Why?

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I have said before that, someday, I am going to write a book.  The title of the book will be Everything I Needed to Know About Management, I Learned from Raising Children (https://wordpress.com/post/worldaccordingtomichael.wordpress.com/241)Given the popularity of this blog, we can reasonably assume that the book would be a best-seller.  So, of course, I would have to write a follow-up book, no?  The title of that book would be, Everything Else I Needed to Know, I Learned from My Grandchildren.

You all know who Penelope is (https://wordpress.com/post/worldaccordingtomichael.wordpress.com/131).  She is, once again, teaching me important business and life lessons.  I thought I would share one with you.

As Penelope’s Mom and Dad adjust to the rigors of being parents of a newborn again (Henry Thomas arrived April 28th), Mary and I have had the wonderful responsibility of helping out by spending more time with Penelope.  In addition to the endless building of Lego towers, bubble baths, and reading story after story, I also have been able watch a personality form before my eyes.  It is fascinating to be unencumbered by the pressures of being a parent and to be able to focus on the larger context of seeing the world through Penelope’s eyes.  Aside from making me recognize how clueless I was in raising Keaton and Matthew (and how lucky they were to make it to adulthood relatively unscathed), I am learning important lessons for life and business.

Penelope has been teaching me the most important lesson over the past few weeks – she has entered the “Why?” phase.  A recent example –

P – “I need to go outside.”

N (for Nonno, millennials and non-Italians, google it) – “It is too hot to go outside right now”

P – “Why?”

N – “Because the temperature outside is very hot.”

P – “Why?”

N – “Because the sun is directly over the top of us and it makes it very hot outside.”

P – “Why?”

N – “Because, in summer, the sun is closer to earth than in winter, and that makes it hotter.”

P – “Why?”

N – “Would you like some ice cream?”

Despite my exasperation, I have decided that “Why?” is the single best question to ask in business and in life.   The problem with leaders is not that we ask “Why?” too much; it is that we do not ask “Why?” often enough.

Why? causes leaders to constantly challenge conventional wisdom.  Why? challenges us to continually search for deeper meaning.  Mulder and Sculley (“X Files” – millennials, you know what to do) were right, “The answer is out there.”

“Why do we do ‘x’?” / “Why don’t we do ‘y’?” are questions that every businessperson should ask every day.  The answer to those questions will yield multiple positive outcomes – it will generate new ideas, new markets, new products, and new clients.  The worst case is that it will confirm existing ideas, markets, and products.  But, instead of accepting the answer of a prior person, the questioner will learn so much deeper as a result of pursuing the answer themselves.

“Why does she think ‘x’?” or “Why do they believe ‘y’?” are questions that we, as human beings, should ask every day.   The goal is not to agree with the ultimate answer.  The goal is to understand the rationale behind the answer.

As business leaders and as people, we should constantly ask ourselves, “Why do I…?” / “Why don’t I…?”  If we cannot answer our own “whys”, how can we expect to lead businesses, raise children, and live life?  Of course, it is hard.  Of course, it is frustrating.  You may not want to know some of the answers.  I know I don’t.  I also know that I fear underachievement as a leader and a person more than I fear the answers to my “whys”.  I cannot accomplish the former without addressing the latter.

In my time with Penelope, I am trying to instill in her my own fastidious nature.  So, whenever she comes to visit, she likes to come into my office and help me “work”.  One of the things she loves to help with is shredding paper.  I save up my scrap paper during the week so Penelope and I can have a shredding session.  On the way out of my office, she will inevitably pause to look at all the framed pictures on my bookshelves.  She’ll point out pictures of Mommy and Daddy; Nonno and Nonna; Uncle Matt.  Recently, she stopped at the picture of my Mom (known as “Bisnonna”)…

P – “Where is Bisnonna”

N – “Bisnonna is in heaven”

P – “Why?”

Please tune in for my next blog – “Faith”.

Michael C. Marcon is the Chairman of M3K Holdings, LLC (www.m3kllc.com) and Nonno to Penelope and Henry.

 

 

The Art of Managing in the Rain

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As frequent readers already know, I have curated an “Annual Christmas Book” for several years that I have shared with friends, clients, partners, and colleagues (https://worldaccordingtomichael.wordpress.com/2016/12/27/reading-is-fundamental/).  I have a very high standard for my selection criteria:

  • The book cannot be a current best seller or an imminent movie
  • It must reaffirm your faith in humanity
  • It must make you laugh and make you cry (or at least make you swallow hard)
  • It must contain lessons for business without being a business book
  • It must be “PG” rated or, if an “R” then, as Matthew used to say when begging us to go to an “R” rated movie, “C’mon, it’s just “R” for violence, not for sex!”

I have heard from many long-time members of the Michael Marcon Annual Christmas Book list that their favorite selection is The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein.  It is hard for me to disagree.  In advance of the upcoming movie adaptation of “TAORITR”, I reread the book.  This time, I knew enough to read it in private and not sitting on a plane.  This way, nobody could see me sobbing (Pro Tip – when your seatmate on the plane sees you crying and asks if you are OK, a foolproof trick is to say, “Yes, it’s just that the damn United WiFi isn’t working again”).

Rereading the book made me realize how many great business and life lessons are contained in its pages.  Here are a few that stand out for me:

“The car goes where your eyes go.” This might be the single greatest piece of business and life advice ever published in a work of fiction.  Great leaders look forward, not backward.  They recognize that it is impossible to move in the opposite direction of where you are looking.  You cannot be distracted by the commotion over there.  You cannot be absorbed by what is behind you.  You cannot be preoccupied by what’s on the horizon.  Keep your eyes on the road.

The car is your business, your team, your unit…your family.  They all follow you.  You are their eyes.  They go where you go.  Where are you going to take them?

“There is no dishonor in losing the race.  There is only dishonor in not racing because you are afraid to lose.”  Put even better is the greatest quote ever from Coach Eric Taylor, “…’cuz that’s what character is…It’s in the trying.”    Think about the most compelling sports scenes you have witnessed in your life.  You will likely agree that they are not of the fastest runner breaking the tape.  If you are like me, you are mesmerized by the runner who is struggling to finish; who is crawling over the finish line.  In business and in life, there is only one person who gets to break the tape.  If we fail to start a business, start a family, live a life, because we might not be the one to break the tape, then we are dishonoring ourselves.  You need to be willing to crawl.

“That which we manifest is before us.  We are the creators of our own destiny.”  No outcome is predetermined.  The phrase “forgone conclusion” should be banished from the language.  We make our own outcomes.  Do you want to be successful in business?  Then, go do it!  Do you want to have a successful marriage?  A happy family?  Then, go do it!  If you fail to achieve these things and you look back – critically and in the cold, hard, light of day – you will realize that you likely did not truly manifest your destiny.  You probably expected it to be done for you.  To quote the great Esurance commercial with the elderly woman posting actual pictures to “her wall”, “That’s not how it works.  That’s not how any of this works.”

“Learn to listen! I beg of you. Pretend you are a dog like me and listen to other people rather than steal their stories.”   This is one of my major weaknesses.  My ego is so big that I know what I have to say is much more important than what you have to say.  Every time I let myself think that way, I am disappointed in the outcome.  I will miss an interesting point of view.  I may even miss an opportunity to avoid a big mistake.  How many times during a conversation do you listen to what the other person is saying versus preparing what you want to say next?  If that ratio is greater than 90:10, then, like me, you are missing out on some really valuable insights and wisdom.

“The true test of a champion is not whether he can triumph, but whether he can overcome obstacles – preferably of his own making – in order to triumph.”   I tell people all the time – in the 15 years I was building and running Equity Risk Partners, I did everything in my power to blow up the company.  I just never figured out the right way to do it!  We cannot control the curveballs that life throws us – and we never know when they are coming.  We can control how we react to them.

“The race is long.  To finish first, first you must finish.”  To this day, I have a few poems that I keep framed and that I refer to with regularity for inspiration and “balance”.  One I have discussed before – “Footprints” (https://worldaccordingtomichael.wordpress.com/2017/12/12/footprints/).  One, I will discuss in the future – “The Man in the Glass”.  And, the other is “Don’t Quit”.

“When things go wrong as they sometimes will

When the road your trudging seems all up hill

When the funds are low and the debts are high

When you want to smile and have to sigh

When care is pressing you down a bit

Rest if you must, but don’t you quit…”

Ultimately, success in business and in life comes to those who just refuse to give up.

“No race has ever been won in the first corner; many have been lost there.”  We have all heard the old adage, “It is a marathon, not a sprint.”  That is true.  What most people do not realize is that world class marathoners run 4 minute miles for 26 miles.  World class leaders and world class parents realize that it is a marathon and a sprint.  What you do every day prepares you for the tenacity of a marathon length sprint.  How did you prepare today?

Every now and then, a truly great work of fiction comes along and touches your heart and your life in a memorable way.  The Art of Racing in the Rain is one of those books.  If you have not read it, I encourage you to.  If you have, read it again.

Then, find your Enzo (remember, he may not be wagging his tail at your feet, he may be sitting next to you on the train), and race your race.

We’ll see you at the finish line.

 

Michael C. Marcon is the Chairman of M3K Holdings, LLC (www.m3kllc.com) and Nonno to Penelope and Henry.

My Letter to Me

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Brad Paisley and Jack Nicklaus are two of my favorite performers.  Brad’s music always makes me smile and puts a lump in my throat at the same time.  Jack’s perfection, class, and work ethic on the golf course has always been an inspiration for me off the course.  Jack and Brad also have something else in common – they both wrote a letter to themselves.  Jack did it recently as part of a USGA retrospective.  Brad recorded the song “Letter to Me” in 2007.

As you wonder where I have been the past couple of months, you now know the answer – I followed the lead of two guys I admire.  I have been busy writing a letter to me.  I thought I would share it with you…

“Dear Mike (this will now answer everyone’s burning question – “Do you go by “Mike” or “Michael”?  My “stock” answer is always, “Whatever comes out of your mouth naturally.  My Mom called me “Mike” and Mary calls me “Michael”.  But, since I can only pick one name to address the letter to…),

How are you?  I am fine.  (Notice that I did not use that infernal crutch, “I hope you are well.”  Of course, I also know that I was well back then).

I’ve been thinking a lot about you lately.

Mom is gone.  Don’t let her faith and optimism fool you.  She is very sick and she will be gone sooner than you expect.  When you think you still have time to get to Florida and visit her, you don’t.  Go as soon as you can.  And, when you do, take advantage of the opportunity to get as close to God as someone on this earth is able and ask her what she “sees” and what she “hears”.

Dad is gone, too.  Be prepared.  It is not pretty and you need to be ready to make decisions that no one should have to make.  I know that he frustrates you and competes with you and never quite seems to appreciate all you have done and how you have done it.  You will come to recognize that the obscenely high standards he holds you to are the same standards you will hold yourself to in the future.  And, believe it or not, you will end up writing a blog and many of your posts will stem from life lessons you are learning from Dad right now.

The son you will “inherit”, Keaton, is a husband to Laura, a wonderful woman, and a father of two, Penelope and Henry.  He becomes a soft-spoken man of integrity.  You will have to tolerate the fact that you will be a father to him long before he realizes that you were a father to him.  But, on Father’s Day 2017, when you open that hand-made card…Well, let’s just say, it will all be worthwhile.

You will feel a tinge of frustration that the age difference between you and Mary (oh, man, wait until I tell you about Mary!) prevents you from having the big family you grew up with and dreamed of having yourself.  Then, you will meet the son you will create.  You will realize in an instant that God knows what He is doing and Matthew will absorb and radiate all the love you have to give.  Pay close attention to the moment you first play Bruce for him on that Saturday morning on the way to the car wash.  It will be the start of a bond that lasts a lifetime.

You are a grandfather.  You never knew your grandfathers – one died before you were born and the other died when you were little.  Unfortunately, as great as your Dad was, nobody bats 1.000 and he took a couple of “called third strikes” in the grandfather department.  Yet, all that means is that you will be filled with the accumulated capacity for love from all of them and it will become the single greatest joy in your life.  I know you are reserved and “buttoned down”, even at your young age.  I love that about you.  You will be pleased to know that you will crawl on the floor, build Lego forts, sing Disney songs, jump up like you’re sitting on a spring when you hear the words, “Nonno!  Nonno!, and rock quietly for lengths of time just holding them.  In short, you get to witness miracles.

When you decide in 9th grade at 6’2” to commit to basketball because you are destined to be 6’5” and a shoe-in for D-I, listen to Dad when he tries to teach you about genetics and tells you to stick with baseball.  Better yet, listen to me now – just take up golf.

Don’t be in such a hurry.  Your business career turns out great.  You are always so focused on the next challenge, the next opportunity, the bigger hurdle, that you do not cherish the journey as much as you should.

Enjoy your time with Dr. Lentz in Economics 101.  It will frame your entire business career – All things in life can be boiled down to Supply and Demand.

Be grateful for your relationship with Hildie as your Dean of Student Life when you are a Resident Advisor.  She is not corny.  The “unconditional love” and “warm fuzzies” she espouses you will find are sometimes great business tools.

Appreciate Tom McCarthy, Hal Schwalm, John Edmonds, Russ Sands, Dick Riley, and John Pasquesi as business leaders and mentors who will have an enormous impact on your career.  They will teach you skills (to this day you will refer to “debits and credits” as “good guys and bad guys” thanks to Tom) that you will take with you for the rest of your career.  More importantly, they will recognize something special in you and they will nurture it when lesser leaders would seek to snuff it out.  You won’t know it at the time, but it will shape how you manage people – They will want to work for you because they know you are working for them.

I know I am writing to you as a child, teenager, and young adult, but this knowing the future stuff is pretty powerful and I think I should also be giving you some advice related to a more recent time.  In 2016, when the faux outrage twitter mob gets you in their crosshairs, don’t underestimate the power of the cumulative impact of your character and all the people who will defend you.  And, whatever you do, NEVER, EVER apologize for something you are not sorry for.  Believe me, they do not want an apology.  They just want a scalp.

While I’ve got you, here are a couple of other things that you should know that will save you a lot of pain and suffering…

Don’t just look over your right shoulder when backing out of Rich Covey’s driveway at 16.  The telephone pole that rips off the car mirror is over your left shoulder.

Don’t try to beat the yellow light making the left turn onto City Ave in Philadelphia when you are 22.  You were too busy canoodling (this is a PG blog) with Judy to see the oncoming car also trying to beat the light.  Your “legendary Z car” (1984 baby blue metallic 300ZX – “IT IS AWESOME”) will be totaled.  You and Judy walk away, though.  And, you get some good sympathy… never mind, you can find that one out for yourself.

Speaking of girls, you won’t realize this until you become a Dad.  But, when you think Mom and Dad aren’t paying attention to what you and Lauren are doing in the basement (“just watch basic cable and chill”), they are.  And, just like Mary and I do now, they will talk about it when they go to bed.

You are going to have your heart broken several times.  You like to be loved and you have a high capacity to love.  There will lots of tears and lots of loneliness.  And, then, one day in December 1989, early in your new job at CIGNA Special Risk, you will get on a phone call with your colleague in San Francisco.  Her name will be Mary.  I think I will let Dr. Seuss explain what will happen to you next…

Well, in Whoville (Philly) they say – that Michael’s small heart grew three sizes that day. And then – the true meaning of love came through, and Michael found the strength of ten Michael’s, plus two!

Looking back as I write this letter to you, I can see that all the good that happens to you in your life can be traced back to that singular moment and that singular person.

I want to thank you for all that you have done for me (although, please stay away from the concrete basketball courts.  I could do without the hip replacements at age 40).  You have given me a wonderful life and I am grateful.  I will keep looking in my mailbox in hopes of getting a letter from future me, myself.  I can’t wait to see what happens next…

Better yet, don’t send it.  This time, I want to enjoy the journey.

Love, Michael (you really didn’t think I would let you off the hook that easily, did you?)

 

Michael C. Marcon is the founder of M3K Holdings, LLC.

Blameless

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I came of age in the 1980’s – graduated high school in 1982, graduated college in 1986, and business school in 1989.  The music of the 1980’s remained the soundtrack of my adult life.  My car has two SiriusXM stations programmed into the radio – if you are a regular reader, you already know the first one.  Yes, it is E Street Radio.  The second is 80’s on 8.  It is amazing that, to this day, a song from that period will bring back a specifically powerful memory.  The songs and the memories mix with my life experiences to form insights and perspectives that I use to shape my current decisions, actions, and, to a certain extent, values.

Such was the case the other day as I was doing a standard San Francisco Bay Area commute – 2 hours to go 40 miles (of course, the wonderful commute is only one of a myriad of reasons we “pay extra” to live here!).  Here is what played from 80’s on 8 that piqued my interest as I sat staring at the “Coexist” bumper sticker in front of me…

“You can look at the menu, but you just can’t eat
You can feel the cushion, but you can’t have a seat
You can dip your foot in the pool, but you can’t have a swim
You can feel the punishment, but you can’t commit the sin…

No one, No one, No one ever is to blame”

If there is one issue that has created more frustration for me as an executive than any other, it is most people’s unwillingness to accept responsibility for their actions.  I believe it is one of the single biggest indicators of long-term business success and long-term personal success.

From the moment we are born, we are learning from our mistakes.  That is how we learn.  I do not have enough space to write about all the very hard lessons I have learned over the years – including very recently.  Each one of them has made me better than I was prior to the mistake.  Now, at the time it occurred, I did not see the lesson and did not appreciate that the mistake would, eventually, make me better.  Nobody is that self-aware (at least nobody whose last name isn’t “Christ”).  But, with time, I was able to look back and appreciate that every single business and personal mistake I have made has taught me a valuable lesson.

“You can build a mansion, but you just can’t live in it
You’re the fastest runner but you’re not allowed to win
Some break the rules, and let you cut the cost
The insecurity is the thing that won’t get lost…

No one, No one, No one ever is to blame”

The growing tendency among younger professionals (and younger parents, for that matter) is to avoid blame and to protect themselves (or their children) from negative experiences.  I have posted before that, when something goes wrong, people are divided into two camps – those who look in the mirror first for resolution; and those who look out the window first.  I will take someone whose first reaction is to look in the mirror and accept their share of the responsibility any day of the week.  There is a great scene in the movie The Blues Brothers between Joliet Jake (John Belushi) and Mystery Woman (Carrie Fisher) that sums this issue up better than I can…

Woman: You, miserable slug! Think you can talk your way out of this? You betrayed me.
Joliet Jake: No, I didn’t. Honest! I ran out of gas… I had a flat tire… I didn’t have enough money for cab fare… My tux didn’t come back from the cleaners… An old friend came in from out of town… Someone stole my car… There was an earthquake… A terrible flood… Locusts…                       It wasn’t my fault. I swear to God!

If that doesn’t summarize the majority of business interactions I have had with a colleague when something went wrong, I don’t know what does.  What we should be teaching our young professionals – and our young children – is to embrace mistakes; to take chances; to try and fail… and fail… and fail.  There is a reason why my father (and your father and your father…) always said in reply to some injustice we just endured or same epic failure we just experienced, “It builds character.”  That’s because IT DOES!

“You can see the summit, but you can’t reach it
It’s the last piece of the puzzle but you just can’t make it fit
Doctor says you’re cured but you still feel the pain
Aspirations in the clouds but your hopes go down the drain…

No one, No one, No one ever is to blame.”

Yes. You are.

(Thanks to Howard Jones for writing and performing such a great song)

 

Michael C. Marcon is the founder of M3K Holdings, LLC.

Follow the Yellow Brick Road

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One of the greatest pieces of business and personal advice ever did not come from Jim Collins, Jack Welch, Steve Jobs, Warren Buffet, Tony Robbins, or any other management / life guru.  The greatest piece of business and personal advice ever came from Prince Denis.  That’s right, Prince Denis.  You don’t know him?  Of course, you do. You know him by his “aka” – He was the Mayor of Munchinland in The Wizard of Oz.  His tremendous piece of business and personal advice?

Follow the Yellow Brick Road

How do I chart a course for my business that is unique?  Follow the Yellow Brick Road.

How do I achieve personal fulfillment?  Follow the Yellow Brick Road.

The Wizard of Oz is very insightful in terms of the advice and guidance it gives us for our personal and professional journey.

The Road is easy! Until it’s not!  “Weeeeeeeeee’re off to see the wizard. The wonderful Wizard of Oz. We hear he is a whiz of a wiz; If ever a wiz there was; If ever, oh ever a wiz there was; The Wizard of Oz is one because; Because, because, because, because, because; Because of the wonderful things he does…”

When Dorothy and Toto start out on their journey, the road before them is smooth sailing for as far as they can see.  If the road did not look smooth at the beginning, who would ever start a journey?  (Of course, I am speaking of metaphorical journeys – i.e. life and business.  Every actual journey these days (traffic, TSA, airline seats, “comfort pets”) is the polar opposite of a Yellow Brick Road).

The key to success in life and business is not the start of the journey – it is the perseverance through all the twists and turns and obstacles you encounter along the way.  The advice from the Mayor was to “Follow the Yellow Brick Road”.  You will note that he never said it would be easy.  It just looked that way!

“Poppies! Poppies will make them sleep!”  In our journey toward business and personal fulfillment, we will always encounter our “Wicked Witch of the West” (mine is actually a “competitor” from the east).  They will constantly try to throw you off course. They will try every trick in the book.  When you Follow the Yellow Brick Road, you are doing something that most people will not / do not want to do.  Notice how everybody in Munchinland knew how to get to Oz?  But, none of them were willing to follow their own advice.  Similarly, in life, those of you that choose to Follow the Yellow Brick Road will encounter the witches that want to see you fail, if only to avoid highlighting their own fears and inadequacies.

“You killed her”  Everyone remembers the lines/scene right before this one – “I’m melting! I’m melting!”  But, for me, the real insight is that the guard was stunned that water was the antidote to the Wicked Witch.  It was almost a head slap of “Why didn’t we think of that?”  The key to business and life is to recognize that, more often than not, the solution to your problem is usually the simple one (water) and you don’t need to overcomplicate it.  And, of course, once you conquer your Wicked Witch, the Ruby Slippers are yours!

“But, I have the ruby slippers!”  “Well, why didn’t you say so in the first place?”  I think this scene is hysterical.  The vast majority of people you will encounter in business and in life are OK with the status quo.  They are not interested / willing to Follow the Yellow Brick Road.  So, in order to achieve your dreams, you cannot rely on others to recognize your special qualities.  You have to keep knocking on the door! They will not let you in the first time…or the second… or the third.  Then, you have to show them / tell them why you are special!  It is the single most finessed aspect of achieving business and personal success – recognizing you are special and showing others you are special WITHOUT acting like you are special.  Master that and you won’t “be in Kansas” for very long.

“There’s No Place Like Home”  Why did Dorothy Follow the Yellow Brick Road in the first place?  Why did she seek to find the Wizard?  To Get Back Home!  It is the beginning and the ending.  It is the impetus and the goal.  It is the ultimate secret. Everything you seek on your journey in business and life is sitting right at your starting point.  But, without the journey, you just can’t appreciate it.

“I’ve traveled here and everywhere following my job
I’ve seen the paintings from the air brushed by the hand of God
The mountains and the canyons reach from sea to shining sea
But I can’t wait to get back home to the ones He made for me
Cause anywhere I’ll ever go and everywhere I’ve been
Nothing takes my breath away like my front porch looking in”
– Lonestar

 

Michael C. Marcon is the founder of M3K Holdings, LLC

It’s A Wonderful Life

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I have been screwed by a lot of people over my 32 years in business.  I have always been amazed by the capacity of the human mind to rationalize bad behavior in order to justify a decision that is beneficial to the person doing the rationalizing.  (How’s that for the opening lines of a Christmas themed blog post?)

Throughout my career, I have tried to do the right thing.  I have tried to take the high road.  I have tried to live by the golden rule (no, not “he who has the gold makes the rules”; the other one) – treat people the way you would like to be treated.  I have tried to picture myself “on the other side of desk” and act accordingly.  I have not even remotely come close to achieving this standard consistently.  But, I have tried.  As the immortal Coach Eric Taylor said, “Character, it’s in the trying.”

A few years ago, I was bemoaning to a close friend about the circumstances of me being screwed by a particularly unscrupulous person that I had been in business with.  He had lied to my face, stabbed me in the back, and then came back down the chimney and stole my last piece of roast beast!  (Oh, sorry, that last part was The Grinch)  I said to my friend, “When does doing the right thing pay off?  When does taking the high road generate a dividend?  When do I get my “George Bailey Moment”?  You know, that moment when trying to do the right thing all the time results in an unexpected positive outcome?”  My friend said, “Well, don’t you think that time you fell off of your roof and walked away without a scratch was your “George Bailey Moment?”  I replied “Yeah, I guess you’re right.  I just thought it would be more… cinematic.”

As we watch It’s A Wonderful Life this Christmas, the movie has a number of great lessons for business and life.  Here are a few that stand out to me:

Ask Dad. He Knows.  Those are the words on the ad sign hanging in Gower’s Drug Store that inspire George to seek his Dad’s advice when he knows Mr. Gower accidentally put poison in the capsules.  None of us have all the answers.  We aren’t supposed to have all the answers.  The key is having the guts to ask for help.  Dad, Mom, Mentor, Friend, Teacher, Colleague – Ask Them. They Know.

Hire People Capable of Taking Your Job. Many executives pay lip service to “hiring the best and the brightest”.  Most executives are too insecure to do that because they fear they will get passed by.  True leaders are comfortable in their own skin and with their own abilities and recognize building the best team shines as much of a halo on them as it does on the performers.  Had George hired the best and the brightest at the Building & Loan, he might have avoided his plunge from the bridge.

We Will All Have a Mr. Potter in Our Life.  There are always people who do not play by the rules and appear to have benefitted from their transgressions.  I believe one of the most important characteristics to have is the ability to maintain your values and your standards when everyone around you is lowering theirs and, apparently, benefitting as a result.  When you see it happen in life ask yourself one question – Would Mr. Martini “busta” the juke box for that guy?  If not, then keep doing what you are doing.

Believe in Guardian Angels.  I think the best part of the George/Clarence dynamic is not when Clarence saves George.  It is when Clarence tells George, “Oh, I’ve been watching you since you were a little boy.”  You never know when the curveball will come.  You won’t see the sucker punch.  But, your Guardian Angel is watching and he will step in when you least expect it.  Live your life and handle your business as if he is always watching.

Celebrate the Joy of Life, Family, Friends, and Work.  There are two scenes in IAWL that choke me up every time.  One is when George “comes back to life” and runs through Bedford Falls shouting “Merry Christmas!”  He hugs Burt the cop (Friend).  He cheers when he sees the “Welcome to Bedford Falls” sign (Life).  He yells “Merry Christmas, you wonderful old Building and Loan!” as he runs past Bailey Brothers (Work).  And, he runs home, past the reporters and the sheriff, up the stairs to hug his kids (Family).  Success is not a “Chinese menu”.  You can’t just pick one.  True success is the ability to celebrate all of the aspects of your life.  I hope it doesn’t take a Christmas Eve dive into an icy river to learn that lesson.

Let Yourself Be Embraced.  The other scene that chokes me up is when Harry toasts, “To my big brother, George, the richest man in town!”  That scene, that moment, is literally the mental picture I use when I am making a tough decision.  It is the culmination of every basic, decent, loving, generous, faithful, selfless act that George Bailey ever made.  That is what generates true success in business and in life.

As you watch It’s A Wonderful Life this year, I hope that some of these lessons and thoughts help you and your family achieve a greater level of peace and a true definition of success.  Who knows?  Maybe someday when you hear a bell ring, you’ll wink and say “Atta boy, Michael”.

Wait, wait.  Don’t leave, yet.  I forgot the single, most-important, unequivocally universal lesson from IAWL that will truly bring you riches and rewards beyond your wildest dreams…

Find Your Mary.

 

Michael C. Marcon is the founder of M3K Holdings, LLC

 

 

 

 

Blinded By The Light

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“Mama always told me not to look into the sights of the sun.
Oh, but Mama. That’s where the fun is”
– Blinded By The Light

Once upon a time, in a business model long, long, ago (can I say that now that I have been “unemployed” for more than a year?), I had a very talented employee.  He was smart.  He was presentable.  He was ambitious.  And, he wanted to be a producer.  Why?  Not because he had an affinity for sales.  Not because he had the “never say die” attitude required to hear “No” a lot more often than you hear “Yes”.  He wanted to be a producer because “producer’s make all of the money” – i.e. “Oh, but Michael. That’s where the fun is.”  My answer to this young buck was akin to the famous “Miracle Max” line from The Princess Bride – “It just so happens that your friend here is only mostly dead. There’s a big difference between mostly dead and all dead.”  I told him, “You’re wrong.  Producers do not make all of the money.  Good producers make all of the money!

As we discussed the situation, I told him that I would, indeed, allow him to become a producer if he could provide the answer to one simple question – “What is the airspeed of an unladen swallow?” (Millennials, google it)  Seriously, I asked him, “Once you have sold our services to your family and friends – who will, by the nature of the “family and friend rule”, buy whatever you are selling, be it steak knives, used cars, or insurance – what unique and differentiated skill do you posses that will incite a total stranger to buy from you rather than the 50 other people also trying to get his business?”  At that moment, I appreciated the origin of the phrase, “a deer in the headlights.”  That young buck is now a full grown “20 pointer” and doing a great job… as a client service executive.

“Well, I unsnapped his skull cap, between his ears I saw a gap and figured he’d be all right.”
– Blinded By The Light

The issue that I see increasingly in business and in life is professionals who want more.  In principle, there is nothing wrong with wanting more.  The issue is “Why?”   Unfortunately, it appears that the driving force behind most of these desires is “just because” – because I want more; because I need more; because I see others with more.  There is a great scene in the movie Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (very underrated) when the idealistic Jacob Moore (Shia Labouf) questions the evil banker, Bretton James (Josh Brolin) – “See, I find everybody has a “number” and it is usually an exact number. So, what is yours?” “More”

Early in my tenure at Equity Risk Partners, I wanted more.  I wanted to be on the cover of Business Insurance, our leading industry publication.  And, why not?  Clearly, I was destined to be part of the industry Mt. Rushmore – Pat Ryan, Bob Clements, Hank Greenberg, and Michael Marcon.  So, imagine my frustration one day when I opened my issue of Business Insurance and saw on the cover a competitor of ours that was getting press by (in my opinion or IMHO for my Twitter followers) taking a shortcut.  I called my investor and partner, John Pasquesi.  I asked him to be honest with me.  I asked him, if we wanted to, could we take the same shortcut and could I get my picture on the cover of Business Insurance?  “Yes”, he replied.  “100%”.  I thought for a moment, calmed down, and said, “OK.  As long as you know it and I know it, I am OK.”  I look back on that now as a defining moment for me.  I stayed the course building the business that was my passion, as opposed to chasing “more”.

As I embark on a new strategy – with a new partner – I have been tempted “look into the sights of the sun”.  I see the “easy way”.  I can access the shortcuts.  I could do it in my sleep.  All I have to do is answer one question.  It is the same question that Mary asked me 27 years ago on our first date – “What is it that you want, Michael?”

“Well, I jumped up, turned around, spit in the air, fell on the ground
Asked him which was the way back home
He said, “Take a right at the light, keep goin’ straight until night,
and then, boy, you’re on your own”
– Blinded By The Light

 

Michael C. Marcon is the founder of M3K Holdings, LLC