Tag Archives | traverse city blogger

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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What Peyton Manning Taught Me about Leadership

Although I’ve never been a big Denver Broncos or Indianapolis Colts fan, I’ve always admired Peyton Manning. His tremendous ability, legendary work ethic, competitive fire, and impressive family legacy (I am old enough to remember watching Peyton’s father, Archie Manning, during his heroic career with the New Orleans Saints in the early 70’s) make him hard not to like.

Two and half years ago, an excellent article in Sports Illustrated magazine honored him as the 2013 Sportsman of the Year, which, after reading, sealed the deal for me as one of my all-time favorite sports figures.

According to the SI story, since 1997, Manning’s senior year at the University of Tennessee, countless numbers of families throughout the Volunteer state have named their sons after him.

And as the article unfolds, it’s easy to see why. Although he grew up in a family that was practically worshiped as royalty, a byproduct of Archie’s college career as one of the most prolific quarterbacks in SEC history, his parents modeled simplicity, personal responsibility, and the value of hard work. And despite Peyton’s amazing talent and prodigious college and professional career, the article highlights how Manning treated everyone, from the head coach to the equipment managers, with the same respect and genuine concern.

The Power of a Personal Note

via stocksnap.io

What I learned the most from this in-depth look at Manning’s life and career, however, was one simple habit he employed that has helped me grow as a leader. As the article explains:

“A son of the genteel South, Manning learned early on the power of the handwritten note… He still remembers the college coaches who wrote him during his recruitment as opposed to the ones who resorted to thoughtless form letters. He would lick his thumb and rub it against the signatures to determine whether they were real. And when Manning left for college, Archie would write him before every fall semester.”

Peyton’s penchant for handwritten notes stuck with him into adulthood, when he entered a promising professional career that would elevate him to national stardom. As anyone who practices penmanship can attest, writing notes takes time and patience. No one would blame him for giving up this bygone practice in exchange for texting or tweeting. But the personal discipline and attention to detail that defined him as a player bled through to how he related to people:

“Throughout his career, Manning has written to coaches and players who retire, as well as widows of coaches and players who pass away. He writes subjects of documentaries he has seen and victims of tragedies he’s heard about. He writes his children every six months, even though they are years away from deciphering his cursive. (His wife) Ashley buys his stationery, cream-colored cards with PEYTON W. MANNING in block letters at the top. It’s hard to find any coach, teammate or staffer who hasn’t received a note from Manning. ‘I got one when my dad passed,’ says (former teammate) Brandon Stokely, ‘and another when Peyton stayed at my house.’ ‘I got one when I retired,’ says former Colts video director Marty Heckshcher. ‘It almost brought me to tears.’ ‘I got one when the Colts let me go,’ says Jon Torine, the former strength coach. ‘It meant more than any paycheck.’

In addition to writing teammates and coaches, Manning asked staffers to go through the hundreds of pieces of mail he received each week as a player, selecting the heart-felt letters and personally responding to many of them:

“To Jack Benson, an eight-year-old in California with cancer: ‘I just wanted you to know that you are in my thoughts and prayers. You have a lot of people pulling for you. Keep fighting, stay positive, and say your prayers.’ To Chris Harris, widow of a youth pastor in Arkansas who was killed in a car accident, ‘I am sorry for your loss. Please know that I am praying for you. ‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.’ (Matthew 5:4) I learned that Pastor Harris was an avid Colts fan and had an autographed picture of me in his office. I read an article about Pastor Harris, and I can tell you he was very special. I am proud that he was a fan of mine. May God’s peace be with you.’

Think of the time it took him to write such thoughtful replies. How many high level celebrities can you name who would commit to such deep and personalized correspondence with their fans?

Inspired by the article, the next day I visited my local print shop and ordered my own monogrammed stationery. And since I’ve trained, spoken and posted on the power of consistent habits verses going for big performance leaps, I put my training to work, committing to writing one personal note every work day. (I mailed them on on my way home.) While I mostly send them to employees on their birthdays or work anniversaries, I also send them to friends, colleagues, community volunteers, and anyone I come across who I think would benefit from an encouraging note. I’ve been doing this for the past several years and although I can’t say that I never miss a day (I do, especially when I get busy or travel), I can report that committing to this simple discipline has made a difference in me as a leader. I have had employees stop by my office to share their surprise and gratitude for my note. Several have mentioned that they shared it with their entire family–and others tell me they have it posted on their refrigerator door for months… even years.

The experience tells me this: In an age of digital superficiality, people everywhere are starved for genuine connection. Taking the time to write a thoughtful note can go a long way in making an impact.

Just ask Peyton Manning.

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Four Keys to Making Better Decisions — Part 2

In my last post, I shared the fascinating insights of authors Chip and Dan Heath in their recent book, Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work. Beginning with the surprising revelation of our society’s dismal record of decision making, the authors unveil four primary obstacles that tend to keep us from making consistently wise choices. They are:

via kaboompics | pexels.com

1) Narrow Framing – We often consider only one or two alternatives among many.
2) Confirmation Bias – We allow our own “echo chambers” to blind us to only those options that serve our interests.
3) Short Term Emotion – Our feelings can easily impair our perspective, leading to regret later on.
4) Overconfidence – Like Harry Warner’s (of Warner Bros Studios) famous statement at the prospect of talking films, “Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?”, we sometimes fail to consider the possibility of being wrong.

For each of these decision-making fallacies, there’s a corresponding antidote.

Antidote #1: Widen Your Options

Rev. Msgr. J. Brian Bransfield, General Secretary of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, describes the tendency of parishioners who seek his advice to present extremely narrow decision dilemmas: Is this the person God wants me to marry? Should I take the job I’ve been offered in another part of the country? Should I become a priest? Often, they are surprised at Fr. Bransfield’s response as he challenges them to think more broadly:

“There’s a myth that there’s only one thing that God wants you to do… Actually, there are 18 things that God would be very happy if you chose. You’re not cornered into becoming a priest or not. You’re not cornered into marrying this woman or not. There are 6 billion people in the world. You’re telling me that God looked at you and said, ‘There is only one thing you can do in your life — I know it and you have to guess it or else?’ Could it be that you are putting your own constraints on God?”

Fr. Bransfield’s advice challenges the first villain of decision making, narrow framing, by broadening your perspective to consider more options.

I recall some close friends of mine struggling to decide whether to buy a boat or not. With school aged children, they were looking to spend fun, memory-making weekends as a family, but found themselves paralyzed by narrow framing, unable to move forward with the decision or not. This is a classic example of the constraining nature of “whether or not” decisions, as if boating is the only option for memory-making family fun. Instead of asking, “Should we buy a boat or not?” trying asking, “What else could we do with the same time and money?” A camper or motor home? Perhaps a time share at a resort? A back yard sports court or swimming pool?

Often, being trapped in a narrow frame can be hard to recognize, but one of the best warning signs is paying attention to “whether or not” decisions.

Can you recall any decisions in your past in which you got stuck in a narrow frame? How did it work out for you? What might have you done differently if you had widened your options?

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Four Keys to Making Better Decisions — Part 1

We are the products of our decisions. From big ones like marriage and career path to smaller everyday choices like what you eat and drink, our decisions inform the substance, impact, and quality of our lives.

As important as they are, what has been surprising to me is, as a society, how poor we are at making good decisions. As Chip and Dan Heath, in their fascinating book, Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work, remind us:

“If you study the kinds of decisions people make and the outcomes of those decisions, you’ll find that humanity does not have an impressive track record. Career choices, for instance, are often abandoned or regretted. An American Bar Association survey found that 44% of lawyers would recommend that a young person not pursue a career in law. A study of 20,000 executive searches found that 40% of senior level hires are pushed out, fail, or quit within 18 months. More than half of teachers quit their jobs within four years.

Business decisions are frequently flawed. One study of corporate mergers and acquisitions–some of the highest stakes decisions executives make–showed that 83% failed to create any value for shareholders. On a personal front, we’re not much better. People don’t save enough for retirement. Young people start relationships with people who are bad for them. Middle aged people let work interfere with their family lives. The elderly wonder why they didn’t take more time to smell the roses when they were younger.”

by Justin Luebke | stocksnap.io

Why, with so much technology, generational wisdom, and other resources at our disposal, do we struggle to make good decisions? Surprisingly, as the Heath brothers so clearly unpack in their book, making the right choices has little to do with analysis (we’re pretty good at the data) and lots to do with process (the way we approach decisions). Specifically, the authors reveal four consistent obstacles to sound decision making:

1) Narrow Framing. One of the major regrets in my life is the sloppy way I approached college selection during my senior year in high school. My parents were almost completely uninvolved (hard to imagine today, but pretty common back then) and I had no sense of urgency or appreciation of the weight of my decision. So other than applying to Princeton University as a long shot (I didn’t get in), my only other consideration was a small liberal arts college 150 miles from my home that had recruited me to play football. I had never heard of the college, and after one weekend visit during the winter, I committed without investigating any other colleges. And although I had a generally positive experience in both academics and sports, after more than 35 years, I still regret that I never considered the numerous other options available to me.

My experience is an example of narrow framing, which is the tendency to define our choices in binary terms: “Should I do this, or should I not?” Like my college selection, narrow framing virtually ignores all the other alternatives that may exist. The authors cite one study that showed that having just one more option lowered the failure rate of “yes or no” decisions by almost 50%.

2) Confirmation Bias. As the Heath brothers put it, “Our normal habit in life is to develop a quick belief about a situation and then seek out information that bolsters our belief.” You see it everywhere, in sports (what one side slams as a “horrible call” the other views as completely obvious), politics, business, even entertainment. Do you remember the TV show “American Idol” when, early in the season, contestants had to audition in front of the judges? Many of these unfortunate young people had been told their entire lives by their parents how talented they were only to be crushed when Simon Cowell told them the hard truth that they were tone deaf. As rational as we think we are, when we want something to be true, people will focus exclusively on the information that supports their intentions and ignore the rest, no matter how compelling. We all do this!

3) Short Term Emotion. Growing up in car sales, I was trained to harness the power of emotion in getting customers to make a buying decision before leaving the dealership. From the excitement of the test drive to the allure of the new car smell, good salespeople understand that people buy on emotion first, then justify with logic. The same is true in political campaigns, charity appeals–anything that involves persuasion and creating desire. But all too often, when the excitement wears off, disappointment and regret set in. (Which is why, 20 years ago, we instituted a 5-Day money back guarantee in our auto dealerships.)

4) Overconfidence. Sometimes, our predictions about how things will turn out leave no room for error. In the book, the authors tell the story of the Beatle’s first audition for Decca Records in 1962. After seeing the band perform more than fifteen songs, Decca’s lead talent scout wrote to Beatle’s manager Brian Epstein, “We don”t like your boys’ sound. Groups are out; four piece groups with guitars… are finished.” Talk about a bad decision! I wonder if that talent scout still had a job when the Beatles’ very first single went platinum less than two years later. As the authors put it, “The future has an uncanny ability to surprise. We can’t shine a spotlight on areas when we don’t know they exist.”

Each of these four pitfalls of decision making have little to do with accurate data or sound analysis. Instead, the key to making better decisions is having a system: a consistent process for approaching choices, big and small. In my next post, I will share the author’s four-step process that, while not guaranteeing you’ll be right every time, will drastically improve your chances.

How would you rate your success at making good decisions? What’s the best and worst decision you’ve made in your life? Which one of these four decision pitfalls resonates the most with you?

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