The best way to learn a foreign language is to mirror a native speaker. Listen, pay close attention to the sounds they make, the words they group together, and then try to match it: their phrasing, pronunciation, sounds…even the movements they make.

We are social creatures, and this sort of behavior comes naturally to us. It’s called “speech alignment,” and it’s been shown to facilitate communication and mutual understanding. Even more interesting, how much speech alignment we engage in is often a function of how much we agree or disagree with what’s being said. (We also speech align less with AI than we do with people, at least for now).

These effects can be short term (I thought a 60dB team member had an American accent in English until a heard her in a Loom video—100% Brit!!) or long term (my wife losing her Southern accent when she moved to the Northeast).

While mirroring can help us do everything from learn languages to get into verbal sync with someone, its unintended consequence can be that we amplify negative tendencies we come across in others.

As in, we:

  • Meet someone who acts socially awkward and mirror that social awkwardness, making it harder to connect
  • Come across a slow / uncommunicative (potential) client and find ourselves responding slowly / being uncommunicative
  • Match unprovoked aggression with more aggression.
  • Join a group that is consensus-oriented and start tamping down our willingness to share our opposing point of view
  • Etc.

Everywhere we go, we take in the behaviors of the people around us. It’s as natural as breathing.

And, just like we can take a moment to notice our breath (or drop our shoulders, or relax our face…try it now) we can bring our speech alignment into our consciousness.

It’s one more chance to become aware of, and take control of, our natural responses, and, if we choose, to zig when others zag.

Mikey Likes It

One of the most successful, long-running ad campaigns of all time, was the “Mikey Likes It!” commercial for Life Cereal. It ran from 1972 to 1986.

In it, 4-year old Mikey, who “hates everything” is given a bowl of Life cereal to taste by his reluctant older brothers.

Here’s the beginning of the commercial:

Brother 1: What’s this stuff?

Brother 2: Some cereal. It’s supposed to be good for you.

Brother 1: Did you try it?

Brother 2: I’m not gonna try it. You try it!

Brother 1: I’m not gonna try it.

Brother 2: Let’s get Mikey. Yeah! He won’t eat it…he hates everything.

Mikey, of course, likes it, he really likes it.

When we’re trying to sell a new product to a group of skeptical potential customers, we’ll inevitably knock on a lot of doors and look for lots of feedback. And it’s easy to think that the feedback we’re getting, whether on the product itself or in terms of early sales, is an objective answer to the question “do you want this / does this meet your needs / do you like this?”

In reality, the search for a lot of ‘yeses’ to something truly new is often futile. When we try to get to a broad base of yeses, at the beginning, from lots of folks, we’ll likely find ourselves on a road to nowhere.

Instead, we need to find Mikey, we need to make sure that Mikey likes it, and we need to make sure that Mikey’s brothers can see that he likes it.

Who’s your Mikey?

Finding Your Purpose with Prof Antony Burrow

Scott Galloway, NYU professor and early predictor of the demise of WeWork (whose No Mercy, No Malice newsletter is a must-read) thinks that “finding your purpose is bulls**t.”

Billionaire investor Mark Cuban agrees.

Both, instead, suggest discovering what you are great at, and that your purpose will arise from there.

Clickbait headlines notwithstanding, I tend to agree with the sentiment: “purpose” is not something you find—it is not out there on your metaphorical road waiting to be tripped over. Nor do we typically discover purpose through contemplation and introspection…at least not through contemplation and introspection that is divorced from daily effort connected to that discovery process.

Rather, purpose is, as it’s beautifully described in this Hidden Brain 2.0 interview with Cornell professor Antony Burrow, cultivated.

I found this episode, and Prof. Burrow’s description of this cultivation process, refreshingly grounded and nuanced.

Professor Burrow’s story begins with his time in 4H, an agriculture club for kids in his hometown in Bremer County, Iowa. The program was focused on teaching agricultural skills to kids.

Prof. Burrow discovered the first seed of his own purpose by making a presentation on growing different kinds of crops in different soil types, at the tender age of 9. After making this presentation, he saw that, even as a little kid, he had something to teach to adults, and that his knowledge could change peoples’ understanding of the world:

I realized that I had something to say. And people might understand the world they’re living in differently as a function of what I’m saying…and that was a profound experience for me as a young person.

There is so much to unpack in this episode, not least the difference between goals and purpose: the backwards-looking orientation of the former versus forward-looking direction of the latter. Perhaps the easiest takeaway to grab on to is where purpose comes from, which Prof. Burrow says most often is the result of either:

  1. Gradually development of purpose in pursuit of passions and hobbies, and consistent reflection, like Prof. Burrows, of the elements of those passions/hobbies that are meaningful to us.
  2. Response to major life event, for example something wonderful or tragic happening in one’s family that motivates us to pursue that topic as our life’s purpose.
  3. Observing someone else who has purpose, and drawing inspiration from their example

One last subtlety that bears repeating: nowhere in this narrative of cultivating purpose do traditional outside-in job types and job titles appear (doctor, lawyer, fireman).

Rather, like Prof. Burrows’ 4H presentation, one constructs a sense of likely purpose from a set of component parts. It is a process of gradual discovery: “I’m comfortable standing in front of people, and I find it powerful that what I know, what I convey, and how I convey it can influence them.”

I wish someone had told me 20 years ago that this boiling down into activities and moments when we feel connected, at ease, with a sense of flow…these are the moments to notice and reflect on, because they are teaching us about one small part of the purpose that we might be able to cultivate over time.

The Zoom Nod

Zoom is here to stay, an integral part of our work lives and work culture.

I’m a big fan for lots of reasons: gone are the days of faceless phone calls, and our work norms have finally shifted, making it professionally acceptable to ditch the logistics of unnecessary travel for in-person meetings.

But maintaining a sense of personal connection on a Zoom call is harder than it appears. The people not speaking are too easily distracted by other things on their screens. Subtle (and not-so-subtle) shifts in their attention can make the speaker feel like they are talking to a screen, or to no one at all.

An easy habit to take on to avoid this disconnect? Remember to nod on Zoom calls.

This small visual cue does two things: it communicates to the speaker a sense of connection and affirmation; and it creates more engagement for you, because you can’t nod at the right moments if you’re not paying attention.

Of course this is just one of the many ways to be an active listener, all of which are good practice both in person and on Zoom.

It’s an easy place to start.



I’ve written more than 1,200 posts on this blog over the last 14 years. It’s become part of my life, and I can’t help but inquire what the practice brings to me.

I wrote about this in 2009, with a list of 44 Reasons I Blog (my current favorite from that list is number 27, “I’m a little compulsive.” You don’t say….)

My addition to this list, a 45th reason, has to do with “fiddling.”

As in: here’s something that’s just a thought, let’s see how it comes out with a bit of attention and effort.

It’s the same feeling I have when making a loaf of sourdough, something I (along with so many others) learned to do during the pandemic. A week ago I had a disastrous bread outcome, sad enough that we dumped the two brick-like loaves into the trash. The fault was my neglected starter, which I fiddled with over the course of the last week, nursing it back to health.

But even so, how the bread is going to come out remains a bit uncertain and a bit of a mystery. And that feeling, that un-knowing that is part of this small act of creating something from nothing, is what I find so satisfying.

It came out great this week.

Two loaves of homemade sourdough bread
I just switched over to setting my oven to Convection Bake (my wife’s suggestion) – now they’re much more golden and crispy!

In a life full of big obligations, a back-to-back schedule, and a reasonably rigorous approach to even my pastimes (see above re: “a little bit compulsive”), creating something that is quick, light, and fun brings me a dollop of joy that has nothing to do with having two fresh loaves of bread.

“Look, I made this, isn’t it beautiful?” makes everything else a little better.

Speaking of which, happy Generosity Day.

Teamwork, partnership, culture, and passing the ball

What does a great, two-person partnership at work look like?

It’s a dance, an interplay between two people, one in which the undertaking develops a natural momentum. Synchronicity emerges. The mingling of the best two people have to offer gets the project to a better place than either person working alone.

The feeling reminds me of two athletes passing a ball as they advance down the court. There’s a grace and a fluidity to the way the ball, and the two teammates, move. The players look like they have a shared mind and a shared purpose. Together, they make magic happen.

What are the ingredients of great partnerships? Both players:

  • Have spent meaningful time in practice talking about how they’re going to work together << >> pre-project communication and expectation setting.
  • Are skilled at simultaneously paying attention to the ball, to their partner, and to the field of play << >> self + partner + situational awareness
  • Know, and act upon, their own, and their partners’, strengths and weaknesses << >> self-knowledge; partner knowledge; self-confidence coupled with humility
  • Always catch the ball that is passed to them << >> good comms, staying present, being willing to prioritize this thing now despite competing priorities
  • Communicate when they’re open, and when they’re well-guarded << >> effortlessly share their own availability, workload, mind-space for this job
  • Keep the play moving forward << >> even with competing priorities, demonstrate that, especially for shared work, forward momentum is non-negotiable
  • Know the goal, and have a shared intention to score << >> both keep track of the external deadline and will do what it takes to deliver on time
  • Place equal value on moving without the ball, receiving the ball, dribbling the ball, and passing the ball, << >> players don’t care about authorship or about getting credit for the part each played, they care about the result.
  • Full trust in one another, so that each will make the right pass, even under pressure << >> establish a foundation of “I’ve got your back” through repeated actions over time
  • “I know where you’re going to be, often without even trying / looking, and I’m going to pass the ball there.” << >>

In new, two person teams, there is time and space to walk through all these steps at something short of “game speed” – setting aside time in advance to talk about how we’ll work together, norms, expectations, our plan and timelines for each step or the project, etc.

And, in best pairings, that explicit pre-preparation and rigid timeline management ultimately give way to something more creative and improvisational. This allows the work to move faster, with more fluidity, less effort, and more positive surprises. This is the evolution from co-workers to true partners.

Having looked at and dissected the best pairings in this way, we can now zoom out and ask:

How do to replicate this kind of teamwork at an organizational level?

We are, after all, grouping and regrouping constantly in our organizations, forming new teams all the time. This means pairing up with people with whom we’ve communicated less often; people who we know less well, who might be on a different team, geography or both.

That sounds both challenging and important.

And yet we spend most of our professional effort (and our professional development conversations) our individual aptitudes, and very little on how well we partner with others.

This needs to change (how to do that is a topic for another day).

But there is a secret that gives an edge to everyone on your team. It’s culture, of course.

Culture is “the way we do things around here.”

It is born as the outgrowth of whatever was created by the founding team. It is then expanded, amplified, reshaped and transformed by each and every member of the team (for more on this, check out my post on Culture Graphs).

While each organizations’ culture will necessarily be unique, in all organizations, great teaming will lead to better results, and poor teaming will gum up the works.

So, now might be the time to ask how much your culture reinforces the elements of great teaming:

  • Upfront communications to set expectations
  • Self-awareness; situational awareness
  • Self-knowledge on the part of your team
  • Open sharing of strengths and weaknesses
  • Excellent, predictable communications
  • Teaching folks about high-quality, dynamic prioritization
  • Skillful sharing of priorities and workload; coupled with the willingness to flex when necessary
  • Embodying the inherent value of forward momentum
  • Prioritization of collective goals over individual ones
  • The importance of supporting one another
  • An unwavering norm that we keep our promises to ourselves and to others (around deadlines, around everything)

If good partnership is indeed universally valuable, then even though no two organizations’ cultures should be the same, all successful organizations must reinforce a set of behaviors that underpin successful partnership.

Without this, each team, of whatever size, has to both (1) Quickly and effectively create their own norms and behaviors for successful teaming; (2) Do so while pushing against the prevailing culture at your organization.

Why not have culture work in your favor instead?

Expertise Paralysis

It’s such a treat to find the right person to help us on a tough job.

Someone who has been there and has done that, who understands our context with all its nuances, who can insert herself seamlessly into this tricky situation and move us forward while making us better.

This expert might be a designer, a professional coach, or a mentor. She might be a software developer, a systems architect or a professor.

She accelerates our work, teaches us things, and moves us down our path.

And, if she’s good (and it sounds like she is), we grow by being in her presence. We learn more about what questions to ask, about how to see the whole playing field, about what’s is and isn’t important in making these kinds of decisions.

But let’s NOT let her excellence slow us down or, worse, stop us completely.

She’s here, right now, but she will be gone, sooner or later. And we can’t let her presence, and our understanding of her excellence (and the gap between what she knows and what we know), erode our confidence that we know enough to decide.

Not because we’re as skilled or experienced or as wise as she is. But because, after all, these are our decisions to make.

If we don’t make this decision and the next one and the one after that, no one will.

What You’re Worth

It’s not based on how much time it will take you.

Nor is it your opportunity cost (defined as: the value of the work you would have to not do).

And, most certainly, it’s not anchored in what the last person paid you.

Over and over and over again, we undervalue what we bring to the table: the 5, 10, maybe 20 or more years to acquire your specific set of skills.

Combine that with the promise you make: to do this in the way that only you can.

With excellence, of course, but also with care and grace and maybe a little bit of panache.

I see so many professionals underprice their work and then get stuck on a treadmill of not having the time or space to do their best work or find the right next opportunity.

The first step is believing, really believing, in the unparalleled value you bring to the table.

What’s Holding You Back?

A senior Partner at Bain, who I used to work with often, maintained that decision-making ability was the best way to assess the long-term potential and effectiveness of an organization.

According to their research, good decision-making boils down to: speed, effort, quality, and yield. The best organizations make decisions that tend to be the right ones (quality), quickly (speed), with relatively low effort, and that they nearly always turn into actions (yield).

The thinking behind this is: you might do everything else well, but if your organization is bad at making decisions, that’s going to hold you back in a fundamental way.

We can apply this thinking across multiple elements of our organizational DNA, and reflect on things like our:

Decision making

Internal communications

External communications

Who we listen to

How well we hire

How well we fire


Time management

Quality and number of meetings

Management skills



How much we are focused internally

How much we are focused externally

Strength and resilience of our external relationships

Risk management


Each of our organizations is all over the map for this list of attributes—good at some, great at a few, OK at a handful. But, most of the time, one of them is the most important, rate limiting factor for us. One of them is the cultural elephant in the room, the biggest thing weighing us down and sapping the momentum we garner from so much other good work that we do.

As you lay out plans for the coming year, remember: culture eats strategy for breakfast  (meaning: the best laid plans will fall flat if our culture doesn’t support them.)

What’s the one thing that, if you could change it, would change everything? And what are you going to do about that?

The Brand Flywheel Effect

To the casual observer, Oofos look like regular flip flops, maybe a bit on the ugly side.


The main thing that makes Oofos different is the shape of the sole. Because of that shape, and because of Oofos’ squishy material, your foot hits the ground differently from a regular flip flop, with less pressure overall. The pressure  you do feel is right in the middle of your foot. Both your heel and your forefoot are spared. That’s why it’s a “recovery sandal.” (My Oofos were what got me walking again after a bad bout of plantar fasciitis.)

The entire Oofs brand is built around this concept. They’re trying to win as “recovery footwear.”

This brand promise is so much more than a positioning statement. It wasn’t dreamed up after the fact by a branding agency, it is the thing that the company exists to be.

This allows them to ignore Gucci’s $590 GG T-Strap and Versace’s $350 Pallazo Medusa. They similarly don’t care about the latest patterns being offered in a  $34 pair of Havaianas or about being so cheap that they’ll get picked out of the sale bin at Wal-Mart. It’s obvious that none of this is relevant to them.

Because the Oofos brand is about recovery, and because this is so clear and so real, there’s a natural alignment in every activity taken by every person at the company.

Being the best recovery shoe is what the Oofos team thinks and talks about. It’s what they notice in their competitors. It is the axis against which they want to win (and are winning). This clarity of orientation grounds the daily behavior and decisions of every single employee, without requiring minute repeated reminders from anyone.

While it’s true that “brand” is the promise you make to your customers, it is so much more than that.

Brand, real brand, orients your entire team to a set of priorities. It is a north star that begets a self-reinforcing dynamic.

We ARE this means we DO these sorts of things, we NOTICE these sorts of things, we CARE ABOUT these sorts of things.

This orientation explains why we’re going to keep on getting better at the things that matter, and why we’ll do such a great job at ignoring the rest.

Brand creates a flywheel effect, allowing some companies to leave everyone else—the folks who thought that “brand positioning” could come later—in the dust.

What do you stand for?