Archive for the ‘Inspiration’ Category

Nothing Mediocre – Inspired by Steve Jobs

Thursday, October 6th, 2011

No one wakes up in the morning and says, “I’m going to be mediocre today.” And yet too often we spend our days in mediocrity. We don’t push ourselves to have bold thoughts and take bold actions.

Steve Jobs’ life is a reminder to strive to banish the mediocre from our lives.

Steve Jobs died at only 56 years old. Imagine the other innovations he could have introduced had his life not been cut short by cancer. His gift was dreaming about how much richer, more fun, more exciting our lives could be if only we had…something no one had previously known to covet.

President Obama said, “There may be no greater tribute to Steve’s success than the fact that much of the world learned of his passing on a device he invented.” And as I read this morning’s papers, I was struck by all the tributes.  Bill Gates said, “The world rarely sees someone who has had the profound impact Steve has had….I will miss Steve immensely.” Many noted that Jobs is the Thomas Edison of their (our) generation. A customer at Boston’s Boylston Street Apple store last night said, “I feel like he’s the current version of Leonardo da Vinci, because he makes the perfect combination of mechanics and beauty.” (Cheng-Cheng Yang as quoted in today’s Boston Globe). 

There is a sense, as conveyed at the end of the Globe article, Steve Jobs, Architect at Apple, Dies, that with Job’s death, Apple’s magic is gone.  “No one knows how Apple will fare without Mr. Jobs. But however successful the company’s future products, the delightful machines with the stamp of his genius, it’s unlikely that they’ll ever again seem quite so magical.”

Bob Metcalfe, co-inventor of Ethernet Networking technology and professor at the University of Texas said, “Steve’s big contribution to the computer industry was to take it away from the nerds and give it to the people.”  This statement of Job’s significance is perhaps my favorite quotable quote. It conveys the magnitude of Job’s impact.

There was nothing mediocre about Steve Jobs. Let his legacy inspire all of us.

Smorgasbord of Timely Reflections

Tuesday, October 4th, 2011

Rather than one topic today, my brain is filled with thoughts about three timely subjects:

  1. Amanda Knox and where she goes from here
  2. Andy Rooney’s legacy
  3. The Jewish New Year

Amanda Knox: The story of Amanda Knox’s release from prison in Italy dominates the news. But the coverage isn’t just about the court’s decision, her reunion with her family or flight back to Seattle. What’s next for this young woman who went to Italy her junior year of college and ended up in prison for four years? We’re told she spent much of her time in the Italian prison writing and that she’ll likely write a book. One news report said that she wants to help others wrongly imprisoned. We’ll see how the trauma of her last four years — and the fame she didn’t ask for — defines her future.


Andy Rooney: At 92 years old, Andy Rooney delivered his last commentary on this past Sunday’s “60 Minutes.”  Mr. Rooney was almost always sarcastic and on occasion his humor had a nasty overtone, but he was always, always, always a consummate observer of life. He noticed everything and wondered why things were as they were. I often watched his commentary and thought to myself, “Exactly!” And, yet, somehow I hadn’t stopped to notice in the moment. The excuse is always that we’re too busy. Reflecting on Andy Rooney’s years of commentary during the Jewish holidays made me think about a quote from Moses, “Stand still and see!”  Andy Rooney and Moses actually make the same good point!


The Jewish New Year: Jews around the world are celebrating the Jewish New Year. We observed Rosh Hashanah last week and are approaching Yom Kippur.  Many of us ate apple dipped in honey to celebrate the sweetness of life. We blew the shofar (a ram’s horn) to awaken our spirits, to challenge ourselves. In our family we don’t go to synagogue, rather have a tradition of engaging in reflective, thought-provoking conversations about our Jewish identity. Many years ago I developed a series of readings, quotes and questions that our family and friends ponder each year. For example, “Life is a gift. You appeared. You had nothing to do with it whatsoever. You had nothing to do with the color of your eyes, the color of your hair, the color of your skin, or how tall you were going to be. You stand with this gift of yourself.  What are you going to do with it?….” (Millard Fuller, Founder of Habitat for Humanity)

The question Millard Fuller posed is also relevant for Amanda Knox. She’s been given the gift of an overturned sentence and a return to her life, her family and friends. What will she do with it?  Andy Rooney, at 92, can look back on his life and evaluate all he did with it…and still intends to do in retirement from “60 Minutes.”

And each year the question is relevant for me. What will I notice, think about and do?

Evolving good intentions into consistent habits

Tuesday, August 2nd, 2011

Early in 2011 I unveiled my new SEO-friendly website (The Loeb Group) and embarked on a strategic web-marketing effort. I thought more carefully about how I used LinkedIn, tweeted daily (mostly sharing others’ tweets that I found insightful), made a point of actively participating (aka commenting) as a member of many professionally-relevant LinkedIn groups and focused on writing two to three blogs per week. I was on a roll and very soon started to reap the benefits of my hard work. Prospective clients found me via google searches. Long-standing clients checked back to discuss doing more work together.

I’m here to testify that this web marketing stuff does work! The only problem was that I soon found myself without a spare moment to keep up with my good web marketing intentions. A week went by with no new blogging. Then a few weeks, a month and too quickly more than two months had passed. While google searches still generated many Beryl Loeb and The Loeb Group links, I could no longer boast that there were pages of links.  

My good intentions had not yet evolved into consistent habits.  Worse…Without doing something quickly — blogging, posting and tweeting — I ran the risk of becoming less and less visible. So I’m back…chastened and committing to getting into the web marketing routine again. 

I’m filled with the best of intentions and hoping that this time, with the knowledge that the effort pays off and that I absolutely need to keep working at it, that I will really, really, really make web marketing a habit.  

Wish me luck…

Taking responsibility as citizens of the world, at home and work

Monday, March 21st, 2011

Do we standby and merely witness or do we get involved? How can we each personally — and then collectively — take responsibility for improving our condition in the world, at home and at work?

These are tumultuous times. The world watches as Japan is devastated by earthquake, tsunami and nuclear power plant failures and radioactive leaks. The world watches as people revolt, in Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, Bahrain and Libya. Our economy struggles to recover, yet remains so fragile that world events such as the flow of oil from Libya and the industrial uncertainty in Japan shake investor confidence.

Two experiences this past weekend prompted this morning’s blog about personal and collective responsibility. I attended a protest rally this weekend, just one of many protests I’ve joined in my lifetime. The mere act of attending, of standing up to be counted, is an act of personal responsibility. There was collective potential from a gathering of close to a thousand people coming together to send a message to our legislators. Perhaps most significant for me was the rallying cry in response to one individual’s speech, “Not on our watch.” A reminder that we can either sit back, shake our heads in frustration and let it happen, or step forward to try to influence what takes place in our lifetime. “Not on my watch.” “Not on our watch.”

While still thinking about the rally, I read Seth Godin’s blog, Idea Tourism.  “Idea Tourism” urges us to actively engage in our life’s experiences, to participate vs. just pass through.

Taking responsibility in Japan: worldwide expert counsel and rescuers, and individuals sending desperately needed financial support.

Taking responsibility in Libya: a coalition of countries vowing to help after debating what constitutes another country’s internal conflict vs. a humanitarian crisis. (This remains a controversial and difficult decision and the outcome remains to be seen.)

Taking responsibility back home: the budget crisis has sparked individuals and groups to get involved, to stand up to ensure that budget cuts are compassionate, balanced and compelling vs. knee-jerk, self-serving and politically motivated.

Taking responsibility in the workplace: managers and employees are taking responsibility, to add value, to help their companies save money, and ultimately to help create jobs so that more Americans can pay their mortgages and feed their families.  Managers and employees need to hold each other accountable for doing things differently.

These are tough times, and we all need to consciously live the mantra, “not on our watch.”  What will you take responsibility for making happen? What negative outcome can you help prevent?

Leading isn’t about talking more (or louder)

Monday, March 7th, 2011

Which type of meeting leader are you?

Dan and Tom are both SVPs in the marketing group of a large technology firm. They each have a team of about 30 people and meet with their teams regularly.  But that’s where the similarity ends.

Dan’s meetings are painful experiences for Dan and his team members. As he does every week, Dan stands at the head of the conference room and takes his team through the meeting agenda. He shares with them updates about the business, notes budget and deadline changes. After speaking for about 30 minutes he invites discussion. He really wants his group to share their challenges, collaborate on solutions and ask questions, but inevitably there’s silence. “No questions….So everything’s good?” “No one has anything to share?” More silence accompanied by some uncomfortable body language as people look down at their notepads and squirm in their chairs. “Then that’s it…let’s get back to work,” he says as he ends the meeting.

Tom approaches his meetings differently. He distributes responsibility for different parts of the three-part meeting agenda to individuals on his team.  He makes it clear that he’s looking for a quick update followed by one or two thought-provoking and conversation-starting questions posed to the group. Tom waits for others to speak and then, when appropriate, he contributes (vs. dominates) the conversation. He may ask another probing question, or synthesize what he’s heard, or connect the dots of the various comments. He asks “one-finger” questions such as, “What’s one problem with the way we’ve been tackling this problem?” Occasionally, he reframes a doom and gloom comment that threatens to derail the meeting, by asking a constructive follow-up question. “Sounds like ABC is a serious concern. Is there a way that ABC may help us do XYZ?”  Then Tom gets quiet again and listens to the conversation.

Dan asserts his position by talking more than anyone else, learns nothing new and his team members are informed but not engaged.  Tom uses his leadership role to draw out the best of the people on his team, by listening, probing and challenging.

Two different leadership styles. Dan takes very seriously his role as a leader keeping his people informed — certainly important. Tom sees his role as shaping information through collaboration to boost insight and action.

Leading isn’t about talking more (or louder) than everyone else. Have you tried listening, synthesizing, connecting the dots, asking a one-finger question or reframing?

If you’re struggling in your leadership role and would like help becoming a more inspiring and effective leader like Tom, let me know:

Communication Lessons for Managers from Patriots’ Star Quarterback Tom Brady

Sunday, January 9th, 2011

The Great Communicator A surprising headline to find on page one of today’s Boston Globe Sports section.

The New England Patriots’ star quarterback, Tom Brady, is a coach on the field — “tutoring, correcting, cajoling, applauding.”   As Brady describes it, “You take the learning when it comes, but it’s a constant process.  It happens in the meetings, happens in the walk-throughs, and happens in the games.”

The article’s analysis of Brady’s role as a communicator and coach on his team offers the following ten tips for managers in the workplace.

  1. Managing is a continuous process.
  2. Managers should have a crystal clear sense of their role.
  3. Managers need to listen, be open to questions from their team members.
  4. Managers need to tune into all possible options and anticipate the “what if’s.”
  5. Managers need to demonstrate a proven ability to execute.
  6. Managers need to have a clear understanding of their company’s “game plan,” and be able to drive that game plan forward.
  7. With consistent success comes greater trust by senior management to make independent decisions and improvise when necessary.
  8. Managers need to master the details (as Brady needs to be a “master of the minutiae that decides football games”) while still maintaining sight of the big picture.
  9. Managers need to be in sync with company leadership.
  10. Managers need to share both accountability and glory.

Start with what’s working well to fix what’s wrong

Saturday, January 30th, 2010

They’re on to something — actually they’re on to the same thing.

I read in the current issue of Fast Company an excerpt from a new book, Switch, by Chip Heath and Dan Heath (Fast Company columnists and authors of Made to Stick).  I was struck by the similarities between their ideas and those espoused in the 2008 book, Influencer: The Power to Change Anything.

At the risk of oversimplifying, changing something massive and pervasive (like malnutrition or disease in a third world nation or pervasive bad business habits), is possible when you look for what’s already working well.

For the Heaths in Switch, the insight is to “find a bright spot and clone it.” The authors of Influencer look for “high leverage behaviors.”

Synthesizing both books, it boils down to:

  1. Move beyond the obsession with “TBU — true but useless” information that points to solutions that are impossible to implement.   Instead, find the “bright spot” (Heath brothers) or “high-leverage behaviors” (Patterson, Grenny, Maxfield, McMillan and Switzler).   Find examples of well-nourished and healthy people — or clusters of people with good business habits — and identify what they’re doing right.
  2. Identify the influencers, those already trusted and, with their cooperation, share and reinforce the solution.
  3. Make it easy for others to replicate the bright spot or high-leverage behaviors.  Create opportunities to practice the new behaviors and introduce them to enough people so that soon the greatest numbers of people are nourished, healthy and, in business, profitable.

A business application of these like-minded theories might be helping a professional service firm solve the problem of over-servicing clients.   The typical response is to cull data, slice and dice the data, and then hold internal meetings to tackle the problem.  But the account teams that are already getting paid fairly for their level of service, already know that the secret to their success lies in building a trusted relationship in which tough conversations about compensation can take place without jeopardizing the entire relationship.  Explore their client service strategies (reporting, invoicing and relationship-building) and identify what they’re doing that could be “cloned.”

Another business example might be an organization with a stifling culture of deadly dull meetings dominated by pointless PowerPoint slides.   Find the bright spot — the manager who leads meetings that are engaging, action-oriented,  and with clear take-aways that his employees are inspired to execute.   Then make that the norm — not a culture of dueling PowerPoint data decks.  Create opportunities for the exception to influence the “rule” that needs to be changed.

As an eternal optimist who believes we can change the world, these authors are on to something huge!

Switch goes on sale February 16th and if the book is as good as the excerpt it will be another must-read from Dan Heath and Chip Heath.

Morning After Musings About Leadership, Messaging…

Wednesday, January 20th, 2010

Looking beyond politics and what the special election in Massachusetts means for healthcare reform, economic recovery, war and peace, Constitutional rights…the state of the state, both in Massachusetts and the nation, raises questions about vision, leadership, influence, consensus building and compromise, communication and messaging.

  • Let’s start with how many Americans really understand the President’s vision — beyond rhetoric?   What does America stand for today?  How many (and who) can articulate that vision with clarity and passion?  Who’s listening and are we  unable to hear that vision through the impenetrable filters of joblessness and a not-yet-recovered economy?  Ironically, in periods of both extreme comfort and discomfort, do we retrench into a “WIIFM” (what’s in it for me) mindset that obscures our ability to hear and follow  a vision for everyone?
  • Similarly, was it conflicting visions that drove the vote in yesterday’s special election in Massachusetts or something else?
  • Just one year ago today President Obama was inaugurated after having been elected as our nation’s leader on a platform of change.  But in our understandable desperation for immediate change and frustration with the pace of the change we’re seeking, many Americans have abandoned his direction looking for what they believe might be a “quick fix” elsewhere. Is the President moving in the overall direction he mapped out during his campaign or has he radically changed course?    And, in our fast-changing world, should our leaders hold firm to a course set more than a year ago, or do we need to trust our leaders to adapt based on today’s context, circumstances, needs and opportunities?
  • When we step back and reflect, what really influenced Massachusetts’ voters?  Was it policy statements and values?  Or supporters and endorsers?  Logic or emotion?  Substance and/or style?  Which media had the greatest impact?  What role did websites and social networks play?   Powerful questions to be pondered by both politicians and business leaders.
  • Massachusetts has long been known as the “bluest of the blue” states.  A staunchly democratic state.  Yet the largest block of voters in Massachusetts are registered as independents.   (Democratic party take note.)   Despite partisan, Republican political viewpoints and supporters, Scott Brown painted himself as an independent and to his credit, he fired up the dissatisfied, disenfranchised independent voters (and many similarly unhappy Democrats) in this previously-believed-to-be-liberal state to follow him.   A lesson for future candidates that challenges the old adage that “perception is reality.”
  • What can we expect now from our legislators?  Paralysis?  Fear?  Obstruction?  Or compromise and consensus-building that will move us beyond stuck?  The “now what?” is the most important question to ask the morning after.
  • Finally, there is no question that some messages “stick” and inspire and others make the audience’s eyes glaze over.   As we’ve seen, when crafted brilliantly — and delivered passionately — even what many might consider unbelievable messages become believable. The message and messenger matter.

Four Weeks to Go

Thursday, December 3rd, 2009

Four weeks from tonight we’ll joyously celebrate the end of 2009 and welcome the new year — a new beginning with renewed hope for economic recovery, health and the still-elusive world peace.  Now is the time for CEO’s and their management teams to anticipate how they’ll jump-start the new year.

2009 will be remembered as a year that challenged everyone globally, businesses in just about every industry; homeowners with tighter budgets and families facing the unimaginable prospect of foreclosure; the employed working harder with fewer resources and the unemployed desperately seeking work in a dismal economy; continued terrorism, war and conflict in the Middle East; and a worldwide epidemic.  In fact, the only companies frenzied by too much demand were those struggling to manufacture enough vaccine to fight the H1N1 flu.   2009 was the year of “mission critical” investments, and a paralyzing wave of doom and gloom that prompted too many people and companies to hunker down…and just wait.

2009 kicked off with the historic inauguration of the United States’ first African American president — a candidate who ran on a platform of much-welcomed change.  Unfortunately the euphoria so many felt inadvertently set us up for unrealistic expectations that change would happen immediately.   We’d been waiting so long…Instead the year was marked by the harsh reality that recovery and real change take time.

While we no longer expect life to return to “business as usual” because we know it won’t — as it didn’t after the earlier bust — we remain hopeful.  We’re encouraged by the language we’re now hearing, “recovery” (albeit slow and not yet in every sector), “growth,” and even industrial “ramp up” to meet renewed demand.   The improved morale and optimism are a powerful reminder of the impact language has on our well-being.

This year’s holiday season that kicked off with Thanksgiving, continues with the eight days of Chanukah, and moves toward Christmas week, is an opportunity to find reasons to celebrate.  New Year’s Eve this year will help all of us look ahead again to new possibilities, renewed positive spirit and a belief that, as Patti LaBelle belts out in one of my favorite songs, we will survive!

Company leaders and management teams should kick-start 2010 with events that inspire and messages that clarify the ways in which each person can contribute to success.   Look ahead now (beyond year-end wrap-up) to plan for dynamic ways to jump-start new attitudes, new ways of working together and new opportunities in 2010.  The potential that next year holds is just four weeks away.

Salad, sushi and a steady diet of magazines…

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2009

“Feed me!”   It’s almost as if my brain screams to be nourished with a steady diet of magazines.   Look around my office and home and there’s always a nearby pile of current issues of Time, Newsweek, BusinessWeek, Fast Company, Fortune, Vanity Fair, More, Home and, recently even People Magazine.

I have my favorite columns such as “Made to Stick” in Fast Company.  I typically start by reading Time’s “Verbatim” before checking out my favorite columnists.  While I love Newsweek’s “Perspectives,” I hate their new layout which barely distinguishes between advertising and editorial.  I find BusinessWeek’s shorter-format stories make it easier to digest the business news I want to know.   I confess that I only read one or two of the Vanity Fair stories each month but I most often love the cover and photography.  I nurture the mature woman dimension of my personality with More magazine and love the articles that talk about being better, smarter, more beautiful and more confident at this stage of life than we were in our twenties.

As I flip through the pages I make note of stories I want to share with family, friends and clients.  (I usually start off reading hard copy  and often go online to forward electronic versions of my favorite articles.)  I get ideas.  I become curious about things I’d like to explore in greater depth.  I tuck away in my brain thoughts about leadership, managers, communication or creativity that I hope I can retrieve as I’m developing my next workshop.  And I tear out reminders about technology, clothing or make-up I think I’d like to buy.

There are those moments when I feel too-stuffed (aka busy, stressed or exhausted) to read another word, but most often I love feasting on my magazine diet.  As I nourish my body with salad and sushi, Time and Fast Company nurture my mind.