouble here, then you have to up the game even further, and define your role as that of being a “taskmaster” to yourself.

a person who supervises rigorously the work of others.

I’ve got a hunch that this task is as important, and sometimes maybe more difficult, than it seems.

In other words, once the “right” work is planned out, then making sure the work is actually done is pretty much the whole ballgame.

Randy Mayeux
Contributed by:
Randy Mayeux
Professional Speaker & Writer
Co-founder, First Friday Book Synopsis

The Era for Teams of Teams

It’s a simple progression to grasp (not to implement and put into practice; but, to grasp).

A person – a single person – develops skills.  And then commiimagets to using those skills effectively, while always adding to his/her skill set. And then, that person becomes a member of a team. Maybe he joins the team on his own; maybe she is recruited into or assigned to the team. Now, the team is made up of competent, skill-rich, always skills-enhancing individuals.

But the team is greater than any one individual on the team.

Our old organizational structures tend to make us create teams dictated to from above. And, we create competitive team culture – “my team is better than your team.” Thus, we finally get individuals to collaborate, but teams keep ideas and breakthroughs from each other. Collaboration stops at the single team level.

This is a formula for success, for sure – in yesterday’s environment. But a formula for failure in today’s environment, and certainly in tomorrow’s environment. VUCA is not new anymore; it is simply the ever present reality.

  • V = Volatility. The nature and dynamics of change, and the nature and speed of change forces and changes catalysts.
  • U = Uncertainty. The lack of predictability, the prospects for surprise, and the sense of awareness and understanding of issues and events.
  • C = Complexity. The multiplex of forces, the confounding of issues and the chaos and confusion that surround an organization.
  • A = Ambiguity. The haziness of reality, the potential for misreads, and the mixed meanings of conditions; cause-and-effect confusion.

What I have written is my first attempt to describe the premise of General McChrystal’s new book, Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World. Here’s one quote from the book, that states the premise clearly:

We looked at the behaviors of our smallest units and found ways to extend them to an organization of thousands, spread across three continents. We became what we called “a team of teams”: a large command that captured at scale the traits of agility normally limited to small teams.

In other words, every “small team” is part of a much larger TEAM of teams. Thus, openness, transparency, agility – and no top-down micro-controlling – is the modern organizational necessity.

I am just beginning this book, and my first impression is that it makes sense. The way forward will have to be with talented individuals, working on teams with other talented individuals, with those teams teaming up with other/all other teams in the organization.

I will present my synopsis of this book at the August 7 First Friday Book Synopsis. I think this book is absolutely worth a careful look…

Randy Mayeux
Contributed by:
Randy Mayeux
Professional Speaker & Writer
Co-founder, First Friday Book Synopsis

Customer Service 101

First, read these brief excerpts from the book Overpromise and Overdeliver: The Secrets of Unshakeable Customer Loyalty by Rick Barrera:

Capturing customers is all about creating brand promises and keeping them.
Sooner or later the customer’s actual experience will have to live up to the image.
The unequaled customer service that once set you apart has now been equaled – your competitors have caught up, and your customers have noticed.
Some years ago, USA Today reported that one of every four purchases ends up being a problem for the customer. I believe it.


A few days ago, my wife and I ate in a new restaurant (new to us). The food was fine. The atmosphere was fine; actually, kind of nice. But the customer service? Well, let me put it this way: we both felt like we were somehow intruding upon and interrupting the lives and routines of the servers. They finally gave us what we wanted – but it was as though we were there for them; they were not there for us. (We likely will not return).

So, let me remind you of Customer Service 101 – if you are in the customer service business (and, you are), you are there to actually serve the customer. That is what you are all about. That is what matters most.

Oh, sure, you need a service or product that the customer will really want. But, if you do not deliver that to the customer in a good way, a timely way, an attentive way, your good product will be rejected for another “provider” down the road.

Customer service begins with, you know… serving the customer.

Randy Mayeux
Contributed by:
Randy Mayeux
Professional Speaker & Writer
Co-founder, First Friday Book Synopsis

Lessons in Persistence

There’s always a fine line. You’ve got stubborn people, obnoxious people, and then people with genuine resolve who simply will not give up. Their actual behaviors may look about the same. But, when the motivation is not stubbornness, or plain old obnoxiousness, then true persistence and resolve can be a wonder to behold.

ELON-COVER-BOOK-LARGEAshlee Vance is the author of the new book Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future. (I’m presenting my synopsis of this book at the July 10 First Friday Book Synopsis this week).

Ashlee Vance, a respected journalist, decided to write a serious, thorough book about Elon Musk. In case you do not know, Elon Musk’s endeavors include PayPal, Tesla, SpaceX (SpaceX had quite a set-back last week), along with major involvement with Solar City. So, Ashlee Vance asked for time with Elon Musk himself. He was turned down. More than once. He then proceeded to work on the book anyway, and talked to everyone he could find who knew or worked with Elon Musk. Finally, Mr. Musk granted a visit, over dinner.

In the visit, Elon Musk acknowledged that Vance was intent on actually writing the book, so he asked to read it in advance and submit footnotes for correcting any errors or false impressions. Vance said no: And then, Musk said OK, and agreed to a series of meetings, with full cooperation, anyway. From the book:

Musk cut me off after a couple of minutes and simply said, “Okay.” One thing that Musk holds in the highest regard is resolve, and he respects people who continue on after being told no.

Notice again: “He respects people who continue on after being told no.”

In other words, Elon Musk recognized, respected, and honored resolve.

I remember similar stories about Steve Jobs from the Walter Isaacson biography, and from Ed Catmull’s book Creativity, Inc. They bothCreativity-Inc.-Cover commented that people who worked with Steve Jobs had to learn when his “no” was something to ignore and work around. In other words, Steve Jobs also respected genuine resolve.

We all know the time-honored wisdom. Probably the most famous quote comes from Calvin Coolidge:

Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not: the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.

For Elon Musk, and Steve Jobs, resolve, the ability to “ignore the no,” signaled genuine inner character and resolve.

So, do you have such resolve, such persistence? Or do you take “no” for an answer too quickly, too easily?
Randy Mayeux
Contributed by:
Randy Mayeux
Professional Speaker & Writer
Co-founder, First Friday Book Synopsis

Are You Caught in an Ego Trap?

If you watch, you will see a number of articles popping up dealing with some version of this issue: “does a great leader have to be something of a jerk?”

Such articles have usually referred to Steve Jobs, and these days Elon Musk is creeping into the conversation. And both of these leaders had/have pretty high JQs (Jerk Quotients).

But, I think it is a pretty big mistake to even have this conversation. It is certainly a dumb idea to say “since Steve Jobs was something of a jerk, then I will be more of a jerk, and thus, maybe more successful.” In my opinion, it doesn’t quite work that way. I think Steve Jobs, and maybe Elon Musk, were just superior leaders, who also happened to have high JQs.Seinfeld

In other words, maybe being a jerk, or not being a jerk, has little to do with actual success.

Yes…, not being a jerk has plenty to do with building a workplace that people want to be a part of. Although, truth be told, the people who “survived” Steve Jobs, and the people who “survive” Elon Musk, seem to be pretty loyal. They generally believe that they got more accomplished than they could have/would have, because of the unswerving focus of these leaders.

I think that leaders who succeed have qualities unrelated to the JQ spectrum. Mainly, they have an uncanny ability to sense what people really want/need, and then they have the equally uncanny ability to marshal teams and resources to turn that into reality.

Let’s put it this way: there are some jerks who are great leaders, and plenty of jerks who are not at all much of a leader. And, there are some really “nice” (i.e., high EQ) people who do not lead very well, and a few who do.

In other words, great leaders are rare, regardless of their EQ and JQ.

Ego vs. EQBut, let’s pretend that you would like to be successful, while lowering your JQ. In other words, let’s imagine that you want to be a good leader, a successful leader, and not much of a jerk. (A worthy goal, in my opinion).  Here’s a little help from the book Ego vs. EQ: How Top Leaders Beat 8 Ego Traps with Emotional Intelligence by Jen Shirkani.

First, a key quote/excerpt from this book — part of Ego Trap 1 (see below):

It’s easy to end up at the top of your organization with certain blind spots that fewer and fewer people are willing to call to your attention….
Maybe people have tried to give you feedback, only to see you ultimately ignore it. So they stop. (emphasis added).

“Blind spots that fewer people are willing to call to your attention.”

That’s a nice way to say that:

you do have blind spots
nobody is willing to call you on them
partly because
you are unwilling to let anyone call you on them.

In other words, you are not just blind regarding your own blind spots, you are also deaf when it comes to listening to correctives. In other words, you are something of a jerk, and you don’t own up to it; you don’t even listen to anyone willing to tell you about your problem. Thus, guaranteeing a lower EQ, and a higher JQ.nph

So… whatever else your job is, the closer you get to the top of any hierarchy, the more important it is to put someone (maybe more than one such someone) into your inner circle to tell you the truth. And then, you have to listen to their warnings and correctives, and do something with what they have the courage to tell you. Otherwise, your JQ goes up while your EQ goes down.

Here are all 8 Ego Traps from the book Ego vs. EQ.  You might want to read them carefully; they set quite a challenging agenda for the leader. And then read the book for a deeper dive into these 8 ego traps. Here they are:

Ego Trap 1: Ignoring feedback you don’t like
Ego Trap 2: Believing your technical skills trump your leadership skills
Ego Trap 3: Surrounding yourself with more of you
Ego Trap 4: Not letting go of control
Ego Trap 5: Being blind to your downstream impact
Ego Trap 6: Underestimating how much you are being watched
Ego Trap 7: Losing touch with the frontline experience
Ego Trap 8: Relapsing back to your old ways

But, as with most genuine challenges, it always starts with Step One: “Hello, my name is ____, and I admit…”

Randy Mayeux
Contributed by:
Randy Mayeux
Professional Speaker & Writer
Co-founder, First Friday Book Synopsis

Learning Takes Time

Maybe because I have spent a lot of years reading and studying…

It seems that the pressure is growing stronger by the day to make quick decisions, read many, many short items, and rush from task to task…

Maybe I am defensive. My formal education is in the “Humanities.” The Humanities is in the mode of “we better defend our existence” these days. At times, I envy those STEM folks. They learn tangible lessons; how to use math, how to code. I didn’t learn such tangible lessons. In fact, I never liked the classes I had to take in my graduate work in “statistics.” I should have – but I didn’t.

I remember especially one professor whose exams were open-ended essay questions. We had to write – a lot! And, though there were certain points we had to cover to make the grade, we really had to demonstrate that we had learned how to think about some pretty good and big questions and issues…

Anyway, I wonder if our modern educational path is leaving such behind, and that it might be hurting us in some way.

I thought of this as I read this article: “The Decline of the American Actor – Why the under-40 generation of American leading men is struggling—and what to do about it” by Terrence Rafferty from The Atlantic. He starts it this way:

Is it time for American actors to take a hard look in the mirror? Earlier this year Michael Douglas mused darkly to a magazine interviewer, “I think we have a little crisis going on amongst our young actors at this point,” and Spike Lee, commenting on the “invasion” of black British actors, had some pithy observations on the subject, too: “You want talented people,” he said, and British actors’ “training is very proper, whereas some of these other brothers and sisters, you know, they come in here, and they don’t got that training.” Douglas and Lee, just like the rest of us who go to the movies, are a tad puzzled about why so many good American roles have been going to English, Irish, Welsh, Scottish, Australian, and Canadian actors. The phenomenon may have reached its unignorable peak in last year’s docudrama Selma: the parts of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Coretta Scott King, Governor George Wallace, and President Lyndon B. Johnson were all played by Brits.


The British are coming!

Read the full article. He basically makes the case that the modern young American actors (primarily the men) are skipping the needed steps (years of these steps) in training.

OutliersI thought of key business books I have read. Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, and his popularization of the 10,000 hour rule. And then, the needed “next read” to Outliers, Talent is Overrated by Geoff Colvin. Mr. Colvin demonstrates that just any old 10,000 hours isn’t enough. It requires 10,000 hours of disciplined, deliberate practice – working on something for the purpose of getting better at it. (A careful reading of Gladwell would show that he fully agrees with this. In other words, 10,000 hours does not make you the best. But the right 10,000 hours gives you a decent shot at being really, really good!).

I think of one of my professional pursuits. I present synopses of business books. I guess in order to save folks time – so they can “learn quickly.” So, I feel a little guilty about this. I wish that we could just sit in silence, for quite a few hours, read the books, then talk about the key stories, the key lessons, and takeaways.

But, these days, the 15 minute version of the synopsis seems too long for some people. I’m now getting e-mails with fast-paced graphics about 4 minutes in length, promising to teach me the essence of a book in 4 minutes. My 15 minute version seems excrutiatingly slow to some people – so “yesterday.”

“Learn fast” seems to be today’s mantra.catspeedread

I remember a Mad Magazine graphic from my early years. It was a drawing of Grandma in her kitchen. Flour and sugar and pie crust are everywhere, including on her face, her apron, on the floor… She is pulling a beautiful cherry pie out of the oven. It looked delicious! But, her face was furious at the words coming over her kitchen radio. An announcer was promoting buying the latest frozen pie, to pop in the oven, and cook in just a short time. The tag line: “Better than Grandma could ever make.”

Learning takes time. There is no “pop in the oven for an hour and get all that you need” shortcut. Learning takes work, serious thinking, and lots of time devoted to the process.

I do realize that many jobs allow little such time for such learning work. But, I think that may be hurting us in ways that we can’t and don’t quite yet understand.

Randy Mayeux
Contributed by:
Randy Mayeux
Professional Speaker & Writer
Co-founder, First Friday Book Synopsis

What’s on Your Professional Bucket List?

The first day of summer, my children were bored. They are all five and under and cannot comprehend why school is not in session in the summer. By the third day of summer, behavior in our house was intolerable and bedtime was non-existent.

bucketList-287x300With sincere concern for how we were going to survive the next three months, I turned to Pinterest (seriously) and started our Summer Bucket List. We literally have a bucket with clothespins clipped to the upper rim. On each clothespin, an activity is listed. Some of the activities are simple, such as chalk drawing, and others are more adventurous, such as going to the zoo and the local museums. Each day that we do not have other plans, we will do one of the items on the Summer Bucket List and then place the clothespin inside the bucket. Our goal with the project is to keep engaged in the summer, ensure that we tackle activities that we have been wanting to do, and to keep focused on schedules and the rest of our routine.

The Summer Bucket List is my “mom-way” of focusing on the summer; however, the bucket list concept is one that could be applied to multiple areas of your life. How many people do you know who have stayed in a job that they did not enjoy? How many people do you know that have turned on “auto-pilot” at work after they mastered the basic tasks of their position? How many people do you know that are so overwhelmed at work that they cannot get anything accomplished?

It seems simple, but maybe you should create a bucket list for your position. Many times in your work life, you are focused on the routines of the position and many times you are focused on the urgent and very important tasks of the position. However, when your schedule allows, what do you do? Do you pick up the long-forgotten “to-do” list? Do you do something that you enjoy or that you feel will progress your organization?

A number of years ago, Ron Holifield and I were discussing the next step in my career. He asked me two questions: What did I enjoy doing? What was I good at doing?

I was startled at first – why did that matter to my career? Why did he care about what I enjoyed doing?

When you enjoy what you are doing or you are using your talents wisely, you stay engaged in your position; you get things done and you stay focused on the tasks at hand. Find ways to enjoy your position and continually move your organization and yourself forward.

What is on your work bucket list?


Written by:
Katie Corder
Executive Search Manager

One Degree of Difference

Last week, I was told that I officially joined the “mom of boys club” when my son decided to use a window shutter as a swing and took a six foot fall onto our wood floors. The shutter did not survive the fall and landed on top of him, resulting in stitches right below his eye. Due to the location of the injury, anesthesia was recommended for the procedure and we were directed from the urgent care center to the emergency room. We were grateful for the slight degree of space between his eye and the injury and that we were just looking at stitches, instead of his eye being injured.

While at the urgent care center, I noticed a sign on the door – “1 degree makes the difference.”

At 211 degrees water is hot. 

At 212 degrees it boils.

And with boiling water comes steam. 

And steam can power a locomotive. 

The extra degree makes the difference. 

We are committed to a culture that makes that 1 degree difference in service excellence. 


A simple Google search later (post-stitches) showed me that there is an entire leadership effort focused on the 1 degree. An inspirational clip on You Tube states, “And, the one extra degree of effort in business and in life…separates the good from the great.”

What areas can you raise the bar 1 degree and make a huge difference in your community? Is it response time for public safety?  Is it turning customer service into customer care?  Is it engaging your citizens to find out their wants and needs? What small things can you do to provide a greater impact to your employees? Is it allowing for training and advancement opportunities?  Is it sharing your vision for the organization with them and showing how they are having an impact? Is it just caring for them and their families?

What areas are your 1 degrees? What makes the difference to your residents? To your employees?

Make the commitment to keep your organization at 212 degrees. Even if it seems like a small thing, you are greatly influencing someone’s life.


Written by:
Katie Corder
Executive Search Manager

Is it a Goal or a Goat?

peterPeter Burchard is a multi-sector consultant, university instructor, and author. He has served as a city manager, health care executive, and as a board member for numerous organizations. He was the city manager of Naperville, Illinois and village manager of Hoffman Estates, Illinois. He served as the chief operating officer for inVentiv Medical Management in Augusta, GA. He serves on the board for the NIU Alumni Association and GreenFields-Mill Creek, a continuing care residence. Previously, Peter served on the boards of Hoffman Estates Medical Center, the Suburban Law Enforcement Association, and the Alliance for Innovation. He received his undergraduate and graduate degrees from Northern Illinois University. Reach Peter at:

Is your future filled with goals or goats?

Think about your professional development goals.

Think about your current work goals.

Are your goals more like goats?

Here’s the difference:

If it’s a GOAL, you think:

  • Excitement
  • Future Focused
  • Energy
  • Desired Change

If it’s a GOAT you think:

  • Forgettable
  • Stares Back
  • Chews
  • Doesn’t do much

Look at your goals for work and your own professional development. Now ask yourself: “Three months from now, how will my work place be better? How will I have grown?”

If you don’t have any goals it could be because you’ve experienced too many goats.

Real goals – deep goals – solve real problems and create the work place you and others want. Goat-type goals are forgettable and just stare back because we know the goal dances around real problems. Goats like to chew on things – just like people do – as if there is no greater purpose.

Real goals create real change. Goats tend to do nothing that actually matters.

Goats play mind games and create the illusion of progress. Sadly, goat-type goals may be what we like – unconsciously protecting the status quo.


A Plan for Creating Goals and Not Goats:

Setting goals can be a waste of time when the effort doesn’t bring the real problems to the surface. (Read Good Strategy – Bad Strategy by Richard Rumelt.)

Personal goals may, perhaps inadvertently, just secure our present comfortableness. Real goals need to propel us forward – solving key problems and creating the future we want.

Want goals and not goats? Try this:

  1. Embrace Uncomfortableness: Look at your goals. If your goals make you feel comfortable then your goals are goats. James Collins writes about the curse of the comfortable work place. Create goals that create uncomfortableness.
  2. Surface Real problems: People have problems. The work place has many problems too. How do some of your goals speak to real problems? If none of your goals surface problems, they are goats. Our desire to be positive is also a curse when it protects the status quo and prevents an honest assessment of problems (Read Good Communication That Blocks Learning by  Chris Argyris).
  3. Be Big! Really big!: When accomplished, what will your goals create? As Rumelt notes, people notice real strategy and goals. You and others will be excited because as a team you are 1) tackling real problems and 2) creating a better future.
  4. Seek Deep Personal Growth: When it comes to skills, how am I too much as I was just one year ago? Am I too satisfied with me? As an old saying goes, do I have twenty years of experience or one year repeated twenty times? To what degree am I more relevant today compared to last year? Can I prove my escalating relevance?
  5. See More Clearly: Test your vision – test your insight. What can you see about yourself, about your team and about your environment that you couldn’t see last year? Here is a difficult question to ask one’s self: “To what extent do I only see what reinforces the world I’ve created – the one I want to see?”

Your journey from goats to goals is packed with personal potential and organizational possibility. Let your personal resourcefulness blossom.

“Passion and Reality at Work”

Peter Burchard develops leaders. Email Peter at:

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