Archives For May 2013

Several months ago, I spent some time working with my oldest son, Ben. At the time, he was helping me rehab an investment property. We were tackling a task that we have never done before – installing cabinets in a kitchen. Here is a picture of the work in progress and the finished kitchen:

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Kitchen

On this project, we did a lot of thinking out loud – “If we rip this here, and shim this there…” We almost work as one – passing tools before asked, completing one another’s sentences. Not calling a cabinet hung until we’ve found the studs to anchor the piece securely to the wall. There is no talk of ‘good enough’. He is the son of an engineer. He is, in many ways, better than his father – and that makes me smile.

Looking back on our time together, I realize that we have both been pupils at the Rental Property University – Learning lessons of investment, of acquiring and building wealth slowly, the embrace of hard work, and the eventual fruit of persistence. Ben has developed remodeling skills that he will use on his own house someday- and quite probably his own investment properties.

We have been stretched to try things that we have only seen on HGTV or U-tube. We saw how well-done work produces best in class properties, happy tenants and culminates in a profitable business.

There are larger lessons to be learned, though. As father and son, we are bound together in so many ways, but time working together on a common task strengthens our relationship in ways that perhaps nothing else can.

Co-laboring is one of the rare activities that forges strong relationships. I have seen it in work, volunteering, and at home. The opportunity to work together with someone is the opportunity to build lasting bonds of friendship.

And so, I’ll ask: Is there person that you would like to get closer to? Perhaps a loved one, friend or co-worker? Is there someone with whom you would like to have more influence? I suggest that you look for opportunities to work with this person on tasks or projects that meet real needs. Working side-by-side is one of the best ways to grow closer to someone than you have ever imagined.

How has working with others changed and enriched your relationship with them?

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How often do you feed a document into your multi-function printer in order to scan a few pages into a pdf file that you will keep and/or send to others as an attachment via email?

Am I the only one feels frustrated with this whole process? It seems to take way too long to scan a page into a pdf document and then share or store the newly created pdf.

A successful scan requires:

  • Me to be physically present in my office and near my desktop computer
  • My multifunction printer powered up and set to scan mode
  • Several minutes of my time to feed the document into the scanner, invoke the scanning software, make the actual scan, wait for the computer to process the scanned file, name the file, pull up my mail software and attach and send the file to a new email

What if you could essentially carry a high speed scanner in your pocket?

For the past several weeks, I have used an app on my smart phone that provides a great alternative to more traditional scanning and has definitely boosted my productivity – and I’ll bet it will help you, too!

The name of the app is TurboScan. It cost me $1.99 in the Apple App Store.

TurboScan turns the camera in your iPhone into a ‘scanner’. You simply open the app, press the Camera button on the main screen, and snap a picture of a sheet of paper. Then you can email the file as a pdf attachment.

I use this app to better-serve my coaching clients, often scanning and emailing documents immediately following the end of the coaching session.

The app even lets you scan multiple pages into one pdf document by simply pressing the “+” button in the app to add each additional page.

TurboScan allows me to save and share important documents on the go. Sometimes, I send TurboScanned documents to myself for later review and storage. It is also easy to send the scanned pdf files to Evernote.

An app like this allows you to scan virtually anywhere, so you are no longer bound to your office workstation when scanning. Also, the speed-to-finished-scan is faster compared to my old scanning workflow. I haven’t timed it, but using TurboScan to scan a sheet of paper and email the resulting pdf document is probably twice as fast as the more traditional desktop/office scanning solutions.

If you want to learn more, here is a link to the iTunes preview of TurboScan. click here

If you even occasionally scan documents with a desktop or flatbed scanner, then consider giving TurboScan (or a similar app) a try. It is sure to streamline the effectiveness of your communication. Let me know how it goes.

Previously, I wrote about “Don’t fall in love” with your idea for a new product or service.

The article emphasized the need to change your ideas and innovate to continue meeting your customers’ needs.

The logical question follows, “how do you know when you need to change your products or services?”

That’s a good question.

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You listen to three things:

  1. Your Customers
  2. Your Financial Statements
  3. Your Self

The more you serve and get to know your customers, the more you learn. They get comfortable sharing what they find difficult about your current offerings. They also speak freely about what they want that is new or different.

Looking back on it, sometimes I have viewed these informative chats with fear. We should, however, embrace these conversations and see them for what they are. These insights from our customers are gifts. They show us how to remain competitive and to keep the account – and in many cases, how to better serve and keep several accounts.

Almost always, the need for a change shows up in your financial statements. A monthly review of your books is critical to monitoring the health of your business. If sales are shrinking, or profit margins are slimming, drill down until you get to the underlying reasons.

Compare this month’s performance to last month and also to the same month last year to eliminate any seasonal influences. Also analyze average sales per location and compare to last month’s and last year’s averages.

Get creative on how you slice and dice your data. What is important to you? …to the company? My partner in business, Charlie, is great at this. Think about the metrics that reflect the health of your company, then use your books to draw wisdom and clarification for your businesses.

Lastly, you can often detect the need for change when you pull away from the daily grind and think. You gain clarity when you take time to think about your business, your customers, and how you serve them.

For me, there are two keys that unlock my “thought zone”. Physical exercise serves to stimulate my thinking about life and business. Going for a walk or jog allows the insights that are trapped in my subconscious mind to bubble up into my conscious thoughts.

Secondly, deliberate silence opens the door to my thoughts. When is the last time that you drove your vehicle without the radio on? Sometimes, we avoid facing the reality of our thoughts by wrapping ourselves in an envelope of noise. Turning off all the noise making devices around is a useful way to stimulate thinking and awareness.

What about you — how do you detect the need for change?

 

 

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Don’t fall in love with your idea for a product or service.

You may have a great idea, but chances are, you’ll fail as an entrepreneur if you love your idea so much that you don’t listen to what the market (and others) tell you.

Great ideas get you in the game –they allow you to start. The ability to change your idea increases your odds of success.

I’ve lived this principle. When we started our company, it was an automated operator company for private payphone vendors. We developed a great service that very few of our target customers wanted. We could have stuck to our guns, refined our product, gone to more trade shows, and ultimately gone bankrupt on our great idea.

We chose, however, to shift our focus and develop another product and service. We transformed our initial servers into a prepaid calling card platform — and sold millions of dollars worth of phone cards.

A few years later, phone card sales started to take a nose dive. We changed again and revamped our system to also sell prepaid wireless. As a result, we sold millions of dollars of prepaid wireless airtime, right along side our prepaid calling cards.

The point is, continued innovation and change creates the opportunity for continued success. At any point, if we had fallen in love with our current offerings and resisted change, we would have missed out on the opportunity to meet the changing needs of our growing customer base.

What about you? What are your customers saying about your product or service? What are their needs? What do they want? What changes should you make today to impact your business tomorrow?

Persistence

May 17, 2013 — Leave a comment

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Persistence. It is the engine that drives all substantial progress.

The triathlete must train daily to even dream of competing.

The student must attend today’s class – must complete this semester’s requirements – and then do it again and again to obtain the diploma.

The business must serve today’s customers well, and prepare to serve tomorrow’s.

Overnight success is a myth. Success is the result of focused persistence.

Leadership is the culmination of daily decisions and habits – it is today’s intentional moves stacked upon tomorrow’s.

How will you persist today?

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Our one pet is a dog. Her name is Ellie, and she is a Golden Doodle. One of Ellie’s endearing traits is her hair – it’s big and wavy and curly and embodies the best of both Golden Retrievers and Poodles.

Ellie does cool stuff – like retrieve our morning paper from the yard and faithfully deliver it to my waiting hand as I stand at the door.

One ‘area of challenge’ in Ellie’s life has been her inability to catch treats that are occasionally thrown her way. The process is pretty predicable, “Ellie Sit”, “Good Girl!”, “Treat?”, then the toss of the snack, culminating in her failing to snag the flying treat into her mouth. Then she finds the treat on the ground and eats it. Pretty lame for a paper retrieving dog. I was beginning to succumb to the stereotype that echoed in my grade school playground — that “girls can’t catch”!

Yesterday was different. I inadvertently dropped a pretzel on the ground and recycled it by feeding it to Ellie. Our routine started as usual, but when we got to the tossed treat step, she adeptly snagged the snack mid-air! Wait a minute. She occasionally *does* connect with flying morsels, this was probably just one of those flukey events.

Later in the day, my wife tossed a treat to Ellie and she nailed it! No miss-guided lunge, just a quick snap of the jaws and the treat disappeared. Another toss, another accurate catch from Ellie. Something had changed and the family gathered ‘round to watch the show.

The hound surely gained five pounds because everyone had to hurl multiple treats toward Ellie and witness her new-found snacking skills. It did not take long for us to identify the secret of Ellie’s transformation. Remember her curly, Golden Doodle hair? Well, two days earlier, Ellie went through an ‘extreme grooming experience’.

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Her long hair had developed mats and was getting hard to manage, so, in a matter of hours, she went from shaggy to almost shaved. The hair around her face was cut short as well — and that’s the important fact— Ellie’s hair was so long that it partially blocked her vision.

The very thing that we love about our dog was adversely affecting her ability to see. Once the hair was clipped, her mid-air snacking skills emerged.

Aren’t we sometimes like Ellie? What characteristics do I have that limit my effectiveness in other areas. I’ve always done well at snacking, but I can think of multiple traits that can negatively impact my ability to produce:

1. Does my perfectionism inhibit my ability to ship?  
2. Does my leaning toward analysis serve to paralyze me from taking the next step?
3. Does my selfishness limit my ability to serve others – especially those I love the most?
4. Do my eating habits create an over-fed, and somewhat toxic body that dulls my ability to think?
5. Does my on-again / off-again exercise routine produce a level of ineffectiveness because I’m not in top-top shape?

What would happen if I ‘groomed’ one or more of these areas?

What would happen if I beat back the perfectionism demon and just pushed the send button on a blog post or email or new product?
What could I accomplish if I intentionally pushed past analysis all the way through to a next action on my most important project?
What if I purposefully addressed my selfishness as part of a whole-hearted effort to love my wife and others?
What would happen to my mental acuity, and productivity, if I cut back on unhealthy foods?
How much better would I feel, and work, and play – if I consistently exercised?

These are all areas where I could do some strategic trimming and achieve notable results. How about you? What areas, habits or tendencies in your own life are inhibiting your effectiveness?

 

My oldest daughter, Emma, just arrived home from college. She successfully completed her first year at Texas A&M! It seems like only yesterday that she and I were enjoying Saturday morning daddy-dates and the donut shop.

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She had a rich freshman year. Experiencing dorm life, transforming a pot-luck roommate into a close friend, finding her place to worship, plugging into extra-curricular activities, and making new friends were all part of her first year. (Oh, and of course, learning and growing academically.)

Any yearning for dorm life has been satisfied. She’ll spend her sophomore year in an apartment. A real kitchen will free her culinary creativity that has been bound by a dorm-size microwave and the mandatory on-campus meal plan.

Perhaps I am most pleased with Emma’s focus on others. This year she was active in a Freshman Leadership Organization. It took a significant amount of time, but she had great opportunities to grow in her faith, to serve and to lead others. In the process, she touched the lives of women in prison and served the needs of the homeless.

The bonus was the strong friendships that she forged with other like-minded students as they worked side-by-side to make a difference. Co-laboring is like that, when you serve with someone, you build some of the closest connections life has to offer.

My goal this year has been to encourage and gently guide Emma – while challenging her to be all she is created to be. She has such potential to reach and impact those around her.

It is exciting to watch her stretch and grow and lead — and enjoy the ride along the way! I can’t wait to see what unfolds in her life as she continues to work toward her college degree.

This summer she’ll be the assistant kitchen supervisor at a camp in Colorado-another experience that is destined to bring learning, growth and good times.

Might you and I have a lesson or two to learn from Emma? To learn, to enjoy, and to grow is not just for young people. It seems to be a pretty good plan for everyone who wants to embrace life and reach their full potential.

Adopt the mind-set of a college student and seize the chance to do and become something new. Today, this week, and this year -all offer up opportunities that can propel us toward greater fulfillment.

What new opportunity will come your way today?  Will you notice it?  How will you respond?

 

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Last Saturday was a great day to cycle.  A friend and I had registered for a local ride and were excited to do the 35-mile route on a cool, north Texas spring morning.

The start of the ride pushed 200 cyclists into motion. My riding buddy and I fell into our normal drafting routine. He would lead for a few minutes, then I would advance to the front and break the wind for him.

About six miles into the race, I was drafting behind him, and I noticed that my bike was too close to his.  Our tires had over-lapped which can wreak havoc on an otherwise peaceful bike ride.

I started to ease back to create a safe buffer between us, and our tires merged. That is the last thing that I remember about that bike ride.

They say I hit the pavement hard – planting the right side of my head and body firmly into the asphalt of the two-lane farm-to-market road.

They say I lay motionless. Groaning.  They say I eventually talked to those around me and greeted them by name — over and over again.

I can’t remember anything about what actually happened.  All I know is that my head hurts and my body aches.  As best I can tell, I lost about an hour of my memory last Saturday morning.

Thankfully, I did not sustain any severe injuries. No bones were broken. I am a little bruised and scraped, but my body and mind remain largely intact!

(I have had some fun with Karen this week.  I occasionally approach her, introduce myself, comment on her good looks, and ask her out on a date!)

This whole incident got me to thinking.  How many times do we “lose an hour” of our life by failing to recognize and engage the people around us?

Sure, I lost an hour of my memory from last Saturday.  It’s absence underscores the intensity of the impact my head sustained on the road.  I would like to suggest, though, that the impact that comes from our lack of awareness has an even greater effect on our lives.

How many times do we fail to engage in the lives of our friends, spouses or children?  Often, they beckon us to enter, to acknowledge, to listen.

When we don’t meet them where they are, we loose an opportunity.  We lose a memory that otherwise could have been meaningful to them and us.

As leaders, we are called to the difficult tasks of leadership.  Leadership is not easy. People only follow those they trust and respect.

Trust and respect are not the result of a title. They must be earned.  What better way to earn your stripes as a leader than to engage those who you lead?  People want to be heard.  They need to be heard.

The more we acknowledge humanity, the more we affirm the perspective and contribution of those around us, the greater we impact them.  Conversely, disengagement creates apathy and disillusionment.

And so, you don’t need a bump on your head to lose precious time, memories and influence. Be intentional about the opportunities to engage those around you. When tomorrow comes, will you remember today?  The choice is yours.

 

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The city in North Texas that I call home isn’t known for its beauty. We find ourselves surrounded by mesquite trees, cactus and red clay.

Perhaps this barren context, though, sets the stage for awe. The jeweler displays his finest gems against a dark back-drop.

It is spring, and even here, new life bursts forth.

I ventured into the canyon behind our house on a recent morning. We are perched on a rocky point, and only the hardiest things survive. I captured the picture above. Yellow wild-flowers punctuate the rocky soil, co-existing with prickly pear cactus.

So often I focus on the thorny, troublesome parts of life. Could it be that each day holds beauty and blessing that is  even more remarkable when set in the context of my daily challenges?

Might blessing be the sweetest in the midst of chaos? Do we miss the beauty because the beast arrests our attention?

The Sky Painter displays his best work on the blank canvas of a stark western horizon.

We too, hold a brush. Each day presents a fresh canvas.  Will your life and work reflect the beauty that surrounds you?

Leaving Lessons

May 3, 2013 — Leave a comment

 

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I had lunch with a friend yesterday. He and his family are about to move to another state. It’s been years since we sat down together.

The funny thing is, we’ve lived in the same town for seven years, and in the same neighborhood for two or three years.

I guess it’s not so funny. We let the busy-ness of life crowd out intentional, one-on-one time.

We had a great visit. We talked about the challenges of moving, our common interest in real estate, leading our families, and our faith.

Near the end of our lunch, my friend made an astute observation. “You know, one thing that I have learned with this move- Don’t wait till you’re leaving to say what is on your heart. Take the time to connect and communicate with people as life happens.”

What a lesson for all of us.

When you value someone, speak it.

When you sense that a friend is down, connect and encourage.

When you observe a worthy word spoken or deed done, affirm it.

 

How will you be intentional with people today?