Set goals

goals3An article in the March 24, 1972 issue of Life magazine featured John Goddard who, at age 15, wrote down 127 goals which he wanted to accomplish in his lifetime.

Included in his goals were: climb Mounts Kilimanjaro, Ararat, Fuji, McKinley (and thirteen others); visit every country in the world; learn to fly an airplane; retrace the travels of March Polo and Alexander the Great; visit the North and South Poles, Great Wall of China, Taj Mahal (and other exotic areas); become an Eagle Scout; dive in a submarine; play flute and violin; publish an article in National Geographic magazine; learn French, Spanish and Arabic; milk a poisonous snake; read the entire Encyclopedia Britannica; and other goals, similar in variety and scope.

By age 47, Goddard had accomplished 103 of these goals and was in the process of completing several others. Goddard was neither wealthy nor gifted when he began his amazing saga of adventure and accomplishment. He was just a young boy who believed all things were possible and that he could accomplish his goals.

I wonder how many of those experiences he would have had if he had not formally expressed them as goals.

Goal setting is so beneficial. They clarify intent and focus resources. Without them, we may drift through life, accomplishing little.

Here are some guidelines for goal setting:

  • Set goals in all major areas of life: financial, relational, physical, professional, spiritual, social, and intellectual.
  • Write them down. It’s not sufficient to have them only in your mind; transcribe them into your journal or computer.
  • Measure and review your progress, often. If you don’t measure your goals they will fall off the radar screen.
  • Don’t bludgeon yourself if you don’t accomplish every goal. Partially completed goals can be very fulfilling because sometimes the journey is just as rewarding as arriving at the final destination.

What happens if you don’t set and pursue goals? You will most likely not reach your potential and you will underutilize your gifts and squander your resources. If you aim at nothing, you will hit it. Or, as Wayne Gretzky said, “You’ll miss one hundred percent of the shots you don’t take.”

For the past 40 years I have designated the week between Christmas and New Years Day as a time to think about the previous 12 months and set goals for the next 12-18 months. Is is a simple process that has produced good results. I double-dog-dare you to give it a try.

“Que sera, sera. Whatever will be will be” is a cute song to sing but a lousy philosophy on which to build your life. Decide now that you are going to be a planner and that you will set and accomplish meaningful goals.

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My six favorite, free web sites you can subscribe to

Also - my readers' five favorite posts in 2016

free4-001There’s a lot of good, free information on the World Wide Web. Here are six of my favorite sites that will send you a daily email with pertinent information.

  1. WordThink – Word of the Day – They don’t include obscure, seldom-used words. You’ll get a brief definition of a word that you probably know but seldom use. Words like: accommodate, insular, dubious, reciprocal, pontificate.
  2. A Joke A Day – Actually, you get two jokes each day. They are always clean and appropriate.
  3. New York Times – Today’s Headlines – A picture and paragraph about the top news stories.
  4. New York Times – Evening Briefing – A summary of each day’s significant events.
  5. Harvard Business Review Management Tip of the Day – Various topics that will help keep your management skills sharp.
  6. This Week on TED – You will receive both the written transcript and video of a select TED talk.

My readers’ favorite posts in 2016

Based on comments and Facebook shares, these five posts were the most beneficial.

  1. Don’t say this to someone who is hurting
  2. Smile
  3. Seek first to understand, then to be understood
  4. Leaders: lead
  5. Don’t give people what you like, give what they value

Six best books I read in 2016

reading_for_dummies_1125455We read for the pleasure and benefit of thinking another person’s thoughts. Sam Harris

One of my regrets in life is that for a decade (around age 40-50) I punched pause on my learning and grew intellectually disengaged and stale. During those years I don’t think I read even one book cover-to-cover.

So, I’m making up for lost time. Now, my goal is to read and process one book a week. (Don’t overlook the word process in the previous sentence; it’s the key to learning from reading.) I wrote a post about the benefits of reading along with some suggestions on how to maximize learning from reading – Read.

Here’s a list of the books I read and processed in 2016. At the bottom of this list are my six favorites.

The numbers in brackets represent how I rate each book on a scale from 1 (not good) to 10 (exceptional).

1. Focus – Daniel Goleman, 2013, 311 pages, [8] – I like everything Goleman writes.
2. Being Logical – D.Q. McInerny, 2004, 137 pages, [9] – Written for a lay-person to understand; terrific book on the fundamentals of logic.
3. Tripwire – Lee Child, 1999 [6] – Not much to learn from this novel, although I did like this statement, “do it once and do it right.”
4. Code of Conduct – Brad Thor, 2015 [6] – Good escape novel about modern-day espionage.

5. True North – Bill George, 2007, 250 pages, [7.5] – Good thoughts on authentic leadership; full of biographical sketches of good leaders.
6. Gratitude – Oliver Sacks, 2015, 45 pages, [5] – I like the life that Oliver Sacks lived and his contribution to society but this book was too simplistic and autobiographical.
7. How to Think Like Leonardo Da Vinci – Michael Gelb, 1998, 322 pages, [6.5] – Develops seven Da Vincian principles such as curiosity, commitment to test knowledge, continued refinement of the senses, etc. He gives practical exercises to develop each principle.
8. The Power of Myth – Joseph Campbell, 293 pages, [7] – This book is a transcript of interviews that Bill Moyers did with Campbell, who was the leading expert on this topic.
9. The Obstacle is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials Into Triumph – Ryan Holiday, 2014, 200 pages, [6.5] – 32 short chapters on motivational topics; reads like a Tony Robbins event on paper; not many new thoughts but good reminders.
10. Emotional Intelligence: A Practical Guide – David Walton, 2012, 163 pages, [6.5] – More readable than Goleman’s book on the same subject but a bit scattered.
11. The Bible Unearthed – Finkelstein and Silberman, 2002, 385 pages, [6] – These two scholars write a dense and intricate narrative which was difficult for me to follow.

12. Blue Ocean Strategy: How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make the Competition Irrelevant – Kim and Mauborgne, 2005, 238 pages, [7] – Good book for entrepreneurs to read; just the chapter on Build Execution into Strategy is worth the price of the book.
13. Enchiridion – Epictetus, 50 AD, 56 pages, [6] – Wise sayings from the famous Stoic philosopher. Ex. Fortify yourself with contentment, for this is an impregnable fortress.
14. All the Light We Cannot See – Anthony Boerr, 2014, 530 pages, [8.5] – The best novel I’ve read in years. Takes place during WW2.
15. The Art of Possibility – Rosamund and Benjamin Zander, 2000, 208 pages, [6] – Too esoteric for my taste. I gleaned a few good thoughts but not many.
16. Our Man in Damascus: Elie Cohn – Ele Hen-hanan, 140 pages, [5.5] – A non-fiction book about Elie Cohn, one of Israel’s most famous spies.
17. How We Learn: The Surprising Truth About When, Where, and Why It Happens – Benedict Carey, 2014, 244 pages, [8] – Significant thoughts on how to learn based on scientific research. I highly recommend this book.
18. The Target – David Baldacci, 2014, 420 pages [5] – Typical spy-thriller. The only reason I read this book is that I was on a transatlantic flight and it helped pass the time.

19. Smarter, Faster, Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business – Charles Duhigg, 377 pages, [7] – Fresh thoughts on motivation, teams, focus, goal setting, managing others, decision making, innovation and absorbing data.
20. Everything Counts – Gary Blair, 2010, 265 pages [5] – 52 short chapters on various topics. I don’t understand the premise of the book: if everything counts, nothing is prioritized.
21. How the Mighty Fall: And Why Some Companies Never Give In – Jim Collins, 2009, 210 pages, [8.5] – Collins is a scholar and a wise teacher of business management. The lessons in this book apply to all organizations.
22. The Art of Waking People Up – Cloke and Goldsmith, 300 pages [7] – Good thoughts on coaching, mentoring, feedback, assessment, listening, problem solving confrontation and conflict resolution.

23. 13.8: The quest to find the true age of the universe and the theory of everything – John Gribbin, 2016, 241 pages, [8] – A fascinating update on the latest research by cosmologist and astronomers regarding the age of the universe. It’s amazing what these brilliant people know.
24. Reality Therapy: A New Approach to Psychiatry – William Glasser, 1965, 160 pages, [5] – A dated perspective on psychology. I like his emphasis on personal responsibility but other perspective are questionable.
25. A Curious Mind: The Secret to a Bigger Life – Brian Grazer, 2015, 300 pages [7] – Very autobiographical but contains good insights regarding the value of curiosity.
26. Friday On My Mind – Nicci French – 2015 435 pages [5] – I needed an escape novel to read on my return flight from Amsterdam. It was okay but forgettable.
27. Make Me – Lee Childs, 2015, 400 pgs [6] – I usually like Childs’ novels about Jack Reacher but this one was disappointing.

28. Talk Like TED – Carmine Gallo – 2014, 278 pages [8] – A must-read book for those who speak and write.
29. Empire of the Summer Moon – S.C. Gwynn, 319 pages, [6] – A well-researched book about the Comanche Indian tribe. More than I wanted to know about this interesting subject.
30. The Shawl – Cynthia Ozick – 1980, 70 pages [4] – This novella won awards, but I didn’t understand 25% of what I read.
31. The Laws of Subtraction: Six Simple Rules for Winning in the Age of Excess Everything – Matthew May – 2014, 214 pages [7] – Good thoughts on how and why less trumps excess.

32. The Laws of Simplicity – John Maeda – 2006, 100 pages [3] – A very confusing book. Disjointed, non-linear, rambling. I almost put it in the “books I started but did not finish” category, but it was short enough to skim to the end.
33. Living in More Than One World – Bruce Rosenstein – 2009, 150 pages [7] – Based on the life and teachings of Peter Drucker, particularly his emphasis on lifelong learning and maintaining a diverse personal life.
34. Drucker on Asia – Drucker & Nakauchi – 1997, 192 pages [6] – I am a huge fan of Drucker, but this book focused exclusively on Japan, which I found to be too limiting.
35. Brain Rules12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School – John Medina – 2014, 264 pages [8] – Well researched, well written book on findings in neuroscience that impact our daily lives. Insights on: exercise, sleep, stress, memory, vision, etc.
36. Everything I Never Told You – Celeste Ng – 2014, 297 pages [8] – I learned a lot from this novel, about people living false lives due to other people’s expectations.

37. Foreign Agent – Brad Thor – 2016, 335 pages [6] – A semi-interesting spy novel.
38. The Invention of Nature – Andrea Wulf – 2015, 341 pages [8] – Alexander von Humboldt was one of the world’s greatest explorers, but few people know his story. This book is a biography of his life and a nice description of life in the 1800’s.
39. The Nightingale – Kristin Hannah – 2015, 438 pages [8] – This novel take place during WW2 and follows the lives of a French family. A terrific book.
40. Think Like a Freak – Levitt and Dubner – 2014, 210 pages [7] – The third book in this series. Always interesting information about why and how some things happen.
41.  Greatest Salesman in the World – Og Mandino – 1968, 103 pages [3] – A trite book; I can’t believe it sold so many copies.

42. Fascinate – Sally Hogshead – 2010, 250 pages [7] – elaborates on seven fascination triggers: lust, mystique, alarm, prestige, power, vice, and trust.
43. Living the Secular Life – Phil Zuckerman – 2014, 260 pages [7] – gives a balanced and accurate portrayal of the secular mind and ideology.
44. State of Wonder – Ann Patchett – 2011, 353 pages [9] – Everything a novel should be: pure pleasure and hard to put down. Her description of fighting an 18-ft Anaconda in a small boat and a C-section performed in the jungle of Brazil is worth the read.
45. Shackleton’s WayLeadership Lessons from the Great Antarctic Explorer – Morrell and Capparell – 2001, 215 pages [7] – Presents a good overview of the expedition and highlights key leadership lessons.

46. Becoming A Learner: Realizing the Opportunity of Education – Sanders – 2012, 52 pages [7] – A must-read for every student entering college – the purpose of college is to become a learner.
47. The Gardner and the Carpenter – Allison Gopnik – 2016, 254 pages [8] – A synopsis on current research regarding raising children. A must-read for parents and grandparents.
48. What Intelligence Tests Miss – the psychology of rational thought – Keith Stanovich – 2009 – 212 pages [9] – This book has opened up a new space in my mind – intelligence and rationality are not the same; a person can be both very intelligent and irrational.
49. Chasing Venus – Andrea Wulf – 2012, 299 pages [8] – History of the transit of Venus over the sun in 1761 and 1769; these scientists did amazing things.

50. Employee Engagement – Kevin Kruse – 2012, 81 pages [5] – Self-published book in 14 pt. font and double-spaced. Why do people do this? His thoughts are decent but it’s a simple book.
51. On Managing Yourself – Harvard Business Review – 2010, 188 pages [8] – Eleven select articles taken from HBR. A very beneficial read for leaders.
52. Predictably Irrational – The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions – Dan Ariely – 2008, 325 pages [8] – A very engaging and accessible book on why we often behave irrationally.
53. The End of Faith – Sam Harris – 2004, 301 pages [7] – Chapter 4 – The Problem with Islam – is a good summary of the challenges that Islam produces.

Books I started but did not finish

Love Does – Bob Goff – A simple, autobiographical book. I’m not that interested in the musings of an average person.
Think and Growth Rich – Napoleon Hill – Very outdated and tedious to read.
The Nature of Rationality – Robert Nozick. I don’t have the intellectual hard-drive to process this book. I wish I did. Nozick is a brilliant professor.
Small Is Beautiful – Economics as if People Mattered – E.F. Schumacher – Not a very engaging book. I was also struck by how outdated a book can become in 46 years.

6  best books I read in 2016

These books are not listed in order of preference. I chose one book from six different categories so you, the reader, might benefit from choosing a category that you like.

Fiction – The Nightingale – Kristin Hannah – This novel take place during WW2 and follows the lives of a French family.

History – Chasing Venus – Andrea Wulf – History of the transit of Venus in front of the sun in 1761 and 1769; these scientists did amazing things.

General interest – How We Learn: The Surprising Truth About When, Where, and Why It Happens – Benedict Carey – Significant thoughts on how to learn based on scientific research.

Self-improvementTalk Like TED – Carmine Gallo – A must-read book for those who speak and write.

LeadershipOn Managing Yourself – Harvard Business Review – Eleven select articles taken from HBR. A very beneficial read for leaders.

Science – What Intelligence Tests Miss – the psychology of rational thought – Keith Stanovich – This book has opened up a new space in my mind – intelligence and rationality are not the same; a person can be very intelligent and irrational.

Do you need more evidence that reading will enhance your life?

Want to live longer? Read a book. That’s the contention of Yale University researchers in a study of 3,635 people published in the September 2016 issue of Social Science & Medicine. They concluded that as little as 30 minutes of book reading a day will extend your life, and that, on average, book readers were found to live more than two years longer than non-readers.

Question: What are your thoughts about this essay? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Acknowledge and be grateful for, how other people have helped you get where you are

gratitude-2If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants. Isaac Newton

Alex Haley, the author of Roots, used to keep a picture in his office of a turtle sitting atop a fencepost. He kept it there to remind him of a lesson he had learned years before: “If you see a turtle on a fencepost, you know he had some help” Haley remarked. “Anytime I start thinking, ‘Wow, isn’t this marvelous what I’ve done!’ I look at that picture and remember how this turtle—me—got up on that post.” —Maxwell, Developing the Leaders Around You, p. 171

We all stand on the shoulders of those who have preceded us. Yes, we have worked hard and been diligent, but we didn’t get where we are without help. When we’re unaware of the contributions of others, we’ll have an inflated perspective on our successes and may become proud and arrogant. When we embrace the fact that our lives have been buoyed by the generosity of others, gratitude and humility will prevail.

There’s something about being a grandparent that helps one see the full circle of life. When I babysit my 2-year-old grandson, I often think of the unheralded sacrifice my parents made just getting me through the early years of my life. (Back in the 1950s, there were no disposable diapers.) Did I ever thank them for their constant sacrifice?

As I look back on my career, I should applaud the people who supported me in ways large and small. I am here, now because they were there, then.

As I consider my current state of being, I realize my life and career would collapse without the steady support of many friends and colleagues.

But we must do more than be grateful, we must express our gratitude. William Arthur Ward said, “Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.” Express gratitude directly to those who have helped you. Acknowledge them publicly. If someone has positively impacted your life, raise a glass and make a toast to honor their contribution.

Question: What are your thoughts about this essay? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Learn the slow “yes” and the fast “no”


A clear “no” can be more graceful than a vague or noncommittal “yes.” Greg McKeown

Think carefully before you make commitments. Don’t be impulsive. Your time, energy, and resources are being requisitioned, so respond slowly. When pressured to make a quick decision, make no your default answer. Only say yes after you’ve had the opportunity to fully analyze the situation and come to a wise decision.

If your answer is not a definite yes, then it should be no.

We all keep either a physical or mental to-do list (at least, I hope you do). That’s how work gets identified, organized, and prioritized. We also need to maintain a fictitious “not-to-do-list” which will help us avoid the trivial many. For every one item placed on your to-do list, there might be two opportunities which you should decline.

In Greg McKeown’s terrific book, Essentialism: The Essential Pursuit of Less, he wrote, “Nonessentialists say ‘yes’ automatically, without thinking, often in pursuit of the rush one gets from having pleased someone. But then comes the pang of regret. Eventually they will wake up to the unpleasant reality that something more important must now be sacrificed to accommodate this new commitment. Of course, the point is not to say no to all requests. The point is to say no to the nonessentials so we can say yes to the things that really matter.”

Question: What are your thoughts about this essay? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Close the knowing-doing gap

knowingProblem: We often know what to do, but we don’t do it.
Solution: Err toward action, and measure results.

Knowing what to do is not enough; we must do. In some cases, the gap between knowing and doing is more inhibiting than the gap between ignorance and knowing. Competitive advantage comes from being able to do something others can’t or don’t do.

To avoid the knowing-doing gap, realize that:

  1. Talking is not a substitute for action. Talking about something is not the equivalent of actually doing it. Rhetoric is often an essential first step, but eventually something has to get done and someone has to do it.
    Beware of people who:

    1. Talk too much. Sometimes there is an inverse relationship between how much a person talks and his ability to get things done.
    2. Use “smart language” or technical jargon. Complex language and ambiguous terminology confuses people and inhibits action.
    3. Are critical. Some people try to sound smart by criticizing other people’s ideas.
  2. Making decisions is not a substitute for action. By itself, a decision changes nothing.
  3. Preparing documents is not a substitute for action.
  4. Planning is not a substitute for action.
  5. Just because something is easy to understand doesn’t mean it will be easy to implement.

How to close the gap

  1. When possible, learn by doing; “If you do it, then you will know it.”
    When you learn by doing, there is no knowing-doing gap. Knowledge that is actually implemented is much more likely to be acquired from learning by doing than from learning by reading, listening, or even thinking. Surgeons “hear one, see one, do one.”
  2. Always err toward action. This creates opportunities for learning by doing. It helps to establish a cultural tone that action is valued and that talk and analysis without action are unacceptable. Use rapid prototyping to see if things work and then modify them on the basis of that experience.
  3. Fear fosters knowing-doing gaps, so drive out fear. Setbacks and mistakes should be seen as an inevitable, even desirable, part of being action oriented. Action-oriented people make mistakes so provide a “soft landing.” “Learning is an extension of the word trying.” Nanus and Bennis
  4. Measure results, not actions. “The foundation of any successfully run business is a strategy everyone understands coupled with a few key measures that are routinely tracked” (Dean Tjosvold). Often, measuring many things is counterproductive; measuring more things will not necessarily get more of the right things done; but do measure important metrics. Don’t measure activity; measure results.
  5. As a leader, adopt an apprenticeship approach to managing your team members; be a coach, not just a teacher or mentor. Unfortunately, knowing by doing is, initially, a less cost-effective way of transmitting knowledge and changing behavior (it is counterintuitive to much of our Internet-driven culture), but ultimately, it is the best way.

Question: What are your thoughts about this essay? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

[The Knowing-Doing Gap: How Smart Companies Turn Knowledge into Action by Pfeffer and Sutton is the best book on this subject.]

Take responsibility for your choices

take-responsibilityLife is a sum of all your choices. Albert Camus

In his book, The 8th Habit, Steven Covey says, “Fundamentally, we are a product of choice, not nature (genes) or nurture (upbringing, environment). Certainly genes and culture exert strong influence, but they do not determine. Next to life itself, the power to choose is your greatest gift. This power and freedom stand in stark contrast to the mind-set of victimization and culture of blame so prevalent in society today.”

Covey shares three sentences that underscore the power and importance of our freedom and ability to choose:

  1. Between stimulus and response there is a space.
  2. In that space lies our freedom and power to choose our response.
  3. In those choices lie our growth and happiness.

Throughout each day, and life itself, you continually receive both negative and positive stimuli. Often, you have little control over what comes your way.

  • Someone at work unleashes an angry tirade on you.
  • You are given an incredible opportunity at work.
  • You see a billboard with a seductive picture on it.
  • You hear disappointing news.
  • Someone compliments how you look.
  • Your car breaks down.
  • Your child becomes ill.
  • You are seriously injured in a car accident.
  • You get a raise at work.

Immediately following the stimulus there is a space—a period of time—during which you choose your response. And herein, Covey says, is your opportunity to control and shape your life and destiny. You have minimal control over what comes your way, but you have ultimate control over how you respond to it.

Some people don’t want to accept responsibility for how they respond. When battered by difficult events, they assume the role of the victim and begin to blame others. When good things happen, instead of being grateful, they feel entitled. When you acknowledge your power to choose how you respond to life’s events, you assume control and responsibility for your life.

We not only make choices in response to stimuli, we are also responsible for the stewardship of our lives—how we spend our resources of time and talent. This is primarily an issue of initiative or lack of it. How many years have you been an independent, self-regulating adult and what have you done with your life during those years? If we assume that the first 17 years of your life were orchestrated for you and you are now 35 years old, you have been solely responsible for the majority of your life (18 years), and that percentage is growing every day.

Amazingly, our capacity to choose is so powerful that we are not even restrained by our past choices; we can choose to change our decisions and/or correct our mistakes. For instance, perhaps you’ve never developed any marketable skills; you can choose, today, to change that. Perhaps you’ve been in the wrong career; change careers. You are not a tree—move.

Here’s a list of some important areas in which you have or can make choices. Carefully consider how your decisions in each area have shaped who you are and how they will impact your future.

Skill development—relationships—values—beliefs—virtues—attitudes—habits

Question: What are your thoughts about this essay? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Run at problems

run-at-problems-001All leaders can become good problem-solvers. To do so, they must do four things: Anticipate problems before they occur; maintain a positive attitude while they occur; use all their resources to solve them as quickly as possible so they cease to occur; learn from them so the same problems do not occur again. —John Maxwell, Developing the Leaders Around You

The biblical story of David and Goliath pits a giant against a young man in an epic confrontation between good and evil. My favorite part of the story is when the duel begins: “Then it happened when the Philistine rose and came and drew near to meet David, that David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet the Philistine.”

David ran at Goliath.

It wasn’t a display of youthful hubris or stupidity; it was considered aggression and confident courage. David’s pugnacity must have thrown Goliath off balance. The giant was used to frightened, tepid foes, but here was a young man running towards him.

In your personal and professional affairs, run at your problems.

The alternate approach is procrastination or avoidance. Most problems do not resolve themselves; they must be aggressively and tenaciously pursued.

Identify at least two problems in your business or personal life that need to be addressed. Schedule a time to deal with each one.

Question: What are your thoughts about this essay? You can leave a comment by clicking here.