Archive for December, 2008

What is your “donut hole?”

December 27, 2008

Joanne and I were in Chicago this last week.  On a bitter cold morning we planned to have breakfast at the famous Lou Mitchell’s restaurant.  After walking several blocks, fighting the cold, we finally found this place, started as a family restaurant in 1923.  One day in 1958, someone decided to give out donut holes to the people waiting in line to get in.  The response was such that they have never stopped.  Now 50 years later that is still their magic formula.  Trust me, the place is nothing fancy – it’s in an unattractive part of town, in the bottom of an old office building, and they cram you in long tables where you’ll be rubbing shoulders with people you’ve never met before.  But the magic continues – while other restaurants with big names are struggling, you always have to wait in line at Lou Mitchell’s. 

I saw that some customers expressed gratitude for the gesture but refused the donut holes.  Others took one and occasionally someone would eat two while waiting.  I would guess that this little magic costs them less than $.05 per customer.  But the intrigue of that one little difference seems to drive business success that others dream of.

What’s the “donut hole” in your business?  I loved seeing Lou Mitchell’s because several years ago we added 48 peppermint candies to all package orders going out of  I intended to use that as a 30-day promotion.  However, the response was so amazing we have never discontinued it.  People notice – we tell them to eat one a day and expect to enter a new season of life on the 49th day.  In a business where 10-12% returns are expected, ours are non-existent. 

As you can see, your unique selling proposition (USP) doesn’t have to be rocket science, high tech or expensive.  But if you have a product or service to offer, what could you do to remarkably set you apart from the competition?  Or as my friend Seth Godin wrote, what could you do to have a  Purple Cow in a world of brown cows?

When you have nothing….

December 22, 2008

Joanne and I are in Chicago for our annual pre-Christmas excursion.  The weather is bitter cold and the streets are not as crowded with shoppers this year.  And the sidewalks have all too many people with quickly constructed cardboard signs who are hoping to capture the sympathy of passing shoppers. 


I saw one sign that said: 

Lost my Job

Lost my Home

Lost my Hope

Please Help


What’s the next step?  Is this really an inevitable sequence?  I was reading this morning about the inventions that are coming out of the slums of Nairobi, Kenya.  The tagline on the story said, “When you have nothing, anything is possible.”


This is a season for hope – not despair.  Hope or optimism is not about denying reality; it’s about seeing the possibilities for creating a better reality than you currently have. 



Yes, I’ve always been accused of being a glass-half-full kind of guy because I really do believe that every problem brings with it the seed of a solution, and I believe that the search for a solution can itself be inspiring and hopeful.  If you lose hope, you will not be looking for solutions and will miss them even it they pass right in front of your nose.


More can be gained by focusing on those talents and gifts you know God has given you.  Focus on what you’re moving to, not what you’re moving from.  Circumstances beyond your control may lead to losing your job and maybe your home – but losing hope is a choice.  Remember, “When you have nothing, anything is possible.”

Past humiliation — but stuck in sameness

December 17, 2008

This gentleman has been taking a 90-minute train ride into New York each day, where he walks the streets wearing this sandwich board sign.  It reads, “Almost homeless; looking for employment.  Very experienced operations and administration manager.”


He says he’s beyond the point of being humiliated – he just needs a job.  He says, “When you’re out of work and you face having nothing – I mean, having no income – pride doesn’t mean anything.  I have to take care of my family.”  His resume includes 36 years in the toy industry before being laid off in February of this year.

I know this is an all too common situation for lots of people right now.  Hey, I’m an old farm kid.  If the cow is old and has stopped giving milk, standing there begging for more milk is probably not a good solution.  I’d be out looking for something new to quench my thirst.  Predictions are that by 2010 only 50% of the American workforce will be “employees.”  The rest will be contingency workers, independent contractors, temps, freelance workers, consultants, entrepreneurs, electronic immigrants – and lots of other interesting descriptions that are showing up every day.  Rather than trying to force the sameness of the old work models, lead the way into the new ways of working and making income.

When my Dad was 88 years old, he was driving his own van, hauling Amish people to places they wanted to go.  He charged $2.00 a mile and often drove 500 miles a day, providing them with a valuable service and enjoying the time spent visiting. 

If you are out of work – don’t wait on a paycheck.  It may never come.  What is it that you can do that fulfills a need someone else has?

No Business — Just Love Me

December 13, 2008

Recently I spoke at a breakfast Chamber of Commerce meeting.  Sitting at my table was a lady who told me she was in the insurance business.  The next day she contacted me and was persistent about giving me a presentation.  I agreed to give her 20 minutes just as a professional courtesy.  She brought her boss with her and we had a pleasant 20 minute interaction, after which I told her I had chosen to keep my current coverage in place.  She continued to contact me and I have responded briefly.  Yesterday she called me again to ask my advice for growing her business.  I gave her some brief tips as I was attempting to get off the phone and back to my important writing deadlines.

This morning I received a lengthy email from this lady – telling me among other things that she was sold by her birthmother at nine months old for $2000.  Then at age seven, her adopted mother gave her away to someone else.  She was nine years old when she heard in a Sunday School class that Jesus loved her.  That was the first time she had ever been told that she was loved by anyone. 

And now she’s thanking me profusely for listening, understanding and helping her.  As I replay in my mind my interaction with her I’m amazed that she even felt cared for by me.  I was encouraging and businesslike but certainly don’t feel that I went out of my way to show personal concern.

Three points for me to remember (and perhaps for you as well):

  1. I need to be sure that my natural interaction with people validates them as individuals.
  2. I want to be sensitive to the many hurting people who are hungry for someone to just love them.  (Especially at this time of year.)
  3. What I see as important business may pale in comparison to a critical need right in front of me.

Go Ahead — Make More Mistakes

December 11, 2008

I hear from so many people who regret decisions they have made, whether that is in choosing a career, buying a house they could not afford or investing in GM stock.  But what should we do with our “mistakes.”  Is there really any other way to learn how to do the right things and ultimately find the success we are seeking?

Most of you want to be entrepreneurs.  Here’s what Robert Kiyosaki (Rich Dad Poor Dad) has to say about “bad luck.”  He says, “Making mistakes and becoming smarter is the job of an entrepreneur; not making mistakes is the job of an employee.” 

So if you want to avoid making mistakes, just keep your job as an employee.  If you want to join the exciting ranks of entrepreneurs who are living out their passions and making extraordinary income, then step up to the plate and make more mistakes.

Here are some other well-known comments about making mistakes:

“Would you like me to give you a formula for success? It’s quite simple, really. Double your rate of failure. You are thinking of failure as the enemy of success. But it isn’t as all. You can be discouraged by failure — or you can learn from it. So go ahead and make mistakes. Make all you can. Because, remember that’s where you will find success.”  
— Thomas J. Watson, Sr. founder and former CEO of IBM

“A life spent making mistakes is not only more honorable, but more useful than a life spent doing nothing.” – George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950)

“He who never made a mistake never made a discovery.” – Samuel Smiles

“While one person hesitates because he feels inferior, the other is busy making mistakes and becoming superior.” – Henry C. Link

“I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”  Michael Jordan

The secret of making mistakes isn’t to avoid ever making one again – it’s to recognize that making a mistake is not fatal!  They are necessary stepping stones on your path to success.

Are You A “Doofus?”

December 9, 2008

As a young boy, Norman Vincent Peale thought he lacked brains and ability.  In one of his many books he wrote, “I constantly told myself that I had no brains, no ability; that I didn’t amount to anything and never would…  I then became aware that people were agreeing with me; for it is a fact that others will unconsciously take you at your own self-appraisal.”  A college professor said he was “disgusted” with Peale and asked him “Why do you go skulking through life like a scared rabbit?”

So it was working through his own challenging feelings of inferiority that led Dr. Peale to write The Power of Positive Thinking, his best-known book that has now sold over 20 million copies. 

What is it that is holding you back?  T. Harv Eker (Secrets of the Millionaire Mind) says we all have a “money blueprint.”  Here’s how it seems to work. We all have a certain level of achievement we think we deserve.  If a person gets over that level momentarily, it’s not uncommon to see that person subconsciously underachieve to regain the success level they believed was their limit. 

I see this as people are looking for a new job.  If they have been making $40,000 they will look at jobs in the $35-45,000 range.  But if a position is available that fits their skill set perfectly and pays $75,000 they often don’t even apply.  Their level of belief or of deserving doesn’t match that level of reward.  Look at what happens to most lottery winners – within about 3 years most are right back at their previous level of having nothing.  Their unexpected wealth didn’t match their sense of deserving, and they made the adjustments to bring things back into sync.  Look at Pacman Jones and Plaxico Burress – they sabotaged their millions to match the real world as they see it.

I see a whole lot of confusing theology in this arena.  Is it more Godly to expect riches or to be content with poverty?  While space does not allow a full treatment of that hot potato here, rest assured that your beliefs in that area will likely be evident in your reality.  Circumstances do not determine your well-being.  If you think you’re a doofus, your world will confirm the truth of that belief.  This is very much a head and a heart issue – be careful of the messages you’re telling yourself and those around you.
“Consult not your fears but your hopes and your dreams. Think not about your frustrations, but about your unfulfilled potential.  Concern yourself not with what you tried and failed in, but with what it is still possible for you to do.”  –  Pope John XXIII


What’s keeping you from achieving your dream?  Take our poll at What’s  Holding You Back?

Ikigai — It’s not a fish

December 2, 2008

People living on the islands of Okinawa and Sardinia are more likely to reach 100 years of age than people living anywhere on earth.  These people attribute their long lives not to healthy eating, leisure living, or great genes, but to a term they love to use — ikigai which in essence means “sense of purpose.”

To expand it a little, ikigai is related to positive life-satisfaction, self-esteem, morale and a sense of having meaning in one’s life.  So people who possess ikigai have defined “that which makes one’s life worth living.”  Unfortunately there is not really an American English equivalent word, but we certainly understand the concept – it’s what all of us long for as well. 

This goes beyond a basic spiritual sense of purpose and eternal connection.  Having resolved our spiritual position, it’s that feeling that our life is valuable and that our future is worthwhile, even if our present circumstances are dark.  In studies of these island dwellers it appears that having <i>ikigai</i> is not connected to economic status at all. 

Now what about you?  Is your sense of having purpose and a life worth living independent of your circumstances, or has your current economic situation also deflated your confidence in the value of your life?   While the holiday season can be a delightful time of year, for some this upcoming month will also be stressful, emotionally taxing and a reminder that goals were not achieved this year. 

Here are a few questions to ask yourself: 

  • Do I know where I stand spiritually and have resolved how I will spend eternity?
  • Have I discovered my “purpose” now — here on earth? 
  • Is there anything on my goal list for 2008 that I can still accomplish with a little focused effort?
  • What did I accomplish this year that I should be celebrating? (It’s easy to get too busy to notice all you have accomplished.)
  • What can I do to have a daily sense of ikigai in 2009?