Thursday, May 19, 2016

Tax Dollars to Avoid Getting Hit By A Car?

I'm all for public safety and avoiding accidental death, but as a taxpayer in Montgomery County, MD, I had to wonder about the real value of paying for a public notice telling people to

  1. not get run over by cars
  2. not run over other people with cars

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Video: Muslim Uber driver explaining why he supports Donald Trump

Simply because I didn't believe it all myself, I recorded this video of my Uber driver, an Iraqi Muslim, explaining why he supports Donald Trump.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Challenging Assumptions and Listening

A few weeks ago, I went to a fantastic meditation session led by Tara Brach.

The point of the session was learning to Listen without an Agenda. Listening with no purpose other than being open to the possibility that what you hear can change you.

A powerful moment came when she said (I think quoting someone else) that "not listening causes suffering."

Not in the 3rd World sense, of course, but you know how it feels when you can tell someone isn't paying attention to you. It hurts.

I had a few causes over the past few days to think about this in a larger context.

On a simple level, here's a blog post about what happens when we don't listen in a business sense, don't challenge our assumptions (as is one of my brother's favorite mantras), and not serve customers well.

But that's nothing compared to the 2 documentaries I saw recently.

One was an ESPN documentary about the Duke lacrosse team case of about 10 years ago and how they were framed because of an agenda. (If you can, set aside the numerous other issues that touched this case.)

The other was a powerful story about Allen Iverson, who's most famous line "We're talking about practice!" labeled him as a guy who didn't care...but that wasn't the full story.

All of these remind us of the importance of trying to remember to Listen as fully as we can and not rush to judgment.

Of course, that's much easier said than done.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

More on the Higher Education Conundrum in America

I've been on the "there's diminishing ROI" on traditional college education kick for a while now. 

Again, I don't think the objective (in terms of exposure to new ideas and new people is bad--it's good), I just question the way in which it is delivered.

Now...coming on all of the economic arguments, here's an NYT article by Nick Kristof that challenges the assumptions about how many new ideas our kids are really encountering.

Monday, May 09, 2016

Meeting Estonia's Ambassador to Discuss a Bastion of Democracy and Innovation

If you have been following my blog, you know that I have become an e-citizen of Estonia, have been celebrating Estonia and digital transformation and am organizing a trip Estonia this summer.

Thanks to my friend, Shai Franklin, I was introduced to Estonia's Ambassador to the US, the Honorable Eerik Marmei (@eerikmarmei).

While we talked a great deal about Estonia's remarkable achievements as a digital innovator (more on that in a moment), what struck me was the story of Estonia as a democracy.

Before 1940 (and the invasion of the Soviets), Estonia had been a democracy. In fact, on the wall in the room where we sat, was a framed document where a previous Estonian ambassador had presented his credentials to President Calvin Coolidge.

The reason why this is important is that, as the Ambassador's generation grew up, it was their grandparents who essentially said to them: "once upon a time, we were a free people...we will be free again." (Having just finished Passover, this resonated for me).

So, by the time the Soviet Union fell in 1991, it was his generation (those under 30) that were the ones who carried the torch of the hope of a free Estonia.

His parents generation (those born during Stalinist era) grew up in a culture of fear and repression.

That had a fascinating consequence...when the time for elections came, it was the senior citizen generation that essentially said "You can't trust anyone over 30."

They knew they were too old and their children didn't have the courage to get it done. It was only their grandchildren who should lead, which is why (if my memory serves me correct), 4 of the first ministers (defense, foreign, economy, and one other) were all under the age of 30 when first elected.

This group (which had protested by singing in the streets in the late 80s and early 90s) literally threw out the Soviet law book, rebuilt the legal system and, as the Ambassador said, "brought in Milton Friedman" to guide the economy.

They passed a Constitution that forbade the government from ever running a deficit or borrowing money.

(Interestingly enough, this had a unique implication in 2007 during the global recession. The gov't had to reduce spending by 15% including laying off a number of people....and they were re-elected! You can't see that happening in Greece).

By 1995, the government ensured that every school in the entire country was wired for Internet and computer access.

They began building out the digital infrastructure that eventually allowed them to cut 2% of GDP worth of bureaucratic waste and invest in start-ups, defense, and things that really add value.

So, by now, as Estonia has become a hotbed of entrepreneurship, one of the reasons is that an entire generation has grown up with technology (they teach programming in the classroom).

Libraries went digital in the 90s and senior citizens got classes on using the Web.

Today, over 99% of votes and taxes are cast online (among many, many other things).

As the Ambassador says, "in Estonia, no one waits in line, because everything is online."

And the privacy angle is Estonia, everyone knows when any government agency requests any piece of uniquely identifiable information and is entitled to inquire as to why.

By the way, if the answer isn't satisfactory to the citizen (or the review board), people are fired.

In the US, we have NO idea which gov't agency looks at our records. In Estonia, you know exactly who is looking at what and when.'s fair to ask if all of this is only possible because it's a small (1.1 million), relatively homogenous, Protestant-work ethic culture.

But there may be something deeper. Something that sent chills down my spine.

Something that I wish every American had.

What he has is a profound, deep, and total appreciation for Freedom.

They have seen socialism and totalitarianism. They have seen demagoguery. They want nothing to do with that ever again.

"We'd rather have 1 million dead Estonians than live that way."

That appreciation for freedom fuels a desire to make life better and easier; to facilitate trade and commerce; to empower people to pursue their passions.

Given their location (on the border between Europe and Russia and the Nordics) and their history, I think Estonia could be a player that punches well above their weight-class when it comes to shaping the next wave of geo-politics and globalization.

In an era where some in America would put up walls or roll things back and others either want to give up on or take freedoms for granted, Estonia serve as a reminder and, in some cases, an inspiration.

It's both an outpost of Democracy and an Epcot of the e-future on a national scale.

That's what I am going to investigate.

For more on the history of Estonia (wikipedia)

I've been asked about Estonia's role in the Holocaust.  My initial answer was "better than Lithuania, but not quite Denmark."

Wikipedia has a summary.

Tuesday, May 03, 2016

A Seriously Crazy First Date Story

I've heard some crazy stories in my day. And this guy I met on the train is WAY up there.

The video is 10 minutes long, but it's a crazy story.

Disclaimer: I do not condone this type of behavior. Nor do I think it is advisable to do.

It's both romantic (in a weird way), but also a type of assault and probably only would work 1 in a million times.

Spoiler alert:
After being unable to get a young woman's attention at a wedding after 5 hours of trying, he went over to her, asked for her phone, put the phone on the table and then proceeded to PICK HER UP, put her over his shoulder, run across the dance floor and jump fully clothed into a swimming pool.

They got married 11 months ago.

Read the story.

And buy his puzzle at

Lessons from People Manager All-Stars, Part 3

I’ve taken on the professional goal in 2016 of becoming a better “people manager.” 

One of the activities in my plan is to interview peer-nominated “People Manager All-Stars.”

Thanks to Sheryl Tullis, I was introduced to Rick Zimmerman, who is our headliner for part 3 (see part 1 and part 2).

“Don’t ever think there’s a finish line.” 

In every interview I’ve done, there’s a “money line,” where the interviewee shares the absolute core nugget.  Rick did it off the bat.

It’s almost like the “Never Stop Marketing” version of people management.

Once you are leading a team or leading people, you are never done, he says.

“You need to make it part of your process. You can NEVER check it off the list.”

People change. Situations change. The world changes.  So, as a result, there’s an evolving benchmark of what people expect from you. You will change in your own eyes.  So you can never be complacent about being a good leader or a good people manager.

Rick, who’s spent a long time working in the CPG industry, said there are two things which are critical.

The first is (and yes, it’s obvious in both theory and reality, but sometimes difficult to remember in practice) is that “people are different.”

He offers that as you get to know someone, you will have opportunities to ask questions upon questions so that you understand them better. However, there will be a moment, a time in which you ask THE question which gets to their absolute Core (think City Slickers for those of you who remember it. YouTube for those who don’t).

You want to find the CORE that truly reveals who the person is. What makes them absolutely positively tick.

The sooner you find it (and we all have it), the better off you as a people manager are AND the better off the individual is…as you’ll be in a position to help him/her thrive.

Ideally, you want to look for this CORE issue during the interview process.

Push people on career inflection points. What happened? Why? What’s your biggest regret? 

As Rick says, “what’s the one question I can ask this person to reveal who they are?"

Keep asking until you figure it out.  By NOT probing, you are doing yourself a disservice and doing them a disservice. 

No one wins when there’s a bad hire. (I’ve learned the hard way on this one).

And the second thing…VULNERABILITY.

Rick told a powerful story about a previous boss, a former army officer.

In Rick’s words:

“We had an energetic debate -- a bit out of character for both of us, as it was really intense, with raised voices and sharp words.  Upon reflection that night, I felt I had “stepped over the line” -- after all, he was my boss.  So, the next day I sought him out to apologize. 

When I entered his office, he told me “I’ve been looking for you” and I thought I was in “trouble.” 

But the fact was he was looking for me to apologize to me because he felt he may have “stepped over the line.”  Which then led to us hugging it out.

Then the real kicker was, 16 years later when we were catching up on stuff, he remembered the episode as vividly as I had.”

So the experience was less about him or me being wrong.  And more about each of us reflecting on what had happened and how that impacted the relationship.  A bit rare, I think, for boss/subordinate, especially for an ex-Army officer.”

We saw in part 2 of this series…everyone has vulnerabilities. Show yours as a leader first. It’s actually a sign of strength.

In short
  1. The journey is never over
  2. Figure out the CORE of each individual
  3. Show your vulnerability.

Bonus Material
Rick shared a best practice from one of his companies that I think makes a lot of sense and dovetails with my next goal (Clarity in Communication)—see chart below borrowed from the G2C2 framework.

He said that every memo begins with “THIS document serves THIS PURPOSE” as the opening line, so people can more easily understand the context of the memo/email.