Tag Archives | traverse city

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.

Comments { 4 }

Maximize Your Happiness This Summer

My first big opportunity in the auto business came in the summer of 1986 when my father, determined to avoid the nepotism so prevalent in family-owned businesses, purchased a tiny Ford dealership in Honor, Michigan and commissioned my brother and me to run it by ourselves.

We were thrilled at the prospect of being among the youngest dealership owner/operators in the country. And since it was so small–we opened with seven employees–we personally connected with virtually every customer who walked through our doors, getting to know many of them like family over the years.

I recall one local couple in their early 60’s who purchased a new Ford pickup to haul their newly acquired travel trailer. The husband, having worked in a blue collar job all his life, would tell us how much he was looking forward to retirement. “The last few years have been miserable,” he said, “but when I retire and never have to work another day in my life, then I’ll finally be happy.”

But within four years after his retirement party, the happiness that this hard working man so looked forward to never came: he died of a heart attack.

The Illusion of Happiness

Stories like this are all too common; they illuminate a critical perspective of people who live well. Happiness is never a destination. The problem is, we’ve been taught our entire lives that it is–that if you work hard then you will be successful and only then, once you achieve some milestone in your life like getting married, becoming partner in your firm, or, in my customer’s case, retiring from your job, will you be happy.

by Dennis Ottink via Unsplash.com

In his revealing book, The Happiness Advantage, Shawn Achor shares some fascinating findings on the relationship between happiness and accomplishment:

“… New research in psychology and neuroscience shows that it works the other way around: We become more successful when we are happier and more positive. For example, doctors put in a positive mood before making a diagnosis show almost three times more intelligence and creativity than doctors in a neutral state, and they make accurate diagnoses 19% faster. Optimistic salespeople outsell their pessimistic counterparts by 56%. Students primed to feel happy before taking math achievement tests far outperform their neutral peers. It turns out that our brains are literally hardwired to perform at their best not when they are negative or even neutral, but when they are positive.”

Years ago, a friend emailed me a document titled, “The Way to Live” by an anonymous author. I think I’ve shared this simple yet profound treatise on living proactively with hundreds of people:

“We convince ourselves that life will be better after we get married, have a baby, then another. Then we are frustrated that the kids aren’t old enough and we’ll be more content when they are. After that we’re frustrated that we have teenagers to deal with. We will certainly be happy when they are out of that stage. We tell ourselves that our life will be complete when our spouse gets his or her act together, when we get a nicer car, are able to go on a nice vacation, when we retire. The truth is, there’s no better time to be happy than right now. If not now, when?”

I think the reason this advice resonates so strongly with people is that it’s so intuitively true; at some point in our lives, we’ve all succumbed to this line of thinking.

Here’s the BIG IDEA: As we embrace the changes brought by the summer season, remember that the road to success doesn’t culminate in happiness… it begins with it.

What compromises are you making in the pursuit of maximizing your happiness? What would it mean to the quality of your life if your sense of well being wasn’t connected to any future outcome or circumstance, but to the joy of the journey?

This post has been adapted from my 2015 blog post.

Comments { 0 }

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?

Comments { 2 }

Guest Blog Post: Remembering the WHY with Stephen Twomey

I’ve written several posts about the importance of getting started — specifically, getting started with the development of habits in order to help us reach our lifelong goals — and the importance of keeping in mind your initial motivation: why you got started in the first place. This week, I’m featuring a guest blogger: Stephen Twomey, local Traverse City business owner, husband, father and fellow fitness enthusiast. Read on as Stephen explores the ways in which getting in touch and staying in touch with the WHY that fires us up can help us press through the WHAT and the HOW when times are tough.


Consistency is the key to achieving anything in life. We have heard our parents, our teachers and self-help gurus state, “It is not about how you start but how you finish that counts.” And to finish well requires consistency. And while I agree with that axiom, it is with one significant caveat: To finish well, you must actually start. Far too many people plan and plan and theorize without ever applying their learning to the actual task. Information without implementation accomplishes nothing.

In the entrepreneurial world we call them “Couch CEO’s.” They are equivalent to NFL couch quarterbacks or social media critics who scream at players and refs, or spew out venom and what they consider to be sage advise, but never actually do anything.

So at the risk of stating the obvious: In order to finish well, you must first start. But this post is not about starting. It is to encourage and inspire those who have started to endure, and to not give up when tests and tribulations come your way. Whatever your goals are, you need to remember them. Remember the reason why you started in the first place.

Ever since I was in 7th grade, I dreamed of owning my own company. It started when I was playing paintball with my friends. The problem was that paintballs are expensive, especially when you have a rapid-fire paintball gun! So I did some research and discovered that I could buy large quantities of high quality paintballs online, package them into bags of 100, and sell them to my friends locally that not only saved them money but allowed me to play for free. It was the old “buy low, sell high” plan, and it lit a fuse in me to one day be a business owner.

That early experience led me into several career paths that eventually evolved into my own business. There was a season of learning, of data gathering, of gaining expertise. But eventually you have to take a first step. You have to launch. And once that happens, so does adversity (broken promises, deals that don’t go through, etc). And this is where perseverance comes in. This is where remembering the dream—WHY you started in the first place.

A huge motivator for me is my family. I have an amazing wife and two precious sons who mean the world to me. I press through the challenges of owning a business in large part for my family—not only to provide well for them, but also to have the flexibility to be with them as husband, father, coach, mentor, tear-dryer, counselor, referee, and human play mat.

via Steve Twomey

What about you? When you are facing struggles and you are tempted to quit, what keeps you going? What gets you out of bed, or keeps you awake at night? Getting in touch and staying in touch with the WHY that fires you up will help you press through the WHAT and the HOW when times are tough.

What keeps me going is faith, family and friends. I want to honor God in every area of my life, be a great husband and father, and a faithful friend. But to do that requires me to do some things that don’t come natural to me… as in getting up five days a week at 5 a.m. to work out. My physical fitness is directly tied to my mental and emotional state, which impacts my work day, my family, etc. When I connect the discipline of regular rigorous exercise to wanting to live a God-honoring, well balanced life, that’s the motivation I need to press on rather than roll over and hit the snooze button.

So to all you starters, keep going! Don’t quit! Yes, there is adversity. Sometimes life can kick us in the stomach and leave us breathless. It’s one of the reasons that having great friends to support you when those times come is so important. But I am a firm believer that the only way to fail is to simply give up. As long as you do not admit defeat — you instead get up the next morning and put one foot in front of the other, and you stay with it — you will succeed.

In conclusion, a blog post from me would not be complete without a movie reference. In the movie The Dark Knight, Alfred asks Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale), “Why do we fall, sir? So we can learn to pick ourselves up.” Bruce Wayne responds, “You still haven’t given up on me.” To that Alfred states, “Never.”

Well my friends, as long as we do not give up on ourselves, we learn to pick ourselves up (and each other from time to time), and we keep moving forward, we will be a success. Here’s to the journey!


Stephen Twomey is a resident of Traverse City, Michigan. He is married to his beautiful wife, Jane, and they have two young sons. Stephen is the owner of SEOTraverseCity and MasterMindSEO. When he is not working, he enjoys spending time with his family, snowboarding, weight training and hiking.

Comments { 1 }