Archive for May, 2014

Why a Bowling Pin Boy Beats an MBA

Wednesday, May 28th, 2014

national_size1Millennials are getting a bad reputation for helicopter parents, ADD and lack of commitment at work. Plenty of Millennials disprove that stereotype. However, almost every employer and manager I speak with – some Millennials themselves – worry aloud about the work ethic and engagement of this generation as a whole.

In Sunday’s New York Times, reporter Steven Kurutz neither laments his own humble work history nor regales us with his arduous first job, when he was working as a pin boy in the bowling alley of his rural Pennsylvania hometown. In the 1990s for $5 an hour plus tips, this is the job:

“To perform the job of pin boy, you sat perched above a pit on a wooden bench, hidden behind a latticework of machinery. As the ball thundered down the lane, you waited for the crack and jumped into the pit. Then, in a series of movements as fast — and nearly as well choreographed — as a Nascar tire change, you grabbed the scattered pins, placed them in their corresponding slots on the pinsetter, picked up the ball and pushed it down an iron track back to the bowler.”

By happenstance, my great uncle Jerry also worked as a pin boy, before he joined the Navy toward the end of WWII. He was a New York City high school student studying avionics. There wasn’t pay for pin boys then, just tips from the bowlers.

For the rest of his life, Uncle Jerry always held a job where he was paid for performance. He always worked hard and loved work. He was meticulous about keeping records. Plus, he could have become a pro-bowler, he was that good, but he didn’t like the potential earnings. When he moved to Southern California, he played football on Sundays with Elvis, would have been a movie star if stage fright didn’t overcome him, and married Miss Hungary, who was a Miss World finalist. Of all the great stories Uncle Jerry tells about his life, some of the funniest and most inspiring are about jumping around the bowling alley putting up pins, and avoiding being knocked out or badly bruised by incoming balls and flying pins.

Kurutz writes that his hometown still has the same setup in the bowling alley, and the pin boys do the same job, and take home the same money he did. The pay is the only thing that stinks about the story.

What’s amazing is that high school boys or girls putting up pins and dodging danger in the pits today, can grow up to be a top apparel executive like my uncle Jerry, a New York Times reporter like Steven Kurutz, or if I am lucky: someone who works for me.

That’s the Millennial I want to hire, as do lots of other executives and business owners. I want to hire individuals who know that sweat is a sign of strength. Who think and move fast. Who knows laboring in the background to make things right in the front of the house is a great job on the road to future success.

When you put together your work history – not your resume or LinkedIn profile – but your actual working life: try to find a job that shows you can sweat, pick up heavy items, or do repetitive tasks with speed and verve.

I could easily turn down an Ivy League MBA for employment. But a pin boy or girl? You have an unbeatable competitive advantage.

More from Nance…

You can find Nance on

What Successful People Hate About Feedback

Wednesday, May 21st, 2014

6527285_sA horror story played out at a board of directors meeting this last week. A venture capital firm called Deep Knowledge appointed an algorithm to its board. The algorithm is engaged in picking the firm’s investments, which are largely in emerging drug companies that develop medicine for aging related diseases.

This sorry reliance on data gathered about past success and patterns of behavior (AKA feedback) to predict the future, was portrayed as “futuristic.”  Of course, the algorithm’s appointment was largely a stunt to get our attention. Not positive attention, but attention nonetheless. It is a cautionary tale.

Consider this in your business or career. If all past events could be used to predict future ones, then the world would be a boring place. It would be ridiculously predictable, which of course the world is not. Not at all.

For example, at some point in primary school, you spelled some words wrong that you probably could get right today. In fact, you’ve likely come a long way from spelling even being an issue in your life.

As I recall, in third grade I spelled “stagecoach” wrong, because I was absent the day Mrs. Cooper assigned it among that week’s vocabulary words. No one thought to catch me up; in fact, in fifth grade the school district offered to take me off my parents’ hands and put me in college. So, there were no worries about my academic prowess from early on.

But, of course, being smart doesn’t have a whole lot to do with predictable success. Smart and lucky are a famously excellent set of conditions for success. Here is a nod to whomever defined luck as “opportunity meeting preparation.”

Successful people know that looking back to predict what will happen going forward is a fool’s game. It’s why by law, financial companies selling investments while touting a stellar record from a past time period must announce some version of: “past performance is not an indicator of future performance.”

Simply put: feedback does not equal feed-forward.

It is not just accidents, flukes, “100 year floods” that come twice over two years in a row, or a cleaning lady who is secretly a millionaire leaving her estate to you that stops the world and your life from being some version of Groundhog Day (the movie).

Successful people know that past data does not predict behavior.

“Just as looks can be deceiving, data can also be deceiving because they’re not the whole picture,” Tony Haile, the chief executive of Chartbeat, which provides real-time analytics for ESPN, CNN and The New York Times Company, opined in the New York Times on Sunday.

For every thousand data slaves armpit deep in analytics, there must be one futurist who is in charge of leading an organization, at various levels. You might be that individual. I hope so.

To rise above the past, means you have the career-enlivening characteristic of good decision-making now. It means you can ignite conversations about the nuances and the easy to believe but wrong-headed correlations that data would otherwise represent about you, or the industry and world around you.

If your personal brand includes problem solving and the ability to sift through data to find what is relevant and not relevant: we really need you in our organizations so you can lead them. Match these qualities with perseverance, resilience, humor, and compassion, and you are unstoppable.

Stay skeptical about your past, my friend. Search for bigger, deeper connections than those that come from simple, mechanical calculation. Make sure you are living with ideas about yourself that might be nonsense today, but could be the truth going forward.

Don’t let an algorithm or anything else steal your seat at the conference table. Mean more. And tell us exactly what your brand promise will mean to us.

More from Nance…

You can find Nance on

Why Successful People Use Their Indoor Voices

Thursday, May 15th, 2014

18299673_sLast night I had dinner at one of the more delicious Los Angeles seafood houses, Connie and Ted’s. Little known to the outside world, LA “night life” closes up early every night of the week. For example, it’s hard to get dinner after 10 PM on a Saturday night and the bars all close at 2 PM, latest. So, at this West Hollywood hot spot around 8 PM, lots of celebrities and various industry folks were quietly putting away freshly shucked oysters, steaming lobsters drowning in butter and toasted hunks of garlic sourdough bread dripping with sauce from mussels marinara.

It’s an expensive place to eat and drink, for sure. The restaurant chefs and staff do everything they can to make it worth it.

What they cannot control is what ruins the experience.

People screaming for attention. Literally. Screaming. For. Attention.

Among the movers and shakers, families celebrating a big event and partnered folks on a date night like I was, were the people who wanted to be noticed by the rest of us. We sat next to such a foursome. Using their outdoor voices, they shared their stories, reveries, aspirations, experiences and unbridled hysterical reactions to each other.

Have you ever been at a bar or restaurant where there are screamers? Where everything they say is whoop-worthy? Where a shrill whistle, a locomotive, rollercoaster and head cheerleader with a megaphone could not compete with the noise anyone of them is emanating?

Do you scream in public places, that aren’t parks or stadiums?

After decades of looking at some key issues in human behavior and the workplace, it’s clear to me that there is no magic threshold that separates life and work. There is no passage through a doorway that makes you a considerate, confidence-inspiring, attractive person in the workplace, when you are a rude, lout in your personal life. No one has that good a grip or tight a rein on their impulses.

So, if you want to be respected, promoted, hired, invested in, or otherwise well-rewarded and regarded in business: start by reflecting on your behavior when you think we are not watching you in that context.

Open the door for someone behind you. Quietly wait your turn in line. Leave a good tip. Lower your voice so others can enjoy their own conversations.

I can only imagine that at least one of the screenwriting screamers from dinner last night showed up for a meeting with a Hollywood producer the next day. My guess is the memory of their first accidental meeting probably wasn’t there, but the taint of self-importance couldn’t be missed.

More from Nance…

You can find Nance on

The One Word that Truly Predicts Success

Wednesday, May 7th, 2014

4367573_sAll successful people in business do some of the same things really well. They have mastery over 1) productivity, 2) connectivity, and 3) clarity about priorities. When you look at these three characteristics, they all boil down to one word. That one word is FOCUS.

Focus and Productivity

One of the most awesome characteristics of successful people is their productivity. They get a lot done in a minimum amount of time. They make stuff happen fast, not because they are working machines. Often they have tricks or shortcuts that simply double or triple their output.

TIP #1: Batch your work to become a master of productivity.

For every thing you must do more than once: do a bunch in one session. For example, if you use social media regularly: write up several educational or “evergreen” posts or tweets. “Evergreen” includes material that your community would benefit from, no matter what else is going on in the news. Then schedule them to post automatically.

Focus and Connectivity

Another remarkable aspect of successful people is their connectivity. When you look at who’s invited to TED, Aspen Institute, and other gatherings: you see a mix of movers and shakers in technology, media, healthcare, non-profit, government, and other fields. Successful people know a whole spectrum of other important people from different industries.

TIP #2: Scout your locations to become a master of connectivity

Think of yourself as a talent scout. The biggest mistake I see at Starbucks is the “ear buds in, eyes down” posture. That is a sure fire way to never meet anyone. Whether you go into a classroom, webinar, coffee shop or store: situate yourself so that you can greet other people and ask a question about what they do.

Focus and Priorities

Successful people are 100% clear about what matters, and needs to get done, in what order. Simply put: they do the next thing next.

Tip #3 Deny the distractors to become a master of priorities.

Give yourself a big pat on the back each time you prevent something from pulling you off track. Set your phone alarm every two hours, so you know when you can take a break and check your texts, emails and calls. Eat breakfast so you don’t meander away from your work to find a snack. Book your work in advance onto your calendar, just like you would a meeting or date.

Can you tell me what’s been stopping you from being productive, connected or staying with your priorities? Email me at [email protected]. Subject line: Focus.

More from Nance…

You can find Nance on

The Great Big Secret About Getting Organized

Thursday, May 1st, 2014

Out-of-OfficeGo on vacation.

Then go on another vacation.

These don’t have to be long holidays. Just long enough so someone has to take over your desk, your projects, water your plants, feed your cat or otherwise substitute for your being absent. That is a great way to rush yourself into putting things in order.

If you take two vacations in close succession – even for two days at a time each – you will have not only organized things once, but then you’ll take second pass at putting away all your odds and end. You will come home to organization nirvana.

Leaving is the greatest motivation for putting things in order.

I had heard this advice a few years ago from my productivity guru David Allen. His book Getting Things Done, along with his workshops; have formed the basis of my organization code. His system is complicated, especially the organization of folders and worksheets to keep yourself on track and almost ceaselessly productive.

It is worth the pain of sifting through your stuff to get the gains from knowing where everything is, and throwing away anything that isn’t relevant to your work now or in the future. To anyone with common sense, getting organized seems like a fundamental tool of success.

The problem I have is a common one. My big time investments are typically for other people: clients, co-workers, getting stuff to vendors, helping out friends and family. I always thought that spending time going through my old emails, putting all my website codes in a list, much less sorting through documents in my files and white shirts in my closet was kind of selfish.

I have always been reluctant, nearly unable, to make myself a priority.

Then, I accidentally scheduled two short holidays very close together. In both cases, my work had to be accessible to a colleague in case something went wrong while I was away. Aha! David Allen is right. Preparing to go away, and “helping” someone take over for me, was the answer to nearly microscopic cleansing of my computer and workspace.  Here’s what I have found.

Being organized allows you to be free. Free to holiday. Free to nap. Free to be creative, enthusiastic, clear-headed and successful.

I will be out the next four days, and everyone is better for it. So, go away!

More from Nance…

You can find Nance on