If You Want To Rule A Kingdom …

clay car 2

Art is a little thing right?

Not nearly important as the economy, business, politics, jobs, the law, or religion.
Really? Then what does this quote mean?

“If you want to rule a kingdom, you have to have a kingdom, and a kingdom is a culture, and a culture is art.”- Chogyam Trungpa

Pretty tough to have an economy or a business or jobs without a kingdom.

And if a kingdom is tied together by it’s culture and all culture is art …

When you ask the question “What is art?” the shocking answer is … EVERYTHING.

A park setting designed by engineers and landscape designers is art. Or a community center. Or a church. Or airport.

Your smartphone – lovingly designed to be functional and beautiful – is art. As are the apps and the operating system. All the programs you love like Twitter and Facebook and Pinterest are Art.

Your car has more human hours of design invested in it than the total value of the raw materials. You are buying style and status and value and function and beauty. You drive art.

Your house and everything in it has had the careful thought and consideration of millions of designers and graphic artists and fashion-experts over the years. You live in art.

Your clothes and shoes? Do I even need to go there?

Then why do so many people struggle with the question of what art is?

Southeby’s, only the fourth largest art auction company in the world, sold $5.4 Billion dollars worth of art in 2012.

The European Fine Art foundation claims that art sales globally total around $60 Billion per year. But that’s just fine art. Art you can hang on your walls or wear or display. The total value of culture (which is art) would include real estate, infrastructure, automobiles, public transportation, medical equipment, smart phones, computers, technology, music, books, movies, fashion …


So if you want to rule a kingdom … you need to know what art is.

Will We Ever Invent Anything Again?


I don’t know anyone who daydreams anymore.

We used to stare off into space while waiting at the bus stop. Some of us would look forward to relaxing in the tub for half an hour, our mind allowed to wander. Or sit in the park and enjoy nature for it’s own sake. Not anymore. Now we are constantly plugged into our smart phones and tablets. We are in a state of high distraction every waking minute.

As Pablo Picasso once said, “Without great solitude, no serious work is possible.” So, based on our complete obsession with being connected today, it looks to me like no more serious work will ever be done again.

Steve Jobs is often held up as the creative genius behind Apple but if you examine the history of the company you will realize that Steve Wozniak was the quiet genius behind the actual technology. Could he have made equivalent breakthroughs today?

Here’s a quote from Steve (Woz) Wozniak, a self-proclaimed introvert.

“Most inventors and engineers I’ve met are like me … they live in their heads. They’re almost like artists. In fact, the very best of them are artists. And artists work best alone …. I’m going to give you some advice that might be hard to take. That advice is: Work alone… Not on a committee. Not on a team.”

Woz toiled away in the early morning hours for months, completely alone, perfecting the first home computer. Could he have done this in a modern open office facing hundreds of daily interruptions and distractions?

But it gets worse. New studies show that open-plan offices make workers hostile, insecure and distracted. They’re also more likely to suffer from high blood pressure, stress, the flu and exhaustion. And people whose work is often interrupted make 50 percent more mistakes and take twice as long to finish what they are working on. They also don’t get much done.

HP in a study of it’s development teams found that a minor interruption of only a few seconds could cause very productive coders to lose up to two hours worth of productivity. They were taken “out of the zone”. If you’ve ever been there (the zone), you know what I mean. Researcher Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, author of Creativity, calls the process ‘flow’, a fully immersive state where we lose track of time while learning and performance peak. Flow cannot be achieved by a group. It’s a solitary experience that requires total focus.

Privacy also makes us more productive. In a study known as the Coding War Games, consultants Tom DeMarco and Timothy Lister compared the work of more than 600 programmers at 92 different companies. They found that people from the same companies performed at roughly the same level — but that there was an enormous performance gap between different game companies. The best out performed the worst by over 10:1.

Was the difference based on experience or time spent on the problem? No. It was how much privacy, personal workspace and freedom from interruption they enjoyed. Sixty-two percent of the best performers said their workspace was private compared with only 19 percent of the worst performers. The real surprise was that the “zero defect” guys actually spent less time on coding than others. They were highly productive and rarely made mistakes simply because they had more personal space.

Can we be truly creative in groups now that we rarely have private time anymore? We have a way to test that actually. Remember the brainstorming sessions of the 80’s and 90’s? Well it turns out they were a bust. True creativity comes when we reach an almost meditative state – but try meditating in a noisy boardroom. That means brainstorming fails are instructive for other forms of group work, too.

People in groups tend to sit back and let others do the work; mirror the opinions of other and, heavily succumb to peer pressure. Gregory Berns, a neuroscientist from Emory University discovered that when we oppose group opinions, we activate our amygdala, a small organ in the brain associated with the fear of rejection. Professor Berns calls this “the pain of independence.” We actually feel pain when we attempt to disagree with our peers.

The bottom line is distraction might be hurting your company’s success more than your competition. And if you are focused on your career and success in life, you need to find time to get away, unplug, and get back to thinking and solving problems. Leaders, inventors and successful entrepreneurs didn’t get where they are by answering more emails or text messages. That may only fool our brain into thinking we are getting things done.

Decide what you really need to accomplish every day and then turn off everything distracting you from your goal. Be merciless

Turn off those nagging email alerts and take back control of your day. Even turn off or ignore your phone at given times during the day. Train your team not to expect you to respond in seconds. (Hey, someone has to get something done.) Carve out a time every day when you can escape from interruptions and work on problem solving.

Don’t forget. Distractions can be fun too. Realize that and look at how much time you spend not being focused because you actually enjoy that state.

And find time to daydream.

Seven Ways to Survive Zombies at Work.

George Romero made the first modern zombie movie in 1969, ”The Night of the Living Dead”. The movie was a huge hit and made zombie’s a staple of movie and TV entertainment ever since.

Like other clever directors, Romero had a philosophical side. It turns out his zombies were a metaphor for rampant consumerism. So next time you watch a zombie thriller take note of that “nothing will stop me” glassy-eyed look you’d be familiar with if you’ve ever been shopping on Black Friday.

Incidentally, “Dawn of the Dead”, his follow up movie, actually takes place in a shopping mall. Irony fully intended.

Zombies are even more interesting today than they were in the 60’s because they reflect a growing realization by modern neuroscience: we used to think that most of what we did on a daily basis was driven by logic and intelligence, which as it turns out, is just wrong. Well over 90% of the decisions we make are based on emotion and instinct. Most of the decisions we make at home, while in our cars and at the office happen without our control. We just think we are in charge. It turns out we are more zombie-like than we ever dreamed.

What does zombie behaviour look like? Here’s a simple example: texting while driving. No one doubts that steering four thousand pounds of steel and glass down a highway at one hundred kilometers per hour is the wrong time to take your eyes and mind off the road. But it’s become an epidemic.  The Institute for Highway Safety claims that there are 11 teen deaths every single day in the US caused by texting while driving. The National Safety Council estimates 1,600,000 accidents per year in the U.S. alone. Do you think that’s logical behaviour? Risking death to send one more smiley face?

How about gambling away your life’s savings on VLTs? Trying your tenth diet regime and still being 40 pounds overweight? Taking steroids as an Olympic runner? Having unprotected sex with a stranger? Investing in BlackBerry?

All of these actions appear to be mindless at best. But everyday we make choices that are just as automatic and unthinking. And a lot of these happen while we’re at work.

Here are some examples.

Executive decisions that don’t seem to make sense. Everyone has lived through this one, decisions that were likely arrived at in a meeting where one leader or driver pushed an agenda and no one else wanted to risk censor by objecting. Research shows people find it very hard to challenge figures of authority. So no one gets to ask the really hard questions and bad decisions get made. Zombies just go along.

Using your gut to steer a large enterprise. Gut instinct is a powerful tool. But not the best guide in 21st Century business and finance. Smart buying and selling decisions can be based today on game theory and business intelligence. Not a burning sensation in your belly. (That was just the quick hot dog you grabbed at lunch.)

Despite tons of research on the benefits of quiet and privacy, companies continue to celebrate a culture of noise and extroversion.   Research also shows that the best brainstorming happens when people are alone and quietly considering options. People doing knowledge-based work thrive in privacy without noise and distraction. By a large margin. Yes, zombies are noisy.

The divide and conquer game. The most common game in office politics. Some do it to build their influence, others to distract and some just to entertain themselves. This is probably the most damaging game of all. And it is so deeply embedded in us, we rarely are even aware we are playing zombie games. Gallup reported that lost productivity due to employee disengagement costs more than $300 billion in the U.S. annually. How much of that is caused by office zombies? We don’t know exactly but it’s pretty clear that “cause chaos” is a daily activity in many large organizations.

Seven tips for dealing with zombies at work.

1. Knowing you’re a zombie is step one. Your thinking is limited by dozens of cognitive biases that affect every decision you make (check them out here). Knowing you are far from a perfect thinker should take the pressure off and help you to focus on being more fair and reasonable with everyone. Give zombies a break. We know not what we do.

2. Zombies work better as a team. The best way researchers have found to tone down the potential chaos of our thinking is to get others involved in the process. Two or three people genuinely working together on a problem or a decision can bring some well-needed balance  – at least level out some of the bumps. Collaboration is socially rewarding AND smart. (Just don’t let a power hog take over the process.)

3. Never leap. Give yourself time to digest the problem or situation. The wisdom about waiting a day to send a potentially damaging email is a good one. Think of this as a cooling off period. Often when strong emotions around a decision fade, logic and reason can sneak in (sometimes at 2 AM in the morning). Instinct is fast thinking (some say hot) while cognition is slower and cooler. So always try to be cool.

4. Turn the “Bad News” game to your advantage. Critical information can often be negative and our brains don’t like ideas that create fear or unhappiness (we are happiness junkies). So many companies and teams tend to avoid negative talk that can help us survive and thrive. Foster honesty and make a point of letting people express the negatives. Some companies like Google formally include “mistake-making” into every important meeting. Example: A competitor makes a big win. Instead of making excuses, take advantage of the information and learn from the experience. And use the power of the zombie here to get those competitive juices flowing. No emotion is older or more powerful than the will to win.

5. Be aware that people rate loss three times greater than an equivalent win. We’ve known this for decades using simple tests even grade school kids can carry out. But it never fails to amaze researchers. This strong bias against losses is likely based on millions of years of scarce resources. Not a smart bias to have though when dealing in modern finance. If you believe you need to be cautious, focus on what you could lose, because it will trigger well embedded fears. But if you want to be balanced, keep in mind how much stronger the loss impulse is on your mental balance sheet.

6. Zombies suffer from the status-quo bias. We hate change. We eat the same thing for breakfast everyday and drive the same route to work. Not the best point-of-view to have when solving critical business issues. When you need your team to be creative,  get people away from the office, change the dress code and eat at a unique venue. Surprise people. (Yeah, even though we are status-quo junkies, there’s something in all of us that still loves a good surprise.)

7. Don’t ask for opinions in an open forum. There are several deeply ingrained biases we have when asked to express our opinions or ideas in front of peers and superiors. You won’t get great ideas by opening up the floor. Have people write their ideas or opinions down anonymously. Then share them. You’ll be surprised how much more effective the results are.

Neuroscience has become the hottest game in R & D over the past decade. New discoveries about how the human brain works (or doesn’t) have really changed the way we look at human (and business) psychology. OK, maybe your office mates aren’t exactly the undead, but being aware of our built-in flaws can make for better decision making.


Winning Team 2

I learned everything about leadership from my wife. Right from the start, with our two daughters, she displayed these amazing coaching and parenting skills that I soon realized could apply to everyone we were responsible for mentoring and coaching. The basic principles were sound whether they applied to growing children or adults trying to succeed. Clearly a lot of her technique was intuitive but she also read extensively on the subject and the results were obvious. When we attended our first parent-teacher event we were shocked to be told that the teachers who taught our two kids thought we should write a book on parenting. So some of this comes out of discussions around what that book might look like. (We never wrote it. Who has time when you have kids?)

That begs the question of why people have kids in the first place. I’m sure it’s different with everyone. Knowing why you are doing something obviously informs your approach. In our case we wanted to build a child that would contribute to our community; make the world a better place for everyone, and be a great companion. We wanted to build a family of shared values and beliefs. So we put a lot of time and effort into this project. This was not a sideline or a hobby with us.

If I apply that thinking to a team of employees, the motivation isn’t that much different. A team of colleagues, working hard together to accomplish goals and make everyone’s life a bit better is a big audacious goal worthy of the effort. And very rewarding.


If you have ever been part of a winning sports team or a volunteer group that pulled off some challenging goal, you know how powerful that experience can be. There is nothing like it. Working with a great team at work can give you that same buzz everyday. Here’s how to build that.

1. Be loyal to a fault.  People need to trust you. You are going to ask them to push the envelope every day and that takes faith. Great leaders take people on a journey; a ride they will never forget. Your team won’t go along if they can’t trust you with their career and their sense of self worth. To earn that trust you need to true to yourself and others every waking hour. This one you can’t fake. Tony Robbins calls it congruency. Consistent. Honest. Ethical. Fair.

2. Share a vision. Help your team see and understand the big picture. People want to be involved in something bigger that will create real purpose in their life. Here’s your chance. Have you given them that opportunity? Can you share your passion? People want their families and communities to be better. Have you shown people how their commitment to your team can improve their lives and the circumstances of everyone around you? It’s not just about being passionate – it’s being passionate about what’s important. If you don’t have a big picture, then build one; professional development for your people, meaningful community involvement. Or just building a world-class team. That’s a reward in itself.

3. Truly recognize people. Who they are, what they do, how they learn, what uniqueness they bring to the team. Everyone has a strength. I remember a “Survival Course Challenge” I took once with a  team of 10. We were so sure we were going to win. But we came in 8th because we failed to take the advice of one junior female on our team who was too shy to speak up and tell us we were making a wrong decision. Who’s fault was that? Mine. As the leader you need to give everyone a voice and never let great ideas or creative solutions get buried. Value everyone. Real praise that actually works (this has been tested in the lab) is based on how much effort and work someone has done and has nothing to do with natural skill or talent.

“Good job, Mary. You really are talented” has virtually no motivational power.

“Good job, Bill. You really worked hard on that project” rewards achievement and encourages increased effort on the next task.

4. Create a bubble around your team. The most important thing you can do is protect your people from the chaos and distractions of corporate and office politics. Create a safe and supportive space where they can do their work undisturbed and undistracted. Example: If you don’t believe a corporate directive is fair or will be seen as negative in some way, take it on yourself. It’s not your job to push EVERYTHING down to your team. And never delegate anything that will reduce morale unless you can fully explain the reasons.

Protect your team from without AND from within. For example, if someone on the team is poisoning the well, you need to recognize the problem and you need to respond quickly. Everyone will thank you.

5. Use every opportunity to teach. There’s a marketing term I love called recency. Recency is all about immediacy and timeliness. Coaching opportunities rely heavily on recency. The longer you wait to give advice or correct an error, the less impact the guidance will have. Do it now. And do it often.

6. Lead, Never Micromanage. In fact, don’t manage at all. Spend all of your time leading. (I have no personal experience with micromanagement ever working to increase engagement or productivity. It does act as a form of punishment though, if that’s your goal.) My wife would say you MUST let people make mistakes, in fact, go out of your way to push them into challenging situations where they might fail.  People don’t really learn hard lessons without falling down once in a while. And succeeding on tough tasks builds world-class confidence. A win-win.

Keep it simple; hire people who are self-directed. A great hiring question is “ Tell me what is the best way to manage you for success? Give me an example of a time you worked with a leader where they were able to get your best effort?” And then listen for clues about how much people need to be managed.

7. Show people you care about them.  You can’t fake this one either. If you don’t care about your people, this just won’t work. As an employee you are usually prepared to take criticism if you feel the coach has your best interests at heart.  A leader can coach and train without being judgmental or negative. And if you’re going to be angry, it better be over a serious issue, otherwise it will be misunderstood as just poor emotional intelligence. As a leader you can be surprisingly frank and tough on people … IF everyone understands that you are doing it for their own good and not for you own benefit.

A final thought on leadership.  Every transaction with your team should be about building something: knowledge, skills, motivation or belief in themselves. Most of us recognize that the idea of managing people is misdirected logic. You can manage a business or a P&L or a crisis. But you can’t really manage people. You can lead people effectively but somehow that single term doesn’t capture the totality of what a good parent or coach does. A great “Mom”, for example,  will provide guidance, support, teaching, motivation and friendship. That’s not just my own view. In March 2012, Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman in their study of 7300 leaders who got rated by their peers, supervisors and direct reports, women scored higher than men in 12 of 16 key skills — not just developing others, building relationships, collaborating, and practicing self development, but also taking initiative, driving for results, solving problems and analyzing issues.

Russ Smith
(With special thanks to Jenn Tatone)

How To Craft a Killer Resume!


Resume services that help you craft the perfect general purpose CV may not be doing you any favors.

A perfect resume really only exists in tandem with a detailed and specific job description. Creating a Swiss army knife type of resume is like trying to cook a great meal by using all the ingredients in your kitchen. You think you’ve created a masterpiece while everyone is reaching for the Pepto Bismol.

If you want to earn an interview, you need a customized message. Here are some resume tips that will help you achieve that.

Think about this from the hiring managers point of view, someone who has been tasked with finding, for example, an experienced sales person for their company.

You, as a candidate, see the ad online for the role and so you respond with your all-purpose resume. Yes, you have tons of sales experience. What more could they want?

Well, how about industry specific experience? Selling an oil and gas product for example does not really translate very well to a consumer product or a technology solution. The language is bound to be different, specific industry knowledge valuable and being connected to their customer base (knowing the players) could very well make or break your success.

How about the size of the customer? Selling office equipment to large corporations with diverse types of customers, procurement divisions and long sales cycles won’t qualify you to sell kitchen appliances to small business owners.

Size of the sale matters too. If you’ve sold $10 Million aircraft for several years, changing to selling a $500 solution is going to have a steep learning curve.

See what I mean? A sales job is not a sales job is not a sales job. It’s a very specific requirement and most job descriptions will be loaded with clues. A winning resume will speak to that.

A hiring manager will be looking for specific words and phrases in your resume that will move them closer or further away from selecting you. Every word you use that doesn’t match their map of the ideal candidate will move you away from the target. It’s like the Hot/Cold game you played as a kid.

“Getting warmer. Warmer. Getting hot. Burning hot.”

That’s what you want in your resume. Burning hot.

Here’s a simple technique to help you get there.

Read the job description carefully then list the top three requirements. Then rank them.  Now re- build your resume to match the key requirements (only if it’s true of course).

If you’re not mentioning an industry specific hot skill in the first two lines of your resume, you’re missing a great opportunity to sell yourself before the reviewer jumps to the next resume in their Inbox.

And surprise endings are for thrillers, not CV’s. You want your first few paragraphs to clinch the deal. Your experience with those top three skills should be clearly covered and described as quickly as possible. Everything else is just frosting on the cake.

I would take a one paragraph description of how a candidate perfectly matches the top three hot skills over a two page cover letter any day of the week. And most hiring managers will too.

How To Quarterback Your Next Job Interview!

Carolina Panthers v Philadelphia Eagles

Daniel Kahneman, a psychologist who won the Nobel prize for Economics in 2002, notes that humans are notoriously imperfect at judging their own performance. And he is more than qualified to give interview advice! One of the first research projects he worked on involved a military organization that had only a 5% success rate when it came to finding the right candidates. (He improved their results dramatically with a simple technique which I will tell you about later.)

My stat, based on twenty years of recruiting, is that 95% of candidates when asked about how they did in an interview, will answer that they did exceptionally well. While only about 20% actually get hired.

Even stranger, candidates who are generally unsure or more self-critical about their performance in interviews, almost always seem to do better. What’s that all about?

All I can tell you is that many interviews I have sat in on over the years have something in common. Candidates aren’t typically reading even the most basic of human cues. And the biggest reason for that? They’re not really listening.

(Maybe it works the same way on a blind date. People are so busy nervously talking about themselves that they miss what the other person is really asking. This can lead to very awkward moments – or very funny rom-com movie plots.)

So here comes the sports analogy the title hinted at.

A good interview isn’t like playing a tennis match where you stand back and wait for the questions to come at you like a served ball. And then smash it back as hard as you can.

Interviews that really work are more like football plays where you’re the quarterback. Where you are actively involved in running the ball, calling the play and keeping an eye on the defense. So, here’s some very important interview advice: Look around. See what the other team is up to. Then be strategic and when you finally understand the play, take a deep breath, and throw as accurately as you can.

We tell candidates to listen very carefully to questions and never answer until they fully understand. Interviews are not timed events. And interviewers don’t mind if you give pause and careful consideration to their questions. Or ask follow ups before diving in.

You can even try a technique used by the pros. While you are mustering your response, fill the space with a comment like “That’s a great question” or “I was hoping someone would ask me that.” Give the interviewer some credit too. Their job isn’t easy either.

And Mr. Kahneman from the intro? His client was the Israeli army and they were interviewing new recruits to determine who was officer material. Interviewers who were using their gut instincts to decide weren’t very successful. So Kahneman had them ask specific questions based on skills they were hiring for and scoring each candidate while they were being interviewed. He turned a popularity contest into a more scientific process. And it tripled the success of the project.

Companies are lot smarter today about hiring. Make sure you are telling them what they need to know to hire you. In the end, that great new job may be more about listening than just selling yourself.

How to Use Social Media to Find Great Talent!


I know a young artist who became super successful in the first three years of her career, selling hundreds of her original paintings,  while other more seasoned professionals sold two or three canvases a year.

Being nosy by nature, I asked her how she did it. To my surprise, she actually showed me.

And what I learned can be used by anyone in the business of finding talent.

This artist has a number of websites dedicated to different styles of art in different formats. Every time she creates a new work of art she tweets a message to her loyal followers. Essentially “Come and see my latest work” with a clever descriptor. And literally within seconds hundreds of interested viewers jump on to those specific art pages.

It’s amazing to watch; to see a page count go from 15 to 145 in a matter of a few seconds right in front of your eyes. An instant crowd.

Now, she has built up a significant group of Twitter followers over that past three years, all people very interested in her art, many who have bought before or know friends who have. She has put many hours of care and attention into developing a group of very interested and motivated individuals, hundreds, sometimes thousands, who react almost immediately to her announcements.

And then they buy, aware that the art they are viewing won’t last long.

As a recruiter, you can do the same thing.

Social Media Recruiting

1. Invest long term in connecting with large numbers of passive candidates (start now) who are interested in a great career opportunity.

2. Make sure they know that the only way to find out about your unique opportunities first is to follow your tweets or email broadcasts.

3. Broadcast new opportunities to them on a regular basis. Promote exclusivity wherever possible.

4. Make the tweets interesting. Provide novel insiders details (free gym membership or flex hours). Stand out wherever you can. Have fun with your message.

5. Experiment with different headlines and approaches and track the results. Learning this way can make you a social media guru.

6. And finally, give readers the opportunity to respond so you get feedback. Remember, you are not a news service. Have them respond for more details. Or poll them on how much they liked the job.

Now go out there and create some instant crowds!