01 December 2016

Wisdom for the Ages

"Any fool can know. The point is to understand."

--Albert Einstein

Leadership is not for everyone, even though development programs and offerings from higher education might lead us to believe the reverse is true. In fact, many don't want to be leaders, or qualify, even as they are nudged in that direction and away from the much-needed tasks of management.   

Why is this so?

One reason is that leadership, done right, is hard work. There may be perks and occasional glamour which come with titles, but for the most part, heavy loads, especially for prolonged periods, exact a steep price--physically, mentally, and emotionally.

Another is that people tend to function in a business without having developed a philosophy of life that centers on how to live--with knowledge, truth, and the meaning of life.

Answering these and other questions would seem to be a prerequisite for someone seeking a position of responsibility. Yet, few there are who take time to consider this particular building block of character seriously, are aware of its importance or know how it becomes a reality in their lives. There aren't many corporate universities offering a "philosophy" course in their curriculum. 

That's unfortunate.  

Associating with someone clear on their purpose and that of the enterprise makes for healthy relationships and a creative work environment.

What can we learn about philosophy, with a contemporary application, from those whose wisdom transcends the ages?

In their book, The Ten Golden Rules of Leadership, M. A. Soupios, and Panos Mourdoukoutas combine philosophical discernment with the pursuit of leadership in modern times:

Rule l:  "Know thyself." (Thales) Understand your inner world, your bright and dark sides, your personal strengths and weaknesses. Self-comprehension is a fundamental precondition necessary for real leadership.

Rule 2:  "Office shows the person." (Pittacus) The assumption of authority brings out the leader's inner world. It reveals whether the leader has undergone a process of honest self-discovery that allows for the productive application of power. 

Rule 3:  "Nurture community in the workplace." (Plato) Community development and positive group sentiment are virtues leaders must nurture by providing the right support, guidance, and incentives.

Rule 4:  "Do not waste energy on things you cannot change." (Aristophanes) Do not waste resources and energies on things you cannot control and things you cannot change.

Rule 5: "Always embrace the truth." (Antisthenes) Effective leaders should always embrace the truth, always encourage candid criticism throughout the organization, be skeptical of flattering appraisals, and never let authority place a wedge between them and the truth.

Rule 6: "Let competition reveal talent." (Hesiod) While knowledgeable employees can be hired in the marketplace or recruited from within, bringing their talent out and aligning it with organizational interests requires an environment that allows employees to compete with each other in a constructive rather than a destructive way.

Rule 7: "Live life by a higher code." (Aristotle) Dedicate yourself to a higher standard of personal conduct; don't hold grudges and ill will toward those who offend; be ready to assist those who are in need without asking something in return; remain calm in the face of crisis; dedicate yourself to principle without compromise; earn the trust, respect and admiration, of your subordinates through your character, not through the authority conferred upon you by the corporate charter; turn authority into power.

Rule 8: "Always evaluate information with a critical eye." (The Skeptics) Don't rely upon old premises, assertions, and theories. Develop a critical mindset that accepts nothing at face value, certify the credibility and usefulness of critical information, analyze the context that produces critical information and the messengers that convey it, and never rush to judgments.

Rule 9: "Never underestimate the power of personal integrity." (Sophocles) Always set an honorable agenda; adhere to a code of professional conduct, never try to justify dishonesty and deceit; rather fail with honor than win by cheating.

Rule 10:  "Character is destiny." (Heraclitus) True leadership begins within, not without.

(Buy the book.)

Do we understand?

Do you have a philosophy of life, and leadership, which explains your purpose or sense of calling? If so, what is it? Do those around you know your philosophy? Is it lived out for all to see? Does it match the values and culture of your organization? 

Psychologist Lawrence Pervin, who wrote an authoritative textbook on personality psychology, framed the matter this way: "Is there a disposition to express behavior in consistent patterns of functions across a wide range of situations?"

Where do you need to improve? 

Basic beliefs--and behavior--matter, as wisdom in exercising the mantle of leadership derives from the qualities of our moral character. 


(C) Bredholt & Co.

01 November 2016

A Season of Thanksgiving

“Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude.”  

--Ralph Waldo Emerson

If, as someone has written, "gratitude" is a state of being grateful while "thanksgiving" is an expression of that gratitude, then as we begin the holiday season, I want to acknowledge the following:

Our teachers and professors

Those individuals invested extra time in me and nurtured our intellectual development, curiosity, and creativity. One stands out: Marian Bolhouse, my 1st-grade teacher in Benton Harbor, Michigan, inspires much of our learning to this day. It was the first and last time I got all A's, or back then, +'s.  Too bad I didn't have a Miss Bolhouse every year.

Image result for image calvin britain school benton harbor mi
Calvin Britain School, Benton Harbor, Michigan (1954-1960)

College professors Gunnell Jordan, Joseph Nielson, Linford Marquart, and Robert Starcher at Olivet Nazarene College combined character, academic achievement, and critical thinking in the liberal arts tradition. 

Dr. Edgar H. Schein, Sloan Fellows Professor of Management Emeritus, MIT, for being a trusted shadow advisor.

Professors Gautam Kaul (finance), Scott DeRue, and Maxim Sytch (leadership) from the University of Michigan are taking us to new levels of learning--online.

Our references

Our first real job in the business was at General Motors. But, of course, that would not have been possible without a neighbor and friend of the family, Howard Johnson. No, not that Howard Johnson. This Howard was a general foreman at what is now known as Flint Metal on Bristol Road in the city of the same name.

Most summer clerks who worked in plant offices were General Motors Institute students (Kettering University). Or family members of management. Neither applied to me. But I could type. Howard told my father he would do his best to get me an interview, and I was on my own from there. He did follow up, and I got a job. That's a lesson in the value of long-standing relationships and the strength of third-party referrals.  

Others would come along like Wendell and Jean Frerichs, Kankakee, Illinois, who also opened doors of opportunity.

All have motivated us to do the same whenever possible.

Our clients

Where would we be without our clients for the past 37 years?  It's hard to state what it means to be allowed inside a business or nonprofit to work in some capacity. They trust you with their thoughts, ideas, and plans for the future. 

It's a chance to contribute with the hope they get something from your advice that equals what you receive from their experiences. Asking the right questions, exploring possibilities, and sharing what's learned from a wider community are a few ways an outsider can assist.

A consultant sometimes proposes, but a client disposes.

I am grateful for engagements that have come our way and those that went in a different direction. There's a reason for what you have and don't have. Understanding that truth comes only in retrospect.

Our readers

This is the 78th post since Strategist Post was launched in 2009. Thank you for making time to read and provide feedback.    

Our family

Nothing like having quality parents to set an example for your life. My father, Russell Sr., was a pastor and theologian. And our mother, Lydia, worked diligently inside and outside the home. Both lived by faith--with compassionate hearts. 

Then there is the love and encouragement of my wife, Chris. And a wonderful family.

Our support

From friends and neighbors. Doctors and lawyers. Mentors and mechanics. Even the kindness of strangers. All make life and work possible.

Who has been helpful to you? Do they know?

While not always easy to do, life's circumstances have taught us "to give thanks continuously," as a season without end.


(C) Bredholt & Co.

01 October 2016

The Narcissistic Leader

"The greatest need of our time is to clean out the enormous mass of mental and emotional rubbish that clutters our minds." 

--Thomas Merton

Between the upcoming U.S. presidential election and the social-psychological make-up of 83 million millennials, representing more than one-quarter of the nation's population, are we witnessing an increased level of self-centered behavior?

Does this mean "narcissism" is rising among the general population?

According to an article in the October 2016 issue of Psychology Today, the growing consensus among psychologists is--no. It's estimated that narcissistic behavior, a term originating in Greek mythology when Narcissus fell in love with his image in a pool of water (see below), is found among only 1% of the population, with the percentage remaining about the same since tracking studies began.

Image result for narcissus and the pool of water images
Narcissus viewing his own image.

So what exactly is narcissism?

Craig Malkin, a lecturer at Harvard Medical School and author of Rethinking Narcissism, says, "It's the capacity to see ourselves through rose-colored glasses." And Dr. Malkin makes clear that it's a trait each of us exhibits to a greater or lesser degree.    

That narcissism can be helpful is proven in studies. For example, a healthy dose can fuel confidence, allowing us to take risks, like seeking a promotion. 

It's feeling too special that causes problems.

Researcher, Sandy Hotchkiss, identified seven deadly sins of narcissism:

1. Shamelessness

2. Magical thinking

3. Arrogance

4. Envy

5. Entitlement

6. Expectation

7. Bad boundaries

Personality traits

In The New York Times, Daniel Goleman describes good managers as easy to spot. He quotes Robert Hogan from the Tulsa Institute of Behavioral Sciences, who says, "Besides intelligence and a knack for strategic planning, they have enormous charm and energy. They have charisma."

Dr. Hogan goes on to say that charisma has its dark side. "So top executives who look good to their peers and their bosses and who do well on most assessments turn out to be terrible for their companies," he said. "These are flawed managers, whose glittering image masks a dark, destructive side, Dr. Hogan added. "They are costly, creating poor morale, excessive turnover, and reducing productivity. Sometimes they can ruin a company altogether." 

As an author, Ira Chelaff once observed:  "Arrogant leadership is toxic to an organization. It looks like strength but is a debilitating weakness."    

How dark? 

Charisma can bring out the worst in subordinates:

Groupthink. Workers feel they must censor what they say in meetings.

Distortions of the truth. Twisting facts to please the boss.

Tension. Employees don't feel like themselves in the boss's company.

Humorlessness. They are grim; there's no joking around with the boss.

Blind loyalty. Excessive demands are made to show commitment.

Source:  Wharton Center for Applied Research

Any hope?

Rebecca Webber, the author of the PT article, says yes.

"If a fragile self is the true underpinning of narcissism," Webber writes, "one way to strengthen it is with self-compassion, which leads to more stable feelings of self-worth, as opposed to self-esteem." Webber is coming close to the idea of "grace,"--giving and receiving what's needed.

Dr. Malkin, a specialist from Harvard, offers this insight, "By increasing security, narcissism drops." 

"Perhaps the difference between good and bad leaders comes down to a distinction between healthy and unhealthy narcissism," Daniel Goleman concludes. 

To achieve healthy leadership, should we add "humility" to the strength of character? Then, our reflection in the pool of water might begin dissolving, over time, into something less arrogant, more sincere, and more self-aware. 

That kind of arduous change in behavior and spirit would go a long way in clearing out "the rubbish of our minds."


(C) Bredholt & Co.

01 September 2016

Hailing the Autonomous Car

Are you ready for self-driving cars? 

Are they ready for you?

On 22 August 2016, Singapore's nuTonomy, a business founded by researchers from MIT, said it had begun testing a free taxi-hailing service in a local business district of about 0.8 miles surrounded by tech and biotechnology companies. 

The public road test, announced in The Wall Street Journal, supposedly beat Uber Technologies' U.S. trial using its own driver and a tech observer, to be conducted in Pittsburgh, PA, by a few days.

Articles on self-driving cars are beginning to increase in tech and automotive publications and mainstream media, such as USA Today. To illustrate, a recent Today editorial about the need for government regulators, like the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), to proceed with caution. That agency is investigating the fatal crash of a Florida driver operating a Tesla car with the Autopilot system. 

As we post the first of the month, there's news that Google is moving into the ride-sharing market in the San Francisco area, competing with what appears to be its former business partner, Uber. Google uses the Waze app, which it owns, to pair fellow commuters for less money than it would cost to take Uber or Lyft.  

Stay tuned.

More to the story

Perhaps the place to begin is with a definition of terms; NHTSA's defined five levels of autonomy based on how many car functions are computer controlled. There are five levels, 0 to 4, and most auto companies (GM, Ford, and Tesla) aim to reach level 4 approval.

Here's a description of each level with examples provided by Bloomberg Business Week:

Level 0--1972 Chevrolet Vega 

Driver:  The driver is in complete control of the car at all times

Vehicle:  Automatic transmission optional

Level 1--1998 Mercedes S5000

Driver: The driver can regain control or stop the car more quickly than when driving without the automated function or functions

Vehicle:  Automation of one or more specific control functions, such as assisted braking                

Level 2--2016 Tesla Model S

Driver: The driver shares control as an intermittent operator; you'll want to take your hands off the wheel, but you shouldn't

Vehicle:  Partial automation of at least two primary control functions working together (e.g., adaptive cruise control with lane centering) to relieve the driver of tasks

Level 3--Uber, Google

Driver:  Professionally trained operator for ride-hailing service cedes complete control during certain conditions.

Vehicle:  Steering, throttle, braking, and other critical functions are automated; the car can monitor changes in road conditions (e.g., construction) that might require the human to retake control

Level 4--JohnnyCab (a 2084 robot taxi from Total Recall)

Driver:  Driver selects a destination, doesn't control car functions

Vehicle:  Fully automated; designed to perform all safety-critical functions and monitor road conditions for an entire trip; responsibility for safe operation rests solely with the car.


There'll be more hype from innovators and investors and concern from consumer safety researchers as this new way of driving or riding unfolds. Indeed, regulators and politicians will weigh in as well.

Who will lose and gain employment as Silicon Valley moves to the Midwest and other areas?

While only a foolish mind would try to predict the outcome, one thing is sure. Big businesses (Apple, GM, Ford, Tesla, Toyota, Google, Uber, Lyft, Intel, Mercedes Benz, Honda, and Delphi) are making big bets (nearly a billion dollars in 2016) that autonomous vehicles are the future. 

At what point will consumers, government regulators, insurers, and Wall Street, agree? 


(C) Bredholt & Co.


01 August 2016

Why Good Paying Jobs are Elusive

Good jobs, like good people, are still hard to find.  This is despite the current unemployment rate of 4.9% at the end of June 2016 (versus 9.5% in June 2009). 

The struggle for many is simply not having the right skills, experience, and education to match jobs in demand.

Here are the top ten job categories in terms of earnings growth, inflation-adjusted, from 2004-2014 (average annual income, 2015):
  1. Physicians assistants ($99,270)
  2. Occupational therapists ($81,690)
  3. Financial managers (($134,330)
  4. Marketing managers ($140,660)
  5. Medical and health services managers ($106,070)
  6. Computer- and information systems managers ($141,000)
  7. All other computer occupations ($87,310)
  8. Sales engineers ($107,160)
  9. Administrative-services managers ($94,840)
  10. Family and general practitioners ($192,120)
Most in the workforce don't fit these and other occupations where above-average pay and benefits create higher disposable income.   

The job situation helps explain why seven in ten surveyed adults believe the U.S. is on the wrong track, according to Real Clear Politics average of eleven polling firms. That number reflects, in part, a high level of anxiety and resentment from those with little or no formal education and training. 

A new analysis by McKinsey Global Institute shows that 81% of the U.S. population is in an income bracket with flat or declining income over the last decade.

Job and Employment Source:  Indeed, Bureau of Labor Statistics


(C) Bredholt & Co.

01 July 2016

What Makes a Good Life?

"True happiness is not attained by self-gratification, but through fidelity to a worthy purpose."

--Helen Keller

From TED Talk archives... 

What keeps us happy and healthy as we go through life? If you think it's fame and money, you're not alone – but, according to psychiatrist Robert Waldinger, you're mistaken.

As the director of a 75-year-old study on adult development, Waldinger has unprecedented access to data on true happiness and satisfaction. In this talk, he shares three important lessons from the research and some practical, old-as-the-hills wisdom on building a fulfilling, long life. Over nine million views to date.

Click here to view Dr. Waldinger's presentation.


(C) Bredholt & Co.

01 June 2016

Summer Reading

"No matter how busy you may think you are, you must find time for reading, or surrender yourself to chosen ignorance."  


It's summertime, and living isn't so easy anymore. 

Years ago, there used to be a break in the schedule. September through May tended to be complete. However, June, July, and August offered a lessened pace. 

Not anymore. Conference and meeting schedules now fill the calendar year round. And those who remain after much restructuring are thankful for the work. 

Rest, recreation, and reading are victims of a quickened pace. However, no downtime eventually takes its toll.

Here are three books to consider for summer that may edify some of your leisure moments:

The Power of Habit, by Pulitzer-prize-winning author Charles Duhigg. A best-seller that focuses on this idea--the key to exercising regularly, losing weight, being more productive, and achieving success is understanding how habits work.   Looking to change yourself or the organization? Read this book. Or better yet, listen to an audio version.

Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus, by Douglas Rushkoff. Protesters shattered windows of buses carrying Google employees to work. But their anger was misdirected, says Rushkoff. The actual conflict, we are told, isn't between the unemployed and the digital elite. Or the 99 percent and the 1 percent. Technological improvements have spun out of control, leaving humanity out of the equation. 

They Told Me Not to Take that Job, by Reynold Levy. At some point, businesses and nonprofits require turning around. Therefore, it's helpful to include case studies in our management library, reminding us just how complicated it can be to move individuals in a different direction. Levy is a skilled storyteller bringing the reader into descriptive daily conversations and decisions required to operate the venerable Lincoln Center in new ways. This book is not just about a cultural icon. It's also about the time-consuming effort required to keep people informed and motivated about the need for change. And to follow through on its implementation.


(C) Bredholt & Co.

01 May 2016

Calculating Risk

"Entrepreneurship is the pursuit of opportunity without regard to resources currently controlled."

--Howard Stevenson
Professor Emeritus, Harvard University

Recently someone asked the following question:

"What three things should an entrepreneur do once they decide:  Okay, I'm starting a business." 

Getting started 

The few who start businesses and succeed don't take risks. They take calculated risks. Having started two companies in 1980 (consulting and research), my first thought was to reduce financial exposure by making sure, to the extent possible, there was a reasonable chance of succeeding. 

For example, I asked for a 50% deposit in selling market research and worked off other people's money (OPM). Then required the balance upon delivery of the final report. In the digital age, those transactions could all be online. 

The deposit approach came to our attention while reading about the creation of Encyclopedia Britannica, first published in 1768 in Edinburgh, Scotland. To get working capital, founders Colin Macfarquhar, Andrew Bell, and Archibald Constable used customer deposits to provide cash flow. 

This illustration of accessing capital by sharing risk seems quaint by today's unicorn investment standards ($1 billion market value for tech start-ups). Still, it was a business model suitable for the times.

Entrepreneurship in decline

According to The Washington Post, research shows the U.S. rate of new business creation, which peaked about a decade ago, plunged more than 30% during the Great Recession and has struggled to regain its footing.

That's going in the wrong direction since the 25-55 age category, a prime demographic for starting new businesses, is rapidly expanding, according to the Kauffman Foundation.

Fewer start-ups mean fewer new jobs.

To back up these trend lines, look below at business closings:

One more chart. 

This time tracking long-established businesses, an increasing percentage of U.S. firms. For over five years, those in the industry account for just over two-thirds of companies. In addition, the Post report shows that the proportion of companies of every age from one to five years has decreased over the past 35 years.

Kauffman believes millennials can turn these numbers around but aren't starting businesses. Their demographic, 20-34, shows a sharp drop in new formations since 2010 even though they have higher levels of education than previous generations, says Kauffman.

A survey by Hewlett-Packard Enterprise of 13-17 year-olds found that the entrepreneurial drive for Generation Z sets in around 29, the average age at which 79% of teens expect to be ready to lead or found their own company.

What to do

Back to our checklist of three things someone might consider doing if they are set on moving ahead:

1. Study the definition of an entrepreneur at the top of this post. Come to terms with the reality that you're not likely to have all the resources at hand when you launch a product or service, yet you still move ahead. If you need total funding up front, you're likely a bureaucrat, not the venturesome type. 

The definition from Professor Stevenson is a reminder of how little control you'll have over the start-up process and beyond.

2. Look at yourself carefully. Who are you? Entrepreneurship is about people first and ideas second. Investors look closely at background and character, investing as much or more in individuals with promise as ideas on paper. There should be flexibility in your human wiring as the need to adjust and the transition is ever-present. 

As someone said, "If you don't bend, you'll break." 

3. Be accountable from the beginning to someone or some group. I created an advisory board and had several mentors who, over time, exhibited wisdom and good judgment. A corporate attorney and CPA were essential to starting and managing the business.     

Even though this new enterprise should be fun, entrepreneurship can take a toll physically, mentally, and financially. So take care of yourself and employees.

The power of incubation

I include in No. 3 the possibility of getting into an incubation program sponsored by a nearby university, state, or nonprofit association. 

If you can survive long enough to get out of the house or garage, having an office in an incubator, where you can mix with peers, develop a disciplined work schedule, and gain access to professional resources, is all for good.

Something to read

Finally, I would consider reading Breakthrough Entrepreneurship, by entrepreneur and teacher Jon Burgstone and writer Bill Murphy, Jr.  What you learn is how to find and fill unmet customer needs. 

As Peter Drucker once said, "The purpose of a business is to create and keep a customer."    


(C) Bredholt & Co. 

01 April 2016

Is Leadership Overrated?

A question during a Dutch TV interview with management Professor Henry Mintzberg: 

"What would you recommend for leadership in the 21st century?"

Answer from Professor Mintzberg:  "Less of it." 

When you Google "leadership," and 735 million responses show up in 0.41 seconds, it's safe to say that it is a topic of great interest. Yet leadership is not just a subject to explore or a position on an organizational chart. It's an industry, and sometimes a self-serving one at that.

Consider the following

Almost $14 billion is spent annually by U.S. firms on leadership development programs. Global expenditures make that enhancement cost go much higher. (Leadership Development Factbook 2012) 

Colleges and universities offer hundreds of degree courses on leadership with customized programs from elite business schools costing as much as $150,000 per participant.

Those funds are often expended, reports the McKinsey Quarterly, without regard to context (one size fits all), understanding the root cause of behavior, or measuring results from the significant financial investment in programming. 

An inversion

As Daniel Askt wrote in the Bookshelf column of The Wall Street Journal, "There appears to be an inverse correlation between the growth of the leadership industry and the quality of the leaders we've seen in business as well as public life. Perhaps instead of reading books that purport to instruct on leadership--offering up more cliché than wisdom--would-be leaders would do better to delve into books about individuals who have grappled with the challenges and ordeals of guiding an army, a nation, or a daring enterprise."

The late historian and Pulitzer Prize-winning author James MacGregor Burns once observed:  "If we know all too much about leaders, we know far too little about leadership."

We make lists

Too often, leadership is reduced to a subjective list of traits (honest, forward-looking, competent, inspiring), none of which show up equally in any person, and seldom include anything involving wisdom or clear thinking. Along with traits come management concepts (just-in-time inventory, core competence, excellence, zero defects) and jargon to reinforce behavioral norms (buy-in, empower, move the needle, alignment). 

An example of adapting jargon from other industries comes from General Electric. An article in the current Bloomberg Business Week Magazine draws attention to CEO Jeff Immelt's use of the word "pivot" when reorienting GE's strategy toward industrial information technology. Pivot, a term borrowed from Silicon Valley, replaces "idea jams" in the GE management team lexicon.

Speaking of, what's the relationship between leadership and teams?

Is it a coincidence that The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, by Patrick Lencioni, has been on a variety of best-seller lists for 14 years? 

The upside of leadership

We believe that leadership, with noble character and strong moral principles, is a valued quality.

Exemplary leadership at the right time and place makes a big difference in any organization's climate, progress, health, and success. Unfortunately, however, those at the top often have a limited impact on the everyday practices of their firms. 

Perhaps the more significant impression on subordinates is found in a leader's symbolic role, such as inspiration and motivation. Indeed studies show that middle managers who worked for a company whose CEO seemed more determined and better at communicating and articulating a sense of mission and vision were more committed to their companies. 

There's a direct correlation between a CEO with self-transcendent values and how employees respond to uplifting moments.   

When a CEO secretly harbors selfish values (i.e., high on self-enhancement), and it doesn't take long for hidden thoughts to be revealed, middle managers are not much motivated and committed to the firm, whatever the CEO said or did. (Academic Journal Science Quarterly)

If leadership is overrated, what's underrated?

Where's the imbalance? There are three distinct areas that are underrepresented by proponents of leadership:
  • Management performance (getting things done)
  • Marketplace (customers have a big say in your success)
  • Followership ("Whither wilt thou lead me?"--William Shakespeare's Hamlet)
Management writer Peter Drucker blamed the excesses of corporate America on the "bloated concept of leadership." He believed businesses have more than enough leaders; they really need competent managers who can do the hard work of decision-making, planning, and coaching.


(C) Bredholt & Co.

01 March 2016

As You Thinketh

"Only the wise man, only he whose thoughts are controlled and purified, makes the winds and the storms of the soul obey him."

--James Allen (1864-1912)

As a Man Thinketh is one of my favorite books to pull from the shelf and read again. The author is James Allen, a British philosophical writer first published in 1903. Thinketh is an example of how a small book (52 pages) can yield great understanding. 

The essay is a reminder of how leadership development courses could improve their outcomes by focusing some time and attention on the direction of thought.  That's because most organizations come up short in teaching the importance of a sound mind when managing the complexities of corporate life.      

It's hard to draw just a few insights when Allen's writing is manifestly insightful. This means we will return to this book of renewal in future posts. For now, here is wisdom worth pondering in a hurried, distracted, and often unfulfilling world:

1. The book's premise is to stimulate men and women to discover and perceive the truth that "They are makers of themselves." 

By the thoughts they choose and encourage the mind is a master weaver, both the inner garment of character and the outer garment of circumstance. If you've been weaving in ignorance and pain, you may now weave in enlightenment and happiness.

2. A person is literally what they think--their character being the complete sum of all thoughts.

3. A noble and Godlike character is not a thing of favor or chance but is the natural result of continued effort in right thinking, the effect of long-cherished association with Godlike thoughts.

4. We make or unmake ourselves; in the armory of thought, we forge the weapons by which we destroy ourselves.

5. The soul attracts that which it secretly harbors; that which it loves, and also that which it fears.

6. Men and women do not attract what they want, but what they are.

7. Individuals are anxious to improve their circumstances but are unwilling to improve themselves; they, therefore, remain bound.

Source:  As a Man Thinketh, by James Allen.


(C) Bredholt & Co.

01 February 2016

Don't Forget the Why

"Why" is one of the great questions of all time. 

When we're young, it's often a response to being told to do something--it's time to brush your teeth, do your homework, or don't stay out too late.   

Asking parents for an explanation may or may not get you anywhere. That's a shame because these exchanges can potentially be teachable moments for children and adults.   

Conditioned behavior begins at an early age. For example, not getting answers to simple questions causes curiosity to go away.

That's unfortunate.  

Asking "why" inside corporate cultures can sometimes be a career decision. Employees are often hesitant to seek explanations or clarifications even though their performance depends on clear expectations of a given task. 

What has been learned through poor hiring decisions, business closures, accidents, and loss of life, such as the shuttle Challenger explosion (30th anniversary was 28 January 2016), is that failing to ask the right questions, before not after the fact, is the more significant problem.

In the book The Machine that Changed the World, we hear about Toyota's technique of asking up to "five whys" when something breaks down on the assembly line. Is that approach applicable to the executive suite?

Leaders attempting to introduce change into a business often start with "what" is supposed to happen, not "why." Unfortunately, that approach delays the ability to successfully implement the change, whatever it is. Instead, employees need to know why the latest great idea is being introduced or the corporate system, which they run day-to-day, is being restructured (many times without their input).   


(C) Bredholt & Co.


01 January 2016

Is It a Fad or a Trend?

"Trends that can't continue won't."

--Dr. Herbert Stein, Nobel Laureate

Are you old enough to remember when the marketplace went crazy with people buying lava lamps? 

That was more than 50 years ago when in 1963, a British accountant, Edward Craven-Walker, invented the lamp. He was watching a homemade egg-timer crafted from a cocktail shaker filled with "alien-looking liquids" bubbling on a hot stove.    

Why did so many people go out and buy the counter-cultural lava lamps? (Or CB radios, bellbottom pants?)

Today, they're selling more lamps than pants.

According to Smithsonian.com, U.S.-based Lava-Lite supplies millions yearly to retailers such as Wal-Mart and Target.

Recent fad lists might include the Atkins low-carb diet and PDAs (personal digital assistants). 

Is the current political climate and direction of the presidential race in the Republican party a fad or a trend?  

A theory of fads

Since economists tend to look at purchases through an analytical lens, it's confounding to those with more structured minds as to why consumers make such irrational choices.  

One theory of fads suggests that we often imitate others' actions when making choices with limited information about what's best. That type of behavior leads to chain reactions--cascades--of imitation. (Welch/Bikhchandani, UCLA and Hirshleifer, Michigan)

Go ahead and criticize conformity, but the study concludes it's almost a law of nature.

Does that help explain fad-chasing in business (best practices--overestimated) and misinterpreting specific trends (social media--underestimated)? 

For all the attention given to innovation, top managements are still creatures of habit looking for a sure thing. Take the motion picture industry's practice of producing sequels to box office hits such as Star Wars. That's one example of looking for new profits inside old ideas.

Differences between fads and trends

How can we tell if fresh food is a fad or trend? Is cable cord-cutting a fad or trend? Walt Disney Co. recently stated that ESPN lost seven million households in the past two years, though 92 million subscribers remain tethered to the highly profitable cable channel. 

Here are the results from an EPM Fad Study by Karen Raugust. The characteristic is underlined, followed by a description of a fad or trend:

The underlying reason for the rise

Fad:  None discernible

Trend:  Identifiable and explainable

Life Space

Fad:  Short; typically less than two years

Trend:  Indefinite

Period of build-up

Fad:  Fast rise; typically 6-12 months

Trend:  Slow rise; difficult to pinpoint beginning and end due to evolutionary nature


Fad:  Usually, one product, property, or theme

Trend:  Several across society


Fad:  Usually disappears or declines steeply, typically after two years

Trend:  May fall to a level below the peak, but still meaningfully present.


Fad:  Disconnected from historical precedents

Trend:  Evolves from historical precedents


Fad:  Has little impact on developments that follow

Trend:  Affects developments that follow


What's on your company's shelves? Do the offerings include fads, trends, and mature or declining products?  

Whatever's available for public consumption, decision-makers can only hope for at least one lava lamp-like product. The 60s icon began as a fad and has sustained itself through irrational consumer behavior for over a half-century.    

Apple reported earlier this year that it has sold 700 million iPhones since launching the Steve Job's-created product in 2007.   Notwithstanding that fact, what are the chances the iPhone will last as long as escalators, tea bags, and instant coffee, all of which are more than 100 years old?


(C) Bredholt & Co.