is the story of Jeff Bezos and Amazon, the highest market capitalization company in the world. For some reason, I didn’t know too much about Bezos, and I’m glad I read the book. Here are my takeaways:
- Bezos is very smart (summa cum laude from Princeton majoring in electrical engineering and computer science), hard-working, and driven/competitive.
- Right from the beginning, he hired intelligent, well-educated people at low salaries, with the promise that they would participate in changing the world — and maybe become wealthy.
- Like Steve Jobs, he’s very customer-focused and gets the product or service right, including delaying launches (like the Kindle) if necessary.
- He outlawed PowerPoint presentations and instead required his associates to describe their ideas in a narrative (maybe six pages at most).
- Like Jobs, he’s very demanding and, at times, demeaning to his team members.
- To my surprise, he’s very frugal (at least at Amazon).
- He was quick to meet with executives from other tech or retail companies that he perceived to be world-class, and he wasn’t too proud to learn from them.
- The story of the evolution of his fulfillment centers (warehouses or distribution centers) was fascinating — they’re a combination of technology, Dr. W. Edwards Deming thinking, and manual processes. It’s very interesting, especially for those of you who are manufacturers or distributors.
- Like Jobs, Bezos was adopted.
If you’re an entrepreneur or working in a startup business, I recommend reading The Everything Store to get a reality check. Often, companies like Amazon or Nike are glamorized — but in truth, the path to success isn’t very pretty. Although it requires a lot of hard work and luck, there are no guarantees.
is the provocative title of an article co-authored by a Michigan Supreme Court justice and a Michigan law school professor.
Despite its title, the article is the best summary of this complex subject that I’ve ever read. As many of you know, for decades Plante Moran has put a lot of value on work-life balance. Until I read this article, I never really focused on the actual words. I won’t even attempt to summarize the article, but after you read it, please consider the following:
- I prefer using the label “flextime” instead of work-life balance.
- To me, the real question is: What do you want out of life?
- A second question would be: What is your purpose, or your “why”?
- Maybe you want to use the word happiness. As I’ve mentioned in previous blog posts, after 80 years, the Harvard Study of Adult Development has concluded the happiest and healthiest people have at least one good relationship.
The answers to the above questions are different for all of us.
As many of you know, I had a very demanding, challenging, all-consuming career at Plante Moran, which I thank God for providing me. That being said, because of the Plante Moran flextime policy, I was able to:
- Attend many of my son’s cross-country meets on weekday afternoons.
- Participate in many of my children’s parent-teacher conferences and other daytime events.
- Ski at more than 40 North American resorts during tax season.
- Lead 30 mission teams to countries all over the world.
- Play lots of tennis.
I think you get the point. As long as I took care of my clients and my team, I was able to take advantage of flextime.
The authors make a great case for how some may inappropriately try to separate and draw clear distinctions in their activities. One of my personal goals is to integrate my whole life. Here are some examples:
- I mentor a 14-year-old orphan who lives in Flint and enjoys art. To help him envision potential opportunities that are art-related, he and I have visited several Flint businesses where an artist could work. (By the way, since I’m new to Flint, these could also be future clients of Doescher Advisors.) How would I classify these visits on a work-life balance scale? Business? Ministry? Life?
- For Doescher Advisors clients who are interested in integrating their faith into their business, I share applicable Bible verses. Is this a business or a faith activity?
- Almost every day, I exercise at the gym. Many members of my parish work out there, too. I have clients and referral sources at the gym, as well. How do I classify that time?
- My wife and I are funding a scholarship in memory of our daughter at our local Catholic high school. As a result of this involvement, we’ve met many Flint business owners. How do you classify that time?
Once again, I think you get the point. Back to the original topic of work-life balance: My advice would be to find a place or start a business where you have the flexibility to live out your “Dream!”
Living a life free of anxiety is the promise of Dr. Gregory Popcak, author of Unworried. According to Dr. Popcak, anxiety tends to be a fear response triggered by something that either happened a long time ago, has not yet happened, or may not actually be happening at all. For instance, have you ever been afraid you said something embarrassing (or wish you hadn’t said it) while out to dinner with your friends (or client/customer), so you kept replaying the scene in your head and experienced a low-grade sense of dread? Or, say you emailed or texted a friend (or client/customer) and didn’t get a response — have you felt anxious that something must be wrong? (Editor’s note: I confess this is me. I’m a world-class worrier. Ask my partner.)
Dr. Popcak begins by differentiating between fear and anxiety/worry. He would say fear is the natural, biological, and appropriate response to an imminent threat. When the fear systems in our brain work properly, they serve a protective function, warning us of danger and then easing off once the threat has passed. In contrast to fear, anxiety is when the brain’s natural fear circuits get hijacked by something that isn’t an immediate danger or could even be good for us.
Think about your life — where you work, live, and play. Now think about your parents or grandparents. I bet your life is filled with way more activity and travel. You may live in an urban setting that’s more stressful, or your kids have endless sports and other activities (I grew up surrounded by farms, where in the summer, the neighborhood kids met every day to play unsupervised baseball; I think you get the point). And you wonder why you’re feeling stressed!
I won’t attempt to summarize the book, but if anything I’ve said resonates in your mind, I would highly recommend investing some time in Unworried. Like many authors of the books I’ve read in the past few years, Dr. Popcak describes the need to reprogram our brain, and he strongly believes we can. In explaining what to do, he uses the metaphor of creating surge-protection as well as a treatment called cognitive behavior therapy (CBT), and limiting or eliminating the use of medications. This book provides well-grounded hope for the worrier.
As someone with anxiety, I plan to incorporate Dr. Popcak’s advice into my life.
Recently, I heard author Neil Pasricha speak. I enjoyed his comments and decided to read his book, The Happiness Equation
. In the book, he sheds light on why so many people today are unhappy. Here are my takeaways, plus a few editorial comments:
- The more physically active people are, the greater their general feelings of excitement and enthusiasm.
- None of us can control our emotions (Editorial comment: As a very emotional person, I found this statement liberating); we can only control our reactions to our emotions.
- In 1927, Paul Mazur of Lehman Brothers wrote the following in the Harvard Business Review: “We must shift America from a needs to a desires culture.” (Editorial comment: Wow, I would say Mazur got his wish!)
- Men and women in Okinawa live an average of seven years longer than Americans, and have the longest disability-free life expectancy on Earth. The word “retirement” literally does not exist in the Okinawan language. Instead, the Okinawan language has the word “ikigai” (pronounced like “icky guy”), which means, “The reason you wake up in the morning.” (Editorial comment: It’s their purpose, or their “why.”)
- Pasricha includes his (and also one of my) favorite quotes from Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland: “One day Alice came to a fork in the road and saw a Cheshire cat in a tree. ‘Which road do I take?’ she asked. ‘Where do you want to go?’ was his response. ‘I don’t know,’ Alice answered. ‘Then,’ said the cat, ‘it doesn’t matter.’ ” (Editorial comment: We use this quote when we’re encouraging clients to establish a purpose, or a “why,” for their life and/or business.)
- In 1889, the Germans created the concept of retirement to free up jobs for young people by paying 65-year-olds to do nothing until they died (the average life span at the time was 67). In 1880, 78 percent of American men over age 65 were still working; in 2000, 16 percent of men over age 65 were still working.
- When we’re presented with too many decisions (choices), we either do nothing or do poorly. (Editorial comment: 30 years ago, I was a member of Michigan Future, a think tank, and was blessed to spend time with some really knowledgeable, futuristic business owners. Referring to the auto industry, they would say that we’re moving from mass-production to mass-customization. In other words, the customer was going to be able to design their own vehicle to suit their personal preferences. Well, we’re still a ways from that in the auto industry, but one of my biggest complaints today is that there are too many choices among relatively insignificant products. I think this creates a lot of wasted time. I’m sure I’ve just offended someone, but remember this book is about happiness.)
- In 1955, the Parkinson’s Law was defined as follows: “It is a common-place observation that work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” (Editorial comment: Here’s a practical application: Are all your major meetings routinely scheduled in one-hour blocks, or do you schedule 15- or 30-minute meetings? If you’ve accomplished the purpose of a meeting, do you adjourn the meeting early? Sadly, it wasn’t until the end of my first career that I started the practice of scheduling shorter meetings, ending meetings early, and even canceling meetings when there weren’t enough important agenda items. My partners were definitely happier!)
- Multitasking is a flawed concept. (Editorial comment: Yes, you can work on two things at the same time, but you do a disservice to both. There have been numerous credible studies that have dispelled the myth of multitasking.)
I was quite surprised to discover what topics Pasricha selected to mention in a book about “happiness.” And these aren’t just his opinions, as he references many studies, researchers, and other authors’ work to support his findings.
Pasricha’s Formula for Happiness: Want Nothing + Do Anything (for others) = Have Everything.
I believe it’s very similar to Adam Grant recommending that we be Givers vs. Takers.
is the subtitle of David Stockman’s book, The Great Deformation
. Some of you more seasoned readers may recall the young Grand Rapids congressman who served as President Reagan’s budget director. I remember it clearly because we lost a very senior Plante Moran staff member, who joined Stockman’s staff. Those of you who know me well have often heard me say that I’m a fan of the free market. Well, in this 700-plus-page book, Stockman rocked my world. It continued a theme in my life where I’m realizing that much of what I’ve believed to be factual may not be. Again, my seasoned readers probably get it.
Here are a few of my thoughts:
- First of all, this could be a college-level economics textbook; it pushed me to the limits of my personal knowledge.
- Stockman has an enormous vocabulary or a Ph.D.-level thesaurus.
- Best I can tell, he isn’t aligned with either the Democratic or Republican party.
- The interconnections between the big banks and investment banks and our government are spooky. Just one example: How did Hank Paulson, former Goldman Sachs CEO, happen to be available to serve as the Secretary of the Treasury just as the Great Recession began? Patriotism?
Learnings from Stockman:
- He provides a fairly detailed history of 20th and 21st century U.S. economics, with relevant details about countries like China and Japan.
- He explains and provides details about the Keynesian monetary theory and application, and gives his views about its negative impact over the past 50 years.
- As a capitalist, he is opposed to deficit spending and would say that Presidents Reagan and George W. Bush significantly increased the federal deficits to an alarming level.
- He reminds us that President Eisenhower warned the nation that we must guard against the influence of the military-industrial complex.
- President Eisenhower reduced the defense budget and did not reduce taxes against his party’s wishes.
- Based on their actions and policies, both political parties support Big Government.
- According to Stockman, who was in the Reagan White House, the trickle-down theory of economics, or the Laffer curve, did not and does not work.
- He provides some very interesting, detailed insights regarding the causes for and the remedies of the Great Recession.
- He is a true capitalist and his criticisms in the book are of crony capitalism, where the government intercedes in the free market on behalf of a special group, like bailing out Wall Street or the auto industry. He believes the Republican Party has really drifted away from true free market capitalism, and his book provides many solid examples to support his view.
As I’ve already stated, over the years I’ve made assumptions that later turned out to be myths. Throughout this book, I once again felt that way. If you consider yourself a capitalist/free market person, I would highly recommend you take the time to read it. Unfortunately, politics have twisted some truths to fit positions or platforms.
Closing comment: For any automotive suppliers who are reading this blog, yes, this is the same guy who created, founded, presided over as CEO, and took Collins & Aikman bankrupt, and he also covers that in the book. Honestly, I was a little disappointed with his lack of remorse for his failure.