The Longest Yard: From Good to Great

24 Sep

We live in an era where performance evaluations and development plans are anything but real.

Particularly in corporate America, authentic feedback and evaluation are rarely sought and even less frequently delivered.   It is far easier to maintain the status quo, celebrate successes and gloss over opportunities to get better.  This is even more pronounced the higher you rise in an organization.

That is what makes recent occurrences in Iowa City all the more remarkable.

Seventeen years into a job, the most powerful CEO in the state of Iowa has chosen introspection over obstinacy and is doggedly pursuing great after a long career of very good.

Consider the recipe for the first 16 years of Kirk Ferentz’s tenure.

  • Bend but don’t break defense.
  • Game management at the QB position
  • Punting on 4th and short from midfield
  • A constant quest to live to fight another day

In summary it was risk averse football.  Playing not to lose, rather than fighting to win.  It was a formula that worked very well for all those years, and yet in Ferentz’s own words, it had to change.

“It’s a new me. It’s as simple as this.  You just get back to everybody that left the stadium back there in November, everybody, players, coaches, every fan that we have, and we have the best fans in the world, everybody left saying, hmm, you know. Really?”

— Kirk Ferentz

And so Ferentz and his coaching staff took a long hard look at themselves.  They met as a group, they talked as individuals, engaged their critics and put everything on the table to define areas for change and growth.

The results are clear.  The team is taking calculated risks, breaking long-held tendencies and trusting in personnel.  Most importantly, they are having fun again.

There is a lesson in there for the rest of us.

  • Where is our blind spot?
  • What is keeping us from moving from very good to great?
  • What tendency do we need to break?

There is no magic formula.  Growth requires an open heart, a team of honest stakeholders, a willingness for feedback, and a lot of hard work.

Given those however, the results can be significant.



The Evolution of the Snark Economy

16 Sep

Finally it is here.  You’ll soon be able to sass people with a single click.

Sort of.

Facebook, desperate for headlines and bowing to public demand will be adding a “dislike” button to their popular social networking app.

Dislike Button

Mark Zuckerberg claims the button will allow users to “like” things that they relate to but don’t really like, i.e. death, a natural disaster, and others.  But I think we know where users will take it.

Soon the political and social battles that flood your timeline will be even more vicious and angry.

  • Bernie Sanders wants to raise tax rates to 80%– dislike this post to stop him!
  • Trump wants to deport all Mexicans- dislike and send him a message!

The dislike button is less a disease, and more of a symptom of where our culture has been headed for some time.  America evolved from agrarian economy to an industrial economy long ago and more recently to an information-based economy.  I think our next move may be to the snark economy.

Entire shows on cable are devoted to playing clips of celebs and others and ridiculing them.  Internet mishaps regularly “go viral” and you can read any of the comments following any news story online to see rampant vitriol and venom.  Everyone has an opinion and they can’t wait to share it as they lampoon their perceived enemies.

We like to mock and ridicule, but why?

Perhaps it is the natural backlash to the exponential growth of political correctness, the cowardice of anonymity or maybe just good old- fashioned narcissism.  Regardless, ridiculing failure seems to be our entertainment du jour.

And lest you think I’m the social commentator tsk tsk-ing everyone else from my high horse, nothing could be further from the truth.  I’ve certainly partaken.  And you know what, I haven’t found it remotely satisfying.

So the energy you see on this forum (going forward) and hopefully elsewhere in my life will shift gears and stay permanently on the bullet train to positivity.  Oh I’m sure the Hawkeyes, the election and definitely the Vikings will pull me into a morass of negativity from time to time, but I’ll do my best to stay above board.

Optimism is learned, and you must fake it ‘til you make it.

It’s high time I got with the program.

Out to Get Us: Proof Goodell Hates the Vikings

8 Sep
Hates your favorite team.

Hates your favorite team.

Criticism of our elected leaders typically vacillates between two themes.  At times they are framed as completely incompetent, others as evil geniuses with a master plan.  Conventional wisdom says they can’t be both, but how can you tell if it is either?

Luckily one leader is not nearly as hard to understand.  For NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, his repeated failures have taken “evil genius” completely off the table.  There is no debate, there is no master plan, only ineptitude.

Sadly his track record also points to an additional character flaw– spite.

Mounting evidence shows a pattern of behavior, a conspiracy and a massive ax to grind.  His target, Twin City football fans.

Consider the following examples

Example 1:  2012-   The Fish & Chips Flip Off
In making the case for a new Vikings stadium, Goodell touted the $1 million per year visiting teams pay in income tax over the course of a season of home games as well as the millions in “fall-out” revenue to hotels, restaurants and game day workers.  He bloviated on endlessly about the financial impact to a community for even a single home game all while threatening “serious consequences” if we didn’t build him a stadium.

He then turned around and shipped a Viking home game off to London in 2013, presumably robbing our fair state of any of that money– killing the cash cow he had been flogging for years.  All to deliver our beloved sport to disinterested foreigners who think football is a boring game played with your feet.   Strike one.

Example 2:  2014- AP Also Beats Fans
Last year when Adrian Peterson’s horrific misdeeds came to light, Goodell served as a one-man wrecking crew, delivering an indefinite suspension by placing the player on the Commissioner’s exempt list.  This was wholly appropriate given the troubling circumstances surrounding Peterson.  But one piece of the equation made absolutely no sense.  The suspension served while on this list was WITH PAY!

Who exactly was being punished in that scenario?

When a player stays home, saves his body from injury and collects his cash, he’s not feeling any pain I can assure you.  So that leaves only one familiar victim of the punishment — THE FANS.

2015- Black Tuesday
That brings us to the latest slap in the face, one that is coming in just a few short days.  It is almost time for the Vikings 2015 season opener.  Normally a good time to brew up some chili, gather the family and enjoy the game.  But a certain spiteful dictator has taken it upon himself to make sure as few fans as possible are able to enjoy that fine tradition.  He’s buried the game on cable and slated kickoff after 9pm on a school night.  It is the latest start time for any NFL game all season, and it is being inflicted upon our beloved purple.

Football-starved youth will be forced to go to bed hungry, or stay up until early Tuesday morning to watch their favorite team.  Academic performance and metro area teachers’ sanity will almost certainly suffer.

Why does it make sense for a Midwestern team to travel that far, play that late, and have the shortest week two game prep possible?   It defies logic and buzzkills every purple backer in the Central time zone and is just the latest example of an out-of-control Viking-hater-in-chief, doing his best to sabotage an entire fan base.

Is Goodell out to specifically target our beloved Purple?  The evidence is overwhelming.  Call Roger Goodell and ask him why he hates the Vikings and quite possibly freedom.  His office number is 212-450-2027

Tell him to come clean, acknowledge the obvious and finally start wearing his cheesehead for all official league business.  Shame on you Roger, we know what you are and the American people deserve better.

Paid for by Footballers United -in Rejecting Goodell  (FU- R. Goodell)

Miley, Adrian Peterson & Chinese Wisdom

1 Sep

Miley Cyrus is at it again, gaining attention the same way she always has– by any means necessary.

This time she’s exposing herself and smoking cannabis while appearing on MTV (yes it’s still a network).  Her rote antics failing to incense anyone anymore so she’ll no doubt move on to worse, dragging chronic enabler MTV with her on a search for relevance.

Then there’s Adrian Peterson.  Vindicated by the news that he only “kind of” beat his kid, he’s back for another season.  This year making a splash via a feature article in ESPN the magazine.  The piece revealing what I think we already knew—AP is a tone-deaf imbecile.

The article recounts how he is more concerned with throwing his own birthday party than fathering his six kids that are scattered at homes across the country.  Correction, I should say his “at least” six kids.  We can’t be sure because we only know of the six.


Why this parade through the society pages you ask?

Because both are in many ways predictable.  It turns out the Chinese warned us about this centuries ago.  You know the Chinese, they who supposedly gave us the curse “may you lived in interesting times”.

While “interesting times” is apocryphal, the Chinese did enunciate Three Great Misfortunes in Life— giving a voice to the curses to be avoided at all costs.  So what did they go with?  Cancer?  Drugs?  Halitosis?

Negative, they went the other directions.

  • Success when you are young
  • Sudden Wealth
  • Being born into money

And looking at our “successful” friends like Miley and AP, how can we disagree?  Both have two of the three and both are tone deaf, failing at life and no doubt secretly miserable.   Think about that– fame, success and money.  The things most kids want, are a recipe for disaster.

Our celebrity culture is disturbing on many levels, but perhaps it can teach parents a lesson and help us tackle that first curse.  “Success when you are young” doesn’t have to mean a 4.3 forty and a contract with Nike.  Nor does it necessarily mean a hit TV show on Disney Channel.

It could simply mean a world that’s too easy.

The lack of strength built through perseverance because everything was handed to you…  Parents who enable and worship their kids rather than discipline…  A lack of structure and boundaries…  Insulation from failure and critique.

All on our own we’ve manufactured that first curse.  Perception is reality.  If our children perceive great success, they may already be on the wrong path and ill-equipped to accept failure or rebuke when it comes– that is the real danger here.

Your kid frequently needs a pat on the back and an encouraging word.  These are important, but don’t forget they also need the occasional kick in the ass.  One that’s figurative of course (stand down Adrian), but one nonetheless.  Without any challenge our kids grow up thinking that the world revolves around them—because it always has.

You know who didn’t have success early?  Michael Jordan.  He failed miserably.  And from it he learned perseverance, grit and determination.  Along they way he also picked up the world’s biggest chip on his shoulder  –one that fueled his career and life.

Am I advocating spite as a growth strategy?  No…errr maybe?

What I am saying is that our job as parents isn’t to cheerlead our kids.  It isn’t to be friends with our kids.  It is first and foremost to love them, and secondly to give them the tools they need to succeed in life.  Participation trophies and report cards with non-grades are doing the opposite.

Perseverance, grit and growth– are missing in children because they’ve been stripped from our childhood. We need to actively seek strategies to build these characteristics the next generation. As parents we want the best for our kids, we just desperately need to resist the urge to give it to them.

Blake’s First Month: Five Surprising Impacts of a Home-based Business

21 Aug

I’m a quitter.

After 19-years in corporate America, I recently fired myself to start my own business focused on written content and marketing support for small business.

It is going well and about what I expected with a few notable surprises…

#5 Lack of “corporate free time” has me way behind on fantasy football draft prep
#4 Disinterested co-workers stopping by my office to chat has been replaced by much less snarky Jehovah’s Witnesses
#3 Spaghetti-O lunch consumption up 300%
#2 Got an email yesterday from my dry cleaner with the subject line “WE MISS YOU” and a $5 coupon
#1 PTO has been replaced by the much less satisfying TO

It was a great first month.  Thanks to all of you who have supported me– notably the most understanding and supportive wife out there!!  You inspire me.

With my marginal writing talent and your backing, I got this!


Mission Control

Mission Control

A Sweltering Weekend, a Stolen Car & a Faith Strengthened

12 Jul


When grand theft auto can’t kill your enthusiasm, it’s a Holy Spirit thing

It was a weekend unlike any I’ve ever experienced.  Nine adults and 11 kids set off as missionaries to the less-than exotic location of Superior Wisconsin. There we met a group of 13 from a Wisconsin church and set off on an adventure.

  • Our Mission – service
  • Our Medium – sweat equity
  • Our Base Camp – the steamy unfinished basement of a local church

Each day we worshiped, shared devotionals, broke a sweat and then broke camp.  We set off in small groups for service opportunities in the community to mentor youth, engage seniors, pick up trash or help with yard work.  The labor was intense but rewarding as we met a wide range of grateful hosts.

One host however, was less hospitable.  Rather than encourage us, it hung in the sky relentlessly baking us.

The only respite from the heat was a shower at the local YMCA were we retreated each evening to vanquish the latest layer of grime before we worshiped, went to bed and awoke to add another.

Ironically it was there, after our service activity ended on Saturday that we would learn our biggest lesson.  While showering at the Y a set of keys went missing.  A search followed, then the discovery of a missing van followed by a police report.

In a weekend of engineered opportunities to display our faith, we were abruptly faced with a real life chance to model it.  Tim and Ashley (the victims) took the opportunity to display perseverance and a positive attitude as we worked through the logistics of a stolen car while 150 miles from home.  The other participants rallied to their aid offering support, rides, counseling to a child who lost her prize toy and prayer.

Tim and Ashley kept it together, and the group came together.

The only real impact was to the kids’ sense of security and this offered a chance for a discussion.

Our children lead lives insulated from crime.  Fed by media-built impressions of “good guys” and “bad guys” they grow up with an innate sense of being safe.  An event like this rattles that to its core.

The kids on this trip suddenly had a lot of questions.  Good questions that we worked through.  Questions that didn’t necessarily have great answers but which were much easier to address when seen through  a moral framework and the lens of the calm, matter-of-fact disposition of the victims.

Tim and Ashley had a tough day, but you’d never have known it. 

They were more concerned with reassuring the staff at the church and the kids than lamenting the situation.  There wasn’t an ounce of bitterness, not a smidge of anger, just a time for prayer and thoughtful discussion about how to move forward.  None of the group activities were missed and no tears were shed.

In a weekend with many opportunities for learning, this one struck me.  Too often in our world “Faith” is a commodity a buzzword, or an unknown.  What does it really mean?  How can we pass it on?

The answer is that to become real and tangible, it must be modeled.

Thank you Tim and Ashley for turning a tough day into a lesson that did just that– for the kids… and for me.

Tenacity at the table: Three lessons for mastering anything

1 Mar

It is brilliant in its simplicity.

A year’s worth of dedication, captured in a single five-minute video. By now you’ve probably seen the viral YouTube sensation that is Sam Priestley.

His charge was mastery.

His medium, dedication.

His obsession, table tennis

Sam is the guy who dedicated the better part of an entire year to mastering ping pong and videotaped the entire thing. He then posted his 365-day odyssey to YouTube in a single five minute video that shows one second per day of his quest.

His amazing video and results have some takeaways for the rest of us.


This is the obvious one. Here is a guy who set a goal and doggedly pursued it. You may disagree with his goal, or find this all a waste of time, but Priestley took his quest seriously. And not only that, but he doubled-down by adding accountability via video.

No doubt from time to time this all got pretty old, and he could have easily quit. But Priestley is a guy who does what he said he’d do and the sheer fact that he was making this video probably helped him stay true to his vision. Goals and plans are great, when combined with accountability they actually get done.

Lesson: Find accountability. Make it cost you something to quit on your goal

A Strong Focus on Details

You want to get good at ping pong, you have to play a lot of ping pong. That seems reasonable, but that is only partly correct. The video shows not only games, but hours of drills. It combines both with leg exercises and overall fitness.

There is more to table tennis than there seems, and focusing on the details of those other things (speed, agility, footwork) is important. You’ll note how Priestley holds his non-paddle arm. I know nothing about table tennis strategy, but it’s clear this is a detail that a coach has told him is important and Sam is working hard to implement that detail.

Lesson: Break your goal into pieces and focus on the details of each of them.


Goals and dogged determination are important, but it also helps to keep your healthy obsession from consuming your life. You’ll notice that this video starts with a title slide that says “1 second (almost) every day”. I think this is an important detail.

What does the parenthetical “(almost)” mean?

Maybe it means that he didn’t use video from each day in the YouTube post, but I like to think it means he may have missed a few days along the way.

It is understandable if true.  This guy was as dedicated as anyone, but sometimes life gets in the way and stuff comes up. That’s fine, but the key was that those lapses never stretched into two days in a row or a week.

Backsliding is your enemy, recognizing when it may emerge is key to reaching your goals.

Lesson: Take setbacks in stride, get in gear and don’t let them snowball into failures.

Three simple lessons that you can use the next 365 days applying.

What have you always dreamed of?  What is stopping you?


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