Tag Archives | legacy

Everything You Do Matters

I was first introduced to the Butterfly Effect by author and blogger Andy Andrews.


A doctrinal thesis published in 1963 by a meteorologist named Edward Lorenz, in short the Butterfly Effect states that a butterfly can flap its wings on one side of the world and set in motion molecules of air that in turn set in motion other molecules of air and eventually create a hurricane on the other side of the world. Ridiculed by the scientific community for more than thirty years, the Butterfly Effect nevertheless persisted in myths and urban legends until physics professors in the mid-1990’s proved it, not only with butterflies and air molecules but with every form of matter…including people. Eventually, the Butterfly Effect became a scientific law called the Law of Sensitive Dependence upon Initial Conditions. When applied to people, it essentially means that all of your actions can shape far-reaching outcomes spanning generations. It means that everything you do matters.

I was reminded of how this law applies to personal branding during a talk I gave as a guest at a local B.N.I. (Business Network International) meeting several years ago. The story begins in Traverse City, Michigan during the summer of 1982 between my junior and senior year of college. My girlfriend–who is now my wife–had just flown in for my sister’s wedding and my parents invited us to join them, my sister and two of my brothers for dinner downtown. Five months earlier, my dad had purchased a Buick dealership in town, taking a small, under-performing franchise and turning it into the top selling dealership in northern Michigan. It was the height of summer in this beautiful, scenic Lake Michigan resort town and our entire family was coming together for a much-anticipated wedding celebration.

After a wonderful dinner we hopped in our cars to head home. While backing out of the parking space, one of us–I cannot recall who–inadvertently sideswiped another car in the cramped parking lot, leaving a 6-inch crease in the rear fender of the parked car.  By this time it was nearly dark and there was on one else in the lot. We could easily have pretended nothing happened, hopped back into our cars, and driven away.

Instead, noticing what had happened, my dad jumped out of his new Buick, surveyed the damage to the other car, pulled a business card out of his wallet, wrote a short message on the back along with his home phone number, and left it on the windshield.

Having witnessed my father’s leadership and personal responsibility my entire life, I was not surprised by his response and never thought about the incident again–until the morning of my B.N.I. presentation nearly 30 years later. Following my brief speech (I can’t recall the topic), each B.N.I. member delivered their customary introduction along with a few comments on my talk. After the first few members spoke, a woman introduced herself and, after some kinds words about my message, proudly mentioned that she and her family had purchased every car they owned from us since the early 1980’s.  Then she explained why.

“I had recently moved to Traverse City back in the early 1980’s and had spent the evening shopping downtown with some friends when I returned to my car and immediately noticed a pretty big dent in the rear fender,” she said, adding that this was the first brand new car she had ever owned and really wanted to keep it looking great. “Frustrated and angry, I walked to the front of the car and noticed a business card stuck in my windshield with your father’s name, phone number, and explanation of what happened. I called him the next day and he was so gracious and apologetic. He not only arranged to fix the dent but he gave me a car to drive while it was in your body shop. To me, the integrity that your father displayed was huge, something I have never forgotten, and as a result, my entire family has done all of our business with your company ever since.”

I was shocked. That was the first time I was reminded of that incident since it happened–it seemed like a lifetime ago.

What does this have to do with the Butterfly Effect?  Everything. What was to my dad a simple act of doing the right thing–his response would have been the same whether anyone had seen it or not–was, to this woman, a rare display of integrity that resulted in lifelong loyalty. And for a big ticket purchase like an automobile, that’s a lot of revenue.

The lesson? The quality of your life–the strength of your personal brand while you’re alive and the legacy you leave after you’re gone–is driven not so much by the major events and big decisions you encounter at key times in your life, but by the seemingly small, everyday decisions you make, both good and bad.  If the flapping wings of a tiny butterfly can affect meteorological events thousands of miles away, imagine the impact of your everyday decisions.

My questions for you: How can you apply the Butterfly Effect to improving your personal brand? What seemingly small decisions have you or those close to you made that have had significant long term consequences? How can a deeper awareness and understanding of this principle impact your life?

This post has been adapted from my 2013 blog post.

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Make Your Future Bigger Than Your Past

In one of my earlier posts, I discussed the differences between what author and Stanford professor Carolyn Dweck describes as a fixed mindset verses a growth mindset.

In a fixed mindset, people believe that talent and intelligence are fixed traits. They spend their time documenting and defending their brains and talent instead of developing them, creating an urgency to prove themselves over and over. By contrast, in a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work. Seeing themselves as a work in progress, growth mindset people tend to embrace feedback and accept failure as a learning opportunity.

Regardless of our mindset, I believe most people want to grow because growth is at the core of everything in our lives that gives us a feeling of satisfaction, accomplishment, and purpose.

What does “personal growth” mean? How do you define it? If you asked even the most successful people, few could provide a clear, cogent response.

Here are some great descriptions, gathered from some of my favorite authors. Which one of these resonates the most with you?

“Growth is a result of bad habits dropped, wrong priorities changed, and new ways of thinking embraced.” (John Maxwell)

“People who grow consistently are those who embrace the tension between where they are and where they ought to be.” (John Gardiner)

“You will never change anything in your life unless you change something you do daily.” (John Maxwell)

“In order to do more, I’ve got to be more.” (Jim Rohn)

“When your memories exceed your dreams, you’ve stopped growing.” (Andy Stanley)

And finally, here’s my favorite description, from author, business strategist and entrepreneur coach Dan Sullivan:

“Growth is always striving to make your future bigger than your past.”

look to the future | rangga aditya armien via stocksnap.io

I love this simple but compelling description. Think about what it means to “make your future bigger than your past.” It’s simple, but not always easy, especially as you grow older. Yet consider the implications of continuously enlarging your future. When you commit yourself to a lifestyle of making your future bigger than your past:

You’re living intentionally. That is, you’re constantly in pursuit of something bigger, better, and more purposeful.
You’re adding value–to yourself, and, more importantly, to others.
Your focus is forward, not neutral or backward.
You are often at the edge of your comfort zone, which is where life really happens.
You engage your imagination. You think BIG.
You’re not afraid to fail.
You are continuously challenged.

If these ideas arouse your interest in pursuing personal growth, I urge you to read Dan Sullivan‘s classic, The Laws of Lifetime Growth: Always Make Your Future Bigger Than Your Past. Each of the ten laws described in this insightful book are like mirrors you can use to reflect your behavior so you can see if it’s supporting or undermining your growth.

While no one wants to reach the end of their lives and experience regret, the truth is, many will. That’s why developing the daily habit of pursuing intentional growth–making your future bigger than your past–is the key to a productive, legacy-producing life.

Question: What is one thing you could start doing today that could make your future bigger than your past?

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How to Leave a Lasting Legacy: Three Powerful Questions

In 1888, Alfred Nobel had the most shocking experience of his life.

He read his own obituary.

Apparently, Alfred’s brother, Ludwig, was the one who had died, but a French newspaper mistakenly thought it was Alfred and published his obituary instead. A prominent armaments manufacturer, Alfred had amassed a fortune after he invented dynamite. However, he was shocked to read that, in describing his life, the newspaper named Alfred the “merchant of death” in attributing the destruction and dismemberment of hundreds of thousands of men to his invention.

After reading his own obituary, Alfred was stunned into action at the thought of the horrific legacy he would one day leave behind. Resolving to, in essence, rewrite his life story, he decided to leave the majority of his considerable fortune to create what became known as the Nobel Prizes, awards for those who “confer the greatest benefit on mankind,” as stated in his will. Today, the Nobel Prizes are the highest honor that can be attained in literature, medicine, science, chemistry, and, the most famous of all Nobel Prizes, peace.

In retrospect, Nobel’s unpleasant experience reading his own obituary turned out to be the greatest blessing of his life, propelling him to action and creating a legacy that, 128 years later, continues to challenge and inspire generations of great minds.

Think about that: Consider how this unfortunate mistake by a newspaper turned into an amazing blessing.

Now think about yourself: If you could write your own highlight reel for your life, where would you begin? What would you emphasize? How would you envision the rest of your life in terms of meaningful accomplishment?

Months ago, I ran across an excellent podcast episode on legacy by author and marketing expert Lewis Howes called The School of Greatness. He proposed asking yourself three provocative questions in considering your own legacy:

1) What am I creating with my life? What am I currently creating? What do I want to create? Are they aligned? If not, why not?
2) Who am I impacting by my way of being and how am I impacting them? As Howes asserted in his podcast, if your life’s vision doesn’t go beyond you, you’re living a shallow life. Look at most of history’s greatest people and you’ll notice that their work is like fertile seeds planted into the lives of countless others, continuing to bear fruit generations after they left the earth.
3) How will the world be different because I was here? If you are perfectly happy with maintaining the status quo in your life, chances are you won’t leave much of a legacy. But what if you could identify a noble cause that energized you–something bigger than yourself that inspired you to rely on God, work closely with others and require more of yourself than you imagined?

I love questions like these because they push you to examine your deepest assumptions about your life. And as you prepare to celebrate the upcoming 4th of July holiday weekend, I encourage you to take some time to think these through. Chances are, none of us will ever get the chance to read our own obituary in the local paper, but we all have the chance to, like Alfred Nobel, ensure that we leave something of value behind when we’re gone.

by Trent Yarnell | unsplash

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Lessons on Leadership: What my father taught me about Customer Service

Recently, I was invited to speak to over 300 attendees at the Traverse City Economics Club’s spring luncheon on the history of our company, the Bill Marsh Auto Group. It is the story of my dad’s career that started back in 1958; a life journey of humble beginnings, defining moments, bold moves, and a lasting legacy.

A graduate of Yale University, my dad, who had recently married my mom, enrolled in Dickinson Law School in Carlisle, PA in the fall of ’58. The automobile business was the furthest thing from his mind. But things changed over Thanksgiving when he learned that the small Ford dealership my grandparents opened in nearby Newtown, PA earlier that year was failing in the wake of my grandfather’s declining health and a downturn in the economy. Faced with the prospect of his parents losing their business—and their life savings– my dad exchanged his law career for the crucible of turning around a nearly bankrupt small business with absolutely no training or experience.

After five years struggling to stay afloat, working seven days a week, the business slowly began to recover, and then grow. My speech also chronicled my father’s decision to move to northern Michigan, the gamble he took buying an under-performing Buick dealership in the midst of a crippling recession, and his entrepreneurial skill in growing the Bill Marsh Auto Group into the largest, most innovative automobile retailer north of Grand Rapids.

The conclusion of my presentation lays out four key customer service lessons that, throughout his career, were modeled to my brothers and me. These “non-negotiables” were like fertile seeds that he planted into our company that continue to bear fruit long after he left the business.

1) Never, ever, ever take a customer for granted. His early years as a Ford dealer, when one extra sale could literally spell the difference between survival and bankruptcy, instilled in him a deep appreciation—a scarcity mentality—for every single customer. “The day you think you’re so successful that you can afford to disregard a customer,” he used to tell us, “is the day you need to get out of the business… because you’re going downhill.”

2) Responsiveness. My father insisted that there’s nothing more important in your day than responding to a customer who wants to speak to you. He had an “urgency addiction” in getting back to people—and he expected the same of us.

3) Over-communicate. Keeping people informed—customers, employees, vendors, everyone—especially in times of crisis or uncertainty, was always important to him, helping to instill a sense of trust and loyalty throughout the company.

4) Practice genuine hospitality. The day I started working with him, I quickly learned that, when someone asks directions—to the rest rooms, parts department, anywhere—pointing was not an option. He insisted that we treat the customer as you would treat a guest in your home, contributing to a warm, hospitable atmosphere.

These four habits are part of the legacy of genuine—some would say, old fashioned—customer service my father left when he exited the business. Despite the many technology-driven changes in our industry, they’re just as important today as they were back in 1958.

Question: Where did you learn the core lessons that have shaped your success?

My father, Bill Marsh, Sr. describes how he managed to save my grandparents dealership after dropping out of law school in the late 1950’s.

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