Failure Breeds Success

man in blue and brown plaid dress shirt touching his hair

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There are several notable authors speaking on failing forward and the need for environments that allow for, or support failure. None of the individuals speak to the importance of failure and how it increases our ability to think and drive innovation. Out of those who speak about the positive aspects of failure, most seem to do so with failure as a caveat, not a requirement. The truth, however, is that failure is a necessary part of success.

Over the years, I’ve talked with numerous award winners, self-made entrepreneurs, and multi-millionaires. In each case, when talking to a person that made the trek up the hill of success, they shared how integral and critical their failures were in getting them to their goals and big wins. No one was able to succeed until they experienced a healthy dose of failure.

The secret weapon of failure must be added to our creativity tool belt. This tool empowers us for the big wins that company’s need for growth. It also wipes out fear from our workforce, promoting a healthy attitude for calculated risks that drive innovation, instead of the shrinkage driven by a risk-averse environment.

Colin Powell, one of my favorite leaders, says, “There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure.”

Flaws are found in every product and service. When we choose to look at the negative and learn about the need that is not being met as a result of the given flaw, then we can learn from that single point of failure and innovate a new and better solution. If, however, we pretend that our product or service does not have a flaw, then we fool ourselves and give an opening for another company to build our mousetrap better. We lose market share—by choice.

Failure sets us up to win with three benefits:

A Growth Mindset

We all start from a position of failure. This is easily seen in my first swimming lesson at Sunset Pool. I was afraid of the water, like two-thirds of Americans, and I tended to sink instead of float. By focusing on my inability to swim, I was able to add to my skill set. By the time I was an adult, I was a PADI and NAUI certified diver that swam with sharks. (According to National Geographic there are 375 types of sharks and only about a dozen are considered dangerous.)

A growth mindset was a simple idea discovered by Stanford University psychologist, Carol Dweck, that drives motivation and productivity. The concept is that we can change or improve our basic abilities in order to make great accomplishments. By seeing failure as a stepping stone of learning, being able to consider new ideas that would never have popped up had we not failed, we can alter our products and services to be a better solution for the customer.

A Customer-Focused Perspective

I learned at an early age that failure meant you didn’t have or offer what the customer wanted. I’ll never forget the meeting I had with the vice president of a national youth organization. I was told what the organization wanted and I clarified what they actually needed to be successful. While I was 100% accurate in my assessment, which was later proven true, I was dropped from the project because I didn’t deliver what they wanted.

The disconnect was due to me being focused on their customers and donors, while the vice president was focused on assigned objectives. The organization moved ahead without me and saw a massive failure. They soon realized that their objectives were not aligned to their customers and donors. After making several phone calls to key people, they discovered that the needs in their market were perfectly aligned with my initial recommendation.

My failure taught me a valuable lesson about having a customer-centric perspective. I could have gotten the original contract had my recommendation matched their objectives, but I stood by what I thought was right, not what they were willing to pay for. The next customer that called me in for a quote that wasn’t aligned to their market, I offered exactly what was being asked for and supplied a phase two proposal covering next steps should phase one not work. One company suggested we forgo phase one and just jump to two. I was thrilled that they had made the determination after understanding the differences between phases.

A Trajectory for Success

When failure no longer looks like a problem, but rather the next step of an exploration seeking the best solution, the company finds itself on a trajectory of success no matter what scenario is first developed. I had a friend who once told me that some things aren’t worth doing perfectly. The saying stuck with me because my marketing background suggested that speed to market was far more powerful than second to market—unless you pour a ton of money into the second product’s release.

My friend explained that when a product or service is 80% ready for release, to go ahead and release it while continuing to perfect it. Within six months, regardless of having released the product at 100% or 80% complete, the product will still be tweaked from the market’s initial feedback. The amount of time it takes to polish the final product is not worth the quality difference compared to the percentage of market share gained by releasing first.

While this holds true with most products and services, it does not work in film and music sales. Once the product is created, you rarely have an opportunity to fix and rerelease it. This is why entertainment companies do test screenings and focus groups—to get it right the first time out.

My failures have given me wonderful tools that move each of my projects a step closer to success. Without those failures, I would have no idea how to make a new product or service successful. When we review our failures and determine the lessons learned, we drive success in our next venture. In other words, failure allows us to grow, focus on our customers, and create a process that forces our success.

Shouldn’t we all be thankful for our failures?

© 2019 by CJ Powers

 

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The Layered Big Picture Guides Innovation

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I was consulting at a Fortune 100 company when the Vice President asked if I understood the big picture. He didn’t care about the details needing to be fleshed out. He trusted my expertise to handle those details, but conditionally—if I convinced him that I understood his endgame.

He clarified his view by explaining that he worked at the 50,000-foot level and seldom put his feet on the ground. He hated being involved in the minutia of a project and preferred to leave it to management’s ability that kept the troops in line. Unfortunately, his stance placed a foothold of problems within his organization.

That’s not to say executives need to get their hands dirty, especially since most people hate management looking over their shoulders as they work. However, without a snapshot of understanding from all layers of a project, there is no way for the executive to learn if key players at each level received and understood the project’s true message and vision.

There are two ways of developing a useful big picture. The first is to place a visionary in each department that is capable of translating the executive’s vision into one easily understood by those at the 10,000-foot and ground levels. The second is to have interactive meetings with the executives and managers at each level to clarify the ongoing vision and how it’s being transformed into products and services.

Before deciding which of the two methods, or a combination of methods, is right for the company, we have to understand the importance of each layer. The executive who thinks one layer is more important than another, will not be able to create the type of business growth that can endure. The growth spirts will eventually fizzle with its high turnover due to good employees not wanting to stay in unimportant roles and departments.

I worked for a Fortune 100 company that had 165,000 employees when I started. I was laid-off when the roster dropped to 26,000 employees. The atmosphere suggested that salespeople were gods, computer programmers were heroes, and engineers were a dime a dozen. These hard delineations stopped the flow of knowledge and communications between silos, forcing people to work in isolation.

Sadly, it was the lack of support for the engineers and the total empowerment of the “above the law” salespeople that caused the company’s crash. Within six months, the stock went from $86.00 to $0.50 per share. Few saw the tragedy coming and therefore only a handful of people were able to shift their 401K investments to something more stable. Thousands of people lost their retirement savings.

I also worked for a Fortune 100 start-up division where communication across departments was a weekly exercise. Everyone was considered important to the process including the RFP proposal writers who at some companies are considered the rock bottom on the importance scale.

In this case, the team was highly valued for its ability to wordsmith and customize documents/presentations to meet the criteria that funded deals. The division broke the $100 million mark in the first year, instantly making the new division a company asset and a recognized force in the industry.

The teams that respected the value of other teams, were empowered to try new things and explore solutions never before considered in the marketplace. The VPs participated in all weekly meetings to make sure the new ideas flowed in line with the executive vision for the division.

jacket illustration: © Disney • Pixar

jacket illustration: © Disney • Pixar

Pixar co-founder, Ed Catmull, says, “When it comes to creative inspiration, job titles and hierarchy are meaningless.” He goes on to say in his book Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces that Stand in the Way of True Inspiration that communication should not follow the business hierarchy, but be open to all in order to facilitate progress.

Giving access to everyone, for everyone, allows all employees to own their layer of the vision and empowers the entire company with an understanding of how each area of the business impacts the others. This structure brings insight to those who are capable of innovation based on cross-department combinatory play, which feeds additional innovation.

While I don’t believe in the “open door” policies, which pulls people away from their work in an untimely manner, I strongly believe in access to everyone when it comes to communication and understanding how the vision impacts all project layers and departments. The proper flow of communication and the consideration of other departments when making decisions always empowers innovation.

Therefore, it’s prudent for employees to understand how all departments matter to the vision of the company. With each person having the big picture and understanding each layer of the vision, they will be empowered to innovate, pushing the company to move forward with ideas that will change the marketplace.

© 2019 by CJ Powers

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Creating a 3-Second Business Report

During my time in the Fortune 100 world, I was tasked to create a report that helped everyone know where the business was at. I was given no further structure or parameters, and I had no idea what each reader would consider important. The only thing I knew was that the report had to be useful for the reader or it would just be shoved into a stack of unread papers.

I actually knew one other thing—the development of the right report would take creativity.

Since Leonardo Da Vinci popped into my mind as a great creative, I decided to use one of his techniques to brainstorm a palatable solution. Da Vinci made a chart that included a number of variations to play with the possibilities, hoping to find the right combination of choices. The key parameters were written down like column headings and all related ideas that flowed from each one were placed in its column.

Within a few minutes, I had a chart worthy of exploring. It looked something like this:

My Boss

Her Boss The Team

The Division

Objective 1 Budget Weekly Objective Monthly Objective
Objective 2 Bonus Criteria Monthly Objective Quarterly Objective
Stretch Goal Stretch Goal Quarterly Objective Yearly Objective
Personal Goal Head Count Resources Budget
Bonus Criteria Back Office Support

I next randomly circled variations and considered each for inclusion in my report. It looked something like these:

IMG_7110

IMG_7111

I also played with the idea of using two from one column and three from another, but to keep the report simple I settled on selecting only one factor from each column.

It didn’t take long to figure out that my boss’ bonus criteria matched her boss’ stretch goal, which immediately became an entry in my report. I also learned from experimenting with the potential selections and a calculator that the Team’s weekly objective was 2% of the boss’ bonus criteria and her boss’ stretch goal. In other words, one measurement could let everyone know exactly where they stood once a week.

Here is the dashboard report that I created to be on everyone’s desk when they got in each Monday morning:

Screen Shot 2019-06-25 at 8.35.10 AM

The above report diagram was colored in each week so the reader would know at a glance where they stood. The 100% Goal represented the boss’ bonus criteria, her boss’ stretch goal, and the accomplishment of all the team’s weekly objectives.

Since everyone could read the report within three seconds, it was referenced daily. This new reading activity shifted the perspective of every employee on the team and drove obtainment over the 100% threshold year after year. All thanks to Da Vinci’s creative exercise of randomly selecting variations from a table of possibilities.

Maybe it’s time to use creativity and rethink your reports.

© 2019 by CJ Powers

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3 Step Creative Team Building Approach

Last night I met several high performance people in back-to-back meetings. I was amazed at their expertise and ability to shine in their sector of the marketplace. It prepared me for a surprise experience later that night that boosted my confidence. I felt like I too could shine in my own way and the test was moments away.

IMG_0142On Monday night, I gave a talk to a group of filmmakers interested in learning about how to protect their intellectual property. The speaking engagement went out on Facebook Live and allowed me to test materials from my new book that’s almost ready for release. The audience response from those in the room was better than expected and the online comments were also satisfying. That positive experience fueled my risky choice to last night’s surprise.

Dale Carnegie shared in one of his books the importance of being ready at all times to give a talk, should you be asked. I’ve heard religious leaders say something similar about always being prepared to share in season and out. Well, my surprise opportunity came last night during my last meeting.

When I entered late, due to my earlier meeting, it wasn’t possible to quietly take a seat without notice, as the host of the meeting welcomed me. I hate it when the flow of a meeting is interrupted and everyone turns from the front of the room to see the guy walking in a half hour late, especially when it’s me—which thankfully is rare.

As I took a seat, the host announced the four guest speakers and their topics. The fourth speaker’s name was CJ Powers. Yep, he announced that I was the last speaker of the night.

The woman sitting to my left leaned over and said, “I didn’t know you were speaking tonight.” To which I replied, “Neither did I.”

She was quite concerned and asked if the host was punishing me for being late. I had no idea why I was suddenly named a speaker, but I did know the host well enough to understand his motivation was not negative. I quickly raised my hand and asked what he said the title of my talk was. He answered, “How to Build a Successful Team.” Everyone in the room laughed, thinking it was a joke. At the end of my presentation, the look of amazement on everyone’s face and the hearty applause was well appreciated.

Here is a condensed paraphrase of what I shared last night…

img_0123.jpegThrough my unique experiences working for both Fortune 50 companies and small mom and pop shops, I’ve had the opportunity to learn what works and what doesn’t when it comes to exploring the building of excellent teams that drive revenue. I’ve learned the three steps that were always prevalent in successful teams and missing in the less fortunate ones.

1. Diversity of Perspective.

One day I was asked to attend a brainstorming session in a large company’s think tank. They collected together the top creative people from two nearby corporate campuses and placed us in a room with what I’ll refer to as a widget. It was the company’s latest patented invention and no one knew what to use it for or how to promote it. In other words, it was ahead of its time.

The team leader handed us each a piece of paper with 100 numbered lines on it and asked us to list out 100 ways the widget could be used. After fifteen minutes, I had 23 ideas and peeked at a few other nearby papers, not to cheat, but to find out if I was on track. Most had 7-8 ideas at that point, which didn’t surprise me since my thought process is significantly different than most associates. But I too, soon laid down my pen before hitting 30 ideas.

Thankfully the team leader inspired us with a shift in perspective. He suggested that we probably had brainstormed based on our life experiences and should now consider the widget from our grandmother’s perspective. I immediately came up with another two dozen uses. Then he suggested we take a child’s perspective. By the time I reached 100 uses for the widget, I realized the importance diversity of perspective makes in developing a productive team.

2. Empowerment to Fail.

I’ve heard people say that American inventor, Thomas Edison, failed 1,000 times before he invented the lightbulb. I’ve also heard it was 10,000 times. While the exact number is sketchy at best, it was clear that failure was a big part of Edison’s success. He felt empowered to find out what didn’t work, moving him that much closer to the solution he sought.

Cleaning product 409 got its name from the number of experiments it took to come up with the right formula that worked. Numerous stories exist about the failure of people that got to the top because they embraced and learned from their failures. Michael Jordan who still is in the top five of all time NBA scorers is also in the top five list of players that missed the most shots.

I learned that people who fail and push through for success always end up on top, while those who avoid failure rarely get anywhere in life. Empowering a team’s failure to build confidence and knowledge improves their success rate for the long term.

3. Praise for Success.

My upbringing implanted the idea that all incentives must be financial to be effective. However, several recent studies suggest that financial incentives only work well for immediate effect and for most blue collar workers, while events, parties, and excursions work best for white collar employees (The research did not include bonus programs, as it was only looking at project based incentives).

Regardless of the function a person serves, all employees appreciate some form of public praise or recognition for their success. People have always appreciated being acknowledged in some form or another, making praise an essential part of team development.

The common denominator in the above three steps used to build a successful team comes down to the individual. When you attribute the success to the person, allow them to fail forward and gain knowledge, and encourage them to infuse the essence of who they are in the project, success is always the outcome.

If you are interested in having me speak to your company or organization, please feel free to contact me. Also, please check out my new website for speaking engagements at speakercjpowers.com

A Chance to Excel with Kevin Riley

IMG_6193I met Kevin Riley a month ago and had the opportunity to attend one of his speaking engagements last Friday. Kevin authored “Guiding Your Child from Pee Wee to Pro.” The book is designed to help parents nurture their child’s athletic development, but I found his information to also be applicable to business, filmmaking and spiritual growth.

Kevin, after years of speaking engagements to parent groups, parks and recreational organizations, and state and national conferences, realized the repetitiveness of one comment, “I wish I had known all this information years before.” This moment of enlightenment drove him to research what turns a good performer into a great one.

“One thing that really surprised me as I was going through and doing all this research, and doing interviews, et cetera, was that 97 percent of the population has the chance to excel,” says Kevin. “To get in that one percent. 97 percent of all of us have the opportunity, have the capability, to excel. And that’s because, and I’m sorry to say, we’re all essentially the same.”

The Elite Use Long-Term Memory

Kevin went on to share the things we have to do to excel and get into the top one percent, which are not hard to do. He started with a simple question, “Where does expertise come from?” Kevin adds, “It comes from your memory. And more specific, it comes from your long-term memory.”

I was fascinated to learn how experiences move into our working memory or short-term memory. Most of those things that are important to us and memorable, then move into our long-term memory. But the key is turning long-term memory into a tool to be used as an expert.

“Now you are already a near-expert,” says Kevin. “A near-expert is very close to an expert, but not quite. Raise your hand if you can remember any detail of getting here today. How many of you drove? Okay. Do you remember accelerating? Do you remember putting on the brakes? Do you remember turning the steering wheel right or left, whichever way you had to go? Do you remember with any detail doing those things?”

“More than likely, no. You may remember, ‘Okay, this is the route that I took. And there’s a stoplight over on Indian Trail and 31.’ But do you remember actually going through it? Your driving was automated. That’s why you can hold a conversation with someone in the car and still drive.”

The Elite Automate Their Motor Skills

51EreC9uL7L._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_“What you want to do, and what athletes do, is they automate their motor skills. They have a lot of information, a lot of experiences in their long-term memory. Another benefit of having a lot of stuff in their long-term memory, for athletes and you also, is that you can chunk information. When you’re presented with a situation, your brain will pull up past memories to assist you in accomplishing what you’re trying to do.”

Kevin used tennis as an example to explain how memory chunking works. Research has shown that human beings have an extremely hard time reacting to a tennis ball hit at 100 miles per hour. Yet pros return Roger Federer’s 130 mile per hour serve. This is done by the chunking of information.

The athlete anticipates the shot based on the server’s stance, foot position, body angle, the loft of the ball into the air, the hand position on the racket, the air temperature, and the condition of the court. The array of information based on remembered experiences allows the player to reduce the number of possibilities of where the ball will land to a small area on the court that he can respond to.

“The other thing is, if you have a lot of information in your long-term memory,” Kevin says, “is that the connections, the electrical signals within your brain actually move faster than someone who doesn’t have a lot of information in their long-term memory.”

The Elite Practice with Variation

Kevin shared that when he coached, he’d have the kids repeat things over and over again in the same way at every practice. The activities lost its importance and was no longer memorable, causing the players to plateau. Once he shifted to variable practices that kept things important and memorable, the players saw increases in their skill levels.

“A shortstop will never throw a ball to right field or centerfield or even left field. There’s no reason for that,” says Kevin. “But what it does, (in a variable practice), it disengages the brain from what he normally does, throwing to first, so then when he throws back to first base he has to rethink. It starts to become memorable to him—Again.”

The best thing to do during practice is random activities. The coach could call out an action to a player and they have to immediately do it, something different every time. It’s a slower way to practice, but its more memorable and will stay in the players long-term memory for immediate action at another time. It also builds the player’s ability to make quick decisions under pressure.

Kevin says, “Every time an athlete goes out they need to challenge themselves. They just can’t keep doing the same thing. Even if it’s just a half a percent, a quarter of a percent more in something. Either make something a little faster, reverse the order, it has to be a challenge every single time.”

When people begin to get comfortable their skills plateau. The only way to continue growing one’s expertise is to challenge the mind in new ways. Getting feedback from a coach or someone knowledgeable about the technique can help pinpoint what skill area needs work and then by using short, intensive focused segments of practice can stimulate the mind with a level of importance, while being memorable.

“For an athlete, and on average, it takes about 7,000 hours of practicing this way,” says Kevin. “Okay that’s two, two-and-a-half hours a day, six days a week, for 50 weeks a year. We don’t have time to do that. We have other things going on. But I would challenge you… Practice using these techniques in your domain for 30 minutes a day, four to five days a week. Try it for a month. Research shows that if you can do that your performance and your knowledge, your availability to chunk information will remarkably increase over a period of a month.”

The Elite Use Kevin’s Information

“Everyone is relying on traditional, out-of-date exercises, practice methods, and there’s a new way to do things,” says Kevin. “Science is evolving on how the brain works and how people learn. To improve, you need to learn how to improve.”

Kevin’s new methods have been well proven by athletes, business executives, and many in the field of entertainment. The key is recognizing that we are all pretty much the same, not having that exceptional talent, yet able to become experts by using a process. To demonstrate our sameness and how processes can change our outcomes, Kevin had us play a game.

We played the harder version of Flippy Cup within a two-minute time constraint. The game’s conditions included only one person going at a time, the next person not being able to start until the previous person succeeded, and the cup starting upside down on its wide mouth and being flipped upright onto its narrow base. All the teams righted one or two cups.

We were then given two minutes to create a strategy or process that could change our few flipping opportunities based on ordinary skills into three to five times more opportunities. One person was to clear the table of fallen cups. Another fed the cups into an ideal starting position. And, the other person focused solely on their finger-flipping abilities. During the next round, our table of average guys became experts in our process and we won with a score of five flipped cups.

“It’s really true that the vast majority of the population is average. We all have average IQs, and as far as our physical abilities we’re all born pretty much the same. And its practice, and how we practice, that can improve.” Kevin says, “In the two minutes that we did it, people started to use their chunking ability, their long-term memory, and a method to improve. And they’re the team that won. Improvement is about process.”

Kevin’s message was easy to understand and his demonstration clearly supported his point that the most successful, the ones that reach the top, have a process. Everyone else seem to use a shotgun approach, hitting and missing arbitrarily, with no way to replicate a specific successful outcome again and again.

© 2018 by CJ Powers

A Businessman’s Book of Black Gold

BlackBookv1About 20 years ago I met a unique businessman. He was very tall and built like a linebacker. To compensate for his size, he spoke in a soft voice and always carried a smile. I had never seen such a sight, so I crossed the waiting area at our gate to introduce myself before our flight boarded. I’ll refer to him in this post as Mike.

I was working for a Fortune 50 company at the time and always on the lookout to learn from the best. It didn’t take a lot of observation skills to ascertain that Mike was a successful executive, wearing the latest Armani suit with highly polished wingtip shoes. His uniqueness was evident in how he responded to my approach.

He immediately sat up and leaned forward to give me his undivided attention. His word choice suggested that he could hold his own in the country or on a farm, while his dialect and presentation was clearly Park Ave. He was approachable, knowledgeable, and filled with wisdom—knowing exactly how to alter his conversation on the fly to match the other person’s.

His face reflected a fascination with my questions, which allowed me to continue asking questions that most businessmen would find exhausting. At one point he stopped our conversation and cut to the chase, asking me outright if I wanted to know the core reason for his business success. I said, “Yes.”

After pulling a small, black notebook from his pocket, he said that all of his business secrets were in the book. He then asked if I’d like to read through it while we waited. I took the book and sat down to read his handwritten notes. I was amazed at the business techniques that were captured on each page. I had found “black gold,” Texas tea, business oil, that is. The stuff that could catapult a man toward success.

He saw my hunger for the information as I absorbed page after page. He quietly borrowed my ticket and went up to the gate, while I continued to memorize the information. He returned after exchanging my economy ticket for the first class seat next to his so I could continue reading.

At 35,000 feet, I turned to Mike and asked him for clarification. One of the business statements didn’t read in a way that was easily understood from a business context. Proverbs 8:20 read: “A king who sits on the throne of justice, sifts all evil with his eyes.” He told me that understanding the translation sometimes required a deeper dive into the word choices selected by the translator who converted the info to English.

Mike said that a “king” represented him as a business owner reigning over his small business empire. He was to do it “justly,” always making sure he was fair to himself, his employees, and his clients. His greatest task during the transaction was to “sift” through all “evil,” or one-sided choices, by carefully observing his team and the clients, making sure to purge or get rid of anyone who was not conducting business on the up and up.

Mike then told me about a man who was trying to leverage an additional 3% margin out of the customer to make himself look good. He immediately remembered the proverb and fired the man. Five years later he heard how the man finagled business at his next job to the point where his boss got fired and he took over the position—not the kind of man anyone would want on their team. Two years later the business was scrutinized by the FBI, ending with the man being jailed 11 months later for embezzling.

I admired how Mike’s experience proved the black book’s notes to be effective and accurate. I wanted more, and Mike saw it in my eyes. As we disembarked, Mike handed the book back to me as a parting gift with the hope that I’d always mold my business according to its biblical principles. I thanked him for the first class seat and the chance to learn from one of the best. He suggested the best way to return the favor was to share my story about the black book with others. And so I have, again.

Copyright © 2018 by CJ Powers

Work Hard, Someone is Watching

Work Hard,Someone isWatching

I climbed the stadium seats at the dolphin aquarium in Baltimore and spotted one of my favorite actors sitting with her three kids and mother. I smiled and walked past, not wanting to interfere with her mom time. Unfortunately, the guy sitting behind her finally figured out where he had seen her and chatted it up. She politely responded and then collected her family and left before the show started.

Her kids were not upset because they left the dolphin show; they were upset because a man tried to pull their mother away from their precious time together. Thankfully she made the right choice and put family before fans. After all, fans come and go, but family is still present in the aftermath of one’s career.

Colin Powell came to mind after the actor left, fully functioning in her mom role. Powell is a man who quickly gains respect from most everyone he meets, not because he’s so awesome, which many would say he is, but because he lives by his own words with integrity.

Had he been present during the decision to work hard in her role as a mom in that moment, he would’ve agreed with her decision. Powell’s great work ethic was not altered by the fans that surrounded him, but by his own focus on life. He owned the moral decisions he made daily and shared his simple viewpoint when he said…

“Always do your very best. Even when no one else is looking, you always are.”
Colin Powell

If You Take the Pay, Earn It

When I was in high school, I spent the early hours on weekends delivering newspapers to fund my art. The team would start at 4:00 a.m. stuffing inserts into the paper, and then stuffing the sections together into a lightweight plastic bag for ease of delivery. I did the prep work quickly because the goal was the delivery process, not the stuffing, as we were paid per paper delivered.

The college drivers got to pick the teen they wanted to ride with. The guys were jealous because the best-looking woman always picked me first—I’ll call her Beth. Some thought it was my charm or the good looks I sported back in the day, but I knew it was about the money.

You see, the teens moaned about stuffing the papers and dawdled in the process. Since the drivers got half the pay, they wanted the teen that worked hard and fast. Beth was smarter than the rest. Her motto was that if you’re going to take the pay, you needed to earn it. So, instead of hassling me like the other drivers did to get their teen helpers in gear, Beth encouraged me to find faster streamlined ways of stuffing the papers. I always ended up with three times more papers for delivery than my peers.

Beth also stepped away from the other jeering drivers and quietly stuffed additional papers herself. Due to her speed and the slowness of most teens, she typically stuffed an equal amount. Our truck was always packed with four times more papers than any other truck, which gave us four times more pay.

Always do Your Best

Not only was the stuffing process important in providing our potential pay, but also how we delivered the papers was important in determining which drivers got extra pick up routes at a bonus pay rate. To gain more opportunities, Beth memorized the entire map and knew where every street address was located in relationship to our current location.

If we were within a half-mile, she’d send me out of the truck with enough papers to walk 5-10 houses, while she drove off to cover the customer service issue. Beth’s timing always amazed me. Every time I’d get to the last house, I’d see her pulling up along side of me.

We had polished our process to the point of excellence. Beth had even determined my jogging speed and matched it, so I could jump in and out of the truck while it continued moving down the street. I’d basically jog a “V” pattern. On our approach to a given house, I’d grab the paper and jump off the truck jogging on an angle to their front door and return on an angle to be picked up a little past the house.

This allowed me to place the paper on every front stoop, giving the customer a great experience. Most of my peers tossed the papers from the truck, which scattered many sections across several lawns.

Don’t Disappoint Yourself

The process that Beth and I worked out allowed us to achieve our financial goals. She loved the opportunity of making extra cash and was disappointed when someone else got to pick a rider first, as it meant that our team would be broken up and our pay would drop to a fourth of our goal.

Regardless of how much our peers struggled to understand our drive, we never eased up. We were in it to achieve our goals and we didn’t want to ever let ourselves down. We were successful because we worked hard.

Beth always said that if she were too often stuck with an uncaring teen, she’d quit and find a new job. She was in it to accomplish her goals and made sure that she did her part in adding to the team’s success.

As for me, I never wanted to fall short of my goals or disappoint my partner. I had no problem hustling in order to achieve what we deemed as success. But boy, the disappointment that came from working with a lazy driver felt almost as bad as getting handed a measly check on an earlier lackadaisical day of work before meeting Beth.

Copyright 2017 by CJ Powers