Date: 10/12/2015 1:00 PM UTC

“If you don’t like change, you’re going to like irrelevance even less.” – Gen. Eric Shinseki

If you can get past the disaster that his career became over the past few years, Shinseki’s quote is one of my all-time favorites. So many of us don’t like change – and that in itself isn’t some kind of moral wrong. The problem is we have to do it whether we like it or not.

But are our organizations even ready for change? In a lot of cases the answer is no. There are a number of things that have to be in place, but two in particular that I’ve seen lacking lately. In no particular order:

Understanding the need for change. There are a lot of management teams out there who feel like their organizations need to change. They feel like that need to change is pretty obvious. The problem is it isn’t necessarily obvious to everyone in the organization. Those individuals who are going to be involved in making change have to see that there is a gap between where you are NOW and WHERE you want to be – and they have to recognize that the gap needs to be crossed.

Understanding What’s In It For Them. As much as we’d like to think people do what’s best for the organization out of the goodness of their hearts, the reality is that to most people ‘change’ sounds a lot like ‘extra work’. If you want people to do extra work (and do it well) then you have to convince them that they will be better off because of it. Depending on how big the change is, maybe they need to be way better off.

Think about each of those things. When you’re trying to lead change in your organization, do you really make a case to your people about the need for change? Or do you just assume that because you’re the leaders people are excited to do whatever you say?

Do you really explain what’s in it for them? Let’s be honest – if we give a speech saying this change is important because it will help the company be more successful, what the employees hear is ‘we’re doing this so the higher-ups make more money.’ Somehow you have to convince them that there is something in it for them too – and that it’s worth the extra effort.

As you approach change in your organization – and you’re probably already dealing with it on a daily basis – don’t forget that it isn’t as simple as giving orders. Make sure your organization, and it’s people, are truly ready.

change paper

Posted by Matt Heemstra | Post a Comment

Date: 10/5/2015 1:00 PM UTC

“Creativity comes from looking for the unexpected and stepping outside your own experience.” – Masaru Ibuka

I was fortunate enough last week to attend a conference where one of the speakers was Erik Wahl. Three things struck me as I listened to Erik speak. First, he’s a phenomenal speaker/artist. Second, I was reminded how critical creativity is to everything we do, every success we have in business. Third, very few businesses (or individuals) take creativity seriously enough or attempt to cultivate it.

We cannot hope to achieve the things we want in our organizations without being creative. I used to be a fan of the saying, ‘If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten’. I know think that saying is hopelessly false. The truth is that if you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get less than you’ve always gotten, and it’s only going to get worse. The world has changed and is changing faster than it ever has. To think you can do anything now the same way you’ve always done it is ridiculous. Only new & creative ideas are going to keep your business moving forward.

Unfortunately, most of us (individually and as organizations) have bad attitudes about creativity. We think it’s an innate talent that only other people have, and that there’s no way we could ever be creative. That’s just not true. Creativity is something we’re all born with, but we learn (are taught) to ignore it as we get older.

Even if we think it’s something we could learn to do, we just don’t make time often enough to actually be creative. There are so many things going on in our organizations on a daily basis that we get sucked into routine, mindless tasks because they’re urgent. And, realistically, there are a lot of those kinds of things that have to be done. But if we’re going to lead our organizations, we’ve got to make time for creativity. How often do you sit quietly and just think? How often do you just sit and brainstorm ideas? How often do you do nothing other than try and think about new ways to solve problems or take advantage of opportunities? For most people the answer is ‘not very often’.

So do it. Put it on your calendar. Go to a specific place. Listen to music, go outside, whatever it takes. The point is, if you’re not practicing creativity then you’re not going to be much of a leader. And another thing – make sure your people are doing the same thing. Their ideas are going to be at least as important as yours in the future. So make sure they have time to create them. Communicate constantly about the importance of creativity, of stretching boundaries, of pushing back against accepted ways to do things. Make sure they know how much you value their creativity.

Don’t get stuck doing tomorrow what you did yesterday. Success in the future will require new ideas & ways of looking at the world. Make sure you make time to be creative. Like any other valuable skill, it takes practice. So practice it. And start now.


Posted by Matt Heemstra | 2 Comments

Date: 9/28/2015 1:00 PM UTC

“People won’t have time for you if you are always angry or complaining.” – Stephen Hawking

It feels like lately in this space there’s been a lot of talk about belief and positive self-talk and that kind of touchier, feelier stuff. I have people tell me that they’re not big fans of that kind of thing. Post something about strategy, or planning, or something like that, they say. We’ve done that before and I’m sure will do it again.

But the longer I’m around people and organizations the more I realize that if you don’t get that “touchy feely stuff” right, the rest of the stuff is excruciatingly difficult. For one thing, think about how you feel on a daily basis. The days you’re focused on positive things, or things you’re passionate about, or things you’re good at – you feel energized. Energized people have a chance to get things done. Think about the days that are the opposite. Low energy, low engagement, just counting down minutes until you get to go home. Which version of you is more effective?

You have to have a positive focus to maintain your energy. You also have to have a positive focus to maintain the energy of those around you. We cannot accomplish all the things we want to in life by ourselves. It’s not possible, nor is it the way the world is supposed to work. We need help from those around us, whether it’s at home, at work, in our communities, whatever. If by our constant negativity or complaining we’re draining the energy of those around us, we’re damaging ourselves and our own prospects for success as well. Eventually, those people won’t want anything to do with us.

Lastly (I’ve mentioned this before), our reality is largely determined by what we think our reality really is. If we think we have lots of opportunity and have a chance to be successful and achieve the things we want, we’ll spend our whole lives proving ourselves right. If we think everything is lined up against us and we don’t have anything going for us and we really don’t have a chance, we’ll spend our whole lives proving ourselves right.

So be conscious of what you’re thinking and what you’re saying. Is it positive? Are you focused on what’s right in your business or your life? Are you thinking about what great things could be? Or are you angry, complaining, always focused on everything that upsets you, that you think isn’t fair, the shortcomings of others, etc? You tell me which it is and I’ll tell you how successful (and happy) you really are.


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Date: 9/21/2015 1:00 PM UTC

“Everybody believes in innovation until they see it. Then they think, ‘Oh no; that’ll never work. It’s too different.’“ – Nolan Bushnell

If there is one word I hear more than any other as I visit with business leaders it’s “innovation”. Everybody wants to talk about how great innovation is, how innovation is the key to future success, how focused they are on innovation, etc. Then you sit with the leader and their management team and you hear a hundred variations of the above quote. We give lip service to wanting innovation, but in reality, innovation is change, and change scares most people to death.

It’s up to you as a leader to change that mindset. You have to create an environment where innovation is a constant activity and is encouraged and rewarded. Part of that is modeling how you respond to innovation and creative ideas.

Too often, the first thing we do when a member of the group brings up something new is to come up with all the reasons why it won’t work. After a few minutes of that you can feel the energy leaving the room. And you can forget about anybody else bringing up something new. Nobody wants to go through that punishment.

So forbid that whole scenario. Make a rule that when someone brings a new idea to the group, you have to spend the first 10 minutes talking only about what’s good about the idea and how well it will work. That might sound silly, but we’re trying to change how we think. To do that, you have to force yourself to think positively. If you think it’s a good idea, then it might be. If you think it’s a bad idea, then it definitely will be.

As long as we’re changing culture, how about rewarding innovation? We reward lots of other things – how about that? There are businesses in the world that give out awards for the best idea that didn’t work. The idea being that we want our people to be constantly trying to innovate in everything we do.

Obviously there are going to be ideas that just don’t work out, and certainly there are some that are probably just plain bad. But you can’t respond to those as though someone failed by bringing them up; you can’t have innovation without failure, and if people are afraid to fail they’ll be afraid to innovate. And without innovation, you organization is as good as done.

innovation road sign

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Date: 9/14/2015 1:00 PM UTC

“A man who views the world the same at fifty as he did at twenty has wasted thirty years of his life.” – Muhammad Ali

We spend a lot of time in this space talking about change. How much & how fast the world changes, how technology changes, how markets change, etc. But what about us, both as individuals and as organizations?

Sometimes we praise people for their consistency, for being dependable, for knowing where they stand, etc. And to a point that’s valid. But only to a point. Carried too far, consistency means stubbornness, dependability means a lack of creativity, knowing where they stand means being overly predictable, and so on.

I’d suggest this for any business: every so often (maybe a couple times a year), sit down with your key people and ask them this question: “If we were legally required to change the way we do X, how would we do it?” You decide what X is. Maybe it’s something with operations, maybe it’s sales & marketing, maybe it’s HR, whatever. Just pick something & take it apart.

I’m not necessarily suggesting you have to complete a major overhaul of your business every few months, but you have to at least consider the possibility. There are plenty of things every business does ‘because we’ve always done it that way’. So many of those things made sense given our worldview of the past. But is that worldview still accurate? If we really think about the world, is that still the best way?

Sometimes our pride gets in the way of that conversation. We developed some great process, or had some great philosophy, and when it’s time to put that aside for something new we take it personally. We think, “My idea was good in 1987 and it’s still good!” Sorry, but that’s probably not true.

More often, fear of change gets in the way. We’re afraid if we really look at how we do things, we’ll realize they need to change, then we’ll have no excuse not to change, and we don’t like change, so let’s just not talk about it.

You may find that how you do things is still valid, or maybe requires some tweaks, or maybe needs to be totally reengineered. Whatever the case, you won’t know if you’re not having the conversation. Challenge yourself. Challenge your team. Change how you view the world.

change vs same


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Date: 9/4/2015 4:00 PM UTC

"Happiness depends on ourselves." - Aristotle

There's a first time for everything in life, and here's one for this blog - a repeat.  Either by coincidence or fate, I've had several people ask about a video we linked from here last year.  Here's the link.  I thought given the interest and given the Labor Day holiday here in the US (the holiday where we celebrate work by not working), that the topic of how we think about happiness and success and our jobs might be relevant.  Enjoy the video & if you're on holiday Monday - make sure it's a happy one.

labor day holiday

Posted by Matt Heemstra | Post a Comment

Date: 8/31/2015 1:00 PM UTC

“Your present circumstances don’t determine where you can go; they merely determine where you start.” – Nido Qubein

Sometimes when you listen to people talk, you get the idea that they really don’t want the things they say they want in their lives. They mention all these things they’d like to do, or be, or have – then they follow it up with all the reasons why it’s not possible. Then they live an unhappy life and generally try to pass on that unhappiness to everyone around them.

And most of the reasons they say what they want isn’t possible revolve around things they can’t control. They live in the wrong place, or were born in the wrong era, or they weren’t born with enough money, or the government these days makes their lives so hard, and on and on. They focus on those kinds of things because since those things aren’t controllable, they have an excuse to just sit there. “Why should I work that hard when I have no chance?” is the basic idea.

Except that you have a chance. Where you live or the era into which you were born or any of those things are factors that impact your journey, but they don’t permanently block your journey. The only way those things stop you from achieving what you want is if you focus on them and ignore all the things you can control.

So stop focusing on those things and focus on what you’re going to do to get WHERE you want to be. What specifically could you do over the next 90 days that would get you closer to your goal? What specifically needs to happen over the next 6-12 months that would get you closer to your goal? Every truly successful person had to make themselves successful; they weren’t just born into the perfect situation. They actually had to do something.

Sit down today and think about what you really want out of your life, or your career, or whatever moves you. What do you need to do to make that happen? Stop wasting your life complaining about all the hardships you face (guess what: everybody else faces similar things). Start focusing on the actions you’re going to take to make your life what you want. And do it now.


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Date: 8/24/2015 1:00 PM UTC

“The only use of an obstacle is to be overcome. All that an obstacle does with brave men is, not to frighten them, but to challenge them.” – Woodrow Wilson

Last week’s post revolved around the idea that whatever we focus on and believe about the world and about ourselves eventually becomes reality. If you really believe you’re a winner – or a loser – you’ll spend your life proving yourself right.

At the very end of the post I mentioned the idea that barriers are going to rise up and get in the way. The same theory applies. You can view barriers as horrible obstructions that are going to prevent you from getting what you want. You can complain about them, or obsess about how unfair or challenging they are. Or, you can view them as opportunities to learn and grow – things that, once overcome, will have challenged you to become something even better than you were before.

I will admit that I’m not close to perfect when it comes to viewing barriers as a positive. Very few people I’ve ever met (or even heard of) are. But we can get better. So try this: sit down and think about the critical barriers you or your business are facing over the next 6 months. Now, come up with 3 positive things that will happen when you overcome that barrier. Maybe it’s “increased profits” or “improved skills” or “improved confidence”. Maybe it’s just “I don’t have to spend time stressing about this anymore”. Whatever it is, write them down and keep them handy. When you want to mope around and focus on how hard life is, look at those 3 things and remember WHERE you’re trying to go.

Life is complicated, and much of it is hard to predict. Some barriers you’ll see coming. Some barriers will seem to come out of nowhere. The only certain things are that barriers will be there, and they provide the only path to improvement and reaching your goals. You can view them as something that holds you back – or you can view them as the only way forward. It’s up to you. barriers

Posted by Matt Heemstra | Post a Comment

Date: 8/17/2015 1:00 PM UTC

“Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do.” – John Wooden

I’m not a psychiatrist, nor have I done any scientific studies, but it seems like most of us humans are very similar. We have all these things in our lives that are great, but what we want to spend time thinking and talking about are all the things that are wrong. We complain about not being happy, but part of the reason is our obsession with everything in our lives that has the potential to make us unhappy.

The reality is that whatever we think and talk about eventually becomes part of what we believe about ourselves and the world. And our actions will reflect whatever we believe. So, when we focus on the things that are wrong or the things we aren’t good at or don’t have, we are essentially creating a self-fulfilling nightmare. In overly simple terms, if you really believe you’re a loser you’ll spend the rest of your life proving yourself right.

So change how you talk to yourself. Yeah right, you’re thinking – which is exactly the problem. If you don’t think you can change, you’re probably right. Maybe you need some help. One of the best things you can do is find some accountability partners. Maybe it’s somebody at work, maybe it’s somebody outside of work, maybe there’s some of both. Get together and agree that you’re not going to allow each other to focus on the negatives. And call each other on it – don’t let it slide. What we’re really talking about is creating new habits, and that requires correction when we fail.

Start with work. What’s good about your job or your business? What’s the most exciting opportunity you’re currently faced with? What do you like about going to work every day? Think about that, talk about that, meditate on that.

Think about the rest of your life. What are you passionate about? What is fun? What would you like to do with your time? Focus on those things.

Of course bad things are going to happen and barriers are going to arise. Life still isn’t easy. But when those things appear, it’s not time to complain or obsess about how terrible life is. It’s time to think about the opportunity you have to learn and grow. It’s time to focus on the things you can do, that do make you happy, that you can change. Your life will be as happy and fulfilling as you choose for it to be. Make the right choice.


Posted by Matt Heemstra | 2 Comments

Date: 8/10/2015 1:00 PM UTC

“When it’s obvious that the goals cannot be reached, don’t adjust the goals, adjust the action steps.” – Confucius

It’s important in every business to have a few clear, concise goals or targets to shoot for. For that matter, it’s important in our personal lives as well. Something that pushes us, something that focuses our passion on a result, something that creates some energy.

Most businesses have some form of a goal, even if it’s as simple as a budget. Usually a group of key people – or a key person – sat down somewhere and hashed out WHERE they wanted their organization to be, hopefully in a way they can measure. Maybe they went one step further and worked through HOW they’re going to get there – strategies, actions, etc. They probably left their meeting very excited and energized.

And then reality happened. We all know nothing ever goes exactly the way you plan it. So whatever those measurable goals & targets were, somewhere along the line some of them appear to become unreachable. So what do you do?

In my experience, there are a few possible outcomes. One choice some organizations make is to adjust their goals downward and then later pretend like they got what they wanted all along. You set 20% growth as a target and then when you got 8% you say, hey, we’re really excited about 8%, way to go team. Nobody mentions that 20% was what you were really after.

Another option is to just quit. You decide halfway through the year that 20% growth isn’t going to happen, so you just stop talking about growth altogether. You hope if you just don’t talk about it maybe people will forget that was the goal in the first place.

The best option, though, is to reevaluate what you thought you needed to do to reach that goal, and then change what you’re doing. Why aren’t you progressing towards that target of 20% growth? What assumptions did you make that turned out to be incorrect? What didn’t you really understand about your marketplace, or your product, or your people? And what would have to happen to get things back on track?

Don’t settle for something you don’t want or just plain give up on what you do. Think about where you are in relation to where you want to be – and then do something differently. You have the ability to change your future if you are willing to change your choices & actions in the present. Start today.

head in the sand


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