Who Made Dinner?

Dads are often cast in the role of King of the Grill, flames licking up around charred hunks of meat, “ooh’s” and “ah’s” erupting as they place their masterpiece on the table.

But that ten minutes of hot, sweaty glory pales in comparison to the time and effort that go in to…

…figuring out what to cook.

…going to the store.

…planning the meal.

…chopping up the ingredients.

…preparing the marinade 8 hours in advance.

…making the sides.

…setting the table.

…welcoming the guests in a way that makes them feel welcome and at home.

To be sure, there are some jobs that really are unique in the value they create: the ability to open or close a sale, to get the best out of team members, to make key strategic decisions in uncertain times.

But lots of the time we get distracted by the flourish at the end, communicating, both explicitly and implicitly, that a few small, visible steps are more valuable than the heavy lift that happened along the way to make it all possible.

2020 Election Aftermath

What a roller coaster of a week it has been.

Some weeks last a lifetime, and this was definitely one of them. I won’t soon forget the feeling I had at 8pm on Tuesday night, when I heard Wolf Blitzer on CNN say that the results in Miami-Dade (Florida’s biggest county) were worse for Biden than they were for Clinton. Thus began the gut-wrenching, slow-motion electoral roller coaster that dragged out until Saturday before we finally saw the outcome so many of us hoped, prayed and worked for.

Before I start my Twitter and news holiday—I need a detox in service of my capacity to focus on Other Things—I thought I’d capture some reflections.

To be sure, the results are a tremendous relief. We were, in my opinion, on the precipice of falling fully into an autocratic society and we voted (by a small margin in the states that really mattered) not to fall off that cliff.

That said, we all need to reckon with the fact that 70 million Americans voted for us to stay on the path we’re on. 70 million Americans are willing, in my view, to trade the best parts of our history, values and institutions for a narrow sense of self-interest and the worst kind of identity politics.

I expect the meaning of all of this will be up for grabs for a generation.

But while I felt, after the 2016 election, a sense of curiosity to better understand the experience of hardship, loss and anger from white, working-class America, I’m tapped out of interest. I find it much more plausible that, rather than economic despair, what we are seeing laid bare is the reality of our engrained, deeply-rooted, institutionalized racism, fear, selfishness and xenophobia. Worse, we are doomed to repeat these mistakes if we don’t find a way to face them head on.

For a sobering take on how America voted, check out these electoral maps made by Ste Kennedy-Fields.

To be clear, it’s not that I don’t think the anger, or the challenges, are real. We’ve gutted our economy of well-paying, dignified blue collar jobs; our educational system sputters along when there’s ample evidence of how to fix it; drug addiction is spiraling out of control.

But hardship and outrage need a protagonist—which they have—a story, and, apparently, someone to blame. And I can’t escape the notion that the 2020 blame game can only be understood in the context of a deeply pernicious American identity narrative, one built on oppression and marginalization, one in which separation and demonization are central elements of our national narrative. Surely we can do better.

For a much much better articulation of this sentiment, I’d encourage you to listen to the words of Princeton Professor Eddie Glaude, “It’s easy for us to place it all on Donald Trump’s shoulders… This is us. And if we’re going to get past this we can’t blame it on him. He’s a manifestation of the ugliness that’s in us.”

Here’s to the first step in turning the corner.


10 Tips for Giving and Receiving Effective Feedback

For many of us, just hearing the word “feedback” makes us brace for impact—the word alone is the first of two shoes dropping.

What a shame. Feedback is how we learn and grow. It is the distillation of what it feels like to  work together, the experiential data that, if delivered skillfully and with care, feeds into our own, and our colleagues’, growth and evolution.

Without feedback, the only thing we all have to go on is our own, hyper-filtered story about what others think of us. That story is missing most of the important details about how we are experienced by others.

Perhaps the issue is that we’re not particularly skilled at giving or receiving feedback since we do it so rarely. To help bridge that gap, here are some tips to get you out of the feedback starting blocks.

  1. Start with SBI. It stands for “Situation” “Behavior” and “Impact” and it is the foundation of all good feedback. This is the practice of phrasing feedback as, “When we were in [situation], you [behavior] and that had [impact] on me.” SBI is foundational because it bounds the feedback to a time, a place, and a specific set of actions and their impact on you. You aren’t giving someone feedback about them as a person, and you are not claiming that your experience with their behavior is universal. You are simply describing your own experience with that behavior in a way that it can safely be discussed. Plus, the SBI phrasing makes the conversation much more actionable because it is so specific.
  2. Keep it positive. “Feedback” is often a dirty word because we only share what’s not working. I remember once being told by a colleague that he wanted to stay on a call with me after a client dropped off, and naturally I got nervous. It turned out his “feedback” was something very positive. If we only give feedback – and only use the word “feedback” – when we have a criticism, it’s no wonder that the word can feel heavy and that hearts start racing when we hear it.
  3. Remember the 5:1 ratio. According to Harvard Business Review, in the best-performing teams, the ratio of positive to negative feedback is a whopping 5.6 to 1. And remember that positive feedback also is best using an SBI structure. Don’t say “Great work on those deliverables,” say “I was so excited when I read that deck you wrote, because the headlines really popped, and they brought the data to life for me.”
  4. Never say “always” or “never.” “Always” and “never” statements are, by definition, about a person and not about her behaviors. They’re both inaccurate (no one does anything “always”) and they are much more likely to be experienced as personal attacks. Don’t use those words.
  5. It’s OK to talk about your own feelings. This is an important detail under the “impact” column of the SBI framework, as long as you won’t get too emotional if you share your feelings. Sharing feelings can help make the experience of impact more real and vivid, and it can help calibrate how big an impact a specific behavior is having. “During the final days of our project, when we were all pushing towards the deadline, you being less responsive than normal to my emails made me feel worried that we weren’t going to hear back from you in time on the final deliverables. I found that being worried made it harder for me to focus at a crucial juncture in the project, and I also had to spend more time managing the team to help fill the information gap and calm their nerves.”
  6. Stay curious. Remember that, if you are the person giving feedback, you are only describing your own experiences. You are not speaking the Ultimate Truth. Find a balance between speaking and listening, so that you can remain open to different interpretations of what happened. Similarly, as the person hearing feedback, try to stay curious. Cultivate genuine interest in what you are hearing, and avoid the mental trap of an internal dialogue refuting every point being made (or, worse, defending yourself at every turn to explain away what you’re hearing). What you are hearing is someone else’s truth. If it is different from your truth, your job is not to be right, it is to understand why you and another person—someone you like and respect—have such different perceptions of the same events.
  7. Reiterate what you’ve heard in your own words. One of the best ways to ensure that the person giving feedback feels validated and heard is to articulate back what you’ve been told. “So, I understand that these three behaviors—behavior 1, 2 and 3—are often having this impact on you and the team. Is that right?”
  8. This is not the time for ‘the kitchen sink.’ If you’re new to giving feedback, or if you give it infrequently, it can be tempting, when you get the courage to share your experience, to share absolutely everything. I call this the “and here’s another thing” trap. The conversation you’re having today is not a one-time occurrence, it is the first in a series of dialogues that should get easier over time. Your goal is twofold: (1) To have a productive conversation about a specific set of behaviors, both positive and negative, that you want to discuss; (2) To have a conversation that is positive enough for both people that you both are more likely to have conversations like this in the future. If you overdo it and share everything that’s ever bugged you about that someone, you’re likely breaking the 5:1 ratio and, worse, you could make it harder to have a similar conversation in the future. That’s not a good outcome for you or for your colleague.
  9. Make a plan. The best feedback conversations result in ‘contracting’ between the people involved about what both will aim to do more and less of in the future. It might take some time for both people to develop this plan, and that’s OK. Come back together to discuss the boiled-down version of what both of you will do in the future, and agree to check in on progress in two months’ time (or whatever interval works for you). This drives accountability and signs you both up for a productive follow-up conversation.
  10. Express receptivity. if you are the person receiving feedback, and especially if you are senior to the person giving feedback, the onus is on you to make this experience positive and productive. Part of your job, in addition to listening intently and with curiosity, is to overcome the natural expectation that more-junior people don’t give constructive feedback to more-senior people. Recognize that the person sitting across from you feels like they are taking a risk, and do everything you can to mitigate that feeling. The way you behave during and after this conversation will either justify this fear or chip away at it.

A useful feedback conversation is a choice by two people to invest in their relationship, to truly listen to each other, and to work together to become better partners. It’s not easy, and while it is going on it can certainly feel hard or unpleasant. But no person and no organizational culture can possibly reach their full potential without giving and receiving effective feedback. Have at it!

Two Plus Two Plus Two Plus Two Plus Three Plus Two Plus Two

My running, for most of my life, has been intermittent. My typical run is 4 or 5 miles, a solid running week is two or three runs. That means that at most I’ve run 12 to 15 miles in a week, and most of the time I’m in the 0-to-10 mile a week range.

In fact, I’d guess that in the last 25 years, I’ve had fewer than 10 weeks in which I’ve run more than 15 miles.

Last week was one of those weeks. But the magic was that it didn’t feel like I’d run at all. That’s because last week, I turned my morning walk with our puppy into a relaxed jog: 2.3 miles every day, 3 miles on Saturday.

The math of 2+2+2+3+2+2+2 is, literally, elementary.

The fact that a 15-mile week has been sitting there, hidden in plain sight from me for decades, speaks to the elusive power of consistency.

Little, nearly unnoticeable things that we do every day are so much more profound than our big efforts.

We build deep strength not through the strain of pushing ourselves in the moment but through the discipline of daily commitment sustained over time.

To become a great public speaker, work on telling mini-stories throughout your day when talking to colleagues and customers.

To become more capable of speaking truth to power, say one (just one) more real thing to someone you trust each and every day.

To become a better listener, commit to asking three follow-up questions once each day instead of jumping to answers.

To become more generous, say ‘yes’ to every request for a month.

And, yes, to get rid of that nagging pain in your neck, or shoulder, or ankle, or knee, find a 10 minute stretching routine and a time each day to do it.

Since the magic is in the consistency, you might need hacks that help you keep your promises. Here are five ideas to get you going:

  1. Find a buddy who will help keep you accountable. A spouse, a colleague or a dog will suffice. You could even get an Accountability Dude (or, presumably, Dudette) in Slack, or a Supporti accountability partner.
  2. Find a way to make your commitment public to someone. Put up a 30-day challenge calendar somewhere public, write a blog post or email to 10 people letting them know your plan, make a pact with one person at work.
  3. Make a dedicated time in the day. There’s a reason people mediate first thing in the morning, and a reason I used to write this blog on my train ride home. A fixed time and place where you do the thing you’ve committed to do makes all the difference.
  4. Plan for the dip. Somewhere in the middle life will happen and you’ll feel like stopping. Know in advance that this is coming and decide now that you won’t let it stop you.
  5. Respect the power of “every day.” It’s not the same thing as “most days,” not at all. “Most” is vague, “every” is absolute. It doesn’t allow for any slippage, and that’s the point.

The math is easy. Living the commitment can be too. You just have to start, and build the structures that will help you keep at it.

Our Highest Threshold

There’s a reason why the military has boot camps, why Olympic gymnasts treat each practice as if it were an international competition, why Seth Godin’s famous alt-MBA demands 30+ hours of work per week and 13 completed projects in a month, all for students who have full-time jobs.

Part of the reason is the training itself. Army recruits come together when they’ve gone through a harrowing experience together. Gymnasts get stronger and more fit when they work that hard. And you learn loads by knocking out project after project such a short period of time.

But the real impact is on the psychology of each participant: the act of discovering how much you can accomplish—how much more than you thought you could—resets your internal bar. Whether it’s your psychological threshold for pain, the amount of heat or number of pushups you can withstand before you start to panic, or simply a new perspective what you can produce when you sprint, the most valuable part of these sorts of experience is to expand your sense of what is possible.

Pushing through gives you that unique ability captures so effortlessly by Nigel Tufnel, the fictional lead guitarist in Spinal Tap: when you need that little bit of extra juice, it makes all the difference to have an amp that goes up to 11.

Holocaust Education

A few weeks ago, I discovered that two thirds of Americans aged 18 to 39 are “unaware” that six million Jews were killed in the Holocaust. Two thirds!

According to this same study, 23% of young Americans said the Holocaust was “a myth, had been exaggerated or they weren’t sure.”

While I live with the assumption that anti-Semitism is a pervasive, global fact of life, these numbers were still shocking. They make me reflect on how I, and many Jews I know, live with the quiet expectation that at any moment the tide could turn against us: that passive, fringe anti-Semitism could spill over into mainstream hatred and state-sanctioned violence against us.

If this sounds like hyperbole, consider this. The week before last, I went with my family to outdoor Shabbat services at our temple. 50 families, mostly in or in front of our cars, spread out across a parking lot while our Rabbi and Cantor each stood on the flatbeds of two Dodge RAM 3500s leading services.

To my surprise, at the start of services I was hit by waves of sadness. Something about sitting in a parking lot, praying, was a reminder of all the things COVID-19 has taken from us, things so essential to our mental health and well-being: handshakes, hugs, togetherness, community.

And yet, as we continued to pray, my perspective shifted. I began to think about the resilience of the Jewish people, about all the times in our history we’ve had to find ways to come together to practice our faith in the face of adversity.

Walking around that parking lot, saying ‘hello’ to fellow congregants, I ran into a friend who I’d not seen for months. When I asked him how he was doing, he was very upbeat. “My children and I were just awarded our German (dual) citizenship yesterday,” he said. I congratulated him, trying to mirror his enthusiasm, and also asked why. Gravely, he looked me in the eye and said, “my parents waited until 1939 in Germany before they starting thinking about how they could get out, and by then it was too late. I promised myself I would never repeat that mistake.”

Consider that for a moment: that some Jews are quietly planning for their escape should things turn more ugly, more armed, and more violent in the United States.

A week later, another Jewish family we ate dinner with brought up their own conversations about what it would take to move to Canada (and not, I might add, because of COVID-19).

This is what it is to be Jewish in the United States in 2020.

This fear is perverse, but it is also quiet. As a white, male, heterosexual Jew, I don’t experience the systemic, daily oppression of white supremacy, misogyny or homophobia. I don’t especially fear the police, and I’ve not taught my kids how to make sure any interaction with the police doesn’t escalate. I’ve never been discriminated against when applying for a mortgage or shopping for a house. I’ve never been denied a job or a place in a school because of my name, my gender, my sexual orientation or the color of my skin. Indeed, I and many American Jews are connected to exceptionally strong networks of social capital that make it easier for us to lead good, comfortable lives. Relatively speaking, we are very, very privileged.

At the same time, we still live with fear.

It’s a fear that the pervasive, but mostly fringe, anti-Semitism that exists everywhere will get more powerful and more mainstream. A fear that mentioning that we are Jewish—on a trip to a new country, in a blog post read by people around the world, in certain parts of the United States—will ignite some backlash of virulence and hatred. A growing fear that the target will be placed on our backs once again as the U.S. gets more divided. It’s a fear fueled by our President’s dog whistles, the complicity of his Republican enablers, and the viciousness of our new State Media (Fox News) defending oppressors and painting them as victims.

So, I wanted to do my small part to speak to the young and not-so-young, ignorant Americans who don’t know about or “believe in” the Holocaust (and who, I assume, also turn a blind eye to the hatred and violence eating away at our country each and every day).

This document is a list of the names of Jews who arrived in Kobe, Japan, as refugees fleeing from the Nazis. Two of the names on this list are my paternal grandparents, Lejb and Chaja Dichter, who fled for their lives. Their son, my father, was born in the Shanghai ghetto in 1945.

What about this document is a myth?

What about them fleeing for their lives makes you unsure?

Why, if the Holocaust is exaggerated, did I never meet the rest of their families?

Why does my father not have any first cousins?

Do you really believe that all of them weren’t killed?

We simply cannot create a better future if we, collectively, fail to learn about, understand, and collectively address the wrongs of our pasts.

The United States is at a breaking point: our democracy, our collective understanding of truth, our basic willingness to see each other’s shared humanity, all hang in the balance.

I have no choice but to be optimistic, but, to be honest, I’m also terrified.

Nothing’s Changed

So often, we’re easily convinced that we have an objective view of ourselves.

That thing we’re working on, the new skill we are cultivating, the organizational improvement that we’re spearheading? We believe that we can see where we are today relative to where we’ve been.

And yet our children grow up before our eyes, and, were it not for photos, bigger shoes and the occasional new bike, we’d never see it.

The truth is, real change happens daily, incrementally, often imperceptibly. It also is rarely linear, meaning even a plateau can be the precursor to a leap forward.

Yet when a change requires our sustained effort—as most important change does—our “nothing’s changed” assessment can be an excuse to slow down or even stop.

Find objective measures and use them to mark your progress.

And, when in doubt, keep at it. You’ve already come further than you think.

Math Class

In most of my math classes growing up, you’d get partial credit for showing your work. This was a boon for me because I was sometimes prone to careless errors.

Giving credit for the work makes good sense in grade school math: the concepts matter more than getting the arithmetic 100% right.

Along these lines, working hard each and every day—what used to be face time in the office—can also be a way to show that you care, that you’re trying your best.

On the other hand, this can go too far.

As we get grooved into the habit of hard work, we start to measure ourselves in terms of hours spent rather than results achieved.

The hours, once a means to an end, become an end in and of themselves: look how hard I’m working (you say to yourself and others).

The problem is, this can become a negative spiral: we can slip into the bad habit of being less disciplined with how we spend our time, lose sight of the difference between urgent and important tasks, and (ironically, despite all the time we’re spending working) give short shrift to the best things we have to offer.

Letting your work stand there, to speak for itself, is an act of bravery.

The Goldilocks Pricing Myth

We, sellers of new and fabulous things, seem to have this notion that there’s a “just right” price that we can hit in the marketplace.

Imagine this Goldilocks Price (if we could only find it)…. It’s not too high, it’s not too low. It’s just right.

Think again.

For your new customer, there simply is no Goldilocks Price.

Why? Because there are only two situations in which your price is “just right.”

The first is in markets with limited product differentiation and lots of competitors. In these markets, everyone knows the “right” price because you can Google it. If you’re unlucky enough to be selling into this kind of market, you’re in a race to the bottom to squeeze margins enough to survive. No fun (and sooner or later you’ll be Amazon-ed).

There’s also a good scenario with “just right” pricing. This is with your longtime, repeat customers who fully appreciate and understand the value you deliver. The price is “just right” to them because it’s high enough to match the exceptional value-creation bar you uniquely manage to hit. Nice work.

Now, let’s get back to that new customer who thinks your prices seem a bit high.

You’re selling a differentiated product that you’re explaining to them for the first time. They have some idea of what it’s supposed to cost, but that’s just based on what they budgeted or what a friend told them or some number they made up.

It seems high to them not because it’s overpriced but because they don’t yet understand the value that you will create for them.

If you find yourself in this sort of situation, don’t respond to “that sounds expensive” with an offer to do your exceptional work for less.

Instead, recognize that what they’re really saying is “I don’t understand the value, yet.”

Then tell a better story to help them to see what you see, to get a taste of what your best clients get to experience every day.

My Call

The situation is messy, and it’s unclear who gets to decide.

I’m not sure that I know best – or even enough.

Nevertheless, I recognize that in this situation, a decision has to be made. So I’m using my judgment and I’m making the call. Because ultimately that’s my job: to make tough decisions and be responsible for the consequences.

The most important professional moments are defined by a willingness to step into uncertainty, to act, and hold oneself accountable for outcomes.

Not because we need more people to make good decisions. The answers themselves, whether right or wrong, are a dime a dozen.

What’s scarce is the willingness to take responsibility for success and for failure—to be on the hook for your customers and your team.