A Much Needed Break Till After Labor Day!

Character Triangle

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Dear Character Triangle Readers, 

Lorne and Garrett Rubis will be taking a little hiatus from blogs for a couple weeks, but will return after labor day! We appreciate your readership and look forward to providing more content after we enjoy a holiday during the last couple weeks of summer. 

Thanks for your understanding and we’re excited to reconnect with all of you then! 

– Lorne and Garrett Rubis 

Missing the Moment… Time that Has Gone 

Accountability Be Accountable Purpose Time Management

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Key Point: There is a view that there are few things that one cannot recover from: One is a moment that has passed, and of course another is time that has gone. These maxims are worth reflecting on. 

On Wednesday of this week, I was invited to speak to the college football team I played for 46 years ago. It was a players’ only event sponsored by the team captains. No coaches were allowed, and I was invited as a “distinguished” alumni. They had just finished a very long day of team building, and 80 vibrant young men were chowing down on hotdogs and burgers. What could I say to them that might have any value or interest?

I began my talk by challenging each of them on the notion that this was their moment and time; individually and collectively. There would be no other 2017 team. This moment and time was exclusively theirs to define the “brand” of the 2017 team – and it would last forever. This involves much more that the win/loss record. Yes, winning is important, but it is not everything. What would define the kind of team they would be? Just as importantly, what kind of team would they not be? The choice was totally theirs to make. Of course, coaching and the playbook/program are crucial. However, much of the team’s results and brand would be solely defined by the choice and action of the 80 men in front of me. 

On Thursday, I spent my time with 115 of our new hires at the company I work for, introducing them to our purpose and values. While the context is different, the overall challenge is very much the same. What will they do individually and collectively to advance our brand and be part of a winning team? The moment and time is also wholly theirs as they define their contribution and legacy. 

Too often we paddle through life without pausing to intentionally capture the moment and time. Life slips by us faster than we realize. Before we know it, if we are fortunate, we are in front of younger generations in our advancing years, reminding them of the choices and moment/time they have.

Character Moves:

  1. Be conscious of every key moment and time. Be intentional. Neither can be reclaimed. 

Moment and time in The Triangle,

– Lorne

One Millennial View: It’s almost like this should be a subject taught in high school. Millennials often make excuses for how fast our weeks blow by when we’re routinely doing this-and-that. We say, “30 is the new 20,” and “you’re only as old as how you feel.” That could have hints of truth, but, if we’re being honest, maximum time optimization is not always utilized. Maybe there should be an App that only lets you set your alarm for the next morning if you write down a daily experience that some bots deem worthy of reflecting on.

– Garrett

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis

Principle of Inversion and Anti-Goals

Abundance Be Abundant Productivity Time Management

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Key Point: Let’s learn from Warren Buffett’s business partner, Charlie Munger, and the co-founders of Tiny. First, reflect on these three Munger quotes: “1. A lot of success in life and business comes from knowing what you want to avoid: Early death, a bad marriage, etc…” “2. It is remarkable how much long-term advantage we have gotten by trying to be consistently not stupid, instead of trying to be very intelligent…” “3. Problems frequently get easier if you turn them around in reverse. In other words, if you want to help India, the question you should ask is not ‘how can I help India,’ it’s ‘what is doing the worst damage in India and how do I avoid it?

Munger is talking about inversion in the last quote; the idea that problems are best solved when they are reversed. It’s often easier to think about what you don’t want before what you do. My experience is that both people and organizations are out of balance regarding the amount of time spent determining what they want to achieve versus what they’d like to avoid or stop doing. And strategic legacy planning processes often just add stuff up without declaring anti-goals. The outcome becomes lists of stuff to do/measure and are made up of executives’ favorite ideas that reflect compromise more than clear intent. 

I loved the blog by Tiny co-founder, Andrew Wilkinson, where he put Munger’s wisdom into action. In his words:

“So, instead of thinking through what we wanted our perfect day to look like, we thought about the worst day imaginable and how to avoid it. We inverted and came up with what we call Anti-Goals.

Our worst possible day looked like this:

  1. Full of long meetings.
  2. A packed calendar.
  3. Dealing with people we don’t like or trust.
  4. Owing people things/not being in control/obligations.
  5. Having to be at the office.
  6. Travel.
  7. Tired.

Working backwards from there, we made this set of Anti-Goals:

  1. Never schedule an in-person meeting when it can otherwise be accomplished via email or phone (or not at all).
  2. No more than two hours of scheduled time per day.
  3. No business or obligations with people we don’t like—even just a slight bad vibe and it’s a hard no.
  4. Never give up voting control of our businesses, no favors from people who could need something from us (ensure the rule of reciprocity doesn’t kick in).
  5. Work from a cafe across from a beautiful park where we can come and go as we please with nobody to bother us.
  6. Video conference or pay for people to come visit us.
  7. Never schedule morning meetings, sleep in when needed.

Problem solved.

Of course, we still have the odd unavoidable crappy day, but these simple Anti-Goals have made our lives immeasurably better by setting an Anti-Goal instead of a goal. Try it sometime, it’s insanely simple and strangely powerful.”

Character Moves:

  1. Try inversion and anti-goals. As Wilkinson notes, it is a simple yet powerful process. Sometimes to be crystal clear about what you want, the best starting route is to get there through declaring what you don’t want first. I do argue however that establishing BOTH goals and anti-goals are important. The processes are related, but different. Connect them. 
  2. Don’t be become that person that whines about how stupid your schedule is, how crazy hard you’re working, and how everyone/thing else is making you miserable. Be self-accountable and do something about it. Try inversion and anti-goals. It will help you break the cycle and move forward with more control over your situation than you might realize. 

Anti-goals in The Triangle,

Lorne 

One Millennial View: I love Munger and Wilkinson’s quotes and the freedom they’ve allotted themselves with anti-goals. Some Millennials might read this and say, “But, I don’t have the professional control to accomplish my anti-goals.” That could be the case at the moment, but, at least by “setting” anti-goals, you can get a better sense of where you’d like to make your professional life more malleable as you further your career.

– Garrett

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis

What Competition Really Looks Like 

Be Respectful Culture Innovation Respect

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Key Point: People that lose their way “turtle,” and like to pretend and/or protect. They become fear-driven folks with a scarcity mentality. They pretend that things will eventually go back to the way things were in the “good old days,” and are dupes for every snake oil huckster that promises the “turn back the clock” lie. They also look for ways to try and protect their turf by most often crying out to the government to do something; create a regulatory fence to preserve their dwindling resources. In the meantime, what is happening around them is disruptive and rapidly advancing competition. At the macro-level, let’s take a look at what China’s market is like now, particularly in the entrepreneur sector. The following is borrowed from co-founder of Singularity University, Peter Diamandis’ blog

“9-9-6: Work Ethic

While I love the Silicon Valley work ethic, what I found in China was unparalleled.

The mantra is 9-9-6… Or 9-12-6…

Meaning, entrepreneurs are working 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. (or midnight), six days per week.

Seriously, no joke.

Another important difference I found was the more militaristic, “all-powerful CEO” in China’s startups. 

While in the U.S., a CEO may “guide” or “influence” his team, in China, what the CEO says is gospel. No discussion.

And when a CEO makes a decision, the company takes it and runs.

Chinese Innovation on the Rise:

While a decade ago, it might have been true that China was a copycat ecosystem, today that assumption is 100 percent wrong.

Chinese companies are innovating at a faster pace than I could have imagined, and it’s this innovation that has maintained a 9.71percent GDP annual growth rate.

One factor that is driving a vibrant entrepreneurial engine is the massive availability of capital. 

Because the Chinese government has imposed very strict restrictions on the outflow of capital, the wealthy in China are investing more and more cash into Chinese entrepreneurs, driving a frenzied ecosystem and driving up valuations.

‘The typical Series A there ranges from $15 million to $100 million. 

China has also committed to becoming a world leader in Artificial Intelligence. Just this past week, it laid out its development plan to achieve this by 2030, aiming to surpass its rivals technologically and build a domestic industry worth almost $150 billion.

Amazing Startups:

My host (and friend) for my recent visit to Beijing, Dr. Kai-Fu Lee, the head of SInnovation (a $1.2B venture fund). Kai-Fu, a former Apple and Microsoft exec, was also the founding president of Google China.

Kai-Fu has an amazing record in investing in, and creating, a new generation of Chinese Unicorns (and pre-corns). He was kind enough to introduce me to three of these amazing companies: UISEE, VIPKid, and Face++.

UISEE takes a different approach on the self-driving car. Instead of aiming for public roads, UISEE has built autonomous driving vehicles for campuses, communities, parking structures, and more. This isn’t just a concept — their vehicles are operating and generating revenue.

VIPKid is massive and experiencing exponential growth… This startup has achieved $500 million in annual revenues in just two years! What do they do? They pair up, talented, underpaid American schoolteachers with foreign (mostly Chinese) students who want to learn English. But they do it with an amazing, easy interface. Last month they received over 80,000 applications to become teachers.

Face++ has built a revolutionary machine learning facial recognition system. Their software can recognize your face from live video better than any other software in the world. They have ranked No. 1 in almost every metric and competition. Already working with companies and the government, their ultimate goal is not just facial recognition, but to model the entire human brain.

These are just a few of the companies I came across that represent the radical innovation coming out of China.

My message to American entrepreneurs is don’t underestimate China as competition, or as an important future marketplace.

While most American entrepreneurs focus on the United States and ignore China, the opposite is not true… Chinese entrepreneurs are focused on China in the near term and America in the mid term.”

Character Moves:

  1. Be aware of what’s happening at the edges of your personal and business boundaries. If you become too introspective or local, erosion may cause you to become weakened and defensive. Be a curious pioneer, relentlessly seeking abundant opportunity. As Diamandis points out regarding China; “an opportunity to ‘co-Innovate’ is important. Either develop a joint-product for China with a Chinese partner, or to partner with a local giant to bring your product/service to this massive and growing market.”
  2. “China is going from ‘deceptive’ to ‘disruptive.’” Who at a micro or macro level is doing this to you personally and in business? If you do not actively use your mental and literal passport, you’re going to be replaced. It’s just a matter of when. Why? You are blind; so “pretend and protect” rapidly becomes like buying a lottery ticket to get rich; a hopeless strategy of hope. 

China-like in the Triangle,

Lorne 

One Millennial View: Oh great, we thought so-and-so over in accounting had a target on us, and turns out it’s a whole country of more than one billion people. Really though, I guess as Millennials, it’s just a great reminder to stay sharp, refrain from being complacent, and try to remain on the frontline of trendsetting.

– Garrett

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis

Why Can’t Organizations Believe This?

Be Respectful Culture Organizational leadership Respect

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Key Point: The very first point in the eight “cultural ingredients” or “recipe” I follow to drive a great culture is: People First. Most organizations pretend to believe this, but do not really act that way. They genuinely don’t know what being “People First” really looks like. Too often, it’s about the quarterly share price first (and exec bonuses, of course). These days, customer obsession is competing a little more for first amongst equals. However, very few top leadership teams look at everything through the eyes of what’s best for People First. And I’m not talking about mush headed thinking where People First becomes interpreted as an absence of high performance and great results. It’s quite the opposite actually. One consistent example: Southwest Airlines. 

Note the following from Forbes: “Earlier this year, Southwest Airlines announced it would be sharing $586 million in profits with its 54,000 employees – which equates to about a 13.2% average bonus for each employee, or roughly the equivalent of six weeks’ pay. And that doesn’t even count the extra $351 million the company contributed to its employees’ 401(k) plans.

In an era marked by squabbles over the minimum wage and the gap in pay between executives and front-line employees, those numbers stand out. (The company paid out a record $620 million the year before). Is it any wonder that Southwest employees always seem so happy when you’re checking into your flight?

As Gary Kelly, Southwest’s CEO said: ‘Our people-first approach, which has guided our company since it was founded, means when our company does well, our people do really, really well. Our people work incredibly hard and deserve to share in Southwest’s success. Remarkably, it’s the 43rd year in a row that Southwest has shared profits with its people, who also reportedly own about 10% of the company’s shares as well. The airline has also never laid anyone off or cut pay.

The company has long been lauded for its strong workplace culture and engaged workforce – which might also have something to do with getting employees to think and act like owners by sharing the profits of their shared success. (It’s worth noting that Southwest also has a union workforce, which sometimes leads to conflict from time to time.)

Herb Kelleher, the airline’s founder, is quoted in the book, Nuts by Kevin and Jackie Freiberg, about the fact that in 1973 Southwest became the first major airline to introduce profit-sharing to its employees, as saying: Profit-sharing is an expense we want to be as big as possible so our people get a greater reward.’

(If you’re a fan of Podcasts, I’d also recommend listening to Kelleher’s interview with NPR where he talks about the early days of starting his groundbreaking airline).

It really shouldn’t come as a surprise, then, to hear stories about flight attendants picking up trash, gate agents tracking down borrowed staplers, or pilots cutting back on fuel usage precisely because they know that will impact their company’s profits.” 

In Canada, WestJet Airlines followed the Southwest cultural and business model to the letter and had similar results for most of its history. Some recent critics suggest that the current leadership has abandoned this People First ethos and the company has clearly become “shareholder first.” Those arguing that there has been a cultural deterioration point out that the pilots of WestJet recently unionized because they no longer trusted the executive team to look at the world through their eyes. Apparently, one example was the implementation of a pilot scheduling software system where pilot efficiency was optimized at the expense to pilots’ well being. I love flying WestJet, and time will tell. You can’t fake “People First” though.

Character Moves: 

  1. Do not pretend you can really create or live in a great culture without a People First strategy. Challenge yourself to learn what the attributes/behaviors of a People First organization looks like. How would you measure that? What companies fits these criteria? 
  2. To be People First, you have to personally lead yourself and others that way. What’s something you’ve done in the last week to prove it? 

It’s always People First in The Triangle,

Lorne 

One Millennial View: Asking why all organizations don’t commit to a People First culture is a great question. Happier employees should equal better work, right? I too love flying Southwest, and you can definitely tell that they’re sitting at the “cool kids table” at the airport, and well, some other airlines are likely envious of their People First skies.

– Garrett

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis