Friday, August 26, 2016

Don’t Automatically Take the Easy Way

In today’s era of Uber, Waze, Amazon and Netflix, it’s tempting to seek out the easiest, most convenient solution to any need or challenge we have in our work and personal lives. Even fitness apps and wearables—from FitBit to stay-at-home group spinning rides—are taking some of the work out of workouts.

But the easier way isn’t always the better way according to astronauts, Mark and Scott Kelly. The 52 year-old twins, who have logged a combined 576 days in outer space, delivered a rousing keynote speech at the American Society of Association Executives annual conference I attended last week in Salt Lake City. Yes, there’s an association for association professionals—33,000 members strong.

Many of you are financial professionals. If you’re not working with trade associations in your area—you’re missing a huge opportunity. More on that in a future post. Meanwhile, many of the lessons the Kelly brothers learned from the NASA training program are transferable to your practice.
As President John F. Kennedy famously said during the Kelly’s formative childhood years in the late 1960s: “We choose to go to the moon in this decade, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.” By going into space, the Kellys said they were able to accomplish something really hard. But in order to be as successful, they had to set goals, plan, test the status quo and take risks along the way – all skills that you can relate to.

ASAE President, John Graham, told me during an exclusive interview that the two biggest takeaways he got from the Kelly brothers’ keynote were: a)
just because you are not good at something initially, doesn’t mean you can’t get good at it and improve and b) you should simply focus on what you can control.

Control what you can control

Scott put this mantra into action when his sister-in-law and Mark’s wife (Arizona Rep. Gabby Giffords) was shot in the head by a protestor in 2011. Scott was up on the International Space Station at the time. While he couldn’t be with his family during the tragedy, he was able to complete his mission and take care of his crew. In a time when there are a million distractions during each day, the Kellys said focusing on what you can control is key to accomplishing your goal.

Be a leader, not a dictator

We all know about the importance of teamwork, but Mark said that as a commander on the space shuttle, he made sure to select team members who would not be afraid to question his decisions. Let’s face it. Many of you with your own firm have decent-size egos. Surrounding ourselves with “yes” people, will not make your organization better. “Recognize the strengths and weaknesses of your team,” he added, “and know when to be a coach and when to be a dictator.”

Sweat the details

Those of you with accounting backgrounds are often chastised for this trait but the Kelly’s said NASA’s philosophy is to worry about everything. It’s all about protecting its astronauts from any possibility and you should take the same approach with clients. As Mark explained, the level of risk flying a space shuttle mission is high – about the same as storming the beach at Normandy on D-Day – and NASA takes that risk seriously. With your practice, you’re the captain, so it’s your job to look at every minor detail or decision and consider the consequences to your staff and members.

Don’t let anyone tell you you’re not good enough

Many of you had to overcome plenty just to get through school. We know many of you struggled through well-paying, but unsatisfying corporate jobs before setting out on your own and it wasn’t just a string of successes without a few stumble along the ways. There were numerous times when the Kellys, and even their classmates and trainers, wondered if the space program was really right for them.

But they pushed on, inspired in part by their mother, a New Jersey secretary and waitress, who failed a grueling physical fitness test numerous times before becoming one of the state’s first female police officers. Long story short, the Kelly brothers made it through the space training program and left a pretty significant dent in the universe. Keep banging away and have a great weekend.

Our blog and website has more.


TAGS: NASA, Mark & Scott Kelly, astronauts, perseverance

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Less Is More in the 'Excess of Everything' Age

What we can learn Olympic boxers, cyclists, amateur fly-fishermen and backyard trampoline enthusiasts.

On the advice of our client, Gary Klaben of Chicago-based Coyle Financial Counsel, I picked up a copy of Matthew May’s The Laws of Subtraction. I was trying to squeeze in a little R&R in the deep woods of western Michigan where my wife’s family maintains a fishing cottage about 7 miles and several dirt roads from the heart of one of the 10 poorest counties in the U.S. It’s on the banks of a renowned fly-fishing and salmon-fishing river, but Internet access and cell service is spotty.

For Type A’s like myself, it can be maddening to be unplugged from the grid, and also very difficult to find a gym, swimming pool or reliable paved road to work off your excess energy. At first I tried to fight the swift flowing river, but you just can’t swim, paddle or fly cast upstream for long before you eventually run out of energy and start sliding backwards. You also realize that your body is naturally conserving energy for your return to the frenetic world back home—just like your brain is.

Waking up at the crack of 10 am (we’re in the far, far western edge of the eastern time zone), you also realize how information-overloaded we are the rest of the year. As Matthew May would say, we’re caught up in “the age of the excess of everything.”

According to May, you need to start
removing all the “excessive, confusing, wasteful, unnatural, hazardous, hard to use, or ugly” things that cloud our decision-making process.  We don’t need more premium, bonus or enhanced features—WE NEED LESS!

Our take? Start cutting back on email and text messaging every day and then try a 24-hour technology fast every week or at least limit your email/texting time to 3 intervals per day. Then start eliminating non-essential meetings, conference calls, commuting, air travel, HR trainings and other time-sucks. Then eliminate all the planning and confirmations needed to schedule the aforementioned. Guess what? All of a sudden you can think.

Laws of subtraction in sports

If you’ve been following the Olympics, you see the laws of subtraction at work. Believe it or not, it’s actually safer for boxers NOT to wear headgear because researchers found that
head guards create a bigger target for boxers, who in turn attempt more head blows. Experts say head gear also gives boxers a false sense of security. Still not convinced?  Well several studies, including one commissioned by the International Boxing Association, (IBA) found that the number of acute brain injuries declined when head guards were not used. And the IBA found that the number of times a fight was stopped because of one boxer receiving repeated head blows fell 43 percent in bouts without head guards compared with fights with head guards.

If you follow bicycle racing, you’ll also notice that the elite riders—who sometimes pedal over 100 miles per day—ride in Spartan saddles with holes or deep slits in the middle. You’d think that with all that riding they’d want seats with extra padding, but it turns out that minimalist seatsdo more for rider comfort than heavy padding does and reduce the risk of prostate and sterility issues.

How about the backyard trampoline? We’ve always had one in the back yard and never bothered with protective netting around it (sorry homeowners insurance). Without a net, kids are less likely to take excessive risks and less likely to get the elbows, ankles or new braces caught up in it.

Not to be a spoiler, May offers 6 laws for eliminating mental clutter and simplifying your life:

Law #1: What Isn't There Can Often Trump What Is

Law #2: The Simplest Rules Create the Most Effective Experience

Law #3: Limiting Information Engages the Imagination

Law #4: Creativity Thrives Under Intelligent Constraints

Law #5: Break Is the Important Part of Breakthrough

Law #6: Doing Something Isn't Always Better Than Doing Nothing

It’s a quick and easy read if you can find the time. If you can’t find the time, we suggest you make the time to do so. As regular readers of this blog know, we recommend getting started on your New Year’s resolutions around Thanksgiving time. By the same token, August is the new September. Don’t wait until after Labor Day to start getting focused for Q4.