Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The Power of Content Calendars

Not just for the wordsmiths and marketeers in your organization. It’s as easy as 1-7-30-4-2-1

It’s no secret that Thought Leadership Marketing (aka “content marketing”) is one of the most effective ways to position yourself as an expert in your niche and to stay top of mind with your clients, prospects, influencers and/or members throughout the year. Blogs, e-newsletters, white papers, webinars, published articles, social media posts and podcasts, are all proven forms of thought leadership marketing. We know you have the expertise in house, but how do you keep coming up with great topics when you don’t have a full-time writing staff?

Start with a plan.

You wouldn’t have clients invest their money without a plan. You wouldn’t hire an architect to build your dream house if he or she didn’t use blue prints. So, why would you start pushing out content to your universe of followers without a plan?

Getting started and sticking to it

Editorial content calendars (sometimes called content calendars) are what we typically recommend to clients to get your thoughts organized for the short-term, intermediate term and long-term. You can start with a simple spreadsheet showing the months, types of content, topics covered and who’s responsible for each piece of content. 

You don’t need to invest in expensive or sophisticated marketing automation software in the early going. The main objective is to have a simple snapshot of the year ahead and to try your best to stick to the plan. It’s OK to make adjustments as important new topics rise to the surface during the course of the year. But you want to maintain a consistent schedule—we call it a “cadence” just like being consistent about your diet, your new exercise routine or your new personal enrichment class.
In fact, both content calendars and resolutions tend to fail for many of the same reasons. Perhaps you committed to a goal that’s too big or your support group falls apart. Maybe you just don’t know where to begin. Instead of giving up on your content marketing plans, as four out of five people do with their resolutions, make a plan that works for your organization.

To help you stick to your content plan, here are 6 key steps adapted from a presentation by Frank Dale, CEO of content management software company, Compendium (now part of Oracle):

1. Map out all the content your organization produces.
There’s probably more than you think. In addition to blogs, write down all forms of content, including videos, photos, presentations, webinars, social media posts, marketing materials, press releases, industry and business articles, white papers, FAQs and events.

2. Sort this content into categories or types.
Creating content categories ensures that your organization covers a broad range of topics, not just marketing. Categories can include: “”How To” best practices, industry trends, company news, marketing, events and more.

3. Identify who is creating your content.
Your organization has content authors who don’t know they’re authors. Anyone with hands-on experience within the company has a story to tell and can contribute to your content marketing effort. This includes employees from different areas of your company (marketing, IT, legal) as well as external authors (customers, partners, industry thought leaders).

4. Determine how much and how often your “experts” can contribute. Some authors can easily provide a steady stream of content (social media managers, public relations, customers), while others may be more sporadic (event planners, video producers).

5. Think rows and columns. Once you’ve completed these steps, develop a simple spreadsheet that includes all this information. From this spreadsheet, you can begin to create a content calendar. We like using a traditional monthly calendar because I can easily see what content is planned and when.

6. Be realistic about what your organization can accomplish.
It might be helpful to think about frequency using a technique pioneered by content strategist Russell Sparkman/FusionSpark Media  called the “1-7-30-4-2-1” method. Here’s how it works:

·         1 represents the content your organization can commit to publishing daily. This might be something as easy as the sharing of industry news via Twitter or Facebook.
·         7 refers to weekly content, such as a blog post.
·         30 is what your organization can publish monthly. These might be more extensive content pieces, such as an e-newsletter or video.
·         4 refers to a quarterly content commitment, such as a white paper, e-book or contest.
·         2 is biannual content, such as an event, new brochure or webcast.
·         1 is annual content, such as an event, conference or app.

Don’t get painted into a corner

We advise our clients to think three to six assignments ahead at all times. Start setting up little folders for each upcoming post or article now (paper or digital is fine). You never know when you’ll come across a great nugget or factoid in July that will be perfect for the assignment that’s not due until November.


Approaching content marketing in these manageable bite-sized steps prevents you from feeling overwhelmed and allows you to build a content calendar that’s manageable and sustainable. Best of all, this exercise is easier and less painful than dieting or going to the gym and you’ll have a “ripped” and “buff” reputation to show off for all your effort and discipline.


TAGS: content calendars, editorial calendars, content marketing, Russell Sparkman, Compendium, 

Monday, February 13, 2017

How About a K.I.S.S for Valentine’s Day?

Leonardo da Vinci, the 15th century renaissance genius once said, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” What he really meant was “Keep It Simple Stupid” (K.I.S.S.). Based on your reaction to last week’s post, Super Bowl Ads and Vince Lombardi Motto Confirm Need for Simplicity, we thought it might be worth drilling further into how we can manage the overwhelming complexity in our lives.

Sydney Finkelstein, a management professor at Dartmouth’s Tuck School
of Business did a great piece for BBC  two years ago this week--Why Is Simplicity So Complicated?—and it’s still relevant today. The majority of you (71%) told us in our unscientific InstaPoll that your work life is more complex than it was five years ago. In fact, nearly three in five of you (57%) felt your work life is significantly more complex than it was five years ago.

Whether inside or outside the workplace, Finkelstein said most people today feel that they’re always busy, always on, “always trying to keep up with an endless array of challenges and tasks hurtling their way.”  He added that even when people know what they need to do, the sheer volume of tasks filling up “countless sticky notes, smartphone memos, and good old-fashioned ‘to do’ lists adds up to one big serving of complexity.’”

Sound familiar?

Many have lamented the cruel irony of technology—something that’s meant to make everyday life simpler and efficient—actually makes it more complex. As Finkelstein noted: “How simple can it be when we have profuse password prompts and inboxes brimming with 500 new emails per day? Why do I need to sign into an app or website using Facebook or Twitter? And the pile-on of technological simplifiers that complicate things goes on and on — just how many passwords do you have to remember to sign into everything you need for daily life and work?”

Is life becoming too complex or are we just getting lazy?
 Take our Web InstaPoll and see how you stack up to your peers.

Solution: Complexity-free zones

We recently collaborated with our client, Independence Advisors, on an e-book about the many parallels between flyfishing and investing. What’s flyfishing got to do with investing?  Turns out plenty as Independence founder, Chas Boinske is happy to explain. A lifelong passionate angler, Boinske has found that being patient, using a small number of reliable tools, minimizing your choices and keeping costs down works quite well on the river and in the investment world. For more on this topic, read Chas’s recent post based on the e-book Simplicity Can Pay Big Dividends in Fishing and Investing.

Psychologists refer to the “power of mindfulness,” which roughly translates into living in the moment and not cluttering your brain with too many other things. Many who meditate, run, swim or do yoga can get a taste of that state of mind. Embracing simplicity in everyday life isn’t easy, but there are things we can do to create more complexity-free zones.
Here are some of Finkelstein’s recommendations about how to do so:
1. Start by looking for the simple solution to things, at least as a first step. This can be almost laughably easy. What’s the first thing you should do when your computer, printer or modem freezes, asks Finkelstein? Unplug! Chances are that simple will maneuver will do more for you then perusing FAQs, waiting for tech support or calling customer service.
2. Don’t constantly check your email.  Finkelstein suggests carving out a fixed time period every day— start with 20 minutes and move up to two hours, or longer — when you’re just NOT connected. This might not be feasible for everyone, but 20 minutes is a manageable start for most. For more, see our recent post, Time for a Technology Time-Out?
3. React less. Many managers spend their days fighting fires, reacting to what is happening, rather than controlling events. Finkelstein argues that you can get better at this by building a 15-minute “reflection break” into as many of your days as possible. This is time in which you simply THINK rather than do. It’s not so much daydreaming as it is thinking about what you should do better, differently, or not at all. Take the time to be more proactive, rather than reactive. “The greater sense of control that comes with reflection will pay for itself many times over in the form of reduced stress,” says Finkelstein.
4. Use your resources and delegate. Imagine you could magically create a team of people who can contribute rather than having to do everything yourself. Newsflash: If you’re a manager, you’ve probably got people reporting to you already. While it’s not simple to be a manager, Finkelstein said the principles of delegation are simple enough. “Set clear goals. Empower people to take charge. Hold them accountable. Coach them. You’ll know you’re getting this reasonably right when you feel confident enough to take your reflection breaks every day,” added Finkelstein.

So what’s the common thread between Finkelstein’s and Boinske’s advice? They create time. And when you have more time you have greater control and less stress. “Simplicity is one of those rare states where the old adage that less is more actually holds true,” observed Finkelstein.
As renowned folk singer Pete Seeger famously quipped, “Any darn fool can make something complex; it takes a genius to make something simple.” On this Valentine’s Day, keep the value of simplicity and clarity in mind if you really want to impress that someone special in your life. When you use your brain as well as your heart, you’ll look like a genius rather than a fool. You might even get a K.I.S.S.


TAGS: Leonardo da Vinci, Sydney Finkelstein, Chas Boinske, Independence Advisors, managing complexity, stress reduction

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Super Bowl Ads and Vince Lombardi Motto Confirm Need for Simplicity

I was on a video conference call with a client the other day. We had half a dozen people calling in from four different cities and several time zones. I tested my system, accessed the web link, punched in the call-in number and the pass code….and spent the next 10 minutes listening to elevator music…..by myself.

Panicked, I reviewed my calendar to make sure I had the right day and time. Check. I tried the call in number and pass code again to make sure I had dialed in correctly. Check. I tested my system settings to make sure I had all the updated software for slides, audio and video. Check. So, where was everybody?
Slowly, but surely the invitees straggled in….An East Coast team member apologized for having another call go late. Another participant in the Southeast said her building’s Internet service was down all day. Meanwhile, her colleague on another floor of the same building said he did have Internet service, but the IT department had started its weekly patch update right before our call was scheduled. Yet another team member was driving through the Midwest and had no wireless service at the time the call started. Then the slides wouldn’t load.

Sound familiar?

Finally, we got everything loaded about 25 minutes after the one-hour call was supposed to start. And it was a very productive meeting….while it lasted. At about 55 past the hour, people started dropping off because they had to race to their next meeting or conference call (and likely take a bio break). And about half of the action items for next meeting went unclaimed.
In one sense it’s amazing that you can hear and see remote colleagues in real-time and work collaboratively from far flung workspaces, whether in a conventional office, car or spare bedroom of your home. But, is all this technology really making us more productive—even when it works?

I bet this scenario didn’t occur to any of the tech companies (or ad agencies) that shelled out $5 million for Super Bowl air time—even the ones going for humor.

According to the Deloitte Human Capital Trends survey, more than 7 out of 10 surveyed organizations rated the need to simplify work as an “important problem,” with more than 25 percent citing it as a “very important” problem. According to Deloitte, only 10 percent of companies have a major work simplification program today.

Is life becoming too complex or are we just getting lazy?
Take our Web InstaPoll and see how you stack up to your peers.

Bottom line: You can’t do your best work or your best thinking, when you are constantly distracted, overwhelmed, and stressed out just trying to keep up. As management guru, Stephen Covey famously wrote in 7 Habits of Highly Effective People:  too many workers today will tell you, “I’m so busy sawing, I don’t have time to sharpen the saw.”
Deloitte researchers said two-thirds of today's employees feel "overwhelmed" and 80 percent would like to work fewer hours. But how can they when the average worker checks their phone 150 times per day? With the flood of emails, conference calls, meetings, and other distractions research says the average office worker can only focus for seven minutes at a time before they either switch windows or check Facebook, according to neurologist Larry Rosen (see video for more).

Fortunately, not everyone has resigned themselves to the tyranny of complexity.

Our client Kyle Walters, founder of Dallas-based Atlas Wealth Advisors recently spun off a tax affiliate. Why? Because his firm got tired of referring clients to tax specialists who didn’t call back, or who wren’t proactive about helping clients anticipate future problems As Walters explained, what most people really want is a single point of contact—a “personal CFO”-- to handle all of their financial issues in one place. “So we stepped in to fill the void,” added Walters, whose firm’s motto is: “Simplifying Your Life.”
My friend Richard Rapp, head of the Westport, CT-based creative agency, Altamira, said that managing complexity, not eliminating it, is the key to achieving success today. Rapp said that complexity usually falls into two categories:  (1) Those that are self-inflicted and (2) Those that are thrust upon us. “We help our clients untangle their complexity challenges through a triage approach that involves key stakeholders on the ground and in the C-suite,” he explained.

Super Bowl ads: Confusing or brilliant?

Some thought many of Sunday’s Super Bowl ads were riveting, while others thought they were great entertainment, but not likely to make them go out an purchase the advertised products or services—even if they could remember who the advertiser was.

According to Rapp, the ads that stood out and scored well on the USA Today Ad Meter were those that “focused single-mindedly on a story that rang true to the brand and resonated emotionally with viewers.” Many ads used humor, action and celebrity to break-through the clutter of 60 plus ads during the game. Here are a few that stood out for Rapp:
  • Buick’s Cam Newton ad told a simple story using humor and celebrity in a very effective manner. Importantly, the entire story revolved around pre-conceived attitudes about the Buick brand. 
  • Amazon Echo and Google Home both aired spots that demonstrated the features and benefits of their AI assistants and both were very good. However, Amazon Echo aired three different 10-second spots, each focused on a different feature. The “play My Girl” ad was 10 seconds of perfection with excellent casting, a simple and beautiful story line, a cute young girl and a simple, clear payoff delivered by the advertiser’s product, observed Rapp.
  • Mercedes-Benz tapped the Boomer emotion, and likely Mercedes-AMG roadster buyer, with one last hurrah for the Born to be Wild generation. The use of Steppenwolf’s classic, the only song available on the juke box in this biker bar, drove the story to its climax as we saw Peter Fonda climbing into his Mercedes roadster and leaving the pack of Harley Davidsons in the dust. Excellent storytelling, use of music and celebrity that was dead on.
  • Kia scored points for the overall use of humor by making fun of cause-minded young drivers and using the most outrageous comedic actress, Melissa McCarthy in the role of the “hero’s journey,” chuckled Rapp. The message was actually very simple: that it’s hard to be an environmental hero, but it’s easy to be eco-friendly when driving the Kia Niro. 

As with so many things in life, the simplest approach is best. Rapp said that “clarity of purpose and vision” allows companies to push their innovation and growth goals more effectively, while better aligning employee buy-in and customer acceptance. Walters said it stems from the rise in complexity in life today and people’s limited attention spans. “There’s so much more going on in people’s lives and there’s so much more that you need to know. The decisions become bigger. The stakes become more dangerous if you’re not careful. I find people don’t even know what they don’t know,” added Walters.
NFL coaching legend, Vince Lombardi may have summed it up best: “People try to find things in this game that don’t exist. Football is only about two things: blocking and tackling.”


TAGS: Kyle Walters, Richard Rapp, Super Bowl ads, need for simplicity, Melissa McCarthy, Steven Covey, Deloitte Human Capital Trends

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

The Phone’s Ringing. Anyone Know How to Work It?

Last week’s post, Time for a Technology Timeout? prompted a fair amount of feedback. Not everyone agreed with us, but I was pleased to learn I’m not the only one who takes a weekly “tech fast.”

Tim Voorhees, Principal Partner at the Costa Mesa, California-based estate planning firm Matsen Voorhees Mintz LLP told me he puts away his phone and computer from sundown on Saturday until sundown on Sunday.  “People may wonder if I am an orthodox [religious observer], but there is wisdom in the 4th Commandment,” quipped Voorhees. 
Tom Greve, Business Development Manager at B2B media company EMS World wondered: “Are we losing the art of conversation since young professionals can't keep their head up long enough to look you in the eye?”

Research suggests the trend isn’t likely to reverse any time soon (more on that in a minute). “Observe a group of teens or Tweens at the mall and every one of them has a phone in their hand, “lamented Greve. “At all times, they fear they might miss a text or a tweet or a snapchat etc. These are tomorrow's leaders and it scares me a bit.”

According to the GfK MRI Fall 2016 Survey of the American Consumer® , more than half of the 24,000 adults surveyed (52%) live in households that have cellphones but, no landline telephones—twice as many as in 2010.

As you might expect, researchers Millennials (born from 1977 to 1994) most likely to be living in cellphone-only households-- 71 percent, up from 47 percent in 2010. But, cellphone-only homes are increasingly common among all age groups:

·         More than half (55%) of homes headed by Generation Xers (those born 1965 to 1976) are cellphone-only, the report said.
·         40 percent of households headed by Boomers (born 1946 to 1964) are now cellphone only.
·         Even for senior citizens (age 65+) cellphone-only households quadrupled over the past six years, to 23 from 6 percent in 2010.
Speaking of polls, *** Don’t forget to take our latest InstaPoll about podcasting. See how you stack up to your peers with just one question.

Your clients—and children of clients—are increasingly on the go and using mobile devices not only to converse, but to access information and resources about their finances. Of course you want to make your website, blog, newsletter and other resources mobile responsive, but you can’t forget about the most effective communication channel of all—face to face.
Cecil Nazareth, CPA, principal of Nazareth Partners and a professor of accounting and finance at Fordham University is the father of two 20-somethings. He is also surrounded by Millennials at work and on campus. “Every student, client or person I interact with--I want to see them face to face,” said Nazareth. Even in today’s tech-dominated era, Nazareth said, “You need to look people in the eyes. What are their issues? What are their pain points? What are they uncomfortable with? It’s much more comfortable for most people when you’re face to face.”

Nazareth is a specialist in foreign bank account reporting. “It’s very complex with lots of sensitive information,” he said. “They often have issues. They’re not sure if they’ve complied with the law. You want to meet them in person and see what guidance you can give them in an environment that makes them comfortable talking and sharing information with you.”

Many professionals still believe that face to face conversation cannot be replicated via phone calls, emails or Skype. “It’s not just about the numbers,” said Nazareth. “You want to see people in person and see if they have integrity. You want to make sure they’re genuine and complying with the law.” That’s not a hang-up. That’s good business.
Tell us what you think.


TAGS: GfK MRI, Tom Greve, Tim Voorhees, Cecil Nazareth, cellphone only households

Monday, January 23, 2017

Time for a Technology Time-Out?

Lost amid the inauguration coverage, the anti-Trump demonstrations and the NFL conference finals, was the death of a young tech visionary named Levi Felix.  Just 32, Felix succumbed to complications from a brain tumor. Felix’s name may not ring a bell, but you are probably familiar with Digital Detox, the organization he co-founded to help people of all ages unplug from the grid and reconnect with each other and the real world. 

A self-described geek (“not a Luddite” he’d argue), Felix once lived the tech entrepreneur lifestyle—70 hour workweeks, guzzling Mountain Dew, always-connected, pulling all-nighters at the office and sleeping with a laptop under his pillow. That was until he was hospitalized for an exhaustion-induced esophageal tear and decided to change his life. “I love that technology connects us and is taking our civilization to the next level,” Felix told the New York Times in a 2012 interview, but we have to learn how to use it and not have it use us.”

Again, Felix didn’t turn his back on the tech world after his awakening. He simply felt that regardless of one’s age, we should be taking more time to reflect and experience what we’re doing instead of constantly sharing it, posting it, tweeting or pinning it. He also felt we should spend more time looking at each other’s faces, rather than our screens.
A recent Pew Internet study found that one third of Americans prefer texting to talking, and an international Time Magazine poll found these disturbing signs of tech addiction:

·         84 percent of respondents said that they could not go a single day without their cellphones.
·         50 percent of Americans sleep with their phone next to them like a teddy bear or a spouse.
·         20 percent of respondents check their phone every 10 minutes.

Houston. We have a problem here. As I’ve mentioned several times in this blog, I take a 24-hour “tech fast” every almost weekend from mid-day Saturday to mid-day Sunday. It’s not that hard, and the world hasn’t come to an end once during my weekly tech purges.

As (human) columnist Alexa O’Brien opined last week about artificial intelligence, Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri and other on-demand personal digital assistants could be making us dumber as they get smarter. 
Through big data collection and analytics, these AI assistants “will come to know us in ways we can’t even know ourselves,” wrote O’Brien. “The platform offers endless choices, virtual connections and access to a world of information, but what this major-domo of the ‘internet of things’ may deliver is reductive banter, mindless consumerism and a universe of trivia.

*** Don’t forget to take our latest InstaPoll about podcasting. See how you stack up to your peers with just one question.

High performing companies consider technology a strategy rather than a department. For high-performing individuals, our contention is that technology should be considered a tool, not a lifestyle. Tell us what you think.

TAGS: Levi Felix, Alexa, Siri, artificial intelligence, Digital Detox, unplugging from technology


Monday, January 16, 2017

Are Sneakers the Next Alternative Asset Class?

Heat, deadstock, NIB’s and beaters. If your teenage sons or grandsons are throwing around this slang and avoiding eye contact with you, don’t be alarmed. They’re not referring to drugs, cults or punk rock groups. Most likely, they’re checking out your shoes.

Your shoe game (or lack thereof) confers the same kind of social status with younger Millennials and Gen Z that a Corvette, Camaro or Mustang did a generation ago. Sound ridiculous? Well, pairs of limited edition sneaks are going for upwards of $20,000 this week. More on that in a minute.

*** Don’t forget to take our latest InstaPoll about podcasting. See how you stack up to your peers.

As Saturday’s New York Times explained in detail, resellers of limited edition collectible sneakers generate $1.5 billion worth of sales in the U.S. alone. Much of that total is driven by a legal underground army of re-sellers called “sneakerheads” who camp out overnight or who create fast-bidding software programs (“bots”) to snag new releases of rare models from big sneaker brands. Since many of those high end “kicks” are sold in limited quantities, many sneakerheads quickly resell those shoes on eBay or reseller sites for a substantial profit. Rather than fighting the re-sellers, the major shoe brands have learned to use sneakerheads to create a buzz around their pre-release marketing strategies.

There’s even a stock exchange for sneakers called StockX co-founded by Cleveland Cavaliers owner Josh Luber, where shoe prices rise and fall like shares of publicly traded companies.
In fact, if you visit Stock X, you’ll see a scrolling ticker with abbreviated shoe model acronyms followed by dollar signs…sound familiar? We’ll get to the Cleveland connection in just a minute, but note that Bloomberg devoted an entire podcast last month to the subject--What Sneakers Can Tell You About How Financial Markets Work.

What’s more, sites like Kicksworth.com and SHOEFAX.com let you check prices or get appraisals and verify that a pair of vintage sneaks you’re interested in are actually legit. It’s just a matter of time before the government creates a FINRA or SEC to regulate the sneaker reseller market.

Still think sneaker re-selling is the purview of nerdy adolescents and under-employed 20-somethings still living with their parents. Consider this: Friday, Nike released a total of 23 pairs of Lebron (James) 14s along with another 23 pairs of the Lebron signature shoes from the NBA superstar’s rookie season. Who cares? Turns on plenty of folks do.

When the bidding war for these coveted limited edition kicks ends on Thursday, it will cost you an estimated $3,000 to $25,000 PER PAIR to get a piece of the sneaker world’s latest “initial public offering.”

I have two teenage sons who play sports video games and fantasy football leagues with as much gusto as they play on the real-life field and court. My 13 year-old Michael is especially into the sneaker reselling game. MB.Soles as he’s known in the Instagram world is on the younger side of teen/young adult male target demographic that athletic shoe companies covet. Is he obsessed? Perhaps, but he’s gaining shrewd negotiation skills, doing complex math on the fly, sweating out his receivables and learning to incorporate the latest tidbits of information into his pricing methodology. MB's also built a larger Instagram following than many companies have and he’s learned some hard lessons about overpaying, under-bidding and doing business with strangers from all corners of the map (i.e. his footwear counterparties). If nothing else, my son is learning the real value of money by calculating how many hours of yard work it will take him to earn enough to bid on a $175 pair of Air Jordan 1 high tops.

As long as he’s not getting ripped off—or ripping people off—and keeping his grades up, then the entrepreneurial lessons that he’s learning from his hobby should last him a lifetime.


Next time you see a teenage boy staring at your feet, don’t be insulted by his lack of eye contact. He’s probably sizing you up for a sales pitch or offering you a chance to get in on the next sneaker-IPO. You might want to pay attention.

Our blog has more as does the FREE Resources page of our website.

Tags: Sneakerheads, StockX, sneakers as investment, young entrepreneurs, Lebron James, Josh Luber, Kicksworth, Shoefax, Michael Berkowitz

*** Don’t forget to take our latest InstaPoll about podcasting. Just one question. See how you stack up to your peers.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Why I Jumped Out of a Plane (and other Calculated Risks)

Mark Zuckerberg, the billionaire founder of Facebook once observed: “In a world that is changing really quickly, the only strategy that is guaranteed to fail is not taking risks.” Risk taking seems to have worked out pretty well for Zuck….and for many of you.
Most of you reading this post are entrepreneurs, so by nature you’re calculated risk takers. The majority of you advise people about investing large sums of money, so they trust your calculated risk-taking instincts. I also know that many of you spent the Holidays skiing. That’s definitely calculated risk-taking. More than a few of you like to race cars. That’s calculated risk-taking.

But, so is driving down the highway, eating at a restaurant, even walking down the street or falling in love. With all due respect to those of you in the insurance business, you can’t protect yourself from every single bump on the road of life. Sometimes you just have to go for it and occasionally take your lumps. If you obsess about EVERYTHING in life that could go wrong or hurt you or embarrass you, then you might never get out of bed. You certainly won’t grow.
I’m not suggesting that you light yourself on fire, bet the mortgage at the casino or streak naked across the field of a sold out-football game. But, if you don’t force yourself to get out of your comfort zone once in a while—and start tackling that “bucket list” well before you’ve retired--then you’re just going through the motions and not living life. That might be the safer route, but it’s about as satisfying as taking a shower with your raincoat on.

Is sky diving safe?

I scratched a big one off my bucket list last week in Puerto Rico—skydiving with my son, Jake 10,500 feet above the Atlantic Ocean. Jake had just turned 18 and been admitted early decision to his first-choice college. His mom and I wanted to reward him for working so hard in the classroom, on the field and at the volunteer fire department where he trains. So skydiving was what he chose. Turns out even teenagers are making bucket lists these days. At the airfield, there’s a large poster of a bucket that you can sign, right before you pass through the last metal gate to get to the runway.

The 6-page release we signed included statistics about sky diving accidents. Out of roughly 3.4 million jumps in the U.S. every year, we learned there are typically a few hundred injuries and on average 19 fatalities. Statistically, those are pretty good odds, unless you’re among the unfortunate 19.
“Courage is the willingness to take the risk once you know the odds,” said renowned psychologist and author Daniel Kahneman. “Optimistic overconfidence means you are taking the risk because you don't know the odds. It's a big difference.”
I kept Kahneman’s philosophy in mind as our dinky crop duster of a plane huffed and puffed its way to the pre-advertised altitude two vertical miles above the tiny airstrip. I tried to ignore my doubts about the laid-back training session we had in a dusty hangar area where roosters, chickens and a limping bulldog outnumbered the instructors. I tried to ignore the memory of our pilot and instructors kicking the tires of the landing gear. After whacking it a few times with a wrench, they simply shrugged their shoulders and walked away.

Again, this “extreme” skydiving outfit was the only one on the island that had all the certifications and seemed to have the best online reviews. They had already charged our credit card, they had our signature in about 100 places on the release forms and I wasn’t going to wimp out in front of my son—especially after 2-1/2 hours of waiting.

Who needs extensive training?
In a mix of Spanish and Spanglish, instructors told us to check that our “toys were in the toybox” as they cinched the straps of our parachutes around our upper thighs. We practiced our “feet up” landing technique a few times, the cross-arm free fall position and then tried a few “Superman’s”--lying on our stomachs while mule-kicking our feet behind our backs so we could maximize our glide. So off we went. Straight up. Glad we opted to skip lunch.

At about 7,000 feet, we were above the clouds and told to squat execution-style to avoid hitting our heads on the low-slung roof of the plane. At about 8,000 feet, over the deafening roar of the wind and rattling engine, they did a final check of our chutes and harnesses. At about 9,000 feet, they told us to prepare to exit the plane’s tiny door left leg first, right leg second. At about 10,000 feet, they said to admire the view (“Admira la vista”). Then WHOOSH!
The door opens. You feel yourself getting literally sucked out of the plane into the open sky and watch your first-born son disappear like a speck into the stratosphere. You tell yourself to keep your wits about you, keep your arms crossed and your back arched during the initial free fall—6,000 vertical feet at about 125 miles per hour—with a few gut churning somersaults thrown in. Then shift to spread Eagle after the chute (hopefully) opens, enjoy the view and give a thumbs-up to the instructor who had cameras on his wrist and helmet.
It might have been helpful to know that our bored instructors would throw in some violent corkscrew dives and turns as we punctured the clouds during an otherwise gentle float back to Earth. But, where’s the fun (or personal growth) in that?

Despite the headaches and dizziness we felt over the next three hours, neither of us injured ourselves or lost our lunch or limbs during the landing. Better yet, we got the last jump of the day, just beating a fast approaching thunderstorm. While the word “AWESOME” is beyond cliché in today’s selfie-obsessed society, our skydiving adventure really was an awesome experience and provided some good father-son bonding time. Those of you with young kids will appreciate this someday.

Will Jake and I skydive again? Heck yea! Hooah!

Back at the hangar, I jokingly told one of the instructors that we didn’t get all that much instruction considering we were complete newbies to the sport of skydiving. “Dude,” he replied with a yawn. “We told you all you needed to know in the plane. People tend to black out during the free fall. If we told you anything else, you'd just forget it anyway.”

So, there you have it. It’s 2017. Let’s set some BHAGs (Big Hairy Audacious Goals) this year and show the world what we can do. And if we fall flat on our faces once in a while, let’s take it a step further and show the world how quickly we can bounce back and get back on our feet….even if you feel like you just fell out of the sky.
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Tags: sky diving, calculated risks, bucket lists, Marc Zuckerberg, Daniel Kahneman