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WE ARE OUR STORIES

October 28, 2015

A few years ago, my wife and I took a trip to Burlington, Vermont. It was one of those perfect long weekends. We were there in November, and winter was running late, so the weather was ideal. It was cold and clear, but not unbearable, and we would watch the sun set over Lake Champlain, bundled in our scarves and sipping hot chocolate.

We went to a market where we met a woman who made hand-knit wool caps from yarn that came from sheep that grazed in a pasture just three and a half miles from the market itself, and in fact, she was the third generation of women in her family to make these caps.

At that same market, we met a guy who made honey that came from a local breed of bees that harvested pollen from some native flower that I now forget the name of, but this honey was the color of amber and tasted like butterscotch.

We had dinner at this tiny little restaurant in an old farmhouse where we ate the best salad ever. Yes, salad! The lettuce was crisp and fresh and tasted like it had been picked that very day.

And every single person we met was so … incredibly … kind. I remember how much they smiled and how much they asked us questions. They were curious about us and excited to share stories about themselves and their town, and they made us feel so welcome.

We came back from that trip and told everyone about Burlington … people got bored hearing our incessant stories about “perfect Burlington.”

But that trip was so special that here I am still sharing my stories five years later.

Our stories – that’s what we brought back from our trip to Burlington. Not wool caps and honey, but stories.

When we hear stories and create stories and tell stories, we are crafting and sharing the brand of a place, spreading awareness and interest far and wide.

There was nothing we experienced in Burlington that we don’t have right here in Winter Park. Literally. Incredible farmers market? Check. Spectacular weather? Check. Local history? Check. Sunset over the lake? Oh yeah!

But something happens when we travel away from home … we open our eyes and turn off the cynicism that normally shades our view, and we welcome into our brains and our souls all those things that make a place special.

And maybe that’s the point of my being here tonight … because I want to invite you to change the way you see and talk about this incredible town that we all have the great fortune of living in.

And perhaps to think differently, too.

To get us started, I want to ask you to do something. Over the next few minutes, I want you to turn to someone near you who you didn’t come with and I want you to tell that person your origin story, in other words, the story of how you came to Winter Park. That should take about 90 seconds … And then, let your partner tell his or her story

Now, tell me, who thinks their partner told a great story? And, did anyone have the exact same story as the person you shared with?

As I ask people to share these stories, what I find is that almost all of them are both personal and positive. We all wound up here for vastly different reasons. Many of the people I know in Winter Park go back multiple generations … and many others chose this place and are the first to make a home here, but almost everyone feels a deep emotional connection to this place.

What’s interesting, though, unless I prompt you to tell me a story about why you came here or why you love it here, what I hear mostly are … well … complaints.

We complain about traffic. We complain about parking. We complain about our brick streets…and we LOVE our brick streets. We complain about the restaurants that are here and those that aren’t. We complain about how the Christmas parade isn’t what it used to be. We complain about the weather. We complain about how crowded the park is. We complain about how expensive the frozen lemonade at the art festival is… now that I think is worth complaining about … is there someone here who can do something about that? But frozen lemonade notwithstanding, there is a very real reason that we complain even about things we love … we’re actually hard wired to do so.

We are genetically predisposed to find and focus on danger and threats … which today translates into noticing and complaining about just about everything. But we also complain because we know that negativity makes for better storytelling. Come on, 5 more minutes of me telling you how wonderful Burlington, Vermont is would feel like an eternity … but let me engage you in a debate about how annoying it is that I can’t turn left out of the Einstein’s parking lot, and we will trade stories for an hour at least.

But, I want to invite you today to think differently about what we see and what we say when we talk about Winter Park.

And the reasons I want you to talk differently about this great city is because people are listening.

Now, please don’t misunderstand, I don’t work for the mayor or the city council or the chamber of commerce, and I think it is absolutely critical that we continue to work together to evaluate the problems, address the important issues and plan for the future of our great city.

But I want to make sure that we don’t spend so much time focusing on what’s wrong … that we fail to spread stories about what’s right. For one, I want people who visit here or are thinking about visiting here to know that we don’t take this place for granted.

And two, because my children are paying attention … and I want them to hear more than just the negative. Because despite what they see around them, if all they hear is the complaining and bickering and negativity, they will soon believe that that is what Winter Park is all about. And I want them to grow up thinking and believing that they live in one of the most special cities in the country … because after they have gone away to college and done some exploring of their own, Steph and I desperately want them to come back here … to take care of us in our old age.

Now, to get us thinking differently about the stories we tell about Winter Park, let’s start thinking about how we want people to feel when they’re here … and, in fact, how WE want to feel living here.

Using what they call a Positive Experience Index, the Gallup organization seeks to find the happiest places to live in the world. This Positive Experience Index distills it down to just a few extraordinarily simple questions … and maybe these are the kinds of questions we need to be asking ourselves, as we seek to attract people to live here, to start and grow businesses here and to develop the kind of place that we love living in today and want our children to return to when they become adults.

So, here they are.

  1. Did you smile or laugh today?
  2. Were you treated with respect today?
  3. Did you feel well-rested today?
  4. Did you do or learn something interesting today?

That’s it. Those are the main questions in Gallup’s Positive Experience Index.

And these are a lot different than the questions we normally ask….like, how in the world did the mayor give “them” permission to build “that” house on “that” street?

Or, do you know how long it took me to find a parking space in front of Palmanos this morning?

You see, maybe the questions we should be asking when it comes to the quality of LIFE that we’re cultivating … or the kind of town we want to build a LIFE in should actually be about … our LIFE.

So…

Did you laugh today?

Were you treated with respect today?

Did you feel well-rested today?

Did you do or learn something interesting today?

And just so you know, America ranks 24th in the world in this poll, tied with Taiwan, the Dominican Republic and Iceland … and to put it into perspective, we are three points behind Venezuela, el Salvador and the Philippines.

So, any guesses what country had the highest positive experience index the last time Gallup took this poll?

The answer – Paraguay!. Not what you would have thought, right?

What this tells us is simply that it’s more about the relationships we form, the way we treat one another and the way we approach life that makes a great community. By no means am I saying that our beautiful oak trees and lakes and historic homes and the walkability of Winter Park and our brick streets are unimportant. I’m simply saying that we need to pay equal attention to the way we interact … and, we need to spend more time appreciating what we have.

I’ll leave you with a simple story.

Many years ago, a young boy was seeking the secret of life and was told to visit a wise emperor.

For days and weeks, the boy hiked across scorching hot desserts and tall treacherous mountains and at last arrived at the emperor’s palace. The boy was greeted at the doors by the emperor who welcomed him to the palace and explained that he had some business to finish up and would be ready to see him shortly. In the meantime, he asked the boy to fetch a teaspoon full of oil from the kitchen and bring it to him.

The boy did as he was told, found the kitchen nearby and the cook gave the boy a gold spoon filled with the richest olive oil the boy had ever seen.

Anxious to make a good impression on the emperor, the boy took the spoon full of oil and hurriedly, but with the utmost care, carried it to the emperor’s quarters, walking through the long hallways, up the steep steps, as carefully as possible so as to not spill even a single drop of that precious oil. In fact, as he walked, the boy said to himself over and over again, “I mustn’t spill the oil. I mustn’t spill the oil.”

At last, the boy arrived at the emperor’s quarters, proud and excited, he handed the emperor the spoon, all of its contents in tact.

The emperor took the spoon and looked at the boy. “So,” he said, “What did you think?”

“Think of what, your majesty?” the boy asked nervously.

“What did you think of the palace?” the emperor asked.

The boy looked at the emperor dumbfounded.

“Surely you noticed the great tapestries that lined the walls … they are made of the purest silk and were woven by hand, each one took over a decade to complete.”

The boy stared blankly.

“And surely you noticed the oil paintings, created by the greatest masters of the last century? And the frescoes? And the rugs? And the alabaster sconces?”

The emperor continued to describe the beauty of his palace, the beauty that the boy failed completely to see because he was so focused on not spilling what he had in his hand at that particular moment.

That was the secret of life that the boy had traveled so far to learn.

Let’s not fail to see the beauty that surrounds us because we’re so focused on trying to hold on to what we have or so focused on not losing what we had.

We live in a place that is as close to perfect as just about any place I have ever been. Let’s appreciate it … and love it … and share lots and lots of stories about it.

Thank you.

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The 20% Work For Me. I Make Sure Of It.

March 2, 2015

When Gallup polled US workers last year, they found that 80% of people don’t like their jobs, and what’s worse, 67% say they plan to leave their jobs within the next 12 months. Anecdotally, I know this is true. I hear my friends talk about how much they hate their jobs all the time. Doctors, lawyers, businessmen – the language they use to describe their work is negative, negative, negative. In some cases, they seem to take pride in how awful it is. They brag about the stress, the hours, the conflicts; and they count the days and years until they can stop working.

As a father, I’m worried that my children are hearing and believing these messages. I’m concerned that they believe that when they enter the work force it’s all stress and misery, buffered occasionally by happy hours, TGIF and a desperate hope that “one day I can retire.” Who is out there telling our kids, my kids, that work is rewarding, fulfilling, meaningful and important on numerous levels?

As a business owner, I know that if my team members are sitting at their desks thinking how much they hate their jobs and planning to leave soon, then clearly they aren’t help us to achieve our business goals.

But I’m convinced that it doesn’t have to be this way, and I’m committed to changing the conversation about work by changing the culture at work. I want to make sure that every member of my team feels valued and that their work is valuable. I find opportunities for every single person to have a voice in what we’re doing. And, I eliminate rules that see every individual as being the same and seek out ways to treat team members as individuals, understanding that not everyone is motivated in the same way and not everyone wants the same rewards. I institute rituals and traditions into our culture focused on five specific areas:

  1. Ignite Individual Growth
  2. Inspire Team Togetherness
  3. Build the Community Together
  4. Respect Family
  5. Support Meaningful Work

By doing these things, my team members are more fulfilled, more engaged, more focused and more intent on helping us be the best company we can be. They are the 20%, and that makes me happy.

How You Are You At Work?

February 20, 2015

There was a great quote in a Harvard Business Review article last year that said: “Most people at work… divert considerable energy every day to a second job that no one has hired them to do.” What they’re referring to is that most people come to the office each day feeling like they have to be a completely different person than who they really are.

In other words, that director of marketing or systems analyst or chief operating officer sitting over there is really just an actor playing that role.

Many of us have had this experience or have it every day, where we pull into the parking lot at work, turn off the car, look in the mirror, take a deep breath and leave our real selves in the car – our personality, hopes, dreams, passions, opinions – and slip into the role of who we think we’re supposed to be for the next 8 – 12 hours of the day. How exhausting!

In fact, HBR goes on to say that this role-playing vs. being a real person is one of the biggest obstacles to productivity in the US workplace. And no wonder, how can we be 100% focused on doing our jobs at a high level and helping our organizations pursue their business strategies when we’re busy trying to be someone we’re not?

But as leaders, there’s something we can do about this. We can consciously create a business environment or organizational culture that allows people to be who they are. We can encourage our team members to be themselves and to pursue the things they’re interested in. We can welcome real people instead of role players into our offices.

Now, just imagine how much better your organization could be if everyone on your team, including you, came to work as the most real and honest version of themselves there is. Don’t you think that would be an inspiring place to work?

Great Teams Change The World

February 19, 2015

Great teams think less about the competition and more about what’s possible with the talent and resources siting at the table and available through their network of friends and fans.

Great teams come to the table with courage, confidence and enthusiasm.

Great teams say things like “Let’s do this because it’s possible and it will change the world!” (And great leaders reply simply, “yes.”)

In my company, we are big fans of Little Bets (thanks Peter Sims!). That means that we are willing to try big ideas on a small scale and to explore ideas that can be done with the incredible talents and resources immediately available to us. Little Bets are easy to say yes to. We create these opportunities with big upside and little downside. They give team members a voice, ownership and the opportunity to stretch their wings. And if they don’t work, it’s no big loss, it was a little bet and we just move on to the next one. And if it does work, well, then we’re one step closer to changing the world.

Great teams change the world.

HAVE A MEANINGFUL DAY

May 28, 2013

I spend a lot of my time thinking and talking about branding and marketing strategies, which, inevitably has led to my thinking and talking a lot about leadership, which has, in turn, led to me thinking and talking about culture, which, in turn, has brought me to the subject of happiness and satisfaction.

Much of what I’ve been thinking about lately has to do with how people (clients and employees alike) are looking for more meaningfulness in their lives and their relationships. I believe, and research supports the idea, that employees want to feel like they’re appreciated for what they contribute to the organization work-wise and as human beings, and that the work they produce is valued and valuable. In fact, research tells us that these feelings may be more important than how much employees get paid in terms of fostering loyalty, dedication and commitment to their jobs. Not to mention productivity.

I’ve always been a big fan of TED, and recently, I came across the following video, in which Dan Ariely does an amazing job of explaining the importance of meaningfulness. If you’re looking for ways to forge a deeper connection with the various stakeholders in your life, take a look at this video, it will have you thinking differently about how to connect with and reward the important people in your life.

http://www.ted.com/talks/dan_ariely_what_makes_us_feel_good_about_our_work.html

Leadership is

May 17, 2013

I remember when I was in High School, I thought leaders were some special group that special people got invited to be a part of or voted into, like honor society or student council.

And then, when I was in college, I believed that leadership was a degree you earned, like an MBA or PhD.

And when I started my career, I thought ‘leader’ was a job title that would one day be printed on my business card, a synonym for director or vice president or CEO.

But today, after a lot of life experience, after having kids, and starting a business…after nurturing good employees and struggling with difficult ones…after dealing with tough clients and a tougher economy…and after sharing my stories and hearing those of a lot of other leaders, my view of what leadership is…is a whole lot different.

Today, I know that being a leader is not something I am just at my job or just with my family or just on the boards I choose to sit on.

Being a leader is not something you are Monday through Friday or 9 to 5. Being a leader is not something you are only when you’re around certain people in certain situations.

Being a leader is a choice we make, the way we choose to be every day. Every single day. In every interaction with the people in our lives, and even when no one is watching.

I think what I’ve really learned is that leadership isn’t a destination, but a journey. A journey of trying to be the best version of ourselves that we can be. A journey of awareness and thoughtfulness. A journey of setting goals and sharing vision. A journey in which we passionately pursue the things that interest us, passionately fight for the things that are important to us, and passionately work for the people and the organizations that need us.

Leadership is doing these things with humility and sincerity and in a way that invites other people to join us on our journey.

And leadership is about being thankful, truly thankful for those who support us, who inspire us, and encourage us.

WHY I WANT THIS WORLD TO BE A BETTER PLACE (Speech for National Volunteer Week at Orlando City Hall 4/10/13)

April 11, 2013

About a month ago, I gave a short talk at the Holocaust Memorial Resource and Education Center of Florida. That day, I said that the reason I willingly and without hesitation give so much of my time to the Holocaust Center is that I truly believe that this organization is changing the world. I believe that the Holocaust Center, through its education programs, interfaith programs and anti-bullying programs is making the world we live in a better place. It’s as simple as that. But for me, I don’t just want this world to be a better place. I need this world to be a better place. Because frankly, I’m tired of explaining to my three kids why an event as horrific as the Holocaust took place just two generations ago. And I’m tired of explaining to them why genocide has continued to take place in Syria and Bosnia and Rwanda and way too many places around the world. And I’m tired of explaining to them why innocent people are killed in movie theaters and elementary schools here in America. And I’m tired of explaining why people on TV, people who are supposed to be our leaders and role models, speak with such hate-filled language and treat their colleagues with such disrespect. And I’m tired of explaining to them why kids in their own schools torment and bully other kids who seem to be different. And I’m really tired of telling them that it’s their responsibility to stand up for these kids…when standing up is so incredibly hard. So, I guess, while I’m incredibly flattered that Joanie invited me here today to remind everyone why it’s so important that we volunteer our time to the causes that are important to us in our community, I must admit that what fuels my fire, what drives me to volunteer is…a pretty selfish desire. I want the world to be different for my kids. For my grandkids. For all of my family’s future generations. It’s that simple. And I bet it’s that simple for you too.