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Grass-Cutting Contemplations…

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ROI by Frank J. Rich

 

 

 

 

 

 

by Frank J. Rich

 

 

Contemplations may be the issue of the contemplative, those given to time alone and solitary activity. For these the imagination grows with available time. Most have their place—the shower, a comfortable chair, the “hours after the hours,” walks to nowhere, the littoral gazing across the sea. For others, it may be the opportunity in a singular chore or enchantment that works to separate us from the rest of everything for those moments of reflection, imagining, and the forecasts that raise the spirit. They are the times when plans form, or the anxiety that attends them wafts away as perspective grows; even routines—cooking, cleaning house, washing the car, or painting a fence—that ask only our time and little thought to achieve it.

Not unlike so many that find their way to a place untouched by others, in stolen moments, I am at peace riding a mower. The practice is an imperative for any with property to mend and care for, listening for the cadence that makes measured turns and speeds second nature, until contemplations take the wheel. The activity is at once mindless and mindful, its near-naked cousin able to occupy time, space, and matter simultaneously. Einstein and Rosenthal made math of the artifice, while the rest have simply fallen into its gravitational sleep without thinking.

This gait has no equal; it is mine alone—the same, I imagine, for you. I see new ventures, alternative social solutions, a greater sense of my investment in others, the unique ways the creator has knit me, the model of construction or repair that has needed more skill than I own. Time for all things is suddenly available to me. I consider song, literature—largely my own—kitchen creations, the God of our world, how to do the impossible like bringing two parties together. All things may come into view—TV series, high school memories, mother’s words, gravity, ways to encourage new customers to local shops and craftsmen.

It’s summer, the season of growth—a warning for some to take stock, for others a time to consider the simple world around us. These are the common things—the gratification in a freshly cut, lush lawn, the character of breezes, warm, moist, even warning of storms ahead, and homegrown tomatoes. No other season can produce them, not even Amazon can cause them to appear at your doorstep. Little else is so cherished than a gift of them to neighbors yet unfolded to seasonal joys.

Kierkegaard claimed “I have walked myself into my best thoughts.” Rousseau asserted “my mind works only with my legs.” Thoreau called walking “a sort of crusade, preached by some Peter the Hermit in us,” to reclaim the holy land of deliberation and imagination. Eric Klinger, and other psychologists, suggest that this “daydreaming and fantasizing” is a “reminder mechanism” that helps to separate oneself from busyness, thus keeping “larger agenda fresher in mind.” It’s a time to let the “adaptive unconscious” take control of the wheel, when “feeling” becomes the only form of self-reliance.

Today I’ll take a swim in a nearby lake, listen for the sounds and song of it, and try to be still for the longest time busyness allows. I hope to see you there.

June 15, 2018 |

The Right and the Responsibility

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ROI by Frank J. Rich

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Frank J. Rich

 

 

New research tells us that fully 80 percent of workers are dispassionate about their jobs. A consistent view of the workforce, also supported by annual survey research, is that roughly 70 percent of the workforce is disengaged (Shift Index-Deloitte). These are workers going through the motions of work without the initiative that fuels growth and opportunity. They are unwilling, if not unable, to make the contribution that drives initiatives, content to find fault before solutions. Those who become disgruntled in their attempts to adjust the “view” of their employers often become “actively disengaged,” a state of mind and heart that purposes to undermine the organization’s efforts.

Actively disengaged employees count for roughly 15 percent of the workforce—from top to bottom. Combined with the “disengaged,” those just going through the motions (55 percent), the majority of the workforce is dispassionate about the business of organizations and not attending to its growth objectives. When we add the average annual productivity of workers—25-75 percent—we discover what we may have already known: the majority of the work and results are the product of a very small percentage of an organization’s workforce.

If we turn the penny over, in search of solutions, two daunting realities confront us. Most people are absent the passion and both the approach and “know-how” necessary to accomplish organizational goals. Yet, it is an understanding of simple principles that equips most workers to excel at their work.

Passion is essential to the kind of performance improvement needed to succeed. The idea is deeply rooted in Seely Brown (past Xerox PARC Head) and John Hagel’s book, “The Power of Pull.” Passionate workers are engaged, productive, and contented. Why? Because we all desire the same thing: to be actively engaged in meaningful work. Passion is the path to productivity. The passion for things is as natural to the human condition as breathing. Our ultimate desire (need) is self-fulfillment. The idea that we satisfy first what is most important and gratifying to us is fundamental. We want to feel good about ourselves and about the things we are committed to. It is a realistic self-assessment and personal achievement that leads to self-esteem, and nothing less will do. So easy is the idea, that we can raise the participation of most—from children to adults—simply by giving credit to what they’ve done. Turning this inward is the next and most critical step.

Secondly, we must take hold of the means to personal growth and contribution. That requires that we practice a full-disclosure approach to all things, no less our work. This attitude frees us from corner caches that threaten clarity of purpose and practice, and that belies the talent hidden in those secret places. It is our nature to hide from the glare of our own inadequacies, failing to recognize that strengths are most often built on weaknesses. Acting out the principle of full disclosure requires only that we answer two questions: What are we doing? And why? Real agreement, that which is equipped of commitment, is only possible after these questions are answered.

In organizations of any kind and size, it is both a right and a responsibility to address any issue. When most confront the opportunity in this dictum, they retreat by the ruler of “political correctness” or a veiled sensitivity to the “presumed” feelings of another. On this principle rests the productive ability of individuals and organizations. When we do not see the organization as needing our contribution in every moment of opportunity and crisis, we are effectively failing the people around us—those (the people we work with) most agree is the primary reason they return to work each day.

Productive environments are tingling with energy over the opportunity in their work and the joy in the unique contributions of individuals and teams. It is evident from the moment we enter them. When we consign ourselves to these simple principles, extraordinary things happen, not least, a fuller sense of who we are and how we matter to the world around us. If we accept the numbers above, it may look like the conspirators are winning. If your view of the world around you does not extend beyond them, it may be time to take another look and prepare to change your perspective. The results you seek are at your fingertips and are the stuff of well-worn principles and practices. You will either see opportunity in yourself and the team assembled around you or be consigned to ignominy. It’s never too late to take up your staff and make the most of what you have. These days, if you have anything, especially a job, count it as sufficient “stakes” to start the game afresh. You’ll have an advantage over 75 percent of the workforce. And that’s a good start.

Steve Blank, a retired entrepreneur and author of “The Four Steps To The Epiphany,” said in a recent speech: “Ethics and values are not what you put in plaques or tell your employees… It’s the stuff you practice when the stuff hits the fan.” We must see the organizations of our choosing as much our own as the unique contributions we make. To live the values in both is the ultimate goal; the mere mouthing of them is disguised failure. The right and the responsibility—for all things—is your birthright and your greatest opportunity. Life and work depend on nothing less for success.

June 8, 2018 |

Public Trust

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ROI by Frank J. Rich

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Frank J. Rich

 

 

The idea of accepting what others do because we trust them is both an opportunity and a concern to most. Trust, as we know it, suggests as much. That is, that we accept what another may do or say because we believe his intentions are good, or in our best interest. It’s the basis for a marriage union; indeed, for all personal relationships, even those at work and with all stakeholders—co-workers, vendors, and customers alike. The view is so telling of the desire for our institutions and their leaders that none would admit an untrusting spirit, only the fault they find in others for their lack of it. But after all is said about trust and agreed to, few choose it over the skepticism that requires proof of another’s trustworthiness.

The recent deflating of the trust balloon at the hands of corporate America, no less government, recommits us to the skepticism that cautions trust—a fair conclusion. An equally sanguine approach—the commitment to trust in all its incarnations—establishing, growing, extending, and restoring trust, wrestles for share of mind and heart. We know that the vicissitudes of life can sap our faith in things—even God’s own can waver. But if we are to build anything together, it requires that we learn to trust and that “societies” in pursuit of something must learn most how to restore trust, because people disappoint.

It is said that character is easier kept than recovered. For there to be the public trust we need to produce the best from our institutions—public and private—we must look first within. Expecting from others what we have not performed divides the heart in them. An old song says it best: “Let there be peace on Earth, and let it begin with me.”

Just how does trust operate in our lives, at work? Not coincidentally, “… it begins with each of us, continues through our relationships, expands into our organizations, extends into the market, and ultimately affects an entire society. This is the essential nature of an “inside-out” approach to all things. It begins with us, and then—through trust—extends to others,” as told by Stephen Covey, Jr.

Does anyone really believe that life is a function of what others, indeed the world, does? Perhaps, some do, like the principal character in the book “Tropic of Capricorn.” Who is this character (a little bit of us) and what is he searching after (identity and meaning)?

Our journey to the depths of trust begins with self-trust. It’s where we learn the foundational principle that informs trust at all levels—credibility or believability. It’s where we ask ourselves, Am I someone people can trust? Am I credible?

To build such a foundation requires personal energy, simply the desire and discipline to act on our beliefs. But, sometimes a man can meet his destiny on the road he took to avoid it. We all find ourselves in shoes that don’t fit. When we do, we must find the energy to recover, to form the character that overcomes our indiscretions and propels us on the path to productivity and fulfillment. We start here and then form a collective mind with others who value the same things. Virtually every organization, no less government in its constitutional principles, positions values and beliefs as key to the forming of this collective mind. This is not the “hocus-pocus” of the cultish, nor is it the religiosity that trades reason for fealty. No, it is simply the gathering of like-minded peoples to accomplish the “greater good”—a society in some form—either business, charity and public works, or government.

After giving a speech to a hostile audience in the House of Commons, Mahatma Gandhi received a standing ovation. “How could he have mesmerized his audience for such a long time with no notes?” reporters asked.

The response: What Gandhi thinks, what he feels, what he says, and what he does are all the same. He does not need notes … you and I, we think one thing, feel another, say a third, and do a fourth, so we need notes and files to keep track.

Gandhi was not only one with himself; he was one with his principles. And his principles were deeply rooted and governed his life.

My life, he said, is an indivisible whole, and all my activities run into one another … my life is my message.

In his impactful book, “Life is Tremendous,” Charlie “Tremendous” Jones, set it out simply. He recommended that to really succeed at anything (in life) we must do just three things:

  • Make a decision.
  • Make it our own.
  • And, die (live) by it.

Public trust is no mean task; it requires much of us. It requires not only that we become one with our principles, but also grow humility and courage.

In his research for the book, “Good to Great,” Jim Collins discovered two very surprising things (to him). The first was that all the “good-to-great companies” had “level 5 leadership” during the transition. This is “… a rare blend of genuine personal humility and intense professional will.” The second was a “self-effacing, quiet, reserved, even shy demeanor—more like Lincoln and Socrates than Patton and Caesar.”

Love is born in us, but courage is life’s greatest lesson. The integrity that fuels trust must contain an ample measure of courage … to do “what’s right” not just the right thing, when it’s hardest to do.

June 1, 2018 |

Three Rs of Enterprise

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ROI by Frank J. Rich

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Frank J. Rich

 

 

Fewer than 40 percent of graduating high school seniors have mastered reading and math, making the majority of graduating classes poorly equipped for college and real-world life.  This group of students (generally) passes to the next grade—regardless of performance—and is at a serious disadvantage with a higher chance of falling behind and dropping out of college. (National Assessment of Educational Progress [NAEP] 2015)

Programs such as STEM that encourage girls—who usually do better than boys in most subjects—in the study of science, math, and technology helps, but the majority of U.S. graduates are disadvantaged in the workplace in comparison to many other industrialized nations.

The fallout is evident to most business and NFP (Not For Profit) organizations that must routinely choose among candidates that show promise, if not the skills already in place that are necessary to job performance. While poor language skills are among the most obvious deficiencies in job candidates, most lack the discipline of an everyday job, the resourcefulness that fuels growth and opportunity, and the basic nature in risk taking.

Perhaps, as it relates to our educational system, we are asking the wrong questions. A focus on literacy and basic academic skills fails to identify key elements of success in the marketplace, which also encourage the personal growth and development that lead to ultimate fulfillment—the highest level of personal achievement.

  1. Resourcefulness
  2. Respect
  3. Risk

The three Rs of Enterprise may be a reasonable place to start. Simply, Resourcefulness, Respect, and Risk may offer the opportunity to address the educational deficit noted above and present a more achievable goal for lazy students, encouraging academic participation. Clearly, 60 percent of high school graduates may be unable to outline the elements of international balance of power today in light of the Monroe Doctrine that defined an era of isolationism in America for 100 years. They would more easily be able to describe the ways they repaired a separated doorknob for mom while dad was at work, or the discovery of ingredients for a first omelet when the fridge offered limited options, or the mental calculation used to judge a skateboard stunt, or the deference paid to a disabled person in helping them. On these foundations—common to all—most any could find their way to greater understanding through an informed approach to learning. I think we call this education.

What’s taught in school? Coursework is the answer, for its focus on academics. Missing is the method common to all learning that resourcefulness, respect for the subject matter (in practical terms) and the risk that raises hands with questions, subordinating natural fears, engenders.

Also missing are the business calisthenics so vital to self-achievement. R1 is first among skills. In the end, some part of all things must be done alone—critical thinking, ideation, planning, “what if” analyses, funding, market analysis, pricing models, competitive analysis, facilities plan, staffing, training and personnel development (leadership), and growth modeling. All come into play for household management; something we all need to learn so as not to model the error in governments that practice deficit spending. If we are successful in raising a nation of people better able to find self-fulfillment, we do well to teach and practice resourcefulness. There is no substitute for this ability to find solutions when none are seemingly available.

Respect calms the process, answers the “why” in what we do and in choosing our life’s path. Significantly, R2 models the organizational attitude in whatever place we find ourselves. Respect for the work, the staff, the process, the customer, the community, the industry, end goals, and individual choice, put all peoples, created equal under God, on an even plane to compete cooperatively. If we are better able to see another through the eyes of hope in us, we reveal the path to the most spoken urging of politics and people—coming together.

Risk Management must become an internal model, wholly respected and resource specific for the incomplete logic in all initiatives that finds optimal outcomes. It’s everyone’s job.

  1. Assessing coverage risks—cross-functional flow and cross training. What a 3rd baseman does when the shortstop attempts to field a hard grounder; or a friend does in comforting another after tragedy; or a parent does when their fledgling child rents her first apartment with the fear she won’t be able to manage the financial burden of it.
  2. Raising the quality of customers to serve efficiency and best outcomes, driving prices down, and quality product and service up, which delivers greater profits.
  3. Staff attrition risk management—A measure of organizational reward (liking where we work and what we do), and opportunity assessments.
May 25, 2018 |

The #1 Investment

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ROI by Frank J. Rich

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Frank J. Rich

 

 

In my life I have mulled over the number of calls from those asking me to consider an investment of one kind or another. They were usually imbued of a unique product or service, market space, or potential in the thinking or use of something. Not least, there were always stocks “of extraordinary value” in the offerings, in both rising and falling markets. Admittedly, it took dozens of stock flips, educational and environmental schemes, and new bond initiatives, before my penchant for a quick fix to wealth building rested in wisdom’s tranquility. Despite the variety of investments offered and the creative approaches that attended them, all had one thing in common; they required nothing from me but money.

A quick review of the ways and means of accomplishment, no less self-esteem, revealed the gray around my temples—and frankly, none too soon. The cost of this outside-inside view of opportunity was a false hope in others and other things, and the artifice that steals real opportunity from enterprise and enterprising people. Desire, it seems, has deep roots, a grand view, and few obstacles. Only the doing blocks the way; thus, any opportunity with the promise of great wealth “while we sleep” almost always looks like the missing puzzle piece to a perfect picture. We’ve all heard the sage advice to let our money work for us. Perhaps, the confusion is in thinking it means that we don’t have to.

After giving in to a number of investments, I discovered a few things. I couldn’t shake myself of the motion sickness of a growing belief in impossible dreams and the notion that “nothing comes from nothing,” which is all that I was putting into these ventures. Sure, I studied the markets, made plausible conclusions, and dutifully ignored the nagging question over how much more invested others were in my dreams than the money I gave them to chase the gravity beneath me and cause high fives all around the office—theirs!

I anxiously awaited the news that each investment had delivered on the promise, chalking up to experience those that failed, even those that drifted into space with endless excuses of external imponderables. The brilliance at the end of most every one of them proved to be glitter, not gold. Not coincidentally, they ended as they had begun, with more promise than progeny. Clearly, after the risk is factored in, most such investments usually lose their appeal.

Hidden in Plain Sight

Like Alice, the simple girl in a dream of fancy, I discovered the truth in wealth building—an investment in myself, in my own business, always resulted in an ROI greater than any I had learned of or experienced. Consider the investment we make in education, whether in a trade or so-called higher education. We might spend $50 – $200,000 on it—a healthy investment by any measure. Not even a $500,000 home requires more than 20 percent down, only half of our investment in a top-school education. But the difference in income earned by those with and without that education is as much as $2.7 million over their work life. Should one retire at 65, the average annual return on a $100,000 investment is 8 percent, and that’s in simple interest. Compounded over 44 years on the job, the ROI is staggering.

Why then, don’t we see the opportunity in ourselves and make the obvious investment? Simply, it is FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt). Greatness, it is told, is achieved only after one having reached the crest of the wave endures against the sheer force of it, and overcoming, meets up with it.

Statistically, a $1 investment in yourself—your education, a business, new equipment, or a new product—pays between 2 -10 times the ROI. (US Census, DOC, 2005). A quick example illustrates the point. In 1990 I started one of the five companies I founded over the years. My work in Silicon Valley had earned me a reputation for helping build electronics startups into superstars. The news that I had started a new company brought five clients to me on day one. But my new company and I, and its first day, had the same number in common—one. How was I to serve five clients alone, all needing personal attention, and a lot of market work? I could schedule their start dates but risk losing them to the urgency in their need for help. Or, I could stretch myself as though I were Plastic Man. I decided to gather competent others in a team capable of handling the client load. As one, I could have taken a bigger portion of the fees, but limited my revenues in the tradeoff. As seven we were able to multiply revenues by 4x, and that was in the first month of operation. The decision netted our little company near a half million dollars in the first year.

Consistently over time, I have applied this valuable lesson, and with equally consistent results. An investment in oneself, one’s business, is better than 95 percent of the alternatives. There are over 50,000 new businesses started in the U.S. each month. Not surprisingly, small businesses employ 52 percent of the private workforce (more if adding non-profits) and roughly 60 percent of the nation’s sales, including jobs for the young, old, and women; 67 percent of new jobs; and 55 percent of all innovations.

When thinking about where to shop this season, consider where it is going to do the country the most good, and find your local small business. Happy hunting!

 

 

May 18, 2018 |

The Idea

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ROI by Frank J. Rich

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Frank J. Rich

 

 

Few things inspire us more than ideas. The very thought of an idea changes our facial expression. We grow pensive as we look inward for the elements of its execution and outward for others to join in anticipation of its fruit. “What if” becomes more than the “alternative” thinking in good decision-making; it rises in the air to form the cloud of opportunity that ideas reveal.

Ideas, defined narrowly as “the capacity to create and understand the meaning of creative thought,” are considered to be an essential and defining feature of the human condition. They come to us in a sort of vision or cloud that crystallizes in the mind’s eye and usually in the form of a relative model that is in some way familiar to us, though not completely. Very few would see Mother Teresa and Adolf Hitler as having anything in common. The idea is odious and distasteful. But to Harvard psychologist Kurt Gray, the clarity necessary to understand our view of people, conditions and things, revealed a fundamental distinction in the motivation of people — that is, how we form our image of others.

The suggestion that we classify people as either agents or patients — good or evil, saints or sinners — sets morality as the metric for measuring what is common among us. “Moral agents,” he contends, are “those who act, and are deserving of praise or blame.”

“Moral patients” are the objects or receivers of that praise or blame. We see the former as capable of “deliberate moral action, self-control, and planning,” according to Dr. Gray. Both Mother Teresa and Aldolf Hitler share one side of this fulcrum, though each used their agency differently. “Moral patients” are the victims of the world, the objects of “moral agents.” And though less in control, they tend to be more capable of emotions and emotional experience, Gray’s research suggests.

The strength in ideas, however, may come from deep within. Wherever they originate, ideas are either positioned for development or the boneyard. Which it is may depend more on the personal characteristics of the individual and his experience. While it is true that those with authority speak more cogently on all things — no less ideas — and that those in attendance listen better when an idea comes from the boss or a respected other, ideas are naturally occurring in all of us by the creative nature of the human condition.

What happens to an idea before it’s delivered to promise or purgatory, and why? Simply, we do! And the preparation is what determines its destination.

The Preparation

The quickest, most effective way to advocate ideas is to state one’s case cogently, with supporting data, and with the qualitative view that builds excitement. That said, ideas can be presented quickly and objectified as quickly with simple market analogs and presented with a clear goal in mind.

  1. Observe (analog), imagine, and execute. Begin with a relative observation that is familiar to most. Then complete the analogy to it using your idea. Close with a simple plan of action that defines results and is measurable.
  2. Prepare well. Be a step ahead of the alternatives and the questions. Gather your team around the idea and test its appeal on them.
  3. Know your audience. Know who and how to prepare your audience before presenting your idea. Your confidence rises when you can answer expected questions easily.
  4. Be direct and a partner. Make your case quickly and clearly, then wait for others to amplify it. Everyone wants to be a party to fresh, winsome ideas.

 

May 11, 2018 |

Just Two Things

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ROI by Frank J. Rich

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Frank J. Rich

 

 

Intuition may be more vital to business enterprise than the data that gathers around it. A bold statement, but one supported by both experience and science. Many have found the way through obscure markets by the light of intuition. When the darkness seems most impenetrable, when we can’t seem to form the logic that clears the way, we are forced to rely on it. Lee Iacocca saw a hidden market for a car that carried families and made women feel safer behind the wheel. Only Toyota’s Sienna had the early look of it, but most did not see the minivan coming.

Intuition may be a social chit, but the science in it is called the adaptive unconscious, an innate sense that something different about what everyone sees is there, uniquely viewed by a few. Lee Iacocca had it; Bill Gates too, who dispelled the myth that few would want a computer of their own. Steve Jobs had it when he pronounced the Apple “the computer for the rest of us,” then demonstrated that computer users would go wild over innovative design when other manufacturers were focused on standards and low-price PCs. The “Oracle of Omaha” Warren Buffet may be glimpsing the same as he bets heavily on rail transportation when others see little opportunity in it. Clearly, Americans are still attached to their cars, and trucks deliver most products to market.

In fact, we all have it on some level. It’s what makes us creative and quirky individuals, those who put aside the conventional wisdom and the mythmakers in favor of an unusual and often unique view of things. Seeing through things, around corners, under the cover of the obvious — these are the characteristics of the entrepreneur, who relies on intuition and data interpretation to set organizations for the future. As former American Airlines CEO Robert Crandall offered, “Intuition in the absence of analysis is another word for stupidity, but good intuition and good data analysis is a recipe for success.” His record of achievement qualifies the view. Crandall is credited with launching the first frequent flyer program, the industry’s first yield-management system, and deep-discount airline tickets, all of which are still with us today.

For those of you who are still with us after a period of economic malaise and have managed to steel yourselves by force of will and intuition for the economic recovery that has formed, take heart. You have done what is required to soar in the bull market by the investment you made in the future when the future was a dim view to most.

The Gut

The feeling that reveals essential elements that most don’t see is often called a “gut feeling.” It is the stuff that legends are made of. Perhaps most notable is Babe Ruth’s reputed pointing to center field in the 3rd game of the 1932 World Series against the Chicago Cubs. After two strikes, Ruth raised the level of banter between him and the taunting Cubs dugout by showing two fingers, then pointed in the direction of center field. He hit the next pitch a towering 440 feet right there. Few would argue that the “Sultan of Swat” was not capable of such planned performance, though an objective view still harbors questions.

Richard Nixon may have seen the commercial giant in China that few before him would allow. Frank Borman saw the earth from a unique perch as an astronaut and later as CEO of Eastern Airlines, which created the business shuttle industry segment between corridor cities. Closer to home, John Chase combined experience in the advertising industry, a Depression stint in the U.S. Post Office, and a gambler’s confidence from his days on the bridge circuit to found the PennySaver, now Chase Media Group. The list of similar accomplishments contains the same unique view of things that others glanced at but only a few saw real opportunity in.

The Brain

When we pause to consider what’s happening to us, to our customers, to people in general, we add data to the analysis of what to do and how to do it. The information, uniquely interpreted, couples well with the gut to further inform the winning combination that is “intuition” and “analysis.” The logic that creates sequential order is an unmistakable jewel in the decision-making process. What we know about the circumstances that form markets and societies, what we see, and how we interpret it, in Crandall’s words, is what turns stupid into smart.

May 4, 2018 |
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