Fall of the Giants – Again

During the early part of my career, three of the most powerful and most-admired companies in the world were IBM, Intel and WalMart.  Each dominated an industry.  They were unstoppable giants.

Intel was the dominate supplier of chips to PCs.  They even had PC suppliers advertising “Intel inside” as a selling story.  Intel decided to stick with its core chip technology – x86.   Good for PCs with large batteries, bad for smaller devices like phones and tablets.  Ten years ago, Apple came to Intel and gave them a chance to build  the chip for iPhone.  Intel turned Apple down.  Recently Intel announced they are laying off 11% of their workforce.

IBM  has now recorded 16 straight quarters of revenue decline.  When I first starting working, everyone knew the phrase “No one ever got fired for recommending IBM”.  The computer industry was actually known as IBM and the Bunch (Burroughs, Univac, NCR, CDC and Honeywell).  IBM was a behemoth.  Other companies just hoped to pick up the scraps IBM left behind.  A career at IBM was a sure sign of success.  Now, IBM is an afterthought in most technology discussions.

WalMart grew to dominate retailing in the last half century.  Numerous businesses – small and large- were trampled under WalMart’s huge feet.  Now Walmart is fighting off rivals as diverse as Dollar General and Amazon.  Its revenue growth the last six years is less than a third of its growth the six years prior.

Each giant is fighting to hold onto legacy.  Who would have thought it possible?

It is fascinating to reflect on the decline of giants – the almost impregnable, all-powerful.  Who could predict it?  How could it possibly happen?  It is a cautionary tale for all of us.  We see some organization, or some person, that seemingly has it all. We cannot foresee a decline.  So we assume a certain higher stature for the other, and put ourselves somewhere below them.  Maybe we work for a company that has always been successful.  Maybe we work for a boss who seems to be locked in to the company’s future.  We can’t be as good or powerful as them, so we just stay in our little space.  Maybe we envy a colleague or peer who seemingly has it all.

What is fascinating is this is a repeat of lessons learned the hard way by companies like GM, KMart, Sears and Circuit City to name a few.  But how hard is it to see the decline before it happens?  And to act on that knowledge early?  What does it take to see and act?

     Perhaps all we need is a little self-reflection.

There is a lesson for all of us here.  If you are certain you have the right skills for the future, you probably need to think about adding more skills.  If you know you are with a dynamic, growing company that is a market leader for a long time into the future, don’t think you will necessarily be part of that future.  We all need to keep reinventing ourselves.  It is sometimes exhausting to think that way.  But the alternative, falling with the giants, is way more exhausting.

The other lesson is this.  We build our own “giants” in our minds that are “never to be overcome”.  Just because we believe some obstacle is way too large for us to surmount, is it really?  That next step in finding out what we truly want in life, is it honestly so far above us that we cannot go looking for it?  A weakness, a “character defect”, being frozen by circumstances to inaction – how big, honestly, are they?  Maybe your giant is people you cannot please, failures you cannot forget or a future you cannot face.

Maybe today is the day to think about your inner Intel, your WalMart, your IBM.  Is there something you “can’t imagine overcoming or competing with”?  Look at them in the light of what they truly are.  David saw Goliath in a totally different way from everyone else.   It gave him the courage to approach the problem in a different way.



Jack was very successful in his job.  In business development, he was consistently one of the top two performers every quarter in bringing in business.  His bosses were complementary of his performance.  He really enjoyed the people he worked with.  The culture of the organization was inviting, friendly and conformed to his personal values.  The mission of the organization was one he supported and embraced.  Things were going great.

Until a new boss was hired.  Within a year, Jack was let go.  In a huge surprise to himself, he was out of a job. Despondent and dealing with a loss of confidence, he was in a place he never expected to be.


Jack was the victim of many things.  But the most important one was his own Complacency.

“Complacency – a feeling of quiet pleasure or security, often while unaware of some potential danger”

“Unaware of some potential danger.”  The words “uncritical satisfaction” are also used to define complacency. We are happy, pleased, satisfied, unaware. Danger might be around the corner, but we are not looking or thinking about that danger.  We are focused – perhaps rightly, but with naivete – on the good things going on.  Don’t we have a right to relax a little?  Life throws us enough curves that when we have something good going for us, we want to be able to enjoy the good times.

You might think “who wants to be a worrywart, a person who tends to worry habitually and often needlessly?”  No one wants to be the eternal pessimist.  None of us like to be around a person who is worrying all the time.  So complacency may seem to be logical.

But it is not. .

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I understand we do not want necessarily want to embrace change all of the time.  But I believe that change is going to be served to us in a continual pattern.  We cannot avoid it.

How many people, like Jack, do you know that have lost a job and are stunned?  Caught totally unaware?  Who “didn’t see it coming”?  Or who “thought they could make it through the change unscathed”?  Who settled in comfortably, doing their job amidst turmoil all around them?

Complacency is the enemy.

Choosing to confront complacency does not mean you have to be displeased with your situation.  Enjoy it if things are going well!  As an analogy, if you have a garden with flowers that are blooming, you should enjoy them.  But that does not mean you don’t stop weeding the garden.  That doesn’t mean you don’t look for bug damage.  You make sure you have gardening gloves and items to protect your flowers at home in case of a problem.  You plan ahead and are prepared.

It is the same thing with your job.  Enjoy your job while you have it.  Be glad if you are excited about going to work every day (that’s the way it should be).  But that doesn’t mean you should not spend a little time planning for a future before the skies inevitably turn dark. Change will happen – whether you want it to or not.  Your company will get sold.  Your boss moves on.  A new leader is announced.  Technology comes into play.  Your co-workers leave.  The market for your business changes drastically.  Your position gets transferred to a new city.  Your significant other gets a great opportunity somewhere else.

It is so much easier to think clearly when you are not under a lot of stress and pressure.  It is much more comfortable to plan for the future when you are doing it on your own deadline, not someone else’s.  So planning while things are going well is the most logical way to approach the subject.

To paraphrase a saying I heard recently: “To wait to create a career plan until after you lose your job is like waiting to create a financial plan after you declared bankruptcy.  It’s too late.”  Don’t be too late.  Start planning now.  Shed the complacency.


Habits and Predispositions

“One important realization that I made recently in life is that my predisposition does not determine my future. For the longest time, I would excuse negative habits as “just the way I am.” Often times, with an almost defeatist attitude, we make excuses for our negative behaviors or unhealthy habits by appealing to an unchangeable, internal force that makes decisions for us. And while our specific personalities certainly do make some habits more difficult to implement, it is important to realize the opportunity to create new ones is always available to us.”

– Author Joshua Becker

Habits.  They can be good and they can be bad.  They help us get by in the world.  Sometimes they hold us back.

How often do we fall back upon the excuse “that’s just the way I am”?  Maybe more than once a day?  It is so hard – and yet so easy – to recognize that we depend on this unchangeable, internal force – a habit.  Habits are a natural part of who we are, so we often miss it when we invoke them.  It is oftentimes comfortable for us to fall back onto habits because it allows us to have a “good” reason for not pursue something.  It is our comfort blanket, our corner of the world to be in.  We have gotten this far in the world by following our habits, why not continue?  Why spend time trying to change something so fundamental when there is so much stress, so much change already in our lives?

“I’m too old to change”.  “I am an introvert”.  “I don’t like to read”.  “I like being a whatever your job is” (even though you don’t really like it but it is the job you know).  “As soon as I get a little more money, I’ll do that”.  The list goes on and on

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Maybe that is a good place to start.  Can you write a list of the habits or habit statements you make?  You can be honest, because you only have to share them with yourself.  Take some time right now (and then come back and read some more)

I gave  it a shot.  Here are a few of my habits (I had a much longer list)

  • Plan everything
  • Frugal with my spending and save my money
  • Floss my teeth in the morning
  • Go to bed early
  • Do most everything with my right hand
  • Avoid risk

I could go on-and-on (and I did on my own piece of paper).  Some of my habits are minor or inconsequential.  That it is okay .  For instance, it doesn’t matter if I “floss my teeth in the morning” or night, just as a long as I do it consistently.  “Go to bed early at night”?  I get laughed at by my family, but that’s okay.  I think!  But a lot of the habits have major impacts, most of which I honestly have no idea the true consequences.

Putting the light of day on my habits tells me that a  lot of them are VERY consequential.  Interestingly, I could make a story for every one of these habits as “good” habits.  At the same time, they can be a “bad” habit.  So, because I love to analyze everything – ANOTHER HABIT! – I tried to look at them from the “good” side and the “bad” side.  What did I gain?  What did I miss?  It is way too easy to see the good side, after all, they are my habits.  Below is my attempt

Habit Good Bad
I Plan Everything Days are organized; rarely make rash decisions, especially about important things No spontaneity in my life
Very frugal with spending Saved for a comfortable retirement; accustomed to living within my means Don’t invest in creating and growing my business; Missed opportunities in life
I rarely watch TV Do more active events;  read a lot more Lack of knowledge of pop culture which is a way to connect with people

Now that I look at my habits in totality, along with a more critical eye, I see there is room for improvement.  Might I get more enjoyment out of life if I don’t plan every step of the way?  Hmm, I am frugal with my money.  What am I saving it all for?  To use when I get older? (note to self: I AM OLDER).  To give to my kids when I am gone? That doesn’t sound as much fun.

Now that I have a list of my habits and have evaluated them in the cold, clear light of reality, I am going to do something about it.  Ironically, doesn’t that fit under the habit of “I plan everything”?  Yes, it does.  But in this case, I am planning on doing something differently.

“The habits that took years to build, do not take a day to change” – Susan Powter

How about you?  Why not try to change one of your habits this month, this quarter, this year?  In Joshua’s case (the guy behind the quote at the start), he decided to become a “minimalist” – a person who purposely reduces his number of possessions to the smallest number that he could exist on.  He found the lack of clutter in his life led to a lack of clutter in his mind.  He liked his new life.  And it led him to new changes.  You don’t have to be that drastic.  But might you find some hidden joy like he did?

Fibbing to Ourselves

Do you always tell the truth to someone you like?  Or do you “fib” every once in a while?  How honest are you with yourself?      

Blogger Mark Manson put it this way:

“We’re often poor arbiters of our own emotions and desires. We lie to ourselves. And we do it for one obvious reason: to feel better.

We may not know exactly what we’re lying to ourselves about, but it’s safe to assume that some chunk of what we consider “truth” today is likely nothing more than a defense against some deeper meaning which is painful to accept.

By lying to ourselves we mortgage our long-term needs in order to fulfill our short-term desires. Therefore, one could say personal growth is merely the process of learning to lie to oneself less.”

He goes on to write about the Nine Subtle Ways we lie to ourselves.  I won’t copy that post.  You can look at it via the link at the end of this post.

It is really hard to consider – let alone admit – that we are not totally honest with ourselves.  After all, we know ourselves the best.  And having a secret to ourselves ought to be easy.  But we know we lie to ourselves.  How often do we take some time for real self reflection?  It is so easy to lie and say that we are “too busy”.  But are we really so busy we can’t provide some time for our self?

I really like the writer’s idea of personal growth coming from honesty – to oneself.  Growth always requires a struggle, a willingness to take on some pain.  Pushing to reach a new height or a new goal requires focus, determination and effort.  But in dealing with a lie to ourselves, the work is not physical – it is simply mental.  It is reflecting – in a focused, determined way – on the real truth.  It is confronting our own mental processes and seeing if they really stand up to the truth.

I had a simple example of lying to myself the other day.  I have a running plan.  But it was cold the other day so I decided to run – much slower and a much smaller distance – inside on the treadmill.  I convinced myself in the moment that “doing less was okay”.  I was okay with that – until my sister-in-law sent a text that said she ran 16 miles in the same conditions.  So my rationale for running inside (stay warm, its not nice outside) sounded very weak.  In fact, it was a lie to “protect” myself.  As I did some reflection, I admitted to myself, I made an excuse to not run as long and hard as I needed to according to my plan.  It’s a small little lie I told myself in the grand scheme of things.  But is there a greater message?

Maybe you think to yourself, “Lie is too strong a word”.  You prefer to say sometimes you “concede” to a feeling or justification.  “I am tired, so I will skip doing it this time, but I’ll do it next time.”  Or, “if I let him do it this time, this will make him happy and it will be the last time”.  Well, let me give you an alternate viewpoint on that kind of thinking.  Before World War II, that type of thinking (“If we let Hitler have this, then he will stop threatening us and will go away”) was called appeasement.  If you did the same thing with a child, it would be called “spoiling them”.  They are both forms of lies or self delusion.

We lie to ourselves for all kinds of reasons.  Sometimes we want to protect ourselves.  Sometimes we just want a rationale, any rationale for our actions.  A lie allows us to “explain” why we cannot do something (“I’d spend more time reading but I am too busy”).  It is reassuring to shift the blame to someone else (“my boss is holding me back”). It masks our fears (“I’d look for a new job but I don’t have time” might really mean “I am scared of moving on”).  Self delusion provides an easy way out of a challenge or a perceived risk. So it is a human weakness, we all have it.  But we compound that weakness when we don’t challenge the lie.  When we allow it to stay in the dark, it is content.  In fact, it gets further supported by our mind – “good decision”.

What if you shined a little light on the lie?  Like a vampire, might it shrink and die?  Perhaps that is where it belongs. Any lie bugging you these days?

Here is the original post – 9 Subtle Lies

The First Answer is not necessarily THE BEST answer

What do I mean?  This is one enduring lessen I learned at work mid-way through my career.  I was leading a team that answered inquiries to our CEO from customers, employees, shareholders and citizens.  The answers often needed to come from subject matter experts within the company, most of whom were in other states or other countries.  My team and I needed to ask the questions, take the answers we received and respond to the original person.  I learned quickly that the experts were sometimes hard to find and were often busy doing other things.  So we would get AN answer, but not necessarily the best answer.

Work – and life –  is a continual quest to complete action, to get something dPicture1one.  Often, we turn to others for an answer we seek.  We get those answers.  But my experience is that much of the time, the answer is not the best answer to the question.  It is simply one of many answers.  Understanding why that happens, how we might be complicit in the whole situation and how to do better at getting the right answer are great skills to have.  Here are my thoughts.

Why might you not get the best answer the first time?

Reason #1.  The other person is well-meaning but gives a sub-par answer

When you ask someone a question, they want to be helpful.  So, by giving you an answer, they feel a sense of helping you out.  It makes them feel good.  Sometimes, they think they know the answer, so they give it to you.  The other person doesn’t question their own “knowledge”.

There could be other reasons they do this , including:

  • They did not understand your question
  • They are hoping for a quid pro quo.  “I help you out this time, you’ll help me out the next time”
  • They need to support their ego.  They believe you think they are more of an expert.  Therefore,  giving an answer saves face.

#2 The other person deliberately gives you a wrong/directionally incorrect answer (consciously or not)

I’ll turn to Calvin and Hobbes to give me some help illustrating my point.

Why would someone do that?  They really don’t know the answer but don’t want to admit it.  

The other person wants to get rid of you.  Yep, that really does happen sometimes . . .   

Perhaps the other person has a personal agenda they want to make clear, like this:

Or it may be that the other person has a set of beliefs contrary to accuracy.  It could be that you are asking someone about a subject that they really are wrong about, but think they are right.  People have their own sets of experiences, their own viewpoints about controversial subjects (religion and politics come to mind) or personal beliefs that cloud their judgement of reality.  Most of us do not employ the scientific method before getting a set of beliefs.

#3 You are the problem.

Sometimes, we just want an answer and we’ll gladly take the first one.  You figure if someones tells you something, you are now exonerated from “decision making”.  That might be expedient, but not necessarily mean we get the right answer.  (Ever asked someone, “should I buy this”?)

Here are some other ways you can be the problem:

The question you asked is not really the one you meant to ask.  You just were not clear enough or had not thought through the question you really needed to ask.
You get an answer that backs your position or seems plausible and you take it.  In this case, you probably weren’t really asking the question with any sincerity.
You are in a hurry.  Ask a question, get an answer, move on to the next task.
You interpret their answer in a way that is not fully correct.

How can you avoid settling for the first answer that’s not the right answer?

First you need to understand your own motives.  Why are you really asking that question?  Why are you asking that particular person? What are you trying to get out of the answer?  How important is the answer to you?

Second, to use one of my favorite phrases, “consider the source”.  Who is telling you the answer?  What is their motivation?  Why might they be giving you that answer?

Half Truths

Third, Think.  Take a moment to really consider what you asked and what you have been told.  Is it plausible?  What is your gut telling you?  Can you ask someone else to get corroboration or a different viewpoint?

In the end, it is up to you.  Do you really want the BEST answer?