Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Character, Values and the Price of Success

Knowledge will give you power, but character, respect. - Bruce Lee

Weakness of attitude becomes weakness of character. - Albert Einstein

No amount of technical administrative skill in laboring for the masses can make up for lack of nobility of personal character in developing relationships. - Stephen Covey

In the middle of a large deal, my team and I had the opportunity today to meet with one of the top lawyers in the mergers and acquisition space.  With only a few minor minefields left to navigate, we were told that this person would be one of the best people to represent us in bringing our “little baby” in for a soft landing.

As is always the case, I always perform significant due diligence before such meetings and I was cautioned by more than one person to be careful of a peculiarity that this person had and so I went to the meeting as prepared as I possibly could be.

Sure enough, part way through the meeting and in the middle of his song and dance about why he was the best person to represent us, he suddenly started speaking with a fake Australian accent, telling us about how his clients had lived in fear and terror in such deals until he came along and “saved the day”.

The accent threw me off and I thought perhaps he was having a stroke but then the moment I had been warned about materialized.  He reached into his bag and said “And when the other side brings a knife to the negotiating table, I say ‘That’s not a knife, this is a knife’” and he laid a large, Crocodile Dundee-like knife on the boardroom table.

No one said anything for a moment before I leaned over the table and said, “This is a friendly acquisition.  Why do I need you to bring a knife, even if only symbolically, to the table?”

“You missed my point”, he said, somewhat aloofly, “I help people to get over their fear by showing that I have their back.”

“Really?”, I asked, “Why do you think I should accept the insult that you believe we would be shaking in fear without you or that intimidation is the best way to complete a friendly business deal?”

He said nothing and then I picked up his knife and asked him, “Would you put this knife up to your throat and shave yourself with it?”

“Of course not”, he replied, “That would be crazy.”

I nodded and laid his knife on the table.  I had been warned of his presentation style and props and so I reached down into my bag and retrieved something specifically for the moment.

I laid my straight razor on the table beside his knife, its viciously sharp, unforgiving blade gleaming in the boardroom light. 

“I shaved with this blade this morning”, I said, “Now tell me why I should be afraid of whatever it is I’m supposed to be afraid of and how you are going to guide me past this fear.  And when you are done explaining that, I want you to tell us how intimidation trumps respectful dialog.”

I paused before continuing.  “My point’, I said, “Is that suggestions of fear or intimidation becoming part of our team and how we interact with others are not welcome here.  If you have anything else to offer, let’s continue otherwise the meeting is over.”

The meeting continued for an hour or so before we decided to take a break.

Everyone left the room except for one of his team who stayed behind.

As I caught up on my emails, she started some idle chatter about the need for the team to be at the airport before evening but as luck would have it, she was staying overnight.

I made a perfunctory response but she pressed the point, indicating that perhaps we could get together for dinner and drinks to smooth over any misunderstandings between myself and her boss.

I focused on my emails and she went for broke.

The offer, which I won’t get into here was direct and specific.  The only thing I didn’t know was whether I would be allowed to stay in her hotel room for the rest of the night or if I would be dismissed after “the smoothing of misunderstandings” process had been completed.  I also wasn't sure what complexity the wedding band on her finger would offer, if any.  It didn't seem to get in her way.

Plan B was in progress, given that the meeting itself was not going well.

I took out my phone, Googled some of the sex shops in the area and showed her the search results.

“Here’s what you need”, I said, directly, “The stuff they have in these stores is more in alignment with what you need.  They don’t have any character or values either – they just exist.”

She was very angry and said that she would take this up with her boss.

“Go ahead”, I replied, pointing to the device in the center of the conference room table, “You forgot that we are recording this session today.  I will play your offer to the team and invite you to explain it.”

She left the room without a sound but returned a few minutes later with “Crocodile Dundee”.

In the confrontation that ensued, it turned out that he wasn’t unhappy with what I said to her.  However, he was VERY unhappy with the fact that I had turned her down.

“I get it”, I said, feeling my blood pressure rising, “You’re both deal closers.  She closes the deal with me and then you close the larger deal for me.”

“Whatever it takes”, he replied.

I leaned in towards him, close enough to smell his cheap cologne.

“I don’t do whatever it takes”, I said, staring him in the eye, “I do whatever my values, ethics and character call me to do to deliver the best result possible for everyone around me.”

At the moment, the team began returning to the conference room.

I turned to the team and announced that we had decided that it was in our best interests to not work together and that he and his entourage would be returning to the airport ahead of schedule.

There were a few cries of surprise and as he left, he held out his hand.

“Sorry”, I replied, “I only shake the hand of people I respect.”

He left and I explained to the team what had happened, replaying the recording of both her offer and the lawyer’s subsequent challenge to me.

I wonder how many more out there are like him …

… or who don’t have the courage or the willpower to turn people like him away.

Meanwhile …. related and not ….

I had two interesting conversations with colleagues in the last week regarding similar subjects.

In one, a Government Minister whom I have the HIGHEST regard for in regards to character, values, ethics, Life purpose, service to others and other noble attributes, lamented that their results were being compromised because of the fine line they walk, where the balancing act of accomplishing great things for their constituents while towing the party line was difficult to manage, with the latter being complicated by the skullduggery, backstabbing and yes, adultery going on all around the Minister.

I challenged the Minister to live by their character and values (which far outshine the Minister’s colleagues).  I will be curious to see what happens next - courage requires small steps at first.  However, I was encouraged today when I received an SMS from the Minister, quoting Ruth Gordon:

Courage is very important  Like a muscle, it is strengthened by use.

In the other conversation, a friend of mine, a subject matter expert on guiding organizations through change and transition, suddenly found herself being talked around in a meeting otherwise attended by only men.  Even though SHE was the subject matter expert in the room, they talked around her as if she didn’t exist.

She reached out to me for advice on how to deal with such ignorance in the 21st century and this is what I told her.

“Go to a local adult store and buy the largest phallus you can find.  Bring it to the meeting but leave it put away.  If the same level of disrespect occurs and you can’t get yourself inserted into the conversation, take it out, place it on the table and express gratitude that you brought yours to the meeting also and thus deserve to be heard.”

“Or”, I continued, “buy the smallest one you can find, take it out during the meeting and make an observation that having presented the largest one in the room, you now have a right to speak and to be heard.”

After she expressed gratitude that I used comedy to give her the best laugh she had had all day, I replied that I wasn’t joking.

We must always take a stand against the ignorant and those who choose to limit the result of others who champion character, values, ethics, respect and higher standards.

We must do it directly and respectfully.

But we must do it.

The price we pay for not doing it is too high and grows every time we choose not to take a stand.

The Bottom Line

In thinking through my event today, I wonder how many people would have taken the lawyer’s assistant up on her less than generous offer, especially if they thought they could do it without anyone knowing about it.

I could have accomplished that easily and no one would have been the wiser.

But I would have known - how could I demand that others live to a higher standard if I chose to live to the contrary?.

And an Authority that judges me would have known.

I wonder how many people may have turned down the original offer but then succumbed to the pressure that her boss attempted to exert under the confident “whatever it takes” banner.

Success is a tempting mistress and human frailty has undermined many a good human being.

The point is that when people collaborate with us or represent us, their character becomes a projection of ours.  So when they sit before others at the boardroom table, no matter how much I try to live by a higher standard, the only thing the other people in the boardroom would remember me for would be this person’s character and values …. or lack thereof.

We are the company that we keep or whom we allow to speak on our behalf.

This lawyer’s projection on my behalf wouldn’t be acceptable to me.

Would it be acceptable to you that someone else would do “whatever it takes” in order to get something done?

Are you willing to literally do “whatever it takes”?

Are you willing to reap the harvest or pay the price for how you live your character and values (or how someone else represents them)?

Are you sure?

In service and servanthood,



I looked up her husband and discovered that he has a successful practice in Toronto.  I wonder what would happen if I sent him a copy of the recording of his wife "in action".  Would he be offended, hurt or would he respond with a "So?  What's your point?"?

The young lady was also potentially setting herself up.  What if I had agreed to the rendezvous just to use her and then turn down their offer to represent us?  What if I was a nut who caught her by surprise and hurt her?

Then there's the possibility that if I had succumbed to such an offer, a recording of the event could have placed me (or them) in a professionally compromising position.

And finally, what if we had agreed to team up with this bunch of miscreants and the same tactics were used with the people we were negotiating with, potentially costing me a sale, a friendship or both?

The sad reality is that they likely had enough previous experience with some sense of success to believe that this was going to be a successful option today.   What does this say about the people they collaborated with in the past?

So many possibilities, all of them wrong, but the possibilities having been created with the first terrible choice.

Coal miners often had a canary in the mines with them and if the canary died, it would be a warning that the air was unsafe and so they had to evacuate immediately.  As a colleague said to me today, events such as this one are a "canary in the coal mine" in regards to how society is evolving (or devolving).

What do you think?

Friday, June 23, 2017

Things I Wonder About–”Make Believe” Surveillance Oversight, Porn Extortion and Other Stuff

Many ideas grow better when transplanted into another mind than the one where they sprang up. – Oliver Wendell Holmes

Individually, we are one drop. Together, we are an ocean. – Ryunosuke Satoro

By popular demand, I offer round 2 of “Things I Wonder About” (continued from Things I Wonder About).

In between selling a large tech company and starting up a Foundation that will “help NPO’s “do good better” through fact-based decision-making and evidence-based outcome assessments” (quoting friend and colleague, Doug P.), I often have other distractions that cross my mind that I feel merit some attention.

As a long-time Wall St. strategy guy, unsolved problems are always a conundrum for me, especially when the problems are significant in impact and are far / wide reaching in society.  Problems in society affect us all at some point, even if we don’t feel the affect directly (or believe we don’t).

However, I can’t tackle all these thoughts, nor should I (no individual is tagged as the “savior” of the world).  That being said, they are worthy of thought and action and so, with the encouragement of very nice colleagues who kindly never lose patience with me when I muse about other concerns in the world, I’m going to occasionally toss some ideas out with the idea that someone else may feel inspired to own some of them.

This is not a typical blog post for me such as can be found in the #1206 series, the Abigail / Gabriel series or any general post.  It is a grab bag of thoughts that pass through my brain in the course of leading a busy Life.

If you want to own one, I would be glad to help!

A subset of my random thoughts this week:

  1. Winning (Losing) on Principle: How do we help people such as the person who contacted me this week, telling me an unfortunate story of how she has had compromising video / audio taken of her but she can’t report it to police?  The information is such that her personal and professional reputation would be destroyed if it was made public but she has been informed that any action by the police against the miscreant will cause the information to be released to the public.  After contacting the police, I was told that she needed to come forward and file official charges (of course).  But the moment she does so, her Life is destroyed.  The police say “but we will still arrest him”.  The counter, that her Life is still destroyed while she “wins on principle”, doesn’t seem to matter much.
  2. Bureaucrats Who Don’t Think Things Through:  The Liberal Government in Canada is planning sweeping legislative changes to curtail the surveillance authority of various law enforcement groups as provided by the previous government.  Unfortunately, all of the laws can be circumvented, providing unlimited power to surveillance authorities.  For information on how that is accomplished, observe how the NSA has dealt with similar “restrictions”.
  3. Our Over-Spend on Anti-Terror: Over dinner with Gwynne Dyer last week, I explained to him how billions of dollars spent annually on surveillance and decryption technology can be undermined using $100 worth of technology (I wrote about it in National Security – Arming Both Sides).  He just shook his head.  Why are we still pretending (outside of the fact that it keeps people “fat, dumb and happy”)?  The money spent on this could be better spent on …. just about anything.
  4. Our Overstated Fear of ISIS: While random attacks using vehicles as weapons draw great press and create fear that can be used as leverage for various purposes, consider this the next time a “”frightening event” occurs.  You are:
    • 6 times more likely to die from a shark attack (one of the rarest forms of death on Earth)
    • 29 times more likely to die from a regional asteroid strike
    • 260 times more likely to be struck and killed by lightning
    • 4,700 times more likely to die in an airplane or spaceship accident
    • 129,000 times more likely to die in a gun assault
    • 407,000 times more likely to die in a motor vehicle incident
    • 6.9 million times more likely to die from cancer or heart disease (source).
  5. The Disabling Effect of a Good Story: Someone used the story of the fisherman and the starfish on the beach (where the fisherman insists he can’t save all of them but he saves one by throwing it back into the ocean) to explain how every little bit helps.  Many of these feel-good stories can also be used to justify minimal effort under the guise of making a difference when much more could be done.
  6. The Lack of Strategy In People’s Lives: Most people would never set out on a long drive wearing a blindfold, without a working gas gauge, without knowing how much gas they have in the tank and not knowing where they were going.  However, if you look at how much effort goes into planning their Life, they don’t follow the same safety guidelines for their own Life.  It matters – we all reap the reward and pay the penalty for each person’s brilliance, greed and ignorance.  If you don’t believe me, ask your insurance company how your premium is calculated or how many stupid people it takes to get all of us to take our shoes off in airport security (the answer to the latter question is one).
  7. Realistic Use of Strategy: While many people generally accept the importance of strategy, many of those same people prefer to build plans in ignorance of where they are at the moment because where they are reminds them of some failure or shortcoming.  This myopic, over-optimistic view causes them to not realize that knowing where you are going depends entirely on where you are starting from.  If I call you and ask for directions to Penn Station in NYC because I need to be there in an hour, it matters if I am calling you from Chinatown (NYC), Seattle or Moscow.
  8. Failure to Use Data: Many people make choices regarding important things that involve risk (e.g. in investment, buying insurance, extended warranties, implementing new business strategies and the like) based on how they feel at the moment.  Unfortunately, doing so using “your gut” instead of using data may cause you to be too risk averse if you just experienced a bad moment or not risk averse enough if Life is going swimmingly at the moment.  Data doesn’t care how you feel, is not so easily biased and can prevent you from over/under reacting to a specific risk mitigation requirement or being coerced / influenced by someone else who tells you to do something “just because”.
  9. Be Proactive: Stephen Covey was right when he said Habit 1 is to be proactive.  Look around you and ask yourself how often we apply this rule.  Do you?  Don’t forget – we all reap the reward and pay the penalty for compliance / non-compliance.
  10. Awareness of Psychology: Why do so many people have the ability to explain every nuance about how Facebook works but can’t explain the psychology of how people use emotion (particularly anger, fear, envy or greed) to manipulate them or how someone can debate them repeatedly into no-win choices that always benefit the other person?
  11. Multidirectional Respect: Why do people who insist that we all be respectful of one other tend to be the ones who least like counter ideas and opinions and shout the loudest to diminish the ideas of others?  When the Voice of Fire was purchased by the National Art Gallery in Ottawa some years ago (containing three equally sized vertical stripes, with the outer two painted blue and the center painted red), many people stood in front of it and marveled at its insight, brilliance and creativity. I observed to the person next to me, quietly, that it looked like the artist had run out of paint.  Apparently I wasn’t quiet enough because a security guard who had been marveling with the others came over and told me to keep my uninformed opinion to myself or I would be asked to leave the Gallery.
  12. Hyper-Analysis of Zer, Zim et al:  If you don’t know what these mean, you have learned how to tune out the news (which can be a good thing) or you are living under a rock.  We must be careful that we don’t get so distracted by the tail wagging the dog that other things in society (appropriate governance, health care, education, infrastructure, safety and security of society, etc.) are not forgotten.  We thrive or die together.  Focus and priorities will determine which way we are going.  When politicians tell you that they are balancing everything well, ask them about unsustainable budgets, infrastructure security, health care waiting lines, failing grades for education performance …. well …. you get it.  I find that when I use social media to ask (not accuse) a politician how things are going, they block me without trying to answer. Some in the meantime, will then tweet all day about someone’s cat that looks very cute.
  13. Airport Security: A cell phone battery and a glass of water can create a potentially dangerous situation on an aircraft (I won’t say how).  People examining this situation are considering bans of laptops, tablets and potentially cell phones as well as potentially requiring you to submit them for safe transport (and obviously, examination).  Don’t act surprised if this happens …. soon.
  14. And More Airport Security: I explained to someone today how a $60 drone purchased at Walmart can imperil everyone on a large aircraft at an airport.  Bureaucrats who legislate against drone use close to airports ignore the reality that those of us with common sense don’t need to be told this and people who don’t care won’t be told this, so the legislation impacts very few people.  We have avoided a disaster because people have chosen not to do something stupid but unfortunately, hope is not a strategy.  And if something happens, we will still have excellent laws to charge the miscreant but as in the first point in this list, we will win in principle only.

Do these things matter or am I just over-sensitive?

Should we care that these represent symptoms of a society that is not ticking over as well as claimed by politicians or do we ignore them, saving our complaints and intention for action only when we are directly affected as opposed to when our neighbor is being pummeled instead of us?

If they matter, what can we do about them?

The Bottom Line

I’m a big believer in sharing thoughts and encouraging people to dialog about things with an eye towards taking measurable action.  Good intentions and thoughts are worthless without measurable results.

However, we can’t own everything that comes before us, even when it impacts us deeply.  Some of us who work hard to make a difference in the world need others to share the responsibility, especially when many who put little into society want to reap the harvest that comes from a better world.

It’s time for more people to be concerned about society and where it’s going …

… while it’s still a going concern.

In service and servanthood, create a great day because merely having one is too passive an experience.


Monday, June 5, 2017

Why I’ll Never Accept Your Apology

Right actions in the future are the best apologies for bad actions in the past. - Tryon Edwards

The only correct actions are those that demand no explanation and no apology. - Red Auerbach

Mainstream and social media (is there even a difference anymore?), ever-hungry for blood, battery, humiliation and sensationalism, continue to carry news about Kathy Griffin’s act of stupidity in posing with a replica of the severed head of the POTUS.

Much has been made of her apology-turned-attack, where she has tried to turn an ignorant act into an act of self-defense, claiming she is the victim from the backlash when the original act itself has no excuse.  Unfortunately, failure to recognize cause-and-effect has doomed many a career.

Many people have asked my opinion on the matter because of what they believe to be my curious stand on apologies.

I never accept apologies.

Over-sensitive people are often quick to criticize me for this but here is how I look at apologies.

Rule 1 – The Good Person

If you are a good person and you have done wrong by me with an honest mistake, then you have demonstrated your imperfection as a human being.  As an imperfect human being myself, I also make mistakes so who am I to judge you for making one with me.  For this reason, apologies are not necessary in such situations.  Many relationships have been saved because of this approach.

Rule 2 – The Bad Person

If you are a bad person who got caught committing a heinous act and you are apologizing merely because you got caught, then likely the apology carries little if any weight (and likely doesn’t prevent similar incidents from happening again).  If the apology carries little if any weight, then it is also unnecessary since it’s either a time-waster, an insult or a set-up to commit similar acts in the future.  Much abuse has been avoided because of this approach.

Rule 3 – The Rare “Come-To-Jesus” Person

Very rarely, the bad person committing a heinous act has an epiphany, realizes where they have gone wrong and makes an authentic commitment to doing better.  While people claim we should always accept any apology from anyone for any level of miscreant behavior on the off-chance that they will turn the corner, those same people haven’t studied history or human behavior to see the likelihood of such things occurring. While there are some success stories, a lot of people get used and abused repeatedly for this belief.

Rule 4 – Past Behavior Demonstrates Apology Authenticity

If you really want to know how authentic someone’s apology is, examine how they have been living their Life up to the moment the act requiring apology occurred.  Past performance often predicts future behavior and provides deep insight into the reason and motivation for an apology.  It will help you identify a good person, a person having an epiphany or someone who interprets you as an idiot to be played.

Too Harsh?

Many people who do not know me think that this is too cut-and-dried, too objective, too cold and the like.  Later, I have to listen to them complain how someone keeps hurting them over and over.

The reality is that I don’t judge people because I accept that good people make honest mistakes and that bad people who make poor choices will eventually have to account to “Someone” for their deeds.  I don’t have the time, the interest, the moral authority or the level of perfection required to judge them and so if I don’t judge them, there is nothing that requires an apology from them either.

The Bottom Line – Our Actions Reveal Our Authenticity

While intentions are wonderful and words are easily produced for any situation, the reality is that our actions reveal the dialogue taking place in our brain and often speak so loudly that others can’t hear what we are saying.

When I see someone like Griffin with her latest stunt, or her previous stunt where she pretended to give Anderson Cooper oral sex on live TV during the 2013 New Year’s Eve Countdown, or when someone makes a derogatory comment about women, people of faith, gender choice, people of other nationalities, etc. and then quickly apologizes, they are usually thinking about their career and the ramifications of being caught.  Rarely do they believe that the act itself was wrong.  For them, the only thing that was wrong was being exposed.

There is a deeper issue when people commit heinous acts that require an apology. The fact is that they wouldn’t have committed the act if it weren’t already a seed in their mind.

Do you know why I could never insult an LGBTQ person, a person from another nationality, a person of a different faith, an indigenous person, a woman, a minority or pose in a photo pretending to hold the severed head of the POTUS?

It’s because such things don’t exist in my mind and if they are not in my mind, you won’t see them in my words or my actions either.  If heinous thoughts are not in one’s mind, then one is less likely to experience the overused “lapse of judgment”, which in reality is less a lapse and more an x-ray into someone’s mind.

For those who keep surprising, disappointing and offending us and then promptly asking for (or demanding) forgiveness, they have revealed what is in their mind and having done so, it is up to us to decide how to interact with them and respond to them. In those situations, only we are to blame if we continue to be surprised, disappointed or angered by their actions.

As for the good people in our lives, they have made a mistake.

Perhaps it is one of many.

But are we so perfect that we haven’t any mistakes either?

Our actions, past and future, matter much more than trite, perfunctory apologies or fake ones meant to relieve us of the responsibility of acting like a proper human being.

Remember that the next time someone begs for forgiveness from you.

Or you beg for it from someone else.

In service and servanthood, create a great day for yourself and others because merely having one is too passive an experience.


Addendum - Who is the Injured Party?

Within minutes of this post coming out, someone wrote me and condemned me, saying that by refusing an apology, I was denying someone the right to feel better about a situation.  When I replied that I thought the purpose of the apology was more to heal the injured and not just to remove the guilt, they never replied.  I guess they wanted an apology from me and were disappointed to not receive one.

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