“Mediocrity loves company.” (Unknown)

Is it just me or has mediocrity become a way of life? I can barely remember the last time I experienced truly great service. It seems like good enough has reached a new low.

Take for instance the experience I had recently with a major cell phone company. All I wanted to do was buy a pre-paid cell phone for my 91 year-old mom. She already had the phone, so all I needed was the pre-paid minutes. I went to the nearest store, went online to the website and after all other efforts failed I called the customer service number that was buried on the website. It still took two different customer service people to fulfill my request. Finally, I reached nirvana and the minutes actually showed up on her phone. All told, I spent nearly two hours of my old age trying to get a company to take my money. Does it really have to be this difficult?

I don’t possess an MBA, so I’m not qualified to criticize the geniuses who run most companies these days but since when has taking money from a customer become such a hassle. In my experience with small business ownership, getting paid was all that mattered. Cash flow is what we called it back then and it was extremely important. It had to happen before the bills got paid and paychecks were even possible. I hand wrote invoices if it meant getting cash from a customer right then and there. My office manager wasn’t always happy with me for going around the bookkeeping system but she understood my reasoning and we always found a way to make it work.

Is this really the best we can do? Has mediocrity become the standard operating procedure today? My only theory for why this has happened is that it works well with political correctness and the goal of making everybody as comfortable as possible at all times. By dumbing down our expectations of job performance we all get to feel good about ourselves. It’s the Peter Principle run amok. By keeping customers at bay with woeful websites and clueless customer service, businesses can hide their inadequacies and managers can still make their numbers and get their bonuses. That’s the real aim of business today, don’t make waves and get your bonus check. How mediocre is that?

It’s a good thing I’m no longer running a company. I would probably get arrested for disturbing the peace that mediocrity promises. My management principles were based on two books I read in my early days of running the business, The Goal and In Search of Excellence. Both of these excellent reads made it quite clear that eliminating bottlenecks was the most important function of a good leader. I did this by refusing to let anything get between us and the clients like never having voice mail, taking messages in writing and returning calls promptly. I made it a company goal to never let the phone ring three times and we had five lines for just a fifteen person company. My standard response, when customers were surprised that I answered their calls personally, was this, “You’re my customer. Why wouldn’t I want to talk to you?” We were never perfect but nobody ever tried harder to make clients happy and get paid as soon as possible.

Mediocre was and still is a dirty word with me. I hate hearing, “I’m sorry, we can’t do that” when they really mean “Management won’t let me do that.” That’s when you know the company has made conformity its performance metric. “Don’t think, just do what management tells you and stay in line,” is the mantra of Corporate America and the reason so many people hate their job. And the most troubling reality of all is that profitability is much harder to achieve when the employees are forced to stop caring about the customers. Mediocrity and conformity are the root of all evil as far as I’m concerned but I think JFK said it better, “Conformity is the jailer of freedom and the enemy of growth.” Now that’s a bold statement, let’s all try to remember what that feels like. I can hear the MBAs grumbling already.

©Guy R. Horst and grhgraph.wordpress.com, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Guy R. Horst and grhgraph.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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“Failure seldom stops you; what stops you is the fear of failure.” (Jack Lemmon)

I read a really intriguing article by Patti Sanchez on the Harvard Business Review website today. It was titled, “Why marketing needs to hire a corporate folklorist.” (The link to the full post is at the bottom of this page.)  The gist of the post was that all companies have great stories to tell about themselves but the best people to tell the story are pretty busy doing the things that make the company  successful in the first place and they may not be great story tellers. Hence the need for folklorists. I think she made a great point and it’s the first time I’ve ever heard anyone suggest this idea. That’s a job I would take in a heartbeat.

There’s just one problem with her concept. In my opinion, it would be very hard for a folklorist to peacefully coexist in most corporate marketing departments and here’s why. In my experience running a small graphic arts production company, most of the best stories I could tell, all would have equal parts failure and success. The great stories invariably began with some stupid decision on my part but through perseverance and tenacity we usually made chicken soup out of chicken sh*t. I find it hard to believe that any corporate marketing department in today’s climate of quarterly earnings and political correctness would ever want to share those kinds of stories with the general public, even though every great company has them. Corporate America has become so risk-averse and leaderless that no one would dare risk the all-mighty corporate brand and its carefully cultivated mystique. More’s the pity.

The real problem with this idea and with business in general, these days, is leadership. I grew up with a father who was just about as fearless as a man can be and he was a great, great leader. Now, when I say fearless, I’m not talking about physical strength or overt courage. I’m saying he was not afraid of any problem or task at hand in running our small business. He made sure that I was instilled with this same will to win at a young age and always encouraged me to take calculated risks. He knew this was the essence of leadership and the most important skillset for running any company. In my dad’s mind, failure was not an option, it was a necessity. I was taught to get over it emotionally, get on with it mentally and find a better way. No excuses, just deal with it and move on. And if it was a bad enough mistake, then apologize and ask for forgiveness from whoever may have been hurt, including the employees. His leadership lessons always revolved around humility, integrity and perseverance. I’ve never known another like him in all my life.

I would be willing to bet any amount of money that all of the best known brands in America have those same lessons in their history. They were founded by men just like my dad and they are still successful today because a majority of their key people know the stories and still believe in their significance even if marketing is loathe to ever share a story of abject failure that changed the company’s destiny. We’re all human beings who fail and then try again, until we get it right. That’s the best possible story to tell and the most inspiring to the next generation of leaders. It’s OK to be humbled and have our integrity tested and keep on trying again. That makes us part of the team and even more human.

We can change the world if we just stop being afraid of failure. There are thousands of great stories to tell about America and especially the epic journeys some people have taken to build their businesses. They overcame every failure and kept after their goals relentlessly. The world needs that same sense of commitment and by sharing our experiences we will encourage the next generation to try even harder. Let’s tell the truth about what it really takes to succeed and stop worrying about the brand.

http://blogs.hbr.org/2014/07/why-marketing-needs-to-hire-a-corporate-folklorist/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+harvardbusiness+%28HBR.org%29&cm_ite=DailyAlert-071614+%281%29&cm_lm=sp%3Agrhorst%40yahoo.com&cm_ven=Spop-Email

©Guy R. Horst and grhgraph.wordpress.com, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Guy R. Horst and grhgraph.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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“Narcissism, it’s not for everybody.” (Guy Horst)

Hello world. Would you like to try something completely different today? Really? Are you sure? It could be a challenge and it might make you feel weird? OK, if you say so, but just remember it was your choice.

Now turn off your phone or computer and go outside. You can check back in with me later tonight or tomorrow when I finish my thoughts. Really, it’s OK, it will still be there when you get back from your walk.

Wow, that was wonderful. A day without electronics. Here’s how it went. We went to church with my daughter and her fiancé Bob. After lunch I took my car in for an oil change and stopped at the store for some early season sweet corn. When I got home, I rounded up the recyclables and took them up to the Ripple Glass container. That’s actually a few months worth of beer bottles, I swear.

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Later in the day, my wife and I worked on the flower beds and now they look like this.

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We had dandelion leaves as part of our salad for dinner, along with the corn. Just before dark, I took our dog, Indy, for a walk and we met up with the new family of foxes that lives by the park. I would have gotten a photo but Indy was going crazy and it was all I could do to keep him on the leash, so picture taking was out of the question.

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On the way home from our walk, two women stopped to talk about Indy. I think they were hitting on me but I’ll just give Indy the credit. I was hot today but not that kind of hot.

So on my day without the internet, I spent time with family, did my part to free up space for more beer drinking, shucked some corn, got some exercise with the dog and made the backyard a little more enjoyable for all the people who walk by our house and appreciate our flower beds. By staying away from digital media I was able to find more joy in simple pleasures and see the world firsthand. Freeing myself from my electronic leash is something I need to do more often and it reminds me how self-absorbed I feel when the internet becomes a habit.

I don’t ever want to be stuck in my house watching the world go by on a 15″ screen. It’s not enough and it will never be as much fun as human interaction and the real world of flowers, animals and smiling faces. I think these last two pictures will make my point.

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Which one would you rather be seeing right now?

©Guy R. Horst and grhgraph.wordpress.com, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Guy R. Horst and grhgraph.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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“I respect faith, but doubt is what gets you an education.” (Wilson Mizner)

“If you don’t know, you have to ask,” was my dad’s daily directive for all of my childhood. More often than not, this came up in the process of running a profitable family business but he expected me to follow this code at all times. Unfortunately, following his direction meant that I looked really stupid a lot. He possessed a wonderful knack for patiently explaining the answers to my questions but most people were less than happy with my persistent doubts. I challenged people all the time with questions and most often the answer was, “Because I said so.”

My willingness to ask questions and look for every possible problem has served me well. However, there are times when it seems like I’m the only one who cares anymore. The world around me seems to be quite content to accept every bit of information at face value without ever questioning its potential for accuracy or relevance. It seems to me that healthy skepticism is a lost art and we are heading down a path of tacit compliance where the truth is nowhere to be found. Just because someone is on TV, or the internet, making statements about world events, it doesn’t mean we have to believe them. In point of fact, the media is not a good source of information because someone has to pay for those shows to air.

Therefore, the first question to ask is this, “Who has a vested interest in the content of this message?” Only when you understand the priorities of the source can you put the information into context and this includes our government. We cannot allow ourselves to be deceived by politicians who are joined at the hip with the special interests that funded their reelection campaigns. We must remind ourselves that every elected official owes their power to parties that intentionally strive to remain anonymous.

Which begs the next question we must ask, “What have they got to hide?” A truly virtuous person or entity would have no good reason to hide from public scrutiny. Therefore, it is reasonable to assume that anonymous parties are acting in selfish ways and contrary to the public good. Transparency is a detriment to self-serving individuals because negative public opinion can be very costly. That’s why they prefer to hire messengers who possess some degree of credibility that is universally accepted by a majority of the public. Titles are the stock and trade of media types because they connote authenticity without the need for actual accomplishments. In my experience, I have yet to see a Congressman who was ever successful at anything else. I could make the same argument about our Presidents, all the way back to JFK. At least he served with distinction in WWII.

Here’s why this matters. Skepticism is critical if we are ever going to know the truth about anything. We have to ask questions and expect clear definitive answers. We have to constantly ask, “Why?” “What’s in it for them?” “What if the worst happens?” “What if it’s not true?” “What if we’re all wrong?” By forcing the truth out into the open, for all to see, we can protect ourselves from those self-serving individuals who prey on our trusting nature. Asking questions and expressing doubts is a human right. As  Americans we have just as much voice in the process of government as any elected official or bureaucrat and we need to constantly remind them that they work for us. We get to ask any question we want and they are obligated to answer completely and honestly. I would much rather look stupid than be foolish enough to believe the half-truths that pass for answers in Washington D.C. If I have the correct facts, I can do my own reasoning but it’s up to me to ask the hard questions.

Thomas Jefferson explained it this way, “Your own reason is the only oracle given to you by heaven.” Lets all make the most of our God-given ability and find a better way to reason.

©Guy R. Horst and grhgraph.wordpress.com, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Guy R. Horst and grhgraph.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

 

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“The grand essentials of happiness are: something to do, something to love and something to hope for.” (Allan Chalmers)

Originally posted on Grhgraph's Blog:

I became a father for the first time on May 29, 1985 when my son, Thomas, was born. At that moment I was given all of the essentials of happiness. After a long night of labor for my wife, he came into this world early in the morning. Once the nurses cleaned him up and wrapped him in a blanket then I had my first experience as a father. I carried him across the room to his weary mother and placed him in her arms.  I’m not sure who was happier. Carol was emotionally and physically drained from the long labor but she perked right up when she got her first look at her little boy with hair so long it needed to be cut immediately. She cried a little but mostly I could see that she was very happy to be holding this little bundle of joy. I got…

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” I was never less alone than when by myself.” (Edward Gibbon)

When I’m not here tapping away at my keyboard, I’m out traversing the highways of Kansas with my entourage of foster kids. This affords me a substantial amount of time alone with my thoughts. Time alone behind the wheel isn’t a recent development either. Pretty much every job I’ve had, since I turned 16, has included a lot of driving. I passed the million mile mark some time back and last year I drove more than 80,000 miles.

That’s a lot of solitude but this quote does a good job of explaining my experience. I need to be alone to collect my thoughts and organize them into some semblance of order that lends itself to this blog. Solitude is a very crowded place for me. I’m happiest as the ringleader of the circus that is my mind when I let it out of its, metaphorical, cage. I feel certain that most writers share this approach to their craft.

It’s not that I dislike interacting with people, far from it. With the right group of friends, I can spend hours digesting useful information from people who know far more than I do and frequently those revelations turn up here on grhgraph. I love to ask questions and poke fun at life’s absurdity but only when there’s something to be learned. I have drawn  the line at participating in most forms of social media because the rampant narcissism present there is just a waste of time and I don’t have that much left before I go on to the next experience.

Actually, my favorite subject for self-reflection is the great unknown. I spend more of my alone time on that topic than any other. That’s just a matter of practicality. The vast majority of people I know do not share my enthusiasm for pondering life after death. I know there’s something incredible coming after this and I can’t wait to meet my maker. He has given me a truly wonderful life filled with discoveries, hard work and plenty of time for intellectual curiosity and self-realization. What more could I ask for? If He needs me there with Him tomorrow, then I will be ready, willing and able to take the great commission and follow wherever He leads me.

Oops, sorry, I probably let you get too close to the circus. It’s not that I’m anxiously waiting to die but wasting time worrying about the end seems like we’re missing the point entirely. It’s not about how long we live, it’s about how much! All we have is our experiences and the knowledge we gain that bears the fruit of wisdom. Keeping all of that cooped up in the dusty old shelves of my brain where no one can find or use it would make my life a wasted existence. I would rather be dead than living without a purpose. In my quietest moments of complete solitude I found my purpose in my work with foster children and my ability to artfully write a blog. My greatest wish is that all of you find yours too.

©Guy R. Horst and grhgraph.wordpress.com, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Guy R. Horst and grhgraph.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

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“The function of leadership is to produce more leaders not more followers.” (Ralph Nader)

I find it interesting that so much is written about leadership these days but so few real leaders exist. As I continue to read all the latest theories on this always popular subject, it occurs to me that most of what I needed to know was taught to me in the 18 years I had with my grandfather, Guy McClintick.

He moved to north central Minnesota in the winter of 1921 and proceeded to carve out a living with a small fishing resort, until his death in 1972. The man was a natural-born leader and I was privileged to share his name and learn at his side for 18 summers. He wasn’t much for talking unless it was important to be specific and that rubbed off on me completely. He didn’t need to say much because his actions were always quite obvious. If he was carrying a shovel, we were going to dig vegetables. If he had his rifle, we were going to shoot a varmint. If he had his ax, we were going to chop wood or cut down a tree. If he started the old decrepit station wagon, we were going to haul firewood or pick up the garbage. If he had a can of gas, we were going to mow the grass or maybe go trolling for walleye. If he had a clean pressed shirt on, we were going to town. If he had a tie on, we were going to church. If he was sitting in his easy chair in the living room smoking a pipe and listening to the Twins game, he wanted some time for himself. His actions always spoke louder than his words.

The man was a marvel of ingenuity, dedication, honesty, work ethic and American values. Leadership wasn’t a concept to him, it was a way of life. He knew his job was to steer the ship and take care of his crew/family. There was never any equivocation in his actions or his words. His every thought was centered around taking care of his responsibilities and leaving nothing to chance. He was always the first to admit his mistakes and immediately fix the problem. I don’t think I ever heard him blame someone else or circumstances beyond his control. Whatever cards were dealt to him, he played them well.

I was ten years old when I finally got my chance to help him with his chores. The first time I got to split wood with an ax was a day I will never forget. He never said a word when I missed the log and came down hard on the handle. He just backed me up a bit and let me try again. As I whacked away and worked up a good sweat, he just kept picking up more logs until I asked to stop. His highest praise was a simple, “That’s enough for today. Thanks for your help.” I’ve never been more proud of myself than that day, especially when he said, “Let’s take the afternoon off and go fishing.” He was the very first motivational genius I ever knew and he could get me to do anything my 70 pound frame could handle. If he had told me to dive off the dock and snag that huge turtle, I probably would have tried. I believe in Jesus but it was my grandfather who taught me how to be a good disciple and why we must follow before we can lead.

Real leaders don’t need a college education to get where they’re going. All they need is a chance to make a difference for others.  In order to achieve their goals, they take responsibility and give credit. They have absolute principles that guide every decision. They have the right tools for every job. They never complain but they always explain. They are the first to volunteer and the last to give up. They are motivated by everything except popularity. They lead because they know someone has to and they take that responsibility seriously. They are easy to follow because they inspire us to greatness.

I’m not against any current leadership theories but this much I know, if you don’t possess the basic skills my grandfather taught me, then all the other techniques don’t matter, even a little. Being a good leader is the hardest job anyone will ever have and it’s not the least bit glamorous. It will humble you in more ways than you can count and when you die all you will have to show for your efforts is the number of leaders that you helped create. When that day comes, however, you will enjoy a sense of accomplishment that is worth every ounce of energy you expended to get it.

©Guy R. Horst and grhgraph.wordpress.com, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Guy R. Horst and grhgraph.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

 

 

 

 

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