Are You Ready?

Last week, I lost a very important member of my “family”.  My “Uncle Bill” was one of my father’s best friends.  His wife, my “Aunt Cuppy”, was one of my mother’s best friends.  Their family mirrored our family.  I consider their children my cousins.  I love that family as much as my own.  As is the case with much of life, there are many business applications to what we learn in these trying moments of our personal existence.

As I was speaking with Aunt Cuppy at the wake, she said to me that Uncle Bill was “ready to go”.  It is a phrase we hear a lot when someone close to us passes away.  I realized that being ready is a great quality for business and for life.  I also realized, as usual, that Bruce had already figured it out and sung about it.  Many of you know the songs of the album The Rising were written in the aftermath of 9/11 as a way of helping bring some closure and comfort to those who suffered so much loss.  One of the songs is of particular value to me – Mary’s Place (if I have to explain, you have not been paying attention).  The song is about a wake and has some of the most powerful lyrics I have ever heard.  But, when performing the song live in concert, Bruce opens with a little intro song.  It is that song that Aunt Cuppy’s words immediately brought me to…

Are You Ready?

Are You Ready?

There’s a “place” right across town whenever you’re ready

People gather ‘round whenever you’re ready

The music begins to play and I’m automatically on my way

Are You Ready?

Are You Ready?

Are You Ready?

Business and life is about preparation.   Are you ready for the long nights – of building your career by putting in the extra effort on the Smith account AND of sitting up with your sick child all night the night before the presentation of the Smith account?  Are you ready for the roadblocks – of a bad boss, a bad firm, a bad economy, a bad virus that creates artificial hurdles to your goals AND of a bad coach, a bad teacher, a bad diagnosis that impacts your loved ones and leaves you helpless?  Are you ready for the sacrifices – of missed promotions, extensive travel, lonely hotel rooms AND of missed birthdays, missed workouts, missed “me time”?  Are you ready for the reward?

Business and life is about balance.  There is a reason why people who are jerks in life are usually jerks in business.  The alignment between the two is meaningful and profound.  If you are not getting ready, then you are just focused on the immediate gratification.  That is not a sustainable model for business or personal success.  What’s the point of business success if you don’t have people to share it with?  What’s the point of personal commitment and sacrifice if you cannot translate it into business success?  Are you ready for the reward?

You will note that I do not equate business success with financial rewards.  They are disconnected in my book.  As someone wise said to me once, “When was the last time you saw a hearse pulling a U-Haul?”  Financial rewards are one of the by-products of achieving business success, not the reason for achieving business success.

Business and life is about love.  I really enjoy watching new parents prepare for the birth of their first child.  They will ask, “What’s it like?”  I always give the same answer – the very instant that you see your child born, you will immediately understand why every story you ever heard about a parent lifting a car off of their trapped child is true.  Love is holding the hand of your sick child or sick spouse and asking God, “Take me, instead.”  Love gives you the ability to share yourself.  More importantly, love gives you the desire to WANT to share yourself.

I also enjoy watching new builders of a business or new employees starting their dream job or mid-life professionals making a career switch – because they are doing something they love.  When you love what you do, the sacrifices aren’t as great, the rewards are not measured in dollars and cents, and you provide an inspiration to those around you because it shows.  Are you ready for the reward?

My Uncle Bill was ready.  His life was an 80-year example of getting ready.  His life was preparation, balance, and love.  His life WAS life.  He provided an inspiration to me because it showed.   He was ready for the reward.

After all this, you may be pondering.  What is the answer to that fundamental question of life – Are you ready?  What’s the reward?  It’s simple.  It is found in the name of the song performed at just about every funeral service I have ever attended…

“Here I am, Lord”

In case you are interested in the song, here it is…https://youtu.be/z8PwFyouBDc?t=1

Michael C. Marcon is Managing Partner of M3K Holdings, LLC and Nonno to Penelope and Henry.

The Man in the Glass

Wow!  What a time to be alive?!?  Not.  Everywhere you turn, someone is being cancelled because someone is offended.  Businesses cower in fear for saying the wrong thing or promoting a product that was once acclaimed by many but does not meet the arbitrary “standards” of the last 30 seconds.  People hide from their neighbors, drop off Facebook, and stay silent from the fear of saying or doing the “wrong” thing.  Hmm… I wonder what that must feel like?  (you can insert a sarcasm emoji here).

Every time I watch another “cancellation” in real time – after I get over my bout of PTSD – I always recall a poem that has guided my business and personal life for more than 30 years.

“When you get what you want in your struggle for self

And the world makes you king for a day

Just go to a mirror and look at yourself

And see what that man has to say”

We all want it.  We all dream about it.  Heck, I wrote a blog about it (https://bit.ly/3vzZs7S).  We all want to be “The Man at the Top”.  You want to be the “cool Mom” or the “awesome Dad” to all your kids’ friends.  I want my lawn to be the envy of my neighbors (OK, that one really is mine!).  I want my colleagues to be impressed by my skill and my boss to be wowed by my performance.  I want my swing to be the sweetest, my dovetails to be the tightest, my abs to be the “six-packiest”, my sales to be the highest, and my W-2 to be a “W-200”.  That’s all great.  The question isn’t whether you can have it.  The question is What did you do to get it?

“For it isn’t your Father or Mother or Wife

Upon whose judgement you must pass

The person whose opinion counts most in your life

Is the One staring back from the glass”

Boy, if that isn’t the “Freudian Trifecta” (“Tri-fec-ter” for you Dick Vitale fans) for me, I don’t know what is.  I spent a lifetime worrying about meeting my Dad’s standards.  I almost didn’t marry Mary because I was so worried about my father’s initial lack of approval.  Thank God I overcame that hurdle.  But, how many times have we missed on something meaningful, something spectacular, something life-changing, because we were too afraid of someone else’s reaction? 

And, it works both ways.  My Mom once told me – very lovingly and with deep concern – that I would not be considered a “failure” in business if I did not achieve the same level of economic success as my Dad.  She was worried I was trying too hard to reach an impossible goal.  We all know what I did, right?  Yup.  I doubled down on my effort.  “I’ll show her.  Grumble Grumble.  No one’s going to tell me what I can’t achieve.  Not some homemaker with a high school diploma! Grumble Grumble.  Hrmph. What does she know?”  My Mom was truly a saint.  She had more qualities that we should all emulate than I can count.  But, trying to live my life and achieve my goals to prove her wrong?  That was not a good decision.  How many times have we been blinded by slight, enraged by the innocent, angered by the misinformed, and offended by the unintended?  How much time did we waste in that pursuit?  We will never get it back.

“Some people may think you’re a straight shootin’ chum

And call you a wonderful guy

But The Man in the Glass knows you’re really a bum

If you can’t look Him right in the eye”

Years ago, as I was struggling to build Equity Risk Partners, I received my issue of Business Insurance magazine – the “bible” for our industry.  Lo and behold, on the cover, was a person I knew quite well but did not regard quite well.  The article was celebrating his achievements in building a new brokerage business and how he was doing it in record time (all while maintaining a single digit handicap, not gaining any weight from excessive business travel, and with no strain on his marriage).  We all know what I did, right?  Yup.  “Motherf#@&er!  That guy?  Are you kidding me?”  Here I am busting my butt to build my business one brick at a time and the guy taking all the shortcuts and building a “house of cards” is getting all the love.  I called my investor and partner, John Pasquesi, and told him I needed an honest answer to a very direct question – could I take those same shortcuts, get the same results, and get my picture on the cover of Business Insurance?  He replied – “Absolutely.  Yes.  But, why would you want to do that?”  Having calmed down, I said, “OK. As long as you know it and I know it, I’m good.”  Success in business and in life comes from achieving YOUR goals on YOUR terms and to YOUR standards.

He’s the fellow to please, never mind all the rest

Because He’s with you right up to end

You’ll have passed your most dangerous, difficult test

If The Man in the Glass is your friend”

Remember when you told your parents that “Johnny’s” parents were letting him do something (in my case growing up, it was usually being able to go back outside after dinner to play kick the can instead of taking a bath and putting on our pajamas; I know!  Child abuse, right?) as the reason you should be able to do it, as well?  The famous universal parental reply?  “If Johnny jumped off a bridge, would you do it, too?”  The secret to maximizing your achievements in business and in life has not evolved much from the summer of 1972 – Forget about what Johnny is doing.  Come inside, take your bath, and put on your pajamas.  Plus, Johnny is probably smoking cigarettes down by the railroad tracks.

“You may fool the whole world down your pathway of years

And get pats on the back as you pass

But, your final reward will be heartache and tears

If you’ve cheated The Man in the Glass”

One of my favorite gospel passages is Matthew 6:1-16.  It speaks to the “value of values”.  Do you want your reward now, the praise of the “hypocrites”?  Or, do you want your reward later?  Your Father knows what you do, when you do it, and why you do it.  Business and personal success is the “Fram Oil Filter of Life” – you can get “paid” now or get “paid” later.

I never realized until just now – The true meaning of life – and why we try so hard to please The Man in the Glass – does not actually occur in this life.  It happens at the end of our life when we realize, in that very last instant and with our very last breath… The glass is not a mirror.  It is a window.  We’re not looking in. He is looking out.

Time to get “paid”. 

Michael C. Marcon is Managing Partner of M3K Holdings, LLC and Nonno to Penelope and Henry.

You’ve Got the Music in You

I have been thinking a lot about music lately.  It’s not only because Bruce’s new album was just released and will be followed by a world tour as soon as the ‘rona ends.  No, I have been thinking about music lately because it has a meter and a tempo that has been influencing my business and my life. 

Since we have no secrets between us, I can admit that I “see” my life playing out before me as if set to a soundtrack.  Most days, the soundtrack is Promised Land (some days, it’s acoustic and other days, it’s “Live from Giants Stadium”).  My life with Mary plays to The Power of Two or Have I Told You Lately (no, not the theme song from Married with Children!).   The score for Penelope and Henry is usually Times of Your Life (“Good morning, yesterday…You wake and time has slipped away”).  And, if I am being truly honest, in the middle of a great round of golf or an awesome woodworking session, I do hear the music from the NFL Films highlight reel.

You see, the first step to realizing and achieving your dreams is recognizing you have the power to do it.  You have the music in you.  Don’t worry if the first thing you play is Chopsticks.  You’re making music.  No problem if you can’t “carry a tune without a handle”.  You’re making music.  It’s OK if your first lyrics are “Rose are red…”  You’re making music and, to paraphrase Seinfeld, “It’s real and it’s spectacular.”

You’ve got the music in you
Don’t let go
You’ve got the music in you
One dance left
This world is gonna pull through
Don’t give up
You’ve got a reason to live
Can’t forget
We only get what we giv
e

What’s next?  Practice.

Practice in business.  Practice in life.  Try.  Fail.  Try again.  Fail again.  Try a different way.  Springsteen tells a great story of learning to play the guitar – “I stood in front of the mirror and I strummed.  The strings were like telephone wire.   I sucked.  I put on The Beatles and I practiced.  I still sucked. I put on The Stones and I practiced.  Yep.  Still sucked.  My friends went to the movies.  I practiced.  My family went on vacation.  I practiced.  And, I practiced.  And, I practiced.  10,000 hours?  Way more than 10,000 hours!  Then, one day… IT… WENT… LIKE… THIS!” As he performs a roundhouse and the sound explodes.

But when the night is falling
You cannot find the light
You feel your dreams are dying
Hold tight

Interestingly, the greater challenge for us in business and life is not the recognition that we’ve got the music in us and it’s not the recognition that we have to practice.  No, it is having the will and stamina to continue to practice and to continue to develop and to continue to improve once you have felt the satisfaction of initial success. 

This whole damn world, could fall apart
You’ll be ok, follow your heart

The separation from the pack – to go, as the great business author, Jim Collins, would say, from Good to Great – is the willingness to not just practice, but to never stop practicing; to never stop striving; to never stop improving.  Sold a new client?  Great.  Now sell 10 more.  Opened a new branch office?  Fantastic.  Go grow it by 20%.  Hitting it 20 yards further off the tee?  Well done.  Get to work on your short game.  Marriage is on solid ground?  Awesome.  Start looking at her the way Jack Campbell (Nic Cage) looks at Kate (Tea Leoni) in The Family Man…

Kate: How do you do that?

Jack: Do what?

Kate: Look at me like you haven’t seen me every day for the past 13 years

Raising smart, well adjusted kids?  Hats off to you.  Try not helping with the science project.  Don’t explain to the teacher why they need extra time.  And, for God’s sake, don’t bribe them into college.

Wake up, kids,

We’ve got the dreamers disease

That’s exactly what this is – a disease.  Here’s the contract you enter into – You don’t get to choose when/where you will turn on/turn off this trait of constant improvement and striving for greater excellence.  It is always on.  It is awesome and it is exhausting.  Not everyone appreciates it.  Everyone sees the outcome, but no one sees the effort. 

Guess what?  It doesn’t always pay off, either – Jordan Speith dunked it on the 12th hole while leading The Masters; Bruce wrote Queen of the Supermarket; Jack Welch bought Kidder Peabody; I tried to flip a house… in ’08. 

Don’t let go
I feel the music in you
Don’t let go
Fly high, high

What’s real, can’t die
You only get what you give
Don’t give up
Just don’t be afraid to live

I’ve been thinking a lot about music lately.  I have a soundtrack to my life.  I have the music in me.  I have a soundtrack to my business, too.  I hear the instruments.  I see the notes.  I feel the melody.  I am ready… To conduct my Symphony.

Coming Soon…

Thanks to “New Radicals” for letting me borrow their lyrics

Michael C. Marcon is Managing Partner of M3K Holdings, LLC and Nonno to Penelope and Henry.

Be Not Afraid

 

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As a devout Catholic (in case you have not figured that out by now), I was attending Mass this past Sunday.  Actually, I was streaming Mass on my iPad.  One of the very few benefits of the lockdowns has been the ability to stream Sunday Mass.  Now, I get to attend Mass from the comfort of my living room couch.  Diet Coke in hand, I can fast-forward through a boring homily (never yours, Fr. Carl) or hit the mute button when the cantor’s heart is in the right place but not necessarily her voice.  Best of all, there are no looks of shame from other parishioners if I leave early.  Come to think of it, maybe we should continue streaming Mass even after the crisis subsides.

This Sunday, one of the songs was a favorite of mine – “Be Not Afraid”. 

“Be not afraid.

I go before you, always.

Come.  Follow me.

And, I will give you rest.”

It dawned on me that Jesus was likely a graduate of HBS (sorry you people who “attended a school in Boston”, it stands for Heaven Business School.  It is slightly more selective).  He also has some rather good management advice (and life advice, for that matter).  So, I, your lowly scribe (or pharisee, I can never remember which), will highlight the ways that fear needs to be managed in business and in life.

With my “apologies” for utilizing the three most obnoxious and overused phrases in the world currently – Now, more than ever…in these troubling times…and in an abundance of caution, the single best business and life advice I can share with you is – Be Not Afraid.

Creating and stoking fear is “good bad business”.  “Good,” because it does work… initially.  “Bad,” because it is unsustainable. It is the lazy person’s approach to success.

Fear is a short cut.  Why work hard to lead and inspire when you can scare someone and get them to fall in line?  That takes so many fewer calories.

Fear is short term.  Eventually, people – employees, family members, voters (are you listening, Washington and Sacramento?) – realize it is not as bad as they thought.  Then, like Penelope does all day – they ask “Why?” https://worldaccordingtomichael.wordpress.com/2019/09/04/why/  They build a base of knowledge.  Some say, “perception is reality”.  That is an illusion.  Informed perception is actual reality.

Fear thrives in darkness – the absence of light…and the absence of facts.  When we know the facts, we can overcome the fear.  We’ve all been afraid of the dark…or the boogeyman in the closet…or all the terrible things that are going to happen to our kids…or the new competitor that just raised buckets of capital…or the new colleague with a degree from a “more prestigious” school.  Guess what – the sun comes up and that “evil shadow” was really your model airplane… the noise in the closet was the wind rattling the hangers… the overwhelming majority of kids do not get a razor blade in their Halloween apple… the VC backed competitor is all smoke and mirrors while you keep plugging away serving clients… and, the more prestigious school did not teach your new colleague how to complete Form 1987-098 or the nuances of Johnson account.

The real question is not “why do we fear” but, rather, “why do we use fear?”  We use fear on others because we are afraid – Afraid of being wrong… Afraid of failing… Afraid of the consequences.  We cover our own fear by making others more afraid.  World class leaders and world class people do not use fear.  They inspire.  They inform.  They invite.  They learn.  They educate.  Every now and then, as a result, they get knocked on their ass.  And, they realize it is not fatal.

Be Not Afraid does not equal Be Not Hurt.  Be Not Afraid does not equal Be Not Loss.

Be Not Afraid does equal inspiration, confidence, opportunity.  Be Not Afraid does equal freedom.

So, now – especially now – Be Not Afraid.  To your employees, colleagues, partners, friends, and family, you go before them, always.  They will follow you.  And, you will give them rest.

The most compelling reason to Be Not Afraid?  As Fr. Carl always says (when I don’t fast-forward)…

God’s Got This.

If you’d like to know where I get my inspiration, feel free to watch Mass with Fr. Carl of Holy Spirit Parish in Kimberly, WI (www.holyspirit-parish.org)

 

MICHAEL C. MARCON IS THE CHAIRMAN OF M3K HOLDINGS, LLC (WWW.M3KLLC.COM) AND NONNO TO PENELOPE AND HENRY.

 

 

Swing Your Swing

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As I get older, um, I mean, as I get… more experienced, I find myself with increasing opportunities to advise and mentor younger executives.  Currently, I have the privilege of being an investor in and an advisor to a start-up business led by a very dynamic young woman.  She is bright and driven and creative.  And, she is also way too hard on herself and still developing her “corporate persona”.  I was speaking with her the other day as she was in the middle of a very frustrating development and struggling a bit to “find her footing”.  I gave her one simple piece of advice that I have followed for 30 years – Swing Your Swing.

Outside of God-given talent, what is the one thing that separates the truly great performers in business and in life?  Authenticity.  The truly greats are not copycats.  They are not “wannabes”.  They are not “wish I was”.  They are authentic.  They are not afraid to be themselves.  They challenge the conventional wisdom.  The George Bernard Shaw adage – “There are those that look at things the way they are and ask why? I dream of things that never were and ask why not?” – is not just a graduation speech line to them.  They actually do ask, “Why not?” and then go figure it out.

 Mary and I went for a hike the other day in the Santa Rosa mountains in California (one of the benefits of all the golf courses being closed is actually getting reacquainted with my wife).  Even though I hike on a regular basis, this hike took place right after I gave my colleague my incredible wisdom to “Swing Your Swing”.  It hit me that – at some point in the past – there was no trail where I was hiking.  Some intrepid explorer looked at the mountain and blazed a trail where no one had ever gone before.  As you look at your business and your career, do you see a safe, well-worn path or do you see a new trail to blaze?  As you look at your family, do you see the conventional wisdom of deteriorating values or the authenticity of your own standards?

By the way, authenticity does not mean “go for broke”.  It means being true to yourself.  Don’t forget, Roy McEvoy (aka “Tin Cup”) was authentic.  He also hit five balls in the water and lost the U.S. Open.  Being authentic is not a recipe for sure-fire short-term victory.  It is a road map for long-term success.

Even though I have followed this principle for more than 30 years now, it was not until 2013 that the concept became encapsulated for me.  As I watched a golf tournament on TV one day, I heard the voice of Arnold Palmer…

“Swing your swing.

Not some idea of a swing.

Not a swing you saw on TV.

Not that swing you wish you had.

No, swing your swing.

Capable of greatness.

Prized only by you.

Perfect in its imperfection.

Swing your swing.”

Ever since then, I have “heard” the same thing from the most interesting subset of people – from Jack Welch and Steve Jobs, from Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos, from Pat Ryan and Hank Greenberg, from George Bush and Barack Obama, from Pope John Paul and Pope Francis, from Ghandi and Nelson Mandela,

And, from Natalie Marcon and Fred Marcon – “Swing Your Swing…

I Know.  I Did.”

Thanks to Dick’s Sporting Goods.  If you want to see the actual commercial, here it is… https://www.ispot.tv/ad/72KL/dicks-sporting-goods-swing-your-swing
MICHAEL C. MARCON IS THE CHAIRMAN OF M3K HOLDINGS, LLC (WWW.M3KLLC.COM) AND NONNO TO PENELOPE AND HENRY.

 

Hall of Fame

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I had the privilege recently to attend the ceremony as one of my very dear friends, Ginny Murphy, was inducted into the Ursinus College Athletic Hall of Fame.  It was a very deserving honor and I am very proud of my friend.

During the ceremony, I reflected on what it means to be a Hall of Famer, in business and in life.   Ginny’s story provides a wonderful example of the traits that differentiated a Hall of Famer from the “mere” high performers.  Here is what I identified…

It Is Not About Talent

I have written many times that the world is full of talented people.  What differentiates Hall of Famers from the mortals is their effort.  Ginny was the hardest working, most determined athlete I have ever met – male or female (or alien or robot).  She was (and still is) a perpetual motion machine.  You could say she is “wired for 220v in a 110v world.”  In basketball, I saw her outrebound women significantly taller and stronger.  In field hockey, I saw her out face-off women more skilled and graceful.  In life, I saw her out-hustle everybody. (However, she never did beat me in H-O-R-S-E!  My patented over the top of backboard from the baseline LEFT-HANDED swish did her in every time)

Being a talented executive is easy.  Being a Hall of Famer requires you to out-rebound bigger competitors, out face-off talented upstarts, and out-hustle everybody.

Being a talented parent / spouse is easy.  Being a Hall of Famer requires you out-rebound multiple demands for your time and attention, out face-off the latest kooky parenting trend, and out-hustle everybody.

It Is About Talent

Who are we kidding? Yes, of course you need talent.  Each one of us has it.  The key is finding your talent and committing yourself to maximizing it.  One of my former colleagues from Equity Risk Partners had a great saying that I wish I could take credit for – “Hard work beats talent, until talent starts working hard.”

The challenge for most people is refraining from focusing on the talent you WISH you had.  I wish I had the talent to hit a golf ball 300 yards.  It is probably better for my family and my bank account if I focus on the talent I have (yes, selling insurance is a talent).  In the great movie, Chariots of Fire, as Olympic runner, Eric Liddell, struggled to identify his true talent, he said, “I believe God made me for a purpose… But, He also made me fast.  And, when I run, I feel His pleasure.”  We all know the purpose God made us for.  Don’t fight it.  Embrace it and feel the pleasure.

Perseverance

So, you have some God-given talent.  So, you work hard.  So, what!  Hall of Famers perform at an extraordinarily high level over a sustained period of time.  That means never giving up.  That means never giving in.  That means never “taking a day off”.  Joe DiMaggio was once asked how he could play so hard in a late season game when the Yankees were hopelessly out of playoff contention.  His famous answer?  “Because there is some kid in stands today who is seeing me play for the first time and paid hard earned money for his ticket.  I owe him my best.”  That is HOF.  Ginny sustained excellence in multiple sports not just for a season, but for an entire collegiate career.

It is easy to be the great parent when the kids are getting all A’s, brushing their teeth, making their bed, and only watching old Mister Rogers reruns when unsupervised on their computer.  It is easy to be the great spouse when the bills are paid, college is funded, dinner is made, and the “you know what” is great (for the record, I did not get that part from Ginny).

A Hall of Fame parent and a Hall of Fame spouse performs at their best when those they love the most are not performing at theirs.

“I took us for better and I took us for worse.  And, don’t you ever forget it.”  Indigo Girls, “The Power of Two” 

A Hall of Fame executive performs at their best over a sustained period despite market cycles, political and economic volatility, and whatever the latest “disruption” happens to be.

 “I’ve done my best to live the right way.  I get up every morning and go to work each day.” Bruce Springsteen, “The Promised Land”

Luck

God has blessed me with talent.  I have honored Him and appreciated my talent by working my butt off.  I never gave in, despite all the roadblocks, trials, and tribulations.  Can I be a Hall of Famer now?  As Johnny Carson (actually, Carnac) would probably say, “Not so fast, all star breath.”

Joe Montana was blessed with talent.  He worked hard.  He sustained.  “The Catch”?  Luck.

Ray Kroc was blessed with talent.  He worked hard.  He sustained.  Showing up one random day to sell an ice cream blender to the McDonald brothers at their hamburger stand?  Luck.

Warren Buffett was blessed with talent.  He worked hard.  He sustained.  Being born in the United States instead of Ethiopia or Rwanda?  Luck.

Norm Abram was blessed with talent.  He worked hard.  He sustained.  Being the carpenter on a random home remodel in Boston the day the This Old House crew was out scouting locations?  Luck.

This is one area I cannot advise you on.  I have not figured out how to create luck.  Although, I have observed that luck tends to be pretty highly correlated to talent, hard work, and perseverance.  Or, maybe, it is the other way around?

So, what is the secret?  How do you become a Hall of Famer in business and in life?  Let’s ask two recent Hall of Famers…

“You will get knocked down.  You will fail.  You will doubt yourself.  That is a good thing.   That, my sweet children, is where the gold is.”  Tony Gonzalez, Pro Football HOF, Class of 2019

 “Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more.”  Ginny Murphy, Ursinus College HOF, Class of 2019 (and Jesus – Luke 12:48)

 

MICHAEL C. MARCON IS THE CHAIRMAN OF M3K HOLDINGS, LLC (WWW.M3KLLC.COM) AND NONNO TO PENELOPE AND HENRY.

Look Out Below!

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“’Cause I gotta have faith
I gotta’ have faith
Because I gotta have faith, faith, faith
I got to have faith, faith, faith”

Remember the scene in the holiday classic, Miracle on 34th Street, when young Natalie Wood, having not received her Christmas wish on Christmas morning, is sitting slumped in the back seat of the car?  She is quietly and without any conviction repeating, “I believe.  I believe.  I believe.”  Of course, she really did not believe…Until she did.  Once she saw the house, and the yard, and the swing – just as she had imagined and just as she had wished – then, and only then, did she believe.

Earlier in Miracle on 34th Street, Fred Gailey (the lawyer defending Kris Kringle) states one of the greatest lessons for business and life – “Faith is believing in things when common sense tells you not to.”

Let’s revisit “Doubting Thomas”.  His “co-workers” had all seen the new “business plan” the “CEO” had presented to them.  “It is going to be huge”, said one.  “Totally scalable blue ocean with a long runway”, said another.  “Completely disruptive”, stated a third.  However, Thomas wanted to “see the numbers” and review the “focus group data” for himself.  It took no less than a one-on-one meeting with the CEO before Thomas would support the plan.   As the “original CEO” said then – and this “former CEO” says now – “Blessed (with eternal life from the “original CEO” and/or a nice promotion from the “former CEO”) are those who have not seen but believe”.

Last month, as Penelope was asking me “Why?” my mom was in heaven, she reminded me of just how important the concept of faith is in our lives.   It made me realize that it is a fundamental part of every day and almost every decision.  How can you get on an airplane?  Ask someone to marry you?  Start a business?  Root for the New York Jets?  Hit a driver off the deck over water to a heavily bunkered green?  (OK, that last one should really be in the next blog on “Stupidity”)

We are a “big data” world these days (just ask Common; he is on TV every other commercial telling us how AI is changing the world).  There is a comfort in data.  There is security in numbers and equations.  There is nothing wrong with that.  Cold, hard facts are the foundation of faith.  Numbers and facts are the stairs.  Faith is the high diving board.  You need both in order to perform the perfect cannon ball.

Once there was a man trapped on the roof of his house during a great flood.  Another man came by in a rowboat and offered him a ride.  The man said, “No, thank you, my faith will save me.”  Then, a helicopter flew overhead and dropped down a rope to the man.  He rejected the rope and said, “No, thank you, my faith will save me.”  The water kept rising and, ultimately, the man drowned.  As the man arrived in heaven, God greeted him and the man said, “I put all my faith in you.  Why didn’t you save me?”  God replied, “What are you talking about?  I sent you a boat and I sent you a helicopter!”

Tony Robbins, the ubiquitous “life coach”, says that the reason most people don’t fundamentally change their lives is because their lives are “OK”.  What that means is that most people assume that making any change – to their life, their relationships, their business – has a higher probability of generating a negative outcome than a positive outcome.  They don’t want to take the chance that the outcome will make them worse off.  They don’t have faith.

Faith does not guarantee a positive outCOME to any specific decision.  Faith does guarantee a positive outLOOK for any specific decision.  I believe that the aggregate impact of a positive outlook across the totality of life’s experiences creates a life worth living and a life worth sharing – with family, friends, and colleagues.

So, we have looked at these wonderful examples of how faith impacts our business and personal lives.  But what is my definition of faith, you ask?  It is very simple – that moment, the very instant, that I die and pass from this world, I will be able to do what every athlete who ever played does when the TV camera finds them…

“Hi, Mom!”

 

MICHAEL C. MARCON IS THE CHAIRMAN OF M3K HOLDINGS, LLC (WWW.M3KLLC.COM) AND NONNO TO PENELOPE AND HENRY.

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.