Do more

thinker.001 copyIn June 1939, three months before England declared war on Germany, the U.S. military ranked 19th in the world—smaller than Portugal’s and only slightly ahead of Bulgaria. In 1944 we ranked 1st in the world.

In 1939 the U.S. produced $0.3 billion of combat munitions. By 1944 we were producing $44 billion annually — almost more than the Allied and Axis powers combined. This was equivalent to building a Panama Canal every week.

America’s response to World War II was the most extraordinary mobilization of an idle economy in the history of the world. Japanese bombs dropped on a U.S military base in the Pacific Ocean called the nation to attention and action.

It’s amazing what can be done when we’re properly motivated.

Most organizations can do more

Robert Schaffer says, “Join me in testing the view that most companies are functioning at only 40, 50, or 60 percent of their capacity, and that the much higher levels of performance reached in emergencies are actually more closer to true, sustainable potentials than are the ‘normal’ levels of performance.”

I once served as director of resources at a training and resource organization. One year, at the last minute, we thought it would be beneficial to have a new book to distribute at our national convention which would start in three weeks. We did what we had to do to get it done. We wrote, compiled, copy-edited, line-edited, typeset, designed the cover, and printed the book in 21 days.

Most individuals can do more

Years ago I thought it would be interesting and insightful to see how much work I could get done in one day. I determined that the upcoming Saturday would be the most productive day of my life. On a typical Saturday, I have about seven items on my to-do-list, but for this special day I had a list of 23 things I wanted to accomplish. I started early in the morning, maintained a brisk pace, and worked late into the evening and accomplished all 23 items.

I don’t want to maintain that pace every Saturday, but it did teach me that I can do a lot more if I want to or need to.

You may not want to maintain super-high capacity — it may be unsustainable, unhealthy or simply unappealing. But just know that the potential is there, and if the bombs start falling, you can rise to the demand.

[reminder]What are your thoughts about this essay?[/reminder]


What? – Most organizations and individuals can accomplish more than they normally do, if they want to or have to.
So what? – Productivity rates should be analyzed; are they adequate, unreasonable, or insufficient?
Now what? – Consider your rate of productivity. Are you satisfied with it?

Leaders – Have you and your team ever had an unusual and demanding circumstance that required you to perform at near-maximum production? How did you do? How then did you determine what should be a normal level of productivity?

Embrace significant thoughts

shower.jpg.001Significant thoughts will change your life.

Call them what you want — wise sayings, proverbs, maxims, aphorisms, quotes — they are concisely written or spoken linguistic expressions that are especially memorable because of their meaning or structure. Distilled wisdom. Important thoughts reduced to a few choice words.

How do famous sayings come into existence? Who vets all the statements uttered by mankind and decides which ones are given the high honor of becoming timeless and often transcendent? Interestingly, there’s no selection committee and no official vote taken. A combination of time and human censorship filter and cull humanity’s thoughts, and what have survived are nuggets of truth.

Here are some suggestions on how to benefit from significant thoughts.

Constantly search for them

In your reading and conversations, be on the lookout for thoughts that matter. Just this week, while reading a book, I discovered this Chinese proverb: That the birds of worry and care fly above your head, this you cannot change; but that they build nests in your hair, this you can prevent.

Write them down

If you don’t write it down, you’ll lose it. If necessary, write it on a scrap piece of paper until you can transfer it to your thought journal. Steven Covey says, “Writing bridges the conscious and subconscious mind. Writing is a psycho-neuromuscular activity that literally imprints the brain.”

Memorize them

This is the most important, but often neglected, step. When you memorize a statement, it finds a place in your mind and becomes available for reflection and application. Knowledge without memory is useless.

Share them

A.K. Chesterson said, “Thoughts disentangle themselves over the lips and through the fingertips.” Intentional dialogue is a terrific way to “untangle” significant thoughts. Simply introduce one of your thoughts into a conversation you’re having with friends. You might begin by saying, “I’ve been thinking about a phrase and would enjoy hearing your thoughts about it. Here it is…” The conversation will deepen your understanding of the thought and help solidify its place in your mind. It could also add value and meaning to what otherwise might be a frivolous conversation.

Apply them

One of the great moments of life happens when you personally experience, or see someone else experience, truth. For instance, one day I was coaching a young executive who was struggling with how to deal with a toxic team member stirring up strife among his team. I shared with him an ancient proverb, “Remove the scoffer from your midst and strife will cease.” He immediately sensed that it was the right solution to the problem and soon started the process of dismissing the troublemaker. When the man was gone, strife ceased. I enjoyed watching a significant truth impact life.

Significant thoughts will change your life. Learn them and use them.

Click here to see 15 wise sayings that have changed my life.

[reminder]What are your thoughts about this essay?[/reminder]


What? – Significant thoughts can change your life.
So what? – Proactively integrate important thoughts into your life.
Now what? – Establish a personal system whereby you find, write down, memorize, share, and apply significant thoughts to your life.

Leaders – Don’t underestimate the benefit of integrating key thoughts into the life and culture of your organization. For instance, the maxim “All of us are smarter than any one of us” will help cultivate and empower collaboration among team members. Reiterating the phrase, “Get the right people doing the right thing in the right way” will reinforce the importance of aligning people, goals, and processes.

Value times of silence in conversations

image.001Several years ago I heard the Juilliard String Quartet present a lecture/recital. Their playing was wonderful, of course, but my biggest take-away from the event had nothing to do with music but rather the quality of their conversation. Through their example I learned how people can have a meaningful, respectful, and profitable conversation. While I was intrigued by what they had to say, I was particularly fascinated by how they conversed.

Before the quartet played, they shared their thoughts about the work. It was a relaxed and thoughtful conversational atmosphere in which each player had the opportunity to speak.

One at a time, a player would share his thoughts, and when he was finished there would be silence— sometimes lasting 10-15 seconds—before another member of the quartet would begin to share his thoughts. The group had such high respect for what each colleague was sharing that they allowed time for each statement to “sink in” before another thought was introduced into the conversation. Also, while one person shared, the others seemed to truly listen; they were not just using that time to craft what they would say when it was their turn.

For instance, one member might say, “The thing I enjoy most about the second movement of the Beethoven is that it borrows the theme from the first movement but develops it in a different way.” Then there would be silence. And then another player might offer, “At first glance, the themes seem to compete with each other, but near the end of the movement one understands that they are actually complementary.” Then another pause…and so on.

The key element in this respectful and profitable conversation was the moments of silence.

When was the last time you conversed with a group of people and the conversation contained times of silence? It is a rare occurrence. Normally, we try to anticipate the end of someone’s sentence and then compete with others for who gets to speak next. Sometimes we don’t even allow a person to finish his thought; the beginning of a new sentence overlaps the end of his.

This concept is so foreign to most people that the only way I’ve been able to incorporate it is to discuss it with a particular group and then practice. I did this with my family. I distributed this essay, we talked about it, and then staged a trial conversation. At first, it was difficult and awkward—it’s hard to change deeply-ingrained patterns—but eventually the conversation became well-paced, courteous, and profitable.

[reminder]What are your thoughts about this essay?[/reminder]

Click here to read more about how to have a thoughtful, respectful conversation.


What? – Conversations become more thoughtful, respectful, and productive when they include times of silence.
So what? – Incorporate times of silence into your conversations.
Now what? – If you have a group of people with whom you frequently converse, visit with them about this essay and try to incorporate the principles into your discourse.

Leaders – Work with your team on how they talk to each other. Often, changing the structure of conversations will help. For instance, in staff meetings, allow every team member to respond to a particular issue, uninterrupted by others. That way, every voice will be heard, and it establishes a slower pace for the dialogue.

Beware of the ambiguity of meanings

rsan3_hiNo two brains contain exactly the same “meaning” for any word, expression, or concept. The meanings are embedded in the people, not in the words. Karl Albrecht

When I first read this statement by Albrecht, I was on vacation with my wife, Mary. I decided to submit the theory to rigorous scientific testing, so at dinner I shared his statement and then suggested a particular word for the two of us to discuss. “Mary, tell me what the word romance means to you and I’ll share what it means to me.”

I should have picked a different word. Or, after Mary told me what romance meant to her, I should have said, “Ditto.” Our conversation was spirited but helpful. We soon realized that Albrecht’s theory is correct.

Several weeks later, at a family dinner, we all explored the term curiosity. Once again, a wide range of interpretations were given.

While having lunch with a group of friends, I asked each person to share what the the term intelligence means. The conversation was lively.

Each exercise underscored the fact that, indeed, every person has his or her own meaning for every word expression, or concept. Because each person had a nuanced perspective on each word, our discussions enhanced each person’s understanding of the particular term.

The implications of this theory are significant.

  • It helps explain why good communication is so difficult.
  • It underscores the importance of Steven Covey’s advice – “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”
  • It exposes our own narrow-minded view of the world.
  • It challenges us to seek a more expanded and deeper understanding of all things.
  • It challenges us to be more careful and thorough when communicating to others.

One woman shares her first major encounter with the slippery slope of semantics.

“When I was four, I began taking ice skating lessons. I’d watched figure skating in the Winter Olympics and thought it looked awesome. Soon, though, I realized that ice skating was a lot colder and more painful than I’d expected (and I was less graceful than I’d hoped). I began to dread my lessons, but my parents encouraged me to finish the ones they’d already paid for.

“One week, I got sick and missed a class. My mom was able to get me into a class later in the week; a ‘make-up lesson.’

“All week, I looked forward to being instructed in the proper application of makeup. What a treat to get a break from ice skating to focus on the finer points of Little Mermaid lipstick and Hello Kitty nail polish!

“I remember quite powerfully how disappointed I was when I got to the ice rink to discover that the ‘make-up lesson’ was just more ice skating, with my same old teacher in the same old rink.”

Rudyard Kipling was a bit more poetic when he said, “We are all islands shouting lies to each other across seas of misunderstanding.”

[reminder]What are your thoughts about this essay?[/reminder]


What? – Reread Albrecht’s statement.
So what? – Communication is more difficult than any of us can imagine.
Now what? – Work hard at minimizing misunderstandings that occur because of the mixed meanings of words.

Leaders – Good communication among all groups in your organization is essential. Bossidy and Charan say, “Dialogue is the core of culture and the basic unit of work. How people talk to each other absolutely determines how well the organization will function.” Discuss with your team, how the ambiguity of word meanings might adversely affect your internal and external communication.