December 6, 2007

‘Tis the Season to Quit Being Cynical

(The following is a requested reprint from The Fred Factor ezine 2006

I’m probably preaching–or more accurately writing–to the converted. But my guess is that you might work with someone or know someone who thinks being a “Fred” is a corporate plot to extract more work for no more money, that there’s no reason to be a “Fred” or that the whole concept is dorky.

I’m no stranger to criticism or critics. When you speak and write books, some people like your work and others don’t. I don’t agree with everyone so I don’t expect everyone to agree with me.

What is a bit of a crazy-maker are the mean-spirited critics who aren’t content to disagree but who feel the need to demean those with a positive point of view. I had one Amazon reviewer suggest I’d written another book because I needed more money, and another suggest that using the principles of The Fred Factor at work would make people think a manager was an “uber-dork.” Speaking and writing is my profession (does the previously mentioned critic not go to work every day because he needs more money?), but fortunately, both are my passion. The message is more important than the messenger, and if I can provide good ideas and encourage listeners and readers, I count that a blessing, whether or not I get paid for it. And if encouraging excellence in your work and making a difference would make one an uber-dork, sign me up. That particular critic might disagree with slogans, pins and tee-shirts, but don’t throw the message out with the medium.

Someone once said that a cynic is a passionate person who doesn’t want to be disappointed again. I hope that is true, that underneath the skin of a cynic is a person who wants to believe in the good, right and praiseworthy things in life. Skepticism is fine by me because is says “Explain it to me. Show my some proof, some examples.” The skeptic doesn’t want to buy into anything without good cause, and that make sense.

The cynic isn’t open to being shown. Rather than being willing to consider, they stay on the offensive and attack what threatens his or her opinions or beliefs. And they deflect genuine dialogue with sarcasm and glib statements that make them sometimes seem clever but mostly flip.

“The Fred Factor” is a concept, a label, a phrase. It uses fun language (and if someone is opposed to a little levity, God help them) to express a serious point: nobody can prevent you from choosing to be extraordinary. You and I aren’t always encouraged, recognized or rewarded for our efforts, but that isn’t an excuse for not trying. Great sculptors in the Renaissance often spent hours on details that would never been seen by the viewing public. Why? Because the artist saw and believed that God would see, too. Those artists had a commitment to art and excellence that was as personal as it was public.

The Fred Factor is also about looking beyond one’s self as the measure of all things. Self-absorption can become pathological, and those who subscribe to the concept of The Fred Factor see themselves as being part of a large world where the feelings and well-being of others are important as well.

So why be a Fred? There are several reasons, and the first, in my mind, is because it is a better way to live. Philosophers have spent hundreds of years grappling with the question, “What is the good life and how do we live it?” Maslow believed that there might well be something higher on the hierarchy of needs than self-actualization, and that was self-transcendence. I have come to believe that we become self-actualized through self-transcendence, a paradox I’m not going to delve into here. Doing all you can to build meaningful relationships, make a positive difference and add value to your work and those around you—those are components, I believe, of the good life.

Another great reason to be a Fred goes back to a quote from Helen Keller I use frequently: Is life not a thousand times too short to bore ourselves? Living life like the real guy, Fred Shea, makes for an infinitely richer, more interesting and fulfilling lifestyle that going with the flow of mediocrity. There are personal benefits one enjoys from
practicing the principles of The Fred Factor.

I doubt if I’ve converted the true cynics, as I doubt there are many cynics reading this blog. Maybe there are a few. So what have I gained? Maybe you find yourself doubting from time to time, as I do, about whether your efforts are worth it. Is there really good reason to keep trying to make the ordinary extraordinary? Are the cynics possibly right? Why does it seem my best efforts and intentions are often met with resistance and criticism?

The Holidays are a wonderful time to celebrate the best and highest ideals of life and people of diverse faiths and beliefs pause for a time to celebrate the goodness to be found in the midst of adversity, struggle and even tragedy. My hope is that in the short time it took you to read this article, you’ve been validated and confirmed. I hope that you know that your efforts are appreciated, even if that appreciation isn’t always adequately expressed. I hope you know that the cynicism of another should never prevent your own optimism, and that the highest reward of doing good work and good works is always found in the doing itself. And I hope that you know that the resistance and struggle makes us stronger, and makes the accomplishment of the extraordinary even sweeter.

Just remember, not only is it the season to stop being cynical, it is, more importantly, the season to be hopeful and to be of larger service to others.

September 30, 2007

Free Enterprise

Filed under: Observations, Featured, Success — Mark Sanborn @ 10:01 am

I was recently honored by Sales & Marketing Executives International with their 2007 Ambassador of Free Enterprise Award for which I am most grateful. I spoke at the SMEI Pinnacle Awards where I was presented the award and had the pleasure of meeting Raja Tarabishy, the University of Connecticut graduate who won the Free Enterprise Essay contest. I was impressed by his essay and thought you would enjoy it as well.

Here’s the link: Free Enterprise Essay by Raja Tarabishy (PDF).

December 28, 2006

A Dozen Ideas for the New Year

Filed under: Featured, Professional Development, Success — Mark Sanborn @ 1:42 pm

I love this time of year. It brings closure to the old and reminds us of the opportunities of the new. Thoreau said, “To affect the quality of the day–that is the highest of arts.” With that goal in mind, here are some ideas you can benefit from in the coming year:

1. Take care of the moments and the moments will take care of your life. Planning and goal setting are important, but more important is being fully engaged in the ordinary moments of each day.

2. Never be to busy to pursue your curiosities and interests.

3. Remember John Templeton’s advice, “A measure of mental health is the disposition to find good everwhere.”

4. There is usually a better way–pursue it. “If you are doing anything the way y ou did it twenty years ago, there is a better way,” said Thomas Edison. To be truly competitive, substitute “twenty days” for “twenty years.”

5. Experience + Reflection = Insight

6. If it isn’t different, it probably isn’t strategic: what will you do differently this year?

7. “Imagination is the last remaining legal means you have to gain an unfair advantage over your competition.” Pat Fallon

8. Learn something new every day. Look for the MILOD: most important lesson of the day.

9. Your life improves when you do.

10. Have fun at home and at work or your family, colleagues and customers won’t have fun either.

11. Eat a little bit healthier and exercise a little bit more.

12. In the end, we have each other. In business and life, it is all about relationships.

Happy New Year!

December 27, 2006

Are “You” Really the Person of the Year?

Filed under: Observations, Featured — Mark Sanborn @ 4:33 pm

One of the best-selling books of recent years was Rick Warren’s Purpose Drive Life which begins with the sentence, “It’s not about you.”

Time magazine begs to differ.

The December 25 issue picked “You” as the person of the year. The cover has a reflective piece of foil so you supposedly see yourself when you look at it. (I find it ironic that the reflection is funhouse mirror-like and dramatically distorts–which is also what happens when a person becomes too self-absorbed focusing on him- or herself.)

The accompanying text was as much about Web 2.0 and the community and new opportunities that it enables as it was about any individual being at the center of the universe. According to the lead-in article, “The new Web is a very different thing. It’s a tool for bringing together the small contributions of millions of people and making them matter…Web 2.0 is a massive social experiment.”

In “Power to the People”, the premise is that you control the media now. Control sounds like a good thing until one questions just what it is we’re controlling. The old-guard media wasn’t always accurate in the way it portrayed events, but I don’t buy into the collective opinion of a zillion people about what is right or true, either.

It might have been more accruate to say “Web 2.0″ or “we” are the “technology/people of the year” but that would have created an editorial dilemma.

When the focus shifts to the individual, the point is more about faux celebrity and validation than contribution ala You Tube and MySpace (”It’s All About Us”). I guess those who are willing to use the new media can extend their 15 minutes of fame, or at least their individual pervasiveness. 

There is an interesting article about a journalist who entered the virtual community Second Life where he instantly hooked up with a hot blonde female avatar, visited a waterfall, shipwreck, sex club and danced and made out. All virtually, of course. Turns out his “guide” was a real-life married woman in Europe. Wonder how her spouse feels about that? A consistent overtone to “You” as person of the year is how technology has enabled individuals to have multiple identities. Certainly that sort of thing can be at the least amusing, but it opens a Pandora’s Box of new challenges and problems. Maintaining one healthy identify is often challenge enough for some of us. How much time and energy will it take to create and maintain virtual identities? And might these created identities consume one’s true/original identity? Hmmm…..

Read the rest of the story in Time. I’m sure you’ll have new and different reactions and insights. I hope you’ll post your reactions to “You” as person of the year.

December 9, 2006

Sadness, Strength and Resolve

Filed under: Uncategorized, Observations, Featured — Mark Sanborn @ 10:47 am

It has been a tough couple of days. I just finished writing a blog about books, and the upbeat tone of that blog belies the sadness I’m feeling over some recent events.

Many of us lost a friend a couple nights ago. John was 48, the same age as I am, married with four kids and a pastor. He died suddenly and unexpectedly. He was one of the guys I was supposed to go hunting with tomorrow.

Fact is I didn’t spend much time with him. I saw him periodically at church, at Starbucks and around the neighborhood. He baptized my oldest son. Other fact is that every time I saw the guy, it was a treat. He was one of those happy, bouyant people with a delightful sense of mischief and humor. I always felt a little better, a little happier after running into him. And I know for yet another fact that there are a whole bunch of people who felt the same way about John, and who although they may not have gotten to spend much time with him, they wish that they had, and they are incredibly sad right now.
And isn’t that they way to live one’s life? To always make others feel a little better because they ran into you? Most of us go through life trying to feel a little better. The great ones have that affect on others.

I’m sad, for the loss of John, for his family, for our church. And while those of who shared John’s faith believe he’s home now, it doesn’t lessen the sadness much, at least not right now…
A few nights ago Darla got the boys and I to volunteer some time with her making Christmas tree ornaments with kid’s living at a shelter of sorts. Most of the kids are there with their mothers only, dad’s missing, unsupportive and/or uninvolved in their lives. And like all children, they are wonderful, cute and loving. They have more runny noses, more cuts and bruises and fewer possessions, but special little people nonetheless.

And I’m unapologetic if you think I’m being maudlin, but I wanted to cry. The reality is that in ten or twenty years you and I will read about some of them, and the crimes they commited, and maybe the violence they perpetrated on a victim, and we’ll be incensed and want them locked up and punished. We won’t recall that they had a father or mother who abused them, that they didn’t have access to medical attention, that they lived in horrible circumstances that they couldn’t do anything about because they were just little kids. And no, those circumstances don’t excuse criminal or violent behavior, but neither should we be blind to the cause and effect of the often harsh world in which we live.

I spent time with one little boy, very shy, but an ornament-making machine. He didn’t want to talk much, just to create and make things. And I encouraged him and complimented and praised him, my tiny gift to him. I want to believe that his mom sees his potential and encourages and praises him, but maybe not. And I know he doesn’t have nice clothes so you know the kids at school probably aren’t nice to him. So I wanted to make sure that for one night, he felt like the special, wonderful little guy he is.

And today I’m sad…have been for a couple days now. Some of you who read this will  know how hard it is for some people to deeply feel things like sadness, those of you who are like me, who grew up “doing” so they didn’t have to feel as much, at least not the bad stuff. But by the grace of God and with the help of some loved ones, I’m doing better at feeling, especially sadness.

And from that sadness can come strength and resolve. Resolve to learn from the tragedies and circumstances that make us sad; resolve to make a difference in changing those circumstances when we can, and supporting those affected when we can’t. The strength comes from knowing that we have survived, are survivors and while someday we’ll meet a situation bigger than us, the end of our journey, that in the interim, we can choose to be more like my friend John was, that the little stuff we can do, when we choose to, can make someone else’s journey a little sweeter, or at least a little less tragic.

The sadness will pass, at least most of it. I can only hope that the strength and resolve will remain.

Time to Read

Filed under: Featured, Professional Development, Success — Mark Sanborn @ 10:18 am

Many of us have some free time over the Holidays that we don’t have the rest of the year. There are many great ways to spend this time–with family, reconnecting with friends, volunteering time for service–but one of the best is to do some reading.

My own passion for books was re-ignited yesterday watching my dear friend Charlie “Tremendous” Jones present to the Colorado Speakers Association. Charlie is a legendary speaker (”Don’t worry about how to motivate others. Stay motivated and you’ll be a motivator.”), but he is also the founder of Executive Books (, a company that makes terrific books available to individuals and organizations around the world at amazingly low prices. Charlie believes you and I will be the same five years from now as we are today except for two things: the people we meet and the books we read. I’ve learned from Charlie that while spoken words have great power, the written words in books have lasting power that can create even greater impact in another’s life.

Any time is a good time to read, but since the Holidays are an especially good time to read, here are a few ideas to ponder:

1. Don’t waste time reading a book you aren’t enjoying or learning from. If you get 50 pages into a book and it isn’t a good investment of time, give it up. The price of the book is far less than the value of your time.

2. Consider reading a biography. Pick a person whose life exemplified excellence, and whose focus of endeavor was of interest to you. Some of the most enlightening and inspiration books you can read are biographies.

3. If you’re up for a challenge, pick a book that is challenging to read. We often read books that are easy to read and that allow us to relax, but periodically delve into a book that will stimulate your thinking and test you.

4. Go back to books you’ve benefited from reading and review them. You don’t necessarily have to reread those books, especially if you’ve highlighted key ideas and/or made notes in the margins, but by reviewing, you’ll have your thinking refreshed and what you learned reinforced. Great ideas stand the test of time.

5. Give your favorite book as a gift. Make sure you know the reading preferences of your family and friends before you give a book as a gift, but I’ve found it powerful to be able to tell someone “This was the best book I’ve read this year,” or “This is my favorite novel of all time.” Hopefully they’ll not only enjoy the book if they read it, but it will create common grounds for discussion for you both.

I recently wrote a blog called “Don’t Take Time to Relax.” My point was that the important things usually require that we make time for them (there’s usually no extra time for the taking). One of the few exceptions may well be the little extra time we have at this time of year. Use it well, and make time to read.

October 25, 2006

A Roadmap to Professional & Personal Development

Filed under: Featured, Professional Development — Mark Sanborn @ 7:15 am

I just spoke for the Insight Leadership Conference for Fortune Brands. This is an $8 billion dollar company with 20 consumer brands that are usually #1 or #2 in their respective categories, and include Titleist, Moen, Sauza and Makers Mark.

Get this: 20% of revenues come from products that were introduced in the past 36 months.

That got me thinking: what if we used a similar standard for personal and professional development? It was cause us to ask questions like these:

  • What percentage of the skills you currently use was developed in the past three years?
  • How much of what you know has been learned in the most recent 36 months?
  • How many new ideas have you come up with? (By the way, you might want to check out Business 2.0’s article on Crowdcasting in the November 2006 issue: the term refers to generating new ideas by tapping into the ‘wisdom’ of crowds, in this case 3,000 MBA students who are competing to solve the problems of companies such as American Express, GE Money, Mars & Whirlpool.)
  • What practical revenue are you realizing from recently developed or acquired intellectual capital?

October 24, 2006

How to Fail at Failing

Filed under: Leadership, Featured, Politics, Moral Leadership — Mark Sanborn @ 9:59 am

A moral collapse is a very bad thing. It can be made worse, however, by failing to deal with the downfall appropriately and effectively.

It is instructive, given fairly recent events, to learn what not to do.

First, don’t make excuses. Mark Foley should have known better than to disclose his childhood trauma in the wake of his abject moral failure. As soon as his handlers said, “This isn’t meant as an excuse…” most people labeled it exactly that.

Are explanations ever in order? Perhaps, but timing is key. Foley should have accepted responsibility and, if sincere, communicated regret. (I’m quite certain he regrets getting caught, but haven’t seen any real remorse from him or his people about what he did.) At a later date, an explanation might have been in order, but I’m not sure it would have accomplished much. Foley’s focus should have been on responsibility first and then making amends.

Secondly, don’t point at others. The next extremely dumb thing Foley did was to name the priest he claims molested him as a child. This time, the “naming” was done (according to the spin from his representative) for the sake of “healing”. Healing is important, but it doesn’t need to be done in public. Foley would have been a bigger person to deal with the “whom” privately. What was gained by naming the priest? Nothing, other than to bolster Foley’s excuse about why he behaved inappropriately.

Does Foley’s past have bearing on his current situation? Yes and no. We are all affected by our pasts, but we don’t have to be controlled by them. Foley’s childhood provides context for some but is mostly unneeded by most.

My friend John Crudele, who has worked extensively with young people once said, “Kids are victims. Adults are volunteers.” Once we recognize a problem, as responsible adults we do whatever we can to address them. Leaders take responsibility, they don’t place blame, and they don’t try to hide their blame in lame explanations.

October 11, 2006

Carly Fiorina: “Leadership is not about titles…”

Filed under: Non-titled Leaders, Influence, Leadership, Featured — Mark Sanborn @ 3:34 pm

In a recent email, my editor, Roger Scholl at Random House, brought the following to my attention… 

…By the way, I watched the Carly Fiorina podcast that is up on Amazon of her talk with the Amazon sales force – she could have been quoting DNT (You Don’t Need a Title to be a Leader) word for word, it seemed to me. So much of her message was about the fact that you don’t need a title to be a leader, and real leaders help others to make a positive difference in the world around them.

My curiousity piqued, I listened and Roger was right. Ms. Fiorina states, “Leadership is not about titles… It is a choice to make a positive difference…”

Regardless of how you feel about Carly Fiorina’s tenure at HP, I have to say that I couldn’t agree more with her definition of leadership. Well said, Carly, well said!

October 10, 2006

Leadership Lessons from a Beer Festival

Filed under: Leadership, Featured — Mark Sanborn @ 11:48 am

GABF stands for the Great American Beer Festival and 2006 marked the 25th anniversary of this event. I’d always wanted to attend but reports of long lines to enter and crowded conditions once inside discouraged me from doing so in the past. This year I decided to attend anyway.

The 2006 GABF featured some 360 brewers and 1600 beers to sample in addition to the beer competition. The majority who participate are microbrewers who may or may not have distribution beyond their local establishment. The big commercial breweries are in attendance, but the only people I saw drinking their products were friends and spouses who had accompanied the real beer connoisseurs, some, it appeared, against their will.

I sampled some 40-50 beers (an estimate) but before you label me a lush, understand that the samples poured are approximately one ounce. In many instances I didn’t drink the entire ounce, so I estimate I had the equivalent of perhaps two pints of beer over two hours.

But what about the lines? The crowd? Let’s back up a bit for a more complete picture of the experience.

My friend Tom and I arrived thirty minutes before the doors to the event opened at 12:30 pm for the first Saturday session. At that time we estimated there to be roughly 3,000 beer fans in line with more joining by the second. When the doors finally opened, it took longer than you’d expect to get inside because IDs had to be checked. Many in line wondered aloud why IDs couldn’t have been checked and wrist bands provided while everyone was waiting in line. The more perplexing question was why eight entry lines funneled into one tiny area where one had to pick up a tasting glass. It so crowded that once you got your glass it was nearly impossible to escape the crush.

After 25 years experience, why weren’t logistics better? My only guess is that perhaps the GABF is secretly organized and run by the airline industry.

Once inside, at least for those of us there early, it wasn’t too crowded. We probably waited in line to get a sample no more than three or four times. The drill went like this: select the type of beer you’d want to sample and a volunteer would pour. You’d taste and then use tap water to rinse your glass for the next tasting.

Volunteers are the lifeblood of the event, but it was surprising how few seemed to know much about the brewer or the beer they represented. When we did encounter enthusiastic volunteers (surprisingly two were young women whom I rather doubt even drink beer, but who wanted to have some fun pouring samples all day), it was a welcome relief and added significantly to the experience.

My first sample was an IPA (India Pale Ale, a preferred style for me) from the Amicas Pizza & Microbrews (Salida, Colorado). 40 or 50 samples later I returned to Amicas for one final sample of the same beer. In memory retention, the primacy effect says we tend to remember what we were exposed to first, and that later data can get jumbled together. I’ve come to believe the primacy affect works in beer tasting as well. Maybe I got lucky, but one of the best beers I tasted happened to be the first and last beer I tasted.

Which brings me to my epiphany: too much of a good thing is, well, confusing. I’m not a beer judge (although I aspire to be one if I ever have time to pass the rigorous certification) but maximum enjoyment can get scuttled by the overwhelming array of choices. I had narrowed down my choices to brewers or beers I’d read about, interesting styles or formulations, and blind chance, but it was still impossible to keep anything straight after a dozen or so samples. (Aficionados wander around with pretzel necklaces—literally—so they can munch on the same between tastings to keep their palates clear.)

My favorite beer fest was one I attended previously, and it had no more than a dozen brewers present. To me the smaller size enhanced the experience. I felt I learned more and enjoyed the beer more than with a bewildering array like at GABF.

Tom and I left before our brains became too scrambled to legally and safely drive home. We both agreed that it was fun, but now that we had the tee shirt, we’d probably confine our sampling and drinking to our private stashes at home or at our favorite pubs.

Leadership Lessons: really. There are always lessons to be learned. First, GABF reminded me of how important it is to manage the experience, and that logistics can really hinder even the best events. To paraphrase David Ogilvy, God is in the details, or in this case, missing from the lines and tasting glass table. Second, information can add value. Whether using volunteers or employees, make sure they have sufficient information to satisfy the range of people they interact with. And a staff that has fun makes it easier for customers to have fun. Thirdly, small is the new big (Seth Godin has a new book out by the same name). Yes, there will always be room for the mammoth entertainment events, but they make us appreciate even more the smaller, more focused niche events. And finally, stay focused. Have a strategy as both a creator and consumer so that you won’t be distracted by the trivial and superfluous. A plan can help you cut through the clutter to both enjoy and profit more.

So I raise my glass and say, “Here’s to you and your continued success.”

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