For almost forty years (1961 – 1998) ABC’s Wide World of Sports held a special place in sports broadcasting.  Who could forget those iconic words “The Thrill of Victory and the Agony of Defeat” coupled with clips of spectacular sports feats and unbelievable calamities.  My favorite was the ski jumper that crashed as he got to the bottom of the 90-meter jump flying off into the crowd; truly the agony of defeat.

As the years have passed by, I am amused by the change in perspective of losing.  Back then, the thought of losing was a great motivator not only in sports but in life in general.  Losing made you feel bad; and it made you want to work harder to win the next time.  I can still remember the time I didn’t make a little league baseball team when all my friends did; I wasn’t good enough.  What a motivator; it was the last time I didn’t make a team.  At the end of the season, there were no “participation” ribbons and plaques.  In fact, there were very few trophies in youth sports.  When the season was over, everyone knew how they did; that’s it.

We have gotten to a point where, in society, losing is not a big deal.  So what?  I lost!  No shame, no regret, no big deal, no disappointment.  A great business example is filing bankruptcy.  Bankruptcy use to carry a bad stigma, now it is just another option in an array of possible actions.

I worry about the standards we are setting for our children when we don’t expose them to the setbacks resulting from failure.  Setbacks they can learn from, setbacks that become the impetus for growing into something better.  Failure should hurt.  Failure should make you feel bad.  The feeling of coming up short should be a building block for improvement.  It should not be masked over with a feel-good participation trophy, a ‘get out of jail free’ card, or societal cuddling.  I worry about young people entering the workforce not knowing the pain of failure; i.e., the agony of defeat.

Some of the strongest people I know experienced great failures in their lives, overcame insurmountable odds, and became incredibly powerful people.  When you ask them about their success, somewhere early in the conversation they talk about their setbacks and how they had to fight their way out of a dark place. – No excuses.


I find it somewhat amusing that the term “unintended consequences” has been surfacing in the political discourse of the presidential campaigns.  It has been introduced as a new discovery.  Wow, look what happened when ‘they’ did that.  That’s awful.

There are always unintended consequences to a decision; some good and some bad.  It is not just recognizing that there will be unintended consequences to your decision that is important; it’s also thinking about how these consequences might occur.  – And, planning what to do if they do emerge.

In two earlier posts The Second and Third Order Consequences (https://thinkinthingsover.wordpress.com/2013/02/03/the-second-and-third-order-consequences-8/) and The Second and Third Order Consequences – Part II (https://thinkinthingsover.wordpress.com/2015/09/27/the-second-and-third-order-consequences-part-ii/) I give examples of how unintended consequence occur.  They are not random, and they should, in most cases, not be a surprise.  You have to think beyond your decision about possible reactions outside of what you are trying to accomplish.  I am not talking about decision science or some predictive algorithm; it’s “common sense.”

By now you have probably figured out where I’m going with this.  Political discourse → unintended consequences of government decisions → lack of common sense.  Yep!



Math 2

Recently, I was having a conversation with a young manager about what the future would look like fifty years from now.  I was surprised by the “certainty” of his perspective.  He delved into everything from computer technology, medicine, manufacturing, education and communication.  Each of his projections was based off of what is happening today.  They were logical and made sense.  Why wouldn’t you expect these things to happen?  It made me think of ‘numbers.’

Over forty years ago, my first math course in college was called Modern Math.  The course was about binary mathematics and set theory.  Pretty cool stuff, huh.  Yeah, that is what I also thought.  But, who would ever use this crazy stuff?

For those of you who are a little rusty on your math, binary mathematics is the world of 0’s and 1’s.  Ah, you are getting the picture.  In today’s digital world, 0’s and 1’s rule.  Simply put, we would not have computers today without binary math.  In my wildest dreams back in that class, I could have never imagined the impact binary math would have on our society fifty years later.  Neither can this young manager project with confidence what the world will be like in fifty years.

Let me put this into perspective.  Back in my class we were doing binary math problems by hand.  Next, in the late 1970’s, I started using the ‘new’ personal computers, which seemed like magic at the time.  Now, Intel (Visit their website: “Guide to the Internet of Things”), estimates by 2020, over 200 billion devices will be connected through the Internet creating in excess of 500 trillion gigabytes of data each year.  Think about it; a gigabyte = 1 billion bytes, a byte = 8 bits, and a bit is either a 0 or 1. They are saying over 500 trillion ‘gigabytes’ of data. – That is a lot of 0’s and 1’s.

Trying to imagine a future world fifty years out is fun, but unrealistic.  What is important is to be keenly aware of the technological advances taking place today, and thinking about where they might be headed a few years out.  While you may be right sometimes, most often you will be surprised at what surfaces.  Most important, however, is that you will start to see patterns; which are the early images of things to come.

I will leave you with one of the projections I made about five years ago.  Nano technology → Medicine → med-bots, or robots → in my blood stream → my “in-house” doctor.  I think the holdup is that they can’t figure out how to bill me.

The Boardwalk

Laguna Beach Boardwalk

It was a beautiful sunny day in Southern California.  We were on a weekend pass from Camp Pendleton Marine Corps Base strolling along the boardwalk at Laguna Beach.  As on most summer days, the boardwalk cooks in the afternoon sun.  Without shoes, it becomes a sprint versus a stroll.

We discovered, without much effort, a little bar/restaurant with a spectacular view of the ocean.  We were done strolling; we settled in to enjoy our type of R&R.  All of a sudden the door burst open and in charged a young woman who blurted out something about the heat and the boardwalk.  She was our new bartender.

Over the next hour we occasionally chatted with her.  At one point she said this; “You look like a smart bunch of Marines, so let me ask you a question.  What five letter word causes more harm and destruction than any other word.  For about the next five minutes we tried to come up with the word she was looking for.  Finally, we gave up.  She then told us her story.

I have never forgotten this experience and often reflect back on that beautiful day and the conversation with the bartender.  While this might not be the most destructive word, it is right at the top of possibilities.  Over the past thirty years in business, I have seen businesses, families, and relationships be absolutely destroyed by this insidious and seductive siren.  In the end, everyone that is touched by it becomes a causality.  What was the word?  GREED!

This old encounter came back to me again earlier this year when I was working with a senior official of a large organization.  The relationship started out as expected but gradually started moving in a different direction.  The pattern became clear when the demons came out of the closet; it was a classic example of someone chasing that great monster called more; i.e. greed.  In the end, the objective of the initial endeavor failed; six people were negatively impacted with three leaving the organization.

The official suffered a greater setback than had they played it straight and still failed.  I am not sure that they will ever recognize this.  Unfortunately, the second order consequence of the monster chase was that the organization also damaged its reputation.

Contrary to Gordon Gekko’s (Wall Street) comment “greed is good,” I have never seen a winner.  Just ask the bartender.


Reinventive Thinking  (R) Bus Card

Over the past thirty plus years, I have had the opportunity to work with hundreds of business owners ranging from mom-and-pop stores to multi-million dollar international companies.  Regardless of the industry or size of the business, the one common issue CEO’s and owners are concerned with is effective decision-making.  In effective decisions are very costly to a business, so any improvement in this competency vastly improves the performance of their company.  The following is a very brief discussion about my ReINVENTive Thinking®, The Art of Decision-making process.

Peter Drucker once said, “…. the root cause of many of today’s business crises is not that things are being done poorly, or even that the wrong things are being done.  In most cases, the right things are being done – but fruitlessly.  The problem; the assumptions on which the business has been built and being run no longer fit reality.”  Peter Drucker said this in a 1994 Harvard Business Review article, The Theory of the Business, and it is still a big issue for businesses today.

What influences our decisions?

What influences our decisions

To the decision-maker all of these influences can be perceived as reality.

I have said for years that “Most people make decisions based on the first-order consequence of the decision.”  Do you know the second, third or possibly the fourth-order consequence of your decision?  Do you need to?  In life there is almost always a second and third-order consequence to a decision.  Coupling this with not recognizing the reality of your situation, can be very costly to the decision-maker.  So, how do you make more effective decisions?

An effective decision process consists of three unique components that are dynamic, and interdependent.

The decision process

The following schematic shows how the decision process works.

The decision process mechanics

The triangle represents three components of a decision-maker, Decision-making (leadership), Knowledge (competencies) and Action (capabilities).

In this case let’s assume that the schematic represents “how” a business makes decisions.  As outside issues impact a business, the business must be ‘programmed’ to effectively assess the issue.  Is it something that can negatively impact the business?  Is it an opportunity?  Is it meaningless?  To determine this, an organization:

  • Must be receptive to identifying issues that can impact the business. (Blue cloud)
  • Next they must test (through knowledge) the potential impact of the issue. (1)
  • Then they must identify, or design, a reaction/response to the issue. (2)
  • Next, they must test that reaction to the issue. (3)
  • Finally, they must monitor the reaction of the issue. (4)  Adjustments to the response may, or may not, have to be made.

It is important to note that the triangle does not represent an organizational structure.  It is a mindset, and competency, that is automatically applied throughout an organization.  The process can be lightning fast or applied over time.  It all depends on the complexity of the outside issue.  For example, a disruptive product entering the marketplace would require a more intense process than a routine sourcing issue for a product component.  Recognize that the decision-process is not just about operating issues, it’s about all important decisions.  For example, the blue cloud issue could represent an ownership situation that has the potential to change control of the business.

Going back to Peter Drucker’s comment on reality, let’s see how the decision process applies.

The decision process perspective

The blue circles in at the bottom represent the components of the business’s changing environment.  The circles move around, change size, disappear and new circles form.  It is the dynamic external environment within which the business operates.  You have to develop and apply knowledge to your decision process from this perspective.  It is your reality.

The following schematic shows how a business stays connected to the reality of their environment.

The decision process changing environment

The triangles at the right and center indicate that “the assumptions upon which the business has been built and being run no longer fit reality.”  Reality has moved to the left.  Doing the right things (you think) when your reality has shifted, is fruitless.

What do you do now?

There are several critical steps to get you started.

  1. Establish a sound understanding of decision-making responsibility within the organization.
    1. The focus is on the process of decision-making. It answers my favorite question, “tell me the process you used to make the decision.”
  2. Formalize your management process for distributing responsibility by providing direction.
    1. Provide a clear description of the direction, how it is connected to the strategic objectives of the organization, and the expected results.
      • Time frames are important.
    2. As a decision-maker, make clear distinctions between direction for knowledge development and direction for implementation, and manage each accordingly.
    3. Make the decision-making process dynamic, real-time, and on-going.
      1. Make it systemic to the organization. No matter what issue you are dealing with, you have an efficient way to manage it.

Why is effective decision-making so important?

  • About 70% of family businesses fail or are sold before the second generation can assume control.
  • Only 10% of the family businesses make it to the third generation.
  • Most family, and private, businesses are managed by the same ownership control, individual(s), for many years.
  • A major cause for failing is the inability to adapt to a changing environment.
    • A business must be as dynamic as their environment.
    • Assumptions about your business must fit reality. – Drucker
    • In times of drastic change, it is the learners who will inherit the future. – Eric Hoffer

So again, “Tell me the process you used to make the decision.”




Farrell USMC

It was a beautiful crisp morning at Arlington Nation Cemetery about five years ago when we were visiting my father’s grave. Our youngest son, who was in the military, and his wife were with us. As we were walking toward another area we crossed paths with a young mother carrying her young daughter.

We overheard her whisper to her daughter, who we found out later had never met her father, “Let’s go see Daddy.” We were speechless by such a simple comment. We talked with the young mother walking with her to her husband’s grave. We hugged her. We cried with her. There wasn’t a dry eye among us. Unforgettable.

On another visit a few years later, she wasn’t there, but there were paper cut-out hearts and a toddler’s toys beneath his niche. The young mother will not let her daughter forget the father she never knew. – He is unforgettable.

Last year, we made another trip to Arlington, and as is our practice, after visiting my father’s grave we stopped by to pay our respects to this brave man who gave all. No, we did not see the young wife there, but she had been there not long before and left lipstick marks where she had sent kisses to him. It was unforgettable!

Note the little stones on top of the marker; these are signs that the fallen have been remembered by someone. Ours was the red stone on the right.

Memorial Day is a day of remembrance of those who have given their lives while serving in the United States Armed Forces. There are thousands of stories going back to the Revolutionary War like the one above. While many stories have faded away over time, others are being written as you read this. Visit Section 60 at Arlington, where over 1,000 Iraq and Afghanistan war causalities are buried, to see where many stories begin.

This year, while you celebrate the holiday grilling out, going to the pool, or going to a local parade, think of these images at Arlington National Cemetery. Think of why we celebrate Memorial Day and why it should be unforgettable.

The beginning, Section 60 (you see this almost every day)
Section 60 #1

Section 60 #2

Section 60 #3

Taps for a newly fallen…

Taps New

Taps for a WWII buddy…

Taps Old

Remembering 58,479 Vietnam brothers and sisters …

Vietnam Wall

For me personally, it’s remembering:
Frank Adamson, USMC, KIA Thua Thien, Panel 2E, Row 16
Charlie Bradford, U.S. Army, KIA MR Unknown, Panel 11E, Row 43
Dave “DJ” Jones, USMC, KIA Quang Tri, Panel 53E, Row 35

A simple remembrance that says a lot …

Vietnam Wall Bud

The stories are endless …

Graves with Flags

Memorial Day – it should always be unforgettable.


Arlington Tomb of the Unknown 2015

On June 10, 2009 I buried my father in Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia.  He was 86 and an Army veteran of WWII, Battle of Okinawa; part of ‘the greatest generation.’  As we drove to the burial site we passed row after row after row of white tombstones perfectly aligned in all directions.  The tombstones reached out over rolling hills like fields of wild flowers.  As I absorbed this journey, the tombstones seemed to speak out, in ever so soft voices, offering untold stories of service to our Country.  Is anybody listening?  Will you remember me?  Do you care? 


Arlington 3

Many of the graves are of young men and women who never got the chance to grow up and age with their families.  Lives cut short, standing their watch, so the rest of us could enjoy the freedom provided by this great Country.  In the vastness of this hallowed ground, you can occasionally see a parent, spouse, son, or daughter crouching alone at their loved one’s grave.  A young lady sitting quietly in chair facing a tombstone; ‘will you remember me?’  A father kneeling on one knee, in Section 60, an area dedicated to current war dead, with his hand on a tombstone; ‘I miss you son.’  Old veterans visiting their buddies; ‘I will never forget you.

Arlington Graves 

Over 300,000 graves populate this solemn ground each representing someone who gave part of their lives serving their country for us; ‘do you care?’  Each day, while hundreds of tourists comb drives named Eisenhower, Patton, Bradley, MacArthur, and Halsey, the cemetery comes alive with the sound of a firing party providing a twenty-one-gun salute, shortly followed by the playing of “taps.”  Then silence.  –  The silence is deafening!

Picture 013


In Washington D.C. you can’t walk a block without bumping into someone in the military.  In most cities, you may go a month without seeing someone in uniform, making it much harder to come into contact with the reality of the price of freedom.  Every moment of every day, since the beginning of this great Country, someone’s child, parent, sibling, or spouse has stood watch in harms-way so you and your family can be safe and enjoy the freedom we so often take for granted.  –  Not knowing if they will make it home to be with their family.  Many of the entombed at Arlington never made it home!

Are you listening?  Will you remember them?  Do you care?



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