I was interviewed last week by Jennifer Sherman who runs a video blog called The Influencer Collective Show. I’ve included a link to the interview. Please take a moment to watch it in its entirety here.
The interview is a discussion of what it means to be an influencer, my philosophy about the Tahzoo corporate culture, and how it takes its shape. I would love to hear from you about what you think makes someone an influencer, our culture, or any other commentary you’d like to share.
Let’s go be great!
I’ve been thinking lately about how Covid and all the other world issues might affect our mental health. My primary concern right now is that people are wearing out. Long-term stress and ambiguity have a real impact on judgment and decision making. For the last ten years, leading Tahzoo has been an exercise in finding “the balance.” The question is not, how can you avoid the stress, but how do you manage it? With stress left unchecked, you’ll lose your mental health and make errors in judgment. I’ll share for me, the secret for keeping the stress at bay boils down to four things; exercise, planning, losing track of time, and empathy.
Exercising – It doesn’t matter what you do, do it regularly; anything that gets you up and moving for twenty minutes. Long walks are great, working in the yard, going to the gym, up to training for a marathon – just be active. Do something moderately physical three or four times a week. Fill your lungs, get your heart rate up, and enjoy it wherever you are at from a fitness perspective. The last point, don’t make the goals for exercise so difficult that they become unachievable; just do it. I won’t pummel you with the reams of data about the benefits of being active. We all know it’s true. I never want to go to the gym, but I always feel better when I do.
Planning – Write out a to-do list every day. This will help you see your progress and remind you of what is important. I write a list every day, and it’s just a daily habit that gives me my sense of direction. Your to-do list will always contain more items than you can accomplish in any one day, and that is ok! Break your list into two sections, tactical things you can finish in a day and longer-term projects requiring your continued focus and attention. I get so much joy from crossing off an item on my “to-do list” that sometimes I write down stuff that I already did so that I can have the joy of crossing it off. On the term paper items, do one thing, big or small, every day towards the goal. Give yourself grace – you deserve forgiveness. There are days when you’ll kill your to-do list and days when you won’t get anything done. The point is writing the list, not completing the list.
Losing Track of Time – When you do something you love, your brain turns off its “time tracking mechanism.” This happens because your mind is fully occupied, and therefore it reduces your stress levels and produces healthy endorphins. Although your brain is engaged, you’re actually giving your brain a rest; it’s akin to sleeping. If you want to know more, read up on “Flow” by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi. I have a simple exercise for you; write down a list of 10 things that, when you do them, you lose track of time. Then make sure you do these things more often. In fact, as much as possible. Work them into your day and your routines.
Here are the things that cause me to lose track of time… Playing Chess, Tennis, Reading, Writing, Cooking, Drinking Wine, Playing Card Games, Math, Golf, Selling, Giving Speeches, Listening to Music, Solving Strategy Problems, Studying Physics, and Spending Time with My Family. Go write out your list and do those things more often.
Empathetic Decision Making – Every day, we make tradeoffs around allocating time to people and prioritizing our to-do list. You can’t make everyone happy, nor should you try; it’s not good leadership. However, I want to offer a model for decision making that naturally creates empathy. The goal here is that you make managing your relationships your priority. Before you make a decision, take a moment to consider, “How will the people in my life be emotionally impacted?” More specifically, put yourself in their shoes and ask, “How will they interpret and experience this decision?” This does not mean that you won’t need to make hard decisions or that you can shy away from hurting someone’s feelings. It means you’ll consider how you’re going to keep your relationship healthy as part of your decision-making process. To put yourself in someone’s shoes, you’ll have to get to know them. You’ll be building a foundation of empathy.
These are just habits. They take practice to become automatic. But I know you can incorporate all or most of this into your daily life. I’ve spent decades dealing with long-term, highly ambiguous stress, and it can wear you out. I’m still going strong after all these years, including 2020 and Covid. “Man, we have a bright future ahead!” and that’s something to be excited about. These habits continue to clear the path for me. Let’s talk more about stress. I worry about you… if you need anything or want to chat, call my cell.
These disciplines are so critical, and I cannot emphasize them enough. Just try it for one month, give me 30 days, then book a half-hour meeting with me to talk through your experience. I will give you an American Express gift card. We will get to know each other a little better.
Let’s go be great!
This will be the last Desk of Brad I send in 2020. Tomorrow is January 1st, 2021!!! It could not come soon enough. Wow, I mean, wow, what a year it’s been! I’ve been around longer than most of you (but not that much longer), and it’s safe to say that we’ve never seen anything like this before. I wonder how we will tell our Grandchildren about this year when they inevitably ask, “Grampa/Grandma, what was it like during the pandemic?”. I get the sense that history is unfolding right now, a series of events that will be consequential over the next century or more. And not just something that happened somewhere else, but something that is happening to each of us … So, what are you going to say?
For my part, I am going to talk mostly about the things I learned this year. Of course, the historical narrative will be woven into my discussion. It’s not many years that you have an Impeachment, Pandemic, An Economic Collapse, Millions of Fellow Americans Unemployed, Breadlines, Political Unrest, Racial Injustice, A Presidential Election, Developed Multiple Vaccines within a year, and the Loss of 100s of Thousands of American Lives. We all had to learn to stay at home, work from home, school our children from home, all while managing the low/high-grade stress of uncertainty and fear related to Covid. It’s safe to say that everyone has been tested mightily this year.
When I was a young teenager, I read a book called “The bumps are what you climb on.” The whole idea is that you learn from your challenges more than your successes. Along those lines, I’ve always appreciated Bill Gate’s quote, “Success is a lousy teacher. It seduces smart people into thinking they can’t lose.” In the famous Commencement Speech of ’99, by Baz Luhrmann, there is an excerpt that has resonated with me since I first heard it “don’t worry about the future; or worry, but know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubblegum. The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind; the kind that blindsides you at 4:00 pm on some idle Tuesday.”
None of us saw 2020 coming. I share these quotes with you to have some insight into how I choose to experience the world.
Lessons learned for me from 2020:
It’s essential to have your life in order as best as you can, especially when times are good, because you never know when you’ll need to handle a crisis. Said differently, Dig your well before you’re thirsty by Harvey McKay. It’s so essential to make investments in your life and your friendships before you need help; otherwise, it will be too late when the crisis hits.
Gratefulness is the secret to happiness. I had to provide a lot of emotional support to family, friends, and many of you this year. When I was out of energy, tired or sad, rather than wallow in emotional suffering, I focused on what I am grateful for, and that ALWAYS lifted my spirits. My Pastor once always said, “you can’t minister from an empty well.” I learned to take this practice to a new level this year; every day, I took time to count my blessings. This habit has changed me forever.
Consciously decide what is important to you and make time for those things. Don’t let the urgent overtake the important in your life. Ironically, in the last Desk of Brad in January 2020, I was worried everyone was too busy and needed to focus on what’s important. Little did I know that 2020 would be a crucible of clarity.
From the first paragraph of that DOB …
Ever notice how much work you can get done the week before you go on vacation? Isn’t it just a matter of focus and prioritization? I am reminded of the Stephen Covey exercise in which you have several large rocks and small rocks that need to be squeezed into a large glass jar. If you put the little rocks in first, you can never make room for the large rocks. If you put the large rocks in first, then there is plenty of room for the small rocks to fit in and around the large rocks. Another way to think of this is that some urgent activities and activities are important. Always remember that the important is more important than the urgent.
Tell the people you love that you love them more often. Show them you love them as often as you can. Frequent little gestures go a lot further than the occasional grand gesture. We are granted a limited amount of time in this life, express your emotions. Although we put it out of our minds most of the time, the clock is ticking.
As for Tahzoo – Work is more about who you work with than what you do. I’ve seen so many acts of overt kindness within the company this year that I’ve been overwhelmed at times. What has impressed me the most this year is our teamwork and collaboration. Not only did we manage our change, but we also helped our clients manage the changes as well. There is a reason we look to hire smart and happy people because it creates possibilities. It turns out that this year more than ever, being surrounded by colleagues who care made the year a little bit more tolerable. “Individual commitment to a group effort – that is what makes a teamwork, a company work, a society work, and a civilization work.” – Vince Lombardi
Looking Forward 2021
We have a lot to be thankful for, to say the least. We have so much opportunity, and we’ve spent the better part of 10 years learning how to drive and implement digital transformation. There is no C-Level Executive at a Fortune 500 company in the world who would not be the least interested in hearing what we have accomplished and what we can do. It turns out the enabling working from home, shopping from home, and being healthy at home, our core solutions are in high demand and will be for the foreseeable future. We’ve set the Tahzoo table for the next ten years of growth.
We really couldn’t be in a better market position, except maybe companies that sell Hepa Air Filters. True story, Matt Heidemann and I we’re playing golf on a muni course in San Diego in early February 2020, we were paired with two strangers. After the usual, I suck at golf speeches, and we talked about what we all did for a living. One of the guys owned a business selling Air Filters to hospitals, and he was already gearing up for a massive year. We should have offered to take over his marketing 🙂
We did okay in 2020 financially, we will be flat or just slightly below 2019 numbers in terms of revenue, and we’ll have a small loss from a profit perspective. I’m quite pleased with this performance, given what I’ve seen happen to many businesses. We managed to keep our accounts moving forward and avoid layoffs. 2021 will be a busy year, we’ve been hiring as fast as we can, and our pipeline is about as large as I’ve ever seen it. We will launch our software business in earnest, and the investments in operational excellence will not only improve the quality of our employee experience it will also improve our client experience.
We have a lot of work to do next year, and it will be challenging and rewarding. I am looking forward to this next phase of Tahzoo. We’ll call it Tahzoo 4.0. So much to be excited about, but as I always say, “don’t dance on the five-yard line, only dance after we score a touchdown.” Another salient excerpt from the class of ’99 speech “Whatever you do, don’t congratulate yourself too much or berate yourself either — your choices are half chance; so are everybody else’s.” The grass isn’t greener on the other side; it’s just different grass. Control is just an illusion, and you can’t control your life; you can make decisions. Maybe they work out; perhaps they don’t. But we’ll do it together, as a team.
I’ll take these lessons and perspective to heart. They’ll be the basis for my storytelling to my Grandchildren one day. There are many good storytellers at Tahzoo, and if you have something you’d like to share with the company or me, I would be thrilled to hear from you. I am sure your teammates would too. Let’s continue to be generous with one another; we still have tough days ahead.
I am so proud and grateful to be working with each of you.
Wishing you a Happy and Healthy New Year!!!
Thank you for a good week, everyone. We are making significant progress on several fronts. We need to focus on making our deadlines and taking good care of clients as our top priority. It’s been a year of difficult challenges and we had some big wins. Let’s focus on finishing the year strong with an eye towards 2021.
I’ve been thinking about the difference between responsibility and resolution. I am working with the Team to ensure we provide more clarity about who’s responsible and how we reach a resolution on issues. It seems to me that we have too many problems that are languishing and remaining unresolved. I want everyone to inventory the top 5 to 10 challenges that you regularly face that go unresolved. Think categorically, not specifically. We are looking to identify the top 10 issue types to work them out of Tahzoo systematically.
In the voice of the culture this week, please put your thoughts in the comments section. We’ll use this as a starting point for defining our plan for improving the experience at Tahzoo.
Let’s go be great,
I trust that you had a safe and restful Thanksgiving Day, that it was full of gratefulness. Although we’ve been through a lot this year, we have also been quite fortunate. As the holiday season begins in earnest, let’s try to be mindful of the grace and blessings in our lives. I know it’s been a tough year for everyone. I can see the company’s stress. Hopefully, we can lift one another when someone is having a down day. Let your character shine through when it matters most; build each other up and focus on taking care of clients and your colleagues. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, this year being the most poignant in my lifetime. More than ever, I recognize that the coming months will be difficult; we are entering a period in which we will need to come together and persevere. There is light at the end of the tunnel; the vaccine is on the way, we have many opportunities to grow the business and hire new people into our company. For this, I am very grateful and thankful that together we can make a difference.
Let’s go be great,
Monday was Memorial Day and, in my DOB, last Friday I shared with you the importance of remembering those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedoms. There is a small graveyard on Bainbridge Island and on Monday my children put small American flags on the gravestones of our veterans. My in-laws are buried there and they both served during world war II. I think the United States of America is an amazing country and I believe in American exceptionalism.
America is in the middle of a pandemic, the worst health crisis in over a century and we have the highest unemployment rate since the great depression. We’ve all been in various levels of quarantine for a couple of months and more than 100,000 Americans have lost their life to Covid-19. The country is trying to find its way back to a healthy and safe place and start rebuilding our economy.
Times are tough, really tough and we need leadership. I shared Lincoln’s speech last week because it represented a set of values that I believe in. Given that Lincoln was 28 when he shared that speech, it was an early indicator of his character and potential leadership skills. As it turned out he managed the country through the most difficult period in our nation’s history.
It’s was galling to have seen the pointless death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Then made even worse by a series of riots that erupted across the country last night, including 7 people who were shot in Louisville. This morning I watched a new crew from CNN arrested on live TV while covering the riots.
If that was not enough to raise my sense of concern for the country, I was dismayed to see two incendiary tweets from the President in the last 24 hours. The first tweet was a retweet of a video in which a county commissioner declared ‘The only good Democrat is a dead Democrat.’, although the commissioner quickly recanted his position as a jest. While not likely to meet the standard of illegal speech defined by the U.S. Supreme court case, Brandenburg vs. Ohio, http://landmarkcases.c-span.org/Case/23/Brandenburg-v-Ohio It is certainly not a representative example of quality leadership, decorum, and civility in our public discourse. Aren’t we all Americans, regardless of political affiliation?
The second tweet from the president was far more odious.
…” these THUGS are dishonoring the memory of George Floyd, and I won’t let that happen. Just spoke to Governor Tim Walz and told him that the Military is with him all the way. Any difficulty and we will assume control but, when the looting starts, the shooting starts. Thank you!”
Read plainly, the President insinuating that the U.S. Military will be activated to assume control of Minneapolis and the if there is looting, U.S. troops will in an extrajudicial way, execute U.S. citizens?
The Posse Comitatus Act https://fas.org/sgp/crs/natsec/R42659.pdf is a law the prevents the use of the US military as a substitute for civilian policing activities. Furthermore, the President can’t just assume control of a State or municipality. I could go on and on about how ridiculous that portion of the tweet is relative to our laws and the power vested in the executive branch under the constitution, but I want to get to the central point.
There is a historical context to the phrase “when the looting starts, the shooting starts”. During the late Sixties, The Miami police chief, Walter Headley’s aggressive policing of black neighborhoods was denounced by civil-rights leaders. At a news conference in December 1967, as tensions simmered in response to months of police brutality, Headley threatened violent reprisals if the situation escalated. “We don’t mind being accused of police brutality. They haven’t seen anything yet.” …. “When the looting starts, the shooting starts,” Headley told reporters, according to media reports at the time.
Twitter tagged this last tweet as glorifying violence.
We all have a right to free speech, but it is not unfettered. You can’t yell fire in a crowded movie theater, and you can’t incite people to violence or illegal activities. While the President’s conduct may not be illegal it is unbecoming of a leader. Lincoln feared that erosion of the rule of law could potentially unwind our great nation. The following is from my excerpt from Lincoln’s Lyceum speech in the DOB last week.
The importance of the rule of law…
“I hope I am over wary; but if I am not, there is, even now, something of ill-omen, amongst us. I mean the increasing disregard for law which pervades the country; the growing disposition to substitute the wild and furious passions, in lieu of the sober judgment of Courts; and the worse than savage mobs, for the executive ministers of justice. This disposition is awfully fearful in any community; and that it now exists in ours, though grating to our feelings to admit, it would be a violation of truth, and an insult to our intelligence, to deny.”
Our great Presidents, (to name a few) Washington, Lincoln, Roosevelt, Kennedy brought the country together in service of a higher purpose. I remember vividly the tragedy of 9/11and how President Bush, with decorum and grace, brought our country together. The three first words in the constitution of the United States of America in the large font reads … WE THE PEOPLE.
Let’s go be great!
I wanted to share an excerpt from a letter I wrote to the Cakebread family this week upon hearing about the passing of Dolores Cakebread. As many of you know, I love wine, it’s truly remarkable how many different types, styles and flavors are to be experienced. With truly great wine you can taste the care and pride that goes into each bottle. Mrs. Cakebread was one of those people who inspired me to start Tahzoo. After you read this letter, remember that every conversation you have could change a life course.
Here is the letter:
I wanted to take a moment to share a conversation that I had with her that touched me and has been a fond memory of mine for many years. I was visiting the winery with my wife and a close friend back in the late nineties. We had wandered out into the vineyard and were walking around drinking our wine when we ran into a woman who I would later discover was Mrs. Cakebread.
She chatted with us about the vineyard, growing grapes, and many of the challenges of keeping a vineyard healthy. We spoke in detail about knowing when to harvest the grapes, the weather, the aging of the plants, and about a fungus that had been problematic a few years earlier. We finally got around to introducing ourselves, which was delightful. I thought it was so refreshing to spend time with someone who clearly had a passion for her business and family. She shared that her children were taking over more responsibly for the business and how proud she was of them.
We were living in Oakland at that time and heard her story about how she and her husband sold their auto repair business to become winemakers. Their old shop was not too far from our home at the time, and the idea that driving through Napa one day, they saw the vineyard for sale and just went for it seemed to be a remarkable leap of faith. I quizzed her a bit about this and was so struck by her courage, passion, and sense of family. We wound up talking for a least a couple of hours and just had the most wonderful time. It was the only time I ever spoke with her.
I have told this story many times over the years. Most poignantly for me, when I was mustering the courage to start my own business during the middle of the economic crisis in 2010, I was heartened, remembering my encounter with Mrs. Cakebread. That making choices with passion for what you do and a strong sense of family will carry you forward. My company just celebrated its 10 year anniversary, we help our clients improve their customer service and customer experience, this was a career change for me as well. My conversation with her, as brief as it was, had a huge impact on me and the many people in my life…
All of us have had countless conversations and interactions with people, never knowing the impact they may have. I wanted to make sure that I shared with each of you my story.
Let’s go be great,
In Loving Memory
It is with heavy hearts that we announce the passing of Dolores Cakebread, co-founder of Cakebread Cellars, from natural causes. Yet it is with happy memories that we celebrate her remarkable 90 years of life.
When Dolores stepped back from winery operations 15 years ago, her legacy of warm hospitality lived on. To the wine community she will be remembered as a pioneer of wine & food education, cookbook author and certified Master Gardener. To our Cakebread Cellars winery team, she will be remembered as co-founder, mentor and friend. And to her family, she is remembered as a beloved wife of 70 years, mother, grandmother and great grandmother.
We are incredibly grateful for your support and kind words; Dolores loved sharing her garden with you and welcoming so many into the Cakebread Cellars family. Please join us in raising a glass of her favorite wine, Sauvignon Blanc, to honor the life of Dolores.
The Cakebread Family
The effects of COVID-19 are wearing everyone a bit thin these days. I’m seeing great teamwork across the company but I’m also seeing the undercurrent of stress and unhappiness. Totally understandable… just remember that if someone is getting under your skin, take a step back and pull your thoughts together. Everyone is well-intentioned, albeit their communication style may not work for you. Keep that in mind when you are seeking to resolve conflict. I think Stephen Covey said it best “Seek first to understand before you seek to be understood.” Relationships take work, even at work. Policies, procedures and rules aren’t a replacement for Smart and Happy. Let’s work to find grace for one another. Things are going to be tough for a while.
I have been reading a biography of Winston Churchill called “The Last Lion” by William Manchester, it’s fantastic and amazingly long. “I still have a ways to go, I am still in the early stages of World War II” – you think we have troubles now, walk a mile during that time period. It wasn’t clear that England wasn’t going to be invaded, or that the Americans were going to arrive in time. What was remarkable about Churchill was his resolve. He firmly believed that his people were up for the challenge, he was so eloquent in the way he steeled his country. “We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.”
Fortunately for us, we are not at the beginning of World War II and although I might wish, I am not Winston Churchill, but what I will say is that I have a good measure of resolve. We are a great company, full of great (Smart and Happy) people, we have amazing clients and most importantly we take good care of each other. So, while we have challenging times and each of us is getting worn out by all the chaos, remember that Tahzoo is around because we want to make the world a better place. You’re here because our mission is, “to make millions of people a little bit happier every day.”
Let’s go be great!
I was able to visit Ruth Bader Ginsberg in repose at the Supreme Court yesterday. I appreciated the opportunity to pay my respects in person. I am sure that all of you have had the opportunity to hear about her life’s work and achievements on behalf of equal rights for women and for all people. What I find remarkable, was her ability to endure personal challenges and still prevail in her mission. She had a keen understanding of change and time and she was persistent but incremental in her Court decisions. The change she created will be lasting change because she wasn’t seduced by the allure of grand and sweeping decisions, she saw change as a foundational problem and sought to make many small corrections in the law. Our nation is better because of her commitment to public service.
We all have to remember that the government exists to manage a portfolio of risks on our behalf. Protecting our food supply, providing support after a natural disaster, ensuring airplanes are made safely, the list goes on and on. If you look at the mission of each agency, you’ll see the risk they are responsible to manage. When I worked at Microsoft I managed about half of the Federal business, all of the Cabinet Level agencies. I became quite familiar with their missions and how we could apply technology to solve national problems. Unfortunately, the work of the government has become grossly politized, especially in the agencies responsible for our health and wellness as a nation.
As I was paying my respects yesterday, I was reminded that these agencies are full of public servants who have dedicated themselves to the common good. Senior positions in the government rarely compete with the public sector in terms of salary and benefits, but they do offer a chance to make a big impact. There are many rules and laws in place to keep them from becoming involved in politics, and for good reason, they need to be thinking about their mission and how to best protect all of us. I am grateful that our Founding Fathers understood the need to keep the government from becoming a political instrument.
I gave everyone Election day off so that each of you would have the opportunity to vote. I strongly encourage you to not only to vote but to get involved, volunteer where you can. We cannot let enemies of the United States, foreign actors or politicians, limit the right of every citizen to vote. We need to do everything we can to ensure that every vote is counted. Justice Ginsberg would have wanted it that way.
Let’s go be great!
“The greatest asset of a company is its people.”
– Jorge Paulo Lemann
Hope you enjoyed the extra time off last week. For my part, I rented a house in the mountains, enjoyed some golf, watched a bunch of movies and got crushed in Monopoly by my children as they decided that teaming up to beat me was their number one goal. While I wasn’t super happy about losing … I am a competitive person; I took a lot of joy in seeing them work together as a team! I trust that each of you used your time wisely and had a chance to recharge the batteries.
The Voice of the Culture is a super important feedback loop within Tahzoo. I would really appreciate each of you continuing to rate you week and expressing your opinions. If we can keep the participation rate at or above 80% that would be fantastic.
The goal of the VOC is to give everyone an opportunity to reflect on the previous week, find moments of gratefulness, especially related to experiences with co-workers, and provide constructive feedback to me and the leadership team to improve the effectiveness of the company. Some of you are more vocal that others and that’s ok, we just need to keep the lines of communication open.
As part of our core values “if you take care of your customer and your employees, you’ll have a company worth caring about”, the VOC is very important tool to ensure that we live up to those values. It’s a journey not a destination and the company has evolved a lot over the years. The VOC has been instrumental in making necessary changes. If you couldn’t tell based on my last few DOBs, I am a huge fan of freedom of speech. I think it’s necessary for a democracy and necessary for a thriving company. The twice weekly all hands meetings, the VOC, and an open-door policy are all mechanisms to make sure your voice is heard.
It’s your company too! Tahzoo can only be great and we can only achieve our mission of making millions of people a little bit happier every day by working together and providing honest feedback. I look forward to hearing more from each of you.