Seven signs of a productive meeting.

Meetings will make or break your project. Don’t hesitate to shake up or decommission teams that aren’t working out. Here are seven ideals to shoot for.

1. The only people in the room are stakeholders and gatekeepers. They care about the outcome.

2. Everyone knows why they’re in the room. They also know what’s being decided, solved, or accomplished.

3. Preparations happen beforehand. “I don’t know — I’ll need to look it up,” should never be said in a meeting. That’s a pre-meeting commitment. If someone doesn’t prepare, it means they don’t care, which means they don’t belong in the room.

4. Establish mutual respect. Each member’s interests or expertise should be understood by the others. Politics, conflict, sensitivity, assumptions — resolve them beforehand. When four people tiptoe around a fifth, nothing gets done.

5. Focus on the customer. Begin by knowing the customer, and keep returning to the customer’s interests. Never assume customer behavior that serves the product. That’s backwards (and unlikely).

6. Squelch dieseling. Encourage participants to ask questions or make statements without extended explanations. Crisp comments yield clarity which fuels progress. Run-on remarks suffocate engagement as others grow weary of waiting.

7. Critical assessment is crucial to progress. If it didn’t work the first time, discover why not. If the solution is vague, clarify what’s fuzzy. Ask questions. Push into the uncomfortable. This may take time, but it yields spectacular fruit.

Seven keys to compelling presentations.

We all present, whether in meetings, explanations, or conversations. Each time we present, we’re wielding influence. Here are seven ways to strengthen your influence.

1. Know your stuff. The meaning, reasons, details, background, challenges, exceptions, and weaknesses. You don’t have to share it all, but you should know it. Uncertainty voids authority, and you can’t slake interest without substance. John Boyd, the influential military theorist, prevailed in presentations because he did his homework, didn’t sling half-baked ideas, and never used imaginary statistics. When you know your stuff, no one can discredit your argument.

2. Speak truth. There’s no point to presenting if you can’t be trusted. When you tell the truth, people respect you, even if they disagree. People who disagree can work together. People who don’t trust each other can’t.

3. Tell the story. We live, dream, and relate in story. We aspire, create, and prevail through story. We perceive, grieve, loathe, and love by story. Story is the universal language. It defines and divides us, motivates and sustains us. Seth Godin, marketing guru, observes about story, “People like us do things like this. There is no more powerful tribal marketing connection than this.”

4. Develop a style that serves your audience. Style speaks more loudly than words. Are you selling? Spinning? Posturing? Hiding? Fast-talking? Boring? Listeners don’t mind conviction, persuasion, emotion, velocity, or gentle pacing — as long as you’re speaking to them and serving their interests. Present as if to those you love.

5. Don’t wing it. Most people are smarter than you realize. The more prepared you are, the more respect you convey. Nearly everyone will endure respect. Few will abide condescension.

6. Feature the big news. Signal your bold strokes. Preparing the stage is fine, but don’t build the theater before platforming your point. The longer you wait, the smaller your audience.

7. Believe it. Even if you’re presenting for the thousandth time, delivering bad news, or running on no sleep, remember why you’re doing this. How it makes things better. That your message is the very thing someone needs. This will keep you alive in the process, and life is contagious.

Seven things I’ve learned about biking to work


When we moved to the city I tried commuting by car, bus, and train. They’re all OK. Driving is quick, you can read on the bus, and the train laughs at traffic. But the best option, if you’re not fussy about ironed shirts, is biking. After two years of it, here’s what I’ve learned.

1. Your ride depends on your reason.
I’ve had flats, falls, snow, and scrapes with cars. Once, the headwind was so stiff I got passed by a runner. But none of that matters if you have the right goal. If you’re trying to set a “best time” record, you’ll chafe at not having a better bike. If you prize tidiness, you’ll wince over rolling your clothes into a backpack. If you dislike weather, you’ll only ride half the year. My goal is staying healthy, so every challenge is my friend. Especially the wind.

2. Your weight goes down as your health goes up.
If you set a hearty pace, your clothes will get baggy. I lost thirty pounds my first year. However, I didn’t lose thirty more pounds my second year. That’s because the harder you work, the greater your appetite.

3. Your routine is your friend.
Biking seems ridiculous. You get up, put on your bike clothes, pack your work clothes, ride to work, stow your bike, shower, put on your work clothes, work all day, change into your bike clothes, pack your work clothes, fetch your bike, ride home, unpack your work clothes, and hang your bike clothes on door knobs to dry (biking = sweating). Plus, there’s the weather, so you’re always checking Dark Sky. Every ten degrees means a different setup. So does rain. And don’t forget toiletries for your workplace shower, time to get cleaned up when you arrive and to change when you leave. This sounds crazy, right? Actually, it takes less time than daily exercise plus commuting — but it helps to have a routine. By doing the same things the same way every day you get quick without having to think about it. Without a routine you’ll show up at work one day without your computer. Or your clothes.

4. It’s all good.
Runners will veer in front of you without looking. Cars will crowd you. Pedestrians won’t get out of your way. Faster bikes will rocket by from behind and startle you. Just shake it off. People are mostly oblivious, not malicious. If you get upset, it will spoil your ride.

5. Share your workout with your mind.
When I’m deeply invested in something I can pray or solve problems while I ride. Otherwise, I’m just rehashing the day. What good is that? It’s better to include your mind in your workout. Listen to books! While my heart and legs are pumping, I’m learning about Einstein, Genghis Kahn, Daniel Burnham, Elon Musk, the Lockheed Skunkworks, WW2, and more. When I get where I’m going, I wonder how I got there so fast.

6. Courtesy might surprise you.
Good manners should be second nature, right? Defer the right of way. Pass without crowding. Go easy around pets, kids, age, and love. But adrenaline and neighborliness don’t always ride together. One day I sped past an older man. He shouted at me and I shook my head to signal my annoyance. Two weeks later I came up behind him again and thought, here it comes. Just then, some guy on a racing bike blasted past both of us. Sure enough, the old man shouted after him. This time, however, the racing guy slammed on his brakes, turned around, and started shouting back. It was ugly. Since it’s never pleasant to see someone shouting at an old man, I pulled alongside him and scowled at the racing guy. He paused his rant, then, his oaths apparently spent, took off. I kept pace with the older man and said, “You feel strongly about people passing you. Why is that?” For the next three miles he told me his story of being knocked over by a reckless biker on a winter night. He went sprawling, broke his elbow, and passed out. By the time someone stopped, he was nearly frozen. It took him eight months to recover, and now he thinks bikers should ride more courteously. Which makes good sense, right? When we reached my exit, I was wiser and he was calmer. We both said goodbye and parted as friends.

7. Entropy applies to bikes.
Things wear out. Whether you’re replacing a tube or cassettes, sprockets, chain, and crankset, these are natural expenses incurred by use. Since my bike is 28 years old, I’ve replaced all these items this year. At first it made me wince. Then my wonderful wife reminded me that, before we moved to the city, I was filling the gas tank every three days. That’s like buying four new bikes a year. Which gives me an idea . . .

Seven Things I’ve Learned About Starting to Exercise

(1) It doesn’t fit my lifestyle. I like to eat and I’m too busy.

(2) It’s worse than boring. It’s uncomfortable. There’s nothing to think about except how awful you feel.

(3) It’s necessary. Eating cake and French fries makes you feel lousy. So does wearing tight pants. Plus, if climbing stairs is exhausting, there’s no way you’ll ever hike Angel’s Landing or play racquetball with your kids.

(4) It takes determination. The first day of anything is easy. Get up and do it. But what about Day 2 when it feels even worse? Or Day 5 when you’re too busy? Or Day 12 when you still haven’t lost ten pounds? Grit your teeth and keep it up.

(5) It gets better. Day 15 is better than Days 1, 3, 5, or 7.

(6) You gain momentum, not weight. Once you’re committed you don’t want as much cake. Why squander forty minutes of sweating on three minutes of swallowing? As the belt loosens, the resolve tightens.

(7) It changes you. Getting healthy affects your body, mind, and soul. You think younger, gain confidence, and find a world of adventure within your reach (e.g., Angel’s Landing; racquetball; etc.). Well worth a few weeks of misery as you fit into your new lifestyle.


Seven things I learned from The Giver, by Lois Lowry

IMG_64891. Choice creates risk.
With choice come wrong choices, and wrong choices bring harm. Given the harm, it’s tempting to eliminate choice. But choice brings joy and maturity. Better to equip the chooser to choose than to remove the choice.

2. Pain is something we avoid.
Superficial avoidance is easy — simply find something to take your mind off the pain. But pain can last long and run deep. The only way to eliminate that kind of pain is to eliminate feelings. The trouble is, without feelings, life’s color drains away. That’s a bleak way to live.

3. Memories can be painful.
Since we don’t like pain, we choose not to remember. But many things ought never to be forgotten.

4. Choice, pain, and memories bring wisdom.
We learn from the choices we make. From trial and error, risk and reward. And we grow wise by remembering what happened. Or by learning what happened to others. Parents, teachers, mentors, books — these are the relationships and resources that turn choice, pain, and mindfulness into wisdom. The key is not to avoid pain, memories, or choice. It’s to cultivate loving relationships.

5. Enforced uniformity can be well-meaning.
According to a Wall Street Journal interview with Lois Lowry (6/20/2014), the story emerged from watching her aging father forget painful memories. By forgetting, he was spared their sorrow. What if our minds could be manipulated so we would all forget our painful memories? she wondered. Would that be nice? Thankfully, she thought it through, and now we know the answer.

6. Story reveals reality.
It’s in our nature to divert our eyes. To avoid the burden of grim realities. But when someone kills a healthy baby right in front of you, there’s nowhere else to look. Story makes such things possible. It turns knowledge into vivid experience. The Giver is read by schoolchildren around the world. Perhaps they will retain the moral clarity awakened by Chapter 19 when faced with their own life choices. It’s chilling, and not easily forgotten. Nor should it be.

7. Rudeness can be a virtue.
Not the rudeness of dishonor or contempt, but of naming the truth in a culture of lies. It is rude to ask or observe uncomfortable things. But not always wrong. It may be like turning on the light.

Parting Thought: It was wise to write this as a children’s book. Simply told, the story is believable. It’s also powerful, nuanced, and disturbing. Curiously, like other dystopian classics (eg., 1984, Fahrenheit 451), it features invasive technology. The speaker on the wall, always listening. Just like many of us now have in our homes.

Seven Things I’ve Learned About Commuting

(1) If you work from home you have zero commuting costs. Or wardrobe costs. Or going-out-for-lunch costs. You also never leave work.

(2) If you work a mile from home you can walk, ride your bike, drive, or take a longboard. Pretty nice. Also pretty easy to work evenings and weekends.

(3) If you work in a suburb, you have choices. There are dozens of neighborhoods to live in, all twenty minutes from work. Not much public transit, but who cares? It’s two gallons of gas per week.

(4) If you work in a big city, you could live downtown. If you’re a millionaire or a college student sharing a studio with eight friends.

(5) If you work in a big city, you could live five miles away. Rent is more reasonable, and you can ride your bike to work. Or take public transit after your bike is stolen.

(6) If you work in a big city, you could live in the suburbs. Green grass, chirping birds, and commuter trains departing every fifteen minutes. And 1,200 sq. ft. bungalows selling for $400k plus $8k in taxes.

(7) If you work in a big city, you could live beyond the burbs and have a corn field in your back yard. Five-bedroom homes start in the mid one-hundreds, and property taxes cost less than an iPhone. Then again, none of your neighbors will remember your name because they’ll only see you on weekends when you cut your grass.

So many choices . . .

Seven Things I’ve Learned About Communication in Marriage

(1) It’s the water that keeps your relationship hydrated. You’re friends. You trust each other. So talk about what you’re thinking, feeling, planning, doing, learning, and believing. That’s what friends do.

(2) Do it with love. Affection is nice, but love goes the distance. It reaches deep and rouses kindness — a reliable guardrail for steering clear of wounding. Create a culture of grace. Neither winning nor accusing hold a candle to love. When the discussion heats up, hold hands and face each other. Then talk as friends.

(3) Things don’t always sound right. Intentions get misread and signals go crossed. When that happens, use “meaning” questions to diffuse tension and clarify comments. “Can you say more about what you mean?” “I may be missing what you want me to hear. Could you say it a different way for me?” Few comments are meant to be as offensive as they sound. For example, what sounds like anger is often just hurt. Look for the meaning.

(4) Have no fear. Don’t be afraid to ask questions if you find yourself wondering about something. Understanding is better than fretting or stewing. There are no “off limits” zones in marriage. You belong to each other and are committed to one another’s best interests. Seek the good. Work to understand. Fear not. And don’t worry about making the other person angry. If a question provokes anger, you’ve discovered a whole new region of your relationship to explore.

(5) Never assume. It’s better to know than to suspect or imagine. Assumptions are rumors you tell yourself. They are barriers you erect around your relationship. Always pursue truth. Clear the air. Don’t erode your friendship with imagined obstacles.

(6) Know your styles. Are you moved by words? Feelings? Actions? If I’m a “feeler” and you’re big on “words,” we’ll miss each other. Come to appreciate one another’s style. The tender view, the linear reasoning, the mosaic context, and the sincere faith. It’s all good. When communicating, don’t focus on the destination. Enjoy the journey.

(7) Be courteous. Communication is an act of kindness. Volunteer things for the joy of showing you care. Initiate. Be proactive. Bring your friend in on the brilliance of your ideas/plans/desires. Tackle your lives together like rock climbers ascending a new route to the top. Stay on the same page, keep your love fit, and never forget who the enemy is. (Hint: it’s not your life’s partner.)