Are You Ready For Some Football?

levis-stadiumI had the opportunity recently to attend a pre-season football game at the newly opened Levi’s Stadium located in Santa Clara, CA.  It is the new home of the San Francisco 49ers.  While the game itself was rather uneventful (the 49ers lost to the Denver Broncos), it was a beautiful Sunday afternoon and a great opportunity to see “firsthand” what so much of the excitement has been about over the last several months.  The 49ers football organization has, as you probably have heard already, relocated their franchise from San Francisco, further south in the Bay Area, to Santa Clara.  Here’s some thoughts and observations from my day at the park–

 

1.  It is a beautiful looking stadium, and very high tech, worthy of representing Silicon Valley and all that the Bay Area has become.  I enjoyed using the built in WiFi service on my iPhone, and no matter where I walked throughout the stadium, I never missed a play of the game, due to the more than 1100 (I think) screens and monitors that are throughout the park.  Some fans near me ordered food from their iPhone and had it delivered right to their seat, which was interesting to watch.  I prefer to get up and stretch my legs, but a brief walk from any seat in the house gets you to a nearby food or beverage stand.  I believe the two large screens at each end of the park are the largest in the NFL league, and you really can’t miss any part of the game.

2.  It wasn’t a cheap date.  Ok, new stuff can cost more, I get that.  Lots of people are complaining about the prices, not only for the tickets, but also for the stuff….the food, the jerseys, the parking….they aren’t cheap.  As much as I want to join the whining bandwagon, you have to be realistic….things cost more today than in years gone by.  Gone are the days of the double-header baseball game, when you could take the family out for a few dollars and enjoy the afternoon.  But the facilities are nice, the seating is well laid out (you can see the game from every seat really, really well), and the concessions are well stocked and well located.  If you are hungry, try one of the food trucks along the “Faithful 49 Fan Walk” out in front of the stadium before heading to your seat.  The food was good, the prices a little more reasonable, and the lines weren’t bad.  I had a BBQ Tri Tip sandwich which was one of the best I’ve had in a long while.

3.  Security was solid and well organized.  My observation is that there was plenty of security, the scanning and systems used up front (including the video cameras that I could see) kept the crowds moving smoothly and the stadium workers and local police and sheriffs were all pretty well in sync.  That’s not an easy task for handling sixty thousand fans at a time.  Even with the alcohol flowing through the concession stands, the crowd seemed to enjoy the facility and there didn’t appear to be any vandalism or criminal behavior present–well done.

4.  Parking wasn’t as bad as expected.  We were able to park in a garage adjacent to the park with our yellow parking pass.  I recommend you buy a parking pass in advance–this will only help your experience.  But there was also plenty of people using mass transit, and bicycles (they have a lot for securing your bike up close to the stadium entrance, which is thoughtful).  There were plenty of people directing traffic which helped as well.

Over all, it was a positive first time experience.  Operationally, Levi’s Stadium seems on top of their game, and certainly ready to house the Super Bowl at the end of the 2015-16 season.  If you get the opportunity to take in a game at the new stadium this year, please do so–you will not be disappointed!  

Mental Exercise

crossfitI’m not in great shape.  I’m not completely out of shape either.  I’m somewhere in the middle, you know the spot, between athlete and armchair quarterback.  I was active through most of my early life, and played sports through college.  Even after getting married and having a family, I managed to stay active in local basketball leagues for quite some time, usually playing against younger challengers and doing reasonably well.

I have what many would consider a “desk job” for the most part, but because I like to stay busy, I tend to only be in front of my computer screen during the day about 30% of the time.  The rest of the time I try to move around, working with my co-workers in the warehouse operations, or with our customer service reps, or another member of the management team.  On the weekends, I stay active, working on my own landscaping, or washing one of the cars, or organizing the garage, fixing an appliance, whatever is on the “to do” list for the weekend.

My wife recently signed me up for a free class at a local “crossfit” gym.  She really wanted me to try it out, and reluctantly I agreed to go.  Wow….I’m still feeling it today even as I write this post.  Crossfit training is a fairly recent trend in exercise that combines some traditional equipment (balance bars and medicine balls) with everyday types of exercise (squats, push ups, running, sit ups, etc.), paced in such a way to work up your cardio and get you moving and sweating.

It was painful….in many ways.  Sure, it was painful on a purely physical level, and I was challenged to really move my body in ways it hadn’t been challenged in quite some time.  But even more importantly, I was challenged mentally and emotionally, in a way I hadn’t expected.  As I moved into the routine for the evening, I could sense my body fighting to get through the exercises and keep up with the rest of the group (who, by the way, were all closer to my kids ages than my own).  But mentally, in my head there was an all out war being waged.  It was as you’d expect, thoughts of “you can’t do this” battling with “keep going, you can do this”…back and forth.  Equally at odds were thoughts of “this isn’t so tough” and “you’re almost there” versus “your knee is going to give out” and “why are you killing yourself with this stuff”.

I came away with thoughts at the end of the night that stayed with me the next morning.  I realized that the mental challenge was way more difficult to get through than the physical challenge.  Sure, I need to exercise, and the benefits of such a program seemed pretty obvious–improved flexibility, weight control, improved overall strength and conditioning–but what was really interesting to me was the mental aspect of pushing myself through the physical activity.

Mental toughness is a key ingredient found in nearly every successful venture. It’s a necessary component of anything worth doing right, whether in life, business, relationships, all of the above.  Physical challenges will vary from person to person, and to be sure, I was probably more challenged than most in my class that evening.  But more importantly, we all shared a common ground–the battle within, the mental game.

As you face your day, be aware that overcoming the mental blocks, the mental “what if’s”, the fears of failure, the self-doubting at times, these are worth focusing on and finding strength to overcome.  If you can get past the mental challenge to the work you face, the obstacles blocking your success will be much easier to overcome.  Remind yourself whatever the challenge you face that you aren’t alone, that others have gone through your particular challenge, or are facing a similar task, and know that “it” can be done, whatever the “it” is.  Pushing through the negative thoughts is half the battle.  Getting the job done is other half, but really, when you consider it all, actually doing the job is the downhill portion of the trip.  If you can set your mind on your challenge with the view that you can and will accomplish the task, you’re likely to be that much more successful in whatever the challenge you face.

Lessons from a Retaining Wall.

build-retaining-wall-heroI recently had the opportunity to take a few days off from my “regular job” to travel to Idaho, visiting my wife’s aunt and uncle.  They live on a very scenic lake north of Boise, surrounded by pine trees, mountain ranges and lots of clean air.

While there I set out to help them in any way that I could.  They are aging, and so there were some pretty obvious projects that needed to be moved along or completed.  One such project was a small retaining wall near their circular driveway.  It had been started nearly five years earlier, but had stopped when my wife’s uncle became ill.  I noticed the four pallets of blocks still parked, with what appeared to be the start of a base that lined the driveway curve.

Thinking it was an obvious choice, I awoke early one morning to surprise everyone by building out the wall.  For me, the visual of seeing the blocks moved off their pallets and into a newly formed retaining wall would be truly welcomed.  Alas, “not so much”.

About half way through the building process, my wife’s aunt stepped outside to the front porch, and noticing what I had done, quickly asked me to hold up.  Apparently Uncle Tommy had envisioned a different way to build the wall.  I found my wife’s uncle, asked him about it, and after hearing of the plan, determined I would need to undo all the work I had done.  What a bummer.

Lots of sweat, and a sore back later….I had some thoughts.  Here they are, in no particular order…maybe something useful for you in your life, in managing your business operations, or maybe even with your role as a parent:

1.  Good intentions are….good intentions.  Don’t fool yourself into thinking that good intentions alone make for a successful business operation.  They don’t.  They aren’t a bad way to get started, but in the end, really, they don’t amount to much at all.  They are only intentions.  Same truth applies to work, to parenting, to just about everything in life.  Intentions are a great starting point, but not enough to be successful at anything really.

2.  There is wisdom in seeking the counsel of others.  My wife told me not to pursue this particular dream, but I didn’t listen to her.  She was right…I was wrong.  Sometimes we really think we know best, that we have a great idea, that we’ll show everyone around us once it’s done, etc…but it’s a wise person who bounces their ideas off of those around themselves, if only as a sanity check.  This is a great practice.  And of course, it works well if you take others advice into consideration when making your decision (honey, you were right, again).

3.  Sometimes our differences aren’t really that different.  Uncle Tommy had a vision in his mind of how the wall would be built, the steps involved in it, etc.  So did I, and really, we were on the same page (sort of).  We both wanted the wall built but our approach was different.  Same is often true in business operations–stay focused on the goal, even if the approach isn’t exactly the same way for each team member.  A great manager understands this truth.  Work with the end result in mind, and ultimately you should end up there.  Most issues within a team stem from not having the same goal, a clear vision, etc.  This is where leadership comes into play, too.  Good leaders communicate clear goals to their teams.

4.  Retaining wall blocks get heavier when you have to move them twice.  Okay, I had to say it.  It was hot, I was sweaty, and they were heavy to start with, and mysteriously became heavier when I had to undo my progress.  Doing the job over to correct your mistakes (which does happen at times) is never fun, so taking the time to plan out our intentions, to engage those around us, to really understand the goal….these are great steps that can help us avoid having to do things twice.  Efficiency balanced with accuracy is what’s needed in most cases, both in Operations, in parenting, in life.  Now get outside and build something!

 

Mirror Conversations

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The art of communication is slowly dying within our society.  At least, that’s the way it appears to me.

I was riding in to my job last week (on my Harley) when I noticed the woman in the car next to me.  She was talking but it appeared no one was listening.  I was wrong.  Someone was listening…in fact two people were listening.  They were small children, sometimes referred to by my father as “pre-people”…little kids, strapped in firmly to their booster seats.  The woman (I’ll presume that she was their mom) was having a conversation with her children through the rear view mirror in her car.

I remember doing that very thing.  I drove a truck for many years (still do on occasion), and when my girls were younger I’d strap them into their seats in the back (it had an extended cab, and then later a full crew cab) whenever we were out and about.  On the way to the store, or the park, or the movies (I don’t think we missed a single Disney film during a 10 year run) or to school, we would have “mirror conversations” constantly.  I miss those days.  At the time they didn’t seem like they were all that important, but looking back now with the benefit of hindsight…oh yes they were very important.  As the kids grew, so did the conversations.  They became more animated, more give and take and more important each time.

The “kids” are all now young adults, and it’s difficult to get them to slow down long enough to have a conversation with them.  There are weeks that sometimes go by, and all I can hope for is that I’ll get a decently quick response to my voicemail soon enough.  And I understand how it is–they all have their priorities, they all are busy, and they all love their dad.  But when we do get the chance to talk, I am amazed at how much more meaningful and valuable the conversations have become.

We live in an age when the technology and tools we have can truly benefit our lives.  But I fear we are entering a time when the art of good conversation may be suffering a bit from the overabundance of technology (if that’s possible).  Texting is common place, the “twittersphere” is active, and why talk when a quick video or “snapchat” photo will do? I use all of these too, so I understand the simplicity and availability of the tools, but we need to remember to talk.  And listen.  And talk some more.  And listen some more.  Even picking up the telephone has at least a little more depth than a simple text message or email.

I work in a building that isn’t all that large.  Email communication is pretty standard fare here, which is fine as a business tool and sometimes required to assist with tracking/remembering details and following up on particular items.  But I still enjoy getting out of my chair, out from behind my desk, and walking the hall to have a conversation, even if it’s only for a few minutes.  As you approach your next week, give some thought towards how you are communicating with those around you.  And put a little renewed effort into having a good conversation every now and then.  You might be surprised by how it makes you feel and think, as well as what it can do to stimulate the other person to communicate better.  Let’s keep our ability to talk, listen and interact with those around us as strong as ever.  It can make a positive difference in our work lives, our family lives and our own personal life.

Life is Short

 

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Anthony Keith “Tony” Gwynn died recently.  A professional baseball player, Gwynn was known as “Captain Video” and “Mr. Padre” for his highlight reel performance as a big league hitter with the San Diego Padres.  He could hit the “long ball” and did so quite often.  Tony Gwynn died from complications related to his fight with cancer, cancer of the salivary glands, presumably brought about at least in part by his longtime habit of smokeless “chewing” tobacco usage.  No matter the cause, he died too young.  He was 54 years old and leaves behind his wife, a son and a daughter.  I too am 54 years of age.  Tony Gwynn died too young.

We read about famous people passing away, and if you are like me, you think about perhaps when you saw that person last–maybe it was a television show, or a sports event, or a movie–and you think to yourself “now they are gone”.  We can be affected by the loss of those we idolize, those we admire, those we cheer on, those who bring entertainment and brief joy into our lives.  They don’t know us, but we know them.  And when they depart, we can and often do feel the loss, even if at a distance.

I was on a long road trip when I heard the news that Tony Gwynn had passed away.  It shouldn’t impact me–it doesn’t immediately change anything in my personal life.  But the reminder is there; life is short.

The apparel company and sports brand icon Nike ran a series of marketing efforts around the saying “Life is Short; Play Hard”.  Whether you play hard or not, work hard (or not), it really doesn’t matter…life is still short.  That is true for every one of us.  We are given a finite amount of time on this planet.  When we are young, it seems endless.  But as we age, we see it is not.  The value of the time remaining for each one of us increases day by day, while the time itself decreases.

Make the most of your time.  Even the writer James, in the New Testament of the Bible, once commented that life is like “a vapor” (steam) that “appears for a short time and then vanishes away (James 4:14 is the verse I am paraphrasing here).  The clock is ticking away.  What we do with the time we have is up to us, so live your life to the fullest, use the time wisely and keep your perspective during both good times and bad times.  Life is short, so let’s all make the most of what time we’ve been allotted.

 

 

 

Thinking Time.

 

 

 

 

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I love riding my Harley.  I’m not a biker per se, but I enjoy riding a 2005 Road King on my relatively short commute between home and the office.  It allows me time to think while focusing on the ride, with very few interruptions.  I agree that motorcycle riding is more dangerous than driving a car.  I also see lots of fearless souls weaving in and out of traffic and “lane splitting”, which is legal here in California,  although not something I choose to participate in.  So I ride conservatively, treating my vehicle as if it were a car, and do what I can to be as safe as possible while riding.

But the focus of this brief discourse isn’t riding, it’s about having some “thinking time”.  I’m old enough to remember the days when you called home before leaving the office, to check on plans, or the grocery list, or whatever else you might want to know–there were no cell phones, so you called.  But it was understood that once the call was finished, you would be out of touch during the commute time.  It was a peaceful experience.  You could opt to listen to the radio or a favorite CD or cassette (note that I did not include 8 track tapes), or you could simply drive, but you had some uninterrupted “me” time…time to think, time to plan in your head, time to unwind from the office or work stresses.

With the onset of the smart phone, we’ve basically lost this precious window of solitude.  Emails, calls and text messages can and do come through at all hours of the day and night, whether we want them or not.  It is up to us to consciously choose how we manage the inbound flow of communication.  I’m a big believer that we all need some quiet time, time that we can spend in reflection, inside ourselves, just to reset our balance and sort out all that life throws our way.

How do you maintain a balance?  Are you living with a constant connection to your smart phone or tablet or PC?  It can be challenging to turn off the device (or at least turn it to silent mode) for fear that something, some tidbit of information, might be missed.  But what are we missing when we live our lives focused on our devices first?

Carve out some “me” time.  Take time to think….not to do, but just to think.  Enjoy the peace that comes with it, and build it into your lifestyle in some way.  For me, riding the Road King provides me with much more than just transportation.  I get a chance to “breathe mentally”, to escape the stresses of the day, if only for a few moments.  Find your method and stick with it.  You’ll be glad you did (thanking me is optional).

Know Your Team – Know Your Strengths.

I love working on older trucks and cars.  I’m no mechanic, by anybody’s standards, but over the years, and through lots of trial and error, I’ve picked up a few pieces of information about how carburetors work, troubleshooting small electrical issues with lights, replacing a starter motor, removing skid plates from a Hummer (that’s a fun one) and so on.

I’m currently in the middle of a small restoration, reviving a 1963 Ford F100 pickup truck.  It’s definitely a family effort, primarily involving my wife and my stepson as well as any time I can squeeze out of my own schedule.  It’s slow but coming along and ultimately I will be the beneficiary of a daily driver when finished.

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Thank goodness for the team.  My wife knows upholstery, carpeting and paint and body work pretty well (she’s done her share of projects over the years and started life spending time around race cars with her father who sponsored a few way back in the day).  My stepson is pretty handy with a wrench, can troubleshoot most mechanical issues, and pretty handy to have around for small, tight spaces that even a Russian gymnast might find challenging.  Between the three of us, we make a pretty good team and our strengths can augment and compliment one another.

When building or developing a team in business, it’s always good to step back and look at the overall landscape, rather than focusing too much on individuals.  As managers part of our role is to know the strengths of our team members, and then capitalize on those strengths.  They won’t all be exactly alike one another, but if we do our jobs correctly, they can compliment one another and ultimately enjoy success.  Any solid operational plan will involve this concept along the way.  The same goes for your supply chain, your logistics partners, and your service providers.

I’m looking forward to driving the F100 soon, and will likely brag (as I do) about how talented my team members were with the project.  Now…where did I leave that wrench?

Starbucks — Selling Comfort with your Coffee

 

 

 

 

imgres I don’t know all the details of the Starbucks story. I haven’t read too much about their successes and failures, business plans, or operational strategies. I do, however, remember a time when they simply did not exist.

How did so many people manage to survive without their Starbucks “fix” before every street corner included the familiar green umbrellas and small café tables and chairs? And if we really need coffee on every street corner, then how come Dunkin’ Donuts – which was selling coffee 21 years before the original Starbucks opened in Seattle – only yesterday got to the point of IPO? I hear they are trying to compete with Starbucks. But is it possible for them to repeat the phenomenon?A couple of years ago, it became clear to me that Starbucks’ popularity has something to do with this: they’re selling comfort as much as they’re selling coffee.

I was recently traveling with a colleague on a business trip to China. We had a brief stopover in Japan, and right there in the airport, with bleary eyes and the accompanying mental cloud that forms from several hours of overseas flight, I stumbled across a Starbucks. Suddenly the familiarity of the smell of their coffee, their green aprons, and a counter of treats to pair with my favorite drink (gotta love the caramel macchiato) provided me with a sense of comfort and belonging that had left me during my boarding back in San Francisco.

Like Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts has spread to many other countries, is selling its branded coffee in grocery stores, and is trying to create a culture around its cappuccinos. But it remains to be seen whether Dunkin’ Donuts can make as many people feel the strong sensations and emotions that are experienced by so many Starbucks fans. In the meantime, I’ll still have my cup of coffee at home most mornings and I’ll even dare to drink the office “rocket fuel” from time to time.

Whatever your coffee preference, you’ve got to admit, the folks at Starbucks have a pretty amazing story, growing such a recognizable brand from such a basic commodity. Who would have ever dared to think we’d rush out in our cars, drive a couple of miles (or even just a couple of blocks), and throw down our hard earned dollars for coffee? Well, clearly someone believed in the concept. You can’t help but wonder what the next Starbucks-type of movement will be like, can you?

Getting Started–It’s Never Too Late.

IMG_1139Writing is not new to me.   In fact, I’ve always enjoyed writing as a form of communication and expression.   In college, my papers were written for classes using a typewriter and white correction fluid to fix my mistakes (the personal computer didn’t officially exist yet–hard to imagine, I know).  But writing a blog on the Internet is fairly new to me personally.

I hope to take advantage of this medium to achieve a few goals.  For one, writing articles on a blog post will allow me to empty many thoughts on many topics out of my head–providing me with a personal type of therapy if you will.   Another goal is to share information with others, information on a wide range of topics, everything from career advice, to expertise on operational functions in business, to automotive restoration techniques or thoughts on guitars/ music, Harley Davidson motorcycles, and yes, even the occasional discussion of religion and politics (my formal college education was a combination of Theology and Political Science).

For now, for this first post, I simply want to make two statements.  One– a big “thank you” goes out to my wife who’s prodding and constant attempts to better me as a human has made this possible.  And secondly —  it’s never too late to learn something new in life.  We hear that one often, and the older I get, the more I realize how true the statement really is for all of us.  Learning something new — trying a new sport, a new hobby, a new hairstyle, a new food, etc….whatever the case, be open to trying something new, it’ll be good for you and for those around you as well.

And so I begin.  More to follow!