When I was young and learning fractions for the first time, my grandfather helped me grasp the concept by asking, "How many times can you cut a stick of butter in half?"
I didn't give it much thought. I shrugged my shoulders and replied, "I don't know. I guess once."
He said, "I want you to really think about this. You have a stick of butter. You can cut that stick in half, and it gives you two halves. You can take one of those halves and cut it in half. That gives you two smaller halves, or two quarters. You can take one of those quarters and cut it in half for two smaller halves, or two eighths. You can take one of those eighths and cut it in half. How many times can you cut a stick of butter in half?"
Well at such a young age, this was really blowing my mind. "I don't know. But it's a lot."
He said, "In theory, you can cut it in half forever. You can always get one more half. But in reality you can only cut it in half until your butter is the same width as your knife."
That was a breakthrough movement for me, and not just with fractions. That incident has become a powerful metaphor for me about continual improvement. No matter what I'm working on, I can never fully reach perfection. However, in theory, I can always get a half step closer; but in reality, I can only keep taking those half steps forward as long as my tools get sharper and finer. It still kind of blows my mind.
Spending so much time on Twitter has certainly changed the way I look at things. I'm starting to see more and more of the world through Twitter lenses. It got me wondering what some great quotes from history or from the movies would look like if they were actual tweets. So I started with a character who is the perfect role model for saying a lot with very few words, Farmer Hoggett from the movie "Babe." Here is my first movie tweet creation.
A lot of times the tough choices in life aren't between good and bad; they're between good and better. Planning involves setting priorities and choosing one path means letting go of all the others. Here's how E.B. White would have tweeted his thoughts on planning:
Here's Twitter cofounder, Jack Dorsey, talking about how the instant tweet concept evolved from messenger service tracking to a versatile tool to connect people in real time. He offers several innovative examples of how this application is being ultilized.
YouTube has several videos of him giving speeches, various tributes, and plenty of interviews with pundits talking about him. This one is a brief clip from the last speech he gave. His timing, cadence, and intonation are amazing. I also like the camera angle.
There are so many powerful quotes from this eloquent orator. Here's one my favorites.
Here's one of the classic examples of gamesmanship from the U.S. Open in 1971 when Lee Trevino pulled a rubber snake out of his bag and flung it at the feet of Jack Nicklaus.
Gamesmanship is well known within the sports arena, but I want to hear examples from you of gamesmanship being played in business situations. Please leave comments sharing examples you know about where gamesmanship was applied in the business world.
There is an ongoing argument between my two sons. Jack (14) swears by cheat codes, action replays, and power saves to advance his levels in various video games. Henry (11) thinks that's cheating and insists that the only way to gain levels is through honest play. I can see both their perspectives.
I love applications, lifehacks, and other short cuts. My statistics professor use to brag that smart students were lazy students. They always found the short cuts to solving problems. And I sure wouldn't mind having a power save for doing the dishes or a cheat code for mowing the lawn.
But on the other hand, some of life's greatest accomplishments come from the labor of achieving them. When I bought my BBQ smoker last year, a friend of mine who is a real BBQ enthusiast, offered to come over on the weekend and show me how to use it - a real life power save. But I said, "No thanks." It was a journey I felt I needed to complete on my own. No doubt filled with mistakes and failures along the way, but that's part of what I wanted to experience. And when the first pork butt finally came out just right, it was mine. I did it.
As I find my way on Twitter, I read all kinds of articles about power saves and ways to gain a large audience fast. I think this is another area where the journey is more important than the destination, so I'll keep reviewing profiles before I automatically accept and be picky about who I follow so that I can read most of their posts. Of course, that's only until I realize I can't read them all anyway and I start to check my twitter grade daily, then I'll download a power save and jump ahead.
My father has a bichon frise and beta fish both named Snowball. The list below is not filled with lessons I learned from his pets, but rather lessons learned from making it through all 830 dense pages of Alice Schroeder's book, The Snowball: Warren Buffett and the Business of Life. Some points were so well stated that I simply quoted them directly. I provided the page number after each lesson, so you can find them quickly and read more about the ones that appeal most to you.
Retail is all about merchandising. Buffett made this realization after buying the department store company Hochschild-Kohn and discovered he couldn't turn it around with finance principles alone. (p. 291)
Know the impact of time. "Time is the friend of the wonderful business, the enemy of the mediocre." (p. 334)
Focus on the big picture. As he coached Katharine Graham in preparing for a presentation, he told her to quit worrying about memorizing facts and concentrate on a theme. (p. 400)
Invest in self-running companies. Buffett owned a savings and loan that was literally run by a manager who had Alzheimer's. (p. 482) Later, he joked that Coke was such a great company that it could be run by a ham sandwich.
Be different. Stay away from commodities. Of his own son's farm he said, "No one goes to the supermarket to buy Howie's corn." (p. 484)
It's okay to be a picky eater. "I follow a very simple rule when it comes to food. If a three-year-old doesn't eat it, I don't eat it." (p. 603)
Act as if anything you do or say could appear on the front page of the local newspaper. How would you feel about your friends and family reading what you did? And just for an extra safety margin, assume the reporter to be informed and critical. (p. 604)
Become a "learning machine." Buffett's love of knowledge and information keeps him learning all the time. (p. 632 and 830)
Buffett's online bridge playing avatar is "tbone." (p. 635) I know, that's not so much a lesson as a trivial tidbit. But I always thought it was George Costanza who came up with the nick name "tbone," so it seemed important to call out that Buffett actually used it first.
Work for those you admire. Don't take jobs because they will look good on your resume. "Do what you love and work for whom you admire the most, and you've given yourself the best chance in life you can." (p. 708)
Uncertainty brings opportunity. "Cash combined with courage in a crisis is priceless." (p. 719)
"Invert, always invert. Turn a situation or problem upside down. Look at it backward." (p. 770)
Plan for the future. "Be long-term greedy, not short-term greedy." (p. 774)
Establish guardians of the culture. His wife and son sat on the board of Berkshire Hathaway to serve that role. They couldn't run the business, but they could reinforce his core values. (p. 792)
Look for new opportunities to present themselves. The best ideas will only take you so far. "Trees don't grow to the sky. But new saplings form." (p. 820)
But the most powerful lesson to learn from this in-depth look at Buffett's remarkable life, is that the principle of compounding not only works with money, but also with relationships and learning.
Whenever we asked my sophomore English teacher how long he expected our writing assignments to be, he would respond by saying, "Like a woman's dress: long enough to cover every thing, but short enough to be interesting." I think he would have liked how Twitter's limit of 140 characters forces you to say what you want in a very concise manner. One Forty or Less fully embraces this with the motto "the complexities of life in brevity."
I'm finding the practice is starting to rub off in other areas. My emails are shorter, my PowerPoint slides have less words, and the other day in a long meeting I started playing a Twitter game in my mind, keeping track of who could "tweet" their points in brief sound bites that influenced others.
One of my favorite classes in college, was Structural English Grammar taught by Herman Wilson. Every week we had to write a one-page observation paper about something we "observed" in language usage. One of Herman's favorite phrases was, "You could get an observation paper out that." I've adapted that idea to observe how leaders and sales professionals influence and persuade. The title of this blog is a reminder to me of Herman and his amazing talent to observe and comment.