Life Long Learning
I was tied up most of the day in a RIM
board meeting. I sometimes feel guilty that it takes me out of SYNNEX business but I certainly do learn. It gives me a view into other technology areas and into large public company life. It helps to expand me. The legal issues RIM has been involved with are also morbidly fascinating.
I presented our company results and the company survey to Guelph staff. Good attendance. The slides were too detailed to see well. I need to make the message simpler. I feel I also need to break into two groups because the room cannot accommodate that many people. Some questions but not enough interaction to say it was good.
You likely notice that many of my blogs are about learning. I am a lifelong learner. I seek knowledge.
Knowledge can be your competitive advantage.
Nothing is constant in the world – everything is always changing. I want to be equipped to take advantage of changes. The best way I know of to equip myself is to always learn.
People tend to equate learning with school and boring. This is simply not true. Learning is interesting and fun. Especially if you know yourself and what inspires you. Of course learning about something that has no interest to you is very boring but you have an opportunity to learn about whatever you want.
The ways to learn are endless – reading magazines and books, audio programs, TV(the right TV), video programs, courses, tutors, ask someone etc.
I tend to be inspired to research. When I am inspired on a topic (like how to write a book), I can go into a research phase and read 8-10 books and articles on the topic before moving onto other things.
I have read that one characteristic of people who live a long time is they are lifelong learners. This alone is inspiration for me since I need to live a long life to be able to accomplish all of my goals.
Swallow a Frog first thing
Long day. Tough deal I am working on, combined with the usual huge volume. SYNNEX released results today. I think they will be viewed as positive. I have presentations to do to my people on these and the company survey.
To be effective, I need to often get through difficult things (or difficult things for me)
One tip that has punched me through more difficult problems than I can remember. I read somewhere, if you swallow a frog first thing in the morning, the rest of the day has to look pretty good by comparison.
First thing each day, I do the most difficult task. Usually I set a time limit. I work on it for only 15 minutes. My belief is that I can do anything for 15 minutes. Frequently this 15 minutes breaks me through a logjam and so I continue and finish the task. Sometimes, it does not and I give myself permission to set it aside knowing I have moved it 15 minutes further ahead.
First thing in the morning for me is also a high energy time so I tend to be at my best creative problem solving time.
I have extended this rule to include first thing back in the office. First thing after lunch. First thing after dinner. So I can get an hour or more per day on the difficult issues.
Pricing and Competitive Advantage
I ran 10 miles today in 1:27 – took a lot out of me. This is the pace I need to maintain to qualify for the Boston marathon
. This makes up for yesterday when I did not run at all.
I took my parents some fresh strawberries and radishes from the garden. We have no grass – just mulch and gardens. Poor on the time management – grass is faster (although the mulch helps). I do learn ever time I weed though that I could learn from some of the weeds’ persistence.
I like to read 4 or 5 books at a time. A chapter or one, a few from another etc. My good friend – Rick Jamieson, President of ABS Friction
(they make brake pads) is a great reader and always passes on the best books. Well – usually. One of the books he recently loaned me is called “The Strategy and Tactics of Pricing
” by Nagle and Holden. It is a highly technical read – a bit like a text book.
Pricing is a challenge in computer distribution. Our margin is so thin. Much of the book is about companies with more differentiated products and hence higher margins. Our industry is one of almost perfect competition. My challenge is to try to offer customers great value while at the same time making a fair profit. A 0.1% change in price in our industry can make the difference between profit and loss.
I am a big believer in competitive advantage. Being the lowest price without the lowest cost is a recipe for failure. One thing that attracted me to do the SYNNEX deal
in the first place was SYNNEX’s low cost base. I know now this cost base is not without its price. What we now need to seek is to accentuate our advantages (not only our low cost base) for this is the only true way to prosper. For us this usually happens when we have the dominant market share like we do with Apple, Logitech, Acer, Autodesk, software licensing (and most software lines), Maritime market share, Calgary warehouse etc.
Our earnings get released this week. I am planning a few sessions with the staff to run through the earnings and also what our impact is on the big picture. I also plan to share some of my personal visions for the next 5 years.
Still a bit jet lagged – seem sluggish. I survived my overnight flight, gave myself permission to only run 2 miles figuring that the 7 miles the day before still gave me an OK average. I usually only run 3-5 miles per day.
Had pretty solid meetings and conference calls for the morning at Ronson, lunch meeting then back to my Guelph office where I met my middle daughter Beth. I had not seen her for 3 months since she was on a school term in England. It was great seeing her if even for only a few minutes. She is sweet.
Felt terribly guilty about sneaking home for a 2 hour nap before my ex-EMJ board dinner which went well.
Today is mostly just a catch up on a few things in the office day and work on a huge deal I have in the hopper.
Waiting for the flight home, I finished reading “Hardball: How Politics is Played told by one who knows the Game
” by Chris Matthews. He is a US political talk show host. Much of the book is about applying political tactics to work environments. It is the 4th or 5th book I have read in the past few months on politics. Makes me realize what a brutal game Politics is (and I thought computer distribution was rough).
SYNNEX is much larger than EMJ so I am keenly aware of there being more politics at work. This is especially strong when changes are being made. So I looked for books to help me with this. Although this is a good recreational read, it was of limited help for me in my current situation.
One line that I thought was good is “all politics are local” (by Tip O’Neil). I realize what I need to do to garner support is to be local everywhere. Another point which I have long practiced is to invest in people. The more I invest in them, the more committed they will be to my success. The book talks about how to handle rumour and attacks – Head on and with truth. It talks about how to build power and support, the only 2 of which I can use are: Play to your strengths and underpromise and overdeliver.
Back to big P Politics. I always say I am non-Political – largely because that makes business sense. If I supported any party, I would likely offend one of my customers or suppliers or employees. It is no win in business to be political.
learning and travel
I am writing this in the lounge at San Francisco airport awaiting my overnight flight back. Anyone who thinks travel is a perk does not do enough of it.
My tricks on overnight flights are:
1 - I have a noise cancelling headset which I wear - usually with no music or clissical.
2 - I try to work out when I arrive and have a big breakfast.
3 - I try not to make any important decisions the next day.
Works for me. Usually I can be 90% productive for the full day.
We had a board meeting today. I presented and think I did well. Of course it is only as easy to present as the performance of the company. It is impossible to sell futures forever. SYNNEX has a great board with a real substance and depth of experience. They ask real questions.
Speaking of boards, I have a thank you dinner with the interim EMJ board tomorrow night. Another perk of dubious value (considering it will undoubtedly go late after a long day and the overnight flight is never the most restful). This said, they are good people and I enjoy their company.
On a more upbeat note:
We (SYNNEX) are going to evaluate an online learning tool. Of course I am a life long learner so want to try the courses myself. They are just on the common MS applications I think. Since I use these applications everyday, I can likely learn something to save myself a few minutes per day. It will be a time investment up front.
One learning trick I adopted long ago was to never go to bed without learning something. Usually I can immediately point to what I learned today but sometimes I need to pull out a book and learn something. It is the little tricks that add up over the years.
Still in California. Nice weather but I feel I fall further and further behind the more I am out of the office. Actually I am in the office – just not one of my Canadian offices. I have this guilt that my people need me and I am not there. Cloning?
A lot of what I deal with is email. I deal with huge volume. I am a big believer in having great systems to deal with email volume. Of course I use filters and folders extensively. Of course I use a RIM (I sit on the RIM board so I think it is required but I would anyways even if I had nothing to do with the company) which really reduces the number of emails I have not dealt with when I am not at my desk.
After that, my system includes a 2 minute rule. If I can deal with an email in less than 2 minutes I deal with it and am done. If it is greater than 2 minutes, I put it in my todo folder. If I am way behind, I reduce this from 2 minutes to 30 seconds or less. Sometimes it drops to 2-3 seconds which is mostly just emergency scanning.
One of my ethics is crispness or professionalism which for me includes very fast response to email. I read once that a person can respond to seven emails in the time it takes for one phone call. So I figure fast response encourages people to use email rather than call which is more efficient.
I read my first book totally on screen over the past couple of days. A 246 page PDF by Jay Abraham called Stealth Marketing that was sent to me by Chuck Siegel from Honeywell Battery. Although much of it is dated, some of it is right on. He speaks about the mind being a cooker – ideas need to be thought about then left for the subconscious mind to solve. I think my 2 minute rule feeds to this. I have time to read almost any email in 2 minutes but sometimes need to think about it before responding. I find often that the emails I filed as todo can be responded to the second time I look at them in less than the 2 minutes because my mind has been processing it without me focusing on it. I wrote about this in my June 4th posting.
Work out Inspiration
I am still in California. Beautiful weather. Nice place - even if I spend most of my time in an air conditioned office and board room.
One of my friends here, Gary Gulmon is CIO at SYNNEX. He had a health warning (possible heart problem). He is in a high stress job (and likely the pressure I put on him adds mightily to that since I view IT as critical and it can be a competitive advantage or disadvantage but thats a topic for another blog.). I spoke to him about some of the tricks I use to keep working out and forwarded an email to him that I thought I would share.
These definitely ties into time management since being healthy and strong gives me the stamina to get the things done that I do.
1 - Sometimes working with a friend for part of it works. EG - a walk.
etc. I play squash. Of course I am going to be there.
2 - I keep a daybook log and set goals. For me, I break my workouts into 2.5K or 5K or 10K equivalents (roughly 12, 24 and 45 min segments). I also track upper body. my goal is 2 -2.5K, 3 -5K and one 10K per wk and 3 upper body - so that gives me 1 day off per week(my walks are just bonus). I use a highlighter pen with different colours. Sort of a game to make each week work.
3 - I definitely am a big believer in cross training or doing different
things. EG - I take Karate. Each lesson is a 2.5K equiv. I run, exercycle, cycle, stair mill, squash etc.
4 - Sometimes I listen to a CD or MP3 to break the boredom.
5 - I usually work out before I shower and get dressed. More efficient I figure.
6 - It is a momentum thing. Once you start, you will keep going. It takes 21 days to make a habit. At the same time, it is a one day at a time - don't beat yourself up if you miss a few days.
7 - I like working towards goals. I run a few 5, 10 and 15K and the odd half marathon race per year. I make it a game to improve my times. Working up for a 5K or 10K race sometime in the future can be a great motivator. Your first goal is to finish standing.
8 - Lately I have been adding a reps to failure at the end of every workout - only takes a minute or 2. What I do is do the workout then do as many pushups I can or as many situps or run as many minutes as I can at 3:30 per K.
9 - some people like a personal trainer. I have done this once. At the very least, the gym you join will help show you the equipment and set up a program for you.
10 - People think I have great discipline. I don't - I use tricks. I put my clothes in the car the night before so it is the path of least resistance to just throw on a sweat suit and go out and drive to the Y.
11 - continually read, talk to people, keep pumped. It always helps to get me back on track.
12 - I put it on my goal list and I always do what is on the goal list.
13 - Do the smallest of things. Park 4 spaces further from the door. Pace back and forth while on the phone. Take the stairs up 2-3 floors (in hotels I request a 3rd floor room and always walk the stairs - in a 3 day stay, that can be 27 floors up) etc. My office in Toronto is on the 7th floor. Why waste the electricity for an elevator - walk.
14 - I have a set of hand weights in the bedroom that I use to do just a few reps occasionally before bed.
Good luck with this. Probably your most important goal. Health trumps
money any day. (IE - no health, who cares what you are worth)inspiration
The World is Flat
I am just out of 3 fairly intense days of meetings. Too much sitting. Lots of value though. So many things to do that I could send emails until midnight.
My current favourite book is “
It has been a long day of meetings. I learned a lot and took lots of notes so have lots of action I need to get to.
This morning I lifted weights with one of my mentors (yes I have many of them) – John Paget, COO for SYNNEX. He is my idol because even though I pride myself on being in shape, he lifts more and does more reps and he is about 8 years older than I am. What’s more, he works out at 5 every morning – a good inspiration. Apart from the weight lifting, John is one of the best communicators I know and has a natural mentor attitude. I bounce a lot of my ideas off of him to get his coaching.
On the flight down to Fremont I read a great book called Spiritual Serendipity
by Richard Eyre. Ties in to time management in a big way. Serendipity is defined as the gift or faculty of finding something good while seeking something else. I often have this. It is part of my charmed life.
It contains the fable of Serendip (which is now called Sri Lanka and was formerly called Celon)
Interesting, the book is very big on setting goals. With goals, you will find the good you seek often without even looking for it. Sort of like planting the seed I spoke of in an earlier post.
Quotes from the book:
“Time is like the tides and currents – it needs to be harnessed not managed”
“While Serendipity is helped by goals and direction, it is hindered by the heavy, overstructured plans and highly detailed lists and schedules…sucking away from the opportunities and surprises of the present.”
Although I am passionate about time management or in my case, time leadership, I have often been asked “does it not detract from life?” etc. This is the answer. Have goals and plans but also allow time for serendipity.
The book is interesting and very thought provoking.
Talking to myself (mantras) and adversity
This morning I write from the Toronto airport. Waiting to go to Fremont for quarterly executive meetings.
This morning was a good day to use one of my mantras – “successful people do tough things”. I repeat this often to help shake me loose from procrastination and to just get me through the tough stuff. It was tough getting up at 4:40 to head to the airport. The traffic/security delays are tough to figure in so I like to leave extra time. And poor me – I missed my workout and other morning routines. I love early mornings and have a huge list of things I like to do. Coming to the airport is not on that list.
Still, I like my waiting time once I get through security at airports and use it as time to catch up on my trade journals.
Last night I was out late at a YPO (Young Presidents Organization – www.ypo.org) event featuring Hurricane Carter. He was the prize fighter who claims to be wrongly accused of murder. He spent 20 years in prison. There was a Denzil Washington movie on it which I have not seen yet. He was a good speaker. Tremendously positive person for spending so much of his prime behind bars. He is 68 years old but could pass for 50. One comment he made was the greatest thing that has ever happened to him was spending all that time in prison. It allowed him to find himself.
I am repeatedly impressed with how much adversity can be a gift to the right person. It also sure helps to put any of my adversities into perspective. It is not what happens to us, it is our reaction to what happens which is important. And the beauty is that we get to choose our reactions even if we cannot fully choose our adversities.
I recently re-read E-Myth and E-Myth revisited
by Michael Gerber (www.e-myth.com). His thesis is to work on the business, not in the business. He is a big believer of systematizing and documenting processes. Dumbing things down so anyone can do them.
Although the primary thrust of his books are targeted at small business (and since I started my business from 0, I am a bit of a small business person despite running the Billion dollar company), there are some gems for larger businesses as well.
It speaks to scalability. Creating a system that can grow and does not require any specific person in order to do this. Then polishing the system at every opportunity to make it better.
What I am finding in the current polishing is that the adaptability of the people is a key trait. People tend to be the barrier to new systems. The adaptable ones will thrive. Part of what I need to do is to also moderate some of the change in order not to break a good thing. Although we need to change – we also need stability. It is that balance that I seek.
I just got back the results of a whole company survey that we did. We have our work cut out for us. It is through these surveys that I see the need for greater stability. I also got some good ideas on how we can polish our systems.
What gets tracked gets focus
I notice with this challenge I have with Zeno on the number of steps each day that I tend to focus on it more and therefore do more than I otherwise would have. I have been keeping a log of my steps each day.
I use tracking to add emphasis to my goals. I keep an old fashioned paper daybook where I write in my workouts. Knowing I am recording them and “marking” them at the end of the month gets me out to the gym. I know people who eat healthier because they do a similar tracking.
This same principal can be used for any goal. Create a log. Track time spent or better yet, track results.
Remember, any goal that you are not prepared to spend 1 hour per week on should be taken off your current goal list. How are you going to know this if you do not track them?
As with anything, you need to make sure you are tracking the right things and that what you are tracking is directly relevant to your success goals.
Anything you focus on will improve. Even when I do not quite hit my targets, I tend to do better than having no targets.
Act long term
Today I went to my daughter Laura’s convocation from the University of Windsor. She graduated with an honours BA in English and Drama (with distinction) and won the Board Of Governor’s medal in Dramatic Art. Needless to say, her dad (that would be me) is proud.
It got me thinking. People tend to respect those who persevere. We respect people with university degrees because we know they sacrificed and stuck with it. The same is true in business. I get a lot of respect because I have been doing this for 25+ years.
People who can put off immediate rewards and work towards longer term ones tend to be more successful. Procrastination is often caused by people taking the short term reward (sitting on the couch and watching TV) over the short term sacrifice (going for a run or learning) to achieve the long term reward (fitness or knowledge)
I know that the only conflict I ever tend to have with my people is the long term vs short term discussion. I am a very long term thinker.
One of my favourite quotes is “we tend to over estimate what we can accomplish in a day but underestimate what we can accomplish in a year or a decade.”
A friend of mine recently emailed me the following:
“The race is not always to the swift, but to those who keep on running.”
I had dinner last night with a friend and mentor of mine – Dr. Joe Martin from U of T. He is a professor at the Rotman School of business – previously the managing partner of Deloitte’s consulting practice. I used to sit on the board of directors of Angoss Software (www.angoss.com
) with him.
He is very seasoned and experienced. Always has a story to tell and has interesting insights. He has a keen understanding and interest in history. We can learn from history and sometimes I wish I spent more time studying it.
I am a big believer in mentors – primarily informal ones. Ones who are nice enough to be friends but honest enough to tell me how it is. I have a fairly large rolodex of mentors that I can call on for different purposes. Mentors help me find clarity or as I call it, they help me unlock the advice I have within myself.
Ideally when I meet with a mentor, I like to know what questions I want to ask. Sometimes just figuring out the questions gives me the answers I want. Last night I lacked clarity to even know the questions to ask which is why is good that Joe and I are such good friends that it does not matter as much.
I like to use the Think – Mentor – Think method. I think about my challenges, then meet with my chosen mentor then think about the solutions and action I will take.
Driving home I realized how much I enjoyed his conversation and advice. Although the dinner was long and not in my usual quick style, it made me think that some things are not meant to be rushed.
Today was a great finish to an awesome sales conference. We really have some fine people working at SYNNEX and I am grateful to be able to lead them.
Our closing speaker was 3 time Olympic gold medal winner (and she also won a bronze) – Marnie McBean. She won for rowing. She is a great speaker. Very motivational. Simple but compelling message:
1 – She is just a normal person. This was part of her charm. She was very down to earth. Her message is that normal people can do great things.
2 – Set you goals and plan the path then mostly look at the path because the goal itself might be daunting. I am a big believer in breaking goals down. Big goals can seem overwhelming but small pieces are very manageable. One trick I do is the break the goal down into sub goals. Then come up with the tasks to achieve each. I like some of the tasks to be instant tasks – things I can do in 2 minutes or less. I can then knock off one small part of a big goal whenever I have just a short block of time. This is also a trick I use to put of procrastinating since I know I can do anything for a few minutes, I tell myself to just do an instant task.
Back to Marnie.
Her story of the race was riveting. Her delivery was comfortable and funny.
I come off the sales conference recharged and energized with lots of ideas that I am excited to implement. We are successful now but I see a lot of areas we can be more successful. I filled a small notepad with ideas and comments from people. Now I have to turn them into action. I will set a whole new set of subgoals (my overall goals have not changed from the weekend but the subgoals have). Very exciting but also daunting (partly because I was out of the office all weekend and feel behind). I like challenges.
The power of How.
Today I am at my sales retreat at Kingbridge Centre in King city. Beautiful facility.
The day started with a scheduled run at 6:45 in light rain. I was disappointed with the turn out but I did say it was optional so really cannot blame anyone. Maybe I need to use the How question to get more people out. Ask “how could I get 30 people out to the morning run”.
I am a bit of a business philosopher. Last night at the intro address I tried to share one of my philosophies – the Power of How. I have solved many challenges by asking How. How could I do X?
We had an awesome hypnotist last night – Boris the Incredible. I have not laughed that hard in months. It got me thinking about the parts of our brain and how little we use our intelligence.
When I ask my How questions, often the answer does not come to me immediately. Often it comes when I am not thinking of it. What I have done by asking the question is to plant the seed and my unconscious mind goes about solving it. My mind also becomes more aware and open to solutions.
I am careful not to get stuck in the over analysis of the Why. Why is important – so I can learn from things but I try not to dwell on it. If I ask Why we cannot sell X – I will find an answer and start believing it. If I ask How can we sell X – I will also get an answer but in this case it will be a useful one.
I find I am more successful if I ask the right questions.
Off to sessions…
That is the title of the book I am working on right now. Great book by Catherine Nomura and Julia Waller. I say working on because I have already read the book but is one of those books that you have to do the exercises to get the value.
The theory is “the more you know yourself, the more you can spend time in your unique ability area and the happier, more productive and the more value you can add”. I like the theory and believe in it.
The exercise is to ask the people that know me well to give me their input on what they think my unique talents, abilities and characteristics are and to use these to synthesize a unique ability statement about myself.
I have to say the responses I have had are humbling. I really need to live up to a lot to live up to what people think of me.
This book hits me at the right time. Since I sold to SYNNEX and changed roles from running the smaller company to the larger one, I often find myself in areas that are not my strengths.
My challenge is to figure out how best to add value while at the same time fitting within the SYNNEX culture or where appropriate to help mould the culture into a better one. The biggest challenge I face is moulding corporate culture but that could be a topic of a full blog itself.
Unique ability is a theory developed and perfected by Dan Sullivan of www.strategiccoach.com
. Dan has developed a great consulting company based a lot on this principle. I like a lot about what Dan teaches but have a conflict with one of his ideas – to take lots of time off. One of my unique abilities is boundless energy and high work ethic and taking time off conflicts with the work ethic part. Also my success and industry demands high availability.
I would welcome anyone emailing me any input on my unique abilities as I build this profile for myself
I am a bit of a health guy and would like to be more of one so when Zeno Ricci, President of Targus Canada and Latin America (not sure how those 2 come together) challenged me to wear a pedometer from June 1 to Aug 31 to see if I could do more steps than he could, I accepted the challenge. The loser has agreed to donate $1 per step difference to Breast Cancer Research. This could amount to a fair amount since the steps could easily vary by 2000-3000 steps per day times 90 days or $180,000-$270,000.
To up the ante, the other leaders of the other distributors are also taking the challenge.
It is not the donation that motivates me as much as my competitive nature. Something in me does not allow me to let anyone beat me.
This is a great creative challenge. I love Targus (except the margins). www.targus.com
. They make notebook carrying cases and accessories. Not a very sexy or high tech business. You would think someone would come in and blow them out of the market but no one has. Targus manages to keep the lead with top quality products at aggressive prices. They treat their customers well.
Now all I have to do is come up with a desk I can push around while I type so I can get my steps up.
Top 10 list
I am preparing for my sales retreat this weekend. 150+ reps, product managers etc fly in from Friday night to Sunday to get energized for the coming year. This is my first one with SYNNEX. I have done 25 with EMJ but this one is different. Many of the reps I do not know well yet.
In preparing my slides, I am trying to distill my most important wisdom. One slide I have is on the power of How. We need to always ask How can we sell XXX by YYY? How can we ship X% more with the same resources etc. Answering this question can often lead to good anwers. The act of asking is half the battle.
I am also sharing with the team my top 10 list. My top 10 priorities. By sharing these, I not only hope to get support for them, I hope to inspire them to have their own top 10 list. My rules on the top 10 list:
1 - I must spend at least an hour each week on each of these.
2 - I spend an hour each week looking at the list and breaking down tasks that flow from the list.
3 - I keep it highly visible as I work each day. This helps to keep me focussed on what is important.
Will be a good weekend. I am sure I will come away with tons of notes and enough action to keep me busy for weeks.