Black Flags, Blue Waters: The Epic History of America’s Most Notorious Pirates

Black Flags, Blue Waters: The Epic History of America’s Most Notorious Pirates by Eric Jay Dolin is a great story about pirates and maritime life in the early 18th century. Below is an excerpt:

Black Flags, Blue Waters: The Epic History of America’s Most Notorious PiratesBlack Flags Blue Waters.jpg

More ink has probably been spilled writing about Thatch, or the legendary Blackbeard, than any other pirate of the Golden Age, yet we know precious little about him, and so much of what has been written is based on nothing more than imagination or educate guesses. Although his contemporaries most commonly used Thatch as the spelling for his last name, he was also referred to as Teach, Tach, Tack, Thatchee, and Thache. His birthplace is hotly contested, with claims made for Bristol (England), Jamaica, North Carolina, Virginia, and Philadelphia; the first two tend to garner the most support. Of course, since his birthplace is uncertain, so too is his birth year. And while it is often claimed that he served as a privateer in the War of the Spanish Succession, there is no clear evidence to that effect.

Another controversial part of Blackbeard’s personal biography is his appearance. The only firsthand accounts of what he looked like are frustratingly terse. A crewman on one of the ships Blackbeard captured in late 17I7 said that he “was a tall spare man with a very black beard which he wore very long.” A naval officer who battled Blackbeard a year later commented that he went by the “name of Blackbeard, because he let his beard grow, and tied it up in black ribbons.”

No one built up the mythology of Blackbeard more enthusiastically than Johnson, who took these short eyewitness descriptions and whipped them into one of the most celebrated passages in the history of piracy. Johnson said of Thatch that he had “assumed the cognomen of black-beard, from that large quantity of hair, which like a frightful meteor, covered his whole face, and frightened America more than any comet that has appeared there a long time.” Blackbeard grew his beard, Johnson continued, to “an extravagant length; as to breadth, it came up to his eyes. He was accustomed to twist it with ribbons, in small tails, after the manner of our ramillies wigs,(A Ramillies wig is one with a length of braided or unbraided hair hanging down the back that is tied off with ribbons or bows at the top and the bottom, sort of like a fancy pigtail.) and turn them about his ears.” During battle, he “wore a sling over his shoulders, with three brace of pistols, hanging in holsters, like bandoliers; and stuck lighted matches under his hat, which, appearing on each side of his face, his eyes naturally looking fierce and wild, made him altogether such a figure that imagination cannot form an idea of a Fury from Hell to look more frightful.”

Of course, Johnson, who was writing a few years after Blackbeard had died, might actually have received these details from mariners who had come into contact with the pirate. But there is reason to believe that he used some literary license in painting this dramatic portrait. This is especially the case when it comes to the “lighted matches,” since not a single contemporary account penned while Blackbeard was alive mentions them. One would think that sailors who were captured by or who fought Blackbeard might have, at the very least, noted flames shooting out from under his hat, quite apart from the fact that this seems to be a particularly dangerous way of going into battle, even for a pirate who was intent on instilling fear in his victims.

Another area in which fiction seems to have slayed fact concerns Blackbeard’s purported brutal behavior. He is often portrayed as a ruthless, even murderous character who terrorized his foes. But with the exception of the battle that would take his life, and one other instance in which his men viciously whipped the captain of a merchant ship who refused to divulge where he had hidden valuables, there is no evidence of Blackbeard harming anyone to get what he wanted. “In fact,” as historian Arne Bialuschewski observes, “the image of Blackbeard as a fearsome and ruthless villain was created by the media of the day.” In reality, Blackbeard’s success was achieved in the manner preferred by pirates the world over-through intimidation and the threat of overwhelming force.

What can be said with considerable assurance is that Blackbeard did, indeed, sport a black beard, and he was a strong leader who inspired confidence in his men during his relatively short piratical career. That famed career was less than a year old when the Revenge sailed into Nassau in the late summer of 1717.


Eisenhower: “In God We Trust”

The Age of Eisenhower: America and the World in the 1950s by William I. Hitchcock is a fascinating book exploring the 1950 era. Below is an excerpt from the book:

“In God We Trust”

On Sunday, February 7, 1954, the president and Mrs. Eisenhower went to worship at the National Presbyterian Church in Washington. Immediately after the service the president appeared on a CBS television and radio broadcast to kick off the American Legion’s “Back to God” campaign. Started in 1951 as a way to honor the famous “four chaplains”-ministers of four different denominations who died at sea during the war when they gave their life jackets to others on board their sinking ship-the Back to God campaign had become a signature annual event in which leading churchmen and rabbis, gathered in ecumenical fellowship, called upon their listeners to rededicate themselves to a life of godliness and spirituality.

Eisenhower’s remarks on the broadcast aimed to link the American experience to religious zeal. “Out of faith in God, and through faith in themselves as His children, our forefathers designed and built the Republic;’ the president said. He gave a brief civics lesson that recalled the struggles of the Pilgrims, the testing of George Washington at Valley Forge, and the determined battle of Abraham Lincoln to save the Union: all of them shared a steadfast belief in God. The one unifying feature of the American experience, Eisenhower insisted, was faith: “By the millions, we speak prayers, we sing hymns, and no matter what their words may be, their spirit is the same-In God is our Trust:’ In 1954, as America again faced a time of crisis and struggle, “there is a need for positive acts of renewed recognition that faith is our surest strength:’

This brief speech captured perfectly Eisenhower’s instrumental view of religion: the doctrinal content of religious devotion need not divide Americans so long as they shared a basic commitment to faith and belief. The differences between sects paled in contrast to the yawning gap between believers and nonbelievers. And of course the seedbed of such nonbelief was. “atheistic Communism:’ To believe in God was itself an act of resistance and defiance of communism; however one worshipped God did not matter, so long as one was willing to acknowledge the power of a higher being.”

The president was joined in this televised appeal by two of the leading public religious figures of the day: the Rev. Fulton J. Sheen, a bishop of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York, and Dr. Norman Vincent Peale, pastor of the Marble Collegiate Church in New York City. Bishop Sheen was well known as the longtime host of the radio show The Catholic Hour and, since 1951, the impresario of the television program Life Is Worth Living. Among the first clergymen to use the new medium of television to reach his flock, Sheen, with his gaunt face and deep-set eyes, could be seen weekly at 8:00 p.m. across the nation. Robed in a full-length cassock, bearing a pectoral cross on a chain around his neck, topped by a small skullcap, Sheen delivered commentary on topics ranging from marriage and alcoholism to freedom, the devil, love, and purgatory. He stood before a chalkboard, occasionally turning away from the camera to jot down a few keywords like a skilled 10th-grade English teacher. He usually started by recounting a humdrum tale of ordinary life, perhaps sent to him in a letter from a viewer. He would mine this for its didactic value and throw in a few light witticisms along the way. Quiet, composed, articulate, Sheen’s TV personality entranced millions of Americans, drawing audiences as large as those that tuned in to Milton Berle and Bob Hope.

Peale, a pudgy, bespectacled Methodist with a flair for homespun stories and down-to-earth verities, had become a national phenomenon as the author of Wildly popular Christian self-help books. The idea for such guidebooks was not Peale’s alone: in 1939, Alcoholics Anonymous appeared on America’s bookshelves, offering a 12-step method for treating not just alcoholism but other “social” diseases. The crucial step in these programs was the recognition of a “higher power” that could provide spiritual sustenance as one progressed through the prescribed treatment.

Peale saw a church-building opportunity in the yearning of Americans to overcome their personal problems and achieve success. He offered a simple therapy for any affliction: belief in God. In a stream of publications as well as radio and television appearances, he provided audiences simple steps to improve their lives and grasp the financial, personal, social, and professional success they desired. Books like Inspired Messages for Daily Living compiled passages from the Bible that could serve as “health-producing, life-changing, power-creating Thought Conditioners” for people experiencing anxiety, insomnia, fatigue, lack of confidence, frustration, and more. These troubles were easily treatable by reciting Scripture. If you wanted to know, for example, “how to break the worry habit” or “how to make your work easy” or “how to get people to like you;’ Peale offered easy techniques, all of which amounted to reciting a few passages of the Bible, selected by Peale himself. Such spiritual exercises, Peale claimed, amounted to a “magic formula” for personal happiness and success. He found an enormous audience for his Christian home remedies. His book The Power of Positive Thinking appeared in 1952 and stayed on the best-seller list for 186 weeks. He became a much-admired public figure and would go on to develop a close personal friendship with Richard Nixon.”

If Peale and Sheen were friendly Christian showmen, Ike’s own pastor, Rev. Edward Elson, offered sterner counsel. In 1954 Elson published a small book, America’s Spiritual Recovery, dedicated to the president. (The introduction was written by another parishioner, FBI director J. Edgar Hoover.) Elson declared that America found itself “in a period of real moral sag and deterioration:’ He drew a desperate portrait of the nation’s ills: soaring crime, the “kow-towing admiration for the tycoons of business and the captains of industry;’ the veneration of money and profit, and the lapse of religious worship. Children, he said, no longer respected their parents. Jazz, modern art, and vulgar films like Death of a Salesman and A Streetcar Named Desire that glorified “a deteriorating personality” offered more evidence of a collapse of morals. Schools no longer taught Christian precepts. The militant atheism of communism threatened the world.

Yet Elson also found reason for optimism: amid these grave moral threats, “the greatest religious awakening in the history of our nation” was under way. American worshippers were filling the churches and making plans to build many more. “Six out of every ten Americans formally belonged to a church-the highest ratio in the country’s history;’ he wrote. Every week 85 million Americans bowed their heads in prayer in a house of worship. Students on college campuses had shown renewed enthusiasm for religious instruction. The recent best -selling books in the nation included the Bible, books by Rev. Peale and Bishop Sheen, and other inspirational texts and tales. Elson did not mention that this was also the period in which Hollywood produced blockbuster movies on religious themes, such as Quo Vadis (1951), The Ten Commandments (1956), and Ben Hur (1959).

Elson believed that Eisenhower’s election to the presidency had triggered this religious revival. Ike had become “the focal point of a moral resurgence and spiritual awakening of national proportions:’ His inaugural prayer, given on the steps of the Capitol, had Signaled the return of faith into public life, as did his decision to start his cabinet meetings with prayer. “It is not an exaggeration to say that the business which receives the attention of the president is surrounded with an atmosphere of prayer:’ Ike’s moral and spiritual leadership could save America from what Elson saw as a grave threat: not only the nation’s internal moral collapse but the gathering forces of atheism and communism. Marxism presented such a great danger because it offered a “new world religion” and aimed to unseat Christianity. The philosophies of “the sickle and the cross;’ Elson said, “are irreconcilable;’ and only one of them could survive. If Christianity was to triumph, communism must be vanquished.”

This kind of public piety, moralism, and prophetic speech saturated the Age of Eisenhower, and it squared perfectly with the language of the new administration. It is not surprising, then, that Ike found himself drawn to and befriended by the most significant evangelist of the postwar years, Billy Graham, with whom he shared many basic ideas about the relationship of spiritual faith to the creation of a well-ordered society. Graham, a tall, rangy Baptist, grew up on a dairy farm near Charlotte, North Carolina, went to college in Wheaton, Illinois, and started his preaching in a Chicago-based organization called Youth for Christ in the mid-1940s. His talent, sincerity, zeal, and sheer charisma sped him on his way to stardom. In 1949 his enormous Los Angeles revival meeting-which he called a “crusade” -attracted nationwide press coverage. In 1951 Texas oil man Sid Richardson urged Graham to add his voice to the chorus then calling for General Eisenhower to run for president. Graham gladly complied, asking Eisenhower to “offer himself to the American people.”

Richardson arranged for Graham to meet the general at SHAPE headquarters in Paris in March 1952, just after Ike won the New Hampshire primary. Eisenhower welcomed Graham into his modern, newly constructed office and spoke with the pastor of his spiritual life, especially his upbringing among the devout River Brethren in Kansas; Graham reported on the “crusade” he had recently concluded in Washington, D.C. They sat together for two hours and formed a bond. In August, after Eisenhower won the GOP nomination, he invited Graham to Denver to the Brown Palace Hotel, where he asked Graham to help him find appropriate themes and scriptural passages to work into his campaign speeches.

Graham’s influence hung on some of Eisenhower’s campaign statements. When Ike was asked to describe his religious beliefs for the Episcopal Church News in September 1952, he responded, “You can’t explain free government in any other terms than religious. The founding fathers had to refer to the Creator in order to make their revolutionary experiment make sense …. It is ours to prove that only a people strong in Godliness is strong enough to overcome tyranny and make themselves and others free.” He concluded, “What is our battle against communism if it is not a fight between anti-God and belief in the Almighty?” America’s problems might be easier to solve, Eisenhower opined, if every American “would dwell more upon the simple virtues: integrity, courage, self-confidence, and an unshakeable belief in his Bible.”

Critical Questions for Becoming a More Effective Leader and Reaching Your Potential

Recently, I came across some notes from a book I read in 2011 that I’d like to share — What to Ask the Person in the Mirror: Critical Questions for Becoming a More Effective Leader and Reaching Your Potential by Robert S. Kaplan:

Critical Questions for Becoming a More Effective Leader and Reaching Your Potential

Vision and Priorities

In the press of day-to-day activities, leaders often fail to adequately communicate their vision to the organization, and in particular, they don’t communicate it in a way that helps their subordinates determine where to focus their own efforts.

  • Have you developed a clear vision for your enterprise?
  • Have you identified three to five key priorities to achieve that vision?
  • Do you actively communicate this vision, and associated key priorities, to your organization?

Suggested Follow-up Steps

  • Write down, in three to four sentences, a clear vision for your enterprise or business unit.
  • List the three to five key priorities that are most critical to achieving this vision. These should be tasks that you must do extraordinarily well in order for you to succeed based on where you are positioned today
  • Ask yourself whether the vision (with priorities) is sufficiently clear and understandable. In addition, ask yourself whether you communicate the vision and priorities frequently enough that your key stakeholders (e.g., direct reports and employees) could repeat them back to you. Interview key employees to see whether they understand and can clearly rearticulate the vision and priorities.
  • Identify venues and occasions for the regular communication, reiteration, and discussion of the vision and priorities. Create opportunities for questions and
  • Assemble your executive team off-site to debate the vision and priorities. In particular, consider whether the vision and priorities still fit the competitive environment, changes in the world, and the needs of the business. Use the off-site to update your vision and priorities and to ensure buy-in on the part of your senior leadership team.

Managing Your Time

Leaders need to know how they’re spending their time. They also need to ensure that their time allocation (and that of their subordinates) matches their key priorities.

  • Do you know how you spend your time?
  • Does it match your key priorities?

Suggested Follow-up Steps

  • Track your time for two weeks and break down the results into major categories.
  • Compare how this breakdown matches or is mismatched versus your three to five key priorities. Make a list of the matches and mismatches. Regarding the mismatches, write down those time allocations that are 2s and 35 and could therefore be performed by others-or should not be performed at all.
  • Create an action plan for dealing with the mismatches.

For example, commit to delegating those tasks that could just as easily be performed by someone else. Decide, in advance, to say no to certain time requests that do not fit your key priorities.

  • After a few months, repeat the preceding three steps. Assess whether you are doing a better job of spending your time on critical priorities.
  • Encourage your subordinates to perform these same steps.


Giving and Getting Feedback


Leaders often fail to coach employees in a direct and timely fashion and, instead, wait until the year-end review. This approach may lead to unpleasant surprises and can undermine effective professional development. Just as important, leaders need to cultivate subordinates who can give them advice and feedback during the year.

  • Do you coach and actively develop your key people?
  • Is your feedback specific, timely, and actionable?
  • Do you solicit actionable feedback from your key subordinates?
  • Do you cultivate advisers who are able to confront you with criticisms that you may not want to hear?

Suggested Follow-up Steps

  • For each of your direct reports, write down three to five specific strengths. In addition, write down at least two or three specific skills or tasks that you believe they could improve on in order to improve their performance and advance their careers. Allocate time to directly observing their performance, and discreetly make inquiries to gather information and insights in order to prepare this analysis.
  • Schedule time with each subordinate, at least six months in advance of the year-end review, to discuss your observations and identify specific action steps that could help them improve and address their developmental needs and opportunities.
  • Write down a realistic list of your own strengths and weaknesses. Make a list of at least five subordinates from whom you could solicit feedback regarding your strengths and weaknesses. Meet with each subordinate individually and explain that you need their help. In your meetings, make sure to ask them to give you advice regarding at least one or two tasks or skills they believe you could improve on. Thank them for their help.
  • Write down an action plan for addressing your own weaknesses and developmental needs. If you have a direct superior (or trusted peer), consider soliciting advice regarding your developmental needs and potential action steps. Depending on your situation and level in the organization, consider the option of hiring an outside coach.
  • Encourage each of your direct reports to follow these same steps regarding their direct reports and themselves.

Succession Planning and Delegation

When leaders fail to actively plan for succession, they do not delegate sufficiently and may become decision-making bottlenecks. Key employees may leave if they are not actively groomed and challenged.

  • Do you have a succession-planning process for key positions?
  • Have you identified potential successors for your job?
  • If not, what is stopping you?
  • Do you delegate sufficiently-
  • Have you become a decision-making bottleneck?

Suggested Follow-up Steps

  • Create a succession-planning depth chart for your business unit or organization. This document should include at least two or three potential successors for your own position.
  • For each potential successor, write down their key development needs and specific actions you might take in order to develop their capabilities in relation to potential future positions. Work to develop and shape these specific development plans.
  • For those key tasks that you have committed to finding a way to delegate, begin matching those tasks with specific candidates on the depth chart. Make assignments.
  • Categorize delegated tasks in terms of their levels of importance to your enterprise. Based on this analysis, note which tasks need to be done at extremely high levels of quality, and which can be done at “sufficient” levels of quality. Ask whether you have calibrated your level of involvement to this categorization, and remember that “involvement” should often take the form of coaching the subordinate, rather than a direct intervention. Make a commitment to “picking your spots,” to ensure that your direct interventions (beyond coaching) are justified by an appropriately high level of task importance.
  • Ask your business unit leaders to perform this same exercise with regard to their direct reports.

Evaluation and Alignment

The world is constantly changing, and leaders need to be able to adapt their businesses accordingly.

  • Is the design of your company still aligned with your vision and priorities?
  • If you had to design the enterprise today with a clean sheet of paper, how would you change the people, key tasks, organizational structure, culture, and your leadership style?
  • Why haven’t you made these changes?
  • Have you pushed yourself and your organization to do this clean-sheet-of-paper exercise?

Suggested Follow-up Steps

  • Identify a key business unit or function to tryout the clean-sheet-of-paper exercise. Create a small task force based on the selected names from the succession-planning depth chart exercise. Attempt to draw professionals from at least two to three different business units and/or functional areas. Give the team a specific assignment, and emphasize that they should assume that there are no sacred cows to be protected. Make clear to them that while you may not follow every piece of their advice, you want their candid views and most likely will implement at least some of their suggestions.
  • Agree on an appropriate time frame. Take into account that this assignment is not in place for doing their day jobs. Make clear that you are available to answer questions or give guidance, but you plan to stay away from this process in order to avoid influencing their analysis and conclusions.
  • Debrief the group regarding their findings. Also, conduct a post mortem to determine what you and the task force learned from the process of doing this exercise.
  • Develop a specific action plan for implementing at least some (if not all) of the group’s recommendations.

The Leader as Role Model

Your actions are closely observed by those around you. They send a powerful message about what you believe and what you truly value.

  • Do you act as a role model?
  • Do your behaviors match your words?
  • How do you conduct yourself under pressure?
  • Is your conduct consistent with your stated values?

Suggested Follow-up Steps

  • Write down two or three key messages you believe you send with your behavior (versus your speeches). Seek advice from key subordinates and advisers who directly observe your behavior, in order to answer this question: is there a disconnect between the messages you wish to send and those you are in fact sending?
  • Do this same exercise for your key direct reports. What messages is each of them sending about what is truly valued in your organization? Again, make discreet inquiries, if necessary, to do this analysis. Incorporate this work into your coaching of these executives.
  • Think of a situation in which you felt enormous stress at work and regretted your behavior. Write down the one or two issues that created the stress you were feeling- acknowledging that these issues may have had nothing to do with work. How would you behave differently if you could replay this situation? Write down one or two lessons you take away from this exercise.

Reaching Your Potential

Successful executives develop leadership styles that fit the needs of their business but also fit their own beliefs and personality.

  • Are you pursuing a path that is consistent with your assessment of your strengths, weaknesses, and passions?
  • If not, what are you waiting for?
  • Have you developed your own style at work?
  • Do you speak up, express your opinions, and conduct yourself with confidence?
  • Do you encourage your people to be authentic and express their opinions?

Suggested Follow-up Steps

  • Make a list of your three greatest strengths and your three greatest weaknesses. Get advice from your senior, peer, and junior coaches or advisers in order to make sure your list reflects “reality” in relation to your current job and aspirations.
  • Develop a specific action plan to work on your weaknesses. Action steps might include specific job assignments, seeking feedback within your organization, and/or getting an outside coach.
  • Encourage your subordinates to do this same analysis and action planning. Discuss these plans in your coaching sessions for subordinates.
  • Think of a situation in which you were at your best, when you performed extremely well and felt great about your impact. What were the elements of this situation? What tasks were you performing, what was your leadership approach, what was the context, and what other factors enhanced your performance? What lessons do you take from this, regarding your passions, values, and other key elements that help bring out your best performance?
  • Think of a time when you brought out the best in others. What was your motivational approach? What was your leadership style? What other elements allowed you to bring out the best in others? When you reflect on this situation, what lessons do you learn about yourself, including about your philosophy and values, as well as how you might best motivate others in the future?

Five Kinds of Restorative Breaks

I very much recommend reading When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing by Daniel H. Pink. He offers a small handbook after each chapter. Below is an excerpt for the handbook:

Five Kinds of Restorative Breaks: A MenuWhen.jpg

You now understand the science of breaks and why they’re so effective in both combatting the trough and boosting your mood and performance. You’ve even got a break list ready to go. But what sort of break should you take? There’s no right answer. Just choose one from the following menu or combine a few, see how they go, and design the breaks that work best for you:

  1. Micro-breaks — A replenishing break need not be lengthy. Even breaks that last a minute or less-what researchers call “microbreaks”-can pay dividends.’ Consider these:

The 20-20-20 rule — Before you begin a task, set a timer. Then, every twenty minutes, look at something twenty feet away for twenty seconds. If you’re working at a computer, this microbreak will rest your eyes and improve your posture, both of which can fight fatigue.

Hydrate — You might already have a water bottle. Get a much smaller one. When it runs out-and of course it will, because of its size-walk to the water fountain and refill it. It’s a threefer: hydration, motion, and restoration.

Wiggle your body to reset your mind — One of the simplest breaks of all: Stand up for sixty seconds, shake your arms and legs, flex your muscles, rotate your core, sit back down.

  1. Moving breaks — Most of us sit too much and move too little. So build more movement into your breaks. Some options:

Take a five-minute walk every hour –As we have learned, five- minute walk breaks are powerful. They’re feasible for most people.

Office yoga — You can do yoga poses right at your desk-chair rolls, wrist releases, forward folds-to relieve tension in your neck and lower back, limber up your typing fingers, and relax your shoulders. This may not be for everyone, but anyone can give it a try. Just stick “office yoga” into a search engine.

Push-ups — Yeah, push-ups. Do two a day for a week. Then four a day for the next week and six a day a week after that. You’ll boost your heart rate, shake off cognitive cobwebs, and maybe get a little stronger.

  1. Nature break — This might sound tree bugger-y, but study after study has shown the replenishing effects of nature. What’s more, people consistently underestimate how much better nature makes them feel. Choose:

Walk outside — If you’ve got a few minutes and are near a local park, take a lap through it. If you work at home and have a dog, take Fido for a walk.

Go outside — If there are trees and a bench behind your building, sit there instead of inside.

Pretend you’re outside — If the best you can do is look at some indoor plants or the trees outside your window-well, research suggests that will help, too.

  1. Social break-Don’t go it alone. At least not always. Social breaks are effective, especially when you decide the who and how. A few ideas:

Reach out and touch somebody — Call someone you haven’t talked to for a while and just catch up for five or ten minutes. Reawakening these “dormant ties” is also a great way to strengthen your network. Or use the moment to say thank you-via a note, an email, or a quick visit–to someone who’s helped you. Gratitude-with its mighty combination of meaning and social connection-is a mighty restorative.”

Schedule it — Plan a regular walk or visit to a coffee joint or weekly gossip session with colleagues you like. A fringe benefit of social breaks is that you’re more likely to take one if someone else is counting on you. Or go Swedish and try what Swedes call a fika-a full-fledged coffee break that is the supposed key to Sweden’s high levels of employee satisfaction and productivity.’

Don’t schedule it –– If your schedule is too tight for something regular, buy someone a coffee one day this week. Bring it to her. Sit and talk about something other than work for five minutes.

  1. Mental gear-shifting break — Our brains suffer fatigue just as much as our bodies do-and that’s a big factor in the trough. Give your brain a break by trying these:

Meditate-Meditation is one of the most effective breaks-and micro-breaks-of all.” Check out material from UCLA (, which offers guided meditations as short as three minutes.

Controlled breathing — Have forty-five seconds? Then, as the New York Times explains: “Take a deep breath, expanding your belly. Pause. Exhale slowly to the count of five. Repeat four rimes.”? It’s called controlled breathing, and it can tamp your stress hormones, sharpen your thinking, and maybe even boost your immune system — all in under a minute.

Lighten up — Listen to a comedy podcast. Read a joke book. If you can find a little privacy, put on your headphones and jam out for a song or two. There’s even evidence from one study on the replenishing effects of watching dog videos.” (No, really.)

Identify the Three Tiers of Noncustomers in Your Industry

In the building supply industry which consumers are considered noncustomers? What are you doing to attract them to your business? The book Blue Ocean Shift: Beyond Competing – Proven Steps to Inspire Confidence and Seize New Growth by W. Chan Kim is an awesome and eye-opening book about moving from red to blue ocean industry.Blue Ocean Shift.jpg

Identify the three tiers of noncustomers in your industry

Now we turn from current customers to noncustomers. Using the three-tiers graphic, shown in figure, (below) as a guide, ask each of the team members to think through and write down their thoughts about who might be in each tier. To help you perform this task effectively, relevant materials and templates are provided for your free download and use at Exercise Templates. Here are the questions you want to ask:

  1. Who sits on the edge of our industry and uses its offering reluctantly and/or minimally?
  2. Who considers our industry and then consciously rejects it, satisfying their needs through another industry’s offering or not at all?
  3. Who could strongly benefit from the utility our industry offers, but doesn’t even consider it, because the way it is currently being delivered makes the industry seem irrelevant or out of their financial reach?

For many people, this will be the first time they’re ever been asked to systematically think through the issues of non-customers. As we have witnessed, if an organization has given thought to noncustomers, it’s usually in terms of their competitors’ customers, not the noncustomers of their overall industry. They ask, “Who are our competitors’ customers, and how can we win a greater share of those who patronize other players?” But this is not the meaning of noncustomers in blue ocean terms. What is key at this stage is getting team members thinking deeply about noncustomers and, critically, letting them discover for themselves how little they may know or have thought about the wider opportunity landscape that exists beyond the current industry’s horizon.

Organizations often become comfortable commissioning and outsourcing large, formal market studies. Hence, it is not surprising that, at this juncture, we’ve often been asked, “Don’t we need to be supported by formal market research so we will know, concretely, who the three tiers of noncustomers are?” In response, remind them that the blue ocean shift process is built on firsthand discovery that will be done when the team goes out in the field. The purpose here is to maximize the team’s firsthand learning and confidence in what they see for themselves in the field. With firsthand discovery, the resulting strategy is likely to be executed strongly, as the confidence that emanates from the team reverberates throughout the larger organization.

Much to their surprise, team members generally find that, by struggling through this exercise independently, they flesh out a rich list of noncustomer groups and are really pushed to broaden their thinking. Equally important, they see how tightly focused on existing customers their strategic lens has been. When people are spoon-fed answers by having reports commissioned up front, they seldom realize what they don’t know, and too often easily conclude that they “got it, knew it, no big deal,” when, in fact, they didn’t have or know it, and it is a big deal. People seldom realize what they don’t know or appreciate the value of what they’ve learned if they haven’t struggled to obtain it themselves. Making people discover firsthand that what they know-and don’t know-is key to getting them to internalize and value what they learn.

After each of the team members has compiled their list of noncustomers, ask them to share their thoughts about whom they put where and why. The objective now is for the team to identify and select the people or organizations they collectively see as the dominant noncustomer group or groups in each tier. Note that team members may continue to feel a bit uneasy, because they’re being asked not only to move away from what they know, but also to share their thoughts in front of their colleagues. Some unease is good, however, because it means that team members are being pushed to broaden their current understanding. As each of the team members contributes their thoughts on each of the three tiers, you should record and post them in front of the group. This allows everyone to see the whole team’s thoughts, which in itself is eye-opening, as they get to appreciate the differences and similarities in how each of them views the same market reality.

As people share and debate their selections and the thought processes behind them, team members’ understanding of who potentially belongs in each tier starts to deepen. So does their confidence that opportunity exists in the untapped demand that lies beyond the boundaries of their industry as it’s currently defined. Typically, as members discuss the validity of one another’s reasoning, a number of customer groups are crossed off, and different sets of customers get grouped together, producing fairly solid agreement among team members as to whom they see as the main non-customer groups in each tier. With this, a good understanding of the industry’s total demand landscape starts to come into focus.Noncustomer in various industries.jpg

The Power Of Moments

I highly recommend reading The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact by Chip Heath, Dan Heath. Are you creating memorable moments with your customers and memorable experiences in your everyday life?

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What are these moments made of, and how do we create more of them? In our research, we have found that defining moments are created from one or more of the following four elements:

ELEVATION: Defining moments rise above the everyday. They provoke not just transient happiness, like laughing at a friend’s joke, but memorable delight. (You pick up the red phone and someone says, “Popsicle Hotline, we’ll be right out.”) To construct elevated moments, we must boost sensory pleasures — the Popsicles must be delivered poolside on a silver tray, of course-and, if appropriate, add an element of surprise. We’ll see why surprise can warp our perceptions of time, and why most people’s most memorable experiences are clustered in their teens and twenties. Moments of elevation transcend the normal course of events; they are literally extraordinary.

INSIGHT: Defining moments rewire our understanding of ourselves or the world. In a few seconds or minutes, we realize something that might influence our lives for decades: Now is the time for me to start this business. Or, This is the person I’m going to marry. The psychologist Roy Baumeister studied life changes that were precipitated by a “crystallization of discontent,” moments when people abruptly saw things as they were, such as cult members who suddenly realized the truth about their leader. And although these moments of insight often seem serendipitous, we can engineer them -or at the very least, lay the groundwork. In one unforgettably disgusting story, we’ll see how some relief workers sparked social change by causing a community to “trip over the truth.”

PRIDE: Defining moments capture us at our best-moments of achievement, moments of courage. Tb create such moments, we need to understand something about the architecture of pride – how to plan for a series of milestone moments that build on each other en route to a larger goal. We’ll explore why the “Couch to 5K” program was so successful-and so much more effective in sparking exercise than the simple imperative to “jog more.” And we’ll learn some unexpected things about acts of courage and the surprising ripple effects they create.

CONNECTION: Defining moments are social: weddings, graduations, baptisms, vacations, work triumphs, bar and bat mitzvahs, speeches, sporting events. These moments are strengthened because we share them with others. What triggers moments of connection? We’ll encounter a remarkable laboratory procedure that allows two people to walk into a room as strangers and walk out, 45 minutes later, as close friends. And we’ll analyze what one social scientist believes is a kind of unified theory of what makes relationships stronger, whether the bond is between husband and wife, doctor and patient, or even shopper and retailer.

Defining moments often spark positive emotion – we’ll use “positive defining moments” and “peaks” interchangeably throughout the book – but there are categories of negative defining moments, too, such as moments of pigue: experiences of embarrassment or embitterment that cause people to vow, “I’ll show them!” There’s another category that is all too common: moments of trauma, which leave us heartbroken and grieving. In the pages ahead, we’ll encounter several stories of people dealing with trauma, but we will not explore this category in detail, for the simple reason that our focus is on creating more positive moments. No one wants to experience more moments of loss. In the Appendix, we share some resources that people who have suffered a trauma might find helpful.

Defining moments possess at least one of the four elements above, but they need not have all four. Many moments of insight, for example, are private-they don’t involve a connection. And a fun moment like calling the Popsicle Hotline doesn’t offer much insight or pride.

Some powerful defining moments contain all four elements. Think of YES Prep’s Senior Signing Day: the ELEVATION of students having their moment onstage, the INSIGHT of a sixth grader thinking That could be me, the PRIDE of being accepted to college, and the CONNECTION of sharing the day with an arena full of thousands of supportive people.

Sometimes these elements can be very personal. Somewhere in your home there is a treasure chest, full of things that are precious to you and worthless to anyone else. It might be a scrapbook, or a drawer in a dresser, or a box in the attic. Maybe some of your favorites are stuck on the refrigerator so you can see them every day. Wherever your treasure chest is, its contents are likely to include the four elements we’ve been discussing:

  • ELEVATION: A love letter. A ticket stub. A well-worn T-shirt. Haphazardly colored cards from your kids that make you smile with delight.
  • INSIGHT: Quotes or articles that moved you. Books that changed your view of the world. Diaries that captured your thoughts.
  • PRIDE: Ribbons, report cards, notes of recognition, certificates, thank-yous, awards. (It just hurts, irrationally, to throwaway a trophy.)
  • CONNECTION: Wedding photos. Vacation photos. Family photos. Christmas photos of hideous sweaters. Lots of photos. Probably the first thing you’d grab if your house caught on fire.

All these items you’re safeguarding are, in essence, the relics of your life’s defining moments. How are you feeling now as you reflect on the contents of your treasure chest? What if you could give that same feeling to your kids, your students, your colleagues, your customers?

Moments matter. And what an opportunity we miss when we leave them to chance! Teachers can inspire, caregivers can comfort, service workers can delight, politicians can unite, and managers can motivate. All it takes is a bit of insight and forethought.

Thank God It’s Monday!: Key Messages For A More Motivated Workplace

Thank God It’s Monday!: How to Create a Workplace You and Your Customers Love by Roxanne Emmerich —  this book which is twenty years old didn’t offer any new insights for me. Below is an excerpt from the book:

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Here are some of the core messages for change I share, which you will explore in the pages that follow:

  • Commit with all your heart. If you are anything other than a 10 on a 1-10 scale, you are hurting your fellow team members, your customers, and yourself.
  • Be unreasonable with yourself. Be unstoppable going after what you want.
  • Don’t let the little things take you out.
  • Call it tight on dysfunctional behaviors-yours and others: How you do anything is how you do everything.
  • Show you care-colleagues, customers, and vendors. In every encounter, make it obvious.
  • Celebrate every win. It reprograms the brain for more winning.
  • Clean up your messes. If you “blow it,” and you will, restore your integrity.
  • Use powerful and positive language about what you will do and the attitude you expect from others.
  • No more adult daycare! Dysfunctional behaviors must go, whether yours’ or of those around you.
  • How you do anything is how you do everything. live with passion and creativity by reprogramming your limiting beliefs.
  • You can be as miserable or as joyful as you choose. Those who show they care, who appreciate and celebrate, are leaders of their way of being. They keep a culture focused and people thriving.
  • Stop being busy and start doing what matters. Be accountable for results.
  • The fastest way to success and happiness is by giving. Life gives to the givers and takes from the takers; the world has a perfect accounting system.

Try This:

  • Imagine your workplace as one you are eager to come to.
  • Imagine that the only way your workplace will turn around is if you, and only you, are 100 percent accountable for the turnaround. If that were the case, what would you do differently starting tomorrow?
  • Identify the ways in which you are part of the problem instead of the solution-whining about what’s wrong instead of going to the right people with suggestions, shooting down ideas but not proposing ideas for further progress. Be honest. Really honest. Look at your own behaviors with a magnifying glass.
  • Look around and see the fellow employees who are going to need special help to embrace the vision. Use a mirror if you have to.
  • Think about it. Do you really believe? Can you commit to this? Can you make it happen and keep happening?
  • Do you want this enough to help ensure it can happen? What can you do from all levels of your job?