Category : leader

Fat to Fit: Make 2014 The Year of the Do

I’ve been watching the interwebs and all of the people that are making resolutions for 2014. There are some determined people making some life changing goals out there. I’m inspired. I even have a few of my own.

I only have one thing to add to the conversation.

The fundamental difference between those who will succeed in their resolutions and those who won’t comes down to one simple thing.

It’s not what you think, believe, or feel that will determine your success at change in 2014.

It’s what you DO.

We had two Blue Ocean Ideas brides and one groom in 2013. And each one stood at the front of a church and said the same two, tiny, powerful words:


No one stood up and said “I think” or “I believe” or “I feel.”

Make 2014 the year of the do.

Go DO it.

Keep moving forward,

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My Inbox Challenge

Inbox zero-2

Yesterday I received 177 emails by 5:00pm. I haven’t counted today but I’m sure I’m pushing that number already. I’ve received 1101 in the past seven days.

That’s a lot of information.

If I work 50 hours per week (fairly typical) that means I had 3,000 minutes of working time in the last week. That’s one email every three minutes. If it takes me one minute to read, think about, and respond to each email that means 1/3 of my working time is spent simply managing the inbox. Many of these messages take much longer than 1 minute to respond.

And here’s the crazy part: I am RUTHLESS about what I allow to hit my inbox. I use RSS and Twitter to manage the news and other informational content I want to read. I unsubscribe from everything that I can and receive my information via others means. That means that 95% or more of those 1101 emails are real people sending emails to me, not marketing emails or news information.

I have another 500-1000 emails per week that come directly from Basecamp, our project management system.

Many have it far worse than I do.

I understand that a HUGE part of my job is to manage the flow of information in my organization, with clients, with family and friends, etc. I don’t think the problem is email itself. The technology is great.

Ten years ago I loved email. It enabled me to get work done quickly and efficiently from anywhere. It enabled me to communicate to clients in ways that made everything work more smoothly. It gave access to information I wanted in terms of newsletters and email updates.

But today it seems that inboxes are a problem for all of us.

The problem, as I see it, is in the expectations that email has created and the misuse that has happens in the process. Here are a few of the more obvious issues:

  • Email makes it too easy to assign work to people without any discussion or clarification that needs to happen before work begins.
  • Email creates expectations of response without acknowledgement from both parties that they even want to have a conversation.
  • Email is easy and free so when in doubt we just send another. We don’t even realize we are adding to the noise.
  • Email makes us feel like we are accomplishing things when we aren’t; answering an email just to answer isn’t doing anything.
  • People treat email like it is a discussion platform. This might be the worst problem. Email is great for conveying information and answering specific questions. But as soon as you need to discuss something back and forth it’s a lousy tool.

And before I get too high on the horse: I can be as guilty as anyone. I haven’t mastered email. I fall into every one of the traps above.

So I’m trying to implement a few things myself and with the Blue Ocean Ideas team that I am hoping will help:

  • Trying to be very judicious about what I send and why. Am I helping to solve the problem, answer the question, or contribute in a way that’s going to be helpful or am I just adding to the noise? Am I just sending a message to get something off of my plate or am I adding value.
  • Encouraging our team to pick the right mode of communicating. If you are getting into a long email chain that is getting more confusing with each new email just pick up the phone. It will save time but also relational capital.
  • Developing awareness of when I am working on projects that will add value and when I am just managing the inbox. If I’m spending too much time managing the inbox I’m not getting to other higher value work that I do.
  • Clarifying with clients how important it is that we have some ground rules with communication and that we try to hold a high standard for how we communicate. I can’t solve my inbox challenge with work on my part alone. I can help reduce it but I need help on the other end as well.
  • Using email for follow up and execution but rarely if ever in initiating new projects via email. For me, that takes talking.

These might seem simple but they are difficult to actually practice. We’ve been dealing with email for a long time now. Habits are hard to break.

What are some of the communication challenges you face when managing your inbox?

Keep moving forward,



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The Gift of Resurrection

Alain Philippe Mountain Bike Ride Loch RavenHappy Easter

I started Easter with a pre dawn sunrise ride with my friend Alain. This picture wasn’t today. It was in January when we were out in the snow riding together. Today we circled Loch Raven on our mountain bikes (we call it “the tour”). It was beautiful (we beat the rain). We were high above the water on the northwest side of the reservoir by the time the sun was coming up in the east. It was a  soft orange/pink color that just seemed to paint the sky for us as we were pedaling along.

Riding four hours with my friend. Seeing the sunrise. Enjoying the sights, sounds, and smells of the trails. The trails even have texture you feel with your body as your wheels roll over rocks, dirt, sand, stones, and sticks. There aren’t many things that put me in a better mood than starting a Sunday with a ride like this.

An hour later I was sitting in church and this thought struck me: this experience is still new to me. I’ve been riding a road bike just over a year and a mountain bike less than a year. I have a new friend that I enjoy chasing on the bike (Alain is a much stronger rider than I am). I have dozens of new friends because of riding.

Then another thought struck me: things had to die to make this happen.

The Resurrection

The abbreviated religious version of Easter goes something like this: Jesus came to earth, died on the cross as a punishment for our wrongdoing, was raised again on the third day (Easter), and people that believe in him will live forever in heaven. In an orthodox sense that message is the Apostles Creed dating back to the second century in written form. The origins are believed to be from the Apostles of Jesus directly and handed down from generation to generation.

I think that’s only part of the story.

Death proceeds life in many parts of our lives. When I started my journey to become more fit things had to die. Some good habits had to die: I have some longstanding friends that I hardly ever see because I’m spending my time differently. Some bad habits had to die: I stopped drinking alcohol altogether. The calories alone much less other negative impacts weren’t helping me get healthy. Eating habits died: I’ve had a burger and fries twice in the last four months instead of twice a week prior.

In order for new life (resurrection) to happen in one area of my life things died in other areas (crucifixion).

The message of Jesus is an invitation to new life here on this earth. Right here. Right now. It’s not just about eternal destiny and punishment for sin. I’m confidant God can sort those things out. It’s about the grace to let things die and trust that new things will come. It’s about living a life more consistent with the lives we want to live today. Now.

It’s about heaven on earth today. I got a little slice of that today touring Loch Raven with Alain.

Keep moving forward,


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Learning to love limits

I had a freeing observation a number of years ago:

I can’t do it all.

I’m a little slow to learn some things. Most of you are more advanced than I am so you probably figured this out long ago. But for me, I’m a work in progress so it took me a while.

I remember being in a seminar years ago where the instructor had us add up the activities we wanted or needed in our lives and how much time they would take. Things like:

  • work
  • family time
  • date night
  • exercise
  • time for reading
  • eating
  • faith practices
  • hobbies
  • sleeping
  • social activities
  • time to take care of things around our house
  • etc. (the list can go on for a long time)

Most of the people in the class ended up with 200+ hours per week that were needed to live the life they wanted to. Unfortunately there are only 168 hours in the week. So if we all had 4 extra hours a day we could live our ideal life. If you can get away with sleeping 3-4 hours per night you are in good shape. The rest of us have some hard decisions to make.

On the one hand that sucks. It would be easier if we could just have it all right?

On the other hand the limits can be great. Limits force you to identify the results you really want the most. Limits well managed force you to make the tough decisions with your time & energy to achieve those results. Limits help us focus.

In other words:

When focused, ‘I can’t do it all’ translates into ‘I can do some things VERY well’

In my work, at Blue Ocean Ideas I am the CEO. What does that even mean? I’ve struggled with that over the years. But I’ve arrived at two things that I need to focus on. If I do these well I am maximizing my contribution to my organization.

The first is this: My job is to create the ecosystem that will help my team thrive as we serve our clients and strive to tell the truth about who they are, faster. This can mean a lot of things:

  • making sure we are on point and have clarity on who we are and what we do
  • keeping our staff up to date with the technology, space, and other resources they need
  • creating very clear expectations for everyone involved in every project
  • finding the best people possible to work with – internally and externally
  • growing our staff as they become Jedis at what they do
  • keeping us relationally focused on how we serve each other
  • establishing what we can and can’t work on
  • pointing out and calling out our quality issues so that we can improve
  • encouraging people

Essentially, the first part of my job is to create a better place to work.. If I do this well we are generally healthy. If I don’t things start to fray.

The second part of my job, and the more client facing side, is making sure there is a clear strategy for everything we do. This usually looks like asking a LOT more questions than clients expect in every engagement. Many clients come to us saying “we need a new _______________ .” What they really mean is: “we want_______________ to happen.”

My job is to change the initial focus from the what to the why. And then it is making sure there is a how in the middle that will get us there. If I successfully help clients do that they thrive in their work with us.

If I do both of these things well I am on my game. The only way I can do that is by accepting my limits and focusing.

What are your limits? Do you embrace them or fight them? Do they help you focus or cause frustration?

Keep moving forward,


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40 in 40: Lesson #37

Route 40

40 in 40: #37

I left work at 1pm yesterday. Grabbed Josh, rushed home, threw some clothes in a bag, jumped in the car, and headed to Blacksburg. My friend Tim Hartin had gotten us tickets for last nights Virginia Tech/North Carolina game.

So Josh and I road tripped for 5 hours, jumped out of the car, put on our warm clothes, and walked with Caleb over to the stadium. We watched an awesome game.

It was a blast. But the game was only the beginning.

After the game we cruised around a bit, I dropped them off on campus, and went to Taco Hell (aka taco bell) for a cup of coffee and and an hour or so of working.

I picked them up at 12:30 and we hit Ihop at 1am with 5 of Caleb’s friends until around 2:30. Then we crashed at a friends house on couches. I slept for a few hours and then was up and now I’m in Starbucks pounding out some work while I wait for them to wake up.

I lost some sleep last night, was up WAY later than I normally am, ate about 1500 calories more than I normally would (or should), and slept on a well used (that’s an understatement) couch that was about 2 feet shorter than I am.

And it was worth every second.

Lesson #37

The meaningful things in life will cost us something, but are always worth the cost.

My oldest two sons and I will remember yesterday for a long time. We’ll make some jokes about some of the things that happened for a while. Caleb’s friends will remember our time together.

We got a chance to BE together.

I can’t do that very often. If I did I’d weigh 500lbs and be exhausted all the time. Oh and I’d be out of work.

But a few times a year I can give up sleep, take some time off work, and break my normal comfortable habits in the name of spending time with people that I love.

And every time I do a little more is added to my relationship bank.

And as a result I now have another shared experience with my kids, I know 5 more of my oldest sons friends, I’ve gotten another road trip in with a son that needs my time and attention.

These are meaningful things. They cost me something. But they are worth the cost.

Keep moving forward,


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40 in 40: Lesson #35

Route 40

40 in 40: #35

I’m waking up at 5:30am tomorrow morning.

Going to eat an energy bar, drink some coffee and drink a little gatorade.

Strap on my lucky running shoes.

Then drive downtown with my cousin, John, and run 26.2 miles.

And right now there isn’t a single thing that I can do to help me run better or faster tomorrow.

As my friend Dan said yesterday, “The hay is in the barn.”

Lesson #35

I can prepare as much as possible for things in life but at some point with almost everything you have to let go, do your best and accept the outcome: good, bad, or ugly.

I’ve never run a marathon before. The longest I’ve ever run before is 20 miles.

And there is a lot of question marks about those last 6.2 miles:

  • Can I do it?
  • Will my body seize up and force me to stop?
  • Do I have the will to endure serious pain to make it to the finish?
  • Will it take me forever?
  • Will I not be able to walk for 2 weeks afterwards?

I don’t have the answers to any of these questions, but I will in about 15 hours.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

For tonight, here’s the thing:

I can’t do anything else to get ready at this point. All I can do is show up and do my best.

I’m going to sleep well tonight.

Keep moving forward,


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40 in 40: Lesson #32

Route 40

40 in 40: #32

I’m full of quick judgments. Especially about people.

My brain is constantly feeding me information about the world. I judge circumstances, people, public figures, friends, family and more.

Often when I meet someone, within a few minutes I’ve made a number of determinations about them, their life, and their circumstances.

And to be fair my intuition is often right. I have a certain ability to take a wide range of information, process it quickly and make determinations. And in my work as a brand builder and a consultant this ability is often very helpful. It’s one of the strengths I bring to the table.

But many times reality is not what my brain tells me it is. Often I misread, misinterpret, and misunderstand people.

More often than not when I get slightly deeper into a relationship I find a different reality than what I expected.

Lesson #32

If I leave room for a wide range of possibilities to be true I will often get a far clearer picture of reality.

There are some HUGE benefits from practicing this perspective:

  • My circles of influence are wider.
  • My depth of friendships is deeper.
  • I’m able to hold things in tension with less anxiety and worry.
  • My ability to respond to difficult circumstances is less fatalistic.
  • I see the world more for what it is and less from what I THINK it is.

The consequences of living with a small and narrow perspective is equally powerful:

  • My world closes up and I distance myself from relationships.
  • Friendships are not as safe and I’m not able to stay in them.
  • My reactions to situations is often poor and consequences are negative.
  • I don’t see the world for what it is and I see what I THINK I see (or worse what I WANT to see).

How wide open is your world?

Keep moving forward,


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40 in 40: Lesson #27

Route 40

40 in 40: #27

One of my sons went through a difficult experience recently.

It was not something he had anticipated, not a situation he wanted to be in, and changing the situation was going to be painful.

No parent wants to see their kid deal with a painful situation.

But pain is inevitable and in many circumstances the only thing you can do is act.

And then wait.

Lesson #27

You have to give time, time.

That may sound trite.

But for a lot of issues that we face, time will be what is needed. In fact for many things time is the only solution.

  • Great relationships don’t happen overnight, they take time.
  • Businesses don’t happen overnight, they take time.
  • Children don’t mature overnight, it takes time.
  • Broken legs don’t heal overnight, it takes time.
  • Culture isn’t affected overnight, it takes time.
  • Doctors aren’t trained overnight, it takes time.
  • Getting a job if you are out of work takes time.
  • Creative work like we do at Blue Ocean Ideas doesn’t happen overnight.

It all takes time.

What things in your life do you need to give time, time?

Keep moving forward,


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40 in 40: Lesson #26


Route 40

40 in 40: #26

Some weeks I work really long hours.

In fact the next 6 months are likely to take quite a few hours per week to accomplish what I want to. I won’t be working 80 hours every week but it’s going to be a lot.

I rarely let my inbox get above 30 email messages. Which means I manage email from bed, the bathroom, in front of the TV, and other places outside of work.

I wake up early to get to work. And I often stay late.

I try to exercise every day.

I’m trying to be a part of a small group at our church every other week.

I serve on a few non-profit boards and volunteer organizations.

Lesson #26

Work-life balance is a myth. I can no sooner keep it balanced than I can hold the tide back. My life is an integrated whole: family, work, spiritual life, exercise, reading, recreation, etc. are all part of one life. That life shares time, energy, talent and treasure.

There’s another part of this story:

  • I take 4-6 weeks of vacation a year (two weeks uninterrupted in the summer, a week at Christmas, 1/2 weeks at Thanksgiving and Easter).
  • I try to have dinner alone with Elise at least once a week.
  • I take Riley to breakfast every Friday.
  • I don’t miss many sporting events for the kids.
  • I try to be creative about how to spend the time with my family

David Greusel of Convergence Design speaks to this very clearly:

“I have also come to believe that the idea of achieving work-life balance, as it is referred to in the Human Resources departments of large companies, is a myth. I don’t cease to be an architect when I go home at night any more than I cease to be a husband and a father when I leave home for work. I have been trying very hard to de-compartmentalize my life the past few years. I want to be a whole person who is husband and father and architect and citizen twenty-four hours a day, attempting to order my various responsibilities so that I can discharge them well. But I think the notion that what results is a balance between work and family and community commitments is absurd.

“It is more like a well-rigged sailing ship, where keeping the lines in proper tension results in moving briskly across the ocean to your intended destination. My life is at least as complex as a three-masted schooner, and that requires making constant adjustments to keep the lines in the proper tension, neither too taut nor too slack”

And as I’ve said before…this is not about doing more or being busy.

Different people like different paces of life. I happen to enjoy when things are moving along at a clip. And occasionally I crash, or get sick (like today), or unplug on vacation.

That’s not a standard for anyone else and plenty of people think it’s too much. Part of the struggle for each of us is figuring out what YOUR rhythm is.

How are you keeping the lines on your ship in the right tension?

Keep moving forward,


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40 in 40: Lesson #7

Route 40

40 in 40: #7

I’ve been eating breakfast at the Towson Diner on Friday mornings since September 3, 2004.

That was the first week of middle school for Caleb. Since then I’ve had one child in middle school and we have breakfast together Friday mornings. Caleb has done it. Josh has done it and now Riley is doing it.

In about 1,100 days Seth will be doing it.

It’s not an elaborate event. We get there around 7:15 and are gone by 8:00 and I’m in the office by 8:10 (yes I have a terribly easy commute). While we are there we read together and we talk.

That’s it.

When I was a younger parent I spent a lot of time creating “strategic plans” for my family (Seriously…I’m exciting like that. Gotta love a spreadsheet!). Most of these were well intentioned but doomed. Too formulaic, structured and ambitious. They usually consisted of some kind of checklist about our mental, spiritual, emotional, and physical health and the “activities” that were going to keep things in top shape.

I wasn’t easy to live with back then. If you have something like that for your family and it works that’s awesome.

For me about 10 years ago I realized that heroic effort on my part was not going to achieve the results I was looking for.

Lesson #7

Long endurance in the same direction creates good results.

At the end of the day what I really want is to have a great relationship with my kids. And one way I can do that is by spending time with each of them during a critical period in their lives. It doesn’t take heroic effort on my part to take a kid to a diner once a week and spend time with them.

What it does take is making a simple commitment and habituating it. We do that in 100’s of other ways in our lives (you did brush your teeth today right?).

There is no magic formula for parenting. I tell people that you will probably know the quality of Elise and my parenting in about 40 years. Only time will tell.

I do know that time together to talk creates space for good things to happen. That I can make happen.

What things are you putting in your life consistently that over time will produce the results you are looking for?

Keep moving forward,


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