A Week of Cannes - Inside The Box

Fear is creative kryptonite. Its proximity alone enough to sap the life force of original intent. 

Put fear in a lead box and throw away the key. Or at least hide it for a few hours every day. The alternative being the status quo. Which as history has proven, is a fool's paradise.

For the last week, Cannes has provided its own lead box. One formed by a combination of conversation, exploration, exhortation, celebration and a good deal of rose. It is a box strong enough to withstand even sleep deprivation - the late night bogeymen being banished to the shadows by the simple practice of staying awake until the dawn. 

Fear’s absence has, for a few days at least, removed the fog, cleared the air and revealed a horizon of possibilities. 

Which makes Cannes the most important catalyst within the communications industry today. 

The truth is those possibilities are always there. Waiting, silently, for those with vision and courage to walk through them armed with simple truths.

That the way forward is not barred by economics or by others.

It is not restricted by rules. It is not determined by rulers.

That the way forward lies within our grasp.

We need only a destination that is important to us and a means of transportation.

Which makes it a pragmatic journey, and a practical one. A journey guided by Purpose, powered by a process and sustained by known practices.

This is not esoteric optimism. Or fanciful philosophizing. 

It is the foundation on which to build a business that sits, as Jeffrey Katzenberg said in his session with Sir Martin Sorrell on Friday, “at the intersection at which Art meets Commerce.”

It is an intersection that offers endless choices. 

And only one wrong one. 

To stay on the current road. 

No matter what discipline you practice, or skill you sell, doing more of what brought you to this point in the journey is the equivalent of putting two feet on the brakes while you drive down the side of a cliff. You might slow how long it takes to reach the bottom, but the final resting place is guaranteed.

We coach a growing number of business owners and business leaders. Our focus is to help them be clear about the future they want and to begin the practical steps to reach it.

In essence, we become their lead box. A place to explore possibilities without fear. And to take the journey best suited to them.

It takes courage to stop what you’re doing. And fear influences us all in ways overt and unseen. 

But as Cannes reminded us this week, what is yet to come is open to our influence. 

And diminished only through the choices we make.

Re-Defining Failure Is Not The Same As Success

It’s been an interesting couple of months. And for those of you who have been kind enough to pass comment on my blogging absence I offer thanks. And only poor excuses.

I celebrated a milestone birthday a couple of weeks ago. An event that gave me a moment to pause. Or perhaps two.

As a species, we like living but hate aging. An example of cognitive dissonance that trumps all others. 

To exist, after all, requires both. A truth that becomes clearer as one does more of each of them.

In truth, this realization is less the result of age than experience. Experience being the sum total of all that we have lived, seen, heard and learned. 

Most of which is provided by others.

If our view of our own lives were based only on what we experienced first hand, our evaluation of how we are doing would be both kinder and narrower. The only measurement of progress being our own intrinsic drive to grow.

The purity of that scale, however, denies us a broader context of what might be possible. Whether provided by the inspiration of the achievements of others. Or the evidence of history that as a species we have almost limitless potential.

Because once we have satisfied life’s most basic requirements - food, shelter and procreation - the rest of life becomes a journey of exploration. 

Of ourselves, to begin with. 

Followed, hopefully sooner rather than later, of the world in which we live.

That exploration is filled with cognitive dissonance. A logical inconsistency in our beliefs. The first of which is provided by parents. Whom we see both as perfect in their command of the universe. And flawed in their unwillingness to do only what we want.

Parents, we come to discover, are people too. A realization that arrives, for many of us, with a price on its head. Taking with it security, confidence and trust. In my case, I worked for 40 years to reconcile the image of a father with my reality of mine. A challenge that for a while I decided came at too high a price. The resolution of which was a ten year detente. In which I saw him as dead. And he gave me no reason to think otherwise.

That experience I mentioned before brings with it two things. An awareness that we are not so perfect as we think. Nor others so flawed.

A realization that comes too late for many people.

The cause of which is an extraordinary investment in what Jon Elster describes as adaptive preference formation. The retrospective justification by which we define a failure as success.

In the living of a life, the lines between true failure and the willingness simply to throw away a dream for expediency sake become impossibly blurred. We are what the journey makes us. Each step a decision that can change the course of that life. Including the chance to go back and try again if we wish.

But in the running of a business, every decision makes the journey increasingly narrow. And the outcome of that journey increasingly consequential to the lives that are impacted by the direction a company takes. 

The weight of which makes the reactive, short-term management of many businesses even more confusing. The short-term cognitive dissonance between their statement of intent and their actions having profound long term consequences on their ability to evolve. 

The ultimate consequence of which is extinction or re-invention.

For the established business, re-invention is always expensive. And, if guided by the same adaptive preference formation that caused the re-invention to be necessary in the first place, usually fatal.

For unless the habit of justifying failure as a planned outcome is broken, the result will be only a different kind of failure. One that sees luck as a resource and hope as a strategy. A waste of two elements critical to any successful journey.

Success is defined by what we achieve in the context of what was possible. 

On a business level, that is easier to achieve when our standards become absolute, and our willingness to justify our own actions less so.

On a personal level, it is easier to achieve when we see ourselves and others as differently but equally flawed.

Today, I know one thing for certain.

My father reads my blog. 

As a measurement of success that might be my greatest achievement. 

And his.


I Have A Dream

I received an email early this morning.

You know the kind. A hyperbolic headline. Followed by a first line of text that says something like, “Can you believe this?”  And then endless scrolling down through forwarded addresses of others who have received, commented and passed the message on.

Eventually you get to the subject. Usually a block of text describing the imminent danger we are all facing, or a conspiracy of some sort. They exhort you to be afraid. And to act. And to pass this on to as many people as you know.

What the web giveth the web taketh away. And the advent of Snopes had made it a simple matter to validate or deny the content in a couple of moments.

Over the last four years, none that I received were ever found to be true. Not one.

Which hasn’t stopped people disseminating and propagating. A waste of time and emotional energy of staggering proportions.

And the creation of negative energy on a massive scale.

An action that has consequences. If you believe in Noetic Science.  Which can be over-simplified as the power of positive thinking. As support for which some people offer The Global Consciousness Project. 

The GCP uses random number generators around the world to track whether collective human emotion makes these random patterns more cohesive. Whether thoughts can affect the physical world.

On two occasions, the Project believes they did.

Lady Diana’s funeral.

And 9/11.

There are many scientists and theologians who dispute the science. I’m neither.

What I know is that those two days represent the days in my life in which I have felt most connected to humanity. A fact. Not a claim.

One which supports a belief that we are more connected than we want to know.

And that what we feel has the power to cause change in the physical world.

Which brings me back to this morning’s email.

It contained a picture. Of Barack Obama. In 2005. Taken with eight other people. Including the White House gatecrashers. Tareq and Michaele Salah.

Supporting the picture is a lengthy dissertation that connects Obama to Hamas and accuses the White House of co-ordinating cover-up efforts with a pro Palestinian organization.

As proof of these claims, the email provides a large, bold link to Snopes.  Which in turn confirms the authenticity of the photograph.

What the email doesn’t show is a picture of John McCain with the Salahs. Apparently from the same event.

Truthfully, it didn't take a lot of research to find this second picture.

It was in the same Snopes link the email author offered as proof. The same Snopes link.

Politics creates emotion. As do differences of all kinds. A fact Dr King so powerfully made in 1963.

The election of 2008 was a remarkable event. The power of positive thinking at work.

But as Doctor King's dream comes true, so must new dreams be forged.

My dream is for a world which looks at the whole story.

My dream is for a world in which we use only the power of positive thought.

My dream is for a world in which the future is better than the past.

For everyone.

A Christmas To Remember

I love Christmas. Passionately.

About the only thing I won’t do is pray for it. It’s against my religion. That is, I have none. Which makes the Christmas spirit, perversely, even more essential to me.

In every other way I am its disciple. A commitment that manifests itself practically and philosophically.

Three years ago I put together the definitive Christmas playlist. Uninterrupted, it lasts 24 hours. From Bing to Sting, from the Partridge Family to pear trees, it contains the entire spectrum of Christmas musical styles and sentiments. Plus the delicious irony that comes with including songs from the Carpenters’ Christmas collection. The power of the aspostrophe.

But Christmas is a visual luxury as well. And my Christmas tree lighting methodology is legendary in certain circles. Indeed, attempts to replicate it without sufficient guidance have resulted in disaster. The key is to start with the trunk. And never to use less than 1500 lights per tree - a recommendation your electrician may take exception to. Ours did.

1500 lights takes some time. About seven hours. Enough to watch the four movies that exemplify Christmas. Which, I suspect, explains why lighting our tree takes exactly seven hours every year. A classic example of work expanding to fit the time available. Or required.

It’s A Wonderful Life. The power of context.

Miracle on 34th Street - the Edmund Gwen version. Sentiment and business strategy in a single sitting.

White Christmas. When the day comes that I open the barn doors to find a foot of snow and a horse drawn sleigh passing by, every breath thereafter will be a bonus. First, we need a barn.

And finally, A Christmas Carol. The 1951 version with Alistair Sim.

I grew up with the story of Scrooge. A man lost. A man reclaimed. A man saved. A hope that we each carry with us. For ourselves. And for our species. In many ways it is nothing less than a biographical account of the history of mankind.

It may also be the most widely and broadly interpreted story in the history of literature. Among my favorite versions is BlackAdder's Christmas Carol in which Ebenezer BlackAdder, the kindest man in all of England, is visited by three spirits. I won’t spoil it for you. Suffice to say, this is not how Dickens saw it turning out.

Of all the film versions, Alistair Sim’s portrayal remains truest to the spirit and original words. Artful, beautiful and evocative. It offers the most sympathetic and skilled depiction of Dickens’ story.

Depiction, however, is an important word. And infers interpretation. Assistance that Dickens, of all writers, seldom requires.

Oh! But he was a tight-fisted hand at the grind-stone, Scrooge. A squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner. Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret, and self contained and solitary as an oyster. The cold within him froze his old features, nipped his pointed nose, shriveled his cheek, stiffened his gait; made his eyes red, his thin lips blue and spoke out shrewdly in his grating voice. He carried his own low temperature always about with him; he iced his office in the dog days; and didn’t thaw it one degree at Christmas.

The film incorporates many of Dickens’ words. And for many years satisfied me hugely. On many levels it still does.

But in 1994, its place in my heart was taken by another.

Truthfully, I don’t know how I learned that year that Patrick Stewart was performing a one-man version of A Christmas Carol for four weeks on Broadway. Christmas 1994 were the earliest days of the internet. And at 14.4 dial-up speeds, browsing and Google did not yet exist. Google, in fact, is still only 11 years old today. Which seems like saying air and water have only been around for a decade or so.

Chris and I had been together for not quite a year when we arrived in Manhattan that Christmas Eve. We were in the initial throes of starting our new company and life was filled with extraordinary promise. And uncertainty. Not until this year have I experienced the same range of possibilities. Hope and fear. Powerful forces when applied purposefully.

Hope and fear are foundations of A Christmas Carol. Base emotions that are behind almost all achievements of significance. And if there is a medium that evokes either more powerfully than Mr Stewart alone on a stage, I have yet to experience it. He played 41 characters, each as separate as if he were joined by a full cast.

Things that become important to our lives do so at different speeds. Some introductions provide instant reward and value. Other relationships develop less obviously, surprising us with their significance later. And often only once they have disappeared. A price for not living in the present. And a higher one than we realize at the time.

The opening line of A Christmas Carol - which until that night I had never heard spoken - belongs in my life to the former, instantly taking me to a world I have no wish to leave until the story is complete.

Marley was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that.

For the next two hours that night Mr Stewart took us on the ride of a lifetime. Scrooge’s lifetime. It touches every emotion. Pulls at every heart-string. Is comedic and tragic in the same breath. And by the time, in the voice of a six year old boy, he delivered Tiny Tim’s immortal last line, every one of us was standing, applauding and weeping. It was as though we had swallowed Christmas whole. And the light came pouring from us as we floated home, the soundtrack safely in our possession.

The following year, we began a tradition of driving ourselves, Harry and Maya to Christmas on the east coast.

150 miles from Washington DC we hit play on disc one and heard, as though for the first time, Mr Stewart begin again.

Marley was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that.

We have done this, without exception every year since. And for two and a half hours we are anchored, connected and reminded of all that is important in our small corner of the world. Perspective is easily lost, even by those fully conscious of its value. And touchstones imbued with objectivity become increasingly important as the world becomes more strident and complex.

We have hoped since 1994 to spend another evening in Mr Stewart’s company. But except for one near miss in 2002 - the last time he performed the production - we have come to see that particular Christmas Eve as our visit to Brigadoon. A magical world, accessible only once in every lifetime through an enchanted door.

Last week, however, it is possible I found a rusty key.

In Barneys.

It’s been a busy month, and the Christmas spirit has been elusive. Goodwill is a mindset, but exhibiting it or absorbing it in anything more than passing amounts requires time. And physical presence. Social media has yet to find a substitute for either.

With a week left before Christmas I decided some of both was in order. Besides which I needed a present for Chris. A stroll down Fifth Avenue on a freezing cold day later and I arrived at Barney’s.

Wandering the departments I soon found myself on the top floor. Christmas decorations and the restaurant. As I headed for the down escalator I hesitated for a moment so that a couple leaving after lunch could step on first. The man was bald.

He turned slightly as the escalator re-built itself, leaving me one step closer to him than I intended.

It was Patrick Stewart.

The ride to the floor below lasted less than fifteen seconds. It passed in an instant and lasted an eternity.

As we stepped off, I decided.

There is great risk in meeting those we admire. In those few moments they hold sway over foundations of our lives. Kindness, and our judgement is validated. Irritation, and another piece of our innocence is fractured. Like pavement ice on a thawing morning.

I interrupted him in mid-pause, as he and his companion were considering their immediate next step. He was slightly startled by my approach, his reaction that of a man un-used to intrusion, not tired by it. He is not tall but has great presence. One that allows him to fill any space he occupies.

I spoke quickly. Nervous excitement, and anxiety to get the words A Christmas Carol across my lips. An instinct that they provided a connection.

Instincts are high risk. But they need to take flight if we are to learn about ourselves. Strategically sound judgement is crucial. In business. Or life. But magic comes from exploration. And the unknown.

“Do you think you’ll ever perform A Christmas Carol again?” I asked breathlessly. “We saw your performance on Christmas Eve 1994, here in New York. It’s become an important part of our Christmas.”

I stopped. 

He smiled. Gently. Shyly.

“There’s a question.” He paused and glanced away. “It gets harder.” He said it as though to himself.

I nodded. And mumbled understanding.

Suddenly he turned back towards me, “I would like to. It’s very important to me personally.”

I looked at him with sudden confidence. “I know,” I said. “It’s what makes it great.”

The shyness had left him. He put his hand across his heart. “Thank you for stopping and saying something. It means a lot to me.”

I held out my hand and he took it firmly. “Merry Christmas.” I stopped abruptly, choking off his name, suddenly conscious that I wasn’t sure which one would emerge.

“Merry Christmas to you.” He smiled. Openly and warmly.

As he turned and walked away, I heard, I am sure, the voice of a six year old boy from somewhere close by.

Merry Christmas.

Suicide is Painless

A story in the Wall St Journal this morning suggests that suicides are on the rise.

Historically, suicide rates have risen with unemployment. A 1% increase in a state’s unemployment rate causing a 1.3% increase in the number of self-inflicted deaths.

It’s estimated that this year, 630,000 Americans will kill themselves. And 1.1 million adult Americans will try.

And the historical data suggests, there is more to come. The highest rate of suicide following the Great Depression came in 1932, three years after the economic collapse.

All of us have been affected profoundly by the economic reorganization of these last two years. Living through an epoch comes with a high price. Part of which is the emotional impact of no longer feeling in control.

Despair develops over time. And usually as the result of a series of actions and events that individually seem of minimal importance. And worse, tolerable.

But once the hole has been dug, it’s difficult to escape. And for some impossible.

I have seen this in my personal life with a family member. And in my professional life, with too many businesses.

In every case, I have come to learn that the best cure is prevention. Raising our consciousness of what we can and cannot live with.

Which is easier to write than to live through.

But learning there is a choice is the first step.

'Cause suicide is painless
it brings on many changes
and I can take or leave it if I please.
...and you can do the same thing if you please.


I am inspired by dogs.

They are not perfect creatures. One of ours has apparently taken to chewing the curtains.

But they imbue each day with an endless sense of the possible. And given one percent of an opportunity, they will take you along for the ride to joy.

They are resilient, optimistic, and forgiving. And they spend much more time trying, than they do feeling sorry for themselves.

Traits common to a better business and a better life.

In an email from my mother-in-law yesterday, I was introduced to Faith.

This is her story.

I am inspired by dogs.


This is 'Faith'

This dog was born on Christmas Eve, 2002. She was born with only two rear legs.  She of course could not walk when she was born. Even her mother did not want her.

Her first owner also did not think that she could survive and he was thinking of 'putting her to sleep'.
But then, her present owner, Jude Stringfellow, met her and wanted  to take care of her .
She became determined to teach and train her to walk by herself.   
She named her 'Faith'.

In the beginning, she put Faith on a surfboard to let her feel the movement.
Later she used peanut  butter on a spoon as a lure and reward
for her for standing up and jumping around.
Even the other dog at home encouraged her to walk.
Amazingly, only after six months, like a miracle,   
Faith learned to balance on her hind legs and jump to move forward.
After further training in snow, she could now walk like a human being.   
Faith loves to walk around now.
No matter where she  goes, she attracts people to her .
She is fast becoming famous on the international scene and
has appeared on various newspapers and TV shows.
There is a book entitled 'With a Little Faith' being published about her .
Her owner Jude Stringfellew has given up her teaching post and plans to take her around the world to preach that even without a perfect body, one can have a perfect 'soul'.
In life there are always undesirable things, so in order to feel better
you just need to look at life from another direction.
I hope this message will bring fresh new ways of thinking to everyone and that everyone will be thankful for each beautiful day.
Faith is a continual demonstration of the strength and wonder of life .

Irrelevant This

We don’t know what we don’t know.

Which makes building a better business difficult at the best of times.

But virtually impossible if we ignore what we do know.

Or convince ourselves that this time the facts won’t apply. That we should act based only on what we want to be true.

As a case in point, consider Roland Burris.

For those outside the U.S., Roland Burris is the junior senator from Illinois. Appointed to replace Barack Obama in the U.S. Senate by the former governor of Illinois, Rod Blagojevich, who was then impeached for trying to auction the seat to the highest bidder.

As his final official act, he appointed Mr Burris, a 72 year old black Chicago politician, to fill the seat. A move the leadership of his party in the Senate immediately decided they would reject.

It was, the Democrats said, inappropriate, unacceptable, illegal, unconstitutional. Mr Burris was told his claim was invalid. They denied him the seat. Then they turned him away at the door. Literally.

Here are two facts they ignored:

Fact 1: There was no legal basis for their position. None that withstood the simplest scrutiny.

Fact 2: Nor any political one. Denying a black candidate the opportunity to replace the only black senator is bad for electoral college counting.

And so, after two weeks of noise and bluster, Mr Burris became Senator Burris.

For eight months, a chilly detente has existed. The Democrats counting the days until his term ends in 2011. Mr Burris left isolated and unwanted, and fighting his own ethics charges without support from his party.

Until now. When the issue of health care reform approaches a final vote in the senate. And the debate about the public option becomes real.

For the record:

  • 77% of America wants health care reform with some form of government  provided health care. The so-called public option.

  • The Democrats need all 60 of their Senators to pass any kind of health care reform.

  • Several are reluctant to support a public option.

  • Mr Burris has declared, "I would not support a bill that does not have a public option. That position will not change."

Which leads us to two more facts the Democrats tried to exclude from their analysis:

Fact 3: Without Mr Burris’ support, the Democrats can’t pass health care reform.

Fact 4: Without health care reform, the Obama presidency slogan becomes, No, we can’t.

Imagine whatever vision of the future you want. Then put that aside and deal in facts.

Because dreams can come true. But only if you accept reality first.

Changing The World. $25 at a Time.

I had a fascinating breakfast yesterday with two entrepreneurs who exemplify all that is great about the capacity for small businesses to make a big difference.

Each in their own and very distinctive ways have built something extraordinary from nothing, developed careers, supported families and causes, changed the way we see the world, and have done so with decency, integrity and humanity.

And based on our conversation, they’re not done yet.

It was a very invigorating beginning to the day. And as I walked back to my office I thought, not for the first time, that entrepreneurs have recognizable DNA.

A truth which came thundering home when a friend sent me this link last night.

Kiva is an association that lets you lend money to a specific entrepreneur with one simple goal.

To lift them out of poverty.

The picture on the front page is of Nulu Nabunya, a 50 year old Ugandan widow with four children, who is looking for a $525 loan to help her build her knitting business. She has already borrowed and repaid twenty loans and her ambition is to own a sweater factory.

There are 870 entrepreneurs showcased, in countries from Cambodia to Togo, from Mongolia to Peru. Their funding requests range from $385 to $2500.

As I looked at some of the pictures, I was struck by three things.

1. All entrepreneurs are impacted by the same issues. Concept. Customers. Cash flow. And Credit.

Get any one of them wrong and we’re out of business.

2. The ability to see a better future does not require specific economic, geographic, cultural, educational or environmental conditions.

It requires a willingness to believe in the possible.

3. Entrepreneurs live in the real world. Where the ideal meets the practical.

And today, I for one have a different appreciation of what both words mean.

Russian Roulette

The current state of affairs in which the production community is allowing itself to operate reminds me of a gambler sitting at a roulette wheel.

Practices such as sequential liability and ninety day payments terms are nothing more than 50/50 bets in an under-capitalized industry.

Add limited credit and slashed profit margins, and the odds of survival fall further.

With everything riding on red, the gambler peers anxiously at the tumbling ball.

There is no jackpot for winning. Just the chance to play again.

Lose. And it’s game over.

The ball tumbles. The gambler waits.

Fade to black.

Nantucket - The End

Stanley shuffled to the tee. And inwardly, I sighed.

This, I thought, is not how I want to spend my afternoon.

I have had a love-hate relationship with golf. I came to the game late, at 27. Old enough to have learned the consequences of mistakes. And the power of the word, ‘don’t.’

The human mind responds unwillingly and inconsistently to the word, ‘don’t’. Ask a parent. Or a golfer, for whom the silent prayer don’t hit it in the water is the golfing equivalent of a sacrifice to Poseidon.

As a species we are drawn to the affirmative. Of what might be. We search, we discover, we create, we innovate. Our triumphs and our existence depend on possibility.

Avoiding the negative makes us cautious. And tense. Hard places from which to navigate. Life or business.

As the stakes increase, the temptation to succumb to caution is overwhelming. A temptation we fight with intellect and hard work. As though trying harder will change patterns already deeply embedded.

Instead the effort guarantees the outcome we want desperately to avoid. A lesson I learned in two parts.

Part one took place in the Fall of 2000. On the Old Course in St Andrews. On the east coast of Scotland.

St. Andrews is the home of golf. Its heart and its soul. And the ground has been walked upon by every golfer history would name as significant. Tom Morris, Young and Old. Harry Vardon, Walter Hagen, Bobby Jones, Nicklaus, Palmer, Watson, Faldo, Woods. All have played and triumphed at the Old Course.

And for an hour, on this hallowed ground, I was as great as anyone who had ever played the game.

Standing on the seventh tee two I was two over par. A score that reflected the good and bad in my game. Long, straight drives. The growing tension as I neared the hole. Mis-hit irons, tentative chips and putts hit without hope or expectation.

There are moments in life when you get out of your own way long enough to permit greatness. When the self doubt steps aside, and who you are finds voice.

Sometimes we need help. I had Shivas Irons.

Golf In The Kingdom is the story of Shivas Iron - a mystical golf professional at Burningbush Links on the coast of Scotland - who teaches the book’s writer over one extraordinary twenty four hour period, that the golf swing is an expression of the soul.

For an hour on that late September afternoon, I felt Shivas Irons walk with me. Pointing out the possible. Focusing not on fear, but on expectation. Reminding me what I already knew. That I was responsible. And capable. And that the combination is undeniable.

It was not a conscious thought of mine to let him join me. Just a realization as I finished the sixth hole, that different results would not come from the same actions. Or thoughts.

That getting out of my own way was the first step.

I let go. And Shivas Irons arrived. An hour later I walked off the tenth green, two under par. I had birdied all four holes.

As I stepped onto the eleventh tee it started to rain. Hard. And the calmness that had descended upon me, unhurriedly reached for my rain suit. It was 165 yards, into a stiffening wind. The pin just over the front bunker.

In those few moments I was aware of every sensation. The rain in my face, the sun breaking through the clouds over St Andrews Bay behind the green. Chris beside me, not wanting to break the spell.

It may have been my body that settled over the ball on that rain-swept piece of historic ground. But it was Shivas Irons that swung the club. The sound of a perfectly struck golf shot is distinctive. And as the ball flew towards the flag, its final destination was pre-determined.

There are many who feel that perfection in golf is a hole in one. I do not. For the number of variables in achieving that specific outcome require luck play a crucial part.

The ball landed softly on the green, two yards beyond the gaping mouth of the bunker, took the slope above the cup and rolled gently to a stop, eighteen inches above the flag.

Eighteen inches from three under par at the Old Course.

The walk from the eleventh tee to the eleventh green is a little under two hundred yards.

In that time, Shivas Irons left me. All that was left was a man staring at eighteen inches of sharply sloping ground. And a putt that looked longer than any he had ever seen.

Don’t miss it. Like the shot before, the outcome was pre-determined before my putter made hesitant contact with the ball which rolled past on the low side without grazing the cup.

I snap hooked my drive on twelve into a gorse bush and made a seven. Shivas Irons was nowhere to be found, and I bogeyed my way in for a 77. A score to be proud of in the context of what I was.

But greatness is measured against what we are capable of. What we could be. A bar held too low by too many. In their lives. And in their businesses.

For five more years, I put down my experience that afternoon to the mysticism of the Old Course. I had merely been the vessel. The inspiration had been of something else. Not religious, for I am not. But a confluence of influences available only on that particular piece of ground.

But unable to scale those heights again, even momentarily, I lost interest in the game. And what had been an obsession dissipated to almost nothing. Last year I played 27 holes. And took one lesson.

Last Monday, I went out to Miacomet Golf Course in Nantucket with no expectations. Instead, I found Shivas Irons again.

I didn’t recognize him at first. He introduced himself as Stanley. Then he shuffled to the tee. And waited. “Nilda has to watch for me. I don’t see too good anymore,” he explained.

Nilda, his wife, walked unhurriedly towards him, and then turned and looked in my direction. “Stanley’s ninety three,” she said proudly. “Going on ninety four. I keep an eye on where he hits it. Easy job.” I swear she winked before she settled into what I came to realize was her usual position a few yards behind him.

Stanley hesitated for a few moments and swung. It was more fluid and graceful than a man of ninety three has any right to expect. The ball flew without complaint and rolled to a stop in the dead center of the fairway 160 yards away.

“Nice and easy,” said Nilda. “He knows where he’s going, he’s just enjoying the ride.”

“A lesson for all of us in that,” I said by way of polite small-talk, and as they slowly got back in their cart I lifted my bag across my shoulders and walked down the first fairway.

I had hit a good drive. A natural ability that never seems to stray too far, no matter how little I play. As I looked at the yardage marker and pulled a club I felt the wind freshen.

I waited while Stanley played his second shot. It carried about 140 yards, rolled another forty or so on the hard, dry ground and came to rest just in front of the green.

I settled over the ball, and as I took the club back I thought, enjoy the ride.

The ball compressed against the club face and climbed aboard the breeze headed in from the ocean. As it started to fall, the ball seemed to hesitate as though picking a spot  to land, before coming to rest about twenty feet above the hole. I smiled and picked up my bag, walking quietly and enjoying the moment.

Stanley's chip lacked nothing in skill or commitment, but perhaps a little in good fortune, and jumping forward when he might have expected it to stop, it carried six feet past.

I looked at my putt briefly, a downhill left to right slider that had ‘roller coaster’ written on its obituary. Enjoy the ride. The ball tracked the invisible line I had drawn, and fell into the cup as though it could imagine no other destination. Stanley missed his par putt and made five. “Nice birdie,” he said quietly. “Do it again.”

Only once over the next eight holes did I get in my own way. My second shot on the second hole. After a drive of such effortless power that I was left with only a short little wedge to the green. Then, for a moment, a lifelong weakness of delicate short shots encouraged me. To try. Hard.

I double bogeyed the hole. It was the only time I didn’t believe in myself. Or the swing I have honed through painstaking effort and great teaching over fifteen years. A platform I had invested in but never used. Afraid to see what I could be if I believed.

Stanley played his round without fuss. Hitting the ball relentlessly down the middle, and up on the green. His sense of calm and of purpose never left. And neither did mine.

On the ninth green, I considered my final putt of the afternoon. Ten feet. Left to right. Against the prevailing wind. Enjoy the ride.

The ball travelled unerringly along the path I had predicted and veered right towards the hole. At the last moment, the breeze gathered itself, holding the ball for an instant in its grasp. As the wind dropped, the ball grabbed the lip of the cup and rolled around the edge, dropping beneath the surface for an instance before jumping out and stopping an inch away.

I tapped in and turned to shake Stanley’s hand. “Can’t win ‘em all,” he said. What did you shoot? 35?” I nodded. “Pretty good with a double,” he grinned. “Three birdies, damn near four, in nine holes. You should play more often.”

“I’m not this good normally,” I said softly. Stanley held up his hand.

“We’re as good as we want to be,” he said firmly. “You spent a lot of money on that swing of yours. I’d go use it if I were you. Before you’re too old. Took me a long time to enjoy this game. Wasted a lot of time worrying about making mistakes. Tried too hard. I was over eighty before I figured it out.”

He turned and walked slowly back to his cart. I picked up my bag and followed him. “Figured out what?” I asked.

He turned and looked at me. “You already know,” he said. “Maybe today you realized that.”

He shook my hand again. “You coming back next year?” he asked.

I nodded instinctively.

“Good. See you then.” He climbed into the cart and he and his wife drove off.

A year’s a long time. Who knows where any of us will be.

But there is possibility. And there is purpose.

Enjoy the ride.

Nantucket - Part 1

I am drawn to water.

A realization I have come to later in life than I wished.

Living beside Lake Michigan for quarter of a century, I was lulled into a false sense of security that proximity to the sea was not important. An assumption that the last few days have proven false.

We spent the weekend on Shelter Island. Hurricaine Danny called to say it was coming over and we should cancel our plans. We ignored it, so it didn’t show. Typical male.

His rudeness was our gift. A fantastic evening at the extraordinary home of Mindy Goldberg and Cary Tamarkin overlooking Shelter Island Sound - a testament to their taste, talent and sustained business success.

At several times during the evening I stood alone and wondered if the moonlit path across the water could be reached from the beach below. The inner child in me hoped so. The man in the white Armani suit worried about the salt stains.

Still, it was an encouraging start. Possibility is the fuel to the future. And I spend most of my time seeing the possibilities for others. Restoring fantasy in our own lives is why summer vacations were invented. And Saturday night was the beginning of that.

On Sunday, I passed another birthday. Quietly and without fanfare. Leaving Shelter Island on the ferry we weren’t sure where we were headed next. For two producers this was unprecedentedly spontaneous behavior. The forecast for everywhere, from Hong Kong to home was set fair for the week. We had a convertible, a full tank of gas, and a million miles on American. The world lay before us. A vast array of possibilities.

We chose Nantucket. Chris’s spiritual home. And a place I’ve never liked.

I spent eleven reluctant vacations with Chris’s family, wishing each time I was somewhere else. Of all the places in the world, Nantucket was top of my list of seen it once, don’t need to see it again.

We hadn’t been back for five years. And I hadn’t missed it one iota. Until two weeks ago when I read in someone’s blog a description of a few days spent at the Wauwinet Inn in early August. Stacy Wall, the endlessly talented and humble film director, was at Mindy and Cary’s party on Saturday. We talked about blogging. He said he preferred the term, writing on the internet.

Aesthetically I agree with Stacy. Writing is a craft. Blogging is casual. But in practice, I find blogging less intimidating. And liberated from the expectation that Writing imposes on me, I find myself becoming more open to the world around me. An openness that found me reading, to my surprise, about Nantucket.

Something stirred inside me that I hadn’t expected. Sights and sounds of Nantucket. Blue hydrangeas swaying on ocean breezes. Cobble-stone streets lined with grey shingled houses, their white windows and fences open and protective in equal measure. And country roads across low lying landscapes, lush and sandy in impossible combinations.

But mostly I felt the pull of island life. Islands that sit exposed to the elements. That require commitment and effort to reach. Their very independence from land demanding a sense of the possible from those that live there.

I have been struck by this in our work recently. Business owners unable to embrace the possibility of what they could be.

Over the last few weeks I have found myself talking to companies whose talent and potential far exceeds their current self-imposed limitations. They have well rehearsed reasons why my ambition for them is too far-reaching. Why my belief in what they could be is unrealistic.

The sense of the possible has left them for now. For some it has gone forever. Decisions seen as temporary have a way of becoming permanent while we are waiting for permission to be great.

Leaving the Orient Point ferry at New London, Connecticut - a convergence of transportation possibilities like few others in the world: boats, ferries, submarines, trains, cars, buses and motorcycles all within a few yards of each other - we turned east and headed towards Hyannis. The Wauwinet had cancellations and a bay view room, at a price unthinkable a year ago, was ours for three nights.

Three hours later, our car stowed safely below, we stood at the bow of the massive Nantucket ferry and headed south into the Atlantic. The evening was warm and fog shrouded, and as we passed the harbor’s outer marker a small group of people gathered on the starboard side and watched quietly as Senator Kennedy’s compound came slowly into view, before settling back into its quiet mourning behind the mist. His schooner bobbed a few hundred yards away, responding to our wake as that of a dog hoping anxiously for the return of its master.

Ahead, the moon found a small gap in the heavy skies, and the path that I had gazed at the night before appeared again on the water, guiding us forward.

The man in the white suit was nowhere to be found.

This time there was only a boy. On a path filled with possibilities. 

Planning The Last Day First / STEP 5: EXIT

A business with four offices spread across 5000 miles doesn’t lend itself naturally to a single company Christmas Party.By the summer of 2003, however, it was feeling increasingly important that we have one. The Whitehouse had coordinated over 1000 employee travel nights that year. As a result a lot of people knew a lot of people. But Chris and I had come to realize that we were the only two that knew everyone in the company. It was time for that to change.If you’re going to throw a party for a group of people aged between 18 and 45, there’s really only one city in the world to choose. Las Vegas.

Of Learning, Teaching and Fishing

I just got home from a week in England. A number of things strike me as I look back on a wonderful few days.* There is nothing like true friends. And my friends Tim and Liz are the living embodiment of both ‘True’ and ‘Friend’.* If there’s anything I like more than watching cricket in high definition with any one of the five dogs in my life (my four plus Tim and Liz's dog Becks) curled up beside me on a couch, I haven’t experienced it yet.* Somebody needs to invent a better way to negotiate a house sale. The current system takes too long, creates too little and costs too much.* Negotiation means getting inside the other person’s head and seeing it from their perspective. When you’re certain you’re being dispassionate, and you still have no idea what they’re looking at, it’s time to move on.You’ll never get a deal done you can live with.* Success takes four elements:1. The desire to achieve2. The knowledge to achieve3. The humility to acquire said knowledge4. The perseverance to work at it for long enough that 1, 2 and 3 matter

And Then There Were Four

I love change.

I talk about it. Write about it. Preach it. And practice it.

I encourage it in our clients. Expect it of ourselves. And have learned that when change itself is not an obstacle, there are no limits to which the mind can go.

It took me longer than it should to realize that not everyone sees things this way. And that for many, the status quo is a safe and known place.

Today, I know that one of the reasons we get hired regularly is because we have learned to articulate our vision for a client’s future while remaining sensitive to and pragmatic of their present. We make change safe.

Intellectually, I have come to understand the difficulty so many people have with change. But while I could sympathize, I realized this week I couldn’t empathize.

Because I had never experienced the pain that change can bring.

Until now.

Those of you that read this blog know that our eldest dog, Harry, died on Thursday

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I know that for some the death of a dog, while sad, is not a tragedy in the context of the world’s suffering. Particularly not a dog who lived a full and active life, and died peacefully in the arms of two people that loved him.

But I can only measure my pain by what I feel. And this is change that I would give anything to rewind.

I long for the stasis of a few days ago, when we didn’t know he was dying - so he wasn’t dying.

When we could look at every picture and smile.

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I hate change and the pain it has brought. I hate change and how it has made me feel about the present. I hate change and how it has scared me about the future.

I hate change.

But even in the darkness and through the sorrow, there are glimmers of things that are better for Harry’s departure.

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His sister Maya, who for twelve years has taken a back seat, now has our attention in full force. We seek her out when she wanders off. We take her with us on errands. We show her off in public. We love her in a way we haven’t before.

We have time back. The time of helping him onto his bed and off his bed. Of helping him stand and helping him sit. Of supporting him up the stairs, and supporting him down. Of medicating him, and feeding him by hand, and staying in a room to keep him company when everyone else was outside.

We have freedom to leave our four dogs for more than an hour. To go to meetings with new clients. Or for a drive. Or out to dinner.

Small things. But things that are better. And that we can make even better.

I wish Harry were still alive. With all my heart and soul.

But there is a release that has come - for him and for us - that is undeniably good.

This is a new kind of change for me. Unwanted and painful.

And I understand, now, why change is so hard for so many.

But there are possibilities that exist today that did not before. And that is something to embrace.

I love Harry.

And I love change.

And one does not deny the other.

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Hope is Not a Strategy

Remember when buying a home was a guaranteed return on investment?

Until some time early last year, the rule was that you bought a home as soon as you could, and as long as you kept it at least three years, you would sell it for more than you paid. In London, you only had to hold it for three months - and in some parts of town three days would do it. The possibility that a house or an apartment might one day be less than the loan we took out to pay for it was literally inconceivable. It just never occurred to us

When the real estate market headed south, we reacted too late because it couldn’t be happening. We had no tools to deal with it. So we waited for the ‘bounce’ and hoped. I think we all know now it’s going to be a long wait.

In this economy, owning a business has a lot of similarities. Most business owners have stock answers to dealing with downturns. And if you owned your own business in the post 9-11 trauma, you learned something about getting through tough times.

But these days the question is not how did you deal with the post 9-11 economy? The better question is what did you do in the aftermath of ’29. As in 1929. The only historical reference we have. These are once in a lifetime conditions and a lot of people are unprepared for that. Like the value of their home, they’re still trying to use an emotional model to deal with it.

Hope. Supported by luck.

But hope is not enough. Nor is it a strategy. To survive in an economy where breaking-even is the new win, you have to get past the emotional barrier that this can’t be happening. For many businesses, that means going back to the days when our first focus was on how to cover payroll. And if you’re not at that point, then here’s what you’re hoping.

That you get work. That it’s profitable. That you get paid on time. That you get paid at all. That you get paid often enough to cover your overhead. That your bank will lend you money if things get tight. That the job you’ve been waiting 6 weeks to come through will come through. That the check is in the mail. That things aren’t as bad as they seem. That things will be fine.

You might be okay with one of those. But beyond that, you need a plan that deals with bad and worst-case scenarios. And does so before you get to that point. Because a plan made calmly is always a better plan.

As Andy Dufresne said, “Hope is a good thing. Perhaps even the best of things.”

But even he didn’t think it was a strategy.