News + Views

Winning the Customer


ROI by Frank J. Rich







By Frank J. Rich



The following is an introduction to a short series on the principles in understanding the customer. This column has spoken often about the customer, his psychographic profiles, the fundamental art and science of buying, and the channels and messages that satisfy his natural inclinations to find himself through the buying experience. In the coming weeks I’ll be addressing a number of elements of the buying experience (the human experience) that bear rethinking, and the actual results of subtle changes in approach and words that draw customers into a relatable and productive exchange with sellers. We’ll challenge norms, and in the process give both participants the opportunity they seek. In the meanwhile, start here to prepare for a walk through the mind of consumers.

In our efforts to apply the “truths” of business, we often err by the casual use of things we think we know. It’s the cogito ergo sum of a well-worn practice that allows such license, and the kind of careless thinking that leads to misunderstanding and ultimately, failure.

One such dictum is the oft-heard statement, “The customer is always right.” In its essential meaning it suggests that customers are to be treated with respect and deference, a special anointing that allows them the unusual privilege of obvious misstatements … about you, your company, or even the industry you work in. If you have customers, as most who work do, examples come easily to mind. But armed with such miscalculations we often face the most important objective in business—to satisfy the customer’s needs—with resentment and bitterness for having suffered through the dictum above. Increasingly, distinguishing the meaning in the statement from its expression becomes important as the requirements for “knowledge workers” rely on competence and careful assessments of the marketplace.

In fact, the customer is not always right, but he is never wrong. The heuristic in this seeming nuance is, perhaps, more important than most realize. Not only must we learn well how to serve the primary purpose in business—to create and keep customers—we must learn and practice an approach to the customer that encourages an effective response. When we choose to inform and educate, to become the assistant buyer customers seek, and not push and pontificate, then the métier of our choice is more fulfilling by the achievement of our goals. The alternative is the atavism of a Paleocene order, that which separates the future of business practice from the past.

Were this focus on the choice of words only the splitting of hairs, it would hardly be worth the paper they’re on. Rather, the careful consideration of words spoken and actions taken is the atelier of the mind, that workshop where all behavior takes shape. None of us wants to hear that we are wrong, but most are happy to learn something from another who is sincere and caring. The learning urge is fundamental to the human condition.

In his new book, People-Focused Knowledge Management, Karl Wiig asserts that mental models are the foundation of knowledge, personal or enterprise. As reference models, they encode personal experiences, and those from other sources. People and enterprises use these mental models to anticipate events and deal with situations. In simple terms, thought becomes behavior, and most thought is an essential combining of emotional responses to actual experience. How we “think” about the customer is how we will “behave” toward him. And this is why millions of dollars in sales are daily slain by the jawbone of an ass.

We have heard that there are two rules for business success regarding customers. Rule one is, “The customer is never wrong.” Rule two is, “When in doubt, refer back to Rule one.” Customers can be selfish, demanding, vain, fickle, arrogant, and disloyal; much like all of us when we turn into customers. What they are in search of is themselves, those qualities in the marketplace of suppliers that most relate to their own sense of value and belonging. If they come upon it accidentally, count yourself lucky. More often, it requires careful attention to their wants, needs, and habits, and good communications skills to win them over.

For example, I heard from someone at a recent gathering: “So, you’re a trainer. My company has a trainer already.” This, after answering his question about what Encore Prist International does. My quick answer was, “organizational development!” My second response was to ask if he had ever considered a difference between training and development. He had not, but was interested, so I obliged his curiosity. I asked how long he had been with his company, how old the company was, and the tenure of most in management. His answers all pointed to short work spans for most in the company, and a problem with turnover. I then asked what seemed most important to his employer when he was hired—his skills or habits. He pondered the question for a moment, then returned that he had not been asked at all about his habits, just a lot about what he had accomplished where he worked previously. I explained that his experience was fairly typical and that most short-term employees are let go for lack of good attitude and habits. Skills and knowledge can be taught through training, by skilled trainers, but attitude and habit journeyed longer in the making. Development, I offered, has a focus on the latter, and by the examination of right principles and practices as integral parts of the person and his values and belief system. With that, he admitted that his company had been wrestling with a turnover problem for some years, and that he had personally been looking furiously to fill slots in his department in the midst of a very competitive job market. Development, he concluded, might be just what his company needed.

Customers have three choices. They can buy from you, from another, or not at all. Most business success comes from developing customers of the “third kind,” those that drive other customers to you because they themselves feel so taken care of. Customers also have two important questions. “Why should I buy this product or service at all?” and “Why should I buy it from you?”  Know the answers to these questions, and never make the customer wrong.

December 9, 2016 |

Three Rs of Enterprise


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.


November 17, 2016 |

Dead Last


ROI by Frank J. Rich







By Frank J. Rich



Everything bought is sold. It’s axiomatic that one follows the other. The gratification in the one may be more obvious than the other; buying things—not just spending money, such as on rent and utility bills—is near instant gratification for most. Even the depressed find their elixir in it. But, what of the selling of those same things? Does it too deliver such elation and inner joy?

At some point, those of us who buy must meet up with those of us who sell. Do we find strange the conclusion that we are all in both roles at times? Imagining the buyer in us is easy. He is impulsive, aware of oneself and his self-image, loosely, how he thinks others think he thinks about himself, and driven by emotion to satisfy some urge—the taste in unusual food, the feel of new shoes, the specialness in attending a Broadway production, on Broadway.

He is also receptive to being sold, though he shuns this innermost desire. We all want to feel helped by others; it elevates our specialness. When others reach out to inform and educate our choices—for our unique benefit—it raises our sense of belonging to another, an uppermost need in humans.

The seller in us is often less evident. For many it is an odious assignment. Some even claim to be so bad at it they’d never take a sales job. The receptionist might say: “I’m not in sales, but I’ll connect you to them.” In this case, she may be shirking the responsibility of all organizational stakeholders to engage the caller (sic, customer) and set him up for a successful transfer.

She might also say: “Let me help direct you to the right person. Is your interest in one of our products, or are you calling to speak with our customer service people? A little information would help me prepare them better to serve your needs before I connect you.” Good sales job, wouldn’t you agree?

Yet, most shudder to gain such heights as the postural somatic in them wages war between the heart and mind. That which sounds like sales is more politely persuasion. Perhaps, but the representation of all things, however objectively modeled, is at its root a sell. “Eat your peas,” mother would say, before the logical justification or inveigling that follows accumulates in her gushing encouragement. No less, to be convinced of a movie’s value to one who has not yet seen it is often the Leonard Maltin in us extolling its virtues.

Truly, in everyone there lies, at least beneath the surface, the desire to influence another, which motivation is found in the caldron of self-worth bubbling deep in us. It is our urge to feel liked, at the simplest level of the human psyche.

In the venerable play by Arthur Miller Death of a Salesman, lead character Willy Loman leans precipitously over the edge of believability in issuing his own version of the inner need to feel liked. “The man who makes an appearance in the business world, the man who creates personal interest, is the man who gets ahead. Be liked and you will never want.”
 — Act 1.

Is he right? Yes and no! While it is necessary that our divining rod find its true north to salve our identity, just how much is “being liked” a sales philter? As was quickly revealed in the dialogue of Act 1, “He’s liked, but he’s not well liked.”

In fact, survey data conclude that among the top “attributes of a salesperson in the customer’s eyes,” [being liked] is dead last. This conclusion, though accurately assessed in survey data, may not tell the whole story. What matters more to customers (being sold) may indeed accumulate to the status of ‘being liked,’ though apart from the attribute of ‘being liked.’”

First among the attributes most important to customers is “knowledge of the company’s products and the business model.” It makes sense, at least to those serious about their business. Walking into a customer meeting without the prerequisite understanding of how to help, by an understanding of how his business works, is suicidal.

Next on the list of most important attributes is “knows my customers.” Of course! If we don’t know who uses his product under circumstances, what might the salesperson’s product do to help, beyond dropping a line and hook in the water with the wrong bait?

The list of the “top ten attributes” rounds out with “delivering on the promise,” “knowing one’s own product,” and “knowing the marketing and promotional science” well. In the end, as Willy noted, “A small man can be just as exhausted as a great man.”


November 10, 2016 |

Election Day


ROI by Frank J. Rich







By Frank J. Rich



You are not voting for Donald Trump! True or false?  Actually, the answer is the same for everyone. All initiatives, no less political, are fueled by three things:

•                What’s important to accomplish for our constituencies?

•                What’s the capital in it, or what’s to be gained?

•                Can we reasonably accomplish it (them)?

This is where all presidential initiatives begin (committees and advisors) and why the person in office is simply a sum of all those around him. A vote for either candidate should be a vote for America and not the delusion of glory in his choosing.

The president must be a good manager, one who takes advice (direction), forms consensus and redirects it to the functional bodies that approve and implement it. All decisions must be a consensus of views (to be successful) that finalize the direction or timing of them. Effective oversight is necessary to a good manager. The office of the president is little more than this and the voice of assurance to the population.

If we have lined up behind one candidate or another it ought to be because s/he is unusually gifted at managing the process of governing and the resources available to achieve consensus goals. Absent this ideal (very few presidents have equaled the expectations of their goals), “we the people” rely on the extraordinary wisdom and gifted practice of the Democratic Republic that formed 229-years and 45-days ago. It works… when the electorate—federal, state, and local—have us (not they) in mind, and who have measured the cost of a selfless devotion to the service of others.

Leaders, of all organizations, are the servants of the house. To see their purpose differently is to dishonor those they serve and cripple the machinery built around them. Sadly, most leaders (and organizations) will not achieve their stated goals. Roughly 53 percent of CEOs are in this category; perhaps why over 70 percent are always looking for the next stop. Similarly, most believe their boards are not as involved in the company as much as they are needed.

It is even more so for the largest organization in the land. With over 3 million employees, governing the nation may be the biggest job in the land. This is not to say it is the hardest, or one with the greatest constraints. Despite threats not to fund “the government,” no candidate or president has thought this to be anything more than the annoyance of a two-party system. In itself, this notion ought to convince citizens of the dysfunctional workings of a practice that often serves itself.

If you want to go fast, go alone.

If you want to go far, go together.

African Proverb

There are very few words in the founding documents of the United States: 1,333, 4,504, and 797 in the Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Bill of Rights respectively. That is roughly 6,000 words to form a nation, an expression quite simple and with clear meaning to have made so difficult and confounding the governing of it. I have written over 600 columns totaling over 491 thousand words to say what I want to say, hardly the spare essence of meaning for which I had hoped.

These are not the comments of surrender, nor intended to incite revolution, at least not the kind so common the world over that force changes in the ruling party. A quick review of presidential polls reveals the general view of flawed candidates, certainly less than the “high-minded hoped-fors” in the electoral stream. In fact, founding father and president John Adams wrote, “… A democracy requires continuous revolution…”

Top executives, including elected officials, are narrowly focused on short-term gains, poorly educated in innovation models, risk averse, control oriented, often excel at only one function (R&D, sales, finance, marketing, etc.), poor networkers, and too far from the action (Booz Allen Hamilton). Few presidents have been better endowed, which is likely why state governors are the most elected presidential candidates, including four of the last six.

Just as it is unlikely that CEOs will risk their jobs for long-term results, it is equally so for United States presidents, where personal legacy may be a prime motivation (consider the building [as in Egyptian temples] of presidential libraries after their term in office). “Obamacare” is a lonely T-Shirt.

If a great society is no more a society of givers than a society of takers but a society of makers, then a vote for America is the only one we should cast. That our two-party system has delivered questionable candidates, by the metrics above, we do well to elect the best manager, and not experience at governing. In four decades of business, having started five companies, and many divisions and subsidiaries, I conclude that a fresh perspective is more capable than time-in-grade or industry experience. Lou Gerstner pulled IBM out of the doldrums in the 90s with little more than CEO credentials, though with little understanding of IBM’s products or technologies. Perspective is what informed his success, and by his own admission, the help of many others. He noted, “No institution will go through fundamental change unless it believes it is in deep trouble and needs to do something different to survive.” Exactly!

Donald Trump is a successful candidate for exactly this reason. America has awakened to Gerstner’s words, and the extolling of John Adams’s “revolution.”

November 8, 2016 |

The Doing


ROI by Frank J. Rich







By Frank J. Rich



Fancy Footwork


There once was a boy named Blue

Who sat around waiting his cue.


When the signal came,

He was stuck in his place.


Finding others to blame,

Or another to do it, thank Grace.


I recently walked around the workplace of a client. The invitation came after my question about the culture of the organization. I approached people in conversation to catch a piece of what they were saying. Not surprisingly, I walked in on a lot of “Little Boy Blue”s, that fabled boy who put his toys away, then outgrew the use of them.

I was struck by how many people want to know why they put off doing what they know they ought to do and are more than capable of doing. Despite this, they can’t seem to “find the time” to do them. It’s the disease of middle managers, though not unique to them. In fact, studies show that although 95% of managers say the right things, only 5% of them do them. The excuses are a kind of fancy footwork that deflects the MBO (management by objective) popular in the workplace. Indeed, putting things off is one of the two major reasons 70% of all organizations are in failure mode.

This model of achievement brings me to the general election and the question over what candidates either have accomplished or plan to achieve. When asked why after thirty plus years in public service and promises to accomplish the same things on her current platform, Hillary Clinton answered that a Republican Congress was the reason. Clearly, Donald Trump carries his own baggage to the race, but he responded thoughtfully in asking why that should matter for a person so gifted and determined as she.

The typical candidate makes promises, enters office and things happen. Just how much influence over those things is the office holder? Getting things done, while President of the United States, requires skills — decision making that first considers other’s views, encouraging open debate over issues, data management, advisory personnel management, and the self-esteem to act independent of the need to prove the last guy was wrong. As such, the President does not do the things s/he promises. S/he manages a multitude of issues for the decision making that aids initiatives and progress on them.

Much like the boy in the poem, most of us know what to do, maybe even how to do it. It’s what we were trained in, the functional, the tactical, and the strategy provided in formal schooling or OJT (on-the-job training). And, it’s simple enough, especially after doing it awhile.

I mean — if you want to lose those excess inches, you generally know how to do it. Eat less; move more. Throw out the boxed foods and start sweating. Right?

To have more money you must either earn more, invest more wisely, or spend more conservatively. Do all three, and you will be in good financial shape.

There is really no magic in it. Success in every area of life is this way. Just do it. As Albert Einstein is noted for saying, “Nothing happens until something moves.”

So, why don’t we just get to it? Move it? Get off our posteriors and make things happen? Step away from that apple fritter, chocolate miniatures at the office, ice cream at the end of the day? It’s just commons sense. Right?

Perhaps it’s because we are divided between the “do”s and the”do-not”s. There are those who get it done and those who, like the boy in the poem, wait for others to do the doing. But the sad reality is that those who get what they want do what they must do to get it. They don’t just have. They do, and then they have.

You’ll have to admit, the words have decisiveness in them. Perhaps, this is what achievers have in common with good politicians; they have perspective on the matters they face and openly share them in building consensus decisions.

We all know what to do; it’s slightly more than common sense. But knowledge isn’t enough. It must be used to have real value. It takes courage to take action, to express one’s view in public, to risk making a mistake, to get up off the floor having gained a better understanding of how to succeed and the confidence to execute on it, to conquer fear.

A famous tennis player once quipped when asked why seemingly talented people fail, that “losers are afraid to win, and winners can’t stand to lose.” I hold no stock in the cultural bias that “winning is everything.” It is not the vehicle to lasting success. However, just because you have been a certain way for a long time, don’t believe that you can’t change. You can. You must, if you hope to realize your dreams, at any level of accomplishment.

When you change the images in your mind, your actions will change. When you define yourself differently than you do in this moment, you will be different. When you understand how truly easy it is to do the things necessary to reach your goals, you will be able to do them.

Small steps, one at a time — the Kaizen way. Do it now, not later when things calm down, when spring arrives, when the weather is warmer. NOW!

Yesterday is gone; you can’t get it back. Redefine your life by what you know you can do, not by what you were afraid to do or by what others say you could do.

If you’re dulled by TV for hours a day, or eating to fill the time, or a big fan, but rarely put yourself in a position to win or lose, you’re only practicing the fancy footwork of the effete. It’s the winnowing of the spirit that empowers us to seek the opportunity in achievement. We must start here, with the inner mind. We must take advantage of the fact that the unconscious mind knows no difference between an actual experience and an imagined one. To succeed, we must begin to substitute the unproductive with the fruitful in our lives.

Begin now. More powerful than the will to win is the courage to begin.

October 26, 2016 |



ROI by Frank J. Rich







By Frank J. Rich




In an age when instant access to information is both “blessing and a bane,” most struggle with the question of how to manage it for productivity and priorities. The inveigling of information, often presented in the most titillating context, becomes a distraction as much as an education for productive ends. Information overload, notwithstanding, the natural tendency to overwork an initiative, concept development, or simple task, is near as common as underworking them. The methodologies in the remedy are too numerous to mention, but boil down to one underlying skill—the ability to focus or concentrate on the goal or task at hand, and to finish it.

Sadly, this kind of concentration is uncommon to most, leaving us with very little of the stuff that succeeds to work with. In fact, according to studies, (NeuroLeadership Institute), workers achieve true focus only six hours during a forty-five-hour workweek. Surely, this can’t mean that we don’t accomplish our goals, though this is another matter for discussion, but it does raise the question as to how and how better we might do so.

Since people tend to do their best thinking outside the office (when we feel more free to “think” instead of “doing”), and then mostly in the morning or late at night, it would suggest that work schedules would benefit from a change. Actually, the conclusion is a focus on the wrong issue. We do better to adjust how we work and not when we work, though it takes nothing away from the early morning and late night efficiencies. For instance, devoting some time, before and after work, to thinking about the work ahead, and a review of the day’s accomplishments and approach, helps narrow a focus on the differences between what we plan to do and what we actually accomplished that day. If the reasons for both are clearer, then so too, is the path to greater productivity. All of this requires a focus on improving our approach to work.

How We Concentrate

In deciding to prioritize our work—at home or on the job—we begin the process of focusing our energy and resources on what to do in a hierarchical manner. The next element of focus is to remove distractions that might change the order in which we operate most productively, followed by a visual model of the end result. This process is not so foreign to us as it might seem in the formal mention of it here. We naturally incline toward a complete picture of things when in “relate” mode. That is to say, that we consider more fully the beginning and the end of the things we do, such as driving a car through a turn. We first judge a clear path, then potential obstacles to the task. Finally, we map our view of the task against our actual experience. The clear image that forms, as the brain narrows on each aspect of the task, prepares us best for the focus necessary to achieve the expected result. Of course, when moving through life too quickly, we are often in “reaction” mode. This state of awareness usually produces different results entirely.

While it is desirable to maintain focus, especially when performing in sports and music, for example, breaking from it is useful and natural, as the brain will alert us to things that might need attention. Someone walking into your office, or your one-year old crying, is an example. Without question, survival and reward are natural urges, or desirable breaks for safety and encouragement.

Notwithstanding, it can take between five and twenty-five minutes to regain one’s focus, according to studies. So, it is important to reconsider the focused item for relevance to the task at hand. There may be no significant difference in the quality of work after interruptions, but they are frequent—every three to ten minutes for office workers—and likely to disrupt one’s workflow and concentration. Surprisingly, it is not others alone that cause our interruptions, as we are responsible for 44 percent of them ourselves. Multitasking is likely the culprit here, as most have accepted the mistaken view that the practice aids productivity. According to studies, it does not. This is not to suggest that breaks of twenty to thirty minutes after two hours of focused activity (the range of concentration for humans) are bad, but that frequent interruptions impede results.

According to a Stanford University study of multitaskers, they have more difficulty ignoring cues that are orthogonal to their primary tasks. As such, it may actually be training our brains to be unfocused, as though it were a good thing. Since most workers and homemakers are held in high esteem for being first up/in and last to bed or to leave the office, and able to handle a variety of tasks simultaneously, we have come to feel better (about ourselves) when in this category. Interestingly, the NeuroLeadership Institute concluded that multitasking actually “drops our IQ, causing us to make mistakes and miss subtle cues.” So, in effect, “it makes us stupid.”

Instead, try focusing on something for twenty-five minutes; then take a five-minute break—the Pomodoro Effect. It proposes that, after awhile, you won’t be aware that the twenty-five minutes have passed.

One of the reasons we lose our focus is fuzzy motivation. If we don’t know where we’re going, or why, it’s difficult to get there. When our motivation is clear, our attitudes change and we transform how we work. When truly interested and passionate about what we do, concentration comes easy.

October 19, 2016 |

The Finish


ROI by Frank J. Rich







By Frank J. Rich



When focused on the completion of a skillful act, Allen Iverson of NBA fame, watched every shot attempt to the very end of its flight, as though an electronic guidance system were directing its course. Tennis champions patiently approach their shots with the concentration of a cat after prey, riveted on the small spherical missile headed their way, calculating the backswing that will measure pace, distance, trajectory, placement, and spin, while watching the ball into and through the racket. Decision leaders carefully consider the views and experience of others, the moment’s dynamics, and the ROI in decision making with the focus and aplomb of the uniquely self-assured.

Finish is defined as the effective completion of something; and which most often contributes to a planned result. Though very similar to the definition of success—the achievement of a planned goal—the finish (in all things) is that moment of accomplishment that meets the goal, apart from all else that is going on around it.

Inexorably tied to focus, the finish requires concentration on something until it is done. This applies most to accomplishments achieved in short moments; the accurate shooting of a basketball, summarizing the views of many to reduce the ardor in re-examining each in detail, evenly slicing bread, or managing the ingredients of a recipe coming together. Longer-reach accomplishments are best achieved after several breaks to refresh the mind and clarify base understandings such as task goals and the motivation in achieving them.

The finish is so uniquely qualifying that the success of a task is largely dependent on it. One may spend hours on a project that is late against its deadline only to discover that the direction of the initiative has changed without benefit of that work. Every writer must come to a conclusion that both restates the theme and summarizes the meaning in the work. Airline passengers don’t applaud a successful flight, but rather, a successful landing. Rewards follow the finish, which is why when asked if he was happy with the scoring of 40 points in a game, Allen Iverson would typically say that he missed too many shots.

Perhaps, the greatest obstacle to finishing what we start is ultimately us—our fears, anxieties, and doubts. This does not count the pause to consider one’s experience or the approach of others known for successful behavior. It isn’t about making it the best that it can be. It is most often our fears that keep us from the finish line.

We learn most from our failures; this, largely because judgment suffers most when we succeed at something, when the adulation of others washes us with an overactive sense of ourselves. Success seldom reveals improvements. It too often suggests that we have no growth to achieve. This seldom is the case for any endeavor. There is always more to learn. Even a perfect score on a test can be undone by questions of historicity—how we know what we know. In the end, the longer it takes us to get to the finish of things, the longer it takes us to improve and to move the indicative along.

A fundamental part of the finish is giving one’s work over to another. This most often grows perspective on the work and its approach, nuance, clarity, and completeness. Every writer needs an editor, as the saying goes. This fundamental adds accountability and a deeper sense of commitment to the work, usually an interdependent collaborative. Giving the work over to review aids a better result. It eases the fear of exposure by valuing others. This most often increases the desire for team members to be helpful, and less competitive. Ultimately, review reduces risks and criticism, replacing it with encouragement and constructive alternative views.

Many are known for their ideation ways; more still believe this is the contribution necessary to organizational endeavors. The well-known TV commercial about how consultants pop in, drop their ideas, then disappear, leaving the work to others, rings true, though not the method of serious consultants. Nonetheless, we are too often the victims of a low self-esteem, grasping at “home run” models, while others do the plodding. The best practice hard, and perfect the finish.

When things don’t work out we feel it, especially if we prepared hard and invested heavily in the outcome, only to have failed to deliver on the promise. This reality encourages a drive-by ethic that hits hard but stays little. Clearly, it’s easier to come up with ideas than to finish what we start, but the results are seldom equally rewarded, at least in real terms. This is why our real identity needs a secure foundation before tying it to one thing alone, such as our roles. When the goal eludes us we are best to consider the elements of the next try, and not our self-worth. Allen Iverson never stopped believing in himself, that he could make every shot he took. He did not think of himself as less for failing to achieve that goal despite his failure to do so. Very few NBA players shoot better than 50 percent.

In the end, we mean to make a difference, however small. Remember, the definition of success is the accomplishment of a planned goal. At times it requires that we go at it again and again. We might all be reading by candlelight had not Thomas Edison performed 10,000 experiments before his light bulb succeeded.

October 12, 2016 |
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